May 31, 2004

Town Hall

I am sad to say that when the recent pictures of the Abu Ghraib abuses were first revealed, I wasn't at all surprised. This war has been so poorly handled since the beginning that I had already strongly suspected human rights were being ignored for our captives. At lunch on Wednesday I walked up to the Commonwealth Club to attend a town hall forum about the treatment of the Iraqi detainees led by a panel of experts. Joan Kelley-Williams was there representing the Red Cross, and she talked briefly about their report of the conditions in the prison. Retired Marine Major General Michael Myatt offered a military perspective and clearly labelled the leadership as responsible for the mistakes of those under them, while Craig Haney drew on his experience as principal researcher on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment to explain the unhealthy power structures that emerge in prisons at home as well as abroad. Finally, native Iranian and SFSU history professor Maziar Behrooz provided some historical context and then spoke about the image of the United States in the Middle East. Our poor troops.

Later that evening Aimee and I selected Girl with a Pearl Earring as our DVD rental of choice. Really we just wanted to see Colin Firth, playing Vermeer. The art direction and costumes were breathtaking, with painting after painting recreated onscreen. Pity there wasn't a whole lot to the story. Scarlett Johansson plays Griet, a young woman who is hired to work in the Vermeer household and eventually becomes the subject of the titular painting. We are supposed to understand that the painter becomes obsessed with her (to the detriment of his wife and family) because of her luminous beauty, but I thought he was just a broody jerk.

When my job is seriously stressing me out I am very grateful for the many galleries that are near my office. For example, Thursday afternoon I slipped out to Robert Koch to see Through a Liquid Mirror, Wayne Levin's gorgeous black-and-white undersea photographs. The pictures are taken deep enough under the surface that crashing waves look like clouds overhead and a turtle serenely swimming up from a coral reef could be the sun rising over a mountain range. The ocean scares me, but in Levin's photographs I felt at peace and at home. Also on display in the gallery are Debra Bloomfield's wonderfully color-saturated Oceanscapes.

After work that evening I drove over to Pacific Heights and had a quick dinner at Ella's before heading over to the Jewish Community Center to hear Sherman Alexie speak. At some point he did get around to reading from the new paperback edition of Ten Little Indians, but mostly he seemed content to keep the audience in stitches with a stream-of-consciousness ramble that touched on everything from his courtship of his wife to his scorn of veganism to Native American stereotypes to the stories he has been writing every day that may or may not turn into his next book. I confess that having only read Indian Killer (a book almost completely devoid of humor yet full of Big Race Issues) I was not expecting him to be such a riot. I haven't laughed that hard since I saw Notorious C.H.O.

Sunday afternoon I was thinking hard about Iraq again, this time while looking at the drawings of Baghdad students in the Shocked and Awed exhibit at the Museum of Children's Art. Created a month after we started "Operation Iraqi Freedom", the pieces alternated between wild optimism and images of peace between our countries on the one hand and bleak portrayals of destruction and falling bombs on the other. It was an intensely moving show, but I had to smile when I noted that youngsters in Iraq love to draw intricately detailed pictures of tanks and planes as much as their American counterparts do. Some things are the same the world over.


Commonwealth Club
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Robert Koch Gallery
A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books Events
Sherman Alexie
MOCHA Exhibitions

Posted by nightfall at May 31, 2004 08:50 PM