Wednesday, March 06, 2013


Here's The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper with what he believes is a gotcha:
Chief White House Calligrapher Gets Paid $96,725 Per Year

With the White House closing its doors to public tour groups in order to save money for the sequester, it's worth remembering some of the other costs the White House incurs annually.

Like the "Chief Calligrapher," Patricia A. Blair, who has an annual salary of $96,725, and her two deputies, Debra S. Brown, who gets paid $85,953 per year, and Richard T. Muffler, who gets paid $94,372 every year....

In all, the White House appears to employ 3 calligraphers for a yearly total of $277,050.

Despite sequestration, there's been no announcement of the White House scaling back on calligraphers.
Patricia Blair's time in the White House actually predates Obama's, as you'll see if you go to this C-SPAN video about the calligrapher's office from the George W. Bush presidency. The available technology may have changed in half a century, but what you'll see her doing is pretty much what's described in this 1961 New York Times article about the office:
... Then begins the tedious preparation of individual invitations. The job is eased somewhat by the fact that the Bureau of Printing and Engraving supplies engraved forms that begin: "The President and Mrs. Kennedy request the pleasure of the company of * * *." The calligraphers do the rest.

They write in the names, dates, times and other required information in a sweeping, cursive style known as "banknote script" and characterized by carefully restrained flourishes and delicate shading. The script matches that in the engraved part of the invitation, and only the most practiced eye can distinguish between the two. Cards of admittance to the White House grounds are also handwritten.... Finally, the envelopes are addressed....
This book tells us that each invitation takes about two minutes to prepare, and 140 may need to be prepared for a typical event.

This all may seem silly to you and me, but I assume that this or something similar is standard operating procedure for heads of state around the world.

As the Times story notes:
Calligraphers have served Presidents from the beginning of the Republic.... since the days of William McKinley have they been assigned specifically to the writing of Presidential invitations.
Right-wingers are criticizing Obama now for the calligraphy office's expenses, but if at any time in his presidency he'd ever dared to tinker with this century-old process, the same right-wingers would be railing about disrespect for the office and telling us that Ronald Reagan refused to show up for work without a tie and predicting that now we can look forward to fried chicken and malt liquor parties in the Oval Office.

Oh, and that $277,050 salary expense? If you fired all the calligraphers and pocketed their salaries, that would give you approximately one one-millionth of the $28.7 billion in cuts this year to domestic discretionary programs from the sequester.


Victor said...

Maybe they're confusing calligraphers, with Caliphates?

Or, they think Obama's got 3 people on his staff, just to curse-ive at Conservatives?

This is just another case of some delusional Conservative poo, hitting the ventilator.

boba said...

While I cannot argue that the $270K is a small portion of the sequester, it is a very generous salary for graphic designers doing a low amount of work. Moreover, it prompts the question why this has not been automated in Illustrator or other graphics design program.

Victor said...

Leaving aside the fact that each of their pieces are like mini works of art, and that maybe they could have a soul-less machine do pretty much the same work, but do we have to automate every damn thing?

There are fewer and fewer jobs, because there's more and more automation.

I like the fact that some skilled artists fill-out invitations. That's something I call, "class!"

Anonymous said...

Instead of a White House chef, maybe they should just open up big cans of beans. And instead of fancy budget-busting china and furniture, they should eat them with their hands while sitting on the floor!

What problem were we trying to solve again?

Steve M. said...

Boba, it's a lot of money for graphic design work, but we're a First World country whose head of state must inevitably do formal entertaining, and is expected to do it to a certain rarefied standard. As I say, if Obama questioned that, he'd be accused of besmirching the office and of being low-claass and uncouth.

boba said...

I remain unconvinced. Suleiman I was famous for his calligraphy, but that didn't make his policies of joining futile alliances any better. The bureau of engraving does most of the job, taking this endeavor into the 21st century doesn't make it "uncouth." The argument that the human touch of craftsmanship is somehow important easily refuted with Damian Hirst on the high end, and Thomas Kinkade on the low; there simply is nothing special nor discernible if an artist is involved. Both Hirst and Kinkade employ workshops (factories) of humans to create their art; and neither produce anything of significance. (BTW - workshops or factories was the way most art was created. That Rembrandt has about 30 hours of apprentice's work, and 1 hour of Master van Rijn's hand.)
Regarding your demands for "class" and refinement, calls to mind that Emerson quote... A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. You argue that the hand is special and adds value. But then you value consistency and replication by that hand. There is no loss in moving certain tasks into the 21st century. The POTUS is not issuing tughra's that will be collected and admired for centuries, they are for all intents and purposes, pieces of paper and their value is confined to sentimental.

Examinator said...

Boba wins

Unknown said...

It does not bother me. When they start hiring people to staff the vomitoriums, I will protest. But a little pomp is ok, it is the office of the president.

Steve M. said...

Fifi wins.

Tom239 said...

At least get the order of magnitude right.

"Oh, and that $277,050 salary expense? ... that would give you approximately one one-millionth of the $28.7 billion in cuts..."

That's roughly ten millionths, not one.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Jesus, get a f*cking ballpoint.