Friday, February 28, 2014

[TV] Brideshead Revisited

My initial reaction to this was...shock.  I suppose it might be a bit of a disconnect about what I thought I was going to see in the show and the cover vs what it actually was, which is why there was a four week gap between when I saw the first episode and the remaining episodes, but I'm very glad I came back to it.  BridesHead Revisited is a good miniseries and quite worth watching.  It is a 1980's production of the novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh.

The synopsis is that it is about the friendship of Charles Ryder with the family of his first friend Sebastian and the subsequent doomed romance with Sebastian's sister Julia.  Initial interest in this series was because it helped in the choosing of the name of my wife, but it quickly has its own interest and gravitas.  First, it is interesting because it is the best example I've seen thus far of the secret world of the British (and by extension European) aristocracy at the turn of the 20th century which was shaken by WWI and later upended and devastated by WWII.  When we see the secret gallant world they live in, one cannot help but compare the current second gilded age where the inhabitants of Davos flit and float from country to country, rapidly recouping their stock losses whilst the rest of us scramble for whatever we can find.

But this story is really about Catholicism and the consequences it brings to the family.  The author is staunchly pro catholic and the novel is described as a Catholic apologetic...though I admit I didn't get that.  It seemed more like criticism to me.


So, the marriage of Julia is doomed from the start because her first husband is divorced.  That causes enough problems but later the legitimate romance between Julia and Charles is screwed up by the last minute conversion of her father who has until then despised the church and only converted to be able to marry Julia and Sebastian's mother.  The family is haunted, wracked by guilt they don't deserve and utterly disconnected from reality by their wealth and social status.  Sebastian drinks himself senseless wanting to relive the days of yore and overcome with guilt. Towards the end, Julia and their creepy younger sister retire to the holy lands, and Sebastian drinks himself to death in a monastery.  The eldest son is disinherited by bringing a priest to convert the father, even though the father converts at the last minute and then gives the estate to Julia, who never has any children.

I suppose it is consider apologetic because the story is bookended by a segment from WWII where we see an ass in charge of Charles's regiment clearly because he's also aristocracy, and then later as the troup sets up HQ in the massive and gorgeous house that is Brideshead but being regular grunts they've pretty much ruined whole sections of the house which makes Charles (and everyone else who has watched the show and seen what the house was) sad.

I suppose the reason it is consider apologetic is that at the very end, the chapel is there for the lost troupes.  So all of the suffering of this family, and the hyper holiness of the mother who made her children suffer neurosis and also made a chapel with no priest be there for a bunch of soldiers who needed it, somehow in God's mysterious way made God an asshole...I guess that could be seen as an apologetic?  I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder as is Holiness...

Still, the cast is fantastic.  The characters are complicated and glorious to behold even if tragic.  The plot meanders but always comes together chekov shotgun style.  The settings and costumes are incredibly impressive as are the performances.  So I say if you like drama and you like the oughts of the 20th century, watch this series.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

[Book] From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp

I originally found out about this book from two rather remarkable individuals who pointed it out at an anachrocon two years ago at a rather fascinating class about Sacred Geometry, however I wrote it down as "101 non violent tactics."  I kept googling it and couldn't find it, but somehow I ended up searching until I found the right book, this one.  The 'article' in this case I was looking for is an appendix to the book, and still useful, but the book itself is excellent in ways I had not even considered upon initially looking at it.

This book is a tactical text book or instruction manual on how to take down dictatorships.  It helps the reader analyze them structurally, see that they do have weaknesses and can and have been dealt with.  But this is no Polyanna pie in the sky thing that is unrealistic.  One of the things I like about Mr. Sharp's position is that he points out the futility of negotiating with a dictatorship, and particularly what you need to expect going in if you are not negotiating from a position of strength.

It also explains a lot about why China, for example, is obsessed with controlling NGO's as is Russia.  It isn't just because foreign intelligence agencies use these to cause trouble (and they do) but also because one of the secrets to bringing down a dictatorship is non governmental civil institutions like religions, parties, clubs, etc.  It is why they are obsessed with Fulan Gong.  It is why the arab spring soiled in many areas because the strongest non governmental entities were Islamist institutions that could completely out compete all secular institutions and why the military eventually took over.

It talks about in great detail about the need for a democracy to have a plan for taking down the dictatorship and the aftermath and the need to stick with that plan.  It is, quite frankly, a most excellent book and very well thought out.  And I think its something we can use.

(Politics below)

I can see how this book influence Occupy, especially the true reformers of Occupy who have moved on to form various loosely affiliated groups such as Occupy XYZ.  Though there were items in the book that might have gone differently had they read it.  But after seeing the treatment of Occupy...

I can't help but feel that some of the same tactics are needed to reform our system.  Non violent tactics, but the kind that cause the government based on the constitution of 1792 to come apart.  Our government no longer serves the people.  The vast majority of the populace agrees on it.  I'm not talking about violent overthrow.  I mean we have many freedoms left, otherwise I wouldn't write this...but the US constitution does not serve the people it was written to protect, and can only be amended so much when at its fundamental core it does what it does for the elite.

We need to start thinking of regime change, of a government that works for the majority, even if that also means a parting of ways with regions of the country that make a governable majority in reality a functional impossibility.  This is a book that lets you actually feel like you can DO something, even if that something is scary.

Monday, February 3, 2014

[Ballet] The Marienski Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center

This was, to put it bluntly, spectacularly excellent.  We went because Julia wanted to go, but I'm glad we did.  The plot of the Ballet is well known, so I'm not really going to expound on it here much but I will say that being married to a ballet fan makes one see and learn interesting things about it.   For example, there are four acts written by two guys.  In Russia, they often walk out of the middle of the show because they don't like the second guy.  Julia Correction:  Julia thinks it is because they need to wash their hair or something and the first part is the most famous.

It's interesting because it seems a bit like the movies Superman and Superman II are welded together. You can see the subtle differences in the moves and music but they are still very good stories and there were folks cheering just as much for the final two acts as the first two.

The ending is kind of Schrodinger in that different companies have happy vs sad endings.  The Marienski ending is happy and frankly makes sense. I mean, magical doppelganger sex is hardly a reason to gack yourself.    The story is really a romance as it seems most ballets are, including this one as the villain is defeated by static.

These artists are...amazing.   Their precision is fundamentally primal, but the thing that impresses me is that these are the penultimate artists as athletes and athletes as artists.  I find it highly ironic that the Superbowl took place that day, and their performance was...not as good as the ballet.  By an order of Magnitude.

The two standouts to me were the Jester and the Swan Princess (V1 and V2).   They justifiably earned the most applause (again and again and again and again) and their acting along with their dancing was neat.  Having said that even the window dressing dancers were at the top of their form, and while they didn't necessarily get as much of a chance to shine  they were still awesome to behold.

The Kennedy Center is also impressive.  There are lots of theaters there and the architecture is also cool.  No box seats.  This is the national theater of a Republic.  Definitely feel like we got our money's worth.