Category Archives: Culture

TAKING ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ SERIOUSLY

“I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y. Times, February 10, 2019

When dealing with statements by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the maxim coined by journalist Salena Zito about President Trump is equally applicable: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” In Ocasio-Cortez’s case, it tends to be Republicans who take her literally but not seriously. The press and her supporters (the two often overlap) take her seriously, but not literally.

Taking her literally, the statement makes no sense. Ringworm is a common skin disease, similar to athlete’s foot or jock itch. It’s easily treated by over-the-counter antifungal ointments, and incidence of the problem has little or nothing to do with access to health care.

Apprised of this, Ocasio-Cortez clarified her statement, tweeting: “For what it’s worth, I  meant to say hookworm.”

Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez-1-e1534170511949

For what it’s worth, hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite, is a serious problem, unlike ringworm. But contrary to a report in a leftist English publication claiming that the diseases is “rampant” in the American South — a report she apparently relied upon — the Alabama Department of Public Health released a later study showing “no evidence of an increased incidence” of the disease.

So it’s best to weigh her statement by taking her seriously, but not literally. Read that way, her message is: “A system that allows billionaires to exist while there is extreme poverty is wrong.”

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THE TWO HOUSES OF THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL

Two houses, quite unlike in dignity, in fair Manhattan, is where we lay our scene.  One is the House of Weissman, whose patriarch serves as an esteemed tenured professor of mathematics at Columbia University. The other is the House of Maisel, whose patriarch operates a garment factory, a profession commonly known as “the rag trade.”

We are of course in the milieu of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the award-winning series about Miriam Maisel, née Weissman (played by Rachel Brosnahan), an affluent Jewish girl, circa 1958, who seems to have it all: Upper West Side apartment, supportive husband, a toddler and a baby, and two very sophisticated and cosmopolitan parents. But by the end of the first episode, her husband has left her for another woman, and she is forced to move back in with her parents. Miriam decides to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.

Critics have seen Mrs. Maisel as an Eisenhower Era precursor to the Modern Woman.  A review in the New Yorker notes that her “routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some ‘fucks’ thrown in.” The New York Times  proclaims  that Brosnahan’s star turns “comes at a time when it’s crucial to reclaim women’s place in stand-up history.”

But something deeper than feminism seems to be at work in the series. Consciously or not, it touches upon a historic division within the American Jewish community:  the chasm between American Jews of Russian or East European descent and those of Germanic descent.

maisel photo weisman photo

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LOOKING BACKWARD ON HARVARD’S DIVERSITY PROBLEM

Last week witnessed two events, both involving Harvard University and the enigma of ethnic diversity. On October 15, the trial of Harvard College began in a Boston federal courtroom. The institution stands accused of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions. On the same day, in the courtroom of public opinion, former Harvard Law Professor, now U.S. Senator, Elizabeth Warren released a DNA report supposedly corroborating her claim to Native American heritage.

Both events are surrounded by controversy, with partisans lining up along predictable lines. And both events take on added significance when viewed against the background of Harvard’s first experiment in what might today be considered affirmative action: the establishment of an “Indian College” in 1655.Old-Harvard-Yard-according-to-Anthropology-1130-e1419632116650 Continue reading

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DisRESPECT IN DETROIT

Funerals are meant to be dignified occasions to honor the dead and to remember their deeds. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, led a life that certainly deserved honor and memory. The first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and received the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It was therefore distressing – in fact, disgusting – to see the occasion stained by the presence of Louis Farrakhan.  Not just present, but in the front row, next to former President Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton.Farrakhan

We live in age in which terms like racist, sexist, and anti-Semite are bandied about so freely, that they have almost lost their meaning. Watch cable news. Listen to talk radio. Nearly anyone with whom one disagrees is labelled a “hater” in today’s over-heated climate. If one wants to witness true, sincere hatred – not the ersatz version paraded in the media – one need only read the words of Minister Farrakhan. Continue reading

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A NATION OF RAGE BOYS

He is largely forgotten today, but ten years ago, a furious, wide-mouthed Kashmiri protester caused a stir in social media. His name was Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, but he became known as “Rage Boy.”  Whenever cameras were present to record angry mobs protesting Israel, Pope Benedict, Salman Rushdie, or the Danish Muhammed cartoons, there was Rage Boy, demonstrating, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “his piety and pissed-offness.”

Rage Boy II   Rage Boy I

 

 

 

After his identity was ascertained, Rage Boy became something of a cult figure. He was widely interviewed. His visage adorned posters, bumper stickers, and even boxer shorts.

Then he disappeared. No one knew what happened to him. Until now. We now know that Rage Boy emigrated to the United States, cloned himself, joined both political parties, and became the guiding spirit of American opinion.

Thanks to the absorption of Rage Boys into the body politic, rivalries today are less contests over ideas or ideology as they are competitions over who can lay claim to the sincerest, most deep-seated sense of rage. We have become a nation of Rage Boys. Continue reading

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CULTURAL INTEGRATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS

“Cultural appropriation” is the latest vehicle for those thumbing a ride to victim status. Unlike Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movement, one needn’t have experienced injustice or discrimination to sign up. Practically anyone, from any culture, may proclaim his, her, or their victimization.

The most common definition of “cultural appropriation” is: The act of taking or using things from a culture not your own, especially without showing that you respect or understand it.

Acropolis

Now some cultures – those that sanction slavery or female genital mutilation, for example – deserve disrespect.  But as a general rule, showing disrespect for or lack of understanding of another culture deserves condemnation. Still, many of the most recent examples of alleged cultural appropriation suggest that those complaining most loudly have the least understanding of the cultures they purport to defend. Continue reading

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A RADICAL WASTE OF MONEY

As widely reported in the press (see here, here, and here), Angela Davis has decided to donate her papers to Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library. Well, not exactly “donate.” The long-time Communist Party member has overcome her distaste for free market forces and sold her papers for an undisclosed sum of money. Harvard alumni might well ask: Is this how we want our contributions spent?

Harvard

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