Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

National Poetry Month 2019

April is National Poetry Month, and it's never too late to enjoy some poetry. As usual, I'll link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project, although its summer institute has been dissolved, alas.

This year, I thought I'd feature a great poem I just discovered earlier this year:

The Rider
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.


This is from Nye's 1998 collection, Fuel, if you want to read more of her work.

Feel free to link a favorite poem in the comments.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

St. Patrick's Day 2019

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Ireland has a wealth of songs. This year, I thought I'd feature "The Parting Glass," which has Scottish origins but also a long history in Ireland, with the melody used for another Irish song. Several musical groups have used this one to end concerts, and it's also a popular pick for funerals.

The High King's version is very good:



Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem's version is quiet and lovely:



The Celtic Women use it for a rousing finale:



Face Vocal Band delivers an a cappella rendition:



Lastly, here's a whiskey ad with memorable use of the song:



Feel free to mention and link any favorite Irish tunes in the comments.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

2018 Film Roundup, Part 1: The Oscars and the Year in Review

The annual post-Oscar film roundup is a pre-blog tradition, delayed this round. It comes in four parts. In addition to this section, there's The Top Four, Noteworthy Films and The Rest (The Good, the Bad and the Godawful).

2018 had some good smaller-scale films in addition to two notable blockbusters, but was not a particularly strong year for film overall. As for the Oscars, the best news was that the Academy reversed a dumb decision to award some categories during the commercial breaks due to intense backlash. (Credit for correcting a mistake.) As Guillermo del Toro, put it, "If I may: I would not presume to suggest what categories to cut during the Oscars show but – Cinematography and Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical tradition or a literary tradition: they are cinema itself."

Did The Oscars suffer from not having a host? Not really. It meant no opening monologue, which is a good host's chance to shine, but also fewer pointless time-wasters. Many of the presenters would have made good hosts, though, including the early trio of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. (A friend suggested the best idea I've heard: have Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady from Whose Line Is It Anyway? host the Oscars.)

The most spectacular presenter was easily Melissa McCarthy dressed as Queen Anne from The Favourite, complete with stuffed rabbits on her dress and a rabbit puppet. Sound awards presenters James McAvoy and Danai Gurira had fun playing with vocal dynamics. John Mulaney and Awkafina were also funny, presenting some of the shorts.

The winners were better organized the most years, with clear assignments for who would say what. Best Animated Feature winners for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse make neat remarks about how pleased they were that the film resonated with a diverse audience, as they intended. Anyone who thinks the short categories should be eliminated should consider that the people who make shorts often go on to make features they love. They should also watch the excitement of the winners for Skin. (I haven't seen the film, but I appreciate the enthusiasm.) Or thrill along with the young winners for Period. End of Sentence. who exclaimed, "I can't believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!"

Bohemian Rhapsody featured some great sound work (I've included links with my review), but I would have given Best Sound Editing to First Man for the tension-ratcheting sounds of its space program and Best Sound Mixing to Roma for its lovely (and occasionally disturbing) soundscapes. (Had They Shall Not Grow Old been eligible, it would have been a superb nominee for Best Sound Editing as well.) I believe the tales that John Ottman's film editing saved Bohemian Rhapsody, and kudos for that, but I'm not sure he deserved the award. Vice's amazing prosthetics work justifiably won Best Makeup and Hairstyling. I probably would have given Best Costuming and Best Production Design to The Favourite – they play key roles in the film – on the other hand, it was a nice change of pace to see the elaborate Black Panther win both awards over a period piece. I'm not a big fan of Lady Gaga nor "Shallow," but the song was more central to its movie, the fourth (!) version A Star Is Born, than any of the other nominees, and there's no denying that Gaga and costar (and director) Bradley Cooper threw themselves into their performance.

I like Spike Lee's films, but I didn't think BlackkKlansman was his best work and wasn't sure it deserved Best Adapted Screenplay. I didn't object strongly, either, given how some of his other work has been shafted. Plus, he gave a spirited speech. I thought The Favourite deserved Best Original Screenplay over Green Book for its acid dialogue and greater originality. (I've heard good things about If Beale Street Could Talk and First Reformed, respective contenders, but haven't seen either yet.) I saw far fewer of the Oscar-nominated performances than usual. Mahershala Ali was excellent in Green Book and seemed like a worthy repeat recipient, regardless of one's other thoughts about the film. Sam Rockwell was funny as George Bush in Vice, but it's a much slighter role. I missed Regina King's Best Supporting Actress performance and saw the other four, which were all excellent, but I've liked King in other roles and buy that she deserved it. (Amy Adams is overdue for an Oscar, and she's great as usual as Lynne Cheney, but she's had better roles and surely will again.) I thought Rami Malek was the best thing about Bohemian Rhapsody and made the film. He gave a heartfelt acceptance speech. I didn't see Glenn Close in The Wife – I've heard it's another good performance in a not-so-great film –but I thought Olivia Coleman was tremendous in The Favourite – funny, terrifying and pitiable by turns. During Coleman's acceptance speech, she was overwhelmed, awkward, gracious, self-effacing and utterly charming.

The montage of death had a nice accompaniment this time – the LA Philharmonic, led by Gustavo Dudamel, playing music by John Williams.

Roma deserved all its awards, although there's a controversy about writer-director Alfonso Cuaron accepting sole credit for its cinematography as well as taking an editing credit.

Now to the big controversy: Best Picture. I'd say Green Book is a good movie when taken on its own merits, an odd couple road movie with two strong lead performers with great chemistry, which is rarer than we'd like and nothing to dismiss. But the film also has problems, and it shouldn't have been nominated for Best Picture, let alone won. Four of the Best Picture nominees dealt with race pretty prominently: Roma, BlackkKlansman, Black Panther and Green Book. Even superhero movie Black Panther deals with race more incisively than Green Book, a throwback film that places racism safely in the past and centers on a white protagonist learning a valuable lesson.

Of the nominees, I'd have given Best Picture to Roma. It told a story we don't see often in cinema, and did so with a natural grace. My other favorites weren't even nominated: First Man, The Death of Stalin and They Shall Not Grow Old. I thought BlackkKlansman was decent, with a few excellent scenes, but if you know the Colorado KKK wasn't nearly as dangerous as depicted, the stakes feel much lower. The strongest scenes by far were the documentary footage used to end the movie, which Spike Lee choose to include but weren't written or directed by Spike Lee. I'd rank Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Get on the Bus and 25th Hour as his best films, and BlackkKlansman a tier below. I wouldn't have been upset if BlackkKlansman won, but I would have seen it more as a lifetime achievement award for Spike Lee; I didn't feel he got robbed. (I did note, as did many others, that he keeps losing to movies about chauffeurs.)

Likewise, although Do the Right Thing was one of the best films of 1989, by no means was it clearly superior to all the rest. Whereas 2019 wasn't a strong year for film, 1989 was. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture that year. Few people would knock Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman as performers or Bruce Beresford as a director, but it seemed like the safest of picks, and disappointing in that regard. The other nominees were pretty good: Born on the Fourth of July is a pretty gutsy film about war, disability and fake versus true patriotism; Oliver Stone won Best Director. Dead Poets Society is one of the great films about both teaching and love of the written word, featuring a memorable performance by Robin Williams and dealing with suicide, among other things. Field of Dreams is a fantasy, but one that's awfully hard to dislike; Burt Lancaster's scenes alone make it worthwhile. My Left Foot is an acting tour-de-force by Daniel Day-Lewis (winning him the first of his three Oscars) and also won Best Supporting Actress for Brenda Fricker. Good films that weren't nominated included Do the Right Thing, but also Glory, Henry V and Crimes and Misdemeanors. It was a year the five-film nominee limit seemed particularly frustrating. Glory was more impressive for its time than it is now – it'd be nice to spend less time on the white officers, for example – but the battle scenes have some admirable realism and the film justifiably won Denzel Washington his first Oscar. I'm personally fond of both Dead Poets Society and Field of Dreams. But in terms of innovation and cinematic achievement, I'd probably list three films as the best of 1989: Do the Right Thing, Henry V and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

First, Do the Right Thing. It's got an undeniable energy and attitude, and Spike Lee is innovative with his camera, having characters speak directly to the camera, leading to many of the most memorable scenes: a montage of bigoted insults, and Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) explaining hate versus love. It's got more craft than a casual viewer might realize – Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) and local DJ Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) serve as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action. The movie explicitly tackles bigotry, and does so primarily from a black point-of-view, delivering insights and perspectives that many previous films on race didn't necessarily have. It's a confrontational movie, and thus not easy viewing for all audiences, but the film is also a question and a discussion rather than a statement, ending with contrasting quotations from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. That's some of the good stuff. As for the bad: Spike Lee plays the central character, Mookie, and he's not a great actor (although he's probably better in Do the Right Thing than in Malcolm X and Mo' Better Blues). Reportedly, Spike Lee wanted Sal (Danny Aiello) to have less dimension and be more racist, and Aiello fought to give the character more nuance. (We see a good side, but he's still pretty bigoted.) Women aren't given much of a role. All that said, it's a good film, and I'm looking forward to revisiting it when Criterion comes out with its edition later this year.

Second, Henry V: it's one of the best Shakespeare films ever, but it's also just a great film. Director Kenneth Branagh, who was a mere 29 at the end of 1989, delivered one hell of a first film. His own lead performance is stellar, with the most rousing rendition of the famous St. Crispin's speech I've yet to see. The other performers are impeccable, giving master classes in inflexion, particularly Brian Blessed and Derek Jacobi, but there's also Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, Michael Maloney, Emma Thompson and Judi Dench (plus a very young Christian Bale). It's got a stacked cast. If you're a Shakespeare buff, the film makes a striking contrast with Laurence Olivier's 1944 version; Olivier was rallying the war effort, and his Henry is great because he transcends any human frailty; Branagh's Henry is great because he suffers and gets dirty, and struggles through his trials. The score by Patrick Doyle is fantastic, and Doyle worked closely with Branagh during filming (and has a small part). Cinematically, Branagh stages one of the great medieval battle scenes, with a fantastic use of editing to build tension during the French charge at the start, and then uses a lengthy unbroken tracking shot over the battlefield at the very end. It would be hard to overstate how impressive Branagh's Henry V is; it's a staggering achievement. Its successes may be less innovative than, say, Do the Right Thing, but if we're talking sheer craftsmanship, I'd have to say Henry V was the best film of the year.

Third and last, we have Crimes and Misdemeanors. Regardless of what one thinks of Woody Allen as a person, he's made some notable films (if not for all tastes). Crimes and Misdemeanors is exceptionally well-written and features a moral complexity rarely seen in cinema (or even novels). It's shot by the great Sven Nykvist (best known for working with Ingmar Bergman), and a nighttime crisis of conscience scene during a thunderstorm is particularly stunning work. Martin Landau gives a fantastic lead performance as Judah Rosenthal, a highly successful man considering dark deeds, and Woody Allen gives him one of the greatest character lines ever: "God is a luxury I can't afford." It's amoral, and bullshit, but it exemplifies the character and his perspective. The film packs in a ton of wisdom, but also asks more questions than it answers. I've taught the film before, and have colleagues that have used it since, and it possesses a depth and complexity that spurs great reflection and discussions. It's not a flashy film, but it's a great one.

Back to Spike Lee: he's a good filmmaker and I'm glad he's making movies. I think he probably deserves more Oscar nominations than he's gotten, but I don't think he was robbed by not winning Best Picture in either year. He was given an honorary Oscar in 2015, and those are essentially lifetime achievement awards, and also a way for the Academy to honor people who haven't won competitive Oscars (or not as many as perhaps they deserved). I have friends who think honorary Oscars don't count, but I strongly disagree – I think they matter more, because they can amend past losses and they represent a longer view at a person's career. A great performance might occur in a so-so film. The same is true for great technical work; a great sound job on an otherwise bad movie tends not to win, if it even gets nominated. A performance that might have won one year might have stiffer competition the year it was eligible. And so on. Peter O'Toole had epically bad luck and never won a competitive Oscar, despite being nominated eight times and one of great film actors. Robert Altman never won a competitive Oscar, either. Akira Kurosawa had won Oscars for Best Film in a Foreign Language, but his honorary Oscar was a well-deserved lifetime achievement award. Audrey Hepburn won Best Actress, but also received honorary Oscars later. Stanley Donen gave what was probably the most gracious acceptance speech ever when receiving his honorary Oscar. I was happy to see all of them get their awards, and yes, they matter.

On to the reviews. As usual, I try to label spoilers, but also follow a simple rule: if it's in the trailer, it's not a spoiler.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Over at Crooks and Liars, I linked two pieces. First, at the Conversation, "The 1938 Kindertransport saved 10,000 children but it’s hard to describe it as purely a success":

One of the UK’s most significant child rescue efforts began on December 1, 1938: the Kindertransport.

Following the November pogrom of the same year – when SA paramilitary forces and German civilians perpetrated acts of state-sponsored violence against the Jewish population, their places of worship and property – pressure built on the UK to help Jewish citizens in the German Reich. In response, the British government decided to waive visa requirements for unaccompanied minors fleeing persecution.

Aid organisations both in the UK and on the continent leapt into action, and the first “Kindertransport” arrived in the country on December 2, bringing around 200 child refugees to the UK. Overall, approximately 10,000 children and young people arrived before the scheme ended with the outbreak of World War II.

Today, the legacy of the Kindertransport is frequently discussed as a positive example of the UK’s humanitarian attitude towards refugees in the past. However, in the last 20 years, extensive research has shown that the legacy of the 1938/39 Kindertransport should be seen in a more critical light. Yes, it was a visa waiver scheme initiated by the UK government, but financial and organisational support was largely provided by charities and volunteers. It also only allowed those under the age of 17 to find refuge in the UK. Adult refugees had to meet very restrictive criteria and most applications from adults were unsuccessful.


Second, at NPR, a rare positive story, "A Toy Monkey That Escaped Nazi Germany And Reunited A Family":

The monkey's fur is worn away. It's nearly a century old. A well-loved toy, it is barely 4 inches tall. It was packed away for long voyages, on an escape from Nazi Germany, to Sweden and America. And now, it's the key to a discovery that transformed my family.

The monkey belonged to my father, Gert Berliner, who as a boy in Berlin in the 1930s rode his bicycle around the city. Clipped to the handlebars was the toy monkey.

"I liked him," recalls my dad, who is now 94. "He was like a good luck piece."


Both pieces are worth checking out.

My longer, original posts on the Holocaust and related themes can be read here.

Monday, January 21, 2019

MLK Day 2019

For the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis on in the background. It's a 1970 documentary, just over three hours, that originally showed in movie theaters as a one-day special event. One of the local TV stations has broadcast it occasionally. It's a great collection of footage and audio recordings.

The local PBS station has sometimes rerun Eyes on the Prize, but this year has been showing Henry Louis Gates' four-hour series, Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise today and last week.

Over at Crooks and Liars, I linked "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," which remains timely, and The Academy of American Poets's nice collection of poems for the day. And over at Hullabaloo, Dennis Hartley offers 10 films for MLK Day.

How are you celebrating the day?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Jon Swift Roundup 2018

(The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

(A Jon Swift lolcat.)

Welcome to the 2018 edition! I hope this year ends on a hopeful note.

This tradition was started by the late Jon Swift/Al Weisel, who left behind some excellent satire, but was also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. As usual, I'll quote Lance Mannion, who nicely explains:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the "reasonable conservative" blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows . . .

One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

It may not have been the most heroic endeavor, but it was kind and generous and a lot of us owe our continued presence in the blogging biz to Al.

Here's Jon/Al's massive 2007 and 2008 editions (via the Wayback Machine). Meanwhile, our more modest revivals from 2010–2017 can be found here.

If you're not familiar with Al Weisel's work as Jon Swift, his site (via the Wayback Machine) features a "best of" list in the left column.

Thanks to all the participants, to Balloon Juice for hosting a self-nomination thread again, and apologies to anyone I missed. (As always, my goal is to find the right balance between inclusive and manageable.) You still can join in, by linking your post in the comments. Whether your post appears in the modest list below or not, feel free to tweet your best post with the hatchtag #jonswift2018.

As in Jon/Al's 2008 roundup, submissions are listed roughly in the order they were received. As he wrote in that post:

I'm sure you'll be interested in seeing what your favorite bloggers think were their best posts of the year, but be sure to also visit some blogs you've never read before and leave a nice comment if you like what you see or, if you must, a polite demurral if you do not.

Without further ado:

The Professional Left Podcast/Blue Gal
"Special Pre-Election 'Both Sides Don't' Podcast"
Blue Gal: "For our episode right before the midterms, we read out a list of the things "both sides don't" do. It's a really good introduction to our podcast for first-time listeners, too."

The Rectification of Names
"Literary Corner: Particular Vernacular"
Yastreblyansky: "A song about Donald Trump, using the rhyme scheme and meter (paeonic tetrameter!) of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General". Everybody sing along!"

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Sunday Reading – Allen’s Big Adventure"
Mustang Bobby: "A love note to my sweetheart."

Kiko's House
"What Will Trump Do When The Alternative To The White House Is The Big House?"
Shaun D. Mullen: "The Founding Fathers worried from the jump that there would be attempts to subvert the infant American democracy. What they did not foresee in their bewigged wisdom was a batshit crazy real estate developer and reality TV star with evil in his heart and nothing between his ears conspiring with America's greatest enemy to steal the presidency and then cement his primacy by installing nose rings in more-than-willing Republicans."

David E's Fablog
"The Second Amendment Solution"
David Ehrenstein: "I did this about the Parkland massacre."

Poor Impulse Control
"Hours In An Offhand Way"
Tata: "A region's disaster can be one person's art supplies."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"What's Left Special Report: Guns"
LarryE: "I largely took a break from political blogging in 2018, but did do one of significance at the request of the director of the community cable TV outlet where I work. He wanted something to address the issue of guns in the US and insisted I was the one to do it. So I did."

You Might Notice a Trend
"WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?!?!"
Paul Wartenberg: "GODDAMMIT WE ARE KILLING INNOCENT CHILDREN IN THESE CONCENTRATION CAMPS ALONG THE BORDER. Thousands of children placed in baby jails, forced to live in tent cities in abysmal weather. WE SHOULD BE MARCHING EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY TO END THIS NIGHTMARE."

Strangely Blogged
"Die Geister, die ich rief"
Vixen Strangely: "This post examines the persistence of racism in American culture, the danger of employing racist tropes in political rhetoric, and how Donald Trump is unfit for calling up specters that encourage indefensible acts that he cannot wholly condemn, because he can not wholly own the damage of his words."

Mock, Paper, Scissors
"Unite the White and NPR"
Tengrain: "The press does not usually give valuable airtime to every racist crank from Possum Hollar who can fill out a National Park Service application for a rally, but for some reason, NPR decided to do exactly that."

Shakesville
"On Mike Pence's Destructive Ambition"
Melissa McEwan: "Vice-President Mike Pence is the proverbial one heartbeat away from the presidency, which he has ruthlessly pursued his entire adult life. And yet, even as Donald Trump's presidency is increasingly imperiled, Pence thrives in the inattention of a political press which continues to resist the close scrutiny of his corrupt past that it so urgently deserves."

Show Me Progress
"Be the badass on the right"
Michael Bersin: "In the late afternoon of June 29, 2018 at a Kansas City rally in support of Muslims, Immigrants, & Refugees a young woman with poster board and a marker took it upon herself to peacefully confront a right wingnut counter protester."

Darwinfish 2
"The GOP Playbook: A Study in Attaining and Maintaining Power"
Bluzdude: "How the GOP seized power and endeavors to keep it, and how The Resistance needs to use their own methods to seize it back."

his vorpal sword
"The Monster Tu Quoque Stalks the Land"
Hart Williams: "The common political "excuse" that drives policy that no mother who ever lived ever bought, or ...Donner party! Table for four! Donner party! Er ... table for three!"

The Brad Blog
"Indictment of Sitting President May Be 'Only' Means to Ensure 'Equal Justice Under Law' "
Ernest A. Canning: "Legal scholars find DoJ opinion fails to consider Constitutional measure for Executive Branch continuity during a President's criminal trial..."

Infidel753
"Inexorable evolution"
Infidel753: "Why are Trumpanzees so angry and resentful when they got their wish with Trump and the Republicans in power? It's because what really upsets them is cultural changes which are mostly immune from politics."

driftglass.blogspot.com
"Today In Both Sides Do It: Advice From The New York Times On The Proper Use Of 'Fuck' "
driftglass: "In the early days of Liberal blogging (when everything was made of wood and Haloscan walked the Earth) when the GOP got into extinction-level trouble and Liberal voices threatened to break through to the mainstream, the Beltway would dispatch a special enforcement squad known as the "Tone Police" to explain that the real problem was Liberals using intemperate language. Nothing has changed."

First Draft
"White Girl, White Lies"
Peter Adrastos Athas: "Hope Hicks leaves the White House. Hilarity ensues."

Brilliant at Breakfast Rebooted
"On being a secular Jew in neo-Nazi-ascendant America"
Jill: "The rise of neo-Naziism in the US in the age of Trump requires some soul-searching among secular Jews who are not Zionists and don't practice the religion of their forebears, but still strongly identify as Jewish."

bjkeefe
"I pretty much never watch videos anymore, and this one sums up why"
Brendan Keefe: "Sums up a gripe of mine with today's Web: Please, don't make me watch. Let me read."

Perrspectives
"The Budget Reform America Needs Most? Government Rate-Setting for Health Care"
Jon Perr: "The biggest driver of America’s long-term debt is the growing cost of health care. The remedy is for the United States—at long last—to join the vast majority of its economic competitors by having the government set the prices for drugs, tests, doctor's visits, hospitalization, surgical procedures, and just about every aspect of health care."

Spocko's Brain
"Watch The Sexy Spy, But Follow The Rubles To NRA’s GOP Campaigns"
Spocko: "There was a long-term, multimillion dollar plan by the Russians to interfere with our elections and the NRA was an eager and willful participant. But it was a boring story for the media until sexy Russian Maria Butina was arrested. Watch this short video to see all NRA execs and GOP politicians who should be in jail with her."

The Debate Link
"What We Put There Ourselves"
David Schraub: "The great philosopher Richard Rorty taught us that there is nothing deep down inside us but what we put there ourselves. We can say that banning Muslims or caging refugees is not "who we are", but the fact is – it is who we are. We put it there ourselves. And if we don't like what is indeed inside us, then it is up to us to put something else there."

Self-Styled Siren
"Anecdote of the Week: 'She hated him.' "
The Siren offers an intriguing look at actress Jennifer Jones and her relationship with producer David O. Selznick.

Just an Earth-Bound Misfit, I
"His Bone Spurs Were Acting Up"
Comrade Misfit: "How Trump and Xi are marching the world into another major war."

Way of Cats
"Where the movie starts"
Pamela Merritt: "We don’t have to adopt our cat as a kitten to have a great relationship, any more than we have to meet all our future friends in kindergarten. We can adopt a cat at any age, get to know them, and love them just the same."

Doctor Cleveland
"I Am Part of the Resistance Inside King Lear's Court"
Doctor Cleveland AKA Jim Marino: "A parody mashing of the Washington Post's anonymous "Resistance Inside the Trump White House" op-ed with Shakespeare's King Lear."

Gaius Publius
"There Will Be No Chinese Century"
Gaius Publius: "I can't imagine why people who look into the future, seeing better smart phones, smarter door locks, driverless cars, the next big thing only bigger, don't see this, don't factor in the tsunami that even now wets their faces. But it's clear they don't."

[this space intentionally left blank]
"An Open Letter to David Meinert"
Dallas Taylor: "In the summer of 2018, Seattle impresario/person of consequence David Meinert had his #metoo moment, which he vigorously fought back against. In response, I wrote this open letter, hoping it might help him see past his reflexive defensiveness and engage thoughtfully with his past behavior and the present moment."

M.A. Peel
"The Centenary of the Armistice: A Personal Cycle Closes and a Gash that Never Heals"
Ellen O'Neill: "The world recognized the centenary of the end of World War l on November 11, 2018. I became interested in WW1 in high school through T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and felt connected to the centenary lo these decades later."

The Steel Pen
"Warrington & Co.: 1865–1885"
AAAndrew, aka Andrew Midkiff: "My blog captures the lost history of an American industry: the steel dip pen. In between quills and fountain pens, for almost 100 years the steel dip pen was the primary means of putting ink to paper, and no one has ever gathered the history of these manufacturers until now. This post is a good example post and captures one of the first makers to emerge out of the second industrial revolution in the US."

World O’ Crap
"Dungeons & Dragons"
Scott Clevenger: "Scott takes the Better Living Through Bad Movies approach to the this timely epic which eerily predicted both the George W. Bush and Trump administrations with its focus on slimey reptiles, overpriced real estate, do-nothing legislatures, ambitious Veeps, shameless thieves, bald henchmen, lazy Chosen Ones who seem to think the Elves owe him universal health care, and kick-ass ladies who can’t even with your shit."

Alicublog
"In No Position to Make Demands"
Roy Edroso: "I covered all the hot topics during the course of the year, but most of them, even when treated with humor, are at least somewhat depressing because they chronicle the decline of a once-great nation. So I choose to be represented instead by one of my rare moments of uplift, a moment when a lot of people realized they don’t have to tolerate jerks like Alex Jones on bogus “free speech” or any other grounds: “….[guys like Jones are] so accustomed to bullying cowards like the New York Times editorial board that they think, in any situation, all they have to do is yell YOU'RE DEPLATFORMING ME like Rudd yelling 'Diplomatic immunity' in Lethal Weapon 2 and they'll get what they want. Guess what, guys: Revoked."

Mad Kane's Political Madness
"Our Shocking News"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "A two-verse limerick summing up the latest in the Trump Horror Show. (It includes a short audio clip of me reading my limerick.)"

Lance Mannion
"Of Pop Mannion, Mrs M, spinach pasta, and the persistence of memory"
Lance Mannion: "A story from a very hard year with a sad part, a funny part, and a happy part."

This Is So Gay
"Kindness Is Not Enough"
Duncan Mitchel: " Inspired by the recent excellent documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" This is why I think that adult fans of Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood are misusing his program and dishonoring his legacy."

Bluestem Prairie
"On Labor Day, Wardlow promises to be ally for workers; in MNHouse authored right-to-work bill"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "While most of the media in Minnesota covering the state attorney general's race were still focused on Keith Ellison's past romantic breakup, I turned instead to scrutinizing the record of Republican opponent one-term state House wonder Doug Wardlow. Having just reviewed the bills he sponsored—topped by a bill to make Minnesota a right-to-work state, I was astonished to read Wardlow's pledge of support on Facebook: 'As Attorney General, I will always be an ally for Minnesota workers.' "

Schroedinger's Cat
"Happy 4th"
schroedinger's cat: "4th of July, 2017 was the anniversary of my first day as a citizen of the United States. In this post, I recount my memories of the citizenship ceremony at the Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts."

Vagabond Scholar
"What's to Be Done About Conservatives?"
Batocchio: "An attempt to assess American conservatives and the Republican Party in some depth. Spoiler: they're awful."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging (and everything else) in 2019. (Vive la résistance!)

What's to Be Done About Conservatives?

What's to be done about American conservatives and the Republican Party? For decades, they've stood for plutocracy and bigotry, and using the latter to achieve the former. Almost none of their policies help Americans as a whole; instead, their policies benefit a select few, most often those who are already rich and powerful. Conservatives and Republicans serve their donors, not the majority of their constituents. On the merits, their policies are awful, so they lie about them constantly. About their only true principle is acquiring more power and keeping it, by almost any means necessary – norms of governance, democratic representation and fair play be damned.

Their supporters come in different flavors, mostly unsavory. Many simply seek short-term personal gain, ignoring long-term harm, to their descendants if not themselves. Others, the dark money crowd and their eager servants, truly wish to further entrench the powerful as a ruling class. The most rabid members of the conservative base are frightening, cherishing spite more than their own children. (Who needs a decent wage when you can 'own the libs'? Who needs bread when you have the Fox News circus?) The remainder are mostly loyal Republican voters – "nearly 90 per cent of self-described Republicans voted for Trump, very similar to the proportion in previous elections." None of the horrible things Trump said or did prior to the 2016 election were dealbreakers for them. They rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse or simply voted their true values instead of their stated ones. To use the terms of an old post, conservatives are a mix of reckless addicts, stealthy extremists and proud zealots, with far too few sober adults to be found.

As for the media, good journalists still exist and always deserve support, but many corporate media outlets aren't truly focused on creating a more informed citizenry. Instead, they churn out a thin, news-like substance to try to fill their never-ending news cycle – they need volume, and high quality isn't cost-effective. Conscientious citizens might want good, better government, and the fact-checking and other essential information to help achieve that – and some journalists really do work hard to provide it – but media company owners need sales and profits. Stories deemed too complex aren't covered – for example, explaining the abuse of Senate procedures and contextualizing them. More importantly, calling out one political side is simply not good business, especially when one side is consistently worse about lying, violating political norms and screwing over the citizenry. One of our national political discourse's key scourges is false equivalence, or "both siderism," claiming both sides are just as bad even when evidence to the contrary stands overwhelming. (For much more on this, see the archives of Digby, driftglass, alicublog, Balloon Juice, LGM or my own archives.)

Related to this, in our current mainstream national political discourse, we generally do not discuss policy in any meaningful way. That's not to say everyone needs to read policy papers, which will always be done by a more niche group – but we do not discuss policies and their proven or likely effects. We do not talk about their effect on actual human beings and their lives. We do not accurately assign praise or blame to politicians and political parties, or engage in more nuanced analysis and discussion. For instance, who did this tax bill benefit, and who did it benefit the most? How successful was this antipoverty measure? What effects did providing more health care have on this community? Maybe we could provide some statistics, but also talk to some people, and put a human face on these issues? Coverage on the 2016 presidential race almost entirely ignored policy issues and focused on shallow issues with false balance. Obviously, this approach gives a tremendous, unfair advantage to the candidates with worse policies, nebulous positions or a vaguer grasp of important issues. It makes it much easier for them to bullshit, which really doesn't help for the whole informed citizenry, better government thing.

For all their faults, though, mainstream corporate media outlets normally get basic facts correct. Some media outlets are little more than propaganda operations. Dodgy left-leaning outlets do exist, but don't have nearly the influence of conservative outlets, most of all Fox News. Rank-and-file conservatives believe false things and are fearful in part because they have been lied to and fed fear. Several studies have shown that Fox News viewers score less accurately on basic news tests than people who don't watch the news, yet Fox News viewers are also more likely to believe that they're better-informed than their fellow citizens. Stewing in Fox News makes them both less informed and more certain. (That's a feature, not a bug, of course.)

Ideally, policies would be discussed on their merits, and praise and blame (or measured, nuanced assessments) would be accurately assigned. In actual practice, due to all the factors discussed above, conservatives and Republicans are rarely held accountable for their policies and decisions. The conservative movement works to prevent any such reckoning.

(It might help to look at some specific policies. but before that, a brief segue.)

Conservative Versus Republican

Anyone's who criticized conservatives in some depth has probably encountered pushback that, for example, George W. Bush wasn't a true conservative, or Trump isn't, or neither of them is emblematic of the true Republican Party (never mind those pesky votes and other support).

It's true that "conservative" and "Republican" aren't always synonymous, but since the two major political parties realigned in the 1960s, the Republican Party has been more conservative on almost every issue, and the majority of Republicans consistently identify themselves as conservative. As Digby's observed, conservatives like to pretend that conservatism cannot fail; it can only be failed. (Self-described libertarians love this "no true Scotsman" game, too.) Every time conservatives are discredited, it's common to see a disowning of key figures, plus conservative rebranding efforts. We'll also see pundits yearning for the more reasonable, decent conservatives and Republicans of yesteryear, and not just for, say, Eisenhower (for whom some good arguments can be made), but Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes, among others. Although those individuals may indeed have been better than the current crop in some particulars, an honest, fair assessment would judge that many of their policies stunk and quite a few of them had pretty crazy views. The Democratic Party has become more liberal over time, and the Republican Party more conservative, but the Republican drift has been more extreme. The Republican Party Platform of 1956 would be denounced as socialist by the conservatives and Republicans of today. In contrast, the Democratic Party Platform of 1972 is quite similar to recent platforms on many issues, except that contemporary platforms are much stronger on LGBT rights and other social issues. The Democratic Party does have an establishmentarian, corporatist faction, but also a more liberal one. The Republican Party is not a mirror image; it's purged almost all nonconservatives from office. Republican officials are more conservative and extreme than many members of their own party, and much more conservative and extreme than their constituents as a whole. Voters may have more variety, but when it comes to political figures, for practical purposes, "conservative" and "Republican" are generally effectively the same. Accordingly, in this piece I'm using the terms fairly interchangeably unless the distinction matters (for instance, discussing conservative Democrats).

As for Trump specifically, occasionally, we'll see some bullshit arguments that he's some sort of aberration, but some style differences aside, Trump is firmly in the conservative tradition. Some conservatives effectively admit this – they might criticize Trump's style, but support his policies nonetheless. Neither major political party is entirely pure or evil, but comparisons are both possible and essential. The truth is, Republicans are primarily to blame for the political problems in Washington, D.C. and the nation, and that definitely includes the rise of Trump.

Conservative Policies

Conservative policies almost always benefit the rich and powerful – the donor class – rather than average constituents and the country. That's no accident. Although sincerely held ideology might drive some conservatives and Republicans, in many cases, their motivation amounts to simple corruption. For the horrendous Republican tax bill of December 2017, Republican representative Chris Collins flat-out admitted, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don’t ever call me again.' " (And sure enough, after the bill passed, the donors were pleased.) Let's take a look at some policies.

Inequality: Wealth and income inequality in the U.S. are at their worst since the gilded age, and are likely to become more extreme. This neofeudal model stands in sharp contrast to the New Deal and post-WWII policies aimed at helping the nation as a whole. Those policies gave the U.S. the "great compression," a period of enormous economic growth, decreased inequality, an expansion of the middle class and shared prosperity (with some important caveats about denied opportunities based on race, gender, etc.). A model of hoarding power and prosperity versus sharing it is probably the defining difference between conservatives and nonconservatives (liberals and so-called moderates). The aforementioned 2017 Republican tax bill was designed – like Reagan's and all major Republican tax proposals since Bush's twin tax cuts – to massively benefit the already wealthy. It remains bad fiscal, economic and social policy. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summarizes, "The major tax legislation enacted last December will cost approximately $1.5 trillion over the next decade and deliver windfall gains to wealthy households and profitable corporations, further widening the gap between those at the top of the income ladder and the rest of the nation." (As the report continues, wage stagnation certainly doesn't help.) Those are features, not bugs, as are decades of conservatives yelling that any effort to lessen massive inequality is communism. Americans as a whole want a more fair system, but Republicans are more likely to think the current system is already fair and that poverty is due a lack of effort instead of circumstances beyond one's control. (They are wrong.) However, Americans really have no idea how bad inequality is, and even rank-and-file Republicans favor a more equitable distribution when it's presented as a choice. Inequality remains a major issue beyond economic matters – conservatives and Republicans stand for acquiring more power and keeping it, even if it hurts the country at large.

Climate Change: The Trump administration, true to Republican form, has decided to ignore climate change, including the government's own National Climate Assessment. Meanwhile, an alarming new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of potentially terrible consequences as soon as 2040. Some Democrats are also beholden to the fossil fuel industry, but industry donations heavily favor Republicans, and conservative Republicans are the group most opposed to acknowledging climate change and to doing anything about it. That position is one of many conservative shibboleths to affirm tribal identity. Climate change is arguably the single most important issue we face, because human life on the planet could significantly, negatively change if it's not addressed. Yet the Republican Party is just about the only major political party in the world to deny climate change and oppose universal health care. Speaking of which…

Health Care: The Affordable Care Act is about the most conservative health care plan possible that can actually work – it doesn't dismantle private, for-profit health insurance, and uses that mechanism to provide health care for the majority of Americans. It's a far cry from the better, universal health care systems that most other industrialized nations have, and that liberals favor, but the ACA has had a positive effect: "In 2016, there were 28.6 million Americans without health insurance, down from more than 48 million in 2010." Rather than addressing that remaining gap, Republicans voted to repeal the ACA over 70 times as of July 2017. Republicans had promised for several years to produce an alternative to the ACA, but never offered a coherent, workable plan. When Republicans finally did produce something, their plan allowed states to waive the provision that prevents insurance companies from refusing to cover or to charge more to people with pre-existing conditions. Such a move would save for-profit insurance companies money, of course, but would be absolutely horrible for citizens. Naturally, conservatives lied about this. It's important to note how much bad faith has featured in conservative arguments about health care, captured by Jonathan Chait's "Heritage uncertainty principle": "Conservative health-care-policy ideas reside in an uncertain state of quasi-existence. You can describe the policies in the abstract, sometimes even in detail, but any attempt to reproduce them in physical form will cause such proposals to disappear instantly."

The Social Safety Net: The usual Republican pattern since Reagan has been to pass tax cuts heavily favoring the rich, increase military spending (optional), create a deficit, and then claim the shortfall has to been made up by cutting the social safety net, especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Sure enough, the Republican "starve the beast" gambit is right on time, with Republicans calling to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even blamed the deficit on social spending and not the obvious culprit, his own tax bill, because he has no shame. It's crucial to notice that rank-and-file conservatives will publicly rail against social spending, but they're in favor of it when it benefits themselves – they just don't want it going to Those Other People. As Matt Taibbi concluded after interviewing supposedly anti-government conservatives, "they're full of shit."

Norms of Process and Governance: It would be hard to overstate just how much Newt Gingrich did to destroy Congress as a functioning institution in the 1990s, making the Republican Party far more tribal, vicious and dysfunctional to this day. More recently, in 2016, Mitch McConnell refused to grant a hearing to then-President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. It was a stunning abuse of power and violation of norms, but McConnell's bragged about it (because again, he has no shame). Meanwhile, Republican state legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, after losing the governorship to Democrats, have moved to limit the powers of the governor that were just fine when in Republican hands. Conservatives have an attitude that any election they don't win is inherently illegitimate, because the other guys aren't supposed to win and any abuse of power or change of the rules is thus justified. They'll argue for the power of the majority when in the majority, but will fight ruthlessly for minority rule when they're not. They do not want a fair system. They simply do not care about the will of the people if it doesn't align with their goals.

Democracy and Representative Government: Related to the norms above, the majority of conservative Republicans oppose making voting easier for everyone. Conservatives keep working to suppress voting , and this has a strong racial component. (Before the parties realigned in the 1960s, some of those anti-voting social conservatives were Southern Democrats.) Both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering, but after the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans have been worse and gerrymandering is likely to become more pronounced. Conservatism has always had an anti-democratic streak. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, cofounder of the conservative Heritage Foundation and also the so-called Moral Majority, said:

Now many of our Christians have what I call the "goo-goo" syndrome – good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people – they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.


It'd be remiss not to also mention the racist Southern Strategy that's been key to most Republican presidential runs since Goldwater. It hasn't always worked, luckily, but winning elections through bigotry is not something to be proud of.

Wall Street and Consumer Protections: Both major parties are pretty beholden to Wall Street and the financial industry. Still, to quote a 2016 post:

. . . the Republican Party is demonstratively worse, opposing and trying to water down the Dodd-Frank Act (rather than seeing it as not going far enough), trying to block the creation and staffing of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (and then trying to weaken or eliminate it) and generally supporting plutocracy. Liberal activists aren't shy about criticizing the Democrats on this issue.


Predictably, the Trump administration has moved to curtail the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau even more. Financial companies make a killing as it is, but why protect average constituents when you can serve wealthy donors instead?

Attending and Affording College: Without going into depth on this issue, conservatives consistently work against the interests of students and for rich lenders instead.

Gun Safety: It's possible to support both gun ownership and reasonable restrictions for public safety, but the National Rifle Association, which once was a more moderate "sportsman" group, has for decades opposed almost every and any measure restricting firearms. Just this year, the NRA has issued rabid, apocalyptic, hyperpartisan ads, and has tried to bully doctors into silence: "Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves." (Yes, why hasn't the medical community consulted non-doctors about a health issue? How unfair! Trauma surgeons have responded to this ludicrousness, of course.) It's no surprise the NRA heavily favors donations to Republicans. Conservative arguments about gun safety often ignore the history of the Second Amendment, and the U.S. has an odd, destructive gun culture that complicates most discussions. Perhaps most galling is how the NRA and conservatives have worked to block research into gun violence. They're not arguing for better policies. They're actively preventing a more informed discussion, probably because they know enough to fear accurate conclusions.

Reproductive Freedom: Little has changed in decades, sadly – conservatives continue to attack reproductive freedom and women's rights, and the Trump administration has predictably done the same.

LGBT Issues: Some conservatives have gotten better on these, but as usual for conservatives on social issues, improvement is more the result of being dragged along by the culture than leading the cause. Opposing gay rights is a socially conservative movement, and it's no secret that homophobes overwhelmingly identify as conservatives and/or Republicans. Some try to use the patina of religion to justify their attitudes, but it's still bigotry. During his presidential campaign, Trump unconvincingly promised to protect gay rights, but of course he has been horrible.

Immigration Reform: Back during an 1980 debate, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were asked about how "illegal" immigrants and their children should be treated. Both candidates spoke about treating immigrants well, about how they were good people and should be made citizens. Both men would be booed by their party today. A recent study estimates the number of undocumented immigrants at 10.7 million. That number may be decreasing, but it's still far too high to make any kind of arrest-and-deportation scheme practical; a road-to-citizenship plan would be far more realistic and also much more humane. Trump's proposal to build a physical wall on the border is likewise ridiculously unrealistic and ignores glaring practical issues. Back in 2012, then-presidential-candidate Mitt Romney suggested a ludicrous self-deportation policy. The Trump administration has done the same, but also crafted a broader, crueler immigration policy. Indeed, it's hard to keep up with all the horrific stories from the border. Trump launched his presidential campaign with racist statements, and that approach remains central to his pitch and appeal.

Other Issues: I still haven't covered foreign policy, military spending, due process, torture, supporting the arts, and many other issues, but I've done that at some length in other pieces. Briefly: There's broad bipartisan agreement on general imperialism and military spending, although Republican presidential candidates always agitate for greater military expenditures, even though the U.S. military budget dwarfs that of the rest of the world. Many conservatives show a juvenile hostility toward the State Department, the United Nations and the value of diplomacy in general. Republicans were unwilling to hold the Bush administration accountable for lying the U.S. into the Iraq War and starting a torture regime. Democrats deserve some credit for leading a detailed torture investigation, but it's still classified, and real accountability remains unlikely. Obama's "look forward" policy was a mistake, because torture is more likely to come back. Just witness Trump's imbecilic, macho bragging about torture, Mike Pence refusing to disown it and Trump appointing a CIA head complicit in the torture regime who refused to condemn torture as immoral. Finally, in a sharply different vein, conservatives routinely threaten the relatively meager federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and PBS as an affirmation of tribal identity and just to be assholes.

Conservative policies are awful on the merits. That also means their positions leave little room for common ground, which doesn't have value if the ideas stink, no matter how much some pundits fetishize bipartisanship.

It wouldn't be right to abandon political outreach completely, but it's wise to identify who can actually be reached and who's a lost cause, at least in the short run. It's folly to expect conservative and Republican leaders to develop a conscience. It's dangerous to believe that their donors, who have invested in a long game of increased and hoarded power, want a democracy and a fair system. It's madness to think that rank-and-file conservatives and Republicans will abandon spite or party loyalty. And it's wishful thinking that mainstream corporate media outlets will abandon bothsiderism bullshit and other shallow analysis, no matter how much it hurts the nation. For now and the foreseeable future, the key thing to do about American conservatives and the Republican Party is to vigorously oppose them. It's up to the rest of us who care about good policy and responsible governance to talk, learn from each other, support each other and mobilize.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day 11/11/18

(Click on the comic strip for a larger view.)

In 1959, Pogo creator Walt Kelly wrote:

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.

You said it, brother.

Thanks to all who have served or are serving, on this Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.

This post is mostly a repeat I run every year, since I find it hard to top Kelly.

My latest post on these themes is "The War to End All Wars," because it's the 100th anniversary of the Great War's end, the armistice.

Back in 2009, I wrote a series of six related posts for Armistice Day (and as part of an ongoing series on war). The starred posts are the most important, but the list is:

"Élan in The Guns of August"

"Demonizing of the Enemy"

"The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen"

***"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels"

"The Little Mother"

***"War and the Denial of Loss"

The most significant other entries in the series are:

"How to Hear a True War Story" (2007)

"Day of Shame" (2008)

"The Poetry of War" (2008)

"Armistice Day 2008" (featuring the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon).

"They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" (2011)

"The Dogs of War" (2013)

"The Courage to Make Others Suffer" (2015)

"The Battle of the Somme" (2017)

I generally update these posts later with links to appropriate pieces for 11/11 by other folks as I find them. If you've written one, feel free to link it in a comment. Thanks.

The War to End All Wars

Today, 11/11/18, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Great War, the supposed War to End All Wars that unfortunately didn't. I've always been struck by how eager nations were to go to war at the start and how horrific the reality often was. By the end, by most estimates, about 8.5 million soldiers were dead and the total casualty count was about 37.5 million. Add in a couple million civilian deaths from fighting and several million more indirectly from disease and hunger, and the toll is just staggering. The death count would be exceeded in World War II, but it's hard to overstate how devastating the "Great War" was to the world, especially Europe.

The Imperial War Museums (a set of five museums in Britain) has posted an excellent collection of first-hand British accounts on the armistice 100 years ago. Follow the link for the audio, but I've copied some key accounts below. Not everyone got the news about the armistice, and even for those who did, the final hours could be tense:

The news travelled at different speeds, and was delayed in getting to some places. George Jameson’s unit read about it.

When the war actually ended, we didn't even know about it. We knew that things were getting pretty critical, we knew that we were doing well and nobody wanted to cop out on one when the war might be ending tomorrow, sort of thing. It was the wrong time to get wounded or hit or anything, you see! So we were pretty careful. But we were moving forward with the idea of taking another position when one of the drivers shouted up to somebody, ‘There's a sign on that,’ it was an entrance to some house. He said, ‘There's a sign on that thing marking somebody’s headquarters and it says the wars over.’ Don’t believe it. Nobody would believe it. The war couldn't be over; it had been on for years, nobody would believe it could finish! It’s a fact; it says there the war was over. So somebody rode back and read this thing that said, as from 11 o'clock this morning, hostilities have ceased. And we then realised the war was over.

Fighting continued in some places as the news made its way along the Western Front, and men still lost their lives on the final day of the war. Jim Fox of the Durham Light Infantry remembered one such incident.

Of course, when the armistice was to be signed at 11 o'clock on the 11th of November, as from 6 o'clock that morning there was only the occasional shell that was sent either by us over the German lines or the German over at our lines. Maybe there was one an hour. And then, about 10am, one came down and killed a sergeant of ours who'd been out since 1915. He was killed with shrapnel, you know. Thought that was very unlucky. To think he’d served since 1915, three years until 1918, nearly four years and then to be killed within an hour of armistice…

William Collins clearly remembered conditions on the morning of the 11 November, and noted the significance of where he was that day.

On armistice morning, I remember the fog was – it was a Monday morning, November the 11th. The fog was so thick that visibility was down to 10 yards. And as we moved and moved on, we found ourselves at about 10 o'clock that morning we were up with the infantry patrols. And of course, when we found out that they were the closest to the Germans, we stopped and we stood in that place until… must have been oh, half past 12, one o'clock before the order was given to retire. A silence came over the whole place that you could almost feel, you know, after four and a half years of war, not a shot was being fired, not a sound was heard because the fog blanketed everything, you see, and hung really thickly over… We were north-east of Mons, whereas I'd started the battle four and a half years before, south-east of Mons. So there I was, back where the war started after nearly four and a half years of it.


For an exhibit, the Imperial War Museum in London recreated "the last few minutes of World War I when the guns finally fell silent at the River Moselle on the American Front" using WWI seismic data that the Smithsonian explains well. Take a listen:



(It seems the birds were added as an artistic choice, and I think they come in too early and too loudly, but it's still a fascinating piece.)

( Paris.)

In the field, some soldiers celebrated the armistice with gusto, while others were simply exhausted:

Charles Wilson of the Gloucestershire Regiment was delighted when he heard of the armistice.

Well of course there was tremendous jubilation, I can remember. We had just come out of this battle and the armistice was on the 11th of November. We were doing battalion drill back in some village in France when we formed up and the commanding officer made the announcement: an armistice was signed at 11 o'clock today. Of course there was a swell of excitement amongst the men and our only interest then was to find something to drink to celebrate it and there was nothing to be had, not a bottle of wine or anything else! However we soon put that right…

But Clifford Lane was just too physically and mentally shattered to celebrate.

Then as far as the armistice itself was concerned, it was an anti-climax. We were too far gone, too exhausted, really to enjoy it. All we could do was just go back to our billets; there was no cheering, no singing, we had no alcohol – that particular day we had no alcohol at all – and we simply celebrated the armistice in silence and thankfulness that it was all over. And I believe that happened quite a lot in France. There was such a sense of anti-climax; there was such a… We were drained of all emotion really – that’s what it amounted to, you see. Then it was a question of when we were going to get home…


( Trafalgar Square, London.)

More reactions:

Mary Lees, who worked for the Air Ministry, was caught up in the scenes of jubilation that day.

But of course, I mean, Armistice Day was fantastic. You see, you visualise every single office in Kingsway pouring down the Strand. I should think there must have been about 10,000 people. There was no traffic of course. It was solid, like that. And you see, when they got to the end of the Strand of course it opened up, like that, into Trafalgar Square. And still Trafalgar Square was packed. Well, we didn’t get back to the office, to our work, till about half past three, four. And, when I came to get my bus back in the evening, the people had been careering all round London on the buses. But nobody would go inside because they all wanted to go on top and cheer. I forget how many it was in the papers the next morning, fifty or sixty buses had all their railings broken, going up the stairs on the top.
For many, the moment of the armistice was a time to reflect on all the lives that had been lost during the war. Ruby Ord was serving in France with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.

I think it was a bit of an anti-climax. Suddenly you thought about, you see, all the people you had known who were killed, etc. They were just in the war zone, and they could come home in your imagination. But the Armistice brought the realisation to you that they weren’t coming back, that it was the end. I think that it was not such a time of rejoicing as it might have been. You were glad the fighting was over and that not more men would be killed. But I do think it was dampened down very much, in France. I think they had all the enthusiasm probably in England, but I think we were too near reality to feel that way. I didn’t, certainly. I did not go out of camp on Armistice Day.

This remembrance seems the best to end on:
After the long years of hardship, suffering and loss, it was no surprise that the news the war had finally ended was received with such a mixture of emotions by those who were immediately affected by it. From shock and disbelief, to relief and jubilation, men and women around the world had their own reactions to the armistice. Basil Farrer served on the Western Front during the war. He was in Nottingham on 11 November 1918 but found he couldn't join the cheering crowds in the city that day.

I remember Armistice Day and I didn't know at the time but in every city, everybody went mad. In London, they were dancing in the streets, the crowds, in all the cities, in Paris and in Nottingham too. In Market Square, it was one mass of people dancing and singing. I did not go there. I do remember – for some reason or other – inexplicable, especially in so young a chap as myself, I felt sad. I did – I had a feeling of sadness. And I did remember all those chaps who'd never come back, because there was quite a lot, nearly a million – not quite a million. As a matter of fact, in Paris I remember the Prince of Wales inaugurating a plaque in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris to the million dead of Great Britain and the British Empire. And I did have a feeling of sadness that day.


Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing, Belgium.)

(Notre Dame de Lorette, also known as Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery, France.)

(Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, France.)

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(Poppy on a Canadian grave.)