Friday, January 3, 2020

Crime and Punishment: Scott Z. Burns’s The Report

Adam Driver in The Report.

After the September 11 attacks, the CIA requested authorization to use what it euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (“EIT” for short) and received authorization from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to do so in July of 2002. (Not that the agency waited to start torturing – the authorization gave legal cover to what was already happening.) She did so after White House discussions with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, and after the Department of Justice drafted what have come to be known as “Torture Memos,” wherein Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo justified the torture of detainees believed to be involved with the 9/11 disasters. As late as 2010, after President Obama had ended EIT with one of his first executive orders, Cheney and Rice were still denying that the CIA had ever tortured prisoners in its charge.

In 2005, CIA official Jose Rodriguez destroyed videotapes of the torture of two suspects in CIA custody, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Their existence was unknown until The New York Times revealed it in 2007. The report understandably caused outrage, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began to look into it. A young staffer named Daniel Jones reviewed documents covering the same time period and prisoners as the destroyed tapes and discovered that the treatment of the two men was far more brutal than anyone had been led to believe. He also discovered that the torture didn’t work: no actionable intelligence resulted from the horrific conduct.

The shocked committee expanded its investigations, which led to the creation and release of the “Torture Report,” a massive piece of work by Jones and his very small staff, who reviewed over six million documents in the face of CIA insistence that the torture was successful, stonewalling by John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, CIA intrusion into the Senate Committee’s computer networks, and the removal of documents from that network.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fond Farewells: Rip Torn and Rene Auberjonois

Rip Torn and Jeff Morris in Payday (1973).

In my final 2019 posting on Critics at Large I’d like to pay tribute to two marvelous character actors who passed away this year, Rip Torn (who died on July 9 at the age of 88) and Rene Auberjonois (only 79 when he died on December 8). These two men could hardly have been less alike in style or in the kinds of roles they were drawn to, but though they had long careers and occasionally appeared in movies or TV series that were popular enough to draw attention to their gifts, the quality of their best work has tended to be overlooked.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

American Maestro: George Crumb Interpreted by Yoshiko Shimizu

George Crumb. (Photo by Sarah Shatz)

CD Review of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos 1 and 2, Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac for amplified piano, 63:59; Music for a Summer Evening, 34:12.

Recorded February 2016 / June-July 2017, Oizumi Bunkamura, Japan.

Performed by Yoshiko Shimizu (with Akiko Shibata, Rupert Struber and Natsumi Shimizu) on the Kairos Label.

“The ancient voice has ceased. I hear ephemeral echoes. Oblivion of midnight in starry waters.” “Ulysses’ Isle” by Salvatore Quasimodo (Epigraph to Crumb’s Makrokosmos)
We can all celebrate a new double-CD release from Kairos with Japanese pianist Yoshiko Shimizu playing George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, Volume I, Volume II and Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) accompanied by Austrian percussionist Rupert Struber.The title reflects Crumb’s admiration for Bartók’s legendary piano series Mikrokosmos, and is a brilliant creative attempt to enlarge that folk spirit scale and theme to encompass all of our shared experience as humans.

Makrokosmos, Volume I and Volume II are filled with references to the history of humankind, myths, Christianity, paganism and occultism. In Music for a Summer Evening Crumb pays a tribute to poetic quotations of Quasimodo, Pascal and Rilke. The composer himself regards these three works as forming a trilogy that consists of a classical round myth form within a late modernist musical framework.