Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I've not posted some of the recent stories I've done for th newspapers I edit and thought the following would be of interest:
Societal collapse makes for gripping feature
At first glance, some people might wonder if a feature-length interview with a single person about essentially the factors that could lead to the end of American society as we know would make a good movie.
"Good" isn't the right term. "Collapse" is an amazing, compelling and frightening film thanks to its subject, journalist Michael Ruppert.
Let me say at the onset that I believe everyone, regardless of political belief, should see this film. It addresses issues that concern all of us. Buy it, rent it, but watch it.
Perhaps you've never heard about Ruppert before. I hadn't, but once I watched this film, just released on DVD, I started scouring the Web to read more about him.
Chris Smith, the man who directed the highly regarded documentary "American Movie," is able to paint a rich portrait of Ruppert with a limited cinematic palette.
Seated in what looks like a bunker or an interrogation room, Ruppert chain-smokes and talks about subjects seldom covered in the evening television news. Articulate, but clearly tired of the fight he has waged to have his stories noticed by the general public, Ruppert allows his emotions to overcome him at one point.
Occasionally, Smith underlines a point by cutting to public domain or news footage, but for the bulk of the film, the camera is on Ruppert.
A former Los Angeles police officer, Ruppert came to national prominence when he researched and broke a story that showed the CIA had imported illegal drugs into the country. That story and his subsequent reporting earned him death threats and harassment.
Unlike other outsiders who hawk books, videos and podcasts, Ruppert hasn't made a mini-empire from his work He said he is behind in his rent.
He is not without his critics who have questioned his theories and dismiss them as conspiracy.
What "Collapse" shows is, despite his considerable travails, Ruppert hasn't given up his fight and focuses on what he has been covering in his newsletter "From the Wilderness."
Ruppert documents how he has predicted certain political and economic events that have had serious repercussions on both this country and the rest of the world. In this film, though, he focuses on two major interlocking subjects: peak oil and the fragile world economic system.
Shot over several times in 2009, "Collapse" is especially relevant today with the BP oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Ruppert speaks about how many scientists believe that we are on the downside of the bell curve in the amount of oil left in the world to consume. He points out we have built our civilization on relatively cheap fossil fuels, especially petroleum.
Part of that oil-based structure is our financial system, which in 2008 showed its house-of-cards-like status.
What will happen when we can't afford the oil we have left? That's the ultimate question Ruppert poses for the viewers. The answer, as we all know, is almost incomprehensible.
Ruppert's arguments and information are very persuasive and as a viewer I kept waiting for the moment he discussed solutions.
The moment never really comes as he said in the film, "I'm no messiah."
What he does emphasize is living within our environmental means. Population must be curbed, wind and solar energy solutions must be implemented, food production must once again be a local industry and buying gold isn't a bad idea.
The DVD's extras include a recent interview with Ruppert, who seemed to be in a better place in his life thanks to the response to the theatrical release of the film worldwide. The DVD also has much more interview footage that was cut for time.
Reminder Publications spoke to Ruppert last week, who is busy promoting not only the DVD release of the film, but also his new Web site venture www.collapsenet.com, an online subscriber-supported newsletter.
Ruppert is very happy with the film. "Chris Smith got it absolutely right," he said.
Commenting on the oil leak in the Gulf, he said the two main themes of the film are seen in that one event.
"It's all about the way money works," he said. "We looking at extinction in the Gulf," he added.
He said he has learned and confirmed through several sources the problem is not just the deepwater well that is pouring thousands of barrels of oil into the water each day, but also many additional leaks that are coming through fissures in the surrounding sea floor. He asserted both BP and the federal government know of the additional leaks and are not telling the public.
"They have absolutely no idea how to deal with it," he said.
What Ruppert is now saying is by the end of the year, there might be between five and 10 million refugees from the Gulf States. As the crisis deepens the jobs of more and more people will be affected, he said.
Florida may be "doomed," he added.
He believes strongly in "people seeking local solutions" to the problems facing the country.
"It's so clear. It's happening everywhere," he added.
On speaking tours in northern California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, he has seen evidence of "act locally, think globally" axiom and it has heartened him.
"People get it all over the world," he said.
He noted that on a recent trip to Martha's Vineyard, the "year-rounders" understand and are acting on the concept.
Since he said there is cataloging of these efforts, he sees his new Web site as a clearinghouse for information for these efforts.
Paramount among the new way of living is a greater emphasis on local food production, which Ruppert sees happening in a number of areas. He said Americans couldn't continue to import or transport food in the current manner.
Right now, profit is selected over common sense, he added.
He dismissed the power of the federal government to actually make the necessary changes to prepare for an era with decreasing oil and said he sees mayors and county officials as the government officials most inclined to take steps to change on a local level.
He even questioned whether or not the United States would be the same political entity in a few years, with states breaking up into smaller entities.
Still despite the grim nature of his message, Ruppert expressed hope. In the film he tells the fable of the 100th monkey. The story tells of one monkey that learned to wash his food. He taught another and so on. When the 100th monkey learned how to do this, suddenly all of the monkeys in the population started doing it.
"Maybe we're reaching the 100th monkey," he said of the acceptance and taking action on the changes Ruppert sees as inevitable.
WWI documentary reveals lasting history in Europe
While living in a small Belgium village, retired University of Massachusetts Professor Ed Klekowski and his wife Libby didn't realize the history that surrounded them.
They soon did as the town was near the legendary Western Front, the battle line between the Allies and Germany in Belgium and France during World War I (WWI).
Once, however, the husband and wife realized the artifacts of that conflict -- "the war to end all wars" as it was described at the time -- literally abound in the nearby woods and fields, they became intrigued.
For the Klekowskis that meant producing a documentary. Their new film, "Yanks Fight the Kaiser: A National Guard Division in WWI," will be broadcast by WGBY on June 30 at 8 p.m.
Examining history on film is nothing new to the couple as they produced "Under Quabbin," "The Great Flood of 1936" and "Dynamite, Whiskey & Wood: Connecticut River Log Drives 1870-1915" for the local PBS station.
Their new film is the second part of a trilogy about WWI with their first film being "Model T's to War: American Ambulances on the Western Front."
Ed Klekowski said, "Our interest in WWI began in 2004 while living in Leuven (Louvain), Belgium. We were waiting to go into the university library, when a Belgian student asked if we were Americans. She then gave us a lecture on how the old university library had been burned by the German Army in 1914, and how American students from grammar schools, high schools and colleges had donated money to rebuild the library in the 1920's. And how every July 4th the American flag is flown from the library bell tower as a thank you.
"Well, we were hooked; we had to learn more, the war to end all wars became a passion," he continued. "We soon were visiting Western Front battlefields every weekend.
"And one weekend we visited Apremont and saw the fountain that Holyoke had put up honoring its Yankee Division soldiers; you could say it spoke to us," he added. "We walked around the village and into the woods behind -- and there were the trenches! They seemed haunted, artifacts were everywhere. We had to tell this story."
Traveling to France and visiting the village rebuilt by Belle Skinner of Holyoke, Klekowski recalled thinking, "What's Holyoke doing in the middle of France?"
As the couple's film documents, the Yankee Division, made of National Guard troops initially from Massachusetts and Connecticut, was the first American unit to arrive in France to assist the Allies in the war. Soliders from Western Massachusetts were part of that unit.
The troops managed to skip their combat training in the United States and had to be trained and equipped by the French. By April 1918, though, because of their bravery and success in attacking the German trenches, the French awarded the Croix de Guerre to the division, becoming the first American military unit to be decorated by a foreign government.
The film uses much archival movie footage and still photographs and Klekowski explained a Signal Corps unit documented the division's activities.
Klekowski said finding and assembling that footage represented a year's work in itself. Local historical institutions such as the Wistariahurst Museum also supplied photos and information.
"Everyone was forthcoming with materials," Klekowski said. "We could have made a two-hour show."
The reading of memoirs represented the personal side of the war and Klekowski noted the early 20th century was a time when many people kept diaries and wrote detailed letters.
Step inside the woods of the Western Front of France and Belgium and Klekowski said you'd find the evidence of war where the troops left it. He said the actual front was only two to three miles wide and about 400 miles long. The mark of years of assaults and defensive actions taking place in the same basic strip of land can still be seen today.
In the film, Klekowski tours WWI bunkers that are still in place and shows how shell casings and unexploded shells have lain undisturbed the better part of a century after the conflict.
"The woods look like New England," he said. "Except here they were shaped by glaciers and there by artillery."
In the woods, one can find stumps of trees with shrapnel embedded in them.
He also said the woods are cluttered with a multitude of bottles. The French troops drank wine, while the Germans drank beer and schnapps. He said that one contemporary account described "No Man's Land" -- the area between the lines of opposing troops "looking like a local garbage dump."
© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs