Monday, December 23, 2019

A Longish Note Back To Someone About The Good, The Bad And The Ugly In The Irishman

‪I don’t recall you objecting to the film on a moral basis. If you did, then either I didn’t read you fully enough or just missed it or forgot it. ‬

‪My recollection of what you said is that it was slow, tedious, with scenes so prosaic—stopping the ride for smokes—as to produce boredom and without much meaning. Though I do recall you saying, I guess more than once, that the idea of “it is what it is,” which I say is one way of putting the movie’s theme, is nonsense or dull and or without real meaning. ‬

‪I objected to all of that, arguing while the movie moves slowly, it doesn’t move ponderously, that each scene brims with subtleties and connections to other scenes in The Irishman, and in his other movies—notably Good Fellas, and that the theme of “it is what it is” *is* meaningful within the depiction of this film’s world and its ethos.‬

‪As to the stance the movie takes towards the criminality it recounts and depicts in Sheeran’s telling, I agree with you up to a point. I originally said to you and have always thought about The Irishman that Scorsese is too complacent, too gliding over, not dramatically critical enough of that criminality, the violent inhumanness of it not in the least assuaged by his daughter’s rejection of her father.

‪But, big but, and here we reach the end of “up to a point,” are we made to feel sympathy for Sheeran or are we made to see him as an utterly abject piteous figure, like Saddam Hussein found in the spider hole, from whom we’re detached? Sheeran being an abject piteous figure is different from our  pitying him. The emphasis is on the abjectness, the lowness to which he’s reduced. He wears the insignia of his former ostensible heights, the honorific watch and the honorific ring, while he’s sitting in a wheel chair at death’s door, alone, broken, dismayed, understanding the vast emptiness of his life, fighting failingly with all he’s got, not much left mind you, for a little light, a little grace, for not complete darkness.

‪From memory:‬

‪“Father could you do me a favour?” ‬

‪“Sure Frank, what is it?” ‬

‪“Could you leave the door open just a little? I don’t like it closed.”‬

‪I say Scorsese means to evoke the latter, Sheeran’s abjectness, means not to elicit our sympathy for him. After all, all the hoods get comeuppance one way or another, dying pathetically alone in jail or not, sick or crippled, or cold-bloodedly murdered under the very codes they live and die by, or shot by accident as happens to Sally Bugs—“Someone he told forgot to tell someone. It was a bad hit.” Russell in jail is without teeth, metaphorically toothless after all that power, brought so low he can only pathetically gnaw with his toothless mouth on the bread he used to love to dip into wine and savour, the wine now grape juice, the bread and the grape juice, aping and subverting the meaning of the Eucharist. Sheeran and Russell try to find solace, forgiveness and meaning in that Christian forgiveness, with at least in Sheeran’s case the effort miserably failing. The world of this movie eats these guys alive one way or another, and “it is what it is,” their reality, comes home to each of them. The death that awaits us all is in their case fully inflected by the way they lived.‬

‪So, what you miss in your moral criticism that Scorsese wants us in the end to sympathize with Sheeran and shouldn’t is that while in and by the movie’s end Scorsese tries to, he does not convey sufficiently the depths of the horror of Sheeran’s criminality. By presenting the movie’s world largely from Sheeran’s point of view, from, so to say, inside Sheeran’s head, Scorsese doesn’t allow himself enough critical distance to dramatically take the full measure of that horror. And, too, the whole story and sub stories and the acting and other cinematic things make The Irishman so compellingly watchable that we’re so drawn in to the way Sheeran sees things such that we’re not allowed to take that very measure. The Irishman fails in that. ‬

‪Ross Douthat puts it thus about this film’s relation to Scorsese’s thug movies: ‬

‪...He wants to offer a companion piece and a partial corrective to some of his most famous which the sheer pleasure of criminality, the scenes of lawless masculine delight, were allowed to occlude the larger moral vision, to hide the skull beneath the skin...‬

‪And Armond White puts it thus about The Irishman as such:‬

‪...By the time Fox News prelate Father Jonathan Morris appears, offering forgiveness to the decrepit Sheeran (and implicitly blessing Scorsese’s perpetual, backsliding glamorization of crime), the overwrought Irishman resembles an American kabuki play about sin that also relishes sin...‬

‪White, I think, misses that Sheeran realizes that there is no forgiveness regardless of what the priest tells him. But White’s pretty close to the point. And while Douthat theorizes that Scorsese means to remediate his past thug glorification, the point is that Scorsese doesn’t succeed.

‪Put most simply, the end doesn’t justify the means. ‬

‪But all this is different from your moral qualm about this film, which I do believe is your mistaken view of it. So, I argue you’re wrong on both counts. In a nutshell, I think you’re wrong about the movie as tedious and meaningless in that tedium and that you’re wrong in your moral criticism of the movie.‬

‪Finally, maybe in 500 years I will by historic consensus have been proved faulty about The Irishman but for now the best movie minds of our generation not destroyed by madness agree near to universally on its quality, differing only in degree.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Some Back And Forth And Forth And Back On The Irishman


‪The movie was tedious.  The conversations where one didn't say what one meant many time in various ways were simply boring, neither funny parodies nor subtle and inventive.  After "you paint houses" and the blood spattered wall it went downhill.  I was puzzled by what the movie was up to since I found the thugs thuggish, and their lives and wives and even kids boring.  I think the guy I watched with may have it right.  He said that  the "you do what you gotta do" without any moral fuss attitude that dominated makes people boring.  The wives were as boring as they guys.  Hoffa was different, but I didn't like Pacino either.  There were also in-jokes  I think, like the fish? (a red herring?) that I didn't get.  ‬

‪I was utterly unmoved by the fate of de Nero and when he offered the lame excuse he did it for his family I heard an echo of Breaking Bad where Walter says that to his wife and she says, in one word, bullshit.  As for his emptiness emotionally, right, but boring to watch.  ‬

‪I am utterly amazed at the Rotten Tomatoes rating and praise.  ‬

‪I utterly miss the glamour.  Scorcese keeps reminding us that many of the side characters were murdered, which kind of dims their achievement as survivors.  And the survival trick here (unlike in the Sopranos) is simply doing what you are told.  Where is the glamour in that?  Di Nero makes murder pretty routine, and gets away with it easily.  The cigarette business was puzzling and then it struck me that the husband and wife negotiate in about the same bored spirit as the murder etc.  They've done it hundreds of time and no-one wants to make a big deal of it.  The more I go on the worse it gets.‬
‪I liked both godfather movies and loved the Sopranos.  This film seem nothing like either to me. ‬


‪I don’t know how you escape being drawn into this story, the characters, how they talk, what they do, how Scorsese creates their world, how he creates a series of set pieces that stand on their own as scenes and yet fit together into a tight, yes tight , whole, even as the story in a leisurely, discursive yet steady and coherent way moves inexorably forward, and how there is self conscious, discussable artistry behind every scene and that very tight coherence. ‬

‪Take the impersonal, matter of fact killings for example. Routine? Sure. They're done with detachment, impersonality, done in the usual course of business. You see it from the point of the view of the murderer. It’s as nothing. ‬

‪The cigarettes? There’s a big slice of a world traced in that: from Lansky and Luciano getting chased out of Cuba, them telling Russell never to smoke, maybe in the spirit, as Sheeran speculates, of “O God, if I ever get out of here alive, I’ll never smoke again,” which sets up slyly, subtly and minutely, the end time futile shot at redemption and forgiveness by both Russell and then Sheeran before they’re to meet, or never get to meet their makers, coming down to a trifling domestic issue between Russell and his wife, also for an instant ironically, humorously inverting Russell’s vaunted power, with a single unifying strand running through all of it.‬

‪And it’s not that the slight argument over smoking reflects the boredom with which bigger homicidal decisions are made. It is that there is a quietness in the way things are—it is what it is—that the logic of situations impose themselves and those who are wise accommodate them and live to thrive. So Russell’s wife working within their personal dynamics forces a smoke stop and Russell keeps his wife happy as far as happiness in the demimonde goes—happy wife, happy life—and Russell goes on to thrive in demimonde way, until he doesn’t. ‬

‪And, so, Sheeran conflicted between Hoffa and Russell accommodates where his interest lies even as his loyalty and friendship with Hoffa press against him and he gets to live until he dies, of natural causes, as does Russell. But Hoffa unaccommodating—Sheeran to Hoffa: “It is what it is!” Hoffa: “It is what it is! They wouldn’t dare! Nobody threatens Hoffa! I know things! They don’t know what I know!” And so, Hoffa, in the ways of the demimonde, doesn’t know when, so to say, stop for a smoke break, and, so, he gets offed. “It is what it is.” ‬

‪“It is what it is.” Everything comes down to it what it is, the way things are, reality itself, a theme running through the film.‬

‪I could go on for a long time on almost every little thing. ‬

‪Me Back To R’s Back To Me:‬

‪Me: ‬

‪The impersonal, matter of fact killings for example. Routine? Sure. They're done with detachment, impersonality, done in the usual course of business. You see it from the point of the view of the murderer. It’s as nothing.   ‬




‪You’re making a massive critical error. It surprises me. You wrench something out of context, a specific thing that is paraphrased briefly simply to explain it and ask why that’s interesting. Why is it interesting that Romeo and Juliet are immediately attracted to each other? It’s a silly question. Scorsese paints an entire hierarchical world filled with any number of details and aspects and personalities. Sheeran killing those who have to get got is part of it. His war experience is the template for him doing it. So duty to country in one world becomes necessary business as usual in another. And it’s that other where this movie has a big part of its center.‬


‪....coming down to a trifling domestic issue between Russell and his wife, also for an instant ironically, humorously inverting Russell’s vaunted power, with a single strand running through all of it.  ‬




‪Another surprising comment from you in its misapprehending this bit of film business. True, she comes from Sicilian mafia royalty, but you miss how integrated they are in each other’s life. When he comes home bloodied and dazed from some bad business he’s done she steps right in domestically to direct him and accommodate him. They’re an integrated unit in this life of theirs. As as are Sheeran and his second wife. ‬

‪But to think he has more no more power than her is ridiculous and suggests a failure to have understood the simplest things about the movie. “All roads run through Russ.” No one makes a move without him unless it’s those over him, Angelo Bruno and the NYC biggest heavies. Of course, he has more power than her. But you have to contrast the way she fits in when needed, when he’s bloody and dazed and him giving in to her on a minor domestic issue. ‬

‪He loves her. They work together and accommodate each other on small things. That is what people who love each other and work well together do. Plus, the movie reflects the sanctity or family to that generation of mafia heads. Stay quiet and unobtrusive and keep your home life stable. He’s the head of a Philadelphia mafia family for goodness sake. ‬

‪Either you’ve completely failed to understand the movie or you’re merely trolling in bad faith.‬


‪And it’s not that the slight argument over smoking reflects the boredom with which bigger homicidal decisions are made. It is that there is a quietness in the way things are—it is what it is—that the logic of situations impose themselves and those who are wise accommodate them and live to thrive. ‬




‪You’re so assertive and prescriptive here. Dull to you but hardly to anyone else. The near to universal reaction to this movie is that it moves slowly but is decidedly not dull. Just the opposite, it’s compelling in character, acting, sweep of story and cinematic technique, the framing, the stories within the story, the cinematography and so on, even the integration of the music. ‬

‪Certainly you’re lord and master of what interests you but when your lack of interest is such a critical outlier, you’d need at least to distinguish between your finding the movie dull and asserting it’s dull let alone being prescriptive about what makes for dull art. But at least I’ll agree with you that the film is art. ‬


‪And so, Hoffa, in the ways of the demimonde, doesn’t know when, so to say, stop for a smoke break, and, so, he gets offed. “It is what it is.” ‬




‪I thought Pacino was miscast as Hoffa, understanding what I do of Hoffa and the movie suffered in virtually equating Hoffa in his silly tics with his profound importance in American life, which the movie also makes apparent. But for all the miscasting of Hoffa and Pacino’s hyperbolic performance, the scene in which that back and forth takes place is brilliant in all what it has going on and in the acute contrast between those who in this life quietly accommodate each other and those whose loudness does them in. Hoffa, Crazy Joey Gallo. Russell’s understatedness, fabulously acted by Pesci— almost as magnetic as De Niro’s portrayal of Sheeran— measures inversely the extent of his power. And in this scene, for all his misplaced noisiness, Pacino’s flamboyance works. ‬


‪“It is what it is.” Everything comes down to it is what it is, the way things are, reality itself, a theme running through the film.‬




‪But this movie isn’t a mirror. It’s a depiction of a whole way of life over the fully lived adult life of one man as played by one of the great actors of our time accompanied, as noted, by other brilliant performances, the miscasting of Hoffa notwithstanding. “It is what it is” for all its explicitness arises as a theme rises organically from all the specifics of the film. ‬


‪I can't resist.  What of the scene where he viciously attacked the grocery store owner and made his daughter watch.   He is a thug and nothing but a thug, there is nothing at all to admire about him.  Maybe the movie is saved by Scorsese's refusing to guide our responses, and letting us have to bring the condemnation, rather than by transparently villainizing the main character. ‬
‪And I thought when we talked that you didn't like the film because it led you to enjoy brutality.  ‬


‪Who says he’s not a thug? ‬

‪Who says he’s glamorized? ‬

‪But he has his feelings, confusions, senses of loyalty, friendship and duty that jostle each other, which is to say, some intrriority. The movie conveys all that, especially with Hoffa. DeNiro’s facial gestures when Russell lays it on him in his quiet, no nonsense, lethally authoritative concise way—“it is what it is”—what he must do are a master class in conveying with unexaggerated looks such hurt, tormented, confused feelings. He can’t sleep. His bedside phone beckons him. He doesn’t call Hoffa, his temptation to do so made vivid. Russell lays it down in about as directly assertive and stern as he ever gets: “Don’t call him,” only three words that say life and death much. ‬

‪His daughter’s horror at what he does to the bullying grocer is the counterpoint, the critique of his thuggishness, which of course abides and grows throughout the film. And it shows his wrenching of family as the movie goes on, the inversion of what these thugs espouse as its stabilizing importance. ‬

‪I reject the sometimes asserted proposition that his loss of his daughter, and less so his other daughters, is his comeuppance. And it may be that Scorsese wants to suggest that. If he does, then it’s facile. Facile? Hell, it’s silly.‬

‪Me, as I said in my linked note to you, I’m torn between finding the movie very fine, compellingly watchable, for the reasons I’ve pointed to and for others—it’s one I’ll watch from time to time as I do other thug movies by Scorsese: Casino, Goodfellas, The Departed, Mean Streets even Who’s That Knocking At My Door—and in that enjoyment finding critical pleasure in its many subtleties, which I’ve only begun to point out to you, between finding that and, too, finding deep fault with its defective moral vision. That’s precisely the point of my linked note, a point I trust I needn’t repeat. ‬

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Note To Someone Being My Take At This Point, 12, 8, 19 On The Impeachment Of Trump


‪It’s this for me: we’d agree that im🍑ment has to be for something grave and profoundly wrong; we can imagine infinite instances that each would form an undeniable ground as agreed to by any reasonable person; we ought to agree that im🍑ment has to have a common bottom, that is to say, broad popular support to be something different from a mere tactical political instrument. ‬

‪But here, on what’s known, let alone specifically proved by direct evidence, im🍑ment is explicitly purely partisan save that some Ds in Congress may vote against it and not a single R will vote for it. Same thing likely when it reaches the Senate, maybe Romney excepted on the R side. ‬

‪And bigger but, the public is either on each side of a partisan divide or with those less or not partisan, the independents, by a small majority tilting against it. ‬

‪So, to my mind, the grounds asserted haven’t reached that critical mass that in principle should justify it. ‬

‪The hyperbolic instance of Trump’s getting away with shooting someone on 5th Avenue is actually instructive. For if he had done something clearly analogous to that, whether blue or white collar, whether a high crime or a high misdemeanour, there would be no issue. He’d be gone on a basis transcending partisanship.‬

‪Otherwise, we have 3 elite law professors who hate Trump, who wear their predisposition against him like a blindingly bright red cape around their shoulders, telling from on high us poor dimwits the way it unmistakably is.‬

‪Mind you, one elite law prof who also has no use for Trump takes profound and persuasive issue with his peers’ certainty. ‬

‪Tell a regular person with no predetermined view on im🍑ment of Trump the salient positive and negative proven facts of the Ukrainian issue and then ask whether it amounts to a basis for removing him. ‬

‪What answer then? ‬

‪My hunch is a “Meh, no.” ‬

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Moral Panic And Viral Falsity

‪Here is a case study in moral panic and viral falsity.‬

Law professor Jonathan Turley, expert for the Republicans at the December 4th, 2019 session of the Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, immediately after his testimony gets threatened, gets his employment put under fire, gets misrepresented, gets lied about and generally gets made the subject of yellow attacks and yellow  journalism. ‬

‪Turning and turning in the widening gyre   ‬
‪The falcon cannot hear the falconer;‬
‪Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;‬
‪Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,‬
‪The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   ‬
‪The ceremony of innocence is drowned;‬
‪The best lack all conviction, while the worst   ‬
‪Are full of passionate intensity.‬

‪It’s the worst full of passionate intensity who worry me most. ‬

‪ It’s insufficient simply to disagree with Turley, no matter how vigorously. No, he must be put to the side, stifled, vilified, attacked and destroyed. ‬

‪Indeed, this is a time in America of a kind of mass derangement, “rancors and rage,” outrage, “stifling intolerance,” “agitated passions,” hateful rhetoric, not to omit incipient violence. ‬

‪It’s worth reading his summary of what has been put against him and his summary clarification and proper statement  of his own positions. ‬

‪December 5, 2019, The Hill( The Link )‬

‪....The most dangerous place for an academic is often between the House and the impeachment of an American president. I knew that going into the first hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment of Donald Trump. After all, Alexander Hamilton that impeachment would often occur in an environment of “agitated passions.” Yet I remained a tad naive in hoping that an academic discussion on the history and standards of it might offer a brief hiatus from hateful rhetoric on both sides.‬

‪In my testimony Wednesday, I lamented that, as in the impeachment of President Clinton from 1998 to 1999, there is an intense “rancor and rage” and “stifling intolerance” that blinds people to opposing views. My call for greater civility and dialogue may have been the least successful argument I made to the committee. ‬

‪Before I finished my testimony, my home and office were inundated with threatening messages and demands that I be fired from George Washington University for arguing that, while a case for impeachment can be made, it has not been made on this record.‬

‪Some of the most heated attacks came from Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. Representative Eric Swalwell of California attacked me for defending my client, Judge Thomas Porteous, in the last impeachment trial and noted that I lost that case. Swalwell pointed out that I said Porteous had not been charged with a crime for any conduct, which is an obviously material point for any impeachment defense.‬

‪Not all Democrats supported such scorched earth tactics. One senior Democrat on the committee apologized to me afterward for the attack from Swalwell. Yet many others relished seeing my representations of an accused federal judge being used to attack my credibility, even as they claimed to defend the rule of law.‬

‪Indeed, Rachel Maddow lambasted me on MSNBC for defending the judge, who was accused but never charged with taking bribes, and referring to him as a “moocher” for the allegations that he accepted free lunches and whether such gratuities, which were not barred at the time, would constitute impeachable offenses.‬

‪Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank expanded on this theme of attacking my past argument. Despite 52 pages of my detailed testimony, more than twice the length of all the other witnesses combined, on the cases and history of impeachment, he described it as being “primarily emotional and political.” Milbank claimed that I contradicted my testimony in a 2013 hearing when I presented “exactly the opposite case against President Obama” by saying “it would be ‘very dangerous’ to the balance of powers not to hold Obama accountable for assuming powers ‘very similar’ to the ‘right of the king’ to essentially stand above the law.”‬

‪But I was not speaking of an impeachment then. It was a discussion of the separation of powers and the need for Congress to fight against unilateral executive actions, the very issue that Democrats raise against Trump. I did not call for Obama to be impeached, but that is par for the course in the echo chamber today in which the facts must conform to the frenzy. ‬

‪It was unsettling to see the embrace of a false narrative that I “contradicted” my testimony from the Clinton impeachment, a false narrative fueled by the concluding remarks of Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York quoting from my 1998 testimony. Notably, neither Swalwell nor Nadler allowed me to respond to those or any other attacks. It was then picked up eagerly by others, despite being a demonstrably false narrative.‬

‪In my testimony Wednesday, I stated repeatedly, as I did 21 years ago, that a president can be impeached for noncriminal acts, including abuse of power. I made that point no fewer that a dozen times in analyzing the case against Trump and, from the first day of the Ukraine scandal, I have made that argument both on air and in print. ‬

‪Yet various news publications still excitedly reported that, in an opinion piece I wrote for the Washington Post five years ago, I said, “While there is a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” and it could include “serious misconduct or a violation of public trust.”‬

‪That is precisely what I have said regarding Trump. You just need to prove abuse of power. My objection is not that you cannot impeach Trump for abuse of power but that this record is comparably thin compared to past impeachments and contains conflicts, contradictions, and gaps including various witnesses not subpoenaed. I suggested that Democrats drop the arbitrary schedule of a vote by the end of December and complete their case and this record before voting on any articles of impeachment. In my view, they have not proven abuse of power in this incomplete record.‬

‪However, rather than address the specific concerns I raised over this incomplete record and process, critics have substituted a false attack to suggest that I had contradicted my earlier testimony during the Clinton impeachment. They reported breathlessly that I said in that hearing, “If you decide that certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for executive conduct.” ‬

‪What they left out is that, in my testimony then and again this week, I stressed that the certain act in question was perjury. The issue in the Clinton case was whether perjury was an impeachable offense. Most Democratic members of Congress, including Nadler, maintained back then that perjury did not meet the level of an impeachable offense if the subject was an affair with an intern.‬

‪I maintained in the Clinton testimony, and still maintain in my Trump testimony, that perjury on any subject by a sitting president is clearly impeachable. Indeed, as I stated Wednesday, that is the contrast between this inquiry and three prior impeachment controversies. In those earlier inquiries, the commission of criminal acts by Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton were clearly established.‬

‪With Johnson, the House effectively created a trapdoor crime and he knowingly jumped through it. The problem was that the law, the Tenure of Office Act, was presumptively unconstitutional and the impeachment was narrowly built around that dubious criminal act. With Nixon, there were a host of alleged criminal acts, and dozens of officials would be convicted. With Clinton, there was an act of perjury that even his supporters acknowledged was a felony.‬

‪While obviously presented in a false context, the quotation of my Clinton testimony only highlights the glaring contrast of those who opposed the Clinton impeachment but now insist the case is made to impeach Trump.‬

‪I have maintained that they both could be removed, one for a crime and one for a noncrime. The difference is that the Clinton crime was accepted by Democrats. Indeed, a judge reaffirmed that Clinton committed perjury, a crime for which thousands of other citizens have been jailed. Yet the calls for showing that “no one is above the law” went silent with Clinton.‬

‪As I stated Wednesday, I believe the Clinton case is relevant today and my position remains the same. I do not believe a crime has been proven over the Ukraine controversy, though I said such crimes might be proven with a more thorough investigation. Instead, Democrats have argued that they do not actually have to prove the elements of crimes such as bribery and extortion to use those in drafting articles of impeachment. In the Clinton impeachment, the crime was clearly established and widely recognized.‬

‪As I said 21 years ago, a president can still be impeached for abuse of power without a crime, and that includes Trump. But that makes it more important to complete and strengthen the record of such an offense, as well as other possible offenses. I remain concerned that we are lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. Trump will not be our last president. ‬

‪What we leave in the wake of this scandal will shape our democracy for generations to come. These “agitated passions” will not be a substitute for proof in an impeachment. We currently have too much of the former and too little of the latter.‬

‪Jonathan Turley is the chair of public interest law at George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a Republican witness in House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Follow him @JonathanTurley.‬


I’ve buffed up something I wrote two years after my best friend died. I’ve republished it because it may give some of the flavour of one part of my life, the part with my friends outside of family. ‬

‪....Someone, doesn’t matter who, wrote this: ‬

‪...For the past forty years, Richard Levinson has spoken on the phone with his friend and fellow trial lawyer John every single day...‬

‪I had such a best friend, my law partner in fact, James Rose, who died too young two years ago and a bit, in December 2010. From September 28, 2004 to the day he died, December 23, 2010, to be exact, he practiced law in Bracebridge, Ontario, and I practiced law in Toronto, both under the banner, Basman Rose. Before that for about 15 years, we were partners in a larger downtown Toronto law firm, where our friendship formed and cemented itself. ‬

‪What didn't we do together but everything, traveled--an annual tradition inaugurated by a last minute decision to fly from Toronto to Little Rock to be there for Clinton's winning the presidency first time round, fought cases, quarrelled with each other, drank too much too often, sat that out in too many bars, ate a million meals, listened how many times and where not to the blues, saw each other through all our relative crises, got pissed off with each other, laughed about it after. ‬

‪It's said people are as sick as their secrets. Well on that score we were healthy. We talked about everything and everyone, the glorious and the shockingly inglorious. No secrets. ‬

‪From the time we became friends till the day he died, we kibitzed about and laughed at everything. Always, and more than anything else, we were laughing. ‬

‪The trial lawyer daily phoning his friend put me in more intense mind of my friend--he's always on my mind, more or less. I had dinner with one of my best friends last week and told him a long story about certain experiences I'd been having.‬

‪He asked me who else I'd told or would tell this story to. I mentioned a few people who were our mutual friends and ruled some in and some out and said the reasons why. He then asked me if I would have told this story to James Rose. "Oh my God," I said, paraphrasing, "in a heart beat. We thrived on sharing these kinds of stories with each other. This kind of story was so us."‬

‪And in thinking about it, though I've had the same thought innumerable times, as I lived through the experiences forming the story, complicated, bittersweet, enlivening, making-life-worthwhile experiences they are, I was again struck but even more forcefully, like a hammer to the head, how much of each other's lives we shared and in a way lived, and how we in our friendship lived a certain life together, like a marriage but it was a friendship between two men who believed at bottom they were forever kids.‬

‪Him dead is like living without something, say one of your senses, or an arm or a leg. It's living with a certain kind of irreparability. You keep on. You keep having a relatively full life. But too you live that life with a sizeable hole in it and there is, ultimately, nothing to fill it in. But at least there is the poignant and intangible concreteness of memory and the deep thanks to the way things sometimes go that I had such a friend.‬

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Cultural Criticism: Is It A Lost Cause: In A Few Words, Why It’s Not

‪Calum Marsh:‬‬

‪Me, note to Marsh: ‬

‪It’s trite that social media form the platform for our, say, North American, English speaking conversation. And it’s trite that we live with hyper partisanship, connected to that very virality. So, rather than taking in the conversation informed by viral partisanship, better to avoid it, seeking out criticism and reviews that avoid it. Swim around it rather than drown in it. ‬

‪As for deep reading, it need not be devoid of common sense and filled with academic abstraction. Rather, it can try to penetrate the meaning of worthwhile works, evaluate their aesthetic worth and say why. Lots of room In that for a rich and lively diversity of considered views. And without it getting partisan or ideological, deep reading can further involve trying to locate works culturally, asking and trying to answer what they say about us in our moment.  Norman Podhoretz noted the conjunction of these two aspects of criticism against a false opposition between them.‬

Thursday, November 21, 2019

NFL Waiver


‪On November 16, 2019, _________________ (“Player”) will voluntarily participate in a workout at the Atlanta Falcons Headquarters & Training Facility at 4400 Falcon Parkway, Flowery Branch, Georgia, 30542 (the “Facility”). Player understands that the Workout may include, without limitation, various physical tests, questionnaires, time and/or agility tests, and such other tests to which Player may reasonably agree (collectively, the “Workout”) for purposes of Player’s consideration for prospective employment by NFL Clubs. In consideration for the opportunity to participate in the Workout on November 16, 2019, Player agrees to the following:‬

‪1. Player understands that participation in the Workout requires physical conditioning and therefore represents and warrants that (i) he is in excellent physical condition capable of participating in the Workout without risk to himself and (ii) has no known mental, emotional, or physical disabilities, injuries, or issues that would prohibit, inhibit, or limit Player’s full participation or would threaten, jeopardize, or risk Player’s well-being or the well-being of any other persons participating in the Workout;‬

‪2. Player acknowledges that he has been made no promise of employment, and understands that his participation in the Workout does not constitute employment by any of the Released Parties (as defined herein), but desires to participate in the Workout voluntarily in order to be considered for possible future employment. Player further acknowledges that his participation in the Workout does not guarantee that Player will be offered employment by any of the Released Parties at any time.‬

‪3. Player expressly waives a physical examination prior to, at, during, or following the Workout and expressly agrees that he does not require or desire a physical examination.‬

‪4. Player understands and acknowledges that the activities that occur during the Workout are inherently dangerous and may result in Player’s bodily injury or death. Player further understands that his participation in the Workout involves risks, inherent or otherwise, that cannot be eliminated and that may cause serious injury or illness, including, without limitation, physical injuries, aggravation of existing injuries, strokes, seizures or even death. Player is an experienced athlete and understands that physical injury is common among professional and amateur athletes and can happen at any time, including during the Workout and with or without physical contact. Player further acknowledges that any of such injuries can reduce or eliminate his ability to play professional and/or amateur sports and can impair other life functions. Player accepts sole responsibility for all risks, both known and unknown, related to his participation in the Workout and acknowledges that he is participating in the Workout with knowledge and awareness of such risks.‬

‪5. Player understands and acknowledges that playing surfaces and other flooring at the Facility may be imperfect and have defects, holes, patches lacking grass or turf, and may be wet or have other conditions that may result in or contribute to injury. Player accepts the playing surface and other flooring at the Facility in their current condition and with all faults ‬

‪6 Player understands and acknowledges that playing equipment such as footballs, kicking tees, shoes, helmets, blocking sleds, weight equipment, treadmills, and any other equipment, whether similar or dissimilar, may have defects that can contribute to or result in injury.‬

‪7. In consideration for the opportunity to participate in the Workout, Player, for himself, his personal representatives, executors, administrators, heirs, successors and assigns, hereby releases, discharges, and agrees to indemnify and hold harmless National Invitational Camp, Inc., National Football Scouting, Inc., the owner(s), operator(s) and manager(s) of the Facility, any and all individuals participating in or present at the Workout, including, without limitation, Joe Philbin, the National Football League (“NFL”) and each of its 32 NFL Member Clubs, and each of the foregoing parties’ respective direct and indirect affiliates, partners, subsidiaries, agents, representatives, employees, shareholders, officers, directors, attorneys, insurers, successors and assigns (collectively, the “Released Parties”), from and against any and all claims, demands, actions, causes of action, suits, grievances, costs, losses, expenses, damages, injuries, illnesses, and losses (including death) caused by, arising out of, occurring during, or related directly or indirectly to the Workout, Player’s presence at the Facility, and any medical treatment or services rendered in connection with or necessitated by Player’s participation in the Workout.‬

‪8. Player understands and acknowledges that Player is fully and finally releasing and discharging the Released Parties from any and all liability related to any injuries occurring at, arising from, related to, or aggravated by the Workout, whether such injury has an unknown cause or is caused by physical contact, the playing surface, and/or other surfaces at the Facility, faulty equipment, or any other cause or causes. Player understands that Player will be solely responsible for the cost of his own medical care, rehabilitation, surgery, and/or other treatment in the event he sustains any injury during or as a result of the Workout. It is the express intention of Player to release and absolve the Released Parties, and Player confirms that he would not be permitted to participate in the Workout unless he agrees to execute this Workout Waiver and Release of Liability (the “Release”).‬

‪9. Player further understands that should any first aid or medical services be provided or made available to Player in connection with his participation in the Workout, the provision or availability of which is not guaranteed, the Released Parties do not warrant or make any representation concerning the adequacy or continuation of such medical services, nor can the Released Parties be deemed responsible or held liable for any claims arising out of the provision of such first aid or medical services or the failure to provide or to continue to provide such medical services.‬

‪10. Player further authorizes the Released Parties to authorize or consent to, on behalf of Player, any emergency medical treatment that may become necessary in the event that Player is not capable of giving such authorization at the time emergency medical treatment is needed.‬

‪11. Player hereby grants the Released Parties the right to use and distribute Player’s name, photographs, voices, image, likeness, and any other protectable features to NFL Clubs and their representatives or employees, including scouts, for purposes of evaluating the potential employment of Player without further authorization or compensation.‬

‪12. This Release shall be binding upon Player’s heirs, executors, administrators, personal representatives, and assigns.‬

‪13. This Release is governed by the laws of New York, without regard to conflict-of-law principles, and is intended to be as broad and inclusive as permitted by the laws of the State of New York. If any portion hereof is held invalid, the balance shall continue in full legal force and effect. Any and all claims or disputes arising out of Player’s participation in the Workout or this Release shall be adjudicated solely in federal or state court in New York, New York. Player consents to personal jurisdiction in such courts.‬

‪In signing this Release, Player hereby acknowledges and represents that he:‬

‪(1) Has read the foregoing Release, understands it, and signs it voluntarily.‬
‪(2) Is over eighteen (18) years of age and has the legal capacity to execute this document and‬
‪to make the representations, waivers, disclosures, and releases herein contained.‬
‪(3) Is not an agent, servant, or employee of any of the Released Parties, but rather a volunteer‬
‪seeking to be evaluated at Player’s sole and entire risk.‬
‪Print Name‬

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Irishman, My Martin Scorsese Problem And Donnie Brasco‬

A note to a friend:‬

‪I just read your nice, spritely review of The Irishman. Don’t take this in an unintended way: there’s no accounting for taste. We’re both reasonably intelligent and we both respond with some insight and sensitivity to films. But with respect to this film, our tastes go in quite different directions. It’s not a matter, natch, of who is right and wrong. It’s just different views stemming from different senses of taste here, although exploring them with a little polemical vigour couldn’t hurt.‬

‪I’d say it’s not so much that I didn’t like the movie. I do, after all, despite my reservations, give it 3.5 out of 5, which isn’t stale bread. I recognize its highly commendable excellences, principally the superb acting, also the sweep of the thing and the obvious cinematic riches and craft, the most latter of which, the craft, I’m least well versed in—the famed long, long single camera shot in Goodfellas means little to me.‬

‪I’ll go back for long, long sec to my main bugaboo. ‬

‪I just can’t see all this creative energy and focus on a murderous, obtuse dem, dese and dose thug like Sheeran and I can’t see giving all his fellow murderous thugs the pleasant cinematic haze in which Scorsese, maybe despite himself, bathes them. They come across, as I noted, like lovable old uncles, made for the most part wise and to be respected in virtue of passing with honours the hard lessons of their own experience. Having survived and ascended through their hard, treacherous lives, they’ve gotten their PhDs from the graduate school of homicidal hard knocks. They’re, to borrow Ross Perot’s line, roads scholars. ‬

‪So, for me, it’s not a question really of disdaining movies about hateful or disgusting characters. That’s not the issue at all. It’s rather how they’re treated. And with Scorsese and his thug movies, with the seeds of it in Mean Streets, which I love and am least offended by, I confront a paradox: they, Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, The Departed, even Who’s That Knocking At My Door, are compellingly entertaining and watchable—they count among the movies I mostly see over and over, but, and this is may be where my weird idiosyncrasy comes in, I find them morally bereft. ‬

‪I’ve mentioned to you my contrasting example of Donnie Brasco, where the thugs are shown to be the true low lifes they are, but where Al Pacino’s “Lefty” is given enough humanity to make him simultaneously a sympathetic but so sad a figure. There’s no admiration for these guys. But there’s the art of the thing, the genuine friendship between Donnie and Lefty even as we see Lefty in all his sad coarseness, at his dumpy home apartment, shlumpily wearing his track suits, sunk into his couch watching the nature channel. ‬

‪There’s a truth in this that it seems to me Scorsese never touches in his thug movies. And not just there, but in The Wolf Of Wall Street too. His high jinx, fun, flashy cinematics in showing the thugs and the cheating profiteers balling it up joyously undercut any felt critical sense of what bottom of the moral barrel dregs they all are. It’s my beef with the Roy Cohn doc too. The obsession in it with Cohn’s wealth, his power, his celebrity, his hoity toity socializing at all the hot, high and mighty spots with the high and mighty themselves all raise, to my mind, a subtextual admiration for it all. ‬

‪I get that with Scorsese, just that in The Irishman, the voltage has aged, as has he, and has lost its flashy power. The energy has been slowed, toned down and quietened. But the rosy, cinematic hue is still there regardless and there’s the rub of the paradox, where the contrarieties meet: the compelling entertainment of it at one with a deficient moral vision. Proof of the paradox: I’ll see The Irishman again virtually the minute it hits Netflix and it will without doubt  join my list of eminently rewatchables‬

‪Here’s a thought test. Say a Scorsese movie was made of Trump, showing him in such rounded complexity as he has and not without its dimension of sympathy and maybe some discernible subtextual admiration for him. And imagine that all the Scorsese film pluses comprise the movie, say fabulously entertaining recreations of Trump at one of his rallies, wowing the crowd or dramatizing with some admiration his sheer resilience even as all the shit comes down on him. How do you imagine you might take that? My point is that Scorsese’s thug protagonists are no better than Trump. ‬

‪A final note: I find the same paradox in Godfather 1, an utterly compellingly watchable movie but for me morally failing in rosying up these hoodlums, while Godfather 2 is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, the truth of these guys realized in Michael’s fratricide and in his final sheer joyless, almost inhuman, aloneness.   ‬

‪As I said, “a long, long, sec.”  😊 ‬

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Reading Of Don Cherry’s Supposedly Notorious Words

‪1+ Explication de texte: “You people love, you that come here, whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey. At least you can pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada.”D Cherry ‬

‪2+ My position is that Cherry neither singles out racially visible immigrants or includes them all in his disdain for those who don’t wear poppies.‬

‪3+ He refers first to “you people,” which in context means all people who don’t wear poppies. ‬

‪Then he fills in who “you people” includes. Clearly, it’s you that come to Canada, which means anyone who’s come to Canada and doesn’t wear a poppy. ‬

‪4+ No mention of any people of colour, of any particular race or ethnicity, just anyone, as I say, who’s come here and goes poppyless. ‬

‪5+ Then the capper, his unnoticed, “whatever it is,” which can only mean, in effect and paraphrasing, “those who come here, those who are from here, anyone, whomever they are and for whatever the reason, who don’t wear a poppy.” ‬

‪6+ So on this reading of his words, there is no warrant for an imputation of racism, of slanging all immigrants, racially visible or not, of singling out racially visible immigrants or referring to all immigrants. ‬

‪7+ Who he’s focused on is those, anyone, any Canadian, who doesn’t wear a poppy. ‬

‪8+ It’s a species of hysteria to misread into his words racist slurring or xenophobic immigrant bashing. And that is a function of the hyper grievance and outrage culture which, like the air, is all around us. Victimization at the drop of a hat or a misinterpreted word. ‬


‪Too many are too quick to take offence, which is especially and sadly ironic when this reflexive defensiveness issues out of a misapprehension as to the ostensible insult’s cause, as is the case of these words of a Cherry called Don. ‬

The End

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Note To A Friend On Scorsese’s The Irishman

‪I’m afraid I join the small minority of critics and reviewers, a paltry few, who were disappointed by this movie though my take is likely idiosyncratic. ‬

‪The acting is of course boss. The recreation of those times and characters is superb. And the arc is interesting. But I’m baffled by the point of it all. We have the mildly humorous, never condemnatory, humanization of a low life, murderous, soulless creep of a thug, laced with too many comic touches, in the telling of his story. This movie, after all, isn’t “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” These were terrible, terrible people, but that doesn’t really come across. The humour, the series of virtually comic, flippant subtitles about the guys who were murdered by X number of bullets, the murderous gangsters coming across like lovable old uncles all lend a mild, entertaining tone that cuts against a vivid sense of how homicidally bad these low life thugs  were.‬

‪I don’t get the point of that.‬

‪It seems to me that the great amount of undeniable craft is wasted on a subject unworthy of it all. ‬

‪As I say, I found the movie soulless. And that it’s a kind of docudrama that surveys a series of historical events diminishes, for me, what dramatic power it might have otherwise have had. I wasn’t, for example, moved by the seeming dilemma for Frank in needing, having been ordered, to take out his very close friend, Hoffa—(and it’s disputed, maybe even debunked, that he even did it.) His fairly easy compliance erases any sense of his dilemma and any drama. Plus, the murder of Hoffa scene is excruciating in its unnecessary slow length. ‬

‪I was never exactly bored but some parts of the movie stretched out too long. I found myself at times getting impatient and looking at my watch. ‬

‪I have an extra acute sense of disappointment likely because my expectations and excited anticipation were so high. ‬

‪So, in a nutshell, my view is of the movie’s pointlessness. My wife loved the acting but was neither here nor there about the film. We rode down in an elevator to get to my car and I was humming In The Still Of The Night. An elderly woman riding down with us smiled at my humming. She’d seen the movie and she loved it. So, go know. ‬

‪If I had to score it, I’d give a disappointing 3.5 out of 5, 7 out of 10, 70 out of a 100.‬

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Foursome Of Notes On To Kill A Mockingbird


‪I'm approaching the 1/3d mark of To Kill A Mockingbird.‬

‪A few interim thoughts.‬

‪Why not?‬

‪I generally know the story and saw the movie quite some time ago. So I do have a few preconceptions I'm trying to keep in check. And I'm not looking at any reviews or criticism as I read. My responses are straight from what I've read so far. I'm seeing something quite wonderful and one thing in particular that is raising some doubt.‬

‪The wonderful part so far, first 1/3d, is the portrayal of childhood in a particular setting, a small Alabama town seething right at its surface with racism, backwardness, violence and white trash. Foreboding is in the air as childhood innocence slowly recedes.  ‬

‪A few things occur to me as to what makes the portrayal so vividly and beautifully affecting. One is that the first person telling is framed by Jean Louise as an adult recounting her young years simultaneously from the perspective of how she took in things back then, including her thoughts and words in her own young kid words merged with her adult understanding and explanations of that understanding in her own grown up thoughts and words. ‬

‪Another is how Lee so sharply delineates Jean Louise, Jem and Dill too, making them come alive in the consistent particularity of each with all their childish behaving and misbehaving and talk. What is remarkable is how Lee seems to penetrate the essence of what it means to be 6 or 7 or 12, in this place at this time as revealed in these kids' playing, their deviltry, their wonder, their incipient strengths, their weaknesses, their hard and growing education in the ways the world goes, and their experiences with others, relatives, elderly neighbours, other kids, and principally of course with Atticus. ‬

‪Calling him "Atticus" rather than "Dad" or "Father" seems a perfect touch, consistent with him being an older father, 50, both righteous and slightly world weary, a little bit detached yet warm and loving too. It's amazing how without saying so Lee makes us feel the absence of a mother in Jean Louise's and Jem's lives, makes us feel what it's like for them to live only with their relatively elderly and only slightly starchy father. His kids calling him "Atticus" conveys so much of all this.‬

‪Enhancing this seeming penetration of the essence of their childhood are two things at least (among others I'm sure): one is the detailed, concrete sense of place, local colour, revealed in virtually every sentence; and what makes that revelation striking among other things is the unerring use of language to convey this sense of place, the colloquialisms, the tropes--the poetry of them, the formalities and informalities in the ways of speaking, the idioms, the manner, forms and rhythms of southern speech, all of it adding up to a particularly identifiable and believable sensibility and world, making, in short, setting resonant in language. ‬

‪....Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum...‬

‪One aspect of that resonance is the mixture of high sounding elegant language with the all the informalities, the colloquialisms ungrammaticalnesses, ain'ts" for one instance, and such. I'm reminded of Huck Finn's use of the verb "commence" as in (say) "I commenced to wonderin,'" such a peculiar and resonant Southern phrasing, fusing the high sounding with the slightly ungrammatical, informal and contracted, each setting the other off to form a vividly perfect phrase. To Kill A Mockingbird is filled with these kinds of locutions.‬

‪My one seed of doubt is the portrayal of Atticus. He's, so far, so idealized and so filled with such mighty rectitude, sympathy, empathy (and all the other good thies), compassion, wisdom, patience, wry humour, strength, and all like that, with no discernible chinks in his upright, righteous armour that he's verging on caricature, on the utterly and rather unbelievably saintly. I'm not rushing to this judgment. It's but a gnawing partially formed sense that I'll keep an internal tab on.‬


‪I'm just at the point at which the repressed, imperious  aunt has moved in for a spell and is trying to suppress everybody else, inflicting her life denying snobbery, classism, racism, and "manners" on our poor Finches, including Atticus who's engaged in an eternal struggle within himself in how to deal with his minor monster of a sister. The point is made by Jean Louise narrating from an adult distance how in all her imperious negation Alexandra makes for a perfect fit with Maycomb and it with her. ‬

‪The argument between Atticus and Alexandra about her wanting to get rid of Calpurnia, which Atticus calmly disposes of without high emotion of any kind, not even a hint of intemperateness, add another notch to the gun-handle of his seeming saintliness. ‬

‪But when he makes Jean Louise apologize after she rightly and righteously lashes out at Alexandra for piping up that she, Jean Louise, "certainly cannot visit Calpurnia at her home," paraphrase, intoning in that opinion everything that is wrong with her and the attitudes she typifies, we may be seeing the first chink in the armour of his saintliness, a too ready inclination to bow down before, or at least give in to even by merely putting up with,  all that Alexandran negation. ‬

‪Same touch of human failure when he comes onto Jem and Jean Louise to deliver the Alexandran directed sermon as to how these kids must understand their superior Finch lineage and live up to it, not down from it as they have been, as Alexandra sees it. ‬

‪Conflicted and taken out of himself, against his own inclinations, Atticus delivers this sermon, shocking his kids into thinking their world has been turned upside down, that everything they've been taught and how they've lived are wrong and must be corrected, and shocked and made panicky and tearful at the thought that they have "lost" their father. ‬

‪Thankfully, in an instant it all passes. They know they have him back as Atticus of old, back to himself, as he tells them they should forget what he just told him. Here's another rare display of something transitorily weak and indeterminate, therefore human, therefore psychologically rounded and more real, in Atticus.‬


‪I'm at the point in To Kill A Mocking Bird where it's just after Atticus has lost the rape case.‬

‪(I have no idea as to how the eventual appeal turns out. I don't remember that from the movie, or if the movie even deals with an appeal.)‬

‪One thing of interest to me was my initial sense of the possibility of an unreal saintliness in Atticus to the point of caricature. There have been things he's said and done in his ultra sage raising of his kids that have tended to drive me round the bend with his excess of wisdom and goodliness.‬

‪But his losing the trial and his marked world weariness after it are quite humanizing as is too his quietly competent trying of Tom Robinson's defence. No Perry Mason, no flashing legal brilliance, no legal miracles, just, rather, a hard working, diligent, undramatically effective, committed, conscientious and totally human defence counsel facing impossibly long cultural odds. ‬

‪Pretty good that.‬

‪4th and last‬

‪I finished To Kill A Mockingbird.‬

‪I weighed my judgment of Atticus as I read it.‬

‪So here's a (probably idiosyncratic) morally based take on the novel as a matter of my first raw impression of it. This note is purposely unaided by reading any secondary material, be it reviews or more formal literary criticism.‬

‪If anyone has the patience or interest to read all this, I'd love to discuss it and be shown where I'm misreading and not seeing things right. ‬

‪At times I found Atticus's tendency to saintliness insufferable and not to be believed. At other times, in his failures, his world weariness, in his occasional weaknesses in (say) bowing to Alexandra, in his age showing more, in his tender love for his children, doing the best he can to raise them as a single parent, I liked him and believed in him as a formed and rounded character with strong and admirable values in word and in deed.‬

‪So I had, as I went along, mixed and opposed feelings about him. But two final things tipped the balance thumbs down, aesthetically and substantively. ‬

‪The two things are: Atticus's telling Jean-Louise, paraphrase, "No, in not hating anyone, I don't hate Hitler;" and secondly, his insistence at novel's end that Jem face the legal music, even if sure to be exonerated, for stabbing Bob Ewell to his death, when Atticus thought that was what happened. ‬

‪Atticus not hating Hitler is consistent with his preachment to his kids not to hate anyone, to walk in their shoes before judging others, to try to see matters as they might before judging them. The problem is that Hitler exemplifies a limit to that preachment, that it is inhuman and unbelievable that this preachment doesn't hit a wall in the instance of a Hitler. ‬

‪The novel makes clear that it's not insufficient knowledge, as in "We simply don't know enough to judge," that inhibits hatred. For Jean Louise's teacher has made it known to her what Hitler is doing to Jews. Atticus not only refuses to hate him but patronizingly says after Jean Louise, somewhat morally confused, tells Atticus that her teacher hates Hitler, "I'm sure she does." Atticus implies by this that the teacher's hatred is morally undeveloped, lesser, inferior to his own high minded refusal to indulge in such low emotion. Here, Atticus's is an irritating piety at odds, I'd argue, with the man Lee thinks she portrays.‬

‪But the more damning instance of this insufferable piety is in Atticus wanting Jem officially to confront killing Ewell even after Hec Tate, the sheriff, insistently contrives a narrative for good reason that Ewell accidentally killed himself by falling on his own knife. At this point, Atticus wrongly thinks the reason for Tate's contrivance is to spare Jem the need to deal with the consequences of killing Ewell. ‬

‪He fights Tate every step of the way, rejecting the out he believes Tate's offering. No, no he intones, he must (as I gloss it) sacrifice Jem--a 12 year old sensitive and sheltered little boy, who's just been through hell, has been almost murdered, has been knocked unconscious, has had his arm badly broken, and has, so Atticus thinks, killed Ewell to protect Jean Louise--sacrifice him on the altar of his, Atticus's impossible piety, his impossibly superior morality. ‬

‪Atticus must, he says, live publicly just be as he does privately; he says he must live up to his own ideals; he will lose his children otherwise; they will see him doing something hypocritically differently from what he's taught them all their lives; better, much better, he says, to bring it all in the open (and, implicitly, let the chips fall where they may); if he agrees to Hec Tate whisking Jem's killing away, why then he will not be able to live with himself, he says. No, no, he says, Jem must face up to what happened even as Atticus presumes self defense will lead to acquittal. ‬

‪What kind of high mindedness is this? Isn't it more a kind of inhuman self righteousness, almost fanatical? What father, what kind of a father, in all these very particular circumstances insists that his broken up, traumatized 12 year old son court the possibility of criminal prosecution in order that he, the father, can live up to his own unflinching, unwavering moral code? What kind of a man can't here bend a little for the sake of his son's well being, for the sake of protecting his son, can't find another way with his son to deal with all this short of inviting legal process? Is he Abraham willing to slay Isaac in order to heed God's command? What kind of moral preciousness is this? ‬

‪There are (at least) two problems I see with Lee having Atticus take this firm position. One is that it fails aesthetically. It's simply not believable that a man like Atticus who is not shown throughout to be at his core a rigorous fanatic, who is shown having weak moments, who is shown knowing the way of the world, who is not a naïf, who knows what evil lurks where, wouldn't take the out he thinks Hec Tate offers. ‬

‪The second is that Lee means to shows Atticus as morally exemplary in his fine refusal to make an exception of his son even in these benighted circumstances. But this high morality is really an (unmeant by Lee) repugnant moralism, both inhuman and unreal, that gets away from her. And presenting Atticus so is of a piece with a certain thematic soft headedness that flaws this novel. ‬

‪In touching on that, I ask why exactly is Atticus ok with the contrived "fell on his knife story" once he comes to understand that in fact Boo Radley killed Ewell and Jem didn't? Why the bending now? Why the exception now? Sure Jem is Atticus's son and Boo Radley isn't in Atticus's charge. But, still, Atticus is a lawyer, an officer of the court, duty bound to do the legally right thing and here's a sheriff fabricating a false narrative to spin the reality of what happened in order to spare Boo Radley all manner of legal and other consequence (including even being bothered by the Maycomb community in thanking him.)‬

‪But now not even a word in protest, no counter argument that in principle it's not right. Why alright for Boo, but not for Jem? Why solicitous compromise sparing Boo but all inflexible moral stricture for Jem? My argument is that it makes no sense and is ill thought through. ‬

‪The encapsulation of what I call Lee's soft headed piety--on display in Atticus being too morally superior to hate Hitler, on display in his (intended by Lee as admirable) insistence that Jem be made to face the consequences of killing Ewall--is evident in symbol of the mockingbird and in the maxim that it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. The theme in this is that it's a sin to kill something so innocent, that makes no problem for anyone--not like (say) those thieving blue jays--and which only sings prettily, copying the songs of other birds. Atticus knows that Jean Louise understands the wisdom of covering up what Boo Radley did when she says that to pursue him for killing Ewell would be like killing a mockingbird. Atticus approves and agrees.‬

‪This supposed insight, however, accords Boo Radley not an iota, not an ounce, of human agency and contradicts what Atticus has been trying to teach his kids about Boo throughout the novel in order to demystify him, that, in effect, he's a person too, to be understood as such and respected as such. Boo watches the kids, plants gifts for them--some of which he made. Not only does he watch them, he watches over them. He too is their protecter. And so he fulfills what Atticus has been trying to teach about him. ‬

‪If so, then how does the mockingbird come to stand for him, for a flesh and blood human being capable of love and violence and who acts out of his own agency to kill Bob Ewell? Why is the mockingbird, without its own song, merely singing prettily other birds' songs and, so, mocking them, likened to him? My argument is that Lee has undermined her novel thematically and symbolically in this deep inconsistency with Boo. ‬

‪While likening Boo to a mockingbird is textually explicit, it's arguable that there's a similar likening of it to Tom Robinson. True it is that he has a record for fighting, but in relation to Mayella Ewell, he's a total innocent, merely doing her kindnesses, taking no money from her for them, befriending her in ways on seeing how pitiable and ill used she is, even to the point of not wanting to upset her or make her feel rejected when trying to resist her. And he's killed in his innocence. ‬

‪So in fact it's highly arguable that the symbolic and thematic import of the mockingbird attaches to Tom Robinson too. If so, then the just discussed flawed contradiction concerning Boo Radley is even more deeply and offensively apparent in relation to Tom Robinson. To deny him, a mentally fit man, agency by way of the symbol of the mockingbird is, finally, racism, unaware racism, but racism nonetheless. The descriptions of Tom reflexively running away enhance that depiction of him. ‬

‪I can see an argument that Lee subverts, or chips away at, the pedestal on which she places Atticus. But in my heart of hearts I think that's a stretch, a way of rationalizing his flawed piety. The book just doesn't read to me that way. For example, with Atticus's refusal to hate Hitler, the teacher who in contrast hates him is later shown to be a hypocritical anti black racist, which reinforces Atticus's smug dismissal of her hatred of Hitler when he says, "I'm sure she does." The symbol of the mockingbird seems so misbegotten to me for among the reasons I note that I can't see Lee capable of such subtle subversive tough mindedness. ‬

‪I understand that a novel isn't a polemic. It's not an argument to be picked apart by showing how it doesn't stand up for any number of reasons, or to be counter-argued. That said, still a novel must be thematically and symbolically coherent. It must, so to say, be able to live with itself. Where it has incoherence, things that can't stand together, parts that defy believability, then it is fairly criticized for those failings. I think this is the case with To Kill A Mockingbird as I read it.‬

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

More On Where’s My Roy Cohn And A Little On Citizen Cohn


‪Haven't seen the flick, but with their purple prose, "K" and "Me" make a caricature of Cohn.  Well, he was a caricature of himself, too.  I suggest you view or re-view James Woods' Cohn, to get a more three-dimensional look.  If McCarthy weren't his Prince, then Cohn might be just another pitbull litigator, depending on your view of aggressive lawyers.  For more perspective, see Woods as Danny Davis, in Indictment: The McMartin Trial.  Both stories are chilling.  Compare and contrast Cohn with Darrow, Rogers, Nizer, Belli, Balley, who had their vices.  Or maybe Cohn the political hit man is more interesting than Cohn the lawyer. ‬

‪I'm reminded of the history of labor relations.  For a long time workers with grievances were mugged by company goons.  Then unions got their own muscle, and companies had to listen.  Of course, that muscle inevitably came from gangsters, who used union pension funds to finance their projects or launder their money, like Las Vegas and Miami Beach.  But that's what it took to level the playing field for the worker.  Prosecutors have an outfit behind them.  Some lawyers have their own outfits.  Hey, it's the adversarial system!  Fun and games with justice.‬


‪I can’t go along with my prose as purple, but we could saw it off as mauve.‬

‪I’ll check out, try to, the James Woods flick, Citizen Cohn. And I’ll try to check out Indictment: The McMartin Trial. ‬

‪Good counterfactual point about what would Cohn have amounted to if he hadn’t worked for McCarthy. But he did and then he did what he did, so really there’s no need for supposin’.‬

‪The US yesteryear practice of law was pretty wild and wooly and the guys you list were larger than life and had their share of shenanigans. But except for Bailey, I’m unaware of any of the rest of them stealing from their clients and bullet proofing themselves so as to be immune from money judgments. I know Belli went broke while prosecuting a class action against Dow Corning after it did. But that’s not a comparable thing. ‬

‪And while Conrad Black is right to complain loudly and bitterly at the power US prosecutors have and how unethically they often wield it, what with gross overcharging and so on and having a near infinite list of laws and regulations to choose from, my impression is that civil litigation and criminal defense work in the US isn’t anything like what it was in the time of Darrow or Rogers. That Cohn and Bailey got disbarred is a sign of the changes, and those disbarments were some years ago. Cohn seems to me to outstrip all these guys in the way of wrong doing. He seems in a class by himself. And the doc didn’t do a a good job, as I argue, in making his evil vivid. ‬

‪Btw, we Canucks are pikers in the way of unlawful legal shenanigans. Our most prominent lawyers past and present are church mice compared to your guys. ‬


‪Hey, we just watched Citizen Cohn. It’s good. You’re so right that it gives a more rounded, “three dimensional,” picture of Cohn. I learned some things the doc never showed. It’s better than the doc in that. I think the doc is weak in any event as I’ve noted. But I make this point: in presenting a more rounded Cohn, the movie doesn’t veer in attitude from what the doc tries, not so well, to show—Cohn as unmitigatedly evil. In fact, the movie does what the doc doesn’t: give a vivid and dramatic version of his evil, however rounded its depiction of him is. So if the charge of purple (or in my case mauve) prose goes to K and I vilifying Cohn by over the top words in describing his rotten soullessness, well, the movie makes the case for those colors in language, purple, mauve, being apt.  ‬

Some Thoughts On Where’s My Roy Cohn


‪Just saw Where's My Roy Cohn and to cut to the chase, I gave it 4.80 out of 5.00 stars. Superbly researched, fascinating structure, skillful intermixing of interviews, various clips from his tv appearances (the inclusion of cage fight btw Cohn and Gore Vidal alone was worth the price of admission) and extrapolations from then to now, both in terms of politics, socio-cultural rot, and the wretched denouement from Cohn to the Degenerate current befouling the Presidency, our nation, and our culture, was well crafted and engaging.‬

‪But, this comes with several caveats:‬

‪1) One has to know who Roy Cohn was, what gave him his start, and why, over the decades, this miserable diseased excrescence was able to manipulate the levers of power, to truly understand the movie. This lops off a huge portion of the potential movie audience.‬

‪2) And, even if the answer to the above caveat is yes, one has to be willing to spend time watching a documentary about Roy Cohn, which was akin to taking a deep dive into a sh*t filled sewer, with rats, disease, and lethal pathogens engulfing you. Again, this lops off another huge slice of the potential movie audience.‬

‪3) Finally, if the answers to #1 and #2 are yes, then go see it but beware: Even going in fully braced and aware that one is exposing oneself to an Earth Bound Satan, one never really knows the after effects of prolonged exposure to such Majestic Satanic Manifestation. I will be checking my limbs, heart, and soul for any Ebola like after effects from my 90 minutes of congress with Roy Cohn and, to make matters even more lethal, at the end, with Donald Trump.‬

‪However, if you can meet the challenge of these 3 caveats, then go see this superb documentary.‬


‪K, thanks for your review. We saw the doc Monday night. We thought it was enjoyable and informative. But I’ve had a nagging feeling about it ever since. ‬

‪I’m not familiar with this documentarian. He has apparently done a doc on Studio 54. I think I may have seen it a few years ago but I’m not sure. I have no problem with any such doc as such but documenting Studio 54 suggests to me his attraction to high life, bright lights celebrity even if he’s critical of it.‬

‪ And that’s what’s nagging at me about Where’s My Roy Cohn. The doc, to my mind, except for the continual showing of Cohn’s evil, smirking face, told me about his rotted, soulless wrong doing rather than showing it to me. For example, he gets disbarred, a huge deal based on moral turpitude, for, among other things, breaching his fiduciary obligations to his clients in a massively corrupt way by stealing their money. But there’s no dramatizing how awful that is. Rather we get the grey bespectacled lawyer who prosecuted Cohn telling us about it. What about words from and showing us the actual victims?‬

‪Plus, in the guise of documenting Cohn’s destructiveness, we get a lot of his “bright lights, big city” celebrity life, him on his yacht, him in the company of the ostensibly great and famous, movers and shakers, him hob nobbing at celebrated, expensive, exclusive places, him as loyal to his friends, him constant extolled as a great, smart lawyer, him depicted as someone who railed against and fought against power and the establishment and so on and on with this kind of sub textual, or not even so sub textual, praising him, under the umbrella of documenting his sociopathic rottenness. ‬

‪Which is not to say, there’s any problem with a complicated, rounded portrayal of him in all his fullness. But in this doc, my nagging self tells me, there wasn’t enough nor powerful enough taking him down and there was too much, likely unintended, basking in his ostensible glow. ‬

‪Lastly, my nagging sense is that there was much too much made of his homosexuality. Again, it’s not that that shouldn’t have been documented in the portrayal of him, but the director went overboard with it such that he lost balance. It became a distraction from Cohn’s sheer exploitative, sociopathic evil, the fullness and sharpness of which finally got a little lost amidst the images of his stuffed animals, his loyalty to the Reagans and Trump and the kinds of seemingly glamorous things about him we’re so often shown and that I’ve noted. ‬

‪Any thoughts on this? ‬