Friday, October 30, 2009

Sir Christopher, Master of the Darkness

Christopher Lee was knighted today. Which, though I don't hold much to these sorts of things, makes me strangely happy.

The Guardian photo series makes much of Lee's roles as Dracula in a series of Hammer horror films and, to a lesser extent, his role as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.

I like Lee's Dracula plenty (I watched Dracula, Prince of Darkness just the other night), and he was one of the better things in the Star Wars prequels.

Still, I prefer to honour him for his roles as, say, Lord Summerisle in The Wickerman (this particular scene belongs more to Edward Woodward, but it seems to be all that YouTube offers), the Duc du Richelieu in The Devil Rides Out or Saruman in the Lord of the Rings.

In any case, congratulations, Sir Christopher.

Stay evil.

"I figured well, I guess I’ll get to come home after this."

Of all the various things I've read in the debate around Roman Polanski's (possible) pending extradition to the US, Jenny Diski's 'Diary' essay in the LRB (free access) was certainly the most worthwhile.

There is sentence that opens a paragraph about a quarter of the way through that slaps you awake, and what follows is an effective distillation of two truths that are perhaps too often seen as contradictions: 1) human beings (especially young ones) react to threatening situations in complex and ambiguous ways, and 2) some moral judgments are, really, not all that difficult.

Notes from the War on Terror, 1901

David Cole has an interesting review (subscription-only unfortunately) in the LRB of Moshik Temkin's recent book on the the Sacco-Vanzetti affair.

I was particularly intrigued, as, in the context of a research project on concerns about police powers and civil liberties in late 1920s Britain, I've been spending a lot of time reading the period's (British) newspapers.

The issues of the Daily Herald from 1927 were on my agenda in the last few weeks, so I ran across coverage of the remarkable attention--and anger--that the execution of the two men inspired, including large demonstrations in London. (Which, in their turn, raised complaints about heavy-handed policing.)

The degree of attention to the matter may have something to do with the source: the Herald was at this time owned by the Trades Union Congress and close to the Labour Party. It also, more-or-less consistently, expressed opposition to the death penalty.

(Another reference I ran across the other day was the Manchester Guardian's quotation of the Berliner Tageblatt dubbing the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti 'the spirit of the Cheka in a capitalist incarnation.')

In any case, I was struck by reading this paragraph in Cole's review of Temkin's book:

The trial took place after a co-ordinated series of bombings in 1919, attributed to Italian immigrant anarchists, had sparked a nationwide round-up of ‘radical aliens’. Federal officials, directed by a young J. Edgar Hoover, arrested between five and ten thousand foreign nationals in what came to be known as the ‘Palmer raids’, denied them access to lawyers, coerced confessions from them and ordered them to be deported, frequently on the grounds that they associated with Communist or anarchist groups. (None of the detainees was found guilty of the bombings.) Then, shortly after Sacco and Vanzetti’s arrest, another bomb went off in Wall Street, killing 39 and injuring hundreds more – also apparently the work of militant anarchists. Anarchists were seen as a real threat, committed to violence and able and willing to carry it out.

There's nothing new here, of course. I dimly recall learning about the 'Palmer raids' in high school as well as about the post-war 'red scare', which offered premonitions of the one that followed the next war. (My history and social studies teachers were hippie liberals, so they emphasised those kinds of things.)

Still, there is something remarkable in thinking about this context: I would imagine that many Americans (and others) might find it surprising that only a few generations ago, the main terrorist threat to the nation--including several urban bombings--was seen to originate among 'militant anarchists' and the ethnic group with whom that threat was most associated were Italian.

(And I see a new book is out that makes such connections more broadly: Beverly Gage's The Day Wall Street Exploded.)

As Cole points out in his review, the domestic reaction to terrorism was followed--and alternatively praised or (more often) criticised from abroad--in ways that sound quite contemporary. (Cole's review actually opens with world reaction to the imprisonment of 'enemy combatants' at Guantánamo Bay.)

He cites, for example, H. G. Wells's critical articles published in the New York Times condemning a distinct 'American mindset' that allowed the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Angry letters flooded into the Times, which refused to publish any further articles. Wells responded, asserting the right of those in one nation to criticise those in another:

The world becomes more and more one community, and the state of mind of each nation has practical reactions upon all the rest that were undreamt of half a century ago. The administration of justice in Massachusetts or Italy concerns me almost as much as . . . in London or Glasgow. Particularly when the lives of aliens are involved . . . The world becomes my village . . . part of me walks down Main Street and defies all America to expel it.

Cole points out that Wells himself--like some other international critics--had offered a blanket condemnation on the basis of the case (which had outraged many Americans); still, regardless of the merits of the case (or Wells's intervention), I'm struck, as ever by the distinctive mix of the familiar and the strange apparent in discussions from the early twentieth century.

On that note, the LRB review reminded me of an article I had found in the course of my project, published in the Scotsman in 1901 in the wake of the assassination of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz at an exhibition in Buffalo, New York.

It's rather long, though I've edited out various bits to try to shorten it. (And I have added paragraph breaks.)

Still, I think it's worth posting, as it's fascinating on many counts, not least for the atmosphere it evokes of panic, vengeance, suspicion and confusion that followed McKinley's assassination.

(It is also the earliest use I've found in any British sources of the originally American phrase 'the third degree', in the sense of the use of violence or intimidation in police questioning. But if you happen to know of an earlier one, I'd be pleased to know.)


New York, September 14.

We are in a quandary. We do not know what to do about the dreaded Anarchists. As the Yankees say when things are at their worst, we are in a ‘state of mind.’ In the past week everybody of any consequence has spoken on the subject, but one can recognise only the confusion of tongues. The New York ‘Herald’ has interviewed nearly all the statesmen in the country, from Cabinet Ministers and Senators to Governors and Representatives, demanding an answer to the perplexing question, ‘What is to be done?’

The editors of many thousands of newspapers and the preachers in thousands of pulpits have set out their clashing opinions. Everybody has been ready to make a red-hot speech anywhere on the all-engrossing theme. ‘Crush the Anarchists,’ Drive them all out of the country,’ Shut them all up in the madhouse,’ ‘Put them into dungeons,’ ‘Torture them,’ ‘Lynch them as blacks are lynched’—such are among the innumerable frenzied outcries that have rent the air since Friday of last week.

The more rational people desire that law shall somehow be brought to bear against the Anarchists; the more irrational want to see them tortured or crucified in some one of the ways described by the Chinese Minister as customary in China. It may seem surprising that much of the cruelest language has been uttered by clergymen. Almost the only reasonable newspaper in this city has been the leading financial organ, the ‘Evening Post.’

The most terrorising revelation of the past week has been that made by the thousands of Government and police and private detectives engaged in ‘unearthing Anarchists.’ Every day these parties give the papers stories about the Anarchist hordes that lurk in all parts of the country; every day they tell of ‘plots, conspiracies and mysteries.’ Chicago has a ‘nest of Anarchists,’ and there are such ‘nests,’ not only in New York and other large cities, but in smaller places, such as Paterson, Buffalo, Cleveland, M’Keesport, Detroit, Indianapolis, Wheeling, Haverhill, and many others. The ‘sleuths,’ as secret service agents are called, have a great time now in ‘rounding up’ the Anarchists everywhere; the whole police force of this city are under orders to round up all they can see.

Most people had until this time supposed that there were very few characters of that kind in the country; the but the sleuths are earning money, and frightening the Italians and the Jews by discovering rampant battalions of them. It will be said that there were plenty of these sleuths ‘guarding’ the President at Buffalo, but it was not until after Mr McKinley had been shot that they began to display their talents. The truth is that they are mostly clumsy humbugs, who hardly ever ‘detect’ anything at the proper time, but who are sure to be wildly active after they have been discomfited. [...]

It is hard to say what can be done to prevent violence on the part of Anarchists here. The best and most practicable suggestion yet made is that the existing law be turned against those of them who violate it in any way. The enforcement of the law would surely be more effective than popular vengeance, more so even than lynching under the direction of those crazy clerics who have advocated it.

The New York ‘Herald’ of the day before yesterday told a hideous tale of the torturing of Czolgosz in his cell at Buffalo by police agents, who were determined to get from him such a confession as they desired; they were ordered to subject him to what is called the ‘third degree,’ but, according to the ‘Herald,’ they intensified it tenfold, without success. The insensate men who have been crying for the torture or execution of all Anarchists as a sure means of putting an end to Anarchism are ignorant of the nature of the thing to be dealt with. The Anarchist who shot the President foresaw his own doom, and was ready to give his life for the ‘cause.’ Ordinary murderers are subject to punishment or execution, but this does not put an end to murder. [...]

Within a day or two the frenzy in the community on the President’s account has abated, and everybody seems to be willing now that his assailant shall have a legal trial. It is well for the honour of the country and its good name. Reason is regaining its ascendancy; the newspapers are growing more calm; and even the preachers of lynching are curbing their tongues.

Nowadays, there are about as many detectives as speculators in the Wall Street quarter. The apprehension of danger among the financial magnates has been keen for a week past; they know of threats against them. There must be as many as fifty ‘sleuths’ guarding the life of Mr Morgan, watching his business offices, following him wherever he goes, and never losing sight of him until he sails off in his yacht. [...]

Possibly as many as a hundred terror-struck persons, the recipients of threatening letters are under special protection against assassination. It is feared that there are men, other than Anarchists, ready to imitate the example of Czolgosz, men whose reason is affected by the daily diatribes against plutocracy by the ‘yellow’ organs and orators.

Strangers in the Wall Street district have had unpleasant experiences this week; they speedily become conscious that they are under suspicion, and are watched by armed men, and had better not loiter near the offices of a number of leading financiers. A wandering Scot, fresh from Glasgow, who turned up there yesterday, looked so much like an Anarchist that two sleuths were ordered to keep their eyes on him; he got safely to his hotel. [...]

The loose use of the dreaded word ‘Anarchist’ in this country is a piece of folly. In the Presidential campaign of last year, for example, the McKinleyite speech-makers and newspapers constantly characterised and denounced millions of Bryanites as ‘Anarchists,’ and the word became so familiar in politics that it lost its proper meaning, while one could often hear peaceful citizens proclaim that they were ‘Bryan Anarchists.’ It seemed to me foolish to throw the word at the Democratic head till it ceased to be alarming.

There is no doubt that one of the things that has most seriously frightened the conservative interests of the country during the past week has been the prospect of Vice-President Roosevelt’s succession to the Presidency. Mr Roosevelt has done so many indiscreet things, has stultified himself so often, and has roared so loudly during the few years of his career as a politician, office-holder, ‘Rough Rider,’ cowboy, sportsman, and stump-speaker that he has but little reputation for sound sense and no reputation at all for statesmanship, or even political acumen. [...]

On account of his belligerent disposition there has seemed to be danger that he would fall foul of some other Government, or get this country into trouble of some kind. ... I know much about Mr Roosevelt, who likes to be compared with the wide-awake German Kaiser, and I feel it safe to say that as a ruler he would be no more disposed to belligerency than is William II. An American President is, after all has been said, pretty closely hedged in.

It is a curious fact that as soon as Mr McKinley had been shot, the question one heard on every side and in all quarters was—‘How will it affect Wall Street?’ or ‘Do you think it will break the market?’ or, ‘Has it knocked stocks down?’ or something of that kind. For a moment it seemed to paralyse the moneyed giants of the stock market; but, as all the world knows, they immediately joined hands and forces, making a combination of interests by which, with the help of the Government, a crash was prevented. At the hour of this writing there is news from Buffalo that is not invigorating, but the situation may be more satisfactory to-morrow. One Anarchist, or a hundred Anarchists, cannot upset this country.

The Scotsman, 23 September 1901, p. 7

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Peaches Geldof ...

... Just 4 ur info.

L. Ron Hubbard and J.G. Ballard do not got together. A "total sci-fi nut" like you ought to know that.

But it seems you don't.

Similarly, a reading diet of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins seems a curious (to put it politely) inspiration to "spirituality" and a "religious path". Let alone to thetan-status.

Exhibit C (ohne Worte):

Ms Geldof falling onto the religious path.

More from the recent Scientology meme: here and here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ur doin it wrong!

Zombie-fighting fail:
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa City police are investigating an early morning assault in which a man accused another of being a zombie, then punched him twice. Police said the assault occurred at 1:17 a.m. Sunday at an Iowa City restaurant south of the University of Iowa campus.

A man was ordering food when he was approached by another man who called him a zombie, then hit him in the eye. When the victim tried to call police on his cell phone, the man punched him again, breaking his nose.

The man then ran out a back door.

The victim was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

As anyone knows, a real zombie would remain largely unfazed by a broken nose.

I mean: duh.

Of course, I feel bad for the obviously non-zombie victim and am very glad that his -- equally obviously -- deranged attacker didn't try a more effective anti-zombie attack, which usually involves decapitation, fire or, alternatively, destruction of the brain through high-powered weapons.

'Always aim for the head' is excellent advice. But always check those targets first.

And if your target is standing in line, ordering food, he's not a zombie.

(Via io9)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quote for the day

At a conference I attended earlier this year, a Lacanian from Norway told me with a dismissive little smirk (quote): "I don't buy the whole evolutionary psychology thing."

Of course she "bought" the whole mirror stage thing - just like I had done (silly me!) when I was younger (though said Lacanian was much more mature than I was then and the mother of several children - who apparently had all successfully mastered their mirror stage and the accompanying trauma).

I don't get it - what in the following quotes makes it so preposterous and provocative that it would deserve the scorn of the ignorant (for surely the Scandinavian Lacanian had never read any of the evolutionary psychology that she discounted so flippantly)?

… all normal human minds reliably develop a standard collection of reasoning and regulatory circuits that are functionally specialized and, frequently, domain-specific. These circuits organise the way we interpret our experiences, inject certain recurrent concepts and motivations into our mental life, and provide universal frames of meaning that allow us to understand the actions and intentions of others. Beneath the level of surface variability, all humans share certain views and assumptions about the nature of the world and human action by virtue of these human universal reasoning circuits.

Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer

Sounds perfectly sane to me.

Maybe they don't have evolved rational capacities in Norway (or sanity, for that matter). That's what a national diet of liquorice and akvavit does to your brain. Which is why that woman and I would never be able to understand each other, but can only serve as one another's objects of desire/knowledge, caught in the self-constituting gaze of the distant/masterful anthropologist.


Ambulances, riot vans ....

... it's all go over at Auntie's.

And of course the Guardian live blogs every time a policewoman clad in a day glow jerkin scratches her bum.

At the risk of sounding facetious: The only way to really piss off the ugly little man is to give him short shrift. Ignore him.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'I've never seen anything so ridiculous in my life'

Bernie Heinink, Simon Weston and the other military veterans in this video (via Francis Sedgemore) are worth more than a million Guardian columnists in discrediting the British National Party's efforts to re-brand themselves as a mainstream party.

Mr. Heinink's comment on seeing a piece of BNP propaganda evoking the Battle of Britain, which serves as the title of this post, puts it succinctly.

As I'm in Britain this week, I've been catching a bit more of the discussion around the BNP's hijacking of Second World War imagery than I otherwise would.

And, having a number of veterans (British and American) of that war in my family, I take this rather personally.

So, as I opened the hotel's complimentary issue of the Daily Mail this morning, I was pleased to find not only outrage at Nick Griffin's comparison of British army generals with Nazi war criminals but also a condemnation of Griffin as a 'racist' and 'bigot' that includes some charming highlights from what the paper refers to accurately enough as his 'vile words'.

That this sort of criticism can be found in the Mail of all places is encouraging. And I would like to think it would continue.

Of course, if the Mail and other like-minded rags hadn't spent so much time whipping up the kind of fears that the BNP and other fascists have so successfully capitalised upon, I would take their outrage a bit more seriously.

Still: if this is some sign on the part of at least some people in the right-wing press have begun to recoil from the monster they've helped create, then all the better.

But they should really stop feeding him.

(Nothing British)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And more from the department of the bleeding obvious ...

No comment.

How not to start an article

Discovered, today, in The Guardian: the gratingly gauche opening of Will Self's article on Roald Dahl (on the occasion of the release of Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox):

A few months ago, I was coming out of the lavatory at Maison Bertaud, a fusty old patisserie in Soho, when I saw the familiar full-moon face of Simon Callow – actor, playwright, director, indeed all round homme de théâtre – eclipsing the window.

Need I say more? This sentence essentially killed the article for me. "A fusty old patisserie in Soho" my arse!

Of course, alarm bells should have started ringing when I read the article's subheading:

Roald Dahl's children's books are full of barely submerged misogyny, lust and violence.

Well, duh!, Will "Rip van Winkle" Self (or whatever 12-year old subeditor is responsible for this bracing display of le lieu commun). Where have you spent the last two and a half decades? Next thing you know we'll be encountering the path-breaking revelation that Alien is brimfull with Freudian undertones.

Now, who'd have guessed?

Friday, October 16, 2009

I have all the self-loathing of a wolf in sheep's clothing

And, finally, on a Friday evening, something from the vaults:

Billy Bragg, 'Accident Waiting to Happen', 1992

But can you see that young star overhead, it's the one that designed my undoing.

The Mountain Goats are on tour.

In Europe.

But nowhere near here.

Still, it means that some nice video may be making it online in the near future.

Like this, from Paris. A few days ago.

'California Song', by the Mountain Goats

Friday horror

Loyal (and sympathetic) readers out there might have been wondering why a person like myself me would be so acerbic angry, bitter and enraged, when clearly I ought to be happy as Larry?

It's Zolaesque aesthetics of my early media training in the 1970s, stupid!

The disturbing evidence:

Die Sendung mit der Maus (German children's programme), 1972. No joking - this was shown on a Sunday morning on TV.

For children.

Small wonder that the more sensitive of our students find me a tad sarcastic. This is the kind of realist fodder that forever makes you immune to Prinzessin Lillifee and adolescent Vampire kitsch.


Bone meal.

'An awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite'

As Charlie puts it:

It's like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.

Although, one might say it's just like any other day at the Daily Mail, which is kind of like the Two Minutes' Hate, only in handy, portable tabloid form.

But today it seems to have struck an unusually vibrant chord.


[UPDATE] I see now that about ten minutes before me, Geoff got there to make the same point. It's nice to be on the same wavelength with someone as sane as Geoff, let me tell you.

Is it because I is grey?

Having been attacked by marauding hordes of grey squirrels in London parks and gardens in the past (in fact, only recently), I stand firmly by my opinion that - while cutely Disneyesque - the grey squirrel has the makings of a vandal in it.

I don't trust these overfed, overweight and over here critters and their bolshy "Oi - less 'ave yer spare nuts" attitude. Give me an elegant, sinewy red squirrel - like the ones that sometimes frolic in our garden - any day. I'm convinced they speak foreign languages, too.

My pro red squirrel bias would not stand me in a good stead with Dr. Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University, who according to this article in the Telegraph (and this),
said controlling grey squirrels was “eco-xenophobia”. He said of schemes involving population management “that they resonate with ideas growing with the BNP in the UK, and with other right-wing groups across Europe”.
The "schemes" here referred to are probably those pursued by the Friends of the Anglesey Red Squirrels, which seems to have been a rather successful conservation project.

Well, what can you say?

"Political correctness gone mad!"

(picture via; more from squirrel expert da Wife, with embarrassing evidence of stylistic repetitiveness, here)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bowled für sechs

I'm wondering whether you find the same thing...odd...about the following article I ran across last week as I did.


Not Allowed on the Stand

Why Seats Were Not Given

A Blunder

'Quite Unintentional Slight'

An apology has been tendered to the German cricketers, now on a visit to this country, by Mr. R. C. N. Palairet, secretary of the Surrey County Cricket Club.

The German eleven visited the Oval on Saturday to see the Surrey v. Notts match, but were informed that they could not be given complimentary seats in the stand. They had previously paid for admission.

'I trust,' writes Mr. Palairet, in a letter to Mr. G. Henderson, who arranged the visit of the team, 'that you will convey to the members of the German eleven my sincere apologies for the quite unintentional slight offered to them.'

He states that at about 12.30 p.m. on Saturday a verbal message was brought to him which he understood to be that a man below was asking if any privileges had been granted to the German eleven for the Test match.


'To this,' he adds, 'my reply was "No"; no privileges having been asked for.'

'If I had realised that all the members of the team were present, and were asking for admission for the day, I would at once have arranged for their admission, this being the usual practice at the Oval.'

Mr. Kirloskar, the only member of the team who understands English, however, has made it clear already that in speaking to the man who conveyed Mr. Palairet's message he did not mention the Test match, nor did this man representing the secretary do so.

'I think,' he added, 'that he understood perfectly the nature of our request.'

There was a general feeling among cricketers yesterday that an apology was called for.


Hospitality is, however, to be given to the team on Thursday at Lord's, where tehy are to be the guests at tea of Sir Kynaston Studd, president of the M.C.C., and they will witness the Army versus Police schools match.

The invitation was sent to them before their arrival in England by Mr. W. R. Findlay, secretary of the M.C.C.

It was this fact which made their reception at the Oval all the more puzzling.

Daily Herald, 5 August 1930, p. 9

Yes, it was the phrase 'the German cricketers'.

'German cricketers'?

'German cricketers'?

There are many odd things I have learned about my adopted homeland recently (such as the fact that it was once the chief cocaine producer in the world), but the intimation that Germany had a cricket team is one of the more unexpected.

However, given that a quick internet search of the terms 'German' and 'cricket' (though I admit I never would have thought to enter them before) brings me to the Deutscher Cricket Bund, perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised.

And from their history page comes not only some information about the sport's past in this country, but also a glancing reference to the circumstances in which the above-mentioned slight occurred (my, rather hasty, translation):

The earliest known reference to cricket in Germany was in 1850, when a group of English and Americans founded the first cricket club in Germany.

Another club, which called itself Berlin CC, was founed in 1883. Until 1907, there were seven clubs in Berlin that participated in the Berlin Cricket League. By the outbreak of the First World War, this number had grown to 14.

The 'German Cricket and Football Federation' [Deutsche Cricket und Fußball Bund] was founded in 1893, the first German cricket federation in 1913. The clubs came from Berlin, Nuremberg, Fürth, Düsseldorf, Mannheim and Hamburg.

Although this cricket federation published a newsletter, very little is known about its activities. Between 1860 and 1991, several foreign teams toured through Germany, e.g., from Denmark, the Netherlands, and also the Leicestershire county CC.

The first tour of a German team in England occurred in 1930, and in 1937 the 'Gentlemen of Worcester', bolstered by four former professionals, played two 'Tests' in Berlin.
If anyone out there knows more about the history of German cricket, I'd be happy to hear from you. (Sounds like a sports history dissertation in the making to me....)

[UPDATE]: more info here. And here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Midweek music

For me, one nice thing about having to go going to work is potentially getting to hear good music on the radio as I'm travelling there. Like this here (pity it's only a teaser), by The Burning Hell:

I also like this track, which I caught this morning, though the live version emphasises that somewhere deep in its heart this song is a shameless imitation of "The Passenger":

Baader Meinhof, Complex

Although it came out more than a year ago to much fanfare here in Germany, it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I finally got around to watching Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, one of the glossier and more internationally successful German films of recent years.

The film had an intensely mixed reception here (as, I think, do most films and books about Germany's past), and I think I was at the time put off the notion of seeing it by the suggestions that it romanticised its subject (a highly condensed and dramatised history of the Red Army Faction), which only seemed confirmed by the trailers, which seemed to presage a film heavy on retro-glamour and action and light on historical context, psychological complexity and moral judgement.

When I finally got around to seeing it, however, I was pleased to discover a far better film than the one I'd expected. Quite apart from its excellent production values and many strong performances, I thought that the film ultimately--and effectively--condemned its urban-guerrilla protagonists, despite (or perhaps because of) the many opportunities it gave them for grandiose political posturing.

On this note, Terry Glavin today points us to a recent Vanity Fair essay by Christopher Hitchens on the film, which expresses many of the things that occurred to me while watching it, only clearer than I probably could have myself. (And Terry's embedding of the godawful American trailer for the film might help to explain my initial reluctance...if anything, it's even more glamourising than the, in comparative retrospect, much more ambiguous German one.)

Among the film's strengths, I think, are its unflinching attention to the bloody consequences of the RAF's violence and its emphasis on the (often twisted) dynamics in the group members' psychology.

As Hitchens notes:

It doesn’t take long for the sinister ramifications of the “complex” to become plain. Consumerism is equated with Fascism so that the firebombing of department stores can be justified. Ecstatic violence and “action” become ends in themselves. One can perhaps picture Ulrike Meinhof as a “Red” resister of Nazism in the 1930s, but if the analogy to that decade is allowed, then it is very much easier to envisage her brutally handsome pal Andreas Baader as an enthusiastic member of the Brownshirts. (The gang bought its first consignment of weapons from a member of Germany’s neo-Nazi underworld: no need to be choosy when you are so obviously in the right.) There is, as with all such movements, an uneasy relationship between sexuality and cruelty, and between casual or cynical attitudes to both. As if curtain-raising a drama of brutality that has long since eclipsed their own, the young but hedonistic West German toughs take themselves off to the Middle East in search of the real thing and the real training camps, and discover to their dismay that their Arab hosts are somewhat … puritanical.

Researching this in the late 1970s in Germany, I became convinced that the Baader Meinhof phenomenon actually was a form of psychosis. One of the main recruiting grounds for the gang was an institution at the University of Heidelberg called the Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv, or Socialist Patients Collective, an outfit that sought to persuade the pitifully insane that they needed no treatment save social revolution. (Such a reading of the work of R. D. Laing and others was one of the major “disorders” of the 1960s.) Among the star pupils of this cuckoo’s nest was Ralf Reinders, who was arrested after several violent “actions” and who had once planned to destroy the Jewish House in Berlin—a restoration of the one gutted by the Brownshirts—“in order to get rid of this thing about the Jews that we’ve all had to have since the Nazi time.” Yes, “had to have” is very good. Perhaps such a liberating act, had he brought it off, would have made some of the noises in his head go away.

I recommend that you read the whole thing.

And its maybe an opportunity to reiterate the comments of our friend Andrew on the same topic:

The RAF itself is, as a subject of study, unedifying. Having spent some time researching them for a project, I came away feeling nothing but vague contempt for it, and complete mystification at the attention it still receives. Active RAF members fell, as near as I can tell, into two general groups: ruthless monomaniacs or deluded dupes. What united both camps was their second-rateness and insufferable pomposity. Their "manifestos" are dull and turgid; their personalities one-dimensional and unappealing. Once they began their RAF careers -- at the very latest -- most RAF cadres morphed into Godzillas of screechy self-righteous bitterness.

And more comments from Andrew on RAF-related topics are here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Drive till the rain stops. Keep driving.

A new song from the new Mountain Goats album, The Life of the World to Come.

Having recently released a concept album about a secret government moonbase that is harvesting human organs to feed aliens, the band takes a new tack here: each song on the album is inspired by a bible verse.

You must admit they have some lyrical range.

And it seems that John Darnielle has been developing his piano skills.

('Ezekiel 7 and The Permanent Efficacy of Grace'.)

Ezekiel 7:23, by the way, runs thusly: 'Prepare chains, because the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of violence'. A verse of evergreen relevance, if ever there was one.

There is a tour.

And another song from the album ('Genesis 3:23') is also available free.

And to exhaust my Mountain Goats references for today, I offer this short interview from a couple of albums back.

Our week in Conservatism: From the age of Supermac to the era of...Dave and Boris

Our research trip to London last week happened to coincide with the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

From what I can tell, it seems that David Cameron's Tories are indeed making progress in their main electoral strategy, i.e., hanging around long enough for voters to get sick of Labour while pretending that they've truly and genuinely changed and now really do care about poor people and, actually, quite like foreigners.

Whatever. The bits I saw left me underwhelmed, but, you know, I suppose I'm not really their target audience.

Anyway, coincidentally, while looking up information on a murder trial in 1959, I ran across a series of deeply creepy and Orwellian very charming newspaper adverts for Harold Macmillan's Conservative Party.

The worst best of them was the following (click image for a larger version):

(From: The News of the World, 30 August 1959, p. 7)

To avoid any misunderstanding: I've posted this out of purely historical interest and not as an endorsement of any kind.

In case you were wondering.

Quite incidentally: probably the most entertaining -- though not the most sane -- moments of the conference that I caught on television were offered right at its beginning by London mayor Boris Johnson.

Since the hotel where we were residing offers its guests free copies of the Daily Rage, I was able to read the following delightful paragraph over breakfast:

Boris was, according to a contemporary, an unmissable figure around Oxford, 'the silverback gorilla, the alpha male', who Cameron, as a socially gauche backroom boy with undeclared political ambitions, must have looked up to in awe.

Boris was also involved with the most beautiful girl at Oxford of the era, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, which increased his celebrity.

It was at about that point that said breakfast (full English, of course) nearly ended up all over our table.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Premature evaluation

As much as I continue to admire Barack Obama and despite my measured hope that he will -- at the end of his second term -- be able to look back on a number of great accomplishments in domestic and foreign affairs, I was (like everyone except for a certain committee in Oslo) more than a bit flabbergasted by today's announcement that he had won the Nobel peace prize.

I mean, don't get me wrong: I would agree that he has made “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, but what actual results these might lead to remain more than a little unclear.

I don't have much to add to the current debate, but at the moment I find myself agreeing with a couple of comments suggesting that the best thing may be for Obama to politely decline the award paving the way for it to be given to a more deserving candidate.

It's unfortunate that something that would ordinarily be so welcome appears likely to pose a thorny problem for an administration that has a lot of other pressing concerns at the moment.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A yearly visit of a week to the city of the callous and cynical

I have been meaning to write about the dubious pleasures of British television (outstanding [sic] mucky bathtubs, a mildly sadistic masterchef piercing the plump cheeks of buxom lads from Merseyside with his earnest little hedgehog eyes, speed dating for people with Asperger's syndrome - and, of course, the indomitable Miss Tits), but I don't feel the urge or have the time. Instead I give you more wisdom from my (current) favourite author:

"I should have lived an intelligible life, instead of only trying to live, aiming at modes of life beyond my reach. My mistake was that of numberless men nowadays. Because I was conscious of brains, I thought that the only place for me was London. It's easy enough to understand this common delusion. We form our ideas of London from old literature; we think of London as if it were still the one centre of intellectual life; we think and talk like Chatterton. But the truth is that intellectual men in our day do their best to keep away from London--when once they know the place. There are libraries everywhere; papers and magazines reach the north of Scotland as soon as they reach Brompton; it's only on rare occasions, for special kinds of work, that one is bound to live in London. And as for recreation, why, now that no English theatre exists, what is there in London that you can't enjoy in almost any part of England? At all events, a yearly visit of a week would be quite sufficient for all the special features of the town. London is only a huge shop, with an hotel on the upper storeys. To be sure, if you make it your artistic subject, that's a different thing. But neither you nor I would do that by deliberate choice."

(George Gissing, New Grub Street)

The passage continues:

"It's a huge misfortune, this will-o'-the-wisp attraction exercised by London on young men of brains. They come here to be degraded, or toperish, when their true sphere is a life of peaceful remoteness. The type of man capable of success in London is more or less callous and cynical. If I had the training of boys, I would teach them to think of London as the last place where life can be lived worthily."

Don't get me wrong: I really love London. But how anybody can live here is beyond me.

Friday, October 02, 2009

'In defending her liberties, she neglects the graces a little'

Another dispatch from the (rather relentless) debate about the 'modern woman' in the 1920s.


Noted Author Satisfied With Modern Youth

She or He?

Sir Galahads with Gentle Voices

'The young men of to-day, being gentle and gracious, make up for the boisterousness of the girls.'

Sir Edmund Gosse, the distinguished author, who celebrated his 78th birthday yesterday, made this comment in reviewing his ideas on modern youth in an interview last night.

'The woman of 21 is, of course,' he said, 'much more emancipated and manages things for herself. She has a very great advantage over the girls of my youth, but I think there is danger sometimes that, in defending her liberties, she neglects the graces a little.'

'I think, however, that the women of to-day are a great advance on what their grandmothers were. I wish, however, they were not quite so boisterous.'

'I find it a little difficult to distinguish who are the men and who the women--the only distinction seems to be the somewhat abbreviated skirt. The young man of to-day is much better behaved than when I was young.'

'There is an absence of anything like brutality. That is why I find it so difficult to know where the authors of the mediocre type of novel of to-day find their types.'

'There is, for instance, the strong young man who breaks up the furniture. I do not think he exists at all. Such ideas are mere conventionality, and show a complete want of observation.'

A rather different view of 'modern youth' was offered on the same page, immediately following:


Views of Miss 1927 by Mrs. 1821

'Girls who go about with skirts up to their knees, with hair cut like a man's, and a cigarette dangling from their lips, ought to be smacked and put to bed.'

This was the opinion expressed in an interview yesterday by Mrs. Sarah Collins, aged 106, of Shillington-street, Battersea, who claims to be the oldest woman in England.

Next to her dislike of modern girls and their ways, Mrs. Collins said she detested present methods of travelling.

As to doctors, she exclaimed: 'Doctors are no use to me. If people worked hard and went to bed at the proper time there would be no need for doctors. They always fuss about so much!'

(Both articles: Daily Herald 22 September 1927, p. 1.)

At the movies with Colonel Wedgwood and the corybantic cave men

I'm combing through the material I collected on a recent research trip, so there might be a few examples of this kind of thing showing up here over the next few days.

Anyway, discussions of the American influence on British popular culture were common in the 1920s, particularly with reference to the new medium of film.

Opinions were divided.


Why an M.P. Prefers American Films

'Give us the strong He-man of the American films instead of the dude who spends his time at the races and hunting and in dance halls' was the plea of Colonel Wedgwood at yesterday's sitting of the Standing Committee of the House of Commons which is considering the Cinematograph Bill.

The He-man films, he argued, showed the man who made his way through struggles, and this was largely [a] good example.

'Let us,' he said, 'get away from the idea that the American films are immoral--dull, perhaps sentimental and sloppy sob stuff you do get, but immorality never. You must not judge the film by the scantiness of the heroine's clothing on the poster outside.'

The member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was critical of French films, and declared amid laughter that often he had to walk out himself....

Daily Herald, 13 April 1927, p. 5

Colonel Wedgwood's comments reminded me of another article I had run across that was published the previous year in the Times, which took a far harsher view of American films, particularly their negative impact, in the author's view, on the English language:

Their films have displayed to us a corybantic procession of cowboys buckjumping or dashing over the prairie, sinister 'dagoes' with six-shooters sticking out of their hip-pockets, police 'captains' administering the 'third degree' to cowering 'yeggs,' 'elevators' elevating 'bell-boys' to the xth floor of 'sky-scrapers,' 'vamps' on the way in 'automobiles' to 'beauty parlours' or to 'the Van Schuyler home' 'on' Riverside Drive....

‘American Films’, Times, 10 February 1926, p. 12.

Philistine that I am, this was my first encounter with the word 'corybantic'.

I now try to fit it into conversations whenever possible, though the opportunities are rather few and far between.