NONOWMO NO MO’

Many of us remember November novel writing month. I heard about it and said, What the hell? Do it but start early. [There are a long list of cheaters, cads and horse thieves in the family.]

I began with a novel about my life. I’ve always failed when writing anything factual and completely honest about myself. This was another chance. It didn’t work. My standards were too high; I couldn’t meet them. Perhaps it’s a family limitation.

Maybe I should get religion. If movies are correct Jews talk about all sorts of things, airing feelings and telling one another what’s wrong with life and the with the lives others are living. A lot of what is discussed is true. It frequently happens in the movies that issues, problems and dilemmas are happily resolved for one or another of the actors.

I could become Catholic and confess, but that takes guts to tell a complete stranger wrong deeds and tales of woe. The worst that happens is a requirement to repeat Hail Marys. I’ve seen Hail Marys work on the football field, but a team that relies on them too much isn’t very good. Once again the movies are instructive. I’ve forgotten the title but Stephen Rea is a priest hearing confessions at a church in Ireland. Suddenly the penitent bolts from the booth, and Rea whisks out yelling, “That is disgusting…” Confession is entirely too intimidating.

I don’t believe religion would work for me, due to family limitations.

I did continue to write in November, but not about myself but about my activities: writing. There’s lots of fraud and dishonesty written about writing; I advanced in a very disorderly way. Excelling was a family strength.

The writing was a mess. The longest coherent segment was 500 words. Some were a line: “I’ve never solved a Soduko puzzle.” That is a qualification for proclaiming myself a writer. Part of my approach was reading and researching while writing, and my impressions couldn’t be put anywhere. I wrote about the same subjects the other writers wrote about writing. I had 41,000 words and stopped with days to go in November.

I began cobbling things together in January. I took a break. February, I had productive days. Almost half of it was revised, but what remained needed work and thinking. I glowered at the manuscript for three weeks until Spring 2014, when getting it done was the only job I would do: 35 pages, 12 pages, 20 pages and this morning 2 pages.

From the 41,000 November words, I have 54,000 words, most of which make sense. Part of all the text can be better organized.The amount of work no longer involves the whole manuscript, only chapters. I can’t say what the genre is. There are signs of my life in it, and my impressions of writing. I call it a How-to Memoir. Time and the subconscious will write now. I’ll take another shot at the manuscript in June, when revising won’t take two months.

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SKYFALL – James Bond

Fortunately, I saw this movie yesterday. Fortunately, I saw it at home where I could do other things while it played on the TV screen. Fortunately, I did not pay a penny; I checked out the DVD from the public library.

Most Bond movies have the hero on a mission or missions, accompanied by beautiful babes who assist or otherwise engage James. The game between the producer and audience is do something ephemeral, spectacular and exciting and lead the audience to the empty, impossible over-the-top climax. Spycraft be damned. It is pure entertainment pumped up by special effects.

But in Skyfall, there is a lot of dull and dead time. I don’t want to see a babe shave James Bond’s beard. I want quips, hormones and hands moving before body-on-body action! The audience has been James Bond be tested and recertified to “00” status, albeit with other actors, Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery. At the end of Sean’s retesting, he has a fight with a very large killer whom he disables with a beaker of his own urine before killing the enemy beast. That fight scene is memorable. In Skyfall the retesting is done straight and long, as though the producers were making the hero, Henry V facing death.

James Bond will never be more than a fake, fantasy character doing incredible, indescribable feats. Keep James Bond in that segement of the box office.

The story of “Skyfall” involves an equally incredible, fantastic bad guy, a former brilliant MI-6 agent (mid-fifties) who’s mastered computers, software programing, electrical engineering and everything else about the technical world and how it works. He manages to evade customs, passport, police and security controls and agencies world-wide, much better than Matt Damon did as Jason Bourne. He attacks the Houses of Parliament (I figure that’s where a Parliamentary investigation is being held). He causes the destruction of part of the London underground with a bomb.

I only only surmise the British were asking themselves, What is to be done? It’s time for tea. Bond figures out: “We have to get ahead of this guy.” (I’ve heard that statement on American TV crime shows many times.) Apparently Bond was the only guy in Britain who thought so, and the whole country follows his plan: Don’t lay an ambush. Go into the wilds alone, virtually unarmed.

My advice to James Bond is, Don’t try to play it straight.

 

Background

I read a lot of history; I read it in sprees. For a year twentieth century history has been my nut, primarily the two European wars and Germany and the Soviet Union. There are times I’ll find an author, and buy books from Amazon or Bookfinder (and others), but most of my reading comes from used books, stuff bought at library bookstores or library sales.

Why read history? To understand more completely. In Barrons today, Jack A. Ablin of BMO Private Bank, is quoted (M16): “It is hard to conceptualize from our Western point of view, but roughly 80% of Russians surveyed believe that economic growth and jobs are more important than their form of government.” I agree. That has been an issue many books I’ve read over the last year, decade, scores of years.

However, I went to read three volumes by Richard J. Evans, the first being, The Coming of the Third Reich (borrowed from the library). In total the three volumes are about 1500 pages. I read the Preface, and Evans discusses other survey books telling of the Third Reich. He notes William L. Shirer’s books, The Rise and Fall and says it is weak, but he fails to mention it is the first. It is unusual for a historian to criticize, outside critical literature, books. He is complimentary to everyone he mentions, English and German historians. He finally, and has to mention Gordon Craig, an American, but only one of Craig’s books: The Politics of the Germany Army 1640-1945.

I finished the Preface and wondered why it was incomplete: Gordon Craig has a book, Germany: 1866-1945 (1978). It seemed spot onto Richard Evans’ topic, but it wasn’t referenced. A German who became an American wrote three volumes, the last covering 1840-1945. Hojo Holborn was a brilliant historian; he died in 1967. Reading about the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and its culture, one finds Hajo Holborn mentioned. He was part of German academia and participated in the culture before the Nazis came to power. He left Germany in 1933 after losing his university position.

I wondered why Hajo Holborn and Gordon Craig’s other books were not in the Preface. I looked at the bibliography where they were also absent, saving Craig’s German Army book.

I turned the page to Chapter 1, page 1, line 1 or Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich:

       “Is it wrong to begin with Bismarck?”

Richard Evans book was published in 2003, almost forty years after Gordon Craig’s book. I realized I had read this book before. I stopped reading. Indeed, Germany: 1866-1945 by Gordon Craig, Chapter 1, Page 1, line 1 reads: 

       “Is it a mistake to begin with Bismarck?”

DESTINY – FATE

In Joachim Fest’s biography, Speer, the biographer in the final chapter concludes about his subject: “Speer admitted that he would also have placed himself at the disposal of a ruler of a completely different ideological orientation, if he had offered him similar opportunities.” (343)

If that state of mind of a man like Speer is not absurd consider what comes next: “…when asked whether he would have behaved differently after all he had since learned about Hitler and the system created by him, [Speer] replied, after an astonished pause, ‘I don’t think so.'” (348)

Don’t learn from mistakes; don’t learn from experience; have no intelligence; forget free will; I did nothing wrong; I have no personal responsibility; everyone else was doing what I was doing. Speer is a guy who was born to be abused because life could teach him nothing. He would participate with the same group of thugs and criminals in the 1930s and 1940s, groups which have plagued human society since history began recording events. 

But Speer was supposed to be different; he was more intelligent. He figured he had spent 20 years in prison for the 12 years he participated in the Third Reich and afterward he expected to be relieved. According to his biographer, Speer did not understand why he wasn’t relieved after prison; he didn’t know why he felt more comfortable in prison-like settings. That answer is he never left prison. Speer never made the connection that his participation in the Third Reich was not destiny – it was not his fate. He had talent – architect and intelligence. Those abilities did not direct him to the Nazis. A point made in the biography was Speer took the Nazi road because it was easy. He did not have to think, consider or judge: JUST DO.

Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Albert Speer lived an unexamined life. The first obligation any human being has is to understand he is a human being. He is not defined by being part of a social, political or religious group. What sort of human being was Speer? Pathetic, living and struggling through existence and never realizing who he was or how he should act to achieve happiness. He, not others, should make decisions about his life; he should make no choices; others directed him toward opportunities. Human beings should understand that taking the easy way may be more perilous than taking the hard way. The biography described what Speer did to survive, but not why he was incapable of being his own man.

Taking “the road less traveled” [from Robert Frost] is more difficult but frequently more fulfilling, provided one has made the choice and realizes the hazards, avoiding them, before the pot of goodies.

Since learning of Socrates’ axiom, I’ve stride to live an examined life, and it is often troubling. I remember a lot – never feelings, but people, places, dates, times, who said what when. I know that my current state of existence is derived from choices and deliberate actions based upon experience and learning. Nothing comes from destiny. I am not Mozart. My production comes from effort – intelligence, judgment, memory, understanding, intuition, experience, learning and what wisdom is there. I have eight books – six novels, a history and one of essays and stories on the iBookstore. I can post more if prudence warrants that.

But the fact that I am a writer is not destiny or fate. Except for mediocre law school grades, I would have been happy being an antitrust attorney where I was talented, motivated and driven. My initial medium in which to be original was music except I injured a hand early on.

I’ve asked myself why I made certain choices. I’ve come to the realization that I always make similar choices. My choices may be a mistake, or they my be natural. I remember, though, as a teenager I had the conception that I did not want to work for anyone; I didn’t want to exploit anyone. I wanted to take stuff from me and present it to the world. Good or bad that thought has been a significant influence in all my decisions when making choices. I have learned that some choices will force me into activities and actions that will reduce me to unhappiness. I don’t need that. I avoid those situations and activities that will disturb and disrupt my ability to fulfill my ease and comfort.

As for Albert Speer, living through his years and being compelled to act, looking back and he doesn’t think that he would have behaved or acted differently – Speer is properly destined for the hellish oblivion he lived in his entire life. 

As for myself making choices and going off road, I hope to make myself rich and famous. I can stop walking and buy a vehicle – a Honda Civic, a Ford Focus or anything to make my journey on the road less traveled easy.

SPEER – A FINAL VERDICT, Joachim Fest

The last chapter of this book, the conclusion, is a masterpiece. What is Albert Speer’s life worth apart from being Adolph Hitler’s architect and munitions minister? Not much, unless Speer can be used as a model of an early twentieth century German boy, man, adult to explain why the Germans, each of them lemmings, ran off the cliff again, after the horrible tragedy of World War One. This biography gives suggestions but does not provide a thorough analysis.

The book reveals little about the Nazis, although one anecdote is noteworthy. On April 24, 1945 Speer met Heinrich Himmler, SS honcho, who believes wrongly he is to become Hitler’s successor. After saying good-bye to Hitler, Speer has just left  Berlin, now under assault by the Russians. Himmler dresses down Speer, telling him he won’t be part of the new German government and since no building will be done in the foreseeable future [bombed out Germany in April 1945], Speer’s services as an architect won’t be needed. Knowing that Himmler is an abject coward, Speer offers him his plane so Himmler can visit Hitler one last time and say good-bye. Himmler refuses the offer.

There is a sense in the biography that Speer’s IQ ran ten points higher than anyone he dealt with, until May 1945. There is no confirmation in the biography. An elevated IQ will cause restlessness in a young man as thoroughly as wine, women, drugs and mental illness. Was there recognition that the boy, Albert, was bright other than excelling at school, and everything he did came to him easy?

Apparently not. It is not part of the biography. To give a sense of Speer and the society he grew into as an adult, one must write a Life and Times book – sociology, cultural affairs, religious matters, academic successes plus biography. A boy usually gets his initial bearings from his family, but Speer’s parents were distant and not affectionate. A boy is exposed to society though institutions – schools, social organizations and churches. Speer was never religious, but what of the other institutional influences? The book suggests that Speer had no anchor and no safe harbor, despite being married, until 1931 when he heard Hitler speak: First speech – reasonable; Speer joins party. Second speech – distasteful; Speer didn’t like it. Third speech – offensive; Speer remains in party. The party was someplace to be.

There is the statement that joining the Nazis and accepting architectural commissions was the easy way. Nature had made life and society easy for Speer, someone who did not know how to work through problems: Solutions came to him easily. When life comes to an individual easily there is a human tendency to claim self-righteousness and being right, all the time. Yet, Speer’s problem was after April 1945 when life, events and circumstances, and his psychology was not easy to handle or deal with, and for a long time about many issues Speer was lost forever. 

The problem with the biography and in German history with the rise of the Nazis becomes 50 million lemmings ran Germany off the cliff – a highly cultural, highly educated, a sophisticated, intellectual people could not see the the Nazi danger, avoided observing what was going wrong and continued to follow until foreign armies had crushed the country. If it were one person who had gone off the cliff, that would amount to nothing. If it is 50 million, that is a story that needs telling in full. 

BACHELORETTE

This movie is a satire. The setting is the wedding of a heavy-set woman. She invites three attractive, fashionable friends from high school; there is a sense of high school reunions combining with the downside of wedding preparations and parties.

The satire is about the three women (Dunst, Fisher and Caplan) who act like they are still in middle school. At a moment of sadness Dunst says, “I did everything right. I went to college. I exercise. I eat like a normal person. My boyfriend is in medical school.” She is lost in life. Caplan asks, “Are you all right?” “No, I’m fucking miserable.” All three women acting as girls are inept at human relationships, sad and unhappy.

Their conversation is juvenile. Their actions are juvenile. Their reactions are juvenile. Their judgment is absent. A seamstress is sorely needed; they run around until Fisher says, “I can sew.” But she is too wasted.

The men in the movie are surprisingly grown up and likable. The groom likes his bride-to-be. Fisher’s man was a high school classmate: She copied his French homework but only remembers she sold her pot. He refuses to sleep with her because she’s wasted: “You can’t remember my name.” The other women get unthinking sex, and one guy is in love again (previous high school romance went sour). 

The movie is less about lines, put-downs, and sit-com set-ups, it’s tone, and mostly about 30 year-olds trying to be young forever. Ageless youth of no maturing – The Portrait of Dorian Gray. The three women have avenues to escape youth. Whether they do leave is likely the stories of several dramas.

NOT I

Not I by Joachim Fest

Many facts in this volume need to be known, but the author reaches the wrong conclusion. Fest wonders how Hitler, Nazism and the Third Reich took swift root in Germany. He presents a persuasive argument, but in the end Fest didn’t get it. One statement: “Democracy…if one approached it responsibly was rather boring.” (378) 

I concede that most of what happens in a democracy is not exciting UNTIL DEMOCRACY MUST BE USED. DEMOCRACY becomes efficient and powerful, much more so than totalitarian systems like Nazi Germany where everyone must wait for the chief thug to awaken from his beauty sleep to make the wrong decision.

DEMOCRACY might be boring it it is not material, relevant or important to balance the interests of individuals, or the interests of the individual versus society, or the interests of an individual versus groups of individuals, of the interests of groups of individuals versus those of other groups. Instead, the people of a totalitarian country have no need to worry because the chief thug can make snap decisions and the problem is eliminated.

DEMOCRACY is boring if considerations, elements and factors constituting and defining freedom and liberty are uninteresting to a people who are grabbing the feet of the chief thug, heiling him at every chance and giving their lives to the caprice of a mentally ill victim of medical malpractice.

In essence Fest does not explore as fully as he should to excuse the actions of the German people into 1945. Unlike Fest’s father who never cooperated with the Nazis, Fest seems to accept still the German influences which infected his family: The glories of German culture.

This book admirably adumbrates circumstances leading the Germans to Hitler: Education, family, culture and society. Fest’s father is political; he attends political meetings. But one wonders about the naiveté and the ignorance. After the War starts the father discusses with a like-thinking neighbor whether they or anyone could justly kill a tyrant. The men discussed St. Augustine and Johannes Althusius (158). Assassination if a political act. The killer does not need theological or philosophical sanctions.

This disconnect to reality reminded me of Lenin’s comment about the Germans: (paraphrased) The Germans could not occupy a train station unless the window were open for sale of platform tickets.

Fest writes “…trust in the German culture always won out…A nation…that had produced Goethe, and Schiller and Lessing, Bach, Mozart and so many others would simply be incapable of barbarism…” (181) Having laid out facts, Fest presents a few examples. Germans quote Goethe to one another. Fest employees Goethe in the text sometimes to provide explanations. The German reaction seems to be if Goethe did it or talked about it, the solution is obvious; the matter is resolved. 

Note Americans and English use authorities, but Abraham Lincoln played games with Shakespeare. In Illinois his friends and he would recite the Bard, not as an authority about life, but to gain the upper hand.

An uneasy sensation comes from reading Not I. Germans are not always living in reality. Gather all the facts and weigh them against individual wants and needs. But Germans carry a load with them, what they call their culture which directs and controls their lives. When Germans wants their culture to restrain the Nazis and save the nation, they imposed too much culture. Culture became meaningless, and the Nazis used culture icons smartly. I believe when Hitler had succeeded to avoid war at Munich and much of Czechoslovakia was taken, German radio made the announcement and punctuated it with a Beethoven symphony, as a grace note.

How detached were the Germans swept into poetry and culture? A neighbor of Fest’s neighborhood was “singing in her wailing tremolo that she was doing to dance into heaven…” (182) Americans, at least, want to dance in the streets.

Americans knew what to do with German culture. Fest became a prisoner of war. Upon his arrival at the POW camp, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (supremely beautiful music) “thundered from all the loudspeakers, and was still doing so nine days later when we left; day and night without stopping and with an annoying click after the sixty-fourth bar.” (295) I’m not sure Fest appreciated this aspect of American punishment combined with humor.

If I read Not I correctly (I doubt because I can’t believe such poor, ignorant advice departing from reality), Fest’s father urges him to study the Italian renaissance, especially Fifteenth Century Florence. That city as supposed to be the happy combination of art and culture plus and a positive political system. How can anyone be more wrong? The American Founding Fathers studied all Italian politics intensely and thoroughly and realized how temporary were those affair. Florentine politics were obviously not exemplary. Machiavelli thought not. He had to write The Prince.

Fest fails to provide an explanation why Germans who prize intelligence, education and knowledge did not take lessons from World War One: The failings of the German government and shifting politics (in the end it wasn’t a monarchy but a military dictatorship), the inadequacy of its leaders, limits to military success and relying to much on the military, and a necessary restructuring of the whole government. The Germans did none of those things after the First War, although the facts were before them. They acted on ignorance, misinformation and myth (stab in the back). In the end the Germans could only rely on an excuse, a superior culture. [Note the Germans had to wait until after World War Two (1955) to get an excellent book about World War One, Germany’s War Aims in the First World War, Fritz Fischer.] 

Lessons to take from Not I and the German domestic experience is how wrong a people can be. The Germans were not just misled by an evil tyrant and his herd of evil doers, but many in the country supported him, disregarded the horrors of Nazism and overlooked their deteriorating lives. Fest writes about members of his own family who refuse to talk about the Nazi years in Germany, although they knew Fest was researching and writing about those times. It is equally odd that more books like Fest’s have not been published. Germans, telling where they got it wrong, could do much to influence humanity for the better. My perception is that they have avoided that responsibility, unlike European Jews who wrote under the most adverse conditions during those times, to save humanity.