February 27, 2004

What A Week

Life Marches On
By Fred H. Arm
This has been one of the few weeks that I can recall where such interesting and diverse happenings are unfolding in the world. As we speak, a major scandal is brewing that will break any second now--Howard Stern was bounced off the air for indecent language; Mayor Newsom has the gay-lesbian wannabe married couples making appointments to be married; Mel Gibson’s controversial religious horror movie was released (on that hot movie-going holiday, Ash Wednesday); US government officials removed restrictions to travel to that exotic Mediterranean alternative, Libya; and at the same time tightening up on Cuba. (I would assume that the refugees navigating their way to Miami in their rubber-ducky inner tubes and water wings were seen as a growing threat). Federal Reserve Bank honcho, Alan Greenspan touched that forbidden third-rail of politics by suggesting a reduction in Social Security, Ralph Nader blew everyone away when he again stepped into the presidential race, and George W. is clamoring for a controversial anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution. And let us not forget that Murphy was creamed at the Richmond City Council with his wimpy appeal to over-rule the Planning Commission’s ruling for his Mac Mansion project. Whew!

All this excitement is reminiscent of a curious statistic: Ostensibly, 1 in 40 American men are prone to wearing women’s clothing. Since we have had over 40 presidents in the United States, statistically speaking of course, one of them could easily have been secretly prancing around the Oval Office in a prom dress. I wonder? Hmmm.

It has also been reported that the astronauts at the international space station had a clothing malfunction. Of course, NASA is accustomed to this sort of problem. When they first sent astronauts up to space, they found that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. Our dazzling leaders then appropriated millions of dollars over a 10-year period to develop a pen that could write in zero gravity, upside down, on any surface and at temperatures below freezing and above boiling. How handy! The Russians, more modestly just used a pencil.

So that is the kind of week it has been. Oh well, I guess it will be really quiet next week.

Posted by fredarm at 06:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

The Passion of the Christ – Movie Review

An Endless Blood Fest In The Name of God
By Fred H. Arm
There is little positive I can say about this orgy of cruelty that ostensibly is an accurate chronicle of the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life. (I would apologize however, if I offend any Catholics readers.) It was reminiscent of a film I saw many, many years ago called “The Fixer”. It too was unrelenting in the suffering of the principal character. Hour after hour of sadistical, cruel, and excruciating punishment is depicted and inflicted upon the hapless Jesus and those of us forced to see it.

The story is an ancient one that of Jesus captured by the high Priests of Jerusalem and brought before Pontius Pilot, the Roman Governor to be punished for his evangelical activities and beliefs. The Governor preferred to release him, however, the priests and the angry mob demanded death for his supposed sacrilegious ministry. Pilot finally compromised and ordered Jesus flogged by sadistic Roman guards, first with canes then with cat o' nine tails tipped with nails. This incessant flogging continued until there was not a part of Jesus’ body that was not covered with bloody wounds and oozing sores. Of course we had to sit through every gory minute of it.

Nearly dead from that ordeal, he was dragged up again in front of the Jewish High Priests and Pontius Pilot. Pilot wanted to let him go, but the priests wanted him crucified. Politician that Pilot was, and wishing to avoid a riot, he complied, ordering Jesus to be crucified on the cross. We were then treated to further intermittent beatings, a crown of thorns hammered into his head, and his never-ending dragging the cross across town. During his cross dragging, he was being subjected to further beatings, insults, kicking, and spitting. We endured this endless trauma until finally he arrived at the execution site where further torture and humiliation awaited him.

While being nailed to the cross, every bodily torment was graphically shown in detail again and again. It seemed to be an endless chain of torture, mutilation, and cruelty. It was such a relief for him to finally die, both for the viewer and no doubt for Jesus, if in fact that was really how it all happened. There are many versions of these last hours, some written hundreds of years after his death. I do not trust the accuracy of the local newspaper after a couple of weeks let alone after two thousand years.

Is this picture anti-Semitic as alleged by many critics? I would say not anti-Semitic in the classical sense; however, the Jews were cast as the real heavies instead of the Roman Governor. Not only did the Jewish High Priests scream for his death, but the throngs of Jewish citizens also clamored for his death. We will never know whether this version is true or just some abstraction of facts selectively chosen by Mel Gibson to satisfy the bigoted belief system of his “Old Catholic” upbringing.

Many years ago, this saga was presented in a movie called “the Robe” with Richard Burton. Although essentially the same story, it was much more inspiring and religiously uplifting. “The Passion of the Christ” left a horrible taste in my mouth for a long time afterwards. It no doubt will be remembered forever, albeit a depressing experience. I would say ninety percent of the graphic violence should have hit the cutting room floor. The way it is now, it should all be trashed.

Posted by fredarm at 05:23 PM | Comments (3)

February 22, 2004

The Blame Game – Enough Already

Politicians and Citizens Play The “Ain’t It Awful Game”
By Fred H. Arm
Open any newspaper, turn on the radio, or watch TV and you will be bombarded with refrains of how awful things are and who is to blame. The Governor blames the former Governor, the Democrats blame the Republicans, and the Richmond City Council blames the Administration. The simple fact remains is that we are all in a helluva financial pickle. So f--k--g what!

It is hardly surprising there is so much complaining since we learned this behavior growing up while at home. Your mother blamed your father, your sister blamed her brother, and now you can blame your own spouse. Does it solve anything? Of course not! It only exacerbates the problem. Now, not only are we going broke in our fair city, everybody is at everyone else’s throat and the problem just gets worse every day. Enough! It’s time forget about your petty grievances and get down to work resolving the problem.

Since there is no money to hire help to get us through this crisis, why not tap into the army of able-bodied volunteers whose minds and bodies are rusting away in retirement bliss. The city already has a corps of volunteers working in advisory committees, design review boards, planning commissions and the like. I am convinced that once you put out the word, there will be more than enough people clamoring to help out during this disaster.

So I offer you a challenge: you frustrated politicians, to put away your swords and sharp tongues. The time has come to reach out into the secret lairs of the community to tap into the wealth of human resources who are ready, willing, and able to get us back on track to create a city government we can all be proud of. Your whining and complaining is best left at home. In fact, it probably does not do you much good there either. Get a life!

Posted by fredarm at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2004

Gay Marriage Shocks The Diehards

When Are The American People Going To Wake Up?
By Fred H. Arm
GayMarriagevsBlkWhite.gif Hats off to Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco’s and the State of Massachusetts. Cries of joy and exhilaration reverberate through County Clerk’s Offices as the Gay Community rushes to the alter to “tie the knot”. However, the recent allowance of Gay Marriages has created a firestorm of opposition by small-minded fundamentalists. When are they ever going to wake up? With every chapter of evolution in basic human rights and equality, the roar of the right-wing lunatics pollutes the airways with their juvenile clinging to outdated principles and religious dogma.

These unenlightened multitudes have forgotten many of the milestones in human rights progress that we have achieved over the years. When women were given the right to vote in the early twentieth century, the same intolerant crowd howled in opposition until ultimately women’s suffrage became commonplace. Not too long ago it was a felony here in California to have oral sex, adultery, and or sodomy with any other person, whether or not you were married. The court’s and the legislature struck down the statutes since these so-called sex crimes were commonplace regardless of sexual orientation. It is worthy to note that these arcane laws were most often enforced against homosexual men as a form of harassment.

Prior to 1954, it was legal to segregate schools by restricting minorities from attendance, entering certain business establishments, or living in certain neighborhoods. I recall a sign in the window of a Café in San Antonio in 1955 that said, “No Niggers, Dogs or Jews allowed”. I doubt that anyone questions these rights anymore. We simply take these basic rights for granted since our Constitution guarantees all citizens equal rights.

So why all the uproar by the looney toons of America? (The President of the United States included) I imagine that the same buffoons also complained bitterly in the past when other basic human rights were established. It seems they cannot stand to have anyone other than their own kind (whatever “kind” that is) enjoy the basic freedoms of life. It is unfortunate that so many people have to endure their cries and insults while society adjusts itself by formerly conveying these rights to those small minorities who ostensibly always had these rights in the first place under our Constitution. Enough already! Take your small-minded, bigoted mentality and put it where the sun doesn’t shine—and get a life!

Posted by fredarm at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

Confusion Reigns Supreme On The City Council

Murphy’s Variance Denial Appeal Continued For Two Weeks
By Fred H. Arm
Once again, confusion reigns supreme at the last City Council Meeting on February 10th, when Murphy attempted to appeal the Planning Commission’s denial of the creation of a new parcel map and a variance that would have permitted him to build three mega-houses on his five undersized lots on Pacific Avenue. The merits of the case became secondary to the fears generated by the not-so-wise counsel of deputy City Attorney Everett Jenkins. He suggested that to deny the appeal could result in the appellant winning a substantial judgment against the City in the “six figure range”. Either Jenkins was absent the day they taught appellate practice in Law School or he is deliberately misleading the Council. Jenkins’s obvious bias towards granting the appeal has generated an irrational fear on the part of many Council members.

Since the Council has been reeling under the enormous financial crisis facing the City of Richmond, any suggestion of further potential monetary obligations has struck terror into the hearts of some of the less enlightened members. The additional concern that the City had recently granted permission for another developer to build five houses on five other sub-standard lots has so panicked the Council that they voted to continue the hearing for two weeks to allow the matter to be adequately researched.

If there could be liability established for abuse of discretion by an appellate tribunal, which is the hat presently worn by the City Council in relation to the appeal by Murphy, half the nation’s appellate courts would be liable for billions of dollars in damages. For Jenkins to suggest that the City Council be responsible for damages and attorney fees in the six figure range is truly irresponsible and most likely has severely prejudiced the Council to rule in favor of the appellant. I cannot imagine a competent attorney making such a blatantly inaccurate assertion, particularly when he is supposed to be representing the interests of the City. (See California Government Code §818.4)

As to the five lots at the end of East Richmond Avenue, they are clearly incomparable to the Pacific Avenue lots. Firstly, the lots are on a wide boulevard that even has a substantial green island separating the east and westbound lanes. Secondly, the lots are not constructed on a hillside. The hillside was removed, making the land essentially flat as are the rest of the homes on that street. Third, the street is on a dead end without any vehicular traffic. Fourth, the land is essentially undesirable since it is adjacent to the local water purification plant and it has no view whatsoever. The lots were permitted by the Planning Department without going through the required variance process, obviously due to that earlier misguided letter of Everett Jenkins that the lots were “grandfathered in”, which Jenkins has subsequently repudiated. You really should sneak a look at this aberration being constructed at the end of East Richmond. How this ever got by the Planning Department and the Design Review Board is truly amazing. But, that is another story. (See Murphy’s Law Revisited, November 9th, 2003.)

I guess it is back to the drawing board for the litigants. Hopefully at this next hearing, the concerns plaguing the anxious members of the City Council will have been adequately addressed so that this bogus appeal can be finally put to rest.

Posted by fredarm at 11:43 AM | Comments (2)

February 09, 2004

Murphy’s Lament Re-Visited

The Saga Continues
By Fred H. Arm
By now, as most of you know, Anthony Murphy was denied the creation of a new parcel map and a variance that would have permitted him to build on his five undersized lots on Pacific Avenue. On Tuesday night, February 10th, our good friend will publicly howl and lament to the City Council how he has been wronged by the Planning Commission and the Planning Department’s refusal to let him make all those hundreds and thousands of dollars he would have made building his three unsightly behemoths.

I expect that Murphy will whimper to the Council that a sort of wholesale variance allowance exists in Point Richmond and why should he not be able to have his slice of the pie. It is true that the Planning Department and the Planning Commission have occasionally tolerated owners to build upon lots that are less than 6,000 sq. feet, as the zoning ordinance requires. However, if the government has turned a blind eye to a crime over the years, is that really a justification for continuing to do so? Before environmental laws were passed not too may years ago, one could pollute, litter, or build whenever or wherever they pleased. Just like any other inequity or injustice, there comes a time in the affairs of man when the people say “enough”.

I am convinced that Murphy will revisit that infamous legal interpretive letter by the City Attorney’s Office, dated January 28th, 2003, that purported to give landowner’s carte blanche to build on sub-standard lots so long as they were in existence and recorded before January 31, 1949. The Planning Department armed with this explosive missive, happily permitted applicants to proceed with their permit application without the need for a variance hearing. Apparently, many lots fell into this time slot and were each granted permits without formal variances.

Some time later, on June 30, 2003, the City Attorney partially reversed its position, indicating that sub division maps or variances should first be obtained. He qualified his reversal by citing broad interpretive language to the effect that the Planning Commission may still grant, under the Sub-Division Map Act, essentially what amounts to variances for two or more small-sized lots, as first conceptualized at their creation, by granting a parcel map exception. Or, as the case may be on a single lot, the variance procedure may grant such permits to lot owners “if the it appears that the zoning ordinances deprives the lot owner of privileges afforded other property owners in the immediate vicinity”. They want to justify future variances by citing old variances as authority for new variances. This absurd notion is much like stating that the sale of hard drugs should be permissible since 100 years ago it was perfectly legal. The bottom line of all this double-speak is that one upon a time the City was in favor of anyone building on any size lot!

Since a lot owner has only to show at the Planning Commission hearing that other lot owners have been given variances, why not he or she? Does this sound similar to the childish ranting of a toddler or teenager who demands to be given privileges that his/her friends have? “Why not?” says Murphy?

Conceivably, the Planning Commission and the Planning Department with their unenthusiastic departure from giving the world away at the Murphy hearing, have seen the error of their ways and have decided to follow the zoning laws as they are written.

As stated in the City of Richmond’s Municipal Code:
“15.04.015 Interpretation--Purpose and conflict.

A. In interpreting and applying the provisions of this chapter, they shall be held to be the minimum requirements for the promotion of the public health, safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare.”

Although at first blush it seems blatantly unfair to single out Mr. Murphy, however, “the buck has to stop someplace”. One can only hope that the recent publicity and opposition of the neighborhoods have ingrained a new sense of responsibility upon the City to follow its own zoning laws and not allow Point Richmond to become wall-to-wall housing such as Daly City. The low-density zoning laws were put in place by virtue of the wisdom of the City Council and are enforced to help make the City a safe, beautiful, and well-ordered environment we can all be proud of. Enough of this whining developer whose only concern is how much money he can squeeze out of the land.

Posted by fredarm at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2004

Secret Things- A Movie Review

A Banquet of Sexual Manipulation Gone Awry
By Fred H. Arm
The opening scene in Secret Things slams you with its voyeuristic impact suggesting that this is a soft-porn exploitation in someone’s private bedroom; however, the scene turns out to be an autoerotic exhibition onstage in a bar in Paris. Nathalie (Coralie Revel) is a gorgeous exotic dancer headlining in a dank bar in Paris. She is fired after a tiff with the calloused owner together with a naïve bartender Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou). The two ladies vow not to be used by men again. Nathalie encourages Sandrine to loosen her sexual inhibitions to get more out of life. She instructs Sandrine how to awaken her sexuality both in the bedroom and at public places such as a tunnel in the Metro. The pair decides to room together and scheme on how they will better their lot in life by using men to climb the ladder of success and become free spirits.

After the ladies land a job at the same firm, they plot on how to advance their positions using their sensuality as a manipulative tool. Nathalie quickly maneuvers a job as personnel assistant and Sandrina is now an executive secretary. Sandrina, currently an apt pupil in sexual prowess, manages to manipulate her superiors until she finally lands a position as secretary to the main supervisor. This formerly monogamous married man, who is twice Sandrine’s age, falls madly in love with her to his detriment as they secretly hump their way across the screen both on the job and at other more acceptable venues. Sandrine flagrantly uses him to advance her career, yet plans on dumping him once she conquers the young CEO, a handsome and clever womanizer.

As the affair with her boss hardens, she begins to back off and he becomes more desperate to possess her. Nathalie on the other hand has fallen hard for an unrevealed lover, who apparently has dumped her. Sandrine attempts to console Nathalie and ultimately winds up in the sack with her. Now the plot begins to deteriorate as the newfound freedom they were both relishing begins to erode. Trapped by the amorous attention of her boss, Sandrine now imposes upon him to promote Nathalie to their office where they eventually indulge in a ménage à trois. This scenario further crumbles when the three are discovered in hot embrace in the restroom by the young stud of a CEO, who is even more Machiavellian than they are.

The plot now totally disintegrates into a banquet of ruthlessness, group sex, lesbian sex, three-way sex, and masturbation. Our heroines, now suffering much more than they did before they decided upon their quest to manipulate men, go along with the bizarre program foisted upon them. The story unfolds into some off the wall twists and unexpected ironies. However, when mixed with the continual bombardment of sexual exploitation, it adds little to the theme of the story. The film appears to take away more than it provides.

The first three quarters of the film are fun and interesting as we observe the women taking charge of their lives and maneuvering through office politics. The movie eventually falls apart dropping to the level of a soft-core porn movie, without rhyme or reason until the plot regresses to something secondary to the sexploitations. The director, Jean-Claude Brisseau presents quite a banquet of sexuality, turning on both men and women audiences throughout the film, while maintaining a nice balance of story and visual indulgence. This picture, in French with English subtitles, is deftly crafted so that you easily forget that you are reading everything instead of listening to the dialogue. Nathalie is so stunning and sexual on the screen that it is by itself well worth the price of admission. It is too bad the story falls apart in the third act; nevertheless, I would still recommend it for its visual arousing energy and remarkable premise.

Opens in the Bay Area February 6th at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and in Berkeley at the Shattuck.

Posted by fredarm at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)