Category Archives: Baltimore

America is a post truth society in turmoil

 

In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view.  These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.

Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.”  Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.

Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of  horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?

In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.

I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil.  What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?

The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.

Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.

Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.

It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.

The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.

Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”

Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law.  In other words, ‘rules’ rule over  a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.

For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings  developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.

Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.

Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.

Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”

Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom.  Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.

That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:

“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”

“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”

Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)

I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement.  This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”

The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for  a simple definition by John Swales.

T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics

As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”.  A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.

Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.

DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”

The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Argument, Baltimore, Communication, Donald Trump, Justice, Media, politics, Temper of the Times, Truth, Uncategorized

Movie Review: Chadwick Boseman Elevates “Get On Up”

get-on-up-music-2014james-brown---get-on-up--film-trailer------music-video-----exclaim-tgsdbrwn

CHADWICK BOSEMAN PORTRAYS THE SURLY JAMES BROWN

My hometown of Baltimore was a hotbed of soul music back in the day. As a result, I grew to enjoy groups like The Four Tops and The Temptations. For some reason, I never really got into James Brown. I think his style was a little too edgy for me. 

The newly released biopic “Get On Up” captures the roughness of “The Godfather of Soul.” Credit for this tense portrayal of Brown goes to Chadwick Boseman, who I had never seen before since I missed him play Jackie Robinson in “42”.

Boseman is superb. His characterization exaggerates Brown’s raspy speaking voice and irascible nature and adroitly performs his funky dance moves, including groin endangering splits. Brown created his own choreography, so Boseman had a challenging task in replicating his footwork and other motions.

He told Yahoo News that he wasn’t sure he was right for the role, including the physical part, especially having just come off of playing the more phlegmatic Jackie Robinson. However, after some coaching and viewing his own screen test, he decided to give the character a try.

“Get On Up” reveals the harsh nature of Brown’s upbringing and how it influenced his approach to life. The singer, born in 1933, was the son of a 16-year old mother and a barely adult father. The film shows the violence and immorality surrounding Brown in his youth. His mother eventually left the family and moved to New York. His father is portrayed as an abusive husband and parent. The movie shows Brown spent part of his childhood growing up in a brothel.

I felt sad for James Brown after walking out of this flick. It is said that it is lonely at the top and “Get on Up” emphasizes how true that was for him. His only true friend was singer Bobby Byrd, who helped Brown get into music. As Byrd’s role in their singing group diminishes and Brown’s shines, their relationship in the film becomes more like one between a boss and a subordinate.

Great men and geniuses like Brown seem to have a certain arrogance that drives others way. As the story in “Get On Up” develops, Brown grows more and more authoritarian and tyrannical in his personal and business life. The end result is that he alienates just about everyone around him.

Brown’s life as shown in the film is also a narrative on race relations in the 20th century. In one scene, a couple visiting New Orleans refuses to swim in the hotel pool where the young Brown’s entourage is cavorting, noting that they paid a lot of money and were not going to swim with “niggers”. In a much later scene, the successful Brown comments to Byrd that they have come a long way, pointing out that a white man had just cleaned his friend’s pool.

The singer’s manager, played by old favorite Dan Ackroyd, also contributes to the racial theme. While discussing social justice on a plane with Brown, he reflects on how he as a Jew has collaborated to make a black man rich.

The story itself is not the strength of “Get on Up”, partly because the constant jumping around to different points in Brown’s life and back creates confusion. What makes the movie, in addition to Boseman’s performance, is the music and costuming.

The voice of James Brown is actually used in much of the film to reenact singing performances. Boseman described his musical role to Yahoo News as “singing underneath” Brown’s voice” as opposed to lyp syncing.

The evolution of the singer’s dress and hair is all part of the film’s ambience. Boseman through the work of designer Sharen Davis is attired in blue formal wear, a gold jump suit and even a fur coat. He sports a conk and wavy long hair.

The soul music is what attracted me to “Get On Up”. Boseman’s portrait of James Brown’s role in its development makes me want to look more into the man’s music.

When a film not only entertains you but also moves you to action, what more can you ask of it?

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Birds on the Brain

Fowl(ers) are not nice on Mondays

I have birds on the brain. Beware of fowl(er) on Mondays.

Every day for the last 5 days I have been hearing cuckoo birds in my area here in Finland. You can hear the sound of these natural alarm clocks here.

It began last Wednesday at 4 am as I was sleeping. In Finland it is  also light out at this hour, so I didn’t get much sleep that morning.

It’s too bad I didn’t hear them again at this hour the next day. This was a holiday called “Helatorstai” (Ascension Day-see my post on this). It is said that if you have an “early cuckoo morning” on this day, hearing the bird from east or west, you will have good luck.

I have also been thinking a lot about the Oriole. This bird is the symbol of my hometown major league baseball team.

The Baltimore Orioles have been fighting for first place all season, which is amazing because they have been pitiful for about 15 or 16 years now. I think it might have something to do with the fact that the team switched back to their cartoon bird symbol, moving away from the ornithologically correct one they have used since the 1980s.

 Back in 1989 I happened to be visiting Finland for a few weeks and did not pay any attention to the baseball standings. I had no reason to since the Orioles had garnered one of the worst records in baseball history the year before.

A national magazine bemoaned the Orioles in 1988. By 1989 they were flying high.

Some time in midsummer, however, I was sitting on the Esplanade in Helsinki and opened up a copy of USA Today. Much to my shock the O’s were in first place.

They spent all season there and ended up tied with the Toronto Blue Jays (a nasty bird quite unlike my beloved Oriole). They lost a one-game playoff.

That year the theme for the Birds was “Orioles Magic, Let it Happen”. Peter Schmuck, the Baltimore Sun writer who covers the Orioles now, wrote recently that he senses the same spirit he witnessed in 1989 when he came to Baltimore from California to cover the Angels.

We can only hope! As the chart below shows, the O’s have been far more successful wearing the cartoon bird.

Source: cartoonbird.mlbblogs.com

Finally, the Angry Birds phenomenon has been front and center for me lately. I can’t help it as I made their cartoon bird my Facebook profile picture in the last couple of months.

If you have been living in a cave, you might not be familiar with the Angry Birds. This is a strategy video game developed here in Finland. Everyone around the world plays the game on their mobile phones or Facebook now.

Indeed, I wonder what my coworkers  do all day because I notice scores posted for them on FB. Of course, you could be asking me the same question, since I am on FB viewing them.

It was a big deal when the wife of the creator of Angry Birds came to the presidential palace last December for the annual Independence Day reception.  Knowing that the whole country would be jabbering about the fashions of the night, she wore a dress with the Angry Birds embedded into the pattern.  

Teija Vesterbacka sports her Angry Birds dress on Finnish Independence Day

I chose the Angry Bird cartoon for my FB profile pic because I bear a surname honoring our fine feathered friends. Furthermore, I’m angry a lot.

I was going to change my profile pic this week (maybe to the cuckoo). But I have figured out that my rage is actually justified.

There’s a lot of injustice out there and I want to do something about it. My self analysis showed me that my anger has more to do than injustice inflicted on me, though. What I want to do is get passionate about solving other people with their unjust treatment.

Thus, I had a career revelation this weekend. Hopefully my fancy won’t take flight like a bird.

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Chapter 7

 Finn kicked at the rat, which was the size of a small cat.

He had been aboard the hulk for a couple of weeks now, witnessing the horrors and privations of his fellow inmates. The weak didn’t last long.

Thankfully, he was allowed to stay in the company of Daniel and Jonathan Plowman. Otherwise, the situation would have been unbearable.

The guards were brutes. Plus, they were plain ignorant.

These men, if you wished to call them that, took pleasure in treating the prisoners badly. Run afoul of one of these louts and you risked getting your head beat in.

One prisoner had gotten in an argument with a huge guard the day before. He disappeared overnight and Finn hadn’t seen him since.

Theguards weren’t so stupid that they couldn’t be bribed, however. Plowman had promised one of them some free grog which was aboard one of his ships in exchange for a quill and some paper.

“You know what will happen to you if I don’t get my grog, mate”, said the guard as he handed them over.

“No doubt, friend. But you must know I have friends on the outside”, said Plowman.

“You’d better.”

“Nice fellow. Some mother’s son, hey Jon?”, said Daniel.

“Barely”, said Plowman. “Here you go, Finn. Write your girl. As part of the bargain, that dunderhead agreed to post it.”

“Thanks, Jon. Much obliged,” said Finn.

He began to write:

“Dear Hildy,

How is my tender friend?  My soul is anguished to be apart from you.

We are separated by a great sea. Yet, that same sea was made by our Creator, who rules the waves.

In my present state, I think it best to get right to the point and tell you that I myself am being tossed about by the billows.

I presently make a hulk in Baltimore harbor my home. It is a wretched place. But dear soul, the Lord is with me.

He has given to me through the efforts of my new friend  Jonathan Plowman  the materials needed to communicate with you. Oh, how I wish it were face to face.

I can picture in my mind the walks by the castle, arm in arm. It seems that in His Providence it may be some time before I can have that pleasure again.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we both love with all of our hearts, told us that He has sent us out as lambs among wolves. I reside with them now.

In a place such as this, where death is in the air, there are open hearts. In this respect, God has used me to plant a seed here for His Gospel.

The guards here are foul beings. Yet, Jesus Christ has even given me a concern for them.

Some I have been able to tell of His love. Mostly I receive in return venom and blasphemes.

However, one or two have have given me a  hearing. These have begun to engage in some reform, even to the point of some kindnesses to me.

Our Lord has also comforted me with the presence of my dear cousin Daniel and of course Plowman. Without them I would be hard pressed.

My copy of the Bible, which I keep in my jacket  has been a great comfort to me. It has been difficult to read in this dark place, but there have been moments where it has been possible.

My imprisonment is not just. But I leave that to God, who has said that vengeance belongs to Him.

I am in much prayer that in some way He will effect my release. It is my daily hope, especially that  I can endeavor to meet up with you again.

Our sufferings in this world are great, but His kingdom is what is the important thing. May His will be done.

I must take my leave of writing now. I bring you before the throne of grace every hour and ask that you continue to do the same for me.  Remember your friend and brother in this place.    

To Him be the honor and glory, forever.

With heartfelt love,

Finn Laverty”

Tears welled up in Finn’s eyes as he folded the letter. Yet, there was a certain joy, too.

Perhaps some good would come from this imprisonment. He certainly had been closer to God due to it than he had been in many years.

“Hey, cousin, does your true love have a sister?”, said Daniel.

“No, sorry Daniel.  She is an only child. You are not much of a prospect at this point anyway, are you.”

The guard returned. His face was like that of an angry dog.

“Damned captain. Won’t let me have my shore leave”, he said.

“Here’s my friend’s letter”, said Plowman. “Please post it when you do get off this ship. Remember, there’s some spirits in it for you.”

“To hell with the letter and your grog”, said the guard. He ripped the letter into small pieces, which lay on the floor.”

“You …”, began Plowman. He was stopped by a tug at his arm from Finn.

The guard marched away.

“Sorry, friend”, said Plowman.

“It was one of my finest , too”, said Finn.

This blogger is participating in National Novel Writing Month, which began on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word plus novel in 30 days. This is an excerpt of his endeavor.

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Chapter 4

 Every Saturday Hildy MacCool took a walk by the sea. It helped clear her head.

Today was particularly cool, a sign that winter was not far away.  She held the letter in her hand to her cheek.

She had opened it as she passed Atrium’s tall, grey round tower on the way to the beach. While she had been excited about receiving the letter, the contents now  wrinkled her brow.

“Why, that Finn Laverty. He is stubborn as a mule!”, she thought. She looked at the letter and read it again.

“Dearest Hildy,

My love for you cannot be expressed with this pen. Were I to be able to walk the glen with you, I would be the happiest man on earth.

You are the most charming of women.  To have gained your regard is to me a miracle of miracles.

I am now in Baltimore with my cousin Daniel Connell. We met in Virginia as the war with the British concluded.

What had appeared to be a light to all mankind, and ours, has been dimmed by recent events. But it is not for you to worry your dear heart about such matters.

For me, these happenings will not stand. I have travelled hundreds of miles from my home in the mountains to see if I cannot do something about them.

Our future rides in the balance. Should I fail, be assured that my heart will sing of you in heaven.

Your lover,

Finn Laverty”

Hildy sat in the sand and wept. She mumbled to herself, “What has that fool boy gotten himself into?”

Finn rubbed his arm, which ached from the puncture.

“That should keep you from dying before your time, young man”, said Dr. John Stevenson.  He had just administered a smallpox inoculation to his patient.

“Can you do anything about the royal germ, doctor?”. Finn looked at the physician with what Daniel called his “pervasive air of disgust.”

“Why, I think he can cousin. Why do you think I wore out our behinds on those horses coming up here?”, said Daniel.

“Well, I may not be able to give you a shot for the King George disease, Finn, but I can introduce you to someone who is as perturbed as you over the matter.  I’ve arranged for us to meet him”, said Stevenson.

“Good, doc!  Tá mo bhríste trí thine!”, said Finn.

“C’mon, Finn, you know my Gaelic is pretty thin,” said, Stevenson.

“He said his pants were on fire”, laughed Daniel.

“Well, despite your overuse of the enemy tongue doctor, you are still a mick”, said Finn.

“Except I’m a Presybyterian, Finn.”

“Won’t hold that against ya, doctor. Before we leave your apothecary, I am wondering if you have another kind of medicine.”

“I think he is talking about the kind you give for a broken heart”, said Daniel.

“Woman trouble me lad?”, asked Stevenson.

“Yes, doc’. I got a letter from her this morning. I miss her terribly.”

“The only shot I know that works for that Finn is whiskey. Let’s meet at Fells Point at noon and I’ll buy you a few rounds, and introduce you to a fellow democrat.”

Finn and Daniel walked out of Dr. Stevenson’s office into the autumn air.

“Finn, I will see you at the hotel for lunch. I’m hobbling over to Pratt Street to see about a new pistol.”

“All right”, Finn nodded.

As he walked by the harbor, Finn took out the letter from Hildy.  He sat down near a ship loading sugar and read it for at least the 5th time:

“Mr Laverty,

It was with great anticipation that I opened your letter. Knowing it was from you, I could not wait to read the contents.

If what you wrote in regards to me is based on truth and honor, I will consider myself to be the happiest woman in Ireland.

Given the state of affairs there, come home. I am waiting for you hear in Ulster.

Yours, with all sincerity

Hildy MacCool”

“For crying out loud”, thought Finn. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

Putting the letter back in his jacket, Finn took out his Bible. When he was low, he read the Psalms.

Randomly opening the text, Finn read Psalm 55.

“Listen to my prayer, O God.

Do not ignore my cry for help!

Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.”

Finn paused for a minute and prayed. “Lord, you surely know this to be true about my troubles are great. Help me!”

He read on.

“How quickly I would escape-far away from this wild storm of hatred.”

Finn thought,”Heading home would give me relief.”

He looked back at the worn page.

“It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that.

It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me-I could have hidden from them.

Instead, it is you –my equal, my companion and close friend.

What good fellowship we enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.”

“Oh Hildy, why do you do this to me?”, Finn moaned.

He couldn’t abandon his new life in America. Couldn’t Hildy see that.  What kind of life would they have back under British oppression in Ireland?

Finn took one last glance at the Psalm:

“Give your burdens to the Lord and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

“OK, Lord. I get the message. Just help me convince Hildy.”

He got up and walked past the harbor warehouses and headed toward Fells Point.

This blogger is participating in National Novel Writing Month, which began on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word plus novel in 30 days. This is an excerpt of his endeavor.

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