“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.
I recall a drizzly late fall Election Day in 1964, after I had turned 21, when my father said, “Nobody can beat LBJ”.
And I remember the Sunday evening in Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, SC, March 31, 1968, a day I had cleaned a grease pit with a toothbrush, one of the lowest days of my life, hearing that LBJ would not accept a nomination for a second full term as “your president” in that year of “Medium Cool”.
“LBJ” is a nice biopic by Rob Reiner, from Castle Rock Entertainment, with unusual distribution through Electric Entertainment.
The first half of the film walks through the day Kennedy was assassinated, with LBJ (Woody Harrelson) recalling earlier days in his career, when Kennedy needed him on the ticket in the 1960 election but then had to rein him in. Johnson, while able to use the word “negro” with a bit of condescension, found himself moving toward Kennedy’s (Jeffrey Donovan) thinking on civil rights, while fighting off powerful senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins), especially on deal to put a defense plant in Georgia and hire token blacks as engineers. Johnson also expresses his political cynicism to Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David). LBJ’s own experience with his own housekeeper helps shape his views toward progress, while Russell makes phony arguments about “freedom”.
The American public was not told of Kennedy’s death for 38 minutes, while LBJ mulled being sworn in immediately in Dallas on the plane, out of fear of a bigger conspiracy.
The film bypasses the Cuban Missile Crisis completely, and makes only brief references to Vietnam, which would heat up in 1965, after the time period covered by the film.
LBJ was capable of being quite crude in his talk, like about his clothes and tailor (“Sartor Researtus” indeed), and Ladybird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) covers for him, even in bed.
When and how viewed:
Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/11/5, afternoon, good audience
“Jane” (2017), a National Geographic documentary directed by Brett Morgen, tells its backstory with “animals” (quasi non-human persons – chimpanzees) set in the 1960s in Gombe, Nigeria, and then Tanzania with found (in 2014) footage of Jane Goodall’s work at the time. The film is based on her own autobiography, “My Life with Chimpanzees”.
In modern day, Jane is often interviewed, while the backstory shows her as a young woman, who spent five months camping out alone before getting the chimps to be comfortable around her. Very early on. she discovers that the chimps can make simple tools to get at food (especially insects).
In the meantime, she married Hugo Van Wawick from the Netherlands (after saying she didn’t need a family) and had her own son, who would grow up in camp in Tanzania but go back to England for schooling. As a little boy, you wonder if he could play with toddler chimps as equals.
The chimps learn to use the couple’s feeding station properly, and the chimps tend to view people as chimps themselves with oddly largely hairless bodies. A polio epidemic occurs among the chimps, and the couple considers vaccinating them. Later, a political dispute or warfare (rather prescient of humans) develops between northern and southern factions of the chimps, rather like our own Civil War.
But the saddest story concerns a young chimp who seems autistic, never stopping suckling, and losing the will to live when his mom dies. That autism would occur in other primates besides man should provide major clues to the genetics of pervasive developmental disorders.
genealogy of chimpanzees to humans (full bipedalism seems to be the crucial step that facilitated human cognitive development to work with language, money, abstraction, and the transmission of culture)
“Thank You for your Service”, by Jason Dean Hall, based on the book by David Finkel, seems, as a biographical war drama, set up to teach us a moral lesson about relative sacrifice, and about how badly us civilians, with no appreciation (to put it in a classroom context) of war or military life, we allow our veterans to be treated when they return from wars that we goad our politicians into starting. And, Oh yes, we still have a backdoor draft (the 2008 film “Stop-Loss“).
And, for the second film in a role, Miles Teller, as the returned Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann, steals the show. He seems to together and charismatic to have all the symptoms and false visions that he claims. He winds up taking care of everybody else (like my own aunt did). The 30-year old actor is becoming America’s new male role model.
In an opening scene Adam, an IUD ordnance detection expert, leads his squad to the top of a building to take out a nest if snipers in post-Saddam Iraq. When one of his men, Mike Emory (Scott Haze) gets shot on top of the head, Adam tries to carry him to safety with a fireman’s carry (we were tested on that in Basic Combat Training in 1968 on the PT test), but drops him, complicating his wounds. Emory partially recovers and winds up living in poverty in rural Arkansas, and Adam’s search for him becomes a major subplot.
But then there is Tausolo Aleti (Beulah Koale), a Somoan and Adam’s best friend back in Kansas, and much worse off than Adam, on the verge of being dragged into drug running. And Billy Waller (Joe Cole) comes back home to find his girl friend with baby had left him, destitute, and he winds up committing suicide in her bank workplace.
Haley Bennett shines as Adam’s loyal wife, who sees him through incidents like dropping his baby son from bed when he falls asleep with the son in his arms.
Much of the film concerns the bureaucracy of the VA and the long waiting lists men have for treatment, although from a screenwriting perspective it’s hard to make that generate “rooting interest”.
Hollywood Reporter interviews Schumann and Teller together.
“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”, by David France (“How to Survive a Plague”, 2012), is a valuable account of a citizen investigation of the 1992 death of Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen who had been on the scene of the first night of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969.
Marsha had drowned in the Hudson River near one of the Christopher Street piers. Had she been fleeing an attacker, then the death would be a homicide, at least manslaughter.
In modern times, Victoria Cruz tries to do a gumshoe citizen investigation of the death, with the help of local activist organizations for poor people. She is rebuffed by retired cops who say not to call again, and that she should leave her investigations to the professionals or she could get people killed.
There are scenes in the Village, especially Julius’s on W 10th Street, one of my own favorite gay bars, known for its burgers. The way “Mafia” bars had worked in the 1970s, at the time of Abe Beeme, comes up, but I had thought that by even 1992 the Mafia was pretty much out of the gay bar area (Stonewall had given a big push).
There is a great scene of the 1973 CLSD in New York, in which I marched; I may have spotted my younger self for split second.
Sylvia Rivera gives a very radical speech in Washington Square Park, blaming middle class establishment “cis male” gays as part of the privilege problem, even back in the 1970s (before AIDS).
There is a sequence where homeless tents are broken up for a new high way, and one of the volunteers offers “radical hospitality” to a homeless person, taking the risk.
The film purports to address violence against transgender people, but Marsha herself was not regarded as trangender (cross-dressing alone is not).
There has been controversy over the Stonewall Inn as a national monument with a rainbow flag in the Trump administration, Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears.
Tuesday night, Oct. 10, HBO ran Susan Lacy’s 147-minute biographical documentary “Spielberg”, about the trend-setting filmmaker Steven Spielberg, now 70.
The documentary starts with a clip from David Lean’s 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia”, which I saw twice (the second time in 1989 at the AMC Uptown in DC). Spielberg says that seeing the transformation on Peter O’Toole’s character from two particularly striking scenic shots made him want to become a filkmmaker.
By age 22, he had made a 140-minute sci-fi film called “Firelight”, which is a prelude to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, although at the end of the earlier film we learn that the aliens want to turn people into zoo animals.
One of Spielberg’s most striking early successes was “Duel” (1970), between a motorist and a truck, where Spielberg introduced new techniques of camera movement to carry along the psychological transformation of his central characters. Spielberg defends his refusal to make the truck explode at the end; the slow death of the road rage assailant is seen as much more fitting.
I would see “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” twice, the second with a friend the night of the Jan. 20, 1978 blizzard in New York City when being in Times Square was fun. Spielberg says that music was the way the aliens could show their commonality with humans. The film used models of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (even playing with mashed potatoes to make a model of such) as a visual conduit to anticipate what would happen.
He goes on to explain “The E.T.”, which at first did not envision presenting an alien.
Another sequence, of course, was the “Jaws” movies, which Spielberg insisted be filmed in the water (with a mechanical shark). I can remember segments from this film being shown in the upstairs lounge (above the disco) in the Gay Nineties in Minneapolis. “Jaws” was based on the novel by Peter Benchley, which tended to make fun of its hapless characters, going so far to mention how a police officer central character had lost all the hair on his legs from the chafing of over-starched uniforms. Does this really happen?
“The Color Purple” would be a different kind of period piece, without John Williams as composer. The film is memorable with the performances of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Spielberg held back in allowing a lesbian subplot really come forth in this 1985 film.
“Schindler’s List” would become one of Spielberg’s most important historical films, with its own commemoration of the Holocaust, as a German businessman tries to shelter Jews from the Nazi raids. Spielberg explains his use of black-and-white with the girl with the red bonnet. I remember seeing the film at the Avalon in Washington DC.
Spielberg also discusses his 1998 film about D-Day, “Saving Private Ryan”, with Matt Damon as the private. The film, rated R for only its battle violence, shows men reacting to seeing their own legs blown off, or their own guts hanging out as they die. Spielberg considers it a horror movie, which children should not see. The physical desecration of men in battle makes an existential point, that no matter how much we pretend to honor war veterans, it is the men themselves who make the personal bodily sacrifices, whereas for most of us life will go on as normal afterward. There are no victims, only casualties. No wonder enemies of America tend to view civilians as partially complicit combatants.
The film covers the founding of DreamWorks, which is described as an independent film studio — its first film was “Peacemaker” (1997), an early film about nuclear terrorism prescient of today (which I saw shortly after moving to Minneapolis at the Mall of America). The studio, which has often affiliated with Paramount or Disney for final distribution, is pretty much viewed now as a major. It actually got a national security visit after 9/11.
Toward the end of the film, Spielberg makes the political point that we have to solve these big world problems of inequality and environmental destruction, or many of us will pay personally. He doesn’t want to run for president.
CNN Films offered the collage “The Reagan Show” on Labor Day evening, directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez.
The film, running 74 minutes (allowing commercials to fit into a 90 minute format), written with Francisco Bello and Josh Alexander) is placed in the old 4:3 aspect ratio of television in the 1980s, and comprises many of Reagan’s speeches and appearances, particularly in relation to relations with the Soviet Union.
A highlight is Reagan’s 1983 Star Wars speech, which attracted some degree of ridicule; nevertheless, that idea (34 years later) seems to be the buttress strategy for handling North Korea’s grandiose and acceleration of development of missiles and now thermonuclear weapons. You would think that in this many decades, NORAD ought to be good at this. Yet, I recall the film “War Games” (1982) and the two “Red Dawn” films. We all know about the exchanges with Gorbachev, leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall after Reagan left office, and eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union as we knew it.
There’s one spot where Reagan says “Make America Great Again”.
There’s also some footage from all of his old black and white movies from the 1940s…
There is some coverage of the Iran contra with Oliver North (who would later have his own radio talk show in the 1990s). But there is no mention of the AIDS crisis, or even of the 1981 assassination attempt.
“The Reagan Show“
Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez, Francisco Bello Josh Alexander
“Southside with You”, written and directed by Richard Tanne, may play like a date movie. It gives a gentle biographical retelling of the early days when young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) courted Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), who wanted to deny that their time together constituted a relationship. In my one semester of heterosexual dating (in 1971) I didn’t want to push things that far, because I had fantasies on my mind. Barack at an early point asks her if she thinks he is “cute”. That wasn’t said much of men in the straight world in earlier times.
But Barack has his feet in the ground in interacting with real people in a real world, as a community organizer in Southside Chicago. That gets pretty lively toward the end with some contentious rally scenes. He also tells the story of his mixed race, mixed continent family. Barack tells the tragic story of his father, well educated in the U.S., who returned to Kenya and was fired after apparent political purges. The father died in a car crash and was denied having his name put on his tombstone. Michelle thought Barack should fix that, regardless of what the father’s negative wishes might have been.
Michelle, for her part, has an interesting job working in trademark law. Like with most young adults, you have to work for somebody to make a difference.
The film was distributed by Miramax, a resurrection of the old Weinstein brand that was bought by Disney.
“Presenting Princess Shaw”, directed by Ido Haar, starts with a text tagline to the effect that user-generated content on the Internet gives potential voices to all so that ordinary people don’t have to bow down to the powerful.
Yet, we are left to wonder, what makes some artists popular and viral and eventually powerful.
The film presents a nurse, Samantha Montgomery, who built her art entertaining residents at assisted living centers in New Orleans where she works. She writes her own songs and does a reasonable job of recording them and putting them up on her YouTube channel. The film shows us plenty of everyday life in the Ninth Ward, years after Hurricane Katrina.
In the Negev region of Israel, Ophir Kutiel builds mixages and mashups of the works of many artists, often unbeknownst to them. This practice, creating what is called derivative works in copyright law, is sometimes legally controversial and unclear, but very much supported by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The end result is that “Princecess Shaw” very much earns her “right of publicity”.
The film shows a lot of the tech work behind mixing, which I ought to learn in order to edit my own YouTube videos on my own autobiographical material (with Final Cut Pro). So I guess this documentary gives me a kick in the pants. Music is recorded and mixed in different ways, including being entered directly onto a tablet rather than through a Midi.
There is an interesting soliloquy (vertical cell phone video) where Samantha talks about being alone after a visit to distant family. It sounds like personal growth, Rosenfels community stuff.
There’s a video with a telltale title, “Give It Up”. Lose it.
Finally, Samantha goes to Tel Aviv and meets Ophir to put on a major show. She sings while Ophir does keyboard.
PBS did a brief director interview after the film. The director talked about passive self-promotion on the web and being found.
The POV short film was “Driven” from “Story Corps”, by Wendell Scott, in animation, about an African-American amateur race driver in the segregated South.
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).