Will Israel bomb Iran?

September 22, 2010

Will Israel bomb Iran?  American writer Jeffrey Goldberg thinks so, predicting that it is “likely” that some time in the (northern) spring of 2011, the Israelis – feeling threatened by the Iranian development of nuclear weapons – will take the great risk of going it alone to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, possibly followed up by commando raids.  Writing in the September 2010 issue of The Atlantic in an article entitled “The Point of No Return”, Goldberg writes what is certainly the most powerful “run-on” sentence I have read for a very long time:

When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

Yes, that’s all one sentence.  But implicit in the fact that there is no “period” or “full stop” is that once this happens (again, which Goldberg feels is more likely rather than less), it will unleash a series of powerful and very fast-moving events.  This is powerful stuff, and if it takes place, lots of things will not be the same.  By no means does everyone agree with Goldberg:  read this intelligent response piece by Israeli freelance journalist Noam Sheizaf on his blog Promised Land.

Goldberg is also the author of a fascinating and deeply engaging book entitled Prisoners: A Muslim and Jew Across the Middle East Divide (2006).

Joe Bageant, the Scots-Irish and Mel Gibson

September 12, 2010

Joe Bageant has just completed a tour of Australia and New Zealand, promoting his new book Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (published in Australia by Scribe).  In an interview with Tim Elliott of the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 September 2010, Bageant made a number of interesting points:  his first book Deerhunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War (2007) – also published in Australia by Scribe – sold more than 10,000 copies in Australia: more per capita than in America.  And Bageant reports that”more than a third of the emails he receives are from Australians.  “This astounded me at first. Now I see that Australians are genuinely concenred about what’s going on in America.  All Australians I have met express the fear that Australia will go the same way as America,” Bageant said to Elliott.

In Deerhunting With Jesus Joe Bageant describes in great detail the demographic and historical background of the “Scots Irish” and the “Borderer” culture that has given the US a number of long-lasting terms and values such as “fierce”, “liberty-loving”, “individualistic”, “Freely religion” and “fighting to defend ” (pp. 197-220).  The best description of the Scots Irish and their impact on American politics and religion is by James Webb in his book Born Fighting: How the Scots Irish Shaped America (2004).[1] Their culture is violent and they are mean and nasty, creating a “strange mixture of working class violence and Presbyterian piety” (Bageant 2007, p. 198).  This is also the group that constitutes a large percentage of the white evangelical Christian base in America.

Who is the historical hero of this group?  William Wallace, the leader of the 1297 Scots rebellion against the English.  And what Academy-Award film features the life of Wallace – Braveheart (1995), directed and starring … Mel Gibson.

What can we conclude from this?  Long before the September 11th 2001 attacks, back when George W. Bush was just commencing his term as governor of Texas, Mel Gibson was already attuning to – or, better put, clearly articulating the unconscious hopes, dreams and violent historical memories of this group through film.  The Passion of the Christ was not the first time.  His four Lethal Weapon films also presented the same character each time – full of range and repressed violence.  But it was Braveheart when Gibson had already tapped into this element of American society, and which then became so apparent with the phenomenal success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004.

[1] James Webb is a Democratic Senator from Virginia, and was formerly a Republican who was the Assistant Secretary for Defense and Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan.

Film review of The Kids Are All Right

September 8, 2010

This review of The Kids Are All Right appeared in the Australian Jewish News on September 8, 2010

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg

Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska

The film “The Kids All Right” – by American-Jewish lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko – can be classified in many ways.  On one level, it is simply a very modern family story about a lesbian relationship in which each partner has a child from the same anonymous sperm donor, a film that would not feel out of place in Sydney’s “Queer Film Festival”.  It is also a very personal story by director (and co-writer) Cholodenko, based on her own life and her relationship with musician Wendy Melvoin:  Cholodenko has a son aged four named Calder with an anonymous sperm donor, and film is dedicated to Wendy and Calder.

But “The Kids Are All Right” – which closed this year’s Sydney Film Festival – has not been relegated to fringe festivals, and opens widely in Australian cinemas this week, largely because of its strong cast and very interesting characters.  Set in Los Angeles (where else?), Annette Bening plays Nic, a doctor “married” to Jules (Julianne Moore), with their two kids – Nic’s 18 year old daughter Joni (played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, who was “Alice” in “Alice in Wonderland) and Jules’ 15 year old son Laser (Josh Hutcherson).  And yes, Joni is named after Joni Mitchell, whose famed album “Blue” features in a breathtakingly uncomfortable dinner that takes place in the film’s final third.  Mark Ruffalo plays Paul, the biological father of the two kids, and whose arrival in the film stimulates more than a little emotional discord and growth.

Nic and Jules all called “the moms” by their kids, and refer to each other as “chicken” and “pony”.  They frequently use “California-speak” language, talking about their “highest selves” and read books with titles like “The Presence Progress”.  Although they live a very pleasant upper middle class lifestyle, there are also tensions in the family.  Nic is emotionally controlling and Jules is frustrated by her lack of a satisfying career.  Laser has an unhealthy relationship with a guy named Clay, leading to the hilarious scene where his “moms” worry that he is gay.  Joni has just graduated high school, and is about to leave home to attend university (in the American tradition of going away to “college”).

At age 18, Joni is legally able to search for her biological father, and at Laser’s urging does so.  So along comes father Paul, an earthy, non-intellectual, organic restaurant owner who is also an unattached ladies man and cannot help putting out the “vibe” to almost every attractive woman he meets.  Paul is, of course, totally unprepared for the emotional needs he encounters in this untraditional family and blunders through with a mixture of bluster, charm, naiveté and surprise as to what the moms and their kids bring out in him.

The Kids Are All Right” gives a good, straightforward portrait of modern teenagers, and certainly has the most complete portrayal of a lesbian relationship I can remember seeing in a mainstream film.  Annette Bening, who has been so glamorous in films like “The American President”, plays plain, brittle and “tight” in an emotional performance of wonderful subtlety, with Moore’s character emotionally looser but less grounded.  Cholodenko – who in interviews always talks about her being Jewish – clearly based parts of both Nic and Jules on herself, but has removed any Jewish elements from the story, even though her co-writer is Stuart Blumberg, who produced and wrote the film “Keeping the Faith”, one of the most interesting recent Jewish films.

Fans of Cholodenko’s earlier films “High Art” and “Laurel Canyon” will certainly race to see “The Kids Are All Right”.  It’s a mature and frequently uncomfortable film, and – considering it centres on a non-traditional household – portrays a remarkably conservative sensibility, coming down firmly on the side of the importance of family.  The film’s ending is not fully satisfying in the usual sense:  as we leave this group, there is a sense that the resolution is only temporary and new chapters await them all.

And here is the link to the trailer for The Kids Are All Right: