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TV Review: “Babylon Berlin” directed by Tom Tykwer. three seasons on Netflix

The biggest and most expensive TV series ever produced for German television is running in 100 countries around the world. There are a string of awards. Americans may have trouble with the dubbing and, possibly, with the German expressionism style. If we get involved in the period being depicted, though, we can answer some of our questions about German fascism and, maybe, get some insights into our own.

It isn’t just good entertainment, it’s also a profound learning experience for non-Germans in our historical period.

As we face incipient fascism in several nations and our own, we can profit from trying to understand Germany during the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and before the rise of Hitler. “The Nazis didn’t just fall from the sky,” explains one of the show’s creators. For all we know in America, they may as well have, because many of us don’t know squat.

The two main characters through all 3 seasons are police. He’s a morphine addict and she’s a part-time prostitute. His problems come from shell-shock during WWI, hers from abject poverty. Their combined flaws, compared to that of the general Berlin society around 1929, make them comparatively the healthiest people in the story.

The two of them carry out what might have been called ordinary police procedural drama. But it’s what happens in the background that really matters. They deal with the political/economic situation that helps us answer our questions about Nazis. For the serious questioner, the Wikipedia version explains the period.

In the first three TV seaons, the Nazis aren’t the major political players. Much more important are the monarchists who want to restore the Kaiser, destroy the communists, and make Germany a dominant military power once more. The monarchists sincerely believe that they would have won WWI had it not been for the “fifth column” of anti-war protesters at home. The Nazis agree with them on that, and both of them team up to malign and discredit the big communist movement.

For sheer anti-communism, it would be hard for anybody to beat the social democrats running the government during the Weimar Republic. They made an early deal with the monarchists in the army to destroy the Spartacist League (militant communists) in 1919. They succeeded and executed Rosa Luxemburg and Carl Leibnecht, the leadership way before this TV story begins.

Here, we have a big, rather amorphous, communist party, and a number of organizations opposing them: Trotskyists, monarchists, and the Weimar government itself. Confusing everything are the non-political but very powerful underworld gangsters. Our two police “heroes” are theoretically neutral as they stand up for law and order.

It’s the flapper era. Depravity is commonplace. The rich are disgusting; the poor are miserable. Nobody respects the government. Democracy is strange and alien to the Germans, and they can never forget that it was forced on them by the victors of WWI.

The Weimar government was never accepted by the German people. Their loyalties are divided among the anti-government organizations. As long as the economy is working, though, things go along. The third season ends with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

I understand that shooting will begin soon on Season Four.

–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

Book Review:

Cash, Wiley, “The Last Ballad.” William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017

Two pages of the book’s afterword, 371-2, reprint everything that is actually known about American labor’s great heroine known usually as Ella May Wiggins. A little more is known about the Gastonia textile strike of 1929. This author uses what is known to weave together a fine piece of historical fiction that certainly satisfies my own high regard for Ella May.

Four of Ella May’s nine children died from pellagra and whooping cough. The one in her womb died with her when she was murdered by strikebreakers. The living children went to an orphanage. The men charged with murder were defended by the mill owners and found innocent.

Ella May’s story is not a happy one, but it is important. Whether she did or didn’t do all the things in this book, historians agree that she stood up for integrating the African American and Caucasian strikers. This was a long time before black/white unity began to pay off in victories for working families. Ella May was a pioneer as well as a martyr.

There are details of her short life, March-1900 to Sept 14-1929, on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_May_Wiggins

The author was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in the area where the strike and the murders took place. With this book, he won the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction and my heartfelt gratitude.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’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 Last Thing He Wanted,” Directed by Dee Rees, 116 minutes

My moviegoing buddy and I have been trying to find something good about this incomprehensible film. We liked the last frame, where three union logos were displayed. We’re union people. I sort of liked, just for old time sake, “Paladin,” the theme from the old oater, “Have Gun Will Travel” that they played during the credits. They also inserted it, along with “Good Golly Miss Molly” into the actual drama, but I think that was just to make sure that nobody, nowhere, nohow would ever be able to make any sense of this overedited mess.

Even though I had already noted that the movie drew a “D” from the Dallas reviewer, I wanted to go because I thought it would make some kind of statement about President Ronald Reagan’s illegal and immoral “Contra War.” During those days, my moviebuddy and I fought hard against the neoliberals who were murdering Central Americans right and left.

The movie had a promising start. We gathered that the heroine, played by the underrated actress Anne Hathaway, was a journalist interested in exposing Reagan’s dirty dealings. That was in the first 16 minutes. The next 100 minutes didn’t make any sense at all and should have been left out.

The credits, like I said, were OK.

–Gene Lantz

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

Across the world and at home, we are learning how to improve our societies. At a breakfast meeting Sunday, November 17, we discussed the present situation and went over some of the lessons of the past.

The United States had more workers on strike in 2018 than in any year since the crackdown against the working class began in the 1970s. Working families in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Iraq, Iran, Spain, and Greece and other nations are holding massive protests. The progressive movement is far broader, that is that more disparate individuals and groups are practicing solidarity, than in recent history.

How do we make sense of it all and decide which of the many opportunities most merit our resources? We posed some interesting questions that, for most of us, are not easy to answer:

  • Why are there so many arguments in the progressive movement? What are some of the major divisions in the progressive movement today?
  • What is happening in Bolivia? In Hong Kong?
  • Are all the world’s protesters working toward similar goals?
  • Would you defend the right of the Ku Klux Klan to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of American armed forces to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of ISIS, Middle Eastern religious fighters, to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of your local police department to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you urge police associations to join organized labor federations?
  • Does America really need a revolution?

Will revolutionaries be elected into power?

Were the Bolsheviks correct in taking power in 1917, or has history shown that the Menshevik gradualists had a better understanding of their situation?

One would like to think that all progressive activists would agree, even on difficult questions. But the truth is that arguments have always racked and divided the movement. Our group tried looking at the time-tested ideas of great thinkers of the past. We were looking for guidelines, not specific directions.

For guidelines and to initiate discussion, we used the automated learning modules in the “ABC” section of the Little School at http://lilleskile.us/school. I am its author. So far, we’ve looked at the first nine lessons. The next one will be on trade unions. Some people finish a module in five minutes.

Here are some of the main points we’ve discussed so far:

  • Activists need to study in order to become more unified and effective
  • Almost everything we have been taught has been filtered by reactionaries
  • Of the two main branches of philosophy, idealism and materialism, materialism is the best guide
  • In general and in the long view, the human condition has improved
  • People’s views are strongly affected by their station in society
  • Different classes of people have strongly divergent views
  • Everything, including societies, is constantly changing

We plan to get together again on the morning of December 1. Let me know if you’re interested

–genelantz19@gmail.com

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

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