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

Saturday, September 18, 2004
The Frustration of Creativity

Anyone who knows me at all well knows that right now I'm struggling to write a film. It's intended to be my graduation project for film school, a demonstration of my ability and development thus far. My intent has been to do the actual shooting in conjunction with the election, so I'm on a fairly pressured schedule to get the writing done... in fact, I'm already overdue. That fact is eased somewhat on the basis that this is only intended to be a short film, so the pre-production requirements are lessened somewhat, but still... I don't have a lot of time to get this screenplay done if I hope to film in November.

It's frustrating because even though I'm working as fast as I usefully can, I feel like my progress is grindingly slow. I'm not as good at the conceptualizing phase as I am at the development of a defined idea (especially when I'm working alone), and this always takes me a long time. The core theme of the project -- the relationship between creativity and politics -- hasn't really changed, but everything else has. I have pages and pages full of notes; looking back at older notes, I can see how different the film is compared to where it started. Characters have been added and dropped (and sometimes re-added and re-dropped); the structure has changed over and over again, and the emphasis has changed with it; and whole new elements have been brought in over time. Looking at it that way, I suppose, even though I haven't produced a whole draft yet, I've still been reasonably productive. I now know about 50 pages worth of what this film is not.

I know, intellectually at least, that I don't have to demonstrate my full genius in this film; it doesn't have to be such a big deal, I don't have to state a Great Truth in order to clear my film school requirement. But at the same time, I can't not take it seriously... I'm not into doing this half-assed. Moreover, while this doesn't have to be a masterwork, it is meant to be representative of what I've learned and what I'm capable of doing now, and it is the first time I'm likely to be judged on what I produce. There are people who will ultimately see and judge this film that, if I can, I would rather impress.

What I need right now is a draft. Just one full draft, even if it sucks. But god, I hate doing it. Writing has to be the most agonizing activity in the world.

PS: There is one thing y'all can help me with, if you're inclined. I'm trying to gather up a list of works of great politically-inspired art... not propaganda, not cheesy protest art, but the Great, universal stuff. Guernica. "Oh Captain, My Captain." That kind of thing, from any medium... music, film, theater, literature, photography, the visual arts, any and all of it. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

1:10 AM ::
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Friday, September 17, 2004
The Blatantly Obvious Becomes Official

I know they say that nobody likes to hear you say, "I told you so." But, war supporters? We fucking told you so:

The comprehensive 15-month search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has concluded that the only chemical or biological agents that Saddam Hussein's regime was working on before last year's invasion were small quantities of poisons, most likely for use in assassinations.

A draft of the Iraq Survey Group's final report circulating in Washington found no sign of the alleged illegal stockpiles that the US and Britain presented as the justification for going to war, nor did it find any evidence of efforts to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear weapons programme.

1,030 Americans dead, all for non-existant WMDs. Proud of that? Then vote for Bush in November. Think maybe that was a mistake? Then vote for Kerry. It's pretty simple, really.

To quote the exceptionally articulate James Woolcott (the newest addition to my blogroll):

The environment. The judiciary. WMDs. The occupation of Iraq. The deficit. Pick a subject, any subject, and giving Bush the benefit of the doubt has been a guaranteed loser.

And remember, losers are much more disliked than I-told-you-so-ers.
9:09 PM ::
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I Only Drink With Liberals

We should do this. Who's in?
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Thursday, September 16, 2004
Because You're Bored

Just killin' time, kids.

The famous MeatShake: Meat. Lots of meat.

Giant Microbes: finally, streptococcus pyogenes in a soft 'n' cuddly form. Or give your sweetheart a plush Epstein-Barr virus for Valentines Day!

MANties: the creepiest thing about these isn't the basic concept -- who am I to judge? -- but rather that I don't know a single woman who actually wears underwear that looks like this. At least not since she was, like, five years old. The idea of a grown man wearing ladies' underthings is, y'know... whatever; but the idea of a grown man wearing little girls' underwear is just icky.

Bert and Ernie's Guide To Eroticism: the further corruption of my beloved childhood memories. (Grown-ups only, please.)

And finally, a Japanese game that will rob you of an hour from your life: GROW. Just keep playing, you'll figure it out.
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The Real Question

Are we tired of talking about Vietnam yet? Yes? I sure am; at this point I really could care less what happened in those jungles nearly four decades ago. I'm much more interested in what's happening in the desert right now.

The news coming down the pipeline from Iraq is getting steadily worse: the number of attacks each day is climbing; we have over a thousand young men and women in their graves and nearly 8000 have been wounded; the insurgency is gaining ground and coming out of hiding. And I am becoming increasingly worried.

When this war began, even those of us who opposed it hoped, probably even assumed that we'd have the military strength to put and end to it within a year, maybe two; a few doomsayers aside, even the pessimists among us didn't think we were genuinely entering a long-term scenario. As the one-year mark passed, most of us saw our worst fears come true; as we passed 1000 dead, we howled at the futility of it all. And now, a much darker possibility is beginning to appear in our minds.

What if this war drags on? What if it becomes a long, bloody, protracted conflict? Those who are running the show over there are reporting back that things are much, much worse than anyone here realizes. Those who know war from experience are telling us that this is going very badly indeed.

Retired Gen. William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse -- he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He added: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving [Osama] bin Laden's ends."


"This is far graver than Vietnam," said Gen. Odom. "There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with a war that was not constructive for U.S. aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile and we're in much worse shape with our allies."


[Retired Gen. Joseph Hoare, the former Marine commandant and head of the U.S. Central Command] believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it -- after the election. The signs are all there." He compares any such planned attack with late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad's razing of the rebel city of Hama. "You could flatten it," said Hoare. "U.S. military forces would prevail, casualties would be high, there would be inconclusive results with respect to the bad guys, their leadership would escape, and civilians would be caught in the middle. I hate that phrase 'collateral damage.' And they talked about dancing in the street, a beacon for democracy."


Gen. Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and senior military officers over Iraq is worse than any he has ever seen with any previous U.S. government, including during Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic."

Of everyone who supports this war, I ask this question: if you knew that this war would last for years, and bring the high casualty figures that go with a long conflict, would you still support it? If you knew it could end badly -- and given the region of the world in which we're fighting, it could end very, very badly -- would you still support it?

There were no WMDs, there was no connection to al Qaeda. Iraq was not a threat. We have stretched our military so thin that we can no longer effectively respond to real threats. We have undermined all genuine efforts to secure the country against actual terrorists, and allowed those who attacked us to escape. We have become a pariah in the world, and made many new enemies in the Middle East. And we risk much, much more the longer we stay. I don't want to see my generation decimated; I don't want to find ourselves with more enemies at the end than we had at the beginning.

Is the objective worth the risk?

PS: Want to read more about what the war actually looks like on the ground? Check out Operation Truth:
I enlisted in the Army Reserve following September 11, 2001, one of the hardest and best decisions I have made in my life. I love the United States, the Army and my unit. Out of this deep love, I ask that we as Americans take a long look in the mirror. We must ask ourselves who we are and what we stand for. We as a nation must face the monster we have created in Iraq, sooner rather than later. We must find a way out of the mess in Iraq with minimal loss of American and Iraqi life. We owe it to the soldiers on the ground and the embattled Iraqi people.

~SPC Richard Murphy

Remember, according to some right-wingers, this guy's a traitor.
1:56 AM ::
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Whoa... Duped

Now I'm thinking this movie doesn't sound so cool after all. I'm not really into being recruited for some weird cult.

(Yes, you'll have to click through the ad again. Damn this advertising-driven world!)
1:37 AM ::
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Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Happens Every Day

Go read this:

I didn't actually see the report live -- Wolf had already moved on to his next story -- but I was struck by how casual this was: innocent civilians killed in a U.S. airstrike, and it wasn't even the news hook; the death of the reporter was. (CNN doesn't have a transcript up for the report I saw. They do, however, have one for a later, similar report. Scroll down, or just search for the words "I'm dying." The entire mention of the U.S. inflicting over 70 civilian casualties is exactly four sentences long. The Batman guy, meanwhile, got thirty.)

So, through the miracle of TiVo, I rewound. And there it was.



Being killed by a U.S. airstrike.

Non-combatants. Celebrating on a disabled U.S. vehicle, granted. But civilians nonetheless. Certainly not in combat against any U.S. troops.

In the foreground, a reporter just doing his job, frowning over some little technical glitch, maybe something he forgot to do...

Bang, boom. No warning. Just an incoming U.S. aerial attack. "To prevent looters from stripping the vehicle," the Pentagon later says, classifying everyone within thirty feet as "looters" and sentencing them to summary execution.

Blood splashes on the lens. The camera spins. Tiny glimpses of terrible carnage.

Without a beat, without reflection, without even a moment of minimal thought, Wolf Blitzer moves on. As do we, collectively.

And that's that. America kills innocent civilians. Lots of them. And it's no big deal now. Not controversial. No reason to ask questions or rationalize or even pretend to soul-search like the national media once did. America kills civilians. Lots of them. Just part of the fabric of things now.

Happens every day.

Seriously, go read the whole piece. It's important.
4:13 PM ::
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Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Here I Am, Rock Me Like A Hurricane

As I write this, Hurricane Ivan is whirling around the Gulf of Mexico preparing to make sweet, violent love to the Mississppi River Valley.

The orange dot with the arrow represents "I am here". The thing to keep in mind, though, is that the red swirly icon only signigifes the eye of the storm; the entire storm is apparently something like 400 miles / 645 km in diameter... which is to say, this is an enormous fucking storm. (For visual reference, that's enough hurricane to almost completely cover both Mississippi and Alabama.)The eye is due to make landfall sometime tomorrow night, which means we here around Memphis will be feeling the leading edge sometime tomorrow. And no, it certainly won't be a direct hit for us, but given that this is expected to be a Category 4 by the time it hits Gulfport, MS, we could still be in for some badass flooding and a fun day of tornado warnings.

Anyway, if things are a bit quiet here on the blog for a couple of days, that's probably why. It should be fun!

PS: If any of y'all have ever had any desire to visit New Orleans, I hope you already have. After Thursday, it might not be there anymore.

Update: I have changed the headline to something much doofier.

My mother says I "might be over-reacting"... look, it's not like I'm out buying plywood to board up the windows; I'm just gonna make sure I get my grocery shopping done before the weather turns crappy. And maybe make sure I know where the candles are. No biggie.

Also, I saw lots of Louisiana license plates on the freeway tonight, even a few Floridas. They say they're not allowing people to enter N.O. LA anymore, and the highways out of townare almost completely blocked with traffic. Considering the city might be under 12 feet of water in a couple of days, I don't blame 'em.

Update 2: As Ivan makes landfall, he appears to have decided that he'd prefer to make violent love to the Florida panhandle (apparently Ivan swings the other way, if you know what I mean... not that there's anything wrong with that.) So we here in the northern end of the Mississippi Delta probably aren't going to be touched after all.

But I might burn some candles anyway. Candles are good, right?
3:10 PM ::
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Neo-Conservatives Say The Darnedest Things

"A year from now I'd be surprised if there's not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."

~Richard Perle, American Enterprise Institute, September 22, 2003

Maybe they could name this bombed-out market after him instead, huh?

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Monday, September 13, 2004
The Other View of Reality

According to some, the situation in Iraq is improving; "only" a thousand or so soldiers have been killed, and fatality rates are remaining steady. Is this a realistic view? I think it's probably not. Our fatality rates have been lower than they might have been -- although our casualty rates in terms of horrific, debilitating injuries are higher than ever, which is something you don't hear about much in the media. But the greater question is: who's winning this war? Are our objectives within reach?

Here are a few thoughts in response to those questions.

First, from Newsweek:
It's not only that U.S. casualty figures keep climbing. American counterinsurgency experts are noticing some disturbing trends in those statistics. The Defense Department counted 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces in August -- the worst monthly average since Bush's flight-suited visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Preliminary analysis of the July and August numbers also suggests that U.S. troops are being attacked across a wider area of Iraq than ever before. And the number of gunshot casualties apparently took a huge jump in August. Until then, explosive devices and shrapnel were the primary cause of combat injuries, typical of a "phase two" insurgency, where sudden ambushes are the rule. (Phase one is the recruitment phase, with most actions confined to sabotage. That's how things started in Iraq.) Bullet wounds would mean the insurgents are standing and fighting -- a step up to phase three.

And regarding the bigger picture, Juan Cole describes how this war is helping Osama get exactly what he wants from the United States.

Al-Qaeda wanted to build enthusiasm for the Islamic superstate among the Muslim populace, to convince ordinary Muslims that the US could be defeated and they did not have to accept the small, largely secular, and powerless Middle Eastern states erected in the wake of colonialism. Jordan's population, e.g. is 5.6 million. Tunisia, a former French colony, is 10 million, less than Michigan. Most Muslims have been convinced of the naturalness of the nation-state model and are proud of their new nations, however small and weak. Bin Laden had to do a big demonstration project to convince them that another model is possible.


Bin Laden hoped the US would timidly withdraw from the Middle East. But he appears to have been aware that an aggressive US response to 9/11 was entirely possible. In that case, he had a Plan B: al-Qaeda hoped to draw the US into a debilitating guerrilla war in Afghanistan and do to the US military what they had earlier done to the Soviets. Al-Zawahiri's recent message shows that he still has faith in that strategy.

The US cleverly outfoxed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, using air power and local Afghan allies (the Northern Alliance) to destroy the Taliban without many American boots on the ground.

Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason, where Americans faced the kind of wearing guerrilla war they had avoided in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several of its main goals. It had been trying to convince Muslims that the United States wanted to invade Muslim lands, humiliate Muslim men, and rape Muslim women. Most Muslims found this charge hard to accept. The Bush administration's Iraq invasion, along with the Abu Ghuraib prison torture scandal, was perceived by many Muslims to validate Bin Laden's wisdom and foresightedness.

After the Iraq War, Bin Laden is more popular than George W. Bush even in a significantly secular Muslim country such as Turkey. This is a bizarre finding, a weird turn of events. Turks didn't start out with such an attitude. It grew up in reaction against US policies.


The US is not winning the war on terror. Al-Qaeda also has by no means won. But across a whole range of objectives, al-Qaeda has accomplished more of its goals than the US has of its.

4:39 PM ::
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Sunday, September 12, 2004
Two Brilliant Ideas

Hanging out with Diana tonight (after the Co-op meeting that didn't happen), we had two absolutely brilliant ideas, things I'd love to do were it not for the minor point that I am grossly unqualified to attempt either one. Thus, they will be installed here until such time as we or somebody else has the sense and ability to capitalize on them.

Idea 1: The Elvis Opera

It's true; Elvis Presley's life is the stuff of classical opera. Poor Mississippi boy finds immeasurable fame and wealth, finds and loses true love, is manipulated by the wicked-but-sly Col. Tom Parker, and eventually meets his end through his own weakness. It would have to be done properly, though... no cheesy rock-opera bullshit, thanks. What we need here is a serious Italian opera with arias and everything. It's not a joke, it's a completely serious creative venture.

Idea 2: a Punk Band

But wait, there's more: there has to be a place in the world for an all-girl punk band in which -- here's the hook -- all the members dress in mom-drag. Polyester pantsuits, sensible shoes, knee-high hose, short bobbed hair, the whole bit. C'mon, it's a great idea... at the very least, it'd be a mean theme for a costume party: come as your parents.
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