At a time when the liberal left is consumed with placating the sensibilities of minorities and creating “safe places” on campus to insure that words will never harm them, I wonder if our president and other pundits are considering the sensibilities of 9/11 and Boston Marathon survivors and the grieving families of those who were murdered. How devastating it must be to have lived through those domestic Jihadist attacks, suffered permanent physical and mental impairment and then have to listen to our president proclaim that there is no need to fear the influx of 10,000 Muslim immigrants, or to read the Times’ daily vilification of people with the opposite point of view. At the same that the newspaper reports the bombing of the Mali hotel due to security lapses, its columnists excoriate those who question the efficacy of our national security to safeguard us from terrorist interlopers. Fear is the appropriate reaction for people who have experienced firsthand or suffered the consequences second-hand of the stated aims of Islamic Jihad. Too many of us have felt sick just seeing the images of executioners lopping off the heads of innocent people, raping and kidnapping scores of women and militarizing African children - forcing them to do unspeakable things including cannibalism. It’s impossible to pretend after this year’s double catastrophe in Paris that we can walk the streets of NYC, a prime stated target for repeat attack, completely confident that our excellent police and anti-terror squads can be omniscient and omnipotent. It just isn’t feasible in an open society where we don’t have security screening in our public museums, city transportation hubs, multiplex theaters or most of the myriad places where people congregate. A day after the Paris attack, I saw a New Yorker with a backpack large enough for a weeklong camping trip enter a movie theater, sit down and casually place that baggage on the floor beside her.
Todd Haynes, the director of “Carol,” is a lover of pulp fiction. Past credits include Mildred Pierce and Far From Heaven, two weepy period films about women in familial straits and “Carol,” adapted from an autobiographical novel by Patricia Highsmith, follows in this tradition. Not having read the novel, I can only comment on the plot and characters as presented in this film version set in the 50’s in New York.
By the end of the new film “Trumbo,” there is the feeling that restitution has been made to the blacklisted writer whose career was relegated to writing scripts signed by noms de plume, or more appropriately, noms de guerre. Trumbo’s name appears triumphantly as the screenwriter of “Spartacus” and “Exodus” and Hollywood and the world know that it is his craftsmanship that won the two previous Oscars for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave Bull.” Though we see the toll that the blacklist has taken on the lives of many people in the industry, we also see that the “evil forces” of HUAC and the anti-communist witch-hunters of the private sector have been defeated and freedom of speech and the sanctity of individual rights have triumphed.
Mullahs and political leaders of the Islamic world call for Death to Jews any way that perpetrators can facilitate - by gun, knife, car or can opener. We have seen the affirmative reaction to these calls with the treacherous stabbings and mowing down of innocent Israeli civilians as well as Jews throughout Europe and right here in New York. Iran burns the Israeli flag and vows the destruction of the state. Jewish students are besieged by anti-Semitic demonstrations at universities and colleges across America and Canada. Earlier this week, Moshe Halbertal, a renowned Israeli professor who teaches at NYU Law School and is credited with having developed the ethics code for the IDF, was prevented from delivering a lecture to the U. of Minnesota Law School. This protest that lasted more than a half hour, was organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that is increasingly active on campus and feeds into the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement as well. As recently reported, most faculty members at our elite universities are politically liberal and provocatively anti-Israel. These are some of the issues facing young Jewish students and adults.
Dedicated to the cause of destroying the boundaries that nature has created, the NYT finally jumped the shark in its lead j’accuse editorial of Nov 5th (In Houston, Hate Trumped Fairness,NYT) Those of who still believe that men and women belong in separate but equal public bathrooms are guilty now of the future suicide of a transgender teenager who won’t be able to pee in the designated toilet of the opposite sex. Think about the excrutiating mental anguish for such a person. I can relate to it, along with most other women who wait in long lines outside the ladies’ room in a theater looking longingly at the men’s room as it remains respectfully under-used.
An adolescent high-school student with all the biological parts of a male and none of the biological parts of a female declares himself to be a girl, is called by his female name at school, is allowed to play on the girls’ athletic team and to change inside the girls’ locker room with the small proviso that this be done behind a curtain. This apparently is not sufficiently sensitive to the boy/girl’s needs - I can’t use a pronoun without knowing this person’s preference for that loaded word as pronouns are war zones at the moment. Despite the wholesale capitulation of the school to all the aforementioned demands of this student, the Office for Civil Rights of the Dept of Education has insisted that standing behind a curtain or showering separately is outright discrimination and a challenge to this student’s identity. Unless the Illinois school removes the curtain and allows total access to the girls’ facilities, it stands in danger of losing all of its Title IX funding.
Recently, an old friend was moved into a dementia unit on the upper west side. It appeared to be as cheerful, well-run and upbeat as one could hope, with art-filled corridors and photos of patients’ families outside their rooms. Within a few weeks of his move, families were suddenly informed that the unit was closing and patients requiring this special security and care would have to be evicted. Although the facility encompassed only 28 beds, the panic and distress this notice caused made me curious about the availability of residential dementia units in NYC and I was shocked by what I discovered.
The biggest problem with our believing in “Truth” is a fatal error in casting. Though Robert Redford is not much older than Dan Rather in 2004, the formerly handsome Redford has aged badly and bears no resemblance to the network anchor whom we scrutinized at close range in our homes for so many years. To make matters worse, Dennis Quaid who plays a military consultant to CBS, does look a lot like Rather and would have been perfect casting for the lead role. As we look at Redford with his sandy blondish hairpiece and fair, sun-damaged skin, we wonder why he’s usurping Dennis Quaid’s proper place as the dark-haired, square-headed Rather who remained telegenic as a man in his 70’s.
For those whose anxiety quotient hasn’t been filled by fears of snail dart extinction and global warming, there is now another impending disaster that hits us in our kitchens where we are most vulnerable. According to conservationist Jonathan Slaght, “the pine nut industry may be contributing to the crash of an ecosystem.” (Pesto? Hold the Pine Nuts,NYT 10/19) Apparently, most of our imported pignoli come from the Korean pine tree found in a rain forest in Russia’s far east where several species such as chipmunks, black bears and red deer depend on these tiny nuts for sustenance during winter. Memo to self: aren’t bears traditionally animals who learned to outsmart winter’s low food supply by clever hibernation?
You have only to google the words ballet and anorexia to see how prevalent and unfortunate their connection is. Without going into the various theories relating to a complicated disorder, it’s enough to know that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and though there have been some advances in treatment, there are still many unsolved questions and too many sufferers and victims. So it’s particularly perplexing that the New York City Ballet company has chosen to use the graphic designs of Jamie Lee Reardin on their playbills, brochures, ads and posters. These are attenuated line drawings of dancers in various poses - most of the bodies needle-thin. Though they are clearly abstract renderings, the elevation of these stick figures to the role of representing the company sends a dubious message that this unnatural and severe elongation is a thing of beauty.
In “The ‘Steve Jobs’ Con” (NYT 8/13), Joe Nocera does an excellent job of revealing the discrepancies between the Jobs whose career he followed closely and the mostly fictional character created for the movie. As an unwitting audience member who knew much less than Nocera, I too felt that the fast-talking, stubborn and abrasive character was a familiar stereotype found in other Sorkin films and tv shows and therefore, an un-inflected portrayal of this particular man.
I found it surprising that in all the media coverage concerning Chris Harper Mercer, even after showing a brief interview on camera with his British absentee father, there was almost no mention of his mother with whom he lived. It took several days before I found out online that Laurel Harper is a black woman who works as a nurse, who shared a one bedroom apartment with her son along with her interest in firearms and shooting ranges. After reading about her ongoing efforts to control her neighbors’ voice levels, her building’s insect infestation, the behavior of pets - all in the name of protecting her fragile son from external annoyances - I wondered what she was thinking as she tallied up the count of 14 weapons available to her “Asperger” son who had already proved unable to get along with people, with school or with the army.
When a woman accepts a job working for an orthodox Jewish congregation, she knows what values that synagogue espouses and stands for. Alana Schultz worked at Congregation Shearith Israel for 11 years - more than enough time to know full well that Orthodox Judaism frowns upon pregnancy before marriage. Nevertheless, she waited until she was 5 months pregnant and unwed before revealing her condition to her supervisor and several weeks later was fired despite having married in the interim. Typical of today’s default conception of women as victims, this woman has sued the congregation for discrimination, raising some interesting questions.
A teenage boy brings a ticking mechanical object with wires, screws and electrical components hanging from it to his high school. He shows it to his engineering teacher and explains that it’s a homemade alarm clock; that teacher calls it “nice” but advises the boy not to show it to other teachers. Ignoring this advice, the boy brings his invention to his English class where it beeps, is revealed to the English teacher who wisely notifies school authorities who immediately call police. So far, this sounds like exactly the type of reaction you would want from any school or public facility in a country that has already lost too many people to the unsuspected acts of terrorists, malicious students and mentally ill individuals. The clock is confiscated and the boy is suspended from school for 3 days.
A weekly column in the Sunday Times Magazine concerns questions of ethics which are addressed by three experts at least partially selected for the diversity they’re meant to represent. With first names like Kwame, Kenji and Amy, we can see immediately that this troika come from different races and ethnicities. In a rare example of e pluribus unum, all three moral mavens responded in unanimity to this week’s question which concerned the following dilemma.
Liberals applaud the new contract designed to protect women on campus from rapacious men by insisting on consenting signatures for every step of the mating dance. They applaud the trigger warnings that have been implemented in our educational institutions to warn the young and innocent that politically incorrect words may appear in some of our greatest works of literature and traumatize them. Yet when it comes to thrusting the young into the midst of topless hustlers in a part of town that abounds in stores and entertainment designed specifically to attract children, liberals are strangely blasé. In the SundayTimes lead editorial of Aug 22nd, the writer opines: “….being shirtless in the city is perfectly legal….the people who flock around the painted women in Times Square do not seem terribly offended. And those who are can walk away.” Columnist Michael Kimmelman labels the mayor’s statement that he finds this exhibitionistic hustle inappropriate for one of the busiest squares in NY as “prudish grandstanding.” And, in an interesting twist reversing the emphasis of who is being victimized, Ginia Bellafante informs us that the painted ladies of Times Square are part of an old NY tradition: “The people soliciting there with their clothes off…are mostly immigrants. Many speak little English….The women didn’t fear getting kicked out of Times Square necessarily: they feared getting deported.”
From the truncated shots of the actors in the opening scenes, we know we are in the hands of a director who believes that pretentious cinematography is a signifier of deep thought. We have been alerted that Israel, the mise en scene of this movie, is a fractured society comprised of many polarities: military culture vs poetry; Ashkenazi vs Sephardi (the Israeli version of racism); marriage vs divorce; innocence vs perversion - all of which will be played out during the course of the film.
Phoenix, the name of a cabaret in post-war Berlin, serves additional duty as a metaphor for the protagonist’s rebirth and for the beginning of Germany’s national resurgence. Nina Hoss plays Nelly, a Jewish concentration camp survivor whose face was shot and shattered and whose post-war plastic surgery has rendered her difficult to recognize. This is a plot point that pivots the movie’s action and character revelations and unfortunately, it’s too unbelievable to sustain the set-up. Nelly reconnects with her husband who, believing her dead, doesn’t recognize her, even though her face shows all the surgical bruises and scars that suggest exactly what has happened to her. He hatches a scheme to dress and style her as if she were the “real” Nelly so that the two of them can claim the money owed her by the German government. During this crash coaching, it becomes clear that this woman has not only uncannily mastered Nelly’s handwriting but miraculously, fits into Nelly’s shoes. This last Cinderella factor is too over the top for us to continue suspending credulity in the husband’s failure to see the obvious. Imagine the prince, upon seeing Cinderella’s foot glide effortlessly into the glass slipper, simply scratching his head and saying “that’s strange.” It takes the most obvious symbol of the camps for the husband to have his “aha” moment which comes at the movie’s end.
when Michael Bloomberg tried to limit the size of soda to 16 oz cups in an effort to combat the national epidemic of obesity, he was reviled for his arrogant attempt to micro-manage people’s personal decisions regarding their appetites and health. Now the NY State Education Department has released new guidelines about how schools should treat transgender students. Among other questionable tactics is one that seems pregnant with the possibility of lawsuits over parental rights. Schools are advised to maintain student privacy about their gender identity at school - even to the point of withholding that information from parents if deemed necessary. So a school that needs parental consent on file in order to give Johnny an aspirin may decide not to tell his legal guardians who are totally responsible for his health and welfare that Johnny is registered as Janey, uses the girl’s bathroom and refers to himself as she.
We’ve seen the demolition of free speech on college campuses where concern for student sensitivity is so great that in addition to speech codes, we now have trigger warnings to give students time to prepare for the trauma of the words that are about to appear in their readings. (Think nigger in Huckleberry Finn) We’ve seen free speech die the death of politically correct sanctimony as one public figure after another has been forced to apologize for uttering a remark hurtful to some group under the liberal protectorate. Now, with Donald Trump’s offensive comments about Mexican illegals and John McCain, we are seeing the voluntary, pre-emptive surrender of large companies and corporations such as Macy’s and various network and cable channels to media-generated pressure. What connection could Macy’s possibly have with Trump’s remarks? Does it even sell the hair-product that keeps his comb-forward from toppling into his eyes? Hispanics who are offended by Trump would logically not vote for him were he to ever get the nomination, but would they favor Macy’s over Walmart because of Macy’s boycott of him? Surely most people shop where the prices and service are best, not where the corporation makes vain, unnecessary gestures of disapproval towards political wannabes.
If you’ve been reading the NY Times for the past month, you’d be forgiven for believing that transgender people have been living in North Korea instead of in America. There has been little or no mention of the numerous transgender people who are doctors, teachers or professors living solid upper middle-class lives with little distinction from the lives they lived prior to their sex change. The poster girl the Times picked for their nearly full-page editorial - “The Struggle of Transgender Workers,” (july 9th) is a masculine Puerto Rican man dressed as a woman in what looks like a Halloween fright wig and a dreadful dress. The Times mentions that Elaine Mendus, as she calls herself, studied at Indiana University in Pennsylvania but not that she has a degree, so the fact that she has difficulty in finding a job is understandable on many levels. If a hetero man without a college degree chose to wear a tee shirt and jeans when he went for job interviews, we wouldn’t classify his failure to get hired as discrimination. Similarly, a man who has not begun any medical transitioning, dressed as weird-looking woman might not be hired even by a transgender employer who took pride in her own appearance and that of her employees. An employment coach gave Ms. Mendus good advice to go on interviews as a man using the name that corresponded with her other papers; somehow this is reported as if it showed a lack of insight instead of a constructive attempt to be helpful.
Not since Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, “In the Night Kitchen,” where Mickey gets thrown into the baker’s batter has baking assumed center stage as a plot device - until now, when extreme reactions have pitted small family owned businesses against the wrath of the LGBT lobby and some unfortunate interpretations of anti-discrimination law. In Oregon, a couple who own a small bakery were fined a hefty sum for declining to go against their religious beliefs by baking a cake for a gay wedding. For a moment, let’s put aside the question of their religion and pose some opposite scenarios: a gay couple declines to bake a birthday cake for a Catholic priest who has been outspoken against gay marriage; a black caterer refuses to do a party for the KKK; a Jewish holocaust survivor won’t print the invitations for a reunion of Nazis in America. Would these positions rankle State Divisions of Human Rights? Would these small businessmen be fined or forced to undergo “anti-discrimination” training for themselves and their employees? Wouldn’t public reaction more likely be to find another merchant who doesn’t have strong feelings about who pays him for his service instead of forcing every American to do work that is anathema to her conscience?
“Testament of Youth,” the movie based on the memoir by Vera Britain who served as a volunteer nurse during World War I, might have been made in the ’50’s - so dated are its characters, its setting, its cinematography and its music which never fails to swell. In glorious Technicolor, there are more close-ups of the lovely Alicia Vikander than a family album - most with that same determined look that signals she is a person to be reckoned with. The dialogue is replete with such trenchant and insightful lines as ‘I want to write,” and “You must write!” uttered to our heroine after reading one of her youthful poems. The personal conflict consists of whether this feisty young Edwardian woman will get to go to Oxford and whether she will allow herself to fall in love after proclaiming that she has no wish to marry - ever. You will guess the answers to both without bothering to buy a ticket but in fairness, the movie draws us into the beautiful English countryside, the comfortable world of the affluent and the extremely photogenic actors with their perfectly clipped British accents. It then zeroes in on the newspaper headline of the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination and we know where we are headed.
On Friday, May 22, the front page of the Times had the story of yet another promising young black man killed in a gang shootout in N.J. and an article on the head of the Boy Scouts calling for an end to their ban on gay leadership. On page 14, after pages of articles on shifting views about reporting sex abuse in Britain, extended talks between the US and Cuba, dogs splitting from wolves earlier than previously thought - finally, came the story of a young family and their housekeeper tortured, slaughtered and set afire in their home in Washington, D.C. The headline said “Arrest is Reported in Washington Killings,” and the article reported that the case was cracked by finding the killer’s DNA on a slice of pizza he had ordered while the massacre was underway.
Competing with the WSJ’s coup in first publicizing the Asian Tiger Mom, the Times has captured Wednesday Martin, an anthropologist whose subject has been the super-rich slender mothers of the upper east side. She has also covered the same demographic in London but for the interest of their local readers, the Times has focused on the “Poor Little Rich Women” of the upper east side who have been coined by Ms. Martin with the cliche’d acronym Glam SAHMS - glamorous stay at home moms. (SundayReviewNYT5/17) From the pictures on her website, we see that Wednesday has obviously learned a thing or two from her life among the savages - the best place to get her hair colored, where to buy de rigeur high heels and brightly colored sleeveless dresses and how to get a professional make-up job before embarking on a public relations campaign. Despite her insistence that she was up front with her subjects about writing a book, she clearly felt the need to look just like the women she was preparing to eviscerate.
Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun who has made her career campaigning against capital punishment and ministering to those on death row, spent five visits with Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev and testified that he had “sympathy for his victims.” Despite evidence to the contrary revealed during the trial at which the killer sat impassively, registering no emotion at the anguish of victims and their families, Sister Helen sensed pain in Tsarnaev’s voice and could feel his sincerity when he said that “no one deserves to suffer like they did.” The question, as Hillary Clinton famously said, is what difference does it make?
Back when Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to cut off municipal funds to the Brooklyn Museum for an exhibition that included, among other controversial works, a collage of the Virgin Mary made by Chris Ofili from pornographic magazine images and shellacked clumps of elephant dung, the NYTimes ran several columns defending the freedom of art to offend. This is from Michael Kimmelman’s Critic’s Notebook: Cutting Through Cynicism in Art Furor (NYT9/24//99): “In the end, there can be no underestimating the genuine pain that works like those in “Sensations” can cause people, most particularly Christians who may find the art world’s refined justifications for Mr. Ofili and his colleagues inadequate, if not callous. Roman-Catholics, Italian-Americans and white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among others, sometimes argue that they are treated by artists as acceptable targets while certain other groups are taboo. And it is a fair question: would the defenders of art react the same if the offending image were of Rosa Parks rather than the Virgin Mary? But no race or issue is actually untouchable in the arts.”
Baltimore is a city with a black mayor and black police chief making one pause at the notion of municipally ordained police brutality against black men. Perhaps because of this, racial activists, politicians (our president included) and the liberal media have quickly shifted the issue of criminal behavior - looting, arson, violent attacks against police - to what is characterized as its underlying cause - poverty and unemployment in their city. Although both are serious problems in Baltimore, it’s time to question whether violent rioting and criminality are inevitable consequences of economic deprivation.
In David Brooks’ hortatory sermon on what parental love should be, he preaches that “it is supposed to be oblivious to achievement. It’s meant to be an unconditional support - a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of the meritocracy, the closest humans come to grace.” (Love and Merit, NYT 4//24/15) In his essay, he refers to current trends in child-rearing involving greater praise and greater honing, compared with an earlier generation that stressed greater obedience. He might have stretched his imagination further and realized that as far back as recorded history, there have been different modes of parenting and few (if any) considered unconditional love a necessity or even a factor. Open favoritism figures prominently in the Bible from Abraham’s preference for Isaac over Ishmael to Isaac’s preference for Esau over Jacob to Jacob’s love for Joseph over all his brothers. Cultural outlooks produce very different modes of parenting as well; the tiger mother considers it a sign of the greatest love to push her child to excellence so that child’s life will offer more rewards that come with personal achievement.
James Comey, former US Attorney and current head of the FBI, gave a speech at the Holocaust Museum in Washington last week commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day. He stated: “In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, Poland and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.” (NYTimes, 4/21/15) Immediately, the Polish president took umbrage at this, reminding us that Poland was a victim, not an aggressor during the war and that Mr. Comey’s comments were the result of “ignorance, lack of historical knowledge and possibly large personal aversion” towards Poles. Rick Lyman, the Times reporter offered the following clarification: “And while there were certainly episodes in which Poles were responsible for the deaths of Jews, there was no widespread complicity with the Nazi policy of extermination.” Let’s be grateful for small favors.
It’s become habitual for movies to pair ordinary (Ben Stiller) or geeky (Adam Driver) comedic men with unusually beautiful women like Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfriend. Of course we would accept this if these men were playing the movie stars they actually are but that type of unbalanced casting starts us off being incredulous when the males are playing losers (Ben Stiller) or wannabes (Adam Driver). The latter is more than a foot taller than Stiller yet there’s a scene where Ben dons Adam’s jacket and roller-blades - both of which fit perfectly. It’s a minor moment but another peg for the incredulity board which is disconcerting in a movie that purports to poke fun in the mores of contemporary urban twenty and forty-somethings. If the object of the poke isn’t recognizably authentic, there’s no stuffing in the satire.
For the past few days, the Times has been particularly consumed with the issue of income disparity and extreme inequality. First came Paul Krugman who found the presence of this disparity in Israel to be the worst in the advanced world with portentous consequences in store. On Wednesday, the lead editorial with the noxious headline “An Israeli Election Turns Ugly,” bemoaned the fact that “although the economy has grown, the country (Israel) itself has experienced widening income disparities and is now one of the most unequal societies in the advanced world.” (NYT 3/18) So it is with a proper degree of head-scratching that I call your attention to today’s review in the Food Section of Eleven Madison Park, a four-star restaurant which offers a tasting menu for $225/per each one-percenter.
Perhaps it was because Jodi Rudoren had the day off on Monday that Paul Krugman took up her usual cudgel and declared that “Israel does less to lift people out of poverty than any other advanced country - yes, even less than the U.S.” (Israel’s Gilded Cage, NYT, 3/16).
A better title for this latest film from David Cronenberg would be “Shooting Fish in a Barrel,” as there is not one target of this tired satire of Hollywood that hasn’t been done to death too many times over. Every single character - the obnoxious addicted teen star, the middle-aged actress desperate to retain her valued perch, the fraudulent therapeutic huckster to the damaged over-privileged, the stage mother submerged in guilt and fear of losing the family’s cash cow, the schizoid arsonist who is the spawn of incest - is an over-the-top cliché that cries out for condemnation Of the writer and director, that is, not the characters themselves as they are simply exaggerations of cartoons that were stale forty years ago. Not one among them elicits any emotional reaction from us save disdainful incredulity.