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These stories have nothing in particular to do with each other, apart from the fact that each speaks to a fundamental, existential truth.If you ever find yourself wondering, “Jeez!Why can’t these guys just admit to how totally off-the-rails this situation has gotten?”—well, here are three answers that are really one answer: Some truths entirely annihilate you.
…instead of a heart-numbing meditation on the difference between being a person and being a process.
‘course, when you think about it, this movie—even in its great compression and tongue-in-cheekiness—meditates on the very same thing, albeit shallowly (Hell, 2.5 minutes can only permit one to dive so deep, right?)
That said, Koja’s The Cipher (originally titled “The Funhole,” if that ain’t foreboding) is an awesome, awesome book, a must-read in the canon of Detroit literature.
I wrote about this via Twitter back in January. I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God. And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows. But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history. And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up: I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.
I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.
Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…
…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…
…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…
…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…
…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…
…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …
… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…
…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…
…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…
… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…
… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…
… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.
Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.
I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might meditate on this story further, as you go about your days. Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.
Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today: Tell this to your sons and daughters. This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook. Not monsters. Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs. No more, no less.
And none of us should feel good about this fact. That he’s a shit negotiator and abysmal dealmaker in no way impedes his capacity to hurt countless people, profoundly and callously—because profound callousness is the product he’s selling. Even just glance at the charts here and you’ll see what I mean. Hell, just remember that his healthcare plan—which was so fucked up even his own party wouldn’t support—cost more and covered fewer people than a simple repeal of Obamacare. It didn’t obey any coherent American political ideology—it wasn’t more care, or better care, or cheaper care. It was just profoundly callous and cruel, because that’s what he sells: The opportunity to exercise a callous “fuck you!“ishness toward a world that fails to recognize how inherently wonderful and superior you are.
We’re not even “through the looking glass” here, because it’s a universe without mirrors or even light, just groping through the darkness insisting what you need to be true must be true, because otherwise you are a fucking freier of the first degree, and you’ve been duped by a soft-handed dimbulb who couldn’t even convince his buddies to do the thing they’ve spent seven years screaming they were gonna do at the very first opportunity.
Tate didn’t like how the kid was acting. The teenaged male in the second-hand cruiser’s back seat—who could produce no ID, but had given the moderately improbable name of “Jamal Kartazian”—was far too compliant. As a rule, kids like this—scrawny white boys with lumpy dreadlocks and grimy hoodies—were a spewing font of the Three Bs: bravado, back-peddling, and begging.
But not this kid. Jamal Kartazian was cool and collected; he almost seemed satisfied to find himself locked in the back of a cop car. And, in contrast to every other kid Tate had ever busted in his short two-act career as first a cop and then a rent-a-cop, this kid was actually asking to be “hauled back to the station.”
In “The Traveling Salesman Solution” a wheelchair-bound veteran of the “War on Terror”—now working in the IT department of a Big Ten university—starts investigating suspicious marathon results, and ends up face-to-face with an absolutely chilling mathematical conundrum.
A couple summers back my wife and I watched THE PURGE on Netflix.We weren’t expecting great chops as either sci-fi or horror (it’s sort of the lazier ends of both), but we were both sorta taken aback by how bafflingly racist the whole thing was.
Just to be super-duper clear: I’m not saying that the filmmaker is racist (I don’t really have any clue who the guy is; he looks white-ish in pictures, but who knows—or really cares—what his identity is).I’m not saying the actors are racist.I’m not saying that any aspect of the conscious intent of the film is racist. In fact, it sorta goes out of its way to be tokenishly multicultural and non-racist (the only totally morally uncompromised primary character is the nameless black male, one of the more prominent secondary characters is a black woman, there’s an Asian man in the mix, and all of the villains are white and explicitly upper-class)—which what was precisely what made it so baffling: even though the film worked to be formally racially progressive, both my wife and I (nominally white people) found ourselves queasy with some of the lines these actors were obliged to say (specifically constantly and exclusively referring to the black man as a “pig”) and found ourselves almost simultaneously asking aloud mid-film:
“Jeez!How the hell would a black person feel watching this?”
Or, more to the point, how would a black person feel watching this film knowing what I know?
Because, through a crazy coincidence, I happened to know something about this film not immediately apperent to average viewers, but certainly known to the filmmakers:
The film opens with a montage of faux surveillance cam footage of various violent crimes, establishing the cultural mood of this near-future dystopia (you see some of this montage at around the 26sec mark in the trailer embedded above).The sort of things you’d expect: Liquor store robberies, riots, a woman getting held up at an ATM, a black man with a sawed off shotgun jumping a police station lobby counter and firing at police officers, etc.
But here’s the catch: I recognized that last piece of footage, which I’d stumbled across in 2013 doing research for a client.It was not faux anything; it was actual CCTV footage from a Detroit police station.The black man with the shotgun was 38 year-old Lamar Moore, his motive is still unknown, and he died during that attack. In fact, he was fatally shot just after the piece of footage used in THE PURGE‘s mood-setting montage.
The final, violent minutes of a black man’s life were used to set the mood for a mediocre Ethan Hawke vehicle.Someone found that footage and edited it in.Someone made sure the rights were cleared, so they wouldn’t get stung on copyright infringement later.And that someone didn’t seem to think, in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, that this might plausibly be a sore spot for anyone (for example, 37 million Americans).
This, for me, finally highlighted the bright line difference between “racism” and “white supremacy.”Racism is really about a conscious framework, a deeply seated belief that people of color or Jews or immigrants or whoever have certain essential characteristics that make them unfit.White supremacy is assigning the interests of white people primacy–generally in complete ignorance of the experience of non-Whites, in much the same way that you probably never think about the impact patching a hole in your eaves has on the squirrels who’d set up house in your attic.A racist thinks black people are lazy and Jews are greedy cheats (or whatever), while the vast majority of rank-and-file white supremacists probably don’t think about them at all.While all white racists are implicitly white supremacists, not all white supremacists are necessarily racist.
Do the makers of THE PURGE think ill of black people?I don’t think so–but I also don’t think they honestly considered the existence of black viewers as sentient entities who might view this film and think “What the fuck are you people doing?!”
’cause Donald Trump is the guy who’s says stuff like this:
“Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”
Meanwhile, I’m a Jew, and even if I’d never met another Jew in my life, I’ve still met me.And earlier today I was hanging out with Brian, and he’s black, and he–likewise–has met himself (as well as his sister, his children, his parents, etc., etc., etc.)Obviously, we’ve met each other.
And I really and sincerely do not believe that Donald Trump is so tremendously stupid or naive that he honestly believes that he is less anti-Semitic than every living Jew and less racist than every living African American.
As such, the only possible way that he could believe the sentence “I’m the least anti-Semitic/racist person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” is if he either doesn’t conceive of Brian and me as being part of the “you” he is speaking to (which is weird, since I heard him say that in a live presser, and therefore literarily was part of that “you” at the very moment he spoke) or he does not conceive of us as being “people.”
Does this make him a racist or an anti-Semite?No, not at all; he’s a white supremacist, and he really and honestly doesn’t even think about me and Brian existing at all, nor how his words and silences impact our lives.
I imagine some of you are getting damn tired of hearing this, all this whining and “identity politics” that “divide America” by “drawing attention to our differences” because, after all, we’re all the same underneath. I hear you, and I understand. But I’m absolutely terrified that, in the absence of me saying this stuff, then you aren’t thinking about the fact that I exist at all, and might just do things—or fail to do things—that get me and my children killed.
UPDATE: Exactly twenty minutes after posting this I got an email telling me that a bomb threat had been called into my daughter’s daycare at 9:10 AM. They’ve evacuated the building, and my daughter is currently being hidden someplace secure, someplace I do not know where she is, while they sweep the building.
So here we are. This is my day. This is America in 2017.