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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Didn't Know Anything About Žižek

I didn't know anything about Slavoj Žižek. My son gave me some info. I read a couple of years ago a book about Post-Marxism (Rupert Woodfin: Introducing Marxism). I made then some notes, both in English and Romanian, as I found more convenient. Here they are:

De la respingerea absolutizarii determinismului economic pana la respingerea absolutizarii claselor

Antonio Gramsci - Hegemonie: controlul ideologiei - transformarea ideologiei in cultura.

1. Agreement from the majority of a society for the picture of life that is represented by those in power
2. The values, both moral and political, involved in this agreement will be largely those of the rulling class
3. The ideology comes to be seen as evident "commonsense" by the majority of people. It becomes natural to think like that
4. The consent is arrived at largely peacefully, but physical force can be used to support it against a dissident minority, so long that the majority acquiesce

Scoala de la Frankfurt (Teoria critica) - rolul mass-mediei in controlul ideologiei:

1. Theodor Adorno, filosof, sociolog, muzicolog
2. Walter Benjamin, eseist, critid literar
3. Herbert Marcuse, filosof
4. Max Horkheimer, filosof, sociolog
5. Jürgen Habermas, filosof, sociolog

Louis Althusser - Antiumanism: in locul umanismului structuralism, mai bine zis in locul explicatiei bazate pe esenta umana - structuri sociale
El respinge esentialismul marxist. Esentialism = reducerea la un principiu esential. Gagiul respinge esentialismul economic si pe cel uman. In locul esentei umane trebuie sa consideram structuri care isi impun ideologiile (biserica, legi, scoala autonome totusi fata de sistemul capitalist). Deci suntem conditionati nu de natura noastra ci de ideologiile structurilor. Pasul de la raul unic (capitalismul odios cu instrumentele sale) la structuri autonome

merge mai departe si in loc de ideologii impuse de structuri prin mass-media ne vorbeste de limbaje - realitatea o percepem nu prin idei ci prin cuvinte (al caror inteles evolueaza in timp si depinde de interesele de moment ale grupului si nu ale structurii) organizate in discursuri (narari) - nu avem de a face cu ideologii, ci cu discursuri (narari, povestiri) - si nu structuri oarecum fixe (biserica, scoala, etc) ci cu grupuri

Ludwig Wittgenstein, logician: Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent

Jacques Lacan, psihanalist: There is no person at all. Language actually constitutes consciousness.

Jacques Derrida, filosof: The postmodern person is the text and the narratives
Derrida il combate pe Fukuyama (autorul lui The End of History and the Last Man) ca si pe Marx si Hegel nu exista punct final in istorie pt. ca nu exista istorie ci limbaj si pt. ca antagonismele si conflictele apar mereu

Ernesto Laclau si doamna Chantal Mouffe
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics
1. Socialism does not work and neither does any other grand narrative. The ideologies associated with them are always false.
2. Classes are degenerating and disappearing and attempts to explain things in terms of them are reductionist and wrong. There are many other significant sources of identity and conflict, such as gender, ethnicity, sexual preference.
3. The state as such is always dangerous and cannot deliver effective social welfare: this can only be done by civil society,
4. Any form of central planning is inefficient and tends to corruption; market is the only mechanism which allows for fair distribution.
5. The old left approach to politics always ends in authoritarian regimes which crush civil society. Politics should exist only at the local level, with local struggles over local issues.
6. Conflicts (antagonisms) are inevitable and some may be resolved, this merely transforms and clears the ground for further, newer antagonisms. An overview of all conflicts and their eventual resolution is impossibls. All we can have are understandings of particular situations at particular moments.
7. This is a good thing, since the resolution of all conflicts would result in a stale, rigid society. An ideal would be a pluralist democracy providing a stable framework for many local conflicts.
8. Revolutions either cannot happen or end badly. The alternative is democratic transition
9. Solidarity can exist within and across a range of different groups, it is a humanitarian gesture. A belief in class solidarity as the only valid form of solidarity is harmful to this process.
10. In an interdependent, globalized world, anti-imperialism has had its day. The world is too complex.

What I would like to add, a small note: it seems to me that the guys outlined the importance of culture: the control over culture is as important as the control over economy. Each one is a forcing drive for the other. As Gramsci was preoccupied by popular culture (I remember I have read long time ago about his appreciation of detective novels), it was interesting to find out that Žižek nowadays makes use of the works of Lacan in a new reading of popular culture.

And a note about Derrida. It's interesting for me, there is no history, only language. Language as our tool to create our illusions. Well, I divagate, thinking at the Apu Trilogy, or at all I know about Oriental philosophies (or all I think I know about), and it's far from Post-Marxism :)

Zoon Politikon)

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Krugman- the Opposition from the Left

Obama policies are opposed from the right by the GOP folks, as expected. There is also opposition from the left: the porte-parole is Paul Krugman, the guy who gives Nobel headaches to the president. Actually I think the left gives much more problems to Obama, because it's in his own house, so to speak, and it's harder to fight with.

Here is an article by Evan Thomas, from Newsweek:

Traditionally, punditry in Washington has been a cozy business. To get the inside scoop, big-time columnists sometimes befriend top policymakers and offer informal advice over lunch or drinks. Naturally, lines can blur. The most noted pundit of mid-20th-century Washington, Walter Lippmann, was known to help a president write a speech—and then to write a newspaper column praising the speech.

Paul Krugman has all the credentials of a ranking member of the East Coast liberal establishment: a column in The New York Times, a professorship at Princeton, a Nobel Prize in economics. He is the type you might expect to find holding forth at a Georgetown cocktail party or chumming around in the White House Mess of a Democratic administration. But in his published opinions, and perhaps in his very being, he is anti-establishment. Though he was a scourge of the Bush administration, he has been critical, if not hostile, to the Obama White House.

In his twice-a-week column and his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, he criticizes the Obamaites for trying to prop up a financial system that he regards as essentially a dead man walking. In conversation, he portrays Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other top officials as, in effect,
tools of Wall Street (a ridiculous charge, say Geithner defenders). These men and women have no venality, Krugman hastened to say in an interview with NEWSWEEK. But they are suffering from osmosis, from simply spending too much time around investment bankers and the like. In his Times column the day Geithner announced the details of the administration's bank-rescue plan, Krugman described his despair that Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they're doing. It's as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street.

If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading
Krugman makes you uneasy. You hope he's wrong, and you sense he's being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see. By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence, as Liaquat Ahamed has shown in Lords of Finance, his new book about the folly of central bankers before the Great Depression, and David Halberstam revealed in his Vietnam War classic, The Best and the Brightest. Krugman may be exaggerating the decay of the financial system or the devotion of Obama's team to preserving it. But what if he's right, or part right? What if President Obama is squandering his only chance to step in and nationalize—well, maybe not nationalize, that loaded word—but restructure the banks before they collapse altogether?

Obama White House is careful not to provoke the wrath of Krugman any more than necessary. Treasury officials go out of their way to praise him by name (while also decrying the bank-rescue prescriptions of him and his ilk as deeply impractical). But the administration does not seek to cultivate him. Obama aides have invited commentators of all persuasions to the White House for some off-the-record stroking; in February, after Krugman's fellow Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote a critical column accusing Obama of overreaching, Brooks, a moderate Republican, was cajoled by three different aides and by the president himself, who just happened to drop by. But, says Krugman, the White House has done very little by way of serious outreach. I've never met Obama. He pronounced my name wrong — when, at a press conference, the president, with a slight note of irritation in his voice, invited Krugman (pronounced with an oo, not an uh sound) to offer a better plan for fixing the banking system.

It's possible that
Krugman is a little wounded by this high-level disregard, and he said he felt sorry about criticizing officials whom he regards as friends, like White House Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer. But he didn't seem all that sorry.

Krugman is having his 15 minutes and enjoying it, although at moments, as I followed him around last week, he seemed a little overwhelmed. He is an unusual mix, at once nervous, shy, sweet and fiercely sure of himself. He enjoys his outsider's power: No one has as big a megaphone as I have, he says. Aside from the world going to hell, it's great. He is in much demand on the talk-show circuit: PBS's The News Hour and Charlie Rose on Monday last week, ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday. Someone has even cut a rock video on YouTube: Hey, Paul Krugman, why aren't you in the administration? A singer croons, Hey, Paul Krugman, where the hell are you, man? We need you on the front lines, not just writing for The New York Times. (And the cruel chorus: All we hear [from Geithner] is blah, blah, blah.)

Krugman is not likely to show up in an administration job in part because he has a noble—but not government-career-enhancing—history of speaking truth to power. With dry humor, he once told a friend the story of attending an economic summit in Little Rock after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. As the friend recounted the story to NEWSWEEK, Clinton asked Paul, 'Can we have a balanced budget and health-care reform?'—essentially, can we have it all? And Paul said, 'No, you have to be disciplined. You have to make choices.' Then Paul says to me (deadpan), 'That was the wrong answer. Then Clinton turns to Laura Tyson and asks the same questions, and she says, Yes, it's all possible, you have your cake and eat it too.' And then [Paul] says, 'That was the right answer'. (Tyson became chairman of Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers; she did not respond to requests to comment.) Krugman confirmed the story to NEWSWEEK with a smile. I'm more tolerant now, he says. But at the time, he was bitter that he was kept out of the Clinton administration.

Krugman has a bit of a reputation for settling scores. He doesn't suffer fools. He doesn't like hauteur in any shape or form. He doesn't like to be f––ked with, says his friend and colleague Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz. He's not a Jim Baker; he's not that kind of Princeton, says Wilentz, referring to the ur-establishment operator who was Reagan's secretary of the Treasury and George H.W. Bush's secretary of state. But Wilentz went on to say that Krugman is not a prima donna, he wears his fame lightly, and that Krugman is not resented among his academic colleagues, who can be a jealous lot. Krugman's fellow geniuses sometimes tease him or intentionally provoke his wrath. At an economic conference in Tokyo in 1994, Krugman spent so much time berating others that his friends purposely started telling him things that they knew weren't true, just to see him get riled up. He fell for it every time, said a journalist who was there but asked not to be identified so she could speak candidly. You'd think that eventually, he would say, 'Oh, come on, you're just jerking my chain'. Krugman says he doesn't recall the incident, but says it's possible.

Born of poor Russian-immigrant stock, raised in a small suburban house on middle-class Long Island,
Krugman, 56, has never pretended to be in the cool crowd. Taunted in school as a nerd, he came home one day with a bloody nose—but told his parents to stay out of it, he would take care of himself. He was so shy as a child that I'm shocked at the way he turned out, says his mother, Anita. Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the Foundation series—It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, 'See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism'.

His Yale was
not George Bush's Yale, he says—no boola-boola, no frats or secret societies, rather drinking coffee in the Economics Department lounge. Social science, he says, offered the promise of what he dreamed of in science fiction—the beauty of pushing a button to solve problems. Sometimes there really are simple solutions: you really can have a grand idea.

Searching for his own grand idea (his model and hero is John Maynard Keynes)
Krugman became one of the top economists in the country before he turned 30. He took a job on the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration at the age of 29. His colleague and rival was another brilliant young economist named Larry Summers. The two share a kind of edgy braininess, but they took different career paths—Summers as an inside player, working his way up to become Treasury secretary under Clinton and president of Harvard, then Obama's chief economic adviser. Krugman preferred to stay in the world of ideas, as an irresponsible academic, he puts it, half jokingly, teaching at Yale, MIT, Stanford and Princeton. In 1999 he almost turned down the extraordinary opportunity to become the economic op-ed columnist for The New York Times. He was afraid that if he became a mere popularizer he'd blow his shot at a Nobel Prize.

Last October, he won his
Nobel. Most economists interviewed by NEWSWEEK agreed that he richly deserved it for his pathbreaking work on global trade—his discovery that traditional theories of comparative advantage between nations often do not work in practice. He was stepping into the shower at a hotel when his cell phone rang with the news that he had achieved his life's ambition. At first, he thought the call might be a hoax. His wife Robin's reaction, once the initial thrill wore off, was, Paul, you don't have time for this. He is, to be sure, insanely busy, producing two columns a week, teaching two courses and still writing books (his latest is The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008). He posts to his blog as many as six times a day. Last Thursday morning, he was gleeful because he was able to thump a blogger who insisted, wrongly, that Keynes did not use much math in his work.

In class that day, discussing global currency exchange with a score of undergraduates, he was gentle, bemused, a little absent-minded, occasionally cracking mordant jokes (on trade with China:
They give us poisoned products, we give them worthless paper). He says he plans to reduce his teaching load a little, and his colleagues say his best academic work is behind him. His academic career culminated with him winning the prize, says his Princeton colleague and friend Gene Grossman. He's not that engaged anymore with academic research. He has a public career now. That's what he views as his main avocation now—as a public intellectual.

He has made enemies in the economics community.
He's become more and more outspoken. A lot of what he says is wrong and not considered, says Daniel Klein, professor of economics at George Mason University. A longtime mentor, MIT Nobel laureate Robert Solow, who taught Krugman as a grad student, remembers him as very unassertive, mild-mannered. One thing he still has is a smile that plays around his face when he's talking, almost like he's looking at himself and thinking, 'What am I doing here?' But, Solow added, when he started writing his column, his personality adapted to it.

Academic life, bolstered by book and lecture fees, has been lucrative and comfortable.
Krugman and Robin (his second wife; he has no children) live in a lovely custom-built wood, stone and glass house by a brook in bucolic Princeton. Krugman pointed out that unlike some earlier Nobel Prize winners, he has not asked for a better parking place on campus. (He was not kidding.)

Arriving at
the Times just before Bush's election in 2000, he was soon writing about politics and national security as well as economics, sharply attacking the Bush administration for invading Iraq. Someone at the TimesKrugman won't say who—told him to tone it down a bit and stick to what he knew. I made them nervous, he says. In 2005, Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent wrote, Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Krugman says that Okrent caved to the criticism of conservative ideologues who were out to get him. (I tried to be an honest broker, says Okrent. But when someone challenged Krugman on the facts, he tended to question the motivation and ignore the substance.) It's true that during the Bush era Krugman was the target of cranks and kooks, but it is also true that in areas outside his expertise he sometimes gets his facts wrong (his record has improved lately). Krugman is unrepentant about his Bush bashing. I was more right in 2001 than anyone in the pundit class, he says.

Krugman is a European Social Democrat. Brought up to worship the New Deal, he says, I am not overflowing with human compassion. It's more of an intellectual thing. I don't buy that selfishness is always good. That doesn't fit the way the world works. Krugman is particularly passionate about the growing gap between rich and poor. Last week he raced down to Washington to testify on the subject before the House Appropriations Committee. In the 2008 election, Krugman first leaned toward populist John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton. Obama offered a weak health-care plan, he explains, and he had a postpartisan shtik, which I thought was naive.

Krugman generally applauds Obama's efforts to tax the rich in his budget and try for massive health-care reform. On the all-important questions of the financial system, he says he has not given up on the White House's seeing the merits of his argument—that the government must guarantee the liabilities of all the nation's banks and nationalize the big zombie banks—and do it fast. The public wants to trust Obama, Krugman says. This is still Bush's crisis. But if they wait, Obama will be blamed for a fair share of the problem.

Obama administration officials are dismissive of Krugman's arguments, although not on the record. One official made the point that pundits can have a 60 percent chance of being right—and just go for it. They have nothing to lose but readers, and Krugman's many fans have routinely forgiven his wrong calls. The government does not have the luxury of guessing wrong. If Obama miscalculates, he could truly crash the stock market and drive the economy into depression. Krugman's suggestion that the government could take over the banking system is deeply impractical, Obama aides say. Krugman points to the example of Sweden, which nationalized its banks in the 1990s. But Sweden is tiny. The United States, with 8,000 banks, has a vastly more complex financial system. What's more, the federal government does not have anywhere near the manpower or resources to take over the banking system.

Krugman swats away these arguments, though he acknowledges he's not a detail man. He believes he is fighting a philosophical battle against the plutocrats and money-changers. Although he thinks Geithner has been captured by Wall Street, he has hope for Summers. I have a strong suspicion that if Larry was on the outside and I was on the inside, we'd be reversing roles, he says, but adds, Well, not entirely. Larry has more faith in markets. I'm more of an interventionist.

Last week
Krugman and Summers were playing phone tag. (It doesn't necessarily mean that much, says Krugman. We've known each other all our adult lives. Summers initiated the call; Krugman suspects he wanted to talk him through the administration's plan.) In Friday's column, Krugman tweaked Summers directly for his faith in markets, though he grudgingly gave the Obamaites credit for calling for extensive regulation of the financial world. Krugman thinks that Obama needs some kind of wise man to advise him and mentions Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman who tamed inflation for Reagan and now heads an advisory panel for Obama. How about Krugman himself for that role? I'm not a backroom kind of guy, he says, schlumped over in his Princeton office, which overflows with unopened mail. He describes himself as a born pessimist and a natural rebel. But he adds, What I have is a voice. That he does.

Zoon Politikon)

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge

Hou Hsiao-Hsien is the darling of French movie elite. They discovered him at the beginning of the nineties (when he already had behind him a decade of masterpieces, known only in Taiwan). Since then, French connaiseurs remained constant in keeping Hou in the top of preferences. Jean-Michel Frodon and Olivier Assayas explained well the phenomenon in their monograph.

So, after Hou made in 2003 the movie about Tokyo (Café Lumière), it was expected he would be invited to make also a movie about Paris.

I watched Hou in several interviews: he speaks only Chinese (and anyway all his movies up to Café Lumière were about Taiwan and a little bit about mainland China). So the Taiwanese Maestro took a systematic approach: he bought a book speaking about Paris and learned that Parisian fast-foods have flippers (i.e. pinball machines), and that in Jardin du Luxembourg the carousel has little rings the children catch on sticks as they ride around (just for connaisseurs: the book is Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik).

Hou also got from his Parisian friends a DVD with a French movie from 1956, just to understand a bit the spirit of the place. The movie was Le Ballon Rouge of Albert Lamorisse. Fortunate choice, as this gave Hou the idea to make Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge: a movie that is very Parisian as it is very Chinese (in its finesse of depicting the magic of Paris); magic details ignored by Parisians (though they see them everyday).

Is it such a thing as the magic of Paris? And, if so, where is it to be found today? To find the answer, Hou chose to remain a Chinese in Paris, and to look for the spirit of the city from inside his Chinese spirit.

There is no real plot in the movie (which couldn't be a surprise for Hou fans): a woman (Juliette Binoche) is working in a Parisian puppet theater (specialized in Chinese puppetry); she has a son of about eight or nine (Simon Iteanu); the mother hires a nanny, a Chinese film student who's studying in Paris (Fang Song); the mother is busy and nervous; the kid is a dreamer who enjoys playing at the flippers and is befriended by a red balloon, floating quietly over the streets and houses and following the boy on his strolls; the nanny is a dreamer too, who's trying to catch with her camera that je ne sais quoi of the Parisian street.

Well, the nanny has the sudden revelation that the je ne sais quoi she's looking for can be found inside the universe of the little boy.

And this way the Chinese film student (and watching her behind the camera, Hou Hsiao-Hsien himself) discovers the magic of streets, of small theaters and small apartments in the attics, and the discovery is for us: it is the Paris where small kids will dream always, having red balloons as companions, the Paris of dreamers of all ages and of balloons of all colors floating freely and befriending the kids; the Paris of Lamorisse and Hou. Thank you, Taiwanese Maestro!

(Hou Hsiao-Hsien)

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Maya Lin and Her Systematic Landscapes

When the competition for the design of Vietnam Veterans Memorial was won by a 21 years old undergraduate student, people were surprised. More than that, Maya Lin was of Chinese origin (which was not as common as today): her parents had come to America in 1949, she was born in 1959.

The surprise went much bigger when the people saw the Memorial. The minimalist approach was shocking, as everybody was used with the traditional monuments. Some felt so shocked that another artist (Frederick Hart) was asked to complete the whole with a statuary group.

Since then years passed and people got more and more used with non-traditional ways of art. Today the Vietnam Memorial is a venerated landmark.

What happened with Maya Lin after that? In a way, creating a famous monument when you are 21 turns against you: it is difficult to remain at the same level afterwards, and you become the prisoner of your fame.

Maya Lin became passionate by Land Art, which was fortunate: large surfaces are ideal for generous installations, earth becomes a large sculpture and the artist is free this way to create her or his own Nazca Lines.

An exhibition of Maya Lin is open at the Corcoran. I was tere yesterday and I had in mind to record a video. Unfortunately it was not allowed, so I captured from the web some images.

(Contemporary Art)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rodin at Corcoran

Auguste Rodin - Paolo and Francesca, 1909


I Was Today at the Corcoran

I was today again at the Corcoran, to see the exhibition of Maya Lin (I will reserve for her a special post).

Her exhibition was beneath the Rotonda, that was occupied by some American moderns. The sculpture of Rob Fisher was in the middle.: They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Do you remember the movie? One of the most impressive that I have seen in that epoch.

Rob Fisher (b. 1968) - They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
steel, mirror, paint and glassbulb

Well, years have passed since then, and I was trying now to find a link between the sculpture and the movie. Probably the connection is loose; the abstract sculpture suggests by its sides pulled apart the ultimate fragility of life, and invites, through its reflecting mirrors, to think at ourseleves, at our ultimate destiny.

I decided then to shoot a painting by Hughie Lee-Smith: it had an implicit dramatism.

Hughie Lee-Smith (1913-1999) - Reflection, 1057
oil on particle board

In another room I discovered the famous figurines made by Daumier. I know them from reproductions, since I was a child. The Corcoran is full of Daumier's works, some serious paintings, along with all kind of political cartoons. As for these Bustes des Parlementaires. I think they were brought here from the National Gallery of Art.

Honoré-Victorin Daumier - Les Bustes des Parlementaires
(close up)

I wanted also to take o picture of this wonderful clock. I saw it each time I was at the Corcoran. It is here a fine mix of modern and classic.

Chariot of the Harvest, c. 1800
case: unknown French
clock: Noël Bourret, c. 1755-1803

And what else? A very small space dedicated to small sculptures, made by contemporary artists: half of them trying to suggest some kind of antique; the other half, well, contemporary :)

Then Joey P. Mánlapaz, Through the Looking Glass, a refreshing rendering of the Adams Morgan:


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Oshima, First Encounter, Night of the Killer

Muri Shinju: Nihon No Natsu (Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, aka Night of the Killer), made in 1967 by Oshima. His famous movies would follow, and I hope I will be able to see some of them in April: there is an Oshima each weekend at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring.

It was my first encounter with Oshima and with a movie from the Japanese New Wave. I had read some insightful info in the monograph of Tom Vick (Asian Cinema). I will crystallize my ideas after watching several movies.

Some words about this one, the Night of the Killer: it called into my mind the first movies of Jarmusch (the kind of Stranger Than Paradise), however it's another animal; it is programatically against any value: any Japanese taboo, any Japanese myth, any concept of cinematic art; it's an anti-movie with an anti-plot, by an anti-author. A girl is looking for sex (well, it happens, you know), all males are jerks, so sex cannot be. And gangsters are the number one jerks (this is a movie with gangsters and there are a lot of Japanese movies cultivating the myth of the gangster, black dramas - here is a black comedy: gangsters are just cheap guys good of nothing, crazy violent impotent idiots; they think they're killers, actually they are not, they are too impotent to kill - however in the end some of them kill here and there, just to contradict even the logic of Oshima - as I said, he is an anti-author, whatever that means).

Kathie Smith has a very good chronicle about this movie in her blog.

(Japanese New Wave)

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Watergate in the Mist

(Stories from Key Bridge)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ghosts, by Matt

(video by Matt)

As always, Matt is amazing, able to create here a mysterious whole. Maybe a bit too cherché, though.

(Vlog of Mattie)


Let's Meet Shôhei Imamura - Endless Desire (1958)

Shôhei Imamura spent his youth in the middle of small-time hoodlums and prostitutes at a time when black market was rampant (Guy Bellinger). It was during the war. So he came in the movie world with a harsh school of life. Together with Oshima and Shinoda he belongs to the Japanese New Wave (hopefully I will be able to make it this Sunday at Silver Spring AFI Theatre, to see a move by Oshima).

What defines the style of Imamura? First of all, he's Anti-Ozu: he focuses on the lower classes, with characters who range from bovine housewives to shamans, and from producers of blue movies to troupes of third-rate traveling actors; he has proven himself unafraid to explore themes usually considered taboo, particularly those of incest and superstition (Daniel Yates).

Endless Desire (Hateshinaki Yokubo), made by Imamura in 1958: on the tenth anniversary of Japan's WWII surrender, a motley group of five gathers in the basement of a butcher shop to dig up a cache of morphine buried during the war (AsianVirusNet quoting maple2).

(Japanese New Wave)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is US a MetroNation?

Carlos Lozada in W.Post:
With all the despair over the American economy's disappearing jobs and plummeting growth, here's mind bender for you: There is no U.S. economy. The national economy, as we traditionally think of it, is a myth. A fake. Over.
So contend Bruce Katz, Mark Muro and Jennifer Bradley in the latest issue of the journal Democracy. The United States is not a single unified economy, they say, nor even a breakdown of 50 state economies. Instead, the country's 100 largest metropolitan regions are the real drivers of economic activity, generating two-thirds of the nation's jobs and three-quarters of its output. The sooner we reorient federal economic policies to support this MetroNation, the quicker we can fix the mess we're in.
America can no longer pretend that it is a single economy, nor can it imagine that it is a nation of independent, small towns, punctuated by large but isolated urban centers, the Brookings Institution scholars argue. It must embrace its metropolitan future.
The authors criticize one-size-fits-all federal rules -- on everything from transportation infrastructure policy to workforce training programs -- that stifle the creativity of metro areas and hamper their ability to tailor growth and development efforts to local needs.
But before trying to rework the relationship between the states and Washington, step one may be rethinking what we should even call these places. The California economy is really the San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego-San Jose economy, with those metro areas making up 72 percent of the state's GDP. And Chicago is not Chicago, but the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI region, the authors write, almost apologetically. Unwieldy as they may be, these bureaucratic handles encode the boundary-jumping, state-spanning, increasingly complex reach of metropolitan life.
Unwieldy puts it mildly. But if we can have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, why not the Naperville-Joliet Cubs of Greater Chicagoland? Hey, whatever breaks the curse

Zoon Politikon)

Malian Music

I like the videos of this guy, with the pen-name fiestasiestaman - he is a Czech, and, it seems to me, full of humor and of joy of life. All with that splendid touch Bohemian style always brings.

(Musica Nova)

Fareed Zakaria: I'm Worried About Trade

Fareed ZakariaFareed Zakaria in Newsweek:

I'm certainly not going to defend those AIG bonuses. But the trouble with populist outrage is that it bubbles over, sweeping from one justifiable issue across to many others. Waves of populism are now working their way through the American government on several fronts. The area I'm most worried about is trade, where populism leads to protectionism. The scandal of the moment, the bailout bonuses, will pass; in a year or two (one hopes) the U.S. government will no longer own banks and insurance companies. But protectionism and trade wars, once started, are hard to reverse.

This might sound alarmist. Free traders like myself are often accused of overstating the dangers to free trade. But in a report released last week, the World Bank has gathered some disturbing facts. Since the financial crisis began, countries around the world have proposed or implemented 78 trade measures. Of these, 66 turn out to be new restrictions on trade. For example, Russia raised tariffs on used autos; China has banned outright various European goods (Irish pork, Italian brandy, British sauces and some Belgian chocolates, if you're wondering). India has banned Chinese toys.

Rich countries tend not to raise tariffs, because they do protectionism another way: by subsidizing domestic companies. We are in the midst of the greatest orgy of subsidization for inefficient corporations in decades. Take the auto industry. The U.S. government's direct subsidies to Detroit since the crisis began are $17.4 billion. Canada, France, Germany, Britain and Sweden have also announced transfers to their companies. In total, worldwide governments are providing $48 billion in direct subsidies to carmakers. And then there are agricultural subsidies, which are set to rise as the price of food falls. In America, this means an additional $1.8 billion for agrobusiness this year. The lion's share of money, of course, has gone to subsidize banks and financial companies. This may be a necessary emergency measure, but the reality is that Western governments are subsidizing their banks in what was meant to be a competitive global market. The fiscal-stimulus packages across the world are all, in large measure, what were once called
non-tariff barriers to trade because they are—almost by definition—subsidies to inefficient companies.

Every action by one government is producing a countermove by another, in a classic and depressingly predictable spiral. The United States shuts down a pilot program allowing a few Mexican trucks into the United States to deliver their goods—so Mexico, justifiably and legally, imposes duties on a number of American goods. The House puts a
buy American clause into the stimulus package, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations explains that its own "buy local" provisions are a justified response to Washington's measures. Buy American sounds great, except if Germany puts in a buy German provision and France a buy French one. Then who will buy American exports—which are the only part of the U.S. economy that has been growing for the past year?

Take the steel industry. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that the
buy American provision will result in an increased domestic production of about 0.5 million metric tons of steel every year. Unfortunately, steel is a highly mechanized industry, as are most manufacturing industries in the United States. The boost in production will translate into 1,000 jobs, which in a labor force of 140 million is insignificant. America's steel industry exports 9 million metric tons of steel every year. Even if 1 percent of those exports were lost because of retaliation by other countries—a very conservative assumption—that would result in 6,500 jobs being lost in the same industry. In an extreme case that 10 percent of those exports are lost, the authors of the study write, as many as 65,000 jobs could vanish. So we save 1,000 jobs and lose 65,000.

We seem to have forgotten that we are in a new world. Many countries are empowered and will flex their muscles if we flex ours. And the collective effect of this muscle-flexing is the first real retreat from globalization in 25 years—a period in which global GDP doubled and trade increased by 7.5 times—and the first sustained contraction of the global economy since the Second World War

Zoon Politikon)


Imam Maleki - Words Are Useless

Imam Maleki - here he is - words are useless.

(Contemporary Art)


The Hours of Thu Nguyen

(Contemporary Art)


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Dreams of Max

Max Tzinman - Dreams, 2004

Image and Imagination

(Contemporary Art)

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The Rockledge

Alexandria, Northern Virgina. The Rockledge is playing on the waterfront. Weather is fine, people are happy, kids are enthusiast. Life is good:)


The Five Most Important Books for Eric Kraft

Eric Kraft, author of The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences and Observations of Peter Leroy, gives in Newsweek his top of literary preferences:

  1. À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust (it makes the banal sublime, the trivial momentous, the meaningless meaningful)
  2. Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas (a singular history of the city's growth, a polemic about architecture, a work of art)
  3. Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez (it plays elegant games that came to be called magical realism, but may be better called realism in the service of romance)
  4. Дар by Vladimir Nabokov (it displays all Nabokov's strengths with a youthful audacity that still exhilarates)
  5. Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin (Benjamin never got beyond the research, so the reader makes the book while reading)
(A Life in Books)

Thu Nguyen - An Evening in Juneau, Alaska

Thu Nguyen - An Evening in Juneau, Alaska
oil on oak panel

Thu Nguyen has a special feeling that allows her to get the sense of a moment of time, in a quiet play of lights and shadows.

And it is more here. It's an ambiguity, on purpose, suggesting a story: the beginning of a romance, for a night, drowned later, maybe, in drunkenness... or a farewell party in some place there, everybody's happy at the start... and the sky in the distance, like a Fata Morgana...

(Contemporary Art)


Ozu: Good Morning

Good Morning (Ohayô), a movie made by Ozu in 1959: two boys beg their parents for a television set, nagging them until all patience is lost. The parents order the boys to be quiet and the boys do exactly that--refusing to utter a word. The boys' silence ultimately puts the whole neighborhood into turmoil (Jim Beaver); unbearably cute (Joel Barhamand); very cool movie (loophole41). The plot follows loosely the situations from one of Ozu's silent movies (I Was Born, But..., made in 1932). Fine comedies both.

From my favorite actors, Chishu Ryu plays in Good Morning.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Can Capitalism Survive?

Robert J. Samuelson in today's W. Post:

Can capitalism survive? No. I do not think it can.
Joseph Schumpeter, 1942

The story of American capitalism is, among other things, a love-hate relationship. We go through cycles of self-congratulation, revulsion and revision. Just when the latest onset of revulsion and revision began is unclear. Was it when Lehman Brothers collapsed? Or when General Motors pleaded for federal subsidies? Or now, when AIG's bonuses stir outrage? No matter. Capitalism is under siege, its future unclear.

Schumpeter, one of the 20th century's eminent economists, believed that capitalism sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Its chief virtue was long-term -- the capacity to increase wealth and living standards. But short-term politics would fixate on its flaws -- instability, unemployment, inequality. Capitalist prosperity also created an oppositional class of "intellectuals" who would nurture popular discontents and disparage values (self-enrichment, risk-taking) necessary for economic success.

Almost everything about Schumpeter's diagnosis rings true, with the glaring exception of his conclusion. American capitalism has flourished despite being subjected to repeated restrictions by disgruntled legislators. Consider the transformation. In 1889, there was no antitrust law (1890), no corporate income tax (1909), no Securities and Exchange Commission (1934) and no Environmental Protection Agency (1970).

We have subordinated unrestrained profit-seeking to other values. We've gradually taken into account the external effects (of business) and brought them under control, says economist Robert Frank of Cornell University. External costs include: worker injuries from industrial accidents; monopoly power; financial manipulation; pollution.

Great reform waves often proceed from scandals and hard times. The first discredits business; the second raises a clamor for action. Parallels with the past are eerie. No one in 1928 thought that the head of the New York Stock Exchange would end up in Sing Sing (prison) in 1938, says historian Richard Tedlow of the Harvard Business School. That was Richard Whitney, convicted of defrauding his clients. Flash forward: Bernie Madoff, once head of Nasdaq and a member of the financial establishment, goes to the slammer, a confessed swindler.

Some guesses about capitalism's evolution seem plausible. The financial industry -- banks, investment banks, hedge funds -- will shrink in significance. Regulation will tighten; required capital will rise. Profitability will fall. (Until recently, finance represented 30 percent or more of corporate profits, up from about 20 percent in the late 1970s.) More of the best and brightest will go elsewhere.

But Schumpeter's question remains. Will capitalism lose its vitality? Successful capitalism presupposes three conditions: first, the legitimacy of the profit motive -- the ability to do well, even fabulously; second, widespread markets that mediate success and failure; and finally, a legal and political system that, aside from establishing property and contractual rights, also creates public acceptance. Note that the last condition modifies the first two, because government can -- through taxes, laws and regulations -- weaken the profit motive and interfere with markets.

The central reason Schumpeter's prophecy remains unfulfilled is that U.S. capitalism -- not just companies, but a broader political process -- is enormously adaptable. It adjusts to evolving public values while maintaining adequate private incentives. Meanwhile, the striving character of American society supports an entrepreneurial culture and work ethic -- capitalism's building blocks. As for new regulations, many don't depress profitability because costs are passed along to consumers in higher prices.

It's also wrong to pit government as always oppressing business. Just the opposite often holds. Government boosts business.

Some New Deal reforms helped by making risk more manageable, says Stanford historian David Kennedy. Deposit insurance ended old-fashioned bank panics. Mortgage guarantees aided a post-World War II housing boom. Homeownership rates skyrocketed from 44 percent in 1940 to 62 percent in 1960. Earlier, the federal government distributed 131 million acres of land grants from 1850 to 1872 to encourage railroads. Land, as well as bank charters and government contracts, often went to the well connected. Cronyism is sometimes capitalism's first cousin.

Still, the present populist backlash may not end well. The parade of big companies to Washington for rescues, as well as the high-profile examples of unvarnished greed, has spawned understandable anger that could veer into destructive retribution. Congressmen love extravagant and televised displays of self-righteous indignation. The AIG hearing last week often seemed a political gang beating.

If companies need to be rescued from the market, why shouldn't Washington permanently run the market? That's a dangerous mindset. It justifies punitive taxes, widespread corporate mandates, selective subsidies and meddling in firms' everyday operations (think the present anti-bonus tax bill). Older and politically powerful companies may benefit at the expense of newer firms. Innovation and investment may be funneled into fashionable but economically dubious projects (think ethanol).

Government inevitably expands in times of economic breakdown. But there is a thin line between saving capitalism from itself and vindicating Schumpeter's long-ago prediction.

(Zoon Politikon)