Go Online to See The Trial of Chicago 7



Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Netflix, 130 minutes, R (language, drugs, bloodshed)





Like it or not–and I don’t–movies have been decoupled from cinemas. A while back, a friend told me I should see The Trial of the Chicago 7. I paid little heed because it was only available on Netflix Streaming, a platform I didn’t then have. He was right.  


If you doubt what I said about the declining importance of cinemas, consider that the above film made a measly $115,000 at the box office. Given that it cost $35 million to make, Chicago 7 is the biggest bombs in movie history, right? Wrong! It’s near the top of most-watched movies on Netflix. My friend also told me that Sacha Baron Cohen was superb in the film. I couldn’t imagine that, but he was right about that as well.


Chicago 7 is neither a documentary nor a faithful depiction of the days of Rage outside the Chicago Democratic National Convention in August 1968 or the five-month trial of dissidents that took place between September 1969 and February 1970. Anyone wishing to poke holes can do so. The opening montage shows events disconnected in time, the undercover agent tempting Jerry Rubin is fictional, women did not burn bras, the gentle giant Dave Dellinger never slugged anyone, defense attorney William Kunstler was more strident than depicted, Fred Hampton was murdered a month after Bobby Seale’s mistrial, and it was Dellinger, not Tom Hayden, who tried to read the names of Americans who died in Vietnam War during the trial.


The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a “dramatization.” Surprisingly, by taking a few liberties, it communicates a kind of truth better than had it not. It encapsulates the good and bad about this period of American history. On the plus side, it’s a reminder of the youthful energy and idealism of the counterculture, not to mention its courage in confronting injustice, State-sanctioned violence, and the inherent stupidity of the Vietnam War. Yet it also shows the soil being tilled for a brand of American fascism embodied by Nixon and his thugs that ultimately yielded the reactionary social views of Ronald Reagan and the thuggery of Donald Trump and his deplorables who would tear down America rather than embrace multiculturalism.


The story arc stays close to reality. Bands of antiwar protestors descended on Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley, the spiritual father of Trump, ordered his minions to deny rally and camping permits. He also unleashed the Chicago Police–who earned their reputation for being Cossacks–to break heads. That, by the way, was the judgment of former Attorney General Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton), not some Yippie. Chicago was a bloodbath that didn’t need to happen, but someone had to be blamed. Eight “co-conspirators” went on trial: pacifist Dave Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch); SDS leader Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne); peace activists Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Lee Weiner, and John Froines; Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II); and Yippies Abbie Hoffman (Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong). Seale’s case was decoupled when his angry outbursts led Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) to order him bound and gagged.


It was a put-up job, as Kunstler (Mark Rylance) continually pointed out as he racked up many of the 175 contempt citations Judge Hoffman handed down. There was no conspiracy. Several of the defendants didn’t even know the others; others passionately disliked each other. The film does a good job of showing divisions within the New Left, especially those between politicos and self-styled revolutionaries. Judge Hoffman was a disgrace who was quietly put out to pasture after the trial; all of the convictions were eventually tossed. If the goal was to preserve the Establishment, the Chicago 7/8 case did more to undermine it than the Yippies could have ever done.


I again remind you that this film is not a faithful account. Defendants Hoffman, Rubin, and Seale were indeed disruptive, Judge Hoffman was worse than we see, assistant prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wasn’t as innocent as shown, etc. Nonetheless, the film’s sprawling cast was really topnotch. Sacha Baron Cohen was really good as Abbie Hoffman, a complicated mix of the clowning, defiance, and bursts of intelligence and depression. If I tell you that what actually happened was far worse than what is shown in the movie, you can imagine you witnessed Act One of America coming apart at the seams. You wouldn’t be wrong.


Rob Weir


PS: Can we please stop already with anachronistic outro music. The stuff from Celine is utter rubbish!


Book of Form and Emptiness is Brilliant




By Ruth Ozeki

Viking Penguin-Random House, 548 pages,



The Book of Form and Emptiness is an astonishing novel. Canadian-American author/filmmaker/Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki teaches creative writing at Smith College. It would hard to find a more imaginative instructor than she.


This novel defies categorization. There is a central story, but also mediations on the human condition, commodity fetishism, crows, Fukushima, alienation, writer Jorge Luis Borges, and German philosopher/critic Walter Benjamin, a Jew who killed himself rather than submit to being returned (from Spain) to Nazi Germany. Got that? Now forget it because these are mere threads in a broad tapestry.


The narrative involves the Oh family: Japanese/Korean jazz musician Kenji, his Caucasian wife Annabelle, and their 11-year-old son Benny, named after Benny Goodman. Ozeki is of Japanese and Caucasian descent and some of her experiences are likely embedded in her characters. She also lives part of the year in Vancouver, presumably the template for the West Coast city in which the Oh family lives. They don’t have a lot of money–jazz guys seldom do–but they have even less when a drunken Kenji falls asleep in the alley behind his rented apartment and is killed when a poultry truck runs him over.


That event triggers a downward spiral for Annabelle and Benny. She puts on weight and her job as a “clipper,” a person who scans papers for mentions of clients, becomes technologically redundant. She’s also a hoarder and a compulsive shopper who can’t resist anything from craft supplies to snow globes. She has to contend with her grief, potential homelessness, low self-esteem, and the possibility that Benny might be removed from her custody.


Benny has severe issues. Ozeki never explains–she trusts readers to construct their own truths–but Benny could be any one (or combination of) the following: autistic, brain-damaged, an empath, a mystic, schizophrenic, or simply shattered by his father’s death. He spends time in and out of “Pedipsy,” the pediatric psychology wing of the hospital, where he meets an older boy Mackson Chu, who helps him cope, but try being a kid with peers who know you’ve been in the “loony bin.”


Benny hears voices everywhere. Glass speaks to him, as do the crows Kenji used to feed, and even the numbers in a math book. Over time, he begins skipping school to avoid peers and spend his days in secret sections of a city library. He will befriend a homeless wheelchair-bound poet and philosopher called The Bottleman–for the bags of them that hang and spill from his chair–and his ferret-bearing acolyte, The Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet associated with the oneness of God. She is a slightly older than Benny and a street person who fancies herself a poet and artist. Benny is thoroughly smitten by her.


Does this novel sound unusual enough for you? Let’s go further. There are multiple narrators, including Annabelle, Benny past and present, a Zen priestess named Aikon devoted to uncluttering, and Benny’s therapist. When was the last time one of the narrators was the book itself? Book tells us, “In the beginning, before there was life, everything mattered.” Once life appeared, the world bifurcated into the Made and the Unmade and books became “the High Priests of the Made” with the “power to save you from meaninglessness, from oblivion, and even from death, and for a time, we books believed we could save you, too…. What folly.”


Ozeki unsettles us at every turn. Benny feels emotional, psychological, and physical pain throughout the novel, but so do others. Ozeki (via Benny) ponders Creation: “Unbound, you could see the universe becoming, clouds of star dust, emanations from the warm little pond, from whose gaseous bubbling all of life is formed. In this Unbound state … you encountered all that was and could be: form and emptiness and the absence of form of emptiness. You felt what it was to open completely, to merge with matter and let everything in.” But the planet is also in pain and Ozeki gently nudges us to ponder whether the end of the Anthropocene is nigh. Call it a metaphor inside of a conundrum. Ozeki (through Aikon) explodes conventional notions of value and in so doing, leads readers to consider what should be kept and what can be discarded.


Still, Ozeki is a priest but not a preacher. Her book opens with an epigram from Benjamin: “(According to the capabilities of the reader) books have their own destinies.” Yet later she asks whether the book she reads is the same as the one you read, even when it’s the same book.” If good questions are the key to insight, this is one wise novel. It also scores high on the literary scale. The ending might be a smidgen too saccharine, but I was so lost in thought that I scarcely noticed.


Rob Weir



Give ‘em a few States: April 2022 Satire



I’ve long thought that the United States is a fiction and we should figure out how to coexist short of war. If push came to shove, the West Coast would surely secede and do well on its own. The East Coast from Maryland to Maine would be tempted to join Canada, although New Hampshire is an obstacle; though it votes blue in POTUS elections, it’s a purple state. The same problem plagues the Upper Midwest. Minnesota is liberal and Michigan is mostly blue, but Wisconsin has a severe south (liberal) to north (deep-red) split.


The solution is to give the rightwing lollapaloozers some states all their own. Congress could allow conservative reservations to opt out of federal laws they find objectionable. They would not be forced to take any federal money, teach critical race theory, sanction gay marriage, get vaccinated, or allow any drugs except crystal meth. They would be free to shoot animals and each other with assault rifles, and could even reenact slavery–presumably of transgendered people.


How to winnow? I immediately thought of Texas, but it’s not necessarily a prime candidate. Austin is to the left of Lennons/Lenins John and Vladimir. Plus, its tech industry generates a lot of cash. Plus, San Antonio is a very brown town. Utah looks good as it has few people of color, but it’s Mormon and we knows they ain’t Christians, right?


I also thought of North and South Dakota, the first of which is 87% white and the latter 84%. The, however, like two other contenders, Oklahoma and Idaho (89% white with lots of gun crazies), have tough nuts to crack: Injuns. The ones in the Dakotas and Idaho are militant about water rights and pipelines running across sacred land. Oklahoma was once called Indian Territory and it simply has too many–more than 13% of its population–and there’s no nearby barren land to foist off on them.


Tennessee is out. Because. Memphis and Nashville. They’re filed with musicians, known socially parasitical bums. And you’d think the Deep South would be an option, but several states–Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia–are just too-black even for the Race War crowd, who could easily lose such a conflict. Plus, Georgia has become purple. Even Ohio and Indiana have a purple yoke; their old industrial areas still pull the lever for Democrats, or at least they will until gerrymandered into Michigan.  


Florida ticks all the lunatic boxes and then some, though even Neanderthals might be nervous about a state about to covered by the rising tides of the climate change they publicly deny but privately fear.    


After careless consideration, there are a few places liberals could hand over with minimal regret. South Carolina has a lot of African Americans who’d be wise to boogie elsewhere because few places have as many angry white folks as the Tinfoil Hat–sorry Palmetto–State. This makes it prime turf for fleeing Floridians (sans its Cubans­ when Miami becomes an underwater archaeology site). Think of the pride fat golfers will feel as they make their way to Hilton Head through a wildlife refuge named for enslavers (the Pinckney family). Doesn’t it make your patriotic breast swell?


Wyoming could be a refuge for modern-day Marlboro Men. We know what Wyoming thinks about gays, so there’s no issue there. It is isolated, though, and neighboring Montana has been known to elect a few liberals, so maybe a division is in order. Stock the prime huntin’ grounds with weak-eyed buffalo, hobbled deer, and unwanted domestic pets.  


West Virginia is prime redneck territory, though newcomers would have to compete with indigenous hillbillies. It’s 93% white, loves Bible-belting snake-handling preachers, and the house trailers there–you wouldn’t believe how cheap! A lot of those abandoned stills and mineshafts are already cooking meth, so there’s lots of opportunity in the pharmaceutical industry.


Or perhaps ta contiguous solution is needed. One would be the creation of Arkiana, a Gulf Coast combo of Arkansas and Louisiana. Ark would need to find some good old boys to do the chicken gumping now done by Asians, but at least them jobs ain’t goin’ to furriners. The debauchery tourist trade would take a hit with New Orleans off the board, but that’s temporary as the Crescent City is likely to disappear come the next Big One hurricane. Thankfully Ark will supply survivors with loads of Walmart blankies. Did I mention the gator and snake huntin’?


Another prime knot could be those Heartlands that make Republicans teary-eyed. You know, the ones with unbalanced politically power, though just 1.4% of Americans actually make their living in agriculture. A conglomerate of Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Missouri would give the Self-Righteous plenty of room to roam and procreate in abortion-free delight. I’ve no idea how Iowans drifted, but they have become as nutty as Kansans and Nebraskans. Hard to believe all three were once socialist hotbeds. Missouri would give this mini-CSA an exclusive entertainment mecca: Branson, aka/where entertainers decades past their sell-by dates live out their days. When the Civil War began, President Lincoln proclaimed, “I must have Kentucky” and secured it for the Union. Abe was wrong. A Union Kentucky took like a program of Algebra for Plow Horses. It’s pretty, it has horseracing, but the political record….  


If we toss in West Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida, we’d cede 20% of America. Texas might go its own way. Good luck with that because the West Coast and Northeast have most of the nation’s fresh water and are known to be hard bargainers. Alaska is also pretty red, and it’s really out of the way, but if it wants to go Nouveau CSA, fine. Get out the flag and start cutting away some stars. A peaceful partition might be only way to avoid another Civil War.