Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"Why Should We Talk To Them?"

I had this line once:

“Conservatives hate everyone but themselves.  Liberals love everyone… but conservatives.”

That’s right.  (If there is any truth to that Italicism.)  The “All you need is love” people have a “line.”  And that line bisects the American populace.

Which, as Ed Grimley might aver, “… is sad, I must say.”

Okay, not to pile on.  But, you know how when your own kids act up in a restaurant it feels different that when other people’s kids misbehave.  You are less likely to loudly proclaim, “Children for sale”?  That’s how I feel when my side is not at its optimum.  The other side?  As my late Mom used to say, “Let their mothers worry.”

Moving on…

Yesterday, I offered a reasonable rationalization for the electors of the current president not wanting to engage with their ideological adversaries.  The summarized version:

Their haughty opponents have been insulting them for more than two hundred and forty years.

Their reflected-in-the-voting reaction:

“Enough is enough!”

Okay, now it’s our turn.  (Accepting my inclusion in “Our” because they would unquestionably label me “Them.”  Although, due to my proclivity for examining both positions, “Them” can be coolly unwelcoming to me.)

Question:  (Flipping yesterday’s question around):

Why would we want to talk to them?

(And it took just 249 words to get there.)

Okay.  Trying not to stereotype, but given my ingrained “home team” perspective, I probably will, despite a lifelong dedication to absolute fairness.  Do you see how tricky this is?  Still, I am eagerly up for the challenge.  Look at me – the venerable fire horse, ready to go!

Some supporters of the elected president – an uncertain number, but indisputably greater than those supporting his opponent – are haters.

Why would I want to talk a hater, more specifically a Jew hater?  What would I say to him, in an effort to meet the guy half way?

“I hear you revere the man who tried to annihilate my people.  Wow.  That’s really interesting.”

Ecumenical.  But an insult to history. 

Then there are the elected president’s supporters who, although moral and decent in their personal lives and the rules of appropriate behaviors they instill in their children, dismissed the candidate’s rampant vulgarity and serial falsehoods as “He’s just saying what other people are afraid to say.”  My reflexive reaction:

“How could you do that?”
Honestly?  That gambit is unlikely to get the ball rolling.  Instead, they might easily take offense.

Then there are the elected president’s supporters who, as commentator Neal Gabler once insightfully observed, have erroneously transferred the template of  “unshakable faith” to the political arena where it does not naturally belong, the political arena having been created for open debate and hammering out differences. 

“Transferred erroneously to where it doesn’t naturally belong”?  That conversation is over.  Or, if it continues, will inevitably finish where it began.

Finally – and, being the Just Thinking guy, this one may be the toughest for me – how do I talk to – or, more candidly, why would I want to talk to – a person who perceives logical reasoning and factual evidence not as legitimate avenues for possible persuasion but rather as an exercise in irrelevance, laced with elitist condescension?  How do I respond to:

“I’m not saying you’re wrong, ‘Mr. Smart Pants.’  I just don’t give a hoot.”

So there’s that.  Reasons I don’t want to talk to them.  And why the heck should I?  (Aside from “We have to.”)

Tolerance – out!  Consistency – out!  Flexibility – out!  Factual Evidence – out!

They blew up the bridges.  How do I possibly get across?

Well, sir and madam, that’s where the pessimist concludes the conversation.

The optimist’s rebuttal?

Lay it on me.

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Why Should They Talk To Us?"

I could have written this at any time since the election.  But I was apparently not up to it until now.  Please forgive the untimely belatedness.  And please consider, with a generous mind, especially those who are inclined to think differently, “Is this guy maybe on to something, or what?” 

Imprecation after the recent election:  

“We have to talk to each other.”

There is the concept, derived from lifetime experience and augmented by movies and TV shows particularly The West Wing which promoted the idea frequently of a high school phenomenon – and even younger, at snootily exclusive birthday parties – concerning the infamous – or terrific if you are on the victorious side of it – “Cool Kids Table.”

It is not surprising that this appellation is ubiquitously recognized in fiction.  Writers are rarely if ever seated at the “Cool Kids Table”, emerging writer “types” traditionally cast – often by choice although sometimes by exiling ostracism – as eavesdropping observers. 

Which makes sense.  If writers enthusiastically went with the flow – as the “Cool Kids” are required to do to insure their continued inclusion – they would have nothing to write about.  Except, “We teased the heck out of them until they cried.”  And who wants to read about that?  (Especially inveterate “Book Worms”, whom the non-reading “Cool Kids” would most certainty have tortured.)

There is a line from A Thousand Clowns in which a beleaguered social worker complains about a client, “I didn’t like them, so I tried to understand them.  And when I finally understood them, I hated them.”

Be the person invariably ostracized from the “Cool Kids Table.”  (One whose skin is not sufficiently thick enough nor their reading of human behavior appropriately honed enough to perceive the “Cool Kids Table” as posturing bullshit.)

How would you feel about those, kids perennially looking down their “superior” noses at you?  Even if you did understand them.  (When you were not heavily preoccupied, praying for a directed revisiting of a score-settling “Ten Plagues.”)

Okay.  So.  An arguable campaign “cousin” to the deplorable “Cool Kids Table” (and its predictable consequences):

You have political pollsters.  And those pollsters have determined that two distinguishing attributed of those who supported the elected president – and I got a stomachache typing those words – were largely “not college-educated” disproportionately “non-urban.”   

Two determined, elucidating categories derived by professional pollsters who are themselves one can imagine as it feels intuitively accurate…

… college-educated urbanites.   

Who else would be a pollster? 

A “LESS LIKELY TO BE A POLLSTER” REPRESENTATIVE:  “Why would I want to do that?”

Not to say that pollsters would be naturally identified with or regular inhabitants of the “Cool Kids Table”, mathematical tabulators more imaginably cohabiting a discredited outlier table with the writers… along with the renegades, if they deigned to cohabit a table with anyone.  Far from it.

Considerably further from it, however, is the pollsters’ demonstrable dissimilarity to the supporters of the eventual electoral (college) prevailer.  (And there’s that stomachache again.)

Here’s the thing, though.

We hear frequently about “dog whistles”, a clarion concern decrying the coded message of racism.  Consider for a moment the “dog whistle” implications in the labeling of “rural inhabitants without college educations.”  Is it unreasonable for those corralled into those labels to hear an unspoken…  

“Ignorant Yahoos”?

Go back, I submit, to our earliest history.  This intellectual (and cultural) “fault line” has prevailed from “Day One” of the Republic.  (And probably earlier.)  They may have employed “dog whistle” vocabulary when they were talking about it, but at its core, the uncrossable delineator was from the beginning, “sophistication and book learning.”  

(I recall one proposal, arguing that the more educated American voters be allotted an additional vote, while the more dispersed, less uneducated (white, male) members of the electorate receive one.  Though that proposal did not go anywhere, (personal) anecdotal experience suggests that that distinguishing sentiment is still in the air.  (And in the grumpier recesses of my recently discombobulated brain.  Although I thankfully know better.)


As an imaginable unintended consequence, the categorizations ”less educated” and “non-urban” perceived by the pollsters as legitimate indicators as opposed to un-monitored categories such as… any distinction they neglected to consider conveyed to the millions inhabiting those categories a loud and unmistakable message:


Then, at least partially as a retributive “Fuck you” to the “Cool Kids Table”, they threw their allegiance to the elected president.  And when they did so they were vociferously “name-called.”

Why, logically or emotionally, would they agree to engage in a dialogue with those vociferous name-callers?

Tomorrow, in the name of accommodating both sides – which is one more than either side seems to prefer me to – I will tackle the question,

“Why should we want to talk to them?”

(Acknowledging by “we” that I admittedly occupy a position.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Blogging To The Choir )Which,Based On The Feedback I Generally Receive Will Most Likely Mean You)"

Recently, a demonstrably smart and accomplished artist dinner companion asked us if we were going to watch the upcoming Oscars presentation.  I responded by saying that, as I had seen very few of the major contenders, leaving me minimal “rooting interest” amongst the nominees – including the nominees I had seen – my enthusiasm for the “Annual Ritual” was inevitably muted.  

Our smart and accomplished dinner companion then proceeded to this.  (The precipitating “Starting Point” for this undertaking):

I haven’t seen a lot of the movies either.  But I am interested in the speeches.”

See, For A Deeper Understanding Of That Perspective:  Meryl Streep/slash/ – or “Hash Tag”, though I do not know what that means – memorably orating at the 2017 Golden Globes Awards.

As my late Mom would say, facing a new, eyebrow-raising experience:

That’s a new one.”

Specifically in this case, watching an awards show for the political outpourings.

There is a measurable reality to this burgeoning enthusiasm.  Ratings are up for political talk shows and for Saturday Night Live.  Newspapers are suddenly adding subscriptions.  (Or adding whatever you call it when you read it online instead of they throw it on the porch.)  For various reasons and from various perspectives:  “Will he make good on his extreme promises?”  (From the Right.  “He better.”)  And “Will he make good on his extreme promises?”  (From the Left.  Note To Myself: “Renew Canadian passport.”)

Me?  I go in the diametrically opposite direction. 

(Note:  I just sighed.  Not for being a contrarian; I am {relatively} comfortable with that arrangement.  But for the painfully polarized state of our union.)

Here’s the deal for me, straight out:  

I have no interest in political speeches on awards shows. 

When she heard me say that, our smart and accomplished dinner companion curiously inquired,

“You don’t think they will do any good?”    

(In a tone betraying her sincere, hopeful belief that they would.)

Ever the congenial host for the evening, I haughtily replied…

“Of course not!”

(Note:  Even I didn’t like how that came out.  I had no justification to sound arrogant.  Nobody does.)

The country is evenly divided.  (Give or take three million or so votes, which in this system don’t count because they are substantially clustered together.) 

(A Propos of “The Great Partisan Divide”:  Great cartoon in The New Yorker.  A TV Weather Man, standing before a map of the country says, “That was the Democratic weather.  Now for the Republican weather.”)

Why won’t the political speeches on awards shows do any good?  You know why.  But I shall nonetheless spell it out.  (As a “Purveyor of the Obvious.”  Throw in the word “Proud” before “Purveyor”.  If I am going to embarrass myself, why not embarrass myself “proudly”?)

Okay, off we go.

Of this year’s nominated “Best Picture” contenders, none of them are included in the “Top 10” of “Box Office Grosses for 2016.”  (The closest, La La Land, ranks 23rd in “Worldwide Box Office.”  Hidden Figures ranks 50thLion is 94th.  And I cannot find the other six nominees in the “Top 100.”) 

So who exactly will be watching the Oscars?  (They might tune in for the “Red Carpet” pre-show to check out the dresses but that’s it.)  Summarizing Hypothesis:  The people uninterested in those less than record-setting nominated movies are the people who comprise – primarily though not exclusively – the side the impassioned speechmakers are hoping – if you want to win the Electoral College again – to persuade.

Those people are not there.

Leaving then who watching the Oscars and therefore listening to the speeches?


I know.  There is the galvanizing “Pep Rally” consideration.  But holding a “Pep Rally” after the game?  If that worked they’d be doing it in colleges and they don’t.  Sooner or later, post facto “Pep Rallies” are questionable generators of “Pep.”  (Though they can still make you feel better about things.)

“Influence substantive changes at the ‘Executive Level’”, you say?

You think?

When he watches the Oscars – as he undoubtedly will because what else does the Leader of the Free World have to do? – every time an actor takes an unflattering  swipe, our President – knowing his unwavering M.O. – will predictably remind his gathering of “Intimates”:

“I won.”

Followed by “Tweeting”:

“It just proves they’re elitist.”

Followed by

“She’s a terrible actress.”

Followed by

“And she’s only a ‘Six.’  A ‘Four’, compared to my wives.  Who all love me, by the way.”

Summing up…

When I hear those incendiary firebrands – which sounds redundant and probably is – assaulting the elected President in their well-meaning onstage addresses, I shall sit there unmoved, aware of who they are talking to and who they are not , and I shall ruefully observe:

“They are just wasting their time.”

You have detected from two paragraphs above that I will still watch the Oscars.

I will… at least for a while.

But with no thought that whatever is said there will substantially change anything.

I’ll be watching for the jokes.  Hoping that somebody on the show remembers – quoting the title of comedian Sam Levinson’s memoirs – that

Laughter – absent derisive laughter – is the best medicine.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Denial (The Movie, Not My Psychological M.O.)"

I caught up with the 2016 Netflix-dispatched presentation of Denial last night, which I watched with step-son-in-law Tim.  Well, not exactly.  We began watching it together, but two-and-three-quarter year-old Jack demanded his Dad’s bedtime ministrations, leading to Tim’s frequent and extended departures.  More accurately, I watched Denial with Jack’s father alone.

Tim and I had wanted to see Denial in the theater, but, seemingly, while the ushers were sweeping up the popcorn, the movie abruptly came and went.  (I think it only possibly played for the ushers.)  I had seen a preview for Denial earlier so I knew it actually existed.  It just did not exist – at least theatrically – for long.

As a kid, I would measure my box office success-adjudging acumen against that of my grandfather’s brother, Uncle Manny, an erstwhile studio executive who steadfastly believed that the biggest movie hits invariably involved “F ‘n F” pictures, which stood for “fightin’ and… (decorously clearing his throat)… foolin’ around.”

With every movie I brought up, including my all-time favorite, The Court Jester, which I was certain was a blockbuster, Uncle Manny would take an extended drag from his ubiquitous plastic-tipped cigar, expel an enveloping cloud of smoke and sonorously pronounce,

“Never made a dime.”

Raising serious apprehensions about my coveted show biz aspirations.

My enthusiasm for Denial reinforces those apprehensions.   Cursory research reveals that the ten million dollar-budgeted Denial amassed just north of four million dollars in ticket sales.  (I should really revisit those coveted show biz aspirations.  Wait, it’s over?  Well then, never mind.)

What can I tell you?  Bucking moviegoer reaction – or in this case movie non-goer reaction – I raise a contrarial “Thumbs Up” for the sadly under-patronized Denial. 

Why wouldn’t I like it?  It’s a courtroom drama – a certified bull’s eye for confirmed Law & Order enthusiasts like myself.  It is intelligently written (by playwright and screenwriter Sir David Hare.)  It is tastefully executed, performed to understated perfection by English actors – the one exception being the lead (also English) actor Rachel Weisz whose performance is larger because she plays an American.

Plus, Denial is untroubled by violence.  Gratuitous or otherwise.

No wonder it failed at the box office. 

No fightin’.  No foolin’ around.
Based on historian Deborah Lipstadt’s book, “Holocaust on Trial:  My Day In Court with a Holocaust Denier”, Denial chronicles the month-long, London-situated trial of an American writer sued by a man who claims the Holocaust is a hoax for “Defamation of Character.”

Like the guy actually has any.  And that’s the last time I’ll take sides.  As if there are always two sides.  Which is the central concern of this movie.  (Not to mention our current predicament.)

Here’s what Denial has working against it, beyond being a courtroom drama with no demonstrable action.  (Although the lead character does occasionally go out for a run.)

Following British – but not American – judicial precepts in these matters, the defendant does not maintain the “presumption of innocence” but must instead prove that her accuser is guilty, placing the “Good Guy” on trial while the “Bad Guy” demands “justice.” 

Making Denial’s narrative disorientingly topsy-turvy.  (Topsy-Turvy being another movie I enjoy.)

Additionally, Deborah Lipstadt’s attorneys decide that, to maximize their chances of winning, neither she nor any Holocaust survivors will be called to testify during the trial.  Resulting, for the movie, in no emotional high points, no histrionical fireworks.  See: (by way of comparison) Judgment at Nuremberg.

What we get instead is an impassioned battle of arguments, strategic interplay and an outpouring of words.  At one point, the defense attorney indignantly raises his voice and speaks somewhat harshly to the plaintiff, but that’s about it.  His disparaging approach to his disreputable adversary is to not look him directly in the eye.

How far from “F ‘n F” pictures can you get?

Oh yeah, and the trial is argued in front of a judge, meaning no tension-heightening surveying of the jurors’ faces, wondering which way each is going to decide.  The trial’s determination is instead in the hands of one stoic adjudicator, described by defendant Lipstadt as being “a character out of Masterpiece Theater.”

Denial depicts a non-fiction occurrence so they were stuck with the actual events.  (Of course, not all movies care about that.  In My Darling Clementine, “Doc” Holliday’s gunned down at the OK Corral.  He wasn’t.  He, in fact, coughed up a lung outside of Denver.)

Smartly executed.  Consummately acted.  Sticking to the story despite its hyper-dramatical deficiencies.


Good for me.

Bad for its investors.