Friday, October 26, 2012

GOP Betrayal and Self-Destruction

by Leslie Fish

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the GOP co-opted the Tea Party -- which began as a Libertarian grassroots movement -- and turned it into a cheering section for its own really reactionary NeoCons.  Worse, the GOP then assumed that all those people who had founded and supported the original Tea Party were now dutiful NeoCons too.  Bad mistake!  This is what made NeoCon GOP candidates assume that there was a huge public backing for their own incredibly reactionary social ideas.  This is probably the reason for the GOP's alienation of its own Libertarian wing, culminating in its visibly shabby treatment of Ron Paul and his supporters.  This is also why we've seen Ronney sounding off about saving tax money by not funding birth-control for the poor, Ryan touting bans on abortion, Akin's incredible statements about "legitimate rape", and Mourdock claiming that rapes are part of "God's plan".  This is what comes of believing your own propaganda and, worse, listening to none but your own supporters.

Dozens of polls have shown that the Republicans have lost 81% of the Hispanic vote, 47% of the women's vote, and 100% of the Black vote.  This is a prediction of disaster, and should have raised warning flags, but the GOP's response has been only to discount the polls.

Another unnoticed warning is the record number of voters registering Independent, or even third-party.  Here in Arizona, the number of registered Independents is greater than the number of registered Democrats and Republicans -- who are running about equal.  This could possibly be because, in this state, if you're registered Independent you can vote in the primary elections of every party on the ballot -- or it could be because a huge number of voters are disgusted with the Big Two parties and are willing to look elsewhere.  In any case, it means that Republicans are a minority here.  It's a mistake to assume that Arizona is still a reliable "red" state.  Nonetheless, the GOP has made that mistake.  The usual glossy political ads are specializing on state legislative races, hardly even mentioning the presidential race.  They think they've got it in the bag.

Well, they don't.  This state also has voluntary early voting, and a lot of citizens (including me) have taken advantage thereof.  The early returns on those early ballots show Obama leading with a score of 53%, Romney with 41%, and... nobody's talking about the other 12%.  This, in a state that everyone assumes is reliably Republican!  What do you think is happening in other states?

And the Republicans did it to themselves.  I predict that in betraying its own Libertarian wing, by believing its own NeoCon propaganda, by tricking itself into thinking that the majority of Americans really want to go back to the 1950s, the GOP has (unless it commits a really spectacular vote-fraud, probably with the vote-tabulating machines) cost itself the coming election -- and very possibly more.

A lot of Americans, given our current economic and political mess, are fed up with the two-party system.  They may be registering Independent, but they're looking elsewhere.  Here in Arizona, I noticed in the voters' information book, a good dozen Libertarian candidates for state offices, and another half-dozen Greens.  If the Rep./Dem. balance among the winners is close, it won't take a majority of Libertarians or Greens to swing a vote in the legislature.  And all political movements -- and parties -- start small.

It's not impossible that in another decade or two the largest of the third parties -- the Libertarians -- will draw enough votes to outnumber the Republicans.  That would be a fitting revenge for Ron Paul and the original Tea Party, both.

--Leslie  <;)))><   )O(         

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie Review: "Atlas Shrugged II" -- Better Than The Original

            It''s rare that a movie sequel is better than the original, rarer still that a film made from a book is better than the book, rarest of all that the second movie in a trilogy is both a seamless part of the whole and still effective as a stand-alone film.  "Atlas Shrugged Part Two" succeeds on all three counts.
            First, with the benefit of a larger budget, the director could provide more special effects for the action sequences, of which there are several.  The film opens with a fast-paced airplane chase, ending just before an inevitable crash – and then cuts to nine months earlier for the lead-up story.  The destruction of the D'Anconia mines isn't just reported from offstage but, in good film fashion, shown – in a spectacular long-distance shot.  The crucible-spill in the steel mill, by contrast, is done in a series of really startling mid-shots that include the flood of glowing molten metal right next to the workers frantically shoveling sand to block it – and it's left to the viewer to consider (in later reflection?) how all that sand will make the metal useless even if it's recoverable.  The train-wreck in the tunnel is more spectacular yet, and all the more effective for the detailed build-up.
            Second, the need to cram a lot of background and thematic information into the time-limit of the film creates tight, fast pacing with immense detail in the setting of each shot.  The scenes of sign-waving protesters never exceed thirty seconds, not nearly enough time to read many of the intriguing slogans;  that will take repeated viewing on DVD, which slyly encourages sales thereof.  Hank Reardon's trial is compacted to half a dozen pithy exchanges, with audience reactions.  Jimmy Taggart's courtship and marriage to Cheryl, the innocent but adoring shop-girl, is done in just three scenes – one of which includes another Mysterious Disappearance of the Capable, which is a running theme of the plot.  The only instance of a Randian speech is D'Anconia's rant about money at Taggart's elaborate society wedding – where Cheryl gallantly tries to hold her own, and allows for one of Rand's best punchlines – and even that is mercifully brief.  The result is a fast-moving and densely layered film, inviting lots of re-viewing, that loses nothing of Rand's themes.           
            Third, framing the film with the swooping jet air-chase that starts with a question – "Who is John Galt?" Dagne growls as she flies into what looks like a mountain – and ends by answering it – "I'm John Galt," says the silhouette as he pulls her from the plane's wreckage – neatly shapes the plot into a coherent whole.  Part Two is a taut political thriller, about two capable people trying to shore up a staggering economy and fending off attacks by an increasingly Fascist government, while solving a mystery – the Disappearances.  As such, it's hauntingly reminiscent of the British political-mystery films of the early days of World War Two, intended to persuade the yet-uninvolved Americans that Fascism was a bad idea. 
            At the same time, since the film can't be separated from its prequel, the inevitable references to it are done smoothly and effectively.  TV news clips referring to a disastrous law, detailed in the first film, segue into references to Wyatt's Torch, one result of the first Disappearance.  The dismantling of the John Galt Line almost poetically parallels the scenes, in Part One, of its construction.  Dagne's sneaking the scientist into the underground locker where the mysterious invention is hidden neatly allows her to mention – briefly – where and how she found it, shown in the first film.
            The movie's chief weakness, the almost all-new cast, really couldn't be avoided, since the first film's cast was mostly TV actors who weren't available for Part Two thanks to their regular jobs.  The cast of Part Two is much the same;  look for familiar faces from CSI, Law and Order, Alphas, and others.  Makeup art makes the new cast look similar, up to a point, but the differences can't be completely concealed – either in appearance or performance.  Part Two's Hank Reardon isn't quite as good as Part One's, its Lilian Reardon is better, its Dagne is just as good and its John Galt is just as bad – and, fortunately, just as seldom seen.
            Given all it had to deal with, the script is subtly brilliant – deserving an Oscar nomination, which it probably won't get for political reasons.  It even manages a few flashes of sly humor, such as the one-minute scene from a TV political-talk show, featuring a Hannity character – played by the real Hannity – being downshouted by a Black commentator who bears a more-than-coincidental resemblance to Al Franken.  It carefully sidesteps any accusations of affecting the coming election by never mentioning the word "president", but only referring – even visually – to the "head of state".  It's unlikely that many people will notice that the "head of state" is played by the same actor who played the murderous father on Twin Peaks.
            The irony is that the politics surrounding AS II parallel the politics within it.  Having learned from experience with AS I, the producer took care to line up theaters to show it well before the release date.  Here in Arizona, that meant getting a contract with the second-largest theater chain in the state.  It also meant spending some of the film's tight budget on paid TV advertizing, and specifically paying for prime-time slots.  Nonetheless, no less than three of the top Internet sites that usually list movie locations and times managed to lose all references to AS II, and I've noticed that the local media have blacked out mention of the film as efficiently as they ignored the Ron Paul campaign. 
            Nonetheless, the word has gotten out.  When I saw the film there were perhaps 50 people in the audience – at the 10:30 AM showing, on Saturday morning, and it was on two screens of a 24-screen megaplex theater.  I'd love to know what the numbers were for the afternoon and evening shows.
            It's pretty clear that AS II will make its costs, and yes, there will be a final chapter.  The "Atlas Shrugged" movies, like the book they came from, will not quietly go away.

            --Leslie Fish 

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Book Review: "Our Lady of Kaifeng"

Historical Fantasy novels are thick on the shelves these days, but Historical Surrealism is amazingly rare.  In fact, Aya Katz's "Our Lady of Kaifeng", Part One (, may be the first in that category since "The Saragossa Manuscript", written nearly 200 years ago.

The tale begins, as illustrated by the neo-Fauve cover painting, with the heroine riding across 1941 Japanese-occupied China in a wheelbarrow, heading for a Catholic girls' school run by a group of nuns with male saints' names -- and it gets weirder from there.  One of the nuns is spying on the others, and all of them know it.  One of the priests is obsessed with finding revelations in an ancient Chinese translation of the Old Testament, as preserved by an old Chinese Jewish family.  One of the students is an erotomaniac who falls madly in love with any man -- including a teacher -- who shows her any kindness.  There's a covert war going on between the priests and nuns from Italy -- including the Vatican -- who might or might not be siding with the occupying Japanese army, and everyone else at the school.  The students make it clear that they don't want to learn how to think for themselves, but only to memorize data that they can dutifully repeat on government tests to win themselves approved government jobs.  The heroine turns out to be a 40-year-old virgin, and an atheist, who has a daughter gotten by artificial insemination.  The nuns are in the middle of arguing what to do about her when the Japanese army puts the whole school under arrest because America has just declared war on Japan.  That's where Part One ends, fittingly, on a cliff-hanger.

The weirdness is, if anything, emphasized by Katz's understated Hemingwayesque style that treats practical school problems, bizarre politics and paranoid diatribes with equal calm detachment.  It's furthered by the bizarre characters who stroll convincingly through the equally bizarre situations around them.  Since the story is told from the heroine's point of view, this gives the sense of her personality being the same, viewing the weird events around her with an innocent astonishment or an amused equanimity.  All things considered, those are probably the most sensible attitudes to take.

Knowing a bit about what happened after America entered World War Two, I can't wait to see Part Two of this series, if only to see how much more bizarre the story gets.