Life imitates satire – and vice versa. Which brings us to our other unusual list. The best movies of… 1933.
Naturally, the original King Kong is on our list. So are The Invisible Man and 42nd Street. But our number one choice: The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.
Why? Because as we enter this final month of the Bush years, the parallels are remarkable. Sometimes it feels as if we live not only in the United States but also in the side-splitting state of Freedonia, the imaginary country in which Duck Soup takes place. In 1933, a time much like now of calamity, fraud and peril, the Great Depression gripped America. Franklin D. Roosevelt had just become President and declared a New Deal, while in Germany, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the beginning of the Third Reich.
As all of this was taking place, the Marx Brothers – there were four of them then; Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo – shot Duck Soup, a comedy that almost inadvertently transcended slapstick, becoming a trenchant send-up of power and vanity and the disastrous consequences of both.
Freedonia is bankrupt and asking for a bailout – sound familiar? The wealthy Mrs. Teasdale, played by the redoubtable Margaret Dumont, says the only way she’ll come up with the money is if the country appoints as its new leader Rufus T. Firefly – played by Groucho, as only a true clown can play a charlatan. He sings, “The last man nearly ruined this place, he didn’t know what to do with it. If you think this country’s bad off now, just wait ‘til I get through with it.”
Cabinet meetings are run with a decorum worthy of contemporary Washington. (Finance Minister: “Here is the Treasury Department's report, sir. I hope you'll find it clear.” Groucho: “Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it.”)
That's Barack Groupie Michael Winship and Bill Moyers of Bill Moyers Journal and they really don't seem to grasp what they're saying, do they? Duck Soup reminds them of today with Barack about to beocme president? Dumont's Mrs. Teasdale demands that a charlatan become the nation's leader? Well there were a lot of Mrs. Teasdale's demanding the charlatan Barack. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party primary and if there was any fairness in the world, the qualified candidate would have walked off with the party's nomination. But there is no fairness in the world.
Which is why US House Rep Maxine Waters and three other members of the Black Caucus have to step up and call for US Senator Roland Burris to be seated. Harry Reid and others believe they can diss the Black man and deny him his seat. If there's one topic that we're following in my circle, it's the disrespecting of Senator Burris. Barack better was his ass because I've never heard such hostility about him since he decided to say that Burris shouldn't be a senator. I don't know how it is around the country but in my community (African-American), we're all making a point to object to Barack and there's a huge shift towards describing him (finally) as he really is: Bi-racial.
When Barack joined the Whites trying to deny the Black man his Senate seat, you had a huge shift take place. I hope it's that way around the country. Barack ain't Black. He did get in on a pass and when he tries to block the advancement of Black people, we'll be damn sure to remind him, "Barack, you ain't Black. Shut da hell up."
I am trying to think of what films I have written about?
It's movie Friday when I note movies. And I'm just pulling a blank.
Oh. At Marcia's party, she had TV in the living room and TV in her spare bedroom. The spare bedroom was used for kids and they ended up joining the big part about three hours in. At which point, some of the older people went into that bedroom and watched films on DVD (the TV in the living room had was going to watch the ball drop and all that stuff). Long after everyone was leaving or going to sleep, my great-great aunt was still up. She was excited about the New Year and about seeing another one. I would be too at her age.
My date said we should stay because the people who were still at Marcia's were getting ready to go to bed and everyone else was leaving. The great-great aunt was staying. So we went into the living room with her and went through Marcia's DVD collection to find something she'd want to watch.
She picked West Side Story and this was the first time I saw that film. Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno were really good. Everyone else? Eh.
The guy playing Tony could act on a teeny-bopper level but he couldn't sing. Those songs required power and he didn't have it. He was a whisperer not a singer. I kept thinking, "Didn't they dub Natalie?" (They did. I just called C.I. to ask. C.I. says Natalie Wood was furious and hurt that they dubbed her. They'd lied to her and told her she'd be singing in the film. Then, as they were filming, they told her they'd use a professional singer to 'sweeten' some of her notes but it would still be her singing for the bulk of it. They knew before the film started that they were dubbing her. That's stupid. She sings just fine in Gypsy.)
The guy playing Rita's boyfriend (and Natalie's brother) was just awful and I had to wonder if he was supposed to be a progression or a stereotype for his time. He had scars on his face and a real bad hair style. He's supposed to Puerto Rican and I really wonder whether he was cast as a stereotype. The White actors were all cast good looking and none of them were sporting scars on their faces.
The film? I was surprised the whole thing takes place in like two days.
Rita was at her best when she (and other supporting actresses) were challenging male assumptions. She deserved the Oscar she won but Natalie was the movie. She carried it. Without her, it never would have worked.
Those eyes just pull you in. I think she's one of the most underrated actresses we've had.
My favorite section from C.I.'s "2008: The Year of Living Hormonally (Year in Review):"
Melissa's campaign expertise -- no surprise -- included Astro-turf campaigns. She launched one against Tavis Smiley but, ha-ha, she's just a very ugly Lie Face who writes bad 'books' and Tavis has a career. Melissa Unbound has no ethics and her Democracy Now! crap was nothing compared to the stunt she'd pulled on The Charlie Rose Show in March. Lie Face would take part in a journalistic panel and, all on her own, bring up that some people were upset with Tavis. She would forget to discuss her part in it which also included her threatening February blog post "Who Died And Made Tavis King?"
Melissa Harris Lacewell violated every PBS ethical guideline in that moment and should never be invited back on. But everyone looked the other way. They had to. They had to look the other way just to book the demented woman on the show. It was a journalistic panel. Melissa is not a journalist. No other panel participant was working for a candidate's campaign. But that never got disclosed. Charlie Rose, like Amy Goodman, didn't feel his audience deserved the truth and he felt he could wipe his ass with the PBS ethical guidelines.
How come? Harris-Lacewell is a damned liar. And C.I.'s right, Tavis has a career. Trash Harris-Lacewell is nothing. She's garbage. How dare she try to destroy Tavis. It will not be forgotten.
Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, January 2, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, slapping up against the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk, some US veterans of war have difficulties re-adjusting to civilian life, and more.
It's the new year so the press would traditionally contribute their 'looking back' pieces. But why do that and be bound by the facts when it's so much more 'creative' to look to the future and pen fantasies? In today's Washington Post, Anthony Shadid decided to inform that, "The war in Iraq is indeed over"; however, events on the ground begged to differ. Even ten years ago, a reporter trying to do what Shadid has done (war over by press fiat!) would have been the laughingstock of the press corps. Such are the times that Shadid is actually 'outshined' by the actions at another outlet. Leila Fadel. Yeah, she's back in Iraq. And offering all the 'value' and 'pertinence' as Yvette Mimieux did when she decided to team up with Ali Akbar Khan because what the world needed then (1968) was more bad music with poetry (Baudelaire) read over it badly. Flowers of Evil was what those 'geniuses' ended up with and it might as well be the title of Fadel's latest which contains this hidden 'gem': "It's difficult, however, for hope to return so quickly after so much bloodshed." Fadel is, no doubt, very proud of that line just as Yvette knew Flowers of Evil would set the world on fire. But, for the record, bad poetry doesn't have a damn thing to do with journalism. Fadel might try to squeeze that sentence into some sort of crack-pot, Chicken Sop for the whatever but it doesn't belong in reporting.
But we're not getting reporting, we're hearing the sounds of the Up With People singers warming up as they prepare for the ultimate wave of Operation Happy Talk. "There's no doubt," insists Fadel straining to hits notes beyond her range -- but, in fact, reporting is all about doubts. Reporting is all about questioning. Save this garbage for your EST seminar (Erhard Seminars Training) because it's quackery, it's not reporting.
Doubt it? Here's Fadel seeing 'change,' "U.S. officials already have moved out of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace, which they'd used as their headquarters since U.S. troops took control of Baghdad, and are occupying a brand new, sprawling 104-acre U.S. embassy complex that's America's largest in the world." And this tells us what, Fadel?
It appears to tell us that the largest Embassy in the world is preferred to Hussein's musty, old castle. It appears to tell us that, as was stated long before construction on the Embassy began, the US would move into the Embassy as soon as it was possible. Delays came about because shoddy work was done. And, no, not all of it has been fixed. But those are details that escape Fadel who writes as if she's willing McClatchy's Baghdad operation to shut down. Leila, thinking "happy thoughts" might have allowed Peter Pan to fly, but there's no evidence to suggest it will do the same for a news outlet.
Once upon a time, reporters were expected to deal in facts. Today, it's all word games. Could someone give 'em all Scrabble for their down time and instruct that they practice their trade at all other times? Chief among the foreign outlets needing to unwrap a Scrabble board: AFP. The agency's Benjamin Morgan offers a lede about how Iraq's airspace ("a swathe" of it) is being handed back to it by the US. A swathe? Over 29,000 feet and higher was already controlled by Iraq. Thereby explaining that amazing space program al-Maliki launched. What? He didn't launch one? No, of course not. And it doesn't mean a damn thing that 29,000 to 24,000 feet were returned to Iraq as the new year began. Why is that? AFP quotes Amer Abduljabbar Ismail (Minster of Transportation) stating that "the complete control of our airspeace will not be finished until 2011, when the US military leaves." Poor, deluded, sick liar. The US isn't leaving in 2011 and, if they did, Iraq having control of it's air space wouldn't mean a damn thing because, as was repeatedly revealed in Baghdad press conference after conference this fall, Iraq air force will not be ready in 2011. They freely admitted -- American and Iraqi spokespeople -- that Iraq would require the US well past 2012.
So many novelists, so damn few reporters. It's as though the 90s trend which found the 80s literary set -- Jay McInerney, Tama Janawitz, Bret Easton Ellis, Jill Eisenstadt, et al -- invading the feature profile resulted in a serious case of creative envy among the press corps. (I know and like Jay and will note that he had showed true talent in non-fiction writing. I know others who attempted that feat and will pointedly not bother to make a similar regarding the 'merits' of their contributions.)
The Green Zone and Basra airport 'handovers' are worth one sentence outside the real estate listings. If that. Timothy Williams (New York Times) wisely does not attempt to make it the thrust of his report and includes some details on the area that is thought to be the one to watch (including thought to be the one to watch by Barack's transition team):
Mosul, located about 250 miles north of Baghdad, is in a region contested by Sunni arabs and Kurds, and where Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni extremist group that American intelligence agencies say is led by foreigners, has been active.
The city's Christian minority was the focus of repeated attacks last year, forcing thousands to flee, although many have returned.
Nineveh Province is also the buffer zone between the central government in Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq's far north. About 5,000 American soldiers are stationed there.
Reuters reported this morning that tribal Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Salih was entertaining a group of "Sunni Arab tribal leaders" for lunch when a bomber arrived and detonated his or her bomb -- killing his/herself and wounding somewhere between 42 and 100 people (depending on the source). And the death toll? BBC reports at least 30 dead. Anthony Shadid and Saad Sarhan (Washington Post) report, "Iraqi officials said the assailant, a relative of the sheik, was a familiar presence around the house, making it easier for him to pass unsearched through an entrance usually reserved for women in the conservative town of Yusufiya, about 12 miles south of Baghdad." And, yes, it does have to do with upcoming elections (scheduled for January 31st). Sami al-Jumaily (Reuters) explains the get-togehter was "a feast for Sunni Arab electoral candidates and tribal leaders". When you read the garbage about war over and the latest waves of Operation Happy Talk get up to the neck, remember what the 'reporters' forget: The UN has warned repeatedly that violence will increase as the provincial elections approach. Even the US State Dept has echoed those warnings.
In other reported violence . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that left four people wounded, a Mosul roadside bombing that left two people wounded. Reuters notes a Mosul bombing the injured a police officers.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes an armed attack on Mussayab checkpoint where 3 guards were killed and six more were left wounded.
Richard Sisk (New York Daily News) reported Wednesday night, "Two U.S. troops died of combat wounds in Iraq Wednesday and a British Royal Marine was killed in Afghanistan to end a year that put the two wars on different trajectories. The latest casualties brought the U.S. death toll in Iraq for 2008 to 314, the lowest total since the 2003 invasion, when 486 were killed. A total of 4,221 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq. " The Iraq deaths were noted in Wednesday's snapshot. We're noting Sisk here because he's the only one who treated the deaths as worthy of a report -- as opposed to an aside in the midst of a report on something else.
The transition to Iraqi control is . . . stuck in the mud. Ned Parker and Ali Hameed (Los Angles Times) report that January 1st came and went with little change, "On the first day of the new era, the Iraqi soldiers were still following U.S. soldiers' instructions on what route to take and whom to talk to. The Americans motioned when to ask residents for information about recent Sunni militant attacks or to tell residents that Iraqi forces, not the Americans, were now in charge here.The early-morning patrol underscored the delicate nature of what everyone calls a transition, where the American officers refer to their job as partnering with Iraqi combat units, now that a U.S.-Iraq security pact has gone into effect." The 'transition' is not unlike the November 'handover' of the "Awakening" Council from US to Baghdad control. All this time later, over a 1/3 are still under US control and the word is it will be "months" before that 'transition' is complete.
In the US, Lizette Alvarez (New York Times) teams with Dan Frosch for the beat she's long covered. The latest installment is "A Focus on Violence by G.I.'s Back From War." From the article, and focusing on Colorado:
Nine current or former members of Fort Carson's Fourth Brigade Combat Team have killed someone or were charged with killings in the last three years after returning from Iraq. Five of the slayings took place last year alone. In addition, charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault have risen sharply.Prodded by Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, the base commander began an investigation of the soldiers accused of homicide. An Army task force is reviewing their recruitment, medical and service records, as well as their personal histories, to determine if the military could have done something to prevent the violence. The inquiry was recently expanded to include other serious violent crimes.
Now the secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, says he is considering conducting an Army-wide review of all soldiers "involved in violent crimes since returning" from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a letter sent to Mr. Salazar in December. Mr. Geren wrote that the Fort Carson task force had yet to find a specific factor underlying the killings, but that the inquiry was continuing.
Focusing attention on soldiers charged with killings is a shift for the military, which since the start of the war in Iraq has largely deflected any suggestion that combat could be a factor in violent behavior among some returning service members.
Past work by Alvarez on this issue includes the February piece she and Deborah Sontag did entitled "When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly," her July piece "After the Battle, Fighting the Bottle at Home," her January article with Sontag "Combat Trauma Takes the Witness Stand" and her August "War Veterans’ Concussions Are Often Overlooked."
While the assault on Gaza continues and US president-elect Barack Obama continues to remain silent, 2008 Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney writes (at Dissident Voice) of the assault on the vessel Dignity -- which carried her, medical personnel and medical supplies -- by the Israeli navy:
It's official now. We've been told that the sturdy, wood construction of our boat, Dignity, is the reason we are still alive. Fiberglass would probably not have withstood the impact of the Israeli attack and under different circumstances, we might not be here to tell the story. Even at that, the report that came to us yesterday after the Captain and First Mate went back to Sour (Tyre) to inspect the boat was that it was sinking, the damage is extensive, and the boat will take, in their estimation, at least one month to repair. Tomorrow, we will bring the Dignity from Sour to Beirut. And now, we must decide what to do and from where we will do it and how we are to get back to wherever that might be.
My personal, and I know the group's, thanks must go to Al Jazeera, that allowed three of their reporters to be onboard with us on our voyage. As a result, Al Jazeera carried the story of the Dignity live, from castoff in Cyprus when our spirits were high, right up through the menacing maneuvers of the huge, super fast Israeli ships before they rammed us, the Israeli calls on the ship phone after the ramming calling us terrorists and subversives and telling us to return to Cyprus (even though the Israelis later claimed that they didn't know who we were, they knew enough about us to tell us where we had come from), and the fact that we didn't have enough fuel to follow their instructions, right up to their threat to fire at us if we didn't turn around, ending with our beaten-up boat limping into Sour harbor in Lebanon. Al Jazeera carried our story as "breaking news" and performed a real service to its audience and to us. Al Jazeera called the Israelis to inquire about the incident right as it was happening and I am sure the Israelis were prepared to leave none to tell the story. Al Jazeera told the story and documented it as it was happening.
One of those Al Jazeera reporters with us was Sami El-Haj, who was detained in Guantanamo by the United States for six incredibly long years. What an honor to even exchange glances with such a humble man who had endured so much pain at the hands of the U.S. government. I apologized to him that my tax dollars were being used in such a despicable way. And Sami's crime according to the U.S.? Born in Sudan, and reporting for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, Sami was the wrong color, the wrong nationality, the wrong religion, reporting for the wrong news outfit, telling us the truth about a wrong war. And for that he survived incarceration for six long years. Sami El-Haj, Guantanamo prisoner number 345.Another incredibly committed journalist who was with us was CNN's Karl Penhaul. Karl reported the truth even when his own station was repeating Israeli disinformation. The fact that we were traveling with these alert journalists added to the flat-footedness and obvious crudeness of the Israeli response. Sadly, Israel has changed its story too many times to count, and that's because they are not telling the truth.
We lived to tell the story. Karl's incredible reporting, just a portion of our story, can be seen on CNN where there's also video and a photo of our damaged boat. A little more of the story and film of the extensive damage can be seen.
Those 'left' voices claiming to give a damn about the Palestinians -- you can find them at any outlet, this is the only story they can cover these days -- how many of them voted for Cynthia McKinney? Or Ralph Nader? Not too damn many. Most deluded themselves that Corporatist War Hawk Barack Obama would bring 'change' and he did! While George HW Bush golfed in Kennebunkport as a MidEast slaughter was ongoing, Barack took his game to Hawaii. 'Change' you can choke on. While Barack plays mute, Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued this statement Wednesday:
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari "We Support any Effort Agreed by Arab States Concerning the Israeli Bombing" Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari stated that Iraq supports any effort by Arab states on the Israeli shelling of areas in the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas in a statement to Al-Jazeera on Saturday and that the Iraqi stance is with Arab solidarity and what the Arab countries agreed upon. Minister Zebari added that Iraq would be in favor of any decision in this regard. Israel launched air raids on positions in the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas and killed two hundred people.
Public TV notes. Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (check local listings) and sitting down with Gwen will be Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), Dan Balz (Washington Post), David Wessel (Wall St. Journal) and Alexi Simendinger (National Journal). Topics will include Barack, Blagojevich and, possibly, who Gwen will cook home meals for if Condi returns to the West Coast? To Condi on the West Coast waiting . . .
Meanwhile NOW on PBS (check local listings, begins airing tonight in most markets) offers:
With the economy in a downward spiral, more and more people are taking advantage of credit card offers to make ends meet, but are the credit card companies actually taking advantage of their customers?
In the week in which federal regulators adopted sweeping new rules for the credit card industry, NOW meets families struggling to pay off their credit card debt. Such debt has become significantly larger thanks to questionable industry practices like doubling and tripling interest rates, increasing fees and penalties, and shrinking credit limits.
We meet people like Andrew Spurlock and his wife Michelle, who are raising three children while watching the interest rates and fees on their credit cards skyrocket. Michelle was horrified when her interest rate jumped from seven percent to 30 percent from one day to the next, despite claiming she always paid her monthly minimum. Michelle and her husband are fighting off financial ruin as they struggle to pay off their debt.
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, an expert on debt and the middle class, says credit card companies are deceiving customers in order to maximize profits. "You would think that if you upheld your end of the contract that the contract would be binding. But in the case of credit cards, you would be wrong," Warren, tells NOW.This week, NOW takes a hard look at the small print in credit card offers, and at Congressional legislation aimed at regulating the industry.
Meanwhile on broadcast TV (CBS) Sunday, 60 Minutes:
Is It Murder? With drunken driving fatalities staying constant despite all the campaigns against the crime, some prosecutors are pursuing harsher penalties against perpetrators, including long prison terms for those who caused deaths. Bob Simon reports. Watch Video Mind Reading Neuroscience has learned so much about how we think and the brain activity linked to certain thoughts that it is now possible – on a very basic scale - to read a person’s mind. Lesley Stahl reports. Watch Video The Mad Scientist Of Football Texas Tech coach Mike Leach made up for a lack of money and top talent by creating an innovative offense that’s changing the game of college football and beating bigger schools which regularly attract the best talent in the nation. Scott Pelley reports. Watch Video 60 Minutes, this Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009, at 7 p.m. ET/PT. Kennedy Center Honors: Streisand and Freeman
Barbra Streisand and Morgan Freeman are among this year’s honorees by the Kennedy Center. Mike Wallace interviewed Barbra Streisand in 1991 and Morgan Freeman in 2005. Streisand Video Freeman Watch
Public radio notes. The following programs will air on WBAI, the first on Monday:
Cat Radio Cafe
Author Edmund White on his play "Terre Haute," based on imagined conversations between literary lion Gore Vidal and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy Mc Veigh; playwright Andrea James and actors from "Yanagai! Yanagai!" a protest play from aboriginal Australia; and actor/director Roger Hendricks Simon on his award-winning independent film "The Sublet." Hosted by Janet Coleman and David Dozer
Broadcasting at WBAI/NY 99.5 FM
Streaming live at WBAI
Archived at Cat Radio Cafe
A CELEBRATION OF JAMES JOYCE Monday June 16th 7 PM-4 AM • Listen to part 1 • Our yearly commemoration of Leopold Bloom's walk through Dublin includes readings from "Ulysses" and other works in the Joyce canon, as well as excerpts from Beckett and Irish song. With Alec Baldwin, Anne Meara, Alvin Epstein, Bob Dishy, Kate Valk, Jim Fletcher, Aaron Beall, Brian O'Doherty, Emily Mitchell, John O'Callahan, David Pincus, Zeroboy, Judy Graubart, Janet Coleman, David Dozer, Kate O'Brien, playwright Richard Maxwell and director Caraid O'Brien as Molly Bloom. Produced by Peabody Award winner Larry Josephson for WBAI.
2008 is over. Today the Los Angeles Times offers "2008 year in review." In this community, 2008 has been covered by the following: Betty's "Thinning out the herd (2008)" went up Thursday as did Kat's "2008 in music" and the "2008: The Year of Living Hormonally (Year in Review)." "2008 in books (Martha & Shirley)" -- Martha and Shirley's book commentary which went up Tuesday and Ruth's "Ruth's 2008 Public Radio Report" went up Wednesday. And Sunday, Third offered the following "Editorial: Democracy or fan club?," "TV: 2008, the lows and really lows," "The 2008 Bronze Boobies," "Best and worst in hardcover music journalism," "Music 2009" and "2009 in DVDs."
iraq the washington post anthony shadidthe los angeles timesned parkerali hameedtimothy williamsthe new york timeslizette alvarezdeborah sontagdan froschhoward mustoefiona macdonaldmcclatchy newspapersleila fadel60 minutescbs newsnow on pbspbswbaicat radio cafejanet colemandavid dozerwashington weekrichard siskthe third estate sunday reviewruths reportkats kornerthomas friedman is a great man