Bill Russell

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August 3, 2022- On July 31, one of the greatest professional basketball players to push forward, even when he was tired and feeling out of shape, took his last breath. Bill Russell did not compromise on a good many things. He spoke off the cuff, a good many times, sometimes alienating long-time personal friends and infuriating those who felt “victimized” by his vitriol.

I have been one to look carefully at the anger expressed by people of colour-even when they object to the term “people of colour”. In 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, the reaction of far too many people in my town was, essentially, “good riddance”. At the high school, the next day, the two African-American students were not, to my knowledge, directly threatened, but a small group of male students stood, within earshot of one of the boys, and said what a great day it was for America. Not that many years later, a half-in-jest, half-in-earnest movement was begun to celebrate the life of James Earl Ray, Dr. King’s convicted assassin. It never went far, of course, and Dr. King’s stature has grown, over the years, while few remember Ray, or the doctor who supposedly put a pillow over the reverend’s face, thereby completing the act.

Maybe because I was something of an outlier, or because my personality is given to inclusion of everyone, active racism has made me sick-whether it came from other Whites, Asians reacting to White hubris or any other group exhibiting a sense of superiority. None of us walks on water; none of us is created by other than the Almighty. I have had to acknowledge, and gradually jettison, the racial blind spots and ingrained attitudes that were imparted by those of my elders, and peers, who did not examine their behaviour’s effect on those around them. While not loving them any less, I could not continue to hold those attitudes, or ignore areas where I needed to grow.

Bill Russell might have glared at me, had we ever met, and I may have had a hard time dealing with that, but in the end, his pain-coming from all the way back to his childhood, youth and young adulthood, became my pain, too. I learned from the anger of my fellow soldiers, the guarded indignation of people on the street, here and there, and the righteous chastisement of a beautiful, articulate woman at a Baha’i event, of all places, that “Bring thyself to account each day” meant what it said: Not to wallow in self-pity, not to flagellate oneself, but to acknowledge flaws and grow out of them.

Rest in Power, Mr. William Felton Russell. You were one of the good ones, and one of the greats.

The Decade’s Top Ten: Visual Media

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December 28, 2019- 

It’s high time for me to reflect back on 2010-19, with regard to a couple of topics, today and tomorrow, at least.  In my mind, the decade is nearly over.  I know there are those who figure that this decade has another year to run-as there was no “Year Zero”, and therefore, the first decade A.D. started with Year 1.  Technically, they’re correct, but I was born in 1950, so MY decades start with numbers ending in zero.  Anyone else may figure the passage of time, as s(he) sees fit.

Anyway, let me look at my ten favourite films and television series of the past ten years.

10.  Law and Order:  SVU– The subject matter is odious and the antagonists are almost always unsympathetic, but the role played by such peace officers as bring sexual perpetrators, no matter how well-connected, to justice, is gratifying to see.  The great Mariska Hargitay’s portrayal of an all-too-human Section Leader has been quite a year-to-year evolution.

9. Game of Thrones– Also chock full of odious subject matter, and the Grand Daddy of “Medieval Life meets Modern English Profanity” (which is now found in abundance, across Netflix and Prime Video).  It is, however, a well-crafted blend of stories and romans-a-clef, unfolding over eight seasons. The series writers did seem to run out of steam and rushed things along, in the last two episodes, but all in all it was a riveting series.

8. Mr. Robot– This mix of Sci Fi and government intrigue is also riveting, over time, with a good dose of snarkiness, especially in the way it portrays “secret” government operations and corporate decision-making.

7.  The Star Wars series- The last three films mirror the first three, which were actually the middle episodes.  The main pull, for me, was seeing how age had affected the three young heroes of the original triad. They were twenty-somethings when I was in that decade of life, so their aging reflected my aging, though I remain happily earthbound.

6.  Supernatural– The original monster hunters, (the maudlin Ghostbusters                       notwithstanding),  two brothers who have one another’s backs and don’t flinch at the most hideous of demons, are among the few TV protagonists I find worthy of bing-watching.

5.  The Hunger Games series- I never tire of watching Jennifer Lawrence prevail over both obvious and slightly-concealed adversaries, and she never plays the same role in more than one film, or series. I also am a huge fan of common folk, especially young people, speaking, and bringing, truth to power.  There was enough intrigue and trickery employed by the snarky Donald Sutherland and the diabolical Julianne Moore to make Jenn and her allies keep thinking on their feet.

4.  Winter’s Bone– While I am referencing Ms. Lawrence, the role where she first got my attention was that of Ree Dolley, the unsupervised teen who  looks for answers about the disappearance of her father.  This was a dark and saddening film, but the girl who won’t give up is one character type for whom I am always cheering.

3.  Dr. Who– I admit, I am a latecomer to this series, one of television’s most enduring SciFi entries.  Nonetheless, the concept of time travel, especially for the purpose of righting wrongs, is a fascinating notion-even if, in practice, it would engender never-ending chaos.

2.  The Martian– I am a die-hard “Earthbounder”, but Matt Damon’s semi-comedic astronaut gave much food for thought, and a little for nutrition, in this exploration of the practical side of interplanetary settlement.

1.  Spotlight– It didn’t quite go far enough, in exposing the true lengths, to which powerful people go, in protecting those who abuse and intimidate children, but the Spotlight series, the result of an intense investigation by my first hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe,  opened the gates for worldwide exposure of not only Catholic priests committing sexual abuse, but of a wide variety of institutions, whose members transgressed their boundaries.  It was the father of #MeToo, in many ways. The film brought the investigation out, masterfully.

This is just my own list, and there are many other visual media that merit praise.  I am always interested in what others regard as worthy of mention.

She Never Stopped Singing

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September 30, 2019-

Had Penny stayed on this Earthly plane, she would have turned 65, today. There was not a day that went by, until her voice gave out, that she didn’t sing of one thing or another.  Her voice was easily among the most pleasant sounds I could ever have heard. It was very often infused with praise for the Divine, making its tones that much more salubrious.

She never stopped seeking a means to improve health-her own and that of everyone she loved.  It is largely her legacy that has led me to use essential oils and hemp-based CBD, which were either little known or not marketed during her long years of suffering.  I can at least help maintain my own wellness and those in my widening circle who are ill.  That would comfort her.

She was always her own person.  Years ago, I was screamed at, for having used the term, “my Penny”, in a random post.  The angry correspondent, who was not known to me beforehand, was crusading against “people thinking they own one another.”  Despite that over-the-top assessment, I never regarded Penny as being somehow under my thumb.  She stood her ground, right up until her last breath, and never hesitated to speak truth to power- doctors, hospital administrators, insurance executives, school principals, Senator Barry Goldwater, even her parents.  The woman was fierce.

Her ferocity was based on love.  No one who caught her wrath really believed her to be a noxious presence.  With a few narcissistic exceptions, friend and foe alike appreciated just how much Penny Kay Fellman Boivin was devoted to the well-being of humanity.  That love served to heal one of the most psychologically ill people she ever knew: myself.  So, here I am, still able to carry on her work, along with my own.

The spirit, the genderless essence, watches over me still, and lends strength to doing all that remains to be accomplished.