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Book Review:

Gao Xingjian, “Soul Mountain.” English translation published by Perennial (Harper Collins) New York, 2001

You finally complete the 500 pages and you wonder why it is written mostly in second person. You wonder why it won the Nobel Prize. You assume it may be because the Nobel judges are eager to encourage dissent in China. You wonder if it might have been more poetry than prose. You wonder if it would have worked out if you had been able to read it aloud to the woman.

She said she didn’t want to hear it read aloud. She thinks it would be pretentious. You wonder if you only wanted to read it aloud because you are pretentious. Or is the book itself pretentious? Is it pretentious to think about being pretentious?

You say that she would have enjoyed it as a romantic experience. She says you have no idea what women might enjoy. Men only exploit women and never care what they want.

You say that women are not that different from men. She says they are different and that you are chauvinistic to say there is no difference. You challenge her to define chauvinism. She says she does not need to define it because you are before her and you are the finest example of chauvinism.

You say she is acting silly. You try to embrace her.

She warms a little. She says maybe you aren’t chauvinistic. Maybe you are only patronizing.

You say that you have wondered all over China and investigated many ancient cultural ideas. You say that you discover a great deal of Chinese culture and that it is in this book.

She says it only shows what a hopeless idealist you are. You aren’t even slightly interested in the real world, she says.

What is real, you ask her.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Jo Jo Rabbit” Directed by Taika Waititi, 108 minutes

A boy’s best friend is his Fuehrer. Yes, ten year old Jo Jo’s best friend is Adolf Hitler. They share all of each other’s secrets. Adolf gives Jo Jo confidence as he gets ready for Hitler Youth Camp. Jo Jo’s greatest aspiration is to someday be in his idol’s personal body guard. He is thoroughly Nazi.

But it’s already 1945 and Nazi dreams are almost run out. Even his personal Adolf, once invincible in the boy’s mind, is beginning to seem like a childish fantasy. His wonderful, charming, romantic mother is starting to seem a little less fanatic than the little boy would like. He is beginning to suspect that she doesn’t hate Jews nearly enough. The Russians and Americans are coming.

It’s hard to categorize “Jo Jo Rabbit.” It’s not a comedy. It’s hardly a romance, a war story, or a coming-of-age story. There are elements of many movie types juxtaposed in a surreal, very surreal, attempt to explain what it must have been like to be ten in Germany in 1945.

Needless to say, it isn’t going to be easy for Jo Jo. And it may not be easy for moviegoers, either. But few really worthwhile experiences are easy.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, please check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Parasite,” Directed by Bong Joon-ho, 132 minutes

People who don’t appreciate important movies, who only go for the entertainment and distraction, may not like this one. Or at least they might not like this one if they don’t have time or just aren’t in the mood to look at something that matters. It’s long and in Korean with subtitles. For the rest of us, though, this one’s a keeper.

If you saw his “Snowpiercer” a few years ago, you already know that this writer/director is not afraid to take on important social issues in the most graphic way. In that one, the great unwashed poor were in a life-or-death struggle to get to the front of the train, where the rich people rode.

Arguably, the biggest social issue in the world today, Korea or anywhere else, is inequality.

It’s a story of two families, maybe two-and-a-half families, of great difference in income and wealth. One of them has a fancy house surrounded by thick trees to block out all view of anything but comfort. The other family is crammed into a sub-basement, mostly underground, where the only window looks up into a dismal alley where drunks come to piss and puke.

The plot unwinds meticulously as the families come together. The first half could be compared to one of Shakespeare’s comedies, where everybody thinks everybody is somebody else. But it’s hard to tell the story of shameful inequality in a comedy, isn’t it?

In a comfortable, easy-to-watch movie, good and bad are well delineated. There’s always somebody to like and, nearly always, somebody to hate. The ending is comfortable and pleasant with a musical fanfare and, if you’re fortunate, an extra little joke in the middle of the credits. “Parasite” isn’t one of those.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM central time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Harriet,” Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 125 minutes

If you study Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments, you’ll wonder how the film makers thought they could cram it all into a mere two hour movie. I heard a radio review with the director, who said that she wanted to make sure that people didn’t see the film as a mere biopic.

It is a biopic, though, complete with those little written sub-headings that show the times and places where important events took place. There was probably no other way to do it, because Harriet Tubman was not a one-time heroine. Her personal exploits in saving people from slavery and in actually ending slavery spanned decades in time and hundreds of miles in distance.

We really loved this movie, but my movie buddy and I love history and the civil rights movement. We think of the American Civil War not as a meaningless tragedy as it is usually portrayed, but as a giant leap forward for all of us. Those who agree are really going to like “Harriet.”

So get comfortable for a long and edifying experience when you go to this one. It’s worth it.

You can listen to an opera about Tubman on Youtube: https://youtu.be/0wpqiyA1nHE

The 1978 TV mini-series, :A woman Called Moses,” can be bought on-line:https://app.pureflix.com/videos/253311526823/watch

The theme song with animated video is on Youtube: https://youtu.be/2bl3KJgWQKk

The Wikipedia version of Harriet Tubman’s life is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “The Laundromat,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, 96 minutes

Some stories are too big, too complicated, and too world shaking to be covered in a single movie. The scope of the crimes revealed by an unknown whistleblower in the Panama Papers is more than one can comprehend in a single sitting.

Eleven million documents from the law firm of Mossack Fonseca showed how filthy and how rich some of the filthy rich are, and a little bit of how they hang on to their riches and filthiness without paying taxes. I would suggest two long-running TV shows: a drama about how it works and a series of legal proceedings to bring the thousands (millions?) of filthy culprits to justice.

But Director Soderbergh, bolstered by terrific film actors Meryl Streep, Gary Oldham, and Antonio Banderas, did what he could in one film. Faced with tragedy of this amazing extent, the only way to tell it in brief was with a comedy. Oldham and Banderas play the two lawyers, Streep plays one of their many victims.

“The Laundromat” calls attention to a great problem in our world of skyrocketing inequality, but it’s not really a good movie. That is, it’s not entertaining. It’s more of a moral sermonette. What happened, what is happening, is too big and too awful to be a good movie.

You can see it in theaters and on Netflix.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review

“American Factory,” Netflix documentary by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, 110 minutes

General Motors leaves a lot of Dayton, Ohio, workers adrift when they shut down a big factory. In 2014, a Chinese company buys it and starts hiring. They bring in a number of their veteran workers to show the Americans how to manufacture automobile glass the Chinese way. The film makers follow the workers, both Chinese and American, and managers, both Chinese and American, around the workplace and during visits to China, and let them have their say.

The film was recommended by the AFL-CIO, but that doesn’t mean it’s a propaganda vehicle for our side. In an extra attachment, the two documentarians explain their lack of bias to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Even without editorializing from the film makers, there are some really hard-hitting scenes in the movie. One of the Americans explains how happy he is to get the new job, how affectionate he feels toward his new Chinese co-workers as he settles in, and then, later, how lost and miserable he is when he gets fired for causing a 3-second delay.

The Chinese and American workers try to figure each other out. The Autoworkers union tries to regain the membership they lost from General Motors (the organizing drive could have easily made a good separate movie). The American managers try to cope with the hard demands of the Chinese owners. Some quit, some get fired, and some get laid off as the factory becomes more and more efficient. At least one of the American managers is bitter about being dumped. Another one, speaking Mandarin and probably thinking it won’t get translated, shows himself to be far nastier toward the American workers than the Chinese ever tried to be.

In a trip to a Chinese factory, the American managers try to adjust to an entirely different culture and mentality. The always-neutral film makers just record it all without comment.

The Chinese workers were on 12-hour shifts and some of them were only able to see their families for a few days out of every year. They were amazingly efficient and fanatically hard-working. Nobody commented on it, but all of them were also quite young.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal page

Book Review: Woodward, Bob, “Fear. Trump in the White House.” Simon & Schuster, New York, 2018

Most of the people who can read already have a low opinion of Donald J Trump. What they find in Woodward’s careful documentation of White House conversations is not likely to change many opinions. It will confirm, and strongly confirm, those with the opinion that the President of the United States is a lazy, prevaricating, egomaniacal, loose pistol with one finger on his Twitter feed and the other on nuclear war.

The book extensively explains that Trump believes that power is fear. But I don’t think that’s the reason for the book’s title. I think Woodward is talking about the world’s fear for its own safety.

If one wanted to take Trump’s view of things, or if one yearned for the vacuous “neutrality” nonsense to which most journalists pretend, then one could credit Trump with being loyal to his original plan. In other words, he really is against free trade, globalization, immigrants, and foreign entanglements. If those ideas are twisted and spun well, a lot of Americans would agree with him on those fundamentals. In fact, a lot of Americans voted for him and will vote for him again.

The popular idea that any Democrat could beat Trump in 2020 is just as unreliable a belief as the 2016 national conviction, supported by scientific polling, that he didn’t stand a chance against Hillary Clinton. Nobody believed that Trump would take power, even though they had the clear precedent from Nazi Germany.

Understanding Is Needed

It is not enough to dislike Donald J Trump as we prepare for 2020. It is not enough to quote Bob Woodward from this book to convince people to look elsewhere for a president in 2020. If we are to make progress in the 2020 elections, we need to carefully explain what is happening and what must be done.

Certain truths need to be faced and understood. Begin with the clear fact that we are reaching the end of America’s economic dominance. The reasons for that dominance grew out of World War I and World War II. Those reasons are long gone. American continues to dominate the world militarily, but not economically. Donald Trump did not make that happen. He exploits it, but he didn’t make it happen.

Springing directly from America’s waning economic domination and continuing military domination is the growth of immigration numbers. After all, if the United States hadn’t created the Syrian military crisis, millions of people would have stayed home. In other countries, it may take two sentences instead of one to explain why families leave home, but the military and economic factors, both springing largely from the United States, are the root cause. Donald Trump exploits that situation, but he didn’t create it.

Hitler exploited the 25% unemployment rate in Germany and the failure of the social democrats to reform society. He didn’t create the misery, but he exploited it.

Speaking of Hitler and Trump, it is especially important to note that they had a lot more power afterward than they did when they were first elected. Hitler was eventually able to do away with the German legislature entirely. Trump hasn’t gone that far, but Trump and the Trump supporters have eroded the power of the legislative branch. Their control over the judiciary is even more obvious and more scary.

The Solution Goes Far Beyond Personalities

As 2020 draws near, progressive voters are asking, “Which Democrat has the best chance of beating Trump?” That question barely scratches the surface of what is needed. No one person, even a president, will change the underlying problems we face. The president that we elect, and all the down-ballot politicians that we elect, are going to have to contribute to actual solutions: organizing for fundamental change.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site