Thanks. Giving. (Refugees)

We make a mockery of the inscription of that beacon of hope, the Statue of Liberty.

syrian refugeesThere are three basic arguments against blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States after the extensive screening already taking place:

1. It’s exactly what Daesh wants. That’s a rather persuasive argument against equating refugees with terrorists, for me. The identified Paris attackers were not refugees, and the Syrian passport conveniently found near one of the attack sites, was most likely a fake.

Daesh has been recruiting people that are already citizens in their target country. As my former TU blogging colleague Kevin Marshall notes: “Planting operatives among Syrian refugees that have to undergo vetting processes, scrutiny, and no resources for them once they reach their uncertain destination? Not only is that the opposite of their modus operandi, but it’s also a really dumb, convoluted plan with unnecessary obstacles. It’s like the Rube Goldberg Device of terrorist plots.”

Yet at least 30 governors say they want to close their states to Syrian refugees. Presidential candidates are talking about shutting down mosques (that would be D. Trump) and discriminating against refugees on the basis of religion. Members of Congress are threatening to cut off funding for refugee assistance while four million Syrian refugees are desperate to get away from a civil war not of their own making.

In other words, to quote the cliche from dozen years ago, “We’re letting the terrorists win.” Or as Robert Reich put it, channeling FDR, we’d be “fearing fear itself.” (Which FDR himself succumbed to with the Japanese internment, one of the most shameful acts in American history.)

2. It falls desperately short of the American ideal. To quote Andrew Cuomo, which I VERY seldom do: “We have to protect Americans and not lose our soul as America in the process.”
syrian refugees2
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

—Emma Lazarus, 1883

When we close our borders and stop letting in those that need our help to enter this country, we make a mockery of the inscription of that beacon of hope, the Statue of Liberty, and as Cuomo noted, “I say take down the Statue of Liberty because you’ve gone to a different place.”

And I get to agree with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) when he notes, about Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggestion to favor Christian refugees from Syria over Muslims, “I don’t think any child, whether they are Christian or whether they are atheist or whether they are Buddhist, that we should make a distinction,” McCain said. “My belief is that all children are God’s children.”

Plus, resettlement in the U.S. is a long process as it is. The Refugee Admissions Program is jointly administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within DHS conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States. John Oliver explains.

We should not respond with hysteria. Here are some things ordinary people can do to restore sanity.

3. It’s not the Christian thing to do:

Imagine a poor Middle Eastern couple, the woman very pregnant, with no place to stay. Recall how the child who would be born grows up to say, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Here are some other Bible verses about how to treat refugees. If we claim to be Christians and ignore this invocation, we might as well keep those creches in their storage boxes this Advent season.

When I posted the Resolution for Protection and Hospitality for Syrian Refugees from the Albany (NY) Presbytery on Facebook, I was told, “I think you’ve just glossed over just about everything that [a lengthy rationale from a third party] has said in favor of blind faith.” To which I replied, “I guess I’m just trying to literally respond to WWJD.” Check out Stephen Colbert’s response.
lawn ornaments
Or, in the words of The Thinking Atheist: “Why are we so quick to see the ugly…when we stand before the beautiful?”
Remember this Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving explanations from Anglophenia

Choose to be grateful. It will make you happier.

T is for Trolls

Trolls never need proof of their claims. They get their power from readers’ outrage.

very interestingTrolls, in Scandinavian folklore, were entities that “live far from human habitation… and are considered dangerous to human beings… Trolls may be ugly and slow-witted…”

Whereas an Internet troll is “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Very similar.

“This sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse but have been used more widely. Media attention in recent years has equated trolling with online harassment. For example, mass media has used troll to describe ‘a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.'”

I was thinking about this because some “person” suggested that shootings in Sandy Hook, CT in 2012 did not happen, and he would give anyone $25,000 if they could provide him with “proof.”

Naturally, this caused all sorts of anger. Someone wrote, “He’s the one making an extraordinary claim. It’s up to him to support his hypothesis with evidence.” But I think that’s wrong. Trolls never need proof of their claims. They get their power from readers’ outrage.

A few months ago, SamuraiFrog linked to this interesting article, 10 Former Internet Trolls Explain Why They Quit Being Jerks. One response, in particular, I found instructive:

1) I had two different personalities and demeanours, one online and one offline. I even ended up being obnoxious online to somebody I knew personally and he pointed it out to me. It was a wake up call.

2) I wasn’t making any friends or allies. Even when I was right about something or other people held the same opinions, I was getting fewer and fewer responses or agreements. I didn’t care about the numbers, but I realized I was making myself irrelevant and unwelcome in discussions and forums. And sometimes I was banned…

3) I saw the effects of trolls. The increasing number of news stories… about suicides, harassment, death threats, racism and other revolting behaviour got to be too much. I may not have been guilty of any of those types of assaults, but I recognized that I was part of the problem.

4) I was starting to become the target of trolls and abuse… I saw a news item about a man who left a white supremacist group and changed his tune when he realized the group’s list of “undesirables to be euthanized” included his own mentally disabled son. It wasn’t until the hate affected him personally that he realized he was on the wrong side. Same here.

When foolish people say inane things online, feel free to vent your anger. But know that you may just be feeding the beast.

abc 17 (1)
ABC Wednesday – Round 17

Polina, Michael Butler and connection

But nothing is graphic. Everything is inferred.

polina1Thursday, November 12, my long-time friend Karen, who lives in New York City, emails me that Michael Viktor Butler is premiering a play called Polina (poh-LEE-nah) the next evening and that she’s coming up to see it. In Albany. About three and a half blocks from my house, at the Madison Theatre, primarily, but not solely, a movie house.

Michael and I know each other very peripherally, but he, who was a friend of one of Karen’s older siblings, became a muse to Karen, as he ran the experimental television in Binghamton in the mid-1970s, before returning to NYC himself, and she’s kept in touch with him.

I had no idea about this production until I perused this description on the movie theater’s website:

In This sensational scorcher, adapted from Butler’s novella of the same name, will be presented in the tradition of 19th Century Grand Guignol theater, complete with live salon orchestra and spectacular special effects. The title role is played by Madame Irene McMahon. Butler assumes all other parts, spectacularly interpreted in Delstarte Technique.

Polina also featured puppet master Erica Johnson.

Then I read Amy Biancolli’s preview about it in the Times Union, where Michael explains that Polina, “literally… steps out of paintings to snack on the man-parts of virgins… But nothing is graphic. Everything is inferred…”

Walking to the Madison Friday, I just happened to see Karen disembark from her car. And we and a couple of her friends she knows from a local radio station sat together.

Briefly: Polina really is a dark comedy. The first act’s too long, and the second much too short, but it’s the first production, so one discovers these things. Also, there were a few technical glitches, but nothing major.

Something I did not remember is that Michael Butler was living in my area, presently about six blocks from my house. We became reacquainted, and I got to see Karen for the first time since my birthday in March.

The Right to Die and other topics

My mom was not the greatest cook, by her own admission.

rip.euthanasia1More from Chris:

– what’s your take on right to die and why?

Literally, I could spend a week’s worth of posts on this topic. This is the very abbreviated version.

In 1998, I watched Dr. Jack Kevorkian make the case for assisted suicide for the terminally ill on 60 Minutes. “From 1990 to 1998, he claimed to have helped end the lives of some 130 willing subjects.” I thought he made a compelling case.

After he “videotaped himself injecting Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, with a dose of lethal drugs,” he ended up in jail and ended up serving eight years in prison. I’m convinced his gaunt look allowed the moniker Dr. Death to stick.

Meanwhile, there was that circus of the Terri Schiavo case (1998-2005), which I needn’t rehash, except to say that the grandstanding about protecting life from Jeb Bush and congressional Republicans I found repugnant because it was so clearly a quality of life issue, the nuance about which they clearly did not recognize. This 2015 TIME magazine article suggests that overreach has set the stage for the current right-to-die movement.

But I had been thinking about this for decades. Long before health care proxies became the norm, I had a pact with a friend of mine in college. We agreed that if either of us were seriously injured so that the quality of life had been severely diminished, the other would sneak into the hospital, if necessary, and literally pull the plug. Glad we never had to test this out.

Of course, we make right-to-die decisions all the time these days, such as Do Not Resuscitate in hospitals, applicable when my mom died nearly five years ago. I thought the whole characterization of the Obamacare “death panels” was fascinating because surely, there ARE limits of what services any medical system can/will provide.

Guess I’ll pass on the my general philosophy of the American way of death and how it is related to mummification, and the afterlife, and the rational evolution towards cremation.

– do you ever carry on elaborate imagined conversations with people? If you do, has Facebook changed these conversations, like picturing posting something and the imagining the responses?

To the first point, sure, now and then. This is usually some wish fulfillment. I wish I had said THIS rather than THAT.

To the second, not at all. FB is such artifice to me. I can have a decent “conversation” now and then, but I find too often certain tropes that for me are conversation enders, involving the false comparable designed to change the topic, or the “that’s unimportant”, designed to do the same.

About 10% of the time, maybe more, I write responses, and then delete them before publishing. I’m just not as invested as I am with a REAL, face-to-face chat most of the time UNLESS it’s someone I know in real life, or have gotten to know well enough from their previous online interactions.

-if you could pick any writer living or dead to tell your story, who would it be?

James Michener, who would turn my life into the epic that it is in my mind.

– what do you consider the most creative time in your life, when you were the best at imagining things?

I could make the case for right now. I’m writing a blog post seven days a week. Three or four or five of them might be substantial. Moreover, I see the whole arc of the blog as somewhat creative. If I write X and you’re not interested, hey, maybe you’ll be interested in Y, which I’ll tackle tomorrow.

And blogging helps my thought process.

Other times: the second through sixth years of the current job, when I had to find ways to interact with SBDC state directors when they had to be sold on the efficacy of that. Or some period at FantaCo, not the first year and surely not the last, when I was editing magazines, doing the mail order, balancing the checkbook, and managing the staff.

– what simple device would improve your life that isn’t on the market?

All my thoughts and dreams going right to the computer in comprehensible English.

– what were your favorite meals when you were a kid?

My mom was not the greatest cook, by her own admission. So I don’t have this great pool of favorites. I liked Kraft macaroni and cheese, chicken cooked any number of ways, corn on the cob. We used to go out most Fridays and get fish from W.T. Grant’s department store; I remember liking that.

My father spent hours making spaghetti sauce, and so that was good. He also had the capacity to throw leftovers into some delicious concoction he called gouly-goup; only later did I realize he stole the name from goulash. He also made waffles with such panache that it was always enjoyable.

We had eggs a lot. Fried, scrambled, deviled, omelet. We all became competent making those.

Music Throwback Saturday: Weird Al, Part 2

The illustrious Illinois blogger SamuraiFrog decided to rank all of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s songs, 165 of them, an impressive undertaking. So, I decided to come up with a list of my 33 favorite Weird Al songs. Why 33? Because LPs play at 33 revolutions per minute. And I’m going to break them up into three posts of 11 songs each, mostly because posting 11 posts of three songs each would be weird.

Part 1 is HERE, and part 3 will show up in a little more than a month.

22. Buy Me a Condo
(Parody of Bob Marley; from “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
Will the Rastafarian falls into the trap of American consumerism. This is, as Mr. Frog noted, subversive.

21. Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies
(Parody of “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits; from UHF, 1989)
SamuraiFrog notes: “The theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, adapted to the Dire Straits classic. Mark Knopfler and keyboardist Guy Fletcher actually play their parts on the track. The video is brilliant. One piece of neat trivia: Simpsons director David Silverman designed the computer-generated characters.”

The Dire Straits song was ubiquitous on MTV in its first decade. The Beverly Hillbillies was, for two seasons (1962-1964) the #1 most-watched program in the US, and individual episodes are STILL among the 60 most viewed along with Super Bowls, Roots, and final episodes of MASH, Cheers, The Fugitive, et al.

20. I Love Rocky Road; #106 in US, 1983
(Parody of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ cover of “I Love Rock and Roll” by Arrows; from “Weird Al” Yankovic, 1983)
I love the Al swagger in the video over a type of ice cream, which, now that I think of it, I’ve never tried. The Joan Jett song was all over MTV in the early ’80s, and I grew to like it quite a bit.

19. Canadian Idiot; #82 in US, 2006
(Parody of “American Idiot” by Green Day; from Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
I’m rather fond of “American Idiot” and the idea that would be a song about the “nicer” folks from north of the border struck a funny bone.

18. Ricky; #63 in US, 1983
(Parody of “Mickey” by Toni Basil; from “Weird Al” Yankovic, 1983)
Before I finally OD’ed on I Love Lucy reruns, I used to watch them all the time. I was impressed by the love Al obviously had watching them too. Toni Basil’s “Mickey” was just the perfect song for this.

17. Eat It; #1 in Australia, #5 in Canada, #6 in New Zealand, #12 in US, #36 in UK in 1984
(Parody of “Beat It” by Michael Jackson; from “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
I have some friends in the music business, and one mentioned at the time that this was a particularly stupid song; I totally disagreed. I thought it was a variation on the remarkable Michael Jackson video, and I appreciated that MJ, who was a massive star, had enough of a sense of humor to allow this, and later, Fat, the parody of Bad.

This was Al’s first Top 40 hit in the US, and would be his highest-charting single until 2006.

16. Yoda
(Parody of “Lola” by The Kinks; from Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
The mix of familiar Kinks chords with Star Wars. Back in my FantaCo days, we used to sell some masks, including Yoda, which I might have bought if it had fit over my big head.

15. Stop Forwarding This Crap To Me
(Style parody of Jim Steinman, who wrote a lot for Meat Loaf; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
Yes, now people Facebook and tweet that crap to us, instead of email; we’ve so evolved. I love the sweet tone of the fairly angry message.

14. Tacky
(Parody of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
Yes, I eventually tired of the original, but it took an amazingly long time. And just at that point, this parody, with great guest stars shows up, including Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal, and Jack Black. I’m impressed that this was all one shot, with Al changing clothes to be in the first and last segments. And the examples of tacky – selfie at a funeral – are totally believable.

13. Living with a Hernia
(Parody of “Living in America” by James Brown; from Polka Party!, 1986)
It’s a great video and a surprisingly strong recreation of the JB style. I’m not crazy about the original song; it’s VERY ’80s, in a bad way. Getting a hernia helped this position, I suppose.

12. King of Suede; #62 in US, 1984
(a parody of “King of Pain” by the Police; from “Weird Al” Yankovic In 3-D, 1984)
A song about a proud clothier next to an arcade. Love the reference to Blue Suede Shoes. The original song is about depression and rejection, so it’s a great diversion.