Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Thursday, June 19, 2014

LACMA - From Van Gogh to Kandinsky

Last week Mary and I went to a Members Only preview of the LACMAA’s newest exhibition: one of the most unusual I have ever seen.  Titled Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky, it chronicles the evolution of art by multiple artists who were influenced by the great Expressionists: van Gogh, Cezanne and Gaugin.

Their art, several pieces of which are in the more than 100 pieces in the collection brought color and imagination to art.  Several pieces of their work were on display and were purchased by collectors in Paris and Berlin.  Artists from several nations began to meet in Schools in those cities and discuss where they saw art going.  What emerged was a similarity of style that was eventually termed Post-Expressionism and what morphed into what we know today as Cubism.

The LACMA curator spent 10 years touring and collecting commitments from more than 40 museums and private collections in Switzerland, the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, culminating in 95 paintings and more than 45 other art pieces, which will tour for more than a year.  The display began in Zurich and moved to LACMA for this month’s opening.  Next stop is Montreal.  The excitement of setting up the exhibit is captured in an audio and visual link titled Unframed.

As we made our way through the exhibit we were as much impressed by the collection as by the story it told.  The audio tour, by the way was free: available as an App on my smart phone. The time frame, from the 1890s through the First World War, showed some of the political impact on the artists. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner for example changed the date on some of his paintings to reflect that he was still in Germany when he painted a piece.

The single criteria for being in the collection was that the artist is a recognized Master.  Rarely in one collection would you see works by the above mentioned artists as well as Wassily Kandinsky, Gabrielle Munter, Matisse, Robert Delaunay, and Paul Signac. The value of the collection if it were sold as a whole would truly be priceless.

I recently saw the movie The Monument Men.  The irony of Hitler’s stealing of major art from collections of Jews as well as from churches and museums, was his literal prosecution of many of the artists whose works are included in this collection.

In my book Harnessing a Heritage I have two chapters that discuss some of the art I have in my home.  Three of those pieces are works I inherited from my sister who had a fairly long-term relationship with a German artist, Willy Baum.  While I would be hard-pressed to categorize Willy as a Master, his works are some I like best and all demonstrate the influence of the German movement.  Two are pen and ink representative of the woodblocks in the collection and one, titled Calliope is clearly post-Expressionist.

Mary was just called for Jury Duty. That inspired me to write a Post about that process.  Join me next time and see what my mind and experience might put to paper.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Debtor's Prison

Victorian Debtor's Prison
A recent series on NPR brought me new insight into a subject I thought was ancient history: Debtors’ Prisons.  And it turns out there are complexities of which I was totally unaware.  For starters the issue is one where State’s Rights are more to blame than Federal law

In 1983 the Supreme Court challenged the state of Georgia’s decision to imprison an individual because he could not pay court-imposed fines.  At issue was whether the Bankruptcy Reform Law of 1978 supported the Fourteenth Amendment rights for alternative payment of debt.  Bankruptcy has played an important role in making the United States special; for instance the United States position on bankruptcy had a major influence in immigration and the settling of the country during the nineteenth century, as English law was very strict about incarceration for debt, and a major portion of colonialists arrived here with unresolved English debt.

Kyle DeWitt
Prior to listening to the week-long series, I had the notion that the courts position on debt was limited to enforcing child support and damage claims from accidents.  It turns out that it also extends to such topics as: collection agents judgments for medical claims, failure to pay for ankle monitoring devices, housing costs incurred while in jail, fines for misdemeanor thievery, costs for a Public Defender, and my favorite from the series, errors in identifying a species of fish.

Kyle DeWitt was a 23 year-old infrequent laborer who took comfort during his mostly-idle time by fishing.  He was apprehended by a game warden with a small-mouth bass, caught out of season.  His defense, that he thought it was a rock bass (in season) was rejected by the judge and he was ordered to pay a $150 fine or face jail time.  His alternative plan, to pay the fine in installments, was rejected and he was sent to jail, a decision that lost him a promised job, which would have allowed payment of the fine.  In addition, his court debt increased because he was unable to pay the fine in a timely manner.

There seems to be no rationale to explain that jailing someone has a cost, which often exceeds what the court would receive in fines.  Nor does there seem to be much difference in which states continue to jail for debt.  The NPR study and an earlier WSJ survey found that virtually every state has laws that saddle even the destitute with court-related costs.

When one considers how much the subject of debt is in the news today, with student debt garnering national headlines and foreclosure restructuring still working its way through our troubled housing market, one thinks this is one subject that deserves some national attention.

I applaud NPR for taking on this subject.  Already there is demonstrated legislative interest in the subject. Perhaps this is a legislative rarity in which we may see bipartisan support.

I think you will find my next post interesting.  Mary and I recently took advantage of a Member’s Only preview of a truly unique exhibit at the LACMA, titled from Van Gough to Kandinsky.  I’ll explain why the title and what the curator is trying to accomplish.  Please join me.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Conscription Citizenship

Marquis de La Fayette
Things were simpler in Colonial times, when, using the adage that “an enemy of your enemy is your friend” we found some very able officer material coming to us from European countries who had fought or were still fighting the British.  Most notable of course would be La Fayette, who distinguished himself on several occasions and as a consequence was granted naturalized United States citizenship “to him and his male heirs” before there was a French citizenship.  His burial, by the way, while in France is under soil from the Battle of Bunker Hill.

While it is extremely unlikely that we would have military officers, particularly senior officers coming to us from foreign countries today (most capable officers are from foreign countries who are perceived as potential enemies, if not current ones), we do have an active pool of volunteers willing to enlist for citizenship or enhancement of citizenship.

When I was on my first ship some fifty years ago, the services were just getting used to operating without racial and ethnic discrimination, with some rates closed to non-Caucasians.  I remember being struck by the fact that virtually all the mess rates on the ship were filled by Filipinos, a fact I now realized was due to as much a path to citizenship as to the close bond Filipinos had with the U.S. military from World War II.  The huge Philippine community in Southern California is testimony that many had duty stations in this area.

Nowadays there are fewer opportunities to use military service as a stepping stone to citizenship, with a few specific exceptions: able-bodied men and women under the age of twenty-five, who have established legal residence for two or more years by virtue of a Green card or attendance at school can voluntarily enlist and if qualified, become eligible for citizenship upon completion of their enlisted contract.  If qualified they also could meet the requirement by becoming an officer.

After 9/11 Congress allowed a different opportunity with a program called Military Accessions Vital to National Interests (Mavni) that offered citizenship after serving in the military as language interpreters or in skilled areas of need, one of which was dentistry.  The thinking was that it would provide more security than hiring interpreters from for instance, Afghanistan.  Considering the terrorist attack by an Army Psychologist at Fort Hood, that may not have been entirely well-placed trust.  This law is due to expire in September and, considering our drawback from Afghanistan, may be allowed to expire.

In many respects Mavni is a militarization of the H-1B program, which accelerates citizenship by providing service in skilled fields short of legitimate U.S. citizen volunteers.  Ironically, the H-1B program has morphed into a system for providing educators.  Speaking as a parent of a teacher, the need for educators is likely restricted more by earning capacity than by citizenship.  There was an interesting article in the WSJ recently commenting on the alarming number of days teachers are absent from the classroom (18 per year), a fact that makes curricula static as lesson plans become more review than advancement.

In speaking to an Army Recruiter recently, we agreed that the military should be expanded as a choice to accelerating citizenship.  This makes sense for many reasons.  After four years in the military a prospective citizen would have the skills to be employed and less likely to need social assistance.  They would also be proficient in English and would likely have developed an investment in their newly-adopted country.  After all, isn’t that what happened to La Fayette?

My next post is inspired by a recent series on NPR suggesting the U.S. has lapsed into a practice long considered not only unwise, but illegal: a Debtor’s Prison.  I think you will find it interesting.