what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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Domestic Violence and the Law

“Every Fucking Day of My Life” is an HBO documentary about an extremely disturbing case of domestic violence that ended in the homicide of the abuser by his two of his victims, his wife and his son. Wendy Moldonado and her seventeen year old son Randy made a hasty decision to end the life of their tormentor after a night of abuse by Aaron Moldanado. This was a common and familiar occurrence in their home and that night, the two made an impulsive decision to stop Aaron forever. They perpetrated the crime together and Wendy immediately called 911, admitting to the homicide on the phone with the dispatcher. When the dispatcher asks “Did he try to hurt you”  she replies “Every fucking day of my life”.

Sadly, Wendy was sentenced to ten years in prison and Randy was sentenced to seventy-five months, or just over six years. The scope of the horror that the family endured at the hands of it’s patriarch were so extreme and horrifying it is difficult to accept justice in this case in regards to sentencing. The truth is, under justifiable homicide laws in Oregon, this case did not qualify. To meet the standards of justifiable homicide a person must feel that their death is imminent and the only way to prevent this and any greater harm that could occur at the hands of another individual is to kill them. When a case involves domestic violence that has occurred over the course of years and the threat of death is gradual instead of immediate, it does not meet the standard set by the law.

Should a person be able to commit homicide in the case of extreme domestic abuse? Why were other alternatives where the abuser lives not used? The truth is that domestic violence is a complex web of psychological terror designed to keep victims in their place. Other alternatives Wendy had may have included divorce, although both parties must consent and it is unlikely Aaron would have, or simply fleeing, but she may have had to leave her children behind which is not necessarily a wise decision in the best interest of her children. Abusers like Aaron also threaten to inflict harm to the victim’s family if they leave the abusive situation. In Wendy’s case, Aaron threatened to kill her entire family if she left. This is a logical deterrent from leaving because Aaron very well may have carried out his threat. Wendy says she knew she was “screwed” when Aaron told her that he fantasized about being a serial killer who would keep his victims captive for days and then rape everyone, including any men because “I’m not a fag but I’d fuck a man to prove” his point, as Wendy relays in the film.

This man sounds like an absolutely terrifying individual and from all accounts he was. It is not unreasonable to think that a person who says that they want to be a serial killer would terrorize his own family to the point of death. It is feasible that Wendy Moldanado’s death was likely, although perhaps not at the moment of her crime, eventually he could have killed her. He even wrote a song about her with the lyrics “I love you/I killed you always/see your bloody body/lying on the floor/looking toward a new life/a life of torture/have I sealed our fate dear/self murdered bitch I killed”. He literally fantasizes about murdering her as if it were a form of an acceptable love affair. That there is no way for her case to meet the standard of justifiable homicide is absurd. The threat was gradual, there was a level of endurance to the violence. When violence escalates, it is reasonable to assume fatal bodily harm could happen to an individual. An escalation of violence seems to have been the norm at the Moldanado’s. The threat of death omnipresent. When weighing the reality of Wendy’s situation, it is hard to come up with an alternative to her actions because of the atmosphere Aaron created.

The law has often been lagging in relation to the reality of domestic violence. At one time, it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb, hence the term “rule of thumb”. Post-feminist movement America is a different world however it is far from perfect from addressing the reality of those who suffer in domestically violent situations. When the police would arrive, the Moldanado family could not complain about Aaron because he had surveillance set up outside of the house so he could monitor what everyone did and said. This is an enormous level of control that took away any ability Wendy had to make healthy decisions concerning her life. She would have to send the police away while being beaten upon return was still a threat. Neighbors complained to the police but it fell on deaf ears, ears that were not tuned to the sophistication a predator like Aaron can conjure up. The children were so traumatized that after his death they kept “looking over our shoulders” as Randy describes their paranoia of expecting Aaron to return from the dead.

The lack of documentation on the violent state of their marriage may have contributed to Wendy’s long sentence. However, the reality is that domestic violence victims may not be able to make reports because of the controlling nature of their abuser, like in Wendy’s case. For these victims there is little recourse in directing their futures. Wendy could not direct her future and had to accept time in prison in order to free herself from her chains. Her actions were not premeditated, she says that it was two minutes before she killed him that she made the decision to do so. Justifiable homicide laws simply do not address extreme cases of domestic abuse in a realistic manner that protects the victim. If the criminal justice system were justly dealing with domestic violence, Wendy would have gotten a lighter sentence or not even one at all. It is time for the legal system to catch up with this disturbing reality.


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“Homeless Kids of Orange County” Documentary

California is one of the top ten economies in the world, and logically, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. For families struggling to make ends meet, problems such as homelessness can be a burden placed upon a family whose breadwinners do not sufficiently make enough to keep a roof over everyone’s head. In places like Orange County, California, as one mother calculated, that would mean making at least $20/hr or $3,000 a month in order to cover just basic life expenses. This is beyond the reach for many in the non-skilled work sector without taking two or more jobs. Survival is very hard work for the living poor.

“Homeless Kids of Orange County” focuses on the families living in a motel across the street from Disneyland, in an ironic juxtaposition of tragic proportions. The children featured in the film have never been to Disneyland because of their families financial situations, but still climb the stairs of parking garages to watch the fireworks at night. They do not have a steady place to live, but remark with great insight that being homeless in America is better than other places because “the homeless get food in America”. Their small lives are filled with such intense instability and they are completely aware of it. One kid remarks that it “sucks” to be homeless, there is no privacy and few options for entertainment, with many scenes consisting of children creating toys out of resources like plants and things evicted families have left behind. The children witness violence, drug use, and a great police presence. It is not a suitable environment for them, and they are aware of this fact.

The film’s subjects attend Project Hope School, which is a public school also supported by a foundation that caters exclusively to homeless children so that they will not have to constantly go through the process of redistricting every time they move. Project Hope provides food and school supplies to the children and supportive resources that are specifically designed for the needs of homeless children. Since the school does not have a lot of students everyone is taught in a single classroom. Even though this is a supportive environment, one can see the impact of homelessness and their school environment on the children. There are complaints of not being able to focus because one’s younger siblings are in the same classroom bickering, there is observation of Miranda rights during a discussion on early American history when one boy utters “I have the right to remain silent”, a third grader is featured saying that he wants “a big mansions and all the guns”. The children are clearly effected negatively by their surroundings, some of them are doing their best and some of them act out negatively.

One very poignant moment in the film is when the Brewster family is evicted. The Brewster family consisted of five people and four dogs, and the mother worked in a parking lot at Disneyland making about $12/hr. homeless kids

Zack was a badly behaved little boy who was insufficiently and inappropriately entertained at the motel. Instead of receiving positive attention and stimulating experiences, Zack fell victim to what many children who live in poverty fall victim to: becoming his own worst enemy. Zack’s behavior was rambunctious and his working mother with three other children could not adequately give him the positive attention he needed in order to be properly functional. When the Brewsters were kicked out was one of the scarier points made in the documentary because it gave a storyline to how families are evicted from the property. A parent has control over their child to a degree, and in a desperate situation, may loose more control because of the choatic nature of desperate situations. When a child can be solely responsible for destroying the safety and welfare of a family’s living environment, the stability of that living situation was barely tenable at best. The instability of living in a motel is constantly remarked about in the film, especially since families are paying by the week to live in their rooms.

The filmmaker, Alexandra Pelosi, asks the kids “Why would god let kids be homeless?”. The first girl gives a dark response, she doesn’t know and doesn’t like it that god lets her be poor. The second girl gives a more poignant answer, “God provides what you need, he only gives you the things you really need not the things you wish for”. The different type of familial support that is constructed during a crisis period such as homelessness can be seen in the attitudes of different children. The children whose families decide to stick together, create rules, and move forward do better with their attitudes than the children whose families become depressed or stuck in the chaotic ghetto environment of the motel. Many of the children seem to exhibit at least some basic signs of depression, such as not having any hope for the future, “Nothing, nothing at all” the same little girl answers who gave the dark response to “why would god let kids be homeless”. It is very disheartening to witness because life is already such a burden to these young children and they already face so many obstacles that are completely out of their control.

The trials and tribulations of children may seem irrelevant to adults but the overall story line of this documentary is indicitave of how the American economy and government treats its poor. Corporate America seems dedicated to ensuring that a livable wage is just slightly beyond grasp for many working Americans. Taking two jobs seems to be the solution for many, which is absurd because a person should be able to make a living from one forty-hour work week job. Corporate America sees workers as expendable and figures, not the humans who have to go back to a crowded motel to live after a hard day’s work with no vacations and no breaks to relax. The American government provides a small amount of aid to needy families, such as food stamps, but there is still more need than services to go around. While the children remark that it is due to the American government that they have free lunches and breakfasts, legislators in Congress have yet to raise the federal minimum wage to a livable wage for working Americans.

The documentary “Homeless Kids of Orange County” pulls at the heartstrings while delivering a very concise message about the discrepancy of wealth in the United States.

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A Hate Crime in a Case of Mistaken Identity

Hate crime legislation did not always exist because the concept that a group of persons of minority status deserved special legal protection was not a popular sentiment until the 1990’s. Racialized tension has always been a historical American problem of epic proportions that has been dealt with many failures and some successes.

Documentaries are permanent time pieces that capture the essence of a person, place, or event. The Public Broadcasting Station produces many fantastic documentaries about a wide array of subjects. To find a documentary that is a few years old and genuinely well done is an exciting feat for a documentary junkie. Who Killed Vincent Chin is one of those documentaries rarely found, a diamond in the rust.

The premise of the documentary is the murder of Vincent Chin by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, his stepson. Chin was a Chinese-American man who lived in Detroit during the 1980s and was engaged to be married. During the 1980’s the American car industry, located in Detroit, suffered a number of set backs as they industry honchos mismanaged changing demands of the consumer while car producers in Japan appealed to the desires of car drivers in American markets. This caused the car industry in America to plummet, leading to a decrease in jobs in American car manufacturing plants, and as a result, it became that there were many angry unemployed working class people living in Detroit. Unemployment is a problem because it causes a decrease in self-esteem, motivation, productivity, and overall quality of life.

There has always been a problem of racism within the American frame of mind. Making wild generalizations about an ethnic or racial group is a disdainful American tradition, and white solipsistic perspective often erases ethnicities within a racial group. For example, Vincent Chin was Chinese-American but died because he was suspected of being Japanese. For Ronald Ebens, the man who bashed Chin’s head in with a baseball bat, this was explanation enough for the attack:


Racine Colwell was a dancer at Fancy Pants, a Detroit strip-club that was frequented during the evening by the working class men of the auto plant industry. Chin and Ebens had had a verbal spat at the club that then carried into the parking lot. Instead of continuing the verbal spat, the disagreement turned into a hate crime because of Eben’s prejudice against Chin for being of Asian descent.”You little motherfuckers” is the phrase that is contentious as to whether or not this attack was a hate crime at the time of trial. Appallingly, Ebens was not convicted of murder despite the attack being witnessed by two off duty police officers, but plead guilty to second degree manslaughter while serving no jail time, instead being fined several thousand dollars. Many in the Asian community felt that this was a clear instance of white privilege at work keeping a white man free of the confines of jail or prison while an entire ethnic and racial group was failed by justice.

In the 1980’s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was recently enacted legislation that dictated protection for discrimination based on racial prejudice. Social change is not the same mechanism as legal change but both are affected by one another and both are gradual processes that require compromise and understanding of nuances. Legal change is an instant moment that can be measured by victory and success or failure. Social change is a story based around millions of lives interconnected by a narrative thread. Understanding of the Civil Rights Act is not the same landmark event as the accomplishment of passing it.

Ebens was given wide latitude by the police and the legal system because of the historical standing of white male privilege. Hate crimes were common events in areas like the South and bodily violence against non-white bodies was common, and as current events across the country exhibit, is still common today. In the documentary, Ebens himself expresses surprise that he did not go to prison for murder. There is clearly something off in this case, something working toward the expression of Eben’s liberty at the expense of justice for Chin’s murder. The police did not interview the dancers from the club who saw the verbal altercation. The District Attorney downgraded a senseless murder to manslaughter, a charge that in layman’s terms mean’s “this person didn’t mean to kill anyone it just happened”. Killing someone with a baseball bat, bashing a person’s skull in like you were hitting a home run is not an accident. It is intentional, there is malice, and there is hatred. It is a personal way to kill someone, to express rage.

There is a point in the film when public rage was expressed by literally bashing Japanese cars with sledgehammers. There is a curious correlation between violence done to people and violence done to things. For example, during the Nazi era, there were public book burning that were held in order to express fascistic rage at liberal or communist ideas. The idea that there is a correlation between burning books and burning people by this group of radical fascists is logical. In Detroit, it went from people smashing Japanese cars to smashing Japanese bodies. Racialized hatred is a clear act of defiance of peace. Violence is an expression of hatred.

Federally, Ebens was convicted of federally violating Chin’s civil rights and given a twenty-five year sentence that was later overturned on a technicality. Hate crime legislation did not yet exist, so the idea that minority groups have a special status of protection within the law was not a legal concept. The film contains many allegories that Ebens was not in any way a racist  man because he either worked with racial minorities at the auto plant, or because his daughter had tutored an Asian boy in school. These are instances of white nonsense, a way to whitewash making racialized hatred normal by virtue of interacting with racial minorities. This is illogical and attempts to appeal to emotional manipulation. Nitz’s girlfriend even contends that he was even happy to be on unemployment because he could “collect all this money” while doing things like taking trips and apparently, beating up Asian men.

Meaningful social transformations must be supported by legal action and accomplishment. Hate crimes are a necessary legal protection in order to ensure that groups who are minorities have the correct protection from unnecessary aggression.

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Violence in Prisoners (2013)

As I have stated before, this blog has become something of a study in violence. Which is interesting, because apparently studying themes of violence is a theme in my very family.

I am proud to say that I am the cousin of brilliant (obviously I am biased) Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski. Aaron wrote Prisoners before he wrote the first film that was produced and distributed by a major Hollywood company, which was Contraband (2012). Both films are violent, and both films are studies in fatherhood, masculinity, family ties and obligation, illegal activity, drugs, and the distortion of humanity.

Where does my family get this fascination with the darker side of human reality?

Our great grandfather was an eccentric man. An intellectual, an enigma, something of a patriarchal myth and legend. The story goes, when acquired enough wealth, he bought property and constructed not only a house but also a man-made lake, and within this lake was a mound of Earth, and on top of this mound of Earth was a bathtub.

See, he was eccentric. He was not violent, as far as I know, but he was somewhat detached. Sometimes he communicated in short, simple sentences like the person he was speaking to had walked in on the conversation in his head. At least this is what I gather him to be like, I do not know for sure because I was there. A legend.

Aaron’s movie Prisoners has narratives that are eccentric, like the all the mazes and the pig’s head in the sink. But what really struck me while re-watching this movie, is that the anti-cathartic ending has a resonance within my perception of the world as well, possibly through my systematic study of human engineered violence, which is a theme explored in the film. When Aaron first achieved success, it coincided with my study of Leni Riefenstahl and her influential Nazi propaganda films, so as an experience for me, looking to cinema as an art form was an important thing to do if I was going to understand how societies worked.

One of the plot lines in the movie is about torture. Dover, the aggressive and out of control father of one of the abducted girls, himself abducts a one time police suspect and subjects him to similar treatment found in the CIA torture report, like the use of extremely cold water on the body, deprivation, beatings, and general psychological terror. Clearly, the characters in the film are not as sophisticated as the American government, but as I observed previously, there are only so many ways to torture a human being. In a similar frame of mind, Dover is a survivalist who believes that there is a constant threat to his safety, as seen in the beginning of the film when he tells his son that he has to depend on himself because at any moment the grocery stores could stop carrying food. When there is a threat to his family, he takes things into his own hands. This is a similar narrative as to why so many Americans are currently accepting torture as a status quo. If there is a threat to us, then we throw the rule book out.

In the film, Dover’s actions circle back to him. He becomes a prisoner himself, reaped of his own violence sown out of a heart filled with sorrow and pain and actions taken out of aggression and dominance. Dover’s own use of violence makes him a victim, literally of Holly, the psychotic character responsible for this whole mess, and causes his family’s own victim hood to continue even further with his disappearance. They are still traumatized, and the violence did not cause a catharsis.

Violence also interferes with the necessary understanding of nuance. While drawing the map, which appeared to be a maze, Bob Taylor, the only living and functional victim of Holly, appears to be fucking with Detective Loki. Loki doesn’t have time for this shit, and smashes Taylor’s face into the table. That’s it. Taylor decides, fuck it, I can’t talk normally, I can’t explain after all these years of being silent about the torture and the mazes and the abuse and I’m fucked up over it, I’m just going to grab this police officer’s weapon and commit suicide (Hollywood drama, sure, but it’s a great scene and shocking the first time). Some people just do not communicate like the rest of us. Taylor was indeed drawing a map, it was of a maze, and no one would take a moment to understand. Everyone just got violent instead.

My cousin’s work is fiction, but the narrative of violence is based within the truth about violence. The circular path just continues to show up until the cycle is broken.

How to break it without more violence? I think that’s the question we can’t answer, and possibly won’t.

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The Purpose of Documenting Reality

I am a documentary junkie, and an avid enthusiast of knowing everything humanly possible about the Nazi era and regime. This intellectual pursuit is motivated to provide a witness to one of the most dramatic stories in human history. As a Polish person whose family members were personally murdered by the Nazis because of their upper level jobs in the Polish government at the time the Germans came marching through (my family members were also left-leaning, so death was inescapable) I have a duty to my dead family members to understand what happened before, during, and after their murders. As a person who has all the characteristics of what the Nazi regime came to label “Aryan” (blonde hair, blue eyes, tall stature, fair complexion), I have to understand the power of my appearance and what it means to look the way I look. That may sound superficial, but when your face matches the visual representation of what one of the most murderous regimes of the twentieth century considered ideal, you have to look at your appearance if you want to stop it’s disproportionate power that helped cause human suffering. Maybe I still sound conceited, it is not my intention.

A Film Unfinished (2010) by Yael Hersonski is a documentary which I found several years ago on netflix. It’s not there anymore, but youtube sometimes carries it and here is the link through Hulu:

A Film Unfinished explores a set of unnarated film reels that were taken by Nazi propagandists with unclear intentions. Some of the shots are staged, some are direct first-hand visual accounts of what happened in the Warsaw ghetto. Perhaps one of the most notorious pits of human hell before the hellholes that lead to the flames of death at Dachau and Auschwitz, the Warsaw ghetto was a surreal reality of fascist hatred. Confined to just over one square mile with nearly half a million people, the Warsaw ghetto bustled with activity of people who were trying to stay alive by any means necessary. Deference to extreme human agony was a necessary survival tactic, a comment one of the survivor’s show’s barely any emotion about.

Many people do not have adequate imaginative skills to imagine other people’s reality. This is seen when people make insensitive remarks about victims, either rape victims or the black victims of police violence, about what they “would have” had it been them at the hands of a violent assault. People are especially resistant to understanding why victims loose their power, or even give their power over to their abuser. People believe that if it was them, they would fight to the death.

The truth is, few of us fight to the death. Most of us are beaten to death. That is a logical decision for a human to make; instead of making rash, sudden actions in the face of danger, instead to conform to the restrictions of the danger and ride it out until it ends. Because theoretically, it could end. There were holocaust survivors. There are rape victim survivors who went through the darkest parts of human sadism and lived. There are victims of extreme police violence who endure until they are let free again. Except, sometimes, it doesn’t end. Sometimes people get beaten, or raped, or traumatized until they die, and no one wants to think that could be them.

A Film Unfinished shows us those people who were beaten to death by the hatred of the world. Adam Czerniakow, the head of the Nazi set up Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Council (or Judenrat in German). Like Hitler, he would not see the post Nazi German era because he swallowed a cyanide pill on July 23, 1942 after the Nazis carried out “Grossaktion Warsaw” or the total destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. Czerniakow is an extremely important historical figure in understanding the dynamic between power and victim hood, how victims attempt to keep power, and what happens when victims come to understand that they are loosing.

Czerniakow was by no means perfect. He was a complex figure with a problem more intricately poisonous than what many face at the worst of crises. But he did write complex narrative down. He did try to take on the impossible task of creating some way for Jewish persons to be a part of some sort of society. He knew he was fighting a loosing battle. But if not him personally, who else would have been the Judenrat and how would they have led it? Czerniakow is a historical character worth investigating for anyone wishing to read about the complexities of power and victim hood that can sometimes act simultaneously.

Willie Wist, the only German film propaganda crew member to be interviewed for the documentary, agrees that the “documentary” of the Warsaw ghetto has a political agenda, to show the extreme differences between the “rich Jews and the poor Jews”. The two groups were often shown next to one another, pitting deathly poverty against the last shred of humility and dignity a person could have held on to during that time.The effect is startling, sickening, and brutal. If to say anything at the time, the Nazis could have pointed to a number of negative stereotypes against Jewish people at the time. Looking at it now, it is a heartbreaking example of the depths the human mind has to survive.

No one owns the truth, but there are those who monopolize it. If we do not document our own reality, however mundane and otherwise boring we personally see it, we do not contribute to the human narrative. We cannot draw correlations between human behaviors or historical patterns. We cannot see that we and them, we are all not so different. When we document it, we can look at it and revel at how different we are, how different realities are constructed, how different people’s lives are.