For two-and-a-half weeks I've been housebound with bronchitis and too miserable to do much but watch old movies. I've enjoyed a plethora of film noir and comedies from the 1940s and '50s, including Preston Sturges's Christmas in July and The Palm Beach Story; A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift; They Drive by Night with Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and Ann Sheridan. I also watched Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce; the Marx Brothers in A Night in Casablanca and last night, the beautifully-restored version of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo, filmed in my beloved San Francisco.
Hitchcock considered San Francisco "the Paris of America" and his film depicts the city in all its glory. I love black-and-white movies; the snappy patter; the fast pace; the Edith Head-designed clothes and hats; the lush interiors. Those filmmakers knew how to tell a story without the aid of special effects. Watching these films is pure pleasure and escapism.
Stark reality of the news
In contrast, late last night I watched an Arabic television documentary about the late Saddam Hussein's use of chemical warfare on the Kurds. The footage of all the dead bodies, including children, was gritty and shocking. Following the Madrid train bombings, Spanish television showed very graphic footage. Yet most Western media reported a sanitized version of these horrific events. Maybe if we looked at the horror full in the face, we would start to make critical changes in our world. This week, hundreds of Kenyans were burned alive in a church. How much more tragic can a story be? Yet with the war in Iraq and suicide bombings and explosions on a daily basis, it seems many people have become desensitised to violence. Special effects in movies and violent video games have contributed to this disconnection between fantasy and reality.
Meanwhile, the number of reporters killed on the job has risen 244 percent over the past five years, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday. In 2007, more than half of the 86 journalists killed worldwide died in Iraq, the Paris-based media watchdog said. In 2002, 25 journalists were killed worldwide.
Friday is my young nephew Jon David's birthday; sadly, he won't have much of a celebration. Instead, Jon will be on a plane bound for Iraq, along with other members of the National Guard. Does anyone know why we are still in Iraq, other than to salvage George Bush & Co.'s foolish pride and make his friends and cronies richer with no-bid contracts to rebuild the country? All the reasons Bush, Cheney, Blair et al gave for going into Iraq nearly five years ago have been proven false. So why are we still there? And why has oil hit $100 a barrel? Remember when Bush said the oil in Iraq would pay for the war?
Today is a big day in American politics, with the Iowa Caucus. I hope it marks the beginning of some desperately-needed change, culminating with a better man - or woman - in the White House. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a leader with courage and vision, who believes in the Constitution? My absentee ballot arrived today for the California Democratic primary on February 5. I'm looking forward to voting for a new president!
Hooray for California!
I applaud the State of California for suing the federal government, in an effort to force car makers to conform to tough cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Attorney General Jerry Brown filed the lawsuit Wednesday in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the state a waiver from US law needed to enact its own efficiency targets. Fifteen other states are supporting California's action, including Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The EPA - which under the Bush administration has dismantled hundreds of environmental protection laws enacted over several decades - says it wants to avoid "a confusing patchwork of different regulations across states." But California claims the EPA has "done nothing" to curb greenhouse gases. California wants to implement its own emissions law, requiring a 30 percent reduction in motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.
Previously, California has been allowed to set its own environmental targets in recognition of the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" the state faces. These "dangerous consequences from global warming" include damage to California's mountain snowpack, which supplies one-third of the states of drinking water. Further, miles of coastline and levees are threatened by rising sea levels.