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Jesus effing Christ!
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Feb 3, 2015, 04:54 PM (0 replies)
I posted this just now on Facebook. I watched American Sniper online, and wrote this as I watched.
So, I saw that American Sniper is available for viewing on Putlocker. Since I have been critical of the film's premise, I figured I have a responsibility to at least see it (although Ill be damned if I will enrich Clint Eastwood by paying for the privilege!). So, this post is a kind of live blog of my reactions as I watch it.
- Opening sequence. Chris Kyle in Iraq, lying prone, staring through his rifle's scope, his sights trained on a particular house, while engaging in banter with a fellow soldier. First, he sees a "military age" man talking on a cell phone. Then a woman and a boy of maybe 10-12 emerge from the house. The woman hands the boy something that looks like an IED. Kyle's fellow soldier reminds him, as he focuses on the boy, that if he is wrong about what the boy is carrying, hell be headed to a stint at Leavenworth prison (my reaction: as if). Boy starts running in the direction of American solders on the street. Kyle trains his sights on the boy -- just at he fires the shot, the film cuts to Kyle, as a boy, hunting with his father, and the shot takes down a deer. (So we don't (yet?) know whether he actually shot the boy, or what the boy was actually carrying.) As Kyle runs to check out the deer he has killed, he briefly puts his rifle down on the ground. His father then scolds him: "Chris! Don't ever leave your rifle lying int he dirt!" (I guess that's like desecrating the flag, or a holy relic, or something . . . ) His father then adds, proudly, "That was a heckava good shot, son!"
Okay, so I'm not exactly sure what the point is here. Is he suggesting that taking out a 12-year-old boy is no different from hunting?
-- Next sequence -- Kyle, still as a boy, sitting in church with his family, at the end of a sermon in which the preacher is invoking the actions of the apostle Paul as recorded in the book of ACts to extol the virtues of "standing up" for what one believes is right. Kyle picks up a pocket-size bible from the pew rack and begins leafing through it. His mother silently scolds him for doing so. He stops, but then surreptitiously stuffs the bible into his pants pocket. (I guess pilfering the bible from the church is okay.) Cut to a long shot of the same bible, lying atop a dresser in what is presumably the boy's bedroom. (I guess it's saying that what follows in the film is about the bible, or God, or something . . . .)
-- Cut to the family's Sunday dinner table. Kyle's father is lecturing his two sons about the "three types of people" in the world (nothing like a limited set of options, eh?): 'sheep' (those who don't believe evil exists in the world, and are thus clueless as to how to respond), 'wolves' (those who prey on the weak, helpless sheep), and 'sheep dogs' (those who are "blessed with the gift of aggression" (omg-did he REALLY just say that?) and who live to confront the wolf).l His father continues, "We ain't raisin' no sheep in this family." Then, removing his belt and violently slamming it on the table, adds, "And Ill whup your ass if either of you becomes a wolf!" Then we see the two boys seated at the dinner table, Chris's younger brother has a black eye. Chris interjects, "But the guy was picking on Jeff! (his brother). "Is that true?" asks his father. The younger brother nods. The father then asks Chris, "And did you finish it?" Chris nods. "Good," says the father, "you know who you are, you know your purpose."
(Okay, so the impression Im getting is that he had a father who was an extremely violent man who raised his sons to be just as violent, while rationalizing that violence so he could claim not to be a "wolf." Yet I get the impression that Eastwood somehow thinks he is presenting a model upbringing here. Strange. The way I see it, if that's how Kyle was raised, he was damaged goods long before he got to Iraq!)/
I won't go into quite so much detail from here on -- it will take all day to get through the film if I do that. But these opening scenes seemed to be portentous as to what is to come (as opening sequences tend to be).
A few other scenes from Chris's life prior to Iraq, then we see him watching news coverage of the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center. Chris's face registers some sort of inchoate distress. Cut immediately to Chris signing up at his local navy recruiter's office. Then we see Chris enduring the rigors and sadisms of SEALS training, meeting his future wife, sniper training. (Gee, that wasnt AT ALL predictable, was it?)
Then we see Chris and his fiance watching news coverage of 9-11. Chris gets married, and then we're back in Iraq, in the opening scene, where Chris has just killed the boy. The boy's mother runs and retrieves the IED from the boy's body, then hurls it towards a group of American soldiers, where it explodes. ("See? Killing the boy was justified!" -- so the film seems to scream.)
Before long, Kyle is shown in a military briefing about Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and a discussion of al-Zarqawi, one of its leaders. Note that there is no mention that there would never have been an "Al Qaeda in Iraq" but for the American invasion. Note also that the film has not even mentioned the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11, and that the sequence of events in the film implies it did.
The film goes on to show scenes from all four of Kyle's deployments, while his own mental health deteriorates and his marriage nearly falls apart. Seems he had a bit of a habit of telephoning his wife -- while in the midst of firefights. Each time, his wife is traumatized whenever he goes silent, as he must, to focus on the battle at hand. Between his 3rd and 4th deployments,. his wife has had just about all she can take, and warns him that if he goes again, she wouldn't guarantee that she and the kids would be waiting for him when he got home. And one can hardly blame her.
Kyle finally calls it quits in Iraq, when -- once again in the midst of battle -- he telephones his wife. Only this time hes at his breaking point, and tells her he is ready to come home. Once home, there are numerous scenes of Kyle having difficulty readjusting to ordinary family life -- at one point nearly killing the family dog as the dog and his daughter engage in a little horseplay. In a scene with his therapist -- one is relieved at this point in the film that he is actually getting help -- his therapist, having been informed by Kyle's wife about the incident involving the dog, asks him if perhaps there were things that happened in Iraq, things he might have done or participated in, that he regretted. "No sir," Kyle answers, "that's not me -- I'm ready to meet my maker.and to answer for every shot I took." (At that point, I was practically yelling at the therapist on my screen to probe that more deeply, and not to just let it lie. But, according to the film, there was no further probing. The therapist instead, mentioning Hyle's professed desire to "protect his own," introduces him to a support group of returning Iraq/Afghanistan vets.
Near the end of the film, Kyle is seen doing much better, continuing to work with returning veterans, his marriage and family life back in order. One day he decides to take one of the veterans he has been helping to a shooting range, where that veteran kills him. I found it interesting that this film, which does not hesitate to show dead and mutilated Iraqi men, women and children, chose not to depict this part of Kyle's story, but simply to display a caption against a black screen explaining what happened. (I have to say I am farily astounded that anybody would think that taking a veteran suffering from PTSD to a shooting range was a good idea, or that anything good would come of it! That decision, I think, reflects Kyle's own dysfunctional understanding of violence, which, if the film is accurate, was inculcated very early in Kyle's life.) I saw that choice (of merely captioning the circumstances of Kyle's deawth) as partaking of a subtle message that underlay the entire film: that only American lives count. The reality of the war in Iraq is that there was nothing "apolitical" about it -- from the planning of it, which was in the works even before Bush took office, to the decision to use 9-11 as a pretext for an invasion, to the refusal to allow U.N. inspectors to complete their work before invading, to the largely uncritical and unquestioning support for the war initially by Congress and most of the American public.
One argument I've seen in defense of the film is that the film was about a guy's commitment to doing an impossibly difficult job right, of doing the best possible job a human being could do in impossible circumstances. A similar argument is made regarding certain events in Vietnam. But I think there's a profound difference. In Vietnam, most of the soldiers were not there by choice == they were drafted into service. Thus, there is a solid argument to be made that the brutality of that war arose from soldiers who themselves were brutalized -- often unwillingly -- by that war. But the war in Iraq was fought by our 'all volunteer military' (with no small halp from highly paid mercenaries). Those who fought in Iraq were there of their own volition. In choosing to enlist in the military at the time they did, they chose to participate in the enterprise of war generally, and of the war in Iraq specifically, and thus bear a share of moral complicity for that participation, and for all that attended it, in a way that most Vietnam veterans do not.
Having watched the film -- and I found it difficult to sit through -- my earlier criticisms are only reinforced. The film's repeated references to "those savages" grated on my nerves. We had no right to be there in the first place, and to call people "savages" who were defending against an unjust invasion and occupation by a foreign government is a moral outrage in itself. And I dare say that if America ever found itself the target of such an invasion and occupation, Americans would resist just as savagely, and would be within their rights to do so.
I have a theory about why this film is so popular. Granted, it is a compelling story (at least if one divorces oneself from the realities of the Iraq war), is very well-acted and well-directed. But I think part of what is driving the popularity of this film is the fact that most Americans now understand that all of the justifications given for the war in Iraq have now been conclusively proven to have been false. There thus remains a conflict in the consciousness of those who reflexively and uncritically supported that war. But to confront that conflict would require scrutinizing many of America's long-held and deeply cherished national myths -- myths we have been indoctrinated to accept from a very early age -- about the nature of America's actions in the world. The fact of the matter is that we only ever fought ONE defensive war in our history, and that was the war of 1812 (and that war, ironically, barely merits a footnote in most of our history books). (Sure, one can argue that WWII was defensive following Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor, but it is highly doubtful Japan was seeking to conquer the U.S. Rather, it was seeking dominance of the Pacific's trad routes, and to attain that dominance, it needed to take out the U.S. naval fleet in the Pacific -- which it damn near succeeded in doing.) The uncomfortable truth is that all of the rest have been wars of empire. Americans don't want to confront that reality, but they still are left with this crisis of conscience over recent wars for which the usual justification narratives are inadequate. And so, they focus on the plight of the soldier in the midst of battle, in complete and total isolation from the true circumstances that placed that soldier there. We want our consciences to be cleared, but without having to experience any of the prior remorse necessary in order to be able to forgive ourselves. The problem is that this is a pursuit of absolution without penitence -- a pursuit that always was, is, and always will be morally hollow.
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Feb 1, 2015, 08:53 PM (16 replies)
Thos. Frank: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street
From Salon.com . . .
SUNDAY, JAN 11, 2015 07:00 AM EST
It’s not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street
Center-left pundits have carried water for the president for six years. Their predictable excuses all ring hollow
As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era’s greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.
Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it’s easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely “buoys on the tides of history,” not “mighty frigates parting the waters,” he scarcely made a ripple.
But the pundit fixation on Obama’s powerlessness goes back many years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators—people who are well pleased with the president’s record and who are determined to slap down liberals who find fault in Obama’s leadership. The purveyors of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e., themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied to Obama’s talk of hope and change back in 2008.
It is, in other words, a classic apologetic. The pundit, a clear-thinking, reality-based fellow (and yes, they are almost always fellows), knows that if you paid attention back in 2008 you understood that Obama wasn’t promising anything great. Plus, the president has delivered all kinds of subtle but awesome stuff that his soft-headed fans overlook. Besides, there are those awful racist Republicans. Good Christ! Would we rather have one of them in the Oval Office?
< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 30, 2015, 09:43 PM (1 replies)
I posted this yesterday in Video & Multimedia, but am posting here because this film deserves wide exposure. Caputi is the former Marine who posted the article discussed in the thread, "American Sniper . . . from a Marine who was there." It is this young man's attempt to expose the truth of, and to come to grips with his own participation in, the second siege of Fallujah.
Near the end, Ross Caputi eschews the label 'hero' as applied to his time in Iraq. I would argue that in his fearless willingness to confront the truth, he is indeed heroic.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jan 28, 2015, 03:44 PM (3 replies)
This is a must-watch. It is a documentary by a former Marine, Ross Caputo, who served in Iraq and participated in the second siege of Fallujah. In it, Caputo attempts to come to grips with the criminality of what was done to that city, as well as that of the war in Iraq more broadly, and his own participation in it. It is astonishingly unflinching. This is the same Marine who penned the essay about "American Sniper," referenced in a current thread in GD. If you really want to understand why "American Sniper" is such an obscenity, then watch this film.
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Jan 27, 2015, 05:05 PM (2 replies)
Even if one isn't a fan of the British monarchy, you gotta hand it to the old gal for this particular stunt!
That Time Badass Feminist Queen Elizabeth II Gave Saudi Arabia's King a Lesson in Power
Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is known to have a wicked sense of humor, and some mean driving skills. One day back in 1998, she deployed both spectacularly to punk Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Back then, Abdullah was a Saudi crown prince visiting Balmoral, the vast royal estate in Scotland. The Queen had offered him a tour of the grounds—here's what happened next, according to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles:
The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the Land Rover, with his interpreter in the seat behind. To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. His nervousness only increased as the queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.
Royal custom discourages repeating what the Queen says in private, Cowper-Coles explained, but the anecdote was corroborated by Abdullah, and became, in the diplomat's words, "too funny not to repeat."
Abdullah went on to cultivate the image of a reformer as king. One thing he didn't change, despite the Queen's badass stunt: women still can't drive in Saudi Arabia.
Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Jan 24, 2015, 11:14 PM (56 replies)
The President said a lot of good things. Certainly his mild barbs towards Republicans were more than richly deserved, and the President was right to point to recovery in some areas. And I rather enjoyed his quick-witted, off-the-cuff response to Republicans who applauded sarcastically when he said that he had “no more campaigns to run,” by reminding them, “I know, I won both of them.” Good one, Mr. President – your rejoinder certainly shut them up in a hell of a hurry! But in a speech that purported to be all about "middle class economics," I found his renewed call for authority to fast track trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (the TTIP), both of which are currently being negotiated by the Obama administration under utmost secrecy, and his attempt to characterize those agreements as something that is in the interest of "middle class economics," to stand in rather glaring contradiction to that broader theme of middle class economics -- at best disingenuous, at worst, well . . .
We don't know the full details of these agreements, and so far, neither do members of the House or Senate. There have been some leaks, however, of portions of each, and what has been leaked is truly alarming. Trade deals such at the TPP and TTIP serve primarily one set of interests: that of multinational corporations. To accept the President's insistence that such deals will redound to the benefit of American workers is to continue to buy into the failed laissez faire, trickle-down, neoliberal fraud model that got us into the economic mess of 2008. And for the President to continue to act as if he can have it both ways -- as if there were no fundamental conflict between addressing issues of economic justice and kissing the collective ass of multinational corporations suggests he is either woefully out of touch with economic reality or that he is trying to sell us something we really ought not buy.
I applaud the President's community college proposal -- I see expanded access to educational opportunity as being a good thing. But I am concerned that he is selling this as a kind of ticket for working class and poor students to lift themselves into the middle class. The President seems to have bought into the myth -- a myth proffered by corporate interests -- that our unemployment problems have stemmed primarily from a lack of sufficiently skilled workers. But I know far too many people with advanced degrees, and far too many experienced, highly skilled middle aged IT professionals who remain unemployed, or who have been unable to find jobs at all, let alone jobs that pay them commensurate with their level of experience and skill, to believe that myth. And the notion that, absent some serious restructuring, working class or poor students, having completed a course of study at their local community college, will find themselves suddenly availed of significantly expanded employment opportunity, is pure fiction. (And those trade agreements, if passed, are likely, if history is to be any guide, to make it still easier for businesses to outsource American jobs.) Whatever merit the proposal may have, selling it as something it really isn't, at least at this point in time, and to promote it without a serious discussion of where, exactly, the jobs for these newly skilled workers will come from, is simply wrong.
I appreciated the President's nod to "saving the planet," but here, too, trade deals such as the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would inhibit the ability of participating nation's governments to regulate corporate practices that impact the environment, and would subject the taxpayers of the participating nations to lawsuits for alleged "damages" to expected profits incurred by these multinational corporations as a result of legislation aimed at regulating such practices. In effect, based on what has been leaked so far, these trade deals would effectively cede national sovereignty over matters such as environmental protection and occupational safety, among others. These agreements would render our government, and the governments of other participating nations, totally subservient to the profits of multinationals. This cannot be a good thing for the people of any of these participating nations, including us.
Finally, what I found most disturbing about the speech was that for all the happy talk, there was no discussion of how the President proposes to get any of the good ideas he mentioned past a Republican-controlled House and Senate. If the past six years have shown anything, it is the utter unwillingness of Republicans to work with this President in good faith on anything at all; and I have no reason to believe anything has changed in that regard. None of the ideas the President suggested has a snowball's chance in hell of passing (save, of course, the trade agreements). So, as appealing as some of his ideas may be, I'm afraid I have little patience for fairy tales at the moment. And sorry, when it comes to trade negotiations, I have little faith that this administration will do the right thing. After all, this President, if he had his way, would still be taking economic advice from the likes of Larry Summers.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Jan 22, 2015, 05:26 PM (1 replies)
<Note: I originally posted this as a comment to a very good Michael Winshiop/Bill Moyers & Co. Op-Ed appearing on Truth-Out.org, titled, "You Have the Right to Remain Angry." My comment turned out to be rather lengthy, and I thought it might make for a good OP here.>
So we live a world of conundrum. We expect the police to protect and not harm us; in return, they expect our respect regardless of any transgressions.
What police receive in return for "protecting us" (which, by the way, they actually don't -- more on that in a second) is the salary and other benefits they get for doing their jobs. If police are unhappy with that arrangement, they can bargain for a better one. Or, if police and the city cannot arrive at terms that are acceptable to some officers, those officers have the "right" to do what any private sector employee must do in such a circumstance: either deal with it or find another job. Personally, I would favor paying police officers a significantly higher salary, paying for it by thinning the bloated ranks of the NYPD.
Now, as to this oft-repeated notion that police "protect" us. Most of what police officers do, besides routine patrols, consists of investigating and apprehending people for crimes that have already been committed. To the extent a criminal is taken off the streets when apprehended by police, sure, to an extent that may provide some protection from that person's ability to commit crime again, at least for a period of time. Also, their mere presence on routine patrol likely deters a certain number of mostly petty crimes of opportunity. But to hear police officers tell it, every single day, every single officer intervenes in a a crime in progress by a would-be Green River Killer. That sort of thing may happen from time to time, but to suggest the frequency of such occurrences is anything other than pretty rare is the stuff of fiction.
What's more, in the 2005 Supreme Court case, Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the Court ruled that police do NOT have any duty or obligation to protect a specific individual from a specific crime, even in cases where there was a protective order in place, and the person purportedly protected by that order has notified police of an imminent threat or violation of that order in progress. Police cannot continue to have it both ways: either they have a duty to protect citizens from crimes in progress (when possible), or they don't. And if, as the Supreme Court held, they have no such duty or obligation, then it is time to drop the notion that they "protect us" in any way other than indirectly. Certainly, they don't actively protect us.
Finally, with regard to the 'respect' police officers demand, of course they should be entitled to respect -- as should every human being. That includes the public whom the police (purportedly) serve. But police around the country have conflated respect with unquestioning deference and almost no independent accountability for wrongdoing by police. And so long as this country even pretends to be a representative democracy, no person and no position is ever entitled to such exalted status.
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Jan 19, 2015, 12:52 AM (7 replies)
In response to a couple of OP's of mine which have apparently been insufficiently uncritical of the "Je suis Charlie" campaign, I have been accused of being ignorant of, failing to "educate" myself about, or too lazy to investigate links to articles the provide the "context" for the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (along with being accused of purporting to be an expert on France and of being part of the same kind of thinking that underlay the absurd "freedom fries" nonsense of some years back). For the record, yes, I have read those links, and have considered what is in them. But the question of whether that context stands as justification for the nature of the cartoons is, in the end, a subjective determination, about which reasonable people can and will disagree. I have no problem with anyone who wishes to express disagreement. But I call foul on the repeated rude, snide insults and other attempts to bully those of us on DU who hold a different view of the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks into acquiescence to a single read of the events in France.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 16, 2015, 11:27 PM (17 replies)
So, I finally got around to looking at the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I am pretty absolute in my support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, including, and especially, when what is said or published is offensive. So yes, I support Charlie Hebdo's right, as a matter of law, to publish what it published, and it goes without saying that no one deserves to be murdered for it.
But having said that, I gotta say that much of the Charlie Hebdo material is really vile, racist, bigoted stuff. Calling it 'satire' is a bit of a stretch, for me at least. When I think of satire, I think of something that may indeed offend some who see it, but at least makes a point while doing so. Many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons have no larger point to make. They seem to have been calculated to offend for the sake of offending -- truly lowest common denominator stuff. So the spectacle of a million people marching through the streets of Paris under the banner of "Je suis Charlie" strikes me as being akin to a million people marching on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in support of a company that produces minstrel shows.
It just seems a shame to me that a country like France, which has long taken such pride in the high level of intellect and sophistication of its public discourse, could not find a more constructive way to respond to the attacks. And it seems sad that in a conversation has been all about the belligerent assertion of rights, there seems to be no room for any discussion of the responsible exercise of those rights.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 16, 2015, 09:42 PM (136 replies)