On Monday, August 28, 2017. PBS POV aired “Raising Bertie” (2016), a documentary by Margaret Byrne, about three underprivileged African American boys being educated in an alternative school called the Hive House, in Bertie County, North Carolina, near the Tarboro and the area that was flooded by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
The three young men include “Junior” Askew, whose father and brother are incarcerated, Dada Harrell, the quiet teen, and Bud, who is on parole. The boys are raised by single moms.
When the Hive House closes (or is threatened with shutdown), the boys face going back to inferior public schools, with perhaps limited prospects of getting the attention they would need to succeed. Junior has to repeat his junior year, which (according to the show “Everwood”) is the toughest year. But the seems to be developing the possibility of becoming a landscape architect.
Junior finally gets a regimented factory job, Bud graduates from high school before “aging out”, and Dada prepares to become a barber.
The film includes a speech to youth by Barack Obama.
There’s a great line, “You can’t live with mama all your life.” A fight breaks out near the end of the film.
Finally the Hive House gets reborn.
The film was produced by the National Black Programming Consortium )NBPC).
There is a brief interview with the filmmaker, who is white. She says she was asked why she didn’t film “role model” star people in high school instead. She says people need to think others matter besides the obvious achievers. But she really didn’t use race in her answer.
“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”.
“The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy” The book cover hides the word “Middle” in black and that fooled me!
2017, MIT Press, 234 pages with appendix and index, 4 parts, 14 chapters + Introduction
Here’s an earlier work by George Mason University libertarian-leaning economics professor Tyler Cowen, “Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of The Great Stagnation” (2014).
Cowen’s penultimate book is properly concerned with the hollowing out of wages and income-earning ability of the middle class. His book predicts an unsettling political climate which as in fact developed with the election and administration of Donald Trump. In his last chapter, “A New Social Contract”, Cowen accepts intellectual and personally competitive meritocracy as somewhat morally inevitable (in contrast to many other authors reviewed here), and hints that the “others” (including the aged and the unsophisticated) will, so to speak, “go away butterfly” – exile themselves to low cost places (sometimes out of the country) where they more or less drop out of meaningful participation in global life. No wonder we have Brexit and Trump’s isolationism (including Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accords yesterday) now. (And, no, I don’t want a condo in Belize or Panama.)
Cowen spends a lot of space comparing life and markets to chess games and theory, and digresses into a discussion of how Freestyle Chess works, as he compares computer chess playing to robotics and automation taking over the job market. He compares chess (implicitly) to the Godel problem that may explain why consciousness exists: no mathematician or computer has been able to prove that the initial chess position is a win for White or a draw (you can prove it pretty easily with many king-and-pawn endings based on the idea of the Opposition). He mentions grandmaster Larry Kaufman, whom I know through the Arlington Chess Club (I lost a skittles game to him once, playing Black n a Nimzo-Indian) – I do have Kaufman’s rather dogmatic (but detailed) opening repertoire books. He gets into interesting discussions of what a valid mathematical proof is (contraposition? Counter-example? Induction?) O, I remember struggling through the bizarre Liouiville in my Master’s Orals at KU back in 1968. He discusses particularly the P v NP computer algorithm theorem, and some leading-edge stuff in string theory. He is all over the map.
He also talks about the Turing Test, and gives a moral not to Alan Turing’s life and the great horror of the way his life ended. Whatever his Asperger personality, he apparently had his own kind of charisma, as shown by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in Morton Tyldum’s film “The Imitation Game” in 2014.
I’ve seen the hollowing out of my own career as a moral process. I “retired” at age 58 with my first layoff in 30 years, 90 days after 9/11. The old-fashioned IT industry had become stratified in certain levels of expertise that gradually dwindled, but people could get jobs only in the same areas they had worked before, often W-2 gigs. The end result was that the careful matured professional approach of mature workers was no longer in play when, for example, Obamacare was developed. (Cowen, as I do, objects to forcing people to spend their own money to handle other people’s potential behavior problems.) Object-oriented computing was new in style, with the resulting languages (like C++ and java) terse and non-procedural in syntax, but something young people can learn more quickly than older worker, just as young people learn to play music or learn foreign languages more easily. Cowen, for all his discussion of new forms of education (including online), doesn’t give enough attention to re-training. Another issue that I think matters is dealing with regimentation in the work place — other people have to. Cowen does explain why immigration is probably good for jobs as a whole and downplays job loss (or “outsourcing”) to cheaper labor forces overseas as inevitable.
The changes in the workplace tend to drive a lot of people toward hucksterism, or at least maintaining artificial levels of socialization.
“Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation”
“Gifted”, directed by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”, 2009), and written by Tom Flynn, takes up the subject of a gifted kid and sets up an audience rooting interest in a somewhat stereotyped way. It’s not my favorite way to handle the topic, but we’ll come back to this.
Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) is the first grader, whom her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) has home schooled but now insists on sending her to public school for socialization. She makes a scene of her brilliance in arithmetic class in front of a patronizing teacher (Jenny Slate), who later becomes Frank’s girl friend. The teacher and principal at the Tampa area school want so sent her to an academy for the profoundly gifted. But Frank wants her to learn to be a human being first. I met teachers with this classroom style with elementary school kids when I worked as a substitute teacher, 2004-2007. Although I did mostly high school and some middle school, I accidentally got some grade school (and a lot of special education). It was actually common in kindergarten or first grade for kids to sit on the floor on a rug for arithmetic drills.
Frank had actually dropped out of teaching philosophy in Boston and moved to Florida to become a contractor prole and handyman repairing boats (replacing water pumps, especially). We aren’t told why. But Frank’s sister had been a brilliant mathematician and committed suicide, after nearly proving one of the Millennium Prize Problems (one about fluid mechanics which probably deals with the entropy than makes forecasting tornadoes difficult). Frank had taken custody of Mary, a setup that at first recalls “Manchester by the Sea” (Nov. 25).
Enter grandma (Lindsay Duncan) who wants to take custody back of Mary, take her back to Boston and have her finish proving this math theorem. That sets up a custody battle in front of a Florida family court judge (John M. Jackson), with some retrospective courtroom drama.
Adding to the plot are a neighbor played by Octavia Spencer, and particularly a one-eye male cat, who loves both Mary and Frank dearly, and creates the final plot twist.
I would rather see a documentary about a gifted teen. Maybe see how Jack Andraka (who invented a new test for pancreatic cancer for a science fair) spent his senior year in high school traveling the world and did his homework on planes (no electronics ban, as he sold his book “Breakthrough“), or see Taylor Wilson, educated at the Davison School for the profoundly gifted in Reno, would make the power grids safer. (The book is Tom Clynes, “The Boy Who Played with Fusion“.) Young UCLA mathematician Deven Ware could also fit this mold.
I also think that profoundly gifted kids in mathematics (or in music) may present evidence of reincarnation.
My own novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother” will feature a profoundly gifted college senior in Texas whom I’ve named Sal Garcia.
Angelika Mosaic also showed a short film, “The Dark Island” with an observatory on top of a maountain showing the heavens. Was this Mauna Loa in Hawaii?
The film was shot around Savannah (like “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, 1997, with John Cusack and Kevin Spacey, with Cusack’s famous line, “New York is boring”). There are also scenes in Boston around M.I.T. The picture above is mine from 2015, central Florida.
“Fatima” was the name of an apparition that appeared in Portugal (I visited the site in 2001), but it’s also the name of a film (2015 79 minutes), and of its central matronly character, directed by Morroco-born Philippe Faucon.
Fatima (Soria Zeroual) works as a housekeeper for various rich clients, and has raised her two daughters Souad (Kenza Noah Aiiche) and Nesrine (Zita Nanrot), after emigrating from Algeria and then losing her husband (Chawki Amari) to another woman. Fatima speeks Arabic but little French, as her work keeps her from having time to learn. The two daughters have learned French but remember little Arabic. Souad, 15, is somewhat spoiled, but Nesrine is struggling through her first year of med school. Much of the film works up toward a climax where she takes a final multiple-choice exam.
At a critical point of no return (55 minutes), Fatima slips and falls down a stairway. She recovers physically but doesn’t want to go back to work. She writes a diary in Arabic (I thought of the poems in “Paterson”) where she explains how the well-off depend on “some Fatima” to keep their lives together. This is all about karma, which Islam (at its best) can become very concerned with.
The DVD has a 22-minute interview with the director, who also mentions his 2011 film “The Disintegration”, about the inability of three young Muslim men to assimilate into French society and their drifting toward terrorism – all years before the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.
The music score contains some excerpt from the Schubert F# Minor sonata.
(note: use direct Amazon link and third party sellers if necessary until image above resolves as film becomes available in US)
“Things to Come” is an engaging French (“L’avenir”) drama about an aging philosophy professor, directed and written by Mia-Hansen Love. At the first glance, I would wonder if professor Nathalie Chazeaux (Isaeblle Huppert) is a dilettante polymath sophist from the conclusion of H.G. Wells’s book “The Shape of Things to Come”.
Nathalie appears to be teaching college freshman, at a time when there are campus protests and professors who come to work are derided as “scabs”. There is talk of 1968, and of the setting of Bernado Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2003), where Michael Pitt’s character Matthew “gets it” in one scene, and has to resist crotch shaving by a quirky couple in a late scene.
This movie, however, will stay on only a slightly kinder and gentler course. Nathalie is publishing a revised philosophy text, but her publisher is giving her a hard time about selling books, wants to make a lot of jazzy changes, and threatens to drop her later, which could jeopardize her teaching job. There is some suggestion that the book is self-published.
She also has to deal with her mother (Anna Chancellor), sinking into dementia and Alzheimer’s, with the early symptoms of depression and manipulation of others. She winds up putting mom into assisted living, and then mom starves herself to get attention. On top of all of this, her obese, undesirable husband (Robin Renucci) leaves her for another woman, despite their having two good sons, one grown, and one a mature teen. The family also has a huge tabby charismatic cat, Pandora, who seems to be trying to hold the family together. This feline becomes the star of the movie.
That cat really loved mom (the way a dog would) and sensed something was wrong (don’t think cats don’t love their owners). But Pandora gradually gets used to the rest of the family and traveling with Chazeaux, in a cat box, by train, to a new hideaway with her own new boyfriend, two decades younger, one of her own former students Theo (Louis Garrel), in the Alps in the southeast, in an egalitarian, intentional community. They sit around and read somewhat Marxist poems and are supposed to be living off the grid – but their cell phones work when they need them. Pandora runs out into the mountains, and returns for her human companions, offering them a mouse as a trophy.
“The Edge of Seventeen”, by Kelly Fremon Craig, is a dramedy in the heterosexual high school world of Portland Oregon (filmed partly in Vancouver) that may be distantly related to a gay film with a similar title in 1998, which we’ll come back to.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a junior (and the junior year is the hardest) seems to be looking for her bearings, even to the point of confiding at a high level in her history teacher (Woody Harrelson) who winds up later giving her a ride, and having to keep a safe distance to stay out of trouble. In an early scene, she tinkers with underage drinking, and winds up over the toilet bowl. Her older brother, a senior, Darian (Blake Jenner, from “Everybody Wants Some”) seems like a teen Clark Kent waiting to show off his self-teleportation powers – except we never find out that much about him, even when her best friend Kirsta (Harley Lu Richardson) starts dating him.
So Nadine has to find love on social media, and vacillates between another Smallviille-type, this time an Asian-American geek Erwin (Hadyen Szeto), who fulfills the Korean stereotypes of mastering differential equations in high school, and seems to be a talented filmmaker to boot, and the rowdier and more physical Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert). He car scene with Alexander shows how a substantial minority of high school boys really do feel that a first experience with intercourse is a text of manhood, and can tolerate no distractions.
Near the end, the kids have a film festival, and Erwin submits the animated “Aliens’ School”, about an extraterrestrial teen masquerading as an ordinary teen in high school, with no one the wiser. Maybe the inhabitants of Gliese 581 D really look like us and we’ve intermingled in the distant past (although the speed of light seems like a problem for providing social media contact in other solar systems). There are people who claim, after all, that Mark Zuckerberg is an (human ET) alien (that really would worry Donald Trump if true), and that Facebook is part of a plan of world conquest. (He’ll be old enough to run for president in 2020 –non-fake news story in a mainstream newspaper ). A few years back, the high schoolers at a local Arlington church, during a 30-hour fast, produced a live-action short comedy “Alien Fridays” based on the same idea. Maybe this is all stuff for the 48-Hour Film Festival every May (for which the Westover Market in Arlington has been a filming location).
David Moreton’s 1998 film “Edge of Seventeen” (Strand) gives us a likeable high school kid, Eric (Chris Stafford), coming out in 1984 during his post-junior-year summer working in a high school convenience store in Ohio, when he falls in love with an entering college freshman Rod (Andersen Gabrych) and eventually “follows” him to college in NYC. Eric “gets it” at least twice in the film and gets plenty of gay street smarts in the process. Despite the time setting, AIDS and HIV are never mentioned, although using condoms does get into the script.
“Diana’s Magic”, by David A. Hicks, is an older children’s book authored by an owner of the Westover Market and Beer Garden in Arlington VA. It’s a bit long for the audience, but is written at an intermediate grade level without a lot of long sentences or big words. The book was discussed in the Beer Garden Book Club in March 2016.
The story is also a “meta-movie”: that is, the book title is the same as the envisioned movie made by upper grade school children in a suburban (Virginia) public school, as an art project.
The heroine is a new teacher, Sarah Carter. The story is set up when her fiancé, a “blue collar” person named Eric, is put into a coma by a horrific auto accident in Chapter 1. That beginning sets up a moral test of her character: could she remain in love with someone “until death do us part” who has been rendered helpless by someone else’s misdeed?
Sarah’s original charge is to do a spring art show. But she comes up with the idea of a movie, about “dragons and wizards”, which reminds me of the dichotomy “brownies and elves” in kindergarten in the 1940s. She organizes a production team, including “writers”, who will negotiate what the story will be. It’s interesting to see, in a self-published novel, the author setting up a real world (a copy of Tinseltowm, ironically) where “real” writers have to write for a “real living” and ultimately negotiate the world of unions.
She’s also counseled that teachers need to learn the world of school district politics and make friends. A parent complains about her replacing the art show with a movie project, and the school district has a hissy fit. Temporarily, the school cancels it, forcing the kids to do car washes to raise money for it. (No Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or “GoFundMe”.) Later, her “enemies” try to use local government zoning regulations (a typical libertarian issue) to stop the movie (to be shown in the barn where it was filmed) to protect the audience for the art show.
Then there is the fantasy world of wizards, ranging from Harry Potter to Clark Kent people. Eventually there is a crossover into the real world and a miracle for Eric,
I saw some of this political infighting when I worked as a substitute teacher in Arlington and Fairfax County from 2004-2007.
The Career Center in Arlington actually made two films with a franchise title “Slices of Life”. The first film is “The House Party” and “The 50-50 Club”. I subbed in the class making the second film.
In 2005, an AP chemistry class at West Potomac High School near Alexandria, VA made a short film “Reltonium”, imagining the discovery of a new element in the Periodic Table, The school even then had an advanced media center with professional video editing tools.
“What Tomorrow Brings”, directed by Beth Murphy, aired on PBS POV Monday October 31, as a 50-minute documentary (90 minutes originally) presenting the first girls’ school in any Afghan village, close to a decade after the Taliban was pushed back in the latter part of 2001.
One woman, Rihali, was one of the last to remember life completely controlled by the Taliban before liberation by the Northern Alliance (described in a Vanity Fair article by Sebastian Junger).
Another young woman successfully resists a forced marriage with a 70-year-old, when her father wants to keep the cost of the dowry down.
Gradually Zabuli some of the village elders (mostly younger) come to accept the presence of women without burqas, and the idea of girls being educated. But the film says “some of them just can’t take it.”
I don’t personally experience sexual attraction to someone (female) who would have to be economically dependent on me. In my own mind, that has always been a bit of a contradiction, since teen years. But the idea of extreme division of gender roles and economic dependence really does lie beneath male heterosexuality and the family in many religious cultures, especially fundamentalist or radical forms of Islam. By insisting that women stay covered an uneducated, some Muslim men are reinforcing their own ability to maintain sexual interest within their own concept of marriage.
The film shows a lot of outdoor shots of smaller cities and villages in Afghanistan, some of which have walled areas. Technology is there, but buildings still look in poor repair.
The film refers also to the history of Pakistan’s teen Malala Yousafzai, as in the film “He Named Me Malala” (Index).
The title of the film reminds me of the 1985 novel “If Tomorrow Comes” by Sidney Sheldon, about an ordinary woman framed by the Mafia. I read this potboiler while living in Dallas. It became a miniseries on CBS in 1986.
Wikiepedia attributionlink for US Embassy photo of Herat (p.d.)
Wednesday night, CNN Films aired “We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World”, a 45-minute exploration of educational conditions in two African countries: Liberia and Morocco. The best link is here.
Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto and Isha Seday interviewed young women and mothers in both countries.
In Liberia, many kids had been orphaned during the Ebola epidemic. Others were still intact but severely challenged. In the third world, poverty limits freedom was westerners expect it. One girl, around 14, described to Freida how she got up at 4 AM every day and bathed her younger brothers and sisters. In poor countries, older children are expected to help raise the children their parents had.
Also, in Liberia, public school is not free. Some parents will pay tuition for boys but not girls, whom fathers expect to marry off to give them lineage and keep house. There was discussion as to whether this is “fair”. Many third world countries don’t provide free high school. A local church in Arlington has a fund raiser to provide a scholarship for one girl in Belize (Central America) attend high school.
In Morocco, Meryl Streep goes on a road trip into the scenic Atlas Mountains (where it actually snows), to a family dinner. In a Muslim household, there is some tension about her appearance. A grown daughter has an apartment, curtained off, in the home, and her husband will not let her attend the meal. I know from Census work that some Muslim men will not let wives talk to other men (interviewing them) alone.
The film paces itself with the arrival of Michelle Obama in both countries at the end.