Last night we watched The Oath, a fascinating but disturbing documentary film by acclaimed director Laura Poitras. Originally intended as a film about Guantanamo detainees, Poitras set out to follow the story of one of Gitmo's most prominent prisoners, bin Laden's personal driver, Salim Hamdan.
Unable to interview Hamdan in person, Poitras traveled to Yemen where she met his family, including his brother-in-law, Nasser al-Bahri (aka Abu Jandal). Abu Jandal was a jihadist who fought in Bosnia, Somalia, Chechnya and Afghanistan before becoming a bin Laden bodyguard. Under pressure from the United States, the Yemeni government arrested Jandal and placed him in a rehabilitation program for young jihadists. He was imprisoned before the 911 attacks occurred and he became a key informant for the FBI in the immediate aftermath of 911.
But this is not a simple story about reform and redemption. Jandal is a complicated character, full of paradoxes. At times he is a sympathetic figure, but he is also a very alarming man. As a condition of his release from the Yemeni program, he took an oath to refrain from any further involvement with jihadist groups, but the oath is in violation of an earlier oath to al-Qaeda.
I won't reveal any more, except to say that one startling aspect of the story is the outspokenness of Gitmo detainee Hamdan's government appointed defense attorney, Navy Lt. Commander Charles Swift. Swift's aggressive public defense of his client is jarring, but he reminds us that he swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. Clearly, Swift takes his oath seriously.
This is not a political film and Poitras does not tell the viewer what to think about all of this. I can't say that I came away from the film feeling sure about anything, least of all what the future holds for Jandal.
Dan Ariely samples the output from a few essay mills:
Essay mills are companies whose sole purpose is to generate essays for high school and college students (in exchange for a fee, of course). Sure, essay mills claim that the papers are meant just to help the students write their own original papers, but with names such as echeat.com, it’s pretty clear what their real purpose is.
Professors in general are very worried about essay mills and their impact on learning, but not knowing exactly what essay mills or the quality of their output, it is hard to know how worried we should be. So together with Aline Grüneisen, I decided to check it out. We ordered a typical college term paper from four different essay mills, and as the topic of the paper we chose… (surprise!) Cheating. continue
Ready for her radio fling. Washington, D.C., May 4. Four year old Nancy Anderson, daughter of Rep. and Mrs John Z. Anderson, will make her radio debut Saturday on the third annual Congressional Children's Broadcast over a national NBC hook-up, sponsored by the Congressional Club. Children of all ages and playing all types of musical instruments will participate in the program.
Fall River, Massachusetts. (photo by Lewis Wickes Hine)
Aldea Balanger - French - Weaver. Cornell Mills - 14 years old, getting her certificate for her 5th position. Face broken out as most of weavers have from the machine oil, handling it and not washing hands. Lint gets into pores.
Yesterday's post on Bob Greene's return from exile column wasn't just a post about the psychological necessity of boundaries. It was my way of introducing the notion of encoded communications--those expressions of disturbing unconscious thoughts in a narrative that isn't manifestly about one's own situation and perceptions.
For a number of reasons, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to tease out the encoded meanings in everyday conversation, but sometimes the meanings are all too clear. Overheard today, for example, a woman speaking to a female companion with absolutely gorgeous hair:
She doesn't want to admit it, but my friend Donna is insanely jealous of my hair.
Well, the speaker is almost certainly revealing her own disavowed feelings of hair envy. Mind you, I can't say I blame her. Her female companion had what might be the most beautiful hair I've ever laid eyes on.
If we think of the spontaneous narratives of everyday chitchat as something akin to dreams, seemingly innocuous stories can reveal much about the unconscious backdrop for our conversations. These encoded narratives are as inevitable as nighttime dreams, whether we hear them or not.
Though we readily recognize narrative subtext as a literary device, we're more reluctant to recognize it in real life because the subtext refers to things we would rather not know.
I never deliberately set out to hear the subtext in everyday conversation, but sometimes it just slaps me across the face, especially when it's the latent meaning of my own words. Hearing these underlying meanings is usually an unpleasant experience for me. Who wants to know that they've just unwittingly delivered a conversational Trojan horse?
We all do it. It's not an illness. It can't be cured. It's an unavoidable consequence of a two-tiered mental apparatus consisting of conscious and unconscious processing systems.
What is the relevance to psychotherapy?
Listening to the encoded subtext is one among several ways to listen to patient narratives when the patient is allowed to free associate without the disruption of a talkative therapist. Sometimes there is a subtext that just begs to be heard.