The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Agent Zigzag is the story of an English spy, a double agent, whom the Nazis recruited from a Paris prison and sent to England on a mission to blow up an aircraft factory. They embraced him on his return (the destruction of the factory had been faked) because they lived in a world of their own creation and believed they were smarter than everyone else. Of course, the Nazis did not know, and could not imagine, that Enigma had been broken and every message they sent and received was decoded and read by the English.

Although originally a thief, Zigzag hated what he saw in France, Norway, and Germany, rightly understanding that life under Nazi rule was oppressive for almost everyone except the German elite and their collaborators. Most everyone lived in poverty and fear if they were lucky enough to avoid execution. The Norwegians, he noticed, in particular, resisted. They treated their occupiers with contempt and refused to sit next to them on buses and trains, always serving them last in restaurants, and never giving them the least sign of respect. They formed a stern resistance, helping Jews to escape to neutral Sweden, and destroying German installations, including the famous heavy water plant, making it impossible for the Nazis to develop nuclear weapons. Of course, not every Norwegian was like this, but many were.

Noam Chomsky recently said that he sees parallels between the democracy of the late Weimar Republic and our own. Right wing radicals and their methods frighten him. Then, as now, the citizens had a contempt for the political system and desired a leader who would transform the country into a simpler, more “moral” society. We’ve been lucky so far, Chomsky says, because the leaders who have been put forth (Bush, Cheney, and the like) are so easy to see through. No one can really follow them to the extent that the Germans followed Hitler.

Of course, it is Zigzag’s courage (and that of the Norwegians) that interests me. How do you find that extra element of strength that enables you to maintain your dignity and fight against oppression? Why do some choose to fight and others passively follow? Often, in this life, we are required to find greater reserves of strength when we are least equipped to do so. Certainly, the English did this. Will we be able to find this strength when the time comes?

April 28, 2010   Comments Off on Zigzag

Oh Phil, What Have You Done?


The Sixties unleashed a virulent, two-faced genie who is alive and well today, and still gives and takes in equal measures.

There have been some really bad trips over the years, starting with the grisly mayhem of Charlie Manson and his crew, the madness of Mark David Chapman, the unutterable crassness of O. J. Simpson, and now the shooting rage of Phil Spector. All were fueled by drugs, sex, violence, and rock-and-roll in lethal combinations.

Noam Chomsky has said we’re in much better shape today because of the changes of consciousness that took place more than forty years ago—there is more transparency in government and more individual freedoms. It doesn’t always seem that way, but it is. The United States was a much darker place than anyone cares to remember. But it has come at a high cost.

Sometimes change comes too fast. A number of men haven’t been able to cope with the liberation of women and have slunk into violence or Christian fanaticism as a way of coping. Racial equality is intolerable for a portion of Southern whites. Illegal immigrants are shunned. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals are almost universally feared and hated.

We have traveled so far in our minds. I sometimes feel as if I’ve covered eons of time in my short life. It has often been exciting, though it’s not always easy to remain stable in the face of such massive change. I pity those who believed they found answers in sex, drugs, and violence. Or religion. Or the occult. Or spiritualism. It never works. It always leads to death.

It is only in kindness and decency that we ever find our true selves.

April 13, 2009   Comments Off on Oh Phil, What Have You Done?

Last Acts

Last acts are often climactic, but not, apparently, in the case of George Bush—which is a good thing for the rest of us. It appears our President remains resistant to reality right to the end. I guess this shouldn’t be a great surprise, but it somehow is. How can he not see what everyone else in the world sees, that he’s brought us to the edge of collapse? Maybe he really does get it and continues to be the consummate liar, but I don’t get this impression. It’s scary. A President whose view of reality is less sophisticated than most high school kids. The incomparable Froomkin had a long article about Geroge Bush’s continuing attempts to rewrite history in The Washington Post yesterday. It was a creepy read (as if we haven’t already been creeped out enough by W.) It’s surrealistic in a Marquis de Púbol sort of way to have a war criminal as President (right up there with Slobodan Milosevic), and the media continues to treat him as if he’s not really a sociopath. Oh well. It’s almost over.

Speaking of last acts, I listened to Noam Chomsky talk about Obama’s cabinet choices and was pleased to hear that he had miscast the election. He thought McCain would win. Chomsky is interesting because he frames things from a perspective so distant that it’s like seeing the United States from another planet. His prognosis was that Obama as President would turn out like all the others, because he has been bought and paid for by special interests. Chomsky may be right about this, but I think his horoscope is a bit broken. The changes that Chomsky predicted would never come to the United States—true interactive democracy on the part of all its citizens—may, in fact, be closer than he thinks. It’s nice to dream anyway. It struck me that Chomsky’s amazing ability to reframe events in an objective fashion did not include his own prejudices. This may not seem like much of an insight, but it just goes to show that no one individual, or cabal of individuals, can make good decisions in isolation. We need each other.

December 9, 2008   Comments Off on Last Acts