Posts Tagged 'bush'

Links (7/24/08)

This is a little shorter than usual. I’m rushing around preparing for Comic Con. Reports coming soon.

From my regular trolling of the interweb:

A really cool collection of photos of flood control structures in Japan.

A nice interactive chart of who might be indicted for the countless scandals/crime of the Bush administration.

And then there’s this, an excellent, and really really long, article about medical marijuana in California in this week’s New Yorker.

A great site telling your more than you’d ever want to know about Japanese art rock, started by none other than Julian Cope. [h/t Joan]

Here’s an article about that new particle accelerator which probably won’t suck all matter into a man-made black hole. On the bright side, if it does I won’t have to worry about my college loans.

And here’s a way cool gallery about Scientific Inaccuracies in Movies. I know the author. He’s really cool and a hit with the ladies.

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Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

One of the perks of working at my current job is that I get to watch free advanced movie screenings. The other day I watched Erroll MorrisStandard Operating Procedure. While his last film Fog of War, which I think is a masterpiece, examines a failed American war from the point of view of its architect, Robert McNamara, this film looks at one of the most embarrassing moments of this current failed American war — Abu Ghraib. Morris essentially allows the US Servicemen and women involved to give the context (and often rationalization) for each of the famed pictures. In his typical modernist way, Morris gives the viewer few objective handles to judge the interviewees stories.

What worked brilliantly in Fog of War falters here. The music (Danny Elfman channeling Philip Glass) is too bombastic, the graphics (done by my former employer Kyle Cooper) are too slick, and Morris’ trademark reenactments are too beautiful for the subject matter. The pictures are horrific and the servicemen and women are too raw and conflicted to justify such an overblown approach.

That being said, Standard Operating Procedure raises some very uncomfortable questions. Primarily, there’s one of guilt. Sure, most of the interviewees are guilty of mistreating prisoners. And their defense is something along the lines of “I was just following orders.” Nuremberg declared that such an argument doesn’t hold water. And while I agree with that in principle, I came away from the film feeling sorry for the poor schmucks, most straight out high school, who were put into a morally gray if not contradictory situation with intentionally vague instructions. (I wonder how my opinion would have changed if the movie interviewed the Iraqi prisoners in those pictures.

All of them draw a line between abuse and standard operating procedure. Making some guy jerk off or piling prisoners in a human pyramid is abuse, while stripping some guy naked, putting panties on his head and handcuffing him in an uncomfortable position is standard operating procedure. It strikes me, as a civilian, that that’s a very subtle and easily crossed distinction.

The film argues that Lynndie England and the others were punished more because they embarrassed the Pentagon that for an crime. One poor guy was sentenced to a year in the brig. Why? Because he appeared in an Abu Ghraib video cutting of the flex cuffs of a prisoner whose hands were turning purple. Though this torture strategy originated at the highest levels of government , no one above Staff Sargent was criminally punished. Guilt, according to the government, is not based on what you do, but whether or not you’re caught. That sort of mindset, that like an amoral seven-year old, has been the standard operating procedure for this administration. And as the years pass, Abu Ghraib might seem quaint compared to the horrors that Bush Co. have for now managed to hide away. That’s the thing about guilt, and nationhood. Just like the German people bare responsibility for Hitler and the Japanese bare (still officially unacknowledged) responsibility for Hirohito’s crimes in China, so does the American people share guilt about Bush’s crimes. And it drives me crazy.

The Garfield Factor: James A. Garfield, 20th president of the US, would have been largely baffled by the modernist sensibilities, finding it too disjointed and morally fuzzy. He would have undoubtedly found the Abu Ghraib pictures unsettling, not for their brutality, Pres. Garfield was a general in the Union army, but for their near pornographic unseemliness. Most likely, we would have poured himself a glass of whiskey and tried to blot the whole thing out of his mind by studying his beloved ancient Greek texts.

Saboteur (1942)

One of my projects as of late is to watch more Hitchcock movies. Hitchcock has always been, like Ingmar Bergman, one of those filmmakers that I know I need to watch more of but never quite seen to find the time to do so. Sure I’ve seen the major works but it’s those B+ films where you really can learn the tricks of a master. So in recent weeks, I’ve watched The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man, Lifeboat, and Frenzy. Yesterday, I watched Saboteur. Like Lifeboat, it was fraught with anxiety about the war and indeed American society itself. In fact, Saboteur started shooting just weeks after Pearl Harbor. A running plea in both movies is for the labor battles and the class warfare of the 1920s and 30s to be put aside so we Americans can defeat the Nazis. (And with all the subsequent post-Reagan triumphalism about the war aside, the anxiety in these movies reminds us that we came really close to losing WWII. If Hitler where just a little less crazy…)

The plot of Saboteur is typical Hitchcock. An good-hearted average Joe named Barry Kane gets fingered as a saboteur in an airplane factory fire. He flees and encounters a variety of salt-of-the-earth type Americas. All of them believe in the common good and the common goodness of humanity to a level that seems impossibly naive these days. The only people who people that acts with the sort of hard-nosed self interest that is fashionable among economists and Ayn Rand enthusiasts everywhere are the bad guys. In particular, one Charles Tobin played with feline malevalence by Otto Kruger (who was weirdly enough was not only the grand nephew of South African revolutionary Paul Kruger but also born in Toledo, Ohio.)

At the obligatory scene in which the bad guy divulges his motivations, Tobin complains the current government (i.e. FDR’s) is not profitable enough. He argues that a dictatorship is much better for business. While watching this, I was reminded of Prescott Bush. Both Tobin and Bush were Wall Street bluebloods who had clear Nazi sympathies and Bush’s name did come up in the congressional investigation into the alleged coup attempt by the monied class against FDR and the New Deal. Fifty years later, Prescott Bush’s idiot grandson has done more to further the goals of Charles Tobin than any other American. He shredded much of the government oversight brought about during the New Deal and pushed America closer than any president in recent memory to a dictatorship. Like the good citizens of the movie, I think that only thing that save us from these criminals is a return to a belief in the common good.

The Garfield Factor: President James A. Garfield on one hand would have probably rejected the New Deal as being against his understanding of the Constitution. On the other hand, being a Civil War veteran and a man with a strong sense of right and wrong, he never would have supported any activity that hinted at treason.

Kumamoto — DARPA-tastic

At work today, I was merrily reading about the myriad of corporate interests plotting again Tyrone Sloproth in Gravity’s Rainbow, when I noticed that the single aging computer that’s connected to the web was free. After briefly checking my mail, I happened upon a startlingly bizarre news story that seemed like a continuation of Pynchon’s tome. Apparently John Poindexter at the Total Information Awareness agency (recently renamed the slightly less Orwellian Terror Information Awareness agency) has unveiled the Pentagon Terror Market Program. No, it’s not a correspondence course for the School of the Americas, it’s a surreal free-marketeer attempt to make (more) money off of mayhem in the Middle East. A quote:

Traders would buy and sell futures contracts ” just like energy traders do now in betting on the future price of oil. But the contracts in this case would be based on what might happen in the Middle East in terms of economics, civil and military affairs or specific events, such as terrorist attacks. Holders of a futures contract that came true would collect the proceeds of traders who put money into the market but predicted wrong.” (Quoted from an AP news story. The links has gone dead.)

Not only does this seem like something that’s in ridiculously bad taste, but it seems largely irrelevant to, y’know, finding and capturing terrorists. That is until the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency released a statement on Monday that justified the project in pseudo-mystical terms that Pynchon would surely adore.

“DARPA said markets could reveal Îdispersed and even hidden information. Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results; they are often better than expert opinions.” (Quoted from same dead link)

I’m gathering that DARPA is also organizing a crack team of tarot card readers too. You can read the projects strangely laconic web site here.

In other news, Oshima and I went up to Yamaga to present my promo. Three or four middle-aged men grunted their approval and that was about that. Afterwards, Oshima and I ate at one of her favorite takoyaki joints.

Also, I saw on TV the other day that there is a new freshly scrubbed pop-starlet named You. One at imagine spontaneous Abbott and Costello routines popping during the most inappropriate occasions·

A: Hello, thanks for coming to the Strom Thurmond funeral service. May I ask your name?

You: I’m You.

A: No, you’re not. I’m me. You’re you.

You: Right. I’m You

A: No·. (usw.)

Burma, Bush, and Baby Heads

Yesterday, when I was driving on the 405, traffic started to mysterious slow down. An accident? No. Someone dumped a box full of doll heads onto the road, giving the highway a sort of surreal apocalypse-in-kiddyland sort of feel.

Though not widely reported in the US though widely documented by Amnesty, real life apocalypse is going on in Burma where death camp thugs are enslaving villagers and forcing then to build an oil pipeline on behalf of Unocal. When a few of the villagers managed to sue Unocal in US courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Justice department not-surprisingly sides with the corporate as you can read
here. The crimes these corporate nazis are accused of are truly horrific:

“Jane Doe I, one of the plaintiffs in the case, testified that when her husband tried to escape the forced labor program, he was shot at by soldiers, and that, in retaliation for his attempted escape, she and her baby were thrown into a fire. Her child died and she was badly injured….Other villagers described the summary execution of people who refused to work, or who became too weak to work effectively.”

In somewhat more hopeful news, the stink of Bush’s lies (it’s not “hype”, it’s not “over-exaggeration” as most US media outlets are describing it as, they are lies) is becoming to great to cover over with Ari Fleischer’s usual misinformation or bald-faced stonewalling. World opinion and even Republican senators are starting to question the veracity of the Bush administrations cocksure statements that Saddam was an imminent threat. Paul Krugman, as usual, has a interesting taking on this whole thing which can be read here. If the accusations of falsehood, bare out to be true this means that justification for the war is almost nil. They wanted a war and they bullied the world into letting them have their war. The meaning of this is staggering and much as it is frightening. George W. Bush killed thousands of Iraqi and dozens of American and British troops to bolster his political standing. I sincerely hope that this gets exposed and reported as the war crime it is.

And in other news, a representative of the Nebraska state legislator threatened to declare war (dead link, sadly) on Iowa for lost gambling revenue.

News Rant

Here’s a few news stories/columns that once again illustrates the flagrant wickedness of, as Mike Malloy would say, the Bush crime family. Last year, a German politician got into hot water over comparing Hitler with Bush (to which my response was “Yeah, Hitler is the epitome of earthly evil, but at least he got elected.”) This past week, an article in the Canadian Courier Mail reports that the US is considering turning its bases in Guantanamo Bay into a death camp (link dead) complete with a kangaroo court and an execution chamber.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman argues that Chimpie McCokespoon and his thugs are radicals bent on destroying the New Deal and social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) along with it with that obscenely large tax cut that the congress just passed. He writes, “But the people now running America aren’t conservatives: they’re radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need.” Yes, that’s right. The country is being sold out from underneath us and the democrats are once again asleep at the switch.

And finally (at least for now), Ted Rall in his weekly (another dead link) writes:

“We warned the Bush Administration that invading Iraq would destabilize the Middle East and spread radical anti-American Islamism. We told the American people that taking out Saddam Hussein without a viable government to replace him would open a vacuum for anarchy, civil war and a power grab by radical Iranian-backed Shiite clerics. Now the antiwar movement’s doomsday scenarios have been fulfilled so completely that military history scarcely mentions a more thoroughly botched endeavor–and we’ll be living with the fallout for years. ”

He then proceeds to paint a very grim picture of the state of the Middle East, where an all but name independent Kurdistan is run by guys that make the Taliban look moderate and who will certainly plunge Turkey (a NATO member, y’know) into a long and bloody civil war. Am I the only one who is waxing poetic for the days when the biggest news stories in the world concerned the president’s genitals?

Spring Break ’03 Part 6 — The Long Return Home

I’m bleary-eyed and back in the US of A. Today, apart from the continued illegal war, and a frightening virus sweeping through China, I learned that Hong Kong actor/pop star Leslie Cheung committed suicide today. This sad news made a weird connection with me because the Reuters article [now, sadly, offline] about the incident indirectly quotes the Barnes and Noble web site, which features a bio written by yours truly, back when I was working for allmovie.com. I guess this is an example of the decline of journalistic standards.

Anyway, R and I spent the remainder of my time in Tokyo around Ueno. It’s cherry blossom season there, so we went to Ueno park and looked at the blossoms and thought about the transcience of life. We then looked at the drunk middle-aged men gathered under the trees in the traditional picnic party/drinking marathon on a blue tarp known as Hana-mi and we thought that we should leave.

I bought some pants at the last minute at a store called Muji, which is like Ikea, Trader Joe’s, the Michael Graves section of Target and an slightly more interesting Gap rolled into one. It’s great. Contrary to popular opinion, Japan is becoming a reasonably affordable place for clothes, if you have the right body-shape. Since I’m build like a tall (if hairy) Japanese — Gap clothes look weird and billowy on me as if even pants with a 31″ waists have legs the width of cheese wheels — this place is great.

Somehow in the bizarre logic of time-zones, I arrived in Los Angeles seven hours before I took off from Tokyo. I departed from Narita at around 7pm 3/31/03 only to arrive at noon the same day. Needless to say, my body clock is still higglety-pigglety. The same sextet of loud UCSB college girls sat in from of me who same in front of me on the way over. They all filled out there sweatpants like overstuffed sausage skins as they read People magazine and brayed loudly about boys, partying and tennis. Girls gone Wild in Tokyo. Still nothing short of a projectile vomiting toddler could be worse than the Texan frat boy I sat next to that last time I ventured over the Pacific. For the entire ten hour flight, he proselytized to the guy sitting next to him about the virtues of fundamentalist Christianity and right wing politics. I was hoping the plane would crash just so I wouldn’t have to listen to the guy.

When I arrived, my heart swelled when I learned that I had seven messages on my cell phone’s voice mail. Friends and family wished me a safe return, I thought? A possible job offer to pull me out of my art school penury? No. It was some stoner who thought I was Raymond and, like, was waiting for me on the “second level.”

Anyway, I’m going to start seriously working on this autobiographical essay film that I’ve been thinking about for years and for which I shot 8 hours of footage in Japan. Instead of standard shots of scenic wonders and family, or even trains — of which I shot 14 hours when I was in Tokyo in 2001 — I shot a lot of semi-abstract images of light and reflections. I have no idea if any of them will look good or not, but I might post a few samples.


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