Kathy Boudin dies and your host Michael Washburn publishes a new short story

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Censorship in China

Censorship in communist China extends further than some may realize. The repressive regime in Beijing seeks to extirpate not only speech and writing that contravene its dogmas, but even symbols that might give viewers the wrong idea.

An article by Zachary Evans in National Review Online on May 2 details how China’s censors demanded that Sony cut the Statue of Liberty from the climax of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Evans notes that the monument is on view throughout the 20-minute climax. In the view of Chinese censors, it is unacceptable for viewers to take in, even subliminally, this image of freedom.

The surprising news is that Sony did not cave to the censors’ demands, as other studios have done when seeking to release their product in the enormously lucrative markets of China. The studio refused to cut or even shorten the sequence in question. Sony’s move is admirable given how much money Spider-Man: No Way Home stood to make in China. Other studios don’t have the moral courage or the will to forgo hefty profits. Evans notes that Warner Brothers removed language alluding to a gay relationship in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore in order to make the movie palatable to China’s censors.

The Times Gets It Wrong, Again

Jesse Wegman of the New York Times Editorial Board believes that the Supreme Court, as currently constituted, is out of touch. The title of his May 3 opinion piece in the Times says it bluntly: “This Supreme Court Is Out of Step With Most Americans.”

The development this week that gets Wegman’s blood up is the leaking of an opinion that has circulated among members of the court and that looks poised to strike down Roe v. Wade, paving the way for the states to determine whether abortions will be legal within their borders or not. The author of the draft opinion is reportedly Justice Samuel Alito, who enjoys the backing of the other members of what people often call the conservative majority on the court.

Wegman complains at some length that the court has become increasingly politicized over the years to the point where it resembles Congress more than a body undertaking the review of laws and policies in an impartial manner and assessing their constitutionality. Hence it is ironic that Wegman’s objections to the pending ruling on Roe v. Wade are political rather than legal in nature. He sounds like a political partisan, indeed like an activist, when he lashes out at the court for its stance on Roe v. Wade. Wegman bases his objections very largely on opinion polls that he claims show broad support among Americans for legal abortion. But even if we accept the validity of these opinion polls, how much bearing do they have on the court’s deliberations?

Chesa Boudin wearing a ‘The Future is Female’ shirt at the Women’s March in San Francisco, January 19, 2019. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

The Passing of Kathy Boudin

The California Globe’s Evan Symon reported on May 2 that Kathy Boudin, the member of the Weather Underground who attained notoriety for her role in the deadly Brinks Robbery of October 1981, has died at age 78. Boudin is the mother of San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, who faces possible recall in an election scheduled for June 7 as a consequence of the disastrous policy of “decarceration” he has foisted on the city, which has driven crime way up and eroded the quality of life in what many long considered to be one of the most desirable places in the world to live.

Notwithstanding the identity of Chesa Boudin’s mother, voters have more than enough reason to say goodbye to him forever. In the aftermath of the George Floyd riots, he has been one of the most outspoken and relentless critics of the police, and his irresponsible rhetoric has contributed to the demoralizing of the police and a feeling that there is no point in officers even attempting to do their job when the district attorney is likely to dismiss cases and show extreme leniency in those he does pursue. Boudin has declined to prosecute even violent crimes such as sexual assault.

Shoplifting has grown endemic and it has been common for thieves to enter pharmacies, help themselves to products, and walk out unopposed in the knowledge that their crimes hardly amount to serious offenses in a city where Proposition 47, a ballot initiative passed in 2014, made it a misdemeanor to steal goods with a value of up to $950. Walgreens has closed dozens of stores in the area in recent years. As a Wall Street Journal headline puts it, “San Francisco Has Become a Shoplifter’s Paradise.”

The World Outside

 Maybe you remember that tender age when you were just barely old enough to begin to take trips by yourself. The literary journal Rosebud has just published its long-awaited 69th issue, and on page 140 of this issue, you will find my short story “The World Outside,” which is an account of a boy’s trip by train from Chicago through a swath of rural Michigan and back. It evokes midcentury America and draws its inspiration largely from Theodore Roethke’s poem “Night Journey.” In Roethke’s poem, the narrator describes riding in a Pullman car through an alternately bright and misty part of the upper Midwest and conveys the depth of his love for a land that holds out such natural beauty to the observer.

The protagonist of “The World Outside,” a boy named Ryan, cannot suppress his curiosity about the adults on the train carrying him through the countryside, and he ventures into the café car in order to ply them with questions about their trades and lives. On the first leg of the trip, from Chicago up to Lansing, his interlocutors run the gamut from an anthropology professor to an aggressive young investor to a high society debutante to an executive of an auto maker looking for ways to steal some of the market share of the leading carmakers of the day. They are friendly enough and eager to impart a bit of wisdom of that trade or profession of which they have specialized knowledge.

But after spending a bit of time with his uncle in Lansing, Ryan has quite a different experience on the ride down. The adults are no longer so friendly. In fact, their deportment is so strange and off-putting that be begins to wonder about their identity.

Like Theodore Roethke in “Night Journey” and other of his poems, I have gone to lengths to depict the almost surreal beauty of the countryside of the upper Midwest and illuminate the psychology of a boy for whom the land exerts a hypnotic effect. But the influences for “The World Outside” go far beyond the Roethke poem. They include writers such as Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, who so expertly depicted in their fiction the encounters of youth with the danger and strangeness of the world. In the end, I hope that “The World Outside” will evoke more wonder and terror on the reader’s part for what it prompts the reader to imagine than for what it actually shows. As readers of W.W. Jacobs’s classic story “The Monkey’s Paw” will affirm, this approach can be powerful indeed.

By Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist. He is the author of the short story collections Scenes from the Catastrophe (2016), The Uprooted and Other Stories (2018), When We're Grownups (2019), and Stranger, Stranger (2020). Michael's story "Confessions of a Spook" won Causeway Lit's 2018 fiction contest.