Friday, July 3, 2020

Is Trump a Golem?

In Jewish legend, a Golem is an anthropomorphic creature formed out of dirt or mud. The Golem is a shapeless mass, not alive, but not dead either. The being is brought to life by a religious figure to combat a clear and present danger. Like Frankenstein, the Golem runs amok and becomes a destructive force.

The most well known Golem story comes from a 16th Century European folktale. In the village of Prague, Rabbi Judah Bezalel grows alarmed when an anti-Semitic priest incites villagers against Jews. The rabbi gathers clay from the banks of the Vitava River and molds a human-like figure. He breathes life into the creation by inscribing the Hebrew word "emeth" (truth) in the Golem's forehead. The rabbi instructs the Golem to fend off the evil townspeople and protect the Jewish community. The Golem goes mad and destroys the village killing innocent people. The rabbi then renders the Golem lifeless by smudging out the first letter on the Golem's forehead leaving the Hebrew word "meth" (death).

A Golem vaguely resembles a human being. It has great strength but its eyes are empty. It speaks crudely and can barely communicate. It is brought to life to do the bidding of its creators. A community turns to a Golem only when all other hope for salvation is gone.

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, white working class Americans were in trouble. White men without a college degree suffered from high unemployment, stagnating wages and a rise in deaths from opioid addiction, alcoholism and suicide. Many lost homes in the Crash of 2008. They felt left behind by the global community and ignored by politicians.

Trump tapped into this Zeitgeist of despair. He promised to bring back jobs, to fight against immigrants and to "lock up" corrupt politicians. He disdained political correctness and eviscerated enemies with a candor typically reserved for Hollywood Roasts. Working class whites yearned for an avenging angel, a Golem-like figure to save them. Trump eagerly took on this role.

According to the Talmud, the compilation of Jewish law and commentaries, a Golem has several clear characteristics. Coincidentally, some of these traits are found in Donald Trump. One, a Golem exhibits no emotion, no empathy and no conscience. Two, a Golem is uncultivated and crude. (The Hebrew word golem means stupid.) Three, a Golem represents the shadow side of humanity, the unconscious run amok. Four, a Golem is a shapeless mass. It is large, dark and murky. Five, a Golem can barely communicate; it has a mouth but does not effectively use it. Six, a Golem has no spiritual qualities because it has no soul. Seven, a Golem comes to life quickly, thrives for a limited time then deactivates just as quickly.

The Golem/Trump analogy is not so far fetched. Golems become animated through an ecstatic experience by a religious figure or community. Evangelicals are some of Trump's most ardent supporters. Like a Golem, Trump needed the euphoric zeal of a religious community to rise to prominence.

Once awakened, a Golem becomes uncontrollable and rebellious. A Golem is always accompanied by death and destruction. The Coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 130,000 Americans. The economy is at risk, political division is supercharged and pundits on both sides are predicting gloom and doom.

Is it possible Trump is a Golem incarnate? If so, this would explain why he doesn't wear a face mask. He knows a virus cannot kill him because he's not alive to begin with. This also accounts for his lying. A Golem is a false being, the antithesis of truth. Trump enjoys taunting opponents because he knows Democrats and the media cannot bring him down. The only ones who can destroy a Golem are those who created it.

The Golem/Trump analogy has special utility for Christians. Believers are taught that before the Second Coming of Christ, a false prophet will appear. This person "will exalt himself" and "proclaim himself to be God." Trump once told reporters, "I am the Chosen One." He was obviously kidding, but he inadvertently brought up an important issue for Christians. If Christians are unable or unwilling to recognize the true essence of Trump, what hope do they have in recognizing the Anti-Christ? Clearly, Trump is not the Anti-Christ. But might he be a Golem? If so, Trump is wonderful practice for the apocalypse.

Golem stories are cautionary tales. A community turns to a Golem because they have lost faith in God. They summon a dark energy force to do their bidding and destroy their enemies. But their hubris turns to folly and they themselves are destroyed. These stories always end the same. Once a Golem defends its community, it turns against its maker. And the results are never pretty. (4" x 6", black ink print)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

High Noon

In 1946, when Carl Foreman began outlining his new script for a revisionist Western, the Allies had just won the war and the United Nations was a brand new entity. Foreman wanted to write an allegory about the need for world unity to defeat unchecked aggression and uphold democracy.  The story would be about a lawman recruiting local townspeople to help fight a gang of violent outlaws.  Then the Cold War started. The spirit of cooperation between the United States and Russia was replaced by a new era of anxiety and mistrust.

By the time Foreman started his first draft of High Noon, America had shifted right and opportunistic Republicans were accusing domestic communist sympathizers of being a serious threat to American freedom. Karl Baarslag of the American Legion said, "A communist is a completely transformed, unrecognizable and dedicated man. While he may retain the physical characteristics of the rest of us, his mental and psychic processes might as well be from another planet." In other words, communists were like zombies dedicated to destroying the American way of life.

J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, called communists "masters of deceit."  His paranoia had a seed of truth since the American Communist Party did take marching orders from Joseph Stalin. But most American communists were not agents of a foreign power. Like Bernie Sanders supporters today, they were responding to the inequality of American wealth distribution. They desired change through peaceful means, not revolution.

Carl Foreman was a struggling screenwriter. Like many of his peers, he joined the communist party in 1938. "The idea was just in the air," he said. He quit the party in 1943 after enlisting in the army. During World War II he made military training films with Frank Capra including writing the film Know Your Enemy-Japan. After the war, he returned to Hollywood and his career took off. He worked with his friend, producer Stanley Kramer, writing the films Champion and The Men (Marlon Brando's debut). Both were nominated for Best Screenplay awards.

As Foreman toiled on the High Noon screenplay, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) held public hearings into communist infiltration of Hollywood. HUAC ignored Foreman in their first round of hearings in 1947. "I was a very unimportant little fellow," Foreman said. But as his career grew in prominence, HUAC took notice. In 1951, Foreman received a pink letter in the mail. It was a HUAC subpoena commanding him to appear before the committee. Foreman had two choices: confess his communist past and provide names of fellow travelers or plead the Fifth and refuse to answer questions. Option one meant humiliation; option two was career suicide.

As he contemplated his choices, his High Noon screenplay took a new direction. It became an allegory about the blacklist. Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) was Carl Foreman. The outlaws gunning for the marshall were the H.U.A.C. members threatening Foreman's livelihood. The cowardly citizens of the small town were Foreman's Hollywood peers who refused to protest the blacklist. "As I was writing the screenplay, it became insane," Foreman said. "Life was mirroring art and art was mirroring life…I became the Gary Cooper character."

The Cold War gained momentum and national sentiment turned against the so-called "reds in Hollywood." Ten prominent filmmakers (the Hollywood Ten) were convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison. Stanley Kramer, the producer of High Noon, had a difficult decision. He'd started his own production company and was on the verge of a distribution deal with Columbia. He knew if he publicly supported Foreman, he'd risk his studio deal.

Foreman tried to convince Kramer to remain strong and resist the committee. Kramer urged Foreman not to plead the Fifth as if he had something to hide. Kramer felt this would cast shade on everyone involved with High Noon. The two old friends became enemies. By the second week of production, Kramer told Foreman to hand in his resignation and sell his stock options in the film. Foreman refused. He wanted to see the film through to the end. He also didn't want to testy before HUAC as someone who'd lost the support of his peers.

Foreman was fired. But Fred Zinnemann, the film's director, and Gary Cooper, the star, objected. In addition, Kramer learned that Foreman never signed a contract deferring his film salary. This meant the bank financing the film could cut off funding needed to complete production. Kramer had no choice but to rehire Foreman as writer and associate producer. According to Foreman, Kramer told him, "Well, you've won." They met for several hours but their friendship officially ended that day.

On September 24, 1951, Foreman drove to the Los Angeles Federal Building to testify in front of HUAC. When asked if he was a communist, he said he'd signed a loyalty oath for the Screen Writers Guild stating he was not a communist party member. "That statement was true at the time and is true today," he said. Committee members asked if he'd been a communist prior to 1950. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.  He also refused to name names of other communists.

HUAC members grew agitated but Foreman stood firm. He was labeled an "uncooperative witness." Days after his testimony, stockholders and company directors of High Noon legally removed Foreman from all involvement with the film. "They threw me to the wolves," Foreman said. Foreman's lawyers negotiated a settlement for around $150,000 and Foreman surrendered his associate producer credit.

He was at the peak of his craft and one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood, but Foreman was blacklisted and unable to find work. Frustrated, he moved to London where he lived and worked for the next 25 years. In 1956, he co-wrote The Bridge On the River Kwai. The film won a Best Screenplay Oscar but due to the blacklist the screen credit went to Pierre Boule, author of the novel that inspired the film. Not until 1984 did the Motion Picture Academy finally recognize Foreman (and co-writer Michael Wilson) as the true screenwriters. Foreman died of a brain tumor a few months before received his belated Oscar.

High Noon was released in 1952 and was a smash success. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Screenplay and Best Picture. President Eisenhower loved the movie. Ronald Reagan called High Noon his favorite film. So did Bill Clinton who screen the film in the White House 17 times.

Not everyone was a fan. John Wayne, an ardent conservative and anti-communist, called High Noon "the most un-American thing I've seen in my whole life. I didn't think a good marshall was going to run around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking everyone to help. And who saves him? His quaker wife. This isn't my idea of a good western." (8" x 9", black ink print)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Howard Cosell

So I had this dream. Howard Cosell is standing on Wilshire Boulevard near the La Brea Tarpits. He is alone, but very much alive. In vintage Cosell fashion, he holds a microphone in hand and is reporting on the Coronavirus as if it were an epic sporting event.

Hello again everyone, it's Howard Cosell. It's good to be here with you. It figures to be a monumental battle today, one that does not need any buildup. In one corner we have the crazed conspiratorial crackpots, the delusional denizens of our arrogant terrestrial sphere. Weighing in at 7.5 billion with a prognosticated diminishment of 4.8%, please welcome the citizens of planet earth.

In the other corner, a brash and truculent rookie, a provocateur of pestilence, an instigator of immolation ready to assert itself atop the pandemic podium, please welcome COVID-19.

Every indication is that the humans are taking this bout with less than the necessary solemnity appropriate for this juncture. It is quite apparent to this trained observer that they are not suitably garbed and do not have the facial covering requisite for such a barbaric battle. The opponent is obstinate and unwavering in its mission to subjugate the hubristic humans.

Just a few short months ago, the virus was toiling in impoverished anonymity in a foreign land. It tussled in undistinguished wet markets sustaining itself on putrid pangolin and the bloated buttocks of barbecued bats. But then, November 17, 2019, a silent rumble was heard from a small village in Wuhan, China. Unbeknownst to the world, a beast was unleashed. From these humble origins, the opponent quickly rose through the ranks to become a ruthless, contemptible contender for king of terra firma.

We watched in awestruck consternation as the virus vanquished all opponents. Some never believed this little-known adversary would have the audacious temerity to challenge our species. But the skirmish has escalated in intensity and it now appears to this reporter that the hominid heroes of yesteryear are in for the battle of their lives.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my charge to be dispassionate and evenhanded. But I would be less than candid if I acknowledged any personal bent toward impartiality. It's time to take off the gloves and ameliorate these microscopic marauders. I call it like I see it and I say this clash is one for the ages. This is Howard Cosell signing off. (5" x 7", black ink print)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Archangel Raphael

Raphael is the angel associated with healing. In Hebrew, his name translates to "the medicine of God." Catholics refer to Raphael as the patron saint of doctors, nurses and medical workers. Throughout Italy, health facilities are called Raphael Centers.
     Raphael is one of four archangels. The others are Michael, Gabriel and Uriel. In the New Testament, Raphael is thought to be the unnamed angel who stirs the healing pool at Bethesda. In the Babylonian Talmud, three angels appear to Abraham. Each is given a specific mission by God. Michael is told to inform Sarah she will give birth to Isaac. Gabriel is told to destroy Sodom. Raphael's charge is to heal and save human beings.
   The Bible teaches that angels are real and can work on our behalf. ("Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?") But we are not to worship or pray directly to angels. We are to worship and pray only to God.  ("Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.") Angels do God's bidding. Their power comes from God. When they intervene on our behalf, they've been sent by God.
     Several years ago, I was suffering from horrible allergies. I visited my doctor but he was inconclusive. Medicine was ineffective. I went on a wheat and dairy detox but the allergies continued. I prayed to God for guidance. I woke one morning with a word in my head. "Aubergine." My wife told me this is French for eggplant. I booked an appointment with a kinesiologist who'd helped me with health issues over the years. She concluded I was allergic to nightshade vegetables. She gave me a list of foods to avoid: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and of course, eggplant. I abstained from eggplant and the allergies went away.
     According to the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Connecting With Your Angels, this is how Raphael works. He provides hunches to guide you in your healing. He often works in riddles (as in "aubergine"). Maybe he'll inform a dream with an obscure message. He's a bit of a prankster. He might drop healing foods into your shopping cart or knock a book off a shelf you're meant to read. Perhaps he'll "accidentally" cue you to a new way of thinking.
     In 1928, the British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming returned from a vacation to his London lab. He noticed something unusual in one of his petri dishes. New colonies of Staphylococcus had spread throughout the dish except in one area where a blob of green mold was growing. He tested the mold and found it to be a rare strain of Penicillium notatum. The mold secreted a "juice" that inhibited growth of the Staph bacteria. Further testing revealed the mold killed other harmful bacteria like streptococcus, meningococcus and diphtheria bacillus. This is how the world's first antibiotic was discovered. Fleming's biographer Gwyn Macfarlane wrote that the discovery of Penicillin was "a series of chance events of almost unbelievable improbability."
      Raphael heals the body, mind and spirit. He delivers those who are plagued by dark energies. In the apocryphal Book of Tobit (part of the Catholic biblical canon), Raphael protects Sarah and Tobias from the demon Asmodeus.  Raphael reminds us to focus on God's light. He teaches that stress and worry do not help the healing process.  He is associated with laughter and he helps us to see the humor in all situations.
     In 1964, journalist Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and crippling collagen disease. Doctors gave him a 1 in 500 chance of recovery. He realized he needed to learn why his body was reacting as it did. Among his vast collection of books, one stood out: Hans Selye's The Stress of Life. He read that negative emotions like frustration or suppressed rage are linked to illness. This gave him a hunch. If negative emotions make you sick, perhaps positive emotions like love, joy and laughter are healing.
     He took out his 16mm movie projector and watched Marx Brothers Films, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton. He binge-watched Candid Camera. He noted that just ten minutes of induced laughter per day produced two hours of painless sleep. He put himself on a laughter therapy regimen. The more he laughed, the faster he healed. His pain diminished and he regained the use of his limbs. Within two years he was walking again and cured of the disease. Doctors were baffled. Cousins wrote about his experience in the 1979 book An Anatomy of An Illness. He lived pain-free until dying at the age of 75 in 1990.
     In classic artistic depictions of Raphael, he is usually shown holding a staff symbolizing healing or with a caduceus emblem representing the medical profession. Believers say Raphael's energy corresponds with the color green. When Raphael is present, you may see or sense an emerald green light. Green crystals like malachite or emerald are used by healers to invoke Raphael's presence. The penicillin mold in Alexander Fleming's petri dish was green. The 1956 first edition book cover of The Stress of Life featured author Hans Selye's name in green.
     In the Book of Tobit, Raphael takes human form to help a family in distress. He heals them and protects them from evil. Only at the end of the story does he reveal his true angelic nature and his mission. "The Lord hath sent me to heal thee…For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the Lord…when I was with you I was there by the will of God…It is time that I return to him that sent me; bless ye God and publish all his wonderful works." (7" x 9", black ink print)

Saturday, March 7, 2020


When I heard the news of Kobe Bryant's death, my first instinct was to call my father. My dad died back in October and we'd always bonded over the Lakers. I yearned for his voice to help me make sense of Kobe's passing.
     I spent the next week immersed in news articles, sports talk and Kobe YouTube clips. I spent hours on the phone with friends commiserating and speculating on the cause of the accident. I drove to Staples Center and walked among thousands of grieving Lakers fans. No one wanted to accept reality. 41-year Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles's favorite son, was gone and he was not coming back.
     Kobe was complicated.  He was brash and petulant and often rubbed people the wrong way. There was the sexual assault accusation in Colorado and the feud with Shaquille O'Neal. In the 2006 playoffs against Phoenix, Kobe refused to shoot costing the Lakers the game in order to prove that his teammates were awful. His own coach Phil Jackson wrote that Kobe "was uncoachable."
     Kobe was a basketball prodigy. His skill set was unmatched and his work ethic legendary. To watch Kobe play basketball was like watching Baryshnikov dance or Bobby Fischer play chess. His jump shot was elegant, his footwork sublime. He was a tactical master able to exploit opponent weaknesses and psych out rivals with Jedi-level trash talk. Unlike anyone since Michael Jordan, Kobe's strength was his tenacity and willingness to do whatever was necessary to win a game. This is why Lakers fans loved him. He gave everything he had and became an on-court role model for how to live life with passion and commitment.
     The day Kobe died Los Angeles had it's heart ripped out. People were dazed and confused. Kobe was like a superhero. He can't die. If he dies, what chance do the rest of us have? Everyone was glued to their phones waiting for news updates. When the revelation came that Kobe's daughter also died, people lost it.
     Speculation immediately arose about the cause of the accident. The morning was foggy. Law enforcement helicopters were grounded. Yet Kobe's pilot was given permission to fly. Everyone I spoke with asked the same question. Did Kobe urge the pilot to fly despite the dangers? This seemed like a Kobe move. Or did the pilot himself feel pressure to please his A-List client?
     It was reported that Kobe and his daughter received communion at an Orange County church prior to the accident. This prompted a friend to suggest that Kobe accomplished his duties on earth and was being called back to God. But what about his daughter, I asked. "Sometimes people get swept up in the energy field of others." My friend, like everyone else, was trying to make sense of the senseless.
     Watching an interview with Tracy McGrady on ESPN, I heard a story about Kobe's early days. McGrady shared how 17-year old Kobe predicted his future in the NBA, how he'd win multiple championships, win MVP and score more points than Michael Jordan. All of these things came to fruition. Then McGrady added a coda. Kobe used to say, "I want to die young. I want to be immortalized."
     When I heard McGrady's words, I thought of the biblical passage about the power of the spoken word. "The tongue has the power of life and death." Kobe's will was indomitable. Combined with his passion, he was able to impress upon his subconscious a vision of fame and success. He spoke his future into existence. Did his statement about dying young play a part in his destiny?
     Kobe always wanted to be better than Michael Jordan. His primary competitor in this regard was Lebron James. The night before the accident, Lebron eclipsed Kobe's career scoring total. Kobe was gracious, tweeting "Much respect my brother" (his final tweet). Less than twelve hours later Kobe was dead. The sequence of events is surreal. Lebron breaks Kobe's record threatening Kobe's pursuit of immortality. Kobe dies in a tragic accident and his name is immortalized forever.
     Like my friends, I've been struggling to process the tragedy. Kobe brought me so much joy his death was like losing a friend. I've always yearned for life to make sense. Kobe's death makes no sense. We're all going to die. This is a fact that unites us and gives life meaning. Maybe the only lesson is to appreciate every moment since we don't know when our final day will come. (6" x 7", black ink print)