Why We No Longer Hear Angels - and a Few Words about Tennis, Chess, Prison & the Healing Power of Classical Music
If you’ve ever visited the circus or a city like San Francisco, then you know a barker is someone who stands outside a theater or sideshow and calls out to passersby to get them interested in what's happening inside the tent. The word comes to mind just now because there seems to be a lot of barking in the public arena these days. And a lot of braying too. All of it a distraction from the things that probably matter most to you—if you haven’t been too distracted by all that noise to figure out what that is.
So, let me depart from my usual commentary in order to share a few things I found touching recently, which you may find interesting too.
WHY WE NO LONGER HEAR ANGELS
The following clip is from Faraway, So Close—a beautiful 1993 film by Wim Wenders, which I heard about this year from a writer friend on Twitter. At only two minutes and fifteen seconds, this bit of dialogue gets to the core of why all that barking can be harmful. It depicts a telepathic conversation between two angels, Raphaela (Nastassja Kinski) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), as they consider why it’s so difficult for their guidance to reach us the way it used to back in the day.
Prop Goes the Weasel: Did the Racial Sideshow at the Cohen Hearings Demonstrate that America's Deepest Wound Will Never Heal?
The vehement exchange between two members of Congress during Michael Cohen’s testimony on February 27 was more than a failure to communicate. The argument itself was not only a distraction from the main event, it struck at the core of America's oldest wound.
In case you missed it, a white congressman (Mark Meadows) trotted out a black female employee of the Trump administration (Lynne Patton) as proof that the president is not racist. A freshman congresswoman (Rashida Tlaib), who is Muslim, responded by referring to Ms. Patton as a prop, claiming that Meadows' tactic was itself racist. This led to a spirited digression, which achieved what sideshows always do--divert attention from the main purpose of the hearings.
Although the president's former attorney and "fixer" called Donald Trump a racist during his opening statement, the main reason for the hearing was not to debate the president’s racism. It was to determine if he had broken the law.
The last time blackface rode into town, the showdown ended with Megyn Kelly losing her job at NBC Today and disappearing from television. But not without lawyering up and collecting a reported $30 million due on the remaining two years of her $69 million contract. That’s how much the network wanted to put an end to the controversy.
Now Blackface is back and ready for another showdown. Will Governor Northam of Virginia lose his job over blackface and Ku Klux Klan images in his medical school yearbook? Will Justin Fairfax, the African-American Lt. Governor, next in line for the top job, be impeached over sexual assault allegations? Can Virginia's attorney general come out of this mess unscathed after revealing that he too has worn blackface? What about Katy Perry's shoes and Gucci's blackface sweater? Or Cindy Sherman's controversial "Bus Rider" series, which became known in the art world as "Cindygate"?
And what about Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, and Jimmy Fallon, who have also resorted to blackface in order to keep the masses entertained? Or the dozens of other American entertainers listed on this Wikipedia entry?
Is there no one who can rid us of this egregious insult once and for all?
Why I Will Not Miss Paul Holdengräber When He Bids Farewell to the New York Public Library - And You Shouldn't Either
Paul Holdengräber is not the Lone Ranger. He cannot take all the credit for the exhilarating cultural exchange knowns as Live from the NYPL, though he is its creator and director. It takes more than a few Tontos to keep a series of public conversations and performances like that running strong in the Big Apple for 14 years. It also takes the willing cooperation of the leading cultural lights of the day, most of whom Holdengräber has engaged in lively, stimulating conversations that take the art of the interview to a whole new level.
But in case you haven’t heard, Paul Holdengräber is leaving his beloved lair between the roaring lions of the Fifth Avenue public library. At the end of December, he will ride into the sunset toward a new home and a new job in Los Angeles. Do not look for a silver bullet. There won’t be one.
Voting with Your Middle Finger: How Working-Class Whites Became a Negative Stereotype & What That Means for You
Last weekend I came across a Hidden Brain podcast called “Voting with Your Middle Finger,” which reveals some unpleasant insights about the adverse effects of stereotyping others. Since I'm black, I know how it feels to be seen as a stereotype. You get pigeonholed as a concept before anyone even bothers to ask your name. Definitely not fun. But in this case, the stereotyping is about what happened to white blue-collar workers over the past several decades We already know that Donald Trump got into the White House by tapping into their pain. But there's a lot more to the story than that. Why, for instance, do his followers remain loyal to him no matter what?
This Hidden Brain podcast is a discussion with two authors who break down the significance of race and class in determining voter behavior. Whether you realize it or not, your class identification--the way you move through the world and relate to others--tips the scale almost as much as race. Sure, sure. But there's an aspect to this we tend to overlook.
Four Must-Read Reveals on the Shocking Rise of Voter Suppression - And a Six-Point Checklist for Dealing with It
When Jimmy Carter called on Georgia’s GOP Gubernatorial candidate (Brian Kemp) to resign his position as Secretary of State in light of numerous voter-suppression complaints, you didn’t really think that would happen, did you? (Read the full text of Carter's letter.)
But at least President Carter focused much-needed attention on Georgia’s voter-suppression issue. When I saw him trending on Twitter one week before the election, I also noticed that the Megyn Kelly blackface story had waned considerably (down to just 30 tweets per hour).
I’m glad Carter managed to push Kelly to the back pages where she belongs. As Toni Morrison has pointed out, racism is a distraction. Voter suppression, on the other hand, though racially driven, is a form of oppression. It’s a blatant attempt to keep minorities from casting ballots. What follows is fact-based information on the shocking extent of the issue and how to deal with it if you encounter it on Election Day.
1) Voter Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, ninety-nine bills designed to diminish voter access were introduced last year in thirty-one state legislatures. Many of the recent Republican-led efforts stem from the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder. In an opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that discrimination still exists, but not sufficiently to warrant the “extraordinary” remediation measures that the act imposed on the states of the former Confederacy. (More via The New Yorker)
Only two days have passed since the tragic Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Like everyone else, my heart aches for the victims and their families. Like most other folks, I am also trying to come to terms with yet another mass shooting of innocents. This latest so similar to the massacre of African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in June of 2015. Back then, nine people were murdered while they prayed. In Pittsburgh, eleven people were killed. In a synagogue. A house of prayer.
It is impossible to make sense of heinous crimes like this. We have categories, of course. But they fail. Words like “hate crime” come up. Also racism, anti-Semitism. You know the ones.
Clueless Megyn Kelly's Blackface Issue Distracts from Voter Suppression as Agatha Christie Movie Shuns Its Racist Past
UPDATED 10/25/2018: Although I originally imagined that NBC might be happy about the publicity Megyn Kelly's blackface comments generated, published reports in Variety now indicate the opposite. Kelly has reportedly lawyered up for what appears to be aggressive negotiations with the Peacock network. By Thursday evening, most major news outlets (Fox, NPR, CNN, et al) were reporting that she would not be returning to the Today Show. And only a slim chance remained that she would remain at the network in any capacity at all.
But I'm not backing away from the rest of my post. The Today Show executives had to know what she was when they hired her away from Fox. Jesus was white. Santa Claus is white. So of course blackface must be okay, right?
If we’ve learned anything from the 2016 presidential election, any publicity is good publicity. In this case, it may not be great for NBC, but it won't be bad for Kelly, even if she and NBC sever all ties. With enough free PR, you can laugh your way to the bank—or even to the White House.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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