Real life super spies

I love this picture so much.  It is from the NY Times obituary of Jeanne Vertefeuille (center), who helped catch CIA mole Aldrich Ames.  It is credited to Central Intelligence Agency.

This woman was station chief in Gabon.


Authentic

Tavis Smiley, in the Daily Beast, talks about Django Unchained:

Tarantino even went on the record saying Roots was inauthentic. First of all, Tarantino is not a historian. When people see his film who don’t have any understanding of history, they take it as history, because Tarantino passes himself off as a historian by declaring Roots inauthentic, and then goes on to make the “authentic” story about slavery. It doesn’t tell the truth about what the black contribution to this country has been. Tarantino has the right to make whatever films he wants to make. What he’s not entitled to is his own set of facts and to lecture black people about the inauthenticity of an iconic, game-changing series like Roots.

I think* Tavis is referring to this quote, also from the Daily Beast.  Here’s what QT said, in its context:

“When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” says Tarantino. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”

  1. Worth reading TS’s own description of what the black contribution to this country has been, which gave me something ELSE to think about.
  2. Boy it would be hard to watch an authentic movie about slavery.  Hard enough to watch Django which was a super cool, entertaining adventure story but which also has some scenes that are awful raw to look at.
  3. Ta-Nehisi Coates weighs in here with about why slave-revenge stories are rare in the historical record.  (but is this movie really a revenge story?  might it not just be a blown-out version of the dynamic TNC describes?  “the preservation and security of their particular black families.” TNC declines to see the movie.)
  4. QT has more thoughts on Roots here, from 5:07-7:35 or so:

And what about this?:

GROSS: Just one other related question. Did you ever – because I know you really enjoy, have always enjoyed really violent movies. Have you ever been exposed to a movie image – even like when you were a child or as an adult that you wished you hadn’t seen because it was so troubling and scary and you had nightmares about it and hunted you?

TARANTINO: Well, you make that that’s not supposed to happen, like that would be a bad thing.

Or this?:

TARANTINO: Yeah. Well, it was almost like a sitcom, actually the way we lived in the ’70s because she [QT is talking about his mom here] was in her 20s, she was hot, all right, she was a hot white girl. Her best friend was named Jackie. She was a hot black girl. And her other best friend was Lillian and she was a hot Mexican girl. And they lived in this like swinging singles apartment with me.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What impact did that have on you?

TARANTINO: Yeah, well, it was just yeah, it was just, you know, it was the ’70s so it was, you know, I lived with these three hip ladies all going out on dates all the time and dating football players and basketball players and, you know, my mother…

GROSS: Professionals ones or…

TARANTINO: Yeah. Yeah. My mom dated Wilt Chamberlain. She’s one of the thousand.

GROSS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

Puzzled for a minute over who QT sounds like before realizing: Richard Kind.

*  pretty sure.  did due diligence googling, unless he’s referring to some unprinted comment or something on a TV or radio show.  I listened to all of QT on Howard Stern, Charlie Rose, and Terry Gross.


“There’s no winning. Nobody ever wins.”

I used to keep a VHS of Norm MacDonald on Conan from ’95.  Such excellence.  For the busy executive the first two minutes will suffice.  Or the last two minutes.  (HT Andrew Sullivan)


Memphis

IMG_1330

Memphis is where hillbillies meet black folk.  They are stunned to find how much they have in common with each other.  Dangerous and exciting ideas explode from them then.

– Vivien Kent, The Fatback Of America (1948)

(photo by SCH)


Denmark

This N+1 article about a Danish TV show:

Borgen is more than a sensation; it is a kind of parallel government. Borgen stories are reported in Copenhagen’s free newspapers as if they were actually happening; an educational program that introduces the main fields of Danish politics—welfare spending, environmental policy, the status of Greenland—does so under the rubric “Borgen in reality.”

And:

In a recent interview with Le Monde, the actor [excellently named Babette Knudsen] said she learned about how politicians atrophy by watching Tony Blair.

Says N+1:

But in Britain, where Borgen airs in the original Danish, the program was the undisputed hit of 2012

(undisputed??)

I thought this idea was interesting and troubling:

As the sociologist Wolfgang Streeck has argued, the shift we are seeing in Europe is one from “government” to “governance”—or, if you prefer, from democracy to administration, from a system in which political leaders enact the will of the people to one in which they act merely as “debt-collecting agencies on behalf of a global oligarchy of investors.”

Photo of Denmark’s actual prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, from wikipedia:

She married Stephen Kinnock in 1996, so becoming the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, Baron Kinnock, former leader of the British Labour Party and European Commissioner, and Glenys Kinnock, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, former British Minister for Europe.

Neil Kinnock, remember, was the British politician from whom Biden plagarized whole chunks of life story during the 1988 presidential primaries.


Django

There’s been much talk about the exchange at 13:56 in this video.  But for me the compelling part is at 12:05-13:03.  What coolness.

 


George Saunders

In NY Times:

“I admired him so much,” he said about [DF] Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.

Possible negative tendencies a person could have:

  • reading about famous greats while aggressively hunting for holes and hypocrisies in wicked hope famous great isn’t really much kinder and more thoughtful and generally better, and thus you yourself can’t be expected to improve or be better
  • cynical assumption that you should be very very skeptical about anyone described as a “saint” in a newspaper.
  • suspicion that people promoting “saints” have inevitable tangled agenda of self-promotion or goal of manipulating saints into espousing ideas from which they themselves [the saint-promoters] intend to make some gain.

Brief personal experience:

Met Saunders once (courtesy of Chennai Office). Walked and talked with him for about ten minutes.

During that walk he completely (by accident, just in casual conversation) altered my perception of college.

That afternoon Saunders gave a reading almost nobody came to. A person literally rollerbladed in, midway through.

Then watched him meet a bunch of young strangers.  Many of whom weren’t exactly sure who he was or why he was there, and >50% of them were pretty drunk.

Saunders offered each of these people (and several were legendary messes) some genuine complimentary observation, or more likely, a complimentary question.

Afterwards, had the sense I’d just been given a free demonstration in how to be: considerate.  In the deepest, “put yourself in the other guy’s shoes” way. NY Times:

The last time we met, Saunders waited in the cold with me until the bus for New York came along. We were talking about the idea of abiding, of the way that you can help people flourish just by withholding judgment, if you open yourself up to their possibilities…

(photo from the wikipedia page for Nyingma Buddhism)