October letters: Diego Rivera’s ghost…

Readers respond about Diego Rivera in Detroit, population growth, Pennsylvania’s death penalty, "Bunny Bunny," Pulitzer prize photos, Tom Purdom’s concert week, schools and babies, the Inquirer, a conscientious objector’s story, Arguendo, Peter Paone’s “Wild Flowers,” the government shutdown, "Singin’ in the Rain," a Lesley Valdes review, and "Parade" at the Arden.

Diego Rivera’s ghost in Detroit

Richard Carreño’s “Can a dead Communist artist save Detroit?” sounds suspiciously like ranting by someone with a huge political agenda, rather than an objective discussion of art in peril in a city in a nosedive. It’s childish name-calling about those “bad Republicans” who want to sell off some of the last things of value in a city those “good Democrats” spent the last five decades screwing-up.

There hasn’t been anything but Democrat elected leadership, and not much of it honest, in that city since 1962. Forgive the temptation of those representing Michiganders in the rest of the state to look at any assets available to relieve them of their perpetual bailout of the chronically and consistently mismanaged Motor City.

The art will be preserved; there’s no doubt about that. It just won’t be where its buyers meant it to be, physically.
Motive aside, how different is that from the Billionaire Bullies’ (Lenfest and Pew) and Governor Rendell’s relocation of the Barnes Foundation’s post-Impressionist gems from their bucolic (and collector-intended perpetual) Lower Merion setting, to a hideous concrete bunker on the Parkway in Philadelphia?
Paul Decker
Bryn Mawr, Pa.
October 16, 2013

What a sad nostalgia this Rivera episode awakens. My first visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts was on a University of Detroit art course assignment to find one work to write a critique. By then a Dorothy Day radical Catholic, I praised a Rivera passage. Later, as a senior, I won the annual Midwest Province Jesuit essay contest (1949) with a rant entitled "Needed: More Red-Blooded American Catholics," by which I meant Catholics who emulated the local Communists who favored racial liberation.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
October 16, 2013

As a kid in Detroit, the Institute was my introduction and only link to a world beyond the guys' obsession with wheels and baseball.
For an amusing and relevant commentary in verse on the tension between Rivera and Rockefeller, see E. B. White's 1933 poem, I Paint What I See.
Mary E. Hazard
Center City/ Philadelphia
October 16, 2013

Too many people?

Re “Two cheers for population growth,” by Dan Rottenberg (Editor’s Notebook)—
We are an animal species, cleverer and more adaptable than the passenger pigeon, but we too have a finite habitat and resources, and long before we reach Isaac Bashevis Singer's projected 150 billion, our burdened planet will likely be rid of us—or most of us.
It should not be forgotten that a great plague wiped out a third of the world's human population in many areas less than seven centuries ago, and that the influenza pandemic killed twice as many in Europe and America as had died in World War I in 1918.
The idea that Nature imposes no limits on us, or none that cannot somehow be finessed, is in my view a very dangerous bet. The poet Robinson Jeffers's suggestion that hubris was the great human weakness seems to me more apt than ever as we recklessly undermine the biological diversity that supports us.
As for finding a habitable new solar system in the next 20 million years—and figuring out how to reach it—well, good luck. But I'm more worried about what happens to us in the next 200.
Robert Zaller
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
October 16, 2013

A special added advantage would be a store of bodies suitable for barbecue fare at the next Mad Hatter's Tea Party celebration for their blocking of aid to the poor, the schools, the sick and the elderly.
Mary E. Hazard
Center City/ Philadelphia
October 16, 2013

Pennsylvania and the death penalty

Re “Is this what William Penn had in mind?"—
Robert Zaller is right to be appalled by the iniquities of the justice system in those cases” death cases” in which inaccurate verdicts are least tolerable. Putting aside his idiosyncratic statistical analysis of the "failure rate" of the death penalty, Zaller's critique is sound. (Most of the things that make the death penalty shameful and wrongheaded don’t lend themselves to a scorecard, unless you want to focus on the fiscal insanity that has made abolitionists out of many of the law-and-order persuasion.)
But his critique points to the need for corrective measures that transcend abolition. Inmates and sophisticated opponents of the death penalty alike worry that once we are rid of capital punishment, pro bono lawyers who have provided extraordinary representation in capital cases, as in the James Dennis case, will turn their backs on the criminal justice system, which will be left fundamentally unchanged.
Last week, a conscientious Philadelphia judge, Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, awarded a new trial to Eugene Gilyard and Lance Felder, who have been incarcerated for 16 years for a murder they did not commit. Gilyard and Felder are represented by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, a tiny but mighty public interest law firm that recruits, trains and collaborates with private lawyers and law students in the pursuit of innocence claims. It is also engaged in system reform to root out the institutional causes of wrongful convictions. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is an ally in that campaign, as is Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.
To achieve a more just society, the ardor for abolition should be matched by an ardor for the innocence movement. For not only has the innocence movement generated the evidence that has splintered our certainty that innocent people are not put to death, it alone holds the promise of remaking the entire criminal justice system into one that is as passionate about shielding the innocent from undeserved punishment as it is about convicting the guilty and meting out just desserts.
David Richman
Ardmore, Pa.
October 16, 2013

Robert Zaller replies:
There is also an additional class of prisoners who may have been rightly convicted of homicide but wrongly sentenced because of evidence suppression and other prosecutorial misconduct. No system will ever be perfect, but the more prisoners there are, the more of them will be innocent.

Bunny Bunny

Re the reviews of Bunny Bunny by Steve Cohen and Naomi Orwin:
I've never seen an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” I did not, when our theater group met to review this season's offerings, know who either Gilda Radner or Alan Zweibel was. It was in this context that, when I saw Bunny, Bunny this past Sunday in the wonderful black box on the Walnut Street Theater's third floor, I found the play one of the best written, most brilliantly and beautifully acted, intellectually fascinating, and emotionally deeply moving I've seen.
I was not surprised at the standing applause that greeted the cast—and writer—at the end.
Dan Larkin
Merion Station, Pa.
October 16, 2013

Pulitzer Prize photos at the Constitution Center

Re “What we had, and what we’re losing,” by Gary L. Day:
I'm impressed by the fact that the loss of picture weeklies like Life and Look reduced the contact of the mass audience with great one-shot clicks.
Analogously, Tony Auth bemoans the sad fact that daily newspaper cartoonists have shrunk from 200 to a mere 80 in his 40-year career. But we can relax when we realize that Tony is now a digital cartoonist for WHYY-TV. Just so, the Constitution Center replays the best. More and more museums are adding photos to painting and sculpture.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
October 17, 2013

Three concerts

Tom Purdom’s “One week, three concerts” was one of his best article” as well-written as ever, but especially instructive and deeply thoughtful.
Bill Dorsey
Kennett Square, Pa.
October 16, 2013

Too many babies

To save the schools, have fewer kids,” by Gary L. Day, is sad but true. Too many babies having babies.
I have watched Philadelphia's disastrous policies firsthand through the eyes of the students in The Stained Glass Project: Windows That Open Doors. They feel sad, neglected, not taken care of. They were thrown to the wolves, out of Germantown High School, and the way the administration handled this was to keep everyone in the dark until the last minute. Kids and school personnel found out where they were assigned at the last minute. Nobody seems to care.
With almost no exception, when our kids went on to college they had to take remedial courses because they were not up to standards. What were they doing for four years at Germantown?
I see little hope. Our kids deserve so much more.
Joan Myerson Shrager
Elkins Park, Pa.
October 9, 2013

I am not sure to what extent Mr. Day is serious and to what extent his tongue is in his cheek. For instance, doesn't a school district's funding depend on some extent to the number of students it enrolls? If so, won’t fewer students mean fewer funds?
Anyway, more importantly, in the area of destroying the planet, almost all the countries in the top 50 in terms of population growth are Arab or African. Western countries compare quite favorably. (The U.S. ranks 125th at 0.9%)
On the other hand, the citizens of these countries use disproportionate amounts of the world's resources. It's not that there are too many of us; it's that we're rapacious.
On the bright side, as one of the deep thinkers at my café of choice points out, maybe "war, pestilence and famine" isn't a bad thing. After all, following the Black Plague came the Renaissance.
Bob Levin
Berkeley, Calif.
October 10, 2013

Is this a wrestling match between big poor families and increasingly rich minorities? Must one be either pro-create or anti-higher taxes?
Larger and larger poor families is clearly idiotic. But so is the penchant of the rich to fight reasonably higher taxes. That we can't reason together, many poor and few rich, to sustain effective mass education as the Scandinavians do bespeaks a moral collapse of both our poor and our rich.
Goodbye, American Dreamers.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
October 9, 2013

Editor's note: For my thoughts about population control, click here.

The Inquirer, seriously

Re “The Inquirer’s last serious voice,” by Dan Rottenberg (Editor’s Notebook):
Dan 's list of Inquirer writers worth saving as the iceberg hoves in sight: Carolyn Hax offering homespun advice on subjects most adults should be able to resolve on their own? Yet not the thoughtful, and occasionally witty Karen Heller?
David Woods
Society Hill/ Philadelphia
October 9, 2013

Really good piece on the Unreality Show at the former Inquirer.
Maralyn Lois Polak
Center City/ Philadelphia
October 9, 2013

Editor’s note: The writer is a former Inquirer writer.

I was especially impressed by Inga Saffron. I recently caught her on TED, explaining why down-to-earth amenities are far preferable to the absurdly fanatic skyscraper race on which the Oilies of the Mideast currently prevail. God blast them! I was unaware of her war experience, which illumines her current humanism.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
October 12, 2013

My only addition to your list of who remains at the Inquirer is cartoonist Signe Wilkinson.
Susan O. Jaffe
Center City/ Philadelphia
October 11, 2013

Editor's comment: I would group Signe Wilkinson with Karen Heller, Dan Rubin, Clark DeLeon and other reliable old Inquirer hands whose work reflects experience and wit but isn't necessarily serious or thoughtful.

Arguendo in New York

Carol Rocamora’s review of Arguendo is marvelous. It is what I would have said myself if I could have written as clearly and with such verve. The reviewer really picks up on the power, as well as the clarifying and whimsical energy of Ben Rubin's projections, which are like a character in this drama. She also describes in colorful detail many of the unique ways that this production renders a court transcript entertaining and enlightening.
Eleanor Rubin
West Newton, Mass.
October 9, 2013

Editor’s note:
The writer is the mother of Ben Rubin, who created the projections for Arguendo (and who is also my son-in-law).

Peter Paone’s ˜Wild Flowers’

Congratulations to Anne R. Fabbri for her well-written review of Peter Paone’s “Wild Flowers” at he Woodmere Art Museum.
I enjoyed her description of the work, in particular when she went deeper into the artist's psyche. I felt the beauty and I felt the pain.
Pasquale Cuppari
Roselle Park, N.J.
October 10, 2013

Government shutdown

When can your readers get Robert Zaller's take on the Washington, D.C. mishigoss? Or yours?
Joseph Glantz
Levittown, Pa.
October 9, 2013

Editor’s comment:
Here’s mine: I’m against the shutdown, but I love John Boehner’s ties. For Robert Zaller's thoughts, click here.

Thanks for taking up the challenge. Hopefully, Hillary will get to appoint Scalia's replacement. And yes, I wish Obama would just say, “We're going to pay the bills” go ahead and impeach me.”
Gotta go with Dan on Boehner's ties, though. Maybe Obama could try a Stetson hat.
Joseph Glantz
Levittown, Pa.
October 11, 2013

Conscientious objector’s story

Re “Moment of truth, 1969,” by Thom Nickels:
Mr. Nickels deserves our belated praise for his courage and prescience. Only recently are we reading how terrible that unnecessary Vietnam War was and how its sins are only now being revealed in long-range damage from the poisonous bombs still crippling children, not to forget or forgive the thousands of illegitimate births fathered by American soldiers.
Ike was so right: Iraq, Afghanistan, and God knows what future wasteful unjust wars will corrupt our future.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
October 2, 2013

Singin’ in the Rain

Re “Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and the way we were,” by Virginia Alpaugh:
Beautiful piece!
Janet Benton
Mount Airy/ Philadelphia
October 2, 2013

Poetry and music

In her review of Orchestra 2001's opening weekend, Lesley Valdes writes: "Sometimes I dread poems set to music. But when it works, it's art.”
Sometimes I dread a Lesley Valdes review. But if my computer goes down or my radio is on the fritz, I am spared and can experience a work of art pristinely without prejudice.
Maralyn Lois Polak
Center City/ Philadelphia
October 13, 2013

Editor’s comment:
The line you cite was actually my hastily edited conflation of Lesley Valdes’s original text, which read as follows: “Poems sung to music are more common than those spoken over a score. Sometimes I dread the latter since the combination of spoken verse over melody can feel so mannered; but when it works, the result is, well, art.”

Parade at the Arden

Re Steve Cohen’s review of Parade at the Arden:
I second Steve Cohen’s assessment. What a gripping as well a horrifying and enlightening story. Who knew that the first Ku Klux Klan reappearance post-Civil War involved hanging a white man?
The production showcased the long-standing talents of the Arden's core players. Ben Dibble was amazingly believable as Leo Frank. And the staging was great. Kudos all around.
Virginia Alpaugh
Wyncote, Pa.
October 7, 2013

Re the feeling of the Southern Jews toward the Northern ones, two things:
One is that Alfred Unry drives that point home in The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
Second, it wasn't limited to Southern Jews. German Jews in America since the 1840s had the same prejudices toward the new arrivals. The Last Night captured that precisely, even down to the German Jews' sorority of choice” Sigma Delta Tau” and the Christmas tree.
Richard Steel
Center City/ Philadelphia
October 10, 2013