Oh the Glory of Selma!

The movie Selma is a must see. The theme song "Glory" by John Legend and Common is a must listen.

The movie Selma is a must see. The theme song “Glory” by John Legend and Common is a must listen.

I just returned from watching the movie Selma with my friend Petrea. Coincidentally we had agreed to read The Warmth of Other Suns about the great migration of Black Americans to the north and west to escape the violence of Jim Crow. Then we scheduled our girls night out to see Selma and we had an urgency to finish this terrific non-fiction book.

Isabel Wilkerson’s wonderful account of three individuals who amplified the experience of 6 million Americans fleeing an intolerable situation, sometimes leaving everything behind, to seek freedom and opportunity for a better life. They often met the same racism though less formal. It helped us understand the climate of fear that Black Americans in Selma faced as they asserted their right to vote.

I braced myself for what I thought might be more of history lecture and was wonderfully surprised by Selma‘s power as a story, beautifully photographed, and expertly acted by great actors. Selma was riveting. I had chills for the last third of the movie.

I recommend this movie even to people outside of the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a model of leadership that should resonate with everyone.

The other sobering aspect are the echoes that still reverberate today. A defenseless young black man is shot by a state trooper in a restaurant. People are ridiculed for marching and “creating a civic disturbance.” It takes place in Alabama and we could not help notice the parallel with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn ban on gay marriage in Alabama and the Alabama  Supreme Court Justice’s decision to defy the court’s decision.

It would be easy to shake our heads at those poor close-minded people in Alabama. Instead we tried to think of something we could do to make a difference for race relations and equality in Davis. We tend to be smug intellectuals who think we would never partake in anything so vulgar as what happened in Selma. But this is the town where a The Daily Show correspondent grew up and felt rejection because his family was from India. And where campus police sprayed mace directly into the eyes of student protesters. And where we never have our values tested, so we do not know if we have the courage of our convictions.

It was a Wednesday night so we did not expect a crowded theater. We had it all to ourselves. Go to the theater this weekend and see this powerful and important movie.

This blog post first appeared on Redesigning49.com.

Coping with the Age of Opinion

I bought a magazine in the Dunedin airport (in New Zealand) I wanted to read and I thought Sarah Harriet would like. It is called Frankie and in one of the articles it talked about “the age of opinion”.  Everyone has a RIGHT to an opinion, facts be damned. This especially resonated with me. The day before on the train from Middlemarch to Dunedin some US citizen with a southern drawl was telling the train conductor in a loud voice, “Barack Hussein Obama is a secret muslim.” And she was not joking. (We should spend more energy keeping people from leaving the country and not worry so much about those coming in.)

My mouth dropped open at this woman’s conviction and her willingness to parade her ignorance. A sophisticated Chinese tourist sitting across from me caught my eye with that look that is both “Can you believe she said that?” “Are you going to react?”  I still do not know what I could have said.

One way I keep my sanity in the age of opinion is to watch Jon Stewart The Daily Show and more occasionally The Colbert Report. This week is the last week of shows for Stephen Colbert. He will replace David Letterman (sometime in 2015) and will no longer be in character as a snarky conservative news commentator. His last few guests have been as eclectic as his intellect: rap artist Kendrick Lamar and Smaug the dragon from the Hobbit.

There are print satirical antidotes to an overdose of people’s opinions: The Onion, Let me know if you have any other ways of coping.

Here is the link to Colbert’s interview with Smaug:




Robin Williams Still Making Me Laugh


I wish we could have had a Robin Williams Week (like Shark Week only funny) before he died, when we could have watched his old clips and laughed out loud. Instead it took his death to appreciate what a truly talented person he was. I also remembered I have a lot in common with him. We are both politically liberal, Californians, cyclists and huge bike racing fans. 

Of course his fame made it possible to ride in the team car behind Lance Armstrong when he was tearing up the Tour de France.  (He subsequently expressed his disappointment in Lance and still loves cycling.)

I am enjoying old interviews with Robin Williams because 1) he talks about cycling, 2) he shares my disdain for France. (My recent adventure has confirmed that I have had enough of France and French attitudes for a lifetime.) For example, on Fresh Air they replayed a 2006 interview between Terry Gross and Robin Williams and this line almost took me off the road, “When I speak French in Paris they say to me ‘Stop speaking French. No. Speak englais.’ Then they give their baby a cigarette.”

He really lets loose on The Daily Show. Check out the second interview where he riffs on the French for much longer. 

And go ahead and laugh out loud. It is the best way to honor Robin Williams.

Gorging on a brilliant writer

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel

I woke up very early this morning and decided to read David Rakoff’s last book: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel.  It is a delight to read–Dr. Suess for adults–as it written in rhyming couplets.  I heard about it from Sarah Vowell’s tribute on The Daily Show, then read a terrific review in the New Yorker.  I read the novel with awe. His wit and way with words are extraordinary. His main talent is evoking the real joy and angst of being human. Usually while also making us laugh.

Celebrated his talent further by listening to the tribute show on This American Life (he was a 25 time contributor) and writing this blog.  When I got to the last page of his book there was a picture with the dates of his birth and death: November 27, 1964 – August 9, 2012. We share a birthday and for some inexplicable reason I feel closer to him. He died of cancer a year ago, and much too soon.

David Rakoff


My final act of celebration (besides this blog post) was to watch his story-telling on the televised version of This American Life from a year ago.  If you only have time to check out one link, then make it this one. Grace in motion.