TV

How many more murders?

220px-CIRT_OfficerFrom time to time, I am sucked into a black hole where I find myself binge-watching shows I have no business enjoying. A few days ago, for instance, I finished watching the fourth and final season of Rush — a popular Australian TV police drama focused around Melbourne’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT). Right after, I began counting the life-hours I had lost.

While “far-fetched” and “dopey” don’t begin to describe this series, I realized that what captivated me most about the show was its noticeable lack of violence, at least of the sort to which we Americans have become accustomed.

Sure. There were the requisite carjackings, explosions, knifings, dirty bombings, and more — you know, the kind of fare that no longer makes you flinch when you watch these barbarisms on American TV.

Still, I was struck by how peaceable and gun-averse the Australian police in this show were — even when in the gravest of dangers. I was struck, too, by how they did everything they could to de-escalate a situation and to subdue a criminal by using such non-lethal weapons as tasers, bean bag rounds, and pepper spray before they resorted to using guns with real bullets.

The pacifism reflected in this TV series is no surprise, though, when you consider the strict national gun control laws passed by former Prime Minister John Howard after the 1996 Tasmania massacre that left 35 people dead and 23 wounded. Such laws seem unlikely in this country, however, given the power of the NRA and the strength of its influence over Republicans in Congress. Why, we can’t even get Congress to ban terrorists on law enforcement watch lists from buying guns despite this weekend’s Orlando killing spree, in which a known IS sympathizer who had been questioned several times by the FBI murdered 49 beautiful souls and wounded 53 others.

Children now being raised in Australia will not even have a frame of reference for the kind of violence we in the United States have come to accept as a given: Since the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy, where 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 as well as 6 school staff members were murdered, there have been 998 mass shootings. What more has to happen, I wonder, before we can remove from power those who condone gun violence and who do everything they can to block commonsensical gun control laws?

Deadliest mass shootings in the U.S.

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Flight 370

on the lookout

“It’s been more than a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 seemingly vanished into thin air,” writes CNN reporter Dana Ford. “Yet we remain glued to the story—hungry, some almost desperate, for any tidbit of news. Why?”

This is a question that seems well worth asking, as some 26 countries—and counting—along with “thousands of good Samaritans” online join forces to try and find a Boeing 777 that went missing on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

If the truth be known, I, myself, have been able to think of little else since the crisis began and have spent the better part of my days and nights scouring the Internet for news articles and video reports that will give me minute-by-minute updates on the status of the search.

The crisis is riveting for a number of reasons, not least that we can easily put ourselves in the place of grief-stricken family members who have been made to endure an agonizing wait. Were I awaiting word about the fate of my own child, I would likely not survive news that confirmed the worst.

I’ve been thinking, though, that, for all the negative press about social networking and the impact it has on human connection, there is something very hopeful to be found in this unprecedented collective coming together across the globe, something that has us climbing down into both our deepest humanity and our fundamental animal natures.

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On body odor and forrest surpassed

karl pilkington

I wasn’t sure what to make of Karl Pilkington when I first encountered him on the Ricky Gervais Show. As sidekick to the giggly, unapologetically mean Gervais, Pilkington (or his persona) seemed too much of a whiny ruminator—even for me. But, having watched him evolve through his travel documentary An Idiot Abroad, which aired last year on Science, and now through his The Moaning of Life, which aired this month on the same channel, I’ve warmed to his deadpan crankiness.

In his new series, Pilkington globe-trots once again, this time to see how different cultures approach what he calls “life’s major events.” In the first episode, he attempts to understand why people have children; in the second, he sets out to determine how people achieve happiness; in the third, he tries to discover more about how—and why—people marry.

In this most recent episode on marriage, Pilkington travels to Los Angeles, among other places, where he attends a “Pheromone Party” and meets up with young singles intent on finding partners who pass the sniff test. The idea for the gathering is goofy-seeming: sleep in the same t-shirt for three nights; place it in a plastic bag and freeze it; bring it to the get-together, where it will be numbered as well as coded for the wearer’s sex (pink or blue); and let prospective mates stick their noses in the baggies, inhaling deeply as they do. When they hit on an odor they like, participants stand in front of a projector and hold up the marked baggie in the hope its owner will claim it.

Then I thought that perhaps it wasn’t so wacky after all since, to survive, humans, like other animals, live by their wits and follow their noses. I thought, too, about how my own sense of smell drives my life—and always has done. How many times have I run from a public place, for example, because I was overwhelmed by smoke or perfume or smells of rancid food? And, how many men have I welcomed into my life, or turned out, because of a sweat or a cologne that made me swoon, or gag.

And, just a few words about the movie Captain Phillips, which has received several Academy Award nominations this year, including one for best picture and one for best supporting actor. I didn’t have very high expectations, thinking wrongly that it would be a Hollywood blockbuster bent on exploiting the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. But, in fact, it was an extraordinary film. Barkhad Adbi’s nuanced performance as the pirates’ leader managed to inspire in me both terror and compassion. And, though he wasn’t nominated for the best actor award (but should have been), Tom Hanks, as the captain, gives a performance that transcends anything he has done to date. You won’t want to miss it.

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Two years!

Two years ago today, I wrote my first Ruminationville piece, “Underthinking is Overrated.” Typically not one to stick out difficult commitments for the long term—except, of course, the commitment of motherhood—I am amazed that I have managed to keep something going here. I can only attribute it to the quiet support of those who have been following me over these many months. Each time I sit down to write, I think of you…and of never wanting to disappoint. Here’s to another year, or two, or four!

Sergio and Carolina

sergioLast week marked the ten-year anniversary of the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Iraq.

At the request of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, and Kofi Annan, De Mello—the “go-to guy” for overseeing some of the world’s most difficult peacekeeping missions in Cambodia, Bosnia, Congo, and East Timor—went to Iraq on June 2, 2003, with a team of other UN experts. The goal, it appears, was for them to come away with recommendations about how to end the US occupation of the country expeditiously.

On August 19, a suicide bomber ran a truck packed with explosives into a Baghdad hotel where the UN offices were housed. Twenty-two people were murdered, De Mello among them, and hundreds more were injured. To this day, little is known about the perpetrators of this heinous act.

Writes his colleague and partner, Carolina Larriera, currently a Harvard University fellow, “And now, ten years later, victims, survivors, family, friends and thousands of  ‘in house’ officials still do not know the exact circumstances of the attack, the motives of the perpetrators and the criminal and moral responsibility of those who allowed and enabled the attack, a critical starting point in the healing process of the terrible wounds generated by this bombing. Instead of medals, we would have preferred the truth; we do not want the facts to be buried under the weight of institutional bureaucracy.”

At a time of growing outrage over secret government surveillance programs that capture the private data of ordinary Americans in the name of national security, it would seem that we have an opportunity to be honest about and to “shed light on the context and aftermath of the Baghdad bombing.”

We owe Sergio, Carolina, and all of the others affected by this tragedy that much.

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Erica’s terrible horrible no good very bad day

untitledOur hearts go out to Erica, who, according to a Citi Simplicity TV commercial, had a really crappy day. Poor girl spilled coffee all over her keyboard, got gum on the bottom of her pink stilettos, found a parking ticket on her windshield, AND forgot to pay her credit card on time. Good thing she has kickboxing to help channel her frustrations. An even better good thing is that Citi, merchant of kindness and good will, doesn’t charge late fees or a penalty rate for its Simplicity card — EVER (“as in NEVER ever,” says the voiceover).

Maybe we can petition Citi to export a similar credit card program to, say, Syria, where Iman, who is eight months pregnant, has no end of bad days: Yesterday, her house was blown apart, her son was shot in the face, and her husband fled with his brother. Just imagine how much a no-fee card would perk things up in her life.

Bacon

louis ckLouis CK’s comedy often leaves me wriggling with a kind of self-recognition that finds its way to the middle of where I am most ashamed of myself. Last night, for instance, while watching his new HBO special Louis CK: Oh My God, I had the sense that his riff on the evil he can become when he gets behind the wheel could have been my own, were I genius enough to write and deliver such a one.

Same went for his “of course — but maybe” bit, in which he reflects on what might be called an organ of wickedness that seems to reside somewhere in the mind and that makes it possible for us to be horrified by the idea of slavery and, at the same time, to be taken by a companion idea that, historically, slaves have been responsible for some of the greatest feats ever accomplished (as in the Pyramids).

Because I often have the feeling that I am alone in the darkness I can spin myself into, I was comforted by the routine itself and by the nervous laughter that accompanied it. What I most appreciated, though, was his reminder that we have a pretty sweet deal here, both because we have somehow been able to take ourselves out of the food chain and because we are alive, which in itself is a miracle. It is good to be reminded of that, and to be reminded of how lucky we are to be able to eat bacon.

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Is it just me?

The Good Wife is a good show. It’s smart, skillfully scripted, and well acted. Julianna Margulies, in the title role, brings to her Alicia Florrick a barely bridled reserve that makes you want to shake and hug her character all at the same time.

Josh Charles, as Will Gardner, and Archie Panjabi, as Kalinda Sharma, almost always deliver strong performances, as does Christine Baranski, who, as Diane Lockhart, a senior partner with the law firm around which the series turns, at times steals the show. Classy and crisp, though not without a subtle softness, Baranski’s Diane is ever the voice of reason and resolve when forces seemingly beyond her control threaten to bring down the house she has worked so tirelessly to build.

During a recent episode, for example, in which Will is given a six-month suspension for having embezzled client funds some fifteen years earlier, Diane shows her true grit by moving immediately to re-assign her partner’s current cases and to change the practice name from Lockhart & Gardener to Lockhart & Associates.  

“So, we’re done?” Will asks after Diane hands off the last of his files to Alicia.

“For now,” she says, adding, “You’ll still have a place when you come back.”

Later, we see Will packing up his office and then heading towards the elevator. There, he meets Alicia, who earlier had expressed dismay when she learned her law partner, and former lover, was going to take the six-month suspension without fighting it.

“You’re giving up the law for six months? she asks, incredulous. “I can’t imagine it.”

Afterward, I found myself wondering why Will had received such a somber send-off. After all, the guy was going away for six months, not for six years. 

Then, I got to thinking. Perhaps the way I experience time, and my movement through time, is different from the way others experience it. I have always found, for instance, that it takes me ages to grieve a loss. Where others might find themselves frisky after, say, three months, I might be hangdog for three years. Once, my brother told me that there is a rule of thumb for how long it should take to get over the breakup of a relationship: one year for each year you had been with that person. So, my relationship with my ex-husband lasted two years, we have not been together for about seven years, and I still haven’t gotten over him. See what I mean?

Here’s something interesting to think about, though: If six months feels like six years to some, then twelve months would feel to them like twelve years. That means they would have lived the equivalent of nine hundred and sixty years if they were to die at eighty. 

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Sacred heart

Molly Price Photos and Pictures | TV Guide

It is hard to imagine anyone other than William H. Macey playing Frank Gallagher. Bringing the same unexpected pathos to this dark, complex character that he has brought to other characters throughout his career—most notably Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo—Macey fully inhabits the role of the liquored-up, fallen patriarch in the Showtime series Shameless, now in its second season.

As funny as it is disturbing, the series revolves around a working-class family struggling to make ends meet on Chicago’s South Side. To be sure, we’ve seen this story line before, but it would be wrong to think that there is anything derivative about the show. Macey is no Archie Bunker, the bigoted pater familias of the 70s sitcom All in the Family. Whereas Archie is predictable in his circumscribed life as a blue-collar worker who, despite his many flaws, loves and provides for his family, Frank is an unpredictable, hapless drunk who all but abandons his six children.

It is difficult to see how such a selfish, unapologetic alcoholic who leaves his children to fend for themselves could be a headliner for anything other than a Greek tragedy, but Frank’s shadowy schemes draw plenty of laughs and fetch equal amounts of outrage and compassion. In spite of his despicable behavior, we find ourselves accepting him, even caring about him, in part because we see his humanness and vulnerability when he cannot.

At one point, Frank bets a local gang banger $10,000 that he can’t be tased twice and stay on his feet. The thug lets Frank zap him and, naturally, he remains standing. Not surprisingly, Frank can’t pay the debt, so he hatches one crazy plan after another to come up with the money–including allowing his toddler son, Liam, to be held as collateral until he can pay what he owes and showing up in a gay bar to exchange sex for cash. We are so horrified by his behavior that we think he can’t possibly be more reprehensible. He can.

After finding out that neighborhood floozy Dottie Coronis, played poignantly by Mollie Price, will die unless she receives a heart transplant, Frank contrives to get his hands on her pension by offering to help her with household projects and by asking her to marry him. After the proposal, we see Dottie in the distance stepping naked into the shower, while Frank, in the foreground, hears her pager go off and surreptitiously answers it. When he learns that a heart is available, he tells the person on the other end of the line that “she doesn’t need it anymore. She passed last night.” What follows is an unspeakable sex scene that defies description.

Yet, Frank is someone we almost know: He’s just a few degrees the other side of the feckless fathers and hooched-up husbands who live with us, sleep in our beds, eat at our tables, and pilfer our savings. We hope they will change but fully expect they will not, just as we hope every lapse will bring Frank closer to salvation and every moment of self-justification will bring him closer to a moment of self-awareness.

That moment seems far off, though, when we later find him at his local watering hole rationalizing his behavior to anyone who will listen. “If you are waiting for a new organ,” he bellows, “you are interfering with God’s plan. If you have a bum heart, that’s your lot in life. Don’t take someone else’s.” Since Shameless trades in gallows humor and asks us to question our notions of morality, this rant, like all of Frank’s other rants, should make us laugh. It doesn’t. Because Dottie is such a sympathetic, even sacred, character—more so than any other in the show—it’s just too hard to find any humor in her tragic end.

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