Sister Novena's PortaPulpit
freedom, liberalism, movies, and truth

Saturday, May 22, 2004
A Night At The Opera

Okay... I have to start out by admitting that I'm not entirely clear on the vortex of accusations currently being levelled at Ahmed Chalabi, but it's starting to look as though the guy is rather uncomfortably tied to Iran. As in, possibly selling them our secrets. (Read all of Josh Marshall's stuff on the situation... he can explain it much better than I can.)

Chalabi, as it happens, is one of the biggest reasons we're in Iraq at all right now. He's the one who fed us "information" about WMDs, he's the one who assured us we'd be greeted with flowers and cheering crowds, and he's the one we'd (nearly) installed as the new leader of Iraq. We've been supporting the guy to the tune of $335,000 per month ever since we invaded. He was our man in Iraq. But was he also Iran's man in the Bush administration?

Like I say, I don't know much about it; maybe all of this will fall apart; Chalabi seems most like a huckster, and I'd be surprised to find out that there was such a well-thought-out plot involved. But still... talk about poetic justice...

Remember back in the 80s, back when Saddam was "gassing his own people"? Around that time, Saddam was involved in a hugely destructive war with Iran, and was "our guy" in that conflict. Which isn't to say we didn't do a little business with Iran, too (see "Iran-Contra Affair" for details), but Saddam got far more of our largess and weaponry than Iran did. In fact -- this is amusing, you'll like this -- the U.S. sold Saddam chemical weapons (that's right, the same stuff we now call WMDs), which he used not only to "gas his own people," (more than likely), but also to kill thousands of Iranians.

See where this is going?

So we sell WMDs to Saddam; he uses them to kill Iranians. Twenty years later, an Iraqi with ties to Iran convinces an American administration (made up of mostly the same people who were in power during the Iran-Iraq war) to invade Iraq on the basis that they still have WMDs. The basis for that invasion turns out to be entirely bogus, and in the process of invading and occupying Iraq, said American administration sees its credibility torn to shreds, its reputation in the gutter, and its military power shamed and humiliated before the entire global community. Now that's payback.

I don't know if that's how it really went, but you have to admit, it's a fucking great story. Josh Marhsall thinks so, too... and I agree, it has to be an opera:

Who could miss the duet between Chalabi and Ali Khamenei in which the dark secret is revealed or Richard Perle's haunting, despairing aria at the beginning of the final act, in which this hawk of hawks, friend of Israel, swordsman against terror, and deacon in the high church of moral clarity confronts the shattering truth that he's played the cat's paw for what the Defense Intelligence Agency, according to this just-released article from Newsday, has determined was (horribile dictu!) actually a front for Iranian intelligence.

Of course, as with all classical tragedies, while the fates may not like you, it's always your own weaknesses that screw you in the end.
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Just A Few Bad Apples...

... like Pfc. Lynndie England, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, and... Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez?
A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case testified that a captain at the Baghdad prison said the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Iraq was present during some "interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse," according to a recording of a military hearing obtained by The Washington Post.

(...)

[Capt. Robert] Shuck noted that the abusive tactics deployed on Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib were not a secret.

"All of that was being questioned by the chain of command and denied, general officer level on down," Shuck said. "Present during some of these happenings, it has come to my knowledge that that Lt. Gen. Sanchez was even present at the prison during some of these interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse by those duty [non-commissioned officers]."
Washington Post

Obviously, if the highest-ranking officer in Iraq knew what was going on at Abu Ghraib, the "bad apples" line is now a greasy spot on the metaphorical road. Of course, the allegation hasn't been confirmed at this point... but something tells me the folks at the top know this scandal's got some big, hairy legs.
US ambassador to Germany seen as possible successor to Rumsfeld: press

US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) has asked the US ambassador to Germany Daniel Coats if he would like to become defence secretary should Donald Rumsfeld step down, it was reported.

It's getting interesting, eh?

BTW: The number of detainee deaths now being investigated as homicides is up to 37. Looks like those few bad apples have been awfully busy.
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Of Sourdough And Bitter Failure

Friday night again, and I am vexed as ever. I've been particularly reclusive over the last week -- the shoot is approaching imminently now, and I'm storing up as much of my desire to interact as possible, not to mention taking the last opportunity I'll have for a month or so to sleep as much as I generally like to. And I still don't want to talk about politics and the state of the world; it doesn't bear thinking about.

My mother gave me a couple of small cartons of morels tonight; she said her boss had gotten some in a shipment (she currently works at a supermarket wholesaler, though not for much longer), but that he didn't want all of them. (!) She handed them to me and said, "I thought you might be able to use them for something." Now, you have to understand, morels are generally considered the finest field mushrooms available, second only to truffles in terms of desireability (and possibly equalled by porcinis in some eyes.) And they weren't dried morels, either... these are fresh. It was a bit like being handed a white truffle and being told, "here, see what you can do with this." I'm honestly a little intimidated by them... I'm a reasonably good cook, but I'm no gourmand, and morels feel rather out of my league. I'm afraid that whatever I do, I won't be doing them justice, and I'll have blown a rare opportunity to use genuinely great ingredients; it's not like I can afford to buy more if I screw it up. (They're really ugly -- they look more like some weird marine mollusc than a fungus -- and they smell, well, woodsy.) I'm thinking it'll have to be one of three things: 1) I could try to work them into some kind of creamy sauce, but I don't really favor that option; 2) I could just cook 'em in some good butter with some herbs and have 'em with steak (but where would I get a steak worth eating with them?); or 3) I could get some other interesting, cheaper mushrooms and make a stock. If anybody else has any ideas, let me know, I'd appreciate the advice.

In other culinary news, my first attempt at home-reared sourdough was a real disappointment, although basically successful. I cultivated myself some wild yeast (although it was touch-and-go there for a while), and over the course of several days, managed to take that yeast and successfully raise a couple of loaves. Things looked very promising until I slapped 'em in the oven this afternoon... my shitty, ancient electric oven just wasn't up to the task, and while I got an acceptable spring in the oven, they sprung in the wrong place, splitting through the bottom edge instead of through the slashes in the top crust; and then my parchment paper started to scorch, which burnt the bottom crust of the loaves... that really sucked The top crust, which should have been thick and crackly, was thin and weak; and the flavor of the finished, cooled loaves was okay, but nothing special: not very sour at all, and a tad on the salty side. The flour I use has a reputation for being a bit salty-tasting at times, but it's the best I can get, so I'll keep using it.

But the process, as always, was worth it anyway. There are two kinds of serious bakers: those who love bread and bake because it's the only way to get it warm and fresh, and those who bake bread because they love to bake, and bread is fun. I'm much more the latter... bread is good, but I prefer baking it to eating it. It occured to me today that I always bake more during times of stress or anxiety... kneading dough as a meditation, a way of centering and calming one's mind, getting back in touch with your own immediate reality. Bread has an alchemical, archetypal quality that makes it especially satisfying... you take four basic ingredients -- water, flour, yeast, and salt -- that in themselves have little or no individual character, and through careful, hopefully insightful manipulation, you turn them into one of the most evocative and comforting substances on earth. I've read that the smell of baking bread has demonstrated usefulness as an anti-depressant; I believe that. It seems to work for me, anyway.

And I'm still thinking about getting the hell out of Memphis... y'know, I've been in Memphis (or at least connected to it) for more than a decade now, and in all that time, I have yet to form much of a bond to anyone I've met here. Now, admittedly, I'm slow to warm up to people, and I tend to take my time forming bonds -- I consider myself very fortunate if I can carry one good friendship away from any given place, and generally I've done well in that regard. But here in Memphis... I dunno, I just don't seem to be able to really "connect" with anyone here.

Which isn't to say there aren't some great people in Memphis, people I genuinely like and care about and consider friends. There are, plenty of 'em. But -- apologies to anyone reading this who thinks I might be selling them short -- I don't think I know anyone here whom I'd still know, say, a year after I moved away. The sense of disconnectedness is pervasive, and I don't feel like I'm really "involved" in anything, I mean, on a deep level... and maybe that's my own fault. But it does feel like a big missing piece, and probably has a lot to do with why I've never thrived here.

(My posts seem to be leaning more towards the longwinded-and-personal variety lately... but hey, it's my damn blog, I'll post whatever I like. ;P)
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Friday, May 21, 2004
I really can't bear it

Every day, there's more of this.

Do you pray to Allah?" one asked. "I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' "

He said the soldiers told him that if he cooperated with interrogators they would release him in time for Ramadan. He said he did, but still was not released. He said one soldier continued to abuse him by striking his broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam. "Because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion," he said. "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive."

The detainee said the soldiers handcuffed him to a bed.

"Do you believe in anything?" he said the soldier asked. "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, "But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'

I don't want to write about it anymore... not right now. I couldn't put it much better than this anyway.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Crazy Fundies III: Revenge of the Fundies

In Bush's White House, fundamentalist, Rapture-oriented Pentecostals are being invited in to chew over our foreign policy regarding Israel:

The e-mailed meeting summary reveals NSC Near East and North African Affairs director Elliott Abrams sitting down with the Apostolic Congress and massaging their theological concerns. Claiming to be "the Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital," the members vociferously oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and David's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.

Abrams attempted to assuage their concerns by stating that "the Gaza Strip had no significant Biblical influence such as Joseph's tomb or Rachel's tomb and therefore is a piece of land that can be sacrificed for the cause of peace."

... and Catholic Bishops, in a blatantly partisan move, continue to make pro-choice John Kerry's access to communion a political issue, even while ignoring the pro-choice positions of several prominent pro-choice Republican Catholic politicians, including NY Governer Pataki, and CA Governor Schwarzenegger (I still can't get used to writing that). But is there even a hint of their losing their tax-exempt status, even though taking a clear partisan stance is in direct violation of tax-exemption rules? Fuck no.

But in Texas, liberal, tolerant Universalist-Unitarians have been informed that they're not a "real religion", and thus are no longer exempt from taxation.

Does anyone seriously believe that the fundamentalists haven't taken over the party?

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Monday, May 17, 2004
A Bit of Good News

See, this is my America.

And as somebody over on Kos pointed out:
If God frowns on this, why did he arrange for 70's, low humidity, and not a cloud in a sky across the entire commonwealth?

Sure, there's plenty of bad news to be had today... but fuck it, the death and destruction will still be there tomorrow, and I'm in the mood for a wedding.

Appropriately, the big day falls on the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education (ie, the desegregation of public schools). You just can't beat love and tolerance, eh?

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Sunday, May 16, 2004
Why Memphis Sucks

(Warning: bitterness ahead)

Tonight was the big fundraising party for the film we're commencing to shoot in barely over two weeks. It was quite a spread... we managed to wriggle our way into one of the nicest reception spaces in town (a vintage industrial building-turned-art space), we had enough booze to completely incapacitate more than a hundred and enough food for twice that many. We had poets, dancers, a band, DJs, even an opera singer who regularly performs at Carnegie Hall. We had art and other assorted goodies up for auction, we had the entire cast and crew, everybody dressed up in their bohemian finery, and for what?

Fuck all, that's what.

First of all, thanks to the handful of non-cast-and-crew who did show up, and as a party, it was fun. But as a fundraiser, it was 75% failure. The hope was that the event would snare us around $20K -- and that should have been perfectly possible. As a director, Morgan's got potential, and his last film did well enough to arouse the interest of most people who saw it. If he's lucky and persistent, he could be quite big one day. In any respectable city, that should be enough to snag a measly 20 grand for a friggin' movie.

But here in Memphis -- which, as I've pointed out, sucks ass -- there is no such financial support upon which to rely. I'd be surprised if we cleared more than $2000 tonight. Which is absolutely pathetic.

I've believed for a few years now that some places just aren't conducive to certain activities. Places seem to almost have a will that partly determines what kind of things go on there... I first stumbled upon this theory in Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography. My film school in London was located right in the middle of Covent Garden, a stone's throw (literally) from the West End theater district and very near Soho. But to get to Soho, you had to cross a patch of pretty rough turf along Tottenham Court Road. Soho was already a bit rough -- by day it was the media center of London, but by night it's a world-class red-light district -- but by and large it's as safe as anyplace else in the city. This patch along Tottenham Court Road, though, was nasty... it seemed that when prostitutes and junkies could no longer hack it in Soho, they rolled into the gutters along this bit of unhappy real estate.

But I was stunned to discover that -- completely in spite of human intervention -- this small triangle of land, no bigger than three of four city blocks total, had been the home to much of the city's human refuse for nearly two thousand years. Even back when London was just a collection of shacks by the river, the land that it now beneath Centrepoint Tower was a leper colony; later on it became known as St. Giles after the church that once sat where Centrepoint now stands, which was primarily a mission serving prostitutes, those consumed by gin, the sick, and any other derelicts who wandered by. Today, Centrepoint is one of the largest homeless shelters in Europe. None of this was intentional, but this patch of London has always been, and still is, a place where society's outcasts gather. And there are lots of other such sites in the city; clearly some locations are just meant to fulfill a specific purpose.

But to get back to my original point, by this logic, clearly Memphis is not meant to be a place where anything terribly creative happens.

I know what you're thinking: "What about music? Isn't Memphis completely overrun with musicians? Al Greene? B.B. King? W.C. Handy? Elvis Presley, for crying out loud?" Well, yes... but in terms of supporting any meaningful innovation in music, Memphis hasn't produced jack shit since the early sixties (at the latest). Which isn't to say there aren't good musicians here; there are some great bands currently inhabiting Memphis. But not one of them has found success in this city, they've all had to go elsewhere to make their mark... which is really, really sad. (Memphis' biggest musical product in the last ten years? Justin Fucking Timberlake. That pretty much sums it up.)

There's an enclave of creative types in Midtown, clinging to their incestuous little outpost on the barren tundra that is the Memphis art scene. They're good people, doing their best considering how little they receive for their efforts. But in terms of vibrancy and genuine creative life force, these folks can't begin to approach the situation that exists in other places. Two coffee shops, a bar, and an independent bookstore does not a Bohemian Paradise make. But without a support structure for creative people, a city can only descend into suburban wasteland. A decade or so ago, people took to Midtown with the hopes that they could create a pocket of urban vibrancy; a decade from now, if things continue as they have so far, they'll give up on the task. We can keep building sports stadiums (we currently have three sitting within a single three-mile area), or we can drop a fraction of that cash to make Memphis a more culturally interesting place to live. It's a pretty simple equation.

Not that it matters to me... fuck this city, I'm gone at the first opportunity.

(BTW, sorry I've been kinda depressing lately... obviously I'm not too thrilled with my lot at the moment. I've been in one place way too long; clearly it's time to start seeking some new opportunities.)

(Correction: the road in London I'm referring to isn't Charing Cross, it's Tottenham Court Road. Look, I haven't been there for over two years now, my mental map is getting a little fuzzy. And hey, I was close.)



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