1. There are a lot of people claiming the battle for gay rights in the U.S. is essentially won.  A large majority of people are in favor of same-sex marriage and an even larger percentage of Americans insist there is no justification for discrimination against LGBT people, period.  For many Americans who don’t have gay friends and family, it’s time to take the topic off the front burner and recognize it only directly affects a tiny percentage of the population.  My response to that is that percentage is about the same as the percentage of Jews in the U.S., and given the historical injustice done to both gays and Jews in our history, I’d say OK, take it off the front burner – but don’t turn off the heat. 

    The gay liberation struggle is no longer my central focus in life.  That would probably be trying to stay awake after meals and making sure my canine daughters get outside at regular intervals, so I don’t have to pick up accidents off the bathroom rug.  But sometimes the struggle still calls out for attention and I find myself dipping into the pool and checking the water temperature.  Gay liberation still runs hot and cold.

    When you look outside the limits of the pockets of progressivism in Europe and North America, it’s clear the battle is still raging hot and heavy.  The Catholic Church in Mexico, for example, is working hard this week to prevent the current government from extending same-sex marriage rights from the capital and nine of Mexico’s thirty-one states to the rest of Mexico.  Protest marches have been organized around the country by the National Front for the Family  showing the power of the church in Mexico is still considerable.  Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancún has been grandstanding, declaring he’d be happy to go to jail to defend the family.  (Oh, sit down, Pedro, you’re embarrassing yourself.)  Meanwhile, LGBT people are marching on archbishop Norberto Rivera’s digs in Mexico City, and demanding the pope bounce him out of his job.

    La lucha continua.  The struggle continues, in other words, in this culture war now extended to the entirety of Western civilization over the roles men and women are expected to play, and whether those roles may be expanded or otherwise modified. The same tired old arguments.  Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara is upset the government is not allowing (sic) parents to pass on their faith to their children, assuming the right to raise your own kids catholic, which remains unchanged, includes the right to prevent other people from living by non-catholic rules and conventions.  Same old, same old.

    Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima, in Peru, incidentally, seems cut from the same cloth.  “Gay marriage and the so-called (sic) ‘day after pill’ are things people are not interested in.”  That’s according to a report in the Catholic publication Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse.  

    Gotta love it.  The people are “not interested in the day after pill.” 

    I know.  I asked the people and they told me they were not interested. 

    Sure you did.

    You go over there, Juan Luis, and sit next to Pedro Pablo and see if you two can make your church look even sillier.

    Homophobia is unacceptable.  Fear of change is another story.  I don’t think everybody uncomfortable with outspoken women or men holding hands is a monster.  I think they need time to recognize that the world will not fall apart if the continuing struggle for human rights takes its natural course and the artificial barriers set up on the basis of sex and race and sexual preference are gradually taken down.  But I think there can be no let-up in the struggle.

    It’s always hard to watch members of the Catholic hierarchy in their silks and satins spread the doctrine that one should not use condoms, do stem-cell research, allow women to have executive authority over men or any of us to touch ourselves down there unless we’re making babies.  One wishes they’d get the hell out of the Middle Ages.

    Gay Pride in Harrison, Arkansas
    But they’re not quite as frightening, somehow, as some of the evangelicals we have in this country whose “old ways” are closer to lynching and the celebration of slavery.  I came across a news story in Harrison, Arkansas the other day, the home of the Ku Klux Klan.  Apparently a group of folk had managed to organize themselves a gay pride event.  How about that, I thought, as the newscaster interviewed the event’s organizers.  I noted they had dropped the word “gay” and were using just “pride” – but hell, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Across the street from Gay Pride in Harrison, Arkansas
    But then the video continued and suddenly we were looking at the face of one R. G. Miller, head of the Arkansas League of the South.  Have a look at the video.    It’s chilling.   “Our duty is primarily to God,” says Miller.  “To stand for his word, to stand for his truth, and to stand for his law.  And his law condemns this.  It says that it is evil.  And we don’t want our children to be growing up in a city where homosexuals can parade around the town square.”  The “city” he’s talking about has a population of 12,943 people according to the latest census.  

    And that includes the out-and-proud, whom you have to admire for wanting to stay and stand up to the R. G. Millers and the Ku Klux Klan.  I would beat it out of town like the road runner.  But they grew up there, and they call it home.  Of course they want to make it better, safer, saner, and closer to the ideas expressed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

    Time to recognize how good I have it.  At breakfast this morning, I found an article by Kevin Fisher-Paulson, who is a sheriff in San Francisco who, when he isn't sheriffing, writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle.  It’s titled, “Yo ho ho: He’s me lawful wedded mate” and I got to bask in the luxury of living in another part of the country, one where the KKK never held sway and the issue of same-sex marriage is now settled.  Read the entire article if you can.  It may be limited to subscribers, and I’m afraid to reproduce the whole thing here for copyright reasons, but here’s a taste.  Fisher-Paulson writes about his husband and their two adopted kids, Zane and Aidan, and their habit of talking like pirates.   Also, read the story of how they had adopted three kids once before and had them taken away from them because "the love of two men can never replace the love of a woman."

    The Fisher-Paulsons and their boys
    When Zane and Aidan’s two daddies, Fisher and Paulson, were finally able to get married, they suddenly realized they didn’t have a best man.

    The morning of the wedding, at the kitchen table, I asked Zane about this best-man business.  He said, “Daddy, you’re the best man.” And Aidan said, “Papa too!” In that crazy kindergarten logic, it worked. Brian was my best man, as well as my bride.

    For a quarter of a century, he’d been the guy who bought me old comic books, raised my children and ate my experimental chili. Through the years of working in video stores, our Christmas tree committing suicide, losing the triplets, losing Tim, adoption ceremonies, baptisms, raising 21 rescue dogs, dance awards, newspaper columns and medals of honor, we’ve shared every one of those 11,315 days and nights with each other. It doesn’t get any more best-man than that.

    What we got for a wedding party were two middle-aged white queens, their hyperactive adopted black 5-year-old son, their hyperactive adopted mixed-race 3-year-old son and three Pekingeses. Kind of like “We Are the World” meets “Here Comes the Bride.” The ceremony was short, and, thanks to Brian’s wisdom, we were not dressed as pirates.

    …Eight years later, Brian is still my best man. As well as me hearty.

    We’re going to be all right.

    Photo credits:

    lipstick and mustache = me source

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  2. My friend Bill Lindsey writes from Arkansas that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, which covers the entire state, has issued new guidelines for dealing with gay people.  Stop using the word gay.  Not because it isn't sufficient to include LGBTI people, but because we should pretend all these people don't amount to a hill of beans in the first place.  Just don't say the name and maybe they'll go away.

    Here's the actual wording of the pronouncement:

    Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express same-sex attraction in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing homosexuality or homosexual inclinations, the use of the term "same-sex attraction" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.

    I'm all for avoiding confusion, Lord knows.  There's so much of it going around these days.

    And they don't stop there.

    If a student’s expression of gender, sexual identity, or sexuality should cause confusion or disruption at the school, or if it should mislead others, cause scandal, or have the potential for causing scandal, then the matter will first be discussed with the student and his/her parents.

    Cause scandal?  Have the potential for causing scandal?

    Don't look now, folks, but we've reached the heart of the matter.

    When it became obvious that priests were abusing young boys in large numbers, what was the church's response?  To circle the wagons.  To protect the church from scandal.  Throw the young'uns under the wheels, if you have to, but for God's sake don't let it get out that priests were using them for sex.  What a scandal that would cause!

    God damn, you've got to give these buggers (yes, pun intended) credit for consistency.
    Keep your eye on the donut, boys, not on the hole.  Watch out for scandal!

    But I digress.  

    You've got something there with being careful about your choice of words when speaking of people different from ourselves.  Let's be sure to control the discourse.  We choose the words to describe you.  Not you.  We are church. You are something "other than church."  If you will all just follow me, please, we can avoid confusion.

    How about?

    Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express race consciousness in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing race or racial identity, the use of the term "dark- or light-skinned person" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.   
    Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express any aspect of the Hebrew language and culture in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing Jews or Jewish practices, the use of the term "Semitic" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals. 
     Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express Mexican culture in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing people of Aztec, Mayan or conquistador heritage, the use of the term "south of the border" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals. 
    Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express German identity in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing Germanness or Germanic traditions, the use of the term "Hun" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.

    Words matter.  Let's all use the right words, people!

    photo credit


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  3. I grew up in a culture in which we were taught never to speak ill of the dead.  It's tacky.  Mean. Nice people don't do it.

    So when I saw this picture on Face Book of the Wicked Witch’s red shoes sticking out from under the house that fell on her, from The Wizard of Oz, I think I was supposed to cluck, “Well, no, it’s not right to laugh.”  Instead, my reaction was, “Damn!  Somebody shares my sense of humor to a T.”  Phyllis Schlafly 1924-2016.  The witch is dead.

    I’m sure there was a part of this woman that her children could love.  She raised six of them, after all.  And had sixteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  I wouldn’t dance and sing about her death in the presence of these people.  There was a private person someone could call grandma.

    But there was also a public figure who worked diligently to assure that women would continue to be legally defined as adjuncts to their fathers and husbands, a Catholic woman who followed her church’s patriarchal teaching to the letter.  This witch is now dead and will ride through history as a footnote, along with Jerry Falwell, in the American culture war over the rights of women and minorities.  And, by the way, when it came to family loyalty, it would seem to have been rather one-sided.  When her son came out as gay, her response to gay people remained unchanged.  “Nobody’s stopping them from shacking up,” she said.  “The problem is that they are trying to make us respect them, and that’s an interference with what we believe.”  Gee thanks, mom.

    Schlafly’s most notable accomplishment was the founding of the Eagle Forum.  She organized it originally to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, but it then became an umbrella organization for other arch-conservative causes. Until Schlafly came along, the ERA was on its way to becoming ratified.  Thirty-five state legislatures had passed it by a vote of more than 90% - out of the thirty-eight necessary.  But congress was then bombarded by pie-baking church ladies, and the amendment died on June 30, 1982. 

    Schlafly seemed to relish the role she played in keeping alive the Ozzie and Harriet image of a perfectly coiffed homemaker in pearls and heels welcoming hubby home from the office with a cocktail and his slippers.  Floor vacuumed, not a hair out of place.  She used to begin her speeches by thanking her husband for allowing her to go out and speak.  In this, she was not one for practicing what she preached.  Twice she ran for Congress, in 1952 and in 1970.  Lost both times.

    She had a point when she argued that the ERA would actually take away some privileges granted to women on the basis of their sex.  The two biggies were alimony and freedom from the draft. Conservatives today insist that the number of rapes of female soldiers prove she had a point.  Ditto the number of children born out of wedlock.  But pull the camera back a bit.  Focus on the whole woods, and not just a couple individual trees.  Reminds me of the arguments that we can't eliminate the growth of poppies for heroin because farmers depend on it for a living.  Or shut down coal mining for the same reason.  Sometimes you have to change two or more things to get the desired result.  I'm always struck with the short-sightedness and lack of imagination in anti-birth control arguments. And limitations on divorce. And giving refuge to children fleeing war.

    Phyllis Schlafly supporting Pat Buchanan for president
    in 1996
    My use of the witch metaphor is hardly original.  Betty Friedan once declared she’d like to burn Schlafly at the stake.    She also referred to her as “Aunt Tom.”  Political Scientist Alan Wolfe wrote in  The New Republic in 2005, “Schlafly has to be regarded as one of the two or three most important Americans of the last half of the 20th century.” But he also wrote that “every idea she ever had was scatterbrained, dangerous and hateful.”  No doubt he was referring to such comments as “sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women,” and “sex-education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions.”

    Politically, you couldn’t get much further to the right.   She even hated Henry Kissinger for being too liberal.  The atom bomb, according to Schlafly, was “a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God.”  Sex education, she said, was “a principle cause of teenage pregnancy.” The Schlaflys were ardent anti-communists who supported Joe McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment in 1954, which would have prevented an American president from negotiating international treaties.

    Particularly irksome to women (and men) in the fight for equal rights was the realization that Phyllis Schlafly had taken the quickest path to a life of leisure; she had married rich.  Gail Sheehy captured the “I’ve got mine” insensitivity of the privileged when she wrote, “Phyllis Schlafly’s formula for the better life, then, is based on marrying a rich professional, climbing the pedestal to lady of leisure and pulling up the rope ladder behind her.”

    Each time we complain about some lousy idea, we are faced with the question of how far we want to go to shut people up.  I am for erring in the direction of free speech.  I think neo-nazis should be free to express anti-semitism, keeping in mind the rule that one cannot shout fire in a crowded theater.  I think people should be allowed to express the notion that the South fought for states’ rights and not to keep slavery intact, even though they are dead wrong.  It’s up to the rest of us to make sure facts get out there to contradict this kind of misinformation.  Trump and other dirty politicians can lie their heads off.  It’s up to the rest of us to call them out and vote accordingly. 

    So I’m not for labelling Phyllis Schlafly’s hateful pronouncements hate speech.  Not something to be punished.  Just something to take note of as hateful.  I just want to be sure that when her ideas get a hearing others get to step up and reveal the pernicious effect of her work.  Because she fought AIDS education, people died.  Because countless numbers of women could not get access to birth control information, thousands of abortions took place that should not have been necessary, and women who might have gotten out from under bad marriages remained tied to abusive men.  All because the crusader, Phyllis Schlafly, was convinced she was doing God’s work.  Schlafly was a fountain of slander and misinformation.  Consider her claim that the real purpose behind the push for same-sex marriage was to eliminate the Christian religion.  

    Just as most Muslims ignore what's actually in the Qur'an about slaying infidels and such, most Evangelicals, thank God, ignore what’s actually in the Bible. The naughty parts where Yahweh insists you should bash the brains out of the children of your enemies.  And where Jesus (in Luke 19, verse 27) says, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." And most Catholics ignore the retrograde teachings of the so-called Holy See. The world has moved on.  Hypocritical biblical/magisterium cherry-pickers like Pat Robertson and Ted Cruz and Phyllis Schlafly, who find their way into American politics, however, will, little doubt, be ever with us, insisting on the importance of maintaining the old ways.  Holdovers from a harsher age.  When white people spoke of the white man’s burden, when blacks went to lesser schools if they went to school at all, when women were paid only 77 cents for the same work men were paid a dollar for… OK, so that last one still holds…

    In any case, Mrs. Schlafly has gone on to her reward.  She came.  She had her say.

    And now she’s gone.

    Ding Dong.

    photo credit:

    Witch is dead: Jennine Hill’s Face Book page


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  4. Three Germans at dinner: an immigrant artist from Israel; Mrs. Gop;
    a non-Jewish German citizen who used to prefer the identity "European"
    to "German" but is becoming more comfortable with German pride
    I saw a first-rate documentary at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival yesterday, titled Germans and Jews.  A collaboration by two New Yorkers, director Janina Quint, who grew up as a non-Jew in Germany, and producer Tal Recanati, who grew up Jewish in the U.S. and in Israel, it is a face-on encounter with the effect of the Holocaust on Jewish attitudes toward Germany and Germans, and a close-up view of Jews living in Germany today.  Ken Jaworowsky of The New York Times has called it “part psychology seminar and part sociology course…a real cause for hope, despite history.”  

    I worked for the French Railroads years ago, during the 60s, helping travel agencies and individuals in San Francisco get tickets and reservations on European trains (i.e., not just in France).  I remember a conversation on the phone with a customer who wanted to get from Paris to Vienna but didn’t want to travel through Germany.  “Why not?” I asked, suspecting the answer.  Sure enough.  “Because I’m Jewish,” she answered, without hesitation.

    I’ve known Jews who wouldn’t be caught dead buying a German car, or even a German washing machine.

    The thing is, though, I’m in my 70s and was alive from 1940 to 1945 and remember the end of the war. And that means my Germans vs. Jews notions were formed some time ago.  It's hard to keep up with changes, and this film was enlightening indeed.  I realized as I watched how much I was in need of the update the film provided.

    I remember getting to know concentration camp survivors in the 50s and 60s, and seeing the tattoos on their arms.  I remember distinctly how awkward it was getting Germans, even in my own family, to talk of the war.  The most common attitude seemed to be, “Some things are best forgotten.  I think we should focus on the future, not on the past.”  The people I grew up with had direct personal knowledge of the war from a variety of perspectives, German, non-German, Jewish, non-Jewish, including overlapping perspectives, and the burden of memory was simply too much for some of them.

    I was a student in Munich, in 1960, and I saw an announcement one time that there would be a showing of concentration camp films in a large auditorium at the university.  I was taking a course in the history of the Nazi period at the time and was curious about how much they would actually show.  They showed it all, the kids with the tattooed arms, the “Kauft nicht bei Juden (Don’t buy from Jews)” signs, right down to the bulldozers pushing corpses into ditches for burial.  Several people got sick and many went running out of the room.  It was an unforgettable moment, particularly since I had built up the conviction that I would never get a German to talk about what really happened.  It made clear to me that even if the majority of people were shunning the memory, some were not.  Some were facing their country’s immediate history and trying to figure out what to do with that confrontation.

    Over the years I met more people who spoke of asking, “What did you do during the war, Papa?”  and then as the years went by, “What did you do during the war, Grandpa?” and of either getting no answer at all, or the protest that their people were never “Mitmacher” – people who went along. 

    Other histories of the early post-war period, beyond the scope of this documentary but relevant to its conclusions, reveal just how long the de-nazification process took to unfold.  One example is the fight by Fritz Bauer to bring Adolf Eichmann to justice.  That story is told in The People vs. Fritz Bauer, also playing at the SF Jewish Film Festival this year.  And in Labyrinth of Lies, which I reviewed last October.  The American decision to pursue the Cold War led them to drag their feet on bringing Nazi crimes into the public view, and that only furthered the “focus on the future” argument.

    But in all this time, I realized that I was getting a look at this question entirely from the non-Jewish German perspective.  I didn’t know a single German Jew living in Germany today.  And for that reason, the film had an impact on me beyond the obvious.

    For one thing, I was working with the assumption that the majority of Germans still remained ignorant of the Holocaust, or perhaps had a superficial understanding, something akin to Americans’ knowledge of their cowboy-and-Indian history.

    The American TV mini-series, The Holocaust, was shown on German television in 1978 and was viewed by half the German population.  Despite some criticism - Elie Wiesel called it soap opera and a trivialization - it had, from most reports, a profound impact on Germans.  Since then the topic has been opened wide, and one of the people interviewed claimed that Germans are better informed on the topic than other Europeans. Whether that's true doesn't matter much - it's not a competition.  What matters is that German history no longer stops with Charlemagne, as another interviewee said of his school experience.  There is now extensive coverage in school of the time of the Third Reich, and a large number of documentaries, including some featuring the children of Nazis, including Nazis who ran the concentration camps, are now widely available for viewing.  History of the Third Reich is no longer a taboo subject and information once shunned is now out in the open.  Whether and to what degree reconciliation takes place, at least the ground is better prepared for it than in previous decades. A sea change has taken place from the attitude in the first decade or two after the war, where anti-Semitism was still in the air as part of the cultural baggage, like smoke in the floors and walls of a building which had suffered a major fire.  

    Today, if anything, the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction.  Anti-Semitism has largely been replaced by philo-Semitism, the desire on the part of Germans to bend over backwards to be kind to Jews on the personal level and speak kindly of anything Jewish.  As Thorsten Wagner points out, many Germans are only too happy to point out to you how smart the Jews are, how musical, how talented this way and that.  He worries that they sometimes spill over – how good at business, for example – into praise that could turn to anti-Semitism in an instant.  Wagner is the Danish academic director of a program called Fellowships at Auschwitz, affiliated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, and an example of somebody with a Nazi background who has made a career in Jewish, particularly holocaust, history.  German historian, Fritz Stern, who also figures prominently in the documentary, worries that the desire to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive has a downside – he’d like for Jews to be known for something besides their history as victims.

    What puts this documentary a cut above most is the brilliant selection of voices chosen to tell the story.  Besides Thorsten Wagner and Fritz Stern, there is a Russian couple, the Gops, two of a great many Russian Jews who have left the Soviet Union for Germany.  The husband speaks freely and openly.  He’s very happy with his choice.  Not that he has become a patriot, but because, he says, it’s a great place to live and raise his children.  His wife has many of the same attitudes – used to have, that is – of her parents’ generation – “How could a Jew ever live in Germany again?”  One of the Germans in the film declares that he doesn’t want to identify as German, but as European, expressing an attitude that until recently was common among Germans.  A German woman wonders if she's mistaken for Jewish because she has a big nose.  A jarring note, but one which gives the film a sense of authenticity.

    Neue Synagoge, Oranienburgerstrasse, Berlin
    The filmmakers put on a dinner and invited all the participants to share their thoughts around the table.  Their conversation is interspersed with talking head commentary and scenes of normal life in Berlin today.  What comes of this is a remarkably positive image of life in Berlin today, with the assumption that this applies to rest of the country, as well.  Particularly striking is the number of Israelis who have emigrated to Berlin.  Partly because it’s a thriving in-place to be, with a lively cultural and night life, partly, as one Israeli confesses, “because it’s safer than Israel.”

    Menorah before the Brandenburg Gate
    The positive image of Germany portrayed in the film is not a whitewash.  
    There are still neo-Nazis to contend with.  And even more troubling are a number of immigrants from Turkey and other Muslim-culture nations who have brought anti-Semitism with them as part of their cultural inheritance.  And then there is the fact that this place called Germany, which once had as many as half a million Jews today has fewer than 120,000, or .2% of the German population, a constant reminder of genocide.  The point though, is that that number is rising faster in Germany than anywhere else, and there are some stunning iconic images to represent that change – the rebuilt Oranienburger Strasse New Synagogue, for example and the image of the 30-foot menorah in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

    The desire for remembrance is inevitably in conflict with the desire of people to focus on the positive.  Elie Wiesel spent his life telling the holocaust story, and was plagued by people complaining of his beating a dead horse.  Like Bernie Sanders, who was put down by opponents for his johnny-one-note focus on economic disparity in the U.S., Wiesel’s vow that “they shall not be forgotten” came with a cost.  Simon Wiesenthal hunted Nazis all his life and had to contend with charges that he was dredging up bad memories and hounding people who had moved on and built new productive lives, to no good end.

    I believe there is wisdom in the George Santayana line, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” And for me, the challenge when faced with an either/or proposition is to turn it into a both/and proposition.  How do we both remember the war and its victims and use that memory as a jumping off point for positive change?  That this can be done is illustrated by the Stolpersteine phenomenon.

    “Stolpern” is “stumble” in German, and in 1992 Cologne artist Gunter Demnig came up with the idea of placing cobblestones with brass plates in the road for people to “stumble across.”  They are put there by people who want to remember that "a Jew once lived here" or worked here or was otherwise associated with a particular place nearby.  In Germans and Jews a woman, reflecting the guilt many Germans feel toward Jews, spoke of going out and polishing the plaques in front of her building.  She then located relatives of the people on the plaque and let them know their loved ones were being remembered.  Call it schmalzy, if you will.  I call it reconciliation.

    Another important issue taken up in the documentary is how differently anti-semitism and Nazism are remembered by those who grew up in the Federal Republic (West Germany) and in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).  The East Germans put all their emphasis on building socialism and claimed all the Nazis had left for the West, thus enabling them to claim Nazism was a strictly West German phenomenon.  A remarkable fiction, one with effects still felt in the difficulty East Germans have coming to terms with the seeds of fascism and anti-semitism still extant in modern life.  It’s hard to root something out you don’t believe was there in the first place.

    Time seems to be healing even something as brutal and inhuman as the Holocaust and the devastation inflicted by the Third Reich.  Germans and Jews speaks not only to those interested in Jewish and German history.  But to all of us who surrender at times to despair and cynicism.  Of the many dramatic moments in this story of reconciliation in Germans and Jews, the most memorable one, I think, is the story of the Russian couple, the Gops.  The husband represents those who argue for forgetting history.  The wife, those who for one reason or another cannot forget or who will themselves not to forget.  In the end, Mrs. Gop comes around to embracing this new Germany they have emigrated to.  The moment came, she says, when she saw her son playing with the German team in the international Maccabiah games, which some like to refer to as the “Jewish Olympics,”   in Israel.  There they were, Jewish kids in Israel, rooting for their home team.  “Deutschland!  Deutschland!  Deutschland!” they were shouting.

    I guess I can call Germany home now, said Mrs. Gop.

    Germans and Jews
    Released by First Run Features
    English and German with English subtitles

    USA. 76 min. Not rated

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  5. I find this latest Pew Research chart showing overwhelming support for Donald Trump by white Evangelicals fascinating.  There is so much in these figures to wonder at – the fact that they are virtually the mirror image of the ‘nones,” for example. Or between blacks and whites, and between Hispanics and non-Hispanics.  Free thinkers avoid Trump, Bible thumpers embrace him.  Now how do you make sense of that?

    To start with the Evangelicals, the first answer that comes to mind is that it’s likely the Evangelicals include a whole lot of single-issue voters, and that issue is abortion. Trump was once in favor of a woman’s right to choose, but he has come around since deciding to run for president to be anti-abortion and pro-gun control.  Also part of the story is the successful strategy of the right-wing to line up evangelicals on the full range of right-wing issues.  Not just unrestricted use of guns, but the myth that the right is pro-small government when in reality it is actually for very big government when it comes to a strong defense, and translates that into support of the military-industrial complex.  And when it comes to controlling women's bodies, as well, bringing behavior in line with the religious views of evangelicals.  A culture war frontline issue, in which the army of the right favors limiting sex to reproduction and women to male domination generally, while the left looks to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights instead, in which sexism and racism and homophobia are seen as retrograde values to be cast into the dustbin of history. It turns out they, the right, want small government only when it comes to taking some of that money which has floated to the top 1% and putting it into roads, bridges, healthcare, and education through university.

    What blows my mind, as someone who sees the appeal of Christianity in its emphasis on love and compassion, concern for the poor, the homeless, the sick and the needy, is how Evangelicals have turned Christianity into something quite rotten.  How an Evangelical can bash away at gay people all these years for their alleged promiscuity, for example, and then throw their support behind a man who cheats on his first wife with the woman who becomes his second and then dumps her, as well, for a model.  Not that I think there’s anything wrong with models.  Or with divorce, for that matter.  It’s that they do.  Or at least say they do.  And it gets harder and harder to mask the hypocrisy.  They will tell you it’s not hypocrisy, of course, but a simple prioritizing of values.  Better a philanderer who opposes abortion than a boring middle-of-the-road mainstream Methodist victim of a philandering husband – who favors abortion rights.  Guess that’s the choice Jesus would make.

    And what of the Mainstream Protestant vote - an 11-point spread in favor of Trump.  What explains that, aside from the fact that this group is overwhelmingly white?

    Then there are the Catholics.  What a split between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics.  In case you ever had any doubt that cultural values can, and usually do, trump religious ones – here it is all spelled out for you.  If you followed your church’s authority figures, the pope, the curia, the bishops, you’d vote for the sex-for-reproduction only candidate.  OK, wait a minute.  That’s not right.  You’d vote for the guy who is against abortion.  That’s it.  Then how come this gigantic split between non-Hispanics, half of whom follow the strict line on abortion, and Hispanics, who go solidly for the woman in favor of women’s rights?

    That question, too, is probably easily answered.  Trump has revealed himself to be a bigot in silk suits, claiming that Mexicans need to be kept at bay by a wall because of their inclination to rape and murder.  And the many folks from south of the border who have made their way into the States for economic reasons need to go back, for the same reason.  Hispanics know that way of viewing their culture and their people is pure bigotry and decency requires they support the candidate who would work for a saner (and much more practical) solution.  Sorry, Mr. Pope-in-Rome, we’ve got a pretty good reason to go for the Methodist value here.  You know, that John Wesley quote Hillary gave in her acceptance speech, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  Totally mainstream Protestant way of articulating religion, and one that a Hispanic Catholic (or anybody else, obviously) can embrace enthusiastically.  I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that they are embracing Hillary for positive reasons; they could, of course, simply be voting anti-Trump.

    My point about culture trumping religion is brought out all the more clearly in the distribution among
    African-Americans:  8% for Trump and 89% for Clinton.  Doesn’t get more dramatic than that.  Some blacks may take Trump’s two divorces as a reason to disapprove of him, of course.  But I’ll wager the real picture is the cultural one, the fact that this election is about the last gasp of white supremacists to hold onto cultural and political control via the Republican Party and the clearly articulated support on the democratic platform for minorities.  A quick look at this Paul Ryan selfie of himself with White House interns tells the story.  I can only imagine how that picture must come across to you if you’re a black American.

    My point, I guess, is that you can’t tell a book by its cover.  And you can’t be sure you know about the significance of American religious affiliation by looking at this poll of Americans ostensibly on the basis of religious affiliation.  Sometimes a Christian isn’t much of a Christian.  Sometimes a Catholic is a pope-knows-best Catholic; sometimes Catholic means caring for the poor and ministering to the needy, and not worrying who should be prevented from approaching the communion rail.  You don’t know all there is to know by following the label “Christian” or “Catholic.”  Without much more poking around in the motivations of these voters, you see that the labels can actually mask as much as they reveal.

    If you give a moment’s thought to the fact that blacks, Hispanics and the non-religious are all overwhelmingly anti-Trump, and stand in such sharp contrast to white Christians, Catholic, Mainstream Protestant or Evangelical, you might want to ask yourself just exactly what is going on among these folks who call themselves Christians anyway.


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  6. Gentlemen of the Saxon and Viking Reenactment
    Society of East Anglia
    Sometime in the early 400s, C. E., we can imagine Romans living in places like Londinium, Eboracum or Mancunium (London, York or Manchester) in Provincia Brittania, taking note of the arrival of Saxons and Angles and Jutes from across the Oceanus Germanicus (North Sea). 

    Whether these were invaders or simply folks looking for some greener pastures is actually still a contested issue, believe it or not.  In any case, they had come to stay and a Roman-controlled Celtic (Briton) Britain gave way to a Germanic Britain.  To complicate matters, the Britons gave their name to Brittany in France, which some of them fled to.  The Celts retreated to Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Scotland.  Those who didn’t stay and make babies with the new occupiers of Germanic Britain, that is.  From the Angles, we get the name of England and the English language, although at the time, locals pretty much referred to all three groups as “Saxons.”  To this day, the Scottish Gaelic name for England is Sasainn, and the people of England are Sassunach.  In Ireland, it’s Sasana and Sasanach, respectively.*

    By the time the Vikings began raiding Britain, a few centuries later, the Saxons had become a distinct race of people.  I’m using “race” in the social-cultural sense, the way Hispanics use “La Raza”.  Genetically, of course, they were still the same people as the Vikings now come to bop them on the head and take their things.  Linguistically, too, the two groups probably had a large degree of mutual intelligibility, kind of like German and Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, or Russian and Polish.

    If you grow up with an interest in English history, you know of King Alfred the Great.  Have always loved his name.   If you know German, you know that “Rat” (old spelling: Rath) means council.  Rathaus, I learned as a kid, is not a house for rats, but rather “council house,” the German word for “city hall.”  “Red” is just another Germanic variation on “rath,” and has taken on the meaning of “wise man.”  Alfred was small in stature, evidently (I’m guessing), and probably suffered from Crohn’s disease, and that may have made him a tad bookish.  In any case, he was known as “the wise elf.”

    But I digress.  I was getting to the BBC television series known as The Last Kingdom, which I have just finished binge-watching.  The Last Kingdom refers to Alfred’s kingdom.  At some point, the Vikings, or “Danes” (just as Angles and Jutes were subsumed under Saxons, Norwegians were subsumed, as well, this time under “the Danes.”) had landed in East Anglia and pretty much occupied three of the English kingdoms – Northumberland in the North, Mercia in the Center, East Anglia in the East.  Only the West Saxon (i.e., Wessex) kingdom remained in Saxon hands under Alfred.  Map is available here

    Now imagine the drama you can squeeze out of this history.  Imagine a boy from up North, in Northumberland, say, in the year 866 and follow his life for ten years or so.   Let’s call the boy Uhtred (he too, please note, can also be “wise”), using a real character from later years, but stick him into this time period and make a hero out of him.  Have his father, the original Uhtred, killed by an invading Dane, an earl named Ragnar, and have Uhtred the younger enslaved and raised by the Danes.  Great material for some pre-modern identity politics – Dane vs. Saxon, fun-loving marauder vs. pious Christian, outsider vs. insider. 

    Bernard Cornwell, a prolific writer of historical novels, has written a series he calls The Saxon Stories.  The first couple of these novels was the basis for The Last Kingdom, an eight-part television series produced by BBC and aired in October of last year.  The story I’ve sketched out is the TV version, not Cornwell’s original.  The screenwriters have tinkered with Cornwell’s details, one has to assume, for dramatic effect.  It caught my eye when Netflix announced it was available for streaming in the United States and in Britain.  A second series is in production and expected to air later in this year.  Plot summary is available here

    Uhtred develops a strong affectional relationship with Earl Ragnar, his Danish father, despite the fact it was Ragnar who killed his Saxon father, and struggles over whether to define himself as Saxon or Dane.  Uhtred is driven by two overriding desires: the Saxon in him leads him to seek the help of Alfred to regain his rightful place as ealdorman (think “duke” – the Latin translation is “dux”) of Bebbanburg (today’s Bamburgh) in the North.  The Dane in him burns with loyalty to his Danish brother, Ragnar “the fearless”, together with whom he hopes to avenge the death of their Danish father, Ragnar the Elder.  Throw in a bunch of other life companions – Brita, a Saxon girl taken at the same time as Uhtred as a slave by the Danes; Thyra, Earl Ragnar’s daughter (and therefore sister to Ragnar junior and to Uhtred, as well); Kjartan, Ragnar’s shipbuilder, and Kjartan’s son Sven, a thoroughly despicable sort and a couple of Superman-type other Danish kings/generals (there’s no difference in this day and age) like Guthrum and Ubba, and you’ve got yourself a TV series that goes and goes and goes.  I believe the customary adjective for such productions is “rollicking.”  It doesn’t hurt that Uhtred, Ragnar, Guthrum and Ubba are all actual historic figures.

    I’ve only skimmed the surface of the characters in this saga.  Uhtred’s love interests are notable.  So too are the efforts of the priests who play a role in stressing the main cultural distinction between the Danes and the Saxons.  The Danes are disparaged as “pagans,” and given to partying hard in the here and now; the Saxons are handicapped by needing to be guided by an external code of behavior including self-denial (mis?)taken for virtue – and no small amount of hypocrisy.  Uhtred, although baptized as a child, rejects Christianity, yet is the model of a man whose word is sacred.  In contrast to Skorpa, for example, the quintessential Viking marauder, a cruel, deceitful and sadistic barbarian.

    It’s these contrasts that make the characters so lively.  The endless clashing of swords gets tiresome, and the violence is pretty graphic.  So is the wretchedness of life in the first half of the first millenium at a time of endless war, the mud, the pigs and the chickens who invade your living space when you can get them, the diet of vegetable broth when you cannot.  Apparently there is no way to keep your fingernails clean.

    Historically, of course, Alfred was known as “the Great” because he eventually had considerable success in driving out the Danes, and negotiating a peace with those who remained.  Guthrum converted to Christianity, for example, and Alfred is today venerated by the Anglican Church as a Christian hero with his own feast day, October 26.  (The pope wouldn’t canonize him, but this is probably the next-best thing).  It’s not giving the plot away, I hope, to tell you the story of Alfred’s accomplishments are not central – the main character of The Last Kingdom is Uhtred, after all.  And this season stops short of telling you whether Uhtred made it home to achieve his goal of reclaiming Bebbanburg.  Nonetheless, the yearning for home is palpable, and gives the story a driving force.

    Inevitable, I suppose, with history-for-television is historical inaccuracy and ambiguity.  What parts of the story correspond to actual historical events – Alfred’s grand stand at the battle of Edington in 878, for example, where the combined forces of the Saxons under Alfred defeat Guthrum and the “Great Heathen Army” – and what parts are fictionalized are not always evident.  Nor do they matter, of course, to most people, I suspect, who will watch the story for its romance and its adventure, and see historical reality as little more than icing on the cake. 

    The acting is excellent.  It helps that the series has a whole host of experienced talented actors, many of them familiar faces, including Matthew Macfadyen, who plays a cameo role at the beginning as Uhtred Senior, and the noted Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, who plays Ravn, the father of Earl Ragnar (also a minor role).  The lead role of Uhtred is played by German actor, Alexander Dreymon (born Alexander Doetsch), who grew up in France, Switzerland, Germany and the United States and speaks English with a British accent in real life, for some reason.  Several Swedish actors are involved, including Thomas Gabrielsson, who plays Guthrum and Jonas Malmsjö, who plays a terrifying Skorpa.  Actual Viking actors, in other words.  And let’s not forget Rune Temte, the Norwegian actor who plays the other Viking warlord Ubba.  Brilliant idea, don’t you think, getting modern-day descendants of Saxons to play Saxons and descendants of Vikings to play Vikings? The role of another Saxon-turned-Dane Brida, Uhtred’s fellow slave, and first love, is played by Austrian actress Emily Cox.  Mildrith, Uhtred’s (Saxon) wife, is played by British actress, Amy Wren.  Other notables are the Shakespearean actor David Dawson as Alfred and Adrian Bower, also British, plays Leofric, Uhtred’s loyal friend he is forced to engage in a battle to the death with.

    The production was filmed in Hungary, for affordability.  Since there are no structures still standing from those days, entire villages – including the town of Winchester – had to be built from scratch.  Great detail was given to costuming, getting the homespun just right, and other details right down to face-painting.  A minor liberty was taken with the wooden shields.  They were modified in shape so you can distinguish between the opposing armies.

    Jolly good history.  It will send you to Wikipedia to read up on the Danelaw.  Or maybe cause you to reflect on the notion of immigration to Britain.  First Romans moving in on the Celts/Britons, then Saxons, then Danes, then Britons from France in 1066 whose ancestors were Celts. Some sort of cosmic justice, maybe, watching the Celts-turned-French now getting control of their land back. And, of course, in the end, nobody actually displaces anybody.  Mostly they all hop into bed and make new races of folk every so often.

    Tell the history by means of giant blonde men with face tattoos busting in and looking for the family silver and you’ve got a rollicking good binge-watch in store.  Keep your Netflix streaming current. Positively rollicking.

    *Note that while in Britain “Saxon” (to the Celts) means English, on the continent it means German.  The Finnish word for Germany is Saksa.  In Estonian, it’s Saksamaa.  The Romani (Gypsies) call Germans Ssassitko temm.
    **Here it’s the Danes who have tattooed faces and bodies.  It’s worth noting, I think, that the word “Briton” seems to have originated from the Greek Prittanoi, their word for the Celts, from the Celtic word to cut or carve, i.e. tattoo. 

    photo credit: Please note that none of the folks in this photo have anything to do with the TV series, The Last Kingdom, as far as I know.  But I'll wager they've stopped frolicking on the beach at Norfolk long enough to rollick with the rest of us.


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  7. My friend Jason sent me an e-mail the other day in which he asked me if I knew the character 間.

    I did.  It's a very common character, one you see every day.

    Here's my response to Jason:

    is the Chinese character for “space.”  That's the traditional Chinese character.  The Chinese have simplified it to 间, but I'm concerned with the character as it is used in the Japanese language only. Japanese and Koreans did not follow the Chinese simplification program in 1949. The Japanese did simplify some characters, but it was a Japanese simplification of Chinese, not a Chinese simplification of Chinese.  This was Early Cold War times, remember, and the notion of a single Chinese language writing system to enhance pan-Asian communication was not yet on the horizon.

    In the kunyomi (“Japanese” reading), 間 is pronounced “ai” or “aida.”  “Aida” is the word for “between,” as in “kimi (you) to (and) boku (me) to (and, again) the old oak tree no aida (no is the possessive marker, equivalent to ‘s)” it translates “between you and me and the old oak tree.”  Note that Japanese has postpositions, not prepositions.

    An additional kunyomi is “ma” which means either a room or a space or a pause or a musical “rest”.   Tokonoma,” for example, that little alcove in a Japanese room where you hang a scroll and put flowers and maybe an altar to the ancestors, is written with this character: 床間。

    When combined with the character , tsuyu “dewdrops, flimsiness, tears, mortality” it is pronounced tsuyunoma and may be translated “a fleeting moment.”

    If you ever take a train in Japan (and how could you not?), the first word you always hear when a train is about to enter a station is “mamonaku.”  ma = space; mo = even; naku = not.  In the English tongue, this word may be understood to convey something like “in no time at all…”  Note that the distinction here between time and space is of no account; "ma" may be understood to be a generic word for both time and space.

    間男, maotoko, “ma” combined with the word for man, , otoko, it translates “secret male lover.”

    In the onyomi (“Chinese” reading), it has two pronunciations: KEN and KAN.  Which one you use is a feature of individual words, the same as gender is in European languages.  There is no explaining it; you simply have to know.

    “Person” in Japanese is “hito” (nothing to do with Hirohito, which I eventually discovered means "Mr. Abundant Benevolence," and not "Mr. Wide Person" as I thought for the first decade or so I lived in Japan.).  It is written 人。“Hito” is kunyomi -  the corresponding onyomi is “nin.”  When (pronounced nin) is combined with ken (the k becomes g in word compounds for phonological reasons irrelevant here) you get ningen.  “Person-space” is the word for “human being.”

    Combine (we’re still talking about the ‘ken’ pronunciation now) with se, “the world,” and you get 世間, seken, which translates “people, ‘the public,’ society, life, rumor or gossip.”

    You know that Japanese, like many East Asian languages, uses “counters.”  You combine the numbers, one, two, three, four, five, etc. ichi, ni, san, shi, go, etc. with a counter depending on size, shape, or other characteristic:

    -hon/pon/bon – for counting long thin things like pencils, penises, chopsticks and trees.
    -mai ­– for flat things, like sheets of paper and solar panels
    -hiki/piki  – for four-legged-animals (small ones - there's another counter for larger animals)
    So “two pencils, empitsu” would be nihon no empitsu; “two pieces of dried seaweed, nori” would be nimai no nori, and if you asked me how many dogs I had in the car and I had both Bounce and Miki with me, I would answer nihiki.

    , pronounced –ken, is the counter for spaces on a go board (I don’t know why you would count the spaces, since in go it’s the intersections that count, not the spaces, but I mention it because go is apparently the only board game in which human beings (人間) can still reliably defeat computers.

    ikken, niken, sangen, then, are the counters for spaces.  Note that -ken/gen are counters for spaces and only coincidentally the same word as for spaces itself.  Many people these days, when talking of "lines and spaces" use the English words "line" (ライン), i.e. ra-i-n and "space" (スペス), i.e., su-pe-su.  Go-players of the conservative sort might want to avoid foreign words when speaking of an ancient Japanese traditional board game (which is, of course, Chinese), but more modern youngfolk might be heard to speak of "two spaces" as niken no supesu.  Only if they knew the counter for spaces, of course.  Older people regularly bewail the loss of the language with the present generation, so who knows? Also, this may never have actually happened, of course, but I'm considering the theoretically possible.

    One last comment, and then we can break for lunch…

    The elements of consist of the outer two parts – – which is mon “gate”, and a sun being observed through the gate.  Think of the character for gate as a pair of swinging saloon doors in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Note that you could just as readily write this character with a moon, , tsuki, instead of a sun being seen through the gate and it would still mean the same thing.  How it is that “sun (or moon) observed through the gate” came to be the Chinese character for “space” is a question that it takes somebody of a higher pay grade than mine to answer.

    Some other things that can be seen through the gate are:

    kuchi – “mouth” – 問 – as in “to question” or “to accuse”
    mizu – “water” ­– – as in “to pan for gold”
    –­ kokoro – “heart” ­– 悶える “to be in agony”
    mimi – “ear” – 聞こえる“to hear”

    and that’s but a small sample.

    Forgive the digression.  It was only the sun and moon seen through the gate that you were asking about.  I have much to learn about not going on beyond the pale.


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  8. Elie Wiesel died at his home in New York yesterday.  He had survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald and spent his life making sure the memory of the Holocaust remained alive, as well as speaking out for others in places like South Africa, Nicaragua and the Sudan.  He is being remembered by people around the world in the most laudatory language imaginable.   Obama called him the “conscience of the world.”  I think with good reason.

    You know it’s your conscience speaking when you get the feeling you know what’s right and you’re feeling uncomfortable at the same time.  I followed Elie Wiesel over the years.  Not all that closely, but when he spoke, I listened.  Only once, when he spoke out in favor of extending Jewish settlements in Jerusalem, did I disagree with him.  On every other occasion, I was persuaded he was on the right side of history.  He was a remarkable man.  Driven.  A dog with a bone.

    It was the Bitburg controversy where his voice touched me most directly.  I had a good friend in Berlin named Achim.  He and his wife Margit had experienced the war directly.  Achim had been in the German navy and Margit survived the Russian invasion of Berlin in 1945.  When they spoke about war, I always listened.  After the war, Margit and Achim became involved in an organization that managed the graves of fallen soldiers.  Every year, a calendar would arrive in the mail and I would hang it up.  Always a bit self-consciously – as an American, I wasn't going to honor the German war dead without thinking twice.  But I came to understand – and the older I get the more I understand – how good people can get swept up in evil, and I came to see that young men who marched under the symbol of the swastika could be victims too, and came to admire the work of this organization known as the German War Graves Commission, first founded after World War I, but expanded after World War II.

    Achim was a delightful friend.  I learned much from him about German politics and political activism generally.  He became Berlin’s representative for the United Nations at some point and when he died condolences came in from all directions. I admired him as a teacher and as a voice of reason. In all the years we knew each other, I remember only one big disagreement.  That was the visit of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States to the war graves at Bitburg.  Achim, along with 87% of the German people, found it appropriate that Reagan should support his friend and ally, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and make a “visit of reconciliation” to Bitburg during his state visit to Germany in 1985.  Elie Wiesel convinced me otherwise.  It was a sad parting of the ways for Achim and me.  Fortunately not a lasting one, but it was painful at the time.

    Reagan wanted to station Pershing missiles in Germany against strong German opposition.  Kohl came to his aid, and Reagan wanted to repay the favor.  Unfortunately the administrations of both national leaders failed to do their homework.  Among the dead at Bitburg were 49 members of the Waffen-SS.  And to really muddy the waters, Reagan press secretary Larry Speakes mistakenly told the press that there were Americans buried at Bitburg.  Turns out there were not.

    I struggled over this strong difference between Achim's perspective and mine.  On the one hand, I was in total agreement that war victims didn’t stop being victims simply because they were German.  On the other hand, I heard Wiesel’s voice when he lectured Reagan, saying, “That place, Mr. President, is not your place.”

    Wiesel, according to all reports, suffered mightily over this decision to speak out again the Bitburg visit.  He was grateful to the United States for taking him in after the war, and when Reagan called Wiesel to the White House to award him the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement, it felt all wrong to bite the hand that was feeding him, so to speak.  But he did.  White House staff, knowing they had messed up, tried to limit Wiesel to three minutes.  But Wiesel insisted he would get his full time or he would boycott the event. In the end he got to speak his mind.  You are wrong, Mr. President.  You are wrong.

    That event is chronicled by Gil Troy writing in The Daily Beast this morning.  Troy describes Elie Wiesel as a “one-man scourge of dictators and a friend to the oppressed.”

    Countless thousands will remember Elie Wiesel for speaking truth to power.  Besides Reagan, he also scolded Pope Benedict for reinstating holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.  Williamson’s “I believe there were no gas chambers” got him excommunicated, but Benedict brought him back without bothering to check whether his views had changed.  It was some time after being reinstated that Williamson made the "no gas chambers" remark.  

    I remember reading about that and feeling sick to my stomach.  Then I read that Elie Wiesel had called Benedict out on his effort to let bygones be bygones, and I felt better.  There was somebody out there watching and remembering.  As long as somebody's paying attention we would be all right.

    That will be Elie Wiesel’s legacy.  I will remember him for the many hours of discussion I had, both with friends and in my head, over how to find the line between reconciliation and remembering, one of the greatest moral dilemmas one is ever faced with.

    There is no greater service, I think, than to get others out of complacency and forgetting, to churn the waters now and again, to make you think.  And revisit old certainties.  And think some more.

    One of my heroes has died, and I am very sad.

    photo credit


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  9. Last time I posted here I commented on how Bonnie Prince Charlie, as I called him when I was in the Third Grade - Mrs. Parker-Bowles's husband, as he's known today - is now a grandfather already.  And his son, bonnie William, is apparently a peach of a husband and father, if you believe the PR (and I do).  I got several responses from people who thanked me for some good news for a change.  Usually I spend more time rending my garments over the dark side.

    I protest.  When the world gives you lemons, you may eventually turn them into lemonade.  I just think there's nothing wrong with making a face first, if that's what comes natural to you.

    Today is Gay Pride Day.  All over the country LGBT people are out marching.  That includes San Francisco.  Earlier today I waved my husband off as he headed over to the city to march with all the other young'uns and feel the pride.  I plead age on occasions like this.  The thought of the crowded trains, the endless lines, the banging drums, the squeals and the shouts -- all young people stuff, I said.  It's been going for how many years now?  Since 1972?  A million people show up for this event in San Francisco these days.

    I'm not being a party-pooper, not saying "been there, done that," although I've done it maybe thirty times.  I'm just thinking how nice it is I don't have to go bang the drums anymore.  I don't have to stop people on the street and tell them how proud I am to be gay.  OK, so I never did that, but I do remember black people stopping me in the 60s and telling me, "I'm black and I'm proud," and understanding instantly why they needed to do that.  How important it is after being down so long to stand tall and proud.  I am grateful these are better times, at least for some of us.

    So it was all just going to pass me by this year.  I was just going to walk the dogs, as I always do, waiting now till 8 o'clock for the cool of the evening.

    As I walked up the street I saw balloons out in front of the Congregational Church.  When I got a little closer I realized they were rainbow colored.

    I love the Congregational Church. They, the United Church of Christ in America, I believe they are officially called these days, most of them anyway, were among the first to recognize gay people as equals and support their marriages.

    I attended a Congregational Church growing up. Left it to become a Lutheran because I found them too namby-pamby, always talking about being nice to people.  I got hold of Luther's Small Catechism and away I went.  Just what the doctor ordered.  Some serious doctrines to follow.  No more messing around with nice.

    I realize today if I were ever to return to a church community it would more likely be the Congregationalists than the Lutherans.  Precisely because it took them less time to figure out how to put Christianity into action when it came to gay people, just as they were ahead of the crowds when it came to abolition and women's suffrage.

    Personal preference, of course.  The Lutherans today are there as well.  Ditto the Episcopalians.  Ditto most all of the mainstream churches.  It's only the authoritarians, the guys who want to define god as the guy with a switch, ready to bang the evil out of you, that continue to cherry pick the scriptures, laying aside the passages that approve of slavery and suggest banging the heads of your enemies' kids against a rock, to focus on your naughty parts and how to use them only to make more angry Christians.

    When I got right up to the church, I noticed two things.  One was they had taken down the banner that used to hang there which said, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma," or something like that. Always liked that. That banner has been replaced by a "Black Lives Matter" banner. I like that too.

    The other thing I noticed was that there was a sign by the balloons.  This wasn't just gay pride Sunday.  It was a time to pray for the souls in Orlando.

    Damn, I says to myself.  Those Christians can really be decent people when they want to.

    So I got in a little pride today, after all.  Just never expected to feel it walking past a church.

    P.S.  Here's the main entrance.  And the chapel attached, which they let the Baptists use.
    and that tower in between is the Methodist Church across the street.  The Methodist
    Church grounds are a bit shoddy and messed up looking.  Probably because
    they make a big point of serving the homeless.


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  10. OK, so this is a puff piece for Father's Day, put out no doubt by the royal handlers to give the British royal family some positive PR.  I know, I know.  Media manipulation.  One of my biggest pet peeves.

    Until it hits home.

    I have a distinct memory of watching Elizabeth - Queen Elizabeth - get married.  They put a television set (yes, we had TV in those days) on the stage in our elementary school auditorium and they brought the whole school in to watch the ceremony from London. This was in Winsted, Connecticut, not Uxbridge or Somerset.

    Then I remember the pictures from the Weekly Reader when I was in third grade and Prince Charles was born.  I had heard my Scottish grandfather use the word "bonnie" before, but now here was everybody using that word - Bonnie Prince Charlie. I remember that.  I really do.  I know it used to be used for the Stuart king, Charles Edward, pretender to the Scottish throne, but we didn't know that guy.  We knew Elizabeth's little feller.

    Then you get in your car and zoom back to the future and suddenly here's Bonnie Prince Charlie's little boy William.  Growing up gorgeous.  Diana's little boy.  Where does the time fly off to?

    And now, today, this bit of spam? comes across my screen, a notice from People magazine about how young William is out and about with the common folk, sitting in a coffee shop and talking about father/son relationships on Father's Day.

    grannie scolds
    And he practices what he preaches. There's that picture of him being scolded by his neon grannie for bending down to pay attention to his kid when everybody knows he's supposed to remain ever tall and monarchical.

    He's a lot balder than the last time he caught my attention.  Sitting there with an open shirt, hairy chest and all, and exchanging opinions with kids and their fathers, telling the world that his little boy George's and his little girl Charlotte's mental health are important.


    I've seen future shock.  But this is real!

    I know it's PR.  Twice this week I've seen Prince Harry, once clowning around with grandma, once in a top hat.  They've whipped those kids into shape and are trying to regain royal dignity lost, looks like - Fergie - Diana's boyfriend - failure to lower flag, "annus horribilis" etc. etc., although Harry still complains a bit.

    Not a friend of royalty or nobility.  But I've got a thing for daddies and their kids.

    On Father's Day, what a coincidence.

    William has been out and about doing good works for a while now.  You might say it’s overly cynical to call it just PR.   You could just call it “work,” you know.  Part of a king-presumptive’s job to spend the taxpayer’s money on things other than pomp and circumstance.

    "It's all about being inclusive."
    Here he is, for example, on the cover of Britain’s gay magazine Attitude.  The story inside features his views on the importance of addressing bullying.  “No one should be bullied for their sexuality or any other reason.”  His mother took the initiative of addressing AIDS victims.  He’s following in her footsteps calling attention to LGBT issues, even inviting an LGBT group to Kensington Palace, complete with photos, of course, to show his support.  

    Sometimes when they jerk you around it feels like you're dancing.

    And sometimes, when you feel like you’re dancing, maybe the thing to do is enjoy the music.

    Happy Father's Day.

    Prince William in People magazine (top photo)
    Prince Harry in hat 
    Grannie scolds

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