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

Saturday, December 11, 2004
We Lost The Election, But At Least We Get Four More Years Of Dark Humor

Just in passing, if you haven't seen the latest batch of Get Your War On strips, you really need to see 'em... they are a thing of beauty. (I particularly approve of the post-format-change strips... great stuff.)
6:36 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

5 Obstructions

A while back -- maybe a month ago -- my friend Ben mentioned a film he'd recently seen called The Five Obstructions, made by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier. He told me the premise -- Von Trier challenges Leth to remake his 1967 film The Perfect Human (which is exactly the kind of artful Scandinavian experimental film you'd expect) but this time to do it with a number of "obstructions" as part of the process.

The thing is, I don't really care for Von Trier. I've seen most of his films, and I admit that in each case I did find something of interest in them, but by and large I just can't abide the man's work. His stuff is embarrassingly sentimental sometimes, and pointlessly provocative at others, and flirting with profound misogyny more often than I can comfortably tolerate. I assume, however, that being engaged with his films is enough, even if my ultimate response is negative.

Von Trier also seems to have a thing about rules; he loves to impose them. This is the guy, remember, who along with several others founded the Dogme 95 school of filmmaking, handing out a whole list of requirements to directors that tossed many cinematic conventions out the window. This, I have to say, I don't have any particular problem with... I don't think it does a great deal to further cinema as a whole -- it's more of a cinematic parlor game than a meaningful statement -- but impositions of this kind can definitely serve to shake up the accepted practices of the film community, and as such is a good thing for filmmakers, as far as it goes. Dogme 95 didn't change the world or invent anything new, but it did serve to loosen up the expectations and assumptions of both the filmmakers who participated and their audiences.

This film is a similar kind of thing. The first "obstruction" -- which actually includes a total of four rules that Leth had to follow for the experiment -- is based on a partial remake of Leth's original film, but with the following limitations: no cut can be longer than 12 frames (half a second -- Leth responds that it's cinematic death); Leth must answer the questions he asks in the narration, which were left unanswered in the original; when Leth mentions in passing that while he's often been to Haiti, he's never been to Cuba, Von Trier decides the film must be shot in Cuba; and finally, when Leth mentions that he's thinking about building a room or filming in front of a screen, Von Trier demands that there be no set at all. So Leth sets off to Cuba to re-shoot his film without a set, with answers, and in 12-frame shots. The film that results is fascinating -- the 12-frame rule renders a film that is simultaneously fluid and disjointed; as Von Trier says later, "it was a gift."

The point is made: limitations can be a filmmaker's friend, compelling him or her to open themselves to new possibilities and to progress beyond old assumptions. The point matters because, where Hollywood depends on mammoth budgets and epic stories filmed on a huge scale to generate interest, the rest of the world's film community is faced with endless daunting obstacles to making the films they want to make. Obstructions are a matter of course to most filmmakers, and learning to appreciate and use the potential they offer can make a good filmmaker into an inspired filmmaker.

Von Trier continues to compel Leth to remake his film four more times, each time with a new set of arbitrary, intentionally-frustrating rules. Everything Leth assumes he can rely on, Von Trier forbids him to do. Not all of the resulting films are brilliant, but each of them is interesting. It's sort of a filmmaker's film -- most of the interest is in the process of watching Leth find ways of dealing with his obstructions, and in seeing the resulting film in comparison to the original. One also becomes more aware of the underlying structure of the film -- which parts, in other words, would literally transform the film into an entirely different film if they were changed, and which parts are open to interpretation while still leaving the basic idea intact. It's rare to see the same film made and re-made and re-re-made, especially by the same director; watching this process, I began to wonder if repeating the same work over and over might not have the same benefits for a filmmaker that it has for a musician, say, or a visual artist.

So it's an interesting piece of work, and worth watching if you're into process and challenge. I'm still not that impressed by Von Trier's body of work, but I'll grant him that he knows how to challenge himself and those around him. It's probably what he does best in life.

1:47 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Friday, December 10, 2004
5 Questions

It's like the Daily Show circa Craig Kilborne all over again!

Gann asked Mat some questions; Mat answered. Mat asked some more questions to me; I answer below. If you want to be next, follow the instructions at the end of the post.
1) How many times have you seen someone's ass crack on a Tuesday night?

Let's see... I figure, 2-3 times per night on average -- call it 2.5 -- times four tuesdays per month, times 20 months... about 200.
2) Which would you rather be, an Oompa Loompa, or an Ewok, and why?

Oompa Loompa, no question. Oompa Loompas get to do amusing/creepy modernist dance routines and sing moralistic songs to greedy children, causing many nightmares; Ewoks are an abomination and all deserve to be shot, skinned, and made into lampshades. The choice is obvious.
3) Who do you like better, Groucho or Richard (Marx)

4) Knight Rider Hasselhoff or Baywatch Hasselhoff?

Knight Rider Hasselhoff
5) Put the following in order of importance (starting w/ the least - this is an S.A.T. type question)
An 8' Tall Blowup Snowman
The Missing Toenail on My Left Big Toe
The Number 12
A Peanut from a Cracker Jack box
Hip Replacement

hip replacement
blowup snowman (oh yeah, baby)
number 12

So how can you join the fun?
1 - Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2 - I will respond; I'll ask you five questions.
3 - You'll update your journal with my five questions, and your five answers.
4 - You'll include this explanation.
5 - You'll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed

9:53 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Regarding Vietnam

Among the various aspects of my 'net presence, I am a moderator at a web forum hosted by an Air America radio guy. I was actually on the forum before he landed at AA, but that's how most people would have heard of him now. I initially went to the forum around May of 2003 because I was distressed and frightened about the then-brand-new Iraq war, but was stuck in one of the most conservative counties in the United States where I had nobody to talk to about my anxiety.

Under ideal circumstances, I'd have gone to my mom with my worries; with only a couple of exceptions, there really isn't anything I wouldn't feel secure talking to her about. Unfortunately, anything that might even faintly smack of politics is one of them. I made an attempt, the night the first bombs fell, to express my concern and trepidation, and thought for a brief time that she might have heard me clearly; even if she disagreed, I had hoped that she would at least hear my genuine fear and deal with that separately. But subsequent exchanges have more or less disproven that hope.

As the war has progressed, I've found myself with an ever-growing number of questions, many of which relate to this war as it compares to Vietnam. I was born shortly after the last Americans left Saigon and know the war only through the prism of popular culture; much of my knowledge, I have always assumed, is flawed and distorted. But even so, Vietnam remains the closest comparable situation to the one we now face, and like a lot of people born after the war, I'm increasingly curious about how it actually was, so that I might be able to glean some insight into how it might now come to be.

My mom, obviously, remembers Vietnam, and it would be nice to be able to discuss it with her, but I don't think that would be wise. So instead, I took my questions to the forum, where we have plenty of sympathetic boomers who both remember and are willing to answer my questions directly. I don't assume that the answers I've gotten there are definitive, but I found them interesting, and thought other people might, too.

My questions were:

1. Is the Iraq War actually like Vietnam, in general atmosphere if not in specific detail?

2. For those who were opposed to Vietnam, how does the experience of being opposed to this war compare?

3. How is it that anyone who opposed the Vietnam war could support this war?

4. If we do have a draft, how will that affect the generation that most recently had to deal with a draft themselves?

5. Do boomers understand how it looks to us Gen-X and Y-ers, that they would not stand to see their own killed in an unnecessary foreign war, but are willing to send our generations over? Do they get the sense of betrayal we feel?

I got a lot of interesting answers. Some selections from the conversation:

1. Is the Iraq War actually like Vietnam, in general atmosphere if not in specific detail?
Yes. They have substituted "VietCong" with "insurgent". The South Vietnamese soldiers would often refuse to fight alongside our guys and that's happening in Iraq too. To the point that they sometimes open fire on our people. The entire population was suspect and the bases were compounds nobody wanted to leave. Patrols were faked by the troops to avoid contact with the enemy. Most of the wounded were from boobytraps. The Secretary of Defense used to say the SAME DAMN THING about how well things were going based on all the people they were killing. "Body Counts" are back (this is where you just kill everyone including unarmed women and children and claim they were the enemy).

Spitfire of ATJ

I think people are more aware these days of exactly what is going down. The scary thing is, many approve of it. Also, because there is no draft, there seems to be complacency among the younger people, who provided the energy for the Vietnam era protests. And, we are only slowly coming off of several decades of materialistic self-indulgence where people, young and middle-aged, seemed to be focused on "getting ahead" rather than larger questions of the fate of humanity and the planet.


The obvious difference is the personal investment. During Vietnam, it was huge. There was a draft, and 14,000 soldiers died in a single year.
Today there is public detachment. There is no draft and the casualties are a pittance by comparison. On the home front, the pain needs to be much greater before the level of public involvement will elevate enough to merit any heed by Washington. I thought that "1000" was a magic number that would tip sentiments. I was wrong. We are a stubborn people. Of course, there is a gag order against any unpalatable news coverage, unlike during Vietnam. Everything is being sanitzed by a lapdog media. Perhaps when the 2000th casket comes home - or the 5,000th.


2. For those who were opposed to Vietnam, how does the experience of being opposed to this war compare?

It feels much lonlier. We had more demonstrations we could participate in, back then. There were lots and lots of songs of protest we heard every day. Maybe we were exposed to more of it because we were on college campuses. I wonder what is happening on college campuses today?


I believe it was in '69 when Walter Cronkite declared the war was un-winnable in a CBS White Paper special report. The traction on that was heuuuuuge and if there's one difference between now and then, it's the media. You can put a gazillion voters on the street today (as in the NYC pre-convention protests) and the media ignores it. Back then, fill one block with warm bodies and you were all over the network newscasts.

BA Bureauchief

3. How is it that anyone who opposed the Vietnam war could support this war?
How is it that some former Hippies became Yuppies and then became Republicans? It's called "Selling Out".

Spitfire of ATJ

I think many people are silent and not voicing their disapproval because they remember how horribly the troops from Vietnam were treated, and they want to support those who we have sent off to kill and die in our name. Also, there is a shocking indifference because of the lack of a draft.


That's the magic of The Red Kool-Aid... There are literally millions of boomers conveniently ignoring Bush's dirty little war because The Bunny gave them a tax break. That's their issue. Also consider the born-again Reagan Fundies of the 80's who started out as 60's longhairs asking about Buddha and Krishna, got high on Jeebus, and now have no qualms about snuffin' muslims because they hate christians.

BA Bureauchief

4. If we do have a draft, how will that affect the generation that most recently had to deal with a draft themselves?
It'll be frustrating as hell because for some it will require listening to their kids support Bush as their grandkids go off to fight and die for a lie. All that talk about "we learned our lesson" went down the toilet and America is repeating all of the old mistakes.

Spitfire of ATJ

The same way they did 40 years ago... Some will think it's the best thing since scared straight to reform our errant yout, others will work the courts for CO status and you'll be reminded we still have Quakers and Mennonites in this country.

BA Bureauchief

5. Do boomers understand how it looks to us Gen-X and Y-ers, that they would not stand to see their own killed in an unnecessary foreign war, but are willing to send our generations over? Do they get the sense of betrayal we feel?
I think it's hypocrisy. I HATED WAR THEN AS I HATE IT NOW. WAR IS WRONG. WAR IS NOT A SOLUTION. Yes I think young people should be outraged if they're 60's anti-war parents have become WARMONGERS! ACTIVATE AMERICA NOW! WAR IS OVER...IF YOU WANT IT.


I do, because it seems America refuses to learn. We hate our actual history.

The '60's generation was supposed to be about freedom and love and it's recalled as a time of sex drugs and rock and roll. Those that advocated our responsibility to the peoples of the world for our actions have since been painted as irresponsible and their message has thus been discredited as "crazy talk" brought on by drug use.

At the time, anyone against the war was branded as "a member of the counter culture" and harrassed by the cops in the sincere hope that they would be sentenced by a judge to serve in the military. Republicans took great delight in the idea of a Hippy's long hair being buzzed off before they were tossed into a war were they would hopefully die.

You watch. Bush is going to get his needed troops to toss into his meat grinder. Somehow they are going to target those who didn't vote for him first to the cheers of those who did.

( SN: Do you think most boomers remember this? Do you think being reminded of it would also remind them of what a frightening time it was, of how hard-done-by they felt when they were losing friends and family to a war?

Do you think that would put some sense back in their heads?)

Only when people start having to attend the funerals for their friend's kids and the the mouthbreathers say "The reason for them dying was to defend our freedom" and it starts a fight that breaks up friendships.

That's what it took back then.

Spitfire of ATJ

No, nor do they care. Not enough of them, anyway. They are saying "Well, they volunteered for the military....." Your generation can MAKE them care, but it will take a lot of work. There are those of us who will support your efforts.


'Scuze me while I turn that around... WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE ROCK THE VOTE CROWD this year? Ehhhhhhhhhhhh ??? If you won't stand up for yourself...

Now, consider this: One of the most difficult sales job in the 60's was convincing those of the 40's that Vietnam was NOT the noble crusade they had in WW II. It was unfathomable to some how anyone could refuse to serve their country... By WW II standards, it was an insult to those who served and died to push Germany and Japan back where they belonged to decline the fight against creeping communism.

Fast forward, and the war on terra was very much started on September 11, 2001. Hanoi never, ever, pooched two American cities on the same day. Never. To the boomer's who've learned to appreciate the Red Kool-Aid, there is absolutely no parallel between Vietnam and Iraq.

Coupla' things to remember... Not everyone was against the Vietnam war back then. I'm going to say it was split along the familiar numbers of 30% against, 30% for, 40% don't care at all. One big difference today is that we're split on political lines... Right v Left. Back then it was far more a generational split and your opinion on the war was generally reflected by your draft status. Bunches of people beat the draft and had no opinion on the war from that point forward. Look around, and you'll see that's true today as well. They're too busy making a living to worry about it and that's a plus for Too Stupid...

Another point that you may want to consider is that the FMR has done a fantastic job of wringing everything that was good about the 60's out of the accepted history... Instead, it's remembered as doper city and the root of the no-flavor 70's. Like, old farts protesting a war is a laughable stereotype on my AM radio and Gen-X neocons are more than willing to use the FMR stereotype of the 60's against my generation...

A few paragraphs up you asked about betrayal. How do you think it plays when the dumbasses you're trying to keep out of Iraq think you're a worthless political cliche' for doing it? Haven't you heard... Rehab Rush has declared this a conservative country, and liberalism is obsolete.

It's not uncommon for a boomer to catch grief from a Gen-X'er who thinks they know the score 'cuz Hannity explained it to them.

BA Bureauchief

Personally, I believe that part of the fervor from the right for this war is a drive to vindicate Vietnam. The FMR has always believed that Vietnam was lost by the John Kerry's, Jane Fonda's and Walter Cronkites. They need to believe that they know how to fight a war.


And finally...
One other point...

JFK was assasinated in November of 1963. MLK in the spring of '68. RFK in the summer of '68... We knew somethin' was cooking and it smelled like fascism. J Edgar Hoover was running the FBI and keeping notes on anyone who smelled vaguely lefty.

Compare that to the elections since 2000, Johnnie Asscrack, the Patriot Act, and all the other joy BushCo has brought to this country.

Does Gen-X and Gen-Y smell what's cooking today?

BA Bureauchief

Much more than this was said during the discussion; these are just the bits that I find the most interesting at the time of this writing. If you want to read the rest or, better still, participate, you can find the thread here. And thanks to everyone quoted above for letting me use their words here; it's a good bunch of people over there.
1:17 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Thursday, December 09, 2004
In Which Sister Novena Says Something Horribly Tacky

Mrs. Duggar = wizard's sleeve.

I think you know what I mean.

(I know, it's disgusting. But better out than in.)
1:49 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Birthday Season Continues

I've got a double-feature today, one today-today birthday and one tomorrow-today birthday. (It's confusing, I know. Bear with me.)

First, happy birthday to Dave; he's turning 26 on the ninth -- which is tomorrow in North America, but today in New Zealand where he'll actually be celebrating it. In a space of about nine months, Dave has become one of my most-favored friends and has already done a lot to broaden my horizons (and my horizons were broad to begin with, so that's no mean feat.) He's been a good influence on me, for which I give him my gratitude.

Oh, and buy his CDs. They're good, and good for you.

And happening simultaneously, yet curiously on the day before, happy birthday to Derrick, who's turning 20 and is one of the heppest cats in Midtown. This boy put the "negro" in "the negro streets at dawn". He's a snappy dresser, too.

Love to both of you; I'm lucky to have friends like these two guys.
12:27 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
The Bush Administration, Where The Men Wear The Kneepads

I don't know what this is a picture of, but I'm pretty sure Pat Robertson wouldn't approve:

Didn't they impeach Clinton for something like this?
11:29 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Know Your Enemy

I know I've been neglecting the blog lately... I have no excuse except to say that, y'know, sometimes I just don't have as much to say. But I'm due for a post, and since I'm feeling a bit like I might be coming down with something (there's a flu going around), I think I'd best go ahead and get it done now.

This may all just be my encroaching fever talking, but I've got a few things to say about the phenomenon of fundamentalism in the United States. I've written about fundamentalism before on this blog, and I expect that most of the people who regularly read it are aware of how I feel. But it's been in discussion again recently and some good things have appeared in various places, which deserve pointing out.

Digby has posted an interesting essay about the nature of fundamentalism:
We start by having the womens' groups decrying the Islamic FUNDAMENTALIST view of womens rights. These FUNDAMENTALISTS want to roll back the clock and make women answer to men. In AMERICA we don't believe in that. Then we have the Human Rights Campaign loudly criticizing the Islamic FUNDAMENTALISTS for it's treatment of gays. In AMERICA we believe that all people have inalienable rights. The ACLU puts out a statement about the lack of civil liberties in Islamic FUNDAMENTALIST theocracies. In AMERICA we believe in the Bill of Rights, not the word of unelected mullahs.

You got a problem with that Jerry? Pat? Karl????

And the Rude Pundit has been posting a series of essays about Christ Weariness:
Let's be clear here: "Christ" is shorthand for the fucked-up, backward ass, violent, hate-filled beliefs of Christian fundamentalism. It is not the Biblical "Christ" and his words of, you know, love, peace, and fellowship. The Biblical Christ never says, "Thou shalt exhort thine enemies to 'Bring it on.'" The Rude Pundit has said before that the Christ in the Bible is a liberal who invites us all to party on in a socialist heaven. That is a dude the Rude Pundit would like to break bread and fish with while suckin' down wine-from-water. That, however, is not the Christ who has been shoved in our faces by the evangelical right. They want Rambo Jesus, kickin' ass, a warring motherfucker who shows fags and secularists they better love the Lord or they're gettin' drop kicked into the fiery bowels of hell. Or voted out of office.

Now, I'm actually very sympathetic to sane religion. Believing in god or some other higher power/s doesn't make you stupid or superstitious; it's a valid and valuable way to experience life and a part of being human since time began. It's not for everyone -- neither spirituality nor the lack thereof make one a superior person -- but as long as we remain more or less human, it's going to be a part of the world.

But there's a big difference between being sanely religious and being a fucking batshit asshole who depends on an invisible sky buddy to tell you how to live your life and deal with the world around you. If I had to pinpoint the primary target of my anger and frustration, fundamentalism would be the only honest choice. Garden-variety conservatives annoy me, yes, and I disagree -- sometimes strongly -- with many conservative arguing points. But you can still have a conversation with them without feeling as though they would love to see your flesh melting off in a lake of fire for all eternity.

Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are some vindictive motherfuckers who take deep pleasure in imagining everyone on earth but themselves meeting the most horrible fate possible. Have you ever been to a fundie church service where hell was discussed? Hellfire is the closest most fundies ever (openly) get to nasty sex... it whips 'em up into an orgiastic frenzy of self-righteousness and faux-victimized rage. Those women speaking in tongues are only babbling like that because they're coming at the thought of sodomites and painted women being tortured and flayed by imps for all eternity, while they sit on a cloud in segregated heaven and glut themselves on their moral superiority. That, my friends, is at the core of the fundamentalist mindset.

Conservatives can be damn annoying, but fundamentalists are the real danger to our society. When the time comes, they will be more than happy to put everyone who's different from them in a prison cell or grave; totalitarianism, to them, is just an expedient means to force everyone else to live the way they think they should. How these little dictators ended up in league with genuine conservatives -- who always go on about not restricting personal freedom and respecting the rights and responsibilities of the individual -- is a mystery, unless you assume that those conservatives are raging hypocrites, which is certainly a possibility. The reason the United States is now embroiled in bloody conflict in the middle east -- and if we remain there for this decade, which we will if these evil bastards have their way, the reason why we will still be there -- is because mullahs fucking hate other mullahs, and both sides are stinking with mullahs.

Let me also say that it isn't just conservative Christian fundamentalists I hate, it's ALL fundamentalists. If I want to see the Taliban out of business, it's not because they're muslims, it's because they're fucking fundamentalists. If I want to see Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson choke to death on a Scofield Reference Bible, it's not because they're purported Christians (which they aren't, really, but for the sake of argument), but because they're fucking fundamentalists. The reason Madalyn Murray O'Hare was an obnoxious old cow in my mind isn't because she was an atheist, but because she was a fucking fundamentalist.

So let me spell this out for any conservatives reading: I don't want to live in a totalitarian theocratic religious state. If you remain associated with these fundie fuckers, you're going to have some serious problems on your hands, because people like me will NEVER go along with it. It's not about economic theories or social programs, it's about conservatives standing by the values they claim to support when it applies to things they dislike as well as things they feel comfortable with.

These fundamentalists can do whatever the hell they want within the confines of their homes and churches; I'm not here to tell them how to live their lives. They can believe in their sky buddy, they can teach their kids that sex is dirty and that science is a lie, whatever; it's no business of mine -- it's they who'll suffer for their ignorance, not me. But when they start trying to run the whole show for all of us, that's when they need to be slapped, hard, until they remember that this isn't Iran. These assholes will destroy America if we let them gain any more power.

Fuck fundamentalists. And yes, I do mean that.
10:13 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink