Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Is a Terrorist Invisible? When he's White

Who’s a “terrorist?” Some middle-aged white guy who uses his assault rifle to murder a dozen people in a school? No, no, no! That’s not a terrorist!

A terrorist is somebody who has a name that sounds brown. And here's how the fascist propagandists at Fox News work that particular trick.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Urning Laughs With "Leaving Iowa"

The cast of "Leaving Iowa:" l to r,  Halbe, Piescinski, Bennett, Mattingly, Mason and Ramsey.

Bart Rettberg, Mike Finney and I saw the Charleston Community Theatre-Tarble Arts Center production of Leaving Iowa.
Director Cathy Sheagren has chosen herself an excellent cast in Matt Mattingly, Tim Mason, Victoria Bennett, Leah Piescinski, Earl Halbe and Faith Ramsey. Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s comedy, about a writer’s prosaic odyssey with his dad’s long-lost funeral urn, is the familiar stuff of family sitcoms. Mattingly and Mason bring reality to the zaniness with their characteristic naturalism, while Halbe brings a lot of laughs with his Don Knotts-like bits.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Avengers: An Anthem to Courage

Alan Silvestri's soundtrack for the 2012 film "The Avengers" is featured in the link
To stir the spirit, lift the chin and put steel up the spine, click here.

"The Equalizer:" Style Without Surprises

Denzel Washington as the Zen-ish assassin-saint Robert McCall in "The Equalizer"

Bart, Mike and I went to see The Equalizer, a thriller based on the well-regarded Edward Woodward TV series from the 1980s about Robert McCall, a retired spy who relieves himself of some unspoken guilt by evening the odds for endangered underdogs .
Call this one “Jason Bourne meets Larry Crowne.” It’s stylishly filmed, explicitly violent and a tad too predictable. Denzel Washington is interesting, though, as a kind of assassin-saint whose enclosed, Zen-like existence includes a spartan apartment, an under-the-radar job at a Home Depot-like store and a stillness and inner balance that the bad guys are unwise to upset. 
Chloë Grace Moretz is appealing as the vulnerable young prostitute McCall protects and Antoine Fuqua’s intelligent direction keeps the eye engaged. Still, nothing in the film quite equals the frisson that the utterly convincing Woodward would inspire when he'd say, with clipped, English precision, "We have a problem, you and I. And you're not going to like what I do about it. Not One. Little. Bit."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Happiness Is Within

Photo by Cam Simpson
In modern society most of us don't want to be in touch with ourselves; we want to be in touch with other things like religion, sports, politics, a book - we want to forget ourselves. Anytime we have leisure, we want to invite something else to enter us, opening ourselves to the television and telling the television to come and colonize us.
Many people think excitement is happiness.... But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace. When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Mad Men' Then, Sad Men Now

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men"
“Real wages have fallen since Don Draper’s heyday, especially for American men and double-especially for the middle-class and working-class white men who were once the bulwarks of the mid-century model of adulthood,” wrote Andrew O’Hehir. “We now live in a culture … of diminished expectations and permanent underemployment, where many or most young people will never be as affluent as their parents. Lifetime job security is an antediluvian delusion, and in many metropolitan areas home ownership is out of reach for all but the rich. It’s just as useless to object to those changes as it is to complain about grownups reading Harry Potter books, but certainly those things were the essential underpinnings of classic adulthood, and without them it’s no surprise to see the old order fading away.” 
“(T)o use Scott’s schema, the old-style masculine adult clearly thought of himself as productive first and foremost, even if (like Don Draper) he was actually a species of cultural parasite. The consumer, on the other hand, is a distinctly childlike figure, a dependent who demands pleasurable stimulus 24/7 from the comforting and/or imprisoning info-bubble around him. ‘The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all,’ Scott writes. ‘We have our favorite toys, books, movies, video games, songs, and we are as apt to turn to them for comfort as for challenge or enlightenment.’”
This same infantilization-by-market is a reason why adult American males now treat real guns as if they were toy guns. 

What's Wrong With Fox News, Vol. 3, Part 6,825

Lively 'Planet' Champions Compassion

Jake Cole and Blake Morris in a Daily Eastern News photo.

By Dan Hagen
Eastern Illinois University’s “Lonely Planet” is a showcase for the considerable and well-matched talents of two actors, Jake Cole and Blake Morris, who play urban gay men at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Steven Dietz’s play, ably directly by Kevin Doolen, is about how a person should respond to a crisis that threatens all around him — by hiding in safety, or by reaching out in compassion. The point is made with clever byplay and symbolism — a map shop as a metaphor of an orderly microcosm, chairs as the ghostly remnants of the people who sat in them.
As Carl, Cole blows through Morris’s sedate map shop like a whirlwind, literally smashing the door open at one point. He feints, charms and cajoles, and even the breezy lies he tells about his occupation turn out to have a poignant point.
As Jody, Morris hides his fear beneath an engagingly winsome surface. His soliloquies are fascinating, whether he’s cheerfully explaining the nuances of cartography or revealing his anguish in dreams. And no matter how close you sit to the stage, you won’t catch a single emotionally false note in either actor.
The heavy topic is illuminated by plenty of lighter moments. An extended stage combat scene, for which the actors were professionally trained, is a fluid marvel of mock derring-do.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Wilde, Wilde Victorian Era

The raised-eyebrow reticence of some older biographies can strike 21st century readers as amusing.
In his 819-page biography of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, published in 1966, Robert Blake noted that the wily Tory politician had few friends his own age. “To say that Disraeli only gave his confidence to young men and old women would perhaps be an overstatement, but not an outrageous one,” he wrote.
Take, for example, Lord Henry Lennox, an acid-tongued, gossipy bon vivant who, as the younger son of a duke, was too lofty to work but too poor to get by comfortably.
Benjamin Disraeli
“Lennox is of interest as a type, but as a person he was never more than an intellectual flibbertigibbet,” Blake wrote. “He would long ago have been forgotten had it not been for the affection which he inspired in a man of genius. “I can only tell you that I love you,’ wrote Disraeli on Sept. 1, 1852, and a fortnight later, ‘Even a line is pleasant from those we love.’ The language must be discounted as the hyperbole of the time. But it remains something of a mystery that Disraeli should have been as he was of such an essentially trivial personality.”
Oh? And why must his declaration of love be “dismissed as hyperbole?” Today, applying Occam’s Razor, we wouldn’t regard the business as such a mystery.
“Disraeli’s previous biographers have noticed that there were some romantic irregularities in his past: he preferred old ladies to young women; he married late; he had a passion for male friendship,” wrote historian William Kuhn in Sexual Ambiguity in the Life of Disraeli.
“The standard explanation for this is that in those pre-Freudian days there was a Romantic cult of friendship and that love between men was sexually ‘innocent’ (the underlying assumption being that sexual contact is ‘guilty’).
“Some of his earliest biographers (such as W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle) explained away Disraeli’s odd history of affectionate relationships by saying it was due to the ‘oriental’ part of his nature. By this they meant that he was Jewish and thus partly ‘foreign’ and un-English. They were also hinting at a Victorian prejudice that sexual license, including same-sex contact, was more common in ‘the East’ or what we would call the Middle East.
“Lord Blake, whose 1966 biography is still authoritative, hinted that Disraeli was a lot like Oscar Wilde, and left it there. Two more recent biographers (Sarah Bradford and Jane Ridley) have been more comfortable referring explicitly to the homoerotic element in Disraeli’s personality.”
“There’s a way in which the absence of a homosexual identity in Disraeli’s time — and the disinclination of the general public to talk about such things — made it possible for men to love each other under the radar screen,” Kuhn wrote. “Of course, the more severe penalties and consequences of being caught in that time cannot be forgotten. Disraeli, however, was able to flaunt his approval of Greco-Roman sexuality, demonstrate his knowledge of Turkish baths, celebrate effeminacy, and dwell upon romance between men in his fiction — even as he experienced huge success in the world of politics and literature. Thus we can no longer regard the Victorian era as a uniformly dark age for men who loved other men. Disraeli not only got away with all this; he gloried in it.”
That something that was thought to be monstrous in one era can be seen as being merely incidental in another may be regarded as one of the ironies of social progress.
Sources: Disraeli by Robert Blake; Sexual Ambiguity in the Life of Disraeli by William Kuhn.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Houdini Meets Fortune

Emma Stone and Colin Firth

Bart suggested we take in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight this afternoon, so I treated myself to that greatest of all movie-going advantages — knowing absolutely nothing about what I was about to see. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Colin Firth and Emma Stone in the roles of rationalist vs. mystic, a kind of Harry Houdini meets Dion Fortune in the gauzy golden glow of the Cote d’Azur just before the 1929 crash.
Woody Allen’s old-fashioned recipe includes a generous portion of green-glowing romantic-dream cinematography, a touch of Higgins and Eliza and just a pinch of the supercilious Mr. Darcy. Not only can Firth convincingly play an imperious, infallible intellectual, but he can give his portrayal just the right, slight note of fatuousness to bring the whole thing off with a likeable charm.
An excellent suggestion, Bart.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mrs. Blandings and Mr. Icarus

"Icarus" by Jose Luis Munoz

“In the kitchen, while all the most modern appliances of modern housekeeping splashed and span, Mrs. Blandings reflected upon men, the male sex, the masculine characteristics. Above all the essential primitive levels she could find very little to commend. Males were dedicated to the impossible. They achieved it just often enough — the luckiest ones, that is — to keep all the rest of the sex in a perpetual dither; perpetually sailing off in rockets to be vaporized out of existence; perpetually seeking the Absolute; perpetually falling into vats of boiling acid or perishing by falling two miles out of the sky. The death march of the lemmings into the sea was no more strange than the male’s hurling himself endlessly against the rock in the path until he should batter himself into oblivion, and the rock remain serene.”
— “Blandings’ Way” Eric Hodgins

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Cassandra and the Myth of Social Security

By Dan Hagen
The Greeks had a myth about Cassandra, a beautiful Trojan princess to whom the god Apollo gave the gift of prophecy as part of his campaign to seduce her. But when she refused him, he added a curse: that her infallibly correct predictions about the future would never be believed by anyone.
Imagine that agony of that — always to be warning people of the danger ahead, only to have them laugh at you and march right into doom.
I sometimes think of Cassandra when I recall my Eastern Illinois University economics professor, Allen Smith. Although I didn’t major in economics, I took three elective classes with Smith during the 1970s because I admired the clarity of his teaching. And for decades now, like Cassandra, he has been warning Americans about what’s being done to Social Security.
In his new book, “Ronald Reagan and the Great Social Security Heist,” Smith details how both major political parties and the corporate news media worked to disguise the fact that Social Security “trust fund,” funded by the wages of American workers for 80 years, has been looted.
The book begins with a call Smith received in 2000 in his Florida home. CNN was on the other end, and wanted him on the air at 2 p.m. that day to talk about the threat to Social Security. The rest of his book details, with his customary clarity, just what that threat was and is — from economic malpractice and illiteracy through Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s massive Social Security con job to today’s hidden agenda.
Greenspan, a disciple of the radical “free market” novelist and thinker Ayn Rand, pushed for a major increase in the payroll tax — a tax legally bound to be used solely to fund Social Security and Medicare — so that baby boomers, who represent a bulge in the U.S. population, could “prepay” their retirement security. In fact, the money was looted.
Smith noted that the national debt would be trillions lower today, and the Social Security trust fund would hold trillions more in 'good-as-gold' marketable Treasury bonds, if the Social Security surplus generated by the 1983 payroll tax increase had been used to pay down the public debt as intended.
Professor Emeritus Allen W. Smith
“The politicians betrayed the trust of the American people — especially the baby boomers who have contributed more to Social Security than any other generation,” Smith said. “In addition to paying for the retirement of the previous generation, the boomers were required to pay enough additional payroll tax to prepay the cost of their own retirement.”
 “As soon as the surpluses resulting from the 1983 payroll tax hike first began to flow into the Treasury, politicians from both political parties began using the money like a giant slush fund,” he said. “At that time, it would be at least 30 years before the funds would actually be needed for Social Security, so politicians developed the bad habit of ’temporarily borrowing’ the money and using it for non-Social Security purposes.”
“IF the government is able and willing to repay the $2.7 trillion of misused Social Security revenue, Social Security could pay full benefits for 20 more years,” Smith said. “But no provisions have been made for repaying the raided money, and I don't believe that many members of Congress have any intention of repaying the money, now, or ever.
“The government has managed to cover up the ‘theft’ of the money that was supposed to finance the baby boomers' retirement, and it is well known by most media that they might face a Dan Rather type of fate if they report the truth,” Smith said.
Intrigued? Outraged? You can learn more about the book at Smith’s web site, www.thebiglie.net.