Saturday, July 23, 2005

SLC Punk! (1998)

So, having posted recently about Punk: Attitude and Brigham Young, it seems like a fitting time to finally post on SLC Punk!, seeing as it combines both the repressive religious regimes of punk rock and the paradoxical anarchy of Mormonism.

Working my way backwards from the critical commentary, in the spirit of the intellectual anarchy of the good Internet-era post-post-post-mo era, where no opinion goes unrecorded, I'm totally laughing my ass off. The first comment I picked up off the IMDB comment board on this film ranted about how a real punk would never become a preppy lawyer. Well, my reaction, having been in the "scene" exactly in the era described in the film, is that all the punks I knew either (a) became preppy lawyers, or did some equivalent adaptation to age and circumstance, or, (b) died (or even worse, got stuck at being a 'punk' for the rest of their meager lives). But the very fact that somebody out there is still arguing about whether something is "punk" or not just goes to show exactly how dead "punk" is. There's a misconception that punks hated hippies, in part because they were, in the early 1980s, so busy becoming establishment mainstream yuppies, etc. Nope. The reason we hated that generation was nostalgia. Worship of the past kills the future; it kills hope. True anarchy and nihilism are so close to one another mostly because neither sees a path to a future; they're philosophies of the moment, not of history nor planning. Anyone who wants to understand the fine line between being completely Straight Edge and being devoted to drugs needs to remember the fear of historicity and the sense of having no future are intimate. Or take a look at Iraq.

Anyway, thanks to IFC I've finally seen SLC Punk! a buncha times after completely missing it when it came out. The first viewing I was just annoyed by the artifice -- I hate voiceover narration as a rule -- and the second through fifth times I watched it I became increasingly entranced with how perfectly, perfectly, the filmmakers got it right. Not out of a sense of nostalgia; out of a sense of truth amidst the bullshit, and a clarification through fiction of what it feels like to have lived through a similar period in my life.

Of course, it's kinda bourgeois to personalize a film commentary, but what the fuck.

I get it from the biography of the director that there are autobiographical elements mixed in, notably that he lived in SLC during a part of the period depicted. Whatever. One thing I like about this movie is how he managed to get what seemed like the flavor of every punk scene in America epitomized crossed with this strange otherworldly feeling that's bordering on the mythic. In a flick all about, on its face value, being an "individualist" in a dominant, oppressive culture, there's actually very little of the Mormon church and culture per se evident. You hear Steve-o's whines about it, but you hear a lot more than you see. There's a certain condescending reductionism to simply saying, "teenage rebellion is always the same", and as a sort of coming of age story it's nice to see the movie thoroughly grounded in mid-1980s America, caught between greed and nuclear holocaust. Yep, I sure remember feeling exactly the same way: too bad about the kids, that they have no future. SLC Punk sets this little scene in a hospital waiting room - immediately preceeded by a visit to a fast food joint. Intentional or not, what great framing: the epitome of civilization, of organization for the common good, and the epitome of rampant consumerism. Steve-o and Heroin Bob take advantage of both of those things which 'anarchy' stands against, and that's the paradox they have to survive, or, as with the case with Heroin Bob, not survive.

I liked the reduction of the whole punk thing, ultimately, to just two characters/archetypes in Steve-O and Heroin Bob. More on the other scenester characters in a bit. But those two guys are the fulcrum for the movie, and the narration makes it plain that it's their story (right down to the 'where it all started' flashback that ends the film.) Steve-o, of course, through all the first-person narration about poseurs, shows himself to be both a poseur and an intellectual, which in turn is clearly the point of view of anyone who's survived the period to become an award-winning filmmaker, Indy or otherwise. (I've said this before, but this is why there can't ever, ever be a punk or anarchic filmmaker: film-making is the ultimate corporate act, requiring cooperation from the crew, cast, producers, financiers, distributors, technical producers of equipment, caterers, you name it. If you want to be an artist and an anarchist, become an unpublished novelist, just like me. You don't need shit from anyone to write an unpublished novel.) That's the triumph, the paradox, the oxymoron: to record the spirit of punk, you have to survive it long enough to show everybody that you never were one, by the strict standards of the day. It's perfect to the point of simplicity. They make Steve-o into the rich kid, Heroin Bob into the poor kid. The rich kids take drugs, the poor ones drank beer. Steve-o thinks his Dad is fucked up and his values all askew, but really, he loves him and his Dad loves Steve-o back. Heroin Bob's Dad is just fucked up -- crazy in the head, still wearing his Army uniform from Korea and convinced the CIA is sending messages to his brain via satellites, so far done in by the institutions that shaped his life that he doesn't even recognize Bob. Tries to kill him, in fact. Now that's punk rock, baby. Bob is the one who plans to get married and has a future, so of course is the one who dies. The sacrificial aspect of Bob's death -- clearly done to save Steve-o, as Steve-o readily recognizes right away by shaving his purple hair to a respectable Reagan-era crewcut -- is surely more Jesus-like than erecting a mighty temple in the middle of a desert. Duty trumps self-absorption in the end.

I like the honest way the film showed the more superficial aspects of the scene back then. Like, the way the 'scene' included various overlapping circles of fashion and music, including some characters who seemed to have no real fashion stance (like Mike or Marc in the movie) but who just seemed to fit. The unity was ultimately in the mosh pit, where if you liked the music it didn't matter whether the kid next to you was some hardcore asshole from University City, a high schooler from Ardmore, a skinny hip-hop-hardcore crossover destined for stardom from North Philly, or some dumbshit wannabes from Swarthmore. Who the hell am I to label us, then or now: we enjoyed the music, one another's company, the sense of compagnie of being there and then. That's youth for ya. No wonder the hippies were nostalgic.

And the way it showed the self-destructiveness, ultimately, of trying to mix being faithful to your self-appointed philosophy with living in the world. The scene where the "hardest of hardcore" English bands got the shit kicked out of them and complained about America being too violent? Man, I was there! Or of what was once a cool scene being marred by the violence, which attracted nazis and testosterone cases and the police and which scared off the potential to become a cool self-feeding cross-cultural fermentation pot. Mistaking the sentiments behind anarchy and true anarchy was a dangerous thing, and that's why the scene splintered off into nothingness, future lawyers, and corpses, depending on which fork in the road you decided to take. That was a true thing from this movie.

The thing I hated most about this movie when I first saw it was the kind of smug first-person narration by Steve-O. But after repeated viewings I think that's what really makes this movie. Going third-person would just take the story arc and try to make it into something more than it is, as if it were trying to tell a single truth, as if it were truly trying to be a documentary. The breaking-the-proscenium style of the narration, in which Steve-0 picks up the voice-over narration in the middle of a scene makes it very clear that this is a personal reminscence, a sorting-out after the fact, and just one guy's version. Honestly, having seen Punk: Attitude recently, I think this is the only way you can come close to capturing the feeling of what that was like -- a straight documentary just becomes another nostalgic hippie masturbatory fantasy about the good old days. I mean, what could be more DIY than saying, my memory is what counts, not somebody else's filter? Of course, there's that paradox again -- I say this having had my memory filtered and reprocessed by having watched this film, maybe a few times too often.

Maybe there's a difference between the class of '77 (Pistols, Clash, et alia) and the class of '81 (Minor Threat, Husker Du), the same as there's any difference in one's experience depending on when you joined and left the timeline (how far back would you go to be authentic? Television in '74? The Dolls in '72? The MC5 or Iggy in '68? The Velvets in 1966? How far forward can you go before you're talking about something else?) The punk label, like all labels, is bullshit. I used to wonder about how critics could cream themselves over American Graffitti, when, being produced in 1973, it was being nostalgic about events being depicted only a dozen years or so before. Oops: SLC Punk!, 1998, set in 1985. (I just hope to god it doesn't turn out Reality Bites was authentic.)

OK, so, sure, this film belongs in the coming-of-age drama genre when it gets filed into the critical bins, and as that it's pretty good. And it will get field into the music/punk/history section. More labels. Not that I would've quoted Peter Schickele back in 1985, quoting in turn Duke Ellington, but I will now: if it sounds good, it is good. So much of the time and breath I wasted as a punk/poser could've been saved had I figured that one out back in the day. If you accept that premise, so much else follows. Tolerance for others, notably, as long as they tolerate your own tastes. Co-existence of a system with individualism. Security and tranquility and freedome and peace. The past and the future, happiness with death. If it sounds good, it is good.

So: good film.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Land of the Dead, the Prequel (Brigham Young, 1940)

It's hard to believe that there won't be a scientology-bankrolled project soon about the life of L. Ron Hubbard, between the vanity project Battlefield Earth and the sci-fi slasher flick financed out of pocket by Mel Gibson, Passion of the Christ, precedents have been set. Scientologists have all the great chips on their shoulders to be convinced they're an oppressed minority, not the least of which is behavior that invites ostracism ("I'm SOOOO in love DON'T KNOW THE HISTORY of psychology, and I DO!!!") I can only imagine what it's going to look like, and ponder if anyone will have the money or guts to make the alternate story about L. Ron's life that's based on the factual record and not the Scientology version.

The Great American Religious Genre is not the sword-and-sandal epic (I'm ready for my wide shot, Mr. DeMille), it's not the intimate psychological portrait (Last Temptation, etc.), the crappy pseudo-artsy fake-Euro-film (The Greatest Story Ever Told or Interiors et alia), or even the indy metaphor (Bad Lieutenant) for suffering and redemption (Rocky II, since he rises to fight again). It's the zombie movie. Let's face it, a story about a guy dying, then rising from the dead to walk the earth again after his followers feast on his flesh and blood is not new. What fascinates me is that Christians making movies about themselves don't get the fact that the whole Four Gospels version of the Jesus Story (which got into print better than St. Thomas, hence the latter is "apocrypha" now, because it was so damn theatrical) is all about the tale of a zombie. A good zombie, who returned to remind us we're all, in fact, the walking dead, it's just a matter of time before we pass over. Sounds like Land of the Dead to me.

In any event, I don't have to look ahead to figure out what the L. Ron Hubbard story will look like on the screen, I have but to look back on Brigham Young, an old-school oater beautifully-photographed in black and white in the great ranges of the west, competently acted, and scripted out of some weird parallel universe. The director, Henry Hathaway, is maybe best known today for True Grit, the flick that brought The Duke Oscar's sweet oatbag at long last, and to me for the talky re-make (1949) of Down to the Sea in Ships and the rather sublime 5 Card Stud. No proseletyzing angel he. The movie's a straight western in one sense, the pioneers struggling to make it against the odds, with regular white people substituting for the evil Indians for once. (See, they're just out to get the Mormons' lands, which is why they keep getting moved from state to state before finally deciding to go to Mexico. We end the film well before the Federalistas show up to kick them off and make them have only one wife; separatism is so inconvenient in one's history when you want to go mainstream later.)

Brigham Young starts out with a delicious piece of casting, with Vincent Price in the first 20 minutes handsomely filling up the screen as Joseph Smith. We skip the part where Joe finds the tablets in the woods that only he has ever seen or can translate, that describe the history of White People in America and the lost tribes of Israel ending up out west and all the other alternate-universe anthropology that girds the Mormon decalogue/travelogue. We know he's going to become the master of the macabre, but at the time he was thought to be a handsome leading man and would soon briefly be a noir star. It's enough to give you shivers when he's lynched that maybe he, too, will rise from his grave and come back to bite America on the ass.

But the title character is, of course, the real entree. He is played with admirable ambiguity, given the straight-faced script, by the estimable Dean Jagger, who won his oscar as a bureaucratic land-bound chief of staff to Gregory Peck's fightin' air general in Twelve O'Clock High. Jagger's interpretation of Young is wonderful if you assume (which neither the script, nor the numerous "latter day saints" commenting on this film in the IMDB entry, don't) Young was a crazed megalomaniac who had delusions God spoke to him and told him things like 'take your people across a frozen river in the middle of a storm' or 'This, the middle of the most god-awful desert in the west, next to a lake saltier than the ocean, Is The Place', etc. You look at him believing he's always right, as the Tyrone Power character does, maybe you can see why the cult of personality is so telling. It's the gift of acting. Why does luscious Linda Darnell, playing a non-believer who's hitched along for the ride with the Mormon tide, suddenly convert after showing so much pluck and skepticism? One suspects it was the fever brought on by the starvation, or something carried by the seagulls. What I find particularly charming is the way polygamy is dealt with: it's just a cute twist to the usual boy-and-girl romance. Why, suppose I marry you -- what's to stop you from also marrying another girl? Jealousy ensues! Ha ha ha! that the great Mary Astor as Brigham Young's apparently only wife, looking more like Mrs. Lincoln? John Carradine as the bearded, wide-eyed disciple, reeking of a whiff of John Brown (now there's a great piece of biopic casting that never was), and explaining to Tyrone Power the logic of polygamy as the path to taking over the whole country? Yes! Yes yes!!

Speaking of the walking dead, it's conveniently forgotten by the present-day wannabes that Young was a utopian communist -- the early Mormons held everything in common except one another's wives. Odd to see this portrayed so clearly in the movie, except when we remember that this was also the year of the release of Grapes of Wrath, another Internationale-hummin' Western road flick inconveniently contemporaneous to its release date. I find a lot of wide-eyed belief and anti-establishment anger in both films, and it's a pity they don't seem to be screening the latter at BYU conclaves much these days.

Speaking of the seagulls scenes: there are two delicious bits of horror film tucked into this sequence at the end. The first is the plague of locusts, which in fine biblical rhyming threaten to wipe out Salt Lake City's crops and send the Mormons back to kingdom come a little ahead of schedule. There's what I swear is a quote from Corot's "Gleaners", followed by great gruesome close-ups of the feasting insects, which I'm sure informed the post-War atomic monster films. This is followed closely by the seagulls coming to save the day, just as Jagger/Young is about to spill the beans he's a charlatan -- great subtextual acting done by Jagger here to get that sense out without having it spelled out in the script -- that is really creepy. This is supposed to be the big miracle that caps off the movie, but it looks like nothing so much as The Birds in black and white with only one species of bird. It seems very likely to me somehow that Hitch saw this film, coming off the heals of Rebecca, and he must've said, "Damn, I should do a horror movie as good as this one! Complete with flesh-eating ghouls and animals gone amok!"

You will have a chance to see this movie, I assure you. It runs with suspicious frequency on the Fox-owned FMC cable channel, in lovingly-restored prints as sharp as a Christian Coalition talking points memo. It sets me to dreaming what happens when the Scientologists really do take over Hollywood and become the bete-noir of the right, like the Jews and the Secular Humanists before them. Then we'll really see some fireworks between Utah and LA, probably flying right over Las Vegas.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Punk: Attitude (schmattitude)

OK, since I made a quick trash of it, I figured I'd write a longer review as a make-good.

I have no doubt that future cultural historians and music cognoscenti will appreciate this competent and fairly broad-sweeping history of the original punk "movement" of the 1970s. But I have to say, as a forty-something who was "there" at the end of the 1970s, there's something unnerving and vaguely depressing to seeing a bunch of fifty- and sixty- somethings waxing nostalgically about their great good old days. I mean, my god, weren't we making fun of the hippies for growing up and going mainstream back in the day? There's nothing more unpunkrock in some ways than a documentary film about punk.

Come to think of it, I think punk may be safely said to have died the instant they started filming it, and Letts' own 'The Punk Rock Movie" was the original culprit. Taking the DIY attitude and transforming it into the mindscreen of the cinema, with all its implications for mass consumption, is a way not so much of preserving the original punk spirit as diluting it.

This is to say, that if anybody has a right to make a film about the scene way-back-when, it's the old-school Letts. (Although it was a bit awkward when he manages to let some of his interviewees refer to him in the third person.) As a documentary, it's a standard mix of stand-up interviews and old stills and footage from the period, which tells the "story" with the reflective blinkers of thirty years of hindsight. So I can't fault this as a movie qua movie.

Whoever takes credit for originating the phrase, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture", they had it right. I had a hard time finishing watching this movie not because it was a poor telling of the tale -- far from it, my memories coincide with it exactly -- but because it seemed like a far better use of my time to dust off the vinyl of my collection and just listen to the music. Or maybe, even better, go out and find some new music by the current generation of snot-nosed rebels, which will prevent me from wallowing in nostalgia and kick my rear into gear. There's something about the genre of the film documentary that seems to add layers of dust to music and music culture, or sprays them with a preservative that may keep them for future generations but which seems stale as a living thing.

The one moment I loved above all in the flick was the appearance of the now-middle-aged and delicious Poly Styrene, who manages to come off as honest and fresh as she did in X-Ray Spex. But in general the shock of seeing virtually all the (surviving) great bands of the era in paunchy, balding, reflective -- dare I say, mature? -- late middle age made me wince. In about 2015, there'll be a similar documentary about old-school rap, followed ten years later by nostalgic flashbacks about techno and ecstasy...and so on.

Looking back more personally, I am reminded of how many conversations me and my buds had back in the day about whether somebody was a poseur or not, how hardcore something was, and similarly now-obviously-pointless bones of contention. At the time there was a perceived dividing line between the 'fashion' types who just glommed on to the look 00 and those kids, bizarrely, keep recycling with each new generation, well after the initial shock value has been exhausted -- and guys (like us, of course) who had the "attitude". In retrospect, there was a big divide in what the "attitude" meant to a large variety of people: on one end of the spectrum, it meant a form of anarchy that bordered on nihilism, and on the other, the DIY belief that could veer dangerously into thinking you could do everything without help from anybody (and screw anybody who didn't like what you were doing.) From that end of things, I found, say, "SLC: Punk!" a more authentic "documentary' retelling of what it was like than a film like "Punk:Attitude" - maybe more on that film on another day...

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard in a Documentary Lately... least since the anthropmorphic opening line of "March of the Penguins", which in preview was enough to make me want to never go see it... In the movie "Punk:Attitude", one of the wheezing middle-aged punkers saying "the internet was a very punk idea," by way of ridiculously trying to justify the whole punk thing as having made some sort of difference in society. (The jury is out on that, for sure.) Speaking as a guy who was peripherally involved with both scenes in their middle-early days...the Internet is the opposite if the DIY attitude -- protocols are developed by consensus, detailed implementation, and massive deployment, not alone in your room with a microphone and a Sears silvertone guitar.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Vertigo's Mysteries Explained

An amusing article in the July 4 2005 issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, "Death of a Fish" (not apparently available on-line as yet), that either uses Vertigo to explain the problem of consciousness and the understanding of death as part of the development of human psychology; or, perhaps, uses the death of a fish and the problem of consciousness and understanding of death as the part of the development of human psychology to explain Vertigo, depending on how you look at it. I wish it were the latter somehow, but I find the argument unconvincing. Nevertheless I enjoyed it.

It's an Index

I've finally made up an index of this blog...ugly formatting, but that's what I have time for right now.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

I've now watched this movie four or five times, and it continues to impress me with each viewing. Criticisms that it does not accurately depict the battle of Stalingrad are missing the point. The movie doesn't purport to tell the whole story of the epic battle of the greatest land war ever known (and we hope humanity will ever endure) in terms of a historical recapitulation of this happened, then that happened, and so forth. It rather instead attempts to take this epic, incredibly difficult story and reduce it to the battle between two men, two individuals, two snipers - the ultimate individualists and cold-blooded killers. That the movie has both interesting personalities, a gripping action arc, and still manages to encapsulate the great sense of apocalyptic struggle that was the combat of World War II makes it all the more remarkable. It manages to be epic through a simple love triangle and a simple contrast between the simple but indomitably optimistic Zaitsev and the sophisticated but world-weary Koenig.

There is not any particular sympathy for either the (Communist) Russians or the (Nazi) Germans generated in the film.The movie opens up with Russians massacring their own troops who have the temerity for retreating from an attack cut to pieces by the Germans, where only a fraction of their force are even armed. The character of Koulikov, an expert sniper sent to provide cover for Zaitsev in his duel with Koenig, through the simple story of how his Communist masters quickly turned on him ably sums up the arbitrary terrors of the Stalin years. The Nazis in turn are shown sending a prisoner to his death at the hands of his Russian comrades and engaging in other personal atrocities that demonstrate their ruthless inhumanity without resorting to the typical film stereotypes. (The most effective of these comes at the film's climax, epitomizing the strange humanism of German culture as corrupted by the Nazi sense of utility which was ultimately so amoral.) There's an economy here in the storytelling which others would do well to imitate.

For the most part, the ordinary German and Russian soldiers are shown for what they were -- suffering cannon fodder, the two clashing (and discreditable) ideologies that cause their suffering distant in the background. Yet we manage to get a sense of why each man fights -- the sense of duty that devolves (or evolves) into a sense of loyalty to one's comrades and ultimately just to the man (or woman) right next to them. Koenig becomes more and more isolated -- the lone eagle, or wolf, as it turns out in the film's opening metaphor -- even as Zaitsev develops a complicated set of supporting relationships.

The heroism of Zaitsev develops in an interesting contrast to the propaganda version of Zaitsev created by his friend, the educated political commissar Danilov. Danilov's genuine willingness to lay his own life on the line, his desire to make his own contribution in what he clearly sees holistically as a grand, epic battle on which the whole fate of the country is clear from the first scene where he and Zaitsev meet in a no-man's land filled with the corpses of their comrades. Yet Danilov degrades, gradually, his personal loyalty being subsumed by his ambition and the success, and Zaitsev becomes more a tool for him than the friend who saved his life. The ends of politics become a justification to Danilov for personal betrayal.

Caught between Zaitsev and Danilov is Chernova, who has the education and skills to be an intelligence officer or political commisar -- and seemingly the perfect match in background for Danilov -- but the heart and desire to emulate Zaitsev and become a sniper. She moves from Danilov's world back into Zaitsev's in a way that is almost a barometer of how the spirit of the Russian soldiers ended up winning the day in spite of, not because of, the brutal ideologies of their government.

The duel is unpredictable, yet also predictable in a way, and without giving out a spoiler let's just say that even if you can guess the outcome, it's still worth watching for the suspense of exactly how it's played out.

What I really admire about this film when all is said and done that despite the pseudo-intellectual critical analysis I've described above, it's just a taut story that moves you along without having to really see the whole big epic sweep of themes.

One incidental note: complaints in other reviews about the "lack of accents" by the various British and American actors is really missing the ponit about doing a film in English about Russians and Germans made by a French director. Not resorting to the fakery of movie conventions of trying to do fake accents for the bad guys (and usually American accents for the good guys) simply allows the actors to act, and without any context for the typical viewer as to what an educated or peasant accent might be for a German or Russian, their own voices come across somehow more authentically.

Why the Terrorists are Winning

...and one simple thing you can do to help beat them

I thought this was telling: I heard an interview on the BBC today with one of the survivors of one of the tube bombings. This fellow was in the last car of the train, and they heard the explosion as a faint boom. The passengers, he said, all just assumed it was one of the many technical glitches that plague the Underground these days. He said everybody remained fairly calm as events wore on, including when smoke started coming in. It was only when they discovered that it was a terrorist attack that people started panicking.

I'm also thinking: there was a subway bombing in Moscow some time back with almost exactly the same number of people killed. In fact, as near a I can tell, the Russians have suffered as much from Islamic terrorism as anybody, what with the Chechnyan civil war and all. I won't get started about the bloody cycle of repression, recrimination and retribution in that conflict, because it seems to me like everybody's "wrong" and it's beside the point. The point is, we didn't suddenly feel terror when Russia is attacked in the same way -- because the bloody TV coverage wasn't there giving non-stop promotion to the terrorists. That there are more people killed in traffic accidents in the London Metro area on a given day only underscoresthe lack of proportionality that a terrorist attack evokes. It's about response, panic, fear. The media don't run non-stop coverage of "London Traffic Deaths mount", do they.

As I understand terrorism as a political tactic, it's entirely designed to wear out a civil populace, and its primary tool is to create fear that will cause insecurity. I agree entirely with the idea that you just don't give in. But one way you just don't give in is to try to downplay terrorism and its effects: giving panic-inducing news coverage to an event just plays into the bad guys' hands. Nothing like making a little man feel big by acting like he's a big man; and that kind of terrrorism is the act of very, very small people.

This may sound a little strange given the current environment, but isn't the most effective technique the Christian one -- to turn the other cheek? I think this is one of Jesus' teachings that is often misinterpreted. "Turn the other cheek" doesn't mean you invite more punishment, or make yourself into a martyr. It's that you face tyranny and injury by not caring -- by showing, through indifference, what kind of contempt you have for the act of trying to put you down. And by refusing to be put down, you in turn cannot be put down.

Speaking of Which...

Bush's response to this attack was a repeat of his usual mantra of 'we'll hunt down the terrorists and bring them to justice' spiel. Which makes me wonder...where's Osama?

One of the curious things I find about the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings is the lack of interest in the news coverage about the arrest and trial of many persons involved with this. The Spanish, with whatever international help they received, seems to have done a very good job at rounding up a lot of the guilty parties and sending them through the judicial system. Meanwhile, in the US we still have a grand total of zero convictions related to the 9/11 attacks. Any of the principals we've caught have been disappeared into our interrogation system, or Guantanamo, or wherever; the few actual prosecutions have been hampered by this insistence on maintaining secrecy of the sources of evidence, and in some cases unwillingness to put prisoners in this mysterious detention areas on the stand.

It seems clear that worrying about intelligence sources about an event that is now three and a half years in the past is pointless given how Al-Qaeda has divided up into these splinter cells -- who knows how many of these are copycats, without any real ties to the original terrorist conspirators? So why not do what the Spanish are doing, and prosecute them in the light of day, with all the public humiliation and vilification such criminals deserve? Is it not better to have, say, Sadaam Hussein shown to be a venal and ridiculous person and not some mysterious ogre? Why not the same for Osama and his henchmen and followers?

That, to me, seems to be the best course to take to win the "war" on terrorism. When we catch them, do what Bush seems to always say we should do -- bring them to justice, American and Western-style, which is in the court system. When we don't catch them, don't overreact. Reactionary behavior is what revolutionaries try to bring about. I believe that a demonstration of openness and the transparency of our justice system is an appropriate antidote to the attempt to panic us with fear. The judicial system, at its best, is the ultimate in rationality.

This press of instant reaction is just the opposite -- an appeal to pure emotion, which is in and of itself the stuff of the 24/7 media cycle -- and just what the terrorists want. It seems to me, in the strangest turn your cheek sort of way, that the best tactic we have individually is to ignore the terrorist attacks. I thought another radio interview, with a man in New York riding the subway there today, on NPR, was perfect. The guy said, he can't worry about a terrorist attack and stop riding the subway, because his odds personally of being killed in a car were way, way higher than being killed in a subway attack. I think he's right, and has the right attitude. You say the hell with them by ignoring them.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

But What about Lillian Hellman?

From Wikipedia's article on Dash Hammett:
After entering the U.S. Army, he was assigned to an ambulance company but he contracted tuberculosis and spent the war as a patient in a hospital in America. After the war, he turned to drinking, advertising, and eventually, writing.