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 addressing a historical injustice?  So they could be seen as progressive and enlightened?

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 Daisie” and “Guess Whose 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.