Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2011

MLK and Washington Monuments

Battered by politics for some time now, the nation’s capitol was visited by a rare earthquake of another kind the other day, and the Washington Monument was closed down as it appears to have acquired cracks in the upper area.  The monument is the tallest stone structure in the world.  Given the present fractious state of the nation, this is perhaps a fitting alteration, symbolically betraying the truth in a city incapable of uttering a single honest word.  Washington’s monument to its first President is crumbling, and likewise is America.  But we can’t say it out loud.

MLK Memorial

Washington DC is a city which, according to recent (probably a bit incorrect) government data, is 50.7 percent black.  I think it is likely a bit higher, and certainly before Washington changed from the sleepy southern provincial city of my youth – I lived my high-school years nearby in Fairfax Virginia – and grew phenomenally into the imperial capital of the Empire-that-can’t-be-called-one (until the neo-cons of the New American Century did so in the very late 1990’s), it was much higher.   In the racist 50’s of Virginia, there was a local joke, that said the 14th Street Bridge, which crossed the Potomac from Alexandria Virginia into DC, was the longest bridge in the world:  it went from Virginia to Africa….

DC is 38.5% white, 19% Hispanic, 3.5% Asian, and .3% Native American, then there’s some others.  Perhaps some of this can be explained by the fact that Mr Washington, the city’s namesake, along with most of the founders of the nation, all owned black slaves, who, for political reasons at the time were legally regarded as 3/5ths of a person, but like women, those not owning land, and other such things, they could not vote in their new “democracy.”  They could only work for their masters, like Mr Washington.  Washington, like many of his peers, had a black mistress.  He also smoked hemp and had wooden false teeth.

George Washington

On August 28th, 2011, the new Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington will be commemorated.  In about every way it tells far more about America than it is intended to, though only by ironic metaphor.   Like most such monuments, it’s existence was instigated by public pressure, and an organization formed to direct that pressure.  A competition was held and a committee chose a design.  In this case the winner was Chinese, Lei Yixin.    As it happens Mr Yixin, whatever his talents or absence of them, had also in his earlier career, made some statues of Mao.  Looking at this “sculpture” one cannot but be reminded of certain characteristics found in Soviet/Communist style monuments – a certain imposing monumentality, a stiffness, a forceful pompousness.

MLK by Lei Yixin

The unhappy truth is that this is a rather bad sculpture, even within the strictures of a public monument – seldom are they good.  Nor does it really have much likeness to Mr. King himself, being more a kind of generic “black man,” somewhat akin to the generic “Chinese” to be found in much Chinese propaganda, or even in some of the “fine arts” of China, ancient and new.   That an American committee found it sensible to outsource this job to China seems counter-intuitive.  And then, to add insult to injury, the block of granite, virtually white, also comes from China.  It is said because there is no granite of equivalent quality in America.

It is no little irony that a sculpture of one of America’s most important black men should be made of a near-white stone.  Nor that the quotes taken from the man’s life, which bedeck the monument, are all carefully selected for their seeming innocuousness:

“Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” Feb. 4, 1968, Atlanta, Ga.

“We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” April 16, 1963, Birmingham, Ala.

“If we are to have peace on Earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” – 24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” – 18 April 1959, Washington, DC

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – 16 August 1967, Atlanta, GA

Loc 4: “I oppose the war in Viet Nam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example.”- 25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – 1963, Strength to Love

“We are determined here in Montgomery to work until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”‘ – 5 December 1955, Montgomery, AL

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is strongerthan evil triumphant.” – 10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway

“To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence ofevil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough tocut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.” – November 1957, Ebony Magazine

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies; education and culture for their minds; and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” – 10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway

“We must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.” – 24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA

“…The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy.” – 25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA

“Hatred paralyzes life, love releases it. Hatred confuses life, love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life, love illuminates it.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are cauaght in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” – 16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” – 16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL

For another view on this Hallmark card emasculation of King’s often fiery rhetoric, see this item from Princeton’s Cornel West.

Cornel West

But the ironies do not stop at the outsourcing of the carving of this imported Chinese granite to a Chinese “artist” or the failure to seek and find a black American to make this monument (certainly such artists do exist here) – which merely stand emblematically as corporate America’s practices of the last decades – the practices which have left wide swaths of Americans, especially black Americans, without jobs.   That China laced “the deal” with a 25 million dollar contribution only adds to the revealing aspects of this monument and how much it tells us about our country.  In another time this 25 million would have been called “corruption.”   Today it is just “business as usual.”

Sometime ago, a young French aristocrat came with a friend, to visit America and write a treatise on the nation’s prisons.  He ended up traveling a bit, and returned to France where he wrote something quite other than on our prisons, circa 1835.  He was Alexis de Tocqueville, and the book was Democracy in America.   Among the perceptions he had come these thoughts:

Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability; instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.

When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint . . . . It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. . . . they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.

The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.

There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Alexis de Tocqueville

How’s them for some Freedom Fries?   Given his prescience about things American, one must still wonder if Alexis would be surprised to return and find so many of his predictions having come to fruition.  And certainly now would be an auspicious time to do a study of America’s prisons:  if the nation has been slipping from its self-congratulatory #1 position in many things, it can proudly lay claim to Prison Nation of the World.

# 1 United States: 2,019,234 prisoners
# 2 China: 1,549,000 prisoners
# 3 Russia: 846,967 prisoners
# 4 India: 313,635 prisoners
# 5 Brazil: 308,304 prisoners
# 6 Thailand: 213,815 prisoners
# 7 Ukraine: 198,386 prisoners

Of course this statistic doesn’t mention the population of the nation, and hence the sense of proportion is lost: China, #2, is 4 times our population.   It doesn’t mention that American Blacks, about 13% of the country’s population are overwhelmingly disproportionately represented in the American prison population:  almost 50%.

In a few days another seemingly alabaster – not in color tone, but culturally – American black, educated in Harvard, Princeton and having taught at the University of Chicago, and reputed also to have soaring rhetoric, will be present to formally open the Martin Luther King monument.  This man is America’s first “black” President, Mr. Obama.  Though, seemingly like the out-sourced generic statue of a white Mr King, he seems only to have been allowed onto the Washington Mall (and into the White House) by turning himself into a white-guy, despite his skin color.  His policies thus far have been white conservative, pro military-industrial complex, pro-Wall Street and the only thing black to be noticed is a certain jive-and-shuck, directed mostly at his ostensible “base” of the liberal-left.   Were Mr King to hear what will doubtless be an eloquent if neuterized eulogy that Mr Obama will probably deliver on Sunday, one imagines he’d thunder back with some thoughts on Afghanistan, the militarization of America, and other serious problems which he had far back in the 1960’s with the “sickness” of American society.   In the real terms which Doctor King took seriously, our nation is far more sick than it was back then – mired in wars, in corruption, in economic imbalances, in poverty, and his fellow black citizens are only symbolically better off – yes, there are more rich black entertainers, sports figures, and even businessmen and even a President.  But there are more blacks trapped in poverty, in prison, and wearing the fraudulent straight-jacket of America’s shabby version of “democracy” than there were in Mr King’s day.   Mr Obama himself is a living symbol of this moral and political corruption.

Change you got tricked into believing would come

However, it appears that nature may well this weekend deliver to the nation’s capitol (and much of the East Coast, even the holy canyons of downtown NYC, home of the untouchable Wall Street) yet another trauma in the form of Hurricane Irene.  In keeping with the global warming predictions of our scientists’ computer models, the warming atmosphere is making for larger, more dangerous weather systems, as in the massive tornadoes of this spring which leveled Tuscaloosa Alabama, and half of Joplin, Mo.   Whatever the refusal of some of our politicians and citizens to believe in scientists instead of other texts, the mean average temperature of the globe is incrementally moving higher.  And warmer air is able to hold more moisture; the collision of moist warm air masses produces a variety of effects, including tornadoes and hurricanes.

Thus, perhaps metaphorically, nature will deliver a message of a different kind on Sunday.   The newspapers indicate that the commemoration is likely to be cancelled in deference to Irene.

And speaking of Irene, prisons, and blacks in America:  here’s Huddie Ledbetter, more commonly known as Leadbelly, or in his own version Lead Belly.  He was a Louisiana Delta blues-man of the very early 20th century, with a temper to match a hot-pepper sauce.  Discovered in Angola State Prison by folklorists John and Alan Lomax, myth has it he was released from prison by the governor after the Lomax’s and others petitioned on his behalf.

Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Leadbelly

Huddie sings on YouTube

Hurricane Irene, August 25, 2011

And to wrap it up before hurricane Irene hits the coast, or peters out, or does whatever it’s going to do, here’s another note on a Hurricane, about a black man framed by American “justice,” sung by a white (Jewish) guy from Minnesota:


[To add to the ironies, I write from Amsterdam, where I am staying with a long-ago friend of mine, who is black, and whom I met in prison in 1965.  We were both “doing time.”]

Sept. 2:  Irene came and went, spent as a hurricane, it instead morphed into a tropical monsoon storm dumping water in massive amounts in New England, which is going to be digging out for a long time.   Of course this has nothing to do with man-made weather changes and global warming – just ask the current leader of the pack of Republican Presidential nominees, Rick Perry.   I am sure he feels it was only a God-directed punishment for certain liberal tendencies up there in the original colonies.  Just deserts.

July 14, Matera, 2011I Sassi, the old center of Matera

Six years ago, in early July, I arrived in Matera, Italy, where I’d never been before, following a long flight from Brisbane, Australia, through Singapore and on to Rome, where I took a bus to arrive on Monday morning, around 5 a.m., to start a workshop at 9 a.m.    I thought I’d be destroyed, but actually I was, despite the long 48+ hours of travel, awake and ready to go.  My students, in the last week of a 5 week workshop, weren’t.  I recall 3 of 15 being there at 9, and some, but not all dribbled in over the rest of the day. One of those 3 was Marcella.  The rest of the week carried on in a similar fashion – students burned out on too much disorganized unfocussed work-shopping off in a small Basilicata town, Pisticci, and into non-stop partying.  I couldn’t turn them around.  Around Thursday, hoping to use their egos as a lever, I filmed each of them explaining what they hoped to do and why they were taking the workshop.  Though I’d noticed her before, while filming Marcella I “fell in love” and obliquely told her so.   She was 28, I was 63.    After the workshop finished we took her away to Berlin, Lisbon, London, and then finally to America (Portland) where she asked me to marry her.  I’d lived with many others before but never married, but did so for her.   We later went to Lincoln, NE, and then to Seoul.

Marcella (ti amo)

A few days after arriving in Matera from London, Marcella, mentioned often here, who’d been in Italy for 4 months doing a post-graduate course in general film business stuff, told me she needed to talk about something.  I knew what it was before she really said anything.  Time to end things.  I knew when it began that it would, some time or another, come to this: the differences in age, along with cultural and other things made it all predictable – it was just a matter of when.   As it happened it was with an interesting symmetry: almost exactly to the day (one off) when our “affair” had seriously begun six years earlier.  In the same place, Matera.  The circle rounds and closes.   It was not my choice, but I knew inside it would come some day.   It is hardly pain-free, but after many spins around the sun, it is life as life really happens.   I had no delusions.    We’ll remain friends and I love her, and I hope for only the best possible life for her.  It was six years I am only happy came and happened.   That it comes to an end is only natural and I accept that.

Casa di Oretta e Gugliermo

I went to Roma, as planned, and stayed a few nights with Oretta and Gugliermo in San Lorenzo.  They knew the story before I got there,  and it was a good comforting time.   Gugliermo is playfully my favorite Palermitano mafioso.   We trade horse-head pillows.   Oretta had a very nice dance piece she’s been working on which Gugliermo did videos for – I am hoping to help get it into a big festival in Seoul so she has an excuse for another visit there.  See this for a sample.  

Gugliermo in San LorenzoHorse head, forget the museum and artist

It was only a few days in Roma, but I did manage to see a few friends I hadn’t seen in a long time – Marco Delogu, a photographer whom I hope to do a Pleasure of Friends piece on soon.  Lorenzo Taiuti, who was headed shortly to the Venice Biennale and then on to Austria for Ars Electronica.  And Eliana Miglio for a lunch.  All good.  Other friends were not in town, alas.   And I managed to have a beer at the San Calisto in Trastevere, where the clientele remains the curious mix of expatriates, locals, druggies, alcoholics, and in the evening a mixed crowd of young people.  The barmen are the same as five years ago, last time I was there.  Some things seem never to change.

San Calisto, just off P. S. Maria in Trastevere

And then it was on to Berlin where I stayed nearly 3 weeks, under gray skies and a summerless summer.  Cool and rainy.  Stayed with my friend Martin, from long ago (1979).  He’s now director of the archival section of the Deutsche Kinematek.   Then he went off for vacation on the Baltic where, apparently, the weather was the same.  I managed to do a bit of torture tourism of museum-going on a 3 day pass, and saw a lot of things I hadn’t seen here previously.   The Pergaman had a long line, and I skipped it, and went instead to the Alte Museum, the Neue Museum, and the Bode.   The latter two I’d never been to.  Archeological, Greek, Egyptian and into Roman things.  And then the next days to the National Gallery, with its handsome building by Mies van der Rohe, and then the newly built well designed for light if not otherwise sprawling Gemäldegalerie.  And then also to the Hamburger Bahnhof, with contemporary art, including a new wing which makes the DIA Foundation site in upstate NY seem small.  Unfortunately what fills this massive space only confirms my view that most of this kind of art is a fraud.

Caspar David Friederich

While in Berlin, as if to underline the fact of aging, at the Bode I noticed a young woman, maybe 30, who seemed to materialize again and again in the same room as me – a vast museum, easy to be lost in.  I decided it was more than coincidence and finally drew up the wherewithal to ask, “Do you speak English?”   She replied, “Yes,” and I asked her where she came from.  Bulgaria was the answer.  I asked if she’d like to go have a cup of coffee and she declined.  I noted a museum guard’s amused look.  I said good-bye and left, thinking to myself,  “Come on, Jon – you’re 68, an old man, and…”

So after I left, took a walk to soak up some time before going to a concert I’d been invited to by a friend –  Marianne Dissard.  Walking past the Brandenburg Gate and the hordes of tourists I went to the Holocaust Memorial, to see again so I could write a not-nice critique.  Wandering in its columns, noting the children scampering about as if in a big maze, and young people using its myriad corners to steal a kiss or hug, I saw some kids jumping from one column to the next and thought I should also go up to get a foto from above, showing how it was organized.  I walked to the end of one line, found one short enough to clamber upon, and looking for a way to get more central, I finally took the little leap – about a meter – from one column to the next, and….

Eisenmann’s Holocaust Memorial, by the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

And I don’t really know exactly what happened in that millisecond, only that I was then sprawled on top of the adjacent block, a bit stunned, and concerned about my glasses, the tink of which I heard as they hit the ground.  The frames were minus one lens and I went to the pavement to look, and found it, shattered.  I put my hand to my face and noted it was rather bloody.  I think I said, “Damned” or perhaps it was “Fuck!”  And I felt my face, and thought I should likely go to a hospital for some stitching.  After a few minutes a man came by and gave me a small bottle of water to wash off with, and luckily I had picked up a hanky from the street a few days earlier (clean) and had something to mop up the blood.  Very red, very fast.  I wandered to find a place like a pharmacy but couldn’t find one and went into a gym place, where I asked for help and the man came with a band-aid, which I didn’t think sufficient.  I asked where was a hospital and he said some name and I went to find a taxi, which finally arrived, and I said the name.   He drove me there, and on entry having no insurance it was minus 100 Euro to go in, which, after some forms I filled out, I waited about 45 minutes before a young doctor saw me, wiped things up, did stitches on the gash in my eye-brow and let his assistant glue the rest together.  While waiting I noticed a gash in my right shin, which didn’t hurt, but now some weeks later it is the last to heal up and will leave a nice scar tissue to remind me of my age.  Or something.  Perhaps I will think of the Holocaust each time.   Through all this, as seems characteristic, I was laughing at myself, the reality, life.

Post-Eisenmann treatment

I consider myself lucky that the lens didn’t rip my eye, that I didn’t lose some teeth (some nerves to them are momentarily numb), and didn’t break my shin-bone.    However, as it wasn’t my physical feebleness, but some mental lapse, I hope it doesn’t deter me from making, more carefully, such little leaps in the future.  As I told Marcella (we talk almost every day – all’s OK) I will now sport some “masculine” scars – one on my nose being most evident now.

Roman portrait in the Bode

In Berlin I managed to see some friends, some not seen in some time, and make contact with some others.   In 1985-6 I’d shot a film with them, taken up to a near-final edit, A-rolled in 16mm, and then I didn’t have the money to print it.  For some time I’ve thought to cut it down a bit more, make a contemporary HD framing for it – using the same people – and find a way to make it interesting for the present time.  The film is a nice time-capsule of Berlin with the wall and the arty community then, which, to be honest, appears very little different than the arty community now.  Except now there’s more money, more people, more everything.   They seem to have agreed, so now to find what it will cost, and find a time to do it.  Perhaps later this autumn if invited by some festival back to Europe.

Caspar StrackeMartin KoerberBernd CaillouxThomas Schulz

As happens in travels, now in Amsterdam – having passed through Paris, then Brussels, with many things of interest:  people, places, new things made by friends of mine, some of which quite strong.  Of these things later.  Meantime a final image, one made by Thomas, above, of Germany when the wall was still up, an image suggestive of the evanescence of time and life: a simple fact which in various ways has been underline for me in the happenings of my life, and of some of those close to me.   Of that, more later.

Image from Thomas Schulz

Raúl Ruiz

Raúl Ruiz died in Paris on August 19th, 2011, after making 113 films.  He was 70.  I think the count doesn’t include one he had just finished, La Noche de Enfrente (“The Night Ahead”), which was after the recent many hour Mysteries of Lisbon.   Back in 1980 I met Ruiz in Portugal, where I was supposedly making a documentary on him, at the behest of the BFI via Don Ranvaud’s pushing.  At the time Raúl was a festival and critic’s favorite, something which he remained until the end, though his work never seems to have acquired a normal audience, not even a festival one.  I think I might have seen an early film, The Penal Colony, which I thought was rather amateurish and bad (many critics liked it).   And I think I saw, at least part of, Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, and perhaps one other thing.  I found them needlessly convoluted, visually inventive but lacking something elemental – a sense of something that needs to be said, and said carefully, with conviction.  Ruiz seemed more to be obsessively playing and not much caring whether it all held together.   I was more sympathetic to the thought of his exile from the Pinochet regime, though I later came to think his leaving Chile was less political than something else.  Later I saw a few other films, which were critic favorites but did little for me.  Raúl is quoted as saying,  “If you can make it complicated, why make it simple?”   My inclinations go in the opposite direction, towards simplicity.  To each their own.

In Portugal Raúl was shooting a film called The Territory, with Paulo Branco producing (though the current credits list Pierre Cottrell and Roger Corman).    I was present, meeting Ruiz, whom I found a very nice man, who enjoyed his work, and enjoyed eating and good wine.  The cast and crew – including famed cinematographer from long ago, Henri Alekan – were housed in a villa in Sintra, near Lisbon, and the film was shot in the surrounding area.   Communal meals served by an excellent Portuguese catering outfit were a major element of the day, with ample wine used to lubricate the social ambiance.   Being ostensibly about cannibalism, there was an intention to involve schlock master Roger Corman as a co-producer, and later I went to a very swank 5-star Parisian hotel to shoot an interview of a shark-skin suited Corman talking with a seemingly ironically amused Ruiz, who was clearly aware of the lack of communication that seemed to lie between them.    I also visited Ruiz’s apartment in Paris and met his wife and editor, Valerie Sarmiento.

While I was rather busy trying to shoot, on my usual minimal terms (the film stock, very little of it, and camera were mine and I wasn’t being paid), I was present during a week of interesting days.  The cast was mostly of young Americans, and Wim Wender’s girlfriend at the time, Isabelle Weingarten.  Wenders had been off in California shooting Hammett, when Francis Coppola yanked Wenders’ star, Frederick Forrest, for his own One From the Heart Las Vegas film.

I shot during the shooting of a few scenes, obtaining some nice images, interviews and a mixed bag of odds and ends.  I found Ruiz’s manner with the actors desultory and almost disinterested, which seemed to baffle them.  He appeared more interested in the visual imagery, some of which, in screened rushes, was indeed dazzling.  Alekan was a magician, and so it seemed also Raul.

Ruiz’s The Territory

After some days a rumor swirled through the production, that Wenders was coming to (a) visit Isabelle, and (b) bring some film stock as supposedly it was running low.   But even before this White Knight arrived, another rumor arose:  Wim – who was a famous and hot director – was going to shoot his own film, with the Ruiz’s crew and cast.   With this new rumor, the interests and energies of the actors turned on a dime, and were directed immediately to the idea of making a film with the hot Mr. Wenders.   At the time Raul had 6 more weeks of shooting scheduled.

On Wenders’ arrival all attention turned to him, and curiously (?) Raúl was told to wrap up in a week instead of the scheduled six.  And indeed, Wenders did make a film, The State of Things, using a good portion of Raul’s cast and crew, including Alekan. Not only did he hijack these things, but also a bit the predicament of Ruiz and of himself.   This is reported, falsely, in various movie world mythologies in a  somewhat a different manner.  Having previously crossed paths with Wenders in New York in the making of his film Nick’s Film (or, Lightening Over Water), I can’t give Wim any benefit of the doubt: the man, despite his air of the put-upon innocent and current Jesus follower,  is a self-serving liar.  His claim that the characters in The State of Things do not reflect real people – for example, Coppola – ring transparently false.   Casting his German director “hero” as a victim of the machinations of Hollywood paint an even more hypocritical image of Wenders.

I last saw Raúl at the Rotterdam Film Festival, I think 3 years ago.  He was wandering in one of the areas for participants – filmmakers, press, hangers-on – and looked abandoned and lost.   I think he lived – as his record shows – to make films, and when a final accounting is done, that is a perilous ground for life.  He looked as if that recognition were within him.

Raul Ruiz in foto by Clay Walker

The film world is small, and I am a mere barnacle on its massive hull, but in Googling for some pictures of Raúl, I found it odd that I should find a picture by Clay Walker, whom I met a few decades ago, or that Ruiz’s death would entwine a handful of others I have met and with whom I had some kind of transaction.

Back to the world of the living, the last week had me in Paris where I saw a basic edit of my friend Toshi Fujiwara’s new film, No Man’s Zone – a documentary of the area around the Fukushima nuclear plants devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of last January.   His images and interviews are powerful and revelatory, and I anticipate a very good film coming of it.   His editor is Isabelle Ingold, who, as it happens is the usual editor for Amos Gitai, whom I met long ago, and whose Paris apartment I have also visited. 

Toshi FujiwaraIsabelle Ingold

A few years back – 2006 – Toshi made a lovely film, We Can’t Go Home Again, improvised with his friends in Tokyo.  After he did a long documentary, Fence, on a US military base in Japan and its impact on the town it is beside.  And he’s working on another long improvised film from which he was detoured by the earthquake and tsunami – he went to shoot not long after it all happened.   I met Toshi some time ago, when going to the Yamagata film festival,  in 1997.  It has been a pleasure to see him blossom as a filmmaker, and to have him as a friend (despite our wide variances in film tastes)!

Staircase, Paris

Wandering in Raúl Ruiz’s labyrinth of Paris, I had the nice fortune of meeting other people and seeing some things which had elided my eyes when I lived there in 1997-98.

Jean-Julian PousMssr. Méliès

In the Père Lachaise  cemetery I visited again (it’s the end shot almost in OUI NON) the grave of  Méliès and took many other images of the grand theater in which death is presented. 

And there were others met, among them Verena, and Vivianne, and Marianne, Roberto, and others, and to whom all a merci for the fluid of life:  without friends life is a dry matter, perhaps improved by death.

Jeju island sits off the south west coast of Korea, the two-million year old consequence of volcanic eruptions.  I visited there 2 years and some ago, in winter.   Compared to the rest of South Korea, it has been largely spared the rapid over-development of the last 25-30 years.  Still dominantly rural and agricultural, it is a kind of oasis for Koreans, whose peninsula has been subject to a very swift industrialization, both urban and agricultural.  For my tastes Jeju now is a bit too Disneyfied, with resorts and golf courses, but next to the rest of South Korea it remains bucolic.

In what seems typical of America these decades, the US Navy wishes to build a base in this setting, and doubtless in a manner crude and bullying, convinced the Korean government to accede to this request.   Samsung, Korea’s biggest corporation, and thought to be essentially more powerful than the government itself, obtained the construction deal for this.  The  village where the base is planned to be built resisted, along with the rest of Jeju’s population, saying they did not want the despoilation implicit in such a construction.  American forces in South Korea have already toxically poisoned many of the bases already present, and this history doesn’t suggest they’d do anything else in Jeju.

Jeju Island naval base tensions escalate with arrival of riot police from Seoul.

2011-08-16 16:35:09 – Amid growing controversy over a proposed naval base in South Korea, national authorities have sent five brigades of police armed with crowd suppression equipment to quash protesters in the small fishing village of Gangjeong. Protesters have succeeded in stopping construction of the base with acts of civil disobedience. Both national political parties and international groups have joined in solidarity.

SOUTH KOREA, Jeju Island, August 16, 2011–On August 14 five squadrons of Seoul and Gyeonggi Province police officers came to Jeju equipped with three water cannon trucks, ten crowd suppression equipment vehicles, and sixteen large buses. The forces, numbering 700, then moved south towards Gangjeong, the location of the construction site of a controversial South Korean naval base.

Gangjeong village leaders announced that police will likely converge on peace camps occupied by protesters who have until now halted base construction by means of nonviolent civil disobedience before the end of the week.

Earlier this week Blue House Special Secretary, Lee Jae Oh, visited the island and promised to solve the situation politically. The sense of urgency in his statement is considered a driving force in the actions of police, who may anticipate a potential order to retreat.

The Jeju District Courts are also expected to sign off on a litigation suit filed by the South Korean Navy and Samsung C&T on August 17.

Governor Woo Geun Min, earlier this month, made a special phone call to the Seogwipo police department requesting that violence be avoided at all costs. However the presence of water cannons and the dramatic entrance by the police on Sunday have tensions in the community high.

Since base plans were announced five years ago, Jeju residents have used every democratic means to block its construction, including filing a lawsuit against ROK Defense Minister and holding a recall vote to oust a local governor who had consented to the plan. The hugely unpopular project has caused 95% of the island’s population to vote against it.

The recent increased show of force by the South Korean government is in response to growing global attention to the residents’ cause, including a letter of support from American feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem, and the launch of an English-language website and online petition supported by over 100 peace and religious groups worldwide.

The 400,000 square meter base will be home to a new fleet of destroyers equipped with the advanced Aegis ballistic missile defense system. Many military analysts believe that the Jeju Island naval base will serve as part of the U.S. military’s sea-based ballistic missile defense system. This same technology is also a proven anti-satellite weapon. Some analysts are also concerned that if the base is constructed it could lead to military hostilities between China and South Korea.

The ROK Navy expects to complete construction of the base on Jeju in 2014. Officials say the base, which would accommodate more than 20 warships, submarines, and other naval vessels will cost about 800-billion-won, or 865 million U.S. dollars. Major contractors on the base construction job include Samsung Corporation. The South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced commitments in 2008 and 2009 to purchase and deploy a fleet of Aegis destroyers equipped with US anti-ballistic missile and radar systems, built jointly by Hyundai and Lockheed-Martin.

Media Contact: Matthew Hoey

Phone: 617.953.1305

Skype: matthew_hoey

When I return to Korea at the outset of September, if there is any usefulness in doing so I hope to go to join those resisting.  A friend, Paco Michelson, who has done peace work in Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, has gone there, and is keeping me updated on things there.  Here’s a letter he sent me today:

As some of you may know, thanks to your awesome efforts to alert the international press, as well as the presence of a lot of visitors including some famous Korean opposition party politicians (which of course brought the Korean press) we were not attacked by the police this morning. We found out last night that the raid had been called delayed. No one wanted to see them come, but man, we were ready, we were ready as hell. Our nightly vigil was crowded and lively, people were singing and giving speeches. The atmosphere was hot. No doubt we were afraid but we were also ready. Of course, relief came when we found out the raid had been delayed. We also heard that the police would leave and that the Department of Defense was going to announce the next day (today) that base would be delayed indefinitely. We were surprised and cautiously optimistic.
However, we were right to be cautious as it wasn’t like we heard. Today, the atmosphere was a weird mixture of relaxed, relieved, and worried. We heard from Village leader Kang in the morning that he had heard the police were going to leave tomorrow (Wednesday, August 16) and we were of course waiting for the Defense Department announcement. Unfortunately it never came. What people are saying now is that it will come (or not come) after the court decision tomorrow (more on that later). The night vigil was back in our normal place by the river (last night it was at the main intersection of the olley farming road we are trying to hold against the police). But at the end, Go Kwon Il informed us that the police said they are not leaving. In fact, until now the police watching us have been Jeju and Seogwipo police, but tomorrow they will leave Gangjeong to take a break, and be replaced by the Gyeonggi Province and Seoul Police. We’ve also heard that while the police who have been watching us until now were mostly young and in experienced, many of the Seoul Police will be older and more experienced. There are also two units of women police officers.
Now, no one is sure about when the raid will come, but we have been told to be ready anytime. We do know, as has been mentioned before, that the non-jeju police have accommodations reserved until the 18th. Our best guess, is that they are going to wait until after the result of the court decision comes tomorrow. We think that this series of saying they are going to attack and then calling it off is their strategy for weakening our press, making us look paranoid, and hoping to wear us down and catch us off guard. The court decision that I’m mentioning is the injunction that the navy filed (a month ago? maybe a little more, I can’t remember) against 76 of the activists and villagers as well as against 5 of the activist organizations. If the court sides with the navy, then most likely the police will strike, maybe simultaneously, maybe a little later. Unfortunately, people here are not optimistic about the court’s decision. The court has basically been in the pocket of Samsung and the Navy and not been on our side at all in the past and our lawyers say that the judge is not actively looking into our claims.
Thanks for your support and kind words. Don’t worry, We’ll be okay. Pray for the villagers.
Paco and Hee Eun

For more, see this and this.  And this.   Please sign any petitions or whatever you can do to help stop this sadly typical action of the US military-industrial complex.  Needless to say our corporate media is not going to be telling you anything about it.

[Update:  with virtually no coverage in Korea’s corporate press, forces moved into the village, arrested the mayor and evicted the resisting people, and Samsung commenced building the military base.   In October, in a Seoul mayoral election the right-wing candidate lost badly and this was taken as an sign that in the coming Presidential election they may also suffer a serious defeat, in which case the Jeju base matter may come into question.]

Following the Mad-Hatter’s Tea Party in Washington, the world’s financial markets quivered and on Monday August 8 took a leap downward.   A lot of money and paper exchanged hands, and some won and some lost.  It is said 8 trillion dollars in value evaporated.   The Dow-Jones plummeted 600+ points.  Elsewhere markets did a similar swoon.

The next day, mimicking a yo-yo, the markets jumped up: DJ up 400+ points.  More money and paper changed hands, more was won and lost, and presumably 6 or so trillion of evaporated dollar value rematerialized.  It seems something akin to advanced quantum physics.  I await with baited breath the next contortion to which these trillions are subjected.  [On Wednesday the DJ index dropped 519, cancelling out the gains of the previous day and adding to the losses – another trillion vanished !]

Meanwhile, in the UK, where the not-quite-new regime of Cameron and Clegg imposed “austerity” conditions on the country following their election victory, the bill is coming in:

London riots, August 2011

Scurrying back to London belatedly from his Tuscan villa August vacation, David Cameron, PM, deplored the violence and ordered 10,000 more police onto the streets.   In the last months cuts had been ordered which would eliminate 9,000 police jobs.   The social media so lauded for the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria suddenly came into play in London, with flash-mobs materializing here and there, and when bobbies were imported from elsewhere, the mid-lands joined the fray.   While Mr Cameron and Clegg may only recognize it when a crowd of football yobs riot, the UK is in fact still very much a class-riven culture, and it is full of un or under-employed people, of all colors, including Anglo-white, who clearly boil over with resentment at the harsh economic lines between them and the public face of Britain, its monarchy, The City, and the veneer of class suggested by the cultural dressing on this very ill society.   The tensions between economic classes is palpable, and as evidenced in these riots, very real.

Arriving in Paris the other night, at Orly, one sensed the same tension here in France: entering the RER train into Gare du Nord, the tone shifted to grim graffiti covered cars, a dominant population of empire come home to roost, and a sense of imminent violence pervading the air.

Riot, Paris banlieu, May 2011

According to the wizards of the financial world, the present tribulations of the mystical markets has now to do with European banks, private and “sovereign”, and their debts.  This makes it different from 2008 when it had mostly to do with American banks and their debts, say the sages.  Of course extracting actual information from these people is somewhat impossible.    To boil it all down to basics, it seems the European banks – mostly French and German – invested heavily in Greek and Irish and Portuguese and Spanish and Italian debt (along with many other things in those realms).   And now it seems they won’t be getting their money back, which leaves them holding the bag (empty) as it were.   Hence the current air of panic as the debt problem shifts from shifty places like Greece, to staid supposedly upright places like France and Germany (or, ho ho, the USA).

Financial institutions in the United States have one-third more capital than they did in 2007, and they are better positioned to weather the current storm. And they have reduced their risk-taking. Instead of lending $25 for every $1 dollar worth of capital they hold, they are now lending a more reasonable $16…

This process of lending what you do not have (see above) predicated on the hypothetical income to be derived from the loan (see underwater mortgages for example), is called “leveraging”.   Once upon a time it was “normal”, and legally required, for a bank to leverage itself by a ratio of 3 to 5 to 1:  i.e., I have a buck in reality, and I loan 3 to 5.    Banking was boring.  Then, along came the 80’s and the regulations were loosened at the behest of those on Wall Street.  And in a short time leveraging zoomed to this:

2009 bank leveraging

On September 30, 2009, Lewis announced his retirement from Bank of America effective as of December 31, 2009. Lewis released the statement “The Merrill Lynch and Countrywide integrations are on track and returning value already. Our board of directors and our senior management include more talent, and more diversity of talent, than at any time in this company’s history. We are in position to begin to repay the federal government’s TARP investments. For these reasons, I decided now is the time to begin to transition to the next generation of leadership at Bank of America.”[6] It was reported that this move was his own decision and that he did not receive pressure from the bank’s Board of Directors.[7] Based on the company’s most recent proxy statement, his full pension benefits total $53 million. Critics of the financial sector’s salary scale have cited this sum as indicative of poor oversight by the board of directors and as an example of inflated executive compensation. As his plan dates back more than seven years, he is still entitled to full benefits. Bank of America has since revised their compensation plan for retiring executives.[8] In October, 2009, at the suggestion of Kenneth Feinberg, the U.S. Treasury’s special master for compensation, Lewis decided to forgo salary or bonus in 2009. His 2008 salary was about $1.5 million. “He has taken home $148.8 million from cash and stock sales since taking over the bank in 2001, according to Equilar, a compensation research firm. He is also leaving with more than $135 million in retirement benefits, including the pension and $10 million in life insurance benefits, according to an analysis of corporate filings by James F. Reda & Associates, an independent consulting firm.”[9]  (wikipedia)

Greek riots, earlier this year

Having drawn the great public into the capitalist consumer Valhalla of buying on credit, and having done so itself, the governmental systems of the West (don’t worry, the East is soon to follow), are suddenly confronted with old Marx’s observation that inside of capitalism is a fat contradiction.  And indeed there is.

Old Karl

What Marx saw was that capitalism as a system was structured in a manner that those who are successful in it are in effect blinded by their own greed:  give a capitalist enough rope and he will hang on it.  And, as the headlines today repeatedly confirm, so it is.  Within their bubble of wealth and power, those at the pinnacle of a capitalist system are so far removed from the everyday realities of the world, that they are indeed blind.  Hence the stumbling moves of those in Europe, in America, in China (nominally “communist” but these days more a roaring cowboy capitalist place), who are so surrounded with wealth and those who share it, that they cannot imagine the brute lives of those who have almost nothing.  Nor can they imagine the nothing-to-lose psychology which those at the bottom of the pyramid feel.  They feel only the crushing weight of everything above them.   And so, in these days, the contradictions are bubbling upward, seen in cold statistical data, and seen in hot riots.  It doesn’t really require any kind of brilliance to see all this, in fact it seems rather obvious.  Today many things have been globalized:  the neo-liberal system of economics which places the private sector on an altar and imagines raw capitalism to the the fount of solutions for everything; at the same time the schism of wealth vs poverty is to be seen in the urban graffiti which now graces almost every city around the world – the voice of the dispossessed scrawled across the urban landscape.  To imagine that this voice will remain only “artistic” is to imagine a world in which the vast gulf between a tiny elite and the great masses doesn’t exist.

Central Paris – once confined to the outskirts, graffiti now is to be found everywhere

Under the present system it is only a matter of time before the contradictions erupt, as they have in England, and France and Greece in recent months, in a more fundamental conflict.  It really isn’t a matter of whether it will happen, but only how it will unfold.  Will the powers that be unleash their full police and military powers or not – to be like Assad in Syria, or to fold as did Mubarak in Egypt.

Walking yesterday in the neighborhood I lived in here in Paris, 1998-99, Belleville, there seemed a marked change.  I’d read that it had become more fashionable, with cafes and boutiques.  But the street I walked along was, for blocks, 99.5% north African – Moroccan, Tunisian – with a dense open market along Blvd. de Belleville.  The other .5% was myself, and a group of 4 tough looking policemen.    Here in France they seem always to be in a group of 4, sometimes more, never less.  Armed with truncheons and guns.  While they appear solid, it is clear they could be readily overwhelmed if those they are policing changed the tune.

When I lived here earlier it was more like 50/50, with half being North African, and the other half a mix of French and Asian, and similarly, the Gare du Nord, which was a rough area then, but mixed, now seems almost entirely black African.  There too, the same policing is evident.

France, May 2011

Of course Marx erred in failing to see that, like any kind of system, his own “socialist/communist” one also had its own internal contradiction, which, exactly as capitalism, is rooted in a fundamental failure in reading the executor of the system – we humans.  Marx imagined a withering of the State, and failed to understand that certain humans desire power, and will do whatever their historical circumstances provide to secure that power.  Communism, like capitalism, is a belief system that has quasi-religious psychological qualities: one believes, and hence neither logic nor concrete evidence serves to dissuade.  Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and then the pallid pre-embalmed leaders who followed them all felt empowered by their beliefs to do whatever was necessary to “build communism” which in their minds was inseparable from themselves.  The result was murderous.

Capitalism is slightly more clever, though equally as murderous: it places an abstract distance between the murderer and the murder.   One buys stocks, invests; the purpose is to maximize profit.  The ideology of capitalism claims that this process will winnow out the good from bad, make production most efficient and separates the stock owner from the behaviors involved, and as long as the underlying purpose is accomplished, it doesn’t matter how fatal to others the process is.  The actual process is normally masked – the stockholder does not see the despoilation of the world, the exploitation of labor – he sees only the stock dividends and is happy; he does not want to see the process in any other way that as “profit.”  And so he willfully does not see.   The holy grail of capitalism is profit, and what happens in its pursuit is “holy.”   Pure greed is licensed as moral behavior, just as in communism certain kinds of pure “power” was.  The results are essentially the same: millions dead.

As a religion, Christianity has been remarkably successful, I think in part because it appeals to the individual ego:  god is personally looking after you it claims.  And hence one of its fundamental tenets circles around the self:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”   At first glance this seems a reasonable Golden Rule, but in truth it is toxic, for like capitalism, and like communism, it fails to account for the nature of human beings.  In centering ethics upon the self, the Golden Rule licenses the worst of human behavior and elevates it to the highest moral status.  Just as capitalism elevates profit and communism elevates some hypothetical wave of history.   There are some who desire material wealth so much that they do not think about or care what the real cost is; there are others who desire power and control over others so much that they will do whatever is needed to secure it, and if a quasi-religion such as Communism seems to authorize it, so much the better.  And there are some whose psyches desire punishment and torture, and the Golden Rule and its religion seems to authorize those wishes.  The history of Christianity is steeped in bloodshed, all in the name of doing unto others what one would have done to oneself.

A proper “golden rule” would be: do unto others what they would have done unto them.

Just prior to posting this the New York Times headlines:

Another Sharp Swing, This Time Up, for U.S. Markets

The market is “just a yo-yo,” said Myles Zyblock, chief institutional strategist and managing director for capital markets research at RBC Capital Markets. “I think the primary structure is still in place, and that is a structure of concern.”

“People are trying to bottom-pick today, and it might be the bottom,” said Mr. Zyblock. “I would like to see the collective message start to stabilize to give me confidence there is a hardened floor underneath this market.”

Eric Thorne, an investment advisor at Bryn Mawr Trust, called it a “shoot first, ask questions later” market.

[July 12, the DJ index swung up another 400+ points, though for the week and month it is cumulatively down]

All that glitters is not gold.

[As was predictable on the yo-yo logic, on Friday Aug 12, the DJ index did indeed pop back up, 400+ points.  However over the week it was down 2%, though clearly some traders are cleaning up – they get money on each sale, whichever way it goes – in some are pocketing a lot in these daily swings.   Another way to look at it, for those who ever had and understand cars, when your metal horse starts vibrating with wild oscillations usually you throw a rod shortly after.  For systems in which a steady up or down or even keel is the norm, usually wild oscillations are indicative of impending trouble. ]

Following the interminable Noh drama of the last weeks of the DC Beltway monopoly of the nation’s attention regarding the debt ceiling, the mystical “market” has sized things up and determined it was bad news for business.  Not really a surprise, as killing more jobs, tightening more belts, sinking more mortgages is a sure-fire way to make for what our friends in the economics community call a liquidity crisis.   So today the market dropped 4% in the US, and it was pretty much echoed around the world.   I suspect we’ll see another slide tomorrow, though who knows, perhaps the analysts will say there’s hot deals now, and it will bounce back up a bit with opportunists buying instead of selling.  But something in me doubts.

Timothy Geithner

Meantime Obama is apparently supplicating one of the architects of this economic melt-down to stay on the job (go down with the ship?), so Timothy Geithner may or may not stick around.

Louis Vuitton bag, what every woman needs…

Meanwhile, to underline the American reality, while the ax falls, among other things, on services for military veterans, the New York Times had this headline:

Even Marked Up, Luxury Goods Fly Off Shelves


This article indicated that luxury sales are up, with a waiting line for a Chanel sequined coat for $9000, or for some pumps for a mere $780.  This is proof positive that capitalism works.

Chanel jacket, $9010

Christian Louboutin “Bianca” platform pumps, $775 a pair

Not to be outdone, the new head of the Defense Department, Leon Panetta, formerly head of the CIA, announced his dismay at the so-called debt ceiling compromise which includes future cuts in the budget for our gigantic military – a military machine which consumes 56% of Federal governmental “discretionary” spending and which costs more than all the rest of the world’s military annually.  He asserted that the proposed cuts would leave America’s defenses seriously weakened.

Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary,  in from the cold of the CIA

Tomahawk cruise missile

That there is something askew in these matters is obvious.  America is spiraling towards some denouement, as the vast majority of its populace slips ever faster economically into a pit, while a small little slice buys costly toys, multiple homes, and apparently lives in a self-deluded bubble, and the military-industrial-media complex flexes its muscles and, as empires usually do, bankrupts our society.    As happens in our speeded up modern times, it is all unfolding more quickly than our consciousness can cope with it.  One is reminded of the Weimar Republic of the 1930’s.   Given America’s historical militarism, it is difficult to be sanguine about the next probable steps in this particular tango with time.

Downtown Seoul this week, from uncharacteristic monsoon-like weather

With permission of the author, John Englander, ( I repost the item below on likely ocean levels in the coming decades and centuries.  The article I think gives a clear and concise explanation, rooted in scientific evidence.   While I am myself far from a scientist, I am a little less sanguine about the suggestion here that sea levels will begin to rise in another decade or so at the rate indicated here – 1 to 5 (3 – 15 feet) meters by the end of the century; my modestly educated guess is it will be much more, as numerous elements collide in a catastrophe-theory scenario, in which there is a harsh rupture (already indicated here in the 20,000 times faster than historical precedent in the build-up of of CO2) in many of the balancing structures previously present – such as the sudden release of CO2 stored in arctic tundra, a similar release as forest fires expand from drought and the death of forests (presently in the US West thanks to pine beetle infestation caused by warmer summers, not to mention the man-made destruction of rain forests in S America and Asia.)  And as well I see very little sign that we will collectively put our foot on the brakes of CO2 emissions at the level required to slow the human industrial input of CO2 into the atmosphere.  If anything it is likely to rise sharply in the next decade or two.   I am fearful it will take a truly major catastrophe to slam some sense into our communal minds, and before we rationally address the matter, we seem far more likely to engage in wars for access to water, minerals, food production areas, and so on.  This is already aggressively occurring under the mask of  “globalization” in which monetary wealth is license to buy up South America and African farmland and evict the natives to grow food for China, S Korea and others.   This process is only beginning and is sure to produce politically volatile situations in which warfare will be the resort.   Modern warfare injects a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention other highly toxic elements.  We might note that the US military is the largest single user of carbon-based fuels in the world.

As waters rise, and coastal areas, usually the most densely populated regions in most countries,flood,  populations will forced inland to survive, sparking mass migrations and accompanying conflict.  Also much rich farmland is located in alluvial coastal plains and these will be lost.  The confluence of these, and other aspects, are likely to produce highly aggravating situations resulting in famines and other forms of pestilence as populations grow denser under less and less organized circumstances.  Refugee camps are not usually paragons of health, and we are talking of millions and billions of refugees (for example Bangladesh will be inundated and those 100 millions will flee inland to… jam-packed India.)  Similarly higher temperatures will produce far greater moisture in the atmosphere resulting in greater snow packs in mountain areas and monsoon-type weather seen this year in the American mid-west.  Higher summer temperatures will result in a fast run-off of the snowpack, resulting in the flooding seen on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, or in the floods in Korea.  These shifts are happening so rapidly that they are overwhelming the flood control systems predicated on an entirely different basis than what is probable to be the new norm in the immediate years to come.  The result will be a global breakdown in infra-structures designed for utterly different “norms.”  Again, the consequences will lead to socio-political upheavals of major proportions.    The consequences are unlikely to be handled in a sane, rational manner.



Why Sea Level will Rise for Centuries; ultimately 100 feet +

By John – Posted on 20 July 2011

Just 5 illustrations show why sea level will almost certainly rise for centuries; the STUNNING levels of historical change; and even why society generally doubts that it will ever happen. Articles about sea level rise  (SLR) somewhere on the planet are appearing almost daily. (I track this stuff for my forthcoming book “High Tide on Main Street”.) I am glad to see at least this modest increased awareness about a HUGE problem.

The chart to the right shows sea level change over the last 24,000 years, taken from the geologic record. It is in meters, the standard measurement in science. (For approximate # of feet, multiply by 3.)

There are 4 things to note:

1.  Less than 20,000 years ago the ocean was down almost 400 feet below the current sea level. A HUGE change in sea level, and not that long ago. This is based on geologic records that have been known and taught for the better part of a century.

2.  Nearly all 130 meters of rise (400 feet) happened between 20,000 years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, and about 6-8 thousand years ago; in other words over about just 12,000 years.

3.  For about the last 6,000 years, sea level has hardly changed at all. That is about the age of our earliest written records, and more or less the span of human civilization. No wonder that we believe sea level to be rather fixed in place. 

4.  It is also worth noting that about 14,000 years ago, long before any human impact, that the ice sheets melted quickly, causing what the geologists call a ‘meltwater pulse.’ The ocean rose about 65 feet in just 4 centures, averaging more than a foot a decade– hard to imagine! (Might that sudden rise be the basis for stories of the biblical flood, or Atlantis?)

Amazingly, sea level has regularly cycled up and down about 120 meters, or almost 400 feet on a regular cycle, pretty much every 100,000 years. That has been going on for at least 2.7 million years. If you want to see the chart showing that pattern, look back at my last post “SPIEGEL missed Explaining wide range of 3-16 feet of SLR forecasts”; the lower yellow/blue graph there shows an expanded view of the last 140,000 years of sea level, and a larger view of more than 800,000 years.  (Again, the vertical scale is in meters, so for those who use feet, MULTIPLY BY 3, approximately.)

While that huge cycle of sea level change is likely very surprising, it ties into something you likely do know about: the ice ages, when North America and Europe were regularly covered in ice more than 3 km (2 miles) deep. As the ice melted, the water flowed into the sea, raising the level of the ocean. (As the sea level changes, of course, the shoreline moves — a LOT.) Not only can scientists calculate the thickness of that ice and how much water would have been added to the ocean, but we can actually see very distinct ancient beaches and shorlines now more than 300 feet underwater, as further proof. (I have personally seen them from research submarines.) So, there is no question that sea level changes.

Scientists look for causes, relationships, and corroboration to prove hypotheses (theories). With temperature, CO2 (carbon dioxide) and Sea Level, the historical records of geology fit together neatly.

Temperature in the atmosphere correlates almost directly with the amount of CO2, due to a principle of basic physics and chemistry. Long before Al Gore, it was proven that CO2 (carbon dioxide) was colorless, and transmitted light VERY well, but that it trapped heat VERY WELL too.

Today we call that the greenhouse effect, as it describes how a glass greenhouse enables keeping warmer temperature in a colder climate.  Glass has those same properties as CO2 gas.

As the planet warms, the ice sheets melt, raising sea level; there are three things that move in close synchonization. The attached graph shows temperature in RED, CO2 in GREEN, and sea level in BLUE, for the last 420,000 years.

The problem we face becomes apparent when we update the CO2 level, as shown in the graph on the left, with 2 lines of Temperature (RED) and CO2 – NOW shown in BLUE).

CO2 has gone up like a rocket, and corresponds to such things as the coal and petroleum that we have burned over the last century.

We have to note that these graphs showing hundreds of thousands of years, compress the horizontal time scale. It is not possible to see a specific year, or even a decade. Even a century would be a speck, when the smallest division on the graph at the left is 50,000 years. But it does show a “big picture” with GREAT clarity. What you can’t tell from such a graph is how many years temperature and CO2 changes might lag each other. (And interestingly, sometimes one leads, and sometimes the other.  That’s worthy of a separate post.)

The fact is that we don’t know how quickly temperature will follow the vertical line of CO2 increase.  That is the extremely important question that different teams of scientists are trying to figure out with supercomputers — to project how quickly our atmosphere and ocean will warm as CO2 levels continue to increase.

CO2 is now at 394 ppm; about 40% higher than at any time in millions of years. It ranges from about 180 – 280 ppm with each ice age cycle as shown in that 2 line, Red-Blue graph above. (For the latest actual number, see the little blue graphic in the right hand column of my home page.)

Just two more images wrap up the sea level story.

The oceans and atmosphere have warmed globally over the last century. This is the 130 year reconstruction of the average annual land-sea temperatures over the entire planet. It shows a change from a low of almost minus 0.4 from a norm, to a positive 0.6 — just under a degree Celsius over the 130 year graph, or about 0.8 degrees C (about 1.4 degrees F) over the last century.

So we already have most of the pieces of the sea level puzzle.

  • Sea Level has changed repeatedly by almost 400 feet.
  • It logically goes up and down, in opposite direction of the changing ice sheets over the last 3 million years
  • The ice sheets slowly adjust to global mean temperature, which follows CO2 levels in close parallel.

Got it?: CO2; average global temperature; ice sheets, and sea level are all locked together in a physical relationship.

The last correlation is a stunner; at least it stunned me, when I stopped to let it sink in.

Dr. David Archer, an eminent scientist (and author of THE LONG THAW) looked at the work of another eminent glaciologist, Dr. Richard Alley, and produced the simple graph at the left. It plots a few known ancient sea levels against ancient temperatures. Admittedly the numbers are approximate.

It graphs 5 different points of historic sea level: 40 and 3 million years ago, 120,000 and 20,000 years ago, and the present day.

They fall reasonably on a straight line, which is what is expected if the amount of ice on the planet will change proportional to the average temperature on the planet. It cannot predict how quickly the adjustment will happen. (It might help to understand that  200,000 years is considered a “brief period” by geologists.)

What is stunning is the angle or correlation of the graph trend line. It indicates that with each degree C of change in the global mean temperature, that sea level changes by about 20 meters (65 feet). Just think about that; and recall that we have already had almost a degree of warming over the last hundred year, with lots more on the way. The current forecast is for a MINIMUM of 2 degrees C warming by end of century and most models show that we will get 4-5 degrees C, if we don’t take drastic steps to reduce greenhouse gases very soon.

Again, it could take centuries for that amount of ice melting to happen. The long periods of ice formation and melting happen over thousands of years. We are now definitely in a warming period as proven by the shrinking glaciers and melting Arctic ice cap, and the Greenland ice sheet. It is predicted that the Arctic Ocean will be ice free, some time in about two decades.  That has not occurred for at least 7,000 years and perhaps not in the last three million years. The added greenhouse gases are warming the planets temperature above the usual top end of the ice age cycle.

According to the pattern of last three million years (shown on that previous blog post) we would have started the long cooling phase towards the next ice age. Instead we are warming. If we melt all the ice on the planet( which has happened before, but not for about 40 – 50 million years), then global sea levels would be approximately 80 meters (265 feet) higher than today. That would swamp every coastal city. What we do not yet know is whether that will take hundreds of years, or thousands.  Presently the forecasts for this century range from as low as a meter (3 feet) of SLR, to as much as 5 meters (16 feet). There are two reasons that scientists cannot yet accurately predict how fast the ice will melt.

First, the geologic record is not accurate down to the level of individual years as mentioned above.

The second challenge is that we are now warming MUCH faster than during previous periods of abrupt climate change. According to our leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, the Earth has warmed 20,000 times faster over the last century, than during the abrupt change 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out, likely as a result of an asteroid impact. While the cause of that mega extinction was different than the present situation, the rate of warming is the relvant comparison that he makes.

In other words. because the current warming, caused by the rapid rise in greenhouse gases, is happening 20,000 times faster than in nature, it is hard to say how fast the ice will melt, and the ocean will rise. There is no accurate precedent. But the models are getting better rather quickly, due to increasingly accurate measurements of how the ice is actually melting.

What the latest models do show is that sea level will continue to rise for at least 500 years, even if we stopped all CO2 emissions immediately.

While that 500 year lag time, may seem surprising, the earth’s systems move slowly, like changing course or stopping a big ship. One of the reasons that heat and ice melt will not stop for at least 500 years is that it takes up to 700 years for the oceans to fully change temperature, due to the fact that the oceans’ average depth is a few miles/km, and goes as deep as 35 thousand feet (12,000 km). The heat layers segregate, slowing change to a new surface temperature.

In effect, the ocean acts like a giant storage battery for heat. It has absorbed most of the extra heat, trapped by the greenhouse gases. That is a key reason that the ice will melt, and the oceans will rise, for centuries, or longer.

What we do over the decades ahead will slow or increase the rate of warming, and the rate of sea level rise. and can make a big difference for generations to follow.

New Orleans in the past and futureMonk by the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich