Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Russian Sparta

“Sparta” is an eight-episode Russian TV series, produced in 2018 and available on Netflix with subtitles.  It is very dark, and Russians do “dark” better than Americans.  There are a lot of flashbacks, but I guess they were all well done for I never lost track despite not being completely sure I wanted to watch the entire seties. 

The two main characters are Bark (Barkovsky) who intends the video-game Sparta to advance his ideas of Hitler-type Eugenics, and Kryoko, a police detective who pursues the mystery of a murder qua suicide.  Bark advances his Sparta scheme while Kryoko, despite struggling with the effects of a stroke, doesn’t pause until he has unraveled everything.  He is framed by Bark and Bark’s girlfriend and spends three years in prison.  When he gets out he wants to find out what became of everyone during the time he was in prison.  Bark’s idea of eugenics hasn’t worked, but Bark doesn’t care.  He is settling for power and money.   Kryoko is no longer a policeman nor likely to become one again, but he is inexorable and deals with Bark on his own authority.

I have watched Sparta just once, and my current understanding probably doesn’t do it justice, and it is so dark that I hesitate to watch it a second time.  Kryoko limps about, refusing to take the medication prescribed to counter-act the effects of his stroke.  He conceals his paralyzed hand and struggles with his left eye and leg.  In my case I haven't had a stroke, but do have a broken knee-cap in my right leg, but pursuing Sparta a second time probably won’t do it any good.   Kryoko, on the other hand, walks and sees much better after his three years in prison and his exacting of judgment against Bark,  He stalks off looking self-assured and in good health -- but then he is Russian and I am not.

The martial spirit in Germany, Japan and America

The UK and EU assumes from time to time the underlying angst of Germany’s WWII attempt to create a Europe united under Hitler's dictatorial rule.  Some of us have felt some ambivalence over the EU's attempting a peaceful equivalent.  With De Gaulle they have sought to get past all that WWII ugliness and get on with perfecting a united, peaceful, Europe.

Over here on the West Coast of the U.S., especially those of us who might also be Marines, there has also been an ongoing interest in the Pacific portion of World War II.  Roosevelt went along with Churchill’s “Europe First” approach, but the U.S. had been outraged by Japan’s “sneak attack” upon Pearl Harbor – American soil; which forced Roosevelt to invest a bit more in the Pacific part of the war than Churchill wanted him to. 

I recall reading about it while it was still going on, cutting battle maps out of newspapers and pasting them in scrap books.  At some point, I decided  to join the Marine Corps – it seemed the proper West Coast thing to do.   I was in Japan (on the way to Korea) early in 1953, a mere eight years after the Japanese surrender, and found no remaining evidence of the fanaticism that inspired Japanese soldiers to fix bayonets, shout Banzai and rush against Marine Corps’ machine guns.  Perhaps as has been the case in Europe, Japan wishes to get past the ugliness of the past, become entrepreneurs, make cars, cameras, and other things and merely get rich.

But recently I’ve learned that there are Japanese historians for which World War II is still a present concern.  They continue to relive the battles of the Pacific war.  I began in Volume one of Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible, War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942.    I discovered reference to Japanese revisionist historians, and Toll’s reference to what he calls the “ground-breaking work of Anthony Tully and John Lundstrom, the Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway.  I stopped reading Toll and began reading Tully and Lundtrom; which, thanks to Amazon’s Kindle, I was able to do almost immediately. 

Japanese historians have had the benefit of the memoirs and other records of surviving Japanese military leaders.   Tully and Lundstrom in turn have looked critically at the resulting Japanese historians' conclusions.  The Shattered Sword is a rather long work that examines the Battle of Midway, mostly from the Japanese point of view.  The Shattered Sword is well-written and suspenseful.  Vice Admiral Nagumo was commander of the strike force sent by Yamamoto to trick the cowardly Americans into coming out to fight.  Nagumo hasn’t fared well in earlier histories, but Tully and Lundstrom treat him better than they do Yamamoto. 

Hitler was sneered at by some of his patrician generals (behind his back of course) for being a mere corporal and of no important background.  The same thing could be said of Stalin, and it is interesting that something like that could also be said of Yamamoto who ran in a dictatorial fashion the naval portion of the Japanese war.  Stalin and Hitler could have their enemies killed.  Yamamoto couldn’t do that, but he could always get his way by threatening to resign.  It is interesting the the lower-class Hitler and Yamamoto were opposed by the patricians Churchill and Roosevelt.  Later on another dictator with a lower-class background, Stalin, made equally bad assumptions and decisions about the future.

Leading up to World War II almost everyone everywhere was making assumptions based upon primitive ideas of heredity and race.  Hitler’s ideas are well known, but the Japanese had similar ideas.  They up to and during WWII believed, most of them, that they were the master race and were destined to rule the world.

A fatal consequent belief in regard to their defeat at Midway, was their belief in the inferiority and cowardice of Americans.  Yamamoto sought to trick the American navy into showing up at Midway where he would catch them by surprise and destroy their Aircraft Carriers, something he had not forgiven Nagumo for failing to do at Pearl Harbor.   Neither Yamamoto, nor anyone else in authority could conceive of a Nimitz, spoiling for a fight, already at Midway, waiting for them.

Of course we Americans continue to give our potential adversaries reason to underestimate us.  We were isolationists before World War One, and after that War we became isolationists again.  If Yamamoto hadn’t attacked us at Pearl Harbor we might very well never have interfered, physically, with anything the Japanese were doing in South-east Asia or China.  And if Hitler hadn’t declare War on the U.S., it is doubtful that the U.S. would have been anything more than a supplier of equipment to the Allies.  But as Churchill famously said, “I knew you would fight.  I read about your Civil War.”

Having also read about our Civil War, I see a lot of similarity between the Japanese soldier’s vaunted courage and that of the American Southern soldier.  The Japanese had their “Banzai,” and other frightening yells, but our Southerners had their Rebel Yell before them.  And since our Civil War, doesn’t it seem that we have more Southerners than “Northerners” (and everywhere else-ers) enter the fighting portions of our military.  I was the only Californian, for example in my Marine-Corps Boot Camp platoon.

Worrying about my dogs, etc

I have recently been worried about Ben and Duffy recently.  First it was Ben who the evening after the last hike woke me up crying.  He couldn’t put weight on his rear right leg.   I initially worried about his having joint problems.  Trooper had severe joint problems in his old age and the vet at the time said “big dogs” usually did.  Ben’s breeder seemed a very knowledgeable breeder, one who avoided such things as hip dysplasia (by testing her breeding pair and avoiding two with recessive characteristics for hip dysplasia).  When I expressed apprehension about taking Ben at age three because my last Ridgeback (Sage) died at age seven and that might mean I would have Ben for just four years, she told me that Ben’s grandfather lived to age 15.

I kept working on Ben’s right hind quarters, rubbing and massaging, all of which he appreciated, but eventually I noticed that the only part he objected to my touching was his foot.  We had earlier trudged through a lot stickers and burrs and if Ben got a burr stuck in his paw.  I discovered some burrs on the carpet earlier and thought the resourceful Jessica had removed them from her own fur, but maybe one of those burrs was from Ben’s foot, and his foot still hurt from its effects.  The next morning Ben still limped from time to time but he no longer whimpered.  As the day wore on he seemed more and more normal. 

I made some bad choices about where to trudge on the hike earlier, largely because I was having trouble keeping my balance and didn’t feel free to explore for a better, burr and sticker-free, path in the direction I wanted to go.  I assumed after that, that I would have to cross that hike off my list, but I’m doing better and suspect I’ll be able to get back to it (more safely) eventually.

And the day after Ben’s ailment, Duffy took to the crate.  (I’ve had one Rhodesian-sized crate in one corner of my study as long as I've lived in San Jacinto).  All the dogs have taken turns using it.  If my dog-count doesn’t add up to three and I have to go a-looking, the crate is one of the places I check first.)  I checked in the evening, talking to Duffy, and he didn’t seem to be moving.  What if he had a heart problem and the hike had been too much for him?  What if he was in the crate dead?  I went back to my desk and got a flashlight and shined it into the crate.  I was reassured to see his little black eyes open up and look woefully back at me.  I coaxed him out of the crate and took him out back to go potty.  He limped about as though all four quarters were failing.  The next morning while Ben and Jessica were out back fence-altercating with the neighbor’s dogs, Duffy was downstairs watching me carefully, even calculatingly.  He had just recently returned from the dead and could see that I felt indulgent.  I got his leash and he hopped about clearly in no pain whatsoever.  Off we went.  His only complaint was that the walk wasn’t longer.

I woke in middle of the night.  What with various aches and pains (from the four of us) I don’t have any regular sleep-cycle any more.  It is nice, though, since I no longer work, that I don’t actually need one – better to get up than lie there and fidget.

If one of my dogs can be considered attached to me at the hip, it would be Jessica.  I can’t go anywhere without her following, or the next thing to it.  If I walk up and down the stairs for exercise, she won’t follow me up and down more than once, but after that she stays in the stair-well watching me, and if I want to get past her to go all the way up, I have to (practice?) stepping over her.  She isn’t actually at my hip, but if I miss seeing her and look about, I can usually see her someplace watching me. 

Michael Chabon's father's Final Frontier

I recently subscribed to The New Yorker, and in a recent copy was a “personal history” by Michael Chabon entitled, The Final Frontier.  There is a drawing of his sitting in a hospital room, a Kindle or Notebook in his lap.  He is looking over at his father in a hospital bed.  In the window is the outline of the Starship Enterprise.  The “Final Frontier” in this personal history is obviously the death of his father.  The father is lying there with an expression of discomfort, if not pain.  In what ought to be his reflection in the window is an outline of Spock.  

I looked up Chabon in Wikipedia:  “Chabon is on the writing staff of “Star Trek: Picard, a new Star Trek series starring Patrick Stewart, and was named showrunner in July 2019.[95] In November 2018, a Star Trek: Short Treks short co-written by Chabon, titled "Calypso", was released. So he is presumably in this “personal history” drawing on parallels between his screen writing and the death of his father . . . anyway . . . Chabon is about the same age as my son who would conceivably be sitting next to my hospital bed if I were in one dying; which I have no intention of doing.  I am working hard with weights, not to avoid dying (something I don’t think about) but to enable me to walk better and thus avoid falling again, especially when I am on hikes. 

My son has told me that he would love it if I were able to jog in to my next meeting with the orthopedic surgeon (who told me I wouldn’t be able to hike, walk normally, or walk at all without a prosthesis).   I thought of that and added a new exercise to my regimen: “slow stationary double time.”  I did 50 of them for the first time a few minutes ago and was encouraged by noting that weight on my bad leg didn’t bother me.   Earlier in the day I added another exercise: partial squats with a ten-pound dumbbell in each hand.  Those didn’t bother me either.  I don’t see why these exercises won’t enhance my ability to hike without falling over.  ;-)  I have established as a milestone the ability to walk up my stairs using my full weight on my bad leg – in other words, using the right leg in the same way I’m using the left.  At present I must step up using my left leg and the “drag” (so to speak) my right leg up to the next step without using it to climb there. 
And, it goes without saying that Michael Chabon’s father was a wimp.  ;-)

The WCF and the passage of time

Presbyterians who hold to the WCF believe that Paul’s writings about women in the church were meant for the church for all time.  I don’t believe that.  I believe that Paul was writing for local conditions at the time he lived – practical solutions to solve problems in local churches. 

Also, at the time the WCF,  and even later, only the pastor was educated; so the relationship between the pastor and his congregation was consistent with that state of affairs.  Today, it is possible for anyone with a decent IQ and sufficient determination to learn and know as much theology as most pastors.  Churches adhering to the WCF do not make allowances for this (and other) changes that time has made to world societies.