from The Reading
She closes her eyes
Sees the after image of the
dead iris she holds
Sits on the box of the future
Though feels the livid sun
thrown by the shade of the palm
Digs her feet into the soil
envisions the metastases
in its axis
The violet man is sretched out over
five points on the wheel on yin-yang
ions are visible in the negative light
stars cascade in and out of the pull
of the wheel
Two gods run for cover.
excepts from my 2004 article on Abu Ghraib
Philadelphia City Paper 20-26, 2004
What do the Abu Ghraib photos really mean?
by Lewis Whittington
Sometimes a picture is worth more than even a thousand words because it records history. Such is the case with the Iraqi prisoner-abuse photos. Interrogators know that evidence brought forth through physical and psychological torture is contaminated, so what was this really about?
The media proliferation of these images since they were first aired on 60 Minutes II ignited a raging military and political scandal that has government officials scrambling for the damage-control buttons. Last week, the Pentagon made more pictures and video footage of Iraqi POW and detainee abuse available to Congress and the Senate. Members described the evidence as being more of the same, but even worse. For the moment, though, the Nick Berg slaying has put the release of the new crop on hold since the Pentagon thinks it could incite similar atrocities.
That the horrific secrets will eventually come out doesn’t mean that the conspiracy of silence among the military won’t be protected. Facts will be manipulated and officially obscured in an attempt to contain the growing political firestorm. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even beat a quick retreat to Iraq last week for a PR morale mission after being grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the abuses.
The images are not simply proof of soldier misconduct; they are proof of military anarchy at a time when the president is trying to insinuate democratic idealism into Iraq as the model way of life for Arab countries. It is not a stretch to think that despite quick-fix efforts, the global reaction will hinder U.S. efforts to bring democracy to Iraq.
What fueled the reaction beyond what might seem like the isolated cruelty by a few was that they included seemingly routine scenarios of coercion involving handcuffing, sodomy and forced real or simulated sex acts mostly among male detainees. But for all the coverage, there is one aspect of the photos that has not been discussed: Some of the shock of the images is that they contain simulated or forced homosexual sex.
Military brass acting surprised at the use of these methods is a further deception. Forced homosexual sex is a long-standing method of psychological and physical submission. Even in ritualized “hazing’ among new recruits, these methods to break soldiers have a long and sullied history in the U.S. military.
…The military is now initiating a ban on any coercive techniques. One wonders that if the incidents were so isolated, what are the brass calling a unilateral halt to?
Today is Prokofiev’s birthday. I’m listening to Jill Pasternak’s Sergei programming on RTI and below an excerpt of my program notes for Playbill earlier this year for PABallet’s production of Cinderella.
Was Stalin the real evil Stepsister?
Sergei Prokofiev’s career was a triumph over musical conventions, personal tragedy and epic political upheaval in Russia. Born in the Ukraine, he first studied at Saint Petersburg Conservatory, under Alexander Glazunov, who eventually was displeased with Prokofiev’s musical innovations. He started composing music from age 5 and continued until his death at 61 in 1953.
Prokofiev is known primarily for relatively few marquee works- The Love for 3 Oranges, Peter and the Wolf and, most notably, his ballet score to Romeo and Juliet- but the prolific breadth, as well as authentic interpretations of his music, continues to be discovered. He composed works in all classical musical forms with equal academic and eventual artistic success. It is not an accident that, not counting himself, his contemporary Igor Stravinsky, considered him to be the greatest living Russian composer.
Surviving Stalin and Diagalev
Prokofiev’s early Russian musical training, and mastering of Russian Imperial classicism, groomed him for classical story ballets. Like George Balanchine, another Russian émigré seeking artistic freedom, Prokofiev eventually found artistic refuge at Serge Diagalev’s influential Ballets Russes, launching his reputation.
He retained his persona as ‘enfant terrible’ (dueling Russians in France!)continuing to bust through musical conventions and even regarded being panned by critics a compliment. Even with the political uncertainty and censorship under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the composer yearned to return to Russia and did so, at his eventual own peril.
After Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union in 1935, he was subjected to the control of the official ‘Composers’ Union’ whose purpose was to ban outside artistic influence and to isolate Soviet composers.
During this period, he finished scores to the Sergei Eisenstat films ’Alexander Nevsky’ and ‘Ivan, the Terrible’ and mirroring the filmmaker’s indictment of dictatorships, the music reflects Eisenstat’s duality of nationalism and its veiled j’accuse toward Stalinist control.
Prokofiev started composition of Cinderella in 1941, postponing its completion for two years to compose his opera ‘War and Peace’ with considerable urgency in the wake of the German invasion of Russia that same year. The ballet finally had its premiere on November 15, 1945 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. After the war, many of the composer’s works were officially banned, tagged as anti-Soviet.
Prokofiev was another Russian artist who all but disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Prokofiev died on the same day as Stalin and his obituary was barely a footnote in the official newspapers.
The Arden production of ‘Something Intangible’ directed by Terry Nolan on the adaptable Arcadia stage is another fine drama in what is a plush year for new plays in Philly. A roman a clef of Walt Disney breaking away from mighty mickey to produce Fantasia, is essentially just the hook for a roiling drama about the creative process. Ian Merrill Peakes is the pioneering animator and creative bully Tony Wiston who is saved from himself by his brother Dale played with tempered steel by Scott Greer. Playwright Bruce Graham subtext is the magical realism between these two brothers, delivered with so much truth by these two actors.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper setting up David Gergen, chatting about tax day ‘Boston tea party’ style protests and giving an unexpected, presumably under the radar, peek from the closet.
Anderson: “They’ve got teabagging.”
David: “They got the teabagging. The Republicans still haven’t their voice.”
Anderson: “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.”
Gergin forgetting himself, let loose with ghastly laughter.