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Open Thread

2017 May 29
by Ian Welsh

Due to the lack of posts about current events, comments are piling up in older posts. Feel free to comment here on current politics and off-topic items.

26 Responses
  1. Neil Dunn permalink
    May 30, 2017

    An agreeing A. Solzhenitsyn quote:

    https://straightlinelogic.com/2017/05/30/he-said-that-53017/

  2. MojaveWolf permalink
    May 31, 2017

    This thread seems lonely, so let’s give it some company. What are some of our commenter’s favorite works of art? By “art” I don’t just mean painting, but sculpture, music, film, tv, etc.

    We all know Mandos likes “Get Out”, and whatever my other disagreements w/Mandos, it was a fun movie. My only personal complaint about it has nothing to do with the movie, but rather w/the view of many critics who seem to think it’s a documentary.

    One of the creators is Jordan Peele, of Key & Peele fame. If you’ve never seen Key & Peele on YouTube, I recommend giving some of their very funny skits a look. They are at least as likely to skewer the sjw crowd as anyone else, iirc.

    For movies, I’ll give you my four favorite things I’ve seen in the last 10 years: Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the Peter Jackson version of King Kong and Arrival.

    For more purely fun stuff, they really better not screw up Wonder Woman this summer, Marvel should get smacked over the head for not making a Black Widow movie but Lucy was a nice substitute, my favorite superhero movie is probably Captain America: Winter Soldier and my overall favorite series of action movies is Resident Evil

    (speaking of the lead character in Resident Evil and the whole idea of a world overtaken by zombies where someone survives by surviving constant shoot em ups, does anyone else currently watching The Handmaid’s Tale mini-series keep writing versions in their head where Offred breaks into the commander’s office when he is away, goes snooping for info she can use to manipulate him, and instead discovers the commander’s hidden stash of weapons, after which she quickly familiarizes herself w/how to use the Glock 9mm, the Mossberg 500, the Uzi, figures she will know what to do w/the grenade belt when the time comes, and then spends the day watching the commander’s hidden cache of forbidden John Wick, Underworld and Resident Evil movies, after which she calmly steps outside his study, nods to the other servants, and begins walking towards the door. When one of them exclaims “Offred, what the hell?” she answers “Offred doesn’t live here anymore. My name is Alice.” Then she strides out through the front door, takes a deep breath, and begins marching down the sidewalk. Soon, she meets some of the militaristic thugs patrolling the streets, and things start going “BOOM.” (sorry guys, but damn that show is painful to watch and fantasies of her wreaking mayhem and vengeance help keep me sane during)

  3. MojaveWolf permalink
    May 31, 2017

    Continuing to use this thread to inflict my taste on Ian’s readership under the guise of attempting to provoke a discussion:

    Favorite TV shows currently on air: Twin Peaks & Better Call Saul.
    Other tv show still running that is on my all time best ever list but not on right now: Westworld.

    Other current stuff am fond of: Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, The Strain

    Some other all time favorites: Breaking Bad, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Black Sails (only seen through s3 so please no one tell me how it ended!), Daria, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, American Gothic (the 1 season 90’s horror show starring Gary Cole as Sheriff Buck, “Buck with a B”, not whatever is running now w/the same name), My So-Called Life.

  4. V. Arnold permalink
    May 31, 2017

    Dumped my TV in 94; can’t offer much help there.
    Read the first 4 GOT’s and couldn’t bear to read the 5th; too much schtick and manipulation by the author for this one to deal with. Anyway, one man’s opinion…

  5. Brian Holcomb permalink
    May 31, 2017

    Angela…..not Andrea

  6. MojaveWolf permalink
    May 31, 2017

    @v. arnold — I’ll happily discuss books! Stopped where I did because I didn’t know if anyone cared or would even read this thread, given the previous activity level. =)

    I liked A Song of Ice and Fire better than it sounds like you did, though I have almost quit reading several times because of the sheer brutality of what keeps happening to characters I like. A friend of mine quit reading after “A Feast For Crows” because she said “If I wanted something this depressing I’d just look at real life” and “A Dance with Dragons” arguably got worse (both for awful things happening and level of depressingness; it was the first book in the series I really didn’t like; could go on about why for a great length of time). I do LOVE Martin’s writing and he has created some of the most wonderful and memorable characters ever, but the sheer amounts of awfulness being layered on started reaching “excessive” proportions back in A Clash of Kings and just kept piling up. That said I can’t imagine giving up on it, if only because I have to find out what happens to Arya and Brienne and the various wolves and dragons (and some others too!) If you’re watching AGoT the plotlines started to diverge even before the series caught up and passed the books (i.e. Sansa does NOT wind up in the care of Ramsay Bolton–thank God!! It’s horrible enough this is happening to someone we barely know; again w/the excessive horrors piling up, even if such horrors do in fact happen in real world no need to constantly rub our face in them to make your point; Brienne never fought the Hound–he got his injury in a completely different way while badly outnumbered and drunk off his ass–and almost certainly would have gotten massacred in a straight up fight like that–one of the things about her character in the book is that while she’s very, very good she’s not superwoman or “best swordsperson in whole world”. She’s just very good and big and strong and not overconfident and smart about how she fights and too stubborn to quit or back down when others would).

    It’s sooooo hard to remember everything I’ve read over the decades (fiction is either to remember lots; non-fiction I have a bad habit of remembering what the book was about without remembering title or author)(I did make a list once of all time favorites, put it in my old blog, but it is not one of the things tagged “books” or any variation thereof) AND figure out a best-of list at the same time.

    Off the top of my head, for fiction, I’ll throw out Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (this pretty much always takes first in every best-of list I make and has since I first read it back in the 80’s), Neuromancer by William Gibson, I’ll join the crowd and bow to The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, toss in The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, aaaand, okay, if I thought about this a long time I’m pretty sure these books wouldn’t be in my top five and probably not my top 10 but Altered Carbon is the first of the three Takeshi Kovacs books by Richard Morgan and both it and the third, Woken Furies, are very political in a way readers of this blog would appreciate. All three books in the series are completely different as far as how I’d categorize them (though all fall under generally under the “science fiction” heading)–the first I’d call cyberpunk noir, sort of Gibson meets Raymond Chandler, with a large dash of . . . I watch a lot action film/tv, don’t read so many novels like that, so ummm, toss Charles Vane from Black Sails into the lead role of The Maltese Falcon and set the whole thing in a world about 200 years after neuromancer and make class politics an intrinsic and constant part of the story . . . if you ever here me say I wish for a real life Quellist party, this is where it comes from. =)

    (ask me a different time and except for Les Miz, you’d get four different fiction books; I’ve read/liked A LOT over the years)

    Non-fiction? Two different books entitled The Sixth Extinction, most recently by Elizabeth Kolbert (I can’t remember the first one’s author), Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott (I think), Eaarth by Bill McKibben, aaaaand, oh, I’ll finish it out with “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond.

    Also, re: TV: we don’t have a TV either. Netflix and Hulu are wonderful ways to stream stuff on your computer, and a lot of TV networks have now made it possible for you to watch on-demand via YouTube. And the public library here has titles free for older stuff and fairly cheep for 7 day rentals of new titles. The new season of Twin Peaks, for example, showtime has made available for free on YouTube. How many other tv shows have an unplanned 25 year gap ‘tween s2 and s3, but actually had one (deceased) character say to another (the detective investigating her death) “See you again in 25 years?” during a dream sequence during s2 when they still thought s3 was just around the corner? If that’s not a recommendation for a piece of brilliant surrealism, I don’t know what is.

  7. MojaveWolf permalink
    May 31, 2017

    @Brian– Angela? Chase?

  8. highrpm permalink
    May 31, 2017

    arlen ness 70’s-80’s genre digger style custom motorcycles. gold-leafed, engraved, plated, blown.

  9. jcapan permalink
    May 31, 2017

    Mojave Wolf, man you covered a lot. Some great stuff. I also loved Arrival and though I’ve been a fan of Villeneuve for a long time, seeing how well he adapted himself raised my hopes for the Blade Runner sequel. The recent trailer also has me amped up.

    Twin Peaks has been a pleasant surprise so far. I had my doubts over the first two hours or so but once Mr. Jackpots started doing his thing… And My So Called Life! Wow, showing your age there. Can’t tell you how in love I was with Claire Danes at the time. Too bad she wound up putting her formidable talents to work on a show like Homeland.

    And I read Les Mis for the first time just a few years ago. It is such a wonderful book. One of the few doorstoppers I’d never read. Has there ever been a worthy production (non-musical)? That would be gold as a limited run mini-series.

  10. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 31, 2017

    One Of The Most Iconic Scenes In American Cinema

    Masterful movie. I could write a 10,000 word essay about it. But I won’t. Too much else going on.

  11. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 31, 2017

    My Favorite Version Of House Of The Rising Sun

  12. MojaveWolf permalink
    May 31, 2017

    Cool. =)

    Dueling banjos was one of the first songs I ever learned to play on guitar, back in the day (haven’t played in loooong time & probably couldn’t remember how to make a C chord now)(make that definitely, now I try to think on it).

    Ah, Deliverance. Was never quite sure what to make of either book or movie. I did like the movie better than the book but I was older when I saw it.

    Never seen little murders but sounds like it might be worth a try.

    Angela Chase & her friend Rayanne Graff & My So-Called Life were AWESOME. Claire Danes is a brilliant actress; completely deserves whatever awards she’s won for Homeland (confession time: I actually really like that series, for the most part, despite cringing every time I say the name; after all these years I still remember back in 2001 when we created The Department of Homeland Security and staring in horror while “KGB/Stasi/Gestapo/HomelandSecurity” ran together in my brain, and am still in horror that this exists; and this is from someone who is not entirely hostile to the idea of intelligence organizations; but again, name and all my horror at what we have done to the world aside, it’s a worthwhile show imo with some decent and thought-provoking storylines; I thought this last season one of the best)

    I love the musical Les Miz; with you on never having seen a non-musical film of it that I thought did it justice (did enjoy the movie musical but not nearly as much as the stage production).

    New season of Twin Peaks: I lovedlovedloved the first three eps and the Mr Jackpots segment (that was hilarioius!!!!!! and for anyone who hasn’t seen much of it hilarious is mostly not the vibe; more like surrealistic horror mixed w/transcendental mysticism plus various mysteries and murders and power plays and …. people staring at empty boxes for long periods of time to see if anything ever shows up in them. Also, part of me wishes to recommend the beginning to s3e3 to anyone having trouble sleeping due to nightmares, as a calming influence before bed that will help settle you down to sweet dreams; another part of me is terrified someone would fail to detect the mischief in that statement and actually do this, so, ummm, don’t do that). I confess, the rest of e4 left me . . . less happy. My big objection is that the show’s one weakness before, sort of a 50’s era idea of sexual politics, may actually be looking WORSE at this point. But am hopeful for things going forward regardless. And still happy simply that it is back and that it has been mostly satisfying thus far.

  13. MojaveWolf permalink
    May 31, 2017

    Oh, just to deluge people w/more books, novels I forgot earlier that I thought were worthy of mention:
    The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
    The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson
    On the Road by Jack Kerouac
    Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates (also a great movie, albeit the book and film were very different, and Angelina Jolie’s first lead role, I think–either that or Hackers)
    The Riddle of Stars trilogy by Patricia McKillip

  14. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 31, 2017

    This HBO Series Is THE BOMB!!

  15. V. Arnold permalink
    June 1, 2017

    MojaveWolf
    May 31, 2017

    John Taylor Gatto; Underground History of American Education
    David Graeber; Debt, The First 5000 Years
    Ivan Illich; Deschooling Society
    Alison Weir; The Lady Elizabeth
    Alison Weir; Innocent Traitor (A Novel of Lady Jane Grey)

    I’m nuts for history…

  16. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    June 1, 2017

    The Theme Song from one of my favorite movies of all time. Michael Cimino may be a Freak, but he’s a talented Freak and he knocked it out of the park with this one. Heaven’s Gate, which didn’t receive much acclaim and actually quite the opposite, was another great movie of his — it’s Epic.

    Cavatina From The Deer Hunter

  17. DMC permalink
    June 1, 2017

    “Winters Bone” is the movie I reccomended to European friends if they wanted to know what life was REALLY like for a lot of Americans outside the cities. What might have been maudlin and cliche’ ridden in the hands of a lesser director turned out sensitive and insightful. Also liked “American Hustle” as an old fashioned caper film handled with verve and a bunch talent giving the performances of their lives and Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” in two parts, about which one is constantly struck by how unexpected and “not-stupid” every scene is. It merits repeat veiwings just to unpack all the ideas.

  18. MojaveWolf permalink
    June 1, 2017

    Yes to everything re: Winter’s Bone. And American Hustle. And Deer Hunter.

    Not a von Trier fan so never saw “Nymphomaniac”. Tried to watch one movie by him, didn’t finish, can’t remember what it was, but it made him a no-go for me after. I know a lot of people think he’s a great filmmaker and I’m probably missing some stuff, just not for me.

    @V Arnold — The very practical undergrad college student that was me picked up a double minor in history and philosophy to go w/my English major, (not as stupid as it sounds–back then people had different hiring practices and the job market was a lot better besides; liberal arts majors started off making less but were able to catch up quickly because taking classes that helped improve your analytical/problem-solving skills gave you useful skills in ANY workplace)( quite honestly am very glad we don’t have kids and if did would not encourage them to go to college now outside of specialized fields), so get the history love.

    Can’t really say what I remember best from it was particularly relevant to most of the topics on this blog, but will never ever ever forget the story of Heloise and Abelard.

    (probably remember post WWII restructuring of Japan the next best, weirdly enough, as far as things remembered from class and not from reading on my own)(can’t remember titles of most of what I read back then)

  19. MojaveWolf permalink
    June 1, 2017

    Oooooh. @V Arnold or anyone who thinks they know — thoughts on Richard III — misunderstood, tragic hero or the monster Shakespeare portrayed him as?

    I confess my initial thoughts were formed by the historical novel The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kaye Penman, read back in high school or earlier iirc, and they proved unshakable by my European history professor’s view otherwise, but I don’t really know and never really dug to find out. Thinking of historical novels brought that to mind.

  20. MojaveWolf permalink
    June 2, 2017

    And in actual GOOD news today, the California Senate just passed Single Payer!!! It’s actually better than medicare for all — no copays or deductibles! MUCH better than ACA!!!

    Go us!!!

    Seen conflicting reports on dental coverage, which most US bills leave out, but have heard it includes that too . . .

  21. V. Arnold permalink
    June 2, 2017

    @ MW
    “…probably remember post WWII restructuring of Japan the next best…”

    Then William Edwards Deming probably rings yor bell. I spent more than a few years in manufacturing and found the man fascinating.
    Deming taught the Japanese how to kick our ass (so to speak) by implementing Q.C. in manufacturing plants; acoss all product lines.

  22. V. Arnold permalink
    June 2, 2017

    Re: Richard III;
    No doubt, a tragic figure; two rebellions against him and the last English King to die in battle.
    But, as to Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III, I don’t remember how he was cast in the play, sorry.

  23. nihil obstet permalink
    June 2, 2017

    The great arts creation of our generation is long-form TV, aka series as one story rather than individual stand-alone episodes. I found The Wire compelling. And Simon’s Iraq war series Generation Kill is really worth watching. Otherwise, I do not seem to have majority tastes in series. I gave Game of Thrones a season and a half, and then decided it wasn’t worth it, even to know what people are talking about– it’s just too adolescent male fantasy for me, complete with absolutely the creepiest madonna/whore complex I’ve had the misfortune to watch. On Breaking Bad, I had real problems with the lack of realism. If it’s about plot, the plot needs to make sense; if it’s about character, the characters need to have a basic psychological consistency; if it’s social criticism, the social situation has to be depicted reasonably accurately; if it’s none of those things, the show has to be likeable and fun — thumbs down on all of it.

    I tend to like the historical series, Rome, Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood (now those are entertaining evil), The Tudors (I just like the period), The Borgias (mediocre show, but beautiful direction and cinematography). I am currently finding Versailles immensely entertaining. If you like political drama and aren’t distracted by subtitles, I recommend the French series Spin and especially the Danish series Borgen.

    On movies, I’m a Ken Loach fan: The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Kes, Jimmy’s Hall, Bread and Roses, I Daniel Blake . I really like his four part 1975 miniseries Days of Hope about a British family from 1916 through the general strike of 1926, about politics and resistance and cooption.

  24. DMC permalink
    June 2, 2017

    What was terrific about Breaking Bad was how it addressed what has to be the most difficult trick in literature, which is to show how a fundamentally Good man turns to the ways of Evil. Short answer: Pride goeth before the fall. But for an extended meditation on the relativity of Evil, its tough to beat Deadwood. We spend a season and a half building up Swearingin as the epitome of “would slice the throat of a child for slight advantage” evil, and then are slowly introduced to Judge Hearst, who is the very embodiment of impersonal, effective Evil. He only cares about the “the color”, yet people die constantly because of him. He hits town like the ship bearing Dracula, DOOM in its wake. We get to compare and contrast the one who does evil very deliberately and the other who does not intend evil as such but who, in his single minded obsession, causes vast mayhem on an international scale. And what happens when two such are pitted against each other. No wonder the critics could compare it to Shakespeare with a straight face.

  25. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    June 3, 2017

    Breaking Bad was excellent. Walt did not turn evil, or at least not any more evil than had he pursued a career with Monsanto.

    Harm is a matter of scale. How much more harm could Walt have done had he been the leading scientist for Monsanto creating ever better GMO every year? Yet, to many, that’s a moral act for which he is applauded and awarded, despite the fact that GMO is quite literally killing us and the planet systematically. Does Meth ruin lives? Sure it does, and it has. But GMO makes its effects look miniscule in comparison, yet Meth is evil and pernicious…..a plague….an epidemic….and illegal. It’s overuse is precisely because it, and other sundry drugs, are illegal. If there’s one positive point I would have hoped people would have taken away from all this, it’s that Breaking Bad isn’t even an idea if not for The War on Drugs.

    We all take part in destroying lives every day, even our own lives. We contribute to the Cold Evil of the technological cocoon in everything we do, up to and including discussing it here and all it entails for us to be able to do that. This Cold Evil is distinct from Hot Evil where harm and trauma are inflicted in person, hand to hand, or mano y mano, in a very personal and up-close way.

    Walt journeyed from the inoculated and insular Cold Evil existence where he sleepwalked through life as a long-distance killer like all the rest of us, to the tumultuous, up close and personal Hot Evil existence of adrenaline pumping, primal brutality. Each existence is immoral, but I would argue the former is vastly more dangerous, and exacts much more pain and suffering than Walt’s Hot Evil existence, as dramatic and theatrical as it was.

    Cold Evil: Technology and Modern Ethics

    For many of us during the Vietnam War era there was little confusion about ethics or evil. “Evil” was no enigma or dilemma; it seemed easy to recognize. We saw as evil the greed of Wall Street and its neo-colonialist drive to maintain control of Third World resources. Evil was clearly represented in what we regarded as the rapacious U.S. military from General Westmoreland (whose name we always pronounced “west-more-land”) to the Commander-in-Chief himself, the reviled President Johnson. Vietnam era “villains” such as these fit a familiar ethical scenario for us. Driven by greed, power, or ambition they were led to corruption, crime, and violence. We protested, were arrested, and eventually contributed to ending the war.

    I have always been proud of my years in the anti-war movement. Not many generations can say that they helped stop a war by means of acts of conscience. However, we certainly did not halt “evil.” And evil still seems easy to recognize. Wars have proliferated over the decades, as have terrorism and fanaticism of all sorts. Everywhere we still see the drive for power and the lure of greed. Moreover, our media are inundated with reports of individuals in the heat of hatred, prejudice, lust, neurosis, or misplaced religious fervor committing heinous crimes and causing enormous suffering. Each day, it seems, there is a media melange of murders, rapes, kidnappings, hate and sex crimes, domestic violence. As we become exposed to these daily horrors I, like many others, often wonder with a shiver, “What could have possessed the people who committed those acts?” At other times, feeling the potential “heat” of such evil-doing in myself, I think, “There but for the grace of God . . . .”

    Yet the poignancy of the pilot’s dilemma has continued to prod me into a more difficult and subtle exploration of “evil,” the kind that is not so easily recognizable. When reviewing so many events of the last century (dubbed “the ruthless century” by poet Czeslaw Milosz) I was confronted again and again with a different and more enigmatic ethical problem than the obvious “hot” evil scenarios of violence, greed, crime, prejudice, and hatred that have become so familiar. It is certainly true that untold billions of human beings died terrible deaths in the wars of the past century, but a huge percentage of these victims were not killed face to face, accompanied by shouts of passion or hate, but rather from great distances in anonymous slaughter. Almost one-and-a-half million young men (shockingly, their average age was 17 years) were cut down in the battle of the Sommes in World War I. The vast majority were killed by machine-gun and mortar fire. They did not see their killers face to face.

    Less than thirty years later hundreds of thousands of non-combatants —mostly women, children, and old men—were incinerated in the span of just a few minutes in the atomic “flashes” over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, death delivered coldly and anonymously from 20,000 feet above. For much of the last half of the twentieth century a nuclear arms race pushed the world to the brink of Armageddon—the unimaginable final destruction of all society and nature by missiles and planes poised on a computer trip line. More recently, the public has been jolted by revelations of a whole new genre of global environmental threats to the biosphere itself, almost unthinkable perils to life on earth that we had not even suspected existed: ozone depletion, global warming, species extinction, acid rain, desertification, deforestation. Which evil people are responsible for these eco-catastrophes? And even as we produce ever more food, hunger increases at an astounding rate so that close to one billion people are starving every day. Who is starving these people?

    Here we arrive at a central problem for modern ethics. Evil has never been so omnipresent as it has been over the past century, so perilous to the earth and the very future of humanity. Yet there seem to be very few evil people. It would be difficult for many of us to name any evil people we know personally. The very idea of our society being characterized by masses of evil people seems somewhat comical. All in all, there is a striking paucity of modern Mephistopheleses. And virtually no one identifies oneself as evil. Obviously, few of us relish the thought that our automobile is causing pollution and global warming or laugh fiendishly because refrigerants in our air conditioners are depleting the ozone layer. I have been in many corporate law firms and boardrooms and have yet to see any “high fives” or hear shouts of satisfaction at the deaths, injuries, or crimes against nature these organizations often perpetrate. And as noted, bomber pilots tend to be viewed as heroes, not as mass murderers. We are confronted with an ethical enigma; far from the simple idea of evil we harbored in the past, we now have an evil that apparently does not require evil people to purvey it.

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