Category Archives: Commentary

Archives Admits Mistake

The Washington Post reports that the National Archives has published an acknowledgement that it made a mistake in altering photographs of the 2017 Women’s March in a display about women’s suffrage. https://wapo.st/38nEtcg Even more remarkably, it has apologized without the usual qualifications that “official apologies” often have these days. You know the ones: “we take our obligations very seriously and are sorry if anyone was offended by what we did/said.”

Kudos to the Archives for offering no further excuses and for recognizing outright that its alteration of historical records, the essence of its reason for existence, was wrong.

There is only one matter outstanding. The Archives said it was going to take steps to prevent such an action from being repeated. Good. It is, however, important that it publish the “new procedures” that are going to assure that is true. The unnerving effects of this episode will linger until there are formal processes in place on which the public can rely.

If we were not living in a disinformation nightmare instigated and maintained by the Trump administration, there might be less concern. But the nightmare is here and we have seen many instances of the machinery of government turned perversely to serve the personal political and economic interests of the president and his family. It is therefore essential that the Archives publish the formal steps it is taking to prevent repetition of this unhappy business.

Words Fail Me

Well, not quite. Don’t get your hopes up just yet.

I refer to the overpowering anger I experienced (and still feel hours later) upon reading the Washington Post’s recounting of the decision by the National Archives to blur out portions of photographs from the 2017 Women’s March for an exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage. https://wapo.st/2TzSTSo [Note: if you can’t access the story because you lack a subscription, you should get one. Not that expensive and we need to support the surviving independent journalism of the free press lest we lose it]

The gist of this latest outrageous deferral to the childish bigoted misogynist mind of Donald Trump is a decision by the National Archives, supported by the archivist of the United States, to digitally obscure words that, had they been left in, could constitute engagement in “current political controversy.” The word “Trump” was removed from signs held by marchers that said, “God Hates Trump” and “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women.” Note that “GOP” was left on the latter sign in the photo exhibit. Only Trump’s name was removed.

If that weren’t bad enough, and it is, the Archives also removed references to parts of women’s anatomy from some signs [avert your eyes, children, we don’t want you to know about women’s’ anatomy; education is bad for you]: ‘vagina’ (yes, VAGINA!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! THE HORROR, THE HORROR!) was blurred out on signs that said, “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED.”

Clearly those women marchers (and supportive men like me who were there too) were intent on bringing down the nation’s morals, undermining democracy and, THE HORROR, exposing viewers of the exhibit to unwanted attention to parts of women’s’ bodies.

By now, I’m sure you’ve also figured out that the word “pussy” was obliterated from signs that read, ““This Pussy Grabs Back.” Those signs, of course, refer to the statement of that paragon of moral virtue, Donald Trump, that “when you’re a star, they [women] let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

So, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that these decisions were driven by a desire to avoid showing how women felt about the president during the Women’s March. The signs were part of historical photographs of the March. And the Archives decided that they were too much for the public to see because WHY? Because Trump wouldn’t like it. This is the same Trump that, along with his wife, dismissed the statements as just “boy talk” and “locker room talk.”  Apparently, the Archives is more concerned about the statements than the person who made them.

Given other attitudes Trump has expressed and that some people claim that the Civil War was about a “northern invasion” and that slavery had nothing to do with it, we can now expect the Archives will surely want to avoid “current political controversy”  by removing the bodies of Confederate soldiers from historical exhibits of Civil War battles. And, of course, no more photos of slaves. Should the Archives do an exhibit about the Holocaust, we can expect it to remove all evidence of bodies because there are still fools, and Nazis, who claim that the Holocaust never happened. Can’t risk offending them, can we?

And those pictures of American astronauts on the moon? Forget it. Just show the moon lander and the flag but no astronauts because there are people who claim the moon landing by astronauts was faked. Can’t offend them either.

Rather than avoiding “current political controversy,” the Archives has landed squarely in the middle of it by doing what the leadership of Soviet Russia did when they caused photos of the Politburo to be cleansed of “displaced” leaders. The Archives has also copied the techniques of Nazi Germany in “fixing” historical records. Once you start down the path of this type of “cleansing,” there is no end to it.

In an utterly lame and tone-deaf attempt to defend its decision to alter the historical record, the Archives sad, “Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.”

The problem with that is, of course, that the Archives did not provide access to the “records.” It provided access to records it wanted you to see without upsetting the president. In other words, we want you to see the records but only the records we think you, and our Dear Leader, can handle without getting upset. Because we all know what happens when Trump gets upset. We must avoid upset even if it means suppressing the truth.

Understandably, the Post reported, “Archive officials did not respond to a request to provide examples of previous instances in which the Archives altered a document or photograph so as not to engage in political controversy.”

It did say, “The decision to blur references to women’s genitals was made because the museum hosts many groups of students and young people and the words could be perceived as inappropriate.”  I suppose no students or “young people” read the newspapers or watch TV or music videos either, so, of course, the Archives is just trying to align with everyone else in denying information so we can keep students and “young people” uninformed about female anatomy. How thoughtful of the Archives to manage the national morality this way.

The Post quotes Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley saying, “If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it. But to confuse the public is reprehensible. The head of the Archives has to very quickly fix this damage. A lot of history is messy, and there’s zero reason why the Archives can’t be upfront about a photo from a women’s march.”

Wendy Kline, a history professor at Purdue University, is quoted as saying, “Doctoring a commemorative photograph buys right into the notion that it’s okay to silence women’s voice and actions,” Kline said in an email. “It is literally erasing something that was accurately captured on camera. That’s an attempt to erase a powerful message.”

The article also mentions that Getty Images, the owner of the images, licensed them for use by the Archives but that it was unclear at press time whether Getty had approved the alterations. But Getty is not the Archives. Whether or not it approves of the alteration is total irrelevant in judging the decision to alter the photos for public consumption. Getty can do whatever it wants with its property on its own website but is not the arbiter of what is appropriate for the National Archives.

This, I suggest, is what happens when the government bends its knee to the Executive Branch, distorting history without even disclosing what it has done until called out for it. The Trump Administration has made itself unique in American history by the level of graft and corruption among presidential appointees, not to mention the president himself. This corruption has infected the work of the executive agencies to an unprecedented degree. In this unbelievable and outrageous example of the Archives being afraid to offend the president, and thus willing to distort historical records presented for public display, we see just how far the effects of the president’s corruption have extended.

The Archives must immediately either reverse the digital distortion of these photographs. If it’s so worried about upsetting children and “young people,” it can take other measures to warn about the content and let the parents and “young people” decide what they want to see. Making such decision is not the proper business of the government, at least not one serving a democracy rather than a dictator.

 

Know Her Name

I readily confess that on multiple occasions reading Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name, I alternated between fury and choking up. It is not an easy read, but a story that needed telling. Miller tells it brilliantly. While there are passages that I thought were a bit overwritten, it is not hard to understand why her way of expressing her pain, and resilience in the face of so much power stacked against her, was necessary to get the whole story out. Not just the story of what happened to her, which was hard enough to take, but the story of the struggle to escape the emotional binding that the sexual assault, the rape, imposed on her and her family. Spoiler Alert: I am going to tell you some key things about the plot, but you should read on. The eventual outcome has been widely reported. Miller leaves everything in the open, so proceed with empathy and compassion.

This is a book that every young male should read. Word for painful word. The world we live in has many and diverse perils, especially for young women. The source of many of those perils, though surely not all of them (see, e.g., Weinstein, Epstein, Nassar, etc. etc.), are young men.

As Miller so compellingly writes, the young man who raped her while she was unconscious should have known better. Everything about his privileged life, except perhaps the core privilege itself, should have made clear to him that what he was doing was wrong. There can be no argument about this, no way of seeing this otherwise.

But, of course, there was an argument. Faced with the consequences of conduct that he apparently had not thought about, the perpetrator, with the help/prodding/direction of his well-to-do parents, decided to fight Miller’s claim that she had not consented to his assault. He was ultimately convicted on all three felony counts and ultimately his appeal was denied. Her statement to the court, directed at the perpetrator, quickly went viral, bringing unprecedented attention to her case. The judge whose minimal sentence of six months plus three years’ probation for the rapist (he was released three months early) led to his eventual recall, the loss of his job as directed by the voters, by the community expressing its collective rejection of victim-blaming and of unbalanced visions of who was responsible for what behavior. I don’t have words for what was wrong with the sentence, but Miller does.

As I said, this was a hard read. It’s hard even to write this brief recommendation that you read the book. Not hard in any way comparable or equivalent to what Miller went through. Her book provides a deep and passionate picture of the toll that sexual assault takes of its victim and of the victim’s friends and family. It makes clear there is only one victim. The perpetrator is not a victim of anything but his own self-regard and indifference to the physical and emotional integrity of others. Miller shows remarkable, almost super-human capacity for empathy toward her attacker, but in the end, he denies her even the comfort of knowing that she reached him, that he finally understood what he had done to her.

Read this book. Everyone, man, woman, young, old, can learn from it.

Money, Money, Money ….

You hopefully recognize the lines from the movie version of the musical Cabaret in which Liza Minelli and Joel Grey sing

Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round

And so on, humorously, but with underlying cynicism about what motivates people to act, or not act. The full lyrics can be found here. https://genius.com/John-kander-money-song-lyrics  and a YouTube video of the movie masterpiece, here: https://bit.ly/2rVMplk

We’ve been seeing a lot of recent press reports fawning over the large contributions haul that Donald Trump has accrued, with the suggestion, but, as usual, with no real proof, that his money-raising success is attributable to public backlash against his impeachment by the House of Representatives. Indeed, these claims are made despite multiple polls showing the majority of Americans think it’s time for Trump’s removal for high crimes and misdemeanors. A lot of the publicity about the money seems intended to demoralize Democrats.

But all this gushing over Trump’s financial haul (even assuming, improbably, he/they are not lying about the sums he’s getting, a partial truth still being a lie), the full picture is quite different.

Let’s consider what is actually happening on the Democratic side of the fundraising ledger. Politico reports, “Democrats are riding a massive surge of presidential campaign cash into 2020.” https://politi.co/39GUuvq

The current Democratic presidential contenders and the Democratic National Committee combined raised over $480 million in the last year — more than President Donald Trump’s reelection machine brought in during that time. [emphasis added]

This occurred despite the huge advantage that an incumbent president normally has, the division of Democratic efforts among an unusually large number of hopefuls and the traditional Republican advantage among the big-money donors, whose support Republicans are completely happy to accept even when it comes with major expectations of favors later to be granted. Money, Money Money ….

To be sure, there are issues for Democrats in the fundraising area, but also offsetting considerations, as noted by Politico,

Though the [Democratic] party is about to spend much of the money raised on a tough primary while Trump builds up resources to take on the eventual nominee, the millions of contributions to Democrats in $10 or $20 increments signal massive enthusiasm from the party grassroots heading into the election year.

Some of that enthusiasm may derive from the growing awareness that Trump is also stealing a lot of money from the taxpayers to cover the cost of his incessant golf trips to his properties and the cost of his political “rallies” at which he spends his time attacking his “enemies” (the press, Democrats, the Constitution, teenagers like  Greta Thunberg and the survivors of the school shootings, and on and on).

Is there anything on the horizon that should dim the enthusiasm that Democrats currently show? Maybe. It has been speculated almost since Trump took office that, if he felt his power position genuinely threatened, he would stop at nothing to save himself, including starting a war somewhere. It may be that the recent decision to kill the top Iranian military commander with a drone strike was just that moment everyone has dreaded. Only time will tell how this plays out politically. Some young people will no doubt be satisfied to sacrifice their careers and perhaps their lives to live out Trump’s fantasies about global power and “America First,” but many others, and their parents and other family members, will likely blanch at the prospect of forced military service to support a war that Trump promised would not happen on his watch.

Trump can’t go more than a few hours without tweeting about the impeachment that he claims is unwarranted. He protests way too much for an innocent man, especially one who knows he has the Republican Party in his back pocket, no matter what he does. Tweeting and starting a war won’t save him. If anything, these actions should inspire Democrats to contribute more.

The main hope is that once the in-fighting is over, the Democratic Party will unite around whoever is the nominee and the real donations will flow in. Trump will spend without limit, even if he has to drain his businesses (more bankruptcies won’t concern him at all) to do it. And, of course, he probably hasn’t begun to think of creative ways to make taxpayers cover more of his campaign costs.

Democrats better get sharp with their messaging. Trump has provided a literal gold mine of material to use against him. I understand that his so-called “base” will likely not be moved by any evidence of wrong-doing or incompetence on Trump’s part, but there are plenty of movable voters who should not be written off just because they voted for Trump in 2016. Much has happened since the last election and almost none of it is favorable to Trump. The question is whether the Democratic Party and its leadership will be as smart and tough as the Trump machine that knows no bounds of decency or honesty. That is not to argue that Democrats should emulate Trump and the Republican Party’s conduct but that it should be very focused on using that conduct against Trump’s re-election campaign. Rope-a-dope and all the rest. Just do it.

And meanwhile, prepare to keep the money, money money … coming in. It’s time also to narrow the field and get to the end game – a nominee that can not only defeat Trump but also be a leader worthy of the United States of America, a leader who can recognize the faults in our history but with the vision to create a better country for the future. We need a leader who can understand how to be strong and peaceable at the same time, who can respect differences but unite the country behind a benevolent vision that sustains everyone, not just the people already at the top.

 

Murdering “Cats”

The critics have apparently done it again. Sneering snidely, they have likely sunk any chance of success for the movie Cats, the film version of the long-running Broadway musical. Having seen and enjoyed the musical a few times, we decided to ignore the critics and went to the movies. After battling our way through throngs of people there for the twenty-third running of the Star Wars quintology (not a real word but it fits), also slammed by some critics, we sat in a nearly empty theater as the opening scene appeared.

To be clear, the movie version of Cats has some serious flaws; I about to tell you what they are. But to say that the movie is a “disaster,” etc. as some critics have exclaimed, is, I think ridiculous.

First, one must recognize that the Cats story is a fantasy intended to entertain. It is not a serious thing, except perhaps in one way I’ll come to. It was, after all, a musical based on some poems about cats. If you want to taste the kind of over-analyzed attempts to give some profound meaning to the story, you have many choices but a good one is https://screenrant.com/cats-movie-ending-explained-grizabella-heaviside-layer/ It’s a spoiler in many ways, however, so you may want to avoid it and the others if you’re considering watching the movie (it likely will be “free” on some Internet service soon since it’s being massacred at the box office). I am, frankly, tired of critics condemning works of art because they don’t fit some pre-conceived narrative of what “should” have been done.

Second, the musical is recognized even by the critics (however grudgingly) as much-loved by audiences. According to Wikipedia, the “London production ran for 21 years and 8,949 performances, while the Broadway production ran for 18 years and 7,485 performances, making Cats the longest-running musical in both theatre districts for a number of years.” That doesn’t count the many other performances (like Washington DC where I first saw it). Not bad for a fluffy piece of fiction with a somewhat puzzling story line and no dialogue.

Third, all that notwithstanding, the movie version has some serious flaws. They detract from the heft of the music and special effects, sometimes in major ways. First, and most serious for me, is the modern practice of having the camera viewpoint constantly shifting from one vantage point to another every few seconds. Rather than letting you see a dance scene as a whole, the director, or whomever, has the camera viewpoint constantly changing.

One moment it’s on the lead dancer, Victoria, played by the stunning Francesca Hayward, who in real life is a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet at London’s Covent Garden. Then it shifts to a group of cats dancing, then back to Victoria, then to another cat doing something different, then to the entire scene from a different vantage than the first one, and so on and so on. Why, I have to ask, when you have a talent as beautiful and skilled as Francesca Hayward as a main character do you not just show her dancing as the center of attention in the larger frame? If you were watching a live ballet you likely would focus most of your attention on her. But, no, the director, or whoever makes these decisions, wants us to see everything from a constantly changing viewpoint.

This practice is commonplace in music videos I have seen (rarely to completion) but I suggest it does not belong in the staging of a musical as movie.

Fourth, there are several “episodes” in the movie version that occupy an inordinate amount of space/time seemingly to accommodate the actors chosen for the roles. These include James Corden, Rebel Wilson and Jason Derulo. I was struck that at the end of the movie, when the credits roll, Corden was given top billing. I lack the imagination to understand how that could be warranted by anything related to the movie.

Fifth, the most iconic music from the stage version is, of course, Memory. It is sung by the aged and defeated Grizabella, played in the movie by the powerful Jennifer Hudson. Unfortunately, her rendition is an over-wrought downer, over-acted and overwhelmed. I don’t fault Hudson. This had to be the director’s choice and it was a bad one.

Finally, the handling of Macavity, played, inexplicably, by Idris Elba, was a major error. In the story he is a malevolent creature with magical powers and the presentation seems discordant with the rest of the story, albeit that it contains many fantasy elements throughout.

Well, then, with all those flaws, how did the critics go wrong? The answer, I think, is in condemning the whole because of a few defects, unhappy ones, to be sure, but hardly fatal to the overall concept. In the end the story is about redemption, goodwill and generosity triumphing over evil and selfishness. It is a fantasy, a divertissement that should not be taken seriously. It is intended to amuse you and, in the end, lift you up. I thought that, flaws notwithstanding, it did that. It’s a movie, after all, not a major philosophical dissertation.

I suspect it’s too late for a “market correction” that might save this movie from the dust heap where severe criticism tends to push productions that the true critics don’t like. Too bad. Many people who would enjoy the spectacle will now miss it because self-important and self-appointed “experts” have decided that the movie is a “debacle.” Debacles do happen in Hollywood as elsewhere, but I don’t think this Cats is fairly condemned.

P.S. — I had a similar response to the critics’ treatment of Bohemian Rhapsody [see https://autumninnewyork.net/2018/11/04/bohemian-rhapsody-ignore-critics/] that, according to Wikipedia, grossed over $903 million worldwide on a production budget of about $50 million, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2018 worldwide and setting the all-time box office records for the biopic and drama genres. The film earned 4 Oscars and was Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, among other awards and nominations. Just saying. Since the Bohemian Rhapsody post was in the AutumnInNewYork.net blog, I am simultaneously posting the Cats piece in both blogs.

F**king Liberals

As previously reported, it was a cold and wet night in New York City for Impeachment Eve. That did not stop the thousands upon thousands of loyal Americans from joining a rally and march from Times Square (46th & Broadway) to Union Square (14th Street & Park Avenue). The large crowd was enthusiastic and angry. The repeated chants of “Ho, Ho, Donald Trump has got to GO!” and “Impeach Trump – REMOVE!” were rendered with gusto. There were some amusing signs but most were direct in their recognition that the occupant of the White House is a criminal and traitor to American values. Considering the weather, the turnout for this event was extraordinary. New York’s Finest were turned out in force to block streets where necessary to let the march pass unimpeded.

Meanwhile, back in the White House, the president of the United States was likely going berserk. Having already produced a tyrannical and hysterical rant letter of six pages to the Speaker of the House, packed as usual with dissembling and lies, what is left? He could break up some furniture that, after all, doesn’t belong to him so why would he care? Better yet, he could do some tweeting. I haven’t checked but I’m betting that’s what he did. And continues to do today.

Anyway, the march in New York City was remarkable. As far as I’m aware, there was no pushback from Trump “supporters” except one relatively young man with a large backpack who pushed past us on the sidewalk muttering aloud, “f**king liberals!” Otherwise, the crowd was of one mind. We were impressed to see the diversity of ages, including elderly folks walking with canes and many young adults who recognize the danger that Trumpism represents to their future.

I have set out below a small sample of photos from the event, mostly rendered in “night vision.” We were not alone, of course, as the internet is alive with photos from around the country as groups large and small went outside to show their contempt for this president and his enablers.

We all understand that the Republicans in the Senate are not going to convict Trump. Their position is that they don’t care what crimes he may have committed. He is their man and they are going to stick with him to the end. They apparently live under the illusion that they will be in control of the federal government forever and therefore there will be no day of reckoning. That is, of course, the ultimate question: will the majority of Americans accept the destruction of their democracy or will they rise up and assure that truth, justice and the American way prevail in 2020? If Impeachment Eve is any guide, the answer is YES.

Impeachment Eve

NOTE: Feel free to share this post with anyone you wish.

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday), rallies will be held around the country in anticipation of the House vote on the Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump. The weather forecast for New York City (wet and cold) notwithstanding, we will be participating in the Times Square event. At last count 589 events were scheduled around the country. If you’re reading this, you can almost certainly find an event close enough to attend.

When asked what kind of government the new Constitution would produce, Ben Franklin famously said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” That is the essence of the question before us now.

While news reports indicate that the House Democrats have the votes to adopt the impeachment articles, it is important to show strength of conviction now and actively support the impeachment effort. If it’s cold where you live, add some layers, buy pocket warmers, do whatever it takes to join the thousands, nay, the tens of thousands who will be demonstrating in support of the House action to impeach Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors.

If you harbor doubts about whether the impeachment is warranted, I urge you to search for the editorials of the New York Times or the many other major papers that have come out in favor of impeachment. Here is a sample of the some of those papers:

Los Angeles Times

Boston Globe

New York Daily News

Chicago Sun-Times

USAToday

Washington Post

Philadelphia Enquirer

San Francisco Chronicle

Orlando Sentinel

Salt Lake Tribune

Tampa Bay Times

The Republican arguments against impeachment have changed so many times it is impossible to comprehend in cogently logical terms the principles or concepts on which their defense is based. In the end, it comes down to “So what? Who cares?” They simply refuse to acknowledge what the White House-manufactured “transcript” says Trump demanded. They argue that he was really only interested in curing corruption in Ukraine even though corruption was not mentioned in the call with Ukraine President Zelensky.

I will not go into the details of all that at length. If you aren’t persuaded by now that Donald Trump is a corrupt violator of the U.S. Constitution, including his oath of office, and American law, nothing I can say here will persuade you.

But I will say this, that I believe is true beyond a doubt: the fate of the democracy we know as the United States of America, imperfect though it may be, is in grave danger. It is no exaggeration to compare the Republican subservience to Donald Trump and the resulting disinformation campaigns to the events that subverted Germany in the 1930s. Many serious thinkers, historians and legal experts, have warned of these dangers.

I understand that the Republican-dominated Senate is not going to convict Trump. The Senate Majority Leader has already publicly stated that the Senate Republicans will coordinate with the accused and do whatever the president wants. Senator Lindsey Graham, who formerly condemned Trump as a “nut job,” has stated that he is not even going to read the evidence before voting against impeachment. It is nonetheless vital that the evidence of Trump’s perfidy be presented for action.

Suffice to say, then, that the burden is upon us as individuals to be a little uncomfortable and to take action to challenge the narrative on which the Republican Party has chosen to stand. If we fail to do enough, we may regret it forever.