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an endless succession of beans and nuts.

Art and shock, art and anatomy. I am tired beyond words of artists who make art out of shock, especially when the shock does not come out of challenging the conventions of art itself. It is no longer possible to shock in that manner, the way the Impressionists once did, and then Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp retired from the business early, because he had made all the points that could be made. No more shock points could be scored against art itself. The only shock left is to offend sensibilities about human decency. The artist will probably want to avoid committing crimes, however, so some cleverness is involved. But art of this kind is too much the publicity stunt, it is just another Janet Jackson breast lobbed into the culture. It's okay to get excited, but it really doesn't matter. It is just too boring to write about other than to say I'm really, really bored--like I think that will make shock artists stop what they are doing. But what if an artist makes something new and fascinating, and it is also deeply disturbing, challenging our anxiety about the body? No, no one is afraid of Janet Jackson's breast, which really could scarcely be more mundane, though tricked up in "dominatrix/Matrix" costumery. But people are deeply anxious about dead bodies, even to the point of fearing the thought of their own bodies dead some time in the future. Are we scared to think of the frightful skeleton that lurks inside us or the slimy handful of brains that some scientists would like to inform us is all that we are? Von Hagens has engaged with that. I see Professor Bainbridge is duly horrified:
Yuck. Double yuck. I want it banned and the harm principle can be damned. Do I have a reasoned analysis of how to fit the yuck factor into a coherent political theory?
As Justice Stewart once said, "I know it when I see it." But the fact is we haven't seen it. Fourteen million human beings have paid fifteen dollars to see it, but we've only seen little pictures and read about it. The exhibit hasn't come to the United States. You'll have to go to Germany and see it. But we ought to wonder what are all these people doing coming to see plasticized corpses? Keep in mind that the objects are not rotten or smelly or discolored. They are plasticized and retain the color of a living human being. Perhaps people are coming to terms with the realities of their own body, looking at the insides and being amazed by the beauty and the intricacy. There was a time when any sort of dissection of the human cadaver was considered terribly wrong. My original reaction to von Hagens's work is that it was wrong, that he was trying to make money and get attention by taking advantage of the emotions we have about the human body. But look at how many people he has reached. Are these people depraved? Look at the people who willingly donated their bodies (like the people who donate their bodies for medical students). Consider the history of dissection, its role in the development of medicine and art. Consider Andreas Versalius:
In 1539 the supply of dissection material increased when a Paduan judge became interested in Vesalius' work, and made bodies of executed criminals available to him. For the first time Vesalius was able make repeated and comparative dissections of humans. This was in marked contrast to Galen, the standard authority on anatomy who, for religious reasons, had been restricted to the dissection of animals. Galen had worked mainly on Barbary apes, considered closest to the human race. As Vesalius dissected more bodies he realised that Galen's textbooks and his own observations differed, and that humans do not share the same anatomy as apes.
You may say, let the doctors learn by dissection, but keep that business under wraps out of a sense of decency. Von Hagens has completely the opposite notion:
"Yes, some of the specimens are difficult to look at. To see a mutilated body is hard because we have fears about our own integrity. We have a deep-rooted anxiety about when we see the body opened up because in this way we have feelings about ourselves," concedes Von Hagens. "But at the same time, many people who have seen the exhibition have discovered a new respect for their bodies. One girl I spoke to said she had tried to commit suicide twice, but after seeing the bodies in the exhibition she would never contemplate harming it again. It is edutainment." ... Von Hagens sees himself on a global mission to end the elitism of the medical profession which, he believes, has denied the lay public access to a better understanding of their own bodies. He hankers after the heady days of the renaissance and the three centuries thereafter, when anatomists and artists explored the workings of the human body as never before and made their workings public at anatomical theatres.

"And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank," by Steve Oney is reviewed by Marshall Frady in the New York Review of Books. Federal courts professors like me often talk about the United States Supreme Court opinion about the scope of habeas corpus that arose out of Frank’s case, but here are the stark details of Frank’s horrific ordeal. In 1913, Frank, the Jewish superintendent of an Atlanta pencil factory, was accused of murdering a thirteen-year-old girl, Mary Phagan, who worked in the factory and had gone in to pick up her $1.20 paycheck. You’ll have to find the paper copy of the NYRB to see the heart-wrenching photographs of Frank—“a slight, bespectacled figure, … endowed with an unremittingly shy and self-contained reserve”— at his trial and Frank, lynched, hanging from a tree.
... Mary Phagan ... had been strangled to death, the twine still wound around her neck, her face battered, and her underdrawers ripped and bloody. Soon discovered in the debris beside her were two curious notes, scrawled on company paper, that seemed a crude, barely intelligible effort at pretending to have been written by the victim herself:

he said he wood love me land down play like the night witch did it.... he push me down that hole ...i wright this while play with me.

...[P]olice suspicions quickly settled on Leo Frank, principally owing to his behavior when they arrived at his house early Sunday morning to notify him of Mary Phagan's murder. It was a time when much melodramatic import was placed on particulars of manner, and police would later testify that Frank paced about his front parlor "nervous" and "excited," blurting questions as he twisted his hands, his voice "hoarse and trembling."…

The murder notes, though, remained something of a puzzle until the factory's twenty-nine-year-old black sweeper, James Conley, was also arrested when seen at the factory's water cooler trying to wash out red stains from a work shirt. ... Conley ... finally professed that Frank, after killing the girl on the factory's second floor in a ravishment attempt gone awry, had enlisted his aid in transporting her body in the elevator down to the basement, and then dictated to him the murder notes, with the rather improbable remark to him, Conley claimed, "Why should I hang, I have wealthy people in Brooklyn."
Read of the trial and the press hysteria. The case became "a tournament of competing racisms":
... Conley was characterized by the defense, "a plain, beastly, drunken, filthy, lying [epithet] ...fired with lust...." In fact, the racial derision of Conley was heartily participated in by all parties, including the press, one reporter pointing out, "Conley isn't a cornfield negro. He's more of the present-day type of city darkey," and even The New York Times would eventually describe him as a "drunken, lowlived, utterly human animal." But the prosecution as well concurred in the racist caricaturing of its central witness, Dorsey declaring, about Frank's reluctance to directly confront Conley before the trial, "never in the history of the Anglo-Saxon race...did an ignorant, filthy negro accuse a white man of a crime and that man decline to face him."

The telling difference in that formulation, of course, was that Frank didn't happen to be of the Anglo-Saxon race. And as if in acknowledgment of that liability, a defense lawyer insisted, "Frank's race don't kill. They are not a violent race," and later, the defense felt it had to stipulate that one of its witnesses was, "it's true, a Jew, but she was telling the truth." The defense finally risked arousing exactly what it was protesting by claiming that Frank had only invited prosecution because he "comes from a race of people that have made money." To counter that suggestion, Dorsey intoned that while "this great people rise to heights sublime...they sink to the depths of degradation, too," mentioning among a list of Jewish malefactors Judas Iscariot, "a good character and one of the Twelve" who nevertheless "took the thirty pieces of silver and betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ."
Here is Frady's description of the lynching:
[Frank] sat between two men in the back seat of a car, his nightshirt "luminous among the galluses and wool hats," mutely resigned now to his doom, as the caravan took back roads through moonlit cottonfields, coming into the outskirts of the town just at dawn, where it stopped at a stand of woods by a cotton gin. Frank was hauled out, blindfolded, tied at his hands and feet, lifted up on a table; the rope was slung over the limb of an oak tree and the noose dropped around his neck. The circuit judge then kicked the table from under Frank's feet. It was not from a snapped neck, though, that Frank died, but a slow strangulation, as he twisted about desperately.
There is much more here to read. Read of William Smith, the lawyer, "driven by an idealism to protect [Conley,] the 'penniless and friendless' black man caught up in the coils of the case." Smith eventually realized that Conley must have written the notes alone. In an oxygen tent, dying of "Lou Gehrig's disease, on his last day of life he slipped a note to his son through the plastic sheeting: 'IN ARTICLES OF DEATH, I BELIEVE IN THE INNOCENCE AND GOOD CHARACTER OF LEO M. FRANK. W.M. SMITH.'"

Janet Frame, 1924-2004, "spells history hiss-tree to make an unsettling connection to Eden's serpent."
After a suicide attempt she spent eight years in mental hospitals in New Zealand, receiving 200 electroshock treatments. She was about to have a lobotomy when a hospital official read that she had won a literary prize. She was released.
See her story in the brilliantly acted film, "An Angel At My Table." Click on this link to see how to express interest in its release in DVD format.

“I keep getting these phone calls from fans saying, ‘I’m sure he’s just gathering material.’ I wish that were true.” A New York Magazine cover story on Spalding Gray.
He was spooked by the fact the driver of the minivan in Ireland had the same name as the real-estate broker who had sold them the North Haven house and he started wondering aloud if another broker, who had once approached Gray about selling the Sag Harbor house, had put an evil spell on him.

At first glance, Gray’s assertions seemed alarming. “The problem was, it was a little hard to tell what was ‘delusional’ with Spalding,” says Stein, “because those were also the elements upon which he always built his monologues in the past. I mean, talking onstage about going to the Philippines and having a psychic surgeon pull porcupine needles out of your eyes? It’s not that far-fetched from saying a real-estate agent cast a spell.”
This is an excellent article, worth reading in full. It reveals that Oliver Sacks was one of Gray's doctors, and that Gray had suffered some brain damage in the car accident.

Ah, a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Shohreh Aghdashloo! Go Shohreh!

Actually, I haven't seen the movies the other nominees in that category were in. I haven't seen too many movies at all this year. But Aghdashloo was terrific in "House of Sand and Fog," which I talked about here. I think the only other fiction film I saw in the theater of the films in the running for Oscars is "Kill Bill," which got no nominations. (Wait 'til next year.)

I did see "Capturing the Friedmans," which got a documentary nomination. I saw "Spellbound," which didn't get a nomination, even though lots of people loved it, even though it was not as good as the annual ESPN live and lengthy coverage of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee.

I haven't seen "Osama," which did not get an Oscar nomination, even though it just won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. When I watched the Globes live I found the acceptance speech by the director Siddiq Barmak incredibly strange: if you want people to be interested in seeing your film called "Osama," you might want to say something clear about what it's about!

"I would like to dedicate this prize to the people who lost their trust in too much promises, to the people who lost the meaning of 'luck' and to the people who gave me a wonderful film, 'Osama'..."
Andrea Boyle reports for RFE/RL:
"Osama" is the story of an Afghan family of nearly all females who are left to fend for themselves during the Taliban era after the death of the father and an uncle. The mother and grandmother of the clan force the main character, a 12-year-old girl, to dress as a boy in order to get a job and make money for the family.

The title comes from the name the girl uses in her double life as a boy. The child is the only person addressed in the film by name. Barmak says this loss of identity is symbolic of Afghans losing their personal identities as well as their cultural and national ones under the repressive rule of the Taliban. ...

"Osama" is Barmak's first feature-length film. He gained experience directing short films and from 1992-96 headed the government agency in charge of cinema. With the arrival of the Taliban, Barmak lost his job and fled the country in 1998, seeking asylum in Pakistan. He returned home in 2002, assuming his old job and beginning work on "Osama."

For the film, Barmak cast non-professional actors from orphanages and refugee camps. Such people, he says, are better able to portray the feelings of the average Afghan. "They were very natural," he says. "They left me with a lot of impressions during the shooting and they made a lot of improvisation because they were real people that could feel this situation. Especially the little girl who played the main character -- she saw a lot of suffering, and she was a witness to a lot of tragedies."

For crying out loud! You make a film called "Osama" and it's not about Osama bin Laden, and you win a big award in front of an audience of millions, but you don't give us a clue what it's about, and, in fact, you say things that make it sound like it might be a sympathetic portrait of the guy? What a colossal missed opportunity!

I rewatched that segment of the awards show. The shots of the actors in the audience reacting to Barmak were hilarious (though I feel really sorry for him now that I know what his film is!). The camera shows one close-up after another of movie stars looking confused and trying to figure out whether to be upset. The extreme closeup of open-mouthed, gaping Nicole Kidman was especially funny. But it's not really funny. What a shame!

Anyway, Rotten Tomatoes shows a 91% "Fresh" rating for "Osama."

UPDATE: My colleague, Nina Camic--whose blog is excellent by the way!--tells me "Spellbound" was nominated last year, when "Bowling for Columbine" won for Best Documentary. "Spellbound" played in Madison last summer though, I believe. It takes small movies a long time to get to Madison in most cases. Sorry for the misinformation.

The headline for the James Risen piece quoted in the previous post is: "Ex-Inspector Says C.I.A. Missed Disarray in Iraqi Arms Program."

True, the C.I.A. "missed" something, but some respect is owed to the scientists who were fighting for their lives in a "vortex of corruption," "a fevered police state," "a death spiral."

An added word: I don't mean to say the scientists weren't also components of the corruption vortex, or to imply that they were heroes, but they certainly seemed to have been quite clever, and what they did was probably less bad than what they deviously pretended they did.

The Dictator’s New Weapons. James Risen of the NYT reports on an interview with David A. Kay, the former C.I.A. chief weapons inspector:
[S]ometime around 1997 and 1998, Iraq plunged into what [Kay] called a "vortex of corruption," when government activities began to spin out of control because an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein had insisted on personally authorizing major projects without input from others.

After the onset of this "dark ages," Dr. Kay said, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Mr. Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state.

"The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process," Dr. Kay said. "The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs."

…. Dr. Kay said analysts had come to him, "almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren't finding what they had thought we were going to find — I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did."
Mystery solved?

Things to write in an obituary for a prince:
"I have watched the sun rise over the beaches of five continents and I have looked into the eyes of the most beautiful women of the universe."

Between race cars, shark-fishing and dancing the twist with Grace Kelly, he somehow found time for considerable achievements...

[H]e married Princess Ira von Furstenberg, descendant of Charlemagne and heiress to the Fiat fortune, who was 15 and had received a special dispensation from Pope Pius XII because she was under the age of consent. … [T]he bride was 45 minutes late. "You're awfully late, dear," Prince Alfonso was heard to mutter in English.

He was once said to have "the mustachioed good looks of a South American taxi driver."

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