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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Obama, Panetta, Petraeus

Announcing the latest change you can believe in (TM), President Obama announced that General Petraeus, following his great success in Afghanistan, is being bumped up to head of the CIA.  At the same moment, Leon Panetta is being switched from head of the CIA to Defense Secretary.   Through this deft maneuver, our imperial endeavors are allegedly to shift gears a bit, with our military foreign meddling now spearheaded by “intelligence” and our alleged intelligence militarized.  Gung Ho!    Shuffling the deck of bureaucratic survivors and military heroes (?),  we are to swoon in wonder that the changes you could believe in are so unbelievably unchangeable.  Over in another sector of the sinking ship the head of the Fed, Mr. Bernanke pontificated from behind a walnut desk in a first-ever news conference.  He spoke little of unemployment and much of inflation.

[As a Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on February 20, 2004, Bernanke gave a speech: The Great Moderation, where he postulated that we are in a new era, where modern macroeconomic policy has decreased the volatility of the business cycle to the point that it should no longer be a central issue in economics.] (And we should listen to this guy!)


Meantime in the heart of Nascar country, a test was being carried out by Mother Nature, in which our Bible belt must decide whether they are being punished for unknown moral transgressions (of which there are doubtless trillions to pick from) or whether perhaps the computer projections of scientific pin-heads claiming that such visitations are the probable work of global warming, and that the “new normal” is likely to include the leveling of all trailer house parks, Wall-Marts and other driven-by-economics-only architectural monuments.  These are times that test the souls of men, and the current Wizard of Oz seems not so kindly as Frank Baum’s.


Home sweet home, Alabama

In this season of our discontent, as the American fantasy unravels and the piper is at the door, the landscape is littered with all the portents of disaster.  Americans, so the pundits say, are unhappy and they ask why?  Living where they do it all seems if not the greatest, at least looking better – the stock market is up, CEO’s are taking in record bonuses, corporations are showing better figures.  Inflation is under control.  And so on.  But most Americans, looking over the horizon, seem to see no Yellow Brick Road, and instead an ominous cloud like those which materialized over northern Alabama the last days.

Trickster in Chief

Again the censor’s scissors were out, in this case for Krugman’s Op-Ed.  Either the little man in the cubicle interpreted this as a Tea-Partier at work, or perhaps took umbrage at the vaguely implied substance of the last sentence.

America was founded on the cry “No taxation without representation.” Until the citizenry is restored some meaningful representation by those in Congress, our fiscal problems will remain and worsen. Virtually all members of Congress are millionaires or more; this is not “representative” of the American public. Virtually all of those few not in this class are either bought, or will shortly be of that class.

The American citizenry lacks meaningful representation, yet it is taxed, while many of those in Congress, and the corporations they serve, are not taxed, courtesy of the myriad means by which those writing the laws – the rich Congressmen and women – write them to accommodate their interests and those of the corporations which own them.  Americans are not, in general, well-educated, so they are suckers for the political shell game being played and they chronically vote against their own interests.

While the hyper-wealthy for the moment can’t lose, in the short long run, the present situation is a lose-lose game, for everyone.

I anticipate soon the increasing use of those Second Amendment “rights” being brought onto the stage.

Meanwhile in the everyday sturm und drang of global life the hard hand of dictatorship shows itself in Libya, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere, issuing a challenge to the Tweeted revolutions of (mostly) youth in the middle-east.  Can a virtual community beat organized, armed, institutionalized thuggery?  Still rather too early to really tell which way it will all settle, though surely if in Syria the powers win for now, it will, as in Iran, merely keep the lid on an ever increasing sea of resentment which will in due time explode.

And half a world away, only a thousand kilometers from where I write, the Fukushima nuclear power plants fester, already swept away in the tsunami of news, tucked now to the back pages.  Though its radiation now drifts around the globe, and for the moment there is no real “solution” in sight.  Instead the area around it – 12 km though perhaps extended to 18 – will become a no-man’s land like that around Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and surely in the coming years we will read of the various  diseases, mutations and other effects of radiation toxicity in the area, and around the globe.  This news is also seemingly censored, confined to specialist journals.  It would seem some powerful forces would rather the general public didn’t know about all this.

As the Fukushima catastrophe underlines – one of its major problems being the radiation leaking from the damaged spent fuel storage immediately adjacent to each nuclear core (clever engineering) – there still isn’t any solution to the matter of dealing with the very long term (tens of thousands of years….) toxicity of the “waste” product of these mechanisms.    Nor are they remotely as safe as the captains of the energy industry claim.  However the major powers of our day – corporate ones – require energy, and are as willing to fudge the books on the negative accounting involved with nuclear power (privatize the profits; socialize the costs) as they are to do so in the accounting that determines their taxes.  Lies across the board.  Just like most of the rest of “the news.”

This past week got word from Yonsei University that they have me signed up another year – Sept. 2011 to Aug 2012.  So we’re in Korea one more year.    I hope to find the energy and will to make one film here between now and then, likely some kind of portrait of Seoul.  And perhaps a narrative something too.  Marcella, once she gets back, intends to do a serious bit of learning on how to do pojagi, a beautiful Korean type of patchwork sewing that looks, owing to its often if not always minimalist design, deceptively simple – but it’s not.  I have some thoughts on collaborating with her on a few pojagi inspired things.

Pojagi piece

And this past week I applied for and received the nod to take a try with Kickstart at funding a film to shoot from autumn 2012 to around same time 2013.  This will be a final essay-film on America, wrapping up the series which began in 1973 with Speaking Directly and pursued further with Plain Talk and Common Sense (uncommon senses) in 1985-7.   The new film would followup on those, trying to figure out America today.  Curiously those two earlier films – despite  some dated rhetorical language, though accurate in most ways,  feels to me a little trapped in its times – seem to have pretty much poetically pointed to where we are today.   The tentative title for the new one will be Unrequited.   I expect to travel, slowly, a full year, perhaps a touch more.  Along the way we’ll be shooting, visiting friends, hopefully doing screenings and a few workshops (to help pay for it all), and blogging.

Jon, 1972, in Speaking DirectlySpeaking Directly

I haven’t quite decided what to propose for Kickstart – what to offer, how much to try to raise, or quite what the description of the work would be.  I anticipate a sprawling thing – maybe 3 or even many more hours long, perhaps divided into distinct sections which can stand on their own, and also work in tandem.  It’ll be shot in HD, and I hope largely edited along the way.   So I thought I’d do a little check this way, or ask some advice.   So here’s some thoughts for my proposals for the Kickstart project.  I’d like some feedback or suggestions so if you have any please post in the comments or write me directly (see website www.jon-jost.com for email address).

Frame from Plain Talk and Common Sense

After providing a description as best I can of something amorphous and unclear – though it is clear it will be an elegaic film, rooted deeply in American history, but also a radical one, and probably tragic – I’ll offer some of these:

That those giving, say, $200, will receive DVDs of the previous films, and when it is done, of the last one.  Given I usually sell these for $30 + $3 shipping, means I send $100 worth of DVDs, and get another $100 to help cover the costs of making this last hurrah.

Of course, anyone helping fund the film gets listed in the credits.  I want once in my film life to have a credit list like the one in Avatar, or any big CGI animation film, where it seems like an entire army is listed.

And, as some people like to be social etc. I thought I’d offer to drop by if nearby – with the proviso that I and Marcella can stay a night or two (camp out in the back yard, whatever…).  And, if anyone desires they could collaborate a little by pointing out interesting local things, be it a real local cafe, tourist oddity, landscape thing, or perhaps a local person who’d be interesting to talk with, perhaps interview, or whatever.  I.e., any help in finding and getting a foot in the door of anything locally interesting – culturally, politically, socially.   A kind of grass roots bit of media-making.

And, as one section of the film is likely to be portraits of Americans, if there, I can shoot whomever, and whether it is in film, or on blog, or some other outlet (feasible installation work later), their portrait could find a place in the project.

Grandpa and Gramps, from Plain Talk and Common SenseIndian cemetery, South Dakota

If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions on this, I’d be interested in hearing them.  I likely won’t kick Kickstart into gear for a few months, wanting to check how to perhaps make it work best for this film.  So there’s ample time for fine tuning.  Also I am interested in contacting anyone who might be able to help organize meeting up with various people – economists, sociologists, historians, political observers, or just interesting plain folks doing whatever they do – to begin now to correspond and perhaps for the film to do some shooting with them.   

If anyone reading this is institutionally based, I am also looking to sell DVDs of the two films to schools – a hundred such sales would go a long way toward financing this trip and film.  So if you can help get such sales, kindly do.   I’ll probably try for some grants and see if some Euro television might be interested, but I am skeptical about getting any funding that way.  To be honest, while it might just be paranoia, I have felt for some time I am on some kind of discreet American blacklist, one that likely extends into such things as grant-giving areas.  My “radicalism” is likely the reason.

Last shot of  Speaking Directly

[To contact with information, purchases or anything else, please do so via my website, http://www.jon-jost.com.  PS: In the last week I was invited by John Gianvito (Profit motive and the whispering wind) to participate in an omnibus work on America's 10th year in Afghanistan; no pay, of course.  Of course, I accepted. ]

Update April 21:  Again the censors at the Times found fault in a comment regarding their Editorial Board item titled

A Rational Budget for the Pentagon

Here’s what I wrote that was, admittedly rather more drastic than the comments of others, though mentioned by others were Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, the fact that the US spends as much on military items as the rest of the world combined; none however suggested cutting to fit, well, a rational assessment of real threats.

Rational cuts requires a rational look at supposed “threats” to America.  The US spends as much annually on arms and other warring-minded things (like the CIA, various so-black-items we can’t be allowed to know about them; etc.) as the rest of the world does combined.  Most of that “rest of the world” are our allies.  We could rationally cut our “defense” (it really means offense) by, say somewhere from 2/3rds to 3/4’s, meaning down to 2 trillion instead of 7 point whatever trillion.  But it’ll never happen until our bloated corrupted military-run society collapses into its own imperial footprint,  because the military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower (Republican, famed General) warned us about, did as he foresaw, and took over (behind the scenes, of course) the US government.  Wars R Us(a).  Shaving 400 billion or 200 billion is nothing.  The military-industrial complex needs a hard-core crewcut of at least 3-4 trillion over the next 10 years.  Read Eisenhower’s Farewell address for a compassionate explanation why.   http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/dwightdeisenhowerfarewell.html

Guess which corporate entities butter the New York Times’ bread.

Update April 20:  Again the censors were busy so here’s what they didn’t allow on the “Comments” on April 19.

In response to Brooks’ item on Donald Trump:

“He emerges from deep currents in our culture, and he is tapping into powerful sections of the national fantasy life.”

Yes, he’s on that good old American hard-core vein of fool’s gold. That any poll shows him leading the Republican pack of fools tells all too much about the abysmal state of America’s “conservative” wing of political thought. Oh boy.

And don’t worry, America has no monopoly on such characters: see Silvio in Italy, and, well, there’s lots more. How about Silvio’s buddy in Libya, recently hosted, tent and all by Sarkozy in Paris. Politics breeds these kinds of psychos all the time.

In response to Joe Nocera’s item on how the oversight agency for the banking industry doesn’t do its job:

Like most of the government, the OCC has been bought. On a practical level it would be interesting to know how many on the OCC staff were there during Bush’s let’s-not-regulate regime, the one that produced the BP blow-out and, well, the 2008 fiscal nose-dive. I suspect most of the bureaucrats in the OCC now were there then. And whomever was appointed to head them doubtless thinks the same way. The business of America is business, so it was said, and at the OCC it is business as usual.

IN response to Douthat blog:

It is interesting how from the strident yells of objection to “death panels” a year or so ago, in regard to health care reform, now the self-same hard-right basically proposes “death panels” in the form of Ryan’s reforms: Douthat comes right out and says it in his last line here, but of course in good Orwellian style for this occasion he phrases it differently and even includes a little racist accusation undertone in it as well. Those darn white old fogies aren’t going to die off gracefully and expect the darker majority to pay up for them. Hmmmm… Boy, when painted in a corner does Douthat get painting ugly.

Like it or not, looking at the fiscal horizon, America is going to, all together now, get poorer. The right is desperately working to make sure it won’t be all together, and that only everyone not in the top 1 to 2% will do the getting poorer (and all the better for those 2% who will have cheaper gardeners, nannies, etc. and some of them might even be white !!)

Well if a rising tide carries all boats higher, let’s make sure a lowering one works the by the same principle.

And then in response to an Editorial board item on Republican State house actions of late:

Republicans – but Democrats as well – have for some time offered a con-man’s quick shuffle to please voters. Republicans have done it more directly, and are sometimes a bit more plainspoken about it (except when it comes to the matter of the military, in which case they are duplicitous as they are with, oh big ag, the oil biz and other favorites). In the interest of pleasing the voter both parties have offered something for nothing: you can have a fire department, police, roads, schools, and… you don’t have to pay for it ! And for the most part the greedy, needy public went for it, and now the bill has come due. The infrastructure is falling apart, the big corporations outsourced all the labor to cheaper places, the schools don’t work, and now the rich sliver on top are directing their propaganda outfits (like Fox) to blame the hoi polloi, and by the way, less taxes on the rich, please.

As the old saw goes, You made your bed, now sleep in it.

Both parties have sold the public a fraudulent bill of goods and now the con is done. Digging out from the falsehoods of the past will take a lot of work, but both sides lost all credibility. And so did the gullible public.

And then I replied to the numerous respondents to some editorial thing about economics and I didn’t save my stuff – about 8 of them.  None published so far, but sometimes those are slow.

End of update.

April 17:

Saturday and Sunday’s censoring scissors were out in force, making me wonder if having bowed to the pay wall, one is now to be cut out of the little opportunity of playing a bit-part in the commentariat.  Here’s what evidently offended someone in a cubicle at the New York Times:

In response to a Maureen Dowd item on Mitt Romney.

Well, then who is the one who cheated on his wife? I thought Mormon men could have multiple wives but I didn’t know the wives could have multiple husbands. This is really interesting.

Which we can’t say about anything else regarding Mitt.

In response to a David Brooks blog item which says a study shows the rich conservative is more generous than liberal income-re-distributionists:

If, because you are very rich, having gained control over the government (bought it) so that you can dictate tax policies, and you hence have still more and more money – as has happened in the USA in the last 3 decades – and you give some little fraction to a charity of your choice (to guide policy more where you want it), you may if you wish claim great generosity. I am sure the Koch brothers perceive themselves in such a way.

If on the other hand you think paying taxes is appropriate so you can have roads, police, social welfare, and that those taxes should be “progressive” (i.e., the more you earn/have the more you can afford to pay for the social commonwealth of which you are a rich beneficiary), having paid those taxes you feel due, you have less to “give” away. You already “gave” it away.

The survey you cite is most dubious in its premises and execution, but it is certainly something that would attract you, trying to show how our very wealthiest have charity deep in their souls.

Really!

In response to Ross Douthat blog on Obama’s speech responding to Paul Ryan’s “plan:

“Nor was it his refusal to match Paul Ryan’s honesty”

You need to check in a dictionary (or your conscience) what “honesty” means: Ryan’s plan was at best disingenuous, or at worst a carefully considered pack of lies which he hoped no one would call him out on. But it didn’t work, and his “plan” has been duly shown for the fraud it is – like most Republican/conservative claims of the last few decades or more.

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Trickle down = ever more concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands;

“freedom of choice” = not with your womb;

“liberty” = corporatism uber alles;

“free speech” = if you can pay for it to match corporate “personhood”.

“honesty” = Ryan’s fraud

Welcome to 1984 a little late, Ross.

And to Roger Cohen’s adoring puff-piece on Sarkozy:

All this and no mention of French colonial involvement in, well, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and all the way down to the Cote d’Ivoire. And how these involvements did not evaporate away with those former colonies’ “liberation” and how lots of French money/business just happens to be tied up in these places. Or that in the usual manner of colonies, the former colonials now occupy many places in La France and present their own domestic problems.

Somehow, aside from electoral angling and muscle flexing, I sense that some hard-core real-politic is lurking there in the foreground. I think the seeming idealism has more to do with a somewhat belated understanding about which way the historical winds are blowing and trying to get downwind, so Mr Sarkozy decided to jump out of the once cozy beds of the wheezing old madames, and jump into bed with the thrilling young ones. He knows something about this, as surely you and all of France are aware. Perhaps it will indeed become an electoral plus for him as it is rumored the French approve such things (discreetly, of course).

And lastly, on Maureen Dowd’s Sunday piece on Paul Rand and Ayn Rand:

That we have an entire class of political “thinkers” basing their supposed philosophy on a bad romance novel tells all too much about the level of our social discourse. You can buy it at the check-out counter in any discount store, along with the other soft-porn for women. It though follows naturally that those rooting their economics in a fiction would likewise be impervious to facts, such as the utter failure of trickle down to do so. More a case of Golden Showers for the underclass. So it doesn’t matter if their policies resulted in catastrophe, if the magical fraudulent Free Market Economy merely licensed criminality in pin-stripes, warped the political arena with pure greed, and otherwise introduced hard-core corruption as the new American norm. They have their novel, and like the other book some of them like to thump, it was written by a god(dess) and it must hence be true.

I recall another country not so long ago went traipsing after another book and its author. Perhaps Mein Kampf is Mr Ryan’s second favorite book.

I sent in another version, minus the “Golden Showers” in case that was too offensive, but neither made “the cut.”

And a last item, in response to an article on Republican efforts at the state level to push back environmental protection laws in the interests of business:

Slash and burn. This is the Republican policy whether it is war, economics, the environment or social policy. A short-sighted we-want-profit-now behavior pattern is the norm for them. That it is often masked clumsily under nice words – especially of late their legal bills are draped with Orwellian lies – makes it even worse.

Let them eat cake, they say. What’s next?

Lemon Cake by Wayne Thieboud

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Yesterday responding to a New York Times Op-Ed (Thomas Friedman lamenting mess in the middle-east while touting US intervention and planting of “democracy seeds” by violence), I was number four in replying; after 12 hours my response was listed as # 5 in the “approve” ratings.  Today I checked and my comment, up for the day, had been replaced with

4.
April 13th, 2011
2:44 am
This comment has been removed. Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments FAQ.
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And needless to say the comment was no longer in the “approve” list.   I guess the “news fit to print” does not include making public the censorship policies practiced by The Gray Lady.
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In the days to come we’ll see if this is an institution-wide ban, or only for the person taking care of Thomas Friedman’s column.  Evidently, at least for some there at America’s “paper of record,” the truth is too much to countenance.
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Meantime I note that today’s reader’s responses to Obama’s speech shows what happens when you toss red-meat out to your constituency – it doesn’t matter if it is a right or left wing one, what matters is the right cluster of words.  Here it was “tax the rich” and the intended audience went into paroxysms of “he’s back” and other such swoons before The One.
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He didn’t in the speech mention shaving the military-industrial complex by the 50% or more it could use; the taxes on the rich were in the 3% range, and other things seem to suggest the talk was a rhetorical reach-out to the supposed base.   Excuse my cynicism, but it all seems far too little and much too late.  Perhaps it’s all been a good bit of rope-a-dope electioneering, but it remains trapped inside the highly formalized limits of our Kabuki-theater political arena.
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And here is the other item the Times chose not to print yesterday, which I only noted after posting the above:

President Obama is not a Democrat, nor a \”leader.\” He is some kind of Republican and his methodology is to not offend anyone, which got him a long way in his previous life. As a tactic it worked before, but now he is managing to offend almost everyone. He might in his coming talk hint at the need for taxes, or for prayer, or for something. He is not going to level with the American people and tell them the system is totally skewed to the rich, that the rich don’t want taxes, and those not rich can go take a hike. Obama is one of them, as is anyone who is allowed to reach into the new American politburo of the oligarchs.

Following yesterday, when a posting regarding a Paul Krugman item on Obama being MIA in the NY Times  got 1818 “approve” responses, I got up this morning to find that everything I’d posted yesterday neither got the automatic email reply stating your item has been posted, nor, of course were the items posted.   A glitch in the system?  Punishment from on high?  Here’s the items that were canned:

In response to David Brooks’ item on Poetry for Everyday Life:

“then the skilled thinker will be able to recognize patterns, blend patterns, apprehend the relationships and pursue unexpected likenesses”

Yes indeed, I have noticed – though I disavow any claimed “skill” in thinking – that Mr Brooks does indeed tend to mix his metaphors in a weekly cocktail of mis- and dis- information, not so cleverly designed to hide both his Republican-conservative traits, though they usually burp out somewhere; and his gushing vacuity.  Today’s waxing is a good example of this latter tendency.   Tap dancing around the day’s more urgent matters, from budget axings to nuclear melt-downs to the more taxing matter of taxes for his class of people, Mr Brooks waves his pen airily and smites us with his, uh, emptiness.

And this guy gets paid well for this kind of stuff.

A look at the other responses shows that my view was widely shared.  That Mr Brooks is often cited as one of they shining intellectual lights of the right in America – after all he’s on the Op-Ed pages of the Times – is indicative of the paucity of real thinking over there on the “conservative” wing of the nation.

Then responding to another Op-Ed item, this one by Joe Nocera, who deals largely with economics, who did strangely a hot puff-piece on T. Boone Pickens and natural gas:

It is interesting to note that verily today’s Gray Lady pages there is an article about how “natural gas” isn’t really so clean in terms of green-house gas effects, global warming (which I doubt good old boy Boone  thinks much of), etc.  Not to mention that many of the methods of securing that gas, good old fracking, is turning out to be a lot less benign than the industry would have us believe.

Like they might say in Texas, ain’t never something for nothin’
or
ain’t no free lunch

Again, those responding took him to task in the same manner.

Then, responding to an Editorial on the Supreme Court, I wrote this:

The Court will continue this way. Where have most sitting members of the Court been schooled? Would you be surprised to learn it was those grooming schools of the American aristocracy, Harvard and Yale? (You know, the place Obama was groomed to pretend to be a Democrat while being a Republican.) Would you be surprised to find out that people who are surrounded by the very wealthy tend to acquire their values, whether they started out that way or not? Even more so if they didn’t – see the President for example…

The Supreme Court is there to serve wealth. Just as in these times is the Executive and the Congress. Wealth is well-served when its overwhelmingly disproportionate access to money is allowed to be used freely as “speech.” Just ask Mr Alito.

The Judicial system has always been a servant to wealth, and it’s not going to change any time soon.

Again, those responding covered much the same ground.

And then, responding to a habitual resident in the responses section, one JLT, hailing from Palo Alto, CA., usually high on the list with a shrill right-wing zinger, though in terms of  “approval” checks usually zipped quickly to the lower echelons, I wrote the below.  I forget and can’t find what the column was it was in response to, but whatever it was it let JLT claim that Ronald Reagan was solely responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union when he said, “Gorby, tear down that wall.”  And, as in the Bible, the walls came tumbling down and it was all because of Saint Ronnie.

Ah, JLT from PA, ever fast on the trigger to warp a little history sharply to the right.

Having visited in 1985 the good old USSR before it collapsed, without using the billions invested in the CIA etc., it was clear that as a system it was in terminal decline, tottering. It probably had a little to do with being suckered into an arms race, but mostly to do with its internal stresses and contradictions. Curiously now some decades later it is America which is groaning under the weight of the military-industrial complex which we could say Reagan brought upon us, and it is we who are beginning to buckle under the strains of our internal stresses and contradictions.

What goes round, comes round, no JLT? If Reagan did indeed cause, as you suggest, the collapse of the USSR, I guess we could say he’s had a hand in the collapse of the US(A).

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, arrested last week by authorities there

And last, but not least, responding to an Op-Ed series on the nature of censorship in China, prompted by the recent arrest, I wrote this:

While the West, particularly the US, likes to assert it has “freedoms” absent in such places as China, the old USSR, etc., and in some perverse way this is true, in fact our system of censorship is actually “better” and more effective.  An artist in America or Europe can almost say anything, politically or otherwise.  This is allowable for a few reasons.

One is that the overwhelming background noise of our culture, with its omnipresent media (owned and run by corporate powers) will drown out almost anything which those powers do not support.  Political dissent is firmly frowned upon and will be left uncovered, whether it is from artists or demonstrators on the streets.  We don’t call it “censorship;”  instead we say something like “the market isn’t interested/it won’t make money.”

Another is that virtually all “successful” artists will have shown they have already been co-opted, if they weren’t “inside” already.  See Jeff Koons, and a long list of other trivial, highly marketable ‘artists’ who are not only accepted, but heavily promoted – precisely because while they may seem culturally outrageous, they are politically harmless.  Or better yet, they are helpful in that they propagate the idea that some people, like CEO’s, stars (sports and entertainers) and others are deserving of payments of millions on millions.  A decade or two back (and still – see Banksy for example) “political” art was fashionable and one might go to a gallery or major museum and see stultifying academic “art” which purportedly was political, and in content one might say it was; however it was made and exhibited in a manner which utterly stripped it of any real political effect: it made the makers’ feel self-satisfied and deluded they were “doing something” (like collecting good grants), and it made the spectators feel good for glancing a few minutes and having paid their do-good dues.  This kind of stuff still goes on.

So ours is a much better system of control. We don’t need to jail artists since anyone vaguely threatening will get no attention from the “market driven” press, and so you won’t hear/see of them.  Anyone successful will be well remunerated and will mystically self-censor where necessary, or if not, perhaps find themselves curiously turned into that old USSR standby, the “nonperson”.  For a culture which can give personhood to a corporation, it is no problem taking it away from the odd truculent artist.   For more in this matter see http://cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/chinese-finger-trap/

Andy Warhol entertaining the very richJeff Koons entertaining the very very rich

Now given the consistency of yesterday’s black-out, I’d like to think it was some screw-up in my internet connection, though otherwise I had no problems yesterday, and I posted promptly, as I often do, being lucky in Korea to slot in at a nice hour immediately when the Times goes on-line with its daily Op-Ed page.  Perhaps it was simply a glitch, and today “normalcy” will return.  Or perhaps it is “the new normalcy” wherein my last comment regarding Ai Weiwei is coming into play.  We’ll see.  If it does persist I guess I will institute a regular posting under the title Censoring Times, with a number behind it.


In Budget Deal, Signs of Obama’s Path to the Middle

In the increasingly artificial charade which American politics has become, we have just spent a few weeks of supposed high drama as the matter of the budget was dealt with, as threats of a governmental close-down loomed and politico’s did their Fox minuet, pretending it was all “news”.   With clocks virtually ticking to some doom’s day conclusion, the focus of Washington and its myriad supplicants turned towards the what-if-the-money-runs-out scenario, neglecting to note that actually the money ran out long ago, and the nation, collectively as an entity, and for the most part individually as persons (and corporate person’s as well, some of them) were living deep in debt.

As the clock ticked down, hissy-fits were made, by the ill-named Boehner and his partner in theatrics, Senator Reid.  No-drama Obama, as seems his usual tactic, lurked more or less silently in the background.  Once the fake theater was done, he stepped forth to announce that indeed a deal had been cut, and compromises had been made, and made a big deal that it was the biggest cut ever.  He didn’t mention that it was from also the biggest budget ever (in natural keeping with the inflated realities of the times.)   Like all the numbers and statistics emanating from the government, as well as from its handlers, our corporate masters, it was all fake.  Unemployment is not 8% (or as Ross Douthat in his column today say “above 8% ” – could be 80% said that way) but more like 18%.  Ah, but the same paper of record, the New York Times reported that while perhaps the Main Street economy is wallowing deep in (d)(r)ecession, the honchos up at top are, gee, gosh, just getting real big fat, some of them records, paychecks for their wonderful “work” – 70 million here, 28 million there.  Hot damn.

Meantime in Washington the show must go on, as the imperatives of Broadway and the Beltway both insist.   So Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum continued to waltz on, as our Ship of State displayed its terminal corruption.

Timothy Geithner warns of economic catastrophe if the government isn’t funded

Blankfein smirks

One no longer needs to recite the figures of America’s grotesquely tilted fiscal house, one in which the guys shown above basically own the house, all the chips, and rig the rules to make sure it will become more that way.  This current budgetary crisis is but one further step in the minuet.   Having stripped America of jobs, productivity, health, and about anything they could – of course all under the mystical mantra of the Holy Free Market Economy – these wizards, with the collusion of their government lackies, now propose to yank what little “safety net” existed and reduce the general populace to their proper status as serfs.

 

Serf condoJohn Paulson, hedge fund manager, “earned” 4.9 billion last year

Denver area foreclosure map:  red = foreclosureDon’t look, keep walking

Vets are 50% more likely to be homeless than other Americans

Of course in all the talk of the need to make budgetary cuts, neither Republicans or so-called Democrats ever bring up that monster in the closet, which gobbles up vast amounts of the nation’s economy, that good old military-industrial complex that old Eisenhower warned us about.   The US military, among other things, maintains around 300 golf courses around the world so that the brass, if not the guy above, can take a relaxing break.    In one of the budgetary items due for cutting, it is medical care for the VA.  But, shhhhhh… not to mention, it might disrupt the show!

On a more personal note, on April 8, in replying to a New York Times opinion piece - Roger Cohen discussing Israel and the Goldstone report, I wrote – unfortunately I did not copy for myself – an item and it was I believe briefly on-line, and then censored.

 

April 8th, 2011
2:04 am
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What I had written was that Goldstone, owing to being Jewish, was, whether he liked it or not, and involuntarily or not, part of a minority cult within Jews, and that he was being treated as cults normally treat “traitors.”   I said that he’d violated a basic rule of that cult, in failing to recite the mantra, “Israel can do no wrong.”
I have been censored previously by the Times, though usually owing to my use of some benign or abbreviated bit of bad-word slang.  In this case it is clearly the political view implied, and as it had been posted one supposes a reader had complained.    It would appear some cult members work at the Times (surprise surprise.)
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[April 12.  Censored again, this time for a response to Ross Douthat's slight about face, as he expressed concern that the draconian Republican Ryan-style budget was indeed going to lead the lower classes out to dry.  I suggested, and imagine this was the cause for the censorship, that our ruling elite was realizing that at the rate they are pushing, they might find their heads on display at the ends of pikes.  It wasn't a dirty word, but a grim "dirty" thought.   If they are getting so touchy about even words one can imagine they are beginning to get nervous about the consequences of their own selfishness.]

Frames from Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff

The first image above is of the character name Meek, in Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” just released – I suspect to a fast BO swoon, to speak Varietese.  In the story he’s a grizzled guide, wild-man of the west.  However in the image, he is fresh out of something like Hollywood costumes, with a thin patina of showbiz “dirt” gracing his buckskin outfit, though we notice his purse is untainted with anything so vile.  As someone who lived “rough” for five years in rural Oregon and Montana (no electricity, no running water, no money) I can assure you, out of experience, that a mere week or two of such living makes your clothes a lot dirtier than those seen in these images.   Meek is an ostensible frontier mountain-man and his purse should be dark with oil and fat as well as smoke from fires and just plain dirt, all well attracted by the greasy base, as would be his buckskin clothes (which one doesn’t wash).   In the next pictures the clothes are so spick-and-span they look incongruous next to the theatrical “dirty faces” make-up job on the actors (which, again, for anyone with experience reads false as to how faces and skin really get dirty – dirt is most visible in wrinkles, where it gathers and stays).

Which then makes one wonder about the rest of the matter at hand, a “story” set in the out back of Oregon’s Eastern desert, which apparently weaves in supposely true-grit Americana, echoes of “cowboy” movies (which were often shot on transparently false Hollywood sets, or conversely set in real western places, like Monument Valley, where no one lived except for the weakest Indian tribes, forced by circumstances to such inhospitable climes), and then sub-textually of present-day concerns about just how we are.  Meek’s Cutoff is a so-called “independent” film, relatively low-budgeted, and yet it persists in the usual historical drama of getting all the gritty details of history wrong while purporting to set itself in that reality.  Sounds like it also has a sort of feminist angle.  Why not just admit one doesn’t know a damned thing about this and either go Kabuki, a totally obvious theatrical falsity, from which curiously truth can emerge, or just stick to contemporary which one might have a clue about.  The images above (confirmed by a few glances of clips from the film) just underline that movie people know very little about the real world, and in turn any truths they might seem to uncover become suspect.

I know this is kicking a dead horse.  I already dealt with this before.  See this.

James Cameron’s Avatar

The only real difference between Avatar and Meek’s Cutoff are the budgets and the profits.  Both traffic in fraudulent perceptions of the past or future, and devolve into formulaic drama.

Little addition a few days later, to show if nothing else, a certain consistence.  Funded by an Omaha businessman, Robert Redford, the Sundance man, has just directed a new film, The Conspirator, a period piece about the group which assassinated Lincoln.  The budget was a mere $25 million for this “indie” film, as he claimed it to be (i.e., indie here means “not funded by a Hollywood studio.”)  From this picture we see his veracity meter is about as good as the one used for Meek’s Cutoff:


Note the pristine powder box (never used, I guess the soldier didn’t see much action in the war); or for that matter the clean uniform.  On the other hand note Robert Redford’s actually used and worn jeans (and his paunch).


Ai Weiwei

With no irony intended, two reports regarding Chinese art were made on the same day, one being:

Record price set for Chinese contemporary art

$10 million painting boosts Chinese

contemporary market

While the other was that China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, had been arrested and taken away by the police, whereabouts presently unknown.  They also raided his studio, confiscated many things, and took away 10 assistants who were held and then released.  His top assistant was not released.  See this for more information.

Ai Weiwei piece in London’s Tate Modern Turbine Gallery

Ai Weiwei has recurrently been in the news, for things of various kinds: he was reportedly beaten by Chinese police, causing a brain hemorrhage; his recent installation in the Tate Modern Gallery was closed to its original public you-can-walk-on-it intention when it turned out that as many Chinese products, it emitted toxins; he was partner in designing the Birds Nest Stadium built for the Beijing Olympics, which spectacle he then denounced as a show-biz cover-up of Chinese government oppression.  Following ancient Chinese Confucian traditions, the intellectual/artist speaks truth to power, and as usual, gets in trouble for the bother.

Bird’s Nest by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei

While the sale of “Ever Lasting Love”  (which looks a painting of dubious qualities) appears to my eyes to be a probable art market manipulation on the part of Belgian collector Baron Guy Ullens, who happens to have a large collection of contemporary Chinese art and is probably looking to, well, collect on it, is a good demonstration of how capitalism has emerged triumphant in China, it is also ironically an indication of how it has failed.  Can anyone imagine an artist in the Western or Western-oriented capitalist world being such a threat to the establishment that they would be arrested or beaten for making provocative comments about the government or society?  The Western version of capitalist “democracy” is endlessly more effective at co-opting, censoring, or making old Soviet-style “non-persons” of local dissenters.  If an artist does not become filthy rich – usually selling glossy crap – then we simply do not hear of them.

Beautiful Helios Hysteria Intense Painting (with Extra Inner Beauty), 2008

Damien Hirst and costly diamond studded skull

Japan’s Murakami in Versailles

Jeff Koons Jeff Koons, “”Balloon Dog”

In our corrupted culture, those allowed a public face are those who are part and parcel of that culture and their work not only is innocuous, but it celebrates the corruption which is the culture.  Anyone who does not fit into this schema is simply banished, ignored by a corporately owned interlocking system of mass media, museums, universities and other institutional systems which function as censors negatively and as cheer-leaders “positively.”  When we read about the arts it is equivalent to reading the stock market listings for the day: the talk is all about money, and its corruptions, though naturally they do not say it that way.

[Update headline.]

China States Charge Against Artist

In a brief NYTimes item on April 7, 2011, it was announced that the Chinese government has resorted to that old USSR and other dictatorial system standby of charging Ai Weiwei with “economic crimes.”  Which usually translates as not paying taxes, or “laundering money” (Sergei Paradjanov was imprisoned by the Soviets for this alleged crime) or other such often nebulous offenses.  It is clear that the Chinese government simply wants to shut this man up, and so….

Ai Weiwei sculpture

Michele Bachmann, Representative from Minnesota at Tea Party rally

Many Jobs Seen as Failing to Meet the Basics

The Jobless See a Lifeline at Risk

Missouri Halts Extension of Pay for Unemployed

Ohio’s Anti-Union Law Is Tougher Than Wisconsin’s

After an On-Time Passage of a Pared-Back Budget,

Bracing for the Pain to Come

The above were culled from today’s NY Times, though I could have found a similar number of similar content any day in the last month or two, as America undergoes The Great Belt-Tightening. Or at least a large part of America does.  Another part is having quite a different party.  Today’s paper also noted that the following hedge-fund operators did, well, kinda OK for themselves.  At least in fiscal terms:

Edward S. Lampert earned $1.1 billion in 2010David Tepper earned $2.2 billion in 2010James Simons, left, earned $2.5 billion in 2010John Paulson, “earned” 4.9 billion in 2010

The above information was gleaned from an article in the same day’s issue of the NY Times.  To suggest it demonstrates a kind of schism in the US would be putting it very mildly.  On the same day, these charts were to be found in the same paper of record:

These graphs, for those who know how to interpret them are suggestive, even if the data is likely fudged a bit by institutional bias.  Today’s Gallup poll indicated unemployment stood at 10.2 percent, and under-employment at 19.9 percent.  These are probably low-ball figures.   The bottom graph shows what the stocks of Lubrizol corporation did immediately after David Sokol, who had been tapped to take over Berkshire-Hathaway from Warren Buffet, did after he’d bought a large share of such stocks and then suggested Berkshire buy it.  He says he did nothing wrong, but he promptly resigned his position at Hathaway when it was revealed.

 

American homeAmerican citizen on methFavored rural object, a 30 aught 6 Wall StreetYellowstone Ranch, gated community, houses start at 5 million

AmmoSarah Palin

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