March, 2018

Deadly, To the Last Drop

March 30th, 2018 23 Comments

 

 

A California Superior Court judge, Elihu Berle, in Los Angeles, has decided on a case brought by an organization known as the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (the brainchild, if you can call it that, of a lawyer named Raphael Metzger), ruling that coffee sold in California must now come with a warning label in every store, on every bag of beans, on every cup, advising people that drinking coffee may cause cancer. You will be relieved to know, Gentle Reader, that this ruling will greatly enrich the Metzger Law Group at your expense.

Therefore, with public good in mind, I would like to propose three new laws that will simplify the lives of every American and save countless billions of dollars.

First, every single person who graduates from law school, before he or she receives his or her diploma, must have the following words tattooed prominently, in letters no smaller than one half-inch, on his or her forehead:

Warning! This product may be hazardous to your wealth.

Second, all along the California border, whether on dry land or the coast, from Mexico to Oregon, large, readily visible signs in every language known to man, ancient or modern, including Esperanto, must be posted at intervals not to exceed one quarter mile (1320 feet), that read:

Warning! This state contains shysters known to cause poverty, frustration, insanity, waste of time, premature graying of hair, wrinkles, alopecia, ulcers, hypertension, depression, and/or uncontrollable hysterical laughter.

Third, the state of California must erect billboards on every road (interstate, state, county, or local) at distances no greater than one mile (5280 feet) that read:

Warning! Life leads to death.

That’ll simplify things.

Book Review: A Passage to India

March 21st, 2018 7 Comments

 

One of the advantages of aging is that the brain finally matures enough to understand and appreciate things that eluded us when we were young. Of course, it’s a short period between maturity and senility, but if we make the most of it, we can discover—or rediscover—a world of infinite riches.

I tried to read A Passage to India, when I was in high school, sometime between fourteen and eighteen, but with my hormones running amok and unable to think of anything except Cindy Sheldon or Susan Crampton, I thought it a remarkably dull book about a bunch of remarkably dull deadheads. Half a century later, I read it (as I do all books where the English language is used the way Rembrandt used pigment) slowly, relishing the sheer craftsmanship of it, and with the themes resonating in my head.

Ah. Themes. True to today’s complete absence of empathy (OED: the power of projecting one’s personality into—and so fully comprehending—the object of contemplation) from the same people who condemn Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird for racist stereotypes, a lot of people seem to think A Passage to India should have been written with today’s sensibilities and priorities. It wasn’t. It was published in 1924. Get over it. This is considered—by whoever makes out such lists—one of the one-hundred greatest novels of the twentieth century; personally, I would put practically anything Forster ever wrote on that list, in particular, A Room with a View, but A Passage to India both takes and deserves careful reading. Those people who condemn the novel for its use of the “n” word, or because it depicts the ugliness of racism, should understand that back when it was published, it was condemned precisely for depicting the ugliness of racism, of colonial attitudes, and most importantly for its positive depiction of interracial friendship, which was considered a no-no in that place and that time. All of which goes to prove that any fool can criticize anything for any reason.

What is stunning, for those of us who know our history, is the extent to which E. M. Forster sensed the still unseen (by the British) and unacknowledged (by the British) rifts in the Raj. There had been independence movements and attempts to throw off the British yoke for as long as the East India Company had been in India. The appalling Amristar massacre (graphically portrayed in the movie Gandhi) took place only a few years earlier and was largely whitewashed, in some cases even approved, by the British. But for the most part, the 1920s were a time of British complacency (which is largely what allowed them to whitewash the murder of a thousand or more unarmed Sikh and Hindu Indians peacefully celebrating a religious festival). It’s true, Gandhi had started his non-violent protests, but unless I’ve missed the mark badly, he was still not being taken seriously by the British government, which seemed to be bogged down by a combination of complacency and recovery from the devasting losses and upheavals of World War One. Both of those would soon be augmented by an awareness of the evil that was taking root in Germany and Japan, but during the twenties, when Forster was in India, very few people anticipated even the possibility of the breakup of the British Empire, let alone the loss of the jewel in the crown. Evidently, Forster did, at least on some level.

The plot that drives the action revolves around the purported sexual assault of an English lady by a respected Moslem Indian doctor. The lady eventually recants her testimony (it’s always unclear what, if anything, happened, but it appears to have been merely an hallucination) and the doctor is cleared, but it is the reactions of the British, and the ramifications of the accusation, that Forster uses to create an allegory of the presence of Great Britain in a country with a history far more ancient, and a culture just as rich and vibrant.

The subsidiary themes of male dominance and class distinctions run through the book as a sort of echo to the primary theme of irreconcilable differences between white Englishmen and… And whom? That’s one of the dilemmas of India even to this day, if modern novels by Indian authors are any indication. There is no single entity that can be designated “Indian,” and prior to their independence, there were even more differences: Hindu and Moslem, with hints of the violence to come; a dizzying array of multiple caste divisions that were religious as well as social; racial differences; geographical differences; political differences; economic differences, educational differences… It was, and apparently still is, a greatly divided country, and the British Raj, imbued with the conviction of its own superiority—racial, cultural, intellectual, moral—looked down on all Indians impartially:

Mr. McBryde paused. He wanted to keep the proceedings as clean as possible, but Oriental Pathology, his favorite theme, lay around him, and he could not resist it. Taking off his spectacles, as was his habit before enunciating a general truth, he looked at them sadly, and remarked that the darker races are physically attracted by the fairer, but not vice versa—not a matter for bitterness this, not a matter for abuse, but just a fact that any scientific observer will confirm.

There are other statements later on, far uglier in both tone and conviction, that reveal the anger that comes with fear, and the contempt that came with no justification other than lack of empathy.

This is not the lighthearted E. M. Forster who wrote A Room with a View. Written fourteen years later, A Passage to India is both more serious in its subject matter and far sadder in its conclusions, ending with the conviction that certain differences, certain gulfs, are not—or at least were not at that time—able to be bridged, be it white and “Oriental” (“colored” is used sometimes, sometimes an uglier word), West and East, Christian and Moslem (or Christian and Hindu, or Moslem and Sikh, or Hindu and Moslem, or any other combination of faiths), upper class and middleclass, perhaps even male and female. The book ends with the one Englishman who truly saw the Indians as his equals, riding in the northern hill country with the accused doctor he saw as his friend:

“Why can’t we be friends now?” said [the Englishman] holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.”

But the horses didn’t want it—they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it; they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”

And one is left wondering if ever, and where.

At the Movies: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

March 12th, 2018 24 Comments

 

Gentle Reader, I am now going to save you some money.

I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri with great expectations, primarily because I had read some of Martin McDonagh’s plays and found them very funny. Unfortunately, what works in one culture may not translate to another, or possibly Mr. McDonagh’s judgment was simply way off this time, something that happens to all artists, but he needs to go back to his Irish roots, because he missed the mark here by a long chalk.

Welcome to Ebbing, Missouri. Where the highest IQ in town is below room temperature. Where every single person in town is a cardboard stereotype of a kind that was boringly unrealistic before the passage of the Civil Rights Bill. Where the height of humorous repartee is children calling their mothers “cunts.” Where no one—not a single character, regardless of age or profession—is capable of saying a ten-word sentence without five of the words being some variation of the word “fuck,” as either noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, or conjunction. Where the chief of police talks to his five- and six-year-old daughters in a steady stream of crude profanity, not in anger, but to express affection. Where the most rudimentary concepts of the law and law enforcement are—apparently—unknown. Where a cop can commit a murderous assault against an innocent man in the middle of the day as most of the town—including the new police chief—watch, and then only get fired for his brutality. Where ridiculing a dwarf—the only character in the movie with any real humanity—is considered a source of amusement. Where the Special Forces who risk their lives for us are portrayed as rapists and sadists who enjoy terrorizing and psychologically torturing women they don’t know. And where the denouement, the epiphany, the god-like revelation of the central character, consists of her deciding she doesn’t really want to murder an innocent man she doesn’t know and has no reason to kill. Oh, breathless humanity!

Writer and director Martin McDonagh must have thought all the episodes he watched of The Dukes of Hazard were actually documentaries. He has certainly never been to Missouri or any other deplorable-packed part of fly-over country, and he revels in his contempt for the barely sentient toothless morons who inhabit that wasteland. Beyond that, he seems to think that the average movie-goer is far too stupid to be aware of such meaningless incidentals as Constitutional rights, legal rights, civil rights, or even right of way.

With the exception of a handful of movies made for brain-dead prepubescent boys that I had the misfortune to watch years ago, this is the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen. The only reason I didn’t walk out of the theater is because I watched it on Direct TV in my living room, and when the final credits ran, Darleen and I looked at each other and wondered what the hell we had wasted six dollars and two hours for.

The performances are all perfectly good, not Oscar-worthy, but good (and yes, I know who won what), but the greatest performances in the world can’t change chicken shit into chicken salad (to use a phrase that would have been eloquent in this dreadful movie) and when the script insults my willing suspension of disbelief consistently, from soup to nuts, no performance is worth the pain. I know it was intended to be a dark comedy, but even comedy has to be grounded in some kind of reality, and besides, I don’t think mindless violence and mindless profanity are all that chuckle-worthy. Beyond that, the grief of a mother whose teenaged daughter has been raped and murdered makes a poor springboard for hearty laughter.

On IMDB, the first quote of Martin McDonagh’s that caught my eye was: “Well, we’re all cruel, aren’t we?” And the greatest cruelty of all was his making this movie. The state of Missouri should sue for defamation.

What Makes You Think Your Child Is Getting an Education?

March 3rd, 2018 11 Comments

 

A reader—a college professor—sent me some reactions to my blog, What Might Work, and he has given me permission to reprint his comments, along with his name and position. I have chosen to do this because, while he makes many good points, his comments about his students’ fundamental ignorance of the Constitution are truly terrifying. Remember, these are college students he is talking about. If your child is so poorly educated in secondary and/or high school that he or she doesn’t even have a clue what’s in the Bill of Rights, it is devastating condemnation of the total failure of the public-school system in this country. That too is something America needs to discuss.

I have only deleted some personal comments of Mr. Logas’ that were in praise of my blog; other than that, it is just as he wrote it.

…………………………………………………………………………………

For years, I’ve shared in my college classes my support for having county sheriff’s deputize select employees from schools who volunteer to serve as the first responders to an active shooter on campus. The sheriff’s office pays for the training and the person who has access to the gun or lock box is a sworn deputy who knows what to do. How sad it is that many teachers and/or security guards can only protect students by standing between them and the active shooter.

Students cannot believe that I would support guns on campus until I ask them what would happen if a person with a gun walked in during our conversation. There are only two ways out of the room and both doors are almost next to each other. There’s no low access to the windows, so there’s no chance of escape through them. Next, I ask how many Veterans are in the class and how many students have a permit to carry. Finally, I ask how many of them have their gun with them. None. Of course not, we’re a gun free zone, except for an active shooter. I ask them how we could stop someone from pulling the trigger once they’re in the room…charm them with our good looks? That wakes them up.

Yesterday, as we were discussing the Florida shooting and the 2nd Amendment, a student told me that she couldn’t believe that I support the 2nd Amendment because, “it gives people the right to kill other people.” I asked her where she learned that and she didn’t respond. I told her that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t give people the right to kill another person, it gives people the right to protect themselves from tyranny and oppressive government. Education has done a tremendous disservice to our Constitution. During the second week of class each semester, I tell my students that I’m going to read the 2nd Amendment to them because it is too convoluted, extremely long, and written in a form of English language that we updated long ago. I also warn them that it will probably take a good 30 minutes for us to read. Then, I read it. They’re stunned. I ask them where they learned information about the 2nd Amendment. Some learned it from a teacher, most from the media, and a majority admit they never were exposed to it at all. Finally, I ask them why someone would lie to them about its content and encourage them to listen to authority instead of being encouraged to read it for themselves and make their own fact-based conclusion. They begin to understand the smear campaign and the people behind it.

Other information that I share with my students is the fact that many times law enforcement does not follow up on leads. The shooting of the Congresswoman at the outdoor town hall meeting is one example. The shooter had made multiple threats against her, law enforcement had visited his house many times, and he was stopped that very morning but released for a minor traffic violation. The sheriff blamed Conservatives, talk radio, and the NRA for the shooting. He was covering up for his own incompetence. The murder of Kathryn Steinle is another example where Obama called for gun control legislation, even though he was aware that no gun legislation would have stopped the murder because the illegal immigrant had stolen a federal agent’s gun. And here we go again, more calls for gun control legislation and this time it was the FBI that never followed up on legitimate leads, not even sending those leads to the Miami field office.

A year ago June, I was on the air broadcasting our live coverage of the Pulse shooting in Orlando (I was born and raised in Orlando). Shortly after the shooting, many people in the LGBT community accepted an offer from the NRA and other groups for free training in the use of a firearm. The media had a major blackout over the fact that the gay community embraced the 2nd Amendment after the shooting. Instead, they reported that many in the gay community wanted more gun control. Since that time, some of the students in my classes have shared that a relative or friend was someone who was killed in that nightclub. They share with their peers in the class that anyone else who would have had a gun inside the club that night would have prevented more innocent people from being killed. Some students still can’t grasp that concept, so I ask them a simple question, “Why did the shooter choose a gay nightclub and not a biker bar?”. No one can answer the question. Of course, you know that in a biker bar the shooter would have been dropped the minute he pulled the gun out or opened his mouth. The shooter chose a gay nightclub because it was the path of least resistance. Most gay people have been discriminated against, are peaceful, happy, and would rather talk a situation through rather than use violence. He needed that little bit of extra time to get himself established once inside the nightclub. The 911 calls prove that the shooter did not choose the nightclub because he hated gay people, his words demonstrate that he was a terrorist and there wasn’t one word spoken against gays or the gay community.

You hit the nail on the head in your article. The family unit is in decay, the sanctity of life is under assault, and I’ll add that God is nowhere to be found in our schools…until there is a mass shooting. I’ve proposed in my classes to try something new since everyone seems to support “doing something”. Put volunteer employees as plain clothes deputies in schools and return God to our classrooms. The schools and parents always turn to guns to stop the active shooter and then turn to religion after every school shooting. Instead of crosses hanging on a fence or placed in a row on school property in the aftermath, let’s be proactive and introduce a Biblical approach to problems while learning the importance of the sanctity of life.

Mark Logas

Professor of Political Science

Valencia College-East Campus

Orlando, FL

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