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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 22 January 2004

Topic: Oddities

Department of Blog Corrections: Old Parrots

On Tuesday, 20 January 2004, I posted this: Living History ? The Past is Always With Us. This was an item reporting that British war leader Winston Churchill's 104-year old parrot had been found by reporters from a British newspaper, and was still alive.

On the MSNBC show Countdown I saw a feature on this. I saw the bird.

Now there is some dispute. This seems to be a hoax.

See Churchill's rude parrot seems to be a flight of fancy
The Star (South Africa), January 22, 2004
London - Winston Churchill did not own a macaw and certainly did not teach it to swear, according to his daughter and experts on the British wartime leader.

They have been at pains to debunk reports that the parrot is alive and still cursing Hitler.

"My father never owned a macaw or anything remotely resembling it," Mary Soames said, although she acknowledged he had owned an African Grey for about three years before the war.

"The idea that he spent time in the war teaching it swear words is too tiresome for words," 81-year-old Lady Soames said.

She was responding to reports on Monday that the macaw was still shouting "F*** Hitler, f*** the Nazis" with Churchillian intonations from its perch in a garden centre, at the age of 104.

Charlie, the blue and yellow macaw at the centre of the controversy, currently lives in Reigate, south of London. Its owner, Peter Oram, insists the bird used to live with Sir Winston, causing consternation to Churchill's guests and providing its owner with constant amusement.

Oram says his father-in-law, Percy Dabner, sold Charlie to Churchill in 1937 and then took the bird back after his death in 1965.

The story now appears to be a hoax. - Sapa-DPA
Oh well.

The bird in question lives in Reigate in Surrey? The Holmes story The Reigate Puzzle that Arthur Conan Doyle penned opens with this:
It was some time before the health of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes recovered from the strain caused by his immense exertions in the spring of '87. The whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in the minds of the public, and are too intimately concerned with politics and finance to be fitting subjects for this series of sketches. They led, however, in an indirect fashion to a singular and complex problem which gave my friend an opportunity of demonstrating the value of a fresh weapon among the many with which he waged his life-long battle against crime.
But when Watson and Holmes arrive at the home of Colonel Hayter in Reigate there is no parrot.

I should have known.

Posted by Alan at 16:11 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 January 2004 16:19 PST home

Topic: The Culture

Breaking Movie News: I know we're supposed to be very, very afraid, because the evil, swarthy Muslim fanatics are trying to destroy our western civilization. That's the real war. Got it.

But now is the Christian right, led by Mel Gibson, telling us Jews are evil because they murdered Sweet Jesus?

This is getting downright confusing.

The Pope said what? The Anti-Defamation League said what?

In the parent magazine of this blog, Just Above Sunset, I posted a discussion of Mel Gibson's new film The Passion. You can find that at September 21, 2003 Reviews, typos and all, under the title of Collective guilt as a theological concept, and Hollywood marketing tool: Mel Gibson and the ADL.

A brief review:
The buzz out here, and in the entertainment pages in general, has been about Mel Gibson's new film The Passion, and it won't be released for another seven months. The film chronicles the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus. Gibson plans on Easter as the release date for the movie, but not everyone is okay with this film. After screening an early version of the film with Mel Gibson, the Anti-Defamation League's national headquarters began to voice concern.

The ADL, whose mission is to "stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all people alike," argues that the film is theologically and historically irresponsible in regards to the crucifixion.

Many conservative Christians who have attended private screenings of The Passion have called it "the most powerful depiction" they have seen of Jesus' final hours. But [the ADL] has argued for months that the portrayal of Jews in the events leading to the crucifixion will promote anti-Semitism.

And of course Bill O'Reilly has had Gibson on his Fox News "The O'Reilly Factor" to counter Jewish criticism of the film. The "conservative Christian right" is rallying around Gibson.

Frank Rich, the media critic for the New York Times is ticked off about the film. And that provides and opportunity for the right to fulminate about the evil, liberal, Jewish New York press of course. You know, those guys who hate us harmless Christians and like Hilary Clinton.

... Gibson says Rich's comments made him quite angry, or as Gibson put it - "I want his intestines on a stick... I want to kill his dog."

The film isn't even out yet and the "whining" Jews and "self-righteous Christian" folks on the right are going at it.
And today this from Reuters.

Perhaps the Anti-Defamation League had a point, given information now available to the press.

See Gibson film heavy on blood, Satan
Broward Liston, Reuters, Thursday, January 22, 2004
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - In Mel Gibson's new movie about Jesus Christ, Satan assumes a physical form and stands with Jewish leaders after they condemn Christ, whose beating at the hands of Roman soldiers, barely mentioned in the Bible, becomes a bloody, sadistic centerpiece of the film.

If "The Passion of the Christ," about Jesus' last hours, has not attracted enough controversy already, there will likely be plenty of ammunition for its detractors once the movie is more widely seen.

Late Wednesday, a rough cut of the film got what may have been its widest screening yet, before 4,500 evangelical Christian pastors attending a conference in Orlando, and a few reporters who also managed to get in.

Gibson has weathered a storm of criticism so far, particularly from Jewish groups worried the film will incite anti-Semitism because of the depiction of Jews' role in Christ's death.

So far, the two-hour motion picture has been shown only to audiences hand-picked by Gibson and his production company. The film will open Feb. 25 - Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar - on 2,000 screens in the United States. Pastors seeing the film had to sign a form agreeing not to say anything negative about it.
So what?s the problem?
? among elements likely to attract attention when the film reaches wider audiences is Gibson's decision to have Satan personified by a pale, human figure that appears periodically. The Satan figure appears alongside Jewish authorities but not by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, who actually sentences Jesus to death.

At Jesus' trial portrayed in the film, the Jewish high priest not only strikes him but spits on him.
Well, Gibson and his father do belong to a break-away group of Catholics who think many a previous Pope got it all wrong. The Jews do bear a collective guilt for the death of Jesus that can never be forgiven.

Perhaps so. What do I know?

But Gibson?s production company has screened the film for the current Pope. They said he approved it. He loved it. Now different Vatican sources say no, he didn't. See USA Today for a summary of that, two days ago.

Everyone is lining up one way or the other. Peggy Noonan, Reagan?s former speechwriter, is on the air on various shows saying the Pope really did endorse the film and that the Vatican spokesmen are just evil, foolishly trying to placate the Jewish community.

You may catch a bit about this on the air here and there.

What to make of it all?

I know we?re supposed to be very, very afraid, because the evil, swarthy Muslim fanatics are trying to destroy our western civilization. That?s the real war. Got it.

But now is the Christian right, led by Mel Gibson, telling us Jews are evil because they murdered sweet Jesus?

But wait! That makes no sense!

The Christian right is always telling us Israel is wonderful because Israel stands up to those awful Palestinians. And that the people of Israel are all, anyway, incipient Christians who will soon accept Jesus. That will wash their sin away? That will expiate their collective guilt in murdering Jesus?

This is getting downright confusing.

These are all people of deep faith and conviction. Who is being truthful here?

As George Carlin said in Napalm & Silly Putty - "If this is the best God can do, I'm not impressed."

Posted by Alan at 15:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Oddities

From the movies...

"That's all any of us are - amateurs. We don't live long enough to be anything else."

- Charlie Chaplin, screenplay for Limelight

DOC HOLLIDAY: What do you want, Wyatt?
WYATT EARP: Just to live a normal life.
DOC: There is no normal life, there's just life.

- Kevin Jarre, screenplay for Tombstone

Posted by Alan at 10:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

Howard Dean was invented in Hollywood. He's really Michael Douglas.
Political Perspectives from out here in where I live.

Okay, there?s this Hoberman fellow who is the senior film critic for the Village Voice and author a recent book - The Dream Life: Movies, Media and the Mythology of the Sixties (The New Press, 2003). So finding an opinion piece by him is finding an advertisement, of course. But he says some interesting things.

See The Dream Machine Is Plugged Into Reality
J. Hoberman, The Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2004
[ extensive registration required for access ]

Here?s his thesis:
In the U.S., moviegoing has ceased to be a national habit for just about everyone but teenagers and film professionals. Still, the movies themselves remain a privileged instrument in the orchestra of American mass culture. They can function as social metaphors, showcase utopian possibilities and provide socially cohesive cocktail-party chatter. A nation expresses ? and defines ? itself as the audience for a particular motion picture at a particular time, and it can be analyzed accordingly.

Weimar-era film critic Siegfried Kracauer, best known as the author of From Caligari to Hitler, was the first to theorize that movies are zeitgeist made material. The fantasies or anxieties they articulate, he wrote, are evidence of a "collective mentality." His reasoning: Motion pictures are collaboratively made for a mass audience. Today, we might add that moviemakers also seek popular consensus; their business is producing fantasies that attract the largest possible audience.

The process, as Kracauer's book title makes clear, has inevitable political ramifications. Movies not only create (or implant) collective memories and realize group fantasies, they articulate a national narrative and can sometimes project a leading man.
Well, this is possible, I suppose. By where does it lead?

Hoberman claims that there are movies whose back stories as well as their plots reflect the political world: John Wayne's "The Alamo" and Kirk Douglas' "Spartacus," two Cold War allegories released in time for the 1960 election, are his examples. The first was "Wayne's long-germinating crusade to warn Americans of the Soviet military threat." Really? The second, "conceptualized primarily by blacklisted lefties, cast rebellious gladiators in terms of heroic entertainers and their revolution in terms of the aspirations of oppressed peoples everywhere." Hoberman then invokes Jean-Luc Godard saying something like the history of film is identical to the film of history.

Do you buy that?

But wait! There's more!

Hoberman claims such movies are, in effect, "produced by their audience, and they tend to be handy symbols of political and cultural polarization." He cites a fact, if it is a fact, that the first President Bush praised Reagan for transforming the U.S. into a nation that preferred "Dirty Harry" to "Easy Rider" - even though both movies appeared during Nixon's first term. And he says that ever since Nixon endorsed "Patton," politicians have sought to be identified with popular scenarios.

It's shorthand, see?

Of course Dennis Kucinich tries to associate his campaign with the recent "Seabiscuit" movie. Since that film kind of disappeared ? no legs (bad pun) ? Dennis has a problem.

Hoberman asserts that Bob Dole's presidential campaign "as the last World War II hero" would only have been helped if "Saving Private Ryan" had been released a year earlier. Maybe.

And Hoberman claims that neither "Black Hawk Down" nor "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" would have had nearly the same emotional impact or meaning had they not been released after September 11, 2002. I can see that. I'm not sure I believe it.

But when Hoberman claims "Thelma and Louise" took on additional resonance for appearing in the aftermath of Desert Storm, "when the angst-inducing issue of women combatants was still a subject of national debate" - well, no. No connection. Bullshit.

But try this.

"The American President" - a 1995 movie designed to showcase the man in the Oval Office as a sexy, heroic single dad (Michael Douglas), might have contributed to the mental state of an impressionable intern named Monica Lewinsky, or even the president himself.

Yep, and seeing Robert Redford in "All the President?s Men" made me write this very sentence. Or influenced me to write that last sentence. Subconsciously. It's the zeitgeist, dummy!

Lewinsky and Clinton. Did the Michael Douglas movie "articulate their fantasies ? and ours?"

That's a long shot.

But this fellow is right. "The American President" made the ongoing alternative reality known as "The West Wing" possible.

Hoberman then makes the big leap. The television show "The West Wing" - along with the Internet - called the feisty, liberal New England-based political character "Howard Dean" into existence.

Oh my.

And I did see a clip from Iowa last week ? Martin Sheen, who stars as the feisty, liberal hero-president on the television show "The West Wing" was standing with Howard Dean, endorsing him.

Hoberman may be onto something.

Of course, also standing next to Dean, endorsing him, was Rob Reiner. I believe a long time ago he played the character named "Meathead" on the television show "All in the Family." But then the television show "All in the Family" was created and produced by Norman Lear, founder and leader of the left-liberal political lobby group, People for the American Way.

It's all coming together for me now. Or not.

Posted by Alan at 09:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Topic: World View

Recommended Reading

This will not make you happy. It is a bit long, but good.

See Another Embittered Rant from a Former Soldier
State of the Union, MLK and 30mm DU
Stan Goff, Counterpunch, January 20, 2003

The core:
I invite readers to click onto this link where...

Enjoy this video, like good pornography. That's what it is... a snuff film. Now we can all have a titillating glimpse of the rarified world of systematic slaughter that some of us carry around in our heads, waiting to crawl out into our dreams.

Don't bother with outrage, because I'm told you will be ignored. No one cares. The news media won't cover it. Congress won't demand an investigation. People will make excuses for it. It is a total violation of the Law of Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, but America doesn't recognize international law any more, so fuck it, right?

Hell, Rusty Calley is healthy and happy selling cars in Georgia, I hear. He and his crew killed almost 400 unarmed civilians in My Lai.

This is our age. You can get away with anything, even filming murder. Last month, a video was released showing a Marine being cheered on by his comrades as he killed a wounded Iraqi. No outrage then either. No investigations. No nothin'.

So you might as well sit back and enjoy it.
I doubt you will.

And there?s this:
'Suffer the French schoolchildren: The hatred Bush hath wrought'
Ted Rall, Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Ted and three other political cartoonists visit a few schoolchildren in Carquefou, France.

It ends thus:
Children get their politics from their parents and teachers, who form their impressions from the media. The European media has covered a different war than the one you've seen on CNN and Fox News. A 14-year-old Iraqi boy, shot by U.S. troops in Baghdad, was interviewed for five minutes on the evening news. "They did it on purpose," he said. "They were laughing." The bloody corpses of Iraqi civilians are standard TV fare here. The Bush Administration is routinely portrayed as greedy, stupid and mean.

Americans can find the truth about our nasty, unwinnable oil war, but they have to dig a little deeper. "The United States is using excessive power," Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, a moderate, pro-American member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told The New York Times Magazine on January 11. "They round up people in a very humiliating way, by putting bags over their faces in front of their families. In our society, this is like rape. The Americans are using collective punishment by jailing relatives. What is the difference from Saddam? They are demolishing houses [of insurgents' family members] now. They say they want to teach a lesson to the people. But when Timothy McVeigh was convicted in the bombing in Oklahoma City, was his family's home destroyed?"

It's striking that al-Yawar knows McVeigh's name. How many Americans can identify any Iraqi other than Saddam Hussein? Most foreigners know more about us than we know about them. Hell, they know more about what we're doing in Iraq than we do ourselves.

Of course, many of us don't give a damn whether French schoolchildren or anyone else think Bush's United States is a land of butchers and thugs. Whether or not we care, however, it matters.
The counterargument is clear. No it doesn?t. We need to be safe and secure no matter what others think.

Or try this:
Anti-Americanism: It isn't just a Middle Eastern thing
Sherri Muzher, Ramallah Online, Wednesday, January 21, 2004

A bit into it you find this:
Take my British friend Charlie. Like so many around the world, he still seethes about events most Americans probably think of as old news - if they think about them at all.

"I cringe when I see America cry to denounce terrorism when just 10 years ago the Americans were welcoming (the Irish Republican Army's) Jerry Adams and Martin McGuiness into their country like homecoming heroes," Charlie wrote me. "I have mourned the death of three male colleagues who died at the hands of the IRA during the early 80s. Why the hell should I want to support the U.S. on terrorism .... Why didn't the U.S. support the UK on her fight to beat terrorism?"
Yeah, well, there are a lot of Irish folks here, particularly in the Boston area.

This item is full of such details. But who cares?
On the one year-anniversary of 9/11, banners at so many public events read "We will not forget." Americans must keep in mind that others, while sympathetic to us, are not forgetting their own horrors, either.
Well, what's wrong with them?

Posted by Alan at 13:52 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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