Saturday, June 28, 2008

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for "Communism and homosexuality".

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer 1988 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.

In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Defense of democratic rights for homosexuals is part of the historic tradition of Marxism. In the 1860s, the prominent lawyer J.B. von Schweitzer was tried, found guilty and disbarred for homosexual activities in Mannheim, Germany. The socialist pioneer Ferdinand Lassalle aided von Schweitzer, encouraging him to join Lassalle's Universal German Workingmen's Association in 1863. After Lassalle's death, von Schweitzer was elected the head of the group, one of the organizations that merged to form the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD itself waged a long struggle in the late 19th century against Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which made homosexual acts (for males) a crime. August Bebel and other SPD members in the Reichstag attacked the law, while the SPD's party paper Vorwarts reported on the struggle against state persecution of homosexuals.

In 1895 one of the most infamous anti-homosexual outbursts of the period targeted Oscar Wilde, one of the leading literary lights of England (where homosexuality had been punishable by death until 1861). Wilde had some socialist views of his own: his essay, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," was smuggled into Russia by young radicals. When the Marquess of Queensberry called him a sodomist, Wilde sued for libel. Queensberry had Wilde successfully prosecuted and sent to prison for being involved with Queensberry's son. The Second International took up Wilde's defense. In the most prestigious publication of the German Social Democracy, "Die Neue Zeit", Eduard Bernstein, later known as a revisionist but then speaking as a very decent Marxist, argued that there was nothing sick about homosexuality, that Wilde had committed no crime, that every socialist should defend him and that the people who put him on trial were the criminals.

Upon coming to power in 1917 in Russia, the Bolshevik Party began immediately to undercut the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions responsible for the oppression of both women and homosexuals— centrally the institution of the family. They sought to create social alternatives to relieve the crushing burden of women's drudgery in the family, and abolished all legal impediments to women's equality, while also abolishing all laws against homosexual acts. Stalin's successful political counterrevolution rehabilitated the reactionary ideology of bourgeois society, glorifying the family unit. In 1934 a law making homosexual acts punishable by imprisonment was introduced, and mass arrests of homosexuals took place. While defending the socialized property forms of the USSR against capitalist attack, we Trotskyists fight for political revolution in the USSR to restore the liberating program and goals of the early Bolsheviks, including getting the state out of private sexual life. As Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, pointed out in "The Sexual Revolution in Russia," published in the USSR in 1923:
"Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:

'It declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters so long as nobody isinjured and no one's interests are encroached upon

"Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters." [emphasis in original]

—quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement 1864-1935

1950's Oldies But Goodies- Roy, Carl and Elvis

Here are few revivals out of our past, if you grew up in the 1950's.

Roy The Boy

Black and White Nights, Roy Orbison, Roy Orbison Productions, 1987

In another entry in this space I have reviewed Roy Orbison’s In Dreams that is a more ‘talking heads’ approach to his life and music. And that too has its merits. However, when we talk of Roy Orbison then the music is what we really want to deal with. And here one gets all the Roy the Boy one wants, and more. Backed by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Wait and Jackson Browne Roy goes through a litany of his greatest hits from Claudette to Pretty Woman.

But wait, what about the back up singers that were mandatory to late 1950’s rock music. Well, how about k.d. Lang, Bonnie Raitt and Jennifer Warnes. Well, not bad for backup, right? That tells you exactly what you are getting here. The best. Plus a bonus, bonus in some very, very fine licks by T-bone Burnett. Outstanding here are Sweet Dreams, Baby (with Springsteen on lead vocals along with Roy) and the finale Pretty Woman (with an incredible series of riffs by all the guitarists). Yes, Sweet Dreams, Baby.

How About Them Blue Suede Shoes

Carl Perkins- King of Rockabilly and Friends, Carl Perkins, 1985

Everyone who cares now knows that the roots of rock and rock came from a few sources, country blues, city blues, and rhythm and blues of the Big Joe Turner sort and from the white South rockabilly from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and the artist reviewed here- Carl Perkins. Over the long haul I believe that the key is that Turner rhythm and blues on Shake, Rattle and Roll that defines the roots of rock and roll but that is just for argument’s sake. Carl Perkins can lay claim to a piece of that magic with Blue Suede Shoes (latter covered by Elvis, adding a great deal to his career, of course).

Whether Perkins is a key figure is the history of rock and roll beyond that initial contribution is also an open question. However, no one can question that here in a 30th Anniversary show in London to an audience that was perhaps more appreciative than a home-grown one at that time no one can doubt that he rocks the rockabilly with the best of them. As usual with this format we have the guests- and quite good ones in the likes of Roseanne Cash, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and George Harrison as well as a nice traveling band. Additionally there were some serious dancers, dressed in appropriate 50's style, in the audience kicking up a storm. The hit here is, without a doubt, the finale with a collective all out rendition of Blue Suede Shoes.

Inventing Elvis

Elvis-The First Year-1954, narrated by Jack Perkins, 1992

Elvis Presley a rock and roll hero of my youth, if not to me personally then to many I knew especially girls, is the subject of this in-depth look at the first year that Elvis began inventing himself as the King. Jack Perkins’s somber narration and idiosyncratic style sets the tone for a thoughtful look back at Elvis’s trials and tribulation on the road to stardom. We have the full ‘talking head’ treatment here from Elvis’s surviving band member, Scotty Moore, to ex-sweethearts, motel owners, agents, radio producers and announcers, cooks, bakers and candlestick makers. Basically anyone who crossed his path in 1954 in that first tough year out on the road.

And what a road it was. Playing small clubs, high school auditoriums, the Louisiana Hayride and every where he could get his foot in the door Elvis stretched and clawed his way to success, and apparently was not a bad guy to hang around with then either. He, moreover, exhibited all the virtues that small town Southerners liked in the 1950’s, except maybe those sideburns and, just maybe, swinging that pelvis just a little too much when their daughters were around.

An interesting part of this presentation is an attempt to place the roots of Elvis’s music in the context of his time and place. And, as has been expressed elsewhere as well, that included black musical influences in the deeply segregated South. Sun Records Sam Phillip’s old adage comes true through Elvis- finding a white boy who could sing black. This segment only adds to something that I have been arguing for the past few years- the roots of rock and roll owe more than a little to black blues musical influence – think in this regard of the importance of Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle and Roll, also produced in 1954. But Elvis certainly rode the wave to great effect and this little valentine to him is good for those who like musical history with their music. For those who need just the music look elsewhere.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Victory For The Right To Bear Arms


Sometimes it is actually fun to watch the maneuverings of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court as they form their various majority opinions (when they can avoid those plurality opinions where every justice who can put pen to paper gives a concurring opinion). Today’s, Thursday June 26, 2008, big decision is really big as this court has held that the Second Amendment to the Constitution concerning the right to bear arms means more than provision of well- regulated militia by the state and entails the individual right to bear arms. The specifics of the case involved overturning Washington, D.C.'s extremely restrictive handgun laws (and upholding the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' previous holding overturning those laws). Justice Scalia, author of the majority decision (who by a fortunate quirk of fate as far as this decision goes never got past the legal decisions of 1791 in law school), is our ‘friend’ here. Along with ‘friends’ Roberts, Alito. Thomas and swing voter Kennedy.

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows and that is true on this issue. Of course we are also keeping company with the likes of the National Rifle Association but so be it. While they all have their own axes to grind here is what concerns us. We support, unlike the august Supreme Court Justices, the right to revolution just like our forbears did. That is why this decision is legally, at least, important to us. But as a practical matter here is the skinny- we do not want the cops, crazies and criminals to be armed while we are defenseless. No way. Enough said.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another Small 'Victory' In The Death Penalty Struggle


Forgive me if I accuse the august justices of the United States Supreme Court (at least those who have been able to move beyond 1791 on a legal decision) for having severe cases of schizophrenia. Or, in any case, they should be subjected to analysis for that possibility. Several weeks ago the Court, by a 7-2 decision (including some of the majority in this child rape death penalty case commented on here), agreed that the current manner of administration of the lethal injection used by most states that have the death penalty on their books did not offend against the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the American Constitution. Moreover, there were so many opinions issued, as each justice tried to parse his or her way through that legal thicket, that I feared for the paper supply at the Court.

Now, on Wednesday June 25, 2008, the Court, by a 5-4 decision, has held that those states that permit the death penalty in cases of child rape without the murder of the victim cannot impose the death penalty for such actions. In the Justice Kennedy-authored opinion the majority found that, heinous as this crime may be, without more this is cruel and unusual punishment. (Kennedy also authored the majority opinion in the Guantanamo detainees federal courts access decision last week. His law clerks must be working overtime these days as he tries to atone for his many legal sins committed over the last several years.) This decision is in line with an attempt by a least a few members of the court to limit the scope of the death penalty without actually abolishing it. Other cases in recent years include forbidding the execution of mental incompetents and minors.

When I commented on the Guantanamo case I mentioned that such a decision is a victory, if a small one, for us. This child rape decision is a ‘victory’ in that same sense. Nobody feels anything but contempt for a child rapist. Nasty little factual aspects of cases like these cause one to gulp when we use the word ‘victory’ here. Nevertheless to the extent that we are unable today to eliminate the state’s ability to impose the death penalty- our ultimate goal- then anytime a legal decision reins in that capacity it is a victory. Not in the way that we would claim a victory if Mumia Abu Jamal, for example, was freed- a case of a wrongly convicted innocent man that we are conspicuously trying to fight and win and have put resources into- but I think you get the drift of my comment. Really though, the best way to insure a real victory for our side (and get rid of some of the underlying causes of these ugly child rape cases in the world), is not to depend on the good offices of Justice Kennedy or any other Justice to rein in the death penalty, but to create a workers party that fights for a workers government.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Preacher Man- Son House


Son House Revisited, Son House, 2-disc set, Fuel Records, 2002

This review was used for a previous review of Son House's work. This compilation is very similar although there are more preacher type blues in this set.

I recently reviewed Mississippi John Hurt’s The Last Sessions in this space. Hurt was ‘discovered’ in the early 1960’s by young, mainly white, folk singers looking to find the roots of American music. Well, Hurt was not the only old black country blues player ‘discovered’ during that period. There is a now famous still picture (as well as well as video performance clip. I wonder if it is on YouTube?) of Hurt along with the legendary Skip James and the musician under review Son House jamming at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. That was a historic (and probably one of the last possible) moments to hear these legends of country blues in one spot together.

And why was House on that stage with Hurt and James? Well, the short answer is that old flailing National steel guitar of his. However, the real answer is that like Hurt he represented a piece of American music that was fast fading away, at least in its original form –the country blues. Can anyone beat the poignancy of Death Letter Blues or bitterness of Levee Moan? Or when House gets preachy on John the Revelator and other old time religious songs of shout and response. The tension between being a preacher man and doing the ‘devil’s work (playing the blues) is more clearly felt in House’s work than in Hurt’s.

House’s repertoire is not as extensive as Hurt’s and there is a little sameness of some of the lyrics here but when he is hot watch out. There is another famous film clip of him sitting in a chair on stage alone under the hot lights flailing away at the guitar almost trance-like, sweating buckets doing Death Letter Blues. That is the scene you want to evoke when you listen to this selection. And do listen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Of Music and Movies and Politcal Doldrums


Over the past several weeks I have been doing more commentary on music and movies than I have previously done in this space. Part of this is a conscious effort on my part to integrate those cultural phenomena into this blog as part of our common history, whether they have impact today or not. My own political evolution is bound up with, as is that of many of the Generation of ’68, the cultural phenomena associated with the times- folk and rock concerts, various communal activities, people’s art, etc. Moreover, at least for the 1960’s, one cannot separate out, at least not easily, the cultural from the political in trying to draw some lessons for today’s struggles.

Those are personal reasons to be sure but, my friends, the main reason that I am writing more of this kind of material is that there is not much doing on the political horizon today. And that fact does not have to do with the summer doldrums, although that is always part of the mix. What it has to do with is the hard fact that the bourgeois politicians, and here I mean Obama as well as McCain, have sucked the best part of the air out of politics. Surely, there are things to comment on in the world beyond that narrow, basically technical presidential campaign trip but other than our traditional on-going propaganda efforts we are not getting a hearing on those issues.

One indication of that impasse is the material posted on various Indy Media sites that I monitor. Up until a couple of years ago there were plenty of hard-hitting reports on struggles and commentary on what to do next. Today, most of the items concern various crank conspiracy theories or fervent messages that we get behind Obama in order to deprive Bush of a third term (meaning a vote for McCain). Meanwhile we have those few little problems in the Middle East and South Asia like Iraq and Afghanistan that are not being addressed by those we wish to reach. I wish I had a positive message of encouragement right this minute but more later. Given world conditions though our day will come, or at least we will get our chances at it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Short Note On The United States Supreme Court Decision On The Guantanamo Prisoners


By a 5-4 vote, during the week of June 6, 2008, the United States Supreme Court has held that when the courts are open (in short, when martial law is not a factor) the bedraggled prisoners being held in the American 'prisoner of war' camp in Guantanamo are entitled to access to the federal courts to seek redress of grievance. Of course, as always this decision will have to be fleshed out in real cases but the Justice Kennedy-authored decision, he of swing vote fame, as least gives defense lawyers a chance to argue someplace other than a rigged military tribunal in the future.

Do militant leftists see this as an important decision? A victory even? Well, yes we will take our victories, large or small, anyway we can get them today. Look, the import for us is this. The details of cases fighting for democratic rights, or in this case just basic democratic decency, like the details in criminal cases do not always make for pretty reading. Islamic fundamentalists, indiscriminate suicide bombers and the like, if that is what they have down in Guantanamo (rather than some guys that they indiscriminately scooped up along the way which appears to be true in at least some of the cases), are not out friends. In the end we will be crossing our own swords with these guys. Today, however, the fight for their basic democratic rights to a hearing denied so long by the Bush Administration and this same Supreme Court in previous cases is our fight. If they can disappear these guys that nobody really likes what happens when we get ‘uppity’? That too would not be pretty reading as witnessed by the “red scare” roundups of our predecessors after World War I and World War II.

As a last point the other interesting thing about this decision is the minority position led by one Justice Antonin Scalia and his little cabal of upfront, in-your-face reactionaries. Scalia, in particular, went out of his way to demonstrate once again why as a general rule we place no faith in the courts (basically when Kennedy votes the other way with the four serious Neanderthals). Scalia and his cohorts on the bench and outside in the Federalist Society are all hard-core original intent theorists. This means that the world, and here they mean the constitutional world, stopped about 1791 (at the latest). Thus, drawing and quartering, public hangings, even the occasional governmental agent kicking down the door and such do not offend their sensibilities. Here is the really scary part though- remember we have actually had over two hundred years of human evolution and understandings about the nature of law and society. If these august justices are scandalized today by allowing access to the courts to foreigners (and that is what this is really all about) then can you image their political positions then- God Save the King, I assume. No, Antonin Scalia and his boys are no James Madisons.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Full Citizen Rights For Immigrants- Amnesty Now!


If one remembers back only two years ago to May Day 2006 when there were massive protests led by Hispanics in the West, the Southwest and elsewhere over the question of immigrant rights then one would have thought that we would have some justice on this question by now. That has clearly not been the case and mainstream politicians have fallen all over themselves to distance themselves from the mere thought of justice for such people (who moreover either do not or cannot vote, a mortal sin for any politician). There are political reasons for this, including the conscious policies of Hispanic politicians, and others who represent immigrant constituencies to not rock the boat in this august presidential year. This year the protests were rather muted and, in any case, were placed on the back burner by the overwhelming capacity of the current presidential political campaigns to suck all the political oxygen out of the air.

More ominously, since 2006 there have been any numbers of la Migra (immigration service) raids on factories in the Midwest and the South, including one this spring which netted over 400 immigrants at a meat processing plant and that nearly decimated the life of one town. The only rationale for such governmental actions is to tell those who are here illegally (and some who are here legally but want to in the age old tradition of America get 'uppity"- that is, defend their rights) that it is hunting season and they are the targets. Moreover, such actions graphically tell immigrants not to organize themselves for collective protection in such things as trade unions- or you will wind up back from where you came, one way.

There are a whole lot of issues that need to be resolved on the immigration question but no one, and I mean no one in mainstream politics is proposing any just solution to the question. All one hears about there days the need for more deportations, more walls and more cops. Oh, I forgot this gem- also a return to some form of indenture servitude straight out of the 18th century, as well, if some of the proposed legislation in Congress goes through. What this all tells me is that today militants should be proposing a general amnesty for all immigrants, legal or illegal, who have made it here. If anyone, including one Barack Obama whose life profile includes recent immigrant experiences, should in the great by and by propose such a scheme then we will support it. In the meantime the fight is clear- Full citizenship rights for all who make it here. We will worry about the green cards later.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hands Off The Mormons!


I thought I was done talking about Mormons for a while after the demise of Mitt Romney’s Republican presidential campaign, but apparently not. At that time I spent not a few words on Mr. Romney’s family history, including an admiring comment on the executive ability of his great-grandfather in presiding over a household with five wives. I mentioned at the time that, in the old days, I had my hands full when I has more than one girlfriend. I also have in the past expressed an interest in Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), not for his finding golden tablets, or whatever, out in the wilds of upstate New York in the 1820's but as a Free-Soiler (anti-slavery advocate) and presidential candidate in the mid-1840’s before his murder by the rabble in Illinois. Today, though I have to speak of more serious issues, even though belatedly.

We have all become painfully aware over the past several weeks of the plight of several hundred women (mostly mothers) and children of the separatist Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints as they were hounded and rounded up by a phalanx of Texas legal and social service authorities over some sexual abuse that was allegedly going on at their rural ranch. This sect, which has no direct relationship to Mitt Romney’s mainstream LDS’ers, holds the practice of polygamy as one of their central tenets, a tenet given up by the mainstream Mormons in 1890. Since that roundup which eventually scattered the children all over the state in foster homes and state institutions, a series of Texas court actions, including a successful appeal to the Texas Appeals Court, the state’s highest court, has finally gotten the children back with their kin. There are, however, still rumblings by the state authorities about their self-ordained right to carry out such invasions at will.

But here is the real issue for socialists and just plain civil libertarian types. Why was this sect being so readily prosecuted by the state on what, at best, were flimsy and unsubstantiated charges that proved to be laughable in court? As distant as I am from the beliefs of this seemingly harmless, reclusive and isolated sect and as distant as I am from either wanting to have several wives or being one of several husbands of a woman (polyandry) for that matter, I find it that it is necessary to defend these fundamentalist Mormons against the ravages to their personal lives by the state actions. As long as the question of effective consent is given, the only real criteria that should govern such relationships, it is nobody’s business, especially the state’s what social relationships people enter into. For all those shocked by the notion of so-called "child brides" look to the history of marriage regulation or for that matter the common law of your locale (if in a common law state).

I think that the way that the state of Texas has handled this matter has outraged more people than normally would be the case, unlike the Waco governmental invasion under Bill Clinton, and that is to the good. As the old adage goes- if they can get away with carting off the helpless and reclusive then what about the rights of rest of us- is fully operational here. But this episode should also make us aware, very aware, of why we leftists support the slogan- Government out of the bedrooms! Hands Off The Mormons! And Keep Them Off!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

*Free The Cuban Five Update-In Defense Of The Cuban Revolution

Click on title to link to National Committee To Free The Cuban Five Committee web site for the latest political and legal updates.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentences of the Five last week (the week of June 1, 2008). As the legendary comic and social commentator Lenny Bruce, no stranger to the American 'justice' system himself, once said- "In the halls of justice, the only justice in the hall". I might only add here, class justice cannot even be found in the halls in this case. Go to the link listed on the right of this page for more details. Remember the defense of the Cuban Five is the concrete manifestation of the defense of the Cuban Revolution. Venceramos! Free The Cuban Five-Ahora!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

*Defend the Evergreen State College (Washington ) 6 !

Click on the title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.

Markin comment:

This information is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. I would note that this is an important student struggle for today at a time when many campuses are very, very quiet. Moreover, the question of suspending leftist student political organizations whatever their political shortcomings is a very serious problems that labor militants must add their voices in protest against. I could not link to the site listed but if you Google the Evergreen 6 Legal Defense Fund you can get information and make a donation.

Defend Activists at Evergreen State College

In "Drop Charges Against Evergreen 6! Reinstate Olympia SDS!" (WVNo. 914, 9 May), we reported that six concertgoers face frame-up charges fol¬lowing the cop riot at a February 14 Dead Prez concert at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Outrageously, as part of this ongoing witchhunt, charges of malicious mischief—a felony—and riot have been filed against three more people, Justin Killing,Kelly Primeaux and Christina Shimizu. The Spartacus Youth Club demands: Drop the charges now! Hands off the concertgoers!

Following the February cop riot, the Olympia branch of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was suspended by the Evergreen State College administration in an act of political censorship. Supporters of SDS have been occupying Evergreen's Seminar I building since May 21, demanding SDS's reinstatement and calling to "build a movement for student power." Cops targeting the protesters have arrested one supporter of SDS, Shyam Khanna, who faces charges of assault and riot for allegedly spitting on a cop at the Olympia May Day demonstration. Six others also face charges following the May Day protest. We say: Drop the charges now! The SYC protests SDS's suspension and defends those occupying the building against any reprisals from the administration or police. At the same time, as revolutionary Marxists, we understand that students do not have the power to fundamentally change society. We seek to win the best radical students over to the side of the working class, which uniquely has both the social power and the objective interest to overthrow the capitalist system and organize society according to human need.

Donations to Evergreen 6 Legal Defense should be made through their PayPal account, accessible from the Evergreen 6 Legal Defense Web site at The address advertised in our last article is no longer in use.

*The Sounds of the 4th of July- From Childhood Times, Circa 1956

Click on the headline to link to a 1950s nostalgia website placed here to give a flavor to the entry below, and only for that purpose.

This is another in that line of questions being asked by my Class of 1964 class committee. I am being nice here and just taking a little trip down memory lane for the old gang.

No, today I will not mention the tattoo of marching drums. Nor will I go on and on about the finale of the Overture of 1812. And I will most assuredly not describe the seemingly supersonic fireworks that boom over the nighttime skyline of Boston. Today I want to go back the quieter streets around Welcome Young Field in the (one-horse) Atlantic section of North Quincy on the Independence Days of my youth.

Probably, like in your neighborhood in the old days, the local older guys and fathers would put together a kitty, collect contributions and seek donations from local merchants to put together a little ‘time’ for the kids on the 4th of July. The details of the organization of this extravaganza are beyond my knowledge but I can surely speak to the results. As these things go it was pretty straight forward, you know; foot races of varying lengths for various age groups, baby contests, some sort of parade, pony rides and so forth. But that is only the frame. Here is the real story of the day. Here is what any self-respecting kid lived and died for that day.

Tonic (you know, soda, pop) and ice cream. And not just one tonic or one ice cream but as much as you could hoard. Twice during the day (I think maybe about 10AM and 1PM) there would be what one can only describe as a free-for-all as we all scrambled to get as many bottles of tonic (you know, soda) and cups of ice cream as we could handle. But here is the secret to the success of my brothers and me in grabbing much more than our fair share of the bounty. Grandma lived right on the corner of Welcome Young Field on Young Street. So, we would sprint with one load of goods over to her house and then go back for more until we filled up the back refrigerator.

Boy, that was work as we panted away, bottles clanking in our pockets. But then, work completed, we could savor our one tonic and one ice cream cup that we showed for public consumption. There were other sounds of the day beyond the cheering, the panting and the hee-haws of the ponies. As the sun went day it went down to the strains of some local pick up band of the era in the tennis court as the dancing started. But that was adult time. Our time was to think about our day 's work, our hoard and the next day’s tonic and ice cream. Ah…

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

*From "Workers Vanguard"- Mormon Polygamists- Leave Them Alone!

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Mormon polygamists.

Workers Vanguard No. 916
6 June 2008

Mormon Polygamists—Leave Them Alone!

On April 3, heavily armed Texas Rangers, police agencies from six counties, the state highway patrol and wildlife officers stormed into a polygamous Mormon community in Eldorado, Texas. A phone call was the pretext for this massive raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a long-established split-off from the mainstream Mormons. Authorities now admit this call by a woman claiming sexual abuse at the ranch was probably a hoax. Over the next seven days, more than 500 children and women were kidnapped in a state onslaught of “collective punishment.”

At least 465 of those kidnapped were under age 18 and were seized by Child Protective Services (CPS). Thirty-one women were pregnant when arrested; two have given birth while in state custody. Several of the “children” in custody are actually mothers who have had their own infants seized. All the parents were separated from their children, many sent hundreds of miles away, while the state conducted humiliating DNA tests to determine parents’ “legitimacy” to visit their children. The outrageous treatment of the Mormon families is the real abuse perpetrated here! It was so bad that even the Texas Supreme Court on May 29 upheld a prior appeals court ruling that the state had no right to seize the children. As we go to press, most of those seized are being returned to their parents.

We Marxists have a longstanding position in defense of polygamous Mormons against state persecution. We stated in “For the Right of Gay Marriage…and Divorce! Marriage and the Capitalist State” (WV No. 824, 16 April 2004): “We believe the Mormons have the right to be left alone, to practice their religion and live their private lives however they see fit. Our position for the right of gay marriage, like the right of Mormons to practice polygamy, stems from our opposition to government interference with the rights of individuals to effect whatever consensual arrangements they wish.” Leave the Mormon polygamists alone!

The raid and the mass kidnapping have sparked outrage, not least in Mormon strongholds such as Salt Lake City, where 50 protested on April 24 outside an NBA playoff game between the Rockets and Jazz. As FLDS spokesman Rod Parker said, “I think every American needs to be very fearful of what Child Protective Services is doing in Texas.” Mental health workers at emergency shelters for the women and children expressed anger toward the state’s child welfare agency for removing the children from their mothers and for the conditions in the shelters, which were so poor that upper respiratory infections and chicken pox spread rapidly. One of the workers said it was a deliberate form of coercion: “The more uncomfortable they were the more CPS thought they would talk.” The entire mental health staff was fired the second week, accused by the authorities of being “too compassionate” (Houston Chronicle, 10 May).

The spiritual leader of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, is in prison, charged with “rape as an accomplice” for performing a marriage—“rape” because the young woman, who was 14, was underage and the groom was her 19-year-old cousin. In “Feds Hands Off Mormon Fundamentalists!” (WV No. 871, 26 May 2006), we defended Jeffs against the government’s witchhunt before his capture, denouncing the anti-sex hysteria and hypocrisy of the authorities and noting that such early marriages were commonplace only decades ago. New Hampshire, for example, still allows 13-year-old girls to marry with parental consent. In some European countries, the age of consent is 14 years, while in quite a few U.S. states first cousins can legally marry.

The state uses reactionary “age of consent” laws to oppress youth—who are supposed to go against nature and be “sexless,” especially if they’re female—and expand its own powers of repression. We oppose “age of consent,” “squeal rules” and “statutory rape” laws, which strengthen the repressive reach of the state, as well as serving as a diversion from the real brutality of this sick capitalist society. We uphold effective consent as the only guiding principle in sexual relations—i.e., mutual agreement and understanding, as opposed to coercion. As long as those who take part agree to do so at the time, no one, least of all the state, has the right to tell them they can’t do it. Rape and violent abuse are terrible crimes that occur throughout society and in monogamous as well as polygamous families. But the prosecution of Mormons for polygamy can only force possible victims to retreat further underground in legitimate fear of the authorities.

The question of polygamy has a long history in the U.S., and was central to the development of Mormonism in the 19th century. When in 1890 the Mormons officially renounced the practice, preparatory to getting Utah recognized as a U.S. state in 1896, significant breakaway factions continued polygamy, one calling themselves the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Today, an estimated 10,000 FLDS followers live in communities concentrated along the Utah-Arizona border and nearby states. Their presence in Texas dates only from 2003, and the Texas state authorities have been extremely aggressive in their attempts to banish them.

President Abraham Lincoln, though he later signed a bill outlawing plural marriages, made an early statement to a Mormon journalist regarding the Mormons, a model of good sense and tolerance that the rulers of this decaying capitalist society have long since abandoned. When he was a boy on the farm, he said, “Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.”

The Family and Organized Religion: Props of Brutal Bourgeois Rule

With revolting hypocrisy, America’s rulers are flexing their muscles against a tiny community in rural Texas while hailing one of the most anti-woman and feudalist forces in the world, the Dalai Lama and the deposed pro-slavery Tibetan “Lamaocracy.” Before the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) came to Tibet, it was a hellhole for poor peasants and women, who slaved like oxen as the ruling monks meditated in the temples. In pre-1950s Tibet, polygamy was the norm and intrinsic to the enslavement of women. Its corollary was polyandry among poorer males, who had to share a wife with other men (often brothers) because they could not afford wives themselves. The PLA’s extension to Tibet of the gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, which overthrew capitalist rule in China, broke the lamas’ power and lifted the region from feudal darkness, a leap of several centuries in human development (see “Defend Chinese Deformed Workers State! Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet,” WV No. 911, 28 March).

Whereas American Mormons essentially choose their practice, in many regions of the world the legacy of precapitalist social backwardness means that women are held to be little more than property, requiring struggle by communists to abolish institutionalized polygamy, as well as the bride price, female genital mutilation and other such practices. In countries of belated capitalist development, social backwardness is reinforced and manipulated by imperialist domination. For example, the U.S. imperialists prop up reactionary client states like impoverished Afghanistan and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, countries where women are forcibly veiled head-to-toe and denied virtually any rights.

In the United States, the government wields its hypocritical “save the children” card to more thoroughly target those it deems “deviant,” including the Eldorado community. The lie of government concern for mothers and children is worn threadbare, as both Democrats and Republicans have slashed welfare and social programs over the past decades, with a huge toll in malnutrition, disease and death. “Abstinence” programs for teens have only enforced sexual ignorance—and resulted in a recent increase in STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). The reality for many poor and working-class Americans, especially single black mothers, is Child Protective Services hounding them and ripping away their children for “neglect” or “abuse,” often because they don’t have anyone to leave their kids with while they go to work.

Certainly the family is a cesspool of frustration, coercion and abuse—whether the bourgeois “one man on one woman for life” model or that of the Mormon polygamists. But it is almost universally far, far worse to fall into the clutches of this barbaric and brutal government’s institutions. Youth who try to escape their families have nowhere to go—and often end up imprisoned in detention centers where they are more likely to be beaten and raped than “rehabilitated.” We fight for free, 24-hour, quality day-care centers and for safe shelters for youth and teens as well as for free contraceptives and abortion on demand and other quality medical care, and for significantly lowering the “age of adulthood.” These are basic measures to help those most in need escape desperate poverty and the straitjacket of the family, without bringing in the cops and prison system.

Fundamentally, the oppression of women and youth is rooted in the institution of the family, which arose with the advent of private property as the mechanism for passing property from one generation to the next, with the monogamous wife supposedly ensuring the heirs’ paternity. For the masses, the role of the family is to instill respect for authority and to act as a conservatizing force. Together with religion, the institution of the family serves to instill a morality that proscribes anything that deviates from the family ideal—such as premarital and gay sex. It reinforces, as Friedrich Engels put it, “the supremacy of the man over the woman, and the individual family as the economic unit of society” (The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State [1884]). Thus, the burden of raising the next generation of workers rests on the family. We wrote in “Free Tom Green! Mormon Polygamists: Leave Them Alone!” (WV No. 764, 14 September 2001):

“The family structure—whether monogamous or polygamous—necessarily oppresses women. However, not everybody understands the source of their oppression, and people do all sorts of things that are undoubtedly bad for them that the state still has no business throwing them in prison for. As Marxists we understand that the family serves a real social purpose and cannot simply be ‘abolished,’ even in a workers state, but must be replaced with alternate social institutions.”

The material basis for women’s liberation can be established only through workers revolutions internationally. In power, the working class would abolish the capitalist private property and inheritance system and socialize the current functions of the family—providing communal kitchens, childcare and health care—thus freeing women from the burden of child-rearing and household slavery.

Regarding religion itself—Mormon or otherwise—our attitude is that it is reactionary superstition counterposed to Marxist materialism. We fight to purge religion from public education and government policy. Religion provides moral justification for exploitation and reactionary prejudices. It deflects workers’ struggles into piety and acquiescence to bourgeois power. But religious beliefs cannot be “abolished” by government decree; they will only wither away when material want is overcome and the oppressed masses no longer feel the need to resort to the supernatural to provide for what is, in capitalist society, unattainable—the hope for a better life, which for billions of people today can only be dreamt of in “heavenly” fantasies.

Persecution by the bourgeois state of religious practices targets smaller, fringe sects or oppressed minorities, reinforcing the moral authority of “mainstream” religions and, more importantly, the bourgeois state itself. We demand the complete separation of church and state, as we seek to relegate religion to the confines of personal belief, and oppose state persecution of religious beliefs. Just as we defend the Church of Scientology against state repression in Germany, we defend the Fundamentalist Mormons, who are being targeted for practices that are nobody’s business but their own.

Given the anti-sex hysteria and ignorance it promulgates, the bourgeois state finds it easy to justify the most barbaric of penalties and intrusions into people’s private lives under the guise of protecting children from sexual abuse. America’s rulers are not interested in protecting children; they are the main oppressors and killers of children, from the black and Latino youth gunned down by cops in the ghettos to the hundreds of thousands of children killed in the predatory wars waged by the American imperialists around the world.

The Eldorado raid is frighteningly reminiscent of the Waco massacre in 1993, when Democratic president Bill Clinton and his attorney general Janet Reno’s thugs ended a three-month siege of the racially integrated Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, by burning alive 86 men, women and children. The guise was alleged “child abuse.” And we do not forget the MOVE massacre in 1985, when the Philadelphia police, led by black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode, and the federal government conspired to firebomb the mainly black back-to-nature MOVE commune, killing eleven people, including five children, and destroying an entire black neighborhood. The Waco and MOVE massacres loom as a reminder of how far the bloody American bourgeois state will go.

While the Eldorado Mormons may be a peculiar sect, they are not the ones wielding the massive apparatus of death that is the bourgeois state, whether administered by the Republicans or Democrats. Just as women’s liberation requires a socialist revolution that expropriates the capitalist class and lays the foundation for the replacement of the family, so the workers and oppressed of this country cannot liberate themselves without understanding that the bourgeois state, with its cops, judges and prisons, must be smashed and replaced by a workers state

*The Rich Are Different From You and I- A Word From Ernest Hemingway

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of "My Man Godfrey", starring William Powell and Carole Lombard. The Hemingway point is in the post a comment section at the bottom of this entry.


My Man Godfrey, William Powell, Carol Lombard, 1936, black and white

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously is reputed to have said that the very rich are different from you and I. Well, hell we knew that. Nevertheless the premise of this little 1930's class comedy seeks to turn that proposition on its head, at least partially. William Powell as 1930's down and out hobo (although in reality just another scion of a rich family looking to find himself and his place in the world during the Great Depression) is singled out to be a reclamation project (as the family butler, of course) for the Mayfair swells, a society family of crazies.

In the process that family learns some lessons about how the other half lives and about the universal proposition that it is nice to be nice in the world. Especially in need of that lesson is a class conscious, ruling class conscious that is, daughter who is the foil for old Godfrey's antics. Add a little off-hand romance by Powell with a batty younger daughter played by Carol Lombard and all's well that ends well. Except, as I recall during the later part of the 1930's, the period when this 'slice of life' film was produced, there were little things like the Little Steel Strike Massacre, the sit-downs in order to organize the automobile industry in Michigan and myriad other actions to `level the playing field' with the rich. But, my friends, that is another story.

William Powell, although always identified in my mind as the 'society' detective Nick Charles (with his lovely Nora, played by Myrna Loy, and the ever-present Asta)plays it straight here. Carol Lombard is, well, Carol Lombard a fine comedic actress. So suspend your disbelief and take this funny look at the class struggle for what it is worth.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tidings From The "Good" War


Stage Door Canteen, All-star cast, black and white,1943

War propaganda comes in all forms, from harsh gung-ho chauvinist to the melodramatic. This film is in the melodramatic form of a patriotic homage to what is now called in the mass media, at least, the "greatest generation", my parents generation during World War II. Here we have a thin story line about three GI's landing at New York's famous Stage Door Canteen to be feted, wined and dined by the toast of the international entertainment world, including Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Ray Bolger (doing a great dance routine), Gypsy Rose Lee, etc. Plus there is a little off-hand romance between the boys and the off-limits hostesses. But love will out in the end.

The dialogue, is to say the least to the modern ear, stilted. I assume, however, that it got its job done by boosting morale on the home front letting one shed a little tear for the boys going off to fight the enemies of the day. If you wanted to know what moved you in your youth or that of your parents or grandparents- what made you or them laugh, cry, sing and dance- then here is a slice of that for you.

Note:I do not usually comment on technical quality of films but, given war rationing, the film seems, well filmy, and somewhat out of focus.

Friday, May 30, 2008

***Free The Cuban Five- Ahora!-In Defense Of The Cuban Revolution

Click on title to link to the National Committee To Free The Cuban Five web site for updates on this important international case.

The following is being passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee (2008). Please note the link to the National Committee to Free the Five below to find more information about the Cuban Five. As always here is a case where defense of the Cuban revolution begins concretely with the defense of the Five- Ahora!

The Cuban Five have now been incarcerated for almost ten years. Three Cuban citizens and two U.S. citizens who infiltrated and monitored violent anti-communist exile groups in Florida in order to stop terrorist attacks against Cuba, these men were arrested in 1998 under the Clinton administration on bogus charges of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder, as well as lesser charges like failing to register as agents of a foreign power. After being tried in Miami, a den of counterrevolutionary gusano (worm) activities, Gerardo Hernandez was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years; Antonio Guerrero and Ram6n Labanino to life plus ten and 18 years, respectively; Fernando Gonzalez to 19 years; and Rene Gonzalez to 15 years. They are held in federal maximum security prisons, separated by hundreds of miles from loved ones, their lawyers and each other. As Marxists, we demand immediate freedom for the Cuban Five, whose heroic actions were in defense of the Cuban Revolution against U.S. imperialism and its counterrevolutionary agents.

From the CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, to the repeated attempts on Fidel Castro's life, to the ongoing starvation embargo, the U.S. imperialists, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, have never ceased in their drive to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. In 2002, Ana Belen Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency officer, was sentenced to 25 years for passing military information to the Cuban government.

In their drive to restore capitalism in Cuba, the U.S. rulers have trained terrorists like Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, who engineered the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner that killed 73 people. In the 1990s, as the Cuban government began to promote tourism, gusano groups launched a campaign of bombings that targeted hotels and airport buses in an attempt to cripple the economy. Posada has admitted to masterminding bombings of tourist spots in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian businessman. We say: Send Posada and Bosch back to Cuba to be tried by their victims!

It was in the context of such terrorist activity that gusano activities were being monitored by the Cuban Five, three of whom were veterans of Cuba's military campaign in Angola that in the 1970s and '80s fought the U.S.-sponsored invasion by the South African apartheid regime. In June 1998, the Cuban government shared its intelligence on gusano terrorist activity with the FBI. In September of that year, the FBI arrested the Cubans instead of the CIA's "ex"-employees.

The government built its case on "conspiracy to commit espionage" charges, conspiracy charges being the hallmark of political witchhunts when the government has no evidence that an actual crime has been committed. Months after their arrest, "conspiracy to commit murder" was tacked on to the charges against Gerardo Hernandez in connection with the deaths of four pilots from the Brothers to the Rescue gusano outfit. The latter were shot down by the Cuban air force in 1996 after repeatedly and provocatively flying into Cuban airspace in a brazen challenge to the country's air defenses.

Held in Miami, the trial was engulfed in anti-communist hysteria and intimidation of anyone not toeing the gusano line on Cuba. The judge refused five defense requests for a change of venue. During jury selection, potential jurors asked to be excused, fearing the consequences of rendering an "unsatisfactory" verdict. The impaneled jurors' license plates appeared on nightly news broadcasts. The prosecution claimed that Guerrero, who worked as a janitor at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West, had endangered secret U.S. military plans by watching aircraft take off and land in training exercises. As Guerrero's lawyer pointed out, the information he gathered "could've been published in the Miami Herald." So inflamed was the atmosphere that the jury even convicted Hernandez of conspiracy murder charges that the prosecution itself had already concluded would be an "insurmountable hurdle" to prove!

In 2005, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta threw out the 2001 convictions and ordered a new trial in a new venue because of the "pervasive community prejudice" in Miami. The Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales appealed for a rehearing by the full court, which reinstated the convictions in August 2006. Last August, another three-judge panel heard oral arguments in the case that this time focused on the bogus murder and espionage charges and the gross prosecutorial misconduct.

The brutality these five men endure in prison is designed to break them and echoes the treatment of other class-war prisoners like Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Before their trial even started, the Cuban Five spent 17 months in solitary. Between their convictions in June and their sentencing in December 2001, they spent 48 days in the hole. In 2003 as they worked on their first appeal, they were sent to solitary and denied communication with the outside world, even their lawyers.

Every family visit involves an arduous and arbitrary visa process. Sometimes a relative waits out the precious time they are allotted and never gets to see their loved one. Adriana Perez, wife of Gerardo Hernandez, has been repeatedly denied a visa. Olga Salanueva, wife of Rene Gonzalez, was deported on phony spy charges in 2000.

In combatting the degenerate end-products of a decaying capitalism, the Cuban Five have performed a service not only in defense of Cuba but for working people throughout the hemisphere and around the world. Free the Cuban Five! Defend the Cuban Revolution

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Real Smell Of Success


The Sweet Smell of Success, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, 1957

Apparently screenwriters when characterizing Broadway theater critics refuse to touch them with anything less than a cattle prod. At least that has been my recent film review experience after watching All About Eve and its totally cynical critic Addison played superbly by George Saunders. Here we are confronted with the weasel Broadway critic and man about town J.J played by Burt Lancaster ably assisted by press flak Sydney Falco played to a grovelling tee by Tony Curtis.

The story line is a little thin, mainly concerning J.J.'s overweening concern that his very much younger sister does not wind up with some ne'er do well. The tricks, manipulations, and down right skulduggery hatched up by this pair seem all too real to a modern audience who know that fame is fleeting and one better grab it by the neck, fast. More than a few bargains with the devil have been made for that elusive commodity. The tricks played in this film set in 1950's Broadway, however, seem almost like kids stuff compared to the vicious action today. That, my friends, was something of a `golden age' of gentile skulduggery by comparison.

A note on Tony Curtis who on the face of it seems to have been billed as something of a `pretty' boy in his early career. But then you think about the excellent performance here and in Spartacus and in Some Like It Hot and one, including this reviewer, is compelled to start changing one's opinion of the depth of Mr. Curtis's talent.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In the Time of the Rump Parliament


The Rump Parliament, Blair Worden, Cambridge University Press, 1974

Most historians, especially Marxist historians, have recognized the great English Revolution of the mid-17ht century, a revolution associated with the name of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans as the first great modern revolution. Moreover, this writer would argue that as with all great revolutions the fate of the English Revolution had many lessons to impart to later generations of revolutionaries. Professor Worden’s little book on a specific part of that revolution is filled with such lessons concerning the period that has become known as the rule of the Rump Parliament (1648-53). That is the period from Pride’s Purge (the exclusion by the Army of those parliamentarians who wanted to continue to treat with King Charles I despite his various acts of treachery) until the time of the Barebones Parliament and the personal rule of the Army General-in-Chief Cromwell.

The Rump Parliament, as the derogatory designation implies, has not been treated kindly, at least not before Professor Worden’s book, at the hands of historians. This nevertheless was a period where dear King Charles I lost his head and scared the crowned heads of Europe out of their wits, leaving them ready for armed intervention against the English revolution. Furthermore, this period, despite confusion about what form of executive power to establish, firmly confirmed the rule of parliament supremacy. However, in retrospect it has also been seen as a sluggish period in the revolutionary saga where no serious reforms were implemented; to the relief of many conservatives and the dismay of the radicals- civilian ones like the Levelers and the various religious sects as well as Army ones, especially in the ranks.

Worden does a fine job of analyzing those conflicts and the basis for those claims of sluggishness. In his hands that reputation for sluggishness is exposed to be false as the work done by this body at that time was as good (if that is the correct word in this context) as any 17th English Parliament as far as dealing with the serious questions of religious toleration, land reform, tax reform, political exclusions, army grievances, extension of the political franchise, law reform and finances. Moreover, in the context of that above-mentioned threat of foreign intervention early in this period it held its own against the internal forces that wanted to make a truce with the European powers.

I have argued elsewhere in this space, in reviewing the books of Professors Hill, Underdown and others who have written about this period, that the shadow of the New Model Army hovers over this whole period. Its periodic interventions into the political events of the time are key to understanding how the revolution unfolded, as well as its limitations and its retreats. There is almost no period where this is truer than the rule of the Rump. Pride’s Purge, an army intervention, set the stage for who would govern (and who would not) for the period.

The early period of Rump rule, beset by constant military needs in order to defend the Commonwealth is basically an armed truce between civilian and military forces. In the later period of the Rump’s rule when there are more dramatic clashes between the Army’s needs and attempts to maintain civilian control the balance shifts in the Army’s favor. From that point Army rule is decisive. Some argue that the defeat of the civilian Leveller forces and their army supporters in 1649 was the watershed. I am not so sure now, although certainly the democratic, secular forces represented there were those modern revolutionaries would support.

I believe that there was no question that Army intervention was definitely necessary at the later time (1653). Moreover the New Model Army represented the best of the plebeian classes that fought for and then defended the revolution. It therefore represented the sole force that could consolidate the gains of the revolution. That it could not retain power over the long haul in the face of a conservative counter-revolution is a separate question for another day. For more insights about this period read this little gem of a book.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

*Growing Up Absurd in 1950's Texas- Larry Mc Murtry's "The Last Picture Show"-The Book

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the movie version of Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show.


The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry, Orion Mass Market Publications, 2000

There has been no shortage of coming of age stories in modern American literature. J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye is merely the most famous and probably widely known of the genre. Here Larry McMurtry, the Texas bibliophile, Old West aficionado and pack rat gives us his take on growing up absurd in a faded semi- boom town Texas during the Korean War era in the early 1950's.

Although the locale is different from Catcher in the Rye the issues raised by the teenagers who drive the story and those of their perplexed and clueless parents are the same. And what do those issues entail? Sex, the meaning of existence, sex, what to do on Friday night, sex, what to do on Saturday night, sex- well you get the drift. And those dilemmas of youth and its fight for recognition as presented through the main characters Sonny and Duane are in McMurtry's hands well thought out and, at times, poignant. The attention to detail that McMurtry is noted for is on full display in the interplay between the 'jock' students, the nerds and the 'in' crowd. High school football, the whys and wherefores of the high school classroom and the sheer fight to find one's own identity in this mix all contribute to a very strong trip down memory lane for this reader.

From my own personal experience I know how tough it was to grow up in the 1950's and it is good to see that there are indeed some universal ailments that are common to the 'tribal community' called youth in America. Moreover, read this book because it also has a few things to say about the adults, especially Sonny's lover the older woman and the football coach's wife Ruth, and their dilemmas as well. Damn, McMurtry is singing my song.

The film version of this book strongly evokes visually the points that McMurtry tries to make in the book. It helps that he was the screenwriter in this effort. Fine performances were turned in by the young Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and Cybil Sheppard as the object of Sonny and Duane's attentions . Also by Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman, as Sonny's older woman lover.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Battle For Britain?


Foreign Correspondent, Alfred Hitchcock, 1939

This is an early black and white political suspense classic by the master of the genre, Alfred Hitchcock. What makes this film somewhat different from his other later classics like The Birds or Rear Window is its evocation of up front patriotism at a time when Europe was getting set for war in the late 1930's. The Foreign Correspondent Johnny Jones(for an American newspaper, of course) in this case (played by boy next door Joel McCrea) is sent to Europe to get the facts, and nothing but the facts, about what was happening there-namely was war really in the offing or was it merely a European-based imperial ploy.

Along the way he runs into people and organizations (the leader of one played by arch-British gentleman Herbert Marshall) whose sole purpose is to agitate for war -for the benefit of the other (unnamed but we know, right?) side. As McCrea and later a British correspondent (played by George Sanders) dig deeper they figure out the real deal and try to each single-handedly try to crush it.

Of course, along the way there is a little off-hand romance involving McCrea (with Marshall's daughter- the girl next door- Larraine Day) but not to worry `justice' will out in the end. A rather interesting point is that the traitor Marshall in the end finishes up heroically. Well, I guess we have to remember this was still a time when the British Empire, at least formally, held sway in the world so that even scoundrels, as long as they were British scoundrels, had to keep a stiff upper lip and do the right thing for old John Bull. As a thriller this film is interesting. As a political statement it is much too ham-handed.