When you hear what I have to say about what happened at the courthouse that day, you may decide that I'm racist. After all, it's not the kind of charge one can easily deny these days. Not even if you're the least racist person in the world. But the truth is, there's no way to relate what happened without brining race into it. In a way, the whole thing was about race. And it all began before the jury was selected. Before the defendant was even arrested.
The place is Georgia. The month, August. It’s hot, and we’ve been stuck here since 8:00 AM. For most of that time, it’s been impossible to ignore a young white woman who’s been flitting about, laughing and chatting since we got here. Her laugh is infectious. She’s added a certain levity to the day. A lift even the espresso I got from a vendor couldn’t quite compete with. Then near the end of the day, she says this:
“Oh my God, I think I might have bought drugs from this guy back in high school.”
Did Agatha Christie Steal from Another Writer?
If you were to ask any ten people if they knew who wrote Orient Express, all ten would likely say, "Why Agatha Christie, of course." And they'd be wrong.
That's because two years after Graham Greene published Orient Express, the novel that put him on the map in 1932, Christie published a far more popular novel with a similar name. In the UK, there'd have been no confusion over the two. The original title of Greene's book was Stamboul Train. It was only when his novel was published in the United States that its title was changed in 1934.
I've owned Orient Express for several years but only just got around to reading it. Still in brand new condition, it practically leapt off the shelf demanding to be read. This is one of the nice things about having actual books around. They say things as you pass by to gather dishes or switch off the lamp.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my eBooks in part because I can carry ten or twenty of them on a jet without having to pay extra for another bag. It's also nice to look up an unfamiliar word by placing your finger on it. I mean, that's cool. But once an eBook is stored away inside your eReader, it's out of sight and mostly out of mind. It doesn't jump off the shelf, reminding you of the day you made the purchase. The things that were going on in your life at the time. The reason you chose it in the first place. What you hoped to find between its covers. Demanding to be read if not now, when?
Since Greene's book was published first, I wondered if Christie had taken a rib from his novel to create her own. Did she believe, as Picasso did, that it's alright to steal from another artist if you think you can do it better?
There is, for instance, a significant snow delay in both. Each involves a murder. Both include a diverse ensemble of characters. And there is a shared interest in foreign police to one degree or another as the train penetrates the east European hinterland.
But beyond those similarities—and the fact that both stories take place aboard a train—the two books are as unalike as Ice-T and Ice Cube.
Although some would argue that one of these Orient Express novels is superior to the other, I am not here to play that game. My purpose is to say simply that I was deeply affected by Greene's novel. And I want to tell you why.
Nabokov's Nymphet Remains Misunderstood by a Culture that Winks at the Sexualization of Children
I don’t care about Jeffrey Epstein. I care about the girls. I see the term “Lolita Express” in the news alongside passenger logs that include the names of rich and famous men, most of whom are white, and the only relief I feel is that Epstein did not have the audacity to give that name to the aircraft himself. The reference to Nabokov's famous novel came from the press, as did the nickname for the 72-acre island he owns in the Caribbean—"Orgy Island."
Cute, but it's not funny
Lolita is a tragic figure. She is completely undone by the lust of a sophisticated, well-educated adult, who by possessing the object of his desire transforms it into something entirely different, initiating her demise. The novel is a double tragedy. It is the story of Lolita's ruin and that of her putative stepfather and abductor Humbert Humbert.
Consider what it means to call Espstein's airplane "Lolita Express." Especially when the alleged sex trafficking of underage girls is part of the equation and an alleged open secret.
A Black Poet, a White Politician, an SNL Parody - and How to Avoid the Danger of Being Too Sure
Lucille Clifton, Richard Nixon, Steve Martin. It’s not every day you’ll hear these three names mentioned in the same breath. But we live in a world of unusual juxtapositions. Look no further than postmodern art by Romare Beardon and Robert Rauschenberg. Or any city skyline with a Rennaissaince style church shadowed by a glass skyscraper.
Sometimes groupings like this are ironic. Others are accidental or focus on incongruity or commonality. But I’ve handpicked my threesome to make a point about the ‘perception trap’ — the perilous belief that your particular way of looking at things is the right one. There’s a lot of that going around these days. Almost no one seems immune. In American and UK politics, for example, it’s led to extreme polarization fueled by social media platforms that turn anyone with a smartphone into an instant bullhorn.
It’s only human to perceive the world around you and draw conclusions based on the information you’re processing. But it’s pure folly to pretend yourconcepts are the only correct interpretation.
So I’ve concocted a mental flu-shot comprised of life hacks gleaned from the lives of three iconic individuals from entirely different walks of life, chased by a little something extra to top it off — the pièce de résistance, if you will.
Three Lovely Things to Think On: Rilke, Paul Gauguin & Music from Wong Kar-wai's 'In the Mood for Love'
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I spoke with an educator who told me about an essay written by a 16-year-old student. Like the advice Nick Carraway received from his father on the opening page of The Great Gatsby, it's something I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
Donald Trump won the election, the high-schooler said, because he only thinks positive things about himself even if they're not true. But that's not all he did. He also managed to get everyone else to think negative thoughts. You can't win when you get negative. You just can't.
This was one of those insights about which I could only say, "Out of the mouths of babes." Surely there were many quantitative factors that led to the election's outcome. Systematic, carefully orchestrated help from Russia, for example. An electoral college system that permits a minority vote-getter to secure the Oval Office. James Comey's ill-timed statements about the Clinton email investigation. And many more. But the words of that 16-year-old essayist seemed to get to the heart of the matter. They also reminded me of her famous 20th-century precursor.
In 1903, James Allen wrote a significant little book which says, "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."
I've been reflecting on that line lately because I've taken a few days to absent myself from the news. Funny how a little adjustment like that can make a difference in the way you feel. Not that I've got my head in the sand. You can't do that entirely.
But backing away from the daily mayhem seems to have improved my overall sense of well-being.
I've heard it said that you can't solve a problem by focusing on it too much. That only makes the problem larger and more difficult in your mind. Solutions come when you step back far enough to see the big picture.
It also helps, I've found, to bear in mind what St. Paul said about thought. You know the line. "Whatever is true, honorable and right, whatever is pure, lovely, and of good repute--if there be anything excellent worthy of praise, let your mind think on those things."
To that end, dear friends, here are three things that seem to fit Paul's paradigm. They make me feel better. Maybe you'll get something from them too.
'You're a Woman, Ain't you? Well, this is a kitchen.' Why Tara Westover's 'Educated' Will Remain a Must-Read for a Very Long Time
Ellen DeGeneres read it because Michelle Obama told her to. Bill Gates said it’s even better than you’ve heard. Barack Obama put it on his best books list. So did Amazon. Time Magazine named its 32-year-old author to its Top 100 list. I read it for all these reasons and because a retired high school headmaster, one of my best friends, encouraged me to.
You might not think a book about going to school would read like a page-turning thriller. But Tara Westover’s Educated does just that. It is without question one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.
Even if you have to wait twenty weeks to get it from your local public library (as I did)—here’s why you should read it. Westover’s story is not just about getting a highfalutin degree. It’s about her multi-leveled struggle to become herself against insufferable odds. This is what Jungians call individuation. It’s what Dr. Wayne Dyer referred to as “leaving the tribe.” You think that’s easy? Try it.
But Westover’s memoir is more than that. Raised by survivalist parents on an Idaho mountain, her obstacles include the people she loves—her family. They involve received ideas about God and religion—the Mormon fundamentalism she was brought up with. She must climb over a wall that includes unquestioned loyalty to male power figures. You’re a woman, ain’t you? Well, this is a kitchen.
Why the 60th Anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' Resonates for Me in a Personal Way
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." A major American classic by any standard, it is also the first Broadway-produced play by an African-American woman. It's a milestone that remains as relevant on March 11, 2019 as it was in 1959.
Several years ago, a Seattle newspaper asked me to review a staging at Seattle Rep, one of the finest regional theaters in the country. A lifelong theater buff, I was thrilled when the editor promised free tickets and a stipend in exchange for my opinion.
Whenever anyone remounts a beloved classic of film or stage, you hope they won't ruin it. So it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I made my way to Seattle Center for the opening. But I needn't have worried. As you might expect from a Tony-winning outfit like Seattle Rep, the production was excellent. Although I hadn't seen the play for quite a while, its impact remained undeniable. The play resonates for anyone with a human heart, but it's especially meaningful to African Americans because it takes a hard look at a family divided by conflicting dreams and the internal and external pressures that challenge and shape the black experience to this very day.
But Hansberry's play also has a special place in my personal memory because my brother, Kurt Hill, performed the role of Walter Lee Younger (the Sidney Poitier character) when my alma mater, Drexel Catholic High School, produced the play during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, about a year before the Voting Rights Act became law.
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.
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.
If you’re reading this website, think of me as a troubadour standing on the street corner, strumming a guitar and singing a few songs. Not everyone who comes this way is able to make contribution. But if you’re one of the passers-by who can, then feel free to drop a little spare change in my hat by clicking either the Donate or the Become a Patron button below.