Archive for April, 2004

U.S. Forces Abuse Prisoners of War

By now, most people will have heard that photographs have emerged documenting members of the U.S. military humiliating and torturing Iraqi captives in a prison outside of Baghdad. George has a round-up of links to a variety of sources on the story. These photographs are among the most disturbing images I’ve seen since the beginning of the war, and they represent a serious threat to Bush’s assertion that the US has eliminated the human rights abuses experienced under Saddam Hussein, and these images will only exacerbate negative perceptions of the United States in Iraq:

“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for America,” said Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. “The liberators are worse than the dictators.”

“They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries,” he told Reuters.

To be fair, President Bush and military leaders have acted quickly to investigate the charges and to prosecute the guilty, with Bush himself expressing “deep disgust” over these actions, but the power of these images threatens to linger long after Bush’s apology (note this USA Today poll taken before these images were made public).

The situation raises any number of questions about the US military effort in Iraq, including the appropriateness of using mercenaries, as Daily Kos points out. Perhaps most disturbingly,

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.

Kos has frequently been critical of the use of mercenaries, I think, with some justification, given the confusion about military law.

Several soldiers, most notably Staff Sgt Chip Frederick , have emphasized that they have been assigned tasks that they were not trained to perform. Frederick’s lawyer, Gary Myers, noted that his client (who has been charged with posing in a photograph sitting on top of a detainee, committing an indecent act and with assault for striking detainees) had not even read the Geneva Conventions. While this lack of training does not excuse Frederick’s actions, it does indicate what might be a larger problem regarding the training of soldiers and the deployment of mercenary soldiers.

I’m also trying to think through Henry at Crooked Timber’s concerns that

there seems to be a persistent unwillingness among many Americans to acknowledge the ugly things that are being done in the name of their national security.

I do believe that this story will lead many people to rethink their position on the war, but in an atmosphere in which even the Nightline tribute to US troops is being regarded as a politicized anti-war action, I’m not sure this will happen.

I do think it’s wrong to suggest that these actions are due to the military recruiting from “the bottom rung of society” as one Crooked Timber commenter suggests (scroll down in the previous link). The suggestion that working-class and poor people are more likely to be predisposed to violence is rather unfair. In part, I’m drawing from my experiences with students who are members of ROTC and family members who were in the military, and while some mebers of the military may be attracted to the big guns, to attach that attraction to a specific social class simply seems wrong and makes it entirely too easy to dismiss these actions as the behavior of a few bad apples rather than a larger systemtic problem in which prison gurads have not even been made aware of the most basic aspects of the Geneva conventions.

Note: The has posted several stills from the video footage. I’m ambivalent about linking to these images, but documentation seems crucial here.

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A Pit Bull on the Pant Leg of Opportunity

I hadn’t planned on contributing to the “Poem on Your Blog Day” to honor the end of National Poetry Month, in part because so many other bloggers had contributed so many wonderful poems:

  • From The Salt-Box, Jason points to T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.”
  • Liliputian Lilith offers two poems by Hungarian poet, Agnes Nemes-Nagy.
  • Clancy links to “Parsley” by Rita Dove (who gave a wonderful reading at Georgia Tech last year) and “Spelling” by Margaret Atwood.
  • George promotes the work of one of his colleagues, Michelle Boisseau.
  • Weez presents a few poems by Chan McKenzie
  • And, finally, from scribblingwoman we get “The Wife’s Lament.”

My contribution is somewhat different than the rest of these poems, but I have a strong affinity for “found poetry,” and while doing some research this afternoon, I came across Richard Thompson’s “Make the Pie Higher,” an arrangement of George W. Bush quotations into a poem. In the same spirit, I’ll also link to William Gillespie’s Newspoetry.

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Zell Miller Fights Against “The System”

Making fun of Zell Miller is far too obvious at this point, but I can’t resist commenting on Zell’s latest foray into rewriting the Constitution. Miller now suggests that we should repeal the 17th Amendment, which declares that Senators should be elected rather than appointed by state legislatures. Miller suggests that special interests have far too much control over elections (so, Zell, any significance to the fact that you were appointed, not elected?), so instead of trusting the people to vote for Senators, Miller suggests that state legislators, a group well-known for being above influence by lobbyists and special interests, should take on this privilege. Miller comments (and, no I’m not making this up):

“The individuals are not so much at fault as the rotten and decaying foundation of what is no longer a republic,” Miller said on the Senate floor. “It is the system that stinks. And it’s only going to get worse because that perfect balance our brilliant Founding Fathers put in place in 1787 no longer exists.”

You know, Zell’s too easy a target at this point, and to give him credit, he was an ardent supporteer of campaign finance reform. But I really don’t understand the logic here. Not that I really want to understand how Miller’s mind works (via Atrios).

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Movie Miscellany

Just a few quick links as I’m on my way to campus. In The New York Times Dave Kehr reviews Justice, an independent film about three different New Yorkers dealing with life after 9/11. The film’s title comes from a comic book character, who calls himself Justice, created by one of the film’s lead characters.

I’d planned to link to this Filmmaker Magazine Richard Linklater interview last night, but my computer wasn’t co-operating. It’s a pretty insightful discussion of Linklater’s newest film, Before Sunset, a follow-up to his indie fave, Before Sunrise, revisiting Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters ten years later (the comparison to Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle is interesting here). Also interesting is that the film will take place in real time, which as Linklater explains, can make shooting a film rather difficult.

And speaking of Linklater, I just found out that Wiley Wiggins, star of Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and Waking Life, has a blog.

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The Stepford Corollary

Given the hypothesis offered by Aaron Hendren in Film Threat that zombie movies tend to proliferate during Republican presidencies, what conclusions can we make about the fact that a remake (IMDB) of the Nixon-Ford era film, The Stepford Wives, is coming soon to a multiplex near you?

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The Grapes of Wrath

I watched John Ford’s 1940 film version of The Grapes of Wrath tonight. It’s a fascinating film, what Roger Ebert calls a “a left-wing parable, directed by a right-wing American director,” in a review written before the DVD release. I’d never seen the film before, but the famous shot of the Joad family riding their battered, decrepit car into the destitute Okie transient camp in California has haunted me ever since I saw that scene in a clip tape we used in film courses at the University of Illinois. It’s a great shot (by Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland), and while I probably won’t be able to teach the whole film in my summer class, I’m trying to catalog a few film clips that I’d like students to see, and this shot beautifully captures Toland and Ford’s near-documentary style in Grapes.

I take Ebert’s point that the dialogue can seem a little preachy. Specifically, he mentions the scene in which Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) says good-bye to his mother near the end of the film (“Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there”), and I certainly recognized the speech as self-conscious (echoing similar lines by Eugene Debs), but I’m not sure that it’s entirely disproportionate to the scene or to Joad’s charismatic character.

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Zombies in the White House

Ok, I found a few more cool links in GreenCine: First this Film Threat article, “Zombies in the White House,” which argues that zombie films make comebacks when we have Republicans in the White House. And another article on zombie films by Matthew Wilder in City Pages.

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Cannes 2004 Schedule

Via Cinema Minima (and GreenCine Daily): Here is the schedule for the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, May 12-23. Quentin Tarantino is the Jury President this year.

While I’m in the neightborhood, GreenCine also links to a Nerve interview with Tilda Swinton; a J. Hoberman article on High Noon, which I’m considering teaching in my Introduction to Film class this summer; and an article on the TriBeCa Film Festival (I should have been reading GreenCine months ago).

And just for the heck of it: Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans, I’m still waiting to hear if my coneference paper proposal on the film is accepted) lists his “Ten Best Auteur Films;” and a faux website supporting the movie, Godsend (might be worth visiting for my Ring paper).

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Journeys with George

After commenting about my interest in documentaries about the President, I came across Alexandra Pelosi’s Journeys with George. Pelosi, the daughter of California Democratic Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, offers a breezy take on the press corps feeding frenzy that accompanies any presidential campaign, and while Pelosi discloses her politics (in one scene, she votes for Bradley in the Democratic primary behind Bush’s back), the film appearss remarkably apolitical, at least in terms of addressing specific Bush policies, but that “apolitical” stance actually enables her much more complicated critique of presidential politics. Pelosi, who cheerfully narrates the film, playfully banters with Bush about her love life, jokes about his taste in turkey sandwiches, and generally captures the camaraderie of the press corps.

Tobias Peterson’s Pop Matters review reads the film’s representations of American politics very effectively, noting that even the impromptu scenes in which Bush playfully jokes with Pelosi and the rest of the press corps are “highly crafted,” with both filmmaker and politician engaged in a complicated game of give-and-take, the fact that the press corps cannot ask difficult questions because the risk being snubbed, as Pelosi herself was when she pressed Bush on his death penalty record. Perhaps this is the significance of all of the food images in the film: the press gaggle has to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. [Towards the end of the film, there’s a really fascinating shot of a squirrel nervously eating peanuts out of a friendly press person’s hand, and I think this is where I’m getting this metaphor.]

Pelosi confirms this reading in an indieWire interview (by the way this is a fantastic interview–great questions, interesting answers), noting that people criticized her for letting Bush off the hook when he couldn’t explain why his policies benefit “the little people and the unemployed:”

I wasn’t there as Alexandra Pelosi, the independent filmmaker. I was there as an NBC News producer. Anyone can say, “Well, if I was there, I would have said this or that,” but that’s all bullshit because nobody could even get there, number one, and if they got there, they could NOT say those things because he’d walk away and then you’d have no more access and I think that’s counterproductive. Now if I was there as somebody else, it would be a different conversation. I had a role and I had to play my role. In the name of my own little home movie, I’m going to offend him and lose my job and get kicked off the plane? I don’t think so. I’m not willing to jeopardize it all. And that is the dirty little secret of American political reporting and I say that in the movie. The truth is that all of our careers were tied to George Bush during the election campaign.

I’d say the scene speaks for itself, however, as then-governor Bush tries to sell himself as the little guy, teasingly asking Pelosi if she’s ever seen him next to his brother.

As I’ve researched to write this review, I’ve become more impressed by it. I’m charmed by Alexandra Pelosi’s narration, her “home movie” presentation of the campaign, and the film benefits from foregrounding her presence as the filmmaker. Meanwhile, Bush remains a mere image, a relatively shallow man who carefully crafts his image, as suggested by the number of shots of cameras filming Bush (who in several shots takes a camera himself). In a post-9/11 world, it’s a strange document, though, a reminder of a much different moment in American politics.

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On the Road Again

So, since everyone else is doing it, I thought I’d do the “States I’ve Visited” map. Like most other people, I’ve avoided including states where I’ve only had a layover in the airport. More confusing are those states I don’t really remember visiting because I was a toddler, but if I know from photographs or anecdotes that I’ve been there, I decided to include those states, too.

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Kill Bill Vol. 2

I finally made it back to the movie theater this weekend, catching both Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Hellboy. I found both films to be rather entertaining work from a couple of the better pop auteurs working in the Hollywood genre scene today, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro (speaking of Tarantino, the Dateline interview with him this evening was far too short). I’ll save Hellboy for a later review.

In some ways, Tarantino’s reputation has been constrained by his status as a “database filmmaker,” mixing and matching references to a range of influences, including samurai, kung fu, TV shows, and blacksploitation films (thanks to scribblingwoman for the link). As a proud film geek, I love the cinematic references and Tarantino’s ability to have fun with them, but I also find him to be a terrific storyteller who taps into some important cultural fantasies (spoilers galore). I don’t think that Tarantino’s stylized references to the cinematic past are purely trivial, as this Salon reviewer suggests, but instead refer to the cinematic past in order to rewrite it.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 (IMDB) picks up where Vol 1 leaves off, following the story of The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she seeks revenge on Bill (David Carradine) after he attempted to murder her in a wedding chapel in El Paso, Texas. Unlike Vol. 1, the violence in the second film is more subdued, and there’s more character development, more conversation, with characters occasionally using popular culture to make points a la the deconstruction of “Papa Don’t Preach” in Resevoir Dogs (I’m thinking here especially of Bill’s monologue on superheroes). The relationship between the Bride (her “real” name is Beatrix Kiddo) and Bill is fleshed out. It turns out they were lovers, and she left him and their lives as jet-setting assassins, hoping to pursue a normal life as the wife of a second-hand record-store owner (a subtle reference to QT’s own past as a video-store geek?). We also know from the first film that the Bride’s daughter is still alive, a detail that Vol. 2 carefully suppresses for most of the film.

A flashback to Beatrix’s training with martial arts master, Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, voice dubbed by Tarantino), who Bill reports hates Americans, blondes, and women, allows QT to work out some of the critiques of his representations of East and West. Other scenes, such as Bud’s fight with his boss at a rundown topless bar and his retreat into an isolated mobile home, evoking through the use of heavy close-ups, the westerns of Sergio Leone, address the difficulties of aging and decline (equally communicated by Michael Madsen’s sagging jowls).

In this sense, the film seems to be negotiating the boundaries between the fantasy life embodied in Tarantino’s “trash films” and the real world of domesticity and family. It doesn’t seem accidental that many of the fight scenes take place in everyday settings, and here I’m thinking about the fight scene between The Bride and Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) in the tiny kitchen of Bud’s mobile home, echoing the fight scene between the Bride and Vernita in Vol. 1. These preoccupations with parenting and family come across throughout the film, when Beatrix worries about Vernita’s daughter or when she reads her own daughter (whom she has never seen) a bedtime story. The scene is surprisingly poignant for a film about betrayal and revenge. Still, even without the emotional payoff, I found Vol. 2 to be a fun movie-geek ride and one of the better films I’ve seen this year.

I don’t think I’ve quite captured what I liked about this film, but for now, my main observation is that QT’s references, while often seen as connoting a pure surface or celebratory play, actually convey a much more complicated reflection on regret, betrayal, and loss, often using and reworking these earlier films in surprising ways.

Note: I just came across the Metaphilm review, and I find Mark T. Conrad’s assertion that the Kill Bill films are “therapy sessions” for QT, in which he is “recreating his past in order to grasp it more realistically, with the father absent and the women powerful.”

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Documenting the Presidency

I was chatting online with someone about my planned conference paper/article on Uncovered and when I stubled on an interesting future project on documenting the president. For now, I’d prefer to focus on documentary films that represent specific Presidents, how their images were portrayed in and through film, but I may also investigate feature films, such as All the Presdinet’s Men, which takes on the Nixon presidency (though Nixon barely appears as a character, if he does at all). The problem there is that I risk making the project too expnasive. Just the early stirrings of a possible future project for now.

h says:
i bet people will like the connections [in the MoveOn/Uncovered paper], though
h says:
especially in the election year that it is
chuck says:
i hope so….i think it’s an interesting topic….yes, it’s certainly timely
h says:
moveon has been in the news so much
chuck says:
maybe i’ll think long term abt a book on documenting the presidency…
h says:
that could be a good project
chuck says:
the presidency idea just occurred to me, but i’m fascinated by it
chuck says:
a chapter on the mckinley/roosevelt stuff
chuck says:
followed by a later chapter on FDR maybe, Kennedy, and then something like The War Room [IMDB] abt Clinton
h says:
well, like i’ve mentioned, jonathan has an article on McKinley and film — the first pres. candiadte to exploit the film media [previous discussion here]
chuck says:
right, that’s what i was thinking abt
h says:
“front porch” campagin
chuck says:
w/digital media, the Bush presidency’s iconic status has been weird…lots of independent stuff online [I had sites such as Eric Blumrich’s BushFlash in mind here]
h says:
h says:
it gets stranger and stranger

Yep, it gets stranger all the time. It’s still way too early for me to be thinking about this project, but I wanted to document this conversation as something to revisit when/if I still find it to be a viable project. Any suggestions?

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Primary Kick-Off

Brief, shameless plug. Tomorrow at 3 PM, Cathy Woolard opens her campaign headquarters in downtown Decatur (a short walk from the courthouse, and more importantly, the Java Monkey). Depending on my schedule, I may try to swing by and show some support. So far, she’s my favorite candidate among all of the Democrats running in the primary for Georgia’s 4th district in the House of Representatives.

Woolard’s progressive values would represent Decatur well in Congress without Cynthia McKinney’s political baggage. She would also be one of the few openly gay representatives in the country. End advertisement. Via Blog for Democracy (which I found through Prison Notebooks).

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Photos of Soldiers’ Coffins

I’m sorting through my reaction to the release of several hundred photographs of the coffins of soldiers who have died in the war. The photographs themselves are powerful, unsettling in the anonymity of the coffins. I do think these photographs are important documents, and I firmly support the efforts to make them public. While I don’t believe the photos will change many people’s opinions about the war, I do think that these images provoke some kind of reflection, not just on the level of documentation but also on a second level that I’m still having trouble defining. I’ve been revising this paragraph for several minutes now, so I think it’s best to simply provide a little conext for the debate and to allow the photographs to speak for themselves.

The photographs of the coffins have now been widely distrubuted on the Web as this New York Times article notes. The release of photographs of soldiers’ coffins breaks with a Defense Department policy instituted in 1991 during the first Gulf War. The DoD has justified this policy on the grounds that it protects the privacy of grieving families; however, many anti-war activists have suggested that this ban is actually designed to prevent average Americans from seeing the devastating consequences of the war. There is a degree to which I share the desire to respect the privacy of grieving families; however, the claim that “only individual graveside services give the full context of a soldier’s sacrifice” seems imprecise to me. I don’t think that any image can truly represent this sacrifice, but I think we lose more by not making the effort towards representation.

Tami Silicio’s photograph, taken in Kuwait, originally appeared on Sunday in The Seattle Times, according to this article, which reports that Silicio and her husband were fired from their jobs for Silicio’s actions. The decision to publish the photograph (here’s an article from Sunday’s Seattle Times explaining the decision to publish) and Silicio’s firing have provoked a fairly public debate about whether or not the publication of this photograph was justified, and again, according to the Seattle Times article, readers have generally been supportive of their decision to publish it.

Complicating matters, about 350 additional photographs taken in Dover Air Force Base were released under a Freedom of Information Act request by Russ Kick, who runs the website,
The Memory Hole (includes Kick’s explanation of how he was able to obtain the photographs). According to the Washington Post, the Defense Department has again ordered that no more photographs be released. An earlier Washington Post article provides more context for this policy.

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“The Last Underrepresented Minority”

Here’s something I overlooked in my original entry on the Chronicle’s articles on the “Single vs. Married wars” One of the interviewees Alice Bach, a profesor at Case Western University called singles “the last underrepresented minority.” I remember finding her comments a little odd, but only to the degree that it seemed to trivialize the concept of minority status. After all, I’m a white, middle-class kid from the suburbs, so I found it a little odd for minority status to be conferred onto me.

Samantha Blackmon (no permalinks), an African-American (and single) professor at Purdue University, offers a much more impassioned (and significant) critique of this comment (also at the CHE’s “live colloquy“):

“As a single, African American woman I found the quote in the article on this topic referring to single people as the greatest underrepresented minority on campus down right insulting. I look around everyday and I see scores more single people than I do African Americans. This does not mean that being single is not an issue, but it does mean that people should not claim ‘minority’ status, especially in the superlative, when there is no merit to the claim. A better question may be what can we do to even the playing ground for actual minorities in the academy.”

Essentially, I do think that calling singles a “minority” trivializes the experiences of “traditional” minority groups in the academy. More later, perhaps, on the transcript of the live colloquy.

Via scribblingwoman, who has also collected several other comments on the singles vs. smug marrieds saga.

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