It’s good to be the superpower: “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking”

Captain Phillips, based on the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates, is perfect fodder for Paul Greengrass. Over the course of his decade-long film career, Paul Greengrass has staked his claim on a trademark steadicam filming technique and ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter. The political subject matter married to his technique give his work a feeling of “shaky-cam immediacy,” an attempt to emulate the feeling and gravitas of live reporting. Greengrass loves filming people in front of screens, cutting between communications nodes, coördinating with commandos ready for action.

Like United 93, based on the story of “the flight that fought back,” or Green Zone, based on journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s chronicle of the administration of post-conquest Iraq, Captain Phillips has the imprimatur of real-life relevance. Like United 93, it tells a War on Terror story that contains a triumphant ending in a conflict that lacks clear victories. Like Green Zone, though, it tells that story with a hint of nuance and an effort to humanize its enemies—though not criticism. Continue reading

Shitty Editorial Cartoons, Part 2

© Larry Stevenson, Deez Nutz Press Syndicate

All eyes are on #Russia because of a #controversial decision made by Voldemort #Putin. The #Olympics? Nope! It’s #Snowden, thumbing his nose at sweet #LadyLiberty by bombing the slopes while #America tries to pull his knife out of her back. Too bad they don’t have feet of fresh powder in #Gitmo, Ed!


When #SteveJobs’ last words were “Oh wow,” he must’ve been talking about the crisis in #Syria! A murderous President one one side, #AlQuadeas everywhere, and still the international community remains silent. Good thing the iPhone 4’s amazing #Siri doesn’t stay silent when you ask her for the latest movie times and directions to the hottest restaurants in town!

The Middle East’s “artificial borders” and America’s history of unleashing chaos

On a recent road trip from the Bay Area to northern Washington, I noticed a strange phenomenon: the borders between US states, and even the border between America and Canada, were only indicated via man-made cues like signs and checkpoints. It was strange because I keep hearing about violence in the Middle East, chiefly in Syria and Iraq, and how the region’s problem is its “artificial” borders. Conventional wisdom has coalesced around the idea that the original sin that’s lead to the Syrian Civil War and the resurgence of violence in Iraq is that those countries are “invented,” with illegitimate borders decided upon by the whims of mere humans. What I saw on my road trip made me think that all borders are invented, and maybe every country is man-made, not just Middle East regimes outside the Washington consensus. But who am I to argue with this kind of establishment consensus! Talking about the resurgence of Al Qaeda, journalist Dexter Filkins explained:

“What’s developing in front of our eyes is this very terrifying kind of regional, sectarian war that is basically stretching from the Iranian border all the way to the Mediterranean. The longer this war goes on in Syria, the greater the impact in the region, whether it’s Lebanon, or Iraq, or Jordan. These countries are artificial countries, most of them were drawn on a map in 1919 after World War One.”

The current Middle East conflicts, as Filkins explains, are due to the “artificial” nature of the countries in question. As opposed, one presumes, to the countries of North America and Europe, whose shapes were ordained by Providence. Filkins isn’t alone in ascribing the current violence in the Middle East to the arrogant whims of Sykes and Picot. The idea that century-old cartographic laziness is at the root of today’s Mideast violence is a popular one, repeated in the pages of the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and by Fareed Zakaria, one of the theory’s early adopters. In a segment on The Daily Show, a personification of the British Empire named Sir Archibald Mapsalot explains the “bad borders” theory as the unfortunate result of British imperialism and the ignorance of its administrators. America’s wisest pundits have found the culprit behind the current bloodshed in the Middle East, and it is the 19th Century British Empire. How convenient, and by sheer coincidence, exculpatory for the Middle East’s current imperial master, the United States. Continue reading