Saturday, May 30, 2020

THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD – And the Protests that Followed (2020)

Anyone seeing the video of George Floyd dying on the streets of Minneapolis at the hands of the police has the right to be outraged. His death was everyone’s loss.

I also take issue with those hijacking protests in his name to loot, vandalize and commit arson. For whatever reason, the protests spilled over to the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul. More than 170 businesses in that city were looted, damaged, and/or burned to the ground. Such businesses set on fire included:

  1.  Lloyd’s Pharmacy on Snelling Avenue – a store that served the Midway area and senior citizens for close to 50 years
  2.  Big Top Liquors – A store that survived many changes in the area
  3.  Footlocker – Looted entirely before burned to the ground
  4.  Sports Dome – Business opened approximately ten years ago unique to University Avenue.
  5.  Springboard for the Arts – On University Avenue close to the State Capitol
  6.   Bole Ethiopian Cuisine – Owned and operated by an immigrant from Bole, Ethiopia

Wonderful establishments such as Axman Surplus and The Turf Club also sustained substantial damage.A friend of mine, living in the Midway area with his wife and three daughters for twenty years, said the following: “My neighborhood is gone.”

For those who believe they can justify such violence, there is no use in speaking to me about it. Changing my opinion on the matter will not change the circumstances. Preach it to the young Ethiopian woman whose dream, livelihood and years of effort to open a restaurant on University Avenue just went up in flames. But I truly hope nobody has the conceit to convey such a message to her.

Let’s honor the memory and legacy of George Floyd by protesting in his name peacefully and with dignity.

May 30, 2020

© Robert S. Miller 2020

Thursday, April 30, 2020

BECOMING WHO I WAS (2017): Tutor and Protégé

At 95 minutes and distributed in mostly independent theatres, it’s not surprising that this documentary only grossed around $270,000.  Yet Becoming Who I Was is a moving film not because of the subject matter, but because of the relationship of the man who tutors a young boy who is to become a Rinpoche.  For those who do not know what that is, a Rinpoche in the Buddhist faith is an incarnated lama.  Thus, we have the title of this film.

Yet, for me, the merits of this movie have practically nothing to do with reincarnation, Buddhism, or any other mystical element that the New Age community may latch upon.  It’s a good story because the filmmakers somehow were able to capture the devotion and kind-heartedness of the elderly tutor who wants to see his pupil succeed.

The film starts slowly enough.  It portrays Angdu Padma, our future Rinpoche, anywhere from the ages of 9 to approximately 12 or 13.  What we notice about him is that he seems so very much like a typical young and likable boy.  He claims to have memories of a past life, and that seems to generate all of the fuss.  Those his age don’t seem that impressed.  Some even tease him about his lack of ability to play soccer and his short height.

His tutor, Rigzin Urgain, on the other hand, believes that Padma is special.  At first, it seems like Urgain only took on the role because of the requirements of the religious community, but when we see to what lengths he goes in helping his pupil, we know his devotion to the child goes much deeper than that.  Urgain is a humble man in the very best sense.  He doesn’t even seem to realize that he is doing something extraordinary in helping Padma gain a better understanding of the world.  It doesn’t matter that the two are Buddhists.  His tutorship would benefit the boy under any sort of instruction. 

So like Urgain, this is a humble movie – outside of its title and spectacular scenery.  Yes, it is a South Korean film winning: (1) the best feature film at the Berlin International Film Festival; (2) best documentary at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival and Seattle Film Festival; (3) and the Moscow International Documentary Film Festival.  I’m not sure anyone cares.  It is probably too low-key ever to have substantial viewership.

For all practical purposes, this is a slightly offbeat father/son relationship story.  The film’s picking up on this relationship, especially in the second half of the movie, is what makes it unique.

And in this film, we have a pilgrimage with the two traveling across much of India and relying on the kindness of others to have Padma educated in a Buddhist monastery – supposedly so that the boy could better understand his gifts.  Yet watching the film, it appears that Urgain would be a better instructor than anyone else who would try to fill his role.

To me, the title is misleading.  Padma is not becoming who he was, but instead is becoming something better than that.  He is becoming a real human being. 

April 30, 2020

© Robert S. Miller 2020

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

AMERICA: And the Handling of the Coronavirus (2020)

“These are unsettling times.”
I heard this quote three times on the same news station the other morning.  A national news company, by the way, who may wish to edit their copy.  The times need to be unsettling to justify 24-hour-a-day coverage.  In my lifetime, I’ve experienced the Cuban-Missile Crisis, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.  There were also assassination attempts made on Presidents Ford and Reagan. I remember as a boy hearing of the escalation of the Vietnam War.  In the late 1970s, there was news of the Iranian hostage crisis.  In 2000, there was a contested presidential election that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and just a short time after that, there was the attack on the World Trade Centers in New York.
This is just my own experience.  Both of my parents lived through the Great Depression and World War II.  My father even saw the flag raisings at Iwo Jima, so our current circumstances don’t seem quite so bad.
I agree that this pandemic ushered in unsettling times.  How much of it is due to the natural progression of the disease, the failure of government officials to take appropriate action, and the overreporting or underreporting of relevant facts will only be known in the future.
Locking Down Everything
Nearly every day there is an extension on lockdowns amounting to practically no restaurants or bars open in the nation.  In one Colorado county, there was a closing of most businesses liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries excepted (officials figured that a ban to such businesses would cause gnashing of the teeth).
The obvious issue to everyone (with the possible exception of some Sanders’ supporters) is that this costs money.  We are asking small businesses to take a financial hit that no government stipend will remedy.  And any cost for this will have to come from the taxpayer’s pockets.  Worse, there is no definite ending to these lockdowns to make it possible for businesses to plan around.  Without such certainties, many workplaces see no alternative but to layoff a good portion of their work staff.
Yet anyone who suggests considering the financial costs will likely be on the brunt end of criticism.  “How can we place money before lives?”  “You’re asking elderly people to give up their lives so that we can save our 401(k)s?”  Retorts to such emotional travails that there will also be an impact upon education, mental health, and the ability for certain people to buy their daily necessities will go unheard.  Unfortunately, such costs will cost lives as well.
It would be good if we would listen to arguments from all sides, including the one that we can’t make the cure worse than the disease.  Importantly, any solution cannot overlook the needs of small businesses.  Allowing for small businesses to thrive in the United States is what has made our country the top economy in the world.
Politics as usual
Will the coronavirus outbreak impact the 2020 presidential election? How could it not be a factor? 
In the Democratic race, while for some reason commentators wrote Joe Biden off, they made almost the same mistake they did back in 2016.  They didn’t wait to see what South Carolina had to say about the primaries.  Nobody seems to understand that black voters do not support Bernie Sanders – no matter how many commentators tell such voters that Sanders has their best interests at heart.  Most black voters indeed believe that their interests best lie with the Democratic Party.  But the average black voter is also more moderate than left-leaning.  Black families want the same thing for their children as do white families.  And there remains a certain distrust in government among black voters that may be as prevalent as it is among white voters.  Sanders’ supporters are known for being highly critical of the current administration – possibly remaining unaware of their inner contradiction.  That distrust of government does not seem to prevent them from supporting policies that would significantly increase the size of the government.
So, Joe Biden flourished later in the primaries because of a more moderate image – probably only somewhat deserved.  Despite his occasional verbal gaffs (actually mild compared to those of President Trump), he represents a more stable presence with lots of political experience.  Some say a nomination of Biden would be a repeat mistake of 2016 – brining in another political insider.  Maybe.  But Hillary Clinton has long been a more controversial figure than Biden – both on the right and on the left.  We will find out if Biden’s critics are right or wrong in November. 
And then you have the other major political party.  Whatever else some people think about our current president, he brings attention upon himself and, at times, makes us forget there is going to be someone out there challenging him for the presidency.  Unlike Sanders’ voters, Trump’s loyal following appear to show up at the polls when it matters.
In saying that, nobody should be surprised that the opinions of partisan voters will vary significantly on how President Trump handles the entire matter.  Still, it is surprising to me that the press so far has been relatively fair to him.  There will always be exceptions.  Some writers will never forgive him for winning the 2016 election.  But many citizens, even though who will probably hold their nose and vote for him in November, do wish that he’d refrain from off-the-cuff comments that only alarm observers rather than make them feel more assured.
I don’t think he can help it.  Trump will continue stating his opinions without any factual basis and maybe back-peddle later on – though there’s no guarantee that he will back down.  And it’s in his nature to gloat.  For someone who never sought political office before running for president, he does it probably as well as any politician I’ve observed – even if there’s nothing to celebrate.  But the old Republican adage persists: “He may be a jackass, but he’s our jackass!”  That’s why in 2016, the Republican party took the senate, congress and, of course, the White House.
The toilet paper crisis
I was one of the lucky ones.  I walked into a Walmart, met a manager who was carrying a package of toilet paper torn on one side, and he offered it to me.  And almost immediately upon having the package in my hand, someone offered to give me cash for the entire package.  I was buying it for someone else, so I had to disappoint him.  However, I do wish I asked how much he was willing to pay.
We will get through this!  There will still be toilet paper when this is all over!
March 31, 2020

© Robert S. Miller 2020