What can we learn from Lee?

source, wiki photo by Cville Dog

Lots of conversations about history, how we should remember our history, etc.  Amateur historians love arguing about Lee, how can you not, he is interesting.

Robert E. Lee had many noble personal qualities, as did many officers in Hitler’s army.

If there’s anything to learn from him, might it not be that a man of principle and dignity can end up on the outrageously wrong side of the most important moral issue of his time?

Nobody should judge John Kelly without reading this Washington Post profile of him by Greg Jaffe.

About 12 hours later, the elder Kelly e-mailed his extended family in Boston, preparing them for the possibility that Robert might be maimed or killed. Kelly knew that Robert went out on almost every patrol with his men through mine-filled fields. One of the Marines at Bethesda told him that Robert was “living on luck.”

“I write you all to just let you know he’s in the thick of it and to keep him in your thoughts,” Kelly typed. “We are doing a Novena a minute down here and there is no end in sight.”

On Oct. 31, Kelly sent a second e-mail to his eldest sister, the family matriarch. “I am sweating bullets,” he confided. “Pray. Pray. Pray. He’s such a good boy . . . and Marine.”

This is painful to watch:

What a dilemma: the American people have elected a mean angry fool, do I try and do what I can to contain him or resign knowing he might do more damage without me around?

What’s the point of a statue of Lee if not to learn from him?

From this take on Lee by Roy Blount Jr. in Smithsonian mag:

We may think we know Lee because we have a mental image: gray. Not only the uniform, the mythic horse, the hair and beard, but the resignation with which he accepted dreary burdens that offered “neither pleasure nor advantage”: in particular, the Confederacy, a cause of which he took a dim view until he went to war for it. He did not see right and wrong in tones of gray, and yet his moralizing could generate a fog, as in a letter from the front to his invalid wife: “You must endeavour to enjoy the pleasure of doing good. That is all that makes life valuable.” All right. But then he adds: “When I measure my own by that standard I am filled with confusion and despair.”


Bob Marley in Boston

Because people were talking about Baby Driver, I started singing it in my head to the tune of Bob Marley’s Slave Driver.

What a song.  So then I went looking for Slave Driver on Spotify. I found a recording of Bob Marley and The Wailers, Live At The Music Hall, Boston, 1978.  “Easy Skanking In Boston ’78” is the title, which I don’t love saying.  “Bob Marley and The Wailers Live At The Music Hall – Boston – 1978” seems like it gives you what you need?

The Music Hall is now the Wang Theatre. Photo from Wikipedia by Tim Pierce.

Somehow shocking that Boston would be the scene of a legendary Marley concert.  Who was in the crowd?!

Steve Morse wrote about this recording for The Boston Globe when the album was released in 2015:

My one meeting with Bob Marley was memorable. I was sent by the Globe to interview him at the Essex Hotel in New York before his show at Boston’s Music Hall in 1978. I walked in to Marley’s room, which looked out over Central Park, at 11 a.m. It was a chaotic scene. Four or five members of his entourage were kicking a soccer ball that banged off the picture windows. Two king-size joints were being passed around. Bob sat on a couch, reading aloud from the Book of Revelation.

Realizing I was in over my head, I waited a while before daring to ask Marley about his music. He agreed to talk, shut the Bible, quelled the soccer noise, and stated his worldview: “Everything is going to be united now. Everything is going to be cool. Forget the past and unite.”

Marley’s response to a country politically divided and stricken with gun violence was notably cooler and more Christian than the NRA’s response.

Two months later he’d be in Boston.

(Minute 34-38 or so a good sample)

June 8, 1978 was a Thursday, a hot night,  89 degrees.  The Red Sox had an off day, but that weekend they’d start a ten game win streak on the road in the West Coast.

The Sox would win 99 games that year, but lose a one game playoff to the Yankees at home in Fenway Park.

Ned Martin would call the game for WITS radio.

Years later he’d die of a heart attack in a shuttle bus at the Raleigh airport on his way home from Ted Williams’ memorial.


Houellebecq

figure-1-map-of-sardinia-and-corsica-showing-a-elevation-and-b-major-vegetation

found here

from the Paris Review interview with Michel Houllebecq

INTERVIEWER

You have a bit of a scientific background. After high school, you studied agronomy. What is agronomy?

HOUELLEBECQ

It’s everything having to do with the production of food. The one little project I did was a vegetation map of Corsica whose purpose was to find places where you could put sheep. I had read in the school brochure that studying agronomy can lead to all sorts of careers, but it turns out that was ridiculous. Most people still end up in some form of agriculture, with a few amusing exceptions. Two of my classmates became priests, for example.

INTERVIEWER

Did you enjoy your studies?

HOUELLEBECQ

Very much. In fact, I almost became a researcher. It’s one of the most autobiographical things in The Elementary Particles. My job would have been to find mathematical models that could be applied to the fish populations in Lake Nantua in the Rhône-Alpes region. But strangely, I turned it down, which was stupid, actually, because finding work afterward was impossible.

INTERVIEWER

In the end you went to work as a computer programmer. Did you have previous experience?

HOUELLEBECQ

I knew nothing about it. But this was back when there was a huge need for programming and no schools to speak of. So it was easy to get into. But I loathed it immediately.

INTERVIEWER

So what made you write your first novel, Whatever, about a computer programmer and his sexually frustrated friend?

HOUELLEBECQ

I hadn’t seen any novel make the statement that entering the workforce was like entering the grave. That from then on, nothing happens and you have to pretend to be interested in your work. And, furthermore, that some people have a sex life and others don’t just because some are more attractive than others. I wanted to acknowledge that if people don’t have a sex life, it’s not for some moral reason, it’s just because they’re ugly. Once you’ve said it, it sounds obvious, but I wanted to say it.

Talking about his novel The Possibility of An Island:

INTERVIEWER

Why did you make your main character a comedian?

HOUELLEBECQ

The character came from two things. First of all, I went to a resort in Turkey and there was one of those talent shows produced by the guests. There was this girl—she must have been fifteen—who was doing Céline Dion and clearly for her, this was very, very important. I said to myself, Man, this girl is really going for it. And it’s funny because the next day, she was sitting alone at the breakfast table and I thought, Already the solitude of the star! I sensed that something like that can decide an entire life. So the comedian has a similar experience. He discovers all of sudden that he can make whole crowds laugh and it changes his life. The second thing was that I knew a woman who was editor in chief of a magazine and she was always inviting me to these hip events with Karl Lagerfeld, for example. I wanted to have someone who was part of that world.

On Anglo-Saxons (apparently including the Irish) and Americans:

INTERVIEWER

And what do you think of this Anglo-Saxon world?

HOUELLEBECQ

You can tell that this is the world that invented capitalism. There are private companies competing to deliver the mail, to collect the garbage. The financial section of the newspaper is much thicker than it is in French papers.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that men and women are more separate. When you go into a restaurant, for example, you often see women eating out together. The French from that point of view are very Latin. A single-sex dinner would be considered boring. In a hotel in Ireland, I saw a group of men talking golf at the breakfast table. They left and were replaced by a group of women who were discussing something else. It’s as if they’re separate species who meet occasionally for reproduction. There was a line I really liked in a novel by Coetzee. One of the characters suspects that the only thing that really interests his lesbian daughter in life is prickly-pear jam. Lesbianism is a pretext. She and her partner don’t have sex anymore, they dedicate themselves to decoration and cooking.

Maybe there’s some potential truth there about women who, in the end, have always been more interested in jam and curtains.

INTERVIEWER

And men? What do you think interests them?

HOUELLEBECQ

Little asses. I like Coetzee. He says things brutally, too.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve said that you possibly had an American side to you. What is your evidence for this?

HOUELLEBECQ

I have very little proof. There’s the fact that if I lived in an American context, I think I would have chosen a Lexus, which is the best quality for the price. And more obscurely, I have a dog that I know is very popular in the United States, a Welsh Corgi. One thing I don’t share is this American obsession with large breasts. That, I must admit, leaves me cold. But a two-car garage? I want one. A fridge with one of those ice-maker things? I want one too. What appeals to them appeals to me.

The Paris Review website has given me an awful lot.


Helytimes Classic: D*-Day

Reprinting this beloved post from a year ago:

CAPA 1* the D is for Dave!

Happy birthday, tomorrow, June 6, to Dave King (the Great Debates co-host, not the Bad Plus drummer)

A promise made in Host Chat is a promise kept so here is a selection of D-Day readings for Davis.

scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

New Yorker's July 15, 1944 parody of the Bayeux Tapestry

New Yorker’s July 15, 1944 parody of the Bayeux Tapestry

The single best thing to read about D-Day

is online and free.  It is S. L. A. Marshall writing for The Atlantic in November, 1950.

SLA Marshall

During World War II, Marshall became an official Army combat historian, and came to know many of the war’s best-known Allied commanders, including George S. Patton and Omar N. Bradley. He conducted hundreds of interviews of both enlisted men and officers regarding their combat experiences, and was an early proponent of oral history techniques. In particular, Marshall favored the group interview, where he would gather surviving members of a frontline unit together and debrief them on their combat experiences of a day or two before.

CAPA 2

The article is called “First Wave On Omaha Beach” here is an excerpt:

Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water. A few move safely through the bullet swarm to the beach, then find that they cannot hold there. They return to the water to use it for body cover. Faces turned upward, so that their nostrils are out of water, they creep toward the land at the same rate as the tide. That is how most of the survivors make it. The less rugged or less clever seek the cover of enemy obstacles moored along the upper half of the beach and are knocked off by machine-gun fire.

Within seven minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is inert and leaderless. At Boat No. 2, Lieutenant Tidrick takes a bullet through the throat as he jumps from the ramp into the water. He staggers onto the sand and flops down ten feet from Private First Class Leo J. Nash. Nash sees the blood spurting and hears the strangled words gasped by Tidrick: “Advance with the wire cutters!” It’s futile; Nash has no cutters. To give the order, Tidrick has raised himself up on his hands and made himself a target for an instant. Nash, burrowing into the sand, sees machine gun bullets rip Tidrick from crown to pelvis. From the cliff above, the German gunners are shooting into the survivors as from a roof top.

Captain Taylor N. Fellers and Lieutenant Benjamin R. Kearfoot never make it. They had loaded with a section of thirty men in Boat No. 6 (Landing Craft, Assault, No. 1015). But exactly what happened to this boat and its human cargo was never to be known. No one saw the craft go down. How each man aboard it met death remains unreported. Half of the drowned bodies were later found along the beach. It is supposed that the others were claimed by the sea.

After the war, Marshall would write Men Against Fire:

men against fire

which claimed that only about 25% of American combat soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy:

Marshall’s work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his best-known and most controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that of the World War II U.S. troops in actual combat, 75% never fired at the enemy for the purpose of killing, even though they were engaged in combat and under direct threat. Marshall argued that the Army should devote significant training resources to increasing the percentage of soldiers willing to engage the enemy with direct fire.

Marshall has been harshly criticized:

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.12.27 PM

General Marshall said soldiers who did not fire were motivated by fear, a desire to minimize risk and a willingness, as in civilian life, to let a minority of other people carry the load.

In his 1989 memoir, About Face, Hackworth described his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to disillusion after seeing Marshall’s character and methods first hand. Hackworth described Marshall as a “voyeur warrior,” for whom “the truth never got in the way of a good story” and went so far as to say, “Veterans of many of the actions he ‘documented’ in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias”.

Omaha Beach was the worst of it, but experiences on D-Day were vastly different.

Twenty-one miles away on Juno Beach the Canadian Ninth Division landed with their bikes:

Picture: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Picture: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Leave it to Canadians to bring their bikes.  (900 Canadians died in a botched semi-practice D-Day in 1942).

Best Single Book To Read About D-Day

Looking around I can’t find my copy of Normandy Revisited by AJ Liebling:

January 1963, New York, USA --- A. J. Liebling, (shown in a January 1963 photo from files), whose caustic criticisma of American newspapers were published for 17 years in the New Yorker magazine under the title of "The Wayward Press," died on December 28th. He was 59. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS found here

Liebling, a vivacious fatso who had spent a lot of time in Normandy pre-war, describes going through with the Army and eating at spots he remembered from before.   Definitely a different kind of war corresponding.

This book

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.14.34 PM

was wildly popular for a reason: it’s thrilling, readable, and full of epic American hero stories.

Maybe starting with Andrew J. Higgins of Nebraska and Mobile, Alabama:

220px-Higgins1000p4

who developed shallow-draft boats for logging in the bayou (or for bootlegging?) and then took on the job of making similar boats for amphibious landings:

Higgins Industries

Higgins Industries

Anthony Beevor has a blunter take.  Major takeaway from his book:

Beevor

was that the Allies came up way short of their goals on D-Day.  Unsurprisingly, many of those who got off the beaches in one piece considered their work done for the day.  They were literally in Calvados,

Calvados it was pretty easy to find bottles of highly alcoholic apple brandy, and a lot of survivors got hammered at first opportunity.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 8.42.16 PM

 

Who can blame them?  But the failure to achieve the ambitious goals had costs.  Caen was the biggest city around:

caen

British and Canadian troops had intended to capture the town on D-Day. However they were held up north of the city until 9 July, when an intense bombing campaign during Operation Charnwood destroyed 70% of the city and killed 2,000 French civilians.

From this Washington Post review of Beevor, some excerpts:

US Army medical services had to deal with 30,000 cases of combat exhaustion in Normandy,” and:

“Nothing . . . seemed to reduce the flow of cases where men under artillery fire would go ‘wide-eyed and jittery’, or ‘start running around in circles and crying’, or ‘curl up into little balls’, or even wander out in a trance in an open field and start picking flowers as the shells exploded. Others cracked under the strain of patrols, suddenly crying, ‘We’re going to get killed! We’re going to get killed!’ Young officers had to try to deal with ‘men suddenly whimpering, cringing, refusing to get up or get out of a foxhole and go forward under fire’. While some soldiers resorted to self-inflicted wounds, a smaller, unknown number committed suicide.”

But the single best book to read about D-Day I would say is The Boys’ Crusade by Paul Fussell:

Boys Crusade

Amazon reviewer Bill Marsano sums it up nicely:

It’s probably all that “good war” and “greatest generation” stuff that drove Fussell to write this book; he doesn’t have much truck with gooey backward glances, and that will probably make some readers mad. Well, you don’t come to Fussell–author of, among other things, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and Other Essays”–for good times. You come to Fussell for the hard stuff.

And here it is his contention that behind and beneath all that “greatest generation” nonsense was the Boys’ Crusade–that last year of the war in Europe when too many things went wrong too often. The generals who’d convinced themselves that this war would not be a war of attrition–i.e., human slaughter–like the last one found they’d guessed wrong. Casualties were horrifyingly high and so huge numbers of children–kids 17-19 years–old were flung into combat. And they were, with the help of the generals, ill-trained, ill-clothed and ill-equipped.

They were also faceless ciphers. As Fussell points out, the US Army’s policy was to break up training units by sending individual replacements up to the line piecemeal–one at a time–so they often arrived as strangers among strangers, often addressed merely as “Soldier” because no one knew their names. The result was too many instances of cowardice–both under fire and behind the lines–too many self-inflicted wounds to escape combat. Too many disgraces of every kind because the Army’s system, Fussell says, destroyed the most important factor in the fighting morale of the “poor bloody infantry”–the shame and fear of turning chicken in front of your comrades. Many of these boys–and Fussell is properly insistent on the word boys–funked because they had no comradeship to value.

This is not in the least a personal journal. Fussell was serriously wounded as a young second lieutenant; he was also decorated. But he wisely leaves himself out of this narrative. There’s no special pleading here, no showing of the wounds on Crispin’s Day. Instead this is a passionate but straightforward report on what that last year was like for the poor bloody infantry–those foot soldiers, those dogfaces, those 14 percent of the troops who took more than 70 percent of the casualties.

And yet there were those who stood the gaff, who survived “carnage up to and including bodies literally torn to pieces, of intestines hung on trees like Christ,mas festoons,” and managed not to dishonor themselves. They weren’t heroes, Fussell says, just men who earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which was the only honor they respected. In a brief but moving passage, he explains why: It said they’d been there, been through it, and toughed it out.

Horrible as it is I found this book refreshing when I first read it, because it felt like somebody was telling me the unvarnished truth, which is that even for the good guys this was a series of catastrophes, fuckups, and massacres.

All Fussell’s books are good.  This one in particular I was obsessed with:

FullSizeRender

and I talk about it in The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles To The End Of The World, out June 14:

Those photos are by Robert Capa, who lost all but 11 of the 106 or so photos he risked his life shooting when the guy developing them was in such a hurry he fudged up the negatives.

Let’s give the last word to Fussell:

One wartime moment not at all vile occurred on June 5, 1944, when Dwight Eisenhower, entirely alone and for the moment disjunct from his publicity apparatus, changed the passive voice to active in the penciled statement he wrote out to have ready when the invasion was repulsed, his troops torn apart for nothing, his planes ripped and smashed to no end, his warships sunk, his reputation blasted: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.” Originally he wrote, “the troops have been withdrawn,” as if by some distant, anonymous agency instead of by an identifiable man making all-but-impossible decisions. Having ventured this bold revision, and secure in his painful acceptance of full personal accountability, he was able to proceed unevasively with “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available.” Then, after the conventional “credit,” distributed equally to “the troops, the air, and the navy,” came Eisenhower’s noble acceptance of total personal responsibility: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” As Mailer says, you use the word shit so that you can use the word noble,and you refuse to ignore the stupidity and barbarism and ignobility and poltroonery and filth of the real war so thatit is mine alone can flash out, a bright signal in a dark time.

d-day-order

Happy Birthday Dave!

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.50.31 PM


Bull

img_8348

Norton Simon Museum

There’s a beautiful Picasso lithograph of a bull, and it starts off as this beautifully rendered, three-dimensional bull and he just takes stuff away from it. There’s several in the series, but by the end of it, it’s just four or five lines that really evokes “BULL.” There’s something artistically sophisticated about it that also suits me as a person. I had such an early love for the Charles Schultz comics, and those TV specials. It sounds kind of embarrassing to say, but those Halloween and Christmas specials were really important in terms of giving me the artistic bug. There was an under-indication on the surface but then a quite capacious moral world behind it that really intrigued me.

so says George Saunders in Vulture.  Happened to see some of these at the Norton Simon Museum one day this fall:

img_8323

first

img_8321

third

sixth

sixth

ninth

ninth

img_8316

I dunno, third is pretty good.  Also not bad:

bully-for-bugs

In his biography Chuck AmuckChuck Jones claims that he made this cartoon after producer Eddie Selzer burst into Jones’ workspace one day and announced, for no readily apparent reason, that bullfights were not funny, and they were not to make a cartoon about them. Since Selzer had, in Jones’ opinion, consistently proven himself to be wrong about absolutely everything (having once barred Jones from doing any cartoons featuring Pepé Le Pew, on the grounds that he perceived them as not being funny, which led to Jones and Maltese to do For Scent-imental Reasons, which won an Oscar, which Selzer accepted), the only possible option was to make the cartoon.

Discussion Question: is George Saunders influenced at all by Bugs Bunny?

bugs


A real shot

Ryan then took questions. This was the first one: “The President made some new false statements yesterday, notably that there are major terrorist attacks that the media, essentially, isn’t covering. Are you getting concerned at all about his grasp of the truth?”

Ryan shrugged his shoulders.

[…finally he answers]

“Look,” he said. “I’m going to do my job. I’ll let you guys do yours with respect to how you report, or what you don’t report. The problem is we do have a war on terror in front of us. We do have isis trying to conduct terror attacks across the globe. This is a real serious problem. And what I am focussed on is doing our job and making sure our law-enforcement authorities, our military, have the tools to keep us safe.”

from this NYer piece by the great John Cassidy.

Paul Ryan has a real shot at going down in history as a pristine example of cynical soul-selling.

Are the Republicans really for:

  • the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual
  • sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”
  • the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia
  • societal norms and public order
  • the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society
  • the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions
  • a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere

I didn’t pluck those out of thin air, those are exactly what Michael Anton, Bannon advisor, says conservatives should be for in this essay, The Flight 93 Election, his pre-election argument for DT.

Is DT making things better, stronger, or greater on any of those fronts?  How’s his prudent statesmanship?  What message does he send on virtue, morality, character, stability?  He’s rich (maybe) but does he demonstrate industry and thrift?  How’s he on education to inculcate good character and teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia?  “Family values?”

The Republican Party did this to us.  Reince Priebus, Trump chief of staff, is an old Wisconsin buddy of Paul Ryan.

The best case is Paul Ryan is trading all the other values for fighting “the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions” but even he must know by now he’s fighting cannibalism by signing up with a bigger, worse cannibal.

Best case for Ryan is he makes it harder for people to pay for health care first.

Good luck!  Get ‘im, Scott Pelley!


Fala

fala

all pics from Wikipedia about Fala and Eleanor

Franklin Roosevelt had a famous dog, a Scottish terrier, named Fala.  I’ve told his story before.  Supposedly Fala got left behind after FDR toured the Aleutian Islands in 1943.  The Republicans accused FDR of sending a Navy destroyer to recover Fala. (Who knows, maybe he did.  And is not loving your dog noble in a president?)

FDR turned the tables on the scandal with this rejoinder:

That was back when you could make a good clean Scottish joke and the nation would love it.

The other day a friend of mine’s mom died.  She was 87.  I’d had maybe eight meals with this woman.

eleanor_roosevelt_with_fala

One story she told me was about having lunch at Eleanor Roosevelt’s house.

eleanor

She was in college at Vassar in the early 1950s, and she knew some niece or something of Mrs. Roosevelt.  Eleanor, then a representative at the UN, asked the niece to round up some young people for a luncheon, so there she went.

mrs-roosevelt

She didn’t have much to say about Eleanor, but in her memory Fala sat on her feet under the table.

fdr-memorial-fala

Anyway, I thought I would commemorate the passing, perhaps, from living memory of this historic and noble dog.

fala-2

Suffering from deafness and failing health, Fala was euthanized on April 5, 1952, two days before his twelfth birthday.


Faithless electors

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-51-02-pm

Salving myself with fantasies of whole state delegations of presidential electors tossing out Trump when the Electoral College voting goes down.

The Electoral College never actually meets as one body. Electors meet in their respective state capitals (electors for the District of Columbia meet within the District) on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, at which time they cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for president and vice president.

The history of “faithless electors” doesn’t break a five on a 1-10 scale of interesting (with 10 being reasonably interesting) but the case of the last faithless elector is kind of funny:

1 – 2004 election: An anonymous Minnesota elector, pledged for Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards, cast his or her presidential vote for John Ewards [sic],[8]rather than Kerry, presumably by accident

There’s some talk of the Electoral College in The Federalist 68, which seems a little optimistic at the moment:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.


D*-Day

CAPA 1* the D is for Dave!

Happy birthday, tomorrow, June 6, to Dave King (the Great Debates co-host, not the Bad Plus drummer)

Dave King the drummer photographed by Wiki user Steve Bowbrick

Dave King the drummer photographed by Wiki user Steve Bowbrick

A promise made in Host Chat is a promise kept so here is a selection of D-Day readings for Davis.

scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

New Yorker's July 15, 1944 parody of the Bayeux Tapestry

New Yorker’s July 15, 1944 parody of the Bayeux Tapestry

The single best thing to read about D-Day

is online and free.  It is S. L. A. Marshall writing for The Atlantic in November, 1950.

SLA Marshall

During World War II, Marshall became an official Army combat historian, and came to know many of the war’s best-known Allied commanders, including George S. Patton and Omar N. Bradley. He conducted hundreds of interviews of both enlisted men and officers regarding their combat experiences, and was an early proponent of oral history techniques. In particular, Marshall favored the group interview, where he would gather surviving members of a frontline unit together and debrief them on their combat experiences of a day or two before.

CAPA 2

The article is called “First Wave On Omaha Beach” here is an excerpt:

Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water. A few move safely through the bullet swarm to the beach, then find that they cannot hold there. They return to the water to use it for body cover. Faces turned upward, so that their nostrils are out of water, they creep toward the land at the same rate as the tide. That is how most of the survivors make it. The less rugged or less clever seek the cover of enemy obstacles moored along the upper half of the beach and are knocked off by machine-gun fire.

Within seven minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is inert and leaderless. At Boat No. 2, Lieutenant Tidrick takes a bullet through the throat as he jumps from the ramp into the water. He staggers onto the sand and flops down ten feet from Private First Class Leo J. Nash. Nash sees the blood spurting and hears the strangled words gasped by Tidrick: “Advance with the wire cutters!” It’s futile; Nash has no cutters. To give the order, Tidrick has raised himself up on his hands and made himself a target for an instant. Nash, burrowing into the sand, sees machine gun bullets rip Tidrick from crown to pelvis. From the cliff above, the German gunners are shooting into the survivors as from a roof top.

Captain Taylor N. Fellers and Lieutenant Benjamin R. Kearfoot never make it. They had loaded with a section of thirty men in Boat No. 6 (Landing Craft, Assault, No. 1015). But exactly what happened to this boat and its human cargo was never to be known. No one saw the craft go down. How each man aboard it met death remains unreported. Half of the drowned bodies were later found along the beach. It is supposed that the others were claimed by the sea.

After the war, Marshall would write Men Against Fire:

men against fire

which claimed that only about 25% of American combat soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy:

Marshall’s work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his best-known and most controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that of the World War II U.S. troops in actual combat, 75% never fired at the enemy for the purpose of killing, even though they were engaged in combat and under direct threat. Marshall argued that the Army should devote significant training resources to increasing the percentage of soldiers willing to engage the enemy with direct fire.

Marshall has been harshly criticized:

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General Marshall said soldiers who did not fire were motivated by fear, a desire to minimize risk and a willingness, as in civilian life, to let a minority of other people carry the load.

In his 1989 memoir, About Face, Hackworth described his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to disillusion after seeing Marshall’s character and methods first hand. Hackworth described Marshall as a “voyeur warrior,” for whom “the truth never got in the way of a good story” and went so far as to say, “Veterans of many of the actions he ‘documented’ in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias”.

Omaha Beach was the worst of it, but experiences on D-Day were vastly different.

Twenty-one miles away on Juno Beach the Canadian Ninth Division landed with their bikes:

Picture: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Picture: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Leave it to Canadians to bring their bikes.  (900 Canadians died in a botched semi-practice D-Day in 1942).

Best Single Book To Read About D-Day

Looking around I can’t find my copy of Normandy Revisited by AJ Liebling:

January 1963, New York, USA --- A. J. Liebling, (shown in a January 1963 photo from files), whose caustic criticisma of American newspapers were published for 17 years in the New Yorker magazine under the title of "The Wayward Press," died on December 28th. He was 59. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS found here

Liebling, a vivacious fatso who had spent a lot of time in Normandy pre-war, describes going through with the Army and eating at spots he remembered from before.   Definitely a different kind of war corresponding.

This book

 

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was wildly popular for a reason: it’s thrilling, readable, and full of epic American hero stories.

Maybe starting with Andrew J. Higgins of Nebraska and Mobile, Alabama:

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who developed shallow-draft boats for logging in the bayou (or for bootlegging?) and then took on the job of making similar boats for amphibious landings:

Higgins Industries

Higgins Industries

Anthony Beevor has a blunter take.  Major takeaway from his book:

Beevor

was that the Allies came up way short of their goals on D-Day.  Unsurprisingly, many of those who got off the beaches in one piece considered their work done for the day.  They were literally in Calvados,

Calvados it was pretty easy to find bottles of highly alcoholic apple brandy, and a lot of survivors got hammered at first opportunity.

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Who can blame them?  But the failure to achieve the ambitious goals had costs.  Caen was the biggest city around:

caen

British and Canadian troops had intended to capture the town on D-Day. However they were held up north of the city until 9 July, when an intense bombing campaign during Operation Charnwood destroyed 70% of the city and killed 2,000 French civilians.

From this Washington Post review of Beevor, some excerpts:

US Army medical services had to deal with 30,000 cases of combat exhaustion in Normandy,” and:

“Nothing . . . seemed to reduce the flow of cases where men under artillery fire would go ‘wide-eyed and jittery’, or ‘start running around in circles and crying’, or ‘curl up into little balls’, or even wander out in a trance in an open field and start picking flowers as the shells exploded. Others cracked under the strain of patrols, suddenly crying, ‘We’re going to get killed! We’re going to get killed!’ Young officers had to try to deal with ‘men suddenly whimpering, cringing, refusing to get up or get out of a foxhole and go forward under fire’. While some soldiers resorted to self-inflicted wounds, a smaller, unknown number committed suicide.”

But the single best book to read about D-Day I would say is The Boys’ Crusade by Paul Fussell:

Boys Crusade

Amazon reviewer Bill Marsano sums it up nicely:

It’s probably all that “good war” and “greatest generation” stuff that drove Fussell to write this book; he doesn’t have much truck with gooey backward glances, and that will probably make some readers mad. Well, you don’t come to Fussell–author of, among other things, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and Other Essays”–for good times. You come to Fussell for the hard stuff.

And here it is his contention that behind and beneath all that “greatest generation” nonsense was the Boys’ Crusade–that last year of the war in Europe when too many things went wrong too often. The generals who’d convinced themselves that this war would not be a war of attrition–i.e., human slaughter–like the last one found they’d guessed wrong. Casualties were horrifyingly high and so huge numbers of children–kids 17-19 years–old were flung into combat. And they were, with the help of the generals, ill-trained, ill-clothed and ill-equipped.

They were also faceless ciphers. As Fussell points out, the US Army’s policy was to break up training units by sending individual replacements up to the line piecemeal–one at a time–so they often arrived as strangers among strangers, often addressed merely as “Soldier” because no one knew their names. The result was too many instances of cowardice–both under fire and behind the lines–too many self-inflicted wounds to escape combat. Too many disgraces of every kind because the Army’s system, Fussell says, destroyed the most important factor in the fighting morale of the “poor bloody infantry”–the shame and fear of turning chicken in front of your comrades. Many of these boys–and Fussell is properly insistent on the word boys–funked because they had no comradeship to value.

This is not in the least a personal journal. Fussell was serriously wounded as a young second lieutenant; he was also decorated. But he wisely leaves himself out of this narrative. There’s no special pleading here, no showing of the wounds on Crispin’s Day. Instead this is a passionate but straightforward report on what that last year was like for the poor bloody infantry–those foot soldiers, those dogfaces, those 14 percent of the troops who took more than 70 percent of the casualties.

And yet there were those who stood the gaff, who survived “carnage up to and including bodies literally torn to pieces, of intestines hung on trees like Christ,mas festoons,” and managed not to dishonor themselves. They weren’t heroes, Fussell says, just men who earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which was the only honor they respected. In a brief but moving passage, he explains why: It said they’d been there, been through it, and toughed it out.

Horrible as it is I found this book refreshing when I first read it, because it felt like somebody was telling me the unvarnished truth, which is that even for the good guys this was a series of catastrophes, fuckups, and massacres.

All Fussell’s books are good.  This one in particular I was obsessed with:

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and I talk about it in The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles To The End Of The World, out June 14:

Those photos are by Robert Capa, who lost all but 11 of the 106 or so photos he risked his life shooting when the guy developing them was in such a hurry he fudged up the negatives.

Let’s give the last word to Fussell:

One wartime moment not at all vile occurred on June 5, 1944, when Dwight Eisenhower, entirely alone and for the moment disjunct from his publicity apparatus, changed the passive voice to active in the penciled statement he wrote out to have ready when the invasion was repulsed, his troops torn apart for nothing, his planes ripped and smashed to no end, his warships sunk, his reputation blasted: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.” Originally he wrote, “the troops have been withdrawn,” as if by some distant, anonymous agency instead of by an identifiable man making all-but-impossible decisions. Having ventured this bold revision, and secure in his painful acceptance of full personal accountability, he was able to proceed unevasively with “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available.” Then, after the conventional “credit,” distributed equally to “the troops, the air, and the navy,” came Eisenhower’s noble acceptance of total personal responsibility: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” As Mailer says, you use the word shit so that you can use the word noble,and you refuse to ignore the stupidity and barbarism and ignobility and poltroonery and filth of the real war so thatit is mine alone can flash out, a bright signal in a dark time.

d-day-order

Happy Birthday Dave!

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Movie Roundup!

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Before we begin: We need to redefine “spoiler.”

Any news about what happens in a TV show or movie shouldn’t count as a “spoiler.”  Saying Walter White meets a guy named Tuco is not a “spoiler.”  It is perhaps unwelcome information, but you know what, you’ll survive.  A true “spoiler” is something that would truly spoil the experience of watching the thing.  That is a very high standard.  Even then, you’ll friggin’ survive.  I watched both the movie The Crying Game and a recent famous episode of Game Of Thronesknowing the “spoilers,” and found both to still be very compelling.  Maybe my enjoyment was diminished 15%, but I mean come on.

Also I believe you don’t really remember stuff you hear about shows you aren’t watching, so most “spoilers” pass by like harmless gusts of wind.

A passionate Mindy Kaling take I am on board with: it is unmanly to whine about spoilers.  Take your spoilers like a man.  As a society we’ve become much too weak on this.

These write ups contain no true spoilers, but they assume you’ve seen the movie, so skip as you will.

A word about criticism, too: anyone criticizing anything should begin by saying “it’s really hard and brave to make any work of art.  I have never made a movie.  Making a movie is a crazy accomplishment.  The credit belongs to the man in the arena.  It’s a lot easier to sit here and criticize.”  BUT: it’s also a good way to get yourself thinking about what you care about in movies and why, so it’s worth doing.  Plus it’s fun!

Now I don’t know anything about shots and cinematography and all that film stuff.  I do know a little about acting, mainly that it is way harder than it looks and that to make it look effortless is amazing.  I do know a little about telling stories.

What I think about with movies is usually the stories so that is where I will focus my attention.  

Let’s have some fun with movies!

THE MARTIAN

martian-tifrss0009frnleft-1001rrgb

stealing this movie photo from Newsweek

What the fuck went wrong with this movie?  I saw the trailer for it and was moved to near-tears, like “YES!  Goddamn it, let’s go rescue The Martian!  He will never stop fighting to survive!”

But then in the movie, it’s like who cares.  Does the Martian have anyone on Earth who cares about him?  Does he have a family?  A wife?  A mom?  A cute kid?  Go for it!  Tug on my heartstrings! Is a class of schoolchildren watching him?

It felt like The Martian was like deliberately choosing not to do that, out of some kind of integrity or something.  As I understand it, the book The Martian was written by an engineer and has none of that bullshit, it’s just hard-ass science.  Which, I guess is cool but c’mon.  You got Matt Damon there!  Give me a reason to care whether he lives or dies!

Also, the Martian has that awesome speech in the trailer about fighting to survive when the shit goes down.  In the movie, that speech is plopped down as literally a classroom lecture after the Martian is safe and sound and the movie is essentially over.  Who gives a shit anymore?

Ridley Scott is amazing.  He made Alien which is as perfect a movie as has ever been made.

He also made Kingdom Of Heaven.  I remember vouching for that movie to friends, being like “hey Ridley Scott made a movie about the Crusades.  It’s gotta be at least worth seeing!”  I believe I was still making this argument to myself, having failed to convince my friends, when I saw that movie alone.  It taught me the lesson that a truly great director with near-infinite resources is still left with a piece of shit if the story doesn’t make sense.  Kingdom Of Heaven twisted itself into story knots trying to make Orlando Bloom friends with the Muslim guy.  Hey man, if you’re gonna make a movie about the Crusades, either do it or don’t.  And maybe don’t, because the Crusades were fucked up and I don’t want Orlando Bloom getting involved.

I thought The Counselor was very cool.  I think a flaw with the Counselor, which is not really Cameron Diaz’s fault, is that Cameron Diaz is supposed to play a character who is like the pure distillation of female evil.  And, that can’t happen because I like Cameron Diaz even when she’s telling me “the slaughter to come will be beyond our imagining.”  Maybe that was the idea?

Anyway back to The Martian:

Science-wise: was the solution Donald Glover proposes in The Martian anything?  I mean, I don’t know a ton about space travel but I thought the most basic idea is that you’re slingshotting with gravity, how had they not thought of that at NASA?

Worth reading Ridley Scott’s quotes page on IMDb.  Two good ones:

I’m a yarnteller. My job is to engage you as much as I can and as often as I can. I love the process and still continue to adore the process, actually. I don’t get attached to anything. I’m like a good antique dealer. I’m prepared to sell my most valuable table.

Never let yourself be seen in public unless they pay for it.

It might be crazy but I did leave The Martian hungry for potatoes.

The writer Caleb Crain has a neat blog, and at this time of year he puts up a bunch of stray matter under the heading NOTES.  I printed it out to read at Tatsu, and his take on The Martian was so interesting I ripped it out to save:

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(I will also use the word “suthering” now!)

A+ acting I thought by Matt Damon.

Great Debates Topic: Matt Damon is as good at what he does as Tom Brady is at what he does.

BROOKLYN

brooklyn

photo from Variety. If they can use it can I? I’m not even charging money

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This movie was excellent, very well-made.  It dig bug me a bit though why Saoirse got married — like, why include that at that point in the plot?  If she’s already married, she doesn’t really have much of a choice in Ireland, does she?  At least it’s a lot messier.  If she’s married, she’s kind of jerking poor Domhnall Gleeson around, no?

Domhnall_Gleeson_by_Gage_Skidmore

Anyway good film.  Why didn’t we get the screener on this one?  A rare miss in a bonanza year of screeners.

Kudos to this movie for not shying away from the physical ugliness of the Irish people.

A+ acting by Saoirse and Domhnall.

JOY

Joy

Into it!  Any movie that can get your emotions up around a scene of a woman vouching for her self-invented mop is terrific.  Great job.

A+ acting by Jennifer Lawrence.  Does it seem like I’m grading on a curve?  Well, maybe we’re just blessed with good actors.  B+ to Bradley Cooper.  A+ to Isabella Rosselini.

Sympathized with this take from the great Tom Scharpling:

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ANOMALISA

anomalisa

Ugh, am I really gonna have to see this?  I guess so.  Man, I love Charlie Kaufman but it just seems like a bit much to ask me to drag myself to the Arclight to watch some puppets mourn over how the cost of consciousness is despair or whatever.

Ugh, it’s probably great, haven’t seen it, is a thought I had a lot in 2015.

Everyone should read this BAFTA speech by Charlie Kaufman.

THE REVENANT

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LOVED!  A triumph!  Any movie that tries to really depict the earthy details of some fucked-up primitive period in American history I am INTO!  Previous title holder in this category was The New World.

Drudge was not being crazy to hype the bear rape element of this movie.  That scene was definitely shot to at least suggest/hint at rape, don’t be cute Alejandro Iñárritu, you knew damn well what you were doing.

Thanks to Cherry for demanding I see this, really might’ve missed it, it seemed like too much snow for me.

Michael Punke, who wrote the book on which The Revenant is “based in part on” (why say that?  felt a bit petty) sounds like my kinda guy:

When he was a teenager, he also spent at least three summers working at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site as a “living history interpreter.”

fort laramie

nationalparks.org

(Should we have seen Fort Laramie’s Three-Mile Hog Ranch in the movie?:

The ranch was described by U.S. Army Lieutenant John Gregory Bourke:[3]

… tenanted by as hardened and depraved set of witches as could be found on the face of the globe. It [was] a rum mill of the worst kind [with] half a dozen Cyprians, virgins whose lamps were always burning brightly in expectancy of the coming of the bridegroom, and who lured to destruction the soldiers of the garrison. In all my experience I have never seen a lower, more beastly set of people of both sexes.

Um, try the parking lot at Whole Foods Bourke!

(Bourke is fascinating, he could read Irish, Greek Latin and speak Apache.  His field notes, Evan Connell tell us, fill eight feet of shelf space. More on him in the next Helytimes Premium.))

And now Michael Punke is the US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva?  What a dope dude!

Punke allegedly came up with the idea to write the novel while on an airplane, after reading a couple of lines in a history book about real-life frontier fur trapper Hugh Glass. Punke was also working at the law firm of Mayer Brown at the time when he started the book (1997), so he would go to the office as early as 5:00 AM in the morning before anyone else got there to write pages for roughly three hours, and then do his job for eight to ten hours. The book took a total of four years to complete and according to his brother Tim, Punke actually caught pneumonia at least four times during the writing process.

You KNOW I clicked the wiki for Hugh Glass spoilers!!:

Glass was thereafter referred to as “the revenant,” from the 19th century French verb revenant, meaning someone who returns from a long absence, or a person or thing reborn.[citation needed]

After recovering, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger, motivated either by murderous revenge or the desire to get his weapons back. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River, but found it deserted; a note indicated that Andrew Henry and company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger but apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley’s company.

Man Tom Hardy is fucking crushing it this year.

Tom Hardy

from reelfilmchatter.net uncredited

A+ to him.  A+ to Leo as well, although who had the harder job?

Hypothetical: If Leonardo DiCaprio’s sole goal in doing The Revenant was to try to win an Oscar (and I don’t think it was but play along) was pairing himself was Tom Hardy:

a) brave: compete/push yourself with the best to raise your game

b) sensible: not brave, just be with the best and make a good movie and maybe you’ll get lucky

c) an accident: he didn’t consider that element

d) a huge miscalculation: Tom Hardy blew him away?

e) neither, DiCaprio knows the Oscars are a fucked up contest where your work at enacting yourself as a movie star over years matters far more than what you did in the one movie

It wasn’t c.

Hardy made his big screen debut in Black Hawk Down, a great one by Ridley.  Now, that movie had a simple, clear story: heroes vs. savages.  What’s that?  Problematic take?  Oh well we moved on.

Says Hardy to The Guardian a few years ago:

So what drives Tom Hardy? “I want everyone to love me.”

And has he got what he wanted? “You get to the point where you can’t please everyone. I don’t want constructive criticism, I want adulation,” he beams. “That’s immature but it’s totally there. King Baby.”

Tom Hardy is truly King Baby.

FURIOUS 7

furious 7

What a great movie to wrap Christmas presents to or to enjoy even if you don’t really speak English.  These guys are doing what they’re doing and they’re great at it.  I’m not sure what Vin Diesel does is “acting,” but he’s terrific at it.  I don’t like how Tyrese was made to be a bit of a coward and a fool.

In one of the earlier movies, do they show Michelle Rodriguez/Vin Diesel wedding?  Let me know, I would like to go back and watch that!  Seriously if that happens in one of the movies and you know about that please email helphely@gmail.com

It’s good to see Ronda Rousey in movies because it demonstrates how hard acting is.  Ronda Rousey, who is brave/confident/calm/controlled/disciplined/tight/skillful enough to fight another person in a cage, is noticeably bad at it.

JURASSIC WORLD

jurassic world

from business insider, credit Chuck Zlotnick, Universal Pictures, hope this ok Chuck/Universal!

Had a good time, seemed fun enough to me!  Admittedly I was watching while helping build the White House out of LEGOs.

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Could Chris Pratt’s character in the movie be the same guy he was in Zero Dark Thirty, further down the road?  He was in the Navy in both movies.

I can see an argument that the migration from Laura Dern’s character in the old JP to Bryce Dallas Howard’s in this one illustrates a troubling backslide for feminism.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Sure whatever.

A+ job by Daisy Ridley.  From her far too brief wikipedia:

Her great-uncle was actor and playwright Arnold Ridley, who played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army.

Huh!  Is that… good?

A Brief Digression

While watching Star Wars I was reminded of a delightful episode from my young adulthood.

As a young apprentice writer in Los Angeles, I heard about a book published in the UK called The Seven Basic Plots.  The book was said to be over seven hundred pages long and was the life’s work of one Christopher Booker.  “My God,” I thought.  “This man Booker’s cracked the code!  If I can get my hands on this book writing will never be hard again!”  So I sent away for it.  It arrived, no small book either:

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Maybe it should’ve told me all I needed to know that one of the seven plots is “comedy” but it didn’t.  With pencil and highlighter in hand, I set to my studies to learn Booker’s wisdom.  It started out well enough, but then I got to page 42.

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“Oh dear,” I thought.  Just to be safe I double-checked the very first words of the very first shot of the film Star Wars:

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Uh-oh.  Maybe this guy Booker wasn’t paying all that much attention to all these stories?

I wrote to Booker’s publisher, hoping they could fix this error, and they were actually kinda snooty about it!

Anyway.  Anybody can get something wrong but it is funny to get something that wrong.

MAD MAX

Mad Max

Don’t forget that Mad Max: Fury Road came out this year.  What a movie.  The main guy starts out the movie hanging upside down being used as a blood bag.  Now that is putting your hero in trouble.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - 2015 FILM STILL - Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED - ALL OTHER TERRITORIES

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – 2015 FILM STILL –
Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC – U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED – ALL OTHER TERRITORIES  – Stealing this photo from Coral Gables Art Cinema’s website.

CAROL

Carol

lifted from the UK Telegraph, credit “Festival de Cannes”

I thought at some point, a desire to watch this movie would arise in me.  But it never did!  I bet it’s great, I hope someday I watch it.

Cate Blanchett is one of the actresses whose face can be made to look most like a bunraku puppet:

bunraku

from an article about a bunraku show at Princeton. Those guys know how to party.

Haynes knows puppets and human simulacra:

In 1987, while an MFA student at Bard College, Haynes made a short, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which chronicles the life of American pop singer Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls as actors.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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Damn.  This guy is making stuff on such a crazy level it’s lucky just to be alive at the same time as he is.

If you’re a movie critic, how are you even supposed to write about this movie?  Just for starters, Quentin Tarantino definitely knows more about movies than you and if you say anything at all, you better be damn sure he wasn’t doing exactly what you’re accusing him of doing exactly on purpose.

I have listened to lots of interviews with this dude.  The one on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast is very in depth.  Think what you will of BEE, he has a strong take. (thanks to BJN for the rec).

Listening to interviews with him, hearing about the insane typos in his screenplays, his play-it-backwards-just-for-fun level of total genius not just comprehension but ability to execute in his movies makes me wonder if QT isn’t something like the version of Mozart in Amadeus:

Is there anything this guy thinks of that he can’t make appear on the screen more or less as it popped out of his insane swirling noggin?

Think of the twists and turns and levels for the actors to play in this movie!  The stuff for Jennifer Jason Leigh alone!

Imagine QT walking Jennifer Jason Leigh through this character.  (Ugh, spoilers warning): “Ok, so, you’re going to be a murderous racist, you’re going to scream the n-word in Samuel L. Jackson’s face, you’re gonna get hit in the face five or six times, your face will be coated in blood and vomit for much of the film, you will play a heartbreakingly beautiful song, but that will be while taunting a man you know is about to die, you will cross and double cross and be a schemer beyond measure and a siren and a charmer and sister and and in the end you will hung and will die twitching, sound good?”

Incredible job by her.  All the actors were awesome.  A+ to everybody.

How about that Walton Goggins?  Are you kidding me?  There’s a guy named Walton Goggins?  (Imagine the casting department for Justified:

“Uh, who should we get to play Boyd Crawther?”

“Um, Walton Goggins?”

“Wow sounds perfect, but can he do the accent?  Where is he from?”

“Alabama, then Lithia Springs, Georgia?”)

Check out Walton Goggins’ blog where he posts photos from his travels and musings:

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if Walton Goggins is half as good at blogging as he is at acting ain’t nobody gonna need Helytimes.

Did anybody else think Michael Madsen looks like kind of a roughed-up future version of Andy Jones?

Andy Jones

I saw The Hateful Eight twice.  First at a WGA screening a couple weeks ago with Medina.  We loved it.

Then I ended up seeing it again, at 8:30 in the morning the other day at the Arclight.  (I woke up too early because my bod was on East Coast time so I thought hell I guess I’ll go see Hateful Eight again.)

There was much that was illuminated on a second viewing.  Here’s a spoiler for you: the 8:30am 70mm showing of Hateful Eight is full of weirdos.  Nor what I would call a “ton” of ladies.  One guy had brought a girl, but if it was a date it was not a success.

At the intermission a very old man in a Warner Bros. jacket walked to the bathroom muttering to himself “enough dialogue for ten movies!”

You said it pal.

The men’s room at the intermission for this movie, which comes right after Mr. Jackson’s speech about his dingus, is quite an interesting scene.

Got to thinking during this movie about Martin McDonagh’s plays, like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which ends with the stage covered in blood:

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from the website of Keira Keeley, production photographer: http://www.keirakeeley.com/photo15.html, she credits The Repertory Theater of St. Louis, I hope they don’t mind.

No doubt McDonagh learned a lot from Tarantino, and had the idea to push the stage to its limit of blood.  Now you can watch Tarantino himself try the same trick.  Spoiler he is good at it and there is a lot of blood on the stage.

There is much to be said for this point raised by comedian Todd Levin:

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In my own theater no one was comfortable enjoying the use of that word, the laughter was half distress-call.

I feel like QT gave away the skeleton key to his whole deal on Fresh Air last year:

GROSS: So here’s something I was wondering, I know there’s so much like, you know, African-American popular culture that you really love. And I was wondering when you were growing up if you grew up in an integrated neighborhood, if you went to an integrated school, if you had African-American friends or if your contact with black people was largely through popular culture.

TARANTINO: No, no. I went to a mostly black school. You know, it wasn’t all-black because I was there, but it was mostly black.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTINO: And the different points of my life I was raised by black people, raised in black homes – between my mom’s best friend that I lived a lot of times with her and her family and just the kind of United Nations aspect that my mom’s house was in the early ’70s, right at the explosion of black culture. So black culture is my culture growing up.

GROSS: Your mother had a United Nations kind of home?

TARANTINO: Yeah. Well, it was almost like a sitcom, actually the way we lived in the ’70s because she 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)

GROSS: Did that – this is getting too personal, but did that affect your sense of sexuality when you were growing up?

TARANTINO: In what way?

GROSS: Well, because most people can’t imagine their – so many people can’t imagine their parents having sex. And when you’re growing up with like your mother and two other women who are obviously engaging, you know, it makes you think of your own…

TARANTINO: Oh yeah. No, it was…

GROSS: Yeah.

TARANTINO: You know, she was a woman. She was a, you know, she was living the life. She was having a good time and everything, you know? She was taking care of me, too, so everything was fine. It was hip. It was just cool. You know the boyfriends would come over and they’d take me out. They’d take me blacksploitation movies trying to, you know, get me to like them.

And buy me footballs and stuff. And we’d go to, like, cool, you know, my mama and her friends would take me to cool bars and stuff where they’d be playing cool live rhythm and blues music. And I’d be drinking whatchamacallit, Shirley Temples, I think. I called them James Bond because, yeah, I didn’t like the name Shirley Temple.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTINO: I drank Shirley Temples and, you know, eat Mexican food or whatever. While, like some, you know, Jimmy Soul and a cool band would be playing in some lava lounge-y kind of a ’70s cocktail lounge. It was really cool. It made me grow up in a real big way. When I would hang around with kids I’d think they were really childish. I always used to hang around with, like, really groovy adults.

GROSS: Well, I feel like I know you just a little bit better now.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTINO: Yeah. No, no. You know, Saturday – every time Saturday would roll around, it would become 1 o’clock, everyone in the house (technical difficulties)

(When they come back Terry asks about the New Beverly)

Man, if in my childhood cool black dudes would have sex with my mom and then take me to bars?  I would remain quite fascinated with cool black dudes and their sexuality and language and behavior and values.

Two discussion questions about Hateful Eight:

Stories have values.  To tell a story you and the audience must share some basic ideas about what’s a good and bad way to act, and a good and bad outcome.  For instance, you couldn’t follow The Revenant if you didn’t understand that it’s not great to leave a guy for dead.

So, all stories have morality.  The story can be pretty easy-to-agree with principles: surviving is better than dying, say or it is right to seek justice for others or love is good.  (Greg Daniels was really good at talking about this, I learned a lot from thinking about things he said.)

What are we gonna do with the morality of a movie like Hateful Eight, where all the characters are, as stated clearly, hateful?  What does it mean to get me to root for… their twisted revenge or whatever?Where the only thing in the movie there is to root for, really, is the gleeful shock of seeing chaos and calamity?  Where nothing positive emerges at the end except our boyish delight in the total chaos of it all and our shrieking delight in the wicked talents of the filmmaker who made us enjoy at horrible words and deeds?

After ingesting hours of interviews with him, I feel like 1) I like QT and think he is not a bad guy and 2) whenever QT is challenged on something, he demonstrates that while he may not agree, he has certainly thought about the issue as deeply and usually much more deeply than the interviewer.

Like: you can’t charge him with a crime he hasn’t already put himself on trial and acquitted himself for.  I’m sure that’s the case here, too.

But is it disappointing to see the talent this guy has and then watch him use it to tell a story that’s just about hateful people destroying each other?  Can’t we ask of this guy, “give us a bit more joy than watching a mean bastard get hung?” Is it wrong to ask for some kind of positive energy to come from the movie experience?

I guess that energy comes from the staggering craft of the movie, the “fun” of its outrageousness, but… you gotta know in a movie where they’re screaming nigger at each other like they really mean it plus beating the shit out of a woman and being as cruel as possible, the energy of enjoyment is not gonna be all enriching clean fun.

Is telling an audience a completely unredeemed story like this a tiny bit wrong, wicked? dark magic?  Or, is what’s troubling about it part of the point?!

Maybe you could ask the same thing about Moby-Dick and The Counselor and Blood Meridian — at least this movie has cool songs.

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from the printed program you get when you see Hateful Eight in 70mm

Second question: is the way the music swells and the camera rises at the end when we hear the “Lincoln letter” joke meant to be a cruel joke about our civic pieties?  the idea that somehow Lincoln is an inspiring figure, whose words suggests progress and enlightenment can be the shared future for the races that share this country, is kinda turned on its head and suggested as a con and a trick?  Is the final idea of this movie like “a Lincoln letter — HA!  what a buncha saps we all are, when all there is is death and hate and blood and ruin?”

Even knowing it’s fake we’re semi-moved by it, is that the joke?  How much we (even Walton Goggins’ Hateful Sheriff) crave it?

I dunno!

OK this has been Movie Roundup!  Thanks to all of you for reading.  And thanks to these great movies for entertaining me!  I really like movies.

See you at the Oscars!


Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Karsten Moran for NY Times

Somebody or another on Twitter directed me to this NY Times article by Randy Kennedyabout Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, Australian Aboriginal artist:

Until he was in his 20s, he and his family, part of the Pintupi Aboriginal group, lived in a part of the Western Australia desert so remote that even after other Pintupi were forcibly relocated into settlements in the 1950s and 1960s, his family remained out of view, hunting lizards and wearing no clothes except for human-hair belts, as its ancestors had for tens of thousands of years. When they were encountered by chance in 1984 and persuaded to move to a Pintupi community, they instantly became famous, known in newspaper accounts as the Pintupi Nine and described as the last “lost tribe.”

They moved to bustling Kiwirrkiri:

Kiwik

Here is one of Warlimpirrnga’s paintings at the National Gallery of Victoria:

dingo dreaming

The lines and switchbacks, painted on linen canvas while it is flat on the ground, correspond to mythical stories about the Pintupi and the formation of the desert world in which they live. Some of the stories, which are told in song, can be painted for public consumption, but others are too sacred or powerful to be revealed to outsiders. “My land, my country,” said Mr. Tjapaltjarri, the only English words he uttered during an interview, pointing at a painting with a circle made out of dots. He said it represented a group of ancestral women who appear only at night in the desert around Lake Mackay, a vast saltwater flat that is the primary focus of his paintings.

The way that the lines and curves tell the stories remains mostly a mystery. “I’ve been asking that question for 40 years, and I’ve never really gotten the same answer twice — it’s very inside knowledge,” said Fred R. Myers, an anthropologist at New York University who has studied the Pintupi and their art since the early 1970s and as a doctoral student helped bring attention to the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative, which is owned and directed by Aboriginal people from the Western Desert. “The paintings operate more like mnemonic devices than like representations of a narrative.”

Here’s another one:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 9.57.04 AM

(gotta say I’m more into the newer stuff).

Here is a good article about the Pintupi Nine from The Australian:

The Pintupi Nine were certainly the last major group to come in, and enjoy a certain celebrity status in Kiwirrkurra that Warlimpirrnga in particular seems happy to trade on. During our interview in his front yard he told a fanciful story of going to New York and hunting rabbits with a boomerang; I was later assured he has never travelled outside Australia.

Welp, now he has:

Dressed in jeans, a checked shirt, Everlast tennis shoes and a black cowboy hat that would have been right at home at Gilley’s nightclub in Houston in the ’70s, Mr. Tjapaltjarri said through an interpreter that he was enjoying the attention his paintings were receiving but that the city itself was a little intimidating. He liked the subway, but the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center not so much.

Gilley's

Reading about all this led me to the Wiki page for Aussie anthropologist Donald Thomson, which has this great line:

Thomson lived with the Pintupi, and liked them, through much of the 1950s and 60s.

Maybe on their tour of Australia Dave and Little Esther will have a chance to check out Lake Mackay:

Lake Mackay

photo by “Viking” found here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/100106


Shuttin’ Up For Summer

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Time for summer vacation here at Helytimes!

Before I go there were a couple things to get out of my system:

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New David Brooks book

I like David Brooks, I’ve read all his books.  Lately he’s been getting hammered by the millennials.  That’s gonna happen when you tell people stuff they don’t wanna hear, true or not, and you don’t seem to actually have it all figured out yourself.  Whatever, he has an exhausting job.  Shouldn’t Times columnists take a year off every so often?

The message that’s at the center of this book might be, you must work hard every day at being a better person.

Who would disagree with this?  Yet it’s not really a message we hear that often.

Brooks thinks people used to hear this message all the time, it was part of the public life or public religion or culture of this country.  As his sparker example, he cites a radio broadcast he heard from the end of WW2:

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Well, ok.  But maybe they were somber because three hundred thousand American guys had gotten killed, half of Europe was leveled, China was fucked, they’d just dropped two world-changing weapons on Japan, there was footage somewhere of bodies being shoved into ditches by bulldozers at Nazi camps, and we might have to fight the Soviets tomorrow.

Maybe they were just tired and exhausted and depressed.

As for the football thing, you know durn well that’s not a fair comparison, Brooks.  You’re being glib.  An adrenalined athlete and a broadcast at the end of a war are going to have different tones.

Anyway.  The book is mini-biographies of:

George Marshall

George Marshall

Frances P

Francis Perkins

A Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day (a fox, Brooks, you should’ve mentioned that, kind of part of the story here)

George Eliot

George Eliot

Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower

Samuel J

Samuel Johnson plus there’s Johnny Unitas, etc.

Those are all good.  Who doesn’t love little biographies?

The basic message is that all these people worked hard to be their best, to find what that was, sort out their values and then live up to them.  They overcome crazy challenges, achieved impossibilities, etc.

The world these people grew up in was very different.  For one thing it was way poorer.  It was way slower.  It was traditional.  It was segregated.  Some of these people worked to change those things, others were like the embodiment of preserving those values.

So not all the lessons are easily transferable.  Eisenhower and Marshall were military guys.  Day worked in the Catholic tradition.  Perkins and Eliot were from rigid semi-aristocracies.  Maybe a moral of this book might be “use the values you’ve been taught.  Lock into some tradition and try to advance it.”  That’s an interesting idea.

One thing that I think is a fake claim in the Brooks book is this:

IMG_8737

Well whatever, Joel Osteen gives me the willies, but all these characters Brooks describes believed they were “made to excel… to leave a mark on this generation… chosen, set apart”

On the whole though, the book was a fine read, and it’s worth thinking about this stuff.  It reminded me of the lectures my high school headmaster used to give.  There was a lot of sense in them, I look over this book of them a lot.

This is a fair slam on Brooks’ book.

When Your Enemy Wants To Surrender, Let Him.

Lee

Disappointed Brooks wrote a column about Lee without noting my and Bob Dylan’s work on the topic.  As it happens I’ve been thinking about Lee a lot lately.

Grant, who’d seen thousands of people, many of them children, die horrible deaths because of Lee’s brilliance, because of his perseverance, because of his ability to inspire an army, Grant who’d lost friends and had to send his own guys to get killed by the thousands because of Lee, treated him with utmost magnanimity.

Here is what Grant says about Lee when they met at Appomattox:

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 11.15.37 AM

The best one hour about Lee for my money is this PBS American Experience doc, avail free on my PBS Roku channel:

(How hard does American Experience dominate?)

Union General Montgomery Meigs thought of a punishment for Lee.  He turned Lee’s wife’s ancestral home, to which Lee hoped to retire one day, into a fucking cemetery:

Custis

As for naming schools after him?  Sure — maybe it’s a good lesson about how you can have some amazing qualities but be wrong about the most important things of your age.  Kids can be reminded every day to ask “what might I be wrong about? what are we ALL wrong about?”

But also who cares?  We can and should change our heroes as time goes on.  Name it after the next guy.  Name all those schools after Harriet Tubman or Sally Ride.  Or Francis Perkins or Bayard Rustin.

Anyway: summer!

(I enjoy fails but I do prefer when I know for sure the guy isn’t paralyzed.)

If you need me btw you can find me here!:

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– one of the prettiest songs ever written, says Dick Clark.


Losing The War by Lee Sandlin

I don’t know how I came across this essay, which was published in Chicago Review in 1999, but it’s by Lee Sandlin, an author I’d never heard of, and it was one of the best things I read in 2014.

One of the best things I’ve read about World War II ever.  Insightful on government, history, human nature, memory, language.  Would make this on mandatory reading for citizens, if somebody asked me.  Though it’s very long (40 pages), I recommend it to you.

Hard even to pull out favorite parts but let me try:

The Greeks of Homer’s time, for instance, saw war as the one enduring constant underlying the petty affairs of humanity, as routine and all-consuming as the cycle of the seasons: grim and squalid in many ways, but still the essential time when the motives and powers of the gods are most manifest. To the Greeks, peace was nothing but a fluke, an irrelevance, an arbitrary delay brought on when bad weather forced the spring campaign to be canceled, or a back-room deal kept the troops at home until after harvest time. Any of Homer’s heroes would see the peaceful life of the average American as some bizarre aberration, like a garden mysteriously cultivated for decades on the slopes of an avalanche-haunted mountain.

One of the reasons behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—apart from the obvious military necessity of taking out the American fleet so that the Japanese military could conquer the western Pacific unopposed—was the unshakable conviction that Americans would collectively fold at the first sign of trouble; one big, nasty attack would be enough to get a negotiated settlement, on whatever terms the Japanese would care to name. In the same way Hitler and his inner circle were blithely sure that America would go to any lengths to stay out of the fight. Hitler’s catastrophic decision to declare war on America three days after Pearl Harbor was made almost in passing, as a diplomatic courtesy to the Japanese. To the end he professed himself baffled that America was in the war at all; he would have thought that if Americans really wanted to fight, they’d join with him against their traditional enemies, the British. But evidently they were too much under the thumb of Roosevelt—whom Hitler was positive was a Jew named Rosenfeldt, part of the same evil cabal that controlled Stalin.

As fanciful as that was, it shows the average wartime grasp of the real motives of the enemy. It was at least on a par with the American Left’s conviction that Hitler was an irrelevant puppet in the hands of the world’s leading industrialists. Throughout the war all sides regarded one another with blank incomprehension: the course of the war was distinguished by a striking absence of one of the favorite sentimental cliches of the battlefield (which was afterward said to have marked World War I)—the touching scene in the trenches where soldiers on opposed sides surreptitiously acknowledge their common humanity. For the soldiers, for the citizens at large, and for all those churning out oceans of propaganda, the enemy was a featureless mass of inscrutable, dishonorable malignity.

john ford midway

footage from John Ford’s documentary shot during Midway

Here, Lee Sandlin describes the Battle of Midway, drawing on “survivors’ accounts, and from a small library of academic and military histories, ranging in scope and style from Walter Lord’s epic Miracle at Midway to John Keegan’s brilliant tactical analysis in The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare

But the sailors on board the Japanese fleet saw things differently. They didn’t meet any American ships on June 4. That day, as on all the other days of their voyage, they saw nothing from horizon to horizon but the immensity of the Pacific. Somewhere beyond the horizon line, shortly after dawn, Japanese pilots from the carriers had discovered the presence of the American fleet, but for the Japanese sailors, the only indications of anything unusual that morning were two brief flyovers by American fighter squadrons. Both had made ineffectual attacks and flown off again. Coming on toward 10:30 AM, with no further sign of enemy activity anywhere near, the commanders ordered the crews on the aircraft carriers to prepare for the final assault on the island, which wasn’t yet visible on the horizon.

That was when a squadron of American dive-bombers came out of the clouds overhead. They’d got lost earlier that morning and were trying to make their way back to base. In the empty ocean below they spotted a fading wake—one of the Japanese escort ships had been diverted from the convoy to drop a depth charge on a suspected American submarine. The squadron followed it just to see where it might lead. A few minutes later they cleared a cloud deck and discovered themselves directly above the single largest “target of opportunity,” as the military saying goes, that any American bomber had ever been offered.

When we try to imagine what happened next we’re likely to get an image out of Star Wars—daring attack planes, as graceful as swallows, darting among the ponderously churning cannons of some behemoth of a Death Star. But the sci-fi trappings of Star Wars disguise an archaic and sluggish idea of battle. What happened instead was this: the American squadron commander gave the order to attack, the planes came hurtling down from around 12,000 feet and released their bombs, and then they pulled out of their dives and were gone. That was all. Most of the Japanese sailors didn’t even see them.

The aircraft carriers were in a frenzy just then. Dozens of planes were being refueled and rearmed on the hangar decks, and elevators were raising them to the flight decks, where other planes were already revving up for takeoff. The noise was deafening, and the warning sirens were inaudible. Only the sudden, shattering bass thunder of the big guns going off underneath the bedlam alerted the sailors that anything was wrong. That was when they looked up. By then the planes were already soaring out of sight, and the black blobs of the bombs were already descending from the brilliant sky in a languorous glide.

One bomb fell on the flight deck of the Akagi, the flagship of the fleet, and exploded amidships near the elevator. The concussion wave of the blast roared through the open shaft to the hangar deck below, where it detonated a stack of torpedoes. The explosion that followed was so powerful it ruptured the flight deck; a fireball flashed like a volcano through the blast crater and swallowed up the midsection of the ship. Sailors were killed instantly by the fierce heat, by hydrostatic shock from the concussion wave, by flying shards of steel; they were hurled overboard unconscious and drowned. The sailors in the engine room were killed by flames drawn through the ventilating system. Two hundred died in all. Then came more explosions rumbling up from below decks as the fuel reserves ignited. That was when the captain, still frozen in shock and disbelief, collected his wits sufficiently to recognize that the ship had to be abandoned.

Meanwhile another carrier, the Kaga, was hit by a bomb that exploded directly on the hangar deck. The deck was strewn with live artillery shells, and open fuel lines snaked everywhere. Within seconds, explosions were going off in cascading chain reactions, and uncontrollable fuel fires were breaking out all along the length of the ship. Eight hundred sailors died. On the flight deck a fuel truck exploded and began shooting wide fans of ignited fuel in all directions; the captain and the rest of the senior officers, watching in horror from the bridge, were caught in the spray, and they all burned to death.

Less than five minutes had passed since the American planes had first appeared overhead. The Akagi and the Kaga were breaking up. Billowing columns of smoke towered above the horizon line. These attracted another American bomber squadron, which immediately launched an attack on a third aircraft carrier, the Soryu. These bombs were less effective—they set off fuel fires all over the ship, but the desperate crew managed to get them under control. Still, the Soryu was so badly damaged it was helpless. Shortly afterward it was targeted by an American submarine (the same one the escort ship had earlier tried to drop a depth charge on). American subs in those days were a byword for military ineffectiveness; they were notorious for their faulty and unpredictable torpedoes. But the crew of this particular sub had a large stationary target to fire at point-blank. The Soryu was blasted apart by repeated direct hits. Seven hundred sailors died.

The last of the carriers, the Hiryu, managed to escape untouched, but later that afternoon it was located and attacked by another flight of American bombers. One bomb set off an explosion so strong it blew the elevator assembly into the bridge. More than 400 died, and the crippled ship had to be scuttled a few hours later to keep it from being captured.

Now there was nothing left of the Japanese attack force except a scattering of escort ships and the planes still in the air. The pilots were the final casualties of the battle; with the aircraft carriers gone, and with Midway still in American hands, they had nowhere to land. They were doomed to circle helplessly above the sinking debris, the floating bodies, and the burning oil slicks until their fuel ran out.

This was the Battle of Midway. As John Keegan writes, it was “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.” Its consequences were instant, permanent and devastating. It gutted Japan’s navy and broke its strategy for the Pacific war. The Japanese would never complete their perimeter around their new empire; instead they were thrown back on the defensive, against an increasingly large and better-organized American force, which grew surgingly confident after its spectacular victory. After Midway, as the Japanese scrambled to rebuild their shattered fleet, the Americans went on the attack. In August 1942 they began landing a marine force on the small island of Guadalcanal (it’s in the Solomons, near New Guinea) and inexorably forced a breach in the perimeter in the southern Pacific. From there American forces began fanning out into the outer reaches of the empire, cutting supply lines and isolating the strongest garrisons. From Midway till the end of the war the Japanese didn’t win a single substantial engagement against the Americans. They had “lost the initiative,” as the bland military saying goes, and they never got it back.

But it seems somehow paltry and wrong to call what happened at Midway a “battle.” It had nothing to do with battles the way they were pictured in the popular imagination. There were no last-gasp gestures of transcendent heroism, no brilliant counterstrategies that saved the day. It was more like an industrial accident. It was a clash not between armies, but between TNT and ignited petroleum and drop-forged steel. The thousands who died there weren’t warriors but bystanders—the workers at the factory who happened to draw the shift when the boiler exploded…

akagi

Akagi. There’s an interesting note here on this Navy website about why there are so few photos of the Japanese ships: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/midway/mid-4k.htm

Re: American war reporting:

What were they supposed to say about what they were seeing? At Kasserine American soldiers were blown apart into shreds of flesh scattered among the smoking ruins of exploded tanks. Ernie Pyle called this “disappointing.” Well, why not? There were no other words to describe the thing that had happened there. The truth was, the only language that seemed to register the appalling strangeness of the war was supernatural: the ghost story where nightmarish powers erupt out of nothingness, the glimpse into the occult void where human beings would be destroyed by unearthly forces they couldn’t hope to comprehend. Even the most routine event of the war, the firing of an artillery shell, seemed somehow uncanny. The launch of a shell and its explosive arrival were so far apart in space and time you could hardly believe they were part of the same event, and for those in the middle there was only the creepy whisper of its passage, from nowhere to nowhere, like a rip in the fabric of causality.

On the bureaucracy of the war:

There’s another military phrase: “in harm’s way.” That’s what everybody assumes going to war means—putting yourself in danger. But the truth is that for most soldiers war is no more inherently dangerous than any other line of work. Modern warfare has grown so complicated and requires such immense movements of men and materiel over so vast an expanse of territory that an ever-increasing proportion of every army is given over to supply, tactical support, and logistics. Only about one in five of the soldiers who took part in World War II was in a combat unit (by the time of Vietnam the ratio in the American armed forces was down to around one in seven). The rest were construction workers, accountants, drivers, technicians, cooks, file clerks, repairmen, warehouse managers—the war was essentially a self-contained economic system that swelled up out of nothing and covered the globe.

For most soldiers the dominant memory they had of the war was of that vast structure arching up unimaginably high overhead. It’s no coincidence that two of the most widely read and memorable American novels of the war, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, are almost wholly about the cosmic scale of the American military’s corporate bureaucracy and mention Hitler and the Nazis only in passing. Actual combat could seem like almost an incidental side product of the immense project of military industrialization. A battle for most soldiers was something that happened up the road, or on the fogbound islands edging the horizon, or in the silhouettes of remote hilltops lit up at night by silent flickering, which they mistook at first for summer lightning. And when reporters traveled through the vast territories under military occupation looking for some evidence of real fighting, what they were more likely to find instead was a scene like what Martha Gellhorn, covering the war for Collier’s, discovered in the depths of the Italian countryside: “The road signs were fantastic….The routes themselves, renamed for this operation, were marked with the symbols of their names, a painted animal or a painted object. There were the code numbers of every outfit, road warnings—bridge blown, crater mines, bad bends—indications of first-aid posts, gasoline dumps, repair stations, prisoner-of-war cages, and finally a marvelous Polish sign urging the troops to notice that this was a malarial area: this sign was a large green death’s-head with a mosquito sitting on it.”

That was the war: omnipresent, weedlike tendrils of contingency and code spreading over a landscape where the battle had long since passed.

It was much the same in the U.S. The bureaucracy of war became an overpowering presence in people’s lives, even though the reality of battle was impossibly remote. Prices were controlled by war-related government departments, nonessential nonmilitary construction required a nightmare of paperwork, food and gas were rationed—any long-distance car travel that wasn’t for war business meant a special hearing before a ration board, and almost every train snaking through the depths of the heartland had been commandeered for classified military transport. The necessities of war even broke up the conventional proprieties of marriage: the universal inevitability of military service meant that young couples got married quickly, sometimes at first meeting—and often only so the women could get the military paycheck and the ration stamps.

The war was the single dominant fact in the world, saturating every radio show and newspaper. Every pennant race was described on the sports pages in the metaphor of battle; every car wreck and hotel fire was compared to the air raids that everyone was still expecting to hit the blacked-out cities on the coasts.

But who was controlling the growth of this fantastic edifice? Nobody could say. People who went to Washington during those years found a desperately overcrowded town caught up in a kind of diffuse bureaucratic riot. New agencies and administrations overflowed from labyrinthine warrens of temporary office space. People came to expect that the simplest problem would lead to hours or days of wandering down featureless corridors, passing door after closed door spattered by uncrackable alphabetic codes: OPA, OWI, OSS. Nor could you expect any help or sympathy once you found the right office: if the swarms of new government workers weren’t focused on the latest crisis in the Pacific, they were distracted by the hopeless task of finding an apartment or a boarding house or a cot in a spare room. Either way, they didn’t give a damn about solving your little squabble about petroleum rationing.

It might have been some consolation to know that people around the world were stuck with exactly the same problems—particularly people on the enemy side. There was a myth (it still persists) that the Nazi state was a model of efficiency; the truth was that it was a bureaucratic shambles. The military functioned well—Hitler gave it a blank check—but civilian life was made a misery by countless competing agencies and new ministries, all claiming absolute power over every detail of German life. Any task, from getting repairs in an apartment building to requisitioning office equipment, required running a gauntlet of contradictory regulations. One historian later described Nazi Germany as “authoritarian anarchy.”

But then everything about the war was ad hoc and provisional. The British set up secret installations in country estates; Stalin had his supreme military headquarters in a commandeered Moscow subway station. Nobody cared about making the system logical, because everything only needed to happen once. Every battle was unrepeatable, every campaign was a special case. The people who were actually making the decisions in the war—for the most part, senior staff officers and civil service workers who hid behind anonymous doors and unsigned briefing papers—lurched from one improvisation to the next, with no sense of how much the limitless powers they were mustering were remaking the world.

But there was one constant. From the summer of 1942 on, the whole Allied war effort, the immensity of its armies and its industries, were focused on a single overriding goal: the destruction of the German army in Europe. Allied strategists had concluded that the global structure of the Axis would fall apart if the main military strength of the German Reich could be broken. But that task looked to be unimaginably difficult. It meant building up an overwhelmingly large army of their own, somehow getting it on the ground in Europe, and confronting the German army at point-blank range. How could this possibly be accomplished? The plan was worked out at endless briefings and diplomatic meetings and strategy sessions held during the first half of 1942. The Soviet Red Army would have to break through the Russian front and move into Germany from the east. Meanwhile, a new Allied army would get across the English Channel and land in France, and the two armies would converge on Berlin.

The plan set the true clock time of the war. No matter what the surface play of battle was in Africa or the South Seas, the underlying dynamic never changed: every hour, every day the Allies were preparing for the invasion of Europe. They were stockpiling thousands of landing craft, tens of thousands of tanks, millions upon millions of rifles and mortars and howitzers, oceans of bullets and bombs and artillery shells—the united power of the American and Russian economies was slowly building up a military force large enough to overrun a continent. The sheer bulk of the armaments involved would have been unimaginable a few years earlier. One number may suggest the scale. Before the war began the entire German Luftwaffe consisted of 4,000 planes; by the time of the Normandy invasion American factories were turning out 4,000 new planes every two weeks.

On how much crazier the Eastern Front was:

In August 1943, for instance, in the hilly countryside around the town of Kursk (about 200 miles south of Moscow), the German and Soviet armies collided in an uncontrolled slaughter: more than four million men and thousands of tanks desperately maneuvered through miles of densely packed minefields and horizon-filling networks of artillery fire. It may have been the single largest battle fought in human history, and it ended—like all the battles on the eastern front—in a draw.

On an uncanny force driving war through history:

In the First Book of Maccabees it’s written that Alexander the Great “made many wars, and won many strongholds, and slew the kings of the earth, and went through to the ends of the earth, and took spoils of many nations, insomuch that the earth was quiet before him.” Uncharacteristically for the Bible, there is no moral judgment offered on the way Alexander chose to pass his time. Maybe this is because there couldn’t be. There are certain people whose lives are so vastly out of scale with the rest of humanity, whether for good or evil, that the conventional verdicts seem foolish. Alexander, like Genghis Khan or Napoleon, was born to be a world wrecker. He single-handedly brought down the timeless empires of pagan antiquity and turned names like Babylon and Persia into exotic, dim legends. His influence was so dramatic and pervasive that people were still talking about him as the dominant force in the world centuries after he was dead. The writers of the Apocrypha knew that he was somehow responsible for the circumstances that led to the Maccabean revolt, even though he’d never set foot in Judea. The Romans knew that their empire was possible only because it was built out of the wreckage Alexander had left behind him in the Middle East. We know that Western civilization is arranged the way it is in large part because Alexander destroyed the civilizations that came before it.

But why had he done it? The author of Maccabees received no divine insight on that score. Nobody did. Even the people who actually knew Alexander were baffled by him. According to all the biographies and versified epics about him that have survived from the ancient world, his friends and subordinates found him almost impossible to read. He never talked about what he wanted or whether there was any conquest that would finally satisfy him; he never revealed the cause of the unappeasable sense of grievance that led him to take on the kings of the earth. Yet his peculiar manner led a lot of people in his entourage to think that he was somehow in touch with divine forces. He frequently had an air of trancelike distraction, as though his brilliant military strategies were dictated by some mysterious inner voice, and he had a habit of staring not quite at people but just over their shoulder, as though he were picking up some ethereal presence in the room invisible to everybody else. But even without these signs, people were bound to think that he was fulfilling a god’s unknowable whims. After all, what he was doing made no sense in human terms: it was global destruction for its own sake, and what mortal could possibly want that?

“Pilots pleased over their victory during the Marshall Islands attack, grin across the tail of an F6F Hellcat on board the USS LEXINGTON, after shooting down 17 out of 20 Japanese planes heading for Tarawa.” Comdr. Edward Steichen, November 1943. 80-G-470985. (ww2_75.jpg, National Archives)

How about this, on the Old Norse vocabulary of war:

Another Viking term was “fey.” People now understand it to mean effeminate. Previously it meant odd, and before that uncanny, fairylike. That was back when fairyland was the most sinister place people could imagine. The Old Norse word meant “doomed.” It was used to refer to an eerie mood that would come over people in battle, a kind of transcendent despair. The state was described vividly by an American reporter, Tom Lea, in the midst of the desperate Battle of Peleliu in the South Pacific. He felt something inside of himself, some instinctive psychic urge to keep himself alive, finally collapse at the sight of one more dead soldier in the ruins of a tropical jungle: “He seemed so quiet and empty and past all the small things a man could love or hate. I suddenly knew I no longer had to defend my beating heart against the stillness of death. There was no defense.”

There was no defense—that’s fey. People go through battle willing the bullet to miss, the shelling to stop, the heart to go on beating—and then they feel something in their soul surrender, and they give in to everything they’ve been most afraid of. It’s like a glimpse of eternity. Whether the battle is lost or won, it will never end; it has wholly taken over the soul. Sometimes men say afterward that the most terrifying moment of any battle is seeing a fey look on the faces of the soldiers standing next to them.

But the fey becomes accessible to civilians in a war too—if the war goes on long enough and its psychic effects become sufficiently pervasive. World War II went on so long that both soldiers and civilians began to think of feyness as a universal condition. They surrendered to that eternity of dread: the inevitable, shattering resumption of an artillery barrage; the implacable cruelty of an occupying army; the panic, never to be overcome despite a thousand false alarms, at an unexpected knock on the door, or a telegram, or the sight out the front window of an unfamiliar car pulling to a halt. They got so used to the war they reached a state of acquiescence, certain they wouldn’t stop being scared until they were dead.

It was in a fey mood that, in the depths of the German invasion, Russian literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin took the only copy of his life’s work, a study of Goethe, and ripped it up, page by page and day by day, for that unobtainable commodity, cigarette paper.

“USS SHAW exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor.” December 7, 1941. 80-G-16871. From the National Archives

A feyness of bureaucracy:

A rational calculation of the odds is a calculation by the logic of peace. War has a different logic. A kind of vast feyness can infect a military bureaucracy when it’s losing a war, a collective slippage of the sense of objective truth in the face of approaching disaster. In the later years of World War II the bureaucracies of the Axis—partially in Germany, almost wholly in Japan—gave up any pretense of realism about their situation. Their armies were fighting all over the world with desperate berserker fury, savagely contesting every inch of terrain, hurling countless suicide raids against Allied battalions (kamikaze attacks on American ships at Okinawa came in waves of a hundred planes at a time)—while the bureaucrats behind the lines gradually retreated into a dreamy paper war where they were on the brink of a triumphant reversal of fortune.

They had the evidence. Officers in the field, unable to face or admit the imminence of defeat, routinely submitted false reports up the chain of command. Commanders up the line were increasingly prone to believe them, or to pretend to believe them. And so, as the final catastrophe approached, strategists in both Berlin and Tokyo could be heard solemnly discussing the immense weight of paper that documented the latest round of imaginary victories, the long-overrun positions that they still claimed to hold, and the Allied armies and fleets that had just been conclusively destroyed—even though the real-world Allied equivalents had crashed through the lines and were advancing toward the homeland.

“Two bewildered old ladies stand amid the leveled ruins of the almshouse which was Home; until Jerry dropped his bombs. Total war knows no bounds. Almshouse bombed Feb. 10, Newbury, Berks., England.” Naccarata, February 11, 1943. 111-SC-178801.

The logic of the end of the war, fall ’44 onward:

That was when the Allies changed their strategy. They set out to make an Axis surrender irrelevant.

From that winter into the next spring the civilians of Germany and Japan were helpless before a new Allied campaign of systematic aerial bombardment. The air forces and air defense systems of the Axis were in ruins by then. Allied planes flew where they pleased, day or night—500 at a time, then 1,000 at a time, indiscriminately dumping avalanches of bombs on every city and town in Axis territory that had a military installation or a railroad yard or a factory. By the end of the winter most of Germany’s industrial base had been bombed repeatedly in saturation attacks; by the end of the following spring Allied firebombing raids had burned more than 60 percent of Japan’s urban surface area to the ground.

This is the dreadful logic that comes to control a lot of wars. (The American Civil War is another example.) The losers prolong their agony as much as possible, because they’re convinced the alternative is worse. Meanwhile the winners, who might earlier have accepted a compromise peace, become so maddened by the refusal of their enemies to stop fighting that they see no reason to settle for anything less than absolute victory. In this sense the later course of World War II was typical: it kept on escalating, no matter what the strategic situation was, and it grew progressively more violent and uncontrollable long after the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The difference was that no other war had ever had such deep reserves of violence to draw upon.

The Vikings would have understood it anyway. They didn’t have a word for the prolongation of war long past any rational goal—they just knew that’s what always happened. It’s the subject of their longest and greatest saga, the Brennu-njalasaga, or The Saga of Njal Burned Alive. The saga describes a trivial feud in backcountry Iceland that keeps escalating for reasons nobody can understand or resolve until it engulfs the whole of northern Europe.

[amazing digression on that]

…But another, even stronger pressure worked against those who understood how hopeless the situation really was: they knew that defeat meant accountability.

“Photograph made from B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 Dec. when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris.” France, 1943. 208-EX-249A-27.

Sandlin’s discussion of the decision to drop the atomic bombs is one of the best I’ve ever read.  Here’s how he warms up to it:

We forget now just how pervasive the atmosphere of classified activity was, but there was hardly anybody, in all of the war’s military bureaucracies, who could honestly claim to know everything that was going on. The best information—whole Mississippis of debriefings and intelligence assessments and field reports and rumors—went up the line and vanished. And what returned, from some unimaginable bureaucratic firmament, were orders—taciturn, uncommunicative instructions, raining down ceaselessly, specifying mysterious troop movements, baffling supply requisitions, unexplained production quotas, and senseless rationing goals. Everywhere were odd networks of power and covert channels of communication. No matter how well placed you were, you were still excluded from incessant meetings, streams of memos were routed around your office, old friends grew vague when you asked what department they worked in (a “special” department, they always said—nobody liked coming out and saying “secret”). Everybody was doing something hush-hush; nobody blinked at the most imponderable mysteries.

So there was barely a ripple when, in the spring of 1943, all the leading physicists in America disappeared.

The end of the war, in the US:

That was the message that flashed around the world in the summer of 1945: the war is over, the war is over. Huge cheering crowds greeted the announcement in cities across America and Europe. A spectacular clamor of church bells rang out across the heartland. Wails of car horns and sirens soared up from isolated desert towns, mystifying travelers who’d been on the road all night and hadn’t heard the news. People pounded on doors in hushed apartment buildings, they came out from their houses and laughed and cheered and hugged one another, they swarmed in the streets all through the summer night telling strangers how frightened they’d been and how glad they were it had finally ended. No one could stop talking; every new face that appeared in the crowd was an excuse to ask if they’d heard and then start telling their stories all over again.

“Jubilant American soldier hugs motherly English woman and victory smiles light the faces of happy service men and civilians at Piccadilly Circus, London, celebrating Germany’s unconditional surrender.” Pfc. Melvin Weiss, England, May 7, 1945. 111-SC-205398.

Read the whole thing, is my suggestion.

At the White House, President Truman announces Japan’s surrender. Abbie Rowe, Washington, DC, August 14, 1945. 79-AR-508Q.

I was thinking about this article over Christmas, and resolved that in 2015 I would write Lee Sandlin a note telling him how much it blew my head off.  Too late, though.  Lee Sandlin died on Dec. 14, 2014 – that’s why, I guess, it was reposted and reached me.

Lee Sandlin

Found that photo on his website, which seems like a great memorial to the man.  A list of some of his favorite stuff.  And from his section “Rationals:”

I’m just a guy who writes about stuff that happened. But at least there’s a long tradition of this kind of writing. My model has always been William Hazlitt, who two hundred years ago wrote essays, reviews, travel writings, memoirs, celebrity profiles, sports reporting — each piece was simply about what happened, and yet each piece, no matter what the subject, reads like an act of total moral engagement. Hazlitt brought everything he knew, and everything he was, to the task of writing about what happened.

And back beyond that, way back, twenty five hundred years ago, the grandest and airiest work of philosophical speculation ever written begins as a plain report of what happened. In fact, it might easily be mistaken for a review:

Yesterday I went down to the Piraeus with Glaucon the Ariston, to make an offering to the Goddess, and also to see their Festival, which they were putting on for the first time this year. I liked the procession, but I think the procession at Thrace is more beautiful…

Found most of those photos at the National Archives.  Here is a ghastly one of a Nazi general who committed suicide, and here are four more amazing ones:

“Dynamic static. The motion of its props causes an `aura’ to form around this F6F on USS YORKTOWN. Rotating with blades, halo moves aft, giving depth and perspective.” November 1943. 80-G-204747A.

“Marines of the 5th Division inch their way up a slope on Red Beach No. 1 toward Surbachi Yama as the smoke of the battle drifts about them.” Dreyfuss, Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945.

“The Yanks mop up on Bougainville. At night the Japs would infiltrate American lines. At Dawn, the doughboys went out and killed them. This photo shows tank going forward, infantrymen following in its cover.” March 1944. 111-SC-189099.

“Dust storm at this War Relocation Authority center where evacuees of Japanese ancestry are spending the duration.” Dorothea Lange, Manzanar, CA, July 3, 1942. 210-G-10C-839.


Roads by Larry McMurtry

IMG_6387

I can’t get enough of these Larry McMurtry non-fiction books, as I’ve discussed before and another time and one other time.  In this book, McMurtry drives American highways, writing down anything that occurs to him or seems interesting:

The most interesting thing that ever happened to me in southern Oklahoma happened when I was a boy.  My backwoods uncle Jeff Dobbs took me deep in the woods, to the cabin of an aged Choctaw preacher, an old man said to have the power to draw out tumors.  In his small cabin there were long rows of Mason jars, each containing a tumor that had been drown out.  It was dim in the cabin.  I couldn’t see what was in the jars very clearly, but it definitely wasn’t string beans or pickled peaches.  I was very impressed and not a little frightened.  Uncle Jeff knew a few words of Choctaw — listening to him talk to the old man was when I first realized there were languages other than English.

More than fifty years after I peered at them in the gloom of the old preacher’s cabin, the shelves of tumors reappeared in Pretty Boy Floyd, the first of two novels I wrote with Diana Ossana.  This time “the cancers,” as they are referred to, appear as decoration in a backwoods honky-tonk.

He muses on how the great travel writers tend be into only one type of landscape (McMurtry’s is the plains):

Charles Doughty lived almost his whole life in a wet country but wrote his great book about the desert – the same deserts would later draw the best out of Wilfred Thesiger, St. John Philby, T. E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and Freya Stark.  Aurel Stein, Sven Hedin, Charles Marvin, Mildred Cable and Francesca French (the nuns of the Gobi), Curzon, and Ney Elias returned again and again to central Asia.  Humboldt, Alfred Russell Wallace, and Henry Bates took their genius to the Amazon; while Mr. Darwin looked hard wherever he went.  Certainly, when it came to those finches in the Galapagos, he looked every bit as hard as Picasso looked at Matisse.

Charles Doughty

But even the ocean interests McMurtry, an epic reader:

My drives across the American land had taken me far enough that I had begun to feel a vague urge to try a different mode of travel.  For the past month or so I had been reading the leisurely, tolerant travel books of the English zoologist F. D. Ommanney, a man who knows a lot about fish, and a lot, also, about the world’s oceans and the people who live beside them – particularly the island peoples of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.  F. D. Ommanney was a fish finder, a man who, in the years after World War II, puttered around in remote oceans attempting to estimate whether a given stretch of ocean contained fish enough to make commercial fishing profitable.  I think, though, that what he cared about was the sea, not the fishing.  In books such as A Draught of Fishes, The Shoals of Capricorn, Eastern Windows, and South Latitude, he describes his journeys through the seas and islands so appealingly that a landlocked person such as myself begins to feel that he has really been missing something: that is, the world’s oceans, along whose trade routes – invisible highways – the great ships proceed.

The appeal of F. D. Ommanney’s books – fairly popular in the 1950s but mostly forgotten now – is their intimacy with the sea and its ways, and also with the ways of people whose lives are bound to the sea.  Conrad and Melville wrote powerfully of the oceans, but their works don’t exactly bring one into an intimacy with the world of waters.  In Conrad and also in Melville the sea is too powerful, too often the environment of crisis, to be merely appealing.  Though these great writers see the ocean’s beauty they rarely allow the reader to be unaware that this beauty comes with a threat, moral or physical or both.

Ommanney is not a novelist – he is just a man with a deep interest in the natural world, particularly with the world of the ocean; through many travels he preserves a fond curiosity about the lives of peoples of the islands, people who can scarcely imagine a life apart from the sea.

Fragrant Harbour

While driving in Arizona, this occurs to McMurtry:

Near Wilcox there’s a famous tourist stop advertising THE THING – in fact an Anasazi mummy.

(actually this article seems to suggest it’s a fake made by a well-known maker of sideshow artifacts)

The Thing

McMurtry gets going on the Plains Indians wars, and Ranald Mackenzie:

Mackenzie was a highly effective officer, one of the most skilled and determined to fight on the plains frontier.  But he was not a happy man.  Juste before he was to marry, in 1883, he went crazy and spent the remaining six years of his life in an insane asylum in New York State.  Ranald Mackenzie’s insanity is one of the strange, haunting mysteries thrown up by the frontier conflicts.  Many pioneer women went crazy, and it was not hard to see why; the women were not necessarily overdelicate, either.  The living conditions were just too bleak, too isolating.  But the insanity of Ranald Mackenzie, one of the most disciplined and succesful officers to participate in the campaigns of the plains frontier, is evidence that the price of winning the west was not simple and not low, even for the winners, not when one considers that Ranald Mackenzie, the soldier who took the surrender of Quanah Parker and the Kwahadi Comanches, ended his days in a nuthouse, in 1889, not long before the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Wikipedi tells us: “He bought a Texas ranch and was engaged to be married; however, he began to demonstrate odd behavior which was attributed to a fall from a wagon at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in which he injured his head. Showing signs of mental instability, he was retired from the Army on March 24, 1884 for “general paresis of the insane”.[5]”

Driving in LA, some reflections on the movie biz:

The studio executives I would go and talk to about one project or another were seldom even half my age.  Now they were only a little more than a third my age.  I was in my sixties, the were in their twenties.  SOme of them seemed puzzled that an older person would still be writing screenplays.  If I happened to mention, by way of illustration, a movie made as long ago as the 1950s – twenty years before any of them were born – they looked blank and, in some cases, a little disdainful.  I might as well have been talking about the Dead Sea scrolls.  There is always a listener (the executive) and a note taker at these meetings.  If I mentioned Touch of Evil or Roman Holiday the note taker would dutifully take a note.

I don’t know why this age gap surprised me.  Hollywood, as I said, has always been about beauty and desire, neither of which is entirely comfortable with age.  Garbo was not wrong to retire.

Near Acoma, New Mexico:

Coronado came past these pueblos as he sought the cities of gold, which means that the Indians of this region have experienced an unusually long colonial oppresion.  Acoma, the sky city built on top of a 365-foot bluff, revolted in 1599 and killed a party of tax collectors sent by Governor Juan de Onate, who proved to be a revengeful man.  He overwhelmed the Acomas, took several hundred prisoners, and cut one foot off any male over twenty years old, probably raking in a lot of seventeen- and eighteen-year old feet in the process…

I’ve been to Acoma many times, where the concessionaires are – to put it mildly – not friendly; and I’ve visited, at one time or another, most of the pueblos near Albuquerque.  I’m not comfortable there and am even less comfortable in the communities north of Santa Fe.  These are all places where the troubles are old and the troubles are deep.  The plains below the Sangre de Christo may be supremely attractive visually, as they were to Miss O’Keefe, but socially they are very uncomfortable – the result of that long oppression.  North of Santa Fe is where the toughest of the Indians and of the Spaniards survived.  It’s not a good place to have a car break down – not if you’re an Anglo.


Politics roundup

1) Could anyone reasonably say that this statement is not true:

The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.

That comment appears the biggest issue in Louisiana’s senate race.   MSNBC goes ahead and calls the comment “controversial,” which I guess is “true,” there is a “controversy” about it now, but what a weasel of a word.  As always, important to see the comments in context.  MSNBC again:

It’s important to emphasize that Landrieu, speaking to NBC’s Chuck Todd, went beyond identity politics. “One of the reasons that the president’s so unpopular is because he put the moratorium on off-shore drilling. remember?” she added. “After Macondo. And our state was furious about that. Now he could have shut down the BP operations but he didn’t, he shut down the whole Gulf. When you shut down the whole Gulf of Mexico it puts a lot of people here at risk and out of business. That’s number one.”
See ’em yourself.   Here’s Bobby Jindal, impressively and almost hilariously exploiting the episode:

“She’s basically calling the people of Louisiana, she’s calling all of us in the South racist,” Jindal said, demanding an apology. “Here in Louisiana and across the South, we don’t think in terms of black and white, in terms of racial colors — the only colors that matter down here are red, white and blue and … purple and gold as we cheer our LSU Tigers onto victory in college football. It’s not about race.”

 

2)

(Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Granting rare “Must Read” status to this post by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson about Jeb Bush.

“Several of our boys were pallbearers—maybe all of them—but the one I remember is Jeb,” Barbara Bush wrote in an account, in her memoirs, of her father-in-law’s funeral. Jeb was her second son:

He was a student at the University of Texas, nineteen years old, six feet four inches tall. Remember, this was the early 1970′s. He, of course, did not have a dark suit. He told me not to worry—he’d borrowed one. I should have kept worrying. It was black corduroy. He is the most handsome man (at least according to his mother) and that saved him. Otherwise, he would have looked like a card shark from Las Vegas.

It is a quintessential Bush family moment: an establishment premise streaked with clumsy absurdity, with the participants mysteriously pleased about how it all looks—convinced that their fine qualities have saved them. This was October, 1972, during a period in which Jeb’s older brother, George W. Bush, was in something of a Vegas-card-shark phase. Their grandfather, Prescott Bush, who was being buried that day, had been a banker and Connecticut Senator; their father, George H. W. Bush, had made a good deal of money in the oil business and was serving as Ambassador to the United Nations. George W. had just been rejected by the University of Texas Law School and was drinking too much in all the wrong places, including behind the wheel of a car—maybe best not to remember that. The Bushes have always thought, to an extent that can, frankly, be puzzling for anyone who simply watches his speeches or assesses his record, that Jeb was their child of destiny. When Barbara Bush’s memoir came out, in 1994, after her husband’s one-term Presidency, the family thought that Jeb, not George, would be the next President Bush. The Bushes have never hidden their surprise that it didn’t work out that way, and now, according to multiple press reports, they have again become worked up about the idea that the man in the black corduroy suit can make it to the White House. But why should he?

Felt refreshing to read someone raise the idea “why should Jeb Bush be president?” without assuming I concede he’s the most terrific American around.

3) I’m afraid I also have to grant “Must Read” status to this depressing article:

Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’
Richard Berman Energy Industry Talk Secretly Taped

Mr. Berman offered several pointers from his playbook.

“If you want a video to go viral, have kids or animals,” he said, and then he showed a spot his company had prepared using schoolchildren as participants in a mock union election — to suggest that union bosses do not have real elections.

“Use humor to minimize or marginalize the people on the other side,” he added.

“There is nothing the public likes more than tearing down celebrities and playing up the hypocrisy angle,” his colleague Mr. Hubbard said, citing billboard advertisements planned for Pennsylvania that featured Robert Redford. “Demands green living,” they read. “Flies on private jets.”

Mr. Hubbard also discussed how he had done detailed research on the personal histories of members of the boards of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to try to find information that could be used to embarrass them.

I guess Richard Berman would have to admire whoever recorded the talk for their “win ugly” strategy.  Although it was recorded by an energy executive:

What Mr. Berman did not know — and what could now complicate his task of marginalizing environmental groups that want to impose limits on fracking — is that one of the energy industry executives recorded his remarks and was offended by them.

“That you have to play dirty to win,” said the executive, who provided a copy of the recording and the meeting agenda to The New York Times under the condition that his identity not be revealed. “It just left a bad taste in my mouth.”

What does Berman suggest you do to people operating out of principle?

4) Not granting this full “Must Read” status but it is interesting.  Iowa Senate candidate and proud hog-castrater Joni Ernst was recorded talking about Obamacare.  Here’s what she said.

“We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”

I don’t think this is as crazy an opinion as Jonathan Chait seems to.  I bet a lot of Americans would agree with this.  If Joni Ernst believes this, that churches and private organizations should provide things like health care, and the government should just stay out of it, she should say that and argue it.  I would however agree with Chait and John Le Carre.

That’s the fundamental belief that motivates most, if not all, the conservative opposition: Health care should be a privilege rather than a right. If you can’t afford health insurance on your own, that is not the government’s problem.

I happen to find this belief morally bizarre. People who cannot afford their own insurance either don’t earn much money, or have health risks, or family members with health risks, too expensive to bear.

All of us non-socialists would agree that there ought to be some things rich people get to enjoy that poor people are deprived of. Access to health care is a strange choice of things to deprive the losers of — not least because one of the things you do to “earn” the ability to afford it is not just the normal market value of earning or inheriting a good income, but the usually random value of avoiding serious illness or accident.

Indeed, very few Republicans have the confidence to make the case openly that the inability of some people to afford the cost of their own medical care is their own problem. But that is the belief that sets them apart from major conservative parties across the world, and it is the belief that explains why they have opposed national health insurance every time Democrats have held power, and why they have neglected to create national health insurance every time they have.

Anyway, there are honorable people in politics.  If you live in Arkansas’ District 35, let me give my personal endorsement to Clarke Tucker for State Representative.  Wish I could vote for him!

 


The story of Cahokia

Anyone who traveled up the Mississippi in 1100 A.D. would have seen it looming in the distance: a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.  Around it like echoes were as many as 120 smaller mounds, some topped by tall wooden palisades, which were in turn ringed by a network of irrigation and transportation canals; carefully located fields of maize; and hundreds of wooden homes with mud-and-straw plastered floors and high-peaked, deeply thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms.

Located near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, the Indian city of Cahokia was a busy port.  Canoes flitted like hummingbirds across its waterfront: traders bringing copper and mother-of-pearl from faraway places; hunting parties bringing such rare treats as buffalo and elk; emissaries and soldiers in long vessels bristling with weaponry; workers ferrying wood from upstream for the ever hungry cookfires; the ubiquitous fishers with their nets and clubs.  Covering five square miles and housing at least fifteen hundred people, Cahokia was the biggest concentration of people north of the Rio Grande until the 18th century.

That is from the great Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus.  

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I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  Every American should read it.

Cahokia is very close to St. Louis – it’s about thirty miles away between what’s now East St. Louis and Collinsville, IL.

I wanted to visit, but I didn’t have a car.  I explained the predicament to the Ethiopian taxi driver who picked me up at the airport.  I asked him if he’d pick me up, take me there, wait an hour and take me back.  So the next morning he took me out there.  He and I visited the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center and Museum together.  We watched the award-winning 17 minute movie.  Cahokia Mounds is one of only 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the US, and they do a nice job.

“It was very interesting,” agreed the cab driver.

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The idea that native Americans built cities was and remains a challenging ideas to different views of what life was like here before 1492. It fights with both 19th century views of Indians as primitive savages, and later ideas that they were chilled out wanderers in perfect harmony with nature.

How many people lived at Cahokia?

6,000, say some archaeologists, 40,000 say others.  Charles Mann is really good at sorting through competing views of numbers, and if he says 1500 I’m prepared to believe him.  In the grandest view, the museum’s view, at one time Cahokia looked like this:

and like this:

How did Cahokia emerge?

Cahokia archaeology is wildly controversial.  But it seems like there’s more or less consensus that Cahokia grew up around the year 1000 in a “big bang.” Here’s Mann:

As the millennium approached, the American Bottom had a resident population of several thousand.  Then, without much apparent warning, there was, according to the archaeologist Timothy R. Pauketat of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, what has been called a “Big Bang” – a few decades of tumultuous change.

To his way of thinking, the Big Bang occurred after a single ambitious person seized power, perhaps in a coup.  Although his reign may have begun idealistically, Cahokia quickly became an autocracy; in an Ozymandic extension of his ego, the supreme leader set in motion the construction projects.

Don’t worry: there’s lots of arguing already:

[William] Woods [of U. Kansas, who spent 20 years excavating the mounds] disagrees with what he calls the “proto-Stalinist work camp” scenario.  Nobody was forced to erect Monks Mound, he says.  Despite the intermittent displays of coercion, he says, Cahokians put it up “because they wanted to.”

Who knows?  Julian Jaynes might say that these people just started building because the two hemispheres of their brain weren’t yet in alignment so they heard voices like schizophrenics:

 

But that’s a topic for another day.

At the Cahokia gift shop, I picked up a copy of Pauketat’s book:

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It’s terrific, just the right length.  Pauketat says:

Civilizations can rise and fall, to adapt Margaret Mead’s famous quotation, as a result of the actions of a small group of people combined with the inaction of many others. Making sense of these actions and inacations can be a difficult task for archaeologists, who must distinguish between how people lived and how they wanted to be perceived as living.  Cahokia’s big bang is a case study in how people can combine to great historical change.

OK, groovy – but why did this happen around the year 1000?  If I can jump ahead in Pauketat’s story: This combination of the cultural power of immigrants and the economic base of Old Cahokia [don’t worry about that], with its access to large amounts of easy-to-farm river bottom, was a recipe for explosive growth.  That explosion might have been sparked early one morning in 1054.

On that morning, recorded by a Chinese astrologer as July 4, a brilliant new luminary appeared in the sky.  It was a “guest star,” a supernova, a visitor in the constellation Taurus, visible today with a high-powered telescope as the Crab Nebula.  One of only fifty supernovas ever recorded – only three in our own Milky Way galaxy* – this nuclear detonation was the last gasp of a dying star.  The inaudible explosion discharged a billion times more energy than the small star had previously emitted, and that morning a brilliant beacon – four times brighter than Venus – appeared in the daylight adjacent to a crescent moon…

Whatever i might have meant to the native peoples, a New Mexican Mimbres valley potter commemorated the celestial event by painting a pot with a star ad the foot of a crescent-shaped rabbit, a representation of the rabbit many indigenous North Americans believed resided in the moon.  Ancient rock art in Arizona also appears to illustrate the supernova, as do petrogylphs in Missouri, which show the moon and supernova astride rabbit tracks.  And in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a map of the night sky in July 1054 was painted on the sandstone cliffs above a palatial-sized, multi-story Great House called Penasco Blanco, under construction at about the same time in the middle of the eleventh century.  The pictograph shows the exploding star next to a crescent moon and a human hand, the later possibly representing a group of stars still known among Plains Indians today as the Hand constellation.  Also in Chaco Canyon, construction began around this time on a massive new kiva, an underground ceremonial building, now called Casa Rinconada, just south of the largest Great House, Pueblo Bonito.

Pause for a sec.  This is a sexy theory: a supernova creates a new star, and everyone goes into a religious building frenzy.  But let’s take a look at the Penasco Blanco petroglyph.  Here is is, in a photo by Ron Lussier:

Could it be that we’re stretching things a BIT here?  That star/moon pattern appears in other petrogylphs that weren’t from the 1054 period.

Anyway, here’s some things we do know about Cahokia:

They had human sacrifices. 

Pakutet, talking about Cahokia’s “Mound 72”:

Over the next four summers, Fowler’s crew turned up pit after pit and row after row of human skeletons in other parts of the mound.  The lengths and widths of the pits were precisely suited to contain exactly the number of bodies interred within them.  The excavation of the largest pit was supervised by Al Meyer, who noticed the telltale signs of a tomb originally lined with logs (which had since disintegrated) as he dug around the pit’s margins downward to the bottom.  At the bottom were the remains of fifty-three sacrificed women, fifty-two of whom were young (most between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five).  The fifty-third individual was an “elderly” (thirtyish) female, whom Meyer thought of as “the matron,” sparking the notion that she had been the elder wife of some man’s harem.  Since there were no skeletal indications of how the women had died, it is likely that they were poisoned or strangled or that their throats had been slit…

Nearby were:

the bodies of thirty-nine men and women who had, without a doubt, been executed on the spot. In the dispassionate language of a forensic report, Rose describes: […]

Evidence of violence also distinguishes these burials from the other mass graves.  Three individuals had been decapitated prior to being thrown into the pit.  The heads were thrown in before the burials were covered.  Another male appears to have been incompletely decapitated

They played a game called chunkey.  

Man, read about Cahokia and you are gonna hear a lot about chunkey.  It was a game where you rolled a stone, and then tried to hit it with a spear.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s all over what little art we have from the Mississippian culture.  Pakutet has a lot more patience than me for the differences in various chunkey stones found at Mississippian sites:

Anthropologists seem to think that this was the same game native Americans were playing seven centuries later when whites first saw them.  Said Swiss painter Rudolf Kurz, who was traveling around:

they bet high; here you may see a savage come and bring all his skins, stake them and lose them, next his pipe, his beads, trinkets and ornaments; at last his blankets and other garments, and even all their arms, and after all that is is not uncommon for them to go home, borrow a gun and shoot themselves; an instance of this happened in 1771 at East Yasoo a short time before my arrival.

Rudolf Kurz

I’m telling you, the guys who get into Cahokia get deep into chunkey:

Emerson took the next step.  He worked with a geologist and an archaeometric specialist to develop, with the aid of the National Science Foundation, a new short-wave, infrared-light-beam method of measuring the mineral composition of rock.  Their device is called a Portable Infrared Mineral Analyzer (PIMA for short) and has the advantage of being able to precisely measure a specimen’s mineralogy without damaging it.  Functioning like a ray gun, the PIMA is powerful enough to determine where the Chunkey Player pipe and two dozen other Cahokia-style objects were made.  Between 2000 and 2003, Emerson and his team published their results: the red stone sculptures were made not from bauxite but from a raw material called flintclay, which could have been obtained only at a single source of stone originating from an outcrop as close as twenty miles west of Cahokia.

I gotta say, chunkey does not seem that fun to me that I can understand why they were shooting themselves over it seven centuries after it was invented but I’ve never tried it.

They had massive feasts.

Based on the sheer density of excavated remains, individual feasts that took place over the course of just a few days would have involved killing, butchering, and carting in as many as thirty-nine hundred deer, the use of up to seventy-nine hundred pots, and enough smoking tobacco to produce more than a million charred tobacco seeds.

I have no idea how much tobacco that is.  A lot?  Worth noting that Charles Mann points out that the tobacco back then was way stronger, possibly even slightly hallucinogenic.

Now as I’m reviewing Pakutet’s book I can’t help but be impressed by how much he likes archaeology.  here he is talking about a site that wasn’t even very important, it was basically twelve huts from poor people who lived miles away from Cahokia Central:

The trash itself was impressive, in both amount and type.

Imagine spending years digging up people’s trash from a thousand years ago so you could make discoveries like “THEY ATE DOGS!” and “THEY ATE MOSTLY CORN”!

At Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center they make a big deal out of “borrow pits,” places where they took the dirt to make the mounds.  Borrow pits? It’s like: “dude, do you mean holes?”

God bless you, archaeologists.  Some of the characters he describes were pretty wild:

[Preston] Holder also joined the armed forces.  He signed up with the navy and was sent to fight the Japanese.  Years later, he would tell stories about his time as a coast watcher on a small island in the Pacific.  The Japanese had established an airbase on one side of the island, he was stationed on the opposite side, and the people of Espiritu Santo, who had practiced head-hunting before the war, were trapped in between.  Holder, intrepid archaeologist that he was, apparently convinced the natives to revive their traditional practice, and they began taking heads again, this time preying on the unsuspecting Japanese troops.  Holder’s unusual ploy demoralized the Japanese, and when American forces finally retook the island in 1945, the Japanese were all too ready to surrender.

They were into a mythological birdman.

That was the only Birdman image I saw at the Interpretive Center, but artist Herb Roe has painted a more fanciful depiction of the Birdman supposedly crucial to the Mississippian culture or “Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.”

Now, what don’t we know about Cahokia?

What happened to them?

Nobody knows, seems to have collapsed around 1250.

Did they have any connection to the big cities that sprang up in Mexico?

There’s no evidence of it, really, unless you realllllllly stretch the birdman idea.  Some of the archaeologists got into the idea that the 52 human sacrifices has something to do with the Mayan calendar, but c’mon bros.

I find the idea of a pre-Columbian city in the what’s now United States fascinating, and the tantalizing, inevitably frustrating effort to sort out what was going on in a place that left no record is a cool mystery.  As usual, the history about the history is as good as the history.  Here we have archaeologists spending five years digging in the mud of Illinois to try and figure out why people 1000 years ago dug in the mud of Illinois.

On the other hand, what we’re talking about is some piles of dirt.

Anyway, glad someone’s working on it.

By the way, for more on the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, check out this great essay by John Jeremiah Sullivan.  

 

 


Getting teased by FDR and Stalin

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The scene is the Tehran Conference, the first time Churchill, FDR, and Stalin all met.

Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, the UK’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, is telling Lord Moran, who was Churchill’s doctor, how one of the meetings went:

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(Imagine joking around with Stalin about how many people were going to be shot.)

Anyway.

Was googling Kerr (not to be confused with the great Clark Kerr of the UC system) – that same year, 1943, he wrote a letter to Lord Pembroke, apparently a well-known bit of hilarious correspondence in UK diplomatic history circles:

“My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.

We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.

Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr, H.M. Ambassador”


Saving Mr. Banks

* Man, I thought this was a deeply, deeply interesting movie.

* Everybody in the movie does a great job.  It is a well-made movie, the story’s really artfully told.  I’s not like I remember Mary Poppins super well, but they lay that stuff in just right.  I straight up enjoyed this movie.

* But: part of what I liked about it was the thrilling feeling that it was so unbelievably shameless.  John Lee Hancock directed this movie, he directed The Blind Side, which was perfectly, amazingly shameless.  Or was it not that shameless, is the world really like this and I’m just jaded/cynical and I need movies like this to bring me back to the fullness of humanity??

* What’s at the heart of this movie?  What is this movie saying about cynicism, honesty, manipulation, entertainment? There’s Paul Giamatti talking about his handicapped daughter?  Is this a play on being a shamelessly cornball movie?  Does it matter?  Isn’t the argument of this movie that putting something like that into your movie for the purpose of bending your emotions and giving you hope is ok?  Is the moral that if you let down your cynicism for one second you’ll find yourself moved, and that feeling, that person, is your truer, better self?  But how can the ends of that message come across if the means is truly shameless manipulation?

* How much is it on me, the audience,  to agree to not be cynical, and how much is it on them, the storytellers, to not then manipulate me?  What’s the deal we make when we suspend disbelief and what counts as a betrayal of that deal?

* At one point Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) looks at P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) but it’s shot so he’s nearly looking to camera, to the audience.  “Trust me,” he says.  What are we to make of a movie made by Disney (the company) where the story of the movie is Disney (the man) making the case for manipulative entertainment to a reluctant audience?  Where there’s a scene of a cold, repressed  woman reduced to tears in a movie theater by the power of a movie?

* Saving Mr. Banks exists at some  intersection where cynicism and idealism cross over each other again.  If Disney makes a movie that runs right at some of the issues that make cynics so knee-jerk scornful of “Disney,” isn’t that kind of interesting and cool?  Even if (of course) the ultimate product is in the end pretty pro-Disney?  Or is it just nth level propaganda?  Does it matter, if it’s fun and moving to watch?

* now look I’m not comparing anyone to Nazis or anything: but a thing that has stuck with me since I learned it is the idea that Goebbels was continually stunned and amazed at how much better and more effective the American “propaganda” movies that were coming out of a non-state directed Hollywood were than the products of Germany’s completely controlled machine, big example being Mrs. Miniver.

* I don’t want to deal with the idea of possible sexism in Saving Mr. Banks, but I mean the story of this movie is an uptight old woman is seduced by a powerful and calming man and when she finally submits herself to him after a lengthy courtship she experiences an extreme emotional release (right?)

* MORE!: the moviemakers monkeyed with the history at least a little bit, but how much?  This article, “Saving Mr. Banks Is A Corporate, Borderline Sexist Spoonful of Lies” from LA Weekly (which I only learned about when the co-screenwriter got in a Twitter spat with the reviewer) would suggest quite a bit.  This New Yorker article from 2005, though, suggests it’s hard to know, that maybe P. L. Travers played it a lot of different ways depending on who she was talking to.  (that article, btw, written by Caitlin Flanagan, whose thoughts on nanny issues are always good to stir up the Internet).

How much does this matter?  Isn’t part of the argument of this movie something about “the goal of entertaining and creating hope through entertainment can supersede other concerns,” or something?  I dunno.  Surely the people who made this movie looked into it more than your average reviewer and made their own set of ethical choices about how faithful they had to be to reality.  If the manipulation of reality for narrative makes us queasy why and at what point does it make us queasy?  How far are you allowed to go on these kinds of things?

I mean, a movie is a lie, that’s not really Walt Disney and it’s not really 1961.  How much are you allowed to lie, though?  I mean we all agree some accuracy is important, see Wikipedia:

To accurately convey Walt Disney’s Midwestern dialect, Tom Hanks listened to archival recordings of Disney in his car and practised the voice while reading newspapers.[37][38] Hanks also grew his own mustache for the role, which underwent heavy scrutiny—with the filmmakers going so far as to matching the same dimensions as Disney’s.[39][40]

Do we like hearing these things because it suggests the moviemakers are showing respect for the truth, and respect for us the audience by doing this work?  Does it matter only when the real-life person is as famous/sacred at Walt Disney?  Are critics like Amy Nicholson in LA Weekly mad the way we’re mad when we catch someone lying to us?  Because it suggests the liar doesn’t respect us and thinks they can get away with it?

* An Australian person once claimed to me that it’s a well-known thing among Australians that Australians are known to get emotional when they come to Los Angeles.  The person who claimed this to me said it was a combination of the flora, eucalypts and stuff, reminding them of home, plus Los Angeles is often the last stop on a long trip and they’re tired and on their way home.  An odd claim maybe but then it was spontaneously confirmed to me by a whole other Australian.  Saving Mr. Banks hints at this theme a little bit, I guess, but even that gets weirder when you learn the Australian scenes were shot in California.  

* Real-life P. L. Travers is pretty interesting.  Here’s some teasers from her Paris Review interview:

INTERVIEWER

Does Mary Poppins’s teaching—if one can call it that—resemble that of Christ in his parables?

TRAVERS

My Zen master, because I’ve studied Zen for a long time, told me that every one (and all the stories weren’t written then) of the Mary Poppins stories is in essence a Zen story. And someone else, who is a bit of a Don Juan, told me that every one of the stories is a moment of tremendous sexual passion, because it begins with such tension and then it is reconciled and resolved in a way that is gloriously sensual.

or here she is talking about her time with the Navajo:

I’d never been out West and I went to stay on the Navajo reservation at Administration House, which is at Window Rock beyond Gallup…

One day the head of Administration House asked me if I would give a talk to the Indians. And I said, “How could I talk to them, these ancient people? It is they who could tell me things.” He said, “Try.” So they came into what I suppose was a clubhouse, a big place with a stage, and I stood on the stage and the place was full of Indians. I told them about England, because she was at war then, and all that was happening. I said that for me England was the place “Where the Sun Rises” because, you see, England is east of where I was. I said, “Over large water.” And I told them about the children who were being evacuated from the cities and some of the experiences of the children. I put it as mythologically as I could, just very simple sayings.

At the end there was dead silence. I turned to the man who had introduced me and said, “I’m sorry. I failed, I haven’t got across.” And he said, “You wait. You don’t know them as well as I do.” And every Indian in that big hall came up and took me silently by the hand, one after another. That was their way of expressing feeling with me.

I never knew such depths of silence, internally and externally, as I experienced in the Navajo desert. One night I was taken at full moon away into the desert where they were having a meeting before they had their dancing. There were crowds of Indians there, about two thousand under the moon. And before the proceedings began there was no sound in the desert amongst those people except the occasional cry of a baby or the rattle of a horse’s harness or the crackling of fire under a pot—those natural sounds that really don’t take anything from the silence.

They waited it seemed to me hours before the first man got up to speak. Naturally, I didn’t understand what they were saying. But I listened to the speeches and I enjoyed the silences all night long. And when the night was far spent, they began to dance. Not in the usual dances of the corn dance; they had their ordinary clothes on and were dancing two-and-two, going around and around a fire, a man and a woman. And I was told that if you’re asked to dance by a man and you don’t want to dance, you give him a silver coin. So one Indian did come up, but I went with him. I couldn’t do the dance, even though it wasn’t a very intricate dance; it was more a little short step round and round, just these two people together. So we two strangers danced around the fire. It was very moving to me. And we came back to the House in the early morning.

* Oh!  What about the part in the movie where P. L. Travers’ dad says of her poetry “it’s not exactly Yeats, is it?”  Well real-life P.L. grew up to know Yeats.  Is that anything? I dunno, probably not.

* What if this is a story about a pretty good con artist/manipulator (Travers) going up against the best who ever lived (Disney), and when she realizes how meagre her gifts are compared to his she becomes spiteful and petulant (Salieri-in-Amadeus style)?

* They mention in the movie that Robert Sherman got shot.  Apparently he was in on the liberation of Dachau.  A Jewish guy liberates a death camp and comes home and writes the cheeriest songs anyone’s ever heard?  I mean, that’s a whole other interesting movie.

P. L. Travers as a young actress:


Good Story About Louis CK

I was reading this compilation of Louis CK quotes, which led me to this reddit AMA, where a neat story emerges, one I had not heard.  Formatting is better at the source but this should be followable:

[–]ryeandginger 1705 points 1 year ago

I worked as a PA at a show of yours in Toronto. You were doing two shows that night and during the break a girl came to the stage door and when you came out she said (in front of half a dozen other fans, and myself who was holding the door for you) that she lived nearby and wanted to have sex with you before the next show started. You laughed and said thank you, and when you came back inside you told me this never happens.

That was a few years ago. Does it happen a lot now?

[–]iamlouisckLouis CK[S] 2100 points 1 year ago

haha. i remember that. are you female? Because the funny thing is I remember there was a young working woman standing there with a walkie on her hip as this kind of desperate (not uncute) young girls is openly offering to fuck me. I remember the juxtoposition. When you’re a dad, you see every grown female, especially young ones, as possible models for your daughter’s future. I remember thinking that I would never let this working woman down by fucking this chick between shows. Plus I don’t do that.
anyway maybe it wasn’t you. are you sure you’re not the woman who offered to blow me?
How has it changed?
I don’t really hang around after shows. I bolt.
I think the idea of fucking someone who just watched you perform is… it’s just not me. I mean, keep trying ladies. You never know! Maybe next time there won’t be a well adjusted and bright young woman acting as my concious and ruining what may have been a terrificly depressing blowjob! 

[–]spankymuffin 1401 points 1 year ago

ryeandginger, you goddamn cock-block…

[–]ryeandginger 1193 points 1 year ago

I’m sorry! It probably didn’t help (the daughter-imagery) that I also have red hair. Oops.

[–]tinynf89 1135 points 1 year ago

You and Louis C.K. shared a memorable moment and then recounted years later in incredible detail, that is so awesome.

[–]ryeandginger 740 points 1 year ago

I was fairly certain it was only memorable to me. I was also fairly certain that it would get lost in a sea of actualquestions.

…but “well-adjusted and bright”! Years later. Even if he’s making that part up, it made my day.

(photo by Gillian Laub for Time.)