New Matthieu in November!

THE MUSEUM VAULTS: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert


by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
(NBM/ComicsLit, November, 64 pages, 9×9, $14.95)

“An art assessor must evaluate the vast collections of the Louvre in an alternate Kafkaesque world where all is warehoused in an endless ever deepening succession of basement levels. Mathieu, an artist who marries Escher with Kafka, brings stinging irony to the pompousness of art history.”

"The media is now really part of the corporate establishment."

‘Redacted’ stuns Venice

Brian De Palma’s film about the rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers leaves festival-goers in tears.

From Reuters
August 31, 2007

VENICE — A new film about the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers who also murdered her family stunned the Venice festival, with shocking images that left some viewers in tears.

“Redacted”, by U.S. director Brian De Palma, is one of at least eight American films on the war in Iraq due for release in the next few months and the first of two movies on the conflict screening in Venice’s main competition.

Inspired by one of the most serious crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, it is a harrowing indictment of the conflict and spares the audience no brutality to get its message across.

De Palma, 66, whose “Casualties of War” in 1989 told a similar tale of abuse by American soldiers in Vietnam, makes no secret of the goal he is hoping to achieve with the film’s images, all based on real material he found on the Internet.

“The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people,” he told reporters after a press screening.

“The pictures are what will stop the war. One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to motivate their Congressmen to vote against this war,” he said.

Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi was gang raped, killed and burnt by American soldiers in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, in March 2006. Her parents and younger daughter were also killed.

Five soldiers have since been charged with the attack. Four of them have been given sentences of between 5 and 110 years.

Halfway between documentary and fiction, “Redacted” draws on soldiers’ home-made war videos, blogs and journals and footage posted on YouTube, reflecting changes in the way the media cover the war.

“In Vietnam, when we saw the images and the sorrow of the people we were traumatizing and killing, we saw the soldiers wounded and brought back in body bags. We see none of that in this war,” De Palma said.

“It’s all out there on the Internet, you can find it if you look for it, but it’s not in the major media. The media is now really part of the corporate establishment,” he said.

The film’s title refers to how, according to De Palma, mainstream American newspapers and television channels are failing to tell the true story of the war by keeping the most graphic images of the conflict away from public opinion.

“When I went out to find the pictures, I said (to the media) give me the pictures you can’t publish,” he said, adding that because of legal dangers he too had to “edit” the material.

“Everything that is in the movie is based on something I found that actually happened. But once I had put it in the script I would get a note from a lawyer saying you can’t use that because it’s real and we may get sued,” De Palma said.

“So I was forced to fictionalize things that were actually real.”

The film, shot in Jordan with a little known cast, ends with a series of photographs of Iraqi civilians killed and their faces blacked out for legal reasons.

“I think that’s terrible because now we have not even given the dignity of faces to this suffering people,” De Palma said.

“The great irony about Redacted is that it was redacted.”

Distributor Magnolia has planned a limited U.S. release for later this year, and the film may be easier to sell to European audiences rather than to the American public.

“This is a harrowing experience you put the audience through. It is not something you want to go to on a delightful Saturday evening but this message must be put forward and hopefully the public will respond,” De Palma said.

Assholes of the Week by Paul Krassner

*Senator Larry Craig, not only for the opening statement at his press conference–“Thank you all very much for coming out today”–but also for his silly rationalization that when he tap-danced on the shoe of an undercover cop in the adjoining stall, it was only because of his own “wide stance,” thereby breaking Rose Mary Woods’ excuse record. She testified that, while transcribing Richard Nixon’s tape, she answered a phone call, but when reaching for the stop button on the recorder, she mistakenly hit the record button next to it, [unnecessarily] keeping her foot on the pedal, resulting in the infamous 18-1/2-minute gap. When asked to replicate that position, her extremly awkward posture caused political pundits to question the validity of her explanation.

*Senator John Kerry, for not ridiculing George Bush’s 180-degree turnaround concerning the comparison between the Vietnam and Iraq wars by labeling the president a flip-flopper.

*Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for championship pandering. Although he now wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade, when he was running for the Senate in 1994, he came out in favor of choice for women. He admitted to Mormon feminist Judith Dushku that “the Brethren” in Salt Lake City told him that he could take that position, and that in fact he probably had to, in order to win in a liberal state like Massachusetts.

*Great Assholes of the Past: The Sunday School teacher who advised one of his students to write on his penis, “What would Jesus do?” Presumably, “Jerk off” was not considered to be the correct answer.

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Paul Krassner is the author of “One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist,” and publisher of the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, both available at paulkrassner.com

School of Shock

Eight states are sending autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally troubled kids to a facility that punishes them with painful electric shocks. How many times do you have to zap a child before it’s torture?

By Jennifer Gonnerman
August 20, 2007

Rob Santana awoke terrified. He’d had that dream again, the one where silver wires ran under his shirt and into his pants, connecting to electrodes attached to his limbs and torso. Adults armed with surveillance cameras and remote-control activators watched his every move. One press of a button, and there was no telling where the shock would hit—his arm or leg or, worse, his stomach. All Rob knew was that the pain would be intense.

Every time he woke from this dream, it took him a few moments to remember that he was in his own bed, that there weren’t electrodes locked to his skin, that he wasn’t about to be shocked. It was no mystery where this recurring nightmare came from—not A Clockwork Orange or 1984, but the years he spent confined in America’s most controversial “behavior modification” facility.

In 1999, when Rob was 13, his parents sent him to the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Canton, Massachusetts, 20 miles outside Boston. The facility, which calls itself a “special needs school,” takes in all kinds of troubled kids—severely autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar, emotionally disturbed—and attempts to change their behavior with a complex system of rewards and punishments, including painful electric shocks to the torso and limbs. Of the 234 current residents, about half are wired to receive shocks, including some as young as nine or ten. Nearly 60 percent come from New York, a quarter from Massachusetts, the rest from six other states and Washington, D.C. The Rotenberg Center, which has 900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, charges $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts pick up the tab.

The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Over its 36-year history, six children have died in its care, prompting numerous lawsuits and government investigations. Last year, New York state investigators filed a blistering report that made the place sound like a high school version of Abu Ghraib. Yet the program continues to thrive—in large part because no one except desperate parents, and a few state legislators, seems to care about what happens to the hundreds of kids who pass through its gates.

In Rob Santana’s case, he freely admits he was an out-of-control kid with “serious behavioral problems.” At birth he was abandoned at the hospital, traces of cocaine, heroin, and alcohol in his body. A middle-class couple adopted him out of foster care when he was 11 months old, but his troubles continued. He started fires; he got kicked out of preschool for opening the back door of a moving school bus; when he was six, he cut himself with a razor. His mother took him to specialists, who diagnosed him with a slew of psychiatric problems: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Rob was at the Rotenberg Center for about three and a half years. From the start, he cursed, hollered, fought with employees. Eventually the staff obtained permission from his mother and a Massachusetts probate court to use electric shock. Rob was forced to wear a backpack containing five two-pound, battery-operated devices, each connected to an electrode attached to his skin. “I felt humiliated,” he says. “You have a bunch of wires coming out of your shirt and pants.” Rob remained hooked up to the apparatus 24 hours a day. He wore it while jogging on the treadmill and playing basketball, though it wasn’t easy to sink a jump shot with a 10-pound backpack on. When he showered, a staff member would remove his electrodes, all except the one on his arm, which he had to hold outside the shower to keep it dry. At night, Rob slept with the backpack next to him, under the gaze of a surveillance camera.

Employees shocked him for aggressive behavior, he says, but also for minor misdeeds, like yelling or cursing. Each shock lasts two seconds. “It hurts like hell,” Rob says. (The school’s staff claim it is no more painful than a bee sting; when I tried the shock, it felt like a horde of wasps attacking me all at once. Two seconds never felt so long.) On several occasions, Rob was tied facedown to a four-point restraint board and shocked over and over again by a person he couldn’t see. The constant threat of being zapped did persuade him to act less aggressively, but at a high cost. “I thought of killing myself a few times,” he says.

Rob’s mother Jo-Anne deLeon had sent him to the Rotenberg Center at the suggestion of the special-ed committee at his school district in upstate New York, which, she says, told her that the program had everything Rob needed. She believed he would receive regular psychiatric counseling—though the school does not provide this.

As the months passed, Rob’s mother became increasingly unhappy. “My whole dispute with them was, ‘When is he going to get psychiatric treatment?’” she says. “I think they had to get to the root of his problems—like why was he so angry? Why was he so destructive? I really think they needed to go in his head somehow and figure this out.” She didn’t think the shocks were helping, and in 2002 she sent a furious fax demanding that Rob’s electrodes be removed before she came up for Parents’ Day. She says she got a call the next day from the executive director, Matthew Israel, who told her, “You don’t want to stick with our treatment plan? Pick him up.” (Israel says he doesn’t remember this conversation, but adds, “If a parent doesn’t want the use of the skin shock and wants psychiatric treatment, this isn’t the right program for them.”)

Rob’s mother is not the only parent angry at the Rotenberg Center. Last year, Evelyn Nicholson sued the facility after her 17-year-old son Antwone was shocked 79 times in 18 months. Nicholson says she decided to take action after Antwone called home and told her, “Mommy, you don’t love me anymore because you let them hurt me so bad.” Rob and Antwone don’t know each other (Rob left the facility before Antwone arrived), but in some ways their stories are similar. Antwone’s birth mother was a drug addict; he was burned on an electric hot plate as an infant. Evelyn took him in as a foster child and later adopted him. The lawsuit she filed against the Rotenberg Center set off a chain of events: investigations by multiple government agencies, emotional public hearings, scrutiny by the media. Legislation to restrict or ban the use of electric shocks in such facilities has been introduced in two state legislatures. Yet not much has changed.

Rob has paid little attention to the public debate over his alma mater, though he visits its website occasionally to see which of the kids he knew are still there. After he left the center he moved back in with his parents. At first glance, he seems like any other 21-year-old: baggy Rocawear jeans, black T-shirt, powder-blue Nikes. But when asked to recount his years at the Rotenberg Center, he speaks for nearly two hours in astonishing detail, recalling names and specific events from seven or eight years earlier. When he describes his recurring nightmares, he raises both arms and rubs his forehead with his palms.

Despite spending more than three years at this behavior-modification facility, Rob still has problems controlling his behavior. In 2005, he was arrested for attempted assault and sent to jail. (This year he was arrested again, for drugs and assault.) Being locked up has given him plenty of time to reflect on his childhood, and he has gained a new perspective on the Rotenberg Center. “It’s worse than jail,” he told me. “That place is the worst place on earth.”

Long investigative piece continues here. Photo essay here.