Churchill

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So this movie had the bad fortune to come out near-simultaneously with Darkest Hour, another historical movie about wartime Winston Churchill, nominated for six Oscars, winning two (including Best Actor).

And this movie was nominated for zero Oscars, winning zero. Oh well.

Brian Cox plays the man, and I guess he does a decent job of acting. The time period covered is early June, 1944, the lead-up to D-Day. Ike shows up in the person of John Slattery. Miranda Richardson plays wife Jennie.

The problem that kills this movie is that it is (apparently) nearly completely divorced from historic fact. Churchill is painted as an ardent opponent of the Allied invasion plans, insisting on a broader attack front, coupled with diversionary strikes in the Aegean and Norway. (He's haunted by the WWI disaster at Gallipoli, you see.) He is a constant incompetent thorn in the side of Ike and Monty. When his efforts to influence the invasion plans are thwarted, driven by vanity and guilt, he demands to go into the battle himself, taking the King along as well.

And, finally, when that's vetoed, he prays—literally, on his knees—that God send bad weather in order that the invasion be called off.

None of this happened. See, for example, Andrew Roberts' review, documenting that the flick "gets absolutely everything wrong".

I'll give it 1.5 stars for getting something right: Churchill did, apparently, smoke cigars and drink a lot.

World Gone By

[Amazon Link]

This is book three in Dennis Lehane's gripping saga of the Coughlin family. Previous two books looked at here and here. While the first book was deeply grounded in historical settings, especially in Boston, the second book was less so, and the third book just about not at all. There are some real-life folks showing up, notably Meyer Lansky and other gangsters. But this is basically a Godfather-like tale of organized crime and its rotting effect on one of its participants.

Specifically, that participant is Joe Coughlin. The time is 1943, years after the bloody finale of the second book, Joe has settled into a semi-respectable life in Ybor City, Florida. He's a good dad to his beloved and precocious son, Tomas. (Mom is, well, out of the picture — did I mention the bloody finale of the previous book?) He spends his days doing civic and charitable work. Never mind that a good part of his wealth and income relies on illicit activity and corruption.

But Joe gets credible word that there has been a hit taken out on him. Justifiably concerned, his detective work takes him through the decadent highs and very sordid lows of Florida Gulf Coast culture.

And, oh yeah: he starts seeing a ghost. Eek!

Will he come out of this OK? Will there be a fourth book in the series someday? No spoilers here.

Lehane is a gifted writer, and I had a fine time.

Who We Are and How We Got Here

Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

[Amazon Link]

Another "big questions" book provided by Dimond Library at the University Near Here. The author, David Reich, is down at Harvard Medical School, but don't hold that against him. He's a leading researcher in the field of "Ancient DNA", a field that's blossomed over the past few years. Basically: you dig up people from past millennia, extract some reasonably intact genetic material, feed it into some hairy industrial biochemical processors, feed the data output by that into some high-strength computational algorithms, and out comes information concerning just where your Dead Guy fits into humanity's family tree.

But one of Reich's lessons is that a "family tree" is not a particularly accurate metaphor for how the various offshoots of humanity developed through history. Instead, it's more like a latticework: the DNA shows that ancient humans were surprisingly mobile and also, um, familiar with the other folks they ran across.

And they weren't particular in their familiarity, either. As a result, one of Reich's specific findings is that today's non-African people have a significant amount of Neanderthal DNA lurking in their chromosomes. (Added hundreds of mediocre stand-up comics: "… which will not come as a surprise to my wife.")

So just in a relative eyeblink, DNA research has provided new insights into our ancestry. Reich explores not only the Neanderthal stuff, but also how DNA reveals more about how and when people got to their "native" lands; it's far from the simple stories you and I heard about in school. Chapter by chapter, he looks at Europeans, Native Americans, Africans, Australians, Asians.

It's not without controversy, and (for me) that's a little more interesting than the dry recitation of research results. You may have heard that some Native Americans are reluctant to let researchers analyze those ancient American bones found at burial sites. They claim ancestry; the major problem with that claim is that research indicates that, almost certainly, the "native" people buried at a site 10K years ago are not related to the "native" people living there today.

Later chapters dig (inevitably) into deeper controversies of "racism". Reich dissociates himself from extreme thoughts on both sides: the notions that race is a mere "social construct" can't be supported by DNA research. Nor that racial differences are restricted to superficial matters of skin color and gross physiognomy.

He also distances himself from any controversial claims on what may be termed "the other side". Specifically, he dislikes folks like Nicholas Wade (whose book I looked at back in 2014). Reich was one of the signatories of this anti-Wade letter back then.

Frankly, I think he protests overmuch.

URLs du Jour

2018-06-17

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 12:28 reassures the folks worried by death:

    28 In the way of righteousness there is life;
        along that path is immortality.

    We are told that the afterlife is rarely discussed in Jewish life, but that seems to be merely a matter of good manners on their part. Why needlessly irk the goyim?

    But speaking of paths…


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week, after extended pop-culture references, discourses about Staying on the Path.

    Staying on the path may be the most conservative concept there is. “What is conservatism?” asked Abraham Lincoln. “Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?” People who think conservatism is opposed to all change miss the point entirely. Paths go places. They might not get us where we want to go as fast as we would like. But the conservative is deeply skeptical of shortcuts and simple plans to save time or effort. The rationalist temptation to “out think” the simple rules — what Oakeshott called “making politics as the crow flies” — may not always lead to tyranny or oppression, but the odds that it will are too great to justify the attempt.

    The whole point of my book is that, for 250,000 years, humans wandered on the wrong paths — or without any paths at all — and then, accidentally, we stumbled through a miraculous portal that has delivered once-unimaginable prosperity and liberty. But rather than have a sense of gratitude for our good fortune, we bathe ourselves in resentment for the path we’re on and where it brought us. The rationalist progressives think they’re better cartographers and can map a better route. The hard or nostalgic nationalists want to double back to a shady bend in the road behind us. The ugly racists want to march even further backward. The sophomoric socialists are convinced that everyone should throw their kits onto the road and divvy up our wares more equitably. Others of a socialist bent are convinced that we can somehow get on a bus to the future, sparing us the effort and providing equal seating for all. The identity-politics obsessives think the path is a private road benefitting only white people or white men. But the path is for anyone willing to stay on it.

    And you know who was unwilling to stay on that path? The freakin' FBI, that's who.


  • Remember those Dos Equis ads featuring the Most Interesting Man in the World? An old acquaintance from my Usenet days, Mike Godwin, reviews the posthumous sorta-memoir from the guy who actually had a claim on that title: The Insanely Eventful Life of Grateful Dead Lyricist John Perry Barlow.

    John Perry Barlow, who died this year at age 70, was a Grateful Dead lyricist, a pioneer in the fight for online civil liberties, and possibly a mutant. As Barlow recounts in his posthumously published memoir, Mother American Night, his mother as a girl was treated for tuberculosis by a quack who administered a prolonged beam of X-rays right into her hip. Forty-five minutes of this treatment gave her radiation sickness. Her hair fell out, she suffered severe burns, and she was informed that, oops, she'd been sterilized.

    The sterilization didn't take. Two decades later, in 1947, she gave birth to John Perry Barlow. One of his X-Men superpowers seems to have been to unerringly locate centers of the American zeitgeist and discover some pivotal role he could play in them.

    I heard him speak once at a USENIX conference. His point of view was (… um …) unique and oblique. For a sample, this Washington Monthly article contains his essay "Sympathy For The Devil", on Dick Cheney:

    As I’ve mentioned, I once knew Cheney pretty well. I helped him get elected to his first public office as Wyoming’s lone congressman. I conspired with him on the right side of environmental issues. Working closely together, we were instrumental in closing down a copper smelter in Douglas, Arizona the grandfathered effluents of which were causing acid rain in Wyoming’s Wind River mountains. We were densely interactive allies in creating the Wyoming Wilderness Act. He used to go fishing on my ranch. We were friends.

    With the possible exception of Bill Gates, Dick Cheney is the smartest man I’ve ever met. If you get into a dispute with him, he will take you on a devastatingly brief tour of all the weak points in your argument. But he is a careful listener and not at all the ideologue he appears at this distance. I believe he is personally indifferent to greed. In the final analysis, this may simply be about oil, but I doubt that Dick sees it that way. I am relatively certain that he is acting in the service of principles to which he has devoted megawatts of a kind of thought that is unimpeded by sentiment or other emotional overhead.

    So I've paced Mother American Night on my TBR pile. Which just seems to be getting longer as the months and years pass, so…


  • At American Consequences, P.J. O'Rourke muses on The Coastals Versus The Heartlanders.

    They infest the metropolises of the Left Coast and the Eastern Seaboard and they swarm the atolls-of-the-trendy in between…

    You find them in Ann Arbor, Michigan… Austin, Texas… Boulder, Colorado… all the other places where the smell of pot is stronger than the smell of factory smoke, crop fertilizer, heavy equipment diesel fumes, or the sweat of hard work…

    They know all about organic, sustainable, non-GMO, pesticide-free, fair-traded, locavore, artisanal, gluten-free, hypoallergenic, and vegan. But they don’t know hay from straw…

    They are the “Coastals” – the enlightened, the progressive, the sensitive, the inclusive, the hip, the aware, the woke.

    They are also the tedious, the predictable, the arrogant…


  • And, finally, for Father's Day, Michael Ramirez draws his thoughts: