Friday, September 15, 2006

Martin Amis seems to be drinking too much neocon Kool-Aid

Good social satire is a kind of high-wire act and requires a mental gymnast's sense of balance. A certain native misanthropy is probably essential to the satirist's makeup, but it needs to be balanced with enough wit and lightness of touch to produce an entertaining result. This balance is hard to maintain, which may be one reason so many satirical novelists tend to fall off the high wire as they age. Either they lose their bite and meander off into facile irrelevance, or they lose the facility and end up as ranting old misanthropes -- like Kingsley Amis and now, apparently, his son Martin. Or maybe the younger Amis has just been drinking too much neocon Kool-Aid with his buddy Chris Hitchens.

His recent anti-Islamic rant in the Observer makes explicit his dislike for a religion that was only lurking in the background of "The Last Days of Muhammad Atta," the story I posted about here and here. (In all fairness, he does express a dislike for all religions, but clearly Islam is first among equals in this respect.) He titles the 3-part article "The Age of Horrorism" (Islamic terrorism is apparently so evil that it requires a whole new word of its own).
Suicide-mass murder is more than terrorism: it is horrorism. It is a maximum malevolence. The suicide-mass murderer asks his prospective victims to contemplate their fellow human being with a completely new order of execration. It is not like looking down the barrel of a gun.
Amis, as it turns out, has experienced this "maximum malevolence" himself. He saw it in a Muslim's eyes once. Really.
I will never forget the look on the gatekeeper's face, at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, when I suggested, perhaps rather airily, that he skip some calendric prohibition and let me in anyway. His expression, previously cordial and cold, became a mask; and the mask was saying that killing me, my wife, and my children was something for which he now had warrant. I knew then that the phrase 'deeply religious' was a grave abuse of that adverb. Something isn't deep just because it's all that is there; it is more like a varnish on a vacuum. Millennial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion - illusion upon illusion. It is not merely violent in tendency. Violence is all that is there.
I guess that's why novelists make the big bucks -- they can discern so much in a mere glance.

The entire piece is constructed as a long, convoluted disquisition on why "Islamism" has made it impossible for him to finish his satirical novella about horrorism, "The Unknown Known" -- because, you see, Islamism has made his form of satire "shrivel and die." Because of, you know, the horror.
I could write a piece almost as long as this one about why I abandoned The Unknown Known. The confirmatory moment came a few weeks ago: the freshly fortified suspicion that there exists on our planet a kind of human being who will become a Muslim in order to pursue suicide-mass murder. For quite a time I have felt that Islamism was trying to poison the world. Here was a sign that the poison might take - might mutate, like bird flu. Islam, as I said, is a total system, and like all such it is eerily amenable to satire. But with Islamism, with total malignancy, with total terror and total boredom, irony, even militant irony (which is what satire is), merely shrivels and dies.
You've got to say that, as an explanation for writer's block or even flagging novelistic powers, this certainly goes far beyond "the dog ate my homework" and is really breathtaking in its audacity.

If you're masochistic enough to take on the whole thing, follow the links above. If you're looking for a comprehensive analysis and deconstruction of the sources Amis uses in his rant, you might try this at Lenin's Tomb.

Daguerre's dossier

Steven Kasher Gallery, New York
1932 Pittsburgh Police mug shot of Prisoner 25747, a miner accused of being a Communist (thus the red card).

These days, photographers are rarely accused of stealing the souls of their subjects, but a certain unease about being photographed remains. Why else would so many words for the act of photography, like "shoot" or "take," suggest acts of aggression or violation. Nowhere are these tensions more visible than in police mug shots.

New York art director Mark Michaelson has amassed a collection of some 10,000 examples of this genre over the last decade. Now, according to Randy Kennedy writing in the New York Times, some of them will be on display in a new book and a gallery exhibit.
A decade ago Mark Michaelson did not care much about criminals or the preservation of their likenesses. He was working as an art director at New York magazine. He thought of himself “more as a pack rat than a collector,” he said, occasionally buying art photos or the originals of illustrations. But then one year for his birthday a friend gave him a vintage Patty Hearst wanted poster that jump-started an interest in crime ephemera. Aided and abetted by eBay, he began to collect stray mug shots, a fascination that grew into an obsession, one that eventually turned his apartment into an archive and his life into a strange kind of scavenger hunt.

This week, his private mania will be given a public life. Steidl and the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea are publishing “Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots,” a plaintive, rollicking selection of pictures from Mr. Michaelson’s extensive rogues’ gallery, many of which he has put up for sale at an exhibition that opened yesterday and runs through Oct. 28 at the Kasher Gallery.
Police have been taking mug shots for more than 150 years.
Some experts say that the first photographs used for law enforcement were probably taken of prisoners in Belgium in 1843 and 1844, possibly so that the prisoners could be identified if they committed other crimes after being released. By 1857 the New York police had adopted the practice, opening a gallery so that the public could come in to see the daguerreotypes of what Mr. Michaelson calls “hookers, stooges, grifters and goons.”

The New York Times reported later that year, “Already, some arrests have been made by means of these portraits, and three or four of the thieves so unenviably distinguished have quitted New York for parts unknown, convinced that Daguerre had put an end to their chances of success in this locality.”
In her classic "On Photography," Susan Sontag touched on the history of photography as evidence.
Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we're shown a photograph of it. In one version of its utility, the camera record incriminates. Starting with their use by the Paris police in the murderous roundup of Communards in June 1871, photographs became a useful tool of modern states in the surveillance and control of their increasingly mobile populations. In another version of its utility, the camera record justifies. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what's in the picture. Whatever the limitations (through amateurism) or pretensions (through artistry) of the individual photographer, a photograph -- any photograph -- seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects.
Michaelson collected the photos not for their value as evidence, of course, but for their visual qualities.
Mr. Michaelson said that in collecting the mug shots and in winnowing them for the book he was motivated less by historical concerns than by his eye, which sometimes led him to the odder Diane Arbus-esque portraits, to those that had a certain revenant quality and even to those that were age-speckled or torn. “I was looking for the ones that moved me,” he said. “It was all my little visual fetishes rolled into one.”
It's an odd process whereby these found objects are transformed into art on the walls of a gallery. In winnowing through these fragments of old police dossiers for "the odder Diane Arbus-eque portraits," Michaelson is, like Arbus in much of her work, deliberately decontextualizing the subjects of the photographs. Who were these people? Were they guilty? Innocent? Are they victims of circumstance, or common criminals? Do they have families? Wives? Husbands? Children? Who knows?

Instead, plucked by a collector's hand from Daguerre's dossier and mounted on a gallery wall, they have become gorgeous freaks -- or, as the headline of the Times article puts it, "Grifters and Goons, Framed (and Matted)."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Dead Iraqis" -- fifteen years later

Three decades of "Saturday Night Live" have provided lots of laughs but debased the meaning of the word "satire." Real satire isn't that bland. It doesn't just flatter your sense of self and the righteousness of your beliefs. At its most outrageous, it takes you by the hand, spins you around till you're completely nauseous and disoriented, kicks you in the gut, and then leaves you gasping on the ground in the wreckage of your beliefs and assumptions.

I recently came across an example of the real thing via a link on The Sharp Side, the blog of British experimental writer Ellis Sharp. The link is to his brilliant short story called "Dead Iraqis", which begins in the reasonable voice of the reasonable narrator beloved of satirists since Swift and his "A Modest Proposal."
In a society like ours there are bound to be disagreements about this and that. It is only natural. But although we may disagree on many things, I think we can all agree on one thing. The nice thing about dead Iraqis is they don't smell.

Some years ago, as you may remember, dead Iraqis were turning up all over the place. At the time there were various theories about why this was happening but thankfully all that is behind us now and we can set aside our differences and get on with the business in hand.

Let me say something else about dead Iraqis. They are not nearly so much of a nuisance as dead Paraguayans. Dead Paraguayans are cumbersome, frequently blood-splattered and almost always attract flies. They smell disgusting. Dead Iraqis, on the other hand, are lightweight, portable and, on the whole, easy to manage. At most they give off a light powdery odour, not at all unpleasant, redolent of potting compost in a rose-bordered rural shed.
It takes off from there into a surreal fantasy where these charred Iraqi remnants just come wafting into homes on the breeze and fall on yards like autumn leaves, sometimes in huge piles. The narrator's calm indifference to all but the nuisance aspect is a powerful indictment of how indifferent we in the West are to the Iraqi suffering produced by this awful war.

The real kick in the gut for me, though, was when I saw the date at the bottom of the page. I had assumed it was a contemporary story, although I found the Paraguayans a bit puzzling. But it was written 15 years ago, in 1991.

That's when it really hit me. Our military actions have been killing Iraqis all this time -- the first Gulf War, the devastating sanctions, really war by other means, and now the current fiasco. A full 15 years and counting. And for most of that time, few Americans lost much sleep over it.

Bloggers as cheap stringers

Wherever you look you'll find mainstream media trying to develop favorable relationships with bloggers -- on the MSM's terms. The new buzzword for this process is "citizen journalists." Sounds great. But in reality, the MSM's version is likely to be less filling. At the Constant Observer, Tish Grier's post looks at the trend and raises some pointed questions.
What gets me in all these experiments is that no one is thinking that maybe, just maybe, The People should be watchdogging the MSM on every level--from the local paper to big media outlets. I wonder how much their desire to incorporate citizens is really a desire to stop the watchdogging and get some cheap labor in the process? There's been talk of outsourcing some journalism jobs to India, but when the media can get The People to do its job for nothing by catering to their sense of civic duty, why even outsource?
Let's see -- if outsourcing is the word for sending jobs to India, what would you call keeping the jobs here but "deprofessionalizing" them? Inside-out-sourcing?

Elephant in the room update

"Remember the anthrax letters?" asks The Carpetbagger Report.
For reasons that I've never been able to explain, the incident — I suppose one should call it an "attack" — is hardly ever mentioned. No one knows where the anthrax came from, who sent it, or why. It was a horrifying incident, immediately on the heels of another horrifying incident, but five years later, it's almost as if the episode never happened.
The post goes on to talk about the widow of one of the victims who thinks the Feds know more than they're saying and is going to court in search of some answers. Check it out.

Wish her luck. This is the elephant in the room we should be talking about. I still think those letters -- along with the cross-contamination they caused in numerous post office -- had more to do with our getting into Iraq than 9/11 ever did. There was a lot of skepticism about Saddam's alleged nukes, but very little about his chemical and biological weapons capability. The country was scared, and it was easy to focus that fear on Iraq.

Strange how the media lost interest. Several people killed, postal service affected for months, the public scared to death -- and the culprit was never found (and thus is -- theoretically -- free to strike again). So why is the White House never asked how this part of the war on terror is coming along?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is enlarged, digital Walker Evans still an Evans?

Because of the control, manipulation and special effects it makes possible, digital photography raises all sorts of questions of photographic authenticity, often posed with reference to the news media. A new exhibit of digitally printed Walker Evans photographs (UBS Art Gallery, New York, through Nov. 17) asks the question with reference to art rather than journalism: Can a modern digital print of a photograph by the late Walker Evans, now greatly enlarged and printed in rich carbon pigment on a high-end inkjet printer, still be considered a Walker Evans? What about the delicate gradations and extended tonal range the original lacked, now made possible by modern digital technology? Michael Kimmelman ponders these questions in the New York Times.
A PHOTOGRAPHER snaps a picture. If it’s a camera with film, a negative is made; if it’s a digital camera, a file is produced. A printer, in a dark room using chemicals, or at a computer screen, can tinker with the image, crop it, enlarge it, make it lighter or darker, highlight one part or obscure another.

In other words, the image produced by the camera, whether it’s a negative or a digital file, is only the matrix for the work of art. It is not the work itself, although if the photographer is a journalist, any hanky-panky in the printing process comes at the potential cost of the picture’s integrity. Digital technology has not introduced manipulation into this universe; it has only multiplied the opportunities for mischief.

I dawdle over this familiar ground because the digitally produced prints of classic Walker Evans photographs, now at the UBS Art Gallery, are so seductive and luxurious — velvety, full of rich detail, poster-size in a few cases and generally cinematic — that they raise some basic issues about the nature of photography.
Brian Rose looks at the exhibit with a photographer's eye.
Once at the gallery, it didn't take me long to come to the conclusion that these prints were the best representation of Evans' work I had ever seen. In the past, I had never given much thought to the quality of his prints, but just accepted them for what they were--a mixed bag made at different times by different people--especially those prints made from negatives kept at the Library of Congress. Certain kinds of photographic imagery seem to me bound to the specific method of presentation. But Walker Evans was not a printing maven like Ansel Adams, nor one to elevate the objectness of fine printing. His work was about the image, a thing that exists in another dimension--connected, of course, to the print--but ultimately residing elsewhere: in the moment of exposure, in the mind's eye of the photographer, in the historical and cultural distance of the things and people photographed.
Rose's post includes photos of the gallery showing digital prints hanging alongside some of their original silver counterparts and illustrating their relative scale. He goes on to compare the new prints to the digital remastering of old recordings, allowing different aspects of the original to be appreciated.
The brochure accompanying the exhibit described the new prints as similar to old music played on modern instruments, and I think there is merit in that analogy. But I would liken it more to the remastering or remixing of recordings of music. It is possible to undermine the original by adding too much digital sheen, too much spatial definition, but it is also possible to enhance the appreciation of the performance by using technology previously unavailable. In the end, the remastered recording can stand side by side with the original, each offering different exeriences of the music. In the case of Walker Evans, the new prints are hung next to earlier prints made or supervised by Evans offering different interpretations of "the images."
I think it's a good analogy. Both film photography and older sound recordings are analog processes. Their conversion to digital sacrifices some qualities, but also gains others.

Additional links: Another review of an earlier version of the exhibit at Yale university, with reference to the technical aspects of Evans' working methods as well as the new prints. How Was This Photograph Taken? provides a short tutorial about the way Evans made his photographs, as well as an interactive feature that lets you test your knowledge.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Conspiracy theories that let the real guilty parties off the hook

The fifth anniversary of 9/11 not only provided an occasion for solemn commemoration (most people) or justifying the war in Iraq (George Bush). It also gave conspiracy theorists a chance to look back and revel in how right they were. Thanks to Ellis Sharp for bringing to my attention the Alexander Cockburn post, "The 9/11 Conspiracy Nuts: How They Let the Guilty Parties of 9/11 Slip Off the Hook."

Cockburn "rubbishes," in Sharp's words, the conspiracy theories based on circular reasoning, torturing the evidence and ignoring the lessons of history and human nature.
Did the British and French forces in 1940 break and flee a Wehrmacht capable of only one lunge, because of rotten leadership, terrible planning, epic cowardice, or … CONSPIRACY? Did the April 24, 1980 effort to rescue the hostages in the US embassy in Teheran fail because a sandstorm disabled three of the eight helicopters, because the helicopters were poorly made, because of a lousy plan or because of agents of William Casey and the Republican National Committee poured sugar into their gas tanks in yet another CONSPIRACY?

Have the US military’s varying attempts to explain why F-15s didn’t intercept and shoot down the hijacked planes stemmed from absolutely predictable attempts to cover up the usual screw-ups, or because of CONSPIRACY? Is Mr Cohen in his little store at the end of the block hiking his prices because he wants to make a buck, or because his rent just went up or because the Jews want to take over the world? August Bebel said anti-Semitism is the socialism of the fools. These days the 9/11 conspiracy fever threatens to become the “socialism” of the left, and the passe-partout of many libertarians.
While dismissing the exotic conspiracy theories, Cockburn favors a different kind of conspiracy -- the everyday conspiracy of corruption, cronyism and business as usual -- which proved to have such disastrous results on 9/11. These are the "guilty parties" Cockburn thinks the exotic conspiracy theorists let off the hook.
Of course the buildings didn’t suddenly fall at a speed inexplicable in terms of physics unless caused by carefully pre-placed explosives, detonated by the ruthless Bush-Cheney operatives. High grade steel can bend disastrously under extreme heat. People inside who survived the collapse didn’t hear a series of explosions. As discussed in Wayne Barrett and Dan Collin’s excellent book Grand Illusion, about Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, helicopter pilots radioed warnings nine minutes before the final collapse that the South Tower might well go down and, repeatedly, as much as 25 minutes before the North Tower’s fall.

What Barrett and Collins brilliantly show are the actual corrupt conspiracies on Giuliani’s watch: the favoritism to Motorola which saddled the firemen with radios that didn’t work; the ability of the Port Authority to skimp on fire protection, the mayor’s catastrophic failure in the years before 9/11/2001 to organize an effective unified emergency command that would have meant that cops and firemen could have communicated; that many firemen wouldn’t have unnecessarily entered the Towers; that people in the Towers wouldn’t have been told by 911 emergency operators to stay in place; and that firemen could have heard the helicopter warnings and the final Mayday messages that prompted most of the NYPD men to flee the Towers.

That’s the real political world, in which Giuliani and others have never been held accountable. The nuts disdain the real world because, like much of the left and liberal sectors, they have promoted Bush, Cheney and the Neo-Cons to an elevated status as the Arch Demons of American history, instead of being just one more team running the American empire, a team of more than usual stupidity and incompetence (characteristics I personally favor in imperial leaders.)
Are there real conspiracies? Sure. But the ones that actually work are usually not all that complicated and certainly don't involve a cast of thousands. As Cockburn suggests, dwelling on complex conspiracies supposedly orchestrated by all-powerful villains is just a distraction that gets in the way of assigning real-world culpability to actual people.

Contemplating the end of the world

One of the more thoughtful meditations I've seen among all the 5th anniversary commentary on 9/11 was James Carroll's column in the Boston Globe.
Abstracting from such painfully contested interpretations, can we return to the event that set all of this in motion? Today, can we leave the conflict aside to ask, Why was this nation's first reaction to the catastrophe of New York-Washington-Pennsylvania defined by the empathy we felt for one another? Indeed, empathy that day was nearly universal, including much of the world's instant identification with American anguish. Before we knew anything about Al Qaeda, bin Laden, the Cheney-Wolfowitz war plan, the new threat of global terrorism, the axis of evil -- the most important aspect of the event had already occurred. This aspect, however, the interpretations would ignore.

Some (including me) have said that an inch below the surface of our horrified reaction was a long-standing but subliminal dread of a nuclear war, as if the smoke above Ground Zero were a mushroom cloud, the Manhattan Project come at last to Manhattan. Soon enough, nuclear preoccupation (Iraq's WMD, Iran's enriched uranium, North Korea's bomb) would define the national purpose (with the United States renewing its own nuclear weapons program).

But I believe now that the immediate trauma Americans experienced that first morning was still more primitive than that. Beyond politics, beyond nationality even, what humans saw in that flash was a glimpse of nothing less than the end of the world. Here is the final meaning of the name ``World Trade Center" -- what happened that day was a world-event, almost certainly the first fully realized one in history. The collapse of the Twin Towers on themselves was a manifestation of the radical contingency of the human project itself. The terrorists were mere instruments of this world-historic destruction, far exceeding as it did any outcome they could have imagined. Their purposes were mundane, even irrelevant, when compared to the transcendent epiphany that resulted from the unprecedented combination of venality, accident, technological innovation, and instantaneous global communication.
Carroll concludes by saying that, In the face of this bleak vision of human contingency and cosmic indifference, this stark vision of the end of the world, all we have is love. This drove the intense, worldwide empathy in the days after the tragedy, and that's what we need to hold onto.

I began reading Carroll's columns during the runup to the Iraq war, when he was an outspoken voice for peace, and I was looking for answers. I went on to read his powerful memoir, "An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came between Us." It's like the story of many fathers and sons of my generation, but writ large because of the backgrounds of this particular father and son. Not only is Carroll a former priest, but he was studying for the priesthood and protesting the Vietnam war while his father played a significant role in that war.

I'm passing on some of my notes about the book, because they provide a frame for his 9/11 column:
Father -- Lieutenant General Joseph F. Carroll -- an upright Catholic FBI agent (though he had once hoped to become a priest) and family man, very much the stern head of family. At Sen. Symington's request, he is given a direct commission as air force general to set up Office of Special Investigations to ride herd on defense fraud. Then in 1961 became first head of Defense Intelligence Agency, as a military check on what was viewed as unreliable CIA.

Vietnam blew up in his face, at the same time son was protesting and beginning to question his calling. Involved in bombing targeting, but would not lie -- and so was abruptly removed from his post, for essentially political reasons. Fell apart after that, spent remaining life in deep dark depression, filled with guilt for what he had done to the boys he felt responsible for.

Also steeped in Cold War atmosphere. Missile Crisis and other alerts, when father would disappear, and wife would be instructed to take car and the boys and leave their Washington area home as quickly as possible, and drive south as far as possible as fast as possible. All the wives of senior officials were so instructed. They also had their own info network to let them know when a nuclear attack seemed imminent -- they took turns driving past an AF base --Andrews? -- and looking to see if the planes that the grapevine had told them were to fly the U.S. leadership to safety (or at least, shelter) were still on the ground, which they always were.

Senior Carroll always thought there would eventually be a nuclear war ("No weapon ever developed has not been used, eventually") and he thought it would be catastrophic and destroy everything he held dear. And yet he soldiered on, doing his duty.
Many of us grew up shadowed by threat of instant nuclear annihilation during the Cold War -- and it's a threat that has by no means totally disappeared, which is what makes the Bush administration's cavalier attitude toward nuclear weapons so disturbing. Carroll grew up, not in the shadow, but close to the heart of the beast, and the experience informs his writing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hedgehog on hallucinogens

A quick impression of the Hedgehog giving his recruiting speech for the Forever War tonight, which he made it perfectly clear it would last, well, forever. There are no alternatives but victory and defeat, and he prefers victory.
Bush said the war on terror was nothing less than "a struggle for civilization" and must be fought to the end. He said defeat would surrender the Middle East to radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons.
Hmm -- "radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons"? Sounds like the friendly dictator of an ally who just signed a truce with the Taliban endorsed by Bush, doesn't it?
US president Bush on Thursday cautiously endorsed a truce between Gen Musharraf and pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan even as terrorist violence soared in Afghanistan and Al Qaida sent a sharp reminder of 9/11 with a video message ahead of the anniversary.
I'm confused. But then, I'm not a hedgehog. I'm more like a fox.

Quibbling aside, it's clear that the Hedgehog is still totally wrapped up in his One Big Idea. After all, it's a battle for civilization. On to Iran!

(Thanks to Isaiah Berlin via Billmon for the metaphor.)

Warding off bad karma with my anti-Bush mantra

I've got my anti-Bush mantra ready for our national CEO's little 9/11 speech tonight, something to repeat as a charm against the seductive single-mindedness of his appeal. The guy sure does latch onto an idea and holds on like a rabid pit bull. But that's not the mantra.

The mantra is something I borrowed it from Billmon, who took note of Bush's single-mindedness and used it as the basis of his eloquent riff on the famous contrast by Isaiah Berlin between the hedgehog and the fox:
There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
Billmon takes that and runs with it.
At this point, I would say Shrub is acting like a hedgehog on hallucinogens. His one big integrative idea -- exporting American-style "democracy" to Iraq at the point of a gun -- has proven fatally, disastrously wrong, but he can't let go of it, because it's the only idea he's got. He's fully vested in it, like a '90s e-trader who decided to throw caution to the wind, empty his retirement account and bet it all on
"Hedgehog on hallucinogens" -- that's my mantra. I'll repeat it religiously every time Bush tempts me with his simplistic and belligerent pieties, and that should ward off any bad karma. If that's not enough, I'll move on to visualizing the e-trader betting his retirement account on

WTC Sunrise

Gerritsen Memories / Photographer: Nicolo Pizillo. Courtesy John Rudden

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Contrasting views on "Path" screenwriter from the city where he went to high school

Doug Moe is a columnist for the liberal Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. To Moe, Cyrus Nowrasteh is a great guy and one of his oldest friends. He comments on his friend's docudrama, "The Path to 9/11."
I have seen only the movie's first 10 or so minutes (beginning on the morning of the attacks, it then flashes back to explain how we got there), but regular readers of this space know that Cyrus is one of my oldest friends, dating back to seventh grade at what was then Van Hise Junior High School. I can remember him making a war movie in a little park near the school using a hand-held camera, toy soldiers and firecrackers.

Nowrasteh's politics are to the right of mine, but I would remind people he earlier wrote and directed "The Day Reagan Was Shot," a Showtime movie about the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. That film portrayed the subsequent chaos in the Republican Reagan administration to both scary and comic effect.
Paul Soglin is the former liberal mayor of Madion who now keeps up a running commentary on local, state and national politics -- and anything else that catches his eye -- at his blog, Waxing America. In his post about Nowrasteh, Soglin accuses the filmmaker of using "docudrama" techniques to touch up his biography, positioning himself as a victim of Islamic fundamentalists when he's not.
Cyrus, since you were born in Boulder, and graduated from Madison West High School in 1974 your family must have arrived in the U.S. prior to 1956. Come on, it looks good in your bio, but if your family fled an oppressive Iran any time prior to the mid 1970's, it was fear of the right wing autocratic rule of the Shah, not the Islamic fundamentalists.

Maybe it was the extended family that fled Iran in the 1970's. In either case, nothing like adding a little docudrama, merging individuals, and stretching the truth in the name of your art.
As a Madisonian who followed Nowrasteh's career with interest, I always heard the story about his family fleeing the ayatollahs. Never stopped to think that they didn't take power until 1979, years after the aspiring filmmaker graduated from high school here in Madison. That's the thing about repeating lies and distortions. It messes with people's heads.

Sound familiar?

The fatuous editorial of the day prize ...

Goes to the New York Times. From today's editorial advocating banning carry-on luggage from flights in the interest of improving security:
The ban on liquids surely makes sense given the lack of a reliable, efficient way to detect liquid explosives on the passenger screening line. But the other fine distinctions in this directive make us think the best approach would be a ban on virtually all carry-on items, or at least a limit of one small personal bag per passenger to tote travel documents, keys, vital medications, reading materials and any other minimal items that are allowed.


When we raised the possibility of a ban on most carry-on items a month ago, there was a chorus of complaints from travelers who count on using their laptops during the flight; or fear that valuable electronic devices might be lost, broken or stolen if checked; or resent long waits after a flight to get their checked bags. Some travelers have already shifted to trains or automobiles for short trips and more will do so if the inconvenience mounts. These are not trivial issues. Airlines, already financially strapped, depend on business fliers who are the most likely to object to a change in the rules.

Airlines could head off some of these problems by, for example, storing valuable electronic devices in locked overhead bins where they can’t easily be stolen, and hiring more baggage handlers to unload planes rapidly. Separating people from their laptops during flights would be painful, although some people could surely use the time to go over reading material, or even revert to pen and paper.
Give me a break. Do you guys ever travel? Take a business trip? Do you ever leave your ivory tower and get on a plane and try to change connections in bad weather with all that checked luggage? Or do you just remain holed up in your office, dispensing words of wisdom from on high (with pen and paper, no doubt)?