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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Times Update:

The other day, replying to the inimitable Thomas Friedman, I wrote a response, which duly was not published – though there was no notice that it was unsuitable, etc., and it was sent within minutes of another, which landed in place  18 or so.  So I suspected censorship, or at least was curious why sometimes my Friedman responses don’t get printed.  I wrote the Times, which replied as follows.

Dear Jon Jost,
Thank you for contacting
The times that are posted next to comments reflect when the comment was actually approved to be viewable to other readers on, and is listed in EST, not local time.
Customer Service

Andrew Smith

Then yesterday there was another column by Friedman, for which my previous item still fit, so I sent it with a small addition.  It too was not  published, though sent at the same time as several others, which were put up, early in line.  I conclude that indeed, as I have suspected before, that I am indeed censored by Mr Friedman or his lackey editor.  I guess I should be flattered that my barbs have apparently hit home.  Though I note that the general readership count in terms of replies sent in seem to continually diminish for Mr Friedman as he loops the same balderdash again and again, and his readers complain and then leave.   Here’s the offending response of yesterday:

In a previous column on this same topic, Mr Friedman wrote:

\\\”America now imports about 11 million barrels a day, about 57 percent of our total oil needs — mostly from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.\\\”

And half that oil goes directly to the military, as does half the oil used by the United States. Slap a 10 buck a barrel tax on their slice and the already bloated 700+ billion per year military-industrial complex bill goes up another quantum leap.

Mr Friedman is ever full of pie-in-the-sky \\\”good\\\” ideas which always skip quickly by some elephants in the room: he never mentions that great military monster (instead he praises it when it barges into Iraq, killing and contaminating everything in sight); nor does he ever provide us with a detailed description of his \\\”green\\\” house in Bethesda – the satellite shots show a huge mansion, pool, gas guzzlers, and no solar panels, etc.

Perhaps Mr Friedman would gain a bit of credibility if there were any sign whatsoever that he practices what he preaches. But he doesn’t. He’s just maker of very costly ungreen hot air.

And this post wasn’t posted then. It applies equally as well to his present posting, though I would have to agree with him that if Obama went directly to the American public with ALL the information on our gas guzzling ways (including our military monster’s appetites), he would get public backing. He’d also probably collect a bullet.

The other day, the New York Times, in their opinion-editorial section, published an article by Linda Greenhouse, their legal-eagle writer, covering the recent Arizona State law on illegal immigration.  Her article, Breathing While Undocumented, was a scathing one, saying Arizona had transformed itself into a police-state with its draconian sort-of-racist new law.  Basically the law says the police can ask anyone they “Constitutionally”  perceive to be doing something vaguely illegal, and in doing so can ask for documentation of legal US residency, and if the party doesn’t produce it, then the police are required to take the person, and off to jail you go to explain just why and how you are in the good old US of A.  Needless to say the probable targets of these inquiries are likely to speak Spanish, be a bit darker complexioned than those (except the golf course groomers, maids, etc.) found in Sun City, and, well you get the drift.  For Ms Greenhouse this smacks of internal passports, violation of our alleged American “freedoms” and leads to a police-state.

Her article begot a large response (560 – normally items get 2-300), mostly from persons living near the US-Mexican border, who informed her in no uncertain terms that Arizona was being over-run by folks from south of the border, and mostly it was Uncle Sam’s fault for failing to enforce existing laws, failing to successfully manage the border, for setting up NAFTA, and so on.  Perhaps a third of the replies decried the police-state laws, suggested it was racism, or some from the region apologized and said they felt ashamed.   But mostly it was a heated volley, virtually all of which glided over the most basic of aspects.  For instance, that once, not so long ago (see above map) what is now America had been, well, Mexico.  Anyone familiar with the area – from the missions of California, to the cuisine of Texas, should know the roots are, relative to America’s short history, rather deep.  For example the earliest colonial settlement in America wasn’t over in New England, but was Sante Fe, by Spaniards, in 1598.  Of course, the Pueblo Indians, who inhabited the site at the time, have much earlier claims.

Sun City, Arizona

And then more current, the most important element in this migratory pattern, was simply left unmentioned by both poles of the for/against spectrum of our political “conservative”/”bleeding-heart liberal” discourse.  I wrote this, being a bit late in entering (#118):

The United States, as Europe, faces a severe problem with respect to immigration. The problem originates in the fact that in each case the disproportion in wealth of the US and of (western) Europe, next to its neighbors, acts as a very powerful gravitational force – whether to draw labor for the more menial or physical jobs (as in maids, agriculture, etc.) or as a place of dreams, or mere survival. These problems will not be resolved by building higher walls, writing more draconian laws, or other such palliatives. They will only be resolved by eliminating the disparity of wealth that exists now and making for a more egalitarian global world. Most people do not want to leave their native home cultures; they are forced by circumstances to do so.

While earlier posts, on both sides of the fence, got “recommended” clicks of 300 and 200, my post got a mere 4.  Well, rack it up in part to being late, but most likely rack it up to our shared, left or right, unwillingness to deal with the reality of America, its disproportionate wealth, its ugly real historical record around the world (I am presently reading The Open Veins of Latin America, by Eduardo Galeano).  Similarly other discussions in the so-called liberal Times, about the US economy or other such things usually skips by the matter of the US military, its 57% percent of the Federal budget, its 50% take of US oil consumption, its distortion of our politics and psyche – though there are a handful of people who regularly respond in the NYT, who do underline this along with myself.

One could carry on here with the origins of those very white older folks who all de-camped some colder climate for Phoenix, there to temporarily rise again in the desert heat, with water imported from far away to fill the artificial lakes and make the golf greens green.   Solidly Republican, tea-party turf, usually calling for “smaller government” except when it comes to those with guns, be they police or military, they lay down a massive carbon footprint, sprawling across the sand in air-conditioned splendor, hiring those despised south-of-the-border sorts to do their gardens, tend the course, clean the pools, all for sub-standard wages, and then having set the precedent for “work” up north, they want to slam the door with a heavy-handed government policy.   Why don’t these champions of the miracle of the free market just ask the corporations, the small business-owners and themselves simply to not hire cheap undocumented labor?

Don’t ask such embarrassing questions.

Pancho Villa, ride again !

For some good reading on money and its bankers see this

In today’s New York Times there’s yet another article on the now decades-old seemingly endless story of the American “Independent” film, it’s ups and downs, and how it copes with the shifting sands, primarily fiscal, of new times.   I have been hearing/reading about this story since the early or mid-1970’s, as it mutates in name from things like “New American Cinema,” “American Independent” and numerous other appellations, some of which don’t use “independent.”  Excluded from the category are “experimental” since in virtually all discussion of “independent” film-making the  a priori assumption is that we are talking about fictional narrative films.  Once, though it would be difficult to say just when the shift occurred, the assignation “independent” or some equivalent meant the film was either aesthetically different than normal American films from Hollywood and/or was politically so in being usually to the left side of the spectrum.  Now it primarily means only that the film wasn’t made in or by Hollywood though in all probability its aesthetics and content could just as easily be from there.  Perhaps a small wriggle in the narrative form, or a shift to improvisation in the acting suggest it is not LA-made, though these days some Hollywood product does that.    Any steps towards really messing with the standard narrative fiction formula is instantly deemed “experimental” and condemned to some far away esoteric corner of festivaland or the odd museum screening.   By current standards a large swath of foreign films of the 1960’s – 1980 would be sent off to obscurity, and a number of “great” directors of those times would have found themselves either bending to the money-minded terms of today, or consigned to making whatever they could on zero support:  Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Rocha, Ozu, and a small army of others simply would have gotten nowhere in today’s cultural straight-jacket.   Just ask the corpse of John Cassavetes, whose work only strayed from normal conventions in its improvised nature.

So for 4o years this dubious animal, the “American Independent” film has been analyzed, dissected, and tossed around like some laboratory test case, perhaps to fathom something about America itself.  What we find out is a very old saw, “the business of America is business.”

The NYTimes article simply confirms the obvious: so-called “independent film” in America is simply a business proposition.

Apple piePaul Revere, by John Singleton CopleyTea-partiersRight-wing fantasyArizona Congresswoman’s office after health-care reform vote

An avalanche of news shakes Wall Street where the obvious flim-flam games of the last decade and more have produced a tsunami of public indignation and revulsion prompting a belated response from our political wind-sniffers, seeing a populist wave to jump on.  In one of the more bizarre contortions of the day GOP big-wigs huddled with bankers and summarily announced they were against proposed reforms because they would result in more TARP-like big bank bailouts.   Democrats assured this was not so, pointing to the legalese of the legislation.  The SEC, clearly cued by politics, announced an accusation against none other than Goldman Sachs for fraud, though for the moment this case remained “civil.”   Whether criminal charges will follow remains to be seen, but while lawyers publicly argue the merits for and against, the growing mob smells blood and is calling for it.  In turn Wall Street has unleashed an army of lobbyists to forestall any kind of meaningful regulatory reform.  While the Congress is clearly corrupt, it is also composed of politicians who, however out of touch with their constituents, can sense a hurricane strength wind and will duly weathervane themselves to the going current.

How much the Obama administration is behind this is difficult to say.  Perhaps playing a wily game of Go, this has been a set-up, and the Republicans have duly fallen into the trap, defending Wall Street and pure unregulated capitalism as the essence of America.  While market numbers seem to have improved in the last months, foreclosures continue unabated, unemployment figures remain dismal, and whatever the ranting of erstwhile tea-party patriots, a party supporting the obvious villains of the moment is unlikely to do well in the coming elections.  The GOP though has largely snookered itself, whatever clever political moves the Obama team may have made.

Former Congressmen Armey, Baker and Oxley, now working as lobbyists for the banking industry

Follow the money

To say, it is all deeply embedded in our cultural DNA and our history.  These swings towards wild speculative times, towards wars, towards Puritanical religiosity are as much in the American character as Lincoln, Charles Manson, Jefferson or Charles Starkweather.  Pogo had it right: we have met the enemy and it is us.

Cotton MatherAmerican Gothic, Grant Wood

Good old time water-boarding

Demonstrating the amazing resilience of American Market-Economy capitalism, following an infusion of a mere untraceable trillions of freshly minted Fedbucks, the DOW-JONES has risen to the level of 11,000 from its slump to virtually 7,000 in 2009.

“Nobody ever thought we’d ever get near this level this fast,” said William J. Schultz, chief investment officer for McQueen, Ball & Associates. “Lacking any negative news out of companies, the rally will likely continue.”

Somebody is making a lot of bucks there, as can be verified with the multi-billion dollar pay-offs to the likes of:

David Tepper, CEO of Appalosa Management, a hedge fund.  He “earned” $4 billion personal income last year

And the government reported that for a change, employment figures went up by 163,000 in the previous month, instead of down, though they neglected to much note that a large part of the surge in employment was due to the temporary hire of Federal workers to do the census.  Aw shucks….

Meantime on some other planet, but in the same country, this little headline suggested something else:


Senators End Impasse on Extending Jobless Aid

And another 9 billion buckos were printed up to toss at those folks who just can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like Mr Tepper did.   That’s more than twice as much as he made, for people doing nothing!!

Veterans constitute between 20-25% of the total US homeless; their unemployment rate is officially 21.1% (which, as in all things “official” should be taken with a large boulder of salt.)

Meantime around the nation tea-parties are held, in full patriotic fervor, calling for a return to the good old verities of self-reliance, no taxes, and naturally yellow-ribbon support for the troops, wherever they are and whatever they are doing.   While social services are denounced as “socialist”, and the cry “keep your gov’mint hands off my Medicare” is to be heard, none call for cut-backs on the government’s largest out-lay, that to the military.

Back on the Wall Street ranch, little items keep blurting out, which belie the happy headline of 11 thousand! and in Congress the endless buck-pass goes on, with testimony from none other than Alan Greenspan who asserted

“I was right 70 percent of the time, but I was wrong 30 percent of the time.”

And of course he was not responsible for the housing boom and bust, which as one and all agree, “nobody saw it coming.”  Though repeated again and again, this was not true, and throughout the fiscal follies of the last years there were major whistle-blowers inside the corporations which went poof, and outside.  But they were deemed party-poopers, and tossed out or shut up.  Meantime many of those most fully responsible now sit at the Treasury Department, at the right-hand of Obama, or still at the top of their corporate pyramids, raking still more “earned” income in for last year’s big profit-making.

But now we learn, as if one couldn’t have figured it out already, that Enron-style bookkeeping and number juggling was the province of not only of Lehman Brothers, but, well, gosh, everybody.   Even the Feds were in on it, keeping a lid on the stench coming out of the board rooms of all the big boys.  Presently one of those involved in, well, smudging the truth, hiding the shit, sits as top cop for these things: Timothy Geithner, present Secretary of the Treasury.

Lehman Channeled Risks

Through ‘Alter Ego’ Firm

Supreme Court Justice John “Corporations are People” Roberts

And just what does one imagine Mr Roberts channels?  Let them eat..

Claus Oldenberg, Cake

Bangkok, Thailand, storming of the ParliamentKyrgystan, police in retreatBaghdad, post-election bombingMoscow Metro bombing victimSimin Behbahani, Iranian poet, aged 83, forbidden to leave IranFrench prisonEast JerusalemAfghan police traineesNorth Korean militaryAhmadinejad inspecting uranium enrichment centrifuges

Mickey Mouse art

“Stop Throwing My Country to the Wind”

Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind. The grim-faced rising cloud will grovel at the swamp’s feet.
Stop this screaming, mayhem and bloodshed. Stop doing what makes God’s creatures mourn with tears.
My curses will not be upon you, as in their fulfillment. My enemies’ afflictions also cause me pain.
You may wish to have me burned, or decide to stone me. But in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.
Simin Behbahani

Police, Kyrgystan

Near Plains, Nebraska

Yesterday, after a last minute projection revealed a curious major problem (that the Premiere CS3 editing window isn’t WISYWIG, and the projector lops off 3% on all four sides), Swimming in Nebraska was finally finished, a tape made and a courier is to come by in a few hours to deliver it to the Jeonju festival where it’s to screen May 3 and 6th in the Stranger than Cinema experimental’ish section.  Also the last week was the annoying film-making-in-reverse procedure of transcribing all the improvised and other dialog and text from the film to finally have “a script.”

Fortunately for my sanity I don’t keep clock-time on my work, so I don’t really have any idea how much time got used in making this work, but an awful lot, and much of it very technical with my having to bump along and learn how to do things along the way.  But, since I didn’t really have any clear idea when I began, it was a matter of fumbling my way forward to finding what the film really was and what it required.  Living and learning.  So whatever the hours (must be near a thousand) which were and will remain unpaid fiscally, they were a needed element to find the resulting film –  however exhausted, I am happy with it. (See this for other thoughts.)  I’ll be curious to see how audiences – certainly a specialized audience willing for other-than-commercial-cinema experiences – respond.   Don’t have long to wait for this acid test, coming up in Jeonju soon.

These screenings will make for an interesting time of reflection:  I was at the first Jeonju festival ten years ago, when it was a small start-up, though excellently organized and already with a good program, if suffering from an unnecessary sense of provincial insecurity.  Now it has flowered into a sizable festival, still excellently organized, an hewing to its programming of interesting work from around the globe: this year, among other things, they’ll have a Pedro Costa retrospective, and James Benning will be here with something, not sure what just yet.  And lots more – 300 and more films.  And they actually have good sized and engaged audiences  for these.

That first time was my first visit to Korea, and as I recall the film I showed was 6 Easy Pieces, and I think also Muri Romani. If I recall accurately in a competition called Daring Digital.  6 Easy Pieces came in second, with a comment from the jury that “it was real art,” with some vague implication that this made it more difficult, and hence the not-real-art got (as usual) the money.  First prize went to black British TV maker, John Akomfrah, for what was a slick, TV-funded autobiographical piece – I didn’t much care for its slick style, and was frankly a little pissed off that a guy with a well-paid TV job walked away with the $5,000 in prize moohla, though I liked him.  At that time I had no job and no moohla.

But as things worked out, it was a step towards where I am now, living in Seoul, with the first job of my life, one taken to belatedly stash up some savings for a life mostly without pay for making my films, without Social Security, pension or any other fall-backs for the rainy days likely to come.   And, one of the audience there in 2000, who sat all the way through Muri Romani (I expected everybody to leave, but about 1/3rd stayed) and wrote me later to ask for a DVD of it, was my student last term.  Subsequently I was invited again to Jeonju with OUI NON (2002), Homecoming (2005), La Lunga Ombra (2006), and Over Here (2008).

As it happens, Swimming in Nebraska is, at least in my mind, closely related to 6 Easy Pieces, both being essays, and both being structured with various seemingly disconnected sequences which strangely unify at the end, and both of which I would say take on a “spiritual” quality which one would likely not expect from their disparate parts.

Swimming was shot in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the year 2006-7, while on an artist’s residency, with only a vague idea as to what it was about – something in my mind about the provincialism of those not in Lincoln, but in NYC or London or LA, the supposed centers of cultural gravity where people are likely to say of Nebraska that “there’s nothing there.”  Usually from people who have seen it gliding by in 45 minutes from 35,000, or who were on I-80 going as fast as they could on the concrete ribbon headed to the Rockies or further west.  My thought was to show the “something” there.   What spun out is a small kind of portrait of a few people in Lincoln – Marjorie Mikasen, who makes “hard edge” paintings, her husband Mark Griep, who teaches organic chemistry at the University of Nebraska, and William Wehrbein who teaches elementary physics at Wesleyan University there, and sang in a local choir.  From these, and some landscapes, and myself swimming at the local YMCA, somehow was spun a hymn to creativity, to Nebraska, to science, and I am not sure what else, except that it ends up humming the song of life.  Whether others will sense this, I’ll have to wait and see.


Now it’s time to take a day to tidy up the editing room, put Swimming to bed, prepare to make DVDs of it, and turn to the next thing(s):  a new film here in Seoul, or more likely two, over the next 15 months or so, and to finish Piccoli Miracoli, a film begun in 1996 and tracing the first three and a half years of my daughter Clara’s life.  And another work shot back then as well, Imagens de uma cidade perdida (Images of a Lost City), a portrait of some older sections of Lisbon.

LISBON PRE EDIT6CWCC Imagens de uma cidade perdidaLISBON PRE EDIT5CWCCAlfama, Lisboa 1997

jon piccoli sc

From Piccoli MiracoliclarascClara Villaverde Cabral Jost, 1997

If interested in purchasing DVDs of any of the films cited here, go to for information on these and other films.

Inscrutable Times

Two days ago, in my regular responses to the New York Times columnists, I wrote a paragraph on the ever-wrong Mr Thomas Friedman.  As those familiar with him know, he is ever ready for a solution to the world’s great problems, though when wrong – famously about the invasion of Iraq and its many consequences – he never says, gosh I was wrong, sorry ’bout that.  Not the never-doubting Thomas of the Times.   His column was about Afghanistan, and in his usual style mushed around and concluded Mr Karzai was going to shaft us in the long run.  He didn’t though advocate departing.   In my response I took him to task, and ended quoting him from his good old take-out-Saddam days, when basically referring to all Arabs/Muslims, he said “Just… suck… on…. this” during a television interview, meaning the US should go in a really whup ass and they’d pay attention.  Such wisdom…

Fat Friedman, circa 2008

Friedman’s house in Bethesda Maryland, next to the Bethesda Country Club

Friedman famously talks about going green, weaning ourselves from middle-east oil, and other such. His house shows no solar panels, does show a few gas guzzlers, one being large.  Mr Friedman married up, to the daughter of a real estate tycoon who went bust in 2009 with the housing bubble.  Wikipedia says: The July 2006 issue of Washingtonian reported that they own “a palatial 11,400-square-foot (1,060 m2) house, currently valued at $9.3 million, on a 7½-acre parcel just blocks from I-495 and Bethesda Country Club.” Friedman is paid $50,000 per speaking engagement.

Living in Korea, I, along with some others located way out East here, get the jump on responding to the Times, it being around noon-time for us when the latest goes on-line from New York.  For Americans its more like mid-night.  Hence we’re first in line – for example Phil from Kyushu, in Japan.  First in line in the letters printed equals more readers.  That day I was there with my response fast, and while responses to other items were printed, that about Mr Friedman was not – not first, not last.  Simply disappeared (when censoring the Times inserts a notice that “this item has been removed owing to….”).

In turn, the next day, in responding to a silly column on Mitt Romney by Gail Collins, I parenthetically mentioned the censorship of the Friedman response.  I also did so in responding to a Kristof column on censorship of Google in China, wherein he called for the free flow of info, and I noted the irony of the in-house censorship of the Times.   These two items were sent at the same time as a response to an Editorial column on off-shore drilling, my response to which was printed and was number 1 in the “approve this” listing.  See below.  The responses to Collins and Kristof were not printed, nor was a “removed because….”

Apparently the Gray Lady has something to hide: corporate censorship.

Jon Jost
Seoul, Korea
April 1st, 2010
12:53 am
The figure given, that America is responsible for 25% of the worlds oil consumption, while having only 2% of known reserves elides one very important other figure: America is 5% of the global population and hence consumes 5 times more than the rest.
It also elides another significant aspect:

The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of petroleum in the U.S and the US military is the biggest purchaser of oil in the world. In 2006 the US Military consumed 117 million barrels or 320,000 barrels per day.

While a balanced policy regarding energy is desirable, the imbalance is largely owing to the voracious appetite of our bloated military which spends annually more per year than the rest of the world combined. It is the real gas guzzler and it should be muzzled.

Recommend Recommended by 158 Readers

In a few hours the Times will post its Friday columnists.  I’ll be there.