Monday, January 9, 2017


I grew up in Raleigh, NC, about a block north of the NC State campus. My dad taught philosophy and religion at State. He'd founded the Philosophy and Religion department in the early '40s, after arguing to the powers-that-be that even students studying technical subjects such as engineering and scientific agriculture needed some courses in the so-called liberal arts. If you crossed the campus at about mid-point you'd cross some railroad tracks that carried Seaboard trains (as I recall). I could see the smoke from the engines from my upstairs bedroom window, before the big switch to diesel. Beyond those tracks were sports fields and William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, where State played basketball and where both the Dixie Classic winter tournament and the ACC basketball championships were held. Then there were dorms, and beyond that a big early four-lane called Western Boulevard, and on the far side of that, the WRAL TV studios, sporting a big transmission tower they decorated for Christmas every year. (That's the tower in the background above. On the right is the terrific WRAL "weatherman" Greg Fischel, who got the current blizzard just right, as usual.)

Which is to say, briefly, that the WRAL company was a neighbor, and I still think of them that way even though one of the things they brought to North Carolina was Jesse Helms, to whom they awarded a daily commentary feature on their evening news in the early 1960s, just in time for the civil rights struggles and following on, the long push-back against the Vietnam War. Helms of course used this daily diatribe, which was probably the strongest draw the station had for it's news versus the competing local news shows around the Research Triangle, to springboard himself into Congress in 1972, with the help of a progressive who split the NC Democratic Party that year. Helms of course then stayed in the Senate until he retired well into his '80s, and along the way destroyed the political careers of a number of promising North Carolina Democrats, including Governor Jim Hunt and Mayor Harvey Gant, by defeating them decisively in re-election campaigns.

My high school senior class president, a very upstanding citizen named Jim Goodmon, succeeded to the presidency of WRAL sometime in the late '70s, and has steered the station through many challenges as well as engaging in other community work around the Triangle, including building a new baseball park for the Durham Bulls, and refurbishing the brick tobacco warehouse district of Durham (or some of it) into something called the American Tobacco Campus, a part of the University of North Carolina. I've been very proud to observe from a distance the good work Jim has accomplished, and enjoyed his speeches at the two high school class reuions I attended. Again, just saying: neighbors.

So here we sit in the western Chatham County woods, snowed in. The power didn't go out, the water didn't freeze up, the firewood has held up, same with the propane. We can cook, stay warm, watch teevee. Libby did a masterful job of shopping for groceries just before the storm. Today I'm going to bake a couple of small chickens. Saturday during the snow she made turnip greens with turnips and corn bread dumplings, and damn if that warn't absolutely fantastic snowed in, fair, or any other time or weather for that matter. We can't get out to check on the old vet, but we can at least call the facility and have them assure him daily that we're alive and will return as soon as the roads get safe to travel. That's expected to be the case sometime tomorrow, Tuesday. Amazingly, they're predicting 70s by Friday.

I watched the football and the basketball yesterday, then switched over to a Masterpiece Theatre Sherlock Holmes. Libby came in from the kitchen and said to pause Sherlock and watch something she'd just DVR'd on the other teevee, Meryl Streep's speech to the Golden Globes. Here's what Ms Streep said (as transcribed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association):

Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. This town, thank you. I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read. Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no — in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this. So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. Go on with that thing. OK. This brings me to the press. We need the principal press to hold power to account to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” Thank you, friend.

It's a fine sermon. It reminds all of us that great harm can be done simply by thoughtlessly modelling behavior--if you happen to be, say, a President. You will notice, if you read the speech, that Mr. Trump is not mentioned by name. Ms Streep simply refers to a piece of behavior which Mr. Trump was filmed doing. You've seen the film, we all have. He mocks the afflicted arm and hand of a reporter with (I believe) ALS, because the reporter had objected to something Trump had earlier said. Mr. Trump still denies the plain fact that this is what he did, even when it is on film. He did so again after the Streep speech, and dismissed Ms Streep as a "Hillary supporter."

On the WRAL news after the speech, the lead was "Streep Attacks Trump." If you google the speech you'll find such reporting all over the internet. Streep attacks Trump.

I don't have much to say to the "principled press" of the world. Ms Streep can do that better than I can. She has a bigger microphone, and a hell of a lot more volume. She also has the chops. As one of the great living American actors, she has, as she says in the speech, the skill of empathy. This is what acting is, according to those that manage to do it well. And all she's saying, to all of us, is that we all need to practice empathy. But to my old neighbors over at WRAL, well I'd have thought you would have done a better job of journalism last night when you reported the speech. Ms Streep didn't attack Trump, she used a factual example of something he really did to make a point about empathy, and about the moral duty of any president, even the president-elect.

This isn't something that has to fit on the head of a pin. It's more like a blizzard.

Here's some other reporting:


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your astute reporting. As the mother of a son with autism, I am happy SOMEONE ELSE WAS WATCHING!!! And re: cookbook post,I am amazed that so many people think cornbread comes from a JIFFY box.