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The Time Factor

(Posted by guest blogger Valerie Strauss)

It gets tiring hearing people (who don't have any catastrophe in their lives ) say they don't have time to read, or visit with friends, or just take a moment to think quietly.

No time? Researchers have pointed out that Americans today have more leisure time than most people every in history, considering they don't have to drag water from wells, harvest their own dinner, etc.

We choose to have no time.

Of course, there may be no time for us to read a book when we are driving our children from soccer tournament to karate class to flute lesson, but surely we can put it up on the treadmill while we are exercising at the gym, no? People who are facing a crisis--the Mississippi roaring into their living room or a family member facing a severe illness--may not have a lot of leeway, but many of us do.

Speaking about time, mine has run out. The real creative dynamo, Marc Fisher, will be back next week. ("Yeah!" I'm sure many of you are thinking.)

So I'll throw out a few ideas I've been playing with for your consideration:

* A friend of mine lamented that she can't again enjoy a favorite movie, "The Year of Living Dangerously" starring Mel Gibson, now that there is no pretending he doesn't have some issue with Jews after his anti-Semitic rant to a cop who caught him for drunk driving.

That raises the age-old question about whether politics can and should be separated from art.

In a recent Washington Post story, reporter Alan Cooperman wrote that evangelicals deplored Gibson's outburst but still loved his controversial "Passion of the Christ" film, and that the evangelicals felt "the virtues of a work of art should be considered separately from the sins of its creator."

The Israeli Philharmonic decided to make that separation late last year when it broke an decades-old taboo against playing music composed by Wagner an anti-Semite revered by Hitler. It did so because the conductor decided Wagner was too important a composer to ignore. But plenty of other Israelis didn't appreciate the move.

Should the motivation or philosophy of an artist of any kind be factored into an appraisal of the work?

*The teenager who refused conventional medical treatment raises questions about when the law should allow children to make their own decisions. Where do we draw a line about letting people decide what to do about their own bodies?

*The D.C. school system has long been plagued by problems with its basic infrastructure.

For example, its personnel office can't pay all teachers the correct amount at the right time.
Students don't have all the books they need. In fact, 25 percent of the District's school-age kids now enroll in publicly funded but privately run charter schools, with more charter schools set to open in the fall.

The Board of Education will soon evaluate how well the superintendent, Clifford Janey, performed his thankless job last year.

They are using a 26-page evaluation form to assess his accomplishments, and they want to know a lot.

Did he, it asks, develop a master education plan, a facilities plan, an integrated information technology plan, "world-class" business systems, a "high-quality" staff development plan, a "comprehensive" maintenance plan, a performance-based budget, and.... I'm tired already!

(There is more, though: Did he increase the high school graduation rate, administer new state assessments and reestablish "rigorous performance standards" etc. etc.)

For all the questions about grand strategy, it doesn't ask basic questions that D.C. school activists say are more directly relevant to the quality of District schools: "Are teachers being paid? Do kids have books? Do bathroom stalls have toilet paper? Etc.

Presumably these questions get asked, too.

Thanks for responding to my entries over the past few weeks. I appreciate all the responses, including the ones that question my IQ, creativity and perhaps sanity (as I feel I gave you a valuable venue to vent). Most of you have been a delight and have taught me a lot with your responses. Adios.

By Valerie Strauss |  August 18, 2006; 1:10 PM ET
Previous: JonBenet and Jumping to Conclusions | Next: The Long Tail Contains Neither Brain Nor Heart


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Should the motivation or philosophy of an artist of any kind be factored into an appraisal of the work?

Whew! Sometimes easy, sometimes not. D.W. Griffith made what is undoubtedly one of the seminal films of the early cinema in "Birth of a Nation", but the content is so full of repellant ideas it's hard to know where to start- glorification of the KKK, blatently racist and even criminal portrayals of slaves and former slaves, and on and on. Ditto Leni Reifenstahl and "Triumph of the Will" glorifying Hilter and Nazism. Wagner was a famous anti-semite, but what about Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" and the character of Shylock? I would say that these things have to taken on a case by case basis and that when you can't listen to Die Meistersinger without thinking about Auschwitz, you need to switch to Sibelius.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | August 18, 2006 2:36 PM

The Merchant of Venice is an interesting example, because even though Shylock was undoubtedly intended to invoke the anti-Semitic stereotypes of the time, Shakespeare's genius created a much more complex character. He is certainly one of the more sympathetic characters, with his "I am a Jew/Hath not a Jew eyes?..if you prick us, do we not bleed?" soliloquy. This is why MoV is a "problem" comedy--it's difficult to applaud Shylock's downfall, since it's hard to cheer for snotty Antonio.

Posted by: Shakespeare chick | August 18, 2006 4:59 PM

"We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that, reverse it."

--Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Posted by: pete | August 18, 2006 7:37 PM

I volunteer with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, and my friends are always telling me, "That's so great you volunteer, I wish I had the time to do that!" And I say, "Who got kicked off Project Runway last night?" And they say, "Awww, poor Allison, why'd they have to kick her off?" And I say, "So I guess you DO have some spare time, huh?" And they give me a blank stare, and I change the subject. Especially in DC, people like to think they're a lot more busy and in demand than they really are.

Posted by: Miles | August 19, 2006 7:56 PM

Valerie, times have evolved from the days of "Little House on the Prairie". Yes, parents are a little more involved with their children's activities. Would you rather see the parent(s) sit at home while their children are joining gangs and buying drugs? BTW, thanks for recapping the news that we've already read or heard. Take what we have tought you and go forward (or far away)..........

Posted by: Pleasegoaway | August 19, 2006 8:33 PM

When the story about the boy with cancer initially ran, Channel 4 reported that with chemotherapy, his chances for survival were about 20%. I haven't heard that figure again. But if it is accurate, I think it is an entirely rational and mature decision to decline to spend any significant portion of his last good months debilitated from chemotherapy, rather than enjoying the time he has left. It's almost certainly the decision I would make for myself, in his position.

Posted by: GJ | August 19, 2006 8:38 PM

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