August 31, 2008

From Burgeoning to Blundering

by Jerome du Bois

Presenting more fun about the stumbling Phoenix downtown art scene.

Back in June, the Downtown Voices Coalition --"Working for a sustainable Phoenix for everyone"-- conducted a "visioning" session organized by the Grand Avenue Merchants Association (GAMA). Twenty-one locals gathered to help GAMA "craft a long term vision for Grand Avenue and vicinity."

After two hours of brainstorming, the visionaries

summarized statements that best defined the thoughts generated throughout the evening, and best described the neighborhood everyone wanted to live, work, and play in:

* “Grand Avenue can be a diverse, sustainable urban boulevard and a funky cultural community and destination, without gentrification.”
* “Grand Avenue can be a vital place/destination for economic and cultural diversity with chaotic character filled with small businesses providing self sufficiency for a neighborhood; plus, a diffusion of people from the main avenue into the neighborhood to experience exciting niches –-parks, Laundromats, restaurants, etc.”

You know, when I recall all the exciting experiences I've had in laundromats, it makes my heart --but that's another story. Speaking of hearts, though, the Paper Heart wasn't able to sustain itself in the funky cultural community, was it? Even though Scott Sanders got money from the City to try to keep it afloat. Even though it was the most popular venue on the Avenue. Even though it was about as funky as that community could want, featuring skanky strippers and spoken-word loudmouths.

Three years after we wrote about this scene, it's pretty much the same as it ever was. With most of the same people running the run-down show.

But let's not dwell on the past. Here's Scott Andrews from Hearsight with news:

Faced with a rent increase and poor traffic, Perihelion Arts is relocating to the Artisan Lofts mixed retail and residential housing complex on Roosevelt at 5th Street, across the street from their sister gallery Pravus on Roosevelt Row. The gallery, known for presenting national level artists who are often seen on the pages of Juxtapoz Magazine, has occupied the corner spot on Grand Ave. and 15th Ave. next to the Bikini Lounge and The Trunk Space for the last six years. Asked why Perihelion is abandoning Grand Ave., Douglas Grant, co-owner with Amy Young of the gallery, said that "We have no AC, my landlord won't do repairs and thinks our falling down ceiling is 'quaint.' Since the Paper Heart closed, there is no traffic coming down the street, and now our rent is going up. Besides, many of our buyers are afraid to park in the area, so we're moving. But the art will still be the same."

No air-conditioning, a cheapskate landlord, a collapsing ceiling, and a dangerous neighborhood. For six years. What a marvelous community! Thanks for all the help, DVC and GAMA! See ya!

By the way, when I first read the news, I went to the Perihelion website to find more information about the move. There wasn't any, nor on the website for Pravus; and tonight, when I checked Perihelion again, I see that their domain name has expired. What an efficient pair of entrepeneurs!

But at least the art will still be the same.

Posted by Jerome at 10:38 AM | TrackBack

August 30, 2008

"We Just Want It To Stop!"

by Jerome du Bois

Such was the repeated demand of a Barack Obama supporter last Wednesday night, one of many who jammed Milt Rosenberg's "Extension 720" radio program on WGN-AM in Chicago, trying to get National Review's Stanley Kurtz to just shut up about Obama's still-murky relationship with Bill "Guilty As Sin, Free As A Bird" Ayers.

Now the blogosphere is all abuzz about this latest intimidation tactic by people enamored of Barack Obama. Rather than summarize it, I'd like to explore the thinking of the kind of people who do these things. Bloggers refer to "robotic legions" and "nutroots" and "obedient sheep," to "Obamabots" and "Obamatrons," without examining their psychological motivations. But I'd like to know them. And since these people don't seem to be self-reflective or confessional, one must extrapolate from their public statements and actions.

Take, for example, an excerpt from the email the Obama campaign sent out to those "legions" about Kurtz's appearance. (From Gateway Pundit; scroll down.)

Tonight, WGN radio is giving right-wing hatchet man Stanley Kurtz a forum to air his baseless, fear-mongering terrorist smears. He's currently scheduled to spend a solid two-hour block from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. pushing lies, distortions, and manipulations about Barack and University of Illinois professor William Ayers.

Tell WGN that by providing Kurtz with airtime, they are legitimizing baseless attacks from a smear-merchant and lowering the standards of political discourse.

Do you see it? It's that last phrase, "lowering the standards of political discourse." While dispensing all the awful adjectives --they also called Kurtz a "slimy character assassin"-- those who composed this email didn't seem to worry about the boomerang of irony they had just sailed out into the public conversation.

Why didn't they worry about it? Do they have contempt for the intelligence of those to whom they sent this email? Or do they not see the irony themselves? I wonder. Consider also the tired boilerplate --"right-wing hatchet man," "fear-mongering," "baseless attacks," "smear merchant" --like gum chewed flavorless by endless mindless jawflapping. What kind of mind would consider them fresh, effective, and sharp? (I refer to both the senders and readers here.) To me, they seem as transparently manipulative as big red buttons.

And they worked.

Guy Benson was in the studio the whole time. He writes, on NRO's Media Blog (linked above):

Evidently, much of Obama nation is composed of obedient and persistent sheep. They jammed all five studio lines for nearly the entire show while firing off dozens of angry emails. Many vowed to kick their grievances up the food chain to station management. After 90 minutes of alleged smear peddling, Milt Rosenberg (a well-respected host whose long-form interview show has aired in Chicago for decades) opened the phone lines, and blind ignorance soon began to crackle across the AM airwaves. The overwhelming message was clear: The interview must be put to an end immediately, and the station management should prevent similar discussions from taking place.

One female caller, when pressed about what precisely she objected to, simply replied, "We just want it to stop!" Another angry caller was asked what "lies" Kurtz had told in any of his reporting on Barack Obama. The thoughtful response? "Everything he said is dishonest." The same caller later refused to get into "specifics." Another gentleman called Kurtz "the most un-American person" he'd ever heard. Several of the callers did not even know Stanley's name, most had obviously never read a sentence of his meticulous research, and more than simply read verbatim from the Obama talking points.

Far from political discourse, this isn't discourse at all. These people just want all discourse to stop. Why? Because, as I've said more than once, they have been carefully taught --by, among others, Linda Darling-Hammond, one of Obama's foremost education advisers. They have been taught about the supremacy of relativism, that perception is reality, that everyone's reality has some truth to it, so there's no use in trying to find out what's really real. Thus, unmoored and uncertain, they reach out and cling to an authority who seems to sympathize with their plight. They don't know, they don't want to know, they just want to be told what to do. They have lost the ability to "get into specifics." Someone else's talking points are all they have left. And when they get those talking points, they're reassured: they have something to do, something to say. They have meaning, they have substance, they are not just shadows of their former selves, the individuals they were before their teachers brainwashed them.

They also expose themselves to easy refutations. Further down in the email, the Obama campaign people write:

It is absolutely unacceptable that WGN would give a slimy character assassin like Kurtz time for his divisive, destructive ranting on our public airwaves. At the very least, they should offer sane, honest rebuttal to every one of Kurtz's lies.

But host Milt Rosenberg, with plenty of advance notice, did extend an offer to the Obama campaign for one of their spokespersons to appear on the show for the whole two hours. The Obama people did not accept his invitation. What, did they expect Rosenberg to provide the rebuttal? Probably.

It made for interesting and revealing radio, though. Benson again:

As Rosenberg repeatedly pointed out that Team Obama had been offered the opportunity to take part in the conversation, the agitated masses adapted their argument to suggest it was outrageous to request an interview from the Obama campaign in the thick of the DNC. Delivering the line of the night, Rosenberg countered, "The Obama national headquarters is just down the street from here. They obviously have the time to send out these angry emails, but they can't walk a few blocks to our studios?"

No, they won't make that walk because they don't want to talk. They composed this email after they knew they could appear on the show. And they don't even care that everyone now knows that they were generously given the opportunity to refute the "baseless attacks." They don't care because they know they have "legions" that will obediently gang up and try to mau-mau Milt Rosenberg or anyone else to whom they point. They know their followers well, and they know their followers don't want to know themselves.

These are the supporters of Barack Obama.

In the next few days, when Stanley Kurtz starts reporting chapter and verse about the extended entanglements of Obama with Ayers, those outside the penumbra of Obama's debased charisma will make informed, self-reflective judgments about his judgments.

And in the next few weeks the nation will witness the one-on-one debates, where Barack Obama, bereft of anyone who may run interference for him, will have to answer some very uncomfortable questions. What will his followers do then? The only way to make it stop will be to clap their hands over their ears and shout "obamaobamaobama!" until they exhaust themselves. And while that's going on, objective reality will have its say.

Posted by Jerome at 02:25 PM | TrackBack

August 20, 2008

So Much To Learn: Barack Obama, Bill Ayers, and Social Justice

We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution.
--Bill Ayers, referring to Hugo Chavez, Caracas, Venezuela, World Education Forum, November 2006

by Jerome du Bois

Since Barack Obama came into the national spotlight last year, I've often asked myself what lies behind his popularity, but I didn't bother to do any serious research about it. I thought he was a jumped-up empty suit draped in moribund socialism. I skipped news stories about him and changed the channel every time he showed up. Only recently, after the Bill Ayers connection came up, have I begun to dig into his background, specifically his relationship with Ayers, and their common ground, which is social justice in education. And right there, I believe, is the source of his popularity. To state my thesis succinctly: Obama's largest demographic is the college-educated young, and those people have been schooled in social justice because their teachers have been schooled to teach social justice by Bill Ayers and his allies in the educational establishment. And social justice is the core of Barack Obama's message.

In other words, Bill Ayers et. al., along with Barack Obama, have, working side by side, cultivated the ground and sowed the seeds for the fruit now ripe for the picking.

Three years ago, prompted by human stinkbomb Ward Churchill, I wrote five pieces about rebarbarization in the academy. The last one, with links to the first four, was called "So This Is Where They Come From: The Zombie Dispositions." In that piece I described how graduate education students are required to prove that they have absorbed social justice dispositions before they will be accepted as teachers. This is how I defined those dispositions, in another post about "community engagement" at Arizona State University's Herberger College of the Arts:

It was century-old Progressivism, now wearing jeans and a hoodie: everyone should serve the common good (as defined by the experts), including those in educational institutions; they must do what they can to right the injustices and inequities of racism, sexism, poverty, health care, education, homophobia, the environment . . . all those Moral Equivalents of War on the Agenda.

Nowhere in my readings for that series did I come across Bill Ayers.

But in the last few days, prompted by Barack Obama's continued deceptive brandishing of the ten-foot pole between himself and Ayers, I got out my Google shovel and easily uncovered the findings of a few people who have already done the serious digging. What they unearthed indicates that Barack Obama is well aware of the mindset of his core constituency. He embodies that mindset, and that's why he's their mirror, their megaphone, and their messiah. They have been carefully taught.

I refer to, first, Sol Stern, a contributing editor of City Journal and the author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice. In the Summer 2006 issue of City Journal, Stern published "The Ed Schools' Latest --And Worst--Humbug." That's where I learned that Bill Ayers has had his fingerprints all over social justice teaching --what its advocates call "critical pedagogy"-- for over twenty years. And this pedagogy applies in all disciplines. For example:

In 1997, Ayers and his mentor Maxine Greene persuaded Teachers College Press [TCP] to launch a series of books on social justice teaching, with Ayers as editor and Greene serving on the editorial board (along with Rashid Khalidi, loyal supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University [and who held a fundraiser for Obama in 2000]). Twelve volumes have appeared so far, including one titled Teaching Science for Social Justice.

Stern continues:

Teaching science for social justice? Let Teachers College professor Angela Calabrese Barton, the volume’s principal author, try to explain: “The marriages between capitalism and education and capitalism and science have created a foundation for science education that emphasizes corporate values at the expense of social justice and human dignity.” The alternative? “Science pedagogy framed around social justice concerns can become a medium to transform individuals, schools, communities, the environment, and science itself, in ways that promote equity and social justice. Creating a science education that is transformative implies not only how science is a political activity but also the ways in which students might see and use science and science education in ways transformative of the institutional and interpersonal power structures that play a role in their lives.” If you still can’t appreciate why it’s necessary for your child’s chemistry teacher to teach for social justice, you are probably hopelessly wedded to reason, empiricism, individual merit, and other capitalist and post-colonialist deformities.

There is also a textbook (not part of the TCP series) on teaching math for social justice.

One of the leading lights of the genre is Eric Gutstein, a Marxist colleague of Ayers’s at the University of Illinois and also a full-time Chicago public school math teacher. Gutstein’s new book, Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice, combines critical pedagogy theory and real live math lessons that Gutstein piloted with his predominantly minority seventh-grade students.

Like Ayers, Gutstein reveres Paolo Freire. He approvingly quotes Freire’s dictum that “there neither is, nor has ever been, an educational practice in zero space-time—neutral in the sense of being committed only to preponderantly abstract, intangible ideas.” Gutstein takes this to mean that since all education is political, leftist math teachers who care about the oppressed have a right, indeed a duty, to use a pedagogy that, in Freire’s words, “does not conceal—in fact, which proclaims—its own political character.”

. . . Gutstein’s book comes with the imprimatur of two of the nation’s most influential ed profs, Gloria Ladson-Billings of the University of Wisconsin and William F. Tate of Washington University in St. Louis—the outgoing and incoming presidents of the American Education Research Association. The 25,000-member AERA is the umbrella organization of the ed-school professoriate, and over the past two decades it has moved steadily left, becoming more multicultural, postmodernist, feminist, and enamored of critical race theory and queer theory.

In March of 2008, Stern notes in his recent piece "Obama's Real Bill Ayers Problem," Ayers was elected as vice-president of curriculum for the AERA.

AERA already does a great deal to advance the social-justice teaching agenda in the nation’s schools and has established a Social Justice Division with its own executive director. With Bill Ayers now part of the organization’s national leadership, you can be sure that it will encourage even more funding and support for research on how teachers can promote left-wing ideology in the nation’s classrooms—and correspondingly less support for research on such mundane subjects as the best methods for teaching underprivileged children to read.

Okay, you say, that's Bill Ayers. But what does that have to do with Barack Obama? Enter Steven Diamond of the Global Labor blog (who is no partisan of John McCain, by the way). Diamond is the go-to man on the Obama-Ayers relationship. In an April 22, 2008 post titled "Who 'Sent' Obama?" one from late June titled "That 'Guy Who Lives in My Neighborhood': Behind the Ayers-Obama Relationship," and one in August called "The Obama-Ayers Top Ten," Diamond chronicles in detail an ongoing relationship between the two men going back to the late 80s, with education for social justice as their common concern.

(Diamond's postings also show that Obama's connections with the Chicago machine, the Ayers family, and other financial, political, and legal heavyweights are as tangled as the tails of a ratking.)

In 1994 Bill Ayers wrote a successful grant proposal to the Annenberg Foundation, and received $49.2 million to create the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), with 2-to-1 matching funds planned from private donors. These funds arrived, meaning that the CAC, which ran until 2001, received about $150 million to do its work. The first person chosen by Bill Ayers to chair the CAC was a 33-year-old associate at a small, left-leaning law firm named Barack Obama. Question: If you were Bill Ayers, with all that money at your disposal, and with a lifelong dream of social transformation through authoritarian education reform, would you pick someone to help you who did not share your views? And wouldn't you have to know that person pretty well in order to know what those views were? Reader, you answer as you will. I myself infer that Obama does indeed share those views, and that Ayers was not just some guy who lived in Obama's neighborhood.

Obtaining programmatic details about Ayers's and Obama's past efforts on educational reform, though, have now become hard to find. Stanley Kurtz of National Review discovered that the ten-foot pole has now about tripled in length. He's been trying to get access to the records of the CAC, consisting of 976 folders now housed at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Kurtz is being stonewalled by the UIC, and the effort is still ongoing as I write this.

Kurtz writes:

This country is now mere months away from a momentous presidential election in which a central issue is the political background and character of a relatively young and unknown senator. The Chicago Annenberg Challenge records almost surely contain important information on Senator Obama’s political associations, policy views, ideological leanings, and leadership ability. His role as board chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge is the most important executive experience Obama has held to date. Given this, the public has an urgent right to know what is in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge records.

If you go to the "Education" section on Barack Obama's official website, and scroll down to "Record of Advocacy," you will find precisely nothing about the six years he spent at the CAC. Maybe that's because the CAC was a failure. According to another important Steve Diamond post:

The CAC also funded a third arm, the Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR), in parallel with the two operational arms, the Board and the Collaborative. This arm was to conduct research on the impact of the CAC’s funding.

In 2003 the final technical report of the CCSR on the CAC was published. The results were not pretty. The “bottom line” according to the report was that the CAC did not achieve its goal of improvement in student academic achievement and nonacademic outcomes. While student test scores improved in the so-called Annenberg Schools that received some of the $150 million disbursed in the six years from 1995 to 2001,

“This was similar to improvement across the system . . . .There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement.”

But that doesn't keep the social justice advocates from trying. Linda Darling-Hammond, for example, a Stanford University professor and top Obama adviser on education policy, is floating a variation of the reparations-for-slavery notion called the "education debt." The invaluable Steve Diamond blogs about it here.

Darling-Hammond is well-acquainted with Bill Ayers, as well.

Darling-Hammond is co-editor of a volume called Learning to Teach for Social Justice. A chapter called "Education for Democracy" by Darling-Hammond appeared in a volume co-edited by Ayers called A Light in Dark Times.

Another advisor to Obama on education policy, and an advocate of "education debt," is/was Bill Ayers's SDS buddy, Maoist Mike Klonsky. I say "was" not because he is deceased but because he has been erased from any connection to the Obama campaign, right after Steve Diamond called attention to him. If you go to the "View My Complete Profile" section of Klonsky's own blog, you find no reference that he ever had anything directly to do with the Obama campaign.

Barack Obama has been surrounding himself with social justice advocates in education for almost his entire professional life. And social justice as a professional attitude has been a requirement for teachers for just as long. Our own experience over the last five years on this blog with local teachers and university-trained artists supports our contention that social justice dispositions pervade their minds. And far from fostering open-mindedness and generosity, these dispositions create one-sided, intolerant people. In March, for example, we got a mean email from a local, university-trained global-music musician, completely out of the blue. He said that we disgust him. When I checked out his website, what did I see? A banner endorsement for Barack Obama. He's read his core demographic well, and he's counting on them. Too bad for him there's not enough of them to carry the election.

And when the Annenberg gate opens up, and his disingenuous dodging about his Born Alive Act votes goes viral, and more people get to wondering about the other things he's keeping secret, true social justice will be served.

Posted by Jerome at 03:45 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2008

Easy As Apple Pie

by Jerome du Bois

I found a number of funny things in the press release for "THE OTHER MAINSTREAM II: Selections from the Collection of Mikki and Stanley Weithorn," an exhibition coming up at the ASU Art Museum this September. Mind you, the people behind the exhibition don't share this attitude. They're as solemn as Solomon about it all. That's what I find so funny.

To begin with, there's the fiction that it's been curated.

Originated by the ASU Art Museum and curated by Heather S. Lineberry, senior curator and interim director, and Marilyn A. Zeitlin, with assistance from Lekha Hileman Waitoller, MA student in the ASU School of Art.

Curating usually begins with an idea, a theme, a notion, no matter how attenuated or lame, originated in the mind of the curator. Or the curator notices a trend developing and seeks to focus on it. Then the curator explores the art world for examples of the theme, finds out what's available for lending, determines if there are enough works to justify an exhibition, and then does the hard work of lobbying the owners of the works, making insurance arrangements, and having them shipped out to the venue.

Not so in this case. Lineberry and Zeitlin, with Waitoller trailing behind carrying their Blackberrys probably, just drove up to the Weithorns' Scottsdale house, then flew to their place in New York City, and did an eenie-meenie-minie-moe on all the stuff this well-heeled couple has collected over the years. Tough job. And this is the second time Lineberry has carried out this Sisyphean labor. No wonder she's the interim director now. Come on. It was the Weithorns who did all the curating here. The ASU trio just scooped some of it up. Easy as apple pie.

So what have they wrought?

True to its name, the exhibition reflects the dominance in the contemporary art world of artists from diverse backgrounds working with new issues of identity - a new “mainstream.”

Using the word "new" twice won't revive an old dead horse. I don't know the exact works that will appear in the exhibition, but I've surveyed online images of works of all the artists listed at the end of the press release. With the sole exception of the Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, every other artist is flogging moribund identity aesthetics: politically correct, liberal fascist notions of white oppression and capitalist injustice. As Barack Obama is learning --too late and to his dismay-- most of the American people have grown beyond such retrograde myopia.

But not the artists, because there's still some gold in them worn old hills. They have to mine them, because they have nothing else to offer except ethnicity and old history.

The bi-racial couple [McCallum and Tarry] confront continuing concerns of racism in America drawing on photography from the early twentieth century of lynchings and the Civil Rights Movement. Their video installation, Exchange, poetically and powerfully refers to the “One Drop Rule” in which a person with one drop of black blood in their heritage was considered “colored.”

That is so last millennium. What's funny to me is the solemnity and gravitas with which it's presented, as if they're revealing to us the real skinny, the deep news we must be made aware of. But they're the only ones with "continuing concerns of racism," because that's the only subject their impoverished imaginations can conjure for their so-called art. Without it, they've got nothing to offer. Instead, they proudly advance the simplistic as the profound. And that just makes them look silly.

More pompous solemnity:

With most of the works in the exhibition created since 9/11, the collection is bold in imagery and in its commentary on global societies. It reaches beyond simply examining the assigned powers in politics, gender, and race, and moves to a broader examination of our humanity through humor or fantasy or blunt honesty.

These "curators" never get tired of trotting out the limited elliptical vocabulary of the social justice dispositions --issues of identity, commentary on X, assigned powers, broader examination, continuing concerns-- but if you examine the output of all forty-eight artists, as I have, all you find is cartoon surrealism, pop-culture appropriation, and nihilistic collage, and an abiding contempt for humanity. In this exhibition you will find no nobility, no beauty, no mystery, no wonder, no tenderness, no psychological complexity, only cookie-cutter stereotypes spoon-fed to these fools by their charlatan teachers. If you can get away with it, it's a lot easier than dealing with reality.

Not long ago I would have been outraged and angry at such a narrow view, such a blinkered, astringent tunnel vision of the human race. But now I know these artists are just commenting on each other. And they don't even know it. While they rise up harrumphing and point accusatory fingers at "the other," their shriveled souls don't recognize that they're pointing to a mirror. There is no other but themselves.

Call me perverse, but I think that's funnier than hell.

[Eudora crapped out on us just as Movable Type did, so if any reader wants to respond, scroll down to find our new gmail address.]

Posted by Jerome at 12:50 PM | TrackBack