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.

 
 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Understanding detached or vicarious zealotry...

The Antisemitism vs Anti-Zionism distinction might be a bit of a red herring, largely because both terms are subject to varied and partisan interpretation.

It may be more revealing to look at the issue this way...

The Middle East conflict feeds off interpretations, constructions even, of history.

In the case of both Jews and Arabs with a genuine connection to the disputed geography, an entirely disinterested approach to this process of analysis and communication is unlikely. And thus the spin is understandable on some levels, perhaps even forgivable.

But when it comes to individuals with little skin in the game, so to speak, it becomes legitimate to ask where the strident partiality, that insistence on largely counter-factual narratives, ultimately comes from.

Is it ignorance, disingenuity or is there something more sinister at work, like hatred. 

 

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dune Part Two

Back in 2021 I described the first of the new Dune films as "absolutely awesome". 


This time I struggled to get anywhere near that same level of teenage impressionability. In fact my patience was properly tried in places.

Of course it looks great, but the plotting is cumbersome and all the faux Middle-Eastern religious hokum also started to wear me down.

Many of the things that were very good about Dune have not carried forward here, like the performances of Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Rampling and Timothée Chalamet, perhaps because their character motivations now seem more opaque, with the effect that they are considerably less engaging.

Zendaya is the best thing about the sequel, albeit encumbered by a Luis Miguel-style suntan.

Bardem is basically channeling one of John Cleese's most memorable roles from The Life of Brian, but without the laughs.

Denis Villeneuve famously didn't know if he would be permitted to make this film when he concluded the first one, but now he has dotted the action with familiar faces which serve as placeholders for the conclusion of this trilogy. And there are others in under-developed roles in this film who have been largely left to play versions of themselves owing to a lack of better cues from the screenplay. 

In 2021 I promised myself I'd read the novel, and am now rather pleased that I failed to keep that one. 


Show-runners

 


An even more crucial law of history is don’t listen to the opinions of people who know nothing about history.

There’s absolutely no point in taking sides in history is also a handy rule of thumb. (The time for cheering on Coventry in last week's FA Cup semi-final has come and gone.)

Jeremy here clearly missed episode one of The Three Body Problem.

In fact the first chapter of Liu Cixin’s novel provides a far more detailed and interesting account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution than Netflix (obvs), but there are many other examples of student movements gone whacko.

One feature of this kind of insurrection is the targeting of people who are not the actual ruling class, but are perceived to be the de facto show-runners: bourgeoisie, Jews, metropolitan elites, Freemasons, the church etc. etc.

And for most of history in the western world, academia was in effect a sub-branch of the dominant theological authority in the land, in other words a body that came with ideological baggage and a natural tendency to strike out against educated dissent outside.

We’re on our way back there now.
 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Fire Chicken

Turkeys, it ought to be noted, are kind of indigenous to Guatemala, or at least Mesoamerica…like avocados and chocolate, chiles and vanilla, tomatoes and corn. 

Byzantine Rooster. Love it. I think Constantinople had already fallen when a turkey first came across a European, possibly resulting in “fire chicken”.





Wrong and Wronger

As empires old in the tooth tottered and died, nation states started to spring up across the world during the nineteenth century. In many cases and in the Old World in particular, this process was accompanied by ethnic cleansing of an often unpleasant kind. 

The scale of this has frequently been much larger than anything that happened to both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East after World War Two. One only has to consider the likes of India and Pakistan, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria and of course, Poland. 

Our present fixation with the conflicting national aspirations in the Middle East — typically still struggling to transcend multiple prior imperial projects, western and not so western — emerges out of three phenomena.

1) The undoubtedly bloated geopolitical significance of the region.

2) Antisemitism and other forms of twisted chauvinism.

3) Extremist ideology, particularly of the anti-western kind, which assumes both anti-capitalist and anti-liberal forms. 

Any opinions which appear to spout exclusively from an alternative source are, in my experience, often rather contrived. Or blinkered, either accidentally or on purpose. 

Arabs are from Arabia not Israel. Israelites are from Israel not Arabia. That was the starting point for post-imperial ethnic cleansing on both sides. 

The numbers were broadly similar, some 600,000 people displaced each way. Relatively small compared to the 10m Germans forced to abandon their homes in the east, but significant...just not as significant as everyone seems to need to believe today. 

Contrary to what the Pro-Pal marchers chant, Arabs have no fundamental historical business to be in Israel. They are colonial cultural leftovers like white Dutch-speaking people at the base of Africa.

This does not of course mean that they ought to be ethnically cleansed. Nationalism has to be inclusive and tolerant, not only of diversity, but also of the often strange twists of history that engendered it. 

Nevertheless, I generally struggle to sympathise with the Arabs' sense of injustice over what happened in Israel at the end of Ottoman rule, and this goes beyond any inability to plug into any of the three above-mentioned standard sources of opinion on the matter.

Instead, it all comes down to the fact that I cannot get over the way that they refused a perfectly good deal in 1947, an opportunity to coexist peacefully, sharing in the post-colonial, nationalist future. (Not all chose violence and genocide of course. 1 in 5 Israelis today is an Arab Muslim.)

The Jews had been willing to attempt to build a nation state made up initially of a quite a diverse range of citizens, 40% of whom were not Jewish. But the Arabs would not compromise. They wanted the whole territory and to impose their own political and cultural vision on it, and they duly attempted to do so, violently, and lost.

There is just no getting around this. Almost everything which has happened since is surely a consequence, and I find it tiresome to listen to people obstinately re-positioning any future re-conquest as 'freedom', as if there were no blame at all to be attributed to their own past attitudes and actions.

Even Amos Oz's famous remark that at the start of the conflict both sides were right and now they are both wrong, fails to acknowledge that in 1947 the side which chose war was emphatically wronger.

And the creeping wrongness of the ideological positions on both sides today undoubtedly stems from that wholesale introduction of ethnic animus into the equation which, as I said, has been all too familiar in the formation of nation states.

Chauvinsitic nationalism is like a river which along its course always picks up so much sediment that unpleasant murkiness is almost a natural consequence of the flow, but ultimately, the levels of toxicity are at least partially under human control, or so I would contend. 

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, each nationalism has a heaven and a hell in it. 






Two Tiers of Public Protest

It always seemed clear to me that Gideon Falter and his group deliberately provoked the issue with the Met earlier this month, but that should not distract from the underlying issue, which should have long ago been recognised by the relevant authorities without the need for any public stunts.

This is not so much about so-called two tier policing as two very distinct tiers of mass demonstration within democracies, one which works within or at least alongside the norms, and another which refuses to. In fact the latter typically aims to menace civil society and its everyday political mechanisms.

There is a line, occasionally dotted, between protest and insurrection. It's not precise, but we usually know it when we see it. So, on January 6 at the US Capitol, that was not merely a peaceful democratic 'protest' against the perceived electoral irregularities, was it?

Here in Guatemala during the latter part of 2023 I witnessed first hand a series of almost entirely peaceful protests against election interference. The protest movement went beyond the call of duty to ensure that there was no imminent threat of actual violence to other well-defined minorities beyond the criminals entrenched within the state, and the latter were only being urged to resign forthwith and foxtrot oscar.

From the get go these pro-Pal marches in London have been more than a protest at Israel's response to the October 7 invasion from Gaza. This is hardly surprising, as the entire movement — from inception in the last century — could largely be characterised as the wolf of Islamism, Arab colonialism and antisemitism decked out in the sheep's clothing of thwarted national aspiration and other forms of contrived victimhood.

So, it is indeed hard for 'independent' authorities to take a stance without appearing carelessly partisan, particularly when the typical response from the mob is to shout slogans until everyone just cowers.


Many protest marches are driven by issues with no obvious points of confrontation with other sectors of society, or indeed with the state. In these cases the goal of the mass walkabout is, broadly speaking, 'awareness' and a show of strength of numbers and sentiment.

Nevertheless, and the obvious example here is Oswald Mosely’s attempt to march down Cable Street (or in my lifetime the National Front demonstrations), other mobilised multitudes are deliberately seeking trouble, looking for selected victims to insult and intimidate.


From the outset the Pro-Pal demos in London have featured a variety of very red-flaggy symbols and verbalisations (e.g. “Globalise the Intifada") which surely shunt them into the insurrectionist category. What Falter and the Iranian man with his "Hamas are terrorists" banner have shown us — purposefully — is that the Met knows this, but is determined not to recognise it formally.

In North America, specifically on elite campuses and on the streets of Ottowa in Canada, the situation has grown far worse, and this is likely to be partly the result of the authorities' cowardice or complicity.

 

Friday, April 19, 2024

The 'Right" of Return

 “The United Nations is about as useful as the Eurovision Song Contest and about as corrupt.” Ho Ho. Surely the basis of some common ground there. 

Anyway, there is no cognitive dissonance in what was said by Lipman in that clip, but the retweeter would possibly like to sow some.

Indeed there’s a fallacy being proposed here and it’s such a crucial one that it is worth unpicking in detail, as. it exposes how the pro-pal mindset and related propaganda messaging works.

The right of so-called Palestinian refugees to ‘return’ is enshrined in international law via a UN Resolution which was then attached to the foundational charter of UNRWA. It is not dependent on the prior signing of a conclusive peace agreement.

This is utterly unique. No other discreet displaced refugee group has ever enjoyed this right. The Arabs fought hard and rather deviously for it, so they need to be called out when they appear to want to have it both ways.
Also, when they fail to mention the in-built caveat that comes with this right, an associated obligation to live in peace with Israelis if they do go back there. (Para 11, Resolution 194.)

600,000 Jews were simultaneously displaced from around the Middle East, expelled in effect, as the 1947-8 war ended. Unlike the Palestinians they had not turned on the communities they had inhabited for centuries with violent, genocidal intentions, yet nobody ever granted them a ‘right of return’.

At the end of the war they also started and lost, 10m ethnic Germans were sent packing from eastern Europe. These refugees spent more than a decade demanding what they saw as an inalienable right to return to the Heimkehr, in effect insisting that whole areas of Poland east of the Oder-Neisse line should again be part of a ‘Greater Germany’.

But nobody granted it to them. Germany, naturally enough, had a grown up debate on this thorny matter even as lip service was often paid to the refugees’ demands. By the end of the fifties it was understood that turning the clocks back would only compound the apparent injustices, especially for Poles, and would allow an unpleasant geopolitical threat to fester.

So they chose to assimilate and economically rehabilitate the easterners, just as UNKRA did for North Koreans in the south. There are many other notable examples from a comparable period: China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. And the UN has an agency, UNHCR, explicitly tasked with assisting refugees, but the Arabs made sure that the Palestinians alone were excluded from this remit, and it is important to understand why.

The other Arab nations have always had only a nominal humanitarian interest in the wellbeing of the people forced to leave their homes in 1948. The refugee issue and the ‘right of return’ has always been a strategic one, with the so-called Palestinians used as political pawns in a game that the Arabs long hoped would lead to a terminal undermining of the Jewish state. For many this continues to be the sole objective.

For they have always known that having to re-assimilate hundreds of thousands (now millions) of potential enemies, even if they promised to be on their very best behaviour, would place an almost insurmountable political and economic burden on Israel, not to mention significantly augmenting the existential threat that it has always faced.

UNRWA was founded in 1949 at a moment that the US and the wider international community were aiming at the tried and tested rehabilitation and resettlement approach following a report made to the American government by a man called Chapp. But the Arabs started twisting and diverting the mandate in order to perpetuate their own special sense of injustice, directed very specifically at the UN for the attempt at partition, and to secure a source of funding that would also continue ad infinitum as the problem remain unsolved - unsolvable in fact, given all the restrictions applied.

The original name was to have been NERWA but the Arabs wanted the UN’s initials in there, to emphasise how they believe the whole situation was the UN’s fault and not say, the consequence of rejecting the partition plan and starting an unnecessary war, which they duly lost.

And so this singular and perverse situation has gone on and it is entirely legitimate for anyone to question whether it should be allowed to.

Even in 1948 it was known that of the half a million or so original refugees, a proportion of them were a) not refugees and b) not Palestinians (The latter mostly seasonal workers from other parts of the Middle East that the Arabs refused to take back, because it boosted UNRWA’s numbers and the implied threat posed to Israel of the ‘right to return’)

Now the numbers have swelled to 5m, reflecting both the desire to overwhelm Israel with returnees and the financial scam at the heart of the UNRWA mandate. Western governments really ought not to have awaited suggestions of UNRWA complicity with Islamism, indoctrination and terror before halting or adjusting the funding.

Jews emigrating to Israel are rather obviously a different case entirely, not so vastly different to Indians from the global diaspora heading back to India after independence. Or say, US-born Guatemalans, deciding to go back to the motherland in order to escape the coming Trump dictatorship up north.

Even if they’d never been before or can barely speak Spanish it would hardly be appropriate to refer to them as colonists. That would only make sense in the case of Jews if they had a native motherland somewhere outside of Israel, and if there were no Jews at all living in Israel before 1947, something the Arabs love to suggest to the gullible, but which if of course untrue.

(PS: As for ‘Zionism’, it really ought not to be used a blanket rude word to describe every single thing the pro-pals hate about Jewish self-determination and any affinities non-Israeli Jews might have with it. )
 
 

Hobbesian Revivalism

Thomas Hobbes is creeping back, mulishly, into the contemporary mainstream discourse.

This has to be in part to do with the seeming success of the Chinese super state which embodies many of his central ideas, and perhaps also because of our own local Leviathan, Nayim Bukele, with his own oh-so-slightly mafioso state-level protection racket.

The funny thing about the state of nature is that the people who perhaps exist closest to the edge of it are those who have long lived within the most apparently ordered societies, as this clip from contemporary Cuba appears to illustrate.

In my formative experiences in this region (not so contiguous), nations like Costa Rica, Belize and Cuba appeared to have found ways of lifting themselves out of the morass.

The first two now number amongst the most violent in the hemisphere. As for Cuba I remember a rather painful experience at the end of my maiden visit. The moment I was back in Guatemala I felt profound existential pangs from what I had left behind: apparent social solidarity and an absence of some of the most toxic collective pathologies which prevail here, like envy and the self-defeating kinds of faux individualism.

Belize in the 80s was a former British crown colony with high levels of literacy and apparent social cohesion, “comfortably badly off”, I used to say without intent to cruelly patronise, but even then there were early signs of how the state of nature might eventually re-assert itself.

I vividly recall spotting a fairly primitive Mayan dwelling in the north where a family were gathered within viewing content delivered via the dish on their thatched roof. The superhighway and smartphones would perhaps finish the job.

Just being literate and relatively sophisticated in a place with material limitations easily revealed by insistent global media would never be enough. And so it has also been with Cuba, in spite of the desperate efforts of the state there to choke off access to all other imagined communities and resentments.
 
 

Immaculate (2024)

 

Lately there has been a spate of blood-soaked Nun films. (Spately?)

Initially this was more "here we go again" than "this is the one we have been waiting for", though the latter exclamation would have tied in nicely with the plot.

I guess Immaculate's USP is that it is far more likely to leave devout Catholics nunplussed. 
 
It also seemed to fit inside that odd Hollywood sub-genre within the Horror and Thriller categories (to which the likes of say Hostel and Taken clearly belong), that could be summarised as the Old World or Europe-phobic premise.