The Force

[Amazon Link]

I'm a Don Winslow fan. One of my reading "projects" has been to catch up reading his novels, and (yay) with this one I finally did it. Now waiting for something new from him.

This book is epic, a tad under 500 pages. It has laudatory blurbs from Steven King ("mesmerizing") and Lee Child ("best cop novel ever written"). Maybe. But it's not my cup of tea, may be yours.

So, no light sabers, although I wonder how many careless Star Wars fans picked it up by mistake. The Force in question is the NYPD, and it's a different bunch from what you'll see on the TV show Blue Bloods. Tom Selleck is not in evidence anywhere. The antihero protagonist is Denny Malone, police detective, and leader of the Manhattan North Special Task Force, a supercop unit charged with dealing with drugs, gangs, guns, etc. in Harlem.

"Antihero" might be putting it mildly. This sounds like a spoiler, but it's not: Denny executes a drug kingpin in cold blood, and his unit rips off $4 million and 20 kilos of high-quality heroin. Unfortunately, one of his cops dies grotesquely when a heroin bag bursts open and spills into his open wounds… yeesh.

That's on pages 15-16.

And that's part of the problem. Neither Denny, nor most in his cop-thug gang, are admirable in the slightest. If a substance can possibly be abused, they do so. They lie, cheat on their wives, behave corruptly as a matter of entitlement. And just about everyone else in the tale is equally corrupt, if not more so. The squad's only virtue is loyalty; but that turns out to be ephemeral as well.

Most of this book shows how things gradually fall apart for Denny and his crew, with an ever-mounting body count. Again a (slight) spoiler, the final line: "All Denny Malone ever wanted was to be was a good cop."

He did a piss-poor job of that.

Ninotchka

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I saw this movie once before, back when I was a grad student. 'Twas back when Boston's channel 5 showed classic movies on Saturday night, hosted by the late great Frank Avruch, also known as the first nationally syndicated version of Bozo the Clown.

So about 45 years ago, give or take.

It was made in 1939, as World War II loomed. It begins with three Russians coming to Paris in order to sell some jewelry confiscated by the Commies from its previous aristocratic owners. (Stalin's Russia is in desperate need of cash, because starvation and murder aren't cheap.)

But (as it turns out) the aristocrat ("Grand Duchess Swana") is now living in Paris too. The sale immediately gets complex, as Swana's boy-toy Count Leon d'Algout easily "corrupts" the three envoys with all the worldly delights Paris has to offer.

Enter Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, aka Ninotchka, a no-nonsense Moscow enforcer who arrives to see what's going on. And she is played by Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, aka Greta Garbo. She's humorless and grim, and contemptuous of the bourgeois antics of Count Leon, … until, yeah, they fall in love.

The trailer was included on the DVD, and its prominent tagline was "Garbo Laughs!". Apparently that was not something she had done in previous movies. And it's an inside-baseball reference to her first non-silent movie, Anna Christie, which was taglined "Garbo Talks!"

And the movie's not shy about making winking reference to one of her previous movies: "Do you want to be alone?" "No."

Lots of talent involved. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder was one of the writers.

And there are pointed references to current events. Stalinist horrors are occasionally mentioned. ("Hello! Comrade Kasabian? No, I am sorry. He hasn't been with us for six months. He was called back to Russia and was investigated. You can get further details from his widow.") And—this is 1930s Paris, remember—a couple of Nazis greet each other at the train station with a hearty "Heil Hitler!". And it's played for laughs.

Excellent movie. I'll put it on the list to watch again in another 45 years or so…


Last Modified 2018-10-05 1:42 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2018-08-19

[Amazon Link]

  • I can imagine King Solomon finishing up Proverbs Chapter 10, and muttering to himself, "Gee, I really haven't mentioned lips and mouths enough." And so, Proverbs 10:32:

    32 The lips of the righteous know what finds favor,
        but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.

    Speaking of perversity, the good old King James translation:

    32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness.

    That's right, "frowardness". The Google Ngram Viewer shows that the word used to be a lot more popular:

    And I wonder how many of those current uses are just people typoing "forwardness"?

    Let's bring it back! Try to work it into your next conversation around the water cooler. "I'm feeling full of frowardness today."


  • One of the more tedious recent articles at Wired's website is a plug for their "Geek's Guide to the Galaxy" podcast: Owning Guns Is Sort of Like Owning Rattlesnakes

    In his short story “Rattlesnakes and Men,” science fiction author Michael Bishop describes a town where everyone is required by law to own a dangerous rattlesnake. It’s a scenario that he says is no more absurd than how America treats access to guns.

    “We lost our son at Virginia Tech in 2007, in the shootings there,” Bishop says in Episode 322 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I had been opposed to the laxity of our gun laws for a long, long time, and that just hardened both my wife and me on that particular point.”

    Sympathy is in order, of course. But… come on. Is this "scenario" convincing to anyone not already converted? And doesn't that short story sound just a tad obvious and preachy? It was nominated for a Nebula award, but I'm not sure if that's a mark of quality these days, or simply a nod to CorrectThink.


  • A bit of interesting news from Ars Technica: After Employee Revolt, Google Says It's 'Not Close' To Launching Search In China.

    Google's employees and Google's management are clashing over ethical issues again. Just two months after Google's "Project Maven" military drone project was seemingly resolved, Google's employees are now up in arms over company plans to create censored products for China. The internal protests resulted in the issue being addressed at an all-hands meeting, and we got to learn a bit more about Google's China plans.

    It's an, um, interesting view of corporate ethics. Another view from Bloomberg: Google’s Brin Cops to Plan to Reclaim Lost Decade in China, which revisits the history of Google's 2010 pullout from China:

    Google’s top management committee decided to pull out of China based on a black-and-white view of censorship at the time, according to a former executive. The business implications of leaving were considered, but limiting the flow of information online in any way was considered bad and Google’s involvement in such activities could have damaged its brand in the rest of the world, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company deliberations.

    Oooh, "black-and-white"! Can't have that!

    It would be interesting to see just how Google cooperates with unfree countries around the world, and how much that cooperation aids and abets suppression of each country's citizenry.


  • Speaking of Google, it sent out an LFOD alert for the Keene Sentinel's profile of a local candidate: Ian B. Freeman, NH Senate, District 10. Ian was asked: "Why are you seeking this elected office, and what are the three most-important issues you are focused on addressing if elected?"

    I’m running for office to give the voters of this region a choice that actually supports liberty and live free or die, not big government. My three main issues are: (1.) Ending prohibition of all victimless “crimes” (like cannabis or other drug possession, gambling, prostitution, operating a business without a license, etc). (2.) Making all taxes voluntary, because it’s wrong to threaten violence against peaceful people, which is what taxes are. (3.) Seceding New Hampshire from the United States federal government, an evil organization controlled by power-mad lunatics that extracts unending amounts of wealth and obedience from the people and gives back to them a growing police state and global conflict that puts us all in danger of terrorism. New Hampshire was one of the original colonies to declare independence from Great Britain and it’s time to do it again, peacefully, of course.

    Ian is running (no surprise) on the Libertarian Party ticket. He lists his "occupation" as "Cryptocurrency Evangelist & Talk Show Host". His campaign website is here. He's a little too hardcore for me.


  • Ah, but there's another LFOD-invoking profile at the Sentinel: Judy Aron, NH House, Sullivan District 7. (Occupation: "Self Employed Handcrafted Soap Maker") Judy's response to the same question:

    When State government overtaxes, overspends and overregulates it causes great damage to families, communities, and businesses. That has happened in other states and I don’t want to see that happen here in New Hampshire. Our citizens deserve better! I will work hard to protect our Constitutional rights and for Granite Staters to keep more of their hard earned money! The three most important issues I believe are Taxes, 2nd Amendment Rights and Quality of Life. I will vote against any state income tax or state sales tax proposals. I will vote to preserve 2nd amendment rights, and will not support unconstitutional legislation. I believe our kids deserve a great education geared to their needs. Our pursuit of liberty and our “Live Free or Die” attitudes are what make our State really remarkable and contribute to our ranking as one of the best places to live.

    Judy's campaign website is here. She is looking to replace Jim Grenier, a Republican who's not seeking re-election.


  • And an unexpected LFOD reference from Newsroom Pro, a New Zealand online subscription news service. Opinion writer Liam Hehir rebuts local efforts to reduce the size of the New Zealand Parliament from its current 120 to 100, in the cause of "smaller government". Wait a Kiwi Minute, says Liam: More is more when it comes to MP numbers. And guess where he gets his counter-example:

    […] it certainly doesn’t follow that a large legislature is necessarily accompanied by a large and powerful state. I submit as evidence, as I have before, New Hampshire in the United States.

    With a population of fewer than 1.4 million, the state’s lower house has 400 members. On top of that, it also has a 24-member senate. Politicians are not thin on the ground in the Granite State.

    'Live Free or Die' no nanny-state

    So New Hampshire must be a tax-and-spend, nanny-state dystopia, right?

    Well, not quite. To the libertarian Cato Institute, New Hampshire is the freest state in the union. In fact, it has no income or general sales taxes. The only state that taxes less is Alaska, which is fuelled by oil revenues.

    And it seems to work. New Hampshire has less poverty than any other state, but is also at the top end for the number of millionaires per capita. Overall income levels are high and the state is generally quite prosperous.

    On the personal liberty front, there is much for Seymour to like. New Hampshire is the least religious state and one of the first to legalise gay marriage by legislation. It has a school choice tax credit programme and a medical marijuana law. It’s even resisted making seatbelts compulsory for adults, if you can believe it.

    All this in a jurisdiction that has fewer than 3500 voters per legislator. Smaller government is, it seems, not a precondition of small government.

    I especially like "if you can believe it." Head-spinning, 'tis.


Last Modified 2018-08-19 9:22 AM EDT