Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman & David Polonsky

Paperback, 128 pages Pub February 17th 2009 by Metropolitan Books (first published 2008) ISBN13: 9780805088922

The 2008 animated documentary of the same name by Ari Folman and David Polonsky took four years to complete. The frames of this graphic novel may have come from the film itself, and the sense of the film is uncannily captured without the sound or movement. Both book and film are so powerful I could not make it through in one sitting. A tremendous sense of anxiety and foreboding is generated by white/brown/black monochrome washed with an acid, chemical yellow, the slavering wild dogs, and the dissociative reality of war on a beach.

For anyone who hasn’t seen this film or read the graphic novel, I urge you to put aside anything else you have on your plates the minute you obtain a copy of either. It probably won’t take more than an evening to read/watch this remarkable act of witnessing, and you will remember it for the rest of your lives. Folman was a nineteen-year old recruit in the Israeli army when he was sent to Lebanon in 1982 to stop PLO rocket attacks and to retaliate for an assassination attempt on the life of Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom.

At the time, many displaced Palestinians were living in refugee camps in southern Lebanon in permanent structures like houses. Their lives did not look temporary, but there was always agitation because their refugee status did not change. In Lebanon, the sectarian Christian leader Bashir Gemayel aggressively challenged (some might say crushed) the rights of Palestinians and Muslims, and shortly after he became president-elect in the 1982 presidential election in Lebanon, he was assassinated.

Gemayel’s party, the Christian Phalangists, took their revenge on two refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila. Israeli forces were slow to recognize and respond to an unfolding massacre. It appears they simply did not recognize the evil for what it was--it was too monstrous. The scars of those days left many men unable to understand what had actually happened in September 1982 and their role in it. Forman and Polonsky managed to show us that paralysis that comes over someone, even a group, when something bad is happening. The men protested up to their leaders, but not loudly, confidently, definitively enough. This phenomenon is not unknown. It may even have happened to us.

Much of the story is about the elusive nature of memory, and what scars the trauma of war leaves. The authors decided not to try and give voice to the other participants in this extraordinary event, but to just focus on the point of view of someone who was there but not directly implicated in the killing and who retained no memory of the time. We can forget these times of trauma, which is why the Holocaust is constantly referred to and memorialized. One must remember in order to forestall similar atrocities in the future.

The art in the film and the book is exceptional for its originality. The drawings are a certain kind of primitive and for that reason are all that we can project onto them. It may be the horror is something we bring because objectively speaking, until real photographs appear at the very end, events are only hinted at: we have the blank stares of the affected soldiers and the bizarrely horrible sudden deaths of soldiers playing on a beach—and this all from the point of view of what might be called the Israeli bystanders.

They were part of the army, and they had ordnance, but they had little passion for battle, the Israeli participants. The Phalangists were the actors in this case. I am reminded of Montaigne: "There is no hostility that exceeds Christian hostility." The whole record of the movie and the book should go down with oral histories of ancient battles not at all heroic but horrible and instructive and something forever to be avoided.

After making this film, Ari Folman said he no longer has interest in traditional filmmaking. There was something even more exciting to him about the art of David Polonsky, who tried using his non-dominant hand to draw so that the smoothness of caricatures did not distract from the roughness of the subject matter. Animation was a relatively new industry in Israel when they began, and since they had no infrastructure, they made decisions that more practiced and wealthier studios may not have made.

Both the film and the graphic novel are for grown-ups, or for people who want to be grown-ups.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Judas by Amos Oz, translated by Nicholas de Lange

Hardcover, 320 pages Pub Nov 8th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published August 2014) ISBN13: 9780544464049 Literary Awards – Haus der Kulturen der Welt for Mirjam Pressler (2015), Man Booker Int'l Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2017)

This is the third outstanding work I’ve read by an Israeli in as many weeks, and I find myself falling under a spell of admiration again for a culture that fights back against the worst aspects of itself, interrogates itself relentlessly, and creates humor around the morose recognition of man’s fallibility. Into a novel describing three generations living together in a small Jerusalem house, Amos Oz weaves history, religion, and politics into a meditation on the why and how of Jewishness and the concept of a Jewish state.

Not for a moment do we believe the characters have a life beyond that of describing a conflict. The generous nature of Oz’s characters make us willing to suspend judgment and place our trust in his hands awhile, to hear what he has to say. In our modern world one is rarely willing or able to hear an opposite view, but this seems a safe place to examine ideas. In a review in the New York Times, Oz speaks of this novel as a piece of chamber music. A grouping of voices influence one another, each different than the other, three generations of Jews in Israel.

The time is late 1950s or early 1960s. A student Shmuel has found his thesis, “Jewish Views of Jesus,” not as unique as he’d imagined and less interesting than something he'd bumped up against in research: “Christian Views of Judas.” Shmuel discovers that without the traitor Judas Iscariot, there would be no Christianity. Jesus and his apostles were all Jews. Without the crucifixion, there may not have been a rift in beliefs.

Needing to ponder this theory further, Shmuel has left his thesis unfinished and has taken a job as evening companion to learned old Gershom Wald in exchange for room and board. The old man spends his days arguing vociferously on the telephone with friends and enemies, and is a strong supporter of David ben-Gurion’s Zionism. Wald’s daughter-in-law Aitalia holds an opposite and more radical view that reflects her own father, Shealtiel Abravanel’s opinion that the concept of nation states and ownership of land and resources is a faulty one.
"Aitalia’s father was one of those people who believe that every conflict is merely a misunderstanding: a spot of family counseling, and handful of group therapy, a drop or two of goodwill, and at once we shall all be brothers in heart and soul and the conflict will disappear. He was one of those people convinced that all that is required to resolve a conflict is for both parties to get to know each other, and immediately they will start to like each other…"
The novel is a multi-layered examination of the idea of ‘traitor,’ and whether or not it is, in fact, an enlightened state “which really ought to be seen as a badge of honor:”
"Anyone willing to change," Shmuel said, "will always be considered a traitor by those who cannot change and are scared to death of change and don't understand it and loathe change…"
……Shmuel added in a hushed voice, as though afraid that strangers might hear: "After all, the kiss of Judas, the most famous kiss in history was surely not a traitor’s kiss…"
But old man Wald reminds us that it is the name Judas which has become a synonym for betrayal, and perhaps also a synonym for Jew.
"Millions of simple Christians think that every single Jew is infected with the virus of treachery…So long as each Christian baby learns with its mother’s milk that God-killers still tread the earth, or the offspring of God-killers, we [Jews] shall know no rest."
In a review for Riad Sattouf’s graphic memoir Arab of the Future, I’d expressed some concern that Arab schoolchildren in the Middle East were learning religious hatreds early, never considering that North American Christians were of course learning religious hatreds at the same age.

Oz makes no secret of his own opinions in interviews, but in this work he makes us puzzle it all out. He gives us the old conundrums in new ways, making us want to take them up again for examination. We question everything from the ground up. This work reminds me why I love literature: Oz is able to layer complex motivations onto history and take a stab at trying to explain what man is and what we should expect of him.

The translation of this work into English by Nicholas de Lange from the Hebrew is especially easy to enjoy. The Blackstone audio production is excellent, the work narrated on ten discs (11 hours) by Jonathan Davis. The hardcover published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is useful to return to some ideas. Though the novel is not difficult to read, the ideas challenge readers and may require a second or third look to tie the threads together. This is great stuff. Oz is seventy-seven years old. He should be proud of himself, and we should be grateful.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Hardcover, 352 pages Expected publication: April 18th 2017 by Doubleday ISBN13: 9780385534246

That we as a nation, less than one hundred years after the Osage Indian killings, have no collective memory of these events seems an intentional erasure. The truth of the killings would traumatize our school children and make every one of us search our souls, of that there is no doubt. David Grann shows us that the systematic killings of dozens of oil-wealthy Osage Indians were not simply the rogue deeds of a psychopath or two in a small town in Oklahoma.

The tentacles of guilt and the politics of fear extended to townspeople who earned their reputation as “successful” because they allowed these murders and thefts of property to go on, as well as implicated law enforcement. Grann outlines how the case was solved and brought to court by the persistence of FBI officer Tom White and his band, but Grann is not full-throated in his praise of Hoover's FBI. He leaves us feeling ambiguous, not about White, but about Hoover.

The Osage Indians once laid claim to much of the central part of what is now called the United States, “a territory that stretched from what is now Missouri and Kansas to Oklahoma and still farther west, all the way to the Rockies.” The tribe was physically imposing, described by Thomas Jefferson as “the finest men we have ever seen,” whose warriors typically stood over six feet tall. They were given land by Jefferson as part of their settlement to stop fighting the Indian Wars in the early 1700s.

Jefferson reneged on the agreement within four years, and ended up giving the once-mighty Osage a 50-by-125 mile area in southeastern Kansas to call their own. Gradually, however, white settlers found they liked that particular Kansas farmland and moved onto it anyway, killing anyone who challenged them, oftentimes the legal “owners”. The government then forced the Osage to sell the Kansas land and buy rocky, hilly land in Oklahoma, land no white man would want, where the Osage would be “safe” from encroachment. This was the late 1800s.

In the early 1900s oil was discovered on that ‘worthless’ Oklahoma land and because a representative of the Osage tribe was in Washington to defend Osage interests, he managed to include in the legal agreement of the allotment of Indian Territory “that the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals covered by the lands…are hereby reserved to the Osage Tribe.” Living Osage family members each were given a headright, or a share in the tribe’s mineral trust. The headrights could not be sold, they could only be inherited.

The Osage became immensely wealthy. The federal government expressed some concern (!) that the Osage were unable to manage their own wealth, and so ordered that local town professionals, white men, be appointed as guardians. One Indian WWI veteran complained he was not permitted to sign his own checks without oversight, and expenditures down to toothpaste were monitored. But this is not even the most terrible of the legacies. The Osage began to be murdered, one by one.

When Grann discovered rumblings of this century-old criminal case in Oklahoma, he wanted to see the extent of what was called the Reign of Terror, thought to have begun in 1921 and lasted until 1926, when some of the cases were finally successfully prosecuted. The “reign,” he discovered, was much longer and wider than originally imagined, and therefore did not just implicate the men who were eventually jailed for the crimes. “White people in Oklahoma thought no more of killing an Indian than they did in 1724.” said John Ramsey, one of the men eventually jailed for crimes against the Osage. A reporter noted, “The attitude of a pioneer cattleman toward a full-blood Indian…is fairly well recognized.”

What we learn in the course of this account is that a great number of people had information that could have led to answers much sooner than it did, but because there was so much corruption, even the undercover agents and sheriffs were in on the open secret of the murders. Those townspeople who might be willing to divulge what they knew were unable to discover to whom they should share information lest they be murdered as well. Grann was able to answer some questions never resolved at the time, with his access to a greater number of now-available documents.

Why this history is not better known is a mystery still. Memory of it was fading already in the late 1950s when a film, The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart, made mention of it. The 1920s are not so long ago, and some of the people who were children then have only recently passed away, or may even be still living. Among the Osage there is institutional memory, and still some resentment, naturally, and a long-lasting mistrust of white people. Need I say this is a must-read?

The audio of this book is narrated by three individuals: Ann Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell. Interestingly, the voices of the narrators seem to age over the course of the history, and it is a tale well-told. But the paper copy of this has photographs which add a huge amount of depth and interest to the story. This is another good candidate for Audible's Whispersync option, but if you are going to choose one, the paper was my favorite.

A short audio clip of the narration is given below:

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Monday, April 10, 2017

A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman translated by Jessica Cohen

Hardcover, 208 pages Pub February 21st 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group (first pub 2011) Orig Title סוס אחד נכנס לבר / Sus eḥad nikhnas le-bar ISBN13: 9780451493972 Literary Awards Man Booker International Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017)

Everyone knows that successful stand up routines are laughs at the expense of grief, or embarrassment, or pain of some kind. The laughing picks a sore and in many cases, starts the healing. The novel-length comedy routine given by Dovaleh Greenstein one night in a worn-down beach town is unique. The night of the performance is his birthday. He will be fifty-seven. He will give a one-of-a-kind, career-ending show that looks at his life, his heritage, and one particular loss that shaped him as a youth. He wants to connect the dots. He invites a witness.

David Grossman manages an extraordinary breakthrough in the consciousness of readers. Dov is not an appealing man. He is old and his jokes are not funny. He often berates his audience and embarrasses them. He is not politically correct. Most of his audience walks out. But somewhere in there is a sense of history itself, the whole boring humiliating sordid joyous beautiful and yes funny ball of wax…the thing that forms us…the things that make us human.
"He darts across the stage like a windup toy, cackling: ‘Being! Being! Being!’ He stops and slowly turns to the room with the gleaming face of a crook, a thief, a pickpocket who got away with it. ‘Do you even grasp what a stunning idea it is to just be? How subversive it is?’"
Somehow, in playing the scales of history up and down for several hours, Dov makes us sense the depth of humanity again behind the historical markers. The witness he invites to his show is a former judge, a man who knew him as a child, right before some mysterious personality-shaping event of his childhood. Dov asks this former judge to watch his show and tell him if he sees
"That thing," he said softly, "that comes out of person without his control? That thing that maybe only this one person in the world has?"

The radiance of personality, I thought. The inner glow. Or the inner darkness. The secret, the tremble of singularity. Everything that lies beyond the words that describe a person, beyond the things that happened to him and the things that went wrong and became warped in him. The same thing that years ago, when I was just starting out as a judge, I naively swore to look for in every person who stood before me, whether defendant or witness. The thing I swore I would never be indifferent to, which would be the point of departure for my judgment."
Dovaleh sees another person in the audience he recognizes, though he pretends he doesn’t. He makes her explain why she feels she knows him, and whenever she expresses tendency towards kindness in her memory of him, he humiliates her a little, challenging her and memory. The audience becomes restless, angry. One man leans over to the woman and suggests she leave:
"'This guy’s not right, he’s taking us all for a ride. He’s even making fun of you.'

Her lips tremble. 'That’s not true,' she whispers. 'I know him, he’s just doing make-believe.'"
That defense, the surety of her knowledge of Dov’s goodness, is as much about the woman herself as it is about Dov. Dov is the ultimate recreation of the tortured soul so familiar to us from other works of Jewish literature. There is nothing so tempting and hard to resist as the chance to look into another man’s hell, Grossman tells us. But the woman looks only for his humanity, his kindness.

Dov was pulling in and wrapping up that night, making sense of the whole long parade of his life. Being itself is subversive, comedic even. But Grossman's tale is just as much about the judge who was witnessing that night, who’d been shown early retirement because he’d been too caustic and furious in his decisions. This judge, who'd had to crawl through his own prejudices while watching Dov's show, who got back to that place where he could recognize the spark of humanity Dov was searching for. He’d wanted to remember so that he could be remembered. And it worked.

This novel has been long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. It was translated from the original Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. An interview about the translation can be found here. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio interview interview with the David Grossman is here.

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The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Hardcover, 224 pages Pub March 14th 2017 by Random House ISBN13: 9780812996937

Ariel Levy always believed she could be a writer. Her mother told her it was a good idea, a normal thing for a pre-teen to aspire to, something for a teen to aim for. She was in her late teens when she wrote for New York magazine about a bar in Queens where enormously heavy women danced for men, and presumably women. The women wore brightly colored clothes, high heels, and sequins for anyone who lusted for heavy. It made the women feel desired.

Levy was allowed to grow up thinking that sexuality was not always obvious; that one might, in fact, be in love or lust with someone not one’s spouse. One might even consider all the world to be possible partners, not just someone of one’s age and race and perhaps not even of the opposite sex. If some might think that would add to the complexity of decision-making—who would take one’s virginity and when—to Levy it made things easier. Decisions about who to sleep with wasn’t difficult. It was easy to undo. One could just change one’s mind.

I grow anxious with so many options, and have difficulty embracing such a cultivated sophistication about the possibility of lust for everyone I meet. Levy’s descriptions of her sexual life and gender fluidity gave me the feeling of viewing a Diane Arbus photograph: fantastic, queer, different, other. I think I may have convinced myself that gay and trans love and sex was like straight love and sex, only with different partners, but listening to Levy makes me reassess. I find I don’t really want to know. Please don’t tell me more. It makes me uncomfortable. Do I need to know to be fair?

When Levy writes some kind of magic happens. I heard an excerpt of her memoir very late one night on the radio. She told us about the death of her infant while she visited Mongolia. The story made me feel sick, but it was as fascinating as it was grotesque: I couldn’t not listen. I think of her traveling around the world, picking people to marry. The man she chose after she lost her baby she describes as having no family left at all, his parents dead, his wife divorced, his children in college, and his country, South Africa, in the throes of a government change. He was living and working in Ulan Bator.

That kind of rootlessness is something very edgy, and not comforting. Only people that are forced would choose that space. Who goes into something always looking for the back door? Isn’t that a way to fail trying?

Ariel Levy is a terrific writer, but I can't say I really like reading her. The exact way she describes how we discover alcoholism in someone close to us, how it feels new, constantly surprising, and always denied made me feel foolish for having been taken in so many times, just like that. It is just all so hard to believe. We just doesn’t understand, the way it presents. It looks like something else. We want to believe the lies—what a mess it will make—until one day the mess is already a fact and impossible to avoid. It just makes us feel so stupid. Human failure. The ways we sabotage ourselves. And all the time, it is worse for the alcoholic. Because it will never go away.

This woman is too much, just like she says in the beginning of this memoir. She thinks the world is just there for her, and she will use it up. She will use herself up. She will use us up. When her spouse admits to alcoholism, Levy feels betrayed. Yes, but, we protest, it is worse for the spouse. She is the one who can’t get out of the hole. But Levy keeps intellectualizing it as if the bad things that happen are targeting her.

Levy's struggle leaves me feeling like I went through much of it, too. Chris Abani writes fiction the way this woman writes nonfiction. I listened to the audio of this, produced by Penguin Random House and read by the author. Levy has an expressive voice and is able to put emphases in the work where she wants to push us a bit. She is something quite outside my experience.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

CEO China: The Rise of Xi Jinping by Kerry Brown

Hardcover, 288 pages Pub July 30th 2016 by I. B. Tauris & Company ISBN13: 9781784533229

The Chinese economy has always fascinated me, the Chinese political and judicial systems less so. The economy is so rich and hopeful and life-giving because it is run by an irrepressibly entrepreneurial populace who can find their way, like water, around any obstacle. Marginal gains, in the past, were enough. People weren’t so much out to make a killing (“the nail that sticks up is beaten down”) as to feast well occasionally. Food was important. Not many of those simple goals remain; severe imbalances have appeared since market reforms were introduced in 1978. Xi Jinping took over in 2012 and is currently General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

This look at Xi Jinping could be a college course with plenty of room for more side research on aspects of Xi’s background, political comrades, and challenges. This work culminates finally in a truly interesting and too-short discussion of democracy, the judicial system, taxation, corruption, cyberspace, population movements, and the leadership of the Party. Reference to these issues are quickly sketched, addressing complexities it has not space to detail. It is understandable for an interested beginner, and may raise important questions that experienced China-watchers would like to debate or pursue.

The first part of the book details the background of Xi Jinping, not adding terribly more than the information found in Evan Osnos’ 2015 article “Born Red” in The New Yorker. Biographical information about Xi is available because the government allows it to be found. Outside of his personal life, however, there are plenty of things about his governance that can be discovered and discussed, including how he has structured leadership of the government, the Party, the judiciary, the military, and how closely he follows (or not) exhortations of Mao, Deng, and other revolutionaries.

There are parallels one could make between the way Xi interacts with “the masses” of China and America’s new President Trump. This book was written and published before Trump was elected, but makes observations about Xi using the internet for direct access to people without interference from the propaganda department, which sometimes could be difficult to control precisely.
”For Xi, having this ability to go through social media to speak directly to as wide a public as possible is also a golden opportunity. This weakens the meddlesome interference of propaganda intermediaries who can often get things badly wrong…Xi is probably the first leader of the country who has had to have a clear, serious digital strategy…The Party must keep close to the people, Xi has said many times.”
Xi does not try to diminish Mao’s legacy but uses Mao’s appeal to emotion, to loyalty, to ideology. “Ideology…underpins and underlines the fundamental claims of the Party.” The Party is central to how everything is organized in China. “Xi…has had one great intuitive insight that has given him the edge over his peers…Moral, symbolic, and idealistic appeals really control allegiance. This is the main territory that he has sought to secure. So while he is not Maoist in his ideology, he is very Maoist in his understanding of the need to locate durable power and gain traction on it.”

Chinese leaders studied the reasons for the failure of the USSR and believe that Western political interference was key. The dysfunction of the western democratic model, the fractiousness, the corruptibility of the system by massive cash infusions, the time it takes, the possibility of poor candidates winning—all these are reasons why the Chinese government is not anxious to go that direction. But because the loosening of controls over economic growth has created relatively massive gains in the wealth held by individuals, it may be necessary to rebalance by means of taxation. Taxation without representation is anathema in China as anywhere, thus pushing on the door of democratic change. The pressure for such changes grows annually.

Another discussion I have not seen elsewhere references China’s relations with North Korea: “‘The country Kim Jong-Il hates most is China,’” North Korean defector Jan Jin-sung wrote in his memoirs. The most important barrier, Jan wrote, was the 'ideological demarcation line' between China and the DPRK, not the 38th parallel between South and North Korea. China’s leaders have long treated North Korea as unstable, parasitical, even contemptible. Xi visited South Korea while showing no interest in going further north to visit Kim Jong-Un. That Kim Jong-Un’s half brother was murdered while under the protection of the Chinese gives an observer the sense the feelings are reciprocal.

Brown’s scholarship is clear and comprehensive, one long argument surmising Xi Jinping's role, decisions, direction. At the very end is a section looking to the future. The whole is interesting and useful, definitely worth a look.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

White Rage: The UnspokenTruth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Hardcover, 256 pages Pub July 27th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA (first published May 31st 2016) ISBN13: 9781632864123 Literary AwardsNational Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism (2016)

This is a completely enraging book. Anderson basically fits her material into five chapters, beginning with the aftermath of the Civil War through President Obama’s presidency. She is pointing out the ways that America has been granting rights to all its citizens with one hand while taking away the rights of some with the other. She has it all copiously documented, which is useful because she tells us some frankly unbelievable things: did you know 1) in the early part of the 20th Century black folk were arrested and prevented from leaving the South when they faced discrimination in work and housing because they constituted the “workforce”; and 2) in the 1980s two L.A. gangs, the Blood and the Crips, were sold drugs and weaponry by anti-Sandinista forces funded by our own C.I.A., beginning the massive drug war the country has been struggling with since.

These are just two examples in a book entirely filled with examples of the way rights for blacks have been curtailed in the United States, since its founding. And it continues to this day, with new abridgments to rights granted under the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby vs. Holder that states with the longest histories of voting discrimination no longer need to have the federal government approve voting changes made prior to elections. Since then, seventeen states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time for the 2016 presidential elections, including strict requirements for government-issued I.D.s, cutbacks on early voting, and new difficulties in registering to vote or being removed from the voting rolls without notification.

Besides all that, the disparity in funding for public schools means that districts with primarily black populations have less, sometimes far less, funding than schools in districts with primarily white populations, all perfectly "legal" when school districts are funded by taxes. Discriminate on lower education, higher education, wages, and housing and yes, black districts will have fewer taxes, and the cycle is perpetuated. I am just understanding the pervasiveness of “racism with plausible deniability.” Anderson’s persistent and careful documentation of the continual challenges the states put in the way of implementing the Supreme Court decision Brown vs the Board of Education show us the way laws can be undermined by new oral argument, written decisions, and execution.

When growing up I was not always aware of the sometimes subtle ways—and even sometimes big, national, loud judicial and congressional decisions—that constrained African Americans, preventing them from realizing their full potential, but I knew enough to be shocked when President Obama was elected. Even without the consciousness I should have had, I knew enough about America’s racism to find it extremely unlikely that people would put aside their prejudices long enough to elect a bi-racial man, even if he did graduate from Harvard Law School. I am happy to be proved wrong on those two elections, but I am not so happy as I continue to learn the ways one’s rights can be infringed regardless of how we vote and the ways the attacks on rights just never ends.

This is an important, even necessary book. For those without the background in the ways black lives have struggled, it is eye-opening. For those who already know the background, it has lots of references altogether in one place, and an extensive bibliography. This is another one of those recent books that seems like it should have been written fifty years ago. It probably was, with a different title. This has been going on an awfully long time, at least 350 years, though a book written earlier wouldn’t have had all the examples of how abrogation of the rights of African Americans is happening right now. This may go on until the end of time, so there is still a undeniable need for you to learn about it and work to stop it.

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Love-Lies-Bleeding by Don DeLillo

Paperback, 112 pages Published January 10th 2006 by Scribner (first published January 2002) ISBN13: 9780743273060

I believe this is the first time I have been able to read something by Don DeLillo. I’ve tried in the past, not recently. This is a play, his third, with four characters. Staging is minimal, consisting of chairs on the stage. Set changes are made by lighting, by who is on stage, by clothing changes for one character who is in a wheelchair.

He touches, in practically so many words, the big themes: life, death, familial and sexual love, time, compassion, generosity, jealousy, resentment, desire, beauty. A man, a painter, suffers one, then two, massive strokes. His family, such as it is, gathers.

They discuss him. But mostly they discuss themselves, their needs, wants, desires. He has a second wife, much younger. She focuses on the painter, but it is her love, in the end, that she wants to preserve. They discuss what is fair treatment, what is right and what is good, now, about his life. How long should it be preserved? He dies.

The spare dry air of the southwestern desert plains is clear in a few short sentences:
I’m just here. In winter the sharp-shinned hawk comes down to the scrub. I can sit and watch a hawk in a tree for unnumbered hours. I’m on his time. He don’t move, I don’t move. I drive to the site and stay four five days at a time. Work and sweat. Talk Spanish to my crew.
That was before, before the strokes. Time grows short, and it is almost always time for bed. What is the good, the right, the fair thing to do?

Masterly in its control, this short play condenses a lot of experience into an hour or so, without giving us any sense that the answer given here finishes the debate. It is a moment, in a wide open plain, when the sun slowly sinks into the west and the Love-Lies-Bleeding evokes color, suffering, mystery. “That’s what being in the world means. At times we suffer.”

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Is It Evil Not To Be Sure? by Lena Dunham

Kindle Edition, 54 pages Pub May 12th 2016 by Lenny ASIN B01FMWFG9A

Lena Dunham is still the woman you met in the first season of Girls. These journal entries were made in 2006 when she was in college at Oberlin in Ohio. Many times the entries are not even complete sentences; they are mostly markers for absurd situations or behaviors. All that Lena Dunham is now is evident in those sentence fragments: her lacerating humor, her lack of modesty, her clear intelligence, and her fierce refusal to put makeup on the human condition.

She is offering these fragments to the world in order to show other young women and men that from which inspiration flows. They are fragments that capture a zeitgeist, a moment in the life of a college student…the time the unsexy boy wrapped his arm around you in the car, or the lover with the meaty thighs, or the time your girlfriend carried you over the snowy field on her back. Dunham is the same person…never sure how she is going to get all the people out of her apartment, sleeping everyday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., so inventive in her imagination one is ever off-balance in her company.

2006 was the year Dunham began making short videos around the theme of sexual enlightenment, extracurricular to her school work. One could say none, or all, of the ideas recorded in her journal that year surfaced in her art. She records awkward moments, moments of pleasure and of pain, moments of humiliation. Moments she can use to see a situation, a person, a scene. Theoretically, one could use these scraps to spark an idea, or to remember a character you’d like to describe more fully.

It’s interesting, but it is probably not for the lay person. It’s really for creatives. The audio for this is read by the author, produced by Penguin Random House. It worked well for me. I understand the written journal is available as an ebook only.

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