February 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Essay: The Woody vs. Mia Papers: Exegesis on a Dispatch from the Council of Morons

Brought to you by Peet's Colombian Dark Roast store-bought...

(It's good from time to time to take a break from the ongoing destruction of the biosphere; it doesn't always need a play-by-play from me.)

I should make my own "full disclosure" since Nicholas Kristof discloses in his hit piece that he's tight with the Farrow clan. My introduction to Woody's filmmaking was in 1971, when I was living in Berkeley, waiting to see what the Department of Defense wanted to do with the 1-A status they had bestowed upon me at the Oakland Induction Center.  I had time on my hands, you could say.  I saw "Bananas" at the old movie house on Shattuck, a drafty auditorium with a full balcony in the years before it became the inevitable multi-screen rabbit warren.  I saw it first with my old pal Gwinn Hinkle, a polio survivor taking a break from his iron lung on the fourth floor of Cowell Hospital. Even in those years Berkeley was a good place to be a freak of nature, as I imagine New York City has always been a good place for a different kind of freak like Woody Allen to live and work.  More tolerant, more who gives a shit.  You're like you; that's nice.

Then I went to see "Bananas" three more times during the course of the next couple of weeks.  I couldn't get enough of Woody's post-modern tomfoolery.  I sensed he was doing something different with making films, knocking down the wall between the antics on the screen and the viewer.  Making fun of the fun he was having while he made the movie.  Woody has always operated at a level deeper than his usual critics dream of in their philosophy.  A reading of his inspired japery in his New Yorker stories should convince even the cynics of that. 

 But it's the way of the world to be tedious, quotidian, and conventionally judgmental,  and cornballs like Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, a hack writer who hails from Eastern Oregon farm country, is among those who are there to remind us of how tedious the world can be.
So Nicholas, sensing a chance to capitalize on his "friendship" with the Farrow group and to give his flagging ratings a boost, allowed his blog to be used as a sounding board to revive the old story about Woody, Mia and Dylan Farrow.

Woody Allen was honored by the Golden Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement, celebrating Woody Allen as a great auteur and creative force who has given us many wonderful movies over a very long working life. Clearly, that demands an "answer."  Doesn't it? No, I don't think so either.

Dylan Farrow (who now goes by another name), the daughter who claims she was molested by Woody Allen when she was seven years old, felt sick at heart because of the honor bestowed upon Allen, and wrote a letter to her friend at the New York Times.  Kristof, who disclosed (as noted) in a column that he was friends not only with Dylan and her brother Ronan but also Mia Farrow (the three people who undoubtedly hate Woody Allen more than all other humans on Earth combined), decided to publish Dylan Farrow's letter on his blog, in full, unexpurgated form.  Thus, an event which allegedly took place about 22 years ago, and was exhaustively dealt with by the legal system, was again given a public airing, and Nicholas Kristof's dreadful column will survive, it would appear, for at least a few more weeks.

Kristof, who is kind of a junior associate member of the Council of Morons (the Big Morons are Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd - I actually like Roger Cohen) struggled to find a rationale for his decision to be used in this way, and came up with this:

"Look, none of us can be certain what happened. The standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but shouldn’t the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?

"Yet the Golden Globes sided with Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering. That’s the message that celebrities in film, music and sports too often send to abuse victims."

Okay, that's as lame as anything can get.  Any lamer and it would need to be shot and put out of its misery. Like Kristof's column at the New York Times, for example.  One can understand that Kristof's readership has probably fallen through the floor in recent years; to the extent that people read newspapers at all anymore, it's unlikely that many of them read the dull prose of Nicholas Kristof.  The New York Times no longer employs some really good writers, like Frank Rich and Bob Herbert, but for some reason this fellow keeps a seat warm at the Council's round table.

The two paragraphs up above don't make any sense at all.  Take the first question: "Shouldn't the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?"

First off, you have to figure out what the term "honorable" even means in this context.  Take for one grandiose example the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is widely known that Dr. King liked to drink and was something of a womanizer.  Should we, therefore, discontinue MLK's birthday as a national holiday, as Republicans such as Dick Cheney often tried to do?  Should his "Dream" speech be forbidden on national TV?  I don't think we can say that Dr. King was unimpeachably honorable, not in the sense that Kristof wants, which is a reputation free of any suspicion of socially conventional misbehavior. Kristof wants to use a "Caesar's wife" standard, I guess.  And since Kristof does not require conviction of a crime, or even a finding by a jury in a civil case, in order to seal the deal, then accusations against anyone by anyone relating to moral misbehavior are sufficient for a lifetime ban from the awards shows.

These shows are going to become very lonely affairs.

The second paragraph above goes entirely through the Looking Glass.  To review:

"Yet the Golden Globes sided with Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering. That’s the message that celebrities in film, music and sports too often send to abuse victims."

Catch that?  "In effect." Thus, to follow Kristof's logic, the Golden Globes, which are awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (and not an American institution, such as the Academy Awards), met in some secret cabal (probably at a deserted barn in the Midwest on a moonless night where Satanic rituals and child abuse were practiced) and said to each other in their polyglot way, "in effect," "So we have to decide which side we're on concerning this family episode involving Woody Allen which allegedly occurred 22 years ago.  All those in favor of accusing Dylan Farrow of lying or not mattering, please throw your goat entrails out into the center of the circle."

Alternatively, the Foreign Press Association could have decided that Woody Allen's lifetime achievement in film entitled him to an award, and did not consider, or even remember, accusations made long ago which were never proved.  In fact, if Mr. Kristof were to do a little digging in the archives at, for example, the New York Times, he would find this:

"March 19, 1993 - A team of child-abuse investigators at Yale-New Haven Hospital here cleared Woody Allen of Mia Farrow's assertion that he sexually molested their 7-year-old daughter, Mr. Allen and his lawyer said today."

So maybe the Hollywood Foreign Press Association considered a conclusive finding made after an exhaustive investigation a point in Woody Allen's favor.  You know how those Europeans are; they have this annoying habit of thinking

The investigators studied the allegations and all of the evidence presented for seven months.  Still, the original accusations by Dylan Farrow and her mother Mia remain, and since they're friends of Nick Kristof, that's good enough for him. I'm surprised, in a way, that Mia would bring all this up again, since she was the beneficiary not only of all those starring roles in Woody Allen films (which she ruined with her wispy, irritating acting), but benefitted as well from all of the child support payments which Woody Allen made on behalf of Ronan Farrow, up above, pictured with his "dad," and also next to another fellow who Mia admits may in fact be Ronan's father.

Gee, ya think?  Maybe the Yale - New Haven team can be brought in to work on that one. It probably won't take seven months.  Woody, I'm sure, will donate some DNA to the cause.  Ronan can do the same, and since he detests Woody Allen, I would imagine he would be anxious to do so.  Nancy Sinatra and Frank, Jr. are still around, no doubt ready to welcome a new member of the family (or Family).

And Mr. Kristof, one more thing: is it entirely and unimpeachably honorable to accept child support payments for years and years for a son fathered by someone else?  And if the answer to that question is no, how do you justify allowing your column to be used by such people to launch a blindside attack on Woody Allen?

February 19, 2014

On the Isle of Patmos

An old friend writes:

"A few weeks ago when the drought was at its driest I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, "Is it all over?"  I was thinking that perhaps I was living at the pivot point, when the California I grew up with began to become something entirely different...and more demanding of its residents.  I was frightened by the thought, as only a 3 a.m. thought can frighten.  But it also occurred to me that the thought also carried a degree of human arrogance and exhilaration--if it's all over, at least I was there when it happened.  Funny collection of thoughts."

I simply have to stop scaring my friends with this blog; however, truth be known, I have had similar thought parades in the middle of the night this past year. I grew up in California, as my friend did, and one becomes accustomed to a mild, easygoing rhythm of seasons where nothing much happens.  The summers are mostly cool and windy, with a lot of fog, but occasionally punctuated by a heat wave. This gives way to the dry, perfect weather of September and October, a kind of equipoise where the air is so light on the skin that it all feels like a dream. Toward the end of October or early November the rains begin.  December and January send a lot of cold rainstorms barreling down on us from the Gulf of Alaska.  These give way to the easier rains of February and March, and then a cold, windy spring is here, and then back to the moderate dry air of summer.  

That was it.  That was our climate.  It worked sufficiently well that California produced 50% of America's fruit, vegetables and nuts, and is also the largest dairy state in the country.

I find now, and this is a difficult act of resignation because I am a creature who loves routines, that I don't count on anything like that old climate returning to California.  It seems very unlikely that it will ever be like that again. I don't think this year of drought, interrupted by one "atmospheric river" storm of Biblical proportions (I had 17" of rain here where I live, as measured by a gauge, over a 4 day period), will give way to the old patterns based on a very different jet stream configuration, a different Arctic, and different concentrations of greenhouse gases.  The endless deluges in the United Kingdom, where one ferocious storm packing 100 mph winds and fetching 50 foot waves is followed by another, is part of this same freak show, as are the polar vortex excursions, the repeated ice storms in the Deep South of the USA.

Thus, forecasts of a "hundred year drought" for California may be premature, given the new uncertainties in the weather.  Indeed, such thinking may represent the Fallacy of Reversion to the Mean, when the Mean has left the building for good.  Our dry years have corresponded to strong Las Ninas in recent years, when cooler surface ocean waters held down atmospheric temperatures.  The Baby Girl has served as a marvelous heat sink, masking the relentless rise in global average temperatures on land and air by taking up a lot of the atmospheric heat.  Tradewinds blowing east to west (from the Americas to Australia and the Phillipines) of unprecedented strength have pushed enormous volumes of surface water toward the other side of the world.  This has permitted an upwelling of colder, deep ocean waters off the Americas, and the resulting temperature gradient has been favorable for heat uptake off our coasts.  This now appears to be changing, as the good folks at NOAA are forecasting the return of the Baby Boy (El Nino) sometime during 2014.  And what will that mean?  The useful New Zealand site seemorerocks provides a suggestion:

The unprecedented heat bleed from the Pacific doesn’t occur without a number of severe weather consequences. Especially under the gun for this, most recent, potential event of human caused climate change is California and the Desert Southwest. Having labored under drought since the early 2000s, the region sees a radical shift to unprecedented stormy conditions. During winter, a massive flow of heat driven moisture rides up from the Pacific and arcs over California carrying with it a stream of storms. The stormy period drags out for weeks, beginning to resemble the megastorm of centuries past. Cities and industries laboring under the strain of too little water see a sudden and radical, though brief, shift in the opposite direction. California, under the gun for tens of billions of dollars in damages from water shortages and drought instead falls under the gun for possibly hundreds of billions of dollars in storm damages.

So next winter our new problem may be trying to keep the land we're standing on from simply floating away.  It seems that the old weather patterns are giving way to exaggerated caricatures of themselves; when it's dry, it's Saharan dry.  When it's wet, it will be our very own monsoon.  All of it amped up on greater water vapor content in the atmosphere, higher air temperatures, a melted Arctic, and a jet stream doing the funky chicken.

So cheer up, old buddy.  Maybe the old climate was a little dull.  Many East Coast transplants often complained about that very thing, while, we noted, they never thought of leaving.  Seven years of fat, seven years of lean, seven years of drought, seven years of flood, but I don't think it's ever going to be quite the same Old California again.