American Midnight, by Adam Hochschild

I don’t know why I add my 2 cents to every book and movie I read or see, because there’s so many people out there doing the same and it’s sort of pointless.

But one things this book and author did which has been driving me crazy for about 100 years, is he made a very forceful distinction that what we used to call “race riots,” was just a way of making ourselves believe that it was black people who were rioting. He states clearly that almost all the riots that we refer to as race riots were “white race” riots.

And the very sad thing about this period: of 1917 to about 1922 is that that it has continued to infect this country, even to this day, as Trump, son of a Klansman and raised to hate blacks and women, tries to scuttle congressional negotiations on the border, in order to have an issue to run on.

In the very last pages of the book, he mentions Fred Trump’s arrest during his participation in a Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens, but anyone with even some slight memory of hearing about Hollywood and “naming names,” and Eugene McCarthy and even the movie Oppenheimer where they’re grilling everyone about being a member of a union or the communist party, knows that the crimes that started in World War I under the administration of Woodrow Wilson continued year after year, including the disenfranchisement of blacks in the south.

But I just read one of the most astute opinion essays the NY Times has ever published — and I’ll look for the link later — but the thrust of the article is how our institutions and in particular the Supreme Court — have blank-washed history to make the story of for example, native Americans and the white immigrants that came to this country, non-existent. She was using Killers of the Flower Moon as an example: the main character of that movie is basically killing, beating and even poisoning his wife, an Osage Indian with whom he has two children, in order to steal her money. The Robert DeNiro character is a horror: talking about the superior qualities of the Osage and his love of the Osage, all the while plotting to murder them so he can marry into their money and take it.

And then recently, I saw a brief clip of Bill Maher talking to Quentin Tarrentino about the movie 1917. I shut off the interview because I loathe Bill Maher and am just barely able to tolerate Quentin, but in the brief moment I heard Bill Maher say that they couldn’t make 1917 today because there are rules about minority representation and inclusion and, he said, “unfortunately there were no blacks in world war 1.” Well this is utterly false and a perfect symbol of the word I invented up there: “blank-washing.” More than 300,000 black men participated in World War I, mostly as ditch diggers and other menial tasks, and they were heavily segregated. (This is still the Woodrow Wilson era, who was probably one of the most racist presidents we have, up until the recent you know who.) In addition there were fighting troops, namely the Harlem Hellfighters, who suffered worse casualties than many of the white companies. And this book talks at length about their hope that they would be treated as Americans but were instead hounded out of prosperous cities like Tulsa by white rioters, and the white terrorism of lynching blacks continued for another 50 or 60 years, and sometimes still takes place. But as far as Bill Maher is concerned, no blacks served in World War I and because of the burden of having to include p.o.c. in movies, 1917 couldn’t have been made.

Anyway, this book is an eye opener and should become a standard text for understanding the last 120 years of American behavior and why, as Joseph Campbell put it, Woodrow Wilson joined America with England’s attempt to remake the world as a white one.

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Troilus and Cressida, by Shakespeare

I attended a fairly famous production of this play in the summer of 1981 but I can’t find any information about it online. It offended hordes of people because the director staged it like an S&M fever dream, with Achilles decked out in full leather gear and Patroclus wearing leather chaps and jock strap. There was a little homosexual kissing, and this and that. I was in London, enrolled in a class called Shakespeare In Performance, and a second class about Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot. We saw about 21 plays in 2 months.

Anyway many of the people in my class were horribly offended and couldn’t stop using the word faggot to describe the actors and the show itself.

Others were offended by the offended and told them to grow up. Basically I think the director was trying to show how Troy, in its 7th year, was simply devolving into decadence, in the same way that William Friedkin tried to show that every gay man in the world was turning to S&M sex in “Cruising,” which came out a few years before. That wasn’t true, of course, and despite what so many weirdo Christians think, Rome didn’t collapse because it was tolerant of homosexuals.

Anyway, every time someone tries to modernize Shakespeare it’s because they want to show the similarities between what he wrote then and what’s happening now. (Most of the time.) This one was good to read — although it was a tough read I must say — because of the fatigue of the war. The Trojan war was said to have lasted a decade and this takes place about the 7th year. Everyone’s forgotten why they are fighting and Helen, herself, doesn’t seem to understand that all these soldiers going and coming from war are fighting because of her. Everyone is corrupt — even to a certain extent the characters who give the play its title. It reminded me of how (as Maureen Dowd put it this morning) a monster is feasting on America. Everyone is exhausted.

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Rights. Immunity. By America and various other naive democracies.

There are no such things as rights. No one is born with rights. A baby doesn’t have a right to be born and an elder person doesn’t have a right to compassionate care. You don’t have the right to read, eat or pee or own a weapon, whether it be knife or a gun. Rights are invented and I think it was very important that our declaration of independence speaks of rights as being inalienable rather than God given. Most people tend to say, “It’s my God given right to… whatever.” No it’s not. “God,” if you will, aborts more babies than any medical abortion, through miscarriages. Those babies did not have a right to be born and even if somehow, the universe stated that they did have the right to be born, the biggest serial killer of all, defied that right through miscarriages.

Inalienable actually means that the right established as inalienable can’t be transferred to someone else, like a king, or taken away or removed by law. Luckily, or maybe not, the declaration only mentions three inalienable rights and they pertain to living humans: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It does not mention property, no matter how hard George Bush tries to insist that it does. These are purposely vague terms, but paired with the term inalienable they are powerful. It would take the bill of rights to get into the specifics.

Anyway, the point of this is that Trump, instead of suing for blanket immunity during his time as president — Richard Nixon was the last president to assert this but sort of acknowledged that it wasn’t going to play. Anyway, he should be thanking his lucky stars that there is no immunity for him because it is the rule of law that has allowed him to continue to thrive.

When you think about leaders who reach that stage of hubris where they can’t be touched — in other words — immune, the world reaches out and proves that you are exactly wrong. Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife were marched into a courtyard and right up to the moment that were shot in the head, kept stating that “you can’t do this.” Mussolini, not to mention his boy toy Hitler, thought they were immune and eventually discovered they were not immune at all — Hitler taking the coward’s way of suicide in his bunker and Mussolini ending up hung upside down from a telephone line.

Other examples — unfortunately too numerous to go into much detail: Pol Pot, Pinochet, Stalin, Lenin, Franco, hundreds of African despots, the Guptas of South Africa and Jacob Zuma, King Msweti of eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and Robert Mugabe, Khaddafi and the current ruler of Turkey, Erdogan (who has not met his end yet) and Belarus’s Lukashenko and of course, Putin, who apparently plans to take his place among his former leaders. Some of these people just end up in ill health and die of disease. All of them, think or thought that they were immune.

In the United States, it is the peaceful transfer of power which prevents people rising up and killing their leaders (although Trump tried to create a coup against himself, technically, and felt his troops would kill the other people.) As so many people, frustrated by the naturally slow tendencies of the court system to get things right, have said, “Why isn’t he in jail?” Well it’s for the very reason that he is now trying to destroy. The law. Without the law he and his wife could be taken out and shot, all the while insisting that “they” can’t do that.

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Trust, a Game of Greed.

I wouldn’t normally write about something as stupid as a television show. I’m sympathetic to Elaine in Seinfeld who told Russell (the president of NBC) that he was “part of the problem.” But this show is so incredibly stupid and there’s something that sets it apart from something like Survivor or even Big Brother, which is that it is comprised mostly of millenials, or Gen Y. There are a few from other generations, but I think mostly these are people who are not much older than 40 — most in their late 20s and 30s — and they are… to be blunt… idiots.

How can they not see that 3 of the women have formed an alliance and decided, the first episode, to vote out one of the guys they didn’t like? They are so naive they still think, even after a second person was voted out, that they are one happy family. They talk about how some “deserve” to be there more than others, because they’ve had to suffer a lot more and work much harder to get where they are. They almost all of them think that they are successful people in the world. The woman from Nigeria who came onto the show talking about how she was all about Africa and being from Nigeria and that was her entire identity (and she was wearing the jewelry and clothing to prove the point) got upset when a white guy referred to her as an African queen. Instead of pointing out that that is her identity and that she pushes it on people and rarely stops talking about it (except when she is plotting with the other women of who to vote off), he apologized, assuming that to refer to her identity as an African person is akin to using the N word in the way Bill Mahr did. What’s even worse, she was charmed by his apology.

It’s a show I’ll probably watch with reluctance, and with the hope that the old woman gets kicked off as soon as possible.

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May December, by Todd Haynes

Many people don’t know this, but it is not legal or possible for an underage child to give consent. They can say they wanted the relationship. They can say they wanted the sex. But legally, they do not have the right to do so.

This is sort of the unspoken truth at the heart of May December — that Julianne Moore. as a 36 year old woman, seduced and fucked a 13 year old boy. Their sex resulted in a daughter which she had during her time in prison. Later, out of prison, she married him and they had twins. But in trying to do the math, it seems like he may have been 18 when she got pregnant with their twins and the older daughter was conceived when he was 13 — there seems to be about 4 or 5 years between the siblings. In any event, the boy, Joe Yoo, played by Chris Melton, is now 36 himself which makes Gracie (Moore) 59 or 60. He still insists it was what he wanted: that he wasn’t like other kids. But the intrusion of Natalie Portman, an actress named Elizabeth, is going to temporarily bring some of these unspoken truths to the surface. Elizabeth is there to study Gracie, but her presence brings doubt to Joe’s world, and doubt is what makes a story interesting. Gracie has no doubt — still — decades later — does not think she has done anything wrong. But if you look, like a jury might, she tells herself lies to keep this fantasy going. One, is that she says Joe was in charge (of the pet shop where they met). That he was in charge and he was the one who seduced her. It was already established that Gracie was working there and hired him to help out. Another clue – is that when Elizabeth starts filming a new movie about this scandal, she is shown seducing Joe (and the actor playing Joe for this scene looks nothing like a 13 year old.) Joe may have believed he wanted it, but in a powerful bedroom scene/fight, he says to her “What if I was too young..” (to make that decision.) That’s when her lies come out.

Scotty Bowers (of the Hollywood gas station), told in the documentary about him, that he lived across from a monastery, and as a 13 year old, walked across the street to get to know some of the monks and have sex with them. The interviewer said, “But that’s illegal,” and Scotty shot back, quite angrily, “It was what I wanted.” But this is what so many people don’t understand about the law and statutory rape. He was too young to give consent and the monks that he had sex with, even if he initiated it, were committing statutory rape.

Gracie, in her final line, says to Elizabeth, “I’m confident.” It’s a strange quirky line, and, in fact, we’ve seen many instances of her having extremely bizarre breakdowns — one about losing a cake client (she bakes cakes for a living, but basically has five customers who are just doing her a favor) that sends her into fits because she’s going to have a cake go to waste. And another where she irrationally complains that Joe smells like the barbecue grill. But I think that final line means, “I’m deluded and am going to stay that way.” This is quite sad because in the meantime, Joe has been questioning their whole relationship and I was quite convinced that he was going to have to leave. But that “I’m confident,” line ended it. It tells us that she still doesn’t believe she has done anything wrong, whatsoever.

Yet after viewing it twice (once in the theatre and once on the tv), it becomes even more clear that Joe has missed out on nearly everything that young people are meant to go through. He went from 13 to 36 with his abuser dictating the rules of their relationship — the main one being that they cannot talk about their relationship. Even Joe’s relationship to his children is so strained and awkward. The son can barely call him “dad,” and it’s only when they share a joint that Joe and his son make a small attempt to be a normal father and son. That moment, of course, is stifled by Gracie.

It’s a very interesting movie, but in thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever quite despised a lead character as much as this one. And Elizabeth, the actress who can’t possibly be very good, is just as despicable.

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Here We Are, by Stephen Sondheim and others.

This is being touted as Stephen Sondheim’s last musical, but it is not. The last musical he wrote which reached Broadway was Assassins. He wrote another musical which was called Road Show out of town and Bounce when it made it to the public theatre. This, which I saw last night, was an idea that never went anywhere beyond the first act. The second act has a single song and is basically a play version of Luis Bunuel’s movie “The Exterminating Angel.” The first act is more complete, musically, and is entirely based on Bunuel’s movie, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise.”

I’m not really sure why they decided to stage this unfinished mess. Even before they had a couple of staged readings, Sondheim had already stated in 2006 that he could no longer create.

And it’s apparent. I think if he had wanted to finish this, he would have. The first announcement that he was going to collaborate with David Ives was in 2014. There was a staged reading in 2016. Work stopped for awhile and then another reading with Nathan Lane and Bernadette Peters took place in 2019. Sondheim died in 2021 and then some producers and Joe Mantello decided to mount it in 2023. But why? It’s not finished. There’s very little music. But essentially I don’t think Sondheim or David Ives really got to the core of why this musical should exist. They might have, when the music was done and edits were made. The movies are clearly a criticism of wealth and bourgeois people. But this doesn’t come through, at least in the staging. In the exterminating angel part, you don’t get the sense that these people could leave through a wide open door but are unable to for no apparent reason. Eventually, in the movie, they accept that they can’t leave — that they are trapped. And once they have accepted their imprisonment, they become vicious and violent (in the movie). In this, they just are. They don’t deteriorate into violence and ruthlessness. They aren’t elevated. The young couple who kills themselves in the movie only joke about it in this staged version. Everything that was “Bunuel,” about the movie is lost in this staging, and at the end I really couldn’t say what I had watched. I watched a staged reading of a play that cost more than $100.

Now David Hyde Pierce was very good, and in the second act there was a lovely song called, “It’s the end of the world,” (as we know it) (I think.) Bobby Canavale and Denis O’Hare were also extremely good. Bobby Canavale, in fact, has gotten to be so much better of an actor than he was at the beginning of his career, it’s quite exciting to see.

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The Zone of Interest, by Jonathan Glazer, based on the novel by Martin Amis

I’m not sure if they actually released a movie poster for this film, but this seems to be at least a poster for the movie when it played at Cannes.

I’m not a Martin Amis fan so I have not read the book, but apparently Jonathan Glazer radically re-adapted this novel to fit his vision of what evil looks like. There are also a few flaws with his adaptation and one is that you have to understand something about Auschwitz in order to understand the movie.

Without an understanding of what the “ovens” meant, or “ash,” or random gunfire, trains heading toward a walled camp, and the barbed wire on those same walls, you’d probably not understand a thing about this movie.

I was pretty certain, and I was right, that horrible reviewers like Manhola Dargis would bring up the “banality of evil,” phrase that Hannah Arendt coined, but I don’t think this movie is about the banality of evil, but much more about how ordinary and perhaps — even more important — untalented people can blind themselves to the horrors that they are inflicting on, in this case, about 3,000,000 prisoners. And yet, are they blind? Or is there some moral flaw in the human mind that rationalizes the wrongs being committed in order to keep living in paradise. (The mother of this clan — Hedwig Höss — referes to their home as a paradise.)

Just to go back and do a plot summary, this movie is about Rudolph Höss, who was the commandant of Auschwitz death camp for about four years. He and his family lived in the southeast corner of the original Auschwitz prisoner camp and they apparently lived a very luxurious life, with a large garden, a small swimming pool, a backyard gazebo, and a lot of slave labor to help them maintain it. The movie focuses solely on these people and their children. It never once shows us what’s going on inside those walls. Other than the slave labor, it doesn’t show anything except how this family ignores — but that’s not the right word — embraces maybe — the killing that’s happening on the other side of the barbed wire.

A small detail early on is when a prisoner pushing a wheelbarrow, comes through the camp to the back door of the commandant’s residence and drops off two sacks. They contain clothing, and one contains a full length fur. Hedwig allows her laborers to take whatever they want from one sack, but takes the sack containing the fur to her room and shuts the door. She tries it on to see how glamorous she looks and that single act, suggests she knows absolutely what’s going on and what she is participating in. A little later you hear some Polish or German women laughing about one of the slave laborer’s taking a tiny little Jewess’s dress and not fitting into it.

Auschwitz 1 is still there. It was originally a prisoner for Russian p.o.w.’s, but eventually, under Höss ‘s command, it became a death camp. The home is in the lower right in this google map photo. It’s labelled Don Komendanta obozu, which I think means The Commandants abode. In the movie, the garden and pool extended up NNW in that clear space which looks like a small field. Toward the top of the photo with the red arrow is the first crematorium. In the movie, this chimney is seen constantly smoking or burning orange and red.

When the Germans expanded their extermination campaign, other camps were built in the area — they have different names like Auschwitz-Birkenau, etc., and were march larger.

There are a multitude of reactions in this family to what’s going on in that camp. One girl has become a sleepwalker, and using a thermal camera the director captures her sleepwalking dreams which mainly consist of her gathering apples and leaving them in places for, presumably, the prisoners. A boy can’t stop staring at the flames coming from the chimney because he’s troubled by them. Most effective, however, is Hedwig’s mother, who has come to stay with them for an unspecified time, but it seems like it’s supposed to be a permanent move. She is horrified by the smoke (and when the wind changes direction the smell comes into the house in paradise and all the windows have to be shut) and without saying a word to her daughter or anyone else, she packs up and leaves. And Rudolph, when he is at some big gala in some town that is quite far from their home, calls his wife and tells her that he mostly spent the night thinking about how he would gas this crowd and explains that the ceilings are too high there.

Höss’s testimony at Nuremberg was creepy and horrifying. (The movie ends long before he is caught and tried.) Basically he admits that he killed and burned between 1.5 and 3 million people, but that he didn’t really keep the numbers. And basically, the psychology behind what happened there and elsewhere has occupied minds (like Sigmund’s daughter Anna Freud) and others for the last 75 years and is ongoing, as we can see with so many Trump/Maga people who are calling for the extermination of liberals and leftists and with Trump himself starting to use Hitler style language such as “infecting our blood,” and “vermin.”

But for me, that fur coat scene tells you nearly everything you need to know about how we blind ourselves to the evil we do. As long as the gifts keep coming, we can reduce people to others, and then never have to look at them again. And I for one, think this adaptation perfectly encapsulated how we commit evil by not seeing it.

Höss, like all cowards, tried to hide as a gardener. But he was found by a Nazi hunter, tried and was hanged. At the request of survivors he was executed at Auschwitz. He was the last execution in Poland. He wrote some interesting letters to his family after (after!) he knew he was going to be executed. He wrote that he had blindly believed in what his superiors said and their philosophy, and he told his son never to believe without questioning. (I’m paraphrasing of course.) But I have to take that contrition with a grain of salt, because he had basically been a career criminal before he ended up joining the SS. He was always on that path and probably always had murder in his heart.

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Saltburn, by Emerald Fennell

Another outsourced review of The Times by Wesley Morris gave this a terrible rating, and boring. It is anything but.

As I wrote about when doing my own review of Promising Young Woman, the question the writer is asking (of herself and of us, as watchers) is whether or not the main character is in love with a secondary character. In Promising Young Woman, if you look closely, you can see that she wasn’t just devastated by the suicide of her friend after her friend had been group raped, she was devastated by the loss of her love.

In this, Oliver (Barry Keoghan) appears to be in love with an upper class college student named Felix (Jacob Elordi). He gets himself invited to spend the summer at his family’s estate which is called Saltburn. And then he starts to get a little weird. It’s riveting and not at all boring. By the time you understand what is actually going on it becomes a little like the end of PYW when they find the locket. It all comes together in a kind of tied up package. Oh… he’s a clever psychopath. But the question still remains, did he love Felix? He even asks this question over and over at the beginning of the movie and then the camera cuts away suddenly, as if he finally realized the answer but the director decided not to let us hear him. Later, when we return to that room, we find out. The uber rich live like they have no predators… except one.

Anyway, the reviewer this time has (I’m quoting) has written about the moral force of civilian cellphone videos, Hollywood’s addiction to racial reconciliation fantasies, and the endangerment of romantic comedies. I don’t think he was the right person to review this very entertaining movie. Stick to articles about cellphones.

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I don’t think it’s necessary to add who wrote this.

This version was very helpful in that half of the book is the Oxford World’s Classics essay about the play. The play itself only takes up about less than half of the book, and a lot of that is footnotes.

What I was curious about with regard to this play — the last of his tragedies, presumably — is that people have said it is one of the “gayest” characters Shakespeare wrote, yet he is basically nothing but an extremely fierce and brutal warrior. I wanted to see what was so “gay” about him and, of course, there isn’t anything gay about him.

Except for the fact that Shakespeare, throughout, constantly equates battle with sexuality. One character even goes so far as to say that nothing could excite him more than going head to head with Coriolanus, even more than standing on the threshold of his bedroom with his new wife waiting for him. There’s a homoerotic feeling that pervades the entire play, but it is not explicit.

Anyway, I’m not qualified to write about Shakespeare, even though I tried at University.

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The Mandate

At first this post was about the British Mandate of Palestine and how Israel was created out of it after the second world war. But I decided that with all the various problems and opinions flying around, that it’s probably wrong to talk about Palestine and Israel at all.

In this region, historically, you have victims oppressing other victims. You have “white savior” syndrome in the manner of The Crusades (which I haven’t read a lot about, but which I have rudimentary understanding that it was Christians, circa 1100, starting wars to “take back” the land from the Moslems.) (not a spelling mistake). Even today, and I know some of these people, you have Evangelical Christians who are trying to get Jews to return to Israel in order to speed up the return of Christ.

But from 1921 — roughly — the entire area after World War I was designated as various mandates and administered by 3 European countries: England, France and Belgium. There were 16 mandates in all, and I don’t know the reason for them except that the world was still in the process of drawing the great big map. That’s still going on, for example, in Ukraine which is attempting to keep itself free and separate from the maw of Russia; and South Sudan, which I think is the most recent country to be created.

The Ottoman empire (also known as the Turkish empire) lasted until the end of the first world war and it extended throughout this territory, all the way down the west coast of Saudi Arabia. After WWI, the victors (England, France and Belgium and maybe the United States, although I don’t know for sure), created 5 mandates out of this region, one of which was never realized (The Mesopotamian mandate which instead became Iraq, a British Mandate.) The one that everyone is fighting over is the Palestine mandate.

Every writer, artist and poet knew, after the fighting of World War I stopped, that the issues had not been resolved. Everyone rushed into World War I thinking that it was time to get it over and settled. But it settled nothing at all. And 21 years later Hitler began it all again. It’s interesting to note that at one time, Hitler and his henchmen came up with a plan to deport all Jews to Palestine and Syria, but weren’t able to because of logistics. It wasn’t much later that they formalized their plan to murder all Jews in German-conquered Europe as well as neutral territories like Portugal, Switzerland and Spain.

In any event, it was in recognition of the fact that this horrific crime had been committed against the Jewish people (or the “race” of Jews, as Germany incorrectly called them) that Israel was formed from part of the mandate of Palestine and Britain gave up control. From here, I’ll say no more.

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