Monday, August 29, 2005

"DAM"SEL IN DISTRESS

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Cartoon by Elaine Meinel Supkis

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Well, I'll be damned! This is a really funny story out of Texas I stumbled across while looking up stories about Cindy Sheehan.

From ABC TV in Texas:
Last year, 12-year-old Needville Middle School student Heather Mercer was told she could not wear to school a T-shirt her parents bought her during a trip to the Hoover Dam, a shirt neither she nor her parents found offensive.

"Somebody went to Hoover Dam and all I got was this "dam" T-shirt," read Heather from the shirt.

Trying to resolve the issue, Heather's parents went to a Needville school board meeting, one J.R. Mercer says was opened with a prayer and praise of Jesus Christ, something he told us by phone he immediately found troublesome.

"The Bible says you know, you're supposed to pray in private. That was the main issue there," he said. "They were throwing the Christian deal out there on everybody and there may have been somebody out there that was just plumb offended by it."

So the Mercers sued, not just over the freedom of speech and the T-shirt, but because of Mercer's perceived lack of a separation between church and state.

Recently, a federal court ruled the shirt was a souvenir, one not protected by the First Amendment. The prayer issue was resolved when Needville's school board agreed to never hold a denominational prayer again.
Well, no more violations of Supreme Court rulings! On the other hand, the ruling that souvenir T shirts aren't free speech? Huh? That one doesn't go past my bullshit detector. I don't recall Ben Franklin who pushed for this as the first amendment saying, "Oh, and those 'I &hearts Revolutions!' aren't free speech!" Indeed, it would seem that even something as innoculous as a joke T shirt is 100% covered by the First Amendment, wouldn't you think? Or are all these things illegal?

I recall here in Albany the local mall, Crossgates, made international news because their goon squad arrested a man wearing a "Peace Now" T shirt when Bush was pushing to invade Iraq. The man sued and won his case. It was totally insane because he bought the shirt at that mall! Kicking people out for wearing what they purchase is a new low, isn't it?

Funny how that works.

Anyway, what does Jesus have to do with running meetings? I am puzzled by this. The need to drag the poor man around Texas and insert him into every activity but meaningful ones is a real riddle. Note the utter lack of outrage over the cross desecrations at the peace camp in Crawford! Well! But then, I noted for many years a similar lack of outrage over the KKK burning crosses. One would think this would be the ultimate desecration but in the twisted world of these sorts of people, obviously, it isn't.

Damn.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

ART PERCEPTION

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Chinese scroll art by Sheng Mou, 1350

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

I grew up with Asian art mostly because my parent's activities took them to Asia a great deal and they came back with all sorts of goodies and we went to Asian events here in America and this is how I got hooked on Japanese anime, for these were the cartoons they showed us kids...the artistic ethos of Asia is quite different from main stream post 1500 European Art. Indeed, the reason I adore, really adore Bosch is because his art is very Asian: the background is as in focus as the foreground and figures in the pictures are of equal value and are set in place by everything around them. One can be lost for hours, moving the eye from point to point in his paintings, drinking in the dense scene.

The scroll above is like that. It is very tiny here but if you see it in a museum, you can see the three little humans walking along the road, the waterfall on one side, the pine trees climing the mountains with the peak rearing overhead. To view Chinese scrolls is to take a long walk with the eye.

So today's goofy, aggravating story is connected to all this: From Yahoo news:
Asians and North Americans really do see the world differently. Shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene, according to University of Michigan researchers.

The researchers, led by Hannah-Faye Chua and Richard Nisbett, tracked the eye movements of the students — 25 European Americans and 27 native Chinese — to determine where they were looking in a picture and how long they focused on a particular area.

"They literally are seeing the world differently," said Nisbett, who believes the differences are cultural.

"Asians live in a more socially complicated world than we do," he said in a telephone interview. "They have to pay more attention to others than we do. We are individualists. We can be bulls in a china shop, they can't afford it."
A lot of baggage dumped on a frail beast of burden, I would say! Why do these people jump, and this is a huge jump, to this conclusion? The reason for the difference is cultural but not social.
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Japanese screen, 1500

It is all due to artistic sensibility that one learns in one's youth. I "see" in the Asian style because of the art around me and my first babysitter was Chinese and she also taught me how to eat with chopsticks. It is a learned process! Western art the last 500 years due entirely and totally to the revolution in creating a sense of perspective, sees the foreground in focus and important and the background as a backdrop framing the figure in the front! Cameras aggravated this aesthetic.

The most distant leaf on the far horizon in Asian art is as elaborate and in relative size equal to anything in the foreground. This was true of Medieval art, too. This is the natural way to look at things close up. The Modern method is to see things within a frame, like in a theater. The Rafaelian clouds surrounding his virgins and saints were theater curtains pulled aside to reveal the all important foreground figure.
In ancient China, farmers developed a system of irrigated agriculture, Nisbett said. Rice farmers had to get along with each other to share water and make sure no one cheated.

Western attitudes, on the other hand, developed in ancient Greece where there were more people running individual farms, raising grapes and olives, and operating like individual businessmen.
Obviously, when one is making up stuff, best to go all the way! Village farming from the Neolithic onwards carries an amazing degree of similarity to solving farming problems of security, commonality and sharing of lands. The differences are slight, if any. Any view of Europe shows all the villages clustered with houses with the fields lying outwards in concentric rings or long strips! When settlers came to America, thanks to the military/police set up of the Europeans, they abandoned the village model only after the natives were ruthlessly eliminated. There was no need for mutual protection when the new fangled rifled guns came into everyone's hands.

Even so, living in isolated farms took such a severe toll socially, the midlands are still falling apart from it. One drives through the Midwest and it is one long abandoned farm after another. Men struggle to keep women on these remote, asocial, sad places.

I live on a farm on a mountain a very short walk from a real, European style village. When it was built, back in 1770, Berliners had to stick together or be killed so they lived in a tight community.

In modern American films, from the beginning, the camera tracks the foreground. If you watch Japanese anime and look only at the figures in the front, you miss tons of amusing and well drawn activity going on in the background, sometimes, the elements of the next story development is something that was happening behind the main characters in a previous scene. This is true also of video games. I would suggest that kids playing Asian video games are already tracking their eyes like their counterparts on the opposite side of the world.
Cave said researchers in his lab have found differences in eye movement between Asians and Westerners in reading, based on differences in the styles of writing in each language.

"When you look beyond this study to all of the studies finding cultural differences, you find that people from one culture do better on some tasks, while people from other cultures do better on others. I think it would be hard to argue from these studies that one culture is generally outperforming the other cognitively," Cave said.
Note the sop thrown to us all. We shouldn't worry, we are still smart...heh.

But the fact is, learning Chinese or Japanese, just for example, requires much more memorization. The subtle differences of the characters require sensitivity and a steady effort to comprehend and integrate it all into the mind. As someone who went to school in other languages, trying to cope with Chinese, for example, is tremendously difficult. To read it, one has to focus on every character rather than groups of words. Different focus style. Because of the intellectual effort in learning to read, this stimulates the mind of the young scholars to greater efforts. A half hearted stab won't do the trick.

The decline in American scholarship shows this clearly. This is why we have to lure people from Asia to come here. The brain drain is strictly one way in this regard.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

SUMMER SCHOOL FOR BUSH

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By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Bush just released his summer reading list, all heavy tomes. For example, there is the "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the US" book but Condi said, it is all old news, past history, no need to read.

So he is reading all about the Romanovs. I would say this is a good suggestion only the book he chose stops shy of WWI and the shooting of the Romanovs, wiping them out. The Romanovs thought WWI would be short, not shot.

From Mosnews:
Edvard Radzinsky’s popular historic novel, “Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar”, has happened to be on the list of books the U.S. president has taken with him to his ranch in Texas where he is spending his 5-week vacation. Radzinsky hopes his book will help George W. Bush to learn more about the origins of terrorism.

“We, Russia, created the first great terrorist organization in the world,” Radzinsky said commenting on Bush’s choice of his book, “Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar”, in a phone interview for The Los Angeles Times from Moscow. “We are the father of terror, not Muslims.”

Bush’s choice of “Alexander II” appears to reflect his interest in books about transformational political leaders, The Los Angeles Times wrote this week. Among those he has perused since becoming president are biographies of George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard the Lionheart and Peter the Great.
Aside from the obvious silliness of all this...we all know Bush can barely mouth his way through a children's book and "The Hungry Catepillar" seems to be his only childhood book which happened to be published when he was all of 30 years old...aside from trying to pump up this pathetic puppy, these books haven't increased Bush's vocabulary, his understanding of history nor his ability to understand the mess he is making of this world.

The author of this latest Bush "read" is an intelligent man who spent his waking hours trying to understand what went wrong with the Russian Empire. The collapse of the Ottoman and Russian empires still reverberate loudly. Indeed, just like the clash of the European empires, struggling with each other to see who could cannibalize the dying Ottoman empire, led directly into causing WWI which spawned WWII.

56+million humans perished violently or starved to death in WWII. It was a giant catastrophe.
After surviving six attempts on his life, Alexander II was assassinated by a group of anarchists who tossed home-made bombs at the emperor as he was riding in his carriage on the streets of St. Petersburg. They had plotted the attack for weeks, operating out of an apartment across the hall from the writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Radzinsky said he assumed Bush had drawn the connection to the terrorists of today. “Very noble young people who dreamed about the future of Russia became killers, because blood destroys souls,” Radzinsky said. “That for me is the most important lesson.”
Bubble boy doesn't have to worry about this. We do. He can sit, engrossed in children's reading material while others get assassinated.

From the Guardian:

As well as brush cutting, mountain biking and fishing, the president will also be tucking into Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky during his five-week summer sojourn on his Texas ranch. The other tomes are reported to be Alexander II: the Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky and The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M Barry.
Gads. I still remember the anthrax killer, he was traced all the way to a secret military anthrax facility that has a very short list of people who could have gotten the anthrax and used it and no one was arrested. And that killer only targetted people who Bush wanted taken down or intimidated. Starting with the photo editor of the newspaper that ran the famous Jenna Drunk photos at a time when Bush was pretending she was a pristine Christian virgin.

We are closing in on 9/11 with the entire system in the hands of the people who allowed the attacks last time to happen. And this time, again, Bush's numbers are way down, his economic mess is messy and everyone is poking around him, learning bad stuff he wants the media whores to cover up, not uncover, a pesky investigation that the NYT and WP want to strangle but have been unsuccessful. All reasons to reunite America via some nifty terror event.

The Salt history book is amusing. Money came from salt. This is why we use the word "salary" today, it comes from the word "salt". Gandhi's first famous peace march was to the sea to make salt and thus evade the British monopoly on salt sales in India which were a culvert tax by the King of England to fatten England's purse while beggaring the poor of India. The marchers were brutally beaten, you know. Can't have them making salt!

Sounds like Bushland, no? He would pull this sort of nasty thing, anything to get richer.

Time to read some more books like the Decline and Fall of Rome or the Fall of the Third Reich.

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