Double Indemnity

Finished watching the 1944 movie “Double Indemnity” today. Quite good! Barbara Stanwyck has two big challenges, both of which I believe she passes with flying colors. The first is that she has to make us believe that she's so incredibly sexually desirable that Fred MacMurray (Yup, the dad in My Three Sons) loses all sense of reason and proportion and is actually willing to kill for her. Not only that, she does so while staying within the highly restrictive Hays Code, a code that states: “Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown” and demanded, among other things, that couples couldn't share a double bed, but had to sleep in two singles.

Second, her step-daughter Lola (Jean Heather) describes how Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) carried out a cold and cruel act and then stood there without showing any sign of remorse. Stanwyck does a good enough job building the character of Phyllis that Lola's description of Phyllis comes across as entirely believable.

The description given by Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) of always listening to his “little man” is a hilarious side-note. I also understood why films after the Hays Code felt the need to allow at least a few sympathetic characters to get away with it all and to make their way to sunny resorts.


New York City People's Climate March Sep 21

How big is the upcoming march going to be? The Green Party of Philadelphia has a number of buses going from several points in town. Normally, buses leaving from the city for out-of-town marches and rallies leave from just one central point. Now the Greens are confident they can fill buses from all over. I was on a conference call last month where we discussed people using the floors of churches to put their sleeping bags on. Even back then, all such space was already booked. 350.org has a section on the march which is our go-to, central point of information. Why is the organization named 350? In order for human beings to be safe, the CO2 in our atmosphere should be at or below 350 parts per million (pre-industrial civilization had around 275 ppm) and we're now above 400 ppm. 

But this issue has been around for awhile. Why is this march now gathering so much enthusiasm and attention? My own thought is that global warming has previously had a direct, observable effect on far-off places, Pacific islands, the Arctic and the Antarctic, etc. Now, Venice, Italy and Norfolk, VA are affected. Both land masses are heavy and weighted down by cities and are thus sinking very slowly into the sea, but that doesn't account for all of the gains that the sea has made on both cities. In both cases, sea levels from global warming are clearly having an effect. Parts of Norfolk, the main US Navy base, are regularly flooding with salt water, so the Navy is very intimately aware of the effect that global warming is having as they can see the sea rising right in their front yard. 

There are many other effects that global warming is having, “Glaciers everywhere are melting and disappearing fast, threatening the primary source of clean water for millions of people. Mosquitoes, who like a warmer world, are spreading into lots of new places, and bringing malaria and dengue fever with them. Drought is becoming much more common, making food harder to grow in many places.” 

Is global warming implicated in violent world events like the Arab Spring? Evidence indicates that warming is a “stressor.” It's not a cause of violence and revolution, but it adds to the volatile mix that causes social upheavals. 

A person prominently featured as a speaker for the march is the reporter Naomi Klein (Author of The Shock Doctrine), who argues that our economic model may not be compatible with human survival.


Calling “Taps” on PhillyIMC

"Taps, taps, lights out. All hands turn into your bunks. Maintain silence about the decks. The smoking lamp is out in all designated spaces. Now taps."

Navy shipboard announcement sounded each night at 2200 hours (10:00 pm)

Well, PhillyIMC had a really good run from mid-2000 to mid-2014. But we've now been threatened by lawyers to pay for an image that was taken from them without their permission back in 2010. We're busy fighting this off and are hopeful that we might get away with either a reduced payment, or better yet, no payment at all.

Can PhillyIMC be revived someday? Sure, but we're using Drupal 5 as our Content Management System (CMS) and Drupal 7 is available. Certainly, our CMS can be upgraded, but we've published almost 50,000 articles and I went through nearly 700 of them. About one-quarter of those articles aren't worth keeping as they no longer have photos or sound-files or movie files attached. There's a larger proportion of good pieces later, but clearly, there's a lot of stuff that we may as well delete before upgrading the CMS.

Also, in order to fend off the trolling lawyers, we need to make sure that all of the images in use on the site are either photos that were taken by the authors or are otherwise copyright-free images. I believe the site is pretty much free of spam or unsolicited advertising, but I can't guarantee that until a careful, detailed examination of all of the articles is made. Going through the 700 articles, I found about 10 that were just copied and pasted from other sources and contained no reference to their original source. Stories like these should all be footnoted.

In other words, there's lots and lots of work to be done before the site can be re-opened. So yeah, we're announcing “Taps” on PhillyIMC. Will we ever re-open it? Will we ever be able to sound “Reveille” on it? That's an excellent question.


Gaza 2014

I truly hate the issue of Gaza versus Israel as I have good friends on both sides. It's about the only issue that currently splits liberals from each other.

The fellow here makes a good case for the Israeli side. Essentially, Israel is under siege by a foe that will settle for nothing less than their complete destruction. Hamas doesn't want to simply co-exist with Israel, they want to annihilate the state and all its people.

The case that Hamas makes to the people of Gaza is also pretty straightforward. The people of Gaza are locked into an “open-air prison” that even Pope Francis condemns. They have no seaport of their own, no airport, their border is sealed on all sides, their access to fishing on the sea is very restricted. I haven't heard much lately about residents of Gaza being hungry or having their food supplies restricted, but that certainly did happen in the past, until Egypt had its revolution and partially opened their border with Gaza.

“So, all right, Mr. Smarty-pants, what would you do? How would you square the circle?”

Back during the late 80s, I did a lot of reading on guerrilla war, including several books on the Vietnam conflict from left-wing, middle-of-the-road and right-wing perspectives. My following of the Iraq War has very largely confirmed the conclusions I reached back then.

In every guerrilla movement, there are two components, the hard-core fighters, the ones who run things and compose the propaganda and who promise to take over when the fighting is done. Then there are the people at large. The people are the ones constantly just trying to live their lives, to get out of the line of fire, to raise crops and children as best they can amid all the gunfire. It is quite impossible for the hard-core fighters to succeed without at least the tacit cooperation of the people.

Thousands of South Vietnamese, appalled by Diem’s corruption and brutality against Buddhists and suspected communists, rushed to fight with the NLF. Those unwilling or unable to fight – including women, children and the elderly – gave support in other ways, such as providing food, safety and information about enemy troop movements.

So how does an occupier win a guerrilla war? By allying oneself with the people and thus robbing the fighters of the support without which they can't survive. As Mao Zedong had put it: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” (There's a more comprehensive quote here, on a page where Mao emphasizes that guerrillas must treat the people well, so as to gain their enthusiastic support) so if one “drains the sea” by addressing and solving or at least mitigating the grievances of the people, the hard-core fighters will be left high and dry and will not gain power.

It is of course possible that the Palestinian people in Gaza will still be motivated to annihilate the Israelis after their conditions are softened and mitigated and their existence is rendered to be less than a concentration camp, but people in general tend not be fanatics and if they find they can live their lives, stay out of the line of gunfire and raise crops and children in a relatively unmolested fashion, fanaticism tends to die in those circumstances.

The people of the Middle East have demonstrated this through their attitude towards America over the past decade and a half. They have shown that “The publics in every nation polled in both 2008 and 2009 showed an increase in confidence in Obama compared to Bush--on average 37 points.” Obama was, and remains, much less aggressively in-your-face than Bush was and so maintains a much higher degree of popularity than his predecessor did.

I believe that Israel would do far better to try and separate the Palestinian people from the hard-core fighters of Hamas via policies that lessen the harshness of their lives than through the current policy of collective punishment.


Glenn Davis and the 190th District

Glenn Davis is the Chair of the Philadelphia Green Party and is running to be the Representative for the strongly Democratic 190th Pennsylvania House of Representative district. His campaign is currently in the process of getting signatures and the real campaign will commence once that's done. Is there any chance he'll be a spoiler and that splitting the liberal vote will result in a Republican Representative? Happily, there are no Republicans running for that district, so a vote for Davis and the Green Party is a free vote.

If he's successful, will Davis be a good Representative or is he just interested in the symbolism of the Green Party winning a seat? Davis has three children, Shyenn (11), Nathenn (8) and Shanenn (7) and he's heavily invested in seeing to it that his children receive the best education possible. He is very interested in reversing the damage that has been done to Pennsylvania schools via Governor Corbett's mindless and destructive cuts.

The 190th Legislative District is largely a one-party district. Just as in the Senatorial race in Mississippi was pretty much done and over with when Thad Cochran prevailed against Chris McDaniel (There are very few votes to be had for Democrats in MS), so Vanessa L. Brown thought she had the had the race for Representative safely locked up as soon as she had prevailed in the Democratic primary. With the Green Party in the ring, Davis can, if nothing else, press Brown to take better positions prior to her winning November's election.
Davis is a veteran of the Gulf War of 1991 (He was an Army Specialist (E4 68J) from 1989 to 1993) and currently makes his living by working at McDonalds. His house is currently, along with those of many thousands of fellow Philadelphia citizens, in foreclosure. He is energized by that issue as pay for a fast-food worker is inadequate to solve that problem. He is also the Vice President at the Shepard Recreation Center and is involved with the Women's Community Revitalization Project and DecarceratePA.

Mayor Nutter recently tried to address Philadelphia citizens whose minor legal problems were making their job searches unnecessarily difficult. Davis sought to get a 2009 misdemeanor charge pardoned and found that he was in a group of roughly 3000 fellow citizens who were all seeking pardons for similarly minor offenses. Nutter appears to have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who needed relief, so this is yet another issue that is energizing Davis. He and the Green Party are both trying to see to it that the average citizen gets a break.

The Philadelphia Green Party website is at GPOP.org.



I sent a veteran buddy of mine a piece on an official military honor guard joining a Gay Pride march in Washington DC. His reaction:

Fantastic, unbelievable there is a feeling of respect in the gay community
which I originally relayed about gay veterans. I will always say the stereo-type does not
always fit reality. Like I said before it's not always about pink poodles

No, it's not. Pink poodles are certainly part of the gay image, but no, they became a focus because people outside of, and in many cases, people who were hostile to, the LGBT community, made that the gay image.

That exchange reminded me of a book I read back in junior high (Nowadays called middle school). It was about the struggle between Northern and Southern Italians. The Northerners were exploiting the South by extractng their resources, largely farm produce. Southerners launched a rebellion in the 1800s. Northern Italians in Rome sought to understand what was going on and looked around to speak with the only Southern Italians they knew, the aristocrats who collaborated with the North to send food from the South to the North. Naturally, because it was hardly in their interests to truly illuminate how the situation was so bad for Southern Italians in general, the Southern Italian aristocrats gave the Northerners bad advice and the situation got worse.

It's important then, for countries and cultures to have at least works of art to act as ambassadors to the culture that's in a dominant position. I've seen a number of works that have done this. I paid attention to the struggles in Central America that came to my attention as a college student in the late 70s, with conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But it wasn't until the comic book Love & Rockets was put out that I had more than a one-dimensional image of the larger Latino community as doing and being more than just fighting, dying and cursing the gringo. Reading it gave me a more complex picture, one that emphasized both the differences and similarities between them and us white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, both the things that made us all human and the things that made our groups distinct from each other.

What was the first artistic ambassador that explained one world to another? My guess would be Uncle Tom's Cabin. It described a society and a way of life that Northerners lived next to, but most of them had no personal experience of. As the University of Virginia concedes, Harriet Beecher Stowe drew an essentially accurate portrait of what it was like to be a slave in the South. The minstrels of the era tried very hard to present their own version of slavery as a benign institution, but their efforts didn't make much headway.

During the Iraq War, an educated young Iraqi woman who named herself River wrote a blog that captured the imaginations of at least the people who opposed the war there. In 2013, she added a post taking a look back. Her writings emphasized both how different the Iraqi culture was (She generally didn't like Saddam Hussein, didn't wear one herself, but was well-disposed towards wearing the hijab, was strongly opposed to the American invasion and documented how it hurt the Iraqi people) and, by adding lots of personal touches and mentions of people she knew (Always as pseudonyms), emphasized the common humanity of Iraqis and Americans.

Probably the most well-known comic that did the same thing for the gay community was Desert Peach. Pfirsch (Peach) Rommel was General Erwin Rommel's fictional gay younger brother, a colonel who was in command of the “469th Half-Track and Grave-Digging Battalion” that generally stayed in the background of the war in Northern Africa from 1941 to 1943. And yes, like the real-life Erwin Rommel, Pfirsch was a complex character who tried to do the best he could in a situation that didn't allow for a whole lot of humanity or decency.

A fellow straight person commented on Facebook on how much he appreciated the TV show Will & Grace that ran from 1998 to 2006. A gay person replied on how that was a show that he never paid much attention to. He regarded it as a bit of fluff that had nothing important to say. I agreed that it probably had little to say to gays themselves, but thought and still think that the show provided a good introduction to gay life for straights. Jack sort of, kind of resembled the old stereotypes, but Will most certainly didn't. I can see Jack walking a pink poodle, at least in his much younger days. Can't see it for Will at all. The effect of that is to assure people that the stereotype is not entirely wrong, it's at least based on truth, but that it's a terribly cramped and limited way of viewing gay people.

Making contact with a larger, dominant culture can be a very useful thing for a less dominant culture to do and no, it's not necessary for members of the less dominant culture to say to themselves “Someone else is doing the cultural outreach, so I don't have to.” You never know what exactly will spark the interest of people in the dominant culture, so it's best to take an "all hands on deck" or "full court press" approach, to just try everything. 



I got so used to Godzilla acting all by himself and getting stopped by the humans in the end, I was taken by surprise ('Cause I, of course, didn't read any of the previews) by the twist in this one. In this, Godzilla defends humanity against creatures that are far worse and more destructive than he is. Suspense gets high as he's stomped and bitten by the worse creatures and buildings collapse on him. Less than halfway through the film, we're all like “Go, Godzilla! Git 'em!”