“I Am Another You”: Filmmaker from China tails the story of a talented homeless man with mental illness

As a movie title, “I Am Another You” reminds me of “Call Me by Your Name”. (Dec. 21), and there is some similar charisma in this road documentary by Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang.

As the film opens, she is agreeing to film the life in south Florida of a rather articulate young while man Dylan Olsen, who has chosen to live in the streets as homeless.  I was in the area in mid November and there is one shot that may be on Fort Lauderdale Beach, where I stayed;  some of it looks more like down around Hollywood. Dylan has become the classic 60s hippie, with some tattoos, one in the geographical center of his chest, which my own personal bias would judge as disfiguring.  We learn he has semi-voluntarily left a comfortable middle-class upbringing in Utah and can wonder why.

Then Wang goes back to New York, where she has to finish some work on “Hooligan Sparrow” (2016, my legacy review), a film which exposed sexual harassment of female teachers by a high school principal in China, which the state wanted to suppress.  She then travels to Utah, to meet Dylan’s family, in the second part of the film, called “The freedom to choose”.

The father, active in the LDS Church works in law enforcement and has even dealt with child pornography. His two younger children are much more “successful” by establishment norms. The younger brother, Austin, seems to budding as a potential concert pianist, as he plays part of the first movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata (#8, in C Minor) on the family grand piano with impeccable technique. The father, in a flashback, recounts how he gave his son $400 cash once he was in a line at a Greyhound bus station, having asked the son to leave after catching him with drugs in the home, repeatedly.

You wonder here, with the same upbringing; what is the difference.  Maybe genetics means a lot more than we want to admit.

In the last part of the film (titled as the film), Dylan has returned to witness a wedding (the film detours into the father’s own marital instability). Then he goes off on his own again, with some beautiful scenes in the Great Salt Lake desert that reminded me of “Zabriske Point” (and also of “Gerry”).  Then the film goes back to Florida, and Dylan starts to share his “visions” of what is his reality.  We suspect he is recounting his own journey into schizophrenia as he entered young adulthood, which should have been treatable. Dylan is not violent or hostile (as most mentally ill people are not, confounding the impression left by the Aurora shootings case).  Again, we witness how good his street smarts and street survival skills are.  He lives in a world where there is no shame in begging for help.  But he says his “visions” would keep him from holding down a real job with regular hours.

In recent years, I have sometimes volunteered on a few Saturday afternoons at a local church “Community Assistance” program, and many of the clients are said to be “mentally ill”.  There seems to be a big correlation between schizophrenia and homelessness.

But now the title of the film comes into play. To Dylan, the visions are reality.  Turning this upside down, if you had lived during the time of Christ, the miracles (even the resurrection and Ascension) would be reality if you had seen them yourself.  (And then there is the lesson on doubting Thomas.)

We’re led back to wonder about young heroes when we do encounter them. For young men, physiologically, the early twenties can be a challenge, as the brain finishes its final phase of biological maturation (and pruning process, which may once in a while prune connections it needs).

PBS aired this film Monday January 29. 2018 at a very late hour, 11 PM.  It followed with a 10-minute short film, “Jason”, drawn from “Dogtown Redemption”, about a young homeless man with HIV and severe lymphedema.

Great Salt Lake and desert, wiki.

Name: “I Am Another You”
Director, writer:  Nanfu Wang
Released: 2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017/1/29 PBS
Length:  80
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Independent Lens, Film Rise
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 10:30 AM)

“McNamara’s Folly”: How LBJ’s administration drafted low-IQ and other disabled men to protect student deferments, during the Vietnam War

Much of my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997) played off the moral dichotomy of the Vietnam era draft, where college students by and large could be deferred (until 1969), with the particularly iconoclastic arguments of those who objected to allowing gays to serve in the military when President Bill Clinton proposed to do so in 1993. Much of Chapter 2 had dealt with the male-only conscription of the time, as did a fiction “story” (actually a chapter from an unpublished early novel “The Proles”, actually cursively handwritten as I lived in the barracks in 1969) in DADT III (2014).

Now there is a book by former Associated Press writer, Hamilton Gregory, with a very long title and subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low -IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Induction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”.

The narrative components include a summary of what the Folly was, with analysis of the moral dilemmas, many specific case histories, and, in the opening chapters, Gregory’s own experience when “enlisting” in 1967.  As a reviewer, I need to compare this with my own experiences.

The backcover of the paperback (e-book is also available) summarizes the Folly.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and his dapper smart boy Robert McNamara, realized they could not draft enough men to support the war in Vietnam, without ending college deferments.  They had already ended most marriage and family-based deferments at one time proposed by Kennedy. They feared loss of popularity with middle class voters (and we can look ahead to see that Nixon actually took some credit for stopping the draft in 1973).  So McNamara came up with Project 100,000, implemented October 1, 1966, allowing the induction of lower-IQ men.  These men were given the uncomplementary group name “McNamara’s Morons”.   They also allowed the induction of men with various other quasi-medical problems and sometimes criminal histories.

Complicating this setup was the reality that many men enlisted to avoid exposure to combat arms and get an MOS of their choice, in exchange for longer enlistment terms.   Gregory himself went into military intelligence (as did a chess playing friend of mine at GWU, who wrote often after he joined in 1967). But low-IQ men often flunked the AIT and would wind up in infantry anyway. And Gregory analyzes many situations where lack of mental ability exposed men to increased risk of death and maiming on the battlefield, as well as endangering others in their unit. (Nevertheless one such man won a silver star for saving his lieutenant’s life by hovering over him in battle after leg wounding.)  Gregory gives particularly graphic explanations of “walking point” when on infantry patrols, usually every third night.

Obviously, as I argued in my own book, this poses multiple moral problems. The worst seems to be that, barely twenty years after defeating Hitler, we were implementing an Orwellian system that declared that some men’s lives were more valuable to protect than others.  Indeed, McNamara was said to be committing a crime against the intellectually disabled.  We also have the karma of some men living off the sacrifices of others, if you accept the Domino Theory that ground troops in SE Asia were necessary to halt Communism and eventual nuclear threat (all of this got covered in Ken Burns’s series “The Vietnam War” on PBS).

A flip side of the argument was that McNamara and his Nightbreed minions argued that military service would be a way to give the less well-off skills they could use in civilian life later (if they only could survive combat). McNamara even said that intellectual skills could be raised with “video tapes”.

The book starts with Hamilton’s own experience in Basic Combat Training. When he was going through processing in Tennessee, a sergeant asked for all the college grads to speak up.  He wound up being responsible for one of McNamara’s Morons through training, which was, obviously, very difficult. He would eventually collapse from heat stroke on a march, and wind up being recycled through Special Training Company.  This is the first time I’ve encountered Special Training Company mentioned in a book or movie, other than my own book(s).

At this point, a comparison with my own experience at Fort Jackson, SC starting in February 1968 is in order.  First, I had failed the physical twice (4-F in 1964, 1-Y in 1966) as a result of my own pseudo-psychiatric history over “latent homosexuality”. According to my own DADT-1 book (pp 66-67) the Armed Forces questionnaire had asked about “homosexual tendencies” in 1964 but had dropped the question in 1966.  So, in a sense, an informal “don’t ask don’t tell” was in effect because the Army needed the   I note that I didn’t see any discussion of gays in the military in the book;  I would have expected to find it.

I had requested retesting twice because, according to the values of the time, my own reputation had been damaged.  In August 1967 I was retested and found to be 1-A.  Very few people had gone from 4-F to 1-A (although J. D. Salinger – “The Catcher in the Rye”, had). By 1967, as Gregory notes, the Army (and even Marine Corps, which was drafting) seemed to be trying to take everyone.

I did answer an affirmative on a request for college grads when I arrived at the Fort Jackson Reception Station, but the only consequence was my supervising a printing operation for about 30 minutes before we were sent through chow.  That’s ironic, that 30 years later I’d be printing my own book. Later the subject came up favorably in the MOS interview.  I had enlisted for two years (“RA11937256”) two weeks before my induction date (very few people knew you could do that) and it seemed to work.

I failed the PCPT in the second week of BCT (the fireman’s carry had replaced the grenade throw), with a score of 190.  I was too thin and “weak” (although thin people can be very strong;  a quick look at some Major League Baseball, and basketball, players shows that).  I caught the flu during the end of the third week (on the first day of rifle range), and spend four days in the infirmary. When I came back, I was told I would be shipped to Special Training Company in a private meeting with the Captain after chow.

I spent three weeks there, but passed the PCPT with a 318 on the third try. The first week was actually “G-3” stuff, but I went into PT platoon the second week.  We were housed in tents, but the training was not as bad as in Gregory’s book (there were no log carries). While I was there, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and we were supposedly on “red alert”.  I would pass the PCPT with a 357 on the final with my second company, and I believe I scored near 100% on the G-3, which was graded very easy.   I then was safely assigned to the Pentagon as an “01E20” (mathematician) and was shielded from combat because of my graduate degree in math.  The rest of my story is in my books and blogs.

Conditions at Fort Jackson were not quite as brutal as at Benning (I remember many trainees from the Reception Station went to Gordon).  Lights out was at 9:30 PM and reveille was a 5:30. It’s true, on Sundays (unless you had KP) the chapel was a bit of the sanctuary. I played the organ (some music from the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony) by ear as a postlude for a service.

Gregory mentions another book: On p. 129, “Moron Corps“, by John L. Ward (Strategic Book Publishing), which I have just ordered on Amazon.

I tried the AFQT test in the appendix and actually missed the last spatial question (I got 10/11 or 91%).

The author notes that combat medics were sometimes unarmed because of CO (or they could be armed normally) but medics had some of the most dangerous jobs in the military in combat zones. Consider the film “Hacksaw Ridge” set in WWII.

This book appears to be self-published, but it sounds like something that today Milo Yiannopoulos with his “Dangerous” books might have considered.

I think this material lends itself to documentary film, like a PBS Independent Lens piece.  There is an hour long “amateur” video film, “McNamara’s Morons”  by Bill Dixon on YouTube which I reviewed here.

I would mention here a rather obscure Supreme Court ruling from 1981, Rostker v Goldberg (after the draft had ended, but was threatened again by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), accepting the constitutionality of the male-only draft. However, there have been some bills in Congress requiring women to register for Selective Service, just as there are others seeking to abolish registration.  See the table here after note 48b on the history of Selective Service deferments (Kennedy fathers, etc) from the notes on my own DADT-1 book.

Hamilton Gregory has an interview on “History Net” where he says he is working on a book asking whether we should bring back the military draft. (Again: “Milo-Dangerous”).  Right after 9/11, Northwestern University’s Charles Moskos, an “author” of Clinton’s “don’t ask don’t tell” wrote in favor of resuming the draft and dropping his own DADT.  Gregory also notes that the “Stop-Loss” policy in the Bush years with the volunteer military in Iraq amounted to a backdoor draft of less able men.

The author offers a note in the beginning about the use of certain terms common in previous generations but now seen as denigrating (or “dangerous”) to some people with disabilities, as Trump is finding out.

Author: Hamilton Gregory
Title, Subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Introduction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”
publication date 2015
ISBN 978-1-4958-0548-6
Publication: Infinity Publishing (appears to be self), paper, 251 pages, six parts, 41 short chapters, indexed, prologue (roman)
Link: another review

(Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 11:30 AM)

“The Florida Project”: how the poor really live near the big theme parks (especially the kids)


The Florida Project”, directed by Sean Baker, confronts the viewer with the “real life” of poor people living in transient motels near the Disney theme parks in Orlando.

In the past, we could have gawked and scorned.  We probably can’t get away with that now.

Halley (Bria Vinnaite) is a single mom raising a seven year old, Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and, as the film opens, taking care of two other kids.  The kids are always annoying other residents and getting into trouble, and Halley becomes combative in trying to defend them when the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) challenges her and repeatedly threatens to evict her.

Bobby has a tough job, implementing rules demanding by corporate, and uses his people skills to the fullest.  One of the most telling scenes occurs about 40 minutes into the film when he chases an old man off the premises once he suspects the man is a sex offender.

But mischief occurs constantly. The kids somehow get into the power room and turn it off.  Later, they set fire to a nearby vacant motel to watch the fire department come. Toward the end, the police will get involved with CPS as to whether Halley is a fit mother, which means a need for foster care.  But the kids may get to see the Magic Kingdom.

The film shows the quasi-attractions around the parks for low income people pretty well.

Picture: My trip, July 2015  (Pulse would happen in 2016.)

Name:  “The Florida Project”
Director, writer:  Sean Baker
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End, 2018/1/3, afternoon show, surprisingly well attended, appears to be young adults from GWU
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, at 8 PM EST)

“All the Money in the World”: existential moral problem somewhat diluted by expanded thriller format

All the Money in the World” is sold by Sony Pictures as a thriller, but, coming from Ridley Scott and based on a book by John Pearson, the film also provides a setting for a serious moral dilemma, a kind of “Trolley Problem”.

The film, with a lot of dated flashbacks surrounding, chronicles the kidnapping of the 16 year old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) into a van from the streets in Rome in July 1973, and then the grandfather’s refusal to pay ransom. (“Nothing.”)  It’s not too much of a spoiler to give the Wikipedia narrative of the life of the younger Getty, whose life was severely compromised by the event and led to his death at 54.

So I get the senior Getty’s point: if he gives in, then the other fourteen grandchildren are targets.  You don’t negotiate with terrorists. But in a moral sense, you deny the idea that there are victims at all.  The “victim” personally pays for the sins of the perpetrator for all time (unless saved by Grace).   It’s spiritual extortion. That’s why bullied people often commit suicide.

The movie does tell the story of the Getty family, most of all the mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). She had renounced any fortune to keep her kids after a divorce, and has none when John III is kidnapped. (“I’m not a Getty; I just married one.”) The kidnappers presume that the senior Getty’s deep pockets will cover everything and threaten to send the son back in pieces (like the 1983 horror film “Pieces”).  They turn out to be petty low-level Mafia figures (no surprise) but are thought to be political Communist terrorists during the film. (The parallel to the Patty Hearst case, as in Jeffrey Toobin’s book (Nov. 9, 2016, reviewed by me the day after Trump’s election) seem striking.)  When Gail “hires” private detective Fletcher Chase (“Marky” Mark Wahlberg, whose early adulthood was tough enough) to find Paul and manipulate the “terrorists” into an eventual deal, Feltcher notes the plethora of false claims from other “kidnappers” purporting to have the boy, which is another reason you don’t pay.

Christopher Plummer (no relation to Charlie) is Scrooge-like enough as the senior Getty. But I would have liked to see Kevin Spacey in the role. It took a fantastic amount of work to reshoot all his scenes in three weeks.

The film makes good use of the events of the time, especially senior Getty’s reaction to the Arab Oil Embargo (and contrived “energy crisis”) after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. While it led to gas lines and odd-even rationing in the US, Getty saw an eventual price crash as inevitable after the political crisis was resolved.  But that did not happen.  Gasoline returned to normal in April 1974 but the price stayed “up”, with gasoline about twice its former price.  The film does show briefly how Getty got rich in 1948 by exploring Saudi Arabia, about the time Israel was founded.  As I recall, for years Getty gas stations sold premium gas only (in New Jersey, at least, when I started working as a young adult in 1970 with a job at RCA in Princeton, and traveled and drove a lot.)

There is one false escape sequence, which Getty III is clever enough to pull off by starting a grass fire outside with a cigarette; he gets caught again by corrupt police. Then when he finally does escape with the payoff set up by Chase with considerable manipulation, he winds up banging on doors hoping for radical hospitality from strangers before one final twist seems to save him.

Before his death, the elder Getty, clutching an art work before a fireplace, gives a monologue on how rich people become targets while presented with too many choices.

There is a curious conversation at the end of the film when Gail gets to be the trustee of the estate and gets her kids back. Gail learns (as I have recently in my own situation) that a lot of times trusts don’t allow you to spend your money or even give it away to charity.  You have to make charities into “investments”.  But I guess Bill Gates is pretty good at that.

John Paul Getty III’s son Balthazar Getty is a musician and also an actor in largely independent film and TV.  It’s ironic that Getty III had a fascination with Charles Manson (“Helter Skelter”), according to Wikipedia.

Calabria scene (where Getty was taken by kidnappers), wiki.

I’ll add to the “moral enigma” I mentioned above:  I’m 74 now, and in 2014 I wrote a blog post saying my own life can never be bargained for.

Name: “All the Money in the World”
Director, writer:  Ridley Scott, John Pearson
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, Christmas Day afternoon, near sellout
Length: 135
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Tri-Star
Link:  official 

(Posted: Tuesday, December 26, 2017, at 10:30 AM EST)

Robert Reich: “Saving Capitalism, for the Many, not the Few”

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich takes his book on tour in the Netflix film “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, not the Few” (Knopf), directed by Jacob Kornbluth and Sari Gilman.

My first reaction on finding this on “My List” was to recall that night in December 1972, in a Newark, NJ row house, when I spied on “The People’s Party of New Jersey”.  Why do we have to have capitalism, the young woman leading he session whined.  The group threatened revolutionary action.

Reich’s main argument seems to be to stop crony capitalism.  People leave Congress or public service and become lobbyists for trade groups, with the connections to keep campaign contributions coming to politicians.  I’ve received the fringe of this activity in my own blogger journalism and refused to have anything to do with it.  (I’ve gotten emails asking for money for Roy Moore, claiming he was framed by the media.)

The film discusses the significance of the Citizen’s United case, as well as court opinions that corporations are people and have the same free speech rights to advance their interests for their shareholders.

Reich also points out that the legislation that “the people” usually want passes in Congress only about 30% of the time. The recent paralysis in Congress on “replacing Obamacare” seems like case in point.

In the early part of the film, Reich explains how total wealth in the US has increased, while median wages have stagnated.  He disputes the Reagan-like ideology of the “free market” on its own, saying that government regulations set up a playing field and make capitalism possible. (That’s like Nancy Pelosi’s saying “Democrats are capitalists”.)   The rich get to manipulate the rules, though lobbyists, to increase the leverage of their capital over others. You get Piketty’s “rentier” culture.

Fareed Zakaria has pointed out that the US is a world leader on the “inequality index” at 0.81.

The debate on network neutrality may be relevant, as under Trump. Ajit Pai seemed determined to let telecom companies “monetize” their businesses fully, although litigation will probably slow down the works possible effects for individual speakers and small businesses.

Name:  “Saving Capitalism”
Director, writer:  Jacob Kornbluth, Sari Gilman
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play 2017/12/12
Length:  73
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  NYTimes

(Posted: Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 at 12:45 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)

“Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President”

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President” is a rather entertaining British documentary about the Trump family, narrated by Matt Frei, directed by Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice.

The most interesting part of the film may be the beginning, the narrative of grandfather Friedrich Trump, who came to the US from Bavaria after a crisis as a teen and started building businesses in lower Manhattan in the 1890s. They were generally restaurants, bars, and brothels. He moved out west, to Seattle, and followed the gold rush to the Yukon in Canada.  At one point, he shipped a hotel down the river like a toy and put it back together when it broke apart in the river current in Whitehorse.

After some failures he tried to go back to Bavaria and was refused citizenship because of draft evasion. Sound familiar?  He wound up back in New York.

His son Fred Trump would take after him and build a real estate empire, mostly houses, in Queens. There’s a reference to Coney Island and maybe one of my favorite spots from twenty years ago, the Seaside Courts for paddleball. Donald would be the fourth child and second son, and was always getting in trouble, and would thrive in military school. But the older brother would “fail”, becoming a pilot and then succumbing to the bottle, and Donald would wind up with the real estate empire.

The grandfather showed a real pioneering work ethic (I’m reminded of the entrepreneurialism in Lagos, Nigeria recently depicted on an Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”) but with the father Fred and then Donald it turned more into manipulative and aggressive dealing to see what they could get away with. Is that raw capitalism?

The film races through Donald’s career, briefly covering his bankruptcy in the late 90s.  It covers his marriages, to Ivanka and later to immigrant Melania.

The end of the film talks about Donald’s attitude about “winners” and “losers” and his somewhat disturbing belief in what sounds like eugenics. Trump seems to believe that better genes equates to existential personal moral superiority (which the Nazis also claimed).  He did get in trouble early in his own career for redlining black applicants for apartments, marking their paperwork with “C” for colored.  But in my own experience, one time renting an apartment in Arlington VA in 1971, I encountered the same kind of talk from a rental agent, and again when moving to Dallas at the beginning of 1979.

The Netflix version runs 48 minutes, but imdb lists the length as 65.  Maybe the longer version covers more about the 2016 election.

Wiki picture of Whitehorse in autumn.

Name:  “Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President
Director, writer:  Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length:  65 / 48
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Guardian, independent  (both reviews here rather concerned about the tone of the film on race and genetics)

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT)

“After Piketty”: compendium about wealth and income inequality mixes mathematics with challenges to personal morality

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality”, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, for Harvard University Press, is a gigantic compendium of academic reaction to Thomas Piketty’s 2014 missive, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (“C21”).

The book comprises four sections (“Reception”, “Conceptions of Capital”, “Dimensions of Inequality”, and “The Political Economy of Capital and Capitalism”), splitting into twenty-one chapters, after which Piketty responds with a Chapter 22, “Toward a Reconciliation between Economics and the Social Sciences”.

You really need the physical hardcover to follow this book; it’s a bit overwhelming on Kindle.

The editors start with an Introduction where they summarize Piketty’s basic claims:  social democracy became more generous with the disadvantaged right after the Great Depression and WWII, but generally the trend is toward greater inequality as was the case in the “Gilded Age”. Underneath income inequality lies wealth inequality, which tends to drive divergence in incomes.

A Chapter One by Arthur Goldhammer, “The Piketty Phenomenon” notes that Piketty’s book sold unusually well to the general public for a non-fiction academic text. Maybe this would become a lesson for me on how to sell my own authored books!

The various chapters often refer to actuarial calculus (reproducing some mathematical derivations (even partial differential equations) and proofs) and refer to the basic inequality  “ r > g” (average return on capital exceeds growth rate).  At then Piketty himself refers specifically to David Gerwal’s chapters and the “two fundamental laws of captitalism”, regarding the derivation of capital share, and the way the capital / income ratio follows the savings rate over growth rate.

But it is the socially descriptive material, and the bearings of such on personal morality, that occasionally grab attention. Piketty, some authors say, has no explicit theory of human capital (or social capital the way Charles Murray would talk about it).  But generational wealth gives some kids advantages, including those who (like me) grow up childless.  The advantages include greater financial stability when young (less need to go into debt), and very likely parents who have helped train them in the abstract thinking that is necessary for personal success in modern civilization. The quality of public education associated with class and particularly race becomes relevant.

Capitalism, by definition, implies that wealth accumulates on its own beyond the actual work done by the asset owner, so it implies also using (or “exploiting”) the labor of others.  That implies also rent seeking, which tends to impose rules on workers who haven’t accumulated enough of their own capital to own their own lives. No wonder, various forms of socialism and communism developed (even ideas about the moral nature of some kind of “New Man”) evolved over decades in the past two centuries especially.  I can remember the angry rhetoric, especially from women, when spying on meetings of the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in the early 1970s., like “why do we have to have capitalism”, along with proposals to limit maximum income to $50000 a year (income equality by racing to the bottom).   Sometimes threats of expropriation by force would evolve, as with the Patty Hearst case (Jeffrey Toobin’s book, Nov. 9, 2016, ironically reviewed by me right after Trump’s election).  Left wing terror preceded and sometimes went along with radical Islamic terror.

The book does get into sensitive ideas like personal complacency, along the lines of the usual rationalization (short of a canard) that ego-related inequality is necessary for innovation, even if it can undermine sustainability and stability. Indeed, lifelong accumulated savings (and some of it inherited) allowed me to become an independent journalist without the need for my own writing to pay its own way, which others may see as destructive or unfair.  I consistently refused to become someone else’s huckster, even as I understand the pressure on many people to join up and recruit others to buy from them.

Likewise the authors take up the issue of voice. Wealthier people are able to influence politicians to meet their needs, whereas the less well-off are recruited into solidarity by others who do not respect their ability to think for themselves.  Even Donald Trump bragged to his base, “I am your voice.”  I resent the idea that anyone else claims to be my voice.

Editors: Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum
Title, Subtitle: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-06745-0477-6  hardcover and Kindle
Publication: Cambdrige and London; Harvard University Press, Introduction and 21 chapters in 4 sections, with a Chapter 22 reply by Piketty
Link:  Publisher’s

(Posted: Saturday, October 28, 2017, at 6 PM EDT)

“The Glass Castle” based on a memoir of white poverty

Is “The Glass Castle” a film about rebellion and living outside the system (and trying to get your kids to do so) and almost off the grid, or is it about the moral politics of poverty, especially for less well-off whites in southern West Virginia – specifically near Welch, very much in Trump’s coal country.

The dramedy, overlong at 127 minutes, directed by Dustin Daniel Cretton and somewhat freely adapted from the memoir of Jeannette Walls (not quite a “manifesto”), tells its story in two time layers.

In 1989, the young adult Jeannette (Brie Larsen) has escaped into the good life in NYC as a reporter and gossip columnist with a Wall Street fiancée David (Max Greenfield). When her alcoholic, derelict dad Rex (Woody Harrelson) barges back into her life, the movie goes mostly into flashback mode. We learn that at 3, Jeannette was left to cook on a gas stove and was scarred for life from the resulting fire, although it gets covered by clothes (something a fiancée would have to deal with).

Most of the narrative concerns Rex’s taking the family to a ramshackle clapboard house near Welch, and promising to build his fantasy “Glass Castle” with solar panels. In the meantime, the family goes hungry. Mom, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) does her thing as a painter. She thinks there will be little competition in coal country. The kids turn out all right. Brian becomes a police officer but looks pretty sharp in the film (Josh Caras, from “Bugcrush”).

People in that part of the world, in the mountain hollows, are quite self-reliant, as they demonstrated after the 2016 floods. They hardly used the volunteers churches tried to sent them.

The film does some travel in the desert and in New Mexico (the early road-movie scenes) but it doesn’t take advantage of a chance to mention the mountaintop removal in the area.

The Washington Post ran an article in the Outlook Section P. 2 today by Stephen Pimpare that talks aout this film a lot. The print title is “What movies tell us about poverty.” Online the title is more challenging, “Where do we learn that poverty is shameful and dangerous? At the movies.” This film echoes that view. You don’t want to walk in their shoes unless you’re coerced to.

Jeffrey Tucker of FEE reviews the film in an article, “Does Society Have Room for Brilliant Eccentrics?” Well, Rex is irresponsible enough that Jeannette tells him she never wants to see him again (that’s much worse than being blocked in today’s social media) but she does go back to West Virginia for his deathbed.

 

Name:  “The Glass Castle”
Director, writer: Dustin Daniel Cretton, Jeanette Walls
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/8/27 fair crowd
Length: 207
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Lionsgate
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Aug, 27, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“Tribal Justice”: how juvenile justice works in the sovereign native American system

Tribal Justice” by Anne Makespeace, looks at how juvenile justice works on two Native American reservations in California:  the Yorok, on the Pacific Coast near Eureka,  and Quechan, in thedesert.

Specifically, it presents two female judges, Abbie and Claudette, who deal with troubled youths (like Isaac) in their system.  They are confronted with the possibility that the state of California may take custody of them.

The independent tribal justice system tries to apply healing and resolution rather than punishment and justice.  The film makes the point that “restorative justice” could set a good example for mainstream courts.   The judges say they are well aware of the “devastation of history”.

The film presents life inside both communities.  I noticed that most of the young men seemed obese, from their natural reaction to western diets with processed foods.

The film appeared on PBS POV Monday night Aug. 21, 2017, late (10:30) after the PBS Nova coverage of the eclipse.  The film was followed by a brief director interview.

Wikipedia tribal art for Quechan.

Name:  “Tribal Justice”
Director, writer: Anne Makespeace
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/8/21
Length:  87
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 at 1o AM EDT)