Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ishmael Reed, Juice!

When they were selecting jurors for the O.J. Simpson case, I told co-workers that, if I were on the jury, I would keep notes of everything that happened and publish a book about it when it was over. I would call it, The Time I was on the Jury in the O.J. Simpson Trial.

A lot of people got upset about jurors making book deals. Prosecutors making book deals didn't bother them, or police, judges, or district attorneys. You don't think multi-million dollar book deals had any effect on their decisions?

For that matter, we have presidents, generals and secretaries of state becoming millionaires from their book deals. You don't think that has any effect at all on the life-and-death decisions they make?

Anyway, the Simpson trial was almost over when the thought occurred to me that I could write a nonfiction book from the viewpoint of a car wash attendant who watched the trial and commentary on TV when he went home after work.

I could share amusing anecdotes. There was the first day or two of the trial. A hippie girl working at the car wash didn't know why they were even bothering with a trial. The limo driver already testified that Simpson kept him waiting for a couple of minutes! And he seemed winded when he finally came down for the ride to the airport! What further proof did they need?

Then I could go into the fact that the hippie girl was a firm believer in UFOs because she and her friends saw a light in the sky while they were in the woods after dropping acid. And it couldn't have been an LSD-induced hallucination because they all thought they saw it. She was later fired for stealing from the customers' cars.

That would be pretty much my only anecdote, now that I think about it. After that, it would just be stuff I saw on TV.


But Ishmael Reed did something vaguely similar with his novel, Juice! It's an interesting, detailed, factual discussion of the O.J. Simpson trial and the news coverage around it in the context of a novel about an editorial cartoonist.

A great book.

I had assumed Simpson was guilty. After reading it, I'm not so sure. There's a pretty good case to be made for his innocence, or at least that evidence against him was planted, and there are other, more likely suspects.

I didn't remember some of the things I read in the book and didn't believe it until I did an internet search. For example, there was the fact that both Denise Brown and Nichole Brown Simpson dated a Mafia killer who was in the witness protection program.

The book is always interesting and pretty funny in places.

Kardashian's former nanny tells all!

The Kardashians' erstwhile nanny has written a memoir about her years with those wretches. No publisher yet.

The sons were obnoxious brats and she was almost fired for slapping them. Well, I wouldn't judge the children based on their conduct at that stage, and the nanny shouldn't be hitting people, either. In case you think corporal punishment might have been beneficial to the horrible Kardashian children, I recall Sharon Osbourne telling an employee who was going somewhere with Jack that "You can smack him if you need to." Hitting didn't do him any good.

Well, as I said before, these reality shows are all about rich people who don't deserve to be rich. In other words, they're about rich people. The genre reached its zenith with My Super Sweet Sixteen.

I have seen reality shows about poor people. There was one, made by MTV. Maybe the kid filmed it himself. It was a young fellow with his parents who looked older that they should have. At one point, they tell him that they won't be around forever and they want him to be able to support himself.

"That's why I'm doing this! So I can be a star!"

The parents burst out in what seemed to be completely genuine cackling laughter. The MTV editors cut in a shot of the young man obviously filmed at a different time hanging his head.

Of course, the whole thing might have been pieced together in the editing room. I don't remember if it was all filmed in one shot.

Is there anything terribly wrong with this? Is it wrong for people to set out to become YouTube celebrities? Does the fact that there's money involved make it better or worse?

There does seem to be an inverse relationship between making money and social approval when it comes to kids in these things. People are outraged when kids go into acting, appearing in TV commercials or whatever and actually making money. But they don't mind the kids working for weeks, going through grueling rehearsals, to be in some lousy stage play for free. They approve completely of stuff like clog dancing, but not a performing art that people might actually want to see.

That seems to be whole theory behind school music programs. They play classical music and jazz, two of the least popular genres in terms of CD sales. And people approve of it completely because it's a way of making sure kids never try to become musicians.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie filmed on a smartphone

But it still cost half a million bucks

I heard there was a movie, a feature film---a feature, anyway. It was the first feature to be shot on a smartphone.

The movie is called Olive, it features Gena Rowlands, and it cost $425,000.

The guy thought Nokia would put up some money for the production, but they weren't interested.

But anyway, it puts the lie to this idea that movies will be dirt cheap what with digital video. But that's only on movies where the cost of filmstock was the primary expense. Although there are other things.

I read an article long ago. They were talking about a made-for-TV movie, shot on video, filmed on a cruise ship. They were out at sea during the shooting. Had it been shot on film, there would have been no way to view dailies.

Now that I think about it, concerned studio executives were worried about the insane amount of film Michael Cimino shot on the movie, The Deer Hunter. He explained that they were in the jungles in the Philippines. He had to shoot lots of coverage because they couldn't process the film and see what they had filmed. The studio was satisfied with that explanation and let him make Heaven's Gate which destroyed United Artists. I don't know how much digital video would have saved them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maoists or bourgeois liberals?

Back around the time of the Iranian Revolution--before the final results, when the place hadn't yet become an Islamic republic and it wasn't clear that it would--I was at a gathering space in the old student housing at the university here. These were old buildings put up as temporary housing at the end of World War Two, but they were still being used. Members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) threw the party. I had never been a member of their group and there were a number of people, including a few Iranian foreign students, who didn't share their views either.

One of the Iranians, a high school kid, said that he thought Iran needed a Stalin----someone to take control and rule with an iron fist. I was a little surprised.

What should have shocked me was the reaction of the RCYB members. They were appalled!

Stalin was a bad, bad man, they said. What about his crimes? How could you want anyone like him ruling over Iran or anywhere else?

Now, the RCYB was the youth group of the "Revolutionary Community Party", which was Maoist. It has no connection to the Communist Party, USA. They sided with Mao in the split with the Soviet Union after de-Stalinization. They considered Khrushchev a counter-revolutionary who turned the U.S.S.R. into a capitalist state. Officially, the group had some mild criticism of Stalin, but that was to make their praise for him seem more credible.

Could it be that, deep down, after they had a few drinks, that these revolutionaries were really just a bunch of bourgeois liberals?

Seems to be a common enough thing. When the US and NATO launched its bombing campaign against the Libyan people, local "anarchists" praised the imperialists for their humanitarianism.

We have local Libertarian Party members who love Israel and have no problem with the Israeli governments' confiscation of Palestinian land. After all their talk about individualism, they take for granted the collective guilt of all Palestinians and the collective virtue of all Jews.

And then we have the otherwise pro-gay liberals attacking Michele Bachmann's allegedly effeminate husband. I had read a gay magazine more than 20 years ago which attacked the Communist Party, USA, because, in the 1930s, the Daily Worker newspaper ran a cartoon which pointed out Ernst Röhm's homosexuality. In Marcus Bachmann's case, there's the possible hypocrisy since he's anti-gay, but that was obviously the case with Röhm, too, but there's also the hypocrisy of liberals attacking Bachmann for acting like a big sissy.

In the case of the RCYB, there was a Turkish couple in the group, Ismet and Turkan. They were more consistent in their views. Ismet acknowledged Stalin's crimes. He thought they were overstated, which is probably true, but he was fine with them in any case. He argued that Pol Pot prevented a famine by clearing out the cities. All this came out when a strangely non-judgmental university student questioned him during a political event.

"You don't think Stalin killed a lot of innocent people?" he asked politely.

Ismet replied that he did think Stalin killed innocent people, but that's unavoidable when your fighting counter-revolution.

Hard to imagine many people joining that revolution.

I ran into an old member of the RCYB a couple of years ago. She was quite a bit older but she was still an active member. She didn't seem to recognize me. She hadn't changed a bit. I bought a newspaper from her. And, strangely, the party leader, Bob Avakian, was still using the same slightly crazed official portrait.

According to Wikipedia, Avakian was asked in an interview if he thought there was a personality cult built up around him.

"I certainly hope so," he answered. "We’ve been working very hard to create one."

Wikipedia goes on to say that "Avakian contends that there are two mainstays of communist political work: the role of the party press and the 'Appreciation, Promotion and Popularization' of Bob Avakian".

I don't know. Maybe it's a good idea. Look at the Republicans dedicating themselves to the memory of Ronald Reagan. (They also swear their allegiance to Israel, a country which snubbed Reagan's funeral. Israel was one of the few countries to send an ambassador and not a head of state.) That's not hurting the Republicans any.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What the hell's happening with Justin Bieber, anyway?

Okay...if they thought he really was the father in that paternity case, they would have quietly paid off the mother. The fact that they didn't is proof that the claim is false.

But if they knew for a fact that he wasn't the father, he would take a DNA test immediately and prove it. But he dragged his feet and has now taken a test without arranging it with the girl's attorney, so we don't know....

It could be that Bieber's representatives aren't sure whether to believe him or not when he denies everything.

One person claims that the girl's legal strategy is to drag everything out for as long as possible until Bieber finally shells out some money just to be rid of her, but it could be that she's dragging it out longer and longer so that people will slowly forget about it so she can back out of the accusation without making a humiliating confession or having her claim definitively disproved. If you've falsely made an easily disproved claim like that, that's probably the best way out.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

It's like Gilligan's Island. After you watch it for a number of years, you come to accept certain things. Like the way they did so much construction---building a stage, a car, and a mock-up of the boat---so why couldn't they repair the actual boat? Giant spiders don't exist, someone walking around with a sheet over his head wouldn't fool anyone into thinking he was a ghost, berries that give you psychic powers don't exist, engineers at NASA would know if their probe landed somewhere on Earth instead of on Mars.

Same sort of thing with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. You just watch it and accept it. You don't question what's going on.

But why was Santa such a jerk? I kind of remember thinking that at one time, then I just kind of came to accept it. But now. What was his problem? He was the one who barred Rudolph from playing any reindeer games.

"He was an old bigot," said one observer.

Well, I haven't watched that in years. I don't know if I could now. I knew a woman who cried whenever she saw the Island of Misfit Toys.

"Are you kidding?" someone said.

"It's one of the hazards of being a special ed teacher," she said.

It's made me sad ever since.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Woodcock: Gym teachers whine about "stereotypes"

From he internet:
When my son was in sixth grade, he came home with a rip in his new sneakers. He told me the gym teacher did it during a sneaker check...

"You mean he tugged on your sneaker and it ripped?" I asked.

"No, he said. It ripped when he threw it across the floor and it hit the doorway... if your sneaker comes off, he throws it. My sneaker ripped when it hit the doorway and flew into the hall. Then I had to go get it."

...

I had a hard time accepting my son's explanation, but I couldn't let it go. Either he wasn't telling the truth, or this teacher was way out of line. Both scenarios needed to be addressed. I made an appointment to talk with the principal the next morning.

The principal met my concerns with doubt. When she tired to dismiss me, I told her I wanted to speak to the gym teacher in person.

The minute this man walked into her office, I could tell there was a problem. I knew my son had told the truth. The gym teacher barely said hello. He didn't reach out to shake my hand, nor did he return my smile. He had a cocky attitude, but he didn't even know why I was there yet.

I bit my tongue, complementing him on his concern for safety. He shrugged his shoulders in response. Then I told him that my son came home with a rip in his new sneakers. Another shrug. Diplomacy wasn't working, so I asked him if he threw my son's sneaker across the room. "Yeah, so?" was his reply.

"Yeah, so?" My emotions kicked in. "Who do you think you are? This isn't boot camp and my son is not a Marine. He is a sixth grade student. You mean to tell me you whipped his sneaker across the gym, and then made him fetch it like a dog?"

"Hey, they weren't tied," was all he said.

"Don't you ever, I mean ever as much as touch my son again. If his sneakers aren't tied, make his sit out of class, give him demerits, or call me, but if you touch him again, I'll come into that gym and throw you across the room. Got it?"

"Hey, whatever," he said. "I have rules. His sneakers weren't tied."

For a brief moment, I floundered. The principal's silence made me uncomfortable and the gym teacher's attitude was intimidating. I gathered my thoughts, took a deep breath and said, "Don't you realize how damaging your actions are?

"Is that all?" he said, directing his question to the principal. Then he left the room.

http://www.familycorner.com/parenting/ages/teacher_bully.shtml

I found this while looking for Phys Ed teachers' reaction to the movie Mr. Woodcock, featuring Billy Bob Thorton as a typically thuggish junior high P.E. teacher.

Some P.E. teachers got their jock straps in a bunch over the film. They whined that this was why funding was being cut for P.E. They talked as if they were a persecuted minority.

Everybody's dealt with P.E. teachers at one time or another. The stereotypes don't come out of nowhere.

Now they're arguing that we need physical education because there are so many overweight children. Since P.E. teachers mainly abuse such children, it doesn't seem like a good idea:

From grades first to third our phys. ed. class consisted of playing games outside or in the gym with our regular classroom teacher. Fourth grade changed all that. Now we had "real" gym class. She insisted on weighing us and recording our heights before we began our first gym class with her. A chart of what we should weigh at our age hung ominously next to the scale.

As she weighed each child Miss Pons read out the number to the school secretary who wrote it on a chart. I was dreading my turn. I didn't know my exact weight but I knew I wore clothes bought in the PrettyPlus section of the stores. Even my jeans were a different brand than other girls because they were made for the "larger sized" girl.

The boy in front of me got weighed and I heard Miss Pons say she hoped he was as good a ball player as his older brother. The boy beamed when she told him he looked like an athlete. I was next.

...

I got on the scale. She looked at the number, raised her eyebrows and called out my weight number, 122 pounds. Then she looked me up and down.

"122? Wow! Let's see if we can run some of that blubber off of you this year. What's your name?" When I mumbled my name, she put a red mark next to it.

I heard the kids giggle and I saw the secretary smother a laugh. I got off the scale and was going to the back of the line when I heard her call my name and say, "Hey, where are you going, chubs? I've got to get your height."

That was my introduction into hell with Miss Pons. It was to get much worse.

...

The first time a kid called me fat in front of Miss Pons I thought she hadn't heard it but I was wrong. We were playing softball and, of course, I struck out. This incensed the other players and one girl said if I put all my fat behind my swing I might hit the ball once in a while. The other kids laughed and I walked back to the bench forgetting to give my helmet to the next batter. As I passed Miss Pons I saw her look at the girl and smile.

"Hey, Minnesota Fats! You forgetting something? The helmet!"

It was Miss Pons talking to me! The kids just about rolled on the ground with laughter at that one even though none of us had any idea who Minnesota Fats was. I was devastated. I sat in the corner of the playground with my head down so no one could see the tears running down my face.

...

The kids became her audience and she loved it. They also curried favor with her by following her example. She never stopped anyone from calling me names and she humiliated me if I cried. I tried not to cry in her presence, saving my tears for a stall in the girls bathroom if she would let me go...

http://www.ravendays.org/words/teachers.html

I won't discuss my own experiences except this one. I was at the university. I was standing in line for a movie. Some physical education majors were standing in front of me. One of them was doing his student teaching at a junior high school. He was talking with his friends about how he attacked an 8th grade boys, kneed him in the face and knocked out one of his teeth. I don't know what the kid told his parents, or why he didn't report it, but he didn't.

I was listening for the name of the school, but they didn't say. I would have called the school if I had heard.

It is a "profession" that attracts a lot of filth.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The technical adviser from Breaking Bad


I was sitting in the car at a railroad crossing. A train rolled along very slowly. Then it stopped. It started backing up.

"Just a little further!" I said.

But it didn't back up just a little further. It stopped. Then it rolled forwards again and stopped. Then it backed up.

I don't know what they were doing. I turned around and drove away along with a couple of other people. I made it around the train, went where I was going, and when I left a little later, I looked across the way and saw that the train was still there blocking traffic.

But, anyway, I sat in the car listening to an interview with Donna Nelson, professor of organic chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, who served as technical adviser to the show, Breaking Bad. They wanted to be sure to have the chemistry correct but without showing the public how it was done. They got technical advice on the chemistry from Dr. Nelson and advice on the meth lab set ups from the DEA.

Before that, the writers for the show got their information from Wikipedia.

Dr Nelson said that she didn't think the show glorified drug production. No one would watch the show and decide that that was the life they wanted to lead. But you'd be amazed.

I've said the same thing in another entry.

There were some young fellows in Oregon who committed a double murder then fled to Mexico because they wanted to be like the killers in the movie In Cold Blood. I doubt they read the book.

I work with a fellow who was telling me that friends of his wished that they could have been in a real life version of Battle Royale. That's the Japanese movie. A class of high school freshmen are taken to an island. There are explosive collars bolted to their necks. They have to kill each other until only one is left. If they fail to do this, the collars will explode and they will all die. This is part of a government program to keep kids in line.

"I would be awesome at that! I would win that thing!"

Battle Royale was directed by Kinji Fukasaku who was 70 or 71 at the time. He had directed the Japanese portions of Tora! Tora! Tora! which amazed me, that someone that old with such a respectable career as a director would make something I can't imagine anyone under thirty watching. It was years before it was released in the U.S. I don't know if it was facing censorship in Japan, but he had to do a lot of explaining.

Breaking Bad seemed to be over at the end of last season. Everything was wrapped up. They had their money. They accomplished what they set out to do and didn't get arrested or murdered. There's no reason for them to go back into it now. The series seemed to be done.

But it's coming back for one more season anyway.

The only suspense now is seeing how they're going to justify stretching this thing out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christopher Hitchens again

I've read two more things about Christopher Hitchens on the occasion of his death.

Katha Pollitt wrote:
...I think part of the reason why he was so prolific—and the reason he had such an outsize career and such an outsize effect on his readers—is that he was possibly the least troubled with self-doubt of all the writers on earth. For a man who started out as an International Socialist and ended up banging the drum for the war in Iraq and accusing Michelle Obama of fealty to African dictators on the basis of a stray remark in her undergraduate thesis, he seems to have spent little time wondering how he got from one place to another, much less if he’d lost anything on the way....
and...
His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying, often toward people who were way out of his league—elderly guests on the Nation cruise, interns (especially female interns). Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either—that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliché: that was the booze talking....

That was the bad side of Christopher—the moral bully and black-and-white thinker posing as daring truth-teller....Some eulogists have praised him for moral consistency, but I don’t see that: he wrote tens of thousands of words attacking Clinton for executing Ricky Ray Rector, but seemed untroubled about George W Bush’s execution of 152 people—at the time a historical record—as governor of Texas. He was so fuelled by his own certainty he claimed that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq only proved they were there.
Read the whole thing here:

http://www.thenation.com/blogs/katha-pollitt

Norman Finkelstein wrote a piece on counterpunch.com subtitled "Atheist Found Dead in Fox Hole" which you can read here:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/22/hitchens-passing/

Finkelstein mentions that he's an atheist himself. You should read the whole thing.

But here's the end:
I get no satisfaction from Hitchens’s passing.

Although he was the last to know it, every death is a tragedy, if only for the bereft child—or, as in the case of Cindy Sheehan, bereft parent—left behind.

But, still, life is full of surprises.

No one should be too smug in his certitudes.

And if you’ve made a career of pissing on other people’s mostly innocuous beliefs, should it surprise that outside the tiny tent called Vanity Fair, your memory stinks of urine?

Finkelstein mentions Cindy Sheehan, the gold star mother who Hitchens had attacked for opposing the war.

That seems to be a theme in a lot of the obituaries---bringing up all the people Hitchens attacked after their deaths.

I did read one guy. I don't remember who it was. He finally came out against this "new atheism" thing that Hitchens was a part of after he read one of the New Atheists call for torture to be used against Muslims, because their religion was such that you just had to.

You have Muslims in the U.S., Europe and Israel who are a persecuted minority, then you have Muslims in some Muslim countries who themselves persecuting religious minorities. Pretty much like everyone else. The Catholics in Northern Ireland tried to organize a non-violent civil rights movement modeled after that in the U.S., and they were thrown into concentration camps and murdered in the streets. The Catholics in the Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, banned contraceptives and blocked a 12-year-old girl from leaving the country to get an abortion after she had been raped.

By the way, Pollitt went into Hitchens' anti-abortion views. I remember the column Hitchens wrote in The Nation. He called for, let me see, the state to provide women with contraceptives and financial support for women and their babies, and in exchange, he would ban abortion. A letter-writer pointed out that countries like Sweden had all this, and women there still sought abortions. I don't think the Irish girl whose parents were blocked from taking her England was thinking about the financial strain.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il is dead. I suppose, since this is ostensibly a movie blog, I could write about his life as a movie fan. I didn't know it until now, but he actually started as a movie director, making films about his father's heroism.

You have a certain image of North Korea, and there are occasionally things which tell you that it's bad there, but which still throw you off.

There was a report that South Korean soap operas are popular there. People share VHS tapes of them. Police catch them at it by turning off the power in a neighborhood and then conducting a house to house search. That way, people can't eject them from their VCRs and hide them.

It came as a surprise that they have VCRs. And how did these tapes get into circulation?

I don't know how much better or worse Kim Jung Un will be, but hopefully things will improve.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P.

Christopher Hitchens has died at age 62.

I started reading him in The Nation long ago while sitting in the university library. In the beginning, I only read Beat the Devil, Alexander Cockburn's column, then I added Minority Report which Hitchens wrote.

They were both pretty interesting. I vaguly remember when he started his attacks on Mother Theresa.

Mother Theresa died not long after Princess Diana's funeral had been shown on national television. A lot of people scoffed at Diana's death being treated this way. Who was Princess Diana? they demanded. What did she ever do to get her funeral televised? If Mother Theresa died, do you think they'd televise her funeral?

So, when Mother Theresa died, the networks had to carry her funeral. Hitchens was interviewed on TV and repeated his criticism of her. He didn't know that he was attacking her while they were showing live video of her lying in state.

There's a lovely YouTube clip of him in the wake of Jerry Falwell's death. He had written that they found his "carcass" lying on the floor of his "obscure office". He said at one point, perhaps in a different clip, that he didn't think Falwell was capable of reading the Bible "or any other long book."

http://youtu.be/doKkOSMaTk4

In that clip, Ralph Reed gives a strained smile as Hitchens says, "And why not a word now from the friend of Jack Abramoff...to give a kosher stamp to religious fraud. That's all it needs now, let's hear from the Abramoff faction [unintelligible] and the other religious rip-off artists. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

He also tended to lash out at his friends. He tried to put his pal, Sid Blumenthal, in prison for perjury after the Clinton impeachment hearings. He attacked Edward Said shortly before his death, and attacked him again in Said's obituary.

Atheism was his big come-back after his grim years as a Bush supporter.

To me, the atheism thing got old quick. I think I'd heard all the arguments by the time I was in high school. There's just not that much to say about it. For example, Hitchens pointed out that people knew that stealing and killing were wrong before The Ten Commandments were revealed. In one debate, a Christian responded that, yes, of course people knew it was wrong. The Bible didn't say otherwise. Look at the story of Cain and Abel.

Hitchens did the best TV interview of a Klansman I've ever seen. He interviewed the head the Ku Klux Klan. He started by asking that, since the Klan was known for its history if racism and violence---wasn't it rather stupid of him to present himself as its leader? The old Kluxer gave a fake chuckle and some sort of answer.

Interviews with Klansmen rarely go well. Some interviewers, like Larry King, let them say what they want and don't argue, and there are others like Sam Donaldson who would would be overly argumentative. Hitchens struck the right balance.

In the interview Hitchens did, the Klansman tried to claim that they weren't racist, they just believe that... I can't remember the specifics, but he tried to present the Klan as a group of moderate Republicans. Hitchens told him he didn't see the point of that. Why should there be a Ku Klux Klan if they're all middle-of-the-road Republicans?

The Klansman claimed they were nonviolent. Hitchens showed a video of some rioting Klansmen. The Klansman said that they could be anybody----anyone can call themselves Klansmen.

So how do we know you're really a Klansman, Hitchens said.


Hitchens' brother and others who've researched it have said that he overstated his Jewish ancestry. He claimed that, under Jewish law, he was technically Jewish. He was still pro-Palestinian. But it must have been a bit of a blow to him when, in a debate with George Galloway in front a largely Jewish, pro-Hitchens crowd, Galloway was booed when he said something in defense of Palestinians. He commented to Hitchens that his supporters didn't share his concerns for Palestinian people.

One thing you learn from Hitchens' appearances before Jewish audiences is that they will laugh if you start by saying, "Shalom".

I hear, though, that Hitchens attacked the people who risked their lives and in several cases gave their lives to run the blockade of Gaza. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, in their obituary, praised him for this.

He wanted to abolish the monarchy. He called for this for the sake of William and Harry---he didn't want them to wind up like Charles and the rest of the grown-ups in that family.

Hitchens attacked Charles as a father, pointing out that he appeared on TV announcing that he never loved Diana, talking about their extramarital hi jinks, which had to have made things rather uncomfortable for the boys who were away in boarding school at the time.

One time, when William was having a big 21st birthday party or something, they brought Hitchens onto a talk show apparently hoping he would trash the prince. But no. Hitchens wished he were that age again. I don't remember if he called for the abolition of the monarchy on that occasion so William wouldn't spend the next forty years waiting for his father to die, the way Charles is still waiting for his mother's demise so he can move up in the world.

I think it's too late for the two Princes. They're both pretty worthless. They're both in the military, but so what. They're soldiers who can't be sent into war because they would make such good hostages if they were captured. Harry's tasteless girlfriend gave him a diamond encrusted wristwatch before he was to be shipped off to Afghanistan. Maybe she thought he could use it to bargain for his life if he was ever taken prisoner, although, I suppose, if they captured him they would have his watch anyway. Harry was disappointed when his deployment was canceled.

It's too bad Hitchens lost his gig on Crossfire on CNN. They wanted him as a host, but he refused to defend Bill Clinton even if he was representing "the left".

Robert Novak refused to go on TV with him because Hitchens wouldn't take any crap from him. When Hitchens appeared as a guest on Crossfire, he called Novak a "polecat" and a "McCarthyite bum". When Novak tried again, Hitchens said, "More musk from the polecat."

It's a shame. The show would have been much better. And Hitchens would have stood up to Jon Stewart.

And I remember him on The Phil Donahue show talking about the October Surprise.

There was a theory that, when Reagan was running against Jimmy Carter, his campaign made a deal with the Iranians. The Iranians would not release the hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran until after the election. The election was very close, Reagan only won because John Anderson ran as an independent and took a lot of Carter's voters (even though Anderson had been a Republican). Had the hostages been released before the election, Carter would have won. As it happened, they were released as just Reagan was sworn into office. And secret U.S. arms shipments to Iran, then in a war with Iraq, soon began.

On Donahue, former Iranian president Banisadr, appeared on satellite with some information supporting the theory.

A Reagan supporter on the panel said he wouldn't believe that or anything any Iranian said. Predictably, the audience applauded.

Hitchens said rather forcefully that that was a racist thing to say and that the people who applauded should be ashamed.

Later, the guy put his hand on Hitchens' shoulder and he shouted that "THIS MAN" was responsible for spreading this---

"HANDS OFF!" Hitchens said. "DON'T TOUCH!"

The guy removed his hand slightly but it hovered a couple of inches from him as he tried to continue. "THIS MAN HAS---"

"JUST KEEP YOUR HANDS IN FRONT OF YOU. I WANT TO KNOW WHERE THEY ARE," Hitchen said.

What went wrong?

I heard one theory that this was just how you ended up when you were a "contrarian". You had to become more and more contrary until you ended up as Hitchens did, defending George Bush.

Others have argued that there was a consistency to his views----that he was always devoted to truth, or some sort of humanism, even though he was rejoicing at the bombing of Afghan villages.

Alexander Cockburn took sort of the same view----that Hitchens hadn't changed. But he had a different view on what it was that remained the same:
As so often with friends and former friends, it’s a matter of what you’re prepared to put up with and for how long. I met him in New York in the early 1980s and all the long-term political and indeed personal traits were visible enough. I never thought of him as at all radical. He craved to be an insider, a trait which achieved ripest expression when he elected to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen by Bush’s director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. In basic philosophical take he always seemed to me to hold as his central premise a profound belief in the therapeutic properties of capitalism and empire. He was an instinctive flagwagger and remained so. He wrote some really awful stuff in the early 90s about how indigenous peoples — Indians in the Americas — were inevitably going to be rolled over by the wheels of Progress and should not be mourned.
http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/16/farewell-to-c-h/

Well. Dead after a long battle with cancer. I'm sorry he's gone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Robert "Sandy" Vietze at the ProAm Cup in Canada

Robert "Sandy" Vietze was skiing today up in Canada, apparently.

He had been kicked off the U.S. ski team after an unfortunate incident in August. He had been training on Mount Hood in Oregon. He was 18 but he somehow managed to buy a number of drinks in a bar, eight of them, before boarding the plane for his return flight to Vermont. The alcohol began to affect him and he got up and urinated in the aisle uncomfortably close to a sleeping child. It was reported at the time that he had actually urinated on the child, but her family denied it.

I wondered what became of him. I Googled his name and found that he is skiing in Panorama, British Columbia, in something called the NorAm Cup

Poor Robert "Sandy" Vietze. He was vilified in the national media. I did find a YouTube video of him speaking at his high school graduation, being funny:

http://youtu.be/Iz_RMNUigU0

Someone commented:
"I actually feel very sorry for him and his family. He's a kid and kids do stupid things. You would think he was the first teenager in history to get drunk. What's different is that his teenage drunkenness happened in a very public way. I heard the girl's family said he didn't actually urinate on her, but almost every headline still says he did. I'm not excusing his decision to drink but, come on, he's about the billionth teen to do so. Very few pay such a high price. I wish him the best."
Someone else felt the same way only more so:
"All you [********] should shut the f*** up. You've never met the guy, and you know nothing about him. He is actually a very humble, generous kid who would never hurt a fly. He made the mistake of drinking and this kinda shit can happen. Do you think he aimed for the girl? NO. You guys are the idiots if you believe that."
Well... His parents paid a fortune for him to attend a special private ski academy----they took high school classes but also studied skiing, all for something like $40,000 a year if I remember correctly.

You can't blame the rest of us for being envious.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Star Wars just wasn't very good

I was in junior high when Star Wars came out, and we all loved it. Kind of.

But even back then, I remember one kid saying, "It just didn't have much of a plot." We were all in art class drawing pictures of space ships. But now and then someone would mention how basically disappointing the movie was.

One problem was the gun fights. They all stand out in the open and shoot aimlessly at each other. That gets old fast. Then there was the terrible sword fight between elderly Alec Guinness and whoever was in the Darth Vader costume.

Back then, I had thought that I liked science fiction until I tried reading some. Then I realized that all I really liked was people shooting each other with ray guns. I should have loved Star Wars! But it was still a disappointment.

Star Trek (the original TV series, which was all we had back then) was a feast for the intellect by comparison. They made much better use of their phasers, and they had Jiu-Jitsu fights!

I realize now that the acting was terrible. Mark Hamil was the poor man's Willie Ames. He actually appeared in the pilot to Eight is Enough. It may not have been his fault, though. The dialog stunk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Invented people, eh?

So, according to Newt Gingrich, Palestinians are an "invented" people. Looking at the comments on articles from Israeli news websites, like the right-wing Jerusalem Post or the more liberal Haaretz, a lot of Zionists and their admirers agree with him.

Well. It was a stupid thing to say, obviously, but I don't know if it will make any difference. The U.S. has never done anything for the Palestinians and isn't going to start. The Republicans are falling over each other to swear their allegiance to Israel, proclaiming that the U.S. should start wars against Syria and Iran entirely for Israel's benefit. That should make it harder to get the American public to support attacks on Syria and Iran, which is fine with me, and it should make it impossible to get any support from the Arab public. And when thousands of American troops are killed, wounded and maimed, we'll all know who to blame.

If anybody's an "invented people", it's the Israelis. Even their names are phony. Golda Meir's real name was Goldie Meyerson, David Ben Gurion's real name was Dave Gruen. Abba Eban's wife always called him by his real name, Aubrey. They scrounged up Hebrew as their official langauge. According to Wikipedia, it had been "extinct as a native language" since the 4th century.

Then there's this nonsense about the Israelis resurrecting their ancient empire. There wasn't one. Zionist archeologists have been trying for decades to find evidence of their ancient glory and all they've done is proven that Jews were among a number of ethnic groups that lived there.

And now a large percentage of Israelis are trying to get hold of foreign passports, as Franklin Lamb reported on Counterpunch:

Several studies in Israel and one conducted by AIPAC and another by the Jewish National Fund in Germany show that perhaps as many as half of the Jews living in Israel will consider leaving Palestine in the next few years if current political and social trends continue. A 2008 survey by the Jerusalem-based Menachem Begin Heritage Center found that 59 per cent of Israelis had approached or intended to approach a foreign embassy to inquire about or apply for citizenship and a passport. Today it is estimated that the figure is approaching 70 per cent.

The number of Israelis thinking of leaving Palestine is climbing rapidly according to researchers at Bar-Ilan University who conducted a study published recently in Eretz Acheret, (“A Different Place”) an Israeli NGO that claims to promote cultural dialogue. What the Bar-Ilan study found is that more than 100,000 Israelis already hold a German passport, and this figure increases by more than 7,000 every year along an accelerating trajectory. According to German officials, more than 70,000 such passports have been granted since 2000. In addition to Germany, there are more than one million Israelis with other foreign passports at the ready in case life in Israel deteriorates.

...Currently more than 500,000 Israelis hold US passports with close to a quarter million pending applications. During the recent meetings in Washington DC between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s delegation and Israel’s US agents, assurances were reportedly given by AIPAC officials that if and when it becomes necessary, the US government will expeditiously issue American passports to any and all Israeli Jews seeking them. Israeli Arabs need not apply.

...

The fact [is] that two or three generations in Israel has not proven enough to implant roots where few if any existed before. For this reason Israel has produced a significant percentage of “re-immigration”, a return of immigrants or their descendants to their country of origin which Zionist propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, is not Palestine....

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/06/03/israelis-rush-for-second-passports/

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cassandra's Dream


I watched Woody Allen's grimly serious crime drama, Cassandra's Dream. Filmed in England with an all British cast. Made in 2007, but I never heard of it.

It reminded me a little of Sydney Lumet's final film, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, although this one had a much simpler plot, and there were elements of Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Filmed Woody Allen style, in medium shot. He saves time and money doing whole scenes in one take. Doesn't have to shoot coverage. One of the actors said he did fewer retakes for the entire movie than he had for a single scene in Miami Vice.

Starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as a couple of brothers. One has compulsively gambled away a large sum he borrowed from a loan shark, the other wants to invest in a business. Their rich Uncle Howard will help them----but they have to kill a business associate of his who's scheduled to testify against him and send him to prison for a terribly long time.

Will they do it? Can they commit such a horrible crime?

I wouldn't. But I wouldn't have borrowed all that money from a loan shark either, or gambled it away like that.

I thought the plot was too simple. Too few complications. But it wasn't bad.

Made for a modest $15 million. Vilmos Zsigmond was the cinematographer. He had worked with low budget filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler on his first feature, Wild Guitar, with Arch Hall, Jr.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Julie and Julia

Julia Child, Graham Kerr, Moss Hart, and Kitty Carlisle

I don't think I ever watched Julia Child. I did watch The Galloping Gourmet long ago. My sister was amused by him. All I remember was one episode where he was cutting up some green onions.

"These are called onion sticks," he said. Then he added, "I don't know why I said that," and the studio audience laughed. He wrote a cookbook called The Graham Kerr Cookbook by The Galloping Gourmet.

Well, Graham Kerr survived a heart attack and the Galloping Gourmet switched to more healthful cuisine. He and his wife had a number of terrible things happen to them, and they became very religious.

But I'm sitting here with the movie Julie and Julia on TV. A frustrated writer named Julie begins a blog. She sets out to cook one recipe a day from Julia Child's book on French cooking. This is intercut with scenes from Julia Child's life, all the stuff she goes through to get the book written and published.

The movie's kind of annoying. People reading their own internet writing in voice-over is just awful. Like the movie You've Got Mail. It made me ashamed to converse with people on the 'net.

Julie goes overboard. Begins to feel that she knows Julia Child, which might be fine, but she feels free to express these feelings. And she's hurt when Child is asked about the blog and she says she thinks it's stupid.

It should be a lesson to all of us not to get too caught up in these things.

Something I heard on This American Life

Long ago, on the radio show This American Life, a woman talked about her obsession with the author of another book.

The book had belonged to her grandfather who had been a playwright and a teacher. She read it when she was 11. It was Act One by Moss Hart, a writer and director and the husband (even though he was gay) of game show denizen Kitty Carlisle.
Moss Hart

The girl tried to follow in Hart's footsteps. Moved to New York. She developed a weird sort of crush on Moss Hart even though he had died before she was born.

"It definitely turned from kind of a mentor--a make-believe mentor--to a pretend husband-to-be... Somehow I think I decided that time had completely screwed up and sent Moss to Kitty Carlisle, and that if he just hadn't died two years before I was born, then me and Moss might really have had a chance."

Finally, Hart's widow, Kitty Carlisle, spoke at the girl's university.

"She was very active in the New York arts scene, and she was...a huge advocate of the arts in our country.... And I stood in line [to meet her] after she spoke... And there were all these people around me, and they were like, 'you were really good on that game show.' And I was just disgusted, like, oh please, she was in A Night at the Opera. She's like a singer. She's not just a game show lady.
Kitty Carlisle

"But by the time I got to the front of the line, and I went up to talk to her, I said what I wanted to say, sort of, which was, you know, Moss changed my life and I moved to New York to be a playwright like him. And I think I said something along the lines of, your husband meant so much to me. And she just looked at me, and she was so elegant and so classy, and she just said, 'I don't understand, darling. Did you know him?' She was just terrified.

"... I think she probably heard some kind of ownership or possessiveness in the way I said 'your husband meant so much to me,' as if I knew him. So I think it was confusing, since she probably could figure out that he probably was dead before I was born.

"But it was disturbing, and I felt terrible. And it made me realize how just far from reality this thing had taken me. And it was just scary to scare her...."

Don't get caught up in these things. It can only turn out badly. At least have the good sense to conceal it.

And after you humiliate yourself, you probably shouldn't share the anecdote on the radio,

Something else I heard on the radio

A Mexican politician was at a book fair. A reporter asked him to name three books that changed his life. He wasn't able to answer.

People took this to mean that he was some sort of illiterate, but that's nonsense. How much are books supposed to change your life?

Cookbooks probably have more influence on people's day to day lives. Bits of advice I heard over the years that came from How to Win Friends and Influence People actually came in handy once in a while.

I've read great literary works that had little influence on me. And I've read stuff that was just crap that had significant influence. There was the book on cartooning----they discussed when to stop working on a drawing, when to stop adding detail. You don't want to over do it. Their advice: When in doubt, do nothing. Words I've come to live by. But if I were a politician asked that question by a reporter at a book fair, I wouldn't mention that book.

Nobel Prizes

So I listened to a guy on the radio. I don't remember who he was. But he dismissed the fact that U.S. imperialism was in decline. He pooh-poohed the Chinese as a threat to U.S. world domination. There was only one Chinese Nobel Prize winner, he said, and he was in jail!

That ought to tell you something about Nobel Prizes.

Liu Xiaobo, Chinese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, defends European colonialism, defended and supported the U.S. carpet bombing of North Vietnam, supported the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. What exactly has he ever done for peace?

They were going to give a Nobel Peace Prize to George Bush, but the outcry was too great, so they gave one to Obama who campaigned for president promising to escalate the war in Afghanistan. One of his first acts as president was to order drone strikes against people in Pakistan. Obama gave a pro-war Nobel acceptance speech. Since then, he's poured money into nuclear weapon development, put up over fifty drone bases around the world, escalated the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, started a war in Libya which killed at least fifty thousand people and has been threatening to attack Syria and Iran. The Obama administration's idea of diplomacy is to make military threats.

You're supposed to use your Nobel Prize money to continued your fine work, but Obama donated it all to charity (or claimed to) which is probably just as well.

I don't know about other Nobel Prizes, but if they're anything like the Nobel Peace Prize, they have little to do with actual achievement.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Herman Cain, sexual harassment

I saw a bizarre use of the term "sexual harassment" on the MSNBC website. It referred to the Penn State multiple child rape case as a sexual harassment scandal.

Maybe it was intentional. Like they were trying to tie the Herman Cain sexual harassment accusations to the case at Penn State. Alexander Cockburn on Counterpunch.org pointed out that this was a problem for Cain, the news of the accusations against him appearing side-by-side on the front pages with with the horrible crimes Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have committed.

It's hard for me to get too worked up about sexual harassment. After Clinton, Packwood, Clarence Thomas and all the others, there's been too much hypocrisy to take much of the outrage too seriously.

Here's something from Ishmael Reed's essay posted on Counterpunch.org. You can read the whole thing here:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/05/herman-cain-the-latest-black-boogeyman/

...Obama critic, Chris Matthews, spent a half hour one day scolding Cain. At the end, he made tribute to JFK, who is my man, but he left out the part of JFK’s sexual addiction that led him to engage prostitutes off the streets. Now, they tell us that those were different times and different press coverage, but what about women who were threatened? That if they told about their sexual relations they’d be committed to mental institutions. “Starlets” were warned by their agents that if they didn’t abide the president’s enormous sexual appetites, their careers would be affected. Why isn’t Matthews concerned about what Seymour Hersh calls “The Dark Side of Camelot?”

I’ll bet Cain wishes he’d gotten some of the man love that Strauss- Kahn received after he was accused of raping a hotel worker. The New York Times, which might do a whole page on a couple of black kids knocking over waffle houses, but hides multimillion dollar corporate white male crimes on the business pages, just about became a member of Kahn’s defense team, tagging along as he dined in expensive restaurants, and admiring his art collection. (I go into the history of white men raping black women and being set free by white juries, who bought the defense’s argument that “they wanted it,” in my forthcoming book, “Going Too Far,” whose title originated in a review by a young white Hip Hop critic of my book “Juice!” He said that I’ve gone “too far.”)

I’ll bet that Cain wishes he’d had progressive feminists like MSNBC’s Krystal Ball go to bat for him. And maybe NPR’s Nina Totenberg, who sympathized with ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner....

Ms.Ball sat up there on MSNBC and blasted Cain while sitting next to Martin Bashir, who was rewarded with a show because of his sewer ambush journalism on Michael Jackson. On his Friday’s show Bashir even dragged in Tiger Woods, which must be the cynical strategy of the networks, the bunching of black males involved in scandal. (Of course,the Exxon and General Electric owned media aren’t the only ones who play this particular race card for money. TheRoot, a zine that Henry Louis Gates fronts for The Washington Post couldn’t meet its payroll without featuring “Black Boogeymen”). The shameless Bashir even made some corny lectures scolding Cain. This is the same Bashir who made remarks before some Asian American women journalists of such a sexually explicit nature that he had to apologize.

According to the British publication Sun, “TELLY journalist Martin Bashir left an audience stunned after a tirade of sexist gags during an after-dinner speech. Bashir hinted he was getting sexually excited while speaking to the Asian American Journalists Association.

“The London-born ABC news host told the Chicago bash: ‘I’m happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes. In fact, I’m happy the podium covers me from the waist down.’”

“He then upset co-host Juju Chang by claiming a speech should be like a dress — ‘long enough to cover the important parts and short enough to keep your interest, like my colleague Juju’s’”. This is the guy who said that Cain should not only withdraw from the presidential race but resign from his post as associate minister of a church. Krystal Ball said nothing about the hypocrisy of Bashir while blasting Cain. She probably wants to keep her job. Or maybe she feels that Asian American women don’t count and that his mass sexual harassment against Asian American women is of negligible interest. After all, minority women have protested that their issues are treated lightly by the feminist mainstream. Maybe that’s why Cain critics, among whom are women, who had big laughs about the destruction of Cain, won’t turn their attention to the rape statistics involving Native American women; 80% of Native American rape victims are raped by white men. Maybe Soledad O’Brien will cover it in a “Native American in America.”

...

The only attention given Native American rape victims was by Al Gore’s Current TV, which also tackled the issue of “hundreds” of Boston white kids dying from heroin overdoses, “Gateway to Heroin,” the kind of stories that would alienate CNN’s and MSNBC’s market and advertiser and whose target audience of “angry white males,” according to Rick Sanchez, would find bummers.

So Cain is done and maybe deservedly so. Some of the women who helped to destroy him are saying that serial philanderer Newt Gingrich will probably benefit from the suspension of his campaign....

...

... But why the jokes and laughter about Cain? His relationship with women even ridiculed by David Letterman of all people. And Joe Scarborough. At least nobody died as a result of Cain’s alleged adultery.

Guys like Scarborough don’t have an idea about what it takes for a black man to rise in the corporate world, without nepotism, and networking at country clubs, without leaning on classmates from Yale and Harvard. Blacks have been excluded from the capitalist system since Reconstruction, when, if they looked prosperous, they were lynched or had their were farms taken over through trickery. They lost thousands of acres of property when banished from towns by mobs and when they try to exercise a right of return, they are confronted by Tea Party types, threatening them and waving confederate flags. They’ve been red lined and sub primed, even with good credit and charged higher interest than whites who have lower credit ratings than they. They’ve lost hundreds of billions of dollars as result of racist polices of the FHA and other institutions.

Franklin Roosevelt made a deal with Dixiecrats that excluded them from some of the benefits of the New Deal.

The G.I.Bill, which brought millions of white ethnics into the middle class was known as “the white G.I. Bill.” Even Herman Cain’s being associated with fast foods has been ridiculed, and if he were on welfare he’d be ridiculed too. Would progressives have given him some slack had he merchandised organic sunflower seeds?

The typical all white giggling media jury that Howard Kurtz convened on Sunday, Dec.4,to ridicule Cain (including Steve Roberts who repeated Tiger Woods obsessed and Imus Alumni Kurtz’s fucking lazy lie that Obama received favorable coverage during the campaign) haven’t the slightest idea the shit that a black man has to take to excel in the corporate world. They couldn’t imagine the problems that the late Reginald Lewis, head of Beatrice International and one of my patrons had to endure to the day of his death. There was almost cheering when his house burned down and when he was dying of a brain tumor he was subjected to cruel treatment by The New York Times which gives too- big- to- fail white male crooks gentle treatment every day....

And so another prominent black man has been grilled by a media that, in terms of diversity, still lags behind Mississippi....

I might note here that Reed was still glad Cain was gone. Read the article!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

I see the movie Cowboys and Aliens is out on DVD. Cowboys in the old west fight off an alien invasion.

It's pretty much what's happening right now in Afghanistan, but the Americans are the aliens using weapons against the Afghan people that they have no defense against. Drones called "Predators" and "Reapers" firing missiles at people. Some Afghan children who were attacked and badly injured by American helicopters while they were out gathering firewood described being "hunted" by the faceless vermin in the helicopters.

I haven't seen the movie, but, since it was set in the 1870s, I assume the cowboys won.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Biography

Nickolodeon, the cable network for kids, started out showing uplifting stuff---documentaries about children who were concert violinists, ballerinas and so forth.

Then they did a study and learned that this depressed children in the audience. Made them feel like losers.

I sort of feel that way now. I'm sitting here watching Biography.

"You rich bastard!" I tell the TV.

They always want us to feel bad about the stars' eventual sad decline.

Nickelodeon changed----started showing the kind of stuff they have on there now, and the kids in the audience feel much better about themselves.

Reminds me of what Bob Denver said about Gilligan's Island. They started out trying to figure out a plausible reason why they brought so much stuff on a three hour tour, and they finally gave up. They decided they would let the kids watching be smarter than the show.

Think about that next time you hear someone complain about the stupid crap on TV.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Iran shoots down stealth drone


Joseph Heller suggested this general rule: When the U.S. government claims one thing and another government claims something else, the U.S. government is lying.

This seems to be true. It's hard to think of a case where the U.S. was telling the truth while another government was lying about it.

The first instance where Heller noticed this was the U-2 spy plane case, when the USSR shot down the American spy plane flown by Francis Gary Powers. The U.S. dismissed it-----the plane was studying the weather and drifted slightly into Soviet air space.

No, it was shot down in the middle of the Soviet Union. It was the first time it dawned on the American people that perhaps the U.S. government didn't tell the truth and perhaps the Soviet government did.

Now Iran has brought down an American drone spying on them. In fact, they captured it with minimal damage.

The drones are operated by remote control and one report said that the Iranians were able to take control of it electronically and capture it.

The U.S. says that there was a drone that they lost control of somewhere and they didn't know where it went, but it might be the one Iran is talking about, but it was all just an innocent mishap. It was silly to suggest that the U.S. would spy on Iran!

Now, this was a stealth drone. I suppose it's significant that the Iranians spotted it and brought it down. Yugoslavia used cell phone towers to spot and shoot down an American stealth fighter attacking their country.

It was also a drone that the U.S. had kept secret, so now Iran has that to examine.

Remember that Pakistan, even after developing its nuclear bombs, had trouble figuring out how to build a guided missile----until Clinton fired a bunch of cruise missiles at Afghanistan and one of them crashed on Pakistani soil.

So Iran has something to work with now.

And Iran has said that their response won't be limited to their country's borders. Not sure why it should be.

It reminds me of Napoleon being shocked when the Russian Army chased him all the way back to Paris. He thought they should stop at the Russian border.

One-shot art films

Years ago, I was in Cambridge, Mass., heading for a movie at the Brattle Street Theater, the art theater there. I can't remember what I was going to see. I went to a Kurosawa festival there, and saw a couple of Roger Corman movies one time. I also saw Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, unavailable for years due to copyright problems. (If the Carpenters didn't sue over the use of her music, Mattel would have sued over the fact that her story was performed entirely by Barbie and Ken dolls.)

I was hanging around. I went into a bookstore. This was in the vicinity of Harvard University, so their magazine selection was sort of high brow. And I bought a copy of a magazine dealing with the subject of art film.

The one article I remember was on one-shot art films. These were unedited films that consisted of a single take.

They described some of them.

There was one where they set a camera up looking across a road. It was a sound movie, so there was some suspense as we hear a car approaching. Will it come from the left or right?

Another film showed a beer sign. It was one with an image of a mountain scene that slowly moved across. The audience couldn't tell what it was until the seam on the picture appeared.

The most interesting-sounding one was a 16mm film of a man untangling a roll of fishing line. The filmmaker had a friend who was weirdly gifted at this, so we see him untangling the line while talking about other subjects the entire time.

They mentioned Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, which was one shot per scene.

"Holy crap. That's all you have to do to make an art film?" I thought.

I started looking around for things I could waste a roll of film on. It would have to be Super 8. I think I had a 16mm camera at the time, but it was spring driven and you couldn't do a shot that lasted that long.

I had seen other books on art film, and they made it sound even easier. I read a book on it that characterized one art film maker as being especially prolific because he made a two-minute Super 8 film every year.

For ten bucks a year (what it cost for film and processing back then) I could be a major figure in art film!

I was wrong, of course. Or was I?

I saw Stan Brackage when he appeared at the university here many years ago. I was working as a dishwasher and came in late. He showed his old movies and also showed a few movies made by other people. Some more interesting than others.

Brackage's movies were all silent. One of the showed his wife giving birth and was used as an educational film in the U.S.S.R.

But he also showed one that he said he made in high school. He said he made it as a way of meeting a girl at school he had asked to be in it. We see some teenagers sitting around a room. A boy is examining his naval. Brackage didn't like the overly smooth panning in Hollywood movies so at one point the camera starts zig zagging up and down as it pans. It ended with them happily skipping off together.

I wasn't sure what to think. What does it say about art film that an art film-maker's very first effort, filmed while he was in high school, was considered to be of artistic merit. It's hard to imagine an artist in any other medium showing work he did in high school.

I also kind of wonder if he was telling the truth. When I was in high school, my friends and made our own kung fu movies. And one of my friends who worked on these went on to become a serious artist. It's hard to imagine a high school kid setting out to make an art film, especially in the late '40s.

Brackage's friend, Kenneth Anger, had lied for years about his first movie. Anger claimed that he was 17 when he made a gay art film about himself being attacked by sailors. His story was that his parents were out of town, so he and his friends stole a backdrop from a movie studio and somehow recruited several sailors to be in this thing.

In fact, he was a university student when he made it.

In any case, how many artists working in other media present the stuff they made in high school as important, serious work?

I always thought it was strange that stand-up comics and former sit-com stars are producing major cinematic works. What does it say about cinema as an artform?

Although I suppose another test might be the evenness of the work. There have been flukes over the years, but you don't have filmmakers producing crap, then making one great artistic work, then nothing but crap again.

There was Michael Cimino. He made The Deerhunter which was critically acclaimed until he made Heaven's Gate at which point people went back and re-examined The Deerhunter and decided it might not have been so great after all.

Heaven's Gate cost $37 million, a fortune back then in the late '70s, and it was a western which nobody went to anymore, and it wasn't very good. It was the end of United Artists which was bought by MGM. Cimimo made more movies after that, none of which stood out.

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's okay! He was TRYING to be offensive!

I don't understand this.

Elderly English millionaire Jeremy Clarkson, the big ugly one on the BBC series Top Gear, went on TV and called for striking public workers to be murdered in front of their families. He went on to say that trains shouldn't stop if they've killed someone on the railroad tracks.

There were tens of thousands of complaints phoned in. One person asked if Clarkson wanted to murder the first responders who treated his scumbag co-host after he was in an accident and had to be airlifted to a hospital.

Clarkson himself is paid over a million pounds a year in public funds.

I listened to a story about this on the radio, on the BBC World Service. For some reason they interviewed an American comedian about it. And here we see the idiocy of this kind of crap.

The comedian, who I never heard of before and whose name I didn't bother remembering, made the standard argument----that Clarkson was TRYING to be offensive, and therefore, no one should be offended. In fact, the comedian was rather disparaging of those who are offended when people who make a specific effort to be offensive.

Apparently the trick isn't to be funny and it isn't to offend your own audience, but it's to make your audience revel in how offensive you are to other people. Look at how many Christians and Jews think they're being incredibly clever and daring by drawing cartoons of Muhammad.

In Clarkson's case, one listener phoned in to complain and said that, yes, he understood that he was joking, but Clarkson's been making the same "joke" for about forty years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How cheap should movies be?

Here are two things.

There was Robert Rodriguez promoting his first film, El Mariachi, shot for $7,000. He played up that fact. It was just seven thousand bucks. And almost all of it went to pay for film and processing. Which means that, if he had shot the movie in digital video, it would have cost about $400.

Then I saw Dustin Hoffman talking somewhere. He dismissed the myth that you could make a movie for no money. It took, he said, at least $10 million in publicity to make the public aware of a movie. (This was at least 20 years ago.) I'm not sure if he put publicity and advertising in separate categories. But since you have to spend a fortune on distribution, does it make sense to spend almost nothing on the movie itself?

But----is this right? Is the practice if spending millions on movies an artifact of an earlier era when movies had to be shot on film and distributed to theaters? If movies hadn't gone through that phase at the beginning, what would they be like today? Something like the Nigerian movie industry, "Nollywood", where movies are shot on video for $20,000 then sold on DVD for a dollar or two each?

I saw some guy from the MPAA belly-aching about movie piracy. If it went on, he said, movies would soon have the production values of common soap operas. Maybe he's right, and maybe, with technology being what it is, that's where cinema would have been if it hadn't been distorted by the irreducible costs of earlier eras.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Western towns

I've seen some old photos of western towns as well as ghost towns that look quite a bit like the towns in movie westerns. Why does that always come as a surprise?

But here's a question. Did towns in the old west have buildings that simply said "Bank", "Saloon", "Sheriff" and "Store"? Did they really not have names for things back then? And were there any towns that had more than one bank or more than one saloon, or more than one store?

And why do towns in TV westerns have only one church? Is everyone there a member of the same denomination? I've driven though very small towns in the South and gone past church after church after church. I've heard of towns in the west in the 1800s where there was no Baptist church so the Baptists gave in and joined the Methodist church, but they picked the Methodists because they found it the least objectionable, not because there was only one church in town.

Even in movies set in the present day, it's not uncommon for a town to have only one church. Look at Footloose.

Anyway, that always ruins low budget westerns for me. When they have banks with a sign that simply says "Bank", it makes it look like it was filmed at a tourist attraction somewhere.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Justin Bieber one more time

Okay, one more time about Justin Bieber. I did see the kid on Saturday Night Live when he was on there and I watched a YouTube video of him being shot on a TV show I've never seen. I spoke to a young woman who told me that her friends wept when they saw it. Even if you're not a fan and even if you know it's just a show, it is disturbing to see a teenage boy gunned down by police, even if it is Justin Bieber.

I heard, by the way, that one of the stars of the show now regrets saying that Bieber was a "brat". She said he was messing around with the food on the craft services table and rendered a cake inedible---I don't remember exactly---and I think she said he locked someone in a room. I'm not sure, but I suspect that, when teenagers spend too much time with adults, they don't start acting more grown-up; they start treating adults as if they were other teenagers. If you have teenage children, don't spend too much time with them.

But okay, the lawyers for Mariah Yeater, the plaintiff in the paternity suit against Bieber, says that Bieber needs to do the DNA test over again. They're worried someone might switch samples on them.

“I want a new DNA test with both sides together at a lab in California as soon as possible. As soon as I tell her to do it, she’ll do it. We need proper protocol and a chain of custody,” her lawyer said.

There being a vast amount of money at stake, that may be a good idea. It's not just child support. Bieber and the people around him would presumably suffer a vast loss of income if it turns out he's been lying all this time and is the father of this child.

I did see a clip of Bieber on David Letterman. Dave was very sympathetic. Characterized the girl in this case as a "weasel". I thought this was a bad move. What if Bieber went on the show ready to break down sobbing and admit that he was the father? Letterman made it much harder for the boy.

If Justin Bieber were my son, he would...well, he'd probably be going to high school and living in poverty with little hope for the future. He'd have no tattoos. He'd probably be overweight and in bad shape physically. So I guess I shouldn't worry about what early fame is doing to him.

Movie laughter


There's always that problem. Movie characters laughing at funny things---like circus clowns---that while the movie audience sits stone-faced in the theater wonder what the hell they think is so funny.

Charlie Chaplin found a solution to this in the movie Limelight about a British Music Hall comic. He performs his acts in the film in front of a live audience, but we don't hear anything from them. No laughter of applause. The only audience response viewers of the movie heard were from other people in the theater. Which might not work very well now with DVD.

Then you have the other problem with laughter in film.

I sat through the movie The Trouble With Harry in a theater. Hitchcock's only actual comedy. Every time someone says something "funny" in the movie, they all pause a moment for the audience to stop laughing and compose themselves before going on.

There were several scenes where they did this in Blazing Saddles. I don't know what the audience response was when it was released, but watching on DVD I never felt I needed a moment to recover after Mel Brooks exclaims "Holy underwear!" or that other scene where Cleavon Little pulls the gun on himself.

Jack Lemmon discussed this in the movie Some Like It Hot. Remember the scene where he tells Tony Curtis that he's going to marry Joe E. Brown? He keeps playing the maracas as he talks. He explained in an interview that Billy Wilder had him do that to give the audience time to calm down between lines.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What do you want from a silent film?

Would a really lousy movie be less lousy as a silent movie or as a sound movie?

It's like black & white movies. You have a handful of art and arty movies--high brow films--shot in black and white. Back during the fight over colorization, I sat in a theater watching the latest Dirty Harry movie thinking, "They should have done this in black and white!"

I've heard it argued that the use of color in cinema today is more advanced artistically than black & white cinematography ever was, and I'm sure that's true. But that's with people who are really good. What if you're not very good? What if you couldn't make especially artistic use of either black and white or color? Which would look less like crap?

And what about silent vs. sound film? Was Charlie Chaplin right when he said the best silent film would always be better than the best sound movie? Imagine Battleship Potempkin with synchronized sound. Imagine War & Peace, Taxi Driver, or anything else as a silent movie.

Okay, yes, synchronized sound was a boon to cinema. Sound cinema has no doubt surpassed silent film artistically. But, as with color vs. black & white, that's only with the people who are really good at it. For the not-very-good, or the extreme low budget filmmaker, which is superior? Maybe Chaplin was right, that the best silent movie would always be better than the best sound movie. Or maybe the reverse was true. But that doesn't apply to those who aren't making the "best" movies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

French guy makes new silent film

A new silent film, The Artist, shot in L.A. with French director and stars for $14.2 million

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius. He directed the two OSS 117 spy spoofs in France.

Well, for $14.2 million, it should be okay. Filmed in L.A.

Here's the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8K9AZcSQJE

The story of a silent film star. His career is wrecked by the advent of sound while his wife's takes off.

Guy Maddin in New York

Meanwhile, Guy Maddin appeared in New York to present Tales from the Gimli Hospital Reframed, with new music performed live. With narration by Icelandic musician Kristen Anna Valltysdottir.

The original version was shot for $25,000, which means is cost less than the $30 thousand silent student film I wrote about a few days ago.

I don't know if they're handing out credit cards as freely as they used to, but all you have to do is max a few of them out and you'll be the next Guy Maddin!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Justin Bieber's taken the DNA test

Justin Bieber has submitted his DNA sample. In 3 to 10 working days we'll know. Is the boy the father of Mariah Yaeter's baby? Then it will all be over.

I saw a list of other celebrities who've repeatedly given DNA samples in paternity cases. So Justin should probably get used to it. And next time do the DNA test in the first place.

I'll be shocked if he's the father. And if he's not the father, I'll wonder what on earth that poor girl was thinking. Even if she never heard of DNA, her lawyers must have explained it to her. But she wouldn't be the first to make the charge knowing it would be easily disproved in court.

It's like a UFO case. There are cases of obvious UFO hoaxes and the people who pull them are often considered very honest and trustworthy, people who would never lie.

And that's what their problem is. They carry out the hoax as a gag intending to reveal what they've done. But they soon find it's easier said than done. It's easier to make the false claim than to admit that you've made a false claim, this after your friends and family have come to your defense and vouched for your honesty.

The girl can't very well back down now.


The girl's attorneys have pointed out that her representatives weren't present when the DNA sample was given. How can they be sure of the results? They had wanted to negotiate some protocol so they could be certain. Baby hadn't given a sample, last I heard.

It would be interesting if Bieber turned out to be the father.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Woody Allen on American Masters

Okay, I watched Part One of the Woody Allen documentary on American Masters on PBS last night.

Allen had become a gag writer in high school. He went from there to being a writer on Sid Ceasar's show. And with that, he got representation. Charles Joffe and Jack Rollins became his managers and they pushed him to bigger and bigger things. They got him to perform stand-up and to appear on TV gradually drilling his image into the mind of America.

And it's surprising now how much TV he did. They showed clips of him boxing a kangaroo, singing to a poodle, doing a big song and dance number on the Perry Como show, along with his appearances on the Tonight Show and Dick Cavett. Allen also appeared as guest host on The Tonight Show.Click on the photo above to see the video on YouTube.

And that's how it worked. Someone hired him to write the script for What's New, Pussycat and he was off and running.

I can't say I envy his early career. He must not have cared for it either since he hasn't been on a talk show in years.


I think about all the kids going off to film school. I don't know if it ever works. I was talking to a film school student here. I asked him what he hoped to do when he graduated.

"I'm going to go to Hollywood and direct movies," he said.

I was stunned by his confidence.

I tried to talk to him about some of the alternate routes people had taken to becoming directors---about the extreme low budget movies a few people were making back then. This was before digital video. It was probably before Hi8 video. But he wasn't interested. It was Hollywood or nothing, and it turned out to be nothing.

Look at the route Woody Allen took...from gag writer, to skit writer, to stand-up comic, to screen writer to director. Breaking into the movie industry is almost impossible. You have to use any opening you can find.