Friday, August 31, 2018

In the Age of Trump, there are still some decent Republicans.

Ninth Ward Republican committeeperson Jane Toczek

In the Age of Trump and the complicit, cowardly Republican establishment, it’s important to remember that there are still some decent Republicans. From my article on Northwest Philly Republicans in the Chestnut Hill Local:

The Republican Party in Philadelphia has been on a downward trajectory. In the past, we had successful moderate or liberal Republicans—e.g., Arlen Specter, Thatcher Longstreth, Sam Katz, and former State Senator Phil Price. Many longtime Democrats voted for these candidates. In recent years, however, the number of moderate Republicans has dwindled, as has the number of Democrats willing to split their ticket and vote for a Republican in a general election.

Ninth Ward Republican Party ward leader Christopher Lins and Ninth Ward Republican committeeperson Jane Toczek acknowledge the challenges. Chestnut Hill resident Christopher Lins, the Director for Attorney Recruitment at JURISolutions, has been active in the Republican Party since 2008. He was appointed ward leader in 2014 and elected ward leader in 2018.

Mt. Airy resident Jane Toczek, a long-time employee of Chestnut Hill’s Philadelphia Print Shop and long-time board member of Stagecrafters, has served as committeeperson since 1996. She has a long family history with the Republican Party. Her parents met at meetings of the Young Republicans, and her father, Charles Mebus, served as a Republican state representative in Montgomery County from 1965 to 1979. Despite her living in the Ninth Ward’s overwhelmingly Democratic 1st division, Toczek’s Republican affiliation has not been a problem. “My neighbors know I’m a Republican, but not a Trump supporter,” she said.

According to Toczek, “there were a lot of moderate Republicans” when she was growing up. She is clearly not happy about the transformation of her party. Lins noted that there are still some moderate Republicans around, such as City Commissioner Al Schmidt and Beth Grossman, a candidate for District Attorney in 2017 whom Lins considered significantly better qualified than winner Larry Krasner.

Both Lins and Toczek think it’s important to have a Republican Party in Philadelphia as a check against corruption. Although no Republican with the exception of Schmidt has won city-wide office in recent years, the City Charter provides the Republican and other minority parties the opportunity to fill that watchdog function.

Seven City Councilpersons-at-large are elected. The Charter requires that two of these seven must be the two most successful candidates representing non-majority parties. The five Democratic candidates who win the primary election for at-large seats are all but guaranteed victory in the general election. Lins encourages Democrats to cast two of their five votes for council-at-large seats for the two best-qualified Republicans.

Both Lins and Toczek acknowledge that the national Republican Party has failed to reach out to the racial minorities who, collectively, will at some point become the new majority. Toczek noted, however, that here have been African-American members of the Republican Ninth Ward Executive Committee, and that her first partner as committeeperson was an African-American, the late John Myles. According to Lins, the majority of the ward leaders in Northwest Philadelphia are African-American. He thinks that “inaccurate perceptions have prevented people of color from realizing how welcoming the local Republican Party is.”

Lins further notes that both parties have failed to engage voters and that in the last presidential election, Republican turnout was 57%, with Democratic turnout only slightly better. Given the highly educated, informed voters in the Ninth Ward, he thinks that Ninth Ward turnout should be significantly higher.

Lins and Toczek see the major divide between the Republican and Democratic parties as over the role of government. They would like to see a greater role for private non-profit agencies in addressing social welfare issues. Of course, the resources the non-profit sector can marshal are insignificant compared to the resources of the United States government. Lins contends: “No responsible Republican is calling for the dismantling of government.” He would like to see a civil conversation about how best to utilize government resources, but is pessimistic about that occurring in today’s toxic political culture.

On the local level, however, cooperation does occur. Lins described how he and Ninth Ward Democratic leader Chris Rabb have co-operated in running elections in the 9th ward:

“It’s not partisan. It’s just helping your neighbor,” he said.

Chris Rabb has a similar philosophy about bi-partisan cooperation on the local level.

“My philosophy leading a ward in a very blue area of the city has more to do with civic engagement than partisan persuasion. That lends itself to a high level of cooperation, collaboration and civility.”

The increasing tendency of voters to register as independents suggests there is trouble ahead for the major parties. Responding to a question about whether the Republican Party will survive the Trump administration, or even whether the two-party system will survive, Lins was of the opinion that the two-party system will endure, as all our laws and institutions have been set up to support it. However, he speculated that the current configuration of Democratic and Republican parties may not last—they might be replaced by two very different parties. The dissatisfaction of a younger generation of progressives with the Democratic Party, as well as the dissatisfaction of socially liberal but economically conservative voters with the Republican Party, may be harbingers of future political realignment.

Both Lins and Toczek see a dysfunctional political system in which, as Toczek put it, “compromise is a dirty word,” and incivility reigns. According to Lins, “no healthy political system could have elected Trump”; however, he sees the political dysfunction as preceding Trump and resulting from a weakening trust in institutions.

However, despite their dissatisfaction with the national picture, they both see the Ninth Ward Republican Party as on the right track and believe it operates according to principles of democracy and transparency.

But the reputation of the national party is a heavy burden for local Republican activists. Will the party Jane Toczek grew up with ever return? Perhaps not before there’s a change at the top.

To quote former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner: “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump Party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for one more week!

Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting by Charles Sheeler

Before we retired, my husband Rick and I could never get it together to attend an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until the very last day. We were contending with huge crowds of procrastinators and we vowed that when we retired, we would make sure this didn’t happen. Unfortunately, we didn’t kick the bad habit in retirement, but we are improving and managed to get to Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950 a week before closing—something of a record for us.

Rick and I tend to approach paintings differently; he’s a formalist and likes to analyze a painting’s composition; he always points out formal features I haven’t noticed or fully appreciated. I tend to approach art as a form of story telling and Modern Times tells a compelling story. The museum catalogue describes the Modern Times exhibit as a portrait oif a changing society:

Bright lights, big country
From jazz and the jitterbug to assembly lines and skylines: the early twentieth century was a time of great social, artistic, and technological change. Artists responded with a revolutionary language of shapes and colors. See how Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Jacob Lawrence, and others challenged convention and forged bold new styles to fit the times

Work, technology, the economy, architecture, world affairs, leisure activities—all were transformed in the first half of the twentieth century. Artists of the Modern movement looked at the changing world around them and tried to capture the newness of these experiences through both the style and the subjects of their work.

Yet despite my tendency to view art as a kind of story telling, the paintings I loved the most in this exhibit were comnpelling visual images such as Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting by Charles Sheeler and Birch and Pine Tree No. 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe:

Another favorite, a compelling image that told a powerful story, is The Libraries Are Appreciated by Jacob Lawrence, part of his Harlem series, No. 28 now exhibited at The Harlem Branch Library of the New York Public Library.

The libraries were especially appreciated by African-Americans who had migrated from the South where libraries either did not exist or were segregated. As someone whose life would have been very different if not for the Philadelphia Free Library where I spent my childhood, this photo really resonated with me. In retirement I have once again become a heavy user of the Free Library.

African-American artists are well-represented in the exhibit. In addition to Jacob Lawrence, there are paintings by Horace Pippin, Claude Clark and Beaufort Delaney, including Delaney's iconic portrait of James Baldwin.

This exhibit is not to be missed!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Interview about In Search of Elena Ferrante posted in Chestnut Hill Local

"Mt. Airy author’s new book is about anonymous sensation"
Posted on August 2, 2018 by Len Lear in Chestnut Hill Local

It is entirely possible that you have never heard of Elena Ferrante, but millions of fans cannot get enough of her. Ferrante is the most important literary sensation to have emerged from Italy in decades. Her quartet of Neapolitan novels has sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide. The author has always maintained that the name Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym, and there has been intense speculation in the literary world as to the author’s real identity and even whether or not it is really a woman.

(An Italian journalist named Claudio Gatti who investigated the issue thoroughly claimed that Ferrante was really a native of Naples named Anita Raja, but he also wrote that Raja may have collaborated with her husband, Domenico Starnone, also a novelist. Several linguists who have used software to compare his writing to Ferrante’s believe he may even be the primary author of the Neapolitan Quartet.)

The New York Times has written that enthusiasm for the novels is so intense that it is being described in “epidemiological terms, making the phenomenon sound almost like an infectious disease.” And Ferrante fever is likely to heat up even more in the coming months since an Italian/American television adaptation of her first book, “My Brilliant Friend,” is under way. The ultimate aim is to adapt all four Neapolitan novels over 32 episodes. The HBO series is scheduled for sometime this fall, but no specific date has been set.

Ferrante’s most passionate Philadelphia admirer has to be Mt. Airy author Karen Bojar, whose book, “In Search of Elena Ferrante,” was released by McFarland Publishers on July 3. “I wrote this book,” Bojar told us in an interview last week, “to help me unlock the secrets of Elena Ferrante’s power, to better understand why these books have had such a hold on my imagination and that of millions of readers worldwide.

“When I searched for material about Ferrante, I found countless reviews, essays and blog posts but only two full-length studies. I searched without success for a comprehensive study of Ferrante that would explore the complicated interweaving of thematic strands, including analysis of the political dimension, an aspect of Ferrante’s work largely ignored by reviewers. Finally, I decided to try to write the book I wanted to read.”

“Also, changing gender roles is perhaps the great story of our time. Although many readers have seen the Neapolitan Quartet as a searing portrait of man’s inhumanity towards women, I argue that Ferrante’s portrayal of gender roles is far more nuanced, with some of her male characters taking tentative steps towards gender equality.”

Regarding the controversial issue of Ferrante’s real identity, Bojar insisted, “We now know that Ferrante is herself a character, a literary device to conceal the identity of the probable authors Raja and Starnone. Ferrante in numerous interviews explained her desire for anonymity, initially describing her desire for anonymity in personal terms … insisting that a literary work should stand on its own without biographical information or commentary from an author.”

Bojar, who is currently in the process of revising her 2013 book, “Feminism in Philadelphia,” which focused on activism and advocacy (the new book is tentatively titled “Building the Feminist Movement, Building Feminist Institutions: Feminist Activism across the Generations”), loves “big books with a large cast of characters and a vividly drawn social world. I guess my all time favorite is Garcia Marquez’ ‘Hundred Years of Solitude.’ And I love the 19th century English novels I read as a teenager, especially Dickens and the Bronte’s. I really need to read ‘Jane Eyre’ one more time before I check out.”

A professor emerita of English and Women’s Studies at the Community College of Philadelphia, where she founded the women’s studies/gender studies program, Bojar says that “Ferrante shares Tolstoy’s ability to convey characters experiencing contradictory emotions as well as characters like Elena Greco who can present one face to the world, the impression of a ‘good girl’ while seething with resentment and jealousy on the inside.”

A former longtime committeeperson in the 9th Ward Democratic Committee’s 2nd Division, Bojar is also the author of “Green Shoots of Democracy within the Philadelphia Democratic Party.” In the course of writing the Ferrante book, she “realized how much I love literature and literary analysis. I have been writing mostly about social movements and political activism, but at some point I hope to again write about literary works I love.”

One remarkable effect of Ferrante’s novels is that they have significantly increased tourism to Naples. Bojar and her husband visited Naples in March, 1999, as part of a sabbatical year trip to Italy and fell in love with the city. “My love for Ferrante’s books was the impetus for a return trip to Naples,” she said. “We returned in November, 2016, and loved it. And yes, Neapolitan pizza lives up to its reputation.”

Will devoted readers of the Ferrante novels feel differently if it is ever determined definitively that the primary author was a man? “In my recent re-reading of the Neapolitan novels,” Bojar replied, “I forgot all about Anita Raja, Domenico Starnone and Claudio Gatti and became once again totally immersed in the world of (characters) Lila and Elena. This is what counts.”