Fellini, Scorsese and Me

Film snobs are down on Fellini, so I was glad to see him being defended by Martin Scorsese in Harper’s this month.

I first became aware of Fellini-haters in this passage about the predilections of radio show host Madame Psychosis in Infinite Jest, which names the names of her favored filmmakers. Look who she hates!

“… Odd affection for the hoary dramaturgy of one Sir Herbert Tree. Bizarre Kaelesque admiration for goremeisters Peckinpah, De Palma, Tarantino. Positively poisonous on the subject of Fellini’s 8 1/2. Exceptionally conversant w/r/t avant-garde celluloid and avant- and apres-garde digital cartridges, anti-confluential cinema…”

Scorsese is a film lover, and film snobs allow for a wide swath of film-hating to enter the mix. You can see the love Scorsese has in this image of the movie paradise that was Greenwich Village in 1959, which resembles my San Francisco full of bookstores in 1994:

EXT. 8TH STREET—LATE AFTERNOON (C. 1959).

CAMERA IN NONSTOP MOTION is on the shoulder of a young man, late teens, intently walking west on a busy Greenwich Village thoroughfare.

Under one arm, he’s carrying books. In his other hand, a copy of The Village Voice.

He walks quickly, past men in coats and hats, women with scarves over their heads pushing collapsible shopping carts, couples holding hands, and poets and hustlers and musicians and winos, past drugstores, liquor stores, delis, apartment buildings.

But the young man is zeroed in on one thing: the marquee of the Art Theatre, which is playing John Cassavetes’s Shadows and Claude Chabrol’s Les Cousins.

I love Fellini. I had the same experience as Scorsese in that–having been raised on a diet of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg movies–when I saw 8 1/2 for the first time, it was a revelation. 

I know what people don’t like about Fellini. There’s the gratuitous zaniness, eccentric people running around pointlessly, accelerating (maddening!) marching band music–all of which I also find distasteful. I find it nearly impossible to watch his work from the 70s and 8os, when they started calling the movies “Fellini’s this” and “Fellini’s that” Casanova, Satyricon, etc. –his later stuff hasn’t aged well, but I’m not sure they suited their own age either. There are probably more dogs in Fellini’s oeuvre than most major genius filmmakers. But nevertheless Scorsese’s adulation rang true for me and I will be forever grateful to him for having shown me what cinema was. 

Recommendations for Migri

After talking to friends hoping to move from Silicon Valley to Europe, and going through a frustrating year of working with Migri, I wrote to Director of Migri Jari Kähkönen in September and included a list of recommendations for attracting talent to Finland.

Here are the recommendations (and rationale):

A growing number of my colleagues now work remotely from Iceland, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Bali, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Singapore, Estonia, Germany and other places. Many expect to return to the SF Bay Area after the pandemic, but some will likely stay in their new home countries.

This is an opportunity for Finland. I hope to move my family here because of Finland’s reputation as a country with a stable social democratic government, benefitting from a high level of social cohesion and trust, which is enormously appealing in uncertain times. The education system has a strong reputation overseas, and the quality of life in terms of healthcare, education, technological sophistication, progressive politics and work/life balance are tremendously attractive to foreigners. The fact that most urban Finns speak English, and that it is the official language in many companies, is also important. Finland is seen overseas as technologically advanced, enlightened, stable and supportive. If you wish us welcome, others will follow.

1. Fast track. Create a fast track for highly qualified talent and a separate unit that manages it end-to-end. Remote identification, 48h processing time. These people will make outsize contributions to the Finnish economy. Do not rely on your existing Migri processes if you wish to welcome and retain them.

2. Remote worker residency. A type D visa for U.S. tech employees working from Finland, inclusive of their families. Requiring Silicon Valley companies to create Finnish subsidiaries for temporary remote workers is a nonstarter. Even multinationals like Facebook and Google prefer to retain their remote workforce in their U.S. cost centers.

3. Investor visa. For investors applying for residency to Finland, inclusive of families. Due to their work many investors wish to keep both U.S. and European residencies and they should be able to spend part of the year in Finland. 13 other European countries offer investor visas. New Zealand has found their investment in New Zealand multiplies in a few years.

4. One step process. Permanent home address registration, national ID card, strong identification, and Suomi.fi and Omakanta credentials should be automatically issued with the residency permit. The current Kafkaesque morass of in-person appointments, paper documents and confusing online flows should be replaced with a modern automated system.

5. English language schools. Finland fails to capitalize on its reputation for excellent education by not investing in a meaningful way in an English language school path. Despite claims about increased capacity, only one of Helsinki’s schools offers an English language track and the European School & handful of private schools in the Helsinki area are full with waitlists. New English language school tracks should urgently be established.

6. Targeted talent attraction. I know from experience from my investments that talented individuals move in groups. Hire a team of American-Finnish marketers located in the U.S. to compete with the other countries. The window of opportunity has opened, and Canada and others are advertising on billboards on Silicon Valley’s 101 freeway.

Tech companies’ shift to remote work coupled with climate change, the pandemic, China’s expansive authoritarianism and U.S. domestic politics make Finland surprisingly attractive. Now’s the time to act.

I recommend working with a service design firm on designing the fast track process.



I have not yet received a response.

Race Relief

I didn’t have much of a beauty regime before the lockdown and it’s also the case that I’ve not increased my attention to my appearance since. My disregard for my appearance has always irritated some of the people around me, who believed I could advance myself further in the world if I would just comb my hair. But I’ve always felt that, like men who are not interested in televised sports, women who are not interested in beauty regimes have more time to do interesting things, right?

It is such a relief, my friend told me on the phone, as neither of us had been leaving the house during the lockdown, to not have to wash your hair, or put on makeup. I agreed. To not have an appearance is so relaxing! To appear is mostly to be conscious of appearing. And oftentimes you aren’t even aware that you are appearing at all, until someone interrupts your peaceful and pleasant obliviousness by making you appear, just to point out that you appear differently, or badly, or not how they would prefer you to appear.

This is what many of us experience as Americans (though I am sure it is near universal), and, reading Jaswinder Bolina’s collection of essays, Of Color, it is this rude jolt into another’s conception of us, their questioning of you, and their implicit judgement that is so exhausting, debilitating and wrong. The endless justifications required. The endless appearing. Why are the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? indeed. Sometimes you just want to relieve yourself of the burden of thinking about your race, and eat your Salisbury steak with those people. As delineated in Bolina’s essay, “Writing like a White Guy.”

I’m guessing more white people are reading books like this, given where we are as a culture, how 2020 went, George Floyd. Most books about race should be read by white people, more so than those who are designated red, yellow, brown and black, who live it and can only nod in recognition. But the white folks? They–we!– might be surprised, learn something new. Like, I wish every book on feminism was read by men. Even ONLY men. How will change happen if men are not on board? So this is one of those books, that I often suspect are read mostly by the POC, nodding.

Bolina is mostly known as a poet, and it was in this context he was accused of “writing like a white guy”, that is, not adding any “Indian” color to his poems. Not representing. Not appearing, as it were, as he was being subtly or not so subtly pressured to appear. You don’t know how relaxing it is to not appear, like white people don’t appear, until you’ve had a chance to be seen-with-expectations.

September Reading

My September reading was not quite as strenuous as last month, given that I read Middlemarch in August, from which I am still feeling the glow of accomplishment, a loathing of Casaubon and a sense of infinite depths.

Here you’ll see just one masterpiece–Austerlitz–and two books I didn’t quite finish, that I skimmed and eventually put down. Those are How to Disappear and Torpor. I had enjoyed the quirky, downbeat, pathetic style of Kraus’s other books, I Love Dick and Aliens and Anorexia, but the grimness of the times we’re living through made it impossible for me to make it through this one, which included a tour through Romania to adopt an orphan, and an accounting of the horrific abuse and neglect babies and children suffered under the Ceausescu regime, the failed and failing relationship, the struggle and the struggling. But A Girl Returned was also the story of an abandoned child–in this case an adopted child “returned” to her birth family. The book also had its horrific moments but was redeemed by the love she found with her birth sister Adriana, a childhood friend, Patrizia, and the reconciliation of sorts with her adoptive mother. And the girl’s insistence on taking her own life back after she had been thrown among strangers. It was purer-hearted and the pure-hearted is what we need right now.

Sometimes I linger in bookstores, browsing the “S” section, hoping a new Sebald book would appear. Since it won’t, I read the existing ones over and over and over and each time they seem as if I had never read them before. Except The Emigrants which I almost have memorized. Austerlitz is a book I read often.

Weather, much lauded, much recommended, had been partly derived from other people’s work. I recognized some of the (unattributed) podcasts and articles she’d gotten the material from. As such, I couldn’t ally myself with the book; I was already allied with the original material. But I liked the paragraph – paragraph – paragraph style.

And the rest of September’s reading? art criticism and Jungian psychology. Now, I am reading myths.

“If a rock falls on your head it does positive harm, but shame, disgrace, reproaches and insults are damaging only insofar as you’re conscious of them. If you’re not, you feel no hurt at all. What’s the harm in the whole audience hissing at you if you clap for yourself? And Folly alone makes this possible.” 

–Erasmus, In Praise of Folly

QAnon, Satan, and the Perfect Victim

It doesn’t make sense. But it’s filling the God-shaped hole. And it’s got all the features of a religion: irrefutability, Good and Evil, Crooked Hillary.

Comet_Ping_Pong_Pizzagate_2016_01

Many years ago I read one of those short interviews they have at the back of the New York Times magazine. I don’t remember who they interviewed, but he was asked what he thought was the most dangerous idea. And he responded the most dangerous idea is monotheism.

Monotheism claims to have in their possession the truth in the form of the word of God, which no one can disprove.  Since their god is the One True God, allowing for no others, its word is final. And if one is a devotee and defender of the One True God one is entitled to do anything in God’s name, slaughter, massacre and genocide for example. People aren’t reasonable about their beliefs as the Pastafarians have demonstrated. 

Today we live in an ostensibly unreligious culture which evinces nevertheless religion-like beliefs and behaviors.  Since God was declared dead, the question has been: What will fill the God-shaped hole? Unhappy people need something to believe in, a solution and salvation. God died, Zealotry did not. The Cult of Science prevails in my part of the world. And some of the masses have found opiate-like relief in the belief of their victimization. 

The High Priest of Total Victimization, the wounded and witch-hunted Donald Trump, fans the flames. His cries of victimization are constant, and he is the heir of a long tradition of The Paranoid Style in American Politics, an essay it is worth reading now, if you haven’t read it already, and if you’ve read it already, it’s time to read it again. 

Whenever actual victims are identified–women in the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter—there is the outcry, the men’s movement twists its panties into bunches, the abuse against women and POC increases, there is a cry of “White Lives Matter! WE are the victims!” Classic Tu Quoque. You can take almost any statement by Donald Trump and see it clear as the day is long. What you give to others, takes something away from his Us, the particular Us that excludes Them. His core. Here’s a quote from a random article in this week’s New York Times:

“Westchester was ground zero, OK, for what they were trying to do,” he said on Monday, in an interview on Fox News with Laura Ingraham, referring to Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats. “They were trying to destroy the suburban, beautiful place. The American dream, really. They want low-income housing, and with that comes a lot of other problems, including crime.”

Westchester!  That cesspool of Jacobins, thieves and demons!

In America we have an idea of justice that we hold up as a thing, our thing, THE thing–that we stand for and love: Liberty and Justice for all. But when people point out that there is not justice for all but justice for some, injustice for most–existing powers move to silence them.

You’ve got to have a code says Omar Little in The Wire. And indeed there is a code among criminals–and the justice system!–determining who is and isn’t deserving of justice, which crimes are acceptable and which are not. It turns out it’s not the crime itself that decides if a crime is ‘acceptable’. Like, say, murder is always wrong. It’s who it was done to: the victim. John J. Lennon, a prison journalist convicted of murder, writing from prison, defends his killing of another man by writing, in his “apology”:

I killed a criminal, not an innocent, and in prison that was respected. Walled off from society, we create our own social hierarchies here. Those of us at the top of the pecking order — gangsters, drug dealers, stick-up kids (all of whom also may be killers) — rationalized that our crimes were merely the predictable result of “the life.” The predators and sexual deviants who preyed on women and children were the miscreants at the bottom.

Good crimes are committed against worthy victims; bad crimes are committed against the innocent.

So. To convince people that your enemy is a criminal, you have to say it over and over and over and over and over until other people believe it: Crooked Hillary. And to convince people that she is not just criminal but evil, go to extremes. It’s hard to convince others your enemy is evil by pointing out that they support national healthcare, oppose privatizing social security, and are in favor of increasing the minimum wage. But child-raping satanists?  Obviously, obviously evil.

Next, to ensure that the perpetrator you’ve chosen will be punished, you need a perfect victim. You yourself are a victim, but flawed. So you need a proxy victim, a perfect victim, to stand in for you. You look around.

Whenever a woman steps forward to accuse a man of some violation, her past is mined for things she may have done to show her to be undeserving of justice. Whenever a black man is shot, any bad thing he ever did or said is written about, and his mug shot–not his graduation photo–is published in the newspaper. Justice isn’t about what you’ve done, it’s about who you are.

There are no perfect victims.

There are no saints, there is not a single person who has reached adulthood in unalloyed virtue, who has not done something wrong, who has not been mean, or drunk, or stupid, who has not lied,  said something offensive, slept with the wrong person, forgot to sign the permission slip, fell asleep while driving, neglected his kids.

Except one group of people, who haven’t lived enough yet–and that is children.

Which is why QAnon is the perfect belief system. It’s like monotheism: Q is unknown, invisible, nameless, and but is telling the truth. And no one who protects children can be wrong, nor can they be bad. 

On December 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina, went to the pizzeria Comet Ping Pong, carrying an AR-15 rifle, went to the back of the restaurant, attempted to open a door, which he attempted to open using his gun, firing three shots.  He thought the door went to a basement where Democrats were operating a pedophile ring, and he expected to rescue children. Instead, the door opened into a utility closet. He surrendered without resistance or incident, and was quoted as saying, “The intel was not 100%.”

For some reason, this quote of his has always stuck with me. It’s in the passive voice, like the famous George Bush Sr. quote “Mistakes were made.” It left the door open for there to be a real conspiracy. He admitted his actions were wrong, but only because they were misinformed. And he stuck to the position that there were Democrats (celebrities, billionaires, politicians) operating a pedophile ring, which he was heroically trying to destroy. And he held that door open.

He’d found a closet, but the door to the basement was somewhere else if not  at Comet Ping Pong.  You could feel the rush of air coming up from that basement. The door would open and from the basement emerged QAnon.

QAnon is a baffling phenomenon.

In a nutshell, its Wikipedia entry:

QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Donald Trump, who is battling them, leading to a ‘day of reckoning’ involving the mass arrest of journalists and politicians. No part of the theory is based on fact.

I mean, really, reasonable people, come ON. This QAnon thing has been so exasperating to me. But–it’s a religion, based not on reason, but belief.  It’s got all the hallmarks. It’s bulletproof, waterproof, irrefutable, insuperable, inarguable, unattackable, unassailable, undeniably true. AND it has a perfect victim. 

We appeal to people’s reason to try to convince them their beliefs are wrong using Snopes, the New York Times, reputable journalism, or Wikipedia articles to back us up. This never works! So, if you’re managing a QAnon situation, what do you do? Maybe have a look at the How Stuff Works Getting out of a Cult page. And if the usual methods don’t work, you might need Deprogramming

And meanwhile, what the hell, what the hell, what the hell. 

August Reading

The stand out here, was of course, Middlemarch. I had read it in college and remember thinking to myself, “am I really going to expend my youth reading about agricultural practices in 19th century rural England?” But of course, it is so much more. Many people have called it the greatest English novel, and, to disprove this opinion, I would have to read a whole lot more English novels. So I provisionally agree. 

Last month’s reading of Faulkner required the antidote of Morrison, and I read her essays, and her first novel The Bluest Eye.  Also of undisputed greatness–though censors the world over have been trying to suppress it for years. I doubt they’ve read it. 

The book that left me straddling the fence, wavering in opinion, and wondering about its suitability for prize-winning, was the International Booker Prize winner, The Discomfort of Evening–which announcement and ceremony I accidentally happened upon as it was taking place live online. Prizes invite dispute, which enlivens book reading in general, so I welcome them. The book was great, but green. I was amazed to learn that the distinguished judges read all the contenders, starting with 128 books. 

And if you haven’t already read Signs Preceding the End of the World, run don’t walk to your local bookstore, and pick it up curbside. 

 

Middlemarch and Civil Society. Chapters 23-42

Occasionally, in literature, good men appear. I am thinking of Martin Cunningham, in Ulysses, who always had something kind to say on behalf of Leopold Bloom. And here in Middlemarch I encountered another one.

The good Caleb Garth, whose kind nature was exploited by the n’er-do-well spendthrift and gambler Fred Vincy, who impoverished his family and expunged their savings–Garth is offered his old job back, as the manager of the farmland for the local gentry, and he has this to say:

“…it’s a fine thing to come to a man when he’s seen into the nature of business; to have a chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, as they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done that those who are living and those who come after will be the better for. I’d sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honorable work that is. … it’s a great gift of God, Susan. “

“That It is, Caleb,” said his wife, with answering fervor. “And it will be a blessing to your children to have had a father who did such work: the father whose good work remains though his name may be forgotten.”

It is because criminals are occupying the highest offices in the nation, because the gangrene of corruption has spread to the furthest corners of America, because we are so endlessly subjected to the most repugnant appalling and reprehensible behavior–that this stood out so much for me: the modest but deep satisfaction that comes from honest work, giving much and leaving things better than they were found. 

Middlemarch is the story of a town, a community, a civil society, and its various personalities, their struggles with each other and themselves, and their eventual fates. Their responses to cultural change, the introduction of new technologies and scientific discoveries. The perspectives of both maids and Lords. And one of the terrible things I realized as I read this book is that, in America, we no longer seem to be living in a civil society. We’re being told that we don’t have it, and can’t.

In a civil society, there’s a sense of trust, fellowship, and solidarity. Even with deep disagreement, and political conflict–which are unfolding in Middlemarch in these chapters–all townspeople and members of the civil society, from the snobbiest Baron, to the filthiest farmhand, grant dignity, humanity and self worth to one another.  Discussion, irritation and exasperation results from differing points of view–but not hatred, contempt, violence or dismissal. The book shows arguments between opposed parties that are not inflammatory. Respect prevails. Any position counter to that of another, any dispute, any selfishness is superseded by that person’s membership in this community, town and society.

Which is still mostly the case in the United States, and in spite of our differences, we mostly agree. So why don’t we bring public conversations back around to the temper and mood of conversations the people are having in Middlemarch? Where has our civil society gone? How do we get to a Middlemarch of our own?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nice White Parents and Point Omega

Nice White Parents. I listened to the first three episodes of this new podcast about how a Brooklyn school serving mostly black and brown students was harmed by the arrival of the titular Nice White Parents, who flexed their privilege, proceeded to fundraise $50,000 (compared to a prior raise by the PTA of $2,000) and whose kids provided some truly squirmworthy comments. About how school integration may not be so desirable after all, how schools keep failing to support nonwhite kids, and how entrenched inequalities persist, and might be eradicated. This will be a five part series, and has already met with some dissension and controversy, but I am curious to hear the next episodes and see where it goes. Whether or not you agree with the portrayal of the issues or the conclusions, it’s a fascinating listen.

Point Omega. When reading Don DeLillo novels, I often feel as if I have entered a cold, white, vast, fluorescent-lit space, like a data center, interstellar terminal, or morgue. Point Omega was no different. Beautifully structured though it was, a brief 5 chapters, it was set in both the desert and the mind–unforgiving, spare places beyond time’s horizon. We were promised a glimpse of a bighorn ram, which never materialized, and though there were sunsets and occasional glimpses of earthly loveliness, human connection was absent and human relations were reduced to voyeurism, stalking, staring, predation and self-absorption. Who is and who is not a DeLillo Fan? I try, repeatedly, but am not.