But the novel is enthralling, but tough to read at times, as it evokes human suffering in war and in prison camps with clarity cleansed of sentimentality.
About 1/3 of the way through the novel of the same name by Vassily Grossman, and it is epic yet personal, touching and brutal, so very Russian (and Soviet) and as a writer humbling to see something so masterfully composed, with such a vast cast of characters, beautifully woven together. I was watching the 2012 Russian series based on the novel - which is fantastic - but stopped after about Episode Eight to catch up with the novel. Now I will finish the novel first, then the series, as already I can see a serious discrepancy between the novel and the series, in that the series has completely omitted what is perhaps the most important narrative - beside Stalingrad and the extended Shtrum family - the Berdyichev ghetto and the sections of the book up to the point where I am at dealing with the Nazi death camps, the collaborators, the treatment of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia by both Nazis and Russians/Ukrainians and their ilk. And that is a big omission. But I will withhold judgement until I finish novel and film.
But the novel is enthralling, but tough to read at times, as it evokes human suffering in war and in prison camps with clarity cleansed of sentimentality.
... shut the fuck up.
We know he's a stoned dickhead, a genius at tech and organizing and planning and a lot of things (I won't say everything as clearly he surrounds himself with bright and capable people - that's part of being a CEO) involved with running a large, sophisticated, highly complex corporation that sends stuff into space and designs super-sleek but really boring electric cars.
We get that. Its human beings that he sucks at. Or rather, being human.
Like Ayn Rand, he would rather send the little man and women - especially those he pays - to their graves than suffer corporate losses. And like Rand, he feels that hubris conquers all, that the individual Nietzschean will to greatness is proof of superiority.
First of all, he's a car manufacturer. And for some reason I don't see Ford and GM CEOs screaming for their individual rights to re-open, and they employ far more people, make more vehicles, and sell more of them to a more diverse public. Second of all, Tesla is just pretty much still a boutique car for Silicon Valley engineers and their spouses, the automotive equivalent of a Gucci handbag.
Now he has Valley CEOs agitating for their god-given right to make money and put the little people back in their place - the work place. There's some irony that this is all transpiring on May 1st, but I doubt that the CEOs would know or notice.
And one last note on hubris , and this spurred by an article in the SFGate on Musk and his fellow Silicon Valley CEOs urging people to get off their lazy asses and get back to work. An investor/entrepreneur named Balaji Srinivasan (wasn't he involved in Theranos?) says government is incapable of finding a vaccine for COVID. He compared it to the Manhattan Project, but said it would become the "Palo Alto" Project due to - I guess because he didn't state why, it was just implied - the sheer, ineluctable brilliance of the Valley.
Only one problem - he doesn't actually do anything. He just gives people money, and then markets it. And already today, in The Guardian, two articles that prove him wrong, plus recent news that Oxford (not located in Silicon Valley but in Oxfordshire) may be within months of developing a vaccine. One article on how the City of SF is recruiting 10,000 tracers to map the virus, and another article on how the Federal government's germ warfare research unit has lead to an early COVID-19 test.
Both examples of how government has the capability to scale-up quickly in a way that a company cannot, and how it can draw upon decades of expertise in areas that private businesses simply don't have the same resources, personnel, or mental approach, as the government is used to the idea of decades of money spent on research that is not tied to monetary returns. And Srinivasan points out another huge problem with Silicon Valley - snake oil salesman who are out of their depth.
COVID-19 has utterly turned our world upside down and inside out in a matter of months, and there is no guarantee or clear idea when this will end, or if it will. One thing is clear: the economic downside is monumental, perhaps as bad as the Great Depression, with tens of millions losing jobs in the US, businesses going bankrupt: as a point of reference, many estimate that up to 40% or more of restaurants will cease to exist. Neiman Marcus just filed for bankruptcy; the service sector and in-person retail sectors will be devastated. Not everything can move online. Bright spots? Healthcare, for all the wrong reasons. Online infrastructure and sales: stupid apps, not so much. Lyft and Uber, sayonara ....
But the most galling and illustrative news - I do use Yahoo as a home page so there is more of a focus on the ridiculous rather than the sublime - was that Bill Gates and his wife bought a new palace on the coast in Del Mar (near San Diego) for 43 million greenbacks. Think about that. While most of the US is shedding jobs, trying to get their handout from the Feds, doing what they can to delay rent payments and mortgage payments, trying to get through state inefficiency to claim UI, Gates is apparently utterly tone-deaf. While we all, the other 98%, reel from the shit storm that life has thrust into our faces, he plonks down an obscene amount of money for a new house.
Maybe he should consider not buying the house, and giving the money instead to medical clinics, hospitals, and under-served communities who need to survive.
And here we have the modern predicament of American capitalism revealed by a tiny virus: we have become so utterly inhuman in our economic practices. But also with the shutdown around the world, and the quasi-cessation of the use of fossil fuels, what has happened? Wildlife has re-appeared. Cities in the Punjab that haven't seen the Himalaya in 30 years suddenly see them every day. Four times the usual amount of bears are prowling Yosemite Valley. The shut down is good for nature - it sucks for people.
These are just random thoughts at 1AM. But when a billionaire decides its a good time to plonk down $43,000,000 when most people are losing jobs, its a sign that our society in the US suffers from its own infections.
Somehow, these same four walls
Metaphorically speaking, of course
Don’t look so
bad after 18 days.
Old acquaintances speak from the shelves,
A polyphony of voices.
Serigraphs, framed, five of them.
Big Sur coastline etched behind
skeletal branches, olive dusty oaks
speckled against tawny mid-summer
Gnarled eucalyptus, hallucinogenic
Tear-drop swirling fog, a crane in profile, balanced on a
Japanese watercolor, and
Burnished oak armoire, our little family
Its fourth generation.
But the air now possesses
An extra, palpable dimension
Blow with the wind,
Our world connected by both
The idea of the virulent
And its reality
Moving across the world at
The world has grown quiet.
I used to, on Sunday evenings when
Admiring the brown East Bay Hills turning
Orange in the setting sun, be able to
See half-a-dozen big airliners, landing
Lights on, queued up at ten thousand feet
For arrival at SFO
But this evening, clouds clearing, nary
A plane in sight.
Wild turkeys strut through
Downtown parking lots, wild pigs
Make the rounds through suburban streets,
Streaming services and Clorox
Stock rake it in.
But where will we be
In two weeks?
Enter a new era,
If we are still here to
Poor Francis Fukuyama. He, and other theorists such as Slavo Zizek who voiced the idea that, with the triumph of the internet and virtual reality, with the supremacy of capitalism and the death of communism, history had ceased, and we had entered a new continuum.
What a load. Most of us were not fooled, however; the flaws in the argument were so obvious as to beg the question "how could anyone make these assertions to begin with?"
And now corona-virus, on top of global warming, a global refugee crisis, and a world-wide resurgence of right-wing populism.
I'd say history is back and with a vengeance. Hope we are still all around in a few months to talk about this all with a sense of relief, rather than apprehension that far worse is just around the corner.
Rereading two classics - "The Brothers Karamazov," in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and out of necessity, Camus' "The Plague" in the Gilbert translation (would read it in the original but don't have it), and there has been an odd impression left by our current coronavirus contagion upon this reader's experience. The first - following Dmitri's arrest, the district commissioner of police Mikhail Makarovich Makarov is introduced into the story, and it is mentioned that "his house was never without guests." My initial reaction was the thought that this was a very unsafe situation, reading social distancing dictates into fiction transpiring some 135 years ago ....
Then the Camus novel. So much of the initial description of Oran rings true with Fremont, where I live in the Bay Area, or many other of the surrounding suburbs. The town he describes "has a smug, placid air," ... "[o]ur citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce." Not that this is so uncommon, as Camus notes, but he identifies other kinds of cities and towns, "where people have now and again an inkling of something different. In general, it doesn't change their lives. Still they have an intimation ... Oran [read Fremont], however, seems to be a town without intimations." And finally "all that was to be conveyed was the banality of the town's appearance and life in it ... Oran ends by seeming restful, and after a while, you go complacently to sleep there." Oran was around the same size as Fremont when Camus published "La peste" in 1947, around 220,000, so calling it a town reflects Camus' dissatisfaction with the city's stultifying provincialism, a feeling many would identify with Fremont, despite its ballyhooed multicultural demographic make-up, its pretty much just a large bedroom with attached bank accounts, a barrage of Teslas with personalized plates, mediocre restaurants (now empty - well those complying with the stay-at-home orders from our governor), and not one cultural institution of note. And now our own plague has cometh.
Click on the link above to go to an article, by a Brown academic, who bemoans the lack of emotion in what she calls "ancient" literature. But the "ancient" literature she cites consists of medieval, mainly Icelandic literature. To my knowledge, "ancient" literature in the West refers to Greek and Roman literature, which includes of course the drama of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes, Plautus and Terence, not to mention the poetry of Sappho, Virgil, Ovid, Homer and others. Lack of emotion? I guess you just have to shrink the spectrum of history to ignore everything before 1000CE to make her argument work. And then there are non-Western works, such as plays by Kalidasa or Sudraka. I guess she's trying to make a point, but by excluding a huge chunk of literary history, I'm not sure what it is ...
The never-ending stream of news linking Trump to Putin and Russian influence just never stops - yet the right in this country, right which used to adamantly oppose foreign influence, continues to go through any mental contortion necessary to construct a denialist mentality, just as they do with climate change. Why? Is the truth that threatening, that Trump, whose financial dealings with Russian oligarchs, Central Asian ex-Soviet oligarchs, and the Russian mob are well documented and go back decades, is in knee-deep with Russia, and must do their bidding or face a dumping of records which detail his dealings and indebted to Russia, to money-laundering, to dealing with some of the most unscrupulous individuals on the planet?
This is why Trump is fighting subpoenas for Deutsche Bank's records tooth and nail, as they were the only bank that would lend him the hundreds of millions of dollars he needed for various projects - loans which he then reneged upon, and sued the bank. The German bank, as documented by various reporters including for the NYTimes, was keen to make it big on the Street, and engaged in dubious activities in order to build a portfolio and presence on the street - a bank which, by the way, funded construction of Nazi concentration camps, sold gold taken from prisoners' teeth, funded the aryanization of Germany, and other atrocities. The mob presence in Trump's condos in NY and Florida has been well documented as probably money laundering schemes as well - individuals from Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere from what used to be "behind the Iron Curtain" - who paid way over the asking price for condos, many times over, with the reasonable belief that having paid these over-inflated sum, they then would get the condo, have the excess returned to them in US dollars (minus a Trump service fee) and then have a presence in the US, and dollars in the bank - dirty money turned into real estate, a bank account, and an ongoing relationship with Trump. And as usual in US real estate, no questions asked, or needed, about where the money comes from. If the Supreme Court upholds the right of the House to have these records, which they should, then that will begin the process of revealing Trump's shady and sleazy past, and how Russia helped him into office.
And now we have the outgoing director of intelligence warning that Putin and Russia are meddling in the elections again - removed because he made this announcement. Anyone who doesn't think that Russia is doing whatever they can, wherever they can, to disrupt American politics and keep their puppet in office is naive, and in many ways, aiding and abetting this ongoing foreign influence and keeping the most corrupt president in US history in office. John Brennan just today warned again about Russian influence, and already the right-wing trolls are online, harping about Hillary and Podesta, overlooking the fact that they have been investigated and cleared, and also ignoring the president's clear connections to Putin.
It's a disgusting political moment we find ourselves in, and with Trump's continuing attacks on anything remotely progressive or public-minded, further reminder that fascism begins when you have a gullible and inactive public.
It's not just a steady drip, drip of bad news - things seem to be getting cataclysmic-ally, epoch ending bad. No witnesses, corona-virus - now a quarantined cruise ship with at least 10 infected - the daily worsening of the climate crisis, Brexit finalized, the Niners blow the Super Bowl, Rush Limbaugh getting the Presidential Medal of something or other, the homeless epidemic in SF, and on and on. But really, Rush Limbaugh getting a Presidential Medal? For what? Being a bloated bag of bile? Clogging up America's airways for decades? And then there's the Shadow App ... some days its better just to never even log on ...
Fun to watch the very public spat - though initially it was only a snit from one side of the argument - going on between Martin Scorcese and directors like James Gunn from the Marvel series of kids' films. Scorcese, whose "The Irishman" I cannot wait to see, stated that Marvel films aren't cinema: they're like a trip to the theme park. By which he means entertaining, eye-catching with all sorts of flashing lights, loud noises and unhealthy food, based on simple ideas, offering little of substance. Is he being elitist? Francis Ford Coppola joined the fray, calling them "despicable." James Gunn shot back that they are both "out of touch." Who is right?
Anyone who knows me, knows (if we talk about film) that I have been saying the same thing for a long time - though I place the blame on the "Star Wars" franchise which in comparison to Marvel films, feel like "The Godfather" in terms of content. Let me put it to you this way: when you stack up the three Godfather films and "Apocalypse Now", and the best of Scorcese: "Taxi Drive", "Raging Bull", "Good Fellas" and "Casino" against the best of Marvel Studio's "oeuvre", since 2008 or so, what is the outcome?
It's like pitting men against boys. When Gunn claimed the two were "out of touch", you have to ask if this alleged "director" has ever been in touch with the possibilities of film, its history, the great directors. and the real idea of film as a visual and aural language capable of expressing the human experience. Even Scorcese's secondary efforts - "The Last Temptation of Christ" or "Kundun," the latter of which I thought was a fantastic movie - tower over "Iron Man" or "The Avengers." It feels a bit ridiculous to even have to say that. Ior the lives of Christ, or the Dalai Lama, no more compelling than fictitious characters whose main achievements center upon wearing armor, flying, having stereotypical love interests, and churning through melodramatic, predictable plots in the service of special effects?
Gunn is being less than sincere when he says that not everyone will be able to "appreciate then" (referring to superhero movies). Its like saying not everyone will be able to appreciate an Incredible Burger: sure it's meatless, pseudo-PC and very au courant, but its still also just junk food, which is what the Marvel series is. essentially: gaudy junk food.