The Chieftains, in collaboration with Ry Cooder, Los Tigres del Norte, Linda Ronstadt and Van Dyke Parks, will release San Patricio on March 9. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the San Patricios (as I was), they were “a downtrodden group of Irish immigrant conscripts who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side against the invading Yankees in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).”
Below is Part One of a six-part documentary on the subject by Mark R. Day.
Conway Twitty, far and away, the biggest horndog country music ever produced. This one is borderline sex offender registry material. But great song, and killer pompadour. Bonus points for the awesome vocal “bum-bum-bums”, and workin’ that salmon leisure suit with white shoes.
Happy is the wrong word, but I find it gratifying to see that Tony Blair is being raked over the coals by his own government for his role in the monstrous, illegal by any possible definition, attack and occupation of Iraq.
Independent columnist Matthew Norman writes that following this inquiry Blair will remain a free man, and that this is regrettable, especially since he will continue to earn up to the neighborhood of half a million dollars a day giving speeches. But Norman finds some solace in the fact that Blair will never be completely at ease:
For Mr Blair, the journey will not end on Friday, or when the inquiry publishes its findings. However damning these appear, however transparent the intent to cast him as a deceitful warmonger, they will be written in the language of euphemism, thus allowing each side to claim a victory of sorts. For Mr Blair, in fact, the trek can never end. Even if he is as canny in his choice of foreign destinations as he is with his answers on Friday, and avoids any Pinochet-type indignity, much less a war crimes trial, he … must trudge through his remaining days as a pariah.
This, it seems to me, is justice. It isn’t a modern form of quick-fix justice, as would be evidenced by front-page pictures of him being led into a Dutch courthouse, and then led out of it to a cell. Erich Segal, who moonlighted as a professor of classics, might confirm that this is justice ancient Greece style, in which the offence of Olympian arrogance – of confusing one’s puny self with a deity – was punished by something even more agonising than global humiliation or a lengthy spell in jug. The penalty from which death alone can free Mr Blair is soul-crushing futility. For the rest of his life, he must push the boulder of his self-proclaimed innocence and self-protested good intent up the hill, aware that he cannot reach the summit but powerless to evade the pointlessness of trying.
…For all the braggadocio, the sunken eyes and haunted expression betray his fear of arrest, and even more so his awareness of the loathing felt for him here and around the world. He may or may not be tortured on Friday by the Furies, as represented by the parents of troops killed in Iraq, but he will be tormented until the only Judgment Day he tells us means anything to a demigod whose stature far transcends the insolent judgments of mankind. If he leaves for a well-guarded gated community in the United States or Australia, he will be an exile. If he stays to flit between his many homes in England, he will be an outcast in his own land. Robert Harris brilliantly portrayed him as The Ghost in his excellent novel of that name. Now he looks more like one of The Undead.
That’s nice, but for some, it’s not enough. Guardian columnist George Monbiot has set up an Arrest Blair web site, which “offers a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for crimes against peace. Anyone attempting an arrest which meets the rules laid down here will be entitled to one quarter of the money collected at the time of his or her application.” As of this morning, Friday Jan. 29, the kitty is closing in on ten thousand quid. Monbiot has a history with this sort of thing, having attempted a citizen’s arrest on John “Bonkers” Bolton at the Hay festival in 2008. By Monbiot’s own description, this was a “feeble attempt” to bring Bolton to justice. And yet, I like the thinking behind it. Let’s hope it spreads across the Atlantic.
It hasn’t been a good week for my adolescent self. Here’s the story, btw, about why homes and schools in the vicinity of Dolphins Stadium are receiving “sex offender advisory” postcards warning them to be on the lookout for Who guitarist Pete Townshend.
A bad week for my personal heroes. First, Kate McGarrigle, and now Howard Zinn.
Here is a basic obit from the AP, which is all that we find on the New York Times web edition. (Which I find odd. I mean, he was 87, and there was no canned obit ready to go?)
By now, there are tons of tributes online, so I’ll just offer one memorable interview. Here he speaks of the fact that he did horrible things in the waning days of World War II. As part of a bomber crew, he dropped napalm on a tiny French village as a kind of experiment (the flight crews were not told), but he stood up to what he had done.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France?
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater. And we didn’t know how many people were killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s okay. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.
In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all of the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We are seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.
Zinn goes on to say that ten years later he visited the village and spoke to survivors, and relatives of those killed by the napalm bombing:
And they were very bitter about the bombing, and you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe the—one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.
Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .
The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”
I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.
I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.
The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen, who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?
According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)
This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).
A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863. Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.
Most amusing to me was the fact that [Peter Wallsten] finally got the goods about Rahm’s famous Veal Pen tirade, when Rahm showed up at the Common Purpose meeting and lambasted the liberal interest groups because MoveOn was running radio ads against Blue Dogs. Previously it had been reported that Rahm called them “f*#king stupid,” even though the scuttlebut was that Rahm said they were “f*#king retards.” It’s a tight-lipped crowd to penetrate, and nobody wants to get zapped from the meetings for talking to the press. But Wallsten managed to get the story:
The friction was laid bare in August when Mr. Emanuel showed up at a weekly strategy session featuring liberal groups and White House aides. Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama’s health-care overhaul.
“F—ing retarded,” Mr. Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants. He warned them not to alienate lawmakers whose votes would be needed on health care and other top legislative items.
Jane goes on to retell Rahm’s self-mythologizing knife story, about his Blutarsky-like reciting of his enemies’ names and then shouting “dead” while stabbing a table with a steak knife, just after Clinton was elected president. Jane rightly refuses to accept the purported point of the tale, that it shows how tough a guy Rahm is.
That’s not “tough.”
“Tough” is knowing you’re going to take massive shit for standing up to powerful interests and then doing it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do — that’s what Obama told people he would do when he was running for President.
You’re not a tough guy if your first thought upon assuming the power of the Presidency is to use it to punish your enemies. You’re a cowardly, petty, small-minded thug.
US government officials may have conspired to conceal evidence that three Guantánamo Bay inmates could have been murdered during interrogations, according to a six-month investigation by American journalists.
All three may have been suffocated during questioning on the same evening and their deaths passed off as suicides by hanging, the joint investigation for Harper’s Magazine and NBC News has concluded.
The magazine also suggests the cover-up may explain why the US government is reluctant to allow the release of Shaker Aamer, the last former British resident held at Guantánamo, as he is said to have alleged that he was part-suffocated while being tortured on the same evening.
“The cover-up is amazing in its audacity, and it is continuing into the Obama administration,” said Scott Horton, the contributing editor for Harper’s who conducted the investigation.
When the three men – Salah Ahmed al-Salami, 37, a Yemeni, and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30 – died in June 2006, the camp’s commander declared that they had committed suicide and that this had been “an act of asymmetrical warfare”, rather than one of desperation.
According to an official inquiry by the US navy, whose report was heavily censored before release, each man was found in his cell, hanging from bedsheets, with their hands bound and rags stuffed down their throats.
However, Horton spoke to four camp guards who alleged that when the bodies were taken to the camp’s medical clinic they had definitely not come from their cell block, which they were guarding, and appeared to have been transfered from a “black site”, known as Camp No, within Guantánamo, operated by either the CIA or a Pentagon intelligence agency.
The men said that the following day, a senior officer assembled the guards and told them that the three men had committed suicide by stuffing rags down their throats, that the media would report that they had hanged themselves, and ordered that they must not seek to contradict those reports.
Harper’s says that when the bodies of the three men were repatriated, pathologists who conducted postmortem examinations found that each man’s larynx, hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage – which could have helped determine cause of death – had been removed and retained by US authorities.
Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war. Auden’s admonitions here are not necessarily those of a pacifist, though he unmistakably chides Homer for his glorification of a warrior culture. Is this, he seems to ask, where the Homeric vision of the warrior-hero has led our species?
But in the shield of Achilles, described in book 18 of the Iliad, we see Homer hammer a different tableau. Two cities are depicted on this shield. In one there is happiness, marriage, art and material plenty. The city is bound by the Rule of Law and disputes are resolved in the courts. “The other city was beleaguered by two armies, which were shown in their glittering equipment.” It is filled with strife, panic and death, and every disagreement is settled by violence, with victory going to the strongest, not the most righteous. All this potential lies in humankind, Homer tells us. Neither can be entirely stilled. But as Auden warns us, we must be ever watchful in which direction our society moves, whether it follows the dark path or the brilliant promise of the shield’s golden side.
A society that tortures and kills those placed entirely in its power and passes this fact by as a matter of indifference truly is plunging into the dark side of the world which these two poets describe–one at the dawn of man’s recorded history, the other in the crucible of modernity. On the day of these deaths in 2006, the American commander in Guantánamo violated the Homeric rules of decorum by taunting the dead and afflicting their families. The deceased prisoners “have no regard for human life,” he said. But in the end we must ask to whom those words more appropriately attach–the prisoners or those who have orchestrated the tragedy at Guantánamo? Another saying of the Achaean epoch applies to this tragedy. Long associated with the story of the Minotaur on Crete, it was recalled near the end of the nineteenth century by a philosophy professor at the University of Basel who waded deeply into the history of the era. “He who does battle with monsters,” he wrote, “needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself.”
Needless to say, Americans are not holding parades for the brave camp guards who risked all to come forward. Nor are we taking to the street to protest the deaths of three nobodies on Guantanamo—”they were small/And could not hope for help and no help came.” As for the Obama Administration, no help there either:
Sergeant Joe Hickman, one of those who ended his silence about the cover-up, said he did so because of the new Administration’s commitment to right the previous one’s wrongs on civil liberties and detention policy. But Justice Department officials held one or two meetings with Hickman and his colleagues and then closed the investigation without prosecution, with a DoJ official saying to Hickman that his conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported.
It’s had some high profile screenings this past summer, at Walker Art Center in my hometown of Minneapolis and at the Metropolitan Museum in my other hometown, in conjunction with the Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion exhibition.
This film has shoehorned its way into my all-time favorites list. From the opening scene, a fashion show where the models wear sheet-metal outfits, and the imperious editor (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Diana Vreeland) pronounces that the designer has “created the Eve for the nuclear age,” it’s a satirical tour de force, a commentary on fashion, celebrity and media that hasn’t lost any of its bite.
It’s funny, sexy, stylish as a film is possible to be, and shot in that gorgeous high-contrast black and white almost-verité style you see in Godard’s Masculin/Feminin and Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, another film from an American expat. Oh, to have been one in those days!
The star, Brooklyn-born American fashion model Dorothy McGowan is pretty much just being herself and not really caring what anyone thinks of her. She’s perfectly suited for her role, as were the Beatles, who had the same attitude. (See, especially, the classic “Dead Grotty/early clue to the new direction” scene where George stumbles into a youth marketing man’s office). Jean Rochefort plays the television producer who sets out to make fun of the superficial girl, but she is tougher and smarter than he thinks, and he ends up falling in love with her and pondering his own nothingness (I know! but it’s a sixties French movie, after all). A good chunk of the film is occupied with a subplot involving a handsome prince who is smitten with Polly’s image, and the hapless spies he sends to track her down.
With her moon face, rabbit’s teeth (her own description), and huge eyes (usually featuring some extreme deployment of mascara, liner and false eyelashes), McGowan’s gorgeous, and impossible not to look at, even when she is out of makeup, in her tiny little apartment, more appropriate for a student than a cover girl.
Klein’s photography is spectacular: in the fashion scenes as you would expect, but also in many shots of the quotidian life of Parisians (he loves tight shots of crowds from belly-button level): queued up for a cafeteria, getting into heated political arguments, stewing in traffic jams. And there is this strange and wonderful animated sequence that brings to mind Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animations.
Alas, McGowan apparently stopped modeling and acting after this film. “Every time they take my picture, there’s a little less of me left. So what will be left of me in the end? I’d like to know.”