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Archive for the ‘Culture and Families’ Category

Hitchhiking scene  (It Happened One Night, Capra)

Hitchhiking scene (It Happened One Night, Capra)

Praising a Capra movie is like touting the Taj Mahal as one of the greatest monuments in the world: it is neither original nor insightful. Anyhow, I will. I just saw “It Happened One Night,” a movie Capra directed in 1934. In a nutshell, the movie tells the story of a romantic encounter between a runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), and a journalist, Peter Warren (Clark Gable).

This movie is a jewel, but I want here to chat about the father-daughter relationship, which is bumpy, physical and loving. Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) is a rather invasive father: he has kidnapped his adult daughter on his yacht to have her break up with a fortune hunter she is supposed to marry. Ellie, the daughter, is not that fond of him but cannot stand her father telling her what to do all the time. She starts a hunger strike. Her father brings a tray of food in her room which she throws on the floor. He slaps her, and she escapes by jumping off the boat. On the bus to New York, she meets Peter Warren, a journalist she falls in love with. And she tells him. While Warren rushes to New York to get money and propose, Ellie is woken up by the owners of the motel, with no money to pay for the room. She naturally asks daddy for help. As she brings herself to marry the rich playboy, Andrews gauges her daughter’s true feeling in a beautiful scene, where Andrews comforts his daughter Ellie, as he did when she was a little girl.

Let’s face it. The story of “It Happened One Night” would not even be considered by Hollywood studios nowadays, if not for MAJOR changes. Let ‘s see… Upon her escape, Ellen rushes to court and gets a restraining order against dad…Better: she brings in Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler (Law and Order, Sexual Victims Unit), and they get her to sue the paternalistic pig. In the end, Ellie has Warren sign a prenup in Cancun. Lastly, Warren gets to work for Joe Biden’s campaign against domestic violence with Marishka Hargitay…

These timely adaptations of the script of “It Happened One Night” are of groundbreaking relevance. Oh, I forgot: In the movie, before going to the bottom of his daughter’s feelings, Andrews meets Warren to pay him back for his expenses, and finds out about Warren’s feelings for his daughter (see, that was a time when men dared to mingle into things that were none of their business). Warren, who is never at a loss for words, tells Andrews what he thinks of rich folks and the way they raise their kids. So thirties…

Is it Capra’s genius that makes Depression times almost charming?

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Two days ago, as I was waiting for the train on 96 street going back home, there was a young black lady on the platform, carrying a baby

D. Robinson and M. Gibbs (Photo Yana Paskova, NYT)

D. Robinson and M. Gibbs (Photo Yana Paskova, NYT)

in a snuggly and pulling a toddler, who was at most 2 years old. The little boy was crying. He was carrying an enormous backpack with Mickey Mouse on it, which he kept dropping on the floor. Each time this was happening, his mother was telling him to pick it up. Her tone of voice was crisp and authoritative. There was clearly no room for bargaining, yet the toddler kept crying, hoping perhaps her mum would comfort him. But his mum had her hands full and she did not have time to compromise. She was in the business of bringing everybody home. Maybe because I was coming back from Aznavour’s concert, and had Aznavour’s voice in my head, I felt vaguely uncomfortable by the way she asserted her authority. I noticed my discomfort was shared by people in the train.

Now that I think about it, I feel discomfort about my discomfort.  I guess this mum is the type of folks that work several jobs, cannot make it with what she earns,  and cannot afford a babysitter. She is therefore not the target of the nauseating commercial of Care.com, but she is the likely victim of the “budget cuts” of public housing in New York City that Mireya Navarro reported about in a New York Times article. Thanks to these cuts, family of two that were living in two bedrooms have to move to a one bedroom or pay more, and family of three in two bedrooms etc…  Consider now the predicament of single parents ( single fathers for instance) with a teenage kid in a one bedroom apartment, the likelihood of a surge in accusations of child abuse/domestic violence, and all these cases handled by those sensitive watchdogs of the families of the poor that populate family courts: law guardians, and private “Comprehensive Family Services” of all sort. That’s going to be interesting quality time for those families in public housing.

Meanwhile last week, the news was all about Ray Rice’s assault of his wife Janay.  It takes a “hero” to fall for exquisite sensitivity (belated on the NFL’s part) and awareness about domestic violence to be displayed.  The incident prompted a flow of reforms all over the nation.  The great State of New Jersey (Rice played at Rutgers) passed a package of six laws, the gist of which being enhancing control of the bad guys with a registry of restraining orders. Such conspicuous waste of efforts and taxpayers money, which would better spent on public housing …

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Photo ABC News

Halle Berry (Photo ABC News)

Fact: Family courts bleed fathers to death as they force them to pay absurd percentages of their gross income for child support; if you have any doubt about it, just read the recent comments on this blog.

Fact: On May 30 of this year, the settlement between actress Halle Berry and her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry was approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gordon. Berry will pay $16,000 a month in child support, or $192,000 a year to Aubry for their six-year old daughter. Let see: that’s almost enough to pay – each year !- the tuition for a  four-year degree in the most expensive U.S. universities.

Some will see in this agreement a great victory for justice on the grounds that a woman – and a famous one- has to pay child support like the rest of us.  I  for one would not agree. I see a saddening consistency between the Berry-Aubry’s settlement and traditional child support policy for the commoners. The commoners, in their vast majority, are poor, and the poor being poor,are not supposed, according to family courts, to figure out how to make their kids happy.  That’s why family courts are there for: Tell  the poor chap what to do and squeeze the last dime out of him. On the other hand, family courts have no problem with rich folks, provided a privileged kid remains a privileged kid. Thank  God, Halle Berry’s daughter will.  These two parallel facets of paternalistic child support’s policy are always carried out in the name of the best interest of the child.

Fact: There is a Piketty mania going on in this country, but obviously family courts have not heard about it. This Piketty mania spreads Capitalfrom Thomas Piketty’s last book , Capital in the Twenty- First Century, which talks about a wealth inequality fever particularly acute in America. Nobody is saying that family courts are in the business of correcting for wealth inequalities. At  least, they ought not help reproduce them, while stamping the seal of justice on absurd child support payments that secure a kid the standards of living he’s born with.

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JusticeWonder why there is a strong father rights’ movement in the UK and not in the US ? Perhaps because the press gives heed to the fate of the regular guy in family court, not just Alec Baldwin’s. But that may well be the chicken and the egg thing: the press cares about what goes on in family court because fathers have claimed their rights loud and clear. Both factors may help the justice system to take its job seriously.

Check out this (old) October 2013 Belfast Telegraph article, about a ruling in the Family Division of High Court in Leicester (Ulster, UK) on a case regarding a father asking for an increase in the number of yearly visits with his daughter. What strikes from this article is the granularity of the judge (judge Bellamy)’s decisions: the father asked for one overnight visitation a month instead of three -without overnight- he currently has; He got eight visits a year, without overnight, two more than his daughter had asked for. Emails? Three or three texts a day, no more, and no contacts through social networks.

This judge Bellamy fellow does not seem to be kidding. If he says X, it looks like it is going to be X, no more, no less. One is led to infer that there is not just a ruling; there is a ruling that will actually be enforced.

What’s is so great about enforcing decisions that, in this case at least, are harsh for a father ? When you have experienced Manhattan family court dilettantes, you see why. No follow-up on decisions there. First of, in the unfolding of a trial there, your time with your children does not weigh much against procedure, that is the contribution of a bunch of folks, from ACS (Administration for Child Services), to the so-called forensic psychologist and social workers who report to the judge and bloat up your file. Their input – sometimes valuable – does not matter in any event.  Indeed I cannot recall one decision, about visitations or email contacts, that was enforced.  And I’d trade absentee judges and law guardians for Bellamy anytime.

But talking about details, let’s be fair with Manhattan family court. When it comes to child support, Manhattan Family Court is not serious, it is anal. To the penny.

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I am often behind on popular culture. Perhaps watching Seinfeld reruns for too long has not

Breaking Bad IFT

Breaking Bad IFT

helped. I recently finished swallowing “Orange Is The New Black.” Right now, I am just catching up with “Breaking Bad.” I am hooked.

A few days ago, I was watching IFT (I know, Season3, Episode 3, shown in April 2010! ) and a scene got me thinking.  Skyler knows everything about her husband underground activities and does not want to have anything to do with him anymore. He however cannot fathom living separated from his family and he is back home, talking to his son, Walt Junior, who could not be happier. She urges him to leave the premises. He refuses. She calls the cops.

The cops step in and ask what happened. Has her husband been violent? Nope. Skyler will not lie. She will also not reveal to Walt Junior that his dad is a drug “producer.”  She will tell her shrink later that since Walt has lung cancer, she hoped “things could resolve from their own momentum” (as George Constanza said to Jerry once),  that is she could separate and not tell Junior the truth about his dad. The cops are almost sorry, but there is nothing they can do for her. Walt stays home.

What struck me is that although Skyler is a decent person, she calls the cops. That’s now part of female DNA. That’s just what you do when you want your spouse, violent or not, removed. That’s one of the services cops provide: to remove undesired partners from home.

I have no data to back me up but I bet that other things being equal (holding personal decency and domestic violence constant), men don’t call cops that much to solve domestic problems. And I don’t see much progress if they were to catch up with women.

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KramerThat’s already old news: Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp, has served his third wife, Wendi Murdoch, with divorce papers; one cannot but wonder if the mogul’s amazing appetite for matrimonies will sustain itself. What’s news is that Wendy has hired a new lawyer, which is a sign of großgroß gunfight coming, according to Peter Lattman and Amy Chozick from the New York Times.

Why a mess when harmony could prevail? The answer is lack of foresight, tells divorce lawyer Paul Talbert from Donohoe Talbert, in the Times article. Even the most ‘sophisticated’ couple like the Murdochs cannot foresee all problems along the way. The Murdochs have signed tons of prenuptial and postnuptial (I confess I did not even know the word before reading the article) agreements, yet they left the Fifth Avenue Penthouse and a yacht in the dark; sophistication is in the details.

Talbert’s revelation turns the world of common folks like me upside down. I have been nurtured with Seinfeld reruns for years and in one of them, Kramer advices George, who wants – wealthy- Susan to break up with him, to ask her for a “prenup.” Kramer’s point: George’s display of foresight, while unbridled enthusiasm and confidence are expected, will seem like misplaced caution to Susan and be a turn-off.

Who is right, Talbert or Kramer? Here is a clue drawn from a totally unscientific poll of my own. On the one hand, my divorced friends from France had relatively easy divorces. On the other side of the Atlantic however, my divorced friends from New York City  (me included) had bloody ones.  In both cases wealth is not part of the picture, all right.  But why the difference?  Are the frogs more foresighted? No way. My answer: litigious divorce laws in New York State. For instance, the no-fault divorce was only introduced in New York State laws in 2010. Litigious divorce laws beg for the need of lawyers to walk you through them, and lawyers are not in the business of making a divorce less litigious.

That’s why I side with Kramer, with relief. And I venture something that will sound outrageously unsophisticated to Paul Talbert, from Donohoe Talbert: sound foresight in matrimonial affairs in New York State should minimize lawyer costs. That might mean refraining from marriage.

After all, lawyers fees must make a big deal of New York State GDP and as most people know – and more and more economists do too- GDP is a poor indicator of happiness.

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Jason Hatch (NYT magazine, May 8 2005)

Jason Hatch (cover of NYT magazine, May 8 2005)

I started struggling with New York City family court justice in June 2002, as I was put on trial for physical abuse. In these early and sombre years when the fathers’ rights movement was in its infancy in the US, there was not much a sole custodial father on trial could hang on to, except for what was going on in the UK. Which I found out in the May 8 2005 issue of the New York Times Magazine, featuring Jason Hatch in its cover page. Headline:  ” Sure, Happy Mother’s Day. But…I Want to See My Kids. The rise of the fathers custody movement.  I kept it until this day.

That’s why I got nervous reading Ally Fog’s piece in the Guardian, “Fathers4 Justice: The Solution lies in our family, not in family courts.” Thesis: the F4J folks are entrenched in a pointless “all or nothing position.” The children and family bill is entering a second reading (thanks, by the way, to F4J for it) and it includes the statutory assumption of shared but not necessarily equal parenting. But according to Fog, F4J wants nothing to do with it. Then we are told that “family courts can solve all of our problems,”  shared parenting has to start from the moment of birth. Sweden’s example is pointed at, where fathers benefit from paid paternity leaves, and actually take them. These blessed Swedish fathers have harmonious relationship with their partners early on, and less litigious separations later.

Sure. That’s real sensitive strategy for divorced fathers. Let’s just wait for à- la Swede institutional changes to come and exert their pacifying influence on family relations, and problems will be solved. The political momentum in the UK is just ripe for that. Who is going to be take the lead in implement these changes? David Cameron?

I like the Scandinavian social model as much as the other guy, but it won’t spare us from asking the family court system for equal rights with women.

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