Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Age of the 'Unperson'

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Thanks to the increasingly absurd, bought-and-paid for Supreme Court, corporations are now people but real people can be declared Orwellian 'un-persons' with but a stroke of a pen. This is an unconstitutional power given POTUS by SCROTUS but has no basis in law.

Everything you were told in school with respect to the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, the rule of law, the right to trial, the right to be confronted by your accusers --all of that is by the boards, 'repealed', rendered moot, defunct with yet another idiotic, stupid and dead wrong decision by the most subversive, traitorous 'Supreme Court' in history.

Moreover, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that government officials are immune from lawsuits because --at the time --it was unclear whether the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo was illegal. Let me help them out on this one: every 'prisoner' held in Guantanamo is held in violation of every treaty and international principle to which the U.S. is obliged. I believe that applies as well to Abu Ghraib. Clearly --every action of the U.S. in Iraq is illegal stemming from the illegal invasion, a violation of every international principle and/or treaty to which the U.S. is bound. Any death following as a result of any action taken by the U.S. in or to Iraq violated U.S. Codes, Title 18, Section 2441 is a capital crime! Bush himself is in violation of that provision. Others, farther down the food chain, can always plead: 'but ve ver only folloving orters!'

This affront to the rule of law must not stand! It is more repugnant than the so-called 'Intolerable Acts' which motivated the colonial separation from England. Can we have that revolution now?

As everyone knows by now, SCROTUS recently declared corporations --mere words on paper --to be 'real people' having rights that are NOW denied to you who are living, breathing real people. This is intolerable and absurd. The Supreme Court should be dismissed! One wonders now what additional bullshit must the government try to pull before it is declared illegitimate by a 'people's tribunal' and eventually replaced a real government representing REAL people not 'legal abstractions' and the ambitions of the Military/Industrial complex?
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to review a lower court’s dismissal of a case brought by four British former Guantanamo prisoners against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the detainees’ lawyers charged Tuesday that the country’s highest court evidently believes that "torture and religious humiliation are permissible tools for a government to use."


Channeling their predecessors in the George W. Bush administration, Obama Justice Department lawyers argued in this case that there is no constitutional right not to be tortured or otherwise abused in a U.S. prison abroad.

The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By agreeing, the court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court, which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" -- did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law.

The lower court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants."

--US: Guantanamo Prisoners Not ‘Persons’, Anti-War Dot Com
In Orwellian terms, an 'unperson is a person who has been vaporized perhaps not literally by the state but nevertheless robbed of his/her natural rights and records of his/her ever having existed. This erasure of personhood itself consists of removing all references to the person in existing books, the destruction of photographs, in fact, any documentary proof of existence at any time, i.e, no trace or evidence is to be found in the historical record.

Even close friends or relatives are 'expected' to forget that an 'un-person' ever existed. The very mention of the unperson's name becomes a 'thought crime'. The concept is not so far-fetched. Consider the Stalinist practice of erasing from photographs the images of convicted 'enemies' of the state. That individuals --real persons --may be subject to this treatment by the 'state' --itself a mere abstraction --is double-plus absurd and more so when corporations are given rights that, by right, belong only to real, living, breathing, biological human beings. Revolution now!

1984 might not have been late in arriving as is often thought. It's implementation may have been complicated but only temporarily delayed by the arrival of the internet. Certainly, the Reagan administration was poised to concentrate, consolidate the conventional and broadcast media into very few and controllable hands. Much of that has occurred. Fox, nothing more than a shrill propaganda organ, is a prime example. Fox arrived on time. The rest of the right wing coup cannot be far behind.

But for the internet and independent blogs, it is this Reagan legacy of concentrated, biased right wing media that you would depend upon for information. That should scare you! If it does not, you're reading the wrong article. Meanwhile, we should not be surprised that the 'conventional' media has yet to grasp the many harms done the world by Reagan, Bush and Bush. The conventional media still speaks another language! Newspeak?

In George Orwell's 1984, life is lived in a state of perpetual war. The U.S. has been at war in one form or another since the beginning of World War II. In 1984 an oligarchical society is defined by its having voided the rights of citizens. It accomplishes this with pervasive government surveillance, mind control, and a 'ministry of truth'. This has been accomplished in the U.S. with the repeal of the Communications Act of 1934 which had established the recently defunct notion that the 'air waves' are owned collectively by the people! That is no longer the law of the land and consolidation of broadcast and print media into very few hands is the result. The internet, we suspect, will eventually be brought under the control of Big Bro. Enjoy it while you can!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Coming to Casablanca for the Waters

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

I am told that I am fascinated with a mediocre albeit legendary movie. That is how Casablanca, a 1942 classic starring Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid,(Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Louis Renault), is sometimes described by snobby critics, the kind I suspect have forgotten how to enjoy a movie, surrender to it or to approach the movie on its own terms.

Great movies may never be held to pre-conceived standards or formulas. Great movies, rather, create the rules and define the paradigm. There is a famous scene in Casablanca in which Inspector Renault asks Rick Blaine how he came to be in Casablanca. 'For the waters,' Ric answers. 'Waters? Casablanca is in the desert' the inspector replies. Rick deadpans: 'I was misinformed!' Similarly, one does not see or appreciate a movie but on its own terms.

Great films don't follow the 'rules'; they make them!. An excellent example is 'Chinatown' often cited by script gurus, at least one of which compared it to a 'fine Belgian tapestry'. 'Casablanca' follows the rules it helped make. Like 'Chinatown, it is consistent and true to itself, true to a 'universe' of its creation.

There is a time and place for analysis. But there are times when one must simply tell the left brain critic within to just shut up and enjoy the movie. Casablanca is such a film, a film to which millions have surrendered, sacrificed their pretenses, and are enriched by doing so.
“Casablanca” is perhaps the most celebrated, beloved movie of all time. It is the greatest love story ever told, and yet it is a riveting, captivating work on so many levels. Chances are, you’re familiar with the story, it’s hundreds of accolades over the years, and at least one of its six famous lines of dialogue. So what more can I say about this movie that isn’t already well known? If nothing else, I can say that if you haven’t seen “Casablanca,” it is a marvelous film, one of the best ever made, and if you don’t enjoy this one, you probably don’t enjoy too many of the right movies to begin with.

--Weekend Watchers
Millions of fans had not been born when the film debuted. What does Casablanca have that many bigger, more expensive films do not? How does this deceptively simple story, where most of the action takes place in a single room, succeed where exploding asteroids, obese aliens and other computer generated improbabilities fail?

Casablanca has at least this much in common with Shakespeare: much of the dialog has become a part of the language. Phrases like: "'s lookin' at you, kid" and "I stick my neck out for nobody" are now a part of our heritage. "Round up the usual suspects" inspired a movie of its own. The snappy lines would have made Oscar Wilde proud: "I don't mind a parasite; I object to a cut rate one." Also --Rick tells Renault that he came to Casablanca for the waters. Renault objects: Casablanca is in the desert. "I was misinformed", Rick deadpans. The most famous line of all --"Play it again, Sam" -- was never uttered in Casablanca: The actual exchange was:
SAM: Leave him alone, Miss Ilsa. You're bad luck to him.

ILSA: (softly) Play it once, Sam, for old time's sake

SAM: I don't know what you mean, Miss Ilsa.

ILSA: Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By.”

And the music! As Time Goes By is not the only standard made timeless by its use in Casablanca. Sam is playing and singing It Had to be You as we enter Rick's Cafe Americain for the first time. It is the music --as much as the improbable cosmopolitan atmosphere, the smart white jackets and bow ties, the Nazi threat --that conjures up our nostalgia for a past we never knew and perhaps never was.

Ric's Cafe Americain is itself an important story element, if not a character. Dramatists often speak of the 'unity of opposites' that pit a protagonist and antagonist in dramatic conflict. Dramas only work when characters are locked into conflict in which one must prevail, stakes are raised and both sides stand to win or lose. Stories are not built around two sides which merely hate one another and walk away. Drama requires a fight --often to the death. Something of value is always at stake --love, truth or justice, perhaps. It is a hero's job to defend these virtues with his life if need be! In folk and fairy tales, these virtues are symbolized by a 'Holy Grail'. In modern drama by a defense of virtue itself against crooked gangsters, tyrants or corrupted society. In tragedies, life itself is on the line and the end is often marked by the death of the 'bad guy' as a result of his own evil designs or incompetence.

Even so, some critics will tell you that Casablanca is a mediocre movie. Humberto Eco both damns and elevates 'Casablanca'. He wrote: "It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects." [From: Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers, Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, eds. (Boston: Bedford Books, 1994) pp.260- 264] But Eco has a point to make. Having told us that Casablanca is a mediocre movie, he goes on to tell us why it is great:
It opens in a place already magical in itself -- Morocco, the Exotic -- and begins with a hint of Arab music that fades into La Marseillaise. Then as we enter Rick's Place we hear Gershwin. Africa, France, America. At once a tangle of Eternal Archetypes comes into play. These are situations that have presided over stories throughout the ages. But usually to make a good story a single archetypal situation is enough. More than enough. Unhappy Love, for example, or Flight. But Casablanca is not satisfied with that: It uses them all. The city is the setting for a Passage.... The passage from the waiting room to the Promised Land requires a Magic Key, the visa. ...But eventually we discover that the Key can be obtained only through a Gift -- the gift of the visa, but also the gift Rick makes of his Desire by sacrificing himself For this is also the story of a round of Desires, only two of which are satisfied: that of Victor Laszlo, the purest of heroes, and that of the Bulgarian couple. All those whose passions are impure fail.

Humberto Eco, Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers
What more do you want from mere celluloid? Eco's language is familiar to anyone who's read Joseph Campbell, anyone fortunate enough to have followed the great series of interviews of Campbell by Bill Moyers. These ideas, many traceable to Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp, psychologist Carl Jung and a generation of Hollywood script gurus like Christoper Vogler, have influenced a generation of film makers --notably George Lucas and Steven Speilberg.

Quite simply, Casablanca speaks to us with the same force and with the same authority as the Arthurian Legends of whom Winston Churchill wrote: "If they are not true, they ought to be." If Casablanca is not literally true, it might have been. If it is not literally true it is true of war in general, it is true of the disastrous effects on human life at every scale. We love Casablanca because love triumphs and rises above hate, atrocities, intrigue. As corny as it sounds, we not only want but need to believe that 'love conquers all'. It is in a cynical age that we need heroes more than ever.

Let's be honest: no one watches a movie, performs an analysis of it and, as a result, decides to either love it or hate it. Everything I've said about Casablanca is objectively true but one's own reactions to Casablanca are direct, visceral and hardly intellectual. I'm a sucker for As Time Goes By; I wanna take on Rommel whenever I hear the La Marseillaise; I can't look at Ingrid Bergman without falling in love.

Critics are often confounded by films like Casablanca. Insignificant errata mean nothing to a great story. What matters is whether or not the story affirms mankind's nobler aspirations, whether or not the goal that is sought and the 'hero' that seeks it is worthy. The greatest story arc in Casablanca is precisely that: Ric, cynical, hard boiled, disillusioned and embittered, rises above those limitations and achieves greatness in the act of sacrifice. Ric does not merely leave Casablanca. He escapes an entangling web of self-imposed limitations.

Someday you'll understand that. Not now. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life! Here's looking at you, kid.

As Time Goes By