The 50’s were so Awesome – Scratch that

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Title: The Atomic Cafe

Rating: 3 Stars

This is a documentary from 1982. I’d watched it originally sometime around that time frame. For some reason, the idea came into my head that I should watch it again.

It’s basically about the impact that atomic weapons had on America. It starts off with the first trinity test and then the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man, the two atomic bombs on Japan, and continues on from there through the fifties.

The dropping of these bombs effectively ended the War in the Pacific. In juxtaposition to the delirious celebration taking place in the US, there was utter devastation and the horrible aftermath in Japan.

The naivety that seemed to take place regarding usage and testing of atomic weapons was actually quite shocking.  You see the naivety of the politicians, specifically a very young Lloyd Bentsen (later to become a much distinguished politician, running as vice president on the Dukakis ticket and Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton) advocating dropping multiple atomic weapons on key cities in North Korea.

You see the naivety of the testing and the propaganda surrounding it. After moving everyone off it (to hearty reassurances that the natives are happy to do it), the Bikini Atoll is destroyed in a test. In another Pacific test, the weathermen incorrectly predicted a wind pattern and it blows over another Marshall island, causing serious radiation sickness. A similar test takes place in the US, where again the wind pattern changes and it blows over the town. In a radio announcement, everyone is told to stay inside. I’m sure that’ll keep the radiation out.

There are tests to see how military maneuvers can occur after a blast. Soldiers with no protective gear at all hunker down in trenches. You can actually see the light flash over them. They then launch themselves out of the trenches and start running towards the mushroom cloud.

You see the naivety of the people, again being fed propaganda by the government. If you see a bright flash and you’re out on picnic, simply cover yourself with the blanket. There’s a child size radiation suit that looks like a halloween costume. The little kid puts it on and goes for a bike ride.

It shows people shopping for, buying, and stocking shelters. Apparently the thinking was that you would just sit and hang out in the shelter for about ten days or so and then you could go out and clean everything up.

It ends with a series of clips demonstrating the true force of a hydrogen bomb and the utter devastation that would occur if it was dropped, exposing exactly how naive the people and the government (maybe intentionally so?) were.  No picnic blanket is going to save you.

The fifties wasn’t that great of a period to live through.

 

Tarantino’s Next Movie

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Title: The Sisters Brothers

Rating: 4 Stars

This is a story about two brothers whose last name is Sisters. They are renowned, at least on the West Coast during the Gold Rush days, for being notorious gun men. They are in the employ of a wealthy magnate named the Commodore (thank you, Mr. Vanderbilt), who hires them to kill people that he wishes dead, for whatever reason they cannot guess.

Apparently, their last hit was rough. Now Eli, the younger brother, is beginning to question his career choice. The older brother, Charlie, is ruthless and suffers no such qualms.

The story is mostly them journeying from Oregon to the Bay area, having conversations and a myriad set of adventures as they go. The story is told in the first person by Eli, whose thoughts and conversations are interesting and are expressed creatively. I have no idea how people talked during those times, but I’m guessing essentially uneducated hit men would not have talked that way, but I don’t care because I found it amusing and entertaining. I got much the same feeling from listening to the beautiful but anachronistic dialog of Deadwood.

Eli clearly just wants to go home with his money and live a quiet life. He is not a man given to strike out on his own and so usually just passively follows his brother Charlie. Charlie has no such ambitions; he wants to stay in the game and eventually supplant the Commodore.

The person that they are supposed to kill proves to be compelling and arouses their sympathy and respect, which does not bode well for killing him.

I won’t spoil the plot, but clearly this hit does not go the way of the others and it has a dramatic effect upon both brothers.

To me, the ending just does not flow with the rest of the book. This is very often a problem with fiction. The author falls in love with the characters and does a great job of filling them out. At the end, when the characters have to transition to a new state (which is usually the point of the novel), the transition is handled in a clumsy manner and the ending seems artificial or tacked on. This was the feeling that I left with.

The most famous example of this is Huckleberry Finn. This is (except for the obvious nineteenth century racism) a beautiful book. Huck is a semi-literate white trash child of a violent alcoholic. He runs away from his father and sets off down the river in a raft. He eventually runs into the escaped slave Jim. At first he exhibits the racism and ignorance that you would expect. Over time, in conversations with Jim, you can see Huck evolve into a richer humanity. It is a wonderful story of ignorant youth blossoming to an unexpectedly higher plane.

And then, about 30 pages from the end, Tom Sawyer shows up. He promptly turns Jim’s escape from slave owners into some elaborate silly game that both Huck and Jim play along with. From Huck’s growing humanity to this farcical treatment of a man’s life and freedom is a jarring transition and mars what is one of the nineteenth century’s great novels.

Contrast that ending with Frank Norris’ McTeague (upon which Erich von Stroheim’s lost movie, Greed, was based upon). I personally found McTeague to be a prosaic affair. A man and a woman fall in love and eventually, starting with winning a small lottery, if I recollect correctly (and I might be recalling it incorrectly and I’m too tired to check wiki right now), they become obsessed with money and eventually destroy each other trying to accumulate as much as possible at the expense of the other.

Again, I won’t spoil it, but the very last image on the very last page of this novel encapsulates, in that one image, the themes and pathos of the work. It was if all of the preceding pages were leading inevitably to that one final scene. I closed the last page of the book feeling as if Norris had completed his vision. That feeling, at least for me, happens rarely.

When Women were Broads and Asians were…

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Title: Quarry’s List

Rating: 3 Stars

Somewhere (I think on Amazon), I found a list of classic crime novels. This was not on that list, but this book was symptomatic of the things that I’ve discovered. The main issue is that crime books written between the 30’s to the 70’s simply don’t age well.

First of all, the protagonist is pretty much always a white male. He’s quick with the wit and even quicker with his fists and guns. Quarry (the protagonist here) is a hitman by profession. He’s a Vietnam War vet who was never able to restart after his life because of the stigma against Vietnam War vets, so naturally enough, he gets recruited to become a hit man. I’m sure that happens.

The women pretty much serve one purpose. I just finished the book yesterday, and it was a short and a fast read, so it’s still pretty much in my head. As far as I can remember, there is only one female character. It goes without saying that she ultimately becomes a victim that needs saving. It also goes without saying that she almost immediately repeatedly has sex with him (and of course, finds it an immensely satisfying experience).

If you’re not a white male, it’s not going to go well with you. There are various references to Orientals. In some ways, that’s a price of the time. I grew up in the 70’s myself and I do remember that phrase being used. This goes back to the aging well comment. Although acceptable in that time, it’s jarring to read today.

There’s testosterone in the air. Quarry is effectively a sociopath when it comes to violence. Pretty much anyone who crosses him ends up dead. He’s got a little bit of the Rambo superhero in him going. He’s always faster, smarter, stronger than the other guy. He’s never in any real jeopardy at any part of the novel.

So, having said all of that, the book is itself an enjoyable read. Collins is clearly a prolific writer (just check his wiki page, for crying out loud, it looks like he’s written hundreds of novels and comics). It’s not high art, but it’s a tightly constructed novel that chugs right along nicely to its conclusion.

And yes, I should probably lay off the crime novels from that era.

The Humanity of Puppets

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Title: Anomalisa

Rating: 5 Stars

I am a fan of Charles Kaufman. Once you see enough movies, all movies essentially become predictable. Kaufman consistently manages to surprise, and even better, surprises differently each time.

Michael Stone is a moderately successful consultant in customer service. It’s clear, after many years of drudgery and tedium, that literally every single person in the world, male and female, looks alike and sounds alike to him. He is living a drab, empty life.

Until he hears a different voice. He investigates and discovers Lisa. She’s a plain, not that smart, very ordinary woman. However, she looks and talks different than everyone else. He is immediately smitten and proceeds to seduce her. They wake up together and he realizes that he must spend the rest of his life with her. As they talk and they begin to plan their new lives together, he begins to see minor annoyances with her. As he does so, her voice slowly but surely begins to become the voice of everyone else.

In the final scene, he’s back in his large house with his wife, child, and family friends, all of whom look alike and sound alike.

Did I forget to mention that this all happens with puppets? The puppets are amazingly lifelike and move naturally. As we see when he steps out of the shower, Michael is a fully anatomically correct puppet. He has graphic puppet sex with Lisa. On the one hand, you are always aware that these are puppets, but the conversation and situation feels so real that there is a weird authenticity / falsity vibe through the movie, which I believe is the point.

Clearly the message is not uplifting. All originality ultimately becomes banal through usage. Again, the use of puppets reinforces this.

I found it to be a thoroughly original movie that was equally enjoyable to watch, even if I didn’t leave the theater whistling joyfully.

Tarantino Before there was Tarantino

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Title: Titus Andronicus

Rating: 3 Stars

This was put on by the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

Titus is kind of an embarrassment to most Shakespearean critics. It is clearly a play written for the masses. There is no subtlety. It is a revenge play in which the revenge is served hot, bloody, and insane.

I’ve always believed that this is the Shakespeare that should be introduced to high school students. Not the mamby-pamby prattlings of Romeo and Juliet (although a brave English teacher could titillate with interpretations of Mercutio’s lines). This play serves well the generation raised on Tarantino.

I’d seen this play once before. It was at some very low rent theater that looked like it had maybe 50 seats, which if I recollect, were of the fold-up chair variety. The centurions (the play takes place in ancient Rome) come marching in wearing spray-painted football helmets. I thought that I was about to witness a disaster, but it turned out extremely entertaining. It was a case where a creative director took the budget shortcomings and turned it into a strength.

I’d also seen the play as a movie directed by Julie Taymor and starring Anthony Hopkins. I came into it with high hopes, but alas, in my opinion they took the play too seriously and it seemed ponderous to me.

After all, let’s keep score of the death toll:

  • Titus kills one of the Goth queen’s sons in front of her
  • He kills one of his sons who disobeys him
  • The emperor’s brother is murdered by the two remaining Goth queen’s sons
  • Who in turn rapes Titus’ daughter and cuts off her arms and tongue
  • Titus chops off one of his hands to save two of his son’s lives
  • Titus then receives the heads of said son’s
  • Titus kills the two Goth queen’s sons who raped his daughter
  • He cooks them into a pie and serves them to the Goth queen
  • Titus kills his daughter to cover her shame
  • Titus kills the Goth queen
  • The emperor kills Titus
  • Titus’ son Lucius kills the emperor
  • Lucius is proclaimed the new emperor.

What the Fuckety Fuck?

You simply can’t take this kind of play seriously. As you can see, this truly is basically the plot of a Tarantino revenge movie. How has he not already made this movie?

Clearly, the Seattle Shakespeare Company has seen Tarantino movies. Tarantino was heavily influenced by the 70’s exploitation movies. Before the play starts, there is a movie screen on set which shows clips from fictional 70’s revenge movies featuring ancient myths (eg Medea). It sets the tone for the play to come.

Like Tarantino, the blood is copious. During the intermission, stage hands were hard at work cleaning off all of the blood that had been spelt. After the final scene, they probably need to bring in the equivalent of a Zamboni to vacuum it all up.

Saturnius, the Roman emperor, was properly supercilious. The previous version I’d seen had played him like Mick Jagger, which was even more amusing.

Titus basically chewed the scenes, which is kind of the point. There is no halfway to Titus, so every emotion had to be cranked up to eleven.

Tamora’s (the Goth queen) two sons were scarily effective. They gave off edgy, insane menace that actually was kind of freaky.

Lavinia, Titus’ daughter, ends up a broken, tragic figure. Her rape / mutilation scene, although not explicitly shown, was deeply disturbing and, quite frankly, upsetting. I wanted to hurry that scene over because it was so difficult to watch.

Tamora played it as a basic scheming sex pot using her hold over Saturnius to wreak her own revenge upon Titus.

Aaron the Moor is an interesting character. In many ways, he serves as the ur-Iago. Here in the play he is more one-dimensional than Iago, but like Iago, driven by jealousy and an basically corrupt nature, he is the true source of all evil that takes place during the play. As he says, he’s done one thousand foul things, his only regret is that he does not have time for ten thousand more.

I enjoyed the staging. The homage to Tarantino is, in hindsight, a somewhat obvious one to make, but still effective.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to change my mind on Titus. It used to be one of my favorites, but at the end of the day, it is pretty much completely lacking in subtlety. Having seen the Oregon Shakespeare Festival version of Hamlet, I now can see that taking the time to understand and appreciate the beauty and power of his later work is ultimately a much more rewarding experience.

This might have been my last Titus experience.

We’re all going to Die and it’s our Fault – That is all

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Title: The Sixth Extinction

Rating: 5 Stars

This was a well written, accessible science work on one of the most critical issues that we’re facing in which quite possibly the survival of humans are at stake.

In the history of Earth, there have been five previous extinctions, the most recent of which was the meteor (asteroid?) that struck in the Yucatan Peninsula, sending out a firestorm of death and a plume of matter that darkened the skies and lowered the temperature. This wiped out the dinosaurs. In fact, nothing larger than a cat probably survived it.

In the time since then, the human species has arisen. We have what appear to be two unique characteristics. One is that we are the ultimate apex predator. Sure, on occasion a shark might get one of us or maybe a bear might get one of us, but basically no one can really touch us, and to us, everything is a prey. It hardly seems coincidental that within a fairly short period of time when humans migrate to a certain area, all large animals disappear.

The second characteristic is that we are the ultimate invasive species. We can live anywhere, adapt anywhere, and thrive anywhere. No place is safe from us.

Being the ultimate apex predator and invasive species means that we almost inevitably are going to destroy whatever world that we live in. Currently we are doing it via climate change and ocean acidification. We’re also pretty smart, so we might be able to solve those problems.  Our nature is that we’ll figure something else that will cause our destruction.

One of the fundamental questions that people wonder when there is talk of extraterrestrials is, where are they? Aside from some country bumpkin or the infamous Area 51, they don’t seem to make much of an appearance (other than late ‘90s Will Smith movies). One theory is that the advancement of technology to a certain point will inevitably result in its destruction.

To me, for a species to actually colonize other worlds implies that it must itself be, in its area, the ultimate apex predator and ultimate invasive species. This makes me wonder if somehow there is a kill switch somehow innate in such species that once it reaches a certain level of development, it must inevitably destroy itself.

The Sixth Extinction is dire. Well-meaning people in the past have made the situation must worse. The environment is so complex that pretty much anything that we can do will result in unintended consequences that could very easily make things much worse (like the group who noticed that rabbits were not native to Australia and introduced them, to disastrous effect).

Therefore, there is a chance that in the next 150 to 200 years, we might actually see the start of the end of the human species. I’m in my 50’s now, so probably will only live to see further decline, not the actual rapid collapse.  I find this fascinating that science now seems to have some of the trappings of the eschatology that religion has.

Christianity has been prophesying the end times since quite literally immediately after the death of Jesus. His apostles thought that he would rise again in their lifetime. The fact that 2000 years have now gone by has not dimmed the confidence of millions of his imminent resurrection. I’ve always found a certain arrogance in the belief that, with the Earth being hundreds of millions years old and the human species being, in one shape or another, 200,000 years old, that the actual end of the Earth and/or human species would actually happen in your lifetime.

Now, here’s a book, with compelling evidence and argument, making pretty much that point. Maybe not in your lifetime, but certainly within your grandchildren lifetime there could be cataclysmic events that could fundamentally affect their survival.

I find myself skeptical, humbled, and horrified.

When the Thin Veneer of Society Tears

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Title: Blindness

Rating: 4 Stars

Many years ago, I saw that a Portuguese novelist named Jose Saramango had won the Nobel prize for literature. Just out of curiosity, I went down and picked up one of his novels. It was called Blindness.

I was poking around Amazon Instant Video and I saw that it had been made into a film some years ago, starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore. This piqued my interest because this seemed to be a somewhat esoteric novel to be made into a film.

I read some of the back story, which itself is interesting. Saramango was not interested in optioning his novel. He only did so when they promised that the setting for the movie would be some indeterminate city or country.

The film was very true to the novel. The premise is that one person, driving a car, sitting at a stoplight, instantly becomes blind. Several people help him, he manages to get to an ophthalmologist, but it cannot be diagnosed. Shortly thereafter, all of the people that he comes into contact with have also become blind.

The authoritarian government steps in quickly and tries to isolate the problem by quarantining the infected by throwing them into some run-down, slightly broken down barracks. Everyone in the barracks is blind, except for the eye doctor’s wife, who pretends to be blind because she cannot bear to be separated from her husband. They agree to keep the fact that she can see secret from everyone.

At first, the blind organize themselves (under the doctor’s leadership). Soon there are just too many people and the place turns to squalor, with filth and feces on the floor. The doctor’s wife is exhausted trying to secretly keep everything together and begins to break down.

Eventually, one of the wards in the barracks tries to take over. They are all violent men, one has a gun, and one has special talents because he was always blind, so he is uniquely skilled in this environment. The barracks descend into rape, murder, and ultimately an arson where the barracks burns down with most inside.

The doctor’s wife leads a small group outside and determines that the government guards have abandoned their posts. They venture out into the world where the city is desolate now that everyone is blind. There are small groups of people aimlessly walking around, stealing from each other. The doctor’s wife manages to find some food behind a locked door and leads her group to their old house.

The next morning, the first victim regains his eyesight. There is hope again.

There were a couple of major themes. One of course is the Lord of the Flies nature of the barracks. The implication is that once social order breaks down, it breaks down into strong man rule and/or anarchy. The doctor, representing science and reason, becomes powerless.

The second major theme is between the doctor and his wife. The doctor is a hyper competent, highly confident individual. When he first loses his vision, he still tries to assume that role. Over time, the wife has to take on more and more responsibility and the doctor, much to his discomfort, becomes more and more dependent upon her. This switch affects both of their personalities.

A third theme is the freedom of blindness. With blindness, there is no judgment based upon physical characteristics. One of the more touching scenes is a young prostitute falling in love with an elderly gentlemen (Danny Glover). The fact that there is such a huge age difference, that they are different races, or even that the woman is clearly healthier is not really relevant because they can share their spirits. On the morning after they start regaining their sights, one of the last scenes is the old man, sitting on the couch, sadly saying nothing, knowing that the wonderful thing that he was experiencing was going to come to an end.

I find it fascinating that the budget for this movie was $25 million. My understanding (which admittedly is very vague) is that a movie needs to gross twice that much to eke out a profit. It’s hard to see how such a somewhat grim dystopian novel by a Portuguese author could ever clear that hurdle. I’m interested in the mechanics of the green light process. Was this a vanity project for someone on the promise of being involved with a more bankable movie?

DFW’s Crown is still Intact

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Title: I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised A Timid Son

Rating: 4 Stars

This is a set of essays by Kent Russell.

Essays are very much a hit and miss with me. As a middle-aged white guy, it goes without saying that David Foster Wallace is the standard against which all are compared. It also goes without saying that no one meets that impossible standard. He truly was unique.

Having said that, this was better than most. This was very much targeted at the white male audience. There are a long running series of stories that center around his relationship with his father. They were amusing, however, at the end of the day, they boil down to a relationship better and more humorously and more succinctly described with the Shit My Dad Says twitter account.

The other stories are about men in strange environments. He writes about attending the Juggalo gathering, interviewing a person who’s made a career of developing snake immunity to the extent that he regularly has live snakes bite him (he gets very sick and swells up dangerously, but apparently a lot of alcohol is very helpful in the recovery), interview / discourse on hockey enforcers, an interview with one of the developers of modern horror gore, hanging around with the Amish, and spending probably too much time on an island effectively populated by only one man (who understandably is quite odd).

He has a good voice. His stories are interesting and amusing. It’s definitely oriented towards a male reader. Being a male reader, I definitely enjoyed it.

Sealed Under Pressure

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Title: Locke

Rating: 4 Stars

I rented this movie because I was interested in the concept. A single actor, driving a car, and answering repeated phone calls. In a nutshell, that’s the plot. I then read how it was filmed. It was filmed over six nights, where Tom Hardy did the entire film live (with the people he talked to on the phone calling in live) twice each night. I had to see if this could actually be pulled off.

I have to say it was. I found it riveting. Hardy plays a moral, hard-working, tightly driven, tightly controlled family man whose personal life and professional life unravel as he tries to do the right thing (or at least the thing that his father never bothered to do himself).

From a one night stand, he has gotten a woman pregnant. The woman goes into premature labor, forcing him to abandon a concrete project that he’s responsible for at its most critical juncture and forcing him to miss a family event so that he be with the woman when she delivers.

You can feel the pressure build as his world compresses around him. He nearly loses it several times and maybe does lose it a bit as he has imaginary conversations with his dad.

The movie rises and falls with Tom Hardy. He rises to the occasion and carries the movie.

I also was somewhat encouraged about how cheaply the movie was made and that it appeared to make back the investment and maybe make a little. This gives me hope that there still might be a market for tiny little films for adults in the sea of superheroes and dinosaurs.

Blowing up an Empty Bathroom does not Cause a Revolution

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Title: Days of Rage

Rating: 5 Stars

This has been interesting because I was actually alive during this time and I vaguely remember some of the news of it. However, just like with Public Enemies, Burrough does a masterful job of interweaving a series of stories and somehow creating a narrative out of it.

One of the things that I didn’t understand was the naivete of the white radicals. For instance the Weather Underground literally thought that they were somehow going to start a revolution where the blue collar and the black community would join with these Ivy League wannabe revolutionaries and overthrow the government. This was pretty clearly almost a game to them. There was essentially one person in their entire organization who had anything approaching mechanical aptitude and so he ended up making nearly all of their bombs. They made a point of putting the bombs in places where there was very minimal chance of anyone getting hurt and would phone ahead a warning. So, the worse thing that would happen is that a bathroom would blow up or an office would be destroyed or the outside of a building was scotched. This does not seem to be how the overthrowing of the most powerful nation in the history of the world would get started.

Probably their most powerful explosion was blowing themselves up. One of the founders of the Weather Underground was a poet with no engineering experience or aptitude. This was the person chosen to make a bomb. Another of the founder’s parents happened to be going out of town, so they moved into their townhouse (did I mention most of these were children of privilege?). There, the poet Terry Robbins tries to build a bomb. Shockingly enough, it explodes, killing three of the members and bringing down the building. Bodies of two of them were so destroyed that it took the police a while to identify them.

The Weather Underground, for all of their bombs and their press releases, really accomplished nothing. The fact that they were young attractive white people coming from nice families apparently is ultimately what brought most of their notoriety.

One thing that I did find amusing was that one of their key tracts for the radical underground was a book called the Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerilla. This was a book that was mimeographed and passed around hand by hand. Excerpts of it were printed in radical underground newspapers. I just checked. I can get it in two days from Amazon. The times we live in…

The five black leaders of activism:

  1. Robert Williams is a little known figure but was an early advocate for black self defense.  He led the case when two very young black boys (under 10) where beaten and arrested for molestation when a very young white girl gave one of them a kiss on the cheek. He ended up having to flee to Cuba where he wrote the seminal work, Negroes with Guns.
  2. Malcolm X is of course very well known. He was the most famous black person advocating a bloody revolution. Ultimately, he became such a polarizing force that a rival black faction ended up assassinating him.
  3. Stokely Carmichael was a leader in the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Watching blacks get beaten during a voter registration drive moved him towards violence. He coined the phrase Black Power.
  4. H Rap Brown succeeded Carmichael in the SNCC. He gained notoriety by explicitly advocating and threatening violence against whites.
  5. George Jackson was a lifelong man of violence. His first mugging was at 12. At the age of 19, he stole $70 from a gas station and was sentenced to 1 years to life (?!). He never left prison. He was most famous for his prison letters named Soledad Brother. Ultimately, he led a prison riot in which several guards were killed. He himself was killed during the riot.

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party. It was a self defense organization. They organized free meals for the poor. They got weapons and when they noticed that a police pulled over a black driver (an obviously common occurrence), they would come over and surround the police with their guns drawn. When the police protested, they would just claim to be exercising their 2nd amendment rights. When I think of the typical person nowadays that makes similar claims, it kind of makes me smile a little sadly. Can you imagine what would happen today if a group of young black men were walking around the neighborhood exercising their 2nd amendment rights? How many people would lose their shit?

The Black Liberation Army, unlike the Weather Underground, actually did want to cause death and damage. They specifically tried (and sometimes succeeded in killing cops).

For the BLA, as with most underground organizations, money was always a problem. They solved it sometimes by robbing drug dealers (which since drugs even then were a scourge in the black community, this was understandable) and by robbing black nightclubs, which seems a really odd way to finance a black revolution.

The BLA, although much more intent and much more violent, ultimately failed because there was just no sense of order or cohesion. Once the police / FBI actually started focusing on them, they were pretty quickly capture and/or killed.

Of course, the book couldn’t be complete without the SLA and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Again, you have some white radicals desperately looking for a black leader to show them the way.  In steps Donald Defreeze, who’s actually a pretty minor on the fringe kind of character. Naively, some small number of white people start to follow them, and if it wasn’t for the violence, it would be somewhat humorous. Nonsensical communiques are issued. Various arguments over sex and various partners are swapped.

It’s not clear even now how much of a willing participant Patty Hearst really was. Was she a victim of Stockholm syndrome? Did she just passively live day to day, expecting to die?  She certainly had ample opportunities to escape. There were times when she actively collaborated with the other members of the SLA. Having said that, she was kept in the closet for weeks at a time and was forced into sexual relationships.

I’d never heard of FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group.  They had one major bombing whose intent was to injure and it actually did kill people. Immediately, they disavowed violence. From then on, just like everyone else, their bombs were designed to be small (the size of a ping pong), or was set to go off late at night when no one was around. I still find it amazing that revolutionaries thought that revolutions could occur without bloodshed.

Willie Morales is interesting. He was their bomb maker. He was making a bomb and apparently set the time to go off in minutes instead of hours.  It blew up in his apartment, apparently while he was holding it. It blew off nine of his fingers and pieces of it flew into his face, breaking his jaw in multiple places and destroying an eye. Somehow he regained consciousness long enough to destroy as much FALN paperwork as he could and he turned on the gas stove in the hopes of killing as many policeman as he could as he died. This was discovered, so the gas did not go off, and Willie did not die. Later, during his trial, he somehow, missing nine fingers, managed to saw through bars of the prison hospital, throw down a ten foot bandage to use as a rope, and climb down the bandage until he slipped and fell. He was able to get up to a getaway car. He lived in the US for many years underground. He ended up in Mexico where he was captured. His extradition to the US was denied and he went to Cuba, where apparently he still lives.

There was the Family, a primarily black revolutionary group in New York that essentially used white women as patsies to provide cover for them. They started off as a revolutionary organization, but due to the drug addiction of Mutulu Shakur (Tupac’s stepfather), they essentially devolved into your basic criminal bank robbers. Their most famous robbery was the Brink’s robbery where two guards were killed and was most famous for catching the Weatherman underground member Kathy Boudin.