Remembering Tommy Ashton, Murdered on 9/11

Nineteen years ago today, my cousin Tommy Ashton was struck down in his prime by the Al Qaeda terrorists who engineered the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.

From the New York Times great Portraits of Grief memorial:

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 1.51.45 AM

Colleen and Mary have kept Tommy’s memory alive through the Tommy Ashton 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, which raised over $250,000 to “[provide] charitable donations in the name of Thomas Ashton to institutions, organizations, worthy causes and individuals, including contributions to philanthropic endeavors and to community enhancing activities.”

Here’s where he also lives on in the 9/11 Memorial Guide.


Rest in peace, Tommy. You’re never forgotten.

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The Arts (Not) Seen in NYC (Félix Fénéon at MoMA Edition)

In a world without coronavirus, the Missus and I would be trundling down to the Big Town in the next week or two to go a-museuming. And one of the places we’d certainly have gone is the newly reopened Museum of Modern Art to catch Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde—From Signac to Matisse and Beyond (through January 2).

Who was Félix Fénéon? The first exhibition dedicated to this extraordinarily influential but little-known figure explores how he shaped the development of modernism. A French art critic, editor, publisher, dealer, and collector, Fénéon (1861–1944) championed the careers of young, avant-garde artists from Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac to Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, among many others. He was also a pioneering collector of art from Africa and Oceania. A fervent anarchist during a period of gaping economic and social disparities, Fénéon believed in the potential of avant-garde art to promote a more harmonious, egalitarian world.

Here’s a nice Fénéon primer from MoMA.



There’s also art critic Roberta Smith’s very favorable review in the New York Times the other day, which called the exhibit “bountiful.” She also duly notes that the day job of Félix Fénéon, anarchist, was chief clerk at the French Ministry of War when he got busted.

In April 1894, he was arrested with 29 others and accused of conspiracy in the bombing of a restaurant. Jailed for four months — awaiting what became known as the Trial of the Thirty — he taught himself English and translated Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” into French. His witty ripostes on the stand, reported in the press, may have contributed to his acquittal.

In a 2007 London Review of Books piece, Julian Barnes provides further details.

In 1894, he was arrested in a sweep of anarchists and charged under the kind of catch-all law which governments panicked by terror attacks stupidly tend to enact …

When the presiding judge put it to him that he had been spotted talking to a known anarchist behind a gas lamp, he replied coolly: ‘Can you tell me, Monsieur le Président, which side of a gas lamp is its behind?’ This being France, wit did him no disservice with the jury, and he was acquitted.

Smith also notes Fénéon’s production of about 1200 faits divers (news briefs) for the Paris daily Le Matin.

In 1906 . . . he wrote hundreds of briefs for a column called “News in Three Lines,” several of which are on display here.

These capsule accounts of scandals, murders, accidents and crimes of passion are exquisitely wrought. Their wry compression and uninflected prose startle and please, making the inequities of everyday life they highlight all the more savage and shocking. In one, he wrote: “Finding his daughter insufficiently austere, Jallat, watchmaker of St. Étienne, killed her. It is true he has 11 children left.” They are the living ancestors to Cubist collage, the Surrealists’ exquisite corpse drawings and all kinds of 20th-century poetry. In them, Fénéon the aesthete and Fénéon the anarchist meet, and the non-artist becomes an artist of lasting achievement.

As I’ve previously noted, in his work for Le Matin Fénéon was in many ways the first micro-blogger, so it’s only fitting he has his own Twitter feed.

As Luc Sante wrote in his introduction to the book Novels in Three Lines, “When Féneon wrote his column in Le Matin, Picasso and Braque were just six years away from starting to cut up Le Journal for their collages . . . Fénéon seems to stand Janus-like at the juncture between this coming modernism of machine-age simultaneity and the painstaking artisanal modernism gone by of Mallarmé and the Pointillists.”

In other words, Félix Fénéon contained multitudes.

P.S. The Missus owns a letter that Pierre Bonnard wrote to Fénéon on July 7, 1924.

My dear Felix

I did the cover for Queen of Joy. I don’t know of any other book by Joze besides the ones you mentioned. Things are good here except that we are tired because of the repair work being done. But it is almost done. Won’t you come down our way? The Thadees are staying at Christophe’s inn – – our neighbors – – and we have dinner with them. Lots of love to you and Fanny.

P. Bonnard

P.P.S. Bonnard’s Queen of Joy cover was featured in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts recent Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris exhibit.



P.P.P.S. “The Thadees” are Thadée and Misia Natanson, the It couple of Paris at the time. Here’s Bonnard’s depiction of the two.




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Dylan Thomas Does Not Go Gentle Into That Bad Ad

Listen, the hardworking staff enjoys a literary allusion as much as the next person, assuming the next person isn’t James Wood.

But this ad in Thursday’s New York Times was just totally misconceived.



Right – so Dylan Thomas’s poem about fighting fiercely to stay alive as long as we can, that’s the perfect vehicle to sell lighting fixtures?

That’s messed up, yo.

Here’s the full text of the poem, via

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

While we’re on this topic, enough with the endless do not go gently constructions, as we groused  about several years ago.

Despite his writing five times, do not go gentle into that good night, the vast majority of allusions to Thomas’s poem use gently.

So we say:

Rage, rage against the dying of the right (word).

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The Nude York Times (‘An American in Paris’ Edition)

From our Grey Lady pearl-clutching desk

The hardblushing staff has long chronicled the growing willingness of the New York Times to bare all in the name of art – or commerce – in its advertising.

Representative samples include this ulp-skirt ad from Louis Vuitton six years ago . . .


and this Gagosian Gallery ad four years ago . . .


and this Christie’s ad the same year . . .


and this M.S. Rau Antiques ad two years ago.


Now the same auction house is back in the Times with an ad for “this vibrant, monumental Salon painting” by Julius LeBlanc Stewart.


As it happens, the naked gal in the foreground is not an American gone au naturel, but “[a nymph] of the goddess Artemis embarking on a woodland hunt.” The American in question is actually Stewart.

Glad we got that sorted out.

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Amazon Delivers News Packages to Compliant Media Outlets

Call it Prime-ing the news pump.

In the runup to today’s annual shareholder meeting, Amazon has tried to disinfect its COVID-battered image with a video produced in the form of a news report and distributed to local TV stations around the country, according to this piece at Vice.

Local News Stations Run Propaganda Segment Scripted and Produced by Amazon

At least 11 TV stations aired an identical segment written and produced by Amazon’s PR team.

Local news stations across the U.S. aired a segment produced and scripted by Amazon which touts the company’s role in delivering essential groceries and cleaning products during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its ability to do so while “keeping its employees safe and healthy.”

The segment, which was aired by at least 11 local TV stations, and which was introduced with a script written by Amazon and recited verbatim by news anchors, presents a fawning picture of Amazon, which has struggled to deliver essential items during the pandemic, support the sellers that rely on its platform, and provide its workers with the necessary protective equipment.

The anchors used this intro before tossing to the Amazon spokesman/reporter.

Millions of Americans staying at home are relying on amazon to deliver essentials like groceries and cleaning products during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For the first time we’re getting a glimpse *inside* Amazon’s fulfillment centers to see just how the company is keeping its employees safe and healthy.. While delivering packages to your doorstep.

Todd Walker takes us inside.

The left-leaning outlet Courier Newsroom produced this compilation.



The Courier also reported that, “only one station, Toledo ABC affiliate WTVG, acknowledged that Walker was an Amazon employee, not a news reporter. WTVG and WGXA in Macon, Georgia, noted that Amazon had supplied the video.”

These other stations just ran the package as their own news product.

  • WTVJ-NBC, Miami, FL
  • WKRN-ABC, Nashville, TN
  • WLEX-NBC, Lexington, KY (ran twice)
  • WVVA-NBC, Bluefield, WV
  • WTVM-ABC, Columbus, GA (ran twice)
  • KMIR-NBC, Palm Springs, CA (ran three times)
  • WBTW-CBS, Myrtle Beach, SC
  • WOAY-ABC, Bluefield, WV (ran twice)

This propagambit is nothing new: As Amazon pointed out in response to criticism, the material it posted to the website Business Wire is essentially no different from what thousands of other companies regularly post there. But most of the time, corporate-generated content gets stripped for parts – graphs, b-roll, etc.  Less often does the prepackaged news run intact with no attribution.

There have been major exceptions, of course – most notably the Bush administration’s tsunami of newslike TV segments produced by a raft of federal agencies. As the New York Times reported in 2005, “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.”

It took a massive, Pulitzer Prize-winning effort by the Times to uncover all that. It’s not as difficult now, as the local stations that pimped out their newscasts to Amazon discovered yesterday.

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GoFundMe Won’t Give Funds to Boston North End Bookstore

No question that fundraising platforms like GoFundMe have done a world of good all over the world.

Exhibit Umpteen (via the New York Daily News):

Tom Moore, known better as “Captain Tom,” will turn 100 later this month. To celebrate, he planned to walk 100 laps around his backyard garden and raise some money for NHS Charities.

Moore initially hoped to raise £1,000, the BBC reported. As of late Thursday afternoon, the donation counter was nearly to £9.5 million, or about $12 million.

But not every fundraising story is that celebratory.

Witness this one from Publishers Weekly reporter Claire Kirch.

Indie Bookstores Report Problems with GoFundMe Disbursements

Growing numbers of indie bookstores in the U.S. are turning to GoFundMe to raise funds to pay expenses like payroll, rent, and utilities to stay afloat in the absence of customers this spring. But some bookstoress are having problems actually accessing those funds . . .

Yet a number of the stores that were among the first to launch successful campaigns in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic are complaining that, to date, GoFundMe has not released the funds promised them.

Among those starved stores: Boston’s own I Am Books.

I Am Books in Boston’s North End neighborhood was the first indie bookstore to launch a GoFundMe campaign in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Citing his Italian background and disclosing that he’d heard reports from Italian friends and relatives of the devastation in that country due to the coronavirus, owner Nicola Orichuia closed I Am to customers on March 12. On that same day, Orichuia launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise, initially, $5,000. He later increased that amount to $10,000, and to date he has raised $10,195 via the platform. He said he has yet to see a dime of that money.

The hardworking staff doesn’t want to launch a GoF–kMe hashtag just yet, but we don’t have infinite patience.

So, all you GoFundMeNiks – GoFixIt, yeah?

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New York Times Has a ‘Manifesto’ for Boston’s MFA

The other day the New York Times ran a big takeout by art critic Holland Cotter on what major U.S. museums should be doing nowadays with their time and money.

For Big Museums, It’s Time to Change

As the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston commemorate their 150th birthdays in a state of heightened scrutiny, our critic offers a five-point plan to save the souls of our venerable institutions.

Two of this country’s largest and oldest “encyclopedic” museums — the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York — turn 150 this year. With both now shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, this is an opportune moment for them — and other big, traditionalist museums in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere — to take stock of themselves, and for us to acknowledge their virtues but also to consider the reasons behind the present turbulent state of the art institutional soul.

Tall order, no?

The MFA gets the spotlight dance in two of Cotter’s five mandates: Go for Truth and Rewrite History. Cotter begins the former this way: “Although the Boston MFA that I frequented called itself an encyclopedic museum (actually ‘universal museum’ was the term used then), it was an encyclopedia with several missing volumes. There was no Native American art, little if any art from South America, and no African art apart from Egyptian art, which wasn’t considered ‘African.’ Contemporary art had almost no presence, and you had to look very hard to find art by women.”

After conceding that the MFA has made some “slow” changes, Cotter proceeds to detail one of them.

The MFA has filled the entire top floor of its Art of the Americas wing with a roundup of art by women, drawn mostly from its collection. Titled “Women Take the Floor,” it includes blackware bowls by the Native American potter Maria Montoya Martinez; plaster figures by the African-American sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller; jewelry designed by Claire Falkenstein, and two fabulous portraits: Alice Neel’s 1973 painting of the art historian Linda Nochlin, done two years after Ms. Nochlin’s earthquake of an essay “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” first appeared; and Andrea Bowers’ 2016 photograph of the African-American transgender hero CeCe McDonald, who was charged with murder after she defended herself during a hate attack, dressed in flowing coral and winged like an angel.

Chaser: “Significantly, in self-rebuking wall texts, the museum acknowledges the show to be the long-delayed catch-up gesture it is.”

The MFA’s cameo in the Rewrite History department basically comes down to this.

Kicker: “[In] another particularly timely wall label, the show raised questions about the legitimacy of the museum’s ownership of its Nubian work” – in other words, admitting that the MFA, in partnership with Harvard University, essentially looted the Nubian objects, since their permits to excavate, as the wall label further states, “were in fact issued not by the Egyptians and Sudanese, but by British colonial officials.”

So, to recap: Holland Cotter is telling Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that it needs to take stock and address “the present turbulent state of the art institutional soul” by . . . doing what it’s doing?

Or am I missing something here?

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NYT’s Marie KONDO-19 Puff Piece Should’ve Been 86ed

Let’s stipulate that the New York Times has done a terrific job of covering the coronavirus crisis in its news and opinion pages.

But did we really need this Like a Boss feature about kiss-it-goodbye queen Marie Kondo in yesterday’s Business section?

How Marie Kondo Declutters During a Pandemic

With promotional events for her new book canceled, the organizational expert finds solace in cooking, shredding documents and — of course — tidying her Los Angeles home.

The tidying guru Marie Kondo built her global lifestyle brand by developing a system for how to impose order over relentless chaos. “My dream is to organize the world,” Ms. Kondo has said . . .

Now, like every mogul in every industry, Ms. Kondo is trying to figure out how to run her business during a profoundly chaotic and unsettling moment.

And, of course, how to get publicity for her book, which the Times provides in spades, chronicling Kondo’s daily routine in gruesome detail and touting her e-commerce store “where converted neat freaks who have emptied their cluttered homes can fill them up again with robes, slippers, candles and other items curated by Ms. Kondo.”

Seriously, Timesniks? You’ve got nothing better to cover than this journalistic clutter? Maybe try to curate your pages a little more tidily, yeah?

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Dead Blogging ‘Gordon Parks: The New Tide’ @ Addison Gallery

Well the Missus and I trundled up to Andover this past weekend to check out the new exhibits at the Addison Gallery of American Art and say, they were swell.

We started off with Man Up! Visualizing Masculinity in 19th-Century America (through April 5).

The 19th century witnessed the development of a notion of masculinity that tied the worth of a white man to his performance in the workplace—from which women and other minorities were excluded—and to his capacity to accumulate capital and advance socially. By the turn of the 20th century, pervasive anxiety posed by the threat of emasculation and the constant need to prove oneself as a man fostered a sense of an ideal manliness that was cutthroat or “primitive,” a masculinity characterized by passion, vigor, and aggressiveness and manifested through violence, displays and abuses of power, and alienation. Drawn from the Addison’s collection, the works on view in this exhibition reflect the constant redefinition of masculinity in American society during the 19th and early 20th centuries, inviting us to think critically about the shifting definitions of gender roles.​​

Lots of interesting work, both paintings (that’s Thomas Eakins’s Salutat, 1898, above) and photographs.

Lewis Wickes Hine, Recreation in Training Camp, 1917

Artist unknown, [Group of women dressed as men], 1930

Bonus material: A couple of George Bellows’s excellent prizefighting lithographs.

Next we took in Expanding the Narrative: Recent Acquisitions (through March 1).

​​The Addison Gallery opened its doors in 1931 with a core collection of 423 objects purchased for or given to the museum by Phillips Academy alumnus, Thomas Cochran and his close friends. Since then, the museum has annually added to the collection via generous donation and judicious purchase to make it what it is today–over 21,000 works representing the best of American art across media.

Addison curators carefully choose each work to enter the collection, selecting objects that augment and amplify the museum’s already established strengths, initiate conversations and offer meaningful connections with works of different periods and media, and expand the museum’s ability to present a fuller range of American art.

Very impressive.

But the main event for us was Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 (through April 26), a dazzling display of photographic dexterity and encyclopedic diversity.

​​During the 1940s, American photographer Gordon Parks (1912–2006) grew from a self-taught photographer making portraits and documenting everyday life in Saint Paul and Chicago to a visionary professional shooting for Ebony, Glamour, Smart Woman, and Life. For the first time, the formative first decade of Parks’s 60-year career is the focus of an exhibition, which brings together 150 photographs and ephemera—including magazines, books, letters, and family pictures. The exhibition will illustrate Parks’s early experiences at the Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information, and Standard Oil (New Jersey), as well as his close relationships with Roy Stryker, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison and reveal how th​ese helped shape his groundbreaking style.

Gordon Parks self-portrait, 1941.



Gordon Parks 1942 portrait of long-suffering Washington government charwoman Ella Watson (one of 90 poignant photographs he took of her), which wound up on the cover of Life magazine.



The exhibit also details Parks’s monumental Back to Fort Scott, which Life magazine commissioned but inexplicably never ran.

The other big exhibit currently at the Addison is A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th-Century America (through July 31) but we sort of didn’t get it so we gave it the swift.

And we totally missed Come As You Are: American Youth (through March 8), “curated by Phillips Academy students in Art 400, Visual Culture: Discovering the Addison Collection, and . . .  presented in the Museum Learning Center,” which is why we missed it.

But you shouldn’t. It’s all well worth a trundle.

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How Corporate Gunsel Rick Berman Bit One Watchdog Group

Actually, the headscratching staff has no idea how megabucks lobbyist Rick Berman – who sets up fog-machine front groups for the fast-food industry, the tobacco industry, the liquor industry, and any industry fighting minimum-wage increases – managed to hijack the website that was established to monitor his stealth marketing.

The unlikely saga begins with this full-page New York Times ad that ran a few days ago.


Given that the hardworking staff has been bird-dogging Berman for years, we poked around a bit and put this post together. In the process we went to visit the website of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which ten years ago set up to, well, expose Berman’s shenanigans.

Representative samples regarding two of Berman’s myriad front groups.

Imagine our surprise, then, to click on and wind up with this.



That’s right – BermanExposed now exposes you to . . . Berman’s corporate website.

Wait, what?

So we sent this email to Jordan Libowitz, Communications Director for CREW.

Dear Mr. Libowitz,

We have frequently written about corporate gunsel Rick Berman. (See here)

So naturally we wrote about Berman’s Fake Meat/Dog Food ad in the New York Times this week.

But imagine our surprise when we discovered that CREW’s website is now owned by Berman himself.

Would you be willing to talk about how that happened?

We’re sure our faithful readers would be interested to hear your side of the story.

The Hardworking Staff

We have not heard back from Mr. Libowitz, which under the circumstances does not surprise us. As for Rick Berman, he’s laughing all the way to the dog food bank.

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