Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No more questions for the prisoner

The Privy Council was anxious to discover who had incited him to commit the murder [of the Duke of Buckingham], suspecting the 'Puritans', but Felton insisted that he had acted alone and had not told anyone of his intentions. In the face of this insistence William Laud, then Bishop of London and emerging as an influential anti-Puritan, threatened him with the rack. But Felton was clearly made of stern stuff, and even though he was a 'person of little stature' he had 'a stout and revengeful spirit'. In these tense moments he demonstrated considerable sang froid, replying that if he were put to the rack:
he could not tell whom he might nominate in the extremity of torture, and if what he should say then must go for truth, he could not tell whether his Lordship (meaning the Bishop of London) or which of their Lordships he might name, for torture might draw unexpected things from him.
After this there were no more questions for the prisoner.
- Michael Braddick, God's Fury, England's Fire


Monday, April 27, 2009

Thanks for deep pockets poorly guarded

As plot devices go, super thieves and con men are the non-scary equivalents of serial killers: Endlessly fascinating but overused and implausible. There are some in real life, but once you've seen fifty variations of the Super Awesome Heist story, or the Brilliant Psychopath Plays Mind Games With Detective story, the spell breaks.

I almost like Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. It's a Super Awesome Heist story in a fantasy setting. It's well written and intelligent, thus passing a test most fantasy doesn't. It begins strong, and stayed there for the 220 pages I read.

But then I asked myself what it was that I liked about it. It wasn't the characters. I still haven't got a clear idea about Locke Lamora, the con man whose intricate plans to ruin a nobleman appears to be the main plot here. He's just a name on a page. The city is interesting - but that got me thinking about Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber's city of prototypical sardonic thievery, and I remembered how much better in every way his stories were than this. I thought: Why am I reading this? I want to reread Leiber!

I realized that the only thing I enjoyed about this novel was the Super Awesome Heist story, which is just too awesome, too perfect, (although clearly headed for a sudden Complication), and from there it all fell apart. It could have been different. This is the kind of novel I might have read in one sitting on a hot summer day. But it's not to be.


Alien vs Predator

Via Tor.com.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

40's movies marathon - part 1 of .. very many

Jud Süß (1940, Germany) - Oh shit, I just realized I'll be spending the next several months trying to remember how many people had been killed in the war at the time of the movie I'm watching. For instance, at this time, Europe's Jews were still alive. As for the movie, it's well made, and built on a story template that is more familiar than I expected. In a performance reminiscent of the English bad guys in Braveheart, a Jew who dresses like a Regular German worms his way into the confidence of the Duke of Württemberg, and becomes the most powerful man in the state. The Jew's reign of terror ends after he rapes a German girl, which turns the people against him and all his kind. I admit it: I cried. They fucking did it, the bastards. They murdered them all.

The Philadelphia Story (1940, USA) - Katharine Hepburn juggles her fiancee, her ex-husband and a gossip journalist before her second wedding. This is a perfect movie, even though, having now seen this version once and the 1956 remake twice, I am still not sure what's actually going on here. Watched it all.

Gaslight (1940, UK) - A Suspicious Foreigner moves into his murdered aunt's house in London, where he sets out to drive his wife to madness. It's the darker sort of English mystery, with an atmosphere that would fit well to a Poe movie. Watched it all.

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Mannshelter i kvinnekropp og andre forviklingsfarser

Jeg har ikke vært fristet til å lese Stieg Larsson før jeg leste denne kronikken i Aftenposten, hvor Olav Elgvin anklager hovedpersonen, en kvinnelig hacker, for å være et kapitalistisk mannsideal i kvinnekropp. Dette er et spørsmål som fascinerer meg. Vi tar forfatteren på ordet når de påstår at en karakter er mann eller kvinne, men hvis du som leser "lukker øynene", og bare følger med på hva karakteren sier og gjør, får du gjerne et annet inntrykk.

Er Sigourney Weaver i Aliens en kvinnehelt og et feministikon, eller en tradisjonell mannshelt med et politisk korrekt ytre, skapt av mannlige manusforfattere for et mannlig publikum? Går det an å være begge deler? Hva hvis den kvinnelige actionhelten er skrevet av en kvinne, men fremdeles oppfører seg som en tradisjonell mannshelt, som i Mary Gentle's ASH?

Dette gjelder ikke bare kjønn, men også alder: Tenåringene i Veronica Mars ble spilt av 20-somethings, og snakket som middelaldrende manusforfattere. Og bakgrunn: Jeg vet bare om én TV-serie hvor nerdene faktisk snakker som nerder.

Hva er ekte? Hvem gjemmer seg bak masken? Hvem styrer John Malkovich i dag?

Og er det egentlig så farlig? Jeg vil svare: Nei, ikke så lenge man er klar over det. Jeg tror uansett ikke på det klart definerte skillet mellom kjønnene, som feministen Elgvin siterer ser ut til å ønske å opprettholde, og som, i den grad det finnes, forsterkes av stereotype forbilder. Jeg sier derfor ja til det komplette kaos av umulige helter, (og kommer med en anmeldelse av denne Larsson-fyren om ikke så lenge.)

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Goodbye to the 1930's, hello 1940's!

My 1930's movies marathon is over. Now what? What else? The 1940's! Why? Because I'm insane, because it's fun, and because nobody else is doing it.

It's insane because the number of movies available from my Mysterious Disreputable Sources increases sharply for every year of movie history. But as long as I can finish the years in less than real time, I could actually take this pretty far.

What, someone made a good movie this year? Be patient. I'll get around to it.

A reader has requested a list of only the movies that I think are worth watching. I'm tempted, but that kind of misses the point. There are no lists of movies worth watching, and never will be. There are only lists of movies worth watching for me, or you, or someone else. You could pick some of the movies I watched to the end, (which has been and will remain the only way I grade these movies), but who knows what forgotten masterpieces you'll miss out on?

Reading reviews in search of the perfect choice of movie is pointless when you can just get a hundred random movies, and watch them for as long as you're interested, and no longer. (Just remember to get the ones you like from a Non-Mysterious Reputable Source afterwards. Don't be a leech.) The movies you find that way will be your own, in a way some idiot reviewer's favorite never can be.

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30's movies marathon - part 31

The Old Maid (1939, USA) - I just noticed how grotesque Bette Davis's head is. Beautiful but malformed, like a real-life manga character. Oh, and there's a love triangle in the shadow of the American Civil War. Watched: 15 minutes.

Each Dawn I Die (1939, USA) - Journalists vs gangsters. The journalists are the good guys, and the drunk driving frameup isn't very plausible either. Watched: 12 minutes.

The Little Princess (1939, USA) - Gah, Shirley Temple! Watched: 4 seconds.

King of the Underworld (1939, USA) - This gangster movie has cheap written all over it, from the TV drama sets to the not-even-trying Humphrey Boghart. Watched: 7 minutes.

Five Came Back (1939, USA) - It's the prototypical disaster movie: A group of diverse people with Backstories, (including a rabid anarchist), ends up on the same plane, which ends up in the jungle. To judge from the foreshadowing, they'll be running from headhunters next, before at last the Final Five are revealed. Watched: 34 minutes.

Oss baroner emellan (1939, Sweden) - A bored noble fails to pick up a girl on the street, and begins a stalker-like search to find out where she lives. Why is it that behavior that is creepy in real life is romantic in movies, (and vice versa)? Watched: 12 minutes.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And there's a pair of chibi ninjas on my tail

Saturn's Children is Charles Stross's attempt at writing a late-period Heinlein novel: "The older Heinlein, despite the weird icky fetishes and the barking political rants and the self-indulgent shit was nevertheless a more interesting writer than his younger self". Besides, everybody else was doing early-period Heinlein.

The novel Stross pays homage to is Friday, from 1982, a favourite of mine. I've read it three times, and will read it again. I won't reread Saturn's Children, because even a good homage is a shadow of its inspiration. But it is a good homage. Stross has recaptured what made Friday work as a spy thriller, including Heinlein's more charming quirks. But he also does sly jokes at Heinlein's expense, and a major one at Asimov's.

Humanity has gone extinct, and left their robot servants behind. Programmed to obey, the robots have subverted human corporate law into a foundation for aristocracy and slave labor. The Friday in this story is Freya, a sex bot who works as a courier for a secret organization, and gets involved in a rather complex identity confusion plot involving soul backups and robot clones. Those who have read Glasshouse will know what to expect. Here, Stross takes the confusion a little too far.

There's no point in reading Saturn's Children if you haven't read (and enjoyed) Friday - you'll miss all the fun. And I'm not sure why it's a Hugo award nominee - isn't anyone doing anything new? This is just an enjoyable tribute.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 30

The Four Feathers (1939, UK) - On the eve of his first assignment, to quell restless natives in Khartoum, a British officer resigns. Branded a coward by his friends and fiancee, he realizes that they're right, and sets out to the Sudan alone to prove himself through reckless displays of bravery. This is fantastic both as an adventure movie and as a display of the British imperial self-image. A bit unfocused, not to mention implausible and jingoistic, but all its blemishes are interesting blemishes. Watched it all.

The Three Musketeers (1939, USA) - The movie equivalent of a person who laughs at their own jokes. Watched: 8 minutes.

The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle (1939, USA) - Enough with the Fred Astaire and the Ginger Rogers. Enough. Watched: 21 minutes.

Bachelor Mother (1939, USA) - Ginger Rogers (no Astaire, so okay then) is fired right before Christmas, and through an unbelievable confusion of identity finds herself adopting an abandoned child. I don't like where this is heading. Watched: 7 minutes.

Le Jour se Lève (1939, France) - A man has committed murder. Locked, trapped in a room, he recalls how he became a murderer. No that isn't my description, it's the movie's introduction text, but it'll do. Starring Jean Gabin, who dies romantically, (***spoiler apology***). Watched it all.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Anointed by the holy oil of an electoral victory

Why do countries fail? In Wars, Guns and Votes, Paul Collier uses statistics to analyze the factors that influence stability and instability:

- In poor countries (<$7 income per day) democracy makes society more dangerous, not less. Democracy requires accountability and legitimacy to do any good, elections alone are too easily manipulated by powerful leaders.

- Peacekeeping forces are a relatively cheap and effective way to promote stability. So is promises of military aid in case of unrest, such as France used to give to its former colonies.

- Security scales well: Large countries are more stable than small countries.

- Multiethnic countries can be stable if they take care to build a common identity that rises above ethnicity. (Btw, "you should all become just like us" is probably not the right way to do this.) Ethnic voting is one of the chief reasons why democracy fails.

- 40% of all aid indirectly goes to military spending.

- Coups could potentially be very useful, because they may be the only real threat to an incompetent government's power, but in practice they rarely do much good.

- Civil wars cause further civil wars, coups cause further coups.

This is a remarkable book. I had no idea these data were available - and yes this is all based on data, with only a few and clearly marked instances of speculation. I hesitate to recommend Wars, Guns and Votes to pundits, though, because they'll inevitably reduce its careful analysis to partisan talking points.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Er det forskjell på Pirate Bay og Google?

Ja - men den er mindre enn mange tror. Begge er søketjenester som tilbyr pekere til informasjon som kan være men ikke nødvendigvis er i brudd med opphavsretten.

Pirate Bay er laget for å gjøre det lett å bryte opphavsretten for film, musikk og software, mens i Google sitt tilfelle er dette kun en utilsikte sideeffekt. Pirate Bay gjør det lett å piratkopiere, Google gjør det bare mulig, hvis du har tålmodighet nok og vet hvordan.

Ved nærmere ettersyn blir imidlertid forskjellen mer uklar. Skal det virkelig være nivået av brukervennlighet som skiller lovlig søk fra ulovlig søk? Intensjon er heller ikke et solid grunnlag. En kan lett tenke seg en generisk søketjeneste tilsvarende Google som ved hjelp av bruker-utfylt kategorisering blir like lett å bruke for pirater som Pirate Bay er i dag. Hvor trekker man da grensen?

Å gå til et tilsvarende angrep på Google vil være en PR-katastrofe for underholdningsbransjen, det vil neppe skje. IANAL, men man kan ikke basere rettspraksis på manglende vilje til å saksøke, man må våge å avklare grensetilfellene. Og de er vanskelige. Enhver som tror det er lett å definere forskjellen mellom Pirate Bay og Google vet rett og slett ikke nok om hva en søkemotor er. Den logiske konsekvensen av å dømme Pirate Bay er at alle søkemotorer er forpliktet til å aktivt motvirke piratkopiering - og dermed er Google i skuddlinjen.

De etiske aspektene ved piratkopiering er heldigvis langt enklere enn de juridiske: Vær en ansvarlig pirat.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 29

Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939, USA) - An old teacher at a British public school looks back on his life, and the generations of boys he has taught. This is probably the perfect nice movie, intelligent and well balanced between melancholy and humor. Starring Robert Donat as Albus "Chips" Dumbledore. Watched it all.

Buck Rogers (1939, USA) - Upon being awakened from 500 years of suspended animation, Buck Rogers is immediately handed a space ship and a stupid suit, courtesy of .. the FUTURE! First episode of a serial, but that is no excuse. Watched: 17 minutes.

Der Feldzug in Polen
(1939, Germany) - This came without subtitles, but the gist of it seems to be that all Germany wants is peace. Watched: 37 minutes.

Another Thin Man (1939, USA) - Another hard-boiled comedy with Nick & Nora, taking the series to new heights of plot complexity. The underlying message is that every alcoholic (indeed, every man) should have a wife like Myrna Loy. Watched it all.

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939, USA) - Some moderately funny circus jokes. Watched: 16 minutes.

Made for Each Other
(1939, USA) - Apparently even James Stewart can be a terrible actor, as long as the script is bad enough. Watched: 8 minutes.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

A very old disease, called Things Are Getting Worse

I gave up on Christopher Brookmyre's Not the End of the World, after 48 pages. Here are some particularly annoying samples that illustrate why:

'"Things fall apart,"' as Sophie put it, quoting that Irish poet she liked.
'"The centre cannot hold." All that stuff. "The falcon cannot hear the falconer."'
And the shit is hitting the fan.
This is an APB. All units in the Bethlehem area: be on the lookout for a rough beast with a slouching gait.


'The Gazes Also, huh? Cute name for that sort of work.' [..]
'I hadn't thought about it,' she said. 'We come across so many dumb names for boats, you stop wondering what they're referring to. Most of the time it's probably someone's wife. Or their dog. What's cute about this one?'
'It's Nietzsche,' Larry told her, turning away again to stare at the vessel, the name etched on the bows and the life-safers. '"When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you".'
'Jesus, they got cops quoting Nietzsche now?' Jame said with a wry smile, nudging up the peak of her cap with her Coke can. 'What, you gotta answer on philosophy for the seargent's exam these days?'
'No, I read it on my cereal box this morning. It's a thought for the day deal. If I'd had Cheerios instead of corn flakes I'd never have known - Cheerios are still running their Gems of Kierkegaard series.'
'Of course.'
It's all like this. Überclever and superficial. A pose.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Illusjonen om oversikt

Gudleiv Forr skriver at vi ikke må la papiravisene dø:

De fleste lesere vil vel si at de har en allsidig oversikt over status i så vel lokalsamfunnet som verden for øvrig når de legger fra seg den daglige avis. [..] Avisens styrke er den brede informasjon som springer ut av sidene. Man føler seg oppdatert som samfunnsborger når man er igjennom den.
Og deri ligger problemet, for denne følelsen var alltid en illusjon. Det var en betydningsfull illusjon, fordi så mange av oss delte den, på samme måte som Derrick og Ønskekonserten. Lar du være å følge med på nyhetene, blir du dårligere oppdatert på hvordan folk rundt deg ser verden. Men om du blir dårligere oppdatert på hva som faktisk skjer der ute, det tviler jeg på.

Mesteparten av verden blir jevnlig ignorert av journalistene, til fordel for de vanlige såpeoperaene. De aller viktigste hendelsene dekkes ikke i det hele tatt, fordi de er for komplekse til å gjøres om til nyhetsfortellinger. Den viktigste hendelsen in 2008 var f.eks. problemene i finansnæringen, men ingen skrev om dem før det var for sent. Det skjer ting der ute i dag som kommer til å forandre livet ditt, men det kan ta mange år før du før høre om det.

Jeg leser nyheter bare tilfeldig, en avis eller nettavis her og der. Jeg er dårlig oppdatert på hva som skjer i verden akkurat nå. Men jeg vet at jeg ikke vet hva som skjer. Der stiller jeg sterkere enn papiravisleserne.


Especially with such unsightly wounds

George R. R. Martin has set a new standard for me in fantasy, but Joe Abercrombie's First Law series still holds up pretty well. Before They Are Hanged continues in the same direction as The Blade Itself, with smart and somewhat satirical sword and sorcery. It's entertaining, and it's not stupid. I like it.

I avoided fantasy for years after a Robert Jordan binge in the 90's, and I'm still suspicious enough to put down a novel at even the first sign of epic elves, but I'm a fantasy reader at heart, and I'll always be a sucker for a barbarian swordfight. Of which there are many here.

Speaking of Robert Jordan, one fantasy novel I didn't finish reading recently was Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. It was bad and generic. Then I learned that he's been hired to finish the Wheel of Time series, after Jordan died two years ago. Which means that the next time I reach for a Wheel of Time novel will be if I am in sudden need of a blunt, heavy object with which to strike an intruder in the head.


Friday, April 10, 2009

An increasing trade in politicians

One thing that surprised me in Ramachandra Guha's (ironically titled?) India After Gandhi is the degree to which India defined itself from the beginning as a secular state, a country that would embrace multiple religions, languages, ethnic groups, and castes, without favoring any of them. They set out to make something most outsiders, (including the Muslims who created Pakistan), thought was impossible: A truly pluralistic, secular democracy.

Why hasn't India failed, (yet)? It's not for lack of challenges. Insurrections, massacres, assasinations, and even a two-year semi-dictatorship. Guha speculates that what many thought was India's greatest weakness, its democracy and pluralism, is actually the source of its resilience. (Sri Lanka and Pakistan tried to enforce one language, and got civil war.)

Another thing that surprised me was how relevant Indian politics is to Europe. Their struggle to build a transparent democracy out of very different states is relevant to our European Union. And the debates about Hindu-Muslim relations sound disturbingly familiar to our own debates about integration and immigation. Should the state favor a common cultural identity, or play a religiously and culturally neutral role? Our more aggressive European secularists may be surprised to find they have more in common with Hindu nationalists than with Indian secularists.

There are few direct analogies between India and Europe, but India's experiences add contrast and perspective to our own, as well as plenty of warnings about paths nok to take. My advice to anyone who is interested in European politics: Look to India.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

A single, stray act of violence

While there have been hundreds of inter-religious riots in the history of independent India, there have been only two pogroms: that directed at the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and that directed at the Muslims of south Gujarat in 2002. There are some striking similarities between the two. Both began as a response to a single, stray act of violence committed by members of the minority community. Both proceeded to take a generalized revenge on the minorities as a whole. The Sikhs who were butchered wered in no way connected to the Sikhs who killed Mrs Gandhi. The Muslims who were killed by Hindu mobs were completely innocent of the Godhra crime (which may anyway have been an accident).

In both cases the pogroms were made possible by the willed breakdown of the rule of law. The prime minister in Delhi in 1984, and the chief minister in Gujarat in 2002, issued graceless statements that in effect justified the killings. And serving ministers in their government went as far as to aid and direct the rioters.

The final similarity is the most telling, as well as perhaps the most depressing. Both parties, and leaders, reaped electoral rewards from the violence they had legitimized and overseen. Rajiv Gandhi's party won the 1984 general election by a very large margin, and in December 2002 Narendra Modi was re-elected as chief minister of Gujarat after his party won a two-thirds majority in the assembly polls.
- Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 28

Destry Rides Again (1939, USA) - A good western, finally! Bottleneck is the dirtiest town in the West. The drunkard sheriff sends for James Stewart, a gunslinger's son who doesn't like guns. The result is a quieter Blazing Saddles. Watched it all.

Jamaica Inn (1939, UK) - A gang in Cornwall lures ships onto land, where they murder the crews and steal their cargo. One of the darkest movies in the marathon so far, made by someone who likes to see ugly bandits slobber over pretty women. Watched it all.

My Love for Yours (1939, USA) - The message here seems to be that successful business woman Gail Allen should give up her silly hobby and settle down in some sweet-talking guy's kitchen. Watched: 40 minutes.

Gjest Baardsen (1939, Norway) - Gjest Baardsen, a trickster thief and escape artist, befuddles the police and rescues Maid Marian from the claws of Guy of Gisbourne. Watched it all.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939, USA) - I hope the scene where "everybody" in 1482 knows the world is flat is Hollywood's invention, not Victor Hugo's. I know I should still give the movie a chance, but don't you find it hard to get back into a movie after it has caused you to slap your forehead? Watched: 10 minutes.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939, USA) - Bette Devis plays Elizabeth I well, but the prospect of watching a whole movie with even a non-swashbuckling Errol Flynn is intolerable. Watched: 19 minutes.

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All culture, civilisation and life is contributed by them alone

In [D. R. Goyal's] rendition, the core beliefs of what the Sangh Parivar calls 'Hindutva' are as follows:

"Hindus have lived in India since times immemorial; Hindus are the nation because all culture, civilisation and life is contributed by them alone; non-Hindus are invaders or guests and cannot be treated as equal unless they adopt Hindu traditions, culture etc; the non-Hindus, particularly Muslims and Christians, have been enemies of everything Hindu and are, therefore, to be treated as threats; the freedom and progress of this country is the freedom and progress of Hindus; the history of India is the history of the struggle of the Hindus for protection and preservation of their religion and culture against the onslaught of these aliens; the threat continues because the power is in the hands of those who do not believe in this nation as a Hindu Nation; those who talk of national unity as the unity of all those who live in this country are motivated by the selfish desire of cornering minority votes and are therefore traitors; the unity and consolidation of the Hindus is the dire need of the hour because the Hindu people are surrounded on all sides by enemies; the Hindus must develop the capacity for massive retaliation and offence is the best defence; lack of unity is the root cause of all troubles of the Hindus and the Sangh is born with the divine mission to bring about that unity."
- Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi


Monday, April 6, 2009

Too embarassed to talk about it

It is difficult precisely to date Sanjay Gandhi's own interest in family planning. His Surge interview in August 1975 does not mention the subject at all. Yet a year later, the Illustrated Weekly of India was speaking of how 'Sanjay has given a big impetus to the Family Planning Programme throughout the country'. [..] He epxressed himself in favor of compulsory sterilization, for which facilities should be provided 'right down to the village level'.


In his tours around India, Sanjay Gandhi catalysed a competitive process between the states of the Union. Sanjay would tell one chief minister of what another had claimed to have done - '60 000 operations in two weeks' - and encouraged him to exceed it. These targets were passed down to district officials, who were rewarded if they met or exceeded them and transferred otherwise. The process led to widespread coercion. Lower government officials had to submit to the surgeon's knife before arrears of pay were cleared. Truck drivers would not have their licences renewed if they could not produce a sterilization certificate. Slum dwellers would not be allotted a plot for resettlement unless they did likewise.


Local officials prepared lists of 'eligible men', that is, of those who already had three or more children. Police vans would come and take them off to the nearest health centre. Some men fled into the hills to escape the marauders. Those who had undergone a vasectomy were too embarassed to talk about it.
- Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi


Sunday, April 5, 2009

The safest people in India

To make the protection of British lives the top priority was pretty much state policy. In February 1947 the governor of Bengal said that his 'first action in the event of an announcement of a date for withdrawal of British power ... would be to have the troops "standing to" and prepare for a concentration of outlying Europeans at very short notice as soon as hostile reactions began to show themselves'. In fact, in the summer of 1947 white men and women were the safest people in India. No one was interested in killing them. But their insecurities meant that many army units were placed near European settlements instead of being freed for riot control elsewhere.


The decision of the CPM to join the government was preceded by a bitter debate, with Jyoti Basu speaking in favour and Promode Dasgupta against. Ultimately the party joined, only to create a great sense of expectation among the cadres. An early gesture was to rename Harrington Road after a hero of the world communist movement, so that at the height of the Vietnam War the address of the United States Consulate was 7 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Calcutta.
- Ramachandran Guha, India After Gandhi


Saturday, April 4, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 27

Gulliver's Travels (1939, USA) - Paramount imitates Disney, with an animated feature based on Jonathan Swift's heartwarming children's tale, (ahem). Snow White was terrible, but in a polished way. This is just bad. Watched: 17 minutes, then fast forwarded to the end, where there are no yahoos. One IMDB reviewer calls it "one of the best Literary Films of 1939 [..] and I think I would like to read the original novel sometime". She's in for a surprise.

The Lion has Wings (1939, UK) - Britain is the awesomest country in the world. Is all this to end simply because one man wants to conquer Europe? No! Fine propaganda movie, which makes the British case for war with a stiff upper lip and dry humor. Watched it all.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939, USA) - A movie made by and for people who find airplanes sexy and interesting. Watched: 20 minutes. (Observant readers will note that its title contradicts the previous one. They are of course both wrong: Lions don't have wings, and angels don't exist.)

Dark Victory (1939, USA) - Dr. House treats Bette Davis for a horrible brain disease, but she's doomed .. doomed .. doomed! Watched: 45 minutes, (there's a reason why all medical dramas these days are in the format of 43 minute TV episodes, not feature-length movies.)

Frontier Horizon (1939, USA) - Another dreadful western. Watched: 5 minutes.

The Rules of the Game (1939, France) - Everybody is cheating with everybody in decadent Paris. Watched: 18 minutes.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 26

Midnight (1939, USA) - An American woman with a talent for lying finds herself in Paris without money, and gets mixed up in adulterous upper-class intrigues. One of the funniest farces I've seen. Watched it all.

Pygmalion (1938, UK) - My Fair Lady without the silly songs, and about twice as intelligent. Perfect. Watched it all.

Bringing Up Baby (1938, USA) - Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in two very annoying roles. I expect this from Grant, but Hepburn?! Watched: 15 minutes.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938, USA) - Andy Hardy is a teenage boy who is just wild enough to land himself in the sort of trouble that leads up to the delivery of valuable life lessons from his stern, wise father, but not enough to shock any 1938 middle class parents. I don't approve, but I have a weakness for nice movies done well. Watched it all.

Boys Town (1938, USA) - The street kids are unruly, but all they need is a little attention from the local Catholic priest. Watched: 14 minutes.

Sex Madness (1938, USA) - I'm confused: Is the anti-syphilis message a pretext for making a movie with burlesque shows and "frank" sex talk, or is that just a ruse to teach moviegoers about the joys of clean, syphilis-free living? It's a dreadful movie either way. Watched: 13 minutes.

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