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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Why Some Lives Matter and Some Don't: Black Children, White Women, and Selective Outrage



Why Some Lives Matter and Some Don’t:
Black Children, White Women, and Selective Outrage

Our wintry spring has impinged on my work life. Hustling through one nor’easter after another, I’ve not attended to news as much as I usually do. In spite of my relative inattention, two news stories resonated. National Public Radio sounded a familiar drumbeat: “Police shoot unarmed black man, father of two, in his grandmother’s backyard.” I heard those words, all carefully selected, repeated several times throughout the day, with the shrill, persistent urgency of a tornado warning. Tornado warnings demand that you abandon what you are doing and move to a shelter. “Police kill unarmed black man” demands that you abandon your idea of your nation and yourself and move to a new cognitive dwelling, one your betters have constructed for you.

The other news story was not a drumbeat but rather the “ping” of an appliance alerting the user to some minor emergency. I heard this headline three times only. An SUV had plunged over a cliff in northern California. The van’s eight inhabitants were all presumed dead. It was a mystery. This report did not require me to readjust my relationship to the world. I could waltz right past it, and not be inconvenienced by so much as a flicker of sadness for any of the eight departed fellow humans.

I did not stop doing laundry or watching “bomb cyclone” weather reports to turn up the volume and focus my attention. Even though I was using only the cells in my brain devoted to background awareness, those cells determined the following: “The media is lying to me in order to comply with the dictates of Political Correctness. Understanding those dictates, I can fill in the blanks.” Propaganda is so pervasive that my brain, on autopilot, concludes such things. Realizing that gave me an Orwellian feeling.

Powerful people want me to believe that a black man was relaxing in the spring sun, playing on the swing set of that most sacred geography, grandma’s house, when a white policeman drove by, and, aroused to murderous frenzy by his victim’s skin color alone, shot the young father dead in front of his sons. NPR was obsessively repeating the skin color of the dead man: black. NPR did not mention the skin color of the police officer. I concluded that the accused officer was black as well. Had he been white, NPR would have repeated the words “white police officer” as obsessively as it was repeating “black victim.” I also decided that the black man in question was not shot in the daylight, but probably at night, and that he was located in his grandmother’s backyard not as part of a social call, but somehow in relation to an alleged crime.

The fallen death van, at first, seemed unconnected to the shooting headline. I realized, the very first time I heard this headline, that there was nothing mysterious about the death van. Someone had driven that van over the cliff on purpose. What would cause police officers to be so cagey in accounts that they provided to the media, or the media’s handling of such accounts? The person who drove the van, and his or her relationship to the deceased, was protected by political correctness. I wondered if we’d ever learn the truth about that one.

The death van story is probably easier to tell. Jennifer and Sarah Hart were a white, lesbian, married couple who owned a home in Woodland, Washington, close to Portland. In photos, Jennifer and Sarah appear young and attractive, with long hair and high-wattage smiles. One can see them with their six black and brown adopted children, holding signs saying “Free Hugs,” “Embrace the Revolution,” “Love is Always Beautiful,” and wearing eight, matching, Bernie Sanders t-shirts at a Sanders rally. The Associated Press described them as “the Hart Tribe, a free-spirited family of two women and their six adopted children who raised their own food, took spontaneous road trips and traveled to festivals and other events, offering free hugs and promoting unity.” Friends described them “as loving, inspiring parents who promoted social justice and exposed their ‘remarkable children’ to art, music and nature.” Another friend said “They are beautiful examples of opening arms to strangers, helping youth, supporting racial equality … They brought so much joy to the world. They represented a legacy of love." Investigators of their van’s deadly plunge at first said that there was “no evidence and no reason to believe that this was an intentional act.”

News sources now acknowledge that the Harts abused and starved their adopted children. CNN provides a timeline including numerous complaints going back ten years. On March 23, 2018, officials visited the Hart home. The van was discovered on March 26. The Harts responded to notification of this new investigation, evidently, through murder-suicide. Three of the adoptees were found dead in the van; three of the children have still not been found. Devonte Hart is among the missing. Devonte gained international attention when he was photographed at a 2014 Black Lives Matter rally hugging a while police officer. Given what we know now, it is hard to look at this photo and not guess that Devonte might have wished that this white police officer would take him home and rescue him from his abusive parents.

The murder of six black and brown children by white adoptive parents: no one sees anything in this to protest. This may not keep you up at night, but it keeps me up at night. According to the National Children’s Alliance, in one recent year, “an estimated 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States … Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S annually.” I wonder when abused kids lives’ will matter. I wonder when abused kids will get their march, their turn in the spotlight. I wonder if the blind eye we too often turn to abused children tells us something about Black Lives Matter. Sadness over the victim’s death, it appears, is not the spark for protests. Protesters take to the streets not because they love the victim so much, but because they hate the alleged victimizer.

No one wants to protest murderous hippie lesbians. Imagine a white, heterosexual, Evangelical Christian couple from Alabama. Imagine that that couple had adopted six black and brown children, dressed them in matching “Make America Great Again” t-shirts and drove them around the country to Trump rallies. Imagine that that couple escaped the consequences of accusations of child abuse for ten years, and then drove those children off a cliff to their deaths. Do you think NPR would cover that story? Do you think that protesters would hit the streets over that? We know the answer. The children’s abuse and death would suddenly matter, not because they were different children, but because they had different victimizers, victimizers protesters were more primed to hate. Some black lives matter more than others.

I cannot assess whether or not the police officers who shot Stephon Clark on March 18, 2018 made the right decision. If I could turn back time and control behavior, both Clark and the police would make different decisions, and Clark would still be alive. Rather, this essay protests the dishonesty in accounts of Clarks’ death, and the selective outrage that focuses on deaths caused by hated others – white police officers – and ignores deaths caused by protected perpetrators.

This paraphrased NPR headline, “Police shoot unarmed black father of two in his grandmother’s back yard,” is merely a truncated version of a much larger narrative, like a flashcard a college student might study before an exam. It triggers a lengthy narrative, one that has become scripture and cannot be questioned. The police have shot another black man. This shooting is merely part of a larger epidemic of white cops shooting black men. This proves that America is white supremacist, and has always been. This proves that American soldiers dying to end slavery, that the Civil Rights Movement, that the election, twice, of a black president, are all unworthy of note. This proves that whites are racist and cannot resist the urge to destroy black lives. This proves that whites enjoy unearned privilege. This proves that blacks, no matter what they do, can never get ahead. That blacks who attempt self-advancement through working hard and playing by the rules are dupes, rubes, suckers. That their only sensible strategy is to wait for rich, white liberals to rescue them through generous social programs. That society must be overturned, root and branch. That any white person feeling any personal pride or patriotism must abandon such inappropriate emotions and hang his head in shame and newly commit to reparations, wealth redistribution, affirmative action, and perpetual white guilt. That police must exercise restraint in majority-minority neighborhoods. That anyone witnessing what they think is a crime committed by a black person must jettison that thought. This shooting proves all that.

One can see something like the above narrative in the April 1 New York Times Rhythms of Tragedy” column by Charles M. Blow. “The system … is operating as designed” when cops shoot innocent black men. Blacks are “abused and betrayed in a country that sees them as expendable.” It’s a “true American tragedy.” America is guilty of “racially skewed cruelty and brutality.” Clark is “a casualty of American moral paucity, race-hostile policies and corrosive jurisprudence. The sound of his body falling to the ground became just another beat in America’s rhythm of state-sanctioned tragedy.” The Times chooses reader comments to highlight. Highlighted reader comments included, “society says it's ok that a police officer can shoot me in the back because of my black skin” and “gentle, responsible brown-skinned men are cannon fodder in police wars.”

I cannot argue, in this essay, using statistics, that the white-cops-shooting-black-men-epidemic narrative is false. I don’t have to. Scholars like Harvard’s Roland G. Fryer and the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald have already established this point, using statistics. These scholars argue, convincingly, that there is no epidemic of white cops disproportionally shooting black men.

NPR and other media outlets enshrine the above-summarized narrative, not through reference to statistics, but through selective outrage. A Google search turns up two NPR stories that mention alleged child abusers and murderers Jennifer and Sarah Hart in the past month. A similar search turns up more stories about Stephon Clark than I can easily count. The murder of six black and brown children stirs far less outrage at NPR than the police killing of Stephon Clark.

Selective mourning is not the only manipulative strategy at work. NPR and other outlets jigger when they mention identities. I could not find any NPR stories that refer to Nasim Aghdam, the YouTube shooter, as “The Iranian-American shooter” or as “The Bahai shooter.” Stephon Clark’s blackness has been mentioned in every NPR account of that shooting that I have heard. The black skin of one of the police officers who shot Clark has not been mentioned in any NPR broadcast I have heard.

Identity continues to trump objective truth as American Muslims, including Linda Sarsour, claim Stephon Clark as one of their own. In one twitter video, entitled “getting turnt,” meaning “getting drunk,” Clark and his girlfriend dance, party, and drink alcohol, a libation forbidden to Muslims. No matter. Clark is Muslim, activists like Linda Sarsour insist, so the cops killed him because of his Muslim identity. “If he wasn’t Muslim you wouldn’t care, huh?” asked one suspicious twitter user of Muslims claiming Clark, and outrage over Clark’s death, as belonging to them.

Sarsour sniffles melodramatically in a Facebook video exploiting the Clark shooting to undermine America. The title of her Facebook video is “Punish a Muslim Day.” Apparently the police, equipped with Muslim-detection-gear, were able to sniff out a Muslim and shoot him for no other reason than because he is a Muslim. British Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept also rushed, like a blowfly to carrion, to the Clark story. Hasan interviewed the woman Clark called his “baby momma.” Hasan translated “baby momma” to “fiancĂ©e.” Hasan skillfully guided Salena Manni, in her grief, to support his, Hasan’s agenda, namely, “To change the legal systems. To change all the laws that they have within the police department, sheriff’s department. We just need change, you know?” We need change because, as Mehdi puts it, “Black Lives Still Don’t Matter.” Mehdi anathematizes any facts, and dismisses any corpses, that don’t advance his agenda. “You always hear this nonsense about black-on-black killings, which is a completely made-up concept … there’s no such thing as a black-on-black killing.” Statistics do not support Mehdi’s dismissal of black lives that do not matter to him, because those black lives were lost at the hands of black killers of blacks.

That Clark referred to the single mother of his children as a “baby momma” is not important to us as any assessment of the dead man. That he was, apparently, a dead-beat dad is not our business, and this information can’t be used to assess whether the shooting was justified or not. It is true that black journalist Larry Elder, and former president of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume, have both stated that the absence of black fathers is a greater threat to African Americans than white racism. But what matters here is this: liberal media is lying to us. One fact after another is exiled from news accounts, or manipulated. Rarely mentioned is the fact that the police were guided by helicopter images to their suspect, and that those images do not show race. That this all occurred at night, as part of a chase on foot. We are told that Clark loved his children, but not that he didn’t bother, apparently, to marry, live with, or support his children’s mother. Why would a journalist tell us that a dead man loved his children? What is the agenda here? Why are we not told that the officers involved loved their family members? Because the media is manipulating us, using something as sacred as parental love to lubricate a difficult-to-swallow formula: the death of Stephon Clark proves that America, is, root and branch, evil, and it must be replaced with whatever Linda Sarsour and Mehdi Hasan dictate replace it. Have either Mehdi Hasan or Linda Sarsour ever approached an obscure unknown like the mother of Stephon Clark’s children and said to that person, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” without following that nostrum up with, “But your loss just proves how corrupt America is, and how utterly America must change before it becomes acceptable”?

Some identities are clearly more equal than others at NPR. Heather MacDonald points out that white Americans who are shot to death are much more likely to have been shot to death by a police officer than black Americans who are shot to death. In other words, NPR has no reason to bang, over and over, on the “unarmed black man” drum. A Google search could not turn up any NPR discussions of Heather MacDonald’s work in relation to coverage of officer-involved shootings.

Black Lives Matter propaganda is not innocent. It claims victims as surely as bullets do. As Heather MacDonald points out, the demonization of police as racist murderers causes police to hesitate to do their jobs in the very neighborhoods that need police. Further, the insistence that no matter what they do, black people in America are doomed, paralyzes the blacks who believe it.

The L.A. Times reported that Stephon Clark, “had a criminal history, four cases in four years that included charges of robbery, pimping, and domestic abuse. Sacramento County court files show he pleaded no contest to reduced charges, spent time on a sheriff's work detail and was on probation for the 2014 robbery when he was killed.” A Facebook friend asked me, “What difference does it make?” Clark’s crimes made a big difference to those whom he pimped, robbed, and beat, all of whom were probably black. In Clark’s twitter feed, he acknowledged stealing. “I know for a fact y'all know a few people i robbed lol … I respect a nigga that will rob a nigga before they steal. Take it from a nigga in his face … You make a dollar off 100 packs and was stealing.... That's a broke Nigga.... Being greedy just makes you a broke nigga with cheese.” He joked about his treatment of women: “I'll be a horrible magician, cause I'll f--- a trick up.” Trick = woman. And he said he wanted nothing to do with black women. “I don’t want nothin black but a Xbox, dark bitches bring dark days.”

No one is arguing that Clark deserved to die. Rather, I am arguing that the media is lying when it announces “Unarmed black man, father of two, shot by cops in his grandmother’s back yard.” It’s the media’s job to report pertinent facts, and those facts include the following: the police had ample reason to conclude that they were protecting black citizens from an active home invader and thief – as helicopter images and phone calls to the police indicated. Those pertinent facts include that Clark had a history of breaking the law in a way that victimized his own black neighbors. No, Clark did not deserve to die. His twitter feed includes ugliness, like video of what looks like a black man beating a white man. But Clark’s twitter feed also includes beauty: “The look on my sons face when he seen me is so irreplaceable,” and “God was showing off his works when he created my son.” Clark was a young man whose love for his children and the woman he himself referred to as their “baby momma” might have turned him around. Watching videos of him getting high and repeating the n-word over and over, what one wishes most for Stephon Clark is parents, the kind of parents – a mother and a father – who know Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

The night Clark was shot, all agree, he was engaging in behavior – running through a series of backyards after possibly being seen breaking into cars and one home – that made it more likely that he would have a deadly encounter with police. That simple fact, if more widely reported, might actually help to protect young black men from making the choices Clark made, and dying the death Clark died.

That whirring sound you hear is a can opener lifting the top on a package of canned excuses. “You just want police to escape from the consequences of their choices.” No, I don’t. I welcome the inevitable inquiry into whether the police acted correctly here. If no inquiry were scheduled, I would demand one. “You just hate black people.” Facts are race neutral, and the truth helps, not hurts. I want to grab those pushing the murderous, racist cop narrative and shake them. I want to demand, “What will save more black men’s lives? Demonizing police or urging black men to be more circumspect in their behavior, to avoid drugs, breaking the law, and non-compliance with police if stopped? Look, I’ll let you keep your hatred for whitey, for America, for the police, if you’ll give me this. Let’s start talking to black men about behavior around police. That will save lives. Demonizing cops won’t.”

More canned excuses: “You don’t care about Clark because police don’t kill white women like you. If your skin color were the same as Clark’s, you’d be hating on cops and demanding revolution, too.” The facts refute every canned excuse.

YouTube personality Michelle, aka Honestly Speaking, was born to a drug-addicted prostitute. She has no idea who her father was. She became a drug dealer herself, and did prison time. She tells her story in this video. Michelle addresses what she calls “Black Lives Matter Bulls---” in this video. Michelle says,

“The media says ‘White cop shoots black person. White cop shoots black person. White cop shoots black person.’ I’m so sick of it. … I’d like to understand why it is always racism. … If your black ass is not breaking the law, you don’t have to worry about the cops. … We do all these protests for all these guys supposedly shot by racist cops. … I have not seen one march for a little girl who was murdered in her bedroom while she did her homework. Nine out of ten times she was murdered by a random black kid. Drive-by shooting. No march for her. Black America, why do you fight so hard for criminals, and don’t even fight for children? Why do you fight so hard for these assholes, who break the law, who kill each other, who might even kill you? Why do all of us always have to follow behind the worst? I hope you women stop degrading yourselves just to be down.

“When I first started on my journey from being an asshole, a thug, people told me you’re never going to get anywhere. The white man won’t let you get anywhere. You ain’t never gonna be nuthin but a nigger in the white man’s eyes. Black lives matter for thugs, but what about for kids? What about the kids that got shot this year by the thugs you want to protest for? You don’t protest for college students. You won’t protest for babies murdered in their homes by their mom’s boyfriends.

“Black people, wake the f--- up. Can’t nobody stop your life but you, and you’re doing a great job of it … When are you going to realize that the only life that the Black Lives Matter campaign cares about is not yours?”

Some African Americans did not beatify Stephon Clark because, as they put it, he and his girlfriend tweeted anti-black and misogynist material. That discussion is here. One woman was uncompromising in her refusal to join the bandwagon: “I’m a black woman and to me he got what he deserved! He put bigotry and hate into the world and that’s what he got back! He literally was the definition of division and hate and now we as black women are supposed to put ourselves in harms way for a black man that would have mocked our death! Not me, I’m tired of black men let Asian women protest I’m sitting this one out!”

To the canned comment that I’m saying what I’m saying here because I’m a white woman, and white women are not murdered by cops.

On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-born veterinarian and meditation and yoga coach, phoned police to report a possible rape. After police arrived, Damond met them. She was unarmed and wearing pajamas. Officer Mohamed Noor, allegedly without provocation, shot Damond to death. There were no riots. Linda Sarsour did not cry on camera. Mehdi Hasan did not interview Damond’s surviving loved ones. NPR did not offer wall-to-wall coverage. No national figure implied that race or religion played a role in Noor’s shooting of Damond. There were no calls for major changes in policy.

In one of the few easily accessible records of the short life of Mary Hawkes, a one-minute, forty-second YouTube video, Hawkes recites a poem. The video is accompanied by a photo of an ethereally beautiful child snuggling with an obviously beloved dog. Hawkes may be telling us about her own life, and what she tells us is hard to hear. She wrote the poem in jail. She is, she says, “from a cave of darkness, where happiness is only a dream … where drugs are the only escape … the only light to guide me is at the tip of the joint.” She dreams that “someday” she might “find a place to belong.” Meanwhile, she is “poked by mom’s own needles … she doesn’t know when to stop hitting … I can’t hit back cause she’s my mom.”

Mary Hawkes was shot to death by a police officer on April 21, 2014. She was 19 years old. The shooting was questionable enough that the officer who shot her was fired and, in 2018, four years after this shooting of this white girl, her survivors received a five million settlement. There were no riots. There was no wall-to-wall coverage. Linda Sarsour did not cry on camera. Mehdi Hasan did not draw any historic lessons about fundamental changes necessary to make America an acceptable country. My search turned up only one NPR story covering her death, and only two New York Times news accounts. There were no tear-jerking, breast-beating editorials by Charles M. Blow or anyone else. Mary Hawkes was a white trash, abused girl. Her life did not matter.

The Albuquerque Journal, a local paper, covered the Hawkes shooting. A poster, a female, like Hawkes, white, like Hawkes, raked Hawkes over the coals, blamed her for her own death, and praised the police. This tough-as-nails post is the most “liked” comment on the girl’s death. Theresa Schmitz wrote, in part, “While I find it sad that a 19 year old should die so young, this article is crap. They want to make APD [The Albuquerque Police Department] look like they killed this great person because APD is so horrible. It's getting old already. Sadly, good people make stupid choices and every choice has a consequence. Unfortunately, she made that choice and was shot. This article is a nice attempt at sugar coating a troubled teen. It doesn't matter what your intentions are, if you don't follow rules, there are consequences … They want to paint this picture of APD killing an educated, puppy loving, little girl when the fact of the matter is she wad (sic) a troubled teen now adult at the age of 19 who made three bad decisions … Its all about accountability and that happens years before APD gets involved in a person's life. In fact, APD would never be around if parents did a better job at disciplining, courts did a better job at sentencing, mentors food a better job at mentoring ... APD is the last resort because the rest of that failed. See it for what it is.”

When white people live confused lives and end up dead, other white people often chastise them. This is a very different societal response than that of Black Lives Matter activists.

One thing is clear. Mary Hawkes and Justine Ruszczyk Damand, the Hart children and the black victims of gun violence in Chicago, like that prototypical black girl shot at home while doing her own homework invoked in Michelle’s YouTube video, are every bit as dead as Stephon Clark. Powerful people decided that one death mattered, and that the others didn't.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete and Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype. Her book God through Binoculars will be out later this year.


This piece first appeared at Front Page Magazine here.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Chappaquiddick 2018 Intelligent, Gripping Docudrama



“Chappaquiddick” immediately does something I never thought it would do. It aroused in me empathy for its main character. Before the film even gets going, it reminds the viewer of something I’d never spent much time thinking about: Ted Kennedy lost four of his siblings when he and they were relatively young. Joseph Kennedy Jr died a hero’s death in WW II when Ted was just a child; Kathleen died four years later in a plane crash. JFK was shot to death in 1963, and Robert was shot to death in 1968, less than a year before the Chappaquiddick incident.

I know what it is to lose young siblings when one is young oneself. It’s a pain that receives too little attention. Everyone goes on and on about how hard it is for the parents to lose a child. The brother or sister stands there, ignored, and stumbling through something that the world tells you is not supposed to hurt so much. After my most recent sibling died, I made bad decisions I now regret. This reflection enters into my assessment of Ted Kennedy’s behavior at Chappaquiddick.

The film reminds us, too, that Chappaquiddick was simultaneous with the moon landing. America’s attention was on this fruition of JFK’s call to go to the moon. In the film, Ted is shown as the runt of the litter, not his father’s favorite, and constantly compared, in an unfavorable way, to Jack. The lowest point of his life coincides with a celebration of how inspirational and visionary his brother was. Ted squirms onscreen, and the viewer squirms with him.

“Chappaquiddick” is set in 1969, and the sets, cars, and hairdos are authentic, but the viewer doesn’t get to bask in retro fun as one can in other films. The opening of the film, leading up to the accident, is very grim and sad. The film accepts one theory, that Mary Jo Kopechne did not drown, but rather asphyxiated in an air pocket in the car. The film shows this, and it’s hard to watch.

After the accident, Ted reports to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, and is confronted with a Camelot brain trust, including Robert McNamara and Ted Sorensen, there to help finesse him out of the hell he has gotten himself into. Their Machiavellian machinations and Ted’s fumbling are inadvertently funny.

The onscreen version of events is largely the one told by Joe Gargan, a disaffected Kennedy cousin. The viewer is at times utterly baffled by Kennedy’s behavior. It never even attempts to answer the key question, why did Kennedy not report the accident sooner? His hesitation can’t be explained away as selfish calculation, because Kennedy’s delay damaged him irreparably.

At times the film invites the viewer to feel for Kennedy. Father Joseph, incapacitated by a stroke, unforgettably played by Bruce Dern, is demanding and unloving. He manages, even from his wheelchair, to push Ted around. Ted struggles to do the right thing.

The film could have been deeper had it been more universal. Ted Kennedy is not the only person who has done a very bad thing. We have all done very bad things. The question becomes, how does one continue living after doing a very bad thing? Must a human life be thrown away after a person does a bad thing? Or is there any chance for redemption? The film hints at that theme, but does not develop it. It’s more of a docudrama than a sweeping tragedy.

The second question that is hinted at, but not fully explored by the film. People who want to serve the public must be, to some extent, showmen. They must make rabbits spring from empty hats. One can have all the best ideas in the world, but without charisma, those ideas can never reach fruition.

Ted Kennedy put 47 years into the Senate, making him the fourth-longest continuously serving senator. He had plenty of money. He could have spent his life on beaches and golf courses. Instead he spent it trying to better the lives of those less fortunate than he, through legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and children’s health insurance. It takes work to pass as much legislation as Kennedy passed. No one can doubt his commitment to service.

So, yes, call his behavior after the accident inexplicable and selfish. But recognize that part of what he and his team were doing was what the public needs in its leaders. We the people want show business, and that Camelot brain trust gave it to us.

Seeking insight into Kennedy’s character, I listened, again, to his eulogy for his brother, Bobby. In this eulogy, Kennedy is stoic. He references idealism, public service, and the Ancient Greeks.

Some obsess on Chappaquiddick. They insist that this event forever damns Ted Kennedy. They refuse to hear of his life of service. It’s no surprise that those who take this position are hostile to Kennedy’s Democratic politics. It’s cheap to exploit Mary Jo Kopechne’s death to agitate against health insurance for poor children and accessibility for handicapped people.

A Quiet Place: A Praise Song to Parenting; Not Very Scary



“A Quiet Place” has received very enthusiastic reviews. I thought it was merely okay. I was not scared for one second, and one goes to films like this to be frightened. “A Quiet Place” is a praise song to parents and parenting, and that may be why the film was not able to work its magic on me.

Monsters stalk the land, in the case, a rural corn farm in upstate New York. Few survivors remain. The Abbott family – a mother, father, and three children – are eking out their existence the only way they can: quietly. The monsters are blind and hunt by sound.

The word “abbot” means “father.” Remember Jesus calling his father “abba.” “A Quiet Place” is a praise song to John Krasinski’s role as Lee Abbott, the father in this film, and to fathers in general. Lee does everything for his family, and I do mean everything. If you want to see a movie that deeply respects fathers and fatherhood, go see “A Quiet Place.”

Evelyn Abbott is very maternal. Her status as a mother is emphasized in the most biological of ways. Regan Abbott is their deaf daughter. Just like Regan in “King Lear,” this Regan has daddy issues. The family drama plays out with monsters arriving every now and then to attempt to eat someone.

The film is a series of set pieces, showing a survivalist family trying to outwit fate with jerry-rigged gizmos. Just imagine what a Mr Fixit Dad would do to your home and property if he were trying to defeat blind monsters that hear well. I wish more use had been made of duct tape, every do-it-yourselfer’s best friend.

Quite a few of the set-pieces are rather sadistic. The filmmakers do whatever it takes to place each character in unique peril, pain, and agony. One scene was highly reminiscent of a frequently repeated motif, involving sound and those humans most likely to make noise, from Holocaust movies. I was alienated by this sadism. It began to feel manipulative and, at one point at least, completely unbelievable.

Isle of Dogs 2018: Cute but Cold and Insubstantial, Unnecessarily Convoluted and Violent




“Isle of Dogs” is cute, as its trailer promises, but it is cold and insubstantial. There’s a scene on the eponymous Isle of Dogs where the main characters stumble upon the canine skeleton of a beloved household pet who starved to death in a locked cage. I love dogs and just the thought of that scene should reduce me to tears. I felt nothing, and that was my reaction to the entire movie. I didn’t laugh or cry. I just didn’t care. Cute dog puppets? Check. Anything else? Not much.

I did love the taiko drum soundtrack, and hope to buy it. But taiko drumming has nothing to do with dogs. I also really liked the voice talent, including Bryan Cranston, who is just terrific and memorable as the voice of a tough stray dog, Jeff Goldblum, F. Murray Abraham, and Edward Norton.

The plot is unnecessarily convoluted and violent, and told rather than shown. There is endless voiceover narration. “And then this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” Everything is so exaggerated and divorced from any real dogginess that I could not relate.

Paul, Apostle of Christ 2018: So Bad It Insults Its Christian Audience



“Paul, Apostle of Christ” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in a theater. I’m a Christian, I love movies, and I adore Jim Caviezel. It’s a sin to tell a lie, so I must tell you that this film is so bad I have to wonder if someone decided that Christian movie fans are so desperate that we will support badly-made films. Movies offer many features: soundtrack, script, costumes, setting, star-power. If you are in a not-great movie, often you can focus on one aspect if another aspect is lacking. Nothing in “Paul, Apostle of Christ” works.

The script is barely there. Paul languishes in a Roman dungeon. Romans torture Christians. Christians wonder how they should respond. Paul and Luke chat about the old days. And that’s about it. At one point, a lovable Christian is sent on a mission, and given all the attention being paid to him, you *know* he’s not coming back. The foreshadowing is painfully obvious.

Paul’s captor, Olivier Martinez, has a French accent so thick you could spread it on brioche. Every time he opens his mouth you have to struggle to understand what he is saying, and to stifle a giggle. No one else in this film has a French accent.

The film was shot in Malta, among ancient ruins that look like ancient ruins. The marble is overrun with ivy and foliage growing out of cracks. People in Ancient Rome did not live in “ancient” Rome, they lived in a Rome that was modern at the time. The ruined look of the place takes the viewer out of the picture.

Rembrandt, Bach, and Cecil B. DeMille gave us rousing and inspirational art that treated Biblical themes. We need to embrace that full-blooded tradition and jettison false piety, which makes for bad art.



Thursday, March 1, 2018

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School Shooting Survivors at Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ



HOPE

in a land with more guns than people.

Sunday, February 25, I woke up in the dark and turned on 880 AM, the all-news station I listen to only in the morning and only for about a minute in order to get the time and weather. Amazingly, during that one minute, I heard that survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting would be speaking at the Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ.

I shot out of bed and googled this temple. I wanted to phone immediately but waited till nine.

A lovely woman named Linda answered the phone.

It's hard to describe vestibular disorders, because they are invisible and relatively rare. If you saw me walking alone, in a straight line, you'd never think I have any mobility issues. In a crowd, though, and with no straight lines like fences or walls or sidewalks edges to visually orient myself, I am less stable.

I tried to explain to Linda why I was a bit worried about showing up in a big crowd. I phoned to ask her if the temple had a side entrance I could use so that I wouldn't fall over and turn into a warm-blooded speedbump.

I explained that I am a teacher and a long-time supporter of gun control and a comprehensive approach to school shootings. I don't attend violent movies, for example. And I try, as I am able, to talk about ethics with my students, while respecting their diverse spiritual traditions.

Linda said, "I'm going to send a driver for you."

Whoa! This just took my breath away. I tried to explain that that wasn't necessary, but Linda was so beautifully gracious I said yes.

Charly was born in Newark, of Sicilian parents. He can speak Italian, but, "They talk so fast!" He talked like a New Jersey chauffeur in a movie might talk. Salt of the earth. I was amazed by his car. No key! It started just by pressing a button, and he opened the door because he had something called a "fob" in his pocket.

I asked to sit up front. He moved his stuff from the front seat and pushed the seat back to accommodate me.

We talked.

At first Charly was very circumspect. He's a professional chauffeur. Jersey people are very direct, but a chauffeur must not reveal his opinions too rapidly. I let him know that he could speak his mind with me, and he did.

Charly was FURIOUS. He even let fly a few obscenities. His grandchildren attend school in Florida. In his very distinct Newark accent, he raged against the NRA idiocy that allows non-military to purchase and stockpile military weapons, weapons one would never use for hunting or self-protection, but only to massacre human beings – like his grandchildren.

It was Charly's daughter's birthday. There was a party at the house. His wife, who is a good cook, had made lasagna.

"I'm so sorry to take you from your daughter's birthday party," I said.

"No! I'd rather be doing this! I'd like to attend this event with you! I am so angry! This is all so stupid and it has got to stop!"

The temple was surrounded by press. Everyone was there. Radio stations, TV stations. There were kids with signs: "Guns don't die. Children do." There was a man giving out the Constitution. I took one. There was *a lot* of security. How sick are gun nuts? This sick: they are sending death threats to the MSD shooting survivors. There were different uniforms: local police, state police, private security.

I was stopped and told I could not bring in my backpack, a small one containing only a clipboard so I could take notes, and a camera. I wish I had been more feminine and brought a purse that could have stored the same items. I took the items out of the backpack, carried them in my hands, and folded the backpack flat.

The Temple was very spartan in design. No stained class. A couple of difficult-to-interpret wooden and metal sculptures on the "altar" (right word?)

The young man sitting next to me identified himself as a former employee of Senator Robert Menendez, who has been much in the news for alleged corruption. I asked about this. He said, "I'm aware of the accusations, but I have to say, he was an ideal boss not just to me but to us all, and his positions on policy matters were exactly what I agreed with."

We talked more. This young man, a local, was very smart, but he had some PC ideas that I found intellectually vapid. For example, he said, "The French tortured the world trying to impose Christianity on everyone." I look at him as if he were crazy. "I lived in a former French colony in Africa and what you just said is completely inaccurate." He rolled his eyes as if I were a benighted savage.

But we kept talking to pass the time. We were there for an hour before the presentation began.

Finally, a bit after five, the presentation began. David Hogg spoke first. He was immediate and unpolished.

What struck me most about him and the several other MSD high school students who spoke is this.

They are so average.

These are not the most handsome or beautiful high school students.

These are not the most profound or innovative high school students.

Not the star athletes. Not the glam bad boys and girls.

These are average kids. Stick skinny, probably just went through a growth spurt and not yet filled out, funny hair, pale, sometimes losing their train of thought and bursting into a giggle.

They reminded me of Jesus' apostles. Jesus didn't conduct an extensive candidate search and scan resumes. He chose average guys.

Like the apostles, the MSD kids have been touched by an exceptional experience, and they are *doing something about it.*

Hogg thanked the conspiracy theorists who are insisting that the shooting never happened, that he is a "crisis actor," that he is a thirty-year-old man who has had plastic surgery to make him look like a teen. Hogg said that these head-cases have helped to get word out about their work.

I've attended many meetings like this, including Solidarity meetings in Poland during the break-up of communism. I have *never* been at a meeting like this where *every* presentation was *superb.* Each speaker was as good as the last. Each speaker said something you wouldn't want to miss.

The temple was standing room only. News cameras lined the back wall. Press reports 2,000 attendees, who came at a moment's notice, with minimal publicity.

We were on our feet, standing ovations, from the first presentation to the last. I was trying so hard to take notes, but I couldn't. Had to jump up, every few minutes, to applaud.

I kept trying to subdue "Yeah!" and "Shame!" and other such comments. Finally, toward the end, I let 'er rip. I got some stares but I was tired of holding back.

Senator Robert Menendez delivered a terrific, spot-on speech. He said exactly what needs to be done.

A Rabbi whose name I could not jot down (because I had to jump up to join standing ovations so many times) gave a sermon that wowed me. It was very short, compact, and super. He harkened to this temple's previous rabbi, who had been a colleague of Martin Luther King, and had spoken before the "I have a dream" speech. Our speaker wove all these references together with the Bible and the Talmud to make a Jewish case for gun control. He made me cry.

We were in that room for about three hours. There was no rustling, no impatience. Everyone there was fired up, rising to standing o's from the fist speaker to the last.

I kept hearing, in my ear, Sam Cooke.

There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Charly, as promised was outside waiting for me. He wanted to know everything. He really let himself go. He was so enraged by the crazy gun policies in this country. He wants change, for his children and grandchildren.

I promised him that that temple had been jam packed with people who will work for change.

As we drove under the exit sign to Paterson, the glowing, granite-and-sandstone Lambert Tower on Garret Mountain looming up on our left, we both fell silent for a moment. During the ride to Livingston, a moment of silence felt tense. Two strangers in a car. Now, the silence under the stars pulsed and warmed. We were sharing a dream of a better tomorrow, for our students, and our grandchildren.



Friday, February 16, 2018

February 14, 2018. St Valentine's Day. Ash Wednesday. School Shooting.




I spent my workday yesterday in an elementary school, accompanying university students observing elementary education.

We are guests and observers and it is our job to observe. We are not supposed to interact with the class or disrupt the routine.

The teacher I was observing is very good. On task, speaks clearly, gets results. I've observed her before. I never saw any need to interfere with her class. She's a good teacher.

By chance, I was seated, in my little kiddie chair, next to a boy who was not complying with instructions. The teacher had given very explicit instructions on the assignment. This boy was tossing items about, and, in this random mini kiddie category 3 maelstrom of activity, he was not performing, even just by chance, a single action that met any of the teacher's demands.

Hmph. Trouble maker. I found myself disliking the kid.

Then I said to myself, wait. Is there a reason all the other kids around him are performing on task and he is certainly active, but not doing a single thing this great teacher asked him to do?

and then I realized.

He. Can't. Read.

I watched more closely. My thought was verified. He was taking out his book and accompanying tools, as instructed, he just had *no idea* what to do with all this paraphernalia of reading: book, pages, pencil, etc.

I couldn't be passive. I tried, ever so subtly, beneath the teacher's radar, to help this boy.

My little nudges and prods and carefully rationed smiles and eye contact got him a bit on task.

He started doing as instructed -- writing letters -- and then I realized. He's dyslexic.

He couldn't obey lines, or maybe even see them. He couldn't distinguish "above the line" like an h, or below the line, like a p. He couldn't distinguish belly in front, like a b, or heinie in back, like a d.

Oh my God. He's just like me. When I was his age, I was dyslexic. I couldn't read. I goofed off. Teachers hated me.

And more. Something about his hair suggested to me that he was nobody's priority. An attentive parent would not send a boy to school with that hair.

Not just he's dyslexic, but he needs positive feedback. So I began to make longer eye contact, and smile, and make little approving sounds, all the while trying not to be noticed, trying not to rouse complaint.

Within the very brief amount of time I was in this boy's life, I became someone he turned to, over and over, to receive positive feedback through eye contact. He looked at me, as if wringing my eyes for attention and approval.

We were found out. The teacher came over. "Thanks," she said. "for the help. He's new and he's a real challenge."

In a poor city, transience is as much of a burden for these kids as the frequent gunfire in the streets. Not living in one place for too long stunts their progress.

God created us in His image. God is in each one of us. God is in these school kids, and so are we. Enter any class and see yourself in a magical mirror. Here's the smart girl, who answers every question at top speed, and whom nobody likes. Here's the flirtatious boy. Here's the jock. Here's the future gazillionaire inventor, now just a quiet nerd.

Some walk into schools and see nothing but targets.

We don't have to be passive.

I donate to a group called Every Town for Gun Safety. Find your own group and donate today.

Oh, and don't buy tickets to, or watch on TV, violent entertainment. I haven't done that for years, and I don't miss it. It's like cutting salt out of your diet. If you eat something salty by mistake, something you used to enjoy, it takes like crap. You spit it out.

Thank you.