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Category Archives: Politics

From US Army Official Website

Each year, officially, acknowledged in the national budget, the United States spends some approximately $700 billion for “defense” – to say weapons, institutions to deploy them.  The balance of the world spends a bit less than that cumulatively.  This number, however, is naturally deceptive (paranoids usually hide their truths) and scarcely tells the whole story.  The 7 hundred billion is the Department of Defense budget.  Included within it, for example, is not the cost of the manufacture and maintenance of our nuclear weapons, which falls under the Department of Energy 28 billion dollar budget.  Nor does the CIA’s massive budget – it comes under “Security.”   Nor the new Homeland Security Agency.  And so on.

FBI counter-terrorism $2.7 billion At least one-third FBI budget.
International Affairs $10.1–$54.2 billion At minimum, foreign arms sales. At most, entire State budget
Energy Department, defense-related $20.9 billion
Veterans Affairs $66.2 billion
Homeland Security $54.7 billion
NASA, satellites $3.4–$8.5 billion Between 20% and 50% of NASA’s total budget
Veterans pensions $58.4 billion
Other defense-related mandatory spending $7.5 billion
Interest on debt incurred in past wars $57.7–$228.1 billion Between 23% and 91% of total interest
Total Spending $1.003–$1.223 trillion

Wikipedia

Also one of the nation’s larger money-makers in the export realm is armaments, much of which is not included in the “Defense” budget, though our collective energies are consumed in the making of these exports.  To say the financial cost to American society for its cumulative expenditures on so-called defense is in wildly out of proportion to any supposed threat, as shown in the expenditures which our would-be opponents spend.    America’s culture is deeply distorted by this obsession with “defense,” which in truth is not at all defense, but rather an aggressive, historically grounded, offense.

See this for clarification

Domestically this distortion is shown in the incapacity of the Congress to address the militarization of our society, as exampled in the difficulty of closing military facilities – bases, factories – owing to their role in the economy.   Likewise in cultural terms – as seen in video games, in the production of the major producers of “entertainment,” as seen in our sports – we have become (or perhaps always were?) increasingly violent, finding cathartic “solutions” in simply killing those with whom we disagree.  Our daily lives are littered with the by-product – the numerous rampage killings that fill the headlines, that leads to endless empty philosophising from our erstwhile pundits as to why we have such a consistent pattern of socio-pathological behavior.  To understand why one need only look at our government’s behavior, at our mass media, at our sports mania, and finally at our own collective willful denial.   America is a violent, ugly, destructive society, which wreaks havoc on the world at the drop of a pin, that sucks up the material wealth of the world in wild disproportion to our numbers, all the while claiming rhetorically to be ever the white-hatted good-guy.

F-22 fighterUS Army environmental video training systemUS Marine, Helmand province, Afghanistan

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

Since its inception America has always been at war with itself – though largely suppressed there has always been a minority which rejected and resisted the processes of colonization, who defended the original native population, who fought and denied the legitimacy of slavery, who resisted the wars of expansion (Mexico, Spanish-American), and more recently those incursions and wars in Central America, the Caribbean, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan.   But, in the cumulative history of the United States of America, warring has persistently overwhelmed and defeated the tendencies of peacefulness.   The present day is little different.

Obama signs the 2010 638 billion dollar DOD bill, announced as a “cut” but in fact the biggest everSarcophagous, wounded Greek soldier

On Saturday, December 5th, there was a demonstration in Rome, against Silvio Berlusconi, 73, the head of government.  He’s also head of many other things, including the media – both state owned and private – including television and some newspapers and major book publisher Mondadori.  And one wonders what else.  He is also Italy’s richest man.  In the past year he’s been mired in one scandal after another, with his wife, former show-girl/actress, Veronica Lario, 53,  leaving him with acrid comments about his compulsion for younger girls,  for whom he threw parties at his huge villa on Sardinia, inviting teenage girls from around Italy, and bringing them in on state transportation.   The papers had recently found him to be “friends” with a 17 year old Neapolitan girl (at the time they met), Noemi Letizia, which seemed to be the final straw for Veronica.

Veronica Lario, almost ex-wife of Berlusconi

Noemi Letizia, Silvio’s “friend”, now 18

The organizers of the anti-Berlusconi demonstration of yesterday, initiated over Facebook, claimed nearly a million participants; the police said 90,000.  Rather a discrepancy there, and likely somewhere in-between (a large in-between) lies the truth.  Or perhaps we should say that between the lies, perhaps there is the truth.

Gaspare Spatuzza

In the last days a Mafia pentito, Gaspare Spatuzza, in the context of the trial of a Berlusconi associate, Marcello Dell’Utri,  fingered Dell’Utri and Berlusconi as persons abetting the Mafia, who in turn aided Berlusconi politically (Sicily votes heavily for him).  [For those not in the know, Berlusconi has had numerous court dates himself, all so far smudged by the curious nature of Italian law.] Such charges have swirled around Berlusconi for years.  But then they also swirled around former “Socialist” premiere Craxi as well as former “Christian Democrat” Andreotti.  To say it’s an old story.  Currently Berlusconi, a former cruise ship crooner,  is attempting to have a new law passed by his Parliament (with a majority of Popolo delle Libertà, formerly Forza Italia, his own personal party, in collusion with Bossi’s La Lega Nord and Gianfranco Fini’s Alleanza Nazionale, formerly the MSI, the surviving fascist party) which would curtail the statute of limitations on laws which might otherwise put Silvio behind bars.  To say the head of the Italian government, in keeping with recent – and ancient  – Italian tradition, is deep in sordid matters.  A reading of Italian history, from the Roman Empire, to the Papacy, to the Renaissance, and modern history all betray the same (old) story, and a passing acquaintance with the language(s) of the peninsula confirm a vibrant and rich vocabulary of insult, anger, hatred, and violence, all of which surface in everyday reality in la bella Italia.   They’ve had 2000 plus years to hone these qualities to perfection.

-    Ehi, testa di cazzo!
-    Che cazzo fai?
-    Tuo cugino è un paraculo
-    Vaffanculo, fai solo cazzate
-    Porca puttana, mi hanno fregato sul resto della spesa
-    Sai dire solo stronzate
-    Quello te l’ha messo in culo
-    Me ne vado. Mi sono rotto il cazzo
-    Lì sono tutti dei coglioni
-    Ma va a cagare, stronzo
-    Quante pippe mentali ti fai!
-    Quella non c’ha le palle per farlo
-    Mi hanno fatto girare i coglioni stamattina
-    Con i tuoi soldi mi ci pulisco il culo!
-    Non mi frega nulla di quello che pensi

Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano

One of my favorite paintings, before which I have spent many hours at the National Gallery in London, as well as making tracings, a failed pastel, and sketched a kind of installation work centered on it.  It is one of a triptych of works, one other being in Firenze at the Uffizi, and the other one in Paris, at the Louvre.  This one is in the best condition, though the top section was lopped off somewhere along the line.  It was made in celebration of a battle which supposedly the Fiorentine forces won, but that is a lie – it was more a tie.  Very Italian that.

Andrea Della Robbia

Scissors in convent wall, Ravenna

Along with the travails besetting Silvio, in the last weeks there’s also been the case of Amanda Knox, 22,  young American girl caught up in another trial, for murder, in the lovely town of Perugia.  In brief, her roommate, an English girl, Meredith Kercher, 21, was found, throat slit and quite dead, two years ago.  Evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, pointed to a  22 year old Ivory Coast resident in Perugia, Rudy Guede, who fled to Germany, was caught and is already imprisoned following a “fast track” trial at his request.  It also pointed to Amanda’s Italian boyfriend of the time, Raffaele Sollecito, now 25, and Amanda herself.  Attempts of a cover-up, an apparent staged break-in, false accusations, curious behaviors on Amanda’s part, contradictory alibis and DNA samples all went into the mix, along with a scandal-minded Italian press combined to create a fine circus out of this.  This week Amanda was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years imprisonment, a judgment promptly complained about by the US press and by Senator Cantwell of Washington State from which Amanda hails, which found the Italian legal system wanting by comparison to the American one.

Amanda behind bars

Inside Italy, the past week also saw the former head of RAI, the Italian state television and radio system, and current President of LUISS (Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali), Pier Luigi Celli, publish a letter to his son in the newspaper La Repubblica in which he advised him, following his impending graduation from university, to depart Italy for more fertile grounds for his future.   This naturally begot a mixed response and a week of Italian newspaper and television discourse on the fine art of navel gazing.  There were those who, in typical Italian fashion, complained that the advice was idiotic since Celli was well-placed to find his son a good job – patronage – and he could count on doing well in nice corrupted Italia.  They didn’t say it that way but that’s what they meant.  Others commiserated, lamenting the frozen slow-motion quality of Italian society, where getting ahead is a matter more of who you know than what you know, and where the works are gummed up with low-level corruptions for getting your plumbing fixed, the post-office lines are legendary, and high-level corruption – like Silvio’s – merely amplifies that at the bottom.

Craxi and the crooner, 1984

[Craxi, the head of the Socialist Party and the former Premier, died in exile in Tunisia.  He was the mentor of Silvio Berlusconi, the current Premier.]

Some years ago, in 1993, having moved to Italy on my 50th birthday to carry out a long-time wish to live there, I quickly, through no particular effort on my part – basically going to some parties while riding in the short coat-tails of All the Vermeers in New York – lined up a producer and made a film there.   The producer was Enzo Porcelli, who was well-known as making more adventurous films, having done some with Bertolucci, Godard, and others, so he claimed, as well as B-grade schlock.  His ride at the time was Gianni Amelio, who was then making L’America.  He met me at a party and said, having heard I made films cheaply, he’d like to work with me.  I took the bait, and a few months later we were in production, working my way, unheard of in Italy: no script.  For a week we shot with the crew he suggested – a soundman, his assistant, a production guy.  I was doing camera on Aaton 35mm.  These guys were “pros” so I was told.  That meant they took boxes and boxes of crap to work with, when I just wanted the camera and the tape recorder and mike.  They dumped the stuff in the middle of my sets; they took a break now, a 2 hour lunch then.  After a week I stopped the production and said if we were to continue with these guys, we’d never come in on budget.  I fired the lot of them, including one alleged actress who froze like a deer in headlights as soon as the camera turned on.  Her Calabrian boyfriend came storming to my apartment/production office, pounded on the door, intimidated my production assistant into tears, and stood an inch from my face, announcing “sono Calabrese” which was supposed to send me quivering in fear to the floor.  I don’t recall what I said, but it was something like, “get the fuck outta here”, and he did, and I never heard anything more from our pumped up would-be hood.  His claim to apparent fame was he’d had a small role – virtual extra – in an Antonioni film.

Alberto Sordi, in Mafioso by Alberto Lattuada

The production resumed some months later, with a crew I chose – Theo Eshetu, an Ethiopian who had lived a long time in Rome,  a video-artist, and had never recorded sound.  He was my recordist and did fine.  Some guy who lived in San Francisco and wanted to work with me came over and was assistant (didn’t work out too well has he was hyper PC and found my foul mouth not to his tastes; from my side he basically didn’t know too much what he was doing); my production manager was an American-Italian living in Italy, Eve Silvestri.  Working my way, we cranked out the film fine, editing for the first time electronically for me, on an Avid, quite new in Italy at the time.  I was helped by my friend Edoardo Albinati, a writer now rather well-known, on some scenes where I wrote and he translated, or I suggested what I wanted and he wrote. The film was finished shooting in autumn, 1993, and we went into editing I think in December.  A week later I requested of Porcelli that he fire the editor, or more exactly the chain-smoking Italian Avid technician running the computer to my decisions, because I felt he didn’t really understand how the Avid system worked.  Porcelli declined, and we went on, and finished editing relatively fast, though Amelio’s film kept needing my hard-disk space, as he did endless long takes and hogged more gigabytes than there were at hand.   I tried to get the first take and for the most part that was it.   In February the edit was done, and it was time to mix, and Porcelli’s promise that there was a digital suite in Rome proved false after a visit to Fellini’s favorite sound studio on via Margutta,  where they’d said they’d have it soon.  In Italian that means in a few years if you are lucky.  I then shopped around and found a place in Vienna that could do it – I just needed to get the sound on external HDs and bring along the EDL (Edit Decision List – a computerized notation of all the elements of the film, where they went, and what had or had not been done to them).   We set a mix date, and when it was time to leave for Vienna Porcelli’s editor didn’t know how to generate an EDL or get the sound on the HDs.   In the same manner we missed two other mix-dates at other places in Europe, and I began to lose my patience.  I informed Porcelli (the name means “little pigs”) I’d set up a new date, now in July, and if we missed that, I’d take my name off the film.  Thus, in that month – with a Venice festival deadline looming – I took off for a sound studio in London, with the HDs, and five days scheduled for the mix.  Properly done this should have meant about a half-day loading the whole EDL into their system, and then commencing with the mix.  Instead, courtesy of Porcelli’s dear editor whom I’d asked be fired, we spent 2 and a half days searching for mislabeled sound, synching some places, and patching in lots of missing sounds from an EFX library.  I got 2 days to actually do the mix.  Porcelli complained I was taking too much time, and I exercised my Italian as above.

Photo montage by Theo Eshetu

On delivery of the finished film, I was due my final bit of pay, which in any event was very modest, but which I needed.  Enzo issued what in Italian is called a ricatto, basically a little slice of extortion, and told me he’d give me half my pay then, and then I’d get the other half after the Venice festival if I didn’t say anything bad about him or his production company, Alia film; otherwise he’d give it to a lawyer to sue me.   Playing the Italian film press for PR, he had previously planted stories that there were “problems” during the production, on the old “any PR is good PR” angle.   Arriving in Venice, Porcelli lurked around the edges of things while Eliana Miglio, the lead actress, and I and the others played the publicity game.  At the press conference I was immediately asked about “the problems” in the production, to which I replied that I couldn’t answer any questions because my producer would not pay me if I said anything bad.  End of press conference.

Andrea, Eliana Miglio, Paolo Glisenti (son, mother, husband)

The film played at the festival, and while a few far left critics gave it a nice review, the others were negative to scathing.  The film was called Un a te, uno a me, e uno a Rafaelle,  a line drawn from an early newspaper item at the beginning of the Mani Pulite scandal, in play at the time.  Had the film dealt with dirty doings from higher ups, which is what the scandal was about – corruption in the governing party, kick-backs, etc. -  instead of what I did, dwelling on the little everyday corruptions which make those at the top seem “normal,” I am pretty sure they would have lapped it up.  But I suggested it wasn’t the thugs at the top – Craxi and all – who made Italy dirty, it was Italian life itself that made such corruptions inevitable.  This was all done in a light-handed manner, a kind of comedy of manners, though there was one serious scene in which a character vaguely patterned on Raul Gardini internally presents to himself and the viewer the kinds of arguments that were used by people to justify their behaviors; in a subsequent scene the character shoots himself.  Gardini was a very big, well-known, dashing businessman, who ran an Italian yacht in the America’s Cup, but was deeply mired in the myriad scandals of Mani Pulite.  He committed suicide, which shocked the nation.  Perhaps my glancing intimations of this cut too deeply at the time for many.   Many of those critical were writers who were very pleased with my less-than-happy critiques of my America, but were disturbed when I brought the same eye to bella Italia. They tended to say I didn’t really know Italy well (even if Edoardo had written the most biting of the commentary).  It depends on whose bull is being gored it seems.

Raul Gardini celebrating a yachting victory

On the contractual date that Porcelli was supposed to cough up the balance of my delayed paycheck, nothing was forthcoming – nothing surprising about this in Italy.  I wrote him then and said we had a few choices:  we could go to court, and we’d both be dead before it was resolved; we could go to the press, and he being Italian, and Italy being Italy, he’d win in any such lopsided contest; or I could request that RAI 3 audit his production, which they had been led to believe was budgeted at $750,000 but of which only their $250,000 part,  plus another 30K from my leading star’s husband’s production company had actually been present.  Little Pigs promptly paid up the remaining sum.

I’ve been told in the years since that Uno a te has screened many times on Rai 3, something, so I was told, that doesn’t happen unless the audience figures are high.   A while back I took a look at the banged up DVD copy – from a VHS tape – I have of it, and it’s not a bad film at all.  And all too prescient about Italy today.

Strozzapreti sauce for pasta

One of my original reasons for moving to Italy was that in the US in the 80′s I’d met a good number of young Italians, who had left to try their luck in America.  I was curious how they could leave a place so beautiful, where every handful of kilometers can unveil a lovely small town, crammed with thoughtful architecture and wonderful art.  And the food ! It was hard to see leaving that behind for McDonalds and Burger King, American strip cities, and Las Vegas.  Admittedly New York has its energy, the West its vast and imposing landscapes, and the small town here and there has its charms, and cities like San Francisco or New Orleans their unique flavors.  But still, to leave Italy for more than a vacation seemed at the time a puzzle.   Five years in Rome, living “parallel” to the culture – to say I did what I could to side-step the more obvious unpleasant qualities of the place – helped me understand the compulsion to depart.

As lovely as it is, Italy is ossified, frozen in its corrupted culture, and when young and full of energy it offers little meaningful space for doing things.  Trivial things, yes – you can party, goof off, have “fun” but in an aimless manner; drag out university for years (because there’s no job when you leave), and live with your parents (because there’s no money).  If your sights are aimed elsewhere, what is on offer is a long, and lacking the proper connections, perhaps terminal waiting line.   From the most mundane of things – getting that plumbing problem fixed – to the more demanding, Italy offers an endless compendium of difficulty.  Enough to bludgeon even the most optimistic and cheery into a deadening submission.

The Italian motto is “Fidarsi è bene; non fidarsi è meglio.” To trust is good; not to trust is better.

To live one’s life under such a banner is to consign oneself to a permanent unhappiness, with fear that even a best friend might slip the knife in at some opportune moment.  Et tu, Brute? Unfortunately this motto is all too real in Italy, where nothing is to be trusted, one must keep an eye on everything, payments due must be coerced after a dance of attempted cheating is used almost by instinct and habit.  So while the evening’s ritual passeggiata seems full of social pleasure and joy, greetings with hugs and cheek kisses, in reality it is a social obligation, the daily wasting of an hour or two, mandated lest one be deemed anti-social, a solitario.  In Italy solitude is condemned as a mode of hell and having no friends is tantamount to being exiled from the community.

Passeggiata

As hard as I am on bella Italia, I am not alone.  Like the young people I met in the 80′s, and others since, many have voted with their feet.  My wife Marcella, from Matera in Basilicata, says she does not wish to return to Italy to live, at least for the moment.  Quite recently her younger sister, Francesca, moved to try her luck in Ireland, having done a 3 month residency there and finding it more to her liking and more open to opportunities than her native land.   And my friends Eliana and Paolo tell me they are thinking of moving to Paris, and they more or less have suggested to Andrea that when his schooling is done (he’s studying acting at the Centro Sperimentale, the Italian national film school) he’d likely do well to move along elsewhere.   And a wonderful musician, Christian Ravaglioli, who we met near Ravenna last summer, visiting New York City in the last months, tells us he’d like to stay, but lacking a work permit must return.  Mr Celli, apparently, is not alone in his glum view of Italy in these days.  All the wonderful cuisine and wine, the sunny skies, the gracious architecture and spectacular art somehow fall short of providing the full needs of life.

As unhappy as it seems I make Italy sound, I think my own country is in far worse straits, as the readers of these pages know.  We are more corrupt and our corruption is more dangerous for our power.  And we are more dispirited as a people, ground under the feet of the corporate powers which now dictate our national life.   And somehow the poisons fed to us have paralyzed us no less than the malaise afflicting Italy has frozen their society.

Una mattina mi son svegliato,
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
Una mattina mi son svegliato,
e ho trovato l’invasor.
(che è morto per la libertà)

O partigiano, portami via,
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
O partigiano, portami via,
ché mi sento di morir.

E se io muoio da partigiano,
(E se io muoio sulla montagna)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
E se io muoio da partigiano,
(E se io muoio sulla montagna)
tu mi devi seppellir.

E seppellire lassù in montagna,
(E tu mi devi seppellire)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
E seppellire lassù in montagna,
(E tu mi devi seppellire)
sotto l’ombra di un bel fior.

Tutte le genti che passeranno,
(E tutti quelli che passeranno)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
Tutte le genti che passeranno,
(E tutti quelli che passeranno)
Mi diranno «Che bel fior!»
(E poi diranno «Che bel fior!»)

«È questo il fiore del partigiano»,
(E questo è il fiore del partigiano)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
«È questo il fiore del partigiano,
(E questo è il fiore del partigiano)
morto per la libertà!»

ferrara cath crpd2

Of human-made landscapes few can compare with the beauties of Italy, from the dramatic lakes and mountains of Piedmont and Lombardy to the rich farmlands and cities of Emilia Romagna, the Marche, Tuscany, Lazio and Compagna.    In these places a mere 50 kilometers separates small cities of extravagant aesthetic qualities – Venezia, Bergamo, Firenze, Lucca, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Pisa to mention but a few – and then the myriad smaller towns perched on mountain tops, their cubist clusters descending briefly down the slopes to be stopped at a once-defensive wall.  Farms flow neatly in an organic patchwork – olives trees, alfalfa, sunflowers, tomatoes, melons and squash, wheat and barley and corn – tumbling down the hillsides and filling the rich valleys.  In the north and central regions despite the dense pressures of the populations crowding it, there is a sense of civility in the architecture and the socially constructed infrastructure which seems to reflect the sublime orderliness of the cloisters which flank most churches, places of meditative quietude.

IMG_0764

Accompanying this feast of deeply humanist urban design is a sumptuous cuisine, a true cornucopia of wine, meat and grains and greens the equal of anything on this earth, all extracted from the alluvial soils of these valleys and the slopes of the Appenine mountains.

italian meal

Simple, rich, varied, and healthy, Italian food is one of the world’s wonders (if only one gets the real thing – the pastiche offered up in most non-Italian places is a pale echo of Italian cooking as found in Italy).

And once upon a time Italy was a volcano of creative energy of all sorts – from Galileo to Michelangelo to Uccello to Veronese to Fibonacci to Caravaggio to Dante to Bramante, Bernini, Brunelleschi, Rossini, Donezetti, Verdi, and…. the list seems endless.  But that time is not now.  Somewhere in the 20th century or before, the energies (with some exceptions, of course) burned out, the broad flame of creativity fluttered and for the most part ceased.   Since World War II, after an initial surge in the late 1940′s and into the 1960′s, Italian culture seemed to collapse with La Dolce Vita.

dolce vita

8half1

eclisse3

eclisse2

eclisse

teorema2

8_1_2_felliniLa Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, L’Eclisse, Teorema, 8 1/2

A rushed modernity – as in many other places – did not mix well with the deep cultural origins of Italy, and these films seemed to hint of a premonition that the sureties of other times would not withstand the sudden shift from a dominantly tribal and agrarian life to the sudden mechanization of the industrial world.  A fashionable, and prescient, alienation marks these works.    In the confusion came severe reactions, though ones steeped in tradition:

unique

Boccioni’s figure moves swiftly forward, though aesthetically it is essentially baroque and rococo, the flourish of form all too clearly expressive of a time several hundred years earlier but in 1913 advancing under the name of Futurism.

mussolini

As did Il Duce, who sizing up his time, shifted from radical leftist to Fascist in the post World War I turmoil when all of Europe convulsed under the rapid transformations of industrialization, a process which uprooted not only the mechanical organization of society, but also its social order.  The beliefs of the past crumbled in the face of this assault, and in its stead, fertilized by the uncertainty of the time, arose the authoritarian regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, Salazar, each utilizing the same appeal to historical verities while overturning the social organization of the past.  Italians love a hero, a strong man, a Caesar, and the spectacle which is the natural partner of the dictator.

mussolini crowd

mussolini_e_petacci_a_piazzale_loreto_1945

In the wake of the convulsion of World War 2, Italy, economically prostrate, as with all of Europe, simply struggled to survive.  The late forties and early 50′s saw the neo-realism of Visconti, Di Sica, early Antonioni.  The fifties saw a big shift from bicycles to motorini, the Vespa becoming a symbol of success.  The 60′s saw the motorbike supplanted as status symbol by, of course, the car.   And with it came La Dolce Vita and the celebration of the good life, though in Antonioni’s hands, as Fellini’s, they came with a hang-over.  Something seemed amiss, something spiritual – all the nice things somehow didn’t add up to happiness.

red desert

…must confront her social environment. It’s too simplistic to say – as many people have done – that I am condemning the inhuman industrial world which oppresses the individuals and leads them to neurosis. My intention… was to translate the poetry of the world, in which even factories can be beautiful. The line and curves of factories and their chimneys can be more beautiful than the outline of trees, which we are already too accustomed to seeing. It is a rich world, alive and serviceable… The neurosis I sought to describe in Red Desert is above all a matter of adjusting. There are people who do adapt, and others who can’t manage, perhaps because they are too tied to ways of life that are by now out-of-date.[2]  Antonioni

So said the master, who himself got lost in the labyrinth of his new-found element of color, letting his film meander in a fog of ennui.  It was his last film with Monica Vitti as “a number.”  Breaking up is hard to do, as this maker of stripped down soaps knew well.   Lurking in the lush palette which he used were the signals of a nostalgia for an Italy for which he sensed a clear loss.  And despite the logic articulated above, Antonioni in his films demonstrated his own incapacity to adapt.  So much so that riding his fame he went abroad, to England for Blow Up, and America for Zabriskie Point – both misfired aesthetically, the latter terribly so.   His disorientation in the face of the new world reflected closely that of an Italy which could not face its future or its present.   Following the upheavals of the 60′s, Italy fell into the Anni di Piombo (The Years of Lead).

brigate_rosse

morob1

corpomoro(1)

brigaterosse_petrella_balzarani_riccardi1

bolognabomb1Bologna train station, Aug. 1980

Bombarded from left and right, Italy passed through the 70′s and 80′s in a kind of tormented state, a time riddled with mysterious deaths, oscillating politics and an economy, like much of the rest of the world, in an upward rush of frantic consumerism.  Its premiers – Andreotti, 7 times premier from the 1970′s to 90′s and well-known for Mafia connections, Fanfani, Craxi – were all indicted, tried, and most eluded conviction through technicalities – in the ever-glacial  and often corrupted judicial system of Italy the usual exemption would be that the statute of limitations had expired, and hence, whatever the mountains of evidence and proof, one was absolved.   The current head of state, Silvio Berlusconi follows in this tradition, a multiple indictee, now wallowing in sex scandals wherein his second younger wife left him, accusing him of having a taste for even younger morsels, one of whom is all of 17.  Silvio owns all the broadcast systems, and as head of state, controls (or tries to) the 3 major state-run channels.  He also owns a soccer team, newspapers, publishing houses, and in effect has a strangle-hold on the media in Italy.  He is Italy’s richest man as well.  According to the polls, and to friends of mine who live here, Silvio is popular despite (or perhaps because of) his vulgarity, his authoritarian inclinations, his evidently hot sex life, and his chronic evident illegality – whether screwing underage girls or screwing the justice system.  Of course he does run the media, so the country is told what he’d like it to hear, and little more.   I suspect the truth is less that Silvio is popular than that the broad populace long ago surrendered to pure cynicism when it comes to politics Italian style.  I know not a few people who are planning or hoping to leave bella Italia as soon as they can, along with quite a few who left some time ago.

berlusconi

Italy has had a long history of criminality-as-government, back to the Caesars, Caligula, and to the warring city-states, the history of which is written in the grisly terms outlined by Macchiavelli.  Recently someone told us of a visit to a museum of torture in San Gimignano, where one of the choice items was a barrel in which the punished party sat in shit, head held high, to rot slowly in excrement.   Nearby in Siena, what appear to be basketball hoops adorning the corners of many buildings not so long ago sported human heads.   While such is no longer the fashion, the hanging torso of Mussolini makes clear the tendency is not so old nor really worn out.  It takes only the proper occasion to bring out this taste.   A glance at the Italian equivalent of tabloids shows that on lower levels, violence is a standard recourse.

gomorrah_6Gomorrah, film by Matteo Garrone, from book by Roberto Saviano

While we marvel at the extraordinary beauties of the accumulated history of Italy: the massive structures of the Roman empire, the intricate twists and turns of medieval hills towns, the splendid piazzas, architecture and urban planning of the Renaissance, and all the arts which accompanied this long trajectory, we tend to dismiss the underlying  flip-side of a history of astounding violence.  Tourists mill around the statue which marks the place where Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy, thinking little of this event while sipping their wine.

bruno 2

We drive easily up to some hill-top town, its flanks graced with walls, a tall observation tower rising up from its center, and we think little of the logic which placed this town in such a difficult site.  The logic being fear and the need to find a defensible refuge from the marauding warfare below, not to mention the disembowelings, hangings, burnings, and exotic tortures in town, or on the outskirts, little civic lessons in how you (better) behave and whose ass you’d best kiss.   So much for romantic Tuscan hill towns.

tuscan hill town anghiari-italy

sangimignano

tuscan hilltown

In Pasolini’s Teorema the businessman played by Terrence Stamp is seen at the film’s conclusion running crazed through a lunar landscape (shot at the top of the volcano Mt. Aetna in Sicily), seemingly having lost his mind.

teoremaTeorema, Pier Paolo Pasolini

If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.    PP Pasolini

In his writings and films, Pasolini pointed to where Italy was going.  He was murdered on Nov 2, 1975, on a patch of sand on the beach near Ostia.   Originally it was said to be a killing from rough trade, the handiwork of Giuseppe Pelosi, a Roman low-class rentboy.  Subsequently, a recantation by Pelosi renewed suspicions that other elements had been in play.  Political ones.  Or perhaps an extortion plot.  Or some thought Pasolini himself orchestrated his own death.

In Ostia there is a new little monument, not quite so awful as the earlier one in front of which I filmed a scene for Uno a te back in 1994.  That one was a squalid piece of  would-be “sculpture” falling apart in the salted acridness of the seaside, ostensibly to honor Italy’s lost poet.   It’s been replaced by this

Monumento_alla_memoria_di_Pasolini_-_Lido_di_Ostia_-_Lug_07

pasolini dead

morte Pasolini1

“Pasolini was what can be termed a citizen-poet. He was concerned with his homeland and expressed his feelings in his work. Patriotic poetry usually comes out of a right-wing tradition and is nationalistic, but Pasolini’s great originality was to be a citizen-poet of the left… He wept over the ruins of Italy but without a hint of rhetoric. He was a modern who used the classical tradition. Rimbaud, the poet of the Paris Commune, the most revolutionary of poets, remained his greatest influence. In the years after the Mussolini dictatorship, he adhered, like many of his compatriots, to an unorthodox brand of communism, that was both Christian and utopian, and these feelings for the poor and underprivileged motivated his own poetry and films.”–Alberto Moravia

updike-sub-600

“If I can read this strange old guy’s mind aright, he’s drinking a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned.”

John Updike, following on the heels of Norman Mailer, died recently, leaving a blank space in the New York Review of Books, where until quite recently he ran lovely articles covering art exhibitions and museum visits.  His was an acute eye, and I’ll miss his observations which I always found intelligent and eloquently written.  Rabbit runs no more.

Speaking of the NYRB, while I seldom read books (really – though I’m presently picking slowly through John McPhee’s massive collection Annals of the Former World ) I have been addicted to this journal for now 40 years or so, reading it cover to cover, regardless of my interest in any given article.  And the “personals” which  seem to demonstrate that its readership began back then and has sat firmly still since, so that the median age of those posting  has shifted from the late 20′s back then, to something around 60-70 now.  Though the sales spiels have remained pretty much the same – literary, often pretentious, “cultured”, generally well-off “left.”   For sure most of them would assert they are into ecology and whatnot, though their travels and second homes make clear it’s a certain kind of wealthy pathology.

NYRB PERSONALS3CRPD

salad in brazil

The kind of salad an NYRB person might eat (this one is from Brazil)

26 yr olds Travis Gay and wife Stephie

Travis B. Gay and his wife Stephanie, from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, all of 26 years old, proud owners of the above house, or at least its mortgage, pickup, SUV, and so it was said, big new plasma screen TV, are miffed that a program which they signed onto which would “forgive” the $100,000 hole they bought into in order to go to college is no longer functioning.  The State borrowed the money for the program to cover its own holes.   What ever happened to the American dream?  What - at 26 I don’t deserve a large house, couple of gas guzzlers, big TV to watch, and I have to pay my education bills?  WTF!   I would bet 10 to 1 Travis and his wife are Republicans too, staunch believers in The Market Economy model of how to structure a society, and think public medical programs are Socialist !   But if the lining goes in their wallet, that’s another story.  Just ask the subsidised farmers, arms makers and others who also think social welfare is a communist plot.

08wichita.650

Thunder-thighs of Wichita

The young women above are praying at the site of the murdered doctor in Kansas who performed legal surgeries to which some of our citizenry object.  Statistically it seems most of those objecting, who label themselves “pro-life,” also support the death penalty.   Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in the church he attended, provoking much radio talk-show heavy-breathing.

I’m an old man now, and a lonesome man in Kansas
          but not afraid
                    to speak my lonesomeness in a car,
                    because not only my lonesomeness
                                it’s Ours, all over America,
                                                     O tender fellows–
                                & spoken lonesomeness is Prophecy
                                in the moon 100 years ago or in
                                          the middle of Kansas now.
It’s not the vast plains mute our mouths
                                that fill at midnite with ecstatic language
                     when our trembling bodies hold each other
                                breast to breast on a matress–
            Not the empty sky that hides
                                           the feeling from our faces
            nor our skirts and trousers that conceal
                     the bodylove emanating in a glow of beloved skin,
                                white smooth abdomen down to the hair
                                                                between our legs,
            It’s not a God that bore us that forbid
                     our Being, like a sunny rose
                                          all red with naked joy
                     between our eyes & bellies, yes
All we do is for this frightened thing
                     we call Love, want and lack–
            fear that we aren’t the one whose body could be
                     beloved of all the brides of Kansas City,
                     kissed all over by every boy of Wichita–
            O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me–
                     On the bridge over the Republican River
                                almost in tears to know
                                           how to speak the right language–
                     on the frosty broad road
                                uphill between highway embankments
                     I search for the language
                                          that is also yours–
                                almost all our language has been taxed by war.
Radio antennae high tension
           wires ranging from Junction City across the plains–
           highway cloverleaf sunk in a vast meadow
                                lanes curving past Abilene
                                          to Denver filled with old
                                                               heroes of love–
                                to Wichita where McClure’s mind
                                          burst into animal beauty
                                          drunk, getting laid in a car
                                                     in a neon misted street
                                                               15 years ago–
           to Independence where the old man’s still alive
           who loosed the bomb that’s slaved all human consciousness
                             and made the body universe a place of fear–
Now, speeding along the empty plain,
                      no giant demon machine
                                visible on the horizon
           but tiny human trees and wooden houses at the sky’s edge
                      I claim my birthright!
                                reborn forever as long as Man
                                          in Kansas or other universe–Joy
                      reborn after the vast sadness of War Gods!
A lone man talking to myself, no house in the brown vastness to hear,
                      imaging the throng of Selves
                                 that make this nation one body of Prophecy
                                          languaged by Declaration as
                                                     Happiness!
I call all Powers of imagination
           to my side in this auto to make Prophecy,
all Lords
                      of human kingdoms to come
Shambu Bharti Baba naked covered with ash
                      Khaki Baba fat-bellied mad with the dogs
Dehorahava Baba who moans Oh how wounded, How wounded
           Sitaram Onkar Das Thakur who commands
                                                       give up your desire
Satyananda who raises two thumbs in tranquility
           Kali Pada Guha Roy whose yoga drops before the void
                       Shivananda who touches the breast and says OM
Srimata Krishnaji of Brindaban who says take for your guru
           William Blake the invisible father of English visions
            Sri Ramakrishna master of ecstasy eyes
                       half closed who only cries for his mother
Chaitanya arms upraised singing & dancing his own praise
            merciful Chango judging our bodies
                       Durga-Ma covered with blood
                                    destroyer of battlefield illusions
                       million-faced Tathagata gone past suffering
            Preserver Harekrishna returning in the age of pain
Sacred Heart my Christ acceptable
                       Allah the Compassionate One
                                           Jahweh Righteous One
                                     all Knowledge-Princes of Earth-man, all
            ancient Seraphim of heavenly Desire, Devas, yogis
                                     & holymen I chant to–
                                            Come to my lone presence
                                                    into this Vortex named Kansas,
I lift my voice aloud,
            make Mantra of American language now,
                             I here declare the end of the War!
                                         Ancient days’ Illusion!
                     and pronounce words beginning my own millennium.
Let the States tremble,
            let the Nation weep,
                       let Congress legislate it own delight
                                  let the President execute his own desire–
this Act done by my own voice,
                                          nameless Mystery–
published to my own senses,
                               blissfully received by my own form
            approved with pleasure by my sensations
                       manifestation of my very thought
                       accomplished in my own imagination
                               all realms within my consciousness fulfilled
            60 miles from Wichita
                                          near El Dorado,
                                                     The Golden One,
in chill earthly mist
            houseless brown farmland plains rolling heavenward
                                                                        in every direction
one midwinter afternoon Sunday called the day of the Lord–
            Pure Spring Water gathered in one tower
                                  where Florence is
                                                        set on a hill,
                                  stop for tea & gas

Wichita Vortex Sutra, Allen Ginsberg, 1966

abortionist killer mugshot

Scott Roeder, killer of Dr. Tiller

wichita tiller

Father & Son of Sgt. John M. Russell who killed 4 fellow GIs in Iraq

Father and son of Sgt. John M. Russell, who after 3 tours of duty, killed 4 fellow GI’s in Iraq

To wrap up, Errol Morris has a very nice, long and interesting essay piece in the NY Times, springing from an examination of the dubious forgeries of Van Meegeren of Vermeer.

21wjug

2-stop-signs

twomblyat chi art inst

Cy Twombly at Chicago Art Institute new Renzo Piano wing

The average American household is saddled with nearly $8,400 of credit card and other revolving debt, according to Economy.com analysis of government data.

roughing it with a camping espresso maker

Espresso maker for campers

ss-090508-wildfire-jc-01.ss_fullpalms on fire

Near Montecito, Ca.

mayalin waves1Maya Lin “Waves” installation, Storm King, NY

Calatrava model ny station wtc

Model of Ground Zero train station by Calatrava

capaslide3

Robert Capa  rolls discovered in Mexico

explorer scouts playExplorer Scouts Play Terrorist Killers

FOTO PONZI 2

Harmony Korine sells Liberty Mutual Insurance to red-necks

10boise-600cropped

Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos
Roubini: Dollar’s Demise

Pension Inquiry Reveals a Power Broker’s Web

Obama Urges Rules on Investments Tied to Crisis


And Tex Avery goes self-referential

Foreclosure sale, NYC

Profiting from another’s misery is, of course, an old story.  Read the spam you get sent.   In the news of late have been some interesting stories on how America ” works.”  One of them is about Penny Mac, a new company which has arisen out of the ashes of an older one, Countrywide.   The latter did mortgages, and was one of the instigators of the present housing bubble crash.  Executives from it have managed to borrow a mess of money and are now buying up defaults cheap, refinancing, and, well, making more money based on the mess they produced and from which they profited earlier, though leaving others to hold the empty bag.  Now that is capitalism!!

“In an insane world, the person who is rational has the problem. Money is as addictive as cocaine.” — Andrew Lo, a professor of financial engineering.

For some decades now, in the economics departments across the academic landscape, it has been the “Chicago School,” (Milton Friedman, most famously) which has ridden high in the saddle, espousing the kind of economics that has landed us in this mess.  These are those of “the short sharp shock” of  Thatcherism.  Leave it to Ivory Tower “thinkers” to get very detached from reality and in due time have their theories, brought into practice in the big real world, bring ruin to all.   Back in the 60′s it was the Best and Brightest (aka Robert McNamara et al) who ushered in the Viet Nam war, sure they knew better than everyone how to manage with up to date methods the nasty matter of war.  More recently Mr. “Stuff Happens” Rumsfeld followed precisely in the same footprints.  So now, as the unfolding economic debacle reveals the hollowness of theory, and these economists (Greenspan, Paulson, etc.) scamper to lay blame anywhere but at their own feet, doubtless we will be treated to arcane new theories and numbers which won’t, of course, do a damn thing for those recently booted from their houses thanks to the glories of plain old fashioned socially and politically encouraged greed in the form of con-men high and low issuing sucker loans and mortgages, and credit card issuers jacking up their %, all to a deliberately dumbed-down and now numbed-out unterclass, which bought into the slick promotions that promised everything for nothing down and a little tiny print about something later.

Economists seem in general not to be into morals.  And their practitioners – businessmen – seem not to be into ethics.  Every man for himself.  Darwinian blah blah.   He who dies with the most toys wins, says the bumper sticker.

Calvin Coolidge

“The business of America is business.”

And you can trust assured that for Republicans, this statement is the god-almighty truth, and they make sure they practice it as a religion.  In fact, as many recent mega-church pastors have said, sort of following in the statement of a recent Chinese communist premier (Deng Xiaoping) who said “To get rich is glorious,”  being filthy rich is a sign that God loves you and you are doing right.  Indeed.

Robert Schuyler’s Crystal Cathedral, Orange County Ca.

Meantime back in the numbers racket, this:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Freddie Mac, one of the two main U.S. mortgage companies that the U.S. government is depending on to help stabilize the housing market, said on Wednesday it needs $30.8 billion from the Treasury to survive after a massive fourth-quarter loss.

Interestingly, in the NYT article saying this they fail to actually mention how much money old Freddie Mac has already gobbled up in US taxpayer largesse:  $284 billion to 150 billion, split between Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (don’t you love these folksy names) – I can’t find an actual figure for Freddie in a quick Google search.  So Joe Public coughs up another 30.8 billion or Freddie goes under.  Where, to whom, why, how all this money goes remains a matter of opaqueness, along with the other estimated 3-9 trillion bucks being used to prop up our glorious system, pride of the nation, or at least of the 1% of the filthy rich part.   The rest are being played, as usual, for suckers.

Ah, but Mr. Schuyler will be happy to pray for you up there on his television monitor while you sit in the sun-splashed SoCal pews, and, deep in Orange County, surely vote Republican.

The national news meme for our two permitted slightly different political parties is that Republicans, The Grand Old Party, are the guardian of thrift, of small government, of national security, etc.  Re the matter of national security – on just whose watch, and given ample forewarning of imminent threat, did the 9/11 attack occur?  And of the former items, see the below.

natl_debt_chart_2004Thanx to Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

For more on this, see cinemaelectronica.

Jostled by Pope Gregory in 1582, we shall not, this year of 2009, following the dictum

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 is not a leap year; the year 2000 is a leap year,

be leaping.  Rather we will trudge, trailing in our wake the dismal offal of the millennium’s inauspicious beginning, from the fraudulent if costly alarums of WK2, wherein doomsday was imagined in the errant programming of myriad computers, and on to the equally fraudulent election in the USA of George W. Bush, ensconced on the throne of alleged democratic power by a Supreme Court intervention of a decidedly undemocratic kind, thus turning the Presidency over to the man who secured fewer popular votes than the losing party, and fouling the political waters for the coming years.   Hot on the heels of this ascension the mystic numbers 911 arrived, no irony intended that it is the usual emergency telephone shortcut in America, and whatever one’s intuition’s about just how this occurred (mine conclude it was in some manner a distinctly inside job, the investigation of which thus far has left far too many oddities for mere coincidence) this in turn led rapidly to an ideological hysteria which permitted the American Right to cram, or attempt to do so,  its values into every nook and cranny of the social-political-economic and ethical landscape.    In the name of the victory of so-called Western values over those of Communism, summarized by the collapse of the former Soviet Union, a triumphalist America pigged out, convinced that the Wall Street Way of uber-capitalism, out-sourcing, globalizing, and all the other buzzwords of the corporate masters was indeed the wave of the future.  Neo-cons, tucked away in their “think tanks” theorized away, imagining a veritable epoch of American hegemony, uncontested by any other parties, a time in which so-called American values could be imposed globally – American hamburgers, democracy, and economic models dished out, of course in the classic American manner, for the good of the recipients (whether they liked it or not).   Evangelicals, courted for their electoral clout, tagged along, dreaming of imposing a reign of their mode of Christianity across the national spectrum.   911 emboldened this view as the world quickly, if briefly, lined up in sympathy, and to the Yankee ear the logic of necessity rang clear:  we gotta ‘tack them there before they ‘tack us here, went the Bushian mantra.  Along with the other fanciful think-tank palliatives like “democracies never go to war with each other,” and “trading parties never go to war with each other.”  It was America uber alles because it was good for us, and if it was good for us it was good for them.

And so, following W‘s lead, we twisted the evidence where needed, and marched gloriously off to war, without the usual annoyances of a draft or the raising of taxes.  All that was required of us was “go shopping,” run up the credit card, submit to a cyclical fear-amperage boost and forget about war crimes.

Yellow.

Orange.

RED !

Shop and be afraid.


For a while Americans, or some Americans, even a majority of them, were taken with this new American Imperial vision in which GI’s would traipse around the world’s bad nabes, and do in the bad guys over there while we all partied over here.   Even when the hidden bodies began to return home, and the Mission Accomplished soured, and the deal of having the war paid for by Iraqi oil, and all the other think-tank pipe dreams began to curdle in smoke, there was still the booming housing market to buoy things along, and run up the credit card a bit longer.   And W won his next lost election, scamming his way to another four years on the claims of being a heroic cod-pieced War President smokin’ ‘em out. Back in 2004 his popularity rating was still in the 60% range, the economy was seemingly cooking, and Katrina had not yet arrived to show that the show was, well, all show, and that bin Laden, the bad guy, might or might not be alive and laughing.

Here Sam Mendes, of the UK, not US, stands with his wife Ms Winslet, preparing a shot for Revolutionary Road, based on a dyspeptic novel of the 1950′s of the same title, taking to critical task the imaginary Nirvana of upper-end suburbia.  Reviews suggest the film has “high production values/classy set design” and some good acting, though there doesn’t seem to be any accord that it is actually a good film.   One look at this production still, not really greatly different from most production stills, shows the fundamental problem, which reverberates down through the fraudulent sets of Hollywood, on through the multiplex and right across the nation to settle in the dual cesspools of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Wash., DC.   The problem is an essential fakeness of such insidious qualities that more or less all involved don’t see that everything around them, as well as the image in the mirror, is indeed fake.  Fraudulent.  Phony.

Above, as Mr Mendes counsels Kate about the next shot, we see a crew standing about, holding an umbrella to keep the actual sun from searing our starlet’s blond tints.   The lackey, doubtless making $500 or more a day, stands in spotless sneakers, as spotless as the never-worn-but-on-the-set costume of Ms Winslet, all in pristine unsmudged whites, lacking any evident rumples of life.  Around them the scrims and diffusion screens and high wattage lights, on a perfectly fine looking sunny day, belie the core falsity of Hollywood, just as do the costumes and the movie-biz pay scales.  The trades say the film cost (“a relatively low-budget”) $45,000,000 so we may assume that Mr Mendes and wife picked up a handy 5-10 million between them, while the other stars perhaps got less than their usual, and all the regular Hollywood sorts from DOP to grips got their customary $500-$5,000 a day, plus out-of-town housing, per diem, etc., for their ever so specialized labors.   For sure none of the parties involved felt the slightest sense of hypocrisy while the two leads tore at each other acting out the dismal story-line.   Rather they doubtless felt they were engaged in a serious piece of socio-critical art, with a “serious” director, and that whatever the critiques laid out for Connecticut suburbia circa 1955,  they applied not at all to these denizens of Beverley Hills, Santa Monica or whichever hip enclave in New York, London or Santa Barbara they all call home.  Revolutionary Road is but one rather minor film in the parade of equally morally squalid “product” which spills out from Hollywood, never mind the massive toilet of television.  Of course, this business is all considered perfectly normal, part of the cultural swirl which is America.  In this particular world, we’re all American Idols.


However fraudulent, in the last decades has come the complaint from Hollywood that the money-changers have taken over the biz, that bean-counters have replaced those enamored of the movies, and it’s been a downhill skid ever since.  This was said as Wall Street souls had entered the inner sanctums of the studios, buying up (along with Sony) the fabled MGM, Warner Brothers, and Paramount.  Filthy numbers had replaced the less tangible matters of art, and the good old Hwd had been bought like a whore.  Laughable as this lament may have been, indeed the hyperized pressures of the new capitalism have in fact left a lot less space for the quirky emergence of anything like art, and have replaced them with a quasi-scientific attempt to quantify every aspect of this most commercial of businesses.  But, the numbers did indeed shoot up, and the cost of making, marketing and exhibiting a film have leapt, along with the pay-scales of nearly all attached to the enterprise.   Alas, this ballooning scarcely measures next to that of Wall Street, where CEO’s whose names fail to register on any marquee, are accorded payment which dwarfs that of any hot Hollywood star, or even the entire budget of a carefully calculated mega-monster BO buster.   Compared to their brethren in New York, the moguls of LA are decidedly minor league.

(Enter Henry “Hank” Paulson, stage Right)

In the autumn of 2008, as the cumulative fraud of the United States’ economy unveiled itself as an Enron scam exponentially beyond any recognition, Henry Paulson, US Secretary of the Treasury, former CEO of Goldman Sachs (where he picked up a mere $700 million for his labors – to say for his involvement in the development of those exotic fiscal Ponzi schemes called “derivatives,” – not to mention his extra departing bonuses as he moved on to Federal service) announced that despite his not so long ago assurances (January 2008) that “the fundamentals of the US economy were sound,” that instead he was Chicken Little and The Sky Was Falling.   He demanded that he be given a mere $700 billion to pass out to his errant banking buddies, and that under no circumstances should there be any accounting or even any manner in which to account for this, otherwise he sagely said, The Sky Will Fall.  After some modest negotiation with an ectoplasmic Congress, this deal was cut and he was duly given his $700 billion, to pass out ostensibly to grease the fiscal system to loan again, though in fact this did not occur.  Instead the systemic freeze on loaning money remained gelid, and at least $350 billion went somewhere, unaccounted, into the vaults of – would you have ever guessed? – Goldman Sachs, and other banks and fiscal entities such as American International General, all of which had Ponzi’ed themselves into a deep accounting negative, playing mostly with the vaunted “derivatives” – debt sold as a positive value – which had not panned out.  Pity the poor bankers.  Being who they were they didn’t imagine that holding half-million dollar parties with the Federal bailout funds while “folks” were being evicted from their foreclosed homes would be anything but normal, and hardly could they imagine any shame attached to such behavior.  So party they did.   Now some months have passed, and while billions have been printed and shoved in the hands of those who provoked this crisis, little has changed (well, except that the banks refilled their coffers and party funds, and some million or so lost their jobs, and some 100,000′s  lost their homes, and….) and the sky has not yet fallen, though it threatens to do so any moment.  Those august persons in authority again admonish us:

Shop and be afraid.



As the house of cards which is America begins to shudder in the breeze, there is a sudden arrival of accounting.  The pundits of the press and the television talking heads all rush in to analyze the problems besetting us, each and every one side-stepping their role in setting up exactly those problems.   Those who cheered on a tax-cut and a draftless war (more or less all of them) now lament a lazy you-want-something-for-nothing public which fell for this line.  Not them, of course.  No, their public wisdoms are meant to evaporate with the morning dew, each day providing a virgin canvas for new visions never accountable to the thoughts of the past.  Thomas Friedman is an exemplary of this tendency, who having energetically cheered on the illegal invasion/occupation/war in Iraq, was a major Bush booster,  then went on to applaud globalization and all its effects (outsourcing, down-sizing), now stridently insists we need to re-boot America – the economy, our politics, our morals, ethics, etc. etc. – as if he had had nothing whatsoever to do with our slurping in the troughs of corruptions of all kinds.   He represents the tonier end of such sentiments, but has many with whom he shares company.

And so America, having preached the virtues of honesty, democracy, and proper ethics, etc. to those abroad – even if we never practiced it at home – has now fallen into the depravity of the worst of corruptions of all kinds – political, economic, ethical, moral.  We are a nation of torturers, of thieves in pin-stripes (or surely some other costume these days), of Elmer Gantry’s who preach and wantonly fuck, and of ordinary people who think glamor is properly rewarded with millions and only lament that they are not in on the take.   We trundle to Vegas thinking it our due that the wheel of fortune should shine on us, even if we have done nothing whatsoever to deserve it outside putting a chip on red or black.  We send our sons and daughters to universities of costly kinds and expect they should get an A across the board even if they have only narcissistically filled their Facebook with imaginary friends and never learned how to spell or count.   We partake of a thoroughly corrupted system and cannot imagine that we ourselves are stained.   We are “the good Americans” and now, as Bush prepares to take his leave, Obama will absolve us all, and everything will magically be OK.

But it won’t.

The fraud of our culture is reflected in the films of Hollywood, in its phony light which we have long acknowledged as “the dream factory,” and its output, if vaguely accurate, shows that our dreams are a tawdry kind, devoid of our reality even when, as in Revolutionary Road, imagining to be deeply rooted in it, just as it is reflected in our politics, in which those who survive its system are as plastic as the costumes of Hollywood.  And those who accept this, and vote for it, compliant and submissive, are as plastic as their “wealth.”  Which in these days has proven to be illusory.



The following is a letter to the editor to the New York Times, in response to their opinion page item, The Great Unraveling, by the inimitable Thomas Friedman.

To the Editor:

In today’s Times, from his usual moral high-horse, Thomas Friedman excoriates American bankers and stock traders and demands a change: “…Which is why we don’t just need a financial bailout; we need an ethical bailout.”

Mr. Friedman apparently believes in situational ethics, for on  April 27, 2003, he wrote this: ” As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war. That skull, and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue).”

Being a man of reputed wisdom, perhaps Mr Friedman might now see the connection between the example of dishonesty and deceit at the highest levels of government in the service of the most grave act of government, to commit to war, and the dishonesty and deceitfulness of the financial community which is, after all, only following the example of the Federal Executive.

For a man regarded as having a broad overview of the world, able to gather together and bind a wide range of information, one would think this elemental matter would have been visible to him long ago.  The ethical tone of so-called “leaders” is often reflected in those they lead.

If you will recall Mr. Friedman was one of the loudest proponents of the aggression against Iraq for its alleged holding of WMD.  The greatest unraveling for Mr. Friedman is his consistent failure to apply the honesty he now demands of others to himself.

Sincerely

Prof Jon Jost

Of course to expect honesty of the man who lives in the house depicted below, who sometimes scribbles about the virtues of  “green” technology, and who invariably contrives to wrong-foot himself, is to ask for miracles.   Mr. Friedman is a bought man, like most of those who live in the world of high finance, or who wield great influence in the councils of government.  Because he is bought, he brings a high-price for lectures.  But somewhere, he pays an even higher price.


Thomas Friedman, quoted in 2006:

“I don’t know whether I’m successful or not—depends on your metric—but I’m sure having fun. Never had a bad day. Shame on me if I did.”

Thomas Friedman, columnist for the Gray Lady of New York, who pontificates twice weekly in the Times “opinion pages,” is, by any accounting, almost always wrong.  He lives in the above pictured Bethesda, Maryland McMansion of a mere 11,000 sq. feet.   Perpetual wrongness is a stance he shares with his co-columnist Bill Kristol, whose smiling face peers out inanely each week as he spills forth some form of mental excrement for which he is surely equally well recompensed.  Doubtless Mr Kristol also lives in a house of similar proportions.  Why the Times gives these two people the dignity and “authority” of space to publish their alleged thoughts is beyond me, though it smacks of establishment corruption.   Mr Friedman, who, like Kristol, is taken as some kind of “expert,” never admits to his errors – rather he scurries to attempt to cover them, taking tactical distance each time a brilliant idea he has advocated turns to shit.  Friedman was an ardent supporter of the Iraq invasion and illegal war, pounding the drums as loud as anyone.  When the WMD failed to materialize, and the flower-strewn welcome to America’s Democracy-at-the-point-of-a-gun did not happen,  Friedman, as is his style, did a little foot shuffle, blamed his hero Bush for mismanagement,  and went on as if he had nothing to do with the Iraq fiasco.   He previously waxed lyrical about the wonders of out-sourced globalized labor published an inane book, The World is Flat, until the US economy tanked in part thanks to the decimation of US labor which globalization incurred.  This is his MO, ever-wrong and ever moving on to new enlightenments.  A recent one is that now that “the surge” has allegedly worked, Iraq will indeed morph into the beacon of democracy in the nasty middle-east, which was, at some juncture, said to be the raison d’etre of the attack, and that hence Bush will in the long run be proven right.  Never mind a little unprovoked illegal war of aggression, torture, and rape of a country of 23 million, half of whom were children, which could hardly ever have posed a threat to the US, but did sit on top of a very sizable pool of oil.  Never mind the global blow-back from the ugliness of American actions there. I’ve written any number of Letters to the Editor of the Gray Lady, taking Mr. Friedman to task for his hypocrisies and errors.  Naturally none were ever published.

The other day Mr Friedman turned his pen and his imagined intelligence to the matter of America’s fiscal disorder:

“This financial meltdown involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics…. So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made a fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.”

“That’s how we got here — a near total breakdown of responsibility at every link in our financial chain, and now we either bail out the people who brought us here or risk a total systemic crash. These are the wages of our sins.”

In this litany of finger-pointing Mr Friedman, seemingly like everyone else involved, fails to point a finger at himself, or at the 5th Estate for which he works.  Nope, Thomas is not doubting, and as usual he knows best.  Just how he secured the funds for his 7 acre spread and 11 thousand square feet of posh property surely has nothing to do with our financial problems.  Getting paid obscene fees for lectures based on the sinppets of wisdom one has had printed in the national press, however consistently wrong that wisdom has proven to be, cannot be cited as a moral failure, nor painted as an example of what has gone so woefully wrong with America (lack of accountability?) – after all it’s made a handsome living for the man.  In his column Mr Friedman never utters the word most applicable to the machinations of Wall Street honchos who were instrumental in cooking this stew, one of whom is presently our Secretary of the Treasury and another of which is scheduled to be so come confirmation after January 20th 2009.  The word is “corrupt.”  Perhaps he cannot coax this word from his lips since it would apply equally well to him and his behavior.   Another is doubtless “criminal,” though that would require proof in court.  That the practices of Wall Street have been corrupt is transparent, even to those who lack any particular education in the finer fiscal arts.  Taking away the veil of fashionable costly men’s wear, the suits and ties, the elegant cars, the multiple houses and condos, what we have is a mess of scheming thieves who lathered their deals with impenetrable mumbo-jumbo, and sold massive amounts of debt as value.  Mr Ponzi would be proud, just as would any street-corner shell gamester.  And, like the guy down on the corner who probably cut a deal with the local cops on the beat, the Wall Street con artists long ago cut a deal with their police – the Federal Government.  In fact they didn’t cut a deal, they bought the whole joint:  Mr Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury, arm of the US Government which is alleged to oversee and regulate the securities industry, meet Mr Paulson, recent CEO of the now beleagured too-big-to-fail Goldman Sachs, who was deeply involved in cooking up all those debt-is-value hot tamales which were sold to pension funds, 401(k) holders, and others, and all of whom have now discovered that debt is not a high-interest cash-cow, but in fact a hole in your wallet.  Meanwhile for his expertise in this innovative turn on Ponzi’s schemes, Mr Paulson waltzed home with a mere $700,000,000 in pay, not to mention the bonus he got on top of that.   So, while the shadows seem to be closing in on this brilliant wizard of Wall Street, one imagines at least his retirement will not exactly be onerous.  If, in due time, it proves not to be honorable.

Friedman has built a comfortable life, even leaving aside his wife’s family fortune. His speaking fee recently passed $50,000; with his Times salary, syndication rights, and royalties from his bestselling books, his annual income easily reaches seven figures. When he’s not on the road, he is a regular fixture in Aspen where his in-laws have a house, and at his country clubs. Locally he belongs to Bethesda Country Club and Caves Valley near Baltimore.


Mr Henry Paulson, US Secretary of the Treasury, former CEO of Goldman Sachs

However, did Mr Friedman, or his fellow pundits ever utter a word about the revolving door of corporate-government cosiness, the blatant conflicts of interest, and the transparent corruption which had become the Wall Street-K Street norm?  Not on your life.  After all don’t you imagine the next door neighbors there in Bethesda are likely the lobbyists who played bagmen for this whole culture?  Is Mr Friedman, like George Will and a host of others, himself not little more than a fig-leaf of intellectual camouflage for the entire scam?  To say “the system”  has long since gone rotten to the core, including the 5th estate and the myriad talking heads of Sunday’s corporate TV, each long ago bought and sold, like General McCaffrey, a military-industrial shill passed off as “expert” and duly paid to mouth the arms dealer’s latest line, are all symptomatic of the illness.  Each day brings new perfectly consistent revelations of the corruption which is, in their favored phrase, bottom-line, the truth of our country and its culture:  corruption, top down to bottom.

Now, as the hollowed-out, “globalized,” off-shored, out-sourced, derivative-laden American ship of debt  sinks, these same people clamor that unseemly as it is, we must now bail out the guilty in order to save the innocent, since the entire system, like each of its major components (AIG, Goldman Sachs, GM, etc.) is “too big to fail.”   It was all our faults (except Thomas’), so they insist, and in order to save the innocent worthy we must save the system – which after all is the only system we’ve got or can imagine having, and which, in point of fact, is manned and run almost exclusively by the devious, the unethical, the unworthy.  The mantra goes, we’re all in this boat together.  It joins the previous one which was repeated by our RightRadio, that we mustn’t have any class warfare as the concentration of wealth exponentially narrowed and the middle and bottom got squeezed out of the national accounts.   Nope, mustn’t have any of that class warfare.

While Mr Friedman and his country-club friends will certainly be far more unscathed by the slide into depression than will the “Joe the Plumbers,” even they will perhaps begin to feel the chill as their drives to and from their Aspen or Bethesda enclaves require an armed escort as so many of the soon-to-be-very-pissed-off lumpen proletariat, unemployed and headed down, whacked on meth, are, especially out in the rural realms favored as retreats for the rich, well-armed and potentially very dangerous.  Perhaps it is time to invest in companies specializing in Kevlar lined helicopters and Blackwater can take up domestic “security” instead of rampaging around Iraq.

George Grozs

The scenario above should be a caricature, but unhappily it is not.  It is a realistic portrait of a culture gone to seed, corroded and auto-deluded.  It is the culture America has been living in for some decades now, increasingly lost in a sequence of escalating delusions, while ever patting itself on the back about American exceptionalism.  These delusions materialize in a generation or two of young people – and older, too – who cannot spell, write, or speak coherently – not just your local yokal, but nice middle-class and better college educated kids.  Our soon to depart President exemplifies this – and he has degrees from Yale and Harvard.  And just how did he get them?  Where does the corruption begin?

These delusions materialize in the assumption of many that wealth is simply one’s due, and on graduation from a university, where one failed to learn how to spell, write or read, an annual paycheck of $70,000 or more is a given.  Or on winning American Idol, or a visit to Vegas. It materializes when a parent shells out $50,000 or $70,000 a year in university tuition fees, and expects an A in turn, and the college professor in order to retain their job, shrugs and gives the required stamp of approval: they bought it.  It materializes when a business executive flies first class, hotels the same, wines and dines, sluts, all on the company tab. “Expenses.”  It materializes when the CEO of a corporation pays himself in collusion with his boardroom friends obscene fees to drive his company into bankruptcy, which he eludes with an insider dump of his stocks just before the fall, and departs with a pre-arranged golden parachute. “Business.”

Tom Mix

Another fake cowboy

In a corrupted society it materializes almost anywhere, and is taken as natural and normal.  Americans, carefully trained to believe in their own exceptionalism and innate goodness, tend to think corruption is always somewhere else: in Mexico, in Argentina, in Pakistan, in Italy or Turkey, or maybe in the precinct station in a bad part of town.  It is our peculiar corruption to so paint ourselves, ever the guys in the white hats, while we have historically charged San Juan hill, the shores of Tripoli, and anywhere else where it seemed useful, profitable, and necessary to our ruling oligarchy.  But we did it, and we’re Americans, so naturally whatever we did, it was, bottom-line, for the good of the other party: “We had to destroy the village to save it.”

Or, Wars R Us.

Our real exceptionalism lies in our endless capacity for self-dealing and denial.

To place all this in perspective, the below are crystals that were around on earth 3.5 billion years ago, and from which, so they say, our scientists get information indicating that some form of life on this planet may have been kicking by then:

Dec. 13 2008

I feel the need to post this addendum, as Mr Friedman, as is his way, just keeps on keeping on.  Here, today, is the lead-off of his NYT column:

If there is anything I’ve learned as a reporter, it’s that when you get away from “the thing itself” — the core truth about a situation — you get into trouble.

The fundamental thing about Mr Friedman is that he seems unable to apply this little maxim to the most fundamental thing at hand:  himself. In the same column he excoriates the banks and financial system, Detroit, and Kabul.  Along the way he pats himself on the back for Iraq, though events in Iraq were inextricably attached to the Iraq story:  blatant corruption and the original sin that the grounds for the war, alleged WMD, was a lie.  Just like the mystical cash-cow of derivatives was a lie, and just like the logic of Detroit was a lie.  As ever, little Tommy frantically wriggles away from is own bad bets, just like his once-hero Mr George Walker Bush does.   The biggest cheer-leader for the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq; a hyped-up proponent of globalization and somewhere if I recall properly a big supporter of the war in Afghanistan – now, without a hint of his previous positions, Mr Friedman reverses himself, passing on his new little nuggets of wisdom.

Does he ever admit he “married up” to a real estate heiress?  Does he ever mention his mega-footage McMansion?  Does he ever look in the mirror and manage one honest thought?

Are you kidding?

While Mr Friedman laments the pathetic corruption and dishonesty of America, circa 2008, he fails to notice that he himself is a perfect example of what’s wrong with America.


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