Violence: A Call to Action


We are confounded, once again.

Suppositions, stereotypes, generalizations, abstractions: these collide as we await the facts.

Apprehending  facts,  understanding shuns us.

We discern no single truth will ever revive the moment  that broke our world.

Narratives – colored by dogma; reenactments – suffused with pain; chronicles –  cold with science; reports – protective of particular interests; all emerge, and, in profusion, crowd the event itself.  Uncertainty and  shared vulnerability; guilt and shame; sorrow and loss; power and powerlessness; these are now the stuff of advancing legend and turgid conflict.

If it is a young white man with a gun, the surge to blame the bullies; invective on the doctors and the teachers who let that man-child walk unmedicated on the street.  Condemn the mothers, and the videos, and Hollywood. And, of course, the gun laws, our cowboy culture caused the crime.

If we face a  military mass murderer, our cries become less certain.  Again, the doctors, and the gun laws are to blame.  But we, also, shoulder shame:  we mistreat our “heroes.”  Those we trained to kill  for country, asserting a  just cause, conceiving war will leave no trace on the young psyche; the fragile soul  sent forth in isolation, sometimes desolation, and discarded on his return.

And if police personnel kill, our  bonds may fracture: this collusion that we all risk as much each day.  More splintered if the kill happens to be racial:  that this is not happenstance is suddenly exposed.

Certainly, not because white cops seek to kill black children.  And,  not because those of color commit more crime. But because how we deploy our civilian control resources puts those with less more at risk than those with enough.

But,  in the frenzy and the fury that follows the murder, in the necessary quest to grasp the moment, restore order, and prevent another kill, the seeds of fundamental change are never sown.

Nor is the ground prepared.

Individual justice may not  be possible.

And  the roar which follows, creates a tunnel of distortion.

Calls for basic education are silenced by talk of higher taxes. Pleas for jobs with living wages are termed disloyal and greedy. Proposals for representation of all races in government and industry  are discarded as “racist.”

We have entered a passage where shrilled voices  dissipate without communication.

Ours is a pornographic relationship with the gun.  The constitution did not guarantee private home military arsenals.  But in the days of 3D printers, the gun control lobby  cannot continue to fight the battle it did in 1985.

Violence occurs by gun. By knife, machete, fist and bean bag bullet. Drug overdoses and untreated viruses in poor communities deliver violent death.  Violence is imposed  through hunger caused by poverty, by disease, by inadequate housing.  Income inequality is violent.

Around the country, the brave are speaking loudly; some so clearly the great vacuüm of purpose may be filled.

Again, there are vigils which  mythologize the vibrant humanity of the dead.

Still, more are dying, more are killing, old refrains are repeated,  too few are listening.

If any one of us  succeeds in exiting the tunnel, perhaps change could be instigated.  Not through some major media event or  by savvy use of the internet, crowd-funding or any other modern, inspired, tactic.  Perhaps, the time has come for wholly “retro,”  and in that sense, “conservative” action:  perhaps the time has come when the only voice clearly heard is our own: the change we seek must begin within ourselves ,and, once seeded there, in our sphere.

 “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy


Watch your language….

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A small child, her hair the color of the abundant Fionnan, the wild moor grass climbing the hills  dwarfing her; eyes, like the grey horizon harnessing the gathering fury, she stands solid and silent in the  gusting wind, under open sky, endless buttermilk and dust. And the others taunt her for speaking her Irish words.  The wreath of branches round her neck smells like dirt and cold; it scratches her pale skin through the dress handed down to her from her sister, Bridget, just above the place where her Miraculous Medal rests. The jeers jab her consciousness, but she gazes upon the sheep on the slope aside the school; links  her look with her brother, wary, sly, gathered  in the last row of the circlet with Bridget and Mary and Tommy and the other valiant ones who would rather wear the wreath themselves  than shame her for her honor and her words.

A lifetime later, in another world, where the lilting words spill freely from her mouth to spouse and dearest friend, if she should choose;  when she will not teach her own small child her cherished Irish tongue, she confesses this tale.

It breeds in her child’s imagination.

In a small and darkened corner of a large fragmented city, concrete and black top  intermittently receive  the sun, interrupted by hard, brown dirt sprouting patchy grass and clover.  Separate places set aside for Irish and Italian and for Polish; for the Catholic and the Protestant and the Jew;for  black and white, and “yellow.” The mother’s tale conceives the dismantling of boundaries.  Born childhood notions that defiance and resistance is a prideful means to meet injustice; delivers her to hope that words engaged in the cause of fairness could change the world.

And that child grows into a woman who cannot fail to  break the mother’s heart.

Another small child, her hair kissed golden by uncounted days of summer sunlight spent capaciously under  bountiful skies, widens her blue eyes in delighted exuberance, her dextrous shape gliding across the field.  Sunday morning ritual not a substitute religion. No  rote chants clutter her penetrating mind. The  mother hails the daughter from the sidelines,no convention to confine her regard.  Her granny, silent, watchful, and not approving, whispers words of prayer that the child will find the path. The young player stumbles and then quickly falls hard  on the fresh mown  field, limbs all tangles,  her eyes spilling her own distress..

The words she utters, and what language, we will hear another day…

Never Never Never Call That Man a Peacemaker ….

Big Bad Wolves and outsized monsters stayed away from my childhood nightmares.  Instead, the gold streaked waters I played in by day transmuted into a murderous tidal wave and the ginger puppy from the house next store behaved as a sharp toothed executioner.  Still, a few deep breaths, re-orientation and peaceful slumber could be attained.

The fear and dread that lingered I encountered in the light of day.  Just briefly, the hateful screed of Ian Paisley accosted, until my parents, too late aware, ruffled, banished me to some safe spot. There the demon’s words, so sinister and malign, fertilized the seed of fear already in the Philadelphia air for those of color. Hate: dangerous new form of  speech, tactile, palpable in those times.   Mephistopheles had spoken.

To grow, to hope, to change. A narrative available to the most undeserving.

And so,  Paisley died a man saluted for a change of heart.  Cameras captured images: his hands outstretched and grasping the hands of those he had zealously christened “vermin”- their hands now  undistinguishable from his own.

So long as his was the titular “First” seat in government, above the “bloodthirsty monsters,” his colossal ego was soothed, his vanity sated. In the waning years of his turbulent public pursuits, he fashioned a more seemly costume.  Though who can judge his madness, his mission?”

The statesmen, and almost all men they are, call him Peacemaker,” Charismatic,” ” Shrewd,”Loved Elder Statesmana “Big Man with a Big Heart.”

And a big, venomous voice .  So many hearts long ago stopped beating in the conflagration of petrol bombs. More pump blood still through weary veins of bodies mutilated by the Troubles. And watch those impassive, static hearts maimed with the words bellowed long ago to a believing mind,  passed down to child, then to the grandchild, growing in the quartered streets still looking for the halcyon days long promised…

True, better that the thunder of his voice ceased its eternal shaming, vicious speech.  True, that voice  awakened the righteous that those  condemned   at dawn for faith or color or choice of loving partner could be freed from hate  and vitriol come sundown should  the zealots  by mere happenstance decree some new prey more worthy of pursuit. True, a hand stretched out in peace, however late, no longer fells or wounds those in its path.

But Never, Never, Never call that man a peacemaker. 05.41.142014-08-18 16.35.29


The disembodied voice proclaims the virtue of another star who discarded life like one more piece of outdated bling, not sparkling with sufficient dazzle when moonlight reached the designated spot at the appointed time in the summer sky.  

The car chugs through that part of town still smelling of the bacon fried on the greasy grill this morning, holding tight to the beer and vomit chucked upon the stairs last night or was it possibly the night before?

Its crowded corridors echo the voice of that man who professed cleansing light into these streets .

(did he promise? or did we  believe? did he assure?  or did we just imagine?)

From his unholy pulpit, without audacity, he blesses now –

not the life of the teen shot down by the law-man with a gun,

but the  suicide ringed with riches but living with despair.

And in these sweltering houses, in the thermal shops, on these misty corners, the grocer and the barman and the mother and the unemployed:

they all listen, and they are puzzled – as though he now speaks a foreign tongue.

The unarmed teen disobeyed police orders.  Ten bullets showered round him as he died on the street in mid america in light of day!

The suicide broke the same laws for which the grocer’s son and the barman’s brothers and many  husbands endured dark prisons and forfeited paths to riches the star has thrown away.

To live with darkness, to live with sorrow, to live with challenge.  Life exacts authenticity, endurance.

That we can embrace each light, remaining buoyant until each evening is mere fiction dressed up,  displayed  and peddled  as  precious precept: a dream, a mantra, a sharpster’s slogan until it collapses – sodden, sad, shaming, like the suicide or  broken promise of champions bygone.

window on the world

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That portal, appraising a refuge from that insistent insomnia which followed the  uncommon and lingering cold of that Pennsylvania winter, made too dark by death and distance and recurrent themes of global iniquity, offered succor and satisfaction.

That sanctuary improbably contains entire unseen worlds: icy rivers, fragrant fields, ancient towers; long-lost seasons, war battered villagers, sun-kissed nordic children; human depravity; graceful forgiveness; unconditional love.

MHZ Woldwide , MHZ Networks Worldwide.or might easily become an addiction.

U.S. television never tantalized in this way.  The “comedy,” too mean, or cheap, or base, rarely spawns a smile.  The fantastical or blood-drenched drama fails to engage.

Is the “small screen”  in truth a magnifier of  larger culture?

I see in most US made television too omnipresent toilet humor and flesh bared for the sake of it.  No longer, if ever it was,  art or narrative, or even excitement, but seeming  as a naughty child announcing his own defiant and dubious accomplishment. Rarely does the screen reflect the economic truth that is our life and will be our videographic legacy.  Rather, fabulous images permeate: pristine interiors; not  a single unwashed dish awaits the harried mother on her return from work.  Poverty, so rarely seen, is never seen true: one can never see the broken glass  in the subway or the detritus in the alley or the smells of urine, blood, rotted food and sex  emanating from the darkened halls of the tenement where the brave and perfectly coiffed FBI agent with his shiny gun snakes through with such grit and virile vigor.

Too much physical beauty: the highest of the high-end of  runway fashions painted onto idealized forms of starving actors who exhibit bodies turned out by gyms or film editing tricks to emphasise the muscles on anorexic female forms.  Anachronistic:  emphasize the female form in costume above historical accuracy.  Inappropriate: what matter if no lawyer, doctor would truly wear such fashion in the hum drum halls of her profession? Product placement:  Whether cable or subscription or the network: the means to market to the masses(the car, computer or refrigerator in the scene) must never be forsaken!

Sex and violence.  Violent sex. Cannibalism and cult criminality.  Such themes sell, apparently.  Heterosexual, the predominant cultural fantasy but increasingly same-sex relationships are scripted into shows, much as “racial quotas” are often witnessed.  The marketing of violence and male sexual fantasy is the persistent  “sell.” Infrequent now, tenderness on the small screen.  Rather, sexual encounters as violently “passionate” encounters, virtual rape fantasies.  Not that the small screen lacks for the portrayal of actual rape encounters; whole series dedicated to sex crimes.

The Anglo-American television drama produces more than its share of the misogynist serial rapist murderer, frequently ritual misogynistic rapist/murderer.

It tires. Saddens.  Disheartens. More than rarely, it disgusts.

The discovery of  MHZ:  a cornucopia of  European vision.  Perhaps, it sparkles brightly in proportion to its novelty.  Possibly.  Or, it offers a genuine thread to untangle worlds unknown.

The mind awakes to the varied patterns of language; attending not merely the sound of the tongue but the eyes, the face, the gestures and body movement of the language as well.  Communication in each country emerges uniquely. In drama, in comedy, the actor engages her entire self.

Landscapes incorporate the narrative.  The thrilling North Sea cliffs  tell a different tale than the Palermo seascape, the mood of the autobahn is different from that of the fifth arrondissement.

Food and celebration are conveyed so clearly in modern Swedish Solstice celebrations but vivid too are postwar Danish Christmas rituals, spare and sincere. A  family dinner in 1950’s Milan creates a different feeling than the urban family meal in a Parisian restaurant.

There is pleasure in the private discovery of the cultural codes and conventions one might learn from the unfolding presentations.

Many regions value food more highly than US television producers.  Care is taken to demonstrate cuisine,  kitchen tools and cooking methods of a period, of a city or a country.  Restaurants and kitchens, dining rooms and patios emanate ambiance so bright as one watches the smells, almost the tastes come alive, one’s palate is tempted with the wines richly described and correctly poured on screen.

Styles of living through the years evolve so dramatically, yet change not at all.  When marketing products or perfection is not the story, dust can accumulate on the mahogany furnishings beneath the open Roman window and  water stains on the tile under the soggy boots of a Berlin winter.  The casual elegance of a Parisian Sunday brunch in an over furnished 1930’s apartment arrests our attention.  People live with wine bottles on the table from last night’s meal and newspapers still being read in the internet age. The viewer is permitted a more realistic, if not a true view, of how wealth distorts lifestyle through the decades whether in northern continental urban Europe  largely residing in apartments, or the Scandinavian and the Mediterranean whose lives,  rich and poor, may have some backdrop of the sea.

Together, these tales tease to discover the values which bind the culture.  When the father who has been grievously wronged embraces his child with forgiveness , is it the omnipresence of the Catholic Church in Italy which allows him to do so?  But would an Irishman do the same?  Or is this generosity something unique to the Italian landscape, sun-baked and steeped in the sweet aromas of the Mediterranean?

Most striking, History is a character in  so many of the dramas.  Most especially, World War II is kept an actor of our time.  The war as action, the war as precedent, the war as motivation.  The man as hero, the child as orphan, the woman as love child.  Often without a direct mention, it is ever clear that the  historical created the dramatic conflict of the moment, the precise events of history,  the reality lived: these people and events  inhabit the stories which unfold on that small screen.

As an American watching  a world in which the characters of the twenty-first century appear deeply connected to the events of  seventy-five or one hundred years ago, I feel a void.  One could argue our culture is more free, unburdened by the past.  One could also suggest we are less prepared to craft a future.

That portal, still a haven for restless nights, filled with the fireflies and the lightening of  these overheated summer days, too filled with replays of unending global conflict, enlightens and directs an understanding which feels a salve for the burdens of the day.





Suffer the Immigrants…

My father had lived half his life before emigrating permanently, making the United States his home.   Almost forty, though no longer adorned with whatever resilience and sang-froid youth had bestowed, he engaged life in America with a spirit of hope which mystifies still, these decades after he has gone.

My mind summons our first house, brick, box-like, postage-stamp cubicle play yard, neighbor atop neighbor. Though he would, in time, acquire grander, this first house, just outside the city limits, announced achievement, proclaimed him resident in that new land.

Sun shivering on  sliver buttons and badges as  men, red-faced and scowling in hot blue uniforms access the glass front door. Sneering voices forbid Sunday radio music the neighbors will not allow. The child is unseen, sweltering shame.

Sadness in the sun-aged face, wary as the local journalist photographs his shining Chevrolet sedan. Pride, too true, it seems, a deadly sin. Thick blue bruise of paint spewed on the hood, bled down the side.  No witnesses, no crime, the police had said. 

The sharp shock and sting of the stone that struck the head of the little girl walking home alone. Hateful slur followed  but not the boys who propel the now familiar call: “Go back where you came from, Go back there! We don’t want your kind here!”

I will never forget, near ecstasy on my father’s face the night a man, exuding youth and hope,  was elected President of the United States:   that man who looked like him and spoke like him, who was not afraid to say he actually was like him, he worshiped like my father. At times, it seemed to me, my father worshiped him.

Not much later, my father renounced the citizenship of the beloved land of his birth; he identified as a full American along with my older sister, who also had been born abroad.  The house he shared with my mother was filled with the young president’s photograph; his recorded speeches were played instead of the radio on Sunday afternoon, and when he was assassinated, a huge full-color bust portrait hung in their home, displacing the Pope, for the rest of their joint lives.

My parents were Irish immigrants.

The taunt was “Shanty Irish.”

The President was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It is painful to  contemplate children in oven-like buses, confused and frightened, as adults, sometimes with costumes, sometimes with signs, sometimes with weapons, hurl insults and slurs and even rocks or glass  and froth with rage.

When I tell my immigration story, today, the reaction, largely, is to question: how did my parents find such a bizarre pocket of anti-Irish feeling to settle? We no longer recognize ourselves in that tale.  We have forgotten the vitriol of the 1960 presidential campaign, the genuine anti-Catholic prejudice Kennedy faced down.   The lingering bigotry the Irish confronted  in 1960 seems impossible:  “No Irish Need Apply ” signs not yet quaint antiques for sale in the United States as  ” No Irish, No Coloured, No Dogs”  in Britain.

But the accommodation of forgetting cannot erase the dark reality of history.

Immigration policy is complex and important.It has become a throw away truism to state “we are a nation of immigrants.”

We serve ourselves well to recall that the children we revile today we may describe as “the bedrock of our society” tomorrow: as integrated and indispensable as though they always “belonged.”