Monday, June 30, 2008

Waiting for Better

“Waiting For Better”
W B Kek

We touched the moon a dozen times
Before we fell to earth
Where hunger rots the feast of peace
And war is all we’re worth.
It costs ourselves, our children, too,
To keep the fighting stoked.
We burn what graces sins accrue
As death gods we invoke.
“Forget the heights, explore the depths,”
Our battle cry implores.
And yet a glimmer far above us
Calls to distant shores
The best of us, their spark not dead --
Ambitions unfulfilled.
If few respond, at least those few
May justify blood spilled
And leave behind this legacy
Of taunting every fate
In favor of a higher goal.
The worst comes as we wait
For better lives.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Email to a Friend In CA

Trees down everywhere. I can hear chainsaws even as I write this.

We had 125,000 without power, but I think it's down under 50,000 now, perhaps fewer.

My eldest son left the house scoffing at the email warning I had just received. Five minutes later, as I fumbled to send a Text Message to him, he called and said he was turning back and that we should head to the basement. It was blue sky and calm where I stood in our front yard when I got that call.

I was outside to stop my middle son from driving over to pick up his girlfriend. I asked if he'd do it in twenty minutes or so, after the storm blew over. He was going to ignore me when my eldest son called. He then listened to reason and put his Corvette back into the garage.

As he came out of the garage, I stepped up onto the porch and wham, he, just behind me, was pelted by hailstones. It hit instantly, almost without warning, and there were 100 mph winds.

We ducked, my eldest made it back, and he got utterly soaked running from car to house. Meanwhile, my wife was at Jazzercise, and would be en route home soon. She has no cell phone. So I came upstairs to see how bad things were getting when I spotted large branches blocking the street. My middle son saw them too and ran out to clear the street so my wife wouldn't have to.

He was drenched as if he'd gone through a car wash, of course. He said it felt sort of like that, too. We watched him almost be blown over a couple times.

After this we ducked some more in the basement, and once it rolled over, we came up and my wife got home and we began clearing debris.

Two big van loads of debris from our yard alone was taken to the dump site. They had to establish sites all over Omaha and Bellevue for the incredible amount of stuff that was down.

At the top of our street, on the street intersecting it, in two spots, major branches blocked the street from sidewalk to sidewalk.

Cops announced no one should drive the rest of Friday night and into Saturday morning, so the clean-up crews could clear road and emergency crews deal with downed power lines and so on.

We were lucky, no power outage and no damage to vehicles or house, but all around us are damaged roofs, destroyed trees, and some local flooding.

Thank goodness climate instability is just a liberal myth, huh?

Now how about the fires out your way? Any of them affecting you?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Night Brooding

Plonk: In drops the heavy thought that we are gearing up to wind down. My wife and I watched 12 MONKEYS this evening. I'd seen it before but had forgotten how good it is. It struck me that it foreshadows M. Night Shyamalan's THE HAPPENING and CHILDREN OF MEN and 28 DAYS LATER and so on, at least in the foreboding sense of inevitable doom. Apocalyptic themes are not uncommon in movies but those like the ones I mention are films with an eerily prophetic feel.

Time and again plague is cited in such fictions. The Stand by Stephen King is his best-selling book and it's a doorstop about a plague bringing about mankind's end and, with it, the final showdown between Good and Evil. Albert Camu's The Plague, by contrast, comes off, despite its bleakness, as elegantly hopeful.

A sentiment that crops up regularly is that mankind deserves to be wiped out or does not deserve to survive. Our excesses, our cruelties, and our general rampage of indiscriminate destruction are cited, and even brief references to specific examples convince us to nod in agreement.

We feel guilty and crave punishment. We feel ashamed and dive into depression and self-negation, dragging the world with us.

I would argue this is quite a serious theme for popular entertainment. Oh, sure, its okay for writers and directors to get artsy but the fact of us eating up morose works like these speaks of a possible universality underlying the sentiment of approaching and deserved doom

That's why I wonder if we are all sensing something that's really looming.

Of course, history shows me any number of examples of millennialism. Crying doom is a lucrative cottage industry and doomsday is a cult-leader's best spiel. It is even religion's cornerstone in many major cases. Shrinks tell us it's just good old personal mortality being projected into paranoid fantasies and perhaps so, for the most part.

Trouble is, these things have a way of being self-fulfillling prophecies. Cults suicide, wars escalate, and science errs in favor of annihilation. It is not difficult to see where straight-line trends lead. Over population plus antibiotic-resistant diseases multiplied by jet travel equals a dead loss for humanity.

And how soon we forget how close we've come before during, say, the Black Death or the 1918 flu pandemic. Perhaps this creeping dread we all feel is ancestral memory of other end times when only small percentages of populations survived.

What we need to do is fight the sense of inevitability and overcome the inertia that keeps us doing the same suicidally stupid things over and over. Breaking the cycle of pollution, of subjugating nature to our whims rather than trying to live with and within it, and of killing and obliteration wars bring us would go a long way toward proving the doomsayers wrong. Let those terrifying visions of what has almost been and what might very well soon be teach us object lessons. Our own actions can turn these dystopias into mere cautionary tales, if we but heed their warnings.

If this goes on the lights go off for good.

Why not stop the stampede before reaching the cliff's edge?

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, A Review

This is a documentary about his 1977 arrest for statutory rape. It’s new and highly rated, having debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It shows how his arrest was based as much on who and what he was as any possible crime, one he denies. His background is interesting in itself, from his mother murdered by Nazis in Poland, his father’s death-camp internment, and his own abandonment to fend for himself to his rapid rise to celebrity in 1960s London based on his early Polish films, his marriage to Sharon Tate, her murder by the Manson Family, and his dalliance with 13 year old Samantha Geimer that led to his status as an outlaw on the lam.

His supporters, including defense attorney Doug Dalton, maintain it was a set of trumped up charges rather similar to the persecution of Michael Jackson, based on the prosecutors’ view that Roman Polanksi was a decadent Eurotrash sicko steeped in perversion. A Mormon prosecutor was assigned the case and it went to a judge who asked for the case because he liked celebrity cases. Judge Rittenband loved the media and ran his courtroom like a tyrannical director. He had Hollywood pals and attended country club parties. He even kept a scrapbook and took telegrams to reserve seats in at the trial.

Polanksi was short, foreign, and spoke with a heavy accent. He was considered perverse due to his weird movies and veiled background. A malign dwarf, he was called. He riled their anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and anti-European ire while inflaming other, more visceral bigotries, such as success envy.

His trial was scheduled, perversely, for the eighth anniversary of Polanksi’s wife Sharon Tate’s murder. Samantha Geimer, the 13 year old girl who took ‘ludes and allowed herself to be seduced in a hot tub, having been left there with Polanski by her own mother, was called a corrupt little high-school vixen and slutty model wannabe.

The Mormon prosecutor, to find out about Polanski, watched his films at a handy restrospective at a nearby theater. He watched everything from KNIFE IN WATER through ROSEMARY’S BABY and decided all the films had a theme of the corrupt leading the innocent into corruption over water. So he prosecuted on those grounds; that Polanski had lured a 13-year old all-American girl to her moral doom, rape, in a jacuzzi.

No one at the time noticed how surreal this was. Had Roman Raymond Polanski been around in 1947 he might have had the Black Dahlia murder pinned on him.

As it was, Sharon Tate’s death at the hands of the Manson Family was perhaps worse. Polanski was shattered, devastated, and flew from London, where he’d been in talks to direct DAY OF THE DOLPHIN. The papers at once blamed him for the murders, actually claiming he had flown stateside, killed them, then had flown back to London.

Again, no one at the time noticed how surreal this was.

Imagine living through all he had -- the loss of parents in the Holocaust, surviving alone as a preteen in a war-shattered Eastern Europe, the murder of your wife and child and friends by the Manson Family -- without becoming a madman, a drug addict, or a suicide. He dived into society to keep from being alone, one psychologist said, observing how Polanski kept up his social calendar no matter what happened to him. It was his way of staying stable; avoiding too much solitude.

Of course, this led him to earn a reputation as a party animal, one who liked very young girls. He had famously discovered Natassia Kinski when she was 15, affair and all. A psychologist commented that, especially after the loss of his wife, Sharon Tate, and the stability she had offered him, Polanski, a man with no life map, no blueprint for how to live, fell back upon being wary to the point of fear of relationships with adult women.

What ever the case, Samantha Geimer, at 13, was introduced into the social swirl surrounding Roman Polanski, famous director, by her mother, or so the press claimed, and left alone with him as a seduction ploy that was part of a casting couch blackmail scheme. Geimer later testified that she had been nervous after the first photo shoot Polanski conducted for the French edition of VOGUE, when he’d asked her to change in front of him. She said of the incident in the jacuzzi, which took place on 10 March 1977 in Jack Nicholson’s house in Los Angeles, that he had plied her during the shoot with both champagne and quaaludes to relax her and that, once he had her in the water and was pressuring her for sex, she said no several times but finally “gave up on that.” She sounds like a little girl who was pressured for something she was not ready for, caught in a situation she did not know how to escape. Whether it was part of her mother’s plan or not, statutory rape is exactly what it sounds like.

One thinks of Mary Miles Minter, her mother, and the murder of William Desmond Taylor. How dangerous, the fires Polanski seemed to play with and dance among. Is it any wonder that, after ROSEMARY’S BABY, he took on, in the press at least, a Satanic aura?

So, was this a case of tit for tat gone awry? Her mother was an aspiring actress who described herself as “an extra” to Polanski upon first meeting him. Samantha Geimer, grown now, denies it was part of any scheme and considers it just something that happened and that she got over. She is now married with three children and has put the incident behind her. She says it was not what anyone claimed.

Polanski pled guilty to consensual sex with a minor on his lawyer’s advice, based on the fact that no one had been sent to prison on that plea in years. However, the law allowed for a sentence of 6 months to 50 years in a state prison.

The judge ignored a probation psychiatric report saying Polanski was not a degenerate and should not go to prison, and sent him for a 90-day observation period at Chino for a diagnostic study, in order to punish him without allowing him legal room for appeal. The judge then told the attorneys to fake their pleas in court so the press would think it was not worked out in advance. The deal being that, if Polanski got a good report after 90 days, which all expected, then it would end the punishment and he could walk away a free man.

So the lawyers stood in court, faked their arguments, then listened to Judge Rittenband read a lenghty conclusion obviously written ahead of time, all so the media would not lash back at him.

Oh, and Polanski was then granted a 90-day stay so he could finish the movie he was directing.

Polanksi fled the country. Or did he? He was caught at the airport and laughed off suggestions that he would not be back, saying it was a business trip to Europe to talk to his financiers.

A random photographer caught a shot of Polanski in a Oktoberfest tent in Munich sitting between two pretty girls, smoking a cigar, and Judge Rittenband took this as an insult. He issued a growly order for Polanski to return at once to California. All this because no one would hire Polanski except the schlock producer Dino De Laurentis, who had insisted on business drinks in Munich. Absurdity once again stalked Polanski.

Random observation: Polanski sure rode in crap cars more than a few times, back in the 1970s.

He returned stateside and went to the 90-day stint at Chino, where he was afraid the other inmates would get to him and kill him, which they threatened to do to all child molesters. He was kept in protective custody but the danger was real, as others had been killed there in similar circumstances.

Chino authorities on the probation board let him out after 42 days had been served, saying there was no reason to keep him further. Naturally the prosecutor called this a free pass, the press howled for Polanski’s blood, and Judge Rittenband felt personally pressured.

By now the judge could not stand the heat, and announced he was going to go back on his promise to release Polanski after time served at Chino. This was the deal he himself had forced on the attorneys. He literally said a prison sentence must be maintained for the press.

He told the defense attorney that he would sentence Polanski in open court, then, after the press had left, would meet with the attorney in chambers to release Polanski into defense attorney Dalton’s custody. the judge then demanded Polanski sign papers waiving deportation rights.

The lawyer Dalton countered that he wanted a hearing in public so the deal would be on the record and the judge threatened to withdraw the offer.

Neither prosecutor nor defense attorney wanted any part of Judge Rittenband’s plans and the prosecutor told Dalton he would tell anyone at any time what the judge had tried to pull. No one could trust Judge Rittenband now.

Polanski heard about all this, said, “Gentlemen, I’ll be seeing you,” and left the offices. He drove to De Laurentis’s house, where, De Laurentis claims with a twinkle in his eye, “I handed him an envelope with, as I recall, some scripts and notes in it.” Polanski then flew to Paris, France.

He fled an out-of-control judge laying a railroad for him. And France’s extradition laws barred the US from forcing Polanski to return.

When Polanski did not show in court, Judge Rittenband held a press conference on the pending case, which was unprecedented. The defense and prosecution then held a conference announcing all the judge’s machinations, which forced Rittenband out.

Samantha Geimer summed it up well. She said, “the judge was enjoying his publicity and did not care what happened to me or to Mr. Polanski.”

Roman Polanski is 74 and remains wanted stateside.

Recently the two opposing attorneys in the case presented arguments to a new judge, who agreed that, if Polanski came back, he would serve no more time and could clear himself of all charges. He stipulated the hearing would have to be held in public, with TV cameras, no doubt mindful of Rittenband’s secrecy and wishing to avoid all appearances of such deception.

When he learned the hearing that would fulfill his legal obligations to the state of California would be televised, Polanski declined to return, so the case remains unresolved.

Polanski lives in Paris. He speaks six languages, lives a cosmopolitan life of parties and culture, and is one of the most respected directors in movies. France has embraced him, and he has embraced France, his birthplace and his likely final resting place.

ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED (in USA) and DESIRED (in France) is a worthwhile portrait of an interesting man.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Hoodwinked by Hollywood Again

Okay, here's my take.

While watching it, it's fun, but a cartoon. Yes, the Tarzan bit pushed it too far but I found the fridge bit perfect -- for a Bugs Bunny Cartoon. The prairie dogs were irrelevant and overly cutesy -- Lucas at his worst -- but more importantly failed as a set-up for the monkeys, one of dozens of instances of writing chances ignored, dropped, or muffed.

After watching the movie, during what Hitchcock called the Refrigerator Logic period, I realized how abysmal the movie is. It's so badly written as to be inept. There are endless set-ups that never pay off or follow through, the FBI sub-plot being but one glaring example. The entire movie is derivative. I was reminded of THE SIMPSONS and their vicious satire of Lucas, in which his character says at one point: "I feel like writing: Quick! To the video store!"

They have him pegged.

By seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS, we also saw parts of the movies THE AVENGERS, HITHCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, STALLION GATE, TARZAN, AMERICAN TREASURE, X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STARGATE, among others. There was not an original moment in the whole thing unless it was some clumsy attempt at humor or some mistimed, poorly phrased punch line.

As for that fridge, by the way: It was the only thing hurled intact from the site, everything else having been vaporized. Okay, Bugs would have made it work. But no refrigerator is lead-lined. And it wouldn't have mattered had it been. So adding that detail was egregious nonsense that shows how far up their own irreality they are. They're trying to convince us of Wile E. Coyote's pain here.

They pulled back from the third waterfall descent -- absurd, by the way, for its passivity and in the movie solely to set up the eventual thrill ride -- to reveal A FAMOUS WATERFALL IN AFRICA. This would be fine had we been in Africa, but we were in Amazonia; or had they altered it sufficiently with CGI to make it unrecognizable; but instead they relied on viewer ignorance. They'll never know, hee hee.

At the end of the destruction of the huge stone machine / temple ruins protecting the saucer, we see an ocean coming in to flood it. Now, remind me, would you? Exactly which ocean is it that's located at the heart of Amazonia? Don't tell me it's another instance of They'll Never Notice, hee hee... There are a lot of such moments in this movie, showing contempt for the audience and sheer apathy on the part of the film makers.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, by the way, is a huge set of ruins open to the air. This means it's easily visible from the air. And if it's supposed to be on a coast, then even the stone age peoples of 1957 would have found it and cataloged it by now. Here they seem to be using the past as a handy reference meaning Before Anyone Knew Anything, and it's more contempt, or stupidity. Hard to tell which.

The crystal skull used for most of the scenes looked like a molded 2-liter plastic bottle stuffed with crumpled plastic wrap. None of the actors even bothered trying to make it look like it had any heft or weight, as quartz that big sure would have. I was at once reminded of another famous McGuffin, the Maltese Falcon. That was a movie prop you could have crushed some skulls with.

The skull was shown to be magnetic with inert metals, but only when convenient. Other times, nothing. And it was never as wildly magnetic as the one in the hangar. Nor were the skeletons. And please note, the one in the hangar attracted iron, not other metals, according to Indy's dialogue. Despite this, aluminum dog-tags were shown being drawn to it -- and dog tags weren't worn by Russians... and later the skull attracts gold and other non-ferrous metals... and... why bother?

This plot device, this set-up, is yet another in a long chain that adds up to nothing and has no follow-through, or consequences. It's as if Indiana Jones could survive an atomic blast without so much as a bruise or scratch...

And some of the action scenes drew on so long I wondered if they weren't filler. Their absurdity had time to sink in, too: Why stop and fight it out when you can keep fighting and drive headlong at high speeds blindly through uncharted jungle along the side of a cliff? Talk about stacking the deck. Where were the flying dinosaurs? Well, there were monkeys... which were to reference the greasers from the soda shop fight earlier... but which did not because of ineptitude and a breathless rush to get to a piece of schtick that Johnny Weismuller would have refused to bother with.

At the end of the movie the torch is almost passed, then snatched back, as if Harrison Ford, knowing he doesn't have another Indiana Jones film in him, can't stand to see anyone else play the character while he's still alive. Either that, or he was doing Shia LeBeouf a huge favor and saving him from a fate worse than typecasting.

Altogether, it was a pretty concoction of mindless ideas woven into a very loose hugger-mugger plot. If I watched it again it would be too preposterous for me to enjoy and I'd end up taking it apart piecemeal.

Ultimate take on it? Wasn't worth the money it cost us to see it. Typical Hollywood post-literate cheat and knockoff. And I so wanted to like it, too. And yes, I understand it's supposed to echo the 1930s cliffhanger serials. Sad part is, it does, in all the wrong ways. Sorry Steven & George, you guys have both had it.

Churlish bastard, aren't I?

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Veggie Burgers, Anyone?

I write vegetarian in a carnivorous world.

Editors want meat and they’re suspicious of anything else.

They might like what I write but are not prone to try it.

Getting them to try it is difficult. Some refuse outright.

Even if they like it they wonder if there is enough protein to sustain them and reject it anyway. Good, but no, they tell me.

I won’t be on their menu. I’m not on their shopping list. I am barey on their radar.

Some simply don’t understand what I write. Where’s the meat? they demand. Its lack baffles them.

Others are angered as if I’m trying to fool or poison them.

None of this is a choice. I write what I am and tell what truths I can see.

My veggie burgers aren’t going over well and won’t until there are more like me. Or until I can better find them.

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