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March 26, 2006


A Home for the Heart

It is unfortunate that discussions of Bruno Bettelheim's contribution always have to begin by addressing the accusations against him, rather than observing some the lasting contributions that he made. One of those lasting contributions is the that the Orthogenic School even now, seventy-three after its founding and thirty-six years after Bettelheim's departure, continues to treat with detailed sensitivity some of the most seriously troubled students for long periods of time, despite the current climate of demand for fast cure.

Its present director is not a Bettelheim disciple, nor is he formally trained in psychoanalysis. However, the people in three key positions next to him all worked with and were taught by Bettelheim’s successor, who in turn had been taught by Bettelheim. One of those persons is a psychoanalyst, trained in the most contemporary model of relational theory, dialectical social constructivism. This perspective emphasizes, among other things, a deep commitment to highly complex collaborative experiences of empathic and respectful understanding and attention.

So despite all the contention, the good that is contained within a legacy of the many things that some even controversial persons have done can be transformed to live on after them in an increasingly compassionate manner. It may well be that the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School is one of the only group care centers in the nation, perhaps the world, that is able to afford young persons the opportunity to become immersed in this kind of mutative, collaborative relational experience.

Adapted by the Author from:

By Jacquelyn Seevak Sanders, Ph.D.
The New York Review of Books
November 20, 2003


Home: Where We Start From

East Coker Cottage
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
but a lifetime burning in every moment

T. S. Eliot
'East Coker', Four Quarters


Homelessness: A Modest Gift from the Rich

These photo mosaics were created by Joan Fontcuberta (NSFW). They were designed from images collected from internet image searches. For each of the images, Joan used specific keywords to create a juxtaposition.

For example, thumbnails of the richest men in the world are used to paradoxically compose the homeless man on larger scale. The images were recently on exhibition at the Zabriskie Gallery in New York City.

March 24, 2006


Return of the Unconscious: The Locked Door

The Locked Door
Intuitive judgments and quick apprehension take place behind a locked door. It may well be that if we learn how to enhance the quality of our thought processes, we will need to accept the mysterious nature of our almost instantaneous judgments or decisions.

We need to respect the fact that is entirely possible to know without knowing why we know and recognize that sometimes we are better off that way. This all has to do, of course, with the renewed acceptance of the unconscious as a ubiquitous source of motivation in our lives.

As a relatively simple, but striking practical example of this phenomenon, suppose that you are given a list of five-word sets. You are asked to make a grammatical four-word sentence as possible out of each set. Suppose that the list is:

1. him was worried she always

2. from are Florida oranges temperature

3. ball the throw toss silently

4. shoes give replace old the

5. he observes sometimes people watches

6. be will sweat lonely they

7. sly the seamless gray is

8. should now withdraw forgetful we

9. us bingo sing play let

10. sunlight makes warm wrinkle raisins

While this seemingly simple exercise appeared to be an uncomplicated and easy one to understand; actually it wasn’t. After finishing the test, one quite probably would walk out of the room and down the corridor noticeably more slowly than he or she entered it. The exercise had an impact upon the way the subject behaved.

Why? Looking more closely at the list, we can see that embedded throughout were words like “worried,” “Florida,” “old,” “lonely,” “gray,” “bingo,” and “wrinkle. While the exercise at first appeared to be a simple appraisal of language ability, in fact is was making the hidden computer in the brain, the unconscious, think about the state of being old.

It didn’t inform the other cognitive aspects of the brain about its sudden preoccupation with the state of becoming elderly. Nevertheless, it took all of this talk of old age so seriously that after finishing the test, the subject would walk away quite slowly, acting old.

March 13, 2006


Gordon Parks: A Memorial

Gordon Parks, the photographer, filmmaker, writer and composer who used his prodigious, largely self-taught talents to chronicle the African-American experience and to retell his own personal history, died on March 7th, 2006, at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

Gordon Parks was the first African-American to work as a staff photographer for Life magazine and the first black artist to produce and direct a major Hollywood film, "The Learning Tree," in 1969. He developed a large following as a photographer for Life for more than 20 years, and by the time he was 50 he ranked among the most influential image makers of the postwar years. In the 1960's he began to write memoirs, novels, poems and screenplays, which led him to directing films. In addition to "The Learning Tree," he directed the popular action films "Shaft" and "Shaft's Big Score!" In 1970 he helped found Essence magazine and was its editorial director from 1970 to 1973.

An iconoclast, Mr. Parks fashioned a career that resisted categorization. No matter what medium he chose for his self-expression, he sought to challenge stereotypes while still communicating to a large audience. In finding early acclaim as a photographer despite a lack of professional training, he became convinced that he could accomplish whatever he set his mind to. To an astonishing extent, he proved himself right.

Gordon Parks developed his ability to overcome barriers in childhood, facing poverty, prejudice and the death of his mother when he was a teen-ager. Living by his wits during what would have been his high-school years, he came close to being claimed by urban poverty and crime. But his nascent talent, both musical and visual, was his exit visa. His success as a photographer was largely due to his persistence and persuasiveness in pursuing his subjects, whether they were film stars and socialites or an impoverished slum child in Brazil.

Mr. Parks's years as a contributor to Life, the largest-circulation picture magazine of its day, lasted from 1948 to 1972, and it cemented his reputation as a humanitarian photojournalist and as an artist with an eye for elegance. He specialized in subjects relating to racism, poverty and black urban life, but he also took exemplary pictures of Paris fashions, celebrities and politicians.

"I still don't know exactly who I am," Mr. Parks wrote in his 1979 memoir, "To Smile in Autumn." He added, "I've disappeared into myself so many different ways that I don't know who 'me' is."

Much of his literary energy was channeled into memoirs, in which he mined incidents from his adolescence and early career in an effort to find deeper meaning in them. His talent for telling vivid stories was used to good effect in "The Learning Tree," which he wrote first as a novel and later converted into a screenplay. This was a coming-of-age story about a young black man whose childhood plainly resembled the author's. It was well received when it was published in 1963 and again in 1969, when Warner Brothers released the film version. Mr. Parks wrote, produced and directed the film and wrote the music for its soundtrack. He was also the cinematographer.

Mr. Parks's subsequent films, "Shaft" (1971) and "Shaft's Big Score!" (1972), were prototypes for what became known as blaxploitation films. Among Mr. Park's other accomplishments were a second novel, four books of memoirs, four volumes of poetry, a ballet and several orchestral scores. As a photographer Mr. Parks combined a devotion to documentary realism with a knack for making his own feelings self-evident. The style he favored was derived from the Depression-era photography project of the Farm Security Administration, which he joined in 1942 at the age of 30.

Perhaps his best-known photograph, which he titled "American Gothic," was taken during his brief time with the agency; it shows a black cleaning woman named Ella Watson standing stiffly in front of an American flag, a mop in one hand and a broom in the other. Mr. Parks wanted the picture to speak to the existence of racial bigotry and inequality in the nation's capital. He was in an angry mood when he asked the woman to pose, having earlier been refused service at a clothing store, a movie theater and a restaurant.

Anger at social inequity was at the root of many of Mr. Parks's best photographic stories, including his most famous Life article, which focused on a desperately sick boy living in a miserable Rio de Janeiro slum. Mr. Parks described the plight of the boy, Flavio da Silva, in realistic detail. In one photograph Flavio lies in bed, looking close to death. In another he sits behind his baby brother, stuffing food into the baby's mouth while the baby reaches his wet, dirty hands into the dish for more food. Mr. Parks's pictures of Flavio's life created a groundswell of public response when they were published in 1961. Life's readers sent some $30,000 in contributions, and the magazine arranged to have the boy flown to Denver for medical treatment for asthma and paid for a new home in Rio for his family.

Mr. Parks credited his first awareness of the power of the photographic image to the pictures taken by his predecessors at the Farm Security Administration, including Jack Delano, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn. He first saw their photographs of migrant workers in a magazine he picked up while working as a waiter in a railroad car. "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs," he told an interviewer in 1999. "I knew at that point I had to have a camera."

Many of Mr. Parks's early photo essays for Life, like his 1948 story of a Harlem youth gang called the Midtowners, were a revelation for many of the magazine's predominantly white readers and a confirmation for Mr. Parks of the camera's power to shape public discussion. But Mr. Parks made his mark mainly with memorable single images within his essays, like "American Gothic," which were iconic in the manner of posters. His portraits of Malcolm X (1963), Muhammad Ali (1970) and the exiled Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver (1970) evoked the styles and strengths of black leadership in the turbulent transition from civil rights to black militancy.

But at Life Mr. Parks also used his camera for less politicized, more conventional ends, photographing the socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, who became his friend; a fashionable Parisian in a veiled hat puffing hard on her cigarette, and Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini at the beginning of their notorious love affair.

On his own time he photographed female nudes in a style akin to that of Baroque painting, experimented with double-exposing color film and recorded pastoral scenes that evoke the pictorial style of early-20-century art photography.

Much as his best pictures aspired to be metaphors, Mr. Parks shaped his own life story as a cautionary tale about overcoming racism, poverty and a lack of formal education. It was a project he pursued in his memoirs and in his novel; all freely mix documentary realism with a fictional sensibility.

The first version of his autobiography was "A Choice of Weapons" (1966), which was followed by "To Smile in Autumn" (1979) and "Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography" (1990). The most recent account of his life appeared in 1997 in "Half Past Autumn" (Little, Brown), a companion to a traveling exhibition of his photographs.

Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born on Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kan. He was the youngest of 15 children born to a tenant farmer, Andrew Jackson Parks, and the former Sarah Ross. Although mired in poverty and threatened by segregation and the violence it engendered, the family was bound by Sarah Parks's strong conviction that dignity and hard work could overcome bigotry.

Young Gordon's security ended when his mother died. He was sent to St. Paul, Minn., to live with the family of an older sister. But the arrangement lasted only a few weeks; during a quarrel, Mr. Parks's brother-in-law threw him out of the house. Mr. Parks learned to survive on the streets, using his untutored musical gifts to find work as a piano player in a brothel and later as the singer for a big band. He attended high school in St. Paul but never graduated.

In 1933 he married a longtime sweetheart, Sally Alvis, and they soon had a child, Gordon Jr. While his family stayed near his wife's relatives in Minneapolis, Mr. Parks traveled widely to find work during the Depression. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, toured as a semi-pro basketball player and worked as a busboy and waiter. It was while he was a waiter on the North Coast Limited, a train that ran between Chicago and Seattle, that he picked up a magazine discarded by a passenger and saw for the first time the documentary pictures of Lange, Rothstein and the other photographers of the Farm Security Administration. In 1938 Mr. Parks purchased his first camera at a Seattle pawn shop. Within months he had his pictures exhibited in the store windows of the Eastman Kodak store in Minneapolis, and he began to specialize in portraits of African-American women.

He also talked his way into making fashion photographs for an exclusive St. Paul clothing store. Marva Louis, the elegant wife of the heavyweight champion Joe Louis, chanced to see his photographs and was so impressed that she suggested that he move to Chicago for better opportunities to do more of them. Like many African-Americans during the 1940s, Parks really got his big start on the South Side of Chicago. Soon after his arrival, Parks began working for the entrepreneurial Marva Louis. In short time, he was exhibiting his photographs at the Southside Community Art Center, located in the creatively teeming area called Bronzeville. During that era, it was home to: poet Gwendolyn Brooks and playwright Richard Wright; blues musicians Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Ruth Brown and Chuck Berry; soul and jazz musicians Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, and Nat King Cole; entertainers Oscar Brown, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr.; and the queen of gospel music, Mahalia Jackson.

In Chicago Mr. Parks continued to produce society portraits and fashion images, but he also turned to documenting the slums of the South Side. It was in Chicago that Parks met Jack Delano, who at that time was photographing the city for the Farm Security Administration, the federal agency that was recording every aspect of the Depression era in America. Encouraged by Delano, Parks won a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation and used the money to move to Washington, D. C. Once there, he worked as an apprentice with the Farm Security Administration's photography project in Washington under its director, Roy Stryker.

In 1943, with World War II under way, the farm agency was disbanded and Stryker's project was transferred to the Office of War Information (O.W.I.). Mr. Parks became a correspondent for the O.W.I. photographing the 332d Fighter Group, an all-black unit based near Detroit. Unable to accompany the pilots overseas, he relocated to Harlem to search for freelance assignments.

In 1944 Alexander Liberman, then art director of Vogue, asked him to photograph women's fashions, and Mr. Parks's pictures appeared regularly in the magazine for five years. Mr. Parks's simultaneous pursuit of the worlds of beauty and of tough urban textures made him a natural for Life magazine. After talking himself into an audience with Wilson Hicks, Life's fabled photo editor, he emerged with two plum assignments: one to create a photo essay on gang wars in Harlem, the other to photograph the latest Paris collections.

Life often assigned Mr. Parks to subjects that would have been difficult or impossible for a white photojournalist to carry out, such as the Black Muslim movement and the Black Panther Party. But Mr. Parks also enjoyed making definitive portraits of Barbra Streisand, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Alberto Giacometti and Alexander Calder. From 1949 to 1951 he was assigned to the magazine's bureau in Paris, where he photographed everything from Marshal Pétain's funeral to scenes of everyday life. While in Paris he socialized with the expatriate author Richard Wright and wrote his first piano concerto, using a musical notation system of his own devising.

In 1962, at the suggestion of Carl Mydans, a fellow Life photographer, Mr. Parks began to write a story based on his memories of his childhood in Kansas. The story became the novel "The Learning Tree," and its success opened new horizons, leading him to write his first memoir, "A Choice of Weapons"; to combine his photographs and poems in a book called "A Poet and His Camera" (1968) and, most significantly, to become a film director, with the movie version of "The Learning Tree" in 1969.

Mr. Parks's second film, "Shaft," released in 1971, was a hit of a different order. Ushering in an onslaught of genre movies in which black protagonists played leading roles in violent, urban crime dramas, "Shaft" was both a commercial blockbuster and a racial breakthrough. Its hero, John Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree, was a wily private eye whose success came from operating in the interstices of organized crime and the law. Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for the theme music, and the title song became a pop hit.

After departing Life in 1972, the year the magazine shut down as a weekly, Mr. Parks continued to write and compose. His second novel, "Shannon" (1981), about Irish immigrants at the beginning of the century, is the least autobiographical of his writing. He wrote the music and the libretto for the 1989 ballet "Martin," a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., choreographed by Rael Lamb.

He also continued to photograph. But much of Mr. Parks's artistic energy in the 1980's and 1990's was spent summing up his productive years with the camera. In 1987, the first major retrospective exhibition of his photographs was organized by the New York Public Library and the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University.

The more recent retrospective, "Half Past Autumn: The Art of Gordon Parks," was organized in 1997 by the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington. It later traveled to New York and to other cities. Many honors came Mr. Parks's way, including a National Medal of Arts award from President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The man who never finished high school was a recipient of 40 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities in the United States and England.

"I'm in a sense sort of a rare bird," Mr. Parks said in an interview in The New York Times in 1997. "I suppose a lot of it depended on my determination not to let discrimination stop me." He never forgot that one of his teachers told her students not to waste their parents' money on college because they would end up as porters or maids anyway. He dedicated one honorary degree to her because he had been so eager to prove her wrong.

"I had a great sense of curiosity and a great sense of just wanting to achieve," he said. "I just forgot I was black and walked in and asked for a job and tried to be prepared for what I was asking for."

Adapted by the Author from:
The New York Times
March 8, 2006

March 11, 2006


President Bush: Totally Whacked Out !!

Bush: Totally Out of Control!!

Look at this man's face. Many might contend that this rage, this impulsive lack of control over aggressive feelings is what really lays beneath Bush's outward facade of appearing to be a kindly, homey and "chummy" sort.

Do you really want a man who is so capable of openly displaying such viscious rage and downright meanness to have responsibility and control over you, your parents, your spouse, your partner, your children. Think very, very seriously about that.

No further comment.

March 07, 2006


Benches: And Now Some Time to Rest Alone

March 06, 2006


Another 2006 Oscars Post-Mortem

Thumbs Down!
And these further comments from Obliquity, Monday, March 6th, 2006:

I’m not entirely sure where to begin. Watching the sixteen hour telecast of this year’s Oscars was at once irritating, painful, boring, completely predictable–and about fifteen hours too long. If memory serves, I scored last year’s telecast at a D+. All things considered, I’d have to give the Jon Stewart helmed fiasco an F.

Random thoughts:

–The Stewart/Berry/Clooney bed gag was cute.
–The gay western montage was insulting. The old man leering at the young boy was reinforcement of a predatory stereotype.
–Jon Stewart’s opening monologue was painfully unfunny. What the hell was all the yelling about?
–Did Charlize Theron know that there was a gigantic tarantula on her shoulder?
–Best Line from an Acceptance Speech: Clooney’s ‘proud to be out of touch’.
–Ben Stiller deserves to be green-screened out of existence.
–It’s now twenty-six minutes into the telecast and I’m BORED.
–Biggest Men’s Trend: not shaving
–Biggest Women’s Trend: black
–Biggest Reason to Raise the Terror Threat Level to Orange: The Wilson Brother’s hair.
–Terrence Howard wears a man brooch.
–Salma Hayek is STUNNING in turquoise. Her hair is exquisite.
–Lauren Bacall. Embarrassing.
–Three 6 Mafia. Ha. Ha. Ha. This is ‘Punk’d’ right?
–Naomi Watts’ dress was apparently mauled by King Kong.
–If these people are paid to act, would it kill them to memorize their scripted monologue? Or at least learn to read from a TelePrompTer?
–’King Kong’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, ‘Crash’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ all win three awards–which seems very wrong.
–I had some other stuff, but I’m bored with the whole affair.

I can only say that if Ang Lee had not won Best Director, it would have been a travesty. ‘Crash’ winning Best Picture was a cop-out in my opinion. The message and ideas behind the film were admirable. There were some great acting performances. But, the execution and flow of the film was flawed. The pat redemption found by every character was over simplistic.

I think Hollywood proved itself to be a bit two-faced by denying ‘Brokeback Mountain’ the top award. For as progressive as they are want to paint themselves, the truth is homophobia lives comfortably in the neighborhood. To some, this will sound like gay boy sour grapes. I can only say that every frame, performance and nuance of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was pitch perfect. Gay or not, it was my favorite film of the year. It was technically and emotionally brilliant.

And More from Brokeback Mountain Co-writer Larry McMurtry:


BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN co-writer Larry McMurtry believes urban drama "Crash" beat his film to the Best Picture Award, because Academy members discriminate against rural stories. The writer, who has been involved with four Oscar nominated films including "The Last Picture Show" and "Terms of Endearment," claims "Crash" won because it was set in Los Angeles - where most Academy voters live. He explains, "The three rural films (I was involved with) lost. The one urban film, "Terms of Endearment," won. "Members of the Academy are mostly urban people. 'Crash' was [their] hometown movie."

06/03/2006 21:41


More on the Oscars: And I Thought My Views were Pessimistic!!

As described in postings by Nikki Finke (Los Angeles, March 5th 2006):

This was the most incoherent, inchoate Oscar telecast in recent memory. Nothing flowed, everything jarred, cut ins and cut outs weren’t preceded by necessary segues. Added up to a butt-ugly broadcast that even the biggest film buff had to gag through.

Stop the misery. End this hell on earth. 365 days is too little time before the next torturous show. Monday’s certain-to-be-dismal ratings will tell the Academy exactly where to shove Oscar. Alas, tonight, they kept jamming it down our throats.

Way back on January 17th, I decided to nominate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Bunch of Hypocrites. That’s because I felt this year’s dirty little Oscar secret was the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero members of the Academy of Motions Picture Arts and Sciences being unwilling to screen Brokeback Mountain.

For a community that takes pride in progressive values, it seemed shameful to me that Hollywood’s homophobia could be on a par with Pat Robertson’s. So in the February 1st issue of LA Weekly, I warned that, despite the hype you saw in the press and on the Internet about Brokeback, with its eight nominations, being the supposed favorite to take home the Best Picture Oscar, Crash could end up winning.

Well, turns out I was right. Hollywood showed tonight it isn’t the liberal bastion it once was. That’s pitiful if you’re a progressive, and pleasing if you’re a conservative.

After my column came out, it was picked up by the Drudge Report. Hundreds of angry emailers accused me, and Hollywood, of trying to promote “the homosexual agenda” by somehow “forcing” them to see a movie they found sexually reprehensible. What those emailers failed to comprehend was that the Oscar voters shared their distaste for it.

At the time, I explained that the real Best Picture issue wasn’t which film was better. The real issue was which movie was seen by the Academy. I found horrifying each whispered admission to me from Academy members who usually act like social liberals that they were disgusted by even the possibility of glimpsing simulated gay sex.

The forces that hate Hollywood salivated for Brokeback to win Best Oscar. But that it wasn’t the favorite was foreshadowed at the Screen Actor Guild awards, when Crash topped it for best picture and Philip Seymour Hoffman won over Heath Ledger. The excuse given was that Crash only won that award because the producers had sent the film to every SAG member, which is something of a rarity. But, still, Brokeback fever continued unabated. It became part of America’s lexicon, it generated a nightly joke or two on Leno and Letterman, it spawned innumerable parodies.

But just how did it measure up as a movie? I found Crash and Brokeback both good, if flawed, films. Oscar-worthy since they were about something, a prerequisite. Crash makes up in aesthetic bleakness what it lacks in subtlety — Los Angeles is a city of minorities divided but colliding, duh! — but it’s also gripping and powerful. Brokeback gives us closet-case sheepherders tastefully presented so they redefine the notion of love. But it’s also slow and ponderous.

I sounded a note of extreme caution about Brokeback’s Oscar chances because, in Hollywood, the cowboy has been an iconic figure in motion pictures through the ages. Many geriatric Academy members not only worked on oaters, but also worshipped Audie Murphy, Gene Autry, John Wayne and other saddle-sore celluloid heroes. And I noted that only an equally iconic figure like Clint Eastwood could redefine the genre in Unforgiven in a way that didn’t turn off the old-timers. I wasn’t just talking geezers. I was talking baby boomers and younger Academy members sketched out about seeing Brokeback.

I knew there was a chance that, even without seeing the movie, Oscar voters could feel guilt-tripped or succumb to a herd mentality to vote for the “gay-cowboy” movie and strike a blow against Republican wedge politics and extremist religious hatemongering. But they didn’t, and Brokeback lost for all the Right’s reasons.

So, red-staters licking their lips to give Hollywood a verbal ass-whooping will be chagrined tonight. I’ve been keeping a running tally on just how political were the 78th Academy Awards. And the answer is overwhelmingly hardly at all. GOP politicos hoping to use that old saw of “Boy hidey, those show-biz folk are just a homo-promotin’, liberal-media-embracin’, minority-lovin’, devil-worshippin’, pimp-hustlin’, terrorist-protectin’ bunch of pansies, commies and traitors” are going to have to find another way to discredit Hollywood’s actor activists when they campaign come the midterm elections in November.

Turns out Hollywood is as homophobic as Red State country. In touch, not out of touch.

I was right about Rachel Weisz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon, Ang Lee, and Crash. Only Clooney’s win I didn’t anticipate. I thought the ugly guy, Paul Giamatti, would bag it. Damn that Supporting Actor category: trips me up.

And yes, Jon Stewart bombed! At least Jon Stewart admitted he was a poor choice to host the Oscars, given that his film experience amounted to little more than “the fourth male lead from Death to Smoochy.” That filmed bit of schtick at the start of the telecast underscored how hard it is to get a decent host for this nightmare of a show. So it was inevitable that he’d bomb. And, yes, bomb he did. He looked nervous and edgy, his timing was way off, his standup ran in super slow-mo, and his jokes flatlined. What’s more, he didn’t even try to make excuses for the movie industry; instead, he acknowledged, “Let’s face the fact that this has not been the best year for Hollywood.”

Especially when they can’t get a better host than you, Jon-boy. Even his sharp political humor, what little there was of it, was dull. He slammed the Democrats twice, and told only one Cheney joke. (That got his biggest laugh.) He didn’t lay a glove on Bush, and what’s up with that? Isn’t that why we tuned in, to see Mr. Liberal get himself in trouble with the Red State Right? Then he sets up what starts out like a winner, noting how “a lot of people say this town is too liberal…out of touch with Mainstream America…a moral black hole where innocence is obliterated in an orgy of sexual gratification and greed…” But then he ends with, “I don’t really have a joke here.”

Why not, for chrissakes? Didn’t this gig pay you to write punch lines?

Hang on, even Jon just told the audience he’s a “loser.” Well put, at least for tonight.

Adapted by the Author from:
Postings by Nikki Finke, Los Angeles, on Sunday, March 5th, 2006.

And More on Jon Stewart:

TOM SHALES, The Washington Post:

It's hard to believe that professional entertainers could have put together a show less entertaining than this year's Oscars, hosted with a smug humorlessness by comic Jon Stewart, a sad and pale shadow of great hosts gone by ... The audience at home does not want to look at clips. It wants to look at big-time movie stars ... The epitome of honesty perhaps came when Stewart muttered "I am a loser" into the microphone. He was speaking not only for himself but for the whole show.

MAUREEN RYAN, The Chicago Tribune/The Watcher:

I'm just stunned at how badly Jon Stewart's opening monologue went. I didn't realize it was possible to insult the audience more than Chris Rock did. Stewart seemed to be aiming his material at the folks at home, which is probably why the audience in the room with him seemed to be shooting him death rays with their eyes. They just hated his jokes. And you have to admit, insulting your hosts, repeatedly, and saying what they do is "out of touch" is not the best possible move. "I'm going to be pummeled later this evening," he joked at one point. Yeah, I'd pretty much count on that. Oh well. I hope Jon enjoyed this gig. It'll be his last.


2006 Academy Awards: And The Winners Are...

2006 Academy Awards
Oscars 2006: The Winners
Here is the list of winners from the 78th Academy Awards, held at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on March 5th:

Best Picture
Winner: Crash

Best Director
Winner: Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain

Best Actor
Winner: Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote

Best Actress
Winner: Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: George Clooney - Syriana

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener

Best Animated Feature Film
Winner: Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: Tsotsi (South Africa)

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: Crash

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Brokeback Mountain

Best Documentary Feature
Winner: March of the Penguins

Best Cinematography
Winner: Memoirs of a Geisha

Best Visual Effects
Winner: King Kong

Best Art Direction
Winner: Memoirs of a Geisha

Best Film Editing

Best Sound Mixing
Winner: King Kong

Sound Editing
Winner: King Kong

Best Music (Song)
Winner: It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp - Hustle and Flow

Best Music (Score)
Winner: Brokeback Mountain

Best Costume Design
Winner: Memoirs of a Geisha

Best Make-Up
Winner: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the

Best Short Film
Winner: Six Shooter

Best Animated Short Film
Winner: The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation

Best Documentary Short Subject
Winner: A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin

Lifetime Achievement Award
Director and writer Robert Altman

Personal comments:

1. I suppose the bourgeois Academy voters ended up preferring a film of violence, hatred and blasphemy (Crash), to the painful soul-murder of a love that is suffocated by the societal demand that one should not speak its name (Brokeback Mountain).

2. Brokeback Mountain nominees relatively clearly seem to have been ignored, except for those nominations where it would have been obviously profane to turn a blind eye to them.

3. King Kong winning Oscars??? Please--who really cares about a big monkey sitting on top of buildings? Dumb and dumber....

4. Thank goodness for March of the Penguins!!

March 05, 2006


An Autistic Young Man: The Unlikely Hero

Jason McElwain
Jason McElwain, an autistic young man, is the manager of his high school basketball team. Last week, the coach put Jason into a game to play for the last four minutes.

Amazingly, Jason went on to score six 3-pointers, plus two more points, for a total of 20 points in four minutes. His performance became a school record for the most 3-pointers in a game.

Jason is a "brave heart" and truly stands as an inspiration for all young autistic persons.

Please watch this amazing video of his remarkable achievement!!


A Little Levity: On Cheney's Accidental Shooting Incident....



The 2006 Academy Awards: And The Winner Is...

2006 Academy Awards
They're as gay as the Mardi Gras. If "Joe" the bartender at the corner tavern knows nothing else about the 2006 Oscars, he must know that by now.

Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's masterful motion picture of two sheep herders battling the love that dare not grunt its name, is favorite for best picture. Felicity Huffman is poised to take the statuette for her cross-gendered performance as a transsexual in Transamerica. And then there is Capote, camp provocateur and the author of In Cold Blood, who may give Philip Seymour Hoffman the first Oscar of his illustrious career. Oscar's turned pink! He's camp as Christmas!

Hollywood people are rather pleased about all this; this is the fight-back, a show of strength in this famous liberal stronghold against the dimwits who live between the coasts. And it is true that these are not simply films about being gay, but about the drama of difference. Hoffman's Capote, true to the flamboyant original, minces, drawls and bitches for America; his strangely high voice could claim an ambiguous sexual identity in its own right.

The evidence in this year's Oscar lists is that the lesser paying public has been sadly underestimated for a long time. Just a few weeks ago, all the buzz was about various conservative states banning Brokeback Mountain and various supposed insiders lambasting Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal for ruining their respective careers by playing gay men.

But nobody seems to have ruined anything. Even the citizens in Utah seem to be rolling along to see Brokeback Mountain in numbers sufficiently pleasing to the multiplexes, without any of those big prairie skies falling in.

Given half a chance and an Oscar contender, in fact, it seems that people can cope with a good deal more than anyone thought: films about issues of free speech, films shot in black and white, films that are morally equivocating, films that ask questions rather than delivering answers. In fact, looking down the list of Oscar nominees, it strikes me that films and their audiences are going through some kind of sea change.

Just a few years ago, it seemed nothing could stop the tidal drift towards ever-bigger blockbusters. Remember 1998: Titanic won almost every available Oscar that year. As James Cameron declared himself king of the world, it seemed that films were henceforth to grow into increasingly behemoth, monumentally expensive spectaculars rich in special effects that, in order to ensure a return on their banana-republic budgets, would necessarily set out to offend no one. There was never going to be a gay Titanic that was for sure.

For anyone who remembered the heyday of American filmmaking in the 1970s, when Martin Scorsese was making films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Jack Nicholson drifted around the country in The Passenger and Al Pacino whined and muttered his way through Dog Day Afternoon (another great gay character, come to think of it), the prospect of more big, dumb films was oppressively dispiriting.

Indeed, when George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh founded "Section Eight," their joint production company, Clooney said they wanted to return to the spirit of the 1970s, to the earlier times of serious intent and willingness to experiment. People sneered. That couldn't happen in the real world. Not in Hollywood, anyway.

And yet here is Clooney, soap opera doctor turned director, with a film that contradicts every possible rule for commercial success. Good Night, and Good Luck is slow, dry and entirely filmed inside. It is also shot in black and white, sticks to the facts of the original story, and doesn’t have any romance in it and not much drama either. Worst of all, it has a clear political agenda; there is no mistaking the comparison Clooney is making between the communist witch-hunts of the '60s and the current American pursuit of terrorists.

Everything about it screams box-office poison. But it isn't. Good Night, and Good Luck has been rated a must-see by critics all over the world. People love it; a lot of people love it. And now here it is, a strong contender for best picture.

Clooney is up for best director; David Strathairn, whose poignant, intelligent work in any number of independent films has never troubled the academy before, is a contender for best actor. Five years ago, who would have thought this was possible?

Now look at the other contenders for best picture. There is Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's elegiac paean to love and land, which relies on its silences as much as the few gruff words that his characters manage to say. This is not a film for stupid audiences or, for that matter, 11-year-old boys who like submarines. It demands not only empathy, but also attention.

Then there is Crash, Paul Haggis' attempt to piece together a picture of fearful, fierce Los Angeles through a group of characters who are, and who will inevitably remain, fatally isolated from each other. While some of its vignettes are heavy-handed and its great actors stranded without much to do, something that should never happen to anyone as astonishingly good as Don Cheadle, Crash at least has the courage of its inconclusiveness.

All the characters - the racist cop, the Iranian shop owner, the black hoodlums, the rich bitch who abuses her Spanish maid - seem caught in their respective downward spirals into loneliness and despair. There is, however, no pat explanation for why that should be: it seems they simply cannot see how else they could live. It is an extraordinarily bleak view from within of the land of the free.

Finally, there is Munich. Steven Spielberg is arguably the director most singly responsible for redirecting popular film into the mix of sentiment, suspense and special effects that is the blockbuster, starting cheap with Jaws and moving right through to the mega-budget action tours-de-force of films such as Saving Private Ryan.

Munich is also a big film. An account of a Mossad hit squad's efforts to kill terrorists, it is structured like a thriller. But it does not thrill, in fact, because Spielberg does not want those men killed and he does not want us to want that either.

Every successful murder only seems to add to the film's terrible freight of anxiety. We were so certain then, he seems to be saying, but what did that certainty do to us? It is not what we might have expected from the man who gave us, and is about to give us again, that very embodiment of cheerful imperialist gangsterism, Indiana Jones.

But where, in all this, is the great blockbuster of the year, Peter Jackson's King Kong? Just two years after Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy swept aside all in its path to take the best picture award, his new and long-cherished opus is vying for prizes for sound editing, sound mix and visual effects, the categories where it probably belongs. Because in the end, grand as it is and whatever Jackson's status, King Kong is only a story about a big monkey. And that's not what we're about now.

How did everything in Hollywood swing around this way? No doubt something of the new mood can be sheeted home to the attacks on the World Trade Centre; given how long it takes to get a film off the ground, it was always going to be this long before we saw signs of the fear, shock and devastation that followed that event up on our screens.

Some films have sought to deal directly with Iraq and America's deeply divided feelings about that conflict. For example, Jarhead, which is based on a real soldier's memories of service in the desert, did not earn an Oscar nomination but is certainly a serious attempt to engage critically with history as it happens.

But a film does not have to address the moment so specifically to catch its spirit; suffice to say that if Good Night, and Good Luck or The Constant Gardener were ever going to be made, they were going to be made now. If, as many of its opponents say, half of America was against invading Iraq, there is nothing to suggest this vastness of disaffection and dissent in the mainstream media.

What a beacon, then, is Ed Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck, the real-life reporter who dared to challenge Senator McCarthy's mad search for Reds. And if it seems difficult to pinpoint why globalization seems overwhelming and insidious, there is The Constant Gardener to put flesh on the bare bones of that feeling.

That films can be used in this way, as an expression of dissent where none is generally heard, is clearly evidenced by the emergence of this year's whole spate of angry, engaged and shamelessly partial films that have become hits with a public that, shortchanged yet again by studio and media bosses alike, is clearly eager for information it can't get elsewhere.

Films as varied in tone as The Corporation, Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room and Supersize Me have all, in their different ways, examined and attacked the American system right at its capitalist root. Enron also has an Oscar nomination for this year's best documentary. Can it beat March of the Penguins? Some say yes.

It is this, in fact, that this year's Oscar films are all about: risk, fear and the urgent, vital things at the core of life itself. And about art, since these subjects demand filmmaking of a high caliber if they are to make any sense at all. Which is why the Oscar field is the strongest in recent memory.

Long may the new seriousness last even if, ultimately, we have terrorists, President Bush and the folly of war to thank for it.

Adapted by the Author from:
The Age, 3/5/2006.

March 03, 2006


Sanity: A Container of Madness

The Deeply Sane

The sane avoid using words such as "self-control" or "self-discipline," or "effort" or "willpower." Instead, they think and talk about "temptation" and the doing or not doing of "forbidden" things. The sane choose to do forbidden things because of the sense that the thing they want to do is forbidden.

They don’t use these traditional phrases, because they don’t envision other people as creatures who are always living on the edge of being out of control. They don’t see people as morally depraved and inadequate, struggling to be good. Rather, they view people as having strong, competing wishes, while wanting to stay alive on top of that.

So instead of sanity seeming to be dichotomous choices between conformity and self-assertion, between sincerity and authenticity, between duty and desire, the sane person would want, ideally, to incorporate each of these into a repertoire rather than make the grand gesture of choosing between them.

It would be sane now not to be the czar of one idea, but rather to start from the position that everyone may well be right from their own perspective, while also taking it for granted that everyone is even more confused than they seem.

Havoc is always wreaked in fast cures for confusion. The sane believe that the recognition of confusion is a virtue. Further, a fundamental belief is that humiliating another person is the worst thing that we ever do.

Sanity should not be our word for the alternatives to madness; instead, it should refer to whatever internal capacities that we can rely upon to prevent inflicting humiliations upon others.


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