Wednesday, September 26, 2018

James Bond and the Color Line

I haven't blogged for a while, so let's get re-started with a truly controversial topic... Should (or could) the next James Bond be black?

My favorite James Bond is still the Bond of my youth: Sean Connery. The best Bond movie ever is still Goldfinger. Don't argue with me; that's simply a fact. I was pissed off when Roger Moore took over, 'cause it just wasn't right!

And yet, back when I was a toddler and Sean Connery was hired to play Bond, there was outrage. Hadn't the producers read the books?

James Bond is clearly, deliberately, and proudly Welsh! His background, history, education, and stature are all laid out in the books in such a way that a Scott could never accurately portray.
Yes, they were serious: Connery, from Edinburgh, was entirely unfit to play Bond, from Wales. Bond is a certain kind of gentleman, that Connery certainly is not, was the general feeling. *

But Albert "Cubby" Broccoli was on to something. Bond was bigger than the books. Bond was more worldly than Welsh. Bond was more timeless than the era in which he was created.

The movie Bonds have always been contemporary, and have refused aging with the post WWII generation that spawned the character. I miss the Aston Martin, but Bond can drive a BMW, and that's just fine.

What are the requirements to play the modern movie Bond? Bond must be loyal to the Queen, and Bond must be cooler than cool. Race (and gender) are inconsequential.

The question to the current franchise owners/producers is how to make the Bond fresh and relevant again? Questioning whether he "needs" to be played by a white actor is certainly part of that. But - for me at least, just IMHO - that also means stepping back from the effects and gadgetry a bit and coming up with a story that's relevant to the world today, and finding the very best actors to perform it.

Hiring a black Bond just because it's "trendy" and will get some extra PR... I don't object, but that's not enough to get me to the theater. Hiring a black Bond because it contributes to the story and says something about our changing world (and then casting the best person)... That's something I'll shell out to see.

Now... on to Superman... What makes you think Superman has to be white? He's not even human!

* After Connery was hired, Ian Flemming wrote in the added back story that Bond's father was Scottish, and that, although raised in Wales, Bond was educated in partly Edinburgh. I'm pretty sure that Timothy Dalton has been the only Welshman to play Bond to date. For more on all this, please see JB & Wales.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Ray Thomas is Dead. No, He's Outside, Looking In

In October of 1970, at the age of nine, my brothers and I rode the MTA to Boston Garden for what would be my first real rock concert; The Moody Blues. (If memory serves, we did not ride the MTA home, but our father picked us up at an appointed time and place.)

Our seats (courtesy of Dad, who worked for the Moody's distributor, London Records), were third row, slightly to the left of center, right in front of flautist/singer, Ray Thomas. At one point, while introducing a song, Ray paused, asking "What album was this on?" I shouted the answer up at him (probably the catalog number too). Ray looked down, surprised that the answer came from probably the youngest person in the crowd, then realized I was right, and finished up the intro.

Over the years I saw the classic Moody's perform several times in Boston, then again in the come-back tours in Los Angeles (and, most recently, Justin Hayward solo in Napa).

While I don't necessarily still listen to their music as often as other favorites from over the years, all of their albums continue to hold memories and meaning. Justin's songwriting won me over as a devoted fan forever, but it was Ray's songs, like Dear Diary and Legend of a Mind, that first pulled me in as a child.

And today, at the age of 76, Ray Thomas has died, "suddenly at his home in Surrey, England. No cause of death was announced."

Ray Thomas is dead
No, no, no, no
He's outside
Looking in

The Moody Blues, on tour, 1970

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Damn the Torpedoes

Sometimes I get discouraged,
Sometimes I feel so down,
Sometimes I get so worried,
And I don't know what about.
But it works out in the long run,
It always goes away,
I've come now to accept it
As a reoccurring phase.
Why worry 'bout the rain?
Why worry 'bout the thunder?
Century City's got everything covered.
I remember, sometime in late 1976, hearing Breakdown for the first time on the radio and thinking there was something there that set this new kid apart from everything else we'd been hearing. There was the validation of the viewpoint when Roger McGuinn covered American Girl on his Thunderbyrd LP.

By the end of 1979, I had just graduated High School, and I recall being in line at Tower Records, Sunset Blvd, to pick up "Damn the Torpedoes" on the day it was released. I'd already heard much of it on the radio - Refugee for sure, maybe Here Comes My Girl or Even the Losers - but nothing that could have prepared me for Louisiana Rain.

Today that rain is falling just like tears, running down my face, washing out the years, soaking through my shoes. I will never be the same since that album played through. It may only be 36 minutes and 38 seconds, but it opened up the possibilities of what a rock and roll record could be. Now it's just the normal noises in here.

I can't say I remember which was the first time I saw Tom Petty and Heartbreakers play live, but there were many shows, from Hollywood's Universal Amphitheater to Sacramento's Arco Arena.

One of my best concerts ever: Bob Dylan, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers all together (1985?). Three hours of nonstop music. Tom & the band - Tom, Bob, & the band - Tom & Bob acoustic - Bob and the band - just the Heartbreakers - everybody all together.

My other favorite show was maybe the last time I saw Tom Petty. It was the Mudcrutch reunion tour a few years ago, and they played the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. It was great to see Tom having fun with his old buddies, back in a smaller venue outside of the areneas, not needing to be the lead man on every song.

We missed the final tour this past few months. Tickets were already sold out at 10:01 am, one minute after going on sale. He'd announced it would be the last "Big Tour" and that was fine with me. I hoped it would lead to more Mudcrutch type shows: intimate affairs with the long-time fans, where we'd all rock together. I didn't imagine that could really be the final tour.

Tom Petty was taken from us last night way too early, following an afternoon of rumors and premature headlines.

Today my thoughts are with his kids, and young grand-kids, and with the guys in the band. Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench have been the rock Tom rolled against from the start, and they form the basis of the most under-rated back-up band ever. Mike, Benmont, and the rest are all incredible musicians in their own right, and I hope I have not seen or heard the last from them.
How about a cheer for all those bad girls
And the boys who play that rock and roll
They love it, like you love Jesus
It does the same thing to their souls

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Oops, I Did it Again!

Yesterday, I posted offensive material to Facebook, and lost a few friends over it. Again.

What was my offense? A photo (included below) and a short video of my participation in an anti-Fascist protest in San Francisco.

Following the events in Charlottesville, VA, where one woman was killed and 30 more injured while counter-protesting a rally filled with Klansmen and Nazis shouting their hate-filled rhetoric, similar "alt-Right" events were planned for the Bay Area.

Rather than attend their hate rally and confront them head-on (potentially leading to more violence), counter-rallies were scheduled for various places away from the epicenter of hate.

We were invited by friends to take part in the Ukulele Resistance Brigade, and attend the rally planned for the Castro district, then a march up Mission Street to Civic Center. We would sing satiric anti-Nazi songs and be accompanied by two electric magical unicorns. Harmless stuff.

The Ukulele Resistance Brigade, riding Mission Pony Unicorns, singing anti-Nazi songs at the intersection of Mission and Castro, San Francisco, CA, August 26, 2017
Harmless, perhaps, and yet, "friends" were so offended that I chose to say that I'm against Fascism by singing sarcastic songs while walking along Mission Street in San Francisco that they un-freinded me today.

Silly as our protest may seem, the cumulative effect of all these counter-protests worked: the leaders of the pro-Nazi rally kept changing the location and size of their event, until all that anybody saw were a few lost and lonely individuals with alt-Right slogans on their shirts stopping off at Starbucks.

I believe that those who un-friended me have two general misconceptions:
1 - That I'm using the word "Nazi" too loosely to describe those I merely disagree with, and
2 - That this protest means we leftists/progressives/whatever are against free speech.

First, no, I do not throw around "Nazi" as an all-purpose putdown for anybody with views even slightly more conservative than my own. I reserve that word for people who literally espouse the views and symbols of Hitler's Germany.

The "Unite the Right" protesters were not simply calling for conservative policies, like "tax cuts for job creators" or the right of people to die from easily preventable diseases if they're not clever enough to get a job that includes health care benefits.

They went to Charlottesville carrying semi-automatic weapons (their right), flags of the (defeated) confederacy, flags of the (defeated) Nazi Germany, raising their hand in imitation of the Nazi solute, and chanting such Nazi slogans as "blood and soil" while carrying signs reading "Jews will not replace us."

This is not rhetoric or hyperbole. I'm not saying that they're "like Nazis." They are literal Nazis.

And this is what they said they had in store for us in San Francisco. Nazi propaganda that includes calls for my erasure from America. Making clear that however much we assimilate, Jews will never be white enough for them.

That we chose ukuleles, unicorns, and satire (on the other side of town) as our weapons, rather than baseball bats, large rocks, and direct confrontation, is pretty much a testament to our tolerance for "opposing viewpoints."

But what about Free Speech!?

Yes, the Ukulele Resistance Brigade's big hit (captured in the short video post) was this:
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
Your were spotted in a mob, now you lost your fucking job
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
What that refers to, of course, is that following Charlottesville, several of the people who figured prominently in the photos, carrying torches and screaming hateful rhetoric, were recognized by their employers and fired. No company wants to be represented by Nazis. That's a good thing. That's their right.

Yes, you have the right to say hateful things. But that doesn't mean there are no consequences.

There have always been limits to free speech. You cannot shout "Fire" in a crowded theater. You may not incite a riot. Threatening peoples lives or suggesting that someone else "needs to die" are bad things to say.

The propaganda shouted in Charlottesville went beyond hateful. Whether or not it fell within the legal of definition of inciteful, I'll leave up to the courts.

I know that when I saw those signs, I felt threatened. And when the organizers said they were coming to my region, that I'd be complicit in normalizing that speech if I did not go out and protest it. I have a right to be heard too.

No, I do not support firing someone for basic political differences that have nothing to do with the employer-employee relationship. But I know full well that if I make a public statement that goes against my employer's mission or damages my employer's image (such as suggesting a group of citizens is somehow less human than I am), I will be fired.

Check the fine print of your employee agreement or handbook: you probably already agreed to the same. I'll bet that each of the individuals who've been fired since publicly exposing themselves as Nazis agreed to such a policy. No way their employers would have fired them if their legal council hadn't made sure it would hold up in court.

Again: free speech doesn't mean no consequences.

If standing up and declaring I'm against Fascism is "too political" for you, then you're a collaborator.

And if you're thinking that their saying I have no right to exist is somehow equal to my saying I do, I do not mourn the loss of your friendship.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nachum Khannina, Refugee

Nachum Khannina
On April 23, 1891, the Jews of Moscow were expelled from that city and forced to move west, into a region knows as "the Pale of Settlement." The Pale, roughly the region between Imperial Russia and Austria-Hungary, was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791 to remove Jews from Russia entirely, unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion.

Forty-four days later, on June 6, 1891, my Great-Grandfather, Nachum Khannina*, journeyman tailor, paid 85 Kopecks to the Russian authorities of Vitebsk Gubernia (in the Pale, in what is now Belarus) for permission to travel to complete his training and receive certification as a master tailor.

Paperwork of "Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin"
His travel permit says, "By order of His Majesty, the Emperor Alexander Alexandrovich, the autocrat of all Russia... Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin,"* is authorized to travel for study. It is also specific that if he does not return to Vitebsk (and the Pale of Settlement) at the end of six months, he will suffer penalties under the law.

We are unsure of the route he took, but by 1894 he was known as Nathan Channen, of Boston, Massachusetts, and his family was with him. Also not known is if he had any paperwork or authorization to come to America before he arrived on his temporary travel-study permit.

The Channens: An American Family
We also don't know if Nachum/Nathan was new to being a refugee when he left Vitebsk in 1891. Did multiple generations of Khanninas make their home in the region? Or did they arrive there by way of evictions from deeper in Russia over the previous century, or just the previous four months?

What we do know is that he violated Russian law in traveling as far as he did, with no intention of returning. Nathan Channen and his family were refugees, as were each of my Great-Grandparents and Grandparents, who all came to America to escape Imperial Russian Pogroms, anti-Semitism, and the Pale of Settlement between 1890 and 1905.

They were all refugees. When I stand and march for refugees, it's for them, and the sacrifices they made, so that I could be a spoiled, privileged, American citizen. And I won't deny that opportunity to anybody else, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.

The five daughters of Nathan and Sophia Channen. On the right is my Grandmother, Ruth Channen Goldstein. May their memories be a blessing
 * Nachum Khannina or Nofush Hofushov Hanin? One his Yiddish name, the other Russian, both approximate transliterations.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit"

The quote that serves as the title for this post is from Tom Hayden, who passed away last October 23, shortly before the presidential election.

Many people today hardly remember the name. To some he was a mild-mannered, liberal state legislator, representing Santa Monica in the California Assembly and State Senate for a couple of decades. To some he was "that commie rabble rouser" - one of the Chicago Seven, who consorted with the enemy during the Vietnam War and caused riots here at home. To others he was just Jane Fonda's husband (between Roger Vadim and Ted Turner).

(Disclosure: Around 1983 or so, I went to work for Tom's organization, Campaign California, on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, as a political canvasser. We were working on clean air issues, and each afternoon we canvassers would get loaded into cars and taken to different areas around Los Angeles to go door-to-door, collecting signatures and checks to get Tom's work done.)

Since the election, and particularly since the inauguration of P45 (I can't quite bring myself to say his name), I've been thinking about Hayden, and that quote, "Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit" ...

At my age now, it's not the world we are to inherit that bothers me; it's the world we are to bequeath. A few weeks ago we had a small family gathering, and looking at the youngest, my two-year-old grand-niece, I couldn't help but to apologize to her for the mess the world - and our country - is in.

It is for her sake (and others of her generation) that I cannot give in to depression over the situation, or allow myself to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of insanity that is coming out of the White House. I will continue going to protests and speaking out in any way I can.

I may not make it to every rally. I won't be able to change my Facebook icon to go along with every challenge to democracy. There won't be time to blog, or even tweet, about each new outrage. But I will do all I can, and I will not sit idly by while the rights and lives of anybody are threatened - whether they are my friend, family, ally, or not.

They want to overwhelm us. They want to divide us. They want to make us choose whether we're going to defend the rights of immigrants, or women, or LGBTQ, or Muslims, or... just give up and watch the Constitution get trampled. I will not pick and choose. We all stand together or we perish together.

At the close of the Chicago Seven trial, each defendant was given a chance to make a statement. Tom Hayden said, "We would hardly have been notorious characters if they left us alone on the streets of Chicago," but instead "we became the architects, the masterminds, and the geniuses of a conspiracy to overthrow the government; we were invented."

The new administration is good at inventing enemies. A free press, doing its job of asking tough questions, is referred to as "the opposition party." A Judge - a conservative Judge, appointed by George W. Bush -  is referred to as a "so-called Judge" for ruling to uphold the rule of law.

So fine, I'm an enemy of this President, and I encourage you to be an enemy too.

As long as I'm writing about the Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial, let's talk about Hayden's partner, Abbie Hoffman. A nice, college educated, Jewish boy from Massachusetts. I can relate. In Hoffman's final words to the court, he said:

"I always wanted to change my plea. I had just a great urge to confess; say, 'I am guilty,' because I felt what the State was calling me was an enemy of the State and I am an enemy of the State ... [B]efore, you [Judge Hoffman, no relation] said, '... you could have had a nice position in the system, you could have had a job in the firm.' ... We don't want a job there, in that system. We say to young people, 'There is a brilliant future for you in the revolution. Become an enemy of the State. A great future. You will save your soul.'"

Save your soul, and possibly democracy and America: Resist.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

This is not 2000; Jill Stein is not Ralph Nader

The short version: 
  1. I'm a former Democrat, former Green, now unaligned, left-of-center, independent. 
  2. It was Bill Clinton's first term that chased me out of the Democratic Party. 
  3. I proudly supported Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy in both 1996 and 2000, and have no regrets (Gore lost all by himself, get over it). 
  4. I have been a fan of Bernie Sanders since he became Mayor of Burlington, VT 35 years ago and was thrilled to be able to give him my vote for President earlier this year. 
  5. I have had serious reservations about Hillary Clinton (and have taken heat about expressing these opinions on Daily Kos). 
  6. Nevertheless, I believe that a vote for Jill Stein (or Gary Johnson) is a foolish, unproductive, and dangerous act, and I urge all Greens and left-leaning independents to join me in supporting Hillary Clinton.
The long version: 

I don't need to get into much detail on #1 and #2 above; I've told the story many times before. With the election of Bill Clinton, the "third way" of the Democratic Leadership Council had officially replaced the progressive liberalism of the Democratic Party I grew up in. That, and the arrogance of my local Democratic State Assembly member, telling me he didn't care what I think because "Who else are you going to vote for?" made me realize that I did have other choices to explore.

For me, Ralph Nader entered the Presidential electoral arena at just the right time. Here was somebody who I had considered a hero since my 1960's childhood. In '96 I volunteered for the campaign. Going to hear him speak when he visited Sacramento (where we lived at the time) was an experience unlike any other political event I've ever been to. Here was truly one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people to ever seek office, speaking for hours without a single sentence that could be considered pandering for votes.

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