Alec Baldwin Blames Everyone But Himself
The shocking news that Alec Baldwin shot dead the cinematographer on the set of a film on October 21 has clearly been hard for Baldwin to digest. There can be no doubt as to the unintentional nature of the fatal shooting and the sincerity of Baldwin’s wish that this terrible unexpected event had never happened. In his relatively few photo-ops and interviews since the death of Halyna Hutchins, Baldwin appears genuinely distraught and remorseful, as would anyone who is not psychotic.
But that does not mean that Baldwin’s conduct, and his legal maneuverings, in the time since that awful incident have set a standard of exemplary conduct. Baldwin seems determined not to own the consequences of the lack of safety and industry-wide protocol for which he bore ultimate responsibility. Whatever failures may be placed at the door of armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or assistant director Dave Halls, everything happened under Baldwin’s auspices. If employees were ignoring protocol, or if people who had no business in positions of responsibility were in prominent positions on the set of the film, it is hard to know who bears more direct accountability for such circumstances than the executive producer. Armorer Gutierrez-Reed had one job. She had to make sure that no one handed an actor on the set a weapon containing any live rounds, and if she did not understand this singular responsibility, she had no business being armorer. It is fair to ask who would ever voluntarily place his or her life in the hands of a 24-year-old armorer with practically no relevant work experience. The buck here began and ended with Baldwin. But he continually alludes to other people and factors supposedly more directly to blame than himself.
The Economist’s November 6 issue contains an incisive article, “Spilling over,” on a wave of horrific violence in Bangladesh driven largely by sectarian hatred. It details how the alleged discovery of a copy of the Koran wedged under the feet of a Hindu idol sparked a series of vicious attacks on Hindus and other religious minorities in the 90% Muslim country. The article describes how a crowd of 10,000 Muslims gathered outside the mosque in Dhaka chanting “Hang the culprits” and how rioters inspired by sectarian fervor and a desire to avenge the alleged desecration attacked Hindus and seized their property, leaving at least three dead, including a 62-year-old man, Dilip Das, who had set out to worship in the Hindu temple in Cumilla in eastern Bangladesh.
According to the article, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, did not condemn the violence unequivocally but rather blamed it on the treatment that Muslims have received in India. The article notes that Muslims living in that nation are not entirely without legitimate grievances, given that the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi recently implemented a streamlined path to citizenship for refugees, excluding those who happen to be Muslim, and that the ruling party has labeled Muslims from the border regions of India “infiltrators.” Violence against Muslims in India, the article notes, quickly followed the wave of anti-Hindu attacks.
Ed Shames, RIP
Colonel Ed Shames, one of the last surviving members of the famed Band of Brothers who fought heroically in the Second World War, died on December 3 at the age of 99. Shames was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and lived a good part of his life in the Hampton Roads area, save for military training and preparations that took him to a number of places in the U.S. and abroad, including Petersburg, Virginia, Toccoa, Georgia, and England during the run-up to D-Day. According to his Legacy.com obituary, Shames was the first member of the 101st to enter the Dachau concentration camp, and he entered and took cognac from Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest headquarters, later using the cognac in a toast at the bar mitzvah of his eldest son.
Ed Shames is an American hero deserving of the highest honors and the fondest tributes. RIP.
Mario Vargas Llosa in the Spotlight
The website Book and Film Globe has generously given this writer space to discuss, analyze, and critique the mainstream media’s reception of some of the most celebrated authors of our time. Peruvian novelist and short story writer Mario Vargas Llosa has just won one of the literary world’s most coveted honors, election to the Académie Française, despite being ten years older than the maximum age for inductees, which is supposedly 75, and despite not writing in French. The publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux has also just released a translation of Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, Harsh Times, which is the subject of a positive review by Jonathan Blitzer in the New Yorker.
The literary establishment of the United States, like that of France, is ever sensitive to the need for greater diversity in literature, whether that means reading, assigning, promoting, or conferring honors on more writers from historically underrepresented and under-appreciated demographics. We might also mention here the literary and cultural establishment of Sweden, whose prestigious academy recently bestowed its highest honor, the Nobel Prize for Literature, on Abulrazak Gurnah, a talented novelist born in Zanzibar and raised in Tanzania. It is true that the question “Who’s your favorite Tanzanian writer?” doesn’t always work as a conversation starter and that there could be more knowledge of and appreciation for authors from that part of the world. Gurnah is a defensible choice for Nobel laureate, though arguably not more so than such other literary titans as Haruki Murakami of Japan, Peter Carey of Australia, Les Murray of Australia, Michel Houellebecq of France, or Gaëtan Brulotte of Quebec.
So too with the French academy’s election of Vargas Llosa. He is a wonderful writer whose prolific output reaches across more than six decades. Some of us had a chance to catch up with Vargas Llosa, so to speak, through his brief appearance in the Ernest Hemingway documentary airing on PBS last spring, where Vargas Llosa praised The Old Man and the Sea as the epic tale of a struggle between man and nature. But Vargas Llosa is most interesting when is talking about, and writing about, his homeland of Peru. Here paradoxically is where he poses problems for the politically correct sensibilities of the left-leaning journalists and cultural establishments that praise his work and welcome him into their fold. Vargas Llosa’s 1993 novel, Death in the Andes, is an account of a mining community in a remote part of Peru at the height of the two-decade Shining Path insurgency, which killed an estimated 70,000 people. Though the Shining Path were Maoist guerrillas hell bent on ending what they saw as capitalist exploitation of the peasants of Peru, those who try to fit the conflict into a familiar politically correct playbook of oppressed versus oppressors are attempting to ram square pegs into round holes. History is so much complex than some would like it to be.