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STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (2008, directed by Errol Morris, 118 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC He sure has come a long way since pondering why people bury their critters in pet cemeteries. Esteemed documentarian Errol Morris may have started out with whimsical examinations of the American psyche, but as his career has progressed his subject matter has gained gravitas, culminating in 2003’s Fog of War, a profile of Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara. Although the events covered in Fog of War were 40 years old Morris, was able to concentrate on the disturbing reality of executing a war in a manner which underlined its modern relevance. With Standard Operating Procedure, Morris jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire, recreating the state-of-the-art House of Horrors the U.S. unleashed in Iraq’s Abu Gharib prison. “Deeply disturbing” does not begin to describe what he finds. Even if you are familiar with the gruesome facts of the torture that took place there, Standard Operating Procedure takes you closer to the heart of darkness than any other study of this American atrocity.
Working for the first time with a current news story, Morris bring us a tale that nearly everyone will come to with preconceptions. Laying mine on the table, I suspected that the film would reveal how the military command structure and the stresses of life at the battlefront made such inhuman treatment unavoidable. I expected to have some hard-won sympathy for the soldiers, who had been forced by circumstance to commit acts that they never would have dreamed of otherwise. I expected tearful penance.
I think I would have found this almost comforting, reassuring me that people were basically “good.” Faced again with those sickening photographs, this time projected large and intermixed with photos of the jolly everyday camaraderie of the participants, I was shocked that I ever thought a lesson of the goodness of our souls was at the heart of this story.
Morris has rounded up almost all of the American stars of those photos, front and center being the women of Abu Ghraib: mousy Lynndie England, sweet-smiling Sabrina Harman and big-boned Megan Ambuhl. Each stares into the eyes of Errol Morris’ Interrotron and tells their side of the story, and what we see is more Lizzie Borden than Girl Next Door. They each tell their story with a barely suppressed sigh, like they were being punished for some meaningless infraction. They occasionally let out a stifled laugh at the surreal quality of the scenes they saw, and each guffaw sends chills. And each has a transparent alibi: it was love, or they were on the periphery, or, in Sabrina Harman’s case, that she privately disagreed left her inculpable of any crime. None expresses more than a passing thought to the humanity, the real people, who flailed at their feet. Morris’ film gives them the respect to tell their stories in a dignified setting but whether it was the things they’ve seen or the things they’ve done, as they stand today they seem as unknowable as the women of the Manson Family.
Not that the men fare any better. To a man, they act aggrieved that their stay at Abu Ghraib has ruined their lives and reputation, without acknowledging what effect their actions might have had on their prisoners. This, despite the fact that everyone seems aware that these round-ups were full of innocent people. “I’m a nice guy,” one of soldiers says in disbelief, despite documentation revealing how expansive he is with the term “nice guy.” I’m broad-minded enough to consider that in many ways the soldiers are victims as well, but it is pretty nauseating to hear them make the proclamation without sensing any remorse that they might have for those they have hog-tied.
Notably missing from the film is the mustachioed Charles Graner, whom the government is not allowing to be interviewed while he serves out his 10-year sentence. Circumstances make it appear as if ringleader Graner was the liaison between the torturers and their government supervisors, and his absence is frustrating to those who might want to see this damning documentary point its accusatory finger higher (former defense secretary Rumsfeld shows up early for a limited tour of the prison, avoiding the interrogation cell like a guy who loves steak but can’t bear the sight of the slaughterhouse). Still, I understand Morris’ decision to limit the film’s focus; the Bush Administration’s reserved, rhetorical “outrage” at the public discovery of their torture chamber should have been damning enough.
BY DAVE WALK Lurking in the under belly of the second floor of Fergie’s Pub is a new comedy show called THE MINISTRY OF SECRET JOKES. The origins and purpose of the show are, naturally, very secretive, but we’ve managed to covertly infiltrate the premises to gather data on what really goes on behind closed doors. The show appears to be free of charge to the converted and begins around 9 PM Eastern Standard Time. It is hosted by one Doogie Horner, a local stand-up comedian. Horner appears to be forced to run the show against his will. In an effort to rebel, he offered to tell the audience a secret joke, which are, he informed the audience, forbidden by the Ministry to ever be told in public. But before he could get to the punchline, three thugs in suits approached Doogie and whispered into his ear. Doogie quickly stopped telling the joke and the punchline was never revealed.
What occurred next was stand-up comedy material from Philadelphia-based comedians. Brian Merusi talked about basketball camp, college, and karate with the charm that only a young redhead could produce. Pat Barker communicated his opinions on street signs, coin fountains, and greeting cards, amongst other things. And Chip Chantry discussed his grandmother, the dentist and his guilty onanistic pleasures. Next, there was an Omniana battle between Barker and Kent Haines. Omniana is a brutish battle of wit and imagination in which each fighter draws a card that holds a brief description of an original character detailing his special abilities, weaknesses and history. The fighters than take turns stating the case for their character if they were to duel. Barker was the eventual winner by a narrow difference in votes from the audience. As now champion, he took time to call out young upstart Steve Gerben to challenge him next month. Gerben was not at the show, but their battle has been scheduled for tonight and promises to be intense.
As the crowd attempted to gather their bearings, there was more stand-up comedy. Haines was on stage again, this time to talk about Vitruvian Man tattoos, Pop Rocks, and soccer announcers. Aaron Hertzog discussed Nickelodeon action game shows, the popular television show Lost and never learning how to fight. And John Kensil mentioned corn cob pipes, religious crank phone calls and 80 year-old twins. Recent intelligence shows that there will be another show tonight at the same location, Fergie’s Pub (1214 Sansom St.) starting at 2100 hours (9PM).
Presidential candidates have been touting green collar jobs as part of their plans to reduce energy dependence and buoy the economy through the creation of new jobs. We talk about the challenges and realities of creating a “green collar”workforce with KEVIN DOYLE, founder of Green Economy, a Boston-based workforce development consulting firm, and BRACKEN HENDRICKS, of the Center for American Progress. Listen to this show via Real Audio | mp3
While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas—a town of about 3,000—a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. Plus other stories that happen on Prom Night. More…
Friday May 30, 2008
Veteran party-rockers The B-52’s join Michaela Majoun on the World Café. Still going strong after 30 years, The B-52’s have just released a new album aptly titled, Funplex. This, their eighth album, sticks to a tried and true blend of garage rock, funk, and new wave. Perhaps best summed up by the band’s guitarist Keith Strickland, Funplex is “loud, sexy rock & roll with the beat pumped up to hot pink.”
B-52s: Rock Lobster
Live at the Downtown Cafe, Atlanta, 1978.
BONUS SESSION: Blue-eyed soul virtuoso Eli “Paperboy” Reed may have grown up in Massachusetts, but he conveys the heart-wrenching emotion of Southern predecessors such as Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Reed, along with his seven-piece band True Loves, just finished a month-long tour, sharing dates with the alt-pop band Say Anything. While the combination may seem odd, Reed says that soul music breaks all barriers, because its purpose is to “make people feel something.”
REMINDER: Roll With You is STILL playing on Phawker Radio, along with 864 other songs that are cooler than you!
USA TODAY: In the book, McClellan, who served as press secretary from July 2003 to April 2006, touches on a number of White House topics and personalities, including former Bush political strategist Karl Rove. He writes that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated “political propaganda campaign” led by Bush and aimed at “manipulating sources of public opinion” and “downplaying the major reason for going to war. ” Regarding Bush, he writes that the president “convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment,” and has engaged in “self-deception” to justify his political ends. MORE
DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The extent to which Scott McClellan was willing to air dirty laundry took the White House by surprise. It’s very, very rare for a presidential aide to dump on his former boss before the administration is over. No word directly from President Bush, but this from current press secretary…
Dana “What Cuban Missile Crisis?” Perino: “Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad — this is not the Scott we knew. The book, as reported by the press, has been described to the president. I do not expect a comment from him on it – he has more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers.”
Ari Fleischer, who preceded McClellan as Bush’s White House press secretary, told NPR News’ Day to Day that he’s “heartbroken” and “stumped” at the allegations in the book. The interview airs this afternoon but NPR quotes Fleischer saying that if McClellan held such opinions of the president and his advisors, he should never have accepted the press secretary post.
Karl Rove went on Fox New and trashed McClellan as someone who wasn’t even in the room when major decisions were made (wasn’t that one of the problems at the time?), adding that the book, from what he could tell, sounds like it could have been written by a left-wing blogger.
Fran Townsend, the president’s former Homeland Security adviser, went on CNN and bashed McClellan for holding his tongue rather than voice any concerns about the Iraq war and other decisions he now criticizes. “Scott never did that on any of these issues as best I can remember or as best as I know from any of my White House colleagues,” Townsend said on CNN. “For him to do this now strikes me as self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional.”
The ritual shunning is well underway. MORE
RELATED: May 27 (Reuters) – The Army on Tuesday released new data showing a sharp rise in the number of U.S. troops who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The data, which reflect diagnoses made at U.S. military facilities from Jan. 1, 2003, to Dec. 31, 2007, put the total number of PTSD cases for the five-year period at nearly 40,000 for all four branches of the U.S. armed services.
RELATED: The Sgt. Lost Within
RELATED: The Rabid Dogs Of War
AMERICAN NEWS PROJECT: In the spring of 2008, a conference was held on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Entitled Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, it harkened back to the Winter Soldier testimonies held three decades ago during the Vietnam War. Of the testimonies we filmed, this one, by Iraq War vet Jon Michael Turner, was the most compelling and intense. MORE
Crotch Rocketeer Robbie Knievel breaks his late father’s record, jumping his motorcycle 200 feet, over 24 delivery trucks. Ah, youth. There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be jumped by a daredevil in a tight, white, stars-and-stripes naugahyde jumpsuit…True story: Many years ago, I spent a crazy weekend in Ventor/Margate with a friend who was dating a minor-league wiseguy type. It was an interesting couple of days to say the least, the highlights of which were dancing at the Geator’s place in a large group of women that included Rita Merlino, and a scene which unfolded inside and just outside the old South Beach club in Margate at about 4 a.m., involving me and a cluster of large dudes who were pissed off at something Kitty Caparella had written and several Sambucas later, expected me to answer for it. I told them va fa Napoli. You know how it is. Aaaaanyway the other big stop on Goumad Tour ’95 was Ventura’s Greenhouse in Ventnor, which was lousy with overtanned Italian-American guys sporting what would now be called the Tony Soprano Look: hairy arms, thick gold bracelet, short-sleeved button-down silk shirt bearing an aesthetically questionable pattern. Next month, James Gandolfini will sell the shirt off Tony’s back to benefit wounded U.S. soldiers. Christies will auction several pieces of Gandolfini’s TV wardrobe, including the tan bathrobe from the first episode and the “blood-soaked” shirt from the scene where Uncle Junior shoots Tony…Also going above and beyond the call of hooters, er, duty, the Eagles Cheerleaders going to visit the troops in Iraq! What, no beefcake for the female soldiers? One in 7, people!…Too male, too white, and too old — no, no, I’m not talking about Congress, but the Washington Post’s Op-Ed page. But really, why look that far?…One good thing (one of the few good things, from the reviews we’re reading) about that “Sex and the City” movie: Chris Noth as Mr. Big = Lots of Det. Logan on cable. Rawwwrrr. (OMG he touched her ass, proving yet again that a story is sometimes all in the telling.) Also, the mayor’s box at the Wachovia Center was empty through the Flyers playoffs, but Nutter was to attend a private “Sex” screening at the Ritz Five last night. Mayor Metrosexual?
“You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.” — Hillary Clinton
DAVID BROMWICH: The most disturbing element of her remark was this: that it chose to treat assassination as just one more political possibility, one of the things that happen in our politics, like hecklers, lobbyists, and forced resignations. The slovenly morale and callousness of such a released fantasy is catching. So when, a few days later, the Fox News contributor Liz Trotta was asked her opinion of Senator Clinton’s statement, Trotta said: “some are reading [it] as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama…Obama. Well…both if we could!” Liz Trotta laughed as she said that…
When a democratic society fails to honor the contract by which we elect our leaders in peace, and let them govern in peace, and show our approval or disapproval by keeping them or turning them out of office–when the incantation “He is not one of us” dips so far below sanity that we pretend the rules and decencies aren’t in force any more–it is more than one person who is harmed. This loose way of talking and thinking of violence hardens us against real responsibility if the violent thing should happen. We are administering shocks to ourselves in advance so as not to be surprised by the actuality. But such preparations are in their very nature corrupt, and corrupting. MORE
WILLIAM JAMES: “The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks. Such nations have no need of wars to save them.” MORE
[Photos by JUSTIN ROMAN]BY JEFF DEENEY I was standing on the corner of 2nd Street and Glenwood Avenue, looking over the stuffed animals tacked to a telephone pole, when a haggard white addict wearing deeply dirty construction boots, a holey T-shirt and a greasy ponytailwalkedpast. He looked heavily opiated and all around pretty worse for wear. He jerked his thumb at the memorial saying simply, “Dead baby,” and kept walking.
“Dead baby, huh?” I asked, hoping he would slow down long enough to say a few more words, but he kept trucking down the slope running alongside the abandoned factory that takes up this entire block. I noticed when the man passed that the seat of his jeans was worn white from wear and about to split open. Glenwood Avenue runs diagonal here, following the course of the Northeast Corridor rail tracks that divide it from Sedgley Avenue all the way across North Philly to Strawberry Mansion. This area is an industrial strip that has lain fallow for some time, characterized by empty warehouses pocked with broken window glass and vacant lots full of hardy weeds that come up past your waist, with stalks as thick as your wrist.
My direct experience with this area is passing — as a social worker I drove past 2nd and Glenwood many times, usually en route from the 24th and 25th Police District building up on Whitaker Avenue — so I asked a couple ex-addicts with recent experience here what the neighborhood is like.
“Well, you know about 5th and Glenwood, right?” one asked me when I mentioned the memorial.
“Nah, I was never up that way much.”
He and another ex-addict shared a knowing glance and started to laugh. The other ex-addict chimed in almost gleefully, “5th and Glenny, man, that’s the Supermarket,” he said, jokingly using the corner’s nickname.
WIKIPEDIA: Sherron Rolax (born June 3, 1979, died May 24, 2008 in Camden, New Jersey) of Camden, New Jersey, United States, first achieved public fame after an incident involving then New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1996. Governor Whitman was riding along in a police patrol car when officers stopped Rolax for suspicious activity in Camden, New Jersey; they frisked him, but found nothing. Whitman then also frisked Rolax while a state trooper photographed her. The picture was later published in newspapers statewide, drawing criticism from civil rights leaders who saw this as a violation of Rolax’s civil rights and an endorsement of racial profiling by the Governor. Rolax filed a tort claim to the United States District Court against Whitman, the State, the State Police, and other state officials on April 24, 2001. The case was dismissed because it was not filed early enough, which was affirmed on appeal. On May 31, 2002, Rolax was arrested for possession of narcotics within 1000 feet of school property. Rolax plead guilty on January 27, 2003, and was sentenced on February 28, 2003, to South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Rolax was eligible for parole as of May 30, 2005, and will have completed his full term as of March 3, 2006. Rolax had two prior drug-related convictions before his guilty plea on January 27, 2003.Rolax was killed in the early morning hours of May 24, 2008 in the aftermath of a loud verbal dispute in Camden, New Jersey. He was shot and killed around 12.45 in the morning. 
RELATED: Two Philadelphia police officers were charged this morning with beating up a 36-year-man they found painting graffiti in August, and falsifying records to make it appear they had not been near the encounter. District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham announced the charges against Officers Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III, both five-year veterans from the 25th district. Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said the pair were suspended without pay and would be fired. Abraham said the two officers stopped David Vernitsky, 36, at 12:30 a.m. on August 26 near 4th Street and Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville, where they found him spray-painting graffiti on the wall of a friend who was newly married. She said Vernitsky fled, the officers caught him, beat him, handcuffed him and tossed him in the back of their patrol car, head first. After running a check on his records and finding no outstanding warrants against Vernitsky, the officers released him. Two friends who had seen part of the alleged assault took Vernitsky to the hospital, where he was treated for a broken jaw that required his jaw be wired shut for five weeks. He also lost three teeth. Vernitsky was not charged with anything, Abraham said.
THE NATIONAL POST: Over the years, chess champ turned politico Gary Kasparov has suffered all kinds of indignity: famously undone at his own game by IBM’s Deep Blue more than a decade ago, notoriously arrested and jailed by Russian police for his activism last year. Yesterday, however, he faced his most surreal attack yet. While making a public plea for unity against nemesis Vladimir Putin, a mysterious dangling object from the ceiling distracted the room: an airborne penis with a helicopter attached to its testicles. Undaunted, a bodyguard advanced on the unwelcome member with his fist, neutering it with vicious abandon. “I think we have to be thankful for the opposition’s demonstration of the level of discourse we need to anticipate,” said Mr. Kasparov after the attack. “Also, apparently most of their arguments are located beneath the belt.” Someone in the audience shouts, “Finally the political power shows its face!” to which he replied, “Well, if that’s its face…” Reminiscent of a similar event on the virtual reality Web site Second Life, the prank was perpetrated by a group belonging to Young Russia, a group of pro-Kremlin operatives. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay as director, producer and sometime actor whose star-laden movies like “The Way We Were,” “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa” were among the most successful of the 1970s and ’80s, died Monday at home here. He was 73. The cause was cancer, said the publicist Leslee Dart, who spoke for his family. Mr. Pollack’s career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art. “Michael Clayton,” of which Mr. Pollack was a producer and a member of the cast, was nominated for a best picture Oscar earlier this year. He delivered a trademark performance as an old-bull lawyer who demands dark deeds from a subordinate, played by George Clooney. (“This is news? This case has reeked from Day 1!” snaps Mr. Pollack’s Marty Bach.) Mr. Pollack never directed a movie without stars. His first feature, “The Slender Thread,” released by Paramount Pictures in 1965, starred Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. In his next 19 films — every one a romance or drama but for the single comedy, “Tootsie” — Mr. Pollack worked with Burt Lancaster, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Ms. Streisand and others. A frequent collaborator was Robert Redford. MORE
INQUIRER: The Philadelphia Parking Authority will formally announce today that it has transferred $6.6 million more to the city’s general fund and the School District of Philadelphia then it did last fiscal year, thanks to cost-cutting spurred in part by Inquirer and Daily News reports that documented wasteful spending at the state-run agency. The authority has sent $25 million to the city’s general fund, $2.2 million to the cash-strapped School District and $33.1 million earned from airport parking lots to the aviation fund. Federal law requires airport parking profits be used to help defray the expense of running the airport. The meeting is open to the public, and it begins at 11:30 a.m. at the authority’s headquarters at 3101 Market Street. MORE