Monday, September 29, 2008

Clyde from Ohio

There is a Clyde, Ohio, which is the actual town on which Sherwood Anderson based "Winesberg, Ohio." 
The Clyde in the above title has nothing to do with either Anderson or Clyde, Ohio. Clyde Singer's paintings are currently being displayed in two area museums, the Butler in Youngstown, and the Canton Museum of Art. He was an Ohio native from a very small town south of Canton.  As soon as he could, he got out of Ohio and went to New York and studied at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry. The reason for the double exhibitions is that this is the centenary year of his birth. He ended up coming back to Ohio and was the director at the Butler for a very long time. 

I don't know if he's known much outside of Ohio. He was a contemporary of some of my favorite American painters of the 30s and 40s, like Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper. His work would be considered very old fashioned now. He was a realist and a lot of his work is narrative. He did some fine paintings of street life in New York, McSorley's Saloon and its habitues, baseball players, parades, and small town shops and shoppers, and street  crowds.  He did paintings of steel workers, men in line for soup kitchens during the depression, and factory towns full of grimy buildings and smoke stacks pouring smoke and ash over roof tops of dreary looking houses.  Almost all of his paintings are full of people with the exception of a few landscapes.  

Over two weeks I went to both shows and could go back. There is so much to see in his work. I can get lost in the images of what life used to be like in towns when the sidewalks were full of people, some looking straight ahead, some looking in windows, some chatting and gesturing with friends. That's pretty much gone  around here. Small towns have been replaced with malls and shopping strips with no character and no sense of place. I wonder if anyone under 50 will even "get" Singer's work. As I said, it's pretty old fashioned. It's far from sentimental, though, because much of his early work coincided with the Depression and he didn't make it pretty. There's a strong emotional content in those paintings. 

I decided to drive  home from Youngstown along what used to be the major steel producing valley road, Rte. 422.  It seemed only appropriate. It's like that road in "The Great Gatsby", only without the giant spectacles of Dr. Eckleburg. On one side are the giant remains of abandoned steel mills, which look like dinosaurs looming up. On the other side are dusty shops of indeterminate businesses (auto parts, cell phones), many bars, a few churches (mainly Catholic). an abandoned 4 story steel company office building, more bars, and side streets leading to neighborhoods of wooden houses that you don't want to think about. This time I noticed a huge parking lot, empty, containing a tiny wooden structure that looked about 16 feet square. There is a huge sign, almost as big as the building, that reads "LAW OFFCE. It goes on for miles like this. 

I don't know why I like to drive this way, but it is thought-provoking and not really depressing. I mean, I don't have to live there, just pass through it. I try to imagine what it must have been like when the steel mills were producing. It probably looked a lot like a Clyde Singer painting, with smog so thick you probably couldn't see all the people walking, shopping and chatting. Even like that, it was preferable to what it is like now. At least there was life there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Got Ethics?

Several weeks ago I read that the university was sponsoring a free workshop on the ethics of blogging. Thinking that  it sounded interesting, I called and registered, assuming it would be some sort of small local affair. It was to be held at the newly renovated Franklin Hall, an old classroom building on the front campus, which had originated as the university training school back when this was a normal school. It is now the headquarters for the journalism department and I was anxious to see what it looks like. Years ago I had taught a class there in the Experimental College.

When I entered the building there were a number of young, fashionably dressed young women who directed me to the third floor. When I got there I realized that this was not going to be some small event. There was the typical registration desk with name tags and binders for the participants, plus a table full of Danish rolls, bagels and choice of beverage. We were ushered into this huge, new, high tech auditorium, with computer connections built into the tables and three enormous screens up front. Quite a few participants were already twittering away on their laptops. There were people there from all the major newspapers, both local and national. A young woman sitting next to me was from the Chicago Tribune, where she runs a blog on racial issues. 

The opening panel consisted of heads of journalism departments from various universities around the country and journalists and editors and a couple of heavy hitting bloggers not connected with newspapers or universities. I wondered what I was doing there, but decided to stay anyway. I mean, there was a free lunch.

The focus of the workshop was to explore the impact of blogging on the print media and to examine what kinds of ethical considerations might or should be adopted in what is basically a form of citizen journalism, a really "free" press. Journalists do have restrictions in the form of codes of what is acceptable or ethical, e.g., conflict of interest in coverage,  neutrality, transparency, and accountability, etc. in "straight" reporting of news. (They did not discuss editorial content in relation to this code.) Journalists are also required to back up their stories with reliable sources.One panelist, Jay Rosen from NYU, said that the advent of the internet and blogging has caused a real revolution in that the means of production have now changed hands. He quoted A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."  Rosen also said that press "tools" are now in the hands of the people through video, audio and the computer. High tech note: when he came to a certain spot in his presentation, he also appeared simultaneously on one of the big screens in a pre-recored image speaking at the same time to emphasize what he was saying. It was a very "Wizard of Oz" moment. He also quoted Roland Barth: "One writes to be loved." I like that.

The newspapers represented also have bloggers on their staffs and there were a few of them discussing what they did and how they combined their blogging ethics with their professional journalist's codes. I did question one guy's use of Shirley McClain as a reliable source when he used, as an example of blogging's advantage of immediacy, to brag about being the first to break the story of Dennis Kucinich having told McClain that he had seen UFOs. I liked Jay Rosen's definition of ethics: "Rules of practice that lead to trust." I'm not sure I trust Shirley McClain.

All in all, it was an interesting day, especially now when the print medium is in a state of such flux. Both the local daily papers that  I read are making some pretty drastic cuts right now, dropping staff, minimizing sections, cutting features. Most cities now have only one newspaper,  and they are using their own blogs to "scoop" themselves, with the risk of making mistakes, which happened recently to one of the area newspapers when their blog reported the death of a well known resident who was gravely ill but still alive. Because the internet is so vast, the report went out nationally, causing dismay to those who knew the person and embarrassment to the paper. It used to be that people believed something to be true if it was in the paper and now the same holds true if it's on the internet. Retraction is possible, or course, but doesn't always work. How many people still believe that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet? Even one of the panelists at the this conference made an joking reference when discussing the internet. Everyone needs ethics in print or in person, I guess.

Monday, September 15, 2008

How People Talk II

Upon reading my last post, my friend Char reminded me of another now common  language usage. I go to lunch once in a while with friends who are even older than I (It's possible that people of great age are still ambulatory!), and we are invariable asked by the young, perky servers, "Can I get  you guys something?" After we have received our meals, they're back with, "Do you guys need anything else?" Before they bring the bill they ask, "Do you guys want any dessert?" (My friends and I are not eating in greasy spoon diners, so I don't know where this trend comes from.)

Now, my aged friends and I pretty much look like old ladies, even though we do have the occasional chin whiskers from dying hormones. We don't talk in gruff voices, we don't wear pinky rings or shoot our cuffs. 

I once called a young waitress on this terminology and her response was to look confused: "What should I call you?" 
"How about just "you"? I said.
"Oh," she replied, as if it had never occurred to her that the word is both plural and singular.

I don't know if that changed her, but it is still "you guys" wherever I go.In some places, especially in Western Pennsylvania, it's "youns" and in some places in Ohio it's "youse", pronounced "ewes." Growing up in the South, we used "y'all", but most Yankees are apt to use that word when addressing a single person rather than more than one person and it grates on the ear. 

Maybe I should just put a poster up in the entry of the restaurants I frequent and let them know that "you guys" is a really weird way to address customers, especially us geezer ladies. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

How We Talk

There was a time about 30 years ago, when the term"lady" was downgraded, with "woman" the preferred nomenclature for those of the female persuasion. "Lady" was reserved for our mothers. We were WOMEN, hear us roar. At the same time political correctness required that we use non-classist and non-racist words in referring to everyone. Thus the term, "cleaning lady" evolved, at least in the U.S. of A. (In Germany a putzfrau is not called a putzdame, but then they are not known for tact over there, much less polical correctness..) 

One result of this overly correct, non-offensive language is that terminology for referring to others has resulted in some strange, non-specific descriptions of people not previously accorded the terms "lady" or "gentlemen." For instance, I heard an employee of a bank which had been held up say that "the gentleman handed me a note demanding that I give him the money before he blew my ***** head off."  Our secretary at work would tell me there was a gentleman waiting to see me. Expecting to find Alistair Cooke, I would instead be confronted with Stanley Kowalski. One hears cops reporting being "kicked in the balls" by a combative "lady." These usages render the words meaningless

I don't know what to do about this, other than to drop the terms "lady" and "gentleman" from our vocabularies, since they no longer have a place in our egalitarian society. We're all men and women here, with no need to categorize our selves as gentlefolk. We did win the revolution.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Same Old Dupree

A couple of blog posts ago I mentioned that Dupree the cat was feeling poorly (Midwestern for "sick"). He is quite old now, even older than I in cat years. He had two shots and an application of flea medicine which was too much for his delicate constitution apparently. The result was that he was totally wiped out. He could barely walk, couldn't eat, and spent all his time under the arbor vitae tree out front, where he has a sort of nest. 

We would periodically check on him to make sure he was still breathing. Since he was under this very thick fir tree and he is black, it was hard to see him, and we had to sort of crawl through the branches before we could find out if he was still alive. He would not stay in the house at all. All could think of is how animals tend to creep away when they are dying. 

As soon  as the weekend was over, John called the vet, who told him that some cats can have an allergic reaction to the flea medication. Who knew that? She said as long as he was eating he was going to be all right. But he wasn't eating, and this is a cat which can drive you crazy with demands for food, especially when you are busy with something else far from the kitchen. 

After two days he staggered into the house and ate a bit and drank some water. He then went back to his nest under the tree, but it was a good sign. Gradually he started to come inside and eat a little more and then a lot more and now he is recovered. John has decided to let the fleas have him rather than ever go through this again.

Dupree's health problems distracted me from Democratic convention, but I do know that Obama was enthroned and I did listen to his very fine speech. Now I can ignore the Republican convention with impunity. It doesn't take a sick cat to keep me from watching McCain and his beauty queen vice presidential choice. That is the most cynical political move since Bush I appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Those clueless Republicans!