Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Can Shirin Neshat's Film "Women Without Men" be a US-Iran Cultural Bridge?

I wrote about film from Iran several weeks ago, and it got me thinking a lot more deeply about some of those favorite films of mine.

from Women Without Men
I remembered that the first time I saw Women Without Men by Shirin Neshat, based on the novel by Shahrnush Parsipur, at the end I walked straight to the ticket window and bought another ticket and walked right back in and watched it again.

Below are some reflections on Women Without Men and why I think it has so much to say to us about the kind of dialog we should be having with our brothers and sisters in Iran.

The Garden: The first step towards liberation is to envision a free place

Garden in Women Without Men
In the film, the sense of the orchard/garden as an all-enveloping haven is extremely powerful.

This is a film that is not just about naming the oppression experienced by men, but also about suggesting a way out.

The garden in the film is the kind of magical place that evokes subconscious memories of the kind of woodsy refuges that we have all dreamed of.

The garden in the original novella is no less magical -- though the plot is more equivocal. (It should perhaps be titled Women Without Men (For a While, At Least).)

Taking the Leap

Munis "escapes" in Women Without Men
It was very shocking to me that the character Munis seemed to need to resort to leaping off a building to escape her predicament, but her entrapment by her family -- particularly her brother -- was so painfully realistic that (a) a comparably powerful means of escape seemed called for; and (b) under the circumstances "taking the leap" felt transcendent.


Bathhouse scene in Women Without Men
For me, the most memorable scenes in the film involved the prostitute, who goes to a community bathhouse and scrubs herself raw trying to wash away that which oppresses her.

It is unforgettable to see someone who is plagued by the feeling that, no matter what she does, she can't get clean.

There is also a sense of tremendous poignancy -- there is a woman's world in the bathhouse, and one gets the sense that, at least for a while, some women can find a haven and relief and community there. For the prostitute, this just doesn't feel available.

A Man's World

Banquet in Women Without Men
The dinner party thrown by the woman who owns the house in the garden gives a very clear picture of one flavor of male domination in modern Iran -- the public sphere, involving politicians and the military.  The scene around the dining room table says it all.

If anything, the film applies a light touch to the question of patriarchy. The novella, while not heavy-handed, is robust in its treatment of the way men dominate in the Iran being described.

The Coup and the Tree

Street demonstration in Women Without Men
The film, compared to the original novella, goes into a much more detailed portrayal of the circumstances of the 1953 [CIA-backed] coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. I found this to be a helpful way to put real context around the many magical and quasi-magical elements of the story. At the same time, I would stress that this is not a film about politics: it could, I believe, be set in any era.

In contrast, the book leaves the episode of "the tree in the garden" as a briefly-noted mystery, rather than as a main plot strand with extensive development. (Does this leave an opening for a stand-alone film -- Mahdokht?

As I write this, I am realizing how difficult it is for the words I write -- dealing with the predicament of women in Iran -- to convey my belief that this film encourages a human, non-stereotyped relationship of American people to Iranian people.  And yet, as I look again at the images, I am once again convinced of their power to forge a people-to-people connection.

Related posts

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

As the Obama administration prepares in the days ahead to pivot from its focus on Syria to something truly startling -- talking to Iran! -- it is important that the American public devotes some time and energy to learning and thinking about Iran, the history of the U.S.-Iran relationship, and what the U.S.-Iran relationship means in the larger context of the effort to reduce the risk of war and violence in the world.

(See IRAN: 3 Reality Checks on the Emerging U.S. Narrative)

If we are going to stave off a U.S. war against Iran, we are going to have to have some very difficult conversations with other Americans. Some people are extremely hostile. It's confusing and a bit frightening, but we're going to have to confront it.

(See Why Does Iran Arouse So Much Hostility?)

In a composition suggestive of a yin-yang symbol, a woman in a burka (but wearing audacious red glitter platform heels) is surrounded by genie-ish tableaus of the many male obsessions/pastimes that some of us rail about frequently -- sexualized pop singers, professional sports -- as well as some that we probably should rail about more (such as patriarchy in religion and political violence).

(See VIOLENCE: " . . . and the women must live with the consequences . . . " )

October 28 in Somalia: Another Day, Another Drone Killing

When you start to look at the way U.S. drone killings are reported -- as I did with the September 5 drone killing in Pakistan -- you notice that the U.S. government has a modus operandi for pulling the wool over our eyes, and then making us all complicit in the process.

Hence the extreme urgency that the U.S. comply with the call by the U.N. for full accountability for its drone killing program.

Following our own modus operandi for breaking down the current U.S. practice of deception, below is a look at the Tuesday, October 29, 2013, New York Times account of a drone strike in Somalia the previous day: Pentagon Says Shabab Bomb Specialist Is Killed in Missile Strike in Somalia . As with the September 5 account from Pakistan, this short account is a case study in what is wrong with the U.S. drone wars.

(1) No due process

The most obvious fact is that people were killed by the U.S. using drones without due process of law. This can only be understood as an extrajudicial execution, i.e. a war crime.

The most prominent victim of the drone strike was Ibrahim Ali --"an explosives specialist for the Shabab known for his skill in building and using homemade bombs and suicide vests."

We are told, "He’s been identified as someone we’ve been tracking for a long time." (Hmmm ... almost identical to the statement made about the September 5 victim.)

The newspaper account makes sure to remind us of the role of the Shabab in "the bloody siege at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last month in which more than 60 men, women and children were killed." Presumably we are supposed to connect the dots between that event and this execution ourselves.

Once again, the U.S. government is using the media to try, convict, and execute someone.  We need to continue to insist instead on due process.

(As with my previous post, I'm focusing here on the legal issues that affect the individual. The violation of national sovereignty -- including the implication that Somalia is complicit in U.S. violations -- will be the subject of an entire separate post.)

(2) False witness

As usual, the New York Times account repeats characterizations of the victims in a way that tends to imply that they "had it coming."
Another resident, Liban Dahir, said that he saw militants remove two bodies from a burning car. “I don’t know exactly who was targeted, but I confirm that the car was carrying Shabab members,” Mr. Dahir said. The men were carrying guns and wore black scarves that hid their faces, he said.
And, as often happens, guilt is imputed through geography: the targeted car was "traveling to Baraawe, a coastal town that is one of the [Shabab] group’s strongholds."

The New York Times  uncritically passes along characterizations of people in a way that is damning. It is a deeply immoral course of conduct.

Following the usual m.o., the web of allegations is continued in more detail on the website of the Long War Journal.

by Alfonso Munoz
(3) Collateral damage?

There is no report of people besides the intended target being killed - unless you count the other person in the car with Ibrahim Ali.

(4) The "network" trope

As usual, the New York Times account is propelled by the notion of the "networks" that the victims were involved in.
There are also domestic concerns for the administration, since about 30 Somali-American men have left their homes in places like Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, to fight among the Shabab’s ranks in Somalia. F.B.I. officials have sought to closely monitor any battle-tested young men returning to the United States for signs of radicalization and possible plans to conduct attacks on American soil.
Isn't the implication here that this extrajudicial execution is a small price to pay in the larger project of "managing" radicalized Americans?

(5) What is the social function that "militant" leaders provide in Somalia?

To its credit, the account suggests that we need to get beyond the simple stereotypes about "militants" in other countries -- particularly the stereotype that says "it's all about us."
Some argued that American strikes might only incite Shabab operatives, transforming the group from a regional organization focused on repelling foreign troops from Somalia into one with an agenda akin to Al Qaeda’s: striking the West at every turn. 

(6) Are we just feeding the real source of the problem?

Most important of all, when we read accounts such as these, we should ask ourselves: "Isn't this exactly what feeds hatred against the United States abroad? How can this possibly be suggested as a way to make Americans safer and the world a better place?"

Related posts

A September 5, 2013, U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed six people - including Sangeen Zadran -- a "senior militant commander" who was "implicated in a long-running kidnapping drama involving an American soldier."

(See September 5 in Pakistan: Another Day, Another Drone Killing)

A new U.N. report makes it clear that the U.S. has to report fully on all its drone attacks.

(See 2014: The Year of Transparency (for U.S. Drone Use)?)

If the public will join us in asking the question "Who decides?" about drone executions, I believe they will rapidly come to realize that they are utterly dissatisfied with what the government is saying.

(See Who Decides? (When Drones are Judge, Jury, and Executioner) )

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Taiwan Through "City of Sadness"

City of Sadness
The films of Hou Hsiao-hsien ("HHH") came after my time in Taiwan, but for me they are a happy addition to my attempts to understand the place.

I've seen City of Sadness many times without putting into words just what is so breathtaking about it.  Last night I saw it again at DOC Films at the University of Chicago, and this time I decided to get to the bottom of it. (Note: three related films show at DOC in the next several days: Good Men, Good Women on Nov 11 at 7 pm; Flowers of Shanghai on Nov 18 at 7 pm; and HHH: A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-Hsien on Nov 21 at 7 pm; see the DOC schedule.)

Taiwan Nature

Photo of Keelung from Adrian Ling blog echoes shots in
City of Sadness
I tend to think of HHH films as being about personal experience, and culture, and City of Sadness is particularly about history. But this time, as I watched it, I realized that more than anything else, these films convey the unmistakable message that Taiwan is a place were Nature reigns.

In interspersed shots reminiscent of Ozu, HHH reminds us again and again that, no matter how big the historical forces that are bearing down on the characters, their physical environment is itself a massive fact.

A Place Apart

I certainly enjoyed the way City of Sadness portrayed Taiwan as a place apart. This feels particularly true at the end of WWII, as Japan leaves Taiwan and the Mainlanders come to take control.  One of the characters says, "Ho pitiful we are on this island: first the Japanese, then the Mainlanders . . . ."

During the time I lived in Taiwan, the "party line" provided that nothing good could be said about Japan or Japanese culture, particularly as it related to the period of Japanese control over Taiwan.  City of Sadness makes it clear that the story is a little more complicated than that.  It clearly shows the friendship between the Lins and the family of the Japanese teacher. More than anything, the way Hinomi interacts with Shizuko -- language, manners -- shows how much Japanese culture was an integral part of the lives of many people at the time.

The sit-down
More than anything, it is dialect that sets Taiwan apart in City of Sadness. I don't speak Taiwan dialect, but just listening to the speech of the characters in the film takes me back to my time there. There is one wonderful scene, in particular, that illustrates the separation brought about by dialect. Wen-heung is having a "sit-down" with the guys from Shanghai, to try to make a deal to get his brother Wen-leung released from police custody.  The dealings need to be translated through several different dialects, and, together with the conventions and indirection required for proper negotiations, it brings about explosive results. (It is reminiscent of the central action in one of my favorite short stories, "Sayonara Zaijian," which involves translation back and forth between Japanese and Chinese.

Primitive Rebels

I have a very strong impression of Taiwan as a place where order is respected, but also as a place where the government is taken with a grain of salt.

Hou Hsiao-hsien and Li Tianlu on location for City of Sadness
(See Kinoimages blog)
There is one moment in City of Sadness that I particularly love: the police (i.e. the Mainlander government) comes to the house to arrest Wen-heung on charges of "collaboration," and his father (played by the redoubtable Li Tian-lu) has to thread the needle to suggest just where the family stands -- and how it's not possible that they are "collaborators."  He says, "We've always been gangsters [liumang] -- for the good of the whole district -- so the Japanese didn't take advantage of us."

(It made me think of a book I read in college -- Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries -- by Eric Hobsbawm, one of the big thinkers on European social history.)

This view of "gangsterhood" surely ennobles the many fight scenes in the film -- as when Ah-Ga goes after the guys from Shanghai with a short sword. Scenes worthy of Kurosawa.

And more . . . 

I could go on and on about City of Sadness: about everything from the sound of slippers scraping across the floor to the history of the 228 incident that the film illuminates; about the similarities between Wen-ching, who could hear until he was 8, and Oskar in The Tin Drum, who stopped growing when he was 6 (i.e. when the war started); about the funeral scene, and the wedding scene; about the pitch-perfect soundtrack.

But most of all, I'm looking forward to seeing the other films in the trilogy -- The Puppetmaster and Good Men, Good Women -- and connecting the dots.

More about Taipei c. 1979 . . . .

Related posts

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

HHH's soulmate on the Mainland?  Jia Zhangke, of course!

(See Long Life, Connected Lives)

In Taiwan, HHH is to film as Huang Chunming is to literature.  Take, for instance, the story, set in a fishing town on the east coast of Taiwan, about a prostitute who determines to have a baby, and so selects as the father a likely candidate from among her customers (most of whom are workers in the local fishing fleet), gets pregnant, and heads back to the tiny town in which she was born, in order to have the baby.

(See Days for Looking at the Sea )

More related links 

The Militarization of Ames: The Real Meaning of the DREAM Act

I just received notice that an announcement will be made by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today at 1:30 p.m. that Ames Middle School in Logan Square will be converted to a military academy.

This action has been threatened for a long time, and the local community has fought it tooth and nail.

Below are some facts and figures provided by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), showing why this is the wrong move for this neighborhood school.

Sometimes, however, we need to step back from the details to get the big picture.  The big picture, in this case, is that the most powerful political operative in the Obama camp -- Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel -- is showing the real workings of the immigration policy that Obama and the Democrats have created.
Step 1: You can become documented if you help fill the ranks of the U.S. military after high school. (See the DREAM Act.)

Step 2: We'll help you get used to the idea by turning your high school into a military academy.
Ames serves a largely Spanish-speaking community. Is the militarization of Ames anything other than a signal of what the Democratic party means by equitable treatment for immigrants?

A prediction: The U.S. government will be watching to see how people react to the militarization of Ames. If people accept it . . . it will become the newest "solution" on immigration, military recruitment, and public education.

Related posts

I was marching with other protesters at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters in September. In addition to massive teacher layoffs, we were trying to stop the conversion of the Ames School, in the Logan Square neighborhood, into a military academy.

(See Chicago Needs Schools for Education, not for War and Occupation)

For those not already familiar with the situation in Chicago: at a time when the City cannot be bothered to figure out how to run its own schools, but is instead closing dozens at a time, our leaders somehow think it's appropriate to let branches of the U.S. military have the run of the school and recruit kids -- and in some cases outright convert the school into a military academy. Parents in the Logan Square neighborhood are fighting a valiant effort to stop that from happening to the Ames School.

(See Stop Playing "Ender's Game" With Chicago's Young People)

A big Hollywood production of Ender's Game is scheduled for release on November 1. It's a perfect opportunity for us to ask: Are we happy seeing our schools turned into "Battle Schools"?

(See "Ender's Game" and the Militarization of Youth: Can We Talk About This? )

Facts about Ames

The following information was supplied by Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA)

(1) Marine had only 26.6% of its students meeting or exceeding standards in reading in 2012, and 32.9% in math. Compare this to Ames, which had 59.7% meeting or exceeding standards in reading in 2012, and 73.3% in math. Also, Marine had 20.3 at or above in science, vs. 64% at Ames.

(2) Marine is a “drop out factory.” Marine only graduated 56.5% of the 122 students who entered as freshmen in 2010 (less than the citywide average) A selective military school will PUSH OUT students with special learning needs and students who don’t fit in. Marine claims a 88.5% graduation rate, but the fact is that 122 students entered as freshmen in 2010 and only 79 were left as seniors in 2013. That is a 65% dropout/pushout rate over the 4 years. 88.5% times 79 = 69 graduates, for a 4 year graduation rate of 56.5%

(3) Marine has a reported 52.3% chronic truancy rate (Illinois School Report Card 2012). Marine has a 91.5% attendance rate. Ames attendance is 93.2%.

(4) Last school year Ames parents did a door-to-door community survey around the school. 87.39% of the 357 persons surveyed do not want a military high school at Ames. Parents fought all year against a takeover, attending every possible CPS or education meeting to plead their case.

(5)Above all, Ames is a Community School, with extensive before and after school activities, and a community clinic build for the community by its Elev8 grant administered by the Logan Square Neighborhood Assn. Current programs in addition to after-school academics include a neighborhood-wide youth orchestra, Mikva Challenge Peace and Leadership program, Press and Media Club with a TV station, BUILD prevention/intervention program. 140 youth participate in 15 youth programs. 60 adults participate in 6 adult programs.

Marine lists 9 JROTC classes but no art, music, theater, or other electives.

(6) Ames sits surrounded by 4 elementary schools, it is the center of an education campus in SW Logan Square.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What Will Election 2014 Boil Down To?

Elections for Congress will be happening over the next twelve months, and I keep asking myself, "Will anything be different this time?"

What would it take for us to translate our dissatisfaction with what's happening in Washington into real change?

Despite what some people say -- "it all comes down to money" -- I think it is possible for new people to get elected to Congress. However, I think that can only happen if their positions are brutally simple and carefully chosen.

I suspect that people challenging incumbents need to boil it down to two or three things:
As people who are working for peace and justice, then, we need to ask ourselves: Can a peace and justice agenda be advanced under these kinds of conditions?

"It's the economy, stupid"

I believe that, if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that the overwhelming factor affecting how people relate to candidates is how they are doing economically and whether the candidate's approach is even in the same solar system with their needs.

("It's the economy, stupid!" was the 1992 Clinton campaign's way of reminding themselves of this reality.)

Since no one really knows what federal government action can best affect economics of individuals, we are subjected to a biannual comedy of errors in which abstractions are thrown around -- shrink the debt, infrastructure investment, raise taxes, lower taxes, simplify taxes . . . .

The one thing that seems to be a sure-fire vote-getter is in-district spending.

But when are we going to have challengers point to the obvious fact that military spending is a sure loser? There is no question that U.S. "defense" spending creates a great flushing sound as dollars are exported out of the country to be spent at the hundreds of bases the U.S. operates in foreign countries all over the world.  What is less obvious but far more important is the long-term costs that we incur when we subject our service men and women to injury, bringing in train a process of decades and decades of health care efforts to heal them.  (And this does not even begin to count the cost of the injuries we inflict on those who are not our citizens.)

Can anyone name these true costs -- much less challenge them -- and still hope to be elected to office?  And yet can we ever hope to truly make our economy healthy if we don't address them?

Related post

What would happen if every member of Congress "adopted" a foreign military base and demonstrated what would happen if all the money spent there were brought home to local districts? Do you think the constituents would welcome THAT initiative?

(See How About a REAL (Tea) Party? SHUT DOWN THE MILITARY BASES! )

Big Government: Keeping The Beast at Bay

Every challenger has an inherent advantage in being able to credibly challenge government overreach.

There has been a good sign in 2013, in that many people have become outraged about government surveillance. A recent Pew poll found that Americans are now more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism.

The bad news is that a lot of energy has been mistakenly directed at the health care program, as if that is where the biggest threat of federal government overreach is.

I believe a big question in 2014 will be whether challengers successfully address the issue of NSA surveillance in their campaigns.

Related post

The Amash Conyers Amendment to curtail NSA spying was advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives shortly after the Snowden revelations. It narrowly failed -- in part due to the votes of some so-called "progressive" Illinois representatives.

(See In Chicago, Illinois: YOU ARE UNDER SURVEILLANCE! )

The Wild Card: Crisis Du Jour

It's probably true that the electorate doesn't care much about foreign affairs, and thus an antiwar stance per se doesn't serve a challenger very well.

Where foreign affairs do come into play is when there is some kind of "crisis" that serves to focus attention on politicians' expertise/savvy in foreign affairs.  This inherently tends to favor incumbents, because they are more likely to have some form of involvement in, or at least orientation to, foreign affairs, by virtue of their service to date.

The problem is, no one can tell where the next crisis will come from, right? Well . . . not quite . . . . Despite the narrative that says we live in a "dangerous world" and that we need our government to "keep us safe" from people who "have it in for us," the truth is that the U.S. government has its tentacles in every region and country around the world, continuously prodding and provoking.  Does it seem like there's always some new crisis, somewhere? With good reason . . . .

Related post

More than anyone else, the beneficiaries of permawar are the politicians who thrive on the power to make and control wars.

(See J'ACCUSE: The Beneficiaries of Permawar)

More related posts

One issue that has a key place in the midterm elections in 2014, I believe, is surveillance.  With each passing day, I am hearing more and more people say that the surveillance issue is something that a wide spectrum of people are deeply upset about. That includes people on the right as well as people on the left -- people who don't usually talk with each other, much less work together for positive change!

(See The Surveillance Issue: The Fulcrum of the 2014 Election?)

Isn't now a moment when, instead of falling back into our existing habits of trying to change America's war-making ways, we should put our recent experience under a microscope? And ask what we can learn from this experience? Can we make 2014 the year that we sort the wheat from the chaff in Congress? And get the control over war and peace back into our own hands?

(See Election 2014: The Moment of Truth for the US Antiwar Movement?)

In the past several weeks, the President of the United States tried to undertake an attack against a foreign country, but the American people said "Hell no!" and the Congress let the President know they couldn't support it. How often does that happen?

(See When THE PEOPLE Take Control: "Anything Can Happen")

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The St. Luke's Crew and a Few Thousand Close Friends in Springfield to Say: "Marriage Equality Is a Human Right!"

I was in Springfield Tuesday with thousands of other Illinoisans to encourage our state legislature to pass the marriage equality bill (SB10). Even if you weren't there, you can get a sense of what it was like -- raindrops and all! -- thanks to the dozens of photos my friend Frank took. Enjoy!

"Logan Square Supports MARRIAGE EQUALITY!" -- (l-r) Joe Scarry,
Noel Spain, Rev. Erik Christensen, Rev. Kim Beckmann -- aka the
St. Luke's Logan Square crew. Kim's sign says "Illinois: For the
love of God (and I mean that sincerely) PASS Marriage Equality NOW!" 
"5th Amendment: Civil Rights for ALL; 14th Amendment: Equal Protection
PROGRESS doesn't grow on bigoTRIES
"MARRIAGE: a civil, social, and LEGAL institution under which two consenting
 adults establish their life-long relationship based on love and commitment"

"Marriage equality is a civil right for all"
"We have a dream
that one day our children
will be judged not by
who they LOVE, but by the
content of their character!
"From Plainfeld, IL: for friends, family and students"
"From Sheridan, IL: for my son and yours!"
"From Frankfort, IL -- for love is love is love is love IS LOVE!"

"Oh, it says gay marriage is a sin in the Bible?
Wonderful, now show me where it says so in the Constitution!"
"Our children need the same PROTECTIONS your kids have!!!
Civil Unions do not equal Civil Marriage"

Related posts

I believe that once the Church comes out of the closet -- that is, once we start speaking quite openly about the difference between the world as we find it and the world as we believe God wishes it to be -- there is no way this old world will be able to stay the same.

(See Let the Church Out of the Closet )

It can be confusing because we engage in so much public expression -- lots and lots of self-disclosure on Facebook, for instance -- that it may not seem true to say that there are limitations on free expression.

(See Building Metropolises of Self-Censorship )

Sunday, June 29, 2014, was the Chicago PRIDE Parade and the culmination of weeks of activities focusing on the situation of LGBTI people in Africa.  Chicago stands in solidarity . . . .

(See LGBTI People in Africa: Chicago Stands in Solidarity on the Chicago Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa website)

Monday, October 21, 2013

The $1.5 Billion Bribe: Obama Buying Cover From UN Report?

Nawaz Sharif
I thought I could be sure about one thing: on Friday, October 25, when the United Nations takes up the two reports on U.S. drone killings, Pakistan would be a strong voice demanding U.S. compliance with the recommendations of the report.

After all, at an all Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan on in early September, the participants unanimously recommended the initiation of dialogue with all the stakeholders to curb terrorism and taking up the drones issue at the United Nations. The resolution said, in part:
"We are unanimous that the use of drones is not only a continued violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts of eliminating extremism and terrorism from our country. The Federal Government should consider the possibility of taking the drone issue to the United Nations as drone attacks are a violation of International Law."
Now, the newly-issue report of UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, makes it clear that the U.S. has to report fully on all its drone attacks.

Surprise, surprise:  Barack Obama has arranged for a little "talk" with the Pakistan leader prior to the U.N. event. As trumpeted in The New York Times, the U.S. will be dangling $1.5 billion in restored aid in front of the Pakistani leader.

Oh, and by the way, might the U.S. also suggest in that meeting that Sharif should remain silent about drones for a few days?

(An offer he can't refuse?)

This is not new in kind -- the U.S. dictates course of action (and inaction) to Pakistan all the time -- but in magnitude is probably the biggest thing since the Bush administration went to Musharraf shortly after 9/11 and said, "You're either with us or you're against us."

At a time when the international community is making remarkable strides in working together to avert conflict, confrontation, war, and injury and doing the difficult work of multilateral peacemaking, it is important that the U.S. avoid even the appearance of trying to undermine this work. Yes, "even" Pakistan deserves to have its own voice.

Maybe we need to demand transparency for all the talks between the U.S. and the Pakistani leaders. That's right -- all the nitty-gritty back-and-forth. The public can handle it. We've already seen The Godfather.

Related posts

The UN reports: No one has any illusions that getting the United States to obey the law will be easy. But at least now -- with the member states of the UN stating what's required in black and white -- we have a start.

(See 2014: The Year of Transparency (for U.S. Drone Use)?)

On Sunday, September 7, 2013, the New York Times ran an account of a drone strike that had occurred the previous Thursday: U.S. Drone Strike Kills 6 in Pakistan, Fueling Anger . This short account is a case study in what is wrong with the U.S. drone wars.

(See September 5 in Pakistan: Another Day, Another Drone Killing)

There can be no question but that Americans and the rest of the world will eventually wake up to the terror being inflicted in their name on Pakistanis and others. The only question that will then remain will be whether Obama, Panetta, and the whole drone "kill chain" will be prosecuted as war criminals or as ordinary criminals. (And God help them if they are condemned to the limbo of "unlawful enemy combatant" - entitled to neither civil nor military justice.)   (See #NATOvictims - Drone Strikes in Pakistan )

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Taiwan Kinaesthetics: Cloud Gate Dance Theater

When I lived in Taipei in 1979-80, I spent an awful lot of time memorizing characters and repeating sentences in Chinese that I listened to in the language lab. But once in a while I got out and lived a little.

One of my favorite discoveries about Taipei of that time was Cloud Gate Dance Theater. The way I looked at it, they had three big things going for them:
(1) Cloud Gate combined the best of Martha Graham technique with all manner of Chinese and other referents - from movement, music, and the visual arts. Cloud Gate made particularly inventive use of fabric - great billowing sheets, representing clouds, ocean waves, etc.

(2) Many of the dances Cloud Gate created explored themes in Taiwan (and Chinese) history and culture.

(3) The company founder and director, Lin Hwai-min (pinyin: Lin Huaimin), in addition to his role in the dance world, was a leading light of the Taiwan literary scene. (You can read more about Lin here.)
And the fourth thing they had going for them was that they operated a dance school. (This seemed marvelous to me at the time -- babe in the woods that I was -- though now I guess I understand that that's de rigeur for a dance company.) Invited/challenged by some of my (female) classmates to come check it out, I rode the bus up to the Cloud Gate studio northeast corner of Taipei, and thus began my short-lived career as a student of modern dance.

Unfortunately no photos of me in that dance class survive, but try to imagine a line of about a dozen petite, lithe, adorable Chinese dancers in leotards, and in their midst, one disjointed, oddball American standing out.

Below are some pictures of Cloud Gate dances - enjoy!

Wind Shadow

Legend of the White Snake

More about Taipei c. 1979 . . . .

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Part of what I loved about Du Hai was the way it used large pieces of fabric to convey the sensation of being in a boat among billowing waves, and the multiple uses to which they put the fabric - sea, clouds, sail, and more. Even a newcomer to modern dance, such as myself, could grasp what was going on.

(See The 21st Century U.S. Vocation: Extending hospitality to the next wave of immigrants coming to our country )

 So as I watched Ziggy for the first time last night, I asked myself, "What is it? What is it? What is the frisson that one feels? It's part charisma, part sexuality, partly the thrill of gender-bending, partly adolescent rebellion . . . . But what is it that Ziggy did (and does) for so many people?" (It can't be a single thing, can it?)

(See "You're NOT alone!" (Ziggy the Subversive) )

Years later, in the days when I traveled frequently to China and brought home picture books for my children depicting the adventures of Monkey battling all manner of demons, I began to take seriously the importance of demons and demon-quelling as a metaphor. (And that includes here and now in our own culture.)

(See Channeling Zhong Kui (the Demon Queller))

Eventually, in large part due to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the United States was converted from a country in which a small number of people thought slavery needed to be ended into a country determined to act to end slavery. This literary work took the movement wide, and it took it deep.

Why is a novel an important tool for creative resistance?

(See Creative Resistance 101: Uncle Tom's Cabin )