Thought for Today

My PTP, Dr. Zowie (not his real name) is an alternative-minded cat. When I told him yesterday about a mid-afternoon, 20-mile, stop-and-go freeway traverse I had pummeled myself with the Thursday before and my incredulity that people could suffer this, both ways, five-days-a-week, he remarked upon how “we blind and deceive ourselves through various belief systems. Here we are the richest country in the world and look what we do to ourselves. Chronic diseases. Stress. Cardio-vascular disease…” He looked at me pointedly, with that one.

“It’s the great joke,” he went on. “We all want security, but we aren’t looking the one place it is. We look at the future. We look at the past. But it’s right here. Right now. This moment. That’s all there is. I can hear God. And she’s just laughing.”

To which Adele replied, after I’d reported this conversation, “That’s right! Blame it on a woman!”

Numbers Game

A lefty, ex-pat buddy of mine, who enjoys nothing so much as sending out e-mails linking to articles trashing the USA (unless he has some sexual preoccupation for which he has another mailing list entirely),sent one today with a subject line of “How ignorant r most americans.” The link was to a Politico article noting that 29% of us regard Fox News as the most trustworthy, while only 22% favor CNN, 10% favor CBS and NBC, 8% favor ABC, and 7% MNBC. But if look at this another way 29% favor Fox while 57% favor someone else, not including those who opt for PBS or, like me, don’t watch any of these clowns. [Moreover, among Democrats, only 3% favor Fox.)

Another thing: I have this rule of thumb that 20% of the people will believe anything. This derives from the study that found that 20% of the population believes extra-terrestrials are cruising around kidnapping human beings to experiment on. So Fox News-believers rank 9-points above that.

My conclusion is Three cheers for the red-white-and-blue!

I just finished…

…Ira Katznelson”s “Fear Itself.” It is no easy read, but I found his analysis of how the south, through its domination of New Deal and post-war legislation, shaped our country today quite the head-buzz. I also was comfortable with his view that fear – first economic, then of war, then the bomb, then communism (and now radical islam) has been a primary shaping force too, though there my sense is the south has been only of secondary import. All parts of the country are equally capable of being spooked.
Just as a side thought, Katznelson often mentions “the national security state.” Makes me wonder when and with whom that phrase originated? It’s a term, like “paradyme,” which I never used to encounter and then suddenly seemed all over the place.

I just finished…

…”The Children Act,” by Ian McKewan. Adele, whose evaluation I trust over my own in this case, found it “beautifully orchestrated” and was engrossed by the depiction of the inner states of the central character. I admired the level of excellence McKewan brought to each sentence and his ability to focus upon and bring to attention details in the least consequential of moments, but I found the book too clock-like in its workings, too carefully thought out and controlled, not unruly enough for my taste in novels, more an over-blown short story or novella.

The Playing Fields of Wynnewood

My faithful reader Budd is eager for my revisits of my adolescence, since no doubt since it over-lapped with his. So here’s the next one. I never submitted this for publication, which suggests I had my doubts about it, but since a majority of my readers appear to be robots…

The Playing Fields of Wynnewood
Friends Central, which I attended from 4th through 12th grade (1951-60), believed in mens sana in corpore sano. So we had compulsory sports, fall, summer, spring.
This was fine with me. Sports were fun; proficiency was valued by the culture; and, among my classmates, seemed more important than, say, mastery of Latin. I wanted to be seen as a Regular Guy and accepted by the Right Crowd, and this seemed to require demonstrating athletic skill, of which, fortunately, I was not devoid. (Once, my fifth grade teacher asked us to list what qualities were most important in our choice of friends and, in recognition of the world I saw around me, I included “good in sports.” She either couldn’t comprehend the truth of this insight or censored it, for when translated onto her master list, it had become “good sport.”)
Baseball had initially been my favorite. But my career ended in 10th grade, when, having driven in the tying and winning runs of our opening game, our coach benched me for our second, as far as I could tell, only because Rickie Dickers had just come out for the team, and his father gave money to the school – while mine only muttered darkly in private about its cost, my underachievement, and what he was getting for his dollars. My principled response to the coach’s personnel decision – quitting – was probably not admired by the Athletic Department, but I never played baseball again.
Basketball I rejected for sounder reasons. I couldn’t shoot; I couldn’t dribble; I felt totally humiliated by the process. Every school, it seemed, had its tall, uncoordinated center, with glasses, and I was ours. In hindsight, had we a minimally competent coach, which we didn’t, I might have been instructed (nicely) to not shoot from further than one-foot from the basket, to grab rebounds, at which I had demonstrated some adeptness, and to immediately convey them to a guard, who would be properly positioned to receive outlet passes, as opposed to ours, who, for usefulness, might as well have been in the biology lab. I would have also been allowed to set picks, but that was a word I did not even hear uttered until my freshman year at Brandeis, a school not exactly known as a repository of jock wisdom.
Football became my best sport. But my career peaked in 10th grade, when I was a prototypical “Mad Stork” defensive end on an excellent JV team. I hardly played, deservedly so, the following year on an undefeated varsity, but in 12th grade, when I expected my star to rise, I scarcely saw greater action. I realize Forgiveness is an important virtue, but I am damned if I can get past Coach Gogg on my master list. I don’t know if his shunning me was due to my being Jewish or a “wise guy,” both of which were true, but suddenly fellows who had played behind me for four years were logging more minutes on the old gridiron than I was. (In Coach Gogg’s defense, I would note that the only other Jew on the team, when asked by me a few years ago, denied ever sensing any anti-Semitism directed toward him. But then, he was a “star,” and I was not, so I have not been led to eliminate all-other-things-being-equal…)
I replay the palpable injustice to this day in my head and gut, while others, academic and social, have morphed into smiles. It says more about me than anything else, I am certain, but I have yet to figure out what or why exactly. If I do, maybe I will let it go. Or maybe I will settle for the attar of wisdom to be derived from retaining Grudges.

Since writing this piece, I have discussed it with the noted theologian Benj DeMott. He provides the dispensation that “forgiveness does not apply to coaches of high school athletics.”


Last Night

Things began slowly. The poster from Fantagraphics, Guy Colwell’s publisher, said he and I would be “in conversation” about his new book, “Inner City Romance,” at Pegasus, a downtown Berkeley bookstore, at 7:00, and at 7:00 our audience was 31 empty chairs and my wife Adele. Then I noticed the poster from Pegasus said we would be conversing at 7:30 and relaxed.

A photographer from a Berkeley paper arrived, took our photograph — and left. By 7:20 our crowd had not grown. “Maybe if it was warmer,” Guy said. “Parking is a problem,” I noted. Guy gestured to two rows, a dozen seats he hoped to fill. “My expectations are low,” he said.

I had personally hung five posters. (One had been torn down and one taped over. I had never seen anyone so much as glance at the other three.) A friend had said she would come, but Adele had given her the wrong date, and by the Time Adele corrected it, the friend had other plans. Fantagraphics had said it would include copies of my books in its shipment, so I could sign too, but none were in evidence. So this is not my problem, I thought.

Eventually — and miraculously — we scored about 16 listeners. Impressively, except for a couple who were friends of Guy’s and a fellow I knew from the Wrench Café, none had a personal connection to either of us. (The listener who interested me the most was a rabbinacally-bearded-and-then-some gent I had seen around town for years. He would open the door of a café where I would be seated, look around, and continue on his way without entering. Now, not only had he entered, he had stayed and sat. I would like to think this was due to the nature of our discourse, but it ay have been the wine and cookies Pegasus was offering.)

Guy and I filled our aimed-for half-hour comfortably. The Q&A went on about as long. People asked about Guy’s other books and how the current art scene regarded his figurative social surrealistic work, and a tattooed young man, who’d served two years in the military, asked about Guy’s time in prison as a draft resister. “I respect your right to do that, sir, but…”

Guy sold several books, and one of the buyers told me how much he’d enjoyed “The Pirates and the Mouse” and “Most Outrageous.” The man in line behind him said he’d read neither but had heard they were good.


This Friday, at 7:00 p.m., at Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley, I will be “in conversation” with fine artist/cartoonist Guy Colwell about the release of his collected “INNER CITY ROMANCE” commix from the 1970s.

Hope to see you.


I wrote this over six months ago. The first place I sent it turned it down. The second said it’d do it. The editor just needed the right time. I forgot about it until the other day. Since he’s been sitting on another piece of mine for over a year without finding the time for it, I figured what the hell. He won’t mind and I better do something before I forget about it all over again.

a review by Bob and Adele Levin
Forbrydelsen, the Danish television series, on which the American The Killing was based, began January 7, 2007, and ended December 17, 2011. The first season ran 20 one-hour episodes; the second and third ran 10 episodes each. In these three season,, each time with a different partner, a homicide detective, Sarah Lund, played brilliantly by Sofie Grabol, solves three brutal cases.
The Killing, on AMC, began April 3, 2011, and ended August 4, 2013. It broke Forbrydelsen’s first season into two 13-episode ones, and then added a third 12-episode season. In these three seasons, a homicide detective, Sarah Linden, played brilliantly by Mireille Enos, solves two brutal cases. Throughout her partner is Stephen Holder, played brilliantly by Joel Kinnaman. Their failure to answer the question “Who-killed-Rosie-Larsen?” (Nanna Larsen, in the original) in season one, however, outraged viewers and critics alike.
The Killings ratings never recovered, and AMC cancelled it. Enos, with World War Z in her future, and Kinnaman, with Robo Cop, seemed headed for careers in second rate films. Then Netflix announced its acquisition of the rights to a six-episode conclusion.
We had been great fans of The Killing – and greater fans of Forbrydelsen, which seemed deeper, darker, and more psychologically complex. (We had seen it on DVD, via BBC, which had shown it with English subtitles, a perfectly enjoyable experience, despite being occasionally jarred by Danish law enforcement personnel speaking of “perps” and “blokes.”)We had only recently seen the final Forbrydelsen when Netflix’s season began, so we eagerly signed up.

Though the murderers differed – and Forbrydelsen was short on native Americans – the first cases were similar and played out alongside similar tales of political corruptness. Thereafter, the crimes differed, and AMC abandoned the corruption, which the Danes maintained.[Another difference was that Lund seemed to have surveillance cameras everywhere to assist her investigations and no Miranda warnings or search warrants to slow her down. If she wanted to inspect someone’s storage locker, she just snapped the bolt.] But both series maintained a striking similarity in their central characters.
Both Lund and Linden were single mothers of a son. Both broke off an engagement and had a history of walking out on significant others. Neither had a single, sustained close friendship. Lund had a strained relationship with her mother, but Linden’s had abandoned her and she had been raised in institutions and foster homes. (Holder’s upbringing, while unclear, had primed him to become a drug addict.)
The Danish and AMC series ended similarly. Linden, over Holder’s frantic objection, kills an unresistant rapist/killer of teenage girls. Lund, over the frantic objections of her latest partner, kills an unresistant rapist/killer of teenage girls. But while the screen simply faded to black on Linden, Lund must flee Denamrk, severing all connections with her past. With that in mind, The Killing’s revival raised questions about the over-looked consequences of Linden’s act.

Linden and Holder must solve the murder of a family of four, while pitted against an ex-army officer (Joan Allen), who, frankly, seemed better suited as an adversary for Colombo. They are weighted down – indeed almost crushed – by Linden’s homicide and Holder’s participation in the earlier cover-up. Throughout, they are pursued in Javert-like fashion by Holder’s suspicious ex-partner, Reddick (Gregg Henry), and further burdened by developments in their personal lives. Holder’s girlfriend is pregnant, and Linden’s son has located her mother, interlacing the season with issues of responsibility, commitment and flight.
By episode five’s end, Reddick has put the pieces together. He has the evidence. He has set Linden and Holder against each other. In their desperation, their eyes burn holes into their faces; their flesh dies. We approached the finale expecting doom – not even Lund’s plane to Iceland hovering as an escape. But having noted one seemingly casual bit of procedural dialogue and cognizant of Forbrydelsen’s world view – though missing a supportive clue in episode six’s opening credits – we spied a narrow exit.
It took several teasing, lingering “Is-this-it?” shots – and a few year elipsis – but things resolved even better than expected. The width of our smiles set us reflecting upon endings. We do not feed upon the sugar-coated. We resent the maudlin’s manipulations. We have had it with the latest “feel good’ whatever – and the redemptive makes us retch. We have enjoyed the varieties of blackness sprung from the conclusions to “adult” cable fare, like Huff and The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and The Wire, Boss and Nurse Jackie. So Forbrydelsen’s end, in which a wonderful-but-damaged woman, trying to do good, is cast into isolation, while powers-that-be conspire to conceal evil, fit a familiar world. The Killing, by establishing and maintaining its wonderful-but-damaged duo and de-emphasizing their surround, had shifted this dynamic. Now we had two people, thwarted in their development as human beings, to concern us – their external be damned!.
To reach its sugar-coated, heart warming, even – yes! – redemptive ending, via those missing years, during which Linden and Holder unexplainedly filled the holes which had previously kept them apart, The Killing tumbled ass-over-teakettle into the improbable. But we had wanted it so much – both for this couple, with whom we literally had spent more time than any flesh-and-blood other, and for ourselves – that we happily overlooked this assault upon credulity. The newspapers of the week which saw Holder and Linden embrace, had brought us Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Yazidis, and Ebola. The phone had added a hospitalization and an outpatient course of chemo, and the mail two M.I.s, one fatal. So we felt entitled – and absolved.
Sometimes, in fiction as in life, people grow up and find love. It doesn’t erase any brutalities and machinations, but it is nice when it happens.

I just finished…

…Ron Rath’s “Serena.” By the middle, the question of who-will-kill-whom-how propels one forward. The nature descriptions are fine. The Greek chorus of Snipes’s logging crew is delightful. But it is not “Cold Mountain,” and Roth is not Cormac McCarthy as the back cover would have one believe.

I just finished…

…Penelope Fitzgerald’s “The Blue Flower.” “(B)eguiling,” the back cover says, “with a mix of wit, grace and mischievous humor…” All true, plus smart, poignant and a dose of where-the-hell-did-this-come-from, which is always nice.