Posts Tagged 'History'

The Cost of the Bail Out

I ran across this sobering bit of research today:

Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

The bailout including the most recent Citibank is $4.6165 trillion dollars.

109 Year Old Daughter of a Slave Votes For Obama

This story is amazing, highlighting just how recent our sins of slavery were and how monumental an Obama presidency would be.

Amanda Jones, 109, the daughter of a man born into slavery, has lived a life long enough to touch three centuries. And after voting consistently as a Democrat for 70 years, she has voted early for the country’s first black presidential nominee.

The rest of this story is here. {via Daily Kos]

Links (9/22/08)

Fruits from my attempts at work-avoidance on the interwebs:

This video illustrates the current banking crisis. Discuss.

A list of comic strips that need to end. Strangely Hi & Lois isn’t on this list.

Drawn from memory from an autistic kid with a photographic memory. Amazing. [h/t Joan]

Five historically important people you’ve never heard of.

The latest fashion weirdness from Japan. That’s right, weaves shaped like animals.

The great Pop vs. Soda map of the U.S.

Keith Olberman hates Subway. [h/t Ted]

The immensely disturbing tale of the Mongolian death worm.

Tales of a botched Real Doll disposal.

The richest men in history. A lot of them are American.

And then there’s this amazing display of performance, computer graphics and lab rats:

Links (7/21/08)

From my trolling of the internets:

The Chinese government, terrified of something embarrassing happening during the Olympics, have successfully embarrassed themselves. They’re forcing bars not to serve blacks or Mongolians. Link

And there’s this really depressed photo essay of the down and out Silvertown neighborhood of London. Link [h/t Ted]

More green screen hilarity with John McCain. [h/t Joan]

A really cool, if regrettably short, article about the town of Baarle-Hertog in Belgium.

Baarle-Hertog borders the Netherlands – but, because of its unique history of political division, the town is sort of marbled with competing national loyalties. In other words, pockets of the town are Dutch; most of the town is Belgian. You can thus wander from country to country on an afternoon stroll, as if island-hopping between sovereignties. [via BoingBoing]

Believe it or not, Los Angeles used to have the finest public transportation around, thanks in part to Henry Huntington. There was the Pacific Electric Railway company AKA “The Red Cars” which had streetcar lines reaching to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, and Santa Ana and there was the competing Los Angeles Railway (LARy) that was also known as the “Yellow Cars.” They were ripped out in the early ’60s and soon afterwards Los Angeles became synonymous with traffic snarls and freeway shootings. Some historical background can be found here. And here’s this youtube clip from LA Curbed about the last days of the LA Railways. Sigh.

Links (6/24/08)

Brian Eno and Kevin Kelly published a list of unthinkable futures 15 years ago in the Whole Earth Catalog. Now you can read in here. [via Boing Boing]

A very cute cartoon series about pandas and the recent Sichuan earthquake.

You all will be glad to know that the 61-year old British grandmother who started running around the world in 2003 has returned back to the UK in spite of being approached by a drunken guy with a bloody ax in Siberia, encountering a polar bear, and receiving 29 marriage proposals.

Really cool animation of a John Lennon press conference.

Continuing with Hilarious McCain blow ups — a funny viral video about John McCain dropping the C bomb on his wife.

I should have been a lot nicer to Steve Guttenberg.

East-side Angeleno culture in the Far East. [via LA Curbed]

The top ten political sex scandals in US history.

A helpful guide to the shadowy groups that run the world.

Now, THIS is a resignation letter.

Geek gets a 15 inch tall robot girlfriend.

Summer Palace (2006)

Summer Palace is film I always suspected would get made. The events of Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were so dramatic and cinematic that it naturally captures the imagination of artists. During the protests — starting from Hu Yaobang‘s death on April 15 through to the government’s bloody crackdown on June 4th/5th — youth in China experience a sort of condensed version of the 1960s. Imagine the Free Speech Movement, Woodstock, and Kent State all jammed into six weeks and you get the picture.

Not unlike the American government in the ’80s, the post-Tiananmen Square government distracted its citizens with a heady combination of economic boom times and virulent nationalism. The Chinese government had to as the protests called into question its very legitimacy. Almost 20 years later, most of the main student leaders of the protests are still exiled. Though the romantic sweep of those spring months still command the imagination, talkin about the protests publicly carries grave risks. Director Lou Ye — who graduated from Beijing University in 1989 — was banned from making movies for five years as punishment for making this film.

Summer Palace was screen in competition in Cannes and was hailed not only for its political daring, but also frank sexuality. As J. Hoberman of the Village Voice noted, not only is this movie the most sexually explicit film to come out of China, it’s more explicit than the six runner-ups combined. Though the pairing of sex and politics is a long one in cinema, Lou Ye’s film is not Closely Watched Trains or even The Dreamers. It’s a portrait of a lost generation.

Yu Hong (played by Lei Hao) is a willful sullen lass from the North Korean border who, once she gets to a Beijing university, plunges headlong into the messy abundance of life. This includes exploring her sexuality with (among others) her fellow student Zhou Wei (Xiaodong Guo). At first, the two are insanely happy, stealing away into an empty dorm room for frankly depicted quickies. But as the protests start ramping up in the background, doubt and suspicion seeps into their own private eden. Yu Hong becomes jealous and Zhou Wei starts sleeping with Yu Hong’s erstwhile best friend Li Ti. As the crackdown explodes around them, Yu has a nervous breakdown and flees Beijing, leaving Zhou behind. Up until this point, the film mirrors the youthful energy of the characters with a tone that’s both giddy and nervous. The camera, frequently hand-held, feels voyeuristic.

After the crackdown, the movie speeds past other major Chinese historical milestones — like the Hong Kong handover — before catching up with Zhou and Yu in the present. Zhou lives as an intellectual in Berlin and continues to make unfulfilling love to Li Ti. Yu sports a bad haircut and shacks up with a married guy out of loneliness. Both seem still seem traumatized by these unhealing scars from the past. The parallels between these two wounded ex-lovers and between China and its intellectuals are clear though not overbearing. Thankfully, Lou Ye roots the drama in the characters rather than an allegory. The regret and dull existential panic these Yu and Zhou felt of hitting your 30s and feeling your life slip out of sight is both palpable here and universal. And that’s what lingered in my mind days after watching it.

Summer Palace is not a perfect film. It sometimes veers close to the self-indulgence and the structure gets unwieldy in places. It is, though, a haunting and glorious mess.

Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

One of the perks of working at my current job is that I get to watch free advanced movie screenings. The other day I watched Erroll MorrisStandard Operating Procedure. While his last film Fog of War, which I think is a masterpiece, examines a failed American war from the point of view of its architect, Robert McNamara, this film looks at one of the most embarrassing moments of this current failed American war — Abu Ghraib. Morris essentially allows the US Servicemen and women involved to give the context (and often rationalization) for each of the famed pictures. In his typical modernist way, Morris gives the viewer few objective handles to judge the interviewees stories.

What worked brilliantly in Fog of War falters here. The music (Danny Elfman channeling Philip Glass) is too bombastic, the graphics (done by my former employer Kyle Cooper) are too slick, and Morris’ trademark reenactments are too beautiful for the subject matter. The pictures are horrific and the servicemen and women are too raw and conflicted to justify such an overblown approach.

That being said, Standard Operating Procedure raises some very uncomfortable questions. Primarily, there’s one of guilt. Sure, most of the interviewees are guilty of mistreating prisoners. And their defense is something along the lines of “I was just following orders.” Nuremberg declared that such an argument doesn’t hold water. And while I agree with that in principle, I came away from the film feeling sorry for the poor schmucks, most straight out high school, who were put into a morally gray if not contradictory situation with intentionally vague instructions. (I wonder how my opinion would have changed if the movie interviewed the Iraqi prisoners in those pictures.

All of them draw a line between abuse and standard operating procedure. Making some guy jerk off or piling prisoners in a human pyramid is abuse, while stripping some guy naked, putting panties on his head and handcuffing him in an uncomfortable position is standard operating procedure. It strikes me, as a civilian, that that’s a very subtle and easily crossed distinction.

The film argues that Lynndie England and the others were punished more because they embarrassed the Pentagon that for an crime. One poor guy was sentenced to a year in the brig. Why? Because he appeared in an Abu Ghraib video cutting of the flex cuffs of a prisoner whose hands were turning purple. Though this torture strategy originated at the highest levels of government , no one above Staff Sargent was criminally punished. Guilt, according to the government, is not based on what you do, but whether or not you’re caught. That sort of mindset, that like an amoral seven-year old, has been the standard operating procedure for this administration. And as the years pass, Abu Ghraib might seem quaint compared to the horrors that Bush Co. have for now managed to hide away. That’s the thing about guilt, and nationhood. Just like the German people bare responsibility for Hitler and the Japanese bare (still officially unacknowledged) responsibility for Hirohito’s crimes in China, so does the American people share guilt about Bush’s crimes. And it drives me crazy.

The Garfield Factor: James A. Garfield, 20th president of the US, would have been largely baffled by the modernist sensibilities, finding it too disjointed and morally fuzzy. He would have undoubtedly found the Abu Ghraib pictures unsettling, not for their brutality, Pres. Garfield was a general in the Union army, but for their near pornographic unseemliness. Most likely, we would have poured himself a glass of whiskey and tried to blot the whole thing out of his mind by studying his beloved ancient Greek texts.

Saboteur (1942)

One of my projects as of late is to watch more Hitchcock movies. Hitchcock has always been, like Ingmar Bergman, one of those filmmakers that I know I need to watch more of but never quite seen to find the time to do so. Sure I’ve seen the major works but it’s those B+ films where you really can learn the tricks of a master. So in recent weeks, I’ve watched The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man, Lifeboat, and Frenzy. Yesterday, I watched Saboteur. Like Lifeboat, it was fraught with anxiety about the war and indeed American society itself. In fact, Saboteur started shooting just weeks after Pearl Harbor. A running plea in both movies is for the labor battles and the class warfare of the 1920s and 30s to be put aside so we Americans can defeat the Nazis. (And with all the subsequent post-Reagan triumphalism about the war aside, the anxiety in these movies reminds us that we came really close to losing WWII. If Hitler where just a little less crazy…)

The plot of Saboteur is typical Hitchcock. An good-hearted average Joe named Barry Kane gets fingered as a saboteur in an airplane factory fire. He flees and encounters a variety of salt-of-the-earth type Americas. All of them believe in the common good and the common goodness of humanity to a level that seems impossibly naive these days. The only people who people that acts with the sort of hard-nosed self interest that is fashionable among economists and Ayn Rand enthusiasts everywhere are the bad guys. In particular, one Charles Tobin played with feline malevalence by Otto Kruger (who was weirdly enough was not only the grand nephew of South African revolutionary Paul Kruger but also born in Toledo, Ohio.)

At the obligatory scene in which the bad guy divulges his motivations, Tobin complains the current government (i.e. FDR’s) is not profitable enough. He argues that a dictatorship is much better for business. While watching this, I was reminded of Prescott Bush. Both Tobin and Bush were Wall Street bluebloods who had clear Nazi sympathies and Bush’s name did come up in the congressional investigation into the alleged coup attempt by the monied class against FDR and the New Deal. Fifty years later, Prescott Bush’s idiot grandson has done more to further the goals of Charles Tobin than any other American. He shredded much of the government oversight brought about during the New Deal and pushed America closer than any president in recent memory to a dictatorship. Like the good citizens of the movie, I think that only thing that save us from these criminals is a return to a belief in the common good.

The Garfield Factor: President James A. Garfield on one hand would have probably rejected the New Deal as being against his understanding of the Constitution. On the other hand, being a Civil War veteran and a man with a strong sense of right and wrong, he never would have supported any activity that hinted at treason.

James A. Garfield

I’m going to begin this blog in a manner many blogs do: I’m going to talk about James A. Garfield. On July 2, 1881, at around 9:30 am, , the 20th President of the United States of America was shot on a train platform.

The assassin, Charles Guiteau, was upset that he was passed over as the Embassador of France, a failed newspaperman, plagiarizing author and a dubiously credentialed lawyer. He was also probably the only person not to get lucky in the Oneida “free love” Community in upstate New York, leaving the commune with the ignoble nickname of “Charles Gitout.” Guiteau bought the gun, which had an ivory inlaid handle, that killed Garfield specifically because he thought they would look good on display. It was, of course, lost after the shooting.

One bullet grazed the President’s arm and the other lodged in his back. Garfield, who was walking next to his old friend and Secretary of State James G. Blaine, crumpled almost immediately. Blaine exclaimed, using in my opinion preternatural poise, “My God. This man has been assassinated! What is the meaning of this!?”

I love reading about weird historical stories like this, but what struck me most is Blaine’s exclamation. If my dear friend and political rival were shot in front of me, I doubt I’d be able to utter all those syllables. Instead, I’d probably shout something semi-coherent like “What the fuck.” Then again, I gather is the sort of the starched-collar 19th century equivalent of shouting “What the fuck!” This gave me the image of a sneering youth in spats and a top hat, waiting for his hansome cab, typing “WITMOT” into his steam powered cell phone.

This blog will be dedicated to whatever historical strangeness I find, with a special emphasis on America’s most forgotten President.


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