Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The saga continues

Dating Debacle 4
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
Finally, I have completed Part Three in the online dating series. On the one hand, I'd like to do something a little less narcissistic/depressing. On the other hand, I'm happy to be putting stuff up online, regardless of its context.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Culture, high and low

Interesting musings from Tony Kushner in the Nation on Arthur Miller, and Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal on PBS (during which she takes a swipe at Kushner).
Noonan makes a good, if snobbish, case for continuing to fund public television. "Sumner Redstone is never going to pay for an 11-hour miniseries called 'The Civil War,'" she writes, "he's not going to invest money and years of effort into a reverent exhumation of the rich loam of American history." I wonder if such pragmatic elitism will draw broadsides from her conservative peers. She's right, of course; and yet, when she contends that "Nobody needs their investigative unit pieces on how Iran-contra was very, very wicked," she's missing something ... the BBC is state-funded, and I would say, anti-Israeli bias notwithstanding, it's far superior to anything we have in the US.
Eulogizing Miller, Kushner praises him for his empathy toward humanity, even its evildoers. "Arthur Miller had the curse of empathy, even for the enemy," Kushner explains. "Humans justify themselves to themselves, even bad humans, and Arthur the playwright always wanted to know how and why." Incidentally, Noonan, in her article, writes, "It is true that if you tell PBS producers they are now doing a play series they will immediately decide to remount "Angels in America," and proposes a rule: "It takes at least 50 years for a currently esteemed work to prove itself a work of art, a true classic. It proves this by enduring." Sure -- this evokes Ernest Hemingway's inscription, "Il faut, d'abord, durer." ("It is necessary, first of all, to endure.") Perhaps much of the current widely-acclaimed art and literature will be forgotten a half-century later. However, that shouldn't stop us from trying to evaluate contemporary arts and letters. The creative arts do require continual rediscoveries and reevaluations.
Now for some unrelated items: Cheers to NBC for another enjoyable episode of "Hit Me Baby One More Time." All five performers sang well, including Oscar winner (and tonight's audience choice) Irene Cara. I am glad to see that there will be another new episode next week. Haven't been this excited about anything on TV since Paris and Nicole visited Altus, Arkansas.
I have a feature story up on my friend Bryan Person's website, Check it out ... and check out the website in general.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ave atque vale

Hail and farewell to valedictorians -- at least at some high schools, which, according to the New Yorker, are phasing out the honor because of the supercompetitive struggle by some students to gain it. This includes lawsuits. On the other hand, a number of schools are naming multiple valedictorians to satisfy every qualified candidate and avert any anger.

I wasn't valedictorian or salutatorian at Malden Catholic High School (Class of 1996), and my grades were never high enough to challenge. (Math and science were the main reasons; I was fifth or sixth, if you're wondering.)

For those of us who will never be a (fictional) Tracy Flick or a (real-life) Blair Hornstine, there is some hope. A 1995 study of 81 valedictorians from Illinois reveals that "few of the valedictorians seem destined for intellectual eminence or for creative work outside of familiar career paths." Why? "Valedictorians ... conformed to the expectations of school and carefully chose careers that were likely to be socially and financially secure," whereas, professor Karen Arnold writes, "Exceptional adult achievers often recall formal schooling as a disliked distraction." It's an interesting idea: are today's Michelangelos and Mozarts unfit for the get-good-grades philosophy we encourage in high school?

And it doesn't sound like any of the valedictorians interviewed for author Margaret Talbot's article care more for the subjects they studied than for the award they "deserve" for studying. One simply sounds spoiled: "Every time I sat down (at graduation), I had to get up again to get an award. I had so many plaques I literally couldn’t carry them off the stage, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, yeah, right, I’m not valedictorian?’” So that's the point of studying hard? Not because you care deeply about a subject, but so other people will know you studied hard? Perhaps Amory Blaine, protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise," could wise up these whippersnappers with a reflection on college in the 1910s that's just as apt for high school in the 2000s: "What little boys they had been, working for blue ribbons."

Unrelated note: What happens when a valedictorian actually has something interesting to say? And what happens when a valedictorian sues not for grade-point reasons, but for free-speech ones? Click here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

New Illustration

I have an illustration in this month's edition of In the Fray, an online political magazine that I've been drawing for. (You can see my two previous illustrations for ITF here and here.)

In other news, Alicia C. Shepard, an American University journalism professor, has some disturbing words on students' reactions to undesirable grades in the Washington Post. Undergrads, she writes, become ornery about getting an A-minus or a B -- to the point of arguing with professors over these grades and attempting to change them. Prof. Shepard suggests using a numerical grading policy as opposed to a letter-based one. However, this approach contains problems, as well; students become, to borrow a phrase from John Kennedy Toole, a "steely-eyed accountant" in checking and re-checking the value of their education. (Toole's observation of this quality in students, in "A Confederacy of Dunces," suggests that it is not a new development.)

In high school, I would occasionally confab with teachers over tests I'd done egregiously badly on, and if they happened to notice a few stray points I might have merited, they'd tack them on. That was all I did ... Bad grades provoke outrage from both students and parents. Of course students would want to avoid anger at home. But students have to realize that life doesn't end with a bad grade; one of college's intangible lessons is recognizing that adversity exists and dealing with it. That's worth any A.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Death and taxes

David Runciman has a good article in the London Review of Books, a review of "Death by a Thousand Cuts," by Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro. The book is about the estate/death tax and how the Republicans managed to -- albeit temporarily -- eliminate it. He raises a point I wasn't aware of -- conservatives used minorities and gay people as spokesmen for their effort to repeal the "death tax." Among the minorities was African-American millionaire Bob Johnson, who made the interesting point that having struggled against racial injustice to earn his money, the government would take away some of it on his deathbed.

Runciman has some familiar evidence to support his belief that the estate tax should nevertheless survive -- it targets a very small percentage of Americans, "the richest 2 per cent of American families." He lambasts President Clinton's triangulationist -- or accommodationist? -- policy, charging that this made the GOP salivate over the prospect of tax "reform" once Clinton left office.

The conservatives' work may not be done; Runciman predicts an onslaught on the income tax next. True, the income tax has been used to bolster Big Government, but whether it's through Democratic social programs or Republican wars on terror, effective government isn't free. Steven Weisman made a decent case for an income tax in his history (more like a regurgitation of facts) "The Great Tax Wars."