Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Notes on Fahrenheit 9/11 

It's hard to know where to start with this thing. I mean, you could really write a book on it, it's so huge. This guy already has a decent start: Fifty Six Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11

I found that site while doing a bit of research for some of the problems I thought of while watching the movie, and which I had not previously seen comment on. But he has mentioned all the ones I wanted to talk about, and commented on them much more extensively than I could. (The things I was going to mention were the Secret Service protection for the Saudi Embassy, the 7% figure on Saudi investment in America, the 7 crucial minutes of delay, and a few others I can't remember at the moment).

I don't believe that these are minor issues, either. The only thing that you can't really argue with is the the war footage, which is horrible and affecting. Perhaps sensing this, a friend told me that that's really what the movie is about, and the rest of it isn't very important. I disagree, however. You cannot fight stupid shit with stupid shit (but you can try). I hate stupid shit, I hate it no matter who it comes from, and I think you should hate it too. And this movie is filled with stupid shit.

If you're right, you shouldn't have to bend the truth - at all - to make your point. There are plenty of well-reasoned arguments for many of Michael Moore's viewpoints, but he can't put those on the screen, and given what is on the screen, I wonder if he even knows what they would be.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite passages in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude.

`That means,' Colonel Aureliano Buendia said, smiling when the reading was over, `that all we're fighting for is power.'

`They're tactical changes,' one of the delegates replied. `Right now, the main thing is to broaden the popular base of the war. Then we'll have another look.'

One of Colonel Aureliano Buendia's political advisers hastened to intervene.

`It's a contradiction,' he said. `If these changes are good, it means that the Conservative regime is good. If we succeed in broadening the popular base of the war with them, as you people say, it means that the regime has a broad popular base. It means, in short, that for almost twenty years we've been fighting against the sentiments of the nation.'

He was going to go on, but Colonel Aureliano Buendia stopped him with a signal. `Don't waste your time, doctor,' he said. `The important thing is that from now on we'll be fighting only for power.' Still smiling, he took the documents the delegates gave him and made ready to sign them.

`Since that's the way it is,' he concluded, `we have no objection to accepting.'

As is often the case with many controversial movies, some groups have tried to block its release. This is always a stupid thing to do, not only because I think it's un-American and inexcusable to try to prevent someone from speaking their mind, and then let everyone else choose whether or not to listen to it. It's also a stupid thing to do because the movie is rarely as offensive or shocking as you imagine it to be. This movie isn't anywhere near good enough to deserve having people try to ban it.

One thing that struck Claire and I was a weird vibe, where we were left going, "Wow, that's kind of offensive." For example, when they are listing the "Coalition of the Willing," he chooses to represent certain countries with say, a man riding on a horse-pulled wagon, or three monkeys sitting at a table. What the hell is that? And there is a scene in which members of the Bush administration are cut together constantly shaking hands with Saudi officials. OOooooooh! What is the problem here? Is it actually his assertion that you could not put together a similar montage of any other president (assuming footage exists), or what? And oh god, no! Don't let it be the case that Saudi Arabians invest in our country! This is exactly the xenophobic mentality that makes me love that wonderful speech in Network from Arthur Jensen in Network (search for "Arthur Jensen," and read the quotes in order. He gives this speech right after Beale manages to stop the Arab purchase of a media company). Better yet, watch this amazing movie.

Many of the problems with this movie strike me as stemming from data mining. If you build a friendster-like network of everyone in your life, and then search for connections, you're going to find some surprising things, even though they probably don't mean anything. People do this all the time with baseball statistics ("He's always hit a homerun when he's been at bat fourth in St. Louis on a tuesday") and elections ("Ohio has voted with the winner in every presidential election since 1969"). This is all especially true of especially well-connected people like the President. Just as it was stupid when a friend forwarded me a list of people "connected" with Bill Clinton who had died "mysteriously," it's just as stupid to find all these connections in George Bush's life and assume that they are the only remnants of a vicious and vast conspiracy (executed by a dunce, of course).

At one point, Michael Moore mentions that some defense company had its IPO and raised $237 million in one day. He refers to this as the company "earning a profit of $237 million in one day." A man next to me gasped, "Jesus Christ." Claire and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes.
Michael Moore also attacks Bush for "giving Bin Laden a two month head start" in Afghanistan, and not having enough troops on the ground there. Dave Kopel's site points out that this is an intellectually dishonest criticism when coming from Moore, but it's stupid on top of that. Rushing into war immediately would have obviously been a bad idea; Bush first tried to apply pressure on the Taliban to see if they would sell out Bin Laden (was he wrong?). But in any case, Afghanistan is a logistical nightmare. It's landlocked, and none of the surrounding countries really wanted to help us (very publicly, anyways) for various reasons. It already takes months to move our men and equipment and supplies and so forth around the world on boats. The fact that it was hard for us to get near it hampered our ability to deliver troops and set up supply lines quickly (and judging from other military efforts, two months would be a very quick timescale for getting all that stuff set up). That is why the campaign was largely based on bombing and special forces, two tools in our arsenal that aren't as affected by these problems.

I don't know how people, especially those who come wanting to hear what it has to say (since this movie cannot possibly change your mind), come out of this movie. Do they actually leave it thinking that Bush was actually in cahoots with the members of the Bin Laden family who were authorized to leave the country? Do they actually think the war in Iraq was just a business manuever? I can't imagine that, but it seems to be the case, judging from what I heard people saying. This movie takes a bunch of bad feelings, suspicions, and a few juicy bits gathered from data mining, throws in some cheap shots, and packages it into a complete package for those who want to buy what it's selling. It takes complex people, events, and relationships, and simplifies them into a simple story, an easy to follow framework for reading the world.

Geographical Notes: When Moore is standing in between the Watergate, the Kennedy Center, and the Saudi Embassy, he's about a block from where I live on Virginia Avenue. There's my building, Virginia crosses over a freeway, and then there they are (the Saudi Embassy is closest). I pass by there all the time to get groceries at the Watergate, and we of course walked right back through there on the way back from the movie.

I don't know why that lady talked to the lady who lives in Lafayette Park. She happens to show up in some photos I've taken there, so I'll upload one of those in a moment.

heh. i think i know who forwarded you that list of the clinton deaths....
So what got you to finally go see it?

Anyway, you should see this rather staggering list of truths in the movie: http://www.michaelmoore.com/warroom/f911notes/

The links you've sent me (like Spinsanity) are doing their own data mining: Just list a dozen "questionable" or troubling areas where it can be alleged that an (obvious to me) opinion or inuendo is being presented as a "fact" and the sheer size of these half-objections makes it seem like the film is all lies. I think people who don't agree with Moore see the film through a different lense: I think they're much more likely to believe the opinions in the film will be believed by others to be fact.

Anyway, it is pretty interesting that when you're given a memo that says "bin laden determined to attack in the US" and you hear a plane flew into the WTC, the same building bin Laden attacked before, that you continue with your photo-op anyway. But that's forgivable, maybe it was a "bad pilot" as Bush once said. But then to hear of a second attack, wouldn't you want to do something? It seems pretty obvious to me at that point I'd want to check in with all of the top level advisors and see what was going on. Had Bush done that, he could have given an order to the air force in time and the Pentagon could have been protected (at the cost of the air force shooting down a passenger jet). I can't think of a good reason for Bush sitting there other than: (1) he needs people to tell him what to do (Rove and Chenney); or (2) he didn't give a shit.
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