Sunday, April 29, 2007

LIVE! Direct from the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival!

LIVE! Direct from the San Francisco International Film Festival!

"San Fran-cis-co, Here I Come...Right back where I started from....."

The song also comes back to me, for good reason. I lived here in 1968-69, when as a refugee from the cultural wars of the era, the Haight Ashbury was a sanctuary for my young body, trying to stay alive - meaning, I was a war draft resister, and the Vietnam loomed large indeed.

The counter-culture was the lifeblood of countless other men, and women, my age. The Golden Gate - Park as well as Bridge - was an arc into another world both literal and figurative. I'll spare the descriptive events and escapades. That's a different post.

Returning to The City is always exhilerating. What's not to like? Other than the cold weather, that is. Being here is a return also to other roots. I believe I was conceived here. Nine months later I appeared, however, in Pennsylvania, as my mother traveled back to her home. That's also a different post, another time.

This time, with the irresistable opportunity to experience the Big 5-0 and the best cinematic communing in the country, upon my air arrival and set-down, it felt immediately like a home-coming and this time to seek a different refuge than my no-I won't-be-a-soldier's sanctuary from a generation earlier.

Key West has become a near tortuous year for me as my departure from the Tropic Cinema could not foretell what lay ahead. Yet it's also been liberating in some conventional ways, and profound ones, too. In the struggle, I discovered the wealth and value of who are my closest friends. But this post is about FILM and the CINEMA. Last week's Solares Hill publication has already covered the other materail with their full page interview with me.

And the Big 5-0 is indeed a watershed moment, an historic mark on the world of cinmea. I'll be posting the films I'll be seeing (about 30 scheduled). And observations, and conversations, and pictures. An exciting time to be alive! But I'm off to make the next screening....more/later!

Tuesday: Take Two //// Picturing politics at SFIFF50
(May 1, 2007)
By Robert Avila

A shot in veteran filmmaker Jon Else's documentary "Wonders Are Many" -- a behind the scenes look at composer John Adams and director-librettist Peter Sellars' opera Doctor Atomic -- makes visual reference to Picasso's "Guernica" as apt shorthand for art's awesome charge to speak for the voiceless in the age of total war and total exploitation. For an opera about the Manhattan Project and the birth of the atomic age, the Picasso quote is fitting enough. But Else's documentary, which screens this year as part of the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival not only broaches pressing questions about art's role in a time of threat and crisis; its very appearance here helps highlight the place of film festivals themselves as forums for political debate and discourse.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wal-Mart running private intelligence agency to monitor critics

by Joshua Holland,
No, this isn't fascism as defined by Benito Mussolini*

Wal-Mart Stores has been recruiting former military and government intelligence officers for a branch of its global security office aimed at identifying threats to the world's largest retailer, including from "suspect individuals and groups."
Wal-Mart's interest in intelligence operatives comes at a time when the retailer is defending itself against allegations by a fired security employee that it ran surveillance operations against targets including critics, dissident shareholders, employees and suppliers. Wal-Mart denied any wrongdoing.
The jobs were listed with the Analytical Research Center, part of Wal-Mart's Global Security division, which is headed by former senior CIA and FBI senior officer Kenneth Senser. The analytical unit was created over the past year and a half, according to published comments by its head, Army Special Operations veteran David Harrison.
Many corporations hire law enforcement officers for their security departments.
But Steven Aftergood, who runs the government secrecy project for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, said Wal-Mart's efforts appear to go beyond what most companies are doing, raising questions about corporate intelligence work outside of the oversight process in place for government spying.
No, it's not fascism; it's a frightening by-product of the corporate right's decades-long assault on the very concept of the state.

Their knee-jerk anti-governmentalism -- as expressed everywhere from the diktats of the international financial institutions to the wholly fraudulent claim that Republicans are for "small government" -- and obsessive deregulation has resulted in a massive, quiet and largely un-debated shift in much of what we used to consider the exclusive tools of state power to the private sector. Here's an example of intelligence work being privatized, but it's also the case that states' former monopoly on the use of violence has been undermined by the proliferation of private security contractors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises serious questions about oversight and accountability (and is, as we've seen in Iraq for example, a bad thing in practical terms).
In this case, we're talking about a company with an atrocious track record -- a record of suppressing workers' rights to organize, of racial and gender discrimination, of dumping on the environment and hiring undocumented workers and locking workers into stores overnight and the dozens of other charges that has made it a symbol of everything that's wrong with the culture of corporate America. Wal-Mart's ownership has proven itself to be reckless and irresponsible again and again -- the idea of their having their own little CIA to keep tabs on their critics is really disturbing.
*It's very unlikely that Mussolini actually said, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." The quote's disputed, and it pretty much would have contradicted everything else he ever wrote about fascism (more here). I use it here because of its familiarity, and to justify the picture of Mussolini.

After Moyers Iraq Documentary, DC Reporters in Damage-Control Mode

In the lead up to and wake of Bill Moyers' much-anticipated mega-dunk on the Washington press corps this week, we are seeing the ugliest side of Beltway culture -- sophistry and damage control.
read more digg story

Bill Moyers Speaks Out

Bill Moyers' PBS documentary on the media's actions in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

"The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on." Bill Moyers returned to PBS last night with this documentary (transcript) examining the mainstream media's role in the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

And here is additional commentary from David Sirota,
In the lead up to and wake of Bill Moyers' much-anticipated mega-dunk on the Washington press corps this week, we are seeing the ugliest side of Beltway culture -- the meltdown, damage-control freak out. Only what's new is that instead of politicians melting down, it's reporters themselves. And never underestimate the desperation that comes when Establishment Washington unifies to try to defend itself.
Over here we have professional power-worshiper Chris "It Doesn't Matter Where Political Money Comes From" Cillizza attempting to defend Tim Russert, and in the process insulting the recently deceased journalistic hero David Halberstam.
Yes, Cillizza -- clearly begging for an invite on a Meet the Press panel -- is out there saying that "modern journalists are doing their very best to emulate that sort of reporting" that came from Halberstam, and that "Tim Russert is one of the best examples of that kind of accountability journalism." I guess turning over NBC's airwaves to a Vice President spewing lies, ignoring the solid reporting of Knight Ridder that debunked those lies, and having panel discussions laughing hysterically with fellow pundit friends over predictions for when the war would start is, under Cillizza's warped Beltway definition, "accountability journalism" from Russert (who, I'm sure, Cillizza would also have us believe is just a "blue collar guy from Buffalo," despite Russert's multi-million-dollar salary and quaint Nantucket summers).
Over at CBS, White House reporter Mark Knoller's acrobatic attempts at defense make Rodney Dangerfield's "Triple Lindy" from "Back to School" look like a simple somersault. Knoller actually claims that the now-famous pre-war press conference where reporters fell all over themselves to compliment the president for his leadership was actually a scene of journalistic bravery. Atrios does the takedown of Knoller, showing the full transcript of that press conference, but if you don't want to read that, please just remember what New York Times White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller said to defend the media's behavior at the event:
"We were very deferential because it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."
Moyers piece is important not just because it has exposed the entire sham that was pre-war Beltway journalism, but also because he has finally exacted a price -- in this case, humiliation -- from the reporters whose power-worshiping, must-stay-on-the-cocktail-party-circuit tendencies led them to aggressively push this country into war. And we can hope that fear of future humiliation will help prevent another gross abdication of responsibility next time around.

David Sirota is the author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--and How We Take It Back (Crown, 2006).


The glamour, the stars and the films that kicked off the San Francisco Film Festival in 1957.
By Traude Gómez
It was a dark and stormy night on December 4, 1957. San Franciscans and international guests in black tie and gowns scurried into the Metro Theater on Union Street to escape the torrential rains. It was Opening Night at the first San Francisco International Film Festival.
Actor Franchot Tone flew in to act as master of ceremonies. Tone's major roles in Hollywood films had made him a well-known figure to many Americans, but in 1957 he was also known as the host of CBS's Playhouse 90. Unable to be in two places at once, Tone asked James Mason to fill his shoes on the live drama program so he could come to the Festival. Tone introduced dignitaries in the 1,000-seat theater, among them Harold Zellerbach, president of the San Francisco Arts Commission, and Festival director Irving M. "Bud" Levin, who had spearheaded the groundbreaking event.
In the audience was the venerable Frank Borzage, director of such classic Hollywood films as A Farewell to Arms, History Is Made at Night and Three Comrades. (Tone had dragged the director of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tay Garnett, as far as the Hollywood airport, but Garnett said he had to make a phone call and missed the plane. Garnett tried again the following night, again unsuccessfully.) After Tone read a congratulatory telegram from Vice President Richard M. Nixon, the lights dimmed, and Helmut Kautner's The Captain from Köpenick began to flicker on the screen.

Mayor George Christopher hands the key to the city to Nigerian filmmakers Manasseh Moerane (left) and Ifoghale Amada (center) at the first SFIFF.

That morning, columnist Herb Caen had written in the Chronicle, "The first SF International Film Festival opening today at the Metro, is definitely international. America's only entry is Uncle Vanya, based on the Russian classic by Chekhov. Britain's big one is a performance in London by the Soviets, Bolshoi Ballet. And Japan's hottest contender is Throne of Blood, a Far Eastern version of Sweet Will's Macbeth."
For the next 14 days, an international film premiered each night to a fancy, eager audience. It was the dedication of San Francisco native Irving Levin and the many who helped bring the first international film festival to North America that made it possible.
Levin passed away in 1995, but his legacy continues. His widow, Irma Levin, worked by his side as hostess from 1957 till 1964, after which the Levins left the running of the Festival to others. She reflected on the first Festival from her Nob Hill home, with her son Fred. "I was scared to death," she laughs. "We were very young. How would you like having all these people coming into your home, and you don't know any of them?" Trepidation, however, didn't stop her from hosting almost nightly pre- and post-film parties at their Sea Cliff home.
"There were films from 12 countries," recalled Irving Levin in a 1979 interview with San Francisco magazine. "I purchased the best film each country had to offer." Levin grew up in the theater business. His father, Samuel H. Levin, built the Balboa, Coronet, Galaxy, Stonestown, Coliseum, Alexandria, Metro, Vogue and El Rey theaters, which Irving later inherited. Irma knew Irving from high school, but she went to Hollywood to work at Paramount Studios as a hat designer before returning to San Francisco and marrying him.
San Francisco was a friendly audience to international cinema in the late 1950s. The famous international festivals of the day were at Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Edinburgh. There was some thought that perhaps San Francisco could join their ranks. Locally, Levin had helped organize an Italian film festival in 1956 at the suggestion of Italian consul general Pierluigi Alvera. And in 1957, a group calling itself the Camera Obscura Film Society was sponsoring a Sunday series of "unusual, classic and experimental films."
Fred Levin remembers that the Vogue, Bridge and Clay theaters played foreign films in the 1950s, albeit to a small audience. "It was the beats who went to these films," he says. "Most people didn't want to read subtitles. You could buy French cigarettes. It was a whole different world." Bud Levin wanted to open up this world to a bigger audience.
Playing at the Larkin and Clay theaters at the time was Jean Renoir's great film, French Can Can (under the title Only the French Can). Also playing in the City were I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Tammy and the Bachelor and Love Slaves of the Amazons. Cinerama vied with Todd-A-O, Technicolor, Color by Deluxe, VistaVision and CinemaScope to thrill the viewer. On your TV-at the time considered the deadly enemy of film-you could tune in to American Bandstand, Wagon Train and Leave It to Beaver.
The Festival "was my deal with the City," said Levin in an April 1995 interview with the Richmond Review. "Back in the '50s, San Francisco needed to keep its place in the arts world with an international film festival. There wasn't one in North or South America. I took on the job of exposing the people of San Francisco to movies as an art form. I am thankful for what I got out of it," he added. "I wanted to expose them to what film is. That it was an art form. That there was something to it."
After the success of the Italian Film Festival in 1956, Alvera suggested to Levin an international festival with films from all over the world. Levin thought it a great idea and began planning the international festival from the office of his theater business. Money proved the biggest obstacle. The Art Commission's sponsorship allowed Festival planners to use its name for credibility, but didn't provide funds. Mayor George Christopher was supportive, but not with money. "As long as it didn't cost anything, and no one had to pay, then Irving could do it," says Irma Levin. One money-saving practice involved setting another plate at the family dinner table. "We had Franchot Tone one night for dinner," remembers Fred Levin, who was 13 at the time. "It was just us: my brother and I, my parents and Franchot Tone."
Lack of support from other film festivals and Hollywood proved another obstacle. Irma Levin says the Venice and Cannes festivals feared San Francisco's endeavor would steal from their exclusive prestige. "They fought it. They didn't want to give films and they didn't want their film industries to cooperate and give us good films."
Despite these difficulties, Irving and his supporters forged ahead, working hard to secure films and bring them through customs. One supporter then and now is Serge Echeverría, who was a volunteer staff member at the 1957 Film Festival. He says of Irving, "His enthusiasm and joy for living was inspiring." Serge had just moved to San Francisco from Hollywood, where he had worked as an actor. At Levin's office, he filed, stuffed envelopes and distributed press information. "We were all so proud to work for the glory of San Francisco," he says. He also remembers the first Festival as a society event with nightly consulate parties.
Indeed, if the Festival didn't have money, it certainly had tremendous local support. The consulates celebrated the films from their countries with great fanfare. Italian consul Pierluigi Alvera held a formal reception after Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido at the consulate on Broadway. The consul general of India hosted cocktails before Pather Panchali. Consul general Frode Schon of Denmark held a reception before the screening of the Danish film Qivitoq.
The newspapers provided wide coverage, with Festival stories running daily. Chronicle drama critic Paine Knickerbocker, who reviewed most films, interviewed Franco Cancellieri, producer of Il Grido. "Cancellieri is extremely pleased by the fact that finally an international film festival is being held in the United States," wrote Knickerbocker. "A festival is one place," Cancelllieri told him, "where a sincere picture made without hopes of great commercial success can receive a considerable amount of attention."
Herb Caen-as always-had the best dish. He exposed one near-calamity: "SF's International Film Festival, going strong at the Metro, almost hit an unexpected snag Thursday when the Italian film, Il Grido was scheduled for an 8:30 showing," wrote Caen. "Steve Cochran, star and part owner of the picture, hadn't yet seen it in its entirety and insisted that the movie be run for him before he'd allow it to be shown to the public. So at 6:00 pm, Il Grido was screened at the Metro for an audience consisting of Cochran and his lawyer, Nate Cohn. 'Well, it's a lousy print,' Cochran said at the end. 'But go ahead, show it.' The Film Festival backers heaved a relieved sigh that could be heard clear out to Land's End."
Nonetheless, the Festival had its unexpected snags. The scheduled film from India, the second part of Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, Aparajito, did not materialize. Instead, Ray's first feature, the first part of the trilogy, Pather Panchali, was entered.
On Closing Night, Mayor Christopher, Zellerbach and Levin presented the Golden Gate Awards, the winners having been chosen by five Bay Area newspaper drama critics. Four bronze plaques with a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge were awarded. Shirley Temple Black presented the Best Picture to Pather Panchali, which was received on India's behalf by consul S.N. Hussain. Satyajit Ray, who also wrote the Pather Panchali screenplay won for Best Director. Dolores Dorn-Heft (who was married to Franchot Tone at the time) won Best Actress for her performance in Uncle Vanya, and Heinz Ruhmann won Best Actor for his performance in The Captain from Köpenick.
The Closing Night film was supposed to be The Bigamist, an Italian comedy directed by Luciano Emmer. However, more snags. The Bigamist could not be had in time. Wheeling and dealing, Levin instead secured Luchino Visconti's Senso, which was shown out-of-competition. The post-film champagne reception at the Italian Consulate, honoring the Golden Gate winners, was sponsored by the local chapter of the American Association of the United Nations. In the end, the Chronicle reported that 11,500 people attended the Festival.
"It was an exciting time," Irma Levin remembers. "It's exciting to see how the Festival has grown and changed. You know, nothing stays the same. I wish Irving were here to see it."

SFIFF Founder's energy, enthusiasm were unstoppable.

When he was a teenager at San Francisco's Lowell High School, Irving M. "Bud" Levin didn't go out for the football team, or any sports, for that matter.
He was too busy working at his father's Coliseum theater at Ninth and Clement, enthralled with the concept of cinema as art form -- a novel idea for anyone to hold in 1930, much less a 14-year-old.

Harold Zellerbach, president of the San Francisco Art Commission, and Festival founder Irving Levin at the third San Francisco International in 1959.

As an adult, managing seven movie houses under San Francisco Theatres Inc. (the Balboa, Harding, Coronet, Alexandria, Metro, Vogue and Coliseum), he had other creative notions as well.
He staged costume contests for kids at the theaters on Halloween, offered gimmicks like popcorn in noise-free cellophane bags and installed a TV room with armchairs in the back of the Coronet to lure dads who might otherwise stay home to watch televised fights.
If inspiration struck, there wasn't anything he wouldn't try, it seemed. He even took his wife and sons, ages 8 and 10, on a three-month driving tour of central Africa -- just because he could.
But his most novel achievement -- aside from his trademark handlebar mustache -- is also the longest lasting.
Levin was the man who created the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1957, which succeeded despite its shoestring budget and tiny staff, thanks to his tremendous energy and willpower.
"To my father," said Fred Levin, one of Bud's sons, "everything was a possibility.''
The festival that Levin envisioned would expand the audience for movies, encourage the production of higher-quality films and put San Francisco on the map as an international destination for cinematic arts and culture, just like Cannes, Venice and Berlin.
He was something of a visionary. By the festival's fourth anniversary, it was considered the largest film festival in U.S. history, with media correspondents attending from India, South America, Japan and England, and with critics from national publications such as Newsweek, the Washington Post and Variety, The Chronicle reported in 1960.
Actress Mary Pickford was invited to be the festival's special hostess; author John Steinbeck flew in to preview the production of one of his short stories; French film critic Jean Renoir was a jurist; and Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" was entered in the competition.
Had Levin not been the consummate businessman, parlaying all his connections to come up with supplemental donations and favors from well-heeled arts patrons and Mayor George Christopher, it might never have happened.
Not bad for Levin, the son of a Russian immigrant who had started one of the West Coast's early theater chains with a nickelodeon on Market Street.
The city's art commission had kicked around the idea of a film festival for several years, but nothing got off the ground until then-Italian Consul General Pierluigi Alvera came up with the idea for an Italian Film Festival.
"All the theater people turned him away,'' Irma Levin, Bud Levin's widow, recalled. "At the time, there were only two theaters showing foreign films. He was told, 'There's only one guy who will listen to you, and that's Bud Levin.' ''
The event was a hit in 1956. Fresh with enthusiasm and momentum, Levin decided that San Francisco was ripe for an international film festival on the order of Cannes and traveled there to observe. He tried to enlist Hollywood's participation but was initially spurned.
Luckily, Christopher was an ally, and so was Harold Zellerbach, president of the city's Arts Commission, lending their names to the efforts, if not city funding. Levin hustled for in-kind donations from businesses around town and invited socialites to make contributions. To get the movies, he asked film producers from nations with consulates in town to submit entries. He ended up with 15 films from 12 countries for his first San Francisco Film Festival at the Metro Theater. When India's "Pather Panchali" won the top award, it was a sign to the outside world that it was a real competition, and not rigged to ensure American victories.
Irma Levin, now 90, recalled during an interview at her high-rise apartment on Nob Hill that her husband worked on the festival every day in addition to his regular job of managing the local theater chain. She was part of the film festival effort and loved it. She was hostess for teas, luncheons and dinners associated with the festival in its early years. The inaugural year's after-party was held on Lake Street in Seacliff, with celebrities and honored guests shuttled back and forth in limousines provided by Oldsmobile.
"I was included in everything he did,'' she said. "There wasn't a minute we didn't talk about it."
The team effort may have been one of the reasons their marriage lasted 58 years, until his death from of a heart attack in 1995. He was 79.
Because the festival started during the Cold War years, there was intrigue, too.
"He had problems getting the films into the country past customs, and stars had to get visas to enter,'' Irma Levin recalled. "I don't know how many times the FBI called his office, saying, 'Who are these people?' -- especially with the Russians and the Iron Curtain countries.''
Bud Levin was the sort of man who made his job his life. After working all day, he'd head home for dinner with the wife and kids, then go back to work, driving to his theaters to make sure that everything was running properly.
He was 40 when the festival premiered and ran it for eight years before handing over the reins. By 1965, the event had grown too large for one person to handle.
And what if Bud Levin were alive today to see how it has grown and expanded under subsequent directors such as Claude Jarman and Albert Johnson, Peter Scarlet and, most recently, Graham Leggat, who has included films made with new technology, such as cellular phones?
"Graham embodies some of the same qualities my dad had, including the drive,'' Fred Levin said. "I think he'd be very pleased."

San Francisco Fest Brings Out the Films and Big Names for 50th Anniversary

by Dennis Harvey (April 26, 2007)
[San Francisco film critic Dennis Harvey gives his take on the 50th Anniversary of the San Francisco International Film Festival, which opened Thursday.

A decade might be long enough in dog years, but in film festival terms it takes a bit more time to impress. Berlin goes back to the early '50s, Cannes came about just pre- and post WWII, Venice dates to the early '30s. But in the U.S., where, since that latter era, Hollywood's output has dominated world markets? No film festival at all -- until 1957. At which point a second-generation local theater owner and dedicated cineaste decided somebody had to step up to the plate -- to affirm San Francisco's "place in the international arts world," to underline that film could be a true art form as well as entertainment, and simply to bring foreign movies to the city's ever-hungry intelligentsia. As you might have heard by now, that makes the San Francisco International Film Festival 50 years old this year. And the oldest continually running such event on this half of the globe celebrates its 50th with a whole lotta hoopla and a cherry-picked selection of current worldwide cinema April 26 through May 10.
The festival Irving M. "Bud" Levin founded those five decades ago has not, rather remarkably, changed nearly so much as the figurative landscape around it. In 1957 Levin and fellow volunteers programmed an ambitious two-week slate of films from 12 countries (including Nigeria) included works by such emerging masters as Antonioni, Satyajit Ray, Visconti, Kurosawa and Wadja.
SFIFF50 finds 54 countries represented by some 200 films (shorts included), with about the same latter number of filmmakers and industry guests expected to attend in conjunction. Naturally the event has expanded geographically as well as numerically -- not just to multiple SF venues but Berkeley and Palo Alto as well. Yet the fest's essence has remained almost shockingly pure all these years: Bringing you the very best in new international cinema, with some retrospective and celebrity-guest elements. SFIFF has always been a great place to absorb artistic (rather than commercial, generally speaking) trends in filmmaking worldwide, particularly those worthwhile but too "challenging" or esoteric to ever achieve U.S. theatrical distribution.
What has changed is the larger world of festivals -- now far more crowded, competitive, and frequently market-driven than the late Bud Levin could have imagined. (As early as 1968, SFIFF guests like John Huston and Jeanne Moreau were already applauding its non-commercialized spirit.) By refusing to cave into the trends toward avid pursuit of showy premieres, big-name stars, and luring distributor buyers, the festival has by some estimations gradually lost its "world-class" stature. But locals might disagree, and much-liked current San Francisco Film Society executive director Graham Leggat would join them in insisting that SFIFF's goal is still to program the best in world cinema for an avid SF audience -- rather than angling for wider media/industry attention by any means necessary.
Which is not to say this golden-anniversary edition lacks for glitz. Far from it. There will be career-achievement awards given and in-person tributes paid to those two most famous of all Bay Area-residing movie folk, George Lucas and Robin Williams. As well as to Spike Lee, whose breakthrough first feature "She's Gotta Have It" premiered here in 1986.
The world premiere of documentary "Fog City Mavericks" (a history of the Bay Area's febrile film scene) alone will bring onstage for post-flick Q&A Williams, Lucas, Carroll Ballard, Philip Kaufman, Brad Bird, Walter Murch, John Korty, Saul Zaentz, Bruce Conner, Chris Columbus, and others. (If you're wondering why there are no women on this list, rest assured it's simply because all aforementioned are members of Hollywood's fabled Gay Mafia. Don't be fooled by all their marriages and children!)
A "Cinema by the Bay" sidebar will specially highlight local makers -- including Les Blank ("All in This Tea"), Lynn Hershman Leeson ("Strange Culture"), Jon Else ("Wonders Are Many"), and a salute to off-commercial-grid veteran Rob Nilsson, who's pushin' 70 with more projects on his plate than your average twentysomething filmschool grad could choke on. The "KinoTek" programs highlight a diverse and fun array of new technology efforts (most semi-live film/performance events), while "The Late Show" offers international horror flicks from New Zealand to Norway to Japan to plain old U.S.

A scene from Susan Dynner's "Punk's Not Dead," screening at the 50th SFIFF. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Then there's the bulk of the program, separated into "New Directors," "World Cinema," "Documentaries," and "Shorts." This is the meat of SFIFF ('scuse my terminology, vegans), where discoveries are rife, many already laureled from recent European festivals. We've heard very good things about Amerindie "Rocket Science," French D.H. Lawrence adaptation "Lady Chatterley," Danish doc "The Monastery," and Egyptian epic "The Yacoubian Building." And we can attest to the quality of SF-focused documentary "An Audience of One," disarming Irish musical drama "Once," and Disney's 1937 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (a newly struck 35mm print celebrates its 70th anniversary), because we've already seen those.
So much to look forward to, so much as yet unmentioned. In the latter category: Personal appearances by Steve Buscemi (playing a paparazzi in Tom DiCillo's "Delirious"), Parker Posey (starring in both Hal Hartley's "Fay Grim" and Zoe Cassavetes' "Broken English"); "The Queen" and "Last King of Scotland" scenarist Peter Morgan (accepting the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting); famed film historian Kevin Brownlow; the wonderful Euro documentarian Heddy Honigmann.
Wait, there's more: Alt-rock icon Jonathan Richman playing a live score for restored 1921 Swedish silent classic "The Phantom Carriage;" Guy Maddin presiding over the music-foley-voice ensemble accompanying his new "silent" film "Brand Upon the Brain!;" globetrotting avant-gardist Peter Sellars, who delivers annual "State of Cinema" address; and hot young actors Rosario Dawson and Sam Rockwell, who receive the fest's first Midnight Awards for "a dynamic young actor and actress who have made outstanding contributions to independent and Hollywood cinema."
Plus Otar Iosseliani, Bruno Dumont, Armistead Maupin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jessica Yu, Dominic Angergame, Danny Glover, Les Blank, Rob Nilsson, Ron Howard, Georgia Hubley, Henry Rosenthal, Joan Chen, musicians John Adams and Beth Custer, and many more.
SFIFF50 amps up the multi-media and multi-venue aspects considerably. Those looking for a hot party or event-to-be-seen-at can definitely find those here....Starting with tonight's kickoff, which will move from Castro Theatre opening-nighter "Golden Door" (a.k.a. "Nuovomondo"), a new French-Italian historical epic about Sicilian immigrants to America a century ago, to a party at City Hall itself.
Twelve days later, there's another big Euro pic (Edith Piaf bio "La vie en rose," a massive current French hit) and another big honking shindig, this one a wrap celebration at SOMA's club Mezzanine.
But what's in between, however, is the real crux of SFIFF, not just for numero 50 but for every prior edition: Exceptional movies from around the globe, largely ones unlikely to show up on a commercial screen (or even a DVD-rental homeview one) near you anytime soon.
What am I most psyched for in this year's program? Not so much the flashiest events duly appropriate for a major anniversary year -- though they'll surely be exciting if you can still scrounge tickets -- but rather individual films I've already heard are fascinating. Among them: Hong Kong boy-band spoof "The Heavenly Kings," Argentina's personal-meltdown drama "Born and Bred," and self-explanatory U.S. documentary "Punk's Not Dead."
But those are just my own anticipatory faves. No doubt you'll figure out your own.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What does HMO stand for?

Some refreshing insights and of course completely ridiculous.
MEDICAL INSURANCE EXPLAINED (Research done by the AARP Legal Department)

Q. What does HMO stand for?
A. This is actually a variation of the phrase, "HEY MOE." Its roots go back to a concept pioneered by Moe of the Three Stooges, who discovered that a patient could be made to forget the pain in his foot if he was poked hard enough in the eye.
Q. I just joined an HMO. How difficult will it be to choose the doctor I want?
A. Just slightly more difficult than choosing your parents. Your insurer will provide you with a book listing all the doctors in the plan. The doctors basically fall into two categories: those who are no longer accepting new patients, and those who will see you but are no longer participating in the plan. But don't worry, the remaining doctor who is still in the plan and accepting new patients has an office just a half-day's drive away and a diploma from a third world country.
Q. Do all diagnostic procedures require pre-certification?
A. No. Only those you need.
Q. Can I get coverage for my preexisting conditions?
A. Certainly, as long as they don't require any treatment.
Q. What happens if I want to try alternative forms of medicine?
A. You'll need to find alternative forms of payment.
Q. My pharmacy plan only covers generic drugs, but I need the name brand. I tried the generic medication, but it gave me a stomachache. What should I do?
A. Poke yourself in the eye.
Q. What if I'm away from home and I get sick?
A. You really shouldn't do that.
Q. I think I need to see a specialist, but my doctor insists he can handle my problem. Can a general practitioner really perform a heart transplant right in his/her office?
A. Hard to say, but considering that all you're risking is the $20co-payment, there's no harm in giving it a shot.
Q. Will health care be different in the next decade?
A. No, but if you call right now, you might get an appointment by then.To Your Good Health (because as you'll see, you'll need it!)A HEALTH QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION with Dr. Kenmiester:
Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?
A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.
Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.
Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine,that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!
Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one.If you have two bodies , your ratio is two to one, etc.
Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good !
Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING !!! ... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?
Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.
Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!
Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.
Q: Is getting in-shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape! Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Five Easy Pieces

One of my all-time favorite film scenes.

Seventy years, and he's still shining! Jack turns 70!

Jack Nicholson is 70 on April 22, and, for 50 of those years, he has been making movies. Here, friends and colleagues in film - from Dennis Hopper to Danny DeVito - talk about the Jack they know, a private, brilliant man with a famous wild streak, while Philip French salutes a truly great actor
Sunday April 22, 2007 The Observer
Jack Nicholson is the greatest American movie actor since Cagney, Bogart and Stewart, and he's as much a part of his time as they were of theirs. He comes from a blue-collar background in New Jersey and didn't know until early middle age that the woman he grew up believing to be his sister was actually his mother. His has been a busy, turbulent career, beginning when he went to California at 17, became a messenger boy at MGM, then joined a local stage company.

Roger Corman cast him at the age of 19 in the B-movie Cry Baby Killer and he spent a dozen years as part of Corman's low-budget academy, training ground for such talents as Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola and Jonathan Demme. Later, as a highly paid star, he still evinced the sense of freedom that came with working on cheap pictures outside the big studio system.
In collaboration with two other Corman hands, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, he achieved overnight fame in 1969 in Easy Rider, playing the drinking, pot-smoking young lawyer George Hanson, a doomed, romantic cynic, scion of an old Southern family. Early on, he had two important partnerships with directors his own age, Monte Hellman and Bob Rafelson, with whom he both acted and wrote. In the Hellman westerns The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, made back-to-back for $150,000 in the Utah desert, he played contrasted roles, first a psychopathic gunslinger and then an itinerant cowboy wrongly charged with outlawry.
In Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, he was a cruel, charismatic drop-out from an over-cultured family in the former, and a kindly, depressed radio storyteller in the latter.
We think we know Nicholson the man: a lively, lovable, hard-working, hard-living rebel, a charming scapegrace with a disarming smile and a slightly frightening thin-lipped grimace. Perhaps we do. But this belies the immense, un-self-regarding range he has shown in a 50-year career that looks as if there's major work still to come.
He's been the sane outsider faking insanity in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the madman pretending to be sane in The Shining; the down-to-earth, foul-mouthed naval policeman in The Last Detail and the deranged Marine colonel in A Few Good Men, both of them dedicated to the military life.
He was the comic-strip Joker looking for colourful trouble in Batman and the colourless retired executive trying to avoid it in About Schmidt. In 1971 in Carnal Knowledge, he's a young man rendered impotent from his womanising; 32 years later in Something's Gotta Give, he's a music promoter having a heart attack while engaged in Viagra-assisted sex with a young woman.
Nicholson (it's difficult not to call him Jack) has chosen to work with some of the finest directors from Hollywood's golden age - Kazan, Minnelli, Kubrick, Huston, Arthur Penn; with three of Europe's finest - Polanski (Chinatown might well be his greatest performance), Forman and Antonioni; and with several of his best contemporaries - Hellman, Rafelson, Ashby, Nichols, Beatty, Payne, Burton, Sean Penn and Scorsese, another Corman protege.
'This used to be a helluva country,' Nicholson says in Easy Rider. His has been - still is - a helluva career.

Dennis Hopper - Writer, director, actor: Easy Rider (1969)
Jack's one of my oldest friends. We play golf together all the time. He's one of the great conversationalists, a right-on guy and a loyal friend, and he's got that great, infectious smile. Before Easy Rider we were at American International Pictures together. Jack wrote a screenplay - he's a terrific writer, too - for a picture called The Trip (1967), which Roger Corman directed. I played the drug connection and it was the first time that I directed second unit. Corman didn't pay us, but he would give us film and let us go out on weekends and shoot.
We were all dying to make a movie. We'd waited a long time and when the chance came to make Easy Rider, we wanted to give it our best shot. Whatever stories come out about that film, we couldn't have shot something in five weeks, travelling right across the United States, without being well organised. We did have some great times though, Jack and I. We dropped acid in Dallas together. We claimed we were both geniuses and died in front of DH Lawrence's shrine and stuff like that. But otherwise, it was a pretty smooth shoot.
Jack was a consummate actor then and he's made incredible choices since and performed them brilliantly. He has an infectious personality and I think it's a great loss that he's never gone on talk shows. Most of us have to go out and sell our movies, but the only time you see Jack on television is when he's at a Lakers basketball game. It's too bad, because he's got one of the greatest gifts of the gab of anyone I've ever met.
Kathy Bates, Actor: About Schmidt (2002)
When we worked together on About Schmidt, I found Jack incredibly professional, which I wasn't expecting because he has such a bad-boy image. He's not a pain in the ass on set; he knows his lines, he's on the mark and he's eager to get to work every day. Then again, I don't think Nebraska [where much of About Schmidt was shot] really lent itself to his wild lifestyle.
He didn't feel it was necessary for me to do that famous hot-tub scene [in which a naked Bates attempts to seduce Nicholson's equally naked Schmidt], but I felt it was important for my character. He was a gentleman and when I stood up to get out of the tub, he said: 'Beautiful, honey, just beautiful', and looked right into my eyes and not at any other part of my body. We spent most of our time in there talking about painting and how Churchill painted during the war to relax.
Sometimes, Jack will be talking and you'll have no idea what he's saying because he speaks in such conceptual terms. He goes off on these tangents you can't follow; you don't know if it's because he's brilliant or just really weird. I wouldn't think of him as especially outgoing, though. He's a friendly guy, but he keeps his own atmosphere and he doesn't like people coming up to him at dinner looking for an autograph. I remember John C Reilly telling me how, at a Stones concert, he walked with Jack through the crowd and not a single person recognised him.
But he has a wicked sense of humour. He calls me 'Bates Motel'. At first, I thought, oh great, but in fact, he has funny nicknames for everyone. It's his way of being affectionate.
Rob Reiner, Director: A Few Good Men (1992), The Bucket List (2007)

Jack always looked up to Marlon Brando, but look up to Jack in the same way. He's up there with arguably the greatest screen actor of all time; he even bought Marlon's house after he passed away. But what you don't hear so often about Jack is what a creative person he is. He paints, he draws and he's a terrific writer. He's got Picassos, Dalis and van Goghs at his house but - he'll hate me for saying this - he's got a couple of his own paintings up there, too, and they're really good.
I was 19 when I first met Jack. We all used to hang out at this place called Barney's Beanery and he'd be there a lot with Warren Beatty. He was just the coolest guy who'd ever lived. Renegade cool, but I always found him very approachable. Jack loved to talk.
He was made to play Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men. We had a great cast, a lot of young actors, but at the very first reading, Jack gave a full-blown performance and set the tone for everybody else. They realised they were in with a real Hall of Famer and they were going to have to step up their game pretty damn quick.
For the courtroom scene, we did the reaction shots with Tom Cruise and the others first so he'd have a chance to rehearse. But each time, Jack would deliver the speech full out, a perfect performance. I said: 'Jack, maybe you should save a little.' And he said: 'No Raaaab, you don't understand. I love to aaaaact. I don't get great parts like this all the time.' And sure enough, when his turn came, it was even better.
I finished The Bucket List, my new movie with Jack and Morgan Freeman, a few weeks ago. It's about two guys from different walks of life who are thrown together by their illnesses and go on a journey, helping each other resolve the issues they need to confront before they die. On the last day of shooting, Morgan, who's a big hugger, went over to Jack and Jack said: 'No sentimentality' - he doesn't go in for any of that stuff. But Morgan said: 'This has been a dream come true' and Jack said: 'Likewise.' Then they gave each other a huge hug. It was the greatest joy of my life making that movie because, in my opinion, they're the two greatest actors alive.

Susan Sarandon, Actor: The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
The Witches of Eastwick was a fairly long and tumultuous shoot and I had an 18-month-old daughter at the time, so it was a bit of a weird situation. Jack couldn't have been more generous. He would invite my daughter Eva and me to special lunches in his trailer, along with Cher and Michelle [Pfeiffer], although I probably ate more than all of them combined. Eva adored Jack. One day, when he was at the height of the devil make-up and dragging his leg across the square in Boston, she ran up to him with her arms open, crying, 'Jack, Jack'. He just looked at me and said: 'I told you this wasn't scary enough.'
Our first son was named Jack, with Jack's blessing. I was warned by people that he would turn out to be a womanising gambler if I gave him that name, and that is indeed what he turned out to be. Well not quite, but he is charming and generous and very friendly with the girls.
Jack is such a worldly guy, but people take advantage of him because he's such a soft touch. He's sweet and playful and funny as hell, although half the time you don't know what he's talking about because he uses so many metaphors and analogies. His intelligence is evident in every part he plays and he's not afraid of being unsympathetic on screen. Jack is very brave in that way.
Robert Towne, Screenwriter: The Last Detail (1973), Chinatown (1974), The Two Jakes (1990)
I met Jack when he was 18 and working as a messenger in the cartoon department of Hanna-Barbera. We were attending a class given by acting coach Jeff Corey and Jack used to do these little improvisations that knocked me out. In those days, he was called Jacko, so I went up to him and said: 'Jacko, you're going to be a movie star and I'm going to write for you.' That's how it all started, but it certainly didn't happen straight away.
Actors with highly individual personalities, although they make the most vivid impressions, often take time to ignite. Jack was one of those. There were some very dark times. We roomed together for a while and I remember him coming back one day full of rage because the guy in the unemployment office was telling him to get a real job. He broke his finger once and couldn't get it treated because he didn't have the money. All the girls in Jeff's class tended to want to go out with guys who had cars and were 10 years older than we were.
I wrote the leads in The Last Detail and Chinatown with Jack in mind, as a result of watching him improvise over five or six years. We got together a few years ago and watched Chinatown again. The film ages very well. When it came out, I thought the ending [which Roman Polanski famously made Towne change] was heavy-handed and overdone, but with the passage of time, I feel it's appropriate.
Jack has endured so well because he has been able to very consistently be Jack. He's always been this wild kid and, even though he has aged, that force has never diminished. He's a guy who is not going gentle into that good night - something that has enormous appeal for us all - and I think the fact that he has never hidden the things he takes pleasure in has endeared him to people. Jack has always been capable of expressing great joy and having a great time, but there's also a dark side to him. That kind of schizo attitude is what makes his work so exciting.
James L Brooks,Writer, director: Terms of Endearment (1983), Broadcast News (1987), As Good as it Gets (1997)
I met Jack in passing, years before I directed him in Terms of Endearment. I was pretty dumbstruck back then, so you can imagine what is was like when, as a first-time director, I actually had him in my movie. He would give me these critiques: 'You wanna know what the worst thing you did yesterday was? You wanna know what the best thing you did yesterday was?' But it was amazing - his goodwill was extraordinary. For one of the more sombre sequences in the movie, I suggested that the actors visit the Rothko exhibit in Houston for inspiration. I think Jack was the only one who took me up on it.
He's always alive with ideas. In As Good as it Gets, he saved me by questioning my judgment on a wardrobe matter. There's a social evening, a pivotal scene in the film, and it was important for Jack's character to look good, but I wasn't going to go that way. It turned out he was absolutely right. It transformed the scene and made the picture electric at that moment, because suddenly you're seeing this troubled man as attractive for the first time.
What makes Jack great is the vulnerability, the thing that scares young actors, which is somehow still alive in him - the desire to explore the part and the nerve to go into himself and walk past the point of comfort. There's no posturing; he's hubris-free. Nothing can kill the artist in Jack Nicholson.
Danny DeVito, Actor: includes One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Goin' South (1978), Hoffa (1992, also directed)
My good buddy Jack and I, we were born in the same neighbourhood in Jersey, down the shore. Everybody used to tell me about him. My sisters were friends with his sister and they would always talk about this really dashing, handsome man who went out to California to be a movie star.
Then I got a part alongside Jack in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. During rehearsals, we would shoot pool at the breaks and go out to dinner together but I never revealed this connection we had. In the end, my good friend Michael Douglas told him I was from Asbury Park. He couldn't believe it. After that, we'd ramble on and on about the places we used to go to and mutual friends.
He gave me a part in Goin' South, which he directed, and I had the privilege of directing him in Hoffa. He's a team player, always giving you more than you asked for, but also lots of fun, always clowning about. I remember bumping into him while we were promoting Hoffa in Paris and we were both out shopping. It was the funniest scene because here were these two guys from Jersey, walking around after their women, loaded down with packages. 'What the hell are we doing here, D?' he said to me. 'We should be watching a ball game or something.'
Jack has a reputation as a wild man, doing all kinds of interesting things, but I always experienced the fun side of it. He's big into golf and we were staying at a hotel once during a shoot. I was sitting in the community room in the middle of the night, looking out at Detroit and all of a sudden I heard a 'puck' and this ball rolled by. Two o'clock in the morning and Jack was up practising his putting.
Whatever's going on while you're filming, when Jack comes on to the set, things elevate to a really good place. He has a great energy about him and he enjoys going to work. The secret is to have faith in your work and to enjoy it, and he does both in spades.
Tim Burton, Director: Batman (1989), Mars Attacks! (1996)
Jack appreciates the absurdity of the business and the fun of it. On Batman, he was great. He was so supportive and helped me when there was trouble and the studio freaked out. He would say: 'Get what you need, get what you want and just keep going.' He'd do six takes and on each he'd give it something else. You'd almost wish you could play all six takes in the movie. He was very exciting to watch. In Mars Attacks!, I thought he was the perfect President - I would vote for him. To get him out of his trailer, we'd blare 'Hail to the Chief' over the loudspeakers. Jack marched around and got so into it we'd have to play it again and he'd do a couple more laps around the set and then go for it. (Interview by Mark Salisbury)
Interviews by Killian Fox

Hunger on the Croisette

The untamed Cannes film festival remains cinema's best measure of, not success, but talent

Agnès PoirierMonday April 23, 2007 The Guardian

Like most things in France, it was born out of protest. When Benito Mussolini set up the first film festival, Venice's Mostra, in 1932, to promote fascist and Nazi films, the birthplace of cinema rose to the challenge, pledging to create a film festival free from prejudices.
The first was planned to run from September 1 to 20 1939, on the French Riviera, in Cannes. Louis Lumière, le papa du cinéma, agreed to be its president of honour. Elegant posters by a high society painter, Jean-Gabriel Domergue, publicised the event through-out the country. And the stars of the time agreed to grace the event with their presence in a spirit of "openness and world collaboration".

Film distributors often think that they can use film festivals as their own marketing launch pads but no matter how hard they have tried, Cannes has proved so far untameable.
In the past few decades, Cannes has been boycotted by American studios, spurned by directors who thought they would be treated as kings or queens and criticised by film critics for being organised like a 19th-century antique shop, but it has always stood oblivious. And they have all been back, for they all live in the hope of, one day perhaps, touching the holy grail, the Palme d'Or.
Cannes' most coveted award is indeed the Nobel prize of cinema. Forget Oscars, Baftas, Donatellos, Césars, Goyas and all the rest of the film industry's awards, the Palme remains the only measure, not of success, but of talent. Oscars merely secure box-office revenues. The Palme secures a place in history.
Of course one could argue that the seriousness of Cannes is in part a carefully constructed legend. It is often denounced as arrogance and self-importance. No doubt. However, the legend will always be true as long as it is based on passion, sincerity and conviction. Agnès Poirier, a journalist and film critic, is an independent adviser on British films for the Cannes film festival.

The Cannes film festival's first day was also its last. On September 3, the second world war broke out. It was not until 1947 that Cannes was able to reprise its missionary spirit. So next month, it will be celebrating its official 60th anniversary.
Today the old lady of the Croisette is as hungry as ever - hungry for new voices to show us the world as it really is. That hunger is shared by dozens of thousands of cinephiles, professionals, critics and stars who, for 10 days, all speak one language.
For 10 days, Cannes becomes the United Nations headquarters where we can see, uncensored and unabridged, the world's latest tales. This year the 21 films in competition have been selected from a total of 1,615 applications from no fewer than 95 different nationalities. Hunger and anger are perhaps the two feelings most experienced in Cannes.
Expectations run so very high that we all assume, sometimes wrongly though most often rightly, that we're about to taste the very best of the year's cinematic crop. Such expectations, however, induce a very specific malady, an elating and heightened sense of reality.
When a film critic in Cannes is not fed with at least a masterpiece a day, he or she starts fidgeting nervously. When the financiers are not breaking a historical deal every day, they start lamenting loudly the end of the medium. When passersby have not shaken hands with at least one star a day, they claim that the festival is going to the dogs. When directors haven't had more than 100 interview requests, they contemplate ending their careers.
So what sets Cannes so much à part? In its 60 years, Cannes has managed to keep its identity intact and resist rampant commercialism. I'm obviously not talking of the parallel circus going on around diamond-laden and scantily clad stars walking up the famous red carpet each evening. I'm talking about films.

David Halberstam - The Best and the Brightest

David Halberstam's death in a car crash this week is certain to prompt all sorts of homage from our media stars describing Halberstam as a superior journalist, someone who embodied what journalism ought to be. Halberstam spoke truth to power, revealing the flaws and fissures in the body politic, as well as the pillars and bedrock foundations that has made the American experience what it is. His life has been tragically ended, though not his voice.

Halberstam was sent to Vietnam by the New York Times in 1962 and has said he initially supported U.S. activity in there but soon questioned American involvement. He wrote about how succeeding American governments became gradually more enmeshed in Vietnam in his 1972 bestseller, "The Best and the Brightest."

Halberstam, along with Malcolm W. Browne, won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Vietnam.
Halberstam "stayed the course and he kept the faith in the belief in the people's right to know," the AP's George Esper, who spent 10 years in Vietnam, told the wire service. "In the end, and I think we can all be very proud of this, he was proven right. The bottom line was that David was more honest with the American public than their own government."

Halberstam quit daily journalism in 1967. His 21 books include "The Best and the Brightest," "The Breaks of the Game" (about the 1970s NBA), "The Powers That Be" (about the news media), "The Reckoning" (about Ford, Nissan and W. Edwards Deming's engineering methods), "The Fifties" (a chronicle of the decade) and several on baseball, including "Summer of '49," "October 1964" and "The Teammates."
His constant shifts from heavier material to lighter fare were deliberate, he said. "You do an allegedly serious book on politics or whatever, and then you catch your breath doing a smaller book on sports," he told in 2003.
His 2002 best-seller, "War in a Time of Peace," was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
He was long a strong believer in skeptical, hard-hitting journalism, and wondered about its future.
"The reporting you get on the main networks is more about entertainment and sensationalism and scandal rather than substantive, so I've been somewhat melancholy and critical of it over the last decade and a half," he said in 2003.
But he said there would always be value in the work.
"The idea that somewhere before it is a big story that there is some young person ... putting themselves on the line morally, ethically, journalistically, that is a great thing," Halberstam told the AP. "I mean, that is what a free society is about."

read more digg story

PETER SELLARS gives State of Cinema address at SFIFF

Peter Sellars, one of America's most adventurous and creative artists, will deliver this year's State of Cinema address on Sunday, April 29, at 4 pm, at the Sundance Cinemas Kabuki. As Andy Bailey writes in the Festival Program Guide, Sellars' unique vision continues to transform theater and opera; but he is certainly no stranger to the world of film and filmmaking. Sellars cowrote and costarred (as William Shaksper Junior the Fifth) in Jean-Luc Godard's own radical reimagining of King Lear (1986) before making his directorial debut with The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez (1991), a silent color film starring Joan Cusack and Mikhail Baryshnikov. making his directorial debut in 1991 with The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez. In fact, Sellars commissioned seven films for the New Crowned Hope Festival celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday, two of which, Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa and Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's Daratt are showing at the 50th. In addition, Sellars' 2005 collaboration with the great composer John Adams on Doctor Atomic for the San Francisco Opera forms the subject of Jon Else's fascinating local documentary Wonders are Many, which screens first on Saturday April 28 at the Castro Theatre. Sellars is expected to be in attendance for the April 28 Wonders are Many screening and April 29 screenings of Daratt and Opera Jawa before his State of Cinema address.

As long as gleefully eclectic multimedia visionary Sellars continues to transform theater and opera with his utterly unique vision, there will be no reason to write a requiem for art that surprises, challenges and transforms receptive audiences. His endlessly inventive stage designs and productions world's most adventurous creative forces have catapulted him to the first rank of contemporary American artists.

On The Road and at the 50th SFIFF

A half-century ago, in 1957, "crazy dumbsaint of the mind" Jack Kerouac published the book that was to crack open postwar American literature and society and become a blazing iconic beacon of the Beat Generation and a light that never goes out for playful, seeking dreamers everywhere, then and since. Three generations have dug the passionate jazzbo language of On the Road, stuffed a copy in a backpack and hit the highway in search of enlightenment. No other contemporary literary work can claim such an immediate and enduring impact. After five decades, it still sells up to 130,000 copies a year. As part of its own 50th anniversary celebration, SFIFF and Litquake pay homage to Kerouac’s golden book with a portmanteau program of readings, testimonials and images honoring Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Ed Dunkel, the lost city of San Francisco and, of course, Kerouac himself, the "writer-director of Earthly movies Sponsored and Angeled in Heaven." Peter Coyote, Michael McClure and Diane DiPrima will take part in this cultural celebration, with more Beat Generation aficionados expected to join them.—Graham Leggat

San Francisco 50th International Film Festival World Premiere

Fog City Mavericks
Don’t miss the world premiere of this exciting documentary that celebrates the Bay Area’s brilliant filmmakers. George Lucas, Philip Kaufman and other local luminaries in attendance!
The milestone 50th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 26–May 10) will present the world premiere of Fog City Mavericks, directed by Gary Leva, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre at 7:30 pm on Sunday, April 29.
Fog City Mavericks explores and applauds the extraordinary cinematic achievements of San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers, with notable attention given to the way in which their lives and work mirror the spirit of invention and independence that makes the Bay Area such a unique cultural and artistic community.
Iconoclastic filmmakers featured in this celebratory documentary include George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Francis Ford Coppola, Brad Bird, Bruce Conner, Sofia Coppola, Carroll Ballard, Chris Columbus, Clint Eastwood, John Korty, John Lasseter, Walter Murch and Saul Zaentz. Several of these mavericks, including Lucas, Kaufman, Zaentz, Korty and Dominic Angerame, will appear for a special introduction and post-screening Q&A.
“The Bay Area is a Shangri-La of trailblazing innovation, and nowhere is this more true than in the extraordinary group of filmmakers who have called it home in recent generations,” says Graham Leggat, San Francisco Film Society executive director. “We are thrilled to present the world premiere the

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Which came first, the chicken or the cancer?

Ahh, yes. The never ending debates on diet. Eat this, don't eat that. It makes your head spin, doesn't it? We basically will only eat food we like, and realize excess is just that. Too much of some things we know can't be good for us. The obvious culprits like fat (but what kind?), or is it too much protein, or too much carbohydrates? It used to be SO simple. Eat what your mother fed you, and clean your plate - and be grateful! People are starving overseas! We are fed plenty, but poorly nourished in this country.

I have an extensive and diverse background in the natural foods industry, as well as health education. I'm not a dietician, but my basic diet advice is eat organic foods that are in season, locally grown, and those that grow as close to the ground as possible (like root veggies, leafy greens, grains, fruits, etc) and avoid any foods that are processed, with any fake stuff - now how hard is that to follow? Well, it's really hard for most people, isn't it? Try to eat local foods in Monroe County. There isn't any unless you have your own garden. You can count seafood as local, of course. But we know there is greater scrutiny of our food supply, while most of us fail to realize we are eating a 3,000 mile-in-transit plate of food (or the boxed, canned or frozen versions) every day. Food from all over the world, anytime we want it. Foods from South Florida are fortunately close, but organically grown foods are not nearly as plentiful. There is no Whole Foods Supermarket within a hundred miles of Key West. I love that Fausto's and Waterfront Market feature organics. The supers at Publix, Albertson's, Winn-Dixie offer some organics, but is anemic at best. Even Wal-Mart is going to expand their organics selections, and is the only worthwhile reason to shop there, if at all.

But this is only the prelude to the post that follows, about the growing poisoning of our food supply. Ready for arsenic? I don't think so. I resist eating chicken (although I will enjoy organic eggs) because they have stopped being an animal ages ago. They are just a factory muscle, and the conditions they are shackled to is only deserving of condemnation. Food safety in the country is horribly broken down, and is virtually non-existent. Today, April 23, in Congress hearings were held that have exposed the gaping holes in food safety inspection. The Bush era has cut inspections, allowing for only one inspection per factory every 5-10 years. Only 1% of imported food is inspected. And the long list of toxins just grows. Pet food recall? Why is tainted pet food yanked (rice proteins from China), but not the plethora of fake foods that is killing thousands of consumers every year through the gradual deterioration of the food chain and the resulting degenerative diseases that plague the entire population.

This story ain't chicken scratch....

Once you start paying attention, you just can't avoid the bad news about meat consumption. From Reuters comes the news that "Women who received the most calories from animal protein had twice the risk of [endometrial cancer] compared to those who took in the fewest calories from animal sources."
And then I read this morning in Chemical & Engineering News (O.K., so I don't subscribe; a friend forwarded it to me) some truly scary news about eating chickens: About 70 percent of chickens in the U.S. are fed arsenic (to promote growth, stave off disease, etc.), a practice banned in the EU; that's right--arsenic!?
As in, poison. As in that wonderful play, "Arsenic and Old Lace," about the clever old gals who use it to kill their gentlemen callers!
Arsenic & Young Chickens
In fact, according to the piece, the average U.S. chicken has about 390 parts per billion of arsenic, "which is three to four times greater than arsenic levels in other types of poultry and meat from other animals."
I need to just quote from the story directly about the possible impact of this:
"According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, as well as deleterious immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects. Low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes...
"Even though the drinking water standard for arsenic has been strengthened, the standards for arsenic residues in poultry-2,000 ppb for liver and 500 ppb for muscle-have remained unchanged for decades. Furthermore, neither the Food & Drug Administration nor the Department of Agriculture has actually measured the level of arsenic in the poultry meat that most people consume..."
But actually, it's not just the poison that's being fed to chickens and concentrating in their flesh that is causing meat-eaters to get sick. No, apparently the real problem with chicken and other meats isn't some scary additive--it's actually the animal protein itself, which both causes and fuels cancer cells, and which will exist in chicken meat even if the U.S. poultry industry stops feeding animals arsenic (though it sure sounds like the chicken industry has no interest in stopping; they feed 2.2. million pounds of arsenic to chickens right now).
The "China Project"
Indeed, I think that the most compelling evidence against eating animal products comes from China, and shows that the carcinogenic nutrient in meat is protein, rather than fat. In one of my favorite books on the subject of health, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, author T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., a Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, explains that animal protein is the most carcinogenic substance we consume ( even worse than the arsenic in chicken) and presents powerful data showing that animal products both cause and fuel cancer and other deadly diseases.
Dr. Campbell's study is the most comprehensive survey of the connection between diet and disease in medical history, and he has looked at all of the clinical, epidemiological, and other evidence, and it all backs up what he documented in China. His final statement on what we should all be eating?

Here's how he explains it in "Why China Holds the Key to Your Health": "The data from the China Project suggest that what we have come to consider as 'normal' illnesses of aging are really not normal. In fact, these findings indicate that the vast majority perhaps 80 to 90% of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet."
These are strong words from a man who was raised on a dairy farm, got his Ph.D. in animal nutrition, and worked on a project to produce animal protein more efficiently.
The Deadly Connection Between Animal Protein, Blood Cholesterol, and Carcinogens:
Dr. Campbell now believes it best to avoid animal protein altogether. According to Campbell, blood cholesterol levels can be reduced by eating plant protein instead. "Some of the plant proteins, particularly soy," he says, "have an impressive ability to reduce blood cholesterol." This might explain a finding released a few months back that "eating tofu can slash ovarian cancer risk."
"At the outset of the China Study," writes Dr. Campbell in his book, "no one could or would have ever predicted the relationship between cholesterol and any of the disease rates. What a surprise we got." Dr. Campbell and his team found that as blood cholesterol levels decrease, a slew of cancers decreases as well, including "cancers of the liver, rectum, colon, male lung, female lung, breast, childhood leukemia, adult leukemia, childhood brain, adult brain, stomach and esophagus (throat)."
According to Campbell, in addition to animal protein causing cancer, it also fuels cancer that exists. So you can have a carcinogen in your body, but it doesn't get "turned on" until you ingest animal flesh. Animal protein causes the carcinogen to grow and spread. Even so-called lean cuts of meat, as well as fish and chicken, are high in fat and protein, and as Dr. Campbell says, animal protein only causes "mischief."
Choose Health: Choose Vegetarian
From animal products doubling your risk of endometrial, to soy foods lowering your risk of contracting ovarian cancer, to carcinogenic arsenic in your chicken (and other meat, though in lower levels), to the news that animal protein is the big cause of dietary cancer (and remember, the American Cancer Society says that about 30 percent of cancer comes from what you eat!), it sure is looking like the "vegan thing" is making a lot more sense in a lot of different ways.
I highly recommend checking out The China Study to get the full scoop, which is full of fascinating information and gripping statistics. I give it out so much that I think I should be getting a commission. The book also gives tips on making the transition to a vegetarian diet, as does my last column, "One Bite at a Time: A Beginner's Guide to Conscious Eating."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Controversial Michael Moore's Flick "Sicko" Will Compare U.S. Health Care with Cuba's

Michael Moore's film "Sicko" will premiere at Cannes Film Fesival
By Don Hazen
To state that controversy and Michael Moore go hand and hand is to utter the obvious, and Moore's latest film Sicko will clearly be no exception.
Sicko, which will be premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is a comic broadside against the state of American health care, including the mental health system. The film targets drug companies and the HMOS in the richest country in the world -- where the most money is spent on health care, but where the U.S. ranks 21st in life expectancy among the 30 most developed nations, obviously in part due to the fact that 47 million people are without health insurance.
The timing of Moore's film is propitious. Twenty-two percent of Americans say that health care is the most pressing issue in America. Health care will clearly be a major issue in the upcoming presidential campaign, as the problems with America's health care system have mushroomed during the Bush administration. For example, between 2001 and 2005 the number of people without health insurance rose 16.6 percent. The average health insurance premiums for a family of four are $10,880, which exceeds the annual gross income of $10,712 for a full-time, minimum-wage worker. In addition, the lack of insurance causes 18,000 excess deaths a year while people without health insurance have 25 percent higher mortality rates. Fifty-nine percent of uninsured people with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes skip medicine or go without care.
Under wraps, but one surprise out of the bag
The details of Moore's new film are being kept under tight wraps. According to inside sources, only a handful of people have seen the film, and both the film maker and Harvey Weinstein -- the film's distributor, who also distributed Moore's hugely successful Fahrenheit 9/11 -- are remaining tight-lipped about the film's contents.
Nevertheless, one aspect of the film will not be a total surprise. One of the film's segments, an increasingly controversial boat trip to Cuba, exploded onto the pages of The New York Post, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, when at least one 9/11 cleanup worker who had been invited to participate in a trip to Cuba for Moore's Sicko went to the press.
The boat trip, according to sources who spoke to both the NY Post and The Daily News, took ailing rescue workers to Cuba for health treatment for respiratory ailments which they suffer as a result of working at Ground Zero, and for which a number of the workers have no health insurance. The purpose of the trip, according to some, was to show that the free health care in Cuba is superior to the health care system in the U.S. Those invited on the trip, as described by Janon Fisher in the Post, were told the "Cuban doctors had developed new techniques for treating lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses," and that health care in Cuba was free.
Health care advances in Cuba
According to the Associated Press as cited in the Post article, "Cuba has made recent advancements in biotechnology and exports its treatments to 40 countries around the world, raking in an estimated $100 million a year. ... In 2004, the U.S. government granted an exception to its economic embargo against Cuba and allowed a California drug company to test three cancer vaccines developed in Havana."
Although trip participants signed confidentiality agreements prohibiting them from talking about the trip, some thought the trip a success. From the NY Post:
"From what I hear through the grapevine those people who went are utterly happy, said John Feal, who runs the Fealgood Foundation to raise money for responders and was approached by Moore to find responders willing to take the trip. "They got the Elvis treatment."
According to staff writer Bill Hutchinson from the Daily News, Moore was praised for seeking medical alternatives. Retired Firefighter Vinnie Forras, 49, said he's been going to Ecuador and Bolivia for experimental treatments for lung damage and severe headaches which he suffered at Ground Zero. "For me, anyone who's looking to try to help the guys and women who are sick is a good thing. I don't care where you go for that treatment."
On the other hand, some balked at the idea of going: "I would rather die an American than go to Cuba," Joe Picurro told the NY Post. Picurro, an ironworker with a laundry list of respiratory and other ailments, said, "I just laughed. I couldn't do it. "
America's second-class health care system
Clearly one of the themes of Moore's films, highlighted by the trip to Cuba, is to challenge the myth that the U.S. has superior health care when compared with other countries. In a recent AlterNet article, attorney Guy Saperstein explained,
"The World Health Organization ranks health care systems based on objective measures of medical outcomes: The United States' health care system currently ranks 37th in the world, behind Colombia and Portugal; the United States ranks 44th in the world in infant mortality, behind many impoverished Latin American countries. While infant mortality in the United States is skewed toward poor people, who have rates double the wealthy, the top quintile of the U.S. population has infant mortality rates higher than Canadians in the lowest quintile of wealth.
"The United States has fewer physicians, nurses and hospital beds than most developed nations. In the United States, 28 percent say it is "difficult to get care"; in most European countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, 15 percent say that. In terms of continuity of care (i.e., five-plus years with the same doctor), the United States is the worst of all developed nations. By every objective measure, the United States has a second-rate health care system."
It is unclear how soon after Cannes Sicko will open in U.S. theaters. But with the aggressive and often Oscar hungry Weinstein at the distribution helm, there is little doubt that the movie will make a big splash, bubbling up many more controversies. Moore's film has been a long time coming -- three years since his huge success with Fahrenheit 9/11, which was awarded the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), the festival's highest award, by an international jury in 2004, and an Academy Award for best documentary later that year.
Legend has it that while Moore has been critical of Cuba, he became a hero there after a pirated version of Fahrenheit 9/11 was shown on government-controlled TV. It's ironic that Cuba showed a free version, because the film has made boatloads of money. According to the Wikipedia, "As of January 2005, [Fahrenheit 9/11] had broken all box office records for a documentary grossing nearly US $120 million in U.S. box office, and over US $220 million worldwide, an unprecedented amount for a political documentary; Sony reported first-day DVD sales of two million copies, again a new record for the genre."
Only time will tell if Moore can duplicate his success.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

Resisting The Drums of War

The Drums of War: Countering Appeals To Our Five Core Concerns, by Roy J. Eidelson, Ph.D.

Watch this video. 10 minutes.
The Bush administration promoted the misguided and destructive war in Iraq by targeting our concerns about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. The continued occupation of Iraq or an attack on Iran will likely be sold to us in much the same way. This video examines these warmongering appeals and describes how to counter them. One of the most vital videos that demand you share it with others.

Media That Matters!

Patriotism in America: Chomsky and Zinn speak out

Chomsky and Zinn on Patriotism in America
By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Democracy Now! was broadcasted from Boston on April 16, Patriots Day in Massachusetts -- a state holiday to mark the start of the Revolutionary War. In a Democracy Now! special, Amy Goodman was joined by two of the city's leading dissidents, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.
Amy Goodman What a day to be here. This is a day of the Boston Marathon. It is raining. It is a major storm outside and tens of thousands of people -- were either of you planning to run today?
Zinn: Well we were, yes, but, you know --
Noam Chomsky: -- but you really made it impossible for us.
Goodman: I'm sorry about that.
Zinn: We had a choice of running in the marathon or having an interview with you, what's more important?
Goodman: Well, today is Patriots Day, Howard Zinn, what does patriotism mean to you?
Zinn: I'm glad you said what it means to me. Because it means to me something different than it means to a lot of people I think who have distorted the idea of patriotism. Patriotism to me means doing what you think your country should be doing. Patriotism means supporting your government when you think it's doing right, opposing your government when you think it's doing wrong. Patriotism to me means really what the Declaration of Independence suggests. And that is that government is an artificial entity.
Government is set up -- and here's what a Declaration of Independence is about -- government is set up by the people in order to fulfill certain responsibilities: equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. And according to the Declaration of Independence, when the government violates those responsibilities, then, and these are the words of the Declaration of Independence, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government.
In other words, the government is not holy; the government is not to be obeyed when the government is wrong. So to me patriotism in its best sense means thinking about the people in the country, the principles for which the country stands for, and it requires opposing the government when the government violates those principles.
So today, for instance, the highest act of patriotism, I suggest, would be opposing the war in Iraq and calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Simply because everything about the war violates the fundamental principles of equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, not just for Americans, but for people in another part of the world. So, yes, patriotism today requires citizens to be active on many, many different fronts to oppose government policies on the war, government policies that have taken trillions of dollars from this country's treasury and used it for war and militarism. That's what patriotism would require today.
Goodman: Noam Chomsky, the headlines today, just this weekend, one of the bloodiest months in Iraq. The number of prisoners in U.S. Jails in Iraq has reached something like 18,000. Who knows if that's not an underestimate? An Associated Press photographer remains in jail imprisoned by U.S. authorities without charge for more than a year. The health ministry has found 70 percent of Baghdad schoolchildren showing symptoms of trauma-related stress. Your assessment now of the situation there?
Chomsky: This is one of the worst catastrophes in military history and also in political history. The most recent studies of the Red Cross show that Iraq has suffered the worst decline in child mortality, infant mortality, an increase in infant mortality known. But it's since 1990. That is, it's a combination of the affect of the murderers' and brutal sanctions regime, which we don't talk much about, which devastated society through the 1990s and strengthened Saddam Hussein, compelled the population to rely on him for survival, which probably saved him from the fate of a whole long series of other tyrants who were overthrown by their own people supported by the U.S.
And then came the war on top of it which has simply increased the horrors. The decline is unprecedented. The increase in infant mortality is unprecedented; it's now below the level of, worse than some of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It's one index of what's happened. The most probable measure of deaths in a study sponsored by M.I.T., incidentally carried out by leading specialists in Iraq and here last October, was about 650,000 killed, soon to be pushing a million. There are several million people [who have] fled, including the large part of the professional classes, people who could in principle help rebuild the country. And without going on, it's a hideous catastrophe and getting worse.
It's also worth stressing that aggressors do not have any rights. This is a clear-cut case of aggression and violation of the U.N. Charter, a supreme international crime and, in the words of the Nuremburg Tribunal, aggressors simply have no rights to make any decisions. They have responsibilities. The responsibilities are, first of all to pay enormous reparations and that includes for the sanctions -- the effect of the sanctions -- in fact it ought to include the support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, which was torture for Iraqis and worse for Iranians.
The paid reparations hold those responsible accountable and attend to the will of the victims. It doesn't necessarily mean follow blindly but certainly attend to it. And the will of the victims is known, the regular U.S.-run polls in Iraq, and the government polling institutions, it's just an overwhelming support for either immediate or quick withdrawal of U.S. troops, about 80 percent think that the presence of U.S. troops increases the level of violence. Over 60 percent think that troops are legitimate targets. This isn't for all of Iraq. If you take the figures of Arab Iraq where the troops are actually deployed, the figures are higher. The figures keep going up. They're unmentioned, virtually unreported, scarcely alluded to in the Baker-Hamilton critical report. That'll be our primary concern, along with the concerns of the Americans.
Goodman: Vice President Cheney is saying this war can be won.
Chomsky: There's an interesting study being done right now by a former Russian soldier in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He's now a student in Toronto who's comparing the Russian press and the Russian political figures and military leaders, what they were saying about Afghanistan, comparing it with what Cheney, others and the press are saying about Iraq and not to your great surprise, change a few names and it comes out about the same.
They were also saying the war in Afghanistan could be won and they were right. If they had increased the level of violence sufficiently, they could have won the war in Iraq -- in Afghanistan. They're also pointing out -- of course they describe correctly the heroism of the Russian troops, the efforts to bring assistance to the poor people of Afghanistan, to protect them from U.S.-run Islamic fundamentalist terrorist forces, the dedication, the rights they have won for the people in Afghanistan, and the warning that if they pull out it will be total disaster, mayhem, they must stay and win.
Unfortunately, they were right about that too. When they did pull out, it was a total disaster. The U.S.-backed forces tore the place to shreds, so terrible that the people even welcomed the Taliban when they came in. So, yes, those arguments can always be given. The Germans could have argued if they had the force that they didn't, that they could have won the Second World War. I mean the question is not can you win. The question is should you be there.
Goodman: You say and talk about Afghanistan, sure the Russians could have won if they had -- could have -- tolerated the level of violence. What are you saying about Iraq? Do you feel the same way?
Chomsky: It depends on what you mean by win. The United States certainly has the capacity to wipe the country out. If that's winning, yeah, you can win. It's -- in terms of the goals that the United States attempted to achieve, the U.S. government, not the United States, to install a client regime, which would be obedient to the United States, which would permit military bases, which would allow U.S. and British corporations to control the energy resources and so on, in terms of achieving that goal, I don't know if they can achieve that. But that they could destroy the country, that's beyond question.

Goodman: As we continue today, talking about the state of the world with two of the leading dissidents here in this country, Howard Zinn, legendary historian, author of many books, "The People's History of the United States," as well as -- his latest is "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress." We're also joined by Noam Chomsky, linguist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book is "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy." Howard, you went to North Vietnam. Can you talk about how the Vietnam War ended, and also your experience there? Why you went?
Zinn: Well, I went to North Vietnam in early 1968 with Father Daniel Berrigan and the two of us went actually at the request of the North Vietnamese government who were going to release the first three airmen prisoners, American fliers who were in prison in North Vietnam and the North Vietnamese wanted to release them on the Tet holiday, also the Tet Offensive, sort of as a gesture, I suppose as a goodwill gesture, and they asked for representatives of the American peace movement, so Daniel Berrigan and I went to Hanoi for that reason.
And of course it was an educational experience for us. Noam was talking about in response to your question about victory and winning. And the question is, of course, why should we win if winning means destroying a country? And there's still people who say, oh, we could have won the Vietnam War, as if the question was, you know, can we win or can we lose, instead of what are we doing to these people.
And, yes, Noam said, yes, we could win in Iraq by destroying all of Iraq. The Russians could have won Afghanistan by destroying all of Afghanistan. We could have won in Vietnam by dropping nuclear bombs instead of killing two million people in Vietnam, killing 10 million people in Vietnam. And that would be considered victory, who would take satisfaction in that?
What we saw in Vietnam is, I think, what people are seeing in Iraq. And that is huge numbers of people dying for no reason at all. What we saw in Vietnam was the American army being sent halfway around the world to a country, which was not threatening us, and we were destroying the people in the country. And here in Iraq, we're going the other way, we're also going halfway around the world to do the same thing to them. And our experience in Iraq contradicted as I think the experiences of people who are on the ground in Iraq contradicted again and again the statements of American officials.
The statements of the high military, statements like, oh, we're only bombing military targets. Oh, these are accidents when so many civilians are killed. And, yes, as Cheney said, victory is around the corner. What we saw in Vietnam was horrifying. And it was obviously horrifying even to GIs in Vietnam because they began to come back from Vietnam and oppose the war, and formed Vietnam Veterans against the war.
We saw villages as far away from any military target as you can imagine, absolutely destroyed. And children killed and their graves still fresh by American jet planes coming over in the middle of the night. When I hear them talk about John McCain as a hero, I say to myself, oh, yeah, he was a prisoner and prisoners are maltreated and everywhere and this is terrible. But John McCain, like the other American fliers, what were they doing? They were bombing defenseless people. And so, yes Vietnam is something that by the way, is still not taught very well in American schools. I spoke to a group of people in an advanced history class not long ago, 100 kids, asked them how many people here have heard of the My Lai Massacre? No hand was raised. We are not teaching -- if we were teaching the history of Vietnam as it should be taught, then the American people from the start would have opposed the war instead of waiting three or four years for a majority of the American people to declare their opposition to the war.
Goodman: Noam Chomsky, you went to Cambodia after the bombing.
Chomsky: I went to Laos and North Vietnam.
Goodman: When and why?
Chomsky: Two years after Howard, early 1970. I spent the week in Laos. A very moving week. Happened to be in Laos right after the CIA mercenary army had cleared out about 30,000 people from the Plain of Jarres area in Northern Laos, where they had been subjected to what was then the most fierce bombing in human history. It was exceeded shortly after by Cambodia. These are poor peasant society, probably most of them didn't even know they were in Laos. There was nothing there. The planes were sent there because the bombing of North Vietnam had been temporarily stopped, and there was nothing for the air force to do so they bombed Laos. They had been living in caves for over two years trying to farm at night. They had finally been driven out by the mercenary army to the surroundings of Vientien.
And I spent a lot of time interviewing refugees with Fred Branfman, who did heroic work in bringing this story finally to the American people. And so more interesting things in Laos. Then I went to North Vietnam, also where Howard had been invited by the government, but I was actually invited to teach. It was a bombing pause, a short bombing pause, and they were able to bring people in from outlying areas back to Hanoi and the Polytechnic University, or what was left of it, the ruins of the Polytechnic University. And I came and lectured on just about anything that I knew anything about -- these are people who had been out of touch with the faculty, students, others who had been out of touch with the world for five years, and they asked me everything from what's Norman Mailer writing these days, to technical questions and linguistics and mathematics, whatever else I could say anything about.
I also traveled around a little bit, not very much, but for a few days. But enough to see what Howard described, right close to Hanoi, I never got very far away, which was the most protected area because in Hanoi there were embassies and journalists, so the bombing of the city was nothing like what it was much farther away. But even there you could see the ruins of villages, the shell of the major hospital in Thanh Hoa, which had been bombed by accident of course. Areas that were just moonscapes, where there had been villages in an effort to destroy a bridge and so on. So that those were my two weeks in Laos and North Vietnam.
Goodman: You were a linguistics professor at MIT at the time?
Chomsky: Yes.
Goodman: So, why did you go? What drove you to? And, what was the response here at home?
Chomsky: Well, I was able to -- and actually I had intended to go only for one week to North Vietnam. But -- if you really want to know the details -- the U.N. bureaucrat in Laos who was organizing flights was a very bored Indian bureaucrat who had nothing to do, and apparently his only joy in the world was making things difficult for people who wanted to do something, not untypical. And fortunately for me, he made it difficult for me and my companions, Doug Dowd and Dick Fernandez to go to North Vietnam. So I had a week in Laos, which was an extremely valuable week. I wrote about it in some detail. But, I was teaching at the time, I was to be away, it was a vacation week, so actually I taught linguistics at the Polytechnic University.
Goodman: What about the opposition here at home and your level of protest at MIT? What did you do?
Chomsky: Well, MIT was a curious situation. I happened to be working in the laboratory, which was 100 percent supported by the three armed services, but it was also one of the centers of the anti-war resistance. Starting in 1965, along with an artist friend in Boston, Harold Tovish, we organized, tried to organize national tax resistance, this was 1965. Like Howard, I was giving talks, taking part in demonstrations, getting arrested.
By 1966 we were becoming involved directly in support for a draft resistance, helping deserters and others. That just continued -- it's worth remembering. One often hears today justified complaints about how little protest there is against the war in Iraq, but that's very misleading. And here is, as Howard was saying, a little sense of history is useful.
The protest against the war in Iraq is far beyond the protest against Vietnam on any comparable level. Large-scale protest against the war in Vietnam did not begin until there were several hundred thousand U.S. troops in South Vietnam.The country had been virtually destroyed, the bombing had been extended to the north, to Laos, soon to Cambodia, where incidentally we have just learned -- or rather, we haven't learned, but we could learn if we had a free press -- that the bombing in Cambodia, which is known to be horrendous, was actually five times as high as was reported, greater than the entire allied bombing in all of World War II on a defenseless peasant society, which turned peasants into enraged fanatics. During those years the Khmer Rouge grew from nothing, a few thousand scattered people to hundreds of thousands, and that led to the part of Cambodia that we're allowed to think about.
But the real protest against the war in Vietnam came at a period far beyond what has yet been reached in Iraq. First few years of the war, there was almost nothing. So little protest that virtually nobody in the United States even knows when the war began. Kennedy invaded South Vietnam in 1962. That was after seven years of efforts to impose a Latin American-style terror state, which had killed tens of thousands of people and elicited resistance.
In 1962, Kennedy sent the U.S. Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam, under South Vietnamese markings -- but nobody was deluded by that -- initiated chemical warfare to destroy crops and ground cover, and started programs which rounded openly millions of people into what amounted to concentration camps, called strategic hamlets, where they were surrounded by barbed wire to protect them as it was said from the guerrillas, who everyone knew they were voluntarily supporting, an indigenous South Vietnamese resistance. That was 1962.
You couldn't get two people in a living room to talk about it in October 1965, right here in Boston, maybe the most liberal city in the country. There were then already a couple hundred thousand troops, bombing North Vietnam had started. We tried to have our first major public demonstration against the war on the Boston Common, the usual place for meetings. I was supposed to be one of the speakers, but nobody could hear a word. The meeting was totally broken up by students marching over from universities, by others, and hundreds of state police, which kept people from being murdered. The next day's newspaper, the Boston Globe, the world newspaper was full of denunciations of the people who dared make mild statements about bombing the North.
In fact right through the protests, which did reach a substantial scale and were really significant, especially the resistance, it was mostly directed against the war in North Vietnam. The attack on South Vietnam was mostly ignored. Incidentally the same is true of government planning. We know about that from the Pentagon Papers and the subsequent documents -- there was meticulous planning about the bombing of the North. Where should you bomb? And how far should you go? And so on. Bombing of the South -- in the internal documents, there's almost nothing. There's a simple reason for it. The bombing of the South was costless. Nobody's going to shoot you down. Nobody's going to complain. Do whatever you want. Wipe the place out. Which is pretty much what happened.
North Vietnam was dangerous. You could hit Russian ships in harbor. As I said there were embassies in Hanoi where people could report that you were bombing an internal Chinese railroad that happened to pass through North Vietnam. So there could be international repercussions and costs, so therefore, it was very carefully calibrated. If you look at, say, Robert McNamara's memoirs, lots of discussion of the bombing of North Vietnam, virtually nothing about the bombing of South Vietnam. Which even in 1965, was triple the scale of the bombing of the North, and it had been going on for years. Now there is a great deal more protest.
There actually one interesting illustration, I'll end with that, Arthur Schlesinger, best known American historian, in the case of Vietnam, the early years he supported it. In fact if you read his Thousand Days, story of the Kennedy administration, it's barely mentioned except for the wonderful things that's happening. By 1966, as there was beginning to be concern about the costs of the war, we were reaching situations rather like a lead opinion today about Iraq: It's too costly, we might not be able to win, and so on. Schlesinger wrote, I'm almost quoting, that we all pray that the hawks will be right in believing that more troops will allow us to win. And if they are right, we'll be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a war in Vietnam after turning the land -- turning it into a land of ruin and wreck. So we'll be praising their wisdom and statesmanship, but it probably won't work. You can translate that into today's commentaries, which are called the doves.
On the other hand, greatly to his credit, when the bombing of Iraq started, Schlesinger took the strongest position of anyone I've seen, of condemnation of it. First stated so strong that it wasn't, almost never -- didn't appear in the press and I haven't heard a word about it since. As the line began he said this is a date, which will live in infamy. And he recalled President Roosevelt's words at Pearl Harbor, a date that will live in infamy because the United States is following the path of the Japanese fascists, a pretty strong statement. I think that sort of reflects a difference you see in public attitudes too. Opposition to aggression is far higher than it was in the '60s.
Goodman: Howard Zinn, how did Vietnam end, the war end, and what are the parallels that you see today? Do you see parallels today?
Zinn: Well, I suppose if you believe that Henry Kissinger deserved the Nobel Prize, you would think that the war ended, because Henry Kissinger went to Paris and negotiated with the Vietnamese. But the war ended, I think, because finally after that slow buildup of protests, I think the war ended because the protests in the United States reached a crescendo, which couldn't be ignored. And because the GIs coming home were turning against the war, and because soldiers in the field were -- well, they were throwing grenades under the officers' tents, the "Fragging Phenomenon." There's a book called "Soldiers in Revolt" by a man named David Cortright, and he details how much dissidence there was, how much opposition to the war there was among soldiers in Vietnam and how this was manifested in their behavior and desertions, a huge number of desertions. And essentially the government of the United States found it impossible to continue the war. The ROTC chapters were closing down.
In some ways, it's similar to the situation now where the government in Iraq, the government is finding, our government is finding that we don't have enough soldiers to fight the war. So they're sending them back again and again. And where they're recruiting sergeants here in the United States, they're going to enormous lengths, lying to young people about what will await them and what benefits they will get. The government is desperate to maintain the military force today in Iraq. And I think in Vietnam, this dissidence among the military, and its inability to really carry on the war militarily, was a crucial factor. Of course, along with the fact, we simply could not defeat the Vietnamese resistance. And resistance movements -- and this is what we are finding out in Iraq today -- resistance movements against a foreign aggressor, they will get very desperate, they will not give in. And the resistance movement in Vietnam would not surrender.
And so, the U.S. government found it obviously impossible to win without, yes, dropping nuclear bombs, destroying the country and making it clear to the world that the United States was an outlaw nation and impossible to hold the support of the people at home. And so, yes, we finally did what a number of us had been asking for many, many years to withdraw from Vietnam and the same arguments were made at that time. That is, when we called in 1967, well, I wrote a book in 1967 called "Vietnam, the Logic of Withdrawal," and the reaction to that was, you know, we can't withdraw. It will be terrible if we withdraw. There will be civil war if we withdraw. There will be a bloodbath if we withdraw. And so we didn't withdraw and the war went on for another six years, another eight years, six years for the Americans to withdraw, eight years totally. The war went on and on, and another 20,000 Americans were killed. Another million Vietnamese were killed.
And when we finally withdrew, there was no bloodbath. I mean it wasn't that everything was fine when we withdrew, and there were reeducation camps set up, and the Chinese people were driven out of Hanoi on boats, so it wasn't. But the point is that there was no bloodbath, the bloodbath was what we were doing in Vietnam. Just as today when they say, oh, there will be civil war, there will be chaos if we withdraw from Iraq. There is civil war, there is chaos, and no one is pointing out what we have done to Iraq. Two million people driven from their homes and children in dire straits, no water, no food. And so the remembrance of Vietnam is important if we are going to make it clear that we must withdraw from Iraq and find another way, not for the United States, for some international group, preferably a group composed mostly of representatives of Arab nations to come into Iraq and help mediate whatever strife there is among the various fractions in Iraq. But certainly the absolute necessary first step in Iraq now is what we should have done in Vietnam in 1967, and that is simply get out as fast as ships and planes can carry us out.
Goodman: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I'm Amy Goodman. My guests here in Boston, as we broadcast from Massachusetts on this Patriots Day, are Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Howard Zinn, a legendary historian. Taught at Spellman for years until he was forced out because he took the side of the young women students and then went to Boston University and only recently, in the last few years, was given -- what -- given an honorary degree by Spellman?
Zinn: Yes.
Goodman: Did you feel vindicated?
Zinn: I always feel vindicated.
Goodman: Noam Chomsky, what did you think of Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, third in line in succession for the presidency after Dick Cheney, going to Syria together with the first Muslim Congress member in the United States, Keith Ellison from Minneapolis?
Chomsky: The only thing wrong with it was that it was the third person in line. I mean, if the United States government were sincerely interested in bringing about some measure of peace, prosperity, stability in the region instead of dominating it by force, now they would of course be dealing with Syria and with Iran. Pretty much the way the Baker-Hamilton report proposed except beyond what they proposed because they proposed, they should be dealing with it in matters concerning with Iraq. But there are regional issues. In the case of Syria, there are issues related to Syria itself, but also to Lebanon and to Israel. Israel is in control of, in fact has annexed in violation of Security Council orders, has annexed a large part of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights. Syria is making it very clear that they are interested in a peace settlement with Israel, which would involve, as it should, the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from occupied territories.
Goodman: Are there secret negotiations going on between Israel and Syria now?
Chomsky: You never know what's going on in secret. But so far Israel has been flatly refusing any negotiations. In fact, the only debate that's going on now is whether it's the United States that's pressuring Israel or Israel is pressuring the United States to prevent negotiations on the Golan Heights and in fact on the occupied territories all together. This is called a very contentious issue, Israel-Palestine, which is kind of surprising. It's a contentious issue only in the United States, and even not among the American population. It's a contentious issue because the U.S. government and the Israeli government are blocking a very broad international consensus, which has almost universal support, even the majority of Americans and which has been on the table for about 30 years, blocked by the U.S. and Israel. And everyone knows who's involved in this, what the general framework for a settlement is.
It was put on the -- it was brought to the Security Council in 1976, by the Arab states, Jordan, Syria and Egypt, the so-called confrontation states, and the other Arab states. They proposed a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border, a settlement, which included the wording of U.N.-242, the first major resolution, recognition of the right of each state in the region to exist in peace and security within secure and recognized boundaries, that would include Israel and a Palestinian state. It was vetoed by the United States, and a similar resolution vetoed in 1980.
I won't run through the whole history, but throughout this whole history, with temporary and rare exceptions, there is a couple here and here, the U.S. has simply blocked the settlement and still does, and Israel rejects it. Sometimes it's dramatic. In 1988, the Palestinian National Council, their governing body, formally accepted a two-state settlement. They tacitly accepted it before. There was a reaction from Israel immediately; it was a coalition government, Shimon Perez, Yitzhak Shamir. Their reaction was, quoting, that "there cannot be an additional Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel." An additional implying that Jordan already is a Palestinian state, so there can't be another one, and the fate of the territories will be settled according to the guidelines of the state of Israel. Shortly after that, the Bush No. 1 administration totally endorsed that proposal -- that was the Baker plan, James Baker plan of December 1989 -- fully endorsed that proposal, extreme rejectionism.
And so it continues with rare exceptions, just moving to today, the Arab league proposal has been reintroduced. It's 2002, but they brought it up again a couple of weeks ago. That goes even further. It calls for full normalization of relations with Israel within the framework of the international consensus on a two-state settlement, which might involve to use official U.S. terminology from far back, minor and mutual modifications, like straightening out the border, or in other words in the wrong place or something. And then there are technicalities to be resolved, plenty of them.
But that's the basic framework, supported by the Arab world, by Europe, by the nonaligned countries, Latin America and others. It is supported by Iran, it doesn't get reported here. One loves Ahmadinejad's crazed statements, but do not report the statements of his superior, Ayatollah Khameni who's in charge of international affairs -- Ahmadinejad doesn't have anything to do with it -- who has declared a couple of times that Iran supports the Arab league position. Hezbollah in Lebanon has made it clear that they don't like it; they don't believe in recognizing Israel, but if the Palestinians accept it, they will not disrupt it. They are a Lebanese organization. And Hamas has said, they would accept the Arab League consensus. That leaves the United States and Israel in splendid isolation, even more so than in the past 30 years in rejecting a political settlement. So it's contentious in a sense, but not in that there's no way to resolve it. We know how to resolve it.
Goodman: Do you think it will change?
Chomsky: It depends on people here. If the majority of the American population, who also accept this, decide to do something about it, yeah, it will change.
Goodman: Do you think it's changing, for example, with Carter's book coming out?
Chomsky: I think it's one of the signs of change, and there are many others. Or is it just a change mood in the country, I mean, anybody who's been giving talks about this just knows it from personal experience. I mean not very long ago, if I was giving a talk on the Middle East, I mean, even at MIT, there would be armed police present, or at least undercover police to prevent violence, disruption, breakup of meetings and so on. That's a thing of the past. By now it's much easier to talk about this. Actually, Carter's book is quite interesting. Carter's book was essentially repeating what is known around the world.
Goodman: "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Chomsky: Yeah. He -- there were a couple of errors in the book. They were ignored. The only serious error in the book, which a fact checker should have picked up, is that Carter accepted a kind of party line on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israel invaded Lebanon and killed maybe 15,000-20,000 people and destroyed much of southern Lebanon. They were able to do it because the Reagan administration vetoed Security Council resolutions and supported them and so on.
The claim here, you know, you read Thomas Friedman or someone, is that Israel invaded in response to shelling of the Galilee from -- by Palestinians, Palestinian terror attacks. And Carter repeats that; it is not true. There was the border, there was a cease-fire. The Palestinians observed it despite regular Israeli attempts, something as heavy bombing and others to elicit some response that would be a pretext to the planned invasion. When there was no pretext, they invaded anyway. That's the only serious error in the book, ignored. There are some very valuable things in the book, also ignored. One of them, perhaps the most important is that Carter is the first, I think, in the mainstream in the United States to report what was known in dissident circles and talked about, namely that the famous road map, which the quartet suggested as steps towards settlement of the problem -- the road map was instantly rejected by Israel.
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program Democracy Now!