Saturday, July 19, 2014

We're Number One!

The World Cup has come...and gone.  And the weeks of enjoyable watching (some of us over-dosing) have also come and gone.  And the winner is ... Germany.  They're Number One.

In our travels, there have been times when we were in some European town or another when the home team won a football match (that's soccer to those in the USA) and at the close of the game, which the whole town seemed to have watched on television, the jubilant fans poured into the streets, jumped in cars and drove around, honking and yelling.  No doubt, that same kind of celebration happened in Germany after they won the 2014 World Cup.

The USA acquitted itself rather well--better than some people thought they might.  The success of the US team helped garner new football/soccer fans for this sport that is the most popular in the world.*

I am one fan who was somewhat relieved when the US didn't advance any more than they did.  Why, you might ask?  Mostly because I find US fans insufferable when it comes to chanting "We're Number One."  Or, if you will , the variation of that which is USA USA USA USA ad nauseum.

I don't even know what it means anymore when someone chants (seemingly endlessly) USA.  Does it mean we're Number One?  In what? Does it mean we're the best?  At what?

The sad thing is that we have become a reductive nation where mindless chanting seems to have taken the place of really trying to be the best at something.  It is quite startling to me that people who would chant USA USA are also the people who seem to say--stay away stay away.

We find ourselves in the middle of an immigration crisis.  True, that statement could have been made many times during the history of our country--and even the history of before it was "our" country.  No doubt, native Americans in what is now Massachusetts, or in Virginia, could rightfully have said--we have an immigration problem.

The nightly news has been displaying agonizing scenes of children--from little ones around four years old up to teens--all without parents, the same desperate parents who sent these children on a perilous journey rather than risk having them be killed by gangs.  Frankly, these are heart-breaking scenes.  And once the children cross into the US (we're number one country) they are met with angry citizens (I always wonder how long ago these people emigrated) who try to turn them away.

Now, before I go further--I have to confess that this incredibly complex and awful situation is one which I think demands a solution.  And I don't think the solution is simply to say--oh, let endless streams of parentless children come to the US.  That is a sociological nightmare in the making.  So I am not HAPPY that the floodgates have opened.  But it is plain heartless to beat on the buses bearing these children and to scream at them in red-faced anger and naked hatred.

We might even take a step back and ask ourselves--how have we contributed to the problem.  What is the problem?  Many parents say they so fear for their children's lives in the home country, where gang violence is rampant and small children are recruited into various aspects of the ever-burgeoning (illegal) drug economy.  To whom do the drug lords sell their products?  Where do the drugs go?  To the USA.  So, we own this problem, whether we like it or not.

I wish I had as ready a solution as I have a description of the problem.  I don't.  I do know that the problem was not caused by our current President.  In fact, the reason the children crossing the border are not immediately deported is because of a law that George W. Bush signed while he was president. The intent of that law was to prevent people trafficking in children from bringing children across the border for illegal use.  Talk about unintended consequences.

Maybe we should be more welcoming of these children from Central and South America.  Who knows--maybe one of them will become a star football (soccer) player in 10 years or so, and may even play for the USA team in a future World Cup.
1. Soccer
2. Cricket
3. Basketball
4. Hockey
5. Tennis
6. Volleyball
7. Table tennis
8. Baseball
9. (Tie) American football/  Rugby
10. Golf

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why the Silence?

So, why the silence?

I realize it has been a month since I wrote a blog.  Please understand, this is not for lack of thinking.  I am thinking about many blog worthy topics.  I even have a draft of one blog saved that I return to from time to time, trying to figure out how to express my thoughts on one of those conundrum topics that dogs our society.

I also have the occasional fleeting thought in the morning--and muse: that would make a good blog.  But by evening, the thought has flown, and--try as I might--I can't summon it back into my brain.  So, the topic goes unaddressed, the thought unexpressed.

So, today, an event happened--and it was obvious that silence was not the appropriate response. So, what happened?  A shooting in a school. A student killed by gunshot from a fellow student.  A teacher threatened and chased by the gun wielder.  A school in lock-down.  Frantic parents gathered just hoping to catch a glimpse of their child.

So, you say? Well, your lack of interest is understandable, if you think of how many SCHOOL shootings there have been, since Adam Lanza bashed his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot and killed 20 students and 6 adults.  That was in December, 2012--LESS THAN TWO YEARS AGO.

Since then, there have been 74 shootings in school--in less than two year.  A map here shows the locations of these incidents.

Less than a month ago, when the troubled young man Elliott Rodger went on his stabbing and shooting rampage, Richard Martinez, the anguished father of one of the victims, asked "When will this insanity stop?"

Well, if you were making policy for the NRA, you would do everything in your power to make sure it never stops.  In fact, what you would do is move beyond blocking any reasonable gun control measure and begin to advocate for open carry laws in as many states as possible.  After all, as Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, said--the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

So to make sure that good guy with a gun has a gun at all times, make sure that open carry laws are passed everywhere.  There is, of course, a HUGE problem with this reasoning.

Jon Stewart illustrated the problem so brilliantly. He points out that this "perpetual violence" cycle is in fact an excellent "business plan for arms dealers."

Stewart's observations were downright prescient given the story from this past Sunday (June 8) when Jerad and Amanda Miller walked into a local restaurant in Las Vegas, walked past two policemen eating lunch, then turned around and shot the policemen, killing both.  They then took the police service weapons and left to continuing shooting and killing a block away.  Well, two bad guys with guns shot and killed two good guys with guns.  So much for the "only thing that stops a bad guy."  Sounds like an absolute illustration of a cycle of "perpetual violence."

So, why the silence?

Why are so many of us intimidated by the advocates of ever-expanding gun rights? Why does an organization with a membership of about 3 million (despite Wayne LaPierre's claim of 4.5 million) hold such sway over a nation of over 300 million?

Why has a Constitutional amendment that has an introductory phrase, that most grammarians would suggest applies to the interpretation of the remainder of the statement, become bastardized and transmogrified into an assertion of absolute right to own guns that MUST NOT IN ANY WAY BE MODERATED?  Every other one of the original Bill of Rights has been debated, moderated and interpreted.

How did freedom to own guns become more sacrosanct than freedom of religion? freedom of speech? freedom peaceably to assemble? freedom from unreasonable search and seizure? freedom from cruel and unusual punishment?

So many people over the decades have raised their voices in protest against the unrestrained right to own guns.  James and Sarah Brady.  Gabrielle Gifford and Mark Kelly.  Parents of students at Columbine High School.  Carolyn McCarthy.  The friends and family of Virginia Tech shootings. The entire community of Newtown (Sandy Hook Elementary School). Richard Martinez. They have raised their voices in anguish, in sorrow, in pleading. They ask why?  They urge us to do something. They want us to vow "never again."

I realize I haven't named all the places where mass shootings have occurred over the decades or all the people whose lives have been inexorably changed forever.

So, why our silence?

The people who craft and pass the laws that govern gun control are hearing someone's voice.  If the only voice they hear comes from the NRA, we know what the response will be.  So, why our silence?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Mother's Heart

While I don't really aim to write a blog each Mother's Day, it is of course a day that sets most of us to thinking.  A number of years ago I read the book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down on It (great title, no?) by Robert Fulghum.  He had been a minister for a number of years and wrote that "the second Sunday of May was trouble."  He went on to say that people always expected him to preach on the subject of mothers, but try as he might he could never get the subject JUST RIGHT.

He said: "Around that second Sunday in May are focused other powerful forces--concentrated in memory and forever stored in hearts and minds and psyches."  He acknowledged that for many people, the memory of mother is a wonderful thing, but for some, it is not.  He noted that he posed some questions on such a Sunday: for example--how many of you don't really like, or even hate, your mother? how many of you find Mother's Day painful? Well, he noted the church sat in stunned silence.

So, there's the rub of it.  Mother's Day isn't always a wellspring of joyful memories.  And for some people it might be actually painful.  I have written before about the pain I and my siblings experienced when our mother died on Mother's Day.  Forever after, for us, the day is both celebration and remembrance. 

What I want to celebrate this Mother's Day is all the people who have a mother's heart.  You need not be a mother to have a mother's heart.  In fact, I am not convinced you even need to be a woman to have a mother's heart--though perhaps if you are a man, I should call it a father's heart.  Or maybe a parent's heart.

That's what I want to celebrate--the need and the will to nurture someone, or some thing.  Recently, I told you the story of Malik.  That was a very brief encounter, and we have not seen him since that day.  But, I believe my first reaction to him was born of a mother's heart.  My husband's reaction--to get him a jacket and to drive him where he needed to go--was born of a father's heart.

As I sat in church today, I listened to a boy in our congregation lead the call to worship.  I only know him passingly, but on Palm Sunday, I had a mother's heart moment with him. 

The children had paraded with palms in an opening processional--he was one of them.  The usual adults that he would sit with were otherwise engaged, and not able to be in church.  His older sister was there, but she was sitting in an already full row with her friends.  After the parade had passed by, he came to the row where his sister was, and she turned him away.  

He then went to the back of the church and stood there looking a bit lost.  I saw him--and motioned him to join my husband and me--we had room in our pew.  He did.  I could tell throughout the service he was not really comfortable, and was also shy.  But I was still glad I had motioned to him to join us.  My mother's heart would not let me do otherwise.  (Besides, I am an older sister, and know that status comes with obligations--his sister will learn that in time.)

Today, as this same boy lead the call to worship, I found my eyes filling with tears--just a bit.  He is not my child.  And I do not really know him.  But I claim some responsibility for seeing him safe in the world.

So, here's my thought for today.  Celebrate a mother's heart.  We can all be mothers--mothering that which needs mothering:  children, to be sure, our own children, other people's children.  We can mother friends, neighbors, strangers, pets...all manner of things need mothering.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Broken Branch

Herewith a brief photo essay. 

We have a lovely row of trees that flower in the spring. 

Just a few weeks ago, on my daily walk with the dog, I noticed one branch has severely broken--the right angle is the break. The buds were forming all over the tree, including on the broken branch.

Today, as I walked by the same tree, I noticed that the downed branch was in full bloom, as was the whole tree. 

So, I take heart in this sweet message from nature--a broken branch can still bloom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy birthday, Will in the World*

Once again, my favorite morning pick-me-up is the Writer's Almanac, wherein quotidian anniversaries are noted.

So, from today's entry, I am reminded that today is the accepted date of William Shakespeare's birthday.

Out of curiosity, I ran a quick search of previous blogs I have written (there are some 671, but who's counting?), there are 19 ... now 20 ...which deal with or mention William Shakespeare.  While there are certainly other subjects that I have written about as frequently, writing about Shakespeare ranks near the top of my preferred topics.  Not surprising, of course, for someone who was an English major (that would be me) nor for someone who was perhaps the greatest writer in the English language (that would be Shakespeare).

Here's a measure of his impact, as the Writer's Almanac reported it:

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and was a master of the language of various social classes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined 3,000 new words, and he has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. Shakespeare gave us such commonly used phrases as "a fool's paradise," "dead as a doornail," "Greek to me," "come what may," "eaten out of house and home," "forever and a day," "heart's content," "love is blind," "night owl," "wild goose chase," and "into thin air."

So, happy birthday, Will.  Thank you for adding infinitely to the richness of our understanding of human nature, for adding so much to the English language, for giving us phrases we use every day without ever thinking who penned them in the first place.

*For an excellent accounting of the making of Shakespeare, read Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Helping Malik

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking our dog around the block, I encountered a young man.  It was one of those miserable days in what has been a miserable winter.  True, we were inching toward spring, and had had a day or two with temperatures above freezing.  But this day which had promised to be a touch warmer turned out to be cold—with a wind that cut through my jacket.

As this young man approached, it was evident that he must be a student at the nearby high school walking home. We live near a large apartment complex, and frequently have students cutting through our neighborhood.

What caught my eye about this young man was that he had NO coat on.  He had his arms tucked down inside his pants, in an effort to keep warm.  I always make it a point to acknowledge the students I see walking through our neighborhood—so, I said to him “you look cold.

His answer surprised me a bit—“I’m lost.”  Thinking he might want directions, I asked where he was going.  “To ____ High School.”  Now, he was walking from our school district high school and the one he named was another school which is over three miles from where we were.  Such a walk could take him over an hour.

And he was walking.  Without a coat. On a cold day.
Well, I said, I know where that high school is—why do you want to go there?
So I can get to the place I need to be, he answered.
I asked why he didn’t have a jacket on, and he shrugged with that mixture of nonchalance and cluelessness one sometimes sees in young teens.

I couldn’t just let this go—so I told him to walk with me to my house, a few doors from where we were.  As we walked, I asked him his name—Malik.  I asked what grade he was in—9th.  And I asked about favorite subjects, which teachers he had.

As soon as we got to my house, I asked him to wait, while I could get a jacket for him.  While he waited outside, I popped in my house, and quickly filled my husband in on the situation.  Immediately, my husband said he would drive Malik to the other school. 

My husband then went to the basement, and got a jacket for Malik.  Then we went outside to Malik, who very quickly put on the jacket.  We told Malik to keep the jacket and that my husband would drive him.
I then asked—where does he need to go from the other high school?  Oh, from there I can walk to Zion Church, he said.

My husband and I knew exactly where he meant, so my husband said he would drive Malik there.  Thinking that Malik might want to tell someone he was getting a ride, I asked if he wanted to call his mother, but he demurred saying she was at work.

So, my husband headed off with Malik, took him to the church where Malik went up to the door and rang a bell, knew what to say to get in, and went inside.

We haven’t seen him since. Every now and then, I have thought about Malik.  I hope he stays the sweet young man he seemed to be—only with a touch more common sense in remembering to bring a jacket to school on cold days. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Movies that Won't Go to the Oscars

By now, dear reader, you know I love movies. Every year, I wait for the Academy Award nominations, and then my husband and I go on a mad dash to see as many of the "favored" films as we can.  This movie affinity also means I pay attention to which movies top the charts--the primary measurement now being which movie grossed the most in any given week.

Frankly, sometimes it is downright appalling what drivel is foisted on the viewing public AND the public responds enthusiastically.  This past week's top movies:  Noah; Divergent; Muppets Most Wanted; Mr. Peabody and Sherman; and God's Not Dead.

Coming in at Number 6 is The Grand Budapest Hotel--and that's one of the movies we went to see this week.  More on this movie in a minute.

But, first, a digression.  Maybe you are old enough to remember when movies came out, and slowly by word of mouth their reputation spread.  A movie might start slow, but eventually it had time to catch up and become a hit.  Well, not anymore. Clearly, the profit a movie makes drives how long it stays in theaters.  No time for word of mouth, for a slow reputation to build.

Personally, I don't like to go to movies on the first week of their showing in our area--avoid crowds, etc.  But, sometimes, by holding back we can miss a movie's showing in our area.  We also like to patronize some of the independent theaters that still exist--so we sometimes wait for these places to bring in a movie.

So, what movies won't go to the Oscars?  I have noticed--and have also read--that when a movie is released during a year is calculated to make it Oscar-worthy or not.  For example, the earlier in a year a movie is released, the less likely it is to get an Oscar nomination.  Of course, some movies never aim to be nominated, and their release is pegged to holidays--summers, Thanksgiving, Christmas--in order to be the movie that makes a huge profit.

When I learned that a movie based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, I couldn't wait to see it.  We saw Monuments Men last week.  In many ways, it is a good movie.  Oh, the acting isn't the greatest; there are times that the dialogue is somewhat stilted; and the plot greatly simplifies a complex aspect of World War II.  However, the movie does portray a story that few of us know. And one that ALL of us should know.

We may have read about recent discoveries of paintings, stashed in an apartment owned by Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, most if not all of which had been confiscated--stolen--from Jewish families during the war.  What we might not know is that the Allies made a concerted effort to find, recover and return art works that the Nazis had systematically stolen and stashed.  As the Americans and British Allies are making a mad dash across France and Germany, they are not only racing to keep the Nazis from burning or otherwise destroying great works of art. They are also racing the third party of the Allies: the Russians.  They want to take the art and abscond with it back to Russia.  So many Russian lives were lost, why not take some art as reparations.

The movie centers on a small group of U.S. art experts, led by George Clooney and Matt Damon.  All the character names are fictionalized from the historic figures, which is a bit frustrating.  There is also a wonderful role played by Cate Blanchett, who was a French museum worker who catalogued many of the stolen works of art that came through her museum.  The movie also focuses on two signature pieces of art--the Ghent Altarpiece, and the Bruge Madonna, sculpture by Michelangelo.  While many thousands of work were stolen, the movie (following the book) focuses on a few works, no doubt to help the viewer appreciate the enormity of what they were doing.

All in all--this is a feel good movie.  It is also a cautionary tale.

The other movie we went to see--another early in the year release --was The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Curiously enough, were I doing my pre-Oscar reviews, I might have paired this movie with Monuments Men.  Both movies deal with the effects of World War II.  Both movies revolve, in part, around works of art.  Where they diverge is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is entirely fictional, based on a made-up country, the result of Wes Anderson's incredibly creative mind--he is director, producer, author, and screen play writer.

The movie tells the story of the hotel, now owned by a solitary old man.  The story begins in the late 1960s.  The hotel, once grand, is now practically in ruins, showing all the signs of deterioration seen so many places across eastern Europe after Soviet occupation and domination.  It is set in the country of Zubrowka--don't bother to look for it on maps.  It doesn't exist.  An author is staying in the hotel, and encounters the old man.  He is the one with a tale to tell.

The tale is of the hotel and Gustave H., played with a fine comedic touch by Ralph Fiennes.  Gustave H. is the concierge of the hotel who does everything, make that EVERYTHING to make his clients happy.  The plot follows a mad-cap path through the hey days of the hotel, to the reading of the will of a grand dame who loved to stay at the hotel, to the framing of Gustave H., to a thoroughly dissolute son of the grand dame, to a brass-knuckled enforcer for the son, to prison, to the Alps, to ... Oh, just go see the movie!  

In addition to seeing Ralph Fiennes, look for F. Murray Abraham, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson--and one or two other fine actors. 

If you like Wes Anderson (and I do) you may find this to be his best movie yet.

I suspect neither of these movies will get a nod at Oscar time--but I still found them hugely enjoyable, and worth a night (or afternoon...which we retired folks can do) out.