NY Times readers are exposed to a moment of cultural angst and self-doubt in their Saturday Times - one story tells us that not even the beautiful art, music and architecture of Dresden can hold back the tides of hate and intolerance, while another lionizes an old codger in Harlem (Not that one!) who foiled four robbers, one armed, by relying on a cool demeanor and a pump shotgun.
The Dresden story could scarcely be dumber. First, the deplorable background:
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
DRESDEN, Germany — In early July thousands of mourners took to the streets in Egypt, chanting “Down with Germany.” Thousands more Arabs and Muslims joined them in protests in Berlin. In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added to the outcry by denouncing German “brutality.”
The provocation was the murder on July 1 of Marwa al-Sherbini, a pregnant Egyptian pharmacist here. She was stabbed 18 times in a Dresden courtroom, in front of her 3-year-old son, judges and other witnesses, reportedly by the man appealing a fine for having insulted Ms. Sherbini in a park. Identified by German authorities only as a 28-year-old Russian-born German named Alex W., he had called Ms. Sherbini an Islamist, a terrorist and a slut when she asked him to make room for her son on the playground swings. Ms. Sherbini wore a head scarf.
That is great security work by the German police - stand around checking the union rulebook while the wife is stabbed 18 times, then shoot the husband, almost surely for an illegal skin tone. Well, I wouldn't give a nickel for the German courts ever since they decided that the Steffi Graf fan who came out of the stands to stab Monica Seles was not a menace to the public at large, only highly ranked females tennis players.
However, the Times is striving for a "deep-think" piece, and delivers this:
High-tech industries and research institutes like the one where Ms. Sherbini’s husband works, which recruit foreign experts, have lifted Dresden economically above much of the rest of the former East, and last year nearly 10 million tourists fattened the city’s coffers. With half a million residents, some 20,000 of them foreigners, the capital looks prosperous and charming, like its old self.
All of which gets back to the problem of reconciliation: What are the humanizing effects of culture?
Evidently, there are none.
"None"? Because one nutter is not civilized this whole project we self-mockingly call "culture" belongs on the ash-heap? Buck up, man!
The Big Finish:
To walk through Dresden’s museums, and past the young buskers fiddling Mozart on street corners, is to wonder whether this age-old question may have things backward. It presumes that we’re passive receivers acted on by the arts, which vouchsafe our salvation, moral and otherwise, so long as we remain in their presence. Arts promoters nowadays like to trumpet how culture helps business and tourism; how teaching painting and music in schools boosts test scores. They try to assign practical ends, dollar values and other hard numbers, never mind how dubious, to quantify what’s ultimately unquantifiable.
The lesson of Dresden, which this great city unfortunately seems doomed to repeat, is that culture is, to the contrary, impractical and fragile, helpless even. Residents of Dresden who believed, when the war was all but over, that their home had somehow been spared annihilation by its beauty were all the more traumatized when, in a matter of hours, bombs killed tens of thousands and obliterated centuries of humane and glorious architecture.
The truth is, we can stare as long as we want at that Raphael Madonna; or at Antonello da Messina’s “St. Sebastian,” now beside a Congo fetish sculpture in another room in the Gemäldegalerie; or at the shiny coffee sets, clocks and cups made of coral and mother-of-pearl and coconuts and diamonds culled from the four corners of the earth in the city’s New Green Vault, which contains the spoils of the most cultivated Saxon kings. But it won’t make sense of a senseless murder or help change the mind of a violent bigot.
What we can also do, though, is accept that while the arts won’t save us, we should save them anyway. Because the enemies of civilized society are always just outside the door.
OMG - reading that, I thought I had consumed the intellectual equivalent of a can of Crisco. But let us give the story this praise - the rising tide of intolerance in Germany and throughout Europe was not attributed to Obama.
Elsewhere, the Times takes a more practical bent, with a story that advises us to work hard, talk softly, and pack heat:
Charles Augusto Jr. was more than busy when he started working at Kaplan Brothers Blue Flame in 1960 for $75 a week, shuttling between the kitchens of hotels like the Plaza and the sprawling apartments of Astors and Rockefellers to repair their stoves.
But lately, restaurants have been closing more than opening. On Thursday, Mr. Augusto sold only one item, a deep fryer, and by 3 p.m. he and his two workers were settling into a sluggish afternoon in Harlem.
Four men broke the silence by pushing their way past the scrawled sign that states “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Ignoring Mr. Augusto’s pleas that there was no money around — the one customer had paid by check — the men, one armed with a gun, began to struggle with one of his workers and apparently wrote off Mr. Augusto as an old man not worth their trouble.
Left alone, he grabbed a Winchester pump-action shotgun he had kept around since the store was robbed 20 years ago. He was not sure it would even work. It worked, three times.
The Times even admits that guns might deter crime:
Adrienne Knox, a 55-year-old school lunch helper, echoed the feeling of many residents — not to mention hundreds of comments on local blogs and newspaper Web sites — when she said that Mr. Augusto’s actions might give some criminals pause.
A tough news day for the art set. More coverage of the attempted robbery here.