Geoffrey Gray's unsympathetic account of the recent protests against Black Hawk Down ["Black Hawk Damned," February 12] might have offered a more balanced view of the film (and its opponents) if he'd researched what happened in the months before and after the battle of October 3, 1993. He might have recounted the American hijacking of the original UN humanitarian mission, the U.S. relegation of relief efforts and escalation of military operations, the American refusal either to engage in serious political dialogue or to alert the UN of its intentions in Somalia, the numerous intimidating and botched raids by American units on Mogadishu in the summer of 1993 (including one in which U.S. Special Forces wrongly arrested eight UN employees), and the Clinton administration's disgraceful efforts after October 3 to blame the mess it had created on the United Nations.
Gray might then have identified the real scandal following the Black Hawk Down battle: the U.S. refusal either to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda or to allow any other nation to intervene to stop the killing. Historians and even Clinton administration officials have conceded that this failure of will, which cost more than 500,000 lives in a preventable mass killing, was a result of Somalia Syndrome. Gray notes approvingly that Black Hawk Down "doesn't answer questions, and doesn't ask them." Given the consequences of the U.S. mission to Somaliamore than 1000 killed on October 3, and half a million slaughtered just six months laterit's hard to see the movie's silence on these issues as a virtue.
Princeton, New Jersey
I was impressed by the objectivity of Geoffrey Gray's examination of Black Hawk Down's mixed reception, but I think that it is important to emphasize that the film's extended and "accurate" focus on combat does work as propaganda for the military's current objective. My Webster's dictionary defines propaganda as information or ideas methodically spread to promote or injure a cause, movement, nation, etc. And this film, nationally advertised and screened, promotes the tools and mentality of combat with its 100-plus minutes of combat action.
I also found author Mark Bowden's quote"People respond to images more than words. They convey an impression, and some people can take it wrongly"extremely edifying. Film is one of the most potent forms of propaganda for those very reasons. Not only do images say more than words, they impress emotions and ideas in us without asking us to analyze them at all.
But unlike the protesters, I don't think we should ban any film, no matter how it depicts war or any other issue. Rather, we should look into ourselves and examine how we interpret the images presented to us on the big screen. Usually the bad, propagandizing films teach us the most about who we are and where we are headed.
THAT '70S SHOW
Reading "Keepers of the Flame" [February 5] by Esther Kaplan, I suddenly felt like the guy in the television series Quantum Leap, who travels back in time. It took me to 1970, when I was reading Charles Reich's The Greening of America, which had the same breathless description of and infatuation with a counterculture. The kids Kaplan describes are the product of a wealthy society and can, as Ms. Kaplan said, live off the "leavings" of capitalist America. Can you go dumpster-diving or steal plastic forks from fast-food restaurants in Afghanistan? There I don't think people have the time to posture (e.g., name themselves Warcry), get pierced, or dye their hairthey're more worried about trying to feed themselves.
Let's put this article in a time capsule and open it 30 years from now when the featured activists are in their forties and fifties with kids in college. I think we'll see the same phenomenon that happened to many former Symbionese Liberation Army members who were going to destroy the "fascist insect" back in the '70s. They became part of the system.
LIVING MY LIFE
I would like to commend Esther Kaplan for her article on the "new" anarchists ["Keepers of the Flame"]. As a person whose beliefs coincide largely with those of traditional or historical anarchistsand so I suppose I am an anarchistI applaud Kaplan for being one of the few writers in the mass media to seriously and fairly address the resurgence of anarchist activity in the last few years. Her accurate portrayal of the diversity, seriousness, and creativity of the new movement is welcomeand unfortunately all too rare amidst the barrage of distortions and vilifications found in other quarters.
HEROES AND MARTYRS
I was heartened to read of the passion for social justice among the young anarchists described in Esther Kaplan's article. However, as a "market anarchist" myself, I was appalled that these activists could embrace any form of socialism after it has led to crushing poverty and oppression in so many countries. The government is the enemy, not capitalism. After all, it is capitalism that provides the "supermarket throwaways" on which the groups mentioned in the article depend.
Economics aside, a lack of respect for private property will ruin any drive for reform. I was sickened by activist Warcry's defense of "the transformation of the psychogeographic landscape" on strategically chosen corporate targets. This is agitprop that would make Don Rumsfeld proud.
Jersey City, New Jersey
I'm not trying to disrespect reality, and I am sure that everyone employed by the Voice (including me) needs to buy baby some new shoes. Still I couldn't help but wince at the, uh, irony on the Web page for the books section, wherein immediately beneath the name of the reviewed book Hatred Of Capitalism ["Pomo Trip," Joshua Clover, February 12] was the hyperlink Buy This Book, as if that were the subtitle, courtesy of your deal with Amazon. If I'm to fight through the dissonance and let someone help me hate capitalism for 20 bucks, couldn't it at least be Booksense.com, or Powells.com? I'm begging, and I won't quit.
ALL THAT GLISTENS
As an African American woman I was horrified to learn about the self-hate epidemic in Africa manifest in the skin-bleaching craze ["Fade to White," N. Jamiyla Chisholm, January 29]. Ghanaians and others in the West African region are born with the blackest and most beautiful skin in the world: skin that glistens in the sunshine, strong, firm skin that makes any color more vibrant. To see an ebony black person in red, silver, purple, or white is breathtakinga kiss from God.
IN LIVING COLOR
Is it really so surprising that Ghanaians are bleaching their skin, when the white media are continuously defining what is beautiful, what is good, and what is acceptable?
It is unfortunate that one group can have such a profound impact on world perceptions and attitudes about self-esteem. But it's hopeful that a good number of people in West Africa and other parts of the world aren't buying into the skin-bleaching practice.
It's wonderful that many black people accept who they are and the skin color that goes along with it regardless of perceived advantages or disadvantages. I am optimistic that blackness will continue to prevail as the acceptable color in Ghana and other African countries. In the meantime, let's not be too harsh on those who do practice bleaching. Since they exist, we as black people must accept and respect their humanity regardless of what color they want to be.
Nat Hentoff has never been more on target than with his recent writings on Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC school system ["Bloomberg vs. Failing Schools," February 5]. I was a teacher in this system for only a few months, and I can honestly say that the behavior I witnessed on the part of both school and district administrators was dishearteningto say the least.
Teachers are the first line of defense when it comes to the success or failure of their students, but in my experience, the administration and its policies make it extremely difficult for them to do their jobs effectively. There is more concern over whether district-mandated papers are posted either in or outside the classroom than the fact that most of the children can't read or comprehend these postings. Teachers are not encouraged to be creative in planning lessons and structuring activities, but rather are required to follow inane schedules that demand that they teach a certain subject matter, in a certain way, at exactly the same time every day. There is a generalized sense of apathy that permeates the school environment, ultimately trickling down to the students, and effectively discouraging them from reaching their full potential.
As a city made up of many different communities, we must continue to work together and speak truth to the powers that be, and demand that changes be made. Otherwise, as Hentoff points out, we are all doomed to suffer the effects in the long run.
Stephanie A. Elder
RANT & ROLL
I really enjoyed R.C. Baker's review of Rant, Ian Hunter's latest CD [February 5]. Since this album was released in April 2001, it has not left my car's CD player. It is truly one of the best albums of the year. Its lack of airplayillustrates the sad state of New York radio in general, as there seems to be no room for intelligent rock and roll songwritingespecially if the artist is over 20!
Anyone who was lucky enough to see Ian Hunter perform at any of his three recent New York shows saw something special. This guy still rocks at 60 and his songwriting and performance skills are second to none. He's one of the reasons I still love rock and roll!
WHAT EVIL LURKS IN THE HEARTS OF MEN?
Re the item "What Cheney's Hiding" in James Ridgeway's Mondo Washington column [February 5]: Vice President Cheney is trying to cloud men's minds, as the Shadow used to say in a popular radio program of the 1940s. There is a serious difference between a United States president's struggle to preserve confidentiality between himself and his White House aides (who are paid to give the president all sides of an issue) and Dick Cheney's misguided belief that when he talks with private citizens who are lobbying him for some specific action on their own behalf, such communication requires confidentiality.
Presumably, and supposedly, presidents of the United States and their aides are trying to function on behalf of the public good. Lobbyists function only on behalf of their clients. I am deeply troubled and saddened that Cheney does not see a huge difference in purpose between the confidential advice of aides and the pressuring of self-serving lobbyists.
Waldwick, New Jersey
I totally agree with Chisun Lee ["In the Crosshairs," January 29]. When the rights of one group are systematically erased, the seeds are sown for abuse of rights of other groups. The Muslim and Arab American community has been unfairly maligned and held guilty by association. Thank you for responsible journalismholding a mirror up to the community.
Re Kenneth Shouler's "M.J. vs. Kobe: The Verdict" [February 12]: I hate comparison, but it is plain to see that Shouler, as we say in Bed-Stuy, "is on Jordan's dick."
I agree there can be no comparison between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Based on all the stats in this article, Jordan is a Mr. Everything. But the question should be: What kind of numbers would Jordan have put up if he had had to contend with a teammate like Shaquille O'Neal, as Bryant did? Because Shaq was around to rack up points, Bryant never had to put up big numbers like Jordan did to win games. Comparing athletes from different eras and/or teams may make a great conversation, but that's about it. The Voice sportswriters probably believe that Marciano would have beaten Ali! No, just kidding.
THE SUNDANCE KID
Thanks so much to Dennis Lim for "Search and Rescue Operations," his overview of the Sundance Film Festival [February 5]. As always, Lim cuts through the bullshit that attends such events and gives readers a useful and entertaining heads-up for some of the year's coming releases.
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