Saturday, April 19, 2014

One thing I know

I enjoyed a rare matinee yesterday, without ColumbusGal, who, heh heh, was working.

I used an expired Groupon--you know, residual cash value--to watch "The Unknown Known" by Errol Morris.

Utterly fantastic.

I had read a review of it in our local events paper of the sort that every city has, and needless to say the reviewer was smug and snide, observing how careful Morris was to show how divorced Rumsfeld was from the, you know, truth.

But I'm experienced enough to know there was a fair chance the reviewer was projecting his own views, and sure enough, I left with more respect for Rumsfeld than when I entered. Truly remarkable man, delightful.

Now my main question is, what is Morris's view? Was he merely what one would hope he would be, a disinterested documentary producer? Or did he feel the evidence was so overwhelming that Rumsfeld was the clueless one? Or is he a closet conservative?

I lean to the middle choice, because one of those things the reporter mistakenly took for refutation was a dozen or so of the Abu Ghraib images, which Morris clearly intended to Shock and Appall. I  could only note that, for every image Morris added, he could have added 200 more of, you know, bodies falling, nay, leaping from the World Trade Center. But those images, of course, are verboten, proclaimed prejudicial. So let's all get in a tizzy over a hooded naked combatant. There were dozens of them, tortured don't you know. And then of course there's the poster's tag line, "Why is this man smiling?" I don't know, because he's smart, confident and a good and generous human being?

In any case Rumsfeld came off wonderfully, and Morris looks like a fair reporter. I call that a win-win


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib was a prison where thousands of people who spoke out against Saddam Hussein were tortured and killed. But that's not important. Pay no attention.

9:18 AM, April 19, 2014  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

It certainly pales in comparison to having woman put you on a leash and humiliating you after a long few months on the battlefield. We've got pictures!

9:50 AM, April 19, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because atrocities need to be compared and ranked to tell who is worse

6:22 AM, April 20, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because one was an atrocity and the other wasn't, but we care about the one that wasn't.

11:54 AM, April 20, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, you can compare atrocities. In fact, it's your moral duty to do so. For instance, Japanese internment camps, bad. Concentration camps, almost incomparably worse. (For that matter, what the Japanese did to the Chinese was far far worse.)

So imagine someone who says World War 2 was a mistake because of internment camps?

1:07 PM, April 20, 2014  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

There's another moment quite toward the end where it's pretty clear Morris thinks he's caught Rumsfeld looking clueless, but actually it's a demonstration of how sharp he is, not to mention smart.

From the very time Rumsfeld gave his famous quote about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, essentially everyone of any academic training whatever immediately recognized a gap, unknown knowns.

Some time after the initial press conference, Rumsfeld wrote a memo about that fourth square. Morris cites it early, and indeed it reads a bit clumsily. The memo speaks of things that you thought you knew that turn out not to be true.

Okay, I suppose that's an interpretation, and if Rumsfeld wrote it, so be it. Of course it's a reasonable interpretation, even if it doesn't quite ring sound.

But then at one point, in conversation/performance with Morris, Rumsfeld defines it differently. To be honest I can't quite remember what he said (one of those times I wish I could go back to tape) but it was a better job. For myself right now I would define it as things you know, but do not know the significance of, so in a sense you don't know you know them. I'm not sure it's a useful concept and any different really than unknown unknowns.

Regardless, the interesting thing is that Morris uses it as an aha moment, putting up the memo for Rumsfeld to see (the viewer never sees both Rumsfeld and the screen Rumsfeld sees, but it's explicit and clear that Rumsfeld has a screen where memos are put up and he reads them for Morris' camera), and says that's a different definition than you wrote.

Now a normal person would likely be wrong footed by that, but Rumsfeld was fabulous. He did what one should do. After asking Morris to put the memo up to see, he analyzed it, and said he thought he did a better job with the definition he came up with on the spot sitting there. Impressive both for composure and for substance.

Of course, I'm not sure any of it matters, even on its own terms. I think it possible that the fourth combination is a false one, without real substance.

I don't know.

2:21 PM, April 20, 2014  

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