Film Review: No Safe Spaces

no sfae spaces

No Safe Spaces, released October 25, 2019, featuring Adam Corolla and Dennis Prager.

Whether or not we are living in an era when free speech is under assault is a point of debate. Those among us who believe that harsh consequences imposed as a result of politically incorrect speech are a bad thing will love this film. Or at least, they’ll like it. Those who believe that the 1st Amendment is protection from legal prosecution, but not economic sanction or social ostracization, will consider Prager and Corolla as nothing more than white boys crying wolf. After all, as one reviewer quipped, Prager and Corolla are actually profiting from their free speech rights.

I suspect this divergent understanding of the limits, if any, on free speech and the acceptable scope of consequences is at the heart of the mostly negative reviews I read of this film before recently venturing out with friends to judge for myself. My take? When we have to be afraid of any consequence that may be imposed as a result of a dissident or unpopular perspective, our free speech is in danger.

This is not to say that individuals and corporations are not equally free to exercise their rights. However, what we have now is tantamount to a speech cartel, cocked and loaded for bear against anyone who dares utter or has ever dared to utter any words against selected groups of people or behaviors. It is this dynamic, the carnage it leaves, and the fear it imposes on average Americans that Prager and Corolla set out to address.

This is a documentary and not even a great one as far as documentaries go. If you’re looking for great filmmaking, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a well documented series of incidents, mostly on college campuses, in which well-meaning, even-handed professors are punished for failing to espouse the right ideology. You’ll find conservative and religious students increasingly penalized and marginalized for their beliefs. Of course, there’s also well-publicized instances of conservative speakers being threatened and harassed on college campuses to the extent that many of their talks had to be canceled. Most importantly, you’ll see that universities as bastions of various ideas and critical thought has given way to something far more sinister.

The interspersed animated skits to illustrate the absurdity of social justice warriors and the assassination of the Bill of Rights were rather extemporaneous, but the commentary is valuable for those people who are not up to speed on the current trajectory of our political discourse.

It is worth remembering that the young people on college campuses today will be leaders of politics, academia, and media tomorrow.

3 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

Friday Faves: Quotable Literary Quotes

As is my custom, I have completely abandoned my planned reading queue for the remainder of 2019. How did that happen, you might ask? It happens the way it always does: with a trip to my local library, where I stumbled upon another book that piqued my interest.

In my bibliophile distractedness, I am now reconsidering family, community, beauty, and all of the things our culture purports to value while simultaneously throwing hand grenades at the foundations of the same. Inexplicably, we wail and lament, wondering why the whole thing is crumbling.

There have always been a quiet, thinking minority of great minds among us. Rather than preening before cameras and blathering into microphones, however, these thinkers are far more likely to take to the pen to share the wisdom they have acquired. In other words, to hear reasoned, thoughtfully considered opinions on the dilemmas of our day, you’ll have to shut of CNN, FOX News, and yes, even YouTube. You will have to pick up a book.

Today’s Friday’s Faves are quotes from some of my favorite thoughtful social and political writers, with one or two from writers that diverge from me on the major issues, but from whom I’ve read a glimmer of wisdom nonetheless.

I disagree with our first writer, Henry Miller, on quite a lot, but I agree with him completely on this:

There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy~ Henry Miller

Of course, the greatest source of wisdom is found in the book of Proverbs. Our culture seems trapped in a reactionary vice grip. We -collective, cultural we- scream in outrage over minor, perceived offenses, and tear them down with words; often without cause.

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.~ Proverbs 17:27

We are quick to excoriate others with very little context or information, only to learn a short time later that we are lacking even a fraction of the facts:

He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.
 ~ Proverbs 18:13

I’ve reviewed Wendell Berry in this space before, and I highly recommend his writings for an oasis of sane social commentary in our desert of postmodern intellectual thought. Here, he breaks down the problems with both conservatism and liberalism:

“The conventional public opposition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is, here as elsewhere, perfectly useless. The ‘conservatives’ promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. Under the sponsorship of ‘conservative’ presidencies, the economy of the modern household, which once required the father to work away from home – a development that was bad enough – now requires the mother to work away from home, as well. And this development has the wholehearted endorsement of ‘liberals,’ who see the mother thus forced to spend her days away from her home and children as ‘liberated’ – though nobody has yet seen the fathers thus forced away as ‘liberated.’~ Wendell Berry

The book I am currently reading is Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, and it is from there that I pulled this quote. I am not sure if I will review the full book, but so far it’s proving to be worth my time:

Both mainstream liberalism and conservatism are essentially materialist ideologies, and we should not be surprised that both shape a society dedicated to the multiplication of wants and the intensification of desires, not improvement of character. ~ Rod Dreher

One of my favorite black people who lived during the period immediately following Reconstruction and shortly following is Booker T. Washington. His reception in the black community, then as now, is mixed depending on the ideology and circumstances of the interlocutors, but he is always tops with me:

I want you to get it firmly fixed in your minds that books, industries, or tools of any character, no matter how thoroughly you master them, do not within themselves constitute education. Committing to memory pages of written matter, or becoming deft in the handling of tools, is not the supreme thing at which education aims. Books, tools, and industries are but the means to fit you for something that is higher and better. All these are not ends within themselves; they are simply means. The end of all education, whether of head or hand or heart, is to make an individual good, to make him useful, to make him powerful; is to give him goodness, usefulness, and power in order that he may exert a helpful influence upon his fellows. ~ Booker T. Washington

Lastly, is a quote from the man many consider a father of modern conservatism. My mental jury is still out as it relates to a fully formed opinion of Russell Kirk, but I’m thinking I like him. A lot. I plan to read a book of his essays in its entirety in the near future, but until, here are his thoughts on the relationship between rights and responsibilities:

Every right is married to a duty; every freedom owes a corresponding responsibility; and there cannot be genuine freedom unless there exists also genuine order, in the moral realm and in the social realm. ~ Russell Kirk

Those are a few of the thoughts I think we need to internalize in order to revitalize what’s left of our culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Princess Bride Edition

don't think it means

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~ Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

I am pretty sure we’ve discussed this here before, but this past week I thought about it again. So you get to be the beneficiaries of my periodic belaboring over the misuse and misapplication of words and how this makes it easy for us to misunderstand concepts that should be simple. As a result, we live in a culture and society where a majority of people are misled about the reality of things. This accelerates the erosion of our personal and collective freedom so it needs to be considered. I’ll start with the word which recently reignited my passion for this particular topic.

*Healthcare: The quick click online definition of healthcare is as follows: The prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical and allied health professions.

That is not a terrible definition, except that it neglects to include the things we can do individually to contribute to our health and personal well-being. Things such as the brisk walk I took with my husband not long after 5:30 AM, or the weight training workout that followed it. The idea that individuals can be largely responsible for the care of our own health has been largely ignored. However, that’s not the part that sparked my notice. How many of us have heard a politician breathlessly bleat out this panicked refrain into the nearest microphone:

“Millions of Americans are living without healthcare!”

Yeah, you’ve heard it. And by that, they mean health insurance. In effect, our entire society has been conditioned to equate health insurance (the bureaucratic apparatus by which medical bills are sometimes partially paid) with healthcare. Drinking plenty of water, eating your broccoli, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is probably better insurance than said bureaucratic apparatus.

*Sex: The first quick click online dictionary definition of sex is, again, pretty close to the purest definition of the word, which is actually a biological term: either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.

Of course, we’ve replaced sex with gender (which now operates on a spectrum) and taken the words coitus and intercourse and replaced them with sex. For the longest time, I didn’t see a problem with this particular evolution of language, but that was back when I was gullible enough to think that science still held some clout in our society even as religion waned.

I could go on about this particular evolution of language, but then I’d be wandering off the word nerd reservation and that’s not really what we do here.

*Education: The quick clink online dictionary definition of this word is pretty strange: the action or process of educating or of being educated. When I looked up educated, I got: having an education. The second definition is like unto the first but it at least gets to the heart of my problem with our modern understanding of education: the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.

The classic understanding of education (probably prior to mass schooling) was this: that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.

In effect, we have discarded the idea of education as a comprehensive endeavor meant to form the whole person into a useful citizen, spouse, parent, employer, and employee. We have replaced that with the notion of education as synonymous with schooling.

Well, that’s it for this edition of Word Nerd Wednesday.

As always, feel free to add your picks for words that don’t mean what we’ve been conditioned to think they mean.

Animal Farm

animal farm

Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Originally published in 1945. Paperback 140 pages.

I read the book online for free at this link.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others ~Animal Farm

This is a book that hardly needs an introduction. Our language has erected an entire lexicon around ideas we describe as Orwellian. Of course, we most often hear that particular term, Orwellian, used in reference to circumstances that resemble the narrative Orwell unfolded in his famous novel 1984. Although the allegorical Animal Farm paints a different, equally somber picture of human corruption, cultural manipulation, political malfeasance, his use of animals universalized its presentation.

In fact, the reason I re-read this book over the weekend, several decades since I first encountered it in high school, is that our children are currently reading it as a literature class assignment. I am really looking forward to hearing how they process this story. In the highly unlikely chance that someone may not be familiar with the story of Animal Farm, we’ll start with a brief synopsis.

On Manor Farm, the animals live the way farm animals live. They fulfill their work to produce income for the farm’s owner, Mr. Jones, and they are fed food appropriate to their needs and species. Life is neither misery nor bliss. It simply is what it is: farm life.

Brewing inside the heart of Old Major, the oldest boar on the farm however, was a dream that one day, animals would throw off the yoke of oppression which humans used to bind them.

“Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.

“But is this simply part of the order of nature? Is it because this land of ours is so poor that it cannot afford a decent life to those who dwell upon it? No, comrades, a thousand times no! The soil of England is fertile, its climate is good, it is capable of affording food in abundance to an enormously greater number of animals than now inhabit it. This single farm of ours would support a dozen horses, twenty cows, hundreds of sheep–and all of them living in a comfort and a dignity that are now almost beyond our imagining. Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings. There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word–Man. Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.

He didn’t expect to live to see or participate in the animal rebellion, and he didn’t. But before he died, he made a rousing speech complete with an animal national anthem, and the animals he left behind began to plan for the revolution which would one day come. In that day, all animals would be equal comrades, wealth would be shared equally, no animals would kill other animals, and Utopia will be realized.

When the opportunity presented itself the animals revolted, fought hard, and won their freedom. It wasn’t long however before their stated principles gave way to reality, unlike anything the more gullible animals had expected after their “freedom” was secured. The pigs, descendants of Old Major, were the cleverest of all the animals and it wasn’t long before the camaraderie gave way to hierarchy, with everything this implies.

Seeing as I read this entire book in roughly 2 hours, I’d say it’s worth your time to reacquaint yourself with this modern classic. It’s particularly relevant in our current cultural and political environment.

Orwell really was a masterful writer, and Animal Farm is a wonderful book.

5 out of 5 stars.

Friday Faves: Fall Fashion Fluff

This is fluff about clothes and other things that aren’t vitally important in the grand scheme of things. It’s all in good fun.

November is a busy time of year, but also a fun time. The collision of obligations, deadlines, and celebrations can provide an interesting challenge for those of us who are wife dressing. That is, we don’t own the option of sacrificing femininity and beauty in exchange for the comfort and expediency we’d like in order to get things done. The good news is that we can do both.

We don’t really experience a change of seasons here. Because of that, a lot of fashion conventions fall flat in this neck of the woods. For example, it’s warm nearly year-round, so sandals are always in order and Floridians don’t generally adhere to the “no white after Labor Day” convention either. Although…I’ve learned that there is such a thing as “winter white“, which makes me wonder if any place adheres to that rule anymore. But I digress. The goal of this post is to list five of my must-have essentials to get dressed quickly, easily, and fashionably enough.

  • Wide belts: I love a wide, genuine leather belt. They’re not cheap, but I’ve found that the best way to get them at a reasonable price point is to go through Etsy. Each one I bought has been shipped from Eastern Europe, where there is a robust collection of women performing quality artisan leathercrafting. I own this one, as well as the belt I’m wearing in my gravatar.  I also have two others  in different shades of brown that I ordered from Etsy. They’re categorized as corset belts, so be aware that the advertising will run the gamut, but the quality of the leather is excellent. One belt which I bought stateside is of vastly inferior quality for a similar price, so I decided it was worth it to order them from overseas.
  • V-neck sweaters and fitted long-sleeved shirts: In whatever colors look best. For me, those colors are saturated colors: blues, reds, browns, and also off white, which matches just about anything.  These also look good with both jeans and midi skirts. For me, however, those tops require an additional go-to item:
  • Camisoles: The blessing and the curse of my body type are that I look better in fitted clothes. I think this came up in my review of the 50s fashion book, Wife Dressing. I layer my fitted clothes with fitted camis underneath. I’m pretty open about that because I think women should look good in our clothes. Although I exercise hard and take good care of my health I’ve also had five babies, so accommodations must be made. My stomach is naturally flat, but also extremely soft, so I layer with lightweight, fitted camisoles.
  • Midi Skirts: Who doesn’t love a good midi skirt?  They are versatile, comfortable, feminine and pretty. They’re not too long, not too short; just right. They look good with sandals, heels, and even Sperrys. I like a great maxi skirt as well, but my fondness for midi skirts has grown recently.
  • High rise jeans: I must admit, I don’t share the typical American’s love of blue jeans. At least not for the reasons other people seem to like them. I don’t find them particularly comfortable, and living where we do, they can be rather stifling. That said, I do appreciate a nice fitting pair of jeans for their fashion possibilities. Put with a few simple, no-fuss elements (dangly earrings, a cute wedge heel, and a smear of lip gloss for instance), jeans are an easy way to get dressed in 5 minutes without looking like you threw your ensemble together in 5 minutes. That’s why I wear them. And when the temperature does finally drop, they are warmer than a midi skirt.

This is always the most fun part of these posts; finding out what you like best.

So…what are the essentials of your wardrobe that make getting dressed much easier than it would be otherwise?

*You might also be interested in my review of The Lost Art of Dress.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Less is more

I’m still in the process of working out exactly what this weekly wrangling over words is going to look like. Last week, I took a very pointed look at a man who helped change the way we write words and their technical use. It was along the lines of what I initially envisioned. Now, however, I’m thinking that will be just one among many ways I discuss our daily use of words.

It is readily observed by anyone paying a modicum of attention that words, their evolving meanings, and how we use them in our current society are changing the cultural landscape at a rapid pace. That brings me to today’s discussion, inspired by the prolific writing of Joshua Gibbs. In a recent article, A Defense of Just Bottling It All Up, he asks his readers to re-examine the emphasis we place on talking it out as a way to resolve conflicts.

My skeptical stance toward the idea that interpersonal conflicts are best solved through conversation is chiefly derived from two things: first, a staggering amount of evidence and personal experience which suggests the contrary, and second, a staggering lack of biblical evidence to support the claim. Upon saying this, I suppose there is a certain kind of reader who will respond, “Oh, so you think it is better to fight?” However, such reactions only go to my second objection. Modern people have been trained to believe all problems are solved either by violence or by calmly, rationally sitting down to talk. To the contrary, Christian tradition suggests a rather wide range of much better possibilities— like doing nothing, for example.

People who make their living using words generally recognize that the power in using them sparingly. Our current ethos insists that if we could just talk more about our differences, we might be able to diffuse the polarizing atmosphere that has gripped our current social and political environment. Gibbs rightly questions this.

The age of social media has led to endless chatter about race and gender, nonetheless, I still regularly encounter people who claim, “Our problems with race will not go away and until we can openly discuss them.” The idea that we talk too much about important issues is blasphemous. Americans used to believe that throwing enough money at a problem would make it go away. We now believe that throwing enough words at our problems is the answer. Nonetheless, St. James says we should “quick to listen,” which does not mean “quick to engage in conversation.”

He also notes the admonition from King Solomon: When there are many words, sin is not absent.

The whole thing is worth a read, so click over to glean the appropriate context for what was offered here. This Word Nerd Wednesday, I’m pondering the admonitions from King Solomon and St. James. To give it a more modern spin:

When it comes to our words, less is definitely more.

So…what do you guys think about talking everything out as the ultimate method of conflict resolution? When do we accept the reality that words often fail?

 

 

 

 

The Wind in the Reeds

wind in the reeds

The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and a City That Would Not Be Broken, by Wendell Pierce (with Rod Dreher). Originally published in 2015. 352 pages.

I’ve read Rod Dreher’s recommendation of The Wind in the Reeds on more than one occasion, and a recent trip to the library reminded me that I had not read it. I’d always intended to, so I decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a read.

Wendell Pierce is a classically Julliard trained actor of stage and screen. He is best known for his role on a television show called The Wire. I am unfamiliar with the show beyond what he offers in this book, where he delves deeply into his passion for his craft and the importance of art -of all forms- in culture.

Wind in the Reeds is equal parts memoir, regional history, and racial commentary. The regional history is particularly interesting to me as my paternal roots are in Southern Louisiana, the region from which Pierce is offering his readers a history lesson.

The book begins as he flashes back to his 2007 benefit performance of the play Waiting For Godot, which was staged as a free outdoor event to benefit the city of New Orleans in the wake of its devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

New Orleans is Pierce’s hometown. His family has deep roots there. After his introductory passages which expressed the depth and breadth of his emotions on the opening night of Godot, he pivots, taking the reader back in time with him. He recounts his family’s Louisiana history all the way back to a slave named Aristile who was sold away from his family in Kentucky and taken to a Louisiana sugar plantation sometime in the years preceding the Civil War. I’m going to pivot here; albeit briefly.

I have a bit of fascination with those rare numbers of black families who have a fairly reliable documented history. Whether it’s Pierce’s story, The Delany Sisters, or my husband’s maternal family, which actually has a family historian with a family tree going back nearly 125 years. It’s a short period of time in the grand scheme, but for slave descendants, it’s significant. Few Americans -of any race- know much about their families beyond their great grandparents. I have yet to meet an unsuccessful black family when those historical roots are watered generation after generation. It’s not that every member of such families is wealthy or fully successful, but there are recognizable strings of strong, hard-working, mostly intact families. Wendell Pierce’s family, as he describes it here, is no different.

After laying the foundation of his family’s Louisiana history, the book connects the industrial and racial history of Southern Louisiana as a region. I found that there were parts of Pierce’s commentary I fully agreed with and others where I strenuously disagreed. I am not, however, unfamiliar with this dynamic; the tension many successful blacks feel between their bedrock belief in personal responsibility and hard work and the idea that there is still so much work to be done on behalf of those who haven’t been able to make it in the same way.

In addition to his historical and racial commentary, Pierce uses two chapters to describe his journey to Julliard, the stage, and then the screen. As with the racial and social commentary, I was equal parts intrigued and equal parts unimpressed. Art is crucially important as Pierce rightly notes, but there is a wide chasm between the classic theater that he studied at Julliard and much of the drivel that passes as art today. His noble admonition for artists to eschew the temptation to allow businessmen and bottom-line concerns to trump their creative integrity isn’t a view that seems to be shared in his industry.

As he ends the book, Pierce turns back to where he started; with the devastation that his beloved city endured in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and his memories of the shock that awaited him as he flew home that very weekend, thinking that as the storm had hit and left Florida, the crisis had passed. What he didn’t know was that after hitting Florida as a Cat 1 storm, Katrina had re-strengthened to a Cat 5 and was heading straight towards the much more vulnerable basin city of New Orleans. He describes the storm, its aftermath, and its effects on his immediate family, who fared far better than most precisely because of his success as an actor.

This was a moving memoir, and its history was informative and interesting. Despite areas of divergent philosophy or politics, one thing was crystal clear: Wendell Pierce is a man who loves his family and takes great pride in the legacy into which he was born.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, which is only a few days away, I’ll wrap up this review with the same excerpt that Dreher posted over at the American Conservative. In 2009, more than six decades after the end of World War II, Wendell Pierce’s father, Amos Pierce, was finally to take possession of the medals he earned in the war but which were denied him when he returned stateside. You’d think a man who was so slighted by the country he fought and nearly died for would be more than a little bit bitter. Amos Pierce wasn’t, as exemplified by this moment Pierce recalled from his childhood:

This was the late sixties or early seventies, when the Black Power movement was in full swing. That ethos demanded that when the national anthem was played, black people protested by refusing to stand in respect.

That night at the Municipal Auditorium, the national anthem began to sound over the PA system, signaling that the fights would soon begin. Everyone stood, except some brothers sitting in the next row down from us. They looked up at my father and said, “Aw, Pops, sit down.”

“Don’t touch me, man,” growled my dad.

“Sit down! Sit down!” they kept on.

“Don’t touch me,” he said. “I fought for that flag. You can sit down. I fought for you to have that right. But I fought for that flag too, and I’m going to stand.”

Then one of the brothers leveled his eyes at Daddy, and said, “No, you need to sit down.” He started pulling on my father’s pants leg.

That was it. “You touch me one more time,” my father roared, “and I’m going to kick you in your f—-ng teeth.”

The radical wiseass turned around and minded his own business. That was a demonstration of black power that the brother hadn’t expected.

That was a powerful recollection that very few of us will be able to relate to as the years go by.

3 out of 5 stars.