Sunday, March 28, 2004

Yesterday, Patty and I, along with son Chip, and friends Bill and Susan attended the new Tim Robbins play, Embedded. As the title suggests, it portrays the activities of the journalists "embedded" with the US forces in the Iraq war. Since I'm not a theater critic, let this be a report of what we saw.

The play will not win any souls to the anti-war cause, but may alert some to how news is managed. It is preaching to the converted.

Embedded features an ensemble cast, with each cast member playing two or three roles. The scenes are set on a stage without curtains, with changes managed by lighting. There are four types of scene. The most memorable are six figures sitting in a triangle, with the Cheny figure sitting highest, with the corresponding Wolfowitz and Pearle below, and with (apparently?) Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld (Rum-Rum) seated in the lowest level. They never look at one another, just have
this dialogue with themselves and the audience on how they are going to manage public perceptions. A compelling
feature of this scene is the masks the players wear to both hide their identity, yet give emphasis to the expressions
made with their eyes and mouths.

This scene is interspersed with three other types of scenes reflecting the home front and/or split scenes with soldiers and loved ones reading each other's mail, scenes of the "front", and the journalists. The play traces events from just before the war (how do we justify it), it's early uncertainty on the road to Bagdahd, to just after victory was declared. (The playbill says Oct '02 - June '03). It includes vignettes with a soldier shooting and killing a whole family, the Jessica Lynch episode (ala Saving Private Ryan), and forcefully, the thrall that journalists were held in to "report" the news, "Never call them
US troops -- it's ``coalition forces''" A few reporters take the chance of questioning their work. One knows well how to work the system, and most sway to the rhythm of the military briefers.

The play is set against a backdrop with flashing stills and movie clips from WWII, ... where the presidential advisers are paying homage to Leo Strauss, (1899-1973) who the program identifies as "the celebrated philosopher-king of the neoconservatives, {who} was a classicist and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago where he taught the works of Plato, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Hobbes."

From the Playbill notes on Strauss:

"Strauss believed that democracy, however flawed, was best defended by an ignorant public pumped up on nationalism and religion. Only a militantly nationalistic state could deter human aggression, and since most people were naturally self-absorbed and hedonistic, Strauss blieved that the only way to transform them was to make them love their nation enough to die for it. Such nationalism requires an external threat -- and if one cannot be found, it must be manufactured.

-- Kitty Clark"

Embedded is playing at The Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette
St, Manhattan.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The News' Dark Time turns Two Years Old tomorrow, 3/12/04.

One year ago, the times were getting darker as the Bush illlegitimacy was taking us closer to their destiny with Iraq. We're waiting for John Kerry to tell us how he (if not duped) thought his vote in favor of "action" wasn't giving the Carte Blanche to the most corrupt group to occupy the White House since Nixon.

(If you're going to vote on something, make sure it's a declaration of war, or not)

Your editor, on this anniversary is now tending to the children of Newark, Hillside, and Elizabeth, New Jersey, as a Mathematics Teacher at the Benedictine Academy (in Elizabeth). Our (just short of 200) students are all young ladies. It is generous to use the term "lady", since many of them are still struggling with an adolescence which barely takes them out of their youth, if not infancy. The tragedy we see at BA is the absence of leadership in the home, stemming directly from a lack of leadership in the community at large. The two most obvisous being the church and the state.

We adults have produced a stable of so-called leaders who equivocate at every turn. "I didn't {inhale, lie, ...}" Pick your president. Business schools are starting to offer courses in ethics, after the cows are out of the barn. Money is in charge. My church, the Catholic church, has bishops who don't know their flocks, some of whom are beginning to understand the violence they have done to the message of peace and love. It's a sad day when the voices of hope are the few secular institutions which aren't afraid of the liberal label, and struggle to maintain a diverse dialogue.

In the classroom, I'm not without the charges of racism: "you only call out the black girls", when discipline is needed. Possibly. Many hypotheses are possible. While I'm mindful of the charge, and instructed by it, I'm aware of its other causes: a very few young ladies may be from family situations so wounded by encounters with white authority there is nothing one can do in the moment but pay the bill. adam's sin, as it were. to the extent our civil and religious leaders are working for their constituents, and not the larger constituency, we are ill served. i don't fault the adolescent; i don't even fault their adults. i don't even fault "the system". but...

I do find fault with those who inhabit the most visible roles in this system who use _every_ moment to curry their supporters, as opposed to challenge those same supporters. I fault all of us who inhabit any leadership position, however small, who fail to challenge our own commitment to the neediest among our charges. In each of my six classes, there is at least one student who knows where my hot buttons are. A friend at St Helen's, Bob H, has me praying for my students. It's working. While I can't see any visible change in specific students, nor measure it in myself, I can perceive a change in my need to react to any individual student's irritation of the moment.

Your editor has a few high principles:

+ never give advice,
+ never trust a friend who won't sacrifice a principle for you, ..

"Let me prove how completely trustworthy I am by sacrificing a high principle and give you some advice".