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Post "The Death of Stalin"
Created by John Eipper on 06/18/18 5:28 AM

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"The Death of Stalin" (Paul Pitlick, USA, 06/18/18 5:28 am)

We have been in Prague for the last several weeks, and went with a Czech friend to see The Death of Stalin, a really dark-humor British movie about Stalin's last days and aftermath.

Most of the "humor" arose from situations in which two people would be talking, and they both realized that they had to be very careful about how they talked and acted with the other person--they might not just lose their job, but they could be killed after watching their family members being executed. Our friend was pretty quiet after the movie. I said that I thought many of the scenes were funny, in a dark way. She replied that if it had been only fiction, she also would have thought it was funny...

JE comments: I need to see this!  The film has reportedly been banned in Russia and Belarus.  Do the Putinists see it as a possible dig against the present Vozhd?


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  • "The Death of Stalin" (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 06/18/18 5:47 PM)

    I enjoyed The Death of Stalin so much that I have seen it three times. Very funny, if you enjoy British humour. It is in the Mouse that Roared tradition, except that it has a darker undertone since it focuses largely on the power struggle between Beria and Khrushchev--there is a limit on how funny one can be regarding Beria.


    JE comments:  Yes, you can only go so far with Beria laughs.  But then again, we also had The Producers and "Springtime for Hitler."


    Greetings to WAISworld from our last stop in Colombia, Santa Rosa de Cabal outside Pereira.  After a day tomorrow at Santa Rosa's famous hot springs, we return home on Wednesday.

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  • "The Death of Stalin": More Groucho than Karl (Paul Levine, Denmark 06/19/18 4:31 AM)

    We too enjoyed The Death off Stalin. Marx famously said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
    In his film, Armando Iannucci does precisely this, turning Stalin's death and the ensuing struggle for power into farce.
    In an interview Iannucci, author of the television series Veep, explains why his film is closer to Groucho than Karl:


    "It's a strange thing. When I was doing Veep, I knew that I was gonna finish my involvement
    after Season 4 ‘cause I wanted to make another film. Strange enough, I was looking at dictators,
    but thinking of a fictional contemporary one. This was about two years ago and I was thinking, 'Something funny is going on. Something weird is happening in democracies.' That was in 2015.
    And then, the French production company Quad sent me this graphic novel and said, 'We want
    to make this as a movie. What do you think?' I read it and I thought, 'This is it!' It's true, it's absurd,
    it's horrifying, it's funny, and yet it's crazy. Why come up with fiction?! I'm so used to doing my own
    stuff that I didn't think I'd end up doing an adaptation of someone else's work, but it was all there.
    The concert in the beginning was true, Stalin falling over and the guards disturbing him was true,
    not getting him a doctor because he'd arrested all of the doctors was true, and it goes on.
    It's awful, and yet it's hilarious, and yet it's appalling. It's all of that. We shot it in the summer of
    2016, so it was even before Trump arose. Now, it's released in this atmosphere where I don't know
    what's happening anymore. I don't know where reality is anymore. Reality has jumped the shark."


    JE comments:  I had assumed the film was an anti-Trump satire, but in 2015 Trump was only a political fantasy.  "Something weird is happening in democracies":  Iannucci has put his finger on the pulse of much of the world.

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    • "The Death of Stalin": Thumbs Down (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/19/18 4:10 PM)
      I, on the other hand, did not enjoy The Death of Stalin. Certainly the subject is worth making a movie about, but I don't think Iannucci's effort remotely does justice to the subject. It trivializes events which had awesome significance for Soviet people and all of mankind. The personalities are not believable and the small details are all wrong, and the post-modern flippancy of the whole business is completely unappealing to me. The Brooklyn accent of Khrushchev spoils the whole experience just by itself, for me.

      What really happened, at least the way I imagine it, but based on a considerable amount of study, did contain a number of the farcical circumstances shown in the movie, but was not in any way such a trivial comedy. What really happened was full of murderous evil, and the protagonists were far more serious and far more seriously evil, than what is depicted here. The power struggle inside Stalin's inner circle was surely in many ways like the power struggles around any dictator, but few dictators, not even Hitler, made it such an immediate matter of life or death, whether one was in favor or out of favor.


      Thus these trivial personalities are simply not believable--the historical figures depicted in the movie were all people who had survived 25 years of Stalinism by the time of Stalin's death, who had managed to avoid several purges, who had seen their revolutionary colleagues and best friends and brothers and sisters-in-law sent off to the camps or shot on a whim or for no reason at all, and who had themselves survived up to that point not in this bumbling way, as depicted in this film. The subject deserves a more nuanced, serious treatment.


      JE comments:  Cameron Sawyer's criticism begs a larger question:  is it ever appropriate to turn mass-scale human suffering into comedy?  As an extreme case, would a light-hearted, farcical treatment of the Shoah/Holocaust ever be acceptable?  I think not, but Benigni's Life is Beautiful came close.


      In any case, I want to see The Death of Stalin.


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      • Hitler Humor: "Iron Sky" (Tom Hashimoto, UK 06/20/18 4:34 AM)
        JE's comment on suffering and comedy (and his example of Life is Beautiful, 19 June)) reminds me of the movie Iron Sky.

        Premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012, this Finno-German movie puts Nazis on the moon, Hitler is mechanised, and a lady who reminds us of Sarah Palin is the US President. The movie is so bad to the point that it is self-satirical.


        In any case, it was premiered in Berlin--I believe this is important in terms of national "memory." The ill sense of humour is somewhat forgiven precisely because the movie is neither accurate nor dramatic. Perhaps, the Finnish humour (which I adore for some reason) was necessarily to make suffering into a comedy.


        JE comments: I must see this one, too.  Tom, when you get the chance, give us a primer on Finnish humour.  I wouldn't begin to know how to describe it.  Is it particularly deadpan?  Low-key?  


        How about this topic for WAISly discussion:  name the worst "significant" movie you've ever seen.  Bad films fall into many categories--the over-budgeted bomb (Heaven's Gate), the amateurish shocker (Pink Flamingos), and the critically acclaimed yet unwatchable "slow" film (Moonlight--OK, that's my opinion here).  Some movies, like Iron Sky, are so bad that they're good.  Others are simply bad.

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        • Worst Film(s) Ever (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/22/18 3:51 AM)
          With this discussion of bad films, I'm amazed no one has mentioned either of the two most famous bad movies in film history:

          The Room, by Tommy Wiseau, 2003, which is so spectacularly bad that it is fascinating to watch. This movie has become a kind of cult classic, and another movie (!) was actually made about the making of The Room--The Disaster Artist, 2017, by James Franco, with a significant budget and some great actors in it. The Disaster Artist--a movie about the making of a bad movie--is actually very good! I highly recommend both of these to WAISers.  What is bad art actually gives great insight into what art is altogether.


          And then of course that great classic of bad movies--Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959--which is a paragon of '50s shlock "B" movies, almost a self-parody, starring the dying Bela Lugosi, who did actually die in the middle of the production, to be substituted in hilariously unconvincing ways. Also highly recommended!


          JE comments:  Plan 9 also had a film made about it:  Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp.  It's a very elite group of films--many of them "bad" or merely bad--that get their own meta-movie.  How about Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982), which was followed almost immediately by the documentary Burden of Dreams?  Both are fascinating for a Latin Americanist, the documentary even more so.

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        • Worst Film(s) Ever: How about TV? (Enrique Torner, USA 06/22/18 4:15 AM)

          Worst film ever? This is an easy one--my pick is bad, yet hilarious, and I laugh my head off. 


          But it's not a movie.


          It's a TV show, and very old, but given the average age of WAISers, many might remember it: Get Smart.  I doubt our moderator has seen it. You can see many episodes on YouTube. Laughter is great medicine for physical, emotional, and spiritual "disease," so I should watch it more often. For some odd reason, we watched it a week ago with our two daughters (10 and 15), who had never watched it, and they loved it!


          Our youngest one kept saying: "He's so dumb!" It was even more fun seeing them laugh so hard as well. Check it out!


          JE comments:  Ah, bad television--is the term itself a redundancy?  You've opened Pandora's Box, Enrique.  I have seen some episodes of Get Smart.  And yes, in the immortal words of Leonard Pinth-Garnell, it's "irredeemably bad."


          Two of my selections for BTV (bad television) are Canadian:  the unintentionally funny DIY series from the early '80s, Do It for Yourself, and the unwatchable teen drama from later in the decade:  Degrassi Junior High.  Lest I be labelled Canadophobic, one of my favorite shows is also from north of the border:  Kids in the Hall.


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        • More Hitler Humor: "Er ist wieder da" (Patrick Mears, Germany 06/22/18 4:58 AM)

          Apart from Iron Sky, another "dark comedy" about Adolf Hitler is Er ist wieder da or, roughly, He's Back, which was released in 2015.


          The plot of the film involves Hitler's time travel from the Führerbunker in 1945 to the former location of the Reich Chancellery near the Brandenburg Gate in the present. Hitler wakes up in his military garb shrouded in a cloud of smoke and is disturbed by three children playing soccer nearby. His first question, which is posed to the children, is "Where is Martin Bormann?" The children then scatter, wondering what kind of nut this guy is.



          Der Führer then wanders over to the Pariser Platz near the Brandenburg Gate, where tourists believe that he is an actor and engulf him with requests for selfies. After being given refuge in a nearby kiosk by its owner, he spends his time reading newspapers to catch up on what he has missed during the last 70 years. From there, he is given a role in a television variety show in the belief that he is a comedian who is satirizing his namesake. From there, Hitler begins to realize the so-called needs of the "dispossessed" in German society and begins to appeal to their dark side. I will leave the rest for you to gather by watching the film or reading the novel on which it is based.


          I first viewed this very clever film in an arthouse cinema in Heidelberg and, like many in the audience, I thought that it was hilarious until suddenly, the mood of the film changed. Looking back now in light of the "rise of populism" and "decline of democracy" throughout the world, the film is very timely. Er ist wieder da has since been released on video in Germany and can be watched with English subtitles. I am not sure if the film has yet been released in the USA or in other countries.


          JE comments:  Netflix has it (in the US), with the title Look Who's Back.  It's on my list.  For Hitler humor with a post-modern twist, it's impossible to beat ten hours of "Bring me Fegelein!"  (I think I posted this link once before, but it merits a replay.  You get the idea after just an hour or two.)


          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAUxataLNew


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          • Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" (John Heelan, UK 06/24/18 6:02 AM)

            One should also not forget Bertold Becht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, consciously a highly satirical allegory of Hitler's rise to power in Germany and the advent of the National Socialist state.


            All the characters and groups in the play had direct counterparts in real life, with Ui representing Hitler, his henchman Ernesto Roma representing Ernst Röhm, the head of the Nazi Brownshirts; Dogsborough representing General von Hindenburg, a hero of World War I and the President of the Weimar Republic (his name is a pun on the German Hund and Burg); Emanuele Giri representing Hermann Göring, a World War I flying ace who was Hitler's second in command; Giuseppe Givola representing the master propagandist Joseph Goebbels; the Cauliflower Trust representing the Prussian Junkers; the fate of the town of Cicero standing for the Anschluss, which brought Austria into the Third Reich" (all from Wikipedia). I seem to remember its being turned either into a film of a TV play.


            JE comments:  Sometimes allegories are so transparent that they cease to be so, and turn into a roman (film?) à clef.  I am reminded of Emmanuel Goldstein (1984) and Leon Trotsky.  Is Arturo Ui in this category?

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            • Bertolt Brecht, Stalinist Stooge (Nigel Jones, UK 06/26/18 4:29 AM)
              John Heelan admiringly cites Bertolt Brecht for his satire Arturo Ui on the rise of Hitler.

              It shouldn't be forgotten that this old Marxist hack was a Stalinist stooge who ended his days as a pampered pet playwright of Ulbricht's East Germany, a dictatorship as bad in its way as Hitler's.


              The now distinctly out-of-fashion BB is nobody's hero, besides which it has been revealed that much of his work was actually written by the unfortunate women in his life!


              JE comments:  Brecht did pen his wry "dissolve the people and elect another" in response to the East Berlin uprising of 1953 and the government crackdown.  Granted, the poem "Die Lösung" (The Solution) long remained unpublished.


              What do we know about Brecht's popularity in Germany today?  Is he totally passé, or has he benefited from the Ostalgie sentiment?  (I wonder:  is Ostalgie itself passé?)

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              • Is Brecht Still Popular In Germany? (Patrick Mears, Germany 06/26/18 9:59 AM)
                In response to Nigel Jones's post, I can say that Bertolt Brecht is still very popular here in Germany.

                Since moving here in 2014, my wife (who is an admirer of the writer) and I have attended performances in Heidelberg of St. Joan of the Stockyards and The Good Person of Szechuan and also a performance of the Brecht/Weill musical, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. His plays are often performed on a regular basis by the Berliner Ensemble, which Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, founded in East Berlin in 1949.


                I have also visited since moving here the Brecht-Haus on the Chausseestraße in Berlin, which served as his residence from 1953 to 1956. This structure contains his archives and a small museum containing his furniture, books, etc. Brecht is buried close to the rear of his former East Berlin home in a small cemetery. His birth house in Augsburg is also a museum. By all accounts and my observations since coming here, Brecht is still very popular in Germany notwithstanding his embrace of the DDR and its institutions after World War II and after he left the United States in October, 1947, which occurred shortly after he was interrogated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities („HUAC") in Washington, D.C. . Here is a link to the transcript of his testimony before that committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.





                https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Brecht_HUAC_hearing_(1947-10-30)_transcript
                .


                My first exposure to Brecht, however, was when I maybe 10 years old and would watch The Ernie Kovacs Show. For those of you who remember this variety and comic program, it was very eccentric with witty humor that was not always conveyed in words but often by "dumb show." One sketch, a favorite of mine, that often appeared on the show was a recording of "Mack the Knife" from the 1931 film of Three Penny Opera directed by G.W. Pabst. This work, first performed on the Berlin stage in 1928, qualifies as the work that made Brecht and Weill famous. The song, as sung in the film by a beggar showman in the London slums, was tracked by an oscilloscope on the television screen and in the background would be a series of comic dumb shows performed by Kovacs and his cast, which included the singer and his wife, Edie Adams.


                After graduating from Michigan Law School and moving to New York City, I considered myself very fortunate to attend performances of Three Penny Opera, which opened in 1976 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater and was produced by Joseph Papp, and Happy End, another Brecht-Weill musical, which was performed the following year at the Martin Beck Theatre and featured the then-newcomer to the theater, Meryl Streep.


                An informative book about Brecht and his exile in the United States from 1941 to 1947 is titled Bertolt Brecht in America by James K. Lyon and published in 1980 by Princeton University Press, which I found by burrowing through the stacks at King's Books in downtown Detroit.


                JE comments:  So much wisdom in one massive bookstore!  (I think I have shared with WAISworld that John King-Detroit is indirectly responsible for my coming to WAIS.)


                Pat Mears is clearly an expert on Brecht.  Many thanks, Pat.


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                • New Bertolt Brecht Film (Patrick Mears, Germany 08/22/18 7:05 AM)
                  Just a short postscript to our fairly wide-ranging WAIS discussion a month or two ago about Bertolt Brecht.

                  I just noticed that a German film, entitled Mackie Messer-Brechts Dreigroschenfilm, will be released in Germany on September 13th and will open here in Heidelberg on that day. The film, directed by Joachim A. Lang and starring Lars Eidinger as Brecht, is the story of the success of his play, The Threepenny Opera, on the Berlin stage and the subsequent making of a film of the play.


                  Here is a link to some clips from the film (in German) and the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5hPQyMjUd4


                  Here is a link to the performance of the song, "Mackie Messer" (Mack the Knife) in the 1931 G.W. Pabst film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxVcDPtDnjM


                  I hope that this film is eventually released in the US with English subtitles.


                  JE comments:  That performance (second link) is a rare gem.  The song sounds much more modern than 1931, or 1928, when Weill and Brecht wrote it. Thank Bobby Darin and The Doors, I suppose.

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              • Bertolt Brecht and the DDR (John Heelan, UK 06/27/18 4:25 AM)
                Nigel Jones (26 June) misunderstands me.

                I was "admiring" the parody of the humour in Brecht's "Arturo Ui," not the writer himself, having been behind the Berlin Wall (aka the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart) and personally experiencing the scariness of Ulbricht's dictatorship and the influence of the Stasi.


                No doubt a Stasi file still exists on my trip to give lectures to the James Bond-sounding East German Import/Export Agency--see my report titled "Beyond Checkpoint Charlie" written some years ago.


                JE comments:  Here is John Heelan's 2009 report on his time in the DDR.  I had the chance to visit John's destination, the socialist "time capsule" town of Eisenhuttenstadt, some years later (2012).  It was beautiful in its very bleakness--bleak chic?  We Detroiters appreciate such things.



                http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=43645&objectTypeId=37895&topicId=92


                Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart--this is a euphemism for the ages.  Mr Trump should take notice for his border wall...why not call it a rampart?


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    • "The Plot to Kill Stalin": Playhouse 90, 1958 (Edward Jajko, USA 06/19/18 4:32 PM)
      On September 25, 1958, the CBS TV network telecast an episode of the often-distinguished dramatic series Playhouse 90, entitled "The Plot to Kill Stalin."

      I can still recall seeing this program, at the beginning of my first year in college. I recall the performance of Oskar Homolka, with his bushy eyebrows, as Nikita Khrushchev. The thrust of the story, I believe, was that Stalin was going off the rails and that Khrushchev and others conspired to murder him. The Soviets were displeased and closed the CBS news offices in Russia in punishment. Or, in other words, The Death of Stalin has been done before, and closer in time to the real events.


      JE comments:  Plus ça change:  The Death of Stalin was banned in Russia.  Why, after De-Stalinization, were the Soviets, and later the Russians, so thin-skinned about insulting the Vozhd?

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    • What is Wrong with Democracy? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/24/18 3:59 AM)
      John Eipper commented on the movie The Death of Stalin and its director's words: "Something weird is happening in democracies."  (See Paul Levine, 19 June.)

      It seems as if the world is increasingly aware that there is a problem with one of the great pillars of modern civilization, but Armando Iannucci's words shed no light on what is wrong.


      Democracy is dying because by definition governments are not being representative of peoples' interests and aspirations. Instead legislators, government executives, and increasingly even members of the judiciary represent the interests of the few wealthy and influential private interests. What is the vehicle used to accomplish this?  Money.  Specifically, what are the major tools? Here are a few to be scrutinized and stopped if one truly wishes to restore democracy:



      Corporate welfare.

      Obscene disparity in income and wealth acquisition.

      Decreasing income taxes for the wealthy.

      Citizens United enabling the buying of elections.

      Gerrymandering.

      Vote suppression.


      JE comments:  Yet authoritarian populism is on the rise around the world, and the populists win precisely because they pander to the people's interests and aspirations.


      A WAISly question:  is Gerrymandering common outside the US?  Are there "functional" nations where it is specifically prohibited?  I'd like to hear from our non-US colleagues on this.

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      • Gerrymandering in UK? (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 06/24/18 3:41 PM)
        In response to John E's question, gerrymandering is explicitly prohibited in the United Kingdom, where the parliamentary constituencies are drawn by non-political bodies on the basis of the principle of keeping natural units (towns, city districts) together as much as possible. The United States seems to be an outlier in this respect.

        JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia has written that Italy is also free of gerrymandering.  Just today in the Detroit Free Press, I received confirmation for what we already knew:  Michigan is one of the absolute worst states (top four) for gerrymandering.  The contorted districts benefit Republicans:


        https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2018/06/24/how-michigan-extreme-example-gerrymandering/724994002/


        A two-party, "winner take all" system lends itself far more to gerrymandering.  In parliamentary systems with proportional representation (i.e., Party X receives 15% of the vote and 15% of the seats), there is no incentive to get inventive with the map.

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      • Democracy is Alive...and Well (Istvan Simon, USA 06/25/18 5:02 AM)
        I agree with the list of problems pointed out by Tor Guimarae (June 24th), but not with his conclusion.

        First, the list of problems is applicable only to the United States. There is no Citizens United for example in England, the Netherlands, Germany or France. Second, I strongly disagree that democracy is dying. Not at all. On the contrary, in spite of all the problems cited by Tor, democracy is alive and well.


        Take for example the disgraceful policy of Trump separating mothers and children at our southern border. It was the outcry of the American people that forced T to revoke his cruel policy. This is one example of the fact that democracy is alive and well in spite of Trump's efforts to the contrary--in spite of the gerrymandering, in spite of Citizens United, and so on.


        JE comments:  Was the Executive Order rescinding the "separation policy" the first time Trump yielded to public pressure?  I can't think of an earlier example.

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      • Gerrymandering in UK? How about Shirleymandering? (John Heelan, UK 06/24/18 5:00 PM)
        JE asked on June 24th: "Is Gerrymandering common outside the US?"

        There was a famous case in Westminster (of all places) that became called the "Homes for Votes Scandal." 


        Wikipedia reminds us that "following the election and fearing that they would eventually lose control unless there was a permanent change in the social composition of the borough, council leader Shirley Porter instituted a secret policy known as 'Building Stable Communities,' focusing on eight marginal wards where the Conservatives wished to gain votes at the 1990 local council elections... Eight wards were selected as 'key.' Secret documents showed that these were chosen for being the most marginal in the local election of 1986. Three: Bayswater, Maida Vale and Millbank had been narrowly won by Labour. St. James's, Victoria and Cavendish narrowly returned Conservatives. West End returned one non-Tory, an Independent. Hamilton Terrace saw its Conservative councillors electorally squeezed by the SDP.


        "In these wards much of Westminster's council housing was slowly renovated and advertised for open-market sale, rather than re-letting when each unit became vacant. Much of this designated housing lay vacant for months or even years before sale. To prevent its occupation by squatters or drug dealers, these flats were fitted with security doors (installed and serviced by a major contractor at £50 per week per door).


        "A second semi-secretive strategy was the removal of homeless voters and others who lived in hostels and were perceived less likely to vote Conservative, such as students and nurses, from Westminster. While this initially proved successful, other councils in London and the Home Counties soon became aware of homeless individuals and families from Westminster, many with complex mental health and addiction problems, making an unusual proportion of calls on services in their area. In public the Council claimed areas and the whole borough was subject to 'stress factors' in the economy leading to a fall in population, locally and overall in the City of Westminster.


        "Based on the unfair political considerations, these eight wards took priority in high-visibility services for four years before the 1990 whole-council elections: from street cleaning, pavement repair to planting and environmental improvements.


        "The City of Westminster Council Leader--Dame Shirley Porter (nee Cohen)--was fined heavily (see the case Porter v Magill) and escaped to Israel returning some 12 years later.


        "The event became nicknamed 'Shirleymander.'" (See also "The Westminster cemeteries scandal," a British political scandal which began in January 1987 when Westminster City Council sold three cemeteries, three lodges, one flat, a crematorium and over 12 acres of prime development land in London for a total of 85 pence.)


        Some people accuse the rescheduling of electoral boundaries for the next UK General Election as gerrymandering, as it appears to benefit Conservative candidates both on the island and constituencies on the near mainland.


        JE comments:  There are numerous "-Gate" variants, for any type of scandal.  Now we have Shirleymandering in addition to Gerry.  Are there others?


        Eighty-five pence for all that London property?  This makes Manhattan, at 24 bucks, seem exorbitant.


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        • Gerrymandering in Venezuela (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 06/27/18 4:55 AM)
          I never case to learn something new every day on the WAIS Forum. It is a source of inexhaustible ideas, historical facts, personal anecdotes, ideological debates, economic and political issues. Thanks to WAISers for the benefit.

          The latest thing I learned was the word "gerrymandering," new for me, a non-Anglophone by birth.  I was surprised and fascinated both by the meaning and its origin. First, I did not know there was a general concept to manipulate district boundaries to obtain political advantages in the electoral process, in countries where these practices are legally allowed. Second, I learned that the alleged origin of this word dates from 1812 and Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who redistricted the state to benefit his Democratic party, and one of the resulting Boston districts resembled a salamander.


          Now to return to John E's question, "Is Gerrymandering common outside the US?"  Yes, at least it has been very common in Venezuelan elections for the last 20 years, during the Chávez and Maduro regimes. They have repeatedly used this corrupted practice to manipulate elections and to gain advantages through the results.


          JE comments:  Anyone who grew up in the US remembers the original political cartoon from the Gerry age.  The image was a staple of history and civics textbooks.  Ol' Elbridge would become Vice President briefly under James Madison.  He died in office in 1814.


          Many thanks, José Ignacio, for your kind appraisal of WAIS.  The Forum teaches me something every day, too.


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      • How Does Populism Arise? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/29/18 3:29 PM)
        In my WAIS post of June 24th, I stated that to counter the slow but pernicious destruction of democracy in America and many other nations, our nation must find the common sense and will to stop some of the primary surreptitious methods used by special interests to undermine democracy, such as corporate welfare, obscene disparity in income and wealth acquisition, decreasing income taxes for the wealthy, Citizens United enabling the buying of elections. gerrymandering, and the many ways for vote suppression.

        It is also undeniable that democracy has died and is dying in many nations, because by definition governments are not being representative of people's interests and aspirations. Instead their governments have sold out to a few wealthy and influential private interests. This trend seems to be getting stronger and unstoppable.


        John Eipper commented that "authoritarian populism is on the rise around the world, and the populists win precisely because they pander to the people's interests and aspirations." My reply is that there is a big difference between politicians pandering to segments of the population interested in a few single issues (abortion, gay marriages, etc.) and representing the long-term social, economic interests of the nation as a whole (healthy economy providing decent jobs, a strong education system, a decent health care system for all citizens, etc.).


        Indeed, a strong hypothesis is that once a nation has destroyed its democracy far enough to openly live with the obvious symptoms I listed above, significant segments of the population become uneducated, distracted and brainwashed enough to become easy targets for extremist leaders and authoritarian populism. Democracy does not come easy.  It requires vigilant, thoughtful, well-educated, long-term oriented citizens, capable of electing political representatives showing such characteristics and broad minded enough to accept compromises for the long term good of the nation as a whole.


        Finally, a little anecdote. Last time I was in Washington DC, we went to this weekly farmers' market. I was surprised to see a booth of the Republican Party. It had a list of very desirable ideological underpinnings for the party. I read the list and told the manager that I agreed with every word and the overall ideology. The only problem was it was just words and the real challenge is how to implement each item in the list. For example, I believe in having a strong military but for self-defense only, not to start pre-emptive wars, enrich the military/industrial complex, and replace governments democratically elected in other nations.


        JE comments:  And how did the folks in the booth respond, Tor?


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        • The ThinThread Saga (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/04/18 6:46 AM)
          I have stated many times before that democracy is dead in our nation because the symptoms only get worse and our representatives do nothing about them or actually participate freely.

          Thus special interests increasingly undermine democracy by enlisting the help of our elected/appointed officials to perpetrate crimes like massive financial fraud, open corporate welfare, obscene disparity in income and wealth acquisition, decreasing income taxes for the wealthy, Citizens United openly enabling the buying of elections, the many ways for vote suppression, etc. But that is not the worst of it.


          In my last visit to DC, I became aware first hand of another symptom that we all complain about and do nothing: government run amok. I was interested in learning about a fantastic technology for managing extremely large databases.  It was dreamed up and developed by Bill Binney working for the NSA over many years. After a few trials it became obvious to a few NSA administrators that the ThinThread system worked well in managing the incredible task of keeping tabs on the activities of 7 billion people in the world. Perfect for fighting terrorism. I was interested in the possibility of using it in business to manage big data.  Instead, I hit a sh-- storm.


          The story goes that at first things were going very well. Bill and his team were asked what they could do with $1.2 billion but they only needed about $300 million. Then a new NSA director came in in 2001: General Michael Hayden. Soon he hired Bill Black and San Visner from a private company (SAIC) who wanted to kill ThinThread and replace it with their own system TRAILBLASER. After some administrative push and shove, Maureen Baginski, the 3rd in NSA command, killed ThinThread on August 2001. Needless to say, TRAILBLASER was useless to stop 9/11 but Tom Drake from NSA ran ThinThread on the NSA databases and clearly established that it would have provided the information needed to stop the disaster. TRAILBLASER after costing $600 million, plus many more millions for related salaries and expenses, was finally killed in 2005 as a major failure.


          In frustration Bill and his team resigned and filed a formal complaint with the DoD Inspector General. In 2007 Bill and his team were considered whistleblowers/traitors and the FBI raided their homes at gunpoint to retrieve any and all vestiges of ThinThread. The FBI fabricated evidence to get the warrant for home invasion, and a judge dismissed the case and saved Bill and his team from Guantanamo. Can we still call our country the land of the free and brave? I am scared to death by this case.


          P.S.: General Hayden got promoted twice since 9/11 for his excellent administrative abilities.


          JE comments:  What a disturbing story.  Perhaps ThinThread needed a beefier name, like HammerBlow?  The amount of money squandered on official IT must be astronomical.  They need the lean and mean capabilities of WAIS and our computer guru, Roman Zhovtulya of WebServiceCenter.

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