Sunday, August 20, 2017

Trumpism: Some benefits

Like many people disgusted by the events of the past ten days, when Trump shocked the world by failing to exert basic moral leadership following the neo-Nazi march in Virginia, I have been turning away from the news for relief.

Too much news, like too much reality, can be overwhelming.  Yet the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, long known for sarcastic put-downs, has shown in her column today why the era of Donald Trump may have ushered in a new golden age of journalism.

Dowd descended from the pedestal she has carefully constructed over the years out of wit and gossip and scorn and produced a piece of wisdom: she sees good coming out of evil (and the Trump administration, with its disregard for the common good in health, the environment, civil rights, etc., has been vicious and vile).  I quote her column:

"There will be a lot of pain while this president is in office and the clock will turn back on many things. But we will come out stronger, once this last shriek of white supremacy and grievance and fear of the future is out of the system. Every day, President Trump teaches us what values we cherish--and they're the opposite of his."

If Dowd is right, as I would hope she is, we are beginning to have a much-needed discussion of racism and diversity in America, just as we are already seeing a rise in a resistance movement to the worst instincts of the Trump administration.  We are seeing politicians and others on both sides distance themselves from his bigotry, lies, and ignorance.

The issue goes beyond race but involves the lesson of the civil rights movement: that non-violence in the long run is more effective than violent protests. It attracts more people and will force the extreme alt-right white nationalists (for whom Trump is an icon) into the shadows.

This will take time; it will require patience, courage, and the wisdom Maureen Dowd shows in taking the long view of the current madness.

It is encouraging to realize that something good will eventually come out of the current disaster.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Escaping into Films

My wife and I tend to watch a lot of movies--too many, in fact. Perhaps we are tired at the end of the day or, lately, so weary of the horror that is the Trump presidency that we eagerly escape into the alternate reality of film since TV offers so little. Or blame Netflix, which makes it all possible.

So instead of venting my feelings about the latest racist outrage in Virginia, and the response, I savor memories of three striking films we saw this week, none of them mainstream Hollywood offerings.

The most memorable is a 2009 Italian movie with a perplexing title: THE MAN WHO WILL COME, directed and written by Giorgio Diritti. If I had known that his story was based on the massacre of 770 innocent villagers in central Italy in 1944 (the Marzabotto Massacre), I probably would not have ordered it, but the violence is offset and beautifully counterbalanced by the way the film unfolds: quietly, through the eyes of a beautiful little girl who seems fearless as she watches Nazis kill her family members and neighbors. She retains a hope that the baby brother being born will save her from the trauma of having lost an earlier brother, which caused her to become mute.  As a result, the film has a silence enhanced by a lack of soundtrack and by a remarkably understated style as one scene of village life unfolds after another.  The sense we are given is that life is a balance of good and evil, of violence and compassion; above all, of redemptive love, which keeps little Martina going and turns her into a little mother-figure caring for her infant brother. The style of the director, who gives us impressions of life in war-torn Italy, somehow minimizes the impact of the war and death and makes the dialogue almost unnecessary. 

THE PROMISE is a 2016 film of artistry and power about the Armenian genocide a hundred years ago, but the main focus is on the love triangle between an Armenian doctor, his lover, and the American reporter who also loves her. The cast in this long movie is strong, the impact unforgettable, as, once again, the theme of love and war is treated with artistry and originality.

Finally, another tale of wartime Europe but with an upbeat ending.  THE EXCEPTION concerns the exile of the aged German Kaiser (Christopher Plummer) in Holland in 1940, which is given a fanciful treatment and becomes secondary to the love story between a Jewish spy and the SS captain she loves and whom we come to like as a human being.

As someone said, the past is always a work in progress. And art of this type can give us an intelligent escape from present reality.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Names without limits

As new parents become more and more creative with naming their infants, some relying on familiar names while others inventing ones they like and still others borrowing famous ones, I wonder, should there be some guidelines on what is acceptable? If so, how do we reconcile freedom of choice with the specter of Big Brother?

What is to prevent a parent from naming his son Adolf Hitler Jones or Lee Harvey Oswald Smith?  Is it fair to the child to be saddled with such a name?  Or wacky names like Spaghetti, States Rights, and Kyrie (seen recently in the media)?

The French, always careful to preserve their heritage in language and culture, have long legislated such things, to the horror of many Americans. Apparently, the practice goes back to the French Revolution, when children where given political names (Rights of Man, etc.), leading Napoleon in 1803 to declare that French babies could only be named after the saints; this was later amended to included classical and historical names (Hercule, Diana, etc.). This remained in effect until 1966, when the laws were relaxed a bit.

But, as Lauren Collins reports in the current New Yorker, a government registrar in France today is required to accept any name (mon Dieu!) EXCEPT one that might not been in the child's best interest, in which case the naming is referring to a magistrate from the Department of Justice.   Recent rulings include such statements:  Fanciful, ridiculous names are likely to create difficulties and embarrassments for the child. So the government has suppressed such names as Happy, Nutella, and Prince-William, which must be replaced by names like Roger or Raymond.

Many here, in the land of individualism, where the "nanny state" is loathed, are likely to storm the equivalent of the Bastille and file suit, demanding their rights to use whatever name they conjure up from films, books, or their own imaginations for any new baby.

I do pity the child sometimes, who must, at age 21 or so, go through the legal process of changing Reality Game Johnson or Barefoot Soles to something more mainstream. But, if everyone had a Tom, Dick, or Jane kind of name, how bland the world would be.  So I'm all for freedom while still  admiring the standards maintained by the French, even if they seem like a relic of another age.