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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Oliver's Army

Good new piece assessing John Oliver's surprising triumph in HBO weekly show.  No need to compare to Stewart and Colbert--and John has a full week to prepare, not one day--but all of the points here are good.  It's not just execution but choice of normally hands-off dry subject matter, enlivened, one sample via here.

When Movie Studios Theatened to Exit California For Florida

Excerpt from my book The Campaign of the Century on Upton Sinclair's amazing race for governor of California in 1934--which changed the state, Hollywood, and politics in America forever.   This covers 80 years ago today, just days after the famous author and Socialist, in a shock, had just swept the Democratic primary to gain the party's nod for governor.

Upton Sinclair, who was heading East on a train to meet the President at
Hyde Park, did not share Franklin Roosevelt's skepticism about
fundamental change. He thought he could make California over, turn
it upside down. That's precisely what worried motion-picture execu-
tives. Rumors circulated in Hollywood that leaders of the film industry,
meeting privately, had vowed to close down operations and move back
East if EPIC became a reality. Now the moguls were about to go public
with this threat. Variety prepared a front-page story that promised to
produce panic not only in Hollywood but across California when it hit
the newsstands on Tuesday.
Today that seemed very far away, as Hollywood, feverish and self-
fascinated as ever, passed its final idyllic hours before trouble came to
paradise. The holiday weekend barely slowed the juggernaut of movie
production. After a momentary downturn in the early 1930s, business
was booming. Movie attendance shot up 15 percent in 1934, and most
studios had increased their earnings 100 percent over the previous year.
MGM showed a profit of about $1.5 million for the second quarter alone.
Dozens of stars, old and new, brightened the Hollywood skies. Emigre
writers and directors arrived nearly every day—some escaping impover-
ishment or chilly weather on the East Coast, others fleeing Hitlerism in
Unpredictable but profitable, Hollywood was, in the words of Walter
Winchell, "a nut farm on a paying basis." It was hard for even the daily
trade papers to keep track of all the activity.  C. B. DeMille, whose
“Cleopatra” had just opened in New York, contemplated “The Crusades.”
MGM rushed ahead with a sequel to its successful “The Thin Man.” Over on the Left side of town, King Vidor was finally ready to serve up “Our Daily Bread,” and Charlie Chaplin would soon start shooting his long-awaited film set in a factory.
Putting his own political troubles aside—he had just been branded a
Communist sympathizer—Jimmy Cagney starred in “The Perfect Week-
end.” Garbo shot “The Painted Veil.” Shirley Temple seemed to finish a
movie every month as the studios attempted to exploit her sudden
preeminence at the box office.

California's first drive-in cinema was set to open September 9.
"This is the theatre," Variety explained incredulously, "at which patrons
 view the show from seats in their automobiles."
With so much sunshine to enjoy, gossip to absorb, and money to
make, why would the moguls, most of whom had fled the dark and dirty
East Coast years ago, give it all up because of one crackpot politician?
Producers and high-bracketed Hollywood salary earners, according to
Variety, feared that under Upton Sinclair's EPIC scheme, taxation
would fall "particularly heavy" on the film industry. And so "switching
of much film production from California to New York" was now being
How would the readers of Variety react? Would they pigeonhole this
report as fact, rumor, or propaganda? Would they even care enough to
take it seriously? Contrary to popular perception, the number of high
rollers in Hollywood was minuscule. Of the thirty thousand movie
workers and movie-makers, perhaps only i percent fit this bill. The great
mass of bit actors, assistant directors, prop makers, sound men, and
wardrobe people each made less than three thousand dollars a year.
Hollywood was, in addition, notoriously—proudly—apolitical. Its so-
cial consciousness was admittedly askew. It was a town where the only
discussion of the Tom Mooney case revolved around what kind of movie deal the convict might get when he emerged from San Quentin; whose concerns about Nazism extended little further than Germany's threat to ban Shirley Temple's latest picture.

Will Rogers didn't call Hollywood "cuckooland" for nothing.

First Reporter to Reach Hiroshima Exposed 'The Atomic Plague'

Sixty-nine years ago this week, on September 2, 1945, Australian war reporter Wilfred Burchett left Tokyo by train, intent on reaching distant Hiroshima before any of his journalistic colleagues, who were banned from taking such a trip by the American occupation chief, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Burchett, who had written dispatches glorifying the firebombing of Japanese cities, was just looking for a scoop. The following morning he encountered what he would describe as a “death-stricken alien planet.” He noticed a dank, sulfurous smell as he was taken directly to one of the few hospitals left standing. Its director felt certain that radiation sickness, far from being merely “propaganda” or a "hoax" as the United States was claiming, was very real. One in five patients was developing purple skin bruises, white cell counts had plunged for many, some were also losing their hair or simply expiring without any known injuries.

The reporter pulled out his typewriter and, sitting on a chunk of rubble near the hypocenter of the blast, composed his historic article, detailing the new disease, and commenting, “I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.”

This part of the story is, by now, pretty well known. What happened next is not: the real beginning of the decades of suppression I detail in my new book and ebook, Atomic Cover-Up.

As Burchett was finishing his story, a group of journalists arrived on an Air Force plane, with a censor in tow. Included were the celebrated Bill Lawrence of the New York Times and Homer Bigart of the New York Herald-Tribune. Burchett told them to forget about the rubble, “the story is in the hospitals.”

They were not happy to find Burchett already there and with a finished article. He asked them to carry the story back to Tokyo and transmit it to his paper. They refused. Burchett managed to transmit his story to a colleague in Tokyo, who sneaked it past the censors, and it ran on September 5 on the front page of the London Daily Express, under the headline the atomic plague.

Articles written by the American reporters who had landed in Hiroshima gave no evidence that they had visited the hospitals. Yet Lawrence, years later in his memoirs, revealed, “We talked with dying Japanese in the hospitals.” Were those stories censored by MacArthur’s people? Lawrence also disclosed that MacArthur was “hopping mad” about the press junket and cut off supplies of gasoline to planes that might make another journo trip possible. Then he ordered all American reporters out of Tokyo to a closely watched enclave in Yokohama.

Meanwhile, the first American reporter to reach Nagasaki, George Weller, had found a similar “plague” in that city, but made the mistake of filing his stories directly through MacArthur’s office. All of the pieces would be spiked, only appearing for the first time in 2005.

But the story doesn’t end there. Back in Tokyo, General Thomas Farrell, who was directing the post-bomb official studies, held a press conference and categorically denied reports of (a) 70,000 to 100,000 killed in the atomic cities and (b) any kind of lingering radiation sickness. Suddenly Wilfred Burchett showed up, ill and unwashed, and told Farrell he was sadly misinformed. Farrell replied that Burchett had “fallen victim to Japanese propaganda.”

When the briefing broke up, Burchett was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered that his white blood cell count was below normal. Then, on leaving the hospital a few days later, he discovered that his camera containing film shot in Hiroshima was missing—and that MacArthur had ordered him expelled from Japan.

For much more on censorship and suppression of words and images--and key film footage shot by our own military--in the decades that followed, see my book Atomic Cover-Up.  And my e-book on how the first Hollywood epic, from MGM, on the bomb was censored--including by President Truman himself.

Benedict Cumberbatch IS Vincent Van Gogh

Was not aware of this recent docudrama until tonight--and it's based on the artist's letters to his brother.  Van Gogh was like Babe Ruth.  The Babe was known for his hitting but he also might have made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher.  With Van Gogh it was images--and writing.

End of Summer, Cape Cod

My photo from last year.

Derek Hit?

Nice New Yorker cover coming this week.  Always liked Jeter, though hate the Yanks, but if he's so "classy" and "team-first" why is he helping to kill their playoff hopes by refusing to sit down for more games and suggest he get moved to 8th or 9th in the order?  His OPS is almost the worst for any major league starting SS and his range stats are not only the worst but by a big margin.  Terrible way to go out....

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Olive" Oiled in Venice

Glad to see HBO series "Olive Kitteridge" was hailed at Venice festival, as was terrific book and seems like Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins great casting.
McDormand, who acquired the rights to Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and also serves as hands-on executive producer, said that she has been married for 32 years to the same man, and Jenkins 45 years to the same woman. They believe in marriage, and this clearly plays a role in their wanting to make this particular film, which works its way through various strains well known to most long marriages.

This is not an easy film – there’s a lot of death, depression and other difficulties dealt with – and yet it’s always a deep pleasure to watch. It doesn’t hurt that Bill Murray turns up at one of its darker, slower moments, and brings a whole new peas-in-a-pod chemistry to McDormand’s Olive. The extensive supporting cast is uniformly good, notably Zoe Kazan as the over-amped mouse who works for – and affects – Henry, and Peter Mullan as Olive’s counterpart, the alcoholic English teacher Jim O’Casey. Gallagher has his moments, too, particularly as his relationship with Olive begins to fray. Several small roles are also memorable, especially Cory Michael Smith as an ex-student suffering from psychosis, beautifully and frighteningly illustrated by Cholodenko.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gaza Casualties, Redux

An honest probe into the contested numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza in the past weeks from William Booth at the Wash Post--in contrast to the laughably biased, pro-Israel "reporting" on the same subject (and others) by the NYT's Jodi Rudoren.  Surely there are grey areas but read the sourcing and see how the "research" by the Israeli side vs. the multitude of UN and human rights groups on the other side.  And ponder how disgraceful the Rudoren coverage has been.

Lessons in Hypocrisy

The NYT today in an editorial wisely calls for release of photos of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
Images of war are frequently appalling, and the safety of American citizens and soldiers is vitally important. But the greatest threat to that safety lies not in the photographs of horrific behavior; it lies in the fact of the behavior itself. The treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was a shameful episode in U.S. history.
America reinforces its values and thus its security by being transparent about even the worst abuses of those values, not by hiding the evidence deep in a file drawer.
Nowhere does the editorial mention that until this summer the Times itself engaged in "hiding the evidence"--by refusing to use the word "torture" describe various episodes in the Bush-Cheney era.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sam Cut

St. Louis Rams just cut, on final day, Michael Sam, the league's first openly gay player.  They hope to sign him for their practice squad but he is free to sign anywhere.  That gives 31 other teams a shot.  He was a 7th round pick and did quite okay in preseason games.  More here.

Give Me 'Shelter 104'

NYT piece in print tomorrow in arts & leisure reviews a new DVD that collects some classic '50s-'60s nuclear panic civil defense films, especially one titled "Shelter 104."  Well, it's been up at YouTube for awhile, and here it is.  Love the hard-rain-depressing hipster folk singer angle...and catch his song at the close.   Here's a posting with all kinds of fun background. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Who Was Kajieme Powell?

FridaySt. Louis Post-Dispatch finally with editorial on the shooting.  It's sort of wide-angle, asks some okay questions but tries hard not to take a stand.  The claim that Powell was coming at them "fast" is just wrong.  It's a lengthy take and sensitive--to a point.  Yes, police are taught to shoot within 21 feet, but that's the distance accepted if they have not yet drawn their guns.  Not the case here.

Earlier: As some may know, I have been haunted by--and closely followed--the killing of Kajieme Powell, 25, by two white cops in St. Louis, near Ferguson, one week ago.  I was one of the first to comment on Police Chief Sam Dotson initial report on the killing, and one of the first to post the horrid video that soon emerged that captured the entire incident.  Since then, I've tracked the weak media and public responses almost every day as the police accounts proved misleading or downright false.

Thanks to some of the media coverage, the overwhelming focus on the Michael Brown slaying, and skillful spin by the local authorities, the Powell case quickly faded.  Perhaps that may change if anything comes a Missouri state senator's request yesterday for a federal probe of the episode and police procedures.   More on that here.

What's perhaps most remarkable has been the lack of details that have emerged about Powell's life, beyond the fact that he once lived in New York,  and that he has been living with his grandmother.  When his mother spoke to the press, slamming the police and "oppression" of blacks, only RT (the Russian propaganda channel) covered it briefly.  "My son was tired of that oppression," she said.

Many have suggested he suffered from mental illness, with no evidence beyond his actions on the fateful day and shouting at the cops, "shoot me!"  Others have claimed that he may have had a political agenda, offering himself as a "martyr" to the cause of exposing police brutality. I should note:  at this late, we still have not been told the names of the two police shooters.  On the police incident report they are only listed as "victims."

I've checked Google News and blogs and social media every few hours now for the past week and been amazed that so little has come out about Powell's background--please let me know what I've missed.  But today I got a seemingly important tip.

Someone named "tadams0620 " left a comment at my most recent posting on Powell.  It indicates that he or she found Powell's Facebook page--under his (perhaps) real name Antoine Powell.  We all know how many times people have IDed falsely someone involved in a high-profile case on Facebook or Twitter.  However, in this case, the ID appears likely true.  The photo (above)  looks like Powell in the videos; the bio has him living in New York and St. Louis and being a fan of St. Louis sports teams.  He has friends in both places.

I have since searched "Antoine Powell" at Twitter and found two people, on the day after he died, revealing that he was their cousin, he had just died (one specifically said at the hands of police)--and his name was Antoine.  I've contacted them and hope they respond.  One had tweeted,  "Rest In Peace to my cousin Kajieme Antoine Powell he was killed yesterday in St. Louis by a police officer."

Powell posted little at Facebook but among his favorites are several blazing lion images, one of which also shows up at the only Twitter feed, which goes back awhile, for a Kajieme Powell (his handle including "89," the year he was born).  One of them he titles "Lion of Judah," which, of course, is a biblical reference, and also applied by Rastafari to Haile Selassie and embraced by black Israelites.  But more revealing you have his most recent posting and comments at Facebook, which were followed by one from a friend, Toy Toy Wright, who wrote on August 21:   "R.I.P. Kajieme.  I will always remember the good conversations we had about religion, politics, injustices past 'n present. I always thought U had a good grasp on whats going on to be so young. I always believed that u would go into politics. Sleep in peace brother."

And what was she reponding to?  He had written on July 16 under an illustration of cartoon characters he had just posted as his new cover photo:  "I want a Lawsuit Damn It!!!!!!!! All of the characters in this photo are hederal sexual!!!!! Especially the Mighty Wind!!!!!!!! That's That!!!! Racist!"  Later:  "Ecclesiastes 7:7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad."  On August 9:  The 'illuminati' is trying to steal my work, kill me or imprison me, and take my credit and profit off my genius...No! I don't think so."  

And the same day: 
Until I get this Lawsuit I will not comply with Law Enforcement. That's That!
*Isaiah 54:17*
*Psalm 23:4*

*Proverbs 28:26*
Then he again goes silent.

I have not confirmed that this is indeed Kajieme Powell but it sure sounds suggestive and very likely.  I'll keep probing and update ASAP.

Update:  See comment below from a Rose M, who is quite certain the Facebook page is his, and excerpt here:
What I found interesting is some earlier posts on the Antoine Powell page. In some of them he references the 14th amendment, and also that people are watching him and recording him on their cell phones. He also says the Illuminati are after him, and also earlier he had posted many links to YouTube videos about microchip implantation and other conspiracies. He, or that Facebook user, seemed increasingly suspicious and a bit paranoid. If the reports of him being mentally ill are true, posts like that might not be surprising. There were very few comments from friends on his page; majority of the comments and likes to statuses were from himself.

It makes this case even more sad; he was mentally ill, scared, alone, and suffered a horrible and unnecessary death. Every day I feel more sympathy for this person, and wish there could have been another, better resolution to this tragedy. It did not have to happen like this.

Lange Went to Church

There's an "American Masters" doc on Dorothea Lange airing tonight on PBS and before watching it I noted that she once lived in Taos.  I have long known and admired and posted the famed photos taken by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand, and paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, of my favorite building in the USA--San Francisco de Asis Church in Taos.   But I'd never seen one by Lange, but looking it up...sure enough, she took one. (See below.  And below that, one of the many I've taken there.)  See more here of mine.  

'Grapes' Songs for Labor Day

First up, Ry Cooder covers the Woody classic "Vigilante Man," straight out of Grapes of Wrath.   Believe it or not, if you're so inclined, you can find a Flaming Lips live eight-minute version.   Then song also inspired by the Steinbeck novel and Woody, Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad," with Tom Morello--one of my favorite vids.  (Same era, my book on Upton Sinclair's incredible 1934 campaign.)

Graham and Truth

As I've revealed, Graham Greene's The Quiet American is my favorite novel of the past few decades (also a fine film with Michael Caine).  It eerily forecast the U.S. disaster in Vietnam and Greene, as usual, knew what he was talking about, as he had reported from there for years.  Now the New Republic, as part of its 100th anniversary tributes, has just posted one of his pieces.   From 1954, after he came back for more:  "Two years ago men believed in the possibility of military defeat or victory; now they know the war will be decided elsewhere by men who have never waded waist-deep in fields of paddy, struggled up mountain sides, been involved in the middle of attack or the long boredom of waiting."
There is a despondency of return as well as a sadness of departure, and I noted that first evening in my journal, “Is there any solution here the West can offer? But the bar tonight was loud with innocent American voices and that was the worst disquiet. There weren’t so many Americans in 1951 and 1952.” They were there, one couldn’t help being aware, to protect an investment, but couldn’t the investment have been avoided?

Back in the Basement, Mixin' Up the Medicine?

T-Bone Burnett--I first saw him when he was a kid playing in Dylan's "Rolling Thunder" band in 1974--coming up with something he's calling "The New Basement Tapes."  He's taken lyrics Bob wrote at the time of the original basement recordings at Big Pink (my recent photo, left) and added backing with Elvis Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford and more.  Lo and behold. Yea, heavy, and a bottle of bread.

Update:  And, of course, big news this week of first official release of the full original Basement Tapes.   And my fictional tribute

Here's first cut released from the T-Bone "new" album. Jim James on guitar we're told.  Mumford singing?

Oh, Bullshit

An Onion parody of cable news, four years old but still timeless--one of their greatest things ever.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Till and Dylan

On this day in 1955:  the death of Emmet Till.  Young Bob Dylan penned song about it.

A Bridge Too Far: Cuomo Steals Money for Environment

August 28, 2014:  Read this scathing piece at my local paper, the Journal News of Westchester/Rockland, N.Y.  The NYT earlier this week refused to endorse Gov. Cuomo for re-election due to various "corruption" angles but far worse, in my view, was his ramming through of the long-delayed (for good reason) building of a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson.  It's now the biggest highway/bridge project in the country--thecurrent span is three miles long and less than 60 years old--and besides not promising much of a gain in speed of traffic, it includes no mass transit and the state has lied left and right about likely massive toll increases.  Taking the cake, as you'll see in article, is the governor's successful storng-arm push to drain hundreds of millions in dollars for environmental projects and direct them for the bridge--where financing (beyond soaking commuters) has never been place.  Cuomo pushed the project through anyway.  Now it can only be paid for by raiding funds for much-needed new treatment plants etc.--and doubling tolls.   (h/t Barbara Bedway)

June 2014: Latest scandal surrounding biggest construction project in U.S.--building the new three-mile-long Tappan Zee Bridge, just down the hill.  Cuomo and state rammed through the project hurriedly with little funding in place--beyond danger of tripling current bridge tolls.  Now they've gotten a state board to approve an outrageous $511 loan from key fund meant for environmental clean-up and much-needed new sewers.  No public comments allow earlier or today. See complaints by environmental groups and EPA regional chief.   And local residents being subjected to ear- and nerve-shattering noise.

Not 'Daily'--But One for the Ages?

First commentary I've seen on Jon Stewart's first directorial effort, Rosewater (not the Kurt Vonnegut book).  "Ahead of its festival tour, the film screened last night for select critics. First reviews, which don't exactly portend unanimous acclaim, are up. Some critics wonder how the film would be received if the director were an unknown rather than a media celebrity whom everyone, especially Hollywood, adores."  Variety raves but others mixed, such as:   "The film understandably sets aside Stewart's trademark barbed humor in a story that needs to be told without mockery or laughs, and it's also more earnest than Stewart's TV fans might expect. And for much of its running time the film is not quite as sharp or energetic as you'd hope, possibly because Stewart the director is hardly the master the way Stewart the TV host is."

Trailer just out today: