You say that we’ve got nothing in common,
no common ground to start from, and we’re falling apart.
You say the world has come between us,
our lives have come between us.
Still, I know you just don’t care.
The hackneyed phrase in circulation among anti-speech liberals is “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences”, which like most hackneyed phrases is a lie in service to an injustice. As a matter of fact, freedom of speech means nothing if it does not come with freedom from consequences. The only acceptable response to argument is counter-argument. It is never violence, it is never expulsion from society, it is never imprisonment or fines, it is never economic punishment–for if any of these things is allowed, then open debate is infringed. And if open debate is infringed, then our democracy itself is controlled by those with the power to sanction speech. Because men benefit from sanctioning criticism of their misdeeds, this inevitably means the ruin of democracy itself.
[…S]omeone a thousand miles away, whom you have never met, and to whom you have no meaningful social relationship, can attack you for your speech. Here I am drawing a distinction between arguing against you, which is permissible, and attacking your speech rights themselves, either by direct or indirect suppression. In this we have a one-way exercise of power and its only point is to prevent your speech rights from being exercised. This is as much in violation of the right to free speech as is a government agent fining or jailing you for criticism.
Important in this distinction is the element of balance. If two people wish to disassociate from each other over a difference of views, that is permissible and natural. If a group hears the speech of one person and chooses to ignore him, that is permissible and natural. But when groups of people choose to punish a speaker, or large corporations choose to take away his voice in public venues, then there is an imbalance that is plainly evil. The right not to hear speech is easily exercised, but it cannot extend to the right to force others not to hear it, or it becomes tyrannical.
Full post is here.
The film made me think about “preparedness,” a concept that gets a lot of traction in the world these days. The real world has a way of undoing all one’s planning. In the face of this natural disaster, it didn’t matter what equipment you owned or what martial arts you may have learned, you were at the mercy of nature and the kindness of your fellow human beings.
It is often said, and probably just as often ignored, that what is important is the most simple. Being physically fit, healthy, and capable of running, swimming, climbing, and otherwise functioning under physical stress was the most important set of skills for anyone trapped in the aftermath of this disaster. Well, second most important. Above all, it was pure luck. Luck to survive the wave without being killed, the luck to be found and treated for injuries, the luck to be standing in the right place when the wave hit.
Something like a quarter of a million people were killed in this disaster, anfd countless more suffered tremendous loss.
The film itself was not horrible, but not really my cup of tea. I guess I’m not a huge distaster/survivor genre fan to begin with, and as purely a story, this was not an exceptional one. What made it stand out is that it was written by the survivor (the female lead, played by Naomi Watts) based on her actual experience. The real drama, perhaps, was the “impossible” circumstances alluded to in the title – which I’ll not dwell on as it kind of ruins the movie.
Reading the reviews of this came out, however, makes me wonder. The movie was critically acclaimed, with a large amount of praise going to the genuineness of Ms. Watt’s emotional acting. Which seems bizarre to me. Bad acting can ruin a movie, but I think it takes more than a believable character to make a good one. On the flip side, the criticisms were equally off. The main criticism is that the film was too “white.” A disaster which impacted millions of Asians is told through the eyes of a Western family and “that’s just wrong.” Oddly enough, the review I read didn’t mention that the main characters were, in real life, Spanish but were portrayed as Australian (I think) for the film. They also failed to mention the half a dozen films made about the tsunami, purely from the local ethnic point of view. Again, if that’s the worst you can say about a film…
Perhaps once again I owe a nod to Netflix for getting me to watch something I would have otherwise passed over.
I’ve recently finished the second of two books on the Second World War. They both compliment each other and add to the understanding of that time in history, and what can happen when the world goes mad.
Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East, by Stephen G. Fritz and
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, by Max Hastings.
The titles, obviously, don’t entirely overlap. The first focuses on the War between Germany and Russia, although the impact of and on other fronts are included. The second deals only with the end of the war in Europe, starting of post D-Day and after the liberation of Paris.
Ostkrieg, perhaps evident in the title, focuses on the war from the German perspective. Recent access to the Soviet archives has prompted a wave of histories based on that new information. Fritz provides a counter point to that counter point, relying instead on secondary research as well as an effort by the now-reunited German government to document the war.
In Armageddon, the focus tends to lean a tad to the Western front, and even there a little bit toward the English (countrymen of the author).
Quality versus Quantity
Simply address the two books from a “rating” standpoint, both were worthwhile reads. Of the two, Armageddon does stand out for the quality of the writing. One frustration I did have with Ostkrieg is it had a repetitive quality, that may have benefited from a bit more editing. The presentation style was for the author to make a statement of opinion about a subject, and then back it up with quotations from (for example) someone present at the event in question. The problem is when there were multiple quotes on the same topic, the initial statement was often repeated. By contrast, Armageddon highlighted different points in paragraphs (or groups of paragraphs) and simply combined quotations on similar subject matter. It improved how easily the book read. Ostkrieg is also a rather hefty tome. I have to wonder if a little paring down might not have made the read a little quicker, but also shorter.
What it means to be “more evil”
Another contrast between the two books struck me as soon as I picked up Armageddon. First, I’ll take a step back.
The theme of Ostkreig is the centrality of the Eastern war to everything that Hitler did. Yes, the book details the battles themselves. This is the reason I picked it up in the first place; I was hoping for a overview of the war in the east that would help me put the battles, campaigns, and maneuvers into a larger perspective. The book does this well. But it actually starts at the very beginning, with Hitlers rise and rapid conquest in the West.
Another theme of Ostkreig is the limited prospects for the Third Reich in ever winning their war. From the beginning, the odds were greatly against Hitler. He was held up as a genius for his gambles that overcame those odds, but if eventually losing it all was inevitable, its not a mark of a genius to keep gambling until you’re busted. One of the first insights I gained from reading this book was about what might have been in Czechoslovakia. When Hitler threatened that country, Czechoslovakia was by many accounts an even match. While Germany’s armies were slightly larger, Czechoslovakia had the advantage of both a defensive fight and the ability to devote their entire force to that defense. Germany would have needed to divert some portion of its forces to protect against intervention by other powers, particularly France. When it came to it, Czechoslovakia may have been able to field a numerically-superior force, modernized to roughly the same level as Germany.
German generals were aware of the problems in Czechoslovakia, and there was a plot to, at the start of hostilities with Czechoslovakia, overthrow Hitler and make a deal with England. Unfortunately for all of Europe, England decided to ignore this avenue and convinced Czechoslovakia to make a deal with Germany. That deal ensured that they would be unable to resist the next set of demands from Germany and emboldened Hitler in continuing his expansion into Poland.
The book argues that each step in Hitler’s expansion was part of the larger plan to conquer the Slavic nations to the East. Austria and Czechoslovakia were needed to gain a strategic advantage over Poland. There is some evidence that Hitler expected Poland to ally with him in the fight against the Soviet Union, as their generational animosity towards the Russian empire should have overcome any indignities heaped upon them by the Germans. Likewise, invading the low countries, France and England were all necessary, in Hitler’s mind, to free his armies to conquer the Soviet Union. He seemed to be genuinely surprised at their declaration of war and expected that the West would probably look the other way as Germany expanded and purged the world of the communists.
Along with this story, the book details how the elimination of the Jews became entwined with everything Hitler did. The eventual genocide almost appears to be something stumbled upon by Hitler and his minions. Initially, the goal of the Nazis was simply to rid Germany of all Jews. An early plan was to transport them all to Madagascar. Once war broke out, Germany’s isolation by sea prevent such transport, the next idea was simply to move them out of Germany into occupied territories. As this became a problem, the slaughter began – perhaps even unsystematically. There is evidence that the killing of the native Jewish population in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia as the German armies invaded the Soviet Union may have been driven by local commanders attempting to impress their superiors (and ultimately Hitler) with ever greater anti-Semitic zeal.
Ultimately, and through the repetitiveness of similar stories throughout the Eastern Front, the book exposes the pure evil of the Nazi regime. Each new story of massive killings is shocking and horrifying. Even though we all know the numbers, as the details of the killings are explored, somehow the horror boggles the mind anew. Likewise, the large scale planning to simply wipe out as many inhabitants of Eastern Europe as possible, simply because Germans need the food and that takes priority, is unfathomable to modern sensibilities. And yet, this is something happened within the lifetimes of people still alive today.
Particular emphasis is made on the fact that no portion of the German military can completely detach themselves from the slaughter, enslavement, and genocide that was going on as the Germans rolled into Russia. While it became an common explanation that the German soldier was not the S.S. and only fought the war, evidence from the front suggests otherwise.
Regarding the purely military aspects of the German invasion, the book generally portrays an army doomed from the start. From a purely numbers standpoint (food, fuel and time), the conquest of Russia was never going to be very likely. Add to that many simply bad ideas emanating directly from Adolph Hitler, and the portrayal of the German fighting machine is mainly of vain attempts to avoid the disaster that ultimately consumed them.
By contrast, Hastings begrudgingly admires the Germans for their fighting ability, and that contrast with the utter lack of value placed on human life by the Soviets and the perhaps over-cautiousness from the West to risk more now to save later.
In that discussion, it also becomes clear that Hastings considers Stalin and his empire the pure evil actor in this war. He doesn’t line up the evidence, as perhaps Fritz would have, but it is certainly a combination of Stalin’s treatment of his own people both before and during the war, the systematic mass-rape of Germany after Hitler’s defeat, and the misery inflicted upon Eastern Europe for a generation (and beyond) following the end of the war.
While it is certainly hard to imagine a worse evil that the Nazi’s meticulous attempt to exterminate an ethnic group from the face of the earth, if one goes purely by the numbers, Stalin and the Soviet Empire do win out over Hitler. If for no other reason, Stalin could continue his reign of terror after Hitler’s death. Stalin’s callousness to the lives of even his own people seem to be unmatched even by Hitler’s own death culture.
Hastings also describes the lack of appreciation on the part of the Allies for the danger of that the Russian’s would be after the end of the war. The pact with the Soviet’s seemed necessary to save England and the free world, but as the ultimate defeat of German became ever more inevitable, the West and particularly Roosevelt failed to plan for the future.
The Allies went to great lengths to inoculate their public against the negative image they held of the communists, once those communists were needed as allies. The reality of kindly “Uncle Joe’s” soldiers behavior came as a shock to many Americans and British, but was anticipated by those in the East. A particular quote stuck with me, where the Soviet’s use of the word “Allies” clearly meant the Western powers, not the Soviet Union. They saw enemies not only in the Germans, but in the American/British at the same time.
Strategy and Tactics
Both books are obviously written for the war-history buff, but both try to tell their stories within the bigger picture of politics and civilian suffering. Ostkrieg illuminates many of the battles around the German’s high water mark when, at least at first appearance, they had the possibility of victory. As I mentioned before, it is often pointing out the places where German strategic mistakes cost them dearly.
Armageddon starts too late in the war for there to be any doubt in the outcome; the defeat of the Germans. Two operations are explored systematically; the Airborne assault to take the Rhine bridge at Arnhem in operation Market-Garden, and the German operation Wacht am Rhein, or the Battle of the Bulge. Both, incidentally, are analyzed for their strategic blunders, but they also resulted in the last two times when the Anglo/Americans and Germans were matched on the battlefield.
In the reading of military history, I’m often struck by the feeling that victory goes to the General who screws up not quite as badly as his counterpart. Dwelling on any particular historical figure and his moments of incompetence probably obscures that all figures have human frailties that are bound to shine through when illuminated by close study.
On the Eastern Front, the Soviet effort was massively mismanaged, but the willingness to expend an unlimited amount of human lives was as much a feature of their strategy as it was an error to be criticized. Like Grant against Lee, once the willingness to win at all costs was there, the final victory seems assured. By contrast, the Germans needed to get everything right in order to win. So analyzing where they failed to get it right seems particularly relevant.
On the Western Front, the failure of the Allies to get things right is probably gets its focus due to the emphasis on the image of American superiority from sources such as Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers. Hastings posits that a free and generally peaceful culture, such as America’s, can’t be expected to produce the kind of armies the the totalitarian states were capable of. In one passage, he speculates on the effectiveness of a Patton leading and SS Panzer Army rather than American soldiers. His frustration is that Western timidity likely cost lives in the long run by prolonging the fighting, and definitely sacrificed civilian lives by not saving them from first, the Nazis, and later from Soviet occupation.
At the end, both of the books are thought provoking additions to the histories written of the Second World War, and we absolutely worth the time to read. There is plenty in here to think about, not only in the conduct of the war, but in the generation of turmoil in Eastern Europe that was to follow.
One day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
And the nights are seen to draw colder
They’ll beg for your strength, your gentle power
Your noble grace and your bearing
And you’ll strain once again to the sound of the gulls
In the wake of the deep plough, sharing.
Standing like tanks on the brow of the hill
Up into the cold wind facing
In stiff battle harness, chained to the world
Against the low sun racing
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A heavy horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather.
So I’m finally catching up with 24. I was enthralled by the first season, and eagerly watched it as it came out. I recall reading at the time (don’t remember where) an interview with Keifer Sutherland where he speculated that the show could never run for more than two Seasons. While the second and third seasons kept me watching every week, I always felt a little less for having done so. Finally, by Season 4, it wasn’t important enough to set aside time to watch or record it, and I let it go.
Until now. It is one of the free shows available with Amazon Prime. And just like that, I’m back into the cycle of addiction. For some reason, year after year American deals with an existential terrorist threat and only one man, Agent Jack Bauer, can stop it. If you read it, I discussed what I called the “small world” problem in my Under the Dome review. Why the fate of the world so often depends on the doings of a handful of people within a 20-block radius in downtown Los Angeles is a puzzle I’ll leave to you, the reader.
Instead, I’ll comment on what is bothering me most about the series. It’s a minor thing, that has only reoccurred one or twice in each season. Each time I see it, though, it really irks me.
Now, much has been written about the silly portrayal of guns in Hollywood in general and in 24 in particular. I could go on and on about all the little mistakes in 24 that bug me. What really gets to me most, though, is the sounds made by empty guns. Especially machine guns. When a 24 machine gun runs out of ammunition, it makes this whirring and clicking noise – as if it were some kind of electric-powered minigun. Quite clearly, this was added in during the post-production sound editing. There are very obvious instances where a firearm is quite clearly empty and locked back, and yet it continues to make clicking noises that couldn’t possibly come from the real thing (or, for that matter, the blank-firing versions used to film the scene.)
So why does this happen? Why can’t the entertainment business include even a high-school level of physics research into their stories? Do they not know, or do and just not care? Maybe it is a little of both. It’s quite likely that an L.A.-based sound editor has no direct knowledge of what a machine gun does or, more importantly, doesn’t sound like. It is also possible that, knowing that it’s likely that most of the viewing public shares in this ignorance, the producers/directors decide to exercise a little artistic license. In reality, how does one tell the difference between a wielded machine gun that has stopped firing because it is out of ammunition as opposed to the shooter simply having stopped firing. Short of having the character mutter, “Damn, I’m out” in every scene, a little sound effect will do the trick. We all know that a double-action revolver will click-click-click when you pull the trigger (thanks Deer Hunter). So why not the same for any pistol? Similarly machine guns, but these also need some kind of a machine sound. They are “machine” guns, after all.
That’s what really annoys me. Yet, I keep watching so I guess, from Hollywood’s standpoint, it’s all OK.
When I first started reading Stephen King’s Under The Dome, I was immediately struck with a sense of “why didn’t someone think of this before.” What a unique approach to creating an “end of the world” scenario! The way it is done the provides a nearly perfect setting for the author to explore what has become an incredibly popular genre.
The premise, for those of who who haven’t read the story (and if you haven’t, but intend to, you may not want to read this review, as I will be divulging various plot points), involves a small Maine town which is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious, indestructible dome.
With this premise, he solves what I like to call the “small world” problem.
Books, films, and T.V. shows often run into a problem when trying to create a story of epic proportions. Any character, or any set of characters, are just so many people in a vast world. So if those characters are involved in epic plots to change the world, or save mankind, or destroy the ring of power (for example), there are untold millions who also populate that same world. All these people are also watching these epic events unfold, and interact, react and are otherwise entwined with them. In particular, if the world in question is the real world, our own world, we have a good sense of its vastness and complexity and notice when that is missing from a story.
A TV show that really struck me as getting it wrong was Revolution. Another post-apocalyptic tale, its events span the entirety of the United States of America. And yet, there are only a handful of characters, many of which are related to each other. A story which should have an epic feel plays out with 5-10 main characters and a few dozen extras. The world is too small.
Under the Dome, by contrast, starts out by creating that small world. Further, it does so in a way (isolating a small town) that allows the story to take place in the real world, present day. Yet within this new microcosm, we can explore all the problems of survival, lawlessness, environmentalism, and so on, that make (in my opinion) the end-of-the-world genre so appealing.
As to the story itself, if you like Stephen King you will probably like this one. I wouldn’t rank it among his best, but it certainly has that stuff that keeps him on the best sellers lists. The book is written in that way that drives the reader forward, eager to learn what happens next. I was kept up several late nights, unable to stop, until I finished just one more chapter.
Notable, for me, he continues something that was used in his earlier work, From a Buick 8. I’m thinking of is his description of horrors so total, they are incomprehensible to the human mind. This fascinates me. How does one describe the indescribable? He pulls it off.
One other comment on the book, for you firearm fanatics. A mistake he makes with the duty weapons of the police force kind of stuck in my craw. He identifies their pistols as Beretta Taurus Model 92s. It’s a little bit of sloppiness in the research department, as he’s mixing two brand names (for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, imagine has the characters driving a Ford Chevy 150). The Beretta 92 is a fairly common sidearm for military and police. Taurus also makes a 92, itself a Beretta clone (actually made in a Beretta-built factory in Brazil. I imagine a police department could save some budget by buying the Taurus over the original Beretta, although I have no idea. More likely it was a googling error, which mixed up some names. Stephen King is a bit of a hoplophobe, so one can forgive his ignorance (if maybe not his editors.) That this stands out as the low point should tell you how little I had to criticize.
Interestingly, given the thrust of my essay, I did have a problem with the scale of the dome and of Chester’s Mill, which seemed occasionally inconsistent. I live in a town that I imagine to be similar in size, location, culture, layout, etc., so as I read I thought of the story as taking place near my own home. Despite the fact that the area encompassed by The Dome is detailed in maps at the front of the book, I have trouble reconciling the scale with some of the descriptors. The downtown seems too small for the size of the town and the “back woods” portion of the town seems too big for the size of the dome. But I’m probably just over-thinking it. It didn’t really get in the way of my enjoyment of the book.
Which brings me to the T.V. show. I found out fairly recently Under the Dome had been made into a series. I was excited, because I had enjoyed the book. I was also excited because the problems with a “small world” are much more acute for a T.V. show on a budget than for a novel or a film, and as I say, this setting was a great solution to that problem.
One thing I did not want to get in the way of my enjoyment of the T.V. series is too much comparison to the book. Even the best translation of a book to television (Game of Thrones?) will suffer if compared too closely the the original text. And the show does deviate from the book. Starting with some significant changes right from the opening scene, the series has continued to move in its own direction in a number of major ways.
But that is O.K. The setting can be used in ways that the original story didn’t. Given that my big nit with the book is the Beretta/Taurus thing, one new direction that the show takes the story is exploring Second Amendment issues. The ubiquity of gun ownership in rural (umm, where is this exactly? Maine? California?)… somewhere, and the implementation of gun confiscation in a crisis are explored. And when the guns come out, Hollywood’s unfamiliarity with firearms are boldly displayed. Our hero, Barbie, has a habit of constantly ejecting a round from his pistol, both before and after each shot. Shotguns are racked, reracked, and racked again, punctuating arguments between characters. One character even racks her Mini-14 like a shotgun.
It also bothers me, in each new episode, to hear talk of the sheriff and his/her deputies. These are town employees, not county employees – that much is made clear. That makes them police, not sheriffs.
I often wonder why T.V. shows and movies don’t put a little bit more effort into fact checking. Novels usually don’t have these glaring errors in them, I assume due to the editorial process. How hard is it to have editors/fact checkers look at scripts before they are filmed to keep out some of the more insane incongruities? Huh?
So, the nitpicks aside, what do I think of the show? At first, I thought it was headed for a place among my favorites. As the season wore on, though, I’ve been downgrading it to the good-but-not-great level. One of my biggest reasons for that is, you guessed it, the “small world” problem.
—–Spoiler Alert—- sort of
So about mid-season, we are introduced to some new characters. As it turns out, all the shady activity that we’ve been discovering in earlier episodes is all traceable to one crime boss. Furthermore, that crime boss happened to also get caught under the dome! Because the boss’ mother also happens to have grown up with the other characters. Somehow, all the trouble in South Western Maine (or is it Northern California) can be traced back to some bad decisions made in a Chester Mill High School. The mob bosses and drug lords of Boston (or is it Oakland?) don’t come into play – even pre-Dome, the world of this little town seems isolated from the larger world.
I sense that there were some major plot shifts, leading to possible discontinuities, which may have been a result of the series getting the go-ahead for a second season. I’m still looking forward to Season 2, and hoping that it will find it’s new groove.
Under the Dome: Season 1 DVD (free to watch on Amazon Prime)
There shall come that winter which is called the Awful Winter: in that time snow shall drive from all quarters; frosts shall be great then, and winds sharp; there shall be no virtue in the sun.
Those winters shall proceed three in succession, and no summer between; but first shall come three other winters, such that over all the world there shall be mighty battles. In that time brothers shall slay each other for greed’s sake, and none shall spare father or son in manslaughter and in incest.