Monthly Archives: December 2007

A New Look for the New Year

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I decided to change my header. A new look for the new year, that sort of thing. I hope there will be some other changes made in the days, weeks and months ahead. More original posts, more photos, even a few travel reports and possible experiments in remote/live blogging.

Pleased to announce I was recently added to the blogroles of Marko Attila Hoare’s Greater Surbiton and Sultan Knish. Thanks to both.

Happy New Year to all!

Favorite DVDs/Videos/Films of 2007

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[Frogs gone wild. From Paprika]

My wife really enjoys watching films. I used to as well but I find less and less time in my life to go out for a show. Money is also a factor. How much is a movie in NYC these days? $12? $13? I also dislike listening to other people’s conversations. Nevertheless I manage to get out once in a while and occasionally watch a dvd at home. What follows is an alphabetical list of ten favorite films/videos/dvds that I watched in 2007 (not necessarily released in 2007).

1) Army of Shadows. Noir/War. Jean-Pierre Melville’s tale of the ambiguities and moral conflicts of French resistance and collaboration during the Nazi occupation. Highly recommended.

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2) Everything is Illuminated. Drama. An American Jew’s quest to find the woman who saved his grandfather during the shoah. A nice, heartfelt film. I have not read the book of the same name.

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3) Killer of Sheep. Neo-Realism. Charles Burnett classic “examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse.” Definitely bleak but contains some funny moments as well.

Killer of Sheep was shot on location in Watts in a series of weekends on a budget of less than $10,000, most of which was grant money. Finished in 1977 and shown sporadically, its reputation grew and grew until it won a prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival.

Since then, the Library of Congress has declared it a national treasure as one of the first fifty on the National Film Registry and the National Society of Film Critics selected it as one of the “100 Essential Films” of all time. However, due to the expense of the music rights, the film was never shown theatrically or made available on video. It has only been seen on poor quality 16mm prints at few and far between museum and festival showings.

4) The Lives of Others. Political Drama. During the Cold War, artists, writers, and members of the intelligentsia were regularly observed by the East German Secret Police, or, Stassi. This film examines the changing perspective of a Stassi agent and his impact on a group of writers. A bit slow going at first but well worth checking out.

5) My Architect. Documentary. “The story of one man’s search to know the hidden heart of his father, Louis I. Kahn.” Great on so many levels. Kahn designed some amazing buildings, including the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh (below).

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But this is also a very personal journey, a son’s struggle to understand the father he barely knew.

6) Pan’s Labyrinth. Fantasy. Visually intriguing fantasy set in the Spanish Civil War.

7) Paprika. Anime. Thriller about psychoanalysis, dreams, and movie-making. Very enjoyable.

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8 The Prisoner. UK TV Series, Cult. A secret agent is whisked off to “the island” to uncover why he left the agency. While it probably seems a tad cheesy by today’s standards, this was one of my favorite shows growing up. Time notes, ” You can trace Lost, The X-Files, and every other paranoid show-puzzle in the last few decades to this enigmatic story of Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) and his attempt to escape a charming little gulag by the seaside.”

9) Volver. Drama. Pedro Almodóvar’s tale of death and life in a working-class suburb of Madrid.

Honorable mentions: soon to come.

Disappointments: American Hardcore. Documentary. Having experienced the hardcore scene firsthand, I wanted something more than what this film had to offer…

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[R.I.P.: Bomer, Derrick, Jason]

Clifford May: Coal in Israel’s stocking

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[Hat tip, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies]

Clifford May: Coal in Israel’s stocking

In this holiday season, there are journalistic conventions one comes to expect: stories lamenting the commercialism of Christmas; stories summing up the 12 months gone by and predicting the direction of the New Year; and stories blaming Israelis for the problems afflicting the Holy Land.

Reuters, the BBC, McClatchy, ABC News — in recent days, all have run pieces in the last category. But the one that troubled me most appeared in the Wall Street Journal — my favorite national daily newspaper — on Dec. 24. It was written by Ken Woodward, a religion writer whose work I’ve long respected. But in this instance his subject was not religion but foreign affairs, and what he produced was the usual anti-Israeli dogma.

His op-ed was headlined: “The Plight of Bethlehem: Why Christians can’t visit the holy shrines in Jerusalem.” The first thing to note is that, according to Palestinian tourism officials, 450,000 foreigners will have visited Bethlehem by the end of this year — a 50 percent increase over the 295,000 who came last year. Every hotel room was filled. Among the tourists on Christmas Day were 7,000 Israeli Christian Arabs. Fadel Badarin, the chief of the Palestinian tourism police, declared that in 2007 “the tourism situation in Bethlehem was great.”

[continue reading]

The Team Against the Committee: Fighting Tyranny and Terrorism Without Losing Our Liberal Soul

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Here is an excerpt from an article by David DeRosiers, “The Team Against the Committee”: Fighting Tyranny and Terrorism Without Losing Our Liberal Soul” (The Political Science Reviewer, Vol 2., No. 1, 2003). The article is a few years old but I just discovered the existence of this journal. DeRosiers examines how liberal societies can confront violent groups through the ideas of political scientist Bertrand de Jouvenel. The essential problem, “It is very difficult for liberal regimes, which proclaim that the building of a group and the pressuring of the government are essential freedoms, to act against any group—even those animated by what Jouvenel calls ‘bellicose intent.'”

Jouvenel’s position is the very opposite of the civil libertarian who judge political liberty by the freedom that the public Authority allows to those groups and individuals that are committed to its elimination. For example, the radical Islamist, who uses the liberal hedges of civil liberties and liberal public opinion to actively and openly subvert his host is a perfect example of the “dangerous texture” that continues to surround even liberal politics. In contrast to the ACLU’s insistence that the existence of such groups testifies to the strength of liberal societies, Jouvenel insists that it points to liberalism’s inherent vulnerability. These are the “clouds, no bigger than a man’s hand from which the tempest will come.”

Jouvenel understands the practical difficulty of trying to control and eliminate such groups. And one can easily picture-because life affords us with many examples-the public Authority taking action against a faction, only to find itself undermined because the subversive group casts the attack on its bellicose intention as an attack on political liberty itself: “Sure, today it’s the Nazis in Stokie [sic] or the Branch Davidians in Texas, or the Mullahs in Patterson New Jersey-all of whose values challenge us-but if we say it is legitimate to go after them, what will stop them from one day coming after us.” This is the “slippery slope” argument of civil libertarians who always take the permanence of liberal democracy for granted and forget, or never learned, the lessons of Weimar.

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated at Political Rally

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I woke up this morning to news of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Witnesses report Bhutto was shot at close range followed by an explosion which ripped through a political rally at Liaqut Bagh, a park in Rawalpindi often used for political rallies and speeches. At least twenty other people were killed in the blast. Police suspect a suicide bomber caused the explosion. In a related story, three people were killed at a political rally for Nawaz Sharif. Police would not confirm or deny any connection to the Bhutto assassination. No group or organization has claimed responsibility for either attack.

Speculation abounds regarding the perpetrators. Islamist terrorists, rogue elements in Pakistan’s intelligence services, and forces loyal to Pervez Musharraf are all potential suspects. One thing is certain, given the assassination of one of the primary candidates it is highly unlikely that elections will proceed as planned for early January 2008.

Read more:

Contentions

The Hindu

Indian Express

New York Times

Times of India

The Washington Post

Music Post: Yasek Manzano, El Joven Jazz Cubano

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[Yasek Manzano, La Zorra y el Cuervo, Havana–photograph by The New Centrist, click for larger version]

I had an opportunity to see Yasek Manzano’s El Joven Jazz Cubano at Havana’s La Zorra y el Cuervo. Being completely unfamiliar with the band, I had no idea what I was in store for. Astonishment, amazement, spiritual transportation. Having my wife with me and this being our wedding anniversary made the evening that much sweeter.

Listen to this young man play. A true trumpet prodigy, he began his professional career at age 11 and has performed with Celia Cruz, Irakere, Los Van Van and Wyton Marsalis. For some reason, there is only one song at his MySpace page. You can check this vid recorded when Manzano was a youngster:


I found out later in the evening that Manzano had studied at Juliard in Manhattan, lived in West Harlem and was hopeful that the band would be able to play in the U.S. at some point in the future. Another reason for ending the embargo…

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[Yasek Manzano, La Zorra y el Cuervo, Havana–photograph by The New Centrist]

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[First album. Click here to purchase.]