Sunday, November 13, 2016
No one truly expected this. The only ones predicting Trump would win were Trump-enthusiasts who hoped for such a result but had no logical reason to give as to why it may happen. The pollsters were as wrong as they could possibly be. And I thought it would be close, but I did not think that Trump could win. Now there are people scratching their heads and there are protesters outraged in the streets.
Fortunately, the two candidates and President Barack Obama seem to have behaved decently since November 8. In his acceptance speech, Donald Trump for perhaps the first time sounded presidential. Hillary Clinton showed a great deal of poise in her concession speech. And our President has shown nothing but grace in his public remarks concerning the upcoming transition period. If the three can continue such behavior, the transition will go smoothly and the country will have far less to fear. For Donald Trump, he will continually need to resist the temptation to be less than presidential for the next four years.
Unfortunately, many media members have not behaved with equal dignity, and this is especially true of certain writers at The New York Times. The editorial staff at the Times is known for their moderate left and left-leaning positions. Many of their columnists are now engaged in shaming of voters. In their minds, a Trump victory was entirely due to voter backlash, anger and resentment. Columnist Charles Blow went so far as to suggest America elected a bigot. While the term bigot is easy to apply and difficult to refute, one understands Blow’s concerns with Trump’s history of remarks regarding women and Hispanics. But Blow also implies that the voters welcomed Trump’s alleged bigotry when casting their votes. Yet to imply this only one day after the fact could also show that Blow is guilty of jumping to conclusions without evidence to back up with what he says. Blow does not know what is in the heart of the voter.
More comical are the examples of Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman, two economists who found being Times columnists more lucrative than being scholars. Thomas Friedman pitifully laments that he now feels homeless in America. Since Friedman married Ann Bucksbaum, a member of one of the 100 richest families in America, I don’t think Friedman will have to worry soon about begging upon the street.
Paul Krugman is a bit poorer than Friedman, with Krugman only having around $2.5 million in the bank, but he is no less prone to hyperbole. Krugman continues even after the election to espouse the “false equivalency” argument when it comes to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. His argument is that since Trump’s lies and sins are so much more egregious than those of Hillary Clinton, the press should focus almost exclusively on Trump’s defective character. This makes total sense to anyone incapable of admitting there is another side to any argument. And there’s no question that Trump’s public behavior is more scandalous (and therefore “newsworthy) than that of Clinton. This does not make Hillary Clinton a more moral person, however. I’d like to leave questions of personal morality to God and not to Paul Krugman, but it’s Krugman who throws out absolution to those he agrees with while castigating with whom he disagrees.
With all of their wonderful righteousness and wisdom, one asks how neither Friedman nor Krugman saw the election of Trump as a possibility. I doubt either Friedman or Krugman in forming their opinions went out to the countryside to access the mood of rural voters or visit urban areas in decline like Flint, Michigan. Both of these writers are out of touch.
The one Times columnist who came closest to getting it right was, surprisingly, Maureen Dowd. She did not like either candidate, and she felt both candidates had deep flaws. Nor was she willing to go lightly on the Democratic Party for losing sight of the blue-collared voter. Despite whichever candidate she preferred, she felt the Democratic Party’s condescension towards working class individuals left many such voters feeling they had no other option but to turn Trump.
The protests on the street show the significant dissatisfaction with the outcome. These will continue for some time and, so long as the protests do not turn violent, do send a useful message. Yet protesters also need to understand a couple of things. They can chant all they want that Donald Trump is not their president, but there is no evidence that Trump won the presidency unfairly or illegally. Hard-working individuals cast their vote for Trump. No protester has the right to say that their opinion is more important than that of any of these voters. Also, if love truly “trumps” hate, as the protestors like to proclaim, they could start by demonstrating their acceptance of people who think differently from them.
If the aim of detractors of Trump is make him look bad rather than find a way to help the country, no worthwhile message is being sent. Any criticism of Trump must instead keep him on track while forcing him to behave presidentially.
I do not endorse any of the political parties in the U.S. Like many other citizens, no party completely represents my interests – and maybe it’s not possible for such a party to exist. I have a number of positions that align me with the Democratic Party, others that align me with the Republican Party, some that align me with the Libertarian Party and others that align me with no party at all. Politics, in any case, should not define any individual. Every voter will face a wrong outcome many times during their lives. That does not mean life as we know it comes to an end.
© Robert S. Miller 2016
November 13, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The prizes awarded to Bob Dylan include an Oscar, a Golden Globe award, a number of Grammy awards, the Pulitzer Prize, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and now the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet Bob Dylan understands more than most what such awards mean: very little. Since the announcement, Dylan has made no public statement regarding the award. Nor has there been any acknowledgement that Dylan will attend the Nobel ceremony. Apparently, this is causing dismay.
The committee referred to Dylan as having “created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” With the announcement of Dylan’s name as winner, you could hear gasps in the audience. A small number of authors also took umbrage – probably because they did not receive the award. Some snubbed had unkind words about Dylan. Others seem to feel providing the award to someone so popular is beneath the dignity of the Nobel Prize committee.
I suppose some history of the Nobel Prize for Literature is necessary. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, purportedly created the Nobel Prize out of sense of guilt due to his profiting from the sales of arms. In his will, he bequeathed his fortune to finance the Nobel committee. So far as literature goes, members select the award on an annual basis. The committee includes professors of literature, members of various literary societies, former winners of the prize, and presidents of various writing organizations. The committee probably doesn’t include any ditch diggers.
The first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature was Sully Prudhomme, a French poet, in 1901. Next we had Theodor Mommsen from Germany, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson of Norway, Frédéric Mistral of France, José Echegaray of Spain, Henryk Sienkiewicz of Poland and Giosuè Carducci of Italy. We can forgive even literary professors for being unfamiliar with these authors. The first memorable writer to receive the award was Rudyard Kipling in 1907, and he was likely controversial enough for the committee to then not select any other winners that were household names prior to World War I.
There were some fairly well known authors who did not receive the award, however. This would include Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Henrik Ibsen, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Admittedly, some of these writers died too young to ever win the award. Still, these were deserving authors who we will long remember. In other words, the Nobel Prize committee was often wrong.
Like most committees, the Nobel committee from the start was afraid to generate controversy. Individual critics, on the other hand, are sometimes very contentious. And because committees make so many compromises, the selections by the Nobel committee were often uninteresting. Some of its better choices only came about following criticism that the committee needed to expand its horizons. Even in recent years, the committee could not bring itself to award Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, or Allen Ginsberg the Nobel Prize – almost certainly rejected because of the controversial nature of their works. Cormac McCarthy is a living writer who may still receive the award, but time is running out for him as well.
So that brings us back to Bob Dylan – the songwriter from Hibbing (in the heart of Minnesota’s Iron Range) who many continue to accuse of being unable to sing. One Iron Range writer had fun with Dylan’s critics: “To those on the Iron Range that still might not appreciate Dylan, they should know that the Nobel Prize is the Stanley Cup of literature.” (For those who do not understand the joke, the United States Hockey Hall of Fame is in Eveleth, Minnesota, which is about 25 miles away from Hibbing and also in the heart of the Iron Range.)
While in the end it really shouldn’t matter, there certainly could be a lot worse choices for this award. Dylan has made a number of controversial stands – some probably wrongheaded. Yet he kept himself almost always non-partisan and never voiced support for any politician. Whether you like or dislike his songs, he certainly had a personal impact on many individuals that many writers who won the Nobel Prize never did. Unlike so many recipients of the award, Dylan’s reach goes far beyond just those college students or professors whose greatest interest in an artist is the kind of treatise they can write about the artist.
© Robert S. Miller 2016
October 26, 2016
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Rudyard Kipling’s classic children stories contained in The Jungle Book was first filmed as a cartoon by Disney in 1967, then in 1994, and finally into a more updated animated version in 2016. Though the latest version comes closest to capturing the spirit of the stories as Kipling envisioned them, this still is little different from the previous films.
Disney did try to make a production out of this 2016 version of The Jungle Book. With an estimated budget of $175 million, The Jungle Book provides a spectacular visual viewing. (Despite the amazing scenery depicted throughout the movie, the moviemakers apparently filmed The Jungle Book in some Los Angeles warehouse.) Also, Disney did not hold back on the casting. The voices of the characters include Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, and Garry Shandling among others. Director Jon Favreau and the producers of the film were also wise enough to keep the movie to 106 minutes to keep the interest of young viewers. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken also provide some good comic relief as the film may otherwise be a bit too dark for those only familiar with the earlier Disney versions.
Mowgli (Neel Sethi – the only live actor shown on the screen) is a young boy raised by wolves in the jungle, befriended by a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), and counseled by a wise panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). What otherwise would be paradise for Mowgli is threatened by his enemy, a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who disdains any man entering the jungle. Attempts by Bagheera to bring Mowgli back to a village inhabited by humans are unsuccessful. Mowgli runs into several adventures where he is put under the spell of a cobra (Scarlett Johansson), temporarily kidnapped by a large orangutan called Louie (Christopher Walken), and eventually returns to his home where the wolves live. Mowgli eventually gets Shere Khan to follow up into a tree where a branch snaps and the tiger falls to his death. Mowgli is then once again free to run with the wolves.
At least two critics I’ve read stated that Disney wished to avoid controversy by leaving out Kipling’s colonialist message. Unlike the Kipling stories, Mowgli never returns to civilization in the film. This would likely be too complex of a twist to be contained within such a short film – even if Disney did not give Kipling intent in writing the stories a second thought. In the Disney versions, the jungle is not such a terrible place for a young boy to live. In the Kipling version, failure to abide by the rules of the jungle, which would be almost impossible for even a boy like Mowgli to follow, would lead to almost certain death.
Though it is understandable leaving out Mowgli’s return to society, since the intent of the movie is to be charming rather than compelling, the film ultimately is little different than the cartoon version filmed almost fifty years ago. One only has to consider all of the sequels and remakes made today in Hollywood to understand how moviemakers wish to bring in more dollars. And so while The Jungle Book is momentarily entertaining, we will probably forget about the movie until Disney attempts to create another version with even more updated visuals.
August 31, 2016
Sunday, July 31, 2016
When Eli Weisel died on July 2, it was astonishing to discover he lived to be 87-years-old. By all probability, he should have been dead in 1944. I also felt some shame as I had not read or thought about the author and holocaust survivor in quite a few years. I had read Night when I was in college and was jarred by almost every sentence in the memoir. In this book barely more than 100 pages long, Weisel speaks about his recollections of Auschwitz. Much more personally, he speaks about the death of his mother and sister and, at greater length, the murder of his father that he was present to witness.
Night is not merely a depiction of the horrors or Auschwitz. Weisel devotes much of the book towards how his experienced impacted his religious beliefs. Some of the most moving pages of Night take place in the years before Weisel even knew Auschwitz existed. During his early teenage years, Weisel sought instruction on the Cabal, and was mentored by an eccentric teacher who prayed chiefly in order to learn how to pray. Weisel sought such instruction because – deeply sensitive as he was – he knew that the organized Jewish faith was not enough to satisfy his mystical cravings.
It was this same teacher, by the way, who was first to warn the small community about the manner in which Jews were treated in Nazi-occupied territory. A firsthand observer of a slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Nazis, Weisel’s teacher faced mockery in his community who thought he was mad. No one knew how truthfully he spoke until the trains entered Auschwitz. And it was what Weisel saw at Auschwitz that made him declare: “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
While struggling with my own religious beliefs during my college years, this was in great deal a pose to demonstrate my intellectual independence. Weisel struggled because of his inability to come to terms with what he saw in the Nazi concentration camps. If one ended with what Weisel communicated in Night, you would assume Weisel no longer believed in God. Yet whatever happened in the intervening years, Weisel later stated that belief in God was a continual necessity for otherwise one would cease to exist.
I do not feel I am in the position to question anyone who had seen such things regarding his inability to believe in God, nor his finding religious significance in what he had seen. So I spent years trying to reconcile the Weisel making his statement about the death of God and his later statements about his belief.
Weisel did engage in political controversy long after he became famous as a writer. He was a strong advocate of Israel and thought such a nation entirely necessary because of the manner that so many countries abandoned the Jews before and during World War II. He begged President Ronald Reagan to not visit the Bitburg cemetery in 1985 because buried there were members of the SS. Reagan did visit the cemetery after making the statement that the Nazi officers buried there were also victims. However, Reagan did change his itinerary by also visiting the Bergen-Belsen concentration site. Weisel was also firmly opposed to providing Iran any sort of opportunity to develop nuclear devices.
Disagreeing with Weisel over such issues proves almost as difficult as disagreeing with him over his statements about religious beliefs. The problem in confronting Weisel is that you had in one man a holocaust survivor plagued by guilt, an author and intellectual, whose ideas sometimes appeared to be contradictory, and a decent man who was a truly deserving award winner of the Nobel Prize.
With his passing, we are coming towards the end of holocaust survivors who can speak about their experiences. Sadly, such lessons do not appear adequately learned by most of us, and we may be in danger of raising a new generation who thinks little more about the lessons of the holocaust than they will about the Spanish Inquisition – which they already probably know little to nothing about.
I wish I had come across Night in some other setting than a college class. It is a book that more individuals should seek to read on their own in the privacy of their homes where the lessons can be truly absorbed.
July 31, 2016