ExperimentalExperience

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Sita, You Take My Heart Away!

In Just Fun Stuff on October 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Just fabulous – had seen it many months ago and just plain forgotten to share it with you all. Enjoy it, its fabulous. Sound track is, in case you are curious, by Masaladosa, and Todd Michaelsen amongst others. A full list of musicians is here.

Sita Sings The Blues (Click On Image To Go To Movie)

Sita Sings The Blues (Click On Image To Go To Movie)

What It Looks Like When You Leave The Embed Or Thank Goodness Some Remember The Basics

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on October 30, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Jeremy Scahill has written a fascinating piece for The Nation called Killing Reconciliation. He and film maker Rick Rowley (of Big Noise Films – see a recent one called The Return Of The Warlords on Afghanistan) traveled in Afghanistan outside the predictability and suffocating inanity of the ‘embedded’ war and bring back some fascinating insights into the situation.

He was also interviewed on Democracy Now! which you can see here:

Jeremy Scahill On DemocracyNow! (Click Image To Go To Interview)

Jeremy Scahill On DemocracyNow! (Click Image To Go To Interview)

In case you don’t bother to listen to the interview, here is a summary of what he had to say:

So, to give you a sense of what’s happening, what the United States is doing through its night raids, where they’re going into people’s homes, they’re corralling women, which is just anathema to the culture there, into one room, hooding men, zip-tying their arms, helicoptering them to secret prisons—what they’re doing is they’re enraging populations throughout Afghanistan that wouldn’t necessarily support the Taliban. So what you see happening is that the United States says, “We’re here to win hearts and minds,” their targeted killing campaign, the reliance on bad information from individuals in Afghanistan who are accusing their neighbors of being Taliban to settle personal grudges. The perception is that the United States government is just on a killing spree there, that they rarely get the right people. The Karzai government is utterly corrupt to the bone and exists only for the purpose of facilitating corruption. When you combine those things and then you look at the rhetoric coming from the Obama administration and the military, that we’re there to win hearts and minds, you realize that the single greatest blows being dealt to the stated US strategy in Afghanistan are being dealt by the US itself through this targeted killing campaign.

Let me repeat:

…the single greatest blows being dealt to the stated US strategy in Afghanistan are being dealt by the US itself through this targeted killing campaign.

The entire interview is essential reading/listening.

(Thanks to Osman Ahmed.)

The Jihad…Reconsidered And Renewed

In Just Fun Stuff, Musings On Confusions on October 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

Thanks to Amitava Kumar

For those who are concerned – the ad has been pulled!

The Transformation Of Pathology Into Pathos Or The Military Does What It Does And It Does It Well

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, Photography on October 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm

But the question remains: how, against the best efforts of so many, did a war once perceived as a nearly genocidal slaughter to perpetuate American neo-colonialism come to be viewed as an American tragedy? And to what extent have cultural and in particular literary representations of the war helped in that transformation? It could be argued that Vietnam War novels and memoirs have contributed significantly to this process, since they reach an important readership – the editors, publishers, writers, pundits, and professors who make up America’s intellectual class. By promoting a literature that favors individual lives over historical contingency, and textual sophistication over social analysis, this class has helped reproduce, not merely in the small audience of serious fiction writers but in the general public as well, a simple and ideologically unthreatening view of the war

Jim Nielson, Warring Fictions: Cultural Politics and The Vietnam War Narrative

From Ammiel Alcalay’s Scrapmetal

Today many novels and memoirs, and I will add, certain photojournalism projects continue this practice i.e. of transforming a near genocidal act of war into stories of individual suffering. I have already stated in an earlier post – Photographing The Unseen Or What Conventional Photojournalism Is Not Telling Us About Ourselves that:

[a]…set of photographers have focused on the ‘aftermath’ of those [American soldiers]  suffering from the violence of combat. Most all of these works act as quiet ‘memorials’ to the sacrifices of ‘our boys and girls’. These reveal the individual soldiers and their post-conflict trauma and take us into the world of those who are physically or emotionally maimed, or whose families are dealing with loss. As important as these works are, what concerns me is the sheer one-sidedness that has now emerged as a result of not a single American or European or other photographer producing similar works about the other victims of our conflicts…They, the ‘other’, are completely missing in this discussion. The one-sidedness is difficult to accept…What I fear is that these projects on post-war scars – as wonderful as so many of them are e.g. Nina Berman‘s work, or Ashly Gilbertson’s or Eugene Richard’s to name just a few, are helping the rest of us forget the real victims, and the real crimes committed in our name. They are distracting us from our willed and ‘democratically’ supported acts of warfare, terror, repression, torture, occupation, control, murder and devastation. They help repaint us a ‘good’ and ‘noble’, as involved in ‘defensive’ actions against ‘evil’, as simply honorable knights that have fallen defending the nation, in innocence and purity.  They claim to be ‘anti-war’ but they in fact do quite the opposite. They create a sense of ‘us’ being wronged, as victims and innocent and fuel our ‘righteous’ belief for the need to continue their wars. They invert the situation in front of us, allowing us to think that we are the ‘objects’ of violence, the focus of ‘evil’ while helping us forget that we are in fact the aggressor, the occupier, and the oppressor. They help us wear the garbs of ‘honor’ and ‘courage’ and ‘dignity’ while we carry out acts of dishonor, cowardice and inhumanity. Rather than provoke a larger discussion – one that has yet to take place, about how we have entangled ourselves in this mess, and how our democratic ideals and the foundations of our republic have been weakened, we are using such projects are in danger of helping us garland ourselves with righteousness and the self-pity of victims.

The construction of a narrative that turns our attention to our ‘boys and girls’ and their ‘struggle’ and ‘traumas’ in the field is precisely what the US military’s ‘embed’ program was designed to do; transform what is necessarily a violent, bloody and inhumane act of war into a cleansed, carefully managed, ‘precision-guided’, bloodless conflict. To that end, the US military exercised, and continues to exercise, any and all control necessary to help control the narrative of the conflict. A practice first instituted in the Falkland war, where only two correspondents were allowed access to the battlefield, we Americans have since perfected it. And our media has since willfully and gladly accepted it. Those who opposed the practice, those who attempted to go against the strictures of the US military paid a heavy price – were threatened, isolated and some other killed. One only has to look at the experience of Al-Jazeera reporters covering the war from ‘the wrong side’. The ‘unilaterals’ became targets for a military machine bent on controlling how the invasion of Iraq would be spoken about, and they continue to do so.

In his brilliant study of the media and the machinery of war The First Casualty: War Correspondent As Hero And Myth-Maker From The Crimea To Iraq, Phillip Knightley, points out that the first Gulf War:

…marked an important turning point in the history of war correspondents. Not only was it a war in which the military succeeded in changing people’s perceptions of what battle was really like, one in which the ‘surgical’ precision of new high-tech weapons meant few if any civilian casualties, but one in which the way in which the war was communicated was as important as the conduct of the war itself.

Indeed, this was a lesson put to full effect in the invasion of Iraq with the institution of the ‘embed’ program, Knightely revisits the intentions of this program, which I repeat here because it seems that many a veteran photojournalist and journalist seems to have forgotten:

It was [Bryan] Whitman (Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defence) who came up with the idea of ‘embedding’ where correspondents would be placed with the military units in the field from where they could transmit ‘products’ or information compiled at the Pentagon, foreign capitals and ‘in theatre’, with the assistance of mobile press pools, combined information press centers (CIPCs) and sub-CIPCs. Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) from the Pentagon would scan all the media – print, electronic, domestic and international – all the while blending 24-hour news channels nightly news shows and news-magazine formats with entertainment companies. This would provide comprehensive coverage of the war while giving the impression that the news was coming directly from amidst the troops in the field: ‘the best representatives to convey American’s intentions and capabilities’ (Page 532)

The concept of ‘embeds’ was created to help control the narrative of the war. It remains the military’s most effective weapon of propaganda, and ensures that the US citizenry sees the war only from the perspective of the US soldier. In that, it expects the citizenry, much as it does of the reporters and photojournalists who embed with the soldiers, to find empathy and camaraderie with the fighting American soldier, and focus only the individual and ‘ground level’ realities as they are offered to them on-screen, print and internet. To this end, the war had to be, and has been, shown as bloodless, and certainly, horror-less. Any and all rules of this program are geared towards this end, and they are subject to change as the needs of the narrative change. There is, and there should not be, any misunderstanding about this.

So it is with some confusion that I view videos such as this one by reporter/photographer Michael Kamber – an otherwise fine writer and photographer, which has been getting a lot of air- and internet-play recently:

What confuses me is the thought behind the video and comments: Michael Kamber is surprised that a system meticulously designed to censor the likes of him, is…..censoring him.

Isn’t this precisely what this system is designed to do?

Why would anyone express surprise when a military program designed to control the narrative, and censor facets that can turn ‘public opinion’ against it, does what it is designed to do?

We have to remember that The New York Times was one of the newspapers at the forefront of the jingoism towards this illegal and unnecessary war. Their reporters – including the ‘fabulous’ Judith Miller, embedded with the Bush administration and regurgitating its lies to the broader American public. They were amongst the many mainstream journalism outlets that offered no protests were offered when the ‘embed’ program was first introduced. The paper that employs Michael Kamber has never felt it necessary to challenge the military’s ‘embed’ program and in fact understands very well what it can offer and produce. This paper’s particularly close collaboration with US administrations is quite well known, and in fact was inadvertently revealed some months earlier. To say nothing really about the fact that for the last seven years a number of ‘embedded’ reporters and photographers have gone on to win major journalism and photojournalism awards, thereby sanctioning what is basically a military propaganda program as a news reporting method.

While those who dared to work outside the program – the ‘unilaterals’ in the Gulf War, or Al-Jazeera correspondents working the ‘other’ side, were harassed, fired upon and in many instances killed. We remember the attacks on the Al-Jazeera headquarters in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The necessity of ‘embedding’ was created by the promise of violence and threat if one did not. Today all reporters reporting our wars have learned this lesson well. In fact, being embedded has become the only way to report on any way, anywhere in the world, as militaries across the globe has seen the success with which the US military fended off criticism and critical examination of its war effort.

Michael Kamber is a talented reporter and a talented photographer. So my confusion stems from his rather short-sighted criticism of the military doing what it always said it would do. Their latest embed rules – see USF-I NEWS MEDIA GROUND RULES Jan 2010, have been in effect since January of 2010 and if you are signing these documents before you proceed, why complain about them later? More egregiously, if you are signing up to participate in a propaganda program, why pretend that you are working with the ethics and rules of a ‘free press’?

I respect photographers like Ashley Gilbertson and Chris Hondros who never allow you to believe that their sold their intelligence and eye to the program. Their work, despite the restrictions, suggests a resistance to the efforts of the propaganda machine. How well they succeed is hard to tell, but from their images and words you can see that they are trying.

Michael Kamber also points out the importance of creating a ‘full document’ of the war. But wouldn’t such a document, should it ever be produce, require the rigorous and honest documentation of the experiences of the Iraqi’s who resisted and continue to resist the American presence? Can a ‘full document’ of the war even be created by simply ‘embedding’ with one of the protagonists of the conflict?

I would think not.

Wikileaks has just released a large tranch of Iraqr files. The Iraq War Logs make for eye-opening reading, and a corrective one.  The New Yor Times has a full discussion about them as well (You have to admire the paper’s rich resources to put all this together so quickly!) Reading them one is struck by the brutality of military occupation, and the inhumanity that is necessary to maintain it. We already know this from Gaza and the West Bank, but it is obvious that the war that is presented to us on our TV screens and morning newspapers, is not the same war that is being reported from on the ground.  As Al-Jazeera points out, they make for some disturbing reading:

The new material throws light on the day-to-day horrors of the war. The military calls them SIGACTs – significant action reports – ground-level summaries of the events that punctuated the conflict: raids, searches, roadside bombings, arrests, and more. All of them are classified “secret”.

The reports reveal how torture was rampant and how ordinary civilians bore the brunt of the conflict.

The files record horrifying tales: of pregnant women being shot dead at checkpoints, of priests kidnapped and murdered, of Iraqi prison guards using electric drills to force their prisoners to confess.

Equally disturbing is the response of the military to the civilian deaths caused by its troops. Excessive use of force was routinely not investigated and the guilty were rarely brought to book.

This then starts to move us towards a fuller document of the war, but certainly most all of these issues mentioned above are beyond the ‘eye’ of the ‘embed’. All this is what is taking place beyond the ‘embed’ or against it. There will be many who will condemn the ‘leaks’, but these same people will fail to make the connection between the fact that these documents are being leaked, and the carefully stage-managed war in the first place. It is the ‘embed’ program that necessitates the leaks, for even in the US military, there are many who are aghast at the immorality and brutality of war and refuse to be a part of it. The tight controls of ‘embedding’, and the guarantee that such placement of reporters will not reveal anything remotely related to the nature of this war, is what has compelled individuals to take their careers and lives in their hands and ‘leak’ material. It is a reflection of the effectiveness, and efficiency of the ‘embed’ program itself.

Its crucial to see the ‘embed’ posture for what it is, and work with it. You can’t work against it, at least not literarily. You can adopt a cynical/ironic posture within it, as some have done. Perhaps that is our last defense in this matter. But to try to suggest that somehow one is doing journalism while working exclusively with one side of a conflict is naive and misleading. An embedded reporter reports what s/he is allowed and told to report. There is some room for chance and good fortune, as in all human affairs, for the script to be violated and the embedded journalist to see something the military did not want him/her to see. But these are exceptions to the rule, and rare, and getting rarer still.

In the end we made our choices. Even now there is no debate amongst American journalism about the validity of this program or the need to challenge it on the legal front. It has become the way of doing ‘journalism’. There is a larger issue here about the rules and operational posture of American reporters reporting on America’s wars. It’s an issue that has largely been ignored – not the least by so many awards being handed out to the ‘embedded’, and which I feel there is an urgent need to address. I believe, in my own infinite naivety, that we can still turn things around. That American media still has the wherewithall to change this situation, to start to take the control back from the military. Or at least show resistance to the program. Perhaps this is what Michael Kamber is trying to do – to finally start to speak back to the military. I hope so.

During the first Gulf War a group of journalists and smaller media organizations attempted to protest the US military’s ‘pool’ program. They decided to file a legal case against the Pentagon alleging that the pool program was a violation of the First Amendment Right to freedom of expression. No major media organization – print, broadcast of other, joined the action. The war was over by the time the courts could rule on the issue.

Soon thereafter, at a National Press Club forum on March 19th, 1991, Barry Zorthian, chief Pentagon public affairs spokesperson during the Vietnam war, gloated:

The Gulf War is over and the press lost.

Indeed. We are still losing.

UPDATE: Embedded New York Times photojournalist Joao Silva was severly wounded this morning while on patrol with American forces in Afghanistan. See Times Photographer Wounded In Afghanistan. It may produced limited journalism, but it remains dangerous and requires considerable personal risk to accompany any military unit to any front line. Nothing can change that fact. I don’t know Joao personally, but know his work and wish him well and a full recovery. As far as I can tell there are no details about his injuries or condition. Will keep an eye out for that.

 

The Insomniac Reads Books: Thoughts About Killing With Joy And Torturing With Pleasure

In Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, Photography, The Daily Discussion on October 22, 2010 at 1:26 am

There is talk that many…[war]…films are anti-war, that the message is war is inhumane…but actualy,…war films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr and Mrs. Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco or Manhattan will watch the films and weep…but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton…and Lance Corporal Swofford at 29 Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man; with film you are stroking his cock, ticking his balls with a pink feather of history, getting him ready for his real First Fuck. It doesn’t matter how many Mr. and Mrs Johnsons are antiwar – the actual killers who know how to use the weapons are not.

From Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead

I would argue that so-called anti-war photography has failed as well. Of course we would not know that from the frequency with which it is celebrated, exhibited, awarded and worshipped. But as Swofford so brilliantly points out, those who celebrate it, or claim to be anti-war, are not doing the constant, endless, seemingly infinite killing. A killing that now consumes trillions of dollars of tax-payer’s money, and that seems to be the only thing in this devastating economic downturn that does not seem to be on the downturn.

But this is not about photography, nor about war. This evening my mind turns to the language, thoughts, arguments and justifications of those who may not be doing the fighting, but provide the intellectual and moral justifications for it. The pundits, intellectuals, academics, politicians, radio hosts, tv-anchors, mainstream journalists and of course the wine-party guests. They are the ones who not only grease the path to war, but then offer the verbal and intellectual balm to cover for its atrocities, brutalities, injustices and venality. The ideas manufactured through their writings, speeches, sound-bites, and polemics are the ideas that allow us to turn our eyes and mind away from the horrors being inflicted ‘in our name’ and for the ‘liberty and security’ of our nation.

Judith Butler’s work has been described as ‘…an assault on common sense, on the atrophy of thinking. It untangles not only how ideas compel us to action, but how unexamined action leaves us with unexamined ideas—and, then, disastrous politics.’ In front of me is a copy of her brilliant Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable a thought provoking analysis of the ability to feel compassion for another, and the terrible logic used to justify their killing.

Frames Of War By Judith Butler

Frames Of War By Judith Butler

Her thoughts take us back to the presumptions and prejudices that inform how we speak of ‘the other’ i.e how the language of war, violence, death and murder works so that we may not notice certain deaths and not grieve certain lives. As she states in an interview with Guernica magazine:

All I really have to say about life is that for it to be regarded as valuable, it has to first be regarded as grievable. A life that is in some sense socially dead or already “lost” cannot be grieved when it is actually destroyed. And I think we can see that entire populations are regarded as negligible life by warring powers, and so when they are destroyed, there is no great sense that a heinous act and egregious loss have taken place. My question is: how do we understand this nefarious distinction that gets set up between grievable and ungrievable lives?

This question has bewildered so many who wonder why their deaths are not grieved while others are obsessed about. On the very day we may remember the loss of the near 3000 killed in the 9/11 attacks, we remain indifferent to the hundreds of thousands we have quietly and without real protest allowed to be killed in our wars since that date. The book makes for poignant and disturbing reading, but it raises a question I think we most don’t want to examine i.e we are not moved by all suffering, nor are we aware or concerned about the killings and murders of civilians in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. The question remains; why? I think it is a question worth asking ourselves, and Butler has some fascinating answers. Not the least are observations such as this, again from the same interview in Guernica:

I do worry about those instances in which public mourning is explicitly proscribed, and that invariably happens in the context of war. I think there were ways, for instance, of producing icons of those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in such a way that the desire for revenge and vindication was stoked. So we have to distinguish between modes of mourning that actually extend our ideas about equality, and those that produce differentials, such as “this population is worth protecting” and “this population deserves to die.”

Another book that I happen to have in front of me is a bit more esoteric, but is perhaps one of the better studies of how intellectuals can surrender their morality, sense of justice in the face of patriotism, xenophobia, nationalism and simple jingoism – something that we have seen aplenty of in the aftermath of 9/11. This is by James D. Le Seuer and is called Uncivil War: Intellectuals And Identity Politics During the Decolonization Of Algeria

Uncivil War By James D. Le Sueur

Uncivil War By James D. Le Sueur

What is most fascinating about this book is its discussion about torture, and the various justifications offered for the practice by the likes of Albert Camus. We have our own Camus’ in the USA who have justified the use of torture and repeated offered arguments in support for it. As a nation that is now in clear violation of international law, a nation that indulges in practices that are explicitly and clearly torture and whose top leadership has sanctioned this practice, we would do well to understand the consequences and implications. In particular, as this book explores, how language and law are tortured to justify torture, and how the practice of torture, as Mark Dannar so wonderfully put it:

The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice.

Too many of our ‘finest’ lost their moral compass within moments of the 9/11 attacks. As Pankaj Mishra pointed out in an essay titled Indians are baffled by the paranoia and prejudice of European liberals that the retreat of our intellectuals into the closet of bigotry and simplistic if not outright untenable ethnic allegiances to justify unjust and immoral practices is shocking:

The scale of political-religious violence in India dwarfs anything suffered by western Europe in the postwar era. Yet India’s unique liberal tradition, which respects minority identity and community belonging, remains central in the country’s intellectual life. Indian economists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, novelists and journalists are deeply divided on many political and economic issues. But, apart from a minuscule few, they remain wedded to India’s founding vision of pluralism.

Not surprisingly, these postcolonial Indians are bewildered to see liberal politicians and intellectuals in Europe embrace a majoritarian nationalism, recoiling from what, by Indian standards, seems a very limited experience of social diversity and political extremism. Acts of terrorism in the post-9/11 period have shocked many Europeans into a new awareness of an alienated minority group in their midst. It is clear that recklessly globalising capital and technology, and the failed modernisation of much of the formerly colonial world – of which religious extremism and migration are consequences – pose daunting challenges to European societies. But instead of facing them squarely, many Europeans have retreated into old insecurities about Islam and Muslims.

And towards a carefully cleaved and circumcised idea of compassion, justice, and humanity.

Time to read some books. Time to develop some new thoughts.

Carolina Chocolate Drops Release An Album And There Is Joy In The Land

In Just Fun Stuff on October 5, 2010 at 1:33 pm
The Carolina Chocolate Drops

Genuine Negro Jig - The Carolina Chocolate Drops

I wrote about the Carolina Chocolate drops some months back in a post called Yes, Your Taste In Music Sucks Or What MTV Erases and linked to incredible live performance of one of best songs called ‘Hit ‘Em Up Style’. Lead singer Rhiannon Giddens not only has an amazing voice, but she is one hell of a fantastic dancer. Check out this performance:

And of course this fantastic live performance of ‘Hit ‘Em Up Style’ where Giddens is probably at her best.

Now they have a new album. Its time to rush out and get it.

Four Minutes And Thirty-Three Seconds…The Orchestral Performance

In Musings On Confusions, Poetry on October 2, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Though some prefer the piano version