Thursday, 8 December 2005
I try to imagine what would happen to me, personally, should this occur. How long would it take for the need for revenge to settle in? How long would it take to be recruited by someone who looks for people who have nothing to lose? People who lost it all to one blow. What I think the world doesn't understand is that people don't become suicide bombers because - like the world is told - they get seventy or however many virgins in paradise. People become suicide bombers because it is a vengeful end to a life no longer worth living - a life probably violently stripped of its humanity by a local terrorist - or a foreign soldier.
Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Wonder no more. Clooney knows exactly what he's doing: blowing the dust off ancient TV history to expose today's fat, complacent news media as even more ready to bow to networks, sponsors and the White House. As Murrow said in a 1958 speech, which frames Clooney's dynamite film, the powers that be much prefer TV as an instrument to "distract, delude, amuse and insulate." Challenge is a loser's game.
Not in this movie. In ninety-three tight, terrifically exciting minutes, Clooney makes integrity look mighty sexy. With the help of cinematographer Robert Elswit and editor Stephen Mirrione, Clooney turns the CBS newsroom into a hothouse of journalistic risk-taking. It's exhilarating to watch as Murrow decides to use his CBS news show See It Now (it ran from 1951 to 1958) to call McCarthy's bluff. Murrow persuades network boss Bill Paley (Frank Langella is a marvel of scary, seductive command) to hold the sponsors at bay while he and producer Fred Friendly (a subtly forceful Clooney) lay out a battle plan.
As a director, Clooney moves with admirable speed and economy. He sometimes tripped over his ambitions in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, his 2002 debut behind the camera. But here his hand is assured, his wit focused, his target never in doubt. This self-confessed "big old liberal," raised in the heat of media debate as the son of TV journalist Nick Clooney, is a born muckraker. With Good Night, and Good Luck - the words used by Murrow to sign off his broadcasts - Clooney emerges as a powerhouse filmmaker. The film only rarely leaves the CBS studios, but Clooney establishes the furtive atmosphere of the time. Reporter Joe Wershba (an avid Robert Downey Jr.) must hide his marriage to a fellow staff member (the reliably superb Patricia Clarkson) because of network rules. News anchor Don Hollenbeck (a deeply touching Ray Wise) is driven to suicide by a red-baiting columnist. Clooney has taken some flak for using singer Diane Reeves as a bridge between scenes, but her bold jazz stylings - in the manner of George's aunt Rosemary Clooney - fit right in with the film's insistence on upturning the standard version of history. These aren't white guys in suits flexing their muscles to win ratings. These are newspeople flying by the seat of their pants for something they believe in, even if it costs them big time.
At the center of the storm is Murrow, standing firm against the push for compromise. It's a bitch - not to mention a bore - to play a noble monument. Strathairn dodges that pitfall by making Murrow fallible, funny and human. Chain-smoking off the air and on, he mines the humor in the deft script by Clooney and producer Grant Heslov. Murrow wasn't so lofty that he refused to interview celebs for the CBS show Person to Person. Clooney includes a hilarious clip of gay pianist Liberace being asked by Murrow if he's ready to settle down with the right girl. Helping to spawn celeb journalism on the tube is a sin Murrow never lived down. His distinction came in picking his battles. Strathairn lets us see the war in Murrow's eyes as he takes on McCarthy not just for confusing dissent with disloyalty but for deciding to smear Murrow himself when the senator makes an appearance on See It Now. A spark of rage burns in Murrow, and Strathairn shows us the flame. Best known for his work in the films of his Williams College friend John Sayles (check out Passion Fish right now if you haven't seen it), Strathairn comes into his own with this career role, to which he brings three decades of acting expertise. It's a performance of ferocity and feeling that you won't soon forget.
A word here about the guy who plays McCarthy. You have to forgive the way he overdoes the sweaty, manipulative monster aspects of the role, because, thanks to Clooney's judicious use of actual film footage, McCarthy plays himself. The studio is pushing for a posthumous Oscar nomination.
I think not. More Oscar justice would be done in the name of the live ones. For a paltry $8 million, Clooney has crafted a period piece that speaks potently to a here-and-now when constitutional rights are being threatened in the name of the Patriot Act, and the American media trade in truth for access. "We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason," said Murrow. Amen to that, brother. Good night, and good luck.
Roger Ebert's Review
James Berardinelli's Review
typical head up their ass conservative review of the movie
Many neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz are disciples of a philosopher who believed that the elite should use deception, religious fervor and perpetual war to control the ignorant masses.
What would you do if you wanted to topple Saddam Hussein, but your intelligence agencies couldn't find the evidence to justify a war?
A follower of Leo Strauss may just hire the "right" kind of men to get the job done, people with the intellect, acuity, and, if necessary, the political commitment, polemical skills, and, above all, the imagination to find the evidence that career intelligence officers could not detect.
The "right" man for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, suggests Seymour Hersh in his recent New Yorker article entitled 'Selective Intelligence,' was Abram Shulsky, director of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) an agency created specifically to find the evidence of WMDs and/or links with Al Qaeda, piece it together, and clinch the case for the invasion of Iraq.
Like Wolfowitz, Shulsky is a student of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher named Leo Strauss who arrived in the United States in 1938. Strauss taught at several major universities, including Wolfowitz and Shulsky's alma mater, the University of Chicago, before his death in 1973.
Strauss is a popular figure among the neoconservatives. Adherents of his ideas include prominent figures both within and outside the administration. They include 'Weekly Standard' editor William Kristol; his father and indeed the godfather of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol; the new Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, a number of senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (home to former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Lynne Cheney), and Gary Schmitt, the director of the influential Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which is chaired by Kristol the Younger.
Strauss' philosophy is hardly incidental to the strategy and mindset adopted by these men as is obvious in Shulsky's 1999 essay titled "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)" (in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality). As Hersh notes in his article, Shulsky and his co-author Schmitt "criticize America's intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment." They argued that Strauss's idea of hidden meaning, "alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."
Rule One: Deception
It's hardly surprising then why Strauss is so popular in an administration obsessed with secrecy, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy. Not only did Strauss have few qualms about using deception in politics, he saw it as a necessity. While professing deep respect for American democracy, Strauss believed that societies should be hierarchical, divided between an elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow. But unlike fellow elitists like Plato, he was less concerned with the moral character of these leaders. According to Shadia Drury, who teaches politics at the University of Calgary, Strauss believed that "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior."
This dichotomy requires "perpetual deception" between the rulers and the ruled, according to Drury. Robert Locke, another Strauss analyst says,"The people are told what they need to know and no more." While the elite few are capable of absorbing the absence of any moral truth, Strauss thought, the masses could not cope. If exposed to the absence of absolute truth, they would quickly fall into nihilism or anarchy, according to Drury, author of 'Leo Strauss and the American Right' (St. Martin's 1999).
Second Principle: Power of Religion
According to Drury, Strauss had a "huge contempt" for secular democracy. Nazism, he believed, was a nihilistic reaction to the irreligious and liberal nature of the Weimar Republic. Among other neoconservatives, Irving Kristol has long argued for a much greater role for religion in the public sphere, even suggesting that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic made a major mistake by insisting on the separation of church and state. And why? Because Strauss viewed religion as absolutely essential in order to impose moral law on the masses who otherwise would be out of control.
At the same time, he stressed that religion was for the masses alone; the rulers need not be bound by it. Indeed, it would be absurd if they were, since the truths proclaimed by religion were "a pious fraud." As Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine points out, "Neoconservatives are pro-religion even though they themselves may not be believers."
"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing,'' Drury says, because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, precisely those traits that may promote dissent that in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. Bailey argues that it is this firm belief in the political utility of religion as an "opiate of the masses" that helps explain why secular Jews like Kristol in 'Commentary' magazine and other neoconservative journals have allied themselves with the Christian Right and even taken on Darwin's theory of evolution.
Third Principle: Aggressive Nationalism
Like Thomas Hobbes, Strauss believed that the inherently aggressive nature of human beings could only be restrained by a powerful nationalistic state. "Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed," he once wrote. "Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united and they can only be united against other people."
Not surprisingly, Strauss' attitude toward foreign policy was distinctly Machiavellian. "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat," Drury wrote in her book. "Following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured (emphases added)."
"Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in," says Drury. The idea easily translates into, in her words, an "aggressive, belligerent foreign policy," of the kind that has been advocated by neocon groups like PNAC and AEI scholars not to mention Wolfowitz and other administration hawks who have called for a world order dominated by U.S. military power. Strauss' neoconservative students see foreign policy as a means to fulfill a "national destiny" as Irving Kristol defined it already in 1983 that goes far beyond the narrow confines of a " myopic national security."
As to what a Straussian world order might look like, the analogy was best captured by the philosopher himself in one of his and student Allen Bloom's many allusions to Gulliver's Travels. In Drury's words, "When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect."
The image encapsulates the neoconservative vision of the United States' relationship with the rest of the world as well as the relationship between their relationship as a ruling elite with the masses. "They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and democracy," Drury says.
Jim Lobe writes on foreign policy for Alternet. His work has also appeared on Foreign Policy In Focus and TomPaine.com.