Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Do Not Wear Bladder-Leak Pants

And Additional Random Barking

Mongo With Outdated Technology
Things Are Going On, out there. Many of those things have no effect (or, none so immediate) on a medium-sized white Dog with an interest in current events. 

At The Bottom Of The Bag, It's All Greecy

Alex Tsipras' Syriza Party obtained a majority in Greece's Parliamentary elections, which allowed them to form a government, order take-out food, and name ministers. Greece had been scheduled for sale to Donald Trump (who has wanted his own country for so long) and a few unnamed members of the Chinese clique of Oligarchs government. They were elected because the majority of the Greek people no longer wanted to live under Austerity™.

It seemed for a time that Socialism and Democracy might win against the Forces Of Capital™, and the ECB/IMF/Eisen Kanzellerin would be forced to accept new terms in restructuring $276 billion Euros of Greek debt (owed mostly to German and French banks).  The suffering of the vast majority of Greece's people (a direct result of Austerity measures which accompanied EU bailout loans) might end.

There was an exciting game of chicken between Tsipras and the Troika, with a referendum and press hoopla -- and überall, the possibility that Greece would 'exit' the EU and the use of the common European currency which gives the Union legitimacy. There was "concern and volatility in the major markets."

Then Alex caved and Angela won and Greece will only have to sell a part of itself to Trump and the Chinese Oligarchs.  Greece will receive additional loans from the EU, but with more Austerity™! And, there's every possibility that within a year, the new loan / refinancing arrangements will collapse! So all this has actually been a Game Of Chicken, followed by a game of Kick The Can Down The Road, and the Greek people appear to have lost both times. But, Angela's happy. So.

President Visits Africa Because China

Herr Obama suddenly showed up in Africa to dine, dance, see members of his father's family, and do a little flag-waving. It's hot, and there are trees. The African governments he has visited have been polite. He has been well-received, in a Chamber-Of-Commerce Luncheon kind of way.

We should hope he has been. Given that the Chinese government has spent over $100 billion US on foreign aid in Africa since 2000, and investments by private Chinese firms (some of which have members of the Chinese Commie government as majority shareholders) total tens of billions more.

African governments, many teetering on unstable tribal politics, are happy to receive money and public works, education or infrastructure projects from anybody to stave off the next coup attempt. Of course, some of the money may end up in numbered, offshore accounts of unnamed African or Chinese persons. Well, that's business.  And, America can't afford to spend any money, anyway.

We have the impression that Mr. Obama is popular in Africa. Perhaps he could be elected there after he is done with us here? But, hey; nobody really cares, because  Hillary!  Jebby!

China Buys Itself

There has recently been criticism of the Chinese Red Commie government as it artificially propped up it's stock market and selectively limited equities trading to a list of specific companies. The intent was to prevent a collapse of and panic in their internal market; the criticism centered around well now we can't accurately value Chinese equities can we?

Here in The Land Of The Brave and Home Of The Kiddie -- after allowing Phil Gramm, Larry Summers, and a whole crew of Financial BSD's to dump America over the hood of a 1956 Chevy, we were treated to "Irrational Exuberance" without the benefit of Vaseline. Then the Housing Bubble© popped, and the Little People had a sad.
Lil' Phil and Larry got theirs; so did Angelo Mozilo and the other BSD's (Their mindset? In 2010, it was reported that Jamie Dimon's daughter had asked him why the Crash had happened; he replied, It's a business cycle, honey; happens every few years." The girl thought about it, then asked, 'So why is everyone so upset?'). And, who really cares what happens to the "little people", anyway?  They're so disposable. Only need them around to buy things, like multiple homes with toxic mortgage terms and the lifestyles they've seen on the teevee.

But, Phil and Larry, and their friends, did cause a big problem. And without intervention from the government (to prop up the BSD's and their banks and trading houses and insurers), the 2007-2008 crash would have dragged the global economy down even further. So, Lil' Boots signed off on TARP because people told him to, and Herr Obama signed the Economic Relief Act because Larry told him to.  The Banksters got plenty of free money, and so much more. Because Democracy and Freedom! Yay!   Hillary!  Jebby!

It's true that China's investment markets and economy are managed more tightly by its Red Commie Island-Creating Cybercriminal Oligarch government than any other major international player.  It's also true that China has two economies -- the one that interacts with the global financial structure, and its 'grey market' - "a loosely regulated network of state-owned commercial banks, trust companies, fund managers, and grassroots finance firms" (as noted by Reuters), which more closely mirrors traditional Asian financial networks to provide lending and investing. 

America  and the West has its analogs in a shadow economy, the derivatives markets, and a lack of regulation -- all of which made the 2007-2008 Crash a certainty, and are present in China now. The difference is their government is attempting to intervene far earlier than the U.S. government did in an attempt to forestall a larger crisis.  No matter how thin you slice it, it's all government / central bank intervention.

Have A Little Stalin With Your Turkey

Last week, Recep Tayyip "KiKi" Erdogan, President of Turkey, announced his country would work with the United States and others to rein in ISIS, which has escalated its violence in neighboring Syria to an extent that it's begun spilling north (A recent suicide bombing in a Turkish border town killed 30-plus people; two Turkish policemen were killed when ISIS attacked an outpost on the border with Syria).

Turkey opened a major base to the U.S. military as a launch point for air strikes, promised to use its own air force against ISIS and promptly launched a large number of fighter-bomber attacks against targets in northern Syria.

Here's where it gets murky:  Turkey -- even before KiKi (himself an Iranian-style 'State Islamist') came to power -- has engaged in a thirty-year guerrilla war with Kurdish separatists, in particular the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. A cease-fire was declared in 2013 -- but recently the group has made an alliance of sorts with ISIS in hopes of advancing their own cause (a bit like the Frog allowing the Scorpion to ride its back in crossing the river).

So as it turns out, the vast majority of airstrikes Turkey has made weren't aimed at ISIS at all. They've hit the PKK (the end of the truce with them was announced after the first strikes were carried out). Erdogan's claims of support for an anti-ISIS campaign are, uh, smoked Turkey and mirrors. 

KiKi and his 'Justice and Development' party came to power in Turkey over a decade ago; Erdogan became the country's Prime Minister until (per Turkey's constitution) he could no longer serve -- then, he ran for President, to extend his rule (as had Sad Vlad, The Putin, in Russia).

Erdogan accused Turkey's military (which was the ultimate power in the country since the days of Kemel Ataturk) of plotting to overthrow his Islamist government, dismissing key general officers and replacing them with those loyal to him.

Nothing new here: Erdogan has turned out to be more like an Islamic Stalin in his country than an Iranian Mullah. But not all Turks want KiKi or his politics: In a recent election, his Justice and Development party lost its large majority in Turkey's parliament. There have been (generally unsubstantiated) claims that KiKi has allowed Turkey's government to provide aid to ISIS or allow their fighters to cross its borders into Syria unopposed.

70th Anniversary Of The Big Bang

Only Color Photo Of First Atomic Bomb, 1945 (Click To Enlarge. Easy! Fun! Scary!)
 Boom. It's the gift that keeps on giving: Made In U.S.A.

Ask the Japanese. Ask the residents of a large area around the original Trinity test site, where rates of cancer are stratospherically higher than among the general population, and in particular among people who lived there as children in 1945 and were exposed to fallout from the explosion of the first Plutonium atomic bomb.

Mullah Omar, He Dead

For over a decade, people went on and on about this guy: 'Mullah' Omar, head of the Afghan Taliban; on the wanted list of all manner of organizations. Terrorist, maniac, half-blind. And -- nobody knew where he was. Sorry to harsh everyone's buzz in the intelligence industry (and isn't that a pseudo-oxymoron), he was right here.

Yeah, no kidding -- Omar. Short, a little skinny; beard? Horn-rimmed glasses with one frosted lens? Worked in the cubicle right next to mine.  Did some project management on the IT side; had a decent sense of humor, condo in Walnut Creek; drove a Volvo. Played a little pickup basketball at lunch. Rabid Warriors fan. Had kids but no wife, I think. He also loved the film "Office Space" -- just raved about it. He would go around quoting Milton Waddums lines... and one of his prized possessions was a red, Swingline stapler.

We used to ask him about the Taliban thing: Dude; is that really you? He'd smile and laugh, a little embarrassed ("Well, we all are doing the goofy stuff when we are young, you know").  And then, one day, he just disappeared. I ended up taking on some of his project stuff -- oh, and I got his stapler. So, s'all good.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Theodore Bikel (1924 - 2015)

On July 20th, Theodore Bikel -- actor, singer; activist; Mensch -- passed away at the age of 91. His career in acting stretched over nearly seventy years; he was another part of the world I'd grown up with, and taken for granted; another thing you don't notice, until it vanishes. He seemed timeless -- like his friend, Pete Seeger -- because he seemed to have enough energy for five men.

He was the Jewish grandfather you always wanted, someone who seemed always on the verge of dancing (because life can move sideways, in an instant; and so, dance), and whether you were Jewish or not was immaterial.

Bikel was originally an Austrian ( Aus Wein, in fact), and fourteen in 1938 when the Germans absorbed the country into the Reich and marched into its capital in the Anschluss. That resulted in the persecution and terrorizing of Austrian Jews, forcible expropriation of their property, physical assaults and public humiliations, so vicious and intense that the Germans were taken aback by it. Bikel and his family were able to emigrate to (then) Palestine, where they remained until coming to England, and then America.

On Stage: Bikel As von Trapp To Mary Martin's Maria
In Palestine, and then for a few years in London's West End (where he came to the attention of both Michael Redgrave, then Lawrence Olivier), Bikel grew as an actor, and also a folk singer -- someone whose heart was on fire, like a character out of a story by Sholem Aleichem, whose works he admired all his life.

He went on to star on Broadway, premiering the role of the dour but correct Austrian Kapitäin von Trapp in The Sound Of Music (the role Christopher Plummer would make famous in the film version) -- and, Bikel helped to create one of the show's signature tunes: During out-of-town tryouts for the musical, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wanted to include a song that would underscore the aristocratic von Trapp's sadness at being forced to escape the Austria he loved.

Bikel's ability with a guitar meant his von Trapp could play and sing; his personal history meant he understood (as Rogers and Hammerstein would not) precisely what it meant to lose your country by forced emigration. The three men collaborated on what became the song, Edelweiss.

Bikel also went on to be one actor who defined the role of Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof. Bikel's abilities as both actor and singer, combined with an understanding of Aleichem's stories, led him to play the character more than two thousand times during his career.

As opposed to Zero Mostel's interpretation (he premiered the role), Bikel's Tevye was dialed back -- Mostel's acting experience was rooted in Catskills vaudeville and comedy; Bikel came from a classical stage background, and he criticized Mostel for putting more schtick in the role than necessary.

His Teyve was just a man, but a man in community, en familie, and in a relationship with God, who in village life is a member of the congregation who is always treated as if he'd just stepped away for a moment.

"I now pronounce you man and wife. Continue with the execution."
In Hollywood, he became an in-demand character actor -- in 1954, the slightly-at-sea Kapitäin of the German gunboat who marries Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen", and then orders their execution to continue; Heini, the First Officer of the German U-Boat to Curt Jurgen's Captain in The Enemy Below (1957);  the Captain of the stranded Russian submarine in Stanley Kramer's 1966 comedy, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.

Bikel As Karpathy In 'My Fair Lady'
With Alan Arkin (R) In The Russians Are Coming
He was Zoltan Karparthy, the obsequious guest of Professor Henry Higgins ("Oozing charm from every pore / he oiled his way across the floor"), in My Fair Lady; and appeared in countless roles on television series through the Sixties, Seventies and into the Eighties. His face, his voice, was part of the texture of our culture.

Bikel In A Publicity Shot For Billboard Magazine, 1970
Bikel was also an unashamed Liberal -- and, like Pete Seeger, was generally to be found at a political rally with his guitar, leading people in song. Music, he knew, could move the human spirit more quickly than any impassioned political argument. He was an unashamed supporter of the State of Israel, and just as unashamed an activist, vocal critic of the acts of different Israeli governments towards the Palestinians.

He was an elder representative of a tradition of thought, argument, and passion, and a role model for anyone who considers what it must be to age. Even as he reached ninety, in a recent interview on the PBS program Democracy Now! Bikel appeared sharp, lucid and direct, his sense of humor intact with all its nuance and spirit.

As I've said: One more Mensch leaves us; now he knows what we do not. And we live in a world with a limited supply of Mensches.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wisdom Of The Ages

Better Off Dead
( Randy Newman / Bad Love Album [1999] ) and too bloody right

When you fall in love with someone
Who doesn't love you --
Someone who treats you so badly
It Rubberfies your head

Someone who doesn't want you
(But won't let you go)
Someone who thinks you're crazy
(Tells you so, over and over)
This happens to you
You'd be better off dead

You might be surprised to learn how often it can happen
The love affair
(Boy does it hurt)
You fall in love with someone for whom you really care
They treat you like
You was dirt
Make you feel all fat 'n fumbly
Make you feel kind of dirty; nerdy
Hey I'm talkin to you --
Didn't you hear what I said?

Better off dead
Than living with someone
Whose every word's like a knife that cuts through you
Better off dead
Than living with someone
Who just doesn't give a shit what happens to you

You know that it's wrong --
But you go on and on and on
Better off dead
Better off dead
Better off dead

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Four Billion Years Of Evolution

Pluto, Bitches

Pluto, Nearly 5 Billion Miles From Earth, As Seen By New Horizons Probe (via BBC)
 As sapient beings who have four billion years of evolutionary history behind us, we still can't seem to deal with each other very well. Spend even fifteen minutes watching a news feed of events around the world and the old joke (4 Billion Years Of Evolution And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt) seems generally true -- except when it isn't.

Nine-and-a-half years ago, when there was plenty of money to design, build and send scientific packages into deep space, the New Horizons probe was launched. Its ultimate mission was to perform a fly-by of Pluto and photograph as much of its surface as possible before transmitting images and data (via much slower than light radio waves) back to us.

My small request of humanity today is -- in the next few days, when it's night, wherever you are; and depending upon the amount of cloud cover -- to stand somewhere and look up at the night sky. Out There is Pluto, the ninth and last planet in our solar system, over 3 billion miles from Earth.  It takes light from the sun (traveling at 189,000 miles per second) five hours and forty minutes to get out there.

When you look up, feel yourself standing on the earth, Third Rock from the sun. Try remembering where we are, and everything you every knew about our evolution. And think about this:
Because the observations are all run on an automated command sequence, New Horizons had to fly a perfect path past Pluto, and with perfect timing - otherwise its cameras would have shot empty sky where the dwarf or its moons were expected to be.

This necessitated aiming New Horizons at a "keyhole" in space just 100km by 150km (60miles by 90 miles), and arriving at that location within a set margin of 100 seconds.

The last indications were that New Horizons was on the button of that aim point, being perhaps 70km closer to the surface of Pluto than anticipated, and arriving about 72 seconds early -- all this was achieved after a multi-billion-km flight across the Solar System lasting nine-and-a-half years.
As you stand up looking into the sky, remember that we may not know Why We Are Here -- but Here We Are, and we've hurled machines into the heavens to put them almost directly on a target we aimed for, at a distance so far away ...  As a species, we have a right to feel proud of that. Each and every one of us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reprint Heaven: Chairman Of The Board, Part I

Gozirra, Then and Now
(From spring, 2014. Part 2 follows)

[NOTE: As the Googlemachine has reminded all of us, this is the 114th birthday of  Eiji Tsuburaya, special-effects designer and the originator of so many hero beings from Japanese science fiction cinema. He also created the concept which we know today as The Big Guy, the Chairman Of The Board; and San Francisco's hometown monster, as we are a Sister City with Tokyo.]

Disgruntled:  Not Allowed On The 'Blue And Gold Fleet'
Arooo, Arooo / Godzilla Sure Likes You
He's Got Big Feet/ And He Smells Real Neat
Arooo, Arooo Arooo; Arooo, Arooo...
>>  Rhyme Started By Friends' Children;  To The Tune Of, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho; It's Off To Work..."

The Big Guy will be making his appearance this week, on a gigantic multiplex screen near you, in another installment of the timeless saga of ambition, terror, sea water, and a 350-foot Lizard who just wants to be the best 350-foot bipedal Lizard ever, and find love in a busy uncaring world -- the 28th (or, depending on who you ask, the 29th) film version of Godzilla.

In Sixty Years, He Has Entered Our Collective Unconscious

Spoiler Alert, Sort Of

Be Advised: If viewed in reverse, this film shows the Giant Happy Fun Lizard putting out fires and rebuilding a large, urban area for its inhabitants, playfully wrestling with other large alien figures (but none so large as He), then backing away respectfully into the ocean as a grateful nation sends naval vessels and its airforce to join in celebration.  Roll credits; everyone goes home feeling good.
According to people who have actually seen the film (the most creative take I found is by illustrator and reviewer, Natalie Nourigat, and can be found at her site, Spoilers !), most classic moments you expect to see in Giant Monster movies are present: The scientist who tries to warn the population and is ignored; the brave warrior; scenes of people chatting about things personal; the happy children, playing at the seaside... and all the while, the audience knows: Gorzirra Out There. Gorzirra Come Soon. U Are All So Scrood.

So Much For 'Suspension Of Disbelief': No Way It's That Overcast On The Bay In August
In fact, it may be that Godzilla 2014 is so much like previous Giant Monster films that it runs the risk of ironic self-parody -- and when The Big Guy appears, he's just in the nick of time to keep us from nodding off.

And still, we don't know: What the hell does he want? Why does he do the stuff he does? Is he just pissed off, twenty-four-seven? About what? Is he sad? Is there a Ms. Godzilla? And the answer always comes back --  It's In The Script! He's Godzilla! It's a monster movie, for crying out loud; it's not 'Prime Suspect'. There is no nuanced, emotional or rational context in the film to provide those kinds of answers.

 We've seen "Earthquake!" and all the Airport movies, and "2012": the earth shakes a lot; planes almost crash; and there's that Mayan, end-of-the-world thing. They're genre films, which build on every previous film of their kind that's gone before.

The best you can expect is that a director is superb at delivering a genre story (M. Night Shyamalan, say, before Lady In The Water). Rarely, a classic appears and redefines a genre (like Chinatown, or Alien) -- but in general, most of these films follow a formula as faithfully as the tides.

Outtake For The Gag Reel: Having Blown His Line, The Big Guy Does Karaoke
And special effects -- showing us what the impossible looks like -- draw us in.  I'm also curious to see what Bryan Cranston does with his role (his first after Breaking Bad), and Ken Watanabe (of 'Letters From Iwo Jima' and Inception), but the CGI treats will be a focus.  And I'm interested to see whether my neighborhood survives; from the stills on the Intertubes, it appears North Beach, the Waterfront and Financial district are Toast, so who knows.

And I'll go to see The Chairman Of The Board, of course. He's been a treat for sixty years.

1954: Big Guy's Beginnings

(Note: This narrative undoubtedly has holes, inaccuracies, and is incomplete. It won't satisfy a Godzilla, or a film, purist. This an arc about the evolution of a character from destroyer, to near-slapstick character, and back again. Enjoy.)

Gojira (The Original) Attacks The Tokyo Diet Building, 1954
The Godzilla franchise isn't as old a film character as Dracula or Frankenstein, Batman or Superman -- but the mythos behind all of them has periodically been re-imagined and re-translated on the screen for new generations. There's no doubt about it, though: As a concept, Godzilla is a classic. And in Japan, Gorjira is regarded as one of the two most classic films in its national cinema -- right alongside Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

No joke: when it premiered in 1954, Japanese audiences (who have very different cultural reference points than we here in the West) didn't consider it a cheesy monster flick so much as a serious morality tale about the limits of science, told through the destructive hijinks of a mythic lizard. In fact, there's a bronze statue honoring The Big Guy in downtown Tokyo.

Ray Harryhausen's Stop-Motion Creature, 1953
Godzilla's cinematic roots were Made In The USA: In 1953, Warner Brothers premiered the classic Beast From 20,000 Fathoms -- a giant, prehistoric dinosaur, released from frozen sleep in the Arctic by a nuclear test explosion, swims to New York City and then comes ashore to raise all kinds of ruckus. Sound familiar? The monster was played by a large rubber model with an internal, articulated armature, operated by the master of stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen, (the armature designed and built by Ray's father), and the film was distributed around the world.

But Godzilla's real genesis began over a labor dispute: In the spring of 1954, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka of Japan's Toho Film Studios was in a real fix.  Having negotiated making a film for Toho in Indonesia, with everything ready, the Indonesian government refused to grant visas to Japanese actors (one way of saying, "Thanks for the brutal occupation of our country a few years back").  Tanaka, who was just trying to make a movie, was moderately screwed.

Director Honda (Left), Producer Tanaka (Right), Toho Films
Toho Studios had grown out of a theater company which (among other things) managed all Kabuki theatres in the city of Tokyo. It began to make films in the late 1920's, and operated movie houses for a new, domestic Japanese market. After 1945, it was struggling to make and distribute motion pictures in a Japan still trying to define itself after the end of the Second World War. 

Tanaka had funding to complete a film, but suddenly, no project; he had to find one, or else. As he flew back to Japan from Indonesia, that American film he'd seen, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms -- about a monster lizard terrorizing New York -- drifted through his head, and he began getting ideas.

Back in Tokyo, Tanaka made a forceful pitch to the studio heads to make their own version of  20,000 Fathoms. He was given approval to re-direct the budget of his Indonesian picture towards this new film -- but with one catch: he had only six months to get a film in the can, edit it, and produce a Final Cut.

This called for what the Japanese referred to during WWII (some enthusiastically; some with sarcastic derision) as a "Hero Project" -- shortened deadlines, intense work, little sleep, and All Hands On Deck. In short order, Ishirō Honda (who had already completed two domestic films for Toho) was hired to direct what Tanaka called "Project G" (for 'giant'). Shigeru Kayama, a science-fiction author, was engaged to develop a screenplay and the concept of  The Monster -- originally a wild predator which came ashore, ate people, and went back in the water.

A second draft of the screenplay by Honda and Takeo Murata expanded on themes Tanaka wanted to see in the finished film -- fears of radiation and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, real-life monsters unleashed by the United States in the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and through continuing nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.

The Monster in their script -- which had no name, yet -- grew in size, particularly after the studio consulted their special-effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya, who had worked with director Honda on his previous films.
Before Godzilla's Visit: Tsubraya's Miniature Tokyo Bay (1954)
Tsuburaya was known at Toho Studios for the realism of miniature model effects he created for a 1942 Toho film dramatizing Japan's attack on at Pearl Harbor. He had been intrigued by stop-motion animation ever since seeing King Kong in the 1930's, and while he was impressed with Harryhausen's work for 20,000 Fathoms,  Tsuburaya advised Honda and Tanaka that a stop-motion Creature would not work for the new project.  That technique was time-intensive, and 'Project G' had no time to spare.

Tsuburaya suggested an actor wearing a large suit would be their Monster, and attack a tiny Tokyo. Some wanted a monster designed with a mushroom-shaped head, reminiscent of a mushroom cloud, but the traditionalists won -- the Creature was dinosaur-like, but still needed a name. Producer Tanaka reportedly overheard colleagues talking about a Toho Studio press agent, nicknamed "Gojira," -- a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla (Gorira) and whale (Kujira). Tanaka decided to use it as both the name for the Creature and the title of the film -- and to Western ears, 'Gorjira' sounds very much like... Godzilla.

(MEHR, Mit Arooo: In response to a question, yes: the sound, "Arooo!" assigned to The Big Guy did originate from its use by 'Nixon's Head' in the animated series, Futurama

Here at Before Nine, we've reported Arooo being used by The Zombified Ronald Rayguns, among other things. Oddly, it's a term also applied to conical, clear plastic packaging, and [our favorite] Dog Products.)

(Part 2 Follows Below; or, Go Here)

Reprint Heaven: Chairman Of The Board, Part II

Gorzirra, Then and Now
(Part One Is above; or, Go Here. From spring, 2014.)

[NOTE: As the Googlemachine has reminded all of us, this is the 114th birthday of  Eiji Tsuburaya, special-effects designer and the originator of so many hero beings from Japanese science fiction cinema. He also created the concept which we know today as The Big Guy, the Chairman Of The Board; and San Francisco's hometown monster, as we are a Sister City with Tokyo.] 

Releasing Gojira: 1954

(The Story Thus Far:  An American film, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, is released by Warner Brothers in 1953, and gives producer Tomoyuki Tanaka of Toho Film Studios the inspiration he needs to save his job. Allowed to make a Japanese version, he is given roughly six months to complete it.

(Tanaka envisions a Giant Lizard, the mutated product of radioactive fallout or contamination, to serve as a warning about the limits of science and unintended consequences of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

(It's decided the Creature will be named "Gorjira" [a combination of the Japanese words for 'Gorilla' and 'Whale'], and the project's special effects consultant, Eiji Tsuburaya, convinces Tanaka and his team that an actor in a large rubber suit can play the Monster, and will have the fun of ravaging a miniature downtown Tokyo.)
Haruo Nakajima (Left) Served Tea On The Set Of Godzilla (1954) 
One of Toho Studios' principal stunt actors, Haruo Nakajima, volunteered to play Gorjira -- but even with several redesigns, the suit was heavy and difficult to use (its final version required a drain for collected sweat) and only frequent rehydration breaks kept Nakajima from passing out due to heat exhaustion. 

Tsuburaya (Left) Confers With Nakajima, 1956

The film was completed on schedule, released in Japan on November 3, 1954, and was a blockbuster hit.  Overnight, Toho was the film studio in Japan, and Gojira's director, producer and special effects creator hailed as geniuses of the cinema arts.

The film was sold to the American market; producer Joseph E. Levine had it dubbed, cut by twenty minutes, and inserted scenes of Raymond Burr (star of the popular television series, "Perry Mason") as an Edward-R-Murrow-style journalist, broadcasting eyewitness accounts of The Big Guy's trip to Tokyo.

Raymond Burr Contemplates His Fee For This Acting Job
Levine named the film "Godzilla, King of the Monsters", and released it in 1956. It was a smash in the U.S., pulling in $2 million dollars (that's about $40M in 2014 dollars, kids -- not bad for a guy in a rubber suit).

Toho, and Daikaiju, Go Viral: 1955 - 1961

Tanaka initially considered Godzilla a one-shot morality tale, not the beginning of a 'franchise', and of an entire cinema industry.  However, the movie was so popular (not only in Japan, but worldwide) and making sequels seemed so potentially profitable, that in less than a year Toho shot and released "Godzilla's Counterattack" (later famous for the derisive line, "And you call yourself a scientist").

This was the first film where Godzilla would fight another monster, Anguirus (which became Godzilla's friend in later movies) -- and this established what eventually became the hallmark of the Godzilla 'franchise': Other monsters appear (from inside the earth, from outer space, or the mind of Minolta), wreak havoc, and Earth is defenseless... until Godzilla appears to save the day.

War Of The Rubber Suits: Big Guy And Anguirus Duke It Out
"Counterattack" (released as Gigantis in the U.S.) wasn't as successful in Japan as the original Godzilla, and the movie didn't adapt well to foreign distribution. As a result,  Toho began releasing other daikaiju movies (a term meaning "gigantic, strange monster"), a new genre of films Toho had created and which other Japanese studios began to imitate) -- most notably Rodan; "Varan the Unbelievable"; and Mothra by 1961.

All three of these characters would appear in later Godzilla films. All were solid box-office hits in Japan; Toho Films decided to keep milking the daikaiju cow so long as it kept paying off.

Good, Bad, and Even Worse: 1961 - 1973

"Look, No One Told Me Kyoto Was A World Heritage Site"
... and pay off it did. In 1961, Toho collaborated with American producer John Beck to create "King Kong versus Godzilla", the most box-office popular Godzilla movie of all time in the U.S. and Japan.  On the strength of that success, Toho produced 12 more Godzilla films -- by the end of which Godzilla was transformed from a mutant, destructive Monster created by atomic radiation, to the protector of humankind.

Actually, no one can be certain whether The Big Guy likes humankind enough to fight for it, or is just amazingly pissed off at the violation of his turf by some giant Bug / Dragon / Flying Turtle / et al.

(I'm not adding a list of all Godzilla productions; you can look at the Godzilla Wiki for that. We're just looking at the evolution of an archetype here.)

Unfortunately, over time, several things happened:  Godzilla's character and portrayal began to resemble the formulaic aspects of other daikaiju films and characters, and other Giant Monster films had a certain level of low comedy and moments of near-slapstick action.  Toho adapted its most popular character to fit the genre, not the other way around, and by the early 1970's things were ... goofy.

No longer the chunky-but-trim Terror From Under The Sea who laid waste to large urban areas, Godzilla lost most of his back spines and looked like... your neighbor, in a big rubber suit.

Godzilla (L), Megalon (R), And Other 400-Foot-Tall Beings
In 1971, I thought the bottom of the barrel was Toho Studio's "Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster", which showed human victims chopped up in sections (take that, kiddies), pratfalls, and Godzilla boxing like a human. It's tough to maintain suspension of disbelief under those circumstances.

Unfortunately, it was topped by their 1973 Godzilla vs. Megalon -- I swear to God; the stunt workers in that 89 painful minutes of cinema had to have been higher than Mt. Fuji. And the "film" was shot in only two weeks: Toho was low on funding. The daikaiju cow had gone dry.
Death And Transfiguration: 1975 - 1995

In 1974 and 1975, Toho tried slightly rebranding their character for its 20th anniversary in MechaGodzilla and The Terror Of MechaGodzilla, but the original magic of the character had been badly diluted; the public wouldn't pay to watch him, and Toho's executives didn't want to risk their money in future Godzilla film projects.  The Big Guy only made a few appearances on Japanese daikaiju science-fiction television into the early 1980's, all moderately ridiculous compared with the menace and destructive power of the original Monster.

In 1984, the 30th anniversary of the character's birth, Toho made a simple and radical decision to save the franchise which had financed the studio's successful expansion for decades:  They started producing a new set of Godzilla films, called the "Heisei Series."

Most were for the Japanese market only -- but through them, Toho Studios simply 'reset' their character -- they ignored every Godzilla film made after the original 1954 release (good pick, that) and started with a new film appropriately titled Godzilla, which starred a Big Lizard who looked almost identical to the one who stepped on Tokyo in 1954.

In it, The Big Guy returns to his amazingly pissed-off former self, indestructible, created by nuclear radiation, a 350-foot-tall Lizard out for your personal ass.  It was released in America as Godzilla 1985, with some added scenes featuring an American played by (wait for it) Raymond Burr.

Ten years later, in 1995, Toho decided to end their franchise by killing it, in Godzilla vs. Destroyer. Toho made Godzilla's death public by adding "Godzilla Dies!" to posters and advertising of the film, and (while leaving a door open for a successor to reappear), The Big Guy dies.

Broderick Gets Up Close And Personal With Roland Emerich's So-Called Lizard (1998)

In 1998, everyone wished his successor had died before the filming started when TriStar Films licensed with Toho to develop their own Godzilla -- a computer-generated Big Lizard which had little relation to the classic Big Lizard. Directed by Roland Emerich and starring Matthew Broderick, it was a financial and artistic flop; the less said about it, the better -- but it was Bad. It was just Bad.

There was, of course, the movie 'Atonement', but Godzilla's appearance in that film was barely mentioned. Probably because we'd all rather look at Keira Knightley.

So, there are two Godzillas -- the Japanese Monster who came from the sea to destroy things, stayed to become a comedic actor, then returned to his old ways.  That current Godzilla encompasses both the original Destructor, the product of bad science and big bombs, and his daikaiju side, battling other Big Monsters to protect the Earth, his turf, or just for the hell of it.

Godzilla films have continued to be popular in Japan, and a second series was released following The Big Guy's supposed 'death' in 1995 -- again, Toho simply "reset" the story line without reference to the character's end... but this is one side of his existence that American or European audiences don't see. In Asia, Godzilla is timeless and lives on, as pissed-off and irrascible as ever, sometimes defending mankind and occasionally kicking Tokyo's ass.

The second Godzilla is a creature of Hollywood -- less accessible, a  Godzilla "leased" from Toho Studios and who is (aber natürlich) much different for a Western audience. He's more of an animal, nastier, cunning and cold-blooded -- kind of like The Koch Brothers on a good day.  He's all Destructor. No slapstick from this Big Guy.

However, after Emerich's poor showing nearly twenty years ago, no American studio (or whoever owns the conglomerates which make films these days -- Disney; Little Rupert's Fox; Comcast) wanted to risk putting money behind another Godzilla remake -- until now. This new film is supposed to be a "totally new concept" in Godzilladom. We'll see.

It's nice, though, that The Big Guy is getting work. He thinks so, too, I'm sure.


MEHR: With apologies to Fafnir, Giblets, the ghost of Freddy el Desfibradddor; Mistah Charlie, Phd.; and the Medium Lobster Himself (who is, well... pretty sizable):
Godzilla! There is no Giant Happy Fun Lizard but He - the Living, The Self-subsisting, the Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep. His are all things In the heavens and on earth and under the oceans. Who is there that can intercede In His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to All as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of His knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding and preserving them, For He is the Most High, The Supreme (in glory). He is Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, the One and Only.

Monday, July 6, 2015

You Know It's Gonna Get Stranger

Fifty Years Down That Road
Transcendence, and The Experience Of Aging, Go Hand In Hand
(One Dog's Observation)

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams; unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me

I have spent my life
Seeking all that's still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me

In the book of love's own dreams
Where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly
You flew to me
You flew to me

In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Just a box of rain,
Wind and water,
Believe it if you need it,
If you don't just pass it on

Sun and shower,
Wind and rain,
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

It's just a box of rain
I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare

But it's just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

And After All This Time

Still, I feel like a stranger; feel like a stranger.  Well you know -- it's gonna get stranger.  So let's get on with the show.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Take This Austerity And Shove It

Greece Says No
I Just Really Like This Graphic.
61% of the Greeks who voted on their referendum to accept or reject terms of the EU Troika's latest offer of financial support said No, Thank You to further austerity.

The past several weeks have been an exercise in Brinksmanship between Alex Tsipras (and the Syriza party which controls the Greek government), and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany (and the entire EU-IMF-ECB Troika structure).  It's been a contest between the Troika's demands -- that further economic assistance from the EU will only come with additional Austerity measures -- and the Tsipras government's rejection of those terms as a continuation of Greece's untenable economic condition that began after the Crash of 2008.

You remember the Go-Go, "Lil' Boots" Bush years -- an expansion if the "finance sector", with aggressive lending, leveraging to the max, and no real government oversight. In America, that ended in a financial crisis at least as great as the Wall Street Crash of 1929.  But it also ended with our government bailing out the Banksters.  And that is exactly what happened in other European economies -- and most obviously in Greece.

To say it again, what's at issue is 267 Billion Euros in bailout loans, made by the EU to Greece after the 2008 crash forced their economy to implode. Most of those loans came through German banks.  The Greeks can't meet further payments on the loans -- and the Syriza party's election victory was a bellwether of how ordinary Greeks felt about the austerity terms that came with those loans. 

Yanis Varoufakis -- until yesterday, Greece's finance minister -- said today in a blog post (as noted by Barry Ritholtz in his Bloomberg News column) that " 'the Greek "bailouts" [after 2008] were exercises whose purpose was intentionally to transfer private losses onto the shoulders of the weakest Greeks, before being transferred to other European taxpayers.' "

(It's worth repeating that one of the most serious charges made against the Bush-era TARP program, and the Relief Act under then first-year President Obama, was that it turned private business losses -- the results of stupid, greedy decisions by a handful of men -- into public debt, to be borne by all Americans.

(And that was done in order to ensure that the Casino stayed open, that our Masters Of The Universe could remain BSD's, and be honored, and have Treats. Any number of Loyalists have said Hey, if the government didn't do that, the whole banking system would have collapsed! Everywhere! Game Over!! Others have said America's Investment Houses/Banks should have paid the price for their own greed and been allowed to fail, like any other business.)

Note: Ritholtz also mentions, "This astute (albeit little known) insight has been echoed by a small number of insightful analysts... [such as] Steve Randy Waldman. His take on the Greek bailouts includes an in-depth discussion of the [EU's financial assistance to Greece] as 'largely a bailout of European banks, initiated to prevent a wider banking crisis.' ".

House O' Cards: Primary Exposure To Greek Debt Rests With Five EU Core Economies
A number of payments are due to the IMF/ECB in the month of July -- primarily interest payments on the bailouts, and on maturing Greek bonds.  Tsipras was clear that it wasn't his government's intent to pull a "Grexit" -- Greece would remain a member of the EU and participate in the single-currency Euro; they just wanted to renegotiate and restructure the debt, curbing the austerity measures.

Through at least four rounds of negotiations in June, Merkel and the Troika said no. Greece had to accept its terms without reservation: More funding for your economy? You take more Austerity. If Greece refused, there would be no funding -- and that meant Greece would be forced to leave the EU, abandon the Euro, destabilize the European Union itself and potentially bring down the world economy.

Paul Krugman noted
[The Austerian's] story, echoed by many in the business press, is that the failure of their attempt to bully Greece into acquiescence was a triumph of irrationality and irresponsibility over sound technocratic advice.

But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense. 
Last Tuesday, Greece defaulted on a $1.7 B interest payment on the original bailout loans to the Troika -- which responded by refusing to extend funding to Greek banks.  The Tsipras government had no choice but to close the banks and impose capital controls: No more money could be transferred out of the country (some 2 Billion Euros had been moved out of Greece in the previous week); cash withdrawals at bank ATMs were limited to 60 Euros per account per day.

This was a high-stakes gamble on the part of the EU's financial leadership, and Merkel -- and seemed an act of arrogance, even cruelty. They were willing to make life even harder for ordinary Greeks if it forced the Lefties to accept their demands, or leave office -- no doubt to be replaced by another Center-Right coalition that would humbly accept the Troika's terms.

Modern European politics are rarely played so openly at that level, and it backfired: Tsipras countered by calling for a referendum on the Troika's financing offer = Austerity Yes, or Austerity No.  High Noon on the Acropolis. 

That, too, was a high-stakes' gamble (Tsipras had said if the country voted to accept the Troika's terms, he would resign as Prime Minister and call for new elections). I think Merkel and company were surprised, but expected the Greek population would not only reject Tsipras' position but the Syriza party's coalition government as well.

That didn't happen.  What will happen next?  Well, we'll all get to see, won't we?

Und Mehr, bei Herr Krugman:
A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap.

But how can such an escape be managed? Is there any way for Greece to remain in the euro? And is this desirable in any case?

The most immediate question involves Greek banks. In advance of the referendum, the European Central Bank cut off their access to additional funds, helping to precipitate panic and force the government to impose a bank holiday and capital controls. The [European] central bank now faces an awkward choice: if it resumes normal financing it will as much as admit that the previous freeze was political, but if it doesn’t it will effectively force Greece into introducing a new currency.

Specifically, if the money doesn’t start flowing from Frankfurt (the headquarters of the central bank), Greece will have no choice but to start paying wages and pensions with i.o.u.s, which will de facto be a parallel currency — and which might soon turn into the new drachma.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the central bank does resume normal lending, and the banking crisis eases. That still leaves the question of how to restore economic growth.

In the failed negotiations that led up to Sunday’s referendum, the central sticking point was Greece’s demand for permanent debt relief, to remove the cloud hanging over its economy. The troika — the institutions representing creditor interests — refused, even though we now know that one member of the troika, the International Monetary Fund, had concluded independently that Greece’s debt cannot be paid. But will they reconsider now that the attempt to drive the governing leftist coalition from office has failed?

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Glorious Fourth

 Old Times Not Forgotten
Who won the war? The Union Army obviously won the war... [but] if we're not just talking about the series of battles which finished with the surrender at Appomattox ; but talking instead about the struggle to make something higher and better out of the country -- then the question gets complicated: The slaves won the war, but they lost the war. Because they won 'freedom' -- that is, the removal of slavery -- but they did not win 'freedom' as they understood freedom.

I think what we need to remember most of all is that the Civil War is not over until we, today, have done our part in fighting it... William Faulkner said once that, "History is not was; it's is" -- and what we need to remember is that the Civil War is in the present, not just the past.

The generation that fought the war... also established a standard that will not mean anything until we have finished the work. You can say, "There's no more slavery any longer; we're all citizens." But if we're all citizens -- then we have a task to do to make sure that, too, is not a joke. If some citizens live in houses, and others live on the street, the Civil War is still to be fought -- and regrettably, it can still be lost.

Barbara J. Fields, Historian
In Ken Burns' Documentary, The Civil War, 1990

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reprint Heaven: Justa Guy From Jersey

At Last Their Love Has Come Along 
(This, from October, 2011. Strange how 2015 all seems like a weird kind of replay of the 2012 season, doesn't it?)
(From October, 2011) In Future, All Presidential Press Conferences Will Be Held
Outside George Washington Hospital's ER. Just In Case.

"Those pushing Mr. Christie to run include the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Nancy Reagan and the conservative columnist William Kristol. If the odds of a campaign were very low just weeks ago, they are increasing."
("Christie Team Assessing How Fast a 2012 Campaign Could Be Mounted", New York Times)

[In 2011] The Rethug Leadership, and the Big Money behind them, have looked at their pack of GOP presidential candidates:

The Mittens is seen as a mock-pseudo-crypto-quasi christian by Real christians (Read: We Conservative Evangelicals Will Never Allow Some Apostate Cult Member A Mormon To Be Elected), and isn't very exciting;  

Crazy Lady Grand TurtleBear Bachmann of the Church of I Kill You! and Le Gouvernor Placard Mssr. Perry have crashed and burned, because they say manifestly stupid things and are mentally ill;

Newt (" Rockin', No Knockin' ") Gingrich is too overly intellectual for the, uh, average Republican, and is too busy looking for the next Mrs. Gingrich he'll have to marry.

Herman Cain is Waaaaaay Overtime, and John Huntsman might be sane, but that may be why Herman is watched as entertainment and John can't find traction with the, uh, average Republican -- plus, Huntsman is (cough cough) one of Them, too (We mean Mormons. See "Mittens", above);  

Ron Paul looks like Don Knotts in Three's Company and is close to crazy;  

Mike Huckabee is mentally ill too; Crazy Moose Lady Little Sarah, Straight 'n Tall, is crazy, but knows being President would put a stop to her 'Little Sarah Brand'™ Money Machine, once and for all.

And, The Donald can't get the Weasel That Lives On His Head to agree that they should run. So there you are.
We're Whalers On The Moon. We Carry A Harpoon.
Who's left? Who can you "sell" to the Tea Partei brownshirts as well as the Joe Sixpack Average Republicans? Who do The Koch Brothers and Harold Simmons and Addled Sheldon and Little Rupert Murdoch see as the figurehead for their personal agendas? That they will put their personal power (most importantly, huge sums of money) behind?

How about a man who talks like a dock worker -- no-nonsense, spade's-a-spade, You-could-have-a-beer-wit'-this-Guy. Looks just the guy next door. Sweats like you. Got a weight problem like you. Probably whipped like you, too, Bud.

Not like that over-educated uppity illegitimate leader Negra up th' White House what thinks he's the Pres-o-dent. Think you could have a beer with that Socialist Kenyan? No way, pal.

No -- Chris Christie Is One Of You Unwashed Ignorant Peasants. Of course you'll vote for him.

And the sad thing is, politics being what they are -- the members of both parties doing everything they can to provide America's wealthy with The Soft and The Nice, and Treats, and Safety Nets -- and vote-rigging being what it is; The Powers That Be may decide hey; our money's on The Fat Boy.

Because ultimately, elections aren't about reality -- not for these people. For the Rethugs, it's not about adult debate on the directions to take with issues that threaten the species, or about ensuring stability and prosperity for all Americans, as opposed to greed and short-term gains.

It's about selling a product, so that the Gravy Train for the Few can continue without a hiccup. Like Little Rupert, they treat their "political consumers" with contempt: Just give us your Money votes; accept whatever we decide to tell you; shut up, don't talk back; and stay out of our Business. You don't like it? We'll run right over ya.

And, with an Oligarch, two unindicted war criminals, and the widow of the Zombie Candidate For President all saying, Run, Fat Man, Run -- well, if not the Best, why not the Biggest?

Lard Boy will love the idea, I'm sure.

Associated Press / MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AP), [October 2011] — Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said Saturday that he is open to sending American troops to Mexico to help battle drug cartels.

Perry, the Texas governor, likened the situation to Colombia, where the government accepted American military support in battling drug trafficking. Mexico's government, however, has been opposed to foreign forces in its territory.

Perry saids the current violence may require similar military action.

"It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off of our borders," he said.