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Monthly Archives: September 2010

General Petraeus, in Parwan, Afghanistan

Out to make Afghanistan into the spitting image of American democracy, under the now aging banner, “Operation  Enduring Freedom“, General Petraeus, here seen walking along an American built prison camp wall in Parwan, stated the following:

“We’re on the cusp of beginning, of supporting, the Afghan beginning of reintegration,” General Petraeus said.    NY Times, Sept. 28, 2010

This is the state of American policy in the 9th year of the longest so-called “war” of our history.  We are at the beginning of a cusp.  Is this a distant poetic echo of “Cusper’s” last stand, out in the bleak Little Big Horn River territory?  Or what exactly has the General said?  You got me.

So far 1,305 Americans have officially been indicated as having been killed in Afghanistan; others died after being removed.  This figure includes only military personnel.  Afghan deaths, as usual, are unlisted and whatever numbers are given, they are fuzzy and invariably far lower than reality.

Naturally, those who decide American policy find no ironies in such facts as that America holds more people in prison than any other country, even ones with populations 4 times the size of ours.  More better bigger prisons is our way here, and goldern, it’s gonna be that way there.

Marines in HelmlandPrivatized prison complex, near Phoenix, AZ

Number of US prison population 2,424,279 in 2008

44% of US prisoners are black; 12% of US citizens are black

The present budgetary costs of the entire US prison system is approximately 60 billion dollars a year.   The cost per prisoner comes to $24,000.   The experts’ analysis is that this expense functions to harden and generate more criminal behavior.  Just as American policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, produces ever more “terrorists.”

Teresa Lewis, executed by State of Virginia, Sept 23, 2010

Ms. Lewis’s guilt is not at issue. By her own admission, she plotted with the men to shoot her husband, Julian C. Lewis Jr., 51, and his son, Charles J. Lewis, 25, a reservist about to be deployed abroad.

Ms. Lewis, then 33, met her co-defendants, Matthew J. Shallenberger, who was 21, and his trailer-mate, Rodney L. Fuller, 20, in a line at Wal-Mart and, according to court records, they quickly started meeting and hatching murder plans. She became particularly attached to Mr. Shallenberger, showering him with gifts, but she had sex with both men and also encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to have sex with Mr. Fuller, the records say.

Ms. Lewis withdrew $1,200 and gave it to the two men to buy two shotguns and another weapon. The night of the murders, she admitted, she left a trailer door unlocked. Later, she stood by as the intruders blasted the victims with repeated shotgun blasts. As her husband lay dying, court records say, she took out his wallet and split the $300 she found with Mr. Shallenberger. She waited at least 45 minutes to call 911.

Her husband was moaning “baby, baby, baby” when a sheriff’s deputy arrived and he said, “My wife knows who done this to me,” before he died, the records indicate.

“She said she is leaving it in the hands of Jesus,” her lead defense lawyer, James E. Rocap III, of Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, said on Tuesday, before she heard of the 7-to-2 decision by the Supreme Court not to consider her case.

NY Times, Sept 22, 2010

Lethal injection room, Louisiana

From response section of the New York Times, from an opinion page sequence on the American economy, came this exchange:


Putnam County, NY
September 21st, 2010 9:21 pm
Reading that the economy is headed in the right direction, I am screaming in despair for I am one of the many uncounted long term unemployed. Fifteen years ago, I moved from NYC to an upper middle class neighborhood, which I bought into when housing was affordable. Almost three years ago, I lost my six-figure Wall Street technology job when my hedge fund employer crashed and burned. Over fifty, mother of two teenagers, I have tried everything to find employment including starting my own IT consulting business, but it’s been difficult to maintain the standard of living required to keep my house. Have liquidated all of my assets to meet the mortgage payments to maintain my high credit score so that IF I find a job it, bad credit will not be held against me but it appears that my age is the mitigating factor. Have tried for a year to modify my mortgage through Obama’s HAMP program but my bank, a major TARP recipient has been unresponsive because I haven’t missed a payment and still have ‘equity’; equity in which I’ve been living on (can’t even sell my house right now in this market). And the problem is nobody cares. NOBODY. I have written to the President, contacted my congressman many times and traveled to his DC office only to be met with indifference. Just recently I took in a tenant, another middle age single mother who lost her home and just lost her job yesterday. In exactly nine days, I will miss my first mortgage payment in 15 years and will be heading into the foreclosure abyss. My freshman college daughter cried this weekend when I had to break the news. She just cannot understand it all. It is affecting my high school son as well. The hardest part is that I’ve let my family down. I am a fighter and have survived much in my life (including 9/11) but nothing has prepared me for this downward spiral into poverty. Nowhere to go.

The little lacunae in this story suggest the once Wall Street employee taking down “6 figures” (now is that 100,000 or 999,999?) is divorced or widowed (my bet on the first) and lives in a mental world in which writing the President seems a reasonable course.   While there may be some self-serving delusions in her story, she is surely joined in that by some hundreds of thousands in finding the rug of the American dream yanked out from under her and finding there’s no life-preserver handy.   She likely didn’t realize there’s many millions who never dreamed of a 6 figure income, and have had, from the get go, a lot harder time than she.  Her posting begot these responses:

Kim W.
Brooklyn, NY
September 22nd, 2010 1:30 am
To Elizabeth:

You clearly care so much about your plight that you’ve posted it twice now. But forgive me if I have a hard time mustering the sympathy, because:

I’m one of the longER term unemployed. I have been struggling with debt for the past TEN years — debt brought on by the LAST recession, one which no one seems to recall. But trust me, it was there — a recession spurred by the dot-com bubble bursting in the late 1990’s, and then compounded by 9/11 closing down many of the business where I worked as a clerical consultant. Back then, I lived by taking credit card cash advances to pay my rent, and I have been trying to pay down that balance for the past TEN years — despite being paid a pittance in my two careers.

You say that this is the very first mortgage payment you’ll be missing in 15 years. I DREAM of the day when I have enough money to even dream of making a mortgage payment of any kind — but until I have enough saved to put a down payment on a home, I will never be able to even entertain this idea.

You say that you lost your six-figure Wall Street job. I lost out on a five-figure salary I needed far more as one of your colleagues’ assistants.

You say you have contacted Congress, et. al. for assistance. Yet for the past ten years, I was discouraged from doing the same (granted, at the time I felt that Congress was wasting money on an unpopular war which it could have been spending to stimulate real economic growth at home, but that’s a different matter). So instead I just cut my budget where I could and made do. Fortunately I have no kids in college, but unfortunately, I also have not taken a vacation in nearly ten years. No money (and, no paid vacation time anyway, either).

So forgive me, but if this is only the FIRST mortgage payment you’ve missed in all this time, you are NOT quite as far into poverty as you think you are. I appreciate your frustration, but consider that some of us have been here far, far longer, and suffered scorn for our lot back then. So…some of us may not be quite that sympathetic.

Los Angeles
September 22nd, 2010 5:21 am
Elizabeth #5; Kim W. #11
Stop it, Kim. This is a sad example of how Americans are divided and conquered these days, while the Rethugs and the rich laugh all the way to the bank.
I have no idea in the world how to make it all better, but the unemployed sniping at the unemployed definitely will not improve things. Kim, you’re only feeding the beast.
September 22nd, 2010 5:25 am
Elizabeth and Kim: I feel for both of you. There are too many stories like yours in America today. Not enough is being done to help people who want to help themselves and who are/have “played by the rules.” The only people who merit help in this ongoing nightmare are apparently large companies (e.g., GM, AIG etc.) who are “too big to fail.” What about all of the people who make this country what it is by doing their jobs, raising their children, buying and maintaining their homes? The failure to address their needs and interests is why the Democrats are likely to lose power in November. I don’t relish the prospect of this, but I sure have to say they missed the boat.

September 22nd, 2010 5:25 am
To #11 —

I deeply sympathize with you. You’ve been suffering a long, long time. Your suffering is real.

I also sympathize with Elizabeth. She is suffering too.

It is the genius of the Republican leadership that they successfully pit sufferers against one another. As long as we’re at each other’s throats, we won’t go after THEM.

Naturally this kind of divisiveness is manna from heaven for some, be they politicians looking to harness these negative waves for a ride to somewhere, or ministers out to make a buck soothing the fears of the folks, or corporations looking to lower their pay-rolls.  There’s money in that desperation, just ask the payday lenders.

And then, from deep in the heart of SoCal, comes this story from Bell, a little working class town near LA, primarily latino, poor, and I guess, vulnerable.

City Council, Bell CA.

Top row, from left: Councilman Luis Artiga, former Councilmen Victor Bello and George Cole and Mayor Oscar Hernandez. Bottom row, from left: Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, Councilman George Mirabal, former City Manager Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia.

For the story, see this.

Of course the same things went on in another American town, New York, down on Wall Street.  But at very different numbers.

[For the follow up on Teresa Lewis’ death, see this.]

The Recession Has (Officially) Ended

New York Stock Exchange, Sept 2010

According to our friends in the bean counting department, the recession is over, and we’re crawling out of the hole.  From the perspective they take, the numbers say it all:  the Dow-Jones, down to 7000 18 months ago is back up to nudging 11,000.  Count them beans.  And they have the proof:

Of course, while certain CEO’s are enjoying their bonuses, and those with stocks are enjoying the ride back up, there are murmurs that this will be a “jobless recovery,”  so for those saps out there who actually work for a living, times look tough.  In fact foreclosures are up – hard to pay that mortgage with no income – and naturally with that, so is homelessness and just plain down-right poverty.  Now 15% of Americans are “officially” poor.  And that number is going up kind of in proportion to the jobs numbers going down.   Not to worry though, the Tea Party is coming to the rescue and is going to shrink that damned government, repeal the recent Health Care bill, stop Social Security, and let freedom ring all over this great country.  You bet.  The freedom to have no job and have rich people say you are lazy.  The freedom to get sick and die.  Or maybe starve first.

Demonstration in weird San Francisco (see home-made signs)

Meantime the more wealthy are getting very pissed off at the thought their taxes might be raised, and the most wealthy are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the newly freed up “free speech” ruling of the Supreme Court that says money is talk, and the wealthy should be able to talk as much as they want, just like anyone else.  So they’re putting their money into “non-profit” 501 (c)(4)’s, which can plow all they want into political activities like broadcasting lies.  As the very old American saw says, Money Talks and Bullshit Walks.  Better get walking.

Metropolitan Opera, NYC, staging Wagner’s The Ring

For those of a certain class – oopps, not supposed to say that word – the Met in New York is staging a very high-tech and costly run of Wagner’s cycle, The Ring.  Lots of computer-run moving stagework, lighting, and if you have, say, $500 you might be able to get into a performance.   If that’s out of your range you might try a concert in Williamsburg, over in Brooklyn, where the band plays on.  A bit more down-market.

Pavement plays BrooklynSt Louis, house stripped of bricks

Meanwhile in St Louis, a city on the skids like Detroit, houses are being stripped of turn of the (19th) century bricks, which like copper (stripped from Detroit factories) can be sold for a bit of coin to make handsome houses for the better off somewhere down south.   Beats the usual chipboard and 2x4s typical of construction these days.

Unfinished town houses in Des Plains, Illinois

“In declaring the recession over, we’re not at all saying the unemployment rate, or anything else, has returned to normal,” said James H. Stock, an economics professor at Harvard and a member of the business cycle committee.

“We clearly still have a long ways to go.”

Yeah, I guess before we call it a Depression instead, there are going to have to be a lot more jobless, homeless, starving folks out there.  Of course the stock market might be even higher, so ….

Keep on talkin’…

The New York Times ran an article the last few days celebrating yet another “artist,” whose current exhibition sprawls over some West Village gallery, the Maccarone.   A bit of back-bio reveals this:

Mr. Pruitt, 46, a gleefully tricky purveyor of trash culture who is known for making paintings of pandas and of Paris Hilton, who has fashioned an eternal-flame monument from a bar table and a Bic lighter, and who once held an extremely brief gallery show composed solely of a long floor mirror bisected by a line of real cocaine, which was ingested by visitors.

Ever since Warhol we’ve been treated to a range of graphic illustrator-come-provocateur as “artists” when we might say it is more a case of circus performers. Mr. Pruitt is clearly of this lineage.

Rob PruittAndy WarholJeff  KoonsDamien Hirst

Dan Colen

The art scene seems to reflect in some proper way our times.  One element of it, if not all, celebrates the trivial, the stupid, the “popular,” and pawns it off on the gullible rich.  Decadence, I think it would be called.  It runs on a par with “reality TV,” with our apparent infatuation with celebrity, our 5 second sound-byte politics, and our attention span devolving down to nano-scales.  Our art schools crank out “artists” trained in business not unlike our law and business schools crank out stockbrokers and lawyers trained in scams to get rich quick, whatever the social costs or ethics involved.   In a world as remote from the sublime as one can imagine, rushing quickly to some terminal denouement, is it not appropriate that we surround ourselves with gaudy baubles, devoid of content, the purpose of which is merely to snare a bagful of money and fame in a society oblivious to its own auto-destruction?  The New York (and LA etc.) arts world seems the high-end “liberal” side of our culture’s answer to the Tea Party, whistling past the graveyard with all the wrong answers.

Thomas A. Doyle, art business scammer

Murakami “art”

Recession Raises Poverty Rate to a 15-Year High

The poverty rate climbed to 14.3 percent — the highest level since 1994 — from 13.2 percent in 2008. The rise was steepest for children, with one in five residents under 18 living below the official poverty line, the bureau said.

And that was last year.  Naturally homeless numbers have gone way up too.   “Art” anyone?

After an obscenely long time – since 1993, when my sole access to my own work, courtesy of H.S. Rosenthal*, was only an absolutely brutally ugly VHS tape of Frameup, made at his behest by the now defunct World Artists Corporation (which ran up a handsome reputation among independent filmmakers as a rip-off outfit, and in the case of my films, without any involvement on my part, made some really ugly DVDs), I can offer finally very decent DVDs of this film.   It isn’t perfect, having originated from a print that had seen some projection, but it is pretty clean and easily 1000 times better than the VHS tape, which was so horrible I declined to ever show it or look at it.

Anyway the DVD is available now, and if interested please contact regarding purchasing one.  In the next month or so I’ll be writing, at the request of numerous people, the first in a series of long commentaries on the making of individual films, and I’ll be starting off with this one.   Check for those.  Here’s a few images for a teaser.

[* The real story of Henry S. Rosenthal’s involvement and actions with regard to Frameup, as well as 3 other films, will necessarily be a part of the series on the making of my films.]

Bad Economy Drives Down American Arms Sales

The report to Congress concluded that the value of worldwide arms deals in 2009 was $57.5 billion, a drop of 8.5 percent from 2008.

While the United States maintained its role as the world’s leading supplier of weapons, officials nonetheless saw the value of its arms trade sharply decline in 2009. This was in contrast to 2008, when the United States increased the value of its weapons sales despite a drop in business for competitors in the global arms bazaar.

“Relationships between arms suppliers and recipients continue to evolve in the 21st century in response to changing political, military and economic circumstances,” Mr. Grimmett concluded. “Where before the principal motivation for arms sales by foreign suppliers might have been to support a foreign policy objective, today that motivation may be based as much on economic considerations.”

The Reverend and the Immam

September is here, the year is even-numbered, and the great old American electoral follies with new-fangled 24/7 “news” cycling is here, and down south in Florida a reverend at the head of a flock of 50 hit the adrenalin button, latching on to the NYC “holy ground zero”  mosque house-warming tea-party, and announced he and his fellow Christians were going to have a 9/11 bonfire of Korans.  As doubtless fully anticipated, the shit hit the fan, the media descended enmass on little ole Gainesville  and Bingo, the reverend hit the jack-pot, spotlights wheeled in his direction, and surely a slot on American Idol will follow  shortly.  Telephoned by the Secretary of Defense, promised a get-together with the immam farther north in the Big A of Sodom & Gomorrah, and apparently visited by the FBI, the reverend had second thoughts, and if not smilingly (see above for the apparent state of mind), he turned tail, or perhaps remembering his supposed calling, turned the other cheek, and while in Afghanistan protests swirled out of control, back in the USA things calmed down.  A little.  Not really.  After all there is an imminent election which could turn the country one way or another, so major and minor distractions are the order of the day.

Meantime, as a hint of the real-world decay in our national infrastructure (how boring and tedious it all is) the Bay Area is having a real blast:

Do I hear a fundamentalist fulminating “It must be the gays, or to punish Nancy Pelosi, or because we didn’t let the Reverend burn the bad books, or PG&E must have been bought by the Saudis…”

I Sassi, Matera, BasilicataEustacchio Gianluca Di Simine, caffé barista, Caffetteria Di Simine, Matera

Summer’s end came with a rushed trip from Matera to Roma, a cheap hotel near the Termini station, the jaunt to Fiumicino and a long indirect flight, via Doha, Qatar, back to Seoul.

Church, San Lorenzo, RomaWall near TerminiPalm trees and Roman ruins, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele Hotel, by stazione Termini Departure, DohaIncheonSeoul

Classes have begun at Yonsei, the “normal” patterns of life resume and Marcella will follow, arriving in a few more weeks.