Our Favorite Fascist

Yes, we know fascism and fascist are pejorative terms but we think that the TV series Vera along with the eponymous lead character deserves that term.  We like the series but Vera is a proper fascist.  Wikipedia tell us that fascism is characterized by:

dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.

Vera is a dictatorial power who suppresses the opposition and wants every move of every citizen recorded on CCTV.  In almost every procedural drama jurisdiction is a big issue.  It is not on Vera.  Not only is there no higher police power in Great Britain than Vera but there seems be be no other power than her anywhere in Northumberland or even Scotland.  She is a tyrant at the murder scene and in the office.  If you need a drinking game count every time Vera refers to somebody as “luv” or “pet.”

Sidebar: To get all nine series (ten is in production) you need to have both Britbox and Acorn.  The former is $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year and the latter is $5.99 a month so they are cheap if you are interested in shows from Britain and other English speaking places.  End Sidebar.

Because Vera is such a fascist it is no surprise that the cast is constantly changing.  She has a boy-toy sergeant, Joe in series 1-4  and Aiden in 5-9 to chase the bad guys and to come up with theories that she can shoot down.  We don’t know if Vera drives out the pathologists but she is up to number four.  The only person in all the shows besides Vera is the long suffering Kenny (detective sergeant Lockhart played by Jon Morrison).  And there is usually a buxom black woman detective (Wunmi Mosaku, Cush Jumbo, or Ibinabo Jack).

Why do we enjoy and recommend Vera if the lead character is such a fascist?  It is Les Miserables where Vera, a modern day Javert is the protagonist.  We think there are three reasons to recommend it.  One is the photography.  Vera goes interesting places in the northeast of England.  Often she meets Joe or Aiden in interesting places to discuss the case.  The site finder does a great job.

Death is serious drama.  The victim in most shows is often a real bastard so there are lots of suspects and very little drama about the victim’s death.  In Vera they often turn it around where the victim is often closer to beloved and question is why the murder.  It also means that the death of the victim is tragic affair.  The scenes where the body is identified or Vera delivers the bad news are well done.  The survivors grieve while Vera wants to ask questions.

The best part of the show is Vera’s monomania.  She wants to punish those who have broken laws.  Vera, of course, is not distracted by the sadness of the death announcements.  Her attempts to provide comfort to the survivors make clear her lack of humanity.  Another great example that only shows up a couple of times is the detective, about Vera’s age, in the police basement in Missing Persons department.  He tries to move heaven and earth for Vera but she is careful to never have a kind word for him.  She drives her subordinates (you can’t call them a team because it is all about Vera) mercilessly.  She is cruel to almost everyone but especially Kenny who she has a special ability to ignore.  She berates witnesses and especially suspects.  We don’t keep careful count but our guess is that the number of different people she accuses of murder is over three before one confesses.

The endings are particularly tragic as Vera punishes those who have broken the law.  One scenario is the destruction of a family.  For example, one spouse killed the victim but the other spouse disposed of the body so the children will have both parents in jail.  Vera is sure to charge them both.  The other common scenario is where the perp asks Vera for solace by saying, “It is only [some lesser crime] and not murder.”  Most humans would give some version of it is up to the prosecutor, judge and jury because it is.  Vera will have none of that and she starts out, “No, it is premeditated because …..”

We enjoy Vera.  If you like tragedies you might like it too.


In Defense Of Saab

We took great umbrage at the beginning of Kevin D. Williamson’s new NRODT article, Elizabeth Warren Is Wrong About Pay Day Lenders, (we are bit sure about the paywall) that comes out early on NRO.  Of course, any article that starts with “Elizabeth Warren Is Wrong” is likely to be good and the article is terrific and you should read it all.  You should subscribe if you haven’t.  The problem is the beginning.  Kevin says:

Do you know who the car-finance guys really miss? “Saab,” he said. “The Saab customer was the best.” The people who bought Saabs turned out to be as sensible and practical as the people who designed them — good credit, appropriate incomes, sensible down payments. “It wasn’t like Porsche or Land Rover,” he said. “Nobody bought a Saab because it fulfilled some fantasy.”

We loved our Saab.  Now our love might have been augmented by the fact that it replaced the Toyota with over 400,000 miles that would only start if you put a coat hanger in the carburetor just before you cranked the key and then removed immediately after the vehicle started.

Sidebar: Here is a cite for those of you that don’t know what a carburetor is.  We are pretty sure that the Saab was our first fuel injected vehicle.  End Sidebar

It was fortunate that the Toyota hood (like the Saab) was hinged at the front so starting it only required a mild bit of contortion.  The Saab not only started all by itself but it was responsive, was a joy to drive, and had a heated seat, another thing that has become standard but wasn’t several decades ago.  It also had its practical side with front wheel drive (another innovation) and big tires that took the worry out of Wisconsin winters.

Why is Kevin’s article great?  First he makes this point:

Being poor sucks, and no regulation is going to change that.

Later he expands on exactly why:

Of course, there are a lot of broke-ass suburbanites driving around in Land Rovers they cannot really afford. It is not only the poor who make bad financial decisions. (I could produce a conspectus [your word of the day] of my own.) But the poor always have less room for error, and for their errors, as for most things, they pay a proportionally higher price.  [Emphasis added]

The play Fences has some great examples of the poor making good and bad decisions.  The dad, Troy, discusses with one of his sons if they should fix the roof or get a TV.  Troy isn’t as poor as some but he he trying to show his son exactly the problem Kevin describes.  They can only do one or the other.  Troy is working poor but his good financial sense allows him to help out others at the cost of some advice.

Kevin would like the Fences model but recognizes, unlike Elizabeth, that pay day lenders might be the best option for many folks.  Too bad he never yearned to have a Saab of his very own.

Hard Times Make Hard People

We accompanied the Lady deGloves to American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, WI to see August Wilson’s Fences.  It is about the African-American experience after WWII.  We went with hope and trepidation.  Our trepidation came from Fences winning the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  We figured that prize would be evidence of its leftist bona fides.  We don’t want to spend a night listening to a recitation of grievances.  Political points in entertainment need to be subtle.  We had hope because APT is a place of quality and integrity.

Much like the Pats over the Steelers (33-3 in case you didn’t see it) hope won in a rout.  We had to check to see if it was written by George Will.  It is an unflinching yet loving look at the black experience during the postwar years.  The play is set in Troy Maxson’s house and yard in Pittsburg during the late 1950s although you need some local knowledge to figure it out.  Roberto Clemente is playing for the Pirates and he debuted in 1955.  Troy’s son plays music at the Crawford Grill and they read the Pittsburg Courier.  Troy’s death is six or seven years later and the voice over montage includes Malcolm X (we think his assassination) which would take us to 1965.

Troy is a hard man that had seen really hard times.  He was one of ten (?) children of a sharecropper who left home at 14.  Troy came North to be homeless and a thief.  He killed a man.  He didn’t take our 44th president’s advice and brought a knife to a gun fight and, like in the Magnificent Seven, won.  He did time in prison and then was a power hitter in the Negro Leagues.  Although the color line has been broken in MLB by the time of the play Troy is rightly upset of his missed opportunity and that there are still some mediocre white players starting.  Troy didn’t share Buck O’Neil’s outlook.   Now he works picking up trash for the city.  During the course of the play he becomes the first black trash truck driver despite not having a license.

Troy became a hard man during these hard times.  He watches out for himself as he obtains a house for his family and his brother Gabe with the money Gabe got for brain injuries during WWII.  He has a loving wife Rose played wonderfully by Karen Aldridge who he betrays by having an affair that leads to a baby.  The mother dies in childbirth and Troy brings the innocent home that leads to a great scene.

Fences is an excellent play made extraordinary by APT.  It is about personal responsibility and family.  It has a wonderful and shocking conservative outlook on life, family, and religion. Troy and Rose have kept their family together during the Great Depression, WWII, and Jim Crow but Lyons has already broken up his relationship and we know from reading George Will and others that the black family will have bad times in the years to come despite the progress made by blacks as shown by breaking the color barrier in MLB, Troy becoming a driver, and legal improvements.  Troy’s children will have a harder time keeping a family in a much less hard time.

It is such a good play because its political outlook is subtle.  The play doesn’t beat us over the head.  Troy, Rose, and the rest are interesting and imperfect.  You should see Fences and enjoy them.

Bobby, Kris, and Janis

We really enjoy Daniel Henniger but recently he went too far.  Dan is at the WSJ discussing Does Hong Kong Matter?   Well, of course it does but it also depends.  Are we going to cause WW III over it?  Unlikely.  Is Dan going to use a really bad analogy about it to distract us from his reasonable point?  Absolutely.  Janis Joplin’s version Kris Kristofferson’s of Me and Bobby McGee is our all-time favorite song.  Dan should listen more closely.

Sidebar: Sometimes it is Bobbi and sometimes it is Bobby.  The Genius site uses Bobby so we are too.  End Sidebar.

Dan quotes Kris correctly but too briefly.  He says:

Someone once sang that “freedom’s just another word,” and maybe today it is. One casualty of the relentless U.S. political slog is that some important ideas—such as justice, racism, equality and respect—get so beaten into the ground, become so hackneyed, that one feels almost embarrassed to use the words.

The problem is there are lots of kinds of freedom.  Economic, political, and personal to make a short list.  Kris was talking about personal freedom.  The whole verse is:

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free
Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues
And buddy, that was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

Personal freedom can be a negative as it was when Bobby set the songwriter free.  So the song ends:

Well I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday
Holdin’ Bobby’s body close to mine

Economic freedom and political freedom are positive goods while personal freedom can be positive or negative.  Dan needs to understand the difference between dating and Hong Kong.  There are different kinds of freedom and Hong Kong does matter.

Men, Women: Reality and Fantasy

It has been building for years but the current hot item in TV shows and movies is for women to beat up men.  Sometimes, like in Stargate SG1, Samantha (Sam) gets to beat up an alien man.  It is a bit of silly fun.  We have recently been watching Whiskey Cavalier (WC) and Blood and Treasure (B&T) where this behavior is happening all the time.  The former is the better of the two although currently, the latter is the only one to be renewed.  Or perhaps not.  Why do we like WC better?  The characters are interesting in WC.  Lauren Cohan in WC looks intimidating but her pictures suggest otherwise.  It may take awhile when looking a Lauren’s pictures but eventually you can bring your focus to her biceps.  Her bulges are elsewhere.  B&T has some interesting flashbacks but the main characters are not very interesting.  In one particularly silly B&T sequence Gwen (Katia Winter check her arms too) beats up Bruno and then Bruno escapes from his cell  by beating up two beefy policemen.

It is great fun having pretty women beat up big guys.  Is it the cause of some of our current confusion?  Men, on average, are stronger and faster than women.  We see amazing women all the time but the strongest and fastest men are much stronger and faster than the strongest and fastest women.  Military .com tells us about some amazing women.  The US Army Ranger school has graduated twelve of them to date.  They also tell us that 40 percent of the men pass but they don’t give a pass rate for women although it seems to be two or three out of nineteen.  Elsewhere, there are assertions that there was an Army thumb on the scale for women:

But whereas men consistently were held to the strict standards outlined in the Ranger School’s Standing Operating Procedures handbook sources say, the women were allowed lighter duties and exceptions to policy.

We take no opinion on these assertions of the Army playing favorites other than to say hats off to the women and men that graduated and that any woman is highly unlikely to be the top scorer in Ranger school.

Sidebar: In running there might be some extremely long distances, like 100 miles where the top women can compete with the top men.  In addition, boys and girls can compete equally at very young ages too.  These exceptions are more proof of the general rule.  End Sidebar

Here is some evidence from sports.  Over the weekend the men (PGA) and and women (LPGA) both had a golf tournament on a par 71 golf course.  The men’s course was 7,353 yards and the women’s course was 6,427 yards for a difference of over 900 yards or 50 yard a hole.  There is a reason for separate tours.  Of course, as Madeline Kearns reports at NRO, the transgender movement has led to unsurprising results.  Connecticut allows men who identify as women to compete with women:

Since enacted in 2017, the Connecticut state [high school] conference policy has enabled two young men to win 15 women’s championships, titles that were held by 10 young women the year before. State athletic conferences in 18 other states have similar policies.

We don’t know if the fantasy of TV and movies has confused folks that women athletes can compete with men.  It is not that a female can never beat a male.  We have seen the women at the handball tournaments and many could hold us to three or less but they can’t compete with the men in the open class.  It is just that the best woman has little chance against a pretty good man.

Let’s bring back Whiskey Cavalier.  It is not a great show but it is interesting enough to renew.  But we shouldn’t be confused that women can compete in athletics with men on the high school, college, or professional level.  We shouldn’t let any group convince us that it is a good idea.

A Tale Of Two Plays

The economic arguments of this summer has been recycled so many times that it bores us silly.  The Donald wants to have trade wars.  It is still a terrible idea.  The Democrats, well, most of them, want to have the government take over health care and raise the minimum wage to $15.  In Venezuela, where they have tried these and more socialist ideas, has gone someplace in a hand basket.

Sidebar One: OK, a $15 minimum wage isn’t a socialist idea.  It often comes from socialists and it is a really, really bad idea for poor people but socialism is not the only bad economic idea.  End Sidebar One.

We are already on record as opposing these ideas so there isn’t much to say on that front.  The good news is that there have been interesting movies, plays, and books enjoy and comment on.  We are sure that the politicians will come up with some new ideas (and perhaps even a good one) soon but until then we want to discuss The Servant Of Two Masters at Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) and Twelfth Night at American Players Theatre (APT).

Sidebar Two: We went to the Twelfth Night wondering if we had seen it before.  We left the show wondering why it had that title.  Wikipedia tell us it is called the Twelfth Night or What You Will which is only a slight improvement.  The main title comes from the Twelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season.  So if you can connect music and disorder to that night then you might remember the play.  End Sidebar Two.

Servant is a fun play.  GRSF, as we have mentioned, does not have the stage or the company that APT has.  They handle their lack of resources admirably in Servant but it shows from time to time.  Trying to remember who is whom and when can get tricky.  In the madcap scene where stuff is getting thrown around there needs to be better choreography or perhaps more players.  One ingenious part of the play (we don’t know if it is a GRSF invention or not) is using an audience member to play the Doctor.  Not The Doctor.  Three or four members of the audience try out and one is picked.  An actor has a frying pan (yup) that says Yes on one side and Humbug on the other.  The Doctor says the word when prompted.  It is a fun play.  If you can’t make it this year then make plans for next July to see the next season.

Sidebar Three: It is tough to compare other places to APT.  We have been going there for almost 30 years.  We know these folks and the stage.  We go to various celebrations so we see the actors and other professionals up close and personal.  We like to attend opening night to see the other actors in the audience.  Actors make for a great audience.  Watching them is almost as interesting as the show.  End Sidebar Three.

Despite the last paragraph, we are convinced that Twelfth Night is an epic APT success.   David Daniel was born to play the prat Malvolio.  Ted Deasy, a relative newcomer to APT, is wonderfully unaware as Sir Andrew.  It is a sad joy to see his concern as he begins to realize just how unaware he is.  Coleen Madden shines as Maria. The best part is the choreography of Sir Toby (Triney Sandoval), Sir Andrew, and Fabian (Phoebe Gonzalez) with the plants (really, check the gallery) as Malvolio dithers.  The timing and organization of this madcap scene are great.  Yes, the leads are great but you expect that.  What makes APT so engaging is the quality of the whole cast, the details of costumes, and professional use of the stage.  And, of course, all up-the-hill plays are outside in a beautiful amphitheater with trees all around and, hopefully, stars in the heavens as well as on stage.  APT still has over a month to run.  If you can’t make it this year APT should be on your bucket list.




Two Terrific Counterfactuals

We took the Lady de Gloves to see Quentin Tarantino’s  Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood while we were reading Alan Furst’s The Spies of Warsaw.  Our link is to all of Alan’s books because we have found all eight we have read to date to be outstanding.  Quentin’s movie and Alan’s book share at least three things: A counterfactual story, a joy of place and time, and a chilling villain.

Quentin has a bromance between Rick, the leading man played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cliff, his stunt double, played by Brad Pitt set against the backdrop of Hollywood in 1969 (movies, TV shows, ads, cars, and records) while the Manson Family (in case you didn’t know) threatens their joy.  Kyle Smith at NRO thinks Quentin spends too much time on atmosphere:

Tarantino stops the film regularly to linger on a montage of neon marquees fizzing to life, to cast his eye down a boulevard teeming with period cars, or to look at a 1969 television commercial. There must be scenes from close to a dozen movies and TV shows within the movie, some of them real, some fictitious, others combining forms by inserting today’s actors into vintage footage. Almost none of this drives the plot along. Tarantino just thinks it’s cool to re-create 1969 in a thousand different ways, and, with $90 million of Sony’s money to spend, he won’t be denied. He should have cut almost all of it and saved it for the boffins who buy Director’s Cut DVDs.  [Emphasis added]

We agree with Quentin and disagree with Kyle.  We don’t quite agree with Armond White.  It was beyond cool to us and we see it as advancing the plot. It is not that Matt Helm was a great movie or Jose Feliciano’s version California Dreaming was any good.  It is an excellent movie, because like Alan, Quentin reflected the time, the culture, and specific people.  The joy amps up the coming conflict especially as Sharon Tate enjoys her role in Matt Helm.   Perhaps we see it that way because we grew up in that era.  Or perhaps it was reading Alan’s evocative book when we saw the movie but we delighted in the atmosphere of both and the contrast between them. We saw the atmosphere as ratcheting up the tension.   In both cases we know that gruesome deaths are close by despite the joy of ’69 and the manners of ’38.  It is hard to imagine two more different places.  Alan and Quentin capture them beautifully.

Sidebar: Somewhere we saw a critic defending Quentin against other critics saying he should have shown the rest of ’69 including the antiwar movement and racial conflict.  The critic says Quentin can make the movie he wants.  We think there is a better explanation in that the movie needed just one villain, the Manson Family, against the joy of the times.  It is, as the title implies, a fairy tale.  End Sidebar.

Alan has the love story of Anna and Mercier set against the anxiety of pre-WWII Europe while threatened by the Nazis.  Both live in Warsaw but they travel all over Europe.  Mercier is a doubly wounded warrior who comes from a long line of French warriors.  In 1938 nobody would think the previous sentence was a joke.  He was physically wounded in battle and he lost his wife to the ‘flu.  He is thinking about retiring but as his “Cold War” starts to heat up he finds interest in his work and love.  The extraordinarily brief epilogue suggests that Mercier and Anna will be back. We hope so.

We can’t tell you about the counterfactuals other than we enjoyed both.  Watch the movie and read the book carefully so you don’t miss the important stuff.  We can’t create the counterfactual where we only do one of reading Alan’s book and seeing Quentin’s movie.  We encourage you to do both and recognize that they might be better if taken together.