Live by Night: A Lively Gangster Tale

Strong performances by supporting actors and actresses, wonderful choreography, and exciting action make Live by Night (2016) a thrilling gangster flick despite Ben Affleck’s uninspired acting. Affleck adapted the screenplay from a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. The film’s genuine look and feel is no doubt attributable to the source material. Although the characters are not based on real people, they might as well have been. For his part, Lehane wrote the novel about rum running to show the “sexy side of Prohibition.” Exotic, tropical locales, flashy clothes, fast cars, and excessive violence characterize both the novel and the film.

This sprawling movie spans several decades and locations, from Boston to south Florida. As the film opens, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a WW1 veteran and bank robber in Boston. He falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) tries to blackmail Coughlin into killing Albert White. Unfortunately, Emma betrays him and White tries to have both her and Coughlin killed.

After spending several years in prison for a bank robbery gone wrong, Coughlin approaches Pescatore and asks him to help get revenge on Albert White. Pescatore sends him to Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, where White had set up his own operation, to run his speakeasies and muscle out White.

While there, Coughlin meets and marries a Cuban woman named Graciela Corrales (Zoe Saldana). He battles the KKK, other gangsters, hostile businessmen, and Evangelical Christians in his pursuit to corner the rum market and ultimately get Florida to legalize gambling so the mob can run its casinos. Coughlin and Pescatore come to blows in a bloody climax and Coughlin retires from his life of crime.

Live by Night is ultimately about “what goes around, comes around.” In several instances, characters’ past decisions come back to haunt them, and their bad behavior is repaid with pain, suffering, and loss. No one escapes this movie unscathed, except perhaps for Coughlin’s son, who I assume goes on to lead a normal life. Continue reading “Live by Night: A Lively Gangster Tale”

Nietzsche and Ortega Juxtaposed

In “Nietzsche and the State” and “Ortega and the State,” I examined critiques of statism by two prominent modern European philosophers. Because Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) witnessed the rise of the modern state in central Europe, and José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) experienced statism’s maturity and destructive potential, these two philosophers offer an excellent juxtaposition with which to critique contemporary statism. Although they did not agree on every point, their perspectives shed light on the leviathan.

José Ortega y Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset

Both Friedrich Nietzsche and José Ortega y Gasset were alarmed by the development of the modern state, which matured to ascendancy in the late Eighteenth Century. In the 1860s and ‘70s, Nietzsche witnessed Otto von Bismarck forge his native Germany from a collection of dozens of independent political entities into a German Empire with a strong central government, mass conscription, national welfare programs, universal manhood suffrage, and an urban mass media.

Nietzsche died before the First World War, but José Ortega y Gasset lived to see the nation-states of Europe engulfed in that conflagration along with the chaos that followed. He saw the revolutions of Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler, and that of his own country, Spain, which degenerated into civil war shortly after he published La rebelión de las masas.

The events of their lifetime undoubtedly had a profound impact on the philosophies of both men, and both departed from their philosophical analysis to point out contemporary events to illustrate their critiques. They knew these events could not be escaped, although both Nietzsche (who fled to Switzerland and northern Italy) and Ortega (who fled to Argentina) tried. While Nietzsche loathed politics, however, Ortega took an active role in attempting to guide the events of his day in his own country. Ortega believed that a liberal republic in Spain could moderate and control the violent excesses of the social transition from pre-modern to modern. History proved him wrong.

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Ortega and the State

José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) was the preeminent Spanish philosopher of the first half of the Twentieth Century. A complex figure, he was at the same time an elitist, a classical liberal, and a republican. He was born into a wealthy bourgeois family, became the Chair in Metaphysics at Complutense University in Madrid in 1910, and he was the deputy for the province of León until the Spanish Civil War. After the outbreak of the war, he lived in self-imposed exile in Argentina until 1945. Ortega, as a witness to both the First and Second World Wars, was an ardent critic of the modern state. In The Revolt of the Masses (La rebelión de las masas) (1930), he predicted that the forces of statism would inevitably lead to ever-increasing levels of violence. The state, he wrote, was “the gravest danger now threatening European civilization.”

The Revolt of the Masses (La rebelión de las masas)

What set Ortega apart from other critics of the modern state was his concise social and psychological analysis of the origins of statism. Rather than frame the evolution of the modern state in simple philosophical, religious, or economic terms, he sought to explain its rise as the logical outcome of a revolt of the common man, or the “masses.” By “masses,” Ortega was referring not to a class of people but a type of person who by his or her nature constitutes a numerical majority. This majority is made up of unexceptional people, people who toiled for thousands of years in relative anonymity. Their sudden awakening was made possible by the unprecedented growth of the bourgeoisie in the late Middle Ages.

The state, such as it existed during the Middle Ages and throughout most of recorded history, was as Ortega put it, “quite a small affair.” By the 1700s, however, society, in the form of a middle class, outgrew those rudimentary structures of government. Where the old Noble class excelled in leadership, “historic responsibility,” and sheer bravado, the new bourgeois class excelled in rationalization and technique. The state, Ortega argued, is not a thing in and of itself, but a technique; a technique that is utilized for public administration and for preserving public order. Therefore the bourgeoisie naturally agitated for an increasingly larger role in state affairs.

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Squire’s Castle and its Phantasmal Light Show

A fairy tale gatehouse has become a charming addition to a public park in suburban Cleveland, but some visitors claim otherworldly residents flicker through its empty halls.

  • Standard Oil co-founder Feargus B. Squire began construction on the property in the 1890s.
  • Squire’s wife, Louisa, died of pneumonia in 1927.
  • After years of vandalism, the “castle” has been heavily renovated.
  • Visitors claim to see a red light shining in the darkened windows.

The hollowed out shell of Squire’s Castle sits deep in the woods off River Road in the northeastern suburbs of Cleveland. This romantic, Medieval-looking stone edifice once served as a carriage or gate house for Standard Oil co-founder Feargus B. Squire. Squire intended to build a mansion at the site, but never finished his project. Since opening to the public, visitors claim to see mysterious lights flashing in the darkened windows. The light, they say, is the spectral remnants of Squire’s wife, “Rebecca”.

Feargus O’Conner Bowden Squire, or simply Feargus B. Squire, was born on February 12, 1850 in Devon, England. His family emigrated to the Cleveland area in 1860. Squire rose to prominence in the burgeoning petroleum industry, and served as Mayor of Wickliffe in 1923.

Squire built the small Romanesque Revival gatehouse northeast of Cleveland in the 1890s and intended it to be part of a larger estate, but never finished the project. The finished gatehouse included several bedrooms, living areas, a large kitchen, library, a breakfast porch, and hunting room. Squire spent time there with his daughter, Irma, but his wife never enjoyed the rustic getaway.

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Hearts of Iron IV Minor Nation Strategies: Czechoslovakia

screenshot-124Welcome to the third in a series of posts looking at minor countries in the game Hearts of Iron IV by Paradox Entertainment. Hearts of Iron IV is an epic historical simulator that allows you to experience the Second World War as any country, and perhaps, change history. These articles examine the benefits and drawbacks of playing as any of dozens of minor countries in HOI IV. In this article, I’ll be looking at Czechoslovakia. Historically, Germany swallowed up Czechoslovakia without a fight in 1939, but what if the Czechs fought back? Could they hold out long enough to contribute to Germany’s defeat?

Czechoslovakia starts the game in 1936 as a liberal democratic state with 70% national unity. It has a volunteer army, export trade focus, and civilian economy. The fascist party, led by Jaroslav Krejci, has 25% popularity, the democratic party, led by Edvard Benes, has 65%, the communist party, led by Klement Gottwald, has 10% support, and the nonaligned party has zero support. The next election will be held in May 1940 (assuming you make it that far).

Czechoslovakia is divided into nine states, with predominantly mountain, hill, and forest terrain. Its resources are located in Moravia, Western Slovakia, and Southern Slovakia. In terms of industry, it has 7 military and 14 civilian factories, plus 15 additional open slots, 2 tungsten and 28 steel. Its lack of strategic resources means you will have to trade a lot of civilian factories for resources if you want to build up your military.

As a landlocked country, Czechoslovakia has a land-based military. It has 16 infantry, 2 mountain, and 4 cavalry divisions, and 144 interwar fighter planes, 72 tactical bombers, and 48 close air support planes. It has 43,220 manpower initially available for new units, and one general available to command your troops. Field Marshal Vojtech Luza has a skill level of 3 and is a defensive expert, granting troops under his command a +30% max entrenchment bonus.

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Affairs of Honor: Political Culture of the Founding Generation

affairs-of-honorJoanne B. Freeman’s book, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (2002), is straightforward and compelling. In it, she argues that the political culture of the United States’ first generation of congressmen under the constitution of 1788 was based on a strong sense of personal honor, governed by “a grammar of political combat.” Because there were no formal political parties, representatives had to try to best represent their constituents in an unfamiliar environment, while working with people from diverse regions whose loyalties or support could never be fully known or assured.

Joanne B. Freeman is a professor of History specializing in the politics and political culture of the revolutionary and early national periods of American History at Yale University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Affairs of Honor won the Best Book award from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.

Freeman uses many primary sources to flesh out her argument, including the diary of William Maclay, a member of Pennsylvania’s first two-member delegation to the U.S. Senate. Maclay’s diary was a convincing way to illustrate his contemporary political culture because he seemed to be an observer more than a participant, and was therefore in a good position to critique it. Maclay was not without his biases, however. He was an outsider who was critical of the non-republican nature of congress, and that certainly led him to highlight certain aspects of the political culture that played into his own viewpoint.

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Nietzsche and the State

“Where the state ends—look there, my brothers! Do you not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the overman?”

Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a prolific writer on just about every subject. His views on the modern state, however, have been largely overshadowed by his critique of morality. Nietzsche held a very clear and consistently critical view of the subject throughout his adult life. In his more sober moments, he saw the modern state as nothing more than a vehicle for mass power and as a squanderer of exceptional talent. In his most feverish moods, the state was “a cold monster” and a base falsehood.

During his lifetime, Nietzsche bore witness to the rise of statism in central Europe, and his disgust with nationalism, liberalism, and mass politics led him to live most of his life in self-imposed exile in Switzerland and northern Italy. Even after resigning from the University of Basel in 1879, he took to living in cheap boarding houses rather than return to his native land, which had undergone a dramatic transformation.

When Nietzsche was born in Saxony in 1844, the German Confederation consisted of 43 duchies, principalities, kingdoms, and free cities. He was only four years old when liberals and nationalists began to agitate for the creation of one unified German state. They succeeded in 1871, when Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War (in which Nietzsche briefly served as a medical orderly).

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