I’ve yet to delve into the now infamous Bybee memo, but by most reasonable accounts it is depressing and abhorrent. Whether the United States engaged in systematic torture or not seems somewhat moot to me now. That we are left debating the nuances between ‘cruel and unusual’ (the latter, to some, being okay) disheartens me. When we must concoct excuses for our bizarre and violent measures we have already lost the battle. When the government has to create torture-speak that obfuscates the nastiness we’ve sadly engaged in, then we are already in a darker place than before, by my account.

I’m of mixed feelings on how President Obama has handled this. Releasing these documents, certainly, is the right step. But coupling this with the apparent exoneration of those involved in these practices leaves me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. If it’s something worth debating in the public sphere, is it not, then, something worth prosecuting? This strikes me as a quasi-admitance of guilt; absent of any real repercussions for the guilty actors.

I suppose you could argue that Obama is playing Gerald Ford here. To open up this sore, here and now, may send an already distraught and sullen nation into a further malaise. Much as Ford was tasked with moving the country forward following the Watergate scnadal (so the story goes, anyway), Obama too must navigate the country back to sunnier shores.

Andrew Sullivan often frustrates and confounds me, but as a writer and and an intellect I respect him very, very much. I consider Andrew somewhat of an authority on this awful subject, and it’s a matter that demands clarity and purpose of mission. I believe he deals well with this internal conflict:

Mukasey and Hayden complain that the president has tied the hands of future presidents in this. Yes, he has. What Obama understands is that what is truly vital is that this dark and shameful period not become a workable precedent. It must be repudiated at the very heart of the American political system, and removed like the cancer it is.

The question of prosecution remains. It’s a painful decision. My view is that those who pay the legal price should be, first and foremost, those who authorized this at the highest levels. My view is also that it is a travesty that the Abu Ghraib reservists were prosecuted, and yet far, far more culpable people are claiming it would be too divisive to prosecute them. My view is that no one is above the law, and that when a society based on law prosecutes the powerless and excuses the powerful, it is corroding its own soul.

But my view is also that the president has acted wisely in this. As president in wartime, he knows how wounding it would be to engage in this kind of activity right now. But he has also ensured that a process of transparency continue. A full accounting of all of this – by people from both parties with real power to investigate and report (a 9/11 style commission, in other words) would be a natural next step. There is still much we don’t know. It should take its time to get everything right. Justice can be slow as long as it is guaranteed. From the president, some well-chosen words he clearly wrote himself:

At a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future. The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

Let me repeat the critical two words in that paragraph: Never. Again.


Earlier this year I wrote a rant on the current state of the horror film. In today’s copy of The Independent, Johann Hari does much of the same, only a thousand times better. Hari writes:

Movies aren’t a cerebral medium; they are visceral. The first people to see a film screamed in terror and ran from the room – and these movies bring us back to that first, primal response.


All the years I have loved horror films, I have asked myself: why? Why do I like watching this stuff, when what it represents is so foul? Is horror morally corrupting after all?

This is the question at the heart of the best horror film – and quite possibly the best British film – ever made: Peeping Tom, released in 1960. It follows a serial killer who films his own murders of young women and obsessively rewatches them. The film constantly forces the viewer to ask: why is he watching this? What pleasure can he get? Are we like him? It was such a disturbing question that the film was pulled from the cinemas in a great national retch, and the career of the genius director Michael Powell ended overnight.

Aristotle believed that by experiencing the terrifying vicariously through monster-stories, we are purged of our fears and hatreds – and our desire to act on them in the real world. It is a safety valve. In Greek mythology, Perseus has a polished shield that enables him to look indirectly at the Gorgon – and thus slay it. Are horror films our shield of Perseus, enabling us to see our monsters, and wipe them out? Is my grandmother so gentle precisely because she can exorcise her natural sadistic impulses before a screen – and is she an exception among horror fans?

As I gaze out over my small mountain of horror DVDs and contemplate watching The Evil Dead for a 10th time (highlight: a woman is raped by a demonic tree), I wonder: when we peer into the dark, do we become darker – or do we leave lighter?

Read the whole thing.

Peter Abraham, a must-read for anyone sincerely interested in the New York Yankees (as I vehemently am), has some concerns regarding the NEW Yankee Stadium. Abraham writes:

Here is my biggest concern: The crowd. Maybe it was Opening Day, which always draws a different sort of fan. Maybe it was the way the game played. But the place was funeral home quiet for long stretches. That’s not Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees noticed the difference and so did the Indians. It was a popular topic of conversation after the game.

New parks are designed to have open concourses. As a result, the seats go back in a gentle slope, not steeply up like they at the old park. The fans are further away from the field and today it felt like they were in Washington Heights. I’ve stood in center field in the old ballpark and it felt like those upper tier seats were right on top of you.

You have to wonder if the Yankees priced the real fans out of the place and are left with a wine-and-cheese crowd. Time will tell because, as I mentioned, Opening Day is a different sort of crowd. Lots of pretenders and poseurs. Hopefully the crowd will again be part of the game.

“Glenn Beck is a punk.”


So I have been an awful jackass about blogging here. But all of that changes today, Sir.

I hope to be back for good and make better habit of blogging.

(Yes,  I know this is ‘Sixteen’ and not ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog.’)

The human face was Richard Avedon’s medium. His subjects’ lines, curves and crags were the rhythm of his poetry, expressions subtle his tone, emotions blared and hinted his cadence.

Unabashedly capitalist with his art, unremittingly controlling of his (often very famous) subjects, Avedon is on a short list of the greatest photographers of other human beings.

I went to see Avedon’s exhibit today at Amsterdam’s FOAM museum. I know when art hits me in a special place, as it did in this exhibit, because I can’t stop moving. My skin stands up, my eyes twitch with emotion, and around Avedon’s work, I find myself stepping back and forth between the pictures, admiring new angles, scouring the surface of the grain wondering how he calculated each and every square inch – dodging, burning, developing final prints that, one after another, made their way into the pantheon of American celebrity.

I think my favorite image in the exhibition was the portrait of Buster Keaton. Avedon, using technique typical to his style, highly overexposes the image, blasting out the highlights enough to hide the top of Keaton’s hat – which he is holding arms-raised over his head – in a blinding bath of light.

Yet the clarity of Keaton’s face, and the rich depth of the conrasting shadows in his suit, cut a figure so vivid, Keaton really looks like he’s about to jump out of the image. That photograph evidences a master printer at work – Avedon dominated all aspects of the craft, from the ideas phase to the grimy darkroom chemicals.

Avedon had patience for the proper image, which arrives unnanounced at times – his iconic image of Charlie Chaplin on the day before the actor left America to escape Red Scare persecution – a picture Avedon called “a gift” from Chaplin – and his eyestopping frameup of Marilyn Monroe during a rare moment when the actress had dropped her act, are prime examples.

Avedon can claim so many of the images that have become iconic across the decades, pictures that sometimes reside in the collective memory as the definitive instances of some of our most important celebrities. He’s very much like Annie Leibovitz in that way, except he didn’t aim for an artistic pose of his subjects. He would stage an idea – I mean, obviously he had to, especially when he was working as a commercial photographer – but the setting was just a starting point. Avedon preferred a subject in action, in reaction, in unhedged mad-genius grotesque.

There were many wonderful and disturbing images among the more than 200 at FOAM. What I kept thinking about as I browsed through them was the depth and character that old-fashioned film photography allows the craftsman to elicit. The prints were a world away from – and Avedon’s 6×6 negs a world above – the edge-to-edge plastic perfection megapixels strive to achieve. Heavy grain marked many of the best images, and blur was used to effect. Further than that, each print bore the unmistakable and inevitable quirks of silver gelatin prints developed from a negative. My favorite example is this portrait of Bob Dylan in Central Park. It seems pretty obvious that the halo around the singer’s head came as a result of the printer’s dodging Dylan’s face to keep it light enough. The slight imperfection adds a distinct element – almost a message – to the photo. Had Photoshop been present at the time, the
inconvenience of imprecise dodging wouldn’t have been a “problem.”

From the NY Times. Now might be the time to head for the hills.