October 17, 2008

New Art: The Darkest Hour by Catherine King

The Darkest Hour. 40" x 60" collage © 2008 Catherine King

by Jerome du Bois

Catherine's newest collage is a visually stunning summary of metaphors of time, life, anxiety, melancholy, and death. She used only images of dark-faced wristwatches precisely cut from magazines, oriented each one on the 12/6 vertical axis, and ranked them by diminishing size in concentric frames. These formal restrictions unleash a rich array of associations.

First, though, just look at it. Fall into its beautiful complexity. Ranked in columns and rows, Time marches toward you and away from you at the same time. Every moment is a faceted jewel. Revel in the glorious detail, the variety of human ingenuity within strict parameters. So carefully has Catherine used the X-acto knife and scissors that the timepieces overlap seamlessly, some peeking out behind and through others. Stepping back, one sees the order of perspective, the melancholy contemplation of a long life. Stepping close, one sees the richness of particularity, the busy buzz of being in one's life. In the middle distance, the further past crowds the recent past, and the present, a piece of time in each timepiece.

Due to her consummate skill, each image pops, but this is serious Pop art, ten thousand miles from the smarmy irony and comic-book simplicity of Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein. Nor do we see the random clutter of the more recent cartoony surrealists. By lifting the images from the latest magazines --no old Life appropriation here-- Catherine pays tribute to the unforgiving detail yet infinitely rewarding clarity of the new digital photography. Though taken from the shiny thin pages of mass-market periodicals, binary images, either here now or not here at all, published at regularly determined intervals, there's nothing superficial here, but a meditation as deep as Aristotle's physics.

Aristotle wrote about two kinds of time, continuous and discrete, the flow and the step, the river and the pebble. Old physics and new physics. The Darkest Hour portrays new physics, where time does not unwind like the relaxing spool of a watchspring, but ticks in relentless regularity like the quantum. It reminds me of the face of the Large Hadron Collider.

The Watchmaker God appears here, showing his gears, but more often the dark face of empty space marked only by the hands of fate and the numbered days of our lives. Crowded edge-to-edge and top to bottom, yet forming a corridor, The Darkest Hour suggests a life seen all at once from the doorway of the Day of Judgment. Anxiety rises: what have I done? Have I done enough? What is my life worth? Some days were better than others, but they're all there, judging one another, each standing alone and discrete, despite having so much in common. Each changeless moment changes us, and if we're wise what endures is the character that has developed in the dark, because that's all we can carry with us into the darkest hour.

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October 13, 2008

An ACORN For The Teacher

by Jerome du Bois

It's been forty years exactly since my wife Catherine was bused to L.A.'s Watts from her Arizona college to expose her to the "inequities" of the American system. It was part of her freshman "orientation." The social justice dispositions have been around a long time.

She just told me about a passage in James Webb's Born Fighting, an exemplary history of the Scots-Irish, an ethnic group of which she is herself an exemplar: feisty, individualistic, and anti-authoritarian. Webb, a highly decorated Marine of the Vietnam War, was attending Georgetown University's law school. It was 1972.

At Georgetown Law, the overwhelming preponderance of students and faculty came heavily from America's better universities and were clearly among the dissenters [to the Vietnam War]. Years of intellectual conditioning had taught them that the government was corrupt, that the capitalistic system was rapacious, that the military was incompetent and even invidious, and that the WASP culture that had largely built America had done so at the expense of other ethnic and racial groups. To many of them the Vietnam War was largely an extension of a racist, colonialist, capitalist system that had its origins in the evils of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans during the nation's westward expansion. . . . The mood at the law center was outrageously out of step with the rest of America and yet filled with an unbending, adamant certainty. (Pp. 319-20)

That reminded me of an essay by Camille Paglia, "The Nursery-School Campus: The Corrupting of the Humanities in the U.S.," which was published in 1992 in the London Times Literary Supplement. Excerpts:

By the early 1970s, American universities had become top-heavy with full-time administrators who took to speaking of the campus as a "community," which, faculty soon discovered, was governed by invisible codes of acceptable speech, opinions, and behavior. . . The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a nursery school where adulthood can be indefinitely postponed . . . .

The politically correct professors, with their hostility to the "canon" of the great European writers and artists, have done serious damage to the quality of undergraduate education at the best American colleges and universities. Yet they are people without deep beliefs. Real radicals stand for something and risk something; these academics are very pampered fat cats who have never stood on principle at any point in their careers. Nothing has happened to them in their lives. They never went to war; they were never out of work or broke. They have no experience or knowledge of anything outside the university, least of all working-class life. Their politics are a trendy tissue of sentimental fantasy and unsupported verbal categories. Guilt over their own privilege has frozen their political discourse into a simplistic world melodrama of privilege versus deprivation.

Which brings us to the present day, with a widely-quoted excerpt from a recent column by the widely-respected Michael Barone on "The Coming Obama Thugocracy":

Once upon a time, liberals prided themselves, with considerable reason, as the staunchest defenders of free speech. Union organizers in the 1930s and 1940s made the case that they should have access to employees to speak freely to them, and union leaders like George Meany and Walter Reuther were ardent defenders of the First Amendment.

Today's liberals seem to be taking their marching orders from other quarters. Specifically, from the college and university campuses where administrators, armed with speech codes, have for years been disciplining and subjecting to sensitivity training any students who dare to utter thoughts that liberals find offensive. The campuses that used to pride themselves as zones of free expression are now the least free part of our society.

Obama supporters who found the campuses congenial and Obama himself, who has chosen to live all his adult life in university communities, seem to find it entirely natural to suppress speech that they don't like and seem utterly oblivious to claims that this violates the letter and spirit of the First Amendment. In this campaign, we have seen the coming of the Obama thugocracy, suppressing free speech, and we may see its flourishing in the four or eight years ahead.

Who made that recent video of the schoolkids singing "Obama's gonna lead us" in unison? Who created the words, the music, commissioned the t-shirts, organized the presentation? A teacher.

Who made that other recent video of the middle-school boys marching in line, chanting "Alpha-Omega-Alpha-Omega," and reciting "Because of Obama . . ." they're going to realize their dreams? A teacher.

But what does this have to do with the ACORN in my title? For that we turn to Stanley Kurtz.

In a New York Post column, "Spreading The Virus," published today, October 13, Kurtz begins:

To discover the roots of today's economic crisis, consider a tale from 1995.

That March, House Speaker Newt Gingrich was scheduled to address a meeting of county commissioners at the Washington Hilton. But, first, some 500 protesters from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) poured into the ballroom from both the kitchen and the main entrance.

Hotel staffers who tried to block them were quickly overwhelmed by demonstrators chanting, "Nuke Newt!" and "We want Newt!" Jamming the aisles, carrying bullhorns and taunting the assembled county commissioners, demonstrators swiftly took over the head table and commandeered the microphone, sending two members of Congress scurrying.

The demonstrators' target, Gingrich, hadn't yet arrived --and his speech was cancelled. When the cancellation was announced, ACORN's foot soldiers cheered.

Two days later, at a House Banking subcommittee hearing, which was going to reconsider the Community Reinvestment Act, one of ACORN's major sources of income, ACORN struck again.

ACORN went into action to protect its golden goose.

It struck as Roukema aired her concerns at that hearing. Protesters, led by ACORN President Maud Hurd, stood up and began chanting, "CRA has got to stay!" and "Banks for greed, not for need!" The protesters then demanded the microphone.

With the hearing interrupted and the demonstrators refusing to leave, Roukema called the Capital Police, who arrested Hurd and four others for "disorderly conduct in a Capital building" --a charge carrying a penalty of a $500 fine, six months in prison or both. As the police arrived, two of the protesters menacingly approached Roukema's desk, still demanding the hearing microphone.

Who were these protestors, demonstrators, and foot soldiers? Where did they come from? Why did they think such thuggish tactics were appropriate in a democratic society?

You know my answers already. And who was among those who taught them to behave this way? Barack Obama.

Obama has been a key ally of Chicago ACORN going back to his days as a community organizer.

Later, as a young lawyer, he offered leadership training to the activists who were forcing Chicago banks into high-risk subprime loans. And when he made it on to the boards of Chicago's Woods Fund and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, he channeled money ACORN's way.

Obama was perfectly aware of ACORN's intimidation tactics --indeed, he oversaw a Woods Fund report that boasted of managing to fund the radical group despite its shocking behavior.

The Obama campaign can deny his involvement with ACORN all day long, but the paper trail is long and detailed, complete with photographs. Check out this piece from Charles Johnson's website, for just one example.

Catherine and I have had to contend with collectivist, anti-American thugs our whole adult lives, including five-plus years on this blog. It's no wonder we're on the outs in this town, whose culturati have been nurtured on liberal fascism by their teachers. But it's not in our natures to give up and give in. No matter who wins in November, we'll continue to hold up the inviolate individual --contentious, skeptical, truth-loving-- against the howling depredations of the mob.

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October 09, 2008

Brave Bill Ayers

by Jerome du Bois

Two years ago Bill Ayers received a letter from some colleagues at a university informing him of two things: (1) they were presenting a conference on progressive education in Spring 2007, and (2) he wasn't invited. He talks about it in an interview with Revolution, the main organ of the Communist Party of the US, online here. He reproduces the letter --omitting real names and the name of the university-- and his own reply to them in the radical journal Monthly Review online here. Today, in National Review Online, Andy McCarthy quotes parts of the interview and makes his own comments, mainly to show that Ayers has not retreated one step from his commitment to making schools into indoctrination arenas; that is, he is an unrepentant socialist progressive.

After reading what Ayers said and wrote in these pieces, two things stood out for me. First was his image that true progressive educators were embattled and besieged on all sides by reactionaries and conservatives, that they need to be brave and stand up and speak truth to power, and that social justice teaching was fighting an uphill struggle --when the fact is that social justice has all but mopped up the opposition, and that's even more true today than it was two years ago. If you doubt it, read some of the entries on the sidebar here called "The Social Justice Dispositions." I'll offer just one more case in point, which Nat Hentoff reported in late September:

At Brandeis University in Massachusetts, professor Donald Hindley, on the faculty for 48 years, teaches a course on Latin American politics. Last fall, he described how Mexican migrants to the United States used to be discriminatorily called "wetbacks." An anonymous student complained to the administration accusing Mr. Hindley of using prejudicial language. It was the first complaint against him in 48 years.

After an investigation, during which Mr. Hindley was not told the nature of the complaint, Brandeis Provost Marty Krauss informed Mr. Hindley that "The University will not tolerate inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct by members of its faculty." A corollary accusation was that students suffered "significant emotional trauma" when exposed to such a term. An administration monitor was assigned to his class. Threatened with "termination," Mr. Hindley was ordered to take a sensitivity-training class. With no charges against him, no evidence of misconduct given him and no hearing, he refused in the spirit of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, for whom this university is named.

The Faculty Senate and its Committee on Faculty Rights objected to this treatment, and so did the Massachusetts ACLU, and so did the student newspaper, Hentoff continues, but what about his fellow faculty members?

Mr. Hindley tells me that despite the response of the faculty Senate and the Committee on Faculty Rights, individual tenured members of his department, though outraged, would not stand up publicly on his behalf. One of them explained to him, "I'm about to retire." He and others fear retaliation.

Poor Professor Hindley. But it's okay for University of Hawai'i Professor Haunani Trask to write and have published a book of poetry called "Racist White Woman" --which detailed "her fantasy of punching, knifing, mutilating and ultimately murdering a white colleague she despised." I'd say that the social justice dispositions saturate higher education, and that defenders of academic freedom are the ones beseiged.

The second thing which stood out for me was Ayers's brave talk about Ward Churchill.

From the interview in Revolution:

He’s being pilloried for his politics, for being a leftist, for being a critic of U.S. imperialism as it relates to Native Americans. How can we as socialists or as communists or as leftists, how can we leave him in the cold and say, well I’m a good leftist because I don’t talk the way Ward talks. I find that appalling. And I would hope that when they come to get Ward, we all link arms and don’t allow it.

But when Ward Churchill got his ass handed to him, which he richly deserved, Bill Ayers was nowhere nearby. He allowed it to happen. He didn't fly out to Colorado and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with that big brutal lug; instead he signed petitions and wrote an open letter of support on his blog. Real direct action, Billy boy.

Not incidentally, the university which disinvited Bill Ayers to its conference because of fear of association with his violent past was the University of Colorado, the same place which kicked out Ward Churchill. Education scholar Sol Stern reported about it in Front Page magazine here. Why did Ayers not reveal where his colleagues worked? Maybe so as not to burn any bridges? To keep his options open? Stern thought that the UC Ed people should reconsider and re-invite Ayers:

I predict that now that the contretemps about the conference is out in the open and the institution where it is to be held has been identified, the Colorado Ed school’s exercise in pre-emptive censorship won’t stand. And that would be all to the good. The public interest and the cause of truth in advertising would best be served by having Bill Ayers participate at the conference. As we used to say in the 60s, let it all hang out. Let Bill Ayers be Bill Ayers. Not only should he speak at the conference, he should expound on his academic work in which he explains that existing American education is nothing but capitalist hegemony and that the mission of progressive educators (like himself) is to worm their way into the system, to take back the classrooms and turn them into laboratories of revolutionary change. In fact maybe he should even bring his tenured colleague from the University of Illinois, Professor Eric Gutstein, who has written about how he uses his seventh grade mathematics classroom in a Chicago public school to teach children that the U.S. had no reason at all to invade Afghanistan.

As far as I've been able to find out, Ayers was not re-invited. Perhaps he was too busy on the down-low, acting as a behind-the-scenes campaigner for Barack Obama, worming his way through the system.

Brave new worm.

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October 06, 2008

Barack Obama and Bill Ayers: Social Justice Is The Link

by Jerome du Bois

Most commentators on the Obama-Ayers relationship concentrate on the "unrepentant terrorist" meme. But Steve Diamond, Stanley Kurtz, and Sol Stern put the focus where it belongs: on the decades-long collaboration between the two to transform education into indoctrination; specifically, neo-Stalinist, anti-American indoctrination, using the feelgood rubric "social justice." Catherine and I encountered this phenomenon before we could put a name to it, when we saw the work of artists and literary people who embodied it. Later we ran it down to its sources. (See the new sidebar on "The Social Justice Dispositions.")

From Kurtz's October 4th piece rebutting Scott Shane's NYT article:

. . . Ayers sees his education work as carrying on his radicalism in a new guise. The point of Ayers’ education theory is that the United States is a fundamentally racist and oppressive nation. Students, Ayers believes, ought to be encouraged to resist this oppression. Obama was funding Ayers’ "small schools" project, built around this philosophy. Ayers’ radicalism isn’t something in the past. It’s something to which Obama gave moral and financial support as an adult. So when Shane says that Obama has never expressed sympathy for Ayers’ radicalism, he’s flat wrong. Obama’s funded it.

Obama was perfectly aware of Ayers’ radical views, since he read and publicly endorsed, without qualification, Ayers’ book on juvenile crime. That book is quite radical, expressing doubts about whether we ought to have a prison system at all, comparing America to South Africa’s apartheid system, and contemptuously dismissing the idea of the United States as a kind or just country.

From Steve Diamond's latest post about the Shane article, published today, October 6th:

Ayers is what political scientists call a "neo-stalinist." Neo-stalinism is an authoritarian form of politics which attempts to control and build social institutions to impose state control of the economy, politics and culture on the general population. It has similarities to the original Stalinism found in the former Soviet Union but it arose in other countries and used slightly different forms and in some instances created regimes that were at odds for various reasons with the Russian regime.

Classic examples of neo-stalinist regimes --regimes that Ayers and people in his political camp respect and support-- are the Chavez regime in Venezuela, the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, the Castro regime in Cuba, and the maoist regime in China.

How could such a world view have anything to do with Obama? Well, the route that Ayers and his camp have followed to promote his form of authoritarian politics is a critical policy area: education.

Ayers advocates what he calls a "social justice" approach to education. What that means is the promotion of his authoritarian politics through our public school system.

Diamond then lists four key areas of this program, and notes that a lot of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge money went to fund them:

. . . among the most important projects of the Challenge were the very same four policies so critical to Ayers political strategy:

* promotion of local school councils,
* financial support for small schools,
* promotion of a "social justice" teaching agenda, and
* a race based approach to education policy.

And Barack Obama signed off on all of them.

The education scholar Sol Stern also commented on the Shane article, as well as a characterization by Tom Brokaw of Ayers as a "school reformer," in a piece posted in City Journal today, October 6th:

Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer. (If you find the metaphor strained, consider that Walter Duranty, the infamous New York Times reporter covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s, did, in fact, depict Stalin as a great land reformer who created happy, productive collective farms.) For instance, at a November 2006 education forum in Caracas, Venezuela, with President Hugo Chávez at his side, Ayers proclaimed his support for “the profound educational reforms under way here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chávez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution. . . . I look forward to seeing how you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane.” Ayers concluded his speech by declaring that “Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education—a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation,” and then, as in days of old, raised his fist and chanted: “Viva Presidente Chávez! Viva la Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!”

As I have shown in previous articles in City Journal, Ayers’s school reform agenda focuses almost exclusively on the idea of teaching for “social justice” in the classroom. This has nothing to do with the social-justice ideals of the Sermon on the Mount or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Rather, Ayers and his education school comrades are explicit about the need to indoctrinate public school children with the belief that America is a racist, militarist country and that the capitalist system is inherently unfair and oppressive. As a leader of this growing “reform” movement, Ayers was recently elected vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation’s largest organization of ed school professors and researchers.

When we combine this information with what we know about Barack Obama's all-encompassing proposals on mandatory national service (detailed in these four posts on the Volokh Conspiracy), it's but a small sorry step to a horrifying conclusion: the picture, under an Obama Presidency, of William Ayers as the new Social Justice Czar of a gigantic National Service Agency which will make the Homeland Security Department look like a post office outlet in Snakenavel, Idaho.

If you admire the societies of China, Cuba, and Venezuela, then Barack Obama is your man. And when they tell you you're only allowed one child, or haul you off to cut sugar cane, or drag you into paramilitary training, don't you dare complain. As Ayn Rand wrote fifty-one years ago: "Brother, you asked for it!"

[Update]: For more on Barack Obama's educational ambitions, I refer the reader to this article by Marinka Peschmann in today's Canada Free Press. Here's an excerpt:

Obama’s education bill, S.2111, significantly redesigns and amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to allow, in part, for “State. . . local educational agencies, and schools to increase implementation of early intervention services, particularly school-wide positive behavior supports.”

According to Section 3, “the term 'positive behavior support' means a systematic approach to embed proven practices for early intervening services, including a range of systemic and individualized strategies to reinforce desired behaviors and eliminate reinforcement for problem behaviors, in order to achieve important social outcomes (emphasis added. . .)”

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October 04, 2008

No Shame For Scott Shane

by Jerome du Bois

I've been thinking about Scott Shane, the New York Times reporter who just wrote a whitewash story about the "crossed paths" of Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. Stanley Kurtz, Steve Diamond, and many others have already weighed in on the story itself. By now, any ordinary concerned citizen with access to the internet can determine for himself or herself just what's missing from Shane's piece. All one has to do is enter Obama's name and Ayers's name together into a search engine. But Shane had a lot more than that to work with. For example, he interviewed Steve Diamond for his story:

I was interviewed at length by the New York Times for this story --in fact, this was the third Times reporter to interview me about the Ayers/Obama relationship --and I provided the Times with the letters I discuss here. They are not mentioned in the story at all.

It may not have helped that the reporter, Scott Shane, specializes in the FBI and CIA and did not seem well equipped to understand the structure and dynamics of a non profit entity like the Annenberg Challenge, had no apparent understanding of educational policy issues or debates, had no prior experience as far as I could tell with Chicago politics or culture and expressed his own sense of "boredom" with the Annenberg Challenge records he reviewed.

I think Diamond is being too generous to Scott Shane. Shane's previous reporting includes the years-long, multi-agency anthrax investigation, the legal intricacies surrounding the trials of Guantanamo detainees, the National Security Agency and domestic surveillance, and apologia for the five-sided comedian Joe Wilson. He is no stranger to the arcana of government documents. In a story about journalists and government information published a year ago on LLRX.com, the writer, Peggy Garvin, notes that

Scott said he loves documents because they are fixed in time, unlike people whose memories and stories morph over time.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge documents are certainly fixed in time, and they're definitely not outside his intellectual grasp. But they're beyond the pale of his newspaper's political stance, and Scott Shane will not transgress those boundaries. I don't think boredom had anything to do with what he included in and excluded from his story.

I don't think his editors had much work to do here, either. I doubt there was a lot of wrangling about what to omit. Shane's political bias --toward Barack Obama, in this case-- nicely aligns with that of his supervisors, thereby streamlining the whole operation. They don't have to tell him how to slant a story. How can I claim that Shane is in the tank for Obama? Simple subtraction. In February the NYT editor, Bill Keller, announced that 100 newsroom jobs would be eliminated, mostly by buyouts of staffers. By May, when not enough people took the offer, fifteen newsroom staffers were given the ax. Do you think they're going to keep objective, balanced, stubborn, old-fashioned journalists, who write the facts and let the chips fall where they may? That was way back in the day, before agenda-driven journalism took over the newsroom. No, they're going to keep people that are easy to work with, people already with the program.

So here's Scott Shane, the good little doobie, secure --for now, anyway-- in his job. For him, as for so many of his still-employed colleagues, Barack Obama is a familiar and comforting profile. Just like them, he edits his past to put himself in the best light; he obscures and obfuscates inconvenient facts; he counts on his conviction that the general public is uninformed and its memory short-lived; he will sacrifice any principle to his ambition; and shame is the least of his worries.

Barack Obama and his campaign staffers know that out here in the real world curious and determined professionals are converging on a ticking bomb, a bomb with far wider repercussions than any that Bill Ayers designed. These investigators, such as Stanley Kurtz and Steve Diamond, may be poles apart politically. They undoubtedly have their own agendas, but they also share a conviction that the truth, and the Constitution, and the direction of this country's future, are more important than any agenda. They know that the truth about Obama and Ayers is not simplistic: that Obama is just Ayers in blackface, or Ayers is just Obama in whiteface. No. But the suspicion is that Obama and Ayers share the same kind of soul, the soul of an authoritarian operator who divides the world into those who have the answer and those who don't, and have no patience for the latter.

If the investigators find that bomb before Election Day, and open it up and show its workings, and their suspicions are confirmed, they will also expose all the deceit that went into keeping the truth from the American people. Scott Shane has just performed his part in promoting the deceit, by refusing to follow leads a first-year journalism student would recognize. Journalism used to be an honorable profession, a servant of truth. Some still perform that service, and know that the converse of honor is shame. Scott Shane knows neither of them.

[Update 10/5: Steve Diamond has more on Scott Shane and the NYT story here and here.]

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