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

Saturday, August 21, 2004
Asylum Seekers

As many of you know, here at home I suffer from an appalling lack of bandwidth; even jpegs tend to make my poor dial-up connection groan with effort. Thus, I tend to save my bandwidth-heavy surfing for the Co-op, where I have a sorta-kinda-fast DSL connection.

For this reason, I ended up at the Co-op this afternoon just as Tim was about to screen (for a select audience of Co-opticons -- ie, whoever happened to be there) a film for which he'd been searching for well over a year: Frederick Wiseman's Titticut Follies. (He'd finally found it at the library at the University of Kentucky at Louisville; they'd let him have it long enough to dub a copy.) Since we'd spent some time discussing it in the past, he asked me to hang around to watch this rather notorious film... to be honest, I was actually anticipating disappointment (so many "notorious" films turn out to just be stupid and/or crass). Suffice to say, I wasn't disappointed in the least.

A quick look at the link above will tell you a good deal about the film; at least as much as most interested parties know. It is the only film ever banned in the US for reasons other than national security or obscenity; it's also the first film of a director who's work is generally obscure, and almost always spoken of in mysterious terms. Wiseman's work is hard to find, but then again, so are most documentaries.

The reviews at the link should give you a reasonably good idea of what the film consists of -- it's genuinely disturbing -- although no review can really get the impact of the film across. What struck me more is that here is a film that, were it more accessible to students of the genre, would surely be considered a pivotal film, much like the Maysles brothers' Salesman or Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line: a film made at a point of transition, when a whole new paradigm begins to emerge. This has to be, I suspect, one of the earliest examples of the sort of cinema veritÚ exposÚ piece the Maysles are largely credited with developing; it seems to me that it would be nearly impossible to make this film now. (I also have to wonder whether this film had anything to do with the difficulty involved in shooting documentaries in prisons, hospitals, and other institutions; I'm betting it has a lot to do with it.) The Maysles, and to a lesser extent D.A. Pennebaker, were doing similar things, and you could make an argument that their more mundane material actually produces a more profound film (for those inclined that way). In this case, though, the content and the technique are indisinguishable; only the steady, unflinching gaze Wiseman fixes on his subjects could produce something this powerful.

I have asked Tim to make me a copy of the film if he can -- yes, it's illegal, but alas, most documentaries are unavailable by any other means. (I have a growing collection of bootleg docs.) As much as I'd really rather not see that again, it seems to me that it wants repeated viewings. I'd also be extremely interested in seeing Wiseman's other films; it looks like a very compelling body of work. Could it be we've located the unsung genius of the documentary genre?

If you can find it, it's definitely worth a look. I think I've found a new hero.
11:24 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Not So Swift, pt. 2

William Rood, one of the only other people on earth who really knows what happened on the day that the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" have called into question (an exclusive group that doesn't include any of the vets who have disputed Kerry's Silver Star), has come out after 35 years of silence to refute the claims made against Kerry.

For years, no one asked about those events. But now they are the focus of skirmishing in a presidential election with a group of swift boat veterans and others contending that Kerry didn't deserve the Silver Star for what he did on that day, or the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for other actions.

Many of us wanted to put it all behind us -- the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry's service -- even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.

But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there.

( read the rest )

Can any conservative readers of this blog -- and I know there are at least two of you -- explain to me how smearing the service of not only Kerry, but also of every other soldier who fought in that battle, fits in with the concept of "supporting the troops"?

Although the 15 veterans featured in the attack ad all state "I served with John Kerry," none of them served on the same boat with him. Those who did, such as retired Chief Petty Officer Del Sandusky, 60, of Clearwater, Fla., praise Kerry for his leadership and credit him with keeping them alive to make it home.

"We are really upset at this stuff," Sandusky told Knight Ridder. "They are calling us all liars. They dishonor us and they dishonor all those who died over there."

Addendum: This is just too good not to post:

Roy Hoffman, today: "John Kerry has not been honest."
Roy Hoffman, 2003: "I am not going to say anything negative about him Ô€” he's a good man."

Adrian Lonsdale, today: "He lacks the capacity to lead."
Adrian Lonsdale, 1996: "He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers."

George Elliot, today: "John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam."
George Elliot, 1996: "The fact that he chased an armed enemy down is something not to be looked down upon, but it was an act of courage."
George Elliot in 1969: "In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, LTjg Kerry was unsurpassed... calm, professional and highly courageous in the face of enemy fire."

Larry Thurlow, today: "...there was no hostile enemy fire directed at my boat or at any of the five boats operating on the river that day."
Larry Thurlow's Bronze Star citation, 1969: "...all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks."

Dr. Louis Letson, today: "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury."
Medical records, 1968: "Dr. Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical records for Mr. Kerry. Under 'person administering treatment' for the injury, the form is signed by a medic, J. C. Carreon, who died several years ago."

Grant Hibbard, today: "He betrayed all his shipmates. He lied before the Senate."
Hibbard's evaluation of Kerry, 1968: "Mr. Hibbard gave Mr. Kerry the highest rating of 'one of the top few' in three categoriesÔ€”initiative, cooperation and personal behavior. He gave Mr. Kerry the second-best rating, 'above the majority,' in military bearing."

Quoth Mr. Drum,
They were either lying then or they're lying now. Take your pick.

(Lifted directly from Political Animal, but for the sake of truth and goodness. I'm sure he won't mind.)

10:55 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Friday, August 20, 2004
Not So Swift

Still believe that the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" are a legitimate group of independent vets looking to "set the record straight"?

Nuh-uh; just a bunch of long-time Bush lackeys doing the president's dirty work. And now we can prove it, thanks to the New York Times:
Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family - one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential election.

The strategy the veterans devised would ultimately paint John Kerry the war hero as John Kerry the "baby killer" and the fabricator of the events that resulted in his war medals. But on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' prove to be riddled with inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and the men's own statements.

Several of those now declaring Mr. Kerry "unfit" had lavished praise on him, some as recently as last year.

(oh yes, there's much more)

Also, check out this handy reference chart, featuring the key players' lies and self-contradictions.

If y'all are gonna start throwing shit, you might at least think about doing it with a subject that isn't quite so well-documented.
2:23 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Well Well Well, What A Small World

Earlier this evening I got to thinking about slang; and thinking about slang, I harkened back to an excellent webpage run by a college associate of mine. It was a beautiful website devoted to words and creative ways of using them which, sadly, no longer exists. There's so much I wish I could go back and save from that website; Miah (for that was his name) had devised a stunningly long list of "slang" terms -- the quotes are intended to denote that each of his phrases was entirely the creation of his own fevered imagination, and had not, so far as anyone knew, ever been used in wider society before. I don't remember many of them, but I do remember "House Honkies" (the all-white cover band that invariably plays at bars on off-nights); "(to)Play Local Forecast" (taken from the horrendous light jazz played during the local forecast on the Weather Channel, and intended as a sarcastic plea from the audience when the House Honkies start in with an REO Speedwagon tune); and "Dumbassery" (which is just like tomfoolery but performed by dumbasses... this one I've actually seen used, but it's impossible to know whether it actually took, whether Miah unconsciously stole it, or whether it's a case of synchronous co-creation.) So many more -- sweet words, we hardly knew ye -- were lost into the aether, and now reside in the land of dead webpages (along with the Dysfunctional Family Circus, another masterpiece lost to the sands of time. Get a taste of what you missed here.)

Anyway, Miah's big slang coup while we were at college was to actually convince a newspaper journalist that he was a young linguist and that all his slang phrases were drawn from actual speech and merely recorded on his website. This was complete bullshit, of course, but the guy bought it and some of Miah's homebrew slang appeared in, I believe, USA Today in the late 90s.

The only reason I bring this up in the blog is that, in looking for any trace of Miah's old pages and slang dictionary, I found this page. It's curious because, while it contains a (dead) link to Miah's old page, it also lists another (dead) link to the webpage of a current friend of mine. I'm not going to tell you who, because that spoils the fun, but it's someone who reads this blog fairly regularly.

Still, it's nice to be able to quietly catch up on old friends online; I can find several of them active even now. Most of them come by way of Shaw Izikson's American Feed Magazine (apparently currently dormant). His staff and contributors list reads like a virtual "Who's Who" of my life ten years ago, and includes one name I could swear belonged to a guy I knew in the 9th grade... but that's impossible, because that was all the way back in Dallas, and the world can't possibly be that small.

(Similarly, over the weekend I attended a screening of a documentary about Howard Zinn, and in it was a brief interview with the guy who is hopefully about to become my film professor. Same school, mind you... apparently folks from my alma mater really get around, at least within funky liberal circles.)

Update Fixed the missing DFC link; sorry. Hint: you want to read the reviews.

Update 2 Because Doug is a friggin' genius whom I now owe a beer, Miah's slang page has been snatched back from the webpage underworld. Hallelujah. (And, as it turns out, it isn't "dumbassery," it's "dumb-fuckery". And that's how language is corrupted over time, kids.)
12:54 AM ::
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Thursday, August 19, 2004
Bedtime Post

Ugh... I don't feel so good. I don't feel exactly sick -- at least not yet -- but my stomach feels a little "off," I'm feeling kinda lethargic and slow, and, I know this doesn't make much sense, but my teeth and jaw hurt. I'm also flirting with a headache... I really hope I don't get sick; this would be bad timing. Once I finish this I'm probably gonna go take a couple of aspirin and a big dose of vitamin C and curl up in bed, just in case.

I'm wrestling with this short screenplay, and the screenplay is wrestling back. I have pages and pages of notes, but none of those notes seem to translate into a cohesive story; I'm not quite brave enough to attempt a plotless short. People keep asking me what this film is about, and the question is so hard to answer. It's about politics, but not really; it's about being in a given place (Memphis) at a given time (election day, 2004); it's about creativity and obstacles thereto, both external and self-inflicted.

At the moment, it's about two primary characters: one man and one woman. The man's a writer who has come to avoid writing; the woman's a novice filmmaker who has recently taken it up after a divorce, or something like that. The writer has channelled most of his creative energy into politics in the last couple of years, using it as a way to avoid his real work. He has heard a rumor that George W. Bush is coming to town for a semi-secret rally, and he's trying to find out when/where it's happening so he can go write about it. The filmmaker hooks up with him -- not because he wants her to -- and the bulk of the day is spent wandering the city, trying to find Bush's rally. Some stuff happens. There's a protest, and some conspiracy theorists, probably some campaign workers but maybe not. A transformative arc is completed. The end.

I've gone all over the map with this thing; I've gone all deep and metaphysical, teasing out the "deeper meaning" of each of these roles and what their actions symbolize; I've gone stupid/silly, trying out any damn fool thing that pops into my head. (That has actually been more fruitful... why is that symbolism only works after the fact?) I've plotted story arcs, I've gone way-abstract, I've added characters and taken them away again, I've done long character analyses, and I've turned to admired sources for crib notes. Tonight's epiphany was largely inspired by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North; I think it might actually stick.

But I still only have five pages written. (I'm not even happy with them.)
12:13 AM ::
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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
My Idealism vs. My Cynicism

This is probably going to sound familiar; I believe I wrote something similar not too long ago.

I led my first workshop in about a month tonight; I entered feeling refreshed and ready to take it all on again, but by the time it was over -- even though it had gone as well as it ever does -- I had remembered why I needed to get away for a while. I am carrying a pair of very contradictory impulses inside me, and I admit they sometimes bother me: on one side of this equation is the vast idealism I feel about the venture; on the other, a deep, almost bitter kind of cynicism.

The idealism is obvious: putting the means of (film) production in the hands of the people is, I am convinced, the ultimate salvation of the medium. It will be complicated and confusing for a long while yet, but when we all look back on this, we'll see that none of what is to come (and I anticipate that to include the best work yet produced) would have been possible without making this transition from industry-based to independent-based. In that regard, I am even perhaps a bit inclined towards outright revolution... storm Hollywood's Winter Palace and reclaim the studios for the cinematic proletariat; we've come to take our medium back, and we shall do better with it than you did.

The cynicism is less obvious, but stubborn. In spite of the fact that I spend this much time and energy inviting people who know nothing about film into the medium, when they do arrive full of enthusiasm -- and unrealistic expectations -- I find myself becoming very impatient and frustrated with them. Most of the time it takes the form of people coming to me looking for "help" (read, unpaid work) on their "films," which are most often ideas backed with a great deal of excitement but no particular plan or strategy. The films they come up with are most often predictable and dull, not worth the effort, doomed to failure. (Are they really? I dunno... but that's how they always sound to me.) They pitch; they cajole; they offer nonexistant money and unlikely fame. We sit and nod politely, only half-listening, and then gently, respectfully push them off, giving them some vague and non-committal advice just to get them to go away.

It is, of course, patently unfair to judge someone for being unprofessional when you have, in fact, invited them in partly because they're not professionals. I think we all feel a bit guilty about that, even though the impatience still comes regardless. A good portion of the impatience, I think, comes from the fact that so many of them seem to want easy solutions, the mythical "something for nothing;" we have neither to give. Each of us who becomes the target of these appeals has one thing in common: we worked very hard, generally for little or no reward, to learn what we know. Even now, when we have some solid accomplishments behind us, it remains an agonizing uphill struggle, a herculean effort, a sisyphean task to continue with our work. Even the smallest film is heroic, which is why we support each other the way we do. But these people who come begging for help... to be an asshole about it, what have they done to deserve our help?

And that's the rub, that's where the conflict between these two impulses lies: we have no right to be assholes about this -- we're not so great ourselves, and we did, after all, encourage them to do this -- but self-preservation seems to demand it. Otherwise, we'd be blowing all our energy and love on other people's failures, leaving none for our own (we hope) successes.

What it boils down to is this: I've spent the last eight years of my life working -- sometimes slowly, sometimes aggressively -- towards a goal: to feel myself worthy to be called a filmmaker, and to earn a bit of recognition for my work. I expect it will take that long again before I feel secure in accomplishing those goals; with what comes afterwards I don't yet concern myself. Morgan is the same, as are the rest of the people in the local scene who find themselves being hit up by newbies bearing screenplays. We have invested years of our lives, a great deal of our (and other people's) money, and most of our prospects in this pursuit. Is it not fair to demand the same of those who approach us?

(But if it is, do I have any business bringing inexperienced people in when I have no serious intention of giving them more than some explanations and demonstrations?)

In any case, I shall of course continue on in this work... I do firmly believe (in spite of my cynicism) that it's the right thing to do. And it's not that I don't want the people I turn down to go away and give up -- that's not what I want at all! -- it's just that I want them to bring something of real value to the table. That's what the "Co-op" part of "MeDiA Co-op" is there for. It doesn't necessarily have to be experience or expertise; it could, probably, be almost anything. Surely there's a happy medium to be found somewhere in here?
1:10 AM ::
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Tuesday, August 17, 2004
See, This Is What I'm Talking About the previous post.

Both of the photos are from rallies in Oregon, which is assumed to be a swing state:

This is George W. in Beaverton; his estimated attendance was 2,300 (plus a few hundred protesters.)

And this is John and Teresa Kerry at a rally in Portland; estimated attendance was 40,000 - 50,000.

Now, obviously, you can't assume a picture gives you the complete truth; things are rarely that simple.

But I'd still much rather my guy be in the middle of the second picture than the first.
1:47 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Whisper It

I'm going to ask a dangerous question:

What if the 2004 presidential election isn't even close?

And I don't mean "Bush in a patriotic landslide" not-even-close, I mean "Bush out on his ass" not-even-close.

Even Pro-Bush websites are currently predicting a decisive Kerry win in the electoral college. (For bonus points, check out the "21 Reasons Bush Will Win" and take note of how many of the items considered Bush strengths are actually proving to be Bush weaknesses.)

We shouldn't get cocky; there's still two and a half months to go, and I don't trust the Bush campaign worth a damn. But the fact of the matter is, it appears that they might be a little, y'know, worried:

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.


Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the presidential election, with some polls showing John Kerry in the lead. A heavy-handed state police investigation that throws a blanket of fear over thousands of black voters can only help President Bush.

It's business-as-usual in Florida, I see.
1:22 AM ::
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Monday, August 16, 2004
Republican National Convention Schedule Posted

6:00 PM Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell

6:30 PM Pledge of Allegiance

6:35 PM Burning of Constitution (excluding 2nd Amendment)

6:45 PM Salute to the Coalition of the Willing

6:46 PM Seminar #1: Getting Your Kid a Military Deferment

7:30 PM First Presidential Beer Bong

7:35 PM Freedom Fries served

7:40 PM EPA Address #1: Mercury: It's What's for Dinner

8:00 PM Vote on which country to invade next

8:10 PM Call EMTs to revive Rush Limbaugh

8:15 PM John Ashcroft Lecture: The Homos Are After Your Children

8:30 PM Round table discussion on reproductive rights (men only)

8:50 PM Seminar #2: Corporations: The Government of the Future

9:00 PM Condi Rice sings the Billie Holiday classic "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"

9:05 PM Second Presidential Beer Bong

9:10 PM EPA Address #2: Trees: The Real Cause of Forest Fires

9:11 PM Salute to Al Qaeda (without whom we have no purpose)

9:30 PM break for secret meetings

10:00 PM Second Prayer led by Cal Thomas

10:15 PM Karl Rove Lecture: Doublespeak and Telling Lies Made Simple

10:30 PM Rumsfeld Lecture/Demonstration: How to Squint and Talk Macho Even When You Feel Squishy Inside

10:35 PM Bush demonstration of trademark "deer in headlights" stare

10:40 PM John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt

10:45 PM Clarence Thomas reads list of black Republicans

10:46 PM Third Presidential Beer Bong

10:50 PM Seminar #3: Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy

11:10 PM Hillary Clinton Pi˝ata

11:20 PM John Ashcroft Lecture: Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult

11:30 PM Call EMTs to revive Rush Limbaugh again

11:35 PM Blame Clinton

11:40 PM Laura serves milk and cookies

11:50 PM Closing Prayer led by Jesus Himself

12:00 AM Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Overlord

Okay, not really... instead they're going to put all their pro-choice, gay-friendly people on. So it'll be a really representative group of Republicans. Heh.

(I don't normally post stuff that's been making the rounds, but this one was pretty amusing, so I made an exception. Sue me.)

PS: Just for kicks, read excerpts of Lynne Cheney's western lesbian romance novel here.
2:06 PM ::
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