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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Visiting Paterson, NJ


I'm teaching a class for future teachers.

Many -- though by no means all -- of the students in our class are suburban and are white.

We visit an urban school. Today we visited a school in downtown Paterson, New Jersey.

As I walked to the school this morning I saw the neighborhood through my visiting students' eyes: the garbage strewn all over the street. This morning I passed black bananas strewn on a five foot high pile of dirty sidewalk snow. Why bananas? Why not.

I saw bricked up windows in downtown Paterson. I saw a hollowed out man, stubble, clothes falling off, clothes that were in any case inadequate to the freezing temperatures and snow, disoriented, muttering to himself, rolling his eyes at me. I saw signs in Spanish and Arabic. Very few in English.

Inside this school was vibrant life. The teachers and staff are deeply dedicated to resurrecting this school -- it had to be taken over by the state, it was failing so badly. Since restructuring and sending a few "gangstas" to special institutions, test scores are soaring. The walls are lined with plaques commemorating previous high-profile graduates from this 87 year old school.

Our tour guide was a teacher, dedicated and charming.

I imagined that I could see on my students' faces that they were deciding that this inner city high school was not so bad, after all. Maybe Paterson, for all its difference, is not a foreign country.

Our tour was a long one. One of my students pulled an empty water bottle out of his backpack and approached a water fountain and began to fill it.

"DON'T DRINK THE WATER!!!" Our tour guide, suddenly panicked, shouted out.

My students looked at each other and laughed nervously.

I am reminded that a couple of times a year here in Paterson I receive notification, in English, Spanish, and Arabic telling me that the local water supply has unacceptable levels of lead, feces, and cryptosporidium.

***

There are two thousand students at the school we visited. I asked. Not one of them is classified as "white." Three miles away, there is another high school that is almost all white. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Lego Movie: Irritatingly Frenetic and Ugly to Look At



"The Lego Movie" is irritatingly frenetic, smug, and so ugly to look at it hurt my eyes. Its message is a mess of predigested secular or Pagan takeoffs on the Judeo-Christian tradition, not direct takeoffs, but borrowings of borrowings. "Jokes" come fast and furious. They come so fast you don't have time to assess whether they are funny or not. Example: Liam Neeson voices a police officer, and he sings a few seconds of "Danny Boy." This is supposed to be funny because Liam Neeson is Irish. It's a joke! Get it huh huh? Get how clever it is? You don't have to think about that, because another joke is coming down the chute.

There's something really smug and divorced from the audience about all this joking. I can just see the writers slapping themselves on the back, congratulating themselves, "Gosh, aren't we clever?"

Morgan Freeman, whom I used to like but who has become predictably ubiquitous in his unending God roles, plays the part of God, or close enough in this secular/Pagan/superhero super derivative mash-up. He tells Emmet (truth in Hebrew; not sure if there is any intended connection) that he, Emmet, is the Messiah. Only the film uses the word "Special." Same thing. Eventually the moral of the film is revealed: if you believe in yourself, you are the Messiah, the most intelligent, powerful, interesting person on the planet. Wow, that will make for healthy and happy kids. Not. Luckily the film is incoherent enough that many kids won't even realize that that is the film's message.

In this heavy-handed movie, there's a heavy-handed, live action coda that breaks with all that has gone before. The message of the coda: suit-wearing, rules-following, heterosexual white American businessmen are the biggest menace to the planet, and we should all be more anarchic, creative and narcissistic. Wow, that's a message that Hollywood has never sent before.

Nothing that happens in the action onscreen matters. It's one long chase, with Lego characters turning themselves into whatever they want at will, and flying freely. Since they can do this – turn themselves into weapons or escape vehicles – it doesn't really seem to matter that they are occasionally captured by a character named "Bad Cop" – problems with authority much? – tortured, and threatened with genocide. Yes, really. There are torture scenes in a movie meant for preschoolers. I found the torture scenes hard to watch, not because they were moving, but because they were weird and out of place. I sat there thinking, what kind of mind puts torture scenes like this in a movie for little kids?

I found the movie so ugly it was hard to look at. You are, after all, looking at computer-generated pieces of plastic. There is no sun, no light, no texture, no authentic color. Just – pieces of plastic. The perfect metaphor for this film.

Pompeii 2014 Cheesy, Okay. Just Okay

"Pompeii" is cheesy and okay. Just okay. The special effects are good enough, and the cast is very good, so it could have been a much better film than it is. Ooooh well.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stood out for me as Atticus a noble, undefeated gladiator. I couldn't help but think that this guy should be a bigger star, and that perhaps his difficult name stood in his way. Kit Harington is charismatic and believable as Milo, a sensitive, horse-loving Celt who is forced to fight as a gladiator. He charms Cassia, a rich Roman girl (Emily Browning) and their love is believable. Kiefer Sutherland is an evil Roman Senator. Sutherland camps it up, doing a Boris Karloff imitation throughout the film. Not sure why he picked Karloff; perhaps just to see if anyone would notice. Sasha Roiz, who is from Israel, has a face, head and hair right off of a Roman mosaic, and he's good as yet another sadistic Roman officer, Sutherland's right-hand man.

This movie is obviously thrown together with little thought or heart, and it's a shame that more was not done with it. There's a scene where Milo and Cassia escape on horseback. That scene could have been classic – you've got a handsome slave who faces nothing but death in the arena, a beautiful maiden being menaced by a predatory Roman senator, and a nighttime escape on a gorgeous white horse: so much to work with! Instead their escape is just plopped onscreen with no artistry at all. You're watching a rehearsal, not a real movie.

Special effects include aerial views of ancient Pompeii, earthquakes, cracking villas, sinkholes, volcanic eruption, and a tsunami. These are all okay, but I bet you could see equally good footage, if not better, on televised nature documentaries. There is lots of gladiatorial combat. I'm not qualified to judge these scenes. I usually squint my eyes and grimace throughout them and I have no idea how accurate they are. Somehow the consistency with which Milo and Atticus are able to defeat many more, and better armored opponents didn't convince me.


While watching this movie I couldn't help but reflect on Cecil-B-Demille-style sword and sandal movies from the fifties and early sixties. Those movies had special effects, but they also focused on gripping storytelling, larger than life stars like Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, and Richard Burton, and they had some larger point. Even without the CGI, those movies were often more satisfying than more recent films who sink everything in special effects and ignore more old fashioned storytelling craft. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Obamacare. Health Care for a Working Poor Cancer Survivor. Update.

Hansel and Gretel. Melissa West. source
This post reports on my experiences today as a member of the working poor who is seeking health care. Almost two years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I received charity care. With the onset of Obamacare, I lost charity care. At least I think I did. I've received conflicting answers. Ever since I've been struggling to figure out what my new status is, and how I can again access health care.

I've been told that the cancer I had is unlikely to cause me future trouble. But I received a new medical diagnosis for another condition. This new medical diagnosis is vanilla and manageable, as health care troubles go, but only under a doctor's care. Without medical attention, this condition can and does kill.

Before I report on what transpired today, I want to offer a few thoughts.

First: Some Obama supporters have been denying that there is any problem. A left-leaning Facebook friend recently posted a message saying that persons appearing on television to report problems with Obamacare are actors, not real people.

I'm a real, live person and I feel shafted by Obamacare. I had charity care; I was told it's gone; I was offered nothing to tide me over. I lost access to medical care. It could be that I am wrong, or that the hospital employee, who has been very nice to me, is wrong. The bottom line is I stopped accessing needing medical care.

I'm a real person. I'm not a pretend person. I'm troubled at the leftwing attempt to airbrush us out of the picture, especially since their motivation is not humanitarian, but is ideological. Our existence is inconvenient to their ideology. Their ideology says it's about helping people. The doublethink gives me the creeps.

I just googled the claim that we are not real people. Apparently the complaint is that the "Koch Brothers" – the left's latest demons – hired actors to star in a Louisiana TV ad about Obamacare.

So? Political ads use actors all the time. Do you really think Pajama Boy or Obamacare Girl are anything but paid performers? I've read that Obamacare Girl was not an American citizen and was not paid. I'll bet the Koch brothers, whoever they are, paid their actors. Maybe they even hired American.

More than once I have attempted to unload on Facebook about my struggle only to have someone who has otherwise never communicated with me at all pop up and say that what I've reported about my own life is either not true or not valid.

I recently posted about my loss of health care under Obamacare and how frightened and sad I am. I'm wondering how long I can remain in a holding pattern around my latest diagnosis without doing permanent damage.

A woman who has never communicated with me at all popped up and said, very cheerily, "My sister just got a great plan under Obamacare for fifty dollars a month!"

I was aghast. I said, "Wow, I think you should go to funerals and announce, 'Sucks to be you! MY loved ones are all still very much alive!'"

I can be a sarcastic bitch, sometimes. Especially when my broken heart gets in the way of some "humanitarian"'s ideology.

At other times, when I've tried to unburden myself and hopefully receive some guidance or support, leftists have jumped down my throat and demanded that I be GRATEFUL. You should be grateful to us, I am ordered. We, the heroic left, are the ones who have spent time making sure that po' folk like you have access to health care.

I'm confident that George Orwell penned an eloquent essay addressing the abomination of the left's demands for gratitude from those they screw over and disdain, an essay I could quote with great delectation and – yes – genuine gratitude – but I can't lay hands on it right now.

Another reason I haven't detailed what's been going on in my attempt to get needed health care since Obamacare became the law of the land: I am poor and I am powerless and I need health care. If I were to post on my blog or on Facebook everything I've seen, heard, and experienced, I risk getting myself blacklisted.

I will give one example. I went to a taxpayer-funded institution in Paterson, NJ. I was told, in so many words, "You speak English and you were born in this country. We're here for the people who really need help."

I know that by reporting incidents like this publicly, I risk being blacklisted by the institution in question. I'd certainly be setting myself up for retaliation.

There are things that for reasons of self-protection I choose not to say. Many, many, many things.

I don't know who the Koch Brothers are, and I don't really care. But if they are getting the word out, word that I can't get out because I am too afraid of being retaliated against by some bureaucrat who might be my last chance to get the health care I need, then I am grateful to the Koch Brothers, with a gratitude that I do not feel to my left-leaning Facebook friends who have bequeathed to me the "gift" of Obamacare.

I want to say one more thing. Why am I member of the working poor to begin with?

I started working outside the home for a paycheck when I was 14. I worked through high school, college, and my MA at UC Berkeley. I worked as a nurse's aide, carpenter, cleaning woman, tutor, and teacher.

I have a PhD. I have published in the major scholarly publications in my fields – Polish-Jewish relations, popular culture, and folklore. I have also published literary work. I've been published by Basic Books, Oxford University Press, and high profile websites like Beliefnet. My writing has won competitive awards. I receive excellent reviews from students and supervisors.

I cannot get a fulltime teaching job.

I work as an adjunct professor, a group frequently identified as among the most egregiously exploited in America.

Politics – leftwing politics – play a role in my poverty. I have been told in so many words again and again by potential employers that I am "too right wing," a member of the "wrong minority" and the wrong religion to be a college professor. I write a bit more about that here.

That leftists play such an overt and unashamed role in my poverty is one reason I find it so repellant when they insist that I should be grateful to them for Obamacare.

So. What happened today.

Again, I was told months ago that I lost the health care access that I had through charity care. I floundered. I'm intimidated. I don't know anyone who wouldn't be. I tried the Obamacare website and was told that I didn't qualify for anything. I phoned and emailed people who had been helpful to me in the past, and they seemed as utterly clueless as I. In one case it took an otherwise dedicated, intelligent, competent professional two weeks to get back to me with an answer to one simple yes/no question. In another case a very dear person who has been very nice to me kept responding to my inquiries in a Spanglish I could not decipher.

I've learned not to be assertive. People can and do cut you off. They stop taking your calls. I tried to be patient. I tried to beg and whimper as is my duty as the helpless po' folk they see me as being. Yes, handouts do train recipients to be supplicants. They do teach you to shuck and jive and say "Yes suh, thank ye ma'am, yes ma'am I sho is grateful."

How much more dignified it is to be a consumer. To be able to select a product and purchase a product and be able to reject the product if it does not meet your needs. I learned this when I lived under the Soviet system, in Poland.

So. It's been weeks that turned into months of phoning, emailing, and begging. And nagging emails from the doctor saying, "We have to take care of this. When are you coming in?" and being afraid to make another appointment.

In my floundering, I chanced across a man who seemed caring and competent. The next words I want to type stop my fingers, because hostile thought police who cultivate and live for lies will jump all over them. Here are these taboo words: I thought this man might help me because he spoke Standard English.

"Aha! So, you are a white supremacist!" Oh, please. My first job after college was in a tiny village in Africa. I'm a child of two immigrants. A family member, almost a hundred years ago, was lynched. I'm not a white supremacist, but I am white, and I've learned, in Paterson, that there are many people who have a problem with my being a cracker, a gringa, a white bitch, a white ho, a recipient of white privilege, a white oppressor … you get the idea.

I made an appointment with this Standard-English-speaking white man for this morning.

I reported to the institution where he works. I found myself in a crowded room full of Hispanics, Muslims, and a Polish family (identified by language.)

People were packed in as if on a subway car. There was no place to sit. Chaos. No receptionist, no system, no explanatory signs.

I approached an Hispanic man behind a desk. "I'm here to see ___."

The Hispanic man looked up from the Hispanic woman he was processing. "He's busy. He can't see you. You have to sit and wait."

He had to have seen that there was not a single free chair in the room.

"I'll just stand here," I said.

The Hispanic man turned back to the woman he was processing.

Up and down this bank of windows, every client was doing the same thing – trying to prove that they were in the US legally, and that they had no income whatsoever.

Uh huh.

I recognized a woman I know. I know she's not telling the truth. Whatever.

I stood there for a full hour. Finally I pulled out my phone and called the man I'd come to see. "I've been waiting for you for an hour," he said. "Where have you been?"

Okay. Hispanic man had lied. And he made me stand there, in front of him, for an hour. For fun. I hope it was good for him.

The man I'd made the appointment to see came out to get me.

My impression was correct. He was a white male. He did speak Standard English. He was professional and kind.

I need to add – in this journey, I have been helped by Muslims and by Hispanics. Not everyone has been like the man who made me stand in front of him for an hour when he could have just allowed me to go back for my appointment. Not everyone has been like the Muslim MD who said to me, "You speak English and you were born in this country. We're here for the people who really need help." But I've had so many experiences like that that I know I need to be aware of other people's anti-white racism, other people's tribalism, when I am trying to save my own life.

The man I met with today had a look at my paperwork. I have learned, as a po' folk, that I must never leave my house for an appointment like this without my tax forms, bank statements, utility bills, paystubs, lease, and medical bills. I had them all in my backpack.

The man was astounded. "You absolutely should be covered, Obamacare or not," he said.

Then he realized what the problem is. As an adjunct, my salary fluctuates, month by month, year by year. This fluctuation was enough to flummox the machine and spit me out into death.

He tried to fix it. We don't know if the fix will work. I am now, again, waiting. Waiting for health care I should have had months ago.

Since I am seeking full time work, I rush to add – I often walk six miles a day. I don't miss work. I love my work. I'm okay. If you've got a job, hire me! But I need medical attention to stay okay.


Please pray that what the nice white man did today worked.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Anti-Catholic Hatred on PBS; "Martin Luther PBS Empire Series 2002"


I tried to watch PBS' "Martin Luther: PBS Empire Series" four or five times before I could get all the way through it. It is hateful anti-Catholic propaganda and it made me sick to my stomach.

I'm pro-choice. I'm actively gay friendly. I think I will encounter Jews and atheists in Heaven. I'm a feminist. I don't attend mass regularly. In short, I am hardly an orthodox Catholic. Even so, this documentary made me ill.

"Luther" walks the viewer through Catholic churches. As classic Catholic images appear onscreen – candles, chalices, stained glass – horror movie music plays on the soundtrack. The viewer is shown images of a naked pope sharing bodily fluid (semen? mucus? I'm not sure) with horned Devils. Liam Neeson's authoritative voice – this is the Liam Neeson who saved Jews in "Schindler's List," who rescued his daughter from slavery in "Taken," who faced off with wolves in "The Grey" – Liam Neeson's authoritative voice informs the viewer that, without qualification, the Catholic Church is corrupt, exploitative, false, and evil.

The Catholic Church is described as completely divorced from the wider population of Europe. In fact Europe itself WAS the Catholic Church. Peasants were the Catholic Church. Nobility was the Catholic Church. Merchants were the Catholic Church. Protestants were the Catholic Church. Luther was a Catholic priest, John Calvin was prepared for the priesthood, and Henry VIII was a defender of the faith.

Contrary to PBS, the Catholic Church was not an alien, evil, Italian institution that had nothing to do with Europe. Protestantism began as a movement within the Catholic Church. If "the Church" condemned or supported this or that behavior, that's because pretty much everybody in Europe condemned or supported this or that behavior.

The Catholic Church is described as being all powerful. Yet Luther, who defied the Church, died of natural causes, an old man in bed. Apparently the Church was not as all powerful and oppressive as PBS insists.

PBS tells us that the Catholic Church controlled innocent Europeans through the sacraments. PBS tells us that it was a really wonderful thing when Luther "liberated" Europeans from the sacraments. Uh huh. Tell a teenage girl that she can never marry – that she needs to be "liberated" from her wedding day. Absurd. Scholars like van Gennep and Victor Turner have described how rites inscribe belief and enrich lives. People want their sacraments.

PBS gets its message across, not just with Liam Neeson's narration, but with scholarly talking heads. These talking heads were the least charismatic talking heads I've ever seen. Miri Rubin was hardest to take, harder even than big-forehead-man with scary looking teeth, or receding-hair-mole-man who insisted that no one before Luther was an individual.

Rubin is excruciatingly self-dramatizing. She whispered. She raised her voice like a roller coaster. She made eyes at the interviewer. She wriggled her eyebrows. She thus, in cheap opera heroine fashion, communicated that the Catholic Church was just a big joke. Apparently Rubin focuses on anti-Semitism. An important focus. But is that all there is to say about Catholicism? It's fake and anti-Semitic.

I've traveled the world. People ask me my favorite destination. The ONE place I would return to is not the Taj Mahal, is not Jerusalem, is not the African rain forest or the desert. The ONE place I would go back to is Chartres Cathedral. Chartres Cathedral is a product of medieval Catholicism. Nothing that is mere corruption could have produced the most sublime place I have ever been.

During the Enlightenment, some wanted to obliterate Chartres Cathedral. Stone masons, forfending this abomination, argued "It would take us years to clear the rubble from the streets." Thus saving Chartres Cathedral from anti-Catholic campaigners who were blind to the sublime.

Who will save Chartres Cathedral from the bomb throwers at PBS?

Nazis quoted Luther's writing on Jews to justify their slaughters. Peasants were inspired by the Reformation to rise up against their noble exploiters. Luther knew that if the peasants had their way, his protectors would be shaken. Luther urged the nobles to "whip, choke, hang, burn, behead and torture [peasants], that they may learn to fear the powers that be…A peasant is a hog, for when a hog is slaughtered it is dead, and in the same way the peasant does not think about the next life…stab them secretly and openly, as they can, as one would kill a mad dog." Erasmus estimates that a hundred thousand peasants were killed, with Luther's encouragement.

The documentary does mention these aspects of Luther's career, but briefly and as if they were … footnotes. Not essential. But they are essential. Luther was fond of hate speech, and spoke in the most violent and hateful way against Catholics. The wars between Protestants and Catholics that lasted for two hundred years, and the enmity that exists today, were sparked at least partly by Luther's intemperance.

Imagine this. You tune into PBS and see images of the interior of a mosque. You hear horror music, and Liam Neeson's powerful voice informs you, without any question or hesitance in his voice, that Islam is corrupt, exploitative, evil, and must be destroyed in order to save the Middle East. Would you not realize that you had entered an alternative universe?


Tell me then, why is it okay for PBS, a taxpayer funded broadcasting station, to peddle anti Catholic hatred like this? 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

NPR Condemns "Christian" Violence in CAR; NPR Listeners Are Mislead

Source
I've posted before about the Central African Republic. I've mentioned that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there. Please read this post which gives you background information.

Recent months have seen what some have called a "genocide" by Muslims against Christian-Animists.

French troops arrived. Christian-Animists began striking back.

NPR, America's tax-payer-funded radio, suddenly discovered the violence in CAR. NPR broadcast a story last night that was criminally short on background information.

NPR's emphasis was on victimization of Muslims by Christians. NPR mentioned, late in the broadcast and almost parenthetically, that Muslims had previously victimized Christians. This information was scanty and incomplete.

You can read the NPR story here. You will see that many NPR listeners did indeed hear the story as a story of bad, bad Christians victimizing Muslims, or as the problem caused by "religion." NPR seemed to say that the tensions behind these events are all recent. This is not true. Listener comments reveal how badly NPR distorted what's going on in CAR.

Again, I invite concerned readers to check out the previous blog post here that provides more information.

Please pray for peace in CAR. Peace for Christians, Animists, and Muslims. Please act for truth in American media.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Daddy Shovels Snow


I have a friend; I'll call the friend "Bob," but I'm not going to reveal anything about Bob to you here, not even his/her real gender. I'll use "he" as a pseudonymous pronoun.

Bob is an adult. Old enough to have gray hair. Old enough to remember the Kennedy Assassination. Old enough to know better.

Bob's parent is still living. This parent is old enough to remember horse-drawn carriages, outhouses, to have lived in a world where there had not yet been a world war of any enumeration.

Bob helps financially. Bob does household repairs and helps with medical needs.

Every time Bob sees his parent, Bob cries. Real, pendulous, fluid, tears.

"You are garbage. You are a liar. You are worthless. You have done nothing but let me down. You have accomplished nothing. You never will accomplish anything. You are doomed. Your life is crap": Imagine hearing all that from a parent who has been saying all that for over half a century, who will never stop, who will never see any worth in you, and who will be dead sooner rather than later.

That's what it is like for Bob.

He won't stop helping this parent, ever.

***

I was an abused kid. I mention it a lot but I don't often go into details. Anything I've said about the topic in public, civilian settings (outside of Twelve Step meetings shared with other formerly abused kids) is a tip of the iceberg.

There is so much no one will ever hear.

After today, if anyone reads this blog post, there is one thing readers will know.

I loved my dad. I was and am very proud of his service during World War II. He saw combat in the Philippines and New Guinea. American GIs like him saved the world.

My dad was very handsome. He had pitch black hair. To this day I find blonds just about asexual. Shiny black hair against pearly pale skin is my undoing.

My dad was a working man and he never got fat. He was active till the end.

My dad was very dutiful about the things he was dutiful about.

When it snowed, my dad shoveled, early and often. He was a thousand percent reliable in a snowstorm. He was a demon shoveler.

He never used any equipment other than a snow shovel and his own muscles.

Daddy would shovel not just the front walk and the driveways. He would shovel any potential pathway we might take. I used to put out food for birds. Daddy would make sure a path was clear for me to do that. Our yard ended up looking like a snow maze.

I never touched a snow shovel. It was never suggested to me that I should do so. Shoveling snow was Daddy's job. I kept the kitchen full of homemade cookies. He liked them, and said so.

***

I left home. People I am related to did not show much of any interest in keeping in touch with me via telephone or print media. Years of silence.

My natal home is near New York City. New York is covered in international news. I could be living in a tiny, medieval hamlet high in the Himalaya. I could be living in sweltering jungle in Africa. I could be in a café discussing leftist politics in Berkeley, California. When a snowstorm hit the New York City area, it made the news that made its way to me.

In fact I just now received an email from Liron, living in Israel. She is watching coverage of the snowstorm hitting the New York City area today, Thursday, February 13, 2014. She is worried about me. Come to Israel, she says; life in Israel presents some potential hazards, she admits, but we don't have snowstorms like that!

Anyway … back to Africa, or Nepal, or Berkeley, or Indiana.

I could be hundreds or thousands of miles away from New Jersey, and news of the latest severe snowstorm to hit the NYC area would reach me.

And I would instantaneously return. I would smell it, first. That unique smell of a kitchen with laundry hanging on the line above the dinner table. That unique scent of snow drying off of cotton and wool clothing suspended in a small, densely populated room. That unique winter scent combined with a bit of tangy cabbage and lusty, salty, fatty ham. Some potatoes, always. I would hear the banging of snow-encrusted shoes against a welcome mat and a shovel scrapping across a gravel sidewalk. I would feel the artificially heated air, hear the baseboard heaters kicking on. And I would look out the window and see Daddy shoveling snow.

Now, an adult myself, hundreds or thousands of miles away, I would feel a new thing – one of those feelings that informs you that you are no longer a child, but are an adult, now. One of those feelings that hits you so hard with time that you suddenly realize that ten percent of all life at all times – at least ten percent of all love, of each sex act, of every birthday party, christening or wedding, ten percent of every pop song, ten percent of every cupcake – whether we are conscious of it or not, is utter terror, despair, and the unknown. "I am worried about Daddy."

I am worried about Daddy. I want to protect him from time. I want to go out there and take the shovel from his hands and take on this snow myself. He's so dutiful. He's always the first on the block to start shoveling. His sense of duty will not allow him to realize he is aging and this snow is a big snow, quite dangerous. The weatherman keeps issuing warnings. "Lift with your leg not with your back. Stop if you get winded." Daddy will pretend it's foreign talk and that he is a simple peasant who does not understand, to whom these rules of torque and spines and weight and time do not apply. Of course he understands. English has been his primary language since he was eleven years old and they killed his father.

Oh, Daddy.

And then I'd remember. I'm hundreds or thousands of miles away. By the time I got there, the snow will all have melted. And they don't want me there, anyway.

How could anyone who didn't live through my childhood understand.

I think of this every time it snows. Every time. Every last damn fucking time it snows I think of this. And I cry.

Love you Daddy.

Father and Son Shoveling Snow. Wyeth 



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cheap, Twisted, and Extraordinarily Potent "Bulletproof Heart" A Completely Sick Love Story for Valentine's Day

"Bulletproof Heart" 1996. Anthony LaPaglia stars as a mob hit man, Peter Boyle as his contractor, Matt Craven as his drooling sidekick, Mimi Rogers as his mark.

Very stripped down movie. Only (roughly) eight people have any kind of speaking parts. Only four sets.

A noir, of course. You know when you pick up a movie like this, just from looking at the box, even if you couldn't read the blurbs, that it's a noir. He, very unsmiling, has got his black hair slicked back; sultry she is in a low-cut sequined dress; the spotlight is on his big, shiny gun.

It is a B movie. One feature that separates B movies from A's is editing. Someone needed to step in and arrest scenes that went more or less like this: "You have to kill her." "I don't want to kill her." "You have to kill her." "I don't want to kill her."

And someone needed to snip bits where the movie tells rather than shows. LaPaglia is reduced to verbally explaining that he is an amoral hit man, after the movie has already sufficiently shown that he is an amoral hit man. An A movie would have just shown him being an amoral hit man, and skipped the didactic speech explaining what the viewer has just seen.

The direction was thoroughly flatfooted. Director Malone seems to hate three-dimensional space. Actors were placed within it the way figures are placed on ancient altar triptychs. They are in the center of a rectangular frame; they occupy three quarters of the screen; and they are shown full front. Snore. And I never got a sense of any space any character occupied other than that necessary to create the rectangular frame around that rigid composition.

Having said all that, I've gotta say, this movie wrecked me. I cried. I was tremendously moved. I kept thinking of Noel Coward's famous line, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." There were two hit men, and I identified with – and actually pitied – both of them.

LaPaglia has to kill Mimi Rogers. He arrives at her apartment and a sexual game right out of a Strindberg play begins. Who has the power? Who is afraid of whom? Who is killing whom? Who is resurrecting whom? This all sucked me in. It had genuine tension. Neither overplayed, but you could see the shifts on LaPaglia's face, from amoral hit man to possible prey animal to something entirely other.

I was a bit put off by Mimi Rogers' acting at first. When she wanted to emote, her eyebrows began to jerk and quiver as if they were caterpillars being directed by an offstage wild animal trainer. But she grew on me.

She seduces him. The director did handle the intimate scenes well. If I said I came three times, would that turn this review into something other than an intellectual discussion of a movie? Not knowing the answer to that, I won't say it.

La Paglia and Rogers develop fantastic chemistry. It seems to grow, in a real way, out of their peculiar situation.

La Paglia is given a few chances to deliver the kind of witty and surprising speeches hit men deliver in gangster film noir. They are surprising, of course, because you have this totally exotic creature, a hit man, speaking about banalities we all share, like the boredom that sometimes comes with doing the same work day after day, and surprising because they offer a chance for identification with such an exotic, condemned creature, and surprising because you begin to identify, to see the world through his eyes, "Oh, yeah, if I look at it that way, being a hit man makes perfect sense!" to see how his world and your world aren't so different.

And surprising because you begin to see how his morality could be superior to that of someone who has a more conventionally valorized way of making a living – Mimi Roger's psychiatrist, for example, is shown to be a real sleaze -- and even murderer -- in comparison to LaPaglia.

Rogers and La Paglia begin a dialogue on the worth of human life. And, I gotta tell ya, for all the guns and the really good sex, that's what got me. These dialogues and scenes aroused in me confrontations with my own thoughts and feelings about life, death, murder, suicide, love, the human capacity for regeneration, faith, hope, investment, what we expect / need from people we love … what we need / expect from film noir – a very important question !!! I don't wanna give too much away, here.

There is a genuinely, darkly funny moment when Mimi Rogers shrugs and says, "Men." You have to see the movie, and you'll know what I mean.


This is exactly the kind of movie I think of when I think of people who walk out of movies and drive me crazy by saying something like, "Hey, that was nice. Wanna go get something to eat?" and more or less abort any conversation about the movie. If a date said that to me after this movie, I'd have to be physically restrained. This is the kind of movie I'd have to talk about afterwards. Really, this may sound sacrilegious, but it's the kind of movie that leaves me with a feeling close to reverence – like, after seeing it, I need to inhabit a liminal zone before I segue back into real life. 

Polish-Jewish Relations. Christian-Jewish Relations. The Holocaust. Stereotyping.

Polish peasant by Paul Schutzer. Source
Over at my other blog I've been revisiting my work on Polish-Jewish Relations, Polish-Christian relations, the Holocaust, and stereotyping. 

Below is an essay I wrote almost twenty years ago, now, in response to the PBS Frontline broadcast of Marian Marzynski's film "Shtetl." 

The documentary stereotypes and scapegoats Polish peasants in a way that distorts history. 

Of course it's true that there was anti-Semitism in Poland, and that Poles did sometimes commit atrocities against Jews. One example would be the infamous Kielce pogrom. 

It's completely false and misleading, though, to attribute the Holocaust to Polish peasants. The Holocaust was every bit a product of German Nazis. Nazism victimized Poles as well as Jews, though not in the same degree. To try to rewrite that history is a huge, huge factual and ethical error. 

***
On April 17, 1996, PBS aired Marian Marzynski's documentary of Jewish life in Poland, "Shtetl." Letters to the PBS web page revealed that Poles, Jews, and non-Polish or Jewish Americans reacted to the film very differently. Typical letters included one from a Jewish viewer who said: "This film clearly illustrates the basis for my prejudice toward the Polish People (sic). For many years, I harbored feelings of guilt concerning my opinions of the Polish People. Upon viewing the film, I feel completely absolved … "

An American viewer, neither Polish nor Jewish, wrote: "if the Poles really want to be free … they must learn to admit their terrible contribution to the Holocaust."

A Polish letter-writer voiced fear of "a lynch mob … The world vs Poland." Similar expressions of Polish pain were taken as evidence of an "ingrained" Polish anti-Semitism; that Poles "LIED" (sic).

Marzynski claimed that "a running camera never changes the truth." "The Eternal Jew," an anti-Jewish propaganda film, was also created with a running camera. Can a running camera lie?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Big Fun, Big Heart, Old Fashioned "Monuments Men"

"The Monument Men" is a fun, old-fashioned, feel good movie. I walked out of the theater inspired. The movie isn't perfect but its gifts outweigh its flaws.

"The Monument Men" tells the story of a group of art experts recruited by the US armed forces during WW II to ensure that Europe's artistic heritage was not destroyed in the war.

Hitler had been a painter before he became fuhrer. Joseph Goebbels was a novelist. Speer was an architect. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl did as much to spread Nazism as many troops. Nazis didn't just mass murder human beings. They burned books and paintings. They worked very hard to destroy "decadent" art and to elevate and appropriate art they deemed worthy. Nazis plundered and stockpiled other countries' art. Just the other day, Feburary 6, 2014, art the Nazis stole from Poland was repatriated. In January, 2014, the World Jewish Congress demanded that Germany do a better job of returning art.

There's a long tradition of World War II movies about international, all-star teams of experts uniting to achieve some goal: "The Great Escape," "The Guns of Navarone," "Kelly's Heroes," "Dirty Dozen," "The Longest Day," "A Bridge Too Far." And of course George Clooney is a veteran of the "Oceans" movies.

"The Monument Men" is a little bit WW II team movie, a little bit Oceans. The team members are shown going about their day to day lives when George Clooney shows up and signs them up. The movie is based on a real project, and it plays like the best anecdotes from that project's team members. It's a series of vignettes that aren't particularly coherently connected. Some of the vignettes were not clear to me. Why was Matt Damon suddenly flying in a biplane over Paris at night? It was a pretty scene but I didn't understand how it fit into the rest of the plot. Why was the German-Jewish translator, Sam, suddenly carrying a wounded soldier into a mobile army surgical unit? Who was that soldier? Not sure.

Other vignettes are really gripping, moving, suspenseful, and/or funny. The movie won me over with its depiction of a British art expert's heroic attempt to rescue a Michelangelo Madonna from Belgium. I cried. I was inspired.

There is a funny, scary, sickening scene where a beefy German dentist hammers away at Bill Murray's teeth with a mallet and pliers while Bob Balaban makes provocative commentary about how he bets all the Germans were innocent – not.

There's a powerful scene where Americans are invited to a German home for dinner, and discover that the paintings on the dining room walls are too good to be reproductions.

The movie is flawed. Its editing is choppy. It feels rushed. I got the sense that not enough time was devoted to cast members building bonds with each other. John Goodman and Jean Dujardin are meant to be tight team members, but I saw no real chemistry between them. Not nearly enough time is devoted to fleshing out the all-star cast's characters, or to simple exposition. I'd simply like to know more about everything onscreen, from the Ghent altarpiece to Hitler's Nero decree. I would like to have seen the Nero decree's destruction of art placed into the context of the mass suicides at the end of the war. Hitler's suicide isn't even mentioned in "Monuments Men."

Sam, a GI, is recruited as a German translator. The average moviegoer might have no idea that Sam is Jewish. Sam says, "I'm from NORTH Newark." How many moviegoers know that North Newark was a Jewish neighborhood? Sam says that his grandfather in Germany was not allowed to enter a museum and joked about being barred because he was "too short." The real reason he was barred is that he was a Jew, but the movie never states that plainly.

I got the impression that Clooney was making his film for people with short attention spans who want the shallowest treatment possible of the subject matter. That's too bad, because with a little more tender loving care, this could have been a great movie rather than a good one.

Some popular culture and even academic retellings of WW II work to humanize, or even exculpate, Germans. "Monuments Men" does not. At first I thought that Sam would be the good German character – the noble "true" German who hated the Nazis from the get-go, resisted them, and was now helping the allies defeat them. But Sam turns out to be Jewish. "Monuments Men" uses the word "German" were a more German-friendly film would be careful to use the word "Nazi," thus emphasizing that not all Germans were guilty, but merely an ideology.


"Monuments Men" is unusual among recent American films in that it unapologetically and enthusiastically celebrates Western Civilization and the Christian heritage as something that utopians – in this case Nazis – tried to destroy, and that good people – among them Americans – heroically and courageously died to preserve. This is a really remarkable message. I wonder if left-wing Clooney embraced it because he saw "Monuments Men" as being about Art, not about Western Civ or the Judeo-Christian heritage. The two artworks focused on the most – the Ghent altarpiece and the Michelangelo Madonna are both overtly Christian. 

Muslim on Christian and Christian on Muslim Violence in the Central African Republic; Update

Disposing of a body in the Central African Republic. Source
The Central African Republic is "falling apart in horrific violence." Source
I've posted here about Muslim-on-Christian violence in the Central African Republic. Out of all the war torn corners of the globe, I asked that people pray for CAR for the personal reason that I was once a Peace Corps Volunteer there.

I was told during training that there is tension between Muslims and Christians in CAR because of the Arab Slave Trade, a centuries-long enterprise that enslaved millions of people, millions more than the Atlantic Slave Trade. People called, variously, "Black," "Sub-Saharan," "Bantu" or "Christian-Animist" Africans were preyed upon and enslaved by "Arab" or "Muslim" Africans – even though both the slave drivers and the enslaved people were often the same skin color.

North Africa tends to identify as "Arab" or "Muslim." Sub-Saharan Africa tends to identify as "Christian" or "Animist." Where these populations meet, there is violence, for example in Nigeria. There is also violence between those who identify as more devout Muslims, and those whom they identify as not devout enough, for example in Algeria and Mali.

In CAR, I witnessed this tension firsthand. My neighbors openly spoke of wanting to kill Muslims. The Muslims were open in their contempt for non-Muslims.

I wasn't surprised to read, earlier this year, of Muslims mass murdering Christians in CAR.

French troops stepped in. CAR is a former French colony.

Muslims are now fleeing CAR.

The other day a Muslim man fell off of a truck full of Muslims fleeing the Central African Republic. Even before his body hit the ground, crowds of Centrafricaines killed him and mutilated him.

I am haunted by these news reports. I lived with these people. I walked these streets. I taught those young people. I assure you: Centrafricaines, in spite of their poverty and their skin color, really are people just like you and I. If it is happening there, it can happen here. 

***

I have Politically Correct friends who practice a weird, rigid taboo. If anyone speaks a critical word about Islam, they will step in and attempt to silence that person. They will silence that person by accusing him or her of being a bigot. They will invoke the Crusades, Israel, colonialism, or America's dependency on petroleum. These same friends are often quite eager to blame America and Christianity for all the world's problems; they rush to do so.

I insist that we must speak freely about Islam.

We must do this not only for non-Muslims, but for Muslims as well.

We must do this for that Muslim man who fell off a truck jam packed with exiles, that man whose body never hit the ground, that probably innocent man who was butchered like an animal.

We must defuse our problems with responsible speech, not with machetes.

I'm reading the comments underneath the news accounts of the fate of the Muslims in CAR. Commentators are saying things like "Serves the Muslims right" and "I can't wait till we chase them from our country." Some commentators even say things like, "I have weapons and I am ready when it starts happening here."

People are saying these extreme and horrible things in anonymous posts on the internet because any serious discussion of the challenge jihad presents has been aborted in our media, demonized on college campuses, and expunged from political life. A responsible and level-headed person like Congressman Peter King is lambasted as an "Islamophobe." Even a cartoonist like Molly Norris is silenced and erased.

When normal discussion is suppressed, criticism goes underground and it becomes more extreme.

We need to defuse our problems with words.

We need to speak frankly about problematical doctrines like jihad, while at the same time always emphasizing that most Muslims are not guilty and can't ethically be scapegoated.

If we don't solve our problems with words, some will chose to solve these problems with violence. 

"The Central African Republic is falling apart in horrific violence" Article with pictures here

Thursday, February 6, 2014

When Is It Time to Leave? When Is It Time to Tell a Friend to Leave?

A friend of mine appears to be in an abusive relationship. I've been asking myself whether I should or should not encourage my friend to leave the abusive relationship.

I can't talk about my friend's private business here, but I can talk about me.

Here's a memory that informs the advice I give my friend: when I was about 17 years old, my mother threatened to kill me. It was neither the first nor the last time she made that threat.

A friend offered to let me live in his car. I did. After a while his parents objected to me living in his car, and I returned to my mother's house.

To me "I returned to my mother's house" is a very sad sentence.

I look back with regret.

I can't say how much I wish someone powerful had communicated to me unequivocally: "Get out of that house. Get out at any cost. You are working full time anyway. Get an apartment and build a life for yourself. Every second you spend with your abuser is wasted; it is a moment you will only ever regret, a moment you can never redeem."

Every time I put up with abuse, my soul dented a little.

With time, I was able to hammer out those dents. But how much better it would have been for me had I escaped the denting.

Learned to stand on my own. Learned that I was capable.

When I lived with my abuser, I was breathing. But I wasn't fully living.

***

It's not a small thing to say to another person, "The most significant relationship in your life is harming you, and you would be better off out of that relationship."

I always delay saying that to anyone. I stand back and watch.

I've been watching this friend for years now. Watching the weight gain, the rapid aging, the depression that is constant but that dips into stygian silence, paralysis and nihilism – episodes of personality-distorting mini-deaths. This person frequently breaks into tears in the middle of sentences. This person feels, "I can't go out. I can't have fun. I can't have friends. If I do I will be punished."

For a while there, I thought that they were staying together because they love each other.

Now I’m wondering if it isn't something else – fear. I think both of them fear separation.

I wonder if my friend does not feel, "If I suffer though this, there will be some reward for me someday. I'll get the reward for being the most long suffering. I'll get the reward for being the most self-abnegating. I'll get the reward for being the most reliable, the most loyal, the most stubborn."

I want to say to my friend, "You know? I don't think you're ever going to get any reward for being so miserable for so long. No reward for you. No reward for your loved ones. Just a big box of nothing. A nothing you chose."

And you know what? Maybe I am completely wrong. I could be completely wrong.

Maybe my own memories of staying in an abusive relationship with my mother don't apply here at all.

Maybe my friend is in the best possible relationship my friend could have.

Maybe what I see of the relationship – which is very limited – is inaccurate. "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors."

I don't know.

I do know that all of this is hard to take. It's hard to hear your friend talk of being so unhappy that life itself becomes a burden.



Monday, February 3, 2014

Coca-Cola Super Bowl Commercial 2014; Who's Hating Whom?

From the Coca-Cola 2014 Super Bowl Commercial 
During the 2014 Super Bowl, Coca-Cola aired a one-minute ad that features reedy, childlike female voices singing, to barely audible strings, "America the Beautiful" in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Tagalog, and an Asian language. Fleeting images of people of a variety of ethnicities celebrating everyday life accompany the singing. Black people break dance. Native Americans wear feathers on their heads. A Muslim woman in a nocturnal street scene does not sing (many Muslims would consider a woman singing to be a sin); she merely gives the camera her best inscrutable Big Brother stare while glowing blue from surrounding neon.

I watch a lot of movies. This ad struck me as speaking the language of horror films. The lone, reedy, childlike, female voice accompanied only by vague, minor key strings – no other instrumentation – is comparable to many recent horror movie sound tracks. The "this is everyday life and it is nice" feel of the montage has a "calm before the storm" feel to it. Usually at some point in the previews for a horror movie, there is this sort of montage, and then a monster appears. The shot of the Muslim woman's large, hijab-clad, disembodied head, glowing blue, dominating the screen, staring silently and inscrutably, I knew, would unnerve viewers.

No, Muslims are not inherently scary. Yes, a disembodied head glowing blue and staring at the viewer with no accompanying plot is weird.

I immediately knew that the ad would not be embraced.

I wondered what was going on at Coca-Cola corporate headquarters. Who green lighted this ad? How out of touch with the zeitgeist could such a major corporation be?

I googled it and found people all over the web discussing it. I found that interesting.

I tried to talk about it on Facebook. I received backlash. I felt bullied. If I did not like the ad, the implication was that I am probably a racist.

That is going on all over the web, now.

If you don't like the 2014 Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad, you are a racist. An Islamophobe. A bigot. A mouth breather. A white supremacist. An "Ugly American" (James Poniewozik at TIME.)

The hate directed at anyone who didn't like the 2014 Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad is overwhelming and depressing.

And this is why, though I used to identify as "leftist" and "liberal" I no longer do.

I'm so tired of the hate. The hair trigger hate. The cliché hate. The holier than thou hate. The lynch mob hate.

The hypocritical hate.

I have a liberal friend who loved the ad. He says that anyone who didn't like the ad is a "typical American racist."

My friend thinks that all Americans except him and his group of liberal friends are evil racists.

I've known this guy for years. I've been to his house.

I have never, ever, ever, ever, not once, seen him in the presence of a black person.

Really. Never.

In NJ that's an extraordinary thing. NJ is a wildly diverse state. There are lots of black people here.

So, my friend whom I have never seen in the presence of a black person is convinced that anyone who didn't like the 2014 Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad is a "typical" American white supremacist.

How about others who insist that anyone who didn't like the ad is a racist? Or is an enemy of multiculturalism?

Do YOU have any black friends? Any friends whose family members have ever been in jail? Any friends who live in government subsidized housing? Any friends who don't speak Standard English, but, rather, Black English or Ebonics?

Well?

Really, I'm asking. Do you?

Okay. So now that we've established that you have never, in your life, had a member of the large, African American underclass anywhere on your property, do you again want to call others racist?

Or, how about this. Do you have any friends who disagree with you politically or are different than you economically? Do you have a single friend who believes in miracles, who voted Romney, who had to forgo major medical care for lack of insurance? Do you have any friends who clean houses for a living, and who grew up speaking a language other than English? Who grew up in multilingual households?

Has your fate ever hinged on how a member of a group very different from your own handled your job application, your insurance claim, or your surgery? Have you ever become impatient with a customer service representative who did not speak English well?

Uh huh. I see. Your friends, your bosses, your doctors, your next door neighbors, are all like you demographically – white collar, fully insured, speaking Standard English, liberals. Thanks for that information.

So what's really going on here?

The creepy, horrible thing that's really going on here is that people are using a freaking Coca-Cola ad to decide who is worthy and who is evil. This is some weird 2014 version of a witch trial. If you don't like the ad, you are evil. If you like the ad, no matter how much of a politically correct, safe, suburban, white-collar cocoon you have lived in your entire life, you are champion of the masses if you like a freaking Coca-Cola ad.

Why don't people like the ad if they are not evil white supremacists, "typical" Ugly Americans?

They don't like it because "America the Beautiful" is sung in a variety of languages. They don't like that because it is, to them, a sign of Balkanization. In the past, the concept of "e pluribus unum" reigned in America. "Out of many, one." We all put aside our differences – our different languages and religions and economic statuses – and united under a unifying identity – American – and language – English.

None of my grandparents spoke English. My parents spoke English as a second language. They learned English well enough to speak it beautifully and powerfully, while retaining their own natal languages. Inside our house, we could speak Polish and Slovak. Outside our house, we could speak the very best Standard English. That used to be the ideal. It was a good ideal. It united Americans. I could play with my next-door-neighbor, who happened to be African American.

Multiculturalism has weakened "E pluribus unum." Liberals pit members of one group against members of another group: women against men, blacks against whites, "Anglos" against Hispanics, Muslims against non-Muslims.

No, liberals did not invent the very real causes of conflict between these groups. Liberals just exacerbated and exploited those differences.

That's why people are objecting to the Coke ad. NOT because they don't want to be close to multicultural neighbors. Because they do want to be close to multicultural neighbors, and liberals keep pushing us apart, fracturing our country, splintering the ties that used to bind.

And now liberals are jumping down our throats and calling us racist sexist homophobic islamophobic white supremacist witch witch witch witch burn them!

Golly, I wish you liberals would just stop with the hate.


You can watch the ad here.