September 25, 2008

Poisoned Fruit

by Jerome du Bois

It is established fact that the $160 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge did not bear the fruit of its ostensible intentions. As Steve Diamond of Global Labor and Politics wrote in his post "Behind the Annenberg Gate: Inside the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Records,"

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 now, as we learn more about where the money went --to ACORN instead of algebra, for example-- this outcome should come as no surprise. Bill Ayers, Mike Klonsky, and Barack Obama, along with other collaborators, put the money where they wanted it, in programs to promote the social justice dispositions. And in that, they bore plenty of poisoned fruit.

As I wrote before, this has been Ayers's agenda for most of his adult life. He teaches teachers, and what he teaches them reaches far beyond Chicago. Social justice teaching started before the CAC, and it flourishes today. We've run across it many times here in Phoenix, in people like Neal Lester, Beverly McIver, John Jota Leanos, Michael Crow, and Joe Baker --all at ASU. That's at the college level. We wrote about skewed, anti-American multiculturalism on the secondary level in "Turning Arizona Schools Into Muslim Madrassas" --with a couple of follow-ups-- three years ago.

I have two more examples, thanks to Catherine. They're about field trips.

Catherine came across this squib in the latest issue of Phoenix New Times:

For the past few weeks, Valley schoolchildren have taken perhaps the first field trip in history to feature the phrase, “I am an accused terrorist spy and I am a patriotic American.” We would expect no less from the Icehouse, Phoenix’s favorite venue for the out-there of the art world. Helen Hestenes’ space reaffirms its avant-garde status with the première of the “I Am An American: Video Portraits of Unsafe U.S. Citizens” installation by artist/filmmaker Cynthia Weber, which opens to the public at 7 tonight following a period of school tours.

The exhibit showcases the lives and stories of Americans impacted directly or indirectly by the war on terror. These include survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the children of illegal immigrants, and the aforementioned accused terrorist spy.

From just these two paragraphs it's easy to infer the political orientation of Cynthia Weber, but just to be sure, I did my homework on her. In 2007 she "appropriated" (stole) the theme of the American Ad Council's series of patriotic TV spots, which ran in the months after 9/11. She calls her own series a "critical remake." She spent nine months going around filming various people. She didn't do this on her own dime, of course; she worked the system:

This research was supported by grants from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, by a Visiting Scholar position at the University of Arizona, and by Lancaster University.

She writes:

The stories told here are in no way meant to speak for all US Americans and their lived experiences of citizenship and identity in the post-9/11 US. Rather, they are a sample, albeit an often troubling one. Yet as worrying as this sample may be, what I find more disturbing are the numerous stories not included here, told to me by ordinary US Americans caught up in extraordinary circumstances who are too afraid to tell their stories on-camera. There is no better evidence of the distorting focus of the American Ad Council's self-portrait of the US expressed in its post-9/11 advertising campaign than what has become increasingly evident in the ensuing six years: the fear of ordinary US Americans who cannot safely say "I am an American" with a difference.

I wonder where she found those fearful Americans. The "different" Americans are yelling all over the place, from DailyKos to Democratic Underground to MSNBC. And there are the ones who emerged, a year after her project, at the Conventions, replete with Recreate68, Code Pink, and the anarchists, camera-hoggers all. The "accused terrorist spy" is Captain James Yee, who, at the time of filming, had been exonerated --cleared-- of all charges, so his statement is untrue. As for the Hurricane Katrina victims, that's a stretch, but since we're in distortion mode, may I bring up Barack Obama, who diverted Katrina funds to the Bridge to Nowhere?

Anyway, teachers all over the Valley seem to be happy to haul their charges down to the skanky Icehouse to foist this propaganda on them. I wonder, though, if they will balance this presentation with, for example, The Path to 9/11 or Flight 93?

The other example goes back almost five years, and was covered by Catherine in the first part of her review of the art exhibition Hairstories, which has the inimitable title, "Just 'Fro Stories: How SMoCA and New Times Jump Right in Da Guilted Frame; or, Don't Blame Your Bad Black Hair Days on My White Skin."

Oh, we know, you don't have to tell us: If you're white, and you call a black racist a racist, then you're racist. That's called stacking the deck with race cards. Even though it's not true that we're racist. Catherine's example comes courtesy of Kathleen Vanesian, a compliant dispenser of the dispositions. Here it is (scroll down in Catherine's article for the photos mentioned):

Big Bad Art Critic Joins Art Museum Inside Guilted White Frame

From Kathleen Vanesian's latest Phoenix New Times art column:

HairStories is a potent reminder that it's been less than 40 years since the civil rights movement [sic] in this country began the long, painful process of weeding out long-entrenched prejudices that forced African-Americans to use separate rest rooms, to attend separate schools and to straighten their hair with white-hot, death-defying instruments of torture, including chemicals and potions like lye, kerosene and axle grease -- or to hide it with wigs -- so that they would look whiter and, thus, be socially more acceptable.[my emphasis]

Vanesian uses the same overwrought tone in her standup foldup review as the writers of the essays in the catalogue. I thought she told her readers, a few reviews ago, that she was going to be so formidable --the bitch is back, no PR flack, and so on-- but here there's no criticism from this critic. Consider this excerpt:

I eavesdropped on one docent, who pointed to a series of black-and-white photographic self-portraits titled "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" (1996) by Cynthia Wiggins, the title a takeoff on the Kelly LeBrock shampoo commercial from several years ago. The well-executed images are unrelenting close-ups of Wiggins' less than perfect complexion and mane of untamed hair, which has been allowed to grow in naturally.

"Who thinks the lady in the photos is beautiful?" chirps a graying, white male docent (who deserves a Best Explanation of a Difficult Social Issue Award) to his all-white, obviously middle-class, fourth-grade entourage. Two, then three hands tentatively rise.

"And who thinks the lady is not beautiful?" All the boys thrust their hands skyward. With an almost imperceptible sigh, but unflagging cheerfulness, the dogged docent begins a lesson that should have been learned long ago from parents, school and church:

"Where do we learn what is beautiful? And who sets the standard of what is beautiful?"

[Cynthia Wiggins photo]

Herd those white schoolkids right in to Da Guilted Frame! What disingenuous propagandizing! It is inappropriate for the art museum docents to be using scripts that prompt white, obviously middle-class, little boys to make judgments about female beauty (sexual attractiveness) just to prove the racist agenda of the show's organizers.

Why is the administration okaying a script that is trying to draw adult responses from little boys selected for their racial and social characteristics? Most of these little boys weren't even alive or aware when the commercial this piece riffs on was made. Is it fair to lead them with questions the responses to which are going to be used to condemn them? Because Cynthia Wiggins appears multiplied six times before them, looking her worst, unkempt and unadorned, we are to blame the little white boys for not finding her beautiful? Nobody told them that Ms. Wiggins's face had been "purposefully darkened by make-up (she is light-skinned) [page14]." Why not? And why did she do that? The implications behind this overheard exchange are racist and unethical.

Beverly McIver, hogging a whole wall elsewhere in the show, appearing in her trademark clown shtick, longing to be embraced, costume, black greasepaint and all --yech!-- poses a similar ridiculous dilemma: "Do You Think I Am Pretty?" -- and apparently, if one isn't turned on by the Fat Clown Look, then one is racist against black women. Just because Cynthia Wiggins and Beverly McIver have no pride in their appearances, how is that our fault?

If our star recipient of the Best Explanation of a Difficult Social Issue Award had turned his little group of fourth-graders ninety degrees to the right they would have seen, in a more modest scale and without duplication, another photographic portrait, this one of the stone cold gorgeous Kathleen Cleaver. [Not available for reproduction, but look below.]

[Kathleen Cleaver photo]

If our disingenuous docent (I'm taking back his award) had been honest enough to ask the boys if they found Kathleen Cleaver beautiful, I am quite sure they would have, unanimously. But then, that would not be the answer or the response sought by the organizers of HairStories. So, point the kids toward a frumpy woman or a freak, and then feel racially vindicated when the white middle-classers prefer a different aesthetic. See? We told you so!

It's a trap. Ms. Wiggins is already trying to be ugly on purpose --the makeup, the title-- and it has nothing to do with her race. (Ditto with Ms. McIver.) The little boys were ambushed. Why didn't she put on some real makeup and fix her hair before presenting her multiple self? Oh, am I being sexist? And the docent with his suggestive, leading questions wasn't? And what ever happened to the incisive art critic? Not there; just some dumb-ass fool smiling warmly like an indulgent aunt.

End of excerpt. I can't add much more, except I'm proud of stand-up American woman Catherine King, who knows poisoned fruit when she sees it.

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September 24, 2008

Bullies and Cowards

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your division. That you come out of your isolation. That you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual; uninvolved, uninformed.
--Michelle Obama, February, UCLA

I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face.
--Barack Obama, Sept. 17, Elko, Nevada

Don't Tread On Me.
--Rattlesnake Motto

by Jerome du Bois

The first two citations above certainly differ from the third one, and they reveal the basic assumption these two people carry about human nature --namely, that people are not ends in themselves, but instruments to be used for the ends of those in power. They have plans for us. If our plans don't coincide with their plans, then too bad for us.

This isn't rhetoric. As four posts on this page of the Volokh Conspiracy show, Barack Obama has proposed the formation of more than a dozen "Corps" for mandatory, involuntary community service, by everyone from middle-school students to retired adults. Jim Lindgren writes at the end of the last post:

Note the tone of these proposals: none of this false modesty about proposing these new agencies and Corps to Congress and working for their passage. His Plan simply declares: “Barack Obama will create” this; “Barack Obama will create” that.

The arrogance of these two knows no bounds. How dare Michelle Obama assume that our lives as usual are uninformed and uninvolved? Who says we're not pushing ourselves to be better, by ourselves, without their paternalistic bullying? By what means will Barack Obama "never allow" certain behavior? By what right does he "demand"? By what authority does he "require"?

And what does he mean by "get in their face"? I'll tell what it doesn't mean: rational discourse. He's talking about browbeating, bullying, threats and intimidation. He's talking about getting his way by any means necessary. We've had his people come by our house already, but we won't answer the door when they knock; I don't mind argument, but there's no reasoning with a gansta video brought to life.

Since Michelle Obama brought up cynicism, let's go there.

Consider the man running Obama's campaign. His name is David Axelrod, who has been given the nickname "Astroturf," because he has a long history of deceitful, false-grassroots publicity campaigns. This is the man who will probably be Obama's Chief of Staff if he's elected President; a man who has no problem lying to and manipulating others to achieve his ends. This is the man who is joined at the hip to Barack Obama, and who also has a history with Michelle Obama, when he tried to get poor black people away from the doors of her Chicago hospital to make room for the high-dollar patients. She knows the kind of man he is. How's that for informed, Mrs. Obama?

Stanley Kurtz and Steven Diamond have been informing us about another social bully, Bill Ayers. Both have been patiently teasing out a long-term relationship that the Obama people have been frantically trying to keep out of the public eye. Diamond's characterization of Ayers as an authoritarian leftist is made clear in Kurtz's piece in the WSJ:

Mr. Ayers is the founder of the "small schools" movement (heavily funded by CAC [Chicago Annenberg Challenge]), in which individual schools built around specific political themes push students to "confront issues of inequity, war, and violence." He believes teacher education programs should serve as "sites of resistance" to an oppressive system. (His teacher-training programs were also CAC funded.) The point, says Mr. Ayers in his "Teaching Toward Freedom," is to "teach against oppression," against America's history of evil and racism, thereby forcing social transformation.

Someone should teach Mr. Ayers that "forcing social transformation" is oppression.

The other side of bullying is cowardice. When you call these people out, when you refuse to be tread on, they go running. The Daily Kos must have to employ a full-time flunky to flush diaries down their memory hole when the truth comes knocking. The latest concerns the astroturfing engineered --all by himself!-- by PR man and Obama advocate Ethan S. Winner. Bill Ayers put up a cartoon (!) on his website where he says he doesn't "necessarily" advocate violent resistance, and when it received too much attention, he took it down. Another social bully and Ayers buddy, Mike Klonsky, used to be an education adviser to Obama, until too many people found out about his authoritarian agenda and Maoist history. Then he was disappeared from the Obama campaign website.

Bullies are cowards, and cowards are bullies. And anyone who paternalistically exhibits contempt toward the intelligence and individuality of ordinary Americans deserves nothing but contempt themselves.

[See the sidebar "Election 2008" for more political postings.]

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September 16, 2008

They Still Just Want It To Stop

by Jerome du Bois

Last night Barack Obama supporters once again disrupted Milt Rosenberg's radio show, just as they had done a few weeks ago with Rosenberg's guest Stanley Kurtz. (I wrote about that here.) This time their target was David Freddoso, author of The Case Against Barack Obama. And once again, the campaign used the same tactics and even some of the same language to mobilize those supporters.

As quoted by the Campaign Spot on National Review Online:

. . . WGN apparently thinks this card-carrying member of the right-wing smear machine needs a bigger platform for his lies and smears about Barack Obama — on the public airwaves. . . .

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

The names change, but the plug-in phrases remain the same --and boringly repetitious, too. Three "smears" in two sentences.

And once again, it worked. From a post by Ed Lasky at The American Thinker:

I listened last night. One of the callers who identified herself as a college journalism (!) student criticized Freddoso. All she did was read off the alert the Obama campaign sent out to its list members. She only admitted this fact when Rosenberg asked her if she was doing so. In other words . . . she was just following orders.

I don't know this woman, obviously, but she sounds familiar. I'm not surprised she is a college student. We've been dealing with the same one-dimensionality for five years, mostly from other products of our debased educational establishments. They do not think for themselves; they've allowed themselves to be dissuaded from self-reflection. Their have shrunken their minds from capacious rooms to paper-thin planes. Like Skinner-trained pidgeons, they react to stimuli, and then they're done.

For example, in late April a Seattle art critic saw that our blog links to "the colored football site," and concluded that we are consumed by hatred. That was all she needed.

She also mentioned our "right-wing tirades." More misguided shorthand. I'm neither right nor left. I'm for freedom and individual rights. I'm for the self-reflective person, the examined life. I'm for this country, the foremost exemplar of those ideas.

The right wing, like the left wing, too easily extends into caricature, and then we end up with narcissistic blowhards like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Neither of these two men is interested in getting to the heart of any matter. All they want is material for the next show. For example, in his recent interview with Barack Obama, O'Reilly could have enlightened his viewers about Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers with three simple questions:

When did you first meet William Ayers?
Who introduced you two?
What was the purpose of the meeting?

Then we'd be farther down the road to truth. But neither Hannity nor O'Reilly (nor Alan Colmes) will risk that, because if they did they would burn their access to further interviews.

Way back at the beginning of our blogging, one of our first emails came from Scott Sanders, of the now-defunct Paper Heart Gallery on Grand Avenue. He didn't want to address the subject of our posting, which was the shallowness of the thinking of local artists, as reflected in their public statements. Instead, he asked if there was a photograph of me out there on the internet. That's all. Why? I have no idea, but I'll guess it was so he could do to me what Jill Greenberg just did to John McCain.

Most of our correspondents emerge from the same frame. They either redefine the subject into something familiar to them, and then go on in that irrelevant vein; or they skip that part and just smear us. They're not interested in elevating, or even pursuing, the cultural discourse; they just want it to stop. They want us all to get lowbrow, lowrider, and lowdown.

No way.

Posted by Jerome at 04:45 PM | TrackBack

September 11, 2008

Turn, Turn, Turn


Earlier commemorations can be found here and here.

Never forget September 11, 2001.

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September 10, 2008

New Art: Alphabetical Order by Catherine King

by Jerome du Bois

The banner above (here, when we change the banner) is a photograph of Alphabetical Order, a new 20" x 5' collage by Catherine King. It is composed entirely of images taken from magazines: letters, numbers, and hair. She has meticulously cut the areas around the letters and numbers into the shapes of tombstones. Formally, the artwork has the same layout as a Ouija board (which she has made before; and no, we don't use it). A Ouija board is a means of communicating with the dead. Here, it is as if all the spirits of the departed lingering beneath the surface of the board had been made manifest and visible, a veritable army of the dead, filling the entire area with their poignant message: Don't forget us. They march toward the viewer, in wave upon wave, growing larger as they get closer, crowding the mind. Conversely, they emerge from the viewer's mind (the living, moving hair along the bottom) as we remember that we wouldn't be here today, or who we are today, without those who have gone before us, who are now behind us, above us, and around us.

Catherine and typography go way back. She used to set type by hand. She used to use stencils to create letters. She used to cut and paste for advertising. Now here she is, returning to some of the same techniques. But she marvels at how typography has evolved, at how advances in technology and printing processes have enabled graphic artists to enhance, to enflesh, the enduring skeletal forms of the alphabet, to create emotional and evocative responses using color, shading, layering, auras, and distortion. So this piece is also a testament and homage to the ingenuity of those who took advantage of those advances.

Alphabetical Order rewards close examination. See those hands there? This is another homage, to the hard work of handwork. More importantly, though, it expresses the longing of the dearly departed to be embodied again, to touch, to grasp, to embrace, and to move a small part of the world as they used to do and can do no longer.

Catherine tells me that originally she thought of merely cutting or tearing the letters out of the magazines and gluing them to the surface. But after reflection the tombstone idea came to her, and she took out templates she inherited from her late father --templates that are no longer made in these computerized times-- and carefully carved out the varied shapes. Tombstones are made to endure, far outlasting the body below them. They mark the last visible vestige of an individual life, with a name and two dates to denote this person who was here for this long on this Earth.

"Good Bye" is a contraction of "God Be With Ye," and I infer two other Biblical references from this piece, though they were not necessarily Catherine's conscious intention: "Every hair is numbered," and Jesus' admonition to "Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No." Every one is unique. Every letter here is an individual, and even though some look alike, their size, their placement in space, and their tombstones differ. Everybody counts.

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September 06, 2008

About Those Trees

by Jerome du Bois

Since Randy Slack has never had any ideas, one cannot claim that he's out of them. He does adopt other people's ideas, though --the outdated ones. His "installation" at the @Central Gallery in the Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix, entitled "Paperless Society," consists of two things: on the walls, off-the-shelf supergraphics of trees in a forest, repeated several times, floor to ceiling; on a metal stand, a statement by Slack about global warming and suchlike crap, encouraging the viewer to, among other things, wonder how many trees went into the making of all the books in the library.

In other words, ignore the words. Ignore the work it takes to elaborate an idea, to compose coherent sentences about it, to write them down, to build a paragraph, to argue, to advocate, to surprise and entertain, to inspire anger or wonder or sorrow or soaring joy. To connect with another mind through written language. Forget about all that. Dismiss every one of the hundreds of thousands of books in the library, and all the sweat and tears and agony that went into bringing each one to birth between its covers. It's all about the trees.

Catherine and I love trees, especially big ones. On Thursday, August 29th, Phoenix experienced one of its most severe thunderstorms in over thirty years. That night we were hauled out of bed by the locomotive roar of the wind and the shotgunning rattling of hail --yes, hail-- in August!-- coming through the vents of our house. The electricity went off, then on, then off, then on again. I gave thanks for the repair crews who braved the lash of the weather for the sake of our comfort and safety.

The next morning I drove around for awhile, in and around our neighborhood and others, and saw how many big trees had been torn out by the roots and had fallen on streets and houses and power lines. Most of our favorites ones still stood. Next to my parents' house is a giant pine tree, double-trunked, about forty feet tall. Their neighbor, now long gone, planted it as a six-foot Christmas tree about thirty-five years ago. It was fine, tall as ever, its pine cones scattered over the street and driveways.

In the days following the storm, as I drove here and there, work crews were busy cutting and stacking the felled trees. Some of the trunks were three feet across, root balls twice as big. None of those trees were grown for paper, for books. They just stood and looked at God all day, gave us oxygen, and raised their arms in praise, or defiance, to the sky. The trees that are used for books are grown for books. We learned a long time ago the dangers of deforestation, and adjusted accordingly. You can read about it, in books.

There are no dead words, only dead minds.

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