Sunday, July 24, 2005

Films Recently Seen

Ladies In Lavender: The main characters in this film, set in the south of England just before the outbreak of World War 2, are two elderly ladies, Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) who live in a cottage by the sea. One day they find a young man lying on the beach, seemingly dead. But when they feel his pulse, it is still beating. So they carry him home, and, over several weeks, care for him while he recovers. It turns out he is Polish and had fallen off a ship.

So the story is about the growing bond between the two ladies and the young man, Andreas (Daniel Bruehl) and, in particular, the infatuation Ursula slowly develops for him, probably because she has been without a man all her life – unlike Janet who, in her youth, had been betrothed to a soldier who had died in the trenches of World War 1. When Andreas finally departs, Ursula is totally crushed and, in a very moving scene, weeps heartrendingly on her sister’s shoulder. It reminds us that feelings of romantic yearning and love can be as acute in the old as in the young.

The film also reminds us that an entire generation of young men in the warring nations of Europe in World War 1 was wiped out, resulting in millions of young women of that generation, like Ursula and Janet, never getting married and having families.

Ladies in Lavender has been described as being for the Masterpiece Theatre crowd. Probably it is, but that is no reason not to see it, for I consider it excellent.

* * *

Batman Begins: I saw this film partly because the only review I’d read of it was somewhat positive, and because I felt the need to seek the comfort and quiet of an air-conditioned theatre to escape a spell of hot weather which, as is the nature of hot weather, caused legions of the shirtless Boys of Summer to emerge from their caves, the better to inflict their foul presences and noise on everyone around them, including me.

Even though it tried hard in the beginning, Batman Begins turned out to be little different from the usual eardrum-splitting special-effects fare suitable for teenage boys. While watching the film, I asked myself why it is that most mainstream American films are suitable only for teenaged boys. Well, I suppose it is that teenaged boys are most of the ones who shell out money to watch the movies which show in all the cineplexes throughout the Great North American Heartland.

Why just teenaged boys? Don’t as many teenaged girls attend movies as their boyfriends do? Possibly. But even in our enlightened times of the equality of women, it will be their male partners who will decide in most cases what movies they will enjoy together as a couple. Of course this won’t be all the time, given there are “chick flicks”. But there are infinitely more Bruce Willis shoot ‘em up films out there, than there are “chick flicks”.

So, getting back to Batman Begins, if you are a teenaged boy or an emotionally retarded adult male, you’ll probably love it. If you are someone other, try your luck elsewhere.

* * *

Cinderella Man: Even before I decided to go see this film, I figured I would like it because I’ve liked all the previous films Ron Howard has directed and, well, I have a weakness for the “sweet science” which I vicariously satisfy by watching ESPN’s Friday Night Fights whenever possible.

In case you’ve just returned from the dark side of the moon, I’ll explain that Cinderella Man tells the story of James J Braddock (Russell Crowe) who was briefly heavyweight boxing champion of the world during the 1930s. However, Cinderella Man is not merely a boxing film, but is a film which portrays what life was like for so many on the wrong side of the railway tracks during the Great Depression.

Even though from the wrong side of the tracks, James J Braddock had sufficient talent but, more importantly, the grit as a boxer to become a heavyweight contender. Then he lost a couple of important fights, and slid downhill to the extent that he and his wife and children were forced to exist hand-to-mouth on little more than the smell of an oil rag in one of the Hoovervilles – the shanty towns which were ubiquitous during those times.

Then Braddock got a chance to go against an up-and-coming fighter looking for an easy opponent as a tune-up for a shot at the heavyweight crown. Improbably, Braddock won, and so, soon after, got a shot at the champ, the brilliant Max Baer, who liked to party more than train. Braddock won a close decision, and thus entered history’s books.

Braddock’s story is about a man’s perseverance to overcome insuperable odds and adversity, which he couldn’t have done without the love and devotion of his wife Mae (Rene Zellweger) and their children. It is a sort of “Rocky”, but with real-life characters.

As with Ron Howard’s other films, Cinderella Man is filmed in a straight-forward quite old-fashioned way, which allows us, the viewers, to connect emotionally with the characters. So it is the opposite of cool, and is all the better for that.

If you haven’t seen Cinderella Man, please do, for it will warm the cockles of your heart, and make you aware of a period of American history in the sharpest contrast to today’s post war affluent society which is simply taken for granted by its beneficiaries at their peril.

* * *

Saving Face: The main characters in this film, directed by Alice Wu, are denizens of New York’s Chinese-American community. Wil (Michelle Krusiec) an early twenty-something, newly qualified surgeon, is looking to enjoy her new-found freedom. Then her 48 year-old mother (Joan Chen) reveals to her that she is pregnant. Wil’s mother’s elderly parents are scandalized by this because she no longer has a husband (its not made clear what happened to him). And what’s more, Wil’s mother won’t reveal who the father is. And she has now to find somewhere to live because her parents, with whom she lives, decide to kick her out. So she moves in with Wil.

Meanwhile Wil is being pursued by a dancer, Vivian (Lynn Chen) who fancies her, and Wil, too, finds herself attracted to Vivian. But Wil feels compelled to hide this lesbian relationship from her conservative Chinese-born mother who, in turn, is having to go out on dates with men dredged up by her parents as possible husbands, for it would be too much of a disgrace to have a daughter who is a single mother.

This, then, is the bare bones of Saving Face. But what is particularly appealing about this film is that it is a comparative rarity - an American film with principal characters other than “white”.

Although the US is now only 65% “white”, one would never think so, judging by the whiteness of American, particularly Hollywood, films, where the well-rounded principal characters are invariably “white”, with actors of African or Asian or other non-European descent, reduced to playing stereotyped supporting roles.

Films starring Denzel Washington notwithstanding, about the only film of recent years I can think of, with African-Americans in non-stereotyped roles, was Sunshine State, directed by John Sales.

As to Asian-Americans in Hollywood, can it be said that their position today is meaningfully any better than in the days of Anna May Wong, a famous and beautiful Chinese-American actress of the 1920s and 1930’s, who could never get a principal role in a Hollywood film because she was “Chinese”, and had to go overseas to Europe where her opportunities were much better?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Hitler - The Interview

Because the film, “Downfall” (“Der Untergang”) – about the purported last days of Adolf Hitler – has recently been released, I consider now to be the propitious time to reveal that Hitler is still alive, and that, together with his wife Eva Braun, he lives in the Patagonian region of southern Argentina.

The official story is that Hitler and Eva had killed themselves in the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin shortly before the first Russian troops entered the city in April 1945. Then their bodies were supposedly doused with gasoline and set alight. But the evidence to support this was all hearsay, and a concocted story of Hitler’s suicide doubtless served the purposes of the Allied occupiers who would have wanted to deprive all Nazi last-ditchers of any illusions that they could still hold on to power.

Because I’ve met so many people, particularly in their teens and early twenties, who don’t know who Adolf Hitler was, I’ll just say for now that he was one of the most infamous world leaders of the twentieth century. He ruled Germany heavy-handedly from 1933 to 1945, was the main culprit in bringing about World War 2, and was responsible for the Jewish Holocaust. Further details about him will emerge in the transcript of my interview with him that follows.

How did I manage to get an interview with Hitler, you may ask? I don’t know exactly, but word obviously got through to him that I was interested in that period of history, so Hitler may have thought me a good conduit through which to get his story out. Anyway, when Hitler’s emissaries approached me with the offer to interview him on camera, I jumped at the chance, for this could be my opportunity for world-wide fame.

Adolf and Eva live in seclusion, protected by an elaborate security apparatus and security guards, the better to prevent Adolf being apprehended by the likes of the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad, who wish to bring him to justice as a war criminal. Consequently, the exact location in Patagonia of Hitler’s retreat is kept secret by his security team.

One of the conditions of the interview was that I and my three-person team had to be kept in the dark as to precisely where Hitler’s headquarters are. Accordingly, on landing in Buenos Aires, we were met by Hitler’s advance team who blindfolded us and drove us to an adjacent airfield where they put us aboard a small aircraft which then flew us to another airfield near Hitler’s residence. Still blindfolded, we were guided into a passenger vehicle which took us to the home of Hitler. Only when we arrived there were our blindfolds removed.

Hitler, today, looks very different from how we remember him from the newsreels and photos taken when he was in power. Being now 117, he obviously looks older. His head is bald except for tufts of sparse grey hair around his temples and at the back. He no longer sports his toothbrush moustache, which he may have shaved off to help obscure his identity. His posture is slightly stooped - not unsurprising in a 117 year-old – but he otherwise appears physically healthy, and could pass for 85. All who’d met Hitler in his heyday remarked on the hypnotic quality of his eyes. I can report that that Hitler’s eyes, which bored into me unremittingly throughout my interview with him, still radiate hypnotic power.

I and my team were ushered so quickly into Hitler’s study, where the interview took place, and ushered out of it, and also out of the house equally quickly at the interview’s conclusion, that I’m not able to tell you what the inside of his house looked like. His study, however, was sparsely furnished, with the only decorations consisting of photos hanging on the walls, of Hitler at the different stages of his life.

Hitler’s manner towards me and my team was generally cordial, but he became very irascible at times, as the transcript of the interview will show.

We were not able to meet Eva, since she had a stomach upset and kept to her room. Hitler told us that she was otherwise quite healthy.

What now follows is the transcript of the interview.

* * *


CHRISTOPHER : How are you spending your life these days?

HITLER : Much more quietly than I did back in ’45 I can tell you…….ha…..ha…..ha….

CHRISTOPHER : It’s good that you still have your sense of humour.

HITLER : There’s no use in crying over spilt milk. What’s past is past. We move forward. The world moves on. It has changed, and I think I’ve changed with it.

CHRISTOPHER : In what way?

HITLER : I’m a kinder gentler person, to use the phrase of…….what’s his name…….the guy that used to be the American president……

CHRISTOPHER : George Bush?

HITLER : Yes, George Bush. And I mean George Bush senior, not that schmuck of a son of his who’s president now.

CHRISTOPHER : You don’t approve of George W Bush?

HITLER : I think that kid was spoiled rotten. Snorting cocaine and avoiding the draft. His father should have put some backbone into him, given him military drill every day, had him goose-stepping around the back-yard till he dropped, made a man of him. As he is now, he would never have made it into the Waffen-SS.

CHRISTOPHER : And is that such a bad thing? After all, the guys in the Waffen-SS did do some rather gruesome things, didn’t they?

HITLER : That’s history. Times have changed. We move forward.

CHRISTOPHER : So you’ve already said.

HITLER : Are you trying to be impudent? A smartass? You need to be taught a lesson.

CHRISTOPHER : Please, calm down. You said you were now a kinder gentler person.

HITLER : I am. But there are limits.

CHRISTOPHER : OK. Talk a little bit about how you came to be in Argentina. Everyone thought you and Eva had been burned to cinders in your Berlin bunker in April 1945.

HITLER : I fooled you all, didn’t I, excepting those guys in the National Enquirer. They kept telling you I was living in Argentina, but you aschenputtels didn’t believe them. My buddy Martin Bormann helped Eva and me to escape.

CHRISTOPHER : Can you give me the details?

HITLER : Not too many, because this could still cause trouble for my old friends. I mean, you guys are still prosecuting some of my old buddies. Don’t you have anything better to do? The world is going down the tube with all this air-pollution and global warming and wars and stuff, but all you can think about is putting some very old men on trial.

CHRISTOPHER : You sound like you’re environmentally conscious. Is this all part and parcel of your new kinder gentler persona?

HITLER : Do I detect some sarcasm there?

CHRISTOPHER : No.

HITLER : Just watch it. Getting back to your question: I was always environmentally conscious, even when I was Fuhrer. The quality of the environment was the whole point of the blitzkriegs which all you schmucks didn’t understand. My Panzers and Stuka dive-bombers were meant to raze everything to the ground, so it could all be re-built anew. The new re-built cities, designed by my architect, Albert Speer, would reflect our German orderliness and cleanness and efficiency. We would have eliminated the air pollution and the waste in the rivers and lakes. We would have been able to frolic in the fields of flowers which we were planning to plant in our new Lebensraum of eastern Europe and the steppes of Russia.

CHRISTOPHER : You sound nostalgic.

HITLER : When I realized how close I came to achieving my dreams I could cry. I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, that’s what I did. If only I’d invaded Russia in the spring of 1941 instead of mid-summer. If only I’d not allowed the British troops to escape back to their island from Dunkirk where we had them at our mercy. If only I’d continued to bomb the English airfields instead of switching to the cities. If only……..if only….

CHRISTOPHER : Don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems like you really screwed up.

HITLER : Don’t push me too far, but yes, mistakes were made.

CHRISTOPHER : By whom?

HITLER : By me. It took me a long time to face up to this. When things were going badly for us, I blamed the German people. I felt they had proved unworthy to fulfil their historic destiny, that they had let me down. Therefore I wanted Germany and the Germans to be destroyed This is why I ordered everything to be razed to the ground as my armies retreated back into Germany. I intended the Americans and Russians to find nothing left of Germany but a smouldering ruin.

CHRISTOPHER : A Twilight of the Gods?

HITLER : Yes, a Twilight of the Gods. But now I confess that my part in the catastrophe was not blameless. I was, at times, too impetuous and too stubborn. I didn’t listen enough to others. I was insufficiently – how do you say it today...........transparent?

CHRISTOPHER : That’s quite an admission, for you.

HITLER : You’re pushing the inside of the envelope.

CHRISTOPHER : Sorry. It has been said that you had a lot of anger inside you, that you were an angry person. What say you to this?

HITLER : I was angry, not for me, but at how we Germans had been stabbed in the back at the end of the 1914-18 war by the enemies within us. These sons-of-bitches manipulated us into surrendering in November 1918. It was these “November Criminals” I was mad at. By making us surrender, they had deprived us, the German people, of our place in the sun, of fulfilling our historic destiny. I was determined such a thing would never happen again.

CHRISTOPHER : Psychologists have suggested that your anger was the result of your childhood experiences.

HITLER : Such as?

CHRISTOPHER : They noted that in your book “Mein Kampf” you always refer to Germany as “she”, and that you went on at some length at how Germany, “she”, had been totally humiliated by “her” enemies in the years after 1918. The image portrayed is of a woman being violated or raped by a man……..

HITLER : What garbage. But carry on. I’m listening. Hey, I’m a kinder gentler person, almost a twenty-first century kind of guy…. ha……ha……ha…..

CHRISTOPHER : If I may continue. There are a couple of other things of interest to psychologists: The blindness you experienced in the trenches near the end of hostilities, supposedly from mustard gas; and that, although you were born an Austrian and never became a German citizen until after you became Chancellor, you also identified yourself as a German, so much so that you saw yourself as personifying Germany.

HITLER : Where is all this leading?

CHRISTOPHER : Let me finish. It has been suggested that you hated and feared your father who was an authoritarian Customs official. Germany, in your unconscious mind, represented your mother; and the Allied powers and fifth columnists represented your hated father. When it became apparent just before the Armistice in 1918 that Germany was disintegrating from within – the Navy had mutinied, the workers were striking, and the army was retreating – your unconscious mind saw your beloved mother being violated by your hated father. This was so traumatic for you that you experienced a blindness caused by hysteria, not by mustard gas as you suppose. This is why it has been put forward that, as a very young child, you stumbled upon your mother and father having sex. Your very young mind, quite naturally, suppressed this memory, which nevertheless remained alive in your unconscious mind. The defeat of Germany triggered this traumatic memory.

HITLER : I don’t believe I’m hearing this. But, being the kinder gentler person that I am, I’ll let you continue a little longer before I kick you and your tape recorder out the door. Anything else?

CHRISTOPHER : Please bear with me. One of the things your regime, the Third Reich, will always be associated with was your attempted extermination of the Jews – the Holocaust. You must have hated Jews terribly. It has been suggested that your mind projected all its stored anger and hatred, all its hurtful unwanted stuff, onto the Jews, who became the personification of all that you hated within yourself.

HITLER : It’s lucky for the guys who came up with all this psychological crap that they didn’t live in Germany when I was Fuhrer. I would have had them strung up at the end of piano-wire, just like I had done to Stauffenburg and those other schmucks who left a bomb under my desk in 1944.

CHRISTOPHER : You said you were a kinder gentler person.

HITLER : I am. I merely said I would have had those psychological schmucks strung up on piano wire. I didn’t say I would do that now.

CHRISTOPHER : That sounds Clintonian.

HITLER : What was that?

CHRISTOPHER : Nothing. Just a joke.

HITLER : Don’t play the smartass with me, I’m warning you. You’re exhausting my patience.

CHRISTOPHER : I apologise. Historians have always been amazed at the extent of the hold you had over the German people. How did you accomplish this?

HITLER : I was in the right place at the right time.

CHRISTOPHER : Is that it?

HITLER : Are you trying to be facetious? You people nowadays all want short snappy answers. Sound bytes, is that what you call them? Please, let me finish what I was trying to say.

CHRISTOPHER : Sorry.

HITLER : Don’t let it happen again. Now, where was I?

CHRISTOPHER : You were at the right place at the right time.

HITLER : Yes. We Germans couldn’t have been in a worse mess than we were in the 1920s. Under the Treaty of Versailles we had to pay huge amounts of war reparations to the French, British, and Americans. This bankrupted us. Our currency, the Reichsmark, almost overnight became worthless. Inflation was so bad that some restaurants wouldn’t even print their prices in the menu because the meal-prices would have risen between the time the patron began his meal and the time he finished eating, I’m not kidding.

CHRISTOPHER : Incredible.

HITLER : No, not incredible, except perhaps to young punks like you who know nothing about history. What do they teach you in the schools now anyway? Social studies? Sex education? Let me tell you, in the Third Reich we had real sex education, not the make-believe stuff you have in the classrooms today. We encouraged the real thing, and without condoms. We encouraged our blonde Aryan stormtroopers to roll in the hay with our blonde German maidens, and thereby increase our German population. We called it Strength through Joy. And our young men didn’t need official encouragement either……ha…….ha……..ha…….

CHRISTOPHER : Can you get back to what you were saying about conditions in the 1920s?

HITLER : Certainly. Anything to oblige. Because the Reichsmark was now valueless, we could no longer pay our war reparations. So the French sent in their troops to occupy our industrial heartland, the Ruhr Valley. This was the ultimate humiliation. On top of that, tens of millions of our people were out of work and begging on the streets. We were descending into chaos, anarchy.

CHRISTOPHER : And so something drastic had to be done?

HITLER : You got it absolutely right. You’re not as dumb as you look.

CHRISTOPHER : No, but you are.

HITLER : Huh? Are you trying to take the mickey out of me?

CHRISTOPHER : Just a slip of the tongue. Please, continue.

HITLER : There is a limit to my tolerance. It is almost filled to the brim. You are skating on thin ice.

CHRISTOPHER : And you are mixing your metaphors…..ha…….ha……ha……just a joke, just a joke.

HITLER : Bravely spoken. But, to get back to the mess we were in, the situation was intolerable. I resolved to do something about it, and I did so when I got the German people to place their destiny in my hands. I created huge public works programmes like the building of the autobahns. I expanded our army and set up huge armaments factories. Soon, everyone was working. I transformed our downtrodden shuffling workless masses into industrious happy healthy workers and soldiers. The sun shone down on our fields of abundant wheat and hay, with their bronzed workers; and on our columns of confidently marching soldiers. We were once again on the road to our historic destiny.

CHRISTOPHER : It has been said that a part of why you were able to establish such a hold over the German people was that you were a master of mass-psychology, and in the use of pictorial symbols like the swastika, which is an ancient Indian symbol. Your mass-rallies, with their uniforms, music, symbols, candle-light processions, and oratory, were described as the height of pure theatre. You seemed instinctively to know which buttons to press. How did you develop this knowledge?

HITLER : I’m at heart an artist. That’s what I always wanted to be. I struggled to make my living by my paintings as a young man in Vienna, but people were too stupid to appreciate my talent. Having the artistic temperament, I instinctively knew what makes people tick and what they respond to. I had also studied German history and culture deeply. So I just knew what I had to do to persuade the destitute and impoverished masses of Germany that I was their man

CHRISTOPHER : It probably helped that your name was “Hitler”. The greeting of “Heil Hitler” had a nice alliterative ring to it.

HITLER : It wasn’t a hindrance, let’s put it that way.

CHRISTOPHER : It is now quite well documented that your surname, Hitler, came from the maternal line in your paternal ancestry. One of your male forebears adopted his mother’s maiden name of Hitler, instead of his father’s name of Schickelgruber. If he hadn’t done this, your name would have been Adolf Schickelgruber instead of Adolf Hitler. “Heil Schickelgruber” doesn’t have the same poetic touch as Heil Hitler, does it?

HITLER : What happened in the past, happened. It was my destiny to lead the German people, and therefore everything which contributed to bring this about was also destiny. It was foreordained, if you will.

CHRISTOPHER : I would be most interested to get your views on what has happened on the world stage since you left Germany in 1945. Let’s begin with Argentina where you have lived ever since. The Argentines best known would be Juan Domingo Peron and his wife Eva, better known as Evita. Incidentally, did you ever get to see the film of Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical about Evita, which had Madonna in the title role?

HITLER : Unfortunately no. It only played in Buenos Aires and in one or two of the larger cities. It is too dangerous for me to leave this compound. I don’t want to give Mossad any opportunities to whisk me off to Tel-Aviv and put me in a glass booth and ask me embarrassing questions like they did to Eichmann. It would be too humiliating. In fact I haven’t ventured out of here since I arrived just about sixty years ago, and I’ve certainly not seen the bright lights of Buenos Aires since I briefly stopped in there in 1945.

CHRISTOPHER : Have you a CD of the music from “Evita”?

HITLER : I do. That Lloyd-Webber guy can sure crank out good songs.

CHRISTOPHER : What other music do you like to listen to? The Horst Wessel song, for instance?

HITLER : I heard that song so many times at my rallies that if I listen to it one more time I think I’ll puke. Besides, I don’t think any recordings have been made of it since 1945. So all there would be now is just those old turn-table records of it, which would sound very scratchy now, and there would be problems in digging out all the ingrained dust in the record grooves, and the records might break anyway. I’ll just wait till it’s re-mastered on CD – if it ever is.

CHRISTOPHER : What other music do you listen to?

HITLER : Mainly stuff with German connections. I’ve recently purchased a CD of military marching songs from the band of the Bundeswehr, which I’ve played incessantly over the last little while.

CHRISTOPHER : Anything else?

HITLER : The usual: Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Bert Kampfaert.

CHRISTOPHER : Bert Kampfaert?

HITLER : Yes, Bert Kampfaert, the German band leader who brought out those hits of the early ‘sixties, like “Now and Forever” and “That Happy Feeling”. Do you remember them?

CHRISTOPHER : They ring a bell. But he doesn’t seem to have brought out anything in the last forty years or so. His sound was probably superseded by that of the Beatles and the Stones.

HITLER : Well, for starters, Bert Kampfaert is now dead, and being dead makes it difficult to bring out new songs. And I’ll bet that if Bert Kampfaert were still alive, you all would still be tapping your toes to his latest music, instead of to the Beatles and Stones and Ricky Martin.

CHRISTOPHER : Getting back to the post-war political scene, are there any leaders you’ve admired, if any?

HITLER : Most were boneless wonders, wimps. But there were a handful who had potential.

CHRISTOPHER : Juan Peron perhaps?

HITLER : He admired my ideas, so he had potential. But he let that wife of his tie him around her little finger. She was – how can I say – a Delilah to the shorn Sampson.

CHRISTOPHER : You sound like a male chauvinist.

HITLER : I’m all in favour of the equality of women, as long as they know their place.

CHRISTOPHER : What other world leaders on the world stage in the post war years do you look upon with approval.

HITLER : Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and Margaret Thatcher.

CHRISTOPHER : This is hardly an imposing bunch. They were all eventually hoisted by their own petard, succumbed to hubris, just as you did. Perhaps that is why they caught your eye…..ha…..ha…..ha……ha…..

HITLER : Yes, but they tried, but were stabbed in the back by those they thought were their friends, just as I was.

CHRISTOPHER : You didn’t mention any presidents of the USA in your pantheon of post-war heroes.

HITLER : No, I forgot. But then perhaps its because they’re all forgettable…..ha……ha…..ha……ha…..

CHRISTOPHER : ……ha ….ha …ha……..

HITLER : The one I quite liked was Ronald Reagan.

CHRISTOPHER : Why?

HITLER : He was a good orator, nearly as good as I was. And he had a single vision, and knew where he wanted to go. But most of all he was a militant anti-communist, describing the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire – words you could have taken out of my mouth. The difference is that the Americans believed him, but they didn’t believe me. If only Reagan had been president at the time of Roosevelt, instead of messing around in Hollywood and being ditched by Jane Wyman, we could have marched together against Stalin, and the world today would be a very different place.

CHRISTOPHER : Reagan sometimes had difficulty separating fantasy from reality. Perhaps this is also why you liked him?

HITLER : You like needling me, don’t you. Perhaps you have an unconscious desire to be strung up with piano wire. Just remember, no-one knows where you are. Did you see my bodyguards outside? They’re tough guys, former Pinochet men. Understand?

CHRISTOPHER : I understand absolutely. Did you ever read Edmund Morris’s controversial biography of Reagan?

HITLER : No. The bookstores here in Patagonia don’t have it in stock. Perhaps this is because, after suffering Eva Peron, everyone here is sick and tired of former actors. Besides, books here are awfully expensive, and my overheads continue to increase. My bodyguards are costing me a fortune.

CHRISTOPHER : There’s always Amazon.com

HITLER : That’s true.

CHRISTOPHER : Speaking of financial resources, what do you do for money these days? Were you ever able to sell some of the artwork and paintings your guys in the SS appropriated from the museums and churches in those countries they were invited into?

HITLER : It depends on how you define “appropriated” ha………ha…………ha.

CHRISTOPHER : You’re being Clintonian again.

HITLER : You bet. I think that guy is brilliant. But, getting back to your question, I was able to make some prudent investments on Wall Street in mutual funds and pork futures. I took advantage of the bull market of the nineteen eighties. Also, I receive some residuals from the drug trade.

CHRISTOPHER : The drug trade?

HITLER : Of course. I invested in a cocaine-growing and production business in Columbia which sells mainly into the USA. Business is good, and getting better.

CHRISTOPHER : But this is illegal.

HITLER : Legality is a relative term. Market forces rule. The customer is king. Is this not the Zeitgeist of the twenty-first century? Go for it, that’s my motto. Transparency, flexibility, the bottom-line, downsizing, re-assembling the skill-mix. I have embraced these concepts totally. As I said before, I’m a twenty-first century kind of guy.

CHRISTOPHER : And a kinder gentler person, to boot. A Nazi with a human face.

HITLER : You’re living on borrowed time. My bodyguards are straining at the leash, and the piano wire is waiting. Any more wisecracks, and it will be the end of you.

CHRISTOPHER : Sorry. You talked a moment ago about your current business activities, some of which involve the USA, and about your acceptance of the contemporary business philosophy. Can I assume you support international free trade, or globalism?

HITLER : Absolutely. The current global economic philosophy represents social Darwinism – the survival of the fittest – which was the foundation of the Third Reich, where those who couldn’t cut it, were – how shall I put it – neutralized, taken out.

CHRISTOPHER : As a supporter and a practitioner of globalism, do you have any advice for the USA – whose leaders are the most unctuous free-traders – on what to do about its enormous trade deficits? What could the USA do to increase its exports of goods?

HITLER : The Americans are pricing themselves out of world markets because they pay their workers too much. They should do what we did in Germany when I was in charge, which is to set set up labour camps using prisoners. There would be no wage costs, only the costs for enough food to keep the workers alive. Only then would the Americans have the same level playing field as their third-world competitors with their sweat-shop factories.

CHRISTOPHER : Americans would probably say this isn’t the American Way.

HITLER : You could have fooled me. Americans are now throwing people into jail in record numbers, so that prison construction is one of the fastest growing sectors in their economy. There are now more prisoners per capita in the US than in any other country. So if they have all those guys sitting around in jail doing nothing, they should study what we did during the Third Reich, and make them productive workers making stuff for export, for the cost of basic food rations and prison guards.

CHRISTOPHER : Wow.

HITLER : Was that another smartass comment?

CHRISTOPHER : No, just my tummy rumbling.

HITLER : I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but not again.

CHRISTOPHER : How do you fill up your days nowadays? There can’t be much to do in this godforsaken place?

HITLER : I keep track of my investments, and keep up to date with current events by reading the Economist and Der Spiegel. I also occasionally read Field and Stream, and Soldier of Fortune Magazine. I surf the Web and watch the soaps on TV, and believe me, the soaps are pretty lachrymose here in Argentina. Eva and I take a walk each evening with our Doberman Pinscher, Brunhilda.

CHRISTOPHER : How’s your health?

HITLER : Pretty good.

CHRISTOPHER : What’s your prescription for yours and Eva’s longevity?

HITLER : The potions which were prescribed by my late physician Dr Mengele. We take them every day. That Mengele, he knew what he was about.

CHRISTOPHER : Do you miss your old life?

HITLER : Sure.

CHRISTOPHER : What particularly?

HITLER : Operating the levers of power, making a difference.

CHRISTOPHER : Is there anything you like about living here in Patagonia?

HITLER : It’s quiet and peaceful. But sometimes I feel as if I’m in prison, for I always fear that Mossad or the CIA will track me down. I can’t go anywhere without bodyguards. Sometimes when I go out for my daily walks, I will stop and look out over the vast flat brown terrain of this part of the world and imagine I’m on the eastern front in the golden summer of 1941, directing our armies in the distance as they push back the Russians. I can see our tanks and the swirls of dust they churn up as they as they advance. I can hear the stuttering of their engines and can smell the fumes of their gasoline. I look up into the endless blue expanse of sky and see the fleets of our fighters and bombers as they roar overhead on their way to pulverize the Russian defences in the far distance. Then everything becomes quiet and still, and I know I’ve been in a dream.

CHRISTOPHER : Thank you for this conversation.

HITLER : You’re welcome.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Reflections From The King


It’s almos' twenty-eight years since ah left your earth realm, so ah've had plenty time to think 'bout what a fool ah was to have lived the way ah did. All them drugs, all that eatin’. Man, ah was crazy. Truth is, ah screwed up, there’s no gettin’ round this. Ah had ever’thing – Graceland, worldwide fame, all the money ah ever wanted, an’ women were throwin’ themselves at me. An’ ah was still young – only forty-two. Ah had a whole lotta livin’ still to do.

But ah jus’ wanna say to all of you - who are mah still loyal fans down there, who still buy mah records, an’ make pilgrimages to Graceland to visit mah grave - that ah was lonesome when ah still lived on earth, ‘cause nearly all them folks who said they were mah friends were jus’ exploitin’ me. The only real friends ah had when ah left your earth plane were mah girlfriend, Ginger, an’ mah former wife Priscilla. But the person ah adored above all was mah li’l daughter Lisa Marie.

Ah’m so proud of Lisa Marie, the way she’s been writin’ an’ singin’ her own songs, an' administerin’ Graceland. She’s become a woman that makes her daddy proud. The only thing she’s done that made me mad, was when she married that sonofabitch Michael Jackson, but there was nuthin’ ah could do ‘cause ah was no longer on the earthly plane. Ah don’ know what got into the girl when she did that fool thing. Maybe she was tryin’ to make me mad or somethin’, but anyway she got ridda him real quick.

By writin’ her own songs, Lisa Marie’s done more’n ah ever did, ‘cause ah jus’ sang stuff that other folks wrote, but ah was good at selectin’ the right songs. Ah mean, can you imagine anyone else singin' “That’s All Right Mama”, an’ “Hound Dog”, an’ “Heartbreak Hotel”, an’ “Don’t be Cruel”, an’ “Love Me Tender”, an’ “All Shook Up”, an’ “Teddy Bear”, an’ “Jailhouse Rock”, an’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight”?

These are special songs for me ‘cause ah sang ‘em before ah was drafted into the army by Uncle Sam, an’ before mah b'loved Mama died. When she died, ah wanted to die too ‘cause she was ever’thing to me. Ah was never the same after, an’ this was when ah started takin’ drugs to make me forget the pain insida me, an’ ah started sleepin' with all those women who had to be a whole lot younger'n me, else they'd remind me of mah mama, an’ there was no way ah was gonna sleep with women old enough to remind me of mah mama.

Ah also didn’t have a strong sense of who ah was ‘cause mah daddy wasn’t a strong male role model for me when ah grew up. Ah was always kinda ambiv'lent 'bout mah daddy. Why, when ah was still a li’l bitty boy, mah daddy was thrown in jail for forgery, an’ ah felt so abandoned, an’ ah never forgot that. An’ when ah began to get famous he quit his job and so ah had to provide for him. So ah became a kind of a daddy to mah daddy.

So ah guess ah was missin’ a strong daddy figure, which mah manager, Colonel Tom Parker filled. Ah was so depressed that ah let the Colonel lead me by the nose into actin’ in all them garbage movies, an’ singin’ them cute fluffy songs during the ‘sixties, like "Viva Las Vegas" an' "Bossa Nova Baby", when ah shoulda been singin’ meanin’ful protest songs like ever’one else was doin’. But ah didn’t, an’ ah paid the price, and so all the young folks saw me as a has-been, sorta like a lounge singer like ol' Frank Sinatra.

That woulda been the end of mah singin’ career, but one day when ah was in the Arizona desert, ah was lookin’ up at a cloud that had a face in it like Stalin, then it turned into Jesus. Then ah felt the spirit of Jesus enterin’ mah body, an’ ah said to mahself that ah gotta do somethin’ real with mah life. So ah decided ah would only sing songs that ah believed in, an’ that’s when ah began singin’ more gospel songs, like "Crying in the Chapel" an' "How Great Thou Art", to reflect how spiritual ah was feelin’ insida me, an’ singin’ songs that spoke to me personally an' had social relevance, like “In the Ghetto”, an’ “Kentucky Rain”, an’ “Don’t Cry Daddy”, an’ “Always on my Mind”, an’ “Suspicious Minds”.

So then, with me feelin’ like ah was Jesus, why did ah screw mah life up? Well, ah was human, that’s all, a mixture of good an’ bad. What else can ah say?

Even though ah’ve been gone jus' about twenty-eight years, you shouldn’t think ah don’t take an interest in what goes on down on your earth plane. So ah know that CDs have replaced the old records, an' that CDs of mah songs are sellin’ well, an’ that churches have sprung up in mah name, an’ that thousands of mah impersonators spread mah word an’ image around the world, an’ that folks still have “sightings” of me, an’ that in the last coupla years two of mah old songs, “Rubberneckin’” an’ “A Little Less Conversation”, re-mixed usin’ all that new-fangled technology, became top sellin' singles.

An’ ah've been listenin’ up here on the nightshift to the top recordin' artists who have become big since ah left. Some ah like, an’ some ah don’t. But there's one guy ah really like, ‘cause he sounds so soulful, an’ that's Mark Knopfler. Man, ah really dig his stuff, especially his latest album "Shangri-La" which has a song, “Back to Tupelo” - the town in Mississippi where ah was born, an’ made me who ah was, an’ still am.

Ah gotta go now, ‘cause ah have a jammin’ session scheduled with some of the guys – Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Rick Nelson, Jerry Garcia, Jon Denver, Buddy Holly, Maurice Gibb, Roy Orbison, Marvin Gaye, Jim Morrison, Dennis Wilson, George Harrison………….

OK guys, are ya ready?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Freedom To Move

Here is what David Brooks said in a recent article in the New York Times (January 15, 2005):

”Over the past 30 years, the fraction of women over 40 who have no children has nearly doubled, to about a fifth. According to the Gallup Organization, 70 percent of these women regret that they have no kids.

It's possible that some of these women regret not having children in the way they regret not taking more time off after college. But for others, this longing for the kids they did not have is a profound, soul-encompassing sadness.

And it is part of a large pattern. Most American still tell pollsters that the ideal family has two or three children. But fewer and fewer Americans get to live in that kind of family.

Why?

For some, it's a question of never finding the right person to have kids with. Others thought they'd found the right mates, but the relationships didn't work out. Others became occupied with careers, and the child-rearing part of their lives never got put together.

But there is also one big problem that stretches across these possibilities: Women now have more choices over what kind of lives they want to lead, but they do not have more choices over how they want to sequence their lives.

For example, consider a common life sequence for an educated woman. She grows up and goes to college. Perhaps she goes to graduate school. Then, during her most fertile years, when she has the most energy for child-rearing, she gets a job. Then, sometime after age 30, she marries. Then, in her mid-30's, when she has acquired the maturity and character to make intelligent career choices, she takes time off to raise her kids.

Several years hence, she seeks to re-enter the labor force. She may or may not be still interested in the field she was trained for (two decades earlier). Nonetheless, she finds a job, works for 15 years or so, then spends her final 20 years in retirement.

This is not necessarily the sequence she would choose if she were starting from scratch. For example, it might make more sense to go to college, make a greater effort to marry early and have children. Then, if she, rather than her spouse, wants to stay home, she could raise children from age 25 to 35. Then at 35 (now that she knows herself better) she could select a flexible graduate program specifically designed for parents. Then she could work in one uninterrupted stint from, say, 40 to 70.

This option would allow her to raise kids during her most fertile years and work during her mature ones, and the trade-off between family and career might be less onerous.

But the fact is that right now, there are few social institutions that are friendly to this way of living. Social custom flows in the opposite direction.

Neil Gilbert observes in the current issue of The Public Interest that as women have entered the work force, they have adopted the male model, jumping directly into careers. Instead, he suggests, it would be better to make decisions based on what he calls the "life-course perspective." It's possible that women should sequence their lives differently from men, and that women may need a broader diversity of sequence options.

Gilbert, who is a professor of social welfare at Berkeley, points out that right now our social policies are friendly toward this straight-to-work sequence and discourage other options. Programs like day care and flexible leave help parents work and raise kids simultaneously. That's fine for some, but others may prefer policies that help them do these things sequentially.

It might make sense, for example, to give means-tested tax credits or tuition credits to stay-at-home parents. That would subsidize child-rearing, but in a way that leaves it up to families to figure out how to use it. The government spends trillions on retirees, but very little on young families.

I suspect that if more people had the chance to focus exclusively on child-rearing before training for and launching a career, fertility rates would rise. That would be good for the country, for as Phillip Longman, author of "The Empty Cradle," has argued, we are consuming more human capital than we are producing - or to put it another way, we don't have enough young people to support our old people. (That's what the current Social Security debate and the coming Medicare debate are all about.)

It would also be good for those many millions of Americans who hit their mid-40's and regret not having kids, or not having as many as they would like. As it says somewhere, to everything, there is a season.”

* * *

What David Brooks didn’t do was look at the declining American birth rate from a global viewpoint. If he had, he would have seen that too many children are being born throughout the world, and that more American babies just makes the problem worse.

But even were David Brooks’s suggested changes to social policies to be implemented, it still wouldn’t persuade the women of America to have more children since, by using excuses like damage to career and financial hardship, they are simply rationalizing that they don’t want children, but wish not to say so straight out. If they really want children they will have them, no matter what.

But David Brooks needn’t worry that there won’t be enough workers to keep the aging Baby Boomers in the manner to which they are accustomed, since the needed help will simply be imported. There are, after all, millions of workers beyond the borders of the USA who would give their eyeteeth to be able come in and partake of the riches Americans wallow in.

Those of you who don’t like what I’ve said, and so are grinding your teeth, should see the importing of workers in terms of the importing of goods. Just as Americans are producing less goods, and so have to import more and more of them, so are Americans producing less people, and so have to import more and more of them. Just as producing goods in the USA is now more expensive than importing them, so is producing people now more expensive than importing them.

Think what it costs a woman in time, lost wages, aborted career, and plain aggravation and worry to raise a child, and what it costs the American taxpayer to educate each child from when it starts kindergarten to when it graduates from Yale. Isn’t it cheaper and more efficient simply to import workers ready-made, the costs of whose education and training have been borne by the taxpayers of India, China, Russia, Mexico, the Philippines, or wherever?

It is the current conventional wisdom that goods and capital be free to move unhindered around the world. Why, then, is no-one advocating that this freedom to move also be accorded to people who, after all, as workers, are the third essential element, alongside goods and capital, in the economic equation? This is something those who complain that too many people are entering the USA to work and improve their lives, should think about.

Security, especially since 9/11, has become another fig leaf behind which those who don’t like immigrants can hide. But, by invoking security, the immigration-bashers are rationalizing that they simply don’t like immigrants - particularly the “non-white” ones - just as women who, by invoking careers and hardship, are rationalizing that they simply don’t want children.

Apart from its humanity, allowing people to move to wherever they want makes economic sense, since migration has been shown historically to be the most effective means of eliminating poverty and creating wealth.

It is not generally known that until World War One, there were almost no barriers hindering worldwide migration. Those set in authority over us, wherever we are, have steadily eroded our freedom to move over the past eighty years.

The freedom to move should be as inalienable a right as food and shelter. We should be as free to move and settle anywhere in the world as does a can of beans or a dollar bill.

It is an idea whose time has come.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Ian and James

Who of us hasn’t heard of James Bond? For most of us, he seems always to have been around. First he was Sean Connery, then George Lazenby, then Roger Moore, then Timothy Dalton, and now Pierce Brosnan.

We have always seen James Bond as the very essence of modernity, careening through mountain passes in the latest sports car equipped with the very latest in gadgetry, skiing at breakneck sped down the steepest of slopes in the Swiss Alps, escaping Houdini-like from impregnable fortress-like captivity while displaying insouciant derring-do, beating up villains against all odds after absorbing incredible punishment, then going off with the girl.

James Bond’s undiminished visceral appeal over the last few decades is doubtless because he is something of a mythical archetype, and not be out of place as one of Joseph Campbell’s Heroes with a Thousand Faces.

When slender narrow-shouldered Pierce Brosnan was chosen as the latest James Bond I was initially incredulous. Pierce Brosnan? C’mon. I could probably beat the guy up myself. But Sean Connery, I mean, there’s no way I would even think of fighting Sean Connery.

However, Pierce Brosnan was probably the perfect choice. When Sean Connery was Bond, Britain was still a power of some importance in the world, still having the remnants of its empire. Pierce Brosnan as Bond, on the other hand, perfectly reflects the Britain of Tony Blair, the obedient lapdog of the mighty George W Bush. And a further reflection of Bond’s diminished status is that his boss, “M”, is now a woman.

Despite James Bond appearing contemporary, he is in fact a somewhat historical character, seeing as the first James Bond book, Casino Royale, came out in 1953 – fifty-one years ago - and Bond’s car was a 1953 model sports car. Thus, if the James Bond films were to have verisimilitude, they would be set in the times the books were written – between 1953 and 1964. Instead, the James Bond of film has remained the same age – 35 or so – ever since 1962, when Dr No came out, and his escapades always take place in the present.

I am, incidentally, reminded of the “William” books I read omnivorously when a young boy. The protagonist, William Brown, an 11 year-old urchin, remained obstinately 11 from when he was created by Richmal Crompton in 1923, to when she wrote the last book in 1968.

James Bond has become so much a figure of the silver screen that we have to be reminded that he was the literary creation of Ian Fleming, who created a character who he would like to have been, but wasn’t quite. Even so, James Bond does contain a lot of his creator, who, as recounted in Andrew Lycett’s biography of Ian Fleming, spent much of his youth and early manhood gallivanting around Europe, skiing at resorts in Switzerland, gambling in the casinos of Monte Carlo, driving fast two-seater sports cars, and seducing scores of beautiful young women. In addition to his native English, Ian also spoke German and French fluently.

Ian began his working life as a journalist, and for a while was posted to Moscow where he engaged in lots of cloak and dagger stuff. These experiences propelled him into naval intelligence when World War 2 came. There was lots more cloak and dagger stuff during the war, at which Ian was most innovative and resourceful. At war’s end he had reached the rank of commander. After being demobilised he bought a mansion in Jamaica called “Goldeneye”, where he wrote the James Bond books.

Ian was over six feet tall and had the looks which women found attractive, and which he took advantage of. He had such a good time that he didn’t get married until forty, to a woman, Anne, with whom he’d had weekend trysts while her husband was out of town. Ian liked these trysts because they were exciting. But Anne wanted something more stable, and forced Ian to capitulate. So Anne, after divorcing her husband, dragged Ian kicking and screaming to the altar.

They stayed together for the rest of Ian’s somewhat short life. But at the end neither had been good for the other because they were so different. Anne was cerebral and had cerebral friends and they all looked down their noses at James Bond. Ian, on the other hand, was an outdoorsy convivial type who loved to play golf. He was a man’s man who, paradoxically, had homosexual friends like Noel Coward and William Plomer. Anne thought that, emotionally, Ian had not gone past the adolescent phase. Hence the James Bond books, which Ian admitted were adolescent fantasies.

For all the fame and wealth which James Bond brought him, Ian Fleming at the end of his life was a sick and unhappy man. His blood pressure was high and his arteries clogged. He and Anne quarrelled constantly and were not far off being divorced. And Ian was, for some years, involved in legal wrangles over the rights to some of the Bond books.

Ian died in 1964 at fifty-six. But his legacy continued, especially for his young son, Caspar, who developed a fascination for guns, and collected lots of them illegally, to Anne’s consternation. Friends thought Caspar had been excessively influenced by the James Bond books. He later developed severe mental problems which drugs failed to fix. He committed suicide at twenty-three.

The irony about Ian Fleming is that he was not innately a gifted writer, as his letters and other non-James Bond writings attest. It was Ian’s brother, Peter, who was the better writer, but it was Ian who discovered the formula for what sold, and he was a good publicist. Each Bond book took him only three months to write – from January to March at Goldeneye every year for the last fourteen years of his life.

The Bond books at first sold only moderately well, and it was many years before film directors took notice of them. The first Bond film, Dr No, came out in 1962 – two years before Ian died. And so another irony was that real fame and fortune came to Ian almost at the end of his life. By then he was too ill to enjoy them.

So then, what does the life of Ian Fleming have to teach us? Perhaps that someone with modest talent, but lots of chutzpah can make the world ring with his name, since the names of James Bond and his creator are known by most people in the world who watch films. So the the name of Ian Fleming has become famous, and may well still be famous a hundred years from now. And he has had several biographies written about him, something which happens to few.

Ian’s life shows us that lots of money and fame don’t necessarily bring happiness. But if even if we do have them, it should be when we still have the health and years to savour them.