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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lamar MacKay, CEO of BP-America

Following in the steps of “The Dome” and “Top Hat,” British Petroleum’s 3rd act, “Top Kill” has flopped, along with its secondary companion, “Junk Shot,”  leaving the blown-out well Deepwater Horizon still gushing an unknown volume of ancient toxic sunlight rushing into the complex ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, and consequently also into the Atlantic Ocean.   This cocktail has been further enhanced with the injection at the well-site of a “dispersant,” Corexit, of a highly toxic nature such that some countries forbid its use.   Injected into the oil stream at 5,000 feet underwater the effect of the dispersant appears to be to prevent the oil from rising to the sea’s surface, thus hiding the full extent of the spill from obvious view.   Scientists have located several massive “plumes” of oil/dispersant mix, located from 300 feet, to several thousands of feet down, in layers.  The effect of these massive lakes of toxins – 10 miles long, 3 miles wide, and hundreds of feet thick – on the ecology of the region is unknown though it can be assumed it will not be benign, but rather devastatingly destructive, from the bottom of the food chain and cascading over time to the top.  The elements involved are known to be carcinogenic and to wreak havoc on biological development.

Tony Hayworth, CEO of British Petroleum

Since the initial blow-out and destruction of the Transocean drilling rig, BP has in classic corporate fashion provided false information as to the scope of its problem and the origins of it.  In the meek Congressional hearing done so far, BP, Transocean and Halliburton each attempted to shift blame to the other parties.  Thus far it has been ascertained that BP, requested and obtained from the Minerals Management Service of the US Government a pass on making any environmental impact report.  It did so on the assertion that the probabilities of any oil spillage was infinitely small.  BP also chose, for reasons of economizing, to not install a half-million dollar fail-safe device which may have been able to choke off the well in case of a blow-out.  Further, BP chose to order its subcontractor, to commence injecting water rather than “heavy mud” at a late stage in the completion of the well, apparently in haste to finish capping the well so that it could commence production, as well as to avoid further the half-million dollars per day lease rate on the Transocean rig.   Despite signs in the last 48 hours of the capping process that there were major anomalies, BP pressed ahead to complete, skipping some standard engineering tests to assure the proper sealing of the well, and ignored tests results which suggested that the work had not functioned properly.  This economizing produced a major industrial accident, which appears well on its way to being an equivalent to Chernobyl in its ecological and in turn economic impact on the globe.  As with Chernobyl the responsible parties have done their best, until evidence forced the matter to the open, to keep the truth hidden: corporations behave exactly as did the USSR in this respect.

Deepwater Horizon drilling rig shortly after blow-out

What this catastrophe has done, in tandem with the American economic crisis commencing in 2008, is to demonstrate that effectually large corporations and banks now are beyond the control of any government, or conversely that they have corrupted the governments so that government is subservient to corporate desires and demands.   When the US EPA ordered BP to stop utilizing Corexit, BP refused and has suffered thus far no penalty for doing so.   The US government says it has no expertise or the tools to use to stanch the mile-deep rupture.   The fact is, neither evidently does BP, which, with a corrupted MMS and EPA, gave permissions on the premise that nothing would happen, and if so, BP had the means to deal with it.  As Mr Obama stated, he was surprise that “BP didn’t have their act together.”   Mr Obama is in for a steep learning curve on the nature of American and other corporate realities if he didn’t understand this earlier, especially since he already had the harsh lesson of Wall Street’s malfeasance only a year ago.   Or, more clearly, whatever his good intentions, Mr Obama was long since brought and bought into the system, and doesn’t understand that he is a captive of its mentality and mechanisms and thereby cannot offer any solutions to the problems it produces.  It will require some kind of revolution to produce a new paradigm for us to re-organize our lives for surviving on this planet.

For a recent update on what happened behind the scenes at British Petroleum – choices made to ignore or dismiss negative information, see this.

NYTimes photo-essay on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

UK Guardian general item on BP, oil industry practices.

British Petroleum is the 4th largest corporate entity in the world; it is 69% owned by the British government, including the Queen.

What BP has done now in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in other settings, other oil industry giants have done in places less visible to Americans around the globe:

Nigeria, Shell OilEcuador, Chevron-TexacoEcuador

For decades now the American public has been fed the argument that “government is the problem, not the solution,” as the so-called trickle-down economics of Ronald Reagan were promulgated in the ’80’s, and then the tax cuts for the rich were enacted under Bush.  Willfully and deliberately under the guidance of this ideological view the regulatory capacities of government were politically deleted, ignored – sometimes illegally – and undermined.  Those agencies which were intended to supervise and regulate large businesses, whether in Wall Street or in Houston,  were consciously packed with people who came from and served those industries.  Their function was to block government controls and regulations, and to carry out, from within, the conservative wish to “get government so small it could be drowned in a bathtub.”

The end effect of this process is now destroying the Gulf of Mexico, as it had earlier destroyed the manufacturing base of America’s economy, and as it destroyed the livelihoods of more than 8 million Americans in the economic collapse of 2008.   All of these can be directly attributed to the “conservative” policies of Reagan and Bush – and as well of Clinton, who pushed for NAFTA and for the “globalizing” practices desired by the corporate structures which had gone about steadily in buying the Congress, the mass-media, and finally, it seems, having taken over the entire government apparatus.  The full consequence of these practices is fully visible in the unemployment rate in the US – officially pegged at 10%, but in reality exceeding 20%.  It is seen in the destructive practices of corner-cutting profit-minded corporate actions throughout the American (and global) landscape: mountain-top removal in Appalachia, strip-mining in Montana and Wyoming, empty housing-bubble suburban tracts flanking our big cities, and now – despite the desperate attempts to hide it by the corporately owned press and by the government – the truly tragic catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.  Thanks to lax governmental regulation, to a corrupted bureaucracy of the MMS, and to favoritism for the oil industry from the highest levels of government, British Petroleum was allowed to drill a well one mile beneath the sea’s surface, with no means available to deal with any untoward event.  It was allowed to by-pass an environmental impact assessment.  It was allowed to not install a fail-safe mechanism in case of a blow-out.  It was allowed to proceed despite having damaged an essential part of the well’s system (a rubber collar).  All this occurred courtesy of the mantras recited by rote from our ideologues of the Right, who insisted that the free market is self-adjusting, delivers to the broad public the maximum of efficiency and production, and  who worked to break down all regulatory capacities which might restrain free market capitalism from carrying out its full functions.  The result is the present catastrophe which is still in play, and which will doubtless impose a vast and ugly bill upon this generation’s grandchildren.

There can be no question that the Obama administration is to be severely faulted for failing to sense the scope of the Gulf tragedy far earlier and for not taking prompt steps to intervene weeks ago.  Instead it followed its own obeisance to corporate advice and alleged “expertise,”  and rather than being instantly skeptical of British Petroleum assertions of the leakage rate, or that it was “doing all it could,”  it accepted as honest the claims of BP.   It should have known from the outset that any corporation would act in a short-sighted self-serving manner which is exactly what it did:  it did not move immediately to block the well, but rather came up with one failed concept after the other which would have salvaged the well so the costs of drilling it were not lost.  Rather than lose profits, BP has socialized it’s loss, and now the Gulf is lost.

But the true blame lies in the deregulatory actions which occurred since Reagan, and in the profound corruption which has taken place throughout America’s social and cultural strata.  We are truly an ill culture.

In China not long ago a company distributed tainted milk, and many children died.  The manufacturers were found, quickly tried, found guilty and the head of the company was shortly thereafter executed with a bullet in the back of the head.   While this may to our tastes seem a rough justice, it may be that such is required to rein in the Masters of the Universe of our corporations who in their blind pursuit of profit have laid waste to the American land and seascape.

For a true nightmare, but possible, scenario see this.

Back in the good old days of the Soviet Union, America’s press would report sneeringly about the Russian press, and how it simply didn’t report any kinds of disasters – mining accidents, plane crashes, the everyday matter-of-fact problems of complex technological societies.  And, to quote Pravda, the USSR’s paper of record, run by the government, which ran everything else too, it was all “true” – they simply didn’t report bad news since bad news pointed a finger right at themselves.  So what you didn’t know about was better for them.  This gave rise to the samizdat, a kind of underground news network, as well as literature.


Today, in an America which for the most part vociferously proclaims itself against “socialism” – even the rather limp not-really-socialism of our European friends – we have curiously mutated into the same kind of arrangement.  Here, in our time, it is the corporations which own America and its government, fulfilling Mussolini’s definition of fascism.  Naturally they also own the press, and other elements of the mass media, especially television.  And so, while eager to report minor distractions which will garner a large quick audience, and hence advertising revenue – things like hoaxes of children being lofted skyward by balloons, or Los Angeles car-chases involving famous celebrities, or anything to do with the marital or medical or legal travails of the same celebs – the same media is highly averse to reporting such things as mining accidents, any dysfunctions caused by corporate actions, or most spectacularly at this moment, on the truly major catastrophe that has been unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico for the past month.


Were it not for the plain inability of British Petroleum and its allies in the oil business – which would include our great military-industrial complex, and its governmental faces in the form of the MMS, EPA and others – to actually hide from public view the vast lake of oil which has gushed forth from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well, it is clear we would hear almost nothing about this disaster.  Just like in the good old USSR.   The corporate “truth” is that BP is “doing everything it can to solve this problem.”  It is saying that the accident has resulted in 5,000 barrels a day of oil being leaked into the Gulf.  The real figures are more in the realm of 60,000 to 100,000 a day.  Oh, small difference.  A spokesman for BP asserted, “the Gulf will recuperate,” as if it were just a little minor incident.

Along with the river of oil, what comes leaking out via our samizdat, the internet, are the pieces of a perfectly typical example of the wonders of Free Market Capitalism, in which the highest value is to make as much money as you can, and buying the regulatory agencies governing a particular business is considered smart, enhancing “profits.”  Hence British Petroleum-USA branch, chose, as it turns out, regulations having been loosened, to skip a few modestly costly standard procedures in installing their well, never mind that it was at a depth at which they’d not worked before, and surely the risks were higher, not lower.  But they, and the sub-contractors they worked with, chose to by-pass some time-consuming and extra cost processes which would normally have been done in any other such deep-sea well.   A few days prior to the accident some BP executives went out to the platform to celebrate the imminent on-line status of this well, a true gusher of money.

By short-changing the procedures (involving Halliburton, of Cheney-fame, and Transocean, a Houston-based company which claims to be Swiss), 11 people were killed instantly (murder) when a gas bubble rammed up uncontrolled through BP’s drilling pipe, and exploded, setting the platform on fire and consequently causing it to sink, breaking the oil-carrying pipeline to which it was connected.  At the sea floor, one mile beneath the surface, at the cap of the well, the BOP malfunctioned, and an uncontrolled river of oil and gas began to rush out.  BP had not planned for a worst-case scenario, much less any scenario except sitting back and collecting the money, and simply had, and as yet has, no means to stop the flow.  Instead it first attempted, and continues to do so, to control the flow of public relations.  It minimized the accident, minimized the amount of the alleged leakage, and was concerned primarily about its “image.”  It said it was “doing everything it could.”


It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to drill a well a mile beneath the sea’s surface, and then plunging 12,000 feet further.  The conditions are hostile, the pressures intense.  It is done in effect long-distance, with robots.  It is dangerous and risky work, akin to working in outer space.  It is a major investment, as BP would be the first to tell you, to do so.  But the rewards are, when successful, enormous.  BP’s profits in only the 3rd quarter of last year were almost 5 billion dollars, and last year, with the global economic constriction, was a bad year.

Note the happy “green” logo, Orwellian ad-speak from the corporate masters

The US Navy apparently has at hand several emergency tools to deal with deep-water crises,such as a nuclear submarine or something similar going down.  They have several methods by which a very large heavy cement cover can be placed over the dangerous object.  This might be applicable in this instance, but apparently BP declines such a solution.  Capitalists that they are they don’t really want to lose their well and its profits.  So rather than permanently blocking it they have tried now a sequence of failed “solutions,”  ones which, had they functioned, would have allowed them to recoup the well.  One month and a catastrophic amount of oil released into the Gulf and they are finally going to attempt a “top kill” which would block the well.  In this case they are living out Marx’s maxim that if you give a capitalist a long enough rope they will hang themselves.   BP, and with them, the entire oil industry, are now dangling at the end of a hang-man’s knot devised from their own greed.

And with them is perhaps the Obama administration, which in keeping with its behavior in bailing out Wall Street and the auto industry,  in killing the single-payer option in its health-care reform, in maintaining Bush’s executive powers, and which has been all too accommodating to the word of British Petroleum in this past month – accepting totally false figures as to the scale of the oil flow, letting them take save-the-well measures that failed rather than demanding they immediately take whatever severe measures were needed to cap the well.   As the rising swell of anger across the nation indicates, the Obama administration has been politically tone-deaf in all these cases, pussy-footing with the very powers which have produced the problems to begin with rather than coming down hard against them.   Clearly those within the administration, from Geithner to Gates to Rahm Emanuel are corporate “centrists” which in any other country would place them firmly on the Right.

Already alienated from his “base” with his policies on Wall Street, Afghanistan, and the health-care reform, should Obama not take a hard stance with this latest corporate disaster, it will most likely be the last nail in his political coffin so far as the American liberal/left is concerned.

Corporate America’s behavior in the Deepwater Horizon blow-out has been, as in many other instances from Wall Street to Main Street, criminally negligent or utterly criminal in intent.  Failure of the Federal Government to call them to account will signal the complete take-over of corporate criminality of the public commons of America.   It is Obama’s let’s-not-look-back mantra of Rodney King’s Why-Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along song which is at fault:  failure to bring to account those who broke the law, be it with the Patriot Act or with BP’s “economizing,” begets the situation in which the Nation now finds itself.

Getting up this morning, May 25 (Korea date) and scanning the NY Times “comments” to Krugman and Douthat, I see again I got censored.   Here’s what I wrote that wasn’t evidently fit to print:

Krugman:

Well, Mr Obama better find his inner FDR and a lot more than that. His slo-mo response to the Gulf spill is not playing well to his supposed base (which among others included my vote), nor is the Afghan war, nor was the Bank bailout. He’s been licking the wrong boots. To use the newly popular word du jour, if he doesn’t make a fast PIVOT and make a few divots in the skulls of BP CEOs, Goldman Sachs honchos and all the rest, he can write himself off. The right may be angry. But increasingly so is the so-called Left here in America. And at Obama, whose Rodney King imitation has grown wearily tiresome. It may be his temperament to be calm and collected, but he better change that or he’ll be down for the count much too soon.

Douthat:
As a life-long radical (of a left persuasion) it is nice to see Mr Douthat admitting that purism of the Rand Paul kind can leave you out on a limb. I was never under any illusions in that regard, and running for political office never entered my mind. Basically Mr Douthat is saying that the likes of Mr Paul, or the Mad Hatters of the Tea-Party don’t bother to think things out. They want a big fence along the border but no police-state. Or they want a police-state for some, but not for them. Or they want a muscular military but no taxes. Etc. etc. I.e., they want inherent contradictions, which is what makes them so angry. The anger should though be directed where it belongs: at themselves for failing to do the most elementary bit of thinking and being honest. Medicaid is a governmental program. Really ! It’s damned “socialist” almost. Hurts, no?


Apparently BP had a party on the deck of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, for executives of the company, in the day or two before the accident which has befouled the Gulf of Mexico.   They flew out to celebrate the completion of the drilling, which by some schedule was a bit behind, and apparently they were in a rush to get that gush of oil and the money attached.   Faced with that it seems BP engineers, pressed by some deadline, decided to skip some normal procedures, saving a pile of bucks.   For details, see this item from nola.com. (Thanks to Craig Groe for sending me this link.)  And see as well this good blog, For the Heart of the Sun.

Cutting corners to save time, save money, make money is pretty much standard practice in the world of Free Market Capitalism, since the bottom-line point of it all is to make as much money as possible.  According to our theorists of this way of seeing the world, this in turn leads to greater efficiency, and somehow when all is said and done, the maximum good for everyone.   One wouldn’t seem to need a philosophy degree to see the obtuseness of this belief but it seems since Reagan and before him, Ayn Rand, this swill has been sold like snake-oil to the great American public (and the world at large) under various guises and names: The Chicago School, Milton Friedman, Globalism.   The proof of the pudding though now lies all around in the shattered economies of America and Europe and surely soon to come will be Asia and the rest of the world which was largely forced to adopt the IMF/World Bank scheme to make money more fluid, which gave rise to the Great Financialization of our and other’s economies, which resulted in the great concentration of numerical wealth in London’s City, on Wall Street, and the other large financial centers where shuffling numbers was enhanced with brilliant computer programs, fortunes were made (and lost) in the rapid fire selling and buying that often in reality produced nothing except a fat bonus, a ridiculous pay-out, a CEO salary in the millions and billions as reward for playing a slicker shell game.

British Petroleum art installation in Louisiana marshland

And, in more practical terms it lies in the expanding toxic sea which BP unleashed in untrammeled pursuit of filthy lucre, in which its oversight agency had been corrupted by the anti-regulation actions of the Bush administration, doubtless at the behest of, among others, BP-USA.

There is now, and likely will never be, a meaningful way to account for the damages inflicted by BP’s bit of corner cutting.  The bean counters will try to leaven it all out in greenbacks, the only value of the nation accepted for such things.  I doubt that any BP execs, or those of the subcontractors, will be trundled off to jail for negligence, murder, or a vast crime committed against the Gulf, the people who live and work beside it, or the Earth itself.  The ethics and morals of our day simply don’t admit of such consequences.

Our tragedy is that we live in a society which produces tragedy like any other product, but has trivialized it to have the same moral weight as selling a tube of toothpaste.  It is so in our vast over-killing war machinery busy in Afghanistan and still in Iraq, and it is so in this grotesque insult to nature which our masters have tried as best they can to minimize and tuck under the rug, whether with toxic dispersants which seem to have functioned to keep the larger portion deep underwater and therefore invisible and uncountable, or in the fabricated figures emitted by BP and the US government agency which supposedly upholds the public’s interests.

Richard Blumenthal, Marine Reservist not in Viet NamRichard Blumenthal, Senate candidate surrounded by Viet Nam vets in PR ploy

But lying has become an American norm, a social and political given.  As in the case of Richard Blumenthal, who “mis-spoke” himself when he asserted numerous times that he’d served in Viet Nam during the war.  Like George Bush and Richard Cheney before him, actually he hadn’t, but had done what he could to avoid service.  Now he has a guilt complex and claims he did.  He is running for US Senator from Connecticut – a place served dubiously by flip-flopping Joe Lieberman.  He joins an ever enlarging rogues gallery of politician and social moralists hoisted on their own petards.

Former Indiana Representative Mark Souder, proponent of abstinence

Well, here in Korea it’s a day off, for Buddha’s Birthday, so to leave all this misery with a smile, here’s to Buddha!

Red Dead Redemption, video gameGrand Theft BangkokDeep sea theft, British PetroleumJLG, Film SocialismeOur world

At the circus otherwise known as Cannes, a new cryptic and hermetic Godard film was shown, Film Socialisme.   In his manner of late – the last decade or two, the semi-hermit of Switzerland declined to attend.  Here’s NY Times Dargis review. Read here for an interview translated from the French by Cinemasparagus.  And if your French is good enough here’s some further in le mots francais.

Of course, more germane to the times is the announcement of a new video game, Red Dead Redemption, acclaimed by the NT Times a tour-de-force.  Though the apparent real tour de force of the moment is the excruciating drama unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, where the British Petroleum/Halliburton/Transocean are scrambling to dissemble while a massive gush of on-going oil is forming a river of toxins, heading slowly towards the Florida Keys, and from there perhaps to drift up the East Coast of America, laying waste to the balance of sea life.  Like the economic disaster to which it is intimately related – Free Market Capitalism/Globalism – the evidence of its malignancy seeps out daily, staining the global commons with poison.

Oil in the Gulf

Giant Plumes of Oil Forming Under the Gulf

So read the headline in the NYTimes, as BP’s latest solution to the oil-hemorrhage failed, and the counting of how many barrels of oil have been leaked into the Gulf leaped exponentially, and the US government went hat in hand to British Petroleum to ask if they really really really would pay for all the damages done or would try to duck under the legally mandated 75 million cap written by an oil bought Congress, now hastily moving to bump the number up to 10 billion.   As the scale of this disaster becomes ever more difficult to cover up, whether by BP, the oil industry in general, or the American government, the matter seeps back to the front pages just as it drifts into the tidelands and beaches of Dixie, with a harvest of dead fish, turtles, and a refinery smell wafting over New Orleans and Biloxi.  Each few days British Petroleum spokespersons trot forth with the latest heroic measure – a “dome” to place over the major leak, which duly failed owing to deep-sea physics; a smaller, cutely named, “top hat” intended to work similarly and failing similarly; and the current endeavor, a 4 inch pipe inserted into the 21 inch one, to siphon away some of the flow, which failed twice and now alleged is working (and for which a little math suggests at optimum this would stanch the flow by perhaps 7%, but BP buries this in the numbers and claims a success.  The follow-up solutions include a “junk-shot” in which they’d fill the top of the pipe with clogging garbage, or then a “top kill” in which mud and then concrete would be pumped by another drill into the well so that it rose to the top and permanently capped it.  Throughout this event we’ve been treated to corporate double-speak, lying figures, while the BP chairman openly worries about salvaging the BP image. Recent statements seem to suggest the villain is the hero of the piece with BP belatedly scrambling for solutions that should have been at hand before they went drilling.

Where this will end remains obscured by some of former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns,”  some clearly deliberately put in place by the self-interest of BP and its companions in this, Halliburton and Transocean, each parties to the processes that caused this all to happen.  They were last sighted finger-pointing each other i Congress as they maintained a posture of innocence – a residue of the Bush days of maximum non-accountability?  Meantime the rupture a mile below sea-level of a drilling probe sent another 12,000 feet underground bleeds eons old hydrocarbon deposits, ancient marshes, forests, turned under the earth in a profoundly deep geological process.  In an equally profoundly shallow manner many of those most stridently in support of the Palin-GOP mantra of “drill, baby, drill” (gone silent of late), claim not to believe the world older than 6,000 years, and think god cleverly placed these little bon bons of hydrocarbon balloons under the earth just for our benefit, disguising it all in a massive display of trickery so that logically it would appear to be the end result of an on-going 7 billion year old process.


First failed solution

Junk-shot solution

The headline at the start of this was about a deep-sea pod of oil, 10 miles long, 8 miles wide, and 300 feet in thickness discovered by scientists not in the employ of BP, suggesting the spillage is far greater than BP has indicated, and that perhaps most the oil is not rising to the surface.  This may be because of dispersants injected by BP into the flow at the mouth of the leak.  BP has not yet acknowledged the data.  Click the below for a BP to worst-case scenario on how much oil has been spilled so far:

oil-ticker

Last note, telling of the times:  Transocean, the owners of the actual drilling rig which was leased by BP, and for which, as a hired expert in the process, Halliburton was working for, says it is a Swiss company, and indeed its headquarters are in Zurich.  However this is purely a tax-dodge matter as only a handful of Transocean employees work there, and some hundreds are based in oi-town Houston.   Ah, the loyalties of our corporate masters.

This thanks to Chained to the Cinematheque.  Judging by this, and by the last film of his I saw,  Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl,  and what I read of his new one in Cannes this year, it appears that in his second century, Manoel is just hitting his stride.  Bravo for him.

And a few days ago I showed Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth (Juventude em Marcha) to my class, where some fell into sleep and I sat riveted by this truly amazing film, of which to write seriously later.  For now, if it’s not likely to be anywhere you can see it soon, Criterion now has their package of Costa’s films, Letter from Fontainhas and for anyone interested in truly serious art and cinema, I’d highly recommend it.  We’ll be writing on it soon.

Ventura, in Colossal Youth, by Pedro Costa

It appears we’ll be in Lisboa this summer, screening some films at the Cinematheque Portuguese, and also in Madrid. Dates when they get set on the calendar.

[Little update: Dave at the Cinematheque sent a note, and pointed me toward his notes on Pedro's film, which provide a useful starter.  Thanks, Dave.]

Thomas Friedman “thinks

Once again Thomas “Never doubts”  Friedman or his on-line editor saw fit to censor, this time a reply to his column on Greece.   Unfortunately I didn’t save it, though it was listed by their mechanism as having gone, etc.  I had lifted a quote from his article:

“to sustain these wrenching reforms requires Greeks to become stakeholders in the process. That will only happen, he argues, if there is a sense of “justice” — Greeks want to see big tax cheaters and corrupt officials prosecuted ”

and noted that not long ago the term “stakeholders” had been used in the USA by someone with whom we are all familiar, and we saw how that one worked out.  And followed up with some comments on how we Americans would also like to see some prosecutions of tax cheaters (corporations) and corrupt officials, including the guy who talked about “stakeholders.”  And of course certain banks, Wall Street gamers, and the guys who gave a pass on drilling in the Gulf to a company that said chances of an accident were infinitely small so….

And replying to Robert Wright’s Opinionator column The Making of a Terrorist, again the item was received according to their mechanism, but not published.  In it I simply listed, for some of the more truculent readers, some of the reasons why many in the world might be inclined to attack America – the long history of US military and other interference abroad, manipulation of economies, extraction of raw materials at gun-point, bedding with convenient right-wing (mostly) dictators and puppets.  Since a number of others replied similarly I wonder why mine didn’t make the cut.  I was early as with the Friedman item.

I guess the Gray Lady should change its line to All the Comment Fit to Censor.

I note that if the comments and replies from readers provides a measure of his general audience, Mr Friedman’s have been dropping badly, and he gets only a 100 or so replies.  Other Times columnists often get 300 and more.   And I’d take a bet 10 to 1 that by ordinary standards most of us use, Mr Friedman is himself a “tax cheat.”  He’d call it “having a good lawyer.”

Rounding out the films seen were a casually made (sloppy) but interesting and effective – perhaps owing mostly to its subject – documentary from Japan, Pyuupiru.   The subject of interest was a young man, seen over almost eight years, who is gay, creative and inventive.  The film was made by a good friend, Matsunaga Daishi, who traced him in DV since 2001, when he was in his early 20’s, on to his 30th birthday.  Liking girl’s clothes, he made his own in outlandish mode, and went clubbing, becoming a little celebrity and a real artist in his campy manner.  Along the way his parents changed their views, as did his brother; he had himself de-haired, and then castrated, fell in love (with a hetero) and lost, and while now somewhat famous seems beneath the gaudy exterior, quite unhappy.  An interesting and revealing portrait.

Luc Moullet, in perhaps a fiction masquerading as a documentary

Then I went to see a film by Luc Moullet, of whom I seen the name some decades now, but had never seen a film.  This one was titled Land of Madness, about a region of the south of France where many murders have occurred.  While interesting and nicely done, it was essentially a talking-head film, with interviews with locals.  All nicely done, and Moullet has a mordant sense of humor which I like, but as cinema it was not much.

And lastly I went to see the “Jeonju Digital Project” films, a selection of 3 shorter works, about 30 minutes each, made by filmmakers selected last year, given a nice little budget (about $30,000 each) and charged to make a film for the coming festival.  Jim Benning was one of those invited and I really went to see his film, Pig Iron.   The tickets we got put us far to the side, and as the lights went down we moved to a handful left located in the middle of the central part.  Benning’s film is a single HD take of a place where pig iron is loaded into gigantic ladles on a train, a long, heavy, process.  His shot was typically his style, front on, in the case compressed with good telephoto, so the spatial sense was more massive.  The take is 30 minutes, during which one sees the small figures of a few men going here and there; a car passes periodically on the left side of the screen, the trains shunt the great ladles here and there, the glow of hot iron comes from the top of this huge structures, sparks fly as they are filled, the sounds of the train, of sirens, deep bass rumbles punctuate the general deep hum.   I was mesmerized.  Others seem to have fallen asleep.  Benning asks you to really look, as he does, and if you do, you are amply rewarded.

Following this came French Canadian Denis Côté showed The Enemy Lines, his contribution.  On commencing the screening the festival director has said that Mr Côté had said something about telling the audience that after Benning’s single-take film, the following films would be, well, more like films or something.  I.e., don’t get up and leave and miss his work.  Well, his film was more “film-like” being a slight narrative of some macho posturing guys with guns doing soldier something out in the woods.  It seemed to be taken seriously, though if one knows a bit about soldiering these guys would have all been dead in 10 minutes if there were a real enemy.  At some point a topless punkette girl comes out of a cornfield.  And the film proceeds to fritter out from there.  I wanted to leave, but thought better give the third film a try, and besides leaving would have been very disruptive, requiring 6 or 7 people to stand.

The third film was Argentine, with a rapid-fire delivery of lines from As You Like It done by the actors, while the camera shifted handheld here and there.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, aside from assessing the acting as marginal, the story as less.  And I felt trapped, forced to sit through this c-r-a-p owing to having changed seats to see better.

And I was irritated by these films – the latter two having “digital” about them solely that they were shot on HD (the latter two could have been digital beta for their looks), but could have as well been shot on film since they used the medium exactly as film, and in a tired exhausted manner as well.  Utterly nothing “new” about them at all.   Benning’s film was digital in its use of the hyper precision which HD is capable of, and using the extended time it allows.

I was so aggravated I decided I shouldn’t go to the next film I had scheduled as my attitude was so soured by these last two pieces of junk.  Côté is apparently, at least in the minds of some (and from his demeanor, also his) Canada’s gift to film-world hot-shotdom.  If so, poor Canada.

Last year I saw maybe 15-20 films, of which one was a turkey and the rest from very interesting to very good.  This year aside from Jame’s short, I didn’t see anything that was really good.  And a lot that was mediocre to bad.   Though I did handicap myself in not going to the other Benning film, Ruhr, which I’d seen off DVD a few weeks earlier, though in hindsight, I wished I’d gone to see it in the HD, which would have really been stunning.  And owing to some scheduling conflicts I didn’t get to a new Pedro Costa film I haven’t seen, but he said he can send me a DVD of it.   And I didn’t see his other films as I’ve seen most.  And I passed on re-seeing Jancso’s films.

So maybe it was bad luck, or maybe a bad year, but I can’t say I saw much of interest.  And for Jeonju it definitely seemed the audiences were thinner – previous years the theaters were almost full for everything, and this year it was not so – more like half or one-third.  I’ll await their report on attendance figures.

On return to Seoul we brought Pedro Costa to Yonsei to give a talk, which he handled nicely, and went out for a Korean BBQ after.  Very nice guy, which I already knew from meeting him years ago.  Hopefully we’ll see him in Lisbon this summer.

Our second day of viewing started off with a program of short films, the first of which by Rahmin Bahrani, a current “indie” darling of the critics, was called Plastic Bag and to me was an extremely annoying, cloying story of a plastic bag, voiced over by Werner Herzog, shot in a dazzling commercial manner, and purporting to be a critique of our use of these near-indestructable items.  But the film was an embodiment of what it was criticizing, a glossy, costly example of utterly misguided media.   The over bearing voice-over was delivered loudly, hectoringly,  the film more a talky illustrated slide show than cinema.  Irritating and ultimately pissed me off.

Condolences, Ying Liang

Second on the program was quite another story, Madame Butterfly, from Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang.   It began with a very long well done handheld shot in the very interesting and busy Kuala Lumpur bus terminal (where Marcella and I had a curious and memorable adventure involving an attempted rip-off scheme, cops, and such fun), where the protagonist, a Malay woman, wanders, calling her boyfriend, coughing periodically, attempting to buy a ticket home, but lacking enough money.  Stranded she tries to get on a bus for less or free, but is rebuffed.  This shot goes on perhaps 30 minutes.  It is ends with a cut to a close up in which she extracts a long hair from her throat. Then the woman is seen in bed, seemingly in a hotel, the camera holding on her again quite long as the light dances on the pillow and she wakens.  We see several strands of hair on the pillow.  Pretty much it – but it was fascinating, very well done, and the antithesis of the previous film’s ways.

Following were three shorts by Chinese Ying Liang, each set in the same provincial small city.  The first involved a young boy who is a troubled trouble-maker, pushed about by society as he dreams of basketball.  Affectingly done, very observant and lovely.   The next involved a young girl taking care of her grandmother who accidently locks herself out of the house, and her adventures in attempting to get back in.  Again, very touching, cleanly executed.  Lastly was one which had a prelude of pictures from a bus accident in which 15 people were killed, with stills and newspaper headlines shown.  This was followed by a single very long beautifully orchestrated and acted somewhat distant shot in which a news crew, the mayor and his entourage come to visit a grandma who has lost her family.  The camera sits high, rather distant, as neighbors, the tv crew, the entourage and others mill about, offering condolences, acting official, saying goodbye.  It was mesmerizing.   Film titles: I Love Lakers, Medicine and Condolences. All gently striking and beautifully done.  The director has done two features as well.

Huacho

Next film seen was Huacho, by a Chilean critic, photographer, journalist,.  Film is set in rural area, and narratively threads 4 different but quite associated (economic hardship, family relations) together.  Shot a bit rough, with local people doing the acting,  it was reasonably interesting, though perhaps more for sociological matters than artistic.  I was not much impressed, and contrasted it to a vaguely similar (at least in being set rurally) Chilean film we saw last year, which was very striking in its cinematic ways.

Juan Andres Stoll in his brother’s film

The following day I started off with a Uruguayan film of some interest, Hiroshima, though it was marred with a few too cute smart-ass film-school elements that undercut it.   Basically following a young man, who is a musician, around what seemed the suburbs of Montevideo, taking care of family errands, winning a lottery for a job he doesn’t want, and then wandering out to a rural area where his friends are smoking dope, and then back for a music gig at night in the city.  The film’s conceit is that we listen to his headphones when he has them on, and when people speak we do not hear them, but get title cards instead.  Overall this worked interestingly, but the film suffered from an aura of self-conscious laid-back hipness and a touch too much cleverness.  Rich kids at play, with a soundtrack of what I would guess is Uruguay’s best bands in a minimalist punk groove.

In another program of shorts were two very nice films, one Japanese, Japanese Anna, adopted from a  short story by Kawabata Yasunari by Tsubokawa Takushi.  Very nicely done little period piece, from a curious story.   The other was a for-hire job by Ermani Olmi about the wine of Valtellina, in the northern alps of Italy, called Wine’s Rock.  Beautifully observant, informative, it was marred either by a bad projection or copy as it was washed out and a bit out of focus – I complained but they seemed unable to do anything about it.

My own Swimming in Nebraska screened twice, to modest audiences.  The first was marred by a chronic problem at Jeonju in which the sound is up way too high – in my case enough to get some break-up and distortion.  I made sure on the second screening the level was proper and it sounded fine.  Audience response was seemingly positive – almost no walk-outs, some good questions during Q&A for which most stayed.   James Benning saw the first screening and seemed quite positive; John Gianvito saw the second and likewise seemed favorably impressed.  After the second screening, thanks to the lady doing the translating bringing up the DVD’s I’d brought, sold a handful of them, one to a mother and her young son (10?) who were bowled over, had lots of questions, and bought Swimming and another film, as did another woman.  Somehow it worked I guess.   Now to send to some other festivals.

A last report in a few days.

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