Monthly Archives: June 2015

Solid Sound Day 3: June 28, 2015

Despite some unseasonably cold summer rain, my wife and I set out to Mass Moca to take in the sights and sounds of the conclusion of Solid Sound 2015. 

As an artist who’s consistently staked out adventurous musical territory over the course of my own career, I’ve sought to support venues, promoters, and events which present ambitious visions which fall outside the common perception of “mainstream” taste and still manage to reach a mass audience.  Solid Sound is a festival that aspires to achieve this goal and by and large, succeeds.  That said, there is a little bit of a stuffy and oppressive air to the whole thing. Needless to say, holding a music and art festival at a museum is going to have a bit of a THIS IS ART vibe to it.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but such a self-congratulatory atmosphere creates its own aura of stultifying conservatism. I measure the success of any art by how successfully it balances its various ambitions and most importantly, whether it manages to convey some basic humanity and soul. What is this artist saying about life and the human condition fundamentally?

The three acts we saw managed to present music that was simultaneously virtuosic, visionary, and futuristic, but occasionally lapsed into antiseptic and sterile intellectualism.  Some more than others. 

This tendency was perhaps best exemplified by the Nels Cline and Norton Wisdom’s Stained Radiance.  Since I was familiar with Mr. Cline’s work, I was looking forward to this set.  Stained Radiance featured Nels doing his solo guitar thing with various looping devices, delays and effects while Norton accompanied with a painting improvisation and three dancers added a movement element.  This certainly had all the ingredients and potential to be a pretentious wank, but ended up having enough of an emotional center to engage.  To my surprise, the real glue of the performance was Mr. Wisdom. He painted on a semi-translucent canvas which was projected on to the main screen in the hall.  It had the effect of being a white board so he could create negative space with a wiping tool and wash away an image with relative ease.  His style had a phantasmagoric quality to it.  The color palette was dark. His opening image appeared to be a surreal impression of Mr. Cline. Strange monstrous humanoids were conjured from amorphous blotches of paint. Anthropomorphic animals and human forms with wings took shape. The surface allowed the paint to run and gave each form a melted quality that was naturally very creepy.

image

Mr. Cline churned out subsonic drones, shards of harmony and melody, shrieking spears of noise, ghostly pulsations, and icy riffs at various moments throughout the piece.  The two aesthetics were complementary.

One of the dancers was outfitted with a diaphanous fabric sheath which lent itself to a performance which resembled either an aquatic plant or a flame burning in slow motion.  Another dancer did a passage with a long piece of fabric that was meant to convey imprisonment or a struggle to be free from some kind of bondage.  The physicality of the dancers certainly lent the piece some much needed drama and made it more of a performance, but it still felt a little aimless and pretentious. 

What did they intend to convey with this performance? I’m not entirely sure.  Clearly, they were content to let the process unfold and allow the audience to generate their own experiences and interpretations.  I find that leaving it entirely up to the audience to extract a message from abstract art can be a cop out.  Abstraction for its own sake can be an evasion and a way to avoid risking any real emotions. 

This performance suffered from that pitfall a bit. It felt non-committal. I sensed vague allusions to gender based conflicts.  I sensed some struggle to be free.  I sensed a small appeal to love buried beneath the layers of darkness and abstraction. 

It had a foreboding and ominous atmosphere. It more or less held my attention. It was among the most successful attempts at this kind of performance I’ve personally seen and I’ve actually done gigs that were almost identical conceptually. However, I was not deeply moved. I’m going to seek out one of Mr. Cline’s bands next time. 

One of the great successes and recurring themes of Solid Sound is that Cool is ageless and that making vital art is the pursuit of a lifetime.  The greats may not draw the attention of the pop culture spotlight, but they are always creating and cultivating their own unique language without regard to which direction the winds of popular taste are blowing.  The booking of Richard Thompson, NRBQ and the great Charles Lloyd were testimony to this. 

image

Charles Lloyd is one of the last remaining giants of 20th century modern jazz and his CV is indeed impressive

Not only was he backed up by a first rate rhythm section comprised of Gerald Clayton on piano, Kendrick Scott on drums, and Joe Sanders on bass, he was joined by Bill Frisell too!  This more than compensated for the unsatisfying and uninspired pairing with Sam Amidon. 

Mr. Lloyd exuded the ease and confidence of a true master.  His music was equal parts post-bop modernism and blues inflected spiritual exploration. It is big hearted and filled with romanticism but still leaves ample space for experimentation.  Most importantly, it was always swinging.  Frisell’s languid, cubist Americana avant-bop was totally complementary. 

We concluded our afternoon with the sedate bleeps and bloops of Quindar.  Quindar are an electronic music duo comprised of Mikael Jorgensen and James Thomas. 

image

Their unique angle is that they’ve been granted access to NASA mission video and audio recordings and their performance is meant to emulate a journey to the moon. 

In theory, I should love these guys. I’ve spent the better part of my career playing music that hews very closely to this artistic territory.  My current band Mission Creep has cosmic ambitions of its own.

The music is very tasteful and the execution is flawless.  There are identifiable melodies and riffs amidst the pulsations, oscillations, and layered beats. It’s just a little too tasteful. 

They were wise to utilize video because they would be insufferably boring to watch without it.  Public Service Broadcasting from the UK are doing the exact same thing conceptually, but are utilizing live instrumentation and subsequently have a more dynamic sound. 

Sadly, King Sunny Ade was held up at the Canadian border and was unable to perform. 

Mass Moca and Wilco are producing a quality festival and I’m genuinely hopeful that it was a financial success. I look forward to next year’s incarnation. 

Solid Sound Day 2: June 27, 2015

image

My wife and I decided to check out the Wilco curated Solid Sound festival at Mass Moca this weekend. True their own aesthetic, the common thread unifying all the acts is that each band found different ways to combine American musical tradition and present it in an innovative way.

The festival had a vague feeling of being the East Coast anti-Coachella. In contrast to the image conscious, overpriced West Coast glam of Coachella, Solid Sound was all about reconciling the urbane with the rural. The abstract and adventurous with the gritty and immediate. It was a family oriented festival too, so it wasn’t monopolized by skinny jeans wearing millennials. It managed to be that festival where you were just as likely to find kids playing games on Joe’s Field as you were to find someone who could tell you what their favorite Derek Bailey record was.

image

Ryley Walker played a pleasant conjunction of Americana, Krautrock and jazz.  It was occasionally reminiscent of Popul Vuh.  At other times, it devolved into a bland melange which felt facile and uninspired.  Enjoyable enough, but it certainly didn’t set my world on fire.

Luluc were a male/female folk duo who played a low key and melancholy sounding brand of music that seems to lend itself to rainy days and nights of solitude.  The female singer had a voice which vaguely resembled Nico.  Accomplished but meh.

Bill Frisell teamed up with a folk singer/multi-instrumentalist named Sam Amidon. This was perhaps the biggest letdown. Even the brilliance of someone like Frisell could not elevate Amidon’s anemic mewling. He’s talented enough and has a decent voice, but the end result felt detached and academic. Even their excursions into atonal free improvisation were so carefully modulated that they felt more precious than truly exuberant, playful or jarring.

NRBQ injected some much needed life into an afternoon which was a little too heavily weighted towards the soporific.  Their skewed take on R&B was playful and irreverent.  British Invasion style vocal harmonies were mixed with skronk sax solos and swampy New Orleans style funk.  These guys find the common ground between Professor Longhair, Thelonious Monk, and The Beach Boys and make it soar. It manages to be joyous and fun and arty all at once.  Though people often compare Phish with the Dead, it’s apparent to me that they’ve copped a few moves from these guys.

The biggest flop award goes to the insufferably pretentious Jessica Pratt.  Once again, it’s evident that there’s a decent voice and perhaps some songwriting skill that could ripen in time, but the vibe was so fragile and the emotions were too muted. I was reminded of acts like Sharon Van Etten, Waxahatchee, and Marissa Nadler but not as good as any of them. It had a “I’m so consumed by these emotions that I can barely whisper them into this microphone” feeling. And she left the stage without even a “thank you” or an acknowledgement of the audience.  Fuck you too, Jessica.

image

The hands down winner of the afternoon was Cibo Matto. Though I believe that Cibo Matto belong to a tradition of NYC punk-funk that traces back to bands like Talking Heads, ESG, and Bush Tetras, their sound incorporates a bedrock of R&B/hip hop and panoply of transcontinental influences which are synthesized so effortlessly, it comes across as its own unique polyglot hybrid.  Their albums have a polished sheen of electronic beats and sounds, but they were backed up by a live rhythm section which brought some welcome brawn to their live sound.  “Blue Train” was one of the most successful marriages of Neu! and Black Sabbath I’ve ever heard.  “Moonchild” revealed them at their R&B sweetest. In “Sunday Part 1” Ms. Hattori and Ms. Honda laid down a flow that stood up against any hip-hop crew you can name. “Bbq” was a blistering punk-funk rave up that gave Primetime a run for their money. They were joyful, innovative and funky; surely the embodiment of everything for which Solid Sound stands.  A+.

image

Shabazz Palaces delivered a set of futuristic hip-hop that defied easy comparisons. I was simply at a loss in identifying their antecedents. Their flow was angular but also had harmonized vocals and looped phrases and words.  Without a doubt, one of the most original sounds in the contemporary landscape. Their choreography was cool too.

image

I’m just going to admit my loserdom and confess my utter ignorance of Richard Thompson. Yes, I know. What kind of a musician am I to be oblivious to this guy? His set was indeed very good and it’s imminently clear that he’s a prodigious talent. I gave myself a facepalm when I looked up his discography and saw multitude of connections and collaborations with acts I admire. He laid down a raucous set of his unique brand of blues.

Parquet Courts seemed cut from the art punk template that gave rise to the likes of Gang of Four, Pere Ubu and Wire but with a contemporary flair.  It was decent but not original enough to warrant the fanfare. But then again, Spin is apparently in the business of glorifying the mediocre and hackneyed.

And the WTF Award of the day goes to Mac DeMarco. I’ve read the hype. I watched a video once.  I kind of get it, but it’s just not my bag.  He can write a song. He can perform. The program indicates that he’s been compared to John Lennon and Ray Davies, but I’ll be damned if I hear even a fraction of either in him.  There’s a quirky funk/R&B quality to it, but it’s just not something that speaks to me.

Unfortunately, this guy preceded Wilco and since he eroded my patience, we left before their set started.  Sorry, guys.

image

Day 3 review coming soon.

Ayn Rand: Anthem

image

After going 43 years not having read Ayn Rand, I am increasingly convinced that the degree to which you are able to enjoy her as a writer depends a lot on your overall receptivity to what she is laying down philosophically.

While I can appreciate that folks find the single minded and self-righteous implacability of her worldview repellant and impossibly self-centered, I have concluded that these criticisms are both right and wrong.

Thematically, this book is exactly what I expected.  It portrays a future society in which the will of the individual has been completely subjugated by the will of the collective.  The protagonist eventually escapes from society and reclaims his individuality and as a result, makes some revelatory pronouncements which certainly validate the view that Ayn Rand is a one dimensional harpy dispensing scorn and condemnation toward all collectivist impulses and sentiments.  Love and respect is to be earned and not freely given.  The pursuit of achievement is its own end and whether or not it is of any benefit to mankind is not the point.  “We” can only be invoked voluntarily and if invoked in the context of political power or social activism is corrupt and evil.  And so on.

No surprises.

On this front, the critics and haters are correct.  As Whittaker Chambers so eloquently put it in his 1957 National Review piece, it’s the tone that dominates and the words are shouting us down.  It’s clear that Ayn Rand wanted this book to carry the weight of a Biblical parable (the protagonist claims the name Prometheus and surprise! his invention is a light bulb).  There is simply no questioning the validity and veracity of her revelations!

With a worldview so rigid, the laws of physics take hold and the caustic, inverse reaction is inevitable.

How could anyone really hold such a narrow view of the world and regard that as unassailable Truth?!

There are many possible lenses through which to view people and the world around us which are seemingly unaddressed by the Randian view. There are some people for whom voluntary charity and giving is a genuine expression of themselves.  Some derive great satisfaction from knowing that their contributions are making a material difference to others.  Some are edified and filled with joy by freely expressing love to others regardless of whether it is earned.   Some are willing to place trust and faith in others to find their own self direction instead of relating out of the default assumption they are looters.   The key of course being whether or not these actions are taken voluntarily versus being carried out by a state bureaucrat.

The punch line, however, is that Ayn Rand didn’t care about the haters.  She wrote what she wrote and if you don’t like it, move on.

Where the critics and haters are wrong is simply a failure to fully appreciate the importance of individualism and self-interest.  The key to happiness and self-fulfillment lies within each individual.  You are your own best guide for navigating the challenges which life presents.  Even if there have been worthy achievements made by the State, the placement of too much faith in the power of the State to rectify social ills is misguided and potentially toxic.  I agree wholeheartedly that the freedom of the individual has lit the flame of progress for humanity throughout the ages and there are passages in this book which testify to the spirit of individualism and burn with a righteous fire.

Anthem is both a worthwhile read and a completely worthwhile addition to the dystopian SF canon.

And hey, just remember this.  Any book which inspired Rush’s 2112 can’t be all bad.

The Self-Defeating Contradictions of Marxist Feminism

image

This article by Harsha Walia gets right to the core of my issues with Marxist feminism and the whole spectrum of post-Marxist anarchism.

I contend that Marxist feminism is the philosophical substrate of all contemporary left feminism. It’s little more than a license to indoctrinate a class of permanent victims and wage a never-ending struggle against oppression even if there’s no oppression to be found.  It’s as self-negating, depressing, cynical and elitist a worldview as I can imagine. 

Broadly speaking, I think her analysis of state power and its intersection with mainstream feminism is accurate.

However, I have several issues and responses.

1.It strikes me as being fundamentally nihilistic. Just like traditional Marxist thought, the entire spectrum of AnCom/left libertarian/libertarian socialist/syndicalist/market mutualist thought seems defined so much more by what it’s against rather than what it’s for.  I realize some might level the same criticism of AnCap/Voluntaryist free market libertarians but from my perspective, there is a qualitative difference.

The AnCom argument opposes state power AND capitalism.  That leaves little opportunity for freedom and self-emancipation, doesn’t it?  The oppression is EVERYWHERE! Coercion here. Coercion there. Heirarchies. Private property. State power. Everywhere and everything is oppressive.

The AnCap argument is an advocacy FOR free markets.  FOR non-aggression. FOR self-ownership. FOR freedom of association, contract and speech. FOR individualism. FOR voluntary exchange.
This distinction is key. Because to take up the cause of a stateless society is to actively cultivate the sphere of liberty.

Freedom, dude!

This is not trivial. Much blood has been spilt for this simple idea over the ages. Take it seriously. Be a champion for liberty. Not THE STRUGGLE AGAINST OPPRESSION.

2. On a related note, I can’t hang with the antipathy toward capitalism.  I just can’t. Lighten the fuck up, assholes. Free markets are going to elevate the livelihoods of the marginalized and dispossessed. If you can’t celebrate the idea of economic freedom, then what are you going to celebrate?  If craft beer, movies, rock music, food trucks, comic books, video games, mobile devices, labor saving technologies, legal weed, and pornography aren’t advancements worth celebrating, then go live on your fucking commune and grow some kale, you joyless fuck.

Yes, I get it.  State power is intertwined with the market. Fucking get over it and advocate for disentangling them.

3.  Is she cool with sex positive feminism? I can’t tell. If she’s an anarchist, and wants to use moral suasion to advocate against sex work and prostitution, that’s certainly her prerogative and I will promptly tell her to fuck off.

4. The preachy PC vibe grates. Yes, I get it. You are the VOICE OF THE OPPRESSED. All decent people oppose violence, and by and large, have a general spirit of goodwill towards fellow humans. You don’t have to self-identify as post-gender, queer/trans positive anarcha-feminist in order to be a decent person any more than you have identify as religious. So get off the fucking pedestal and lay off the condescending horseshit. What exactly do you need? What are you asking for?

Yes, I get it. Heteropatriarchy is the state. Fine. As a cis-het PYG, it’s still really fucking grating to hear this reverse bigotry. There are plenty of cis-het PYGS who’ve built very happy lives and many of whom are totally down with the whole LGBTQ/feminist program. Yes, there are people who aren’t.  Fuck ’em. Gays, women and minorities have had the opportunity to thrive in capitalism.  This seemingly gets overlooked in these circles.

Also, I find that this stuff encourages people to see humanity through a lens of bigotry while preaching against it.  It indoctrinates people to view people in groups and to assign priorities to groups and ascribe evil to groups.  It’s the HUMAN RACE, assholes. Some of us are for the human race.  All of it.

Also, I use ableist slurs all the time. No apologies are forthcoming. If you don’t like it, tough shit.

Lastly, I’ll just say that despite the fact that I mock feminism constantly, there is some of it with which I’m totally cool. Specifically, the early libertarian/individualists like Mary Wollstonecraft.

Feminism remains very divisive in libertarian circles just as it is in mainstream politics.

I believe that if one is going to claim the mantle of feminism, it is essential to define it and own it.

If you’re a Marxist, sex positive, choice feminist, gender equality, gender supremacy, or whatever, be specific and proclaim your values.

Divergent (2014)

image

Candy coated dystopian SF for the youth set. Not completely shitty, but it certainly squanders a juicy premise.

Society is run by five factions (Abnegation the selfless, Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Dauntless the brave, and Erudite the intelligent) because the state has determined that this particular social order keeps the peace. Naturally, the do-gooders in Abnegation run the government and they are virtuous and pure and all of the poor souls in this faction work for the government.  They live in homes which are completely uniform, they conserve energy, eat nutritious but meager meals, and most importantly, indoctrinate the idea that you must place the concern of others above yourself and that this sense of altruism must be funneled into government service. They’re presented as one dimensional puritans yet likeable enough to make you somewhat sympathetic. The heroine of the story, Beatrice, is the daughter of the leaders of Abnegation, and as you can imagine, she dreams of escaping the suffocating piety of her faction. Mysteriously, they are apparently as virtuous as they are portrayed and society runs like a charm under their benevolent hand, but whatever. We’ll go with it.

Everyone in society submits their children to a ceremony in which they choose a faction to which they’ll remain faithful for LIFE!  Not only that, everyone submits to a chemically induced test which offers a “suggestion” about which faction they should select.  So far, this is an awful lot of obedience to government power and yet, life still seems pretty serene and pleasant. Food is apparently plentiful. There is advanced technology, all of the factions are productive and happy, homelessness is present but manageable, and get this, the law enforcement faction, Dauntless, is pure and virtuous and NEVER resort to militaristic crackdowns!  They are super sexy have rad tats to boot.  Again, this is a lot of overall pleasantness considering that what’s being presented is a totalitarian society, but whatever. We’ll go with it.

Beatrice takes the test, and surprise! She’s Divergent! Which means she cannot be controlled by the government! Of course, she’s warned not to reveal this information because she’ll be marked for death.

She chooses the Dauntless faction, turns herself into a badass, and gets all hot and heavy with her hunky, tattooed squad leader.

As it turns out, the Erudite faction is planning a coup d’état by drugging the Dauntless goons and ordering them to grease the hippies in Abnegation en masse.

And this is where it gets a little groan inducing.  The inevitable struggle between Beatrice and the despotic Erudite bitch who engineered the coup ensues. Naturally, the goons are centrally controlled by a computer program and as long as our Divergent heroine dismantles the program, the world is saved, order is preserved, and the spotless virtue and benevolence of Dauntless remains untainted. So in other words, our individualistic dissident Divergent Beatrice asserts her individuality by SAVING THE GOVERNMENT and restoring power to the do-gooders in Abnegation.  Because apparently, a totalitarian society with an enforced social order isn’t so bad if it’s run by do-gooders!

The only thing that redeems this bit of inanity is that she and the be-tatted hunky dude bail from society altogether. I realize we live in a society where the lines between corporate power and state power are intertwined. But it really burns my ass when people do dystopian SF and ascribe all benevolence and/or power to government and completely disregard the distinction between economic life and state power.

It feels half-assed and timid.  George Orwell was unequivocal about the source of malevolence in 1984, folks. It’s worth remembering this.

But enough carping.  It’s entertaining enough.  A pleasant Diversion.

Economics of Star Trek

image

I’ve always enjoyed Star Trek.  Like many others, I’ve enjoyed its hopeful vision of the future, its far reaching technological speculations, its exploration of moral and social concerns and perhaps most significantly, its wild speculations of a post-scarcity economy.
   
The author of the piece makes a game effort at rationalizing the Star Trek economy, but given the timeline, I don’t see how it comes together.
 
How can you mass produce warp and transporter technology, weapons systems and marshall the considerable labor and materials needed for a Federation class starship without a private sector and without resorting to totalitarianism?
  
Between these types of questions and the general veneration of government bureaucracy and the slavish deference to hierarchical command structures, Star Trek’s general affinity for rational thought and secular ethics goes very flaccid.  

image

Sorry, dude.  You simply can’t build a fleet of starships without mobilizing considerable labor and resources. Proto post-scarcity my ass. 

Some Thoughts on the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy

image

1. Though Batman is a more efficient crime fighter than the police and is essentially a private citizen vigilante, he’s not really a true blue libertarian because he makes common cause with the police state.  For this reason alone, he cannot be viewed as a positive archetype for individualism because he inculcates the idea that citizens are powerless to defend themselves.  
 
2. Batman’s weapons and vehicles are a product of Wayne Enterprises’ crony capitalist military contracts with the state.

3. Bane is not an anarchist because he has no appreciation for or any recognition of the Non-Aggression Principle. He is little more than a violent would-be socialist dictator seeking retribution for his imprisonment who has a solidly Marxist antipathy towards capitalism.  

4. If Batman has to circumvent “The Law” in order to combat the aggression of violent individuals, what does this reveal about the government’s ability to affect moral behavior? More importantly, if humanity must rely on a state comprised of corrupt or corruptible individuals or some kind of vigilante ubermensch in order to be spared from unspeakable aggression, isn’t the film saying that the population is both utterly helpless and devoid of agency?  

Live and Let Die (1973)

image

I watched this film again after many years and was supremely entertained. After it was over, I had this thought. I bet that some twat out there probably thinks this film is racist.

Sure enough, a rudimentary Google search turned up all kinds of hits. So allow me to present a counterpoint view to the racism cops and culture cops who seem intent on destroying anyone’s ability to simply enjoy a piece of pop entertainment without a cloud of guilt.

One of the standard arguments goes like this.  The villains are black.  The hero is white. Ergo, RACIST!

The plot of the film involves 007 investigating the murder of two agents who were killed by a drug lord. The film also involves an inner city crime boss and henchmen and contains some Hollywood portrayals of voodoo culture and ritual. Naturally, Bond makes it with a black woman, too. In short, Live and Let Die is loaded with Blaxploitation imagery and archetypes.

So case closed, right?  It’s just another racist piece of shit, yes?

Not so fast.

First off, films are first and foremost, entertainment. They’re generally fun. This is especially true of the entire James Bond franchise. Even if you are presenting a dramatic and serious work, you still have to have an appreciation for the fact that you are out to entertain.

If you are one of those sanctimonious assholes who think black people will be “harmed” by these portrayals, consider the possibility that you hold a condescending view of blacks and that you are the fucking racist.

Second, Bond films are well written stories with vivid characters and witty dialogue. They are stylish and sexy to boot.  Broadly speaking, these are positive qualities in art as far as I’m concerned. Furthermore, good and evil are not traits on which any race has a monopoly. The only measuring stick which should be applied is whether the character is well written and serves the dramatic arc of the story.

But if you really want to split hairs, the worst thing about this film is not the portrayals of black characters. It’s that Bond represents an absurd caricature of government excellence.

I mean, come on.  Bond lives a life of exceptional luxury. He has unlimited access to the most advanced technologies and they all generally work very well. His exploits take him all over the globe. That’s a hefty tab for the taxpayer.

The problem is not that the drug lord was black.  It’s that the government has criminalized drugs and that’s a great way to disenfranchise and demonize blacks. This film is merely portraying what the government has been doing for years in a stylized and campy way and portrays Bond as being on the “good” side of the fight.

Furthermore, this was a professional endeavor. These were professional actors who voluntarily chose to play these roles.

So basically, culture cops, it comes down to this. If it really bothers you, watch something else.  It would be preferable if you could simply seek out the art that affirms your values 100% or just admit that you are joyless fucks and you are intent on destroying fun for everyone else.

To everyone else, it’s Bond, man. And it’s the kind of film that doesn’t get made anymore.  If the culture cops succeed in their seemingly endless quest to find racism and -ism du jour in everything, we may see less of these kinds of films.

You know.  Films that are fun and entertaining.

A Most Violent Year (2014)

image

Despite the provocative title, this film is not the crime bloodbath you might presume. 

This film tells the story of Abel Morales, an immigrant businessman who is doing everything in his power to retain a sense of morality during one of New York City’s most violent years. 

That’s right.  This is a story of a virtuous, moral immigrant capitalist.  

Abel is besieged on all sides. His oil shipments are being hijacked.  He’s being investigated by an overzealous DA.  His loan funding dried up on a deal that would allow him to expand his business. His family is threatened.  

Just about everything that could break his spirit happens, and yet Abel remains unbowed. 

In my estimation, this film is a rare phenomenon.  Hollywood generally resorts to caricatures of capitalists and the business world in general and portrays them as soul crushing, greedy and corrupt.  

For once, we are given a film with a character who is doing everything in his power to walk the line when everything around him is putting him to the test. 

And he’s an immigrant to boot.  

It’s a great reminder that the free market is not inherently corrupt. Rather, it is the free market that challenges you to look within yourself to determine whether you have what it takes to live up to its promise.  

Jessica Chastain turns in another great performance as Abel’s tough-as-nails wife. 

Good stuff.  

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War

image

A first rate war SF and dystopian tale.

This book’s reputation as a classic is well deserved.  It succeeds at being an engrossing and very convincing tale of a futuristic war while simultaneously etching out the contours of the grotesque and horrifying political world that would send soldiers to the farthest flung corners of the universe to fight a seemingly unconquerable enemy.

It is a well documented fact that Mr. Haldeman intended this book as a commentary on Vietnam, but I believe that he achieved something far greater. By placing events in a far future, his extrapolations succeed in leveling a critique of the absurdity and inhumanity of the state war machine that seem chillingly plausible.

Over half the Earth’s domestic population are unemployed and all taxpayer funds have been diverted to fund the war.  The best and brightest citizens have been conscripted and all of the technological innovation is being deployed in service of the conflict. Heterosexuality has been bred out of the population as way of maintaining control of the herd. Private citizens have to hire bodyguards because crime is so rampant.  Gun control laws prohibit the acquisition of lasers except for law enforcement. The government has completely overtaken the management of the economy.  And so on.

Haldeman’s physics are also quite convincing. He is attentive to details but never at the expense of momentum. The training maneuvers which take place on Charon (!!!) at the beginning of the novel are harrowing because they are remarkably detailed but rendered with the voice of unforced, casual detachment one hears from a soldier enduring any earthbound military shithole.

Haldeman is also wisely attentive to economics as well as physics.  SF has given us so many fantastic visions of scientific advancement, but often at the exclusion of the economic portion of the equation. This aspect lends this book yet another layer of resonance.

As someone who has been fortunate enough not to have seen the horror of war, this book more than succeeds as a reminder that the warmomgers of the state deserve our fullest contempt and our most fervent opposition.