As for the rest, I'm mainly just hanging around waiting for the books to come out. Not a lot to write about there. I'm reading, doing very little writing, taking the opportunity to grab DVDs from Netflix while they're still trafficking in physical media, and, well, that's about it.
But it was that last bit that inspired me to write something today. A friend recommended a film, suspecting that I might have a reaction to it. Since none of the things I actually want to see on my Netflix queue are coming very quickly, this one got delivered last week and I watched it last night.
Having been elsewhere during his ascent as a filmmaker (although I think I got screwed by Mother Jones under his leadership), I'd never seen this one, but the premise intrigued me: Moore visits ("invades") a bunch of mostly-European countries, "stealing" good ideas to take back home as the spoils of his invasion. Thus, we learn about why Finland's educational system rates as the highest in the world, how workers in Italy get so much time off but still manage to be productive and competitive with other economies, why the French take school lunches and sex education so seriously, and so on. So I watched it, and fired off this e-mail to the guy who suggested I watch it. I've edited it somewhat, but this is mostly first-draft, top-of-the-head stuff.
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On your recommendation, I checked out that Michael Moore film last night. Knew most of it, of course. Some random comments.
As you might expect, I looked for counter-arguments and/or hidden nuances behind the rosy pictures he presented. Here are a few of them.
FRANCE: Despite the nutritional benefits of those school cafeterias, he tiptoed around the big issue, which is that they also have to accommodate Jewish and Muslim students by observing dietary laws. The good news is, Kashruth and Hallal are almost identical. The bad news is, nativist right-wingers are using this as a wedge: several schools in more right-wing parts of the country have refused to stop serving pork. This became a major issue in Denmark, actually, where the Right is blooming like the Occupation never happened.
ITALY: Yeah, that lifestyle looks good, but a lot of Italians don't pay the taxes that support it and it's a good question how much longer they'll be able to keep going unless some serious enforcement among the titans of industry takes place. On the other hand, Berlusconi is obviously dying, and I would imagine his type of "legit" "businessman" (ie, non-mafia) is also becoming a thing of the past, since there's no postwar economy to build up and make obscene profits from these days.
GERMANY: Yes, they're hyper-vigilant about any possibility that fascism will return. So much so that neighbors like Austria and Denmark worry about the effect on free speech and the foreigner-in-the-street wonders why the few undeniably positive things that can be said about German culture and history are so rarely mentioned. In fact, that's one of the things that made life there finally unbearable for me. Well, that and the food and the weather. But the fact that they've hidden the remains of the Old Synagogue in Berlin always spoke volumes to me: starting in the 18th century, it spawned a revolution in Jewish thinking, leading to a renaissance in German intellectual life, German business, and, not coincidentally, the birth of Reform Judaism. But not a peep about that on site, and Libeskind's much-vaunted Jewish Museum, like much contemporary German thinking, continues to present Jews as victims.
(I'm having zero luck finding the photos that went along with this blog post and hope they're still recoverable, and the post makes far less sense without them, but whaddya gonna do?)
NORWAY, FINLAND & SLOVENIA: One thing missing here is the lives the ordinary people live, and the spaces in which they live them. Mile after mile of postwar identi-housing, very small living quarters, dreary public spaces. Of course, some of this is inherent in the physical properties of the countries themselves. My guess is that prison in Norway isn't quite as cheerful in February as it was when Moore and his crew visited, and yes, the old town of Ljubljana sure is pretty but I'd guess that a ten-minute walk in any direction from the central square puts you smack in the middle of a bunch of Tito-era kleenex-box buildings. And it's nice that the Finns enforce equality the way they do, but it's a very small population they're dealing with, so micro-solutions work.
TUNISIA: Moore's surprise ending may well present an over-optimistic view of the situation here, the one country in the film that I don't have as much first- or second-hand knowledge as I'd need to comment with any authority. The reactionary Islamist forces aren't as benign as the old man with bad teeth who comments here, especially the ones operating out of the country's neighbors like Algeria and Morocco. My optimism is a bit more guarded than what's on display here.
The film seems to naively suggest that these solutions -- made, as several Europeans note, out of American ideas (Thomas Dewey, among others, I imagine) -- could work if applied here. The problem with that is that they *are* in fact American ideas, and they've been tried and discarded here. Not always for good or even desirable reasons, or with enough of a trial period to make a reasonable assessment of their viability or worth, but there is definitely a large, well-funded, powerful opposition to them. Barring a catastrophe, our grandchildren will die of old age before even modest progress will be made along those lines. In other words, I continue to believe that this country is doomed. Self-doomed, at that.
As I am not the first to mention, Moore is a very clever polemicist and propagandist. It's just that it feels nice to be in the choir being preached to. For a change.
Moore does not look well. He's gargantuan, and it's all fat. Expect we'll be losing him soon.
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If you think the above touches on my ongoing deep ambivalence about my repatriation to the US, well, you don't win a prize. For a long time after my last blog post, way back there in April after returning from France and Spain, I struggled to make clear an idea that had formed during the trip, and finally it came to me. I had returned from a civil society to a highly uncivil one. This goes way beyond the events of this past week here, the various cop shootings and shootings of cops, or the candidacy of the most manifestly unsuited candidate for President in American history. For me the annoyances are far more granular: the way people drive, the astounding amount of self-absorption, the refusal to give an inch in compromise, even when all that's gained is getting to the red light faster. I try not to let it get to me, and I fail a lot. I got too used to something different, and it's not that I'm having trouble adjusting, it's that I resolutely don't want to adjust.
I'm pretty sure by the time we figure that all out it'll be way too late. As for me, I have two books coming up that I have to promote, as well as another one to plan and, I hope, write. So for now, I have to stay where I am, get out when I can, and put one foot in front of the other. Live like the alcoholics, as I always tell people, one day at a time. And plan my escapes wisely: I may well be house sitting in Jersey City and then go to Montreal next month, and I'm planning a trip to Spain at the end of September and the beginning of October. Then back to taking it as it comes. Which is okay, given that I'm living somewhere I don't particularly like. But hell, I've done that before, and at least I'm pretty capable of expressing myself in its native language.