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Letters to the Editor

Payoffs for layoffs
Many thanks to Derek Jennings for his thoughtful commentary on the dire social costs of military spending. [Dec. 19]

I do want to point out one oversight. On the question of what happened to the peace dividend, the answer may be more insidious than even the war against drugs, the savings & loan bailout and the Gulf War.

According to veteran national affairs reporter William Greider, the Defense Department funneled the peace dividend back to its contractors in the form of restructuring costs figured into existing contracts--a transfer of possibly billions of dollars. In addition to this hand-over, the peace dividend was distributed as capital gains to shareholders benefiting from the skyrocketing defense stocks that resulted from the merger mania--what defense workers wryly referred to as "payoffs for layoffs."

These mergers were intended to make the war industry leaner, but instead in many ways gave it more sway over the policy decisions of the country. As long as companies like Lockheed Martin--which recently received a $20 billion outlay for the Joint Strike Fighter--dump money into congressional campaign coffers and place their executives (Secretary of Transportation Norman Minetta and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi are two) in prominent positions in the White House, we can be assured of unending war and a disastrous neglect of human needs.
--JORDAN GREEN, EDITORIAL & RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, INSTITUTE FOR SOUTHERN STUDIES, DURHAM

Peak critique
The column titled "A Season of Giving--and Taking" by Derek Jennings in your Dec. 19 issue was profound, easily one of the best critiques of current policy I've seen. Please pass the word on to Mr. Jennings, whose e-mail doesn't appear in your masthead.
--THOMAS LEHMAN, CHAPEL HILL

Primitive pick
I am writing in response to the inclusion of Abbas Kiarostami's ABC Africa on Godfrey Cheshire's top 10 films of 2001 list [Jan. 2]. I am appalled that this film would receive such mention. Kiarostami donning a digital video camera and randomly collecting shots of African sights is an exercise in how not to make an ethnographic film down to the poor sound and shots and intention. Its seething exoticization of Africans (esp. the children) was simultaneously cliched and tacky. As well, Kiarostami's meandering commentary on Africa was utterly offensive (need we be reminded by his post-screening comments as to the "primitive" Africa?). Ethnographic film has sought to remedy this callowness in ways more successful than this trite work. It has been suggested that this work is representative of Kiarostami's larger body of "poetic cinema" and yet its poetry is as sophisticated as the ABCs.

At times it seemed as if it were simply a naive remake of Heart of Darkness, with Kurtz's whispered dying words replaced by "The children, the children, the children." The mere thought of the faces of children superimposed over the African clouds warrants ABC Africa as the most embarrassing film of 2001. Followed by Shallow Hal in a very distant second. Granted, the 15 minutes of the film dealing with the AIDS orphanage was quite touching but the bookend footage of the ugly Iranian tourist and the beautiful, primitive, mysterious, dark and life-affirming (blah, blah, blah) Africa was simple-minded to say the least. To suggest that this film was the highlight of the DoubleTake festival does a great disservice to what was an otherwise wonderful festival. Also, the highlight of this year's DoubleTake was Chris Marker's incredible ode to Tarkovsky, One Day In The Life of Andrei Arsenevich.
--MICHAEL B. GILLESPIE, DURHAM

Uncharitable generalization
I realize that your views are not necessarily represented in letters to the editor, but why would you print such a bizarre and paranoid example of hyperbole as Gwendoline Fortune's recent letter [Back Talk, Jan. 9]? She claims "there is not one iota of desire to eliminate hunger and poverty among the ordinary people of the planet." This does a tremendous disservice to the humanitarian agencies, charities, and government efforts, too numerous to list here, dedicated to exactly that cause. While there is obviously much work to be done, progress has been made in many areas. Just to cite a recent example from the Economist, life expectancy in poor countries rose 22 years between 1960 and 1995, and child mortality dropped dramatically during the same period.

Her statement also ignores the reality that dictatorial or anarchic political situations in many poor countries greatly complicates efforts to improve quality of life for its people; North Korea (whose leadership also eschews "capitalistic greed," for its citizens anyway) comes immediately to mind. This is unfortunate, but does not reflect a desire of First World people that North Koreans starve under an oppressive regime.

I hope that the "goons" will leave Ms. Fortune in peace long enough to do some reading and reflecting and that The Independent will leave the sensationalism to lesser papers. By the way, I also enjoy Derek Jennings and extend my congratulations to him and his family on their decision to be foster parents.
--JENNIFER BOYER, DURHAM

Heart of art
As a photographer I was delighted by your recent cover feature on Southern photography [Jan. 2]. My pleasure was tempered however by the absence, for the first time in over a decade, of Kate Dobbs Ariail's name from the paper's list of chief contributors. Two minor mileposts--a beautifully illustrated piece on photography and the departure of a longtime columnist--one trumpeted, the other oddly unceremonious. Ariail is arguably the Triangle's best art critic, and is without question our most passionate.

So in the absence of acknowledgement or tribute from elsewhere, a testimonial: Photographer Robert Adams wrote, "Artists sometimes claim that they work without thought of an audience--that they make pictures just for themselves. We are not deceived. The only reward worth that much effort is a response, and if no one pays attention, or if the artist cannot live on hope, then he or she is lost." Kate's reviews in The Independent were coveted by local artists, because they knew she would look carefully and react honestly to their work. She was oftentimes generous, and always unflinching in her writing, and you were fortunate as I was on two occasions, if she responded, one way or the other, to what you were doing. (I work differently now in the darkroom due to early comments in these pages about the quality of my prints.) Her pieces were insightful and intelligent, even as they steered clear of intellectualizing; and they were helpful, never mere showcase of erudition. I nearly always got the feeling with Kate that she was writing more for us than she was for herself. She said, in fact, "People ought to formulate their own ideas about art, based on their own experiences. I want to provoke them into having those experiences. When someone tells me they saw a show because of something I wrote, I'm happy--even if they disagree with everything I said."

Whether you agreed or not, you always knew where Kate stood, and how she felt. And that's the aspect of her writing, perhaps more than any other, we will miss the most here: the feeling, her passion, for art. Robert Adams again, "Our best critics have the courage to take what seems the biggest risk: to forget themselves. Critical writing about a successful artwork is a calculated and in some respects doomed redundancy, re-peating in words what it means, duplicating it in other than the optimum mode, which, if it works, is obviously the visual mode. The only thing that can bring this off, assuming gifts of insight and expression, is the deepest commitment to share the work with others. Anything less than that means defeat, calling attention not to the artwork but to the critic."
--DAVID SIMONTON, RALEIGH

Editors Note: Kate Dobbs Ariail's farewell piece, published Aug. 29, 2001, can be read online at www.indyweek.com/durham/2001-08-29/ae.html.

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Got something to say about an Independent article? Send no more than 300 words to backtalk@indyweek.com; to P.O. Box 2690, Durham 27715; or fax 286-4274. Include your name, phone number and mailing address for verification; we cannot publish a letter without confirmation from the writer. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, style and clarity.

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