Saturday, September 27, 2008

Miracle at St. Anna

I saw the new Spike Lee movie today. Lee has arrived at the point where there is no longer much recognizable "Spike Lee" style in a Spike Lee film. I don't mean that in either a negative or a positive way. Just an observation.

Miracle at St. Anna is a character driven World War II movie. It lasts about two and a half hours, much of which is devoted to character building scenes that do not really move the plot along. For a story like that to work, we must be manipulated into caring about the characters and there has to be an emotional payoff at the end. I thought the film succeeded very well by those criteria. Although it seemed slow in some of the early parts, as the film progressed I became totally immersed in the lives of the characters and I was very moved by the denouement.

The film is structured, and advertised, as a mystery, but it didn't really work for me as such. An old man shoots someone in a post office with a German Luger. A valuable Italian artifact turns up in his apartment. Why did he shoot the guy? Why did he have the artifact? Where did he get the Luger? Very soon we are immersed in a flashback to World War II that takes up roughly 98 percent of the movie. The shooter was a member of an all black battalion that fought in Italy. An adventure unfolds. The questions are answered. But none of those larger plot points matter very much. As I mentioned, this is a character-driven film.

The main characters are four black men. I'll refer to them as negros from here on out since that is how they are referred to in the movie. One is the archetypal good negro, one a street negro, another the angelically innocent religious negro, the fourth a negro from the Caribbean that doesn't want anything to do with all that archetypal American shit. They end up in an Italian mountain village where learning experiences ensue.

Sounds corny at that level, which is why I normally refrain from telling anything whatsoever about the plot in these shallow reviews I sometimes do. Why am I breaking this rule now? I don't know. Best not to ponder these things.

Anyway, the character development is incredibly well handled. Little, if any of it is the least bit hokey. Some of it you might expect, other parts you won't see coming, but it all feels true. And when the mystery is solved, it feels okay as well. If you have the patience to watch a serious film, I found this one worth the effort.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dog bites man, again

The New York Times today reports on further evidence, as if it were needed, that the United States is a one party state in which the constitution is nothing more than a museum piece that serves roughly the same purpose as the bones of a saint. People venerate it, but it has no power in the real world.

Bowing to President Bush's demands, the House passed a mammoth package for the Pentagon on Wednesday that contains a pay raise for troops, billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and some political protection for lawmakers during a tense election season....

To earn President Bush's signature rather than a veto, House and Senate negotiators dropped several provisions he opposed. They include a ban on private interrogators in U.S. military detention facilities and what would have amounted to congressional veto power over a security pact with Iraq.

Not passing it before Congress adjourns this week was not an option...

Note that, worse than caving on the issue of torture, they can't even stand up for their constitutional responsibility to okay treaties. All this, as Atrios so often reminds us, against President 24 percent approval rating.

Time to quit fooling ourselves. It's not because democrats are weak. It's because they are complicit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Payback time

I think it's time we all recognize that we haven't had a functional democracy for quite some time now. Stupid wars, devastated cities, financial collapse. No one even remotely accountable. What more evidence do you need. Men in uniforms? Well, it's not a junta. Not yet. We are currently "governed" by an oligarchy. One that exists to enable kleptomaniacs.

We will soon have given more than a trillion dollars to millionaires and billionaires while as recently as last year we reportedly could not afford $7 million dollars to help needy children get health care. And the recipients of our wealth are those who have already gamed the system to become fabulously wealthy.

Note that no one has broached the subject of actually making the millionaires and billionaires pay for the calamity they have caused. There's talk of making a few settle for millions in salary rather than tens of millions, but it goes no farther than that.

In a democracy we would tax those people back to reality. Those who have profited so handsomely from looting our economy would have a special 90 percent tax bracket in place until the costs are covered. Capital gains would be taxed at least as much as earned income. And sensible estate taxes would keep them from setting their children up to be inordinately wealthy without having to earn a penny.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Washington's Dunbar high school quit a football game they were leading against a high school in Cumberland, Maryland because of racial taunts.

"They were trying to upset us, calling my guys the N-word. I had one guy in tears. I had to take him off the field," Jefferies said, adding that as he walked with his team to the locker room he was verbally accosted with slurs. He said the team was forced to stay in the locker room for 30 minutes while police established a secure path for the team to board its buses.

Think about the negative reverberations an ugly incident like that can have in those young peoples' lives. Welcome to christian conservative America boys. Just stay down.

A family friend of ours died the other day after an eight month struggle with cancer. We attended her funeral yesterday. She was my daughter's first friend when we moved to New York and my wife and her mother became friends as well. The girl was 16 years old.

Her drawn out death turned into one of those otherwise uplifting stories you hear about. She maintained a positive attitude and fought it all the way. She became closer with her family and classmates and brightened the lives of her hospital mates. She was a genuinely beautiful individual in every way.

Her family is from Haiti, so I didn't know what to expect at the funeral. I thought it possible that there would be some profound cultural differences between a Haitian family's rites and those of my own family from the midwest. I was right about that,but it didn't have anything to do with voodoo or naked emotion or anything like that. Basically, it was the same except that everyone present acted with a great deal of class. I think it was the first funeral I've been to where at least two people didn't do something to embarass themselves and cause a family rift that would never be healed.

That, and just about everyone was very well dressed. Back where I'm from, most people wear their best Levis or the more fashion conscious among them don their cowboy clothes. The only poorly dressed people at this funeral were some of the dead girl's white classmates and my own son John Bob. On the morning of the funeral, we were shocked to find out that he had no clothes that were remotely appropriate. He ended up going in cargo pants, tennis shoes, and a hoodie. I guess we were the biggest embarrassment.

Another huge difference was the production values. Comparing it to a midwestern funeral is like comparing a Broadway play to a 2nd grade production. They had a keyboard player, a drummer, a choir, and a couple American Idol caliber guest singers. The preachers were very good. Just about the only thing Haitian about it was that there was that the service was bilingual. Two preachers would alternate between English and French. They made it work very well.

The only downer was the next to final preacher. He was an African American from the church where the service was being held and he apparently knew nothing about the girl or her family. He did the fire and brimstone crap just like the country preachers do at the worst funerals back home. Then he suckered some poor saps into pledging their lives for Jesus, made them come up to the front and hug while he kept on talking and talking and talking, then asked them to come downstairs after the service to receive a special gift. I was pleased to see that very few people got up, even though he implored us a lot and threatened us with hell and damnation if we didn't find Jesus. Stupid fuckwit. But what can you do?

Anyway, it wasn't about him, or us, or fashion, or family comportment. It was about the poor young girl who died so tragically and her grieving family. You would not want to feel the sadness that was in that room.

And it especially hurts when I think of that girl and her family and the other people at that funeral. How she lived her life. How they live theirs. And then to think of those racist scumbag at that high school football game and the small town values that they hurl at those poor black kids. I'm from a small town and I can tell you this. Small town values suck.