Thursday, February 28, 2013

Miss Evers' Boys

Yesterday's film was the HBO movie, Miss Evers' Boys, starring Alfe Woodward with Lawrence  Fishborne.  This is the final film of the Black History Month series.  The story is the well known one of the Tuskegee Experiment in which men infected with symphilus were made to live out she course of their disease although it was known, for many, many years of the period that penicllin would cure the disease.  It is a horrible example of the attitude toward black men on the part of the federal government.

The film has cobbled a touching story about a nurse who was with the experiment from the beginning who was convinced, by the white doctors -- some of whom were also convinced -- that this cruel miscarriage of justice was needed for medical science.  Alfe Woodward is convincing in a slightly cloying role, she gives up love and a life with a good man, to minister to her dying patients. The audience sees a sincere struggle in the heroine but  the true horror of the experiment is allayed somewhat by a framework of a Congressional hearing in which the white senators seem to be appalled that this black woman could have been so cowed by the "authorities" -- who essentially were themselves and their counterparts.

I hope we can go on for the rest of the semester seeing foreign films, not TV films, which is what this series is supposed to be showing us. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tai chi

Tai chi is practiced by (probably) millions of people every morning.  Early risers who visit China, Thailand and many other Asian countries will see groups (usually mostly women) in the city parks doing tai chi early in the morning.  I've seen groups in New York's Central Park also. And a friend, whose life seems to be one stress after another, has done tai chi sporadically for years and claims it is calming and helpful.

A long time practitioner of yoga I felt no need to explore tai chi.  But since a hip replacement my yoga habit was broken and some of the stretching exercises seemed too strenuous so I need a replacement and this was the year I decided to try tai chi.  For a reasonable fee I began taking once a week classes at the nearest senior center with a young woman who clearly knows a great deal about tai chi as well as the martial arts of which it is an offspring/part (the relationship isn't entirely clear to me).  I envisioned learning a slow, meditative series of movements that I would be able to do at home. I have not learned that from her. No two classes are the same, the parts do not flow into one another, I cannot make my feet work with my hands, my balance is off and sometimes I feel I've strained that somewhat cantankerous hip. 

Yesterday I went to a free tai chi class at the community college which houses the Academy for Lifelong Learning in which I'm very active.  This class was free, it was taught by a man who simply demonstrated, slowly, with a minimum of talk, a series of movements, many repeated several times, the kind of slow exercise I had expected.  Two young women, one guy I know from the Academy and me -- in an empty room with some music on a tiny boom box and the teacher, mostly with his back to us so we could see him in a make shift mirror wall (black hanging beyond a glass window).  It's what I wanted to learn.  I will complete the three months I paid for at the Senior Center but then I will stop and keep going to these classes which will last through the spring semester, by which time I will have memorized the sequence and be able to do it at home.  If he teaches it again next fall I will be there. I am truly not interested in Chinese martial arts, not at this age and it was never something appealing to my personality.  I've found what I was looking for, I may even be able to include it in my beach walks next summer.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Revolution all over the world

From Dictatorship to Democacy is a handbook with 198 points about how to peacefully overthrow a tyrant and move toward democracy.  The book is online and can be downloaded by anyone; its author is Gene Sharp a man in his 80s who is the senior scholar  at the Albert Einstein Foundation -- a fine title and fine foundation which actually consists of Mr. Sharp and an assistant in two rooms of Mr. Sharp's modest home in Boston where he has built a greenhouse to contain his hobby of growing orchids. He is a former professor at U.Mass-Dartmouth.

Sharp. a quiet, reasonable man whose book has been translated into at least three dozen language, was the subject of the documentary film I saw yesterday.  His handbook wasa used with great success by the revolutionaries in Serbia and those more recently in Egypt, also Ukraine, (Soviet) Georgia, Kazhakstan and with less obvious and immediate success in many, many other revolutions around the world, including Burma/Myanmar, China (Tienneman Square and many other cities), Indonesia .. on and on.

While I was watching the film and the first thing I mentioned in the discussion was that this man deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.  The first thing I noticed when I went to Wikipedia was that he has been nominated but so far not given the prize.  Mr. Sharp is an example of how one individual can have an enormous impact on a global scale.  His methods are entirely nonviolent, his 198 points can't all be implemented at all times in all places and the degrees of success can't always be measured -- it took Burma 25 years to have social change -- but then, think about it, Ghandi's nonviolence resulted in freeing India but they have been struggling since 1948 -- but struggling democratically.

We had a long discussion after this movie. Many brought up the Occupy movement here which used some of Sharp's techniques. Many thought it had been unsuccessful, but others pointed out that it put the 1%/99% idea on the front pages and it's very possible that idea was responsible for the last election when most of the Big Money was behind Romney --ordinary 99% voted against all the big money weilded by the 1%.

The great message of the film and of the class discussion is that change happens slowly - and sometimes suddenly - and sometimes two steps forward, one step back (as in Russia today), but it can happen without war.  Change  by nonviolent means may eventually replace war as a way to make civil society actually civil. It will have to be a nonviolent revolution againt the military-indusrial complex and Truman warned us to beware of, they have tyranized much of the world.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fifty years ago today

The Feminine Mystique was published fifty years ago today. About a year later I read the paperback and discussed it with the little book group to which I belonged.  Young housewives and mothers, we were not angered by her emphasis on women in the working world.  I do not remember the discussion but I think most of us knew we would pursue careers when the time was right.  We did. We are all now "retired" -- at least from the job that pays the rent although I feel I'm still working at the writing career I always wanted

Shortly after that book "consciousness raising" discussions, events, books filled our lives.  I went to a gathering at which Friedan spoke.  She was articulate but I came away thinking -- inappropriately! -- that with that nose and unkempt hair she was probably the ugliest woman I had ever seen.  Ugly or not, she had a head full of insight about the lives women were living and the changes that were needed.  Someone must always be first, some one must exaggerated the results of the research, someone must take the criticism.  We now have several strong women to admire, not just pretty Jackie so beautifully attired. Hilary is one of the most admired women in America and will continue to contribute greatly.  There are many others. Last night I watched a video clip of Elizabeth Warren at a hearing (yes, I voted for her) pinpoint the way the big banks are avoiding trials when they are sued, hiding their methods behind settlements. Warren pointed out that federal DAs all over the country are bringing to trial smaller con men, making an example of their dealings in courts so the public will hear how they have cheated others but that no big bank has ever yet gone to trial and revealed even a smidgeon of their manipulations. 

We used to say to one another when someone had raised their family and begun a successful career, "You've come a long way, baby."  It's true.  But yesterday I heard from a woman who had worked years for Wal-Mart, always aiming for a management position, never given it even when she seemed the only good choice, and then was fired for a  small accident.  The fight is far from won but Betty Friedan fired the shot that still echoes. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A puzzling novel

Summertime, like other novels by South African novelist, J.M. Coatzee (Nobelist)  that I have had read was curiously dry, as if they are echoing the supposedly dry and barren homelands of the Boers that they clung to so fiercely.  Summertime is the most confusing, although I understand from reviews that two previous somewhat biographical books were also confusing and not really enlightening about who and what kind of man Coatzee is.

Summertime appears to be a book of material put together by a biographer after Coatzee's death (although he is not dead). It includes notebooks by the author and interviews about him, most notably with three or four women who had some role in his life.  He paints the man in the book named John Coatzee as unkempt, antisocial, inarticulate, entirely inept as a lover.  He is living with an even more inarticulate father, aged beyond his age.  Apparently the real Coatzee shares a dislike of pubic appearance with the fictional one -- he did not attend the prestigious Mann-Booker awards the two times he was the winner. 

In the course of the story we see that  Coatzee at least has a strong conscience about the inequality of apartheid in South Africa -- as was true in other books as well.  A reader is very much thrown off base -- surely this was intended by the writer -- upon reading this book.  Various writers make themselves characters in their novels, usually making themselves at least a bit grander than in real life.  The opposite tack may be the flip side, psychologically.  It's a curious matter to ponder, this identity thing. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Documentary Class: Maya Linn

After all our blizzard difficulties nearly everyone has power again, my classes are back to normal, except for the five or ten minutes of catching up with everyone's outage stories.  Yesterday's documentary film class was the biographical film about Maya Linn, the architect-sculptor who won immediate national fame in 1981 (I think that date is right) with her design for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington -- hard to believe it was thirty years ago, and hard to remember the resistance and outcry that she, at the age of 20, withstood to maintain the integrity and purity of her conception which has since proved to be one of the most powerful memorials to those who died in a war. 

Women's history month is next month, but this is Black History month. The showing of the film was not intentionally meant to celebrate either but it does, as she also designed the Civil Rights memorial -- very different and yet very much the same sort of quiet, elegant design that allows people to relate very directly and emotionally to an event in our history.  She is, I suddenly realize, no longer this "young" woman, she is a mature artist and architect who has produced and continues to produce other powerful work.  I have read much over the years but this film skillfully and tastefully brought the story into perspective. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Storm Stories

Everyone has a story, some are of shivering for four days without power, spending most of that time in bed trying to read when there was enough light.  But many storm stories are of helpful neighbors, friends, family.  In the relatively affluent areas where most of the people I've been talking to live, usually a neighbor had a generator, or the house had a fire place that kept at least one room comfortable. 

Some have to deal with burst pipes, many discovered that cell phones are not so wonderful when there's no power to recharge them -- someone remarked to me on the second day being "powerless" -- "About now everyone's losing their cell phone power."  And it was true.  How quickly we begin to take our conveniences for granted!  How stunned we are when we have to cope without light and heat and are housebound.

The majority of people I've been talking to are older people -- my generation. They have long lost the young person's sense of adventure -- and the ability to pursue it -- when one could strike out through the drifts to visit friends, or just to enjoy a different world outside.  They are, however, philosophical and grateful for the helping hands that cleared their drives, the kind neighbors who provided a bed  while the neighbor slept on a sofa or in a sleeping bag.

And now we are putting it behind us, going on with our lives and our sense of privilege for having electricity. Cell phones, microwaves, efficient heating systems will once again become things we take for granted.  Comfort makes the memory short.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Yes, the blizzard was real

Yes, the blizzard was real, but Cape Cod had less than many other parts of the state and area.  The piles of snow here in the horseshoe shaped main entrance to my apartment complex look impressive.  However the amount of the ground was maybe 6 or 8 inches.   That bright sunshine is today, Sunday, after the blizzard did it's worse -- mainly wind -- for some 24-hours from Friday evening to Saturday evening.   For us, worst meant power outage that began at 10:00 Friday night and lasted 42 hours.

A couple of blocks away, this morning, my daughter was out shoveling the drive, with her husband.  I lent a hand a bit belatedly.  The problem was not really the snow, it was the reminder of how much we rely on electricity.  It controls our thermostats and regulates the temperature in the houses.  My apartment dropped to 55 in about 8 hours.  Not a disastrous temperature but unpleasant although I put on layers and only my fingers really felt the cold. 

Suddenly: no light, no stove or microwave or coffee maker, no visibility in the bathroom without a candle, no sewing machine.  My eyes are too old to read comfortable by candlelight.  A  progressiong of little book lights have died and been discarded. Fortunately I could quilt and embroider okay and, since I had a long term project that was languishing, I turned to it and made a nice amount of headway.  Always I have many projects I'm jugging -- I include reading and writing in that definition. 

Rachel remembers well that as she was growing up in upstate New York, near Syracuse, we often had snow storms like this, often with far deeper snowfall, but rarely had power outages and roads were cleared promptly. Perhaps that's why I felt unconvinced by all the dire warnings during the day Friday.  I find the day after -- as today was -- beautiful and stimulating. Yes, it's cold, but a little shoveling warms you quickly.  The contrast of trees with snow clinging to branches and trunks with brilliant blue sky is beautiful.  And tomorrow it's to be in the 40s, possibly with rain -- much of the snow will disappear and the rest will become a sloppy mess.  Such is the cycle of these winter storms.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hysterical voices again

They're at it again -- hysterical voices telling us we're in for one of the great blizzards of all time. Well ... maybe ... maybe us ... maybe someplace else ... maybe not much snow at all.  I'm really tired of this Be afraid, be very afraid! hysteria that hits the media regularly and indiscriminately -- as if someone knew just what the storm is going to do, just where it's going to hit.

Maybe a blizzard will hit Cape Cod; maybe not -- last year we heard three such warnings and, as we say here on the Cape, none of them made it over the bridge.  People are saying, "stock up" and "what will you do if the heat goes out?" And so on.  Jez ...  if the lights go out, I'll lose the food in my freezer, say the thoughtless ones.  Why lose any frozen food when there's a foot of snow outside to keep your food well frozen?  Really, where's your common sense? Almost everyone I know has enough food of various sorts in their homes to keep them feed for a couple of weeks -- maybe not with the variety they are accustomed to but, hey, we are the lucky ones.  We have enough food.  Would we be cold if the electridicity went off?  Maybe a little cold, but not freezing cold.  Why do we think we should be afraid just because someone in a cozy TV studio, under megawatts of bright lights tells us we should panic? 

I'll keep my eyes open.  I'll be surprised if there is more than two inches of snow on the ground tomorrow morning -- I'll be surprised if there is one, actually as today was totally without percipetion.
I simply protest the penchant of all news media to try to instill fear. 

I'm reading an article in the current New Yorker magazine about the effects of Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island. It was very serious understand that. Now that the papers have once said "Super storm" they've added the words to their vocabulary.  G'mme a break.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Two Quartets -- confusing

Only a few weeks ago I saw the wonderful movie called The Late Quartet, the title is a pun, meaning one of Beethoven's late string quartets and a quartet of players who had been together for
 for many years. They were in serious trouble as an organization of very, very close friends.  The movie starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walkin, Kathleen Kennar and Mark Ivanir. It had several themes about friendship, aging and about music.  The acting was superb -- especially Walkin -- the story nuanced and adult and the periods of music, which were not constant at all, were wonderful. The final scene in Carnegie Hall was heart rending and wonderful at the same time.  Unforgetable.

Today I saw a movie called The Quartet which was directed by Dustin Hoffman and is getting far more attention in the press than the earlier movie did -- due to industry politics and probably money.  I enjoyed this movie because music was almost constant. It was set in a retirement home for musicians in a grand British mansion with grand gardens whereas the former movie was set in nice, but sometimes gritty parts of New York City.

This movie has Maggie Smith as a retired opera singer and Pauline Collins, Tom Courtney and Billy Connelly as appropriately voiced other retired opera singers who had once upon a time sung Rigoletto together.  The story here was  far thiner, the acting thiner too. Maggie Smith is not convincing as a retired opera singer; she is grande dame in the wrong sort of way.  What a shame that the better movie will have the smaller audience.