Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

No absolute time

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

by MATIAS SLAVOV


‘Hume’s philosophy of time shows the fundamental relevance of the relation between an observer and a reference object.’  PHOTO/Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times/Getty

In 1915, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to the philosopher and physicist Moritz Schlick, who had recently composed an article on the theory of relativity. Einstein praised it: ‘From the philosophical perspective, nothing nearly as clear seems to have been written on the topic.’ Then he went on to express his intellectual debt to ‘Hume, whose Treatise of Human Nature I had studied avidly and with admiration shortly before discovering the theory of relativity. It is very possible that without these philosophical studies I would not have arrived at the solution.’ 

More than 30 years later, his opinion hadn’t changed, as he recounted in a letter to his friend, the engineer Michele Besso: ‘In so far as I can be aware, the immediate influence of D Hume on me was greater. I read him with Konrad Habicht and Solovine in Bern.’ We know that Einstein studied Hume’s Treatise (1738-40) in a reading circle with the mathematician Conrad Habicht and the philosophy student Maurice Solovine around 1902-03. This was in the process of devising the special theory of relativity, which Einstein eventually published in 1905. It is not clear, however, what it was in Hume’s philosophy that Einstein found useful to his physics. We should therefore take a closer look.

In Einstein’s autobiographical writing from 1949, he expands on how Hume helped him formulate the theory of special relativity. It was necessary to reject the erroneous ‘axiom of the absolute character of time, viz, simultaneity’, since the assumption of absolute simultaneity

unrecognisedly was anchored in the unconscious. Clearly to recognise this axiom and its arbitrary character really implies already the solution of the problem. The type of critical reasoning required for the discovery of this central point [the denial of absolute time, that is, the denial of absolute simultaneity] was decisively furthered, in my case, especially by the reading of David Hume’s and Ernst Mach’s philosophical writings.

In the view of John D Norton, professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh, Einstein learned an empiricist theory of concepts from Hume (and plausibly from Mach and the positivist tradition). He then implemented concept empiricism in his argument for the relativity of simultaneity. The result is that different observers will not agree whether two events are simultaneous or not. Take the openings of two windows, a living room window and a kitchen window. There is no absolute fact to the matter of whether the living room window opens before the kitchen window, or whether they open simultaneously or in reverse order. The temporal order of such events is observer-dependent; it is relative to the designated frame of reference.

Aeon for more

The truth about the female brain

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

by SALONI DATTANI

Are boys and girls born different, or do they learn to be different? PHOTO/Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

Modern controversies often manifest in a peculiar style of debate, in which a public figure confronts an ideologue, delivering a lengthy polemic that disputes every illogical statement they have made. Every false statistic, every questionable claim, every misspoken word is dissected, and the argument is utterly dismantled, until the ideologue is apparently exposed as the dogmatist they truly are.

Hundreds of video clips on YouTube highlight this phenomenon, where “Ben Shapiro destroys transgender arguments”, “Jordan Peterson Debunks White Privilege”, and “Sam Harris demolishes Christianity”. Underneath each one, hundreds of gleeful comments from viewers cheer the orators on. Finally, someone has taken down the arguments they don’t want to believe.

This genre of debate involves unthinkingly disputing every argument made by an opponent, no matter how sensible they are, and, worryingly, it isn’t confined to social media.

Gina Rippon’s study The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain – which featured on The Guardian‘s ‘Summer reading’ list – is the latest example of this unfortunate genre. The book is concerned with the question of whether the brain exhibits sex differences, and whether they are caused by nature or nurture.

Rippon’s argument is blunt. The idea that “you can describe a brain a ‘male’ or ‘female,’” she declares, “is characterised by bizarre claims which can be readily dismissed, only to pop up again in another form”. She contends that scientists who have studied sex differences in the brain have historically been sexist and have hunted down differences that did not really exist, in an attempt to prove the inferiority of women.

“The so-called ‘female’ brain,” says Rippon, “has suffered centuries of being described as undersized, underdeveloped, evolutionarily inferior, poorly organised and generally defective.” Such assertions were, and still are, so widespread that Rippon admits feeling as though she’s playing “Whac-a-Mole”. She has barely disproved the newest study professing to demonstrate how men and women’s brains differ, when another is published.

Rippon’s opponents, whom she calls biological determinists, argue that we know sex differences in the brain are innate because they are evident even in young infants, before socialisation has had the opportunity to exert its influence. But according to Rippon, “the general consensus appears to be that, once variables such as birth weight and head size have been taken into account, there are very few, if any, structural sex differences in the brain at birth”.

She claims that the emergence of sex differences between boys and girls’ brains as they age is evidence for the role of brain plasticity and socialisation in shaping these differences – that is, if and when sex differences exist at all. If there is “a genuine sex difference, indeed an ‘essential’ sex difference, and hard-wired to boot, you might expect it to be present at birth or certainly to emerge pretty early thereafter”.

Unheard for more

The future lies in socialism

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

by JOSEPH KISHORE

On Saturday, May 4, the International Committee of the Fourth International held the 2019 International Online May Day Rally, the sixth annual online May Day Rally held by the ICFI, the world Trotskyist movement. The rally heard speeches on different aspects of the world crisis of capitalism and the struggles of the international working class from 12 leading members of the world party and its sections and sympathizing organizations around the world.

On successive days, the World Socialist Web Site is publishing the texts of the speeches delivered at the rally. Below is the speech delivered by Joseph Kishore, national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party (US). Last week, the WSWS published the opening report to the rally, given by David North, the chairman of the international editorial board of the WSWS and national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party (US).

This has been a very important and, as with the other May Day Online Rallies held by the International Committee of the Fourth International, a world event. We have had participants today from Australia, France, the United States, Britain, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Peru, the Netherlands, Turkey, Poland, Costa Rica, and many more. There is even one listener who wrote in to say that he was participating from 30,000 feet in the air, above the United States.

The reports that have been delivered today provide a powerful foundation for the construction of a mass socialist movement in the international working class.

The future lies in socialism. The ruling class is itself terrified of the social convulsions to come, of “some sort of revolution,” as hedge fund manager Raymond Dalio put it. The speeches today have reviewed the response of the ruling class in the effort to preserve its social system: the promotion of the far-right, the resurrection of fascism, the turn to authoritarian forms of rule, the attack on democratic rights—including the persecution and victimization of Julian Assange.

The speeches have also explained, however, that there exists a powerful social force that is charting a different way forward—the international working class. They have reviewed some of the most significant struggles, in France, Algeria, China, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Israel, Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, New Zealand, Sudan, Mexico, and of course the United States.

There is growing interest in socialism. Not since the 1930s has there been such widespread revulsion among masses of people directed against the entire social and economic system.

These two processes are driven by powerful objective forces. At the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, long anticipated by the Trotskyist movement, the ideologists of capitalism proclaimed the end of history. Within the milieu of “left” and pseudo-left academia, which had been oriented to Stalinism, the transformation of the bureaucratic apparatus into a new oligarchy was seized as an occasion to abandon any commitment to the transformation of social relations, let alone Marxism.

The common conception was that the collapse of the USSR signified the triumph of capitalism. The great problems that plagued mankind in the 20th century were supposedly behind us.

How false these theories have turned out to be!

Instead of a revival of democracy, we have a revival of fascism. Instead of an era of peace, we have had a quarter century of unending war. Instead of social and economic progress, we have had social and economic decay and crisis.

And of course, here in the United States we have Trump.

The Trump administration is not an “aberrant moment in time,” as former Vice President and newly-announced presidential candidate Joe Biden put it. In the Trump administration, to paraphrase Trotsky, “capitalist society is puking up its undigested barbarism.”

All the crimes of the American ruling class have burst into the open. More than one million people killed in the “war on terror;” torture, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, assassination. In the economic realm, endless financial speculation, the growth of social inequality to unimaginable levels; a society in which three individuals have more wealth than the bottom half of the population, or 160 million people.

And what of the Democratic Party? They are another manifestation of the same disease. They have chosen to base their opposition to Trump on the most right-wing foundation possible. The reactionary narrative associated with Joseph McCarthy and the period of American anti-communism has been resurrected in the form of the Democratic Party-CIA anti-Russia campaign. “Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated” by Russia. So declares Hillary Clinton.

The election was not corrupted according to Mrs. Clinton by corporate money. Democracy was not assaulted by the CIA, the FBI, the NSA. Her concern is not that fascists are in the military. No, it is all the dastardly Russians! A very self-serving narrative, to say the least.

The right-wing character of the opposition of this party of Wall Street and the CIA is summed up in its attitude toward Julian Assange.

The Democrats and their allies in the media have not only condoned the persecution of this courageous journalist, they have led the charge against WikiLeaks, which is blamed for leaking Democratic Party emails that exposed Clinton’s corrupt relations with Wall Street banks.

World Socialist Web Site for more

The dam that (almost) brought down Paraguay’s president

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

by ALANNA ELDER


A protester with the words “Itaipu is ours” written on her hand in Guaraní demonstrates in Asunción, Paraguay, in early August. PHOTO/Itaipu ñane mba’e/Facebook)

A controversial energy deal and behind-closed-doors negotiations symbolize for many a “surrender” of Paraguayan sovereignty to Brazil and harken back to the dictatorship-era corruption that gave rise to the Itaipu dam.

The past two weeks have brought Paraguayans a political earthquake and a crowd of new household names, all connected to a bilateral energy deal signed with Brazil in May and kept under wraps until late July. Since the public learned the terms of the agreement, four top Paraguayan officials have resigned and the senate nearly impeached President Mario Abdo Benítez and Vice President Hugo Velázquez.

Although Brazil agreed to scrap the deal and restart negotiations, Abdo Benítez and Velázquez are still fielding accusations of treason and the political fallout from the deal, rooted in 50 years of tension over the world’s second-largest dam. The dam straddles the border between Brazil and Paraguay and operates under the company Itaipu Binacional, a sort of state-within-a-state run by directors from both countries. This summer’s scandal unfolded on top of a long history of inequality between Brazil and Paraguay, turning a closet shift in energy payments into a symbol of national betrayal.

By requiring Paraguay’s National Energy Administration (ANDE) to buy more expensive electricity from the dam, the deal would have raised ANDE’s costs by at least $250 million between now and 2022, according to former ANDE head Pablo Ferreira. The negotiators also capped the amount of energy ANDE could contract and threw out a clause that would have allowed ANDE to sell Paraguay’s excess electricity directly to the Brazilian market at a higher price than what it receives now. Ferreira saw the final deal on July 4, about six weeks after both ambassadors had signed it and left his job on July 24. His resignation and refusal to comply with the terms of the new agreement raised the tenor of the debate over how to share the Itaipu dam.

For many Paraguayans, the agreement represented a step backward from terms reached in 2009 and a return to the systemic corruption that gave rise to the dam during the country’s dictatorship in the late 20th century. Nearly 50 years after it was built, the dam is still central to criticisms of the former dictator Alfredo Stroessner’s Colorado Party, which controls Paraguayan politics to this day.

“The citizenry is indignant over all of the theft that Itaipu represents on a historical level,” said environmental engineer Guillermo Acucharro. He is a spokesperson for a campaign called Ñane Mbae Itaipu, which means “Itaipu is ours” in the Indigenous language of Guaraní. “The Paraguayan people know, at least for this society, Itaipu was a scam and that the government of Mario Abdo wanted to carry out a negotiation behind closed doors.”

A Dictators’ Agreement

The Itaipu Dam was born out of a border conflict between Brazil and Paraguay nearly 100 years after the devastating Triple Alliance War ended, establishing the Paraná River as the national boundary. In the mid-1960s, the military dictatorships of both countries pressed toward the Saltos del Guaíra waterfalls (Sete Quedas for Brazilians), hoping to take advantage of the water resources that plunged 375 feet. Composer Phillip Glass created a tribute to the falls and the engineering marvel that replaced them when the two governments decided to build the dam together, signing the Itaipu Treaty in 1973 and founding Itaipu Binacional the following year. Brazil’s state utility Electrobras provided the largest loan to build the dam, which began production in 1984 but was not fully completed until 1991.

One significant trade-off of the two countries’ cooperation was that Stroessner allowed Brazilians to move into the agricultural lands of eastern Paraguay. This set the conditions for the predominance of land-holding Brazilians and their descendants, who now control Paraguay’s top export, soy. In other words, the act that preceded the dam paved the way for two primary examples of how Brazil has utilized Paraguay’s natural resources—land and electricity—in some cases impeding on national sovereignty.  

The 1973 treaty established that each country would own half the energy produced by Itaipu, but Paraguay consumes less than 10 percent, passing the rest to Brazil. The larger nation has always paid less than market value for that ceded electricity. Since the dam began operation in 1984, Paraguay has helped to fuel industrial development in São Paulo and elsewhere for a set compensation rate. Between 1984 and 2018, Brazil underpaid its neighbor by about $75.4 billion, according to economist Miguel Carter. Under different rules, Paraguay could have earned nearly twice its current GDP from Itaipu alone.

Even though the country has only used a fraction of the energy churned out by the dam over the years, consumers are still paying back construction debt, which makes up more than half of their electricity bills.Critics argue that on top of the lost investments their government could have made to education, health and infrastructure, Paraguayan users have been overpaying for electricity. Even though the country has only used a fraction of the energy churned out by the dam over the years, consumers are still paying back construction debt, which makes up more than half of their electricity bills. Critics like renowned Paraguayan engineer Ricardo Canese and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs say Paraguay has likely already met its obligations.

North American Congress on Latin America for more

US Treasury tightens yoke on Lebanese banking

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

by ALISON TAHMIZIAN MEUSE

Lebanese pound notes (10,000 denomination) are seen in a machine at Lebanon’s central bank, BdL, in Beirut on November 24, 2008. PHOTO/Ramzi Haidar/AFP

Washington blacklists Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank amid heightened worry over the viability of the US dollar peg

The United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank, the latest in a string of moves meant to pressure the Lebanese authorities into further isolating Hezbollah.

“Treasury is targeting Jammal Trust Bank and its subsidiaries for brazenly enabling Hizballah’s financial activities,” the US Department of the Treasury said, using its preferred spelling for the Islamist group. 

“Jammal Trust provides support and services to Hizballah’s Executive Council and the Martyrs Foundation, which funnels money to the families of suicide bombers,” a department official elaborated. 

It was unclear which suicide bombers he was referring to, as the Shiite group has not deployed suicide bombers since the 1980s, and only then in extremely rare cases.

The bank immediately denied the allegations and promised to challenge the designation.

The larger point, however, appeared to be to send tremors across the Lebanese financial system, less than a week after the country was downgraded by Fitch to distress-level credit.

“This action is a warning to all who provide services to this terrorist group,” the Treasury statement said.

USAID partner

Jammal Trust Bank has engaged in a “long-standing relationship” with Hezbollah financial entities, the Department of Treasury alleged in its statement.

As recently as June 2018, however, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with Jammal Trust to launch its Financial Inclusion and Financial Literacy Initiatives meant to support disadvantaged communities.

“This American-Lebanese partnership will bring these disadvantaged groups into the financial system. It will promote saving and increase access to finance, thereby improving lives. This should generate additional economic activity to keep the Lebanese economy moving forward,” US Chargé d’Affaires Edward White said at the time.

Asia Times for more

Dear progressives for Warren: Your class is showing

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

by ERIC DRAITSER

PHOTO/Senate Democrats – DSC_8923 – CC BY 2.0

Let me begin by making the apparently mandatory and sacrosanct ritual offering to the gods of progressive politics in 2019: “Sure, I like Warren. In fact, I agree with her on many issues. She’s not bad.”

There. I said it. Can we do real politics now?

***

We’re at that ignominious point where people from all over the left end of the political spectrum in the United States are engaged in the quadrennial kabuki festival known as a presidential campaign, positioning themselves behind whichever hollow woman or stuffed man makes the best promises without improperly picking their nose or farting into a hot mic. Oh joy, campaign season once more.

But this time it feels more urgent, as if every day brings with it another mass slaughter, another crime against humanity. In fact, every new day does bring with it another slaughter, another affront to human decency and civilized society.

The Fascist-in-Chief has activated the darkest, most reactionary, most dangerous elements of American society, bringing them out of the shadows and into the light of the mainstream. Trump is the fascist smack mainlined into the body politic; crystal meth huffed from the billowing smokestacks of coal-fired power plants and fracking methane plumes.

And Americans, especially progressives, are desperately searching for treatment.

Some look to the celebrity rehab retreats of Malibu neoliberalism, hoping that if we could just get past the withdrawals in an exquisitely furnished room with silk bedsheets and an ocean view, that somehow things will return to normal. This is the fairy tale propagated by that powerful publishing house of Harris, Biden & Buttigieg and its billionaire shareholders. But their stock price is way down. Sales are plummeting as customers are increasingly turning to smaller, more independent publishers whose content is more aligned with the national mood.

So, we look to these indie leaders for a new story, a narrative arc as inspiring as it is exciting. We want Bernie Sanders to slay the dragon and ride in on a white horse to save us. We long for Elizabeth Warren to reassure us that the story we’re living is just make-believe as she kisses our foreheads and tucks us in. We need a heroic daddy; a smart, stable mommy.

Counterpunch for more

How Norway is teaching America to make its prisons more humane

Monday, September 9th, 2019

by LAURA PADDISON


Donna Virgilio Mattia talks to Trond, a Ringerike inmate, in his cell.  PHOTO/ SVT/John Stark

Ringerike, Norway? The bedroom, off a light-filled corridor, is small but not cramped. It houses a single bed, a desk, wardrobe, TV and a small bathroom. The window looks out onto a grassy hill. Outside the door, there’s a kitchenette, where a bread knife hangs from a loop of string affixed to the wall. A long dining table is scrubbed clean, and a couple of shabby but comfortable-looking sofas have been arranged in front of a TV. The faint smell of stale cigarette smoke lingers in the air. 

The space has all the appearance of a college dorm; only a cluster of uniformed officers in a glass-walled office at the end of the hallway gives it away.

This is a wing of cells at Norway’s Ringerike Fengsel, a high-security prison 40 miles outside the capital city Oslo. The squat building set within a grassy plot dotted with tall trees and cut through with winding pathways is surrounded by quiet, punctuated only by the sounds of seagulls.

This peaceful setting, the home comforts, the easily accessible knives are a far cry from the harsh steel and concrete standard in the American prison system. 

“It’s like Disney World compared to our prisons,” said Donna Virgilio Mattia, a parole agent at Pennsylvania’s SCI Chester, a medium-security state prison just outside Philadelphia that houses 1,270 men. 

She, along with 13 other officers and administrators from SCI Chester and six researchers, have come to Norway to learn lessons from the country widely considered to have the best correctional system in the world.

Recidivism rates in Norway are among the world’s lowest. Around 20% of those released from prison are arrested within two years. In the U.S., about 68% of released prisoners were arrested within three years. 

The gap between the two countries narrows significantly when you look only at reincarceration (and ignore arrests) — Norway’s rate is 25%, compared with 28.8% in the U.S. 

But there’s another important statistic to take into account: The percentage of the total population each country puts behind bars. While America jails 665 of every 100,000 residents, Norway’s rate is less than a tenth of that ? just 63 of every 100,000. 

These impressive figures are part of the reason that U.S. prisons and state correctional departments, from North Dakota to Oregon (and now Pennsylvania), have sent delegations to Norway to understand its success. And they’re bringing back the lessons to American prison yards, as reform of the country’s broken criminal justice system increasingly becomes a national talking point.

Huffington Post for more

The trillion-dollar grift: The long-term plan for US-China decoupling

Monday, September 9th, 2019

by PETER LEE

Chinese President Xi Jinping PHOTO/Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images/CNBC

There is a certain amount of “OMG how did we get here??” handwringing over the escalating trade war between the US and China. BS.

The decoupling strategy of the US China hawks is proceeding as planned.  And economic pain is a feature, not a bug. Below is the script of a Newsbud China Watch episode I did on September 26, 2018, when the outlines of the US strategy were already clear.Some further comments.Failure of trade negotiations was pretty much baked in, thanks to Lightizer’s maximalist demands.And that was fine with the China hawks.  Because their ultimate goal was to decouple the US & PRC economies, weaken the PRC, and make it more vulnerable to domestic destabilization and global rollback.If decoupling shaved a few points off global GDP, hurt American businesses, or pushed the world into recession, well that’s the price o’ freedom.Or at least the cost of IndoPACOM being able to win the d*ck measuring contest in East Asia, which is what this is really all about.Keeping the negotiations creeping along while encouraging the decoupling dynamic through tariffs & sanctions allowed the China hawks to dodge the onus of hurting the US economy for the sake of US hegemonic goals.Now, as we’re entering a phase of pretty much open economic warfare, maybe that mask is ready to drop.


One of those items of academic interest is whether Trump was ever interested in a trade deal & return to normalcy.  I’m guessing Yes.


But the US military is pretty much Trump’s only solid Beltway constituency.  They want a China confrontation & he went along, since the costs of the confrontation in his main political constituency, the stock market, seemed manageable.


The continual bait-and-switching on the trade deal (we got a trade deal; oops more tariffs!) is a classic from the Trump playbook: when your opposite number seems ready to deal, it’s time to squeeze harder.

 
This was catnip to the China hawks.  As long as the negotiations dragged on, the decoupling dynamic could continue pretty much unexamined. Now maybe we’ve reached the point of no return, since it looks like the PRC has decided it’s more important to signal its capacity to take punishment than its eagerness to make a deal.Again, a happy day for the China hawks.  It’s war!  At least economic, for the time being. Now, if a recession does hit, one can consider it a signal that the US finance/business bunch have priced China out of their economic models.The next step beyond economic warfare is strategic/military rollback.Decoupling the US economy from China, squeezing China related expectations out of the market, and shifting to a war with China footing insulates the US military from economic and political pressures to pursue a more moderate course in East Asia.I expect IndoPACOM to agitate for an aggressive program–via its allies in the Philippine military–to confront the PRC over its artificial islands, especially Mischief Reef, in the South China Sea.


These facilities are a major affront to IndoPACOM’s manhood and must be removed.  And that means war, or something close to it.


Remember, as IndoPACOM jefe Admiral Davidson put it: “China controls the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war.”

 
He’s not making these statements to signal American surrender, folks. IndoPACOM is China hawk HQ.As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the US has put its ducks in a row to provide military backing to anti-China moves that the Philippines initiates in the South China Sea. Also, assuming the elections in Taiwan go America’s way, the decoupling of the Taiwan and mainland economies will accelerate and military cooperation between Taiwan and the US and Japan will increase.Between the global economic slowdown and the regional military buildup, I guesstimate the cost of taking on the PRC at a trillion dollars over the next decade.But like they say, War with China: one trillion dollars.  Postponing the loss of US hegemony in the Pacific: priceless. The September 26, 2018 script:


It’s not a trade war, it’s the long war.  Cold War 2.0.  With China.

Donald Trump introduced tariffs on another $200 billion dollars of Chinese goods.  The Chinese responded but did not match, let alone escalate, with tariffs on $60 billion in US goods.

This round of US tariffs stopped at 10%, that’s short of pure apocalypse; that’s been put off until December, when the US will raise the rate to 25% if things don’t go Trump’s way.

U.S. businesses are starting to get a little nervous, since the PRC is apparently going to wait and see if the US Congressional mid-term elections deliver the promised blue wave of Democrats that will restrain Trump and maybe even impeach him, instead of hurrying to Washington to negotiate.

Per the Washington Post:

As the president pursues his uncompromising approach to China, business leadrs are growing increasingly frustrated.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation were among those blasting the administration’s use of tariffs as costly and counterproductive.

China Matters for more

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino’s non-conformist conformism

Monday, September 9th, 2019

by JOANNE LAURIER

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood reimagines late 1960s Los Angeles and the disintegration of the traditional studio system. The director’s ninth movie culminates in a counterfactual version of the infamous August 1969 murder of Sharon Tate and four of her guests at the house she shared with husband filmmaker Roman Polanski. The killings were carried out by members of the so-called Manson Family, a commune and cult living on a deserted movie ranch and heavily involved in drugs led by Charles Manson (1934-2017).

As opposed to a number of Tarantino’s previous works that deliberately play fast and loose with immediate facts and conditions, including recent “period pieces” Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015), the director’s new movie luxuriates in the everyday tawdry detail of the Southern California of the period. Paying particular attention to popular music, it also self-consciously reproduces commercials, drive-in theaters, bars and restaurants, cars and home interiors. But this carefully built-up surface notwithstanding, Once Upon a Time exhibits Tarantino’s trademark strains of subjectivism and unseriousness, and has little meaningful to say about American life in the 1960s.

In the film, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Western television star whose career is on the downward slope. A heavy drinker, he relies a great deal on his pal and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as a driver and general factotum. Rick’s neighbors, living above him on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon—an area west of Hollywood in the Santa Monica Mountains—are the Polanskis (Rafa? Zawierucha and Margot Robbie), epitomizing the success and celebrity that Rick envies.

World Socialist Web Site for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, September 6th, 2019