May 3rd, 2004


You have a voice if you're concerned about the destination of this great nation.

I realize that I haven't written anything meaningful about the recent revelations regarding our mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq. I mentioned it, but in passing. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one I know that there are conservatives who read this journal and I don't want to be agressively liberal to the point where I come off as a shrill liberal with a fierce ideology. I don't think that's me. The second reason is that, well, it's not that big a deal. I know that there were horrible abuses and even a couple of deaths. That's pretty bad but in the scope of the world at large it's really not that unusual not at all. In Africa there is slavery and constant tribal strife and slaughter. We all know about terrorists and how they murder civilians with blatent disregard for just about everything.

The world is an ugly ugly place. Those of us who live in America or other sections of the civilized world are SO incredibly lucky to have been born where we were. For the most part we avoid the true horrors around us and live comfortable lives where most of our concerns are relatively minor. Of course the pain from those concerns is in some ways equivalent to that of those who are suffering from true oppression, thanks to the lovely fact that humans feel things relatively rather than absolutely, but if we look empirically we see that our lives are so much better than they could be. That's not to say bad things don't happen. They do. Rape and murder still exist alongside amber waves of grain, but they are anamolies here, they are norms in many places. We have it great.

That's part of why I don't write about these kinds of things. It makes the rest of my life seem kind of trivial. "Wah wah chicks don't dig me." Oh yeah? Well talk to the thousands of people who found the true loves of their lives only to have them taken away by their own government, conceived of in murder and repression.

"I don't know what I want to do with my life." At least you have some kind of choice and opportunity. Talk to those who never got schooling and need to work 16 hours a day just to have enough food to eat. Talk to slaves in the Sudan whose lives are not their own.

"I'm fat. There's too much food around here!" I hear Ethiopia is LOVERLY this time of year. If not, well you did like Zimbabwe didn't you? Just don't buy a farm down there. Probably not a good investment, that.

I don't feel qualified to talk about the goings on in that prison except to say that I'm not surprised and I don't necessarily think the people involved were sociopaths, they were just normal people like the type found in the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments. They did horrible things when given power without appropriate restriction. Nothing's new under the sun in that regard.

I do want to talk about power though, and guns. On Saturday when I was filming with Frank and Marissa, we had a scene where she put a gun to his head in order to rob him. We used a realistic looking air gun. We made sure that it was totally unloaded and completely safely. Still, when I saw it placed against his temple and the look of (purely fictional) terror on his face. I felt a little twinge. Like we shouldn't have been doing that. It was a visceral reaction to a powerful image.

And I imagine what it's like when the guns are real. A gun is a very powerful thing. It's a machine designed for killing. When fired it spits out a metal object (or more than one) at near or above supersonic speeds. This object can be designed to do a variety of things when it contacts flesh, ranging from punching right through and leaving a hole to flattening out into a mushroom and shattering into pieces, turning the beautiful archiecture of the human body into a sack of shredded flesh. Guns can punch through brick walls or engine blocks. In the hands of a skilled individual they can kill a man from a distance of a mile or more, like wiping an unpleasant speck of dust from the horizon.

They are tools with more abilities than ancient peoples gave to magic or even sometimes their gods. They are, to wit, no joke.

As symbols they are perhaps even more powerful. Some people define a government as any organization that has a monopoly of violence in a given geographical area. Occasionally the term 'legitimate' is thrown in there, but I don't know if the idea of "legitimate" violence sits well with me. Violence should always be the last resort, unless you're an ex-football star whose ex-wife has a new beau.

Because of this monopoly of violence guns are often associated with governments, and especially the American government. When you think of America what are the top 5 images that pop into your mind? The flag? Sure. The Bald Eagle? Maybe. The American Soldier? And what's he carrying? (People who say "The constitution" are generally bullshiting. The Constitution is an ideal not an image. Do you really imagine a long strip of parchment with some black markings on it and a big ass signature at the bottom?) Often we imagine the soldier beneath the flag. We could throw in a dollar bill if you'd like.

In other countries, when they think of America, they often just see the guns. And why not? It's there in our constitution right after free speech and religion. America. The right to believe what you want, talk about it, and shoot anyone who tries to stop you. Everything else is secondary or tertiary. That's who we are as a people.

Only it's never as simple as that. We balance out the guns through things like elections and court systems. We train our Men with Guns (a brilliant film if you haven't seen it) to follow civilian directives and act as the fist, but not the arbiter, of justice. That's what I think happened in that Baghdad prison. We had a bunch of people with guns running roughshod over a group who didn't have any, and no reins to pull them in. When you have a gun you have the power of life and death. Check that. You have the power of death. (You could argue that women soldiers who have both guns and uteruses have the power of life and death, but I don't want to go there.) Most people don't have the moral strength to control that power. You need to distribute that power between those who wield it and those who decide where it should be wielded. You need laws and regulations.

That's why I blame Bush and Rumsfeld. They didn't put sufficient restraint on that power in place and the results were predictable. Milgram. Zimbardo. They showed that normal people can do horrible things without being coerced to do so. Literally millions of cases of opportunism has shown that man's natural tendancy is towards the unfair and abusive. It was a deadly cocktail.

I spent a good deal of yesterday arguing this point on Livejournal with people who just wouldn't accept that these were not just individuals who performed badly but a failure of the military structure to put sufficient restrictions in place. It was a command failure, not a bunch of sociopaths. Yes the individuals are to blame, but they are not the only ones.

The military created an inequitable island and left its soldiers there with prisoners. Apparently they never read Lord of the Flies.

People doubted this argument and even called me names for presenting it.

Today the New York Times front page had above the fold "Command errors aided Iraq abuse."

Damn it feels good to be a gangster.
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There's something going on that's not quite right.

We finished the shooting of our film last night. It was a good deal of fun. My High School friends punked me after saying that they might help with the shooting so I was forced to contact a friend from BEFORE high-school. I hadn't seen him for years but he agreed to help, without hesitation. He was great too. I was acting in this scene so we needed someone to do some camera work and he'd had a few film courses so he knew what he was doing and gave us some very credible shots. The scene was a "COPS" rip off and I got to play the criminal. This meant I got thrown to the ground (sort of, Marissa's so gentle she just kinda gave me a very light shove and I flung myself down, but fortunately Emeka, the cameraman, chose that moment to make his big shaky move and start running towards the action so you can't tell.) Then Frank tied my arms behind my back and his HUGE dog (we're talking over 100 lbs EASY) ran up towards me. I was a little leary about lying face down on the ground with my arms tied behind my back while I screamed at and wrestled with this huge unleashed dog's owners, but he was gentle as could be. In fact the only time he interrupted a scene was when he started licking the inside of my ear and I burst out laughing. Then I got muscled up the hill by Frank while shouting obsceneties and threats. It was a ton of fun and I think I did a credible job, mostly becuase I was quick at making up good dialogue and the part was pretty easy. I didn't look too horrible on camera either, except for my splotchy skin and the fact that I look like 18, not appropriate for this particular character. All in all it was a really enjoyable ending to the experience of filming. Now we're going to have to edit which is going to be difficult considering how tight time is, but I think we'll make it through. My paper's not due until friday now so I have a little extra time.

It was great to see Emeka too. He's a really cool guy and we might collaborate on some film stuff again in the future. I don't know why I didn't ask him to hang out earlier, maybe it's just this social anxiety stuff that I have. After filming we came back here and ordered Mexican food and watched American Movie (an appropriate choice.) It was a good time. There's a possibility that he and I may form a small production company to do some video stuff. It would be a lot of fun and even if we make no money it won't be TOO expensive (under 10,000) and it would be MUCH needed experience and portfolio.

My film TA sent out an e-mail to the class saying that the last class would be a Q&A for people who want to get into the film business. I was not prepared for that. I feel intimidated and almost don't want to go because I'm not ready to ask questions. I'm just ready to quietly explore on my own. I also feel somewhat humiliated being a graduating senior who might have to go immediately back to school because I was too much of a pussy to take the right major in the first place. I have to go because I need to go up to Frank's house to finish editing the film, but I'm dreading it pretty intensly. I thought the last class of the semester (and of my pre-B.A. undergrad career) would be easy and breezy (certian people's presence notwithstanding) but instead it's going to be a bundle of neurosis and missed opportunities. Yea! I'm such a coward in some ways and yet not in others. It's somewhat confusing. I feel ashamed, in advance, of my behavior but unable to change it at this moment. Maybe I'll overcome my fears and ask the important questions. Maybe I won't have to.

That's generally not how things work out for me (or for anyone to be honest.)

It may feel good to be a gangster but, uhhh, neurotic Jew...not so much.
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