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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Yesterday, at my request, at our little cinema at Yonsei University, the film Our Daily Bread (Nikolaus Geyrhalter and Wolfgang Widerhofer) was screened – to myself and 3 students, none of them mine.   I’d asked to see it as I had been quite struck by it when we first saw it several years ago.   It is a film about contemporary agricultural production, shot over several years in Europe.   Dominantly composed of symmetrical wide-screen shots, with sync sound and no voice over or explanatory text , it dispassionately unveils the process of food production as done today, on a rationalized industrial scale.  The formal aspects of the film mimic the subject’s rationalized organization, producing a sense of monumentality which gives weight to the images and in turn gives a gravity to the subject which would likely be lost with a different aesthetic approach.   The film is as much about the philosophical underpinnings of corporate agriculture as it is about the physical processes, though it utters not a word about it.  In this instance, 100 pictures are worth a stack of sociology, economic and philosophy tomes.

As the camera looks fixedly at the organizing patterns, and the machinery of this “business” at work – clinically, with sometimes amazing technical finesse (the machines for gutting, vacuuming out innards, sorting egg and chick sizes), the herding of literal masses of pigs and chickens, spraying them with antibiotics, orchards and crops with insecticides and herbicides, the neat mono-culture greenhouses with each step rationalized for maximum production – one cannot help but be reminded of the messier earlier such attempt: the KZ camps of the Third Reich.


Which leads, naturally to other sites, less seemingly remote in time:


Camp Cropper

Camp Bagram


Watching I was also reminded of a school of contemporary aesthetics, though one which reaches back also to earlier ones.  I am thinking of Berndt and Hilla Becher, of James Benning, of August Sanders and other artist catalogers who simply and directly show us what is:

Hilla and Bernd Becher

James Benning

August Sanders

Somewhere these all interlink, and contradictorily they point together to a cruel and difficult truth, which we individually, and collectively as societies, do our very best to hide from ourselves.   Most people probably only have a vague sense of some symptomatic aspects, and do not understand the source:  that we have constructed a world for ourselves which is utterly out of sync with the world into which our species was born, and we, millenniums later, having long lost sight of this,  blithely carry on as if all were in order while we are pulverizing to bits the very globe on which we live, and with it, ourselves.

Camp Cropper

Agribusiness site

In agriculture as in manufacture, the transformation of production under the sway of capital, means, at the same time, the martyrdom of the producer; the instrument of labour becomes the means of enslaving, exploiting, and impoverishing the labourer; the social combination and organisation of labour-processes is turned into an organised mode of crushing out the workman’s individual vitality, freedom, and independence. The dispersion of the rural labourers over larger areas breaks their power of resistance while concentration increases that of the town operatives. In modern agriculture, as in the urban industries, the increased productiveness and quantity of the labour set in motion are bought at the cost of laying waste and consuming by disease labour-power itself. Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth-the soil and the labourer.

(Capital, V.1, chapter 15)

You can buy Our Daily Bread ($29.99) or rent from Netflix.  I recommend.  You might want to do it on a fasting day….

Invited by our friend Jean Poulot, who does animation (specializing in a form using sand, in which he does live presentations, quite lovely), Marcella and I joined in a trek to the cinema to see Monsters Vs Aliens.  I went prompted primarily to see what 3D is like these days, as well as CGI animation.  I didn’t think I would have much interest in the film itself, but rather in the technique.   I got a good surprise as I was in tears half the time from laughter.  The story itself is a riff on a thousand movies from 1950’s sci-fi it came from outer space stuff on to Dr Strangelove and myriad films I haven’t seen but the tell-tale traces of cinephilia were evident even to a quasi-virgin like me.   The plot was ripped out of every sci-fi-monster-horror film in the book, but played as homage, and with a weird smart-ass intelligence lurking all over the place, from sharp political jabs to subtle inflections in the various characters’ personalities.  Parodying its sources, it managed to layer in socio-political observations, riff on previous films, and I think had a sense of humor far too rich for most audiences, and certainly so for the children it is ostensibly aimed at.   Today I checked on-line for reviews, and found most of them rather tepid, remarking on the wonderful animation, the 3D, but largely dismissing the story (which was scarcely the point) and just plain missing the darker humors.  Frankly I laughed to tears many times, having to take off the double pairs of glasses to clean up, though I confess I was, in a thin mostly Korean audience, one of the few (Jean and Marcella were laughing too, if not as much as I was).    It reminded me literally and figuratively of another time in Lisbon watching Mars Attacks with a dumbfounded unlaughing Portuguese audience – this film shared a lot of that film’s black humor.   I think the underlying problem in both is a combination of both works being intensely American, but as filtered through the mind of a doper.   If you aren’t or weren’t a user, then I think a major level of both of these films must glide by with what is pleasurable for a dope head likely just being an irritant to the straight spectator.  Alas.


On the tech side the 3D was quite lovely, and after a while one settled into it and it felt normal.  Coupled to the richness of the HD computer graphics, it made for an amazingly convincing other world, which never pretended to be “real” but rather made for a completely engaging cartoon reality.  I was reminded of a long list of things, from

Philip Guston




to Tim Burton

to Kubrick

And I think the film carried a lot of that baggage, for those who could share it.  At the conclusion of the film a veritable army of those who made it floated by, reminding of the massive amount of work such things take.  Having done just a little primitive computer animation I can only guess at what logarithms make for the textures of hair, the gritty surfaces of the alien robot, and everything else so carefully wrought in this film.  Which, once the last credits have rolled away, leaves me pondering whether the massive expense of this folly is socially justifiable.  I imagine all those names made good film-world money:

The production budget for “Monsters vs. Aliens” was about $165 million to $170 million, including that 3-D premium. Worldwide marketing costs are estimated at $175 million, consistent with past DreamWorks Animation releases.

To say, this is very big business.

This is the logo for a Catholic organization…..

Regarding $$$$ I can’t do better, so here’s Sirota spilling the beans.

This, in case it doesn’t quite tally up for you, is a kind of measure of the beans of which we speak:

Or, in case that isn’t clear, here’s another way to imagine the same thing:

A million seconds, for example, is about 10 days, while a billion seconds amounts to some 32 years. And a trillion seconds ago, in circa 30,000 B.C., the last of the Neanderthals were betting the rent on a Powerball lottery, without bothering to consider the odds.

More or less.  Having escalated in the past months from talk of billions (say, the 50 billion a year to run Operation Iraqi Freedom, an on-going production from the Bush Company, which is tallied to end up costing 500 billion or so once all the bills are paid off; well, no, its actually, depending on to whom you speak, a trillion and something) to trillions (started off with 1.7 trillion which somehow blossomed into a mere 7.3, or 10,  or something trillion, that’s of “toxic” assets, otherwise vernacularly known as nothing or shit pawned off as value to someone somewhere, while some folks on Wall Street ran off with literally billions and trillions (see above chart) in real bucks with which they bought real 2nd and 3rd and 4th houses, cars, boats, while leaving, at the end of it, everyone else to hold the empty bag, and prop up this charade with merely trillions of bucks of newly minted greenbacks.  Of course, they don’t have to give back all those gains, but you have to pay for the mess they made.

Angry?  You should be.

Unfortunately the news of the past week or so seems to add up more and more to confirm that our new President is a bit of a con himself, now out to enforce some of the Bushite “State Secrets” non-transparency policies under some new lingo.  And along the way, upping the ante and making it even worse:  according to our new Executive branch, which seems to be upholding the Unitary Executive theories of its predecessor, the government has the right to tap your phone, read your email, rummage your various accounts, and it’s all OK, and you can’t sue about it, know about it, or do diddley squat about it, and only have some kind of case if all that mucking around in your private affairs is blurted out in public.   So kiss that old 4th Amendment good-bye.  And it isn’t loathsome George W. Bush doing this, it’s everybody-loves-him Barak Obama, who seems intent on working both sides of the street.  Well, good luck.

Between Geithner, Summers, the Wall Street Bailout, Gates, and now the new DOJ pussy-footing with the law, Barak is looking more and more like a sweet-talking hustler of the worst kind.  He keeps the proper company for it.


Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman

Looks like Itzhak is going to go out in his boots.   Which prompts a bit of cultural something….

This week a few events came along, in both instances matters of intra-collegial courtesies.   The first was a performance of some kind by one of my fellow professors at Yonsei, for something called YMAP.   Last year I attended another of his spectacles, of which I think I wrote – a numbingly mindless work which went on and on, received a very tepid response, and left one to mainly wonder “how much did that cost?”   So going this year, under a certain kind of social pressure to do so, Marcella and I braced ourselves, thinking nothing could fall lower than the last one.   How wrong one can be.  This year’s spectacle high-jacked through excessively loud speakers Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, tossed in a giant on-floor projection, a guitarist, a German language Korean Lied singer, all utterly disconnected in any discernible manner, and then his dancer-wife was splayed across the stage for endless minutes in some utterly dreadful choreography, all of which was then topped off with a long fashion catwalk conclusion involving 6 or 7 skinny models strutting and posturing for another 15 minutes.   It was more mindless, stupid and painful to sit through than the previous one.   I was told its budget, for a two night run, was around $100,000.   And I wondered, who put this up?  And how does this man carry on this way?  Can one not see and feel how awful it is when making it?  Can one not perceive the leaden thud of the audience response, again and again?    While I am sure the same phone calls and invitations will made in the coming year, should we still be here, I will not waste my time again.  Two tries, and nothing visible of interest, it’s enough.  If collegiality takes a hit, too bad.

The other event was also a performance from another of my Yonsei colleagues, Seo Hyun-suk.  This was something he’d been working on since autumn, when Marcella attended an earlier version.   A talkative piece, all in Korean, and hence the major part of it wasn’t accessible to me.  However it was an engaging spectacle nevertheless, with actors male and female nearly naked (black swimsuits), all wearing little pig snouts.  They were in a large cage like setting, with a kind of netting between themselves and audience; the lights played nicely through fake-fog, and it shifted now and then into rather campy segments with old pop songs of a particularly insipid quality, clearly making fun of certain values.  The actors mostly did not speak, but rather mimed to a voice-over track, which was rich with shifts from music to sounds.  At one point for those of us in the closer seats, a set of curtains fell over us, enclosing each person in a little black cubicle, from which hung down an airliner-style oxygen mask.   All in all a very curious piece, which I guess was about Korean style family traumas, though I wouldn’t pretend to have a clue as to what it was about.  Hyun-suk told me the verbal aspect was full of wordplay in Korean, and that translating it would be a hopeless endeavor.

Nope, not from Hyun-suk’s piece, but rather an opera on in Brussels, Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre.

Meantime, very far down on the scale of things cultural, the past week brought in a few more rejection slips for Parable: Saying “no thanks” were some lesser section of Cannes, and then the Jeonju festival.  They follow  Telluride, Venice, Rotterdam, Berlin, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and I forget, maybe another few.  What this means is that my previous assumption that some more or less major festival would take about anything I make is no longer valid.  Whether this is because Parable is just too weird or bad, or that the management of most festivals has shifted in personnel (most have) and/or that “tastes have changed” or other factors that I haven’t imagined, I dunno.  And, I guess my jaded soul really doesn’t much care.  At this point it is really more “films for no one” as being in a festival no longer offers even the slightest hope for making a dime as a consequence.  Instead it is basically a free screening for a 100 or maybe 500 people, who in the flux of a festival with always too much to see, bring marginal attention for the most part, and are mostly looking for “feel good” stuff, which Parable is decidedly not.   I’ll toss it at a handful of other festivals, more for the actors than for me, and hope some bite.  If not, well, you can buy a DVD from me.

pic btfkx

pic wrestlingx.jpg

Rachel LeValley in PARABLE16 9.jpgParable

Back a bit I wrote about trying to get Swimming in Nebraska done by the time classes started again.  Instead first I lost the time-line to a computer stupidity of my own making (partitioning HD that had the edit on it); then after getting it sort of resurrected, the computer went a bit haywire, acting as if a nasty virus had taken it over, and I had over a month of rather passively trying to figure out what had gone wrong and how to fix it.  Finally the other day I got it sorted (by reformatting and then doing dskchk /f to the OS disk, and reinstalling XP and editing software, and then step-by-step recovering most the time line yet again.  Now in a methodical manner I am reconstructing it all, very defensively with each section as its own project, and will recommence editing, aiming now for an autumn completion, of yet another film for no one.


Swimming in Nebraska

Oh, and then after a final revision (subject to a bit more), RANT, with Steve Lack, is finished.  With around 20 minutes more, it runs 85 minutes.  Added were some, well, rants from Steve, each cinematically packaged in some razzle-dazzle that in a manner I think gives the overall film some spine.  Just sent it off to the documentary festival at Yamagata, and will enter it in others.  It was largely Marcella’s work.   Speaking of whom, she is now just about finished on her own film, a first feature, about a cluster of mostly American kids here in Korea teaching at hagwons, or English language schools.  In this case those in the film are mostly a talented bunch in music and photography and other things, and she’s made a nice 60+ minute fictional portrait of their nomadic psychologies.  It too is off to festival-land shortly.




And then, not to leave out the important matters of the day, here’s more on the economic situation we are all confronting, a listing from a horse’s mouth about just how much our wonderful banks are in over their heads, and passing it on to you thanks to Mr Geithner and Mr Obama:

Here’s the breakdown, according to the International Bank of Settlements, which acts as banker for the world’s central banks:

1) Listed credit derivatives stood at USD 548 trillion;
2. The Over-The-Counter (OTC) derivatives stood in notional or face value at USD 596 trillion and included:

a. Interest Rate Derivatives at about USD 393+ trillion;
b. Credit Default Swaps at about USD 58+ trillion;
c. Foreign Exchange Derivatives at about USD 56+ trillion;
d. Commodity Derivatives at about USD 9 trillion;
e. Equity Linked Derivatives at about USD 8.5 trillion; and
f.  Unallocated Derivatives at about USD 71+ trillion.

The Shell Game

Change in Bank Rules Lifts Stocks

Giving the market momentum was a change to accounting rules that could make some banks look more profitable on paper. The Financial Accounting Standards Board voted to ease mark-to-market standards, giving companies more leeway in valuing mortgage-backed securities………

Investors are bracing for a bleak report Friday when the March jobless rate is announced. But Steve Sachs, director of trading at Rydex Investments, said the newly optimistic market dynamic might withstand be able to the shock. “We all know employment’s a lagging indicator,” he said.

Pledging still more trillions to prop up the crashed globalized banking system, the big wigs of the rich world gathered in London assured us all that all will be OK, we just need to print more money, make a few rules to make the paper wealth look, well, tidier, and nothing to see here, keep moving.

Meantime another 750,000 Americans lost their jobs last month, For Sale and Foreclosure sign proliferate like dandelions in spring, and maybe the bluster from Brown and Obama looks more like cover than coverage.

Denver suburb, red = foreclosure

2007 Foreclosure Map, Blue = House gone

concentration of unstable loans St. Paul.jpg

2007, Mnpls-StPaul

(imagine what it is today….)

\”Where does money come from, Daddy?\”

\”Uh….  I think, uh, the Fed prints it.\”

\”But honey, it\’s the Chinese.\”


The CEO’s of our biggest banks sojourned to the White House, there to supplicate and assure our President and all of us, that “we’re all in this together” and they’ll do their damnedest to help get us out of the fix we’re in.   That’ll be a good many billions bucks in “bonuses” for their great services to our country.   For example the house of Merrill-Lynch shelled out a mere 3.6 billion US greenbacks to its upper echelons in 2008, just before it was taken over by Bank of America.   As comprehending these sums is a bit difficult, here is a graphic to explain just a little.  This is what one million dollars looks like, if made in packets of $100 bills, the below being $10,000 in a little packet:

And1 billion, so packaged, is something like this:


For a gander at one trillion, see here.

Meantime Joseph Stiglitz, like Krugman a Nobel Prize winning economist, says this, regarding the newest deal proffered by Mr Geithner, former employee of Goldman Sachs, present US Sec of the Treasury, or is it Usury:

“Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don’t think it’s going to work because I think there’ll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer.”

For a more complete explication from Mr. Stiglitz, read this.

John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch

and BofA

(a criminal, though unindicted)

The Merrill bonuses were 22 times larger than those paid by AIG ($3,620 million versus $165 million). They were also very large relative to the TARP monies allocated to Merrill. The Merrill bonuses were the equivalent of 36.2% of TARP monies Treasury allocated to Merrill and awarded to BOA after their merger. The bonuses, awarded mostly as cash, were made only to top management at Merrill. To be eligible for the bonuses, Merrill employees had to have a salary of at least $300,000 and attained the title of Vice President or higher.

While the numbers lately tossed around – billions and trillions – seem beyond understanding, they represent only the visible aspect thus far of our current economic crisis.  A year ago you would have never believed the Cassandra’s in our midst who had suggested this was the imminent future, just as today it is difficult to believe that it is far worse than what thus far has been exposed to light – ah, but it is far worse.  And however desperately Geithner and friends, including Obama, who indeed has been taken for “a sap”, attempt to shovel newly minted numbers at the gaping hole in our “system” it won’t really matter much in the long run.   We, or more exactly, “they,” constructed a vast and complex house of cards, and it is  now tumbling down, a piece at a time, its structural defects shown ever more clearly with each passing day.  The present matter of trillions will seem small when its all done.   And who are “they” and why is it not really “we”?   Though the American public largely went along smilingly with the scam until recently, or at least a majority did, as things appeared to be going fine, with easy credit, bigger houses, $4 Starbuck coffees, and as it went on, ever longer work hours for the same pay, and then diminishing pay, and now, well, no pay, now they seem to be wising up.   If far too late.

The following table details how the Fed and the government have committed the money on behalf of American taxpayers over the past 20 months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.


                                  --- Amounts (Billions)---

                                   Limit          Current


Total                            $12,798.14     $4,169.71


 Federal Reserve Total            $7,765.64     $1,678.71

  Primary Credit Discount           $110.74        $61.31

  Secondary Credit                    $0.19         $1.00

  Primary dealer and others         $147.00        $20.18

  ABCP Liquidity                    $152.11         $6.85

  AIG Credit                         $60.00        $43.19

  Net Portfolio CP Funding        $1,800.00       $241.31

  Maiden Lane (Bear Stearns)         $29.50        $28.82

  Maiden Lane II  (AIG)              $22.50        $18.54

  Maiden Lane III (AIG)              $30.00        $24.04

  Term Securities Lending           $250.00        $88.55

  Term Auction Facility             $900.00       $468.59

  Securities lending overnight       $10.00         $4.41

  Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility   $900.00         $4.71

  Currency Swaps/Other Assets       $606.00       $377.87

  MMIFF                             $540.00         $0.00

  GSE Debt Purchases                $600.00        $50.39

  GSE Mortgage-Backed Securities  $1,000.00       $236.16

  Citigroup Bailout Fed Portion     $220.40         $0.00

  Bank of America Bailout            $87.20         $0.00

  Commitment to Buy Treasuries      $300.00         $7.50


  FDIC Total                      $2,038.50       $357.50

   Public-Private Investment*       $500.00          0.00

   FDIC Liquidity Guarantees      $1,400.00       $316.50

   GE                               $126.00        $41.00

   Citigroup Bailout FDIC            $10.00         $0.00

   Bank of America Bailout FDIC       $2.50         $0.00


 Treasury Total                   $2,694.00     $1,833.50

  TARP                              $700.00       $599.50

  Tax Break for Banks                $29.00        $29.00

  Stimulus Package (Bush)           $168.00       $168.00

  Stimulus II (Obama)               $787.00       $787.00

  Treasury Exchange Stabilization    $50.00        $50.00

  Student Loan Purchases             $60.00         $0.00

  Support for Fannie/Freddie        $400.00       $200.00

  Line of Credit for FDIC*          $500.00         $0.00


HUD Total                           $300.00       $300.00

  Hope for Homeowners FHA           $300.00       $300.00


The FDIC’s commitment to guarantee lending under the

Legacy Loan Program and the Legacy Asset Program includes a $500

billion line of credit from the U.S. Treasury.

If these numbers don’t sufficiently numb your brain, then they have failed in their job.  As a mere spectator in this sport, you should curl up and sigh in resignation, admitting you simply don’t understand a fucking thing. And probably you don’t, which makes the likes of Mr Thain happy. They can then continue on with the scam. No different than the guy down on the corner with his walnut shells. He has an accomplice, and he has suckers. You are the latter.  It appears, whether unwittingly or not, that Mr Obama is the accomplice right now.   We’ll have to wait and see if he’s really playing a long game, and suckering these guys in, in order to turn around and do a Wagoner to Mr.  Geithner and friends, once the wave of populist revulsion has built some more; or if indeed, as our political system would normally have it, he’s an insider and this is just another con job, though laced with palliative measures to soften the fuck-job.  Once again, “they” are out to “save the system.”   Which means, should they succeed, you can spread ’em again….

And, in case it isn’t clear:

U.S. private sector axes 742,000 jobs in March