Tuesday Reads: Art as Therapy to Help Deal With Depressing News

Still Life with a Red Rug, Henri Matisse (1906)

Still Life with a Red Rug, Henri Matisse (1906)

Good Morning!!

 

I decided I needed to look at some Matisse paintings this morning, and I’m going to include a few in this post to provide contrast to the news of the day, which is filled with violence, hate, and despair. According to the WebMuseum, Matisse was “a man of anxious temperament.”

Matisse’s art has an astonishing force and lives by innate right in a paradise world into which Matisse draws all his viewers. He gravitated to the beautiful and produced some of the most powerful beauty ever painted. He was a man of anxious temperament, just as Picasso, who saw him as his only rival, was a man of peasant fears, well concealed. Both artists, in their own fashion, dealt with these disturbances through the sublimation of painting: Picasso destroyed his fear of women in his art, while Matisse coaxed his nervous tension into serenity. He spoke of his art as being like “a good armchair”– a ludicrously inept comparison for such a brilliant man– but his art was a respite, a reprieve, a comfort to him.

Can art be therapy? I think so. So can reading literature or listening to music. From a review of Art as Therapy at Brain Pickings, 

The question of what art is has occupied humanity since the dawn of recorded history. For Tolstoy, the purpose of art was to providea bridge of empathy between us and others, and for Anaïs Nin, a way to exorcise our emotional excess. But the highest achievement of art might be something that reconciles the two: a channel of empathy into our own psychology that lets us both exorcise and better understand our emotions — in other words, a form of therapy.

In Art as Therapy, philosopher Alain de Botton — who has previously examined such diverse and provocative subjects as why work doesn’t work,what education and the arts can learn from religion, and how to think more about sex — teams up with art historian John Armstrong to examine art’s most intimate purpose: its ability to mediate our psychological shortcomings and assuage our anxieties about imperfection. Their basic proposition is that, far more than mere aesthetic indulgence, art is a tool — a tool that serves a rather complex yet straightforwardly important purpose in our existence:

Like other tools, art has the power to extend our capacities beyond those that nature has originally endowed us with. Art compensates us for certain inborn weaknesses, in this case of the mind rather than the body, weaknesses that we can refer to as psychological frailties.

Read about “the seven core functions of art” at the Brain Pickings link. And now, regrettably, I must turn to today’s news.

Tea in the Garden, Henri Matisse (1919)

Tea in the Garden, Henri Matisse (1919)

Ray Rice Domestic Violence News.

Yesterday’s news was dominated by reactions to gossip site TMZ’s release of the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then fiance–now wife–Janay Palmer and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic city casino elevator in February.

Suddenly, the Ravens went into ass-covering mode. The Ravens released Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. But why did it take so long? At the time, a video had been released showing Rice dragging Palmer from the elevator like a sack of potatoes.

Here’s a timeline of the Rice case from SB Nation. On Feb. 15th, after the beating, Rice and Palmer were both arrested and charged with simple assault (the charges against Palmer were later dropped). On the 19th a video was released that showed Rice coldly dragging an unconscious Palmer from the elevator like a sack of potatoes–her dress pulled up, her legs spread open to the camera. Rice makes shows no apparent concern for her well-being.

Those of us with any experience with domestic violence could easily surmise what had taken place inside the elevator. But the men of the NFL somehow assumed (or wanted to believe) that Palmer had viciously attacked Rice, and that he had only defended himself by knocking her unconscious!

On March 27 Rice was indicted for aggravated assault, and the next day the couple married. Did Rice marry her to shut her up? Rice ended up getting a slap on the wrist from Prosecutor James McClain (who, like Rice graduated from Rutgers). Rice was allowed to enter a one-year diversion program with counseling instead of getting jail time. And btw, McClain is still defending his decision.

On May 23, Ray Rice game a non-apology “apology” for his disgusting actions in which he apologized to everyone under the sun except his wife Janay. Rice acted as if the two were equally responsible for “the incident.”

From SB Nation, May 23: Ray Rice is an asshole and the Ravens couldn’t care less.

Ray Rice is sorry. He wants you to know how sorry he is for knocking out his fiancée Janay, who is now his wife. He would like to sincerely apologize for dragging her out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator. We know this because Rice told us so. He told the world in a televised public apology broadcast Friday afternoon from Baltimore.

“I apologize for the situation my wife and I were in,” the Baltimore Ravens running back said….

Rice’s apology is special because he really believes it; a shocking portion of Rice’s press conference was devoted to Successories-style affirmations about how he will recover from and get past this … situation that … occurred. Stranger still, Rice somehow managed to get his wife Janay — whom he married right before he was supposed to go to trial for a more serious version of domestic assault — to accept an equal share of blame for the incident. She apologized, too.

Those of us familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence know that Palmer’s behavior was typical of victims–blaming themselves and trying to protect their emotional and economic security.

Finally, in July NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games. NFL and Ravens officials implied to journalists that there was some kind of mitigating evidence that showed Palmer to be at fault. Public outrage was immediate.  I recall JJ posting about it at that time. On Aug. 28, realizing he had made a terrible public relations blunder, Goodell announced a new NFL policy on “domestic violence.” 

Finally, on Sept. 8, TMZ released video of what actually transpired inside the elevator: Rice spitting in Palmer’s face, and decking her with a “crushing” left hook. Not long afterward, the Ravens and the NFL finally too action, claiming they had never seen this video footage that they could have gotten easily from the casino or law enforcement.

But guess what? Rice will still receive $25 million from his contract with the Ravens. If Roger Goodell keeps his job after this, the NFL will be permanently damaged. After all, half of the people who follow football are women? Why do you think the NFL make their players wear pink (ugh!) once a year in honor of breast cancer awareness?

The Red Madras Headdress, Henri Matisse

The Red Madras Headdress, Henri Matisse

Here are some links to other stories on this horrible and shameful debacle:

Dan Shaughnessy at The Boston Globe: In Ray Rice case, one failure after another.

Mike Wise at The Washington Post: Ray Rice finally must answer for his actions; when will NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Baltimore Sun: Janay Rice breaks her silence, describes situation as ‘horrible nightmare’ (She blames the media, not her husband).

SB Nation: White House on Ray Rice: ‘Hitting a woman is not something a real man does’.

TMZ: NFL Commish in the Dark by Choice?

President Obama to Lay out Case for Stepping Up Campaign Against Islamic State

From The Washington Post, As Obama Makes Case, Congress Is Divided on Campaign Against Militants.

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday will begin laying out his case for an expanded military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when he faces congressional leaders who are averse to taking an election-year stand but are being pushed by lawmakers who want a say in matters of war.

Mr. Obama’s meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders on Tuesday in the Oval Office will be the first of several between White House officials and lawmakers as the administration tries to persuade Congress to embrace the president’s plan to halt the momentum of the Sunni militant group known as ISIS.

A year after opposition in Congress thwarted plans for missile strikes in Syria, the White House is again putting the issue of military force in the Middle East before a skeptical Congress and a war-weary public.

But what about Congress?

Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House want to avoid a public vote to authorize force, fearing the unknown political consequences eight weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 4.

“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,’ ” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. “It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”

Other lawmakers, especially some Democrats, are arguing that as long as the president keeps the operation limited to airstrikes, he does not need to get congressional approval.

Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC: The Politics of ISIS

Ahead of a Wednesday public address from President Obama where he’s set to lay out a “game plan” for military action in Iraq and as the right mocks Democrats as weak-willed appeasers, former Vice President Dick Cheney is heading to Capitol Hill to deliver a pep talk to House Republicans.

Is it the 2002 election all over again? Not exactly. But the escalating conflict against ISIS is starting to show up on the trail as Republican candidates seem eager to put major past differences on foreign policy aside and join together in criticizing the White House’s response to the Islamic State.

A number of candidates and GOP officials have gone out of their way to attack Obama over his remark at a press conference that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting ISIS. Republican Senate nominees including Scott Brown in New Hampshire, David Perdue in Georgia, and Thom Tillis in North Carolina, among others, have highlighted the quote while demanding action to turn back the Islamist group’s gains. Joni Ernst in Iowa and Tom Cotton in Arkansas, both of whom served in the Middle East during the Iraq War, have also called for a clearer plan to tackle ISIS.

Read the rest at the link.

Odalique with a Turkish Chair, Henri Matisse

Odalique with a Turkish Chair, Henri Matisse

Ferguson Updates

St. Louis Business Journal: Ferguson to reform municipal courts, add police review board.

As national attention mounts on the way St. Louis municipalities use court fine revenuefor city operations and on police use of force in the area, the Ferguson City Council has announced the proposal of three major reforms.

The city will hold ward meetings for public input on the reforms, with some of the proposals on the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. It will be held at 7 p.m. at Greater Grace Church, 3690 Pershall Road.

Here’s the breakdown of the proposed reforms:

  1. Establishing a Citizen Review Board to work with the police department to review their actions.
  2. I ntroducing an ordinance that will keep court fine revenues at or below 15 percent of Ferguson’s revenue. Any excess will be earmarked for special community projects, not general revenue.
  3. Reforming the way Ferguson’s municipal court works by repealing the “failure to appear” offense, abolishing some administrative fees which may impact low-income persons to a greater extent and the creation of a special docket for defendants having trouble making monthly payments.

Likewise, the council announced, the municipal judge has called for a warrant recall to run from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Those who have outstanding warrants are encouraged to call the municipal court cler k for information on the recall.

Woman in a Purple Coat, Henri Matisse (1937)

Woman in a Purple Coat, Henri Matisse (1937)

Truthout: St. Louis Police Shot 16 Before Michael Brown in 2014

By the time of Michael Brown’s murder, St. Louis area police had already shot at least 16 people in 2014, the vast majority of whom were black.

Truthout obtained this figure by examining news reports from January 1 to August 6 of 2014. On August 10, protests opposing the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown began.

Read the list of victims at the link.

In the vast majority of incidents where the race of an individual shot by police was known, the individuals were black. Truthout was not able to determine how many (if any) of these police shootings were “justified” because data concerning police shootings is so limited.

Police shootings, along with other uses of force by the St. Louis area police, are not a new development. In Ferguson, seven active or former officers have now been named in civil lawsuits for excessive use of force; and in March 2014, two officers with the St. Louis Police Department severely beat a man with disabilities. In another recentcivil case, an amount of over $800,000 was awarded to a victim of excessive force by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Force.

In 2012, US District Judge Carol Jackson stated that the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners may be “deliberately indifferent” or even tacitly approving of a “widespread persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct.” In a separate 2010 federal civil lawsuit, which accused the St. Louis police of excessive force, the victim’s lawyer cited statistics showing that the St. Louis internal affairs investigators sustained only one of 322 citizens’ physical abuse complaints against police from 1997 to 2002.

Read the rest at Truthout. It’s a good article.

Matthew Keys at The Blot: Ferguson Police Chief Lied About Michael Brown Surveillance Tape.

The chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department misled members of the media and the public when he asserted that his hand was forced in releasing surveillance footage that purported to show 18-year-old resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store minutes before he was fatally shot by a police officer.

Chief Thomas Jackson distributed copies of the surveillance tape at a press conference on Aug. 15 in tandem with the public release of the identity of the officer who was responsible for shooting Brown.

When questioned by members of the press about the tape — which apparently had nothing to do with the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager — Jackson told reporters that he was legally obligated to release the tape because members of the media had submitted an open records requests for it.

“We’ve had this tape for a while, and we had to diligently review the information that was in the tape, determine if there was any other reason to keep it,” Jackson said at the press event. “We got a lot of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it was just determined we had to release it. We didn’t have good cause, any other reason not to release it under FOI.”

Except there were no specific FOIA requests for the tape. Keys and The Blot got all media requests for information through an open records request. Read all about it at the Blot.

Dance "What hope might look like" -- Henri Mattisse

Dance “What hope might look like” — Henri Mattisse

Shootdown of Malaysia Flight 17 in Ukraine

From the LA Times: Dutch report: Malaysia jet downed in Ukraine by ‘high-energy objects’

A preliminary report on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 appears to confirm initial assertions that the passenger plane was hit by a surface-to-air-missile in mid-flight July 17 before crashing in Ukraine.

“The pattern of damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft,” concluded a report issued Tuesday by the Netherlands’ air safety board.

The Boeing 777, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, was flying at about 33,000 feet over separatist-held territory in southeastern Ukraine when it broke apart in midair and crashed, killing all 298 passengers and crew members on board.

The report says that fragments of the aircraft reveal numerous puncture holes and indentations on the plane’s skin that would be consistent with damage from missile shrapnel and, investigators say, rule out pilot error or any mechanical fault as the cause of the disaster.

Although investigators have not been able to recover these pieces for forensic examination, the report states that “the pattern of damage observed … was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.”

I’ll end there, as this post is far too long already. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and links in the comment thread. 


Friday Reads

4681461189_7fc9f4772e_oGood Morning!

I’ve been sick the last few days and also busy trying to get the car fixed so I can safely drive it around town again.  I’m going to have to make this shorter than usual because for the last couple nights I’ve spent a lot of time in the bathroom and then basically collapsing on the bed.  So, here are a few in depth articles you may want to read.

The Atlantic profiles what it says are the last days of the powerful and dread pirate Antonin Scalia.

Since Scalia’s appointment in 1986, he has succeeded brilliantly in seizing the spotlight, establishing himself as a conservative hero. He told one questioner to “get over it!” when asked about Bush v. Gore, and responded to pro-choice protesters with an indecent Sicilian hand gesture. Confronted politely by a gay student, he snapped, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?”

But Scalia may have outdone himself in his 2013 dissent in the case of United States v. Windsor. For years, he has been unrelenting in opposing constitutional protections for gays and lesbians. In his 2003 dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia warned darkly that the Court majority “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda” even though “many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their homes.”

In Windsor, the Court’s majority struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade federal recognition of same-sex marriages that were legal under state law. In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority concluded that its “purpose and effect” were “to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

The opinion was the triumph of the “homosexual agenda” Scalia had denounced.

Scalia has been one of the worst justices ever.  He’s been responsible for some authentic judicial overreach to push his theocratic agenda. The only thing that will 18316asave us from the likes of him and more is it seems we’ll be getting Democratic Presidents for awhile.  I doubt he’ll outlast another President Clinton.

An interesting article at The New Republic suggests that Officer Darren Wilson will not be convicted since laws are written that basically give cops a license to kill.

In any clash of witness testimony, police officers begin at huge advantage. Although the courts insist that juries give policemen no extra credence because of their badges as an “essential demand of fairness,” that’s not how jurors actually think or behave. Large percentages of potential jurors readily admit to giving police testimony extra weight, and many more likely act on this implicit bias. And in this case, the favoring of police testimony is compounded by another more pernicious bias: racial prejudice. Extensiveresearch shows that Americans are far more likely to believe that African Americansand especially young black menhave committed crimes and display violent behavior. It therefore won’t take very much to convince a jury that Officer Wilson was acting out of self-defense.

But these cultural biases are only part of the story of why a conviction will be near-impossible. The central reason is a recent trend in many states’ criminal laws. Throughout history, claims of self-defense and compelling police activity have served as justifications for the use of deadly force. Most people intuitively understand that self-preservation is a basic right and that police must sometimes use violence to protect society and apprehend criminals. But generally, we expect situations of justified violence and legal killing to be the rare exception, and most people would probably imagine that policemen and citizens raising claims of justifiable homicide must meet a substantive burden of proof. But today, in states like Missouri, these justifications barely require any evidence at all.

imagesMother Jones has a fairly substantive list of what happens to officers who shoot black men.

It remains to be seen whether Wilson will face criminal charges, but a limited review of similar killings by police suggests that the officers more often than not walk away without an indictment, and are very rarely convicted. Delores Jones-Brown, a law professor and director of the Center on Race, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, looked at 21 publicized cases from 1994 through 2009 in which a police officer killed an unarmed black person. Of those, only seven cases resulted in an indictment—for criminally negligent homicide, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, or violation of civil rights—and only three officers were found guilty.

Let’s take a closer look at five specific cases in which an unarmed black man was killed by officers while allegedly fleeing or resisting in some fashion.

I think you’ll remember most of these cases and the outcomes are disheartening.

What companies are getting rich providing little towns and cities with weapons of war that are usually confined to military use?  Here’s a quick list at Alternet.

The companies getting mileage out of the unrest in Ferguson are vast. The LRAD Corporation manufactures the long-range acoustic devices that have emitted piercing noises at protesters in Missouri. These sound devices can cause headaches and other types of pain. The police in Ferguson are also using the Bearcat armored truck manufactured by Lenco. That vehicle, costing $360,000, was paid for with Department of Homeland Security grant money, according to the New York Times. Since 2003, over $9 million in grants from Homeland Security have flowed to police in St. Louis, according to the Times. Overall, since the September 11 terror attacks, $34 billion in such grants have been given to law enforcement agencies across the country, showing it is the federal government fueling police militarization.

The Ferguson police department has received two armored Humvees, a generator and a trailer from the U.S. military, according to the Associated Press. Police departments around the nation have received the military’s surplus equipment, which has brought weapons used in Afghanistan and Iraq to local towns and cities. Congress first passed a law authorizing the funneling of surplus military equipment to domestic law enforcement in 1990. It’s now known as the 1033 program, referring to the section of the program in the Pentagon budget.

The Justice Department has also gotten in on the action. Justice Department grants have paid for tear gas and rubber bullets, though it’s not clear if police in Ferguson used those grants to buy their own tear gas.

Whoever paid for it, the companies that make tear-gas are sure to benefit from the Ferguson demonstrations. Two corporations’ tear-gas products have been fired on demonstrators in recent days: Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) and Defense Technology. CTS, headquartered in Pennsylvania, is well-known for being a leading supplier of tear gas around the world, including to the governments of Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, which buy the weapons with the generous amounts of U.S. military aid given to them. Defense Technology, also based in Pennsylvania, has likewise profited from tear gas sold to Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, in addition to Yemen, Turkey and Tunisia.

I’ve seen some pretty outrageous examples of white privilege recently on Facebook and Twitter.  I’m amazed by the number of people that really don’t realize wbasket1920that most black men are not unemployed by choice and that most black people don’t live on the government dole.  Why do these damned tropes still exist?  What can white people who abhor racism do about it?  Here’s a bit from Truthout on Abolitionist Echoes.

In any unequal society, the dominant group receives intense ideological targeting. Thus, as a dominant group member, an urgent goal must be to resist the intoxicating ideologies – and material perks – that are so blinding, and to face the discomfort of being caught up in structural inequality. We have to see and own our privileged positions. Since these positions are defined structurally, we cannot simply wish them away because we don’t agree with them or we don’t want to be involved, or decide that we are not racist. Just as black people cannot wish away racism because they don’t like it, neither can white people. One of the lessons of structural inequality that is often crystal clear to oppressed groups is that this structural position has nothing to do with whether you are personally invested in them or identify with them. A black man cannot simply tell the police officer standing over him with a billy club, “I don’t see color” or “I don’t participate in racism.” Many individual white people, myself included, abhor racism and do not want to participate in reinforcing the oppression of others. And yet, like it or not, our position in the matrix of domination is such that we benefit from the system, at the expense of others, regardless of how nice we are or how much critical race theory we read.

We have to see and own our privileged positions.

In addition to facing and understanding our privileged positions as white people in a white supremacist society, we must also make sure that this awareness of our structural privilege position is translated into action and activism. Otherwise this process can turn into a paralyzing exercise in white guilt that helps no one. Worse still, it ironically turns racism into a problem of how white people feel, leaving white people’s needs and issues as the central focus of dealing with racism. The goal is not to see and then bemoan racism, but to actively fight against it. We have to face the bitter truths of our position and then ask ourselves, given where we stand in the matrix, how we can leverage that position to work to dismantle the system of structural inequality that we simultaneously occupy and abhor. Thus, how to fight and which actions to take must become the focus of white antiracism. Given that these structural inequalities are both longstanding and deep, the actions required to dismantle them will also need to be longstanding and far-reaching. There are multiple ways to take action, but what is essential is to be in service of dismantling the structural systems of inequality, including the unequal distribution of economic and political power and the structures of control from the legal to the ideological that are wielded to enforce them.

The old insult of “throwing like a girl” may have died this year.  Here’s New York Magazine with all 6 of Mo’ne Davis’s strikeouts from Wednesday night.Bennett-sisters-vintage-boxing-womens-sports-management-degrees-online

Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old pitcher from Philadephia’s Taney Youth Baseball Association, burst onto the national scene by throwing a shutout in the Mid-Atlantic regional final, then became a full-on star by becoming the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series tournament. How big a deal is she? She’s on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, and more than 34,000 people watched her team play in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Wednesday night. Davis lasted just two-and-a-third innings in that game, and left the mound with her team down 3-0. (They’d go on to lose, 8-1, to the team from Nevada.) But of the seven outs she recorded, an impressive six were via strikeout. Said Davis earlier this week about her repertoire: “I throw my curveball like Clayton Kershaw, and my fastball like Mo’ne Davis.” So yeah, despite not getting the win, she remains fully awesome.

Have a great Friday!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?