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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:


The Foundation by Joel Fleishman: Anyone interested in the world of Foundations and the dispersal of private wealth for common good will find this book enlightening and often surprising. Step on a Crack by James Patterson doesn’t just ramp up your adrenaline; it also tries to rip out your heartstrings.

And Consider This: Identity by Design, tradition, change and celebration in native women's dresses now on view at the Museum of the American Indian


by Joel Fleishman, © 2007
published by PublicAffairs, Perseus Books Group
Hardcover, 280 pp

This study is subtitled “A Great American Secret,” followed by the sub-subtitle, “How Private Wealth Is Changing The World.” It’s rare that one finds so precise a titular description, but in fact the book does exactly what its jacket claims.

Mr. Fleishman examines the history of private foundations, beginning in the late 19th century and leading up to Warren Buffet’s recent amazing donation to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. He also discusses in detail the purposes and methods of various foundations, noting that at times there is a wide disparity between the principles and practices of their strategies.

Fleishman is uniquely qualified to comment on such matters. He is Professor of Law and Public Policy at Duke University, and has served on the boards of several philanthropic organizations, in addition to having been president the Atlantic Philanthropic Service Company and the US program staff of Atlantic Philanthropies. Additionally, he has served on the boards of several businesses and committees (among them The Visiting Committee of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University). A quick look at his resume attests to his long experience with his subject, as well as his insider’s expertise.

Fleishman’s brilliant scholarship is clear from the careful documentation in his lengthy Appendix, Notes, and Bibliography. Also apparent is his generosity in giving credit to his student assistants, something that all too often is sadly lacking in the academic world.

The Foundation is divided into three parts, beginning with the history, motives, and purposes of foundation formation. The second part continues with a discussion of method (leadership, measurement, focus). The third part, and to this reader the most interesting, is a long discussion of problems that can hamper and even defeat the purposes of foundations. According to Fleishman, foundations all too often suffer from a lack of transparency and of accountability. He follows his diagnosis with a listing of the steps he feels necessary to solve such problems, terming them “Some Not-So-Modest Proposals.”

In all, this is an erudite if somewhat rambling critique. Anyone interested in the world of foundations and the dispersal of private wealth for common good will find this book enlightening and often surprising.

At the end of his book, Fleishman gives credit to those “venture philanthropists” whose social consciences are making sure their amassed wealth is used to address the problems of society. As he points out, the same drive and focus that enabled them to achieve their fortunes becomes the driving force in the creation and direction of the foundations they create. And for that, we the public owe them a debt of gratitude.


by James Patterson, © 2007
Little, Brown & Company
Hardcover, 383 pp

There’s a problem for the reviewer of a thriller: if you want to discuss the plot in detail, you ruin the book for potential readers, but if you ignore the plot and expound on style, you’re at risk of sounding dry, pedantic, and dull.

Step On A Crack, which is high on the best seller lists, is a classic example of the critic’s problem. Murder and mayhem and celebrities and vile criminals are just the tip of the iceberg in this tale. Those alone make it tempting to talk about the plot, but that’s not all: There is also a detective whose beloved wife dies of cancer mid-story, leaving him to cope with their ten adorable, motherless children, in addition to the chore of solving the case. Talk about extremes! This book doesn’t just ramp up your adrenaline; it also tries to rip out your heartstrings.

There are, however, a certain number of ifs to consider. If you don’t mind flashy, semi-literate writing of a kind that gets its punch from three or four-word sentences and paragraphs, at times ignoring the need for a verb to make the statement complete, you probably won’t be offended by things like the following words, which comprise the first three paragraphs of page 30:

“There it was! It wasn’t just a rumor. It was real.

And he had it.

The final detail for his masterpiece.”

Mind you, that’s not a poem. It purports to be three full paragraphs of prose.

I realize that this is meant to be taut stuff that will heighten the tension, but frankly, it comes off as just more filler to lengthen the page count.

And that’s another if. The book is full of so much drama, pathos, and sentimentality that it’s a bit of a mess, spreading in so many directions that the reader begins to suspect that there’s a lot of unnecessary padding.

Step On A Crack is chock full of wonderful visuals, and will probably make a smash-hit of a movie. If you’re looking for a quickie of a beach read and you don’t mind bad writing, this book will suffice. If not, I’d wait for the film. It’s bound to be better.


And Consider This

Identity by Design is a Smithsonian exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian which will be continuing until early 2008.

Co-curator Emil Her Many Horses writes about the section, Dancing in Beauty: During the late 19th and early 20th centuries,

"Native peoples experiences traumatic changes to their traditional lifestyle and the land and resources that had once sustained them. Some dances honored and sought to protect this way of life. Victory dances allowed women — wearing dresses depicting men engaged in warfare or horse capture — to recognize the sacrifices of warriors. The Ghost Dance of the late 1880s inspired dress designs that communicated opposition to desperate conditions."

Don't overlook The Language of Native American Baskets, a beautiful display of baskets all too often not in view for most of us:

"Baskets accompanied Indian people throughout their lives. Babies were carried in baskets, meals were prepared and cooked in them, worldly goods were stored in them, and people were buried in them. As the scene described here by writer Peter Blue Cloud makes clear, many Native American people believe that baskets were not given to humankind during the Creation, but had already been part of the world for many eternities. Today, baskets serve as markers of cultural pride and inheritance. Some are used on religious occasions. And hundreds of weavers make baskets for sale."

Culture Watch Archives

2007 Julia Sneden and Tam Martinides Gray for SeniorWomen Web

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