Thursday, July 17, 2014

Harper Lee: You Don’t Know Me

Harper LeeMore than 50 years ago Nelle Harper Lee wrote a book called “To Kill a Mockingbird”.   It was her one and only book and it is a masterpiece, but the story behind it has always been a tantalizing enigma.

Through the years there have been rumors that her best friend and neighbor, Truman Capote, edited her writing so much, by rights he actually wrote it.

The fact that Lee never published another book gives doubters reason to corroborate that notion, but I’ve never bought it.  She lived in a small Alabama town, her father was a trial lawyer, she knew well the story of the 1930s Scottsboro trial, where a group of young black boys were accused of raping a white woman in Alabama, she studied law herself, was a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford, and she was not a novice at writing.  

It isn’t that Capote couldn’t have overwritten it to suit his own style–his early book, The Grass Harp, is as sublime, as bitter-sweet, and was also written from a child’s point of view.  But everything I’ve read about Harper Lee says she has her own specific talents as well as a formidable stubborn streak.  Her friend Truman might have helped her with the technical aspects of a manuscript, but it’s an insult to suggest she’s not the true author of that beautiful book.

We’ll never know for sure, of course, because Harper Lee isn’t talking.  She sees no need to tell her side of the story.  The story is the book.  She is a writer, not a celebrity, and the limelight isn’t what most writers strive for.  Their goal is to tell a ripping good tale, and Harper Lee has done that.  She owes her fans nothing more.

She is now 88 years old.  For over a half-century people have been knocking at her door, trying to find out who Harper Lee really is. In all these years she has never let them in.  It isn’t that she is such a recluse she has never appeared in public, never spoken publicly.  She has.  Many times.  And it isn’t as if she has never left Monroeville, Alabama.  She kept an apartment in New York City until fairly recently and went back often, for months at a time.  Until recently, when both of them moved into a nursing home, she lived with her older sister, Alice (102 years old!),  in the town where they grew up.

She speaks publicly but only when she wants to.  She is not keen on inviting the inevitable over-analysis of her famous book, and has no interest in being a celebrity.  So because she is who she is and would rather be left alone, she is seen, of course, as the ultimate “get”.

No matter how much time has passed since her one and only book was published, the author Harper Lee can’t get away from celebrity scrutiny.   In 2004 Marja Mills, then a journalist on leave from the Chicago Tribune for medical reasons, moved into the house next door to Nelle and Alice and stayed for a year and a half   She had many conversations with Nelle’s sister, and with friends and neighbors.  She assured her publishers that she had also spent a considerable amount of time talking to Nelle.  But Nelle denies ever giving her more than the time of day.

Now, 10 years after Mills left Monroeville and the Lee sisters, the book, awkwardly titled The Mockingbird Next Door, Life With Harper Lee, is out.  If you believe Harper Lee,  Marja Mills lied to get this book published. There is no other way to look at it.  Yet the publisher’s note on the Penguin Press page says the following:
In 2004, with the Lees’ encouragement, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, talking and sharing stories over meals and daily drives in the countryside. Along with members of the Lees’ tight inner circle, the sisters and Mills would go fishing, feed the ducks, go to the Laundromat, watch the Crimson Tide, drink coffee at McDonald’s, and explore all over lower Alabama.
Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the quirky Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story—and the South—right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.
Nelle Harper Lee says that never happened.  She says she never agreed to tell her story to Mills, and she never developed a friendship with her.  In fact, Lee says, she would go out of town whenever she heard Mills was coming because the woman hounded her so much.

As early as 2011, when the news came out of the forthcoming book, Harper Lee denied any cooperation with Mills.  Mills’ agent calmly suggested that Lee may have “forgotten” her cooperation since her stroke in 2007.

So even with Harper Lee’s painstaking efforts to get the word out that Marja Mills’ book about “life with Harper Lee” is stacked with lie upon lie, the presses rolled.  The book is in print.  The reviews have been written.  (Note that there is no mention in the Washington Post review of Lee’s 2011 insistence that she did not cooperate with Mills.  Not a hint that she fought hard against it.)

If Marja Mills had written an unauthorized book about Harper Lee, I might hold my nose but be forced to agree that she has that right.  But if, as Harper Lee accuses, Marja Mills and her publisher, Penguin Group, pushed forward with the publication, knowing full well that the entire book was built on the lie that Lee gave it her blessing,  that whole conversations were real and not imagined, then the subtitle, “Life with Harper Lee”, is a falsehood.

So who are you going to believe?  Nelle Harper Lee or Marja Mills?  Is there some truth, some lie in both stories?  Could be.  But if Harper Lee says she’s the unwilling subject of a book and the author claims otherwise,  there’s a problem.

I don’t know Harper Lee but I do know “To Kill a Mockingbird”.   More than 50 years after it appeared, the book still resonates.  It is still a classic, so beautifully written we’ve never been able to get over it.

The author did good.  She gave us an amazing gift.  Now she should be able to rest.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Friday, July 11, 2014

These Children Are Lost and They've Entered Our Village

Thousands of Latin American children have been arriving in the U.S. over the weeks and months, in scenarios more like that of a fictitious screenplay than of real life.  Out-of-control gangs, drug cartels, and corrupt government officials are the antagonists in horror stories of a kind we can only imagine. Poverty, exploitation, rape, torture, murder--so common now in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, there is little chance those countries will ever float free.

The parents, seeing no future for their children, have taken the most extreme, heartbreaking measures: they're sending their young ones away.  They're forced to pay dubious characters large sums of money to transport their kids over the Mexico-U.S border into what they've been told would almost assuredly be a safe sanctuary.

The children, some of them barely walking age, don't know why they were sent away or why they're here.  They don't even know where "here" is.  They're in a strange place, far from anything familiar,  their only safety in a group of other terrified children.

The older ones, hardly old enough to take care of themselves, have been charged with caring for the young.  By the time they've reached the border leading into the U.S, they've traveled over a thousand miles from home.  They're dirty and hungry and the fear of what's ahead (or behind) stays with them every waking moment.

Once across the border they're in desperate need of some proof that they are safe.  The promise was that the hellish thousand-mile journey would be worth it in order to get them to a place where they could breathe free, where they could ease their own fears and those of the smaller children they carried, and where, maybe, possibly, they might finally face a life where there is hope.

Instead, soon after they cross the border they're being met either by officials who move them into jail-like pens where they'll wait until, most likely, they'll be sent back to their home countries, or--and this is where it gets crazy--by angry protesters carrying ugly signs telling these small, defenseless beings to go home.  They're being told by snarling grown-ups that we don't want them here.

These children are refugees from war-torn countries.  We are the kind of country that demands of other countries the safe passage of refugees.  The U.N has already declared these fleeing Latin American children refugees and is asking the United States to treat them accordingly.  If we turn these children away, forcing them to return to their homes, we do it knowing we're sending them back to a life of abject, unrelenting misery. 

There is no good answer, no ready solution when thousands of children arrive at our borders without our permission, but at this moment we're in the throes of a humanitarian emergency.  We have children in need in our midst and if we're who we think we are, we will dry their tears and calm their fears.  We will fill their bellies and tuck them into warm beds.  We will keep them safe.  They came out of the darkness and into our light.  While we didn't ask for this, they are children and they are here and now it's our job to take care of them.   

  So who are these screaming, sign-carrying monsters who see these kids as some kind of marauding enemy?  Where do they come from?  Who taught them to hate so broadly they think nothing of scaring already terrified kids?


This was the scene near an intake center in Murrieta, California last week.  The buses being held back by American-flag-waving protesters are full of scared kids who spent many uncomfortable if not terrifying days trying to get to our border and the safety beyond.  They were instead caught by border patrol agents and put on these buses heading for a detention center, where they're to be housed until our people can figure out what to do with them.

In quiet moments I see in my mind's eye busloads of frightened children.  I see a menacing mob pushing toward those buses, blocking the drivers from moving forward.  I see signs that say, "Go away!  We don't want you here!"  And I have to remind myself that this is not a scene from their own ravaged countries but is, instead, a scene unfolding in the United States of America. 

I worry about those children and what will happen to them, but I worry, too, about the people waving those signs and turning away busloads of frightened, defenseless children.  They are a problem; their numbers are growing, and someday soon, when we've figured out how to keep those kids safe, we're going to have to figure out how we're going to live among people who would knowingly, purposely do this.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland. Featured on Crooks and Liars MBRU)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Today Five Members of the U.S. Supreme Court Moved Us Closer to a Theocracy

Today the Supreme Court ruled that private, family-owned businesses--in this case, Hobby Lobby--could opt out of paying for contraceptives if their objections to them are based on the owners' religious beliefs.

The case came to the attention of the Supremes when the Affordable Care Act included this mandate:

Birth control benefits:
Plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace must cover contraceptive methods and counseling for all women, as prescribed by a health care provider.
These plans must cover the services without charging a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible when they are provided by an in-network provider.

Covered contraceptive methods:

All Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods prescribed by a woman’s doctor are covered, including:
  • Barrier methods (used during intercourse), like diaphragms and sponges
  • Hormonal methods, like birth control pills and vaginal rings
  • Implanted devices, like intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Emergency contraception, like Plan B® and ella®
  • Sterilization procedures
  • Patient education and counseling
Plans aren’t required to cover:
  • Drugs to induce abortions
  • Services related to a man’s reproductive capacity, like vasectomies
Hobby Lobby argues that they don't want to pay for any services that might cause the end of life.  They consider FDA-approved morning-after pills--like Plan B--abortion pills, even though the pills have to be used within 72 hours after intercourse.  Within three days.  They consider certain IUDs as obstacles in the path of fertilized eggs.  (Fertilized eggs are apparently babies in their eyes.)

If the owners of Hobby Lobby want to believe that life begins at conception, let them.  It's a free country.  They can believe anything they want to believe, religious or otherwise.  What they can't do--or shouldn't be able to do--is to push their religious beliefs on their employees.  One of the benefits of the newly minted Affordable Care Act was a mandate to provide free contraceptive care for women who need it.  Hobby Lobby balked and decided they shouldn't have to pay for something that might keep women from having babies. 

When the Right Wing came up with the loony notion that life begins at conception, they opened the doors to misusing religion to force women to give up the ability to forestall pregnancies. There is no legitimate religious basis for denying women the right to free contraception.  None at all.

Contraception isn't, by definition, abortion, except in the minds of those looking for any excuse to involve themselves in deciding for women when they should have children.   When contraception is the obvious and most humane solution to unwanted pregnancies, there is no humane reason not to make it available and free. 

So what I'm seeing from those five men on the Supreme Court is yet another example of ideology as law.  ("Corporations are people" being the most jaw-dropping and the most precedent-forming.  Hobby Lobby couldn't have won without it.)  They're treading on dangerous territory.  They're giving judicial approval to religious solutions for societal issues, and, as the judicial branch of a secular government, they're knowingly abusing their authority.

But worse, they're telling women that when it comes to reproductive protections, religious theory trumps their right not to be burdened by the worry of unintended pregnancies.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in her dissent, said this:
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.
Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations...The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.
We are a country made up of diverse cultures and religions.  We welcome them, we encourage them, we give them the freedom to live within their own cultures and worship within their own religions.  At the same time, we expect the freedom not to have to follow along.

But this Supreme Court, in the name of free speech, just forced us to give in to specific religious beliefs.  There was a time when that would have been inconceivable. 

Lord knows, we were safer then.


(Cross-posted at dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Does The Death Of Cursive Mean?

As someone who dreaded Penmanship class, and who always–and I mean always–got poor grades in it, let me just say if writing in cursive goes away I’ll be right up there in front mourning the loss.  (Cursive:  flowing letters all connected to make one word.  What we used to call “handwriting”.)

We learned the Palmer Method in grade school, where every letter had to follow a pattern and fit between the lines, and where loops and curlicues had to loop and curl, but not too little or too much.  Just right.

cursive palmer method 

So much pressure!  I choked.  I couldn’t do it.

But some time after the 6th Grade, after penmanship was no longer required and I could relax, I realized that if I could barely read my own writing there was no chance that anyone else could either.  I began looping and curling on my own, starting with row after row of connected capital S’s.  I spent hours over the course of many days looping and curling, not worrying about staying within the lines, and before long I found to my amazement that I was creating letters and then words that were actually legible.   It wasn’t exactly true Palmer Method–it was better.   It was a variation on the theme of Palmer and it was all me.

Maybe it’s because handwriting came so hard for me, I don’t know, but I’ve been taking the news of its imminent demise pretty hard.  I’ve noticed over the years that fewer and fewer people were actually writing in cursive and more and more were printing, but I had no idea there was an entire movement bent on killing off that lovely, traditional form of English handwriting.

In a USA Today article called “Is Cursive’s Day in Classroom Done?” I was shocked to read that 41 states do not require the teaching of cursive penmanship.  When did this happen?  To the casual observer it might seem obvious that cursive should go the way of the quill pen.  It takes up valuable class time to teach it, and, since the advent of the computer and digital keyboards, pecking has already taken over for block printing, which took over for cursive writing.

Nobody wants to actually write anything by hand anymore but when they have to they want it to take longer (In speed trials between cursive and printing, cursive wins, hands down) and look like the plain letters kindergartners use before they’re ready to try real handwriting.   I get that.

There are already young people out there who learned to read and write block print only and can’t read or write cursive.  That’s astounding, but apparently true.  When a witness in the George Zimmerman trial, a friend of Trayvon Martin’s, was handed documents written in cursive she was embarrassed to have to admit she couldn’t read them.

But in a Washington Post article, “Cursive is Disappearing from Public Schools”, there was this:
Deborah Spear, an academic therapist based in Great Falls, Virginia, said cursive writing is an integral part of her work with students who have dyslexia. Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.
Another side of it is that there is an art to writing in cursive.  With a stroke of the pen we can set ourselves apart.  Whether our handwriting is beautifully executed or more akin to chicken-scratching, it’s all ours.  Nobody else can do it like we do.

I admit that I do most of my writing on a keyboard now.  It’s so much faster and ridiculously easy to correct.  It has become second nature to think and type at the same time.  I will even admit that electronic word processing has changed my life.   But when I want or need to write by hand I like nothing better than to be creating a sentence that, at least visually, couldn’t have been written by anyone but me.

But in that same WaPo article, here comes this guy:
Steve Graham, an education professor at Arizona State University and one of the top U.S. experts on handwriting instruction, said he has heard every argument for and against cursive.
“I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I read the Constitution,” Graham said. [in answer to the claim that if the teaching of cursive dies out there may come a day when people won't be able to read the original manuscript of the constitution] “The truth is that cursive writing is pretty much gone, except in the adult world for people in their 60s and 70s.”
Well that would be me, buddy, but I’m not such a stickler for traditional anachronisms that I want to keep this particular kind of handwriting around for old time’s sake.  (Though, of course, that’s a part of it.)  No, I want to keep it around because to kill it off severs one more part of us that is unique and individual and takes some effort.

We’ve done enough of that already.




Update:  My former friend Frank from the website "Frankly Curious" has taken issue with my piece here and has curiously chosen to take me down a peg or two.  Over handwriting, of all things.   It's here.   Give him a thrill.  Read the damned thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hate And The "Patriots": Like Watching One Long Horror Movie, Wondering Who Dies Next.

In an insightful article about the upsurge in anti-government hate groups and the murderous rampages they spawn, John Avlon calls them "Hatriots"--those people claiming that true constitutional patriotism requires them to disavow, disown, and destroy the United States government--and anyone who gets in their way.

Yes, they're crazies, they're loons, they're nasty-wasties.  (They're not sewing circles, they're hate groups)  But they're out there, they have an endless, unregulated supply of firearms, they have the support of dozens of lawmakers commending them for making good use of the First, Second and 10th Amendments, and, with their new-found "legitimacy", their hatred is escalating.

They're an increasingly violent mob, spurred on by the NRA, by Right Wing radio and television, by Right Wing books and magazines, and worse, by Right Wing politicians who go into politics with the express purpose of taking down the very government currently paying them extraordinarily well for their efforts.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 939 known hate groups active in the United States. (PDF file list of groups and chapters, state by state)  Adding group chapters to the list brings the numbers up to nearly 2000.  Think about it:  Two thousand chapters made up of multiple thousands of people who have made a conscious effort to validate hate and spread it around.   They see the current government (the liberal Democrat part; the Barack Obama part) as a fascistic, socialistic, communistic, treacherous force to be reckoned with.

Because the Supreme Court of the United states (apparently "the good guys" now) validated their right to bear arms, because they have been led to believe it's only a matter of time before their religious rights, their free-speech rights, their rights to privacy, their very lives, will be taken away; because they have been led to believe that the current president, Barack Hussein Obama, is the most evil president ever--they believe it's only a matter of time before they'll be forced to start the long overdue, wholly justifiable but messy process leading to revolution and renewal.

I hate horror movies--I don't find being scared out of my mind entertaining at all--but if I could be convinced this is the plot of a horror movie and not reality, I would embrace it for the sick entertainment it is. I know better, of course, which means I'm far more terrified than I could ever be sitting in a darkened movie house telling myself through chattering teeth that it's not real, it's all pretend, it'll be over soon.

Yesterday I spent about an hour reading Jerad Miller's Facebook posts.  (Jerad Miller, with his wife, Amanda, walked into a pizzeria on Sunday, June 8 and shot two police officers dead.  They ran across the street to a Walmart, where they shot a customer dead before dying themselves.)  His posts, for the most part, were the stuff of a huffy-puffy man/boy full of high-minded "patriotism", interspersed with internet word games, theories about secret chemicals invading our bodies, and quiet calls to rise up and revolt against an out-of-control government.  I've read far worse in dozens of political comment sections.

A snippet:
"I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave. Let it be known to our children’s children that free men stood fast before a tyrants wrath and were found victorious because we stood together. That we all cast aside our petty differences and united under the banner of Liberty and Truth.
May future generations look back upon this time in history with awe and gratitude, for our courage to face tyranny, so that they could live happy and free"
I’m way beyond just background checks and licensing guns now. I want laws with teeth.  Carrying military-style assault weapons into public places is not normal behavior.  I want Congress and the President and the Supreme Court to put on their brave hats, their battle helmets if need be, and get to work.  Domestic terrorists are operating openly in our midst.  They're strapping on their big guns, strutting among us, forcing us to accept that living out their own bad boy fantasies supersedes our fears. 

If the law says they're free to take their guns to town, if guns on the streets become as common as cell phones, okay then.  Let's allow them in every city, county, state and federal building in the land--in every chamber, including that of the Supreme Court. Why not?  What is there to fear?

It won't happen.  Nor will it come to pass--until it's too late--that our leaders will take these threats against our government seriously.  But if our own lawmakers aren't willing to take on the anarchists, there are plenty of  good citizens who will. 

Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, an infantryman and military historian, is one of them.  After the Las Vegas shooting last week, he wrote a startling piece for Esquire called, "That's It.  I'm Coming Home". (Printed in its entirety with his permission.)

This is too much. We have Tea Party political activists shooting cops from behind, in the head, then covering their dead bodies with the Tea Party “Gadsden” flag and shouting, “The Revolution begins now!”

No. I am coming home. I need to be there and be part of the solution. Moms Demand Action is getting some traction, but they can use the lean-in of a few U.S. Army Airborne Infantry Rangers. I am only sorry that I did not stand up to this threat to our nation before. I am sorry. I was busy.
I have been overseas in Afghanistan and in NATO nations for half a decade while the insanity of the National Rifle Association expanded and exploded, and the NRA became, essentially, the tool of death in the United States. They made mass killings normal.

Well done, NRA. But this shit is too much.

Constant cop-killing, by people who echo the NRA talking points and the conspiracy theories of the Internet wackos.

So I will come home, and perhaps some of those 3,000 nutjobs who sent me hatemail might want to meet up, because I am more than fricking willing, you whining, little boy-toys who need guns. So many of you have threatened me that I am literally booked, but any of you who feel you have been left out, go ahead. Book a date. You bring your gun to try and convince me that you are not a complete and total idiot, and if you bring a gun, let us see which tool works best.
Wimps need guns. Come and get me.


Bateman, pictured, is an infantryman and a Military Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Oh, and if you try to go lethal, to convince me that your rhetoric is more intellectually compelling than my own written words, I am going to be giggling at the Las Vegas odds on you, with your guns, and me.

So there is that. Bring it on, little boys.

The opinions here are only those of somebody that thinks a “Patriot Movement”—one which executes police officers—is not working in the service of the nation. They are only the opinions of someone who believes that “Tea Party members" who shoot policemen in the head— executing them at point blank range and then declaring that the “revolution” is starting before placing a Don't Tread on Me flag atop the dead bodies of the police officers you just killed in cold blood—are not good.

You may believe otherwise. If you do, screw you.
Last December Bateman received death threats from some folks in the "Free Speech, Give Us Liberty, Don't Tread on Us" movement after his column about the Supreme Court's ruling on the definition of the Second Amendment appeared in the Esquire Digital Edition.  It hasn't stopped him from fighting against the lunacy that is the current gun culture. 

Members of the gun reform group, Moms Demand Action, have been subjected to spitting stalking and rape threats by bullies who can't for the life of them seem to be able to argue persuasively any other way. It hasn't stopped them, either.

Everyone from Gabby Giffords to the families of the Sandy Hook victims have been attacked for their simple pleas for a common-sense approach to gun usage.  It hasn't stopped any of them.

The "They're coming to take our guns" crowd are cowardly bullies.  Their only argument for open carry is "Cuz we wanna!" Their only weapon is a convenient interpretation of the Second Amendment.  They make a public stand by taking their guns to Target, where they pose for pictures in the aisles with bags of Oreos or in the infant department with an assortment of teethers as a backdrop.  To show, I guess, that they're just like us.  Only they're not.  Some of them are play-acting and some of them are dead serious.  The problem lies in not knowing who is who.
  And when one of their own doesn't realize they're only just funnin' and takes their vast conspiratorial fantasies seriously, shooting to kill, they take no responsibility and accept no blame. They pretend to be patriots but look and act like "homegrown terrorists".   And when they've scared enough people into finally demanding that the government take some action, they hiss and pout and get their feelings hurt.

They're the real patriots and anyone who doesn't agree is a fascist and a commie and a stinkin' liberal traitor.   Read any of the comment sections to the links I've provided and see if you can come away from them still thinking we have nothing to fear, that we're not at gun nut crisis mode.  I admit their crazy notions terrify me--but what terrifies me more is the thought that they kept on, they got worse, more innocent people died, and nobody tried to stop them.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland, Featured on Mike's Blog Round-up at Crooks and Liars)


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thank You, Maya Angelou, for Your Magical Words. And for Being You.

We got word that Maya Angelou died today.  When her picture flashed on the TV this morning I held my breath, hoping it wasn't bad news.  When they announced that she was gone, I shouldn't have been shocked, considering her age (86) and ill health, but it took me a few minutes because it never occurred to me that she might someday leave this earth.



Hers was a presence so strong troubles fell by the wayside when she spoke. For me, it was as if she drew me to her breast and comforted me.  Her voice, her words, her delivery--slow, drawn out, emphatic, often impish--gave her the kind of authority that stripped cliche out of her message of love and kindness and acceptance.

She overcame and transcended a horrific early life that might have broken a woman without her capacity to overcome.  Her strength came in forgiveness--of herself and of her tormentors.  Childhood trauma and abuse rendered her mute for five years, from five and a half until she was almost 13.  She was a single mother at age 16.  Hers should have been a story of unfulfilled dreams; a life made ordinary by her own circumstance.

But she found art as her great release and, remarkably,  discovered an innate and glorious ability to communicate.  She was a singer of songs, a poet, a teller of stories, and as a Civil Rights activist she put those talents to use.  Her breakout came from her brutally honest and beautifully written memoir, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings".  Millions of women everywhere fell in love with her and never let go.  And she never let us down.

She supported us, mentored us, showed us how it could be done.  Because of her we wanted to be writers; we wanted to be activists; we wanted to right the wrongs and change the world. She did it with laughter and joy, with love and kindness, with acceptance of our weaknesses and frailties, with a voice that might have been silenced forever but gained strength, took wing, and flew with the angels.

She was some woman.

Still I rise
by Maya Angelou


You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.






Monday, May 19, 2014

A Flag Is What We Make It

In the 21st century controversy over the legitimacy of the 19th century Confederate battle flag, one question remains unanswered:  What does it mean to those who want to fly it?

The answer:  Anything they want it to mean.

When we run our American flag up the flagpole at our house, it means we love the idea behind it, we love the look of the stars and stripes; we love how it waves in the breeze, telling us the wind direction, giving us an indication of the velocity.  (A perk, I know.)

We believe the stories about Betsy Ross and the Star Spangled Banner.  We love the image of the flag-raising over Iwo Jima.  We pledge allegiance to our flag whenever the occasion arises. (Without endorsing the wholly unnecessary Red Scare defense "under God", it should be said.)

My husband the Marine will not allow the flag to touch the ground and replaces it with a new one when it begins to look tattered.

But there are other Americans who use that same flag to make some pretty awful points.  Hate groups bent on destroying the present government use it as a backdrop for photo ops.

George Lincoln Rockwell - American Nazi Party

  
Cliven Bundy uses it to try and save his ranch after refusing to pay his government lease for more than 20 years,


enlisting militiamen hostile to the government to protect him from eviction.


The American flag is a symbol for every American, but, as symbols go, the symbolism is in the eye of the beholder.


So it goes with the Confederate flag.  The KKK uses it interchangeably with the American flag.  Militia groups and White Supremacist groups use it interchangeably with the American flag.  Many Southerners fly it from their homes and stick it on their cars.  It flies on public buildings, much to the displeasure of certain groups who see it as an affront.

Is it offensive?  Is it racist?  It can be, and to some it ever will be.  Vile racism is, at the very least, inappropriate, and if a historic flag is co-opted to endorse hate, it wouldn't be the first time.


For many years we've spent our winters in South Carolina.  The confederate flag is everywhere and, as a Northerner indoctrinated in the offensive nature of what we called the Rebel flag, I found each instance shocking.  But their heritage, I came to realize, is not my history, and nowhere am I more aware of it than when I wander through an old Southern cemetery.


These are their ancestors.  Hundreds of thousands of their countrymen died fighting for a cause they may or may not have even understood.  Were those young men--often just boys--fighting to ensure that wealthy plantation owners could keep their slave labor?  Doubtful.  More likely they saw themselves as freedom fighters making sacrifices in order to save their homes and form their own union.  They fought in a terrible civil war and their side lost.  Because real people in real families were affected forever, this is not a part of their history the modern South is willing to forget.  And we as a nation have no right to ask it of them.

It's not our place to decide what the Confederate flag means and who should be able to fly it.  We've allowed our own American flag to be used and abused in such a way that by rights it should be nothing more than a meaningless piece of cloth.  It's much more than that because it means much more than that to each of us.

At different times in our history, parts of our country belonged to the English, the Spanish, the French.  We fought them and won, and we still fly their flags in remembrance.  It's a part of our history.

The South once fought to belong to the Confederacy.  They had their own flag.  How can we recognize that part of our history without recognizing their flag?   The answer is, we can't.  And the truth is, we shouldn't.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Monica, Bill and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Monica Lewinsky is now 40 years old.  In the late 1990s, when she was barely into her twenties, she met  Bill Clinton, flirted a bit and caught his attention.  Before long she was having an affair with the President of the United States.  Heady stuff for a bedazzled young girl and of course she had to tell somebody.

As we all now know, she confided in her friend Linda Tripp.  Tripp, a Republican who hated Bill Clinton even before she knew about the affair, took Monica's story to Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent specializing in conservative authors.  Goldberg had once tried to sell Tripp's book proposal on the differences between Bush 41's keeping dignity in the White House compared to Clinton's appalling misuse. It never went anywhere, but this time would be different.  This was big.

Goldberg encouraged Tripp to tape-record her phone conversations with Monica, and Linda apparently seeing nothing wrong with betraying a friend, went along willingly.  The man, after all, was an animal.

In a 2012 interview for the PBS American Experience production, "Clinton", Lucianne Goldberg recounted their roles in what was to become the most bizarre impeachment proceeding in the history of not just this, but possibly any country:

Producer: Did you have a sense. . .that this could be ruinous to his presidency?

Goldberg: Oh sure -- I knew it very likely would impeach him, and I was glad about that. That didn't bother me at all.
.....
Producer: Why were you interested in either [Michael] Isikoff or [Matt] Drudge having the story?

Goldberg: Well, in the first place I wanted Newsweek to have it. Because it was mainstream media and I wanted it. You know, I wanted the story to get out because I'm selling a book. You have to understand that. It was that as much as it was a political thing. It was nice that it was a political thing, because I didn't happen to agree with the Clinton administration. But I wasn't doing it for that reason. I was doing it because I was selling a book. I was representing a client.
......

Producer: But the hope was that by leaking a little of it or some of it to an Isikoff or a Drudge, it would generate interest for the buyer.

Goldberg: That was the whole idea. To get the story out, use that as a hook to get publishers interested, and sell a book. It was that simple.

Producer: But before this breaks, let's say, does Linda become preoccupied with the Monica relationship and what she's hearing? I can't imagine she wouldn't be. But, I mean, characterize how big a part of her life this became.

Goldberg: An enormous part of her life. But by the time Drudge broke the story, that was it. The taping stopped. I mean, the cat was out of the bag, Monica knew what Linda had been up to.

Producer: That part stops a lot of people cold. They're willing to understand why Linda might want to publicize this out of outrage, out of political motivation, whatever it is, but what it was going to do to Monica is where people begin to wonder. Did you think about that, did you talk about that with her?

Goldberg: Yeah, I don't think we thought it was going to be harmful, that harmful to Monica, really didn't. It made Monica a star, and if she had wanted to handle it differently if she had -- had she been a different kind of person -- I mean look at the girls that were being paid to sleep with Tiger Woods, they're going to have their own TV shows, and Monica could have been, you know, could have been just about anything she chose to be.

Producer: But it was at a minimum a betrayal of her confidence.

Goldberg: Yeah, sure.   
Linda Tripp then turned the tapes over to Ken Starr, the star prosecutor in the subsequent impeachment trial.  Feeling that the tapes were not enough, that they needed more evidence of lying and cover-ups, his bunch wired Tripp and had her meet several more times with Monica, feeding her leading questions in order to get her to put the last nails in Bill Clinton's coffin.

The intern had an affair and she told about it.  The president had an affair and he lied about it.  So far, nothing unusual in either of those responses.  Happens all the time with affairs.  They're never tidy.  But when you're the president and you have a vast Right Wing conspiracy already conspiring to take you down, the last thing you want to do is to provide them the ammunition.  Clinton the Unfathomable practically hand-delivered it.

So the president was impeached because he lied under oath about his affair.  He went on to serve out his term and would later become a revered senior statesman, building a new reputation as a person to go to for wise counsel and decisive action.

His wife, Hillary, humiliated beyond anything she deserved, went on to become a U.S. Senator and later, a formidable presidential candidate.  She may well be our next president.

Their daughter Chelsea, her own innocence shattered at such a young age, went on to college, built a satisfying career, married, and is about to become a mother.

No such good fortune for Monica.  She says in a blockbuster article in the latest Vanity Fair that, while she has had offers, they've all been based on her past notoriety.  Her goal was to work in the non-profit world but every interview told her they would be hiring her for her name and not her abilities.  Whether or not that was true, that was how she perceived it.

Photo credit:  Vanity Fair

She says she wants a private life.  She wants to work with groups helping people struggling with the effects of shame.  She is an expert on the subject and would be an asset to any like-minded group. I hope she can find her place there.

I have nothing but sympathy for Monica Lewinsky.  She was vulnerable and victimized by so many people, used and betrayed in ways so vicious it's a miracle she can still look back on it with anything resembling clarity.  She made bad mistakes but did nothing beyond being young and naively romantic to deserve what happened to her.

But why use a magazine like Vanity Fair to press her case?   Why do it this way?  Why now?

She has once again exposed herself to endless, ruthless analysis and cruel ridicule and everyone has to wonder why?  Who convinced her to open up Monicagate again?  The rumors are already flying; the pundits are already salivating, the haters are sharpening their talons.

She says in the article, "I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”

The ending of her story is whatever she makes it.  I only hope for her sake she gets it right this time.


(Cross-posted at dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland. Featured on Crooks and Liars.)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Derange Wars: The Cliven Bundy Story

You might have heard about this:  (Kidding.  Of course you have.) There is a rancher out in Nevada named Cliven Bundy who has been using government land to graze his cattle.  His family has been doing it for what seems like ages, always paying their grazing fees to the Federal government, but some 20 years ago the Feds told him he had to move his cattle off a section that was protected.  He quit paying his fees in protest but he didn't move his cattle.

His Mormon family homesteaded that land way back near the end of the 19th century, long before there was such a thing as a damned protected turtle.  The rules obviously didn't apply to him.  It wasn't just our land, it was his land.  In Nevada.  And since Nevada is a state, states' rights apply and the federal government--come on!--has no actual authority.

So what a surprise all these years later when he finds out that's not going to work.  In the eyes of the G-men he's a slacker, a scofflaw, damn near a criminal.  Those fools actually think he stiffed them, and all these years later they're finally making good on nearly 20 years worth of threats to confiscate his cattle and fine him big money (at last look about a million dollars, but hey. . .) for being a durned squatter.

As if!

But, dang!  They came and got his cattle!  So Rancher Bundy called in about a thousand of his militia pals (because states rights)  and held a stand-off.

Cliven Bundy, Right, with Militia volunteers.  Photo:  Steve Marcus

 And. . .whoa dogies!. . .it worked!  The Feds actually brought his cattle back!  Ha!

From Newsweek, April 23, 2014:
On the weekend of April 12 to 13, over 1,000 anti-government militia groups and Bundy supporters converged on his ranch to defend him from the encroachment of federal agents and demand the return of his cattle. Around 10 a.m. Saturday, Bundy issued an ultimatum to the Clark County sheriff: He had one hour to disarm all federal agents on the property, return the cattle and remove the BLM from Bundy’s land.
At 11:10 a.m., Bundy got on a megaphone and told his supporters to go get his cattle back. Local ranchers on horseback, militiamen in pickup trucks and others rode toward the corral where the cattle were being held. BLM agents, decked out in full riot gear, pointed guns at the anti-government group. The two sides jostled.
With the situation nearing the boiling point, the BLM blinked.
“For the anti-government patriot right, this is a major success,” said Ryan Lenz, an eyewitness to the standoff on the Bundy ranch and a writer and researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They stood against an armed, fanatical federal government and got them to back down—in their view.”
Then Bundy called in the really big guns--the press--to let the world know that he won!  Yeehaw!  Did he talk about his Mormon family and how they settled that land?  Did he talk about how little anyone should care about the desert tortoise, the creature who started this war?  Did he talk about how mighty fine it was that the Feds actually backed down?  Maybe.  But what everybody jumped on was his lesson to us all about "the negro."  It came about, please note, in the presence of one reporter and one photographer.  But it hit the New York Times  and that's all she wrote:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

 “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” 
And you thought he was all hat, no cattle.  The guy's deep.  (You're right, honey, it has nothing to do with the standoff at the ranch.  Your point?)

But I'm not telling you anything you don't know already.  It's been all over the news.  You're probably wondering why I'm just now getting around to giving this story some attention?  Well, I'll tell you, no story is dead until it's actually buried.  Now it's not just Bundy’s Militia against the U.S. Gov’mint, it’s Bundy’s Militia vs. those other patriotic patriots, the Oathkeepers.

In case you missed it, militia volunteers from all over the country have been out there guarding the ranch, setting up road checkpoints on public highways, acting like any self-respecting Second Amendment Rights folks, by God, should.  The Oathkeepers, seeing their chance to put their motto, "Guardians of the Republic" to use, joined up.  Before long, word spread that Eric Holder was getting ready to send out drones to settle this thing once and for all.  Bundy’s Bunch swore to stand their ground, but the Oathkeepers, in what might forever have been called a brilliant strategic move, ordered their troops to move the heck out of the “Kill Zone”.

The Militia guys, true to their military nature (because, you know, a well-regulated militia) were outraged.  They used words like “cowardice” and “treason” and one guy thought they should all be shot in the back like any deserters on the battlefield.

It's this kind of thing that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Who besides me is thinking movie script right now?  I’ve already got my title:  ©Derange Wars: The Cliven Bundy Story. 

Chuck Norris, Western Guy

I’m hoping to line up Chuck Norris to play Cliven.  He’s the only one I can think of who could play Bundy straight in a comedy.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Detroit's Rivera Murals are now a Historic Landmark. Bloch and Dimitroff Would be So Proud

Great news today:  The Diego Rivera "Industry" murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts have been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Before we get too excited and actually think this will allow us to breathe easier about the ridiculous but real threat of a forced sale of certain treasures at the DIA, this is an honor more honorary than it is concrete. (I know! Concrete!)  But since the murals are embedded into the walls, I'm guessing the Big Guys will think twice once they realize removing them means destroying them and there's no real money in rubble.  I'm guessing.

In March, 1986 I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts to interview Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Dimitroff, two fresco artists who fell in love and married while working on those famous murals in the 1930s.

Lucienne and Stephen were in the area teaching and lecturing for a couple of weeks, so after our initial interview at the DIA, I talked to Lucienne on the phone a few times, either to clarify my notes or to add something she remembered and wanted me to include. Once we got the business out of the way, our conversations turned to the difficulty of being liberals in the Land of Reagan. (I wish I'd had the good sense to have recorded those conversations.)  

 Lucienne and Stephen were funny, smart, quick and totally devoted to one another. Even after all those years, Stephen still seemed in awe of the fact that Lucienne, the daughter of a famous composer (Ernest Bloch), was his wife. She knew it and used it playfully. They were quite a pair. Lucienne wrote to me after she got back to California and invited me to their ranch. I didn't, of course, hold her to it; I I don't know how sincere the invitation was, but the invite itself was enough for me. I still have it, along with the copy of Dimitroff's book, which Stephen insisted I keep. When I asked him to autograph it, he was as flustered as I would have been had he asked me for mine.

I wrote this piece for the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, where I wrote a weekly book column and occasional freelance articles. This piece was published on March 20, 1986.
_____________  

When artist Lucienne Bloch was a young girl in her 20s, during the height of the Great Depression, she gave up a job teaching sculpture for Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin to grind powdered paints for Diego Rivera--a backbreaking, poor-paying, thankless job at best.

She met the famed Mexican muralist in 1931 in New York, at a banquet given in his honor during an exhibition of his work. "My romantic notions of art and life, at age 22, were knocked out of joint by this burly giant of a man, and I marveled at his preposterous opinions," Bloch wrote in a recent article for Art in America titled, "On Location with Diego Rivera".  What swayed her the most, Bloch wrote, was Rivera's notion that man doesn't control the machines, "The machines control us," he told her. "We are the catalysts that transform the raw materials of the earth into energy. We are the continuation of the geologic process."

Last week Bloch and her husband, Stephen Dimitroff, another of Rivera's early assistants, stood in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Art, transfixed by the 53-year-old Detroit Industry murals. They stared at them, moved closer to pick out certain touches, and delighted in them as though they were seeing the 27 frescoes for the first time--as though they themselves had not worked on them.  "Can you imagine the genius of the man?" Dimitroff said. "He was incredible. It was the thrill of our lives to work for Diego."

Dimitroff and Bloch - Rivera muralists, DIA
  When Bloch asked Rivera at the banquet if he would let her grind colors, she did it knowing the muralist already had a reputation as a self-centered perfectionist who worked his assistants until they dropped, then refused to pay them a dime when a nickel would do. He had the energy of 10 men half his age, and if he worked 20 or 30 hours straight, as the Dimitroffs said he often did, his assistants worked as long, without questions. Yet there were plenty of young artists, including Dimitroff, who begged for the job.

 Stephen Dimitroff was born in Bulgaria but his family eventually settled in Flint [Michigan], where he and his father worked in the auto plants. He went to Chicago to study art, but left in a fury when the art school wouldn't recognize his three yeas of night art courses in Flint.

In his book, "Apprentice of Diego Rivera in Detroit", Dimitroff remembers: "An overwhelming urge to reject art schools and meet a living, active artist, Diego Rivera, had propelled me by night bus and streetcar to the DIA. That early chilly November, 1932, I ran up the marble steps boldly. I winked at the bronze hulk of Rodin's The Thinker - then the fact hit me that this was Monday, when all the museums of the world are closed!" Dimitroff cajoled the guards and finally got in by saying he had to get back to Flint "where my dad was laid off from Buick". The guard turned away,saying, "Well, son, if I don't see you go in I can't stop you."

 He met Rivera and told him he just wanted to watch. He did that for days, going back each night to his $2.50-a-month room, until finally somebody let him grind colors. "It was the depression then, you have to remember, and nobody mentioned money," Dimitroff said with a laugh. "But I was there to learn. It was what I wanted to do."

He was finally hired when one of the assistants suddenly quit. Rivera asked to see some of his paintings and the young man was terrified. "I showed him landscapes and still lifes and portraits of my family, including one of my dad coming back from the factory with his lunch pail. [Rivera said] 'Very fine, sketches good--but why you not paint workers' factory? That's interesting.'  "I was stunned", Dimitroff said. "I didn't know how to answer. The factory was just plain routine to me."

 At one point Dimitroff stopped working long enough to pose for Rivera, whose habit it was to choose real people for the subjects of his paintings. He appears as a pink-shirted worker on the North Wall lifting a motor block with another Rivera assistant, Art Niendorf.

Stephen Dimitroff, cleaning his 1933 portrait - DIA 1986
 Though Bloch and Dimitroff both worked with Rivera in Detroit, they didn't meet there. "I left for New York one day, and Steve showed up in Detroit the next day," Bloch said. They met for the first time months later in New York when Dimitroff and Niendorf came to her door begging for money. They'd been sent from Detroit to Rockefeller Center to prepare the walls of the RCA Building lobby for Rivea's next job--three frescoes commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller depicting "Man at the Crossroads". Rivera kept "forgetting" to send the two men their living expenses and they were dead broke. "You're the only one we know in New York," Niendorf told Bloch. "Can we borrow $20?" When Bloch hesitated, Neindorf said she could be chief photographer for the Rockefeller project. Bloch says now "It was the most significant $20 I ever parted with."

Throughout her days with Rivera in Detroit (where for several months she shared an apartment with Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo) and in New York, Bloch managed to find time to keep a diary. A passage, dated March 20, 1933 has Bloch looking for the Riveras in New York after they'd arrived there fresh from the Detroit project: "I met Dimi (Stephen Dimitroff) at RCA. We went together to the Barbizon-Plaza and looked all over for the Riveras. They were in (Mexican artist) Covarrubias's apartment. They looked great! Diego is relating with hilarious gestures the scandal in Detroit about his frescoes. There are many 'experts' who want to remove them--or whitewash them. Puritanical groups are shocked at the big nudes. Some object that the workers in the factory scenes don't look happy. But the greatest of the commotion is the panel which some call a 'travesty on the Holy Family'. This is a small panel, glorifying the great medical research work of science. It shows a blond baby (The model, Bloch said later, was the kidnapped Lindbergh baby, which Rivera sketched from newspaper photos.) gently held by a nurse with a pretty white cap framing her face. A doctor, the likeness of Dr. Valentiner, director of the DIA, stands by, vaccinating the child. In the foreground are the ox, horse and sheep--the source of serums needed to control epidemics. A beautiful theme! Newspapers are having a holiday on the furor the mural causes. Luckily Edsel Ford shows real GUTS not to weaken before the hue and cry of the bigots. I'm impressed. Maybe he's got some of his Dad's stubbornness. Diego says that thousands of people are visiting the Art Institute who never went there before."

Today, a half-century later, Rivera is back at the DIA in the form of a major retrospective, on view through April 27 before going on to Philadelphia, Mexico City, Madrid and West Berlin. It includes Rivera's huge preparatory drawings--or "cartoons", in museum lingo--found in the basement of the museum in 1979, after the Dimitroffs and others assured staff members the drawings existed and should be there.

And the Dimitroffs, major forces during Rivera's United States stay, are back, too. They're here at the DIA's invitation to teach and lecture on Rivera's Detroit frescoes. Twice a week they're at Detroit's Northern High School teaching the lost art of fresco painting to gifted students who "with such joy, do all the dirty work", Bloch said.

The adults in the class come from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. "There's a 70-year-old man who's just marvelous," she said, "So full of life!" Bloch herself is a 75-year-old dynamo who admitted she works all the time. "We're only happy when we're working," she said, "Our work is our joy."

The lecture schedule is filling up: Oakland, Jackson, Flint, Adrian College and more, before they head back on March 30 to their home in Gualala, 125 miles north of San Francisco, on the edge of California's wine country. And if the year 1986 is significant at the DIA (the retrospective celebrating 100 years since Rivera's birth is a major event designed to coincide with the DIA's Centennial celebration), it is no less significant for the Dimitroffs. In September they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

The two fell in love in New York while they worked on the ill-fated Rockefeller Center frescoes. After seven months of work the murals were almost completed when Rivera, an avowed Communist trying to get back in the good graces of the party, painted the head of Lenin into one prominent scene. The sponsors protested, but Rivera refused to remove it. All work stopped and the murals were eventually smashed to bits.

Earlier, as Dimitroff and the other assistants ground colors and applied the five coats of plaster needed for Rivera's style of fresco, Bloch, the designated photographer, shot roll after roll of film. Later, when the assistants got wind of the shut-down, the photographs took on a new importance. Near the end, when RCA guards were ordered to confiscate cameras, Bloch tucked her little Leica into her blouse and entered the building with Dimitroff, saying they had last-minute work to finish up. While Dimitroff pounded on boards to mask the sounds of the clicking shutter, Bloch took the final photos of the murals--including the controversial head of Lenin.

 "It was insane, that destruction," Bloch said. "Ill never understand why they couldn't just cover the murals with canvas. To destroy such a work. . .and to think it could have happened to the Detroit murals, too."

 Rivera went back to Mexico and the Dimitroffs never saw him again, though Bloch corresponded with Rivera's wife, Frida Kahlo. The Dimitroffs set up a lecture tour to discuss the "Fresco Debacle", as they called it, and when the interest waned, Bloch signed on as a WPA artist.

 "You had to take what they called a 'pauper's oath', saying you didn't have any money, " Bloch recalled of the government project. "Steve absolutely refused to do it, even though he was so broke, but I wanted to. They asked me how much money I had and I told the truth--I said I had $60. They weren't going to let me sign up and I said, 'Listen, by next week I'll have nothing. My rent is due and I have to eat.' Well, they wanted a woman fresco painter so they let me go."

 She painted two frescoes in New York City, one at the Washington school, since torn down, and one at the Women's House of Detention. About that mural she later wrote," Conversations with the inmates revealed with what sarcasm and suspicion they treated the mention of art. I chose the only subject which would not be foreign to them--children--framed in a New York landscape of the most ordinary kind. In their make-believe moments the children in the mural were adopted and renamed. Such response clearly reveals to what degree a mural can, aside from its artistic value, act as a healthy tonic on the lives of all of us."

They moved to Flint, Dimitroff's hometown, where he worked as a machinist and later a draftsman, and she taught art classes twice a week at the Flint Institute of Art. "After we'd been there about eight years--by that time we had three kids and a house--we proposed a mural for the offices or dining room at General Motors," Bloch said. "Something in the style of Rivera. They weren't the least bit interested. That's when we decided we had done all we could in Flint, so we sold the house, loaded up the kids, tents and sleeping bags into the car and headed out west."

As they surveyed the frescoes at the DIA last week before rushing off for another speaking engagement, Bloch said, "Since those days with Diego, Steve and I have never stopped working together. And our great love is still fresco painting. We do other things out of necessity. You can't make a living from frescoes--each one takes too long--so we've done book illustrations, mosaics, anything anyone asks of us.

 "Sad to say, fresco painting is becoming a lost art. It's scary to see in print how much work goes into it. It sounds more complicated than it really is. There's a joy to it. You can see it in the students at the fresco workshop. But it is very difficult work--time consuming--and artists nowadays seem to want to do everything spontaneously. They don't seem to understand that even the spontaneous Japanese and Chinese brush painting is done only after 30 years of study. Very disciplined study.

 "So our joy is turning people on to painting frescoes again. Aside from a man we heard about in Texas, we seem to be the only true fresco painters left in this country. And that is so sad."

( Stephen died in 1993 and Lucienne in 1999. Her NYT obit is here)