Francesca Marciano’s The Other Language is essentially the literary and literal antithesis of Eat, Pray, Love—it upends the insufferable, Oprah-sanctified-and-sanctimonious trope of a privileged white woman who travels to exotic locales to “find herself” and replaces it with something all the more magical in its realism. The acclaimed author of Rules of the Wild gives us nine stories that conjure emotions and places with the kind of natural story-telling that eschews cheap grabs for our emotional investment, reliant on lachrymose and saccharine writing, and instead explore the truism that “home is really where they love you.” The vibrant characters in The Other Language travel across the globe, but the territory covered is far wider than merely geographical. The book is a beautifully-written testament to the absurdity of ideas like “finding yourself,” whether it be through travel, escapism, or intervention. The natural fluency and virtuosity of Marciano’s writing will take you on an engrossing journey and speak to you in a language you can viscerally understand.
Director Dan Krauss’ The Kill Team is an absolutely enthralling tour-de-force documentary that stares unblinkingly down the ugly, dirty face of war, offering a sobering look at its specters. There are no heroes to be found here, only the very banality of extreme violence. As Specialist Adam Winfield says, “There are no good men left here.”
The Kill Team is the story of a platoon that made headlines in 2010 after it was discovered that 5 soldiers in the group had essentially murdered 3 innocent Afghani civilians “for sport.” The film focuses on Specialist Adam Winfield who had attempted to alert authorities to the “kills” taking place, only to himself be charged by the Army and face a lengthy prison sentence. The absurd dichotomy of someone being labeled a whistle blower and a murderer in the same breath lies at the crux of The Kill Team’s main argument: the military can be a ruthless machine that often victimizes its own, not just the enemy.
The main story line of the film is Winfield’s court battle, but all of the other people involved in the murders are also interviewed, except for the mastermind and leader of the unit, Sergeant Gibbs. Spc. Jeremy Morlock’s seemingly emotionless account of how “we straight murdered that dude,” is chilling if taken merely as a sign of his apathy to violence. Looking behind the mask, we get the idea that the macho culture of the army he has been reared in has taught him to suppress feelings. He frequently references “the ideology of the infantry world,” this idea that life in the Army was supposed to be some kind of a glorified Top Gun-esque escapade of patriotism and heroism, which by default involves the killing of the enemy. It’s certainly a novel perspective: all too often we are led to believe that the people who enlist actually seek to avoid combat. Morlock belies that stereotype — he describes an entire platoon of thirty-some men that idolized Sergeant Gibbs, who asked him to help them get “kills” as well. Gibbs’ collecting of finger bones for a grisly war trophy necklace does not strike them, seemingly, as wrong.
The Kill Team offers a scathing – though unstated – condemnation of the Army who essentially made a scapegoat out of Winfield, who had all along attempted to alert the higher-ups, labeling him not enough of a conscious objector. Winfield brings up a salient point: “We tend to handle things in-house. Had I reported it, it would have come right back down the chain-of-command to me.” As his lawyer points out, the military justice system is not impartial: they are essentially the judge and the jury. Furthermore, the film puts into question just how rogue of a platoon was this or was their conduct commonplace, as the soldiers suggest and an issue only because they were caught. The chilling concept of a “drop weapon” is introduced. It is a weapon that is off-the-books and can be “dropped” on anyone, making him/her appear as an aggressor and justifying any violence committed against him/her. Gibbs apparently had access to a whole cache of this kind, including grenades and AK47s. The film raises the interesting question of why uphold the seemingly legality of a war when the very concept of it implies a level of chaos and violence that renders such track-covering pathetic in the true sense of the word.
There is little question about Sergeant Gibbs motivations—he calls the Afghanis “savages.” But what about the other members of the platoon, bullied into submission by him and unable to dissent for fear of their lives? The terrible face of the “war on terror” is made poignantly human here: “Nobody is innocent here. We are getting blown up every time we go up there to talk to them or build them a well or a school.” As Morlock explains, “the constant pressure to having to kill and being shot at is overwhelming. It is impossible not to surrender to the insanity of it all.”
The Kill Team is easily one of the most thought-provoking documentaries this year and certainly one of the best ones on the war in Afghanistan. It’s a lot more than the plucked from the headlines story of a rogue platoon; it’s the living embodiment of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs:”
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor
The film is a testimonial to the kind of damage caused for a cause that is impossible to name or understand.
Much has been made of the supposed wave of hipsterfication sweeping through Germany’s neo-Nazi community. In fact, a neologism emerged for the express purpose of describing these Nazi hipsters: “Nipsters.” Adopting some familiar hipster tropes–veganism, gauged ears, and *gasp* hip hop, right-wing groups are seeking to take their message to the bespectacled, bearded masses.
Is this mere sensationalism or an actual movement?
Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, author of Blood and Culture: Youth, Right-Wing Extremism, and National Belonging in Contemporary Germany, talked about the commercialization of right-wing imagery in a process she calls “extreme gone mainstream.” She has studied the use of coded messages to convey a right-wing orientation for the last four years in Germany on a grant by The Spencer Foundation. Conducting interviews with high school students in two “trade” schools in Germany, she has observed the fragmentation of the scene. “There used to be a unified aesthetic image that indicated right-wing affiliation…the typical ‘skinhead’ look, if you will–shaved head, bomber jacket, and combat boots. That is really no longer the case. There is no ‘uniform.’”
Instead there are brands that tacitly and in a veiled way signal one’s allegiance. For example, the t-shirt company Thor Steinar manufactures a shirt with an image of a fox and the words “Desert Fox: Afrikakorps,” thinly veiled code that refers to the nickname of Erwin Rommel who commanded German troops in North Africa during World War II. Others are more straightforward, like a T-shirt with the words “Hunting Season” sold by Ansgar Aryan.
“We are seeing a lot more layers of coding in Germany due to the ban on the Nazi party as such. Because displaying that sort of thing in an overt way is illegal, we are seeing a lot more veiled imagery.” Some of the other images used by these sort of groups including alpha-numeric symbolism, such as the number 88, which stands for HH or Heil Hitler. In some rare cases, general freedom fighter symbols are also appropriated such as Palestinian scarves or Che Guevara t-shirts. Symbols of national pride are also prominent, as are those that convey hyper-masculinity such as Vikings with bulging biceps.
“There is clearly a divorce between style and ideology. The aesthetic expression of the right-wing movement, much like the movement itself, is extremely varied, fragmented, and not homogeneous at all. And funnily enough, one would expect the commercialization aspect of this to have the United States at the vanguard, but this is not the case–this really is a very specific to Germany phenomenon.”
Ultimately, while Dr. Miller has not exactly seen first-hand the “hipsterization” of the Aryan-supremacist movement, she notes that the “traditional” neo-Nazi stereotype is a relic of the past. Style over substance has long plagued just about every subculture at some point or another–many of the new supporters of right-wing ideology are not even particularly active in the movement, nor would they describe themselves as politically engaged, period. Some, perhaps, are not even especially devoted to the ideology, instead merely displaying the trappings of the movement. The ideology, too, has undergone modification–anti-Europeanism now joins and sometimes even trumps Aryan and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Her findings in Blood and Culture indicate that, for the majority of German youth, right-wing extremism is more popular for its portrayal of national pride than its xenophobic and racist tendencies as many youth today support a culture-based rather than blood-based German identity. She ultimately finds that the extremist tendencies of German youth stem from the historical taboo of “German pride.” For the younger generation, espousing a nationalist, extremist movement is a cry for unity and belonging that has been historically absent. And that belonging can sometimes be expressed in consumer choices too.
My article: Urban Peripheries and Politics of the Slum
The world is over half urban. In 1990, less than 40% of the global population lived in a city, but as of 2010, more than half of all people live in an urban area. By 2050, this proportion will increase to a staggering 70%.
A 2014 report published by the National Research Council asserts that the prison population of the United States “is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons.” There are currently 2.3 million people behind bars. Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown 721 percent, according to a recently released Human Rights Watch Report.