Archive | August, 2009

Gain Some Pounds!

Libertarian Alliance

Libertarian Alliance

Can a libertarian be a conservative? Answer this question and win £1000. (CHT Joel Schlosberg.)

Although I’m quoted in the announcement in apparent support of the “no” side, I actually think the answer to the question is “yes.” Of course it’s a “yes, but …” (in that I take libertarianism to be thickly bound up with lefty values even if it doesn’t strictly entail them – and I could sign on to statements such as “the libertarian rejects conservatism” in the same spirit as I would such Thompson-style categoricals as “the tufted warbler flies south in the winter” even if many actual tufted warblers, owing to disorientation and bewilderment, never get airborne), but I reckon the contest judges will accept “yes, but …” answers.


Does the world really need a 131-foot-tall statue of Genghis Khan?

Genghis Khan statue

Apparently some wealthy folks in Mongolia (apparently a private company rather than the government, though I don’t know how sharp that distinction is) think so; see details here and here.

Gloury Days, Part Deux

I tried to insert the following pic into my previous post, but every time I did, the whole post went mysteriously blank, so I’m inserting it here instead.

Extremely red dress looking misleadingly maroon

Extremely red dress looking misleadingly maroon

Gloury Days

I saw Inglourious Basterds last night. SPOILER ALERT: I wouldn’t say the following comments are spoiler-heavy, but they certainly do contain spoilers. Read on at your own peril.

So, I liked it a lot. There weren’t too many surprises, since I’d read the script that was leaked a while back (a script that was, incidentally, so filled with spelling errors that I can see why some early readers assumed that the spelling “Inglourious Basterds” was simply one more typo rather than a deliberate choice), and apart from some alterations to the climax, there were very few changes that weren’t simply cuts (mainly excising what little backstory the script gave some of the characters, particularly Dreyfus and Donowitz). One bit I was sorry to see cut was an exchange between Dreyfus and Hirschberg where each of them is supposed to be thinking sadly that they’re about to cause the death of the other; but it’s hard to know whether the intended subtext would have come across. (Tarantino also abandoned his plans to have the third chapter in New Wave black and white, which seems a pity; I’m glad, though, that he didn’t decide to do the fifth chapter in black and white, which would have interfered with the presentation of the Reddest Dress That Ever Existed – which for some reason looks maroon in most of the stills I’ve seen, but not in the movie.)

Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfus

Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfus

There are the usual Tarantinoesque cultural references; many of them are to early German cinema this time around, but there are more familiar ones too – such as the film’s opening scene, which is a direct tribute to the farmhouse scene in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (The original Leone scene starts at 4:30 in this video and – skipping just a bit – continues through 2:25 in this one. I suspect that the later scene in Inglourious Basterds where the American soldiers are pretending, extremely incompetently, to be Italian was a self-mocking reference to Tarantino’s attempt to emulate Leone.) Landa the “Jew Hunter” smokes a calabash pipe – a reference, appropriately enough, to the cinematic version of Sherlock Holmes, not the literary one. And of course there’s the closest thing the film has to a main character, Shoshanna Dreyfus (whose last name makes her an iconic representation of French victims of anti-Semitism), assuming the identity of “Emmanuelle Mimieux” (a name that combines two cinematic sex symbols).

I’ve heard some Tarantino fans worrying that audiences who come expecting a Brad-Pitt-centric, warfare-centric movie might be disappointed upon encountering a movie that devotes most of its time to unknown (to Americans) actors having tense conversations in subtitled French or German; but judging from the enthusiastic reaction of last night’s audience, I suspect this movie is going to do very well – and the excellent Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent, in particular, aren’t going to remain unknowns for long.

The movie has been accused of trivialising both World War II and the Holocaust; the New Yorker, for example, laments that Tarantino, in “mucking about with a tragic moment of history” and treating the Nazis as “merely available movie tropes,” is “appallingly insensitive – a Louisville Slugger applied to the head of anyone who has ever taken the Nazis, the war, or the Resistance seriously.” Given that we’re talking about a medium that has given us The Great Dictator, To Be Or Not To Be, Dr. Strangelove, Hogan’s Heroes, The Producers, and Raiders of the Lost Ark (to say nothing of Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS) – all of which treat the Nazis somewhat less seriously than Tarantino does – I find it odd that Tarantino is singled out specifically here; Nazis have been “merely available movie tropes” for the past seventy years. And if recent years have seen some especially serious and somber takes on the period (Schindler’s List and The Reader, for example), they’ve also seen Hellboy (fantasy action-adventure) and Mein Führer (comedy).

Nazis can be friendly!

Nazis can be friendly!

In any case, the New Yorker review seems to have a bit of a tin ear; it describes the movie as “disconnected from feeling” (says who?), and claims that Waltz’s character, Hans Landa, “exudes the kind of insinuating menace characteristic of Nazis in old Warner Bros. movies” – a description that might apply to Hellstrom (the SS officer who invites himself to the Basterds’ table in the basement tavern) but is rather off the mark for Landa, whose goofy, giddy style, while certainly menacing, is strikingly different from that of the stereotypical movie Nazi.

One objection you’d expect to see raised against this film, particularly in light of recent political circumstances, is that it condones the torturing and killing of POWs. I’m actually somewhat depressed that I haven’t seen that criticism; nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the charge sticks. I can’t see that the film condones the Basterds’ actions; admittedly it doesn’t condemn them either, and certainly the audience I saw it with last night were cheering their heads off in those scenes – but I think one would have to have a tin ear to think Tarantino wants us to find the Basterds unproblematically heroic. (For one thing, he provides a useful foil for them in the much more civilised Hicox, the British lieutenant; though they are also foils for him, of course.) In any case, in all his films Tarantino tends to take a rather Shakespearean attitude toward most of his characters – presenting them with all their virtues and vices, without telling us exactly how we’re supposed to weigh them up.

A lot of people have been saying that this is a movie about cinema, which is true; but more specifically it’s about acting. Nearly all the major characters in the film are putting on a false front, pretending (with degrees of success varying from impressive to abysmal) to be something they’re not – with the most extreme case being the SS officer Landa (a phenomenal performance from Waltz), who oozes from one persona to another so effortlessly as to make us wonder whether there even is any real identity underlying all the masks. Landa’s early speech about why he likes being called the “Jew Hunter,” and his later speech about why he doesn’t like it, both serve his interests in the relevant contexts, but leave us unsure what his sincere reaction, should he be capable of such a thing, might be. Disturbingly, the closest thing we get to a moment of sincerity from Landa just might be the scene where he flies into a rage and strangles … someone. (Still trying not to be too spoilerrific.)

identity games in a Nazi tavern

identity games in a Nazi tavern

Tarantino symbolically highlights this emphasis on role-playing and disguise through the game the characters play in the basement tavern, where people who are hiding their true identities from others also wear cards on their foreheads representing further identities (most of them, appropriately enough, cinema-related – including Pola Negri, incidentally the subject of Ayn Rand’s first publication) that are known to others but not to themselves. In addition, the Nazi war hero Zoller plays himself in the movie-within-a-movie about his military exploits, prompting the question of how far he is also “playing himself” in real life; when, near the end, he morphs from his usual modest, unassuming demeanour to something nastier and more arrogant, are we suddenly seeing the “real” Zoller? Or are they both the real Zoller?

More generally, there are aspects of most of the characters that are hidden not just from one another but from us; we learn surprisingly little about the motivations of many of them. Why is Hammersmark working for the British? (Landa implies she’s doing it for money, but he is not exactly a reliable source.) Why did Stiglitz start killing his officers? What drives Raine’s and Donowitz’s sadistic rage? Why does Landa strangle the person he strangles? And why does Landa let Dreyfus escape from the farmhouse? (In the script he gives a little speech, cut from the movie version, that’s supposed to explain the latter decision, but it doesn’t, really.) I don’t find the movie’s failure to provide a definitive answer to these questions a flaw, necessarily; it’s just one more instance of the masks-within-masks theme.

Another unanswered question is whether Landa knows, or suspects, that Mimieux the theatre owner is the same person as Dreyfus the escaped Jew. His offering her milk (her parents were milk farmers), and his telling her that he had something else to ask her that he’s forgotten, suggest he does know and is playing cat-and-mouse with her. And it certainly makes for a more dramatic story if he does recognise her. But given that he could barely have glimpsed her blood-and-mud-soaked face for more than a second or two when he first met her three years earlier, it’s unclear what his basis could be for identifying her. I don’t mean this as a criticism; our anxiety and uncertainty about how much Landa knows mirrors Dreyfus’s.

This does bring me to a criticism, however: given how skilled a detective Landa is supposed to be, it would have been nice to see him do a bit more difficult detecting. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see through Raine’s Italian accent or to recognise Hammersmark’s signature on the napkin. (It would be better if he’d found only her shoe and not her napkin as well, and then put two and two together later when he saw her leg in a cast. Still, the movie version is better than the script version, where Landa just learns everything from an eyewitness and does no detecting at all.)

Worse and better scars

Worse and better scars

Another criticism: Raine doesn’t seem to know (I wonder whether Tarantino knows?) the difference between a Nazi uniform and a mere German uniform. He also doesn’t seem to realise that there’s an easy way to disguise a swastika-shaped scar: just extend it into a box. “Why do you have a grid carved into your forehead?” is a less awkward question than “Why do you have a swastika carved into your forehead?”

C4SS Advisory Panel Announced


Market anarchist media center names advisory panel.

AUBURN, ALABAMA – August 19, 2009 – Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) – Center for a Stateless Society Director Brad Spangler today announced formation of an advisory panel for the market anarchist media center.

Gary Chartier, Stephan Kinsella, Wendy McElroy, Sheldon Richman, Shawn Wilbur

Gary Chartier, Stephan Kinsella, Wendy McElroy, Sheldon Richman, Shawn Wilbur

“As we gradually build our base of supporters and step up the operations their dedicated support enables, we want to ensure that first rate ideological and operational oversight is in place from prominent fellow advocates of market anarchism who are not otherwise affiliated with us organizationally,” remarked Spangler.

Named to the C4SS Advisory Panel were Stephan Kinsella, Wendy McElroy, Shawn Wilbur, Sheldon Richman and Gary Chartier.


The Center for a Stateless Society is the Molinari Institute’s media center. The mission of the Molinari Institute is to promote understanding of the philosophy of Market Anarchism as a sane, consensual alternative to the hypertrophic violence of the State. The Institute takes its name from Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), originator of the theory of Market Anarchism.

Brad Spangler
Center for a Stateless Society

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