Our Children, Ourselves

Children can thaw the iciest of souls and bring the most unlikely people together. Do you want to befriend those parents of the new kid in your son’s class? Compliment their child. You’ll be invited to dinner faster than you would be than if you spent hours with them on the bleachers. Trying to win someone over? A nice word or two about their offspring will transform them from foe to friend in a heartbeat. Even the meanest man on earth will turn into Tom Hanks when they hear nice words about their kids. People believe this reflects well on their parenting skills, and in most cases it does.

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump entered the Town Hall arena for the second debate, the lack of a handshake was awkward and out of place for the situation. (Maybe Hillary was afraid Donald, “The Octopus,” might grab her inappropriately.) The chill in the air must have made the auditorium seem like a walk-in refrigerator. They couldn’t have been more distant than bitter ex-lovers, despite Trump hovering behind Clinton like a serial predator. When it was his turn to talk, the vitriol flew. He reminded us about a doomed USA and how we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. Punctuated by odd sniffing, there were endless put downs, repetitions of the word ‘disaster’ and crazy assertions. Adding insult to injury, Trump said his opponent had hate in her heart and should be locked up.

Then the magic happened. Near the end of the debate, an audience member asked what the candidates admired in each other. We all racked our brains and scratched our heads wondering how Clinton would respond. Despite the difficulty of the question, she did not miss a beat. Clinton complimented Trump on his children. She said,

…Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that. And I think that is something that as a mother and a grandmother is very important to me.

The seas parted, the angels started singing and the planets aligned. All was right with the world. The Republican candidate puffed out his chest. It was as if Charlize Theron had called him sexy. America was great again! In fact, Trump was so proud, so tickled, that he lost himself completely. When it was his turn to respond, he contradicted himself from an earlier debate when he questioned Clinton’s stamina. But in the afterglow of her kind words, he said,

I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that. I tell it like it is. She’s a fighter. I disagree with much of what she’s fighting for. I do disagree with her judgment in many cases. But she does fight hard, and she doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. And I consider that to be a very good trait.

A burst of sunshine lit up the dark dismal campaign. The two candidates approached each other and shook hands, ending the session on a positive note. All was well. Even if it was only for a moment.

How an Indie Film About Turkish Orphans is Germane to the Presidential Election

When “Mustang” opened to a small handful of U.S. theaters last year, critics gushed. But like many independent films, it evaporated at cinemas like an ice cube on a hot stove. When it showed up on Amazon recently, I was ecstatic and planned an evening to watch it with my husband and teen aged daughter. From the opening scene to the end credits, we were totally engrossed. Charmed and repelled. Happy and incredulous. Our hearts broke. The good news is that “Mustang” has a good outcome, although it’s bittersweet. Then a funny thing happened on our way out to get ice cream: We realized this Turkish/French film is soberly relevant to the U.S. presidential election.

The film takes place in a small village in Turkey. At its center are five beautiful and spirited sisters on the last day of school before summer break. As the girls leave the school grounds, they decide to ditch the hot, crowded bus and walk home. On the way, they frolic and gallop, like a group of wild mustangs, with their long, dark hair, blowing in the warm wind. A detour to the beach with a group of boys soon has them in the sparkling, azure water, soaking their school uniforms and their hair, as they chicken fight atop the boys’ shoulders.

Their gleeful fun has extreme consequences when a meddling neighbor in a “shit-colored” dress (Lale’s description), rats the girls out to their strict grandmother before they arrive home. They walk in the door, still giddy with joy, but the mood in the house is anything but mirthful. The sisters are surprised by the reaction to their innocent behavior. Without any discussion or respect to their viewpoints, they are scolded, shamed and physically abused. Meaningful possessions, like makeup and music, and are locked away. They are stripped of phones and electronics to block them from the outside world. They are made to wear those ugly shit-colored dresses. Home becomes a “wife factory” where the sisters learn how to stuff dumplings, sew and do other chores reserved only for females. They are living in a virtual prison, complete with iron grates on the windows and locks on the doors.It is determined that the girls will all be married off, to men they don’t know, whether they want to or not. They are disrespected and have no choice. So the girls are forced to play hostess to strange men that come to over to “approve” them, while serving Turkish coffee they’ve resentfully spit into. In another scene, Lale, an enthusiastic soccer fan, begs her uncle if she can attend a match. It’s out of the question, but that doesn’t crush her spirit. Being the catalyst for much of the action in the film, Lale finds a way to escape to the stadium with her sisters. The scenes are delightful, from climbing through a tunnel to get off their property, to flagging down a ride and cheering in the stands with their long dark hair flowing like wild horses. The girls break loose on other occasions, but afterwards, the house is reinforced with even more iron and steel. As a final blow, the girls are not allowed to return to school (a waste of time anyway, since girls are only good as baby making machines and housekeepers). Their environment is closing in, but the strength of their bond and fiery spirit fortify us. Kinship is reflected in every glorious frame of the film and these sisters make confinement almost seem tolerable. One scene shows all five girls entangled on the floor as they play with each other’s toes before falling asleep. The atmosphere is comforting and warm, despite the cold, dark place in which they’ve been trapped.

Appallingly, the movie reflects how women in many countries are still treated today. (In fact, the film is based on an actual experience by the film’s director, Deniz Gamze Erguven.) There’s no equality for women — no driving, no sex before marriage, severe punishment for not abiding by men’s rules and no continuing education. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Women are second-class citizens with no say. Women are degraded, humiliated and disrespected all the time. Sadly, their suffering is as routine as the setting sun. Girls in progressive, democratic countries who see “Mustang” will be astonished to observe a culture that oppresses women in this day and age. Sadly, traces of this attitude aren’t all that outrageous to some here. Of course, a Donald Trump presidency would not turn America into a small village in Turkey. What it will do is set women way back, undermining much of the progress that has been made. “Mustang” is a must-see movie for anyone who is within spitting distance of voting Republican this year. This important film will break hearts. Most importantly, it can change minds.

 

 

The Data (plan) Ate My Homework

Teens and smartphone

Photo: Olaf Speier

In February, The Wall Street Journal featured a story that must have freaked out parents and guardians everywhere. In “Smartphones Go to School, reporter Charlie Wells cites an increasing number of schools nationwide that are allowing gadgets in the classroom for quizzes, homework and projects.

Massachusetts-based educator, Joni Siani, is an outspoken and passionate advocate of media literacy in schools and author of Celling your Soul: No App for Life. (This book was made into a movie by her students and was named best documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival last year.) Siani says,

Using smartphones in class is not only counterproductive, but downright insane. Assignments done on a gadget is homework in tiny chunks of thought with little reflection.”

Not to mention the excuses. Dogs will no longer be the scapegoats for missed assignments. Instead, maxed out data plans will be blamed for incomplete projects or homework that just didn’t get done.

It is well documented that overuse of electronics by children is detrimental to their growth. The Learning Habit, published in 2014, reveals that grades, sleep, social skills and emotional balance begin to decline after just 45 minutes of media use. A 2015 study by the London School of Economics found kids banned from using phones at school did much better on test scores than those who were allowed to use them. The impact of banning the devices was equal to an extra hour a week at school or a five-day increase in the school year.

Ironically, many tech leaders are anti-tech parents. Apple founder Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use an iPad. Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired also had strict rules on electronics use at home. When asked why, Anderson said, “Because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, and I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

At a time when adults are talking about balance, stress management and Internet overload, our children are increasingly hooked on technology. Classrooms should be a safe haven from distractions and a focused learning environment, but teachers are caving in to their students’ desires. Comedian Paula Poundstone said it best. In reference to excessive smartphone usage, she said, “Some kids like heroin. Does that mean we’re going to give it to them?”

Surprisingly, many people defend the use of smartphones in class. And not just those profiting from the technology. John Kim, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, told the WSJ, “The teaching profession has yet to catch up with how students are using the devices.”

Apparently our overworked, underfunded, dedicated teachers don’t have enough to do. Certainly the Internet is a superb research tool. Except when the student gets sidetracked by Snapchat while looking up the per capita income of Zaire. But will writing a paper on a smartphone make the topic stick better? Why is technology driving the content of the learning? At what cost? Who really benefits?

According to Siani, encouraging more gadget use is not what students want. And she should know. During the past seven years, she has interviewed thousands of kids and parents about the effects of digital communication. The response has been eye-opening. Young people are desperate for relief from the demands of 24/7 connectivity. After a recent screening of her film at a Boston area high school, a student asked if she could “just vent” about the pressure from smartphone distractions. Last year, 25 teenagers at another school sat with Siani for two hours after watching the film, waiting to be heard. Many were in tears. (The filmmaker says this happens after nearly every screening.)

“Parents and kids look to their schools for leadership,” says Siani. Therefore, it’s important for superintendents, teachers and other educators to help kids unhook from their gadgets, instead of enabling them. Nationwide, rules on smartphone use in school varies, but consistent, digital communications policies in classrooms are needed that benefit the children. Not Samsung, not Apple or Verizon or Sprint, or the many other companies that provide the technology.

Steve Jobs must be rolling over in his grave.

Santorini Dreamin’ on Such a Winter’s Day

The view outside of Doretta, on a cold winter's night

An arctic winter night was made tolerable by going to Doretta taverna and raw bar, an oasis of casual cool in Boston’s theater district.

Getting me to leave a cozy house on a frigid winter night is like trying to move a mountain. So when my husband roused me from my sleepy, snow day stupor to venture out, it was a Herculean feat. He was able to do this because we were going to Doretta taverna and raw bar. The restaurant opened late last year and is located at The Heritage on the Garden in Boston.

The moment we arrived, the Boho chic of a modern art studio enveloped us and we were greeted with the warmth of a Santorini summer breeze. We were early for our reservation, so we waited on a stylishly upholstered, comfortable banquette in front of tall windows and ordered a drink. (The bar was inviting, with generous leather stools and a TV, but we wanted to sit close together, look outside at the twinkling trees and laugh at the blustery weather.) The spacious interior with its high ceilings makes a superb venue for showcasing the interior artwork by Adrienne Schlow, wife of Doretta’s Chef Michael Schlow. In addition to her gorgeous mixed media paintings, the large space features a 60’ hand painted wall she created, setting off a distressed leather banquette along the back of the room.

Art

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Our cocktails were divine. The Daiquiri, just the right shade of lime, was served in the perfect, dainty tumbler, just like on “Mad Men.”

As we sipped away the stresses of the week, we gazed out at the sparkling trees. It was magical, being sheltered inside this elegant, urban snow globe of casual cool.

It was the anniversary of our first meeting. My husband made sure we got a table in front of the windows, so we could continue our snow gazing. Soon after we sat down, flutes of complimentary champagne were brought to the table. Our waiter, Erick Posada, was warm and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. He expertly explained the difference between the appetizers and steered us in the right direction with the small shellfish and raw bar plateau. Artfully arranged bites of lobster, salmon, red snapper, shrimp and yellow tail as well as some oysters, arrived on a silver, ice cold platter. Every item was so fresh and succulent that Doretta will surely give the nearby Legal Seafoods a run for its money.

The wine menu is a Mediterranean sea of options, with its carefully curated selection of ‘by the glass’ and bottled wines. Aside from the usual suspects — France, Italy, California and Spain — several other countries are included on the list, like Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Lebanon and Portugal. Greece is proudly represented with wines from nearly a dozen different regions. We ordered wine by the glass and Doretta gives its guests a generous pour. (This was refreshing, since many restaurants give you just enough wine so that you run out before the main course arrives.) We tried a couple of different varieties, with my favorite being the crisp, fruity Domaine Siglas Assyrtiko-Athriri, a white from Santorini. Erick, a native of Columbia with perfect English, paced our meal like a state dinner. We never felt rushed. Erick also paid a lot of attention to detail. For example, when he realized I had ordered a different white for my next glass, he brought me a goblet with a narrower shape to enhance its flavor. The other attendants were equally vigilant, from the water server to the gentleman who brought us homemade pita bread. Throughout the evening, we got up a couple of times to look at the artwork and check out the décor. Our napkins were neatly folded each time we returned to the table.

After consuming the raw bar plateau, the fried Calamari arrived. The ringlets were white and smooth, without that golden “fried onion ring” look I was used to, so the lemony crunch was totally unexpected. I was transported to a seaside café in Crete and finished the dish faster than you can say Opa! The warm shrimp seasoned with dill came next. This was a recommendation by Erick that was much appreciated.

We shared the Branzino for our main dish. Served with plump capers, roasted red peppers, lemons and fresh cilantro, the entrée was a visual cornucopia on a simple white plate. The fish was browned to perfection. I heard angels sing at the first bite. A side dish of roasted cauliflower, with jalapenos and pistachios, was the finishing touch to our entree. Each dish was light, fresh, colorful and nourishing. Our meal was pure protein. We felt light and so healthy when we finished!

Branzino

Breaking our wholesome spell, we succumbed to dessert. Erick steered my husband to the Galaktoboureko, a dreamy creamy dessert, made with custard and phyllo dough. I ordered the Baklava. It was not nearly as gooey and chewy as I like, but the traditional Greek pastry was a fine ending to a romantic, relaxing, and delicious night.

The restaurant will surely become my favorite year ‘round pre- theater destination. I can’t wait to return when the weather gets warmer. I’ll sit outside on the restaurant’s patio, under a ‘Mediterranean’ sky over the Park Plaza, imagining a breeze off the ‘Aegean’ while observing society like a boulevardier in Paris. This will all make me hungry for the glorious food I haven’t tried yet, like the Greek Salad (a work of art), crunchy eggplant, spinach pie and the 15-hour lamb shoulder or the striped bass. Of course it wouldn’t be a meal without fresh raw oysters, topped off with a crisp Macedonian white or a Spanish red. With a place like Dorcetta around, who needs to travel?

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The Many Shades of Whitey in “Black Mass” — Johnny Depp is phenomenal. So is everyone else.

Julianne Nichols, who plays Marianne Connolly, steals every scene she's in.

Julianne Nichols, who plays Marianne Connolly, steals every scene she’s in.

In “Black Mass,” the crime movie that’s taking the country (especially Boston) by storm, Johnny Depp carries off what makes him one of the most talented actors of our time. He delivers a realistic, multi-layered performance that is both vile and humane. Depp achieves this by peeling away the onion, frame by frame, in his chilling portrayal of Whitey Bulger. “Black Mass” is a richly textured, well- played symphony of events, based on a book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, formerly of The Boston Globe. The movie weaves jailhouse interviews in with the Whitey’s world of corruption and violence to make a shimmering tapestry of a film.

Unfortunately, recent remarks by Depp about Whitey are generating some negative headlines. After a preview in Boston, Depp told a reporter, “There’s a kind heart in there. There’s a cold heart in there. There’s a man who loves. There’s a man who cries. There’s a lot to the man.”

On “Nightside,” WBZ’s talk radio program, Kevin Weeks, Whitey’s right hand man, said he had seen Whitey be nice. Of course, many people are infuriated with these description of the violent and cold-blooded sociopath. But for a film to be compelling, the lead characters must be developed and multi-dimensional. And the director and the lead actor know this. So while Whitey is pure criminal, Depp brings out a few qualities that aren’t so bad. Whitey is:
Kind to old ladies When he crosses paths with an elderly neighbor, he chats pleasantly and directs his fellow mobsters to carry her groceries. In another early scene, he plays cards with Ma Bulger in the kitchen.
Well-groomed His hair is never out of place and his shirts are always tucked in.
Caring Upon returning home for the evening, he bolts upstairs to see his son, Douglas, who’s fast asleep. When the boy gets a fever the next day, Whitey is worried sick.
Philosophical He tells a victim thoughtfully, “Everyone has a choice. You just happened to make the wrong &%$ one.”

Sensitive The death of his mother throws him for a loop and he’s never the same.
Didactic When Douglas gets reprimanded at school for punching a classmate, he gives him some fatherly advice: “It’s not what you do. It’s when and where you do it.” In other words, if nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.
Funny When an FBI supervisor uses an incriminating phrase, he tells him, “’Just sayin’ sends people to ‘Alleywood.’ ‘Just saying’ got me into Alcatraz.” Then, unexpectedly, he flashes his gnarly teeth and emits the creepiest, longest laugh I’ve ever heard. The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

’Just sayin’ sends people to ‘Alleywood.’ ‘Just saying’ got me into Alcatraz.”

Sanitary Sitting with fellow mobsters in a bar, his ice blue eyes fixate on hitman, Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown) and a bowl of nuts. Whitey is disgusted and reprimands him for putting his “fat, &*%$ fingers in his mouth” and then into a bowl “that’s meant for public consumption.”

Hands down, Depp’s great.  But there are other reasons to see “Black Mass.” Especially the female characters. Julianne Nichols, who plays Connolly’s wife, steals every scene she’s in. Juno Temple is adorable and genuine as Deborah Hussey, who is strangled by Whitey in front of her “boyfriend” (and stepfather!) Steve Flemmi (aka “The Rifleman”). Dakota Johnson is heartbreaking as the mother of Whitey’s son. (It’s a shame that Catherine Grieg’s character, played during production by Sienna Miller, was cut. Another woman would have added more color and balance.) Overall, the accents are good, considering that the Boston dialect is so difficult to master. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Whitey’s brother Billy, tries his best. (The only people who can do a Boston accent are people from Boston). Joel Edgerton, who portrays Connolly, is convincing as a conniving, lying opportunist who isn’t too bright. Jesse Plemons, who plays Whitey’s right-hand man, Kevin Weeks, literally gives a knockout performance. (The movie is gory, but the violence is not gratuitous.) Corey Stoll plays Fred Wyshak, a new FBI prosecutor in town who smells a rat. He’s a serious, no nonsense guy who restores our faith in the criminal justice system. (Mr. Stoll had me at refusing Red Sox tickets. He tells the corrupt Connolly, “Just bring me cases. It’s all the help I need.”)

Exceptional acting, superior direction, a compelling story and brilliant cinematography make “Black Mass” a “Must See.” The soundtrack is retro cool, and perfectly sets the mood for each scene. But the movie belongs to Johnny Depp. Despite sprinklings of humanity here and there, the actor’s Whitey Bulger is a never ending horror show.

Note: This article appeared originally in The Huffington Post.

Deflategate’s Silver Linings Playbook

Modern Musings by an Old-Fashioned Girl

Served up nicely on a silver platter, Deflategate presents a valuable opportunity

Never in the history of modern times have we been presented with such a golden opportunity to teach our children as we have with the sensational ‘Deflategate.’ Its lessons can particularly resonate with adolescents, who know of Tom Brady and the Patriots, whether they are football fans or not. Young brains are so plastic, learning from incidents during this time will have has a long term impact, making the controversy even more important to talk about. In The Age of Opportunity, author Laurence Steinberg stresses how the adolescent brain is a sponge and that most memories are rooted during that period. In the book, he writes, “Nearly everyone recalls adolescence more powerfully than any other stage of life.”

Another reason to discuss Deflategate is because lying occurs, often frequently, among this age group. No longer under the constant supervision of schools, caregivers or parents, adolescents have more freedom to…

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Deflategate’s Silver Linings Playbook

Served up nicely on a silver platter, Deflategate presents a valuable opportunity

Never in the history of modern times have we been presented with such a golden opportunity to teach our children as we have with the sensational ‘Deflategate.’ Its lessons can particularly resonate with adolescents, who know of Tom Brady and the Patriots, whether they are football fans or not. Young brains are so plastic, learning from incidents during this time will have has a long term impact, making the controversy even more important to talk about. In The Age of Opportunity, author Laurence Steinberg stresses how the adolescent brain is a sponge and that most memories are rooted during that period. In the book, he writes, “Nearly everyone recalls adolescence more powerfully than any other stage of life.”

Another reason to discuss Deflategate is because lying occurs, often frequently, among this age group. No longer under the constant supervision of schools, caregivers or parents, adolescents have more freedom to do things and go places that adults may not approve of. So it’s not unusual to stretch the truth, even among the most compliant, well-behaved kids. Child behavioral therapist and author James Lehman says that teenagers lie or tell half-truths for many reasons, from to avoiding things they don’t want to do, to covering their tracks. So any opportunity to teach them about the consequences of deception is a valuable one.

The other day, I was driving my daughter and her friends to the high school. Usually, I just listen in to their conversations like a fly on the wall. But when a voice from the back seat said that deflating the footballs was “no big deal,” I had to interject. Here’s what I told them:

Any action that gives one team a competitive advantage over another is against the rules. Period. End of story. On top of that, Brady was not upfront during those press conferences last winter. Months later, his this has come back to bite him. The Wells Report uncovered several incriminating text messages that implicate who was involved in the pre-game shenanigans and why. The findings conclude that Brady “more likely than not” was aware of what transpired. In a 20,000 word rebuttal, the Patriots organization fights back, providing some ridiculous interpretations of the messages. The “deflator” was talking about weight loss? The ‘Tom’ cited in the texts is not the football player? If these statements weren’t so comical, everyone would be mad about having their intelligence insulted. So whether you are on the field, in the workplace or in a relationship, being on the defensive is never a good thing. Remember this for the rest of your lives. As for letting air out of some footballs, that act, in and of itself, may not seem like a big deal. Lying, evasiveness, stonewalling and covering it up is. In a big way.  And if you do mess up, admit it. Brady could take a page from the Justin Beiber playbook. In the current edition of Seventeen magazine, the pop star explains, “You have to own up to your mistakes. You have to say I let you down.”

Brady could put an end to his public relations problems right now. By accepting his punishment like a man and the MVP that he is and taking it on that adorable, dimpled chin of his. His legions of fans will forget the incident long before the “balls” jokes have faded from Jimmy Fallon’s monologue. Not only that, he’ll gain favor among a whole new group of people for heroically showing us he’s not perfect and that he’s just like the rest of us. He’ll even be immortalized as a college case study for communications students. An upside has never looked so good! On the other hand, Brady can continue to deny the allegations as his credibility sinks like the sun after a late afternoon game. Recovering one’s positive image is difficult and can be a long time on the bench of life. Even for the most beautiful man on earth and the greatest NFL player that ever lived.

We passed the football field and the girls seemed like they were listening. I wrapped up my rant with a simple message that applies no matter who you are or what you do: Always tell the truth. And nothing but the truth.

Needless to say, the girls were a little late for school, but my message about honesty, maturity and accepting responsibility — all sprinkled with a little PR 101 — was right on time. For parents, educators and other influencers of young people, Deflategate is being served up on a silver platter right now as a life lesson. Don’t fumble it.