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Ashley Bennett

It is very easy for me to focus on all the bad news going on. But there are stories recently that really pleased me, and I should note that fact occasionally:

ITEM: A whole bunch of diverse people were elected in November, often with a dollop of irony.

Voters in Helena, Montana, elected Wilmot Collins, a former refugee from Liberia, as their mayor, in a state where the issue of refugees have sparked political tension.

Ashley Bennett defeated John Carman for the Atlantic County, NJ freeholder seat. “Carman posted a meme on the day of the Women’s March [on January 21, 2017 with]… the message, ‘Will the women’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?'” This inspired Bennett to run against him. She had been targeted on a white supremacist blog for saying the Confederate flag has no place in New Jersey.

Danica Roem will be the first openly transgender woman to win a seat for the House of Delegates in Virginia, beating Bob Marshall, the state’s self-proclaimed “chief homophobe.”

And there were other groundbreaking elections.

ITEM: “The Walt Disney Company lifted its ban of Los Angeles Times critics from its press screenings after a widespread backlash prompted several media outlets to announce their own boycotts of Disney movies,” The Associated Press reported.

Disney was ticked by the Times’ September reporting on its relationship with the local municipalities, stating that the company received unwarranted assist from local governments on taxes, subsidies, and rent. Disney said the series was “biased and inaccurate…, wholly driven by a political agenda.”

“Disney’s punitive measures against the Times led to many outlets refusing advance coverage of the studio’s films, including The New York Times (which called Disney’s ban a ‘dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest’), the Boston Globe and The A.V. Club.

Multiple critics groups announced they would bar Disney films from awards consideration, “hammering the company for choosing to punish journalists ‘rather than express its disagreement with a business story via ongoing public discussion. Disney’s response should gravely concern all who believe in the importance of a free press, artists included.'”

ITEM: In October, state trooper Ryan Sceviour arrested Alli Bibaud for driving under the influence. “Bibaud is the daughter of Dudley District Court Judge Timothy Bibaud.”

Sceviour’s initial arrest report said Bibaud told officers she got the drugs in exchange for sex. The report also said Bibaud claimed her father was a judge and offered Sceviour sex in exchange for leniency.

Trooper Sceviour filed a lawsuit alleging that after he arrested Bibaud near Worcester, “he was told to revise the arrest report to remove the references to sex and Bibaud’s father so as not to embarrass the judge.”

Colonel Richard McKeon, the superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, who reportedly ordered the trooper to remove the embarrassing information, retired.

The conversation about Confederate statues in the United States is highly charged, as recent events in Charlottesville, VA have shown.

I absolutely agree with The Hill:
“Please don’t direct the discussion towards the ownership of slaves. Then we just get into the argument that people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. That’s not the point! Washington and Jefferson are well known in history from the beginnings of our country. [General] Robert E. Lee was a traitor to his country. These monuments were constructed well before African-Americans were permitted to vote, and they are only a reminder that racism still exists.”

But, as The Week notes in How America forgot the true history of the Civil War: “Ex-Confederates and associated sympathizers began to think up alternative histories that sounded better [than slavery], starting right after the war ended. The major plank of this was the ‘Lost Cause,’ which argued that the war was not actually about slavery — instead, it was about ‘states’ rights.’

“The antebellum South was cast as a sepia-toned paradise of noble gentlemen, virtuous ladies, and happy slaves.” John Oliver reveals The Ugly Reality Behind The ‘Lost Cause’ Cult.

In other words, the Confederate memorials were an attempt to erase history, as this southern white male and this one note.

Most of those statues were erected during the Jim Crow era before and after World War I, after the re-imposition of white supremacy. As Smithsonian magazine makes clear, We Legitimize the ‘So-Called’ Confederacy With Our Vocabulary, and That’s a Problem. “Tearing down monuments is only the beginning to understanding the false narrative of Jim Crow.

More than 4,000 black people were lynched in the South — where are their monuments?

To understand how toxic the period was, read Before its subversion in the Jim Crow era, the fruit symbolized black self-sufficiency. So, what changed? And Lynching and Antilynching: Art and Politics in the 1930s.

Robert E. Lee was NOT “invariably kind and humane” to the people he enslaved, despite scuttlebutt of his benevolence. Here’s W.E.B. DuBois on Robert E. Lee. My fellow TU blogger Rob Hoffman noted:”The last thing we need in our divided nation is to excuse the behavior of a man, even one as talented as Robert E. Lee, for betraying his country at a time when it really needed him most.”

Moreover, Lee himself said: “I think it wiser …not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

I’d like to see some of those statues in museums, where context can be explained. Listen to the semi-comedic The Ballad Of General Robert E. Lee’s Statue.

In my busyness, I neglected to write a review of the movie Victoria and Abdul, which my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany in October 2017. It’s a mostly true story of a couple guys from India sent to England to present Her Royal Highness, Empress of India, Queen Victoria with a coin for her golden jubilee.

Victoria (Judy Dench) is, by her own description, old and fat and very much a curmudgeon, bored with the pomp of the affairs of state. It’s worse because her beloved husband Albert died, and her good friend John Brown is gone as well. (I saw the movie Mrs Brown, also starring Dame Judi, back in February 1998; V&A is is a sequel of sorts.)

As Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Adeel Akhtar (Mohammed) make their brief presentation, the former violates protocol by actually making eye contact with the queen. The handsome Abdul finds favor with the monarch and they develop a most unexpected friendship.

Her household and inner circle, notably Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith) and her increasingly impatient heir apparent Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) are NOT pleased with the queen’s fascination with the Indian interloper.

Victoria and Abdul, in a mostly humorously cheeky way, shows that someone can indeed show an old queen new tricks. It addresses Britain’s colonial past, making it clear that Victoria could actually learn from even her far-away subjects. And while her Mr. Brown was not well-regarded by those around the queen, the elevation of this brown-skinned man made them apoplectic.

I will admit that I liked Victoria and Abdul it more than some of the critics (only 66% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). One complained that “the film’s attempt to portray the Queen as more politically enlightened than her courtiers is kindly but unconvincing.” Well, my wife and I were convinced.

The leads plus Eddie Izzard were especially good. I may have now seen Judi Dench in more movies than any other actor, save perhaps Meryl Streep, and she always makes the trip to the cinema worthwhile.

There are over 6.6 million living veterans in the United States from the Vietnam war era. That constitutes about 36% of all US vets, according to the 2016 American Community Survey, the largest contingent in the country.

And of course, it was the war I grew up with. So I just HAD to watch the series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, all 10 segments, all 18 hours of it, though it took almost a month. It did not lend itself to binge-watching.

I knew quite a bit about the war from my time protesting it. Names, dates. 1954: the French fall at Dien Bien Phu. But I never felt how brutal the battle was. How the the United States, first little by little, then in a big way after the Tonkin Gulf resolution, expanded the war, were facts I knew.

Of course I had not been privy to the thoughts of the American Presidents and their administrations as they struggled with their decisions as events on the ground did not go as planned.

The real value of the documentary, though, was the story telling: the soldiers that were there taking this hill or that, only to abandon it a few days later. The sister of one soldier killed in Vietnam who became an antiwar activist.

And while the segments prior to my political awareness were interesting, seeing the parts I lived through had the greater impact. It managed to reflect all sides of the war: Vietcong soldier to disillusioned American vet.

The evolution of the antiwar movement was of particular interest to me. The killings of four students at Kent State in 1970, for instance, which I was well aware of, nevertheless became deeply personal.

One of the odd takeaways I got was that Hillary Clinton was Lyndon Johnson were the policy wonks who arguably the most qualified in 2016/1960, but that the more TV/media-savvy candidate got the nomination (John Kennedy) or won the election, even though Trump had claimed his sex life was his personal Vietnam.

I saw the criticism of the Burns/Novick work, that “Vietnam was not a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ but a campaign of ‘imperial aggression.'” Surely it was the latter, but I leave room for the possibility that it was the former as well.

When I watched The Vietnam War, the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in October 2017, I was naturally drawn to the music. Here is the list of the 120+ songs that were included in the 18-hour program, which you can listen to at Spotify, or find on YouTube.

Some were very familiar, others not, but I was fascinated that there were at least five Beatles songs – Tomorrow Never Knows, Revolution 1, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, and Let It Be, which can be expensive to license. (I swear I also heard Piggies, but maybe I was just hallucinating.)

Coincidentally or not, Robert S. Hoffman posted Protest music: Music you can resist to, which include three of the songs on the Burns/Novick roster: Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire, For What it’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, and Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the powerful outro for episode eight.

As Dustbury pointed out: “For about as long as there have been protests, there have been protests of protests. This 1966 wonder, on the real-life Are You Kidding Me? label, lays out its agenda before the very first verse… The Beach Bums were Doug Brown and the Omens, plus a different frontman than usual: Bob Seger, who probably wrote this under the ‘D. Dodger’ pseudonym.”

But The Ballad of the Yellow Berets was WAY too close of a ripoff of the tune that was #1 for five weeks on the Billboard pop charts in 1966, longer than any song that year.

The Ballad of the Green Berets [listen] was co-written and performed by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, From the Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Fred Bronson: “He was sent to Vietnam, where his fellow soldiers showed little interest in his songs…

“His Vietnam duty was cut short when he fell into a booby trap while on patrol….Lapsing in and out of consciousness, he treated the [leg] wound himself.”

Robin Moore, author of the book The Green Berets, got hold of Sadler’s 12-verse song about the army combat unit and edited it down. Initially released to the military, it was so popular, Moore took the track to RCA, which “agreed to finance a full recording session, complete with orchestra.”

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