December Letters: Feminism and HBO’s ‘Girls’...

Readers respond about HBO's "Girls," "Boss" and Chicago politics, Gross National Happiness, the Connecticut shootings, a Kensington Christmas, The Nutcracker, how composers work, the Philadelphia Orchestra's Rachmaninoff concert, Mamet's The Anarchist, Saul Steinberg, throwing stuff out, Allen Hart's "Bestiary," Andrew Wyeth, physical fitness fascism, van Hove's Roman Tragedies, Stephen Estock's "Hungry Eyes," the Pope's Tweets, "The Female Gaze," Vanya and Sonia, Spielberg's Lincoln, Vernon Hill, "Dancing Around the Bride" and TV's weather queen Cecily Tynan.

HBO’s ‘Girls’ and the failure of feminism

     Re “When will ‘Girls’ grow up?”, by Susan Beth Lehman (September)—
     Finally! A review that I could relate to— there was one other in England and not so nice about it. “Girls” disturbs me: I've known women who have contracted cancer from HPV2 (“all adventurous women have it”) and died; I stopped dating completely after I contracted it, because even with health insurance, I spent nearly $1,000 on doctor visits and tests: I make less than $23,000 a year as a 24/7 live-in caregiver.
     A lot of the young women who work with me struggle with medical debts from unintended pregnancies, domestic violence and histories of sexual assault, especially rape as a child. They shoulder the burden of care for the young and elderly in their families, often caring for people who have abused them their entire lives.
     To “fantasize” raping an 11-year-old child at a time when girls are literally being sold to be gang-raped every day... I felt sick about how checked-out these women were when rape, incest and now the worldwide enslavement of women and girls is on the rise. To so many women, the real-life horror of others is something to comment on from a distance or to eroticize with your future Mr. Child Molester boyfriend. Fun.
Devin Baker
Eugene, Ore.
December 26, 2012


'Boss' and Chicago politics

     I just came across Bob Ingram's review of the TV series “Boss” (November 2011). My wife and I came late to "Boss" but then became caught up with it, feeling more and more unclean as each episode ground us further down. We were almost relieved when STARZ cravenly failed to renew it.
     I spent 1967-68 in Chicago, when Mayor Richard J. Daley ruled. I was there for the Democratic convention but got out before Fred Hampton was killed in his bed.
     Still, call me naive, but I thought the TV series was working more with Shakespeare than actual big city politics.
Bob Levin
Berkeley, Calif.
December 27, 2012

     Bob Ingram replies:
I was originally drawn to "Boss" when I heard of Gus Van Sant's involvement. His Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant are truly fine films. I think "Boss" came out of the gate pretty well but then got tangled up in its underwear of too many arcs and too many just plain bad people running roughshod all over Chicago. The Daleys were machine guys, but they ran the city pretty well, just as Philly was run pretty well by machine guys.
     And re: Shakespeare, agreed, with one caveat: Shakespeare and his characters had style; the "Boss" gang is just graceless and grasping (which might be the norm, though, for today's politicians).

     Editor’s comment: As one who worked as a journalist in Chicago from 1968 to 1972, I would submit that Mayor Daley the elder ran the city by sweeping its toughest problems under the rug, to be dealt with by his unfortunate successors.

Gross National Happiness

     Re “Can government make you happy?” by Patrick D. Hazard—
     Since Bhutan achieved happiness without the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we must quickly take steps to abolish the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. I'm smiling already.
Kile Smith
Fox Chase/ Philadelphia
December 29, 2012


     Patrick D. Hazard replies: Kile's smug smirk ignores Bhutan's list of four aims, the first of which is "sustainable economic development." Stick to your piano, composer!

     Kile Smith replies: A smile is not a smirk, and how far from smugness am I: I'm happy even though I can't play the piano. Were I to look for more happiness, I'd put my money on Bhutan before any Western governmental agency.

Massacre in Connecticut

     Re “The Connecticut shooting: Symptoms and causes,” by Maria Thompson Corley—
     America's scandalous global reputation as a gun-happy video game derives from the militarization of our society. Our pathetic ideology of exceptionalism merely makes our societal blindness inaccessible to rational discourse. Eisenhower warned us, but we were too busy taking over the world to see how evil we have become. Please read Tom Engelhardt’s The United States of Fear to see how we got ourselves in such a mess.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
December 20, 2012


     The National Rifle Association says that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Wrong. People with guns kill people. A deranged slasher in China has just wounded 22 schoolchildren with a knife. They all survived, and so might the children of Sandy Hook if Adam Lanza hadn't had access to semiautomatic weapons.
     It is true, of course, that 300 million guns are already in private hands in America, and that it’s unlikely that the type of buy-back program used in Australia could yield the same results here (though it might help). But banning the sale of semiautomatic ammunition, with very steep penalties, should be effective.
     President Obama wants a study commission to make recommendations to him by the end of January. By that time— barring another Sandy Hook— the gun lobby will have rallied its forces, and any ensuing legislation will be watered down, the way Wall Street reform and pollution controls were.
     There's no need for study; everybody knows the kind of weapons that should be banned. If the President cannot seize this moment, it is likely to be lost again. If he does not seize it, the only conclusion must be that he does not want to.
Robert Zaller
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
December 20, 2012


Kensington Christmas

     Joseph Franklin's "Kensington Christmas tragedy" was a beautiful piece: the dog, the father, manhood, blood on the snow.
Maralyn Lois Polak
Center City/ Philadelphia
December 22, 2012


Three generations at The Nutcracker

     Re “To see with the eyes of a child,” by Dan Rottenberg (December 2010)—
     I am a parent of children in their early 20's who were exposed to many ballets, musicals and plays throughout their childhood. I know that wonderful feeling of watching the joy that one's children obtain from such experiences. If you were questioning whether your grandchild was too young for the performance of The Nutcracker, then from your own description I would say yes.
     Why? Because of your grandchild's running commentary that you describe.
     If your grandchild is unable to understand that there are times when one should be quiet, then she or he is too young.
     Again, I fully understand the feeling of parents when their child is the center of their universe, but your grandchild is hardly that for the people who came to watch the ballet and not hear her running commentary.
     I am glad that she enjoyed it; I just hope that you weren’t so selfish as to have your grandchild ruin the experience for others.
     As for the ballet itself, this was the fourth time I had seen it, and it was by far the worst presentation I have experienced. Having seen a wonderful performance of Swan Lake by this same Pennsylvania Ballet last year, I expected another quality show. Wow, was I wrong. Far too many unprofessional children were used in roles where professional dancers in the other performances I had seen were cast. Very amateurish and disappointing.
Jonathan Dimes
Baltimore, Md.
December 22, 2012


     Re the letter above: Nobody likes to sit next to an ill-behaved child in a theater, and parents should always be aware of whether their youngsters are causing a disturbance. But if you can't endure a few entranced whispers from the kiddies at a holiday performance of The Nutcracker, choose a different festive outing.
Alaina Mabaso
Elkins Park, Pa.
December 25, 2012


     Editor's comment: To read about my family's latest Nutcracker visit, click here.

How composers really work

     Kile Smith's piece about composers taking long walks (“How composers really work”)—
     When composers discuss their working habits, I’m always struck by their resemblance to writers. Kile Smith echoes an old writer’s maxim when he tells us that composers have to apply their posteriors to the seat of a chair. I encountered that injection many times when I was a would-be writer reading how-to-write books by successful writers.
     On the other hand, many writers find that important ideas pop into their heads when they’re taking walks or engaging in mundane activities like washing the dishes. But most of them find that only works if you combine the breaks with seat-of-the-pants sessions in which you plug away, teeth clenched in frustration, until you’re ready to shoot yourself.
     Many creative people feel they have a workshop in the back of their head that stays active when they’re doing other things. When they stalk away from the computer in despair, the elves in the workshop know they’d better come up with something before their idiot boss blasts them all away.
Tom Purdom
Center City/ Philadelphia
December 25, 2012


Orchestra's Rachmaninoff program

     Re Robert Zaller’s review of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s all-Rachmaninoff concert—
     My wife and I were prepared to enjoy the lush orchestrations and beautiful themes of Rachmaninoff. We were not prepared to be privileged to experience an orchestra, conductor and pianist who introduced us to the effortless exposition of the technical complexity of the Third Piano Concerto that we had previously considered as interruptive but was here performed finally as (we now imagine) Rachmaninoff and Stokowski would have created at their peak.
     The Rach Second Symphony can be tedious in the wrong hands, but in the hands of Gianandrea Noseda we found ourselves wishing that it would never end.
     Congratulations to all for a concert that many of our audience neighbors considered the most memorable in their 30 years, and in one case 60 years, of attending Philadelphia Orchestra concerts.
     We appreciated Robert Zaller’s enlightening us with his comments about the first 12 years of classical music of the 20th Century.
Donald R Logan
Colorado Springs, Colorado
December 12, 2012


     Your patron quoted at the story's close is a reactionary dunce. When was the last time the Philadelphia Orchestra actually played a major work with any hint of atonality? It’s been years.
     There are people, like me, who are sick of the standard repertoire and will go back to the Orchestra when it enters the 21st Century. Not surprisingly other major orchestras— Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston— play much more modern music and are financially healthy and artistically relevant. The Philadelphia Orchestra is neither.
Brad Wilson
South Philadelphia
December 12, 2012


Mamet’s The Anarchist

     Re “Bring out the vegetables,” by David Woods—
     I saw The Anarchist at a preview with my husband Alvin, that long-suffering saint. Because our seats were toward the rear of the orchestra, Alvin left his driver's license with a stranger and got us both those free hearing devices, the better for us to hear David Mamet's usually hilarious/witty/smart dialogue.
     Forty two seconds after the curtain rose, Alvin said to me, "Wake me when this is over," in stentorian tones that would wake the deaf and the dead as he removed the hearing devices from his ears.
     The woman next to me was furious. "Tell him to stop talking!" she hissed, as did her friend sitting in the row in front of us.
     They needn't have worried. Alvin is a very blessed theatergoer. He can sleep through almost anything, and he did. Actually, he uttered three other words during the latter part of the play: "It's still on?"— which received a harsh critique from our theatrical companions as well.
     When the play mercifully ended, Alvin was verbally attacked by the unconditional-love-practicing Mamet claque around us: "You talked through the whole play. And the critics are here tonight!"
     I defended him— Alvin, not Mamet. "He said a total of nine words! And he didn't snore."
     Reading the reviews the following morning, it occurred to me that Mamet would have made out better if all the critics were seating within hearing distance of Alvin and he had awakened more frequently.
     So why didn't the audience heave rotten tomatoes? Because the days of ripe Jersey tomatoes are ancient history. All tomatoes are thick-skinned and plastic now— like Broadway audiences. The audience applauded, not because they’re polite, but because New York audiences are lemmings. If The Anarchist gets a good review, they want to say they saw it before it opened and loved it.
     However I did notice there was no standing ovation, which is now de rigueur for most everything on the boards— great, lousy or indifferent.
Myra Chanin
New York
December 12, 2012


Saul Steinberg

     Re “What made Saul Steinberg run?” by Dan Rottenberg (Editor’s Notebook)—
     I see nothing in Saul Steinberg’s sad and reprehensible life to celebrate, or even worthily to recall. He made his money battening on the work of others and contributing nothing of his own. Even the robber barons left more behind. It would be something to cheer if he was the last of his brutal kind, but unfortunately he is all too representative of a type that remains common.
     No doubt he had talents and energy that could have been put to some decent use. It is more a commentary on us than on him that they served instead the conscienceless predation that, for a time, so hugely rewarded him.
Robert Zaller
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
December 12, 2012


     Editor’s comment: Even mosquitoes, rats and vultures serve some useful purpose. Steinberg and his fellow Wall Street predators served a necessary social function by weeding out sick and complacent corporate managements and keeping the healthy ones on their toes.

Throwing stuff out

     Re “On throwing stuff out”—
     Derek Davis is a once in a lifetime idiosyncrat. He put up so generously with my unpredictable aberrations that I'm eternally grateful for his freestyle editing me in the Welcomat.
     I secretly envied his flight to the woods. Except that distant fire protection and just plain absent water are truly invaluable irreplaceable commodities.
     My heart goes out to his wife Linda, whose unique art was consumed by the fire. But both are unique souls who deserve each other’s humanism. May their luck improve in the woods.
     P.S. I've been reading swatches of Derek’s oughtobiography for the past several months. It will be a smash affirmation of intellectual freedom when it's done. The sooner, the better.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
December 15, 2012


     Loved this! I'm sorry for your loss of property, and of your wife's, but it reminded me of the time I once lost all my emails, all of them. Feverishly, I called Earthlink to say "Wha' happened?" They said, basically, "Dunno," and all of a sudden a surprising epiphany of perfect calm descended. I was liberated. What a wonderful feeling!
     Two weeks later they all reappeared.
Kile Smith
Fox Chase/ Philadelphia
December 12, 2012


Allen Hart’s ‘Bestiary’

     Re Andrew Mangravite’s review of Allen Hart’s “Bestiary”—
     Thank you very much for this wonderful review. It's Hart's second show at Dalet Gallery; the first was a retrospective exhibit, with his "Orchestra of the Damned" series as a central point. The show received very good media coverage and the audience responded. I believe that Philadelphians will realize what a unique artist Allen M. Hart is and what an incredible emotional power his every single piece conveys.
Irena Gobernik, director
Dalet Art Gallery
Old City/ Philadelphia
December 13, 2012


Wyeth, pro and con

     Re “The overrated Andrew Wyeth,” by Anne R. Fabbri (April 2006)—
     There is a great fear of reality, especially among those who tread the halls of intellectuality with their divining rods. I have news for you: You are not in charge of reality, nor do you have any real impact on what people feel about art. Sometimes a singular emotion is all that’s required to make an artist able to speak to the masses, those dirty, uneducated people who don't seem to matter any more, at least not to you.
     I enjoy the abstraction of Wyeth paintings, sometimes looking at just parts of it. His command of the medium he chose was spectacular, but what he really evokes from those who don't like him is fear. It's a nameless fear, sparked by deep insecurity.
     I love so many of the masters— Rembrandt, Rothko, Dali, Michelangelo. But I cannot seem to despise someone the way some people despise Wyeth.
     As Oscar Wilde said, "Some cause joy wherever they go, others, whenever they go."
Dennis Hastings
Olympia, Wash.
December 17, 2012

     Anne R. Fabbri replies:
Am I correct in assuming that Mr. Hastings owns something by Andrew Wyeth and fears that its market value might decrease (in a similar manner to that of work by Damien Hirst) as the public's knowledge and appreciation of genuine art increases?

Physical fitness fascism

     I was reading David Woods’s “Physical fitness fascism” while watching Dr. Rudy Tazi on a PBS fundraiser.
     He’s a neuroscientist at Harvard who cautions never to multi-task because the brain can only do one thing at a time. This is probably why I'm not sure of his name. His main message, however, is that exercise is the best way to stave off Alzheimer's and also to keep your brain young and healthy.
     Exercise, along with social engagement, general usage, a healthy diet and eight hours of sleep have proven, according to Tazi and other scientists, to be beneficial to the brain.
     I've been thinking about exercise lately because I've suffered many ill effects from it. Had I been more sedentary, I might not have torn ligaments in both knees, resulting in arthritis. And had I not undertaken a rigorous aerobics class at the gym, I may not have develop a painful and debilitating heel spur syndrome.
     My mother lived until 93 with her body intact. She liked to take a brisk daily walk, after which she would spend the day reading and listening to music. Her memory, however, began to decline at 88.
     So while exercise may be good for your mind, there's no doubt it results in wear and tear on your body.
Jane Biberman
Doylestown, Pa.
December 2, 2012


     David Woods, your idea that someone else should find an exercise program that is fun for you speaks volumes about your attitude.
     Maybe you are among the few people in the world who can stay seated for hours and be happy. But for the rest of us, moving, somehow, is what keeps us feeling good. If you take a walk outside in a beautiful place, you can't help but feel better at the end of the day.
     Dancing is great exercise. The more you move, the more you want to move, and the better you feel.
     There is plenty of time to get some action in your life, and I guarantee if you do something where you move around for even 30 minutes a day for a month, you will never go back to being a couch potato... and you'll shake up some of your ideas and do whatever you do sitting, better.
Nancy Herman
Merion, Pa.
December 5, 2012


     The medical profession may not come up with ways to make exercising more fun, but health insurers might start legislating that people exercise. Or they may make non-exercisers pay higher premiums and deductibles.
     That is what I thought this essay was going to be about: health insurers telling us how to live, something that’s not too far-fetched these days.
Connie Briggs
Abington, Pa.
December 5, 2012


     Oscar Levant said it best. When Jack Paar asked what he did for exercise, Levant replied, "I stumble and fall into a coma."
Joseph Glantz
Levittown, Pa.
December 3, 2012


     Who missed the chance to post the famous photo of Mark Twain abed writing/dictating, as was his habit?
Mary E. Hazard
Center City/ Philadelphia
December 5, 2012


     Editor's comment: Your wish is our command. See above.

Van Hove shakes up Shakespeare

     Re Carol Rocamora’s review of Ivo van Hove’s Roman Tragedies—
     I saw this amazing play as well, and I think your article is a perfect recap and analysis. Thank you for attending and writing about this groundbreaking theater event and noting Van Hove's special place in contemporary directing.
Lane Savadove
South Philadelphia
December 5, 2012

     Editor’s comment:
The writer is artistic director of EgoPo Classic Theatre.

‘Hungry Eyes’ and Italian nights

     Anne R. Fabbri’s review of Stephen Estock is just superb. "Roman Summer" is a beautiful painting; it actually has a similar feeling to one of my paintings, and her description of an evening in Rome is sublime.
     Painting is forever king.
Pasquale Cuppari
Roselle Park, N.J.
December 5, 2012


     I must say that eating gelato in the Piazza Navona never has quite done anything like this for me. Maybe dinner in Trastevere at Checco or Carrotiere, but I don't quite think so. Perhaps the moment of orgasm at sunset high up in one of the hotels on the Via Sistina. But perhaps it's all just imagination anyway.
Remo Fabbri
Hamden, Conn.
December 9, 2012


The Pope’s Tweets

     â€œThe Pope’s Tweets,” by Perry Block, is priceless!
Merilyn Jackson
South Philadelphia
November 8, 2012


‘The Female Gaze’

     I enjoyed reading Anne Fabbri's review of Pennsylvania Academy’s current exhibition, “The Female Gaze.” I too have been wondering about that show.
     My mother, Alice Steer Wilson, never wanted to be known as a "woman artist." She wanted to go up against the big boys, but I think she also felt shut out and/or dismissed by the (primarily male) cronies who ran the institutions like the American Watercolor Society, Pennsylvania Academy and the Philadelphia Water Color Club. I'm not sure how often she submitted for entry into the American Watercolor Society, but she never got in, and ultimately gave up in frustration.
     One morning 11 years ago, during the last months before she died, she opened a rejection from a juried Pennsylvania Academy show for a lovely painting that had won awards elsewhere. I can still hear her practically spit the words, "That's the last time they'll get to reject me!"
     I believe she deserved entry. But now that I send my own work out and meet frequent rejection, I understand the need for perseverance.
As a woman who writes in the literary marketplace, I am grateful for studies that objectify discrimination against women in the publishing world. But I would feel demeaned if my work was accepted as some sort of compensation for previous slights to women.
     I often feel fully received by feminist readers, and yet I love it when my work reaches people who are nothing like me. Perhaps one of the best compliments I received during my MFA workshops came from a man in a cowboy hat who had read my essay and said, "I didn't understand it, but it stayed with me, and after I read it a second time, I thought it was brilliant!”
Janice Wilson Stridick
Merchantville, N.J.
November 30, 2012


     I enjoyed Anne R. Fabbri’s judicious review of “The Female Gaze,” but I am puzzled by her reference to "male genitalia historically glorified by classical sculpture." After all, Pope Paul IV covered all with fig leaves. Has Anne Fabbri lifted the fig leaves? Doe she have a papal dispensation?
     My only evidence is anecdotal: the giant, erect pricks displayed outside the whorehouses in Pompeii; the sex-starved husbands in Lysistrata stalking the agora preceded by their erections which lift their togas like tent poles; Michelangelo's male nudes, classically inspired, are heroic in every way except in the size of their pricks. So where's the glorification?
     By the way, Claudia Neel's Alice Bach, Pregnant, is a nicely detached study of globes, semi-hemisphere, rhomboid, right angles and tufted triangle, but it doesn't grab me where it should. But then, nothing does any more.
Charles Perrone
Moorestown, N.J.
November 29, 2012


     I loved the questions Anne Fabbri raised, particularly “Where are the male nudes?"
As to the question about ghettoizing female artists, I believe that when Linda Lee Alter started her collection, we were already ghettoized, and she was making a grand gesture— and then stuck with it.
E. Sherman Hayman
Center City/ Philadelphia
November 28, 2012


     Editor’s note: The writer is an artist.

Durang’s Vanya and Sonia

     Re Jane Biberman’s review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike—
     I— who, someone said, would go the opening of an envelope— no longer bother to even read the reviews of a Christopher Durang play. They are always written by admirers, i.e., self-serving folks who went to Yale Drama School with him and think that once having pissed in the same toilet as Meryl Street makes you a maven on everything— specifically, the work of an old friend who says equally wonderful things about anything you've done.
     Durang has always been intermittently funny, but he ain't no Mel Brooks (who probably never even visited New Haven, but has the wit to plot his own masterpieces).
     That said, I prefer to address the more pressing issue of how many more golden days Jane Biberman has left. Plenty, Tootsie.
     You are one of those short, skinny Jews, who, to Hitler’s probable dismay, has DNA to die for. New York Magazine recently featured a story about several 97-to-103-year-old short, skinny members of a specific Jewish family who are not only are found on the treadmill daily but go into work every day. I daily lurk around the Upper East Side, looking for a belly of a member of that Kohn family to rub for good luck, even though most of them don't have bellies.
     So keep soaking up that sunshine by walking and riding your pets, and never stop kvetching, which specifically fights the kvetcher's depression because it creates depression in the kvetchee, and, as we all know, depression, like matter, can only occupy one place at any time.
     One additional kvetch re Mark Doty's comment on regret that Jane Biberman quoted. Regret is bullshit. It's the beginning of the fantasy about the road untraveled, which in all likelihood will end up as imperfect as the road you selected.
Myra Chanin
New York
November 28, 2012

Spielberg’s Lincoln

     I'm looking forward to seeing Steve Spielberg’s Lincoln, especially after reading Robert Zaller’s analysis. (Click here.)
Bob Rottenberg
Brattleboro, Vt.
November 28, 2012


     Zaller's review of Lincoln is a double-header: sophisticated historiography (a warning about Oliver Stone's simplicities) and shrewd film criticism.
     Lincoln's complex problems still haunt us: The ideological flip flop of both GOP and Dems places the fulfillment of our country's promises squarely on our own still shrugging shoulders. Our real cliff is metaphysical, not fiscal.
     Zaller for mayor!
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
November 28, 2012


     Robert Zaller replies: Mayor? Well, let's see. The first thing I'd do is to ship the Barnes back to Merion. Then I'd schedule a public whipping for all those who forced the Orchestra into bankruptcy. Then I'd close all the casinos and open more strip joints, on the grounds that the public deserves to get value received for value given. Maybe I'd have to close the Eagles’ stadium on the same grounds. Oh, yes, and I'd tear up that $50 million pea patch Mayor Nutter is putting up around City Hall and surround it with soup kitchens instead, so that City Council could remember the 25 percent— or is it now 30 percent?— of the city that lives in poverty. No, scratch that, I'd tear down City Hall itself, and rid the city of the stench of entrenched power that emanates from it. Or should I stick to reviewing? What do you think?

     Editor’s comment: On the basis of your campaign platform above, I second Professor Hazard’s nomination of Professor Zaller for mayor— of Bala Cynwyd, not Philadelphia.

     For a thorough critical analysis of the film as a brief for compromise by redefining realism, see Aaron Bady's "Lincoln against the Radicals" at jacobinmag.com.
     Apart from ideological questions, Spielberg's melodramatic nudges via the would-be cutesy kid, the slow-rolling occasional tear, and the swelling cues from John Williams's score are enough to harden a heart of stone.
Mary E. Hazard
Center City/ Philadelphia
December 5, 2012


     Robert Zaller replies: Mary Hazard's comment sent me to Aaron Bady's thoughtful article, as well as Eric Foner's reminder that, had the 13th Amendment not passed in January 1865, it would have been resubmitted to the new Congress seated in March, where the Republicans would have had the majority they needed for passage without the trouble of begging or bribing Democratic votes. So why didn't Lincoln wait for the more favorable opportunity?
     The implicit argument in Spielberg's film is that he wanted at least some degree of bipartisanship, just as Obama did in passing the Affordable Health Care Act. Lincoln did get the votes he needed; Obama didn't, and had to rely solely on Democratic ones. Their instinct (so the argument goes) was the same, though: that achieving major legislation even with token consensus was better in the long run than a polarizing vote that would have left the losing side embittered and vengeful.
     Of course, the 13th Amendment was, as Thaddeus Stevens is quoted as saying, the most important political event of the 19th Century in America, and Obamacare was a lost historic opportunity to challenge the hegemony of for-profit medical care. That the Republicans and the medical establishment actually got what they wanted in the bill left them no less vengeful, and they immediately attempted to reverse it in the courts and through state-based obstructionism.
     That's what our politics have come to, and the lesson is the reverse of what Spielberg suggests: compromise did Obama absolutely no good, assuming he wanted genuine reform in the first place. There are times when bipartisanship may be worth the cost; there are times when it isn't.

Vernon Hill’s financial vision

     Re “What’s it all about, Vernon?” by Dan Rottenberg (Editor’s Notebook)—
     As an ex-Catholic poisoned by the anti-Lutheran biases of my German Dominican nuns at Holy Rosary Academy (Bay City,
Michigan, 1930-1940), Martin Luther's sensible counsel about the ambivalent values of riches had a special relevance for me. And as an American immigrant in Weimar, Germany (since 1999), I'm greeting with minimal enthusiasm my participation in the Luther Decade (2007-17), when "we" will celebrate the 500th anniversary of his nailing his misgiving theses on the Wittenberg church door.
     Not so long ago I found myself at an urban design conference there when the Luther Decade officially began with the pop drama of the ex-Augustinian monk arriving by boat from Erfurt, where he had just chucked his Catholicism. A worldwide cluster of Lutheran bishops opened "their" decade by releasing 500 doves. I must concede that the breakfast the next morning at the Youth Hostel of the church where Luther’s alienation was first expressed was much above average, and the lower clergy sharing it with me were surprisingly urbane. No one talked banking that morning. And Luther’s decade is half over!
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
November 30, 2012


‘Dancing Around the Bride’

     Re Anne R. Fabbri’s review of “Dancing Around the Bride” at the Art Museum—
     Lest we forget, the context for Duchamp's deconstructions of time and space, 100 years ago, was quite different from that of Cage, Cunningham, Johns and Rauschenberg. In fact, a world war— which some people actually wished to happen— was about to happen.
     That wasn’t the case with our "modern masters." They only had the harmless brushstrokes of AbEx painting, the giddiness of post-World War II "re-construction" and the "ontology" of Marcel Duchamp to work with.
     (Not mentioned is T.D. Suzuki, the great Zen instructor at Columbia U., under whose tutelage our "modern masters" sat, unknown to Duchamp.)
     This show actually shows the "conventions" for artistic production today, ideas ensconced in many an MFA-trained artist, and countless numbing, irrelevant, and boring artistic efforts that result.
     That said, this show is worth seeing for the curatorial leap it makes to demonstrate strategies that most visual artists use today.
Jim Nickel
New York
December 1, 2012


Cecily Tynan, weather queen

     Perry Block’s “Secrets of Cecily Tynan, weather queen,” (April 2011) was a fantastic article. I read it twice and laughed out loud both times.
     My wife and I do talk about her, and we both have the hots for her. And one of the reasons is the way she is dressed and by whom, which was the search I ran that led me to this article in the first place.
Barry V. Cole
Wynnewood, Pa.
November 30, 2012