‘Marriage, to me, is not a chain but an association. I must be free, entirely unfettered, in all my actions, my coming and my going; I can tolerate neither control, jealousy, nor criticism as to my conduct. I pledge my word, however, never to compromise the name of the man I marry, nor to render him ridiculous in the eyes of the world. But that man must promise to look upon me as an equal, an ally, and not as an inferior or as an obedient, submissive wife. My ideas, I know, are not like those of other people, but I shall never change them.’ Guy de Maupassant, Bel-Ami


The E-Team

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 21, 2014
Category: Documentary

“CSI Syria” — that’s a show you’ll never see on television.

You can, however, see the movie.

It starts in 2013, soon after Syrian jets drop cluster bombs that kill 200 civilians. Journalists are smart enough to understand and respect the invisible “Keep Out” signs at what passes for the border, but here are Anna Neistat and Ole Solvang boldly stepping over barbed wire.

“We’re in Syria!” Ole says. “We’re safe!”

You have to admire the humor.

Gallows humor. Like this: An occasional member of the camera crew was James Foley, a year away from becoming the first American to be beheaded by ISIS.

Before I saw the film, I knew that Foley had worked on it, and I wondered what footage was his. But I didn’t wonder for long, because I was so totally overwhelmed by the courage of the four members of the E-Team and the filmmakers who followed them over the wire. And then, because courage is in their DNA, the issue of courage drifted away and I just…watched.

Fred Abrahams, Peter Bouckeart, Anna Neistat and her husband Ole Solvang are the E-Team — the Emergency Team — of Human Rights Watch. They go places journalists avoid. And they go as quickly as they can; there is no atrocity more compelling than fresh corpses. And because a camera is now a tape recorder and a video, they bring back proof that’s far more powerful than a thousand words. They fill a dossier. They make the case — not just for grateful journalists, but for war crimes tribunals. [To stream the film on Netflix or to learn where it's showing in theaters, go to the film’s web site.]

Veteran documentary directors Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman had 350 hours of original footage and 100 hours of archival video to work with. They edited ruthlessly to produce an 89-minute movie. It’s mostly interviews with witnesses, but it has the feel of an action movie.

A man dumps 27 pieces of steel out of a baggie. “From a cluster bomb,” he says. “Those came out of my body.”

Another interview takes place in a small apartment during a bombing. “What have we done?” a woman cries. “What is our crime? What did we do to deserve this?”

Later, the E-Team tours a building where civilians were tortured and killed. “They kill them, and then they burn the bodies,” their interpreter says. “It’s a hobby for them.”

What does a cemetery look like in Syria? The headstones are concrete blocks.

Do you want to see this documentary? Of course not. But if you look at almost any screen you use every day— the Internet, TV, film — you’ll mostly see fake drama and people spouting bullshit they cannot possibly believe. Not here. The E-Team is realer than real. And if it costs you something to see and feel reality … well, that’s the deal.


[Thanks to Carroll Bogert]

Short takes


I’ve been writing my way into a new book for months. It’s been frustrating: I know the story, I write scenes, but I haven’t quite known what the novel is really about. The other night I was driving to my most unlikely friend’s house in New Jersey for shabos dinner — yes, you read that right — when WFUV played this song. Lights flashed. Pennies dropped. Suddenly I knew why I’m writing this book. And I am beyond psyched. (Contest: What four lines am I thinking of quoting at the start of the book? Winner gets… I have no idea.)

Lori Lieberman: Killing New York Softly

Lori Lieberman says she likes “nothing more than walking my dogs and eating a good chocolate chip cookie,” but if you’ve ever heard or seen her, you know that is just false modesty. This is the woman who wrote the poem that became “Killing Me Softly.” She’s loved in Europe. On Saturday, November 8, it’s New York’s turn — she’ll be performing at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. For tickets, click here.

Staging the Scene: Pick-Me-Ups for the Home

When my family travels with Christina Green Gerry and her kids, no sooner have we lugged our suitcases into a rented house than she moves a few things around. Invariably, the rooms look… better. Now she and her friend Stephanie Moulton are making a business out of pepping up apartments and homes. At Making Home, they “stage” residences to help them sell faster; they also fill empty spaces. If I were an unmarried Wall Streeter with no time to give to a new apartment or beach house, I’d just hand them the key; ditto if I wanted a Hamptons rental that looked just a bit smarter than the rest. They’re New York based, but I’d bet they’d travel a reasonable distance — you wouldn’t have to send the jet.

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials. Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well.

from Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.