• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    darthvelma on About Roe
    Beata on About Roe
    Propertius on About Roe
    Propertius on About Roe
    Beata on About Roe
    William on About Roe
    William on What Fate Is Ours?
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on What Fate Is Ours?
    William on What Fate Is Ours?
    William on What Fate Is Ours?
    William on What Fate Is Ours?
    jmac on What Fate Is Ours?
    Beata on What Fate Is Ours?
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Media-Created “Reality…
    Propertius on Media-Created “Reality…
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama Bernie Sanders big pharma Bill Clinton cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donald Trump Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare OccupyWallStreet occupy wall street Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans research Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    December 2021
    S M T W T F S
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • What Would Chinese Democracy Look Like?
      A few months ago I read a couple of books by the Singaporean intellectual Kishore Mahbubani. In “Has China Already Won he discusses Taiwan. The one exceptional trigger for a war involving China is Taiwan. Most of the time, the Chinese leaders have a lot of policy flexibility. There are no strong domestic lobbies to worry about. But the one issue where the Ch […]
  • Top Posts

About Roe

Disclaimer: I’m pro choice so don’t come for me. 

The Supreme Court, which was the maniacal focus of decades of Republican ire on the subject of abortion, appears ready to overturn Roe or at least severely curtail it.

Yesterday, WaPo had a companion piece to it’s headline story that showed how abortion is handled in other countries, including countries that we have all thought were the most progressive countries in the world. The laws in countries like Sweden and the Netherlands are much more restrictive that the US. The cutoff for getting an abortion is something like 12-20 weeks. After the cutoff, you need to get an exception from a panel of doctors. Presumably, if you or the fetus have health issues or defects, the doctors will allow an abortion.

So far, I hadn’t heard any complaints from the women in countries like Sweden or The Netherlands that these restrictions were unreasonable. And I would have to agree. 15 weeks is a reasonable cutoff. You may not know you’re pregnant at 6 weeks but at 15 weeks, almost everyone knows. Don’t pull out some statistic that says 95% of women don’t know they’re pregnant at 15 weeks because we all know that it’s not true. Nor can you say that for some cosmically unfathomable reason, AMERICAN women are gynecologically different and or their brains do not recognize pregnancy before the 16th week, 2days.

So, if the court came back and said, right, we think we should restrict abortion to 15 weeks and after that, you need to get a doctor’s note, I’d be ok with that. It would be great if that meant that some religious institutions and family run businesses would drop their absurd opposition to comtraceptives and that some pharmacists would stop making life changing decisions for women who absolutely do not under any circumstances want babies period.

The thing is, we KNOW that’s never going to happen. The religiously motivated are never going to put down this sword until abortion is banned everywhere in America. But they will be temporarily satisfied if Roe is no longer the law of the land. No federal standards for abortion seekers or doctors. yes, yes, it *does* make women unequal in some states. But there will always be a New York or California or Oregon to go to if you can pay for the flight and accommodations.

It is going to suck everywhere else. And I can also see the court including the ability of doctors and pharmacists to conscientiously object to prescribing birth control or performing abortions in states where it will still be legal.

This is what the Pro motherhood voters have always wanted. They are not pro-life or they’d also have a problem with the death penalty and gun deregulation. Those things seem to have loopholes for them, loopholes that they will not grant women.

It is past time for us to discuss what they really want. They want all women to fulfill their divine natures as mothers. They want them and not the male partners to take responsibility for their sexual behavior. They want them to give up everything for the children. They think, erroneously, that the only reason why women want to abort is because motherhood is difficult. Maybe they’ll throw a few diapers their way after the baby is out. But in general, women are supposed to be mothers, whether or not they actually want children.

You shall have the children and you shall be shamed for having them when you aren’t married. You shall be a burden to your family. Your life goals will be truncated so you can stay home, possibly in poverty for the rest of your life, and shoulder the responsibility for your actions. That’s God’s plan for you.

With that in mind, and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s the end goal, does anyone really believe that 15 weeks with medical exemptions after that, will be acceptable?

We know it won’t.

Now, we have to figure out who benefits from this? Well, it’s not going to be women or their families. It’s not going to be women at work who may not be able to do their jobs if Roe is retired. I can’t think of a single entity who will benefit from this except American businesses that may use this as a back door way of keeping wages low. Women of child bearing years may be relegated to jobs with less responsibility and fewer promotional opportunities. They will be automatically mommy tracked.

That’s where we are.

Oh, and religious institutions may find themselves facing an exodus of women from their pews. Plus, Republican governors may face a backlash next year and congressional candidates like Marjorie Taylor Greene just *might* start looking like the crazy people they actually are.

In summary, overturn Roe and you will get:

Forced motherhood

More widely applied automatic mommy tracking

Less money in the family household over time.

It’s gonna happen, people. That’s what they voted for.

What Fate Is Ours?

The favorite musical of my parents and me was “Kismet.” They had seen it on the stage, I only knew it from listening to our album, and reading the liner notes; until it returned to Los Angeles for a revival, with the incomparable Alfred Drake, who had originated the part on Broadway. “Kismet,” which essentially meant “portion” or “lot” in Arabic, and “fate” in Turkish , is like an Arabian Nights tale, but better. The music is taken from the works of the Russian composer Alexander Borodin, and the absolutely brilliant book and lyrics are from Robert Wright and George Forrest.

I must have listened to to the album fifty times as a boy, and I would sing the songs in the shower. My favorite, at about five years old, was “Was I Wazir?” which is certainly not the musical’s best song, but which I liked because of its elegant dark humor. I loved the sweeping ballad “Night of My Nights,” which I would sing while on the swing in nursery school. My father’s favorite was “Olive Tree,” a philosophical rumination. My mother’s was the truly beautiful “This is My Beloved,” with the music from a piece by Borodin described as the most beautiful chamber music ever written. If you have never seen “Kismet,” do not see the movie, it is not very good. Maybe you can see a stage version, if they still do them. It is wondrous.

Another of my favorites, an early song in the musical, was “Fate.” Drake, as the very clever Hajj, a beggar who along with his daughter Marsinah, sings witty rhymes to earn his alms, is considering a new turn in his fortunes, which he does not know what it will lead him to. He sings, “I sat down, feeling desolated/ Bowed my head and crossed my knees/ Is fortune really predicated on such tiny terms as these?/ Then fate’s a thing without a head/ A puzzle never understood/ And man proceeds where he is led, unguaranteed of bad or good.”

I will not write the entire part which Drake sings, but it is musical poetry. I would often consider those lyrics. You don’t know how things are going to turn out. You might believe that “fate” is completely outside of human intentions or actions, or you might think that we are masters of our destiny. You might believe that it is all predestined, or that we are living out someone else’s dream. Or you might feel that the only reasonable thing is to at least think that we have some power to affect how things happen.

Further, even when we know the outcome (and usually it is not a “final outcome,” though sometimes it is), we still can differ as to what it meant, or who actually won or lost, and why. Historians have a better perspective on it, with the benefits of much study, and of course possibly centuries of retrospective. But even so, the best historians will disagree as to the causes of an event, and whether it could have been avoided; and what the import has been, or will be. It can make for stimulating reading and discussion at university, or it can even be the topic of brief conversation, usually not rebutted, by guests on TV news shows. Most people do not spend much time on it, though.

The other day, I saw the historian Jon Meacham, talking about President Biden, whom he sometimes advises as to speeches., Meacham said that some Presidents are better at changing the course of things for the better, and some are better at winning elections. He compared Carter and Reagan in that way. He didn’t say that this would be Biden’s fate, doing good things for Americans, but not being able to convince them to vote for him in the next election, but one could not help but consider the distinction.

It is possible that Biden will do major things in improving the economy; creating jobs, doing something about climate change, helping to restore the roads and bridges, but not get enough credit for it to be re-elected. We already see Republicans who voted against the infrastructure bill, going home to their districts, and taking credit for the funds and improvements. That is obscene, really, but Republicans don’t care, it is part of their modus operandi, using anything they can to win elections, no matter how misleading or deceitful. And the media acts as if, well they are the bad boys, always finding ways to win. If Democrats did that, they would call for removing them.

We don’t know how this presidency will turn out. We cannot afford to have Biden end up like Carter politically, even if fifty years from now, historians, assuming that there are still historians, and history,, say that he did great things. It is even possible that his work will benefit Republicans, by insulating them from criticism that the country is falling apart, with unsafe roads and polluted waterways. Sort of a win-win for them, which is what they always strive for. We cannot afford that kind of pyrrhic victory.

Sometimes I have bet on sports, and I always try to discern patterns, or the larger scope. Will this turn out to be the year that a certain team overcomes its history of blowing the big games, or will the same pattern prevail? This is very hard to do, but it is important to view things outside the scope of the most recent games. What will the ultimate fate of this year’s team, or even the next five years of this team, be? Who will surprise? Who will do exactly as they have always seemed to do? What will the jigsaw puzzle look like when it is finished?

I try to do that with political campaigns, particularly the primary seasons in presidential elections. Who is going to rise up, maybe out of almost nowhere? Who is going to disappoint? Who will ultimately win?You can bet on those things, too, but it is much more important than that.

It is like you are watching a play unfold, and wondering what the end will look like, and how you will view it when all the lines are said. Most people don’t do that in terms of political and cultural history, and I wish they would try to. I could have told all those supposed Democrats and Independents, in 2016, that not voting for Hillary Clinton, out of disdain, spite, jealousy, or ignorance, would lead to the takeover of the Supreme Court by right-wing radical judges; the furthering of environmental destruction, and the possible turning of the country into a fascist state. It seemed very obvious, but so many foolishly or willfully refused to see it, as they lacked perspective, background, and the ability to think ahead.

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post just wrote a lauded piece about how dangerous the six-justice Radical Right majority on the Supreme Court is, but she was no great supporter of Hillary, when it was so obvious that she would appoint respected liberal jurists to the Court, while Trump would do whatever Leonard Leo and the Heritage Foundation wanted, and appoint radical judges who would seek to create a frightening new order and hierarchy in this country. What is the value in her writing this now?

We have to be able to think, and to try to foresee the future results of actions we take, either personally or collectively. We can’t just bumble along, and then be surprised at how badly it turns out. The media doesn’t seem to see it, either, so engrossed are they in the excitement of yelling, complaining, carping, and latching onto right-wing themes. Did Andrea Mitchell or Chris Matthews really want Trump to be elected? They certainly helped him to. I’m not suggesting that they should have overtly helped Hillary, but they loaded the dice against her. So much of the media did, and I am sure that some of those might possibly have said to themselves afterwards, “What have I done?” Too late, though.

Will the Biden Administration turn out to be a brief interregnum before the continued move toward American fascism? A nice man who did his very best, but was unable to get past his own general decency, to see and inveigh against the evil that was arrayed against him?

Is the world in general turning toward tyranny, the evil that we thought we had defeated in World War II? In a very bitter irony, will it be America, the birthplace of democracy, which becomes the world’s most powerful fascist state? I also thought of the bitter irony that the media would not be able to do its “both sides” refrain, if there is only one side, but that is the least of it.

Or will the historical movement still be toward freedom and respect for others? We do win some battles on the smaller scales. What is the world going to look like in a hundred years? Do we need some kind of deus ex machina to save us? Will people finally wake up to what is at stake? For that to occur, will Biden and Democrats need to make a dramatic attack on Republicans, saying that the choice on the ballots will be between democracy and tyranny; human rights, and the rights only of the rich and powerful; the freedom to vote and speak, and a state which is the absolute thing which Americans shed blood for to keep from ever coming to our shores?

We are all in the middle of history, but how well can we extrapolate from the past, and anticipate the likely future? If the human race is not sufficiently capable of doing that, then the product of human evolution will be its destruction, by fire or ice, either would suffice.

“Fate can play a trick with the twine/ To weave the evil and good in one design/ And so, my Destiny/ I look at you, but cannot see/ Is it good, is it ill?/ Am I blessed, am I cursed?/ Is it honey on my tongue, or brine?/ What fate, what fate is mine?”

Media-Created “Reality”

Here is a telling divergence. A survey from Mass Mutual Consumer and Saving Index taken in November, showed that 73% of Americans feel optimistic about their personal finances, up sharply from February. Retail sales over the holiday were strong. But polls keep showing that when asked, most Americans do not feel positive about “the overall economy,” and a majority do not think that President Biden is doing a good job in handling the economy.

Polls on sentiment are always frustrating, because they demand “yes or no” answers to complex questions. But even so, there is clearly a discrepancy here. People are more optimistic about their finances, but not about the country’s economy? Well, my thought is that most of this is due to the absolute onslaught of media talking down the economy, leading their headlines or news stories with “the “struggling economy,” “inflation surging, “Biden in trouble as economic woes continue.”

These news stories are actually made up. Of course the economy is not perfect, it never was. But virtually every metric we actually see, is positive. Jobless claims are way down, perhaps a record low last month. Wages are up, about 5.5% year over year. People have more disposable income on average. This is by no reasonable standards a struggling economy.

Inflation is the big concern. Every story I see headlined says “inflation surging,” as if it is going up every day, 6%, 10%, 20%, and on up. No, it is about 6% . That is too high, but this country has seen inflation spikes for a few months, many times in the past. And there is a reason for this now; supply chain disruptions, plus the return to work, pent-up demand, and extra savings available to spend. This will almost certainly go down. If it does not, then we can get upset about it.

I am not saying that for various individuals, this is not a concern. But in general, as attested to by the poll mentioned above, most Americans are feeling better about their personal finances, and so many more people are back to work. Again, while I am by no means an economist, I have seen various ups and downs in the economy, and this is not a down, it is mostly an up.

.I try not to watch too much of the news, but when I do turn it on, the first story is almost always negative on the economy, and either directly or indirectly negative about Biden, as if things are falling apart, and he is incapable of doing anything about them. This is simply factually wrong. It is a theme which the media keeps purveyng in the face of contrasting evidence.

Now of course we have the legitimate worries about the Omicron variant. That could have many bad effects, primarily of course the physical dangers. And it would hurt the economy, not just here, of course, but in the world. Actually, the inflation is worldwide, very little to do with any policy that the Biden Administration has done or not done. But the media absolutely refuses to tell us that. The media will make it all of a piece; as if Democrats have somehow caused the variant

Ron Insana is someone who comes on the news shows sometimes, he is a longtime commentator on CNBC, the business channel. Every time I see him, he is reasonably optimistic about the economy, he points to various positive numbers, and puts it in perspective. I am sure, that like the entire staff of CNBC, is is far from a liberal. But he is honest, and he looks at things, and is on the bullish side in terms of the economy. But not the people who write headlines for written media, or chyrons for broadcast media, or who anchor news desks.

I continue to bring up the media, because I think it is immensely important Their version of reality becomes more skewed. And clearly the people who watch it, are getting their cues from them, and that is why they think that the economy is in bad shape, even if their finances are not at all.

This becomes pernicious. I was rather amazed when I first saw Biden’s favorable numbers drop. It started with Afghanistan, which was not great, but hardly a debacle. But now virtually all the national polls show Biden sinking with regard to his handling of the economy, even his handling of the pandemic (which has actually been excellent, in my view). If someone asked these respondents why they did not think that he was doing a good job on the economy, they likely would have little to say, other than “high prices.” When the inflation goes down, as it will somewhat, they will still have a negative view of his handling of the economy. Simply put, it is because they are being told to see things that way, and it is working, more than I ever would have thought, even knowing how bad the media has gotten.

The real danger is that the media has become so relentless and pervasive in their “coverage,” that they are more important in public perception than the actual reality. If they told you that the sky was green, and you looked up to see that it was blue, you might not believe them, but some would start to. That is of course is something that one can see with one’s eyes, to test the accuracy of it.

But with regard to very complex things like the economy, the media now apparently has the power to actually create perceptions. This becomes self-perpetuating. Once people are conditioned–and there really is no other word for it–to feel that the economy is bad, and that Biden is responsible for it, or at least not doing anything to “fix it,” it becomes a core of belief, almost impossible to shake, even if one were given facts, which is rarely the case.

We are heading toward Congressional elections, with a sizeable majority of people thinking that the economy is doing poorly, when it is not. Democrats cannot win in such a situation. Some of them, in Congress, or on the occasional news show, try to provide data; then the host thanks them, and goes back to the scare headlines, or the next show does. So we are moving toward a “fact-free” world, where people are being told what to think, or how data should be looked at, and they follow along.

Again, there is no reasonable rationale for Americans to be viewing the economy as in bad shape, particularly as compared to the last administration, where wage were stagnant, all the benefits went to the very rich; there was no social spending, public agencies were severely underfunded. But they are; and it may be that no good economic news (assuming that they even are told it) is going to change that assumption.

Does the media now control America? I go back to the novel “1984,” where the state propaganda network pounded out “news” telling people that things were wonderful under Big Brother, and that what they might have heard yesterday about Eurasia was not what they actually heard at all. That was intended by Orwell for dramatic effect, born out of his hatred of Soviet Russia, and also as a warning. Are we moving closer to that world?

If so, can we do anything about it? I never want to just write doom-laden analysis without at least trying to come up with some ways in which we can fight against it. I know that RD has moved to mostly listening to podcasts, not watching news. I personally do not have the patience to listen to many podcasts, as some of them seem to take a long time to get to their point. But I am not as knowledgeable about which are the better ones. Most podcasts, are, I assume, largely listened to by people who already have strong opinions; they are mostly not “persuadables.” So I don’t know how much the podcasts can act as an antidote to the barrage of conventional media.

We could decide to stop watching the news shows. That would damage their ratings, but I don’t know that they would get the proper message. We could write to them, or leave phone messages, to tell them how upset we are at their biased coverage. That always seemed to work for the Right, which was yelling about “liberal media” for decades

I wonder if Democrats in office should more forceful in pushing back against the unfair and inaccurate aspects of media coverage. Of course, the media always has the last word; they can call it “whining,” or
“desperate Democrats attacking the media.” We well remember Hillary Clinton being mocked and savaged, because she wasn’t holding press conferences; then for every single word that she said during any of them. It seems as if it is a “heads you lose, tails you lose” game that they play. And the truth is that there really are not too many highly insightful and fair-minded people among the current media.

We could stop watching their entertainment and sports shows, that might actually concern them. We could stop buying most of their advertised products. I like those ideas, but only if we make them aware of the cause and effect.

I am not the only person who has wondered why some very rich person on the liberal side does not start his or her own network, as a counterbalance to mostly all right-wing news all the time. But none has. These are exigent circumstances; and as in Poe’s somewhat allegorical story, “The Masque of the Red Death,” one cannot escape through money and retreating from the world, it will find you. So wake up, multimillionaire liberals, and realize that we cannot win anything lasting unless we have the media to tell people what is actually going on.

There is reality, however phenomenological a concept that may be, and then there is the reality created by those who want control over us, achieved by carefully filtering and even creating their own version of reality;

Last night, I watched the very touching and inspiring concert with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, which was on my local CBS station. When I turned the TV back on later to set something to tape, it was still on that station and there was some kind of paid-for religious hour on this network station. And in the literally thirty seconds that I watched, it ran headlines, “Collapsing economy.” “Chaos..” Cancel Culture” “What do we do? Where do we turn?” I had no interest in seeing what faux religious/right-wing political/we want your money, answer they would have, but the very fact of this program, and others like it, suffusing the airwaves, was disconcerting in itself. That, or a version of it, is what far too many people are being bombarded with every day. And there is a lot of money behind it.

My Favorite Sondheim

Steven Sondheim died today. He was 91. He was a man of many words and By that I mean his song lyrics were dense. Sweeny Todd exhausted me. Not A Day Goes By from Send in the Clowns is a underappreciated ballad. But my favorite Sondheim song is this one from Side by Side by Sondheim. This version is by Laura Bruckmann. Sometimes I sing it when no one is around.

Completely OT: Invasion

Look, I realize there are a lot of important things happening in the world. I’m not unaware or indifferent. I still listen to podcasts. But for some reason, although psychologists, sociologists and political philosophers can explain what is happening and how the bad guys are manipulating people, they haven’t proposed any solutions. That’s because there are no solutions in which reason prevails. We can not communicate using language. The affected are being subsumed into something else entirely. There aren’t even that many people being high jacked. It’s location that is making the takeover possible in this country. Our vulnerable flaws are structural combined with something primordial.

But enough of that. Let’s talk about Invasion, a series about an alien invasion on Apple TV.

This is unlike most of the War of the Worlds or Cloverfield invasion stories. Those movies are non stop, heart clutching, action scene after action scene that leaves the viewer physically drained long before the movie ends. Invasion is about four characters and the effect of the invasion on their lives. These characters were in the midst of their own personal journeys when the invasion begins and their life trajectories continue on those paths even after the aliens have landed.

We’re now two episodes from the end of the first season and the series has been getting mixed reviews. The things that makes me love it seem to be the very things that make reviewers hate it. It’s not full of 15 minute long action sequences. There are episodes where tension and action happen. I think it was episode six where Aneesha, one of the main characters, has what looks like a horror movie “killer in the house” experience that she barely survives after her getaway car gets stuck in the mud and the killer jumps on the windshield. But the action is part of the narrative and not like The Walking Dead horde meets the survivors twice an episode. It’s more an explanation than a plot device.

The reviewers don’t think that one episode of frantic terror and non-stop action is enough. No, all of the episodes should be that way. It’s not enough to see the smoking ruins of cities. We should have seen the destruction in all its building toppling, buses falling off bridges into to river as our hero’s jump from moving vehicle to moving vehicle glory. In short, we have to see the invasion like a 14 year old boy wants to see an invasion. All show runners know that 14 year old boys are incredibly narcissistic so if the entertainment industry doesn’t completely revolve around their tastes and the Marvel universe action movies they (and we) are accustomed to, then the whole thing must be a piece of crap and a waste of time. Reviewer after reviewer whine that “there is no action!” in the latest episode. It’s BORING them, as if there is only one way of telling an invasion story and Apple is breaking all the roolz!!! How could this invasion story actually be interesting if Jayden and Dylan are not its target audience??

Instead, we have a slow build and a slow burn. The action is realistic. People in the suburbs aren’t around when the alien godzillas rip apart the city. They’re in their developments wondering what the heck just fell in the cul de sac. Or they’re school children who survive a bus crash in the English countryside and have a Lord of the Flies weekend as they waste their time establishing a pecking order instead of getting themselves out of the crater they find themselves in. It’s a soldier stranded in Afghanistan after a mysterious whirlwind separates him from the rest of his battalion. Or the Japanese space flight director who loses her wife who is on space station when it encounters a “Wajo”. The space station disintegrates but the wajo, wajo, wajo message continues to send.

Each character has a personal obstacle. A wife finds her husband has been cheating on her, got his girlfriend pregnant, and is planning to leave her when the invasion happens. She abandoned a medical career for this asshole and now she finds herself having to save his life on more than one occasion. The soldier is trying desperately to return to his wife in the states but he knows his relationship with her is over. The English schoolboy, the closest character we have to an actual 14 year old boy, has suffered from epilepsy but it turns out that his brain was actually looking for a frequency, the epilepsy was just static. The Japanese flight director overcomes her grief at losing her wife by channeling it into making contact with the alien hive mind.

Each character holds a piece of the puzzle on how to defeat the aliens but they are only now beginning to discover what those pieces are. The question is, will they be able to solve the puzzle before time runs out for them?

Does that question mean something to the rest of us in our own quiet lives watching a different invasion? Do we have the right weapons and instinct to turn this around? Will be make contact and compare notes with each other before the aliens eliminate us? Do we still have time?

These are things that 14 year old boys aren’t generally good at figuring out without superpowers and explosions. But it’s more realistic, human and existential in the end. It’s not a series for adolescents. It’s for the grown ups.

Omicron

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! I hope you are all well and recovering from an excess of butterfat and tryptophan.

Speaking of tryptophan, some of you may have heard of the discovery of a new Covid variant that originated in Botswana or Covid B.1.1529. The various news media sources are reporting a “horrific number of mutations”.

Yes, first they scare you into a self-imposed lockdown and then they tell you they’re going to keep a close eye on it because it might not have more than a few cases.

Omg. What should we believe??

Well, if my MacBook Pro wasn’t a decade old, I’d fire it up to take a look at the sequences and structure because it depends on where those mutations are located, how different they are from the original Covid structure sequence and how different they are from the vaccine sequences.

Let’s take that one at a time.

The mutations are located on the spike protein. 32 mutations are a lot but the spike protein is hundreds of amino acids in length.

Those mutations could make it easier for the spike protein to latch onto cells, though it’s hard to imagine that it would be more efficient than the delta variant.

The mutations could be “conservative”. That means a mutation is similar to the original amino acid and doesn’t change the structural integrity or function of the protein in any significant way. Sometimes the mutations do make a difference as in the case of delta. But sometimes, just a single non-conserved mutation in the right place can screw up the protein making it more floppy or closing off an area that makes it harder to interact with the target. If you have 32, that could make it a really screwed up protein and not in a more infectious way.

But what about the vaccine? Could these mutations make the vaccines less effective? Yeah, this is a possibility. If the mutations are different enough, then the protein segments that Pfizer and Moderna have included in their vaccines might not trigger the production of the right antibodies. The genius of the mRNA vaccine technology is that they can be changed relatively easily. There could be a new vaccine on the horizon sooner than you think. And there is usually a pattern to which amino acids are more apt to mutate than others. So you can probably make some predictions.

So, does omicron freak me out? A little. It just demonstrates how important it is for us to get the rest of the world vaccinated asap so variants do not arise. On the other hand, it’s not like we don’t know how to slow down the rate of transmission by wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines.

I’ve always wondered why we greet each other with a variation of “how are you?” in so many languages. It never really made much sense to me since it seemed like a formality. No one really expects us to go into detail about how we are. But it makes sense to me now. There were times in the past when knowing the state of the health of people you met was vitally important. I’m watching all the curtsying and bowing in Jane Austen adaptations with new eyes.

You can never be too careful.

Nursery Rhymes

Apropos of absolutely nothing that I could think of, this childhood rhyme came into my head. “A tisket, a tasket/ a green and yellow basket/ I wrote a letter to my love/ and on the way I lost it/ I lost it…” I probably had not recalled that little poem for many years, but they stay with one, somewhere in memory.

I never knew any more of it, I don’t think. Maybe that was all there was. But while this might seem strange, as a little boy I used to puzzle over those nursery rhymes. as if they were about something, maybe something important. I remember feeling bad about this poem; the person wrote a nice letter, and then he lost it. I have a certain propensity to lose things. I wondered if he ever got the letter back, probably not. Just gone. Maybe his love would never know.

As an only child for seven years, with my parents both working after I was two or so, I did have a lot of time to think about such things. I remember thinking, “What does ‘Hi, Ho, the Derry O’ mean?” I was probably not the only child to wonder what a tuffet was, and I didn’t think I would like curds and whey. I wondered about Mary’s lamb following her to school. I loved plums, so I thought that Little Jack Horner was fortunate to have nabbed a plum in his pie. I was very concerned about the pussy which fell into the well; how could that happen?

I pondered the meaning of “Hey, Diddle Diddle/ The Cat and the Fiddle/ The cow jumped over the moon/ The little dog laughed to see such sport/ And the dish ran away with the spoon.” How could a cow jump over the moon? Dishes and spoons could not ambulate. And what did the cat and the fiddle part have to do with any of this?

I am not saying that I believed that everything that was described in the nursery rhymes was actually real. But I greatly pondered why these rhymes were written. Did they have a meaning? What was the writer trying to say?

I have thought from time to time about “Mary, Mary, quite contrary/How does your garden grow?/ With silver bells and cockle shells/ And pretty maids all in row.” That had to have meant something. It is such a haunting rhyme. It has to be about something else. Bells and shells and maids cannot grow in a real garden. Is the rhyme telling us something about a real Mary? “Bloody Mary,” English Queen, and the sister of the later Queen Elizabeth? She was a tormented person. Mary of Scotland? Was the mention of the maids meant to imply lesbianism? Or are they ladies in waiting?

You could research it, and read that the first known published version of that rhyme was in 1744, almost two centuries after the two famous Queen Marys. But that does not assure that one could not have been the original subject. More research might show that some hypothesize that there is religious imagery, maybe even about the schism between Catholics and Protestants. Or a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus in the New Testament.

The haunting thing about such rhymes is that we often do not know the origin, which might have come out of jealousy, spite, admiration, insinuation. That origin is obscured, and then we have centuries of little children repeating the rhyme.

Who or what was Humpty Dumpty? Charles I of England? A cannon his forces used? When did London Bridge fall down? Who is the fair lady to be locked up?

Agatha Christie knew the power of nursery rhymes, and she titled some of her murder mystery novels based on them “Hickory Dickory Dock.” “A Pocketful of Rye.” “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.” “Five Little Pigs.” (based on “One little pig went to market…” I was so innocent, that I thought the piggie was going shopping). “Three Blind Mice.” (that one always upset me, with its gratuitous cruelty).

Dame Agatha knew that the juxtaposition of what might seem to be an innocent children’s rhyme, with dark motives and acts, could be very unsettling. Sometimes the rhyme would be played out in some way in the story, sometimes it was just a bit of backdrop.

But those were great titles to pick up and read for the first time. There was a sense of ominousness which the title created, even before the story began. And usually the novels began harmlessly enough, before the darker events occurred. So like the nursery rhyme can be initially seen as innocuous, but one might then consider more unsettling aspects of it, so did the stories potentially follow that path.

Now, what may seem very obvious to you, but never was so much to me, is that most of the rhymes were just rhymes. They could be alliterative or assonative, or with interesting imagery. They may mean nothing at all beyond the words. The mouse never ran up the clock. Dishes do not run away with spoons. There was no Johnny and no fair that he stayed too long at. But then again what happened to all those people who went to Widecombe fair, with a grey mare? And there is an elegantly scary movie from 1951, “So Long at the Fair.”

The old nursery rhymes do have a power. They can be lighthearted, or perhaps not. Which are which? Their brevity almost inevitably causes one to wonder about them, because it is never all spelled out, some of them just end. We have all read stories or seen movies where a few lines, or even one letter on a torn scrap of paper offer the key to an otherwise indecipherable set of events. What was he trying to tell us?

We hear or read something once, and the nature of how it sounds or the images it creates, does not vanish. It has been passed down through hundreds of years. Why? There is virtually never a definitive explanation as to why the words of the rhyme are what they are. Maybe if there were, it would be dated, and locked into a particular period, like marching songs from wars hundreds of years ago which no one sings now.

But simple but evocative words can seem to be about something deeper and perhaps archetypal. Or maybe we wish that we could go back in time for a brief period, and solve the mystery. Maybe we can rescue the lady from the tower, or restore Humpty-Dumpty, or find Johnny for the woman missing him. Otherwise, they might remain as shards of collective memory which we cannot put together and mend.

QAnon Offers Its Followers an Escape from Insignificance

You may have seen or read a little bit about that even weirder, if that is possible, fringe of the QAnon cult, which went down to Dallas awaiting the return of John F. Kennedy , Jr., who was then going to announce his support for Donald Trump to return to office. No other comment on this particular insane delusion is necessary.

What may be worthwhile, is to try to comprehend why so many people have eagerly flocked to the QAnon insanity. Not that we want to “understand them” in some New Age way, but they are out there, and some of them are probably dangerous, and so we should seek to figure out why they joined, why they persist in it, and why the conspiracy theories and the delusions seem to increase in scope.

Of course, that is what they say about hard drugs, the very limited knowledge of which I have obtained from reading about. Supposedly, an addict needs a larger dose, or an increase in effect, as the earlier levels do not continue to give them what they are seeking. That is a physiological effect, but there is also the psychological component, the search for a greater impact, a more powerful vision, something to exceed the previous experiences. This would be more common with something like LSD, than with the opiates, where the physiological effect is what is sought.

Cults are not hard drugs, but many people, including those who write about such things, like to use the analogy. The team “addiction” is overbroadly used, I think, with regard to so many things, but it may be the easiest way for us to try to understand what is going on.

I am not minimizing that aspect, but I like to try to understand it in more psychological and existential terms. Why do people join what we outside them call cults? Why are there all these literally insane conspiracy theories being voiced and believed, with regard to virtually every subject? Why do they, instead of going away, seem to morph into even more bizarre and unsettling “theories”?

One of my earlier essays here was with regard to QAnon, and some of my thoughts as to why various people are drawn to it. Without ever in the slightest sympathizing with these people, I wrote that I can perceive a certain appeal in being part of a group which agrees with you, where you can share your weirdest thoughts and get praise for them. And then the excitement of imagining that you are learning and discovering exciting new facts, so much better than dealing with the humdrum of daily life, particularly for those who essentially have no intellectual stimulation.

It is both ironic and inevitable that what we call “The Information Age” or “The Computer Age” should have led to this. I am far from knowledgeable about how computers work, but I think I can understand at least some of the cultural effects. What computers have done is to provide a different view of the world, akin to looking at the other end of the telescope. A world which seemed so immeasurable and diverse, now contracts so that one can theoretically communicate with anyone in it.

And while it might provide some people with the sense that they can have “friends” all over the world, it also creates the unsettling sense in people of being mundane. There are ten billion people or so out there, with similar thoughts, similar goals, the same tastes in music or desserts. That may initially be satisfying to know, but it ultimately could cause one to not feel very special, particularly if one lacks much of a sense of self.

And most people want to feel special in some way, not just be a metaphorical grain of sand on the beach. And if one indeed has never had much of an intellectual life, has never thrilled to being able to understand how the politics, social life, and art of a particular historical era all fit together; or had the excitement of finding a theme in a novel which ties it together in a new way, there is very little to provide the sense of uniqueness that one might crave. Of course, some paint their hair or skin a variety of colors, to fulfill a need for being special, but styles get copied very quickly, and then the excitement might go away.

But if one could join a group of people who essentially shared your view of what is going on in the world, and how it needs to be fixed, that can be rewarding. And then, when there is a group which avidly anticipates the new revelations of a mysterious person who calls himself “Q,” because he has a “Q Clearance,” which he says is the highest government clearance one can have, it becomes even more exciting.

And when “Q” tells his followers that what the rest of the people out there think or believe, is totally wrong, naive, and stupid, this is really thrilling. All those people out there: the professors , the pundits, the intellectuals, your neighbor, are totally wrong and unaware. But you, and your group, are being given a peek into the inner sanctum. All that sense you always had, that things are not what they seem; that there are shadowy malevolent figures pulling the strings, and cheating you out of those things you always knew you deserved, but which keep going to other people, was right!

You can’t wait for the next “Q Crumb.” And if his predictions do not come true, well, maybe they soon will; or they get changed into an even more exciting prediction; and the other one not materializing, was because the evil people interfered; but do not worry, Trump and his closest acolytes were prepared, and it all will result in an even more climactic result. In some sense, this is not unlike the promises of the con men, which I wrote about recently, but this is in a form which doesn’t look like the standard con, and it also has the advantage of playing into the preconceived views of its marks.

And what is the goal of Mr. Q? Well, I don’t know that there is just one of them, or if it is a group of people, or just what. I am sure that money goes to them, so that is one immediate and timeworn goal. And there may be something more insidious, an effort to control many people and get them to destroy civilization, to the extent that certain people will take over all the levers of power.

Who knows? It may have started as one thing, and evolved to another. I would guess that it was sort of a game for whoever started it. There are so many marks out there, people who pride themselves on being suspicious of every single thing they were told in school, from the moon landing, to the various assassinations of world leaders, to scientific findings, or health advisories; and yet wholly buy into anti-scientific, illogical nonsense.

But believing in it makes them special. It restores that sense of importance and power that they lost in the process of getting older and entering the world of disappointments and subtle insults, and things they don’t like or understand. They are special. Their group is special.

Ludicrously, they decide that Donald Trump, one of the stupidest, most venal and cruel people who ever existed, is the savior sent down to give them what they deserve. He will punish the devils in human form who keep telling them things they don’t want to hear, or helping people they hate. He, this bloated, sick-looking man whose virtually every body part is fake; who has never opened a book in his life, other than Hitler’s manifesto; who takes what he wants, as they so much want to do, is the person whom the god they profess to believe in, has sent down to fulfill their desires and save the world.

There is a strong element of religious fanaticism in these beliefs. Also racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, anti-knowledge, anti-science; anger, hatred, violent fantasies. In regard to how Trump gives them an exemplification and validation of these impulses, he is indeed what they have wished for–except that he is the projection of who they are. They just never got to encounter anyone as loathsome to the people they hate, so they love him for it. It could have been someone else, but there he is. They have been prepared for this by decades of endless propaganda and hatred spewed out on radio and television.

Without their Q-Cult, they do not have anything to fulfill a certain part of them. And it’s fun. Most people slog along, worrying about bills, or living expenses, wondering how to give themselves a modicum of pleasure each day. The Q folks wake up excited; what will they learn today? When will Hillary and Nancy be burned at the stake? When will there be mass executions on the White House lawn? When will famous people of the past return to complete the circle; destroy their enemies, and bestow upon their group all the things they have longed for? That is something to look forward to wake up to each day.

So it can be compared to an addiction, or it can be viewed as adult children playing detective, or superhero. In the superhero stories, they mostly fight for the good, though I suppose that some of them have flaws. In the cults of the Far Right, there is virtually no moral responsibility, you can do what you want. Violence is also a drug, it seems for many of them to be the only fulfillment they can attain.

It is far from a pleasant thing to think about for the holiday season, but we don’t have to dwell on it. Just be aware of it, and try to comprehend out what people, and what psychological needs, are behind it. There have always been weird belief systems, and cults, but the Age of the Internet has served as the catalyst to bring together the crackpots and haters and sociopaths.

And where there are marks and suckers, there are always those who will exploit them. I have always believed that if everyone was required to read many classic novels in school, many more people would gain insights and empathy into the human condition, which is the antidote against the poison of ignorant credulousness and hate which “Q” and his followers share.

Even with all that, one can have a Happy Thanksgiving!

“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”

“On July 7, 1784, a young man named Richard Corbett stood in London’s main criminal court, the Old Bailey. He was not there as a spectator or witness. He was the accused, indicted for arson. The evidence was presented, then the judge summarized the case for the jury. At the end of the summary, the judge gave this instruction: ‘If there is a reasonable doubt, in that case the judgment ought to be decided in favor of the prisoner.'”

This is from a recent book entitled “The Origins of Reasonable Doubt: Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial,” by Yale Law School Professor James Q. Whitman, who is described in a Chicago Law Review article as an expert in legal history and comparative law. Professor Whitman recounts the origins and history of the “reasonable doubt” standard, which of course did not just pop up out of nowhere, it was a result of political, cultural and legal history.

Very interestingly, Professor Whitman suggests that “Reasonable Doubt” “is the last vestige of a vanished, pre-modern Christian world,” that the term was intended not to protect criminal defendants, but for “the souls of the jurors,” and that the standard “was intended to make conviction easier, by reassuring anxious jurors that they would not be damned for voting to spill the defendant’s blood. Jurors could safely convict as long as their hesitations did not rise to the standards of reasonable doubt.”

The law review article which reviews the book, goes on to note that Whitman states that “the concept of reasonable doubt is fundamental and universally familiar…but in practice it is vexingly difficult to interpret and apply.” Judges in common law “were forbidden to explain the meaning of the phrase.” And this prohibition remains in force in some American jurisdictions, such as Illinois, where the state supreme court declared in 1992 that “neither the court nor counsel should attempt to define the reasonable doubt standard.” Professor Wilson says that the result is that that modern jurors are “understandably baffled” when trying to apply the standard to the facts at hand.

This is fascinating, and I am almost compelled to read the book. I never practiced criminal law; I took the requisite law school courses in it, which I found very interesting. And I have mulled the origins of this famous and immensely crucial term, which we all know, if even just from watching TV shows, or more commonly now, real trials on television

What does “beyond a reasonable doubt” as necessary to vote for conviction, actually mean? It is obviously far greater than “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is generally the standard for civil trials. That term at least theoretically means “more than 50%.” What percentage does “beyond a reasonable doubt” imply? I have read some suggest that it means “about 97% likelihood of guilt,” but that is obviously not quantifiable; what does 97% , as opposed to 86%, mean in concrete terms?

Note that the “reasonable person” is a standard usually applied in psychological aspects of tort law; were his or her actions consonant with that of a reasonable person, however subjective that might be for a judge or jury to try to figure out. Apparently it is as much as the lawmakers and judges were able to come up with as to standards and thresholds.

We are seeing many criminal trials for murder play out on a national stage. The police officers involved in the George Floyd case. Kyle Rittenhouse. Ahmaud Arbery. It seems that each of these, and the other recent ones, have taken on an aspect so that they are not just about an act or acts, not only about a particular situation, but a referendum on matters of race, access to guns, rights of self-defense. And that makes it so much more difficult for the public to weave through the political and cultural import, to only focus on the facts of the case, to the extent that we are allowed to hear about them.

And in the Rittenhouse trial, most particularly, we see how much the trial judge can affect the deliberations, by not allowing terms to be used which the jury might react to, or by other rulings. Judges always are convinced that they are following the law; and in criminal trials, trying to protect the defendant’s rights.

But It seemed as if the judge in the Rittenhouse case, Judge Bruce Schroeder, went out of his way to favor the defendant; though I did not watch all of the trial, nor am I familiar with all the legal precedents in Wisconsin law. So I am simply applying my outside view, as other people following it do. On the other hand, judges should not be protected or insulated from outside views. I have met enough of them; they are just people; some more learned or scrupulously fair-minded than others, but not immune to emotions, or possibly hidden bias, or even political viewpoints, which might influence their rulings.

To potentially protect against that, is why every defendant in a criminal trial has the right to a trial by jury. All twelve jurors have to vote “guilty” for there to be a conviction. Of course we know that there are “jury experts” who have turned it into a science, the ability to glean how a potential juror will vote, as if the outcome of most trials are now virtually predetermined. You only need one, or at most two, to hang the jury, though the prosecution could retry the case, as in the Menendez trials.

I am usually in the position of saying that we need to respect the outcome of trials, because of the importance of our legal system, even with its flaws. We don’t want a potentate making the decisions, nor a mob, as in the French Reign of Terror. Our system, was intended to protect defendants, who were regularly given no rights, and then hanged, in the Middle Ages and beyond.

Even so, I am not happy with the results of some major trials, though I do not presume to know all the evidence, nor do I watch them for more than a few minutes. We don’t want people trying to overturn the system, because they don’t like a verdict. But the system has flaws, and there has never been a doubt that some defendants are afforded more rights than others.

It is hard to convict people of homicide, though certainly not impossible. It should be; if we are going to err, we would rather err on the side of not convicting. As with most aspects of society, there are always people trying to take advantage of, or game the system, to fix the odds in their favor. What to do about this, is obviously frustratingly difficult.

I thought that Kyle Rittenhouse was guilty of being an arrogant right-wing jerk who went across state lines with an assault weapon, wanting a chance to use it, and then doing so; and then apparently flashing white power signs. I did not watch much of the trial, I did not think that he would be convicted, particularly with Wisconsin having a rather extreme self-defense law. I didn’t see how he would be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, by twelve jurors.

As it turned out, he was found not guilty by all of them. And that upsets me, particularly in view of the political exploitation being made of it by the Far Right. Rittenhouse’s attorney decried that. But that won’t stop it, of course. We have so many major trials turning into proxies for political and cultural issues. That is sadly unavoidable, and further damages the legal system.

I have no definitive answers as to how to fix it, and I doubt that any person who actually has some knowledge of how laws and our legal system work, does, because it is so difficult to precisely change one aspect, without damaging another aspect–unless of course we become totally “outcome-determinative,” where nothing matters but the ultimate verdict. But I do know that If we have certain defendants who are immune from being convicted; if there are people who now feel that they are above the law, and that “everything is permitted,” as with Raskolnikov in Dostoevesky’s “Crime and Punishment,” then our legal system will end up being as fake and hollow as it was for all those centuries in Europe.

“Cutter’s Way,” A Great, and Very Underrated Film

Some movies, even if one likes them, are probably one-time experiences. A few others you want to see multiple times over the years. Then there are those very rare films which simply stay with you. It is a combination of the scenes, the acting, the dialogue; and then the import of the film, what it might be saying, even though it is, probably deliberately, not so obvious as to that last aspect.

“Cutter’s Way,” a 1981 film which many have not heard of, is that for me. It stays with you, it makes you think, and feel its emotional impact. I will share a little bit about it with you.

The film was based on a novel by Newton Thornburg, called “Cutter and Bone.” I have this book; I had started to read it, maybe even before I saw the film. But I just read a bit of it before putting it down. It seems to be a very hard-boiled noir about two friends named Alexander Cutter and Richard Bone, who live in Santa Barbara, and are solving a mystery of some sort. The language and scenes are rather violently graphic. Writing a good modern noir novel is very hard; some of them want to go over the top with language, violence, and dark cynicism. Maybe I will give the book a try again, but probably not, because it might somehow detract from the movie.

But the movie is something special. Perhaps it was, somewhat similarly to “Chinatown,” a result of the combination of American sensibilities directed by a European, in this case the Czechoslovakian-born, highly regarded director Ivan Passer. The screenplay was written by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin, and there is a poetry to it, somewhat like in my favorite, “Out of the Past,” though the lines and metaphors here are darker. Frankly, with the rarest of exceptions, no one writes scripts like this any more. There are lines which you don’t forget, most, but not all, spoken by Cutter.

The movie starts with a haunting scene. Jack Nitzsche’s brilliant score’s theme plays, as you see a parade in beautiful Santa Barbara, taking place in slow motion. The effect creates a dreamlike atmosphere, and a sense of haunting memory, but almost as if the scene isn’t real. It is real, but the movie does deal with a sense of memory versus illusion. I think that it is one of the best opening credit movie scenes that I have ever seen. The movie has to be good after that!, and it is.

“Cutter’s Way” is about three people who have a long history together. We learn some of the backstory near the end, but we can figure most of it out as it goes along. According to Cutter, and there is no reason to disbelieve him, he is from a respected family. His father was a business partner with a man named J.J. Cord, who ultimately cheated and ruined him while becoming perhaps the most powerful person in the city.

Alex married a woman, Maureen (Mo), whom his friend Richard Bone has been attracted to for years. Bone, played by Jeff Bridges, is the classic “golden boy,” handsome, athletic, but with no ambition, and no interest whatsoever in causes. After going to an Ivy League school, his career is now as a sort of semi-gigolo who gets money from women, and who likes to sail, which Alex and Richard’s boyhood friend George, who works for Cord and rents and sells yachts, lets him do. George thinks he would make a great salesman, but that is too much effort for Bone.

Cutter, played by John Heard in a truly bravura performance, went to Vietnam, and came back having lost an arm, a leg, and an eye. He has been compared to Ahab in “Moby-Dick,” with his thirst for vengeance–against something or somebody, essentially everybody who was behind the war, profited by it, took advantage of those who sacrificed in it. He is full of anger, bitterness, regret, and yet a sense of humor; and occasionally you can see the person he was, beneath that. He is always entertaining to watch; it is not a morose film, though it is powerful.

I think that Heard should have won the Academy Award for this performance. Yes, it may sometimes be a bit over-the-top, but Heard was such a great actor that he imbues Cutter with something all his own. I believe that Dustin Hoffman was originally slated for the role, but had other commitments; and then the director or producer chose Heard because of seeing him onstage in “Othello.” Heard is one of the most underrated actors of his era. See him in “Chilly Scenes of Winter,” as well, where he is so intelligent and yet vulnerable, in a charming movie with a bittersweet quality.

So there are these three people, Cutter, Bone, and Mo, in this relationship, which really is a vestige of what it probably once was. Mo has become a sort of ruminative semi-alcoholic, who still loves Cutter, but knows that the relationship is no good. Bone makes semi-passes at her, and tries a little to see that Cutter does not get into trouble with his acerbic belligerence.

Then, on the day that is first shown over the opening credits, Bone, trying to drive home in the rain from a night with a rich woman, sees a car stop beside a trash can, and someone get out and throw something in. He thinks little about it, until the next day, when we learn that it was the body of a teenage girl. Bone is initially suspected of the murder, but he clearly did not do it. The next day, he and Cutter and Mo go outside to watch the Santa Barbara Founders Parade, which is led by J.J. Cord, riding his horse. Bone thinks that this is the man he saw, throwing what turned out to be a body in the trash can.

Instantly, Cutter thinks that Cord is the murderer. He comes up with a theory as to why he did it: he picked up the woman, they were going to have sex, he couldn’t perform, and she laughed at him, so he killed her. And he is going to get away with it, just like in Vietnam, just like all those people got away with things in that era. And Cutter is going to try to get him: blackmail him, and then when he pays up because he is guilty, they will turn him in. At least that is what he says to Bone and Mo about it.

The victim’s sister, played by an appealing and sexy Ann Dusenberry, wants to join in this plan. They try to get Bone to help, but he wants no part of it, keeps telling Alex that he is imagining things out of his own psychological desires to get someone.

And so the story develops. It is possible that Dusenberry’s part was somewhat cut, because she just disappears from the movie, which is a shame, because she is very good. But it scarcely spoils the film. Among the many themes of the movie, is the push-and-pull between Cutter and Bone. Alex is determined, angry, bitter, and wants someone to pay. Bone likes his indolent life, does not want to commit to anything, particularly if it puts him at risk, since Cord is very rich and powerful. Cutter calls it “walking away.” “Do your walk, Bone, like you always do.”

What makes this film so wonderful, besides the acting, the dialogue, and the forward pace, is that there is no simple message handed to the viewer, though there ultimately is indeed a point of view. All of these characters are flawed, but they are real and involving. And things do come to a climax, with an unforgettable last part; and to me, a perfect final scene. The film does say something, and the ending is as good as that of almost any great dramatic play.

“Cutter’s Way” is of course to some extent about Vietnam, and what it did to the American psyche. Trying to explain his motivations to Bone, Cutter says, “I watched the war on TV like everyone else. Thought the same things. You know what you thought when you saw a woman with a baby lying face down in a ditch. The first one was real easy. “I hate the United States of America.” You see the same damn thing the next day, and you move up a notch. “There is no god.” But you know what you finally say, what everybody finally says, no matter what? “I’m hungry.” “I’m hungry, Rich, I’m f—–‘ starved.” And Bone says, “So you pick out somebody, you blackmail him.” Cutter says “I didn’t pick him out, you did. And he isn’t somebody, he’s responsible.”

Some have compared this to Ahab’s statements about the whale Moby-Dick. I don’t know if that is intended, though Cutter does have a wooden leg. But it has been an occasionally recurring fictional theme, or archetype, if one likes that term. This movie works on several levels, and most important, it does work.

There is a term, “neo-noir,” which has been used to refer to movies that have some of the aspects of film noir, but were from a period after the “noir cycle,” which was from about 1947-1956, and are not in black and white. Some people like to use the term a good deal, but I think that there were few great “neo-noirs.” The three I think are the best are “Chinatown,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. “Dark City,” by Alex Proyas, which was a brilliant inversion of noir, in that the noir world we are shown was artificially created by other entities, perhaps drawn to those themes. And then “Cutter’s Way,” which many have not heard of, and I don’t even know if it ever has been shown on television.

But in my opinion, it is a great film, one of a kind, really, though it does have some echoes of “Chinatown.” It is not a perfect movie, but what is? (Well, “Casablanca,” “Vertigo,” and “Out of the Past,” but that’s just my opinion, of course). “Cutter’s Way” has great acting, brilliant dialogue, a very atmospheric score, and causes one to remember and think about the past and its echoes in the present. What more can one ask of any film?