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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Pope Gregory’s tomb

Another spin around the sun, 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds, this one numbered by Pope Gregory back in 1582.  A momentous spin, most notable for the arrival on the expiration date of one Michael Jackson, as well as the first year of the Obama cycle.  Of the latter, it would seem that in a short 11 months he’s managed to both elate and deflate, the exuberance of his inauguration cut down by the shuddering consequences of Bushian after-effects:  the near collapse of the economy, the dubious rescue of Wall Street, more troops sent to Afghanistan, the wobbly state of Iraq, rising unemployment and de-housing, tremors and traumas out of Iran, and most recently an al-Qaeda attempt for a Christmas spectacular.  In approaching these the American President has shown admirable cool, but politically speaking he’s failed to mix it with the requisite passion for which present circumstances call.  And he’s let his electoral base take back-seat to apparently higher interests:  keeping the bankers happy, mollifying the medical-insurance and big pharma corporations, pandering to the military-industrial complex, and otherwise appearing to play ball with the powers that be.  Flip-side he’s not delivered on numerous things, large and small, which his imagined base desired and thought were actually on the agenda – real health-care reform with a public option, regulating the financial industry, supporting gay rights, and so on.  With a recalcitrant “Just say No” opposition in the form of an utterly conformist Republican party, Obama has gone out of his way to play by the rules, while they have kicked sand in the gears with abandon.  Whether he’ll morph into a Charles Atlas later, we’ll have to wait and see.  If he doesn’t his base is likely to leave him in larger numbers than is already occurring.

Obama has two basic problems: one that he fails to see that an elementary component of successful politics is emotional, and that reasoned, careful, analytic approaches only cover part of the game; in the absence of an impassioned sense of drama, the considered politics which he seems to favor is lost.  He must do both.  The other more basic problem is that he is inwardly too centrist, too conservative for the real needs of the moment in America.  What the country needs is not a nudge and minor modification here and there, but a major overhaul in how it perceives itself and acts towards itself and the world.  Obama and his advisers seem unable to sense this.  If they do not shortly alter their course, they – and doubtless America with them – will pay dearly.

Forest Whittaker and John Tormey in Ghost Dog

Locked into a winter setting of cold and snow and icy streets, we’re looking a bit more at films.  A bit back it was Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, lauded by some critics, and perhaps an effort to be more accommodating to the audience than Dead Man, it nevertheless pulls the same tricks:  heavy reference (in this case, a page to read here, then one there) to existing literature, in this case the Japanese Way of the Samurai, improbably placed in the hands of a black American Mafia hit-man.  Basically the film is a cartoon, resorting again to sit-com set-ups, caricatures now drawn from American gangster films and TV dramas, but with a saranwrap of ostensible seriousness lathered over it courtesy of the quotations lifted from the samurai book, and, outside reading informs me, insider lifts from numerous other films, such that this is a cinephiles piece of “hip” gotcha masquerading as art.  As art, it ain’t.  I clearly operate on some other frequency than Jarmusch and his fans, but I find his work basically infantile and when trying so hard to be intellectual, sophomoric.  There is an audience for this, though not one capable of actually covering the costs of his films.  But a certain kind of fame goes a long way, and German and French TV seem to be vulnerable to it.

3 Iron by Kim Ki-duk

Trying to get a bit of Korean filmmakers in my experience we looked at Kim Ki-duk’s 2004 3 Iron.  It seems he occupies a position here not far from Jarmusch, but more commercial and far more prolific.  This film was a slickly made thriller of a sort, virtually without dialogue, and probably harnessing a bit of Korean “ghost story” quality.  Story is rather simple-minded matter of a guy, smart, breaking in homes, living in them but fixing broken things, leaving better than he found.  Kim, like Jarmusch, lovingly details the modus operandi of his character.  He ends hooking up with a rich bored housewife whose husband is rather abusive – to the point of caricature – and she runs off with him on his motorcycle and adapts his mode of life.  The abusive husband is into golf, but so is the new guy.  One thing leads to another, and there’s an apparent murder, a few kinky things, and at some point I lost interest since it was all so unbelievable that I started picking apart the stupidities (like a golf ball puncturing a car windshield with enough force to then apparently kill a woman in the car – in reality the golf ball would have careened off harmlessly, maybe making a crack in the glass).  More absurdities piled up, the ghost story elements came in, and Kim’s just too Kool for me.  Sorry.  I felt like I’d wasted my time watching this film.

And then last night we watched Werner Herzog’s film, Grizzly Man.  In a way it’s not fair to call it Herzog’s since most of it is made by a man named Timothy Treadwell, who fits Herzog’s predilection for the strange and odd.  I won’t recite the story here, but simply summarize that Treadwell, for his own reasons, spent 13 summers in Alaska, living with grizzly bears.  On his last summer, the 13th, he took his girlfriend, and both were eaten by the bears.  The film has wonderful nature footage of bears, foxes, and equally material of Treadwell, who is clearly a bit nuts, inwardly disturbed, and full of himself.  Soon a bear would be full of him.  Herzog treats all this respectfully if critically, he orchestrates the material in an interesting manner, letting the end of story emerge early in the film.  His voice over is penetrating, opening up the matter wider than another might have, the film becoming a critique both of Treadwell, but also of our human culture.  In this Herzog treads and thin ice, and does so successfully.  An admirable film.  I personally find Herzog extremely hit and miss, able to make wonderful films, awful films, middling films.  Which in itself is admirable in an artist who slogs away, trying, coming up a winner this time, a loser that.  And keeps going.

Along this line, yesterday in the email was a notice from the San Jose, California “Maverick” Film Festival.  They’re having their 20th anniversary, and I was in their first one, if I recall correctly with Sure Fire or maybe something else.  I was invited another time, but couldn’t make it.  The notice invited Parable to the festival in late February.  I said yes, and if all goes well, maybe we’ll get there for the screening.  Depends if they’ll pay one ticket.  It’s been a long wait for Parable to be invited to something where perhaps other things will come of it.  The Maverick festival grew considerably in those 20 years.

pic steverachshower3x

pic rachstevescreenx

pic btfkxParable

With that, happy 2010!

Police on the run – which way?

Fusing together the increasingly heavy and repressive hands of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei government, figure-headed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, coupled with the death on December 22 of  Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and the subsequent massive gathering for his funeral, leading directly into the day of Shura, one of traditional mass religious gatherings there, but which owing to heavy governmental suppression by basiji forces resulted in numerous deaths, the Iranian situation appears to have spun out of control.  It would appear the government is near collapse, though one can anticipate a final spasm or two of police-state behavior: the declaration of marshal law, a few assassinations, attempts to make mass round-ups of so-called traitors/dissidents and all the usual language of political power at its end.

For some background in these pages, see this, this and this.  For a good amount, along with links to many other sources, see the NY Times blog, The Lede, which updates matters as they are reported.

Injured basiji being protected from further damage

Basiji motorbikes


Given the structure of Iran’s social and political systems I’d guess somewhat soon the imams controlling the religious side of the coin will hold some mode of conference, and inform Khameini that his pipeline to divine wisdom is evidently faulty and he’s being given the boot.  Having lost his patron, Ahmadinejad will either have to find support solely in the worldly forces of the basiji and military (though it is not so clear these two get along, as they apparently squabble about the same material things and who gets to control/own them), or bow out.  Or be kicked out for having mismanaged the entire matter.  It will come down to an end-game of whether the military-basiji consortium wants to play hard-ball further, or whether seeing which way the wind is blowing, they take their licks and toss in the towel.   My guess is that after a few more huffs and puffs, and after the last few days of events inflate the public protests to far greater levels, not only in Tehran, but in other cities and smaller, more rural towns, some wiser heads will prevail and once the dust settles, a far more moderate clergy will take the reins, and a grouping of the political opposition will take over.

In turn Iranians can perhaps look forward to a more moderate climate, perhaps a shift away from Ahmadinejad’s rabid attempts at nationalism cloaked in Islamic garb.  Perhaps.  Meantime back in the Big Satan, I note that on some blogs there are those who berate Obama for not stepping loudly to the plate in support of those on the streets in Iran.  Those doing so seem the usual yahoo’s unaware of America’s long role in Iran, and the feelings that engendered there.  Obama is playing it smart keeping as quiet as circumstances allow.  Iranians should resolve Iranian matters on their own.  Would that America would similarly mind itself in many other areas…

Earlier this week in Tehran


onlymehdischannel jonbesherahesabzchannel niusha boghrati mardomak makhmalbaf madjar



greenunity4iran pbs


Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
In order to protect the good and punish the wicked,
In order to make a firm foundation for righteousness,
I come into being age after age.
Bhagavad Gita

Eighteen years in the making, $230 million in production costs, and another 100 million and some in advertising, naturally you’ve already heard about and likely seen James Cameron’s Avatar.  We’d assume the basic plot-line is now well known, but we’ll do a quickie summary:

A natural paradise, in the form of planet Pandora, is being exploited by an American corporate goliath for a substance called Unobtainium.   This involves massive mining, and, as the natives are restless and resentful, so there’s a force of marines to protect American business and its rights to whatever is in the national interest.   This being the future, “our” guys are guided by scientists who send out spies in the form of avatars, simulacra of the local beings, who are 10 feet tall, blue, breathe the not-for-humans atmosphere of Pandora, and otherwise act and look like a cross-mix of Native American Indians and those folks over in their namesake, real Indians.  One of the spies, an ex-marine sent in lieu of his dead brother, is our character to identify with – Sully by name.  Naturally there’s a girl, and so there’s falling in love, and the spy turns against his masters, and a great battle takes place between the corporate jar-heads and the locals.  Initially it looks like no contest, what with America’s armed might in the form of transformer robots, humongous flying platforms, helicopters, massive guns and bombs and idiot boys to utilize them, while the natives have only bows and poison tipped arrows, horse-like critters, and flying pet pterodactyls to ride, and a supportive audience rooting for them.  When things get really tough, Gaia lets loose all of Mother Nature and sends the corporate baddies and their mercenaries packing.  Unobtanium is staying put on Pandora, and of course the guy gets the girl and lives happily ever after.

Hyper jar-head commander

Yes, this is a tired old story BUT it is wrapped in a spectacular new bit of technological sheathing, a really dazzling 3D and CGI (computer generated imagery) combo, and some trippy set of minds orchestrating it.  The opening passage – as long in itself as many films – plops the spectator down in a wondrous other world, one of luxuriant foliage, natural beauty to leave the earth to shame, gravitational holes with giant floating mountains, and, not to fudge on things and make a Disneyesque fantasyland, ferocious wild animals out to kill.  All this is done in exquisite detail, not only attentive to the smallest visual surface, but to the unity of the whole picture and its tonality.  Time seems to slow, and we are treated to a sensibility like a child’s, each small thing itself a marvel and wonder.  Cameron takes his and our time in setting the scene, and indeed we’re drawn in.  Setting his pieces on the chess board the characters are delineated in identifiable forms just as the landscape is made not too alien (the basic form appears to be California Redwood forests and Yosemite).  And then, in keeping with the fundamental enterprise at hand, the conflict is revved up with a snotty corporate master-of-the-universe sort and his caricature jar-head Marine commandant (or we wish these were caricatures, but they are damningly all too like the real thing), and we’re off to the inevitable war.  The film morphs into a young boy’s wet transformer GI Joe dream.  Bang bang boom boom.  And for an hour plus the battle rages with improbability stacked on improbability, until by a virtual miracle, America is sent chastened back to wherever we came from.   Taken altogether, the film is a schizophrenic mess, brutally ruptured in parts – the idyllic paradise of its beginning shattered by hell on wheels (and wing).  Along the way Cameron hews the politically correct lines of California Hollywood liberalism, savaging the military and corporate mentality and many a crude Americanism, while tree-hugging Pandora for all its worth.

At the film’s conclusion, Sully, having led the locals to victory (patronizing, no?) is taken into the Pandoran pantheon, his eyes popping open having made the transition from jar-head avatar to having really gone native and become one with Pandora (another old colonialist story).

Beneath the visual splendor of Cameron’s doped-up techies’ work, this film sits with gaping contradictions tearing it apart.  Aside from the predictable clichés of boy-meets-girl, cowboys and Indians (except this is revisionist, so the Indians get to win), and the slew of stereotypes harnessed to “tell the story,” the story itself and the means of its presentation – the extravagant and lavish computerized techniques and the 3D – are themselves the pure product of corporate organization.   Cameron is required to tell his story in this manner, and his imagined subversions (the corporate guys and the marines are the baddies; the Indians win!) are themselves carefully orchestrated lines, fully supported by the corporations which made and marketed this film, who know only too well that such story-telling is itself emasculated, empty and without threat.  And better yet, in tune with the post-Obama zeitgeist of the moment, will clean up at the box office.  Bingo !

What is interesting in this film is to note that the technical means employed, which are indeed – as is much of the technology of our time -amazing,  are, in our culture, necessarily used for trivial and stupid purposes: beneath the PR, the “story-telling,” the faux-revisionism, it’s to make money.  And everything follows from that starting point.

Now imagine what real wonder might come if a genuine artist were able to use such technology?  Not to mimic centuries old Renaissance perspective (in motion! in 3D!), but to make a visual coherent spatial world that did not conform to a 500 year old system of seeing?  To orchestrate something which dealt in something more meaningful than cops ‘n robbers and dumbed down good/bad guys?  Imagine!

And keep on imagining because in this culture, it will never happen.

[Little side note:  Cameron’s use of heavy-signifier names: Pandora, as in ‘s Box; Sully, as in sullied by being in the Marines; Unobtanium, well too obvious to comment on; Eywa=Yahweh; has all the delicacy of Jarmusch’s namings in Deadman.][Here’s a right-wing take on the film.]

[And, for a more optimistic look at the state of cinema – or maybe it is optimistic – see this.]

Jim Jarmusch

Recently our friend Jean took a trip to China, returning with a bagful of boxed sets of films – Hitchcock, Herzog, Fellini and others, including Jim Jarmusch.  For 120 DVDs (nice ones so far) he paid around $1 each.   Setting up a little projection room in our bedroom, we’ve begun to look at some films and I’ll probably try to do some catching up on such over the winter break here.  Decided to try Jarmusch, having heard some of his films I never saw were really good.  I approached with a skeptical mind since so far have disliked his films precisely for the qualities others seem to love them: their self-conscious “hipness” and supposed “humor.”  I find the alleged deadpan is more an arch stupidity, and hipness is something I have always loathed.  So liking Jarmusch was likely going to be a very uphill slog.

Gary Farmer, Johnny Depp in Deadman

Deadman, much lauded by critics (including some friends of mine), is in my book, DOA.  As usual with Jarmusch, we have a mix of hip (do they wish) actors and pop singers, old one’s being paid homage, each acting in wildly differing modes seemingly determined by how seriously they do or don’t take their roles and lines.  And as usual Wenderesque stabs at philosophical profundity are dropped like happy little turds littering the filmscape. Film critics being what they are, eagerly lap these up as signifiers of something deep lurking inside the celluloid shadows flying by.

The Creator, Wm Blake

Hence with a dazzly lacquer of borrowed meaning slapped over the vapidity within, Jarmusch imagines to appropriate Blake’s vision by aping his words, and having them delivered in dollops as dull-witted jokes or didactic set-pieces, or here and there recited directly by his certified hipster cast.  Cool.  His mise-en-scene zig zags from sit-com setups derived from his apparently beloved Honeymooners, to artsy tracking and lifting over-head shots à la Brothers Coen (and many others – it’s just how these shots are set up that stick them into rarified self-conscious artiness).  In the opening passages homage is made to a stable full of standard western (movie) cliches –  pumping steam engines, Shiprock NM, glorious western landscapes, and a melange of standardized “western” characters decked out in much-considered costume department flamboyance.  Depp, playing a somewhat nerdy accountant from Cleveland, one Bill Blake – apparently a Jarmusch surrogate – is on a voyage further than expected, an odyssey to death.  Forsaking any semblance to realism, but then wanting a touch of it too, Jarmusch concocts a tourist’s dream geography trip, with historical zingers zipped in to underline his (now rather shopworn) revisionist “western history,” so the passengers on his history-train leap to the windows, guns apoppin’, slaughtering unseen buffalo, glide by a decimated burnt out forest, abandoned teepees, and other bleak images recorded by Robbie Mueller in dense black and white.

On debarking in the town of Machine (perhaps the Black Hills Deadwood area), the name of which thuds with deep meaning, our hero enters a version of 19th century industrial hell populated with characters and actions straight out of a sit-com.  Of course, being in a Jarmusch film they do their stupid jokes flat, the famous “deadpan.”  Or they try to – some of it is too inane to suffer straight so the likes of John Hurt look leeringly out from the characters as if they are wondering how they let themselves get suckered into such drivel.

Being a western, naturally a prostitute comes quickly into play, wherein her ex-beau, Charlie, son of the factory owner Dickinson, played by a doddering Robert Mitchum on his last legs, arrives at a moment of  seeming enflagrantism with our guy Billy, pulls out his six-shooter and Depp is wounded in JFK magic-bullet fashion, as his new gal takes the bullet for him.  He manages to pop off a shot and kills Charlie and escapes, stealing a pinto, which as it happens belongs to Mitchum who hires 3 famed wild-west gunmen to track down Blake and git his hoss back.   This avalanche of plot contrivance is accompanied with an equal flush of lame jokes, mostly “in”, which Mr Jarmusch evidently thinks wit.

And then things get serious:  awakening from his stupor, Blake finds an Indian (we can tell by the extravagant feather head-dress), Nobody, fingering his wound, who ponderously announces he can’t get the bullet out, and young Bill is in for a journey to the other side.  Here and there the film grinds to a halt for explicatory passages explaining Nobody’s curious history and the reason why he knows the poetry of William Blake, with whom he imagines Mr Blake to be the reincarnation thereof, though Bill doesn’t know Blake from shinola.  Off on our mystic journey, Nobody periodically mutters and blubbers would-be profundities extracted from Indian lore, or William Blake, the English mystic, and other Indians are met while traversing the tribal landscapes westward enroute to the Pacific Northwest.  I read that in one part some linguistic in-joking is made for those-in-the-know in Creek and Sioux.  Mr Jarmusch evidently finds such things clever, and critics mistake it for wisdom. While purportedly deeply researched about American Indian matters, their materialization in the film compose a mish-mash of, well, ethnologic stupidity.   “Well, whaddya want in a fucking sit-com, dumb white man,” as Ralph Cramden might have blurted.

On the trek westward Bill Blake and his shaman boyfriend are tailed by the 3 heavies, who, being heavies, eliminate one another until down to one, last found gnawing on anothers hand, who conveniently shows up in the last scene wherein Bill, zonked out and hallucinating in a passage through an Indian village (multiple layers of imagery!!!!)  has been put off to his end in the Pacific, Nobody waving him off Indian-style, as our gunslinger materializes and shoots Nobody and is shot as old Willy Blake is put, literally, out to sea.

While sometimes elegantly shot by Mueller, this film clangs against itself, a mess of directorial confusion, everything seemingly thought out, but badly so.  In interviews Jarmusch gives an impression of intelligence, but it never shows up here.  Instead there is showiness, an insider’s self-absorbed cleverness and, of course, all that ever-so-hip we-know-so-much-more-than-you attitude.  Episodic, fractured by idiot sit-com setups and dialog, distracted with homages to lame westerns and now-dead actors, and self-conscious to a massive fault, Deadman limps along, hobbled by its own intricate smartiness and failing to generate one iota of its wished for poetry. If it were not for Neil Young’s minimalist electric-guitar sound track moving things along, I don’t think it would be watchable, even to the cognoscenti who adore our NYC Mr Cool’s every glib in-joke.

.Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in The Honeymooners

Old Willy Blake gets hijacked and abused, (along with the natives) while hip Jim waxes wise to his little audience of wanna-be’s and film critics lost in the miasma of way too much film stuff and not nearly enough of life.

Deadman, says Wikipedia, cost $9 million to make, and grossed $1 million.  Tells you something.

Cast: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Mili Avital, Gabriel Byrne, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, John North, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Eugene Byrd, Alfred Molina, Steve Buscemi and Crispin Glover.

William Blake, rolling in his death mask

Jonathan Rosenbaum waxing “masterpiece” as found on Jarmusch’s own website.  A fanboy’s paen.   Wikipedia on Jarmusch.  Dennis Grunes, detailing the film far better than I, but concluding “this isn’t a great film.”

As can be seen in the above, it is more or less the critic’s (or fanboy’s) duty to explicate and fill out all the stuff that somehow doesn’t materialize on screen.  I am utterly simpatico with a hard critique of America’s fraudulent Western self-mythologizing, and yes, I can say lurking inside Jarmusch’s film that is there, but it doesn’t  work on screen because cinematically and poetically it is simply MIA.  Not because Jarmusch doesn’t intend it, as he most certainly does, but because he is so busy being hip and clever that he forgets that he doesn’t really have a clue outside the crudest of cliches how to attain what he wants through art . All the artsy in-crowd slathering of names and cutesy cinema and literary references doesn’t cover for the failure in orchestrating meaning and form into a coherent dramatic whole.  Deadman drags into the sea, and all the critical conundrums in the world can’t breath vitality into something that was never alive to begin with.

In the name of duty, I then watched Ghost Dog, in which Jarmusch appropriates another text hoping its glow will rub off.  In the lingo of the west, “It don’t.”  Of which more later.  In the name of seeing how 3D is, also went to see Avatar, of which, again, more later.

[This note came in from the keeper of The Tarpeian Rock:

I’m writing this email in response to your sentence: “Deadman, says Wikipedia, cost $9 million to make, and grossed $1 million. Tells you something.” I’m not exactly sure what point you’re trying to make with this (certainly not one about popularity related to value, I imagine), but just the same I wanted to shed some light on why the film likely failed to break even or turn a small profit (if you care at all). Harvey Weinstein bought the distribution rights from Jarmusch at Cannes with the plan to recut the film for its American release. Jarmusch — “protected by his contract and his ownership of the film’s negative” — refused. This caused Weinstein to quickly lose interest in the film, resulting in Miramax deciding to not promote it. (DEAD MAN was the first Jarmusch film to not receive even a capsule review in The New Yorker, for example.) All of this info is taken from pages 55-57 of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s MOVIE WARS. You can read the specific pages HERE if you want to know more. (Of slight interest to you perhaps, on page 57: “I should add, Siskel and Ebert went out of their way to support relatively independent efforts such as Jon Jost’s All the Vermeers in New York.” Relatively independent? Unless there is something I don’t know about your films (or Vermeers specifically), it seems utterly absurd for Rosenbaum to use the qualifier “relatively.” …I wonder what his idea of “truly” independent film is?)

To add to this a little further detail, I just note that Ebert reviewed Vermeers because I personally contacted him, reminded him that he’d reviewed – favorably – my first short film, Portrait, way back in 1964, got him to agree to see the film which then got 2 thumbs up on TV.    I’m glad he did, but it took a little arm twisting.  Regarding Deadman, I seriously doubt even with a good PR campaign it would have made a dime.  Ghost Dog, a far more, in a stupid way, accessible film, only did 3 mil in USA, 9 global.]

The Greatest Deliberative Body in the World (they say)

As the holiday season commences, the Congress scrambles for some last minute achievements to drag back to the Homelands out there far beyond the Beltway, those fabled hinterlands where strange creatures called voters reside, pretending their voices have anything to do with the profound movements of the universe.  Or Congress.   So what did they accomplish so far – hmmmm?  A little extension of some Patriot Act provisions for more government snooping and “security.”  Another 500 billion or so for “defense”.  And I guess whatever panel was checking out Mr Bernanke, originally appointed by GW Bush to the Fed, decided he must be great since he presided over everything that led to the Great (Dep)Recession in which we’re presently mired, so he gets another term.  He must know all about it, so better keep him in.  And, while all this is going on, the would-be health care reform bill has been so mangled, eviscerated, piled high with amendments, pages, clauses, give-aways, and favors that it is a mess that left and right can agree it doesn’t deserve the light of day.  It is not yet clear it will get passed, and if not, handing Mr Obama and his clever managers a good Xmas thumping.   Or even if so.    Perhaps for his New Year’s Resolution the President can decide to quit trying to win over Republicans, and Blue Dogs, and go with the mandate he had secured in the election.  Oh, that was had.  I think by and large he’s lost his base with his decisions on bankers, Wall Street, Afghanistan, Homeland security, Guantanamo, and the list goes on.  Having started last year with the country’s hopes pinned on him, Obama and his questionable advisers, have squandered all that and produced instead an angry and embittered country, once again being yanked around by the Right-wing and corporate yahoos.  It could have been otherwise, but it required some actual audacity, and a sharp break with politics-as-usual in America.

However, its an old story, though perhaps the stakes are getting a bit higher these days.  Sturm  und drang. The end of the world as we know it.  That kind of stuff.

Meantime, back on the ranch, for a very good blog and a quite different take on the travails of the Obama of golf, see thisThe Tarpeian Rock by name.  And the next time you hear the cry “fore” (do they still do that anymore?), wonder just for whom and for what we make this little game.

Once again, the New York Times leaves me scratching my head with their all-the-comments-fit-to-print policy.   Yesterday, as soon as it was posted on-line, I responded to a Paul Krugman Opinion Page column, Disaster and Denial. I was surely one of the early posters, and yet, while the other 277 postings largely covered similar ground to mine, though some in much harsher terms, they didn’t print or indicate (as they do elsewhere) the censor’s hand.  Just invisibilized.  Here’s what I wrote:

To use that ancient old adage, “Money Talks and Bullshit Walks.”  Both houses of Congress are flooded with each of those very commodities, the former having bought the latter. Likewise the judiciary is mostly bought by the same money, as is the administration, with the likes of Geithner and Bernanke orchestrating governmental policies for Goldman Sachs rather than for the people. This unhappy reality will remain until the system collapses of its own internal contradictions, which seems well under way, or until the American people rise up and revolt. At the moment these two trends seem to be on a collision course. Whether the leaders are sheep dressed in wolves clothes or vice versa is yet to be sorted out. The GOP would seem to want the likes of Palin which would surely hasten the former trajectory, which, it seems reading between their lines, is exactly what they’d like.  Hence the failure of facts and figures in the face of wishful thinking.

Replying to two other columns, my comments were printed.  One was Ross Douthout’s Prisons of Our Own Making, and idiotic “conservative’s” slant on our mess of an incarceration policy, one mostly produced by Republican “law’norder” practices, in which he blithely skipped over the social origins of criminal behavior.  Other responders took him harshly to task for neglecting such things.  The other column was an Editorial Page item on Europe and Afghanistan, which backed the “war” in Afghanistan and complained about Europe’s failure to get all rah-rah about it.  Most of the other responses suggested we should get our imperializing butts out of places we don’t belong, and suggested the Europeans had learned from their experiences.  Few supported the Time’s view.

I got a letter a few days ago, suggesting that the failure of the Times to print was either that one was too late – which I am calculatedly not, having a nice time-zone jump on America’s day – or that they have a policy of printing only X amount of a given responder.   My guess is that this isn’t so, as I note that there are a handful of other regular responders (also listing their blog/website URLs) who seem to materialize daily.  So I remain a bit perplexed as to just what the Times policy is.

Meantime a skim of the day’s headlines shows a picture of global dysfunction equal to that presently demonstrated by all branches of the US Government.

The President meets the bankers, at least the ones who made it; the biggies didn’t – they called in


Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sach’s, couldn’t make the meeting owing to bad weather and doing God’s work

Silvio Berlusconi Lloyd Blankfein Timothy Geither etc.

The man accused of attacking Mr Berlusconi, 73, was immediately arrested, as the crowd yelled abuse at him. The suspect, Massimo Tartaglia, 42, did not appear to have any political affiliations. Police said he had no criminal record and was not among the small group of protesters at the rally, but they said that he has been treated for mental health issues at Milan’s Policlinico Hospital for the past ten years.

Italy’s ANSA news agency said that the alleged attacker had received ten years of treatment for mental problems. Police said he was wielding a miniature statue of the Duomo cathedral, the city’s symbol.  Mr Berlusconi, blood streaming down his face, appeared stunned as he was taken away to hospital in a car. Hospital sources later said that Mr Berlusconi’s condition was not serious. He had two broken teeth and has suffered injuries to his nose, lips and cheek. He would be kept in overnight for observation. President Napolitano expressed his unconditional condemnation of the attack, and repeated his recent calls for an end to violent political rhetoric.

During Mr Berlusconi’s speech at the rally in Milan demonstrators shouted “buffoon” and “thief” at him. He shouted back “Shame, shame”, saying: “I am not a monster as the opposition claims — and not just because I am handsome.” He claimed that opinion polls gave him a popularity rating of 63 per cent, although the last published poll gave him 45 per cent.

Like the potentates of Iran, like the Beltway wizards of Washington, the mandarins of Wall Street, and all others immersed in wealth and its powers, there is a loss of tonal hearing, an incapacity to hear the baying of the crowds until it is too late.  Silvio says his popularity rating is high; Italy seethes with anger at his cavalier behavior.  During the rally which ended with his bloodied face he took off his shirt, ostensibly to show he was not wearing a bulletproof vest.  Or perhaps to emulate Mussolini?

It’s an old political story, this dancing with the devil.   And are some asking in Italy whether  Mr Tartaglia is the only sane and brave man left, or whether he’s just nuts?

[For more on Italy and how why it comes to this in these days see this this, and this.]

Late breaking news:

‘Staring at his bloodied hand, he told me: ‘There’s a climate of hatred, I expected this would happen,”’ Zangrillo told Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading newspaper.

Do tell, Silvio, nostro salvatore.  Having spent some decades stoking the fires of resentment using his podium as politician, premiere, head of the mass media, newspapers, publishers, Mr Berlusconi would like now to play martyr.  I think even Italians are not likely to buy into this latest role in their cruise-ship crooner.

Up and coming Silvio

After a somewhat fawning introduction by the committee chairman, and a Chopin piano etude played with somewhat melodramatic theatrics by Lang Lang (for which evidently he’s famous), and then a jazzy work by Esperanza Spalding, whose name alone seems like a clever fix for the man with the audacity of hope, President Barack Obama went to the podium to deliver his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture.  Commencing with the requisite disclaimers, under the circumstances, of worthiness, citing Gandhi and Martin Luther King as the models, though also saying there were millions of unsung others more worthy than himself, Obama did accept the award, and began the substance of his talk.  As he began I worried that the two microphones intruding from left and right would interfere with his orator’s gesticulations, and indeed he did bang into them a few times.  Likewise at some points he fumbled his teleprompter reading, stalling once long enough to have me thinking the system had gone down.  Minor technical matters these.

The substantive matters were another story, and nothing minor about them at all.  While bathed in Obama’s eloquence, the content was pretty much business as usual for the American foreign policy clique.  The positive response of America’s bobble-head pontificators, left and right (though American “left” is not Left at all), underlined the point.  While the audience yearned to hear words of some change in America’s direction, what Obama gave was a hard-nosed reassertion of American exceptionalism dressed up in loquacious words and quotes from prior Nobel prize winners.  While making very veiled reference to America’s wayward behaviors of the last 8 years, by saying he had ordered Guantanamo closed, and torture stopped, he built for himself a rickety platform on which to stand the rest of his argument.  Looking into deep history, verily from the first Man, he asserted warring had always been in us, and by implication, always would be.  But, so he said, steadily we’d built institutions – religions, governments, States, and then international organizations and agreements – and had constructed rules to constrain our warring natures.  The rules he cited were ones which America openly and brazenly violated most recently in the past decade, and which we’d quietly broken (though no one in the world was unaware of this) for many decades, or, hell, since we grabbed a continent from from its original inhabitants, more or less rendered them extinct, and rampaged in the name of “civilization” where ever our “national interests” lay.   And Mr Obama repeated that America would retain its unilateral “right” to intervene in places where its “national interests” lay, including in places where our bleeding humanitarian heart needed to reach out and correct the abuses of genocide, failures in human rights, etc., if need be with arms.  Like depleted uranium, phosphorus bombs, and the rest of our lethal stash of scientific killing machinery.  Of course, we’d do this in the name of “democracy, freedom, human rights” etc.   After all, we’re Americans, and as the whole world recognizes, we do good.

Last week, American-imposed “democracy” in Baghdad

So while the President waxed eloquent, as expected, what he said was boiler-plate America first-ism, hence the quick applause of our Right-wing talkeratie.   I suspect on the other side, across the world, Obama did a good job of deflating any fanciful expectations of “change you can believe in” with regard to America’s bottom-line intentions in the world.  If, on skipping on to Copenhagen, Mr Obama announces America’s post-Bush embrace of serious environmental action to forestall global warming and other depredations, it won’t really be because of a turn of heart, but rather of a hard-nosed estimation that not doing anything will be far more costly in business terms:  a lot of America (say Florida) sits at just above sea level and we’d lose a lot of square miles if the ocean rises 3 meters, never mind 30.  Not to mention the other predictable mayhem that global warming promises.

US troops in Iraq

So what are we to make of this, our silver-tongued rhetorician, lacing his toxic talk with gracious words and kindly sentiments while insisting inside the velvet glove is an iron fist?   Which Barack Obama is it, Mr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?  From his recent actions, whether in domestic American affairs of bailing out the banks and investment community (beyond that which Bush’s flush of post-election trillions in cash provided), or in allowing the “health care” reform to be watered down and twisted into another massive bonanza for the insurance and drug companies, or in foreign matters, the initial dispatching of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, now followed in the past weeks with 30K more, it would appear the Hyde side is winning by a long shot.  Jeykll seems confined to spinning nice words and appearing to support them, while on the pragmatic side all the actions seem to support that old military-industrial-media complex which seems to determine the real fate of America.

“Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was a carefully reasoned defense of a foreign policy that differs very little from George Bush’s,” says Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing at

“He is winding down one war, escalating a second, and stepping up the pressure on Iran. He is asserting America’s sovereign right to unilateral action in self defense while expressing the hope that this right will not need to be exercised,” Mr. Mead wrote. “If Bush had said these things the world would be filled with violent denunciations. When Obama says them, people purr. That is fine by me.”

US soldiers in Afghanistan

Here is what I sent, and was published in the New York Times in their “comments” sections:

President Obama’s failure to acknowledge that it is the United States of America, under George Bush, which violated the “rules” which he cited – engaging in an illegal war of choice under spurious grounds, using outlawed weapons (phosphorous), using torture, engaging in international kidnapping (extreme rendition) – cast a pall of dishonesty over his talk of “realistic idealism”.  The balance of his talk was essentially the same old story of American exceptionalism, our “national interests” littered around the globe where ever oil or other valuable resources reside, but given in intelligent and elegant language, with an aura of humbleness.  Nevertheless it was George Bush’s white-hat cowboy in content, asserting America was the good guy, and we’d barge in when necessary.  By our terms of “necessary.”

It must have been odd for those assembled to hear from a half-black man America’s usual patter about the old European “white man’s burden.”

And here is something from Tom Hayden, old activist of the 60’s, still at it:

The Nobel museum sits on Oslo’s beautiful waterfront, with banners blazoned with the slogan, “From King to Obama”, referring to an months-long exhibition about the early US civil rights movement. I toured the museum a few weeks ago, during anti-war meetings in Scandanavia.

The “From King to Obama” summarizes the evolution of the American civil rights movement into the successful presidential campaign of its heir, Barack Obama. Their the comparison ends, the linkage jarring. Perhaps it has been taken down.

Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964 after being stabbed, beaten, and jailed across the American South. President Obama becomes the Nobel recipient only ten days after he began rushing 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan and signing an order approving secret CIA operations in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The difference could not be more complete.

This is not only about Obama, but Norway as well. The Oslo government represents the core leadership of NATO [Gen. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general] and the United Nations [Kai Eide, UN special representative to Afghanistan]. Rather that questioning the contradiction of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invading South Central Asia, Oslo has sent 600 troops and $350 million [US] to the Afghan occupation. Obama now is lobbying NATO for 7,000 more troops, despite strong public opposition in Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Somehow NATO leaders believe that Europe’s Muslim communities – an underclass composing six percent of Europe’s population while completely under-represented in Europe’s parliaments – can be held in check by bombing their homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The real reason NATO is in Afghanistan was once expressed by Gen. James Jones, now Obama’s national security adviser, when he was NATO’s chief: “In commiting the alliance to sustained ground combat operations in Afghanistan, NATO has bet its future. If NATO were to fail, alliance cohesion will be at grave risk. A moribund or unraveled NATO would have a profoundly negative geo-strategic impact.” (See Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos, Viking, 2008, p. 373)

Does it occur to Obama, as he flies overnight to receive this sacred prize, that it is morally unjustified to patch together Western unity by leading a military occupation of impoverished Muslim countries which will only result in blowback? Does he feel any irony in Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden being carried by the first African-American president?

It is reported that the president is “intrigued” by studying the lectures of two previous honorees, Nelson Mandela and Dr. King. One hopes the lesson will be profound, for the similarity ends only with style. Mandela survived 27 years in the cold cells of racism before becoming his nation’s president. King was rebuked, terrorized, and later stood up against the Vietnam War despite establishment displeasure.

Instead of further compounding the hypocrisy all around, Obama could refuse the Nobel prize until he deserves it. Then he could express a painful regret at sending additional troops, and pledge absolutely to end these long American wars and lead a global effort against global warming even if it costs him the presidency. He then might return to Copenhagen next week to take the rightful mantle of being an environmental president.

Instead, majorities of people in America, Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will have to continue the search for a leadership that reflects their will and acts on their aspirations.

For the Nobel committee it is an ignoble time, and for Obama a moment of hypocrisy that will haunt him.

Tom Hayden
The Peace and Justice Resource Center

If the increasingly strident murmuring of the American liberal-left regarding Obama are indicative at all, it would seem Mr Obama is peeling off his fundamental support, and might well be re-elected by conservatives (minus the bottom-line racist 15-30% of Limbaugh/Beck-heads) come 2012.  While some may admire his Kissingeresque real-politick enunciated in elegant argument and history-acknowledging quotations, others might, as I increasingly do, find it lipstick on a pig.

In my recent “campaign” in the New York Times, as I’ve mentioned before I find their methods of censorship curious.  In their various on-line blogs, and sometimes (not always) on their Opinion Page items, they permit comments from readers.  I thought that in responding to those items that piqued my interests, and giving the URL of my blogs, I could perhaps up my readership.  The evidence is showing I was correct on that bet.

David Brooks, pundit, opinion-maker, nerd

Yesterday, I responded to two Opinion Page listings, one by David Brooks, one of their house conservatives who is a bit more reasoned and measured than Thomas Friedman, though he can be quite ridiculous in the blinders he seems to wear in his nice little balloon of upper-middle-class Washington-Beltway mindset.  His article was titled An Innovation Agenda, wherein he scrivened his magic-wand wishful thoughts about how America should extricate itself from the massive messes imposed on it -in great measure thanks to those political figures whom Brooks previously has supported.  He listed his cures, including education, opening up H-1B quotas, and cutting corporate taxes.  The responses on one hand took him to task for these, though in general the tone was supportive of many of his suggestions, leaning towards pointing out that David seems to be turning into a Centrist-Democrat of some kind, and many congratulated him for the reasonableness of his tone – a change from the strident Republican shrieking we’ve grown accustomed to.  But, overall his column was really kind of stupid, as his often are, whatever lingo they are couched in. I sent in the response below, which was not published, nor did the editors, as it seems the sometimes/usually(?) do, note that the item hadn’t been published for whatever reason.  Here’s what I wrote, commencing with a quote from his column:

“Or, as Proverbs 22:7 puts it in the Bible: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.””

This is as the American governing elite wish it to be, and they have, at least for the shorter term (a few decades) arranged things to secure this result.  That they in turn are in hock to China seems not to be their concern.

Your prescriptions for America are unlikely to be heeded until the communal collapse has gone far more into catastrophe, at which time the governing elite may need to flee to one of their other global homes.  One suspects they have already taken this into account.

While many things I have seen in these response pages are often far more abrasive than this, they get published.

Then I also replied to a column by Bob Herbert, one of the in-house liberals, who of late has been strong on the manner in which our underclass of the economically deprived is expanding exponentially with houseless, homeless, and jobless leaping inversely parallel with the bonuses dished out on Wall Street.  His item was titled A Fearful Price and had to do with just who is being asked to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan – less than one-percent of the populace, largely composed of the economically deprived classes – and what is happening to them and their families, while Bush and now Obama, declining to raise taxes to pay for these wars, basically said “keep on shopping, nothing to see here.”  Well, the folks have shopped ’til they dropped, and their grandkids are being put in hock to pay for these sprees by the military-industrial-media class.  I suppose it is no irony that the richest 1% who own and control 95% of the wealth have contrived to dump the fighting for them on the 1% at the bottom of the pile.   Herbert suggested instituting taxes and a draft to sort this out politically.   I wrote the following which was published, and cited by whoever oversees this thing as one of the Editor’s Choices and highlighted:

I spent two plus years in prison, 1965-7, for refusing to serve in the US military.  On exiting prison I was active in anti-draft activities, and sense that my work was a tiny bit of what helped draw the draft to a close.  But what really did it was that politicians, representing the governing elite, and perhaps guided by a “market economy” mentality, stopped the draft in order to side-step its political costs.  The privatized current army of “volunteers” (drawn primarily from the economic underclass, urban and rural) permits politicians to play at war with minimal social friction; likewise skipping taxes to pay for it similarly shifts the political burden to the future when children and their children who had no say in the policy making will have to pay for it.   Both were and are cynical acts by heartless politicians and their corporate masters.  In this Obama is now as culpable as Bush.

We should reinstate the draft, with NO exemptions for the rich, for the higher educated, for anyone.  No one should be allowed to claim they had “other priorities.”  And taxes should be levied to pay for the current so-called “war” (undeclared and unconstitutional) now.  This will not happen though, as to do so would see the overwhelming majority of Americans demonstrating, in one manner or another, that they decline to pay in any way – with their money or their bodies – for the wars now being thrust upon the nation by an elite acting not in the interests of the people, but in their own selfish and narrow-minded (and misguided) interests.

I would guess that those on the Brooks and Herbert editing decision list boards are not the same folks.

The less than 1% in Afghanistan

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not,
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Alfred Lord Tennyson

US soldier dead in Kabul bombing attack

Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, killed in Afghanistan

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,

and the women come out to cut up what remains,

jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains

and go to your gawd like a soldier.

Rudyard Kipling

[Note: there’s a new posting up on]

Georg Grosz

As of Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, at least 852 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department last updated its figures Friday at 10 a.m. EST.

Of those, the military reports 660 were killed by hostile action.

Outside the Afghan region, the Defense Department reports 71 more members of the U.S. military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, four were the result of hostile action. The military lists these other locations as Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Jordan; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Philippines; Seychelles; Sudan; Tajikistan; Turkey; and Yemen.

There were also four CIA officer deaths and two military civilian deaths.

[Note the wide-ranging places of deaths.]

Having given his speech at West Point, President Obama went to Washington to oversee his “jobs conference” where he noted there wasn’t much money and wouldn’t be much forthcoming in the way of any national jobs programs. It was up to the private sector to sort that out. Then he went to visit Allentown Pa. to commiserate with those unemployed. However in a display of exuberance the newspapers reported unemployment figures were better, in November only 139,000 American’s pink-slipped, and with some number jiggling unemployment was said to have gone to 10% from the previous 10.2%. Whoopee. Things they said are improving and we’ve hit bottom and up is the only way to go now. We’ll see. What I seem to see are some other shoes waiting to descend, but then I’m full-time doom and gloom.

Good old boys being good in Afghanistan

Glossed over in Obama’s sober West Point talk – no Bushian “bring ’em on”, no Johnsonian “bring that coonskin home and tack it on the wall” – and glossed over in General McChrystal’s sparkling brand new COIN strategy (summarized as “be nice to the locals,” of which we’ve had previous variants) We-R-War brand re-marketing, is the simple reality that war doesn’t make people nicer, and sending 20-something farm boys, and urban slum dwellers to learn exotic new languages and customs has seldom panned out in anything except slaughters and massacres. I don’t think the current crop of economically pressed, over-used “volunteers” is going to prove distinctly different, whatever eloquent words Mr Obama uses to dispatch them. They’ve been trained primarily to kill and keep themselves from being killed. A nice disposition this does not usually manifest.

So Obama signed onto more war, snookered quite some time back by Bush/Cheney. The pundits have weighed in, and now it is merely a matter of time to see what transpires.