Thursday, October 8, 2009

Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum

Here's another tip for Toronto: The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). See one of the largest collections of dinasaurs in the world, including a T-Rex and a baby Bronto. There is a top shelf Egyptian collection. Right now the museum is featuring the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The blockbuster show is The Dead Sea Scrolls. The parchment fragments themselves don't make you drop your jaw, but knowing how important this discovery was will impress you. There is also a great Chinese collection featuring a Ming tomb, totem poles, Near East collections, Indian art, fossils, suits of armor, a temporary Wedgewood show, twentieth century design, and on and on. It really is one of the world's great museums. The weird building by Robert Johnston is no slouch either. Here's a link: Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

The Sleepless Night

Hey, you all might like to know about this ultra cool yearly event in Toronto. It's called the Nuit Blanche, which means sleepless night. It started in Paris in '02 and has passed on to other cities. Toronto is the only North American city to offer it. For 12 hours, from sundown to sunrise, the city becomes one big art exhibit. There are three zones, each with a different theme, where participants encounter strange, fantastical, and sometimes provocative surprises.

This year, 2009, there was a gigantic L.E.D. light sign suspended above city hall chambers that flashes four letter words (clean kind), codes, and DNA sequences determined by human operators, themselves controlled by computers.

Jeff Koons' giant Rabbit baloon hung menacingly in the atrium of the Toronto Eaton Centre.

Monopoly with Real Money was just what it says. Actors portayed bankers in a "real stakes" game of high finance.

Gone Indian was about a roving truck in pow wow trappings and a First Nation drummer doing his thing at uncertain moments.

Dance of the Cranes was a worked out by a choreographer and crane cab operator (There's a match made in Heaven). Two construction cranes were rigged with eerie blue lights. They circled around to music in the moonligt. Who would have known cranes could be so beautiful.

Cubemmunity was a large cube covered with four screens on which images footage from the neighborhood were projected. As the creator hit particular keys on the keyboard, they threw certain images on the cube. People could dance and interact with the cube.

And Ghost Stories was too bizarre for me to explain. You would have to be there.

Check out the website, and consider going next year. It puts a whole new face on Toronto. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Measure for Measure

Has anyone noticed that everything seems to have a measurability to it? Machines at bakeries and fast food shops will tell you exactly how many calories your almond croissant has. Rate Your Professor is a website that reduces the quality of teachers to numerical evaluations. There is room for commentary, granted, but the numbers are what sticks. Focus groups ask people to rate their experiences with products based on numerical rating scales. Pollsters gather opinions on candidates and issues using concise clear-cut yes or no questions. Economists look at purchasing patterns over time. Measurements are king.

The problem of reducing everything to measurements and scales is that you lose the grey areas in-between numerical assignments. You don't look at gradations.

Psychologists evaluate patients based on progress they have made, on changes of perception and action over time. Psychologists take in all factors of the patients' case histories and personalities. The total picture is what they view.

The pollsters and chart-masters think every experience is finite and reducable. They are charting the experience, but they leave out the human factor. Humans are complex, unpredictable creatures. Their likes and dislikes are personal, so they depend on all the quirks and aberrations of personality. Economists are now looking at the human factor when they make predictions. The economy and all social sciences are not extant independent of us. We created them. Human nature is the lynchpin that keeps a product or service connected to our habits.

Don't worry about using that calorie counting machine, though. Your waist line is measurable. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Monday, August 3, 2009

Doubtful Quote

"I thought I said to love one another."

In the spirit of Jesus Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Object Factory: The Art of Industrial Ceramics

All the conventions of ceramics you know get thrown and spun around in this exhibit. More craft than trade, Object Factory: The Art of Industrial Ceramics,/is/,/472/,/true/,/false&profile=exhibitions

at The Museum of Arts & Design in New York City ( until September 13) splices traditional forms with clever visual puns in some cases. In others, industrial designers find new applications for new and versatile ceramics. Come with a sense of humor.

The introduction describes how artists and designers are collaborating with the industry in ways that enhance and subvert the industrial process.

Perhaps the most patent example of this subversion is the the tea set, Spanish Lace, by Edyto Cietloch. The vessels are carved into filigree screens that imitate Spanish lace. Not, obviously, intended for pratical use of any kind, the functional objects turn into art objects. We might question everyday reality by extension.

For more on twists on expectations, look at 5.5 Designers Ensemble Cremiers Coulage no. 2 et no. 4. A sauceboat has some strange hitchhikers, the kind we usually try to keep out of the sauceboat. By having these little guests collect at the top, as if they were the sauce, the artists play with enticement and repulsion. What is food, and what is not get lumped together with the gravy.

Following this questioning of reality theme is the dinner plate series by Robert Dawson entitled Willow Pattern with Uncertainty. The name says it all. Reminiscent of Bleed Pattern English China Trade ware of the 1700's, the floral scene becomes blurry for two thirds of the plate. The effect is a little cinematic and definitely not the way to show off your fine China. The seeming embodiment of China itself is depreciated by this parlor trick, and the art of porcelain becomes the art of the gallery.

Blurring boundaries between objects is what Gesine Hackenberg does with jewelry. In Spoon Set a jewelry ensemble takes the form of the eponymous title. In the artist statement, Hackenberg says, "Occasionally the realm of jewelry and commodities shift together very closely...By using materials, shapes, fragments, and typical patterns out of another daily context as a base for my jewelry, I transfer their meaning and emotional impact in my works." The craft of porcelain merges with the perhaps more rarefied art of jewelry. Industrial design and fine arts cross-fertilize eachother.

Then there are moments when fine arts lock horns with commercial design. In Jo Meesters Ornamental Inheritance, series the lower portions of vases carry traditional Dutch Delft floral patterns. About midway up flowers recede in favor of a contemporary industrial landscape, replete with McDonalds monopoles instead of marigolds, airplanes, turbine windmills instead of traditional ones, and what looks to be the CN Tower in Toronto. The play on old vs. new, and high culture vs. low is humorous and dignified at the same time.

Paul Scott pushes Meester's idea to the limit. In Scott's Cumbrian Blue[s] series the English countryside of traditional table settings is given a new and candid interpretation. In After the By-Pass a bucolic village is interrupted by tourists on the motorway. Barsbacke 2 substitutes a factory for the English manor house. In Foot and Mouth No. 5 the expected grazing cattle are instead the victims of foot and mouth disease. A bulldozer is assembling them for disposal, as a funnel of smoke belches for its sacrifices. This is a far cry from dinner in polite society. This removes the gentile manners of the dining room and invites controversial discourse. The title may also suggest diner's putting their feet in their mouth as a result.

One gallery in the show omits the tongue-in-cheek (let alone the foot-in-mouth) puns. The mood is serious for serious applications of technology to industrial ceramics. Elisha Tal's, Eyal Cremar's, and Danny Lavie's Nomad series features toaster, kettle, and pitcher. Conductivity of heat with ceramics to this extent was not possible until this point. Ami Drach's Hot Plate extends its heating element over the surface of the plate depression. The artist refers to it as a conductive silkscreen. Here is the marriage of function and design at its height. The function is the design.

The Kyocera knives and cleavers series prove that ceramic cutting tools can now be as sharp as metal. It is cutting edge technology of today.

Of course, visual puns are what give this show its artistic edge. You may want to linger a bit at Khayasar Naimanan's Incognito (Hidden Wealth project) What is going on here is really a challenge to the decorum of the dining ritual. The designer creates the usual floral design and flip-side hallmark, but it is on dish bottoms and hallmark on dish surfaces. While keeping the decorum of centuries of fine dining, Naimanan disrupts diners' complacency just a tad. Maybe it is enough to make us reconsider the daily customs we take for granted. Or maybe it is just a clever way to inteject an artist's touch into useful objects.


Museum Tue. - Sun. 11:00 am to 6:00 pm Thurs. 11:00 am to 9:00 pm Closed Mon. and Major Holidays
SUMMER HOURS: Due to popular demand, the Museum will be open on Tuesdays from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm throughout the summer.
The Store at MADMon. - Sat. 10:00 am to 7:00 pm Thurs. 10:00 am to 9:00 pmSun. 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Stuart Kurtz

August 4, 2009

Stuart Kurtz is a free-lance arts, travel, issues writer at He is available for hire at

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Quote Me

Being left high and dry isn't so bad if there's a flood.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review: Land of the Lost

Review of Land of the Lost

The tag line of Land of the Lost reads, "Right place. Wrong time." In the case of theater and showtime, they're actually both wrong. If you get your jollies out of groping primates, dino urine, and unusual bowel obstructions, then you will enjoy this latest Will Ferrell turn. If not, you might be wondering whether Dr. Rick Marshall's Tacheon Amplifier time machine can transport you to the credits.

Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is a scientist who is looking for his big break. After a dry spell spent initiating sassy grade school kids into the wonders of science, he invents the Tacheon Amplifier, a device which can open up dimensions in time in a sideways fashion. After appearing as a laughing stock on the Today show with Matt Lauer, Rick gets a visit from wide-eyed scientist, Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel). She shows Marshall a modern fossil - excuse the oxymoron - with a connection to Marshall. This seems to prove Marshall's theory of portals into other dimensions.

The two head off for the desert, where, Holly says, Tacheon readings are strong. The hitch is that the area where this is happening is in a tunnel of horrors, a sideshow attraction that two Rednecks, Ernie and Will (Danny McBride of Tropic Thunder). Marshall and Holly have to suffer the indignity of paying admission and getting a pitch on fireworks in order to win the Nobel Prize - maybe. Will acts as guide on their raft trip into the cave. The Tacheon device starts an earthquake that opens up a portal into an alternate Earth.

Prepare yourself for this Earth. It's weirder than the one they started in. The place is populated with dinos, strange primates called Pakuni, lizard men called Sleestaks, and higher- functioning (which is not saying much here) time travellers called Altrusians. The team has to find its way back to the Earth they know to claim their Nobels (or junior high school science prize, whichever comes first). The set up happens way too fast, so that the weird Earth the team comes into doesn't get the initial laughs it might have gotten.

Much of the humor depends on gay jokes. There is a tension between the men's macho heroics and their effeminate sides. There is also a good tension between Rick's and Holly's professional respect and the hots they feel for eachother. The humor is all typical of guy flicks. The team's companion is a primate of the Pakuni tribe named Cha-Ka, who has a penchant for groping his female and male friends. A strange narcotic causes the men to have a strange trip in a stranger "yard sale" version of Earth. Rick has to cover himself in dino urine to get a T-Rex they call "Grumpy" off the scent. And then there is the manner in which Rick gets himself out of the innards of me, you don't want to know.

What does work here is that nothing is lost by sacrificing the mystery and danger of the original Sid and Marty Krofft TV series of 1974-76 in place of the comic take in this endeavor. That series suffered horrendous acting and writing that got in the way of the frights and mystery. No loss. There is a loss in the lack of sly in-jokes on the original series. Why can't Rick strum out the full theme song, which was good, on his banjo?

It is not surprising the writers, Chris Henchy and Dennis McNichols dug up a corny Saturday morning series out of the dinosaur graveyard as a repository for all their male sophmoric gags. You can't say they spoiled a classic.

Land of the Lost is rated PG-13 for scads of sexual and bathroom humor.Check out the cameo of The Zarn, vocalized by Leonard Nimoy, but sounding like Jason Robards.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review of the Class

Here is an insightful review of the movie The Class, which is yet playing in second run houses here and there. It will probably be out on DVD in late summer. My good friend, Geraldine Torf is the author. She is a student of psychoanalysis and former therapist. The political opinions are not all in line with my own, but the overall writing is original. I contributed the idea about the reason why Francois is reluctant to teach The Enlightenment.

The extraordinary docudrama that is the film The Class is an excellent vantage point to examine the particular perspectives that are brought to bear on social structure; namely cultural, organizational, group and individual psychoanalysis. Francois Begaudeau, a teacher in a Paris Public High School in the Twentieth Arrondisement reshaped his novel chronicling his interactions with his students over the course of a year. The demographics consist of a group of fourteen year old students mostly of Caribbean or African descent with one noteable Asian adolescent whose mother is deported to China during the course of the film's progression. The work is entertaining and unlike most documentaries which can be too raw or painfully accurate to be easily assimilated presents viewers with an excellent educational tool.

Francois utilizes his rational legal authority with a generous overlay of charismatic style. This is by virtue of his lean good looks, strong voice and aggressive teaching technique. He stimulates his students through challenging, correcting, teasing and criticizing. Because he is a paid employee in a beurocratic instructional institution, it invokes a managerial capitalist orientation toward the worker students. The class members thereby respond to their teacher's attempts to communicate with a Marxist jargon. This is one of the outcomes of the herd instinct and the group mind, which puts the teacher in a precarious position. Communication with adolescents is an extremely challenging operation because a fine line has to be walked between exciting presentation and the danger of over-stimulation. It is tempting to utilize "administrative system conditions" with its resultant overt condescension. Some "communicative action" is attempted to illicit compassion and understanding but it is done clumsily. Begadeau tries to be a pseudo-buddy and attempts to be open to intimate questioning. He becomes defensive when Sulyman, his Malinese student asks him if he is a homosexual.

Freud's erotic transference and counter-transference saturate the classroom environment. Khouma, the Zoftig Caribbean fourteen year old is newly aware in her unconscious of the sexual dynamic of giving and receiving. Therefore she chooses not to cooperate and resists reading aloud from The Diary of Anne Frank. It is somehow suggestive of the possible sexual exploitation of colonial subjects or female workers in the labor force. Francois is unaware that his unconscious response to her cleavage made him single her out. His ambivalence towards the student body manifests again in his further exchanges with Sulyman. He feels a masculine competitiveness with this poised good looking regal youth who seems to have a strong sense of the true. He is aware that Francois' false attempts at relatedness sometimes stirs up more chaos. He chooses not to do his work in this hotbed of seething oppositional energies. In the workplace or in school anyone who is unusually perceptive of unconscious psychodynamics is rife for expulsion. His photographic talent denies the teacher's meeting verdict that he is 'limited.'

The secondary school teacher's autobiography idea must be analyzed for its reception in a multi-cultural classroom. While the students from the Caribbean might welcome the opportunity for ego assertion some cultures put more emphasis on humility. When Isabel and the other pretty girl representative inform Sulyman of the proceedings of the expulsion hearing, Bergadeau calls them "skanks" or whores. When girls are in early adolescense they need an ego ideal informed by the super-ego to keep them from acting out sexually. Sulyman is righteously indignant because it is likely in Malinese culture that women are venerated for their future respected positions as wives and mothers. His mother is an excellent example of the dignity and bearing of an esteemed woman in the culture. There are probably tribal rites in this culture, which would better enable Sulyman to endure the stresses of adolescence. It could have been helpful to have Margaret Mead reincarnate as a cultural consultant to the staff. The small number of faculty members on staff could have been beneficial if they were not to busy denying their id instincts and projecting them entirely on the 'animal' students. It would be helpful if all faculties in secondary schools could have regular staff meetings led by a communicator psychoanalyst enriched by a background in cultural studies. It would be extremely efficacious if federal funds could be released for such projects. In our own country such interventions would do a lot more to inhibit violence and thus be more life preservative than Obama's politically expeditious move to give full thrust to stem cell research funding.

In Afghanistan the U.S. wants to introduce modernity in this traditional culture too soon. We object to the idea of boys' schools there when it was only five decades ago in American and English educational systems when single sex student bodies were a sign of eliteness and exclusivity. This style still persists in Jewish Yeshivas and some other faith based schools. Certainly girls should have equal educational opportunities but one can't rush acceptances. Our own tribal memories must guide us in the pace we set for change.

Now to return from my digression about culture in foreign relations to go back to my discussion of the film. In the exchange between Bergadeau and his male colleague at the beginning of the film they talk about collaborative efforts to teach literature and history around joined themes. Francois says they were able to absorb 'Ancienne Regimes' but were not receptive to 'The Age of Enlightenment'. This is totally a diminishing derogative judgment against their students. In the sixties my cousin Ralph as a Peace Corps member taught Shakespeare very successfully to his Nigerian students. Literature often transmits universal truths, which are available to all if properly communicated with understanding and compassion. On the other hand my son Hugh who was brought up with a strong immersion in Western Civilization and its literary inheritance was stymied by Shakespeare's ornate language because he was adjusting to the intrusion of four stepsiblings into his household. Bergadeau didn't mean to fail so miserably with Solyman but his cultural and psychological background left him ill equipped to deal with this pedagogical problem.

Now with the multiple homicides in the secondary school in Germany it seems that the misunderstandings and cultural omissions in the docu-drama pale in the wake of this tragedy. The student's addiction to violent videogames and his access to his father's gun collection are grim reminders of the relevance of Trevor Norris' article. Arendt talks about the oikos and agora being diminished with the ascendance of the public realm. Baudrillard in the contemporary vehicle of semiotics illustrates that the consumption of chosen objects signifies the status of participating societal inhabitants.
"Speech has been drained of its power and meaning." If greed and the urgency to make a buck at any ethical cost are not exposed by the proliferation of such products as guns and inciting videogames, nothing can be. Consumerism and lack of proper outlets for the erotic and aggressive proclivities of teens and young adults led to 9/11 and the multiple school shootings extant all over the world. Certainly when Ahrendt cited Sputnik in the beginning of The Human Condition as a sign of the alienation of mankind, she could never predict the rise of Fertility Clinics in the Medical community of our present era. There the private consummation of human reproduction and generativity has been assigned to the public so that it can be considered that anything can be purchased and is up for grabs in our consumer society. In the past if there was ambivalence or reasonable doubt about the wisdom of having children the soma itself could express safeguards or limits to those who had not resolved their resistance. The stem cell hysteria is another way our consumer society feels that with enough expenditure we can abolish all the ills that debauch our health. The unconscious motives and repressed emotions as basis for disease and accident are suppressed. In the rise of the knowledge of splitting the atom propaganda arose that this detonated bomb would give rise to all kinds of scientific discoveries, which would save mankind. Human destructiveness has now escalated to the level where humanity could be annihilated. Too much emphasis has been put on Science and Technology as a panacea for societal ills. It demands conformity, which does not give rise to a philosopher such as Descartes who was allowed to sleep late, and thus out of the loop was able to observe and think without the arbitrary discipline of time control. Too much emphasis has been put on adjustment and assimilation.

On my way home from the film on the subway I talked with a fashionable muscovite woman in her sixties who cast negative judgments on the Hispanic U.S. immigrants. Because our cultural values have been compromised from consumerism and the shrinkage of Family influence, we must question and analyze why total immersion into the existing cultural milieu should be forced onto new immigrants. Students need real relationships from mature leader educators who can encourage individual character development. At a case presentation on March 28, a BGSP student talked about his eighth grade mostly Dominican group. He seemed like the perfect compassionate and low stimulation leader who could build trust over time. His bi-lingual approach to group process shows his respect for the family culture. Too much forced adaptation to a new language is a cruel assault on the mother tongue.

Assimilation marked the cultural history of the German-Jewish society that influenced Hannah Ahrendt. The ensuing betrayal of this population by the Nazis did much in the maturation of this intelligent political philosopher. With increasing anti-Semitism in Hitler's repressive regime, she was chosen by a Zionist organization to reveal this horrifying truth to the rest of the world. Journalistic seeds planted at this time gave birth to her new career when she moved to New York City. She shifted from her temporary strong identification with the Jewish people to claim her 'interspace. How much we have attachment to our cultural heritage should be a matter of personal choice. She was severely criticized for her series of articles on Eichmann in Jerusalem because she was too objective and emotionally distant. Certainly in her disappointment over her relationship with Heidegger she had to focus her attention in The Human Condition on the diminishment of the oikos and the resultant distortion of the Polis.

In Entre Des Murs the teaching philosophy is to impose adjustment in kind of a Fascist way. They forbid the wearing of head scarfs by Muslim women in France because they fear the rising violent protest of the Arab underclass created by National pressure to suspect anything non-French. Retreat into a more classic cultural and religious practice is what many citizens in every country are doing ;sometimes reverting to Fundamentalism in their attempt to decrease the inroads of consumerism and Technology. My middle son, David, immerses himself and his family into a Chasidic lifestyle. They don't have a TV in their household so the children aren't confronted by product bombardment They try to imbue the atmosphere with the spiritual mysticism which influenced Walter Benjamin in his article citing the aura of objects in original representational Art. His older teen-Age and Young Adult children have abandoned the strict structure and have experimented with the dangerous world outside their culture. It is worrisome that the attempt to insulate them from the larger culture left them so vulnerable to its devastations. David himself chose to go to The University of Hawaii to seek diversity in the student body. In the 60's and 70's in his childhood New Hampshire the population was predominately white and conservative. Now he has become the conservative Computer programmer who tries to contain his own family in a homogeneous environment.

The Class as a docu-drama should be used as a discussion tool for teachers and students in multi-cultural schools. It might help disperse the resulting trauma on both sides.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Art Review: The Gentlemen of Suzhou

The glory of The Ming Dynasty (Western years 1368-1644), is best represented in the art of Suzhou (also Soo-chow,Suchou, or Su-chou), a city which was the economic and arts hub of Chiang-nan in southeast China. New directions in a new way of apprehending objective reality, subjective expression, reaction to orthodoxy, and an approach to nature that was honest and personal are hallmarks of the art which a new class of men, the literati artists, created in Souzhou.

An ongoing exhibit entitled The Gentlemen of Suzhou continues through July 12, 2009 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It is a humble show like the humble men who created the art of The Wu School(Wu is Souzhou's ancient name.) Only 17 works adorn two pint-sized galleries. If you are planning the trip from Hartford expecting a major show on Ming art, let your engine sleep. It is just a tiny show. If, however, you find yourself at the MFA making the rounds, by all means stop in for ten or fifteen minutes.

In this city on the Yangtze, a stop on the Grand Canal, whose gardens and canals and favorable climate made it a favorite of painters, art was the industry of choice. As the curator states in the wall text, personal expression was favored over painterly skill, and most of the literati artists, as they are known, did not concern themselves with accurate depictions of nature. Choosing the literati life over public service, these gentile thinkers and innovators took inspiration from local scenery and lived in harmony with the natural and urban worlds.

Never intending to cause social or political upheaval, the gentlemen artists of Suzhou nevertheless held, in quietude, a radical skepticism toward orthodoxy and standard-bearing, according to Wen C. Fong in Possessing the Past (co-authored by James C.Y. Watt). In contrast to the restrictions imposed on artists in Peking, the imperial capital, Suzhou and other southern cities attracted scholar-artists who could live in seclusion (or not) and enjoy the freedom to work on the four arts of painting, poetry, and calligraphy.

The turbulent founding of the Ming Dynasty was seen by two of the early Suzhou painters, Ni Tsan and Wang Meng (not featured in show.) As Maxwell K. Hearn has shown in Possessing the Past, Ni Tsan never recognized the legitimacy of the new dynasty. His friend, Wang Meng, was deeply affected by the disintegrating conditions around him(Hearn, pgs 328-9). Immediately after the founding of the Ming, authorities tried to restore the court tradition in painting. In the 1370's and '80's Nanking was transformed as the capital of that time. Thousands of wealthy families from Souzhou, Hangchow, and other southern cities were relocated to populate Nanking.

As Hearn shows, as if in reaction to this imposed style-making of the court, Wang Meng lived in reclusion except when he participated in literary gatherings with friends. In the late 1350's and '60's these men would gather in their private homes to view painting, listen to music, compose poetry, and paint. This withdrawal was a way to maintain sanity and as "self-cultivation"(Hearn). Wang and his circle of friends was usually in Nanking. Under the purges of the first Ming emperor, Buddhist monks, artists, and officials were persecuted. Wang himself was under suspicion for his association of Hu Wei-yung, who was accused of plotting to kill the emperor. Wang died in prison in 1385.

From all of this, the seeds of a new art effloresced.
In time, by the rise of Chin-ching, emperor from 1522-66, life for artists in court in Peking (having replaced Nanking as the capital) was burdensome, according to Richard M. Barnhart in Possessing the Past, section "Return of the Academy". Suzhou, Nanking, K'ai-Fung, Feng-hua, Canton and others were foils to the restrictions of court (Barnhart).

Even scholars like Wen found life at court
unbearable by this time and so returned to their hometowns, such as
Soochow, to bring to maturity an art that was in essence far from
the by-then mock heroics of the imperial aristocracy (Barnhart, pg

Court style remained even in Suzhou, but the Wu School was stronger.

As to the position of artists in society, Wen C. Fong says,

To begin with, the traditional social distinction
between the artisan-professional and the scholar-amateur started
to break down. (Possessing the Past, section "The Literati Artists of the Ming Dynasty.")
Under the Sung Dynasty scholars passed civil service exams and became government officials...scholar-officials. During the Mongol conquest, when doors were barred from careers, they became artists or professional men of letters. The civil exams were restored in the Ming Dynasty, but they were highly competitive. Those who failed could not become officials, so they became sholars or literati artists, creating a new professional class. The fact that they were, degree-less, commoners, may have contributed to the alternative style they created (Fong)

Now to the art. Shen Chou (1427-1509), known as the father of the Wu School proper, reflected current Neo-Confucian philosopher Ch'en Hsien-Chang, a leader in the Ming School of the Mind, as Wen Fong has shown. Fong says,

he taught that knowledge was received through intuition, or self-possessed
insight (tzu-te)... Ch'en embraced the Taoist and Ch'an belief in the mysticism
of nature and advocated quiet sitting (ching-tso) as a method of
self-cultivation on the path to enlightenment.

Wen C. Fong argues in Possessing the Past, section entitled "The Literati Artists," that Shen Chou radically departed from the Sung period's realism, based on the "objective investigation of things as advocated by earlier philosophers concerned with the Principle of the universe... his...intuitive response called for a new way of apprehending objective reality (Fong). He used an unaggressive and abstract calligraphic brushstroke. Shen Chou followed Ch'en Hsien-chang's concept of te, which is "insight" and 'to possess.' "Because the mind, understood as both intent and meaning, is not separate from sensory data, the way such data are of primary importance. By remaining quiescent, open, and responsive, the mind possesses understanding...kan ying is the state of being simultaneously stimulated by and responsive to the external world" (Fong) For Shen Chou subjectivity was a purposeful construct of the self. "It was intent, fortified by self-possessed insight, that gave the scholar-artist the psychic energy to create...Shen Chou's philosophy of quiescence as a dynamic principle, a condition of both receptivity and action...demonstrate his belief in an intuitive response to nature and the validity of self-possessed artistic knowledge." (Fong)

In the first gallery are Shen Zhou's "Four Leaves from an Album of Eight Landscapes and eight Matching Poems. The leaves on the trees are coarsely painted. Little dots, made by the tip of a brush, represent trees and bushes. They are abstract. One cannot mistake this for any real landscape under the Sung or philosophy of the Principle of the universe. You must take it as a flat surface, and from there make the leap to thinking of nature - all intuition-based. The gold and silver flakes, not snow or rain, and not realistic, are part of the calligraphy but also in the sky of the painting. Reality gives way to a tzu-tze approach to seeing nature.

The mountains in one leaf of the four have coarse, willowy marks to indicate ridges. There are tiny breaks at the edges of the background mountains. Some distant mountains appear to float over the nearer mountains due to white gaps between. Catch the scholar painted without feet.
It is the curator's belief that Shen Zhou blazed the trail in painting local scenery, although Weng Mang earlier affirmed the sense of identity these men shared with earlier scholars over a specific place and personified individuals through landscapes (Hearn, Possessing the Past, section "The Artist as Hero"). In Zhang Hong's "Wind in the Pines of Mount Gouqu the retirement home of the Eight century T'ang poet-painter Wang Wei is linked to the home of a contemporary. It shows the connection to the past and that the literati's lives and thoughts were fused with a specific place.

The research of Yang Xin in Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting, section,"The Ming Dynasty," relates that Qiu Ying, another artist featured, would not have risen above his humble birth were it not for his technical skill at copying previous masters. He could paint in bright color or monochrome with equal adroitness. He practiced the literati methods of simplicity and subtleness against vulgarity and superficiality (Xin).

In "Landscape with Scholar and Monk in Conversation" there is a refinement, especially in the luminous blue and green ink. See the remarkable way the mountains shade from green to empty paper through the use of streaking. The color runs out. Contrast this to Zhang Hong's subtle gradations in his washes. The trees in the background, and the lower leaves behind the closer ones in the foreground fade out. It is intuitive and impressionistic. The depicition of the foreground tree and the scholar, monk and tiny tea-bearer are elegant; the remainder is subjective. The split and fusion of the two is successful.

In his "Landscape with a Lady Overlooking a Lake" the viewers mind is busied by identifying all the many leaves on the foreground trees and the details of the house. Then the mind is in rest when contemplating the distant landscape. The intricate is objective, like southern Sung paintings, but the background is intuitive and subjective. Te and kan-ying are at work.
In "Red Leaves on Autumn Mountains" Wen Jia (1501-1583) has a loose brushstroke as well. On the hillside, house and temple rooves are devoid of underlying structures. It is all somewhat cartoonish. Three finials want to form written characters. The stippling for leaves goes from tightly-worked to abstract. Leaves have a frenetic energy that charges the painting with movement. The stream coming down the mountains does likewise. You get a sense of the journey ahead for the three men on donkeys, a journey marked by the sequential landmarks of bridges and fences here and there. The progression is ever upward and has a fable-like appeal. Incidentally, you should know the elongated form of paintings in the Wu School was often employed in K'o-ssu tapestry. K'o-ssu was often used as mountings for paintings. Suzhou was a textile center as well as a painting center.

In the second gallery the lighting is dim to protect the precious paper. Wen Zheng-Ming, the leading Suzhou scholar after Sen Chou, and his son, Wen Jia (see above) are represented in calligraphy. The Colophon of the father - colophons were commentaries on paintings- and the son's homage to a literary hero follow the direct and natural approach to calligraphy of Chu Yun-ming, who reacted against the florid and precise court style. Chu revived the classical Chung-Wang tradition of round brushwork and square character formation. It reflects the loose open form of Chung Yu's ancient style of the later Han Dynasty. The lack of precision and flourishes of the chancellery style of Shen Ts'an in favor of a revolutionary calligraphy favoring ancient precedent has a corellate in the Wu painting style.

In "Views of Tiger Hill" Xie Shichen uses Sen Zhou's abstract dots as leaves. Tree branches and rock patterns break certain areas into reticulated patterns of abstraction. People and water buffalo are no more than stick figures. Pagodas and houses are crudely drawn, recalling Wen Jia's cartoonish buildings.

As the curator states, Lu Zhi's "View of Stone Lake" captures the spirit of sixteenth-century Suzhou. It is hardly an objective view, and way out of perspective (see Zhang Hong for Western perspective.) It is a subjective view of the lake, and therefore precious in its particularity of place. It has simplicity, is against delicacy or superficiality, and is certainly not in the orthodox court style. It expresses te and Kan-ying. See how the spit of land is so out of perspective, and how the boats on the right seem to slope down with the "sloping" water. The boats on the upper left seem to float in sky rather than water. you could mistake water for sky in this little world. Some lines are hazier and more dashed and ethereal than others. It is like a mental impression rather than an observation. Like "Views of of Tiger Hill" it is more like a dream than a rendering. Here is something that could not come out of the court. This is a vision created out of individual freedom.

Stuart Kurtz
March 1, 2009 Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Review: Adventureland

Review: Adventureland
Stuart Kurtz
April 2, 2009

James Brennan(Jesse Eisenberg) has a problem. He is too smart to suffer fools gladly, but he is surrounded by fools. What's a nice Jewish comparative lit. and Renaissance studies boy to do? He can keep his sanity, even at the cheesy Adventureland amusement park, by seeking out the genuine under the ticky-tacky. He might just find the girl of his dreams. You never know.

James was on the fast track to a brilliant writing career. Diploma in hand, his plan was this: bum around Europe for the summer with his friend, and then head off to Columbia for graduate school. As he says, writing is an old boys network, and you need your credentials. You may have noticed from other flicks that when the hero is too sure of himself, something is bound to go awry. That inciting incident, for you lovers of the classical narrative, is in the form of his pop taking a salary hit and worse job. So much for Europe; James now has to take a financial hit too and find work to pay for grad school.

As James puts it, "I majored in comparative literature and Renaissance studies. Unless someone needs a fresco restored, I'm screwed." Since asphalt roller driver is out, he has to settle for the dregs, that is, to be a "Carny" at Adventureland amusement park near Pittsburgh. Sorry to crush your fondest memories of the amusement park, but James finds a Gamorrah of hedonism, loose sex, small-time cons, drugs, and violence. Wouldn't you know teenagers hang there (and post-teens)?

Two girls activate James's hormones. The hotty every guy wants, Lisa P.(Margarita Levieva) is a schemer and tease who doesn't know she is troubled. The real love interest is Emily, "Em", Lewin(Kristen Stewart), who definitely knows she is troubled. Ms. Stewart hangs her head and raises it to reveal expressions of simultaneous sadness, challenge, and anger. Her toking, adultering behavior is nothing unusual for the park, where she works as another Carny, but she contains emotions as deep as the Marianas Trench.

In fact, that's kind of a clue to finding the heart of this movie - finding depth under the superficial. Everything about Adventureland(the park, that is) is slick and artificial, except a few lost souls who are better than it all. The idea is that the kids work up their fantasies -sexual and otherwise- at the park, and the lucky few work out their family problems. The film never suggests a solution for every problem, but the right attire is to be genuine with who you are.

James has to learn this. His new friend, Joel Schiffman(Martin Starr), the opposite of James's Columbia roommate to be, tells James James doesn't know a good thing when he's got it. The good "thing" is Em. After saving her at his fairway ring toss game from a knife-carrying creep, Em knows James is the coolest guy she ever knew. The two are the only ones with the developing maturity to escape the bad Karma of games of the carnival and interpersonal kind and find something true.

This is not to say the other Carnies don't have potential. They certainly have similar problems to James and Em. Mike Connell, Em's other love interest, was abandoned by his father. Lisa P. feels the anxiety of her father being home-ridden and unable to work due to injury. It is the way they deal with them that is the problem.

Em and James make their blunders too. She handles her father's betrayal of her mother by recreating her father in Mike. James deals with his father's alcoholism with low self-esteem. But they, as said, are genuine people. Joel, the pipe-smoking, Gogol-toting Existentialist is the voice, with James, the voice of the true artist.

Mike Connell is the voice of the false artist. His line about having worked with Lou Reed is just a way to score on chicks. The soundtrack itself resonates with these themes. 80's (the time of the movie's setting) pop ballads deal with love and disappointment: David Bowie's "Modern Love", "Unsatisfied" by The Replacements, "I Don't Want to Know if You're Lonely" by Husker Du strike a false note of romance. The Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" and Lou Reed's "Satelite Love" are the real deal.

Adventureland bleeps and flashes and twirls you through the immaturity of late adolescence (and extended adolescence), but it has the complexity to allow sincerity to appear now and then. As for the game of love, there are even two winners. And that's no chance.

Adventureland is presented by Miramax.
It is rated R for sexual situations, drug use, violence, and language.
Directed by Greg Mattola
It opens on April 3, 2009
It features Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig of SNL, and Ryan Reynolds of X Men Wolverine (in theaters May 1, 2009) Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: The Reader (Final Version) Warning: Spoilers

Here is my final version of my review of The Reader. I hope you all can see the movie, and let me know what you think. Thanks.

Review of The Reader: Mind, Body and Morality Warning: Spoilers

Cynthia Ozick, and Mahohla Dargis, among others, have roundly criticized Bernhard Schlink's book, The Reader, as sympathetic to Hanna Shmitz for her illiteracy and for excusing her monstrous actions in WWII because of that illiteracy. While these writers build a strong case, the book, now a motion picture (directed by Stephen Daldry, screenplay by David Hare, Produced by Anthony Minghella and the late Sydney Pollack) contains a deeper substrate of themes which the reader can render out. The act of reading, so central to the themes, provides clues to this buried subtext.

Michael Berg, a 15 year-old boy in post-war West Germany (1958) is coming home from school one day when he takes sick from Scarlet Fever in the breezeway of an apartment building. Hanna, a streetcar conductor who lives in this building, comforts him and invites him inside, where she nurses him. The two begin a physical relationship for the summer. Hanna demands that Michael read to her from literature such as Lady Chatterly's Lover. The romance abruptly ends when Hanna disappears one day in order to veil her secret, illiteracy.Michael encounters Hanna by surprise eight years later while he is a law student. She is facing prosecution for a war crime while she was a guard helping evacuate prisoners from Auschwitz in 1944. Michael and his peers evaluate the guilt of their elders, and Hanna still conceals her great secret. The trial concludes, and Michael provides tapes of his readings for Hanna while she is imprisoned. He later faces the daughter of a Holocaust survivor regarding Hanna's crime. The film concludes with an older Michael revealing his affair to his grown daughter.

In Commentary Magazine, "The Rights of History and the Rights of the Imagination" Cynthia Ozick rejects Schlink's apparent motivation for Hanna. She argues Germany had the most literate population in Europe, yet the "plot turns anamolous case of illiteracy, which the novel recognizes as freakish. Shlink, says Ozick, mitigates Hanna's guilt because she could not read the job notice advertising the factory job. She otherwise would have been a factory girl instead of a war criminal.In "Innocence is Lost in Postwar Germany," by Mahohla Dargis the reviewer says the film asks us to pity Hanna and that the film is about making the audience feel good about a historic catastrophe.These reviewers should look at the subtle clues Schlink offers.

When characters, such as Michael and Hanna, read literature, their choices, if it is a good novel or film, direct the reader/viewer to themes in those novels which are also relevant to the first characters.Michael reads Lady Chatterly's Lover to Hanna in the film, though not in the book. This is what Wikipedia says on the themes of the book:

"This novel is about Constance's realization that she cannot live with the mind alone; she must also be alive physically."It goes on to say:"Richard Hoggart argues that the main subject of Lady Chatterley's Lover is not the sexual passages that were the subject of such debate, but the search for integrity and wholeness. Key to this integrity is cohesion between the mind and the body for 'body without mind is brutish; mind without a running away from our double being.' Lady Chatterley's Lover focuses on the incoherence of living a life that is 'all mind', which Lawrence saw as particularly true among the young members of the aristocratic classes, as in his description of Constance and her sister Hilda's 'tentative love-affairs' in their youth:So they had given the gift of themselves, each to the youth with whom she had the most subtle and intimate arguments. The arguments, the discussions were the great thing: the love-making and connexion were only sort of primitive reversion and a bit of an anti-climax."

The contrast between mind and body can be seen in the dissatisfaction each has with their previous relationships: Constance's lack of intimacy with her husband who is "all mind", and Mellors' choice to live apart from his wife due to her "brutish" sexual nature. These dissatisfactions lead them into a relationship that builds very slowly and is based upon tenderness, physical passion, and mutual respect. As the relationship between Lady Chatterley and Mellors develops, they learn more about the interrelation of the mind and the body; she learns that sex is more than a shameful and disappointing act and he learns about the spiritual challenges that come from physical love.

Hanna lives a physical life that is empty and disheartening. She is very good at her job, as it is a repetitive physical act. She is all mechanics. Sex for her is similarly mechanical. In war time she excelled in being a guard for the same reasons, and her life at Auschwitz was all brutality. Hanna knows that "body without mind is brutish," so she enlists Michael to read to her. If she were a heroine who changes, she would integrate body and mind. Schlink perhaps means no such sympathy for her - her crimes are too great.

We may take note that the crimes of letting 300 people burn, and assorted every day barbarism at the camp are physical crimes. After having taught herself to read, Hanna should thereafter have a full human experience of mind-body balance. The fact that she decides to take desperate measures (I won't spoil your trip to the movies that much) indicates that she may realize, as Constance does, that she cannot live by mind alone. She is now literate, but a sexual relationship with an older, wiser Michael is impossible. Now that she is stigmatized in her country, she will probably find no lover. She will also find no job higher than menial labor.

Schlink could be saying that education does not alone make one moral. The Germans who committed these crimes, says Ozick, were highly literate. One needs to be educated and aware of the consequences of bodily actions, as most Germans of the 1930's and 1940's denied.Michael, his law professor (Bruno Ganz), and peers are all highly intellectual and literate, yet they are also aware of the physical crimes of their elder's generation and in their own time. Michael's moral education in these scenes is set in 1966, a time when many more physical crimes were being waged in the world. The student demonstrations -usually physical acts-going on off camera are about that necessary mind/body integration: education + righteous physical action = just and whole human beings.

This is what Wikipedia says about another book Michael reads to Hanna in the film, though not in the book. It is Huckleberry Finn:"Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim's friendship and human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain in his lecture notes proposes that 'a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,' and goes on to describe the novel as '...a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.'"

Hanna could learn much from Huck. Huck was illiterate and, in some ways, brutish. The Widow Douglas and Miss Watson try to "Sivilize" him, but Huck doesn't take to it. He shows humanity to Jim, though he knows it is against his conscience. He has been sold a bill of goods by the corrupt culture around him, just as Hanna and all Germans were by Hitler, Goebbels, etc. Huck's good heart allows him to be humane and try to free Jim. Hanna could have allowed the 300 to escape the burning town hall, but she did not due to her brutish sense of duty, a non-intellectual act of following orders. Germans might have listened to their hearts rather than the sense of conscience the Nazis imbued upon them. The Cartesian duality between conscience and heart is another split on which right and wrong action impinges.

Another great work, a play, Michael orates is Emilia Galotti by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1772). Wiki says this:"Emilia Galotti is a drama of the Enlightenment that doesn't precisely follow the standard French model of the era. Although love is a central theme, in reality Emilia Galotti is primarily a political commentary. The practically arbitrary style of rule by the aristocracy is placed in stark contrast to the new and enlightened morality of the bourgeoisie. All more feudal ideas of love and marriage thus come into conflict with the greater move by the population to marry for love rather than tradition and power. This combination proves to ensure a rather explosive situation."It is another case for the morality of standing up to oppresive cultures and social mores for a higher moral standing.

The Odyssey is yet another great book Michael reads to Hanna. In the text Circe and Calypso abuse men. Circe turns Odysseus's crew into pigs, and Kalypso makes him her sexual slave. Hanna does not treat Michael as a mature woman should treat a lover. There has been little critique of the fact that she commits yet another crime by abusing- and statutory rape is abuse- a minor. Hanna is unskilled in the act of reading, but Michael is yet unskilled in the art of love or physical act of love-making. This is a sick relationship based on a kind of power each has over the other. One reviewer called it Nazi Porn, but it is not that. The Night Porter is that and execrable for being so. This is a relationship that should arouse repugnance in us.

We must look at all the other works Michael reads to Hanna from the book, though not in the film. Below are themes by every other author but one.

The Slovak National Theater describes Friedrich Schiller's Intrigues and Love, another work Michael reads to Hanna, as "...a picture of bondage and loss of freedom - not only the loss of social freedom and of status - but also a picture of the most intimate and private bondage in love and passion. The themes of this great play by Schiller are power and the loss of power. Love that wants to possess the other, love that seeks to manipulate the other. Love as duty - love that can never have a happy ending. It breeds distrust, jealousy, and death." This is the kind of love Hanna has for Michael, and the Nazis had for Germany.

Cummings Study Guides indicates two themes of War and Peace are: 1. Love and compassion are the keys to a successful and fulfilling life. Pierre Bezuhov searches for the meaning of life and discovers this. It does not matter who the bestower or recipient is - whether peasant or nobleman. 2. War is brutal and barbaric, not grand and glorious.
As for the reading of Schnitzler, we might note that his themes are love, sex, and death...not necessarily in that order. He deals with how the three intersect. The sick relationship of Hanna and Michael fits well into his arc.

Keller, cited, handled the role of the individual as a virtuous and sympathetic public citizen, free from the extremes of moral and relative fanatacism. Michael and his law school peers would be of this kind.

Heine and Morike dealt in their poetry in the hopless joy of love. Heine supported the ideals of the French Revolution, and he attacked German anti-Semitism. The Nazis tried to delete him from written works, but it was this Jewish writer, along with Goethe and Shiller, who made other countries more aware of German writers.

Kafka deals with violence and persecution.

Frisch was against totalitarianism and establishments. His early works of the 1930's deal with First World War (not Second) German guilt and the origins of Nazism. The protagonist of Stiller, Jim White, is arrested on the border due to a sham passport. While in prison he writes his story for the public prosecutor. He claims he is not the sculptor, Stiller, but that is a lie. Hanna pretends to be literate and hides her past. Andorra, by Frisch, deals with anti-Semitism and racial prejudice.

Uwe Johnson presents World War Two, the suffering the Nazis inflicted, and the resulting division of the country.

Ingeborg Bachmann struggled against Fascism, including Fascism in subtle, everyday forms that still go on. The student protests taking place in The Reader might allude to other forms of oppression.

Siegfried Lenz's novels, short stories, and plays are about how the Nazis affected Germany. He was one of three writers who served as the German conscience. He won the German book trade's peace prize in 1988. The German Lesson exposes Nazi injustice (

In Chekhov's stories "Protagonists are disillusioned by events that force them to reevaluate their personal philosophies and understanding of the world, and this disillusionment usually happens near the end of stories" (Sparknotes). It seems by this reference we may posit that Hanna undergoes a realization about her past behavior. Consider other literature the older Michael finds on her cell's shelf. It is the literature of the victims. There are books by Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Jean Amery, and Tadeus Borowski, as well as the autobiography of Rudolf Hess, and Arendt's report on Eichmann in Jerusalem. It is very noteworthy that Borowski, author of This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, commited suicide by gas in 1951.

Hanna's last act hinges upon her education in moralism she attains from the above writers. Her values of earlier days, based on the idea that literature is heroic and thrilling give way to a maturity about life's meaning. She would not be reading Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel if she had no perception of the crimes of wartime. It is also not sufficient to say she makes her final decision and action based on the slim chances at meaningful work or finding someone to love her. It is not firm enough to say Michael is the only one who has a path to discovery. Though we justifiably revile the monster, Hanna, we might consider that evil doers sometimes, sometimes come to realize their evil.

According to Mahohla Dargis, Michael is a victim and a survivor. It comes out in the trial that Hanna forced young women at Auschwitz to read to her, and then dispensed them to the gas chambers (to cover her secret). Michael would have been designated to the same fate had he been at the camp. The act of reading must, after learning this, be a kind of brutal act for him. He must feel dirty for having done so. Again, intellect without a moral responsibility for bodily acts brings peril.

Therefore, if we plunge the depths of this novel and film and get into the murky themes, we see that maybe Schlink is not creating sympathy at all for Hanna Shmitz. She is not a heroine who comes to change when she realizes something. She does realize something; that is that intellect alone doesn't make a full person. She doesn't realize what Michael and his colleagues know; that is that intelligence does not make us moral. We are physical embodiments too, and we can't deny that. We need to integrate the two sides, and we need to act with humanity, whether we can read or not.

Stuart Kurtz
January 16, 2009 and finalized February 17, 2009 Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

George Bush's Legacy

Solemn and sad day! King George is saying farewell to his subjects. Let us pray that the new president does not betray us with higher taxes and, God forbid, social programs for the poor and undeserving. Do you know what a higher tax bracket will mean for the Waltons of Walmart, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdock, Warren Buffet, and those others that are really needy? Needy of government non-interference, that is.

Now that our true American hero is about to leave the throne, it is time we talk about legacy. Yes, he has taken some hits for policies, but legacy is another matter. Legacy is about the long-lasting effects King George's actions will have. Here are some:

*His Majesty promised to cut taxes. He did so. With the savings we can buy a little food, maybe enough gas to drive home, and put the rest on credit cards.

*He got government out of business. Now we can buy cheap goods from overseas and export jobs. That's what I call a balance of trade.

*He was "The Education President." He taught us the meaning of words like freedom and democracy. Who needs Pell Grants for college when you have that vocabulary?

*Under his reign, foreign relations are better. You're either with us or against us -easy choice. You don't need the U.N. when you've got a simple choice like that.

*The environment: His Majesty promised to clean up the Everglades with the help of the Crown Prince, Jeb. They have restored the Everglades, but it was in New Orleans.

*Communications have improved. You can now have a conference call between you, your friend, and the government without asking or paying for it.

*Treatment of prisoners has improved. Now they get non-stop Heavy Metal music and hydrotherapy (on boards) treatment whether they like it or not. Just ask them at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

*Respect for the U.S. is now very high. Other countries just keep buying it up.

*He's increased commerce. Foreign tourists come over to raid our department stores. The dollar is such a bargain!

*He has decreased government spending...except on the military. You've got to have one guilty pleasure.

*He has increased aid to those in need: oil companies, timber companies, mining companies, you-name-it big companies.

*We have brought peace to Iraq. We could be there another twenty years to enjoy the peace.

*His Campaign Manager, Karl Rove, brought such integrity to the electoral process. Bugging your own offices and then having the FBI investigate your opponent is not really a crime, is it? I mean, wasn't it the Communists who burned The Reichstag?

*Individuals have prospered under the King. Just ask Cheney and anyone holding Haliburton stock, or the Boys of Enron.

*He has promoted family values. Domestic life is better, except that families don't actually have houses to practice that domestic life in.

*He has increased tourism. If you seem to be an enemy of the U.S., his men will send you to other countries known for their "physical therapy", like Syria.

*He's a man of the people. Now he can join some of the people on the unemployment line.

*We entered the New Millenium with a sense of new understanding between nations and peoples of the world. Barriers between cultures are coming down. French fries are now freedom fries.

Therefore, go proudly, our deposed King, into your new life in Dallas. We know you and the Queen will find some way to spread your grace on the world. And, if it doesn't work out in Dallas, I'm sure you can find some abandoned shack in the lower ninth ward to set up house in.


He's a man of the people.Now that King George is out of a job he can join the people on the unemployment line. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Aren't We Working These Kids Too Hard?

Hey, here's a link to a fascinating article on how some kids are getting the opportunity to get health problems from overwork:

Hunter College High School is on New York City's Upper East Side. I love this part:

Elite, which opened in 1986, is one of several cram schools in New York
that has imported the year-round enrichment programs of the Far East, giving
students the chance to forfeit evenings, weekends, summer break and winter
vacation for test preparation.

Maybe we can curb their sleeping habits to optimize time for studying vocabulary. They may grow an inch or two less, but they'll know what deleterious means.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Readers, here's a link to my arts reviews for The Epoch Times Just turn on the language you need, and type Stuart Kurtz in the search bar. Thanks. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

The End of Humanism?

Humanism was a secular movement of the Renaissance and following (c.1400-1650) that taught personal independence and individual expression. It moved away from the fixed points of Medieval mysticism and toward the potential of man.

Human experience, man himself, tended to become the practical measure of all things. The ideal life was no longer a monastic escape from society, but a full participation in rich and varied human relationships. ~Steven Kreis, 2000 (see above link)

Think about the following from the International Humanist and Ethical Union:
Minimum Statement
All member organisations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union are required by IHEU bylaw 5.1[4] to accept the IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
Apart from the need to ensure that member organisations are bona fide Humanist (or like-minded) organisations, Humanism rejects dogma, and imposes no creed upon its adherents.[5]

The statement of the American Humanist Society is this:

The AHA's definition from its website:
"Humanism is a progressive Lifestance lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity." —Humanism and Its Aspirations

I believe we in technological nations are moving away from Humanism under Globalization and open markets. These forces put pressure on lives to compete in a global society. People are constantly put upon to produce more, seemingly for individual good but really for the common good. I argue that neither is benefitting.

When work hours increase, workers have less time to educate themselves through reading, taking courses, pursuing hobbies, attending cultural events. We spend too much time producing and then taking care of errands. We are letting the spirit of Humanism suffer by not reaching our potential. When we do that, we are not aiding the greater good of humanity.

As quoted above, we need to practice reason and free inquiry to be Humanists. These need to go hand-in-hand with leisure time and the means of supporting oneself available to everybody. For those people who have no work or are in such low paying jobs that they have no time for anything but survival, there is little chance of reaching potential.

There is a large industry built on culture in America, but that's just the problem. It is an industry, not an avenue for expressing the vitality of human emotion, in most cases, or a direction for change for the greater good.

In the Renaissance art was the vehicle for expressing this new philosophy. True, it was used also to shore up the power of the Medicis and Pazzis and by the Church to intimidate (The Sistene Chapel), but the power of human independence flourished.

Globalization and a disintegration of civic values are eroding Humanism. Most culture is crass and exploitational, buffeted around by market forces. We do have individualism, but too much of it is about acquisiton of goods and expression of style and not about each person expressing him or herself for his or her betterment. It is certainly not done with an eye on civic good.

When we act in this way we hurt ourselves, we hurt every other member. And when we hurt everyone, we hurt ourselves.

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Not My Quotes of the Week

Here are some old quotes you've heard before. I don't think we should take them for granted just because they are famous and put to text.

1. "Less learnin', more earnin'"
Maybe if we had less of this, American students (up to high school, I think) could identify Mexico and Canada on a map.

2. "Might makes right."
That's the kind of p.r. Ivan the Terrible had.

3. "Nobody ever said life was fair."
What's wrong with this quote? Throw up your hands because life isn't fair?! Isn't it our duty to work to make it fair? Don't resign yourself to defeat because the world stinks. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Fools On Parade

Hey, here's a link for you to put into your "more gall than a gall bladder" file:
Referring to Madoff, a.k.a. Ponzi sending jewelry and other gifts to family members and violating terms of his bail

I think it was the mittens that did him in. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Monday, January 5, 2009