Tag Archives: 9/11

Review: SNOWDEN by Ted Rall

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How important is the truth to you? In the new graphic biography, SNOWDEN, published by Seven Stories Press, Ted Rall presents to us not only the story of a whistleblower but an American intelligence system gone haywire. In Orwellian fashion, your laptop, home computer, smartphone, or television screen are being used as monitoring devices. As Rall states, “The National Security Agency’s goal is to gather every fact, every communication, about everybody on Earth.” And despite the best efforts of Edward Snowden to expose the abuse of power, the NSA continues to pretty much do as it pleases. Unlike the media’s personality-driven story, this story is only partly about a whistleblower.

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Ted Rall is known for his provocative political cartoons. For this book, he aims for clarity and a step-by-step approach. He does not draw horns and a tail on each of the bad guys. He tones it down for the sake of better conveying the facts. It’s a delicate balancing act as he goes about describing the enormity of the abuse, impressing upon the reader the large number of people who knew about it but remained quiet, and attempting to paint a portrait of the ideal personality to blow the whistle.

NSA-Surveillance

Given the number of key facts that need to be presented in an organized, and accessible fashion, Rall does a supreme job of giving the reader a primer on how their privacy is being violated and why a young man named Edward Snowden deserves to be given a chance to make his case.

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The pace of the narrative is just right. It amounts to a panel per page. You feel a serious urgency tempered by a steady hand. It seems like each page has boiled down what it has to say to a very compelling level. Many pages can easily act as memes. One excellent example focuses on the duplicitous testimony before Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He makes the ridiculous distinction that it’s alright to store an innocent person’s data as long as it’s not read.

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Ted Rall has never drawn a convincing portrait of anyone. His depictions don’t really resemble Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or George W. Bush as much as look like a bunch of generic meat puppets. That helps create enough of a distance when dealing with these political fixtures. Maybe this story was a little different as it sees a former boy scout and defender of country turn into the most wanted man on the planet. Rall seems to have been moved by that fact.

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We mostly see Snowden depicted pretty much like any other Rall character but, at times, there is a less rushed, more careful, depiction. And, without a doubt, there is a certain specificity, and even warmth, for his cover art portrait of Edward Snowden. I think that was essential and will help draw readers into a most compelling read.

SNOWDEN is a 224-page trade paperback, published by Seven Stories Press, and available now. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Edward Snowden, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Seven Stories Press, Ted Rall

Review: ‘Beyond: Edward Snowden’

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Bluewater Productions has launched the Beyond series that promises to reveal stories about subjects that some people would rather you did not know. For its debut, we have “Beyond: Edward Snowden.” Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned dissident, whistleblower and fugitive, now has his story unfold in this comic book. What you don’t know about the most wanted man on the planet will shock you.

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Filed under 9/11, Bluewater Productions, Comics, Comics Reviews, Edward Snowden, Surveillance

Review: ZERO DARK THIRTY

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Hollywood welcomes sending a message to the world. That is why “Zero Dark Thirty” is a formidable contender for Best Picture. But, the night I went to see it, I had a man next to me perpetually munching on popcorn, even during the waterboarding scene. How do you munch your way through popcorn during something like that? You have to wonder if that may say something about our collective confusion over 9/11 and its aftermath. Anything can be turned into entertainment. “Zero Dark Thirty,” despite boorish popcorn munchers, is a different kind of entertainment. It is the kind of activist entertainment intended to spur action and thought, in the same spirit as “All The President’s Men.”

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are up to the task of presenting to the world the hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and what happened along the way to finding and killing him. Just as they captured the sense of what was going on in the U.S. invasion of Iraq with “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow and Boal again give shape to recent history with the powerful medium of cinema.

Zero Dark Thirty 2013 Best Picture

In order to make better sense of a complex issue, the film focuses on two CIA officers that represent the Central Intelligence Agency through this process. There is Dan, played by Jason Clarke, who vigorously pursues “enhanced interrogation techniques,” in other words, torture, to gain information. And then there is Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, who transitions from torture to a better way, in other words, persistent detective work. The film has its share of controversy. Complaints have come from U.S. senators and the CIA, that the film inaccurately shows torture as resulting in useful information towards finding Osama bin Laden. Perhaps the CIA felt that torture had its place.

The fact is that this film objectively shows Dan and Maya essentially failing with the torture route. If it coughed up any information, it was insignificant. It’s enough to make a red meat true believer like Dan decide it’s time to quit. “You don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes,” he advises Maya. Maybe to hedge its bet, the film implies that any specs of info that Maya gleaned off the backs of detainees may have helped to narrow down her search for the legendary mystery man, the infamous “Abu Ahmed,” the trusted courier of Osama bin Laden. But, more to the point, the film gives human error its own title card for playing the role of inadvertently suppressing vital information, information that could have been found without any torture in the first place.

If there is too much of an air of ambiguity for the first part of this film, you could hear a pin drop and not one munch of popcorn when we get down to crunch time. We reach zero hour about two thirds in once bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad is confirmed: the skeptics at the White House are satisfied, special super secret choppers are untethered at Area 51, and SEAL Team 6 is assembled, locked, and loaded. The definition of “zero dark thirty” is a military term describing a time between midnight and dawn. While it is a unspecified time, it inspires certainty and resolve. The good guys are moving at a sure pace under the cover of dark. The chopper will, at first, fail, as we all know. There will be casualties. But, on that fateful night in Pakistan, despite the Pakistani air force ready to fire in retaliation, the United States regained much lost ground and turned a page of history. It’s enough, for that moment, to keep the popcorn untouched.

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9/11 Review: BEST OF ENEMIES

As we mark another anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, there is a new book out that helps to provide perspective on relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. It is a graphic novel that goes a long way in helping to explain how the pieces fit in the puzzle of geopolitics.

“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” The words to the United States Marine Corps hymn may sound obscure until you dig deeper. For our purposes, let’s consider the shores of Tripoli. This refers to the United States at war with the Barbary pirates. This is also the point of departure to an engaging and informative book on the relationship between America and the Middle East, the graphic novel, “Best of Enemies: A History of U.S. and Middle East Relations.” Take a look at the curious cover: FDR and the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, perched amid a tangle of oil pipeline. The ironic and determined tone is set and maintained throughout by two masters: historian Jean-Pierre Filiu and cartoonist David B. Many readers will be surprised, even shocked, by what they find here.

But before our history lesson on the pirates, we are treated to the mystical tale of Gilgamesh and his war with the gods. This dovetails into a big leap forward of 4,600 years with a quote from Donald Rumsfeld, circa 2003, straight out of a fairy tale but sadly part of the war in Iraq: “During a war, the kind of ‘evidence’ people are looking for usually doesn’t exist.”

With that in mind, we proceed to the first fumbling steps into another eerily similar war. A newly formed United States of America must confront the terrorists of its day. This would lead to America’s first military encounter on Muslim soil. It would take the new country on a wild ride, from paying tribute to full-on military engagement. The die had been cast. Way before there were any neo-cons, the idea was already alive that the power that ruled in the Middle East, would rule the world. It was in 1902 that American officer Alfred Mahan, a theorist of the projection of power, coined the term, “Middle East” and fostered the mindset that would come back to haunt us all.

It would not be until World War II that the ties that bind would become so apparent: oil. It would be a match made in heaven, so to speak, when the leader of the free world, President Franklin Roosevelt, no stranger to riches and splendor, was able to win over the Saudi family and its oil drenched country. Unfortunately, the thirst for oil is insatiable and not even the Saudis could satisfy it alone.

One of the big hits at the San Diego Comic-Con this year was an interactive digital graphic novel based on Operation Ajax, the covert operations conducted by the U.S. and the U.K. to topple the leader of Iran in 1953, all for the sake of oil. While this is not top secret news today, it can still shock. In this book, the coup of Mohammed Mossadegh, the legitimate leader of Iran, simply to secure oil rights, is handled thoroughly as part of a bigger picture. The machinations of intalling a most unlikely leader, the Shah of Iran, are fascinating. Here is someone Peter Sellars would have had a field day with portraying all his cowardice and ineptitude. But even stranger is the fact that FDR’s cousin, Kermit Roosevelt, is Ajax’s Operations Chief, and proves to be a most diabolical villain. Peter Sellars could have handled him quite nicely too.

The approach of the book is refreshing in how the U.S. is placed among all the other players of geopolitics. There is no shining beacon on a hill, per se, and that goes for everyone. There aren’t any real heroes here, except for Gilgamesh and Mossadegh. David B.’s drawings flow with the narrative, literally bending and twisting as needed. This style owes something to 18th and 19th century cartoonists, with their ornate and fluid line and word balloons that floated along like clouds of custard. David B. takes that style and makes it his own giving characters bendy knees, necks and torsos along with all manner of uninhibited ways to fill the panels. It’s a wonderful mix of political cartoonist sensibilities and fine artist sensibilities.

“Best of Enemies” is a two-volume work so we have even more sensitive material up ahead. What we seem to always forget is that misguided policies have very real consequences. Countries can misguide themselves and they can then misguide the public. One bit of misinformation breeds another and so on. We hopefully still have a chance if we’re armed with the facts.

“Best of Enemies” is part of Abrams ComicArts, a Self Made Hero imprint. This 120-page hardcover  is 24.95 U.S. Visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under 9/11, Abrams ComicArts, Book Reviews, Books, David B., graphic novels, History

Finding An Authentic Voice for 9/11

It is a necessary thing to aim the bar high when attempting to present the most remarkable expressions about 9/11. But we shouldn’t get so intimidated by the subject matter that we end up falling into stilted language and a stilted vision. I was reading The New York Times and was surprised by what I read in a think piece entitled, “Outdone by Reality,” by Michiko Kakutani. The writer couldn’t think of any novel that truly captured the raw feeling of 9/11. The one that comes to mind for me is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Kakutani does mention it but dismisses it within the portion of his article he entitles, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The problem with that novel, for him, is that it resembles the structure of Gunter Grass’s “The Tin Drum,” which also has as its protagonist, a boy named Oskar. I would simply say that is part of the art of the novel. But no, for Kakutani finding the words is oh such a struggle. I don’t think so at all. In fact, Foer’s book does a remarkable job of not being on a high horse, shrugging one’s shoulders and weeping because the words aren’t there.

The words are there! You just need to organize your thoughts. The character of Oskar, a very precocious 9-year-old, speaks for the turmoil felt by so many after the 9/11 tragedy. In this case, Oskar lost his father that day. It’s a very symbolic and effective construct. Oskar is a mess. He finds a key among his father’s belongings. For most of the story, he is seeking the lock to that key. We seek our own answers too. Are they all at the same level of intensity? Of course not. You could be someone living on the Upper West Side or in Kansas City and not have lost anyone in 9/11. The connection to the event, for most of us, is what we consume from the media.  Are we all traumatized by the event, rendered mute? No, that would be nutty in the extreme and highly prententious at the least. Anyway, I am veering off the topic. I just think Mr. Kakutani had a job to do: write a think piece for The New York Times. And it reads as such. Take from it what you will. It’s just human nature. You can live in close proximity to where a major event occurred and still have a, say, provincial view of it. For Mr. Kakutani, it was the installation in 2005 of Christo’s “The Gates,” a series of saffron draped gates that dotted Central Park, that he acknowledged as a successful work of art that addressed 9/11, albeit indirectly. Well, that is Kakutani’s neighborhood. He let down his guard and enjoyed the art. Now if he could just go back and give Mr. Foer’s book another chance, assuming he ever read it in the first place. Well, he can always see the movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and complain about how off the mark that movie was to healing our collective wound. It’s a major motion picture. It probably will miss the mark but it could spark a better understanding for many who have not even heard of the book yet, much less its paying tribute to “The Tin Drum,” both an excellent novel and film.

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