My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Movies I've watched recently:

  • Best F(r)iends (2017) - IMDb 5/10

    2017-10-11 19:42
    * * * * *

    I saw an unfinished screener of this film, which divulged a work in progress that I nevertheless think will not be far from the finished product. Sestero plays the lead as a vagrant man, whose past leads him to convince a mortician, as played by Wiseau, to give him employment. Even though the plot is unclear and thin, the references to the film "The Room" and Wiseau's wonderfully weird acting brings this film some kind of life, Sestero's uncharismatic portrayal and the loose direction, the poor screenplay and some strange casting choices makes for a somewhat entertaining and funny, but ultimately forgetful film. Sestero told me the follow-up will probably be made in 2018.

  • Death Note (2017) - IMDb 2/10

    2017-08-28 08:20
    * *

    This remake of a near-perfect manga series, which has in turn spawned films, is now here and presented by Netflix. It starts out like a teen-angst emo trip, paired with death. Ryuk, a much-beloved character in the manga, is a Death God, who drops a notebook onto Earth. The book allows its owner to write the name of somebody and the person subsequently dies. However, there are loads of rules and caveats surrounding its use. This version is quite like "Hunger Games" was a version of "Battle Royale"; I can recall somebody saying that "Hunger Games" was "Battle Royale with cheese", which is an apt description for this version of "Death Note" as well. While the manga and prior films both contained elements that made the Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels successful through thinking and wondrous twists and turns, this film does not contain anything in the least good, apart from how the film makers opted to not display the character Ryuk much, other than in shadows. Lakeith Stanfield's acting is the only saving grace in this film, albeit short and boxed within its severe constraints (as it should be, I think). All in all: expect a high-school special without intelligence, and you will be alright.

  • Manchester by the Sea (2016) - IMDb 3/10

    2017-04-16 15:28
    * * *

    Just because the film naturally carries a containment of sorrow and gloom, it does not explain its complete dreariness. It's got bits of chronological experimentation and nice views of the sea, but otherwise, this is forgettable. See Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm" instead.

  • Fifty Shades Darker (2017) - IMDb 1/10

    2017-04-15 18:28

    I actually thought this film would not be as bad as the first one, but obviously, I was wrong. This is overwrought in no sense of the word, and if it were human, it would be incarcerated indefinitely. This film actually violates basic human rights in ways the first one didn't, so I guess that's what this new version brings to viewers. In no way is this erotic, interesting, or entertaining. The people involved in this should look themselves in the mirror and not make a third film, which _will_ be made.

  • T2 Trainspotting (2017) - IMDb 6/10

    2017-02-22 22:58
    * * * * * *

    This is more a film, I think, which is about aging and repeating your past than anything else. Sure, the characters are older, but I cringe a lot as Boyle has chosen to have them repeat some of their "fave lines" from the first film, 21 years later, for no apparent reason. The slow parts move best, for example, where Renton visits his father, despite that one being sappy. The "new girl", basically a Renton, doesn't bring much to the table. However, Robbie Carlyle steals the show; where Ewen Bremner's "Spud" previously did, by being a comedic maestro with his movements and druggy cadence, he is now converted into a caricature of himself - and yes, I am aware that druggies who have been on dope for more than two decades tend to turn into caricatures in more ways than one - while Begbie offers more. A lot more. Carlyle's acting is so strong that even Begbie's most obvious characteristics - e.g. as displayed where his son stands up against him by wanting to go to college to learn hotel management instead of joining his dad in a life of crime - turn interesting. He's a tour de force. Still, while this film is interesting and entertaining, it is too much of a parody of itself to become a truly interesting introspective. And the plot turn at the end was really a bit too tell-tale and boring to me.


Broder Daniel – “Out Of This Town”

I’ve written a longish thing about “Out Of This Town”, which is a song by the Swedish band Broder Daniel. Enjoy:

View story at

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Review: David Grann – “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI”

Lawmen were then still largely amateurs. They rarely attended training academies or steeped themselves in the emerging scientific methods of detection, such as the analysis of fingerprints and blood patterns. Frontier lawmen, in particular, were primarily gunfighters and trackers; they were expected to deter crimes and to apprehend a known gunman alive if possible, dead if necessary. “An officer was then literally the law and nothing but his judgment and his trigger finger stood between him and extermination,” the Tulsa Daily World said in 1928, after the death of a veteran lawman who’d worked in the Osage territory. “It was often a case of a lone man against a pack of cunning devils.” Because these enforcers received pitiful salaries and were prized for being quick draws, it’s not surprising that the boundary between good lawmen and bad lawmen was porous. The leader of the Dalton Gang, an infamous nineteenth-century band of outlaws, once served as the main lawman on the Osage reservation.

What first struck me about this book is how well written it was; short sentences, skirted by the use of a simple language. Reading this book was an easy task, partly because of that, and partly because the contents were so interesting.

The Osage is a native American nation which found oil on their land. After that, the white man rained Hell upon them, partly by creating corrupt laws that made the Osage legally unable to use their money as they should, but also by literally conspiring to kill them in order to be able to get hold of their money. That’s basically how this book starts, and subsequently just escalated and blew my mind again and again.

I mean, stuff like this happened throughout:

Undertakers charged the Osage exorbitant rates for a funeral, trying to gouge them, and this was no exception. The undertaker demanded $1,450 for the casket, $100 for preparing and embalming the body, and $25 for the rental of a hearse. By the time he was done tallying the accessories, including gloves for the grave digger, the total cost was astronomical. As a lawyer in town said, “It was getting so that you could not bury an Osage Indian at a cost of under $6,000”—a sum that, adjusted for inflation, is the equivalent of nearly $80,000 today.

Just imagine that happening to white males; the world would turn on its head. But here? No, the atrocity apartheid exhibition sprawled and murdered on.

According to this book, the Osage behaved like gentlepeople about the entire matter, to little avail. Some times though, things did happen:

By 1877, there were virtually no more American buffalo to hunt—a development hastened by the authorities who encouraged settlers to eradicate the beasts, knowing that, in the words of an army officer, “every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” U.S. policy toward the tribes shifted from containment to forced assimilation, and officials increasingly tried to turn the Osage into churchgoing, English-speaking, fully clothed tillers of the soil. The government owed the tribe annuity payments for the sale of its Kansas land but refused to distribute them until able-bodied men like Ne-kah-e-se-y took up farming. And even then the government insisted on making the payments in the form of clothing and food rations. An Osage chief complained, “We are not dogs that we should be fed like dogs.” Unaccustomed to the white man’s agricultural methods and deprived of buffalo, the Osage began to go hungry; their bones soon looked as if they might break through their skin. Many members of the tribe died. An Osage delegation, including the chief Wah-Ti-An-Kah, was urgently dispatched to Washington, D.C., to petition the commissioner of Indian Affairs to abolish the ration system. According to an account by John Joseph Mathews, members of the delegation wore their best blankets and leggings, while Wah-Ti-An-Kah wrapped himself in a red blanket so entirely that you could see little more than his eyes, dark wells that burned with an entire history. The delegation went to the commissioner’s office and waited for him. When the commissioner arrived, he informed an interpreter, “Tell these gentlemen that I am sorry that I have another appointment at this time—I am sorry I had forgotten about it until just now.”

As the commissioner tried to leave, Wah-Ti-An-Kah blocked his path to the door and let go of his blanket. To the shock of even his fellow Osage, he was naked, except for his breechcloth and his moccasins, and his face was painted as if he were leading a war party. “He stood there towering like some primitive god of the dark forests,” Mathews wrote. Wah-Ti-An-Kah told the interpreter, “Tell this man to sit down.” When the commissioner complied, Wah-Ti-An-Kah said, “We have come [a] long way to talk about this.” The commissioner said, “Surely this man who doesn’t know how to act—who comes to my office almost naked, with war paint on his face, is not civilized enough to know how to use money.” Wah-Ti-An-Kah said that he was not ashamed of his body, and after he and the delegation pressed their case, the commissioner agreed to end the ration policy. Wah-Ti-An-Kah picked up his blanket and said, “Tell this man it is all right now—he can go.”

And as more and more Osage were dying, in continually greater numbers:

That August, as the number of suspicious deaths continued to climb, many Osage prevailed upon Barney McBride, a wealthy fifty-five-year-old white oilman, to go to Washington, D.C., and ask federal authorities to investigate. McBride had been married to a Creek Indian, now deceased, and was raising his stepdaughter. He had taken a strong interest in Indian affairs in Oklahoma, and he was trusted by the Osage; a reporter described him as a “kind-hearted, white-haired man.” Given that he also knew many officials in Washington, he was considered an ideal messenger. When McBride checked in to a rooming house in the capital, he found a telegram from an associate waiting for him. “Be careful,” it said. McBride carried with him a Bible and a .45-caliber revolver. In the evening, he stopped at the Elks Club to play billiards. When he headed outside, someone seized him and tied a burlap sack tightly over his head. The next morning, McBride’s body was found in a culvert in Maryland. He had been stabbed more than twenty times, his skull had been beaten in, and he had been stripped naked, except for his socks and shoes, in one of which had been left a card with his name. The forensic evidence suggested that there had been more than one assailant, and authorities suspected that his killers had shadowed him from Oklahoma. News of the murder quickly reached Mollie and her family. The killing—which the Washington Post called “the most brutal in crime annals in the District”—appeared to be more than simply a murder. It had the hallmarks of a message, a warning. In a headline, the Post noted what seemed to be increasingly clear: CONSPIRACY BELIEVED TO KILL RICH INDIANS.

This is quite akin to how native Americans in the north of the USA have gone “missing”, i.e. are “disappeared”, to use a fairly modern-day version of the Mexican term; people are simply murdered and gotten rid of.

Reading of how the Osage were basically held captives in their community, waiting to die…

In early March, the dogs in the neighborhood began to die, one after the other; their bodies were found slumped on doorsteps and on the streets. Bill was certain that they’d been poisoned. He and Rita found themselves in the grip of tense silence. He confided in a friend that he didn’t “expect to live very long.”

The book is quite hagiographical where it comes to Tom White, who was first the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Houston, but he seems to deserve it. Upon taking on Hoover’s decree to resolve the Osage murder matter:

White had no doubt what would happen if he didn’t succeed: previous agents on the case had been banished to distant outposts or cast out from the bureau entirely. Hoover had said, “There can be no excuse offered for…failure.” White was also aware that several of those who had tried to catch the killers had themselves been killed. From the moment he walked out of Hoover’s office, he was a marked man.

Lovely. Still, White was quite the Sherlock Holmes where it comes to deduction:

As White strove to be a modern evidence man, he had to learn many new techniques, but the most useful one was timeless: coldly, methodically separating hearsay from facts that he could prove. He didn’t want to hang a man simply because he had constructed a seductive tale. And after years of bumbling, potentially crooked investigations into the Osage murders, White needed to weed out half facts and build an indubitable narrative based on what he called an “unbroken chain of evidence.”

And the violence…

Tom’s sergeant was shot six times by an assailant, while a bystander was struck twice. As the sergeant lay on the ground, bleeding, he asked for a slip of paper and scribbled on it a message for Ranger headquarters: “I am shot all to pieces. Everything quiet.” Somehow, he survived his wounds, but the innocent bystander died.

And the racism…

One skeptical reporter noted, “The attitude of a pioneer cattleman toward the full-blood Indian…is fairly well recognized.” A prominent member of the Osage tribe put the matter more bluntly: “It is a question in my mind whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals.”

Anyway, the book does take turns that I didn’t think of when reading it. I like that in a book.

This is one of the best true-crime books that I’ve read in 2017. I give it 4/5.

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The foreword to Sergey Yarov’s “Leningrad 1941-42: Morality in a City under Siege”

Thanks to Laurence Rees‘s tweet below I just started reading Sergey Yarov’s “Leningrad 1941-42: Morality in a City under Siege“:

From the foreword as written by John Barber, but has been abridged by yours truly:

No city in the history of warfare has known a catastrophe like that suffered by Leningrad in World War II. While the exact number who died during the siege by the German and Finnish armies from 8 September 1941 to 27 January 1944 will never be known, available data point to 900,000 civilian deaths, over half a million of whom died in the winter of 1941–2 alone. Many other cities were devastated in World War II, but none saw death on such a scale as Leningrad. And, unlike others, it was not bombing, fighting or shelling that caused the massive number of deaths. The overwhelming majority of those who perished in Leningrad died of hunger.

That Leningrad would be besieged was unforeseen by either side in the titanic struggle that began when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the surprise invasion of the USSR by 3½ million German troops and their allies, on 22 June 1941.

It was only on 21 August, however, that Leningraders were told that their city was in danger of attack. Eight days later, the last rail line out of the city was cut, and on 8 September German forces captured Schlisselburg, cutting its last land link with the rest of the USSR. Hitler’s strategy was now decided. Rather than attempting to take Leningrad by storm and risking heavy losses of forces needed for the imminent battle for Moscow, hunger would bring the Nazis victory. The population of 2½ million would be starved to death and the city razed to the ground. The siege had begun; it would last for 872 days.

With the destruction by bombing of the large Badaev food stores on the first day of the blockade, and supplies by air or water drastically limited, Leningrad’s leaders knew that disaster threatened. In the weeks that followed they cut the bread ration five times. By 20 November, it had been reduced for most Leningraders to 150 grams, a fraction of the amount needed to sustain life. Of this, half was composed of additives with no nutritional value – sawdust, cellulose, malt and other surrogates – and almost no other rations were provided. Leningraders were left to their own devices to supplement their meagre bread ration with anything remotely edible – wood glue, tank grease, oilcake, leather belts and many other surrogates – or to barter their possessions for food.

The result was mass starvation. The first such deaths occurred in late October and they grew inexorably. By November, the first arrests were being made for cannibalism. By December, death from ‘dystrophy’, atrophy of the vital organs, was common. Victims collapsed and died at home or work, resting or walking. With the cessation of electricity and water supply, heating and sewerage, with starving people forced to stand for hours, often at night, in bread queues, even then not always receiving their ration, and in one of the bitterest winters on record, the death rate rose in January and February to thirty times its peacetime level. Leningrad was in the grip of a famine unprecedented in its scale and intensity. The Leningrad famine in the ‘Hungry Winter’ of 1941–2 would belong in the same category as major famines of modern history: Ireland in 1846, India in 1876–9, Bengal in 1942, China in 1959–61.

As a description, ‘Hungry Winter’ is an understatement. It was, as Sergey Yarov says, the Time of Death. With the Leningrad Funeral Trust unable to cope with the huge number of dead, corpses lay everywhere – in homes, courtyards, on the streets, in improvised morgues and hospitals. When eventually collected, they were transported in lorries full to the brim, and left in piles of hundreds, sometimes thousands, at cemeteries, awaiting burial in mass graves or cremation. Not until March would the death rate begin to diminish. With increased food supplies reaching Leningrad and the evacuation of half a million people via the Road of Life across Lake Ladoga, and fewer people alive to be fed, by spring rations had reached a level capable of sustaining life. The effects of extreme malnutrition during the winter, however, would last for months. People were still dying from dystrophy, if in fewer numbers, for the rest of 1942. Hundreds of books have been published about the siege of Leningrad. Already during the blockade itself, the authorities decided that its immense human cost should be recorded in order to write its history They called on Leningraders to provide personal records of it, including diaries they were writing – or had been until they died; and many were collected. This project was brought to a sudden halt, however, in 1949–50 in the Leningrad Affair, when Stalin ruthlessly purged many who had been leading figures during the siege on the grounds of their supposed ambition to challenge Moscow’s preeminence. For the rest of the Stalin period, Leningrad’s role in the Soviet war effort would receive minimal attention from historians. The diaries, along with other materials, were consigned to remote corners of the archives.

From the Khrushchev period, it became possible again to write about the siege, though almost exclusively in ways that emphasized the role of patriotism and heroism in victory over Nazi Germany. But it would take Perestroika from 1985, and above all the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, to open Soviet archives and make research into previously ignored or taboo areas of the siege’s history possible for both Russian and Western historians. Unique among these was Sergey Yarov. In the ten years that this brilliant and original St Petersburg historian devoted to study of the history of the siege, until his untimely death in September 2015, he read hundreds of diaries, letters, memoirs, reminiscences and reports, and interviewed many survivors of the siege. His aim was to show the full tragedy of the siege, the impact that the terrible conditions in which the great majority of the population lived and died during the siege had on their attitudes, behaviour and psychology. More than anyone who has written about the siege, he showed the terrible choices that desperate and famished people could be forced to make – to feed one child at the cost of another’s life, to keep the body of a dead relative in the apartment to use his or her ration cards to keep others alive, to use the flesh of a corpse to feed dependants or oneself. Was it possible to remain human in inhuman conditions? Yarov argued that, from late October 1941 to spring 1942, Leningrad saw a ‘degradation’ of collective morality, and that the foundations on which the ethics of daily life rested broke down. While many people strove to retain a sense of what being human meant in their relations with others – family members in particular – for others the imperatives of survival dictated very different norms. That the great majority of those arrested for cannibalism were women refugees without the right to bread rations speaks volumes about the unimaginably appalling conditions of the blockade.

Sergey Yarov’s book poses questions not only about the history of the Leningrad siege. How, in such appalling circumstances, would people today – we ourselves included – behave? What would the impact of mass starvation and death be on a modern city in a developed society, with a great cultural history and a highly educated population – all of which describes Leningrad in 1941. War, with all its catastrophic and unforeseen results, is a ubiquitous and unpredictable phenomenon in the contemporary world, just as hunger, malnutrition and starvation remain the fate of millions of its inhabitants. For this reason above all, the knowledge and understanding of what the people of Leningrad suffered in the winter of 1941–2 provided in this outstanding book have a relevance and importance that go far beyond its historical interest.

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My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.