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RULING SPURS RUSH FOR CASH IN BOTH POLITICAL PARTIES

(New York Times Headline, April 4, 2014)

Returned to the US after close to four months away, I arrived to the cacophony of money.  It is, as the phrase goes, bottom-line American.  The All-Mighty Buck.  Follow the money.  Money talks, bullshit walks.  It’s the American way, just ask Justice Scalia, or his StepnFetchit, Justice Thomas.

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Money

Money is a kind of poetry.– Wallace Stevens

Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

To be made of it! To have it
to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes.

It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.

Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.

Money. You don’t know where it’s been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.

                               Dana Gioia

 

Adding insult to injury, following Citizens United, backing their decision with specious arguments asserting it wasn’t in any way a mode of corruption, the Robert’s Supreme Court this past week ruled that Federal caps on many forms of political campaign donations were unconstitutional (McCutcheon v. FEC.)  Just as the prior ruling had it that corporations are people, and hence have the same First Amendment rights as the two footed form.   And so the flood-gates opened, resulting in the NYT headline cited above.  Yep, money is, says the Supreme Court, a mode of “talk” and the First Amendment prohibits any clamps on our mouths by the government.  Let ‘er rip.  Of course the same Court has few compunctions about intervening at other orifices and apparently sees no contradiction therein, and I am sure in other instances the same court would happily rule to shut some mouths.

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Returning was a narrow and selective chance to see the effects of money in the real world.  Arriving in NYC, a ramble through the once hot artistic bohemian realm of Soho revealed an ever more glamorous shopping mall, to serve the new denizens of the area, awash in wealth. Gucci Prada Luis Vuitton as well as more local practitioners of sucking up the money from the very rich.  Nearby areas reflected a similar trajectory making much of Manhattan a play-ground mostly for the very well-off.  Some visits to Brooklyn showed a down-scale version of the same phenomenon:  Green Point, Red Hook, Williamsburg, Gowanus.  There the young hipsters, priced out of swanky Manhattan, have taken over run-down swathes of the city and, as in many other places I know, displacing the locals (poorer, most often of color other than Anglo) and bringing in their “culture.”  Soon enough condo’s sprout, the economic level shifts up a few more notches, and “gentrification” happens.  This is all done under the Mystical Invisible Hand of the Market, so it is, ahem, ideologically free, not racist, etc.  Once again the rumble of cash turns into a tsunami, wiping out all in its (s)way.

 

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945_BOSTON-FIRE_1978From Peter Hutton’s Boston Fire

Moving on from New York, where I got a few harsh reminders of the current economic trends as they apply to the likes of me, I caught a mix of Amtrak and buses on down to Columbus Ohio, a trip which put me in the company of the sorts shoved out of Brooklyn and who can’t afford airplanes.  At one point the bus had to stop as an altercation was going on, and finally the police were called and took the soul away.  He was not Anglo colored.  Another bus jaunt northward brought me back to Cleveland where I had a chance to see another once-industrial city dying as the slosh of massive money shifted to other climes in the name of “Globalization.”   This policy was put into effect at the behest of our larger corporations, with the assurances it would bring jobs and all kinds of good things to America.  Both our permitted political parties, eagerly embraced these policies, singing a siren song of praises for what it would do for the Nation.   It brought instead the ubiquitous Wal-Mart boxes and boarded up small town Main Streets, along with the larger decimation of places like Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo and a long string of other once productive American cities.  The children of old Sam Walton are among the richest people in the world, having sold their Arkansas snake-oil to the country while laying waste to it.  Ironically the country which most “capitalized” on this policy, China, has equally been laid waste with horrendous ecological damage, corruption, and sometime soon an economic crash as rapid and vast as its ascent.

A customer leaves a Wal-Mart store in Rogers

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Severe Weather WI

Other travels have taken me to the quasi-abandoned northwest corner of Missouri, and across Missouri, Iowa and rural Illinois to Chicago.  The seeming story remains the same: small towns sucked dry of their economic ground, family farms taken over by corporate ones, jobs swept away, leaving boarded up towns, a litany of For Sale signs, weathered and hopeless.  Meanwhile, our government, in collusion with our biggest corporations, secretly negotiates the terms of the TPP (TransPacific-Partnership), kissing cousin to NAFTA (of which the long forgotten Presidential candidate, Ross Perot, accurately predicted – to predictable ridicule from the establishment – that the giant sound you would hear would be the jobs being sucked away….).  Obama, the candidate who promised “transparency,” is fully involved in this scam, along with the NSA one.

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James Clapper

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As spring arrives, haltingly in many parts of the country, already the noise of the mid-term elections are upon us, and with it, the massive noise of money.  Money in the form of endless political TV ads, money in the form of bought and paid for “representatives” of the people: Federal, State, local.  Money in the form of long since paid-off Supreme Court “Justices” who bend to the siren song of capital.  The NSA keeps silent watch over us, as an army of co-conspirators, such as Mr Clapper, pull the levers, violating “the law” everyday, and suffering no response.  Just as did our previous President and his entourage.  We live in a criminalized Nation, with the great criminals residing, naturally, at the very top of the pyramid of power.

It is spring time in Tornado Alley.

 

 

Google Data Center in Council Bluffs

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Eli Elliott

The last time I saw Eli was in Tampa, back in the spring, just after I’d returned to USA, and was doing some screenings and such to round up some bucks.   He’d driven down there, slowly, losing his traveling companion, a cat, in some trailer home place near St Louis.  He was staying in Tampa at a place someone in the family had.   We had a Mexican meal downtown and he gave me a ride back to my friend Charles Lyman, out by a river.   I got some pics of him and his rig:

Eli’s bumper ornamentEli rides again (with his minimo-x)

On my trip I had occasion to take the bus a few times – from Nashville to Knoxville, and from Owatonna, Minnesota to Omaha, and, back in 2002, when I’d returned from 10 years out of the country, I took one from Tampa to Columbus, SC.  Talking with Eli I described the experience as riding with “the other America.”    Not the same folks as the planes, for sure.   As it happens his rolling converted emergency vehicle has mechanical problems, and recently his father, in Detroit, had a heart attack, so to go up to see him and perhaps be of help, he took the bus.  He sent me and some other a “collective  send” about it and I liked a lot and asked if I could print here.  So here’s installment one.   Later he’ll be heading to Boise, Idaho.

THE GREYHOUND CHRONICLES (1)

I’m back on the Hound for now, possibly on/off for next 2-3 months. As some have mentioned in the past that they’ve  missed my Greyhound stories (2 or 3 people) I present them as they unravel, via email for the selected. Please email back “SPARE ME” if not wanted. A brief update on other things in general I will also squeeze in between, but for now here’s a first string of notes and ramblings from THE GREYHOUND, also called by friend Jon, “The Other America”.

ST. PETE TO SOUTHFIELD

 (36 Hours – Fri. Night Depart – Sun. Morning Arrive. Numerous 1-5 hour Bus Station layovers involved)

 Our Coach, outside Atlanta, I think…

PART 1 :  “GARY”

“PFFT.. YEAH RIGHT..”

Upon arrival at the Tampa Florida bus terminal on the first short stretch of otherwise long Greyhound travel to Southfield Michigan, our Greyhound driver informed us that our under the bus bags would be automatically shuffled over to the proper coach in which we were transferring onto. I turned around to the guy behind me muttering a mocking comment at the announcement.

This baggage shuffle routine is notorious for scenarios where folks show up at their final destination only to discover their bags hadn’t followed them. 36 hours later I would  meet such a guy who’d been traveling the same route as I, and upon arrival, was 1 bag shy. “Goddamnit now I’m gonna have to deal with a shitload of red tape tryin’ to git my damn bag back”

In the meantime my knee jerk mutterings landed to the ears of the guy behind me. A guy named GARY.

Around 60, very worn face, full beard with nicotine stained ‘stache, Gary had some trouble reading the departure times on his ticket and asked if I could help. Gary was on his way to Boston, where he had a Doctors appointment scheduled.  I noticed on his forearm what looked liked a ping pong ball stuffed under his skin, which expanded and further disguised the image of his dull, faded green forearm tattoo.

While in Boston Gary also hoped to visit his only son who was a HELLS ANGEL, the Sergeant of Arms for that particular chapter, and who was currently incarcerated, awaiting court proceedings where it looked as though he could be facing a life sentence. We never discussed the crime and I knew better than to ask, since Gary wouldn’t have let on anyway if it was Angels related, which I suspected. His sons ordeal clearly pained Gary and while passing by freeway lights in the 3 am near pitch black bus I’d catch glimpses of him wiping his eyes when the conversation came back to his boy.

Me and Gary would end up talking throughout most of the night, and into the beginnings of the next day.

Gary was one of those unsummed American hellraisers who had lived a wild life consisting of muscle cars, motorcycles, frequent intoxications and numerous stints inside prisons; “workouts” he would call his time inside. The worn face had marked his own cheats on death, many of which he told me, while at the same time signified the now potentially soon arrival towards death.  I told him it sounded like he’s had a helluva ride. Upon reflection, “Well, yeah, I sure did have a lotta fun (in life)”.

He lived a far and wide life as well. From workin’ an oil rig in Texas to the pipeline gig in Alaska to Los Angeles drug running via Maui, and to what he called “Gypsy Asphalting” which consisted of working for a group of con men who would  lay down asphalt every month in a different state; as Gary explained: “after a month, all the asphalt we laid would eventually come back up, but by then we’d be moved on to another state doin’ it all over again…”  Gypsy Asphaltin’.

None of this was bravado, but more humble. His stories unfolded natural, with a bit of subtle prying on my part. This needs to be said as many Hound riders can be compulsive in their braggart story tellings.  Gary would’ve been just some guy with a doctors appointment had I not listened and shown some interest which he picked up on.

Before hopping aboard the Hound, I had just learned that the movie premiere of Kerouacs novel ON THE ROAD was screening somewhere tonight. Rather than having gone see it I realized I was celebrating it by undertaking Jack’s favorite form of travel, the Greyhound Bus. And I was meeting Gary who provided his own verbal rambling novella, and would likely never have a movie made on him, though probably could, maybe should, but no, never would.

A glimpse of Gary

PART 2 :  “BOB”

Swaggering steady through the Tampa bus terminal was a man with a full suit on, yet the tie was undone, the shirt unbuttoned, and the hair disheveled; a bad day on Wall Street perhaps. But since this was a Friday  in Western Florida, inside a Greyhound Bus terminal nearing midnight, Bob’s story was a bit different.

Bob, 70, was headed all the way back to El Centro California where he owned 100 acres in the desert, 12 miles from the Mexico border.  He prided himself in his sharing of the land, by allowing travelers or passer throughs to stay there for a bit while he would feed and fix meals for them. “And I’m not talking no rice and beans…When I prepare a meal for someone…I prepare a MEAL.”  Bob talked to me further about his willingness to help out folks due to his own on edge situation and not knowing how much longer he had in life to live, and not having anyone to really give the land to as an inheritance when he was gone. So I guess he was giving a little of it to everyone while he was still alive.

The journey ahead of Bob was a ridiculous 3 or 4 day Greyhound ordeal shooting him in all kinds of roundabout directions, anything from the straight shot route one would think to travel to Southern California if looking at a map. And one wondered, if his suit and disheveledness as it was after only day 1, what would become of Bob after a day 3 or 4. Would he even make it.

That thought became stronger as he held up his only carry on luggage which was a casino plastic bag which had the advertisement image of  hundreds of clumped together dollar bills on the front along with the name of the casino.

“This is my pharmacy”, he told me. Dozens of various medications filled the plastic bag as Bob described his ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease to a number of psychological conditions.

Bob had been in southern Florida visiting some relatives but also settling an insurance claim in which he had just yesterday received 7 thousand dollars for.  It had involved a car that had hit Bob while he was on his bicycle last June. Bob had threatened to sue for 250,000 dollars and ensured the insurance company that his story would be printed in every major news publication in the United States.  He said the company then offered up the 7 grand settlement the very next day. Bob took it.

On smoke breaks Bob would heatedly argue with Greyhound employees who would tell him he couldn’t smoke outside the building and had to go to the designated area. “This is public space…I can smoke right here where I’m at.” One time a nearby policeman was called in and threatened to arrest Bob in 2 seconds if he came back out here to smoke. “HA – Yeah and  then I’d be out after 2 minutes officer”.  The cop stupidly retorted for the sake of stupidly retorting, “No you’d be in for 2 weeks.. and you’d miss your bus.”

Later I would look for Bob to ask him for his address if I was ever that far South when in California. But when I found Bob he was already seated on board his next bus which was about to leave. I told myself and for some reason felt confident that all I’d have to do was go to El Centro and I would somehow run into Bob within an hour or so.

“Bob”

PART  3 :  “STRANDED STRANGER AND THE LITTLE K EPISODE”

A little town in Tennessee we pulled into to have our 10 minute break at a small convenience store. Grab some food or smoke a cig then rush back onto the bus.    And back aboard the all too familiar post 10 minute break scene begins to unfold; once all settled in and the bus takes off down the road, an object or two will be noticed on a now vacant seat, and the question arises “wasn’t there someone sitting there like 10 minutes ago”?

In this case a lone pillow remaining on a now vacant seat told the nightmare scenario of a passenger getting left behind during our 10 minute break. I’ve seen it happen a number of times in the past and not once did the driver attempt to turn around. This time was no different as the drivers denial response upon telling her was “people leave pillows behind all the time”.

A few minutes later we discover what we determine to be the guys backpack in the overhead rack. At our next passenger pickup stop 25 minutes down the road, the driver must’ve gotten a call as she had to, coldly, confess, “Yeah he got left…”  Left in the middle of Tennessee at some convenient store.

But there was now a new situation emerging in the form of a 5 foot 1, 20 something year old Korean girl. She was getting on the bus as a new passenger but there was some squabbling outside over her ticket that apparently she hadn’t fully paid for. It was all unclear what the situation was all about, but the driver seemed to allow her entry and began aggravatingly throwing her bags inside the lower luggage compartment, but then little Korean gal began yelling and grabbing the driver trying to prevent the bags from going in for whatever reason. After the grabbing the driver took her bags out from underneath and then refused her entry on the bus altogether. The driver then quickly tried to drive off which prompted Little K to throw herself in front of the bus causing the driver to brake as not to hit her. She then would give a little gas, go forward a few inches hoping to prompt her out of the way. Little K didn’t budge.

A standoff ensued.

The Standoff…

It was Little K standing firmly in front of our bus and the driver becoming infuriated not knowing what to do, knowing she was stuck. Back and forth yelling occurred and I of course attempted to film the event whereas the driver became pissed at me shouting, “Stop filming this.. I don’t want to be on YouTube!” I lowered my camera but then raised it back up.

Passengers started getting unruly as they worried about missing their transfers and such. Some racist humor was also attempted. One comment from a guy in front was, “Not to be rude, but CHINA is in the other direction”. From the back of the bus another comment was something to effect of “problem with these damn Chinese people is you can’t understand em”.

The Tennessee cops arrived and diffused the situation by coaxing Little K out from her standoff position, and then oddly explained to her how she was smaller than the bus and wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact of a large moving vehicle while standing in front of it.

Within 30 minutes this driver had managed to leave a guy behind in the middle of Tennessee and allow a situation to explode into a complete standstill requiring police intervention.

 

PART 4 : BRIEF/RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

-AN AMISH FAMILY, man/woman, small boy, smaller girl and an elder male, all in full Amish regalia including the 2 small children hats and all, on board the Greyhound. We  take an exit around midnight in Tennessee and pass by a BP gas station, go a couple hundred more yards, pull into the Sonoma Farm store and there waiting is a horse tied to a post with a carriage attached to horse. The Amish exit, the elder waves bye to the rest, turns and disappears into the night while the woman and children enter the carriage and man dismounts horse from post and they begin there sojourn home. Various contrasts enter mind, i.e the passing of BP gas contrasted by a tied up waiting horse powered unit only short distance away; the presence of Amish aboard the gas guzzlin’ Greyhound in the first place; the Amish dress, in particular the woman and young baby girls ridiculous head dress which seemingly blinded their view from left and right and I wondered if it was more symbolism than function.

-NO ONE CARES ANYMORE/HONESTY EMERGES. The whole Greyhound system running off of a surprising theme of blunt honesty; everyone is miserable and they don’t bother hiding it anymore. No one wants to be here, passengers and in particular the drivers as after my first stretch our driver didn’t try to hide his comments to the greasy spoon bus station cashier as he ordered 2 big burgers to fight off his famine as he repeated slow and a bit too serious “..it took EVERYTHING I HAD IN ME, to make this run tonight…”

Two other incidents, separate bus station cafeterias, one cashier admitting to all within earshot that buying the overpriced food here was “highway robbery”, the other made sure to inform me to “keep that coffee cup, bring it with you to every stop and you can get a 25 cent refill, they don’t want us telling you that but I always tell everyone that during these times…otherwise you have to pay another 2 dolla’s…you keep that cup..”

And that cup I may just try to keep for all future trips. Next is a Chicago round trip.

Eli on the road.

A big thanks to Eli for letting me publish this and I look forward to the next installments.  If you wish to see Eli in one of his roles, he has a Vimeo channel and  you can find him on Facebook as well.

Francesco Goya, tapestry cartoon, Prado

Following his very successful sell-out screenings at the Rotterdam film festival(*), my friend Nathaniel Dorsky received an invitation to go to Spain, for some screenings in Madrid and La Coruña.  He’d never been to Madrid or Spain before so I wrote him some thoughts about things to see – paintings, the Church of San Antonio da Florida with the lovely Goya frescoes on the dome interior, the Goya tapestry cartoons at the Prado.   I like Madrid a lot, and assured Nick he’d likely find it as wonderful as I do.   He went last week, and shaking the jet-lag, went off into the city and in turn sent me some letters, which I found delightful – expressive of the almost child-like joy of his wanderings in museums and streets, the tasty jamon iberica, the architectural treats.   The letters were such a pleasure for me I thought others might find them similarly joyful, even if one doesn’t know him, and asked him if I could publish them here.   He thought about it a little and accepted.

Madrid facades and street life

5.28   your tumbling tumbled weed
Well about Madrid…  I arrived in the middle afternoon, a driver and all,  and then my hostess, Beatiz, led me around a little after a lunch (the only vegetables here are green house tomatoes, little  pickles, iceberg lettuce and canned string beans…  but more to come…)  I walked in the super lovely huge park, dark and dense with  Chestnut trees and lovely earthen alleys, charm, charm, charm…    and then went to the modern museum (all the museums are open till 9pm everyday…   well that is still two hours before diner time ) (I eat  breakfast and a late lunch, only) where they have just great Picassos and Juan Gris etc.  Today I went to the Prado.  Bigger in a  sense of the actual paintings than the Louvre.  Boy, do I not enjoy painting from the 1600′s.  And now I know another reason why…   I hate the gesture of the frozen moment in time which this century held so dear, it so terribly dull, egoic, and sickening. Beforehand, then it is good, and the 1700′s become heavenly, especially at the Prado where the Goya collection is almost worth walking here from SF.  He, not unlike Picasso, can paint in any style required and they are all very very touching and beautiful and generous to the  eye and the heart and the profound sense of the cosmic and the  color, so right and so healing.
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Also the Bosch collection includes the HUGE  Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych along many other of his paintings and  paintings  from that period, including an amazingly avant garde Van der Weyden Descent from the Cross which took care of the 1600′s in one fell  swoop.


Now I am home resting and the hot day has cracked and it is pouring  with bursts of yellow lightening.  My hotel doors to the tiny balcony are open and cool airs wafts across my sweaty self.

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And I also loved on the very top floor all the Goya “cartoons” for tapestries if I can trust my non existent Spanish… and there are also three large circular allegorical paintings (one of two woman spinning yarn)  that I found SO touching both as human depiction and color rendition….  wow…   and I went back this evening and re saw with MUCH less people the Bosch’s ..  that earthly delights MUST be seen in the real….    wow…  and came upon, that goodness, the very large Annunciation of Fra Angelico which I found deeply moving….   the shadowed exterior of the banishment from Eden and the columned portico illuminated by purity of the angel’s golden wings and and golden rays of light….

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Yes, tomorrow San Antonio da Florida  n.

AND:

Today I went to the train station that has an iron and glass roof, not quite as pretty as the stations we love in Paris, but it is filled with tropical trees of all sorts, so it is like being in a dream that is one half the glass houses in Jardens des Plantes and one half Gare du Nord.  The train was super modern, a kind of TJV with reserved
seats and I took it for on half hour to a Toledo.  There is a very famous Cathedral there with many great paintings in it. The glass to me looks like it is from the 1400′s. They have a Caravaggio I actually loved… which is genuinely quite unusual for me. His paintings are usually not so sympathetic, but rather more demonstrative. It is a terribly sexy depiction of a young Saint ?? (who has a lamb and a staff, a body to end all bodies and hung out in the desert as a teenager?) OH, The Baptist, of course. This painting does not suffer from the frozen-moment-syndrome and actually allows one to enter and it brings forth presence… of course
it is rather “body”.  [Later, I received an email from a friend, Vivian, who informed me that a friend of hers who is an expert art historian told her that the painting is in question as to whether it is painted by Caravaggio. Now is not that interesting?] 

The not Caravaggio in Toledo [Just as Toledo Ohio is not...]

There were many El Greco’s also but gosh the 1600′s are missing my psyche right now and also a dark Goya which was hard to appreciate.  Then I visited  the Jewish section of town which had two synagogues from also that period of time in a more Islamic style.  I walked back to the train station from high on the hill and crossed over a beautifully constructed stone bridge arching high over the river surrounding the town built by the Romans.  From the bridge you could see another they built.  They are so sturdy and graceful and practical and must be almost 2,000 years old.  No upgrades…  working perfectly.
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A thunder and lightening storm began just as I reached the station which has all sorts of Islamic architecture with colored glass windows in  that style.  They have many benches out on the platform under the cover of an open roof, so one could enjoy the cooling down pour as dry as could be.  Now I am back home in my room.  I think tomorrow I will  go back to the Prado, as looking at paintings is the thing I by far enjoy the most here, especially the deepening discovery of Goya.  They have almost 200 paintings by him in many many different styles as we have discussed. The Prado is closed on Monday, so I think I will save that day for going to San Antonio da Florida to see his frescoes.

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OH!  Spain must of just won a football game as everyone out my open window is suddenly screaming as the evening comes in.

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I am quite alone here and it is almost too much.  The Spanish culture is a new one to me that I appreciate the way one might appreciate New York, but I have no real feeling for it or its language.  I am simply HERE walking around.  It is not France and it is not Italy and the Christianity is just TOO haunted by the immeasurable amount of pain, murder, and torture that has gone down under its name to shake loose of that for me.
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I have been warned that only 20 people may show up for my shows as ag film has no presence here and certainly no following.  But being here has been a truly great inspiration in terms of painting.

Your meat-filled Jew boy,  Nathaniel

5.29        as we speak
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Dear Jon, Thanks for the fill in’s. Those demonstrations for more jobs (in the huge square) are two blocks from “my” hotel. They seem to be working, as more police seemed to be employed than ever….. ahh, the political process in action.

AND:   my new film is at the neg cutter and the title is being shot and sent to her and then she will send the a and b’s on to my lab in  Colorado.  It is 27 minutes long and could be titled:  The Return        or it could be titled:   Broken Moon      Any suggestions.  I worked at it as hard as I could to perfection (not biting of lower lip) from pre-breakfast till 11 pm ever since we last saw each other in Rotterdam.  There are three shots from that wintry place, all shot on that Saturday (you were already in Amsterdam) the was extremely windy. Perhaps you remember.  It is 80% fuji neg and 20% eastman neg, a very rich and varied and workable cocktail of failing emulsions.  (our river trips footage a hair too descriptive for the film’s need).

Today I will either go back to the Prado or to San Antonio….   this Goya love is just too interesting and can only be quenched in this city   (someone just walking by playing ” Tequila” on a trumpet).   My hostess wants me to take a train to Cordoba…  a little expensive…   to see a little more of southern Moorish Spain and its architecture…   not sure if I want to be stuck for the day in such a place… they all seem SO tourist-tamed… ultimately depressing… how many sword, cross and helmet shops can you see without wondering about all that happened because of that nice Jewish boy who could see through everything except self-deification (a major sin, to say THE LEAST in the good old testament days). But then, the deification could be the results of
Spin Doctor John, and have little to do with who knows what really happened.

Well, be well……     and thanks for the football info…       nick

Foto by Jon in Madrid summer 2010

Barcelona had just beat Manchester United, 3-1, for the Champion’s League Cup, the World Series/Super Bowl of European Soccer.

5.29    lip flap from afar
Dear Jon,

I spent the morning at San Antonio de la Florida where Goya did the ceiling frescos….   such a beautiful and subtle sense of color.  I have never seen dome and ceiling painting so brushy and in such subdued but deeply beautiful colors.  Perhaps there are some online as everything seems to be these days.  Then I went over to the Prado again as my day pass continues to work. This time I began with Goya and looked at everything again.  Then I went to the 1400′s and so deeply loved the Fra Angelico Annunciation which is quite large. After looking at it for awhile in detail I went back to a seat in front of it and sat there for an hour, falling asleep and awaking again and again…  every time I popped back into the room there was a different configuration of people looking at it wearing different color clothes and many times, no one.  It made a very wonderful  personal film with the refrain of the painting mixed with quick dreams.  Then I went and looked at the other great work from the same century, and I mean Great!  They have a Dirk Bouts four views of the Virgin’s life which is extraordinarily beautiful…  the one of The Visitation is definitely one of the greatest paintings I have ever seen from that period…  the colors, the composition, the poetry…   a major major masterpiece sitting right there, hardly noticed.  I then went and looked at  Bosch’s Earthly Delight triptych again and for great good fortune no one was there (as usually there is a crowd of folks) and I think I eventually saw almost every detail which takes about a half hour to do.  There is always some new super charming thing to discover.  And then to straighten myself out again I went in the next room to look again at two David’s from that century of a Madonna and Child….  both of the very very highest order.

Then after two salads in the cafe (the only green thing to eat I have seen here since arriving)  I decided to look at all the paintings I had not liked the first day just to see them as this museum has more great work on a high level than any place I have ever been…  more than the National Gallery in London, I feel.  And that was interesting and could enjoy them more because I had been so healed by what I had already experienced.  I cannot even name all the great geniuses from the 1600′s that are there in great number and great quality.

The lovely park I spoke of before is up a hill behind the Prado and I walked up there and bought some water and strolled under the dark green canopy highlighted by the evening sun, sat around a little and listened to the doves as the day began to cool slightly and walked home and am now resting.

Love,  Nathaniel

PS: Sitting in front of The Annunciation I began to enjoy the title:   The Return     more because it is an announcement of an event, that event being the montage to follow, rather than a name as such.  And also I seemed very uninspired in my attempts to improve it…  but I  am OPEN….

Goya fresco, dome of San Antonio da FloridaVan der Weyden’s Deposition

Reading these letters I was transported from somewhat soulless (at least for me) Seoul, to the vibrant world of Madrid, and prompted to go once again to the museums, to walk the streets, to go out in the late night social whirl of cafes and talk.   Getting these two I begged Nathaniel to keep up his missives, which I find joyful and revealing, and also remind me of him – one of my very favorite people.  Knowing his films, one can glimpse the intense visual and spiritual acuity he brings to the paintings he speaks about, which makes me want to go see them myself, again.    After writing this last one, his screenings were on tap.  I told him I thought likely the forewarning of an audience of only 20 was not going to happen as I have found for myself lively and full audiences and I thought he’d do OK.   He’d been surprised in Rotterdam so perhaps Madrid would provide another.  (See this for words on Nick’s Rotterdam shows.)  More letters later.

Dirk Bouts’ The VisitationFrom Nathaniel’s The Visitation

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While being far from any expert on Caravaggio, I have seen very many and unlike Nathaniel I am, I guess, a “fan”.   In Rome some years ago I saw a large exhibition, I think it was in the Scuderia del Quirinale (former horse stables of the grand palazzo where Italy’s titular President lives), of Caravaggio and his school.  I think I might have seen this one there.  I recall seeing some, which like this one, had slack or miscalculated proportions – to me the torso here is missing some structural form, and the arm on the left is too short in the shoulder to elbow part, and the one on left is too thick.   Also the leaves are rather unlike the foliage I have seen in other Caravaggio’s.  And the light, while chiaroscuro, is not, as nearly always done with the master, used for drama.   So I bet against this being by Caravaggio, though I imagine in the dark setting of the church there, maybe it looked passable.   And it raises for me the curious matter of what if a painting by an artist you really like, happens to be not by that artist?  One of my most favorite Vermeer paintings, Girl with a Red Hat, certainly has a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting it is not by Johannes.  And while it is one of my favorite of Vermeers, I would have to say that evidence decisively says it is not his.

Alleged Caravaggio St John the Baptist

[Note: if you double-click on many of the painting images you can see them bigger - check the Bosch that way.]

I seem to have forgotten to post this, but I guess its seasonal nature is still appropo, so post away we will.


Aurora Borealis

Being not a Christian, nor a rabid consumer, it’s my habit to slip into hibernation around now, and to re-emerge once the Gregorian calendar’s New Year’s sillinesses have subsided and life resumes its more usual patterns.  Days of obligatory happiness, be they these, or national markers, or saintly ones, all tend to make people more cantankerous – lemmings in flying silver sardine cans, ski slopes crammed, roads jammed, all in the name of dubious requisite celebrations for things few believe in, producing errant gifts and angry family get togethers.   I’ll pass.

[Note: there’s a new post up for my daughter, Clara, on her blog. ]

Despite the bah humbug above,

Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo, Clara !

In the past brief month and a half there was a US Presidential inauguration, a handful of skittering little political scandals, a wave of panic over the collapsing global economy, and a constant drumbeat of negative fiscal news.  Some million plus Americans lost their jobs in those 6 weeks; surely millions of others gave up hopes of finding work.   The official unemployment stands around 7%, though most officials understand these figures are unreal, the method of measurement having been jiggled way back in Jimmy Carter’s day, in order to help mask the unhappier truth.   Real unemployment is something closer to 15%, and in places like California edging on 20%.   To say, we’re in a most predictable pickle, though our experts, as usual, missed this one by a mile.  Of course, those experts – like Paulson and current Treasury Secretary Geithner had certain self-interests helping them miss the signs of trouble coming up the track – they were making tens of millions with the system gamed as it was.

But, of course, behind every darkening cloud, there’s a silver lining for someone.

Suddenly it seems as if everyone is going to the movies, with ticket sales this year up 17.5 percent, to $1.7 billion, according to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking company.

And it is not just because ticket prices are higher. Attendance has also jumped, by nearly 16 percent. If that pace continues through the year, it would amount to the biggest box-office surge in at least two decades.

Americans, for the moment, just want to hide in a very dark place, said Martin Kaplan, the director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society at the University of Southern California.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.”

Of course the films of choice do not wrestle with the real problems these audiences are trying to escape; quite the opposite.  Slumdog Millionaire (which I have not seen), contrives to paint a rosy scenario out of the depths of Mumbai poverty.  [My friend Dennis Grunes reports that to add insult to injury, the film’s co-director, Loveleen Tandon, an Indian woman who clearly had a major hand in directing the Indian children, showing a touch ever lacking in Mr Boyle’s work, was totally excluded from the Oscar recognition, showing perhaps the impacted colonialist mentality that still quivers in the English (Scots in this case) heart.]  It’s been suggested that this film became a hit owing to its unintended timely resonance with today’s financial realities.  Which is to say that while Americans supposedly voted for “change you can believe in” when confronted with the reality of the cumulative effects of their own behavior – running up credit card, student loan, mortgage debts so high they’ll never pay them off, while accepting the quantum leap equivalent in the stock market (don’t wanna look too hard at how those gazillions are being made…) – they show that deep down inside they really want to keep things like their imagined normal:  get lucky at Vegas or on American Idol and for minimum input come out a billionaire with no effort.   So Hollywood profits by merely sucking up the psychological consequences of its own socially derelict product, the dream factory rolls on cranking out more delusions, more future troubles, playing out its role as a metaphor for everything wrong about American culture.  Of course it is one of the country’s most lucrative exports, along with arms and corporately farmed food stuffs.

By coincidence the other night, around 4 am, Marcella jabbed a deep-in-sleep me in the ribs, exclaiming, “look at this!”   She was watching a film on her notebook, Penn’s Into the Wild.   The occasion for pulling me out of my slumbers was to point at the name Alenka Pavlin floating by in the tail credits.  Alenka and I lived together way back in 1985-7.  She moved down to LA from San Francisco long ago, following her interests in sound recording.  She was boom operator for Penn on this one, getting travels all over for 6 months.  Lucky her.

Of course, like more or less all those who trundled stylishly dressed to the dais to receive their golden dildo, as well as those who sat splendorously to watch them, they all land somewhere on the upper levels of the income charts of the US, if not among the exclusive club of mostly financial-corporate CEO souls whose wealth is measured in mere billions.   Hollywood stars are amply rewarded though, enough to push them to the top percentile or so in earnings.  Meanwhile Joe Blow has seen this:

Thanx to Len Hart, the Existentialist Cowboy

Or, as the recent unemployment figures underline, they are dropping precipitously far lower than this graph suggests.  Of course this graph lies, like graphs often do, by failing to tell just what this ascending Gross Domestic Product was composed of – what was America busy making?  As mentioned, we were cranking out food, and movies, and weapons, though not as this graph would suggest in such accelerating amounts.  Nope.  What we were busy manufacturing during these years, under the philosophical guidance of the Bush administration in which regulation, oversight, or just following-the-laws, were brushed aside in the interests of globalization and “the Free Market” and other such shibboleths, so that we could make “financial instruments” like derivatives and bundled debts and the entire Wall Street lexicon of fiscal mumbo-jumbo which has all proved to spell something like P-O-N-Z-I.   Though on a scale which makes that name origin look like chump change.   So in fact our “product” actually reflected not the top line on the above graph, but the bottom one: we were just chuggin’ along at make-do level.  With one major problem – most were doing it just like the guys on the top were doing it, on imaginary money, running up credit card debt of one kind or another, charging it to their expanding home “value,”  and other such bookkeeping sleights-of-hand.  But now the piper is calling and everyone is showing empty pockets.  And, as we are seeing, the Reaganite trickle-down is coming as an apocalyptic deluge, but in negatives:  the Wall Street hot shots cut back on the $5 latte and there goes the local barrista to the unemployment line, along with the aspiring actor cum waiter, and the myriad other members of our supposedly new “service industry” economy.   The fabulously wealthy scamsters of the corporate world are suddenly bust, and along with them goes all the “servicing,”  classy call-girl blow-jobs and all.   The spiral down is now an avalanche, as in the fabled (and false) explanation of how the World Trade Center fell – one floor pancaking to the next in a vertical domino effect, but here it’s fiscal entities heading at gravitational speed to terra firma.

For the record, again, I feel certain that 9/11 is so full of fishy aspects that it must have been some kind of inside job.  The image of Mr Bush reading My Pet Goat (upsidedown – what an example to the kids…) smacks of a rich kid who just did something real nasty and just found out about it:

Mr Bush, who has seemingly vanished from the world, was quoted before he departed as pondering, in a kind of poor-little-me manner, “why did it (the economic melt-down) have to happen on my watch?”   Indeed.  It must not have had anything to do with his policies, enforcement of existing law, example of brazen law-breaking himself, or the rampant corruption at all levels which characterized his administration.  Just a coincidence, of course.

So while the nation and the world took a deep breath of hopeful release as Obama took up the keys to the national vehicle, the clatter of ever-worse news has muffled the sighs of content.   Certainly it appears that he’s a can-do kind of guy, and has surrounded himself with like-minded help, but one senses it all may be – despite the astounding numbers tossed about  (700 billion here, 1.3 trillion there, 7 trillion cumulatively over there ….  our eyes glaze over in incomprehension at these can’t-imagine digits)  too little way too late.   Nor can we, or those bandying them about, really gauge just what they might do aside from burning up the Treasury printing presses.   As they themselves seem to say, they’re doing it because they have to, “to save the system.”

And indeed that seems to be the fundamental problem – an incapacity to let go of what is transparently a rotten system, in which these crises are cyclical and predictable, having to do with some of the basic rules of that system.  Like its arch-rival, “communism” (whichever label one puts on it, in America anything that hints of some gentle mode of “socialism” is deemed irredeemable on utterance), capitalism comes out of the womb with a built in sure-fire Achille’s Heel.  With communism the problem is actually the same as with capitalism, with just the shifting of a few words which have proven to be interchangeable.  Capitalism posits that “the economic market” will sort out all values, deliver the most efficient delivery of things to ever happier souls, and make for a little paradise here on earth.  It does this by economic competition, in which the strong/better etc. survive and are well-rewarded for their services to humanity.  That this system seems to repeatedly result in skewed income charts, booms and busts, not to mention a broader rampage of damage on the environment, social relations, and the human psyche is thought to be irrelevant to those fundamentalists of the Market.  As Mr Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush are inclined to respond to those who point out these problems – “So what?”   Indeed.    Communism makes similar promises, if only for a temporary time we place dictatorial power in well-intentioned hands for a short term in order to build a workers’ paradise on earth.   We’ve seen what happened with that one in China, the old USSR, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and elsewhere.  Somehow the honey of this power attracts a certain kind of personality, and the shift to an anarchic non-government of happy collectives is ever delayed, while Mao orchestrates his Great Leaps and plays with his concubines, or Pol Pot plows his killing fields.

In both ideologies something is fundamentally amiss, something so obvious and self-evident that it is hard to think that grown-ups actually believe them.  Especially since for the most part myths and fables and the collective wisdom of the ages all say pretty much the same thing and we’ve attempted (always failing) to build social restraints to minimize these things.  Left to their own devices, humans are pretty selfish and greedy; surrounded with a system, like a capitalist one which celebrates wealth, and hence greed, a lot of people will not hesitate to trample over the next person to get whatever there is to be gotten first.   Along the way they and their cohorts will of course construct a social and psychological framework to support this and all its consequent results.   They will be celebrated, churches will bless them, and so on.   Communism does the same thing, except shifts “power” into play instead of “wealth” (though in practice those in power in communist cultures were always the wealthiest as well, duh…).   Boiled down to essences there are probably certain percentages of any populace of people who are either genetically and/or socially predisposed to seek and have power – for the psychological pleasure of it.   In either capitalist or communist systems these people are funneled to their appropriate place on top of the heap, and they then indulge their inner selves to their needs.  Hello Mr Stalin, Lenin, Mao, or though carrying a differing banner but espousing essentially the same things, hello Mr Schicklegruber, a.k.a. Hitler.  And there are people who like to follow authoritarian leaders, so a perfect mix.

One would think with the plethora of example before us, we’d figure it out and see that the basic flaw in these “systems” is staring us in the mirror.  All that capitalism and communism do, precisely because they are systems, is to amplify this human constant of greed and power-hunger.

So as this crisis hits the US, as well as the rest of the world, rather than, as Mr Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggests one should do and turn a crisis into a moment of opportunity, we find all the powers that be directed toward “saving the system.”   They’ll modify this and that, make it environmentally a bit more sane, try to ameliorate the vast income disparities, trim back the military a touch, and basically do a lot of cosmetics aimed to resuscitate a failed system.   We hear Obama assert in his Inaugural Address that “we will not apologize for our way of life” – without noting that “our way of life”  is that 5% of the world’s population consumes 25% of its energy; that a tiny fraction of that 5% owns some obscene chunk of the world’s wealth, and so on.  We don’t hear that were the entire globe to live in the manner Americans live (even those gliding along on that bottom line on the chart), we could kiss our asses communally good-bye in short order.

What we need to do, for ourselves, and for this little hospitable site we live on, is to question the entire system, question our entire set of values and priorities, and commence with some profound changes in how we all live.  But it is a characteristic of systems like “capitalism” or “communism” that they cannot do such things as question themselves in such a manner.  Just like religious fundamentalists cannot do so.  Instead it seems, despite ample historical examples to give us cautionary lessons, we must drive ourselves over a cliff, into a real hard inescapable catastrophe before we are willing to adjust our behavior in any significant manner.   At the moment we’re in the prelude, likely with a major depression building around us, with all its attendant probable social-political ramifications (wars, famines, the usual company of such tragedies), and rather than confront this impending matter, we prefer to make some minor adjustments hoping it will all just go away and allow us to resume a few years hence in a manner something just like we were doing.

In which case it is somewhat more likely we’ll be looking like the pair in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I recently finally finished reading.  For the most part a compelling book though I felt it was a bit redundant (hard not to be when the world has been stripped down to almost nothing), and that the ending was a tad too upbeat.  I’ll be curious to see how the film copes with it – almost guaranteed to be a big box office loser, especially in these depression bound times when most would prefer a frothy musical to lose a few hours in.

the-road-cormac

For me it’s back to classes this coming week.  Two a week, one being the Visual Directing kind of foundation here’s-what-DV-can-be course, and the other this time around being make-a-feature-with-Jon.  Meaning we have to crank out a new feature in the coming 4 months, using students as help, actors, sources for places, settings, ideas.  I have not given it a thought, wanting to have it be generated from whatever we can piece together in the first few weeks.  I’m completely open.

Meantime on our trip to Singapore-Malacca-Kuala Lumpur (see cinemaelectronica) some possible future options seem to open up – a perhaps teaching job in S’pore and maybe later on setting up a kind of school in Malaysia.  We should know more of these soon.   While on journey we got an urgent email from Yonsei, urging me to sign contract for the coming year.  This was a bit uncharacteristic as last year they’d waited late in the game to indicate they’d be wanting me back.  Word must have drifted.

tigers-malacca

Ha Noi, August 22 2008

Forty years ago I was in Chicago, working at “the Mobe” office, readying for the convention.  My friend Kurt Heyl and I had already been arrested a week earlier, making some Bolex shots of the convention center, where in a piece of political hubris they’d decided to build a mini-White House portico at the entrance.  In another week the chants of “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win” or “Hey Hey LBJ, how many kids you kill today” would echo through the canyons of the Loop, and the acrid bite of tear gas would float in the hot summer air.  Far away in Vietnam Americans were writing their names on a dark wall in Washington, and unnumbered Vietnamese were giving their bodies to the fetid tropical soil of their homeland in what they called “The American War.”  Little did I imagine 4 decades hence I’d be in Hanoi, a near life-time later, trying in some tiny way to make amends for the horrors my country had visited upon Vietnam, as well as upon itself.  Though something in me knew that most likely were I to live so long, America would be doing much the same these forty years later: today my country – with a long list of detours through Grenada, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Guatemala, Chile and other adventures – has occupied Iraq, a country of 23 million but astride a significant pool of oil, and has laid waste in the same heedless manner with which it mangled Vietnam.  Then it was Agent Orange, body counts, the Phoenix Program and a litany of other Orwellian military acronyms which hid the ugly truth.  Today, having learned their version of the lessons of Vietnam, the cluster of resentful neo-con souls who gather around Richard Cheney, and whose signatures can be found in the documents of The Project for the New American Century, deploy what they imagine to be a smarter variant of the same programs, thinking to impose a Pax Americana on the middle-east, though transparently eying the resources that lie just beneath the surface of the sand – a policy written in the blood of now a million dead Iraqis, 5000 and more Americans (the number obscured by the privatization of warfare executed by the Bush Market-Economy wizards), and running from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan to Venezuela – wherever the oil that is needed to power the American military juggernaut resides.  And likewise the landscape is littered with the toxins of American warfare, in this instance the cancer of so-called depleted uranium, settling in for its half-life of a million years, whether in the GIs who dispensed the weapons, or the Iraqi and Afghani terrain which now hosts the residue.  The bill is just beginning to come in.

Forty years ago, in a paroxysm of violence, America turned right, electing Richard Nixon, who with  Henry Kissinger – still alive and still maneuvering in corpse-like fashion in the underworld of arms and real politick power, ever a fixture at the Bilderberg conferences – dragged out the Vietnam war a few million more deaths, only to leave in an indecent interval, helicopters clattering from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon as the VC rolled in.  By then I was living a hardscrabble life in Montana and working on a film, SPEAKING DIRECTLY (1974-5), which sought in desperation to account for the maelstrom of America in the wake of the 60′s.  It sought to explain in some manner the meaning of the sound “Vietnam” to one American, reflecting perhaps many others.  Little did I imagine what would unfold in my life, or America’s, or the world in that time.  Little did I imagine 4 decades hence I’d be doing a workshop in Hanoi for the Vietnam Film Department, trying to coax a little imagination and creativity from a dozen souls mired in a system in which rote learning is the norm, and exposure to the world is minimal.

August 27.  Leaving Hanoi, we spent a few days in Hue, site of a military feint by the North Vietnamese Army back in January 1968, when they carried out an action to keep General Westmoreland distracted while the Tet offensive was prepared.  It was one of the major battles of the war, and also site of what today might be called “ethnic cleansing” – the summary execution of governmental officials collaborating with the Americans.  Today it is a languid provincial town, with a tourist strip, and the surrounding area offering a pock-marked landscape of bomb craters to remind of the war 40 years ago, with special DMZ tours.

And then we came to Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City.  It’s a huge place, exploded from the one million of 1965 to eight million inhabitants (in part owing to the fleeing of rural peasants to Saigon during the war), a buzzing mix of tropic 3rd world impoverishment and hyper-capitalism, all cohabiting under the eyes of one of the few remaining Communist Party apparatuses of the world.  Across the street from the Revolutionary Museum brand new stores dangle the baubles of Chanel and Gucci, underlining just who actually won the 20th century’s struggle between socialism and capital.  Follow the money.  Down the street near the Opera House – undergoing restoration – are the classier hotels.   Not far away in the jammed streets of District 1, the signs of Sony and Nokia signal the marketplace of ideology in which I-pods and cell-phones have triumphed.  The air chokes with the gas and oil fuel of a million motorbikes.

We visited the “War Remnants Museum” – a tawdry collection of American airplanes and tanks, pieces of weaponry from the gas-fed “seismic bomb” to an M-16.  They all look terribly archaic and almost toy-like by contemporary standards.  The museum, like Viet Nam, is poor – a new building of poorly done concrete, a yard cluttered with “the remnants,” and the staff loitering about in the yard.  In one room is a photography exhibition of faded and yellowing images shot by the many journalist photographers who died in Indo-China.  The images are searing ones of war and its collateral damage, made more poignant by the fact that the photographers all died in process of providing this witness.  Back in the 1960′s and ’70′s these images were widely accessible, to be found in magazines like Life (now defunct), or each night on “the news” (also defunct).  Looking at them I was psychologically telescoped to my youth – reminded of the tension and stress of the period, of the passionate response of some Americans to the war in Viet Nam.  I was, of course, reminded of my 2 plus years in prison, 1965-67.  When I arranged to come to Viet Nam, I had anticipated some kind of psychological upheaval, which I thought surely was one of the reasons for coming – it was something I wanted to touch, to confront in myself, in the raw reality of the place which had had so much impact in my life, as well as many others.  In Hanoi and Hue there had only been a little ripple, a vague cloud of guilt, of the inadequacy of my long ago resistance – after all the war had ground on many more years and millions of deaths more.  The transparent poverty and relative technological primitiveness of Viet Nam was made utterly clear, making all the more obscene my country’s arrogant behavior, one reflected in the present election where John McCain waves his bloodied flag and his POW status as a defense for all his actions, and it is somehow ignored that what he was doing was participating in a mechanized mass murder imposed on civilians, a vast pillage of a poor underdeveloped country which failed to submit to the imperial wishes of Washington.   Adding to the painfulness was the simple fact that some 40 plus years later, my country is doing the same thing once again, now in Iraq.  It attacked an embargo-debilitated country of 23 million, half children, waged a high-tech war of alleged “Shock and Awe,” displacing 3 or 4 million from their homes, ravaging the economy and infrastructure, and killed directly or indirectly one million, most of whom were civilians.  But this time the images have been suppressed by a corporate media which is in the pocket of the government, or, in Mussolini’s terms, who are part of the fascist structure – the government and the corporations are the same thing, which in the US today is simply the truth, and the mass media are part and parcel of corporate conglomerates which dictate American governmental policy, and hence what “news” is to be.  And this time in a clear effort to minimize political risks, the military is kept separate from the body politic, privatized, and there is no selective service.  The young can be enraptured by American Idol and the myriad other corporate entertainments and enticements, seduced into a consumer landscape in which personal responsibility is reduced to the obligation to buy, be fashionable, and go into credit-card debt (forever).  Iraq?  Who cares.  All of these are clearly deliberate policies developed over the decades since the 1960′s, policies intended to permit the government to do whatever it wishes, unfettered by any public revulsion or political discord.  In the 1960′s there were massive demonstrations; today there are “free speech zones” to provide a fig-leaf of pretend “liberty” in the land of the allegedly brave and the free.

And so in this visit, the anticipated psychological impact arrived in full, mostly courtesy of the faded images of Robert Capa, Dana Stone, Kyoichi Sawada, and the other 130 war reporters killed during the war.  Though it had already arrived in the numerous young people in Hue and HCM City, victims now 3 generations later of the use of Agent Orange, cruelly deformed and reduced to begging.  Or in the chatter of an alleged former RVN soldier who walked with us on the street, who begs as well, pulling out an English language letter encased in plastic, hand-printed, detailing his past, his visit to America, and a litany of woe, which if true would tally with the treatment which RVN soldiers – collaborators with America – did in fact receive.  Or in the irony which seems to pervade the streets of HCM City, where American capitalist triumphalism seems to have won out – if badly timed in light of America’s own collapse, thanks to its run-of-the-mill imperial life-cycle behavior:  over-extended, fat, lazy, and sucking its own life and soul out in excessive and mindless military expenditures.  On one building a large sign illuminates the phrase “PERFECT USA.”   Well, not quite.  Instead America is rotted on the inside, corrupted (and not just the government, but across the board), and intellectually and morally rudderless and at sea.   The current election offers a quiver of hope, but it is probably far too little far too late.

In the photo exhibit there was a text in which the death of Robert Capa, covering the Indo-China war, in which a Vietnamese doctor inquired if Capa was American.  Told yes, he commented, “This is a harsh way for America to learn.”  That was in 1952, while the French were (not) holding down the fort.  Now almost 70 years later, it seems America has not yet learned.

Saigon blues.

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