Politics: October 2007 Archives

I'm thinking a blood-red ink would be more appropriate about now

Well of course he and Bush get along. Although he was presented the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 "for his consistent resistance to the use of violence," the Dalai Lama (aka Tenzin Gyatso) supports war, including the Iraq war. Of course by now we know that the Dali Lama supports everything. It's what makes him so popular.

Today I accidentally came across a post I wrote four years ago at about the time of the last visit to the White House of the West's vagabond Tibetan saint obsession [what I call the bandwagon/group-think syndrome]. I think it was already the smiling Gyatso's second audience with Bush, and at that time I excerpted a report on the Guardian site:

The Dalai Lama said Wednesday that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan may have been justified to win a larger peace, but that is it too soon to judge whether the Iraq war was warranted.

"I think history will tell," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, just after he met with President Bush.

I've looked everywhere online, but I couldn't find any sign that history has told His vacuous Holiness anything yet.

I'll end by confessing that I'm no longer capable of being surprised by another form of hypocrisy, that of our peace-lovers in Congress pretending to be fired up about a Chinese-occupied Tibet while they continue to pursue the ruination and occupation of their own, equally-defenseless victim state in the Middle East.

[image of the Dalia Lama's handprint from mmothra]

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]




[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]

The captured fighter claimed to be a student who had gotten stuck in Falluja. A marine responded. "Yeah, right, University of Jihad, motherfucker."

What the fuck

It's a hot title, only partially-disguised by the military alphabet code. Ashley Gilbertson's "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War", is a devastating account in photographs and text of the human tragedy of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

This book (in visual arts terms, his first solo outing, after appearances in several compilations) is also a portrayal of an infernal war engine which has destroyed a small, weak nation and threatens to waste our own. While adding to the numbers of individual Iraqi victims it continues to churn up and spit out its own people, like the profoundly-damaged veterans visited back home by Nina Berman in her book and photo exhibition, "Purple Hearts".

In Iraq Gilbertson worked physically with dangers, artistic handicaps and challenges which Berman experienced mostly psychologically inside the U.S. through her friendships with and documentation of neglected and abused American veterans once they were deposited home - perhaps the most horrific "unintended consequences" of an insane, premeditated war. Gilbertson has spent much of the last four and a half years living virtually on his own in the chaos of Iraq armed only with his camera, its function significantly hamstrung by the guys in the white hats: The Pentagon itself imposes significant formal restraints of all kinds on any journalists who venture into a combat zone which it pretends to control, but Gilbertson also was prevented from including virtually any images of dead Americans ("Publishers Weekly" says it's because the victims' fellow soldiers forbade photographs). The book does however include a number of bloody and messy scenes of death and destruction, most victims already removed, and there are many images of dead or injured Iraqis.

But the combination of Gilbertson's art and humanity, the power of both the photographs and the commentary which accompanies them, more than meets the challenges of his courageous, self-imposed assignment. These are the images which will survive the war, and which will continue to haunt and condemn a people which devised and tolerated it.

I first came across Gilbertson's work when I was trying to locate online one of his images for a post I wanted to do on a subject illustrated by one of his photographs. I had seen the picture in the print edition of the NYTimes, but I couldn't find it anywhere on the paper's web site, probably because it had only appeared as an image with a short caption. I emailed the artist. He wasn't certain which shot I was asking about, but he graciously forwarded me several jpegs, with a very short note, apologizing for its brevity with the explanation, "out in the badlands right now so can't talk. Sorry." I was impressed. Now I wanted to see more of his work, and I absolutely had to meet him.

The book arrived today; I get my second wish next week.

Gilbertson will be celebrating the book's publication with a signing event and gallery opening at Gallerybar on the Lower East Side, next Thursday, October 18. The party is from 7 to 11, at 120 Orchard Street, but the exhibition of photographs from "W-T-F" continues for six weeks.

A member of the POB [Public Order Battalion] sits in front of a poster depicting Muqtada al-Sadr. he is paid and armed by the Iraqi and American governments: his allegiance lies with al-Sadr and the Mahdi army.

Corporal Joel Chaverri during a break in combat.

Inside the Grand Mosque, marines treat the young woman injured in the attack on her family's car.

A marine slides down the marble handrail in Saddam's palace in Tikrit.

[the captions are from "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"; the images are from Gilbertson]

John Singer Sargent Ethel Smyth 1901 pastel

If this hundred-year-old opera had always enjoyed the success it deserves today I'd probably be whining about the endless parade of productions of La Boheme, Aida, La Traviata, Carmen and The Wreckers. As it turned out, for reasons I now find inexplicable, the last of the works I just named never made it. Dame Ethel Smyth's wonderful opera had in fact never been performed anywhere in the Western Hemisphere until last Sunday afternoon.

Barry and I are huge fans of Leon Botstein's programs with the American Symphony Orchestra. For us it's about "new music", but surprise! Here the pleasures of unfamiliar musical genius arrive via a well-prepared trip backward in time. The Orchestra's mission under Botstein's direction is more usually described as the resurrection of large-scale symphonic or operatic works from the previous two centuries, music which has been neglected, presumably unjustly. The audience may not always agree, but it's never left without help in mustering its response: In advance of each concert the music director supplies absolutely vital and articulate notes on the works themselves, as well as the context of their original creation and subsequent neglect.

All of this explains why I've been a subscriber since 1991, when Botstein began his current tenure as music director and principal conductor. So we would have been in Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday regardless of what the program was, but this one promised to be a particular treat.

"The Wreckers" was composed by a privileged and educated fierce Victorian English lesbian suffragette who was once imprisoned for her activism but otherwise lived and worked in friendship with some of the European cultural giants of her age. The opera's theme, perhaps more topical in 2007 than at the time of its composition (1903-04), is the horrors of which a provincial, fanatically-religious, self-regarding community is capable. Botstein's essay in the program notes suggested that it's the first worthy opera written by a Brit in almost two hundred years. Of course I was interested.

Reviewing the afternoon's performance and the opera itself for the NYTimes Bernard Holland seems to have been almost as enthusiastic as I was, about both the performance and the opera itself, and he appears to agree its oblivion was a big mistake:

“The Wreckers” gets your attention. It charges at the audience with all guns blazing, and tramples the weak and the hesitant in its path with a story of pillaged ships and triangular loves.

Smyth (1858-1944) was determined to fill as big a physical and emotional space as eight singers and a big chorus and orchestra could manage. Everyone onstage seemed to rage with Ethel Smyth fever, pouring out nonstop fervor in one relentless fortissimo after another.
. . . .

“The Wreckers” is not aimless cannon fire; Smyth knew what she was doing. Her orchestra makes winds whistle, waves roll and crash, and fog creep over the rocks in dark minor chords. From the land we hear hornpipes and sea chanteys in the distance. All the elements of a complete oceanography are present and rationally arranged.

But while I thought the work was a real keeper, and I'm dying to see it fully-staged, Holland, apparently viewing it only from the vantage of the succeeding one hundred years (a considerable advantage over poor Smyth) ends a very enthusiastic review of the merits of the piece itself with a bizarre non sequitur:
Does “The Wreckers” get a third chance? At some point, I am sure. It is not a deathless work, and too much exposure might do it more harm than good. Too much value is put on permanence anyway. “Disposable” is not a dirty word. People got their money’s worth on Sunday and should perhaps let “The Wreckers” go back to sleep.
Only in the American world of opera world is the word "deathless" always confined to the teeny list which begins with La Boheme, Aida, La Traviata and Carmen.

For more information about Smyth and her opera, see the American Symphony Orchestra's site, and click onto links for the two essays at the bottom, under "Dialogues & Extensions".

The image below, a late-eighteenth-century painting by George Morland, describes a somewhat brighter version of the dark setting of Smyth's opera.

George Morland The Wreckers 1790-1799

[first image from de.wikipedia; second image from the National Gallery of Canada via sandstead]

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]

Michael Cline Picket 2007 oil on linen 62" x 36"


In time, Michael Cline's jaw-dropping show of oils at Daniel Reich, "Folks", may be recorded as a cultural benchmark, both aesthetic and social, for offering us such a peculiar and powerful window onto the darker and neglected side of this urban moment. It certainly will not be forgotten by those who experience the paintings.

These sacred/profane altarpieces go where the photographer's art cannot.

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

previous archive: Politics: September 2007

next archivePolitics: November 2007