Saturday, April 21, 2018

“2001: A Space Odyssey”: What It Means, and How It Was Made

Fifty years ago, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke set out to make a new kind of sci-fi. How does their future look now that it's the past?

The power of Stanley Kubrick's classic is bound up with the story of its making.
Photograph from Photofest
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Fifty years ago this spring, Stanley Kubrick's confounding sci-fi masterpiece, "2001: A Space Odyssey," had its premières across the country. In the annals of audience restlessness, these evenings rival the opening night of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," in 1913, when Parisians in osprey and tails reportedly brandished their canes and pelted the dancers with objects. A sixth of the New York première's audience walked right out, including several executives from M-G-M. Many who stayed jeered throughout. Kubrick nervously shuttled between his seat in the front row and the projection booth, where he tweaked the sound and the focus. Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick's collaborator, was in tears at intermission. The after-party at the Plaza was "a room full of drinks and men and tension," according to Kubrick's wife, Christiane.
Kubrick, a doctor's son from the Bronx who got his start as a photographer for Look, was turning forty that year, and his rise in Hollywood had left him hungry to make extravagant films on his own terms. It had been four years full of setbacks and delays since the director's triumph, "Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." From the look of things, the Zeitgeist was not going to strike twice. A businessman overheard on his way out of a screening spoke for many: "Well, that's one man's opinion."
"2001" is a hundred and forty-two minutes, pared down from a hundred and sixty-one in a cut that Kubrick made after those disastrous premières. There is something almost taunting about the movie's pace. "2001" isn't long because it is dense with storytelling; it is long because Kubrick distributed its few narrative jolts as sparsely as possible. Renata Adler, in the Times, described the movie as "somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring." Its "uncompromising slowness," she wrote, "makes it hard to sit through without talking." In Harper's, Pauline Kael wrote, "The ponderous blurry appeal of the picture may be that it takes its stoned audience out of this world to a consoling vision of a graceful world of space." Onscreen it was 2001, but in the theatres it was still 1968, after all. Kubrick's gleeful machinery, waltzing in time to Strauss, had bounded past an abundance of human misery on the ground.
Hippies may have saved "2001." "Stoned audiences" flocked to the movie. David Bowie took a few drops of cannabis tincture before watching, and countless others dropped acid. According to one report, a young man at a showing in Los Angeles plunged through the movie screen, shouting, "It's God! It's God!" John Lennon said he saw the film "every week." "2001" initially opened in limited release, shown only in 70-mm. on curved Cinerama screens. M-G-M thought it had on its hands a second "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) or "Ben-Hur" (1959), or perhaps another "Spartacus" (1960), the splashy studio hit that Kubrick, low on funds, had directed about a decade before. But instead the theatres were filling up with fans of cult films like Roger Corman's "The Trip," or "Psych-Out," the early Jack Nicholson flick with music by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. These movies, though cheesy, found a new use for editing and special effects: to mimic psychedelic visions. The iconic Star Gate sequence in "2001," when Dave Bowman, the film's protagonist, hurtles in his space pod through a corridor of swimming kaleidoscopic colors, could even be timed, with sufficient practice, to crest with the viewer's own hallucinations. The studio soon caught on, and a new tagline was added to the movie's redesigned posters: "The ultimate trip."
In "Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece," the writer and filmmaker Michael Benson takes us on a different kind of trip: the long journey from the film's conception to its opening and beyond. The power of the movie has always been unusually bound up with the story of how it was made. In 1966, Jeremy Bernstein profiled Kubrick on the "2001" set for The New Yorker, and behind-the-scenes accounts with titles like "The Making of Kubrick's 2001" began appearing soon after the movie's release. The grandeur of "2001"—the product of two men, Clarke and Kubrick, who were sweetly awestruck by the thought of infinite space—required, in its execution, micromanagement of a previously unimaginable degree. Kubrick's drive to show the entire arc of human life ("from ape to angel," as Kael dismissively put it) meant that he was making a special-effects movie of radical scope and ambition. But in his initial letter to Clarke, a science-fiction writer, engineer, and shipwreck explorer living in Ceylon, Kubrick began with the modest-sounding goal of making "the proverbial 'really good' science-fiction movie." Kubrick wanted his film to explore "the reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life," and what it would mean if we discovered it.
The outlines of a simple plot were already in place: Kubrick wanted "a space-probe with a landing and exploration of the Moon and Mars." (The finished product opts for Jupiter instead.) But the timing of Kubrick's letter, in March of 1964, suggested a much more ambitious and urgent project. "2001" was a science-fiction film trying not to be outrun by science itself. Kubrick was tracking NASA's race to the moon, which threatened to siphon some of the wonder from his production. He had one advantage over reality: the film could present the marvels of the universe in lavish color and sound, on an enormous canvas. If Kubrick could make the movie he imagined, the grainy images from the lunar surface shown on dinky TV screens would seem comparatively unreal.
In Clarke, Kubrick found a willing accomplice. Clarke had served as a radar instructor in the R.A.F., and did two terms as chairman of the British Interplanetary Society. His reputation as perhaps the most rigorous of living sci-fi writers, the author of several critically acclaimed novels, was widespread. Kubrick needed somebody who had knowledge and imagination in equal parts. "If you can describe it," Clarke recalls Kubrick telling him, "I can film it." It was taken as a dare. Meeting in New York, often in the Kubricks' cluttered apartment on the Upper East Side, the couple's three young daughters swarming around them, they decided to start by composing a novel. Kubrick liked to work from books, and since a suitable one did not yet exist they would write it. When they weren't working, Clarke introduced Kubrick to his telescope and taught him to use a slide rule. They studied the scientific literature on extraterrestrial life. "Much excitement when Stanley phones to say that the Russians claim to have detected radio signals from space," Clarke wrote in his journal for April 12, 1965: "Rang Walter Sullivan at the New York Times and got the real story—merely fluctuations in Quasar CTA 102." Kubrick grew so concerned that an alien encounter might be imminent that he sought an insurance policy from Lloyd's of London in case his story got scooped during production.
Clarke was the authority on both the science and the science fiction, but an account he gave later provides a sense of what working with Kubrick was like: "We decided on a compromise—Stanley's." The world of "2001" was designed ex nihilo, and among the first details to be worked out was the look of emptiness itself. Kubrick had seen a Canadian educational film titled "Universe," which rendered outer space by suspending inks and paints in vats of paint thinner and filming them with bright lighting at high frame rates. Slowed down to normal speed, the oozing shades and textures looked like galaxies and nebulae. Spacecraft were designed with the expert help of Harry Lange and Frederick Ordway, who ran a prominent space consultancy. A senior NASA official called Kubrick's studio outside London "NASA East." Model makers, architects, boatbuilders, furniture designers, sculptors, and painters were brought to the studio, while companies manufactured the film's spacesuits, helmets, and instrument panels. The lines between film and reality were blurred. The Apollo 8 crew took in the film's fictional space flight at a screening not long before their actual journey. NASA's Web site has a list of all the details that "2001" got right, from flat-screen displays and in-flight entertainment to jogging astronauts. In the coming decades, conspiracy theorists would allege that Kubrick had helped the government fake the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Kubrick brought to his vision of the future the studiousness you would expect from a history film. "2001" is, in part, a fastidious period piece about a period that had yet to happen. Kubrick had seen exhibits at the 1964 World's Fair, and pored over a magazine article titled "Home of the Future." The lead production designer on the film, Tony Masters, noticed that the world of "2001" eventually became a distinct time and place, with the kind of coherent aesthetic that would merit a sweeping historical label, like "Georgian" or "Victorian." "We designed a way to live," he recalled, "down to the last knife and fork." (The Arne Jacobsen flatware, designed in 1957, was made famous by its use in the film, and is still in production.) By rendering a not-too-distant future, Kubrick set himself up for a test: thirty-three years later, his audiences would still be around to grade his predictions. Part of his genius was that he understood how to rig the results. Many elements from his set designs were contributions from major brands—Whirlpool, Macy's, DuPont, Parker Pens, Nikon—which quickly cashed in on their big-screen exposure. If 2001 the year looked like "2001" the movie, it was partly because the film's imaginary design trends were made real.
Much of the film's luxe vision of space travel was overambitious. In 1998, ahead of the launch of the International Space Station, the Times reported that the habitation module was "far cruder than the most pessimistic prognosticator could have imagined in 1968." But the film's look was a big hit on Earth. Olivier Mourgue's red upholstered Djinn chairs, used on the "2001" set, became a design icon, and the high-end lofts and hotel lobbies of the year 2001 bent distinctly toward the aesthetic of Kubrick's imagined space station.
Audiences who came to "2001" expecting a sci-fi movie got, instead, an essay on time. The plot was simple and stark. A black monolith, shaped like a domino, appears at the moment in prehistory when human ancestors discover how to use tools, and is later found, in the year 2001, just below the lunar surface, where it reflects signals toward Jupiter's moons. At the film's conclusion, it looms again, when the ship's sole survivor, Dave Bowman, witnesses the eclipse of human intelligence by a vague new order of being. "2001" is therefore only partly set in 2001: as exacting as Kubrick was about imagining that moment, he swept it away in a larger survey of time, wedging his astronauts between the apelike anthropoids that populate the first section of the film, "The Dawn of Man," and the fetal Star Child betokening the new race at its close. A mixture of plausibility and poetry, "real" science and primal symbolism, was therefore required. For "The Dawn of Man," shot last, a team travelled to Namibia to gather stills of the desert. Back in England, a massive camera system was built to project these shots onto screens, transforming the set into an African landscape. Actors, dancers, and mimes were hired to wear meticulously constructed ape suits, wild animals were housed at the Southampton Zoo, and a dead horse was painted to look like a zebra.
For the final section of the film, "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite," Ordway, the film's scientific consultant, read up on a doctoral thesis on psychedelics advised by Timothy Leary. Theology students had taken psilocybin, then attended a service at Boston University's Marsh Chapel to see if they'd be hit with religious revelations. They dutifully reported their findings: most of the participants had indeed touched God. Such wide-ranging research was characteristic of Clarke and Kubrick's approach, although the two men, both self-professed squares, might have saved time had they been willing to try hallucinogens themselves.
The Jupiter scenes—filled with what Michael Benson describes as "abstract, nonrepresentational, space-time astonishments"—were the product of years of trial and error spent adapting existing equipment and technologies, such as the "slit-scan" photography that finally made the famous Star Gate sequence possible. Typically used for panoramic shots of cityscapes, the technique, in the hands of Kubrick's special-effects team, was modified to produce a psychedelic rush of color and light. Riding in Dave's pod is like travelling through a birth canal in which someone has thrown a rave. Like the films of the late nineteenth century, "2001" manifested its invented worlds by first inventing the methods needed to construct them.
Yet some of the most striking effects in the film are its simplest. In a movie about extraterrestrial life, Kubrick faced a crucial predicament: what would the aliens look like? Cold War-era sci-fi offered a dispiriting menu of extraterrestrial avatars: supersonic birds, scaly monsters, gelatinous blobs. In their earliest meetings in New York, Clarke and Kubrick, along with Christiane, sketched drafts and consulted the Surrealist paintings of Max Ernst. For a time, Christiane was modelling clay aliens in her studio. These gargoyle-like creatures were rejected, and "ended up dotted around the garden," according to Kubrick's daughter Katharina. Alberto Giacometti's sculptures of thinned and elongated humans, resembling shadows at sundown, were briefly an inspiration. In the end, Kubrick decided that "you cannot imagine the unimaginable" and, after trying more ornate designs, settled on the monolith. Its eerily neutral and silent appearance at the crossroads of human evolution evokes the same wonder for members of the audience as it does for characters in the film. Kubrick realized that, if he was going to make a film about human fear and awe, the viewer had to feel those emotions as well.
And then there is HAL, the rogue computer whose affectless red eye reflects back what it sees while, behind it, his mind whirrs with dark and secret designs. I.B.M. consulted on the plans for HAL, but the idea to use the company's logo fell through after Kubrick described him in a letter as "a psychotic computer." Any discussion of Kubrick's scientific prescience has to include HAL, whose suave, slightly effeminate voice suggests a bruised heart beating under his circuitry. In the past fifty years, our talking machines have continued to evolve, but none of them have become as authentically malicious as HAL. My grandfather's early-eighties Chrysler, borrowing the voice from Speak & Spell, would intone, "A door is ajar," whenever you got in. It sounded like a logical fallacy, but it seemed pleasantly futuristic nonetheless. Soon voice-command technology reached the public, ushering in our current era of unreliable computer interlocutors given to unforced errors: half-comical, half-pitiful simpletons, whose fate in life is to be taunted by eleven-year-olds. Despite the reports of cackling Amazon Alexas, there has, so far, been fairly little to worry about where our talking devices are concerned. The unbearable pathos of HAL's disconnection scene, one of the most mournful death scenes ever filmed, suggests that when we do end up with humanlike computers, we're going to have some wild ethical dilemmas on our hands. HAL is a child, around nine years old, as he tells Dave at the moment he senses he's finished. He's precocious, indulged, needy, and vulnerable; more human than his human overseers, with their stilted, near robotic delivery. The dying HAL, singing "Daisy," the tune his teacher taught him, is a sentimental trope out of Victorian fiction, more Little Nell than little green man.
As Benson's book suggests, in a way the release of "2001" was its least important milestone. Clarke and Kubrick had been wrestling for years with questions of what the film was, and meant. These enigmas were merely handed off from creators to viewers. The critic Alexander Walker called "2001" "the first mainstream film that required an act of continuous inference" from its audiences. On set, the legions of specialists and consultants working on the minutiae took orders from Kubrick, whose conception of the whole remained in constant flux. The film's narrative trajectory pointed inexorably toward a big ending, even a revelation, but Kubrick kept changing his mind about what that ending would be—and nobody who saw the film knew quite what to make of the one he finally chose. The film took for granted a broad cultural tolerance, if not an appetite, for enigma, as well as the time and inclination for parsing interpretive mysteries. If the first wave of audiences was baffled, it might have been because "2001" had not yet created the taste it required to be appreciated. Like "Ulysses," or "The Waste Land," or countless other difficult, ambiguous modernist landmarks, "2001" forged its own context. You didn't solve it by watching it a second time, but you did settle into its mysteries.
Later audiences had another advantage. "2001" established the phenomenon of the Kubrick film: much rumored, long delayed, always a little disappointing. Casts and crews were held hostage as they withstood Kubrick's infinite futzing, and audiences were held in eager suspense by P.R. campaigns that often oversold the films' commercial appeal. Downstream would be midnight showings, monographs, dorm rooms, and weed, but first there was the letdown. The reason given for the films' failures suggested the terms of their redemption: Kubrick was incapable of not making Kubrick films.
"2001" established the aesthetic and thematic palette that he used in all his subsequent films. The spaciousness of its too perfectly constructed sets, the subjugation of story and theme to abstract compositional balance, the precision choreography, even—especially—in scenes of violence and chaos, the entire repertoire of colors, angles, fonts, and textures: these were constants in films as wildly different as "Barry Lyndon" (1975) and "The Shining" (1980), "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) and "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999). So was the languorous editing of "2001," which, when paired with abrupt temporal leaps, made eons seem short and moments seem endless, and its brilliant deployment of music to organize, and often ironize, action and character. These elements were present in some form in Kubrick's earlier films, particularly "Dr. Strangelove," but it was all perfected in "2001." Because he occupied genres one at a time, each radically different from the last, you could control for what was consistently Kubrickian about everything he did. The films are designed to advance his distinct filmic vocabulary in new contexts and environments: a shuttered resort hotel, a spacious Manhattan apartment, Vietnam. Inside these disparate but meticulously constructed worlds, Kubrick's slightly malicious intelligence determined the outcomes of every apparently free choice his protagonists made.
Though Kubrick binged on pulp sci-fi as a child, and later listened to radio broadcasts about the paranormal, "2001" has little in common with the rinky-dink conventions of movie science fiction. Its dazzling showmanship harkened back to older cinematic experiences. Film scholars sometimes discuss the earliest silent films as examples of "the cinema of attraction," movies meant to showcase the medium itself. These films were, in essence, exhibits: simple scenes from ordinary life—a train arriving, a dog cavorting. Their only import was that they had been captured by a camera that could, magically, record movement in time. This "moving photography" was what prompted Maxim Gorky, who saw the Lumière brothers' films at a Russian fair in 1896, to bemoan the "kingdom of shadows"—a mass of people, animals, and vehicles—rushing "straight at you," approaching the edge of the screen, then vanishing "somewhere beyond it."
"2001" is at its best when it evokes the "somewhere beyond." For me, the most astounding moment of the film is a coded tribute to filmmaking itself. In "The Dawn of Man," when a fierce leopard suddenly faces us, its eyes reflect the light from the projection system that Kubrick's team had invented to create the illusion of a vast primordial desert. Kubrick loved the effect, and left it in. These details linger in the mind partly because they remind us that a brilliant artist, intent on mastering science and conjuring science fiction, nevertheless knew when to leave his poetry alone.
The interpretive communities convened by "2001" may persist in pockets of the culture, but I doubt whether many young people will again contend with its debts to Jung, John Cage, and Joseph Campbell. In the era of the meme, we're more likely to find the afterlife of "2001" in fragments and glimpses than in theories and explications. The film hangs on as a staple of YouTube video essays and mashups; it remains high on lists of both the greatest films ever made and the most boring. On Giphy, you can find many iconic images from "2001" looping endlessly in seconds-long increments—a jarring compression that couldn't be more at odds with the languid eternity Kubrick sought to capture. The very fact that you can view "2001," along with almost every film ever shot, on a palm-size device is a future that Kubrick and Clarke may have predicted, but surely wouldn't have wanted for their own larger-than-life movie. The film abounds in little screens, tablets, and picturephones; in 2011, Samsung fought an injunction from Apple over alleged patent violations by citing the technology in "2001" as a predecessor for its designs. Moon landings and astronaut celebrities now feel like a thing of the past. Space lost out. Those screens were the future. ♦
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

San Francisco’s Queen of Abortions gets her moment of recognition

Two new biographies look at the life of Inez Burns, an uncompromising and extravagant turn-of-century women's healthcare provider.

San Francisco's Queen of Abortions gets her moment of recognition
Two new biographies look at the life of Inez Burns, an uncompromising and extravagant turn-of-century women's healthcare provider.
Caroline Carlisle

It was there, in the relative tranquility of her little cottage in the Women's Department at San Quentin at Tehachapi and later at the federal prison at Alderson, in the twilight of her sixties, that notorious abortionist Inez Burns had her feminist awakening. More important than making money (and she loved making money), her work helped women to take charge of their bodies in a world controlled almost entirely by men — men who wanted to have their cake, eat it, and then moralize about the wickedness of baking in between visits to their mistresses.
She saw the church and its second class treatment of women as complicit in women's suffering; all those years of watching Catholic women enter her clinic, trailing six children and desperate to prevent a seventh, left a sour taste in Burns' mouth, even more so than their legislative efforts to put her out of business. In her eyes, the church was adding generations of misery around the world for the pleasure of men, and making slaves of half of the population by giving men unchecked control over the reproductive systems of their wives, girlfriends, and daughters. What had for so long been purely business had become a crusade for her, and when she got out of prison, she went right back to work.
Burns never met a man she couldn't charm until she crossed paths with pathologically ambitious attorney Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who aimed to launch his political career out of the ashes of her empire. He couldn't have picked a tougher nut to crack — San Francisco's "Queen of Abortions" was as tough as the steel needles she used to perform her services on thousands upon thousands of women. Burns's improbable, fantastically scandalous trajectory took her from humble beginnings in a San Francisco slum to a Pittsburgh pickle packing plant, a fateful manicurist job at the ritzy Palace Hotel, and then onto her lifelong career as the West Coast grande dame who — assisted by her team of nurses in crisp white uniforms — provided safe, hygienic abortions on demand to WWI war widows, rape survivors, scorned lovers, Hollywood stars, and the Gilded Age elite alike. She made unholy amounts of money, bribed the cops with abandon, changed husbands like hats, sashayed through theater premieres in Paris couture, had a run in with one of Al Capone's Mafia thugs, almost certainly dispatched one of her own husbands with arsenic — and she did it all with so much style, cunning, and hard-nosed grit that, for decades, she was untouchable.

Despite her larger-than-life influence, Inez Burns remains an obscure figure in American history, even within the canon of feminist scholarship. The thought of digging up Burns' secrets and connecting the scattered dots of her extraordinary life makes for an intimidating prospect, considering the secretive nature of her business. (She often employed code words like "glantham" for cash, "Emily" for phantom pregnancies, and "ni-dash" for "don't you dare open your mouth!" for an extra layer of security beyond her hidden staircase, trapdoors, and private cash reserves). However, the unsinkable Mrs. Burns' tale of woe and wickedness captivated not one, but two authors in recent memory. 2017 saw the release of Lisa Riggin's San Francisco's Queen of Vice: The Strange Career of Abortionist Inez Brown Burns, and this month sees the release of Stephen G. Bloom's The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery, & Ruin in the City of Gold. It's surely no accident that both books were released within spitting distance of the 45th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized abortion in the United States.
Burns' story is titillating and outlandish, but beneath the glitz and cop-taunting banter runs a more sober current: the stark choices that faced those burdened with unwanted pregnancies in the dark days before Roe vs. Wade. Those who could afford it went to see Inez in her elegantly-appointed clinic; those who could not were left with back alleys, kitchen tables, and, all too often, coffins. Burns got her first big break from her paramour-turned-medical mentor Dr. West, who trained her first as an assistant and ultimately as a full-fledged abortionist. Around the time they met at the Palace Hotel, he had found himself in a spot of bother; the decapitated body of a young woman who'd recently visited his abortion clinic bobbed up in the San Francisco Bay, and Dr. West had inconveniently been spotted dropping packages into the bay late at night. Despite rafts of incriminating evidence against him, he copped a not guilty verdict (and, to be clear, he was almost certainly guilty). Burns would follow in his legally precarious footsteps, though the only murder she was allegedly involved in happened outside the clinic's walls.
In those days, it was nearly impossible to convict a suspected abortion provider; most women refused to testify for fear of public shame, and on top of that, it suited the city's philandering movers and shakers to keep the "abortion mills" up and running, just as long as nobody died and the providers kept the bribe money flowing. There was no collective will to shut them down. Clinics like Inez Burns' were regarded as a public utility, something to be whispered about but ultimately left to their own devices. San Francisco was a wild town overrun by pleasure palaces, dirty cops, and indulgent politicians; you could get away with a lot if you had the right friends and knew how to keep your mouth shut, and Burns thrived in the decadent atmosphere.
Inez Burns, circa 1917. Scott Merritt
For moralists, Burns — with her multiple husbands, scandalous occupation, dripping jewels, underworld connections, and late-in-life habit of stealing her teenage granddaughter's boyfriends — was a nightmare in a mink stole. And yet, those same highfalutin society ladies always came to Inez when they needed her unique service. She gladly took their money at a markup — she subsidized poorer women's abortions by overcharging rich clients — and just laughed when her blue-blooded customers breezed past her at the opera, noses in the air.
Outside of religious circles, the prevailing attitude towards abortion at the time was that of a necessary evil — a problem to be taken care of by "ladies' specialists" in order to prevent greater misery, or embarrassment. Abortion was technically illegal, so anyone who found themselves in need of one had to rely on referrals from sympathetic doctors or whisper networks, both avenues which — in the best case scenario — led to professional illegal practitioners like Burns. Every major city had their abortion kingpin, from Chicago to Hoboken, where Frank Sinatra's mother "Hatpin Dolly" worked as a midwife and provided safe abortions for Catholic Italian women on the side.
Though the common stereotype of an abortion seeker was of a young, unmarried, "fast" woman, in reality, Burns and her ilk welcomed all manner of women into their clinic. Many were mothers with too many children and not enough money, society women with boyfriends, society men with girlfriends, sex workers, war widows, and even a few nuns. As her lawyer Walter McGovern noted during the closing arguments of one of Burns' abortion trials, thousands of troops shipped out from San Francisco Harbor to war in the Pacific. Local young women were encouraged to flirt and "entertain" WWII soldiers as a sort of patriotic service, but when the GIs left and morning sickness showed up, what were they meant to do?
Her tastefully decorated clinic provided a welcoming, professional environment, and Burns herself provided the medical expertise and efficiency to solve their problem, provided they had the cash. Burns had sympathy for poor girls in distress, but always demanded her fee. (There was a sort of informal sliding scale — $50 to $75 for poor mothers, up to $2,000 for Hollywood starlets.) Then as now, the best quality healthcare was reserved for the rich, and for those who could scrape up the asking price; then as now, working class and poor women suffered terribly under a weighted system that offered them nothing but pain.
The party had to end sometime, though, and as she entered her sixties, Burns finally met — if not her match — her most formidable foe: Pat Brown, the father of current California governor Jerry Brown, who pursued her for years in an effort to make his own political bones, and his bulldog prosecutor Tom Lynch. After dabbling in local politics and eyeballing loftier office, Brown seized upon Burns as his own personal bête noire — a diamond-studded symbol of San Francisco's deeply embedded culture of corruption, sin, and violence — and became determined to take her down. Her clinic was raided time after time, but Burns was always one step ahead, escaping through trap doors and down secret staircases whenever she got tipped off. Undercover cops came back with scathing accounts of the goings on inside, but could never get a conviction. Burns and Brown's game of cat-and-mouse lasted for decades, until Burns' luck finally faltered. After failing to convict her for years and undergoing multitudinous humiliations at her finely gloved hands, Brown and his boys successfully sent her to prison — three times.
Inez Burns (standing, on the right) at a family wedding in 1965. Scott Merritt
Bloom's exhaustive new biography is cinematic in scope as well as feel; each turn of the page reveals another finely-wrought revelation or flummoxing plot twist. Inez Burns with her Titian hair and killer curves was born to be a movie star, but in the end, she lived a life far too big, bad, and brash for the silver screen. The book reads like a love letter to not only the irrepressible Mrs. Burns, but to the city of San Francisco itself, with especial attention lavished upon the gilded excess and savage grotesqueries of its lawless prewar years. There is blood, yes, as well as plenty of corrupt politicians, Mafia dons, botched procedures, glittering jewels, and murder, all backlit against the rolling fog and bohemian spirit that continues to define the city to this day.
Lisa Riggin's book on Inez came out a year before Bloom's, but Bloom's is the far more satisfactory read, in terms of pacing, storytelling, and research; he spent over 25 years reconstructing Burns' world, and it shows. Riggins focuses mainly on Burns' trials, starting the story when she's already a hardened older woman with a fortune and a rap sheet, while Bloom recounts Burns' entire life in minute detail, down to how she stored her prodigious hat collection or her chosen method of poison. Within the first few pages, discrepancies between the two tales emerge, and continue throughout the book; it's an interesting sort of he-said she-said born of the hodgepodge of court records, diaries, and newspaper clippings that form the foundation for the story.
For example, Riggins dismisses Burns' days working in a Palace Hotel barber shop as a front for escorting, while Bloom takes his time explaining how her work there allowed her to harness her own sexual magnetism and learn how to attract powerful, rich men, including the one who brought her into the medical trade. His telling makes no specific mention of escorting, but focuses on how she built mutually beneficial relationships and honed her interpersonal skills. (Sex was an obvious factor, but reducing this period in her life to a sentence on sex work diminishes Burns' agency and her calculating intellect.) This is a common theme of the dueling narratives: after spending so much time getting to know her and the circumstances, Bloom seems more inclined to be sympathetic to his subject, while Riggins is more matter-of-fact, keeping opportunities to humanize Burns' at arm's length.
Bloom paints a sobering picture of Burns' final years. Worn out by years of public trials and prison, financially ruined thanks to a belated IRS crackdown, betrayed by her money-grubbing children, and lonesome following loss of her final husband, good ol' Joe Burns, the aging libertine spent most of her time reminiscing about her fallen empire, and spending peppermint schnapps-soaked Sundays with her beloved granddaughter, Caroline, who later became a source for the book. She died in 1976, three years after Roe vs. Wade revolutionized women's place in the world and rendered her former trade unnecessary.
Now, with the freedoms granted to Americans in possession of a uterus under strident attack from the highest offices in the land and a president who actively campaigned on its repeal, Burns' legacy feels especially relevant. At the height of her career in the gilded 1920s and hardscrabble 1930s, she reigned over San Francisco with a kid gloved fist, profiting off society's overarching "don't-ask-don't-tell" attitude towards her particular line of work. She safely, hygienically, and expertly ministered to thousands of women in need; without Burns, they would've been faced with the other, truly horrifying options afforded to unhappily pregnant women before Roe vs. Wade. They could have bled to death on a kitchen table or succumbed to sepsis after trying to puncture their womb with knitting needles; they could have ended up dead on the operating table, their abortion botched by unqualified quacks. They could have ingested herbs that didn't work, or poison that worked too well. They could've broken their bodies on stairs or scalded their skin in "gin baths."
No matter what, they would have suffered, and were it not for Inez Burns and her fellow practitioners, San Francisco — and everywhere else across the nation — would have been home to thousands of dead women who died dreaming of a better life. This is the future we're currently facing: a world without Roe vs. Wade, a dystopia of forced birth, starving children, and dead women; a world that remains under violent patriarchal oppression but has stripped us of our remaining claim to bodily autonomy.
California governor Jerry Brown declined requests to be interviewed for Bloom's book; one assumes that his own progressive record on women's rights could do without the stain of association with his father's crusade against Burns and her famously effective abortion clinic. A virago until the end, she stayed sharp throughout her 80s, and surely cackled with glee when, in the '60s, she saw Pat Brown's presidential hopes dashed by a handsome film actor named Ronald Reagan. No one could be allowed to get one over on her.

(Correction: Burns' sliding scale has been clarified.)
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Kim Kelly is a writer, editor, and radical political organizer in New York City.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

What's The ‘National Interest’ Anyways? Conflict Resolution Expert Adam Kahane on Canada’s Oil Pipeline Debate

What's The 'National Interest' Anyways? Conflict Resolution Expert Adam Kahane on Canada's Oil Pipeline Debate

By Emma Gilchrist • Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 15:58
As the national conversation about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline goes thoroughly bananas, one thing is becoming crystal clear: this conflict is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Thankfully, there are people out there who specialize in resolving conflicts like this — people like Canadian Adam Kahane who has been credited with helping to end Colombia's civil war.
For Kahane — the author of the book Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don't Agree With or Like or Trust — the most striking thing about the pipeline debate is that the rules are not clear.
"The question of who gets to decide on what in Canada between the provincial and federal governments on one hand and Indigenous rights holders on the other hand is not settled," he told DeSmog Canada in an interview.
While many statements by politicians pretend there's one right answer and agreement about what's in the "national interest," that too is up for debate.
"To say 'this is what's needed for the good of the nation' gives an overly simplistic answer to a very difficult question, which is: whose good is being talked about here?" Kahane said. 
And then there's the question of whether the hysterical political statements are part of a negotiation strategy we're not aware of.
"People say all sorts of things to try to shift the terrain to their advantage," Kahane said.
We asked Kahane to shed some light on the dynamics at play in the pipeline debate, based on his experience mediating conflicts around the world.
What do you think about the heated rhetoric that's happening with our political leaders right now?
I was very surprised at the rhetoric, especially when Trudeau and Notley both said … within the last few days 'this is going to happen.' That surprised me because it's not the sort of thing politicians normally say.
I would have expected them to say 'we're going to try to find a way forward' and 'this is complicated, but no doubt we can work it out.' But when you say 'this is going to happen' for me it means two things: first of all, that there's only one correct answer to this. It has to be this way. And mostly when there are disputes like this, actually the way to move forward is to make some sort of compromise or new idea. The way things end up is not the way things are at the beginning.
That's an unusual thing to say about a complicated and contentious situation.
The second thing is when someone in authority says 'it is going to happen,' it implies that if necessary they will impose it … Usually you impose things only when finding a mutually agreeable solution has proven to be impossible or where the other actor is illegitimate. So it's an unusual thing to say about a public policy issue.
Have you seen situations before in different contexts where a government has started to say 'this will happen' when there's a contentious situation? Does it bring up any parallels for you?
Yes, absolutely. Governments and other people with power often say 'it's going to be like this.'
What's interesting to me about all the people who are saying 'it's going to be like this' is: what is their power to impose the solution they want?
Does the federal government have the power — constitutional, regulatory, financial or, in an extreme situation, with security forces? Does the government of Alberta have the power, including through the trade sanctions that have been discussed? But similarly do the opponents of the pipeline have the power — legal or political or through their willingness to protest and be arrested? Does anybody have the power to impose the solution they want regardless of the others? And if not, then who is going to negotiate?
Normally when there's a situation where different people want different things, there's a lot of fuss and eventually some kind of agreement is come to. In the end, it's not a unilateral solution. It's a negotiation or collaboration or whatever you call it.
What I can't tell is: to what extent are the statements … really meant as a declaration of unilateralism … or is it part of a negotiation? That's not clear to me. Are the people making these statements on all sides announcing their intention to force … or are they simply being vocal about their positions as part of a negotiation or collaboration?
For me, what makes this very complicated and unusual is the question: who has power over what is not clear because there are many constitutional questions here including, I think, questions about the power and authority — political, constitutional, moral authority — of different First Nations groups. It's not as though there's this one rule here, everybody knows what the rule is and the question is who's following the rule or not following the rule. No, the rules about who gets to decide about what, especially about land use in unceded territory, is not settled in Canada.
It seems like in much of the news coverage and political statements on this, there isn't much addressing of the real differences that are at play. There's a lot of posturing, but there's almost a logic schism. People aren't discussing the same thing. Is that something that you come across often in your work?
Yes, and I would go further than that. I think there is not an acknowledgement that there are real differences, that there are multiple conflicting objectives. Many statements are pretending that actually there is one right answer, but something that makes it even more difficult is that there is not acknowledgement that when we talk about the good of the whole, that there's not one whole. There are many wholes here. So when many people say 'the good of the nation,' what is that? Canada? Alberta? B.C.? Burnaby? The different First Nations that are affected by the pipeline?
To say 'this is what's needed for the good of the nation' gives an overly simplistic answer to a very difficult question, which is: whose good is being talked about here?
When B.C. people say, 'this might be good for Alberta, but it's not good for those of us along the coastline of B.C.,' not only are there real differences that are not being discussed, there are different wholes that are being ignored. The fact that there is not one superior whole in Canada — the fact that it's a confederation of multiple wholes where the rules about some of the wholes, especially the Indigenous wholes — makes it difficult to assert that this is the one correct answer.
And yet that is something that we see. Is that common in political rhetoric that you see around the world, this assertion of one correct answer when it's quite obvious to anyone who's paying close attention that there isn't one correct answer?
It's very common that politicians or chief executives or community leaders, it's very common that authorities say 'it's like this. This is what matters. This is the good of the whole. This is the correct answer.' They try that and sometimes it works and sometimes they simply don't have the capacity to impose their answer.
That's what's really not clear to me about this situation is when Prime Minister Trudeau says 'it's going to be like this' does he actually have the constitutional and political and moral authority to make it like this? It doesn't look that simple to me.
People do this all the time, all around the world and in every sphere of life … That's called forcing and sometimes it works, but the problem with forcing, as everybody knows is I try to make it the way I want it to be, you don't like it and you push back and we either ping pong back and forth or we get stuck. That's the problem with forcing.
Have you seen situations like this play out in Canada before, where there's been these statements that a leader will impose their desired solution upon a certain jurisdiction?
I don't think it's an analogy, but it's another interesting example of this. I was talking to somebody today about: what are different ways that different actors have tried to impose an answer to the question of Quebec separatism?
The FLQ tried to impose an answer through, amongst other things, kidnappings and bombings in the October crisis. Then Prime Minister Trudeau tried to impose an answer first through the use of the military and then through a constitutional settlement, then the PQ government tried to create an answer through the referenda. And actually, in each of these cases, people were trying to say 'it's going to be like this, we're going to make it like this' and it actually didn't turn out like this. The story keeps going and keeps unfolding in unexpected and unpredictable ways.
With respect to the current situation, that the people who are saying 'it has to be like this' — whether it's the Alberta government or the B.C. government or the federal government or the protesters — I'm not confident that any of those people have the way to make it the way they want it to be. And furthermore, I'm not confident that if they do succeed that it will last. That's the problem with forcing is it tends to be temporary. Eventually the people who were on the losing side of it find a way to get back in the game.
I'm interested in such situations in how is it possible to find a way forward collaboratively, through negotiation. This is what I'm not seeing in this current situation. Maybe it's taking place behind the scenes, but I don't see it.
The dialogue is very heated and quite polarizing. At the same time, when I think about the situation, sitting down and trying to collaborate, on some issues maybe there isn't a middle road. What if there isn't a collaborative solution in the sense that B.C. simply doesn't want a new oil pipeline and Alberta absolutely does want a new oil pipeline?
I don't believe that there's only two answers — that either there is a pipeline as currently proposed or there isn't. I don't know what they are, but I'm confident that there's more than two options. Options about safety, options about governance, options about economics, options about control, options about volume, options about all kinds of things.
Nelson Mandela once said that one of the features of the complex is the way things end up can't be seen from the beginning. The exact quote is: "One effect of sustained conflict is to narrow our vision of what is possible. Time and again, conflicts are resolved through shifts that were unimaginable at the start."
One of the features of these conflicts is polarization. There are lots of different ways to do things and I don't know whether a solution that works for more of the wholes can be arrived at, but stating that it either has to be my way or no way doesn't move us forward much.
I don't believe the statement that it's either like it is now or it's the opposite. This is not plausible to me.
You raise this interesting tension that there's likely this negotiation or collaboration happening behind closed doors and there are also these public statements that are potentially playing some role in that larger negotiation game.
Probably. Maybe all of this is just part of the negotiation. That would be a normal thing. People say all sorts of things to try to shift the terrain to their advantage … I suppose in a constitutional democracy if you really litigate everything to the Supreme Court, there'll be a right answer and a wrong answer, but that's a long road. Maybe that's how the answer will be arrived at.
That's why some things in Canada have to be settled in the court.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Image: Paul Souders / Aurora Photos. Truck drives down Dalton Highway by snaking Trans Alaska Oil near Yukon River.
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