Category Archives: Film Review

The Great Fear: The Accelerating Apocalypse

Theatrical release poster

For apocalyptic disaster films, they don’t get much more up close and personal (and apocalyptic) than the film Greenland (2020). Set in contemporary times, the story revolves around the news that an interstellar comet named Clarke is heading for Earth, and that it was made up of fragments of rock and ice big enough to wipe out modern civilization.

John Garrity, a structural engineer, receives a message from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notifying him that he and his family have been selected to go to emergency bunkers. While he is at home a massive fragment lands on Tampa, Florida and wipes it out live on TV. Garrity receives another message with instructions to head to Robins Air Force Base for an evacuation flight. They are to be taken to large bunkers in Thule, Greenland, as the largest fragment is expected to cause an extinction level event.

However, as panic sets in among his neighbours there is mutual shock as they realise that they have not been selected, and Garrity is unsure why he was. Gradually he realises that his skills as a structural engineer would be required in the rebuilding of the post-apocalyptic world, hence the reason for his inclusion.

As others realise the value of the wristbands the family have been given for the flight to Thule, Garrity and his family become targets for different kinds of attacks and schemes to wrest the wristbands from them throughout the narrative of the film.

Overall, Greenland is a well crafted film and focuses on the family’s desperate attempts to make it to Thule before the main fragment of Clarke strikes Europe (!) and destroys civilization.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the drama around the conflicts between the ‘chosen few’ and the rest of the population. While Garrity may be an all-American citizen, he does not reject the elitism of his new status but embraces it wholeheartedly. He may be a member of a democracy, and hold democratic values but when push comes to shove, all that is very quickly forgotten about in the panic. It’s every man for himself and he accepts the changes in state ideology from citizen to elect in a heartbeat.

The ‘chosen few’

The idea of the ‘chosen few’ is not new. According to the bible, Jesus initiated a New Covenant on the night before his death during the last supper. Those who had heavenly hope would be selected by God to rule with Christ as kings with him for 1,000 years. The Bible also gives the number of those anointed:

Revelation 14:3–4, ‘And they are singing what seems to be a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one was able to master that song except the 144,000, who have been bought from the earth.’

The Ladder of Divine Ascent is an important icon kept and exhibited at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt. The gold background is typical of icons such as this, which was manufactured in the 12th century after a manuscript written by the 6th century monk John Climacus who based it on the biblical description of Jacob’s ladder. It depicts the ascent to Heaven by monks, some of whom fall and are dragged away by black demons. (The recent scenes of chaos at Kabul airport with people crowding up stairs to passenger jets and falling off military jets are unfortunately brought to mind)

Elites have always tried to keep a section of their loyal, unwavering followers on board with their ideology by doling out good jobs, high status symbolism (e.g. knighthoods), or good pay (for mercenaries). While they espouse democratic ideologies which imply that everyone is important, they are also very aware that their actions lead to mass resentment (e.g. massive national debts, unemployment, inflation, declining national health systems, etc.), and the potential for mass uprising. For this reason, for example, middle-class political police can be more important to the state than working-class national armies.

The mass media play an important role in reducing resentment by playing up the activities of politicians, ideologically controlling the news and history, and popularising the use of specific language.

Every time an idea critical of the ruling ideology becomes popular it is relabeled or branded with terms such as:’political correctness’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns about “language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting to groups of people disadvantaged or discriminated against”); ‘cultural Marxism’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns of, for example, feminism, multiculturalism, gay rights, etc); ‘conspiracy theory’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns regarding anomalies in high profile events); ‘The Good Guys’/’The Bad Guys’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns regarding who the state defines as progressive or reactionary); ‘wokism’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns regarding racial prejudice, discrimination and social inequality, etc.); thereby sterilising the ideas and fitting them into ‘acceptable’, non-threatening language.

Every new deviation from the capitalist norm is diverted and instantly bubble-wrapped so that it does not impinge on the growing mass consciousness/suspicion that something is wrong. Whistleblowers are hounded (Assange, Snowden) and workers are kept quiet or ignored (Boeing).

Originally printed in New York World, October 30, 1884. Reprinted: Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings. HarpWeek. HarpWeek, LLC.  A political cartoon parodying James G. Blaine. Wealthy and influential figures dine on dishes labeled “Lobby  pudding”, “Monopoly soup”, “Navy contract”, etc. while a poor family begs.

Furthermore, Monolithism denies radical difference in ethnic groups (the most reactionary become the spokespersons of the group), while on a philosophical level Modernism, Postmodernism and Metamodernism deny reason and radical opposition. All with the promise that if you are good, if you behave yourself, you will be put on Santa’s nice list and become one of the chosen few when the financial/political/social catastrophe or cataclysm begins.

During the crisis, the rhetoric of universal protection collapses (neighbours shocked and disappointed), leading to struggle for survival in elite terms (bunkers, planes, boltholes).

The struggle for survival

It is then that the masses realise that they have been duped, misled, or even deluded. Because Greenland could be said to represent the ideology of the elites, then one sees the choices offered by the elites are: to be chosen or damnation, and no other possibilities. Similarly, when the elites represent the masses they are in negative terms of fear, for example, the symbolism of the masses of zombies in the film World War Z (2013). (See also my article on World War Z

Historically, mass uprisings result in a fundamental change in society, not a temporary blip in the ruling ideology, therefore elites have a good reason to be afraid. For example, the Great Fear in France in 1789 ultimately resulted in the end of its feudal system:

The members of the feudal aristocracy were forced to leave or fled on their own initiative; some aristocrats were captured and among them, there were reports of mistreatment such as beatings and humiliation, but there are only three confirmed cases of a landlord actually having been killed during the uprising. Although the Great Fear is usually associated with the peasantry, all the uprisings tended to involve all sectors of the local community, including some elite participants, such as artisans or well-to-do farmers. Often the bourgeoisie had as much to gain from the destruction of the feudal regime as did the poorer peasantry. Although the main phase of the Great Fear died out by August, peasant uprisings continued well into 1790, leaving few areas of France (primarily Alsace, Lorraine and Brittany) untouched. As a result of the “Great Fear”, the National Assembly, in an effort to appease the peasants and forestall further rural disorders, on 4 August 1789, formally abolished the “feudal regime”, including seigneurial rights.

“You should hope that this game will be over soon.”
Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back.

Current elite ideology of the future tends towards ideas of bringing about global governance, or post-apocalyptic colonies on earth, the Moon or Mars. Like lemmings going over a cliff (or the aristocracy of the eighteenth century), they can only imagine a future with themselves in total control, or total destruction.

Thule in Greenland, where there is an American military base, is symbolically appropriate as “in classical and medieval literature, ultima Thule (Latin ‘farthermost Thule’) acquired a metaphorical meaning of any distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”.”

Unlike the destruction wrought by comet Clarke in Greenland, we are not doomed to be destroyed or hiding in bunkers because of an errant comet, but only condemned to have our future dictated to us forever – unless we take our destiny into our own hands.
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The REAL First Rule of Fight Club 

(Credit unknown)

Life in the United States of Algorithms has me thinking about Fight Club again — reading snippets, posting quotes, and watching YouTube clips until I finally gave it a re-watch. Such is the power of Fight Club. I saw it in the theater when it came out in 1999. It was love at first sight. Like the well-programmed white male “radical” I was, I swooned at the anarchy [sic] and anti-corporate virtue signaling and dutifully memorized Tyler Durden’s pithy one-liners. Over the ensuing years, I read the book a few times and re-watched the film version more than a few times.

Eventually, as I became “woke” to the once-invisible-to-me influences of patriarchy, I saw Fight Club quite differently. It suddenly appeared as a horrifying homage to male pattern violence, misogyny, and white supremacy. Middle-class white males were the “real” victims and the path to redemption was, of course, soaked in blood. I donated my copy of the book to the local library and stopped quoting Tyler Durden (at least, in public) lest I be accused of not being the “right” kind of feminist ally. The long relationship (I thought) was over and I was at a loss (I thought) — embarrassingly unsure what I ever saw in him in the first place.

More recently — identifying now as something along the lines of “ex-everything” — I re-visited my old crush. What I saw with my latest set of new eyes was astonishing. Fight Club is now a cautionary tale. Please allow me to introduce my final [sic] take on a piece of pop culture more than two decades old.

Robots in Uniforms

The Narrator (a.k.a. Edward Norton-Tyler) is an unhappy, unfulfilled, order-following corporate drone who seeks emotional emancipation by waging war against his cubicle and tie. In the process, he transforms into an unhappy, unfulfilled, order-following anti-corporate drone who misses the entire point of liberation. He’s a robot who switches uniforms without addressing his robot-ness.

Some of Brad Pitt-Tyler’s quotations are revolutionary and inspiring. Others are just as mundane, predictable, and banal as the corporate-speak Narrator-Tyler encounters while going through the motions of his job. The book’s author and film’s director weren’t (I hope) attempting to position the two versions of Tyler Durden as opposites. We aren’t being asked to choose sides in some kind of epic showdown. Instead, we are being implored to recognize and subsequently abandon groupthink.

The road to self-realization and deeper connections with others does not include trading one soul-crushing hive mind for another. It doesn’t mean we merely aim our strident arrogance in a new direction and label it evolution or revolution. And it probably doesn’t require us to punch anyone into submission as a recreational way to reconnect with our inner child and/or display our psychological independence.

Fight Club is a parable. It warns us about the seductiveness of conformity, the urge to surrender and delegate the hard work of emotional labor. Sure, the 9-to-5 grind is utterly inhuman. It requires us to compromise on far too many levels and it must be avoided at all costs. But the same can and must be said about all “activist” echo chambers — from MAGA to BLM and beyond.

Tyler DGAF

Despite all this, there is still value in modern men tuning into our own inner Durden. Brad Pitt-Tyler can teach us to clearly define what’s important to us, fashion a mission to guide our actions, have some laughs along the way, and not give too many fucks about contorting oneself into any societal box (especially if that box reads: IKEA). Call it, “the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”

Edward Norton-Tyler tries to reign in the ugly and unnecessary aggression, delusion, and arrogance. To do so, he goes as far as shooting himself in the face just to stop Brad Pitt-Tyler’s misguided machinations. Edward Norton-Tyler teaches us that we can be truly decent people — even as we strive to vigorously reject the mainstream formula and embrace the subversive pleasure of critical thought. In the end, it’s Edward Norton-Tyler who reaches for Marla’s hand and offers an apology (of sorts) as the violent virtue-signaling plays out all around them.

We all have multiple personalities, contradictory ideals, and competing desires within us. They do not have to be labeled good or bad. What matters is how we manage such juxtapositions as they translate into daily behavior. In other words, the first rule of Fight Club is… balance.

The post The REAL First Rule of Fight Club  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Going to Hell and Back: Fighting Our Worst Nightmare

Theatrical poster

Interrogate the devil; he will tell you that beauty is a pair of horns, four claws and a tail.
Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary

Bullets of Justice is a gritty 2019 film made by Valeri Milev and Timur Turisbekov, which takes place in the United States during the Third World War. The story centres around Rob Justice, an ex-bounty hunter who is fighting a mixture of half humans and half pigs (human bodies and pig heads). They were bred under an American government secret project to create super soldiers called Muzzles. The project goes awry and years later the Muzzles are at the top of the food chain and are farming the remnants of the human race. Rob Justice is trying to find their source to eliminate the Muzzles once and for all. The film is shot with bleak scenes in very bleak colours and has quite explicit sexual and violent scenes. However, it also has a very dry sense of humour and can be very funny without intentionally playing for laughs.

Screenshot from Bullets of Justice (2019)

The whole premise of the film is based on the symbolic reversal of our treatment of animals as food products, and shown in all its horror. Muzzles fatten up humans in cages, kill them upside down in factories and throw corpses on to conveyor belts. Their meat is even tinned and sold (“Human Meat, Always Fresh, Steak from a well fed male”). The idea that humans are somehow ‘special’ and superior to animals is ‘debunked’. In an early scene the Grave-digger unearths a human skull and says to his kids: “See, they don’t go nowhere. They just turn into dirty old bones. God is a human mistake. We die ‘cos of some shit and we die full of shit.”

Screenshot from Bullets of Justice (2019)

There is an apocalyptic feeling to the film as humans are dying out and some strange human oddities form a resistance to the Muzzles (a woman with a prominent moustache, a fighter who can stop bullets with his chest, and a female leader who talks as if using a home-made speech synthesizer). However, we get the feeling that their resistance is pointless and the Muzzles are the strongest of the two opposing sets of monstrosities.

Screenshot from Bullets of Justice (2019)

The portrayal of human monsters is not new in culture as the depictions of the Golem, Frankenstein’s monster and Zombies makes apparent: representations of humans that cannot really live or reproduce, the symbols of anti-nature. Our anxieties about our position in the natural order of things and our treatment of animals have always been reflected in our beliefs and depictions of ourselves as a higher order and created by an omnipotent being.

However, our relations with animals has always been fraught, as Yuval Noah Harari writes:

About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.

The Golden Age

These realities contrast wildly with our mythical story-telling of a Golden Age when humans lived in “primordial peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity. During this age, peace and harmony prevailed in that people did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth provided food in abundance.”  And as Richard Heinberg has stated: Dicaearchus of the late fourth century BCE noted “of these primeval men […] that they took the life of no animal”.1

Roman Orpheus mosaic, a very common subject.  He wears a Phrygian cap and is surrounded by the animals charmed by his lyre-playing.

However, as the Golden Age declined through the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Heroic Age, to the Iron Age, the dire warnings got direr. As men moved from the wondrous cornucopia of nature to the wars of extractivism, they paid a heavy price for their bloodlust. Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC) wrote: “As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” Much later, Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD) follows up with similar sentiments:

Not so th’ Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
Then birds in airy space might safely move,
And tim’rous hares on heaths securely rove:
Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
Whoever was the wretch, (and curs’d be he
That envy’d first our food’s simplicity!)
Th’ essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
And after forg’d the sword to murder man.
— Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD) Metamorphoses Book 14

As Christianity took hold and changed the reverence for nature to the reverence for a monotheistic god, nature itself became demonised as the heavenly was substituted for the earthly. It is interesting to note the similarities between the Devil (“a pair of horns, four claws and a tail”) and the animal-like god of nature, Pan, “the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and connected to fertility and the season of spring. Pan’s goatish image recalls conventional faun-like depictions of Satan.”


In medieval depictions of Hell, the Devil and his helpers torture humans. Hell, as Sartre has said “is other people” and, like packed trains and buses, always seems to have an awful lot of people crammed into very small places. Moreover, the animal-like Devil and his helpers seem to be like animals getting their revenge on humans by killing them and cooking them in the same way that humans kill and eat animals, by hanging them upside down (blood draining?), roasting over a fire on a spit, boiling in large vats, or baking in a fiery oven.

The Torments of Hell, French book illumination, 15th century. Illustration for Augustinius’, De civitate Dei, Bibliotheque de Ste. Genevieve Ms. 246, vol. 389.

It seems that deep in our psychology, the more we brutalise animals the more we fear that one day the animals will rise up and brutalise us. However, in some sense it is already happening. As Mike Anderson writes, they do get their revenge but in a slower, but just as deadly, way:

As far as eating is concerned, humans are the most stupid animals on the planet. We kill billions of wild animals to protect the animals that we eat. We are destroying our environment to feed to the animals we eat. We spend more time, money and resources fattening up the animals that we eat, than we do feeding humans who are dying of hunger. The greatest irony is that after all the expenses of raising these animals, we eat them; and they kill us slowly. And rather than recognise this madness, we torture and murder millions of other animals trying to find cures to diseases caused by eating animals in the first place.

In his article ‘Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history’, Yuval Noah Harari wrote:

The fate of industrially farmed animals is one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time. Tens of billions of sentient beings, each with complex sensations and emotions, live and die on a production line. Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals.

At least in recent years, in tandem with the ever increasing herds and flocks of domesticated animals for human consumption, there has been the development of movements against the slaughter in animal rights activism. Peter Singer wrote about it in the 1970s in his book Animal Liberation and, inter alia, in the 2000s Joaquin Phoenix told us about this slaughter in two truly difficult-to-watch documentaries: Earthlings (2005)  and Dominion (2018).

Colonialism and Genocide

Our attitude towards animals, our bloodthirstiness, has unfortunately carried over into our historical and current treatment of our fellow human beings in the form of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Joseph Conrad expressed it succinctly in his novel Heart of Darkness (1899) where Mr Kurtz (making a report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs) reveals his true colonial mentality when he writes ‘Exterminate all the brutes’. The colonial mindset that sees ethnic groups as not much better than animals (brutes) is predicated on the idea that the coloniser is somehow ‘superior’ and ‘civilised’ despite the fact that nowadays and ecology-wise, it is realised that these ‘primitive’ groups generally live in tune with nature rather than destroying it, as the ‘civilised’ West does. Sven Oskar Lindqvist (1932 – 2019) a Swedish author of mostly non-fiction, took Mr Kurtz’s exclamation as the title of his book on the history of colonialism and genocide, Exterminate All the Brutes (1992). The title was subsequently used again for a harrowing four part documentary series (2021) directed and narrated by Raoul Peck who worked with Lindqvist.

Punch (1881)

Furthermore, even in our more ‘enlightened’ era, our attitude towards animals as our fellow ‘earthlings’ has run into other, more serious problems, as Michael Cronin writes:

In more recent times, it is fears around what is seen as the neo-Malthusian pathology of deep ecology that prompts a reticence around stressing the animal nature of humans. In this reading of ecology, treating humans as one species among others leads inevitably to the conclusion that the only way to deal with human overpopulation is through the mass elimination of humans. As they would not enjoy higher ontological status than other species, such genocidal practices could be justified by the overall flourishing of species on the planet.2

Once again, our fears of our brutal selves lead us to try and characterise ourselves as more important than ‘mere’ animals in a self-defeating vicious cycle. Which brings us back to the point that Pythagoras made (‘as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other’). In other words, as long as we treat animals like ‘animals’ (brutes) we will treat each other like ‘animals’ too.

  1. Richard Heinberg, (1989) Memories and Visions of Paradise: Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age, Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, p. 48.
  2. Michael Cronin, (2016) Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene (New Perspectives in Translation and Interpreting Studies), London: Routledge, p. 74.
The post Going to Hell and Back: Fighting Our Worst Nightmare first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A successful combination of inspiration and perspiration

Poster promoting the theatrical premiere of the 1954 American film Salt of the Earth at a (now demolished) theater on 86th Street in Manhattan. Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, who played the leading role, is shown.

Born in controversy but then ignored in its youth, the film Salt of the Earth has matured beautifully into a classic film in the neorealist style. Set in Zinc Town, New Mexico, a mining community with a majority of Mexican-Americans, strike for working conditions equal to those of the white, or “Anglo” miners. The town and the mine is run by Delaware Zinc Inc. who refuse to negotiate with the workers and the strike goes on for months. The story focuses on Ramon Quintero (Juan Chacón) and his wife Esperanza Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas) who is pregnant with their third child. Ramon is arrested by police and beaten in prison at the same time his wife gives birth to their new baby.When Ramon is released he counters resistance to his activities by Esperanza and he points out their struggle is for their children’s futures too. The company then uses the Taft-Hartley Act injunction on the union forbidding picketing. However, the wives realise there was nothing to stop them from taking the men’s places on the picket line. A lot of the men are quite traditional and are not happy seeing their wives on what can be a dangerous and violent place on picket lines. Ramon forbids Esperanza to go but eventually relents. However, as the full film is freely available online for you to watch on the Salt of the Earth page, I will not go into full details here.

The involvement of the women is one of the most interesting aspects of the film as they rather timidly, at first, assert that their issues regarding hygiene (sanitation and ‘decent plumbing’) are as important as the safety of the men, and Esperanza is annoyed that ‘what the wives want always comes later’. Over time the women gain more experience dealing with the police and scabs, and consequently gain more confidence in their demands too. As the mine had already been unionised the film’s real narrative dwells more on showing the men how the union is strengthened by the involvement of the whole community.

Union Meeting

The production of Salt of the Earth faced many difficulties from locations, cameramen to actors. A small plane buzzed overhead and anti-communists fired at the sets. They eventually found a documentary cameraman who was willing to take the risks involved with working on the project. Later, Rosaura Revueltas (Esperanza Quintero) the lead actor, was deported to Mexico and the editors had to cut in previously filmed footage to finish the narrative.The origin of the film’s woes stretched back some years when the director Herbert Biberman refused to answer the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 on questions of affiliation to the Communist Party USA, and he became known as one of the Hollywood Ten who were cited and convicted for contempt of Congress and jailed. This meant that Biberman (as well as actors, screenwriters, directors, and musicians) were denied employment in the entertainment industry for years after.  During the making of Salt of the Earth Biberman was hounded by Roy Brewer. Roy Martin Brewer (1909–2006) was an American trade union leader who was prominently involved in anti-communist activities in the 1940s and 1950s. He accompanied Ronald Reagan on his first visit to the White House.

Brewer tried many times to stop the production of Salt of the Earth. He believed that “officers of the Writers’ Guild were under the domination of the Communist Party until the hearings of 1947. During that time they began to change the mind, the creative minds, of the people who made these pictures and they didn’t do it by selling them communism. They got them to accept the idea that it was the obligation of a writer to put a message in the film.”

Paul Jarrico (1915–1997) the blacklisted American screenwriter and film producer of Salt of the Earth commented on Brewer’s statements:

The studio reluctance to make message movies started long before the blacklist and Brewer’s attribute to our cleverness in manipulating the culture of America is undeserved. We were unable to get anything more than the most moderate kind of reform messages into our films and if we thought we got some women treated as human beings rather than as sex objects we thought it was a big victory and in fact one of the reasons we made Salt of the Earth after we were blacklisted was to commit a crime worthy of the punishment having already been punished for subverting American films, it was all ridiculous.

Members of the Hollywood Ten and their families in 1950, protesting the impending incarceration of the ten

To make matters worse, Salt of the Earth had been sponsored by a Union (the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers) and many blacklisted Hollywood professionals helped produce it. After editing in secret, the release of the film was met with an American Legion call for a nationwide boycott and the majority of theaters refused to show it. For ten years the film was ignored in the USA while finding an audience and accolades in Eastern and Western Europe. In the 1960s the film was seen by larger audiences in union halls, women’s associations, and film schools.The narrative of the film was based on an actual strike which had occurred only a couple of years before the production of Salt of the Earth:

The film recreates the 1951-2 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico where a court injunction barred workers of the Local 890 chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Works from the picket line. As the strike continued, the community’s women assumed increasingly active leadership roles in the protests, defiantly picketing Empire Zinc themselves. The 15-month strike ultimately led to considerable gains for the workers and their families.

The film not only laudably covered labour rights and women’s rights but also minority rights. As Mercedes Mack writes:

On October 17, 1950, in Hanover, New Mexico, workers at the Empire Zinc mine finished their shifts, formed a picket line, and began a fifteen-month strike after attempts at union negotiation with the company reached an impasse. Miner demands included: equal pay to their White counterparts, paid holidays and equal housing. As a larger objective, the Local 890 Chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers was to end the racial discrimination they suffered as a product of the institutions created by the Empire Zinc company in their town. For example, Mexican-American workers were subject to separate pay lines, unequal access to sanitation, electricity and paved streets as a result of discrimination by company sponsored housing, segregated movie theaters, etc. […]  While women continued the strike, men assumed household duties and were not the center of the movement anymore. In January 1952, the strikers returned to work with a new contract improving wages and benefits. Several weeks later, Empire Zinc also installed hot water plumbing in Mexican American workers’ houses–a major issue pushed by the women of these households.

The producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film in neorealist style. Christopher Capozzola describes how:

Paul and Sylvia Jarrico heard of the strike and went to Grant County to walk the picket line; within a year, Michael Wilson was in town. Although Wilson started the script, the men and women of Local 890 finished it, insisting in the era of Ricky Ricardo that Latino/a characters would be favorably presented in the mass media. Biberman cast only five professional actors, among them a young Will Geer (better known to television viewers as the folksy Grandpa Walton) and the leftist Mexican actress Rosaria Revueltas, who called Salt of the Earth “the film I wanted to do my whole life.” Strike participants filled the ranks, most memorably Juan Chacón, who played the leading role of Ramón Quintero. His emotional richness and sly humor make him far and away the film’s best performer.

Juan Chacón as Ramón Quintero in Salt of the Earth

In 1982, a documentary about the making of Salt of the Earth was released, titled A Crime to Fit the Punishment and was directed by Barbara Moss and Stephen Mack. The full documentary can be seen online here.The making of Salt of the Earth was also the subject of a Spanish-British bio-picture in 2000. The film, titled One of the Hollywood Ten, was written and directed by Karl Francis and stars Jeff Goldblum and Greta Scacchi.

Theatrical release poster of One of the Hollywood Ten with Jeff Goldblum as Herbert Biberman

Salt of the Earth still stands up there as one of the great union films along with Blue Collar (1978) and Norma Rae (1979). However, its authenticity and sincerity arising from working directly with workers, and its successful production despite so many obstacles put in its way, will make it one of the most inspiring union films ever produced.

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Gunda:My Porcinus Teacher

Over the years as an animal activist I’ve shown many films of graphic animal cruelty, both in class rooms and out in the streets. Except for the granddaddy of them all, 1981’s The Animals Film, there is very little art about them. Mostly, they’re just blood and guts.

And I’m a big believer in showing blood and guts because if they are left out completely — as in The End of Meat (2017) or Eating Animals (2018) — the films don’t engage the emotions and are forgotten about the next day. Without the suffering and killing there’s no sense of urgency and we are left wondering exactly what the stakes/steaks are. Absent this truth, these films feel hollow no matter how well-intentioned and researched.

Finding a balance between keeping people watching, showing the cruelty, making a lasting impression and inspiring change has always been difficult.

In contrast to the wildly colorful, fast-moving sea creatures and unpredictable underworld of My Octopus Teacher, Viktor Kossakovsky’s black and white, narrator-less, music-less slow-moving Gunda charts a completely different course.

Gunda (German for “female warrior”) is a mother pig raising a dozen piglets on a good-as-it-gets “traditional” farm in Norway which bears no resemblance to how 99% of pigs are raised in industrialized countries. This makes the emotional wallop of the film’s ending all the more impactful.

Gunda and her babies are followed from birth to four months old. To facilitate camera work, the film crew built Gunda an ingenious small barn with a very key small squarish opening where much of the film’s “action” takes place. The pigs can go in and out when they want, roam a field, root in the dirt and take mud baths. There’s no scenes of killing or graphic cruelty. No humans are ever pictured. The film goes at the pace that the animals live their lives with only the ambient noise of the farm: grunts, squeals, snorts, oinks, clucks, buzzing flies, chirping birds, wind rustling over grass, an airplane, a muffled hammer pounding in the distance.

Gunda is generally a very exhausted mother. She nurses, corrects, cleans, corrals, leads, herds with her snout and occasionally tries to make some alone time. Usually, though, she’s rolling her enormous self over so the piglets can feed again. The curious piglets play, fight, bite, feint, tumble, run, chase and climb Gunda like the mountain she is. One of the most memorable scenes is when a downpour begins and several of her offspring take turns coming out of the barn, raise their heads to the sky and drink in the rain drops. Another striking image is Gunda filmed through the small barn door, her face, ears and hair outlined in a white almost neon-like light.

Even more so than the cat’s-eye view of Istanbul in 2016’s Kedi, the pig’s-eye view of Gunda’s world is stunningly intimate and makes us completely forget that there are filmmakers anywhere around capturing the minute sounds, close ups and scenes of piglets on the run. (Kossakovsky, who directed the highly-acclaimed Aquarela, says that most of the time on the farm wasn’t spent filming — only six hours of footage was shot — but hanging out and gaining the trust of the animals.) Not distracted by color, we pay much more attention to the expressions on the animals’ faces. We see them as they are: friendly playful beings more intelligent than dogs.

Also in the film are scenes from a couple animal sanctuaries where raggedy battery-caged hens are released into a field, taking their first-ever tentative steps in a strange new world of grass and soil — the real world that humans have deprived them of their entire lives. A one-legged chicken pecks and hops up on a log, seemingly showing the instant acceptance of life as it is and the desire to live at all costs.

On another farm a large and quasi-liberated herd of cows bounds out of a barn into a field in a slow motion dream-like sequence. Once they stop several of them stand parallel to each other, heads to butts, and switch their tails to keep flies off the faces of their friends. Kossakovsky isn’t condemning the human animals watching Gunda but — with their tagged ears and accusatory looks — the eyes of the cows are.

I’m going to reveal the ending of Gunda because I don’t think it takes away anything from the experience of watching it.

After about 75 minutes of the sights and sounds of this mostly peaceable kingdom there is a shocking jolt when a deafening tractor appears near Gunda’s barn. Initially we assume this tractor is there to plow a field but, no, this tractor — sounding like a helicopter, sounding like war — is hauling a rectangular container that is backed up to the barn door and — unseen to viewers — an unseen human animal is loading up all of Gunda’s screaming offspring to go to the slaughterhouse. In a wild intuitive foreshadowing, just before the tractor appears, Gunda lies in the small doorway where her family has spent most of their lives and looks nothing like she has for the entire film — she looks incredibly sad, like she’s crying. She looks like she knows. Did she hear the familiar horrible sound of the tractor before we did? Who made this movie? Was it someone named Viktor Kossakovsky or a gigantic sow named Gunda and her family? I think they all did.

(Now you see them, now you don’t. You get to know them, you marvel at them, you root for them, then you kill them. And you pretend that you aren’t a monster and that you — for some strange reason — deserve mercy and justice and consideration when you won’t show them any. And the next time you see them they won’t look anything like they do in this film — they’ll be sliced and diced and wrapped in plastic, their gray/green color temporarily covered up by nitrates and nitrites to make them look pink, reddish and “fresh,” heavily salted and perhaps seasoned with growth hormones and antibiotics so you can imagine that you’re eating anything other than a rapidly decaying corpse. Because it’s “natural.”)

The container is raised up and the tractor drives away. The initial zeroing in of the camera on the gigantic tractor wheel makes the connection to the creation of the wheel thousands of years ago and our destructive reign on this planet. (What’s been more destructive to the earth and non-humans than the wheel and its roads?)

Now, for the first time in the movie, Gunda is animated and alarmed, not the lumbering hulk we’ve seen so far, and she runs after the tractor and her screaming, squealing family. The tractor disappears and several times she comes to the barn door and then turns around, as if going back inside would be giving up on finding them so she runs around and continues to look.

Gunda has as much anguish in her eyes as any human ever had. The last time we see her she’s looking for help — from any of us, from all of us. Defeated by the human monster (I repeat myself), she disappears into the darkness of the barn, Kossakovsky lingering on that small squarish doorway, a black hole… of what? Greed? Indifference? Empathy-less humans? Our conditioned ethical blindness? The narrow dark selfish merciless completely unnecessary mind-tunnel that we choose to live in?

We wonder how many times throughout Gunda’s life this has happened. The lives are stolen, the family bonds are broken, her labor is stolen, just as working class labor is stolen — but every human worker has that capability to victimize some weaker species and be their own little capitalist scumbag and tell themselves that oppression and being a slavemaster are “normal” and “right.” (According to Kossakovsky, Gunda’s owner says she won’t be bred again and will live out the rest of her life on the farm.)

My Octopus Teacher shows that fascinating interspecies bonds can be formed with seemingly the strangest creatures if humans have patience and dispense with fear, hate and aggression — if our role models were capybaras that’s all we’d have to do. The artistry of Gunda shows that there are other ways to reach the meat eating masses that don’t involve showing killing, blood or brutality and yet still pack an emotional and memorable punch.

No one can accuse Gunda of anthropomorphizing. If you as a viewer think there is any anthropomorphizing in Gunda you should have the honesty to admit that — for all intents and porpoises (and octopuses and porcines) — these are people, as are all the rest of the furred, finned and feathered — and then figure out a just, humane and miraculous way to go forward in the world.

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Kalashnikov: the amateur inventor who shot to global fame

AK-47: Kalashnikov (2020) is a biographical film about Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (1919–2013), the inventor and designer of the AK-47 automatic rifle. This Russian film, released in February of last year, follows the young Kalashnikov as he is bombarded by Germans during WWII and is interspersed with flashbacks of his childhood. Disturbed by the failure of a newly designed gun that nearly gets a comrade killed when it jams, he examines the parts and lists out various problems with the new design. An amateur inventor who had been playing around with various types of primitive gun designs since he was child, Kalashnikov goes back to work in a steam engine workshop after being injured in battle. There he is assigned a desk and tools, and struggles to assemble a new gun design he had been drawing up. Help is at hand when the other workers in the workshop offer their after-hours services to help him tool the parts necessary for his new design. After this, his life takes many twists and turns as he struggles to perfect his design and gain acceptance through inventor competitions, testing ranges and the military hierarchy.

The story focuses on his drive and sincerity in producing a safer gun that would help the Soviets win the war. Although the gun he is famous for was not produced until 1947 (“Avtomát Kaláshnikova” (Russian: Автома́т Кала́шникова, lit. ‘Kalashnikov’s Automatic Gun’), its reliability and design ensured its wide use in many armies around the world in subsequent decades. The film also strives to show Kalashnikov as a role model for how someone with a basic education (Kalashnikov left school after seventh grade) can achieve so much in the way of plaudits and global fame.

In AK-47: Kalashnikov, the testing processes of the gun were not complete successes but Kalashnikov is given more promotions and more help in developing his ideas. With the development of new technologies, a simplified, lighter version of the automatic rifle was developed which soon became the most ubiquitous variant of the AK-47. In the real world, the popularity of the design meant that “approximately 100 million AK-47 assault rifles had been produced by 2009, and about half of them are counterfeit, manufactured at a rate of about a million per year. Izhmash, the official manufacturer of AK-47 in Russia, did not patent the weapon until 1997, and in 2006 accounted for only 10% of the world’s production.”

Kalashnikov’s first submachine gun

The film is beautifully shot with realistic battle scenes and panoramic landscape settings. The relations between the soldiers, and between the soldiers and their superiors are developed without the stereotyped or charicatured portrayals seen in films like Enemy at the Gates (2001), as Kalashnikov gets help and encouragement all around him, even at his lowest points when he feels like giving up. Moreover, in these days of instant-everything and easy consumption access to any product, it is refreshing to see male and female workers with so many skills (including his drafting technician who becomes his wife) bringing an idea from drawings through precision tooling to the finished gleaming weapon.

Kalashnikov himself did suffer “spiritual pain” about whether he was responsible for the deaths caused by his weapons, but also believed that their use was defensive rather than offensive. The AK-47 has been used in many anti-colonial wars and received the ultimate praise when appearing on some national flags and coats of arms. Of course, like any weapon his guns have been used in terrorist organisations but one could argue that overall its reliability and simplicity evened up the stakes in many an asymmetrical war.

Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (1919–2013)
Kalashnikov at the Kremlin, December 2009

Kalashnikov was hospitalized on 17 November 2013, in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia and where he lived and died on 23 December 2013, at age 94 from gastric hemorrhage. A statue dedicated to Kalashnikov was commissioned by the Russian Military Historical Society and unveiled in Moscow in 2017. It is a 7.5m (25ft) monument, which shows Kalashnikov holding an AK-47 in his arms. However, it was soon spotted that the technical drawing of the gun etched onto a metallic plate at the base of the monument was actually of an StG 44 rifle used by the Nazis during WWII.

The symbolism of this mistake was not lost on the public, a country that lost millions of its people at the hands of the Nazi invasion which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941. The section of the metallic plate with the gun design was soon removed with an angle grinder.

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A History of Warring on the Homefront

Scott Noble’s latest documentary series, The War at Home, takes a deep dive into the history of labor movements and state repression in the United States. Soon to be a multi-part series, the first entry is titled “Rebellion” and can be viewed online for free [and below]. As with all of Noble’s films, The War at Home is meticulously researched and weaves a rich tapestry of primary and secondary sources and documents, including amazing period footage of momentous yet often little-remembered (or effectively censored) events. Punctuated by classic American folk and blues music, it is as much a celebration of America’s rebels as a condemnation of its injustices.

The film looks at history through the lens of the working class, beginning with the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, continuing through the spread of Jim Crow in Louisiana, to the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy of 1911, and on to the violent strikes and police crackdowns of the Great Depression. In the first few minutes alone, the film tackles the concept of “wage-slavery,” noting that the great abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass initially rejected the term, yet later conceded, “there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery.” Conservatives who have re-branded themselves “classical liberals” may be surprised to learn that 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill believed that wage-labor would soon be replaced by something more amendable to the majority, as it was not a “satisfactory state to human beings.”

The period of industrialization following the Civil War had a brutalizing effect on most Americans, creating horrendous working conditions and giving rise to the first labor unions, as well as more radical movements devoted to various forms of socialism. Noble connects the dots between the rise of industrial capitalism, mass corporate profits, and the suppression/exploitation of labor along with affiliated radical political adherents, eventually leading to international conflicts and destruction on a scale the world had never before seen.

Particular attention is paid to the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (aka “the Wobblies”), who as the film notes were the first American union “to reject all divisions among workers, even that of nationality.” At a time when racial issues are occupying much of our public discourse, the film reminds us that racial conflict and white supremacy have always been intentionally fostered by America’s ruling class, pitting workers against one another to prevent class solidarity. Though the Wobblies were non-violent, they embraced an overtly anti-capitalist and revolutionary doctrine (the Wobblies have undergone a resurgence in recent years, though have yet to approach their former heights).

Noble highlights how these struggles put common people in the crosshairs of their own civil institutions. Time after time, authorities responded to union organizing with extreme violence, often via the National Guard. When combined with the equally violent counter-insurgency methods of private armies like the Pinkertons, it was perhaps inevitable that some workers responded with violence of their own. The “propaganda of the deed” campaign, which originated in Europe, saw anarchists engage in assassinations and bombings of ruling class figures, undertaken with the hope of spurring on the masses to revolution. Instead, the campaign mostly had the effect of increasing state repression. In the United States, the most deadly and dramatic of these incidents was the bombing of Wall Street in 1920 (the film adds a grimly ironic historical footnote, namely that Wall Street was originally founded as a slave market).

The Industrial Workers of the World (and socialists of all stripes) were viciously repressed during WWI, often under the pretense that they were saboteurs working for Imperial Germany. New legislation such as the Espionage Act and later the Sedition Act provided broad authority to the Bureau (later Federal Bureau) of Investigation, resulting in the Palmer Raids and the deportation of hundreds of people, mostly poor immigrants. Leading the assault was a young J. Edgar Hoover, initially the head of the “radical division” or G.I.D. According to a later report, constitutional violations became a matter of routine. Mass surveillance was implemented against dissidents, ranging from the NAACP to Hellen Keller, a socialist and the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. People were beaten and sent to jail without trial or warrant. Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs was imprisoned after delivering an anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio (stating that he would not “go to war for Wall Street”). Equally damaging to radical union organizers were the introduction of “criminal syndicalism” laws passed at the state level. The laws were so broad in their wording that “loitering on the job” could be classified as “sabotage.”

Discussion in The War at Home of repression during WWI and the Red Scare includes an analysis of propaganda and information control (looking at the influences of Walter Lippmann, George Creel, and Edward Bernays among others), and how such campaigns paved the way for social/political acceptance of such repression. Conscription is also highlighted as a serious injustice (most American men who fought and died in WWI did not do so voluntarily). The anarchist Emma Goldman spearheaded a legal challenge to outlaw the practice, arguing that it violated the 13th Amendment’s prohibition against involuntarily servitude. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the petition.

The film draws a link between the purging of radicals from labor unions and the decline of union power during the 1920s. Following the Bolshevik revolution, mainstream unions such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) ejected communist members, while business organizations simultaneously portrayed unions as a communist plot. The Socialist Party fractured after a majority of their members voted to support the Comintern in Russia. Minimum wage laws were struck down. The drunken exuberance of the wealthy during the “roaring twenties” is contrasted with the poverty of the majority (as well their hellish workplaces, epitomized by soul-destroying assembly lines under the corporate metric tyranny of Taylorism).

The final section of the film deals with events during the Great Depression, emphasizing the great labor strikes of 1934. Many of these strikes, including those in San Francisco, Toledo, and Minneapolis, were led by communists. In Minneapolis, militant Trotskyists created alliances with farmers and encouraged everyone connected to the delivery process to join in the strike – not just truckers. The events of 1934 were instrumental both to the creation of Congress of Industrial Organizations (CEO), which sought to organize unskilled workers, and various New Deal measures adopted by president Franklin. D. Roosevelt (FDR). Increasingly frightened of rebellion from below, certain segments of the ruling class actually supported FDR’s reforms.

Based on research from historians like Howard Zinn, Sharon Smith, Peter Kuznick, Peter Rachleff, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, The War at Home – Rebellion exposes the roots of America’s class war on its own people. If this montage paints what seems a grim portrait of US history, it is because most students are rarely presented with the Untold History that Noble explores. But the story he tells is not a bleak one, rather, it is ultimately a history of hope and struggle, of progress and perseverance. It shows just how powerful we the people can be when we work together against the odds, against our myriad oppressors.

Glimpses of genuine worker solidarity and triumph appear at various stages of the film: the Wobblies overcoming free speech prohibitions in the early 20th century; the Lawrence Textile strike, which involved immigrant workers (mostly women) from dozens of different nationalities; the Seattle General strike of 1919, which saw workers taking over the entire city for a brief time period; the great sit-down strikes of 1936-37, by which workers successfully challenged some of the largest corporations in the country and indeed the world.

In a time when many are questioning institutional integrity across society, seeking accurate and relevant information to help make sense of our supposedly post-truth era, Noble shines a spotlight into our dark past while providing a crucial class context often missing or obscured in mainstreamed accounts. It is precisely this sort of work that can provide a foundation for mapping a better, brighter, and more just future for all.

As I write this, Noble promises to upload part II of The War at Home, titled “Blacklist.” It explores the years 1936 to 1956, and ends with the word “COINTELPRO.” All of Noble’s films can be viewed at his website. He is currently seeking support for Part III, which will cover the 1960s.

Having seen all of Noble’s previous films, it is safe to say that once completing the series, he will have provided yet another stellar resource for educators and others who seek a deeper understanding of the world’s most powerful hegemon, and of its many oppressed inhabitants fighting for liberty and democracy in the United States of America.

  • First published at Project Censored.
  • The post A History of Warring on the Homefront first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    USSR to Russia

    In the early 1960s, the intensifying Cold War confrontation between the U.S. and the USSR was not only a terrifying nuclear-arms race, but also a struggle for prestige and influence vis-a-vis non-aligned Third World nations.  The “Soviet” Union — founded on the promise of a dictatorship of proletarian councils — had long since become a highly centralized and corrupt, Party-run system, in which massive worker uprisings could only prove embarrassing in the “court of world opinion” (and dangerously disillusioning to the well-indoctrinated populace).  Thus, the efficient cover-up of this 1962 massacre of striking workers at the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Plant — which is realistically depicted, with some fictional elements, by director Konchalovsky (Siberiade, Runaway Train).

    Lest American viewers come away feeling overly complacent about their “democracy,” the rarely acknowledged 1894 massacre of Pullman strikers by 12,000 U.S. Army troops bears some startling resemblance to the events depicted.  Even so, in more recent decades, U.S. administrations have preferred to “export” their initiated and/or heavily backed massacres (Indonesia, East Timor, e.g.; cf. also documentaries The Panama Deception and RAI’s Fallujah, the Hidden Massacre).

    The fact that the making of this film was heavily funded by Russia’s Ministry of Culture should also alert us to its possible use as favorable propaganda for President Putin.  Young Russians, many of whom remember little about the Soviet Union, may come away with the impression that living under Putin’s government must be “much better” than under Krushchev’s Communist regime.  (Under Putin, brutal suppression of rebellion has been more likely to occur, from time to time, in remote regions like Chechnya.)  I particularly found the movie’s ending suspect: in the aftermath of the killings, having feared that her daughter was among the dead, stalwart Communist official Lyudmila expresses nostalgia for the days of Stalin (who “reduced food prices”) — and also comes to appreciate her KGB acquaintance as basically a helpful, nice guy.  Former KGB operative Putin, who reportedly plans to oversee Russia for a longer period than Stalin’s reign, would most likely appreciate the character Lyudmila’s outlook.

    The script could also have provided more explanation for the causes of the events depicted.  Why the increase in food prices in the first place — which first ignited the workers’ rage?  Bad harvest, hoarding (price-fixing), and/or diversion of budget into “defense”?  Why did plant managers cut wages precisely at this time (talk about bad timing)?  And why didn’t the higher-ups immediately reverse this terribly ill-timed measure — thereby quelling the massive spread of the labor protests?  The film does seem to depict realistically an incompetent, decision-evading process, whereby officials preferred a brutal “quick fix” to patiently resolving the crisis (and possibly being blamed for ineffectiveness).  In sum, this viewer is left with many unanswered questions.  Of course, the ultimate irony, historically, is that Poland’s Solidarity labor movement, begun in 1980 among Gdansk dockworkers, was the beginning of the end for the bureaucratic Communist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe.                          

    The post USSR to Russia first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Same Procedure as Every Year: The Story of Dinner for One

    Memories are thick of this: the respectful, even reverential German introduction of a comedy sketch; the scratchy string orchestral music that adds a layering of anticipation.  Black-and-white film.  Dining room, white tablecloth, silver chandeliers.  The names Freddy Frinton and May Warden.  An English show broadcast on German public TV networks without subtitles.  Family members, perched, sprawled, slumped, comfortable, lightly sozzled, eyes glued to an 18-minute sketch with only two actors: the attentive butler by the name of James, played by the roguish Frinton; the spinster lady of the birthday moment, Miss Sophie, played by Warden.

    This 90th birthday is characterised by notable absences. After nine decades, mortality has done its bit of gathering.  The venerable lady has been left the sole survivor of a circle of beloved friends.  The bawdy subtext here is that they are all males and must have been a rather naughty crew at that.  She misses them, and longs for their company.

    The task for James seems, at least initially, innocuous. The table, with Miss Sophie at the head, is set for the spectral guests: Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy, Sir Toby and Mr Winterbottom.  James assumes the role of each of the departed, standing before each empty seat for each course that will be served.  “They are all here, Miss Sophie,” begins James.  But his task is not merely to mimic them and assume their persona with conviction; he is also required to drink their share.  The task is formidable, challenging both sobriety and liver.  A different set of drinks must accompany the servings for the phantom guests: sherry with the mulligatawny soup; white wine with the fish; champagne with the bird; port with the fruit.

    Through the course of the sketch, there are the tireless favourites for the audience.  James trips over the head of a tiger skin rug with stubborn, unfailing regularity.  Drinks are poured and drunk with gusto. Drinks are spilled.  There is slurring.  Before each course, the butler always inquires with increasing desperation: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?”  The insistent reply follows: “The same procedure as every year, James.”

    Dinner for One, or the 90th Birthday, was recorded in 1963 and found a ceremonial home across Germany’s regional public TV channels.  Scribbled by Lauri Wylie in the 1920s, it had its London premier in 1948, making its way to Broadway in 1953.  Frinton secured the rights in the 1950s.  Both he and May had been performing it as a routine seaside resort gig, very much a music hall staple destined for modest obscurity.  In 1963, German TV presenter Peter Frankenfeld, on a mission of cultural reconnaissance, was in one of those audiences in Blackpool.  He fell in love.  Frinton and May were invited to perform on his program Guten Abend before a live Hamburg audience at the Theater am Besenbinderhof, where it was recorded by NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk).  In 1972, the ritual of showing the program as a New Year’s Eve special was established.

    The date, Dinner for One retains the Guinness World Record for the most repeated program in history.  It has created a commemorative industry in Germany. It spurs drinking competitions and inspires cookery.  It has even inspired productions in various dialects: Hessian and Kölsch.

    In 2017, more than 12 million Germans saw the show.  But it remains unknown, for the most part, to audiences in the US and UK.  Of the Anglophone states, Australia has had a decent, smattering acquaintance. Northern European states in Scandinavia and the Baltic are also familiar.  It took till December 31, 2018 for the production to be shown in Britain.

    Dinner for One has managed to emerge from its subcultural cocoon in music hall entertainment and heavy German consumption.  Netflix took interest in it in 2016, if only to promote its own programs with a parody.  The imaginary guests, on that occasion, were Saul Goodman (Michael Pan in Better Call Saul); Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey in House of Cards), Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura in Nacros) and Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba in Orange in the New Black).

    As with all rituals, viewing Dinner for One comes with its presumptive historical and cultural baggage.  For German audiences, this is a British museum piece with perennial relevance.  There is more than a tang of hierarchy to it.  Frinton and May converse in a setting of nostalgia and the whiff of a departed empire.  Stefanie Bolzen, the UK and Ireland correspondent for Die Welt, was not wrong to wonder if the sketch had re-enforced such assumptions celebrated by the staunchest Brexiteers.  The UK is leaving the European Union, but this little jewel of British slapstick remains the emotional preserve of German audiences, so much so it has become indigenous.

    The post Same Procedure as Every Year: The Story of Dinner for One first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Eternal Impunity of Capitalism’s Crimes

    The very idea of War Being a Racket penetrates so deeply into capitalism’s flair for murder by a thousand cuts, a thousand miles in a Corvair, a thousand sips from diet Coke, a thousand sucks from Nestle baby formula, a thousand hours on the video screen, a thousand seconds inside the nuclear core, a thousand nanoparticles chewed, a thousand days living under high tension power lines, a thousand slices of mercury-cured tuna, a thousand puffs of the e-cigarette, a thousand days in law school, a thousand clicks hiked in clear cut, a thousand bombs bursting in air, a thousand doses of any one of millions of drugs or chemicals, a thousand seconds of a presidential debate, a thousand launches from NASA, a thousand bullets into Black bodies, a thousand spent uranium laced shells, a thousand drips of PCBs in our water supply, and, on and on, the drumbeat plays, a thousand cuts.

    I just finished watching the documentary, The People versus Agent Orange. Carol Van Strum (here and here) is the American contingent and Nga To Tran the Vietnamese contingent. Like so many other documentaries, this one cuts to the chase – the liberation of humankind and ecologies from the death ray of capitalism is the ONLY way forward.

    Veterans, Survivors Unaware of Agent Orange Benefits

    The origins of Agent Orange lie in an obscure laboratory at the University of Chicago where, during World War II, the chairman of the school’s biology department, E. J. Kraus, discovered that direct doses of 2,4-D can kill certain broadleaf vegetation by causing the plants to experience sudden, uncontrolled growth not unlike that of cancer cells in the human body. Kraus, thinking his findings might be of use to the Army, informed the War Department, which initiated testing of its own but found no use for the stew of hormones prior to the end of the war. But experiments with 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T continued through the 1950s. — Orion Magazine

    Ad nauseum the bantering back and forth with deplorable MAGA and shallow democrats on mainline TV/Cable, is much ado about nothing when we put into perspective every single action the corporation makes to not only rip-off each and every customer, but to delimit free speech, to eviscerate participatory democracy, to use their hit squads of lawyers to obfuscate and obliterate the righteous people up against these Titans of Tyranny – chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, fossil fuel, mining, data, prison, space, industrial, food, medical, media, education, criminal justice, banking, insurance, investing thieves and manslaughter experts.

    The entire farm has been sold down the river a million times, so when we look at Agent Orange, the USA government, the US Air Force, the Dow corporation, the endless legal deaths by a thousand motions against some sort of reparation for the millions of Vietnamese, Americans and dozens of others in Vietnam during the tyranny of corporations and the French and the USA in fighting in another person’s land. Vietnam!

    Carol Van Strum’s story is linked to my neck of the woods – the Central Oregon coast range. She is just a few dozen miles up the road, in Five Rivers. For more than 45 years, she has been both victim of, and battler against, the chemical spraying operators here where timber companies clear cut vast thousands of square miles of forest, and then deploy the markers of Agent Orange and other brews to include Glyphosate and atrazine, among others.

    The film is understatement, but thorough and clear – some of us knew early on that the herbicide Agent Orange was more than a Ho Chi Minh Trail defoliant. It was part of a plan by the despotic South Vietnamese president Diệm ’s worldview – supported and supplied by the USA – that the Viet Cong should not have jungle cover and that the rice crops in the North should not only be destroyed but contaminated from the soil up.

    Opinion | The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange - The New York Times

    Tran is an amazing voice for Vietnam and the millions of victims of Agent Orange – many dead, by the millions, and many by several million surviving in varying levels of debilitation, and for her and millions of other women, giving birth to deformed, sick and dying babies.

    Back in Oregon, the mothers and then the doctors came together to compare notes, and alas, the number of miscarriages/spontaneous abortions experienced by local women always coincided a month after helicopters working for the timber companies unloaded thousands upon thousands of gallons of the toxic brew, a mix of hormone disruptors and growth inhibitors that scour animals, plants and humans to the point of genetic mutations and untold physical ailments as adults.

    We see the coughing “chemical guy” in Oregon, who is cell phone filming himself loading up the helicopters with the brew. He hacks up blood at night. He is another victim of better living through chemistry. His story is vital to the telling of the Agent Orange story back home, in Oregon.

    Tran’s case seeks accountability for “the deadliest use of chemicals in the history of warfare.” The case is still held up in court.

    Why the United States Won't Admit Guilt Over Agent Orange

    Tran was told by her heroic mother, captured by the South Vietnamese, in 1953, “If I don’t come back, you will replace me.” Tran ended up writing news for the National Liberation Front. She met her husband in the forest, who was part of the Foreign Relations Commission. “We spent our youth engaged in war.”

    In June 1968 their daughter was born, and three days later the infant’s skin  began falling off. She had difficulty breathing, and she had major heart issues. “I always blamed myself thinking I was the reason for her illness and the cause of her death. Even though I have my other two children, it is the face of my first that remains anchored in my soul,” Tran states.

    Tran says she carried that guilt for 40 years. “Until I found out what killed my daughter, the poison Agent Orange.”

    Her second daughter was born with alpha thalassemia, a major defect of her pancreas. Same with Tran’s third daughter, and a granddaughter. Thanks, Agent Orange and the Boys at Dow!

    Back and forth the documentary travels from Carol’s and Oregon’s battle against the chemical companies and the university forestry guy who was in the back pocket of Dow, and with Tran, who has several lawyers working to “put an end to the eternal impunity,” as French barrister William Bourdon calls it.

    That was Operation Ranch hand, from 1962 to 71, approved by JFK and his henchmen in the DoD and military. The idea was to take away the forest cover but also to be part of a food-denial program, which under any auspices of international conventions, is an act of genocide, and a war crime.

    Dr. James Clary was with the Air Force in Vietnam, which ran the program. He was ordered to dump the computer and erase all memory. Instead, he printed out a stack of documents two feet high – missions, sorties, coordinates, dates, gallons dropped throughout all of Southeast Asia and Laos.

    “We had the information coming from Dow that there were real problems for people associated with this chemical. It was all locked up for 35 years.”

    Playing down all the negative effects of this chemical was part of the Dow plan. Dioxin was the byproduct in the brew. Dow told the US government they were having difficulty producing the volume of the chemical the US wanted. The government told them to not worry about safety standards and quality control, and that a fast production process which produced more of the dioxin would not matter, since the crops and forest were being sprayed, and if people got in contact with it, the idea coming from both industrialists at Dow and those in government and the military was, “Hey, so what, this is a war . . . these are the effing Vietnamese.”

    However, a former military man like Clary never saw it that way. He reiterated that 20 million gallons of it was dumped on Southeast Asia. The Ranch Hand program stopped in 1971, but then the chemicals were enlisted by the US on forest land – clear cuts that were sprayed to denude the razed land of any opportunities weeds and shrubs. The money has to be made, and the stockpiled product has to go! Sell it to the state forestry department and timber outfits.

    Dr. Clary tears up on the film, showing a deep regard for the Vietnamese. He cried at the sight of the deformed children. The filmmakers state: “He is not a typical war monger, and never said that. He became a whistle-blower to expose such attitudes. They are the opposite of how he feels.

    “They went back and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we need the quantities. Besides it’s going to be sprayed on the jungle over there. Not gonna be any people there and if they happen to get into it, so what? We’re at war.'”

    Oregon Community Rights Organizer Featured in New Documentary 'THE PEOPLE vs. AGENT ORANGE' | CELDF

    Carol Van Strum reiterates that the half-life of a dioxin molecule is 2 billion years. Dioxin, the forever chemical and the gift of cancer and birth defects and mutagenic ailments that keep on giving. Tran is now fighting for the fourth generation of people affected by the millions of gallons of this poison sprayed on her homeland. She has breast cancer.

    Dr, Clary breaks down emotionally, saying he never thought his government would betray all the veterans who directly were affected and whose offspring were/are still affected. The judge in the Agent Orange case is a pure case of misanthropy that infects all chambers of the judicial and legal class.

    Andre Burny, author of Agent Orange: Apocalypse Vietnam, makes it clear that this is a “crime against humanity, an attack on the human genome.”

    It’s telling that one of several scientists featured in a clip, Dow’s Dr. Cleve Goring, says, “The attack on the chemical is entirely emotional. 2,4 5-T is about as toxic as Aspirin. We have not done a good job with our PR campaign.”

    As benign as Aspirin! You haven’t heard this before, right? Farmed chemical-laced salmon, safe as mother’s milk. Oh, antibiotic-laced meat and poultry are safe for all consumers. You know, it would take a bathtub of the stuff a day for twenty years to cause cancer. Or, lab rats are not humans . . . no comparison. 5-G is like an apple a day. Violent video games are A-Okay. Genetically Engineered crops are better than those old fashioned heritage crap. What’s a little used motor oil dumped into the pond.

    Oh, dear reader, you have as many of these “it’s safer than the alarmists yammer about” stories, I am sure. Imagine, the bottom line of Dow is to cover up, drag court cases on and on until the plaintiffs are six feet under. What a little rebranding won’t fix. Or some heavyweight like Brad Pitt or Betty White endorsing the product bringing people all together now.

    The documentary, The People versus Agent Orange,” delves into many of the treatment centers for victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. There are dozens. I have been to two of them, years ago, and they were not even tied to Agent Orange. Like Tran, most of the mothers blamed themselves for children coming out twisted, stunted, without limbs, craniums asymmetrical or ballooned out.

    This is how capitalism works – lies, deceit, murder, cover, cover-up, blame the victim, pass on the diseases and poisons and clean up costs to the people. This is the price of capitalism, many Americans will say. This is the price of convenience. This is the price of Low Prices and instant soup, instant turkey, instant husband/wife.

    Blame the child for the crimes of consumerism. Blame the fetus for the mother taking the advice of western medicine. Blame the communities for the sprayed hog blood-urine-shit in their backyards.

    Capitalism is more than some giant smoke and mirrors game, bigger than some house of cards, bigger than snake oil salesmen/women grifting, bigger than shoveling up billions into the debt (poor) house. It is a system of rackets, and while Gen. Butler may have written War is a Racket about the MIC, we have to transpose that military industrial complex to Banks/Hospitals/Insurance Companies/Courthouses/Police Stations/Law Firms/Colleges/Mining Companies/Drug Manufacturers/Big Ag Outfits/Media Conglomerates/So-Called Liberal Press and the like are the very definition of Rackets, certainly perfect actors for Dante’s Circles of Hell.

    We are the fodder for that inferno, and if anyone of any political stripe doesn’t end up being pissed off after watching The People versus Agent Orange, then they are misanthropes, cult followers, colonized zombies. And I can say that about any number of hundreds of righteous documentaries — bear witness and then what? Retreat to stupidity, retreat to the capitalist’s see-speak-hear no evil while the evil eats your soul from the inside-out!

    Please note that I was in Vietnam in 1994 and in 1996. I worked first with several biological teams doing a huge transect of the forest near the Laotian border. I met amazing Vietnamese scientists. I revisited places my military father was at as a CW4 cryptographic guy. His stories were my stories.

    I was in Vietnam in 1994 the same age my father was there, shot twice. That was age 36.

    I made a point of getting into many villages after the science report was done. I drove a motorcycle down Highway One. I met amazing people there, and had two Vietnamese who helped me navigate the language.

    I was embraced by men the same age as my father. Men who fought as Viet Cong, and those men, of course, did not do an eight-month and then a 12-month set of tours like my Army father. They spent more than a decade or more fighting the French, fighting the Americans.

    I met a woman in Hanoi who was bombed as a child in an orphanage. I met people studying the breast milk of lactating women, in 1996, with 16 times the level of PCB’s (US standards) in their systems.

    Vietnam came to me again, as I worked with many veterans, and some Vietnamese back in Texas putting on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon (April 1975). I had Le Ly Hayslip at the event, and she blessed my daughter who was still in her mother’s womb. Den Yen was the vice mayor of Saigon, and he too showed up. John  McAfee, A Slow Walk in a Sad Rain, was just one of many writers, historians, artists who were in this historical event in 1995.

    I worked with then Thomas Daniel, now taking on his mother’s name, Vu, who was both my student and friend and we worked together on art projects. My play, Tiger Cages, was partly written after I ended up in London after watching the bad play, Miss Saigon. My short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, tells the story of people somehow connected to the Vietnam war.  I have taught college courses for US military, even at the Sergeants Major Academy at Biggs Field. Vietnam, “Never another Vietnam,” the “tragedy of Vietnam War,” and more is in my DNA. I even worked as a social worker helping homeless veterans and their families secure housing and benefits.

    This film is powerful in that it tells a simple story of ecocide and American hubris. Several million Vietnamese were killed directly by US bombs. Many more died later from injuries and chemical death. The trauma on a country is also part and parcel of this illegal and unethical war.

    Ecocide as a military practice was first coined for the war against the Vietnamese the US conducted. This documentary and Dr. Clary discuss this heinous war crime, of destroying the crops, the food sources, the soil as part of military stratagem.

    As a note, my piece here was in my blog, and at first I thought I covered all bases. One of the filmmakers, Alan Adelson, made it clear to me some of my juxtapositions of quotes were wrongly attributed. I was writing this “review” as I watched the documentary, The PEOPLE versus Agent Orange. I let my passions and zeal overtake my editor’s calm and thorough copy-editing.

    I appreciate Alan’s email, and I know this sort of review is not mainstream, and probably not usable for the director. I am able to take off one revolutionary cap and put on a more traditional journalist’s cap. I hope the film shows in Portland and if so, that I can have a crack at talking with the filmmaker. I have other gigs, including Street Roots, in Portland. While my column, Finding Fringe, is not textbook newspaper “objective” reporting, it still provides a look into people like Carol and her son, Jordan Merrell — A letter a day for 15 years and 9 months

    War is a Racket – Major General Butler, 1935 | Creative by Nature

    War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. — Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935)


    I don’t think so. I think that the – the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.

    And through Jerry, you’re – we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective. — Rachel Libert, co-producer of film, Semper Fi



    The post Eternal Impunity of Capitalism's Crimes first appeared on Dissident Voice.