Saturday, June 22, 2024

Cuando Acecha La Maldad (2023)

As anyone who has come across the fictional work of Mariana Enriquez can testify, Argie horror is a thing.

What makes her stories stand out is the way she applies the genre as a lens for, examining (sub-journalistically) some of the profound historical issues endemic to her country. 

Demián Rugna appears less concerned with reportage and subtexts, but his extraordinary films are located in very specific Argentinian social landscapes. 




Cuando Acecha La Maldad (When Evil Lurks), for example is situated at an intersection of the extreme rural and the very provincial. And the paranormal threat which interposes on this environment operates less on the level of metaphor than of clever suggestion.

After a raft of fairly samey nun movies, it had a freshness of approach which was genuinely startling. For me watching horror is like going on a familiar fairground ride. Under normal circumstances, not having any real personal affinity with any underlying superstitions or metaphysical codes, they rarely GET to me.

The film has been hailed in relevant parts of the interwebs as a masterpiece or at least a near-masterpiece, as it has a few forgivable flaws here and there, but is otherwise remarkable.

Last night we watched Rugna's previous offering Aterrados (Terrified), which turns out to be almost equally good, with a supernatural premise that the non-religious could comfortably decipher as science fiction, and again absolutely relentless from start to finish, eschewing the slow build favoured by Hollywood screenwriters.

The tension grabs you like a hand emerging from a crack in a wall and it won't let go until the credits roll...or indeed somewhat afterwards.
 
 

Friday, June 21, 2024

The Real Victims



One thing we've been seeing with extreme clarity these last few years is that once you allow everyone (on principle) to identify themselves primarily through their deepest sense of grievance, it is really not long before the thugs, manipulators and intimidators start piping up.

In fact, being bullies, they barge their way to the front of the queue, because there is nothing they love more than declaring themselves to be the ‘real’ victims.
 
 

Cult of the C Words

Our world has a stack of major issues: the Big Cs: Conflict, Corruption, Climate...and then there is the Cult mentioned in the title here.


Dedicated members say they so desperately want to draw attention to the other crises, but in fact only seem to want to draw attention to themselves.

In doing so, they are becoming one of the more intractable parts of the mix.

They apparently want us to think that the pressing nature of other problems gives them a free pass to act like someone with the mental age of a non-adult not yet permitted to vote (or even use the transport system unsupervised)

i.e. "Don't fixate on me being a dick...fixate on the thing I am exclusively fixated on in a completely non-constructive, narcissistic manner".

"And if you don't, then I will throw a real strop and start breaking things."


Thursday, June 13, 2024

Dark Matters

“There are two things you should remember when dealing with parallel universes. One, they're not really parallel, and two, they're not really universes.”

I was thinking about Douglas Adams a few days ago, as I also recalled the undoubtedly poor first impression I must have made with my father’s oldest friend Michele when we visited her Paris flat in the summer of 1982.

She’s the lady on the left of this group in Buenos Aires, 1948. Born a year before Anne Frank, she is now 96, yet still uses the Metro and is dreading the Olympics. (I am yet to sound her out about the snap election.)



That I have managed to maintain long-term regular contact is a wonder to me as our first meeting occurred when I was in my Harry Enfield teenager phase, and had my face permanently planted in ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’. Barely managing a grunt, I possibly fancied I was cloaked by an SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem field) in reverse polarity mode.

Having just taken in the penultimate episode of Dark Matter I have also been thinking about alternate realities lately too.

Douglas Adams had the sense that these are porous, intersecting. Certainly from the perspective of the writer of fiction, this would make them a good deal more interesting and creatively functional.

The basic problem of “many worlds” for writers was explored by Larry Niven in his story ‘All The Myriad Ways’, in which mankind has found a way to mine the multiverse for its intellectual property, but along the way discovered that choice is somehow meaningless, a realisation that leads to a spate of murders and suicides. If all possible choices are made, the creator of fictional narratives might as well give up, if not exactly euthanasiastically.

Inside the box you have your dead cat/live cat...or do you? Are these mere potentialities and ultimately only one of them is realised? But, if the smallest bits of our mysteriously granular reality can genuinely be in more than one place, WHERE exactly are these other places?

I mention this because we don’t actually need superposition and a manufactured box to take this particular journey, because it is a little mentioned consequence of our current standard cosmological model that many (and I mean MANY) different versions of us exist in basically the same physical space that we inhabit.

Indeed, it has been calculated that the nearest arrangement of protons and neutrons that exactly duplicates the one that I regard as ‘me’ can be found at a distance of 1 followed by a billion billion billion zeroes, metres from my current location. (My gut feel is that Guatemalans won’t have to travel quite so far in order to confront their doubles, but given the way distances work here, the trip may take a lot longer than one might otherwise anticipate just by contemplating all the zeroes.)

This rather startling ‘fact’ is a consequence of the theory of inflation in which we find ourselves in one of a likely infinite number of ‘bubble universes’, yet because the internal dimensions of this are ‘to all intensive purposes’ (as my mother used to say) infinite, and the number of different ways protons and neutrons can be assembled are finite, it follows that there is a good deal of duplication ‘out there’.

Popular science is always a bit cagey about the parts of theory that arise from evidence and the parts which are like placeholders for a lack of it. And alternate versions of ourselves that are a long way away are somehow less immediately intriguing than those that are perhaps right here in the box with us.

I am still struggling a bit with the box in Dark Matter though. There’s only one layer of realities where its construction makes sense, so in all the others did it just materialise like a TARDIS, and why does nobody seem bothered? (The reason why the TARDIS first appeared as a London Police telephone box is that, out of the factory, it came with its own version of the somebody else’s problem field.)

What exactly is superimposed inside this big cube? Is it just the choices of whoever is inside and has taken the drug? In other words does it somehow isolate only the universes which apply to the ‘free’ choices of one human individual, and if so, doesn’t blending two conscious minds into this process add a level of unappeasable confusion?

For want of a better phrase (the one that springs to mind belongs to a parallel reality where politics were never corrected) causation is the dead cat in the box here. It doesn’t ‘choose’ to be alive or dead, it just is...or isn’t.

Our latest little 🐈‍⬛ has been dubbed ‘Hanky’ after the affectionate apodo Michele always applied to my father, born on the same date, with the name Henry on the certificate, but some time later occasionally referred to as Hank following his evacuation to an American high school environment during WWII. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Firulais Tasting Menu

 


One of the most jarring — off-putting even — restaurant names in Antigua, Quiltro being the affectionate name Chileans give to their street dogs🐕. A bit like Chucho here. 

I suppose we might put this down to a small failure of hispanohablante linguistic due diligence, if not alongside, then surely somewhere on the same spectrum as the Mitsubishi Pajero (“Wanker”).



Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Restless energy somtimes gets found out...

In the beginning there was a ‘false’ quantum vacuum filled with ‘restless energy’.

In this early environment energy violates its own basic rules like vampires that refuse to die when you stake them, by seemingly appearing from nowhere, but then disappearing again, apparently too fast for this to matter (somewhat literally). 
 
I have seen this compared by one science writer to borrowing your dad’s car at night and returning it before he notices. 
 
And that reminded me of the occasion I did just that, well, almost. 
 
V and I took his jag up to Oxford for a university party c1992, up and down along the M40. What a joy! That engine...
 
The first problem to be solved was the parking space back in Chelsea. (No ‘garage’ in this instance, you see.) Finding the original one empty on our return late at night would have been too much to expect. 
 
At that stage we were living in a small mews house behind my parents’ home. My father was retired and so unlikely to use his car at the crack of dawn, but that was precisely the moment we had to go out and watch carefully as the spaces emptied out as the day shift departed. As soon as the relevant spot transitioned into another sort of flawed void we gleefully re-filled it. 
 
All in all it seemed like the perfect crime. But we were undone by one small detail. We’d played with the driver’s seat settings and not managed to get them back to the precise position he was accustomed to.

Rumbled!
 
 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Hit Man (2024)

Richard Linklater's Netflix offering is almost compulsory viewing over here as one of its stars is the daughter of Ricardo Arjona (still) officially the world's most famous Guatemalan (but, for how long..?), an actress who is also (still) Hollywood's second most famous 1/2-Guatemalan behind Oscar Isaac, and now seems to have become Aquaman's real life girlfriend. 


 


The movie is almost great and she is almost great in it. She seems to be channeling one of those arch Latina female archetypes laid down by the likes of Salma and Sofía. One kind of knows that part of the over-acting and over-emoting we see is here called for by the role, but which part? She's helped by the fact that we've lately seen her in Andor doing non-identarian 'normal' quite successfully. 

The premise, that hit men are a fictional contrivance we have all come to believe in is kind of fun. There are a number of other typically heavy ethical and existential ideas in the mix which the director handles with insouiciant levity.
 
We watched it on the back of a series of movies which turned out to be unexpectedly, creep up behind you, dark. Linklater adds a barely perceptible swerve into darkness at the end of this movie, one of those with one foot still planted on the light side. I have not quite made my mind up how well this ultimately works

Absurdity Perpetuated

The thing I find most absurd — to the point of unethical — about the role of UNRWA within the Middle East conflict is the way it embodies an ultimately exclusive perspective thereof.

If there can be any justification for the UN in today's world of nations, it is as a platform for the application of multilateral thoughts and actions, cutting across perilous polarities.

As an institution UNRWA was perverted at the stage of its foundation by outside interference in its charter. Even so, under its initial leadership, facing considerable, open hostility from the Arabs, attempts were indeed made to follow the standard playbook, rehousing and rehabilitating the displaced peoples of the 1948 war.

Yet these efforts were actively resisted by the Arab League as likely to lead to acceptance of some of the humiliation of defeat in the war they had started. 
 
So already in the 1950s a single clear political goal (the eradication of the Jewish state) was prioritised over the living conditions and overall wellbeing of hundreds of thousands (now millions) of Arabs. Remember that the next time you see or hear the term "refugee camp" in a mainstream media report. 
 
And now, decades after UNRWA's efforts to resolve the initial problem were stymied, the organisation has become fully politicised and Palestinianised, perpetuating, not just though obstinacy, but actively through education as well, the need for its charges to subsist on aid provided by foreign taxpayers — backed by the utterly partisan rationale that this situation manifests to the world a dogged refusal to ever accept Jews as political equals, and a forever rejection of the international imposition of partition in the twentieth century. The latter represented what the UN was set up to do. Discover and manage compromises. UNRWA absolutely does not. 
 
We are collectively being made to pay, indefinitely, via one of our own international bodies, for the westernised wickedness of imagining a trade-off.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

12th Century Influencer

A remarkably well-informed if rather judgemental review of London as a venue for city breaks in the twelfth century by Richard of Devizes, then a monk and ‘influencer’ at St Winifred’s in Winchester. 

Richard was the first to use the term Holocaust to refer to the mass murder of Jews, then also a feature of London life.

Indeed, the Chronicon he penned, from which the above is an excerpt, is written in character — that of a French Jewish cobbler providing travel tips and up-to-date goss on the goings on in England and the Crusader states of the Levant. 

Some modern scholars have interpreted the document as a cunning satire on some of the antisemitic prejudices of the time, sending up in particular a regional-historical variant of the blood libel, in which Jews were thought to prowl around Winchester hunting young Christian boys in order to carry out ritualistic murders.

He also famously described Robin Hood’s erstwhile foe ‘bad’ King John as a raging madman who "emitted foam from his mouth", another characteristisation/media cliché which has survived almost 800 years. 

Monday, June 03, 2024

Libel as Propaganda

The purpose of the genocide libel is really rather simple. It’s not your war, but making one side in this war a violator of international norms gives you a cover for your strange obsession with it, which might otherwise be characterised as antisemitic. (It also obviously geared to undermine the moral case for the formation of Israel after the Holocaust via a cynical appropriation of Jewish history.)

The war is several generations old. One side basically just wants to survive. The other side, the one that started it, is consciously conducting a fight to the death. Whether this necessarily infers a war of extermination is moot.

This conflict should have ended decades ago, in compromise, but one side has ‘eternalised’ its sense of grievance deriving from the war’s origins and initial result. This has been done by decking out the culturally-specific sense of lasting dishonour that defeat engendered as a ‘calamity’ worthy of more universal empathy.

Hobbes said in Leviathan that nobody weeps for an old calamity, but he was English and perhaps never came across an Arab with a grudge. Nor did he ever have to deal with a multinational body like the UN intent on codifying such grudges into perpetual, unresolvable problems. 

 

 

Friday, May 31, 2024

Otherworldly Beaches

Playa La Entrega: my favourite beach in Mexico (in Oaxaca, where the Pacific is occasionally worthy of its name.) 


 

Unless one grows up on the shore, beaches are a category of place that one starts to idealise from early on. 

My first family holiday outside of Britain involved a stay on the comparatively beachless Atlantic outpost of Madeira. 

Thereafter we started to spend time in the summer on the more sheltered Mediterranean island of Mallorca, and it was there that I started to form an idea of the 'perfect beach'.

And this may in part explain my current preference for La Entrega because the Mallorca of the seventies was then dotted with tranquil calas (secluded bays) with pristine shallow water covering soft yellow sand. 

The fact that I have not been back to the Balearics since the start of the following decade has probably helped me to uphold this 'unspoiled' ideal. 

For the archetype of a tropical Caribbean beach that I would later encounter has been degraded by repeat visits and an accumulation of perceptible flaws over time. 

Indeed my very first visit to the shores of Mexico occurred at this point just north of the main jetty at Playa del Carmen at which I arrived with a pair of friends from Cozumel. There was then at least 30m of white sand between the sea and the nearest building or grass verge. On returning from Tulum in the late afternoon we spent an hour or so building a massive sand castle as we waited for the next departure of the rust-bucket vessel that acted as a ferry between the island and the mainland. 

That beach is clearly now all but gone. This calamity has been decades in the making, but its recent acceleration has been astounding. When I came here during the pandemic in 2020 the beach was in a state, but the sargasso was being actively resisted with heavy machinery and there was still a good 15m of sand in front of that horrendous arched sculpture at tye front of the Plaza. 

Once we stopped going to Mallorca, subsequent sunshine sojourns tended to take place on the Costa del Sol and the non-Mayan Riviera. These coastlines have suffered considerable loss since, but not so much environmental as sociological. 

For example, Monte Carlo Beach was always a gravel pit, but in the eighties, it still functioned as a sort of time capsule where one might experience the almost phantasmal presence of the glamour and mood of a bygone period, specifically that of the Belle Epoque

Meanwhile, over in Marbella, what lingered there was the remnants of the culture that had endured on that littoral up to the moment Franco threw it open to pleasure-seekers, and to some extent for a decade or so afterwards, beyond the death of the dictator. 

For even as the jet set plonked themselves down on these otherwise unremarkable beaches, they found themselves cohabiting with Andalucian fishermen of the old school and it was juxtapositions like these which made the experience interesting. 

The last time that V and I visited the Marbella Club back in the early noughties there was not a hint left of traditional uses of that coast. 

And this left me with that sense that has been gathering in Antigua lately, of an environment somehow hollowed out by the exorcism of its ghosts. 

There are places which have an ambivalent relationship with the present moment, where one can vaguely sense — if not actually see — layers of historical apparition made possible by what could be described as only a partial decoherence of the localised past. 

And then suddenly one is left with only a few empty or inauthentic signs and the vulgar noise of modernity.

 

 

 


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Disturbia (2007)

 


This turned up a few days ago on Netflix and we were presently surprised to find that it was not one of those movies we had completely forgotten that we'd seen before because we're like, old.(How frustrated I used to get with my father when he could apparently watch a James Bond movie for probably the third time as if almost completely new to it. Like sensitivity to caffeine, I guess this is one of those stages we all kin of get to in the end.)

Blue Velvet it isn't, but it's a fun portrayal of sinister misconduct in the California burbs.
 
Key points...

Prior to this there was no previous appearance of Shia LaBoeuf which didn't set me thinking 'how the hell is this guy a movie star?', so it was striking just how charismatic a lead he was here.
 
Carrie Anne-Moss was more than a 'one hit wonder'. Who knew?
 
This film is dated by a couple of things, but most obviously by its tech, right on the cusp of the pre-smartphone era, which makes it especially interesting from a cultural perspective.
 
It also feels a generation old by virtue of the way the 'love interest' is deployed and the archetypes she has to conform to. I was reminded of a movie I saw in Boca with my aunt and uncle back in 1985, The Sure Thing, starring world-leading antisemitic twat John Cusack, where the tropes of the white male adolescent fantasy girl were even more in-yer-face. 
 
In Distopia we were possibly at a transition point, which is particularly interesting given the debate surrounding the role of Zendaya in Challengers and what we might have lost as well as gained since in terms of genuine, gender-balanced 'sexiness'. 
 
One of the most charming aspects of this movie is the way there is no real mystery to be solved because the psycho isn't taking even the most basic precautions to cover his tracks. I thought David Morse was also really good here and wondered why he's remained relatively low key for the past 17 years.
 

Challengers (2024)

This week Novax Dojovic has accepted a wild card to play in a comparatively minor tournament ahead of Roland Garros, presumably in the hope that he will learn how to win again on time for the upcoming Slam. He might even have had a potentially second round re-encounter with Andy Murray had not the latter contrived to lose in his opening match.

So, life imitates art, just a little bit, though there's no hint of any ménage à trois in the coverage I have seen. 

Maybe the problem I had with Challengers (beyond knowing a bit too much about professional tennis) is encapsulated by this image, which reminded me immediately of Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, along with the fact that it handles a similar situation so much better. 

 


Zendaya, fresh from being the best thing in Dune Part II overcompensates a bit by being the 'meh' of Guadagnino's movie. 

Part of the problem is that the natural tendency of her features to resolve at rest into a kind of grimace (cara de huelepedo as they might say around here), really rather ideal for her role on Arrakis, is less appealing here as the aura of a supposedly universal love object. 

She convinces most as the younger, on court, ball-bashing version of Tashi, but far less so I think as the thirty-something 'MILF' of the more contemporary scenes.
 

 

 

That said, I didn't find any of them believable as players and at each of the key moments of their relationships something seemed to have gone missing in what was otherwise a heady mix. 

It's possible that Zendaya has been comparatively let down by the dialogue, scripted by Justin Kuritzkes, the real life version of the husband in Celine Song's Past Lives, that other notable cinematic love triangle of the past twelve months.

She might be movie's poster 'star', but I was left with the impression that both the writer and the director were more interested in the two boys. Again contrast Cuarón's classic in which Luisa's withheld inner torment is very much part of the trio-dynamic. Here Tashi's injury comes after the bond has formed and the story is really about as interested in the psychological impact of it as it is in her status as a working mother.

 

Friday, May 17, 2024

Big Lies

Big Lies. When I was growing up it seemed obvious that it was 'the other lot', the people trapped within authoritarian, ideologically oversaturated, basically insane societies that had to negotiate their way around these.

And yet when I made my first trips behind the Iron Curtain (never to North Korea to be sure) what I actually came across was more like ossified misinformation and people who seemed to both simultaneously believe and disbelieve depending on circumstances and things like fear and chauvinistic impulses. 

Today when I look at the leading exponents of the illiberal way, like China for example, I see extreme spin, propaganda, enveloping the actions and intentions of the CCP, but otherwise a practical and basically rational approach to most matters. 
 
In contrast it is the soup of US life that has become overloaded with the dumplings of untruth. Biden stole the 2020 election, Israel is committing genocide, Pizzagate, an individual who went through puberty as a male is a woman if he says so etc.

Big lies all of them, but don't waste your time arguing with the people that insist on believing them. These and others could each be debunked using a short memo, let alone an essay, but that's not the point. Believing them and helping to propagate them have become badges of belonging, functioning much like the Big Lies of religion. 

You will never talk any of their champions out of them, for their lives have come to depend upon them, and this is true even of the associated massed ranks of individuals whose credence is based more on personal and professional convenience.

I came across nothing similar in the USSR. perhaps because the religious mentality had been suppressed there for decades.

Anyway, I am increasingly wondering whether the Big Lies are the real problem. If you don't believe them, you're fine, right? Except you may not be, because the Big Lies have been clearing a pathway for a host of smaller, sometimes more state-of-the-art lies and the people pushing these are often individuals who would otherwise seem far more worthy of our trust than someone wearing a MAGA hat or waving a Jihadi flag.

The Big Lies are perhaps a bit like Russia's 'meat-grinder' battalions, softening up defences and locating weaknesses that can be exploited by better-prepared, more sophisticated units later on. Defenders gleefully mow them down and become complacent.

Let us not forget too that 'the other lot' are playing a role in this. They might not be foisting Big Lies on their own populations, but they have clearly seen the value in financing and otherwise promoting the 'grass roots' mendacity that has formed within western democracies.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

A la Grann!

Seems that, following Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorcese is set to make a movie of another David Grann book, The Wager.

It's a great tale from the half century before the USA existed, but it features some of the usual distortions of contemporary American history-telling.

One of the sailors on board the shipwrecked vessel was called John Duck. Grann initially reports him as a free black man. In the latter stages of the book, the author then reports how Duck and two other English sailors are left behind in Patagonia where they are 'rescued' by indigenous locals before making their way up to Buenos Aires, where Duck alone, apparently suffers the terrible, inevitable fate which then stalked his race: kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Except this is NOT what happened. The factual version of Duck's story has been carefully adjusted in line with contemporary expectations in what is becoming a rather familiar way.

Firstly, Duck had an English father and was thus of mixed race, known then as a mulatto. His 'free' status would not have been so unusual.

When he and his comrades were found by the Tehuelches, all three were immediately enslaved by these local indigenes and held as involuntary household servants for a number of years.

At some point the Tehuelches 'redeemed' (i.e. ransomed off) the two white sailors, who eventually made it back to Britain without Duck.

It is uncertain why the Tehuelches held onto Duck, though one of the others later claimed that their 'hosts' felt that Duck, by way of his complexion, was one of them, and this feeling may ultimately have been reciprocated.

This same 'rescued' friend and colleague additionally related that the Tehuelches, who also liked to enslave white women, had provided each of them with a Spanish wife, so it is conceivable that Duck did in some way put down roots with his South American captors.

The two ransomed Englishmen were imprisoned in Buenos Aires for over a year in very tough conditions before being allowed to return home as released POWs, and it is also possible that Duck had consciously decided not to risk Spanish colonial hospitality while the war dragged on inconclusively.

Anyway, nearly all the interesting parts of this story have been carefully suppressed in Grann's book. Duck is depicted as a black man and he is kidnapped and enslaved by white men. That is the kind of historical narrative Americans expect to read nowadays, so that is the history they have been given, because it feels like it ought to be true, even if it isn't.

Such are many American 'facts' today: fabrications which identify as virtuous; improvements on truth. This comes as second nature to Hollywood of course, but 'journalists'?

I think what bothers me most here is the notion that Grann had read the first hand accounts, but in spite of / because of his status as a staff writer for the New Yorker, felt comfortable with reporting another version of the story that was only indirectly rooted in reality.

We tend to blame social media for placing us in silos, for a breakdown in manners and so on, and there is truth in that, but there is also a worrying trend within traditional media, which has spread out of the USA, the end result of which is that much of what passes for contemporary political debate is little more than a set of interlocking arguments over narrative treatments.

Growing up I came across many historians whose interpretative output was coloured by their backgrounds and political biases, but this overt promotion (and acceptance) of known falsehoods within academia — as well as the various kinds of public media we are still liable to trust — has clearly metastasized within our intellectual culture.


Leo doesn't seem like a natural fit for any of the key protagonists. The gunner John Bulkeley perhaps.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Ant-Zionism is not a safe space...

Many of those who insist that Anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism genuinely appear to be convinced that it isn't.

Should we believe them? After all, we don't tend to believe white people who insist that they are not racist any more, even though in the main they do seem to understand what racism is, or at least used to be.

A majority of Anti-Zionists on the other hand don't seem to grasp what antisemitism is at all. They seem to think it's a less important and possibly unnecessary sub-prejudice within racism, a misdemeanour version of the offence, so to speak, which they feel has to be primarily about skin pigmentation and relative oppression (at the hands of Europeans).

It's not. It is the symbolic attribution of blame on the Jews and Jewishness for the worst evil your own codified worldview has been able to come up with. At base scapegoating, but often something that becomes far worse as it veers away from the facts.

This is why Jews have been Christ-killers, pitiless capitalists, unrooted cosmopolitans living beyond nationalist sentiment, polluters of the Aryan line and now, racist colonialists, perhaps even Nazis — surely the most historically-libelous form of antisemitism yet conceived.

Each time the sin attributed to Jews is different, and so too is each strain of antisemitism, but these distinctions don't somehow invalidate the charge. 

Your antisemitism might not be the same as previous variants of the mental pathogen, but it belongs to the same lineage. Projecting onto Jews the antithesis of your own ideal is always going to be antisemitic, and the more fanatical this creed, the more likely that your antisemitism will be both irrational and vile.

Religious Colonisers

One of the many absurdities behind the new form of antisemitism which goes by the name of Anti-Zionism and tags the Jews as imperialists, colonisers and racists is that of the three monotheisms that emerged out of the Middle East, Judaism is, according to any sensible reading of the matter, the least inherently imperialist.

Islam is the extreme case in fact, with global conquest baked in as a core objective from the start.It’s properly codified into the scripture.

Next most imperialist is the eastern Orthodox form of Christianity, particularly in the Russian flavour. This is because in the contemporary world it represents a near unbroken tradition where the Emperor and the Patriarch have acted in tandem: the result a near theocratic form of statehood which has tended to be authoritarian domestically and often highly expansionist beyond its borders.Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill are its most recent exponents.

Western Christianity is more of a mish mash. Oddly enough one still hears rather naïve people claiming that Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount, as if none of the rest of the stuff which accreted onto that organically afterwards really counts.

Adoption by the Roman Empire was a solid start for any religion with imperialist ambitions, but in the West at least, secular authority soon started to disintegrate.The Popes attempted to refashion the dominant secular power to suit themselves with the so-called Holy Roman Empire, but this ultimately led to conflict, German disunity and a whole later, far more toxic forms of imperialism.

The rather self-serving way the Arabs tell it today, the Crusades were the first serious example of European ‘white settler colonialism’ that they had to endure. 

At their inception though, things were far more complicated. The leaders of the early Crusades, the Normans, were colonisers because they were basically Vikings, not because they were fanatical Christians, and on arrival in the Med they started to promote sophisticated societies where all three monotheistic faiths were tolerated and enjoyed a measure of equality.

And outside of Franco-Norman acquisitiveness, the basic urge behind the Crusade was to re-establish Christian control of an area between Syria and Libya which had been overrun by Islamic hordes, with the re-taking of Jerusalem itself seen as the bare minimum. So, a counter-strike rather than an opportunistic invasion for profit.

By the conclusion of the Reconquista, the Spanish version of Catholicism had undoubtedly incorporated something of an explicit global territorial mission, but there nevertheless always remained a defensive component to this. Iberian navigators headed west in part because they believed they would be able to to locate and collaborate with pre-existing Christian societies in ‘the Indies’, which might offer the possibility of outflanking aggressive Islam, which at that time once again threatened to overrun Western Europe via the Balkan route.

There was always an inherent tension between church and state in the western form of Christianity and this would be transplanted to the New World. Christianity may be have evolved to become more than the message on the mount, but dig hard enough and it is there, as is the persona of the Messiah as a non-violent, redistributive, Jewish, anti-imperial radical.

Past Lives (2023)

 

I came to Past Lives with possibly more positive expectations than I have for any film of the past few years. I ended up spending much of its running time mentally untangling the action from my somewhat thwarted anticipations, though that is not to say I was struggling with disappointment. 
 
 

 
 
I suppose I had been counting on something a bit more like early Kieślowski, with potent pauses, intrusions of the uncanny and so on. Maybe the title had suggested that to me. What it turned out to be was a story which took me back to my own brief platonic re-encounters with my first love, three years and then eight years after we first met.
 
It’s now clear that the semi-autobiographical nature of the material led Celine Song, by necessity, to go light with the metaphysical ostentation. We do however get this line: “It’s an in-yun if two strangers even walk by each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush. It means there must be something between them in their past lives” — which echoes a narrative conceit that I have lately been toying with: a tension between what one consciously knows about people and places and a more shrouded, yet insistently protrusive form of knowledge, lurking below. 
 
There are some striking insights here into the drives which underlie changes of continent, from both the perspective of grown-ups and then the growing-ups with transplanted ambitions. Nora’s observation that the apparition of Hae Sung in New York made her feel simultaneously more and less Korean was a gem.
 
Visually, Song’s debut as a film-maker is a proper treat. Her camera work and shot composition hardly ever falls short of fascinating. And no matter what is happening on screen from a dramatical perspective, she seems to have considered ways to frame each scene in a way which makes it inherently more interesting. My favourite was one where soon-to-be-Nora’s parents are seen in a shambolic shared study area, smoking, and keep the kids in the doorway as they discuss their new anglicised monikers. 
 
 
 

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The longer term losers…

Antisemitism has tended to function differently to other forms of cultural-ethnic prejudice. 

The Jewish experience has been, throughout history, one of being symbolically tagged as core antipodal antagonists to a dominant or at least over-confident/intolerant ideology. 

In the Middle Ages, they were often treated as Christ killers. To Marxist-Leninists, Jews had to be vilified as the most unrepentant of capitalists, to the Nazis, as polluters of the blood etc. 

Nowadays within the over-confident/intolerant sectors of Wokeness they are, naturally, privileged, white, colonial racists — fabricators of an ‘apartheid’ society based on a fascist ideology. This has permitted a contemporary update of the Blood Libel, with resonances of irony, gracelessly applied. 

This new slur might seem easy enough to dismiss as absurd, ignorant, propagandistic, plain dumb etc. Yet it is profoundly antisemitic as well, because it closely fits the pattern of vile demonisation which has proved so deadly for many generations of Jews across the ages. 

And yet, in spite of the emotional pain many Jews feel as a consequence of this renewed wave of targeted symbolic abuse (History is comparably poor at recording largely emotional calamities), combined with attacks on their shared cultural identity under the guise of ‘Anti-Zionism’, my suspicion is that in the West at least, the intolerance and violent rhetoric of the Left is little more than a posture and that most individuals of this disposition would  🐔 out before visiting actual violence on a minority. 

And when they do 🐔 out, they will leave their strange bedfellows, the unassimilated, ‘political’ Muslims, high and dry and exposed to a predictable and probably very nasty backlash from the Far Right. Nasty for them, nasty for everyone in truth. 

Right now, through vocal, antisemitic support for fanatical Islamists in the Middle East, many of these Mohammedans of predominantly non-Middle Eastern descent are being duped into thinking by their Leftist poseur-enablers that their hostility to liberal values is some kind of laudable virtue. Some will be dreaming, delusionally, that pro-pal militancy will be like a gateway drug to the complete package of anti-western hallucinogens. 

In the past the chosen bullying targets of the Far Right have all tended to be ‘innocent victims’, as any decent person would understand the situation, but this time the goose-steppers may find they have a defined set of adversaries who blithely and foolishly contribute to their own dangerous othering by way of their characteristic over-confident/intolerant discourse.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

An old character is revived...

Marchers for Palestine in London bearing a big banner sporting the mug of Joe Stalin: a reminder, if we needed one, that the terms of this mocked up, make-believe confrontation with imperialism were laid down in an era of sly Soviet propaganda. 

 




Left wing extremists and right wing extremists have slightly different ways of getting their message to the mainstream. The right, knowing its core demographics, either comes out and says exactly what it means, or dog whistles a ‘low alcohol’ version to its older adherents who think it, but won’t say it, at least not in public.

Something similar occurs on the left on a lower setting, but what really gets them on the move is a Trojan Horse issue. In my teens this was nuclear disarmament. Today it is ‘Palestine’. These mobs carry symbolic identifiers up front pertaining to the ‘big issue’, but zoom in a bit into the peloton and you will find the iconography of violence and revolution, often in greater density. In the midst of the CND marches of my youth, it was always the blood red banners of the Trots that stood out for me.

In 1984, appropriately, I made my first couple of journeys behind the Iron Curtain. Outside of a visit to a group of ‘Young Pioneers’ in Moscow, the most striking signs of radicalisation I came across that year were on the western side of that supposed ideological border, in Italy, as I prepared to venture into Yugoslavia and then Hungary. Italian cities then appeared polarised between well organised groups of left and right extremists. Banners everywhere. This was just after an extended period when political kidnappings and murders had been commonplace.

What tended to strike young Brits then was how something which was high viz on the continent — though more marginal on our own island — was conspicuous in its absence in the US. A year later I came across a small shop in Manhattan selling socialist insignia, and this felt about as mainstream as a Soho sex shop.

The country which had denied Graham Greene a visa because he had joined the Communist Party at Oxford for a laugh, had seemingly smothered its own seditious sparks for good.

Perhaps ‘Palestine’, has become the ultimate enabling issue for a new generation of American radicals. This may not actually be good news for some of the causes which were being trialled prior to October 7 last year, as this one may burn up a lot of their oxygen as it flares.

The trick seems to have been renaming revolution in the language of the oppressed other: intifada. That way it enjoys the protections offered by the doctrines of diversity, which even the educated metropolitan elites of the centre tend to experience as a form of inviolable orthodoxy.

Unlike the Trojan Horses of old this one comes with a face. This belongs to a minority that it has always been legitimate to associate with a privileged relationship with the hated 'system', domestically and internationally. A minority persistently perceived to be over-represented within the elites of wealth and power, and thus available for more or less open resentment and execration. Just call them 'Zionists', if you still need to keep your right-on conscience clear.

Transgender ideology has had embodied enemies too, but the most vociferous of these tended to be scientists and feminists, often card-carrying radicals too, and so less straightforwardly easy to vilify without some damaging blow back or internecine strife. And in that context, the middle ground could not be relied upon to stick its head in the sand to the same extent.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Unlearning

 


That's a great quotation, because of the innate tension in it. i.e. Is he saying that we are still right to try to learn from history, or rather that it's all a bit of a wasted effort?

The superficially valid notion that history continues because of our consistent failure to 'read' the codified lessons that it contains has become a rather persistent, 'viral', misapprehension in modern culture. 
 
It's kind of bound up with the western liberal fantasy that history might somehow be rationalised away, like pretty much everything else we find disagreeable. This fallacy peaked with Fukuyama's "end of history" proclamation at the end of the Cold War.

What the dogged rationalists don't want to admit is that history is at least partially a set of recurring patterns which happen to us whether we like it or not. Like its constituent human agents themselves, it has a sort of innate 'biological' truth which cannot be imagined away.

I think historians of earlier periods understand this a little better than their modern-specialising equivalents. The first 500 years or so AD saw the formation of some of the key patterns which now affect everyone. In simple terms, the geopolitics of today are still driven by the impulses that drove the political-religious conflicts of that period: Catholic Rome, Orthodox Byzantium, Islamic Baghdad. This kind of history is not a class where it matters much whether one attends or skips. It's deep and informs the 'subconscious' of civilisations. 

 

 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Kalifat..."is the solutiion"

Demonstrators in Hamburg this weekend have been calling for the establishment of a Caliphate in (or on?) Germany.

The problem, as such, is this. Islam is not just another flavour of monotheism, the final update on that questionable Jewish innovation.

The notion that it is as deserving of a kind of hands-off respect as any other faith tradition disregards, dangerously, the way that it includes codifications of some very explicit political intentions, which it would be as irresponsible to ignore as any other party manifesto with intolerant overtones. (Since WWII Germany has taken a very hard line with extremism, but appears a tad more reticent when metaphysical faith is the public persona of such.)

Like other believers, any given devout Muslim can of course cherry pick his or her way through the Koran, the Hadiths etc. ignoring the persistent political prescriptions and focusing exclusively on the spiritual. 


But in practice these earthly imperatives remain no matter what the body of believers choose to do, and they an underlying intentionality of their own, for this basic, innate Islamism baked into the religion itself has tended to bond on contact with the concepts and ways of expression formed within Western Europe's own tradition of illiberal thinking, and such contact is only going to become to more systematic within a civilisation seemingly striving for diversity…as if that alone might guarantee greater broad-mindedness.




Los Impactados (2023)

 


If it had been up to me the title of this movie would have been Gente Corriente...but, sadly, it wasn't.

Award-winning Argie director Lucía Puenzo’s latest flick does have an alternative name though: Electrophilia.

Its protagonist is a vet who awakes from a coma of more than a month after being struck by lightning on a cattle farm, to find that her fundamental relationship with charged electrons has changed.

Struggling to move on, she is invited to become a member of a somewhat cultish group of relampagazo survivors led by a charismatic yet melancholic doctor, who may have been disbarred for some of the results of his experimental therapies.



Because this is an Argentinian film (and it could really be absolutely nothing else) there is not much else to it in terms of plot, barring shifts or mood, knowing looks, heavy backstory and so on, and the science is left rather sketchy.

I enjoyed it for what it was, yet inevitably left it feeling that it could easily have been something else, something that might have attempted to get under my skin just a little bit more.




Friday, April 26, 2024

Serial Suppression

I am starting to realise that my disappointment with the Dune sequel was actually part of a larger pattern of serial disappointment with the oeuvre of Denis Villeneuve, previously disguised perhaps by the sheer gorgeousness of these films.

I've accumulated enough circumstantial evidence to declare that, either intentionally or through a form of negligence, the Canadian director has been taking science fiction narratives grounded in really meaty ideas and, in effect, vegetarianising them (though until Dune Part Two he had not gone fully vegan!) 
 
I've now read a few chapters of Dune and have been fairly astonished how many crucial concepts he must have been minded to suppress.

With Herbert and Dick there was, I suppose, the available excuse that their works were like the fossilised remains of twentieth century dinosaurs, brimming with exotic, perhaps even outlandish concerns which don't necessarily transfer to our present moment. (And might even offend an overly sensitive person.)

Yet that would surely not be the case with Ted Chiang, whose short story was adapted as Arrival, seemingly after filtering out almost all its rather profound observations about linguistics and free will.
 
 

Monkey Man (2024)

Upon paying a quick visit to IMDB to check up on a cast member I made the discovery that within the action genre there is sub category going by the name of "one man army" to which Monkey Man belongs as deservedly as say, the John Wick saga.

This unashamedly full-on action flick, written, directed, produced and starring Dev Patel, has the striking distinction that it is embedded in a stylised mythological blend of its own confection and yet very obviously desirous of being about something in the real world beyond the private quest for redress of its protagonist and his murky Mumbai-esque milieu.

 

 
It's this latter ambition that has probably led to its release at a time when Modi and the religious right are seeking renewal in the world's largest democratic election and will almost certainly see it denied either a cinematic release or even a streaming deal in India.

That said Patel and his collaborators on the screenplay are very much looking in from the outside, from Indonesia in fact, where the movie was shot. And he consciously and showily borrows from both the Thai and Indonesian action traditions, with deliberate echoes from the likes of Ong-Bak and The Raid.

The kitchen fight was one of several elements which also reminded me of Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon. We also get brawls in a brothel, a bathroom and a lift, which tick all the boxes and yet always feel on the edge of something startling.

We are very fond of Dev. He was an inspired casting choice for Sir Gawain in 2021's The Green Knight. This directorial debut probably indicates how he would most like to build on that role at this stage in his career, a creative calling card of sorts, into which he has poured many of his influences and ideas, plus his training in Taekwondo. And we're glad that the cinematic world has now received it, as the pandemic and injuries during shooting had portended a fatal stall.

Unlike others who in recent history have been given the opportunity — by either an indulgent studio or streaming giant — to realise a pet project with no holds barred (Duncan Jones...), any excess here has been contained and the misfires kept to a minimum.