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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Message from My Sister Antoinette


Friday, December 20, 2019, I was settled in to that comfortable slough between dispensations. The cup-shaped curve in the year's parabola is especially pronounced for teachers. Fall semester had just ended. Days before that Friday I was being inundated by contact with students, each of whom had a super-urgent request that I must fill or the earth would crash into the sun. Did I want students to write on both sides of their final paper or not? I NEED TO KNOW RIGHT NOW! If only students had this urgent need for their teachers all semester. Come finals time, students are suddenly as focused on someone they had previously ignored as are dying penitents suddenly insisting on plumbing the mind of God.

Friday, December 20 I was making out Christmas cards and looking forward to well-earned days of blissful cookie baking and rewatching Bing, Danny, Vera and Rosemary in "White Christmas." I was really looking forward to having time to sleep and clean thoroughly.

I checked email. My boss wrote to let me go. I am an adjunct, and my continued employment depends on student enrollment. When the economy goes south, college enrollment increases. When the economy improves, enrollment goes down. Today's full employment means fewer students means more adjunct professors fired.

It was a gut punch. I'd been at the same school for fifteen years. I have since learned that not only was I let go, but the entire department I used to teach in might itself disappear. Breaks my heart.

My parents had enough of a work ethic for five modern-day Americans. It's a Bohunk immigrant thing. They would work within days of major surgery. My mother worked two full-time jobs when I was a kid, working in factories during the day and cleaning offices at night. Her presence was the sound of the backdoor opening when I was drifting off to sleep, the pot of mush in the double boiler left on the stove for my breakfast in the morning.

In the past years of multiple catastrophes, hurricanes, forced evacuations, cancer diagnoses and deaths, I have missed exactly two days of work. One for a broken bone and one for a hospital-acquired infection that caused dramatic and unattractive facial swelling.

So I immediately got another job. I realize now that that wasn't the smartest move. If I had just cried a bit and let myself bounce back I could have devoted some time to finding the best job, not just any job.

And it gets worse. I committed to the new job, a distant commute away, a commute I make in a twenty-year-old car, for half the pay I used to make. And the very day I committed, I got a desperate phone call from my boss. She wanted to offer me a class! Someone she had kept on let her down and dropped out days before the spring semester was to begin. I would never do that. I would have loved to have taken that class, but it was too late. I had promised the new employer my services. Nothing had been signed yet, but I made a commitment. An expensive one.

So.

There's another challenge to the new job. The commute is the exact route to my sister's home.

I had never traveled that route till my sister moved there. I haven't driven that route since the day, five years ago, I rubbed the soles of her feet as she breathed her last breaths. The only association I have with these roads is my sister.

My brother Phil was killed on my seventeenth birthday. My parents did not comfort me. I can't remember being hugged or stroked or kissed or complimented or calmed by either one of them, ever. And of course they had their own grief work when Phil died. My friends were, like me, teenagers. Regina was very kind to me at the funeral, and I remain amazed at her kindness to this day. Other than that, though, I was on my own.

What I realized is I can go on living if I just put the grief into a tightly sealed box and totally ignore it. Never indulge it. I think of Phil once a year, on my birthday. When I do think of him, my tears are as fresh as they were over forty years ago. In that box, I have not aged a day past 17. I have learned no lessons. Phil's death is an intolerable an outrage as it was the day he died.

I've worked hard to do the same with Antoinette.

Last night, for reasons I can't even guess at, I just couldn't take it anymore. To hell with discipline. I ripped off my carefully maintained straight jacket. I raged within my head. I walked into the kitchen, all by myself, and said all the unsayable things. How lonely I am. How much I miss her. How irreplaceable she is. How great is the wound. Huge, gaping, bloody, meaty, purple and red. How I'd be maimed by grief till the day I died, and how carrying grief like this makes you count the days till death, which is closer than it has ever been.

I need a woman to talk to. The way I talked to her. She could talk about *anything.* Some primitives yelp in syllables. Some average Joes manage the occasional sentence. Really refined people, the kind who could never get elected president, people who may turn up as guests on NPR's "Fresh Air," can speak in paragraphs. Antoinette spoke in essays.

Movies. Directors, stars, scripts, themes. No holds barred. Valentino to Driver. Genes. She'd go on for hours, days, about genes. I never had any idea what she was talking about once she started talking about genes. I'd smile and nod. She barely needed that encouragement. She'd listen to me talk about birds and she'd kick in a tidbit or two. She wanted to know the name of the shagbark hickory.

Women so often emotionally blackmail. Once a female Facebook friend deleted my post because I stated the simple truth: 2017's "Wonder Woman" was a dumb, boring, comic book movie that didn't offer a lick of feminist uplift. Deleted my post, without even telling me. Slyly silencing a transgressive voice. A man would have had the decency to yell at me and invite me to thrash it out with him. The woman goes behind you and slips it in where you can't see.

Antoinette wasn't like that. She had the best quality in a conversationalist: no verbal scruples whatsoever. No idea, no question, no vocabulary was taboo. You can, and should, tell the truth about anything, from the hot lava percolating in the volcano of your soul to your take on the latest politics.

Why is it so hard to meet a woman who can talk like that?

Antoinette used to joke that she and I had been raised to be good men. Strong like bull.

Again, I don't know why I let fall the dam last night. But I did.

This morning I did the same, as I was driving to new job. This whole time I've been driving with blinders on. I refuse to see the side road that leads to her house … not her house … somebody else's house. I refuse to wonder if they allowed the pink dogwood, the one she bought at Skylands, after she knew she had cancer and would never see the tree grow … I refuse to ponder if the new owners hacked it down or are letting it grow.

This morning as I was driving I saw all the landmarks. Felt them all.

An Indian restaurant, where her daughter and son-in-law bought Indian take out for us to eat as we sat around waiting for Antoinette to die. A different restaurant, a Mexican one, where Antoinette and I ate our first meal together after I moved back to New Jersey from Indiana. The bookstore where I bought her daughter a birthday present, a tarot deck. The car dealership where I bought this car, the first car I owned in over thirty years, expressly so I could drive to her house during her final months on earth. The museum of artistic furniture she was excited about. The side road I drove from Antoinette's house, from Antoinette's deathbed, to a party I'd been invited to. I walked into the party shell-shocked. No one spoke to me. Fuckers. I turned around and left. You can do that when you came in your own car, I was learning. The apartment complex on a hillside she griped about because she wanted to live in a part of New Jersey that was still green.

Once I started recognizing how many landmarks there were, I was overwhelmed by their number and the potency of the memories. I had been ignoring all these in my commutes. For good reason.

But this morning, I was feeling it all.

And under it all, of course, anger at God. God, you effed up. You blew it, God. Her death was a big mistake. A big mistake in your creation, just like suffering and houseflies.

And suddenly, even as I was thinking this, just that quick, my hand moved to the car radio, and I changed stations, from classical music, to WOR, a right-wing talk station. And I heard Michael Riedel, a New York theater critic, Trump supporter, and morning-drive-time radio host say, "The Monkey's Paw." And I nearly lost it right there.

"The Monkey's Paw" is a short story. My sister read it and told the story to the family as we were gathered in the kitchen of our childhood home.

Right before Antoinette died, I re-told the story on my blog. You can find that blog post here.

The moral, or one moral of "The Monkey's Paw" is that death is not God's mistake. It may look that way to us mortals, but our vision is limited. The moral is that death comes in its own time, for reasons bigger than we can imagine, and we best not wrestle with it – not with death, not with its timing.

Why did Riedel mention "The Monkey's Paw"? I have no idea. Again, I just switched stations rapidly, on a whim that surprised even me. And all I heard was Riedel asking if his cohosts had heard of "The Monkey's Paw." I think Riedel mentioned that it is a creepy short story. And then they moved on the lentil soup recipes, not knowing that they had knocked a bereft little sister in New Jersey on her keister.

Do I believe that that was a message from Antoinette? Come on. You think that that was mere chance? That on the very day I finally let go all my self-indulgent kicking at Heaven over my sister's death a capriciously summoned radio talk show host would mention the very story Antoinette herself, if she were still around, would use to argue the counterpoint with me? Being an atheist takes more gullibility than I can muster.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"Knives Out" Go See It. It's Fun.



"Knives Out" is an old fashioned movie-movie. The plot runs like a good watch. Big name stars play over-the-top characters. The set is a weird and creepy mansion. There are surprises and suspense right up to the final scene. If you want to have some fun at the movies, go see "Knives Out."

A rich mystery writer (Christopher Plummer) is found dead. A masterful detective (Daniel Craig) is called in to investigate. An all-star cast makes up the suspects. You get to watch James Bond and Captain America face off. The resolution is not what I expected and not anything I've seen before. And that's really all you need to know. I went into the movie knowing almost nothing except that friends really enjoyed the movie. You will, too.

GG's "Little Women" = "Pride and Prejudice" + Wokeness - Alcott



Greta Gerwig wanted to make an American version of "Pride and Prejudice." Well enough, but she shouldn't have titled it "Little Women." Her movie of that title betrays Louisa May Alcott's book.

As in British adaptations of Jane Austen novels, there is much attention paid to pretty young women, pretty dresses, mansions, and lush landscapes in the US and Europe. Again, as in Jane Austen adaptations, women's lives revolve around men and romance. Who will marry whom? It's a courtship game of musical chairs. You don't want to be the one who is left standing at the end, so you grab the best, richest man you can before someone else grabs him.

Gerwig wants her characters to appear "woke" amidst all their marriage obsessions, so she has a character deliver a shrill feminist manifesto every ten minutes or so. Amy is given a speech that could have been lifted word for word from Emma Thompson's script for "Sense and Sensibility."

These speeches are not true to the book or to Louisa May Alcott's life. In fact it was Alcott's male editor, Thomas Niles, who encouraged her to write "Little Women." Her publisher published many women writers, including Emily Dickinson and Julia Ward Howe.

Even as Gerwig's "Little Women" is built around women yearning for Mr Right, every time a man touches a woman she swats his hand away and shrieks something like, "I don't want you! I want to write! Paint! Pose in this pretty dress!" Denying women's attraction to, and relationships with men isn't feminism, it's brittle, artificial, Hollywood wokeness.

Because Gerwig's so-called "Little Women" is about romance, the main characters are much older than they are in Alcott's book. In the book, the girls are 12, 13, 15, and 16. In the movie, Saorise Ronan is 25, Emma Watson is 29, Florence Pugh is 24 (and looks 30), and Eliza Scanlen is 21. And boy do these women look like women, not at all like girls.

What's more, not one of them is American. They belong in an Austen adaptation, not in the original, and prototypical, "American girl" story. No matter how good they are as actresses, they never conjure the brisk, flinty New England soul beneath their costumes and studied American accents. At least Katherine Hepburn, a Yankee, was able to do that in the 1933, George Cukor adaptation.

Louisa May Alcott was steeped in New England Transcendentalism. This movement was tough and demanding. It's why her family was so poor. They were trying to reach human perfection. The Alcott family lived for a time on a vegetarian commune called Fruitlands that was so strict that they wouldn't even allow themselves to use cattle to plow the land. That self-righteousness is inescapable in Alcott's writing, her life, and "Little Women."

"Little Women" is not a book about pretty women, pretty dresses, and pretty mansions. It's a book about trying to grow up to be a role model of human ethical excellence. Poverty is a very big theme in "Little Women." This is a book about people surviving starvation, cold, and malnutrition through sheer force of will. Greta Gerwig used stripper Cardi B as inspiration when making her "Little Women." It shows.

Gerwig, for reasons I can't begin to fathom, decided to tell the story dyslexic style. Scenes are jumbled. A character dies, and then is seen alive again. I don't see how this adds anything to the final product.

I don't know if Meryl Streep is overacting or if everyone around her is underacting, but when she's onscreen you think, "There's Meryl Streep, the great actress." Takes you out of the story. Timothee Chalamet is supernaturally gifted. He is brilliant and quivering with life and believable in every scene he is in. He deserves a much better movie. Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, and Chris Cooper are all terrific as the publisher, the March family patriarch, and the rich next door neighbor. Ironic that the best performances in this man-bashing film are by male actors.



Obnoxious Character v Obnoxious Movie: "Uncut Gems"



Spoiler alert. This review reveals the end of "Uncut Gems."

Someone needs to tell the Safdie Brothers, the writers, producers, and directors of "Uncut Gems," that there is a difference between an obnoxious character and an obnoxious, unwatchable movie. Case in point: "Death of a Salesman." Arthur Miller's classic play depicts a man who, like Howard Ratner, is a desperate, unlikable loser, but the power of the play is that it makes you care about Willy Loman and see Willy Loman in people you know in real life. In "Uncut Gems," you just want Howard Ratner to meet his inevitable end quicker so that your suffering can stop.

"Uncut Gems" is all about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a greedy, scheming, shallow, disloyal, irrational gambling addict and gem merchant. He works in Manhattan's diamond district. The movie is loud with a nonstop, intrusive soundtrack that was devised by CIA torture experts.

The film begins with a grisly scene in an African gem mine. Black bodies sweat, strain, and are injured. The camera lingers on an open wound. The movie is reminding us that Howard's profits are built on the suffering of the exploited poor. In the US, Howard sells his tacky baubles to African American clientele, including a basketball player.

The movie switches to Howard's colonoscopy. Yes, you get to see the inside of Howard's colon as his doctor narrates. Does it enhance your viewing experience to see the inside of another man's intestines? Your tastes differ from mine.

Once the movie gets started, you see Howard struck and humiliated by loan sharks. Eventually he is stripped naked and locked in the trunk of his car. His must call his estranged wife, who regards him with complete disdain, to rescue him. I guess watching all this would be satisfying to sadists.

Eventually Howard's schemes result in his being shot to death. The end. You just spent two hours of your life watching a loud, obnoxious movie about a character you can't like, respect, or care about.

Howard is a living embodiment of negative stereotypes of Jews as greedy shysters. Josh Safdie said in an interview with Slate, "Howard is the long delineation of stereotypes that were forced onto us in the Middle Ages, when the church was created, when Jews were not counted toward population, and their only way in, their only way of accruing status as an individual, as a person who was considered a human being, was through material consumption. That was the only way in. And I think what’s happened over the years is it’s kind of morphed and almost turned into Kabuki theater. Because as assimilation has accrued, the foundation, the DNA of the strive has become kind of cartoonized in a weird way. What you’re seeing in the film is a parable. What are the ill effects of overcompensation?"



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Attacks on Jews in NY and Media Double Standards. We Need to Talk about Black Antisemitism

Photo credit: Mark Lennihan. Source


Attacks on Jews in NYC and Media Double Standards
We Need to Change the Way We Talk about Black Anti-Semitism

December 26, 2019, the day after Christmas, those Americans who emerged from their holiday celebrations to check world headlines were in for a shock. Police reported several attacks on Jews in New York. Americans don't think of their largest city, a world center of finance and the arts, a cosmopolitan capital where one can enjoy cuisine from any continent at any hour of the day or night, as a place where Jews are unsafe on the streets. New York is the city of Seinfeld, of Woody Allen and three-time mayor Michael Bloomberg. Former Mayor David Dinkins famously called New York a "gorgeous mosaic" of diverse peoples.

But in fact, these Christmas-and-Hanukkah-week attacks were part of a trend. As bad as they were, worse was yet to come. On Saturday, December 28, Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg and his guests celebrated the closing nights of Hanukkah in Monsey, a suburb north of Manhattan. An intruder burst into the home and stabbed five people.

Recent attacks on Jews in New York City typically involve unprovoked punching, cursing, and hurling of objects ranging from soft drinks to large and potentially deadly stones. Victims range from children to the elderly, and include mothers accompanied by their babies. Attackers sometimes yell anti-Semitic comments.

Videos reveal that attackers are frequently black. In one startling video from November 4, 2018, a group of young African Americans congregate outside a Brooklyn synagogue, talk among themselves, hurl a pole through the synagogue window, and then run away. In another attack, a Jewish man is walking down the sidewalk when what appears to be a black youth runs up behind him and punches him hard in the head, nearly knocking him over. In a March, 2019 assault, an apparently healthy, young man kicks a toddler's stroller being pushed by the child's mother. Attacks are not always violent. In one videotaped confrontation, a black woman screamed verbal abuse at a Jewish man on the New York City subway.

On December 10, 2019, David Anderson and Francine Graham killed four people in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Deceased victims include Police Detective Joseph Seals, Leah Ferencz, owner of a kosher grocery store, Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student and a shopper at that store, and Douglas Rodriguez, a store employee and immigrant from Ecuador. Shooter David Anderson was an anti-Semite who had been influenced by the Black Hebrew Israelites, who claim that Jews are not really Jewish, and that the characters in the Bible were all really black. In this ideology, contemporary Jews are labeled "imposter Jews" and "so-called Jews." This idea is not limited to violent extremists. On December 14, Saturday Night Live comic Kenan Thompson referred to "historically correct black Jesus." Jersey City killer David Anderson used the word "imposter" to refer to modern-day Jews. Anderson and Graham's killings were classified as a terrorist incident and a hate crime. The New Jersey attorney general said that the killers "had a tremendous amount of firepower. They had a pipe bomb in their van."

In the wake of this attack, Jersey City school board member Joan Terrell-Paige appeared to attempt to justify it. Terrell-Paige called "jews," as she spelled the word, in lower-case, "brutes," and said that people should seek a "message" in the killers' actions.

Clearly, black anti-Semitism is a problem. It is found among juvenile delinquents, TV stars, terrorists, and those entrusted with educating the young. Black anti-Semitism has an articulated ideology. Not all black people who don't like Jews adhere to this ideology, but it's available to them. Today's Jews are merely "so-called" Jews, "imposter Jews," "usurper Jews," "interloper Jews," and "Johnny-come-lately Jews." In this ideology, the real descendants of the Jews of the Bible are African Americans.

Mainstream media often declines to identify the race of those who attack Jews. On December 27, 2019, media reported that an attacker hit a Jewish mother in the head as she walked with her son in Brooklyn. The attacker, an account reported, was 42 years old and female. But the account did not identify her race, and no mugshot was provided.   

Mainstream media's hand-wringing around the racial identities of attackers is evident in an October 31, 2018 New York Times article with the disconcerting title, "Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?" The "first inkling" of danger for Jews appeared in 2016, the Times reported, when the words "Go Trump" appeared in a playground alongside swastikas. Really? Trump's election was really the "first inkling" of trouble for Jews in New York City?

In fact, New York City hosted a deadly anti-Semitic pogrom in Crown Heights in 1991. According to one account,

"It was the most terrifying four days and nights in American Jewish history … with shouts of 'Kill the Jews' and 'Heil Hitler'; roving mobs in Crown Heights throwing stones at Jews; police standing passively; gangs breaking into homes with mezuzahs while Jews hid in closets. One Jew was murdered; others beaten to a pulp; an Israeli flag was burned."

In 1995, Al Sharpton fomented deadly hatred during his Freddy's Fashion Mart protests. One of the protesters killed eight people, including himself.

In 2002, Amiri Baraka, aka Everett LeRoi Jones, New Jersey's Poet Laureate, published a poem blaming Jews for the 2001 terror attacks.

No, the election of Donald Trump was not the "first inkling" of trouble for Jews in New York City.

The Times must confess that "During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group." The Times gingerly acknowledges "it is the varied backgrounds of people who commit hate crimes in the city that make combating and talking about anti-Semitism in New York much harder."

The reader comments section is not so careful to use the phrase "varied backgrounds." The most popular reader comment next to the above-linked Times article blames the "Many members of minority communities" who have participated in attacks. The second most popular comment is even more direct. "for left-leaning New Yorkers, anti-Semitism is an issue worth addressing only when the perpetrators of anti-Semitism fit their narrative. If a Nazi or white supremacist does it -- take note and take action.  If the perpetrator is less convenient to the Narrative (evil can only emanate from straight white males), like if the perpetrator is black or Muslim, then they play it down and ignore it."

National Public Radio surprisingly allowed Bari Weiss to speak bluntly in a September 21, 2019 broadcast. "To judge from the footage of many of these attacks, at least some of the perpetrators seem to be young black men or teenagers. And perhaps that's one of the reasons that so many people want to avert their eyes from what's happening in places like Crown Heights," she said.

What we are seeing here is the economy of truth. If it benefits the speaker to condemn white anti-Semites, the speaker will do so. If it damages the speaker to condemn black anti-Semites, the speaker will avoid doing so. This rhetorical game has nothing to do with respecting or helping black people. It has everything to do with covering one's own posterior, and hoarding one's own political correctness points.

***

My book Bieganski devotes a chapter to black anti-Semitism. The purpose of the chapter is to demonstrate a media double standard. I compare press coverage of two clusters of events that involved accusations of anti-Semitism. One cluster of events involved Polish Catholics; the other involved African Americans.

In November, 1993, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, made a speech at Kean College in New Jersey. Muhammad said, inter alia, that Jews were not related to the main characters in the Bible, who were black (although, somehow, black Jesus' killers were Jews), that Jews hold economic, cultural, and political control of American and African blacks, which they use to torment and oppress blacks, that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust because of their obnoxious behavior in Germany, that Jews control the press worldwide, and that Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was a ploy to get blacks killed.

These charges were leveled in non-standard, frequently obscene and contemptuous language. For example, when Muhammad accused Jews of controlling the world gem trade, he said, "That's why you call yourself Mr. Rubenstein, Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Silverstein. Because you been stealing rubies and gold and silver ... we say it real quick and call it jewelry, but it's not jewelry, it's Jew-elry, 'cause you're the rogue that's stealing all over the face of the planet earth." When ridiculing Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights movement, Muhammad imitated a Yiddish accent. Muhammad, in future speeches, called for death to all Jews: "Never will I say I am not an anti-Semite. I pray that God will kill my enemy and take him off the face of the planet Earth."

In response to such research-grade anti-Semitism, mainstream press accounts did not begin with full-throated condemnation. In fact, mainstream press articles about Muhammad's speech and attendant controversies are so formulaic that they appear more like the scripture of some obsessive religious doctrine than the result of a free and vigorous press.

One of the refrains of this formula was reference to black suffering. The following quotes, though all similar, are taken from different articles, authors, and sources. Some listed: "drugs, violence, high rates of teen-age pregnancy, poor schooling and poor discipline," "unemployment, alienation, drugs, violence, health care, education, and lack of economic opportunity," "poverty, hopelessness, and despair," "drugs, poverty, hopelessness and crime," "crime, poverty, and inequality," "drugs, poverty, and bitterness," "misery, drugs, crime, poverty, and dying hope," "bitterness, alienation, and mistrust," "the bank that refuses to lend a dime to the inner city to the boy who lives next door and carries a pistol, a crack vial and a heart turned to stone by disappointment and hopelessness" as being responsible for misbehavior.

Other articles recounted black suffering in more intimate detail, often using vivid anecdotes: "The teen-ager pulled up his shirt to show the bandage on his lean belly and the round hole on his back that had been sealed shut. He had been shot the other week, walking down the street to buy a hamburger." "The year was 1948 and the laws of segregation were in full force. For Muqaddin, who is black, it was a shattering experience that left him seething with rage against white America." A Black Muslim woman was asked to remove her veil while shopping in a mall. The woman reported: "she was 'humiliated' by the encounter with the St. Paul police, who forced her to uncover her face. 'I don't want men lusting after the way I look or sound. It's like someone else being made to pull down their undershorts in public.'"

Many references to black suffering went without amplifying commentary. The reader was invited to use his own devices to weigh black suffering in some ethical scale against anti-Semitism. Other writers offered more guidance, and advanced complex rationalizations as to why black suffering ought either to dilute or erase focus on anti-Semitism.

Notre Dame American Studies chairman Robert Schmuhl spun references to black suffering into support for Ishmael Reed's argument that the real story was the threat to blacks and Jews posed by white Christians. The Times argued that since blacks were suffering so much, they needed to embrace and support each other, regardless of ideology. The Times pointed out that blacks, consumed by their suffering, might be "too politically unsophisticated" to differentiate between ideologies. Writer Thulani Davis repeated this view in Time. One African American woman was quoted as saying that since African Americans faced so many threats from white society, it was necessary to choose a force that could protect them, and that that force was the Nation of Islam, regardless of its anti-Semitism. This need for protection was also stated in The Christian Century.

USA Today argued that black suffering made blacks hate all whites, not just Jews. The Humanist argued that the traumas of slavery created a mythic vacuum that NOI was filling. Benjamin Chavis, in the Times, argued that the suffering of blacks "has created an ... alarming chasm of attitudes and perceptions"; thus, whites could not judge people so different from themselves. He also explicitly stated that black suffering, not the racism of NOI, was the real story, the story the press should be covering. This was repeated in several articles, by several authors, including in Time and Maclean's, and by Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Great care was taken to avoid condemnatory headlines and to provide headlines that strove to represent "both sides," without, somehow, stressing that one side was eliminationist anti-Semitism. With the use of such headlines and such "balance," America's mainstream press changed the story. Muhammad's anti-Semitism was not the issue on which focus needed to be trained; focus needed to be trained, rather, on an effort to hear the "other side." An article in which Farrakhan alluded to blood libel and a Jewish conspiracy to destroy him was headlined, "Farrakhan Softens Tone."

Readers were invited to focus on white haters, not black ones. The Progressive compared Muhammad to David Duke. Shelby Steele, in the Times, compared him to Meir Kahane and the KKK. Bob Herbert in the Times compared him to "[Theodore G.] Bilbo and [George] Wallace in blackface." Henry Louis Gates, also in the Times, summoned memories of those who watched Kitty Genovese die and repeated a vivid quote by a rabbi at Baruch Goldstein's funeral: "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail." New York magazine ran one issue with two covers; one featured an anti-Semitic NOI preacher; the other, conservative radio personality Bob Grant. The magazine's editor-in-chief, Kurt Anderson, said, "This idea of parallel covers began to make sense and seemed like a way to demonstrate that they go full circle to illustrate the different strident ends of the spectrum."

These comparisons were not buried towards the end of articles, but appeared up front, to confront the reader head-on. The important event to focus on was not the anti-Semitism of a black man, but racism in general. The New York Times entitled one Muhammad-inspired editorial with a generalized headline: "The Stew of Hate." The lead sentence never mentioned Muhammad: "Religious and racial bigotry never recede entirely, witness the ebb and flow of Klan membership." Yes, condemnation of the Klan is laudable, but the Times was changing the subject to one easier to discuss.

Publications simultaneously engaged in a contrary tactic: anti-Semitism among African Americans was dismissed as unworthy of note. "Less news than soap opera" comparable to the competition between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, reported a political science professor. "Just a pimple" said Franklyn Jenifer, president of Howard College, in US News and World Report. "I don't get so upset by Farrakhan," yawned Michael Lerner in Time. Jews are never mentioned in the annual Ebony poll of urgent issues, sociology professor Raymond Mack reminded his readers. "Forget Farrakhan" ran a headline in the Times, under which Bob Herbert advised: "It's time to turn to other matters."

The mainstream press used cautious and trivializing vocabulary to report anti-Semitism among African Americans. Maclean's trivialized: "the Jews took a special shellacking, not much of a surprise." Professor Doris Wilkinson asked whether or not it was even possible that there be such a thing as "black anti-Semitism." In the lead sentence of one article, the Times reported that "Black racism" is, for some blacks, "a laughable oxymoron." Some articles began with "balanced" rhetorical questions, as in this profile of the leader who invited Farrakhan to an NAACP summit: "Who is Benjamin Chavis Jr., and what in the world is he trying to do to the venerable NAACP? Is he a brash and brilliant innovator, pumping life into a sclerotic organization whose glory days are past and whose current relevance is questioned? Or is he an unrepentant radical and a peripatetic neophyte?" When Farrakhan made classically anti-Semitic statements, echoing blood libel: "The same people opposed to [Jesus] are opposed to me. It's the Passover season. It's the right time;" the Times said merely that these statements "may register on many ears as patently anti-Semitic." Time said that Farrakhan "appeared" to be putting down other people; that he was "misunderstood."

Statistics and anecdotes were cited to indicate that black anti-Semites were not representational of the black population. This in spite of other statistics that showed that African Americans are more anti-Semitic than the general population, and unlike the general population, become more anti-Semitic as they become more educated

Reports of anti-Semitism among African Americans were, it was posited, part of a hidden, nefarious, anti-black agenda. Charles Rangel suggested that the ADL might have been milking Muhammad's speech for money and publicity. The Amsterdam News accused the ADL of "willful and cynical exploitation of a people for the purpose of raising money from Jews by frightening them." Michael Lerner also suggested that Jews were using accusations of anti-Semitism among African Americans, in this case as "an excuse to deny our own racism toward blacks" and as "justification for some Americans to declare themselves 'disillusioned with the oppressed'" and to cut social programs for the poor. The Times repeated this; charges of African American anti-Semitism were allegedly "an excuse for doing little to reduce inequalities."

Writer Thulani Davis, in Time, wrote that accusations of anti-Semitism among African Americans were "attempts to set the terms of the discussion of racial conflict solely on African American xenophobia. Like all litmus tests, this one is reductive and promotes self-defense rather than thought and disclosure."

Davis also pointed out that in the litmus test atmosphere, "African Americans do not even feel comfortable to debate in public ... in such a delicate public discussion it is dangerous to risk having words taken out of context, ideas abbreviated into unrecognizable and harmful sound bites ... If the issue is used simply to identify enemies, few will step forward." Davis further stated that media reports of anti-Semitism among African-Americans were part of a wider effort to create negative images of black people that fed off of whites' fears of "black hate." "Black hate, though, is only a new wrinkle in the increasingly negative portrayal of blacks as a whole," she wrote. This fear of black hate is taught to "each group of new immigrants settling in the big cities of America."

A letter to the Times denounced as "racist" and "paternalistic" A.M. Rosenthal's request that blacks denounce Muhammad. Rosenthal, implied the writer, was not just to blame for his whiteness, he was also a parvenu who told African-Americans, "in their own country" "what to do and say ... even by those that just arrive on these shores."

Accounts veered into victim blaming. Blaming Jews for the anti-Semitism of blacks goes back at least to Michael Lerner's 1969 manifesto in Judaism, where he wrote: "black anti-Semitism ... is ... a tremendous disgrace to Jews, for this is ... rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks in the ghetto. In short, this anti-Semitism is in part an earned anti-Semitism." Lerner was ready with similar accusations to explain anti-Semitism among African Americans in 1994: "Jewish neoconservatives at Commentary and neoliberals at the New Republic have led the assault on affirmative action" and Jews have "delighted in the prospect of throwing black women and children off welfare as soon as possible." Others also blamed Jewish opposition to affirmative action for alienating blacks.

***

This is but a brief summary of my comparisons of press accounts of accusations of anti-Semitism among African Americans, versus press accounts of accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against members of other demographics, especially persons or groups most associated with Catholicism. In this brief summary, one can discern a pattern.

For months now, the media has presented alarming reports of random, innocent Jews aggressively attacked on New York City streets. The attackers, video suggests, are often African American. This is a problem, a problem that needs to be addressed with courage, frankness, and dedication. If members of less-protected demographics, Catholic high school boys from the American South, for example, were attacking Jews on the streets, there would be an international outcry, a flood of tweets from average citizens as well as celebrities, television broadcasts, academic conferences and articles, and demands for an immediately available curriculum to educate bigoted persons. A review of the above paragraphs outlining my research on how media reacted to an overtly genocidal African American anti-Semitic speaker suggests a reason why so few have been willing to state the obvious. No, not all African Americans are anti-Semites, but some are, and those that are include some who commit violent crimes, including murder, in the name of anti-Semitism. This hatred, and these assaults, are not random, but are supported by a detailed and deeply rooted ideology that declares that Jews are "imposters," "interlopers," "Johnny-come-lately Jews" and "usurpers" who have co-opted black people's real identity.

Further, apologias for these assaults rely on a competition for victim status created by leftist ideology. The left awards its certified victims with virtue, innocence, authority, and tangible benefits through programs like Affirmative Action. As long as being the biggest victim is valuable, some African Americans will resent Jews, perversely, for the Jews' own victimization.

"The black holocaust is one hundred times worse than the so-called Jew holocaust," said Khalid Abdul Muhammad on the campus of Howard University. This articulated hatred must be described, denounced, and deconstructed. There should be forthright academic articles, conferences, and curricula, now, condemning this murderous anti-Semitism. Those who take on this task face daunting odds. Those odds make this work no less vital and urgent.

Yes, African Americans have suffered grievous harm. Yes, statistics indicate that African Americans today are, as a group, poorer, less educated, less healthy, and more likely to be incarcerated than white Americans as a group. Yes, all Americans must do everything they can to close the gaps between whites and blacks.

But separate systems of ethics for blacks and whites are no more moral than separate water fountains for blacks and whites. Human decency should not be emblazoned with a "whites only" sign. It is not imperialist or racist for people who aren't African American to speak out against black anti-Semitism. It is paternalistic for mainstream media to resort to transparent weasel words when reporting on vile street attacks on Jewish elderly persons, women, children, and toddlers in strollers. If hitting an old man in the head with a ten-pound paving stone is behavior that is beneath contempt for a white person, it is also beneath contempt for a black person. Those who refuse to say so clearly are guilty themselves. Let us not rewrite Martin Niemoller's famous warning to read, "Then they came for the Jews / And I did not speak out / Because I did not want to risk being accused of being politically incorrect."


 This piece first appeared in Front Page Magazine here 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Rise of Skywalker: Should Have Paid Attention to the Bad Reviews



This is a review of "The Rise of Skywalker" written by a non-fan. This review contains spoilers.

I saw the first three Star Wars movies because my sister was a fan. I watched the second three because I write and teach about popular culture. After that I'd had enough, and I refused, for a long time, to watch the "The Force Awakens."

My sister and I used to watch cinema classics together, films directed by powerhouses like Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, John Frankenheimer, Billy Wilder, D. W. Griffith, David Lean, and others. She told me that there was this new movie that I HAD to see. I sat next to her in the theater, excited and delighted. After the lights went up, I looked at my sister as if she had been possessed by aliens. I realized I didn't know my sister as well as I thought I did. How could my highly intelligent sister like this childish cartoon?

Star Wars movies don't work for me because nothing is at stake. In a movie I can care about, a person with circumscribed assets and flaws faces a defined problem and uses his assets or even his flaws to attempt to overcome the problem. Maybe a shy person learns courage and takes on a powerful opponent, and even wins. I like watching that process.

In Star Wars movies, if the scriptwriter wants to give a character flight, ESP, invisibility, levitation, or speed faster than light, all of a sudden the character has those qualities. The same process applies to the villains. If the scriptwriter wants to make the villains immortal, omnipotent, or omniscient, suddenly the villain has that quality. If the movie is almost over and it's time for the protagonists to win, then suddenly, defying any internal logic whatsoever, the omnipotent villain stubs his toe and is defeated.

All planets have oxygen, liquid water, the exact, carefully calibrated gravitational pull that makes life possible, and everyone speaks English. Everyone, including rebels who are meant to be outside society, is capable of travel faster than the speed of light. Light speed travel has no impact on these folks' biology or chronology.

To engineer and fuel a vehicle that can travel faster than light would require a massive, communal effort. Rebels living in the woods would never be able to manage such a feat. The villains could squash them like bugs. There'd be no resistance.

How can a viewer care about any of this? Evidently billions of people do, and I realize, not only that I did not know my sister as well as I thought I did, I do not know my fellow humans as well as I thought I did.

Somehow I managed to watch the second installment of the current Rey-centered trilogy, "The Last Jedi." "The Last Jedi" actually featured qualities I value in film: star-power actors, literate scriptwriting, and compelling conflicts.

Daisy Ridley as Rey turned me into a Star Wars fan – for two movies, anyway. Ridley is beautiful in a real girl kind of way. She doesn't have gigantic boobs or a slutty air. Rey is smart, dignified, decent, and independent. Star Wars never does to Rey what it did to Carrie Fisher. It never makes her the almost naked sex toy of Jabba the Hut.

I also loved to hate Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, one of my favorite movie villains. Kylo Ren wipes out a village, tortures a resistance fighter, and kills Han Solo, his own father and a very appealing character. I really wanted to see this villain vanquished with extreme prejudice.

It's undeniable that Adam Driver is an attractive guy, and that there was sexual tension between him and Rey. Scriptwriters gave Kylo Ren some great lines. He insists on honesty in a way that other Star Wars characters don't. He seemed to be visiting from better, deeper space opera, one penned by Edward Albee. Driver delivered these taunting, truth-telling lines with mature conviction. His voice alone was like a sticky honey trap. That made me hate him even more. I didn't want him to get his evil, seductive mitts on beloved Rey!

I liked "The Last Jedi" so much I went back and watched "The Force Awakens," and I looked forward to the final film that, I hoped, would feature Kylo Ren dying the painful death he earned, at the hands of Rey, a warrior who knew when it is necessary to be merciless. Femininity would not weaken this heroine!

Long story short: I should have paid attention to the bad reviews, and saved my money and time. "The Rise of Skywalker" was as boring as any other Star Wars film. Endless chase scenes. No scene lasting longer than two minutes (how it felt; I did not use a stopwatch). No real dialogue, wit, depth, characterization, stakes, point to it all other than ticket sale cash. The carefully curated multicultural cast – an Hispanic, a black, an Asian – given nothing to do. I wanted to see more of Poe, Finn, and Rose, and they were sidelined.

Palpatine is alive again. He used to be dead. Remember what I said about how things happen not because of any internal logic, but because the scriptwriter wants them to happen? Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter. So, yeah, a scavenger can't be a hero. You have to have evil, royal ancestors to be a hero. Kylo Ren is a bad guy, till Rey heals him of a wound. Then he turns into a good guy. She kisses him and he dies. The end. Meh. I didn't get the Old Testament justice I craved, and all those misguided fangirls out there didn't get the extended hot-tub Reylo payoff they've been cooking up in fan art.

PS: Fans compare Star Wars to Greek mythology. Please. Read Greco-Roman mythology. Homer, Aeschylus, Ovid and Virgil have no competition to fear from Star Wars.



Monday, December 23, 2019

Again


When I was a kid, there was a family in our town. Bad things happened to this family. There was a deadly chronic illness, and cancer, and a terrible accident, and more.

These were good people. Nice, smart, caring, good neighbors. Cool people. People you wanted to be around. Tall, slim, good-looking, erudite. Working class heroes. One disaster after another.

I remember standing in St. Francis Church during the funeral of one of the children. He was a couple years older than I. He knew he was going to die young. His disease name was hard to pronounce. I remember, during the funeral, thinking, this kid was smarter than me, cooler than me, better looking than me, more loved than I'll ever be. And he's dead.

The question: why?

As in Auschwitz, there was no why. These were good people. Yes, they lived in toxic Jersey, but we all lived in toxic Jersey. We all got cancer, too, but usually older. And it was more than cancer with this family. It was one lightning strike after another.

***

Friday I was making out Christmas cards. I took a break, checked emails, and learned that I lost my job. I've been teaching on the same campus for fifteen years.

I had just gotten this email from a student about a week ago.

"I want to say that this class was really cool actually! I'm really glad that I signed up for it and took it! You're an awesome professor and really made the class interesting! I know I stumbled a little bit near the end of it but I couldn't have done it without you. You're an awesome professor and really thoughtful to go out of your way and help calm your students like me when I was freaking out with random stuff. Thank you for a really fun class this semester."

And this email earlier in the month

"Thank you for everything... your teaching made me the person I am today."

I'm crushed.

Why?

Two answers.

The first answer is low enrollment. I am an adjunct. We have no job security. We are hired and fired on a semester-to-semester basis.

When the economy is good, enrollments go down.

But that's not really the answer.

I have a PhD, my dissertation is a prize-winning book, and I never got the security of a tenure-track job.

I was told I was the wrong ethnicity. I was told I wrote a "controversial, sensitive" dissertation. I was told I was "too right-wing." I was eventually told I was too old.

None of this politics would matter if there were fewer candidates for the available tenure-track jobs, but there is a glut of candidates. When a thousand people apply for one job your chances are slim, no matter your politics.

Adjuncts could tell you stories.

We are hired if we please our bosses.

I know an adjunct who was once in a car with her boss. Her boss said that America should be damned. Those words exactly. "America should be damned."

If the adjunct disagreed, she risked losing her job for the next semester. She did disagree, She is currently unemployed.

And then there are student complaints. Tell students they have to attend class with some regularity in order to get a passing grade? You will get complaints. The adjunct who put forth that demand on her students? Currently unemployed.

***

And then the weekend's second lightning strike.

As I've mentioned on this blog, in all the named pain of the past eight years, the two hurricanes, the four cancer diagnoses, the two deaths, the many surgeries, there was the nameless pain.

After a surgery three years ago, I was stricken with over-the-top pain. Torture-level pain. It comes and goes. I am not in pain most of the time. I am in fear of this pain most of the time. It's overwhelming.

I've been to about ten doctors. They all mean well but are limited. They can see me, evidently, for only about ten minutes at a time. They ask a few superficial questions. I'm no health care professional, but it's obvious to me that there are questions they should ask that they do not ask. Why do I have pain at some times but not others? I want the answer to that question.

I've been given many tests. No definitive answers.

Finally I did something I had been hesitating to do. I wrote to a world-famous man. He wrote a book about his own Christian faith and I sent him fan mail several years ago. We have kept in touch, on and off, ever since.

He is not primarily an author. He is, rather, someone who has some power when it comes to science and medicine. I described my symptoms and medical history to him. I begged for help.

He wrote back almost immediately. He contacted experts. He found a doctor in my state.

That doctor's office phoned me this morning to tell me when I'd be seeing that doctor. A few weeks from now.

Here's the bad news. The words "rare," "incurable," and "drugs."

What they think I have is, they say, rare and incurable, and it requires many drugs to treat.

Right now I feel like I've just been hit by a truck.

Mind: I've had this, whatever it is, for three years now, and in that time I've taught, and written, and published, cleaned house, cooked dinner, gone hiking, and dealt with horrific pain. Will it get better or worse? I don't know, and given that it's "rare," maybe they don't know, either. 

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.