Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Believing the Unthinkable

Recently I was clearing off a client's kitchen table when I came across a DVD. I picked it up and was reading the back when he offered it to me.

"Oh you can have that if you want to watch it. Someone gave it to me and it looks kind of out there so I didn't want to waste my time." The DVD was a documentary called "911 in Plane Site" and it had conspiracy theory written all over it. And yes I was interested, not because I was a conspiracy theorist, but because I wanted to see how my mind would react to the material and if it would be easy to see through it.

I watched it with Catherine. It was an eye-opener, not just because we ourselves had never considered studying the evidence, but what we had seen in the mainstream media completely ignored any of the questions raised by the DVD. There before our eyes we could see that the footage of the Pentagon (footage we had seen on TV at the time) showed no evidence of a plane wreck and that the hole in the walls of the Pentagon was no where near big enough for a 757 to have entered and then left no trace of itself.

At about this time we were alerted by our friend Martine to an author speaking on Cspan. A professor of theology, David Griffin, raised questions in his book "The New Pearl Harbor". Why, he asked, were the fighter pilots not scrambled to prevent the hijacked planes from crashing into the World Trade Center, when they had been routinely scrambled to meet any plane that deviated even 2 miles off course and had done so 67 times between September 2000 and June 2001.

We already knew about the insider trading, the buying of put options on the stock of United and American Airlines. A put option was basically a bet that a stock would go down in price and there had been an up tick in put options of 1200% in the days before. Plenty enough to alert intelligence who watch these things specifically to monitor terrorism. But the put options were dismissed by the 9/11 Commission because they were not traceable to Al Qaeda and that others bought those put options was written off as a stock tip unrelated to 9/11.

At a potluck at our meditation center, I was talking to a friend about peak oil and she asked me if I had read Crossing the Rubicon, which investigated 9/11 from the premise of peak oil. I checked it out of the library and lugged this 600-page book everywhere I went. I read it on public transportation and while standing in line at the film festival. One of our film festival buddies asked me if I would be giving a summary of it to my friends.

"Most of my readers would not be ready for this", I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"Do you believe that Bush knew about 9/11 before it happened?"

"Well maybe," she said skeptically.

"Then you're not ready," I concluded feeling not quite ready myself.

Indeed what was it about me that allowed me to go down this path? I had friends who had already refused to come to our showing of "911 in Plane Site".

"I mean if the plane didn't hit the Pentagon, then what happened to the people on that plane. I mean real people died," said Peggy more indignant than I'd ever seen her. She was our Urban Legends expert and she had looked at the website for the DVD and found it suspect.

Yes the documentary had left more questions in its wake than it had attempted to answer, which was why I set out to search for more answers. Weren't my friends curious at least? Or did I just have an ax to grind? Maybe I did.

As a teenager a man at a party tried to convince my fourteen-year-old self that Thailand would fall to communism too, once the U.S. left Vietnam. I did not believe in the domino theory. How could I? I lived in Thailand during the 60's and my relatives still lived at my childhood home. It was the first time I was bold enough to disagree with an adult, but I had nothing to substantiate my belief and felt defenseless and put on the spot.

Movies about Vietnam made me testy. Nearly every one had been shot in Thailand with Thai actors. I felt defiled when I saw them, so overt was the racism, so one sided the American story. What was the U.S. doing there? Why couldn't they mind their own business?

Before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War I was already outraged. To threaten to invade a small country in this way looked so much like Vietnam. The excuse of Kuwait seemed flimsy when countries all over the world were often at war with each other. What business of it was ours? Oil wouldn't have anything to do with it? Oh no.

Over time I could have forgiven the U.S. for Vietnam and the devastation of a country so much like my own, but I could not forgive this arrogant, imperialistic, bully that my adopted country had become.

During the Persian Gulf War, my friend Christine put in my hands Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States". There I found an analysis of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident - the supposed unprovoked attack of a U.S. battleship which was the premise for the U.S. declaring war on Vietnam, a war that also centered around the quest for resources - tin and rubber. When the Pentagon Papers were leaked seven years after the Bay of Tonkin, it was learned that the incident was largely fabricated, but few remember this.

Recently I asked a member of my organic gardening group who was a grandma, what she knew of the Tonkin Incident. Oh yes she remembered it and it's fabrication. "But no one would talk about it," she said exasperated.

The Gulf of Tonkin was coming up again. Google it and the Wikipedia gives an accurate description of its significance. Writers in search of answers to 9/11 made references to it, as well as to Operation Northwood a plan written in the 60's by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that would have staged fake attacks blamed on Cubans in order to justify an invasion of Cuba. Tactics included "staging a "terror campaign", including the "real or simulated" sinking of Cuban refugees" and "destroying a fake commercial aircraft supposedly full of "college students off on a holiday" (really an unmanned drone)".

The Kennedy administration nixed the plan. But what if the administration had really wanted a war as Bush had so clearly wanted one with Iraq? The Project for the New American Century published in September 2000 stated that plans to have a substantial military presence in the Gulf would be difficult to implement "unless a new Pearl Harbor occurred". Cheney, Rumsfeldt and Paul Wolfowitz were part of the neo-conservative think tank that came up with the plan. They had also in 1988 signed a letter to Clinton urging him to "take the necessary steps including military steps to protect our vital interests in the Gulf".

George W. Bush wrote in his diary the night of 9/11 that "The Pearl Harbor of the 21st Century took place today" so reported CBS.

That the administration was warned of the attacks of 9/11 would not have surprised me. The thought went through my mind the day of the attacks, but I figured it would take 10 years for us to find out. Now in only a few years, evidence has surfaced indicating that the administration had been warned by 11 different countries from Russia to Pakistan to Germany. Each had a piece of the puzzle - planes would be used for hijacking, up to 25 Al Qaeda pilots had been trained for an attack mission in the U.S., a large-scale operation would occur in the summer or fall of 2001.

If intelligence overseas was so good, the superior and much better funded CIA must have had some clue. "Crossing the Rubicon" goes to great lengths to explain the pertinent details and the technology available for spying, until I felt quite paranoid myself. "Basically," he writes, "Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda could not have sneezed without the CIA or the NSA knowing about it".

As we sat stunned over the collapse of the World Trade Center four years ago, the evidence at the site was being carted away before it could even be determined how exactly those towers fell, leaving "conspiracy theorists" to speculate that the steel could not have melted since a hydrocarbon fire was not hot enough to bring temperatures up to the necessary 2,770° F. And even if the steel was stressed, the buildings would have buckled some first and rather slowly, not at the rate of free fall as if they had been "pulled" as in a demolition using explosives and all three had fallen in exactly the same way.

Firefighters and other witnesses had heard explosives going off. The editor of a leading trade magazine for firefighters called what investigation that took place "a half baked fraud" and demanded that a thorough investigation of the buildings' collapse take place. Those close to the action were suspicious. Half of New Yorkers believe that the Bush administration knew 9/11 was coming and failed to respond.

We did not think to ask any questions until we saw my clients DVD. Martine was the only one among us who talked of possibilities not covered by the official explanation. She was French, so had a head start. She had read the European bestseller by French author Thierry Meyssan who had first suggested that an American missile had hit the Pentagon not Flight 77. She didn't quite believe it because the book didn't have very good pictures. The American press was quick to debunk Meyssan's theory as preposterous. Some Americans did look at his material in order to debunk it, but then found themselves asking the same questions. That's how "911 in Plane Site" came to be made.

Martine and I pooled our findings. I showed her the March issue of Popular Mechanics that claimed to debunk the myths of 9/11. It explained how the plane hitting the Pentagon had sheared off a wing "then flowed into the structure in a state closer to a liquid than a solid". We laughed. Was that the best they could do? We had seen the pictures of the hole in the Pentagon and the undamaged office equipment that could be discerned next to the broken wall. A fire hot enough to make a plane liquid would surely have singed the paper visible on the desks.

She told me that she had learned from a documentary called "The Power of Nightmares" that Al Qaeda was not a terrorist network of cells with idealogical leadership, but a financial organization that funds any kind of terrorism.

"You mean like getting a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts? I said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah!"

There were wacky and ridiculous theories in abundance to be sure. Even our DVD had some dubious theories. Officials and the media jumped on them as testimony to the outrageousness of all the claims. The message was clear, it was treasonous to question the official story, sacrilegious even, like asking if there was a God.

Both books concluded that the Bush administration not only knew about the attacks, but had facilitated them by not heeding warnings from key sources, or using standard procedures of response. They had also protected the hijackers, allowing them to enter the country under their own names even though they were wanted terrorists; one of them hadn't even bothered to renew his visa and a slew of other discrepancies as long as my arm.

Cheney who had been in charge of three of the very important war games taking place the day of 9/11 was particularly suspect. The war games were practice drills involving the military, the secret service and the New York City Office of Emergency Management. Much confusion and cover was offered by these drills that resulted in police, fighter pilots and control tower people not being able to get a grip on the situation.

What I was learning was disturbing indeed and took some getting used to. To fathom such evil of men like Chenney meant that I too, had to harbor a form of evil just to imagine it. And I would have to do so largely alone because few were able to accept such information. It was like keeping a terrible family secret.

Catherine started to worry about me. "You used to be the happy go lucky optimist," she said, "and I was the pessimist." She couldn't wait for the new Harry Potter book to arrive to distract me from my obsession.

The incompetence theory is the preferred psychology of 9/11. Much easier to imagine incompetency of such bozos and the bureaucratic snarls of intelligence breaking down communications.

Having read these books, the official story of 9/11 began to appear much more farfetched. The hijackers were largely CIA assets many of them trained at U.S. military bases for use against other enemies and had been on watch lists ever since. Were we to believe that their activities were overlooked during the time leading up to 9/11 and that even though they used their real names they were allowed to board the planes? And that these half trained Cesna pilots were then able to execute such flawless maneuvers that real pilots say most trained pilots could not execute?

The final revelation of both "Crossing The Rubicon" and "The New Pearl Harbor" was that the planes were flown by remote control because five of the alleged pilots have been reported to have been seen alive by several respected foreign newspapers. If this were a movie this is where the end credits would start rolling - over the shots of the hijackers out there alive scattered all over the world, one walking the streets of Katmandu say.

And here's the sequel. With the London bombings, information is coming out that a practice drill had been taking place in the very same tube stations as the bombings at the very same time. The coincidence theorists are going to have more convincing to do.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Report From the Queer Cinematic Front

This year's pride celebration was the refuge of even our straight brethren. Heck if you don't like the direction the country is going you can always party with us and have a fabulous time. Our yearly retreat to the silver screen of the Castro Theatre, was particularly fruitful.

Transgender was in, I could see as I leafed through the festival schedule. In its 29th year the San Francisco gay film festival was quietly embracing the full spectrum of queer possibilities. With little fanfare the festival title had been changed from 'gay and lesbian' to The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. This was long overdue considering that it was ten years ago that the pride parade was renamed to include bisexual and transgender.

It is never easy to select which films. I was excited. How would gay filmmakers present our life in these difficult times? So spoiled were we by the increasing number of gay characters on HBO and two all queer sit coms of our own, would the film festival still transport us?

Judging from one of the showcased films, Happy Endings (soon to open at a theatre near you), gays and lesbians have earned a niche in middle class life. In this ensemble cast, the lesbians are attempting perfection in child raising and a gay couple (their best friends) are obsessed with the paternity of the child in case it turns out to be the product of one of their sperm donations. Harmless stuff of screwball comedy, but decidedly not gay. Not for me. This was a straight film with a straight lead character and gay people thrown in for a hip twist as they exemplify coupledom and child raising. Our talents are wasted here. Why compete in a straight paradigm?

More interesting was the world of a male to female transsexual just a week away from the surgery that would finalize her transformation. (One of the actresses from Desperate Housewives has the lead role, which is sure to evoke interest). Transamerica will open in mainstream theatres to deliver a story of the journey to self in the context of family relationships. Perfunctorily detailed, yet suspenseful and poignant, the audience is not asked to engage in the confusion of gender dysphoria, but in the character's determination to undergo the journey. Catherine and I were uplifted by the courage and nobility of this quest for integrity. This hero's journey was what being queer was about for us.

In Screaming Queens, Susan Stryker, a transgender historian brought us the little known tale of San Francisco's gay rebellion in the Tenderloin. A few years before drag queens fought back at the Stonewall bar in New York and launched the gay movement, there was a cafe in the Tenderloin called Compton's where the queens hung out. One night it was raided by police and a riot ensued. For the first time queers could see how powerful they could be as a group.

Their efforts were not recognized, explained the director, because there was no gay movement to recognize them. Only afterwards were gay groups beginning to form. During the Q & A at the screening, the now retired police officer she had interviewed came to the stage in his wheelchair. An audience member asked why he chose to speak up given the sentiments of his fellow officers. He spoke slowly and with effort. "As a member of my church, I just felt it was the right thing to do," he said. A startling revelation for these times and not one we expected.

The German coming of age story, Summer Storm, offered another gay journey with it's story of a teen hopelessly in love with his best friend and having to resolve their different paths. He does it without killing himself or suffering excessive trauma from his peer group. He even cracks a joke. A positive story of self-acceptance that includes a tender love scene worthy of any teen drama. Beautifully shot with high production values, it would be distributed in Europe by Warner Brothers, but in America only a little known distributor would pick it up, possibly not even for a theatrical release. When asked why, the director apologetically described the political climate in America today.

"I'm sorry, but this is what I see," he said, "As I traveled across the country I was very alarmed by the oppression by the religious right. This country used to be progressive, but not any more." Talk of the impact of the religious right on our lives makes me livid and I immediately want to buttonhole the nearest Christian and ask "how could you let this happen?" But we're not talking Christians here; we're talking about a group that more resembles the Klu Klux Klan without the scary outfits. We shouldn't need a German visitor to tell us this.

From Canada we were offered Eternal, a lesbian vampire movie to fulfill any hysterical homophobic right wing vision, but not nearly campy enough to be fun. My real objection to this Eyes Wide Shut, slick, horror flick was that it was cruel and heartless. The vampire was too eager to consume her victim in her greed for the blood that would give her eternal life. Why have eternal life for it's own sake? In my experience, the reward of the lesbian vampire - the initiator- is to facilitate the surrender of the 'victim' to forbidden pleasure. The lesbian vampire as change agent.

Forbidden pleasure is questioned in Tropical Malady, an unusual offering from my home country. Unlike any Thai movie I have ever seen, the film sets up a sweet love story then sends the lead character into the jungle by himself for the entire second half of the film. There he experiences what appears to be a complicated allegory for desire and is consumed by a tiger.

Europe, too, is far ahead of us in exploring sexuality as a bridge to more expansive thoughts. From post-Milosevic Serbia we got Take A Deep Breath, one of the few films we saw without a happy ending. When asked why not, the director explained that the relationships in the film were political metaphors for a fractured country and Serbia was a country hard put to find happiness. What a concept! What if someone made a relationship picture to express Bush's America? What a tale of deception, lies and betrayal that would be.

While the father was predictably homophobic in the Serbian film, what was refreshing was the reaction of the mother upon learning that her daughter is gay. She smiles with emerging delight and gives her blessing. "Nobody has found a recipe for happiness yet," she says. Meanwhile she herself is divorcing her philandering husband.

Men, it seems are offering a poor partnership in the middle years of many women's lives. In the British film Gypo, the husband is taciturn and brutish, endangering the life of a young immigrant woman who has offered his wife love and affection. This stripped down film complies with an unusual set of anti-Hollywood rules established by the Danish Dogme95 society. It is cinema verite at its strictest, with hand held cameras, and no additional lighting or music. The severity of these rules strip nearly all the atmosphere from the scenes, but it still manages to offer surprising narrative development.

In the Finnish film Producing Adults, a potential husband slips his girlfriend an RU40 pill to get rid of a baby she wants, but he doesn't. She is befriended by a woman doctor who may just prefer women given that her own boyfriend is a lay about slob. Here again a mother is ecstatically happy that her daughter brings home a woman rather than a man. It takes the better part of the movie to figure out if this film will actually have gay content, but it grows on me and the pay off is delicious. So deft is the invitation of the doctor, so sensuous the response.

It is the Spanish film Sauvigne that really takes a lesbian relationship to a new level of emotional exploration. The lesbian director of the film plays the lead herself. She has been at the Festival before with her prize-winning film Costa Brava and the theatre is packed.

In this story our endearing, self-deprecating, heroine vies for the attention of an actress turned director to produce her play. The director is intrigued and with the advice of her theatre critic husband, persuades our heroine to restructure the entire play in order to explore her own grief over the death of her daughter. The characters are rendered with such maturity and self-observation that it is entirely believable when the mix of creative collaboration, lesbianism and grief reaches an unusual catharsis. This to me, is what queer cinema is capable of.

For us the film festival was a return to our roots, to a psychic history that reminds us of our strengths, our transformative powers, our grit and resilient humor. Happy Pride.

Labels: , , ,

Earthworm. Get yours at