Peter Temin’s “The Vanishing Middle Class”: heavy emphasis on political engineering by race

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy”, by MIT Economics professor Peter Temin, is another recent controversial tome on inequality. But unlike “Dream Hoarders” (July 7), this book talks about inequality in terms of collective political forces involving class, money, and especially race, with little direct attention to how individuals should be expected to behave, which was the point of my own “DADT III” book in 2014.

The parts of the book (from the TOC) give a sense of its message:  (I) is “An American Dual Economy”; (ii) “Politics in a Dual Economy”; (III) “Government in a Dual Economy”; (IV) “Comparisons and Conclusions”.   The book is relatively brief; the core parts comprise 160 pages, along with 17 pages of roman-number introduction. (By the way, I think that introductions should always be numbered in the main sequence of the book and show in the page count.)

Temin starts out by showing how capitalism alone tends to generate self-reinforcing inequality.  He calls the upper crust of society the “FTE Sector” (finance, technology and electronics).  Low-wage people doing manual labor or service jobs (or selling on commissions, for example) tend to aspire to enter the FTE but face serious self-perpetuating barriers.  Richer people can save money and owe less, can give their own children more advantages, and are more likely to have kids with “better” genes (the inconvenient truth of “A Troublesome Inheritance”, June 24, going back to ideas like those of Charles Murray), as well (particularly) of more access to “social capital” – informal interdependence with extended family and friends (the “Lotsa Helping Hands” idea in churches).  The economic system has burdened low-income people with student debt (especially with the rise of for-profit universities), upsidedown housing (the 2008 subprime crisis) and medical bills (even with Obamacare – and the GOP is partly right about this in my estimation).  You need to be able to save money to get any traction and move up.  I’ve worked as a debt collector before.  I’ve heard plenty of stories of how this works.

Temin then moves into race – and I’ll add here that in his conclusions he calls for a “Second Reconstruction”.  I wondered if he has sat through “Gone with the Wind”.  He connects race and the history of slavery (versus other, white immigration from Europe) and later segregation to the evolution of American democracy, an unprecedented political innovation at the time of the American Revolution. He traces particularly efforts to suppress blacks from voting (as with the 1964 murders in Mississippi) but he might have paid more attention to recent gerrymandering.  He also discusses incarceration and “war on drugs” policies as racially motivated, as well as attempts to privatize schools and lack of sufficient attention to urban infrastructure (he mentions the politics of constructing a third tunnel under the Hudson to New York, as well as Washington DC’s problems with Metro, leading to reduced hours and the Safe Track surges.  He does talk about the inability of school systems to properly pay teachers, But he could talk about the challenge for teachers from more privileged backgrounds to communicate with students in disadvantaged homes – something I encountered big time as a substitute teacher in the mid 2000’s.  On race and police, he mentions Ferguson (Michael Brown – see “Whose Streets”, May 8) and Florida (Trayvon Martin) without objective attention to the deeper facts behind these particular cases.   In the government area, he makes an interesting comparison of democracy, autocracy, and oligarchy (and rails against the Koch empire, which libertarians usually like; he regards Dallas as a cultural sub-capital for US business). He goes links personal debt to national debt and gets into a discussion about Social Security, denying that it is an earned annuity and implying it could be taken way from rich retired people who are otherwise coasting in neutral, like in the next debt ceiling crisis (which will happen Sept. 29, 2017).  He does present social insurance as needing government and federal oversight, and seems to think that sometimes lenders need to be ready for debt forgiveness (after a discussion of bankruptcy).

On race, I think Temin does not pay enough heed to the fact that economic and social problems of Trump’s rural base (white non-college-educated) are really similar to those of inner city blacks;  opioid has a similar dynamic as crack cocaine, and low-wage and resentment of elitism is pretty much the same.  Furthermore there are plenty of blacks in rural Trump country with the same problems as inner-city blacks and rural whites,

Temin refers to philosopher John Rawls and the 1971 opus “A Theory of Justice”, with his theory of distributive justice.  But it seems to me that such a tome would drill down to a discussion of the moral obligations of every person who finds the self in a more privileged system than others.  It goes beyond the idea of “giving back” or “paying it forward” to the idea of accepting personal interdependence with people in other social classes – a kind of resilience necessary to deal with common external threats (like what we have now).  Unearned wealth, if not widely used, can eventually lead to ugly ends, including shame and expropriation.  Coercion and revolutions do happen.  This is even a little more than my old 2004 essay “Pay your bills, pay your dues”.

Author: Peter Temin
Title, Subtitle: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy” The book cover hides the word “Middle” in black and that fooled me!
publication date 2017
ISBN 9780262036160
Publication: 2017, MIT Press, 234 pages with appendix and index, 4 parts, 14 chapters + Introduction
Link: official

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at 2:30 PM)

“Detroit”: We almost lost it once, and then did lose it

Kathryn Bigelow can be counted on for intensity, and her new dramatic reconstruction of the “Detroit” Rebellion (screenwritten by Marl Boal) and the Algiers Motel murders by police is definitely “in your face” but in the end morbidly fascinating.

I remember that period in my life. July 1967, I had one more semester at KU to get my M.A., before getting drafted and doing Basic at Fort Jackson in the early part of 1968. Once in the Army, I found that many NCO;s and drill sergeants were African American, and one of the squad leaders was an African American pre-med student who was good at absolutely everything. (I would take the physical draft physical in August 1967 in Richmond.)

I last visited the city in August 2012, visited the downtown and one of the gay bars, but noticed the vacant spaces. Anthony Bourdain did a “Parts Unknown” episode in this new Rome, and asked, “what the hell happened here?”

The new film starts out with some Civil Rights history in animation. Detroit, it says, was the most deliberately segregated of all the cities. A couple years before there had been an incident at a nuclear power plant in Michigan that led rags to say “We almost lost Detroit”.

Will Pouter is chilling as the Nazi-like Krauss, all the more chilling with his baby face. He shoots a fleeing looter in the back, and told he will be prosecuted but stays on the force. He “manages” the entire interrogation sequence, the middle section of the movie itself lasting more than an hour, at the motel, started apparently by a toy gun which the cops thought was real.

There follows some courtroom drama, and the scene about how one of the victims of the interrogation becomes a gospel singer.

The film shows the Detroit police as the most bigoted (“Negroes”), alongside Michigan State Police, National Guard, and even the regular Army. During the Vietnam era draft, people would find slots to join the Guard, and escape Vietnam, for this.  The obvious message is that BLM has a long “past is prologue”.

I can recall that in the spring of 1968, after the King assassination, when I was in Tent City or Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, we were on “red alert” after King was assassinated, to make a show of force in downtown Columbia or maybe Orangeburg. It didn’t come off.

This film could be compared to Wexler’s “Medium Cool” (1969, Paramount), about the 1968 Chicago riots, which actually came out with an X rating at first.

Name:  Detroit
Director, writer:  Kathryn Bigelow
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/8/6, small audience
Length:  143
Rating: R
Companies:  Annapurna, (Sony Pictures Classics, MGM)
Link:  official

(Picture: My visit in August 2012. They keep downtown in decent order.)

“Hurry Sundown”, Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama, examined race relations and even draft dodging

Having been reminded of this film by yesterday’s movie with an accidentally similar title, I did rent Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama “Hurry Sundown” on Amazon today.

There is something about these older big expansive films in historical settings (the biggest of all is “Giant” in 1954 by George Stevens, which I saw in Dallas in the 1980s at the Inwood) that I miss today.

The film was released in February 1967 when I as starting my third semester of graduate school at the University of Kansas.  I sometimes made it to the Varsity or Granada in downtown Lawrence (Mike Nichols’s and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” in black and white) but I don’t remember seeing this one.

The specific issue that got my attention is that a lead character, Henry Warren (Michael Caine, looking out of his usual character) is described as a draft dodger, as he tries to swing a land deal in post World War II Georgia (the film is said to have been shot near Baton Rouge, LA). His rival is a cousin Rad McDowell (John Phillip Law) who has returned unharmed from WWII combat in Europe.  The script (the movie runs 2-1/2 hours) doesn’t tell us exactly how he got out of the draft (like CO, or a fake medical excuse).  There is an early conversation in a car where Rad says that how one experiences European capital cities (like Paris) depends on one’s point of view.  Later Rad tells his own kids that cousin Henry has no conscience.

Henry has a story marriage with Julie (Jane Fonda), who is more protective of her autistic son. Henry blames the mother’s side of the family for his “defective” kid.  But it was common in earlier generations to look at autism or mental disabilities through a moral lens.

Rad has his sons (who figure in the climax) and wife played by Faye Dunaway. Burgess Meredith plays the bigoted judge, and George Kennedy the corrupt sheriff.

People in this generation indeed had different moral postulates, especially about race.  Rad wants to partner with a black sharecropper family  (Reve and Rose Scott, played by Robert Hooks and Beah Richards) to develop his land and refuses to sell.  Rad would have learned better racial attitudes being in the Army. True, Truman would integrate the military in 1948 (as in the HBO film), but there had been proposals when the war began, in 1941.  All of this is prelude to the debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” to erupt a half century later.  Times do change, and so do moral postulates.

The film foreshadows its tragic conclusion by showing blasting on the land to clear irrigation ditches.

Name: “Hurry Sundown”
Director, writer:  Otto Preminger
Released:  1967/2
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Instant 3.99
Length:  144
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017 at 8:45 PM EDT)

“Two Trains Runnin'” parallels a search for Blues musicians against the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in 1964

Two Trains Running“, (or, “Two Trains Runnin’“) directed by Samuel D. Pollard and written by Benjamin Hedin, is a docudrama, partly animated, showing two parallel stories in 1964 Mississippi.

One is the search for two Blues singers (Son House and Skip James) in the countryside, by young white blues record collectors.  The other is the tragic outcome of the voting registration drive that led to the murder of three civil rights activists from the North (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner; the last two were white).

On one level, the film shows what the popular music world of the early 60s was like.  I collected classical records at a time when high fidelity and record wear abatement was coming into vogue.  Some of the labels, like Folkways, are shown. Much of the literature was locked up in old 78s.

One of the men was Phil Spiro, who practically flunked out of MIT but went poor in order to do his own music.  He had a day job programming the first IBM mainframe.  Tom Martin provides the voice of Jim Farley.

Then there was the class of white college students at northern universities.  Leadership wanted white college kids, offspring of those in power, involved so the country would understand what was going on with the Civil Rights movement. People were trained in Ohio in how to do community organizing and how to deal with the dangers posed not only by the Ku Klux Klan but also with corrupt police in small towns, including Philadelphia, MS at that time.  The unwillingness of the Johnson administration (including J Edgar Hoover) to enforce desegregation laws in the deep south would not start to turn around until the three young men gave up their lives, a sacrifice as real as anything in Vietnam. They did not rise from the dead, but maybe we should have expected them to. Mr. Goodman’s mother is interviewed.

The film mentions the 2013 Supreme Court decision allowing states more leeway in reintroducing voting requirements.

The film could be compared to the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning“ (Orion) by Alan Parker, with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, which I saw at the AMC Uptown in Washington at that time.

I personally visited Philadelphia, MS in 1985, and Selma, AL in 2014.


1.   This speaker also told me that the first effort to integrate the military by race started with demonstrations in 1941, not just with Truman (HBO, Gary Sinese in 1996) in 1948 (connected eventually to the battle of “don’t ask don’t tell” starting in 1993).




Name:  “Two Trains Runnin'”
Director, writer:  Samuel D. Pollard
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E St. 2017/4/27
Length:  80
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Avalon
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Race”: biography of Jesse Owens, who broke the color barrier at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Race” is a pun, when used as the title of this period history film directed by Stephen Hopkins, about the African-American Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens (Stephan James) in the 1936 games in Berlin.

The film is somewhat workmanlike, with the necessary scenes in German, that don’t overplay the Nazi statist aim to send a message to the world about supposed “Aryan” superiority (as if there was really nothing behind it).  The intervention of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) to shame the planned boycott by America is included.

The early scenes of the film show Jesse’s challenges.  The coach tells Jesse to look him in the eye (as a way of showing respect), and badgers him about work habits.  But Owens has worked as a sharecropper and sends money home to support a daughter.

There’s some attention to German construction of the stadium, and the point is made that it couldn’t have been built in Washington DC because of the height limit by “zoning”.

The film points out that Owens still faced segregation when he returned to the U.S.

The Universal DVD has a “Making of” featurette, as well as supporting shorts, “Becoming Jesse Owens” and “The Owens Sisters” (the latter about the support from the estate). As with many period films, meticulous attention to detail was necessary for the sets.

For me, the film did not pull as much interest as the baseball film “42” about Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  But the film gets mentioned in the script of “Get Out” (Feb. 25).

I can relate my own personal experience with track:  in 10th grade, I remember how winded I was after running the 440 in PE class the first time.  But in the Army I ran the mile in about seven minutes in combat boots.

I had a good friend (chess player) of contemporary age whose last name was “Race” (Hungarian ancestry, anglicized) when living in northern New Jersey in 1973.

Name: Race
Director, writer:  Stephen Hopkins
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/3/4
Length:  134
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Focus Features
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 3:45 PM EST)

“Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race and America”: a rap musician interviews both Ku Klux Klan and Black Lives Matter people

Accidental Courtesy:  Daryl Davis, Race and America”, directed by Matt Ornstein, is a conversational (and controversial) documentary in which rap African-American musician Daryl Davis traverses the nation and talks to both Ku Klux Klan members (former and modern) and later to actors in the Black Lives Matter movement.

He feints friendship with the former “wizards”.  But the white supremacists never come up with credible rationalizations for their attitudes.   One of them says the white men built a modern civilization upon which blacks and natives depend.  But Davis logically responds with asking about out bad karma:  didn’t we build our world of plenty on their backs (taking land from Indians, and then with slavery).  There are philosophical questions about whether one share moral responsibility with one’s ancestors.

Later he visits both Ferguson MO and then Baltimore Sandtown.  The film shows clips of the unrest after Michael Brown’s death, as well as Freddie Gray’s death.  (As for Brown, I have thought it a particular tragedy that a promising future college and perhaps pro athlete behaved the way he did, though.)  He shows footage of the attacks on Dallas police in July 2016 and also of Treyvon Martin’s case.  He gets into an angry confrontation in a rowhouse business in Baltimore with a BLM activist, who refuses his handshake.

But Daryl asks, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

In the last scene, Daryl (who looks quite obese) plays piano with his rock band at a club in Bethesda, MD.  The film often provides visual backdrops with the Washington DC monuments.

The film opens with an interesting shot inside Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington DC (next to the Lincoln Theater, site of Reel Affirmations film festivals in the past, and not too far from Nellie’s, Town DVC, and 930 Club).

Name: Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America
Director, writer:  Matthew Ornstein
Released:  2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: PBS Independent Lens broadcast, 2017/2/13
Length:  88
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  PBS, First Run Features
Link:  official

I describe my recent visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, with many short films and videos (including a interview set) here.

There is a related series on CNN, “The United Shades of America” with Kamau Bell, April 2016 (legacy review).

(Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 11:30 AM EST)

“I Am Not Your Negro”: sneak preview at a Washington DC high school this evening

I Am Not Your Negro” was previewed tonight at Ballou High School (sponsored by AFI Docs) in Washington DC before a full auditorium, three levels.  The film is based on the unfinished book “Remember This House” by James Baldwin, based on Badlwin’s account of his interaction with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

The film is directed by Haitian born Raoul Peck, who was present for the QA with an assistant principal of the high school.  The evening felt like a reprise of my own days as a substitute teacher ten years ago.  The principal said that 92% of the senior class, mostly African-American, has been accepted to college.

The film is narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, with the script entirely taken from the writings of Baldwin.  Peck said that he had to produce the film himself and control it, and making it took ten years.  He did raise some money from European sources, especially in Belgium.

The film takes on the mantra, “white is a metaphor for power”, and shows how, from the late 1940s until the 60s, white people really had benefited from the sacrifices of blacks – with the lingering segregation and combative attitudes – without taking moral responsibility.  During the QA, the need for personal involvement and then trend toward personal apathy by most “successful” whites was mentioned.  The film is viewed as timey given Trump and Bannon, but their names weren’t mentioned.

The film shows a great deal of the civil rights activism, especially revolving around desegregation orders and then the Selma march, leading to the deaths of the civil rights leaders. There were many scenes of riots and police activity, with some modern scenes of the Ferguson, MO riots.  The deaths of young black men (such as Treyvon Martin) gets covered.  There was one metaphorical scene shot with images from the surface of Mars.

The film also covered Baldwin’s time in Paris, and mentioned (showing typing of memos) J. Edgar Hoover’s view of him as a security risk and a “homosexual” (as Hoover was covering up for himself).  Baldwin says he came back to the US “to pay my dues”, a favorite moral catch phrase of mine.

The film has excerpts of many other films, including “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night“, as well as “The Pajama Game” (white values), and even Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” (2003, a school shooting by disenchanted, perhaps bullied white boys, somewhat similar to Columbine.)

Name: I Am Not Your Negro
Director, writer:  Raoul Peck, James Baldwin (book manuscript “Remember This House“)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1   sometimes black and white
When and how viewed:  Ballou High School Washington DC AFI Screening, opens at Landmark E St. Feb. 3
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Velvet Film, Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

QA video



During the QA I mentioned Gode Davis’s unfinished “American Lynching“.  This new film seems to have at least one image in common.




On the way on the Green Line in rush hour, I was the only white person on a crowded Metro car toward SE Washington and the Congress Heights station on Alabama Ave (one mile from the school).  Residual de facto segregation by economics is all too real.  There were a number of white college students at the reception before.

(Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

“Hidden Figures”: three women overcome racial and gender discrimination in NASA to help with the space program; the workplace issues were fascinating

Hidden Figures”, directed by Theodore Melfi, and written with Allison Schroeder, and based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, chronicles the contributions of three African-American female mathematician-engineers to the NASA space program from the mid 1950s until 1962, when one of the women’s calculations becomes crucial to John Glenn’s (Glen Powell) 3-orbit Project Mercury spaceflight.  These calculations involved certain specifics of orbital mechanics (elliptical and parabolic paths).

The women were Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji R. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae).  The movie starts in West Virginia in 1928 (black and white) where the women overcome racism to go to good colleges, and then shifts to the 1950s.

The time scale of the film is a little misleading.  Wikipedia biographies indicate that the women worked in the 1950s into the 60s.  The movie narrative focuses on 1961 and usually shows pictures of President Kennedy, but one or two scenes show Richard Nixon as a presidential candidate during the 1960 debates. The film works in Sputnik (1957) and the narratives of successful Soviet orbital space flights, pressuring the US to catch up and take the lead under Kennedy.

Kevin Costner plays Al Harrison, the tough-guy boss who gradually overcomes his own racism because he has to.  The engineers work together in a large open bay, solving problems by hand and with calculators.  The arrival of the “IBM” mainframe computer is a big deal.  The film shows what early mainframe computing was like (what computer rooms looked like then with the card readers and tape drives) pretty accurately.  One of the women becomes proficient in the “new” FORTRAN programming language.

The narrative is set up as happening at NASA in Hampton, Virginia, above Norfolk, in the Tidewater. The regimentation of the work is notable, as is the now shocking adherence to segregation, not only in bathrooms but even coffee machines.  The point is well made that Virginia was still segregated despite the Supreme Court 1954 Brown v. Board of Education.

I found myself fascinated by the parallels to my own early work career settings.  I worked as a “mathematician” for David Taylor Model Basin in the summers of 1965-1967, and then for NAVCOSSACT at the Washington Navy Yard from 1971-1972.  But my duties comprised mainly coding FORTRAN calculation subroutines on coding sheets, which would get keypunched and submitted in card decks. It is true that formulas and calculations were often developed manually, but this usually occurred at a much slower pace than shown in the film, and usually by people in offices with one or two people.

But during my time at NAVCOSSACT, a friend and coworker with a similar academic background had a mathematics paper published (I even pre-reviewed it). At an earlier “operations research” job at RCA Labs in Princeton, NJ, I helped develop equations for an assembly line model which was then coded into FORTRAN.  Later, at another job for Lewin in 1988-1989, hospital financial performance simulation models were coded in COBOL after the equations were developed by mathematicians.  That was one of the strangest jobs in my career.  A lot of this is covered in Chapter 4 of my DADT-III book.

It is a challenge, to be sure, to reproduce the workplace in a commercial entertainment film and make it entertaining.  The real truth is more subtle and drawn out than screenwriters can convey in two hours.  This film tries to make the solving of math problems on the board exciting.  I did that, as a substitute teacher, and even when giving a technical talk on my Master’s Thesis (“Minimax Rational Function Approximation“) for my first job at RCA.

When I was stationed at Fort Eustis, VA when in the Army, I had the MOS of “Mathematician”, or “01E20”.  But I recall doing very little math there.  In the Pentagon, I worked a bit on force development simulations, but there was no real equation development like in the film.  But I do remember a trip to Fort Belvoir where I did see this kind of math being used by the Corps of Engineers.  While at Fort Eustis, I knew an engineer who worked for NASA at Hampton, having met him in the Newport News chess club – and we were of almost exactly equal strength in chess, splitting the games.

The obvious comparison for this film will be “The Right Stuff” (1983) by Philip Kaufman, with Sam Shepard and Scott Glenn (Warner Brothers), which I saw at Northpark in Dallas that year.

Name: “Hidden Figures”
Director, writer:  Theodore Melfi, Margaret Lee Shetterley (book)
Released:  2016 end of year
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Common, 2017/1/9, fair audience for a weekday afternoon
Length:  237
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture of NASA at Hampton. Included picture is at NASA Kennedy in Titusville, FL, my trip, 2015.

(Posted: Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM EST)

“13th” traces US racism to use of prison slave labor


Name: 13th
Director, writer:  Ava DuVernay
Released:  2016/9
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length 100
Rating PG-13
Companies: Netflix Red Envelope
Link: Fortune

13th”, directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix studios, is a powerful documentary that traces racism (particularly what we saw in Trump’s campaign this year) and racial profiling all the way back to the logical sequels of slavery.

The 13tn Amendment to the Constitution prohibits slavery except for convicted criminals.  (I could wonder immediately about involuntary conscription into the Armed Forces.)  So “Negros” were often convicted of small crimes so they could be “re-slaved” by prison labor.  The film traces the use of prison labor all the way into recent history with the privatization of prisons for profit with many of the laws drafted by a conservative pressure group, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), such as SB1070 (NPR story )


The use of prison labor corresponds with many trends in race and criminal law since Reconstruction, leading to segregation and the whole “Jim Crow Law” legal establishment in the South. Then in the 1970, Richard Nixon developed a code of criminalization associating drug abuse and pot with war protesters and with blacks.  (The Army, however, gradually became a place where African Americans could advance, as it already was in 1968, when I was drafted.  That had been helped by Truman’s desegregation of the military in 1948.) I recall a very draconian anti-drug law signed by Rockefeller for New York State in 1973.  The Reagan years continued the anti-drug campaign with Nancy’s “Just Say No” campaign, and with particularly the explosion of crack.

This documentary maintains that the 1915 epic “The Birth of the Nation” helped foment the KKK,. The film covers the practice of lynching, with graphic autobiographical accounts and pictures (which the late Gode Davis has covered in his unfinished film “American Lynching”, of which I saw parts of, about 30 minutes, in his home in 2003).  The film mentions autobiographies of black people affected by segregation, and the gradual exposure of the evils of segregation with the media of the day – big magazines (as in “Loving”, yesterday), and television, which televised the Civil Rights movement in the south – Selma, and the death of Emmett Till.

The film does present several of the most corrosive and provocative rants by Donald Trump early in his 2016 campaign. (In fact, his pet saying has been rephrased as “Make America White Again.”) The film mentions Trump’s demand of the the death penalty (no longer possible) for “The Central Park Five” even though those men (from a late 80s case) were later exonerated by DNA evidence (and had been coerced to confess) – the wrongful conviction issue that has become a career for filmmaker Andrew Jenks.

The film looks at relative incarceration rates by race and notes that in many states, felons cannot vote again.  (An earlier film, May 10, covered te way sex offenders are kept away from society forever by the criminal justice system.)

At the end, the film summarizes several of the police shooting cases that led to the Black Lives Matter movement, especially Ferguson, and Fernando Castille in Minnesota.  Darrien Hunt in Utah would have been a good one to cover (Reid Ewing tweeted a lot about the incident).

(Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2016 at 9:45 PM EST)

“Thank You for Playing”: a dad honors his son’s cancer fight with a video game


Name: Thank You for Playing
Director, writer:  David Osit, Malika Zouhali-Worrall
Released:  2015
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2016/10/24
Length 80
Rating (PG?)
Companies: PBS POV
Link: PBS

Thank You for Playing” (and not just spectating – my addition to the title) is an engrossing film about the world of video gaming – as engineered by a gentle an husband and father (Ryan Green) whose youngest son has a terminal brain terminal.  The game is called “The Dragon, Cancer”.

Close to half of the 80 minute film presents an alternative universe of animation, for his little boy to live in.

Ryan and his family live in Colorado, and the real world surroundings are beautiful enough. They travel to Seattle to a gamer’s conference, and then to San Francisco for one last attempt at radical radiation therapy to save the boy, who passes away at three but has outlived his original prognosis by over a year.

Green has other young programmers helping him build the game, and there are plenty of screenshots of java code.

The film shows the intimacy of the family, which seems to embrace the family bed, way beyond what I would be capable of.

Along these lines are studies which show that testosterone levels of men drop off after they become fathers in marriages and care for their children; Pam Belluck wrote in 2011 for the NYTimes that this is not news fathers want to hear.   How does the body know that the partner has had a child?  Telepathy? Pheromones?  Science Magazine reports  that the drop in male hormones is the lowest in men who spend time caring for their children.  (I can remember an office joke back in 1971 or so from a finicky heterosexual coworker who thought “male sex hormones in the bloodstream” are a bad thing.)  Fatherhood sometimes changes men radically, from the viewpoint of the outside world. But not always.

School’s Out from Julie Zammarchi on Vimeo.

PBS POV followed this feature (Monday, Oct. 24, 2016) with the short film “Schools’ Out” by Julie Zammarchi, about the legacy of segregated schools.  A possible comparison would be “Boyds Negro School” (index).

Wikipedia attribution link for Independence Pass picture , by Nan Palermo, CCSA 2.0.    I drove it in 1984.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)