Don’t Miss this Documentary

The other night I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the screening of a documentary before it hits the airwaves. Here were some of the descriptors used:

  • Hungry for greatness.

  • Politically inexperienced.

  • Prone to using comical facial expressions, such as pursing of the lips or thrusting out the chin.

  • Encourages physical intimidation.

  • Egotistical.

  • Calls himself a genius.

  • Repeats lies until they are believed.

  • Dumbs down his rhetoric.

  • Is anti-union.

  • Threatens violence.

  • Has corporate support.

  • Loves to throw rallies where he can be adored.

  • Get’s people’s support by exploiting broadcast media.

  • Is considered a God-like hero by many.

  • Claims to have very easy answers for complicated issues.

  • Polarizes his people.

  • Encourages intimidation by the police.

  • Takes advantage of the population’s feeling of fear.

  • Supporters appear almost hypnotized and unwilling to see facts.

  • Claims an ethnic group is the source of all problems.

  • Is very hostile toward intellectuals and the free press.

Who am I describing here? If you thought it was a current political leader, I wouldn’t blame you. It fits perfectly. But no. This documentary was entitled Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism in Europe. The descriptions above were of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco.

If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, nothing will. There was also a discussion afterward. Some of the points Rick was trying to make were:

  • Fascism doesn’t suddenly appear. It’s incremental. It’s a slow chipping away of your rights, until one day you look up and you have none.

  • We should never take our freedom for granted.

  • Education is the key. Without critical thinking, we are lost.

  • Whenever someone criticizes an independent media and attempts to alter the rule of law, especially with regard to the constitution of a government, that person should be considered highly suspect.

To make things even more creepy, it turns out that the showing, which was at SIFF Cinema Egyptian here in Seattle, took place in the very venue in which Nazi rallies used to be held in Seattle. So I sat and watched a documentary about Fascism in a seat that had once been occupied by a Nazi.

Nazis also marched in our very streets. You can read more about Seattle’s love affair with Nazis here. I know it’s hard to believe, but if it could happen in this liberal enclave, it can happen anywhere.

Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism in Europe is very eye opening. It will most likely be on your local PBS station in about a week. Here in Seattle, it premiers on KCTS9 on October 23rd at 7:00 pm. If you’re unable to catch it live, you can also see it on-line at Rick Steves’ website. I hope you’ll take the time. Knowledge is power.

Who is it

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An Open Letter to White Supremacists

First, let me give you my “bonafides”. According to Ancestry DNA, I’m about as white as a human being can be. That always has, and probably always will give me a leg up in society. I won’t even try to deny it. I also won’t deny that I’ve done little or nothing to earn this leg up. I was born into it, and oh, do I ever take advantage of it.

I can go weeks, months, even years not having to think about pesky racial issues if I so choose. I can live in a white bubble and have absolutely no contact with any minority for days on end. I don’t have to watch “them” on TV, or listen to “them” on the radio if I don’t want to. I can simply close my eyes and clutch my pearls. If I so desire, I can shop exclusively at white-owned stores without putting forth much effort at all. I probably do without even realizing it. I have the luxury of not having to care one way or the other.

People assume I’m law-abiding and honest. People assume I’m non-violent. People assume that I’m supposed to be wherever I happen to be, any time of the day or night. I’m a harmless fat old white woman. I’m as likely to get shot as I am to be struck by lightning. Most people don’t even look at me. I can become invisible. I often feel invisible. It’s lonely, but it has its advantages.

No, I’m not rich. I’m barely middle class, and I’ve only clawed my way up to this precarious and ever-shrinking perch in the past 3 years. I know what it’s like to be down there in that bucket of crabs, where everyone is scrabbling to get out, and just when you think you’ve made it, the other crabs pull you back down. I was there for 50 years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. I understand that despair.

But here’s where you and I part company: I don’t assume that all the crabs that have been pulling me down are non-white. I don’t even bother to blame the other crabs regardless of their color. If you’re caught in a crowded, desperate bucket, it’s only natural to want to get your crabby butt out of there. It’s not the other crabs, guys. It’s the freakin’ bucket. There shouldn’t be a bucket.

That bucket was made by rich white people.  It’s the corporations and the politicians and the institutions that are your biggest threat. It’s the military-industrial complex that is using you as cannon fodder and replaceable cogs in the machine.

Railing at your crab-mates is a mere distraction. Glorifying Confederates, who lost for good reason, and Nazis, who lost for good reason, makes you look like fools. Being violent because you’re angry does not further your cause. It will never bring you respect or support or dignity. It won’t get you out of the bucket. Fascism has never benefited the masses, and like it or not, we are part of the masses.

I know it sucks that we’ll never have a delightful and stress-free retirement. I know it’s scary that things are getting more crowded and therefore more competitive. It’s high time you realize that automation is a much bigger threat to your job than other humans are. And most of those machines, by the way, are owned by white people.

If you honestly think for one minute that your crab-mates are out to destroy you or your way of life, ask yourself this: why are all of us striving for the same things? We all want a decent, safe, secure life. A way to feed our children. A roof over our heads. Peace. We have a lot more in common than you seem to think.

Don’t you get it? We are all in this together. And together we are stronger. The very fact that we are a mass is the one thing we have that those bucket manufacturers do not.

The reason you have the day off today is thanks to the labor movement, a movement of the masses. We can do great things if we stand shoulder to shoulder rather than turning our back on each other, or even worse, locking ourselves into mortal combat with each other while the bucket manufacturers gleefully watch from a distance.

Turning on each other is the last thing, the absolute last thing, we should be doing. Don’t be a pawn.

crabs

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Historical Statues: One Solution

At a time when the US seems to be struggling with what to do with its Confederate statues and memorials, I can’t help but remember my trip to Budapest back in 2006. What an amazing city, with a lot of very tragic history. They were occupied by German forces in WWII, forcing them to embrace Fascism even as the Nazis were applying internal terror to control the people. So it’s understandable that the Soviets might have seemed like liberators to them at first.

The Soviet Red Army occupied the city in 1945. During the peace talks, Great Britain and the US basically gave the country over to Stalin. After much torture, spying, interrogations and fear brought down upon the citizenry for years on end, in 1956, a student-inspired revolution took place, and while it relieved some of the societal pressure, it ultimately failed. The control finally started crumbling in 1989, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the last Soviet occupying soldier left Budapest. By then, all the soviet era statues had been joyfully pulled down.

And lo and behold, despite the absence of these statues in the public squares, Hungary’s dark history has not been erased any more than ours would be without Robert E. Lee gazing at us in our city parks. In fact, the people of Budapest handled their statues in a brilliant way. They dragged them all to one location, and turned that into an opportunity to teach about their past oppression in the hopes that it will never, ever happen again. They created Memento Park.

I remember standing among these monuments, and thinking how intimidating they must have been in their heyday. Some of them are 20 feet tall. All of them make the men look strong, the women look hard-working and dedicated, and for the most part, the people all look like anonymous and mindless machines. It must have been terrifying to pass them every day, knowing that’s what your government expected you to see, feel, and believe.

Now, gathered in an educational park, lined up like so many dominoes of long-dead subjugation, they seem rather pathetic and powerless. Children climb on them. People take pictures in front of them while they make funny faces. But mostly, they learn that none of us should go backward, into an era of the exaltation of hate and control.

History shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s what books and teachers are for. Monuments are not history. They are for glorification, and should be removed from our public spaces as our society becomes older and hopefully wiser. Learn from these silent statues, taken down from their shining pedestals. Learn, but don’t deify.

I hope we follow suit in the US. The time is long overdue. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos of me in Memento Park in Budapest.

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The Betrayer of Anne Frank

I “discovered” Anne Frank and her famous diary at the age of 12, so for me she felt like a contemporary. It seemed as if we went through puberty together. We discovered boys together. We were age-appropriately bratty and self-absorbed together. We had issues with our mothers together. (The fact that she was actually born just two years after my mother added another whole layer of complexity for me.)

Because of this, for a long time I was obsessed with the Holocaust. I read everything I could on the subject, and watched every movie. I educated myself into a deep dark depression about it. I wanted to save Anne, but of course I couldn’t. And it frustrated me even more because she came so close to making it—just a few more weeks and she’d have been liberated.

When I was 19 I lived in the Netherlands for a few months and had the opportunity to visit the secret annex. I walked where she walked. But it was a disappointing experience because it was so jam packed with tourists that you really couldn’t get the sense of what it had been like. I couldn’t feel Anne there.

I have also spent a great deal of time wondering about Anne’s betrayer. Who sent 7 out of 8 of them to their deaths? How did that person live with himself? When Anne’s diary was published and became the second most read book in the world, did the person in question feel more guilty?

We will most likely never know for sure who the betrayer was. But there are several theories. You can read more about them on Miep Gies’ website. The one I tend to believe most was further detailed in an article in The Guardian back in 2002. The man they put forth as the likely culprit is Tonny Ahlers. By all accounts he was a despicable human being who was a violent anti-semite, and a member of the NSB (the Dutch National Socialists, allied to the Nazis). There is also proof that he hated Otto Frank, Anne’s father, even to the extent of bribing him.

If it was Ahlers, I’m even more disappointed, because those who knew him say that even after the war he was violent, criminal, and unrepentant. He didn’t feel guilty then, so he certainly didn’t feel “more guilty” afterwards. In other words, he learned nothing. He went to his death a hateful man.

So my desire for some form of redemption coming from this tragedy is thwarted yet again. My inner 12-year-old is bitterly disappointed. My jaded adult whispers, “Figures. People suck.”

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This Takes the Cake

Sometimes I can’t believe there’s still a need to write about this sh… uh… stuff, but here goes.

I just read the most appalling article about Christians who are to the right politically and their take on the State of Oregon’s fine on Sweet Cakes by Melissa when that business refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Oh, where to begin.

I will quote the article in bold, and then respond to these quotes, one by ignorant one.

“Let’s help the Kleins through this hard time as they fight for religous freedom.”

Has anyone stopped the Kleins from going to church? No. Has anyone told the Kleins that they could no longer be Christians? No. Has anyone confiscated their Bibles? No. Has anyone told the Kleins that they cannot believe what they want to believe in any way, shape, or form? No.

If your belief system prohibits you from certain actions or behaviors, then it might be a good idea to avoid careers that call upon you to do certain things. If you are against abortion, you might not want to work in an abortion clinic. If you want to keep kosher, then don’t work in a non-kosher meat packing plant. If you don’t believe in selling crack to minors, then don’t become a drug dealer. These are choices everyone has the right to make.

You have a right to believe what you want to believe. What you have no right to do is use your job to cram your beliefs down the throats of others. Sorry. That’s the price you pay for living in a law-abiding, democratic society. You don’t have to like it.

“The Bible does tell us to expect persecution as Christians, and we should understand that when this happens it’s an attack on Christ, not on us.”

First of all, persecution is defined as a program to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social or racial group. If anyone in this scenario was being persecuted it was the lesbian couple who was refused a wedding cake. They were refused because they were lesbians. And by doing this, the Kleins broke the anti-discrimination laws in the state of Oregon. There are consequences to breaking the law. The Kleins made a choice to break the law. The fact that they faced consequences for that choice does not mean they were persecuted. It means they were prosecuted. It means that they were required to obey the law that every other resident of that state is expected to obey.

And talk about persecution—the Kleins published the lesbian couple’s names and addresses on the internet for all to see, because they wanted them to be attacked, verbally, and physically. There was no other reason to do that. That’s why the size of the fine was so large. The couple got death threats. This caused them to almost lose their foster children, whom they were trying to adopt. That’s sick. Twisted. And frankly, it doesn’t sound particularly Christian to me.

“And keep exposing as a lie the secular left claim that gay marriage has nothing to do with you and won’t hurt you in any way.”

Expose away! Please, do explain to me how someone marrying the person that they love, regardless of whom that person may be, has anything at all to do with me. How will this hurt me, again? How is it even any of my business?

If you’re afraid that all these gay people, parading around their gayness by getting married, will influence your children to go all gay on you, you might want to ask yourself a question or two. Why would your child make the choice to be discriminated against and marginalized if it really is the “choice” you think it is? Why would your child be so easily persuaded to change his or her entire life forever, based on someone’s marriage? Has someone’s marriage ever changed the course of your entire life? Really?

Oh, and by the way, people on the left can be religious, too. I am. The phrase “secular left” is ignorant.

“This whole gay marriage movement isn’t even about gays. It’s a pretext to attack Christianity and everyone who freely practices it.”

Get over yourself. The world does not revolve around you. Thousands of people aren’t running off to marry someone of their own gender, a lifelong commitment, just so they can attack a religion. Nothing about their marriage is going to stop you from practicing your religion. If your religion is so easily threatened you may want to work on that and stop looking outward in paranoia.

“Gaystapo”

That term is used a couple times in the article. Even in the headline. I find it particularly interesting. It’s a play on words, referring back to the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany. In 1934, a division of the Gestapo was set up to target homosexuals, causing 100,000 men to be arrested. So implying that gay people are like the Gestapo is absurd.

If anyone should be compared to a Nazi, it’s someone who supports the Kleins in this debacle. The Nazis restricted all sorts of services to many groups, the Jews being the most commonly acknowledged. But along with the homosexuals mentioned above, they also persecuted communists, socialists, social democrats, trade union leaders, gypsies, Poles, Slavs, Asians, the disabled, Catholic and Lutheran clergy, people who were in resistance movements, Jehovah’s Witnesses, “asocials”, and repeat criminal offenders.

If the Kleins refused service to a Jew, how would you react? How about if they refused service to someone in a wheel chair? Would it be okay for them to refuse service to a priest?

Where does it end?

Yeah, okay. But, uh... you don't have that right. Not in America. Thank God.
Yeah, okay. But, uh… you don’t have that right. Not in America. Thank God.