Jo Jo Rabbit – a weirdly profound parody

After its Oscar nomination and attention, my wife and I watched “Jo Jo Rabbit” yesterday. While it is an unusual film, it is entertaining and will take you through a range of emotions. Did I say it was unusual?

Without giving too much away, the story is about a Nazi brainwashed boy of ten whose imaginary friend is his version of Adolph Hitler. The boy discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish teen girl in the attic who helps him pick away at what he has been erroneously taught to dehumanizs Jews.

The film is a parody, but is poignant and powerful as well. It is written by Taika Waititi who also plays the imaginery Hitler. It should be noted, Waititi won the Oscar for his screenwriting. Newcomer Rowan Griffin Davis stars Jo Jo with Thomasin McKenzie starring as Elsa, the Jewish girl. Scarlett Johansson plays Jo Jo’s mother Rosie with Sam Rockwell playing an odd mentor role. Rebel Wilson offers an over-zealous Nazi instructor. Johansson waa nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the role.

Strange as it sounds, the movie is worth watching. Its mission is to reveal how hatred is taught and how interaction with people can change even the most strident of beliefs. There are several poignant moments between mother/ son, Jo Jo/ Elsa and Elsa/ Rosie.

If you have seen it, please let me know what you think (caution to those who have not to beware of the comments for spoiler alerts).

A tribute to Jim Lehrer

One of my main sources for televised news is the PBS Newshour. It is an even-handed news report, that offers expert commentary in a civilized way. This approach traces itself to initial and long-time host, Jim Lehrer, who died on Thursday. He began the show with Robert MacNeil, primarily covering the Watergate impeachment hearings. It is apropos he died during the current impeachment trial.

From a CBS News report, the following is an excerpt about Lehrer.

“Over a career that spanned 50 years, Lehrer moderated a total of 12 presidential debates, more than anyone in history, including all the ones held in 1996 and 2000. He also wrote 20 novels, three memoirs and several plays and earned dozens of journalism awards and honorary degrees. Former President Clinton bestowed the National Humanities Medal on Lehrer in 1999. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a fellow and, alongside Robert MacNeil, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999.

Mr. Clinton honored Lehrer in a tweet on Thursday, writing ‘I liked and admired Jim Lehrer. He believed news is a public good, not a commodity. And he was always completely on the level in reporting, interviewing, and moderating debates. His life was a gift that strengthened our democracy.'”

Key themes of the news he broadcast included rules like:
– don’t make the story about you
– keep news clearly separated from editorial opinion
– assume there is more than one side to a story
– respect those being interviewed and covered
– ask simple questions and let the interviewee provide the answers
– guests must be civil to each other and the hosts and vice-versa

To many do not follow these simple rules. Last month, he noted the challenge that news broadcasts have now. In a news world of division, it is difficult to report when the news includes lying, so as to avoid being called divisive. He said we are not there yet. But, we must try.

Join me in honoring an honest and informed newscaster. David Brooks said tonight, “Jim had a moral ecology” which is similar to what MacNeil said saying “Jim had a moral intelligence.” He sought the truth and did it with a civil demeanor. Well done, Jim Lehrer.

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

A path forward

As we end one decade and start a new one, there are plenty of posts and articles telling us what is wrong with the world. I agree we have numerous challenges, but please remember this one truism – negative news has a higher bounce than positive news.

Since the many good things happening don’t get reported with the appropriate frequency, it is hard to avoid getting despondent. Our friend Jill has a weekly summary of about three to five good news stories (see link below to a recent one). These folks are the “points of light” the elder George Bush spoke of. We must shine a spotlight on these exemplars.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote a year-end column (see link below) called “2019 has been the best year in human history – here’s why.” He largely makes the above point, but cites the following observations:

“The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27% of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4%.”

But, what do we do about those negative stories with a higher bounce. They are real and concerning. Here are few thoughts, some of which may be Pollyanna-ish:

– engage in thoughtful discussion asking probing questions and listening – only then will you be permitted to offer your thoughts that may be heeded (“Help me understand,” “That is an interesting view, why do you believe that to be true?”, etc.).
– advocate your beliefs, focusing on the issues, not the people are parties; often one party is not 100% wrong and the other is not 100% right.
– write and call legislators – they may not be listening, but we need to let them know where we stand; calling is better, but don’t chew the head off a staff member – give it like you want to get it.
– write to the news paper, publications or other blogs, again focusing on the issues and not just wanting to disrupt.
– avoid name calling, labeling, denigration, smugness and raised voices – all of these are masking poor arguments; when I hear name calling or labeling, it raises a red flag (unfortunately, a certain global country head does this often).
– avoid less than credible sources – be a truth seeker; if they do not print or post errata when they get it wrong, it is not credible; fact check claims made by various sources, especially those who have a habit of sensationalism or conspiracy BS.
– finally, understand that almost every issue is more complex than portrayed, so solutions are less black and white; be wary of easy fixes and panaceas.

Happy New Year to all. Happy decade to all. Let’s be civil and active truth seekers.

Good People Doing Good Things — Little Things Mean A Lot

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/2019-has-been-the-best-year-in-human-history-heres-why-39896456

A beautiful day in the neighborhood – a must see

My wife and I watched the wonderful movie about Mister Rogers called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on Friday. The film stars Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers, the ideal candidate for the role due to the kindness of both. Matthew Rhys co-stars as Esquire writer Lloyd Vogel, Susan Kelechi Watson as Vogel’s wife and Chris Cooper as Vogel’s estranged father.

For those not familiar with Mister Rogers, he had a long running kids show called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” where he openly talked to kids about life’s tough problems – sadness, anger, divorce, disability, bigotry, and even death. Through his guests, cast members, puppets, music, and site visits, he reached the kids. As he told Vogel, “if something is mentionable, it is manageable.”

Why Vogel’s name appears so often is the story is about the profound impact Rogers had on Vogel during an interview about heroes his magazine was doing. Without revealing too much, Vogel was struggling with his relationship with his own father as he was dealing with being a new father. He called himself a “broken man.”

Since Vogel was an investigative reporter, he expected to find the real Mister Rogers too good to be true. Instead, over the course of their interaction, Vogel’s faith in himself is restored by Rogers.

I will stop there, so as not to reveal too much. The movie is based on a real life interview for Esquire, although the name of the interviewer has been changed. My eife and I both found it rewarding and had our favorite moments. We encourage you to see it and let us know what you think below. For those who have not, you may want to avoid the comments beforehand.

Don’t give your power away

An old friend who passed away far too early was a high school counselor. She would counsel kids who were in stress over real or perceived slights with the following two tandem pieces of advice:

– Do not give your power away. Things happen. You are the only person who can control how you respond.

– If you choose not to take offense, you are not offended.

Putting these two together let’s you control your reaction. People try to get your goat. People try to lure you into a fight. Some folks are even malevolent about this process. These folks take delight in watching you blow up.

Being able to laugh it off or make a jocular reference to a piece of teasing or taunting is an art form. Self-deprecating or deflecting humor is a good tactic. If you are uncomfortable about using humor, changing the subject, walking away and not responding are also good strategies. If it is your blog, you can simply saying “Thank you for sharing your opinion.” And, move on.

This can be difficult, but if you let your pride or temper get the best of you, then you have ceded your power. I must confess I have ceded my power more times than I care to admit. Invariably, self-reflection will occur as to why I bit the bait.

These are simple words. If you don’t take offense, you are not offended. I am not saying to forget the slight, but you need not give the author your power. People can vote with their feet. If someone relishes in doing this, minimize or eliminate contact with that person.

Finally, I am not saying people should not push back. My advice is pick your battles. Don’t argue with a street preacher is a good analogy. And, push back the way you want to receive it. Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive.

Immortality in crosswords

It is often said you can’t live forever, but in crossword puzzles that is not entirely true. With the right name, you will be recurringly remembered. It is not necessarily the most famous names that come up. It is the names with at least a couple of vowels.

UMA Thurman is a popular actress, but her first name is even more popular in crossword puzzles.

ERMA Bombeck was a witty columnist and author. But, her first name lives on.

ENYA is an enchanting Irish songstress, but her solo name appears often.

Herman Melville’s most famous novel is “Moby Dick,” but in crossword puzzles “OMOO” beats it hands down.

Melville’s more read novel does show up, but its tormented Captain AHAB is the answer to many a puzzle question.

ALMA Gluck was a famous actress, but her first name lives on in puzzles. The same goes for IDA Lupino.

While Charlie Chaplin was the star, his last wife OONA is very popular in crosswords with three vowels.

Several deities appear with some frequency – ODIN, HERA, OLAF.

Even a pair of tennis playing sisters will periodically come up – SERENA and VENUS.

Finally, while he was most famous for playing Obi Wan Kenobi, ALEC Guiness lives on with the crossword Force.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you do crossword puzzles, please share a few of the names you use with some frequency.