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Monthly Archives: November 2010

North Korean gunboat and village seen from Yeonpyeong Island

Another little flurry of notes from friends, concerned about the ruckus going on between North and South Korea and our placement a mere 70 kilometers away, prompts a bit more nosing around in the news, and jiggles the memory.  A few years ago Marcella and I took a one-day journey into North Korea, to Kaesong, a town – we were told it was N. Korea’s second largest city after Pyongyang – some 40 kilometers or so on the other side of the DMZ borderline.   Passing through the border station, a modernish building, with loudspeakers blaring what seemed slushy patriotic music, we were greeted with smiling hostesses and “guides” who were clearly some kind of civilian-dressed police. Our convoy of about 12 buses, virtually all full of South Koreans going up for a glimpse of former “home” – there were about 5 westerners in the entire group – then proceeded into  North Korea along a single paved road, and the sudden absence of all hints of anything “commercial”.  No billboards, no signage on buildings, nothing of the sort.  It was in truth rather a relief from the over-developed South Korean “countryside” which is crammed with industrial-style agricultural structures, plastic covered green-houses, rice-paddies, and small and big factories, along with an onslaught of corporate chaebol advertising bill-boards:  Samsung, Lotte, Doosan, KIA, and all the rest.  Instead one saw a landscape that seemed 100 years ago, bereft of anything industrial or modern at all.  Rather the roads leading off this one paved highway were of dirt, and led off to a mix of traditional and very-tattered-with-time little houses, or workers housing little 4 or 5 story dormitory buildings.  There was no color, and everything was drab, with the small exception of the occasional patriotic banner or portrait of a Kim.  There wasn’t much of that.

Kaesong, North Korea [images off net]

Kaesong was a dull place, a few high-rises (less imposing in reality that the photos here, taken of the internet), dirt streets, a smattering of people on the streets.  They took us to a museum, cautioning about what we could and could not take photos of, and then we had a dinner, likely lavish for 99% of North Koreans, if modest next to those served to the Kim clan and their high-level associates – mostly in the military.  On the flanks of Kaesong is a modern little bubble, an industrial park built by South Korean corporations, a kind of exchange program.  Not long after our visit, in the other site where South Koreans could visit, a sacred mountain further north where there was a resort to cater to them to bring in foreign income, a woman was shot to death for allegedly crossing some demarcation line.  Subsequently these tours were stopped, and for a while the industrial park was shuttered as well.  I think it may still be so, especially now.

From Kaesong, our caravan wended its way about 30km, along the only paved road, to a lake, above which was a Buddhist monastery.   Every 4 or 5 kilometers, a dirt road would branch off to a village of old-style houses, some with thatched roofs, usually a half kilometer or so to the side, though a few flanked the road.  Those near the road had a few 4 or 5 story concrete apartment blocks, poorly built and with stucco or paint peeling off.   At the center of each dirt road stood a single soldier, rifle at hand, in stiff attention, his large hat looming over his head like a halo.  They looked so out of place and lost in the landscape that they seemed like a little boy’s wooden toy.   The only traffic on the highway were very infrequent sedans, clearly military.  No trucks, no motorbikes, no civilian cars or buses, no farming tractors.   In the fields, which seemed heavily farmed, with little terraces carved in any slopes, however small, were groups planting or harvesting.  Some had bicycles, most were on foot.  A few draft animals were seen.  It reminded me of the landscape of East Germany under the old DDR, except 10 times more impoverished.  No trabbies.  No lights.

Pictures from bus, outside Kaesong

Buddhist temple above lake

The last days the news has been full of items on North Korea,  the views of China, the President of South Korea saying the next time the price will be high; polls of South Koreans saying they’ve had enough of feeding their brothers to the north.  The won took a little dip, denting for the moment my savings.  I imagine this will blow over in some more weeks, South Korean policy will get a little stiffer, less generous, and if the winter is harsh as predicted and indicated by the little flurry of snow 2 nights ago – early for here – then the Kim dynasty will once again put out the beggars bowl.

In reality, were a war to occur, North Korea would collapse quickly – lacking infrastructure, oil, food, all the things that keep an army moving.  I doubt they trust that their missiles would loft a few nukes in the right direction or even off the launching pad.  And an attempt to move one by truck would doubtless be picked up by the space-borne spies above and picked off long before it neared Seoul.   Their indoctrinated troops would doubtless put up a suicidal effort, but it would not go far.  The best bet for them is huff and puff, and “appear” strong.  Perhaps when Kim Jong-il passes on, some significant change will happen.  His son was schooled in Switzerland, has traveled abroad, and despite his military minders, he knows what the world outside the Kim Kingdom is really like.

Julian Assange, Australian hacker and mystery man

Preceded by a soft announcement from the US government that it had notified various countries of their potential embarrassment at the contents of an imminent WikiLeaks release, today’s papers headlined some of the reasons.  A sordid accounting it is, revealing the squalor that lies beneath the carefully minced words of our diplomats, the Masters of Lying.   We read that today Mrs. Clinton, on behalf of America’s government is now to scurry about the world assuaging the damaged feelings of those whose interests may be deeply compromised.

Behind this release, and the previous one regarding America’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, is Julian Assange, whose life is surely in the balance.   Those whose feelings have been bothered, from the US and across the board, are well-known for assassinations for far lesser offenses.  Assange, works with WikiLeaks, an organization which has in effect supplanted the now fully corporately owned and controlled media, and taken up the kind of work formerly done, for example, by the Washington Post in the Watergate case.   As that once more or less independent media is now utterly in the control of the corporate interests which now are the government of America and many other countries, WikiLeaks performs a valuable, and to those powers, very dangerous, service of providing a glimpse of the truths laying behind the fraudulent propaganda issued by governments and corporations.

Pfc. Manning, accused leaker

The source of the current leak is a young man, a Private in the US Army.  It is alleged that in his job he hacked the government files, apparently, so the government alleges, because of personal unhappinesses with his bosses, etc.  This is the government’s version.  Government’s speak as they do.  It could not occur to those within the government that some might find their practices immoral, unethical, dangerous, and find exposure the best cure.

On a modest level, in my recent trip to Kolkata for the film festival, I had a small personal (if redundant, since I was well-acquainted with this mind-set and practice from many other prior cases) experience reconfirming my observation of how our diplomatic corps (and military and intelligence services) actually function.    I was invited to the festival thanks to some work by a friend of mine in Kolkata, who I’d met 7 years ago when there to do a workshop in Raipur for a month, and then another month in Kolkata where I did 4 workshops at different media and film teaching institutions.  During this time I got to know my friend, who was a film buff, and this year he helped get the Kolkata festival interested in showing my work in a 6 film “focus” program.  He worked with the US Consulate, some 11 years I think it was, and helped to get them willing to participate in footing my hotel bill, and sponsoring a workshop done at the American Cultural Center.   Apparently this proposal was met with stiff resistance at the Embassy in Delhi, which didn’t see why it should be inviting and helping to pay for a person with known contrarian views, and worse, had been in prison (in support of those views).   I was, apparently, rather reluctantly invited, something which was evident in the cool reception I received on arrival, where the head cultural attache of the Consulate couldn’t be bothered with meeting me, a little formality which to my past experience would be normal.   Despite this little matter, the workshop went off, staff were helpful, and everything went more or less fine.  However the Consulate’s relation with the festival was a bit surly with nasty comments regarding organization and such flying back and forth.  At one point the Consulate, without consulting with me, owing to a communications snafu canceled my press conference.   Feeling I was being censored, I put my foot down and said I would be doing the press conference, period, and in turn the Consulate people jiggled their schedule and arranged for the press conference to go on, but also placed a Consulate man at my side, in my view as a kind of minder.  As it happened the press conference was basically silly, with questions basically asking why I didn’t make more audience friendly, as in Bollywood, movies, with my response that I didn’t make films to please audiences, but to challenge them.  The Consulate man had nothing to say.  I’d done my duty.  Aside from the press conference, however, I’d done many interviews for the press, among them some that wandered into political realms, where, as usual, I spoke my mind.  In the airport in Kumming, China, during a layover, I opened my email to find a note from the invisible Consulate cultural attache, headlined with “America will fall apart….”    I knew instantly what this referred to, and then read this:


Hope you’re feeling better and Darjeeling treated you well.

My staff brought this interview you conducted with  The Scape (see the link below) to my attention.  Not sure if they got the quote exactly right, and I have no issue with you expressing your personal thoughts, but a heads-up would have been appreciated.  Nevertheless, I’m proud that the USG is comfortable with sponsoring artists who in some cases vehemently disagree with some of our policies.  I was well aware of your political beliefs before we extended the invitation, and do not regret doing so.

Please do let me know if there are other similar stories that might come out so I can be prepared to respond to any inquiries.



The US will fall within twenty years: Jon Jost

theScape: Online Newspaper, Nov 13 — Jon: There is no left in America. For us Barack Hussein Obama represents the Left. If you want my comment on their policy I would like to tell you that the US is now a ‘Police State’ and I think like USSR it will fall within 20 years. Once what happened with ruble, same will happen with dollar too.

This email perhaps unjustly confirmed my suspicion that the attempted cancellation of the press conference was less than benign.  As usual the quote is less than accurate, but still, having said here in endless ways, and in responses to the NYTimes Opinion pages, much the same thing, it does say what I think, however heretical from the viewpoint of an American diplomatic corps employee.  Of course it is perfectly natural and normal that those inside a system are blind to its limits and flaws, and lack the capacity to see from outside of it.  That is the nature of systems: they only let those inside of them who accept and fit the proper mold.  It explains why the CIA spends billions on billions of dollars securing “intelligence” and come up dead-wrong so often.  Ditto the US military.  Only the blind are accepted and let into the inner sanctum and they echo each other endlessly until, as if by magic, their world disappears to their surprise in a quick poof.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Institutionally they are programmed to never get it.

NY Times press room, circa 1970’s

And so, something like WikiLeaks, or that there would be people inside their system who rebel for honorable reasons, is beyond the ken of those within a system, who are essentially programmed to think that everyone else thinks, or should think, just as they do.  Systems require and demand conformity.  Conformity closes the mind.  The consequence is that there exist vast gaps within the structures of a system for anyone outside that system, with some intelligence, to exploit.   Thus nerdy hackers like Assange, or Private Manning, who actually know how computer code is structured, or how the internet allows for the dispersal of information, can render billions of dollars of governmental machinations and secrecy, void.   It provides a little hopefulness as our corporate owners attempt to make a kind of unified theory of social management to know they don’t really understand the systems they have harnessed, and least of all do they know how people outside their mind-set actually think and feel.    A little breeze of truth in the avalanche of ideological gas.

Mr Assange, in the interests of protecting himself – certainly in his position a very valid concern – has apparently provided himself a kind of life insurance policy:  he has, in encrypted form, deposited in various hidden internet sites, further documents of a highly damaging kind for governments and corporations.  The key to these have likewise been dispersed in such manner that should he go missing, be killed, or otherwise become MIA, this information would be released.

A just-can’t-get-it man

Nathan Oliveira painting

Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea

In the airport in Beijing, enroute back “home” I had a stop in an airport internet lounge and, aside from a few notes of worry from friends and family,  got a glance at the headlines about North Korea’s work above.  This is about 50-60 miles from our part of Seoul.  However on arrival nothing seemed much different than usual, aside from the trees were now half-barren, and as anticipated we’d mostly missed the autumn colors.  No police or military were visible.  More notes from friends this morning tapped me on the mind to check for more information, and to find a military “crisis” state had been declared by the President here, and the won had predictably taken a swoon from 1100 a buck, back to 1170, though assuming N. Korea doesn’t lob a nuke on the city, and this calms down in a month, and other economic news doesn’t intervene, the won will likely drift back on its slow trip back to parity with the buck.  Given the clean efficient ride in from the clean efficient airport, and how well Korea is functioning now, the buck ought to be the one chasing the won.  A further bit of reading indicated the swoon had really been more attached to Irish incurred Euro willies.  A check just now indicates it already bounced back to 1140.  Interesting how one’s savings in abstract monies wobbles on abstractions, politics and war.

Recently the holders of North Korea’s currency were informed by their Great Leader that they had to trade in their old notes for new ones, at a rate dictated, naturally, by the Great One himself.  By such means did savings and “hoardings” shrivel by a factor of 10, and anyone who had saved a lot hit the maximum trade-in allowed and lost the proverbial shirt off their backs, except in N. Korea one just might not have a proverbial shirt.

The fracas of shelling above was preceded a week or so ago by word from an American nuclear scientist, who’d strangely been allowed to inspect N. Korea’s now not-so-secret new uranium processing plant, equipped with the latest in centrifuges, indicating according to our experts on such things that indeed the Kingdom was out to make new bigger better nukes.

That this was slipped out by N. Korea’s own means – inviting an American serpent into the deepest secret vortex of Kim Jong-il’s mystic powers – suggests someone is bargaining for something.  Like, maybe, food to get through the winter.  The current crisis would seem attached, as well as to underline that the dynasty’s heir-designate, Kim Jong-un, also wears a pair of big balls, or at least his military supervisors want to make it appear so.  Maybe he’s more interested, like his brother, in trips to Disneyland.

Their Great New Leader designate, Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un, probable age 26 but recently fudged to 27 in anticipation of taking over Daddy’s role in lieu of his elder brother (who was recently quoted in China as saying he didn’t think a Kim dynasty was a good thing), as claimed by Kim Jong-il’s former chef  “…speaks his native Korean, and is fluent in English and some German, Bernese German, and French. He enjoys skiing and basketball and is a fan of Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme.”

Given his hefty looks it appears he also likes Big Macs and other junk food, and I doubt, even at his young age, he can ski much anymore.  Should he indeed take up the dynastic crown I suspect they’ll be having to shop around for the next Great Leader pretty soon though it is perhaps not likely Kim Jong-un could get his magic wand in the needed not-as-yet-known (or existent) wife’s heir-producing mechanism unless he commences with a major weight-reduction plan.

The North Korean system, like most empires and would-be empires, believes in circuses for the people as a distraction; however Kim Jong-il, his father, and most likely his son, seem to have forgotten the other half of the equation: bread.  Instead they have fed the population a constant diet of deifying propaganda which has elevated the Kim clan to celestial heights, if in fact the girth is more earth-bound.  Perhaps, pushing their luck, the latest Kim King will find himself literally devoured by his hungry peons.  It wouldn’t be the first time in history for such a denouement.

Japan, China, S Korea and N Korea and TaiwanKim Jong-il’s ecological paradise

Meantime, back on planet earth, rather than in the black-hole of mystification of N. Korea (seen above as a leader in ecologically balanced development), we experience a related warp, this one incurred by the fantastical Magical Market Economy:

In a magazine on the arts is a notice that an Andreas Gursky cibachrome photo of a Pyong Yang spectacle sold for 637,000 sterling (about a million dollars at the time) in 2008, which prompts a sense of the utter out-of-whackness of our world: a photo of this massive, and for Kim Il Jong’s subjects, very costly spectacle of artifice, sold for likely more than a good chunk of  the annual foreign exports of N. Korea’s worker’s paradise.  This misguided spectacle, used to enslave an entire nation, is then reified with an elegant photo, matching the artifice of its subject, and sold in another fraudulent space, the western “arts” market.  Gursky morally places himself on much the same level as Kim Jong-il, in effect robbing the N. Koreans of their production, no less than does Kim.  That anyone would pay such a massive amount for a photograph, whatever  it is printed on, should be telling enough, though the manipulators of the arts market are not about to say so, just as the Wall Street packagers of toxic sliced and diced and now, evidently, untraceable mortgage loans, were not about to tell the buyer’s of the dubious provenance of their purchases as they raced away with their “commission” intact.   Gursky, however much he may be an artist, is no innocent by-stander in this theft.

Murakami exhibit in Versailles

Is, in the final analysis, our consumer crazed Western Market Economy really any less wacky than the weirded-out Kingdom of  Kim Jong-il’s, with its starved citizens subsisting on a fistful of grains of rice while the princely son bloats from  too much something, and the nation’s economy is bent into a pretzel to support a military of 1,104,000 plus 8 million reservists (in a population of  25 million) and the building of  nuclear weapons?     Another nation, seized by another apparent madness, spends half its annual Federal funding on a military machine which costs 5 times more than the entire rest of the world spends each year, and which consumes half the oil which that oil besotted nation uses and fights wars to secure.  This nation’s infrastructure is crumbling owing to a political and cultural paralysis which is no less damaging socially than the mind-wash propaganda Juche system installed in the Kimdom.  And in this nation 1% of the population takes home 24-40% of the national income (depends on your source).  Two guesses what this other country is.

Even Confucianism can go wrong

[Update: “

“It could be the starting point of a new chapter in inter-Korean relations,” Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said at the time.

Such hopes seem to be drowned out Tuesday by the thunder of artillery barrages.

“They’re in a desperate situation, and they want food immediately, not next year,” Mr. Choi said on Wednesday. “Food is the No. 1 issue.”

See this in the NY Times.]

[PS:   Today in my class at Yonsei University, facing a more or less sullen and lifeless class, I inquired why, and probing asked if it was the incident to the north?  Silence.  I inquired how many of the males had done their military service and would be called up if things worsened, and most the hands went up.  Still they wouldn’t say what was bothering them until one spoke up and said they’d had 3 weeks off since I was in India, and only a few days ago did they remember they had an assignment to bring in, and they were stunned by this.  Even though I’d carefully counseled them to use their time wisely and make something good (some did).  This student said most of them were concerned with their “real” lives, and the incident of war wasn’t of  much importance to them.  A request for hands to confirm saw most agreeing.]

Two sides of Bengal

Kolkata.  After a rather grueling flight with two stops in China at provincial airports – Nanjing and Kunming – arrived exhausted at the grungy Kolkata airport to be greeted first by the dim layers of Indian bureaucracy – sullen passport control guys stumbling to the last hours of their mind-numbing soul-killing jobs, shuffling papers all, like themselves, soon to be recycled to the circular files of bureaucrats and gods.  Then the customs guys, same deal, same deadening paper shuffle and meaningless genuflecting to security – his state job and pension the real goal.   Outside we were met by Nilanjan, my friend from my last journey here in 2003, and taken to his newspaper job’s car and driver, and at 12:30 in the morning taken through Kolkata’s maze of roads, bouncing over humps and potholes, dodging the few rickshaws still moving on near-empty streets, soon to be flushed with humanity as the sun returned.

Bathing in the holy, if also filthy, Ganges

On landing I’d noticed, on the myriad islands littering the endless tributaries of the mouth of the Ganges, lights marking life, and some places buildings draped with strings of lights – on  enquiring if this was new, since I’d not noticed it when here 7 years ago, Nilanjan said he should have said to come a few days earlier as these were left-up from the Puja festival, just a few days earlier – the Festival of Light. Wished we’d been here.  Ride in was bumpy and Marcella said she wanted to throw up the whole time.  She thought it was the crazed driver but I let her know they’re all like that, plus the roads being what they are, being jangled in body and nerves is a given.

Checked into not the top-notch hotel the US Consulate had us listed for, but another one, The New Kenilworth, a bit cheaper at my request, if connecting ustill too posh for my tastes: internet connection a rip-off $7 an hour or 15 the day where as an internet cafe would be 15 rupees or about 30 cents an hour.  We passed connecting up and checked into a more reasonable setting later.

New construction in KolkataNew Market

Morning already dropped into the programmed rush: R&R except for the photog who arrived at 10:30 a.m. for a spread in local financial paper, interview in the evening; later another interview.   As planned we got a whirlwind tour with Nilanjan of a sliver of Kolkata – some shopping districts, New Market, Hogg’s market, the names and architecture a left-over of British Raj times; the old city around the University with streets lined with crumbling bookstalls and archaic academic bric-a-brac suggesting times a century ago; the famed College Street coffee house where intellectuals and artists gather, and Nilanjan had spent countless hours.  It was a large,  plain and grungy room, with a high ceiling and a second floor above overlooking it.  The service men were in elegant or silly attire, depending on your taste.  From the far wall a large portrait of Rabindranath Tagore, Bengal’s most famous poet and writer, overlooked the chatting intellectuals.   Then a stop at a kebab house for a weighty snack that deleted any interest in a dinner.   Plus at Marcella’s request a visit to a new electronics bazaar – she’s looking for an e-book with wi-fi capability in lieu of the i-pad she claims she doesn’t really want. Then interview with friend of Nilanjan’s, who, as the evening moved on, joined us in going to an apparently other famed cultural oasis, the former Olympia Pub, rechristened the Olypub.  Plain tables, a somewhat plain room, more or less like the coffee house earlier in the day.  I had decent local beer (Black Label) and Nilanjan and his friend had a local thing, Indian-made whiskey cut rather drastically with water, and in Nilanjan’s case, some kind of soda  –  tall glasses stretching out a shot and softening the harshness of the local swill.  One glass followed another and another until we called a stop to it, begging off owing to an early rise next day for our workshop.

College Street coffeehouse

The workshop­­­­­, under the wing of a reluctant US Consulate – which had, so I was informed, not wanted to host me, the Embassy in Delhi complaining why should they bring in a known lefty who had been in jail (!) – was a bit poorly organized, and the first day instead of there being enough cameras to send people out to shoot, as I’d normally do, I had to improvise and talk, along with show a few short films (butchered by the LCD projector they had).  But it went well, the 30 or so were lively enough, and the second day they did bring cameras, and I had them go out to shoot, the results of which more or less demonstrated the rigid nature of Indian education.  Very hard for them to let go and loosen up.  But some did, and 5 days later when it came time to show their finished work (6 little teams) those who could loosen up did the best.  Others made a dreary “educational” film, a long take pretentious film with far too much theory and too little artistic sensibility, several awkward attempts that failed to convey anything as the maker’s assumed their private language was understood by all – a frequent fault of those who deal in symbolism.  A few others edged on being of interest, but fell down, often owing to relying too heavily on music (loud and bombastic) and/or voice over explications of what the visuals did not do.  All in all, I felt I didn’t really have enough time at all to work with the participants, especially as they all came from film or media schools and had been duly indoctrinated.  Two days was far too short a time to break that down.

The festival incurred its own cultural mishaps, of a few kinds.  The first night the near thousand seat theater was packed for The Bed You Sleep In.  The Kolkata festival doesn’t really have an adventurous side-bar, but shows old classics (Kurasawa, Resnais this time around), and more or less commercial world and but mostly Indian cinema.  The audience duly began to stream out rather promptly (I didn’t stay to watch film, but was in lobby being interviewed for 20 minutes or so), and my guess, on popping back in near end, is that 70 or 80% of the audience left.  They wanted their mental popcorn and I wasn’t providing.  The balance of the screenings saw an ever diminishing audience size, but an accumulating cluster of “fans” who liked the films, though managing to sometimes ask awkward questions.  Again, Indian education leaves little latitude for ambiguity, so most questions were whether X meant this or that, and hence the film was about Y.  Such questions I cannot answer.  I was a bit surprised by the evidently general absence of any familiarity at all with even the most modest acquaintance with world cinema that is not commercial.  Hence the tastes were overwhelmingly biased to the simple story telling of plot points like most cinema, and my films definitely threw almost all the spectators for a loop.  Again, something for which my previous exposure to Indian educational processes had prepared me.

Shop window, Kolkata

Along the way a few other lessons on India were administered. Once again the Godot show, with the  Treasurer of the festival, awaiting our airfare ticket reimbursement.   Shunted, predictably from one person to another, finally I land in the Treasurer’s office, crammed with his “help” or supplicating others.  He was officious, the archetypal bureaucrat, abusing his little powers, snarling orders, and filled with his own self-importance.   As he complained that bank problems would not make it possible to pay until the day before our departure,  Marcella interjected that banks would not be closed, and her temper rose with each rejoinder of impossibility that came back, until she finally said, OK, we’ll go to the Festival Director, and we left, the Treasurer maintaining his obnoxious demeanor.  A minute later, in the Director’s office, the same character clutched at my arm, a full U-turn, he now the begging supplicator, as he was told to get the money.  The next day it was time to collect, and I was back at his door, waiting along with a lady from Toronto, a regular here, who abandoned ship to hit the internet.  Four or five “employees” hung around like flies, doing nothing.  Time glides by, the Treasurer who said “15 minutes” is absent, Nilanjan and Marcella have gone to do more interesting things and I wait for the $800 envelope.  The 15 stretches to 45, and finally our eminence shows up, bruskly walks by, tells a subordinate to issue the money, and we enter the vaunted office to fill out some documents, signatures here and there (on papers doubtless required by law to be filed forever though they likely would not last a year so cheap are they).  And after many more minutes of back and forth, new papers are pulled out, filled again, and finally the Treasurer reaches in a briefcase and counts the money, hands it to the subordinate who counts yet again, and finally I get my reimbursement.   India, sadly, is imbued with this, which explains how so little gets done as each active agent is surrounded with a little battalion of do-nothings, each of which sits in some hierarchical setting, lording it over those below and quivering before those above.  It is a formula for lousy personality development and is surely socially deeply destructive.  Being very deeply rooted, I doubt India as a culture can ever recover from it, and hence my belief that they’ll never do as China has been doing. Instead they’ll wallow along, Thomas Friedman singing their praises, impaled on their cultural background.  Though with a billion plus, if a minority of, say, 10% get rich in whatever pockets of hi-tech, labor exploiting “success,” that’s still two Italy’s or Spain’s of rich people.

Sticking to this comparison, I’ve often told my friends that India is Italy squared.  If you’ve been to Italy and had to deal with any business or bureaucratic stuff, you’ll understand what I mean.  Italy will be like India in a few more centuries.

Mrinal Sen on stage at Kolkata Film Festival

Outside the festival we renewed an acquaintance with a man, Subrata, who had published a little book on me – done by email interview, some other things.  He and a few friends, took us around a few times, once trying to go to a “country liquor” (home-brew stuff) place in what most would call a extremely poor slum area.  Apparently these were (less so now) a hangout for artists, intellectuals and the like.  One of India’s most famous directors, Ritwik Ghatak, evidently did so a bit too much, drinking himself to death at 43.  Apparently the newer generations aspire to other things than rubbing shoulders with the poverotie.  And they took us through some mazes of dingy back-alley places to a book seller who showed us a beautifully made sequence of 4 books on his Bangladesh family.  In Bengali, otherwise I might have bought.  Similarly we went several evenings to Santanu Ghosh’s house, a very large traditional house, 3 or 4 floors, sprawling over a quarter block it seemed.  He is an arts patron, and kindly invited us to come occupy an adjacent smaller house.  Which is tempting, though if the bronchial storm I’m presently weathering is, as I suspect, caused by Kolkata’s horrendous smog, I am afraid it would perhaps prove a fatal deal with the devil.  Maybe if I can find a working gas-mask wearable in public!

Organic garbage dump near our hotel

On the last day in Kolkata the final workshop presentation was done as I was feeling a bit gastro-queazy, and as the day went on, a little fever came along, and by evening, after introducing All the Vermeers to the dwindled audience, I hastened back to the hotel, asking Marcella to take care of grabbing the deck and tape at the end of the screening, and to get some medicines for fevers and gut problems.  At the hotel I fell full-tilt into whatever bug had bitten (food or water borne), and some hours later Marcella and Subrata and gang materialized as I sweated under the blankets.  Had some medicines and our friends departed, as I began a once every hour or so through the night trip to the toilet, though I managed to soil the sheets, several pairs of underwear, with dribbles here and there.  In the morning the sheets were soaked with sweat.  And as I went the last time to the room on checking out, the electronic key did not work, and in the interim I was a final time too late, shitting the pants and underwear I was going to wear on the plane.  Change to jeans.  I found all of this mainly funny, and as I told Marcella, I deserved it for the hubris of claiming I am (usually, evidently) exempt from gastric mayhem.  Not this time.  It persists more modestly now, and thereby I feel duly truly initiated to India.  Marcella got it a day later, blessedly minus the fever part.

Wall, Kolkata

[Posted from Mirik, India, in the Himalayan foothills.]

Markets Reach 2-Year High a Day After Fed Decision

Stocks, at their highest level since the Lehman bankruptcy, surged a day after the Federal Reserve’s decision to buy more government securities.

Waiting until just after the mid-term elections (claiming it did not want to impact them !), the Fed announced it was buying up 600 billion dollars of debt, and lo and behold the next day Wall Street lept to ever higher newer bigger better numbers: DJ index at 11,434.84!!!!

Tellingly, the same day’s news reported that unemployment figures were higher than anticipated, corporate “productivity” was up and labor costs were down.   All very happy news for the honchos at Scrooge McDucks.   Of course, parsing through this economist’s lingo one can just wonder which and whose “debt” did Uncle Sam buy?  Corporate America’s?  Well, I give you one guess.   And of course “productivity” was up as employment was down, as fewer Americans worked harder and harder for less and less.  This is the wave of the future.  Or the present.  Soon I expect our corporate masters to begin our very own red white and blue award, the Stakhanovites.   Sort of like a combo of American Idol and the Oscars, but for those who manage to work 28 hours a day,  propped up by big pharm pills, before succumbing to an early and convenient pension-free  death.

Stakhanovite Worker’s Medal of the good old USSR

On August 31, 1935, Aleksei Stakhanov, a thirty-year-old miner working at the Central Irmino Mine in the Donets Basin, hewed 102 tons of coal during his six-hour shift. This amount represented fourteen times his quota, and within a few days of the feat was hailed by Pravda as a world record. Anxious to celebrate and reward individuals’ achievements in production that could serve as stimuli to other workers, the party launched the Stakhanovite movement.

If our corporate  lords can only manage this final swindle, Wall Street stands to make another real killing.   They  are definitely working on it.

Meantime down in the Capitol, having let himself be mugged for 22 months straight, our don’t-want-to-come-across-as-a-threatening-black-guy President has invited the victorious muggers over for a dinner.  Now if this were in Italy some centuries ago, it might be interesting.  [Once the king of Napoli invited over one of his peers from further north for a dinner and whatnot, and after a gracious bit of hosting tossed the man in a dungeon to rot.]  However this seems not to be Mr Obama’s way.  Instead it appears his intent is to yet again offer his hand “across the aisle” to have it mangled  and tossed back to him again.  This all appears to be a re-make of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Obama Invites G.O.P. Leaders to Dinner

President Obama made the offer as he tried to adjust to a new political order with Republicans ascendant.

* McConnell Says Ousting Obama Is ‘Only Way’

The Republicans, for their part, have indicated they look forward to cooperating with Mr Obama – to say they hope he will support their legislation to repeal the health care bill, privatize Social Security, kill Medicare and all that damned socialist crap, and the rest of their legislative wish-list.

That’s little Sarah Palin teaching Uncle O how (and what) to read

The American electorate has spoken, or perhaps more accurately, the American corporate bull horn has spoken in an avalanche of money and proven that if not all the time for all the people, at least a lot of the time for a lot of the people, advertising works.   Election returns are in and it appears the hundreds of millions spent on television and radio ads indeed flushed many an incumbent out of office,  and that the anticipated shift to the right, to Republicans, indeed happened.  Actually a Libertarian got in too.   And the traditional mid-term repudiation of the last election’s Presidential winner remains intact.   Though the tea-leaves fail to make an over-all clear indication, leaving red and blue splotches across the national map.  We do know that Mr Boehner, of Ohio, will be the new Speaker of the House.  His already announced main purpose  is to make President Obama a single-termer, and to do whatever is necessary to block all Obama proposals.

Representative and corporate bag man, John Boehner of Ohio

Given the stated aims of the new Speaker, it is a fair guess the coming two years will be a continuation of the Great Republican No of the last two years.


And speaking of “no’s” there’s another to be pondered, that of Jean-Luc Godard and the honorary Oscar which the Motion Picture Academy wishes to bestow upon him.

The Great Golden Dildo

The rumor I’d read some time ago apparently is true: as Jean-Luc Godard ambles to eighty, the august hoities of the (American) film universe in Hollywood have decided they should acknowledge his existence.  So an honorary Oscar is to be awarded, though it is more or less certain he won’t be there to pick it up.  And meantime the mere gesture is kicking up a little tempest in Hollywood’s tea-pot as some accuse JLG of anti-Semitism.  See this and this for further on that.  His apparent crime is his rather long (since the early 1970’s) support for Palestinians, along with a comment which indicated that he knows how to count when he implied that Hollywood is dominated by persons of Jewish background.  Well, duh.  But, as with Wall Street, it is forbidden to say such a thing.

JLG with his friend Daniel Cohn-Bendit, formerly Danny the Red, and Jewish

Houdini and disappearing elephant

Houdini, the famed magician and escape artist, here seen doing a trick in which he was able to make an elephant disappear into thin air.  Could he perhaps arise from the dead and do it again?

Janet Leigh in Psycho