I saw “Black Panther”

I saw “Black Panther” and am glad I did. I am a novice when it comes to action movies. I thought Marvel was only a paper comic book. I was not aware that “Black Panther” debuted in 1966. I belong to a Social Justice Arts Group that discusses films with a high racial content. To be honest, if members of that group had not suggested we next discuss “Black Panther,” I might not have ever known about it. Now I feel I am kewl (as kids said back in the 90’s) I feel like I now know about a secret world that everyone knew about but me.

I watched “Black Panther” early Sunday evening of Presidents Day weekend (opening weekend). The theatre had at least five other showings that day and my showing was packed: Blacks, whites, young and old, a few couples, more families, lots of guys. My biggest surprise was they all acted like they had been waiting for this move since 2014, when it was first announced. Moreover, they knew to stay seated after the first conclusion because more action would follow. They seemed to already know that there will be a sequel in two years.

I fully appreciate the significance of the first blockbuster Hollywood film with a black director but as an action-packed fantasy film, race was not the dominant lens for me. It wasn’t like “I am Not your Negro” or “Detroit.” I expect the box office success of “Black Panther” will boost many production and acting careers and may lead to more “culturally diverse” films. I am appalled, but should have expected, that anti-Black sentiments tried to sabotage the Rotten Tomatoes ratings (currently 97) in hopes of surprising enthusiasm for the film.

I enjoyed the technological wizardry but grew tired of some of the physical conflict. I know, I know—it is an action film. I personally liked the scenes short in Pusan, S. Korea, because I recognize them, but I don’t imagine most Americans particularly cared where they took place. There were at least five witty lines I appreciated and probably would have noticed more if I had not been enthralled by the cyber gymnastics.

Two quotes have returned to my thinking several times this week. They are:
1. One of the main characters (who had ancestors brought to America from Africa) says “throw me off the ship like my ancestors. It is better to be dead than in bondage.”
2. The ending—which I won’t spoil for you.

I am eagerly waiting our discussion group to learn about significant parts that I missed. I am proud of myself, however, that I noticed the ambiguity surrounding the fate of the main rival of the king.

Here are some links that may be of interest:
1. New York Times review https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/movies/black-panther-review-movie.html?

2. Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/black-panther-is-exhilarating-groundbreaking-and-more-than-worth-the-wait/2018/02/09/5bff1d4c-0916-11e8-94e8-e8b8600ade23_story.html?utm_term=.096b122cd7c4

3. An interesting analysis I found on Facebook (but it is a spoiler)

added 3/14
from THE Christian Century

Why don’t homeless people go to shelters?

It is reported that three-quarters of Los Angeles’ homeless are in tents, vehicles and abandoned buildings. In New York City, more than 100 social workers are assigned to persuade the estimated 4,000 homeless to go to the city’s expanded Safe Haven rather than ride the subway throughout the night.

Volunteers and housed citizens alike often ask why don’t homeless people take advantage of shelter opportunities? Having asked myself the same question, I’ve listened very carefully over the past few years. Here is what I have learned.

Viewing the homeless as lazy freeloaders prevents a deeper understanding of their decisions. The freeloader perspective naturally predicts the homeless would use all the services available to them — but they don’t. Most homeless people are very short-term goal oriented. They are focused on getting through the day rather than where they will spend the night.

For most chronically homeless, there is no”normal” day. They often do not have routines, they usually do not need to know what day it is or what time it is. That’s why they miss appointments with their caseworkers and forget where they left stuff. Many homeless do not plan very well. Getting to a shelter by a specific time is an obstacle they can avoid by just sleeping at their campsite which is always open and for which they do not need a reservation.

Many homeless do not make good decisions. They intend to get an ID or go to the food pantry, but something comes up and gets them off track. In that way, they are like most of us who only stick with our New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking, lose weight or save more money for a few weeks. People do not freely choose to continue alcohol, tobacco, opiate or chocolate addictions. Alcoholic and Narcotics Anonymous groups provide support for many housed students, housewives and business people. Some homeless, too, have addictions that prevent them from making it through the night without a cigarette, a toke or a drink, so they decide to stay outdoors.

Social workers and volunteers often say their guests “won’t follow the rules.” It is not that simple. Many homeless do not seem to really comprehend the rules or know what is expected of them. Social workers and volunteers sooner or later realize that raising one’s voice and repeating a request a dozen times doesn’t accomplish much. A frequent comment I have heard from those who choose not to go to an available shelter is, “I don’t want no problems.”

Humans seem to like their familiar comfort zones. Shelters that are here one week and there another don’t become familiar. Sleeping in your own bed, even if in a campsite, is your own bed. Shelters are noisy with no personal space. Many homeless follow their own clock. They are 24/7, not 9 to 5. Being required to be in at 7 p.m. and out at 7 a.m. doesn’t always fit well. Moreover, checking into a shelter means leaving one’s regular camp or space unoccupied, inviting ransacking or theft.

Personal safety and property security are issues facing the homeless, including those staying at shelters. Checking their bags at the door makes sense for program organizers but means a loss of control for a homeless guest. Most of us housed people don’t like having a purse, or pack, checked at a movie theater or sporting venue. The closest most of us come to feeling like a homeless person checking into a shelter is probably going through security at an airport. We don’t like it. We don’t like taking off our shoes and walking on that filthy floor, emptying our pockets in front of strangers and being told where to stand and when to move.

However well-intentioned they may be, caseworkers and volunteers sometimes seem more concerned with following their own rules than serving the needs of their homeless guests. Despite their good hearts, it is not unusual to hear volunteers and staff say, “They should be grateful for a warm place to stay.” Imagine overhearing a TSA inspector say, “They should be grateful that they will make it there safely,” as you wait in line fearing you will miss your flight.

Assisting the homeless in obtaining a standard apartment is a laudable goal but mini-houses, mobile homes, even storage sheds, may be a step up from the streets for some men and women who just don’t use existing shelters.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Jenny’s Journal Brings Holiday Cheer

Jenny’s Journal Brings Holiday Cheer

Today’s mail brought one of the few paper Christmas cards I receive (it’s my own fault: I don’t send any) from a former MU student (circa 1995).  I opened it quickly knowing that inside would be her “Jenny’s Journal” –a two-page review of her year’s activities and highlights. I bet she has done this most years since graduating and getting her first job in Washington, D.C.  It is so her!  And so old-fashioned. She tells about her travels, her family and friends, the concerts she has heard, her involvement in her community. All in two pages mentioning people I do not know but who sound fascinating. I learn about authors and events of which I was unaware. Every now and then she has a quote or a reference to current events.  Her tone is happy and grateful even through sickness and job re-location.  It is delightful and reassuring. What a nice tradition she started for herself a long time ago.

The Two Young Men Legislative Candidates in “Practicing Democracy”

The Two Young Men Legislative Candidates in “Practicing Democracy”

          In “Practicing Democracy”  https://practicingdemocracy.org/ Tom Kelly and Ryan Brown are two ambitious young candidates aspiring for the state legislature who meet an elder statesman (Mr. Adams) aspiring to restore democracy. Tom and Ryan reflect the hundreds of young male students I have taught as a college professor. They are representatives of types of young men I am familiar with but are not composites of specific people (as Mr. Adams, the main character, is). Continue reading

GUEST COMMENTARY: Korea — how we got here and where we are headed

Because of teaching opportunities, I spent more than 24 months of the last eight years in South Korea. While my academic specialty is American politics, I’ve read many books, attended conferences and have had numerous discussions with Koreans about the future of the two nations.


First, conflict with North Korea has been the defining issue in the South Korean public arena since 1953. It would surprise most Americans that South Koreans seem able to just go about their lives. Just in the past week, I became aware of three South Koreans who will be visiting their homeland despite the headlines. Apparently, they just don’t believe that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un would take actions that annihilate the peninsula.

The two most promising opportunities for obtaining a more stable situation on the peninsula were the end of the Clinton Administration 2000 and during the George W. Bush’s 2002 visit to Korea. Bush including North Korea as part of the “Axes of evil” was not helpful. Sadly, not much has changed in the last 15 years between the U.S. and North Korea, except that a young man succeeded his father as Supreme Leader and has chosen to be more brazen and brutal.

The standoff since 1953’s ending of the Korean War without a peace treaty seems bizarre to many Americans, but it has been stable. Support for Korean unification is difficult to ascertain. It is included as a national goal in the South Korean constitution, but few Koreans seem to really want it. Economic and cultural disparities between North and South have grown tremendously since the 1970s. Economic equalization, a goal nearly achieved in East and West Germany’s unification is considered to be unrealistically expensive requiring massive commitment assistance from the United Nations, United States and China.

Perhaps because of concern with Japan and China, Korean problems have not received the attention they should have in Washington, D.C., over the past 50 years. This is partly because there has not been a clear solution. In fact, both the U.S. and China prefer the status quo over an expensive unification that runs the risk of tipping the scales between U.S. and Chinese dominance.

In hindsight, what should have been done is aggressive nation-building with U.N. and U.S. aid flowing into agriculture cooperatives, community schools, health clinics, and information dissemination. Such community-building activities by churches, health agencies, and even environmental organizations are present in North Korea and are slowly increasing. Ultimately, a society collectively determines how long it will accept a non-democratic leader. There are pockets of opposition to Kim Jong-Un, but the price is high. Information technology has been a useful tool for helping North Korea learn about the outside world and to set up meetings with each other.

American leaders seem content to place the full responsibility for solving the Korea problem on China. This is a mistake. China’s South Sea actions, trade practicing, and aggressive patriation in international tribunals suggest that they aspire to be a, if not the, global leader. We need to cooperate with China, letting them take the strategic lead, in resolving North Korea issues, but we need to maintain our economic assistance and political presence.


The ultimate goal should be to welcome North Korea into the family of nations so that they have no reason to use their nuclear arsenal. President Trump’s escalating rhetoric is certainly unconventional. Perhaps it will prove productive when Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Kim and Trump for a weekend visit and they all toast and have a laugh about how “three wild, and crazy, guys” shook up the status quo and scared the pants off half the world.


David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.


Beaver Plants a Tree

Leave it to Beaver, Beaver Plants a Tree                        

     In my effort to curb my intake of political news, I caught a “Leave it to Beaver” re-run. It was titled “Beaver’s Tree” and first aired November 11, 1959 and tells of Beaver remembering a tree that his father gave him for his birthday due to his class reciting a poem that begins “what does he plant who plants a tree?”  The dramatic twist is that the Cleavers had moved from their original house, leaving the tree behind. After indirectly asking his mother’s advice (e.g. “if you put a million dollars in the bank, and the bank gets a new owner, don’t you still have the million dollars?”), Beaver returns to his old house and digs up the tree and takes it to his new home.

            In my youth, we only saw “Leave it to Beaver” when me or my siblings were sick in bed, but we planted lots of trees. I’ve left trees behind in at least four states so I was curious about the poem used in Beaver’s grade school class. Thanks to the internet, I learned the poem (“The Heart of a Tree” ) was by Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855-1896), whom I was unfamiliar. It is a comforting, sentimental three verses.

The Heart of the Tree

by Henry Cuyler Bunner

What does he plant who plants a tree?

   He plants a friend of sun and sky;

He plants the flag of breezes free;

   The shaft of beauty, towering high;

   He plants a home to heaven anigh;

      For song and mother-croon of bird

      In hushed and happy twilight heard—

The treble of heaven’s harmony—

These things he plants who plants a tree.


What does he plant who plants a tree?

   He plants cool shade and tender rain,

And seed and bud of days to be,

   And years that fade and flush again;

      He plants the glory of the plain;

      He plants the forest’s heritage;

      The harvest of a coming age;

The joy that unborn eyes shall see—

These things he plants who plants a tree.


What does he plant who plants a tree?

   He plants, in sap and leaf and wood,

In love of home and loyalty

   And far-cast thought of civic good—

   His blessings on the neighborhood,

      Who in the hollow of His hand

      Holds all the growth of all our land—

A nation’s growth from sea to sea

Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

https://poets.org/poetsorg/poem/heart-tree (in the public domain)