“A Good American”: The story of Bill Binney, whose metadata analysis system at the NSA should have prevented 9/11

A Good American”, directed by Friedrich Moser and based on his book, tells the story of (Bill) William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, and of the metadata analysis tool he helped develop over several decades, which should have prevented 9/11.

The film opens with a woman calling her family from one of the hijacked planes, already knowing that other planes have been crashed. She may be on Flight 93. The film soon shows us the aftermath of the February 1993 truck bombing in the basement parking garage of the old World Trade Center, which had been intended to take out a load bearing abutment.

The film then gives us a retrospective biography of Binney, who enlisted in the Army into an intelligence program in 1965 to avoid drafting into combat.  One of my chess playing friends at GWU enlisted for Army intelligence for four years in 1967, so I remember this. Binney spent some time in Turkey spying on the Soviet Union (near a base that had been surrendered) after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Over time, Binney worked on tools that would enable the military to predict enemy events based strictly on metadata that did not require identifying people. It was possible to predict the Tet offensive in 1968, although the tool wasn’t used adequately.  It was used better in predicting the Soviet action in Czechoslovakia.

The NSA did not do a particularly good job at first in shifting from analogue to digital intelligence (Edward Snowden would not appear for some time). But other terror events, like in 1998, and then the attack on the Cole in 2000, would have made it apparent just how determined Al Qaeda was to undermine secular American life.

During this time, there was a lot of internal politicking to get funds from Congress, and a revolving door of people who retired from the NSA and became contractors at SAIC.  Financial gain compromised good judgment, as the metadata tools could have detected 9/11 if deployed properly.  Important components of the system were Trailblazer Project and Thinthread.

Binney retired on Oct. 31, 2001, after 9/11 and a horrible sequence of anthrax attacks. But in 2007, the FBI raided his home, claiming he had compromised classified information as a whistleblower after he left.

William Binney has been active recently in retirement on the post-Trump-election and Russia-gate investigations, meeting with Pompeo, NBCNews story here.  The details are likely to evolve quickly.

Name:  “A Good American”
Director, writer:  Friedrich Moser
Released:  2015
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant, 2017/11/7
Length:  100
Rating:  NA (PG-13)
Companies:  Gravitas Venturas
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2017 at 4:15 PM EST)

Milo’s “Dangerous”

I had to read “Dangerous”, by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (aka Milo Hanrahan, aka Milo Andreas Wagner as a previous pen name) off my Kindle. The first print run (apparently 100,000(?) copies, self-published under the trademark “Dangerous Books”) sold out before Amazon could ship to me, so I forked out an additional $2.99 to get it now. I hope others will buy my “Do Ask, Do Tell” series on Kindle. In the meantime, I’ll just wait for my hardcover copy when it gets printed in a second run.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself already. There is a lot of commonality between what Milo says and what I say in three books, even if the organization and expressive style is very different. But this is almost like a “Do Ask, Do Tell V” book (the first three are mine, and then a sketched out a IV online in 2016 here).

Remember, Simon and Schuster had cancelled trade publication of his book after the “scandal” Feb. 20 over supposed advocacy of “pedophilia.” In fact, the correct term is probably ephebophilia, or perhaps hebephilia. There is a curious parallel to an incident in my life regarding Google-finding materials on my own website when I was working as a substitute teacher in late 2005, which I’ve discussed on these blogs before. The new version of this book contains Milo’s explanation of this matter in the introduction. I am certainly convinced that Milo said or did nothing to suggest approval of illegal sexual activities with minors, although the age of consent varies among western countries and even among states in the U.S. (and in some states, like California, it is still as high as 18).

I didn’t find a table of contents on the Kindle, so it’s a little clumsy to verify, but there seem to be twelve chapters. The first ten are based on “Why (Identity Group n) Hates Me”. The last two are based on who does like his message (like GamerGate).

This may seem like a self-indulgent way of presenting one’s argument. I am reminded of how Gustav Mahler titled each of the last five movements if his massive Symphony #3 “What (X) Tells Me”. I’m also reminded of Pastor Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002), where the minister argues “It’s not about you.” But for Milo it is. But given the history of violent reactions of foreign-organized protestors at some of Milo’s events (his “Dangerous Faggot” tours), which he discusses toward the end of the book, it seems appropriate.

I’d like to note the comparison of they way Milo organizes his material to how I did I started the first DADT book with an autobiographical narrative, in time sequence filled with ironies, motivated by the debate on gays in the military and how it had intersected into my life. Then I switched over to topical discussion as my issues fanned out. The second book was a series of topical essays, focused mostly on two themes: a “Bill of Rights II” in the context of 9/11. Book 3 reiterated the autobiographical narrative and added some topical fiction pieces. But, yes, a lot of this was “about me”. But my scope was always expanding into more areas.

So, I’ve always been concerned with the central question, of how someone who is “different” aka “special” should behave in the face of collective social pressures (to conform to the norms of the peer group and to “carry one’s weight” or share of the common risk). That concern can be discerned from Milo’s material. My driving and organizing principle was “personal responsibility” but I had to constantly enlarge upon what that means. It involves a lot more than facing the direct consequences of one’s choices. Dealing with stuff that happens “to me” has to start with “me” (so, it matters if people “hate” me). But I realize this can become “dangerous” (Milo’s wordmark) if overdone, and invite political authoritarianism, which is exactly what is testing America and western Europe right now. So, in a broader sense, “the people” matters too. My father always used to say, “The majority has rights, too.”

The end result is that Milo’s book, if moderate in length, seems monumental. In reviewing his list of “enemies” (and, by the way, I was told in my college years that “you have a tendency to make enemies”) he covers a wide range of important incidents.

The list of people he encounters comes across like Chaucer characters (indeed “A Canterbury Tale” is one of my own favorite classic films). He covers Shaun King, the civil rights activist claiming to be “black”. He gives a reasonable defense of the police in Ferguson MO in considering Michael Brown’s behavior (“Why Black Lives Matter Hates Me”). He goes into some detail over how he got banned from Twitter (Breitbart account) over supposedly encouraging retribution against (the remade) “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones, where he says he was set up, (Indeed, “Why Twitter Hates Me”. He gives a curious defense of Martin Shkreli in the HIV drug fiasco (and Shkreli has since been prosecuted on other matters).

In explaining why mainstream gays hate him (he thinks, I’m not sure they do) he takes up the case of writer Chadwick Moore. He delves into the moral dualism of male homosexuality in a way that reminds me of George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986), considering it somehow unnatural as counter to procreation – yet, he says, gay men usually are thinner, smarter, richer and more successful than straight married men, partly because they (the straights) are weighted down with a family to support or wives to pamper and cook for them. He sees gay marriage as illogical – needing the idea of traditional marriage, with all its self-surrender (“the two become one flesh”, etc) in order to have something to stand apart from. I know the feeling and covered the same sentiments in my own books – equality cuts both ways, when you don’t have dependents.

Ironically, he worships himself and certain other gay men as shamans or perhaps angels. (If you could be immortal, you wouldn’t need to reproduce – there is a jellyfish that actually does this by going through regression, as in “The Curious Life of Benjamin Button”. Unfortunately, the teenage Clark Kent in “Smallville” is presented as straight (not sure what kind of kids he could rather). Psychologists call his style of relating to people personally as “upward affiliation”. That was an issue when I was a patient at NIH in the later part of 1962, where I was diagnosed as “schizoid”. I just didn’t get much of intimacy with others (anticipation of the “family bed”) unless the partner would be perfect enough. But I was seen as possibly indicative of a dangerous trend accompanying the newly nerdy science and bookishness of the Cold War era – a slipping back into a perception that a personal level some people would no longer matter if they didn’t stay perfect enough. What had we just fought World War II about two decades before? Body fascism?

But the early chapters do present a convincing read on why Milo feels so repelled by the authoritarianism of the far Left, and its trying to pimp victimhood and draw everyone into identity politics, demanding loyalty to political leadership to speak for them as marginalized minorities. Milo particularly explains the idea of “intersectionalism” or “intersectionality”, a concept that author Benita Roth took for granted in her book on ACT UP which I reviewed here June 14.

Indeed, the Left often wants to suppress clear and objective independent speech from its own constituent individuals, because the Left fears that brining up complete arguments just gives fuel to its enemies and rationalizes “oppression” against less competitive individuals. I share this concern myself (as I outlined particularly in Chapter 3 of my own DADT-3 book). In this regard, Milo minces no words in reaffirming “fat shaming”, that obesity is unhealthful as aesthetically ugly (or is beauty if the eyes of the beholder – like in that 1970 song “everything’s beautiful in its own way” – although the early Nixon-laden 1970s were also a time when machete jokes about beer bellies were socially acceptable sometimes). I’ll add that I had named Chapter 2 of my DADT-3 book “The Virtue of Maleness”, a notion many would find oppressive (like to “trannies” or “gender fluid” people). Milo almost comes to making my point, that in the past many people saw open male homosexuality as a distraction for other men from trying to father children at all – which is one reason why Russia passed its anti-gay propaganda law in 2013.

In developing the duality of his own attitude toward his own homosexuality, Milo mentions one of his favorite authors, books, and films: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.  I rather like the idea of seeing more in a fixed image of one of my own “idols”.  I read it myself in 12th Grade for a book report (as I also read H. G. Wells’s “Meanwhile” and Nevil Shute’s “In the Wet“).

One of the last chapters is why “Muslims Hate Me” and this chapter is the darkest one. He indeed sees all Islam as radical Islam, and sees Islam as by definition political and seeking to impose itself on non-Muslims. He gives particular attention to the assassination of the staff of Charlie Hebdo (in January 2015, ten months before the 11/13 Paris attacks) and views the Jyllens-Posten Cartoon Controversy the same way as free speech advocate Flemming Rose (“The Tyranny of Silence”), as dealing with a consciously and deliberately combative culture that sees enemies everywhere.  Milo points out that Charlie Hebdo  (don’t confuse with l’Hebdo, which has stopped) had been a relatively small publication, so radical Islam was willing to put it in the  limelight (“Je suis Charlie“) by attacking it, which sounds like an self-defeating irony to a western person.  Think about North Korea (“The Interview“) the same way.

Milo denies he is part of the “alt-right”, no less a leader of it, and denies any belief in racial superiority of any group. (He dates black men, he says.) He gets into the misuse of the “Pepe the Frog” meme.  He denies that he is a libertarian, but he seems like a “moralistic libertarian” to me, somewhat like Charles Murray (who has also been the target of attacks at speaking engagements). He considers “troll” a desirable label, and his advice to young men is to become hot. We’re seeing personal attitudes privately held in the gay male community for decades going public online, and suddenly perceived as hurtful.

I can certainly imagine this book as a documentary movie, although it might take a strident course like some of Steve Bannon’s Citizens United films.  By comparison, my own narrative seems even more personal and ironic, but indeed filled with instructive twists.  But I would be interested in working on a documentary about gay conservatives if someone wanted to film Milo’s book (and not yet do mine). There is a 2004 documentary “Gay Republicans” (legacy review).

Author: Milo Yiannopoulos
Title, Subtitle: Dangerous
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0692893449
Publication: self; 288 pages, endnotes, 12 chapters
Link: Milo’s site

(Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Nowhere to Hide”: close-up video by a male nurse on the implosion in Iraq after Obama pulled the troops out

The film “Nowhere to Hide”, directed by Zaradhasht Ahmed, presents the incredible 5-year video diary of an Iraqi male nurse, Nori Sharif, over five years in Diyala province, around the town of Jalawla, in the five years after President Obama pulled American troops from Iraq and left a power vacuum.

It seems incredible that he could even maintain this diary as battlefield conditions redeveloped around him. It’s not obvious which subgroup he belongs to (maybe Sunni), but violence between Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds first develops. But in time ISIL moves into the area and forces all the civilians, including him and his family, to flee. He and his family wind up in a refugee camp of trailers, even one housing 20 people and several families.

Eventually he returns to he hospital in Jalawla and finds it sacked and trashed.

The film shows the breathtaking desert landscapes, rather like Nevada with mountains in the far distance, and Biblical stucco villages – filled with squalor and poverty as the camera goes up close. The pain is unrelenting.

The film also shows horrific war injuries to civilians still alive, beyond verbal description.

Wiki picture of Mosul dam.

Name:  “Nowhere to Hide”
Director, writer:  Zaradhasht Ahmed
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Pop-Up, Union Market, Washington DC, 2017/7/7
Length:  88
Rating:  NA
Companies:  East Village Films
Link:  theater

(Posted: Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

“A Troublesome Inheritance” still provokes controversy, but over eons environment does affect the genetics of different peoples

Nicholas Wade (science reporter for the New York Times) created controversy and anger with his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”.  Right away, I wonder if this is the conservative-to-libertarian answer to Al Gore’s idea of “An Inconvenient Truth” as a book and movie title.

Let’s go over his basic argument.  Mankind originated in Africa (we are all “black”), and a mass migration north split off into two groups:  one group, gradually becoming Caucasian, settled Europe, the Middle East, and India. Another, becoming “oriental” settled East Asia, centered on China.  More recently further splits led to separate groups in Australia (aborigine), and the Americas (across the Bering Strait).

Mankind started out living in tribal groups with very close association with biological kin, as is common among other primates and many social animals.  First in Asia, and later in Europe, as populations increased and faced a “Malthusian trap”, populations had to organize into larger social and political groups (sometimes mediated by religion) to feed themselves.  Gradually, as social structures became more complex, society started to reward deferred gratification and individual problem solving. Families who were good at these skills, compared to using short term use of force and tribal violence, tended to prosper, especially as commerce developed. They had more children.  So in some parts of the world people are better adapted to modern civilized living than in others.

Africa, by comparison, did not have the population growth and geography that favored the growth of modern states, and colonialism intervened before it had time to catch up.  Likewise, smaller populations in the Americas and Australia did not have as much population mass to build modern states, although it seems to me that the Incas and Maya indeed built impressive civilizations.

For other reasons having to do with geography and the relative safety from invaders, Europe went through a second wave of innovation and developed openness to modern science (and balancing the power of the centralized state with other institutions) that led to technological superiority.  This is not always connected to “white people”.  Muslim populations in the Middle East often maintained tribal ways for geographical reasons, and tended support religious fundamentalism in a tribal context.  In China, innovation did not continue as quickly because the state became too centralized and conformist.

Wade has a lot of discussion of genes, alleles, and the statistical nature of how these are distributed.  At an individual level race may mean nothing as to innate capacity.  But in the aggregate, aggregate small differences in some psychological traits associated with genetics can wind up having profound political consequences.

Some reviewers have criticized Wade’s analysis of genetics (like on a final exam in Biology 101).  He gets into the issue of IQ, and notes that by some measures East Asians measure the highest, then Europeans, and then Africans.  But the work of others “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kirstoff, would claim that the relative intelligence of groups in different parts of the world has a lot to do with child medical care and the availability of early learning. But Wade maintains that it is not easy to teach “western values” to tribal populations.

Wade also goes into detail on the relative success of Jewish populations in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and hints why western classical music sounds richer and more nuances than tribal or folk music of many parts of the world.

I think that Wade’s comments on the values of tribal societies are very interesting. Tribal groups (most of all, hunter-gatherer) are both egalitarian within and authoritarian. The values behind some kinds of religious social conservatism (like “The Natural Family” by Carlson and Mero) reflect extended familial or tribal values.  In tribal culture the nuclear and extended families develop slowly as social constructs, with many rigid rules about gender.  It takes many generations for nuclear families to develop and it may venture toward polygamy, favoring more powerful alpha males; in the beginning, most men interact with women and protect them from rival tribes collectively.  Sexual intercourse is strictly about procreation and, when in marriage, is connected to local privilege over the lives of others in the family.  Family values evolve from a system where most men had to be good at warrior behavior to protect the women and children in the tribe.  The refusal for a man to sacrifice himself when required to do so for the tribe is considered cowardly, and Wade bluntly points this out.  That relates to the practice of military conscription of men by more advanced states. It also helps explain “homophobia” (and now “transphobia”) and why modern gay rights seems so recent and so dependent on modern civilization.  But the practices of some native tribes would refute that claim.  In any case, personal morality is about a lot more than just making wise choices according to consequentialism.

Modern neuroscience does support the idea that various personality traits are influenced by genetics (and for sexual orientation and sometimes gender identity, epigenetics — I won’t get into how traits that seem to hinder procreation remain persistent here).  Sometimes these can become pathological or destructive, as in various recent violent events related to mental illness and probably somewhat to genetics.   Indeed, the existential “combativeness” of young men in tribal cultures seems hard-wired to a degree shocking to people who have grown used to openness.  So it seems reasonable that over time, characteristics that promote individual competiveness in an open society, rather than just following the group, could be favored and become more common in an advanced culture.

There’s one other thing to say “in favor” of tribalism, as it occurs in nature.  I think there are reasons that it may connect to “the afterlife” (through genetics) better than a self-directed individual’s own “soul”.  I’ve covered this recently on my News Commentary blog. Ponder again, the big cats: lions are social, tigers are not, and in a pride the alpha male lion guards his own lineage first.

Author: Nicholas Wade
Title, Subtitle: “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”
publication date 2014, 2015
ISBN 978-0-14-312716-1
Publication: Penguin, 278 page, paper, indexed, 10 chapters
Link: Charles Murray review

(Posted: Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 3:45 PM EDT)

“Forever Pure”: a nationalistic Israeli soccer team creates controversy by recruiting two Muslim players from Chechnya

Forever Pure”, directed by Maya Zinshtein, is a docudrama about religious identity politics in professional sports.

Specifically, the somewhat right wing and nationalist Beitar Jerusalem football club recruits two young adult Muslim football players from Chechnya.  The players were recruited by a billionaire Russian oligarch.  Disruption and riots follow.

The film shows some familial intimacy for the two players, who “look” white.  They do observe their prayer rituals.

The film also looks into the competitive nature of Israeli football, which is really what we call soccer.  It seems to be more popular with working class people.

The film aired on PBS Independent Lens on May 15, 2017.  It attracted my attention incidentally because Chechnya has become the focus of a local anti-gay Holocaust recently, with the Russian government looking the other way and pretending gays don’t exist.  Provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos wrote about this in an aggressive piece on his own site.  The Tsarnaev brothers also came from Chechnya (Vanity Fair story).

Picture: DC United game that I attended, 2014.

Name:  “Forever Pure”
Director, writer:  Maya Zinshtein
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS Independent Lens, 2017/5/15
Length:  85
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS, Dickin’ and Divin’
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at 12 noon EDT)

“Human”: People around the world tell their stories, which add up, against alien-looking scenery

Human“, the project of Yann Arthus-Bertrand, alternates interviews with ordinary people from all over the world with aerial images of people in collective actions, or sometimes scenery that is so abstract in design and non biological colors that it looks alien.

The first interview presents a convicted murderer who meditates on learning what love and forgiveness mean. In time, other interviews present what makes humans tick, and some of it is chilling. A couple young men present what makes them want to fight an enemy in a brotherhood (jihad). Others talk about being socialized to sacrifice themselves to overcome common enemies. But as the film progresses, the interviews open up. In the middle section, several gay people speak, starting with a woman who had sex with a man under family pressure and got HIV from heterosexual activity. The religious objection to homosexuality, especially within Islam, is briefly explored. So is immutability.

Then the interviews move back toward a bigger vision of social justice.  One speaker (an Aborigine) mentions that earlier cultures did not have words to indicate personal ownership of anything. There is a lot of attention to the enslavement of low-wage workers overseas in quasi-dorm life.

The intervening photography is stunning.  One of the first images is of people playing soccer on a mountain plateau.  There are mass crowds with human columns and waves.  There are odd images of gas and water that look like they come right out of Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar”).  There is a shocking scene of manual labor in a mine in Russia.  Near the end there is a shocking scene of the slums in Senegal. There are over 60 filming locations.  There is an interesting abstract of Manhattan at night with the reflected light manipulated to look like fire.

The music score, by Armand Amar, resembles the music of Philip Glass.

A possible comparison would be “Koyaanisqatsi“, by Godfrey Reggio (1982).

Senegal scene similar to film, Wiki.

Name: Human
Director, writer:  Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E St, 2017/4/24, large auditorium, full
Length:  143  (full theatrical is 190)
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official, Filmfest

(Posted: Monday, April 24, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Fatima”: A Muslim single mom in France helps her daughters assimilate without learning French

Fatima” was the name of an apparition that appeared in Portugal (I visited the site in 2001), but it’s also the name of a film (2015 79 minutes), and of its central matronly character, directed by Morroco-born Philippe Faucon.

Fatima (Soria Zeroual) works as a housekeeper for various rich clients, and has raised her two daughters Souad (Kenza Noah Aiiche) and Nesrine (Zita Nanrot), after emigrating from Algeria and then losing her husband (Chawki Amari) to another woman.  Fatima speeks Arabic but little French, as her work keeps her from having time to learn.  The two daughters have learned French but remember little Arabic.  Souad, 15, is somewhat spoiled, but Nesrine is struggling through her first year of med school.  Much of the film works up toward a climax where she takes a final multiple-choice exam.

At a critical point of no return (55 minutes), Fatima slips and falls down a stairway.  She recovers physically but doesn’t want to go back to work.  She writes a diary in Arabic (I thought of the poems in “Paterson”) where she explains how the well-off depend on “some Fatima” to keep their lives together.  This is all about karma, which Islam (at its best) can become very concerned with.

The DVD has a 22-minute interview with the director, who also mentions his 2011 film “The Disintegration”, about the inability of three young Muslim men to assimilate into French society and their drifting toward terrorism – all years before the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The music score contains some excerpt from the Schubert F# Minor sonata.

Name:  “Fatima
Director, writer:  Philippe Faucon
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1    in French and Arabic, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  79 (22 minute director’s interview)
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

Also: Our Lady of Fatima site in Portgual, wiki.

Anti-terror demonstration in Paris after Charlie Hebdo attack, wiki.

(Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Cries from Syria” is harrowing

The live-filmed documentary “Cries from Syria”, directed by Yvgeny Afineevsky and narrated by Helen Mirren, traces the brutality of the Syrian civil war(s), mostly focused on the atrocities committed by the Assad regime starting in 2015. The film was first aired on HBO Monday March 13, 2017 at 10 PM EDT.

The story is told by a variety of rebels, including women, and shows grotesque results of regime violence and prison torture, including starvation, and in one scene the aftermath of chemical weapons (even chlorine).  It is filmed in many locations in Syria (besides Aleppo, which Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson didn’t identify in 2016).

The film is prefixed by an animated history of Syria in the 20th Century, and with stunning images of ancient mosques and religious sites.

There are massed demonstration scenes, one with a flag several hundred feet long.

Slightly beyond the halfway point in the film, the attention shifts to Raqqa and the arrival of ISIS.  At the very first, ISIS was seen as “liberators” (relative to the Free Army).  Very quickly, the brutality and total control (though with law and order) of the ISIS regime is apparent.  The film shows both an ISIS smoking ticket and a prep for a beheading. The presentation is grittier and more graphic than in Fareed Zakaria’s films for CNN (“Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World”, 2015, and “Why They Hate Us”, 2016).  But one spokesperson claims that Assad is still responsible for 98% of the civilian deaths in Syria.

Life in this world is all about street smarts and collective action and not much else.  Young men are shown operating machine guns fired from apartment living rooms.

The film then shows a meeting between Al-Assad and Vladimir Putin (“The Most Powerful Man in the World” – CNN special by Zakaria tonight) to control ISIS, as a pretext for controlling the rebellion.  The volunteer rescue group “The White Helmets” is shown.

The film moves into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, into refugee camps.  Refugees pay smugglers, sometimes to take them across the Mediterranean, or sometimes directly into adjoining countries. Small children are found drowned on the beach.

Yet at the end the Syrian people parade through streets “united”.  The film ends with an aerial shot of a refugee camp.  600,000 people have been killed in the war, and 7 million displaced. More than 1 million are in Europe.  2.5 million Syrian refugees are children.  Well, actually the film ends with a tweet.

I do have to wonder if the president, White House, or members of Congress watched this film.  This has to be about the most violent and confrontational documentary film I have ever watched.  And I’m still a spectator.

Destruction after Homs Offensive, Wiki picture.

Pictures from Raqqa (Wiki images).

Name: Cries from Syria
Director, writer: Yvgeny Afineevsky
Released: 2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: HBO, 2017/3/13
Length: 111
Rating: NA  (would be R for violent war images)
Companies: HBO documentary
Link:  official

(Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 12:15 AM)

Oscar nominations for 2017, short films, live action: focus on social solidarity, also on immigration in 2 films

The Oscar nominated short films “live action” did tend to emphasize social solidarity and generosity.  I saw the program at Landmark E Street in Washington DC (as distributed by Magnolia Pictures).

Sing” (no connection to the animated feature) or “Mindenki” (Hungary, directed and written by Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy, 25 minutes) centers around a children’s choir intending to tour the world. Young Zsofi (Dorka Gasparfalvi) is pulled aside by the teacher Miss Erika (Zsofia Szamosi) and asked to mime in concerts because her singing just isn’t good enough.  Now, many people who are talented in instruments (like piano) don’ t have good singing voices. But Zsofi shares her shame in whispers.  Eventually, at a big concert, the kids show solidarity (at personal risk for their own futures) by miming, to keep some kids from being excluded.  It turns out well, but what if it hadn’t.  Radical solidarity matters most when it costs you something.

Silent Nights” (Denmark, by Aske Bang, 30 minutes) is the meatiest film of the set, exploring the quandaries of helping and even hosting refugees.  Inger (Marlene Beltoft Olsen) takes care of her mother (with dementia and incontinence) at home and still volunteers in a Copenhagen homeless shelter, many of whose clients are migrants from Africa and the Middle East.  Kwame (Prince Yaw A[[iah), from Ghana, after being turned out in the cold when the shelter is full, returns.  The film shows Kwame making cell calls home, talking to his family needing money sent for grandfather’s operation, but Kwame needs a job first.  When Kwame gets assaulted and robbed by some Middle Eastern men uttering racist and Islamist slurs, Inger takes an interest in him.  She maintains that interest even after Kwame gets caught with petty theft from the shelter (to find money to send home) on security cameras.  They fall in love, and eventually Inger proposes marriage so he can stay.  But then she learns he is already married with kids in Ghana.  This film needed to be a feature, as the shift in attitudes by Inger are too choppy to be credible.  But the film makes you think about the risks involved in helping refugees and asylum seekers.

Timecode” (Spain, 15 min., by Juanjo Gimenez Pena”) is a comedy set in a Madrid parking garage, where attendants find excuses to practice their dance moves (almost break dancing), reminding me of “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004).

Enemies Within” (France, 27 min., “Ennemis Interieurs”, by Selim Azzazi), presents an immigration interrogation, or “extreme vetting” (as per Donald Trump, who will like this film) by a young security officer in the 1990s of an Algerian national trying to move back to France.  The history of “The Battle of Algiers” gets reviewed.  The point that Algeria used to be part of the actual land mass of France is well made.  Nevertheless, the young officer starts to find evidence of possible terror associations.  In the end, this turns out to be an exercise of “naming names”.  But of course people already in the country (like people with overstayed visas in the US) can complicate the security threats.

La femme et le TGV” (Switzerland, 30 min, by Timo von Gunten) is a substantial comedy.  A lonely woman Elise (Jane Birkin), who runs a chocolate shop (like the film “Chocolat”) lives near a high-speed rail line (the TGV)  In an inversion of the plot of “The Girl on the Train”, she keeps finding handwritten notes in her yard from Bruno (Gilles Tschudi) the train engineer, who waves. She is stuck and time and says she will never “send an Internet”.   In the meantime, a somewhat charismatic and attractive young man (Nicolas Heini) offers to help her modernize her business.  When the train route changes, the young man takes her to meet Bruno in Zurich.  This is supposed to be a true story, about modernization.  There is a twist.

Wikipedia link for panorama of Copenhagen which I visited in 1972.

(Posted: Friday, February 10, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

“What Tomorrow Brings”: first private girls’ school in Afghanistan

view_of_herat_in_2009

Name: What Tomorrow Brings
Director, writer:  Beth Murphy
Released:  2016
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed: PBS 2016/10/31
Length 90 (53 on PBS; would have preferred PBS to show the entire film)
Rating NA
Companies: PBS POV
Link: PBS

What Tomorrow Brings”, directed by Beth Murphy, aired on PBS POV Monday October 31, as a 50-minute documentary (90 minutes originally) presenting the first girls’ school in any Afghan village, close to a decade after the Taliban was pushed back in the latter part of 2001.

One woman, Rihali, was one of the last to remember life completely controlled by the Taliban before liberation by the Northern Alliance (described in a Vanity Fair article by Sebastian Junger).

Another young woman successfully resists a forced marriage with a 70-year-old, when her father wants to keep the cost of the dowry down.

Gradually Zabuli some of the village elders (mostly younger) come to accept the presence of women without burqas, and the idea of girls being educated.  But the film says “some of them just can’t take it.”

I don’t personally experience sexual attraction to someone (female) who would have to be economically dependent on me.  In my own mind, that has always been a bit of a contradiction, since teen years. But the idea of extreme division of gender roles and economic dependence really does lie beneath male heterosexuality and the family in many religious cultures, especially fundamentalist or radical forms of Islam.  By insisting that women stay covered an uneducated, some Muslim men are reinforcing their own ability to maintain sexual interest within their own concept of marriage.

The film shows a lot of outdoor shots of smaller cities and villages in Afghanistan, some of which have walled areas.  Technology is there, but buildings still look in poor repair.

The film refers also to the history of Pakistan’s teen Malala Yousafzai, as in the film “He Named Me Malala” (Index).

The title of the film reminds me of the 1985 novel “If Tomorrow Comes” by Sidney Sheldon, about an ordinary woman framed by the Mafia.  I read this potboiler while living in Dallas. It became a miniseries on CBS in 1986.

Wikiepedia attribution link for US Embassy photo of Herat (p.d.)

Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)