Monday, January 28, 2008

Will Coffee Be a Casualty of Climate Change

It was nearly one year ago that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), government officials, and scientists from more than 100 countries, wrangled for weeks in Brussels as to whether global warming was a man-made or a natural phenomenon.
They argued over droughts, air circulation patterns, snowfall, ice caps, and a thousand other indicators of whether global warming was "likely" or "directly" our fault. In spite of the strong belief in the scientific community that all of our cars, factories, and other activities were speeding up global warming at an alarming rate, the politicians managed to get the official word to be "likely."

High in the Sierra Nevada (Snow-Capped Mountains) of Colombia, indigenous Arhuaco coffee farmer Javier Mestres had no such doubts.
He did not see things in parts per million. He had never heard of the global circulation model that tried to measure increments of change in the temperature of the ocean or dynamics of the atmosphere. He was unaware that the IPCC report stated that Colombia would heat up dramatically in the next twenty years and lose 90 percent of its glacial snowcaps by 2050.
Javier saw the results of a warming planet clearly in the premature flowering of his coffee plants on his four-acre family farm in the slopes above Nabusimake, the capital of the Arhuaco nation. He showed me the smaller, weaker berries that dotted the stems and wondered why the outside world wanted to harm these beautiful plants. Why were we changing the world?
Like many of his coffee-growing brothers and sisters around the world, with global warming has come a change in temperature that is affecting crop yields. And, if the Nobel Peace Prize-winning IPCC's predictions come true and we see global temperatures rise anywhere 2.6 F to 10 F, coffee could be harder to come by in many parts of the world, not just Columbia: Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania in Africa could become unsuitable for coffee growing, and many Southeast Asian islands could be wiped off the map by rising ocean levels.
Our world is out of balance, and it seems we may be the only ones who aren't noticing.
For centuries, the Arhuaco spiritual elders, the Mamos, known in their language as the "Elder Brothers," have carried out monthly rituals in sacred sites throughout the Sierra Nevada, which they call "the Heart of the World," to ensure that the planet is kept in a geo-spiritual balance.
But for the past two decades, the Mamos have been observing rapid changes in the Heart of the World. They have watched the snowcaps on their sacred peaks shrink over time and have seen the plant life change. They have felt the lower moisture levels in the air and soil and noted the changing migration patterns of the birds and butterflies. They have shared these observations with the tribe, and increasingly with the outside world, with us-the "Younger Brothers."
I asked the Mamo I met what changes he had noticed over his lifetime.
"The Younger Brothers have come here, to the Heart of the World, and are cutting out the Mother's heart. They dig out the gold that we need for our rituals. They cut down the trees that hold the earth in place and destroy these homes for the birds. The Younger Brothers pollute the water with chemicals from mining and are making drugs from the plants, from the sacred coca!" While he spoke, he rubbed the stick onto the poporo in a hypnotic rhythm, the pain and confusion caused by the foolish actions of the Younger Brothers etched in layers. "They have invaded our land. They destroy sacred sites to make mines and farms. They are making it difficult for us to do the work we must do to keep the world in balance. What would happen if we stopped keeping the world in balance? If we didn't make the payments, would the trees still grow?"
I was taken aback by this last comment. I agreed with the need to stop the destruction, but did he really believe that the world would stop if the Mamos weren't able to perform their rituals? Did they really believe that they held the world together? To my rational mind, it seemed a quaint and romantic notion.
But maybe it was true. Maybe there is a tipping point where the whole thing comes down. It certainly happens on the micro level, where localized ecosystems and plant and animal communities crash when the balance is disturbed beyond repair. Ecologists tell us about "trophic cascade," when the crash of one system leads to the crash of another, and then of many related systems. Is the critical point on Earth located here in the Sierra Nevada? Are the spiritual rituals the prime focus of energy, the "seams" that hold the world intact? The Mamos believe so.
"So what must be done to control this destruction?" I asked respectfully. The Mamo looked piercingly into my eyes.
"All the white men must leave the Sierra Nevada."

"Uh, I know that would be ideal, but what can be done practically?"
"I told you. All the white men must leave."
Maybe that was the most effective way to protect the sacred lands, and maybe that will ultimately be the solution-create a Heart of the World International Sacred Landscape. This is the underlying dynamic for the concept of totem or taboo, the recognition that there are places or actions that must be safeguarded for the benefit of the whole. Maybe we need to recognize and protect sacred spaces, beyond the multiple-use designations of national parks and forests, so that they can be accessed only by the ritual keepers. Whether or not the keepers actually hold the world together, their ritual activities keep the need for balance between the sacred and the profane within our collective psyche.
"But there is more," the Mamo continued. "Beyond the Heart of the World, the Younger Brothers are changing the whole earth. I don't know everything they are doing, but they are changing the whole earth."
"Are you talking about global warming?" I asked.
"I don't know what you call it, but yes, the Mother is getting warmer. The rain falls differently than before. It is later, but it falls harder. It is destructive sometimes when it should be nurturing. Many of the rivers are dry before they reach the sea. And the snows on the peaks that replenish the rivers are less each year. Even the bees are disappearing, and that affects the flowering of the coffee and all other plants."
I asked the Mamo how he knew there were fewer bees.
"I can hear them. Their sound has lessened," he replied. "It is all happening very quickly. First you took our gold. Then you took our land. Now you are taking the water and the air itself. The Younger Brothers are waging a war on the earth and it must stop!"
***
Valledupar sits like a supplicant at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. It is a friendly, clean town where the Arhuaco and the colonists mix freely.
There were a few Arhuaco men and women in the large courtyard as we entered. The men were scribing their thoughts on their poporos and the women were doing a similar action by drawing out long strands of cotton by hand into thread for weaving. It was a peaceful scene and nobody seemed to take notice of my entrance. Nelson, the Colombian indigenous rights lawyer traveling with me, introduced me to several people, but all I got were indifferent glances or limp hands to shake.
"Don't take it personally, Dean," Nelson offered kindly. "Remember that the Arhuaco think of all outsiders as the Younger Brothers. It's not that they think you are inferior or anything, but they think you don't know much."
And, they are right. At least as far as most Americans go in terms of coffee literacy and the impact of each cup they drink. In the hyper-caffeinated world of coffee marketing, it is very difficult to tell the truth from a load of beans. And, that's what most of us are being told in terms of climate change, and in terms of what coffee farmers are paid, the latter of which often has an impact on the former.
Fair Trade allows farmers to be paid meaningful prices for their labors, a way to realize cherished dreams of education for their kids and sufficient food on the table, and to be willing to then take better care of the crops and the land around them. That's what Fair Trade is all about, and it is the most tangible result to the work us Fair Traders do.
But let me be real. Only twenty percent of the coffee from Fair Trade-certified cooperatives gets sold as Fair Trade. The rest gets sold under conventional pricing, which even at the current higher level does not give a farmer much to feed his family, and certainly doesn't give the community enough to build a school, a well or a health clinic. This is not the farmer's fault. It is the same coffee grown in the same manner.
The problem is that most people in the coffee industry are not willing to recognize farmers as true partners in our businesses-they are often simply cheap wage slaves to whom we can give pennies while selling their coffee for inflated prices. It is not an economic issue-even at our higher-than-Fair-Trade-prices paid to farmers we make a very good living. It is not a quality issue-non-Fair Trade roasters are buying the same beans as we are from Oromia (Ethiopia), PPKGO (Sumatra), and Pangoa (Peru) to name a few, just not paying the sme Fair Trade price. Quality actually improves under Fair Trade because there is simply more money for technical training, new processing equipment (such as eco-friendly washing stations) and the farmers have an incentive to care for their crop better if it will bring higher returns.
It is not an availability issue-as an example, eighty percent of the Oromia crop is out there waiting. It is first and foremost an ethical issue, plain and simple.
So take a look deep into your coffee cup. Behind the aroma, the acidity, and the body lay the real lives of farmers and their families. The choices we make at the supermarket and the café have immediate and profound impacts on almost thirty million people around the globe, on their ability to drink clean water, to educate their kids, and to dream of better lives, as well as to keep the heat off the planet. Fair Trade works. Help make it happen.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It’s the Oil...How Could Anyone Deny it? Botched? Or Purposeful?

Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’.

Jim Holt of the London Review of Books writes a brilliant critique of the US occupation of Iraq, and questions the reasons and rationale. While the US has incredibly and steadfastly denied the reason the nation went to war was explicitly to get the oil, indeed, has offered many justifications, notably the presence and threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (cynics and realists alike have noted it is more like the US campaign was engaged in weapons of mass deception), the deep oil reserves in Iraq remain the primary reason, and not the desire to create a "democratic" state in the region, which is more and more transparently a sop for domestic consumption, to assuage any guilt (or war crime indictments) and particularly for patriotic posturing. - MS

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.
Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years. ‘The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy,’ the analyst Antonia Juhasz wrote in the New York Times in March, after the draft law was leaked. ‘They could even ride out Iraq’s current “instability” by signing contracts now, while the Iraqi government is at its weakest, and then wait at least two years before even setting foot in the country.’ As negotiations over the oil law stalled in September, the provincial government in Kurdistan simply signed a separate deal with the Dallas-based Hunt Oil Company, headed by a close political ally of President Bush.
How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. Five self-sufficient ‘super-bases’ are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred. There has been precious little reporting on these bases in the American press, whose dwindling corps of correspondents in Iraq cannot move around freely because of the dangerous conditions. (It takes a brave reporter to leave the Green Zone without a military escort.) In February last year, the Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks described one such facility, the Balad Air Base, forty miles north of Baghdad. A piece of (well-fortified) American suburbia in the middle of the Iraqi desert, Balad has fast-food joints, a miniature golf course, a football field, a cinema and distinct neighbourhoods – among them, ‘KBR-land’, named after the Halliburton subsidiary that has done most of the construction work at the base. Although few of the 20,000 American troops stationed there have ever had any contact with an Iraqi, the runway at the base is one of the world’s busiest. ‘We are behind only Heathrow right now,’ an air force commander told Ricks.
The Defense Department was initially coy about these bases. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld said: ‘I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting.’ But this summer the Bush administration began to talk openly about stationing American troops in Iraq for years, even decades, to come. Several visitors to the White House have told the New York Times that the president himself has become fond of referring to the ‘Korea model’. When the House of Representatives voted to bar funding for ‘permanent bases’ in Iraq, the new term of choice became ‘enduring bases’, as if three or four decades wasn’t effectively an eternity.
But will the US be able to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? It will plausibly claim a rationale to stay there for as long as civil conflict simmers, or until every groupuscule that conveniently brands itself as ‘al-Qaida’ is exterminated. The civil war may gradually lose intensity as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds withdraw into separate enclaves, reducing the surface area for sectarian friction, and as warlords consolidate local authority. De facto partition will be the result. But this partition can never become de jure. (An independent Kurdistan in the north might upset Turkey, an independent Shia region in the east might become a satellite of Iran, and an independent Sunni region in the west might harbour al-Qaida.) Presiding over this Balkanised Iraq will be a weak federal government in Baghdad, propped up and overseen by the Pentagon-scale US embassy that has just been constructed – a green zone within the Green Zone. As for the number of US troops permanently stationed in Iraq, the defence secretary, Robert Gates, told Congress at the end of September that ‘in his head’ he saw the long-term force as consisting of five combat brigades, a quarter of the current number, which, with support personnel, would mean 35,000 troops at the very minimum, probably accompanied by an equal number of mercenary contractors. (He may have been erring on the side of modesty, since the five super-bases can accommodate between ten and twenty thousand troops each.) These forces will occasionally leave their bases to tamp down civil skirmishes, at a declining cost in casualties. As a senior Bush administration official told the New York Times in June, the long-term bases ‘are all places we could fly in and out of without putting Americans on every street corner’. But their main day-to-day function will be to protect the oil infrastructure.
This is the ‘mess’ that Bush-Cheney is going to hand on to the next administration. What if that administration is a Democratic one? Will it dismantle the bases and withdraw US forces entirely? That seems unlikely, considering the many beneficiaries of the continued occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its oil resources. The three principal Democratic candidates – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards – have already hedged their bets, refusing to promise that, if elected, they would remove American forces from Iraq before 2013, the end of their first term.
Among the winners: oil-services companies like Halliburton; the oil companies themselves (the profits will be unimaginable, and even Democrats can be bought); US voters, who will be guaranteed price stability at the gas pump (which sometimes seems to be all they care about); Europe and Japan, which will both benefit from Western control of such a large part of the world’s oil reserves, and whose leaders will therefore wink at the permanent occupation; and, oddly enough, Osama bin Laden, who will never again have to worry about US troops profaning the holy places of Mecca and Medina, since the stability of the House of Saud will no longer be paramount among American concerns. Among the losers is Russia, which will no longer be able to lord its own energy resources over Europe. Another big loser is Opec, and especially Saudi Arabia, whose power to keep oil prices high by enforcing production quotas will be seriously compromised.
Then there is the case of Iran, which is more complicated. In the short term, Iran has done quite well out of the Iraq war. Iraq’s ruling Shia coalition is now dominated by a faction friendly to Tehran, and the US has willy-nilly armed and trained the most pro-Iranian elements in the Iraqi military. As for Iran’s nuclear programme, neither air strikes nor negotiations seem likely to derail it at the moment. But the Iranian regime is precarious. Unpopular mullahs hold onto power by financing internal security services and buying off elites with oil money, which accounts for 70 per cent of government revenues. If the price of oil were suddenly to drop to, say, $40 a barrel (from a current price just north of $80), the repressive regime in Tehran would lose its steady income. And that is an outcome the US could easily achieve by opening the Iraqi oil spigot for as long as necessary (perhaps taking down Venezuela’s oil-cocky Hugo Chávez into the bargain).
And think of the United States vis-à-vis China. As a consequence of our trade deficit, around a trillion dollars’ worth of US denominated debt (including $400 billion in US Treasury bonds) is held by China. This gives Beijing enormous leverage over Washington: by offloading big chunks of US debt, China could bring the American economy to its knees. China’s own economy is, according to official figures, expanding at something like 10 per cent a year. Even if the actual figure is closer to 4 or 5 per cent, as some believe, China’s increasing heft poses a threat to US interests. (One fact: China is acquiring new submarines five times faster than the US.) And the main constraint on China’s growth is its access to energy – which, with the US in control of the biggest share of world oil, would largely be at Washington’s sufferance. Thus is the Chinese threat neutralised.
Many people are still perplexed by exactly what moved Bush-Cheney to invade and occupy Iraq. In the 27 September issue of the New York Review of Books, Thomas Powers, one of the most astute watchers of the intelligence world, admitted to a degree of bafflement. ‘What’s particularly odd,’ he wrote, ‘is that there seems to be no sophisticated, professional, insiders’ version of the thinking that drove events.’ Alan Greenspan, in his just published memoir, is clearer on the matter. ‘I am saddened,’ he writes, ‘that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’
Was the strategy of invading Iraq to take control of its oil resources actually hammered out by Cheney’s 2001 energy task force? One can’t know for sure, since the deliberations of that task force, made up largely of oil and energy company executives, have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of ‘executive privilege’. One can’t say for certain that oil supplied the prime motive. But the hypothesis is quite powerful when it comes to explaining what has actually happened in Iraq. The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards ‘nation-building’ has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades – a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East? On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics – dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration – could scarcely have been more effective. The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.
Still, there is reason to be skeptical of the picture I have drawn: it implies that a secret and highly ambitious plan turned out just the way its devisers foresaw, and that almost never happens.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Robert Reich warns a recession, or worse, could be coming

The Big D?
Think the last few days have been bad for Wall Street and the rest of the world's markets? Hang on, things are probably going to get worse, says Robert Reich, President Clinton's former secretary of Labor and author of the recent book "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life." According to Reich, who currently teaches public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, the United States might even be headed toward a depression.

NEWSWEEK's Arlyn Tobias Gajilan talked to Reich about the Fed's surprise rate cut Wednesday, the "D word," the growing criticism of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and whether a stimulus package will include $500 check for each American. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Many investors had hoped for an interest-rate cut, but this cut's size and timing took people by surprise. Were you taken aback by the Fed's three-quarter basis-point cut, the largest single-day reduction in the Fed's history? And do you think it's necessary?
Robert Reich: Yes and yes. The Fed is clearly becoming aware of the serious potential of an economic meltdown. The size of the cut is larger than anyone expected because the Fed usually moves in [increments of] .25 or .50 percentage points. But the danger of a cut this size is that it may panic the investors. They may conclude that the Fed has determined that the economy is even worse than assumed and that there is still a way to go before we hit bottom. Yet the Fed has to [cut]. Credit markets are still uncomfortably frozen, and the housing slump continues to worsen.
Unlike Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan had a habit of hinting at what his next move would be. While he kept investors on their toes, Greenspan rarely acted as unexpectedly as Bernanke did this week. Is it dangerous for a Fed chairman to surprise the market?
Yes, but I don't believe Bernanke wants to surprise the market as a general rule. This strikes me as a major exception to the relative transparency he's trying to achieve with regard to letting the market know where the Fed is going. It's a move that underscores the seriousness of the current economic problems.
Tuesday's rate cut initially caused a huge market swing, with the Dow, NASDAQ and the S&P 500 all hitting 14-, 15- and 16-month lows respectively. But by the end of the day, all three had bounced back considerably. Does that mean the cut is working?
The fact is that no one knows anything. Investors are flying blind. Even experienced Wall Street hands have no idea whether we're near the bottom. We can expect even more violent swings in the stock market. The reason for all the uncertainty is that the big banks and lenders simply have no idea how many bad loans they're holding. [During the housing bubble] credit markets evolved such complex ways of reselling and repackaging debt that even many top Wall Street professionals simply have no idea of the risks and costs they're involved with. The bottom line is there is a great deal of uncertainty out there, and the markets hate uncertainty.

Can we expect another rate cut at the Fed meeting next week?
Yes. I wouldn't be surprised if the Fed cut another quarter point. If it doesn't announce something at its meeting, it may cut .25 or even .50 within the next month or so. They are clearly worried. [And while lowering rates may cause] inflation, it is far less threatening now than a recession or perhaps-and I cringe at using the word-a depression.

You cringe, but you still used the D word. How far along are we on that particularly slippery slope?
Hopefully, not far. But several managing directors on the Street, whose opinions I trust, have said to me that the chances for a depression are 20 percent. That matches my sense. In other words, it's still low, but 20 percent is nonetheless far higher a probability than anyone should be comfortable with. Even absent a depression, it seems likely that the coming recession will be deeper than the last several.
There's a U.S. News & World Report blog item that was making the rounds on the NYSE floor Wednesday reporting that Bernanke has privately been much more negative about the economy than he publicly admits. From the indicators you've been watching, how bad do you think things are really going to get in the next six months to a year? Is a recession avoidable at this point?
It's going to be difficult to avoid a recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. Difficult because the scale of the problems is so much larger than any stimulus package or Fed rate cut can readily deal with. The stimulus package now being considered on the Hill is in the range of $140 [billion] to $150 billion. But at the rate housing prices are dropping, consumer purchases are likely to be hit by $360 [billion] to $400 billion. Similarly the Fed rate cuts, under normal circumstances, would free up money, but lenders are afraid of lending because they don't know how much risk of default they face, even at lower interest rates. It's a little like offering a lobster dinner to someone who is so constipated that they can't take in another mouthful.
Bernanke hasn't won many fans lately. Under his leadership, many on the Street think the Fed has moved too slowly to avoid recession and too ineffectively to prevent inflation. Is that fair criticism?
Probably not. Up until last week, Wall Street's assessment of Bernanke was quite positive. He was getting good press all around. He faces a very difficult balancing act under circumstances in which energy and food prices are rising, the dollar is falling and inflation is becoming more threatening. What should the Fed do? It is terribly unqualified to cope with speculative bubbles and their aftereffects. The housing bubble and the Wild West credit markets of the last few years came about not because the Fed kept interest rates too low, but because the treasury, the comptroller of the currency, and the Fed, in its regulatory capacity, failed miserably to use their authority to oversee credit markets and assure that they were not unduly exploiting those low interest rates with irresponsible lending practices. Now we have a mess on our hands. Bernanke has the only pooper-scooper in town, but it is too small for the job.
There's a theory that the global markets have matured past the point where they won't necessarily get slammed whenever the U.S. economy gets hammered. Do you buy into that thinking? Will our country's worsening economic situation infect the rest of the world economy?
The U.S. is not completely uncoupled from the rest of the global economy, but the good news is that consumers in Japan, China, India and Europe are now far better able to fill-in the gap when American consumers fail to do the job they have been doing for decades, which is to buy enough of the world's goods and services to keep the world out of recession. Remember American consumers have been the Energizer Bunnies of the global economy for some time. Now others around the world are wealthy enough to become Energizer Bunnies themselves.
The administration has called for a $140 billion economic stimulus package. There have been few details about the plan, but Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Congress have all hinted that taxpayers might soon receive checks of several hundred dollars or more. Can Americans expect those checks any time soon and will such a plan actually stimulate the economy?
Only relatively low-income people are likely to spend any extra money they get, since they need the extra money in order to maintain their living standards. So the first questions is will the stimulus be targeted to them or will it be frittered away in tax breaks for the upper-middle class and for investors. Secondly, the money has to be in people's pockets right away, not eight or nine months from now in the form of a tax rebate from the IRS. The only surefire way to do that is to reduce withholding in payroll taxes, since 80 percent of Americans pay more in payroll tax than they do in income tax. Thirdly, the money has to be enough to change people's behavior. Five hundred dollars isn't likely to do the trick. I see far more politics in this than economics. Washington has to look like it's doing something, and so it will.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

MPAA once again searches for scapegoat

The MPAA has admitted to a "data entry error". Oops! They claimed 45% of the film piracy they were facing was due to college students, later backtracking to only 15%, which is still suspect, at best. Just rate the flicks, ok? Better yet, just fold your tent, there's really no reason for it to exist, except to censor films and be hacks.

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Center Documents 935 False Statements By Top Administration Officials To Justify Iraq War

The first-ever comprehensive analysis of top Bush administration officials' war-related rhetoric
WASHINGTON, January 23, 2008 — Leading up to the five-year anniversary of the Iraq war, the Center for Public Integrity has released the first analysis of its kind, "Iraq – The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War." This comprehensive examination of top Bush administration officials' statements over a two-year period shows how top officials galvanized public opinion in the run-up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq. The project's chronology provides a framework for examining how the administration's false statements led the country into the war in Iraq. The results of this analysis question the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were merely the unwitting victims of bad intelligence.
Center founder Charles Lewis and researchers helping him write a forthcoming, new book, were instrumental in identifying 935 false statements by eight top administration officials that mentioned Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, or links to Al Qaeda, on at least 532 separate occasions. The false statements included in the analysis were made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleisher and Scott McClellan.
"Today, the Center is releasing a remarkable report that squarely meets our mission, to produce original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable," said Executive Director Bill Buzenberg. "This is a report like no other, which calls into question more than 900 false statements that were the underpinnings of the administration's case for war."
"Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq," said Lewis, now president of the Fund for Independence in Journalism and a professor at the American University School of Communications in Washington. "There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period, and now millions of White House emails from 2001 to October 2003 apparently may have been destroyed."
The analysis graphically shows how President Bush and seven of his administration's top officials methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. These false statements dramatically increased in August 2002, just prior to congressional consideration of a war resolution and during the critical weeks in early 2003 when the president delivered his State of the Union address and Powell delivered his memorable presentation to the U.N. Security Council. These statements have been included in a fully searchable 380,000-word database, assembled from primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.
President Bush had the most false statements, at 260, about weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda in Iraq, followed by Secretary of State Powell with 254. The analysis reveals that officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.
# # #
About the Fund for Independence in Journalism
Led by Charles Lewis, the Fund for Independence in Journalism, a 509 (a)(3) nonprofit, tax exempt organization, was created in 2003 to foster independent, high-quality public service journalism in the United States and around the world. The Fund's primary purpose is providing legal defense and endowment support for the largest nonprofit, investigative reporting institution in the world, the Center for Public Integrity, and possibly other, similar groups. This core mission and related activities illuminate the fundamental role of the press, the public's right to know, and accountability in a democratic society. To read more about the Fund, visit http://www.tfij.org/.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

As the Price of Coffee Turns

As if Tuesday’s market plunges weren’t enough to demoralize us all, The New York Times’s Dining section followed up today with an article on a new insane price-point for your daily pick-me-up: “At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee.”
Uncaffeinated jaws dropped before realizing that it wasn’t meant literally (please see: recent $18,000 belt): it is a coffee machine that costs those big bucks, not the individual servings it produces with its “brass-trimmed halogen heating elements, glass globes and bamboo paddles.”
At the same time, The Wall Street Journal was reporting coffee news at the opposite end of the price spectrum. Improbably, a purveyor with a reputation for emptying wallets was coming to the rescue:
Starbucks Tests $1 Cup, Free Refills in Seattle
Deep pockets, rest assured: it is still possible to spend a lot of cash at Starbucks. One blogger recently discovering a $13.76 concoction — try saying this one in the face of an impatient order-taker: “13 shot venti soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha with extra white mocha and caramel.”
Of course, the $1 Starbucks is aimed at a whole other audience.
As McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts have lured coffee drinkers with low, low prices, Starbucks stock has plummeted. Earlier this month, the longtime chairman of the company seized the executive reins of the company and promised a “laser-like focus” on reinvigorating the “Starbucks experience,” according to Andrew Martin’s report in The New York Times.
Meanwhile, McDonalds is working on replicating that experience, too, by hiring baristas at locations across the country.
And in an interview published today in Advertising Age, the chief executive of Dunkin Donuts, Will Kussell, played the schoolyard tough guy, dismissing the competition and spoiling for a fight — in terms of selling coffee and carbs, of course.
“We really are the leading beverage authority,” Mr. Kussell said of his company. “Marrying that with our bakery authority, we have a two-fisted punch, and of course it’s built on speed of service.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

80th Oscars Nominees Announced Today

Paramount Vantage and Miramax scored a double whammy as their "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" led nominations for the 80th annual Academy Awards with eight bids, including best picture.
Also nominated for the top prize are Focus Features’ “Atonement,” Fox Searchlight’s “Juno,” and Warner Bros.’ “Michael Clayton.” The film with the most noms has ended up winning the best picture prize in 16 of the last 20 years. However, for the last three years, the nom leader did not win: “The Aviator,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Dreamgirls” led, but the best-pic Oscar went to, respectively, “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” and “The Departed.”
Every year, the unveiling of noms offers questions and controversies, but one of the biggest questions at Tuesday’s announcement was what will happen with the Feb. 24 ceremonies. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honchos are keeping their cards close to the vest, stating that the Oscars will definitely take place, but not divulging details of any contingency plans in case the strike is still going on.
At any rate, it adds another element of suspense to the entire awards season.
There were 306 films eligible for contention this year, according to AMPAS.
Nominations were announced at Academy headquarters in BevHills at 5:38 a.m. Tuesday.
Final ballots will be mailed Jan. 30 and are due Feb. 19. Awards will be presented Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theater.
NOMINEES LIST
BEST PICTURE
"Atonement" (Focus Features)A Working Title ProductionTim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight)A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC ProductionLianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)A Clayton Productions, LLC ProductionSydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss ProductionScott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company ProductionJoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros.,Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah" (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson’s War" (Universal)
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal)
Julie Christie in "Away from Her" (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in "The Savages" (Fox Searchlight)Ellen Page in "Juno" (Fox Searchlight)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Cate Blanchett in "I’m Not There" (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster" (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement" (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone" (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

An Omnivore Defends Real Food - Which is What, exactly?

As a health writer, I’ve read hundreds of nutrition studies and countless books on diet and eating. And none of these has contained such useful advice as the cover of Michael Pollan’s (photo, by Alia Malley, l.) latest book, “In Defense of Food.'’
Wrapped around a head of lettuce are seven words that tell you pretty much everything you need to know about healthful eating. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.'’

This seemingly-simple message is surprisingly complex, because there is food, and then there are what Mr. Pollan describes as “edible food-like substances.'’ Mr. Pollan, who writes for The New York Times Magazine, developed something of a cult following for his best-selling book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which traced the food chain back to its original source. But while “Omnivore” left many scared to eat, “In Defense of Food” helps the reader bravely navigate the food landscape, explaining what food is, what it isn’t and how to tell the difference.
Mr. Pollan agreed to take some time this week to answer a few questions from the Well blog.

Q. In this book, you talk about “nutritionism,” the tendency of scientists and nutrition experts to view food as just a sum of its nutrient parts. What’s wrong with that thinking?
A. Two things go wrong with nutritionism. Whatever tentative scientific information is developed, it gets very quickly distorted by the food marketers and manufacturers. They will take partial information about antioxidants, and they are suddenly telling you if you eat almonds you are going to live forever. There is a distortion of what are hypotheses of science. We’re guilty of this too. We take sketchy science, and we write headlines.
One of the things that surprised me is how poor the data is that is underlying many of these big dietary trials. If you try to fill out a food frequency questionnaire, you realize very quickly this is not good data. I was as honest as I could be and tried to remember what I’d eaten, and it claimed I was only eating 1,200 calories a day. Clearly, I was forgetting at least 1,000 calories. We know people underreport by about 30 percent. We don’t know the first thing about nutrition, which is, “What are people actually eating?” It’s hard to build good science on top of that.
Q. Did you expect the phrase, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.'’ to create such a stir?
A. I was kind of surprised. After the original article in The Times magazine used those words, I started hearing it then. I realized they had a certain power. That’s why I encouraged the publisher to put them on the cover and give it all away there.
Q. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, is it?
A. It’s not, because of all these edible food-like substances in the stores that are masquerading as food. It’s simple advice as long as you know what food is, but I spend 14 pages trying to define what food is. It’s gotten complicated because of food science and the kind of engineering that’s gone into processing food.
Q. Speaking of engineering, food from cloned animals appears headed for approval in Europe and the United States. Does cloned food qualify as real food?
A. I think the bigger concern with cloned animals is not personal health. It’s what will it take to keep a herd of genetically identical chickens, horses or pigs alive? Sex and variation is what keeps us from getting wiped out by microbes. If everything is genetically identical, one disease can come along and wipe out the entire group. You will need so many antibiotics and so much sanitation to keep a herd of these creatures going. The bigger concern should be antibiotic resistance.
Q. The nutrition community is fascinated by the French paradox — the fact that the French eat seemingly fattening food but don’t get fat. In your book you describe an American paradox. What is it?
A. Americans are a people so obsessed with nutrition yet whose dietary health is so poor. That strikes me as a paradox. We worry more about nutritional health, and we see food in terms of health. Yet we’re the world champs in terms of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the cancers linked to diet. I think it’s odd. It suggests that worrying about your dietary health is not necessarily good for your dietary health.
Q. So how should we think about food and health?
A. I think health should be a byproduct of eating well, for reasons that have nothing to do with health, such as cooking meals, eating together and eating real food. You’re going to be healthy, but that’s not the goal. The goal should just be eating well for pleasure, for community, and all the other reasons people eat. What I’m trying to do is to bring a man-from-Mars view to the American way of thinking about food. This is so second nature to us — food is either advancing your health or ruining your health. That’s a very limited way to think about food, and it’s a very limited way to think about health. The health of our bodies is tied to the health of the community and the health of the earth. Health is indivisible. That’s my covert message.
Q. A reader commented recently that this sounded like a diet book. Is it?
A. There is no Michael Pollan diet. It’s an algorithm to help you make decisions rather than telling you narrowly: “Eat butter. Don’t eat margarine.” Although you could probably deduce that from what I’m saying. I don’t feel like it’s our job to tell people what to eat. I think our job is to help people think about it. I’m trying to take down the cult of expert eating. The danger is that I then offer myself as an expert. I’m trying to channel the wisdom of culture about eating. My idea here is that science so far hasn’t figured out nutrition well enough to be the arbiter of our food choices. When science has done that — take the public health campaign around fat, that has been the biggest test case — it didn’t work out very well. If science can’t guide us yet, who can? The answer is not me. The answer is culture, history and tradition. That’s what my rules are all about. The book is trying to show why this nutritionism approach to food doesn’t work very well, besides the fact that it ruins our pleasure in eating.
Q. What do you eat?
A. I eat lots of food. What do you mean?
Q. Does your food ever come out of a package?
A. Really seldom. If you look in my pantry, you won’t find that much processed stuff. Maybe some canned soups and tuna fish. I don’t have a lot of low-fat products. I much prefer to eat less of a full-fat product. You wont’ find skim milk. We’re lucky. I live in Berkeley with a farmers’ market four blocks away, and it’s open 50 weeks a year. I have the luxury of being able to buy very fresh, good food. I have a weakness for bread. A good white baguette — I have a weakness for that.
Q. After reading your book, I want to plant and grow something. Do you get this a lot?
A. My first book was about gardening, and I like gardening. It’s a really important part of the solution. In so many places, including urban areas, there is a yard, there is a lawn, a little patch of land where you could grow food. My garden is only 10 by 20 feet. It’s a postage stamp. I grew so much food there last summer. What food is more local than the food you grow yourself, not to mention the fact that you get all this exercise while you’re gardening.
Q. How does one stop eating edible food-like substances and switch to eating real food? Isn’t it difficult to change?
A. We have more choices now than we’ve ever had. There is organic food at Wal-Mart. The big challenge is that you do have to cook. A lot of us are intimidated by cooking today. We watch cooking shows on TV but we cook very little. We’re turning cooking into a spectator sport. This process of outsourcing our food preparation to large corporations, which is what we’ve been doing the last 50 years, is a big part of our problem. We’re seduced by convenience. You’re going to have to put a little more time and effort into preparing your food. I’m trying to get across how pleasurable that can be. It needn’t be a chore. It can be incredibly rewarding to move food closer to the center of your life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Podcast on JUNO

The "big hit" of the indie film season has been JUNO. Aside from the heartfelt performances, and screenplay, it also elicits the following Podcast commentary, a conversation with Caitlin Flanagan, author of "The Hell With All That", about the movie and teenage pregnancy. Hosted by David Shipley, deputy editorial page editor and Op-Ed editor at the New York Times. http://graphics8.nytimes.com/podcasts/2008/01/15/16oped.mp3

The star, Ellen Page, all of 5'2", who has been acting since she was 10, and who turns 21 in February, plays a teenager who becomes pregnant. Of course, getting pregnant happens the same as it always has, but the umm, outcome, is less predictable.

Page has been nominated for a slew of performance awards along with the film.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Golden Globes, sans spectacle, announces Awards

'Atonement,' 'Sweeney' win Globes
Christie wins best actress, Day-Lewis wins best actor

Two films that twist their genres, the period romance "Atonement" and Tim Burton's adaptation of the murderous musical "Sweeney Todd," were named the top movies of 2007 at the odd and quickly executed 65th annual Golden Globes "ceremony" Sunday.
"Atonement" and "Sweeney" were among four pics receiving two wins each.
"No Country for Old Men" won the screenplay nod for Ethan and Joel Coen and supporting actor for Javier Bardem; "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won for director Julian Schnabel and foreign language film. "Atonement's second win was for Dario Marianelli's score.
Because the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. was unable to make a deal with the striking Writers Guild of America, which would have allowed the Globes to be televised, the usual fanfare associated with the Globes was replaced by a news conference. Award winners were read by television entertainment journalists from the shows "The Insider," CNN's "Showbiz Tonight," E!, "Extra," "Inside Edition" and "Entertainment Tonight." HFPA president Jorge Camara presented the final award of the night.
"Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street" highlighted a musical mood of the evening: Johnny Depp won an acting trophy for portraying Todd; Cate Blanchett was named supporting actress for her portrayal of Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There"; and Marion Cotillard won the musical/comedy actress award for portraying Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose."
Julie Christie, who had not been nominated for a Globe since 1975's "Shampoo," won her first for "Away From Her." Daniel Day-Lewis, who had been nominated four times previously and not won, struck oil in the actor in a drama category for "There Will Be Blood."
The Globes, determined by the 82-member Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., were handed out in 35 minutes at a press conference in the hotel's International Ballroom with no celebrities or recipients on hand.

For the second year in a row, Disney/Pixar was served the animated film award, this time for "Ratatouille."
"Charlie Wilson's War," which received five noms, and "Michael Clayton, which had four, were shut out.
HBO was the TV leader with six wins in the 11 TV categories. Among the film studios, Paramount Vantage and Miramax were involved with four winners each.
Click here for the Golden Globes scorecard.
The winners of the 65th Annual Golden Globe Awards are:
MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA"American Gangster" - Imagine Entertainment/Scott Free Productions; Universal Pictures
WINNER: "Atonement" - Working Title Productions; Focus Features"Eastern Promises" - Kudos Pictures - Uk Serendipity Point Films - Canada A Uk/Canada Co-Production; Focus Features "The Great Debaters" - Harpo Films; The Weinstein Company/MGM"Michael Clayton" - Samuels Media and Castle Rock Entertainment a Mirage Enterprises/Section 8 Production; Warner Bros. Pictures "No Country For Old Men" - A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production; Miramax/Paramount Vantage"There Will Be Blood" - A Joanne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production; Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMACate Blanchett - "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"WINNER: Julie Christie - "Away From Her"Jodie Foster - "The Brave One"Angelina Jolie - "A Mighty Heart"Keira Knightley - "Atonement"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMAGeorge Clooney - "Michael Clayton" WINNER: Daniel Day-Lewis - "There Will Be Blood"James McAvoy - "Atonement" Viggo Mortensen - "Eastern Promises"Denzel Washington - "American Gangster"
MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL"Across The Universe" - Revolution Studios International; Sony Pictures Releasing "Charlie Wilson’s War" - Universal Pictures/Relativity Media/Participant Productions/Playtone; Universal Pictures "Hairspray" - Zadan/Meron Prods./New Line Cinema in association with Ingenious Film Partners; New Line Cinema "Juno" - Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production; Fox Searchlight Pictures WINNER: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" - Parkes/Mac Donald and Zanuck Company; Warner Bros. Pictures
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICALAmy Adams - "Enchanted"Nikki Blonsky - "Hairspray"Helena Bonham Carter - "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"WINNER: Marion Cotillard - "La Vie en rose"Ellen Page - "Juno"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICALWINNER: Johnny Depp - "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"Ryan Gosling - "Lars And The Real Girl" Tom Hanks - "Charlie Wilson’s War" Philip Seymour Hoffman - "The Savages" John C. Reilly - "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM "Bee Movie" - DreamWorks Animation; DreamWorks Animation WINNER: "Ratatouille" - Pixar; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Distribution "The Simpsons Movie" - Gracie Films; Twentieth Century Fox
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM"4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days" (Romania) - Mobra Films; IFC First Take WINNER: "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" (France And USA) - A Kennedy/Marshall Company And Jon Kilik Production; Miramax/Paramount Vantage "The Kite Runner" (USA) - Dreamworks Pictures Sidney Kimmel Entertainment And Paramount Classics Participant Productions Present A Sidney Kimmel Entertainment And Parkes/Macdonald Production Distributed By Paramount Classics "Lust, Caution" (Taiwan) - Haishang Films; Focus Features "Persepolis" (France) - 247 Films; Sony Pictures Classics
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTUREWINNER: Cate Blanchett - "I’m Not There"Julia Roberts - "Charlie Wilson’S War" Saoirse Ronan - "Atonement" Amy Ryan - "Gone Baby Gone" Tilda Swinton - "Michael Clayton"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURECasey Affleck - "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford"WINNER: Javier Bardem - "No Country For Old Men" Philip Seymour Hoffman - "Charlie Wilson’s War"John Travolta - "Hairspray" Tom Wilkinson - "Michael Clayton"
DIRECTOR - MOTION PICTURETim Burton - "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"Ethan Coen & Joel Coen - "No Country For Old Men"WINNER: Julian Schnabel - "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly"Ridley Scott - "American Gangster" Joe Wright - "Atonement"
SCREENPLAY - MOTION PICTUREDiablo Cody - "Juno"WINNER: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen - "No Country For Old Men" Christopher Hampton - "Atonement" Ronald Harwood - "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" Aaron Sorkin - "Charlie Wilson’s War"
ORIGINAL SCORE - MOTION PICTUREMichael Brook, Kaki King, Eddie Vedder - "Into The Wild"Clint Eastwood - "Grace Is Gone"Alberto Iglesias - "The Kite Runner" WINNER: Dario Marianelli - "Atonement"Howard Shore - "Eastern Promises"
ORIGINAL SONG - MOTION PICTURE "Despedida" from "Love In The Time Of Cholera" - Music By: Shakira, Antonio Pinto, Lyrics By: Shakira "Grace Is Gone" from "Grace Is Gone" - Music By: Clint Eastwood, Lyrics By: Carole Bayer Sager WINNER: "Guaranteed" from "Into The Wild" - Music & Lyrics By: Eddie Vedder "That’s How You Know" from "Enchanted"- Music By: Alan Menken, Lyrics By: Stephen Schwartz "Walk Hard" from "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" - Music & Lyrics by: Marshall Crenshaw, John C. Reilly, Judd Apatow, Kasdan

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Top 50 Lost Films of All Time

This is the latest installment in Film Threat’s Top Lost Films, bringing the total list to 50 films. From the silent era into the 1980s, the number of films that either vanished completely or lost key sequences is astonishing.
For the record, among the missing movies are the world’s first feature film, the first Technicolor feature, the first animated feature in both the silent and sound eras, the first werewolf movie, the first appearance by Dracula, the first kaiju film, and movies created by Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Sergei Eisenstein, Ed Wood, Oscar Micheaux and Martin Scorsese.
So here is Film Threat’s Top 50 Lost Films of All Time:
“Arirang” (1926, Korea). Na Un’gyu directed this volatile drama about rural Korean life during the Japanese colonial occupation era. The prints were destroyed during the Korean War; reports of a surviving print in a private Japanese collection remain unconfirmed.
“The Audion” (1922, USA). This animated short film was produced by Western Electric and designed to offer a demonstration of sound-on-disc recording technology. An experimental project not meant for commercial release, it was thrown away after its test screenings were over.
“The Betrayal” (1948, USA). Oscar Micheaux’s last film was a three-hour epic about a taboo love between a wealthy black farmer and a white woman in the wilds of South Dakota (she’s really a light-skinned African-American passing for white). The film was a box office failure and no one bothered to preserve the prints.
“Bezhin Meadow” (1937, USSR). Sergei Eisenstein’s first sound film was shut down after two years of production and the expenditure of one million rubles (no small fee for Stalinist-era cinema). The sole surviving (a workprint, according to some sources) was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid.
“Black Love” (1972, USA) – Horror director Herschell Gordon Lewis, working under the pseudonym R.L. Smith, made his only blaxploitation feature in Chicago, but it is uncertain if it was ever completed or released.
“Brother Martin” (1942, USA). Pioneering African-American filmmaker Spencer Williams directed and starred in this all-black drama about a pious man’s test of faith. All that remains of this film is an elaborate lobby poster.
“Cleopatra” (1917, USA). Theda Bara starred in this extravagant $500,000 budget production. Surviving prints were stored at the Fox Studio vaults in Hollywood and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but were lost when fires broke out at both locations. Only 45 seconds of footage survives.
“A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court” (1921, USA). Harry Myers, best known as the drunken millionaire who befriends Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights,” stars in this adaptation of the Mark Twain classic. Only three of the film’s eight reels are known to survive.
“Drakula halála” (”The Death of Dracula”) (1923, Hungary). Paul Askenas plays a mental asylum inmate who claims to be the celebrated vampire. The film, which introduced the character named Dracula to the screen, does not appear to have been released outside of Hungary. It is among the many Hungarian silent films that vanished.
“El Apastol” (1917, Argentina). The first animated feature was created Italian-born filmmaker Quirino Cristiani, who spoofed the presidency of Argentina’s Hipolito Irigoyen in a 70-minute feature consisting of 58,000 drawings. All known copies were destroyed in a fire in 1926, and only a few character sketches survive.
“The Great Gatsby” (1926, USA). The first film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was actually crafted from a Broadway adaptation written by Owen Davis. Only a one-minute trailer survives.
“The Gulf Between” (1917, USA). The first Technicolor production and the first feature-length American color movie. All that remains are several frames from the long-lost print.
“Hats Off” (1927, USA). Laurel and Hardy deliver a bulky washing machine to a house at the top up a huge flight of stairs in this silent comedy, which was clearly a forerunner to their Oscar-winner “The Music Box.” No print exists.
“Heart Trouble” (1929, USA). Harry Langdon’s last starring role in the silent era was a spoof on military and spy films, but it was barely released and never preserved.
“Hello Pop!” (1933, USA). The Three Stooges and their original straight man, Ted Healy, star in this MGM Technicolor short. No print is known to survive.
“Help!” – The Drama School Scene (1965, UK). The Beatles and British comic legend Frankie Howerd failed to click in this sequence from the Fab Four’s second film, hence its removal from the final cut and its disappearance into the abyss.
“Him” (1974, USA). This X-rated film about a gay man’s homoerotic obsession with the New Testament was detailed in the 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards” by the Medved Brothers – whether they saw the film or just read about it was uncertain. No copy is known it to exist, and only an advertisement from the film’s original New York run has turned up.
“Human Wreckage” (1923, USA). Dorothy Davenport, whose movie star husband Wallace Reid died from morphine addiction, created this harrowing drama of the destructive effects of drug usage on a family. This independent production was a hit in its day, but is lost today.
“Humor Risk” (1920, USA). The first Marx Brothers movie was this two-reel comedy with detective Harpo chasing villain Groucho in a nightclub where Italian bon vivant Chico and playboy Zeppo hang out. The film had at least one screening, but it was considered a disaster and the comic siblings allowed the sole print to be thrown out.
“Her Friend the Bandit” (1914). This Keystone comedy had Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand as its stars and co-director. Originally called “The Italian” and released in Europe as “A Thief Catcher,” the film probably relied on anti-Italian stereotypes for its humor.
“In Holland” (1929). The Broadway comedy team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough starred in a series of early talkies. This spoof on Dutch culture probably deteriorated over the years until it vanished into nitrate goo.
“Life Without Soul” (1915, USA). The second film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” changed the characters’ names (Victor Frankenstein became William Frawley!) and starred Percy Darrell Standing as “the brute man” monster. The film’s producers went out of business and the prints vanished with its creators.
“King Kong Appears in Edo” (1938, Japan). Believed to be the first kaiju film, this unauthorized remake of the RKO classic was believed to be destroyed in the Allied bombings of Japan during World War II.
“Kismet” (1930, USA) – An early widescreen epic starring Broadway legend Otis Skinner in his only sound film. Racy subject matter prevented its re-release after the 1934 Production Code was enforced, and the film was most likely destroyed as having no further commercial value. Only soundtrack disks survive.
“Lock Up Your Daughters” (1959, UK). Reportedly a “quiz film” in which scenes from a number of Bela Lugosi scenes were shown and audience members were encouraged to audibly identify their source, the film was reviewed in the British film trade journal Kinematograph Weekly – but there is no record of the film ever being released and no materials on the film have ever been located.
“Man in the 5th Dimension” (1964, USA). Shot in 70mm Todd-AO, this short film starred Billy Graham talking about the world situation and how salvation could come about through the embrace of the Bible. Designed to be shown at Graham’s pavilion at the 1964 New York’s World Fair, it never played theatrically and has not been seen since.
“The Monkey’s Paw” (1933, USA). The W.W. Jacobs short story was expanded into an hour-long RKO film, although a bizarre happy ending ruined the shock of its climax. Only fragments remain, although reports of a complete print at the UCLA archives are unconfirmed.
“The Mystery of the Mary Celeste” (1936, UK). Bela Lugosi went to London to star in this creepy film, based on a true story, about a ship that is found in the ocean without any person on board. The original 90-minute version is lost, and all that survives is the truncated American release called “Phantom Ship.”
“Naughty Dallas” – The Jack Ruby Footage (1963, USA). Exploitation filmmaker Larry Buchanan was able to shoot a film at the Carousel Club in Dallas on the condition that the joint’s manager, Jack Ruby, get a role in the film. Buchanan reluctantly agreed, but threw away the footage after it was shoot. This was before Ruby did you-know-what in Dallas.
“No, No Nanette” (1930, USA). This early talkie adaptation of the Broadway musical followed the adventures of a Bible salesman whose infatuation for a scatterbrained chorus girl leads him away from Christ’s path to Broadway. Only parts of the soundtrack on Vitaphone discs survive.
“Oklahoma!” – The James Dean Audition. (1954, USA). The 16mm test footage of Dean auditioning for the role of Curly (playing opposite Rod Steiger as Jud) was thrown away after Gordon MacRae was cast in the role.
“Peludópolis” (1931, Argentina). The aforementioned Quirino Cristiani also created the first animated feature with sound, with this political satire. The only known prints of “Peludópolis” were destroyed in a fire in 1961
“Raja Harishchandra” (1913, India). Dhundiraj Govind Phalke’s epic offered a cinematic vision of Hindu gods and goddesses, and the first bathtub scene in Indian movie history (played by men in female garments, since no actress would do this scene). Only fragments remain of this early landmark.
“The Return of Gilbert and Sullivan” (1950, UK). The operetta kings return to Earth to protest the jazz adaptations of their beloved compositions. No print has turned up of this musical romp.
“The Scott Joplin Performance Film” (1904, USA). An experimental early sound film made by Eugene Lauste, this contained the only known footage of the ragtime performer. The experiment was acoustically unsatisfactory and the film was discarded as a failure.
“Space Jockey” (1958, USA). Phil Tucker, creator of “Robot Monster,” had poor feelings for his obscure sci-fi feature, calling it a “piece of shit.” No details on the film can be located anywhere beyond Tucker’s comments, and it is possible the film was probably unfinished and never released.
“September” – The Original Cast (1987, USA). Woody Allen’s ill-fated drama had a troubled history consisting of two versions of the same film. Leading man Christopher Walken was replaced by Sam Shepard after shooting began. The film was completed, but it was so unsatisfactory that is was reshot; Shepard and castmates Charles Durning and Maureen O’Sullivan were replaced by Sam Waterston, Denholm Elliott and Elaine Stritch. The first version has never surfaced.
“Song of the West” (1930). This all-Technicolor musical, based on the Broadway hit “Rainbow” by Oscar Hammerstein II and Laurence Stallings, had the distinction of being the first all-color/all-talking feature to be filmed entirely outdoors. The unstable nature of the early two-color Technicolor prints hastened speedy deterioration of prints.
“The Story of the Kelly Gang” (1906, Australia). The world’s first feature film was this 70-minute Australian production about the rise and fall of Ned Kelly and his fun bunch of Outback rebels. Roughly 10 minutes of this production survive.

“Take it Out in Trade” (1970, USA). The notorious Edward D. Wood Jr. hit career rock bottom in writing and directing this X-rated romp about a couple who hire a detective to find their missing daughter living in a whorehouse. Wood has a supporting role in drag (his character’s name is Alecia), but the film is gone – only silent outtakes survive.
“Taxi Driver” – The original climactic shootout (1976, USA). The MPAA forced Martin Scorsese’s to mute the colors in the film’s original bloody climax. The footage from the original full-color climax was thrown away and never seen again.
“Too Much Johnson” (1938, USA). Three years before “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles shot this silent comedy romp designed to provide a cinematic bridge into his theatrical presentation of the comedy “Too Much Johnson.” The print and negative were destroyed in a 1971 fire at Welles’ Spanish home.
“Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales” (1968, USA). Penelope Spheeris was supposed to make her directing debut in this savage satire of America’s volatile race relations, but star Richard Pryor was unhappy with the film’s progress and halted production. Pryor reportedly ordered the footage to be destroyed, although there are unconfirmed reports that some footage survived.
“Untitled Ed Wynn Film for ‘The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915’” (1915, USA). As part of the hit Broadway show, Ed Wynn dressed like a movie director and stood in the center aisle of the theater while a movie of his fellow castmates played on a screen (W.C. Fields was part of the film). After the show closed, the film was thrown away.

“The Way of All Flesh” (1927, USA). This film has the dubious distinction of being the only lost film to boast an Academy Award-winning performance, with Emil Jannings as a bank clerk who switches identities with a dead robber. Only five minutes of footage survive.
“What a Widow!” (1930, USA). The final collaboration between Gloria Swanson and her producer/lover Joseph P. Kennedy was this unsuccessful comedy about a young woman who suddenly becomes the center of romantic adventurers after she inherits $5 million when her rich old husband croaks. With neither Swanson nor Kennedy keeping track of the film, the prints vanished.
“The Wizard of Oz” – The Jitterbug Number (1939, USA). This single sequence cost $80,000 to produce and five weeks to shoot, but it was removed from the final version of the MGM classic. The soundtrack recording and 16mm home movie footage of the sequence remain.
“The Werewolf” (1913, USA). The first known movie dealing with human-into-wolf transformations has a Navajo witch passing her black magic onto her daughter, who gets wolfish to scare off nasty white settlers. The last known print of the film was destroyed in a fire in 1924.
“A Woman of the Sea” (1926). Charlie Chaplin produced Josef von Sternberg’s drama starring Edna Purviance, the co-star of Chaplin’s classic comedy shorts. The finished film was so bad that it was never released. Chaplin destroyed it in 1933.

“Zudora” (1914, USA). This 20-chapter serial follows the adventures of a young heiress who can gain her inheritance if she solves a series of 20 mysteries. Chapters 1, 2 and 8 are all that remains.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Britain Drops 'War on Terror' Label

The words "war on terror" will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country's chief prosecutor said Dec. 27.Sir Ken Macdonald said terrorist fanatics were not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless "death cult."

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Books Change the World - Here are 12 for 2008

Twelve authors on war and peace, dissent, the environment and the empowerment of the poor provide inspiration to transform the world in 2008.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

9/11 Commission: Obstruction

The bipartisan co-chairmen all but accuse the White House of committing serious felonies in destroying the CIA videos.

read more | digg story

2007 Films in Review Show Plenty of Escapist Fare, Flat Sales

By BROOKS BARNES, NYT
LOS ANGELES — Despite a modest increase in 2007 box office receipts, moviedom is trudging into January with a droop in its shoulders.
Ticket sales at North American movie theaters totaled $9.7 billion, a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to Media by Numbers, a box office tracking company. But attendance was flat, after a narrow increase in 2006 and three previous years of sharp declines. Movie fans bought about 1.42 billion tickets last year, according to Media by Numbers. The high watermark of the last 10 years came in 2002, when moviegoers bought about 1.61 billion tickets.
The results last year were largely driven by expensive sequels like “Spider-Man 3” (the top-grossing film) and “Shrek the Third” (the runner-up), although a handful of expert marketing campaigns turned some oddball entries like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” into bona fide hits. One surefire franchise was born to Paramount and DreamWorks in “Transformers” (which placed third).
Nine of the Top 10 grossing films were science fiction, fantasy or animation. The sole exception (unless you count the mock-historical “300”) was Universal’s action thriller “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which placed sixth with $227 million in domestic ticket sales.
As the movie industry turns its attention to 2008, the dark “No Country for Old Men” is showing box office legs, and one film in particular is already shaping up as a home run. Early results for “Juno,” about a quirky teenager who becomes pregnant, have outpaced those for the indie hits “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
“The critical acclaim and award recognition have magnified the movie,” said Peter Rice, the president of Fox Searchlight, which is distributing “Juno.”
But box office results are always a game of glass half-full and glass half-empty, and the half-empties this time seem more prominent.
DVD sales continue to slump both domestically and abroad. The private money that has washed over Hollywood in recent years is starting to slow, investment bankers say, as more hedge funds go home with little to show. And movie executives are worried about the impending collision between striking screenwriters and the important awards shows.
The strike, now in its ninth week with no new talks scheduled, is starting to weigh more heavily on the movie business over all. Until now, the damage has been mostly confined to television, which operates with a shorter production pipeline. But as the strike drags on, movie executives — and their corporate bosses — are starting to worry about having enough time to put together their mega-movie slates for summer 2009.
At the box office the happy surprises of 2007 were almost all confined to escapist offerings like “The Game Plan,” a Walt Disney release about an N.F.L. quarterback and his young daughter, or sophomoric comedies like “Superbad,” a Sony release from the producer Judd Apatow.
But studios have instead churned out gloomy message movies, and more are on the way, noted Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Media by Numbers.
“There were some great films, but the appetite wasn’t there,” he said. Movies rooted in the Iraq war or terrorism — “In the Valley of Elah,” “Rendition,” “Redacted” — particularly struggled. A glut of serious-minded awards hopefuls canceled one another out. Signs of trouble lurked even during the blockbuster-packed summer, in which ticket sales surpassed the $4 billion mark for the first time. Sequels, with the notable exception of “Bourne,” the third in a series, were generally not well reviewed and sold fewer tickets than their second or first installments.
“Shrek the Third,” “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” all marked low points for these franchises at the domestic box office when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo, another tracking service.
(The studios note that more than half of the ticket sales for each of those titles came from overseas. While there are no reliable independent data for overseas ticket sales, entertainment trade publications estimate that foreign receipts for the six biggest studios increased 9 percent in 2007 over a year earlier, to $9.4 billion.)
Stars did not seem to interest moviegoers, with marquee names playing to empty seats. Angelina Jolie flopped with “A Mighty Heart,” about the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and Nicole Kidman’s career grew chillier with the North American collapse of “The Golden Compass.” Among the men, Tom Cruise struggled to avoid blame for a dead-on-arrival “Lions for Lambs,” and Brad Pitt drew shrugs for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
One big exception: Will Smith cemented his status as a top box office draw — and perhaps the biggest star in the business today — with robust results for “I am Legend,” a Warner Brothers release about a man wandering a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. The picture has sold $195 million in tickets since its Dec. 14 opening, with another $61.3 million coming from overseas, according to Box Office Mojo.
(Denzel Washington also gets credit for helping to turn Universal’s “American Gangster” into a $184 million hit, although he appears to be having a harder time with the just-opened “Great Debaters.”)
Of course results vary by studio, and some are entering 2008 on a high note. Walt Disney, for instance, has played the game better than most.
“Ratatouille” overcame early skepticism about its rat-in-the-kitchen subject to become both a global blockbuster and a critical darling. “Enchanted,” about an animated princess who comes to life, continues to chug away in theaters, and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is a slam dunk. That action film, starring Nicolas Cage, sold $124 million in tickets domestically in its first 10 days of release, according to Box Office Mojo.
Mark Zoradi, president of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, cited a recent decision to focus more intently on the company’s brand as a catalyst for its performance. “The Disney name continues to be enormously successful with audiences,” he said.
Twentieth Century Fox appears to be able to sell just about anything. That studio has set the standard for effective Internet marketing by coming up with ways for fans to personalize messages. “The Simpsons Movie,” with its $526 million in total ticket sales around the world, benefited from Simpsonize Me, a Web promotion (simpsonizeme.com) that allowed visitors to animate pictures of themselves. Fox used a similar promotion to fuel “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”