Monday, May 21, 2018


Sebastian Lelio’s Disobedience is set in the world of London’s  Orthodox Jewish community. But the revelation that's one of the film’s themes is hardly one of a religious sort. Sexual identity is the lingua franca and it's when Esti (Rachel McAdams) expresses hers that she runs awry of the values of the fundamentalist community in which she lives. Of course sex is a gigantic topic and the movie actually avoids the danger of becoming a reductio ad absurdum. Ronit (Rachel Weisz) the rabbi’s daughter, who has turned her back on the cloistered life, provides the catalyst for the movie’s stereotypic energy. But to the director’s credit she along with Esti husband, the rabbi Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) all break away from their prescribed roles to credit the movie with a certain humanity. The film begins with the exhortation, “Hashem gave us choice which is both a privilege and burden” and ends in just about the same place. The more profound problem is that the narrative ties all the loose ends together with a Solomonic justice which is hard to buy, considering all the passions that have been unleashed. If there's an overriding emotion it’s that of equanimity, a sentiment that some viewers may find hard to square, with the terrain of the  subliminal desires Disobedience describes. Spoiler alert: the film's initial triangulation becomes a kind 21st century trinity.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Delusion of Immortality

A human being begins to die the moment they’re born, but along the way this salient fact of human existence is almost completely forgotten. It’s a little like free trade greasing the wheels of commerce. The reminder of death acts like a tariff that can dull the trading in life experience. This is one reason why people are shocked when they’re lives are brought to a stand still because of illness and disease. It’s as if the powers on high were in violation of the heavenly contract. Day after day humans are given hints about  the fragility of life. The leaves die in autumn, tiny insects are stepped on and spider’s webs and their inhabitants are neatly extinguished with dust busters. Yet no degree of warning seems to do the job. People have built-in forgetters when it comes to death and it’s something which curiously also makes them less prone to appreciate life when they have it. If you know that life is short by any standards and that any life is but a footnote in the history of the universe, you’re more likely to relish each hour of every day. It’s unfortunate that the nature of human defense mechanisms are such that they allow denial to triumph over consciousness. You of course don’t want to greet a baby with a morose funeral dirge. However, isn’t there something more life affirming about acknowledging transience than allowing the kind of delusory feelings that ultimately lead people to squander the gift of existence?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Homo Cologuardis

photo of Cologuard box by Francis Levy
Back when you were in high school you were in a totally different stage of human evolution.Though homo sapiens roamed the earth many were still hetero at least in name, and men still had a fascination with women’s undergarments and what women looked like naked. Some women may testify to a countervailing sentiment reflected in little homilies like “it’s not how big it is but what you do with it.” Parenthetically decades later and depending on one’s orientation this last turns out to be a total piece of white washing. Of course size matters and guys with little dicks and those who love them simply have to find ways of compensating for what amounts to a disability. But getting back to our current age of true homo sapienality in which hetero sapiens are the exception and the word bra no longer creates a frisson, it’s the contents of the Cologuard Box, with it’s stool sampling kit that’s the real source of mystery. If you’ve ever received a prescription you know this popular colon cancer screener comes in a big box and the first thing you ask is, what the hell's inside? You know that doody smells and you’re going to be sending yours somewhere, but what you’re receiving is tantamount to a brick shithouse or Fort Knox. How many degrees of separation are required? It’s all a little reminiscent of Ben Casey, the medically oriented TV series that starred Vincent Edwards and Sam Jaffe back in the 60’s. You remember the lingo scalpel, forceps…Now it’s shitter, feces, container.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Final Solution: Pompeo, Clausewitz and Etherege

According to The Times ("What’s Kim Jong-un’s Surname? Mike Pompeo Is Learning the Hard Way,NYT, 5/9/18), our new Secretary of State might have been challenged on a significant fact. It’s particularly surprising since he'd formerly held a position (as CIA director) that deals with intelligence gathering. It was the kind of malapropism that characters make in Restoration comedies like George Etherege’s Man of Mode. The Times quoted one irate Twitter post regarding this snafu. “Somebody really needs to have a word with Secretary of State Pompeo before he meets anybody in North Korea,” The Times quotes from the Tweet, “He just referred to Kim Jong-un as ‘Chairman Un.' That’s like, I dunno, calling Winston Churchill ‘Prime Minister Spencer.’” Or the North Koreans referring to the American president as Mr. Rump. Apparently Mr. Pompeo’s earlier trip to North Korea was not a fact finding mission or he would have gotten the North Korean leader’s name right. Of course due to RexTillerson's cuts, Pompeo might have found himself understaffed at the time of the trip and who knows what other details were mistaken. For instance, who knows if Pompeo had been given the wrong address for the presidential palace and ended up having to call the North Korean ministry for help when his entourage got lost on some back street in Pyongyang? But no one likes it when their name is misspelled or mispronounced and one of the first premises of diplomacy that may go back to Clausewitz is, know your adversary.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Eastern Shore Journal: Royal Oak

Royal Oak Commiunity United Methodist Church (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
Harriet Taubman and Frederic Douglas both urged Lincoln to allow blacks to serve in the Union Army and a small plaque now stands in front of a roadside cemetery in the town of Unionville where 18 Talbot Country slaves and free blacks are buried. The area has a liberal history and feeling that’s more humorously communicated in a street sign which advertises Love’s Folly Road. In Royal Oak, a hamlet which might be termed a suburb of St Michaels stands the clapboard wood United Methodist Church in front of which is a beached boat reflecting another aspect of the local heritage, the maritime history which infuses practically every element of everyday life. The church for all its modesty still manages to sport stained glass windows that almost have a tromp l’oeil effect; they hardly seem to soar and look more like a fading painting that's both sublime and wistful at the same time. But the weathered structure is a landmark that indelibly captures much of the feeling of this area of the Chesapeake Bay region, a mixture of the spiritual and the arcane, in which the old co-exists but is rarely obliged to give way to the new. Tolerance is perhaps the best way to describe the enchanting landscape where growth and preservation go hand in hand and age doesn’t automatically lead to obsolescence.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Eastern Shore Journal: St. Michaels

Restoration of Edna E. Lockwood (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
You have undoubtedly heard of the Slow Food Movement with its unconscionably long meals and its insistence on the savoring of every bite. But there’s a global form of this impulse that may be more palatable to those who still have a nostalgia for fast food iconography. If you journey to the town of St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, time seems to have come to a complete and utter halt. Visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum overlooking the harbor where on a weekend afternoon in May, a classic wedding will be taking place, with a bride in a long gown attended by her maids. But you will also see the vestiges of a world gone by. The Edna E. Lockwood a Bugeye Oyster dredger built on Tilghman Island out of logs rather than planks in 1889 has been in the process of restoration since l975. Words like “gunwale” and “breast hook” are still employed by the shipbuilders who continue to ply their ancient trade. And then there's the lighthouse. Back in l892 two cottage style lighthouses were built with fog signals and bells. And where else can you learn that a typical watch on a boat lasted four hours with the bell being rung every 30 minutes. There are the antique bazaars in which whole lifetimes seem to be on display. It’s not the “A Stop at Willougby” episode of the Twilight Zone. Life hasn’t come to an end in St. Michael’s. In fact it’s flourishing, albeit at an exponentially slower pace. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Juggernaut of Self

Have you ever felt like you were drowning in a juggernaut of self? Have you ever felt your egotistical concerns spilling out of you like volcanic lava that eradicates everything in its path? Talk about Pandora’s Boxes, once you jump off the precipice into the well of self-involvement, it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. Blinding selfishness of this chronic sort can hit you like a rabbit punch and it occurs like eczema, herpes, shingles and other viral skin conditions that can lie dormant for years before they strike. You are never immune. You might be struck in the middle of a particularly selfless moment when you receive a message that's the equivalent to the dreaded letters potential recruits received during the dreaded days when there was a draft. The only difference is that the message comes not from the Department of the Army but from the executive center of your brain. Actually it may be the mind that’s responsible, but the activity itself is better known as belly button gazing. But does the juggernaut of self actually take a form? You think of genies popping out of bottles or the spirits and doppelganger’s that hover around the Christian self still smarting from the trauma of original sin. Is it one of those dark presences of gothic myth that emerges from a Transylvanian forest or the devil incarnate, a dark brooding fecal cloak that emerges from the deepest recesses of one’s being? The Revenge of the Body Snatchers? The Night of the Living Dead? The answer is yes.