Conquistadors

 

The meeting of European invaders and the Indigenous people of the western hemisphere was one of the most profound events in the history of human society on our planet. Historian Jay Miller described the effect of that contact on the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere this way:

“The arrival of Europeans in the Americas brought to the native peoples change of a kind that went far beyond their capacity to understand, or even imagine–unprecedented change, terrible change, havoc and death.  South of the lands later to be known as the United States, powerful empires fell. And millions died from the scourge of epidemic diseases unleashed however unintentionally, by the first conquerors, the Spaniards.’

The Spanish were incredibly successful in plundering Mexico and Peru. Eventually these Spaniards had only one goal–riches. Harvesting souls came later. Bringing civilization came even later and then mainly as an excuse for plunder–a whitewash.

As Jay Miller said,

“For, at least initially, extracting wealth–easy wealth–was their prime aim in the new lands they had encountered. Anything of value they laid their eyes on, they snatched, looted, and pillaged.”

When the European invaders and their deadly diseases laid low huge swaths through the native populations it had an overwhelming effect on the natives. It was absolutely devastating and the few survivors left to deal with the Europeans had to do so without their leaders, most of whom had died.

Miller described the effect this way:

“The old order could not cope with the onslaught. Finding themselves largely leaderless, and therefore severed from their most powerful access to the gods, at a loss to account for the thousands of friends and families dead from strange and disfiguring diseases, the survivors suffered a profound crisis, both of shock from immediate, multiple loss, and of faith.  Their world destroyed, they would need time and radical change before some semblance or their traditional community life could be rebuilt.”

Have any other people suffered such absolute devastation? It is not surprising that the effect has cascaded through the generations ever since.

Genocide of Indigenous People of the Western Hemisphere by European Powers

 

The European countries and later the United States were guilty of enormous sins when they waged wars on indigenous peoples around the world. Will they ever be brought to justice for those crimes?  It is highly unlikely. At least so long as they continue to be powerful. Nothing cleanses sins more effectively than power. The genocide against indigenous peoples has been the largest and most profound in the history of the world. Yet it is rarely acknowledged as genocide. It is unlikely to be acknowledged as such so long as those countries and their successors wield power.

Western powers like Britain, France, Holland, Spain, and the United States don’t want their abysmal records of the mistreatment of indigenous peoples around the world to come back to haunt them.

Andrew Woolford, an acknowledged expert on genocide, and the author of Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America makes a powerful argument that the treatment of indigenous peoples in North America by European invaders was genocide.  Adam Muller makes the same assertion in his  book on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Really it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.

If I am right that this was genocide, what is the significance of that? What is the significance of it going unacknowledged by the successors to the perpetration of the genocide? What kind of a civilization can be built on such a foundation? I think these are interesting questions.

Brutes

 

The Spaniards who came to the New World to bring salvation and extract gold were not Sunday School Teachers. Historian Alvin M. Josephy Jr. painted a clear picture of these “missionaries”:

“As the pre-Columbian world disappeared, the fires of Eurocentrism burned on, now attempting to erase the history, cultures, and achievements of that world from memory. In the Yucatán, the Spaniards burned or destroyed almost every Mayan book in their efforts to convert those Indians to Christianity. In the flames, posterity lost, until recently, the ability to read Maya’s radiant pre-Columbian civilization.

In New England, after the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay had come to view the powerful Pequot Indians as “children of Satan,” they tried with fire and sword to blot out every sign that these Indians ever existed. Making holy war on them in 1637, they massacred Pequots by the hundreds parceling out the relatively few survivors among other tribes with the vain hope that even the name Pequot would vanish. Across both continents, only a small number Europeans thought it worthwhile to pass on to future generations records of the “curious” societies they were destroying.”

Of course these attitudes were passed on to their successors the European settlers, such as Canadians and Americans.  As a consequence these attitudes formed the basis–the fundamental basis–of Canada and the United States. Not a great foundation for noble societies.

Riches for Invaders; Catastrophe for Natives

 

The effect of contact between Indigenous People in the Americas and European invaders was astonishing. The invaders were barbarians. There really is no other word adequate to describe them. I know I never learned any of this history when I went to school as a young lad. Europeans came to bring civilization. That is what I was taught.  It took me decades to learn differently.

Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., a respected historian, was  described by the New York in 1982 as the “leading non-Indian writer about Native Americans.”

Josephy Jr. described the initial contact between New World and the Old World this way:

“Among the whites there was scarcely the blinking of an eye over the devastating impact of Europeans on an Indian world that had been millennia in the making.  During the first Centuries of contact, pandemics of small pox, measles, and other sicknesses against which the Indians had no immunity, plus the European’s acquisitive, crusading zeal and their use of superior military power were disastrous for the indigenous populations and cultures. Native populations were massacred; Indian cities and towns destroyed and abandoned to the elements; religious structures defiled and looted; political and spiritual leaders slain; confederacies, chiefdoms, and other societies ripped apart; and disoriented leaderless survivors enslaved or forced to flee and move in with other groups–or revert, as many of them did, to more primitive levels of existence, hunting or foraging again for wild foods in the wake of the collapse of their world.

It has been estimated by some demographers that by the seventeenth century, more than fifty million natives of North and South America had perished as a result of war, disease, enslavement, and the careless or deliberate brutality of Europeans–history’s greatest holocaust by far.”

Some have estimated that more than 50 million died! In any event, the Europeans made the Nazis looked like small beer.

 

2 Popes

 

 

This is a movie about something that could never happen in American politics–2 leaders with deep disagreements finding something elusive–common ground.

In 2005 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and was summoned to Vatican City in Rome after the death of Pope John Paul II so that the new Pope could be selected. The process of picking a new Pope is arcane.  The people have no say. The decision is made by a group of old men, Cardinals of the Catholic Church. No women vote nor ordinary people. One would think such a system could never work. What could be more undemocratic than that? Yet the Roman Catholic Church has survived for 2 thousand years. Any institution that can last that long deserves some respect. In any event, the Cardinals selected German Cardinal Josephy Ratzinger, and he become Pope Benedict. Cardinal Bergoglio, who later became Pope Francis  came second in the vote. The two priests could hardly be more dissimilar.

7 years later Bergoglio has submitted his resignation, but the Vatican has not responded. The resignation cannot be completed unless Pope Benedict approve its. And he hesitates?The Pope and perhaps his biggest critic from inside the Church meet at the Popes grand Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of Popes.

Like American politicians the two churchmen quickly find things to disagree about. But unlike the politicians they debate severely without corrosive rancor. When they are unable to find a way out, they gently agree to disagree.

Bergoglio comments that the churches of Europe are beautiful but empty. Pope Benedict, a traditionalist, opines that “change is compromise.”  It is attitudes like that which make the Church so rigid. How can you improve on perfection? At the end of their first discussion, Pope Benedict says, “I disagree with everything you say.”

Yet, again, unlike so many politicians, they have more respectful discussions. For example, Bergoglio also complains, when seeing refugees on television that we are seeing the “globalization of indifference.” He also says, “Mercy is the dynamite that breaks down walls.”  If only more of our political leaders had such wisdom.

How can you make a good movie out of respectful discussions? It seems impossible, but I would suggest that is what people actually crave and get so rarely. I must admit I found it a great pleasure. I must admit I also enjoyed watching 2 Popes watch a soccer game on television while Pope Benedict drank Fanta.

They even argue about truth. If these were politicians neither would admit any truth in the other’s position.  Pope Francis takes a different approach. He says, “Truth may be vital, but without love it is unbearable.”

Eventually despite a deep chasm between these 2 men, common ground is found. Pope Benedict says to  Bergoglio, that although he was waiting for the voice of God, he heard that voice through him. These 2 men may have been selected by a process that makes about as much sense as the election of American Presidents through the Electoral College , but yet they managed to see more than a devil in the other. I wish more of our leaders could do that. I also wish more of us could learn from these 2 elders.

1917

 

This film tells the story of 2 fictionalBritish lance corporals in World War I on the western front, assigned to stop a battalion of 1,600 men from walking into a German ambush.  One of the men has extra incentive. His brother is part of the forces about to walk into that trap. The general warns the young corporal, “If you fail, it will be a massacre.” Apparently the film is based on true events told by the director’s father.

 

The film astonishes with its brilliant cinematography and unusual points of view. This is a war movie like I have never seen before. I am not sure this is what I wanted, but I really got the feeling that this is what war is like. And it doesn’t feel good. It an outstanding film. While not for the squeamish, I recommend it highly.

 

The scenes of war are unparalleled in their grizzly realism. The landscape is strewn with mud, dead horses, dead humans stuck inside mud, often with only parts revealed. Rats and birds consume the corpses. There are cows in the country-side doing their best to ignore the carnage. Buildings are horribly ravished. Violence is sudden, shocking, and explosive. All of this makes for a great film created by artists at the height of their powers. If this film does not win the Best Picture award, the film that does will have to be outstanding.

 

When the message to stand down is delivered, the officers who receive it safely ensconced in their bunkers, don’t want to believe. They are ready for war. The last thing they want to do is stand down. That idea is entirely contrary to their aggressive training. You’ll have to see the film to see what happens.

But I want to comment on a side bar. The film does not glorify the “heroes.” It does not glorify war. And that is good.

But why do so many war movies focus on the soldiers? For example, I would love to see a war movie that concentrates on a real life hero–like Bertrand Russell for example. I read his autobiography about 50 years ago after my first year of university. Russell was one of my intellectual heroes, but he was more than that.

I will never forget his description of going to Trafalgar Square in London when England declared war on the Germans in 1914. What surprised Russell, and me, was the immense joy experienced by the people. They were excited to go to war. The young men and women, aided and abetted by the old warmongers, were absolutely joyous at the prospects of the war. Of course it helped that most of them thought the war would be over soon. They fully expected to be, as they said, “home or homo by Christmas.”

Bertrand Russell could not believe it. It was his first experience of people braying for war. They screamed for war. They demanded war. And only a few voices dissented from this madness. People like Russell who were conscientious objectors to the war urged caution. They were the only ones who were sceptical about the objects of the war. They were the only ones who thought the war might not end soon. They were the only ones who exercised any humility or modesty. They were not consumed by the lust for war.

Of course, the people in England scorned Russell and his kind as cowards, traitors, Communists, and Huns. Many of them, like Russell were imprisoned for refusing to serve in the war. That took real courage.

Yet that war served absolutely no good purpose. It was fought mainly by young men and women from the working classes, to defend the dubious colonial businesses of the ruling classes. Why would they do that? Those hapless young people were pushed into a meat grinder for the sake of the higher classes. Millions lost their lives for no good reason at all. The war, like so many,  was a monstrous disaster. Old men called; young men and women died fro it.

When will we see a movie that glorifies the dissidents who told the truth about war, urging caution and humility while renouncing aggressive violence? That is a movie that I would like to see.

Parasite: Start the Revolution Without Me

 

 

We watched an electrifying film–Parasite. The grand finale is exactly that.  Grand and final. The film is unabashedly Korean. Be prepared for English subtitles. Together with Roma, from last year, Hollywood is going international all out.

The film involved a family of con artists that gradually take over a modern mansion when the owners take a camping trip. The family is extremely poor. 4 people living in a tiny basement apartment sharing minimal food. All are unemployed.  When the city fumigator comes by blowing awful chemical we assume they will be choking. No they want the assistance to kill stink bugs in their apartment   Clearly, these are the wretched of the earth. Regularly a drunken passer-by urinates on the sidewalk just outside their apartment window. The con artists gleefully get drunk and make a horrible mess of the lavish home. Soon the occupiers find another man who has been secretly camping in the basement and from there, all hell breaks lose. I mean that literally.

The film is sort of an allegory of revolution. The tinder is provided by 2 groups of common people who end up attacking each other and the elites who own the house. When resentments explode they do not do so in an orderly way. You don’t want to be there when it happens.  When the revolution comes, no matter what side of the Great Economic divide you occupy, you will deeply wish the revolution had started without you.

Spectacular explosions are triggered by innocuous micro-insults–like smell. But the results are hardly predictable. Forces are unleashed with astonishing power and speed.  Modern technology, no matter how sophisticated, won’t help you. It will just pour fuel on the conflagration and the combustion will decimate all of the virtues. You will be done.

The massive walls around the house are insufficient to contain the bedlam. As almost everyone, except the current President of the United States, Donald Trump knows, even the most beautiful walls are inadequate.  It does not matter how solid they appear. They won’t do the trick when the pot boils over. Even the most obsequious minors can be the instruments of uncontrollable rage when it is driven by an “idiot wind.” When the revolution comes it may not make any sense, but it will be real and dangerous nonetheless. It will be time to get out of there; if you can.

Marriage Story

 

 

This is a film about a marriage, or perhaps, the dissolution of a marriage, aided and abetted by lawyers for both parties.  The couple, Charlie and Nicole, start the film living together but estranged. Nicole tells Charlie, “I want an entirely different kind of life.” When Nicole hands Charlie the official petition for divorce Charlie dumbly says, “Thanks.”

Early on in the story and Charlie and Nicole are reading a story to their son Henry caught in the middle. Tears quietly roll down Charlie’s cheeks. Bewildered Henry does not understand what is going on.

The marriage mediator, trying to help them through this process, asks both of them to make a list of things each likes about the other.  Nicole is too embarrassed to read the list Charlie made about her. So we don’t get to see the list yet. The couple agrees that their divorce will be easy, non-confrontational, and uncontested.

Nicole has sought the services of an aggressive female attorney Nora.  One of the lawyers had a pillow on the office couch with the words, “Eat, drink, and Remarry.”

Then, of course, the lawyers get involved. And that soon changes everything. Charlie visits a young, aggressive and expensive lawyer, Jay Marotta, who urges Charlie to fight dirty. Charlie balks at this and hires a more congenial lawyer  Bert Spitz. Spitz says “divorce is like a death without a body.” Later when Charlie grumbles about the process, Spitz says, “you do this because you love your kids, but because you’re doing this the money comes from the kids’ education.” Spitz also advises Charlie to spend as much time as he can with his son. “Many people fight for this right and then don’t use it,” he says. In reply, Charlie says “you’re the first person in this process who spoke to me like a human being.”

Yet when the “amicable” process fails, Charlie goes back to his aggressive lawyer. “I need my own asshole,” Charlie says.  He also adds, “It’s going to be a fight now; we’re going to ask for things we never wanted.”  Someone remarks, “the system rewards bad behaviour.” Too often that is true. What a great system? That’s how things go when lawyers get involved. The lawyers, all of them, are unhelpful, cynical, mean, shallow, and greedy. And these are their good characteristics.  The young boy is caught between 2 trigger-happy parents. And he is selfish and unreasonable, like kids often are.

So the couple tries to settle the matter themselves directly without lawyers and it does not go well. Soon they are yelling at each other. Reason has vanished. Charlie in particular gets transformed by selfishness, but Nicole is not a model of kindness either. Soon Charlie breaks down in embarrassment at his own actions, weeping and begging for forgiveness.  The couple is able to relax their demands and Nora brags that she got her client more custody than she wanted, but urges her to take it. “Take it you won.”  Is this what winning looks like? Aside from the lawyers who wins in a divorce?

Near the end the list Charlie and Nicole made about the good points of the other are revealed. At least, Charlie sees what Nicole liked about him and he breaks down crying.

As happens too often in real life, the lawyers don’t make a strong positive contribution to the process. They are excellent street fighters, but is that what the couple needed? It seemed to bring out the worst in both parents.

A great system? I think not.  But this was a very good movie.

The Irishman.

 

 

I am not a big Martin Scorsese fan. I know that makes me a Cretin, but there it is. I liked some of Scorsese’s early films, but most of the later films leave me cold.

The Irishman tells the story of Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran a Philadelphia mob hit man reputedly involved in the mysterious disappearance of the Teamsters’ union boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. It’s a movie about ‘ordinary’ mobsters growing old and loosing their claws. It stars some of our favorite actors also growing old. It took nearly an hour of watching the film before I started to warm to it.

I think I started to like it about when Jimmy Hoffa remarked, “The government and big business are coming after us when we need unity. We need solidarity.” Mobsters and corrupt union bosses may be of dubious character, but they need to get along with others. Their lives depend on it. At least so they think.

Technically, like any Scorsese film, it is brilliant. It is a period piece that really feels like it belongs to its era while speaking for all times. it employs some great technology to make some of the actors look a lot younger or older than they are. That was pretty neat. Before the film is over, all the old men are dead or in jail. Frank’s daughter who witnessed him explode at a grocer who had in his view been disrespectful to Sheeran’s young daughter was obviously scared of her own father. After that she felt she could not come to him for help. It was too likely to turn violent.

The mobsters are family men. Is that enough for us to have fellow feeling for them? It helps, but is it sufficient? The mobsters are kind to each other’s children and spouses. Does that make them good people? I don’t think so. These are family men who can kill ruthlessly.

In one scene, old Frank, went in a wheel chair to pick out a casket. He bought a green casket. Does that signify renewal? I admit I did not find much regenerative in this film. Scorsese showed the mobsters as ordinary people, with wives, children, girlfriends and friends, but was not able to put a lot of life into this film.

After Hoffa disappears the cops question Frank as to his involvement and he refuses to speak. Frank says, “I can’t.” He can’t rat out anyone. It is not in his DNA. The Code of the Mobster is too strong, even when there is no reason to be bound by it anymore.

When he is old and in personal care home, he asks the nurse, “I’m still alive?”  The nurse responds positively and Frank replies, “It’s good to know.”  Sometimes it is difficult to know if he is alive or not. Sometimes he sees to be part of the living dead now that he no longer has claws at least.

At the end of it all, his daughter asks him, ‘What’s the point?’  That’s the point.

I was intrigued by the conversation between the hit man and the mobster. They talked in Code. Like Trump and his people. They always talk in code so they have deniability. Like a judge or jury we are expected to make reasonable inferences about what is going on. Like when Trump asks the leader of the Ukraine to do him a favor when they are discussing the military aid he held back. He always wants to maintain deniability. That way the mobster can always claim, “The conversation was perfect.” But we all know what happened.

In the end, the old men have learned nothing. Frank refuses to rat out anyone, even though all his friends are dead. Even though it would make no difference he can’t rat them out.

The movie was worth seeing, but I would not say it was great.

Little Women

The movie Little Women was written and directed by the very brilliant film maker,  Greta Gerwig.  A while back I blogged about undergoing a sex change operation. I suggested my name had been changed to Johanna. Now I will add fuel to that fire.  Here it is:  I enjoyed the movie Little Women more than any action movie I have seen in the last 5 years! There it is. I am out of the closet!

This film had some important things to say and it did so in an entertaining way. It reminded us that women often recognize that love is important, even very important, but so is the life of the mind and there is no reason why women should not participate in that life as much as any man.  I also liked what one of the sisters, Meg, said to her sister Jo: “Just because my dreams are different from yours doesn’t mean they’re not important.” Women  have the right to resist being put into boxes they are pressured to stay inside. This is an important lesson for men and women of all ages. It is easy to succumb to such pressures. It is brave to resist.

We also had an interesting experience in the theatre.  There were only 6 people watching the film.  And 2 of them sat right beside us. These were 2 women. Not only that, but they chatted or commented annoyingly throughout the film. Why did they do that? Then, near the end of the film 2 more women walked in  and one of them stopped right in front of Chris and asked her if she was in the right seat, implying that Chris was in her seat. Chris responded by waving her away and saying yes she had been sitting in her assigned seat for the entire film. The woman was obviously coming in too early for the next show. The lesson I learned: Yes women can be brave, but they can also be a pain in the ass.