Monthly Archives: January 2009

Immigrants and Immigration Policy, Part I


[H/t to D.K. aka The Kvetcher]

The Kvetcher has been exploring some interesting and controversial territory regarding immigration. Reading his discussions with the people at the Nativist, paleocon VDARE website is like stepping into some strange yet familiar nexus where the tropes of radical left and extreme right meet.

Here is DK’s original post (Jewish Unease Towards Mass Immigration from Islamic Countries Spreads Left):

For a long-time in the mainstream Jewish community, it seemed only Stephen Steinlight was brave enough to publicly declare it wasn’t in the Jewish community’s interest to support mass immigration from Islamic countries. (In fact, Steinlight went further, questioning the wisdom of accepting mass immigration from Mexico, because he is a fearless and principled man, who treasures his country and his community more than being popular).

Well…it’s over seven years later, and finally the hawkish Left is coming round.

Marty Peretz writes on TNR,

As it happens, jihadism has less deadly manifestations than murder. As the Ku Klux Klan had less deadly manifestations than lynching. This morning I watched a frightening episode in the public life of America. It was a demonstration by, say, 200 Muslim immigrants in Fort Lauderdale against the Israeli air strikes over Gaza. Now, the first amendment protects such demos, and I would not for a moment want to curb them. But I ask each of you to pay attention to the details of what was being shouted. Especially by the young women screaming, “Jews to the ovens.” No jihad in America, huh? Do we want such immigrants in our country? Well, John, do we?

Most Jews on the social Left will continue to denounce our concerns as “fascist” and “racist” and will continue to give space-cadet reasons why we shouldn’t be concerned AT ALL about little inconveniences like terrorism, harassment, and a loss of power from say, an additional ten million religious Muslims immigrating to the U.S.

D.K. posted a follow-up titled “Jews and the Larger Mass Immigration Issues” where he notes:

I would ask the question like this: Is this a good time for mass immigration?

The answer is an unequivocal “no.” We are in a period of massive unemployment. Seeking a greater labor supply at this time is absolutely absurd, and cruel to our working-class countrymen. We already suffer from an acute and increasing labor surplus. And it is probably only going to get worse, perhaps much worse.

There are plenty of other reasons to object to mass immigration. The list is so long…but employment issues alone in today’s devolving economy suffice to warrant something approaching a moratorium on mass immigration, or at least, it presents an opportune time for reevaluation of current policies.

And that is legal immigration. That defense offered for amnesty or amnesty-like policies for illegal immigrants is a mind-blowing chutzpah. Maddeningly, there are Jews and Jewish groups who actually claim on our communal behalf that illegal immigration somehow parallels are own legal immigrant past.

So I posted some comments and questions at The Kvetcher, and, lo and behold, DK devoted a blog post to me. Here are my comments, condensed in some places and somewhat elaborated in others:

The labor economist Isaac Hourwich (Immigration and Labor, 1912) argued close to a century ago that American assumptions regarding immigration and the labor market are not correct i.e. that too many people were chasing too few jobs and this was driving wages down. The solution for critics of immigration was to limit or ban it altogether. However, rather than overcrowding the labor market and driving down wages, Hourwich contends the expansion of the economy far outpaced the pace of immigration. He supports his claims with economic data complied by the federal and various state governments.

The bottom line is immigration flows in open, free, capitalist economies respond to labor demand. As labor demand increases, immigration will increase. As labor demand decreases, immigration will decrease. Increases and decreases in labor demand result from the boom/bust cycles of the broader economy. Stated very simply:

Economy Labor Demand Immigration

Or, as as Hourwich notes:

The supply of immigrant labor is determined by free competition, like any other commodity. It may sometimes exceed the demand and at other times fall short if it; in the long run, however, supply adjusts itself to demand.

Regarding “own legal immigrant past,” the notion of “legal” and “illegal” immigrant is a fairly recent invention and our borders were much more porous in the past than they are today. It was actually much easier (politically and economically) to immigrate to the U.S. in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than the twenty-first. Travel by steamship back then was more dangerous than airplane today, but it was much less expensive.

Another critique is the language used by contemporary Nativist outfits like VDARE is almost identical to that used by Nativists in the eighteenth century, nineteenth century and twentieth century. The claims made back then were as false (Russians, Italians, Poles, etc. do not want to learn English, they are clannish and stick to their “own kind,” they do not want to assimilate, etc.) as they are today.

Given my familiarity with the radical (baroque, faux, rococco, leftover) left, I was also puzzled by one poster (“Jenny”) who claimed:

[T]here has been an alliance formed between the corporate elites and the far left.

I suspect Jenny has not been to any demonstrations over the past say, fifteen or twenty years or read much, if any, far left literature. The far left–anarchists, communists, etc.–are definitely not in alliance with corporate elites. They are against NAFTA just like the paleocons at VDARE. They even use similar (anti-capitalist) rhetoric. Extremists on the left and right both rail against what they call globalism (hard right) or globalization (hard left).

Jenny adds:

I read an article today that stated that even among Mexicans, three out of five aren’t religious any longer. There is a strong movement of radical Marxists in the pro-illegal alien community, and they are indoctrinating them. That’s the reason why there is such a huge antisemitic tendency in the illegal alien community, and no amount of ADL huckstering on their behalf is going to change that.

If you follow the link above Jenny’s arguments and the rhetoric she uses are almost identical to those used against Jews, Italians, Catholics, Russians and others who were part of “new immigration” wave in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These arguments were rehashed from the critiques made of those who arrived as part of the “old immigrantation” wave (Dutch, Germans and Irish) in the eighteenth century.

I recommended DK and Jenny (and readers, if interested) have a read of Isaac Hourwich’s “Immigration and Labor” (link below). It is eye-opening, if depressing, to see how little the arguments have changed.

The idea that immigrants of the past did not flock to communities dominated by their countrymen and countrywomen, that they did not create media in their own languages (newspapers, books, etc.), is simply not supported by the evidence. Take a look at the images of early American cities with storefront signs in Yiddish, Polish, Italian, Russian, etc. (not English) take a look at the names of the newspapers that were popular in immigrant communities, take a look at the languages they were published in.

This process of assimilation has been going on for a long, long, time. Critics of immigration said Jews would not assimilate. They said we were not interested in becoming American, we were only interested in making a “quick profit” and that increasing numbers of us were not even religious, instead informed and guided by foreign ideologies like Marxism, anarchism and communism. Sound familiar?

While not in favor of open borders, I am generally in the pro-immigration camp. I am also in favor of free trade as opposed to protectionism. Nevertheless, D.K.’s overarching concern with radicalism is something that concerns me as well. While worries of Europe turning into Eurabia are often overstated, there has been an alarming increase in political violence and anti-Semitism on the continent.

On a more subjective note, I have long felt that Jews, as the people who coined the term Diaspora and spent so much of our collective existence as outsiders in others’ lands, should be sensitive about the situation of immigrants. Remember, we were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34):

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

One last thing, I know they would probably prefer not to know, but DK’s positions are not very far from Sultan Knish’s

More Info:

AFL-CIO page on Immigrant Workers

Center for Migration Studies NY

Change to Win Coalition on Immigrant Workers’ Rights

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Immigration and Labor by Isaac Hourwich (1912) via Google Books.

Jewish Labor Committee

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)

Ernest Sternberg: A Revivified Corpse, Left-Fascism in the Twenty-First Century



Ernest’s Sternberg’s review of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (New York: Random House, 2008 ) in Telos (A Revivified Corpse: Left Fascism in the Twenty-First Century) is well worth reading (also check out Fred Siegel’s review in Democratiya here).

The review is a pithy summary of many of the issues that concern me today including the collusion and alliances of the extreme left and extreme right, the development of Islamist totalitarianism, and the increasing frequency of antisemitism cloaked as anti-imperialism. Observing events in his native France since the fall of the Soviet Union and especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Lévy asks, “what happened to the secular, liberal, left?” In answering this question, Sternberg notes two ideas at the core of Lévy’s conception of contemporary neo-progressive thought:

One is the Good (a poorly chosen word, an insult to classical thinking about the good): the idea that here and now our troubled society can be upended to create a shining new and just society. It’s the end for which it’s worth sacrificing a generation to starvation, reeducation camps, and the police state (p. 66).

Perhaps a better term is “the perfect” as in “the perfect is the enemy of the good” or simply, utopianism.

The review continues:

The other is the Evil: that filth and corruption in which we are now trapped. Leading from one to the other is the “boulevard of history.” Driving us along it is that dialectical machine, that curative force, that “political medicalism” (Lévy quoting Foucault) that carries us from our miserable existence into this fabulous future, with such certainty that we need not fret about lives discarded along the way.

How far we have drifted from May ’68, Lévy mourns. It had seemed then that the Left had shorn itself of communism, devoted itself to anti-fascism and anti-racism, and agreed to work for human rights through imperfect liberal-democratic regimes. It is this non-Marxist Left that had Lévy’s allegiance. But after the collapse of communism and all the more so after 9/11, Lévy saw the coalescence of a new ideology, a new degenerate Left. It first seemed to him pointless, just something cobbled together from defunct ideologies. But then he understood that it was a revivified Left, which was once again acceding to totalitarian temptation. The outcome is today’s neoprogressivism.

Sternberg has more substantial critiques of Lévy’s analysis. In particular, his “failure to comprehend mainstream Anglo-American conservatism.” For Lévy:

conservatism brings to mind those martinets who persecuted Dreyfus: those whose highest values were Authority, Order, Nation, State, Tradition, and Social Body (his capitalizations) as against intellectuals, freedom, democracy, parliament, and rights of man (p. 24). Unable to extricate himself from hoary Left-Right dichotomy, even as he reveals its bankruptcy, Lévy claims the parliamentarian Edmund Burke, whose sin was to be a conservative, as one of the origins of the historical path to Nazism (p. 92).

The irony is that Lévy himself has taken a Burkean turn. Lévy identifies the essence of the anti-totalitarian spirit as one that conceives of politics “as a world of indecision, indetermination, which takes into account the complexity of human affairs, the need for deliberation and compromise” (p. 70)…

American conservatives aren’t interested in Burke because he admired the French queen but because he formulated a powerful argument for incremental reform in light of society’s overwhelming complexity, an argument not so far removed from Lévy’s own…

…Most versions of American conservative thought look for inspiration and tradition not to an ancien régime, but to the American revolution, the Founding Fathers, the constitution, Lincoln’s reforms, and incremental development of America as the original liberal, anti-absolutist state.

Intellectual historian George Nash covers this in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945. Nash argues that the ideology of American conservatism is difficult to pin down. For European conservatives, things were (are?) much easier. Generally speaking, European conservatives were against radical political and social change—better known as revolution—and they supported a national church. In the United States, a country founded on revolution, such a political idea would be regarded as anti-American and the establishment of a state Church–whether Protestant or Catholic–also ran counter to American political culture.

A more serious deficiency is Lévy:

lacks an explanation for the rise of neoprogressive barbarism. Despite much intellectual name-dropping, the book is short on theory. Yet, his initial outline of totalitarian articles of faith gives a hint. The new totalitarians must envision a Good as well as an Evil, only Lévy is silent on what their Good might be.

Sternberg will discuss “Left Fascism” at the 2009 Telos Conference in NYC (Jan 17). Details below:


From the conference website:

The conference topic will be New Administration: War, Class and Critical Theory, which will consider both the new administration in Washington and political shifts abroad, viewed in light of Telos‘s long-standing concern with “administered society,” expansive bureaucracies, and the role of the “new class.”

Conference Schedule

Saturday, January 17

9:00 Greetings: Mary Piccone, Introduction: Russell Berman

New Class and Capitalism:
Beyond Welfare and State and Neo-Liberalism

Chair: David Pan

9:15 Jim Kulk: “Political Divisions and the Financial Crisis”

10:00 John Milbank: “Revived Red Toryism: The New Political Paradox”

10:45 Break

11:00 Neil Turnbull: “Federal Populism and its Failure as Regionalism”

11:45 Michael Marder: “In the Name of the Law: Schmitt and the Metonymic Abuses of Legitimacy”

12:30 Lunch

Old Wars, New Wars

Chair: Tim Luke

1:30 Joseph Bendersky: “Horkheimer, ‘Militant Democracy,’ and War”

2:15 David Pan: “World Order and the Decline of U.S. Power: Soft or Hard Landing?”

3:00 Break

3:15 Adrian Pabst: “The Berlin Doctrine: Rethinking the Euro-Atlantic Community”

4:00 Ernie Sternberg: “Left Fascism”

4:45 Closing Discussion

Rabbis Bachman and Lerner on the Gaza Conflict


Rabbi Michael Lerner is a clown and does not need any more publicity, but did you read his article, “It Breaks My Heart to See Israel’s Stupidity” a little over a week ago? Here is a choice bit:

Israel’s attempt to wipe out Hamas is understandable, but stupid…

Killing 500 Palestinians and wounding 2,000 others (at the time of writing) is disproportionate. Hamas can harass, but it cannot pose any threat to the existence of Israel. And just as Hamas’s indiscriminate bombing of population centres is a crime against humanity, so is Israel’s killing of civilians (at least 130 so far in Gaza, not to mention the thousands in the years of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza).

Lerner received a lot of heat for that piece. Some of the more thoughtful critiques were provided by Eric Lee (Labourstart) and Ami Isseroff (ZioNation).

But you may have missed these posts by Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn (and Brooklyn Jews). Rabbi Bachman was in Israel when the Gaza assault started. Like Lerner, he would probably describe his politics as progressive, but he is as far away from Lerner as you can get regarding his interpretations of this recent conflict.

Rabbi Bachman is not responding to Lerner directly in any of these posts but they really spoke to me. This post was, coincidentally, published the same day as Lerner’s op-ed (January 5):

As Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip moves well into its second week, most of us watch from the sidelines or a distance with a heavy, heavy heart over the loss of innocent life. No one deserves to die who has not brought death on to him or herself, least of all an innocent child.

So to be fundamentally clear: even those of us who support Israel’s efforts to break Hamas and seriously damage its ability to torment Israeli towns with terror mourn loss of every innocent life and grieve with those families. In addition, our hearts go out to those terrified by bombs dropping in homes, on streets, in mosques.

But Israel’s war, I believe, is a just war.

When Israel pulled out of Gaza, tearing deeply at the fabric of its own society to uproot families there (a disengagement I strongly favored and still do) the entire world was able to see if it chose to look that Israel was willing to risk the unity of the nation to take fundamental steps toward peace. The Hamas leadership took the exact opposite steps, took no risk, brutally murdered its own in waging violent and bloody civil war with the Palestinian Authority, and continued on its self-destructive path of trying to wage existential war against Israel. Never has it seriously addressed Israel’s justified existence; never has it accepted Israel’s RIGHT to exist; and never has it seriously sought to make peace. Rather, it has embarked on a hundred years plan, to wear down the psyche of the Israeli population with terror, kidnapping, and the selling of a religio-fundamentalist viewpoint that completely de-legitimizes any Jewish claim to the land.

It’s truly depressing.

You have leaders who deny that a Temple ever stood in Jerusalem–archaeological and historical evidence to the contrary; you have posters at rallies all over Europe, the US and the Arab world saying, “Palestine from the River to the Sea,” the implication being, of course, that in the final analysis, Israel will be an historical footnote, soon to be no more.

[read it all here]

I also recommend reading “Adapt and Live” and “Just the Nasty Business“.

Essentialism is Not Unique to the West


[H/t Elder of Ziyon]

Essentialism views races, social classes or cultures as possessing a specific set of characteristics or properties. Back in my grad school days many of my colleagues associated essentialist ideologies with the Western world. They tied essentialism with capitalism, colonization and imperialism. Very few were able to grasp the idea that non-Western peoples also hold essentialist views. Here is a typical statement from the Essentialism Page (Emory University):

In a specifically postcolonial context, we find essentialism in the reduction of the indigenous people to an “essential” idea of what it means to be African/Indian/Arabic, thus simplifying the task of colonization.

How about when “the colonized” articulates a similar perspective? Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University, writes:

The equation of victory and defeat between the Arabs and the Zionist state has always been and will remain zero equation. This means that when Israel is defeated, Arabs have the right to celebrate victory.

Hatred of Israel can be found in the genes of all Arabs. Although it is hereditary, its intensity varies from time to time. [emphasis mine]

Essentialism, it appears, is hardly unique to the West. As Elder of Ziyon reminds readers:

This is not some crazy member of the “Arab street”. This is someone who has a respected job as an intellectual, who is saying that anything that is bad for Israel is, by definition, good for the Arabs. The Arab world, and a large number of its supporters, look at the Middle East as a zero-sum game where when one side wins, the other loses.

History shows that this is not an isolated opinion; in fact, it is still mainstream Arab opinion. Even as pragmatic and moderate a leader as Jordan’s King Abdullah reveals that he still looks at the conflict the same way, that what is good for Israel is bad for the Arab world, although Abdullah is much more nuanced.

Westerners must understand this mindset. We grow up with the idea ingrained in us that the best solutions to problems are “win-win”, where each side can gain or at least compromise in ways where their losses are minimized. This is so obvious to most Westerners that we cannot conceive of a mentality that is exactly the opposite – that if I win, you must lose, and vice versa.




Housecleaning, it has to be done. I noticed a few inactive and/or dead links on my blogroll so I removed them. I also deleted some links that I felt were unnecessary like the NYT. Paul Anderson (Gauche) stopped blogging on Jan. 9 but I decided to leave the link up, at least for a little while.

For some reason (laziness?) I stopped categorizing my posts back in May of 2008. The new version of WordPress has a “quick edit” option that allowed me to categorize the posts with very little effort. Neat.

I added a new header to replace the image of the NYC skyline which has been at the top of this blog for far too long. I found the picture on Flickr and hope to have a more interesting image up soon. Every time I take my camera out with me I never manage to capture something that works good as a header. I thought a picture of the trees in the snow would be nice but when the image is cropped it looks like an expanse of white and gray…

Shootings and Riots: From Athens to Oakland


A good friend of mine, call him Z, paid me a visit last week. I met Z in graduate school in NYC close to ten years ago and he currently resides in Athens. As the child of Greek parents, he had an option to get Greek citizenship (sort of like a right of return) and decided to do so a few years ago. I have not seen him for close to two years so we discussed a lot of things, mostly our personal lives, the standard trials and tribulations, I was also able to pick his brain about the riots in Athens.

You probably know these riots started after the police killed a Greek teen. College students and other youth took to the streets and started breaking windows and clashing with the police. V has a soft spot for anarchism and libertarian socialism but he has little time for anarcho-vandals. Rather than seeing the riots as a replay of Paris 68, he saw it as an outburst or tantrum. This was an expression of political impotency rather than political strength and solidarity. He explained the riots provide a steam valve of sorts in a society that rarely charges the police officers involved in acts of brutality (and has never sent a single officer to jail) or the rioters who throw bricks and molotav cocktails. It is all business as usual over there. Almost like a game.

Another point Z made was that Greece has seen a influx of immigrants or “guest workers” from Eastern Europe and Africa. He doubted the populace would have been in such an uproar had the person killed been African. He said “no one would have cared.” So much for international proletarian solidarity.

The same week V was in town, I read about a police shooting in my former home, Oakland, California. Early New Year’s morning, an officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police shot Oscar Grant while he was being detained. The shooting was recorded by at least one cellphone and was subsequently uploaded to Youtube (I am not providing links to any of the videos).

BART police stopped the twenty-two year old Grant early New Year’s morning in response to a group of African-American males fighting on the train station platform. While the precise details of the incident are still emerging, videos show Grant detained by two officers when a third officer shot and killed him. Grant does not appear to be a threat to the officers or the public when he was killed. However, in contrast to those who call this a “police lynching”, judging by the look of shock on the officers faces, it seems more like a tragic accident than an execution.

The slow response and lack of action by the BART police led to frustration and in some cases anger. A demonstration was called for January 8 that ended in what is being described as a riot by the international press.

From what I’ve read and heard from family and friends a very small area was impacted. A few storefronts of small businesses were broken, a public teacher’s car was trashed, and a few Oakland PD cars were damaged (even though the OPD was not involved in the incident). The teacher noted a protester telling her, “fuck your car.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The roving mob expressed fury at police and frustration over society’s racial injustice. Yet the demonstrators were often indiscriminate, frequently targeting the businesses and prized possessions of people of color.

They smashed a hair salon, a pharmacy and several restaurants. Police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, but some people retreated along 14th Street and bashed cars along the way.

The mob smashed the windows at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, and a woman walked out of the shop holding a baby in her arms.

“This is our business,” shouted Leemu Topka, the black owner of the salon she started four years ago. “This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?”

“I feel like the night is going great,” said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It’s for the murder of a black male.”

Sykes, who is black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.

“She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life,” Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: “I just hope nobody gets shot or killed.”

[Added: Ms. Sykes claims she was misquoted “grossly out of context”.]

Videos online (Youtube and elsewhere) show African-American teens and white anarchists in their 20s participating in vandalism. Anarchists also claimed responsibility for vandalizing the North Berkeley BART station the day after the demonstration claiming, ” From the East Bay to Greece – WE ARE EVERYWHERE!” Other protesters made a shameless connection between Oakland and Gaza.


As of this post, three miscreants have been arrested and formally charged:

A 28-year-old Oakland man was charged with misdemeanor possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a loaded firearm. He was arrested on the 2000 block of Broadway at about 11 p.m. and blurted out when arrested “I’ve got guns in both my pockets”, police said. Police found two semi-automatic pistols, one in each pocket.

A 20-year-old Oakland man charged with felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor vandalism. He was one of those arrested for breaking windows McDonalds on 14th and Jackson streets.

The third person charged was a 30-year-old San Francisco man, who was arrested when officers saw him setting fire to a garbage can at 14th and Clay streets at about 10 p.m. He was charged with felony arson.

What is illustrative to me is how the story is framed. For example, I was listening to a public radio broadcast where the host referred to the “obvious instance of police brutality” in this case and a Canadian morning show that made mention of looting. Bear in mind there has been no investigation, let alone a trial, there was no looting, but the mainstream media was ready, willing and able to expect the worst.


CNN: Riots erupt in Oakland after slain father laid to rest

Oakland Tribune: Not quite a riot, but terrifying

Stanley Crouch: A rage in Oakland

Ta-Nehesi Coates: Oscar Grant

Favorite Films/Videos/DVDs of 2008


Here are some of my favorite films and videos of 2008. I was trying to remember everything I watched and I came up with a much longer list this year ( 2008 ) than last. As with last year’s list, they were not necessarily released in 2008, I just got around to watching them in 2008.

This is a fairly eclectic list which includes documentaries, a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster and an animated series that was originally broadcast on pay-per-view in Japan.

In alphabetical order:

Bob le flambeur (France, Crime, 1956). Roger Ebert says this film “has a good claim to the be the first of the French New Wave,” adding,

before Godard and Truffaut and Chabrol, before Belmondo flicked the cigarette into his mouth in one smooth motion and walked the streets of Paris like a Hollywood gangster, there was Bob. “Bob le Flambeur,” Bob the high-roller, Bob the Montmartre legend whose style was so cool, whose honor was so strong, whose gambling was so hopeless, that even the cops liked him. Bob with his white hair slicked back, with his black suit and tie, his trenchcoat and his Packard convertible and his penthouse apartment with the slot machine in the closet. Bob, who on the first day of this movie wins big at the races and then loses it all at roulette, and is cleaned out. Broke again.

Also saw Melville’s Le Deuxième Souffle, another excellent gangster flick. My wife liked it better than Bob le flambeur.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France, Biography/Drama, 2007) is a critics pick that is actually good. It is impossible to not go out and embrace life to its fullest after watching this. Who am I kidding, I poured myself a pint. Here is a synopsis from IMDp:

On December 8, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby – age forty-three and editor-in-chief of the world-famous fashion magazine Elle – was living the “good life” to the extreme when he became the victim of a devastating cerebro-vascular accident that left him in a state of total paralysis, incapable of any verbal communication, in what is known in the medical community as “locked-in syndrome.” His mental faculties totally intact as he lay motionless in his bed at the Marine Hospital of Berck-sur-Mer in northern France, Bauby learned to communicate with the outside world using his left eyelid, the only part of his body over which he still had any control. During the next fourteen months, using a communication code developed by his therapist and his publisher’s assistant, who transcribed this code, Bauby was able to compose, letter by letter, a lyrical and heartbreaking memoir of his life struggle. Bauby died in 1997, two days after its publication.

Read about the family’s disagreements with the film here.


Flag (Japan, Anime, 2006) is an anime series that tells the story of war journalist Saeko Shirasu. Anime News Network provides this synopsis:

The central Asian country of Uddiyana has for years been wracked by civil war and strife, problems which U.N. military intervention has had difficulty curtailing. A fragile cease fire which could lead to a peace treaty between the government and insurgent groups becomes embodied in an internationally-renown photograph of a flag taken by Saeko Shirasu, an up-and-coming Japanese photojournalist, which leads the people of Uddiyana to take the flag as a symbol of hope. That complicates matters when the featured flag, which was to be displayed at the treaty signing, gets stolen by an insurgent group determined to scuttle the peace process. To recover the flag before word of its theft spreads, the U.N. establishes the secret military unit dubbed SDC, which is to use cutting-edge HAVWC technology (i.e. a bipedal mobile platform) to do the job, and because she took the famous photo, Saeko is called upon to document the effort.

Uddiyana looks like a cross between Nepal and Tibet with the counter-insurgency sharing some similarity to U.N. operations in Kosovo giving the series a contemporariness which is lacking in much of the mecha anime genre. Director Ryosuke Takahashi goes to great lengths to make the animation look like you are watching a documentary rather than a feature film. The viewer is usually looking through a video camera, still camera or some other sort of lens. There might not be enough combat for true mecha geeks but, like Takahashi ‘s Gasaraki and Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Flag is recommended to anyone who likes their anime with some substance and depth.

The Intro:

I am not a huge fan of cgi and am glad it was kept to a minimum in Flag. Here is a brief cgi sequence of the HAVWC (High Agility Versatile Weapons Carrier):

Iron Man (Comic Book/Action, 2008). I used to read the comic book back in the 1970s and unlike many superhero adaptations, this one did not disappoint. More on Iron Man here.

Joy Division (Documentary, 2007). Music documentaries can be so lame (often little more than an extended music video) so I did not have high expectations. This was different. By situating the band–and the band members lives– within the broader context of post-industrial Manchester we are able to get a glimpse of why Joy Division emerged in this particular time and place. Great interviews, old video footage and much, much better than Control (see below).

Man on Wire (France, Documentary, 2008). This was more like a heist movie than a documentary. By now I’m sure you know the story of Philippe Petit, the man who walked out on an illegally rigged wire between the World Trade Center towers. He spent close to an hour tightrope walking 1,350 feet above the streets of lower Manhattan. Totally crazed…

The Wire (HBO Police Drama, 2002-2008). I know this was a television series but I included one on last year’s list too. This receives a big thumbs up from my wife and I. We watched the entire series in less than a month.

I should add that my wife liked Atonement (2007) and hated Sex and the City (2008).


In Bruges (Crime/Comedy, 2008). Violent and gory but fun and entertaining at times. Nice to watch with a friend when you have nothing better to do.

Cleaner (Drama/Thriller, 2007). Not a must see by any stretch of the imagination but an enjoyable “who done it?” staring Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendez. I’m not sure if this was released straight to video. I do not remember seeing any advertising on the subway or television.

Manda Bala “Send a Bullet” (Brazil, Documentary, 2007). When my wife picked up this video I thought it was going to be a piece of sensationalist garbage. Frog farms, cosmetic surgery and corruption? Are you kidding me?

Mongol (International, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, Action/Drama, 2008 ) chronicles the the hardscrabble childhood, youth, and early adulthood of Temüjin aka Ghenghis Khan. I was impressed by the cinematography, especially the sweeping landscapes and battle sequences. I was less impressed with the plot (wish more attention had been placed on the development and expansion of the Mongolian empire) and acting but well worth renting.

The Visitor (Foreign, Drama, 2008). Burned out academic finds two immigrants living in his apartment. Does he call the cops? No. He lets them stay a while. A friendship develops and one of the pair is locked up for lack of immigration papers. Our friend who works for an immigrants’ rights organization did not enjoy it. We did. I say rent it.


Control (Biography/Drama, 2007). As a long-time Joy Division fan I thought I’d really like this film, especially after all the positive reviews. It was totally boring. Within the first half hour I had no interest in the band, the band members lives, or the movie in general. If you like their music I recommend the Joy Division documentary (mentioned above).

There Will Be Blood (Drama, 2008). Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, Oil!. Many critics liked this movie but I wanted and expected more. For example, one common theme of Sinclair’s work is a critique of the state (especially when in collusion with business interests) combined with an explicit advocacy of union activism, democratic socialism or both. I’m not sure why this was left out. I also found the acting a bit over the top and corny.

The Wackness (Comedy/Drama, 2008). I thought I could get into a film about a dude pedaling his ice cream rig around NYC selling weed. Especially a flick with a “classic 1990s hip-hop soundtrack”. But this flick seriously lagged, man. With Ben Kingsley as a washed-up psychiatrist, Mary Kate Olson as a jam band skank and Method Man as a Jamaican rasta, it all adds up to a prescription for total crap. They should have called it the Crapness.

Boot Vs. Bolton


No, not exactly. Just a juxtaposition of their views regarding Israel’s struggle against Hamas and possible solutions. Starting with Max Boot,

The Wall Street Journal today runs my article on the prospects for the Israeli invasion of Gaza. To sum up, I basically think that Israel has no choice but to strike back against Hamas, but it also has scant chances of eliminating Hamas or winning lasting peace. Hence the headline: “Israel’s Tragic Gaza Dilemma.” A year ago, in another Journal article I compared the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Anglo-Scottish conflict which ran for almost 450 years (1296-1745).

I hope I am not being too gloomy here. I realize my perspective runs counter to the typical American attitude that there is no problem in the world without a “solution.” Yet all attempts to “solve” the Israeli-Arab dispute have made, at best, limited progress–for instance with the cold peace that prevails between Israel and Egypt and Jordan. Notwithstanding those peace accords, which are deeply unpopular with the people of Egypt and Jordan, there is little reason to think that the Arabs as a whole, and the Palestinians in particular, have accommodated themselves to Israel’s right to exist. The more common view seems to be that, yes, perhaps Israel will exist for a few more decades, maybe a century or two, but eventually it will be wiped out just as were the Crusader kingdoms established by Europeans in the Holy Land during the Middle Ages.

Given this reality, Israelis have no choice but to get on with their lives as best they can while recognizing they will have to fight a constant, low-intensity struggle against groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The real risk for Israel is not fighting these types of wars; it is the risk of complete annihilation which is raised by Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

John Bolton disagrees:

[W]e should ask why we still advocate the “two-state solution,” with Israel and “Palestine” living side by side in peace, as the mantra goes. We are obviously not progressing, and are probably going backward. We continue poring over the Middle East “road map” because that is all we have, faute de mieux, as they say in Foggy Bottom.

The logic to this position is long past its expiration date. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically. If the way out were obvious, after all, it would already have been suggested. So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be:

Let’s start by recognizing that trying to create a Palestinian Authority from the old PLO has failed and that any two-state solution based on the PA is stillborn. Hamas has killed the idea, and even the Holy Land is good for only one resurrection. Instead, we should look to a “three-state” approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. Among many anomalies, today’s conflict lies within the boundaries of three states nominally at peace. Having the two Arab states re-extend their prior political authority is an authentic way to extend the zone of peace and, more important, build on governments that are providing peace and stability in their own countries. “International observers” or the like cannot come close to what is necessary; we need real states with real security forces.

I sympathize with Bolton’s perspective but is it politically possible? I doubt it. Neither Egypt or Jordan seems likely to agree, or the Palestinians. Why would they? Given this dynamic, Boot’s “gloomy” analysis may be the best Israel can hope for, especially in the short to medium term.

Petition to Protest Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Proposed Boycott of Israeli Academics



[H/t Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)]

I received this email and thought you might be interested:

We, the undersigned university faculty members from around the world call upon the members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to oppose any resolution to ban Israeli academics from teaching in Ontario or anywhere else. The current resolution invokes, as justification for the proposed ban, bombing that damaged the Islamic University in Gaza on December 29. Sid Ryan of CUPE’s Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee says: “Israeli academics should not be on our campuses unless they explicitly condemn the university bombing and the assault on Gaza in general.” No other country’s academics have been the targets of such union action before, whether or not their country was at war. Israel is engaged in a war to defend its people against an enemy that has been firing missiles at Israeli civilians for years. The enemy, Hamas, had been using the Islamic University as a training camp, launching pad, and weapons depot. Other universities in Gaza were not Hamas facilities and were therefore not bombed.

The proposed ban clearly represents ethnic discrimination, and the proposed ideological litmus test is a violation of free speech. The members of the University and College Union in England recently rejected a similar proposal because of its discriminatory nature, and we urge the Ontario CUPE members to reject the proposal now before them.

To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.

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Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario Pushes for Boycott of Israeli Academics


[H/t Labourstart]

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The Canadian Union of Public Employees [CUPE–e.d.] in Ontario, the largest labor union representing staff members at the province’s universities, plans to introduce a resolution at its conference next month to ban Israeli academics from teaching, speaking, or doing research at Ontario universities if they do not first condemn Israeli actions in Gaza.

Ben Cohen (Z Word) rightly describes this as a “disloyalty oath.”

The push for an academic boycott is ostensibly in response to the bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza. However, CUPE-Ontario has a history of anti-Israel activities. In 2006 the union supported a boycott of goods made in Israel and CUPE president Sid Ryan let it slip that, “It’s a logical next step, building on policy adopted by our provincial convention in 2006.”

What Ryan and CUPE-Ontario do not mention is the Islamic University of Gaza is controlled by Hamas. The university is used to develop and store weapons, a sanctuary for wanted terrorists and a jail for enemies of the organization. In February of 2007, Israel Insider reported, “kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit spent most of his time in captivity imprisoned on the campus of the Islamic University in Gaza,” according to “senior Palestinian sources.”

B’nai B’rith Canada released a statement calling for the national union to distance itself from the noxious resolution supported by CUPE-Ontario:

CUPE-Ontario has betrayed a pattern of agitating against Israel that must be addressed at the national level by its parent body. We urge CUPE-National to take steps to immediately distance itself from this biased and discriminatory resolution and to undertake a wider review of CUPE-Ontario’s operational practices that have systematically tried to delegitimize the Jewish State and its right to self-defence.