Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Japanese internment camps.

Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain
Today is the 75th anniversary of the start of a dark chapter in US history. On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered everyone of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the United States to be rounded up and relocated to internment camps. We had been at war with Japan since just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and it was feared that people of Japanese heritage living in the US would betray our country. About 120,000 people were affected by the executive order. They lost their homes and their savings, and were uprooted for as long as four years.

I had no idea about any of this until George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on the original Star Trek TV show, started talking about it. He and some Broadway producers and writers were developing a musical called Allegiance. Takei himself was interred in one of the camps; his family was held in a camp in Arkansas when he was a child. Allegiance opened on Broadway in September 2012 and closed last February -- but not before one of the live performances was filmed. The resulting movie was shown in a limited engagement this past December, and sold out nationwide. Today, it was shown again.

I missed the screening in December, but I'd heard good things about it, so I made it my business to go today. It was well worth it. The story follows the Kimura family, farmers in Salinas, California. Tatsuo Kimura's wife died while giving birth to their son Sam, and it was up to the widower and the couple's daughter, Kei, to raise the boy. Sam is a college kid, applying to law school to make his father happy, when the executive order goes out. All three of them, plus Tatsuo's father, are sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming.

I won't say much more about the plot -- the movie will be released on DVD someday and I don't want to be accused of spoiling it (although if you want more info, there's a plot summary on Wikipedia). Suffice it to say that the experience takes its toll on the Kimuras, finally causing a rift that separates Sam from his family for decades.

The show is both wonderful and heart-wrenching; I blubbered at multiple moments. I was so wrapped up in the family's story that I was shocked when the US military dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's not that I didn't know it was coming. It's that I realized the characters in the show might well have had family and friends in those cities. How awful to find out, in such a callous way, that your relatives and friends are likely dead.

The topics dramatized in Allegiance have a special resonance in the United States today. We're seeing the same sort of mistrust of Muslims -- and Hispanics and blacks -- that caused Roosevelt to go to the extreme of ordering the incarceration of Japanese Americans without due process. It's a sad, shameful chapter in our history, and not enough people know about it.

It's easy -- too easy -- to categorize people of another color or religion as "other," and it's a short step from there to treating them as less than human. But the cost of such behavior is always too high.  Allegiance is a reminder of that cost. See it if you get the chance.

These moments of bloggy remembering have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Why the words must come. | CC0

I have a confession to make. I haven't been writing much of anything for the past couple of months. I've posted a lot on Facebook, and I've written my weekly posts here, and my monthly posts at Indies Unlimited. But it's been hard to get myself to the computer to write fiction when there's a virtual fire hose two blocks from my day job, spewing streams of shocking stuff each day. And if that's not enough, I've also been distracted by some personal business related to my mother's estate.

And yet, I need to write. All of us who tell stories need to write. Because art -- which includes literature -- is one of the few things that will help us get through this crazy time with our minds intact.

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison wrote about it in The Nation in 2005. She recounted a conversation with a friend that had occurred just after George W. Bush had been declared the winner of the 2004 presidential election. She blurted to her friend how much the election had upset her -- so much so that she couldn't write.
I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting, "No! No, no no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work -- not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That's our job!"
I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.
Despots, she goes on to say, "routinely begin their reigns" by destroying art. Imagination, as well as critical thinking, are their enemies. The dictator's subjects cannot be allowed to envision another way to live. They cannot be allowed to think any truth other than the party line -- because as soon as the despot's facade cracks, it will come tumbling down.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
The concerns of 2004 seem almost quaint, compared with what we're facing today. But Morrison is right. It's at times like these that our stories are more important than ever.

So please excuse me for this shorter-than-usual post. I've got some writing to do.

These critically important moments of blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Curmudgeon Corner: Why I hate football.

This is not my high school band. This is the US Navy's
7th Fleet Band. I guarantee they sound much better than we did.
Wikipedia | Public Domain
I heard there's a game on TV tonight. The Superb Owl or something? I gather it's been going on for several years now. Anyway, I'm not watching it.

Why? Because I don't like football.

My dislike of the sport began early. You see, I grew up in Indiana, and as I've mentioned before, basketball is the big deal in the Hoosier State. My high school, Elston Senior High, routinely won the annual sectional tournament, and we even won the state basketball championship in 1966. But football? Not so much.

Our high school consisted of three grades -- 10th, 11th, and 12th. I played clarinet from 4th grade through my first year of college (Fun Fact!), and in high school, I was required to be in the marching band. Not every kid in the band was in pep band (which played at all the home basketball games) or jazz-rock band, but everybody marched. We had wool uniforms -- red coats and black slacks, if memory serves -- and a ridiculous, furry shako hat that was at least eighteen inches tall. We marched in one or two parades each year, but our main job was to perform at all our football home games: we played between quarters and did all the halftime shows. That playing-music-while-making-pictures-on-the-field thing? Been there, done that. And at the end of the game, we played the pep song if we won, or the alma mater if we lost.

Here's the thing about fall in Indiana in the '70s: It got cold at night. Sometimes it snowed. And cold and snow are not kind to wind instruments -- brass goes sharp and woodwinds go flat. I remember doing a halftime show on a field that had started out snow-covered before the players made a mudbath out of it during the first half. It was not fun.

Plus we were required to sit in the stands for every home game. Which would have been okay if our team was any good, but it wasn't. In the three years I attended high school, our varsity football team tied one game, and lost the rest. (We played the pep song at the end of that tied game; our band director declared it close enough to a win. Good thing, too, as we never got another chance.)

So I was already lacking any warm fuzzies for football, and then I went to Indiana University -- where once again, basketball was king and football was, um, not very good. Wikipedia says the Hoosiers football team went 2-8-1 my freshman year, 1-6-1 in the Big Ten. That same year in basketball? We were 32-0 and won the NCAA championship. You do the math.

The only saving grace for me was that I turned down the opportunity to be in the IU marching band.

After that, pro football held no charm for me. By the time I got to Washington, DC, the Redskins were long past their glory days. The only time I've been even mildly interested in football was in 1999, when I was attending paralegal school in Denver, and the Broncos won some big game. The Superb Owl, I think it was called.

So y'all enjoy your big game. It's just not my thing.

These moments of sports-minded blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reading list for our new dystopia.

Occasionally, as folks have stopped to take a breath during this last chaotic week, some have recommended one or another (or more) novels that speak to a society sliding into authoritarianism. The one most often cited is George Orwell's 1984, and in fact, in the wake of Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway's coining of the term "alternative truth," it vaulted it to the number-one spot at Amazon (it's currently at number two).

While 1984 is significant for a number of Newspeak concepts it introduced to common usage, including the phrase Big Brother is watching you, it doesn't cover everything that's going on right now. So here's a short list of other dystopian books I've either read or had recommended to me over the years. The majority were written back in the 1930s and 1940s, when Communism was taking hold in Eastern Europe and authors were concerned about whether it could happen in their own countries.

1. Another book by Orwell, Animal Farm, is perhaps more relevant to the current political climate in the United States. I read this book when I was in the fourth grade (long story why) but didn't fully realize what it was about until many years later: a group of farm animals decide their farmer is a horrible dictator and overthrow him in order to gain their freedom. They agree on a set of rules to live by, which are painted on the roof of the barn. Pretty soon, though, the pigs -- who were given the farm's administrative role -- decide to take advantage of the other animals, and conditions become worse than they were when the farmer was in charge. And before long, the animals notice that their new society's number-one rule has been amended; to the original, "All animals are equal," has been added, "but some are more equal than others."

The book is a satire based on the Russian revolution in 1917 and the nation's subsequent descent into Communism. But it's a case study for what can happen when someone unscrupulous hides behind the banner of freedom.

2. Another title folks have been mentioning is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In the novel's consumer's paradise, everyone is blissed out on a drug called soma. They all love their jobs and, in their spare time, pursue mindless activities cheerfully -- all except for Bernard Marx, a psychologist who knows too much about how society is kept in line. He and his girlfriend travel from London to visit a Savage Reservation in New Mexico, whereupon they discover a non-native woman and her son, whose name is John. The young man is the natural child of Bernard's boss, which is scandalous because sex is all for fun now and nobody has children the regular way anymore. Bernard and his girlfriend bring John and his mother back to London, and from there the novel is about John's inability to integrate into this new society.

Brave New World was prescient in its depiction of our consumer culture -- but we've yet to get to the point of mass hypnosis or mass medication, unless you count TV. Still, it's relevant. I remember liking it better than 1984 when I read both of them in high school.

3. I read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 earlier -- in junior high. The main character here is Guy Montag, a fireman somewhere in the American Midwest. His job is not to put out house fires, though, but to burn books. The novel's title is the temperature at which paper ignites. In the dystopian society of this novel, the government controls all information, and TV is the opiate of the masses. Guy begins to question the party line, and begins collecting books himself -- and that's when his life begins to unravel.

Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World are often mentioned together as the classic dystopian triumvirate. Bradbury's book is the newest of the three -- he wrote it during the McCarthy era in the 1950s -- and it ends on the most hopeful note. One character likens civilization to a phoenix that forever reinvents itself, ideally without the flaws that doomed the last go-round.

4. I'm going to add just one more to this reading list: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. I have never read this one, but it's next on my list due to recommendations from a couple of people. Here's part of the description from Goodreads: "Written during the Great Depression when America was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a President who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, rampant promiscuity, crime, and a liberal press."

Sounds astonishingly relevant to what's going on today, doesn't it? I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.

I'm sure you all have suggestions to add to this list. Have at it.

These moments of dystopian blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.