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Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass … Wordsworth, Immortality Ode

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A little over mid-way in Robin and Marion (dir. Robert Lester, script James Goldman, producer Denis O’Dell, original music John Barry, photographed by David Watkin)

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I re-watched Robin and Marion whose date at imdb, 1976, tells me it was 37 years ago Jim and I first saw it. It was a personal journey for me. I probably meant to have a nostalgia melancholy memory journey with Jim but he was not up to watching, and the film was also not as fine as I remembered it. The work’s fable (story, plot-design) matter is both sexist and pro-violence in a mindless way. Robin (Sean Connery) shows up and before you know it Marion (Audrey Hepburn) has given up her veil and is back to cooking and sewing for him while he forages out man-like to put together a band of aging and too young men …

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The central ending is engineered by the Sheriff (Robert Shaw) who again wants to root out Robin and his egalitarian band — this time a one-on-one combat. They manage to destroy one another — so this is presented as something gained? The still shows the scene is done with the basic theme of aging in mind (what saves it is this):

Notfunnyduel

However the usual clichéd presentations of Richard and John are unqualified.

At the time what was remarked upon was how the actors and scenery no longer looked like Errol Flynn & Olivia de Havilland in fancy stage gear. This is so, the clothes were much less pretty, more cloth, and the surroundings and village and weapons (genuinely primitive) far more persuasive. Alas, we have gone beyond this to a grittier realism. The film is a sort of idyll — the cinematographer loved his work and sought to depict a land relatively empty of people, pastoral and the music carried laden emotions along lightly

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Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson) arriving

But for the watcher of 2013 it’s also not as un-costumy in today’s terms — the costumes are so clean, so whole, the furniture like some card Arthurian board-game. Audry Hepburn does not have a single wrinkle and is so youthful in body and face this jars as camera work is more realistic nowadays and Sean Connery plays himself — something he’s done for a long time, he’s too easy in the part. The lines outside those given Robin and Marion in their exchanges lose the theme, are wooden, at their best spare, though the cast was excellent: Denholm Elliot as Will Scarlett:

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Robert Shaw, the Sheriff; Richard Harris, king Richard; Ian Holm, king John.

So what does it have 37 years later? Well as we look back to it from yet older age, it’s theme of middle age springs out at you with a single complex of living emotion done singularly evocatively, a conception of aging people who can’t return to their youth even in this glorious landscape, and especially the conception of an aging couple trying to re-capture the past, or re-live it for a moment here or there.

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Thus the quiet loveliness of beautiful spots in the country with the muted music (not many trumpets in this film, no crashing surging chords at all) become a form of aching like that found in Wordsworth’s famous “Immortality Ode.” When the two ex-lovers have re-spent time, moved to one spot, joined as a pair a company, they find they are still breathless with passion and when they get together we see them dive into the grass and love-making is understood to resume, thus the Wordsworth lines (see above): but with this addition (I’m quoting a friend). Remember, nothing can bring back the hour/Of splendour in the grass. The emphasis is all are older (some comically clumsy) and there has been much hurt and loss.

It’s not quite Before Midnight of course as the reasons for the failures are kept fairy tale and boyish: Robin of course had to go to the Crusades, couldn’t resist. If the film-makers could have gotten some other reason for the final scenes of the movie than the ending that would have improved the film a lot. What we get is wrestling–with–swords to the death (I doubt many action-adventure movie types would get this far).

I doubt its other themes could be carried off today: egalitarianism, rebellion against obvious evil, a really felt melancholy over a set of idealized pastoral characters inside a past not retrieved — this reflects something pre-1980, pre-Thatcher, pre-Reagan. It’s presented too naively too, with the assumption we are offended by careerism, ruthless ambition, selfishness (with the bad male characters standing in for these).

I was still touched by the close. After the battle, won by Robin’s having killed the Sheriff, Robin returns to Marion’s cell like room (which I thought Marion had abandoned) perhaps himself to die, or to survive maimed:

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I think she does have some line about how she doesn’t want this sort of thing anymore, no more of this forced or volunteer fighting. So they cannot escape but one way. After the scene of their hands stretched out recalls Michelangelo’s God and Adam — they reach out like Adam and God, without explaining why — Marion pours poison into a cup which she drinks from too.

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The characters are presented simply: so Sean-Robin remains puzzled at the use of a poisoned chalice, he seems to soon accept their coming fate, and if you abandon your mind to this finale, it can work a kind of realization of something precious now destroyed. They are a kind of Tristan and Isolde without an appropriate story to move through to reach this point.

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They will both die, one will not be left without the other. Little John comes in

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in the end then I had another kind of experience than I had thought: Jim is now too ill for us go wandering in the grass and know what we once did, but we can hold fast to something else. Another quotation came to mind for this scene and the whole of the film: and I became an English major because of Wordsworth’s Michael, the lines

There is a comfort in the strength of love
Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would break the heart ..

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Ellen

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Insidethehotel
Elle grated upon, resentful

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Lui all reasonableness

Dear friends and readers,

This third time round is not quite as somehow miraculous in its worked-up spontaneous art and apparent felt reality as the previous two films, but we have here still a centrally gratifying attempt at an authentic depiction of a relationship, this time the long-lasting kind where people stay together. The two say the cruel things women and men do say to one another (typical ones for each sex), complain typically, needlingly (she), evade typically (he). It put me in mind of George Sand’s Lui et Elle (He and She).

So, here am I to tell you to that if you were among those who enjoyed the first two installments of what turns out to have become a long-lasting relationship between a couple as configured and dramatized in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), hurry out to see Before Midnight (2013). I say hurry, for there does not seem to be as big an audience for this pair of sincere lovers, as genuine in their immediate interactions with one another as there once were. There were at most 10 people in the auditorium I saw the film in this afternoon.

I loved the films when they were first aired, and wrote about them in a blog now defunct — it was attacked by a virus. So I can no longer give the details I would like to have to convey the quality of the previous films. I can remember how in the first the two got off a train and had until Before Sunrise and that in Before Sunset where the two have managed to meet briefly once again, seemed to repeat the atmosphere, genuine relationship, beauty, conversation, hope of Before Sunrise with no loss. In the first they parted at the close of the film, in the second they were to stay together for a little while longer.

I regret I cannot speak with as unqualified praise for Before Midnight. There is schmaltz: when they are with others in a summer landscape in Greece eating dinner there is too much posturing of social togetherness

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even if qualified by sudden sharp comments, talk of divorce by the other couples, and one older women’s eloquent description of her aloneness now in her old age widowhood. But once Jesse and Celine set out on their long walk to the gift of a night’s tryst at a nearby air-conditioned hotel,

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Walking and talking once again

and they work themselves up through memory (of what went on in-between this film and Before Sunrise), his irritation and feeling he is treating his son just as he was treated, her frustration at the lack of a consistently developing career burst into a quarrel where bitter things are said to hurt as only people who know what each other will endure can utter, then the film clicks, the two people jell. Once in the room together and alone we see the causes of their mutual irritations, and their typical games; she will go out the door and slam it as if not coming back, and then she returns. When she does not come back in, he follows her to wherever she is. Their paired glasses of wine do not get drunk. This closing phase complete with the brief sudden making up (see the last photo in this blog used as the promotion shot in the ads) is almost as intensely gratifying as the whole of its two predecessor films were.

The situation is this: the two have spent the summer in Greece, in an informal small writers’ colony: so small and informal it consists of a Greek writer and publisher and Jesse and one other male writer, and their two wives and children. All summer the men have discussed their work for a couple of hours a day, and the women have cooked and taken care of the children who have romped and swum. Summer’s end, Jesse and Celine take his son by his first and ex-wife to the airport to return to Chicago and boarding-school and his mother. She and he drive back with their two daughters (who are being brought up to be French). This is the last evening we see them talk with the other members of the group and then they walk off to their gift.

In the previous two films the atmosphere was euphoric with the finding of one another of two emotionally intellectually congenial mutually sexually attractive people. The couple was in love.

Now they are two people who love one another but are pushed into tearing into one another’s vulnerabilities fiercely because they pressured and their distaste insufficiently taken into account by one another, for they cannot.

The film opens with Ethan delivering a beloved son into a plane, which son he must be estranged from as his ex-wife will not give him and Celine custody. The son is one of the living objects our couple fight over. Another is Jesse’s desire to help his son, to go to Chicago and live near him. The boy would prefer his father not to come to see him play in a team at his boarding school. All that does is ignite his mother’s (Jesse’s ex-wife’s) resentment. Celine is ceaselessly thwarted by her lack of free time and over-compromised career choices. By the twin daughters she gave birth to and also loves and is devoted to. Both are giving over their lives to one another and other’s needs — he supports her by the earnings of his books and free-lance work; she adds to their income with her part-time jobs. When they get to the hotel despite its having been paid for by their friends, he has to produce his credit card to cover “incidentals.” After that he is asked to sign his books (apparently about their relationship as seen in the previous two films) and she to co-sign.

They go upstairs and at first as if on-cue begin to make love, but soon fragments of conversation drive them apart. He cannot do anything about her not having had his success. She does not help his estrangement from his son by hanging up the phone after the son calls before giving the instrument over to him to try to reach the boy once again. She half-consciously prevents him having a relationship with the son whom the two phone calls suggests wants it more than he confesses to his father’s face in the opening scene. The film opens on his inability to reach his son and her telling Jesse on the drive back to the summer colony from the airport that she is about to take a politically frustrating job to work for people who grate on her as otherwise she feels of no use at all. That he had a brief fling (a one night encounter) with another woman at a writers’ conference a few years back still poisons her mind; she cannot get him either to deny it happened or admit it.

That the road on the way there (the walking and talking) — to the supposed idyll time at the hotel — is fraught testifies to the truth of the later cruel but true remarks the two throw at one another. It is almost midnight when they make up once again on the terrace and by playing at time-traveling they pretend together to come back from their 9th decade (in their 80s) to experience this new snatched time before midnight just before the 4th of July and summer solstice.

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Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, together again still

The melancholy of this film is no longer about the fleetingness of joy but the attempt to sustain generosity out of mutual need.

I have not seen much of Ethan Hawke’s work (and regret this) but I have kept up with Julie Delpy.

Ellen

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margaret-thatcherblog
Listen and watch Tony Harrison’s filmed poem, V

‘My father still reads the dictionary every day./He says your life depends on your power to master words.’ — Arthur Scargill,
Sunday Times, 10 January 1982

V stands for Victory, Victim, Versus

Dear friends and readers,

She was a blight on us all — but unfortunately only an extreme version of the kind of people ruling most countries today. Like Reagan, she had a facility for saying something that seemed true, but was specious, that would be quoted and people would say “yes,” not realizing what she was endorsing was the worst and most rotten aspects of our experiences of life.

An important article by Andrew O’Hagan (“Maggie,” New York Review of Books, 60:9 [May 2013]:18-20). What O’Hagan does is show continually how in specific individual human terms Margaret Thatcher’s acts either destroyed some specific person’s hope, daily useful activity, job, opportunity or were responsible for killing literal people, destroying the houses or communities they lived in, e.g., the night she had the Belgrano sunk — outside the acknowledged waters of war (then there were limits to war’s purview) — 323 people died.

Maggie

It appears to be open to all, non-subscribers as well as paper and on-line subscribers, but lest you cannot reach it or do not feel inclined to click, some key paragraphs:

It was an impressive work of social engineering but ultimately a dreadful one. She created a population that is more dependent and less productive. She made us more individual but less cooperative. It must have looked heroic on paper or in the essays of Milton Friedman. But what she did was incredibly coarse in practice: she ground the unions down but left workers with no alternative form of self-esteem or protection, and the result, today, is a workforce of the alienated. She boasted of setting people free but British working people have never been more enslaved to the whims of fashion, corporate greed, and agism than they are now. A young person from a former mining community where there might have been classes in the evenings and a sense of propriety, decency, modesty, and community can now only hope for a place in “the zone”—the world of the “haves”—by winning a celebrity contest or by thriving on the black market …

All the kids in my class were given a small bottle of milk every day at mid-morning. It was nice to drink the milk, but nicer, in some larger way, to learn that you lived in a country where the government your parents paid their taxes to cared about you that minutely. Thatcher stopped the milk. It seemed new, the thought—promulgated by Keith Joseph, Norman Tebbit, and, chiefly, Margaret Thatcher—that people who didn’t want to strive and become better than their neighbors were totally lacking in spirit.

At first it seemed like a small philosophical problem: older people, hard-working people, contented people, sick people would argue that they didn’t have to be winners. They didn’t want to do better: they were quite happy to do fine. They liked being like other people. It squared with their sense of belonging and with their idea of what made British life stable. My mother worked in a youth club and Thatcher closed it down …

The summer before going to university I got a job with the Manpower Services Commission, at the Job Centre, working the front-line desk with the unemployed. It was 1986 and I’ll never forget those lines of men coming up to the desk to inquire about their suitability for work. There were no jobs. They could try for something in a bar or a hairdresser’s, but fifty-year-old men weren’t going to get those jobs and I was instructed not to send them for interviews. Norman Tebbit, one of Mrs. Thatcher’s proudest and crudest lieutenants, told them to “get on your bike and get a job.” And here they were, skilled tradesmen with thirty-five years’ experience, asking if I could put them forward for a job they weren’t going to get collecting glasses in a bar. Mrs. Thatcher came up with various schemes, such as Restart, where the unemployed would be called in and interrogated about what they were “actively” doing to seek work. And I was told to talk to each of the men about the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, by which the government would give them a grant to start up their own business. The notion that some people are simply not entrepreneurial was lost …

Most important for US readers:

She couldn’t hold the nation together, indeed she drove it apart, and that is because she didn’t really believe in the nation except as a sentimental or martial entity. That’s the strangest legacy of all about Maggie: if you listen to those who loved her and thought she was manifestly right, you find, after a while, that you are with people who don’t know their own country and don’t like it either. They think they like it because they don’t like Europe, but in fact, they abjure both. They like their own lives, of course, and their own kind, but they imagine the rest of Britain is mainly an unspeakable place of aliens and scroungers

When Romney and his ilk talk of the 47% they are saying that to them most of the US are scrounges and aliends. When the Republicans and their allies try to limit the vote, they are acting out of the conviction only a tiny percentage of people who live in the US are of their kind (well-to-do, white) and all the rest not quite human. Obama is an illegitimate president because his skin color is wrong.

Ellen

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FitzgeraldasLintonblog
In 1939 Wuthering Heights: Geraldine Fitzgerald played Isabella Linton, but the film-makers did not have the interest, insight, or nerve to present the range of abuse we see in the book

Dear Friends and readers,

My third and final blog report from the PCA/ACA conference held here in DC. For the first, on serial storying and soap opera, see The Way We Watch TV Now).

Here are panels and papers on women’s issues (abortion, motherhood, careers), recent feminists (Vera Brittain), Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Ann Wrighten, an 18th century memoir of an actress who moved from London to the US, Angelina Weld Gimke’s radical novel, Mara Lena Dunham’s Girls and Aaron Sorkin’s TV show, West Wing. These discussions include the best and worst papers I heard.

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I begin with the women’s issues sessions.

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The best and worst were seen as the conference began, Wednesday, 1:15 pm, in session called Motherhood/Fatherhood (1127). Vicki Toscano, a working lawyer, gave a superb paper on the current legal particulars of abortion law and controversy today. Popular anti-abortion propaganda are being transformed into (or regarded) as science and accepted as parts of laws. Anti-abortion laws increasingly exploit the post-modern idea that what is scientific fact is nothing more than culturally driven beliefs. At the core is the idea that a woman upon becoming pregnant, conceiving is a mother. Women are told lies that there is a risk of infertility and must be psychological damage is they have an abortion. The claim of a risk of breast cancer is untrue (and though she didn’t say it the same pattern of turning myth into science is seen in attempts to coerce women into breast-feeding). Explicit moral language is increasingly made part of laws.

Toscano began with Roe v Wade, 1973. The court found a fundamental right to privacy was violated when all abortion was illegal, but that in the case of pregnancy that right was not absolute. the 1st trimester there need be no regulations; during the 2nd trimester to protect women’s health you can regulate the procedure. Once the fetus can survive, is a baby in potentia (there is disagreement when precisely this is) then the state’s interest in saving the child can trump the mother’s desires. Increasingly then a woman has the right to an abortion only if her life is jeopardized: it seems the fetus feels pain at 30 weeks but machines can detect a heart-beat after a few weeks and if you multiply the fetus a thousand-fold you can make a woman feel there’s a baby there.

In Planned Parenthood versus Casey (1992), the court turned away from the fundamental right to privacy, and instead said a woman’s right to an abortion is part of he right to liberty; it becomes a 14th amendment issue. The decision did away with the three trimester turning points; now the state has the right to protect the unborn from the moment of conception as long as it’s not am undue burden on the mother. The court has never found any obstacle to be that substantial that it gets in the way. States began to express a preference for childbirth over abortion. The state can insist on teaching women about abortion; the limitation is the information must be truthful, not misleading, and relevant. For no other medical procedure is there this demand for a 24 hour waiting period while the woman is told information about their abortion.

Then in 2007 in Gonzales versus Carhart legislation outlawing partial birth abortion (intact D & E) was upheld. The law now had a constitutional obligation to intervene, with a concern for the fetus or baby’s life and no exception made for the woman’s health. Congress decided that if there is any serious health risk cited by anyone, that must be taken into account. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent said the court deprives women of information and the right to make an autonomous choice. The pro-act reasonings included the idea a woman’s place is in her home.

Most importantly what’s happened lately shows a disregard for the mother’s life and well-being, a preference to save or force a baby on a woman no matter if she risks in the process. Women are increasingly being put into jail as pregnancy is in effect criminalized (especially when a woman is unmarried). We are returning to attitudes that undergirded accusations of maternal infanticide.

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Ellyn Lem and Timothy Dunn discussed Anne Marie Slaughter’s “why Women can’t have it all” as if for most women in the US having it all means high professional success and fulfilling family life (husband, children). They went over the Internet controversies, saw Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as a reply. They really defended both books as serious discussions of women’s lives and conflicts, typical enough lives with admirable values that may be held up as examples.

No one can fault their ultimate general comment that the workplace must have central institutional change to allow women who want to to be part-time at home mothers or wives. But the relevant perspective was that of the tenured college teacher who is dissatisfied because she is not making a huge sum, or on a crucially powerful committee, or is guilty because she leaves her children with a nanny for long hours at a time. Most women make small salaries and must struggle to make ends meet together with their husbands; they have no hired help. Or they are the hired help. They get part-time wages for full-time work. No benefits. The sad value of this session was to see that in these books taken at face value, feminism has become a movement for the few women who can afford to hire other women to take care of their homes and children. Feminism also takes on board neoliberalism, and in Sandberg women urged to imitate the anti-social anti-caring characteristics of men in the workplace.

I offered the idea both texts are irrelevant to most women’s lives; that supposed re-structures of work-days leads to people becoming part-time employees and a plunge in salaries with no benefits. I did not say (as I do here) the whole discussion was in unacknowledged bad taste.

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Vera Brittain later in life — she did in her memoirs also chronicle women’s lives in her fiction-memoirs

Liz Podniecks’ paper on Vera Brittain showed that Brittain challenged an attitude that said women must marry and have children to be fulfilled. Brittain was an outspoken pacificist and feminist who argued that women must be employed for money outside the home to be fully adult fulfilled women. In her Testament of Youth she exposed and denounced the barbarity and uselessness of patristic wars. She herself did marry, but kept her name (unusual for the time); Winifred Holtby lived with Brittain and Brittain’s husband and helped a series of hired nannies to take care of Vera’s children. In her writing Brittain continually attacked the “useless” woman, the woman who has nothing serious to do when her children go to school; they vicariously live through their children, are dependent. Once a woman has a good job and home she can stop over-emphasizing the importance of emotional relationships which are not central to the real business of life. They are (in truth) secondary to the way society is structured.

It may be true that some middle class women live pampered lives once their children grow older; and certainly sentiment is not the driving force behind how we order our lives. But this paper, as put, was also elitist at core. It is not a matter of choice for most women. They do not want to be dependent; many cannot get near a good paying job, and thus do find their highest satisfactions in their family’s shared lives. What worried me about this paper was the next inference would be to get rid of women’s right to live on their husband’s social security if he should predecease her when she spent her life as his wife, working at home for him and his and her children and herself mostly without pay. This would force women to work outside the home, many in menial work which given men’s present reluctance to help with housework and take inward responsibility for children would give many women an endless burden. (Pass ERA and the supreme court with its identification with employers would be only too glad to do this; Republicans would be overjoyed to get rid of social security for a good chunk of the population.) For many women it’s asking too much when they are not born to the kind of people that lead to good colleges, degrees, jobs.

To be fair to Brittain, I’ve read her Testament of Youth and know it’s a deeply humane text.

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Girlsblog
Cast of Girls: Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet

Well, after the above, the only other women’s issues session I went to was an early Saturday afternoon “Gender and Media Studies” (4427, 1:15 pm) which I attended to hear a paper on “Girls” as well as “West Wing,” the first of which I’ve seen and the second never watched but was curious about.

I found Nikita Hamilton’s paper touching. An African-American young woman, she loves Girls and was determined to justify its lack of black and working class people, it upper middle class stance (the girls are supported by parents, don’t worry about losing jobs) to downplay what she admitted was its neo-liberal stances (“they do regret materialism”). she basically argued that this was a slice of life sufficiently realistic and reflective of young women’s problems today. Her valiant try reminded me of how I sometimes justify Downton Abbey as being for community, showing compassion for its characters (“intelligent dialogue”); so many of us find that we love programs in the popular media which are arch-conservative and exclude us. It’s hard to admit to enjoying racist texts which are rightly attacked as suc (e.g., Gone With the Wind is) on the grounds that this is what is on offer, where fine talents are allowed play. To say the more liberal, inclusive, socialist story is just not told. Ms Hamilton discussed the third season where Lena has a black boyfriend who is (natch) a Republican and it doesn’t last past two episodes. She said the use of a “float” magically powerful female black character (as is found in Sex and the City in recent formulations) is not much better.

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Martin Sheen as the bully president, Allison Janney as his right-hand Hillary

I would have liked to believe Olivia Kerrigan’s thesis that West Wing is liberal economically and seriously alert to class privileges as well as mildly feminist but from her anaslysis of the three central women characters (all in elite positions, from a Hillary Clinton first lady, to her secretary, to a press agent), it seemed to me this program supported the point of view I heard expressed in session 1127. The program’s male hegemony (comically exposed) irritates & limits the women characters only in small symbolically grating ways. I’ve seen a video which does show the central male (president) as a bully mocking an educated women (naturally with that horrifying thing, the equivalent of a bluestocking sign, the English Ph.D.) but as explained to me we were to admire that man so I came away thinking the program reinforces our elitist hierarchical corporate society with its endorsement of competition as central to social life. Older feminist movies with actively strong career women types like Rosalind Russell (or Jean Arthur) had neither the bullying males nor the anti-intellectualism I’ve glimpsed in this series,and they evinced a genuinely social conscience towards people outside the elite world.

Two other papers briefly: Angelita Faller analyzed a group of commercials for home alarms and showed that they assume women want to be raped, black men are very dangerous, white men good protective heroes, and women living alone are not safe. Jose Feliciano brought out underlying challenges to mainstream conventional heterosexuality in MTV videos, discussing the bisexuality of stars like Lady Gaga. See my super-numinosity.

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If nothing else, the papers on imaginative works from a feminist point of view vindicated literary studies. Asked to study finer imaginative works, the presenters did bring out sustainable critiques of the way society is organized, gives women a raw hard deal, victimizes them, complete with examples of a few women who did manage fulfilled lives despite this.

I’ve three sessions, but only four papers to cover, as (shocking) in one of them only one person out of a planned three or four showed; in another the other two papers were written in an abstract jargon impossible to understand, read at top speed and appeared to be about embarrassingly poor texts; and in the third only two papers were about women issues.

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Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland at the Abbey (yes one of the four includes on Northanger Abbey)

I’ll begin with the best (or maybe only) literary paper in the conference I heard: Andrea Brittany Brannon’s paper on domestic violence in Wuthering Heights (Friday, 3305, 11:30 am).

It was a relief and delight to hear Ms Brannon defend and sympathize with Isabella Linton as the novel’s centrally abused woman. Through this character we see how male power is privileged and unquestioned; how easy it is for the male to disvalue and put his wife in the wrong (how dare she disobey him?): Isabella begins as a woman who enacts her society’s version of impeccable behavior to becoming someone who cannot cope with the smallest difficulty. Bullying has reduced to marginalization; she is Heathcliff’s way of getting back. She wanted him for the same glamorous sexed-up reasons Helen wants the upper class Arthur in Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hal, but unlike Anne’s novel where we live the experience of abuse through Helen, here we see it through Nellie’s conventional eyes: Isabella is therefore become a slattern without self-respect, and if weak, deserving the cruel treatment of the easily irritated. Heathcliff tells Nellie how Isabella comes to him shamefully clinging. We may see her struggling to apply the only social behavior she knows and finding it useless to help her, inappropriate in her situation. We see her physically punished and banished with him playing the rightly scolding parent. She cannot leave for she has nowhere to go — in the case of Helen she turns to her brother. Isabella’s brother, Edgar, her one male relative with power to help, is angry at her for marrying Heathcliff and abandons her to Heathcliff. So the patriarchy fails her.

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Isabella Lindon Heathcliffe (Sophie Ward) from the 1992 Wuthering Heights (glimpse of Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff from the side)

Ms Brannon pointed out we do have Isabella’s letter, the only narrative in the book which comes to us unmediated by Nellie or Lockwood, but most readers don’t pay attention to this counter-move against the romance of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliffe. The 1992 movie with Ralph Fiennes is a rare Wuthering Heights to dramatize the next generation and second part of the book where Isabella appears. Most reviewers if they mention Isabella at all blame her (the victim). Ms Brannon made a good case for regarding Isabella as a relevant portrait of domestic abuse today. Isabella is a woman with no access to legal protection. Ms Brannon conceded the novel is problematic as clearly Emily Bronte does sympathize with Heathcliff as the underdog and violence in this novel seems more than accepted as a source of power.

This was the session which was supposed to have paper on Little Women and the Civil War, one on Daisy Miller as a feminist hero and no one came. So there was plenty of time for a good discussion. There were about 5 audience members. Some, like me, said, they had never liked Wuthering Heights as much as the other Bronte books. I thought that Emily Bronte truncated the Isabella story too much, did not realize she was onto some powerful material here. Those who had liked the book when they were young did fall in love with the wild romance.

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Angelina Weld Grimke (1882-1958) (African-American playwright)

For the papers on an 18th century actress who reinvented herself, Ann Wrighten, a powerful early 20th century black woman writer, Angelina Grimke, and Northanger Abbey and A Christmas Carol as gothics, see comments.

Ellen

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Pablo-Larrain-camarablog
Pablo Larrain shooting his film

Dear friends and readers,

“No.” Just say no is not all that easy. I recommend heartily as educational as well as absorbing this film about a serious revolution from the perspective of a real plebiscite able to oust Pinochet because the military and powerful let it happen: the man and his clans, flunkies, thugs were just too murderous and destructive … it’s treated from the perspective of campaign commercials. Links to the real commercials show the film is accurate enough. One drawback is the man who made the film is a close relatives of people high up in Pinochet’s gov’t so the superficiality and cynicism of it comes from his rightist take.

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I write to recommend hurrying out to see Pablo Larain’s No, a film about a serious revolution from an unusual, perhaps shallow and cynical and disillusioned, or at least piquant perspective. I went to see it because it starred Gael García Bernal

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René Saavedra (Bernal) with his son on his shoulders, next to him the socialist (or communist) leader, Urrutia (Luis Gnecco) who recruited him to make campaign commercials

I remembered Bernal as central to the power of a great political film, Even the Rain about a real-life attempt to by brutal cruelty privatize and charge huge prices for water in Columbia. I wrote a blog explaining why it was a must-see film.

In comparison, No has significant flaws outlined here: One Prism. The unusual perspective is that a transformative plebiscite which formed the legal engine for ousting a brutally cruel fascist military dictator, Pinochet (mass murderer, torturer) is treated from the perspective of campaign commercials. Certainly these were significant and important in explaining to the largely uneducated population of Chile why they should vote No when they were given the choice of continuing Pinochet or begin the arduous uncertain process of building a democracy. You might think it’s obvious the best choice is to get rid of such a state-leader terrorist, but it’s not. What will replace him? What are you voting for? “No” is such a negative word to push a lever on. But these were the loaded terms the Pinochet establishment offered to have an election on.

Those who wanted to overturn Pinochet had 15 minutes of TV time at night, the first TV time anyone outside the Pinochet (and US) groups had had any access to the public. When Rene is hired, things are not going well for the democrats because their commercials are too pessimistic; they show what has been, the horrors, they universalize and validate individual people’s memories, but as seen in vignettes voters vote their narrow interests and they are interested in their future. Some were afraid of retaliation; that the election would be rigged, and a win would not be allowed and torture and killing would ensue for those who voted for democracy.

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Police Squads are everywhere in the film

Political argument is not easily understood. Rene concocts films which are the equivalent of selling coca-cola by images of happiness, rainbows, silly pictures of people soaring on skates, sexily dressed women dancing. But it begins to work and then we watch a battle of commercials as the other side run by Rene’s ex-boss, Guzman (Alfredo Castro) makes similar commercials mocking, riffing, refuting, imitating Rene’s.

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Guzman

It’s cynical because the message is you can only persuade people by vacuous nonsense. It omits months of hard registering votes, years of gradual dangerous organization, the full political and economic context. It’s no coincidence the director is Larrain descends from two prominent right wing families who supported Pinochet. But while as usual in these political films, we are given a few elite men get together to save a country, it undeniably true that the commercials used pop methods and were important. Larrain’s movie does imitate them. But the suspense of his movie results from the very real threats from the regime the movie-making team are seen to deflect avoid, luckily escape from, and equally the movie’s message could be, do what you have to to get progress going. if the average person is not attracted to listen to gravity, to careful literal argument, does not want to remember the grief of horrifying losses, then give them happy coco-cola images.

Further, it’s not true that all the images in the films made are dancing girls and jumping young men. Passing by our eyes are silent images of what was and the treat: one struck me was a film of a tank threatening to mow down a little girl in its path. We get slow motion shots of police cracking down on the heads of peaceful protestors with hard-wood batons. We see wrenching grief, abysmal poverty — fleetingly but there as reminders. We see real footage of actual political events blended in with the fictional ones, seemingly seamlessly. And the film shows that on that last day Pinochet tried to present a miscount of the vote, and declare victory when he had lost, but that he could not get away with that because important military leaders had gone over to the side of democracy.

As I watched I remembered that Even the Rain had been about the making of a movie too. The movie was to be about Columbus and the crew hired local peasants at peon wages; a parallel to the harsh and relentless exploition of Colmbia’s people is seen in the story of Columbus told. So you might say that No takes one part of the matter of Even the Rain and develops it more thoroughly. All the talk about film-making, the watching of the making of these films is intriguing: Try Freedom. Less Filling. Tastes Great!. After all campaigns are centrally important in who wins an election.

There is a sub-story, a romance where Rene’s wife is an active political operative who has a male lover and lives apart from him. She is in fact the only individualized woman in the film. Yes this is another movie of a world run by men, with token women used as weapons against one another, there as sex objects or mothers and aunts mainly. When she is clapped into jail, and Guzman as a favor to Rene, engineers her release, Rene is grateful to Guzman.

Here Rene is hurt and lonely but does not know how to win her back.

Gael García Bernal, Antonia Zegersblog

Their son lives with him, and is who he must protect from marauders for the gov’t. At the end of the film Rene is not that happy. His life has not been fundamentally changed, for individual improvement goes slow. He even goes back to his original job making commercials for a corporation to sell soda.

But I felt this refusal to offer meretricious joy was part of the film’s strength. As Obamacare kicks in provision by provision, it helps this or that person this or that way. If Medicare is whittled away, it will take a few years for large porportions of the people to feel the new pain, new costs, renewed exclusion, and it’s hard to connect someone’s early death directly to a loss of coverage since much that occurs in human life has several causes.

Yes it can be read as susceptible to a right-wing frivolous superficiality, but here history is defeating this. Gradually some Latin and Central American countries are throwing off these military dictators put in power by the US, neo-liberal regimes, and opting for social democracy and in countries like Venezuela the improvement in people’s lives as a result of elections speaks for itself.

So while not a unqualifiedly great film, go see this attempt to commemorate and dramatize an aspect of the political experience of reforms (and set-backs to reforms) today. By seeing it you register a vote for making more adult political films.

Ellen

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Recent photo

Dear friends and readers,

George McGovern died yesterday, Sunday, October 21, 2012. He was a great and a good man. He achieved nomination as the candidate for the Democratic Party in 1972. He genuinely garnering a majority of votes at the convention after having managed to change the rules of such conventions so that a small pre-, & self-selected elite of rich & powerful could not limit the choices. Had he been able to win the election in 1972, the world would be a much better place for the majority of peoples in it today.

He vowed to stop bombing Vietnam upon taking office. He was against supporting military & fascist dictatorships around the world. He would change the goals of NATO: to support the peoples of Europe toward a better life. He made commercials showing how a huge percentage of the elderly in the US are living on the edge of poverty, arguing for a support of college education for all, bringing into the picture of the US world the way the poor live in the US (white as well as black). He would set in place social programs to enable these people. His nomination included a platform from the Democratic party which was the first to announce women’s needs as part of a goal for the party; the first to support GLBTQ rights.

I sent two checks to this man, $20 each time, real money for me at the time (1972). Since then I’ve sent only an equal amount in 2008 to Obama (or I thought I was sending to Obama, but it turns out I sent it to Moveon.org) and $50 last year and $85 this to DemocracyNow.org. This is Amy Goodman’s news-show and this weekend I watched excerpts from the film about McGovern’s summer campaign in 1972: One Brief Shining Moment. I listened to him say how wrong it was to spill so much blood, to destroy so many young lives, so many people in Vietnam, Cambodia, their homes, their fields, their food. How he would end all bombing the day he took office. I’ve never heard anything like this from Obama. McGovern had no anti-racist rhetoric but black people were behind him and for the first time ever everywhere in a convention were ordinary people (all ethncities and in ordinary clothes). In 2012 the Democratic as well as Republican conventions were scripted performances run by fat cats (corporations, donors) with their fancy parties more than half paid by the gov’t. In this film you will not make the mistake to think that Nixon was a better choice than Romney today. We see him vowing no demonstration will alter his course as the police beat up, maim, murder young adults on US campuses (who are refusing to die or silently acquiesce).

New York City went for McGovern. I understand Alexandria City (where I now live), Va. did. The electoral college after gerrymandering made him look bad: he took DC and Massachusetts’ electoral votes. But he also took 39% of the people who voted. As did Mondale. Clinton didn’t get much more but they were differently distributed and there was a 3rd party candidate.

I had to wipe away the tears from my eyes as I watched Abe Ribicoff’s shock, horror at the Gestapo tactics of Mayor Daly’s Chicago police beating up white young people in the streets of Chicago who were refusing to go or send others to Vietnam to die, be maimed, and kill others. Who is shocked today to see police beating, pepper-spraying even aged people in the streets protesting civilly against the egregiously unjust economic systems of our era? The film was made in 2005 and so the interviewed had in mind our present era; yet they were prophetic: Gore Vidal spoke of the way the rich and elite despise the 75% and in effect predicted Romney’s scorn for 47% of the US population.

So many obituaries. From the New York Times to the Huffington Post. He is blamed for losing in 1972; there was some fatal flaw in him. Nonsense. His capturing of the nomination was a sort of fluke that was “fixed” by 1984 when the coteries were back in the driver’s seat of the convention again. Whatever he did in 1972 would have been turned against him. Nothing so easy as to ridicule someone when a dominant group are determined. William Grieder says it right: McGovern was the last genuinely open and honest presidential campaign.

We must not give up. McGovern never did. If it be that in this money-shaped gerry-mandered Presidential election, we can fend off the destruction of a civil, socially decent society, based on public education for all (under attack) with people allowed to unite on behalf of their shared working lives by electing Barack Obama, sobeit. A minimum to hold to. Better times may come. We are reeling from the effects of 30 years of reactionary legislation destroying jobs, changing the tax system to create globally-wide ruthlessly exploitative monopolies backed by brutal military action. We need time and Obama will provide another 4 years to re-group, defeat Citizens United, find a socially progressive candidate.

My father said McGovern lost because he was a genuinely nice person. Voters want someone like themselves, and most people aren’t so not only do they not appreciate such traits; they resent them. McGovern was not devious enough to hide himself — like FDR — during campaigning. But I like to remember that after that bruising campaign 39% of the voters did vote for him.

I’m sad tonight to think of this man gone, how he was treated in 1972. Humiliated, shamed, and stirred to remember how he stood up against it. How I admired him for that. I admire few people and think few deeds in the world equivalent to this in importance and personal cost.

Ellen

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An internet photo (we do not yet carry an ipad camera as a regular thing)


A cat curled up in its pod (Detail from A Lady with a Harp below)

We spotted the turtles before we did the pussycats, probably because the turtles moved and the pussycats didn’t. Also we were out-of-doors and it was earlier in the day.

Saturday morning our plan was to return to Madison Square garden & exchange our 5 o’clock train on Sunday for one much earlier in the day since for Sunday the reasonable prediction was much colder and heavy rain all day, and thus far our three visits to NYC had involved much living in the streets, walking, eating, watching, strolling, gazing. We’d had our Starbucks coffees and croissants in Bryant Park on the usual teetering pastoral green chairs and wobbly table while reading the New York Times, then succeeded in the exchange ($120 extra), taken the subway up, and entered the Park at 76th and found ourselves in the Ramble.

A lovely thick green lake with people rowing beckoned, so we got on that path, and following the stones I thought I saw a fake (stone sculptures very small) set of 4 turtles sitting very still on some stone or log. In Alexandria, where we live there are fake ducks in some of the ponds so life-like you think they are bobbing for fish. We came up to the log and I thought I saw one of the turtles move its head. Nothing unexpected. Often in Alexandria I see real live ducks come up to the fake ones. But then a much smaller size turtle began to climb the log. It struggled to pull up, and almost fell back, but somehow held out and heave-ho, up it got. Then I saw another turtle on the log appear to squiggle in response, and realized the whole lot of them were alive. This new medium-sized one, then four adults, each with a flipper on the others, and finally a very tiny baby turtle, at first hidden by the mother and facing another way.

We had happened on turtle pond. Over across the other side, nests of turtles.

I don’t know how long we walked, it was such a beautiful morning, in the 70s, sunny, breezy. We passed by some area where people were bird-watching: cameras, binoculars, special outfits, alert-looking with books all announced this. One man smiled from a bench and said hello as we passed.Past a playground named after its benefactor (the one with the three-bears statue) took us to the piazza before the Met museum and we went in.

It’s a vast people’s playground nowadays. We tried two of the exhibits and found one was done from a curator’s perspective (the Bernini clay models a vast distance from the blown up photos of the spectacular installation art (so to speak) everywhere in Rome, another mindless (how people love to fake photographs with no sense of what this implies). On the roof this Escher contraption for which one has to get a timed-ticket. So we visited a couple of favorite places — a room of Hubert Roberts badly hung and badly in need of cleaning amid the formal detritus, all uncomfortable to live in, of the super-rich 1% of ancien regimes (“period rooms”). This day for a time the museum, with its continual atavastic scary animal-like bizarre gods (a middle eastern room) and high hierarchical (wealthy, war-like) subjects (everywhere), reminded us how 90% of art has ever been deplorable.

Jim joked to a guard, where is the nearest elevator. He not getting it, I said “we want to get out.” “Get out!” the astonished man smiled. “Don’t we love it here?” I excused myself that my feet were hurting and I am old. He pointed to a corridor leading to stairs and an elevator.

I don’t mean to say it was all loss. A few good moments here and there. The Hubert Roberts. A Reynolds of a small woebegone young boy aristocrat not yet trained out of his humanity. And Marianne Dorothy Harland (1759–1785), Later Mrs. William Dalrymple by Richard Cosway (English, Okeford 1742–1821 London), which used to be exhibited as A Lady with Harp:

Bad picture, absurd posture, showing off what luck had thrown the young woman’s way (as long as she obeyed all materialistic and rank demands), it had nonetheless caught my attention because of the title (I thought of Austen’s Mary Crawford, of Mansfield Park fame), and when we went over what did we notice but that 200 years ago people were providing pods for cats to curl up in — just the way our scared-y cat Ian loved to. The thought crossed our minds that in this era only rich cats might have this luxury, but then when over an hour later we happened on a museum-school we had never heard of before, the National Academy Museum, and went inside to view its collection, we came across an American picture with a perhaps not quite so rich little girl and lo and behold near her feet, a cat curling up in a more home-made pod.

We’ve become very fond our our two pussycats and as a consequence stronger animal lovers, more alert to the presence of cats than we’ve ever been before and to how others treat them and other animals too. I’m convinced we were too young when we had our dog, Llyr, and were not sensitive enough to her presence and needs.

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We spent 5 days & nights to NYC, the first full day of which I had attended a Burney conference, and the second morning I was with a long-time (constant) Janeite friend and her son. I’ll blog about the conference separately on Austen reveries. Herewith is another travelogue, a record of Jim and my good times together away from home. And again our choice was the exhilarating tolerant good city.

For the first time ever we bought ahead for all 4 evenings plays we wanted to see. The last three times we’d been back to the city this year and last year too we had had some good times, but managed never to see even one serious play. A combination of family emergencies & tragedy, the reasons we had come to the city, and just plain bad luck had got in the way: nothing on at half-price tickets we wanted to see or there between times when the opera or ballet is on or when the Delacorte did one of its marvelous performances of Shakespeare and other plays.

So we determined to make up for lost time. After Obama’s empty-chair indifferent performance against an exultant bully-boy Romney, we needed their inspiriting rebelliousness. How do New York City’s stages differ from those of DC, Virginia, & Maryland? Well, with no effort and on particular aim to see anything closely commenting on the political and economic catastrophe wreaked on the world for the last 30 years by a succession of US reactionary militaristic regimes and all their allies, client states, collusive victims and flunkies, three of the four did just that, and the fourth was not far off.

I’ll begin with the most magnificent and powerful of the lot, the great Brian Friel’s Freedom of the City, at the Irish Repertory Theater, on 22nd and 6th (not far from where Jim and I lived for well over a year — 22nd and 10th)


Joseph Sikora as Skinner dressed up in the Mayor’s robes, Napoleonic hat on head, cavorting about on the Guildhall

The play’s occasion was the slaughter of 13 people when on January 30, 1972 British soldiers shot down a peaceful civil rights march in Derry, Ireland (“Bloody Sunday” it became known as). The Commission and judges set up to investigate found no one responsible, no soldier or officer was tried or even disciplined. Only in the last 10 years has another enquiry been set on foot which reversed the findings of the early court and the Tory PM apologized.

Way too late. One of the awarenesses Friel’s play brings home to the audience is the three people who in the play stumble by mistake and panic into the guildhall will never be brought back. Nothing can ever undo what was done nor make up for it. The fantasy elaboration is to put before us three characters, Michael, an embittered young seemingly permanently unemployed man who longs to live a productive self-respecting life with wife, children, goals, good work; Lily, an impoverished mother of 11 living in a condemned shack behind a railway, with no hope of any improvement in her life or for that of her family (she has had no access to contraception), and a loner outsider, Skinner, refusing to be coopted into, or justify the stupefying displacements and compromises the other two seem silently to accept — all the while endlessly talking. These three inside are interwoven with the cold impassive judge coming to his inexorable conclusion they are dangerous armed terrorists, using the evidence of a constable, and a psychiatrist; a ludicrous professor with her deconstructionist understandings; a reporter. Hovering over them the British soldiers armed, in camouflage outfits, with terrifying weapons at the ready. I reread the play tonight and was so moved. I can’t find any reviews so link in just the wikipedia article on the play itself.

At the Booklyn Academy of Music The Paris Commune, a Cabaret by Steven Cosson and Michael Friedman as directed by Steven Cosson. BAM is now made up of 3 (!) theaters: beyond the opera house, this modernistic building with its black box, and another I saw across a parking lot disguised as a green park.

Most people seem not to have heard of this bloody slaughter, much less know that as many people were killed by the French military in this 4 month period as were murdered in the 1792 Fall Terror so often detailed as a peculiarly horrific occasion in order to indite the French revolution. Basically what happened was the people of Paris took over the gov’t of France and for a time succeeded in holding on and beginning to reform and plan a sort of new deal (separation of church and state, no night work, pensions, remission of rents, ease of debts). This time it did not take the armies of four countries (England, Prussia, Spain and Russia united to defeat Napoleon’s armies) to crush and slaughter the rebellion.


Daniel Jenkins as the baker

Cosson and Friedman present the incident by a combination of rousing songs, actively rebellious character types in soliloquies and scenes interspersed with (ironic) songs of a soprano (Offenbach) and citizen types (baker and his wife, seamstress, politician). Everyone had to work very hard to give us a sense of a large crowd in frenetic activity. The language at the end and final song made the parallels with our own time and the recent destruction of the Occupy movement in the US and elsewhere.


Cock: the title refers as much to the staging of the play (in an apt cock-pit) as the lead actor’s penis

Cock by Mike Bartlett has (I think) an unfortunate title. It is not at all pornographic, not salacious: I took it to be the playing out of the lives of three unlucky people involved with a self-indulgent bisexual young man, John (Cory Michael Smith): M (Jason Butler Harner) the unfortunate male lover who supports him in a fantastically expensive apartment in London, W (Amanda Quaid), a young woman he meets and brings to a dinner cooked by M; and John’s father, F (Cotter Smith) who wants his son to marry and produce grandchildren. The acting is superb, controlled; I didn’t find it funny but rather poignant, a stinging representation of relationships endured under the circumstances and pressures of our era.


The two brothers confronting one another with Kathleen McKenny as Katherine, Dr Stockmann’s wife, as moderating influence

The least exhilarating (the proscenium stage realism creaks) and yet most directly relevant and at moments suddenly so eloquent was the fully (elaborately) staged Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People in a new translation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz in an elegant Broadway theater, formerly the Biltmore now called the Manhattan Theater club (probably the first time Jim and I had been to Broadway in years). The acting was again superb, minor and major roles, but especially Boyd Gaines as Dr Stockman who has discovered the water of the town is contaminated, and Richard Thomas as his brother, Peter, a politician. Reviews have been rightly excellent (see highlights). I just wished that the central speech was not against what the majority wants or needs. Ibsen’s language derives from his own rebellion against the restrictive social mores of his country and class when what is on the minds of US people today is a political and economic and military oligarchy enforcing vast capitalist profits for a very few at the expensive of the decent lives and the earth itself for everyone else.

The four theaters were all just about filled. We also in the DC area do not have a population which goes to the theater like this. To be fair, we are talking about millions living in, close to, or near Manhattan, while in my area we have suburban distances to travel and theater is scattered across the area. This matters.

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What else did we do?


Mickalene Thomas: this tiger cat image conveys some of the glittery texture of her work

We made it to the Brooklyn Museum for the first time in a few years, and were fascinated by Mickalene Thomas’s determined reversal images of much French impressionistic and white male art in The origin of the Universe: she replaces the white men & women with black women, and her pictures of the natural world and art in-doors sparkle with glitter and bold colors. It’s true that central to her project is supposed shock, but what has not been emphasized anywhere I can see is there is a story she tells here: of her and her mother’s supportive relationship (many of her pictures are of her mother), of her mother’s hard life (one where she endured physical abuse in a coerced marriage for many years). If you go, you’ll find this one touching rather than just about hard success. We again saw Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, some favorites in the American collection (new ones brought up) and the kind of odd new art (like a covered wagon made out of Christmas lights) found everywhere in active museums nowadays. There is a real attempt at the Brooklyn to mirror its surrounding population’s history and culture too. We were too tired to go very far into the Botanical Gardens once again.

We did, though really look at some some 300 out of 7000 [!] pictures said to be owned at the National Academy of Art. We just happened on the place later in the afternoon. A thin townhouse, its sign for an exhibit of self-portraits by women artists caught my eye, and we went in. It was like a trip through the history of American academic art, and quite revealing it was — we spent 2 hours there. Modernity and women’s art first hit these people around 1970, but they are making up for lost time. I now know what one of my favorite modern artists, Jane Freilicher looks like. Unfortunately, the feel of the place is exclusive, the behavior of some of its patrons snobbish, and online they don’t share much. By contrast, the Neue Galleries make the experience comfortable for all, even non-members. (This business of membership is creating little coteries — one is now found on the fourth floor of the Metropolitan museum.)

I won’t omit Lord and Taylor’s flagship store. Everyone who looks like they have money enough to spend is welcome. It too is filled with lovely art: really nice women’s clothes (probably men’s too) galore set out beautifully. I discovered that just like Kohl’s, L&T today indulges in putting prices on garments they don’t mean. When you get to the cash-register you just may find (not always) several different sales at once. The styles, choice, price and help everywhere account for the store becoming filled by the time Jim and I left. I bought myself a new fall jacket — and when we got back to the Princeton threw out my now ragged black one. Bras, a warm hat, neat thin woolen elegant gloves. I had to restrain myself not to go for more.

And we didn’t miss bookstores. At the Strand I got myself a new edition of a new translation of Lampedusa’s masterpiece, Il Gattapardo (complete with new introduction, notes, appendices), a new volume of Leopardi, a pleasurable and not too untrue anthology of bellestristic essays on Central Park (well chosen and inroduced by Andrew Blauner), a novella by Wm Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting, I’d never heard of.

Jim did not buy himself any new clothes nor books. I should perhaps have labelled this blog good or magical moments from our celebratory time away: Jim’s 64th birthday (yes we sang the Beatles’ song) and our 44th wedding anniversary. He seemed content to be open to experience, have it accessible, among the endless stream of people, seemingly sleepless once you go outside, staying again at the Princeton, enjoying what we did, being alive together at liberty. We ate out in fancy restaurants two different evenings, once Italian, and (recommended) once French (a place called the Marseille). We inhabited the bar for a time each night, and twice were content just to dine on its snacks, and sometimes talking with the other like-minded circumstanced inmates.

As I trundled my bag behind me on our way home through the tunnel and a narrow space where another person was standing I said to her, “I don’t want to hit your feet” so she smiled obligingly moved them.

Ellen

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New Yorker Cartoon

The right to privacy encompasses a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy [but] a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is not absolute … Roe v Wade, 410 US, p 154

Dear friends and readers,

This morning I read a thoughtful questioning blog by a friend who maintains a journal of her reading online: Margaret Sanger and the Planned Parenthood Rally. I got all fired up, felt strong emotion as I have before when it’s pointed out that, hard as it seems to believe, a sufficiently large percentage of the population in the US is against letting people have the liberty to buy and use contraception to vote in congressmen who will fight to pass laws to destroy women’s health organizations, specifically and most notoriously (see the name) Planned Parenthood, in order to stop the women from having access to safe contraception.

I wrote about this on my blog once before when I had a sudden insight into this apparently destructive aim: after all who would force on families endless children, the enormous work, the inability to care for children individually, the dire poverty, the exhaustion of a woman’s body and a man’s ability to support her and the family that would result: The woman from Planned Parenthood: what is hated is a woman’s access to contraception:

I’ve noticed in mainstream media the determination to de-fund Planned Parenthood has not been treated with any clarity or truthfulness. What has been repeated is the mantra of the Republican group refusing to sign the budget is the objection to Planned Parenthood is they support abortion and do abortions. The reality is a tiny percentage of Planned Parenthood’s efforts are about abortion (different figures are quoted, one that’s repeated is 3%).

The real animus against Planned Parenthood is they enable women to have sex without getting pregnant. The whole thrust of the organization (as seen in its name) is to spread contraception, to give women control of their bodies — and inexpensively. It’s a legacy of Margaret Sanger. The real objection of the republicans is such places enable women to have sex without anxiety.

As I wrote my friend in my comment I’ve gone beyond this insight I had (Katha Pollit saw it too) as I’ve watched and listened to the public media’s reporting of this anti-contraceptive care movement. I still see that republicans and their quiescent allies want to prevent women from having control over their reproductive functions. By stopping access to contraceptives, they also make sex risky so the woman can no longer have an adult sex life of her own choosing.

But the reasoning goes beyond this. They want to subject women to men who they think have the right to demand of a woman they have a relationship with that she produce a child, preferably a son for them — to prove or act out their “manliness.” Romney’s nomination and all he stands for, now coupled with Ryan enforces this lesson: the people heading this movement don’t want to pay any taxes for anyone else’s need. Yes they know very well that Planned Parenthood also provides cheaply for women’s health care in other areas: for antibiotics, for psychological help, for operations (say if you have endometriosis). But every one must be on their own, everyone keep every penny he or she earns except for the minimum of taxes to have wars and say build sidewalks and roads. Poor people deserve whatever happens to them; they are meted out discipline and punishment this way.

The last part of the agenda (not to pay anything for anyone, not to share and take responsibility for anyone but yourself and only pay into what you get an equivalent out of) is not in John Riddle’s Eve’s Herbs. But the rest of the agenda emerges as he tells the history of contraception and abortion in the west.

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Riddle opens his book with the quotation that heads my blog and a full account of the Roe v Wade decision which he says troubled him because not only the were the judge’s arguments but much of even the intelligent discourse around it was riddled (pun intended) anachronistic misconceptions of the previous history of abortion, for example, that the Hippocratic oath implied a physician could prohibit or refuse to help a woman produce an abortion, that the idea that a human life begins with conception is an ancient widespread one, that scientific studies were central to women and their physician’s decisions about how she should go about treating her reproductive system. Says Riddle in the first chapter (with witnesses in print to demonstrate this) many ancients accepted not only abortion but suicide, not condone but accept.

He decided he would write a book which would demonstrate clearly that until the 19th century in Europe and the cultures the spread from Europe (through emigration) it was acceptable to abort a fetus before quickening, and that few believed a human being was created at the time of conception. I wish he could have proved all that he set out to prove. Alas, he does not. It is true but only generally speaking that until the later 18th century until quickening a woman could obtain an abortion and not be punished or ostracized as long as she kept her act private — as she would most of her sex life. But very early on (3rd century conferences and their publications like the Bible) the church’s hostility to sex and to women demonstrated a strong disposition to stop any control of reproductive functions by either men or women, and there emerged the corollary idea that a human life or soul began at conception. And even earlier than Christianity, from Roman times on we see the persistent idea that a man has a right to have children, especially a son, and that such a right trumped the woman’s right to abort the fetus in her body. In fact much of the discourse that got into court when cases involving marriage, children, pregnancy outside marriage, stillborn babies (with accusations of murder often flung at a woman) was about how a man had been deprived of a possible heir (a son was wanted).

But along the way, about 2/3s of the book demonstrates something as important to the contraception, abortion debates — and let us include here debates and a lack of real common knowledge about miscarriage, stillborn and deformed fetuses and babies, artificial insemination and technologically-induced pregnancies, induced parturition (bringing on childbirth before the full term or 9th month), and choosing a child’s sex. From the beginning of recorded time women have wanted to control their reproductive functions to protect themselves and control their destiny and, together in earlier times with midwives and “healing” women, done everything they could to help themselves in these areas. Riddle has a hugely long chapter where he lists and describes all the herbs and concoctions used (as far as we can tell) from medieval to later 18th century time to bring about fertility, prevent contraception, or cause termination (abortion) or early birth, or somehow control and aid a woman who seemed to be sick because of the pregnancy. Riddle keeps saying many of these did work, some were also toxic, and of course some probably had little effect at all.

So for centuries women were left alone to deal with their pregnancies and reproductive functions more or less. If it was not at all acknowledged as her right to chose, because much was invisible, not mapped publicly, she could exercise her own judgement and follow her desires insofar as herbs could help. They did all they could for themselves. The strongest motive for control was a man’s right to have a child by his wife.


A group of men, an iconic copy of Roland of Parma’s Surgery depicting a context in which surgery is not simply professionalizing but masculinizing quite thoroughly.

It’s important to know that medicine was seen as a woman’s province until the later 17th century when it became part of medical science and began to be a paying licensed profession. Groups of women together. Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English argue in a their Witches, Midwives and Nurses that a large majority of women burnt as witches were women who practiced medicine, and that some of this stemmed from the animus of men who wanted to repress them. It’s no coincidence that the largest number of such burnings took place in the 17th century too. It also came from fear as if a woman is granted this power to heal, she is blamed if something goes wrong (and who better to blame than an aged ugly old woman, an easy scapegoat). Riddle concurs that midwives were subject to ostracizing and anathematized and burnt (together with, as Doris Lessing and Stevie Smith say, their helpless hapless cats).

He also demonstrates that until the 19th century laws ignored this fraught and important part of women’s lives, and that attitudes across many levels of society about when you could abort and when human life began were multiple and flexible and endlessly ambivalent. He shows that the recourse to “science” as a rational or explanation for what a woman chose to do only began in the mid-20th century,and then (as science often is used) only those parts of scientific explanation were brought forward which enforced a particular group’s previously held cultural beliefs or agenda.


19th century photo: doctor in charge, nurse his servant, and woman patient subject to them

The last third of the book is the most troubling. We see how easy it is to lose knowledge. Riddle demonstrates that the rise of evangelicism and Victorian determination to control sexuality itself led to the repression of earlier traditional knowledge about herbs. Middle class women no longer had access to or handed down knowledge of herbs. Physicians also did all they could to ridicule and stigmatize as silly or dangerous all means of self-medication that they did not themselves invent or see as scientific. Women’s wombs become a sort of public territory — women had never managed to have the right to control the space about their bodies and their right not to be searched or invaded bodily by members of the community if they have transgressed sexually. Now their reproductive functions were seen as producing important commodities: children. This is another version of men wanting children, but now with the growing understanding of conception, development of fetuses, and physicians’ apparent right to bring babies into the world using socially approved of methods, one could make laws about conception, and childbirth and enforce them by punishments.

Riddle cites new kinds of bills, like Lord Ellenborough’s 1803 omnibus bill which covered various kinds of murder, and this law included a demand that a court determine whether a child who was born dead or alive, to see whether the mother should be accused of murdering it if it died soon after and she had not told anyone it had been born (this hit at women who had babies outside wedlock). It included language like:

It is a crime of murder for anyone to unlawfully administer to, or cause to be administered to or taken by any of his Majesty’s subjects any deadly poison, or other noxious or destructive substance or thing, with intent [for] … his Majesty’s subject or subjects thereby to murder, or thereby to cause and produce the miscarriage of any woman, then being quick with child.

There may still be glimpsed the assumption that no human life or baby is there until quickening, but someone who understood these words or act would be foolhardy to administer any herbs at all, lest she be accused of having done it after the quickening. Quickening is ambiguous and occurs differently for different women and not at exactly the same time.

The last chapter takes us back to modern America, and we find a melange of extraordinary punitive and repressive laws, including attempts to stop women from using any drug that is not prescribed by a certified physician, attempts to prevent women from regulating their menses, prohibitions against the sale of contraception or any drug for female use only. We have arrived at the time of Griswold v Connecticut when the US Supreme court invalidated a Connecticut law that forbade the sale of contraceptions on the grounds of a right to privacy. (Scaglia thinks this hilarious, this right to contraceptive privacy, does not find it in the Constitution.)

At the same time women continued to, albeit quietly, hiddenly, secretly (and thus with shame and fear and anxiety) avail themselves of what help they could get outside the medical profession (and inside when it came to by then illegal abortion). Among popular medications supported by women’s groups was Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, advertised as a “blood purifier” but actually known (as herbs once were known) to have anti-fertility properties so sold as a means of birth control. There were attempts to take it off the market, its ingredients were investigated and changed (fenugreek seed was removed), vitamins were added. It is still sold today. The AMA has of course been tireless in damning such bottles as quack and charlatan stuff.

As Riddle shows all along, one text discussing this preparation is probably partly right when it suggests that abortifacients like this could also be placed in “a volume on toxology.” Drugs that terminate pregnancies are often toxic. The Republican congressmen who likened the product of rape to a product of sex outside marriage and said US people should consider the cases as parallel and consider the feelings or rights of the father takes us right back to the age-old assumption that a woman’s body is only a container for a man to have children through. Plus ca change, moins ca change.

****************************


Jill Townsend as Elizabeth in very bad pain after inducing a premature birth, Michael Cadman as Dwight Enys, the doctor (Poldark 1977-78)

I read this book because I wanted to answer a question I had about a key incident in the Poldark novels. In the fourth novel Ross Poldark rapes Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark in order to assert his right over her body and stop her from marrying George Warleggan. Events and feelings transpire such that she goes ahead and marries Warleggan and gives birth to a baby 7-8 months afterward and claims it was premature. But it was not, it was full term baby, the child was Ross’s. Warleggan is told that the child was not born prematurely, and his savage jealousies are aroused; he torments her and the boy and when she becomes pregnant again (by him), after a terrible scene of his corrosive bullying, she takes a herb compound a London physician has given her to induce an early birth. She wants to persuade Warleggan that she naturally gives birth early so that he will accept the son. She is told the herb or drug is dangerous and should call a physician immediately upon bad cramps. But she does not call a doctor immediately and by the time a doctor is on the scene who recognizes a smell from her increasingly rigid and cold body as gangrene-like it is too late to save her. I wanted to know if there was a compound from herbs which could prompt early parturition, but then kill the person by causing gangrene. Riddle does not descend to that level of detail.

Lest my reader find this story melodramatic, I should say that Charlotte Smith’s Romance of Real Life includes court cases where a woman has a child prematurely and the husband accuses her of trying to foist another man’s child on him. Jim suggested that if the trajectory here is probable, perhaps the specification of gangrene-like is fantasy.

But if I did not have my question answered, I learned about an aspect of women’s history far more important generally. From a book I reviewed Josephine McDonagh’s Child Murder and British Culture, 1720- 1900, I did know that women were routinely accused of infanticide when their babies were born dead, especially if they were poor, powerless, or unwed, that laws were written which made them guilty until they could prove themselves innocent and that as late as the 1980s one can find a case of a girl prosecuted for murder when she was found to have hidden her pregnancy and the baby was stillborn. Well, now I have the larger picture and I have shared it with all who read my blog.


Another New Yorker cartoon on behalf of women

Ellen

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From the summer 2012 American Century Theater production

Dear friends and readers,

Insofar as we can by this time, we returned to our usual lives, and last night saw a remarkable play which was a kind of re-enactment. A large group of actors from the American Century Theater participated in enacting one of these (hideous eventually) dancing marathons adrumbrated in the 1920s, in supposedly “innocent” college stunts weher young people jumped out windows. (I wonder about that — was it a form of sorority or fraternity hazing?) When the depression really began to destroy lives, create widespread abysmal povetry in the early 1930s, these jumping parties were turned (I don’t quite get the connection) into organized dance marathons lasting literally days on end. Couples were first tempted and then pressured and finally humiliated into enduring long hours of “dancing” to win a prize of money.

I’d liken this to a cruel form of performing circus; the audiences are characterized as vulgar and awful, enjoying the spectacle of suffering and desperation for money, and (unlike TV or movies), they were literally there, but the pleasures of this experience reminds me of what is said to be gained from watching today’s TV reality shows. For those actively dancing, if any couple won a prize, the cost of good, laundry, medical care, lodging was deducted. A widely-known secret was that acting professional did this and that’s what we see in this enactment too.

It was an unusually long play — the experience took about 3 hours (with one 15 minute intermission during which some of the actors sung before a mike). The company were trying to make the time passed as realistic as they could with a slow opening (including fights, insults and bickering among the actors, managers, food people, physicians, band players). Everyone dressed in 1930s outfits in the cast, and the audience sat the way they would have been. Actors also played audience members. A concession stand we could buy from was set up too (alas, 2012 prices). A band.

It took time for the dancing to degenerate into suffering, and intermixed with the dark drabness, they would put on strobe lights that sparkled and threw a gay light over the proceedings. The 1930s songs during intermission, and pretended 10 minute rest periods emerged as creepy, or gothic, or perversely hypocritical. Little cruelties got to me: a man called the coach who blew on a whistle and had a hard wooden switch would hit the contestant’s feet and legs to stay dancing (like a football coach, no?). The sarky talk from the introducer and announcers, the way they sneered and shamed people was unpleasant and my first response was “let’s go home.” But Jim said, no, stay, it’s not real remember, but an enactment. The Washington Post reviwer loved it, called it a “slow burner.”

They managed a story line by having three couples emerge more individually; one actress played June Havoc herself and she made explicit her anger at how she was exploited and yet had to endure this to find a company to be in continually and eat. She and her partner (played by Bruce Alan Rauscher, an excellent actor I’ve seen in other companies) enacted a wedding in front of the audience — quite like a reality “match game” show. A kind of phony Marlene Dietrich stops by — and actors famous becuase they are famous were there too (again anticipating TV). Each couple were at first dressed to the nines, but gradually re-dressed and grew filthy, exhausted, with their clothes sweaty-ruined, torn. They began to quarrel bitterly as they collapsed, blaming one another for losing, jealous between couples.


The nagging MC boss

June Havoc who wrote the piece was Gypsy Rose Lee’s sister and she did participate in these. She wrote two autobiographies also, Early Havoc and More Havoc.

The group doing this called themselves the American Century Theater and they make a specialty out of American plays – do nothing else so you can sometimes see remarkable and rarely done stuff. So, it’s a fair question to ask: given our present depression, the present use of reality and football shows, what in American culture breeds this? Is it connected to the popularity (apparently) of figures like Romney, Ryan and their ilk — is this somehow connected to the paranoid element of the TeaPartyBaggers (or whatever they are called). The sobering thought that there were no marathons in places outside the US occurred in the company’s notes (fake wrestling does not occur outside the US either). Having gone to an exhibit of the war of 1812 early this summer reminded me how early on the American way became aggressive, violent. After all enough people enable the distribution of guns across the US, go to super-violent movies at midnight where the crazed person is dressed like the people in the movie), sexualized horrible talk continues in campaigns and over the media which finds acceptable violence against women’s sexuality and pretends to idolize figures like brides and Dietrichs.

Apparently the movei, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is an account of a dance marathon. An early Jane Fonda film it shows her at her acting best in the central June role:

I shall try to rent it from Netflix. I recommend this play to all; what happens in it, its norms and what’s allowed as acceptable behavior may make you think about the cool competition (which can turn into psychological warfare), tricky rules which can become sabotage and big cash prizes, together with scorn for “losers” that make up the worst aspects of US culture and yet dominate our elections and much of pop public media, to omit the money marketplace competitive job worlds, increasingly what’s taught implicitly in schools, and for some courtship and sex and marriage too.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

This is to urge everyone who reads this blog to rent, buy, or go to see in theaters or watch on TV Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee. A friend on WWTTA told me about it last week:

I just saw it and recommend it to everyone. It’s a remarkable look at corporate power and the attempt (more successful than you likely realize) to deprive American citizens access to our civic justice system.

The director, Susan Saladoff, does a superb job of presenting the reality behind the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit–it was really shocking to learn the truth not only about that case but about the right-wing/corporate effort to limit constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Netflix has it for rental. My local library has it–check yours, too.

I rented it from Netflix within the next couple of days, and when we returned from Vermont, watched it and was just thunderstruck. It’s a startling eye-opener. Saladoff explains how wealthy corporations, powerful institutions and organizations in our society are successfully cutting off from the average person the US civil criminal justice system in the US intended to help individuals get redress or help when they have been hurt or harmed by these bodies of people.

Saladoff shows us first of all that the judiciary across the US is nowadays filled with mostly reactionary judges put there through well-funded campaigns for Republicans and conservative Democrats. When they lose a campaign against a fair judge as in Oliver Diaz’s case, they then pursue the judge as they hounded Diaz) by indicting him for accepting bribes, corruption, whatever will stick. From a detailed review of Hot Coffee by Kenneth R. Morefield:

The third story is that Oliver Diaz and it frames the issue of judicial elections. The film illustrates how judicial elections on the state level are particularly susceptible to vast spending discrepancies, and political action committees (PACs) funded by the Chamber of Commerce spend huge amounts of money to blanket electorates with negative attack ads. (In Diaz’s case the ads were even repudiated by his opponent yet continued to run by the Chamber of Commerce.)

I did not begin to know the extent of the reach of these corporations, their lobbyists and the political people they have bought.

The film shows that many cases of individuals seeking redress are consequently today just obliterated by a judge reversing a jury’s findings (so that no settlement or a very limited one of money can come to aid the person), how relentless and successful the corporations have been in convincing the US public most lawsuits brought by individuals are frivolous and cost the taxpayer money. Ironically, it’s the failure of these individual to find redress and help from those with deep pockets who caused the harm that leads them to come to the public for what help they can.

When the number of winning cases goes down, and when the amount of money award goes down, the insurance companies do not lower their rates. And you cannot get people to change their behavior unless you force them through fear of monetary damages.

Three stories are told Stella Leibeck who was the lady who spilt searingly hot coffee on her lap spent literally years trying to cope with severe burns. The price was outrageously high (our medical non-system is another story). Here is a photo of her legs some time after she had had some treatment:

Macdonalds keeps the temperature of their coffee so high because it saves them money. They waste less coffee that way.

We are told the story of a Colin Courley’s parents where the wife was unaware that one of a pair of twins was being radically damaged in her uterus. Her boy is severely crippled. The couple do not begin to have the money to offer him adequate treatment and schooling. They are worried sick what will happen to him after they die. They were originally awarded a large enough amount to enable them to cope. The judge put on the case lowered it to an amount that is wholly inadequate. Consequently they have to come to the taxpayer and public agencies (underfunded) for help:

The case of Colin Gourley, a Nebraska boy who requires a lifetime of care and physical therapy after suffering brain damage due to medical malpractice but was unfortunate enough to be conceived in a state (Nebraska) with a hard cap on damages, illustrates the dangers of liability caps. Two especially strong points made in this segment are that states that enact liability caps do not experience reductions in the cost of malpractice insurance nor medical costs and that costs incurred by victims of malpractice and not covered by damage awards are most often absorbed by Medicaid, meaning any “savings” created by lower judgments are essentially in the form of liability subsidies paid by tax payers. The second point is particularly ironic because a linchpin of tort reform arguments is the claim that frivolous lawsuits (supposedly eliminated by hard caps) are what are driving costs up and making things more expensive for everyone.

.


Colin, his family — his twin brother stands next to Saladoff

Far from people going to court lightly, it takes money and courage to go to court, time, energy and the willingness to undergo personal attacks. Jamie Leigh Jones was promised a good job by Halliburton with reasonable living quarters. She found herself in a set of rooms filled with males where she was the only female. That first night she was brutally raped, beaten, sodomized; when she tried to complain, she found herself imprisoned in a crate. Only by reaching her father and his instant action in going to his senator was she released and sent home. She has spent years trying to expose this company. Her problem is she signed a mandatory arbitration contract which removes her right to go to court; she is by law required to appeal to an abritrator hired by Halliburton. How much redress do you think she would get?

The story of Jamie Leigh Jones, a woman who was brutally raped after KBR/Halliburton ignored her pleas that she was being sexually harassed on the job (and forced to live in coed trailers rather than, as she was promised, with other women) frames the film’s final issue, that of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in contracts. In these contracts employees and, increasingly, consumers are required to waive their right to pursue civil relief for any problems that might result in the future and accept instead binding arbitration from an arbiter selected by the company.


Jamie Leigh Jones

Everything has been done that can be to smear her: the story is one that exposes our pro-rape culture. She lost her case ultimately because at each round the conservative judge voted against her.

What was chilling here was how many lawyers and academics line up in support of these mandatory arbitration contracts. They shamelessly justify these in court as for the public interest. People will say anything.

Tort reform is not a boring subject. We have Orwellian language here: what’s happening is not reform, but destruction of rights that ought to be inalienable from our constitution and bill of rights.

It’s so well done too, the explanations so clear. It made me remember all the contracts and fine print I’ve signed and of the cases of individual judges and others destroyed by the ruthlessness, relentless and bottomless pocketbook corporations and their lawyers (Karl Rove). I am aware from my personal experience of how high and powerfully placed and ordinary academics too support these people. The idea the university is a bastion of leftism is a bleak joke.

We need to know that mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts are ways of depriving us and most people of their right to sue when hurt or cheated. How many contracts I’ve signed where I can barely read the small print.

We need to know that the US chamber of commerce is a front for corporations.

The pro-choice forces in the US have found themselves crippled, outdistanced and now repressed and increasingly without anywhere for a woman to get an abortion. Why? They have let the Catholics and those who would make women submit to repression, exploitation, take over the dialogue. Pro-choice people are put on the defensive because of the ceaseless presentation of women as turned neurotic if they don’t have a child or have an abortion. Nonsense. Some are upset; some are relieved, some are empowered.

I did puzzle over why the rhetoric of family scenes of happiness trumps even these scenes. I did wonder why the liberal democrats have so much trouble winning cases and elections.

My friend offered this explanation: The wish to not have to face responsibility for causing the suffering of others is at the root of the “tort reform” movement, on which the film focuses.

Tort reform not a dull bore. “Reform” here means depriving you and me of access to the courts for redress and help when we’ve been hurt, taken advantage of, need monetary help and want to prevent the same cruel acts from being perpetrated on someone else. See Hot Coffee by Saladoff and then tell others to see it.

Ellen

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