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As I write, October 16th, 2013, the grand Kabuki drama of the nation rises to one of its cyclical peaks as the structural weaknesses of our Constitution come into synchronicity. In the next day or two this media orchestrated minuet will play out,  with a temporary collapse of the Tea-Party Republican extremist’s efforts to block so-called Obamacare, claiming the real concern is the Federal deficit, by threatening to defund the government, though most of the same people blithely upped the deficit, slashed taxes, and started two fraudulent wars without a care during the reign of George W. Bush – as VP Cheney famously said way back then, “Deficits don’t matter.”  But today, with a black man in the White House, they matter, if only as a rhetorical weapon-of-the-moment.  Or, instead, this dance may see the little hard-core of Tea Party Representatives willing and able to risk a global financial melt-down as the rigged “reserve currency” of the post-World War II era runs aground on the fractured politics of the nation which prints those famous old Greenbacks, as the “exceptional” USA defaults on its debts.  This in turn will accelerate the process where the great sloshing of globalized, unaccountable wealth is shifting its currency into what those with it imagine to be safer forms than silly old abstractions, like money.  Instead they buy “art” or real estate in places like London, New York, Abu Dubai, and other enclaves of the increasingly “only rich welcome” sanctuaries.

[Note: barring some last minute glitch, it appears the Republicans have blinked, and our grand Kabuki drama will carry on, with another riveting crisis being revved up off-stage at this very moment.]

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rothko1_2214608aMark Rothko painting, sold for $86,882,500koons01_Jeff Koons work sold for $33,682,500

A Rothko painting is composed of a thin sheet of canvas, and some thin layers of paint, and a wooden frame.  Materially it is both easily degraded (the red tones in this work are especially vulnerable to fading), or destroyed.  Materially it is worth perhaps $100.   Clearly what is being bought is something else – either the experience of looking at it, or, the assumption that its investment value in terms of money will increase faster, say, than the value of stocks, or interest from loaning the money.   While the Koons work is materially more substantial, the money to purchase it was animated by the same assumption: that the “art” aspect would multiply its “value” more rapidly than other investments.  In both cases, the reality is that, exactly as is the case with “money,” what is being assumed is that a social agreement that something “abstract” has material value.  Money, whether “represented” with things like gold or silver (chosen long ago because they do not readily oxidize and change their atomic structure), or paper, is in effect a social contract, one which says X currency is worth X material something.  When I was young a cup of (bad in the USA) coffee cost 5 cents.  Today in most cafes a cup of perhaps good coffee would run $3 or so. You can do the math on the inflation and figure out that the social contract regarding the numbers shifted terms rather drastically in my life-time.   In a similar way the social contract in America – between Americans – has also drastically changed.

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Two years ago Occupy Wall Street materialized, and shifted our political dialog sharply:  the phrases “we are the 99%” and its corollary, “the 1%” emerged from decades of suffocation with barbs about “class war.”  OWS was initially ignored by the press, and then briefly given coverage as it spawned across the country.  At the same moment the NSA, CIA and FBI, in a Federally coordinated effort, collaborated with local police departments to heavily clamp down and as best they could, destroy this movement.  But the cat had been let out of the bag and a broad social awareness of the ever increasing disparities regarding the grossly tilted distribution of wealth, topics which are now almost everyday conversation, and around which our thoroughly corrupted politicians must dance, had been birthed.  Hence today’s minuet, which, as I write, appears headed towards an absurd “settlement” of kicking the can down the road 4 months.  And behind the curtains, cynic that I am, I can see the next act in this American theater of the Absurd:  in the coming months, as the Congress sits down to “seriously” decide on the Nation’s budget for the coming years, decade, whatever they say, in a signal of his “flexibility” President Obama will agree to cutting Social Security costs, cutting Medicare and Medicaid costs, and doubtless many other things.  However our sacrosanct military, and its burgeoning adjunct of the vast security state which has blossomed since 9/11, will not be touched.  And perhaps, as a signal of its reasonableness the counter-party will admit to some tiny tax here or there, though preferably it would be along the line of a VAT, “so we can all share the burden.”  Bets?

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Senate Republicans Address The Press After Weekly Policy Luncheon

But, just in case the dog and pony show in the District of Columbia doesn’t provide enough sleight-of-hand to duly befuddle the citizenry, we can always count on mass media circus to do the job.

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As this scenario has essentially been going on since we started, at the very outset anointing ourselves as “exceptional” and telling whatever untruths were necessary to support our illusion, beginning with our blatant theft of an entire continent from its inhabitants under the ironclad law that “might makes right” – after all, what were “they” doing with all this except wasting its values?  And on through a founding document which asserted that “all me are created equal” which was written by wealthy men who owned slaves, and whose document actually only considered white male landowners as “men” and on through the rest of our sordid mountain of self-delusions, which we must confront every day, and which confound our politics and society as they historically have.  To untangle this mess of contradictions is certainly more than our institutions can cope with, which as the stresses of these days indicate, will lead to a breaking up of our Union, as the diverse interests and beliefs of our populace decide myth is not a good place in which to actually live.

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Ten years ago, coaxed by a massive global propaganda barrage orchestrated by the US government, and for the most part supported fully by our corporate owned and controlled mass media, the United States went to war in Iraq.  It did so under false pretenses, on the basis of willfully fraudulent “intelligence,” prompted by the attack of 9/11/2001, the story of which itself is highly suspect.  I refer the reader to the document of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which was signed by many figures of the Bush administration, including Richard Cheney, and which called, publicly, for an event like 9/11 to jolt the American public into actions like the war on Iraq and Afghanistan.  The initiation of the way was presented as grand spectacle, and was breathlessly reported by the “embedded” media.

Ten years later, having lost this war, and the war in Afghanistan, and having collapsed its own economy in process, America scarcely whispers a word about the catastrophic actions it took.  Though our military – demonstrating its corruption and incompetence despite its massive expansion and absurd costs – carries on with the top brass shifting from their executive roles as failures, directly into the lucrative corporate offices of the military-industrial complex.  When, if ever, they are punished for matters, it has to do with sexual peccadilloes and public relations scandals, and not with their incompetence as military commanders and strategists.  Exactly as are the golden-parachuted managers of failed American corporate enterprises, or the criminal officers of TBTF banks and Wall Street trading companies.  The corruption runs throughout America’s economic, political, military and cultural systems.

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George Bush, cod-piece strutting “pilot” of 2003, is 2013′s non-person, disappeared by our political mandarins and the media which is their servant, just as is the war with which he is associated.  The patriotic admonishment for the American public which he delivered in the wake of 9/11, “Just keep shopping,” now falls flat on the ears of a public which has largely been stripped of its income and wealth by the events of the last decade – not merely the negative effects of the war, but of the “neo-liberal” economic policies which have gutted America’s economy in the interests of corporate profits for the benefit of the 1%.

So as we enter this grim anniversary, and the cocky presumptions of PNAC’s neo-con fevered dream of American dominance has shriveled, it is perhaps proper that rather than silence, voices of those most deeply effected speak.   John Gianvito, who initiated and organized the making of a film, Far From Afghanistan, sent me today a letter he saw on Truthdig (one of the sad small minority media outlets which dot the internet in an attempt to counter the corporate mass media which dominates the world’s “information” system).  I thought it a good way to mark this dubious anniversary of America’s lunge into an immoral, dishonest and in the long run, utterly disastrous and failed warring.

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A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

18 March 2013

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all-the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

 I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans-my fellow veterans-whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level-moral, strategic, military and economic-Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

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By the laws of the government which they controlled and directed, George Bush and his entire entourage, committed grievous crimes, crimes for which they have not and will not be prosecuted.  They will not be prosecuted, nor convicted, nor punished, because though the names have changed, that government is run and controlled by the same parties who brought us these catastrophes, and like our self-serving CEOs, who gut their corporations for personal profit, within the now fully corrupted system of USA.inc., one is rewarded for failure, however disastrous it is to the country, so long as it serves the 1%.

In the academic sense, I have never been a “good student,” and in fact my career in school has been checkered with what the outside eye would perceive as failure.   I hated high school and contrived to escape it early by going to summer school each year in order to accrue credits enough to leave in 3 years rather than 4.  Along the way I was antagonized by the mostly bad teaching, and in turn I antagonized the system.   At the end of those 3 years I declined to go to my graduation ceremony and later found out I was punished for this transgression by formally not receiving the papers that said I had completed my studies.  I found this out much later on, when I went to prison for refusing to participate in the American war machine, when they suggested I do remedial classes there because there was no record of my having graduated.    I noted for the prison people that I’d done two years of college and they let it go.  I was busy reading Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Silone, John Barths, Duras, Brecht, and things like that while in prison.

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Jon singing at Sadie Hawkins dance 1958

Going on to college in 1960 I anticipated a big change in the academic reality, but at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where I landed to study architecture, it didn’t really seem that much different, except I wasn’t living at home.  Within 6 weeks I concluded I would never get a degree, and figured out how to manipulate the system to my advantage by dropping all courses I didn’t enjoy within 6 weeks, in which case these – like my high school diploma – vanished from the record as if I’d never signed up.  I hence was on the dean’s honors list my first two semesters, and got a scholarship.   After that year I also concluded that architecture was a business and I didn’t feel at all comfortable with that.  So secretly, with regard to my parents, I applied to go to an art school in Britain, the Bath Academy of Arts, and was accepted.

Crown Hall, IIT, home of architectural school and Institute of Design

That summer I went to the UK on a ship, checked the school and found it was a playground for rich kids, with snazzy MG’s and Morgan’s and such, and decided I would not fit in or like it there either.   So after a summer of hitchhiking in Europe I returned to the US, where the Pratt Institute accepted me, but wanted me to wait a semester as I’d applied late.  I didn’t like that so I went back to Chicago and got into the Institute of Design, at the time considered one of the top schools in the States for such things.  I excelled, got straight A’s and the second semester did all the work equally well but rebelled and told them they were just like the academies of old which they criticized, and that they just taught a different set of rigid cliches, those of modernism.  And I left, looking to find a job over the summer,  but the Postal Service, whose test I’d passed, required a Pledge of Allegiance, which I could not do.  I returned to ID, talked with the dean of the school, Jay Doblin, and told him I didn’t want to get a degree, and would like to attend solely to use the equipment and take classes that were of interest to me, but not other things.  He told me that in his view I was already beyond what they had to teach, and let me stay under the terms I described.   But that didn’t last long as the Marines sent a recruiting team on campus and I and a few friends did a political protest.  We were called up to the IIT dean and told to cease and desist, which the others agreed to do.  I, instead, knowing I had no interest in a degree anyway, announced I would protest against the Armour Research Institute, which was part of IIT, and did research for the military.   Meantime the Cuban missile crisis arrived, and I hunkered down with my friends to smoke dope and drink lousy red wine waiting to be incinerated in a nuclear war.   I sold everything I had (some books) and checked the process of moving to New Zealand.  However, by the time I had it all together to make that move the crisis had blown over.  So, almost arbitrarily, I decided to become a filmmaker, spent a month going to movies at the Clark Street Cinema, which showed 2 different films each day – old Hollywood and European classics, and new European and Japanese art house films – and got my film education.  I bought a Bolex in NYC, and decamped for Europe.   And that was the end of my academic life.   While I had “dropped out” in 60′s fashion I later found out I’d also been expelled – not that it mattered to me.  I spent a year and a half in Europe and Mexico, hitch-hiking and making my first three films.  And then returned to the USA knowing I would go to prison for refusing to serve in the military.  I was locked up from March 1965-June 1967.   It was another education, as meaningful and useful to me as the two years I’d spent in college.

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And that was my academic career, until in 2007, I was invited to teach at Yonsei University in Korea – considered one of the country’s top three schools – and was magically elevated to a full Professorship at the age of 64.  It was my first ever actual job.  A year later they informed me that in Korea mandatory retirement comes at 65, but they solved that problem by making me a “Distinguished Professor,” and I spent 3 more years teaching (in the easiest job one can imagine) and quit of my own choice last July, 2011, though the school wanted me to stay.  And thus ended my brilliant academic career.

In the many years from leaving prison to becoming a professor I did have the experience of showing my films at many universities, colleges and art schools, which for the most part was an eye-opening process.  Back in the early 70′s, along with many other things, these schools began to do “Film Studies” and related courses – history, theory, and making.   It was indeed quite fashionable, and in turn it bred a peculiar kind of academic filmmaking, often weighted with theoretical or other ideological baggage – feminism, “minority” tilts,  and all kinds of things.   In my glancing passages through these institutions I was often asked to look at work and give my opinions, sometimes to PhD candidates who would then enter teaching film.   The work I saw was most often mind-bogglingly bad, though presented by the professors or teachers as good work.   Usually it was clotted with whatever fashionable intellectual winds were sweeping through, and usually they evinced not even the most basic artistic sensibility.  Most of these films seemed to strain to demonstrate some intellectual “thesis,”  and they were terrible.  And over the decades this kind of “filmmaking” was taught, reproducing itself.   It also reproduced the notion in our groves of academe that after such studies, with one’s fresh diploma, a job in the industry – either the actual filmmaking industry or the film studies industry – would materialize.   Anyone remotely connected with the industry is well aware that a degree is worth a little less than toilet paper in the business, as the statistics available to those very schools, busy charging students 40K a year and up, show, and of which they are quite aware.  Similarly the chances for snagging the next generation’s academic slot are rather dim as the line is endless and the places few and becoming fewer.   So, like many other things in our culture, what is offered up is more or less a fraud.     I bring this up, perhaps prompted by a letter I received last autumn, from a friend, Ray Carney, who teaches at Boston University.  Over the years he’s told me of his situation, which has steadily worsened, even as I have in the same years crossed paths with former students of his, whose testimony is of a teacher who genuinely changed them for the better, opened their eyes, and, well, did what a teacher should do:  helped them learn to comprehend the world honestly.   I think his blog, now blocked by BU, offers testimony in its very high hits-per-day, and the positive commentary on it, that Ray has been an inspiration to a generation of students.  Which seems to make him a threat to BU.  (See www.Cassavetes.com.)

About 6 years ago I was invited to do a workshop at BU, a 7 day matter for BU students, but also open to others.  So I had around 12 students, including a few BU graduate film school ones, down to some young girls utterly inexperienced.   I’m used to this, and my teaching philosophy is to cut the bullshit talk, and get  down to a very carefully bracketed bit of work – work which should also be play.   So after some days of this – essentially little guided exercises that open up one’s creative spirits to what digital video can be – I had them each make a little film, and at the end of the week we had a screening of films running around 90 minutes total.  And most of it was from very good, to quite creditable.  Of course one can’t make those without innate talent suddenly acquire it, though you can nicely tell them they should find some other outlet suitable to whatever talents they might have, though film schools seem loathe to do so.  In any event the person who’d invited me was rather surprised and told me he hadn’t really expected the students to actually “do something” over the week, where in reality they’d each made three or four simple “learning” films, and then the final one.   The students were, naturally, excited and pleased with themselves and the process, and I suppose with this kind of teaching which so quickly and successfully prompted them to learn so much so fast, and make something worth showing.  As it happened, the teacher who’d invited me had also required the participants to write a little diary of the process.   He passed those along to me, and in those done by the BU grad students there were comments to the effect, “why didn’t we do this the last two years?”    Indeed.  And, being reasonably well acquainted with many film schools, I know most would be deliriously pleased if their students made work so good as this workshop’s at the end of an entire year.  But, for the most part, those teaching don’t really know how to make such work themselves, and less how to convey to students the sensibilities to try themselves.   There are exceptions, of course – I’d point to Cal Arts as one school that seems to work, but then it has some real filmmakers on the faculty – Jim Benning, Thom Andersen, Nina Menkes among them, and from the viewpoint of students from there that I’ve met, they’re good teachers as well.

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While doing that workshop, there was a little gathering for me, which the faculty seems to have pointedly avoided, except as it happened, for Ray Carney.   I’ve been to many schools and this seems endemic.  If not of the glamor/fame bracket (I am sure they’d show up for Spielberg or someone of contemporary Hollywood fame) – my experience is that the filmmaker/teacher faculty seldom shows up for such things.  I feel they perceive someone like me as a threat – someone who actually makes films.  When they have materialized I have literally heard some teachers tell me they have, once upon a time, made one film, doubtless one I’d fear to see.  And they are the teachers!  During that BU visit Ray told me a little bit about what the administration was doing to him, and in turn I wrote a letter to the President of  BU.  In the turgid language of a bureaucrat he replied that the Film Department was undergoing an administrative change of some sort, and that he’d take my note into account.    And indeed the Department did change a bit – it became more Hollywood oriented, more technical, and more averse to creative thinking.  In effect it became a trade-school with the little caveat that the industry for which it cranks out techies has no room for them.  I was told a year at BU runs around 60K.  An expensive con.   Though, I guess one must, in light of the rest of American culture these days, from Wall Street to K Street, and doubtless down your nearby Main Street,  rack it up to a generalized corruption – economic, moral, ethical – which is now the nation’s “norm.”   One would like to fantasize that universities are pristine exceptions to this rule, but even the most casual look shows they are in reality – with perhaps their sports programs demonstrating it most clearly – paragons of corruption, basically in the service of our corporate overlords.  Money talks and bullshit walks.  Even in our most respected educational institutions.

Here’s the letter Ray sent me:

From: Prof. Ray Carney
Subject: Faculty treatment at Boston University
To: Jon Jost
Date: 26 November 2011

Dear Jon,

Hope you are thriving. Sorry to take so long to respond to your questions about the BU situation and whether it has changed in the past few years. I’m racing a deadline on a French project, but have a little time tonight to give you a summary account. The basic thing you have to keep in mind, and that I’d assume you wouldn’t already know, is that the treatment I have experienced for the past eight or nine years (I’ve lost count) is part of a much longer history of faculty-administration problems within Boston University that extends back four or five decades. The university has a long history of abusing, mistreating, and retaliating against faculty who say things administrators don’t agree with. Google “John Silber” and “Howard Zinn” to read the highest profile, but by no means only, instance—in that case involving the administrative abuse of one of BU’s most distinguished history professors for more than three decades because his politics did not coincide with those of the administration. I was, in fact, warned about the faculty-hostile situation before I arrived at BU (many academic friends told me to avoid the school at all costs), and during my time here have witnessed a number of the most creative faculty members being driven away by administrative high-handedness and stupidity. The university continues to have faculty recruitment problems on this count. Although there have been a few administrative changes at the top in the past six or seven years, not much has actually changed in terms of the attitudes of some of the middle- and upper-level administrators who cut their teeth, and formed their anti-faculty attitudes, under the old system. Many of them are still in place and continue to perform their duties no differently than they did ten or twenty years ago. As any MBA “Introduction to Organizational Behavior” course teaches, a large bureaucracy fights change tooth and nail. It takes more than a few changes at the top, or a Kumbaya speech from a new President, to change an entrenched institutional culture. File under “Democracy in Iraq.”

The current President, a guy named Robert Brown, talks big about leaving the bad old BU behind, but, if my situation and the treatment I have received (some preceding, but much, even most, of it taking place during Brown’s administration) counts as evidence, he has not done anything to alter the unethical behavior, anti-faculty attitudes, and anti-intellectual understandings of the function of a university at the middle- and upper-management levels. Most of the faculty think Brown is simply too naïve to understand the depth of the problems he inherited—or too imperceptive about human nature. (His background is in science.) Others say he is afraid to make real changes. If you want a good sardonic laugh, look up what happened to the man who preceded Brown, a guy named Daniel Goldin, who announced that he was actually going to “clean house at BU” and that he intended to remove the worst-behaving individuals in middle- and upper-management and put the university on a completely new path. He made the announcement one day, and a few weeks later was canned—by the very individuals he sought to remove! They went to the Board of Trustees and had him fired! Many BU faculty members consider it a “lesson learned” for Brown. He learned it was OK to talk a good line, as long as he did not actually rock the boat by doing anything to threaten the entrenched powers. (You’ll only find a skeleton account of this on the internet, but enough to read between the lines, since as much as possible was hushed up by the university with a multi-million dollar buy-out and a non-disclosure agreement. That’s BU’s customary way to deal with “problems.” They buy silence and keep them out of the paper with payoffs. There are lots of unmarked graves.)

Well, that’s the university I’ve devoted the best part of my career to for something like 22 or 23 years. Everything went terrific for me for the first thirteen or fourteen of them: As you know, I am a highly published scholar with many books in many languages and am invited to speak or participate in events all over the world; as a university teacher and colleague, I received superlative annual evaluations; I was entrusted with high-level committee assignments; I was asked to speak at major university functions; my classroom teaching and professional mentoring of students was judged to be superb; and I was even asked to play an administrative role, serving as the Director of the program I teach in for close to a decade, and, more briefly, serving as department Chair during the regular Chairman’s leave of absence. But everything—and I do mean everything—changed in 2003, following the appointment of a new Dean (the highest administrative position in my college). He was an absolute terror—and a horror—as an administrator. He demanded a series of changes in graduate admissions, course requirements, and student evaluation and grading methods that would significantly lower academic standards in order to attempt to bring in more tuition dollars. (He was nothing if not candid about his reasons.)

If the Dean’s ideas were bad, his character and morals were worse. He was emotionally off the chart—with, as a psychologically-minded colleague put it, “major anger-management issues”—uncontrolled rants, rages, tirades, and explosions of anger, garnished with obscene language (“asshole” was the special term of endearment I personally earned for my service to the university over the years) and actual physical threats—believe it or not. (“If I meet you in a dark alley and have a baseball bat, watch out…,” was one uttered at a gathering of faculty and staff members, and the friend who told it to me was pretty sure the Dean wasn’t talking about playing a night game of fungo with her; she was scared.) Morally speaking, the Dean was completely beyond the pale (guilty of an uncounted number of ethical and procedural violations). He administratively punished faculty “enemies” (his designation for anyone who wasn’t in favor of his changes or who asked embarrassing questions about his violations of procedure) and rewarded faculty “friends.” The first group had their leaves denied, their perquisites withdrawn, and was berated, yelled at, badgered, or as I say called obscene names or threatened with bodily harm. The second group was given high evaluations, pay raises, money for research and travel, promotions, and, yes, last but not least, teaching and service awards at Commencement. (Could someone make this stuff up? Would anyone believe it if it was in a novel or a movie?)

Absolutely everything was “personal” for this guy—and nothing too low or too unethical for him to stoop to doing it, including gaming the faculty evaluation and review system to achieve the results he wanted. To illustrate the depth of the Dean’s paranoia and retaliatory machinations, though it sounds comical to mention it, this guy even enlisted specific faculty members to serve as “spies” to report back to him if someone said something negative about him in a closed-door meeting, the better to speedily punish the offender. Needless to say, there were individuals willing to do this; there are always individuals willing to do such things. (Both the Dean’s bullying personality and his thuggish behavior were established facts long before he was appointed, since he had behaved similarly as a college faculty member and department Chair—and had, in fact, been forced to resign his Chairmanship a few years earlier after being charged with plagiarism. Only at BU could a faculty member guilty of that degree of academic misconduct be promoted to the Deanship a few years later! And only at BU could he continue in the Deanship with this sort of behavior, because virtually everyone on the faculty was either too afraid—or bought-off with bureaucratic bribes—to protest. Good old Boston University.)

It’s a basic principle of bureaucratic behavior that when the person at the top not only endorses shady practices, but pressures the people under him to achieve certain kinds of results, the sleaze can spread like an oil slick throughout the organizational flow chart. The Dean taught the people under and around him what was and was not acceptable behavior to deal with faculty “troublemakers” (another of his tender terms, directed at me personally on more than one occasion), and other college administrators (not all of them, but more than a few) were not slow to learn the lesson, particularly when they were being given raises, promotions, and awards for being good soldiers. Much of the same unethical behavior (tweaking faculty evaluations and reviews to achieve “desirable” results, punishing individuals who expressed reservations about the Dean’s plans to increase tuition income, etc.) started being practiced by administrators in my own department shortly after the Dean came to power, and these administrators or their successors continue many of the same shady practices right up into the present.

Leopards don’t change their spots and a situation like this does not magically heal itself if the person at the top leaves. In point of fact, the Dean had to resign his position in late 2006, after he was charged with a series of additional, unrelated ethical violations, including lying on his résumé. (Thanks to the predictable generosity of the university senior administration when it comes to supporting one of its own, even after these events, he was not drummed out of the university in disgrace, but remained on the faculty and continued to collect a fat salary—those tuition dollars he was so obsessed with pulling out of students’ pockets now being used to support him.) But, as I say, the Dean’s resignation didn’t change very much, given that most of the other administrators who had worked hand-in-glove with him to carry out his orders remained in place after his departure, and the additional fact that, by the time he stepped down, the practices he had pioneered had become generally accepted, especially by my department Chairman and most of the program Directors. In summary: even after the Dean stepped down, very little changed, particularly in my department.

Well, you can probably see where this is headed. My mortal sin—like Howard Zinn’s two or three decades earlier, and like that of other fired or discredited Boston University faculty members before and after Zinn—was that, starting in 2003 and continuing right up through the present, I dared to argue against the lowering of academic standards and had the audacity to object to the ethical and procedural violations I witnessed or was told about. Just call me stupid. I made the mistake of speaking out on the basis of my intellect, my conscience, and my principles—not based on calculations of what would curry favor with the Dean and his successors, or with other college and university administrators.

A few others in my college also spoke up over the years, but it was never more than a handful. The overwhelming majority of college faculty and staff serve on renewable, limited-term contracts; they couldn’t possibly speak up about these things without being fired; but I was different. I had tenure. This kind of situation was, as far as I was concerned, the reason tenure existed: to allow a faculty member to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves (particularly students who are unknowingly being defrauded of receiving a first-class education, even as they take out enormous loans to pay astronomical tuitions in the expectation of obtaining one), and to defend the highest possible pedagogical, procedural, and ethical standards (even as the administration headed pell-mell in the opposite direction). I spoke up at meetings; I wrote memos; I sent emails; I held face-to-face meetings with the Dean and his successors and with administrators inside and outside the college to express my concerns.

But, as should be clear by now, taking principled stands and reporting ethical issues has always been hazardous to one’s health at Boston University, and as the past decade of my experience proves, it continues to be extremely dangerous. The response of the entire administrative system at Boston University, right up to the present moment, has been to attempt to force me to shut up, and if I won’t be silenced, to savage me. I have been attacked and punished in every way possible—personally, professionally, pedagogically, financially, and emotionally. My annual evaluations (which, as I said, had been the highest in my department before I began speaking up) have been reversed and are now at the bottom; my pay has been docked; support for my research has been withdrawn; my student advisees have been taken away from me; my courses have been assigned to undesirable times (how about one class that meets 8AM and another that meets at 9PM, and on the same day—worse hours and a longer workday than the building custodian would be given) and impossible locations (all-too-easy to do to a film teacher—all you have to do is force him to show the films on a tiny TV so that students can’t read the subtitles—while other teachers’ classes, on the very same days and times, are assigned to a movie theater classroom); and, to add insult to injury, I have been abused and reviled—had my morals, character, and performance of my duties viciously attacked—in a series of truly unbelievable ceremonies of public and private humiliation (staged both behind closed doors and in public places to humiliate me in front of students, staff members, and junior colleagues).

Perhaps most unethically of all (though it’s hard to rank the circles of hell to which these individuals have descended), when my department program Director, my Chairman, the Dean whose conduct I have described, and others designated by them saw that I was not going to stop speaking up or writing memos no matter how much they docked my pay and lowered my evaluations, they held meetings with students to publicly criticize my teaching and the performance of my duties and instructed them to complain about me, with the student being pressured to submit a criticism of something I had published or said in class, with the administrator coaching the student what to say or actually editing or writing the text, all the while concealing the meetings and the coaching and editing sessions, with the goal of making the complaint look like it was spontaneously initiated and written by the individual student. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine how this affected my teaching and relationship with students. Can you picture what a teacher’s classes are like after the students’ minds have been poisoned in this way—after this kind of toxicity has been created by a trusted administrator telling students vicious (and false) things about their teacher—or after a student has seen his or her teacher being yelled at and upbraided in a public place by an administrator?

Another strand of the retaliation involves censorship, or punishment directed against me if censorship fails, for what I have written or said. To give credit where credit is due, I want to acknowledge that the Dean whose behavior I have been describing apparently initiated the censorship plan. He deserves full credit as the first one to scream at me at the top of his voice, in private and public, that things I published be changed or suppressed, and was the first to threaten me with bureaucratic punishment if I did not comply. (Him to me, in his most bellowing, threatening voice: “There will be consequences … there will be serious consequences….[if you don’t retract what you wrote].” And, of course, there were.) But, as I noted, the Dean was a master at getting others to do his bidding, and around 2004 or 2005, he enlisted my Chairman and the new program Director (I was forced out of my position as Director at the Dean’s insistence, of course) as his allies and surrogates, which ensured that the censorship efforts continued, and, in fact, even increased, after he was forced out of the Deanship.

As you know, a good part of my publication record involves reflections on issues affecting film and arts education in American universities. For close to a decade now, BU administrators have asserted their right to censor, suppress, edit, or otherwise meddle with what I publish or say on this subject—or, if censorship fails, to punish me (in my evaluations, pay, and perquisites) for what I have said or written. I have been forbidden to talk about certain things when I give interviews. I have been told what I can and cannot say in my classes. I have been told not to tell my students about the challenges of the job market. I have been told I should not have written confidential memos pointing out problems in my department. I have been told to remove my web site from the BU server because it had views about education that the administration disagrees with.

The catch-all criticism (and justification for the subsequent negative evaluations and hits on my pay) is that I am “not being a team player”—though why in the world I would want to be a member of this sort of intolerant, dictatorial, censorious, anti-intellectual, and unethical “team” has never been explained to me. I had thought I was hired to follow the dictates of my conscience in ethical issues and to think with my own brain in intellectual ones. I had thought that that’s what my job was: to think as originally and creatively as possible; but I was mistaken. BU clearly hired me to think with its administrators’ brains.

In terms of the censorship issue, if the facts weren’t so appalling, they might make for an absurdist black comedy. Since it may be good for a laugh, or at least to demonstrate that the BU administrators have no sense of humor, I’ll mention that the two pieces that subjected me to the most vicious administrative attacks and the most serious punishment (lowering my evaluations and pay based on my “uncollegiality”) were two interviews I gave: one was with a reporter from the UCLA Daily Bruin, titled “A Modest Proposal: Let’s Replace Film Production Programs with Majors in Auto Mechanics (at least majors would be able to get jobs…),” and the second was with a former BU student, titled: “About Art, Life, Hollywood, Independent Film, Critics, Professors, Universities, and How to Make a Fortune in Real Estate.” As the titles indicate, both were semi-comic in nature, but about serious issues—from the false values fostered by academics who fawn on celebrity speakers and host movie-star events; to the consequences of staffing the professoriate with Hollywood-trained (and entertainment-addled) writers and directors; to the pernicious effects of journalistic film reviewing on American film appreciation and commentary (and the bad effects of including newspaper reviewers on the faculty); to the shocking lack of intellectual content in most film production courses; to the dishonesty of film programs representing themselves as preparing students for meaningful careers. I was told in no uncertain terms—and with the financial and institutional penalties I have described—that these subjects were no-nos. They were things I was not supposed to say. They were bad for student recruitment; they would hurt enrollment; they could affect student morale; and heresy of heresies: what I said might actually encourage students to major in something other than film—an absolutely unthinkable outcome to administrators more interested in defending departmental turf—by maintaining course enrollments—than in helping students pursue their true callings. I was not allowed to say such things. Since this material appeared on several pages of my web site, I was given a formal, written order by my Chairman to take the entire site down and given a deadline by which to do it. The over-the-top extremity of my Chairman’s demand—the fact that it also meant censoring hundreds of other pages of writing and interviews (probably close to a thousand pages in all) that did not contain material that had been objected to—or that could not possibly be objected to even by individuals as intolerant and narrow-minded as my college’s administrators—was central to the punishment. It would not punish me and my work sufficiently if I was forced to remove only five or ten or twenty pages of writing and interviews and was able to leave hundreds of other pages in place. I was told to remove everything I had published on the internet.

It may amuse you if I add that when the censorship threats against me were initially made, my first response was to tell my Dean, Chairman, and everyone else that if they didn’t like what I said, and felt that their views needed more visibility and publicity, I would gladly engage in a public debate with them on these issues, and if they didn’t want to do that, I would be delighted to post their responses to anything I had said that they disagreed with on my web site, complete and unedited, at any length they submitted them, prominently displayed next to my own statements so that no one could miss them. The offer was rejected out of hand (and jeered at as “a trick”). So much for the commitment to the free and open exchange of ideas at Boston University. No, no, no—dialogue, conversation, the expression of a range of views and opinions was emphatically not what BU administrators wanted. They demanded that their ideas and only their ideas, their views and only their views be represented. They repeated—frankly, I have to admit I’ve lost track how many times a BU administrator, month after month, year after year, angrily yelled it at me, both in public and in private, screaming at me in front of students in a hallway, in front of junior colleagues at a faculty meeting, or pounding the table in an office—that I was not to have published these opinions, and having published them, I was to be punished for having done it. The administration position was non-negotiable and unyielding. As my Chairman told me several times in front of the entire department faculty, if I wouldn’t take down the web site “voluntarily” (a new and different sense of the word than the one I was familiar with), university administrators would “bring in the lawyers” and do it themselves. He was not asking; he was telling. The web site would not be tolerated. (I’ll pass over the sheer institutional stupidity and counter-productiveness of his fiat. My web site was arguably the largest, most important, and most highly visible site by a BU faculty member. It was known all over the world, read by as many as 50,000 viewers a month, and was one of the major recruitment tools for BU’s own graduate programs. Now that it has been suspended and discontinued, all of the benefit it provided the university has, of course, been lost.)

It bears repeating that the financial, bureaucratic, and personal punishments administered to me have been doled out not for anything I have done or failed to do as a teacher, advisor, or mentor, but for the expression of my ideas, for my reports of ethical issues—in meetings, memos, and emails—and for the statements about film education I made in my writing and in interviews like the two I mentioned. Now I don’t know your personal feelings about it, Jon, but to someone who has devoted his entire professional career to academia, this is the most shameful, most destructive action a university can take: to punish a faculty member for the principled expression of his or her views. In my definition of it, this is the reason that a university exists, and the thing that most distinguishes a university from a profit-making corporation—namely, that its faculty are not only allowed, but as the very heart and soul of the performance of their duties are required to speak the truth and to defend the honesty and integrity of their dealings with others. That’s what it is to be a professional with professional standards of conduct, and not a wage-slave doing the bidding of a corporate boss to shill a product to turn a profit. But that distinction is clearly something administrators at Boston University are unable to grasp. My Dean, my program Director, my Chairman, and others treat my job as if it were about generating flattering press releases, not about telling the truth—and they are willing to punish me for my non-compliance with their gag-orders.

My point is that the issues these administrative actions raise have nothing to do with the merit of any particular idea I may express. My Chairman always told me, as justification for his censorship, that my ideas were “wrong” or “put things in a false light”—as if that made it all right to suppress them. Of course I disagreed with him; my ideas were not wrong. But the rightness or wrongness of my views is not what ultimately matters. What matters, supremely, to the lifeblood of the university is that I and other faculty members be accorded the right to express our ideas, to say what we honestly think and believe, without fear of censorship or punishment.

That’s what academic freedom is about—not about pleasing people, and certainly not about putting the acceptability of a faculty member’s ideas up for a vote—as my Chairman did before telling me that I was not allowed to publish what I had—and that I was being formally censored for having done it. Now that was an experience I’ll not soon forget. Can you imagine sitting through three months of department meetings where excerpts from my publications were projected on a screen, distributed in Xeroxed packets, and read out loud by my Chairman and others while, in an orgy of abuse personally orchestrated and presided over by my Chairman, I was called names, yelled at, and had my morals and character viciously attacked for what I had published? That’s how BU treats faculty who “think differently.” All I could think while the rigged, one-sided “show trial” went on (at an early point in the proceedings I was told that “no one is interested” in anything I might say in my own defense so that for most of the time I was forced to sit there and take the hurled abuse in silence) was that it was good practice if I—or any other BU faculty member who similarly said something BU administrators disagreed with—ever ended up teaching in China, Iran, or North Korea.

These actions raise important questions about the university attitude toward (and treatment of) public intellectuals. Public intellectuals are lauded if they talk about (and locate) problems elsewhere in society, but are criticized and punished if they turn their attention to what goes on in universities. The modern corporate American university, like the rest of modern corporate America, puts a premium on unanimity of opinion and homogeneity of expression, and penalizes genuine diversity of points of view. There is of course much lip service given to something called “diversity”—i.e., racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity; however, intellectual diversity, the expression of genuinely new, different, or—God help us—unpopular or controversial ideas and opinions, the only kind of diversity that means anything intellectually—is frowned on. Like other corporations, the educational corporation aspires to speak with one voice—a sanitized, safe, uncontroversial, politically-correct voice—since the goal is never to offend or upset anyone—particularly anyone with money, anyone who wields the power of the purse, like students, grant officers, politicians, or alumni contributors. The goal is to “build a brand” (there has been much appallingly straight-faced discussion in this vein in my college) that will upset no one, change nothing, and threaten nothing that really matters—particularly cherished beliefs. But this is the opposite of the true function of a university and the death of true education—which is to allow everything, absolutely everything, to be looked at, questioned, examined, and re-thought where necessary. These “branding” discussions, pointedly, focus not on how to better educate students, how to get them to see the limitations of their current understandings and preferences, but about how to please them and teach to their desires—once more in the service of getting tuition dollars out of their pockets and burdening them with ever larger student loans.

If you can stand to read even more on this subject some day, ask me sometime and I’ll send you a memo I wrote my current Dean a few weeks ago, after he vehemently objected to my raising a few fundamental questions with my students (e.g., about the real purpose of their education, and the relation of an education to a career, and of a career to a life—controversial, and hence forbidden, topics, as my Dean angrily told me). If you can believe it, one of the things he went ballistic over was that I sent my students a link to an article about film education in The New York Times—that’s an article in The Times, not a link to something by Noam Chomsky or Karl Marx! My Dean made clear—in a nasty, sarcastic critique of my actions—that articles like the one in The Times are not things I am supposed to be exposing my students to. They are apparently too controversial, too subversive, too dangerous for Boston University film students to grapple with. What does that tell you about his views on education—not to mention his opinion of the intellectual ability of the students in his college? They should be picketing his office to protest his contempt for their intellect.

In what I wrote him in reply I tried to explain why these issues (i.e. about the value and purpose of an education) were important ones for a teacher to raise with his students—and specifically why sending my students links to articles in the New York Times and elsewhere was an important part of my duties as a teacher; but my Dean’s mocking, sarcastic, and completely dismissive response demonstrated one more time (if it weren’t already abundantly clear) that everything I said represented a vision of education that not only had never occurred to him before, but that was something he still couldn’t wrap his mind around even after I had spent several thousand words trying to explain it to him. Not really a surprise. Like many other BU administrators, my Dean spent his entire previous career in corporate America, and has clearly internalized its values, where you don’t ask fundamental questions or raise difficult issues. You “sell a product” to a “customer”—in this instance, a college degree to students. You don’t ask people to think deeply about purposes and values and the meaning of their lives; you just yammer a sales pitch, convincing the customer that the commodity he or she has purchased is worth the tens of thousands of dollars and multiple years of his or her life required to obtain it. If the past is prologue, I am bracing myself for one more hit on my annual evaluations and pay as a result of that exchange. The beat—and the beating—goes on.

In short, the modern American corporate university, like its close cousin the modern American corporation, puts financial considerations ahead of educational ones, and analyzes educational projects (including faculty publications and a teacher’s exchanges with his students, in my case) not in terms of their educational benefit, but their potential effect on the bottom line. The educational experience takes a backseat to budgetary considerations, and the educational process is never allowed to pose questions that might jeopardize fund-raising, grant support, or alumni boosterism. As a professor friend of mine put it, the “cost” of education, in this state of affairs, is education itself—which gets dumbed-down or forgotten in the relentless competition universities (and professors!) wage with each other for students, grants, and alumni support. The budgetary—or enrollment—tail wags the educational dog. Meanwhile, as it didn’t take the Occupy Wall Street protestors to point out, the ballooning cost of college tuitions (required to pay the ridiculous salaries of the very administrators who are setting these mistaken priorities) staggers generations of students under the weight of loans they may never be able to work their way out from under—no matter how many false promises about the value of their degrees and the glorious careers that await them are self-promotingly proffered by the schools they are persuaded to attend.

Now none of the preceding observations is particularly new or original. Everything I am saying is really just common sense and conventional wisdom. And there is nothing terribly controversial about any of it, beyond the fact that it is being said by a university faculty member rather than an outsider, and the fact that it is being said out loud rather than merely whispered or muttered under the faculty member’s breath during or after a meeting. When someone who is actually a member of a university raises these kinds of issues in public, or, for that matter, raises them behind closed doors in a committee or staff meeting, he or she is ostracized or retaliated against as betraying the institution—or “pissing in your own soup” as my current Dean vulgarly put it in a recent memo excoriating me for having informed my students about the challenges of the job market in an email I sent to them that apparently veered too close to the truth. A faculty member who says such things must be penalized—or marginalized and made irrelevant. It’s worth noting that, on top of the other punishments that have been administered to me, I have also been removed from (or excluded from service on) university committees where these sorts of issues might come up and be discussed—e.g., committees in charge of admissions, curricular matters, and faculty reviews, promotions, and hiring. It is apparently too dangerous to give me a platform to express my views, even to other faculty members within Boston University. Who knows what might happen if I actually persuaded a few others to go along with my ideas? My Chairman actually cited this as his reason for removing me from a graduate admissions committee I had previously chaired, after I expressed my opposition to the Dean’s dictates about lowering admissions standards to bring in more tuition dollars. He told me that if he left me on the committee he was afraid I would persuade other faculty members to agree with me about the importance of maintaining academic standards and consequently might jeopardize the execution of the Dean’s goals. So much for the virtues of discussion and debate at Boston University. The only kind of faculty input that is wanted—or tolerated—on the admissions committee is unequivocal, unthinking, obedient academic hucksterism.

The censorship I’ve personally experienced is part of a larger system of surveillance and control of expression at Boston University. The college I teach in, the College of Communication (ironically named in the light of what I am going to tell you) can stand as an example. The current Dean of the college is the same guy I have already mentioned a couple times (the guy who eviscerated me for raising philosophical issues about the meaning of education with my students), a fellow named Tom Fiedler. Unlike the Dean who preceded him, Fiedler is not a total disaster as a human being, but being a normal human being is not sufficient to qualify one to be a university Dean. It takes a lot of knowledge and insight into how a large, complex academic organization devoted to scholarship and pedagogy functions, and Fiedler is clearly not qualified in those areas, about which he knows more or less nothing, since he has no academic background. As I noted, his previous career involved working for a corporation, specifically as a journalist whose apparent claim to fame (it’s the lead item on his bio sheet and something he is obviously extremely proud of) is that he was one of a team of Miami Herald reporters who forced Democratic hopeful Gary Hart to drop out of the presidential race in 1987 by stalking his girlfriend and secretly staking-out Hart’s residence, to catch the two of them in a compromising relationship. Fiedler and his reporter buddies trailed, spied, stalked, and staked-out Hart in a private residential neighborhood night and day for days at time (with, at one point, Fiedler actually putting on a costume to continue the surreptitious snooping!). Then, like the pack of yelping jackals they were, they swooped in for the kill as a group, unexpectedly surrounding a stunned and off-guard Hart on the street when he hadn’t even known they were there, swarming, confronting, and barraging him with a series of privacy-invading questions about his sex life, then broadcasting the results of his stammering, stunned replies on the front page of the newspaper.

In other words, Fiedler and his pals were practitioners of the trashiest form of headline-grabbing tabloid journalism, based on covert surveillance, deceit, trickery, concealing your identity, and a final Perry-Mason-like “gotcha” confrontation with the individual you have snared in your trap and deliberately caught off-guard. It’s the sensationalism and trivialization of journalism that the Watergate scandal and television shows like 60 Minutes inspired, as practiced by reporters who would rather “investigate” who a politician slept with than what the effect of his policies will be—and a quintessential example of the transgression of every normal and customary standard of human decency and respectful treatment that American and British journalists (and executives like Rupert Murdoch) so proudly and self-justifyingly feel their profession entitles them to. Cheaters has become the standard of excellence for the new journalism. It’s not about ethics; it’s about getting a big headline you can cite on your bio sheet.

Well, given that kind of “investigative” predilection, and that sense of what constitutes acceptable (and ethical) professional behavior, I guess no one should have been surprised that when Fiedler arrived at Boston University he chose to pursue a covert spying and surveillance policy against his own faculty members. He revealed to surprised college faculty last year that his office had had a long-standing policy of remotely electronically monitoring what faculty members printed on their computers (it’s amazing what can be done nowadays in that way), and subsequently revealed that he had authorized staff members to call telephone numbers faculty had dialed from their offices to check up on them (allegedly to verify whether college equipment was being used “properly”). The spying policy was divulged to the faculty in the form of a memo that attacked specific individuals for printing material that Fiedler did not approve of. When questioned about the extent of his surveillance activities at a subsequent faculty meeting—I was the questioner of course—Fiedler asserted his additional right to read the emails faculty send and receive (though he noted that he didn’t “have the time to do it,” as if that made a difference). Shades of News Corps’ Rupert Murdoch and Hewlett-Packard’s Patricia Dunn, with the major difference being that at least Murdoch and Dunn initially denied that they had authorized what they had, since they knew it was wrong, while Fiedler defended his right to do everything he did—and he and the BU administration continue to defend his right to continue to do it. At BU, it’s not only OK to spy on your faculty, but you don’t apologize for it or abandon the practice when you are forced to divulge it.

Can you imagine the climate of fear and intimidation this policy has created among faculty members—or the chilling effect it has had on faculty expression? Some faculty members have stopped using their office computers to print sensitive documents, stopped using their university email accounts to write anything important or confidential, stopped using their office telephones, and stopped using the Xerox machine—oh, I forgot to mention that, as one of his other administrative innovations, Fiedler had the faculty copier pulled out and requires that everything faculty members want to Xerox be left for 48 hours with one of his staffers to read and check its contents before the job is performed by the staffer on a locked machine controlled by the Dean. So much for the confidentiality of communications between faculty members or between faculty and the senior administration. If you copy a letter before you send the original off to the President or a member of the Board of Trustees (or copy anything else you want to send to anyone else), the Dean’s office gets to know about it before you’ve even put it in the envelope. (And remember you can’t just print out a duplicate on your computer, since printing is already covered by the Dean’s other surveillance practices.) That, by the way, is why I am writing this at home and e-mailing it to you from a non-BU account. If I didn’t, or if I printed this out on a university printer, my Dean could conceivably know that I was writing you—or what I was writing about—before you did. That’s the BU I and other faculty members know—the so-called “new BU” under the leadership of President Robert Brown.

I had initially assumed that many of the things I am describing (and particularly the attempts to control and censor what I write and say) were taking place “under the radar” of the most senior university administrators, but I was disabused of that notion in 2007 when my Chairman told me that many of the punitive actions he was taking against me to censor my publications (or to punish me for having published them) had been personally authorized by the Provost, the second most senior administrator in the university—a fact which the Provost (David Campbell) subsequently confirmed when I met with him in person to object to what was being done. (For the record, Campbell didn’t yield a nanometer. He told me he saw nothing wrong with censoring my publications, and that I should obey my Chairman’s dictates.) In the three or four years since then, I have made sure that the previous university Provost (David Campbell), the current Provost (Jean Morrison), and the President (Robert Brown) have been made fully aware of the events I am describing, by sending them reports and memos (or by sending them carbons of memos and reports I have sent to others) describing everything I have described here—and more. So nothing I have mentioned in this email is news to the Provost or President. Since none of the misconduct I have told them about has been stopped, or even questioned, the only possible conclusion is that it is endorsed and approved by the Provost and President. Only at BU would that not be surprising.

For five or six years now, I have done everything but get down on my knees in front of these administrators, both those in my college and those above them, either in person or via memo, to plead with them, to beg them for fair treatment and redress, but the obvious problem is that, at the level of my college, I am appealing to the very people who have been guilty of the mistreatment and unprofessional behavior I am asking to be remedied. I have written memo after memo and held meeting after meeting with my program Director, Chairman, and Dean, but the only reply (if I can dignify it with that word) I have received from any of them has been more name-calling, more sarcasm, more verbal abuse (shouts and attacks on my morals, character, and performance of my duties), more threats that I am not to talk or write about certain things, more anger, and more negative evaluations, hits on my pay, and withdrawals of research and other support, etc..

In a vicious circle, my appeals have actually been used against me on the grounds that, by appealing for fair treatment, I am being “difficult” and “uncollegial.” BU administrators have told me this over and over again when I have met with them in person. If I just stop making these reports and stop pointing out that administrators have failed to act on them (or, to all appearances, even to read them), I might stand a chance in the future of getting a better evaluation or a raise in my pay to make up, even slightly, for the past. (Do you get it? Is it clear why they would say this? Do you understand the bribe I am being offered to withdraw my reports of their misbehavior?)

Dean Fiedler’s first conversation with me on the subject can sum up the Catch-22, upside-down, inside-outness of the situation. When, a few months after he took over the Deanship, I sent him a memo detailing some of the unethical behavior I had witnessed in the College of Communication, and (after receiving no response for a number of months) asked to meet with him in person to discuss what I had sent him, he told me that my memo only confirmed what he had been told when he took over the Deanship, namely that I was a “troublemaker”—someone, he said, he had been “warned” to “watch out for.” In the light of that, he told me that what I had written about professional misconduct was of “no importance.” He didn’t take anything I wrote or told him seriously then—or since. He concluded the meeting by saying he hoped I would agree not to “make trouble” (i.e., not submit such reports) in the future. He laid it down as a condition he expected me to live up to if I wanted to restore myself to his good graces—and the good graces of other administrators. He called it “wiping the slate clean.” And that was the end of his response, the end of our meeting, and the end of the ethics inquiry. The ethical problem was me!—for writing what I had. And the only action to be taken was to be taken by me!—I was to stop making reports.

But I guess you can call me a hardened criminal, since I compounded my initial felony since that first meeting by continuing to write or visit Fiedler’s office (but only a few times, of course, since he’s made it more than clear on numerous occasions that he simply doesn’t want to hear about such things) to continue to express concerns about ethical issues, administrative misbehavior, transparency of decision-making, violations of procedure, treatment of faculty members who think differently from others, faculty review procedures, and related issues. Predictably enough, Fiedler’s subsequent responses have been even more rude, sarcastic, or nasty than they were at that first meeting—increasingly rude, sarcastic, and nasty—and of course my evaluations and pay (which he determines) have continued being negatively affected. My problem, my failure, the reason for the scornful, mocking words and the punishments? I continued to express ethical and procedural concerns.

The humor of it is that the Dean’s logic is actually unassailable since, once he’s defined submitting reports of ethical violations and professional misconduct as “making trouble,” I have to plead guilty to indeed having been a bona fide “trouble-maker”—in that definition of it. And, in that definition of it, I continue to “make trouble” right up into the present, every time I submit another report about a problem. With each statement I make, the Dean is clearly more exasperated with me than he was the last time. By this point, three or four years into the process, his responses have ceased being either thoughtful or logical (not that they were so eminently thoughtful or logical even in our first meeting): they have descended to sheer mockery, sarcasm, name-calling, and the “pissing in your soup” vulgar insult I already quoted. Fiedler clearly doesn’t want reports of ethical and behavioral “trouble” to cross his desk—just like the administrators at Penn State didn’t want them to cross theirs. He wants positive stories and good news. He wants “team spirit” (and, if you can believe it, actually showed a sports video to the faculty to make the point!). He wants “salesmanship” and “brand identification.” He wants flattering press releases. In his (corporate/sports-nut) view, that’s what a professor is paid for. My reports and meetings with him about ethical issues obviously don’t fit into those categories or perform those services. They “make trouble” for him, which is reason enough, once he has committed himself to this view of the function of a Dean/Coach and the function of a professor/team member, to punish and retaliate against me. Quod erat demonstrandum. What part of “stop telling me about ethical issues” don’t I understand?

The chief difference from the Penn State situation that I can see is that the Penn State events apparently consisted of an administrator simply not responding to a “troubling” report, while Fiedler has taken a much more active stance and decided to “shoot the messenger”—to punish me financially, bureaucratically, and personally (with verbal abuse)—for bringing him the message. So, you see, that’s my crime: I have told and, like a complete fool, continue to tell my Dean things he doesn’t want to hear and refuses to listen to. That’s the man President Brown chose as the successor to the previous Dean, to restore ethical conduct and respectful faculty treatment to the College of Communication. Welcome to BU. Welcome to my world. Ah, the joys of the academy and the life of the mind, and the deep satisfaction of devoting your life to an institution committed, as President Brown frequently boasts, to the highest standards of ethical conduct.

As I say, I have sent long, detailed memos (or copies of reports submitted to others) to the current Provost (Morrison) and President (Brown) describing the behavior of the individuals in my college and the unprofessional treatment and unethical behavior I have witnessed and been subject to, appealing for fair treatment and redress. And what has been the result? I have yet to receive a single sentence in the way of a reply, an invitation to meet with them to discuss the issues I have raised, or seen any change whatsoever in the treatment I am receiving. (I have waited months for a response from either one, and have even written follow-up memos reminding them about the original memos, which they also never responded to.) If a university administrator can’t even be bothered to respond to a memo about serious ethical violations from a long-serving, senior, tenured professor—let alone take action based on it—he or she is clearly not interested in addressing serious ethical issues.

Call it one more manifestation of the Penn State see-and-hear-no-evil syndrome. Middle-level administrators (my program Director, my Chairman, and my Dean) ignore my appeals for fair treatment since they would be admitting their own present and past misbehavior and culpability. And senior-level administrators (the university Provost and President) are unable to sympathetically enter into the situation of someone who is so far below them (Jerry Sandusky’s victims, or me in this instance—not that I am equating myself with them). BU is very top-heavy administratively (and very top-down in its management style) and faculty do their jobs many layers down, near the bottom of the totem pole. I can only conclude either that the bad behavior is taking place so many levels below the President and Provost that it is effectively “invisible” (notwithstanding my detailed reports) from the skyscraper heights they inhabit, or that it is too dangerous for them to deal with, since dealing with it would involve rattling the cages of the administrators below them who perpetrated the situation—or who, at least, repeatedly turned a blind eye toward my reports of it. Since the individuals guilty of the misbehavior undoubtedly deny that anything untoward has taken place, it becomes easy for the President and Provost to pretend that nothing happened. As at Penn State, when in doubt, put your head in the sand. To quote the lyric to the old song: Out of sight; out of mind. It’s easier to look the other way and deny ethical problems exist than to go to all the trouble of dealing with them. “Denial”—in every sense of the concept—is a major BU administrative coping strategy, at all levels.

I am tenured; I cannot easily be fired (baring a trumped-up morals charge against me, which might sound like a sick joke, but given the Nixonian dirty tricks I have already been subject to—like the secret meetings administrators held with my students to say nasty things about me—nothing is beyond the realm of possibility). Tenure is supposed to grant me the right to speak my mind and teach my courses without fear or retaliation; but the treatment I have received obviously raises questions about what is tenure worth at Boston University? Not very much apparently. If you say something university administrators don’t like, they can make your relation to your colleagues so unbearable, the performance of your duties so difficult, and your mentoring of students so untenable—in short, make your life so hellish—that they will succeed in making you quit in disgust and discouragement, tenure or no tenure. That’s clearly what they have been trying to do to me. At BU, tenure is, in effect, worthless.

Well, that’s a very long answer to a very short question. Forgive any typos in the preceding. I am writing quickly. It was early in the evening when I started, but it’s now well past midnight. Yikes! And sorry for the length. I’ve undoubtedly told you more than you wanted to know; but, if you can believe it, there is more to say about all of these issues—and many other instances of administrative misconduct and ethical violation at BU. (It’s a basic principle that if someone is capable of the kinds of unprofessional and unethical behavior I have described, they are capable of others.) I’ve left out a lot. I have hundreds of pages of memos and reports documenting additional events. But this will do for now. Basta. Thanks for reading this far—if you did!

I wish you well in your work, Jon. You are truly one of the most important living artists, and I only hope I can do justice to your work in the book I am writing. The sooner I finish, the better to celebrate the importance of your films and your personal example. Keep going. It matters—all the more in the world we find ourselves living in. As a greater man than I said: “Truth and love will triumph over lies and hate.” Given my experience at BU, I sometimes have my doubts, but we have to keep believing that is true. It’s the only way to live our lives.

All best wishes.

Cordially,

Ray

Ray Carney
Professor of Film and American Studies

Author of: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies (Cambridge University Press); The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World (Cambridge University Press); Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer (Cambridge University Press); American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra (Cambridge University Press/University Press of New England); American Dreaming (University of California Press at Berkeley); Shadows (British Film Institute/Macmillan); Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber/Farrar Straus); The Adventure of Insecurity; Necessary Experiences; Why Art Matters; What’s Wrong with Film Criticism; and other books, essays, and editions.

Web site: http://www.Cassavetes.com (suspended at the demand of my Chairman and Dean)

Mailing address:
Prof. Ray Carney
College of Communication
640 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston University
Boston, MA 02215

Office telephone: 617-353-5976
Office e-mail address: rcarney@bu.edu

What this little tale tells is in keeping with a broader phenomenon in America: the steady seep of corruption into all levels of our society, a hand-maiden to the take-over of corporations, with their financial power warping all aspects of life in America.   I will do another post on this in the near future.

Meantime support the Spring Occupation where ever you live.

ADDENDUM:

The following is a response to this posting from the President of Boston University, Robert Brown:

April 1, 2012
Dear Mr. Jost:
It is inappropriate for me to comment externally on faculty performance and university personnel matters.  Boston University has well established and fair processes for faculty members to bring forward grievances.  Sometimes they do not like the answers that result.
Sincerely,
Bob Brown
President
Boston University

This is, naturally, the kind of response one can expect from corporatized souls, reciting like a mantra cliche phrases defending their institution.  Boston University in truth has a good track record of harassing faculty who don’t toe the proper political line of the administration.  Howard Zinn is the most visible case.   The response to the letter I sent to Mr Brown some 6 or so years ago, was pretty much the same boiler-plate corporatese CYA.    Our universities have long been the subject of scathing novels on the petty politics of internal department politics, bloated egos, etc., and recently, as in the case of Penn State, of pure unmitigated corruption.  Universities are now very big business, with spin-off research institutions, close ties to corporate interests, sports incomes, and of course their original mission of “education” has been duly corrupted in process.  They largely function as farm systems for corporate interests.  Along the way they charge exorbitantly for their “services” and leave their students, clearly as part of a larger social project, with a massive debt in loans, which puts those clients on a treadmill of corporate servitude.  Student loans are particularly odious as most are structured precisely to put the borrower in an untenable position, under the lash.  It is clearly a purposeful system as the universities are transparently part of the larger social con in which it is insisted that without a vaunted degree one will get nowhere in life.  It has all degenerated into a cruel farce in which corruption is the moral, ethical, economic, social and political norm.   These universities play a significant role on constructing this fraud.

The upcoming Presidential election is in full swing, with the Republican Party seemingly intent on committing suicide in full public view.  Leading off with their endless “debates,” in which the vapidity of the self-chosen nominees was put on full display – - or is it newly-minted billionaire superPAC anointed?    Then segueing into the primaries, the GOP has managed to compound its folly with the media-hyped roller-coaster shifting of favored dunces bouncing wildly from Cain to Romney to Perry to Gingrich with some of the lesser lights in their dim world cast aside earlier – Michelle and Sarah, and most recently landing in the lap of Rick Santorum.  Traversing the nation, this circus seems to live in some other-world bubble, firmly detached from the every day realities of the ostensible public to which they appeal for votes.  Of course in most states this particular public is winnowed down to the narrow band of Republican stalwarts who vote in these primaries – strident ideologues, racists, Christian fundamentalists and evangelists, and those who genuflect at the altar of St Reagan, patron of the party, even if in these times, like Eisenhower, he would be vilified for the actual things he did (raise taxes, critique the military-industrial complex).  Of these things those of the current Grand Old Party can hardly be bothered to notice: facts are distinctly not within their peripheral vision, not to mention in-your-face.

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St Reagan

With nary a hint of irony, these would-be political leaders all fall into lock-step, as rigid as that of the Third Reich or the unlamented long-gone USSR.  Bedecked in mandatory stiff suits for their debates, American flag lapel pin correctly shown, or “common folk” jeans and plaid when on the hustings, they preach a gospel of “family values,” of “bring back America” and a long litany of sure-fire cliches as fraudulent as their own selves.   Between the lines are racist cue words, carefully placed.   One by one, caught up in messes of their own making – sexual, financial, “ethical” or “political” they march to the gangplank and leap.   What the Great American Public actually thinks of these people – mired in hypocrisy, transparently bought and sold in the new Supreme Court version of “free speech” in which the ancient axiom of America “money talks and bullshit walks” was given legal sanction – is presumably to be deciphered in the tea-leave readings of our vaunted “pundits” who presume to have their fingers on the pulse of the nation, though they seem only to talk to the somnambulant zombies residing “inside the Beltway.”

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One is told that the vast American public learns everything on television, a medium some time ago seized by profit-minded corporate moguls who naturally attempt to seize any medium which demonstrates that it indeed reaches masses of people, or, in their minds, “clients” or “customers.”   Mass communications equals big numbers, and hence, big profits.   And so news became a commodity, just like anything else, and in keeping with the capitalist impulse to place money uber alles, the news had to be repackaged to be more attractive, exciting, and engaging.    So, like the dazzlingly packaged bag of puffed sugar/salt coated air carefully placed before your eyes at the check-out counter – a bag scientifically designed to catch the eye, and full of substances designed to be nearly addictive  (like cigarettes), and for sure you “just can’t stop eatin’ them,” the “news” also morphed into a high-profit margin substance full of air and little else. And so we got celebrity news, famous name violence (AJ on the Freeway), and whatever else seemed to hook the biggest audience for the longest time, the better to feed them the sin qua non of American television:  advertisements.

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At the same time “serious” news got shoved into the background, unless,  as in the events of 9/11, it is forced by circumstances to the headlines.  See, for example, the history of OWS and the news organizations. The news, shifted to being a conduit for profiteering, like any entertainment, is altered and takes on a curious semblance to “commercial” television and filmmaking: heavy on stupid comedy, sex and violence.  Very thin on serious “content.”

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String-pullers, media moguls Jeffrey Bewkes and Sumner Redstone

String-puller supreme: Rupert Murdoch (wire-tapping)

Not content with merely shaping the consumer desires of the populace, once having demonstrated through the wiles of Madison Avenue the effectiveness of advertising, as well as through scientific social research which focused ever more exactly on how to manipulate the consumer – so that now many people proudly wear the corporate emblems of the products which they purchase, be it high-end clothing, or bottom-end costly Nike shoes, or anything between – the corporations realized that they could themselves write “the news” and go directly to pure propaganda:  Fox “News.”   In a manner far more directly than their network predecessors, which reported news of a narrowed, provincial, “about/of concern to America” range, the new systems dispense with any pretense to objectivity.  Of course, in Orwellian language, they claim the opposite: “fair and balanced” they loudly announce as the exact opposite spews over the airwaves.

Draped in the requisite red-white-n’-blue, culled by a systemically corrupt order in which only certain things may be said, and certain things may not be said (for example, with regard to cutting the government deficit one must not mention the biggest and most needless hog at the trough – the military-industrial complex), our political process coughs forth these puppets, who with no small irony echo those of our arch-nemesis of not-so-long-ago, or the present.  The particularities of the costumes may be a little different – stars & stripes instead of hammer and sickle – but the genuflection to a given style is exactly the same.

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Chinese PolitburoUS Congress

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Bequeathed the toxic legacy of the Bush administration – a massive deficit incurred by tax cuts for the rich combined with two unpaid for failing wars, the lack of enforcement of existing regulatory laws and a peel back of regulation in general, and the fiscal bubble it provoked bursting shortly after the 2008 election – Barack Obama entered his office under the dark clouds of an economic crisis for which Republican policies were almost wholly responsible.   They have spent the last 3 years doing what they could both to prolong the economic trauma for Americans, and to shift the blame onto Obama and his policies.   It is a case of pure hard-core right-wing politics, no matter what the damages to the nation.  The consequences are the massive foreclosures, loss of jobs, and the human misery it produces.  Naturally the right blames the victims for their situation.  Class warfare in action.

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Foreclosure heaven

“Creative destruction”

Following 3 years of being pummeled by the Republicans – a process which began the day of his inauguration, and perhaps culminating in the Astro-turfed Tea Party events of last year – President Obama has seemingly stood aloof, distant from the political fray.  And seemingly he was whipped one time after another.   With each seeming triumph the rabble and potentates of the right smelled blood and upped the ante, moving in for the kill:  Boehner stated simply that his work as Speaker of the House was to assure Obama had only one term, and he very much acted out that role, painting himself in purely negative terms.  Others questioned Obama’s legitimacy, whether he was “American” at all.  Throughout this  scourging Obama remained largely silent, drawing to himself critiques of a failure to fight in equal kind to  the vulgar abuses dished out by the voices of the right – from Limbaugh onto the various personages vying for the Republican nomination.  As the vocal turmoil mounted, Obama seemed almost to disappear.   And now, whipped to a frenzy, those on the right, in their eagerness to produce a corpse, have interestingly turned on themselves.  Denied the victim they wanted, who declined the role, the Republican nominees are slicing and dicing one another.

Sitting back these last months, Barack Obama has been gifted this bloodletting by his ostensible opponents, and one imagines he recalls another famous African-American, who likewise bore a Muslim name, and likewise incensed the fury of our legions of racists.   In his profession he had a tactic, which bears some similarity to the political moves of Obama.  He called it rope-a-dope.  He’d let his opponent spend himself in a fury of punches, exhausting himself, while he, Muhammed Ali, laid back against the ropes, seemingly being whupped.  Once the flourish of energy spent was finished, he’d bounce back and deliver the coup de grace.  It was a kind of pugilistic Zen, of a kind Obama appears to exercise in politics.

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Ironically, in this theater of the political absurd, it is the king-makers of the “elite” ruling class who are likely to have the last laugh.  Once all the grand media drama of the election has subsided, and the fulminating of ideologues has drifted into momentary silence, and the votes have been cast (and perhaps, if necessary, jiggled, as recent history indicates is becoming our norm), those eminences, hiding behind their Wizard of Oz curtain, will doubtless be pleased with the success of their latest shell game.   After all the sturm und drang, indeed, the best and most useful Republican in the field will have triumphed:  Barack Obama.   Carefully masked as a “liberal” in the last election, this time around he is clearly put forward as a domestic, somewhat centrist Republican, though calling himself a “Democrat.”  He can do this thanks to having spent the last 3 years being vilified by the mindless shriekers of the right as a Kenyan anti-imperialist “socialist” (unsaid, “nigger”) who is, OMG, trying to turn the nation into a servile European-style welfare state.  Tarred with this, his actions on domestic matters slip easily into the mold of old-time mainstream Republican policies.  Which makes those behind the curtains happy.  And on the foreign front, Barack is happy to drones away whomever disturbs American imperial prerogatives, never mind the Constitutionality of it.  And likewise, while feigning to curb the ravenous appetite of the military-industrial complex, our biggest feeder at the Federal welfare trough, the figures show nothing of the kind.  Rather the numbers are shifted to focus on our new very costly very high-tech kind of warfare in which 10 million dollar Hell-Fire missiles are used to take out a few peasant guerrillas at a time.   Mr. Obama not only pursues this policy, he seems to relish it.  A virtual warrior on behalf of the empire.

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Manchurian candidate Barack Obama and the Harvard Class of 1991

Of course, this scenario might have a monkey-wrench thrown in it should the OWS emerge from its winter hibernation having learned from its militarized-police-imposed FBI/CIA nationally coordinated attack, and accompanying corporate-media rub-out, that it needs to acquire some new tactics.  I’m inclined to think they’ve taken this seeming down-time to hone their thoughts.  It was only 6 months ago that any national discussion about class warfare, income disparities, the 1%, or the ugly consequences of yahoo capitalism was simply unthinkable, totally taboo!  Without recourse to the governing establishment’s usual requirements – appearing on Sunday talk shows, having a clear bullet-point agenda, a “leader,” a party,  and all the rest – OWS seized the high-ground and pressed these issues into the national consciousness and discourse.  No small feat in our highly manipulated society.  The 1% are no longer invisible or chronically lauded; rather they are criticized and their actual actions are under scrutiny.   Whether their shell-game with Mr Obama will suffice to smother the discontent brewing across the nation remains to be seen.

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Gary Beydler, 16mm film, Hand Held Day (1970)Trader, NY Stock ExchangeForeclosureRustbelt, DetroitTornado, Grand Island, NebraskaMitt Romney and Rick Perry, Presidential aspirantsNina Mannering, killed at 29 in meth’ed out Ohio townMap, Jasper JohnsAttica State Prison, New YorkOccupy, SeattleOccupy, OaklandTodd Morten, Scott’s Bluff, Ne.Hank Williams
George Kuchar, 1942-2011Paramount Cinema, Oakland, Ca.

Rupturing through the slick apathy of corporatized America, where last the semblance of public utterance was underwritten by the Koch brothers in the form of the Tea Party, this autumn found another voice.  Unlike the AstroTurf patriots of the tri-corner hat costumed shills of wealth, whose origins were transparent in their corporate logo mass-produced placards, the Occupy Wall Street movement – triggered by the example of the Arab Spring, fueled with Twitter and Facebook and ironically their corporate heft, as well as seeded by the Canadian anti-corporate magazine Adbusters – is instead truly a grass-roots phenomenon, as signaled in their simple hand-made singular signs.  Willfully lacking “leaders,” the Occupy movement has baffled our “authorities,” be they of the government or pundits representing the ruling class, all of whom take hierarchical order as a natural state of affairs and cannot comprehend its absence.   At its outset, occupying Zuccotti Park in New York City, OWS was seen as a brief quirk, a small cluster of mostly college kids camping in downtown Manhattan.  Palin’s “lame-stream” press did its best to ignore them, in a manner tipping its corporate hand:  when the Tea Party entered the scene the coverage was instant and massive.  But of course, hidden behind the screen, it was their party, supporting corporate interests.   OWS was certainly not theirs, and in the classic Pravda style of the good old USSR, if they didn’t report it, it wouldn’t exist.   And so the major media of America issued its black-out fatwa, very much as the Mubarak regime had done, and officially Occupy Wall Street vanished from view.  But, just as in Egypt, the internet provided the mechanism for an end-run around the the views of officialdom, and rather than withering in a matter of days, variants of OWS began to pop up around the country.  Flummoxed, authorities applied their usual remedies:  police were used to cordon and attack, rules were suddenly applied or invented.  And yet with each maneuver of suppression the movement gained support and within a short period, despite repeated attempts at official suppression and ridicule from the punditry, Occupy Wall Street managed to gain from 47 to 70% favorable polling (depending on which), and the national conversation drastically shifted from discussing how to slash Social Security or Medicare, into  discussing how it was that 1% of the population sucked up most the wealth, had bought the government and the press, and had pretty much ruined things for the 99% below them.  All in six weeks.  Without a “leader.”  Without a talking-point agenda.  Without going on one of the TV network talk shows, or Sunday morning political platforms.  Without all the requisites of corporate dictated politics.

Whether in its current form Occupy manages to survive, or develops into a potent political force, it can reasonably be said that it has already been a massive success in articulating the rage underlying our political and economic system.   Without presenting a platform or a list of requested demands, it has made clear that our economic system is utterly out of balance and does not serve the larger public, and it has pointed the finger at the Masters of the Universe who occupy the suites of Wall Street and K Street, and dictate to our corrupted politicians – from Barack Obama to Mitch O’Connell and on out to the far-right extremes of those presently running for the Republican nomination.   In changing the national conversation from the bullet points of neo-liberalist economics and neo-con foreign policy, it has made a major contribution already towards correcting the insanity which has engulfed our national politics.

Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin

George Kuchar sees the futureScott Olsen, Iraq war vet attacked by Oakland policeFrom Nathaniel Dorsky’s “The Visitation”

Autumn has arrived here in Seoul a bit late – the leaves aren’t yet turned, though in the last days a hint of cold arrived.  Perhaps, as was this past summer, autumn will be truncated – a more direct shift to the oblique light and harder temperatures of this hemisphere’s winter.    In my life the change is also signaled other ways:  the body seems a bit more cranky, prone to morning pains.  On the left side of my torso a bulge near the groin suggests another hernia operation, slap in a piece of plastic meshing to do what the muscle wall no longer can.   Maybe next week.  And, as drifted by in previous years, autumn, at this age, induces autumnal thoughts – pondering if this may or may not be one’s last.   Other changes carry the same tonal shift:  singular again.  And again, no longer employed, back upon the tight-rope of fiscal insecurity.  In my case, it is something needed, and already I feel the juices of creative urges running – somehow my soul works better without a safety net.   Two weeks ago, shoved into a self-made corner, managed to shoot a new film – 60-80 minutes long I imagine, shot in less than 3 days on tsunami ravaged island near Sendai, Japan.  Devastatingly simple, I think it should be strong.  With help from Moe Toema, young woman who took my workshop in Tokyo and speaks English well thanks to 3 years in Australia.

We arrived in the morning, meeting up with a man who works with a non-profit organization.  He took us on a little drive around the island, introduced us to some people.   I did a handful of shots of the place, got a sense of things.  We stayed overnight in a kind of B&B guest home, slightly damaged by the quake – things out of line – but on high-ground and untouched by tsunami.  Excellent fresh seafood dinner.  Next day we went to shoot some people, not interviews but coaxing them to talk about their experience during the earthquake and then tsunami.  For the most part it worked well, with Moe figuring out how to keep them going without talking herself – lots of nods and smiles.  Lighting and set-ups were catch as catch can: I wanted blank backgrounds and in haste found what I needed; lighting was whatever was there.  Got six of these, ranging from 6 minutes to 15 minutes long.  Moe suggests what is said was interesting, so I think there’s a short feature in it.  I figure to round up some Japanese poems or haiku’s about earthquakes and tsunamis, find some old graphics or paintings around the same, and get it all done by the end of November.

The man above, a fisherman, was swept away by the tsunami, and managed to grab hold of something for dear life, and survived.   Shooting him was its own little adventure – a little ferry ride to another island to which he’d moved, Moe’s deadline to get back to Tokyo in time to make a medical appointment, and the crush of time.  When we got to his house Moe told me we had five minutes before we had to go back to catch the return ferry in time to make her train.  We walked in, I sized up a place to set him, shot for 7 minutes and as we were leaving to walk back the man said he had a little pickup truck and he’d drive us.  I shot from the back while he drove and Moe worried I’d fall out as we bounced along the ravaged once-road.  I had fun, it all reminding me of long ago days of shooting while sitting unharnessed on the hood of a pickup truck (opening shot of Last Chants for a Slow Dance) and other such things.  We made the ferry with about 30 seconds to spare.  The whole wham-bam two and a half day shoot seems to have rejuvenated my creative spirits.

Nakai-san and Moe TomoedaAbstracted tsunami

While I was in Japan, another kind of tsunami seems to have risen – an echo of the Tunisian, and then Egyptian and then Libyan uprisings: our own Occupy Wall Street.   Triggered by the mix of social networking tools, an economy in a deep swoon, and the utter arrogance and disconnected manner of our ruling elite – financiers, politicians and their courtiers all – a small minority of people have decided to speak and act out.   They occupied a small privately managed park near Wall Street, camping out.   At the outset it was a pitifully small number – a few hundred.  The press and local authorities initially simply ignored them as if they were unworthy of notice.   They stayed.  Slowly through the internet news was spread.  The mainstream press – including such allegedly “liberal” papers at the New York Times – then reported, but in a petulant and snide manner – both in articles and on their opinion pages.  Right-wing media began to ventilate.   And yet OWS grew, and branches began to sprout around the country – in Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even in places where such protest was virtually unknown: Tampa, South Carolina, Denver.   Again the numbers were small, but despite hostile press and politicians, they kept growing.  Their tactics seemed to confuse the “authorities” who fumbled with evicting such camps, surrounding them with heavy police forces, and most recently attacking them.   As if they could learn nothing from the recent history of our Arabic friends, with each effort at suppression by authorities and the media, the participants grew, and a reading of polls showed that a majority (53 to 70%  depending on which poll) of Americans were supportive.  This, in contrast to the Tea Party of last year, which the press gave wide coverage, and where the police were invisible despite the many gun-carrying TP people, provided a clear lesson in how America is presently run.  In turn OWS and its off-shoots enlarged again, and finally the mainstream press began to report in something other than a negative manner, and started to pick up on issues raised by OWS.  Clearly it had grown too big to ignore.

Occupy Albany, NYOccupy Atlanta, Ga.Occupy ChicagoOccupy Wall Street

Occupy !

Confronted with a national uprising rooted in the real problems which beset the country, and which declines to enter into the binary Republican/Democrat so-called two-party system, the governmental authorities – acting at the behest of their corporate masters – are showing their impatience, and in the last few weeks have begun to carry out heavy-handed policing actions such as the entrapment on the Brooklyn Bridge and now in the forced closure of Occupy camps across the country.  The most visible case of such tactics was demonstrated in Oakland, where police used tear-gas, stun grenades, and seriously injured an Iraq war vet.  By such mis-steps do the government and the corporations it supports, show their hand transparently.   Like Mubarak, like Gaddafi, their recourse is to force when they are unable any longer to dissuade with fraudulent politics.

Police in Oakland, Ca.Oakland, Ca.

Scott Olsen, hit by tear gas bomb which fractured his skull

There is no question that those who rule America will behave exactly like those who ruled Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, when push comes to shove.  They will not leave willingly, nor admit their errors, nor concede any power.  They will if necessary deploy the military and declare martial law and institute a police-state.  They have already done many things towards this end.  Under Bush there were “free speech” areas cordoned off, where the Constitution allegedly applied – though “free speech” is a Constitutional right and should be allowed anywhere in the USA.   By such means are “rights” diminished – such as habeus corpus, which the Patriot Act deleted in many cases.  Step by step our corporate masters, acting under the guise of the government, are reducing America to a version of the USSR:  a defunct economy, a bloated military, and rampant corruption among the elite – socialism for the rich, and “capitalism” for the poor.

I encourage everyone to fully support the Occupy movement: with your body, with your voice, with whatever support you can give.

From the Bode Museum, Berlin

This summer, it seemed, was different.  Certainly for me, on a personal level, it provided a sharp change.  For one, I decided to quit my nice cushy first-ever job, as a “Distinguished Professor” at Korea’s Yonsei University.  It was about as easy as you could imagine, more or less a casual day’s work per week for around 7 months of the academic schedule, decent enough pay in a place one can live quite inexpensively, plus a fat discount at a first-rate hospital.   I’d been there four years and for a complex stack of reasons I decided to call it quits, though they wanted me to stay.  Somewhere else I’ll write some of it, but the real seeming problem was that security doesn’t fit me well, and having it seemed to act as a damper on things I seem to care about more.   So I canned the job, the pay, and am back on the tight-rope at 68.

I took a planned trip to Europe, the only really compelling reason for which was to join up with my wife, Marcella, and have some time with her.  I had a week in London, and then met up with her in her hometown, Matera, down in southern Italy.   A few days after arriving, in a gentle way, she said she’d like to part ways.  It wasn’t at all what I wished to hear, though I’d inwardly known it would come some day, some how, for some reason.  Marcella is 34; I am 68.  In the back of my mind, when I’d said OK for her to go off and do a scholarship thing in close-by Potenza, back in December, I seem to have understood that being back home, among people more her age, in the comfort of her own culture, it was likely she’d feel the urge to stay.  And seems I was right.   And I understand only too well:  it’s what she needs for her own life, to step out on her own, gain her self-confidence, learn that she is able to survive, enjoy, live on her own.   I needed the same thing long ago, at a much younger age, and it is something I certainly understand.  And, perhaps, after this many spins around the sun, I see love can be given many tints, and I love Marcella and see this is what is right for her.  I’ll manage, no problem.   We – Marcella and I – still love, just in another way.  She’s in Madrid now, doing her internship at the Filmoteca Espanol.  We talk almost every day.

Constable cloud study at the V&A, London

While the USA got a roiling spring and summer of hyper-tornadoes, torrential rains, heat-waves, and now hurricanes – all somewhat “normal” except it seems now on steroids – in Europe it was another story.  A summer – the 2nd one in a row – that more or less wasn’t.  Instead, where I was – in southern Italy, a brief stay in Rome, then Berlin and Paris and Brussels and Amsterdam and back to Paris – it was mostly rainy and overcast, and generally a bit on the cool side.  In all of July and August a fistful of sunny days, a few warm, but mostly wet and cool – it usually felt more like autumn than summer.  Naturally people complained at this change in the seasonal expectations, though had it been a sizzling August as once seemed the normal, they’d complain about that too.

Back in Korea friends reported, as did the news, torrential monsoon rains that flooded the center of Seoul – rains that never stopped and tropical-style heat to go with it.  They too complained about the summer that wasn’t.

Joplin, Mo., springtimeMid-west America, spring 2011Gangnam, Seoul

In the broader world – in Europe, in the USA, and everywhere connected to them – the summer was one of a kind of roller-coaster economic thrill ride, though one almost guaranteed to run off the tracks.  While the politicians and economists tried to put a good face on it, between the lines one could read panic:  it seems not only did America and some parts of Europe (the PIIGS) go out for a few decades on a plastic spending binge they couldn’t pay back, so did everyone else.  And it seems the same dubious money was shuffled from this bank to that, to shore up the same bad deals.  Now the chickens are home to roost, and the big boys of France and Germany are quivering as their banks are deeply exposed to the debts of Greece, Italy, Spain and all the rest.  And behind them, so are America’s banks.  So once again, mimicking 2008, there is a vast rustling in the back rooms as the Bilderberg crew try to keep their “market” system cranking against all evidence.  They built a house of cards, one which for the most part the public bought into, and now that house is collapsing.

On a close-up personal level that means my little stack of Korean Won just shrank about 6% in the last week as the undercurrent of lousy news about Korea has hit “the market.”   Like their brethren in the USA and Europe, Korea’s biggest  construction firms went out on a limb, over-built on spec, and now as property prices are headed south, and there’s a surfeit of apartments and offices, those big chaebols are dancing near bankruptcy.  And the Won caves with them.   So my little savings stash takes a hit – thing is I’d expected it.  Any money can just go poof in a second since the money in and of itself is a pure abstraction: when the social contract as to what it means dissolves it even makes for lousy toilet paper.


And so globally the extravagant decades of the recent past are closing down, the $5 coffees, and designer nouvelle cuisine, the vacations in the south Pacific, the second homes, 3rd cars, and endless “credit” are all together shriveling, and neither our politicians, nor those who ran up their personal debt (heavily encouraged to do so by their friends at the bank) know what to do.   So unemployment, foreclosures, and other economic unpleasantries, along with the natural corollary, social tension and anger, are the consequence.   And this – in Europe, in America – becomes a political explosion.

Unhappy GreeksUnhappy ParisiansUnhappy BritsUnhappy Italians

Unhappy American on Wall Street

It was, it seems, an unhappy summer – the gloom of weather reflecting the political climate, whether in the relentless rains of Asia, or the cool gray of Europe, or the torrid heat of the US.   A summer of discontent.  Of course in other parts of the world it was perhaps different: the Arab spring bled, literally, into the Arab summer as the revolt against Gaddafi and Assad carried on, one with a rather heavy assist from NATA/USA (lots of oil there), and the other with limp words (not much oil).   The uncertainty of a rosy future seems to have seeped into the global consciousness, a sense of impending doom pervading the landscape.  Or doom is far too heavy a word – rather the happy-go-lucky excesses of our immediate past seem challenged, and perhaps for many the idea of dumpster-diving seems impossible after a decade or two of costly cups of coffee, or flipping houses, or whichever had become a seeming norm.  Staring into the future from that vantage point, there doesn’t appear to be one.

Wall Street protestors

Minimally reported by America’s corporately owned and controlled press (especially television), there have been in the last week protests at the altar of our holy church of the market, Wall Street.  While merely an outward manifestation of the current economic squeeze, this is but the harbinger of what will doubtless come about as our grand house-of-cards-and-illusions system collapses in on itself.   For the moment fear rules – a carefully cultivated and purposeful fear, stoked in the last decade and more by the hidden hands of real power.   It is the fear that you, like your neighbor, may lose your job, or your house may be foreclosed, or that some other most tangible material economic truth may smash your illusions.  So one hunkers down, does not speak, hopes the storm will blow over….

Yemeni protestor

But it will not harmlessly – to you, or I – blow over.  It is like the lull of the phony war at the end of the 1930′s, when Europe deluded itself and then fell into a cataclysm of war.   We like to think we “learned the lesson” – of the Great Depression, or of how something like WW2 just couldn’t happen again.  We like to think “adults” and learned persons now run the world.  A look at America’s Presidential candidates should be enough to disabuse even the most stupid person of such thoughts, but it is not so – today a look at the world’s “leaders” should be enough to prepare one for the worst.   The future’s crystal ball seems occluded, and what hints the present gives tilts towards the negative.  Whatever tomorrow holds, it seems likely to be worse than today.   Small wonder the summer seems glum.   Winter is approaching.

Future’s wake

No, it’s not the set of some avant garde director, doing an updated version of a Beckett play.  Nor, as some would have it, is it a diabolical “act of god.”   Instead it’s the face of a life upturned in the most drastic of ways.  Surrounding this young woman are hundreds or thousands of the just-dead, buried beneath the detritus scattered by the forces of nature, forces perfectly natural and comprehensible, and which show themselves periodically in Japan, and elsewhere too.  These days, with far more humans on the planet, and our technologically instantaneous communications network, these events are no longer mysterious and hidden, but are immediately flashed around the globe.  What once insulated humanity from its traumatic moments has been dissolved by the internet.

Tahrir Square, CairoLibyan rebels in retreatGaddafi supporter as loyalist troops advance

Shunted momentarily to the background, and then abruptly shoved again to the front pages, events in the middle-east carry on unabated, though having taken a sharp turn from the Twittered Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia, and the largely peaceful over-throw of Mubarak in Egypt.  The youth-led wired generation there was, at least to outward semblances, victorious.  In Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya the same youth-driven forces have instead met with the brutal real-politic of resident “strongmen” – Gaddafi, Bahrain’s king Sheikh Hamad bin Isa, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.  Some of these are America’s supposed “enemies” while others are our firm “friends.”  All of them though are resisting the Jasmine changes with the same old tools they have employed for decades: force, torture, repression.  In the case of our “friends” this is nothing that we haven’t known about, and tacitly approved – selling weapons, surveillance equipment, or sometimes renting out their torture facilities, and of course in most cases, buying their oil.

Pick the good one or the bad one

Since the conclusion of World War Two American policy in the middle-east has always been twisted and warped by our car-oil fetish, with one side of our mouth talking “democracy and freedom” and the other doing “pragmatism.”   This had gone on previously, though masked by British and French and Italian colonialism.  At the end of the war, those fell apart and America stepped into the breach – a vacuum further complicated by the new presence of Europe’s off-shored bigotry problem in the form of Israel.   Since then Washington’s policies have been a hypocritical mixture of the usual American “idealism” of preaching “democracy and freedom” while pursuing actual policies  which involved everything from subverting and overthrowing legitimate elections, as in Iran in 1952, to simply going to bed with whatever “strongman” suited our cold-war/oil-addiction policies.  For more than half a century we largely supported such sorts, supplying them with arms, “intelligence,” and tacit and overt support of behaviors which blatantly and obviously – especially to the locals – contradicted our idealist claims.  Sprinkling our military liberally throughout the area, we generated a lot of well-deserved hatred.   And now, our vaunted, multi-billion dollar “intelligence community” has once again been caught pants down, utterly blind-sided by events of the last few months.   Washington races to keep up, trying to tally the “pragmatic” costs of supporting or not, this or that Twitter revolution, calculating whether to support, deny, or simply be silent in the face of the upheavals brought about by that invention of the American military, the internet, and its subsequent “social networking” tools which turn out to have an impact far from just cluing friends into the next party.

Colonel Gaddafi having perhaps made a miscalculation French aerial attack on Gaddafi forces near Benghazi

In a similar manner was another miscalculation made, one not against the behavior of other men and political mechanisms, but against nature.  Since the early 60′s, when plate tectonics as a science developed, and our understanding of the structure of the earth’s crust became clearer, events such as cataclysmic volcanic eruptions,  Vesuvius in ancient days, or Krakatoa more recently, or major earthquakes, such as that which leveled Lisboa in 1755 or the 9.5 Richter scale one which hit Chile, or the 9 Richter scale one which has just occurred in the trench off the Japanese major island of Honshu, we have known that these are not “acts of god,” but rather the explicable physical mechanics of our planet, with its hot liquid core, and a shifting, constantly changing outer crust.  We now know much of the mechanical logic of these movements, of their potential and actual strengths, and of their inevitability.  And yet, knowing this, we have continued to build highly complex, and dangerous systems – whether they are dams which might rupture and drown a city down-river, or they are highly toxic nuclear generating plants.  And we have built them immediately adjacent to plate fault-lines or sometimes quite literally on top of them.

In a carefully organized and rationalized industrial process, the Fukushima power plants were designed for maximum efficiency.  In the case they needed ready access to water, and so were situated, as many such nuclear power stations are, close to the shore of the Pacific Ocean (or rivers or lakes).  Also, for the sake of efficiency, 6 nuclear generators were placed in a row, one beside the next.  In order to minimize dangers of transportation, the storage of the spent fuel rods (theoretically temporarily – until the world decides how to safely dispose of them) was in pools immediately atop the generator buildings.  All of this was, from an industrial standpoint, rationalized as making for the most efficient, profitable, manner to organize the energy-making process.

Sited, as they were, immediately adjacent to an off-shore tectonic fault line famous for generating major earthquakes, the plants were engineered to survive the most major of events.  As the zone was also well-known for tsunamis generated by earthquakes, there were anti-tsunami barriers off shore, as there are along much of the coastline of the eastern coast of Japan.   While the major structures did survive the quake, the tsunami walls, here and elsewhere, proved woefully inadequate, and in Fukushima, the tsunami wave flooded the area.   Back-up diesel generators, present to provide emergency power for cooling in case of a loss of normal electrical, were located on the lower levels of the plants and were disabled by the tsunami wave.   Another battery backup system, good only for a few days, was intact, but while the architecture of the plants survived, the wiring and mechanical systems were seriously damaged and hindered or blocked alternative cooling systems.

In the face of the 9 point earthquake and subsequent tsunami the lines of defense all failed.  In failing they underlined the logical frailty of the industrial rationalizing which went into designing the plants.  Clustering 6 generators next to each other meant the serious failure of one made dealing with lesser failures in the others far more difficult; storing the spent fuel immediately adjacent, and in relatively flimsy structures not really designed to withstand an earthquake (only the actual reactors were so built), made these vulnerable to further failures.  One by one the design factors consciously and willfully carried out under one set of logic collapsed in the face of another logic.   The simple reality is that nuclear power stations are constructed for economic reasons, for which they are only logical if one keeps very bad accounting.  They are very costly to build and maintain; they inherently have a limited life-span owing to the toxicity of the process at the heart of their mechanism; they generate waste which remains toxic and there is not any meaningful disposal system for that waste (aside from dumping on some hapless lesser “other” world).  And when the life-span of the plant is over, it too is toxic.  Of course in the fiscal wonderland of the nuclear energy industry all these costs are ignored, to be passed on to the public after the money’s been made.

Fukushima neighbor being checked for radiationTomahawk rocket being fired at Libya from US Naval vesselGaddafi soldier after UN approved attackTsunami victimFamily memento, tsunami destroyed village

Tragedy is a human construct, something which our consciousness produces,  a mechanism to help us where we cannot reconcile ourselves to the reality which is the universe.  To explain it some invent gods to make explicable the horrors which nature visits seemingly at random upon us, or to explain or justify the horrors which we ourselves inflict upon each other.  In other hands it is some other ideology which provides the lever with which to explain our behavior.  In the case of the Fukushima nuclear generating plants it is not simply a matter of engineering, but of the system which prompted the engineering into being.  In this case it is a capitalist driven consumerism, for which Japan stands as emblematically a perfect example.  It is a nation which fell in a thrall to the wonders of industrialization and all the things which can be made through it.  It happens to have few natural resources outside of timber, a bit of coal, and in its embrace in the late 1800′s of industrialization and modernity, it found itself first forced into imperial policies to secure the resources it needed.  In consequence it went to war, and lost, profoundly.  Pursuing the same policies, it re-industrialized, and to power its factories, it was more or less forced to use nuclear generators as a power producing source.  As could have been easily foreseen, it was a bargain with the devil: there is no place on the small island nation of Japan where nuclear plants can safely be built – Japan is itself the product of tectonic plate collisions.   While it is doubtless fatuous to imagine it, now perhaps Japan – a place which most Japanese I know admit is not “happy”  – will lead the way towards de-industrializing, and adapting to a life with less – far less – in material terms, but perhaps richer in other more important things.

 


 

 

Marco dell’Utri, of Palermo, long time confident of Silvio Berlusconi

June 30.

Arriving in Italy, as usual, I was  immediately told the latest communal unhappinesses.   For the moment it’s two things: the dell’Utri case, in which a long-term close associate of Sig Berlusconi, President of the Consiglio – to say the top guy here – one Sig dell Utri, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for association or some such with the Mafia.  Of course Berlusconi asserts this is merely another case of the “red” judiciary finding one reason or another to attack him.   This is scarcely Silvio’s only brushing with the mafia, simply the most recent.  Most Italians accept and believe their man has had long associations with the Sicilian brotherhood, securing his first wealth from them, and being indebted since.  Of course, a predecessor, Guilio Andreotti, many times President del Consiglio, was not thought to be connected to the Mafia, but to be perhaps its top man or at minimum the puppet of its cupola.  Berlusconi’s mentor, the Socialist Bettino Craxi, was just plain corrupt and died in exile in Tunisia.   Life as usual in Italia.

Andreotti, Berlusconi, Craxi

The other matter of unhappiness is a law designed to close down reporters (and implicitly others) from spilling the facts on such things as state-sponsored telephone tapping.  This has, typically, brought out the usual (leftists) to the piazza.  And naturally has inflamed the newspaper headlines which normally inflate any modest matter into inch-thick typefaces.  Rhetorical amplification is the standard in all things Italian.  Sempre in crisi, la bella Italia.   These matters of bold type will be supplanted in weeks with new matters of equally cosmic political weight.

Of course, aside from these theatrical matters, Italy is mired in the same economic fix as much of Europe, with high-unemployment, a large deficit, and is facing a grim future of alleged “austerity.”   This is translated in local terms to even more social distrust than is usual in cynical Italy, home of Machiavelli, and the standard operating procedure, “fidarsi bene, non fidarsi meglio” or “to trust is good, not to trust is better.”  So a friend informed it was more necessary than ever to keep a firm hand on a handbag on the street, or that her husband, working at a high level for major corporations, had to now haggle afterward for the contracted pay.  To say, life as customary in Italy, but bumped up a level or two, so that what happened almost always with the plumber or car mechanic, now happens at an executive corporate level.   Of course, this is only to be expected in a culture which has a motto like theirs.  It is ingrained into the soul at an early age and expresses itself in a constant of argumentativeness, a propensity for cheating,  of rhetorical inflation of all things problematic, so that social life, and its political expression, becomes a constant background noise of negativity.  This, for any human, is a appalling situation requiring denial – which I think most Italians adapt as a defensive posture even while they fully participate in it, thinking their tendency to butt in line, stop traffic for talking to a friend, or wangling an advantage by whatever family connection will serve,  etc., is all normal if done by themselves, and only objectionable when done by someone else.  The companion is a theatrical mask of happy sociality as seen in the constant kissy-faced greetings and departures, hugs and tactile contacts to signify bonding where all bonds are suspect.  Deep inside, the person kissing and being kissed awaits the knife in the back.  The fabled mafia “baci di honore.”  Benvenuta a Italia, where this story is ancient and the “lessons learned” have poisoned the culture for millennia.  The later addition, perhaps of necessity, of the Catholic religion’s obsession with “forgiveness” make for a toxic combination in which collectively all confess to being cattivo (bad) and all are given a blanket pardon.  Little wonder in such a world that a blatantly bad soul like Berlusconi rises to the top like cream, as he exemplifies the real Italian character to perfection: a master of deceit, from his hair implants and face-lifts, to his toes playing footsy with teen-aged girls on his private estate in Sardinia – a modern-day Caligula.  And many, if not all, in la bella Italia admire this capacity to wiggle and wangle through the thickets of Italian law and politics, and get to play with the bimba’s to heart’s content.   It makes their line-butting and small-time cheating all the more palatable, while making the priestly taste for small boys rather understandable.

The flip-side is the cultural elevation of saints to untouchable pedestals, where virtue becomes unattainably distant unless you are into real hard-core masochism and would like to have your head, breasts, arms, or legs chopped off, or grilled, or baked in a bronze horse, or be burned at the stake, hung, disemboweled, or otherwise dispatched from this world to the hypothetically better one in the sky.  This cartoon tale is plastered across every church in Italy, of which there are many, albeit in this day the congregations are primarily tourists, shuffling along, gazing at this panoply of torture all (mostly) elegantly framed in the rich colors of Giotto, gold-leaf frames, and other tricks to cover the actual content: the supreme masochist is Christ, who, depending on which era and geography, hangs from his cross, a gorgeous gay hunk (see Michaelangelo’s Christ with Cross in the Chiesa sopra Minerva) or a Mel Gibson-style bloodied corpse further to the South where the baroque takes on an oppressive heaviness absent to the north.


Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St Peter

The second tier of this theological drama are the Apostles, to be seen in their various modes of departure according to Christian mythology: St Peter crucified up-side-down; St Paul beheaded, and on through the whole list of the magical 12, to arrive at Judas, the bad luck number 13, who committed suicide.  Only Saint John mythically eluded being dispatched before mother nature beckoned.  After this august list, comes the chorus of myriad lesser saints, each seemingly celebrated not for what they did in life, which often-times remains highly obscure, but rather for the grisly manner in which they exited this life’s stage: trampled, gouged, burned, toasted, chopped, baked, boiled, become pin-cushioned with arrows – in whatever manner one could abuse the animal flesh of man, Italians have dreamed it up (of course they are not alone in this creative thrust.)  The churches of Italy offer a full course of elegant imagery in all of this.  (A jaunt further north, to the images of Grunewald in, gives another more Germanic flavor, and another uncanny glimpse into another culture.)

Depending on your political inclinations, this process continues – if Left, it is St Pasolini, whose body was crushed by a contemporary beast, the automobile, and whose last images confirm as usual his sainted corporal existence.  If Right, there are the martyrs who bombed the nearby, as I write, Bologna train station, in 1982, or of course, Mussolini, whose body was appropriately mangled, and thus given the sign of a certain sainthood.



Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci

I suspect most Italians would laugh at such a correlation of their deep historical roots and their contemporary society.  The laughter would be nervous though, a discomfort with the nature of fate, of it being suggested that their present behavior, as demonstrated in their politics, or in the common everyday practices of their lives, was stamped into their DNA, something inescapable.

[For us, an interlude of 12 days, in Lisbon, Toledo, Madrid, and now resuming for the balance of the summer our Italian sojourn.]

Tiles in bar in Madrid

Yesterday, July 19,  flying in from Madrid in a Ryanair cheapo flight (whose draconian baggage limits caught many and upped the costs of flying 100%) – a flight delayed in Madrid for 2 hours in a nod to the present economic crisis (the Barcelona air-traffic controllers had gone on strike at the fiscal squeeze being placed, just as had the Metro employees in Madrid) – the mostly Italian passengers applauded, as it seems only Italians do, as we landed.  What this burst of applause means must suggest something of Italians.  But what?  In a culture in which the term “sono professionista” (I’m a professional) is often used to block all further discourse and especially questions as to the competence of the person using the phrase, perhaps the applause is for the successful accomplishment of the “professionista” up front, whom all internally doubt to be capable.  In my brief time of working, or attempting to work, in Italy, the assertion “sono professionista” sent cringes through my soul, it being a certain sign of the imminent fuck up.   Or perhaps it is an acknowledgment of the Shakespearean assertion that “all life is a stage” and the Italian operatic sensibility in its current phase of decay takes the simple matter of being an airline pilot as a show-biz role, something warranting a reward of applause on the safe delivery of the airplane’s cargo to its destination.   The same herd of Italians will promptly, once the wheels touch ground, unbuckle, rise to get their luggage, and be told by the staff – which must be accustomed to this behavior pattern with Italians – to sit back down, buckle up, and stay seated until the pilot has finished taxiing to the disembarkation point and announces so, turning off the little buckle-up sign right in front of their eyes.  These days this behavior is also accompanied by the mass turning on of cell phones, and the admonition to keep electronic instruments OFF until notified its OK.  Few listen or obey.   Perhaps the applause is for the luck of having arrived at all despite the chronic violation of these various rules by those applauding?

Approaching almost anywhere, globalized grafitti, Inc., in this case Rome

And today, July 22, we were to depart Bologna for Roma and then swiftly on towards Matera, in Basilicata.  Gone to the family car held by sister Chiara, to be borrowed the coming month, a turn of the key betrayed a dead battery of a car unused the last month or two.  Waving down, with battery cables in hand, a car, we got help which shortly soured: the key/anti-theft mechanism seemed to not work, of which a later word indicated this quirk had been on-going the last year.  The “trick” to by-pass it didn’t work, and our journey turned into a 4 hour car-side vigil for Marcella (windows downed on the last juice of the batteries, the key trapped in the vehicle, and luggage, cameras, valuables therein, and sister’s key having been slipped under the doorway, we were trapped.)  A later walk, talk, tow-truck, and luckily nearby car mechanic resulted in a typical Italian prognosis: 12 days until the item would arrive, 400 Euros in cost to replace the malfunctioning key mechanism (sure to escalate in both time and money), and Marcella and I were Bologna’haid another day.  (In Seoul I am sure this would have been resolved in a few hours, at far less cost.)  And the summer’s plans were skewed, as the cost of a rental car for 5 weeks is excessive for me (1200 Euro + gas, etc), and now we scramble to alter the summer’s plans – where to go, how, a little existential crisis to spice the summer heat.

Since I was a child, landing on a primitive airway in Rome in 1951, and then taken on a train ride to Trieste in which Italians shared what little they had in that time of post-war poverty, I have been in love with Italy.  Like many kinds of love, it has inverted, become a love/hate.  In more recent times the hate has predominated, as I and most certainly Italy have changed, in ways antithetical.  Italy, in the face of things modern, seems to have lost touch with itself, defacing the abundant beauties which almost every town holds, the centro perhaps almost intact, but the surrounding areas encrusted with squalid ill-thought modern buildings,  highways, and further out American-style suburban sprawl eating into the country-side.  Within the centro the tackiness of our globalized world has intruded in the form of the usual corporate branding logos and the now near-universal graffiti, here defacing a heritage of extraordinary architecture and urban design.  This is not the desolate world of the Bronx, circa 1978 or so, when graffiti represented a flush of creative life in the face of urban death, but rather now a knee-jerk genuflection of gangsta alienation whether in Toulouse, Madrid, Copenhagen, Moscow or Rome.  The periferia’s have invaded, bringing with them their tracings of gangland aesthetics.  The past is utterly disrespected, but its erstwhile replacement has none of the cultural weight which gives the old its heft.  Instead a unity of universal ignorance washes over everything, a Simpsonite dog-piss assertion of “I own this,” however wrong and false, sprayed on a wall built 500 or 1800 years ago, by Michaelangelo or Giulio Cesare.   The alienated scrawl reeks of the New York of crack-heads but incorporated by Nike, the globalized claim “just do it – this is mine” writ large and in a dull uniformity lacking all originality.  A McDonalds of the mind blankets the landscape, its fraudulent branding of individual personhood enriching the spray-paint makers and reducing the local to cartoon universality.  In keeping with the source, the way is often littered with needles and discarded condoms.

Almost no place is immune, though our recent visit to Toledo made an exception.  A long ago visit to Toulouse saw its mostly two-story center converted into a comic book, top to bottom, its lovely architecture no longer readable.  When living 10 years ago in Rome I saw this incremental journey of  defacement shift from the grim walls of Tuscalana and Nomentana, then into Testaccio and San Lorenzo, and then the walls of Trastevere.  Since it has crossed the banks of the river into the heart of the city, now to be seen anywhere, be it on the ancient Roman walls, or the magnificent baroque churches, once sacrosanct and now but another surface to announce another version of “Kilroy was here.”    There is though, now little left to kill.

Bust in the Pincio

Back when I lived in Rome I filmed the busts of the Pincio, a park above Piazza del Popolo, where the 19th century bourgeoisie had memorialized themselves in sculpture – bankers and writers and businessmen juxtaposing themselves to Italy’s greats – Galileo, Dante, Michaelangelo and Marconi and the long illustrious list of others whom history has graced on this lovely land.  Their noses are knocked off, cigarettes dangle from their mouths, and their faces are smeared with paint and nazi swastikas on their foreheads, an ironic commentary on the very short lives we lead and the “respect” we are accorded by the future.  The barbarians have sacked Roma yet again.

Nowadays almost every nook and cranny of the past is reduced into a variant of Disneyland, often in the name of “education.”  The Caravaggio’s of the Chiesa della Francese are adorned with explicatory framing, placards explaining to the herds of tourists their meaning.  Only 15 years ago I could stand solitary for a half-hour at this place, soaking in the images (though needing to plop a coin in the lighting system); today one fights for a place to see as crowds jostle to read the plaques and gaze in unison, fingers pointing out the obvious, murmuring wisdoms to their husbands or others.   The same occurs in almost every place of beauty or exception, the price of cut-rate mass tourism which has seen the floors of the Siena cathedral covered with cheap Masonite boards to protect it from the bus-loads of visitors who disgorge each day, shuffling over the ancient stone patterns, following their guides, who now can offer only a picture of what their presence threatens.   Whether a human artifact, or natural, all our globe is now so diminished, with hiking trails and garbage leading to the peak of Mt Everest, which recently was “conquered” by a 12 year old.  As the most remote is converted into an adventurer’s McDonalds its corollary is the oil smeared across the gulf of Mexico, with 8 billion souls assuring no square inch of our earth has been left untouched by human foot or hand, or the consequences of our occupation.  Italy serves as a cautionary example, its extraordinary history and heritage now perversely acting as an instrument of its destruction.

In the backyard outside where I write this in Bologna, in the darkened evening, the sound of television floats – I went to look and below in the open yard below, the glow of a screen illuminates the family which gathers before this altar, outside, watching.  Doubtless, since he owns and controls almost all of it in Italy, the content is determined by Silvio Berlusconi, broadcasting his view of the world to each home here.  His view of the world is animated by leering older men prancing with scantily clad bouncing breasts, giggling at inanities and off-color jokes.  Of course, one could easily claim this was always so, since the emperors who ruled Rome’s empire, on through the lurid excesses of the Church-led renaissance, and thence to the present.

From my film, Roma, un ritratto

[Now in Matera, where unsolicted, I heard from a barman, serving me up a cappuccino and hearing my English, tell of how he'd lived in Philadelphia 5 years, and had a son legally American, and they'd both like to go back as there is "nothing here" for them. (Good luck on finding a job in the USA these days).  Then in an impromptu meeting with an aunt of Marcella's she began a lament of how shameful it was to be an Italian these days, and how she and her husband think to move abroad, to France, or somewhere, anywhere.  They are  a comfortably well situated professional couple, retired.  And then a friend of Marcella's, last night, talking with another friend who lives now in Modena, was saying how she'd like to move back to the area, to be with her boyfriend, from her good job in Venice.  The other friend humorously but seriously admonished her that there was nothing here she could find for work, and suggested she'd do well to hold onto her job in the north.

These sentiments have been repeated in various forms for me over the last 15 or 20 years - laments over a corrupted, stagnant,  futureless Italy, snared in the bellezza of its past.  It's population is aging, it requires for menial jobs the many immigrants from Africa, the Philippines, South East Asia and India, though increasingly it becomes hostile to them.  Caught in a cross-fire of contradictions - a sumptuous landscape, cuisine and wine, deep-set corruption, a historically rooted lethargy, paralyzed by its own history - Italy is a place of indefinable sadness where youth are alienated and lost, looking towards a life of endless waiting or looking to escape.  At a casual tourists glance you would never imagine it.  But it is so, as Italians are constantly telling themselves, though if a foreigner says it they will rebuff it with a seizure of cultural unity.   Added July 29 2010]

[For a bit of explication and confirmation of my thoughts, see this article from the NY Times, Aug 1, 2010][

Image from my friend, Mark Eifert of Portland Or.

Perhaps it is an unpoetic justice that the residue of ancient life, geologically folded and folded again, once uplifted and verdant, and then thrust downward, submerged, cooked by extreme pressures and heat, and some 18,000 feet beneath sea level off the coasts of Louisiana and Alabama, now, courtesy of the greed-induced hubris of a transnational corporation, British Petroleum, works to destroy the life-forms of the Gulf of Mexico.  Thirty million years old, this oil deposit is, to the measurements presently available, the second largest in the world.  A true bonanza of “black gold.”  In its eagerness to tap this, BP drilled deeper than ever before, to a depth of 5,000+ feet, a mile, to the Gulf’s floor, and then another 13,000 feet to the deposit.  It did so, assuring a corrupted (by BP and other oil industry giants) Minerals Management Service of the US Federal Government, that the chances of any spills were extremely tiny, it’s equipment was cutting edge/state-of-the-art, and that in any event they had the means and expertise to take care of any unforeseen problems.  They obtained, in exchange for some tickets to sports events, some sexual favors, some drugs, and probably some money, a waiver on any environmental impact report.  There wouldn’t be any, so they claimed.  And the corrupted agency consented.

British Petroleum oil coated aviary casualty

As it happened, there was “a problem.”   On the immediate level  the problem was that BP, well known in the industry for problems owing to corner cutting in the pursuit of profits, acted in its normal fashion, economizing, in haste to bring the Deepwater Horizon well on-line, and into profit-making.  A few days before the Deepwater Horizon blow-out a gaggle of BP executives had helicoptered out to the drilling rig to party, celebrating the imminent on-line status of the well and the fat profits to come.  On board though there had been disagreements between the rig owners, Transocean (a company allegedly Swiss, with its central offices there as a tax dodge, but actually Texan, with most of its employees American, and its offices and most of its employees in Houston), about procedures to use, and BP, which was leasing the rig, had the final word.  They’d skip on a process of using “heavy mud” and instead go to thinner sea water, this despite clear signals in the previous days that various things were seriously amiss.  Also they skipped a test of the concrete used to cap the well, a job out-sourced to Halliburton, known in Iraq for many dubious practices.   Leasing a drilling rig costs a half million dollars a day, and as in the old mantra of capitalism, time is money.  Cut it short said the BP supervisor.   Meantime, legally, with the consent of the Federal Government’s porn-watching regulatory agency, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), they’d skipped on a parallel well, standard in other parts of the world as a back-up in case something goes wrong, and they’d skipped on a fail-safe last chance choke valve costing a half million dollars.  After all, for a corporation, profit is king.  Expenses like those they faced here seemed too much, and besides, they were all too sure their technology worked, even if they’d never done so at such depths and the pressures involved.  And they were partying.   The initial price was 11 workers killed on the platform at the time of the blow-out.

As is known in the oil industry, BP has a long history of cutting corners and making messes.  Only recently, in 2005, one of their refineries in Texas City, Texas, with numerous citations for safety violations, blew up at the loss of 15 lives.   Their pipe-line in Alaska, untended for 15 years, rusted and corroded, and with, again, numerous citations against it, ruptured and spilled 6,400 barrels on the delicate tundra of Prudhoe  Bay.

[For updates on the real situation, including a worst-case (beginning to look to be the probable case) scenario, see TheOilDrum. There some oil business people believe the well itself is now compromised and will in due time rupture, and that the entire field which was being drilled will be released, and perhaps the sea-floor will collapse - oily tsunami anyone?]

BP pipeline in Alaska

British Petroleum is the 4th largest corporation in the world (some stats say the 7th), and the 3rd biggest energy corporation – which, logically, makes 2 of the other largest ones also energy corporations.  It made 17 billion dollars in profits last year (Exxon made 19).   Little wonder they are able to buy and corrupt such countries as Nigeria and Ecuador, where reckless practices have poisoned the environment.  Or that they can buy the American Congress, to re-write the law and to let up on regulation and oversight.

Niger DeltaEcuador

The Deepwater Horizon disaster has unfolded, like a dense sheet of oil, slowly, grudgingly being revealed by British Petroleum, apparently with the collusion of United States agencies lending a hand in hiding the larger and uglier truths: assisting in blocking reporters from the media have been the Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Agency, local police agencies – all supposedly in service to the public, but instead acting to protect a giant private corporation.  BP was a major political contributor to both parties in recent past elections, and maintains a powerful lobbying force in Washington.   But as the oils slip not into hidden backwoods bayous along the Louisiana coast, difficult to access except to the locals, but onto the pristine vacation beaches of Alabama and now the Florida panhandle, and as the loop current brings it to Key West, and later up the Atlantic Coast of Florida, it has become  harder and harder for BP and its governmental partners to mask the enormity of their errors.  And a sullen cloud seems to have descended across America, a turgid shock wave of recognition that this catastrophe, the edges of which remain invisible, are intimately connected to economic collapse of 2008.  And that perhaps our government, our “system,” is longer “ours” but has been seized by those economic and corporate interests which produced these traumas.  On both the Right and Left there seems an unsettled sense that control of our fates has passed into the hands of a vague force – the “elites,” the “corporations,” the financial sector, some diabolic confluence of them all tied in with the military-industrial-media complex.  In the political center there seems confusion – all the assumptions of an orderly middle-class world suddenly shattered: the 401K that disappeared; the mortgage that can’t be paid; the job ended; the house lost.   All the comfortable assurances which our social-political-economic world seemed to offer have all suddenly been placed in doubt: what will the health insurance pay?  Will it even be there?  Social Security?  For many it seems as if the rug has been pulled from beneath them and all the parameters by which they measured have been summarily changed,  and for the worse.

As the swell of anger rises, and the apathy of many is shaken by their new economic realities – the loss of job, home, or perhaps only the seeming threat of such as friends and family lose theirs – America will doubtless fragment further as the internal stresses work their way through the body politic.  We can already see it in the curious silence of the Tea-party folks who only months ago were chanting “Drill Baby Drill” and who now seem to have nothing to say.  We can see it in the stalwart anti-government elements of the Right suddenly complaining that government isn’t big enough to instantly plug the BP well-hole, or manage the immense damages being inflicted on the Gulf.  We can see it in the hesitations of the Obama administration, seemingly lost in the on-rush of calamities, sprinting from one to the other while trying to appear calm and under control.  And we can see it in our historical myopia in which we fail to see that for a long time we have constructed this whole system as a trap for ourselves, and as often happens in history, we are sleep-walking our way to the end.

Since World War 2 America got itself hooked on an imaginary vision of itself, something coming out of earlier times when the government opened up new lands (taken by force from the natives) and set up “Land Rushes” with a deal of 40 acres out in Iowa or Nebraska or Oklahoma, if you stayed on the land and built it up.  Just gallop out, stake it out, and it’s yours.  A lot of people got very rich doing so, and others very poor.  Similar government deals made railroad barons, with swaths of land adjacent their tracks similarly rich.  It’s been going on the same way since – with agri-biz, with water, with the military-industrial complex, with oil.

Oil was discovered in Pennsylvania in Titusville, and coupled with the already on going matter of industrialization that had kicked in seriously in the early to mid 1800′s, it sent America and the world off on an energy jag that hasn’t let up since, though peak oil is going to force a withdrawal pattern, like it or not.  In America this combo led to “the American Dream” in which one wasn’t a “man” if you didn’t have “wheels” and the promise was you got a house with a patch of lawn around it.  Naturally to have this, you had a job.  So it went, and most Americans bought this dream, got a job, a mortgage, a set of wheels (or more), a house with a two car garage, and along with it all the other accouterments of a nice “middle class” life.  Health and life insurance, Social Security, and all the rest.  Set for life out in the ‘burbs.   This was our collective dream, or so our politicians and cultural pundits told us.

This was our myth, “the American Way of Life,”  and all the other national clichés: Number One, and so on.  It was energized by that good old American individualism, “self-sufficiency,” free enterprise, that “can-do” entrepreneurial instinct (amazing how we wrapped ourselves around that French word), and all the other mental snake-oil of the stories we told ourselves.  Of course it was all like an old frontier “tall story,” a package of whopping lies we liked to think represented us.

US:  less than 5% of the global population consuming about 25% of global resources.

Because of our ingenuity, go-get-’em individualism and all?    Well, maybe a bit.  But a lot more because we grabbed by hook or crook a large part of a whole continent, and more or less wiped out the original inhabitants and then “gave” it to ourselves.   And we used at the outset slave labor to build it up for several hundred years, and when we finally made the slaves “legally” equal we relegated them to a sub-citizen standard, which is still, despite a half-black President and numerous very wealthy sports and entertainment stars of dark skin, still the case.   And early on we tilted the playing deck so that some got very rich, much owing to governmental largesse, as with the railroad barons of the late 1800′s (who, incidentally, used “cheap” Chinese labor for building their lines) who were given large swathes of land, and then oil and mining barons who were given the value of what lay under the land for a pittance of its value, a practice which continues to this oil-soaked day.

Louisiana bayou

But, not content to parcel out the wealth of our part of a continent, we rigged the rules, and with the Monroe doctrine laid claim to some kind of rights south of the border.  Rights usually enforced with military intervention, usually asserted in the name of “national interests,” meaning some American corporation needed some muscle to enforce its exploitative actions on the local natives.  This is on-going, though somewhere around Barbary Pirates times was extended to include the whole globe.  Now, for our “national interests” we are encamped in Iraq, Afghanistan and more places than most Americans can remember or list – countries most never even heard of and certainly the names of which they could not pronounce.

In the name of “the American Way of Life,” which our current President, as all Presidents must, asserts we will not give up or change, we thus now have a military which consumes half the Federal budget, and consumes about half the oil which America uses.  Facing a massive national deficit, however, when it comes time to pruning expenses, our glorious military is virtually never mentioned as a candidate for some real cost cutting.  America spends more annually on its military than all the rest of the world does on its, with much of that other half being of our “allies” and only a small fraction – about a fifth of our expenditures – by our erstwhile potential enemies (China and Russia).

In turn our foreign policy is largely based on securing a supply of oil to feed to our military, a rather circular arrangement in which the wars we indulge in, for whatever fanciful reasons our leaders claim, are, as Alan Greenspan blurted out, really about oil.  Iraq.  Or perhaps other resources.

Besotted by our own myths, we have taken a spiral toward auto-destruction (pun not quite intended), such that our behavior now apes that of another of our old stories, that of the oral folk tales transcribed by Joel Chandler Harris as the Uncle Remus stories.  The one that tells our story is that of Bre’r rabbit and the tar baby.  Whether we, as the rabbit, will be such good cons as to get a chance to be tossed into the briar patch, is looking doubtful.  So far, we’re best at conning ourselves.

For an in-depth story on Deepwater Horizon disaster and the current administration’s part in it, see this article from Rolling Stone. For more on the Gulf situation see Cinemaelectronica.  Or see the Shell PR item for a sense of the scale at which these operations are done.

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