Sunday, June 23, 2019

We're going to War! Wait, no we're not! Wait, yes we are! Wait, no we're...

On this week's episode of "The Celebrity Apprentice:  Washington", Mr. Trump ordered missile and air strikes on Iran, but then after commercial break decided to call it off at the last minute.

Plenty of people have had lots to say about it.  There is a general sigh of relief that we don't find ourselves at war with Iran (yet);  there are questions about what really motivated the President's decisions; there are questions about why Trump didn't know from the get go if maybe 150 people would be killed; there is worry about who is driving the foreign policy bus.  There is also the intriguing idea, floated by some (including General Petreus), that it is what Trump had intended to do all along, a sort of mock execution where at the last minute the gun is pulled back and Trump yells out "never, ever, EVER, come into my casino again!  You got that?  NEVER!"  Which would send a message that we could reach out to Iran anytime we want to and that they are on a very short leash.

Trump may have made the right decision in this case:  a strike on Iran, which would have almost certainly caused casualties, is not a good response to losing a drone in disputed air space.

The problem of course it is a decision he shouldn't have had to make at all.  Here we see the consequences of withdrawing from the nuclear deal, which has to be the worst foreign policy decision the administration has made.

The best we can hope for is that Iran buckles under the pressure and sits down to make a new agreement.  But in my opinion its hard to see that happening and I wondering if we will get anything really better than what Obama was able to achieve after years of diplomacy conducted by professionals who hadn't professed a desire to change the regime (at least openly--- Hillary Clinton's monthly kaffeeklatches don't count!  What happens at kaffeeklatch, stays at kaffeeklatch) .  Trump will be lucky to get the previous terms.

Of course, if he does, he will declare victory by solving a crisis of his own making.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Movies You May Not Like: The Favourite

For some reason New Years Day in Hampton Roads is always gray, damp, and unseasonably warm.  It sucks.

So its a perfect day to go to the movies, and it has become something of a tradition for me to pack myself off to the theater to start the new year.  This year, I saw The Favourite, because it was a movie that my wife did not really want to see and it would allow me to get back home by 1:00 in the afternoon, just in time for the customary Upper Malakvian New Years lunch of salted Cod, salted Potatoes, salted beans, salt, and Schlivovitz -- who wouldn't want to miss that!

The Favourite was very well done, engrossing, and kind of unsettling, in a way, mostly due to how the movie ends.  Part farce, part political drama, it is (loosely - very, very loosely) based on actual events, where the favored advisor to Queen Anne, the Duchess of Marlborough, is slowly supplanted by Abigail Masham (nee Hill).  It imagines them in a sort of love triangle, which is, apparently, actually possible but not substantiated.  I think its been shortlisted for some awards and for good reason - Emma Stone and Olivia Coleman give fantastic performances; Coleman's Queen Anne in particular being fascinating.  The costuming and sets are incredible, it is well shot, the soundtrack is haunting.  I would recommend it, though I found the movie a bit depressing, in that it is another one of those movies that has no real hero, no positive influence, and the ending is abrupt and stark and really sticks with you.  I think the last good movie in which I saw something of the heroic was Dunkirk, and that was going on a year and a half ago.  These are dystopian times.  And I am sure there is more that I can say about the movie's sexual dynamics and the #MeToo movement and all of that stuff, the cultural moment we find ourselves in and how the movie reflects on some of that.  But my friends, I simply don't have the cultural acumen to do it.

Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne in The Favourite
But I do have some historical acumen, and that might come in handy if you decide the movie.

Here's the thing:  aside from the fact that it was set in the 1600s or 1700s, I had little idea what it was going to be about.  I knew there was a Queen, and some sort of power struggle, and that it was supposed to be good, and because I do whatever the New York Times tells me to do I should go see it; but that was about it.

To my joy, I found that I was in the one situation in my life where my smattering of British history was actually useful, as I could draw on some useless trivia to give me a firmer footing in a film that otherwise may have been rather confusing from the start.  Maybe the film-makers would rather you didn't have any background at all - but I found it to be useful.  

It isn't much, but this is what I brought to the table: 

So at the beginning of the movie there is reference to a war that is ongoing and draining the British purse, and this war comes to dominate a lot of the political machinations the characters go through as they struggle over the decision to fund it by taxation or sue for Peace from an advantageous position.

Now,  I know that I recently said "No More War Movies" in 2019, but fortunately the combat is kept far away and my new year's resolution is intact.  

Anyways, in this scene at the beginning of the movie, Queen Anne speaks of a great victory and, thinking the war is over, is prepared to give the Duchess of Marlborough a palace.  

The war in question:  The War of the Spanish Succession, fought in the early 1700s over who would be king of Spain (I suppose).  The Bourbons in France had a claim, and the British, Dutch, and others were determined to stop them.  Much of the war was actually fought in what is today Belgium (I think).  

The victory is probably the Battle of Blenheim, a massive victory by the British and their coalition over the French in 1704 that changed the course of the struggle.  The leader of the British forces was John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, husband to (and here is where the connection comes in) Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough and aide to Queen Anne.  And yes, John Churchill is the ancestor of THAT Churchill, old huffen und puffen, trinken und sleepen Winston Churchill himself, with those stupid paintings of his.  You know who was a great painter?  Who could paint one room, in one afternoon, two coats?  I'll give you two guesses. 

The palace proposed at the beginning of the movie was built in honor of the Battle of Blenheim, and is actually called Blenheim Palace.  I think in the movie they refer to its name one time.  We also see the Duke of Marlborough (who second to Wellington is probably Britain's greatest military leader of all time) occasionally but he is a minor character.

And that is really it.  The war would drag on until 1714.  Of the political intrigue in Queen Anne's Court I had little notion.  

As I write all this, it makes me think that maybe it was a conscious choice of director Yorgos Lanthimos to divorce the action on screen from the details of the actual back story, placing the action in a sort of alternative reality where the rumors behind the relationship between the three protagonists is allowed to flourish with all of its Sapphic fire.  If the movie hewed more to a more likely reality it may have only left a sort of tension between the three that may or may not have been sexual in nature, though again the actual relationship between these three women is, based on what I know, difficult to be sure of.  They may has simply been every effusive in their letters to each other, or they might have been true bed fellows.  The only ones who really know, probably, are Queen Anne, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail Masham.  And maybe their dogs and those rabbits the Queen liked to keep in her bed chamber.  All long gone.    

The ending of the movie is what makes it so dissonant, but I will leave that to the brave.  The Favourite; run time two hours; rated R for some fruity language, some sex acts, and the odd nipple here and there.  


Monday, December 31, 2018

In Which I go Very Public with My New Year's Resolutions

A new year is upon us!  And what better way to start the new year then by laying bare my deepest ambitions for the entire world to see!

I did  a decent job with my 2018 New Year's Resolution, keeping 2 out of 4.  I maintained a presence at the gym -- even if it at times that was by having a past version of myself haunting the One Life Fitness in Newport News.  Did you feel that chill go down your spine as you walked towards the rowing machine?  That was the ghost of my better intentioned, more motivated self circa May, before I got deep into Summer, baseball games, and Nachos.

I also managed to complete the reading of 23 books this year!  That was an increase on last year's 20.  It does not include the many books I started, got anywhere from 10% - 60% through, and gave up on.

So not bad!  I did not write as much as I would have liked too -- far from it.  And I also did not progress as much with my German as I would have liked either.

So here, with 5 hours left to go before the end of the year, are next year's resolutions:

1.  No war movies in 2019 (with some caveats)  

I have watched too many war movies, and I am not sure why I do it - they are on the whole depressing.  It was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I so I watched, this year, some excellent movies commemorating the war (2017 Journey's End is one I would highly recommend).  But I've decided, at last, I can take no more.  They don't do me a lot of good.

So, no war movies in 2019.

You must understand, this cuts a rather wide swath  through today's cinema.  Yes, the classic war movie is one in which a young man or woman finds themselves in an army or a flying corps and has their innocence dashed by the brutality of conflict and must grope their way through the experience of warfare - the most complex human experience on earth, I'd reckon - as their friends die around them, over which they must lay the matrix of the many reasons that have brought them to the war in the first place, be they good, bad, or senseless.  And/or the veteran comes home from the war and tries to readjust to civilian live, maybe the second most complex human experience on earth.  The classics are ones like Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Jarhead (the first one), Glory, The Patriot, Bridge on the River Kwai, Dunkirk, the list goes on and on and on.

But you have to add Superhero movies to the list as well.  Or at least most of them.  Batman fights crime, sure.  But Transformers?  Those are war movies.  Wonder Woman, admirable though it may have been, was definetly a war movie.  Star Wars (GASP!!!) are -- well, as the name suggests, war movies.  Even those damn Alice in Wonderland movies that Johnny Depp plays the mad hatter in are war movies.  Forrest Gump?  War movie.

So there will be a lot of stuff I can't see.  There are two caveats:

Caveat a:  If a war movie comes that is hailed as truly being transcendental, something that is just going to be amazing and needs to be seen in theater, I'm willing to relent and go to it.  Dunkirk was such a film.  Something on that level.

Caveat b:  If a decent movie on Napoleon, or the Napoleonic Wars, comes out, or if the BBC/HBO can put together a half decent mini-series of the subject, I will see that too.

2.  Keep up at the gym

I did  stick with the gym this year, though you might have gathered I did not go as often as I probably should have.  Often enough to make it monetarily worthwhile - the price of membership was not wasted - but not often enough to really look or feel much different.

So a little more gym going in 2019. 

3.  Read (complete) 25 books in 2019

Pretty self explanatory.  This two more books than I managed to complete in 2018, so it may be difficult.

4.  Improve on my German

This is an odd one, it may seem.  I have no German ancestry and have little need to know German for my profession.  Yet my inability to speak a foreign language has always gnawed at me.  German is my best shot, because I took it in high school, took some more lessons through a friend at St Mark, and have kept at it through various means.  It is probably better than it has ever been, but there is so much more room to improve!  Plus, the SAWE Conference in 2020 is in Hamburg, and I am going even if I have to swim for it.

I did improve in 2018, but would like to continue doing so in 2019.

5.  Write more in 2019

Probably the most important.  I had the goal last year of writing 50 poems and 3 other things.  I did not even come close...I wrote maybe 20 poems an a few blog posts.  I really, really, want to do more in the new year.

6.  Present an Open Hand Rather than a Closed Fist

I don't really think of myself as a closed fist, but we could all be more open, more understanding, and kinder, and sometimes I can certainly be hard-hearted.  So it is my hope that I can cultivate some more compassionate virtues the new year.

That is it.  A pretty long list but with a few tweaks I think I can get there.  Number 6, actually, may be the hardest.

Well, 2018, you were a hell of a year.  Trump was Trump, the planet is dying, and many of my friends have had a rough time of it, and the Hokies nearly blew up their bowl streak.  Sometimes it is hard enough to gin up the energy to push the boulder up the hill everyday, much less do it joyfully.

Here's hoping for a better 2019!