Thursday, December 14, 2006

Top to bottom: Jeeni Criscenzo, Gloria Daviston, Michael Kuzart, Aïda Reyes.

Progressive San Diego Rallies for Impeachment


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“If we dwell on the negative and all the terrible things, we’ll give power to all the negative things and feel overwhelmed,” former Congressional candidate Jeeni Criscenzo told about 70 people at a Progressive San Diego event at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest December 9. Though the announced topic of the forum was “presidential accountability,” it was obvious even before the speeches began that its real purpose was to build support for impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

All along the side walls of the room, volunteers sat at tables inviting people to sign petitions calling for impeachment. The tables also contained e-mail sign-ins so people could get on mailing lists and send online appeals to their Congressmembers urging that the House of Representatives begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney. A yellow leaflet handed to all attendees listed 10 grounds for impeachment, including the war in Iraq, the torture of captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, arbitrary detentions of persons (including U.S. citizens) without due process, the recently passed Military Commissions Act that denied the right of habeas corpus to anyone detained by the government as an “enemy combatant,” and the Bush administration’s negligence and failure to respond to warnings of an impending al-Qaeda attack in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The event’s opening speaker and MC, Judy Hess of Progressive Democrats of San Diego, made the agenda clear in her initial remarks. “When we impeach Bush and Cheney,” she said, “Nancy Pelosi will become president of the United States.” Acknowledging that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders slated to take over Congress in January have said that impeachment is “off the table,” Hess said that the purpose of the meeting — and of similar events taking place nationwide — was to build a groundswell of popular support for impeachment that will prevent the Democrats in Congress from continuing to duck the issue.

What will turn the tide and make impeachment feasible, Hess explained, is the promise of Democratic leaders in Congress to hold hearings and conduct investigations of Bush’s and Cheney’s policies and conduct. Through Bush’s first six years in office, the Republican Congressional majorities had basically given him a free pass. Not any more, said Hess: “Rigorous investigations will reveal wrongdoing. The facts and truth will be on the table, and put impeachment back on the table. Our children must be taught that you cannot subvert the Constitution and get away with it. We all have the power to give political cover to our Congresspeople.”

Hess explained that the impeachment campaign’s goal is to collect one million signatures nationwide by the end of December. “As they do investigations, our Congressmembers will have those signatures at their backs,” she said. “We are working to form grass-roots impeachment committees in every Congressional district in the country. Our desire is to let our Congressmembers know they have popular support as they do the right thing.”

“We are not looking at impeachment as a form of vengeance,” Criscenzo, the first speaker, said at the start of her talk. “We have a vision of what our country could be and Bush is standing in the way. Global warming, our standing in the world, and the budget are all on the precipice. We started by electing Democrats [to a Congressional majority] and we have to hold their feet to the fire and remind them of why we elected them. Number one is to get out of Iraq. In October, Congress approved $70 billion for Iraq. This spring Congress will be voting for $160 billion more, enough money to keep U.S. troops in Iraq until George W. Bush’s term ends — and the Democratic leaders are telling their members, ‘Don’t stand in the way of that appropriation.’”

Despite the wide-ranging agenda in the call for impeachment issued at the meeting, most of the presentations focused on the war in Iraq and the so-called “war on terror.” Criscenzo grimly noted that in August she’d met with officials from the Iraqi government and survivors of torture at Abu Ghraib. The meeting took place in Amman, Jordan one month after the Iraqi leaders had held a “unity summit” in Cairo, Egypt. According to Criscenzo, that’s one telling indicator of the failure of Bush’s war: the Iraqi government, supposedly democratically elected under U.S. auspices, can’t even hold meetings in its own country because life is so dangerous for them there.

Criscenzo said she went to that meeting in Amman convinced that Iraq’s partition into Shi’ite Arab, Sunni Arab and Sunni Kurd states was inevitable — but meeting with the Iraqi leaders changed her mind. “They came back from Egypt with a reconciliation plan and nothing had to do with greed, hatred or power-grabbing,” she recalled. “They said, ‘Don’t partition Iraq,’ because that would condemn them to eternal warfare. We had Sunni and Shi’a sitting next to each other, and they said, ‘We’re friends. We’re neighbors. We’ve lived together for hundreds of years.’”

According to Criscenzo, the Iraqis themselves want the war to end. Who wants it to continue? “Defense contractors are making a killing in Iraq, and they don’t want it to end,” she said. “Congressmember Dennis Kucinich said that 500,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s oil are being stolen. Nothing else works in Iraq, but the oil is being pumped without the meter running.” Criscenzo claimed that U.S. oil companies are draining Iraq’s oil reserves and “pumping nonstop,” partly to make as much money as they can in a hurry without having to pay anything back to the Iraqi people, and partly to realize their long-held dream of breaking the OPEC cartel and the hold OPEC’s largest producer, Saudi Arabia, has over world oil prices.

“The Bush administration has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Aïda Reyes of the World Can’t Wait organization, which held a mass event in downtown San Diego October 5 as part of an international mobilization. “Over 650,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. The U.S. has taken over thousands of prisons in Iraq and tortured people. It has killed people with chemical weapons like white phosphorus. Every day we stay in Iraq is a living hell for the Iraqi people. The U.S. has spread 100 times as much radioactivity in Iraq than it used in Japan at the end of World War II [presumably a reference to the routine use of depleted-uranium ammunition by U.S. troops in both Gulf Wars], and the half-life of this material is 100 million years.”

Quoting British playwright Harold Pinter’s comment that “the Bush administration is the most dangerous force in the world’s history,” Reyes added that if the American people allow Bush and Cheney to serve out their terms, “We will be remembered as the people that allowed the atrocities to happen. Iran will be next, and then Venezuela. Will we be the people that allowed all forms of torture to be legal? Will we be the people that allowed habeas corpus to be revoked? The ‘war on terror’ is the rubric under which the Bush administration demanded and got increasing state power. Bush is not stupid. This was a plan at least two decades old to remake the world, and they used 9/11 as the pretext to do it.”

As she had done at the October 5 World Can’t Wait action, which she M.C.’d, Reyes ridiculed fellow progressives who put their faith in the electoral process in general and the Democratic party in particular. “There’s no indication that the new Congress will stop the Bush agenda,” she said. “The only force that will stop it is the people, millions of us. Our sentiments will not be felt until we form a mass movement of millions. The government didn’t listen to the protests, but the world listened and saw there was a section of people in this country who knew the war was unjust. It opened up more room for people to think and take a stand. As the lies were exposed and Iraq descended into unwinnable civil war, Bush’s popularity dropped from 80 percent to 30 percent.”

Perhaps the most powerful speaker on the program was Michael Kuzart, a recent veteran of the “war on terror” and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He said he knew that there would be a U.S. attack on Iraq as early as June 2002, when he was based in Qatar and involved in sending military supplies to Afghanistan. “Then I was moved to another equipment supply store so we would have material ready in case there was another war in the Middle East,” Kuzart said. “I started to turn away from the war in June 2002, when I noticed a lot of equipment was accumulating in Kuwait. I had a bad feeling, and when I went home on leave and heard all this stuff about Saddam Hussein supposedly having weapons of mass destruction, I knew that we were going to invade Iraq.”

Kuzart recalled the 13 days of what he called “cakewalk duty” he served in Afghanistan. “I volunteered to help out the civil affairs unit,” he said. “We would go to villages where there had just been fighting, and I would wait outside with the vehicles while the officers would go in, negotiate and pay off the warlords. Now there’s more violence in Afghanistan because the warlords would rather spend money on weapons than on rebuilding schools. This was the first time civil-affairs units would go in on missions with active-duty soldiers, and we got medals for it, but it was really a drive-through reparations program. There was no intent to rebuild Afghanistan.”

One of Kuzart’s main motivations for joining the impeachment effort was to see President Bush held accountable for the lies he told to win U.S. support for the “war on terror” and the attack on Iraq. “I don’t think the President should be allowed to lie to us,” he said. “We’re told the women in Afghanistan don’t have to wear burkas anymore, but during the time I was there I never saw a woman’s face.”

“Raise your hand if you knew about the $55 million contract to Kellogg, Brown and Root [a subsidiary of Halliburton] for constructing detention camps in the U.S.,” said Hess, who took the podium at this point to introduce a videotaped presentation by National Lawyers’ Guild president and Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Marjorie Cohn. “There is a U.S. Army Rapid Action Deployment System for civilian detention on unused Army basis in the U.S. It says it’s for civilians to be in those camps, labor camps or detention camps. It says ‘persons of note’ should be held there.”

Cohn’s taped presentation had been filmed on December 6 at a Progressive Democrats of America event in Clairemont. She discussed the Military Commissions Act and a potentially even more far-reaching law, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush the same day: October 17, 2006. “The Military Commissions Act allows the President to declare anyone, including U.S. citizens, ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ and detain them indefinitely,” Cohn said. “It’s so broadly defined that anyone who donates to a charity that turns up on Bush’s list of ‘terrorist organizations,’ or speaks out against government policies, could be declared an ‘enemy combatant’ and lose habeas corpus rights.”

The Defense Authorization Act allows the President, solely on his own authority, to declare martial law and put the National Guard units of the various states under federal command “to restore public order and defend the United States.” While the ostensible purpose of this act is to give the President power to respond to another 9/11-style attack on the U.S., Cohn warned that under its language, otherwise legal, peaceful protest could be used as a pretext for martial law and the establishment of a Presidential dictatorship.

“In a November 2006 speech at the Air Force Academy, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez warned that anyone who says Bush’s surveillance program stifles freedom ‘poses a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people,’” Cohn said. “Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show that military officials labeled anti-war and anti-recruitment demonstrations as ‘threats to the national security.’”

Cohn drew a parallel between the Military Commissions Act, the Defense Authorization Act and the USA PATRIOT Act and earlier attempts by the U.S. government to suppress political dissent, including the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the “extensive surveillance” of the so-called McCarthy era in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. She also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1944 decision ruling that the government had the power to order all Japanese-Americans into internment camps is still on the books — and quoted then-Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who in his original dissent in the case warned that the court’s ruling would be available to any future government that wanted to set aside the Constitution to punish American citizens and legal residents for arbitrary reasons.

The final speaker at the event was Gloria Daviston from San Diego Veterans for Peace, a local chapter of a national organization which called for impeaching Bush and Cheney as early as 2002. She joined the Army at 19 and served seven and one-half years during the Viet Nam era, and talked about how the military appeals to young people to get them to join — and then lets them down. “The call goes out to them to ‘be all you can be’ and do their patriotic duty, and they expect the military to do right by them,” Daviston said. “Under Bush, that has not happened. They have been misused and abused.”

Daviston spoke in support of war resisters like Lieutenant Ehren Watada, who is scheduled to be court-martialed in January for refusing an order to deploy to Iraq — the first commissioned officer to do so. She said the evils of the Bush administration started “when he hijacked the election in 2000” — one of the items in the bill of particulars against him and Cheney in the event’s leaflet — “and it’s been downhill ever since: the breaking of the Geneva conventions, the threats on Iran, the degradation of the United States Constitution. The Bush administration has committed unconscionable acts, and we must speak out. A dalliance with Monica Lewinsky is not an impeachable offense; Bush’s acts are.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Kyle Snyder, War Resister, Speaks to Peace & Justice Coalition


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

At first sight, Kyle Snyder seems like a quite ordinary young man. He’s short, slightly built, and when he came to speak to the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice at the Church of the Brethren in City Heights December 4 he was dressed unassumingly in a red hooded sweatshirt and baggy blue jeans. He’s 23 now; four years ago he joined the U.S. Army “for the usual reasons a 19-year-old joins the Army: for the $5,000 signing bonus, college money and medical and dental benefits.”

Snyder didn’t sign up specifically to fight a war, but he was aware enough of the news to realize he might have to. His recruiter was honest enough to admit that Snyder might end up in Iraq, so Snyder asked to be assigned to a construction and engineering unit so at least if he got sent to Iraq he’d be cleaning up the country and helping to rebuild it instead of just destroying things and killing people. According to Snyder, when he went to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for basic training, “I weighed 25 pounds more than I do now.”

Once he made it through basic, Snyder recalled, “I got advanced training in construction and road-building, which was the only time I actually got to do what I’d signed up to do. My fiancée lost our baby because the military denied her medical care because we weren’t contractually ‘married.’ I tried to get out on medical disability for depression but I wasn’t allowed to because I was assigned to a unit that had already been deployed to Iraq, where it had built the prison at Abu Ghraib.”

More unpleasant surprises were in store for Snyder when he arrived in Kuwait, the dropping-off point for units about to go into Iraq. He was told that instead of doing construction work, his unit had been reassigned and would now do patrols with 50-calibre guns. Snyder got just four weeks’ worth of training on how to use the guns. In addition to doing armed patrols, Snyder recalled, “I became an escort for high-ranking military officials, including a two-star general, moving around Iraq.”

Snyder’s unit was stationed in Mosul, in Northern Iraq near the Turkish and Syrian borders. “My unit did no construction or engineering,” he said. “I saw kids flipping us off and sniper fire, and began to question America’s presence in Iraq after three months. I wanted to reconstruct and bring Iraqi civilians what they needed, and instead we patrolled with a Stryker division.” When he did escort work, Snyder said later in response to an audience question, he wasn’t told where the officer he was escorting was going until they got there.

The last straw for Snyder was when he saw a new member of his unit shoot an Iraqi civilian. “He was not killed, but he was crippled for life,” Snyder recalled. “I asked for an investigation under my rights as a soldier, and was turned down on the ground that they could not question this soldier’s judgment that our convoy was in danger.”

Snyder’s unauthorized departure from the U.S. military took place in April 2005, when he got off a plane in Kuwait, supposedly on his way to a leave to visit his family — and instead made his way to Canada to seek political asylum as a U.S. war resister. “It was a hard decision to leave Iraq and my cadre and friends whom I had fought for and would have died for,” he recalled. “I told them in advance I was considering this decision. I went through a breakdown for one week after my plane went back to Kuwait.”

According to Snyder, he’s one of 28 people currently petitioning the Canadian government for asylum as war resisters. He’s not optimistic about his chances; the Canadians have been considerably tougher on antiwar U.S. immigrants than they were during the Viet Nam war, and while Canada is not involved in the Iraq war they do have Canadian forces fighting as part of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. One beneficial quirk of the Canadian constitution is that it gives Snyder and his fellow resisters the right to stay in the country until their cases are heard — and many of them, including Snyder, have been waiting over a year for a hearing.

Snyder said that the U.S. military estimates that there are currently 8,000 servicemembers absent without leave (AWOL) in the U.S., and he said up to 40,000 have gone AWOL at some time or other since the Iraq conflict began. “Eight thousand people are AWOL in the U.S., hiding in the shadows, and all they want to do is to be discharged and get on with their lives,” he said. “One-third of all homeless people on the streets in the U.S. now are Viet Nam-era veterans. I don’t want to see people my age living on the streets. I don’t want to be part of the next generation of homeless people.”

On October 31, 2006 Snyder crossed the border back to the U.S. and went to Fort Knox, Kentucky “because Major Brian Patterson had promised me orally that I would be discharged,” he said. “Instead, I was refused because my unit is stateside and it is being deployed to Iraq a third time.” Fearful that he’d either be court-martialed or forcibly returned to his unit for another stint in Iraq, Snyder went AWOL “and since then I’ve been fearful and hate the things that have been said about me.”

The things that have been said about Snyder include the usual hate letters — “People have sent me e-mails saying I should be hanged or shot,” he said — as well as the total rejection of his parents. While the foster parents who actually raised him “are really for me,” Snyder explained, “My father thinks I’m a disgrace, and my mother thinks my leaving Iraq was a sin and I should repent. It’s been 4 1/2 years since I’ve seen them. The first thing I would have done if I’d been discharged was to go to a Thanksgiving dinner with my family. But I don’t want to see them when I’m in this position.”

One thing Snyder did when he returned to the U.S. was hook up with Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and join the bus tour they’re taking around the country. Indeed, the bus was parked outside the Church of the Brethren while Snyder spoke and some fellow resisters, including Darrell Anderson and Ethan Crowell, attended the meeting. Anderson briefly took the microphone himself while Snyder was wrapping up an interview with an Associated Press reporter.

“Kyle and I both suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’ll be difficult for us to go back to school,” Anderson explained. “We lost our benefits and I’m a disabled veteran. We have this bus and we need to build our own society with our own housing projects, because I can’t relate to people who haven’t served. When Kyle’s resistance is done we’ll need to pick him up from prison — if he’s had to serve time, which we hope he won’t — and take him home.”

So far, IVAW’s own housing project has meant basing the bus in New Orleans and, when it isn’t out touring the country putting Snyder and other IVAW members out as speakers against the war, helping the ongoing cleanup effort more than a year after Hurricane Katrina. Contrary to popular belief, IVAW volunteers said that most of the homes in New Orleans that flooded during the hurricane are in basically good shape and can easily be made habitable again; they don’t have to be bulldozed and replaced by upscale, gentrified redevelopments, as the city government is planning. Snyder savored the irony that he’s finally putting the construction skills the Army taught him to good use and fulfilling his original ambition to benefit people by cleaning up their environment.

Snyder and Anderson were both introduced by a much older participant in the IVAW bus tour: Gerry Condon, a former San Diegan who worked on Latin American solidarity issues in the 1980’s but before that was himself a war resister during Viet Nam. “I actually trained as a Green Beret medic, was given a general court-martial and sentenced to 10 years,” Condon recalled. “I escaped during the trial and spent three years in Sweden organizing against the war and for amnesty for war resisters. I came back in 1975 and went on a 50-city speaking tour. “ He thanked former President Jimmy Carter for granting an unconditional pardon to Viet Nam-era draft resisters — though not to people who went AWOL — as his first act in office in 1977.

Condon’s presence not only provided background on the histories of both Viet Nam and Iraq-era resistance but offered a living link between the two eras. He said he first met the people on the Iraq Veterans Against the War bus in Fort Benning, Georgia, where he and they both came for the annual demonstrations against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S.-run training center for combat troops in Latin American countries. Peace activists target this school for protests every year based on accusations that the U.S. is teaching its “students” how to torture civilians and suppress activist movements that threaten U.S.-friendly governments in the region.

After the anti-SOA protests, Condon recalled, he joined the IVAW activists in New Orleans for their ongoing post-Katrina cleanup work. “Then we went to Chicago, where Kyle spoke at 20 schools, including campuses with heavily African-American and Latino student populations where the military recruits heavily,” Condon said. “There are a lot of veterans showing a lot of support. We have the young generation coming together with a lot of us greybeards.”

Condon stressed that he’s under no illusions as to the difficulty of actually stopping the U.S. military involvement in Iraq. “The 2006 election was, more than anything else, a rejection of the Iraq war, but President Bush is only making minor changes and is even considering sending more troops,” he explained. “The antiwar movement needs to step up to the plate like never before. Civil disobedience is necessary, and the veterans are the most important resisters. We need to make it possible for more and more people in the military to stay no to this war and end it.”

“I don’t regret going to Canada, and I don’t regret coming back and becoming part of the war resistance movement,” Snyder said. “There’s not a day that goes by without me thinking about the 500,000 Iraqis and 3,000 Americans who have died. I support the troops but oppose the war. I want my friends home so I don’t have to question anymore. I don’t believe in the Bush administration. One minute I’m looked at as a hero, and the next as a traitor. It’s difficult for me to understand that kind of logic.”

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Architect: Too Much of Too Many Good Things


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

There’s the germ of a good movie in The Architect. In fact, there are the germs of quite a few good movies in The Architect — and that’s precisely the problem with it.

Written and directed by Matt Tauber from a play by David Greig — though the film’s action moves so peripatetically around Chicago it’s hard to imagine the piece being played on stage — The Architect is a sort of anti-Fountainhead. For those of you who aren’t up on the collected works of Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead was a heavy-breathing 1943 novel, filmed five years later with Rand writing the script herself, about an idealistic super-architect who ghost-designs a big public housing project for a hack colleague, blows up the project when the people paying for it change his design, goes on trial, makes a long speech about the need to protect the individual against the masses and is acquitted.

The Architect is also about an architect and a public housing project, but the time is the present, the project is already several decades old, and it’s become so decrepit and dangerous to the people who live there that Tonya Neeley (Viola Davis), an African-American woman who lives there with her daughter, granddaughter and the memory of her son, a suicide, becomes an activist and organizes a drive to have the buildings torn down. She confronts the architect who designed the place originally, Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia, top-billed), hoping that if he agrees that the project is no longer workable as a living space, she’ll have the support she needs to get the Illinois state government to pay for its destruction and replacement by smaller, more “homey” housing.

By far the best scene in The Architect is the one in which Leo and Tonya actually meet. The setting is Leo’s own home — which, like virtually all houses movie architects design for themselves, is beautiful but soulless and uncomfortable to live in — and the prop is an elaborate model Leo has constructed to show how the existing project buildings can be rehabilitated as an alternative to tearing them down. Tonya rips apart all her ideas, noting that all the decoration he wants to add to the site won’t make one bit of difference in terms of their lives and the great “communal patio” he wants to add to the site will just make it even easier for the neighborhood gangs to terrorize and dominate the project residents than it is now.

Anyone who remembers The Fountainhead and catches the obvious reference to it in this scene will be jolted by the realization that in Rand’s tale of a battle between an architect and the people who commissioned the housing project he designed and then destroyed, neither side gave a damn about the priorities of the people who would actually live there. As Leo, speaking from the ritzy home he’s designed and built himself with the profit he’s made from similarly well-heeled clients, snarls that the project was designed in the first place as “mass housing” and it wasn’t supposed to be nice — and Tonya fires back that his intent in designing it wasn’t to build people houses but to “house people,” leaving unspoken but nonetheless making the obvious point that Leo’s project “housed people” the way animals are housed, or the way its African-American residents’ ancestors were “housed” when they were slaves — we’re being confronted with a clash not only of race but even more of class. The scene makes the radical point (just the opposite of Rand’s ideology) that poor and working-class people are just as deserving of decent, comfortable living spaces as those above them in wealth, income and status.

If there were more of that knife-edged class consciousness in The Architect, it would have been a masterpiece. Unfortunately, writer-director Tauber and original playwright Greig can’t leave it at that. The architect has to have a dysfunctional marriage with Julia (Isabella Rossellini, looking surprisingly frumpish after Guy Maddin’s marvelous glamorization of her two years ago in The Saddest Music in the World, where she hauntingly resembled her mother, Ingrid Bergman), who breaks plates and flowerpots to express her frustration in ways that seem awfully atavistic 42 years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. He’s also saddled with a son, Martin (Sebastian Stan), who’s just dropped out of college over a malaise that turns out to be confusion about his sexual orientation; and a daughter, Christina (Hayden Panettiere), who’s written as a Freudian textbook illustration of the Electra complex, taking her dad’s side in all her parents’ arguments, giving him a hug that stops barely short of out-and-out incest and so mechanistically throwing herself at virtually every other white male in the film she might as well be wearing a sign saying, “Take my virginity — please!”

The Black characters aren’t any better off — or any more realistic. Tonya actually had three children, one of whom, daughter Cammie (Serena Reeder) she sent off to live with a more affluent African-American family, headed by a doctor, to get her out of the ghetto and give her a chance at the education and material success she deserved. She and her other daughter, Missy (Marsha Stephanie Blake), continually argue over Tonya’s motives for mounting the campaign that, if successful, is going to render them at least temporarily homeless. In one scene Tonya literally attacks a young man Missy is talking to before she realizes that he’s just her old childhood friend, Big Tim (Malcolm Goodwin), even though he’s dressed like an extra in a gangsta-rap video. As if that weren’t enough dysfunction — the plot of this movie seems to be aimed at proving that whites and Blacks are equally susceptible to mental illnesses of all sorts — there’s also the character of Shawn (Paul James), a Black Gay teenager who lives in the neighborhood of the project and falls in love with Martin — whose confused unwillingness to reciprocate precipitates a fate so dire for the Gay character Brokeback Mountain looks like a bundle of laughs by comparison.

Writer-director Tauber, making his feature-film debut — his only previous credit was The Great New Wonderful, a micro-budget film shot (like The Architect) on high-definition video and dealing with multiple New Yorkers in the year after 9/11 — simply isn’t good enough at structuring his various plotlines to make this sort of film work. He has the misfortune to be opening his movie right after the death of Robert Altman, a master of the multi-character, multi-story film who actually had the knack of blending plural storylines in a way where the various plots reflected and added to each other. In Tauber’s movie, by contrast, they clash. The Architect is less a movie than a war zone in which various story threads, dramatic issues and themes fight it out for dominance, and an ending that Tauber no doubt intended as daringly inconclusive comes off instead as simply sloppy and a cheat. Tauber does share one of Altman’s talents — the ability to get good performances out of his actors (perhaps a legacy of his years in live theatre, where he didn’t have to worry about story structure because a playwright had already taken care of that, and he could concentrate on working with actors, the directorial function he clearly does best) — and maybe with time and experience he’ll acquire the knowledge to construct this type of film and make it work, but he’s not there yet.

What’s more, as a writer Tauber has an annoying tendency to leave loose ends lying around, tying them up either later or not at all. When we see in Tonya’s front room a framed picture of an African-American teenager with a cross draped over the front, indicating that he’s dead, our first thought is that he’s the father of Missy’s child and that he was killed in gang violence. Only later are we told that he was really Missy’s brother and that he committed suicide by jumping off the roof of one of the project buildings. When another character commits suicide similarly, we’re left to wonder if the scenes involving him were flashbacks and if he was Missy’s brother, and only later does Tauber’s dialogue nail home the point that these were two separate people.

Landmark Theatres is making a big to-do about the format in which The Architect is being shown. Instead of film, it’s being projected from a Samsung Blu-Ray high-definition DVD via a system not coincidentally owned by the same people who own the Landmark chain itself, Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban. The resulting image is spectacularly clear, perhaps a bit too clear; scenes that on film would have seemed more artistically shadowed register with the sharpness and meticulous color definition of a very good picture postcard. Still, it’s a film to reassure the doubters (including anyone who’s suffered through a screening of an ordinary DVD or VHS tape on a standard-issue PowerPoint projector) who worry that digital projection can’t be as good as film. The Architect is a technological triumph; it’s the human aspects of the movie that fall short of what they could have been and make this a regrettable disappointment.

The Architect opens December 8 at the Landmark Cinemas, 3965 Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. Please call (619) 299-2100 for showtimes and other information.