Steven Spielberg teaches us about freedom of the press with “The Post”

Steven Spielberg has given us a valuable history less on freedom of the press in his Oscar season masterpiece, “The Post”.

The film is transparent and clear to follow. Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is taking The Washington Post public on the American Stock Exchange.  In the early summer of 1971, The New York Times publishes the first installment of The Pentagon Papers as leaked by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), while the Post feels embarrassed at the time by competing only with a story of a Nixon family wedding. The Nixon administration gets a court to enjoin the NYT, as the case heads for the Supreme Court. But a mole tracks down Daniel Ellsberg in a motel and gets 4000 pages more of material and delivers the stuff to the Post. The paper has to weigh the risks of indictment (if they reasonably know that the leak of classified material is the same as for the NYT) and ruining the public offering. The decision winds up in, well, a woman’s hands and that is a good thing.

The film obviously matters now given President Trump’s constant threats to the press, and the whole issue of “opening up libel laws” to function more like Britain’s.

The film opens with a war scene in Vietnam set in 1966, with an infantry patrol in the jungles, and many body bags. Soon we see a reported typing.  Combat journalism is itself a risky occupation.

We also see the technology of the times, pre-internet, when people used pay phones and typewriters, and we see the actual typesetting of the Post edition, almost as we might have in a 50s film.

I spent the summer of 1968 in the Pentagon after finishing Basic Training. I suspect one reason I was transferred is that “they” didn’t want me to “find out” some things.  I suspect that the papers included material about “McNamara’s morons” (book review coming). Bruce Greenwood plays the over-elite Defense Secretary, who knew right off that the NYT piece was bad for him. One issue that comes up in the film is whether the release of the Papers could jeopardize soldiers (often draftees) on the Vietnam patrols.

I had a misadventure seeing it at the Ballston Quarter Regal.  The garage elevators failed, with an electrical problem due to moisture and rapid warmup after a freeze.  I already had a ticket. At my insistence, the security guard let us use the fire stairs to get to the theater.

Tom Hanks and Sarah Paulson play Bradlees.  It’s interesting to see how much work was done in private homes.  The New York Times runner (Luke Slattery) is quite charismatic himself; this was during the days before bicycle messengers (or Internet pdf’s for that matter).

The end of the film gives us a “sneak” of Watergate, after Nixon banned reporters from the White House. Nixon would develop the peace agreement that stopped most American fighting in January 1973.

The film skipped the musical fanfares of the various companies at the beginning, which is unusual for 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks, which haven’t been paired together as far as I recall.

It’s also interesting that Mr. Spielberg stayed with the 1.85:1 aspect ratio format for this film, which in some ways almost seems like a stage play.

Legacy review of “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”.

Name: “The Post”
Director, writer:  Steven Spielberg
Released:  2017/12/22
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Ballston Quarter, 2018/1/12, daytime, fair crowd (logistical problems in the building held down the crowd)
Length:  103
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Participant Meida
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, January 12, 2018 at 7:30 PM)

“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”: biography of a gay “real writer”

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, aired on PBS Independent Lens New Years Day, and in parallels yesterday’s film about Joan Didion as another biography of a “real” career writer.  Why does the title remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Tanglewood Tales” (and even “Twice-Told Tales“), and American literature in 11th grade English?

Armistead grew up around Raleigh, North Carolina in the shadow of conservative senator Jesse Helms.  He first learned southern plantation values, including saying “ma’am” and “sir” (something I found degrading before my own Army days) and a certain embed of segregationism.  He then worked as a journalist in Charleston S.C.  But his life changed when he got a job with the Associated Press in San Francisco in 1971 and personally discovered Castro Street.  He was born one year later than me, and his “coming out” occurred at about the same time as mine (Chapter 3 of my 1997 “Do Ask, Do Tell” I book).

He soon got an opportunity to write a series about San Francisco, “Tales of the City”, for a Marin County paper.  Eventually the series wound up being published by the San Francisco Chronicle. The series would morph into a series of novels, with situations involving both gay and straight characters, sometimes the boundaries of the straight world being breached, perhaps by bisexuality.

Armistead would meet Rock Hudson and eventually out him, when Rock was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid 1980s (and died). Gradually, the idea that some major Hollywood staples are gay would become evident.  Armistead would become involved with the gradual inclusion of gay material in mainstream television, and even its funding by PBS, which would enrage social conservatives over “family values”.

Armistead wrote his “Tales” at work on a typewriter.  In those days, that is more how writers actually worked (as in the Didion film).

I came to writing a totally different way, as I had an income-producing career in information technology.  So I wrote from my own narrative what I thought had to be said.  I may have been ego-centric or deluded, but when I was in the Army I thought my 1960 cursive diary “The Proles” (also DADT III Chap 7) was the most important expose in the world, even if it was my own world (of “chicken man”).

Castro district in San Francisco (wiki).  My most recent visit: Not since February 2002.  Need to get there again.  I remember going to a poetry reading at the bookstore (Dog Eared Books) shown in the film.

Name:  “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”
Director, writer:  Jennifer M. Kroot
Released:  2017/3
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS 2018/1/1, 10:30 PM
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST)

“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold”: biography of a “real” writer


Griffin Dunne’s biographic documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (2017) presents a reasonably straightforward documentary of the American writer, now 83 and living in Sacramento, CA, near where she grew up. It often presents her now speaking for herself.

The title of the film is a bit enigmatic, but her own philosophy seems to stress atomization and quantum-like unpredictability of life.

Didion’s writing philosophy is a bit like mine , with her “new journalism”, where she presents non-fiction narratives as if they were novel plots, using irony wherever if occurs. But she was able to do this with subject matter other than her own life, which I have not.  She has been an old-fashioned professional writer, hired to do pieces (on typewriters in the pre-computer days), as on her first job with Vogue, where her first assignment was about self-respect or self-concept.

The most interesting part of her output, as presented in the film, seems to be a personal account, “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2006), which she would adapt as a stage play.  I haven’t read it (yet) but is sounds a bit like the way I approached my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997).

But she wrote a number of novels, getting very much outside of herself. The most interesting of these seems to be “Play It as It Lays” which she adapted to a screenplay. She also authored “Panic in Needle Park”.

The film shows her interest early in life in the welfare of California farm workers, including migrants. In New York, she took an interest in The Central Park Five case (which Ken Burns made into a documentary film in 2012, legacy review), and the film quotes a younger Donald Trump.

A possible fiction comparison would be provided by the Coen Brothers 1991 film “Barton Fink” (Fox), with John Turturro.

Name:  “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold”
Director, writer:  Griffin Dunne
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play, 2017/12/31
Length:  94
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Monday, January 1, 2018, at 11 AM EST)The

“The Man Who Invented Christmas”: Charles Dickens authors “A Christmas Carol” as he lives his own ghost story

Bharat Nalluri’s “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a layered meta-telling of Charles Dickens’s classic novel “A Christmas Carol”, by dramatizing his writing of it. Actually, the full title of the novella (quite literary in the sense of high school English indeed) is “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas”, published December 19, 1943 and selling out copies (that is, “instances” in OOP-speak) in record numbers for the time.  The film is actually based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Les Standiford, as adapted for the screen by Susan Coyne.

The film, a well-staged period piece, presents Dan Stevens as the young author, reeling from a few commercial failures (like “American Notes for General Circulation”), as the film starts with his giving the equivalent of a Ted talk on an American stage.

Dickens approaches investors and considers “self-publishing” (he hardly needed the vanity, but he needed to get his career going) and has to borrow some money.  This was a time when books really did have to sell;  there was no capability of allowing freeloaders on the Internet.  The film gets into the relationship with his father (Jonathan Pryce) and an Irish immigrant, Tara (Anna Murphy).  There is enormous pressure to get the cursive manuscript done in six weeks, and illustrated (Simon Callow).

Along the way Dickens has his own visions of the characters, perhaps in dreams or some sort of meditation, as the ghosts return and regret the limitations of their afterlives.  Most compromised of all is Ebeneezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, who pretty much starts out as the same character as John Paul Getty in yesterday’s film – “nothing”). Tara convinces Charles to have Scrooge change heart an save Tiny Tim and adopt or godfather him as family.

Scrooge’s motivation, as a ghost, seems to be obsessed with his own idea of righteousness, and doesn’t want to give in to making others who seem to fail “all right”.  Tiny Tim would present an existential challenge to the aims of his personality. He has to change, or be changed.

I wasn’t aware of the claim that the exaggerated winter solstice festivities of the Christmas season really started with this novel in England.

Donald Trump, as we know, has been bragging that he can bring Christmas back again (MAGA indeed).

The film now has little availability in theaters, having been released a little early for Christmas. I made a “night day trip” and saw it at Countryside Regal Cinemas in Sterling VA.  The theater was very crowded for other films, much more so than many other theaters. Despite popular beliefs, the audiences in this upscale area of northern Virginia look quite diversified.

A Christmas Carol” has been made into a feature film several times, most notably in 2009 in 3-D by Disney and Robert Zemeckis with Jim Carrey (legacy link).

Name:  “The Man Who Invented Christmas”
Director, writer:  Bharat Nalluri, Les Standiford, Susan Coyne, Charles Dickens
Released:  2017/11
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Countryside in Sterling VA, small audience night 2917/12/16 but theater facility as a whole was very crowded with other films
Length:  105
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Bleecker Street    (Canada, Ireland)
Link:  official 

(Posted: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“Santa and Andres”: a peasant girl watches a banished writer in Castro’s Cuba, to protect the “revolution”

Santa and Andres”, directed by Carlos Lechuga (based on a story by Eliseo Altunaga), is a bizarre and oddly intimate drama with a stark political warning: communism is deeply hostile to homosexuality and to independent speech.

The setup sounds unpretentious and unpromising. In 1983 in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a revolutionary peasant girl (Lola Amores) is assigned to watch an exiled gay writer Andres (Eduardo Martinez) in a remote hut conveniently, it turns out, in both mountains and near the shore. Some public event is supposed to go on nearby.

The film starts out in Spanish with a summary of Castro’s purges not only of gay people but of intellectuals in general.  One logically wonders, if his regime is so vulnerable to the books or articles of a few writers, why isn’t that an admission of weakness and illegitimacy?  But of course, the point of this kind of authoritarian is to force everyone to be the same so that everyone has an equal chance to survive, or so that no one can stand off at a distance and benefit from the labor of others.  By that kind of thinking, I wouldn’t be allowed to write and publish on my own without demonstrating some kind of community engagement.  Long term, I see this idea as a real threat today.

We can add a perspective with modern post-Communist Russia, where Putin fears that open speech accepting homosexuality will allow less competitive males to believe there is no point in having their own children and families, in a country with an underpopulation problem and demographic winter.

Andres claims he hasn’t written a word in years, and was banished after writing a book (like my “do ask do tell”) that the government didn’t like.  His mute nephew-boyfriend (?) (Cesar Dominguez), after putting him in a nearby infirmary with a stab wound, turns him in to authorities for having started a ew book.  Andres denies it.  The authorities will come to search his house and throw eggs on him for being queer and, therefore, counter-revolutionary.

So, will any redeeming chemistry come in his relationship with Santa?  Is the new book real?  Why are authorities so concerned about a half-finished handwritten manuscript (rather like my 1969 effort “The Proles” during the time I was in the Army)?

The end reminds me of the Mariel Boatlift (which occurred 3 years before), which resulted in calls for personal hosting of Cuban refugees by the LGBT community in southern cities in late 1980, well before the AIDS crisis would become known.

The film makes Castro’s Cuba look bad, approaching Kim Jong Un’s North Korea (which makes much more show today, but Castro gave us the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962).

The film was actually shot in Colombia.

A good comparison might be “Before Night Falls” (2000), by Julian Schnabel, with Xavier Bardem as Cuban poet and novelist Reynaldo Arenas (Fine Line Features) (legacy review).

Small business in Havana (wiki)

Mariel Boatlift refugee center in Miami (wiki)

Name:  “Santa & Andres
Director, writer:  Carlos Lechuga, Eliseo Altunaga (story)
Released: 2016
Format:  1.85:1  in Spanish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  sample review DVD from distributor, 2017/12/23
Length:  105
Rating:  NA  (R)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures
Link: official  

(Posted: Saturday, December 23, 2017 at 8 PM EST)

“Call Me by Your Name”: a charismatic gay teen and an “adult” writer: coming of age story uplifts but leaves troubling questions

Call Me by Your Name” is a gay love story, about a precocious teen and a 30-ish mature writer. The relationship develops gradually over a summer in Tuscany, and according to the novel by Andre Aciman, as adapted to the screen by James Ivory and director Luca Guadagnino, the tension and “suspense” keep up, too.  It’s harder to do this with a relationship over even several months than something that evolves over a short time like a weekend, as in my story “The Ocelot the Way We Is”, which happens over a weekend in the woods and is interrupted at the end with external catastrophe.  There is a sense of possible ruin here, too, but I’ll come back to that.

Oliver, played by Armie Hammer (one of the bitcoin “Winklevii” from “The Social Network” where he played both twins) arrives for the summer and stays in the home of antiquities professor Perlman (Michael Sthulbarg) almost in Airbnb style. The teenager Elio (Tomothee Chalamet) in fact yields his room to the guest and stays in a connecting room. The host family is Jewish, which the script makes something of but it really doesn’t affect the story.

But Elio is no ordinary teen. He is verbal and well-read, plays concert-level piano (like Nolan in my story) and transcribes piano pieces.  Presumably he composes also. He is particularly interested in his games with a Bach chorale which he transcribes in successive stages as if Liszt, Busoni, and even Poulenc might have treated it.  The soundtrack has piano music of a number of composers including Satie, Ravel, and John Adams.  Chalamet plays the music himself (except some of it sounds like two pianos.) The music credits rolled too fast, and I couldn’t note all the composers or composition names.  Much of the music was eclectic and impressionistic. (I did wonder about all the cigarette smoking, but that was more acceptable in the early 80s than it is now.)

Elio starts spending time biking into town with Oliver and, after Oliver notes his intellect, Elio confesses there is one thing he doesn’t “know”.  In fact, during the course of the film he gets laid heterosexually and seems to have been serious about girlfriends. But he also is starting to fall in love with Oliver.

Elio is 17, which in Italy would be over the age of consent.  Although the camera emphasizes the difference in ages, it is Elio who is a bit seductive and Oliver cautious. Were this to happen in the US where the age of consent is 18, there would indeed be a legal angle (which my controversial script “The Sub” raised when I was substitute teaching a decade ago).  Keep in mind that Elio is presented as extremely gifted and charismatic, almost as much as possible for any teen.  The film at one point shows a sign indicating the year of 1981, which was the first year that CDC reported AIDS, and you wonder at the end what might happen in the future, especially if Oliver had already been infected.  There is a curious scene in the middle of the film where Elio has a severe nosebleed, but that doesn’t go anywhere.  In the epilogue, Elio’s father actually becomes supportive of Elio’s direction in life, to come out.

Tuscany coast, Wiki .

Name:  “Call Me By Your Name”
Director, writer:  Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Andre Aciman
Released:  2017/12
Format:  1.85:1;  English, French, Italian, German; set in 1981 in Italy
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/20 late PM fair crowd
Length:  132
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics, Frenesy, Cinefacture
Link:  official 

The theater offered a 10-minute short before the show from Marriot’s “Storybooked” series about artist Paula Wilson, “Weaving Threads Between the Ancient and Contemporary”, filmed in the Andes in Peru, stressing barren landscapes with copper-red mountains as well as Inca ruins and weaved clothing.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2017, at 10:30 PM EST)

“The Square”: vicious satire that starts out as a sermon on radical hospitality

This Sunday, I thought that a local church had a special service showing “13th”. a film I’ve already watched twice (Nov. 14, 2016 review — then I later saw the showing is Nov. 19). So I went to the one daily remaining showing of “The Square”, the new “morality play” and vicious (conservative) satire by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund; and, expecting an exploration of Christian personal values about other people, expected that to become my sermon and church, on a lively Sunday morning at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA (there is a church service there in a rented theater).

The title refers to an exhibit in a Stockholm museum, the “X-Royal” (for a reason), a bordered white space you could step onto as a safe space, a “sanctuary of trust and caring”.

The lead is Christian (Claes Bang), an attractive slender married heterosexual man in his 40s with two young daughters, who espouses a Leftist philosophy of ultimate charity for the needy, particularly for street panhandlers.  But like many on the Left, he is not above wielding power for its own sake, especially sexually over women, as shown in one confrontation where one of his partners challenges him about the time he went inside her. The movie starts precariously enough (after an initial anti-establishing shot of a homeless man on the streets of the perfect EU welfare state), as he is about to speak publicly, and another woman toys with his chest hair to attach a microphone.  In this movie, you notice these things.

As far as the space, I’m reminded of a huge maze exhibit at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain in late April, 2001, when I visited.  A young man from Brazil stood behind me in line and said that the whole point of this “sculptor” was to make you wait in line so you can “feel like shit.”

Very early in the film, Christian is robbed of his cell phone, wallet and cufflinks, in what seems like a setup confrontation in the streets.  (As I wrote this an fumbled my own iPhone its flashlight came on for the first time ever.)  Soon Christian is challenged to practice what he preaches. He inveigles his tag team hhsidekick Michael (Christopher Laesso) to support him, ultimately in a bizarre effort to hand deliver a letter to every family in a walkup apartment accusing them of the theft.

The film turns into a 140-minute sequence of skits, often with bizarre rhythmic sound effects, exploring the whole issue of how we personally treat people whom we perceive as weaker than ourselves. There is an experiment where museum visitors are challenged to prove they “trust people” by leaving their phones and wallets out in the open on the Square.

Whatever plot structure there is, gets driven by two attractive young male journalists (Daniel Hallberg and Martin Soder) who, in an early presentation, explain how you make content go viral, not only with original perspective but with some shock effect to get a visitor’s attention. So they come up with a video of a blond little girl holding a cat who gets blown up, with some Arabic warnings at the end. It seems that maybe this was hacked. But I was reminded of LBJ’s 1964 ad challenging Barry Goldwater with a mushroom cloud. That may cost Christian his job, which seems especially timely now.

But near the end there is a skit at a dinner, where attendees are challenged to do with “survival mom” type threats.  A man, his body completely waxed smooth (“thmooth”, he’s in the movie posters), comes into the dinner acting threatening, walking on all fours like a pre-human ape, with props. The guests are challenged to remain calm and inconspicuous so they can let somebody else take the threat (think about Las Vegas and Paddock Oct. 1)   But the scene winds up with attempted rape.

Somewhere in the middle there is a skit about the ALS ice bucket challenge. They have no monopoly on this “chain letter” which doesn’t even need a refrigerator’s ice maker.

Wiki picture of the actual museum in Stockholm.  I visited the city in Aug. 1972,

Picture: Occupy DC, December 2011 (mine).

Name:  “The Square
Director, writer:  Ruben Ostlund
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1  in Swedish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/11/12, Sunday morning
Length:  142
Rating:  R
Companies:  Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“Mother!”: Darren’s chamber piece on radical hospitality turning into chaos and communism

Mother!” is another dream-like supernatural set piece from Darren Aronofsky (and cinematographer Matthew Libatique). And this time there is a bit of a political warning.

The entire film is set in an octagonal symmetrical house somewhere in Quebec. Javier Bardem plays a poet and writer who has displayed “writer’s block” since he and his wife, Jennifer Lawrence, “lost everything” in a fire.  Well, everything except a remelted glass obelisk that represents all his creative output.  The house has apparently been restored, but it is still creaky and mysterious with supernatural trinkets (and blobs derived from living things) inside.  The couple still has no children, and it’s unclear if they want to.

One night, a stranger (Ed Harris) appears.  He says he is a doctor, despite cigarette smoking. He acts like the house were listed on Airbnb (or maybe Emergency BNB), although there are no computers in the film that I recall.  I think there was cell.  Immediately, he goes into coughing and vomiting spells, and the couple “hosts” him – an example of radical hospitality (and maybe scruffy hospitality, too)  The next morning, “Mother” (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, with all the presence of a Hitchcock villain.

In time the rest of the family appears, including two younger adult sons, who fight over arcane provisions in a trust.  It seems as if maybe the poet doesn’t own the house at all.  The film starts turning violent, and one of the sons is severely injured.  Then others show up, as if from a Bolshevist revolution.

The guests recede, and the poet and his wife have the house to themselves once again, and this time the woman gets quickly and obviously pregnant.  Then the hordes return, this time with a lot of ideology that sounds like it comes from Marx and Lenin.  A full bacchanale ensues;  one room becomes a disco, some of the floors leak and collapse, and eventually everything gets set on fire and it seems like the baby is to be sacrificed.

All of this, in the end, seems to be a circular, reoccurring plot.  Maybe this is a corner of the afterlife.

The house seems to be able to fix itself, as in the 1976 film “Burnt Offerings”, based on Robert Marasco’s novel.

The soundtrack, in Dolby 7.1, makes a lot of imagined voices and haunting sounds, making the wife especially seem a bit schizophrenic.

Name:  “Mother!”
Director, writer:  Darren Aronofsky
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/9/18, day, small audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  Protozoa Films, Paramount
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT)

Edward Luce’s “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”: a warning to individual elitists (like me): you have everything to lose, by force

Edward Luce’s “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” comes across as a moral lecture about the perils of individual elitism. That’s my gut reaction The book is indeed a warning about how liberal democracy and the world order of the West can die. A lot of the time, the author is talking about whole countries and issues like state formation (the Peace of Westphalia in 1648), which Nicholas Wade also covers (causing some outrage) in “A Troublesome Inheritance” (June 24)– but this time, more from the Left He speculates about the dangerous future Donald Trump can bring, like a war with mainland China in 2018. (We scraped on this with Bill Clinton in 1996 and again with George W. Bush in early 2001.)  I wondered, what about North Korea right now?

But Luce is at his most powerful when he warns that the kind of globalist liberal fundamentalism that has become fashionable since the 90s can produce a dangerous backlash against individual globalists (me), not just countries. The basic problem is clear enough. Destructive technology has hollowed out the middle class. Superbly gifted young adults do spectacularly well (whether Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook or Jack Andraka and his worldwide book tour based on his science fair medical invention, or perhaps Taylor Wilson if he gets his fusion reactor going). But for the rest of “us”, it is harder to keep up. You have the student loans, the uncontrollable health insurance premiums (and the current debate over “replacing” Obamacare). Eventually this leads to a world where too many people have nothing to lose and everything blows up in revolution. We’ve seen it before. I warn about the same things in my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (2014), especially in my “non-fiction Epilogue” chapter.

Luce casts his argument in four extended chapters, like movements of a symphony: “Fusion”, “Reaction” (the slow movement), “Fallout” (the Chinese-sounding scherzo), and “Half Life” (a rather inconclusive finale than ends quietly – I’m reminded of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Symphony #5 in D “L’allegro ed il Pensieroso”). Of course, the title of the finale is rather telling: society will wind down to a whimper.

I have gotten used to thinking of myself as a “global” citizen, and I’ve seen Facebook friends (especially the childless) brag about the same. There is a dangerous insularity, to say the least, about this. It says, “I am better than (you)” because I am “smarter”, more “independent”, more “self-directed”, and I don’t make the bad choices that make “you” dependent on generosity. Oh, think how that plays out in the health care debate. But in recent year, social media has reversed this attitude somewhat, with the “GoFundMe” culture, where people expect personal interventions from strangers in what used to be a “mind your own business” individualist society (say, pre 9/11). And “disruptive technology” (exacerbated by the financial creativity of the Bush era, pre-2008 which he calls an “Atlantic” phenomenon) is leading the job market into the same place:   a higher percentage of jobs today involve tending to (or selling to) individual consumers or customers than in the past. I lived my I.T. career until after 9/11 sheltered in the world of the “individual contributor”, only to find, after age 58, how pimpy (or pimpled) the job market had become.

Be wary, Luce warns the elitists (like me), you have everything to lose (when others have nothing).

Revolution comes from populism, whether the far left or the alt-right. Populism tends not to care about the truth; it wants things to be better for average Joe’s now. You attract the strong man. You wind up with communism from the Left (like Venezuela right now), or extra-judicial vigilantism on the right (like Duterte in the Philippines). Oh, yes, you get Brexit (Oops? England?) and now Donald Trump, who “talks that way” and constantly threatens to bully the elitist, know-it-all media.

Luce makes some interesting meta-arguments over LGBTQ rights. He notes that progressives today assume marriage equality is an unchallengable postulate, but it’s only been a few years that this has been so. Societies often have differing perspectives about the “moral” place of diversities in their culture because of evolving (or devolving) external influences. Then people forget the past very quickly, or don’t want to be reminded of the past because it could fuel ideology for potential enemies. My own perspective, when I wrote my first DADT book in the 1990s, was centered around libertarian ideas of consent and privacy (especially when there is tension with ideas about cohesion, as in the military). I wanted the freedom to live in my own world of fantasy and upward affiliation, if that worked for me. Yet, I can see how this can lead to a dangerous, “elitist” endgame (like in chess); hence today I have to resist social pressures to actually sell the idea that gender fluidity is good.

The book was available only from third-party resellers and on Kindle when I bought it. That is unusual for new books.

Author: Edward Luce
Title, Subtitle: The Retreat of Western Liberalism
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0802127396
Publication: Atlantic Monthly Press, 226 pages, 4 chapters, indexed, endnotes
Link: Nation review

(Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“Risk”: Laura Poitras tailgates Julian Assange, with riveting results

Risk” (2017) is the latest historical and biographical film about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Director Laura Poitras provides amazing “live” coverage of events in Assange’s life starting in 2011, when he sits in a home in Norfolk, England with journalist Sarah Harrison and talks to a man about leaked State Department cables.  Assange says “It is not my problem, but I don’t want it to become your problem.”

One of the most revealing monologues comes at almost the end, when Assange is asked whether he engaged or indulged in his style of journalism to gain “power”.  He says that his garden is the whole world, and the only way for him to be effective as a person is to act globally.  That is how I feel about my own writing.

Assange also pontificates, a bit earlier, on taking risks, especially when you need to be able to take someone else’s bullets and survive them.

Early on, the film presents another major associate, Jacob Appelbaum, rather handsome (despite the gratuitous upper arm tattoo), and explains his work with the Tor Project.  The film makes the interesting point, however indirectly, that refugees and asylum seekers (in the U.S. or any western country) would need access to TOR to communicate safely with relatives back home, an issue that potential hosts would need to heed.  There are scenes where Appelbaum appears in Cairo, and later in Tunis, training Arab spring activists to use TOR, as authoritarian regimes quickly turn against political change, especially in the Muslim world.

The film concurrently covers the release of Bradley Manning’s leak “Collateral Murder” in Iraq, and covers his court martial, and gender change to Chelsea Manning, and mentions her release from Leavenworth by President Obama just before the end of the film.  As a result particularly of this set of leaks, the US and UK governments start to close in on Assange.  There are accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which may very well be a set-up.  A riveting sequence in the midpoint of the film shows Assange putting on macho-man gay leather drag (including contacts), and driving his motorcycle (left side in the UK) in bike lanes to the Ecuadorian embassy, where he get asylum in 2012.  The rest of the shots of him in the film must be taken in the embassy, even Lady Gaga’s visit.

Poitras herself goes global, interrupting her narrative to show Hong Kong and just a little bit of Edward Snowden (from “Citizenfour”).  Sarah accompanies Snowden to Moscow, where he seeks and is granted asylum from Putin.

The film then covers the leaks during the 2016 US presidential elections and how that probably helped Donald Trump (“I love WikiLeaks”) win the electoral vote.

The US Department of Justice announces it wants to consider prosecuting Assange for espionage and getting extradition from Ecuador.  Under the Trump administration (and in a scene showing FBI offices in New York City), Wikileaks is now painted as a foreign intelligence service (maybe especially for Russia and China) and less a legitimate journalistic group to “keep them honest”.

Laura Poitras says she herself faces constant legal restraints and disruptions in travel from the TSA, as have Appelbaum and perhaps Harrison.  Appelbaum faced sexual misconduct allegations which might well have been trumped up (pun).

Atlantic review is here.

Wikipedia on Sarah Harrison.

My own legacy review of “Collateral Murder” (2010).

Name:  “Risk”
Director, writer:  Laura Poitras
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End Cinema, Washington DC, 2017/5/8; theater was showing only this film at frequent intervals
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Madman, Showtime, First Look
Link:  FB

(Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)