Archive | May, 2010

Fun With Mommy

Last night I watched, on and off, most of a 1928 John Ford silent movie called Four Sons. It wasn’t a great movie (it’s gaggingly sentimental, for one thing), but it was surprisingly anti-war and anti-government for a Memorial Day movie.

Four Sons (well, two of them)

It’s about an elderly Bavarian woman whose four sons all go off to fight in World War I, three on the German side and one, who has emigrated to America, on the American side. The three who fight for Germany are all killed one after another (the third dying in the arms of the fourth), but despite this the mother is bullied and treated as a pariah by the local military authorities (played with entertaining villainy) because the fourth son is a “traitor.”

After the war her only surviving son invites her to come live with him in America, but the u.s. immigration authorities refuse to let her in because the bereaved and traumatised woman can’t pass the literacy test.

The ending doesn’t make much sense – panicked and bewildered, she wanders away from Ellis Island and onto the streets of Manhattan (how she “wanders” across New York Harbor is never explained, unless she is even more saintly than she appears), and when a policeman learns her story he implausibly delivers her to her son rather than back to Ellis Island; cue happy-ish ending.

The German military brass are portrayed as treating civilians with contempt and taking petty revenge on them for tiny slights; the American authorities seem nicer, but try to keep the woman from her surviving son anyway, explaining that they’re just following orders. The war is portrayed as utterly pointless. So, all in all, not a bad Memorial Day movie.

War and Remembrance

There are two ways to think about Memorial Day.

Vietnam memorial wall

We could think about it as a day to celebrate the state and its wars. Most Americans do seem to regard it as a pro-war holiday; the other day I actually heard someone on tv saying, in reference to the three-day holiday, “Thank a veteran for the fact that you have the freedom to take a day off.” (Right, because if Vietnam had conquered the u.s. like it was all set to, they wouldn’t have given us any public holidays.)

But a day to commemorate those who fell in war is, properly speaking, an anti-war holiday, to honour the victims who have been drafted or otherwise conned into becoming cannon fodder for the squabbles among the ruling classes of the earth.

The true Memorial Day slogan should be: “Never Again.”

Droning On

Oops! British Petroleum sends its flunkies to the Gulf of Mexico to carry out a dangerous and ill-conceived project without adequate safeguards, and a disaster results that claims eleven lives. British Petroleum gets a stern lecture from our President Incarnate.

predator drone

Oops! Our President Incarnate sends his flunkies to Afghanistan to carry out a dangerous and ill-conceived project without adequate safeguards, and a disaster results that claims twenty-three lives. I look forward to the President’s stern lecture to himself.

An economics prize for Krugman, a peace prize for Obama – they really give Nobels away like candy these days. (Yes, I know those two prizes technically come from different organisations.)

Cracks in Time

The Eleventh Hour

For anyone who’s been watching Doctor Who on BBC America – there are, I believe, minor cuts that are made in the American broadcasts (do we still use the word “broadcasts” for cable? or is it “transmissions”?) by comparison with the British ones; but for this season’s opener, “The Eleventh Hour,” there were major cuts, because in Britain the episode ran twenty minutes longer than a regular episode but the American broadcast/transmission squeezed it into the same time frame as all the others. So if you’ve only seen “The Eleventh Hour” on BBC America, you’ve missed at least twenty minutes of material, and you owe it to yourself to track the episode down online (the Dailymotion version, for example, is complete).

Some of the cut scenes are not only quite good in themselves, but also seem to be setting up important aspects of the season arc; a number of important moments in later episodes (in particular “Flesh and Stone”) make a lot more sense if one has seen the cut scenes.

State Backs Off

Good news – as far as it goes – for civil liberties in Malawi, as their president has (reluctantly) pardoned a same-sex couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who’d been sentenced to 14 years of prison for their role in the country’s “first recorded public activity for homosexuals.”

The pressure of world opinion has obviously had its much-needed effect. But the pressure needs to be kept up until such arrests actually stop happening, rather than merely being undone after the fact.

(The Malawi president – who continued to condemn homosexuality as “evil” even as he was issuing the pardon, explained that homosexuality is “unheard of in Malawi,” and something “we Malawians just do not do” – which you’d think would obviate the need for such laws in Malawi anyway. As well as in Scotland, of course.)

Addendum: The content of the NY Times article I linked to has changed even as I was writing this post; some of the phrasing I quoted has mysteriously been removed.

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