17 February 2018

The “Black Panther”. Re-Imagining Movies And The African Experience

By: Jon Katz

The Black Panther

"The Black Panther" is one of those landmark movies that marks a passage in tIme, or a seminal experience in culture and history.

The movie will change the way many people see black Americans, Africa and the world. As it breaks one box office record after another, it will certainly change Hollywood's skittishness about making movies for and about blacks or Africans.

It will also mark the coming of age of the Superhero Genre, which can handle deep subjects,  and continues the  evolution of women as characters who are both fierce and feminine.

The movie offers a shocking creative lesson in history: what would be like if Africa had not been colonized?

I have to say that one of the messages of this movie is the angry old white men who have taken over our country are on the wrong side of history.  I think the movie is at least partly about that.

Our world is changing, and if you want a dose of how, just make sure to see this movie if you can get in.  We're just not going back, like it or not, things have gone way too far.

"The Black Panther," at the core, a very timely movie about leadership, compassion and honesty, the contrast between Wakanda and the United States is drawn for us so sharply it hurts. The movie never talks open about our politics, it doesn't have to.

It's a brilliant movie in many ways, gripping, rich in color and feeling, and stunningly creative.

Africans have long wondered what their continent and their countries would be like if they had not been overcome and chopped up by European countries. On a different track, black Americans have often wondered what their lives would be like if they had not been enslaved and brought to America against their will. Tough stuff for a Superhero movie to take on, and so successfully.

You do not have to be black or of African descent to relate to this movie.

In our time, we wonder what has happened to the idea of brave, compassionate, and ethical leadership in our government. "The Black Panther" takes on all of these questions and issues very effectively, wonderfully in fact. This is a  Superhero movie that is touching, dramatic and intense, much, much deeper, more colorful and evocative than the genre has ever delivered.

This movie was on my radar last year, when the first trailer came out and drew 28 million views on YouTube. Although almost all of the characters are black, white Americans of all ages are storming movie theaters to see it, it is expected to earn more than $200 million dollars over this weekend.

I remember reading the first "Black Panther" comics, created in the 1960's by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, two Jewish cartoonists and writers. He popped up occasionally, but was always overshadowed by Superheroes who were white.

I was much impressed by the way in which Director Ryan Coogler transcended the typical cultural portrayals of race in America, and yet made one of the most powerful films about the black experience ever made.

Wakanda is clearly made to be a rebuke both to colonialism and slavery, it images vividly what an African nation might have been like today had it not been invaded, partitioned and brutalized by white Colonials and slave traders from Europe and North America.

I can only imagine what a seminal movie this film might be for young black Americans, who have rarely seen themselves in movies or on television in such a powerful and compelling a way. Or in any way.

Chadwick Boseman was astounding as Tchalla, the Black Panther and King of Wakanda. I kept thinking during the movie how wonderful it would be if we could have a leader as humane, ethical and responsible as Tchalla is, and I heard many people in the theater say the same thing when the lights came up.

I am surprised to be saying it, and I can't say if it's true, but I would not be surprised to learn that King Tchalla was created as an anti-Trumpian figure, he is everything our President is not – humbl, brave, honest and full of empathy and compassion. He does not lie, bluster, or bully, loving his enemies as much as his friends. Could this portrayal, this contrast,  really be an accident?

The movie is a visual joy, mind-boggling action and war scenes, the enchanting and evocative portrayal  Wakanda, a technological, advanced, humane kind of country that has kept itself hidden from the world.  A thoughtful leader seeking to do right. The message is clear enough, the country is  so successful precisely because they did not interact with the wider world.

They stayed away from white people, and thus were safe and evolved.

I admit it was startling to see the female African-American geeks of Wakanda develop and demonstrate extraordinary feats of invention and technology.  The tech stuff was often as good as Star Wars or Close Encounters. And the women of the Palace Guard were as exotic as they were fierce. And they didn't have to  put ridiculous things on their head or change their hair. They were themselves.

They were just awesome, but I have never seen young black women portrayed that way in movies with such dignity and balance.

Disney has really gotten great in portraying women in new and exciting ways, most recently in Wonder Woman and Star Wars and Frozen and other recent animated films. Men may try to harass and dominate them, but Oprah was right, their time is up. I got the strong feeling watching this movie that history is more powerful than any politicians.

The women in "The Black Panther" are not sidekicks or incidental, they are warriors and guardians of the soul of their kingdom. They are also fearsome warriors who show great love and devotion for their kingdom and their King.

I have the feeling the girls and women who grow up watching these movies will know just what to do if somebody tries to stick his tongue in their mouths without permission.

Wakanda is a timely movie, it is asking many of the same questions Americans are asking – how can they protect their amazing nation if they open themselves up to the world, and let the "others" in?

I won't give the ending away, but at one point in the movie, Director Ryan Coogler sent a sly and very pointed message – the King of Wakanda decides to spent millions of dollars of his country's vast wealth – they control all of a precious metal – to help ease the neglected poor in an American city. That one stung. As we give less, they give more.

They ultimately respond in very different ways than America, that is sad. In Wakanda, people love their country and care about honor. They ponder their responsibilities to the world, and they fight to protect their children.

The movie practically explodes with soul and style and color and proves beyond doubt that a comic-book inspired movie can break ground and be profoundly meaningful. The super themes of the movie are pride, identity and personal responsibility. This is a new kind of movie, comic book spawned or not, I think it is a Supermovie all of its own.

I thought the movie stumbled in some minor ways. There were some "Lion King" moments that seemed a bit too contrived and staged. The finale seemed endless to me, but not to the scores of young men and women in the theater.

The movie is two and  a half-hours long, and doesn't need to be.  There is a lot of violence, but it is Disney violence, you can watch a thousand people die and not see a drop of blood.

The battle at the end seemed as long as World  War II. Bring a cushion for your butt. But I would absolutely go see it, and more than once.

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Gus’s ME Journal: 2/17/18

By: Jon Katz

Gus's ME Journal

Gus has hit something of a cruising speed in his struggle with megaesophagus. He has some trouble with what seems to be acid reflux – coughing up his food and swallowing it, but little real regurgitation or vomiting. I'm continuing to tinker with his diet to see what moves quickly through the esophagus and what does.

He continues to have symptoms of what appear to me to be gastroenteritis, but the vet says isn't. He actually has few symptoms of megaesophagus, but the X-rays are quite clear. His esophagus is swollen.

The fiddling with the diet has worked. He's eating turkey/sweet potato canned food, some of the En gastroenteric food, and some Royal Canin high calorie recovery food. I took off of all of the medications that were prescribed, and that is not only easier, but he's doing better.

I'm adding some chicken broth to this stew and that makes it more fluid, and hopefully, will move through the esophagus more easily. Our muzzle is a great success, he can go on walks, come out into the pasture and is not able to eat the poisoned candy out there.

In a couple of weeks, I hope to have him down to one kind of dog food, the turkey and potato and some kind of liquid mix – water, yoghurt or broth.

I'm feeding him small amounts three or four times a day. Compared to the turbulent weeks before the diagnosis, Gus is doing very well. We are handling it well too, this is manageable for us.

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Robin Discovers Rice And Beans

By: Jon Katz

Rice And Beans

My granddaughter Robin discovered rice and beans this week, and seemed to enjoy greatly. Some of it even got into her mouth. She has a great wicked look. Maybe, like Fate, is Satan's spawn.

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16 February 2018

A Letter: Dear Students At The Marjory Stoneman Douglas School

By: Jon Katz

Dear students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School In Florida

You will not, of course, have heard of me, I will never be on cable news or write as a pundit or influential commentator.

I write books and publish a blog, and I do have a lot of readers – four million last year – and a good number of them are in Florida, so I imagine one or more of you might get to read this.

It isn't important, really, I'm writing this more for myself than anyone. Something I needed to do. The pain inside of me was great and growing today, and so was the anger, I needed to reach out to you in the only way open to me.

I live on a farm, I am not a farmer, but a writer with a farm, and my heart is broken today, and again and again. I guess my heart is getting used to it, it's still going. And yes, I have a gun and wish to keep it. I need it.

Like you, I keep thinking they will do something about this, they will have to act this time. Hour by hour, I see that they won't.

I suppose there is something wrong with me, I simply cannot get used to what happened at your school yesterday.

I felt especially helpless watching all those videos and reading all those stories about the killings at your school, it feels so familiar, even predictable, the sirens, SWAT Teams, shouts, texts and messages, the terror and tragedy, the shattered dreams, the weeping and ceremony, the devastated mothers and fathers,  the visits to the wounded and First Responders.

We know the script by heart now. It's a time for prayers, not politics. It's too soon. It's not about guns.  I suspect many of those poor children in your school died praying.

I see a lot of people are getting used to it, I can't.

I went right out and brought clothes to some elderly people in an assisted care facility.

It was all I could think of to do, and it felt good and grounding. I don't wish to be one of those angry raging people on Facebook, that is a killing thing to me.

Whenever I get angry, I try to go out and do good. I wish I could do some good for  you.

I reject the labels of the right and the left, labels are for people who no longer wish to or can think for themselves, as some of you are beginning to see, from your comments today.

As a father, I can only barely imagine what you and your parents are feeling, I would not presume to even address it, and you don't need me to tell you about it. I have nothing worthwhile to add to it, a writer out of words.

I can tell you that a bright spot in the darkness for me was reading the quotes and interviews and comments by you – the other very brave students who got in front of those cameras and stood in their truth. You just cut through it.  There seems to be an army of polished liars out there, they block and color and hide from the truth at almost every turn. You just blew them away like milkweed on the prairie.

Our country was founded by people like you, people who stood about the lies and the fray and the corruption and spoke truth from the heart. My wish for you is that you never stop, and if you don't, good will come of this, as some of you have vowed already.

One of you vowed that your generation will fix this. I pray you will do better than mine.

I've seen too many reports from too many shattered schools to count any more, but I have never seen more eloquence, truth and heart than I have seen coming from you today. You are making a revolution, something different. Like you, I believe change can come, and I believe it will come, all the more so for watching you today.

Many of us out there in the ether are hearing your comments and moved to tears. You are, in many ways, a Godsend, because the young will inherit the earth, even as my days are growing shorter.

I'm not especially political, but it is horrifying to me that our country abandoned you and your murdered friends and so many other children in this awful way. John Locke  wrote that the primary function of government was to protect its people.

As one of your teachers told a reporter yesterday, your government has failed you.

When the politicians look you in the eye and tell you that you will never be alone, I wondered what they imagine happened yesterday when you were  all hiding beneath desks with your cell phones and shaking in  terror,  as alone as any human being could be, and as children ought never be.

Can they believe what they say? Where were they then?

Not too long ago in my lifetime, the idea that disturbed and broken people of any age could buy unlimited killing weapons made only for the slaughter of people and permit them to be used again and again in schools where children sit helplessly and innocently as targets was simply unimaginable.

It had never happened. It could not be imagined, because we lived, for all of our divisions, with certain common truths. One was that we protected our children, by any means, an at all costs. Period. This sacred value has been brushed away.

Now the murder of children is commonplace, just another story story riding up on the never-stopping cable news conveyor belt and out of sight and mind in a day or so, or a week at most. After all, the stock market is up, the corporate profits are high. America is happy.

The people who manufacture guns are smart and savvy.

They gave $3.3 million dollars last year to one of your senators, the one who said the issue is complex and that such slaughters of innocents are not really preventable. There is really nothing we can do, he said. At least we know now what a U.S. Senator costs.

Not so, one of you said on television. We can prevent it. We must prevent it. We will prevent it. Good for you. No one your age has said that before, or so eloquently. We are kids, said another,  you are grown-ups. You have to fix it.

I had this awful thought that as our political leaders squirm and evade and finger point again and again to vulnerable refugees and immigrants as great dangers to us and our way of life. Hiding behind prayers is especially disgusting to me.

We have been so distracted by lies and tricks that we have failed to grasp who the real  terrorists are, and where they live, and who they can buy with their unlimited money. They don't have to steal trucks and plow into people and  kill themselves.

They can just write checks to the people who have sworn to protect us, and let the broken and lost people buy their guns and  do the rest.

They have killed more of our children than any terrorist from any other place. You might want to know that since the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, more than 400 teachers and students have been killed in America in school shootings.

I was impressed by the clarity and strength of your comments. You cut right through the bullshit like a knife through jello.

Several dismissed the politicians's call to prayers and scoldings for mentioning guns so soon, they called for thought, rather than action, and they said the problem wasn't guns, it was mental health. If they can't blame the refugees for this one, they can blame the mentally ill, another class of handy and helpless scapegoats. When will be stop looking for people to blame and just fix it.

One of you told the politicians not to dare to tell you when to pray or what to think and when to talk, or what this is about,  they were not, as you were, lying under a school desk while your friend and classmates face was blown off. How dare they indeed.

I admire your thinking for yourself, for not succumbing to lies and political cowardice. I hope you can find the strength to keep speaking truth to immoral power. You are up against a big wall of money and greed and ignorance and hate.

This story belongs to you, as the future belongs to you, when people say this is hopeless and things will never change, I thought of your powerful statements today, your promises that it can change, and that it will change.

I believe that, and I believe you.

You are the future to me, I I don't have the time ahead of me that you have. It is my fervent wish to live long enough to see you be right.

If people like me can assist you in any possible way, I will be there. And I will be applauding you and rooting for you as you seek the courage and purpose to heal this great and awful wound.

No culture that sacrifices it's children in this horrific way, and for money, can survive. You are the hope and the future and I send you all of the strength in my heart and soul, I hope the spiritualists are correct and that energy can be sent to another person or people..

I needed to write this, I suppose, because like so many others, I hate feeling  hopeless.

We are all deafened and numbed by the arguments of the left and the right, and saddened at the paralysis and cowardice of our government and its leaders.

We are sickened by argument, and exhausted by false rationales. I don't they even they believe what they say. The entire civilized world looks at us in shock and horror, and gives thanks for not being us. We are covered in shame.

I'm afraid it's really on you now, all I can do is stand on the sidelines and wave a handkerchief and make sure to vote, maybe wave a flag or two and march. And in your honor, I will continue to try and do good every day, to perform small acts of great kindness wherever I can. Thomas Paine wrote that his faith was to do good, and I see that is yours and I hope that it is mine.

I guess, if you'll permit one observation, the challenge is to stay that way.

There are many good people out there, and we know right from wrong and truth from lies and compassion from callousness. You are heroes to us.

I am proud to say that the people who manufacture weapons would never dream of giving me a dollar, let alone 3.1 million dollars. You won't get a penny either.

For that, at least, I am proud.

And for you, I am prouder.

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Going Green: Re-Imagining A Fish Tank (And The “Black Panther?”)

By: Jon Katz

Re-Imagining A Fish Tank

My fish tank gift to Maria for her birthday was a success, she loves watching the fish and plotting the aesthetics of the fish tank. We have two fish and two bumblebee snails, the Pleko didn't survive the transition, despite a stream of algae tablets.

When I bought the tank, I got some colorful plastic plants and a couple of natural green real plants.

We both soured on the plastic plants quickly, we went back to the fish store and got more real plants and went all green. And we are thinking of Mother Earth these days, she doesn't need more plastic.

Surprisingly, the fish seem to love the new aesthetic, they swerve in and out and around the plants, nibble on them, it is meditative to watch Frida and Diego swirl gracefully slipping in and around the green, they do seem to know they are real.

I think we may go back and get a few more natural green plants.  I'd like to see more tall plants along the back of the tank, and Maria, ever the artist, agrees.

The new tradition is to sit in front of them after dinner and sip some sherry. How snooty of us, but how nice. I've never had sherry  before, it's kind of neat. And I never thought I'd be sitting around starting at fish again.

I canceled my writing class tomorrow, I don't want to get anyone sick,  Maria has given me the gift of her cold, and fortunately, there is a bit of syrupy cough medicine left, perhaps enough for one small sip.

I'd love to go see the "Black Panther" movie tomorrow, I'd like to write about it. I hope the cold is a one night thing.

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