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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Another quote from Days of Rage:

“I remember Russell Neufeld saying, ‘We have to wake up and realize we are not going to be Ho Chi Minh,'” says Baraldini

This is the thing that makes reading Days of Rage such an eyebrow raising experience, many of the people involved held ideas which, if they held them alone, would easily be considered delusional. Even as a group, they border on delusional.

I’m not an especially punitive or vengeful person and it doesn’t really irk me that when these domestic terrorists finally decided that they were tired of hiding and wanted to return to the middle class life they’d left behind, wasting their youth lost in a megalomania fantasy of leading a revolution, the government let most of them go with comparatively minimal punishments, if any.

We all have crazy thoughts and I’ve had pretty radical friends and acquaintances, but at some point you recognize reality. It does amaze me that not only did many of these people escape punishment, but their names and reputations are not entirely mud.

James Kilgore joined one of the nuttier groups, the Symbionese Liberation Army, better known as the people who kidnapped Patty Hearst. Yet he writes for outlets like Counterpunch and Truthout and now, in retrospect, I recall seeing his name on articles I’ve read. More recently, he’s jumped on the radical left’s latest delusion and published a book on “mass incarceration.” Why are these people not just laughed out of the room?

As I’ve made it clear several times on this blog, I’ve been struggling with my political alignments ever since the terrorist attack in Paris last February that killed supermarket shoppers and cartoonists. Politics requires joining together with other people, preferably a large number, and that requires compromise. I’m still a liberal, but I’m not a radical. I very much believe in democracy and the rule of law. These radicals have demonstrated a lack of lucidity so tremendous it’s amazing they can tie their shoes without seeing a conspiracy. That they are given any credence, that they didn’t just tuck their tails between their legs and slide into obscurity is just amazing to me.

When former Governor Palin suggested that President Obama was “palling around with terrorists,” I entirely dismissed it because – well – because it came from Sarah Palin who is not credible to me. However, Bill Ayers really was a terrorist. That he is given even an iota of credence by anyone anywhere borders on remarkable.

The new play, China Doll, “is the story of a man of means, ready to walk away from it all to start a new life with his young fiancée.” This sounds like exactly the sort of story I would normally avoid. The title doesn’t help any, either. However, it was written by David Mamet and starring Al Pacino, so I thought it was worth giving it a chance.

Since the play is still in previews and over a week from the opening, this shouldn’t really be taken as a “review.” I’ve been trying to get tickets for plays as close to the opening as possible, that wasn’t a choice for this one. Sometimes, you go to a preview and it feels like everything is set and other times it feels like it could develop a bit since. This could get better.

On the other hand, the play is hobbled by the writing. Unless there are some major changes to the script, there’s a ceiling on how much better it could get.

Al Pacino is being savaged in the press. Most of it seems to be based on the same October 29th piece from The New York Post which reports that Pacino can’t remember his lines. I didn’t, myself, notice this during the play. In a piece of the usual internet garbage, in which website writers don’t bother to learning anything new but just repeat what they’ve read on the internet, Maxim turns The Post’s report that Pacino can’t remember his lines to Pacino won’t remember his lines. As someone who has directed plays, that is a tremendously different statement to make about an actor, especially when the play is essentially one long monologue and still in previews. Furthermore, Maxim’s writer Killoran says, “Let this be a lesson to Broadway casting directors that maybe it’s better to hire actual theater actors than movie stars.” I, for one, am far more sick of writers that don’t know what they’re writing about than of movie stars on Broadway. Pacino started as a theatre actor and has a pretty solid theatre resume. The play’s bad, but Pacino doesn’t quite deserve this level of criticism. It’s probably because a lot of people will go to see this because Pacino’s in it and that makes it feel natural to direct your annoyance at him.

It’s the writing.

It’s always the fucking writing. Years ago, I came to the conclusion that if you have a weak script all the good acting and good directing is just a matter of throwing good money after bad. I had the distinct impression that Mamet had a core idea, a character, a basic scenario, but was not able to develop it into a fully realized play. The macho rhythm that comes off almost as poetry that Mamet is known for is only there in spurts. The lines, frankly, are not memorable. Thematically, it’s about how men use politics and business as a form of fighting to establish dominance.

It is staged as a two person play. In the beginning of the play, the main character, Mickey Ross, is upset about the possibility of paying tax on a new plane he has just purchased and is trying to figure a way to get out of it. This goes on for a while, with Ross alternately yelling into the phone and yelling at his assistant. At one point, he gives the assistant a speech about how business is a form of fighting between men and how it is conducted. At one point, I was wondering if it was going to get more interesting than being a play about a rich man who doesn’t want to pay tax. It did. The stakes get much higher and by intermission I was interested how it would develop.

The second act entirely dropped the ball. The ending was ill-fitting and hard to swallow. On the way out of the door, I could hear many of the other theatre goers saying that the ending was awful.

Although it’s clearly a vehicle for Pacino, Mamet says he wrote it for him, the assistant character should have been more clearly developed. I don’t know whether to blame the writer, director or the actor. Probably all three are at fault. A better development of the assistant character might have made the ending seem less hapless. The whole thing feels as if Mamet got himself into a particular position and didn’t quite know what to do.

Mamet has an interesting take on human nature. As a cynic, I can be very sympathetic to his point of view. But in China Doll, his insights only get us a scenario and a character. His lack of emotional depth keeps us from really giving a damn about the character. I don’t want to give away the ending, but, ironically, it feels like Mamet didn’t have the balls to do what he had to do to make his script work. In the dog eat dog world of male dominance that Mamet explores, older men eventually must lose to the younger men. That’s just how the life goes. It felt that Mamet, an older, successful man himself, lacks the courage to look death in the eye. He blinks and loses.

One thing that I originally liked about the internet back when we had painfully slow dial-up connections was a resurgence of the written word. When blogs first appeared, I was struck by how articulate people turned out to be. I know that is the opposite of the received wisdom. Perhaps my expectations had been too low. Still, especially when blogs focused on people’s first hand experiences, I was happy to see the wide variety of interesting voices.

Then the internet got faster, which was mostly good. However, faster meant more pictures. Pictures used to take up valuable bandwidth and the were used judiciously and sparingly. It was an odd, temporary, reversal in a society which had moved away from words and towards images due to television. Once our bandwidth increased, pictures on the internet, were used with a profligacy in news sources that hadn’t previously existed. In the newspaper, few articles had photos. On the internet, it seems that every article comes with an image, usually a stock image.

One of the reasons I don’t care to use too many images on my blog is because images can have a subconscious effect. I noticed a few years ago that the website Alternet would use the same dimly lit photo of a woman’s torso with black under wear and high heels to accompany a wide variety of articles about sex. I felt at the time that the repeated use of the image subconsciously created an association between certain clothing and sex. Since often the images chosen are based on pre-existing assumptions and stereotypes, this sort of use reinforces cultural norms. Personally, I felt that I wanted to make more conscious decisions about my own use of images.

I still find myself highly critical and skeptical of the use of images. I saw a really weird one today. At the other end of the political spectrum, on the Breitbart website, there was an article with the headline, “Study: Global Warming Will Kill Your Sex Life.” It was about a study that “examined how birth rates change over time in the US, depending on the weather.” Weird study, weird article, weird click-bait headline. But the really weird thing is the photo. What kind of photo would you put to illustrate that strange article? How about a stock photo from Getty Images of about a dozen young children in Niger?

I mean, I’m not sure I even have anything to say about that. It’s just so weird. I don’t even think I can trace the train of thought that led to that choice. Did they purchase the right to use it from Getty Images for something else and now didn’t know what to do?

Addendum: I originally found the picture by looking at the page source which says “niger” in the image tag. To be specific, Getty Images says that they are Nigerian refugees in Niger. I just thought I’d add that in case you were thinking, “That fabric looks Nigerian. Fojap! Don’t you know the difference between Nigeria and Niger!”

Just a few minutes ago, I was struck by the tendency of certain classes of people to not see other classes of people. I’m pretty sure it’s subconscious. I spent the first thirteen or so years of my life in a fairly egalitarian environment, pretty solidly lower middle class. No one where I lived had servants of any kind, (There was one family, but they were exceptions in several ways and moved to a ritzier town when I was still quite young.) nor did anyone hold jobs that would normally be considered serving positions. We were neither/nor. The whole experience of the very wealthy and the people who serve them didn’t exist in my life. There’s something about that relationship that has always felt uncomfortable to me. I don’t want to be on either end. To the wealthy, I’m probably one of those horribly gauche people who doesn’t know how to behave with servants.

I remember when I first arrived at college there was a student there from South Africa. At this point in my life I had never traveled abroad  and I had very few friends who were not also Americans. This was long before the internet and I really didn’t know much about the rest of the world. This was several years before divestment from South Africa would become a major cause. A couple of months later a boyfriend would give me the novel Too Late the Phalarope. It took me some pages to even begin to understand the plot because I didn’t know that apartheid existed. Soon afterwards, “Master Harold and the Boys” would be a big hit on Broadway and I would go to see it. Yet at that very moment, those two things were still in the future and when I met the student from South Africa the only thing I knew about the country was its location on a map.

She commented to me that she was surprised to see how poor the United States was. We were so much poorer than she had expected. As someone with comparatively little understanding about how the rest of the world perceived us, I must say I was highly surprised by this statement. I’m not a particularly jingoistic person, but still I was under the impression that the U.S. was comparatively wealthy in relation to the rest of the world. If she had seen us as no wealthier than South Africa, I don’t think I would have been surprised, but I was very puzzled to hear that we appeared “poor.” I asked what about us appeared so poor. She said there were no servants. “Everyone in South Africa has servants,” she said.

I didn’t mean to insult her or to be smart. I was feeling genuinely puzzled and my answer was one of confusion. “Everyone?” I said.

“Yes! Everyone!” She was quite emphatic on that point.

“Even the servants have servants?”

I was just naively trying to make sense of her statement. She got visibly angry and scowled, walked away and never spoke to me again, which was noticeable because the college only had eight hundred students.

Every once in a while, I’m reminded of that incident when someone says “everyone” but does not mean “everyone” but only “the people I see.”

Today, on the Atlantic Monthly’s website, an article mentions a picture of the Boulevard du Temple by Louis Daguerre. The article is about people who appear in the background of photos.

The oldest known photograph with a person in it is the exact kind of photo I’m talking about. The picture was taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, and it shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris.

Given the context, my eye is immediately drawn to a portion on the photo where I see the silhouettes of two figures. One appears to be shining the other man’s shoe. Then I read:

The street is lined with lamps and trees, and in the middle of the frame is a tiny figure. A man getting his shoe shined, who likely had no idea his image was being captured at all. (In fact, Boulevard du Temple is and was a busy street. When Daguerre took the photo, there were carts and people streaming up and down the street and sidewalks, but only this one man shows up because the photograph had to be taken over the course of 10 minutes. Only the man standing still shows up after such a long exposure.)

“only this one”

I first, I doubt myself and I think perhaps no one else sees two figures. I follow the link to the Wikimedia page. I still see two figures, but they’re blurry and I still doubt myself. I do a little search to see what other people see. From the Wikipedia page on Louis Daguerre:

“Boulevard du Temple”, taken by Daguerre in 1838 in Paris, includes the earliest known candid photograph of a person. The image shows a street, but because of the over ten-minute exposure time the moving traffic does not appear. At the lower left, however, a man apparently having his boots polished, and the bootblack polishing them, were motionless enough for their images to be captured.

“a man apparently having his boots polished, and the bootblack polishing them”

Yes, two people. Then I remembered that for some people “everyone” does not include the serving classes. I’m feeling a little ungenerous for jumping to conclusions about the writer, but I can’t quite help think there’s an inability to see certain classes of people going on here.

Now that the holiday is over, I’m back to reading Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. It’s really fascinating. I was only barely old enough to be aware of these events, so it’s sort of like being reminded of a dream you’d forgotten. The names are familiar and sometimes I even have vague faces or images associated with them, but often the details are new. You really get the sense of how idealism can go off the rails. Unfortunately, the very people who probably should read it probably won’t. I can get excited about political stuff, but there’s something in my nature that makes me pull back and ask questions before acting on my impulses. I had a friend and when we would talk late at night, it seemed we were in broad agreement on many political things, but when she started throwing bricks I distanced myself from her and her radical friends. Violent action just always stops me in my tracks.

Anyway, I’m continually struck by various sentences. Here’s one:

“Marxism even explained his wife. She wasn’t a striving harpy; she was just bourgeois.”

As usual, the costumes were not as complete as I would have liked and I was still working on them until about an hour before departure. I know some people said they wanted to see pictures, but the low light level made it difficullt to take them. Most of them were blurry and didn’t come out well.

At the halloween parade