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August 2003

But Enough About Politics . . . Let's Talk About ART and Politics

Ah, the happy happenstance of browsing about the Net. I enjoy the accidental symmetries that turn up when one glimpsed link is immediately followed by another that directly opposes it. An example follows:

As the California Legislature slinks away having passed a budget more notable for its sleight of hand than anything else, ArtsJournal is linking to reports in the San Francisco Chronicle (no doubt typical of many similar stories around the state) to the effect that the new budget eviscerates State arts funding. ArtsJournal summarizes:

California slashes its arts funding from $18 million to a token $1 million, effectively shutting down the agency. 'The new budget translates to less than 3 cents per person statewide. California will now rank dead last in per capita state spending for the arts. The national average is $1.10 per person.'
Sounds dire indeed. And for a number of dependent organizations, dire it surely is. No sooner had I glanced at that piece than a jaunt over to Brian Micklethwaite's Culture Blog drew me to this item [CAUTION: Contains coarse and unflattering characterizations of other sites' design], which glosses and annotates a rant against British arts festivals and the role of the public treasury therein by Stephen Pollard. (Still with me? Thank you. Now let's move along.) In the course of that glossy annotation, Brian links to his own analysis -- seemingly dating back to 1983, but still relevant -- supporting a libertarian case that art subsidies are themselves bad for The Arts. The Pollard piece sums things up quotably, guiltily enjoying cultural nourishment at the expense of others:
I’m one of that guilty minority who has his pleasure paid for by other people. So yes, I benefit from all this largesse. But every time I set foot inside one of these institutions, with their self-perpetuating bureaucracies, their now mandatory “outreach” programmes (obfuscatory attempts to show how “relevant” they are), and their oh-so-desperate attempts to be “accessible” (a bizarre aim, since the only people who want access to a minority pursuit are the minority who want access to it), I know that I am taking part in a giant scam, in which a cultural elite extorts money from the rest of society so it can better indulge itself.

It’s time the rest of you pulled the rug from underneath my feet.
Discuss. Then support your favorite artistic institution.

[UPDATE 8/1/03: I checked the Stephen Pollard link cited above and find that although it does take you directly to the post in question, the version you get lacks such niceties as paragraphing. If you want a more legible version, click through to the main page of then go down to July 27 and find the "festival" entry. Brian Micklethwaite knows where of he speaks when he complains about the design.]

Bad Dogs and Worse Humans

Catherine Seipp revisits the San Francisco dog mauling case in the latest issue of the Pasadena Weekly, using it as the jumping off point for a timely meditation on media throat-clearing over the name of Kobe Bryant's accuser/victim:

But that’s the nature of violent crime — worth considering in light of the current argument about Kobe Bryant’s accuser and whether the media should identify alleged rape victims. I think they should. Because, yes, rape is violating and dehumanizing, but no more so (and probably less) than being torn apart like a rabbit caught by hounds. To suggest otherwise buys into the notion that sexual assault — alone among all kinds of assault — somehow contaminates its victim. The media has no business indulging this kind of thinking.
She also hits on one of the most troubling aspects of the continuing slide into unpleasantness of the once-great City of San Francisco, the willingness of its citizens "to live with an astonishing amount of civil disorder in their own backyard."
Toleration for aggressive panhandling is the most visible expression of this phenomenon, and toleration for aggressive dogs may be another variant. But imagine if just one of these angry neighbors had complained publicly about the Noels and their dogs before the attack. Diane Whipple might be alive today.

People love to bash the media for airing dirty laundry. But the moral of the dog-mauling case is that sometimes dirty laundry should be aired. It’s the only way to get the stink out.

Progressivism Strikes Back

An historical footnote to the pending Gray Davis recall election:

Inscrutable, readable Canadian Colby Cosh carries us back to 1921 North Dakota and the only sitting U.S. governor (thus far) ever to have been recalled by the voters, Lynn J. Frazier.

A midwestern Progressive elected as a representative of the Nonpartisan League, Frazier apparently set out to socialize North Dakotan agriculture. The economy hiccupped, losses from "the state-run mill" were hidden in the budget, campaign funds wound up in questionable banking institutions . . . and all done without the aid of a single accountant from Arthur Andersen. Direct democacy ensued. Make it your history lesson for the day.

Going to the Dogs

I was expecting that blogging might be minimal or nonexistent today, because I am about to head out to present a seminar on professional liability issues. I did a quick cruise around some of my regular sites, though, and found this item at Walter Olson's Overlawyered: Push for veterinary malpractice continues.

The principal link is to this article from the Christian Science Monitor republished by ABC News. And, proving once again that it is (after all) a small world, attorney Robert Newman who is mentioned in the first paragraph of the article will be my opposite number at today's seminar. He and I get on quite well, but we disagree on most every point in this field.

More later today, or more likely tomorrow morning.

Bowdlerized Bob

I have not written anything about Diane Ravitch's book, The Language Police, because (1) many others have done so and (2) I haven't read it yet. However, given the Bob Dylan sub-theme that keeps cropping up here, I cannot resist this anecdote -- leading into a discussion of the Ravitch book -- from school psychologist and college instructor Bernard Chapin:

Last year I was previewing a textbook that I was about to use in a Human Development course I was teaching. The book was the usual flamboyant montage of facts, grids, and pictures, but then I suddenly ran across a most unusual sentence. It read, 'As a folksinger once sang, how many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult.' I was stupefied.
(Emphasis mine.) Link via Joanne Jacobs.

This reminds me a bit of an old routine by The Capitol Steps, featuring corrected versions of rhymes by Under-Appreciated Primary Caregiver Goose. . . .

"We're Living in Swiss Cheese With a Door!"

I arrived home yesterday to find that during the day our house had undergone a quantity of unexpected (but necessary) and expensive plumbing work. This comes on top of a bout with termites and a long series of other homely headaches. Appropriate viewing at such moments: Tom Hanks in The Money Pit, a film that will either cause you to chuckle mightily or leave you completely cold. At the Wallace house, it is generally the former.

Potter and Pullman - A Longish Note About Children's Books

My parents kindly saw to it that we in the Wallace household had our copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as soon as it became available. I waited my turn like a good husband and father and finished reading it about a week ago. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed it thoroughly, chuckled regularly at J. K. Rowling’s frequently dry sense of humor amid the supernatural adventuring, and will surely be back for volumes six and seven.

A number of bloggers have got themselves in a dither over this comment from Alfonso Cuaron, now directing the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, contained in a Newsweek story on a visit to the set:

Cuaron’s outspokenness is also new to the franchise. Does the evil wizard Voldemort still remind him of George W. Bush, as he said recently? ‘In combination with Saddam,’ he says. ‘They both have selfish interests and are very much in love with power. Also, a disregard for the environment. A love for manipulating people. I read books four and five, and Fudge’ -- Rowling’s slippery Minister of Magic -- ‘is similar to Tony Blair. He’s the ultimate politician. He’s in denial about many things. And everything is for the sake of his own persona, his own power. The way the Iraq thing was handled was not unlike the way Fudge handled affairs in book four.’
All I will say on this is: no matter what your opinions of Messrs. Bush and Blair, if you have actually read the Harry Potter books you will know that Cuaron’s opinion is, to put it kindly, Just Silly.

(Aside: More disturbing to me is the report that Michael Gambon, replacing the late Richard Harris in the role of Albus Dumbledore, “now plays the Hogwarts headmaster as an elegant old hippie.” Oh dear.)

The release of the new Potter book has stirred up all sorts of nonsense in which various commentators purport to see allegories for this or that political or metaphysical viewpoint hidden about the novels’ persons. I don’t see it, myself. The Potter books do not bear any of the signs of explicit allegory, whether religious as in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books, or political as in Animal Farm (which isn’t actually a children’s book anyway). They are simply ripping yarns that take time along the way to aim at targets that have been targets since the dawn of literature -- self-important and/or ineffectual authority figures in government or education, overreaching members of the press, the awkwardness of growing up, fear of snakes or spiders, the list goes on and on. The qualities the Rowling seems to praise -- even though her characters are wizards -- are innately human qualities, such as bravery, cleverness, ingenuity, steadfastness in one’s friendships, and treating those around you with simple decency (cf. Hermione Granger’s crusade on behalf of the house elves).

If you are looking for a more radical point of view in good quality children’s literature -- and you were, weren’t you? -- you should consider Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, which I also recently finished. I found the series immensely satisfying in any number of ways. While she is rightly praised for her skillful plotting, J. K. Rowling is regularly criticized (with some cause) for too frequently resorting to cliché in her descriptions and dialogue. Pullman, in contrast, is a more sophisticated stylist. To take just one example, here is the first sentence of his third volume, The Amber Spyglass:
In a valley shaded with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with meltwater splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves clustered below.
Tasty. (And you can tell you are in the hands of an English writer: the linnets are a dead giveaway. That volume comes with no less than three epigraphs, from Blake, Rilke and Ashbery, and teh series title is drawn from Milton. The children Pullman is writing for must go to interesting schools.)

On the level of pure story, Pullman has devised as exciting and unexpected a plot as one could wish, with complex and deftly drawn characters and more than a few passages that I found exceptionally moving. As carriers of Larger Messages, however, the books are more controversial, ultimately siding unequivocally with individual human liberty in the face of Authority of all kinds, most especially religious authority. A large part of the story leads toward a second War in Heaven, with strong suggestions that the wrong side won the first. Pullman manages the neat trick of presenting a strongly humanist point of view while setting his story in a world full to the brim with supernatural elements, including intelligent armored bears, angels, witches, and visits to the world of the dead. An altogether remarkable series, albeit not for everyone.

(Incidental intelligence: Further research reveals plans for a film version of Pullman's series, with Tom Stoppard attached as screenwriter and Sam Mendes rumored among the directorial candidates.)

Direct Democracy: Threat or Menace?

Daniel Weintraub in his Sacramento Bee blog, California Insider seeks to soothe those who see the Gray Davis recall election as a Bad Thing regardless of its ultimate outcome (in not-quite-a-candidate Leon Panetta’s phrase, "Direct Democracy Run Amok"). Weintraub’s advice:

Calm down, people. You would think folks were killing each other in the streets here, or burning down the Capitol. We are talking about holding an election, OK? The petitions represent a massive vote of no confidence in the governor's ability to lead. Now, in a few weeks, all of the people will have their say on that question. Britain has been doing something similar for hundreds of years now and seems to have managed to survive.
[Scoffers will say that the relevant comparison is perhaps not Great Britain, but Italy.]

Weintraub also reports that Arnold Schwarzenegger most likely will not run as a Davis replacement, but that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan probably will. Then again, maybe Arnold is running, in which case Riordan probably would not.

A Riordan run to replace Davis in the unorthodox context of the recall election could serve as a fitting riposte to Davis’ own unprecedented interference in the Republican gubernatorial primary, which effectively allowed Davis to eliminate the genuine threat to his reelection posed by Riordan and to select his own opponent, the hapless Bill Simon.

Things to Come

It is a busy Monday here, so blogging must take a back seat for the moment. If you are dropping by for the first time, please browse back through the Archives, where the reruns will be (as NBC used to say) "New to You." When we resume, expect yet another Davis recall post and a few words about children's literature.

Also, I'm hopeful that the "serious" law-related blog will launch in the next week or so. Details to follow.