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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

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