Harum-Scarum

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Netflix has decided to remove the period piece Magnificent Century.  It’s a Turkish-language TV series that dramatizes the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent from his ascension to the throne through to, well I don’t know. The series ran for four seasons in Turkey (as well as Russia, Poland, and Hungary) and I will never be able to get that far. As a matter of fact, Netflix offers only the first season via streaming and the DVD set seem unobtainable outside of the region (in DVD speak) where it played on TV. Plus, of course, come the end of the month, Netflix won’t have even that.

Once again, I don’t understand the cost structure of this streaming business, but it seems like the technology exists to open up unique local content to the world and yet somehow the business end of things keeps that from happening. You’d think that, having gone to the trouble of making this available to the U.S., there is no downside to just leaving it there on the server. And yet, I suppose there must be on Netflix’s accounting sheets.

It probably goes without saying that Magnificent Century is no big-budget production. Scenes are typically kept pretty intimate. The occasional sweeping views rely heavily on CGI, and not really the among the best made-for-TV CGI I’ve seen. Still, even when the computer generation is obvious it remains tasteful. The “period drama” is nicely done with costumes and sets, both indoors and out, looking good on screen.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all of this to me is the fact that it comes from Turkey. We typically see early-modern history portrayed through Western eyes. That is, it is the history of us. Here, the “us” of the production are the Ottomans, not the Westerners. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and other parts of Christian Europe are portrayed, but in this case they are the “other,” not the home team. This point can be subtle at times. The period portrayed is after the Crusades era. While the West talks about launching new crusades and the Ottomans plan to slaughter the infidels, at the same time, the Ottoman Empire engages in trade and diplomacy with the West. In other words, while we’re still watching a clash of civilizations, those civilizations are no longer completely alien to each other.

So as a Turkish portrayal of history, we see Suleiman the Magnificent concerning himself with justice and good stewardship of his empire instead of a sole focus on expansion and conquest as we in the West might. We also see a show that seems, at times, to be more fit for daytime soap opera slots than on my Netflix must-see list. The ascendancy of Hurrem Sultan (sometimes Roxelana in the West) to become the mother of the future Sultan is, historically, as important a part of this story as any. The style is something that wouldn’t have been portrayed in a American series for decades. It would be more at home in the soap operas of my childhood or, perhaps, the Star Trek episodes where Kirk gets taken in by a hot-looking Alien.

In native Turkey, this was one of the most popular home-grown television shows ever created. I can see why. It is a solid piece of dramatized historical fiction.

 

 

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The Ways of God are Strange!

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When the boys come back
They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought
In a just cause: they lead the last attack
On Anti-Christ; their comrades’ blood has bought
New right to breed an honourable race,
They have challenged Death and dared him face to face

Thud

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My efforts to squeeze early cold-war conflicts into the CMANO framework continues.

This is the nineteenth in a series of posts on the Vietnam War. See here for the previous post in the series and here to go back to the master post.

 

The user-concocted scenario Here, There, and Everywhere models a U.S. retaliation against North Korea after having lost a plane to a communist SAM launch. The F-4 was shot down on July 24th, 1965 while escorting a bombing raid on Hanoi. In all, four aircraft were hit, but the plane piloted by Captains Roscoe Henry Fobair and Richard Paul Keirn was the only loss. Fobair was killed and Keirn was a prisoner of war for nearly eight years.

Three days later, Operation Spring High was launched in retaliation, targeting the SAM locations. The raids involved over 100 aircraft, of which six were lost. Later, it was discovered of the two SAM launch sites that were bombed, one was a decoy and the other was empty. The operation and the losses taken during were for naught.

The scenario deviates from this unfortunate chapter in the Vietnam war in several ways. First, it is scaled down. With 40 planes total flying in the raid, it is less than half the size of the actual raid. Furthermore, the target selection is a little different. The actual mission targeted two of the newest SAM sites identified in North Vietnam. It was believed that these were the launchers directly responsible for the loss 3 days earlier. In addition to bombing the launchers themselves, the attack was to target the barracks of the missile crews for each target.

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At the break of dawn, by jets roar into North Korea. I’ve managed to knock out a SAM site and am well on my way to taking out the railway bridge.

In our modified reality, the target is the barracks for one missile launch site only and then two bridges nearby. The SAM itself is not identified as a main target, but the user is told that any “extra” SAM destroyed on the mission is a bonus.

It’s not clear what the scenario designer intended regarding the decoys and the misdirected mission. There are active SAM sites in the mission, near the primary targets. Perhaps the fact that the barracks only, not the nearly SAM, is the target is supposed to recognize that there were no actual missiles co-located with the barracks. Or perhaps the designer placed a live SAM site into the scenario because that is what the mission planners believe would be there. Would anyone, in hindsight, fly a mission to bomb a bunch of telephone poles? Would the scenario give points for doing so?

During my play of the scenario, I did strike two of the active SAM systems near the primary targets and then bomb all three of the victory location targets. Already I’m way up on my historical counterparts, but mostly as a result of hindsight.

For a recreation of the historic July 27th mission, think I would have to give this a D-. There are t0o many details incorrect, some of them likely deliberate and some simply unresearched. As simply a representative mission of what was going on in the summer of 1965, I’ll give it a B+.

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Having successfully delivered their payloads, my people head home to Da Nang.

The scoring for this scenario seems a little buggy. I lost three aircraft in my attack. While that is one better* than the historical result, the scenario description warns of severe penalties for loss of aircraft. I would have thought even two would have been a loss. If you’re going to play this one, I think you need to be prepared to receive mighty praise at the end, even if you’ve done a rather shabby job.

I’ve complained before about scenarios that are unwinnable until you know some of the tricks. As a matter of fact, I had to play through this scenario twice. Technically, my previously stated conditions for a problem scenario were not actually present. Furthermore, with the scoring as it is, I was on track for a total victory despite having a real mess on my hands when I quit and restarted. My problems in the first run-through had to do with bad planning and no concept of the mission parameters. It took a play through the scenario to figure out what I didn’t know (but probably should have).

What I didn’t realize was the all the bombers (although not the support planes such as spotters and jammers) required midair refueling just to make it into their targets. As such, my first attempt at a dawn raid had the bulk of my planes turning back toward Thailand, still fully laden with bombs, just as the sun was coming up. I also struggled a lot with the way the planes will return to base (directly to base) once they complete their mission. This means it is very difficult to get them to exfiltrate along the prepared attack coridor. Instead, unless you are prepared for it an advance, they split their attack flight up into single aircraft, and all head straight for Da Nang, directly over additional, still active SAM locations.

I had to restart to try to get my timing right and get myself prepared to micromanage each aircraft once the bombs were delivered.

Interestingly, this fumbling was mirrored within the actual mission, but for entirely different reasons. Haphazard planning and last-minute mission reconfiguration resulted in unplanned delays from the originally-planned dawn strike.

So while historicity isn’t a strong suit of this scenario, many scenarios aren’t meant to be. As an indication of intent, I notice that the date in the scenario precedes the actual event by 20 days. This may be a signal that the scenario was meant to be a fictional mission, inspired by true events and not a recreation of the mission. In any case the scenario was entertaining as well as a nice introduction to the transition to modern weapon systems that was talking place starting in the mid-1960s.

*There were a total of six aircraft lost in this operation. Four were lost to North Vietnamese defense fire over the target area. Two more were lost due to a mid-air crash during the return trip. CMANO is not going to simulate a mid-air crash for no apparent reason. In IL-2, on the other hand, I see that all the time.

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Slandering the Sacred Halls

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When they turn the pages of history,
when these days have passed long ago,
will they read of us with sadness
for the seeds that we let grow?
We turned our gaze
from the castles in the distance,
eyes cast down
on the path of least resistance.
Cities full of hatred, fear, and lies,
withered hearts, and cruel, tormented eyes.
Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise
beating down the multitude
and scoffing at the wise.
The hypocrites are slandering
the sacred halls of truth.
Ancient nobles showering their bitterness on youth.
Can’t we find the minds that made us strong?
Oh can’t we learn to feel
what’s right and what’s wrong?

Are You Trying to be Mean?

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What is seen cannot be unseen.

A few chapters into Blood and Beauty: A Novel About the Borgias and I started to wonder why I got this novel in the first place. My main issue was how it is all written in the present tense. It is rare that I read a novel written in this style, although I gather it isn’t exactly uncommon. It seems a particularly-jarring way to write historical fiction although, again, that seems to be something that is gaining ground in recent years. I find it immensely distracting. That sense diminishes the more I acclimatize myself to the book, but it never really goes away. Whenever a character reflects on a past event (written in past tense) and then returns to the present, the shock of the present tense writing once again disorients me.

Wondering, I took a look at the Amazon reader-reviews, to see if I was going to continue to find the work difficult to read as I read more. The content of one of those reviews grabbed me. The reviewer, essentially, says that the author seems to have really wanted to write a non-fiction work but, given her reputation as a novelist, was unable to stray to far from her home ground. At the time, I hadn’t made it far enough into the book to know if that assessment is accurate. I’m still not sure, although now that I’ve read the suggestion I’m not sure that I can fairly evaluate the claim. To the extent that I try to think about it, I can only consider the terms set out by that one review.

Another reason I have difficulty following the book is that I’m trying to read it and watch Borgia at the same time. I mix plot points between the two, not only because I’m trying to follow both at the same time, but because they both seems to have used very similar, if not the same, source material. The other night I watched and then read as Cesare returned to Rome. Problem is, the two events are years apart (even in Borgia‘s compressed narrative). I was in for a shock when Juan Borgia made an appearance in the book, several episodes beyond when he was murdered in the show. Working with multiple versions of the same story is probably not the smartest way to go about this.

Which brings up another question. We are dealing with a historical subject, whatever fictional embellishments are added, the central narrative is fixed. This book was published in the midst of a minor Borgia saturation. Beyond that, we have centuries of exposition on the Borgia story. When I read this, it is within the context of already (and recently) having watched the very same scenes in The Borgias and Borgia. While some will come to Blood and Beauty fresh, I would think most would have arrived here via television, novel, film, or perhaps opera. Inevitably, this would shape how one ingests this novel, making it difficult to judge it on its own merits.

Author Sarah Dunant’s “thing” is history from a woman’s perspective. Her previous works focus on female main characters. I’ve read in reviews that this should be the focus of Borgia, although I don’t get that focus through reading the book. Dunant has also said that her goal in writing the novel was to separate the fact from the politically-induced rumor – also a noble pursuit. I suppose it is up to the reader to weigh how well her research fares against the other versions of history that are out there. It also goes some way in explaining the release of a Borgia-based novel right in the midst of a Borgia wave. Perhaps she is providing some counterpoint to what she didn’t like seeing on the TV.

With Borgia removed from streaming, I’ll have to satisfy my lust for things-Borgia with this book and its sequels. That is, as long as I am able to soldier on through this present-tense prose.

 

Ignite the Light and Let it Shine

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In 2013, Vitaliy Manskiy began a long process of securing permission to make a documentary in and about North Korea. He had no more knowledge about the state of that country beyond what any of us take from the news, but he had a conception that it would be like traveling back in a “time machine” to 1930s, Stalinist Russia. What he found was Stalin on steroids; almost a caricature of the totalitarianism with which he was familiar.

When he arrived to make the film Under the Sun, he found that the North Koreans demanded 100% control over the script, filming, and process. Government agents managed every aspect of the production in order to create a story about a young girl joining the Korean Children’s Union (a concept, in fact, adopted from the Soviet Union). He was allowed to travel to North Korea only with the minimum of crew, himself, a cinematographer, and a sound engineer. In a risky decision, he decided to hire a sound engineer who had zero experience with sound but was fluent in Korean and Russian, providing him a means of listening to his Korean handlers surreptitiously.

He quickly grew frustrated with the utter lack of freedom and began filming additional footage when the agents believed the cameras were off. At the end of each day, he was required to submit his scenes to the censors, who would remove any objectionable material. Manskiy created two memory cards – one that he would turn over to the government and a second containing the secret recordings, which were subsequently smuggled out of the country.

Sensing friction on the sets, the North Korean government cut the filming short. Of three planned filming trips, only two took place.

Manskiy’s arrangement with the Koreans was to create a propaganda documentary celebrating the heroic eight-year-old’s membership in the Union. He created a 60 minute film, which was delivered to the Koreans. He also created a 106 minute version using the smuggled footage, which was shown everywhere else. When they got wind of the latter version, North Korea objected and asked the Russian government to prevent the project from being screened. While Russia did formally object, the film was shown at festivals and, for a few more days, is available on Netflix streaming.

This is a fascinating work, well worth the time to watch. The deviation from the official propaganda is slow and subtle at first. Slips from the handlers show cracks in the facade. For example, when agent tells the girl (while eating dinner in, presumably, her own apartment) to “act just like you do at home,” we see some of the government’s misdirection at work. Even without the secret footage, it will be immediately obvious that something is wrong with the Korea we see on film. We see the morning commute in downtown Pyongyang. Wide streets are deserted except for formations of “commuters” walking in perfect lines toward their employment. The film later explains, with on-screen text, that Manskiy believes workers are bunked at their workplaces, and therefore don’t leave at night or arrive in the morning. The same applies to students and their schools.

The documentary is beautiful, sad, and enlightening. Even when showing the propaganda fed to us by the State, we see that the truth can’t really be hidden.

The North Korea on screen shows nearly complete control of every detail down to the most personal. Of course, it is not a complete picture of the entire nation, but still one wonders how it is possible to so utterly crush the individuality out of an entire society. Manskiy himself said that if he had to choose between living in North Korea and the death penalty, he would choose death. And yet, millions soldier on under Kim Jong-un’s yoke, preferring life over the alternative.

The last scene of the film illustrates the utter lack of hope that a totalitarian society creates. The girl is having trouble with the filming and begins to cry. Adults implore her to think of something happy and she is unable to come up with anything at all. Finally, she recites a poem about Kim, celebrating his enlightened leadership of their country, and the recitation apparently puts her mind at ease.

Burn ’em Out

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This is the eighteenth in a series of posts on the Vietnam War. See here for the previous post in the series and here to go back to the master post.

Sid Meier’s F-15 Flight Eagle was one of my first wargames on the computer.

It wasn’t my first. I think that distinction goes to Chris Crawford’s Eastern Front. Both of these were for the Atari home computer. Both games were played with a joystick, as there was no such thing as a mouse on those early Atari home computer systems. Naturally, for a flight simulation, playing with a joystick actually made sense.

Two of the sets of missions in Flight Eagle were attacks on North Vietnam. At the time, I don’t think I considered the obvious problem with that. I can only assume that the thinking went, since Flight Eagle was a pretty primative “simulator” as it was, the distinction between an F-15 and an F-4 was probably not all that great as far as the game went.

I remember the game giving me a very negative feeling about flight operations over North Vietnam. The two missions take place in the Spring of 1972 and face very deadly surface-to-air missiles deployed to prevent you from completing your missions. I remember rarely feeling good after a session against Haiphong or Hanoi. That feeling is a good part of the reason I haven’t really done much gaming since with respect to the air war in Vietnam.

Another reason is probably that there just aren’t that many choices. I can think of a couple of Vietnam themed games, either as flight sims or tactical air games, but like other genres, this is not the most popular era for the creation of computer games.

However, there is one option that we’ve talked about before. The continuing modifications of the IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 package and, in particular, its “Jet Age” mod, gives us some material for Vietnam as well as Korea.

Since I last flew some jets, this package of modifications has undergone (yet again) some major upgrades. The  Community Universal Patch (CUP) of a few years back has been turned into Battlefield Airborne Tactical (BAT). The focus is apparently to simplify the processes for installing, using, and adding to this monster pack of upgrades for IL-2.

For me, who just wants to get to flying around in a plane, the depth of it all starts to overwhelm. The configurability of IL-2 is just astounding. Even with a turnkey system like BAT, there is a seemingly endless combination of options available to the player. It is truly the case that working with BAT is a much simpler process than where I was, running with CUP. Even still, upgrading the system has been a multi-week process of establishing a clean base install and then layering the mods and patches on top of it. It could have gone much faster, but I wanted to make sure I tested after each step so I could understand how any changes were being introduced.

To start flying, and to fit those missions chronologically with the other Vietnam scenarios I’m playing, I started with a campaign called Vietnam 1965. This scenario is built for the “Dark Blue World” comprehensive mod, as well as a series of other mods, and was active in the 2012-13 timeframe. As such, it is actually an older version than CUP (much less BAT). It is also (somewhat) incompatible with both versions.

The problem, as far as I can tell, is that the DBW campaign uses objects that are not supported by the current BAT Either the naming conventions are a little off, or they are specialized models created for the Vietnam scenarios (e.g. Viet Cong Infantry models). When trying to play the campaign, it starts out with me standing next to a smoking plane wreck.

What I did instead is to load each mission of the campaign individually, using the “Full Mission Builder,” now much better integrated with BAT without going to additional mods. What I found was that as long as the player-controlled plane is supported, the scenarios do run even when the mission load is throwing errors. Many of them do have problems with the player-controlled plane, but not all.

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An outpost north of Saigon has come under attack and has called in a napalm strike.

The campaign obviously had a lot of work put into it. You can see in the above screenshot an example. The scenario builder created a U.S. remote base down to some very impressive detail. After dropping my ordnance, I flew back to the airbase near Saigon, a trip that showcases the Vietnam map. This, again, displays some impressive effort on the part of the map’s creators. I will say it would be nice if this campaign could be update to use the 2018 state-of-the-art, but I imagine that also would be a lot of work.

Also in the above, you’ll probably notice that my chosen mission is to provide close air support leading a flight of Douglas A-1 Skyraiders. The bulk of this campaign pack’s missions are flying helicopters, but I’m not quite ready for that just yet. That is assuming, of course, that the helicopter models are compatible between the versions, which I am pretty sure they are not.  But having found and loaded a mission that is supported, the flying goes pretty seamlessly with all the upgrades. Most of the missing models are ground units, which I consider icing on the cake anyway. My plane and appropriate armaments are there, as are my targets. I find the Skyraider is a lot easier to fly than what I remember of the Me-109s. I don’t know if that is an accurate reflection of their characteristics, or a difference in focus when it comes to the IL-2 models.

I will mention a couple of other issues I had, just because I spent so much time chasing my own tail with them. First of all, the “record” function doesn’t seem to work properly if there are issues with the mission file. Or rather, I should say the saving function. Everything seems like it is recording, but then when it is time to save it says it can’t do it. The funny thing is that it worked two or three times, and I don’t know why. Success doesn’t seem related to which file I’ve loaded or which CUP/BAT version I’m running. I’ve both succeeded and failed in nearly all permutations I’ve tried.

I did manage to record one bombing run using the CUP version and used it to grab the screenshot. To make things worse, grabbing screenshots doesn’t seem to work as it once did, either. Finally I found an on-line suggestion to run the program inside Steam, and then use the Steam screen capture function to record the graphic. That actually worked very well, it just took me forever to get to that point.

Back to that screenshot. Note the display of speed, altitude, and heading down the lower left. I’ve come to count on that being there, and never learned to deal with the instrument panel. After upgrading to BAT, that display is gone. Try as I might, I can’t figure out what made it gone. Finally, I just decided to try to learn to land using my own eyes and the actual instrument panel. Sometimes I make it down.

The BAT release has one set of missions, centered around the Tet Offensive, that are created to be compatible. I also notice that the BAT documentation makes much of a Vietnam campaign which begins with the Gulf of Tonkin. As far as I can tell, that new campaign is not yet available.

I’ll continue on with this, but the take-away is that the mod community is providing a lot of good stuff for those of us who’d like to fly the not-so-friendly skies of Vietnam.

Return to the master post for Vietnam War articles or go on to the next article, which compares and contrasts how two board games handled aspects of the war.

Pornographic. Pure and Simple.

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By the time I get this posted, Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond will no longer be available on Netflix. It was billed there as a TV series but would better be described as a mini-series; it is only four episodes long.

As such, I’ve forgone trying to make it through Borgia so as to complete this shorter series before it becomes unattainable (at least within the services for which I have already paid).

This series was created by the BBC and is somewhat based on the real-life exploits of Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond series (and, for what its worth, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). The accompanying text warns that the show has dramatized its underlying factual basis to create a better story. Indeed, I think this disclaimer itself is part of the narrative in that dramatizing the facts was a hallmark of Fleming himself. Obviously known for his literary flights of fancy, he was also known to stretch the truth when it came to his own life’s story.

What we are really about here is the wooing of Fleming’s wife-to-be. While the story also follows his “career,” the central arc concerns his affair with a married woman, his relationship with his mother, and the question whether he can overcome his inner cad. While the occasional action sequence isn’t bad for TV, an inordinate amount of screen time is dedicated to the whoopi that would support that main theme. It’s not as pornographic as Borgia, to be sure, but my 14-year-old Bond loving self would never have been allowed to watch this one. Nor, likely, would I have found in it particularly entertaining. The Spy Who Loved Me it is not.

Given its focus and format, the show obviously has to leave a lot by the wayside. It does make interesting use of our knowledge of the Bond films to add depth to the piece. We see Fleming in various iconic James Bond situations, often with a slight variation on the easily-recognized James Bond theme playing in the background. Elsewhere, the Fleming character refers to the Operation Mincemeat, a deception operation which was, years earlier, originally conceived (likely) by Fleming, by the title of Peter Seller’s classic film The Man Who Never Was. One’s appreciation for the show is successfully padded by these other cultural references.

Overall, this is a decent production, worth the time to watch through the four episodes.  It cost me four Borgias to watch, but I’m glad I did. I notice that this series, being pulled from streaming, will not be made available on DVD. Sometimes I wonder what drives Netflix’s decision process in halting the availability of some of these shows.

 

Call Me James

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I grew up in the midst of the James Bond movies as a phenomenon. Given my particular age, the first Bond I saw was Roger Moore and, for a good chunk of my life, he was The James Bond.

This, of course, put me at odds with the Bond aficionados, who (nearly) universally found Moore an offense to Connery’s true (Scotsman?) portrayal. I’ll add an interesting side note here. Moore was already being considered to play Bond before George Lazenby’s go in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but various factors conspired to delay Moore’s first effort, The Man with the Golden Gun, until 1974.

In my young mind’s Moore-centric view of the world, Timothy Dalton represented the end of the Bond franchise. I’m pretty sure I still watched them at the theater when they came out, and if I were honest with myself, the reduction in campiness probably made for better movies. The problem was, Dalton just didn’t look or sound like Bond. The arrival of Pierce Brosnan renewed faith in the future of the series and, at the same time, allowed me to accept that Bond could be portrayed by different actors over the years.

Some time in this century, I decided to revisit all of the Bond films – in their original order. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I had seen and, of those that I had seen, which had been on network television and therefore “formatted to fit your screen, to run in the time allotted, and edited for content.” In this exercise, I believe I was able to view every single film to date which, by then, included the reboot version of Casino Royale, with one exception. The odd man out (in more ways than one) is the original film version of Casino Royale, which I have to this date never seen.

Despite fifty-to-sixty years of Bond movies, my conception of James Bond remains rooted in the decade from 1974.  Moore’s tongue in cheek portrayal steeped in the culture of the late 60s and early 70s was where I see James Bond at home. As the series moved into the 1980s and beyond, it began to feel displaced for me. I am obviously not alone; Austin Powers is for many the perfect parody of James Bond. Note that Powers ended his pre-stasis career in 1967.

Up until a week or so ago, I had never read any of the books. This is, actually, a little surprising. I recall a teenaged me griping to my mother about not being able to find good books. When she asked me what I wanted, I said I wanted some kind of spy novel. She produced for me a le Carré title, which was not what I had in mind. I was thinking along the lines of Moore’s Bond. For all of that, I never took the obvious step of reading any of Fleming’s works. Perhaps the Bond movies being what they were, I discounted the source material as equally non-serious.

The remake Casino Royale did much to alter that preconception. Surrounding its release, we were treated to explanations about the deviation of the original film adaptation and the adherence of the new version to the style of the book.

The most obvious departure is the setting of the book. In Casino Royale we get indications that the story is taking place shortly after the end of the Second World War. Later novels peg the time in 1951. We also don’t encounter the super-villains and extra-national organizations that approached parody even before the Austin Powers treatment. Our villain is a rogue Russian agent whom Bond is tasked with simply nudging over the edge rather than allowing him to return to the fold. In the form of SMERSH, he faces an organization based on War-time reality. Fleming merely imagines it extending its reach into the Cold War.

Indeed, one of the keys to understanding the early Bond stories is that Fleming’s personal experience was with espionage during the Second World War. His writing, and some of the other “spy thrillers” of the early 1950s, were ostensibly about the Cold War but likely have had more grounding in the experiences of WWII.

As to the book itself, coming at it knowing only the films, it is far more subdued that one would expect. All the films are action/thrillers, filled athletic chases and wild combat scenes. A single car chase aside, the action in the novel is restricted to the card table.

Having forgotten the ending from the film, I got a little nervous about the extremely lengthy romantic interlude towards preceding the books final climax. If you know what I’m talking about, you’ll know that it eventually falls into place and its context within the book makes perfect sense.

Coming as it did for me, Casino Royale defies the concept that I have for James Bond and his world. It is Flemings first novel, being written before he was a “novelist” by trade. He, himself, criticized his own lack of seriousness with the work. Whatever the merits of the novel on its own, however, it was successful enough to encourage a follow on. It created the character of James Bond, who remains an icon of popular culture almost seventy years after his introduction.

Turn of the Screw

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The other day I read an article which analyzes the prospect of mass, armed violence on America’s near horizon.

I began thinking about it in the context of my recent post where I talked about the sense that people on the left witness an entirely different reality than that of people on the right. I have several times thought to share the above article with her, asking how she would interpret its analysis. To me I think the conclusions sound spot on. She has also expressed concerns that the downward spiral of America’s discourse is irreversible. But does she seem the same causes as I do? Doubtful. Would she agree with the “solutions” presented in this article? Even more doubtful.

I have yet to share this article anywhere but with you, my readers. The problem is, it is a fairly substantial article, much of which talks about the failed policies of America’s progressives.

There is a quote that I am unable to find. I thought it was from this article, but search as I might, I can’t locate it. It may have been in a referencing link to this article, or taken from another context about the same situation. The point, essentially, is that once we descend into violence, the question of who is at fault, who started it, will be of little concern to the participants. Historians may write about the roots of America’s Second Civil War and try to attach some blame, although even then it is more likely they will just bolster the righteousness of the ultimate victors.

It seems apparent that we are already, today, beyond the point where there is an identifiable perpetrator and victim. The reactionary forces within our body politic are prepared to retaliate against the latest attack, regardless of what lead up to it. In this sense, the long discussion of how and why the acts of progressives have become intolerable is mostly irrelevant. Can a liberal reader see through what is essentially an assault on their identity into the analysis that, I would say, makes for the meat of this article?

And what is that?

The author proposes that the 2018 and 2020 elections will be the next catalyst that will propel this country forward into its “new equilibrium.” By that, he means a new stable state that comes after the highly volatile situation we find ourselves in today. That state may take any number of forms but I think its possible we can’t stay in the current political environment for every. Just as the author states that he does not predict the outcome of the elections, only what the results of the various outcomes will be, I also think dwelling on the righteousness of the winners and losers is a distraction from the analysis that he presents.

From hours after the results of the presidential election of 2016 became apparent, the left has focused their efforts on the election of 2018. In that, you may feel they are on the side of the angels, or you may disagree their near-maniacal anti-Trump focus.  In any case, I think we can all agree that a plan and the intent to bring it to fruition indeed exists. Should the left “win” the election in a week or so, every tactic they have employed to get to that end will be, to them, justified. We also know that 2018 is merely preparatory for 2020. The goal of a 2018 victory will be to impeach, or at a minimum obstruct, Donald Trump.

I put “win” in quotes as this is subjective. What is a win for the Democrats? Gaining a majority in the House and Senate? Just the House? Is merely picking up a certain number of “red” seats sufficient? How about for the Republicans. Is merely holding on to the Senate sufficient to be a victory? All this is important because what happens next is less dependent on the political makeup of the resulting government and more upon the various sides’ perception of what happened.

I’ll also take a moment for a bit of an aside. The author uses the terms “the left” and “the ruling class” to be mostly interchangeable. To a progressive activist like my friend, however, these are opposites. I think it is important to consider that a progressive could (and, now that I think about it, probably has) written a very similar article talking about the sinister power grabs of the ruling class and how the reactionary right hands the means to do that. To the right, Donald Trump is the corporate outsider, hacking away at the alligators as he attempts to drain the swamp. To the left, he is the perfect example of a corporate overlord, a member of the elitist class that endlessly brushes aside any attempts to constrain, through democracy, attempts to curb their destructive behaviors.

He makes (roughly speaking) a four-branch tree of outcomes, based on Republican versus Democrat victories over the next two elections. Essentially, he predicts all but one will end in warfare. The Democratic takeover of the Presidency he gives as a kind of a default outcome, in that it follows in more-or-less a straight line the path that we are on. He foresees that party and the ruling class, having dispensed with the niceties of civil discourse, now in possession of the full power of State apparatus. They face off against a group, now completely cut off from power, that has learned a hard set of lessons from the “resistance” that put them there.

The article speaks about the fact that self-restraint, the inner control which prevents us from entering into violence against our fellow citizens, has already left the building. From my personal experience, his description of those on the right is accurate. He writes, “The conservatives, among whom the zealot’s taste for taking the speck out of the neighbor’s eye is not widespread, revere self-restraint in principle, but are learning to transgress against it in practice.” In this he contrasts them with liberals, for whom he says restraint is “anathema in principle as well as in practice.”

I think he simplifies a more nuanced situation. I note he uses the word “restraint,” and that is important. Conservatives are apt to talk a good game. Violence in defense of home and family, or even honor, is often talked about and even considered justified. It is but rarely invoked. Liberals often mistake the sentiment that “so and so deserves a good ass-kicking” to imply a propensity to do just that. Yet, it is exceedingly rare because whatever the conservative might think could be done, there sense of higher purpose restrains them.

Progressives, on the other hand, I think define violence a little differently. Screaming in someone’s face or denying a Trump supporter’s humanity is, whatever it may be, not violent. Nobody is shot and nobody is stabbed, so no “restraint” is required. Indeed, screaming a political figure and his family out of a restaurant may feel less inappropriate then the idle comment post-fact that “They better not try that on me, I’m armed.”

Point being, just as the author sees the progressive left as having pushed conservatives over the edge into violence, no doubt progressive themselves see the reverse as true, and the truth of it just as obvious. I make that point, perhaps, to help liberal reader get through the accusatory parts of the linked text. I also think it is why the current downward spiral is unrecoverable – in our minds, we are already reacting to actual violence perpetrated upon us by the other.

Back to those four outcomes. The author proposes that the only chance of peace in our time is a double Republican victory.

A loss in November will cause the left to question their emphasis on “resistance” and the tactics they used against Kavanaugh. Indeed they may temper their approach. In contrast, success in November tells them they are on the right track and need to ramp up their efforts further. His one downside for a Republican victory is that he figures it will lock-in Trump as the standard bearer for 2020 which, in his words, “would add its own level of uncertainty to the outcome.”

Two losses in a row would send a clear message to the left that this country is on the wrong track and put the ball of reconciliation into their court. Having failed to run Trump out on a rail and faced with eight straight years of Republican rule (plus decades of a conservative majority on the Supreme court), they would have every reason to seek a fair compromise. Such a compromise, he suggests, might be found in allowing States to go their own way.

So how would the other side view these conclusions?

Of course, if you are on the right, your only solution is a solid string of victories and every other way leads to disaster. Similarly, I’m sure the left sees the only way to peace via winning in November, impeaching Trump, and then putting Hillary into the White House in 2020. What, though, comes of their consideration of the author’s prediction about the results of that outcome? Do they intend to “crush” the “alt-right,” but see them as such a fringe minority that they don’t matter? Or do they figure conservatives, unlike themselves, will accept reversals at the polls with quiet dignity (and when did they start viewing conservatives so generously)?

These things I would like to know.