What’s at stake

This is a great political commercial: Unironic, straightforward, unadorned by the stupid music or juvenile slow-motion perp shots we see in many negative ads. There’s no need for any of that given what’s at stake for millions of people.

Please vote–not for people like me or my relatively privileged colleagues who write for samefacts, but for many others who have so much to lose if we all let down our guard when faced with a grifting demagogue who might become president. This one really matters.

Johnny Mathis vs. Al Jolson vs. Neil Diamond covering Kol Nidre

All three kindof rock. I like Al Jolson’s the best. But Johnny Mathis is pretty great, too. Plus Mathis has the best acting. Best to all my friends and families for an easy and reflective holiday. I always find the caffeine deprivation the most difficult part.
Continue reading “Johnny Mathis vs. Al Jolson vs. Neil Diamond covering Kol Nidre”

Weekend Film Recommendation: Bone Tomahawk

For a few years now, Keith and I have made a point of running a themed month of horror films during October. We’re kicking off horror season this year with an utterly ghoulish and gory flick that is guaranteed to leave you feeling queasy. Think Eli Roth gets lost in the Wild West, and you’ll be on track to understand S. Craig Zahler’s debut film Bone Tomahawk. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Bone Tomahawk”

Weekend Film Recommendation: Fruitvale Station

I felt sadly unable to share in the joy that others voiced after Clinton’s resounding victory in the presidential debate on Monday night. I was too gripped by the candidates’ responses to the question about race and the criminal justice system.  Although Trump’s answer was straightforwardly disqualifying, and I’m heartened by Clinton’s sincerity and devotion to unraveling the pathologies of penal power, she nonetheless left me dissatisfied by what felt to me like an anemic answer. I’m evidently still processing the evening. In the meantime, I wanted to re-post a review I wrote in 2013 of Fruitvale Station, which appeared before places like Ferguson, Missouri entered the national consciousness, because that film that has since crystallized in my mind as a helpful touchstone for my thinking on the subject.

*************** Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Fruitvale Station”

I’m (almost) glad for all that blatantly anti-Semitic hatemail

Over my career as a public commentator, I have always gotten the occasional anti-Semitic email. That was particularly if I wrote about abortion, (rarely) Israel, or some other hot-button issue. When the Journolist scandal broke, I got an especially high volume of hate-mail that focused on my name, appearance, and heritage. Of course I often get rough messages from people who disagree with me in the thrust and parry of presidential politics and the politics of health reform.It wasn’t always pleasant. It comes with the territory.

None of this prepared me for 2016.

I and many others who write for fairly broad audiences are being deluged with antisemitic messages from Trump supporters. They come mostly on Twitter, but on private emails and blogs, too. Many alt-right messages bracket our names like so: (((haroldpollack))), to indicate that we are Jewish. A message from this morning is one of the milder and more printable ones:


I’ve lost count of such missives, and many worse ones. Many include four-letter words and colorful vocabulary that is quite familiar to me from my experience working on public health interventions for high-risk adolescents and adults. I block everyone who sends me these messages. For all I know, there are hundreds more.

Then there was the long rambling email that recently landed in my box, whose highlights include:

….The 1960s feminism were led by jewish Marxists (Betty Freidan, mentally ill Gloria Steinem). Porn and the sexual revolution and anti-American propaganda came directly from the jews in Hollywood and media….

Every single detrimental social movement in the US came from utopian jewish Marxists.

Joe McCarthy and the House Unamerican Committee was absolutely correct. Most of the jewish community should have been shot or imprisoned…


I don’t generally share such missives. Why give hateful and sick people a larger platform? Besides, every commentator with a vaguely Jewish-sounding name is getting the same stuff. This isn’t exactly newsworthy. Yet if you’re not in the public eye, you should know this is going on.

In a strange way, I’m almost–almost–glad that these anti-Semitic messages are out there. They remind many of us on the receiving end of a few basic realities that hang over our contested, pluralist democracy. They should remind us of what many others are facing, who have so very much more to lose if our nation jumps off the political cliff this November.

Black lives …

Two incredible additions to the BLM file.



Washington Post, September 12 [the incident dates to May 6]

I’m too flabbergasted to comment intelligently. Can readers help me understand wtf is going on? By “going on”, I mean the clear pattern of American police shooting African-American men and boys who do not in fact pose a significant threat to their lives or those of third parties. Not bad judgement calls, but massive and egregious errors. The police chief’s firing of Steven Mader implies that killing armed African-American men is his firm SOP, whether or not they represent a deadly threat.

European cops kill people by mistake too. London cops killed the harmless Brazilian turnstile-jumper de Menezes in the panicky aftermath of the bus bombings. French cops have been known to shoot young Arabs who don’t stop at roadside checkpoints, and suspects “fleeing the scene of the crime”. British cops run over pedestrians in high-speed car chases. These bavures (French: “droolings”) are not regarded as SOP and get investigated.

A suggestion for Barack Obama. The fired officer in West Virginia, ex-Marine Steven Mader, read a dangerous situation correctly – Ronald Williams had a gun at his side which was in fact unloaded. (He was sadly killed by the backup officers who followed Mader to the scene). He looks the kind of level-headed person the Secret Service or FBI could use. A phone call would send a good message.

Help me out here.

[Note: an earlier version of this post included a second headline claiming police shot a young black mother in Atlanta in an altercation over her breastfeeding her baby. This story, according to Snopes, is a fabrication. I thank my commenter to letting me know, and apologise for my credulity. This is also shocking in a different way. Made-up stories apparently reinforcing a true narrative tend to discredit it, and objectively reinforce denial. The truth is quite bad enough.]

Helping those affected by community violence

I attended a lovely event for Bright Star Community Outreach last night. The event commemorates the launch of a new Turn Center to provide trauma-informed services. Congratulations to Pastor Chris Harris and his colleagues in this important effort. Congratulations also to my University of Chicago Medical Center and Northwestern Hospital colleagues who have taken lead roles in this partnership, particularly my SSA colleague Deborah Gorman Smith and her team, who lead the effort in our school.


The event was held at Martin Luther King College Prep at 45th St. and South Drexel Boulevard in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Bronzeville is by no means Chicago’s toughest neighborhood. But it’s tough enough. Many in the audience last night had lost children, siblings, partners, parents, or other loved-ones to gun violence. Hadya Pendleton was only the most well-known of the precious people who have been lost.

This memorial to Ms. Pendleton may be the first thing that catches your eye as you enter the school’s front door. Pardon my poor photographic composition. You get the point there.

Cable TV pundits commonly charge that African-Americans communities are reluctant to acknowledge or face the high rate of “black-on-black crime” occurring in Chicago and across the United States.Remember this picture when you hear such claims. That charge displays the insulting psychological distance between these pundits and the communities they are discussing. Nothing could be further from the truth. No topic is more widely-discussed than the incredible toll of gun violence among Chicago youth.

People are desperate to make progress in reducing the violence. I hope and expect that the new Turn Center will be helpful in this effort. During the ceremony, Pastor Harris commented: “Don’t talk about the violence until you are doing something to reduce this violence.”Indeed.

More pics below the fold. Those who wish to donate can do so here. Continue reading “Helping those affected by community violence”

Johnny Mathis vs. Al Jolson vs. Neil Diamond: Who does the best cover for Kol Nidre

All three kindof rock. I like Al Jolson’s the best. But Johnny Mathis is pretty great, too. Plus Mathis has the best acting.
Continue reading “Johnny Mathis vs. Al Jolson vs. Neil Diamond: Who does the best cover for Kol Nidre”

Of Swastikas and Second Chances

Some months ago, I visited South Dakota for the first time. Like most San Francisco Bay Area residents, my understandings of the people of South Dakota were limited to three generalities: They are politically conservative, overwhelming white and heavily descended from German immigrants. With that as my limited mental map, I arrived at my hotel and immediately saw the following enormous chandelier in the lobby:

After a double-take moment, I did what the overwhelming majority of people would do, namely I assumed there was something I did not understand. I asked the nice lady at the counter and found out that yes, there was indeed a crucial bit of information without which I would have drawn the wrong conclusion: I was looking at a pre-WWII Native American symbol with no connection to Adolf et al.

Moments like this one are common in a diverse society: We confront a behavior, symbol or word that could betoken prejudice but could also have no malicious intent. As a psychologist, I have long been interested in why we sometimes assume the best in such situations versus the worst. Why do we give some people a second chance to explain their true intent whereas with others we immediately go ballistic and protest their apparent racism/sexism/insensitivity? Continue reading “Of Swastikas and Second Chances”