Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Here's a link to a National Review article by Andrew Stuttaford on cults, specifically the Raelians and suchlike. The article points out that Jimmy Carter once claimed to have seen a flying saucer, which is true. This one is on Chávez and Venezuela, from FrontPage. Comment: an ad hoc international "Friends of Venezuela" group has been formed to try to assist in negotiating a bloodless solution to the Chávez problem. It consists of the US, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. Sounds good, the Americans, the Iberian democracies, and the three most important relatively stable democracies in Latin America. Respectable folks, for the most part. Chávez wanted to add Russia, China, and Cuba to the group. Not even Lula would go along with that and the group has remained at six. Here's another one on Venezuela, originally from the Washington Times.

This one is from National Review; it's a review of the Almodóvar flick, "Hable con ella", which won the Golden Globe for best foreign movie. It's a fairly positive review, though it points out the weakness of all his flicks: they get stuck in the plot about halfway through and then either the story chugs along and peters out or something totally absurd that torpedoes the movie's believability happens. The Vangua said a couple of days ago that it was ridiculous that "Hable con ella" wasn't chosen as Spain's candidate for the Oscar for best foreign movie, and attributed this failure to the efforts of Almodóvar's enemies being small-minded and getting back at him through the Spanish Academy. It's going to look especially stupid if "Hable con ella" pulls an Oscar nomination in a regular (non-foreign) category, which it might in this very weak year for Hollywood. I repeat that I am no fan of Almodóvar, but I respect his competence, professionalism, and creativity. He certainly makes more interesting movies than almost anyone else in Spain. By the way, the Spanish film industry is yelling again for more subsidies from our tax money. They shouldn't be getting a duro, of course; it shouldn't be the government's job to finance movies. Well, they already get some, and they want more so they can "level the playing field" against the big American studios. Sorry, guys, the big American studios get zero government subsidies. The playing field is not only level, it's tilted toward the Spanish industry, and further subsidies would only serve to make more movies that nobody will ever see. No kidding. There are at least several movies completely financed by the Catalan government alone that are still in the can and have been for up to several years because they're so unwatchable that not even Catalan TV will show them. I don't think Almodóvar gets subsidies, and if he does, he doesn't need them.

Here's another review from NR, this one of "The Gangs of New York", and on the real history behind the movie. Scorsese apparently confuses his gangs. According to Luc Santé in Low Life, the first dangerous gangs in New York were Irish and sprung up in the 1820s and 30s in the Five Points, a rough part of the lower East Side. They included the Roach Guards, the Plug Uglies, and the Dead Rabbits. In response to them, other gangs sprang up in the poor Bowery area, especially the Bowery Boys and also the Atlantic Guards and the O'Connell Guards. The disputes between Five Points and Bowery gangs were more territorial and classist (the Bowery gangs were working poor, the Five Points gangs were underclass) than ethnic; though some of the Bowery gangs were Irish and others nativist Americans, they would join together to fight against the Five Pointers. By the 1840s the Dead Rabbits had become the undisputed leader of the Five Points gangs and faced off in conventional, planned, almost ritual battles with the Bowery Boys. Says Santé,

As vocational schools, the two gangs had their different specialties. The Dead Rabbits turned out numerous keepers of dives...and enforcers, shoulder-hitters, mayhem artists...The Bowery Boys, on the other hand, specialized in supplying votes for political entities, for poll fixing, poll guarding, repeat voting, and any number of other activities. The clash between Tammany and nativist factions constantly threatened the stability of the gang, which somehow always survived....Both gangs probably reached their apex in the summer of 1857. At the time the city had two competing police forces, the Municipal Force and the Metropolitan Force, as a result of political machinations...and as rival cops showed more interest in fighting each other than in curtailing crime, the city was virtually unpatrolled.

On the night of July 4th a large party of Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies raided the clubhouse of the Bowery Boys and the Atlantic Guards at 42 Bowery. An all-night battle ensued during which the Bowery side seemed to prevail....The next day...the Roach Guards joined the Rabbits and the Uglies in an attack on a Broome Street dive called the Green Dragon, which they demolished with iron bars and paving stones while drinking up the entire stock of liquor. The Bowery gangs hastened to the scene...the riot swelled as reinforcements for both sides arrived from all over the city...The police of both forces would make sporadic arrests...Three National Guard regiments arrived late in the evening, and the fighting stopped. The toll was officially set at eight dead and over a hundred wounded, but these figures seemed absurdly low.

The following day the New York Times ran the following notice: "We are requested by the Dead Rabbits to state that the Dead Rabbit club members are not thieves, that they did not participate in the riot with the Bowery Boys, and that the fight in Mulberry street was between the Roach Guards of Mulberry Street and the Atlantic Guards of the Bowery. The Dead Rabbits are sensitive on points of honor, we are assured, and wouldn't allow a thief to live on their beat, let alone be a member of their club."

The other significant New York gangs at that time were out-and-out criminal organizations of muggers, thieves, and robbers operating on the waterfront, of whom the Daybreak Boys were the most famous. Their specialty was robbing ships at anchor at all hours. Their two leaders were hanged in 1852 and then "Slobbery Jim and Patsy the Barber had an epochal fight over the division of twelve cents from the pockets of a German immigrant they had killed, in the course of which Jim murdered Patsy; he was never seen again." The police reported killing twelve of them in the single year 1858. These dirtbags were obviously treated quite differently by the authorities from the mostly non-habitually criminal Dead Rabbits and Bowery Boys.

In 1863, spurred on by their unwillingness to be drafted to fight in the Civil War, the New York mob rose in the most serious civil disturbance in America, the Draft Riots. The targets of the rioting were blacks, many of whom were lynched, and wealthy Republicans. There may have been as many as 100,000 rioters and nobody knows how many people were killed, though I'd be willing to believe up to several hundred in the several days of violence. It took troops hustled from the Gettysburg battlefield to put down the rioters. They were most likely led by the Five Points gangs, but it's not fair to simplify matters and say that the rioters were all Irish and that their only motive, if anybody had a motive, was racism. Nor is it fair to go on and on about the discrimination that the Irish faced when they came to America; most of those Irish had it rough in the first generation, not too bad in the second, and up to an approximation of the average in society in the third. I don't think they had it much worse than anybody other group of immigrants.

Anyway, the Scorsese movie conflates the Dead Rabbits-Bowery Boys gang wars with the Draft Riots. The NR review explains all about that.

No comments: