Friday, January 9, 2015

The Power of Nightmares - BBC - Adam Curtis

The Power of Nightmares 1: The Rise of the... by GalaVentura

Part 1 "The Rise of the Politics of Fear"
The first part of the series explains the origin of Islamism and Neo-Conservatism. It shows Egyptian civil servant Sayyid Qutb, depicted as the founder of modern Islamist thought, visiting the U.S. to learn about the education system, but becoming disgusted with what he saw as a corruption of morals and virtues in western society through individualism. When he returns to Egypt, he is disturbed by westernisation under Gamal Abdel Nasser and becomes convinced that in order to save society it must be completely restructured along the lines of Islamic law while still using western technology. He also becomes convinced that this can only be accomplished through the use of an elite "vanguard" to lead a revolution against the established order. Qutb becomes a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and, after being tortured in one of Nasser's jails, comes to believe that western-influenced leaders can justly be killed for the sake of removing their corruption. Qutb is executed in 1966, but he inspires the future mentor of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to start his own secret Islamist group. Inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution, Zawahiri and his allies assassinate Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat, in 1981, in hopes of starting their own revolution. The revolution does not materialise, and Zawahiri comes to believe that the majority of Muslims have been corrupted by their western-inspired leaders and thus may be legitimate targets of violence if they do not join him.
At the same time in the United States, a group of disillusioned liberals, including Irving Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, look to the political thinking of Leo Strauss after the general failure of President Johnson's "Great Society". They come to the conclusion that the emphasis on individual liberty was the undoing of the plan. They envisioned restructuring America by uniting the American people against a common evil, and set about creating a mythical enemy. These factions, the Neo-Conservatives, came to power under the Reagan administration, with their allies Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and work to unite the United States in fear of the Soviet Union. The Neo-Conservatives allege the Soviet Union is not following the terms of disarmament between the two countries, and, with the investigation of "Team B", they accumulate a case to prove this with dubious evidence and methods. President Reagan is convinced nonetheless.

The Power of Nightmares 2: The Phantom Victory... by GalaVentura

Part 2 “The Phantom Victory"
In the second episode, Islamist factions, rapidly falling under the more radical influence of Zawahiri and his rich Saudi acolyte Osama bin Laden, join the Neo-Conservative-influenced Reagan Administration to combat the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. They are successful in repulsing the Soviet armies and, when the Eastern Bloc begins to collapse in the late 1980s, both groups believe they are the primary architects of the "Evil Empire's" defeat. Curtis argues that the Soviets were on their last legs anyway, and were doomed to collapse without intervention.
However, the Islamists see it quite differently, and in their triumph believe that they had the power to create 'pure' Islamic states in Egypt and Algeria. However, attempts to create perpetual Islamic states are blocked by force. The Islamists then try to create revolutions in Egypt and Algeria by the use of terrorism to scare the people into rising up. However, the people are terrified by the violence and the Algerian government uses their fear as a way to maintain power. In the end, the Islamists declare the entire populations of the countries as inherently contaminated by western values, and finally in Algeria turn on each other, each believing that other terrorist groups are not pure enough Muslims either.

In America, the Neo-Conservatives' aspirations to use the United States military power for further destruction of evil are thrown off track by the ascent of George HW Bush to the presidency, followed by the 1992 election of Bill Clinton leaving them out of power. The Neo-Conservatives, with their conservative Christian allies, attempt to demonise Clinton throughout his presidency with various real and fabricated stories of corruption and immorality. To their disappointment, however, the American people do not turn against Clinton. The Islamist attempts at revolution end in massive bloodshed, leaving the Islamists without popular support. Zawahiri and bin Laden flee to the sufficiently safe Afghanistan and declare a new strategy; to fight Western-inspired moral decay they must deal a blow to its source: the United States.

The Power Of Nightmares 03: The Shadows In The... by GalaVentura

Part 3 “The Shadows in the Cave"
The final episode addresses the actual rise of al-Qaeda. Curtis argues that, after their failed revolutions, bin Laden and Zawahiri had little or no popular support, let alone a serious complex organisation of terrorists, and were dependent upon independent operatives to carry out their new call for jihad. The film instead argues that in order to prosecute bin Laden in absentia for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings, US prosecutors had to prove he was the head of a criminal organisation responsible for the bombings. They find a former associate of bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl, and pay him to testify that bin Laden was the head of a massive terrorist organisation called "al-Qaeda". With the September 11th attacks, Neo-Conservatives in the new Republican government of George W. Bush use this created concept of an organisation to justify another crusade against a new evil enemy, leading to the launch of the War on Terrorism.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2014), a brilliant documentary about a brilliant performer.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

'Person of Interest': The TV Show That Predicted Edward Snowden

Person of Interest (TV series)

The morning of June 9, 2013, was surreal for the writers of "Person of Interest," the science-fictional CBS drama about government surveillance. Sixteen months earlier, they had written an episode about an N.S.A. whistle-blower - a fresh-faced, thirty-three-year-old analyst named Henry Peck. When Peck discovers that his agency is conducting "illegal surveillance on a massive scale," he sets up a meeting with a journalist, and soon finds himself evading a squad of government assassins. ("Our own government has been spying on us," he says, "and they're trying to kill me to cover it up!") The episode, called "No Good Deed," had aired in May, 2012.

Now, more than a year later, it turned out that there was a real N.S.A. whistle-blower: Edward Snowden. Like the fictional Peck, Snowden had a youthful face, a swoop of brown hair, and an idealistic streak that seemed at odds with his job at a spy agency. "We all came into work having read the Guardian article," Amanda Segel, a writer and co-executive producer, recalled, "and we realized we had actually done an episode that mirrored this very real story in Season 1." The writers spent the morning adjusting to the idea that their "grounded sci-fi" show had somehow become, as Segel put it, "more real."

In the Guardian article, Snowden said that he couldn't, in good conscience, "allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building." Since its première, in 2011, "Person of Interest" (which airs on Tuesdays at 10 P.M.) has taken the idea of a surveillance machine literally: in the world of the show, the government has built a vast, artificially intelligent computer system called the Machine, which reads every e-mail, listens to every phone call, and watches every CCTV camera. Flawlessly, and without human intervention, the Machine provides the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. with the identities of terrorist plotters around the world. But because it sees everything - it reads the e-mails not only of terrorists but also of regular citizens - the Machine can predict when ordinary people are planning violent crimes. The government ignores these predictions, and it falls to Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), the reclusive computer genius who invented the Machine, to respond. In partnership with a former Special Operations soldier named John Reese (Jim Caviezel), Finch leads a vigilante team of hackers, cops, and former Special Ops personnel to stop the crimes before they happen.

The show's cleverest twist is the Machine's off-kilter respect for civil liberties. Programmed never to divulge personal information about its surveillance targets, the Machine dispenses only their Social Security numbers. (The show's creators got the idea from the book "The Watchers," a history of N.S.A. surveillance by the journalist Shane Harris, which describes how John Poindexter, the head of the Total Information Awareness program, envisioned a Machine-like system equipped with a module that would hide the identities of surveillees from intelligence analysts, representing them only with numerical codes.) Thanks to the Machine's probity, it's unclear at the beginning of most episodes whether the person of the week is "the victim" or "the perpetrator"; all we know is that he or she is about to be involved in something bad. As a result, everyone must be equally surveilled. Much of the show's energy derives from this ambiguous setup. Even as you root for the heroes, you're unsettled by the surveillance society that they represent. (They're unsettled, too. "We probably shouldn't have built it," Finch admits, allowing that the Machine might be a "beautiful" but "terrible" invention.) In many ways, "Person of Interest" is a show about atonement. {Read on New Yorker}