Refugee Status

November 20, 2015


Our Republican-led House, with plenty of Democrats supporting, has decided that letting in traumatized refugees from the Syrian civil war poses too great a risk to our security: among the 10,000 men, women, and children fleeing for their lives, there might lurk a terrorist who wishes us ill. Meanwhile, any American citizen can have military-grade arms and ammunition practically for the asking, and with regularity some of these people go on rampages that claim the lives of two, or five, or a dozen, or more innocent lives. So, are we to believe that the safety and security of American lives is what motivates our worthy representatives?

The Jeb Bush View of French History

October 30, 2015


Clear as Day

September 27, 2015


See your declaration, Americans!! Do you understand your own language? Hear your language, proclaimed to the world, July 4, 1776—

☞ “We hold these truths to be self evident—that ALL MEN are created EQUAL! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!!”

Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers on ourselves on our fathers and on us, men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation!!!

Meta, meta, murder…

June 18, 2015


I just finished this book – not sure whether it’s a “crime novel” or a “mystery”.  Is there a difference?  Anyway, it was well written, very clever and suspenseful.  The characters it presented were good too.  That’s all I have to say about it, other than that the murders it describes are extremely gruesome, but I guess that’s old hat these days, what with Hannibal Lechter, Steven King, and so on.

Well, there’s this too:  the killer in the book is staging his crimes to duplicate murder scenes in books he admires.  He sees himself as some sort of artist.  One of the books, the one with the first murder scene used, is Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.  Near the end of the book, the author, the real author, not the would-be author who is murdering women, changes the name of a character so that we might think that all the time we have been reading a text written by the murderer and sent to the character in the book who is chasing him, rather than reading a book about a policeman chasing a murderer who sends him texts…  Very meta.

I started reading this sort of book sometime after I started watching film noir, a natural progression I guess.  At first, I read books that were the basis of films I’d seen, but now I’ve expanded my range a bit.  I’m not sure why they are entertaining; certainly it’s not the gore – that just adds to the suspense somehow.

In the Acknowledgements section of the book, after the end, Lemaitre praises the four novels he references in his narrative.  He notes that critics reacted very harshly to Ellis’ book, implying that they are hypocritical for wanting these novels to “exorcise our hyper-violent societies,” while not exceeding the limits of good taste.  I am not sure what he means by this other than that authors should be free to write what they like, and if critics don’t like it, but read it anyway, too bad for them.  As for “hyper-violent,” I don’t know at all what this means.  Compared to what?  Medieval towns with public executions, drawing and quartering, bear baiting in the Elizabethan age?  Mass starvation?  Slavery?  It all sounds very French-Intellectual to me:  I can just hear those academics intoning about the “violence inherent in the system,” as Monty Python put it, and so on.  I think he’s just fascinated by violence and gore, and makes a good living at it.  Better than teaching literature, which is what he used to do.

City of Fear

May 27, 2015

He’s in there somewhere!

City of Fear (1959) isn’t all that good of a movie, but it had its moments.  Vince Edwards stars as a ruthless pusher on the run after a breakout from prison.  He took a canister of powder with him that he thinks is pure heroin being used in special “junkie trials” in the infirmary, but it’s actually Cobalt-16, “the most deadly element in existence.”  The police are running a race against time to find him before the mayor of LA makes an announcement of the situation and causes full pandemonium in town.

Meeting up with his girlfriend, he explains why he had to break out, kill those guys, and make off with the “snow.”

“I’m not an animal.  I’m a person; I want things.”

Yep, the human condition.

On the run, running out of time, dying of radiation poisoning:  a nice shot juxtaposing a desperate man and better times, a la kitsch.

And maybe he is an animal after all.  A social pest…

In the end, just another specimen.  The cops look on:  “C’mon, I want to go home.”

That’s all folks.


May 20, 2015

Ombre rosse

Stagecoach (1939), considered one of the great classics of American cinema, a film that raised the Western, that most American and durable of genres, from the realm of the B-picture to movie-art, more than seventy-five years old, and I’ve just seen it.  Well, not quite – I saw the remake as a young boy, and thought it pretty dreadful.  The critics agreed.  I recall my mother telling me that it was a remake, and I resolved never to see it – bad choice.

My interest in the film was awakened when I had dinner at a fabulous little restaurant in Genoa, Italy, called Ombre Rosse.  I knew that the words meant “Red Shadow,” but I didn’t know that was the name given to the Italian release of Stagecoach, and I missed the poster near the restaurant’s door.  Inside, there was quite a lot of art of the Soviet Socialist Realist school, so I thought that this was the source of the place’s name – the shadow of the Reds…Communism, etc.  The waiter enlightened me when we chatted after I told him I liked his Dr. Strangelove T-shirt.  The red shadow is the threat of the Apaches, of course.  For Americans, “stagecoach” evokes the Old West, but for Italians, it would probably evoke a 19th century transit system, thus the change.

One thing that really intrigued me in the film was the character of the “genteel” southern gambler, Hatfield, played by John Carradine.  He’s really creepy.  Carradine was widely known for his roles in horror flicks, among other things, and he looks quite elegantly cadaverous.  He takes it upon himself as a gentleman to watch over Mrs. Mallory, travelling to rejoin her husband, a cavalry officer, and soon to give birth.  They share a southern background:  Hatfield claims to have fought in her husband’s regiment.  He even owns a silver cup of his which she recognizes to his embarassment:  he won it gambling. She looks at death’s door, and he sort of looks like he’d be willing to help her through it.


He has something of an affinity for dead, pretty women.  When they reach a rest stop, they find it destroyed by the Apaches:  Hatfield gently covers a female corpse with his coat.  I guess that’s the Wild West equivalent of throwing yours in the mud for a lady to step on to keep her feet dry.

06_1939 Stagecoach (burnt sta)

In the climactic scenes, as the coach races to escape the attacking Apache raiders, the men, all crack shots, run out of ammo.  Looks pretty grim.  Hatfield examines his revolver and finds one last bullet.  He saves it for the lovely head of Mrs. Mallory who is praying up a storm.  He really takes his role of guardian of the weaker sex quite seriously, and it’s a good thing that the other female onboard, aside from the baby, is a whore, or he would be sore pressed to dispose of them both with one bullet.  As it is, only the lady gets the bullet.

Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, and I won’t tell how it goes, in case you haven’t seen it  already, but you can probably guess what happens, what with all those Indian bullets flying, and the US Army not too far away.


The Trains Did Not Run On Time

May 18, 2015


I would describe my reaction to reading Mussolini:  A Biography, by Denis Mack Smith with two words:  shock and astonishment.  How could a treatment of the political life (the author describes it as a “political” biography of Benito Mussolini) evoke such reactions?  I mean, he’s been dead and documented for seventy years, right?  Well, I never knew much about him or his reign, mostly because Hitler and the Nazis attract so much more attention and treatment in the media, but his story is indeed incredible.

I came to this book after reading Mack Smith’s biography of Cavour, and parts of his history of modern Italian politics, as preparation for visiting Turin and the Piedmont region.  Cavour was the first prime minister of the newly united Italian state and was a count in the Piedmont region which dominated the new nation, and from which its constitutional monarch, Victor Emmanuel, came.  Some readers of the biography of Mussolini complain that it lacks in-depth analysis of its subject, or the historical context, and this is true:  at times it reads like a chronicle of choices made and statements uttered, and there is some significant repetition in his evaluation of these, but the simple chronology and recounting of events is itself so outlandish that it has tremendous value, I think.

Reading this biography, I have to doubt that I even understand something I thought was very clear:  What is fascism?  Or what was it?  Certainly it has taken on a life of it’s own, down to the recent history of Chile and Argentina, to mention a few states, but when Mussolini invented it, coined its name, created its symbols, it was, as this book shows, simply a vehicle for him to gain power.  Hitler, monstrous as he was, had a program that extended beyond himself:  he saw a 1000 year Reich based on his hellish principles.  Mussolini simply juggled about 100 balls at once, keeping them all in the air, so he could continue to rule – that was Fascism for him.

The incredibly detailed and notated biography reveals that Mussolini’s rule was based on several basic principles:

  • Use violence to extort, intimidate, and sow chaos among enemies and neutral parties.  Use it without stint, and keep an eye out for the opportunity to extract advantage.  He did not deny his penchant for violence, he celebrated it as a central principle of fascism.
  • Control the news completely:  Mussolini started his political life as a journalist and newspaper operator, and to a great extent, his reign resembled that of a ruthless media tycoon who also happened to control an army of violent thugs willing to do his bidding.
  • Divide and rule without reserve:  Eventually, the Fascist party Mussolini himself created became a potential threat to his own power.  He had no compunction at setting its members against one another to keep it as weak as he needed it.
  • Abandon consistency:  Perhaps this is the most truly astonishing part of Mussolini’s rule.  The freedom with which he would contradict himself, often within a day, was incredible.  He started as a revolutionary socialist, then he advocated corporate industrial control of society, later he went back to the socialist stance.  It all depended on who he was trying to outmaneuver at the time, and since he controlled all the press, each contradictory expression would be reconciled with his other statements by judicious “erasures” within the archives.

With complete control of the press, comes the freedom to create the big lie.  Italy has the greatest army in Europe, ten million men at arms (his generals knew that it had barely 1/10th that number), a major military defeat is trumpeted as a great victory, the train system is proclaimed the best in the industrialized world, running 100% on time (journalists from abroad noted, before they were ejected from the country for saying it, that the system was a shambles.)

His government was totally centralized in his own person, and he became increasingly remote from reality, surrounded by sycophants who posed no threat, and who were totally incompetent in their posts.  Mussolini seems to have actively sought dullards and incompetents to appoint to positions of nominal power, but he rarely listened to them anyway.  Many times he delivered himself of incorrect opinions on matters of economics or military import and refused to be corrected – that would diminish his prestige – even to the point of accepting awful terms in the negotiation of foreign treaties rather than backtrack.  It was rule by an egomaniac “play-actor” backed up by vicious criminal gangs who made out while the gettin’ was good.

How did this gimcrack, ramshackle, jerry-rigged chaos come to run a modern state?  The author’s explanation seems to be that two principle factors were at play in the post-WWI era that was threatening to many established regimes:  Mussolini was some kind of a political genius; the liberal political establishment let him take power.  He was brilliant at picking the right moment to act, ruthless in employing lies and violence, totally without scruple, principle, or consistency, other than in his drive for power, and he knew how to inspire loyalty.  He was a demagogue, in other words.  And the liberal bourgeois establishment, which could have destroyed him easily at many critical moments in his rise to power, feared him less than the communists, a familiar story.  Like Hitler, he too was voted into power, a fact which annoyed him greatly as he felt it was more proper for a fascist leader to seize power with violence.  But he was willing to live with that…  Even when Mussolini was still only member of parliament and was personally implicated in a murder of a prominent opponent, the dominant establishment parties dealt lightly with him.  They sat and listened as he insulted and harangued them in speeches, even as his party members instigated fights on the parliament floor.  They were utterly exhausted as a political class, and this was both a cause, and a rallying cry of the Fascist ascendancy.

Needless to say, once he was in power, the industrial interests were happy to connive with him in his program, confident that his outlandish plans for the economy would never be implemented, the case with most of his pronunciamentos.  As Mack Smith frequently notes, the actual effect of his proposals and pronouncements was not so important;  to keep those balls flying in the air, the appearance was all that mattered.