Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How Terrorism Ended (A Parable)

The year is 2093. Grandmother is sitting with her two grandchildren, the girl, aged nine and the boy, who is twelve. The twelve-year old is sitting with his Edu-device, reading about the turn of the 21st century. His brow is furrowed. Grandmother leans over to see what the boy is reading.

"Ah," says Grandmother, picking up the device. "Ah, yes -- ISIS; the Taliban. We learned about that in history class, as well. Horrible thing, was terrorism. I saw none of it, but my father watched it end. Odd that they are teaching you about terrorism in school again. I thought they had stopped that."

Grandfather, who is a Vidteacher, comes into the room and hands Grandmother a cup of coffee. "They did," he says. "But, the Curriculum Minister said it would be safe to put back in, now that all is well. Now that the Global Harmony has been in place for so long."

"Why did they take teaching about terrorism out of Vidschool?" asks the boy.

"Terrorism stopped," Grandmother said, "when the International Board of Journalists met one day in 2050 and came to an agreement. They decided to stop covering terrorism, altogether; no more stories on the Internet; no more video-coverage. Even independent video sites agreed to stop publishing amateur videos by or about terrorists. They went completely silent on the subject. Some say it was one of the most noble acts in history; the journalists gave up monetary reward in exchange for depriving terrorists of the very thing they desired: attention. Vidschools across the globe followed suit."

"Others say it was an affront to the Constitution," says Grandfather. "Still, the journalists did this themselves. There was never a governmental ban. At least, not until the Curriculum Minister took the subject out of brick-and-mortar schools in the 30s and then kept it out of Vidschool, altogether."

"Like President Gorland said: 'If we don't block out the dark parts of history, we are doomed to repeat them.'" Grandmother looked sad. "It worked. Still..."

There is a long pause.

"What, Grandmother," says the boy.

"I do get quite bored, now. Everyone is so damned harmonious."

"Well," says Grandfather, chuckling, taking a sip of coffee. "I hear they are now considering a ban on the mention of race in news reports. They think it may do for racism what it did for terrorism."

"Do you think it will work?" asks the granddaughter, who has been silently wringing her hands. She is a nervous child. Her skin is the color of coffee with a little cream.

Grandmother, who is white, looks into the eyes of Grandfather, who is black. They both sip their from their cups.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ben-Hur: Why the MGM Lion Didn't Roar

This weekend, my family and I watched the classic film, Ben-Hur. My boys, who are supposed to be a part of the low-attention-span generation, sat through all (nearly) four hours of the movie and were never bored. I realized, watching this restored Blu-ray version of the film, what an outstanding cinematic achievement it is. It doesn't feel dated (with he exception of some of the acting) and it certainly qualifies for the old "they don't make 'em like they used to" moniker.

Besides the fact that it is an excellent film, what struck me at my first viewing of the movie since my twenties, is that it is an extremely respectful portrayal of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. On the DVD commentary, film historian T. Gene Hatcher mentions that Wyler, the director, used to joke that "It took a Jew to make the ultimate movie about Christ." I love that, but maybe the reality is that it took a Jew to make the ultimate movie about a Jew affected by the life of Christ and by the domination of Rome.

Be that as it may, the reverence of the film, for all faiths, struck me -- especially, I suppose, in light of the times in which we live. I find us in a constant state of irony: a world in which people are constantly trumpeting about "tolerance" but in which religion-driven hate and violence thrive.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Viral Morality vs. Changing our Children

Everything is external in our current culture. Everyone recognizes that, right?

If we want to combat racism, we set up think-tanks and we draft new policies. We demand investigations. We band together and have riots.

If we want to fight against drug use, we pass laws. We arrest people.

If we want kids to do better in school, we force them to meet homogenized standards on cookie-cutter tests.

Even the ALS challenge, thing...

Let me say this: it is working. People know, now, about the disease who never before did. The money raised has been astronomical, compared to years before. Practically, it is a wonderful thing. (For now; until the novelty dies off.)

It is interesting to me that things like this ice-bucket challenge are labeled "viral" because that is really what has happened. People have caught this "virus" that prompts them to donate -- or, at least, to pour water over their heads.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chairs for Everyone

Boy, did I make a big mistake the other day. Someone posted an article that speculated about why fantasy literature has become so popular. I thought it was one of my Facebook friends who had posted it, because I was just moving too fast. I didn't even get a chance to read the article, but I commented (admitting this) about something I thought, thinking I was addressing my friend. I ended the post by saying I sometimes wish fantasy hadn't become so popular.

Which is better craft? This?
Turns out the person who posted it was a small press publisher and that my friend had only "liked" the post. The publisher responded to my little, nostalgic and half-serious final sentence by asking why I wanted to take food out of the mouths of writers. Popularity was good and it drives the business of publishing, etc., etc., etc. A bunch of other people chimed in, in his corner.

Despite my attempts to say I was just being nostalgic for the days when fantasy readers were "fringe" and when we had our little secret faves, I took some heat. It all sort of culminated in many of the commenters agreeing that "good" writing is in the eye of the beholder and that they (here comes the old standby from bitter former English majors:) didn't learn to appreciate good writing until they broke free of the chains of English departments.

I get it. English professors are sometimes snobs who seem to want to distill all plot out of literature. And I agree: Portrait of a Lady is a bore, but a brilliant bore that one should read and then feel free of. I once heard that Samuel Johnson [thanks to George, for the correction] said that "Paradise Lost is the greatest poem ever written in English, but no one ever wished it longer." I agree whole heartedly with that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Hug

Last night, after a day we spent the together, just the two of us, my twelve-year-old son walked over to me and put his arms around my neck. He hugged me. It wasn't the usual half-goofy, see-if-I-can-break-Dad's-spine hug. It was a real hug, his head, sideways, weighing warmly on my shoulder.

He's an intense kid who literally walked on tip-toes for the first few years of his life; he's a strung bow, this boy.

Last night, his heart and head were quiet. His bony shoulders were loose.

As he hugged me, he said, "I love you." Not, "Love ya." No silliness nor any casual tone of saying goodbye or goodnight. He said it because he felt it.

He crossed a room to hug me and to tell me he loved me.

What did this all cost me? Lunch, a movie and five hours of my time. (And 90% of my soul's energy, passion and worry during all of my waking hours -- which all becomes nothing at moments like this.)

This is life. I want for nothing. Nothing.