General: October 2007 Archives

war is never what we expect it to be: Dresden, stacked bodies after 1945 Allied firebombing

We despair.

Four and a half years ago Barry and I each decided that we were retiring from both direct and indirect political action. We had just gone into the streets along with almost a million of our neighbors to protest the Bush regime's plans for an unprovoked war against a small, almost defenseless state on the other side of the planet only to see the media virtually ignore the the demonstration and our two senators go on to support the the cynical, naked aggression in spite of polls which showed the majority of the people in New York State opposed it.

I don't even sign petitions any more.

So why should I be surprised today to see that almost everyone else may have made the same decision? Americans now seem to be sitting this one out. They're still answering the pollster's questions, and in spite of the statistical bump favoring the war in its early stages, they still don't like it, even if that's as far as they're willing to go.

Some four weeks ago, upon hearing the news of the latest failure of our so-called Democratic Congress to do absolutely anything to end a war which three quarters of Americans now oppose, Barry said to me, "That's exactly why I'm now so estranged from political life". I'm there too, but I'm sickened as he is by so much more than just the war itself: There are the cold Constitutional issues of course, which no one seems interested in dealing with, but the war and its hundreds of thousands of deaths and maimings, millions of refugees, and incalculable numbers of destroyed lives is only the most spectacular part of an even broader system of terror which has been corrupting us all. This is a campaign which threatens people everywhere in the world including of course our own communities, a vicious but also incredibly stupid and dangerous crusade unleashed in our name after September 11. We have prisons and countless "interrogations" consciously designed by our elected officials and governmental institutions to exist outside of any known system of justice. "I see no sense of outrage by the people running our government", Barry continued. "They show absolutely no sense of outrage."

In fact neither of us sees much evidence of outrage anywhere within our borders, including an absence among ordinary citizens. In spite of the fact that we don't have the kind of motivation which a fully-developed police state might provide, we, that is all Americans, have become very good at being "good Germans".*

I started writing this post in mid-September but only got as far as a short mock-up. Frank Rich's passionate Op-Ed piece in Sunday's NYTimes [conveniently, the online text has direct links to his references] made me go back to my notes. Rich uses the phrase "Good Germans" in his headline without fully defining it, but he does do an excellent job of shattering any illusions of innocence we might still retain.

We do torture people. We can no longer deny it. This may be the first time you've seen Andrew Sullivan's name used on this blog (and I'd like it to be the last), but Rich links to our lazy mainstream media's designated homosexual spokesperson to illustrate the connection between the administration's "interrogation" practice and that of the Nazis.

As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, "America’'s “'enhanced interrogation”' techniques have a grotesque provenance: “'Verschärfte Vernehmung', enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation." ”

We apparently do commit war crimes, and we hire mercenaries. Rich believes the tale of our well-paid hired guns is "a leading indicator of every element of the war's failure", and sometimes the worst stories can't be swept under the carpet. Three weeks after the Nisour Square massacre of 17 Iraqis, the Times columnist skillfully parses the more recent killing on Tuesday, by members of another private security firm, of the two women driving a car in Baghdad in these words:

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “"Syriana"” by way of “"Chinatown".” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened.

We're now "laundering" our atrocities! Is anyone out there following this?

Actually, almost all of us are going about our business as if nothing is happening. We're not lying down on the tracks in front of troop transports. We're not wearing badges announcing our identification with the muslim "other". We're not beating down the doors of the NSA demanding that we be "interrogated" about our loyalty to the "Homeland". We're not running standing in front of a Marine Sergeant's M-16 as he tries to search the home of a frightened Iraqi family.

Yes, these are heroic acts, and perhaps they're completely preposterous in the twenty-first century, but I don't even see or hear us talking about resistance in any form.

The rest of the world is following this very closely. We don't look good. We're already paying for our cowardice, and the bill is not going to get any smaller. Rich's column concludes with a warning and an appeal:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "“good Germans"” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’'s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’'s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’'s good name.

I have to end by saying I just don't share his Frank Capra optimism. How can we as ordinary Americans expect to have any impact on government policy when we have neither democracy nor the stomach for serious revolt?

Borrowing the definition found in Wikipedia: The 'good Germans were the citizens of Nazi Germany who, after 1945, claimed not to have supported the regime, even if they made no effort to oppose it. Today the term has been given a broader application, one which refers to people in any country who observe reprehensible things being done by their government but nevertheless remain silent and do not challenge or impede them.

[image from erichufschmid via airamericaradio]

In the middle of the Times city room in The Power of the Press (Columbia Pictures, 1928), the city editor (Robert Edison) congratulates cub reporter Clem Rogers (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) for getting his first page-one story as the more seasoned reporters gripe that it was all beginner's luck.

Sometimes the news about the news is the best news.

In the NYTimes today we learn about the formation of a well-funded and independent, non-profit group of investigative reporters who will give away their work to individual news organizations, those in which its work will "make the strongest impression". Beginning early next year Pro Publica will operate out of a newsroom in New York City with 24 journalists and a staff of about a dozen more on an annual budget of $10 million.

[Paul E. Steiger, previously top editor of The Wall Street Journal and soon to be Pro Publica’s president and editor-in-chief] said he envisions a mix of accomplished reporters and editors, including some hired from major publications, and talented people with only a few years’ experience, so that the group will become a training ground for investigative reporters. He would not say specifically where he is shopping for talent, but did not rule out The Journal.
I don't see how the project could fail. Both commercial and non-profit news organizations are cutting costs and neglecting the kind of journalism which will be Pro Publica's meat and potatoes. If one outlet declines to pick up the coverage they offer, another will. At the very least the one which turned down the story will be asked why it isn't covering it. And there's no reason why this thing would have to be confined to the print media.
Mr. Steiger said that relationships with publications could be tricky, requiring the flexibility to make each comfortable.

In most cases, he said, Pro Publica will appeal to a newspaper or magazine while a project is under way, to gauge interest and how much oversight the publication wants. In others, he said, his group might present more or less finished products to other outlets.

If Pro Publica and a publication cannot agree on how to approach a topic, or what can be written about it, he said, his group will look for another outlet, or publish its reporting on its own Web site.

Did I mention that the the plan is to do "long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations". Quoting Steiger, describing how Pro Publica hopes to fill a vacuum in almost all current news coverage: “It is the deep-dive stuff and the aggressive follow-up that is most challenged in the budget process".

The money comes from Herbert M. and Marion O. Sandler (California mortgage lending, savings and loans), described as major donors to the Democratic Party and critics of President Bush.

Mr. Sandler [who will serve as chairman of the group] said his interest in investigative journalism has been abetted by friendships with reporters in the field.

“Both my father and my older brother always focused on the underdog, justice, ethics, what’s right,” Mr. Sandler said. “All of my life I’ve been driven crazy whenever I encounter corruption, malfeasance, mendacity, but particularly where those in power take advantage of those who have few resources.”

Old-school progressive journalism breathes again, paradoxically funded by a pair of "financial honchos" and directed by a successful Wall Street Journal editor. This is not exactly "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", but then nothing ever was.

[image and caption from IJPC]

Modified Bicycle
a long way from Williamsburg

I found this image searching Google while preparing my post about Ashley Gilbertson's book. It's from a photo-sharing site in an album maintained by a Marine photo journalist, Staff Sergeant Chad McMeen. This is the photographer's own caption:

This Marine customized his bicycle beyone the point most are capable of. By extending the front forks and welding the rear swingarm in a lower angle he was able to position himself feet above the ground. Somehow with a backpack, bulky jacket and rifle slung across his body he managed to mount the bike and ride effortless.

[image from webshots]




[four stills from the video installation of the film, "Captured"]

How do you write about a chronicler with a soul? How do you write about a bard with a camera? We can't begin to understand the importance of people like this until they are gone. Maybe it has to wait until we are gone as well, but in the meantime we can give it a try.

I'd have to see this show, "The Lower East Side", for its historical and political importance, even if the photographs didn't have their own beauty. And they do.

Clayton Patterson (okay, it's already the legendary Clayton Patterson) is currently represented by some of his sculpture, a tiny sampling of his enormous archive of photographs, and an excerpt from a documentary video in a show at Kinz, Tillou + Feigen, a gallery whose heritage, through Richard L. Feigen and Feigen Contemporary is itself pretty legendary.

The sculptures assembled from found materials are documents themselves, setting the entire installation in a specific time and space. The photographs are intense portraits, both candid and posed, of the Lower East Side community stretching from the early 80's to the present. To anyone who did not know this city before the mid-90's, or who might be unfamiliar with the neighborhood now, many will look like they must have been invented. In fact they are all perfectly true, and astonishingly intimate.

The same must be said of a film, "Captured", shown on a television monitor in the smaller space. Its subject is Patterson and the neighborhood he calls home and which he has looked after for almost three decades. It was put together by Dan Levin, Ben Solomon and Jenner Furst, largely using Patterson's own footage, and excerpts are being played in the gallery through the duration of the show. Patterson's photographs can be seen on the gallery site. Here I'm only showing stills from the film, except for this one image:

Clayton Patterson Untitled (grunge girl) 1992/2007 C-print

By the way, if you're very young, on the street, and want to have a distinctive style, wouldn't it make sense to find your own? That's why I was struck by the resemblance between this 1992 "Grunge Girl" captured by Patterson, and this 2002 "Billy", who was part of Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry's show at Marvelli gallery three years ago (the couple is now represented by Caren Golden).

[image at the bottom from ktfgallery]

the once and future president

I'm not arguing he should be nominated and elected this time because he won the Nobel Peace Prize, but because winning the Nobel Peace Prize can make it happen.

Why Al Gore, and not anyone from within the current field of designed and positioned candidates? To begin, because I can't support much of what I'm hearing from any of the three current "frontrunners"; to continue, because I believe Gore says what he thinks, not what he thinks others think he should say; and to conclude, because he would be elected.

Although I can't know what was going on in his mind at the time, I realize that I might have to advance one doubt about Gore's reputation for plain speaking: Had the man we voted for once before* been candid and upright about the truth in November and December of 2000 the world would be a much better place today, and we would now be thinking about who should succeed a President Gore.

Although not "we", since as a New Yorker I could pull the handle for Nader without affecting the Electoral College votes.

ps: I'm also pretty happy with what Richardson is saying, I've always thought Kucinich had it right on just about everything, and Mike Gravel should be getting more of a hearing. I'm still really disturbed about the Democratic Party as it now exists, and while I don't know how or whether I could reconcile that with a Gore, Richardson, Kucinich or Gravel candidacy, it could be very exciting finding out.

[image from classicalvalues]

Roy Batty's epiphany

Last night I spent far too much time worrying about how to express the depth of my broader frustration and despair before posting the latest version of my regular fulminations over Guantanamo. I should have waited until this morning, when I opened Newsday, and read John Anderson's review of the "Blade Runner: The Final Cut".

Anderson ends his report on what is billed as the director Ridley Scott's definitive version of the dark 1982 classic with this:

One of the its more chilling moments foreshadows our current climate with a kind of clairvoyance.

"Quite an experience to live in fear," says Rutger Hauer's rampaging Replicant, for whom we have no small amount of sympathy. "That's what it's like to be a slave." Here, "Blade Runner" not only foreshadows a post-industrial world, but seems to critique the post-9/11 world as well.

[image from cogeco]


This post is part of a series begun on May 21, 2007, which will continue until the U.S. concentration camps at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere around the world have been razed.

Many of us learned years ago that we don't live in a democracy, but until 2006 some might still have thought the Democratic Party would pretend to respect its own name. And couldn't we once assume, regardless of what they actually did, that Democrats would at least talk like liberals?

Voters gave the party majorities in both houses of Congress nearly a year ago, but absolutely nothing has been accomplished on the three most critical national issues of our time. I'm referring to the War in Iraq, for whose termination the election was a referendum, but which has in fact been expanded; to the Military Commissions Act of October 2006, which wiped out Habeas Corpus; and to the network of concentration camps we've established around the world since 9/11, the most visible of which is that at Guantanamo Bay.

The Democrats helped the Republicans create each of these cynical outrages, which together now represent the greatest continuing threat to our national security. The party has been unwilling to put an end to any of them, and most Democratic politicians don't even pretend to oppose the Constitutional assault called the "Patriot Act" or the continuing atrocities of state-sponsored torture. Conscience, principle and courage are not to be found anywhere.

And what of Guantanamo Bay itself? It now belongs to the Democrats.

So what's going on here?

Did the citizen die along with the Constitution? Is there nothing that those with eyes and minds can do? Should I or anyone else outside the greasy corridors of power even bother to bring up these subjects any longer? Does it serve any purpose to remind ourselves of the shame and humiliation these horrors bring down upon all of us with the passage of each day?

[fabric color swatch, otherwise unrelated to Guantanamo, from froggtoggs]

This page is an archive of entries in the General category from October 2007.

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