The Death of Stalin

You thought “Succession” was hilarious?  The story of minor-league talents battling it out to take over the family business from a toxic patriarch?

“The Death of Stalin” is a terrific movie about the end of the life of quite possibly the worst dictator the world has ever known.  It is reported to be one of Barack Obama’s favorite films.  It was banned in Russia, which, of course, is hilarious.  It was also criticized by some for historical inaccuracies, which, of course, is also rather absurd: it is a comedy.  The comedy lies in the kind of chaos created when an authoritarian, melomaniac, paranoid leader dies without leaving a clear line of succession.

It drives me insane to read, in IMDB, an explanation of why they made the “strange” decision to have the actors speak in plain English, instead with an amusing Russian accent!  The assumption is that they should have had them speak with Russian accents, which is actually a really, really strange idea.  But these are Russians talking to each other in Russia.   Do viewers think that Russians or Germans or French people speak to each other with funny accents?

If you say, that’s what people expect, it is only because they have been trained to expect that moronic approach, the way they have been trained to believe that bullets arrive at their target simultaneously with the sound of the gun being fired: they have been trained by early Westerns which chose not to allow audiences to learn the truth.

The best solution is for them to speak in their real, native tongue, with subtitles, but having them speak fluent English is a good option, and far, far, better than the stupid accent idea.

Stalin

Estimates vary, as they will, but Stalin was probably singularly responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

Key players:

Lavrently Beria

  • Became head of the NKVD in November 1938.
  • Proposed and master-minded the Katyn Massacre in March 1940.
  • just before Stalin’s funeral, he had the army units in Moscow replaced with his own NKVD units and cancelled all the trains coming to Moscow.

Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor)

  • Closely associated with Vladimir Lenin.
  • Ran Soviet Missile Program during World War II.
  • Discredited Georgy Zhukov to curry favor with Stalin who was jealous.
  • Briefly succeeded Stalin as Premiere and “first among equals” (March 5, 1953)
  • Eventually sidelined by Nikita Khrushchev.  Attempted a palace coup against Khrushchev in 1957 and expelled from the Presidium and exiled to Kazakhstan.

Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin)

  • Negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany in 1941.
  • Part of the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death to plot things out.
  • his wife, Polina, had been arrested by Beria, with Molotov’s passive consent.  Three days after Stalin’s death, Beria did indeed release Polina to Molotov, presumably to cultivate support in the ongoing power struggle at the Politburo.

Nicolai Bulganin

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Lazar Kaganovich

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Anastas Mikoyan

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Nikita Khrushchev

  • Brought back from Ukraine to Moscow in 1949
  • Regarded by British Diplomats as mouthy and misinformed and inarticulate.  They were far more impressed b y Malenkov, though the movie portrays him as a bit of a dunce.

Vasily Stalin

  • Stalin’s son
  • Called to his father’s side after his cerebral hemorrhage, he was drunk and angry, shouting at the doctors

Svetlana Stalin

  • Stalin’s daughter.  Reported that her father’s death was “difficult and terrible”.
  • Beria had been very friendly with her as a little girl, like an Uncle

Maria Yudina.

  • famous pianist who played piano at reception at Stalin’s lying in state
  • 9 years before his death (unlike in the movie which places the event the very night of) she had played the concert shown in the movie, and had been roused out of bed to repeat the concert for a recording
  • Wrote a note to Stalin which she placed in the record sleeve saying:  “I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country.”  She was not arrested.  She died in 1970.

Georgy Zhukov (died June 1974)

  • got along well with Eisenhower; tried to supply food to Berlin after war
  • however, did nothing to stop the brutal rapes and pillaging by Russian soldiers
  • unlike everyone else around Stalin, he refused to kowtow; openly dismissive of Stalin, and openly contradicted him at times
  • did loot Berlin; was caught and made an abject apology
  • Brilliant Soviet military general who guided the stand-off in Stalingrad.
  • his arrest of Beria did occur, but 3 months after the funeral (June 1953), and Beria did get a trial and was executed in December 1953.
  • supported Khrushchev’s bid for power, but, by 1957 lost favor and was forced to retire
  • never returned to a position of influence after that
  • some historians believe he exaggerated his role in WW II.

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Inventor of the GPS

Dr. Gladys West, The Black Woman Who Invented The GPS, Gets Honored By U.S. Air Force At The Pentagon  [BusinessGhana]

That seems remarkable.  Not just a woman– a black woman!  Of course, those mean men in charge of the Pentagon made sure she didn’t get credit.   For inventing the GPS.  Everybody knows its true.

Or is it.

The first clue is that most of the websites that refer to Gladys West (the “Dr.” came much later in life– she was not a “Dr.” when she worked for the Air Force)  is the oblique tone of the reference: her work contributed to, was essential to, helped, contributed largely to, and so on.

You ask yourself: is it in the interests of the Air Force to quietly accede to some exaggeration here?  So they could be seen to be honoring a black woman?  So they could be seen to be addressing a historical injustice?  So they could be seen as progressive and enlightened?  If someone thought they were now exaggerating her role, would that person dare to speak up?

The header, “The Black Woman Who Invented the GPS”, is a lie.  She was involved in some of the research required for the project, but to say she “invented GPS” is a gross distortion of her role.   It’s the kind of lie Hollywood embraces.  It’s the kind of lie middling America adores.  It doesn’t really offend conservatives (because it makes it look like they always were colorblind when it came to talent) and it totally gratifies white liberals because it vindicates their politics and their self-satisfaction, and everyone else is glad to feel like they are not really racist because, after all, they enjoyed this film, just like they enjoyed “The Green Book” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”.

It does not help your cause to exaggerate.  To lie.  The next time I see a headline insisting that a black woman saved hundreds of lives or stopped a war or built an airplane or solved pi or defeated the Nazis– well?  Did you really?

The Implications

Today it was revealed that the Supreme Court is likely to rule to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Everyone is hopefully clear on the fact that overturning “Roe vs Wade” does not make abortion illegal.  It throws the problem back to the states which now may either ban it, partially ban it, or allow it, depending on the whims of state legislators.

States will now be allowed to compel women to carry a pregnancy to full term whether they wish to or not, even in the case of incest or rape.

If this indeed is going to be the ruling (which will be handed down in June), there are some enormous implications.  Off hand, I can think of these:

  • The Democratic base will be energized going into the fall congressional elections.  This is Mitch McConnell’s nightmare.  Mid-term elections generally favor the opposition party at least partly because the government doesn’t have a burning issue to run against– it is the government many people like to vote against no matter what stripe.  But overturning Roe vs Wade may light a fire under the Democrats.
  • The issue should play well for the Democrats.  About 60-65% of Americans support the general right to abortion, though they also think limits should apply.  Democrats can cite the government telling women what they may or may not do with their bodies.  Republican state governments are going to “compel” women to carry pregnancies to term which can be spun as intrusive or egregious or over-reach or patriarchal.  Republicans cannot really run on “life begins at conception”– at least, I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Further to that — evangelical Christians will not be satisfied with overturning Roe vs. Wade.  They want the Supreme Court to go further and ban all abortions.  Life, to them, begins at conception.  They may begin to demand that their Republican trolls reflect that in their legislation, which may be a bridge too far for independents and moderate Republican women.
  • Why stop at Roe vs Wade?  There are host of privacy rights implied in the principle that the Constitution does not protect them.  Strip searches?  Infrared scans of homes?  Drones?  Cell phone messages?  Library records?  Who says we (the FBI, Homeland Security) can’t look?   Who says those records are private (unless the police have a warrant)?
  • So when really does life begin?  If state governments begin debating this issue, and pass legislation, and this legislation is appealed to the Supreme Court, we will have an even bigger can of worms.
  • State Senate races in close states could swing.  Susan Collins is safe for now– she has five years left in her term.  Lisa Murkowski– lucky for her– voted against Kavanaugh, so she is probably safe.  But many other Republicans running in purple states will have to answer the question of who they would confirm to Supreme Court given that they might make another really stupid decision.  (Is “stupid” a blunt instrument?  I mean, Alito and Thomas are obviously not fools, but I stand by my conclusion of the fundamental soundness of their reasoning behind their votes on Roe vs Wade.  In the totality of their disregard for history, culture, justice, and just plain common sense: stupid.  Just plain stupid.  It can stand with the Dred Scott decision– that negroes are not “persons”.)

As you would think is obvious, the ruling is at odds with conservative ideals about government being restrained from intruding into areas of personal freedom.  The government should not be able to require you to wear a mask  around vulnerable people even if you could be infected with Covid 19, but it should be allowed to compel you to carry a pregnancy to full term.

 

“Because of the Thoroughness With Which the Accuser Was Discredited”

Paul Takakjian, a criminal defense lawyer who is not involved in Bauer’s case but previously served as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, said he saw Thursday’s ruling as “a harbinger of maybe good news” for Bauer in his criminal investigation “because of the thoroughness with which the accuser was discredited in the judge’s eyes.”  NY Times [2022-04-30]

I post this link with no pleasure, but because we are all continually confronted with advocates for women insisting that women never lie about sexual assault.

It appears that the woman let slip that she hoped to extract a large sum of money from Hoffman as a result of her allegations, and in spite of lavish evidence that she consented to his actions in the bedroom.  In fact, the woman initiated contact with Hoffman and requested “rough sex” and, apparently, even specifically asked for actions by Hoffman that she later alleged were abusive.

I am disappointed– but not surprised– that Major League Baseball suspended Hoffman for 2 years regardless of the facts.  It is not logical.  Either the woman has been discredited or she has not.  If she was discredited– and she certainly was after a “thorough” investigation– then Hoffman’s behavior may have been distasteful and offensive to the more mainstream (public) preferences of Commissioner Rob Manfred and his colleagues but it should not be grounds for a suspension, and I would not be surprised if Hoffman wins his appeal.

I repeat that– it was a thorough investigation.  No judge would be eager to dismiss charges in an explosive case like this but the judge,  Dianna Gould-Saltman — yes, a woman– had no choice.  The evidence was clear and convincing.

This reminds me of the Jian Ghomeshi case in which several women also lied about the incident– to the police and in court– and then coordinated their stories.  Ghomeshi’s lawyer provided the court with convincing proof that the women had lied and the case was dismissed.  Yet the feminist establishment continued to behave as if he had been found guilty.

They will behave the same way in the case of Trevor Hoffman and that is why MLB suspended him in spite of the court case collapse.  If they had let him resume his career, they would have been relentlessly savaged in the media and nobody wants to have defend someone whose taste runs to rough sex, and nobody wants to even mention the fact that the woman requested it because feminist orthodoxy is that the woman never asks for it.

 

 

The Father of Violence

The logic of the militarist is this. The only way to stop the enemy from committing violence against us is to threaten to retaliate as swiftly and surely as possible. The proof for the militarist is this: immediately after we have retaliated, the enemy, applying the same logic, will commit more violence, justifying further decisive and immediate retaliation.

Inevitably, there will be peace talks in the Middle East because even mule-headed politicians like Ariel Sharon eventually get it through their thick skulls that this is not a war he can win.

Arafat is a different problem. Arafat had led a war against Israel for thirty years. Confronted with the real prospect of peace at Camp David in 2000, he demurred. Why? Possibly because he was afraid that the entire structure and culture of his power, the on-going struggle against the imperialist west, would be washed away into a complex labyrinth of regulation and policy. Without administrative skills, his power would be diminished and hemmed in by the demands of constructive engagement.

Is Sharon all that different? His reputation is built upon his military successes. Without Arafat to bash around, he would have to develop real economic and social policies that would benefit the voters. Anger and threats don’t settle strikes, reduce inflation, or generate jobs or tourism.  But the country rallies, usually, around a war-time leader.

 

The 2021-2022 Maple Leafs

It seems incredible that a Canadian NHL team has not won the Stanley Cup since Montreal did it in 1993.

Yes, 1993.  29 years ago.

I said last year that the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens were probably the least talented team to ever make the Stanley Cup Finals.  I seem to have been vindicated in my opinion by their performance this year: they are nowhere near the level they seemed to reach in the 2021 playoffs.   Really good teams rarely fail to perform well in the years just before and after a championship appearance.   Even after the loss of a star player, most great teams will have a core of solid talents that carry them through the early rounds.  My theory was that their progress then was largely due to Carey Price and sheer determination and hustle and a bit of luck (the Leafs were very close to eliminating them in the first round).  This year, the Canadiens lost Price to personal issues and collapsed as a team.  It will be a while before they return to a competitive level, though perhaps not as long as we used to think.  NHL teams lately have shown a remarkable ability to rebuild quickly.

The Leafs have what is probably the best team they have ever put on the ice, with the exception of goal-tending.  Austin Matthews may well be the best over-all player in the NHL this year; Mitch Marner is not far behind– if he is behind.  Marner’s incredible vision on the ice is remarkable.  In a game tonight against the Islanders, he made a back-handed pass right onto the tape of Nylander’s stick that seemed jarringly unlikely given his position, headed into the corner.  He has an uncanny awareness of where the spaces are, where his team-mates are, and who is a position to shoot.  He does this a lot.  How many goals would Matthews have if he were playing with someone else?  But then, how many assists would Marner have?  Last night, in the absence of Matthews,  Marner set up Nylander several other times but Nylander missed all except one, and that one squiggled through the goalie.

One commentator tonight (April 23) mentioned, in an off-hand manner, that Marner might be “underrated”.  I think he’s right.  They showed a list of the top five candidates for the Hart trophy:  the leading scorer of the past 3 months was not on the list.  Yes, that’s Mitch Marner.

Michael Bunting is supposed to be the gritty line-mate to compliment Marner and Matthew’s finesse but it would be useful if he receive passes with a bit more dexterity and cash in on some of the golden opportunities his line-mates give him.   Why do other teams hate him?  Sure, he draws a lot of penalties, but he’s not really a “dirty” player.   But other teams tend to go after him for some unknown reason.

In addition to Marner and Matthews, the Leafs have several pretty good secondary offensive threats, particularly in Nylander, a mysterious player who often seems to be punching the clock, until you notice that he has 6 goals in the last 8 games.  Where did they come from?  He often misses the net, because he always tries for the corners, usually the upper corners, but his shots are crisp and quick, he’s a great puck handler, and he is very fast.  He may score 50 some day.  John Tavares should be providing more of a threat from the 2nd line than he currently does.  He’s just not as sharp as Marner or Matthews but I give him credit for grit and determination for a good player past his prime.

Ilya Mikheyev is also impressive.  The Leafs have had speedy forwards before but often without a deft touch at the net (Russ Courtnall, Kasperi Kapanen): Mikheyev shows signs of figuring out how to actually get it past the goaltender once he has broken free of the defense, which he does a lot.  Alex Kerfoot is a threat– like Tavares, gritty and persistent, and he’s also pretty fast.  Pierre Engvall has good nights and may end up being a key part of the team if it advances.  He is big but also quick and a threat on the penalty kill.

Jason Spezza should really sit down.  He’s just not that quick anymore.  When is the last time he got a goal?  Filler.  He seems like a likeable guy but, sheesh, the Leafs are gunning for playoff success here and I really believe a younger talented player like Blackwell would be more helpful than Spezza at this point.

On defense, I believe Reilly may be over-rated.  Yes, he’s a good skater and gets a lot of assists, but he also occasionally rushes to the net and shoots right at the goalie’s midsection, or he rushes down the ice, blowing past players to the left and the right, then he dumps the puck in.  Tonight, he broke in alone on goal and couldn’t manage to do anything except fall down in front of the goalie as the puck slid away.  Still, it’s very hard to measure the defensive impact of a player who, through good skating and puck handling, minimizes the time the other team spends in possession of the puck.   It’s one thing for a defenseman to block a shot; it’s even better if the other team never got the shot in the first place.

Mark Giordano is not bad.  He seems reliable.  Ilya Lyubushkin is a question mark: he often just fumbles around with the puck, unsure of where to go or what to do.  Jake Muzzin is okay and a balance to the more offensive-minded partners on defense.   Brodie makes a lot of mistakes lately.  Justin Holl made a lot of mistakes earlier in the season but has improved though he still makes bad decisions in his own zone– turning around and going back and getting trapped in the corner, or passing to someone who is about to be checked.   Actually, he does that a lot.  Timothy Liljegren has been playing well lately, going to the net when the opportunity presents itself.  Rasmus Sandin makes mistakes but also looks promising.

The Leaf’s biggest 5 on 5 weakness is their inability to break up the play when trapped in their own zone: the puck seems to ricochet around the boards from one attacking defenseman to another until they can force a scramble in front of the net or a one-timer from the side.  Buffalo, for some reason, seemed adept at breaking up that kind of zone trap against the Leafs,  but the Leafs seem flummoxed by that kind of action in their own end.  They chase and  scramble along the boards and then give up the puck.

The real problem– and Leafs’ management knows it — is that, aside from a spell earlier in the season, Jack Campbell has not been reliable in goal, and Petr Mrazek has been awful.  Erik Kallgren showed some promise but has also had disastrous nights.  At one point, it appears that Kyle Dubas was involved in secret negotiations for Fleury from Chicago but they fell through, and it’s Campbell, probably, for the playoffs, and I shudder to think the Leafs might be involved in some close games.

In the last few years, Frederick Anderson fooled fans by making a brilliant save or two and then losing sight of a shot from the point, or losing track of the puck in a scramble in front of the net and giving up a cheap goal.  Fans tend to judge goalies generously if they make a spectacular save or two, but the really great playoff goalies are consistent.  Nothing is more depressing than to see a team make a gritty, determined effort to tie the game only to see a fluke shot go in at the other end, something that happened regularly with Frederick Anderson, memorably against Boston two years ago.   And nothing gives a team more confidence to make daring attacks than a spectacular save by their goalie after one of those daring attacks goes wrong, as Price did last year for Montreal.


Any of about a half-dozen teams or more could win the Stanley Cup this year:

  • Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Florida Panthers
  • Tampa Bay Lightening
  • St. Louis Blues
  • New York Rangers
  • Minnesota Wild
  • Carolina Hurricanes

Another half-dozen, including Boston and Pittsburgh, have an outside chance of pulling a few upsets in the  first or second rounds of the playoffs.

There is no magic formula to determining who is most likely to win.  There are always surprises and disappointments.  On paper, the Panthers and Avalanche would be favorites, but both are beatable– any team is– on a good night for the other team  (the Panthers, at home tonight, just barely escaped with an overtime victory against the Leafs who had the better chances in the 3rd period).  Over a best of seven series, good luck, great goal-tending, and that intangible, random, thing we sometimes call “focus” or “inspiration” or “grit” can play a huge role in determining the outcome.  We’ve all seen teams with amazing scoring prowess suddenly totally smothered by disciplined defensive team with great goal-tending.   It happened to Toronto, Vegas,  Pittsburgh, and Colorado in 2021.   It could happen to any of the great offensive teams this year, Florida, Toronto, and Colorado.

The Leafs have gone 17 seasons without winning a single playoff series, and are 0-8 in potential series winning games over that stretch.  That may sound really, really awful, but keep in mind that it’s a big league and those numbers are not all that unusual.  There are teams that have done even worse.

What the Leafs have going for them is, firstly, that they have the best winning percentage in the NHL against playoff opponents (and the worst against teams that are not going to make the playoffs), and, secondly, Matthews and Marner both have a year of additional experience and a painful awareness of how awful they were last year in seven games against Montreal (Matthews: 1 goal, 4 assists; Marner:  0 goals, 4 assists).   Matthews in particular seems determined to add more grit and aggression to his performance and seems, at times, more capable of willing himself into a more dominant role against even formidable opposition.

We’ll see.


Tonight (April 24, 2022) the Leafs beat Washington in a shoot-out despite being badly outplayed through most of the game.  The Leafs’ performance was not reassuring in reference to their playoff prospects.  My impression is that teams that are capable of tight defense tend to prevail over teams that emphasize offense.  The Leaf defense tonight was often terrible, leaving players uncovered, allowing breakaways, giving the puck away, and endless chasing in their own zone.  Quite often, Washington simply pushed Leaf players aside and took the puck.

And yet, the Leafs scored two goals in the later stages of the 3rd period, by Mikeyev and Spezza(!), including one with the net empty, to overcome a 3-1 Washington lead and take it to overtime– where they took a penalty.  In the shootout, almost everybody missed until Kerfoot managed to tuck one in to win the game.

Erik Kallgren, it must be said, did marvelously well in the shoot-out, stopping every attempt except the very first one.

I don’t get why it isn’t obvious to the Leafs that they need a different strategy for breaking up plays along the boards in their own zone.

I also can’t comprehend why anyone in the Leafs’ brain trust actually believes the back-pass on the powerplay is even remotely useful.  I’ve been watching them do this forever and it mostly fails.  Why does anyone think it is working?

 

 

 

 

Ketanji Brown Jackson

I really wish Biden had not announced, during his campaign for the presidency, that he would appoint the first black woman justice to the Supreme Court.

There was no need.  He should have said nothing and then gone ahead and appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson out of the blue, as his choice as the most qualified candidate.

Not because he was wrong.  But because it fed into the false far-right narrative that deliberately choosing a black woman and excluding all white men or women is a form of racial discrimination.

So if a black person is charged with a crime and appeals his verdict all the way to the Supreme Court and is a confronted with 9 old white men who will arbitrate his fate, there is no problem.  They are the best.  They are the most qualified.  And there could not possibly be the slightest racial bias embedded in their judgements.

That’s what the far-right would have you believe because, to be blunt, they are too stupid to see a problem.

What they ignore, of course, is, first of all, that there very likely is a racist element to the selection of those judges.  Every single Senator who voted to confirm those justices could openly, sincerely declare that race did not play a role in their choice to confirm.  But that would imply the belief that racism played no role in the establishment that created the network of personal connections, criteria, cultural institutions, inflections, language, and so on that provided them with the nominees from which they chose the members of the Supreme Court.  They might even sincerely believe that these old white male justices would have enough amazing insights into all of the issues and conditions that black people experience to render an objective and fair verdict on each case.  They might believe that black people experience the same law and the same enforcement strategies as white people and that, therefore, there could not possibly be any discriminations or injustice in the way the police and prosecutors conduct their prosecutions.  The police are just as likely to stop or pull over a white citizen for a “random” check as a black citizen.  They are just as like to respect his rights and assume innocence as a they would for a white suspect.  They are just as likely to use physical force.

That is a fantasy.

I don’t think they really believe it themselves.  They know they cannot openly declare that only white people (or black conservatives) should be on the Supreme Court because they are white.  They can’t openly declare that black people are trying to steal the material benefits created by hard-working white people.

They can’t admit that Clarence Thomas was chosen because he was a black conservative and they relished the idea of liberals having to consider rejecting a black nominee just because he was a lousy ideologically driven judge.

The Saint

Is there anything that speaks as directly and conclusively to the credibility of the church as the fact that the wife of Nicholas II, Alexandra, has been made a “saint” by the Russian Orthodox Church?

In 1981 Alexandra and her family were acknowledged by The Russian Orthodox Church as martyrs, and in 2000, Empress Alexandra was made a saint by the church. She was canonized as both a saint and as a passion bearer.  From Here.  Don’t click on it: it’s one of those awful click-bait Facebook links.

Seriously?

Can we, in the future, expect to see “Saint” Diana?  Why not? Let’s see: she was famous.  She was rich.  She was vain and self-serving.  She was  a consummate narcissist.   Do we even have to wait for a miracle?

I will concede that she appears to have been faithful to her husband, and she volunteered for nursing duty during the war, along with her daughters.  She didn’t commit any mass slaughters like Olga of Kiev.  But she also may have been at least partly responsible for bringing on the Russian Revolution with her irrational attachment to Rasputin and her belief that he could heal Alexey’s hemophilia– at least, temporarily.  When it was apparent to all of the Czar’s advisers and ministers that Rasputin was widely hated among the populace, she and Nicholas refused to disassociate themselves from him.  When Prime-Minister Stolypin reported in more detail on Rasputin’s lecherous behaviour, he had him exiled but Alexandra persuaded him to allow back.  With the survival of the entire government at stake, it was left to the husband of one of Nicholas’ nephews,  Prince Feliks Yusopov, to try to save the Czar from himself by assassinating him.  As it turns out, it was too late.

Can you imagine some sequence of thought or imagination in which a genuinely spiritual person in a Church based on the gospel of Jesus Christ has an authentic experience of encountering qualities in  the story of Alexandra that would inspire you to exclaim, “what a saint!  What a model and paragon of Christian virtue and humility!  What an inspiration to all of mankind!  Think of all the suffering she alleviated!  Think of her purity and modesty!  Think of how constantly she placed others ahead of herself!”

But then, we are talking about a movement–I do mean broadly, Christianity itself– that bloviated constantly about purity and humility and spirituality and service to mankind and truth and dignity… and then voted– overwhelmingly– for Donald Trump in a real election.

How can anything said by its adherents be taken seriously anymore?

And to those who rejected Donald Trump but insist they are Christians, I cannot imagine how you rationalize a faith that itself proclaims that you can and should judge people by their fruits.

 

Kansas vs Manhattan

One of the most fascinating aspects of the whole story of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” is the culture clash between the sophisticated, gay, cultured New Yorker and the “just plain folk” in Holcomb, Kansas, particularly when, as we discover, Capote invited some of his friends from Holcomb and its’ neighbor, Garden City, to New York, to one of his parties.   Reportedly, they were not impressed by the sophisticated culture, but were more than happy to be able to return home with stories about meeting famous actors and princesses.

When Capote arrived in 1959 to write about the Clutter family murders, most people in Holcomb had no idea of who he was, though he was, by then, a very well-known writer.  They didn’t much care for him at first, either, but he quickly began to ingratiate himself with the local police, including Alvin Dewey,  an investigator with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations.  His wife, whom Capote met in a supermarket, was the key: she did value literature and was dazzled by Capote’s connections.

Holcomb, Kansas might as well have been a different planet.  Everyone went to church, everyone knew each other, everyone pitched in in a crisis, and everyone was white and heterosexual.    Don’t sneer at Holcomb: for all the close-minded parochialism, small towns like Holcomb do have their upside.  People took care of each other.  They were actually reasonably tolerant of weirdness and non-conformity as long as it didn’t threaten the status quo too much (“It’s okay to be different; but not too different” as Woody Allen put it in “Bananas”).  And who knows?  Some day, a thousand years from now, people may look back at life in small towns in America and say to themselves, “you know, that was as good as it got for the human race.  Comfort.  Predictability.  Prosperity.”  And then someone may point out that that is only a superficial view of what life was really like in those small towns.  There was bullying, and abuse, and alcoholism, and a steaming, suppressed, virulent hatred of outsiders.  [See Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town” for a fascinating encapsulation of small town American life, in all of it’s facets.]

Some relatives of the Clutter family continue to resent the book, the movie, and Truman Capote.  They have a familiar complaint: the book doesn’t accurately represent the wonderful Clutter family.  The Clutter family was, by all accounts, wonderful indeed, but what they really mean is that the book doesn’t make them feel wonderful about the Clutters and awful about the killers.  They resent the depiction of the killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, as humans.  They resent the sophisticated attitude towards crime, that the perpetrators have a story, that there might be things that happen in a person’s life that affect his character and behaviour, when we all know it is Satan alone who causes evil.  The resent the implication that the Clutters had flaws and foibles.

They detailed what they called 45 mistakes in the book.  If you analyze their list, like I did, you actually may come away with an even higher regard for the over-all accuracy of Capote’s book.  (For example, he didn’t give enough credit to Mrs. Clutter’s love of cooking.  And he noted that she was often “unwell”, based on comments from some people who knew her well, which the Clutter family contradict but don’t really undermine.  And he mis-stated the exact size of the Clutter’s acerage.)  Given what we know about Capote’s work habits at this time, I tend to believe Capote.  He didn’t really care what you thought about the Clutters and had no reason to ignore what he heard.  Nelle Harper Lee was with him and verified most of his information.

The story is fresh and relevant because that divide is probably bigger than ever.  Many of the citizens of Holcomb did eventually at least come to respect the fact that Capote was a well-regarded writer.

Today, they would just call him “fake news”.