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Monthly Archives: May 2010

A spring day on the Gulf of Mexico, 50 miles off New Orleans

The news of the days steadily leaked, like the blown oil well in the Gulf, with ever bigger numbers.  No longer 5,000 barrels of oil a day, but ten times more, and then it seemed more, with the threat of still more.  The Gray Lady managed to keep it off the front pages for some days, what with Times Square car bombs, British elections and the usual static.  Yesterday it was the precipitous collapse and then recovery on Wall Street.  Meantime more ooze spread across the Gulf as British Petroleum hastily built a massive steel dome to lower over the major rupture, hoping to siphon off the goop, now 2 and a half weeks after the April 20 blow-out which killed 11, and threatens to kill off much of the natural wild-life of the vast sea which is the Gulf of Mexico.   Deferring to the “private enterprise first” dogma of the American government, the Obama administration took BP at its word, and appeared not to move, saying only that it was BP’s mess to fix and pay for, all while the river of thick oil spread toward the Dixie coast.  Belatedly it seemed Federal resources were brought to bear – Coast Guard, state National Guard – though glancing at the ugly coils of oil spreading over the waves, the thin floating orange barriers intended to keep the oil at bay seemed tragically small, perhaps able in calm weather to partially work, but with a modest choppiness in the waves, not to mention a storm, to be a mere Christo-like bit of decor.

BP, when originally applying to drill a mile beneath the ocean, to a depth of 18,000 feet, claimed the chances of any major problem or spill was infinitely small, the government gave its stamp of approval, and acting on its happy confidence it first decided not to install a half-million dollar choke device, standard in other similar deep-sea oil rigs.  And of course it had no ready-to-go (and costly) fall back in case things went awry.  And awry they went, and hastily, but far too belatedly, BP engineers huddled, and concocted their fixer:

They say they’ll place it in the next day or so, and have the pipes in place for pumping the leakage to waiting tankers in another handful of days.  If all goes well.  If not, well, the leak may enlarge to 70,000 barrels a day, or, given the track record of BP estimates as to just how much was leaking, lots more.   Enough to devastate the Gulf for a good while, end fishing, kill the sea’s inhabitants, and otherwise cause maritime hell in the region, and perhaps even beyond, to Florida, and up the East Coast.   To say a catastrophe of genuinely major proportions.

[Update, May 10:   Announced yesterday was that the “fix” didn’t work – instead, a mile under the water, in freezing temperatures, ice quickly formed to block the 12 inch pipe opening; BP engineers had anticipated some of this, but not so much, so fast.  Kind of like the leak itself.  So they are busy working on alternative solutions they say.  Which might be ready in a few weeks, or months.  For myself, I am amazed that the Federal government has not moved full tilt to enlist all the oil and drilling specialists, and poured whatever necessary money into this as needed to come up with a quick, if costly, solution.  But it seems the “privatized” mantra of our system has won the case, and whatever vast public damages are done, it is up to BP and friends to solve “their” mess.]

The real news has been leaked slowly by the media, always with the optimistic least-worst case given the face front, and the worst case carefully obscured.  Most of the facts and figures have been emitted by BP, which while scrambling to stop the leak, has also been working to figure out how to cope with its public image – hard nut to crack under the circumstances.  For savings of a half-million dollars on the choke collar, BP may get to choke on a multi-billion dollar clean-up bill, and perhaps the entire off-shore petroleum drilling industry will find itself under intense scrutiny and severe controls.  America is now getting a taste of what has been done to places like the Niger delta, in far away Africa, where bribes and military violence have kept regulation at arms length while the local inhabitants are poisoned to death.

Niger River Delta

Alleged market anomaly

Like the stock market collapse and recovery of yesterday, the corporate controlled news seems to either be in the dark, or more seemingly, to be functioning like the old Pravda (Truth) did: simply not report the bad news, or give it short shrift, or a twist to make it more happy.  So they say the drastic dip was owing to a computer glitch that sent a cascade of trades going, though along the way some lost billions and on the bounce back up, others made billions.  A little fishy in these days?   Or does it stink like the gulf – of profiteering, cutting corners, corruption, putrifaction?

But grim thoughts, or perhaps simple plain talk and common sense are rather forbidden in our corporatocracy.   In the last days, once again, my scribblings to the NY Times response sections were censored, again with no notice of deletion for offending sensibilities.  Instead simply deleted, disappeared.  One of them, which I failed to save a copy of, was in response to a Thomas Friedman column in which he used the Gulf oil spill to beat on his Go Green drum, for which many of his usual critics congratulated him.  I did as well, though then pointed out that his favorite part of the government apparatus, the military, gobbles up half the Federal budget and consumes half the oil used by America.  I suggested if he were serious he would push for cutting the military down to 1/4 its current size, or even less.  And I suggested the taxation of energy-use intensive things, like his 11,400 sq. foot home in Bethesda, which thus far appears to sport no solar panels, etc.   The response was not printed.

Another response, below, was also not printed:

The trouble with this talk of fixing the Wall Street mechanism by-passes a far more fundamental matter, that of “fixing” capitalism. The trouble is that like its ex-nemesis, Communism, Capitalism is afflicted with an internal flaw which cannot really be fixed and still be called capitalism. That flaw is the same one as afflicted Communism: neither system accounts for basic human nature, instead imposing a theoretical construct of how things should work over the far more complex matter of how individuals and societies actually act. Capitalism asserts if individuals (and corporations) act in their self-interest magically the market balances everything out to make for the most efficient etc. production and distribution of goods. We have seen how that actually works out in practice with our income distribution, the current oil spill, and myriad other “problems” which currently plague us.

The capitalist model is essentially WRONG. It can’t be fixed. Humanity, for its own sake, and for the sake of the little globe we live on, needs to develop another model, which will be very different than either Communism or Capitalism. For starters it must not be predicated on the necessity of constant growth, which is one of the basic requirements of capitalism.

Well, let’s try to sell this to Americans – good luck. No capitalism? WTF.! No mystical magical market solves everything, morals and all….

And then, replying to a David Brooks column in which he juggled numbers to show that governmental policies had little real-world effect – for which he was excoriated by many before I had time to respond, I wrote this.

It is a bit hard to add to the fair and correct critiques that were written by #s 1-18, except to summarize it: David, what a bunch of BS you use to evade your avid support of policies which did indeed have grievous effects (except perhaps for your chums dripping with wealth) and pretend policy has marginal effect. Was it the Bush administration with its minimal or no regulations that helped produce the current economic crisis? Was it the failure of strict regulations to require a half-million dollar choke device on the oil platform that went down and is inflicting a zillion bucks of damage throughout the gulf and further?
Dance with the stats all you want, Mr Brooks. But your angle is total BS. I hope you read and learn from what your on-line critics here write.

It too, was not printed. Perhaps the use of “BS” was the reason? Who knows what logic governs the internal hidden editors of the Times? Perhaps The Shadow?

[And, speaking of a form of censorship, it seems just today, May 8, the NY Times has changed the manner in which their “slideshows” are posted, and you can no longer download as JPEG or even grab the URL to post on another site.  Touchy touchy…]

And another little update, for May 10th.  Yesterday, replying bright and early to a Frank Rich Sunday column, in which he took the media to task for its reporting, I wrote the following, but again, it was not published.  I’d like to assess this to a glitch, but my guess is it is censorship, though I don’t quite follow why.

“News” from the mass media has become an oxymoron. In our capitalist society, money talks and BS walks. The mass media, because it reaches a large “commercially viable” audience, speaks the language of money, which bought the mechanism. The same is true for Congress, the Courts, etc.  The recent Supreme Court ruling on the rights of corporations to spend on elections merely underlines this fact of American life.

Courtesy of this distortion, “news” doesn’t really exist; rather topical occurrences which will attract an audience and make money exists.  Witness our celebrity driven “stories” in which a divorce, an affair by a Hollywood star, etc., has more weight in “the news” than does a distant war manipulated into existence by oil companies.

We will have “news” again when the mass media is either regulated such that telling demonstrable lies as “truth” is punishable with jail terms, or when the capitalist incentives which destroyed once more or less legitimate news organizations are suspended.  As it is real “news” is antithetical to the interests of the corporations which run our nation, be it the “truth” about the Gulf oil disaster (leaked to us reluctantly by BP and the government, only when it is too obvious to ignore), about WMD, or about the circus which our culture has become.

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Marcella and David eating a “traditional Korean dinner”

Jeonju is famed for its food, and this year we’ve had a fair share – enough to require some post-festival fasting.  Last year my luck in seeing films was very good, with only a few turkeys, and a good handful of wonderful films.  This year, so far, not so good.  We started off a few days ago with  the only film we could into that day,  Hadewijch, by Bruno Dumont.  I’d read of this director a number of times in the last years, and as the description said it was Bressonian, which is what inclined me to go.  Well, critics seem to see only the most superficial of things, so at the end of this film the protagonist, a religiously disturbed rich Parisian girl jumps in a lake to commit suicide.   I guess for some critics this makes it “like” Mouchette.  However nothing in the style or method approaches Bresson, and the result is utterly unbelievable.  I was handicapped by there being no English subtitles, but my French was enough to follow along, though I suspect had I been able to fully follow I would have disliked the film even more for its heavy-handed explications of a not credible story-line.  The basic line is this young girl, initially seen in a convent from which she’s evicted for looking to be a “martyr” carries on with her Catholic obsession, is seen with her rich indifferent family, and then takes up with some Arabic men, and goes to Palestine with them, the unknowing donkey to bring some explosives back, and then disillusioned she cryingly visits the convent again, weeping at a little pieta, and goes to a lake to drown herself.  Cross cut with this is a worker turned convict who is released, goes back to work at the convent doing construction, and rescues our girl, hugging her, and voila, redemption for two.  Totally unbelievable.

Redemption Dumont style

Next up was Jacque Rivette’s newest, Around a Small Mountain.  I have never been a Rivette fan, finding his films pedestrian visually, and like-wise his mise-en-scene ( fancy French for where he puts and how he moves the camera) I find clumsy and inept.  And his theater-games conceits I find far less than the thrilling stuff of some critic friends of mine who seem to adore him.  To me it is all a bit shallow and obvious.  So I did not approach this film with high expectations, but wanted to see if maybe I was wrong.  Well, the small mountain remained pretty small in my book.   A little tale set in a circus milieu in the south of France, in which an Italian interloper finds out the hidden secret of  the little band, with the circus providing the Rivettian theatrical tropes.  It was all perfectly OK if trivial entertainment, perhaps flawed by Jane Birkin’s less than convincing performance.   Sergio Castellitto was fine performing in his and his own wife’s script.   And at this point in my life, I need to spend 90 minutes on this kind of tired re-run of Rivette’s apparent one-trick pony show?

Theater, anyone?

And then, missing what I was told was a very interesting “master class” (whatever those are) by Pedro Costa, we went to see Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. His previous Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy each showed a weird transgressive talent, able to mash conflicting styles and deliberate artlessness while providing a vaguely acute entry into the worlds of misfits and American trash-culture. Trash Humper decisively fails to do so.  Instead here Korine serves up a steaming pile of shit from A to Z: shot on VHS, a grungy image recurrently punctuated with “play” “rewind” and other old VHS deck instructions, along with electronic smears, jaggy lines, and other signifiers of VHSdom. Or dumb. Aesthetically, unlike his earlier transgression against professionalist video, this one is just a pure mess. And clearly willfully so. This technical cloak is used to carry a mindless, narrative-free sequence of truly stupid scenes, seemingly cooked up on the run, of three characters (including Korine, his sister and another soul) with make-up and face stockings, intended to be old. They hump garbage cans, dumpsters, trees; give blow-jobs to branches, jack-off various items, all at random, while engaging in other infantile actions – beating and shredding a plastic doll, riding around on bikes, and here and there with other “weird” people, all of whom tend to run out of lines as did Werner Herzog in Julien Donkey Boy, looping the same phrases again and again. Trash Humpers is surely intended as a fuck-you shocker to any viewer, and is utterly without any redeeming qualities.  And in it’s shallow repetitiveness it is boring as hell.

It’s “value” resides not in the film, but in the fact that it was shown by numerous festivals solely on the basis that it was made by Harmony Korine. Had any other misguided soul sent it to any festival, it would have been rejected in 3 minutes. Ah, but fame is a whore, and festivals are certainly among those cultural institutions which trade in celebrity. In this instance among others the film won first prize, despite being a fiction, at the Copenhagen documentary festival, was shown at the Toronto, New York, London, and others, including here.  Despite Korine’s somewhat interesting comments about it, it is an artless piece of junk passed off by would-be guardians of culture as worthy of your time.  Only in a pathological sense is it so.  Sad to think some worthy film, likely by an “unknown,” got bumped out of screenings in these places.

Fuck you, says Harmony