Monday, February 27, 2006

La Bete Humaine

La Bete Humaine released on a Criterion Collection Dvd.

I note with interest that Criterion has done a release of La Bete Humaine on Dvd. As those who have read my profile may have noted, I list this as one of my favorite films. It is much less known than Rules of the Game or Grand Illusion by Renoir, yet it is a powerful film worth checking out. Here is a part of what the review says about it over at Dvd Verdict, which by the way is a cool web site:

"Director Jean Renoir veers from his humanist work to deliver a blueprint for what would become known as film noir a decade later. A virtual template for the psychological thriller, Alfred Hitchcock almost certainly studied this intense 1938 film that was years ahead of its time; contemporary directors should do likewise for lessons in pure craftsmanship and suspense. La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast) was a one-off statement from the French director, who would never make another film as brutally powerful yet so quietly devastating as this one. With Criterion's expert presentation, the picture remains a rich viewing experience nearly 70 years later, as Renoir explores fatalism and innate human savagery, brought on by co-dependence, mental instability and the heartbreaking betrayal of infidelity. Though a lesser film in the Renoir canon (Rules of the Game remains the acknowledged masterpiece), this is merely by a matter of degrees."

Up until now it was only available on a hard-to-obtain video version of it. Unlike many films of the 30s which nowdays appear really slow paced, and rather pedestrian in the use of camera work, Renoirs work was inovative, and ahead of its time for the 1930s, so it stands up well to viewing it in the 21st century. Also seeing French trains ,and what the countryside of France looked like in 1937 is intriguing. Then of course there is Simone Simon, who is easy on the eyes, and Jean Gabin brings his usual vitality to the screen. A tragic ending, but a great work of French cinema. Hopefully, someday all of Jean Renoir's films will be on Dvd.Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Professor Louis Mackey - -
Professor Emeritus Univ. of Texas, 1967-2004.

Thought I would do a post about Professor Louis Mackey who I was lucky enough to have as a teacher when I went to the University of Texas. While checking to see if he had any new books out, I learned that he died in March of 2004.

I remember, there were courses I regret not taking , while I was at UT. One was at least one Art course, and the other was God and Man, an undergrad course he taught. As It was, I count myself lucky to have had him for
Philosophy in Literature, and Medieval Philosophy.

What a rare individual. He was well known in the world of Kierkegaard scholarship.He always inspired me and impressed me, as to being what a really well trained intellect, and mind could achieve.

I guess I am still in awe of him. As you can see from what was written by his grad student, by the 90s he had quite a reputation on campus, groupies even from other departments. His dry wit, knowledge of literature,
history, poetry and philosophy, and sense of humor use to blow me away regularly. Comet Mackey. How lucky to have been graced by his trail.

It is fortunate we still have his books, his appearances in the Linklater films, Slacker and Waking Life, and I understand a few of his lectures and talks were recorded on video. Whenever I read any of his unique prose style, I can still hear his voice, and his way of positing something, then opposing it, and then coming at the whole point from a 90 degree angle.

I also remember reading an Austin Chronicle article in which he said he loved Austin, and couldn't think of living anywhere else. Also according to Linklater he use to go see punk rock groups on occassion. I remember whenever I went by his office to talk, he always was gracious, had time to talk,and even though I was not one of the better students at doing a philosophy paper, he made things clear to me in a very easy way.
He was both a very gifted teacher, and a unique and unusual scholar, in that he had his own voice, and vision. None of what he published is written in the usual 'academiese', which provides a safe path to tenure, but frequently bores or puts one to sleep. I have two of his books. Eventually I hope to get around to reading all of them. Am going to post here much of a memorial web post by David Hildebrand, a graduate student of his. And then I am
adding much of the obituary of him I found at a UT web site. My hope is that someone googling using blog search will be able to find all this information about him in one spot:

"I heard via the email grapevine that Louis Mackey has died. As far as I know now, he died after a long and grave illness on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 in Austin, TX. He was, I believe, 78 or 79 (b., 1926). Louis was one of my graduate professors of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin (I was there 1990-1997). Mackey was the chair of graduate admissions when I got in to UT so he may be the reason I am in philosophy altogether.
In addition to taking Louis' 12th Century graduate seminar, I was his teaching assistant for both Knowledge and Reality and Introduction to Philosophy. I sat in on his American Philosophy: Puritans to Transcendentalists and his Medieval Philosophy courses, too.
I guess I knew Louis the way a lot of graduate students did; I considered him a friend but I did not know much about his personal life. I still don't. But we shared a sense of humor which is based on the sense that life is manifoldly and manifestly ridiculous, obscene, and sacred all at the same time. Often one could find Louis in the David L. Miller conference room, our lounge, eating lunch at 12 every day. He'd hold court there, quietly and without ceremony, telling dirty jokes or bantering about literature to whoever was at the table. He somehow managed to be both acerbic and approachable.

Louis was by far the most popular professor at UT while I was there. Everyone wanted him on their committee and until his later years he seemed to always say yes. He had "groupies" from all over the campus--art history, english, comp lit graduate students would sign up for his seminars and it was virtually guaranteed that there'd barely be a seat open by the end.
Louis Mackey was one of the most brilliant and creative minds I have ever met. Exceptionally well read, Louis had a take on the history of philosophy, the history of religion, and, it seemed, all of literature. Everything he absorbed became part of his vision, and he made that vision sparkle for us. It was a lens we could try to peer through to get a better perspective on the puzzle of existence. Louis never promoted or proselytized this vision; rather, it pulled you along after it, like a comet, and made you want to find out what it would be like to tag along, to go where it was going.
And now the Comet Mackey has passed. What a loss this is for all of us. What a great subtraction from the cosmic mix. There will never be another. How thankful I am to have known Louis Mackey."

In Memorium

"Louis H. Mackey (September 24, 1926 - March 25, 2004) was for some thirty-five years a beloved professor in the Department of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, and at his death, he was professor emeritus in that department. He was born in Sidney, Ohio, the only child of Louis and Clara Mackey, received his B.A. from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and pursued graduate studies in philosophy first at Duke University and then at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1954 for a dissertation on the Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, "The Nature and the End of the Ethical Life according to Kierkegaard." He became an assistant professor in the philosophy department at Yale, then joined the faculty of Rice University in 1959, and came to The University of Texas at Austin in 1967.At both Rice and UT, as earlier at Yale, he was known for his challenging, engaging, and excellent teaching. In the course of the longest part of his career as a teacher, at UT, Mackey won several teaching awards, including the prestigious Harry Ransom Award for Teaching Excellence in 1987. Many of his students report that Mackey had been the most profound and profoundly formative professor of their entire careers. One student describes his lectures as "architectural masterpieces"; another observes that Mackey approached each philosopher he taught as if "from the inside."His books and articles reflected subtle intellect, wit, vision, and passionate engagement. His book, Kierkegaard:A Kind of Poet, quickly became a classic. Mackey not only clarified and defended that passionate and difficult philosopher but introduced a radically literary approach to philosophical interpretation. Fifteen years later, in a new book on Kierkegaard and under the influence of the new theories of literary interpretation, he published Points of View, in which he effectively deconstructed his own earlier views. He also wrote and lectured widely on Saint Augustine and Medieval Philosophy, and he became a recognized literary critic, writing extensively on literary theory and on literature, including, especially, the works of Gilbert Sorrentino and Thomas Pynchon.Mackey loved music and was an accomplished amateur singer (and sometime director) of madrigal, oratorio, cantata, and liturgical chant, and his artistic talents extended to occasional acting in theater, television, and film. Cinema audiences in Austin know him in particular for his roles in Richard Linklater's films "Slacker" and "Waking Life." He was a faithful member of the Anglican Communion and attended All Saints Episcopal Church in Austin, where he frequently served as lay reader. A week before his death, he was discussing the popular Christian thinker C.S. Lewis with his son Jacob, a Ph.D. student in classics at Princeton. Speaking of himself, the father observed that, unlike C.S. Lewis, he had never felt that he had any easily formulable, final answers. As his son remembers it, Mackey then went on: "I only know one thing: that in the Credo, there is a change in the verb at the end. The creed begins with the verb credo, 'I believe,' proceeds to list the matters of fact, as it were, of faith, but at the very end the verb changes to one of hope. I look with hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come."

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tertiary thoughts about my previous post: Or half a loaf is better than no loaf

Tertiary thoughts about my previous post. Or half a loaf is better than no loaf.

Thinking over my most recent post, I just want to add that, in a way I am suggesting something along the lines of cut, and partially run. Thus a more creative solution to the impasse that is the present policy might be for, US troops to withdraw to Prosperity zones in the North of Iraq, and the South of Iraq. Similar to the no-fly zones, but on the ground.

Thus the area around Mosul, along the Turkish Border, and overlapping somewhat with the Kurds, would get 37,000 Us troops. The other 100,000 US troops join the British around Basra, and the first 3 southern provinces to the North.

Secure areas are formed where their is law and order, Oil refineries can be fixed, that part of the border with Iran is secured, and over time as people are free to go about there business, prosperity returns , at least to these areas.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Well, this was interrupted by events in Iraq. Namely, the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. It just goes to show, that there are limits to what a people, with even best intentions can do, when faced with being caught in a nest of hornets.

Here is most of a post from Rep. John Murtha over at Huffington Post, which echoes where I was going with this, and points out what is becoming obvious to 61% of us:

"According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, the definition of a civil war is a "war between political factions or regions within the same country." That is exactly what is going on in Iraq, not a global war on terrorism, as the President continues to portray it.

93 percent of those fighting in Iraq are Iraqis. A very small percentage of the fighting is being done by foreign fighters. Our troops are caught in between the fighting. 80 percent of Iraqis want us out of there and 45 percent think it is justified to kill American troops.
Iraqis went to the polls in droves on December 15th and rejected the secular, pro-democracy candidates and those who the Administration in Washington propped up. Preliminary vote results indicate that Iyad Allawi, the pro-American Prime Minister, received about 8 percent of the vote and Ahmad Chalabi, Iraq's current Oil Minister and close associate of the U.S. Iraq war planners, received less than 1 percent. According to General Vines, the top operational commander in Iraq, "the vote is reported to be primarily along sectarian lines, which is not particularly heartening." The new government he said "must be a government by and for Iraqis, not sects."
The ethnic and religious strife in Iraq has been going on, not for decades or centuries, but for millennia. These particular explosive hatreds and tensions will be there if our troops leave in six months, six years or six decades. It is time to re-deploy our troops and to re-focus our attention on the real threats posed by global terrorism."

--- 01.12.2006

Monday, February 13, 2006

If we had ten times as many men, it couldn't be done

"If we had ten times as many men, it couldn't be done.
It's hopeless Colonel". - - - Major Herren, --The Train.
Posted by Picasa

Okay this is going to be an unusual post, and I may jump around some, but bear with me. I have sort of an artistic bent of mind, anyway.

As my last post noted, I have been reading The Assassins Gate : America in Iraq by George Packer. In it he quotes from an article by Ron Suskind, that originally appeared in the New York Times magazine of October 17, 2004. It was entitiled Without a doubt, and goes on for over 10 pages in the online version. Here is the pertinent excerpt:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

And as Packer in his book points out of this: “The way the world now works amounted to a repudiation of reason, skeptical intelliegence, the whole slate of liberal Enlightenment values.”pg.390 (The arrogance,--- stunning.)

Thinking about this, and thinking about what will likely unfold in this year of 2006, I can’t help but think, that at some point the Bush policy in Iraq, of Total Victory, of winning no matter what, of staying the course, which is by considering these accounts a faith-based initiative, is going to run up against the reality based community, or in this case the reality of what's actually happening on the ground in Iraq.

Two areas to consider:

1) The insurgency is still not in its “last throes”. A sort of stasis has developed. The US armed forces and allies can’t really beat down the insurgency. But as long as these troops are in Iraq, the insurgents can’t really take over either. Some retired generals from the US, have in different articles speculated that to actually beat , or end the insurgency, it would take 700,000 troops.

2) From everything I’ve read it sounds like only a miniscule amount of $18 billion set aside, has been spent on the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Electricity continues to be a problem,and the oil industry limps along.

Right now the policy calls for holding off the insurgency until Iraqi troops can handle this as a security problem, while supposedly we are trying to do reconstruction at the same time.

This is just my humble opinion, but it seems to me, if we were to withdraw from Iraq, then the mostly Sunni based insurgency, would have no other targets to attack except the Shiite based government, and presumably other Shia peoples.
The Shia would be highly motivated at this point , to defend themselves. And they do have their own militias now. The Kurds have there own demarked area, and by all accounts have already a more peaceful place.

On our way out, we could then give the Iraqi government a number of I.O.U.s, saying okay once things calm down, and you agree to reach some accomodation and get serious about doing what's best for your country as a whole, our best reconstruction people will come back, with the UN too, and help you get all your infrastructure up and running.

And if the US just has to have a base in Iraq, we could probably find the Kurds would only be too happy to oblige. Of course leaving the main part of Iraq, would mean leaving Halliburton in the lurch, and no more control over the future of Iraq oil refineries.

Is it worth losing 58 American lives per month on average, and untold wounded, just to maintain our grip on our free market stakes in Iraq?
I guess I am very cynical, but don’t get me wrong, I am sad about fellow Americans that have died in the line of duty.

Meanwhile as I was rereading Suskinds article again, I flashed on the final scene from the John Frankenheimer’s movie The Train, with Burt Lancaster.
The train with plundered French art is derailed at the end, along with hostages on it. The German Col. Von Waldheim is insistent on winning, insists that his soldiers and the hostages start to work on somehow, getting the steam locomotive back on the rails.
And in an emotional scene his adjutant, Major Herren, played by the familiar Wolfgang Preiss, tells him:

“If we had ten times as many men, it couldn’t be done.
It’s hopeless Colonel. "

Well, the present Bush Iraq policy is like that derailed train, and though the Colonel keeps insisting they try to get the train back on the track, its quite evident that its just not happening. At some point reality, as voiced through a Major Herren, or just the facts themselves, will intrude.
In the meantime guess who the hostages to this train ride have been.?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Captivating reading.

Have been lately reading The Assassins's Gate: American in Iraq, by George Packer.
It is excellent. I have found it hard to put down. Here is part of the editorial review of it from over at :

"How did such lofty aims get so derailed? How did the U.S. get stuck in a quagmire in the Middle East? Packer traces the roots of the war back to a historic shift in U.S. policy that President Bush made immediately after 9/11. No longer would the U.S. be hamstrung by multilateralism or working through the UN. It would act unilaterally around the world--forging temporary coalitions with other nations where suitable--and defend its status as the sole superpower. But when it came to Iraq, even Bush administration officials were deeply divided. Packer takes readers inside the vicious bureaucratic warfare between the Pentagon and State Department that turned U.S. policy on Iraq into an incoherent mess. We see the consequences in the second half of The Assassins' Gate, which takes the reader to Iraq after the bombs have stopped dropping. Packer writes vividly about how the country deteriorated into chaos, with U.S. authorities in Iraq operating in crisis mode. The book fails to capture much of the debate about the war among Iraqis themselves--instead relying mostly on the views of one prominent Iraqi exile--but it is an insightful contribution to the debate about the decisions--and blunders--behind the war. "--Alex Roslin

This is definitely not light reading, but it does illuminate certain things going on over there. To read it and then watch what unfolds on the news , gives one extra texture, about what is happening in Iraq.
Packer writes well, and it reads like a thriller, or a disaster in the making type novel. At the local library here , there is a waiting list, in order to read a copy. I recommend it as a good read on a topic of great current interest. Posted by Picasa