Archive for January, 2015

Winter’s Sleep

January 30, 2015


Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film, Winter’s Sleep, is set in a village in Cappadoccia. Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a hotel owner and also a landlord for many of the people in the town. He lives with his young wife, Nihul (Melisa Sözen), and with his sister, Necla (Demet Akbağ). During the course of the film, Aydin gradually becomes aware that many of the people in the town dislike him. He also learns that Nihul and Necla are both unhappy with him.

Winter’s Sleep is about how wealthy people are often unaware of how their actions look to other people or even how these actions affect other people. Aydin writes a newspaper column, in which he makes high-minded pronouncements about how people should behave. Yet when one of his tenants falls behind on his rent, Aydin sends men to take his TV as payment, and they beat up the man when he tries to resist them. Aydin thinks of himself as a generous person, but at times he reveals contempt and mistrust towards the townspeople. When, for example, Nihul forms a charitable group, Aydin worries that they might try to swindle her. Aydin’s wealth creates both a material and a psychological gulf between him and other people.

There are long scenes in this film of Aydin talking to Nihul or to Necla. These scenes may test some people’s patience. (They tested mine.) However, if you stick with this film, it is ultimately rewarding. Ceylan is similar to Chekhov in that he is interested in people who feel unfulfilled in their lives.

Hannah Arendt on the Mob Mentality

January 26, 2015


In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes:

    For the propaganda of totalitarian movements which precede and accompany totalitarian regimes is invariably as frank as it is mendacious, and would-be totalitarian regimes usually start their careers by boasting of their past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones. The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction”…”

Arendt goes on to say:

    The attraction of evil and crime for the mob mentality is nothing new. It has always been true that the mob will greet “deeds of violence with the admiring remark: it may be mean but it is very clever.”

By mob, Arendt means “a group in which the residue of all classes are represented.” In other words, the mob consists of people who, through economic or political circumstances, have been deprived of their class standings and impoverished. Arendt tells us that “the mob hates society from which it is excluded.”

This put me in mind of the Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh or whatever you want to call it.) Reports of its atrocities – massacres, beheadings, the raping of women and girls – have actually resulted in it attracting jihadis from all over the world. This is clearly a case of evil-doing having a “morbid force of attraction”.

Consider the case of Cherif and Said Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo shooters. Abandoned by their parents and placed in foster home, they moved to a northern suburb of Paris where they engaged in petty theft and drug dealing before they gravitated toward radical Islam.

The mob, which was the mains support of the Nazis, may well be the main support of IS as well.

Chris Kyle, Michael Moore, and the Irrelevance of Heroism

January 22, 2015

Chris Kyle

The enormous popularity of Chris Kyle’s memoir and the movie based on it shows that many Americans are still unwilling to face the truth of what happened in the Iraq War. This war was not about “fighting terrorists”, but about invading a country in order to control its resources. Unless and until people are willing to acknowledge this, they will not be able to make sense of this country’s recent history. Unfortunately, many people prefer a Hollywood fantasy about soldiers fighting “savages” to the truth.

The Iraq War was based on bluster and self-delusion. It is only fitting then, that its most famous hero was a liar and a braggart. The many stories Kyle made up suggest that he may have had difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, which would make him very typical of our times.

A few days ago Michael Moore tweeted:

    My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse

Moore’s remark was clearly aimed at Kyle, but when he was pressed on the matter, he became coy, changing the subject by saying that he liked Clint Eastwood’s film about Kyle. (“Costumes, hair, makeup superb!” Well, now you know what Michael Moore looks for in a movie.)

Moore has always had a thing about cowardice. You may recall that he spent much of the 2000’s trying to prove that George W. Bush had gone AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard. This was a matter of grave concern to Moore as well as to many other liberals at the time. These people seemed to have suddenly forgotten that the Vietnam War was both immoral and unpopular. They thrilled to John Kerry’s Vietnam War stories of derring-do. If you ask me, Bush’s avoidance of serving in Vietnam actually speaks well of him. (It is the only thing that speaks well for him.)

Whether it’s John Kerry or Chris Kyle, heroism in the service of an immoral war is not something to be proud of.


January 21, 2015


Leviathan, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, is a powerful film about corruption and decay in contemporary Russia.

Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) lives in a run-down town on Russia’s Arctic coast with his wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and his son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev). The property his house stands on is coveted by the town’s corrupt mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), who connives to have it taken away from him. Kolia gets an old army fried of his, Dimitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a lawyer, to help him fight the mayor.

Zvyagintsev shows frequent shots of abandoned and decaying buildings. Leviathan was filmed in the town of Kirovsk, located near Murmansk. This town has been steadily losing population since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Indeed, one possible interpretation of the film’s title is that the characters are living in the decaying carcass of the Soviet Union. In one scene, some of the characters go target shooting. They use for their targets pictures of Soviet leaders.

It’s perhaps an indication of Maxim’s venality that instead of fixing up one of the abandoned buildings, he desires a property that is occupied. Maxim expresses open contempt for Kolia as well as for the other residents of the town. His closest confident is the local high priest. When at one point, Maxim considers giving in to Kolia, the priest tells him, “All power comes from God. As long as it suits Him, fear not.” This moment sets off the series of events that ultimately destroy Kolia.

In the final scene, we see the rich people of the town listening to the high priest give a sermon. Maxim leans over and whispers to his son, “God is watching you.” This is the intertwining of religion and corruption.

Leviathan is a great film.


January 18, 2015


Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay based on a screenplay by Paul Webb and DuVernay, depicts the struggle for voting rights in Alabama, which resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Although the film is about historical events, it has a topicality due to the recent undermining of the Act and the efforts to disenfranchise black voters in some states.

The script is highly didactic. Almost every scene seems to drive home a particular point. Many of the scenes consist of two or three people talking, in which they present contrasting points of view. This can be effective at times, but it becomes a drawback in the scenes between Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). The two of them sound so high-minded and professorial, that one wonders how they didn’t drive each other crazy.

Selma touches upon King’s complicated attitude towards violence. It makes clear that one of the aims of non-violent resistance was to provoke a violent response from authorities, in order to cause them to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the world. The film shows King struggling with the possible consequences of this tactic. In one scene, he calls off a march -much to the consternation of his supporters – because he fears that the police have set a trap.

One thing I liked about Selma is that it doesn’t try to prettify anything. J. Edgar Hoover and George Wallace are portrayed as being every bit as vile as they were. Some people have criticized the film’s portrayal of Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), particularly its implication that Johnson got Hoover to try to blackmail King. However, we know that Johnson was not above playing dirty, and at the very least he was aware of Hoover’s hostility towards King, so one has to admit that this part of the film is at least plausible. (Fun fact: it was Robert Kennedy who ordered the FBI to spy on King and his associates.)

Selma is a timely film that everyone should see.

I Lost an Argument with Michele Bachmann

January 14, 2015

Gas Tax

I always find it hard to admit I was wrong about something. Back in October of 2011, I posted an article titled Alexander Cockburn Gets Peak Oil Theory Wrong. In it, I took a potshot at Michele Bachmann:

    That’s why it’s delusional for Michele Bachmann to claim that she can bring back $2 a gallon gasoline by allowing more oil drilling. Barring a total collapse of the world economy, we will probably never see $2 a gallon gasoline again.

In many parts of the US, the price of gasoline is now less that $2 a gallon. In my defense, let me say that I used the word “probably” in my assertion. I never claimed to be Nostradamus. Besides, it wasn’t more oil drilling in the US that brought about the drop in prices, but the fact that Saudi Arabia has maintained its oil production at the same level during a world-wide economic slowdown. What is more, low gasoline prices mean less economic incentive for off-shore oil drilling. So, Bachmann’s dream of turning America’s coastal waters into dead zones has been frustrated.

For now, anyway.

After Charlie Hebdo

January 11, 2015


The men who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo are dead. The discussion we need to have at this point is how do we keep the political right from capitalizing on this tragic event. (This would be a more useful discussion than arguing about whether or not the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were racist.) Already the right is on the march. The media mogul, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:

    Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.

So, 1.5 billion Muslims should be held responsible for the actions of three (maybe four) people. This is grandstanding, of course, but it shouldn’t be regarded as harmless or inconsequential. The idea of collective punishment has a strong emotional appeal for some people. And there are people who would really like to see the US invade another country, preferably a Muslim one.

And then there is the “liberal” “comedian”, Bill Maher, who recently announced that “tens of millions” of Muslims supported the Charlie Hebdo attack. As with many of his ideas, Maher pulled this out of his ass. Whether or not he realizes it, Maher is helping to recreate the atmosphere of fear and hysteria that preceded the invasion of Iraq. (The fact that Maher says that liberals have turned the US into a “pussy nation” perhaps indicates what his real intentions are.)

We must confront and condemn advocates of prejudice and drum-beaters for war.

Obama and the Sony Hack

January 5, 2015


I think it’s become clear by now that the Sony hack was not carried out by North Korea. (See here, here, and here.) Yet the Obama Administration continues to insist that North Korea was behind the hack. There are several possible explanations for this, none of which speak well for the administration. The kindest explanation is that these people simply aren’t very bright. However, I believe these people do know what they are doing. So, the next explanation is that Obama simply decided to use this hack as an excuse to apply more sanctions on North Korea. (Sanctions that haven’t brought down the government and probably never will.) Or perhaps Obama has decided to use this as an opportunity to show that he is tough with the US’s enemies. Or perhaps both. Whichever is the case, the President is acting in a cynical and dishonest manner.