Thursday, March 31, 2005

Common Sense in a Crazy World

I love Gawker just a little bit more today.

CNN: A Longer Answer to a Quick Vote

More Than Words

I am a crybaby at the movies. So I wasn’t surprised that I cried through most of “Hotel Rwanda.” I didn’t expect, however, that I wouldn’t be able to stop crying nearly a week later. Nor could I stop talking about the movie.

In 1994, over three months, the Hutu majority of Rwanda killed nearly one million people, mostly members of the minority Tutsi tribe. Millions more were forced to flee to refugee camps. The rate of the killings exceeded that of the Holocaust, and the methods were brutal: mostly slow dismemberment by machete.

The movie “Hotel Rwanda” examines the genocide in Rwanda through the experience of Paul Rusesabinga, a manager at an upscale hotel frequented by wealthy Westerners and local powerbrokers. As the Western world abandons Paul and the rest of Rwanda, Paul uses his skills and resources to turn the hotel into a refugee camp for Tutsis and protects them from the constant threats of the Hutus.

I consider myself to be informed about and involved in the world. I knew of the genocide in Rwanda, although I didn’t know many details or understand the reasons for the conflict. I knew that the United States did not intervene. But after watching “Hotel Rwanda” and reading more about the genocide, I realize how little I knew. As I spoke to people about the movie, I realized that many others knew little or nothing about what happened in Rwanda. Many had forgotten.

In talking about the movie, I often mentioned my frustration that all I was doing was talking. I was horrified by the suffering of the people. I was outraged at the United States—and the rest of the Western world—for not intervening. I was ashamed of my own ignorance and cowardice. I wanted to do something to atone for my own sins and the sins of my country. What good is talk? I wanted action.

But maybe talking is the most important thing that I can do. The more I talked about the movie, the more others wanted to know about Rwanda, the more questions they asked, the more interest they had in the movie and in the real story. I wasn’t just talking about a movie; I was starting a crucial conversation.

We need to talk about the genocide in Rwanda. We need to talk about why we refused to call the massacre of one million people “genocide.” We need to talk about why we aren’t doing more to stop the large-scale violence in Sudan. We need to talk about why we only get involved in humanitarian aid when it involves an economic partner or White people and why we continue to ignore human rights violations in Africa, China, and Russia. We need to talk about why we erect borders—through policies, regulations, words—that separate us from the poor and oppressed.

We can’t turn back the clock to make things right in Rwanda, but we can address the atrocities that take place today. Women in the Congo are being subjected to systematic rape. Children in Uganda leave their homes to sleep in makeshift camps to avoid being kidnapped and forced into becoming soldiers.

Violence in Sudan has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and more are being lost every day. The U.S. government has even recognized the situation as a genocide. Yet the U.S. Administration and the United Nations continue to block efforts to end the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice, and they are failing to meet promises of funding and humanitarian aid. We need to talk about why political turf wars and semantic debates are getting in the way of crucial intervention that could save countless people from the horrors of mass murder, rape, and displacement.

We need to talk about these things---with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers. We need to urge our church leaders to talk from the pulpit and our media to talk in the press. We need to talk to our government leaders and representatives. Perhaps when our voices grow numerous enough and loud enough, our words will compel George W. Bush, Kofi Annan, and other world leaders to take action.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Weekend Movie Roundup

I'm on Day 3 of my renewed commitment to post regularly, and I'm already behind by a day. Oh well. At least no one is actually reading this.

Or are they?

Born Into Brothels (2004)
Winner of the Academy Award for Documentary Feature, Born Into Brothels peeks into the lives of eight children living in Calcutta’s red light district. The children are given cameras and photography lessons by director/photographer Zana Briski and then set loose in their neighborhood to document their world. The resulting photos are a heartbreakingly beautiful mix of childhood whimsy and harsh reality, as are the children themselves. We see them fly kites, ride bikes, and giggle like any other child. On a trip to the beach, they sing and dance and splash in the waves. But then, in interviews, the children explain matter-of-factly how their mothers make their living---through prostitution---with only a thin curtain to separate the child from the business. The girls talk about how they are expected to “join the line” when they are old enough to prostitute themselves, and the boys worry about their friends’ futures. We see the filth and violence of their lives.

As dazzling and stunning as the images are, however, the film ultimately is rather shallow. Briski, and her co-writer/co-director Ross Kauffman, kept the focus on the photography classes rather than using that as a frame for delving deeper into the lives of the children and their families, leaving the sense that this is more of a public relations video, meant to be played at fundraisers, than a feature-length documentary.

When we do get glimpses of the problems that the children face---lack of good education, official prejudice because their parents are deemed “criminals”---the focus shifts from the children to Briski and her personal frustrations with Indian bureaucracy. Indeed, much of the second half of the movie revolves around Briski’s concerns for the children and the obstacles she faces in trying to help them; just as we’ve become invested in these children, they are pushed to the background.

Overall, Born Into Brothels is much like the children’s photographs: beautiful and endearing, but amateurish and incomplete.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
The Spanish-language Diarios de Motocicleta dramatizes the 1950s road trip of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Alberto Granado. The two men set off from their native Argentina to explore South America---to see a continent that they knew only from books and school, as Guevara says. And to sample the South American women, as Granado says. Their adventure becomes a life changing experience for both of them as they encounter indigenous people who have been forced out of their homes and off their farms by rich landowners, as well as lepers in a medical colony.

The film succeeds in every way. The writing, based on diaries written by Guevara and Granado, is tight---insightful without becoming heavy-handed, humorous and endearing in parts, while stirring and disturbing in others. The cinematography is a beautiful blend of stunning landscapes and tragic humanity. The acting is superb: Gael García Bernal plays Guevara as a blend of thoughtful, naive, and mischievous---alternating between upright idealism and subversive fun---in other words, a typical 24-year-old. Rodrigo De la Serna similarly brings a subtlety to Granado, who although older is less thoughtful and serious than Guevara, yet de la Serna never lets Granado become stock character. Despite his womanizing and thrill seeking, Granado takes his friendship seriously---caring for Guevara during illness---and is affected by the encounters with the poor and sick, although mostly in his growing respect for Guevara.

Where the film most succeeds, however, is in pulling us into Guevara’s story. We are lulled into the easy fun of the road trip and then jarred by the images of the indigenous poor. Most of us know little more---or less---about the conditions in South America than Guevara did at the beginning of his trip, and we learn as he learns, little by little. The movie gradually reveals the truth to us as Guevara’s eyes are opened, through images and encounters, without ever becoming pedantic or sentimental. And in the end, much like Guevara, we feel a stirring that something isn’t quite right and an urge to know more.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Writers Charles Kaufman and Michel Gondry garnered a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The accessible, yet experimental, film deftly explores such big issues as the meaning of sadness, the limits of technology, the ethics of privacy, and the role of fate through the small story of one romance.

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is a quiet, uptight homebody. Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) is an outspoken, free-spirited party girl. We experience their romance in reverse as Joel has his memories of Clementine erased, after learning that she has already undergone the procedure. Joel willingly lets go of the pain of rejection, the bitterness of their final fights, and the ugliness of a soured love. But when his memories of the good times---of late-night pillow talks and silly games and romantic escapades---begin to disappear, Joel regrets his decision and fights to keep Clementine in his memory. Meanwhile, the “scientists” who are removing Joel’s memories (played with delightful dorkiness by Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood and wonderful pretension by Kirsten Dunst) are forced to sort through the messes that they have created in their own lives.

The story is quirky enough that it could have gotten caught up in its own invention, but Kaufman and Gondry keep it grounded in a simple story of love gone wrong and a series of sweet, telling, and thoroughly human moments. Both Carrey and Winslet shine in out-of-character roles that force them out of their “characters” and into embodying the roles.

Monday, March 28, 2005

On the Nightstand

By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day ed. by Robert Ellsberg
The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of the Darkness by Karen Armstrong
The Powers That Be by Walter Wink
"A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
Utne---April 2005
Harper's Magazine---March 2005

Friday, March 18, 2005

This Just Makes Me Angry

U.S. Senate and House committees in the Republican-controlled Congress issued subpoenas for [Terri] Schiavo, her husband, and her caregivers to appear at hearings on March 25 and March 28, which would in effect keep her alive for the time being.

For those catching up, Terri Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state (i.e., a coma) since 1990. Her husband wants to remove the feeding tube that is keeping her alive; her parents object.

Now I realize that many members of Congress have spent much of their time in office in a persistent vegetative state, but this is beyond ridiculous. They issued a supeona for a woman in a coma to appear at a hearing. For what?!

She's been in a coma for FIFTEEN YEARS. Let her go to God in peace. Let her husband, family, and friends move out of their own vegetative states, begin to heal, and let go.

The Republicans and Schiavo's parents claim the higher moral ground---that removing the feeding tube is "barbarian" and inhumane. But what's inhumane, what is truly cruel, is keeping a woman with no hope of recovery artificially alive for selfish reasons---whether personal or political.

These people claim to believe in God but they don't trust Him to do His Will. They are playing God, and Terri Schiavo is just a piece in their game.

Let her go. In peace.

AP Article on Terri Schiavo

More To Be Happy About

HBO picks up fourth season of The Wire

My happiness is tempered, though:
1. The article includes two major season 3 spoilers. And I'm only up to season 2 on DVD. Darn it!
2. The 12-episode order. This is the best show on television today. It deserves at least 18 eps, if not a full 22-ep order. Ugh.

In Need of Disaster Relief

Yesterday, I hit the perfect storm of fatigue, crankiness, and hunger. The damage assessment thus far

Barnes and Noble: $53.48
A Changed Man by Francine Prose
Christian Mythmakers: C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, J. R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton and Others by Rolland Hein
Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections On A Writing Life by Madeliene L'Engle, compiled by Carole F. Chase

Albertsons: $19.65
Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Ice Cream (limited batch)
Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs (6-pack)
Cadbury Creme Eggs (4-pack)
M&Ms (medium bag)
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (original)
Incidentals: toilet paper and peach yogurt smoothie

Things That Make Me Go Yay

This makes me happy:

Philip Gourevitch to edit the Paris Review

And this makes me feel both tingly and smart:

2005 National Magazine Award Finalists

Friday, March 04, 2005


It's Friday of the week that would not end, and I have a chocolate hangover after an M&M bender last night (at least I stuck to the medium bag). And I stayed up way too late watching "24" (Season 2, disk 2).

In any case, this was very funny to me this morning, and if I had the energy for it, I'd laugh out loud: Resistance is Futile

Speaking of "24" and zombies, what is it about that show that makes me watch even as I want to throttle the writers for the absurdity of the situation and the lack of attention to detail? A government building in Los Angeles is bombed and there's no panic in the city? Said bombing kills 29 people and severely damages the infrastructure, but the plumbing is intact? I want to hate it, but I can't tear myself away.

Then again, what made me think eating a half pound of M&Ms in one sitting was a good idea?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


As another blogger pointed out, today is Tuesday. And Tuesday is a drag. So I'll let the McSweeney crew (who are infinitely wittier and hipper than I) provide you with a daily "hee."

Nonrecommended Questions for Your Five-Minute Speed Date