Late Night: Pastafarian and Klingon, The Politicians We Love

The stodgy, meanspirited partisan politics of some elected officials often reminds us of why we can’t have nice things. And then there are politicians who really seem to enjoy their jobs, or at least the beginning and end parts. Take Christopher Schaeffer, a new town council member in Pomfret, N.Y. who took his oath of office while demonstrating his faith.  Schaeffer wore a spaghetti strainer on his head as an article of faith because he is a self-professed Pastafarian, and a minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The newly-elected council member told the Dunkirk Observer:

It’s just a statement about religious freedom. It’s a religion without any dogma…Mostly, I’m just looking forward to making sure that the town is run smoothly and we meet the needs of all of our citizens. If anybody ever has any concerns or questions, I hope they contact me, because I want to make sure that everyone is represented.

Schaeffer pointed out that last summer members of Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster were attacked in Moscow by the Russian Orthodox activist vigilante group Bozhaya Volya, or God’s Will, along with Russian police, who beat and then arrested the peaceful Pastafarians.

Meanwhile, in the small town of Indian Trail,  N.C., city councilmember David Waddell tendered his resignation in Klingon.

According the Charlotte Observer, Waddell

expressed frustration with what he saw as runaway development in the town as well as concerns with how requests for public information were being handled. In November, the council tabled a plan to establish more fees for some public records and add more restrictions on how records could be viewed.

“Nuclear Nation” Ignites Conversation About Fukushima’s Refugees

Nuclear Nation is director Atsushi Funahashi’s attempt to engage us in conversation. This documentary introduces viewers to the former residents of Futaba, the location of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and gives us a window into their lives after the disaster. The film follows the town’s residents, their lives as refugees, and everything that comes with that: communal living in an abandoned high school near Tokyo, coming to terms with the loss of family members, the loss of home, the lack of compensation, the questions about health from radiation exposure- the list goes on and on. Meditative and disturbing, this story of survivors raises more questions than it answers, giving viewers an intimate portrait of loss.

It’s midnight in Japan when I reach Atsushi over Skype. He’s just returned from a full day of shooting his next film, Nuclear Nation 2, which continues the story. He briefly updates me on how the families profiled in the movie are doing today before we turn the discussion to Nuclear Nation.

Atsushi, I heard you originally began filming Nuclear Nation just weeks after the disaster. How did this project begin for you?

“At that time I was preparing to work on a fiction film and it was cancelled due to the earthquake and tsunami. So, I lost my job for 3 months and had nothing to do except watch this disaster on TV and wonder what to do. CNN and American media were saying it was like Chernobyl and there was this meltdown going on. Meanwhile, the Japanese government didn’t say anything. They were very ambiguous and said there was no immediate harm to human health. I was living in this gap, this huge information gap, and I was frustrated. No one even knew how far away you really needed to get from these nuclear reactors to be safe. First the government said you must evacuate 3km, then 10km, then 20km. Meanwhile, the American government issued an advisory to Americans in Japan that said you needed to get at least 50 miles away, which is 80km. No one seemed to know the right distance. Then, this small town called Futaba, which is the location of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, evacuated its people 250km, which is almost to Tokyo. When I heard this news, I thought this was the right answer. Basically, you don’t know the implications of this nuclear disaster so you need to get as far away as possible. Futaba was the only town in Fukushima prefecture that did that. So I became immediately interested in this town. I went and met people and met the mayor and started talking with everyone. I am not a big news corporation. I am a freelance filmmaker. I knew if I wanted to tell this larger story of what was going on in Japan I needed to focus on something specific. I realized I could follow Futaba’s story because the town actually moved its town hall and citizens to an abandoned high school. Everything was in this high school so I thought maybe I can focus on this town’s experience. The concept was to shoot this microcosm that then tells the larger story.”

Your footage of Futaba after the disaster is haunting. How were you able to negotiate access to film in contaminated areas and how did you protect yourself from radiation?

“The Japanese government didn’t allow freelance media to go in there, they limited access to big media corporations. Ironically, these big media corporations said they would not send their people in because they were not going to have their people in this highly contaminated, radioactive area. They had to protect their workers. So, all of a sudden, there was a situation where no one was going in and reporting. I wanted to go because I wanted to be with the people from Futaba when they were allowed to return home for two hours to collect their belongings. Of course, I couldn’t get permission because the government only issues permits to these official news corporations. The Japanese constitution says that citizens have the right to know what’s going on and the media has the right to inform the public. I told the authorities that according to the Japanese constitution this is my right, it’s guaranteed. They told me, “I see what you are saying but we cannot grant you access.” After that I had no option until one of the Futaba families I was following told me they had 4 permits to return to Futaba for 2 hours and only 2 family members going back. So they asked me, “Do you want to go? We need help carrying heavy stuff.” That is how I was able to get a permit to go there. I went in, with them, as part of the family. For one hour I helped them pack and carry heavy stuff and for the other hour I asked them to let me go and shoot the shots you see in the film. I actually borrowed a bicycle from them and, by myself, went all over this radioactive area. There was no electricity, no cellular phone service, no one there. As you saw in the movie there were only animals walking around. I knew if I got lost that’s it. No one would be coming to rescue me. That was scary… Can I change the topic for a minute?”

Of course.

“One thing I would like to stress is that the radiation exposure limit defined by the Japanese government is totally wrong. It’s really a human rights violation. The international standard defined by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is 1 milli Sievert (mSv) per year. When Chernobyl happened, the former Soviet Union redefined the limit as 5 mSv per year and was heavily criticized by the international community for not protecting its people. The Japanese government has since redefined the limit as up to 20 mSv per year. This is 20 times the international limit per year. This is a crime. It’s evil. The reason they set it up like this is because they don’t want to pay compensation money to people and because they don’t want to have to declare large amounts of land as unlivable. There are huge areas, outside of Futaba, that are exposed to between 1-20 mSv of radiation and people are forced to live there today because the government is not protecting them. People have no choice other than to continue to live there because the exposure is not recognized as over the limit and the government will not offer compensation.”

What do you want Americans to take away from watching this film?

“This is a human rights violation. That’s what I want the American people to understand. Rich people can move on because they can afford to buy another house or start over, but the middle class and poor people cannot restart their lives because they cannot afford it, so they wait. These people are living in temporary housing, which is awful. Some are even still living in the abandoned high school. Living in that type of condition 3 years after this disaster is not acceptable. As of now, most people have not been compensated. TEPCO and the Japanese government have come up with some money, but it’s a ridiculous, unfair amount; it’s very cheap. Some of the people had to give up and take that money but some of them continue fighting. There are also, as I mentioned before, many people being forced to live in this radiation, especially in the zones that have 1-20 mSv of exposure. The Japanese government does not protect these people but they should because the radiation level is over the international standard. The Japanese government is ignoring this. I want viewers to ask, why are the most damaged individuals also the most ignored? I want people to think about this.”

Nuclear Nation will be coming to select movie theaters around the country. To find out where and when to catch this film visit: http://firstrunfeatures.com/nuclearnation_playdates.html

Late Night: Happy New Year. Oh and Dolphins!

Happy New Year from Dublin where it is already 2014! We celebrated with a meal of tarragon chicken and green salad with a prosciutto melon starter, with See’s candy and brie for dessert.

(More on food Saturday! I am a glutton!)

But speaking of food,and joy, Dolphins eat puffer fish (aka fugu, the blowfish of careful sushi chefs and eaters) to get high. This behavior is seen especially in younger dolphins, according to zoologist Rob Pilley, who worked on the BBC documentary Dolphins: Spy in the Pod:

This was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating.After chewing the puffer gently and passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection.

It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see.

Short Film of the Week: “The NSA is Coming to Town”

Short films are incredible and often don’t get the spotlight they deserve. I love them because they’re, well, short: they fit into the cracks of your day when you’re looking for an excuse to procrastinate (while expanding your mind of course). Another plus is that shorts are frequently available online for free. It’s no fun to always profile films that people can’t access unless they live in a major city or have fancy cable.

Shorts are also difficult to make. With limited time to tell the story, the filmmaker has to employ the most efficient use of words and images. Finally, shorts are less expensive to make than feature films. This means that the playing field is more level, giving us opportunities to encounter new and exciting voices.

So each week, I’ll be choosing a great short film to share with you. It seems appropriate to lead off with a holiday themed piece. We’ll begin with the work of the good folks over at the ACLU and their amusing short, The NSA is Coming to Town. This 2-minute piece successfully incorporates Santa and the NSA into one video. Need I say more?

The film also ends with a call to action, which is a smart technique. Sometimes the best education comes through entertainment. Whether you are moved to sign the ACLU’s petition or not, it’s undeniable that this short will make you smile and promptly head over to your computer to make sure your email is encrypted. Enjoy.

Know of a film that you think would make a great “Short of the Week?” Send it to me at shannon@firedoglake.com.

Filmmakers Weigh In on Best Holiday Movies of All Time

Being “that time of year,” I reached out to my movie-making colleagues who eat, sleep, and breathe film and invited them to share their all-time favorite holiday movie. They were asked to choose pieces focusing on the holidays (however they might interpret that), from any time period or genre, and explain their recommendation. Both offbeat and classic choices were welcome. Here’s what they came up with, in their own words.

Producer Xochitl Dorsey Recommends: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

“It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, etcetera, etcetera… Sure, these are great films, and like the rest of America, these are the holiday classics that I grew up with and loved year after year. But none of them make me quite as nostalgic about Christmastime as Santa Claus Captures the Martians. The film itself was made in 1964, right after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and the country was wild for all things inter-galactic. If man could make it to space, why couldn’t Santa? Surely that was the thinking of the producers who brought to light this, dare I say, first sci-fi Christmas movie ever made. The storyline isn’t all that memorable- green Martians who want to experience Christmas kidnap Santa Claus and a couple of earth kids save him- but it gets two big thumbs up for over-all campy enjoyment. And what’s not to like about that?”

Independent Filmmaker Jeff Arak Recommends: Scrooged

“My pick has got to be Scrooged, with Bill Murray. It is (or was, in 1988) a contemporary and somewhat edgy take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The film stars Bill Murray as a TV executive more concerned with his company’s ratings than holiday cheer or goodwill- at least until he is visited by three ghosts and his hippy ex-girlfriend. The film features two comedians with the strangest voices of all time (Carol Kane and Bobcat Goldthwait), a time traveling taxi, and Bill Murray leading a sing-along of Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”- all with a little Christmas spirit mixed in.”

Producer Felix Messina, Jr. Recommends: March of the Wooden Soldiers

“This movie reminds me of my childhood. They would air it every December (they still do and I still watch it) on New York’s Channel 11. The main characters live in a shoe and work at Santa’s Toy Shop. Toyland is a place filled with candy canes, chocolate, colorful lakes, and of course toys everywhere. All I ever wanted was to live in Toyland. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to live there? This movie brings out the kid in all of us.”

Director/Cinematographer Ruth Berdah-Canet Recommends: The Nightmare before Christmas

“In a galaxy far, far away from Candycane Land and Fudgetown, Tim Burton creates a universe of his own that refreshes the holiday movie genre. All the ingredients of Burton’s beautiful Christmas Carol mingle joyfully: love, bat’s spit, friendship, frog’s breath, good feelings, and just a tiny bit of remorse. I love the constant travel between the world of playfulness and humor and the world of uncertainty and fright. The scene where Jack plays fetch with his dog, Zero, by throwing him one of his rib bones always gets me!

And, in the great tradition of holiday tales, Jack and his freak crew teach us a valuable lesson: there’s no need to dissect, rationalize, manufacture, or formulate cheerfulness. All we need to do is forget our worries for a moment and enjoy the Ho-Ho-Holiday season.”

Editor April Merl Recommends: Trading Places

“The first film that pops into my head is Elf – sweet, warm, great music, and good laughs. But, when I think about it a bit longer, my recommendation has to be Trading Places. I’m not sure it’d be categorized under “holiday”, but it’s just a comedy classic, and you can practically smell Dan Aykroyd’s sad, desperate Santa radiating from the screen.”

Programmer and Filmmaker Dara Messinger Recommends: Edward Scissorhands and How the Grinch Stole Christmas

“Growing up in a progressive Jewish household, I think I avoided “holiday” aka “Christmas” movies because it was just another reminder of how I couldn’t really relate to the endless rolls of gift wrap, inflatable lawn reindeer, or promises made and broken to Mr. Claus, let alone the American ideals being subscribed to in this increasingly corporate holiday. I didn’t understand the awkwardness Sandra Bullock must’ve been feeling when being teased by family as she stood under the mistletoe in While You Were Sleeping. And why was Macaulay Culkin’s house so large and ornate in Home Alone? Instead, I could empathize with Johnny Depp’s befuddled reactions to eerie suburban glory in Edward Scissorhands, and the grinch in the 1966 classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas as he peered down to a town’s brightly lit splendor of happiness as though he was looking into a make-believe snow globe. Funny how neither of these two characters were even human, but they were outsiders just the same.”

Producer Esther Cassidy Recommends: It’s a Wonderful Life

“I love this movie because it celebrates the power of regular people (who aren’t superstars, athletes, famous, wealthy, or geniuses) and the impact they can have. The filmmaking is extraordinary. The love scene between Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed is completely unique. He’s ready to leave his small town, got his bag packed, his train ticket, his friends waiting, and his hand on the doorknob, and what happens? Well, Donna is standing in the doorway, so Jimmy keeps telling her over and over – “I don’t love you”, and she keeps saying “I know, I know.” But, they can’t stop kissing. So this guy gives up his dreams to become a husband and father and run a small bank. But, then, everything implodes and he starts to feel like his life isn’t worth it. The movie shows us how seemingly small, good, and rather ordinary choices – the choices so many of us make every day – all can add up to create a wonderful life, although perhaps not the life we had envisioned.”

You can find these films on Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and YouTube. Share your holiday picks in the comments and let me know what they missed!

“No Fracking Way” Aussie Rock Anthem

No fracking way! Pop star Leo Sayer scored a huge hit many decades ago with “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” and maintained a steady presence touring and recording. He became an Australian citizen in 2009. Outraged over the way fracking for gas is destroying the nation’s land, water, farming and wildlife, Sayer joined with Aussie pop stars and recorded the anthemic “No Fracking Way” to support the environmental group Lock the Gate. The Newcastle Herald reports Sayer saying:

This is a song I wrote and recorded this year to support the organisation Lock The Gate, who work in opposition to the practice of coal seam gas mining, or fracking as it has come to be known. I don’t know if you have heard about this, but the damage it’s causing to the landscape, environment, wildlife, livestock, flora, and fauna, and indeed humans, is highly evident here in Australia and all around the world. So I’ve joined with a bunch of like-minded fellow Aussies here who are determined to stop this.


While the faces of Australian’s biggest music stars may not be familiar to us in the U.S., the sentiment of the song (and catchy melody) are ones the anti-fracking forces around the globe can relate to.

 

 

 

Here’s Sayer’s big hit, later used in the movie Charlie’s Angels:

 

Late Night: Joan Fontaine, Peter O’Toole Unique TV Moments

 

Two of the greats, Joan Fontaine and Peter O’Toole played the public relations game like pros, and have a good time doing it in these vintage television clips.  Delightful, good natured and charming, their talent and star qualities shine forth, despite the silliness of the proceedings.

When asked by Vanity Fair what virtue was overrated, Miss Fontaine responded:

Virginity

No doubt the very sexy O’Toole would have agreed!

Despite John Wayne, Tuberculosis Is Still Around

One of the displays in the weensy museum in my grandma’s town of Hiawatha, Kansas, was a brick engraved with with the warning:

Don’t spit on the sidewalk.

and a notice that doing so was illegal. Because, grandma told me, that’s one way tuberculosis was spread.  So to me growing up, TB was a disease from another time period, a central plot point in Anne of Green Gables, something from which Doc Holliday and Victorian women with either dubious morals or charitable inclinations suffered.” St. John’s Infirmary,”  and Van Morrison’s “TB Sheets,” Camille–these were artifacts of tuberculosis.

Then in college I had to get TB test to work as a teacher’s aid in public schools. What, TB still existed?! I was negative despite what may have been considered in Victorian times dubious morals. Several years later  I was working as personal assistant to an author who had a seven year-old son and she explained that her son took medication that had to be ground up nightly in his apple sauce. Because he had tested positive for TB. Whoa.

Tuberculosis is still amongst us and not just in in India, China, and Russia which have over 50% of the world’s cases of TB; or in the  developing world where drug-resistant TB is a

Just yesterday the Las Vegas Journal Review reported:

A case of contagious tuberculosis at the state’s second-largest school drew much attention as blood tests were given to 325 Coronado High School students and staff, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the results.

 

Late Night: Miami Art Basel and Bugs at the Museum

Miami Art Basel starts tonight–500,000 people expected in Miami for the art fairs–Art Basel and established satellite fairs Scope, Pulse, Aqua; plus half a dozen others, along with almost every building available turned into a gallery, pop-up or party venue. Because where you have art, you have opportunity for marketing booze, clothes, cars and yourself.

There’s a whole district in Miami, Wynwood, where street artists have decorated the walls with art, spawning the Wynwood Walls art fairs where around any corner you can see  brilliant splashes of color and swooping lines mixing political commentary. Graffiti has become big business worldwide, with companies Red Bull and Converse sponsoring artists who hope to gain additional deals like clothing lines and gallery shows.

Is graffiti art?  When does it step over the line from dangerous destructive hobby to a multi-million dollar piece of art?

 

Photo: Soten in Wynwood, photo by Emerald Arts via CARTWHEELart.com

Penis! Penis! Penis! Archie Comics Co-CEO Charged With Gender Discrimination

 

This is why we can’t have nice things. Nancy Silberkleit became co-CEO of Archie Comics–home of the beloved and socially progressive characters Archie, Jughead, Kevin Keller, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch– in 2008 after her husband’s death. Now male employees are claiming she called them

penis

instead of by their names, brought bikers to business meetings as intimidation, and basically acted in awful ways, along with wanting to undermine the cheerful and wholesome nature of Archie Comics. According to the New York Daily News, in 2011 Silberkleit’s co-CEO Jonathan Goldwater

filed suit seeking her ouster her in 2011, charging she was unstable and threatening to run the company into the ground.

That case settled last year, with an agreement that Silberkleit would have limited interactions with the employees, and that a go-between would represent her interests with the company…

The [new] dispute erupted earlier this year, when the go-between Silberkleit selected, Samuel Levitin, filed papers in Westchester  Surrogate’s Court charging that she’d become unhinged – and even wanted to tart up beloved characters Betty and Veronica. He said she needed to be removed altogether.

This is behavior that if true makes Nancy Silberkleit look awful. Tarting up Betty and Veronica!? That’s blasphemy! What’s next, having Sabrina sacrifice a baby to her Dark Lord Satan?  (Silberkleit returned the favor, responding that Levitin has sexually harassed her, and asking that he be removed as go-between). Oh, and penis.

I’m not going to say Mrs. Silberkleit is crazy, because calling women crazy is a way to diminish them, and gives a vague, dismissive umbrella explanation for behaviors of any gender.  So while she may not be crazy, she definitely has a unique management style. According to a $32.5 million law suit filed in October, 2012 the five  plaintiffs, including Archie president Mike Pellerito and editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick, are

seeking a court order keeping her two miles away from the office, and say her “deliberate and disturbed campaign of outrageous conduct” has them so freaked out an armed guard’s been posted in the office…Silberkleit, they say, invited Hell’s Angels to Archie’s Mamaroneck offices in an apparent effort to “intimidate” them, and has repeatedly inquired about the whereabouts of the handgun and 750 rounds of ammo her husband kept at the office. She’s also stalked the employees and their families, the suit says.

Additionally, the employees filed a gender discrimination suit against her, something her lawyer wants dismissed because

white guys aren’t members of “a protected class.”

Okay maybe not discrimination, but certainly one could argue she made the work place uncomfortable by calling the men “penis” instead of Victor or Mike. The quintet of white men claim that Silberkleit used her

“gender as a weapon” by yelling “Penis! Penis! Penis!” during a business meeting…”[T]he word ‘penis’ became somewhat of a campaign slogan and her preferred method of referring to employees in lieu of their names.”

What if a man had called a female employee

vagina

or

sugar tits

–is that okay? If it’s not okay to call a woman by her body parts rather than her name, then it’s not okay to call a man, be he white or green

penis

(Calling someone an asshole is gender non-specific, though it carries a different connotation than penis or any slang term for vagina, each of has its one shades of meaning)

Silberkleit won’t step down and says the charges are

untrue and twisted..I have not had any interactions with these people. It’s all very puzzling. I don’t know what’s going on in their heads.

So either Nancy Silberkleit is the victim of a vast conspiracy to remove her as co-CEO, a conspiracy possibly based in sexism and ageism that is straight off a small screen soap opera like Dallas rather than out of  Riverdale, home to Archie and his pals. Or she maybe needs to rethink her management skills, which if the charges are true, pretty much suck.

And as far as the plaintiffs having no standing because of (white) male privilege, if you wouldn’t stand for that behavior in a man, then don’t take it from a woman. That’s truly what being non-sexist is about.

Images: Private collection.

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