Revenge of the Kitchen

If your taste in films is akin to having comfort food night after night, you can skip The Menu, and you can skip the appetizer I’m about to serve up.

No, not a review of plot or cinematography or acting–except to say that Ralph Fiennes is mesmerizing as Big Brother and Anya Taylor-Joy makes for an irresistible Winston Smith. Instead, I’ll recommend it with comparisons. Think of them as substitutions even if “Chef” is at his loudest when he insists “there are no substitutions!”

If you ever read Orwell’s 1984, you know I’ve already made the first–though Fiennes’ character is always addressed as “Chef,” and Taylor-Joy is either Margot from Grand Island, Nebraska, or Erin from Brockton, Mass., depending on which piece of the map you want to put in the puzzle.

“And what map would that be?” asks Chef with a tired smile.

Far from an update of any classic book, The Menu is a suggestion of a genre–the totalitarian genre from Brave New World to The Handmaid’s Tale, and from Melville’s fictional Ahab to the all-too-real Donald Trump. Set in a restaurant on a small island named “Hawthorne,” Menu recalls the darkest Twice Told Tales that delve into witchcraft and deals with the devil–recast with wit more laugh-out-loud than dry.

Comparisons to films? First that occurred to me was Robert Altman’s 1994 spoof of the fashion industry, Ready to Wear. From nude runway models to empty plates, its satire is as naked as its wrath.

More immediately it plays in the same tragi-comic key as Don’t Look Up. If you laughed and marveled at how Meryl Streep so effortlessly channeled Republican politicians while playing a US President drunk in denial, you’ll appreciate the provocative twist of an Asian woman attacking a white woman with a knife while yelling, “You will not replace me!”

Another topical echo is Chef’s private screed to Margot, or Erin, or is she Alice in Wonderland? Or Dorothy in Oz?

Chef: Who are you?

Margot: I. Am. Margot. Why do you care?

Chef: Because. I need to know if you’re with us or with them.

He gives her the choice to be among “the givers or the takers,” a dichotomy that right-wing politicians have harped on since Mitt Romney let it out of the bag in 2012.

It would be easy to simply cubbyhole Menu as a take on the cult of personality. Think Jim Jones in 1978 with dinner guests in Jonestown, Guyana, or Heaven’s Gate in 1997 as a swank restaurant rather than a home in California. But we’ve seen that cult of personality is no longer so easily cubbyholed–or confined to the places where they implode.

In more ways than one, Menu explodes. If I was writing a review, I’d call it dystopian, but who has any taste for that? For the sake of this appetizer, I’ll call The Menu a horror film–in the same sense that films such as Soylent Green and The Hunger Games horrify us.

Still, the film is sauteed and served in laughs that hook the audience as completely as the gourmet servings that keep Chef’s diners savoring every mouthwatering bite no matter how gruesome or real the “theatricality” between courses. Not to mention a sommelier who chirps of “cherry and tobacco notes” as he glides from table to table. Seriously, if you can’t laugh at Chef’s description of S’mores, you need to consult a neurologist. I’m just a projectionist.

For all she endures, even Margot–or Erin, or Dorothy, or Alice when she’s ten feet tall–relishes the cheeseburger Chef made just for her.


Beware ‘Bait Leader’

At the end–or is it the beginning?–of our annual string of shop-till-you-drop days, from Black Friday into this week, I learned of a tactic new to me, though it may be as old as Cyber Monday to you.

My cousin, who detests doing business online as much as I, was quite taken by television ads for a new toy “available at all Walmarts, Targets…” and a few other big box outlets, one of which was just around the corner from her. Billed as a toy for the six- to 36-month set, this proved irresistible to a woman who now has three great-grandchildren in that range.

Unable to find any “Star Belly Dream Lites” on her own, she asked an employee who pulled out and tapped his iPad before telling her that the soft, cutesy, colorful, battery-operated (three AAAs) dinosaurs, teddy bears, and unicorns that cast moving stars on a bedroom ceiling to help toddlers fall asleep is sold online only.

“The ads say ‘available at‘.”

“Yes, it’s available on our website.”

“The ads say at!”

“At. On. What’s the difference?”

Maybe it runs in the family, or more likely the two of us have reached the age where we know there’s no point in trying to reason with people who think language is fungible. Put another way, we accept a thing we cannot change.

In awe of a woman who has more great-grandkids than I have grand-kids, I told her she was right to turn and walk out rather than attempt an answer to his question. And since she was so enamored of the toy as a perfect gift, I agreed with her decision to go online and have Star Bellies sent to her–just as I have t-shirts from the New Bedford Whaling Museum sent to me every year in the weeks before Christmas.

Like my mother, her aunt, she gets them weeks ahead of time, and as soon as I could confess my last-minute habit, two Star Bellies and a similar doll with buttons embedded in its hands, feet, and ears were on the table in front of me. I became so engrossed in pressing those buttons for their various sounds, she said she would get one for me, whereupon I picked it up and shoved it back in the box.

Our conversation turned to and stayed on family matters until I took my leave, but something about her Walmart story seemed to be in the car with me. I killed the radio to think it through.

What’s happening here is somewhere between bait and switch and loss leader. Call it bait leader.

The toy is the bait, and it’s still available, but not where you are led to believe. Instead, they have you in the store for everything else. For the seller, it’s the best of both of those other tactics: There’s no need to switch, and there’s no loss.

Like most advertising, it’s likely well within legal bounds even if ethics are nowhere in sight. And I can’t tell who’s responsible: The toy manufacturer or the box stores? All of the above seems likely.

As I say, I’ve finally reached the age of serenity–which may be a kind word for senility–and I accept what I cannot change. So, Star Bellies need fear no class action suit from me. Nor do Walmart, Target, or any others practicing bait leader.

But I do retain the courage to do what I can, and so I thought I’d caution you about those ads. Beware those smiling faces who say “at” when they mean “on”–not on a shelf, but online.

Here’s to the wisdom to know the difference.


Melville’s Time Warp Again

When my friend Louis hears of a book about to be published, he goes online and puts a hold on it at his public library.

That’s a step ahead of my habit.  My local library has a “New Books” display in its lobby that I veer right toward, always finding at least one appealing title.

Today, however, I went online looking for a specific edition of Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade published in 1857—on April Fools’ Day to be exact.

What filled my screen was a book of the same title published just last month:  Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.

Call it inevitable:  Ever since the Calf of Babel descended the golden escalator in his own tower in 2015, he has gained comparisons to characters created by Herman Melville over a century and a half ago.

A bitter and bemusing irony cannot be lost on Melville fans recalling that the author of Moby-Dick and “Bartleby the Scrivener” died in obscurity in 1891, all his books long out of print.

So estranged was he to public life that he ordered a tombstone with a blank scroll for his final resting place. A middle finger to the world? A white flag?

 Not until the Roaring 20s did an admiring grad student write a biography that set off “The Melville Revival.”  Not sure if this has lasted into the 21st Century, but at the time I left teaching in 2002, several of his titles were still staples of school curricula—“Bartleby,” “Benito Cereno,” and Billy Budd.

Wouldn’t surprise me if college teachers, for the sake of immediate relevance, added Melville to their reading lists soon after the “American Carnage” inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2017.

Or high school teachers if they have anything that can honestly be called academic freedom, as this is the stuff that those who harp on “Woke Culture” do not want young people to hear.

Most everyone I know agrees that there was no redeeming quality to the Trump Administration. A few exceptions will cite his business deregulations, overlooking consequences to the environment, to workers, to consumers.

As I’ve started telling these folks, it’s a bit like crediting cancer as a weight-loss program.

However, for us Melvillians, maybe there is a redeeming quality if we take some consolation in a second revival for our guy.

A character who is part of American mythology and known even to those who haven’t read the book, Moby-Dick‘s Ahab was cited from the start of the MAGA campaign all the way to this month’s election.

Trump’s claim that he “could shoot someone” echoed Ahab’s “strike the sun” boast, and in reference to Trumper Kari Lake’s refusal to accept defeat, Nicole Wallace of MSNBC quipped that “Arizona is Donald Trump’s white whale.”

Between those were essays in several publications.  Under the headline, “What Melville Can Teach Us about the Trump Era,” Ariel Dorfman of The Nation tells us that:

Melville could have been presciently forecasting today’s America when he imagined his country as a Mississippi steamer (ironically called the Fidèle) filled with “a flock of fools, under this captain of fools, in this ship of fools!”

So, yes, it was inevitable that a book with a Melville title would describe him.  And it’s no surprise that a large chunk of the promo for Haberman’s book applies just as much to Melville’s:

The through-line  is the enduring question of what is in it for him or what he needs to say to survive short increments of time in the pursuit of his own interests. Confidence Man is also, inevitably, about the world that produced such a singular character, giving rise to his career and becoming his first stage.

As you might guess, I put a hold on the new Confidence Man and am now awaiting its arrival in any of the 36 members of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium.

But I won’t be holding my breath.  According to the MVLC website, mine is the 166th hold on just 36 copies—one for each library—none of which have yet arrived here in the northeast corner of Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, I’ll content myself with Melville’s trip down the Mississip, grateful to him for limiting it to a single day—April Fools’ no less—while bracing myself for the seven-year-and-counting ordeal outlined by Haberman.

By that time, Louis might be able to tell me all about it.


Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. Photo by Michael Boer:

Discolored Friday

No, I’m not going to attach any racial meanings or connotations to the term commonly used for this day, but I am going to report that it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Or what I thought it meant until I stumbled upon “Black Friday” while searching for something else online.

I’d say serendipitously stumbled, but that word applies only to pleasing discoveries, and what I found is no better an origin than what we’ve come to believe. Most folks would likely call it worse, much worse, but I’m among a minority who have long considered this day to be America’s annual Golden Calf, a celebration of materialism champing at the bits of family values and religious traditions.

That’s another argument for another time–and I made it publicly eight years ago with a satirical newspaper column that, if I may say so myself, becomes more literally true every year:

Though my Golden Calf metaphor still holds true, and though today has long been the day when American businesses enjoy massive sales that propel them into the black–even those which have run in the red for much of the year–the word Black has nothing to do with finance.

Instead, Philadelphia police began using “Black Friday” back in the early Sixties to describe the chaotic crowds that appeared when suburban tourists went downtown in droves to start their holiday shopping.

Philadelphia? Sometimes I wonder if the term “brotherly love” refers to Cain and Abel.

Surprising? You may be as much surprised by the word “downtown” rather than “shopping malls” in that report, especially if you are under a certain age, but malls did not begin to usurp America’s commercial life until the late-Sixties.

Notice, too, the word “suburban.” Oh, the irony! White people storm the gates, and Blacks are now to blame. That’s why, before the term shot like a pandemic out of Philadelphia, merchants regretted its negative connotation and tried to promote “Big Friday.” That gained a big yawn, and so the idea of black ink was written over the original script.

“Black Friday” thus went from police log to ledger book, but I promised no critical race theory, so please disregard that last paragraph–though it is worth noting that, like my Golden Calf theory, the original meaning of “Black Friday,” lost long ago, has re-emerged as true and becomes truer and truer every year, pandemic be damned.

Perhaps it was no mere coincidence that the whole movement toward historic preservation took hold soon after the first Black Fridays in the early Seventies when the federal government initiated the National Trust for Historic Preservation–which would soon bloom with a rebirth of street-performance.

Coincidence or not, one setting offers chaos in the pursuit of mass-produced merchandise with Muzak oozing from the walls, while the other, at its best, offers the charm of local craftsmen and -women with live music played for the season.

That’s a story that could fill a book, and it is a recurring theme throughout Pay the Piper!–most explicitly in the chapters titled, “Busking the Red, White, and Blue” and “A Call to Un-Mall.”

Call this Black Friday if you want, but I’ve always been more inclined to saunter, perhaps busk downtown on a Red, White, and Blue Friday. Today it rains, but there’s always tomorrow.


Awaiting Thanksgiving

On the morning before Thanksgiving I take one of a dozen seats that line three walls of a waiting room for a routine checkup with my dermatologist.

Four middle-aged patients sit apart from each other along two walls awaiting to be called, and I sit before the third wall, all of us facing the center of the spacious room. All four hold mobile device before them, sometimes pecking away with thumbs as much as fingers. I look around.

Two of the screens cast bright reflections onto the ceiling from seats that are set in front of a wide window. One is a tight, bright circle with a slight tail that makes it look like a comet as it darts erratically back and forth toward the center of the ceiling. The other bears an uncanny resemblance to a jet as seen from the ground just after takeoff.

Though the jet faces away from the comet as if to escape, it slides backward as much as forward and side to side. The two never collide, although I flinched at more than one close call. As well as when the jet jerked from the ceiling onto the wall behind and disappeared into the window.

The comet, for its part, at times moved onto a small stretch of wall beyond the reach of the window, shooting like a sudden bolt of lightning straight down–completely unnoticed by the woman holding the screen that cast it. And no matter that it went right through a small, rectangular device set in the wall labelled “Fire Alarm.”

About then I thought I heard a call for “John,” the name by which all medical and governmental agencies know me, and got up only to hear the assistant enunciate “Dawn.” So I sat back down as the woman with the jet left the room and another woman took the very seat Dawn had vacated.

She had gray hair. She had no device in hand. She looked around, and when our eyes met, we may have smiled at each other as we nodded, though we were wearing masks and I can vouch for only my own. I was tempted to comment on what the dermatologist’s sound system was offering at the time, Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” but I was afraid to imply an assumption about her age.

Before I could think of anything else, a young mom entered the office hand in hand with a daughter about eight. As the mom went to the desk, the girl veered into the waiting room, went to look out the window, and kneeled on the chair next to the woman without a phone.

Said the woman to the girl: “I like your shoes.” Said the girl: “Thank you.” Sang Nancy: “That’s just what they’ll do.”

The two then fell into conversation about the characters–cartoon, I think–on the shoes. To which I would have listened in hopes of voicing a remark about Donald Duck, always my favorite, or Goofy, long-time my personal role model. Instead, I heard “John” with an unmistakable J and left the room to have my own comets, jets, and cartoon characters looked at.

Yes, it does occur to me that if I had a device of my own, I could show you pictures of this morning’s indoor air show. Question is, if I had such a device, would I have seen the show at all? And if gray hair had one, would she have noticed the girl’s colorful shoes?

My answers to those questions make me most thankful for what I do not and will never have.


Spare the Thoughts & Prayers

When my book about busking, Pay the Piper! appeared in print, I gave a reading at Jabberwocky Bookshop here in Newburyport and introduced myself thus:

Hello! My name is Barbara Ehrenreich, and I’m here to talk about my new book, Nickel and Dimed.

Most in attendance knew me as a busker, or street-performer, and so they got the joke’s stereotype of playing for little more than spare change. For all I know, they may have inferred an unstated reference to the book’s subtitle: On (Not) Getting by in America.

But I went on to tell them that Piper had more in common with another Ehrenreich book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, that appeared six years after her 2001 classic.

At that time I was just beginning to assemble various essays I had penned about busking, and so any title with the word “Streets” was bound to command my attention. Dancing did not disappoint. as I was able to reinforce my own book with references to its final scene, where Ehrenreich and a friend ascend from a New York subway, into music on the sidewalk.

As I wrote in a chapter titled “A Call to Un-Mall,” Dancing is a call for a “vibrant public life… a must-read for any busker or renfaire performer, practicing or would-be, who may ever doubt their own sense of purpose.”

I also sent her an email to tell her that Crackerjack is a brand name with an upper-case C and no s at the end, a common mistake that could have caused her a problem if not corrected by the second edition. Of course, I used that as a way to mention my own project with scenes that illustrated the point and purpose of Dancing.

Next day, she sent thanks for the correction, offered names of a couple book agents, and wished me well.

According to The Guardian, her son accompanied the announcement “with a comment redolent of his mother’s spirit”:

She was never much for thoughts and prayers, but you can honor her memory by loving one another, and by fighting like hell.

For an idea of how completely that single line captures a woman who always went against the grain of conventional wisdom and the grind of safe conformity, here’s a sampling of what she wrote:

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Of all the nasty outcomes predicted for women’s liberation… none was more alarming, from a feminist point of view, than the suggestion that women would eventually become just like men.

We love television because television brings us a world in which television does not exist.

In fact, there is clear evidence of black intellectual superiority: in 1984, 92 percent of blacks voted to retire Ronald Reagan, compared to only 36 percent of whites.

Employers have gone away from the idea that an employee is a long-term asset to the company, someone to be nurtured and developed, to a new notion that they are disposable.

Marriage is socialism among two people.

Take motherhood: nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent.

America is addicted to wars of distraction.

The titles of her more than 20 books–ranging from women’s rights to workers’ rights to the inequities of the American healthcare system–reveal a commitment to social justice as deep and as long as that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis:

  • Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
  • This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation
  • Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America
  • Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy
  • For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women
  • Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Other titles are just as enticing, but as I start to recall that email she sent me, and what I believe she was telling all of her readers, I better get back to adding titles of my own.

Barbara Alexander Ehrenreich died on September 1. She was 81.


Putting a Finger on It

A film as unusual as The Banshees of Inisherin deserves a review as unusual as a fish and finger pie, and so I should not have been surprised when one patron left the Screening Room saying she “would give it one thumb up and one thumb down if both thumbs were not flying all over the place.”

But she did stay to the end and expressed no objection to so many others praising the film–even if they did appear a bit grim while saying so.

Indeed, of all the patrons who have seen it in the eight days since it opened here, we’ve had just seven walkouts, one saying something to the effect of I don’t go to movies to be given the finger.

Audiences have been among the largest we have seen since the pandemic arrived. Anything Irish is bound to do well in Newburyport, and the film was heavily advertised on the cable stations as a “comedy.” I use quotes because the disparity of the ads with the actual product verges on bait-and-switch, in this case reminiscent of the full-page spreads with a dozen photos of Robin Williams laughing and howling in Dead Poets Society back in 1989.

Quite an ad campaign for a film about suicide.

The breakup of a friendship is far from suicide, and yes, there are a lot of laughs. As they did in Martin McDonagh’s 2008 In Bruges, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson show flashes of Laurel and Hardy, and the sight gags nicely punctuate the film’s breathtaking cinematography of Ireland’s Aran Islands.

More akin to McDonagh’s 2017 film, Three Billboard’s Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the story is not nearly as violent, but bloody enough in two or three scenes to cover your eyes with your fingers.

There’s my fourth reference to fingers if you’re keeping score. Colm (Gleeson) is a musician, after all, an aging fiddler concerned about what he might leave to posterity. He fancies himself in the tradition of the legendary Irish bards of earlier centuries, and he envies Mozart’s place in musical history.

That bug hit before Banshees begins, and so we meet him telling Padraic (Farrell) that he no longer has time for the younger man’s interminable idle chat. When he complains of listening to on and on blather about cleaning horseshit out of a barn, Padraic corrects him: “It was donkey shit.”

Talk about not getting it! Unable and unwilling to take no for an answer, Padraic enlists the aid of his sister, as well as a troubled young man who frequents the local pub and a priest who ferries over from Galway to reconcile them.

The acting? All five performances are worthy of Oscar nominations. And the two fellows who parrot each other at the bar could start a show on Comedy Central.

Set in a small fishing village off Ireland’s west coast where “word gets around”–inish means island–the film puts the ensuing turmoil in the foreground of a descent into civil war following the Free State Act in 1922. The setting is all too real as we hear the reports of rifles across the bay, but Colm’s response to Padraic’s persistence is impossible to believe.

Unless, as one woman put it after sitting in the theater talking with others long after the credits rolled, we regard it as a fable. Why not? It’s a cautionary tale of sensational events, and in it, a donkey and a dog play roles that would both gain Oscar nominations for Best Performance by an Animal if there were such a thing.

“If it were a breakup of a man and a woman,” she reasoned, “no one would notice.” But to make it about friendship instead of love, art instead of marriage, we see the extremes to which both sides are pulled. Padraic’s counter to Colm’s fistful of points is as fiery as any Irish Republican Army response to British rule.

In contrast, Colm’s response to Padraic’s sister, Sioban (Kerry Condon), is painfully real. Awaiting word of employment on the mainland, the woman longs for a better life. When Colm tells her that she should understand his disdain for wasted time, she can’t deny it. As she turns and leaves, he pleads twice: “Can’t’cha?” No answer. “Can’t’cha?”

The title of the film doubles as the title of Colm’s fiddle tune that we hear in various drafts and when done. It is also the key to the fable. “Banshee” is an Irish word for female spirits whose wailing warns of impending death.


What Colm and Padraic do is not to be taken literally. To put a finger on what The Banshees of Inisherin is really all about, focus on Sioban.


A Thanksgiving Toast

Getting in the mood for another turn in the Moby-Dick Marathon Reading, I picked up a copy of Redburn which Herman Melville published in 1849, two years before Ahab’s monomaniacal quest for revenge against Mother Nature.

Far from a whaler in the South Pacific, Wellingboro Redburn–no wonder he later calls himself “Ishmael”–narrates from aboard a merchant vessel that plies its trade between New York and Liverpool.

And from the nooks and crannies of Liverpool, where dire poverty is an amble away from riches from all over the world unloaded on the docks, and where he sees “very many painful sights” and hears many a “low, hopeless, endless wail” that make him ask:

“What right had anybody in the world to smile and be glad, when sights like this were to be seen?”

A question he’ll answer with another question:

Surrounded as we are by the wants and woes of our fellow-men, and yet given to follow our own pleasures, regardless of their pains, are we not like people sitting up with a corpse, and making merry in the house of the dead?

Similar conscience-rattling passages appear in Moby-Dick, for which Redburn is a worthy forerunner with generous helpings of Ishmaelish wit and whimsy and a spread of topics and musings as diverse as the Thanksgiving feasts we are about to enjoy. Who knew that a line-by-line commentary on a classified ad or a spoof of a guide book could be as funny as a monologue on late-night TV?

Still, if we are to at all attach religious sentiments to Thanksgiving–and to any of the holidays soon to follow–then it is Melville’s reminders of the human condition that are most relevant today. After watching 500 German immigrants board The Highlander in Liverpool for passage to America, risking the diseases that thrive in close quarters necessarily kept shut during long Atlantic storms, he muses:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled, that, in a noble breast, should forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes.

He then rhapsodizes on how they will populate farms from Pennsylvania to Texas and the Dakotas, adding this:

Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim [America] for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world… We are not a narrow tribe of men… whose blood has been debased in the attempt to ennoble it by maintaining an exclusive succession among ourselves. No: our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made up of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation so much as a world…

Taken alone, that could well be a Thanksgiving toast. What, after all, was the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth Colony?

Taken in the context of the earlier passage, it forms as clear an expose of America’s contradiction–and I dare say of Christianity’s contradiction–as anything written on the pages of newspapers or shown on television news today.

People appearing at our southern border, or flying in from Ukraine or the Middle East, or from African, Asian, or Pacific Island nations beset by hunger, drought, or rising seas may not be “following… pleasure,” by they are certainly fleeing pain so that their children might someday live in peace.

Most of us who will fill plates with turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn cobbler, followed by pecan, pumpkin, and apple pies are children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants such as Melville described. They boarded boats in Liverpool, Naples, Hamburg, Bremen, Marseille, all for the same reasons that swell the Rio Grande today.

None of them would begrudge us as we “smile and be glad,” but it’s hard to imagine that they’d approve America’s treatment of families now fleeing violence-torn dictatorships in Central and South America–to which the US government, at best, has turned a blind eye these past fifty years.

As Melville concluded 173 years ago:

Adam and Eve! If indeed you are yet alive and in heaven, may it be no part of your immortality to look down upon the world ye have left. For as all these sufferers and cripples are as much your family as young Abel, so, to you, the sight of the world’s woes would be a parental torment indeed.

More immediately, would not our own ancestors who yet look upon us from pictures we place on walls and mantles feel insulted by the slurs such as “illegal aliens” and betrayed by any American’s animosity toward and fear of immigrants today?

A rhetorical question? Maybe. But just as much as Melville’s toast, the answer defines Thanksgiving Day.


Mob Myth

So many punchlines, so little time.

A friend notes that Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley “kept blaming ‘the woke mob’ for the fact that his book didn’t sell.”

For starters, he can’t help himself. As a Trumpster, blaming others is in his DNA.

Second, his base is the MAGA crowd. For him to expect readers is like an arsonist expecting snowmen at a housewarming.

Third, with a title like The Tyranny of Big Tech, he forgets the sacred precept of the lobby his Republican Party best serves: Guns don’t kill people, people do. Hey, Josh, Big Tech doesn’t kill books, hysterically bad writing does!

Fourth, when a video of his impersonation of a jackrabbit in the Capitol emerged from the Jan. 6 investigation, the public judged his book by his run for cover.

My friend sent the note in response to my last blog regarding the word “woke” as constantly used by the Republican governor of the oversized, dual-purpose shooting range and golf course we call Florida. But I was more taken by the other word Hawley used.

The irony could not be more rich: The guy who raised his fist to the “tourists” at the Capitol in DC on Jan. 6 using the word “mob” to explain something (book sales) that did not happen.

Reminds me of people who insist that the Electoral College protects us from “mob rule,” as the framers intended. By the time the debate gets past all 18th and 19th century considerations, you realize that “mob” to them means “urban.”

Challenges aimed at Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona in 2020 were more specifically attacks on Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Phoenix. And who lives in cities?

The claim of “States Rights” was nothing more than a disguise for their attack on cities–just as it once was for the South to justify slavery.

Democrats need to keep this in mind in preparation for 2024. While it’s true that there is a racist motive for the voting restrictions recently passed in Republican controlled states–and that those motives should be addressed–most of those restrictions target urban populations at least as white as minority when taken as a whole.

Who lives in cities? All of us.

Let Republicans use the word “mob” all they want. Bend it with irony, and it soon becomes a joke: Ads, all set in cities, showing lines of people waiting patiently at a polling place, enjoying an outdoor concert, coming together at a public celebration, cheering at a high school game, grieving together at a funeral, making their case peacefully at civic meetings. All with the word “Mob” superimposed on the screen and heard in laughing voice-overs, followed by the word “city” voiced with point and purpose.

In short, make a mockery of claims by a political party that is itself a mockery.

Bottom line: For all our talk of “inclusion” and “diversity,” the words “race” and “racist” by definition divide us. “Urban” and “city,” meanwhile, leave no voters behind.


Wake up to Woke

For those who missed it, Gov. Ron DeSadist’s victory speech in Florodor harped on a single word: “Woke.”

He used it at least a dozen times, most sound-bitingly when he sneered: “Florida is where woke comes to die!”

Harping on charged words and phrases has been Republican MO for over 40 years when Ronald Reagan turned “liberal” into a synonym for “socialist.” It worked well for him, but it wore thin by 1996 when Republican presidential nominee Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas thought he could unseat Pres. Bill Clinton by using the word “liberal” two or three times in every sentence. If you think I’m exaggerating, check youTube.

From then on, Republicans paired “liberal” with other buzzwords–radical liberals, liberal extremists, socialist liberals, etc.–and helped it along with a resolve to keep using “extreme” and “hardline” every time they mentioned environmentalists and feminists, as in feminist extremist and hardline environmentalist.

So it was until 2016 when Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hit the national stage. Sanders made liberalism appear to be a humane, acceptable degree of socialism. Trump turned extremism and radicalism into the Republican brand.

No wonder that the Republicans who hope to survive Trumpism need another buzzword.

Rather than waiting twenty more years to feel another Bern for what is actually being said–and spread–Democrats should embrace the word “woke.” Do they recall that “Obamacare” was coined by Republicans as a slur before Pres. Obama himself started using it as matter-of-fact shorthand?

More to the point is Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court in 2010. In his announcement he praised Kagan for her “empathy,” a word on which Republicans pounced as if it were a synonym for “communist.” They got some traction because it’s not a common term, and Kagan herself had to reassure them in confirmation that empathy would never override law in her decisions.

“Woke” is a slang term for “aware.” Whether it originates from politics or music, from the media or from a minority group is of no matter to Republicans. While repeating it, as DeSatan always does, in menacing tones and contrived contexts, they count on woke’s unfamiliarity for traction. In another kind of word, Republicans are making “awareness” ugly.

Like saying DeSanctimonious, DeSatan, or DeSadist for DeSantis. Or hailing King Ron the Wrong of Florodor when you want to give them a taste of their own snake oil.

Democrats, therefore, need only call the word “woke” what it is. Who can argue with anyone being aware of things?

I suppose that the Hershel Walkers and Sarah Palins of the world could argue that “woke” is a word they never heard in the Bible, or that it does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution. I’ll leave the good book to ministers and rabbis and priests to confirm the first claim, but the First Amendment’s provision for freedom of the press tells us that self-government depends on what Jefferson called “an informed citizenry.”

Woke is how democracy stays alive.