Socialism, Capitalism, Capitalocialism

In the recent controversy over Health Insurance, it occurred to me that I remain an incorrigible  Jekyll-and-Hyde  when it comes to public services. On the one hand, I want my roads to be fixed, my DMV to have short lines, my Social Security Office to answer its phone. On the other hand, I complain every time  an interstate highway toll is increased or when my real estate taxes go up.

In the same way, now that I’m on Medicare, I want to be assured that my doctors (for the most part, specialists required for old birds like me) will give me the same care I had when my private insurance was my primary insurance. As one of the lucky ones who got under the wire because of my age, being born at the right time, and choosing the right career, my drug copays are chump change in contrast to what I would have had to pay out of my pocket—$7,000-a-year—if I didn’t have my private insurance drug plan. Medicare Plan D? No thank you.

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Friendship, A Transformational Narrative

Sociologists have given us pretty accurate stats about the majority of us marrying or having intimate relationships, endogamously—that is, inside of our class, race, religion, and/or economic status. Exogamy is the exception, not the rule. Even if we know someone from another culture in the workplace, most of us still go home to our homogeneous and segregated communities.

The notion of marrying or living inside one’s own heritage and culture was constantly reinforced when I was growing up in the 1950s, an era that was in denial about how deep the racial and ethnic divides actually were.

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Alcoholism and Free Choice

I was listening to an NPR program, “On Point,” the other day and a writer was being interviewed about his book in which he claims that alcoholism is not a disease but an ism of  choice.

I don’t believe there are too many recovering addicts or alcoholics who would give themselves over to the generalized assertion that all you have to do is “will” yourself into sobriety. Those of us who have been in the rooms for a while would not deceive ourselves into the naïve belief that one’s individual will can unilaterally “conquer” or defeat the enemy of addiction.

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Roberto Bolaño, “By Night in Chile”

I  jokingly made the comment to a friend of mine that English majors, like myself, seem to revel in literature that’s hard to get the first time round. That doesn’t mean second readings don’t enhance our understanding of a work. It’s just that we sometimes distrust our I-get-it reactions as being superficial because they’re too immediate. For some reason, we seem to require wallowing around in the miasma of linguistic challenges.

Maybe it’s masochism or maybe we just have to prove to the world that we have some kind of secret knowledge of texts that are just beyond the ken of most mortals. And “stream of consciousness” writing is often one of our favorite genres. Similar to  academic art theorists commenting on abstract painting, it leaves us ample room to show others just how brilliant we are when the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue what the hell we’re talking about.

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Assisted Suicide

Several years ago, I read a very touching story of an English couple who had gone to an assisted-suicide clinic in Switzerland to end their lives together. The wife, in her seventies, was a television producer, choreographer, and former ballerina. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her ailing, eighty-five year old husband, was a former BBC conductor and Verdi specialist.

Sir Edward Downes and his wife, Joan, both agreed to terminate their lives at the Dignitas clinic outside of Zurich.  Members of their family were at the  bedside of the couple and watched the elderly couple eventually die.

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Che Guevara, Hero or Villain?

A biopic, a non-documentary film that dramatizes the life of a real, historical person, presents a challenge not only to film-makers but to audiences as well. Accuracy issues are always at stake when a director decides to do a dramatic narrative about a famous person, particularly about someone who carries a lot of mythological baggage.

If movie audiences have even a faint knowledge of the historical character, they will come armed with predisposed beliefs about how a character should be portrayed. Hagiographers and groupies are going to be particularly difficult to convince if a film’s portrayal violates their own notions of their heroes.

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Alcohol Rehabs versus Peer-Group Recovery

Over the many years that I have been in alcohol recovery, I still remain grateful that alcohol rehabs were available when I first chose to stop drinking. During the first year of my sobriety, I continued to go to an out-patient counselor whose professional experience proved to be invaluable.

However, around the last month of my first year as an out-patient, I began to sense a need for closure. My counselor also seemed to have run out of material, and I had sensed that his usefulness was beginning to become more frayed. It wasn’t that he had suddenly become an incompetent counselor; it was just that recovery issues for him were limited to the more immediate, day-to-day behaviors and relationships during that first year. He was not trained to deal with deeper, more chronic psychological/psychiatric issues.

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The Bicycle Thief

Vittoria de Sica’s classic 1947 film, The Bicycle Thief, has probably been written about more than any other film in history. At one time, film audiences considered it to be the best film ever made; unfortunately, it has slipped off the charts in recent times.

I have longed maintained that films consistently use visual and auditory images as stories in and of themselves. They often become complementary social plots replete with cultural values and world-view perceptions. The central story line in many classic films becomes more than just ornamented with these visual and auditory images, it often becomes a kind of call-and-response complement to the less evident images of a film.

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William Gass, Bards and Storytellers

In a recent Harper’s Magazine essay, “Go Forth and Falsify,” William Gass made the comment that a “storyteller’s assignment…was to glorify the past and its daring, protect the family tree, justify male ownership of land…” among other obligations.

It appeared at first glance that Gass had no aesthetic sympathy with the classic role of the “bard” telling what Gass calls “the first stories.” Nor did he seem to support the classic “storyteller’s assignment” in his laundry list of the teller’s obligations. In this sense, he was merely the messenger telling us what the old bard’s role and obligations used to be.

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