Sunday, January 25, 2009

Magma Take Two

CBS News 60 Minutes tonight featured a piece on Wilmington, Ohio and the closure of the DHL Airpark. Eight thousand workers have lost their jobs. The town has a population of 12,000. As I watched the segment, I experienced deja vu back to 1999, when the small town of San Manuel, Arizona suffered the shut down of its copper mine and smelter.

The parallels are compelling. Both organizations started as successful American companies committed to their employees and their communities. Then top management and major shareholders smelled a quick buck, the sale of the companies to huge foreign corporations. In the case of Magma, the buyer was BHP of Australia. In the case of the Airpark, the buyer was German DHL. In both cases, the "merger" was a fiasco where arrogant buyers barged into successful enterprises convinced they could make it better, resulting in catastrophic losses. Who pays? Those LEAST responsible, the workers who had everything working right in the first place. The DHL closure is NOT simply the result of the current economic meltdown. DHL is shutting down because the overpaid goons across the ocean completely screwed up a well run operation they did not understand.

Why does this country allow foreign organizations to buy our companies, destroy them, and then throw our citizens out of work? The BHP fiasco, of which I have extensive knowledge (the nature of my departure and subsequent employment at the agency processing the laid off workers gave me an extraordinary vantage point), threw 2600 people out of work. The DHL atrocity put 10,000 workers (total US) into unemployment, with the ripple effect costing thousands more Ohioans their jobs.

If you work for a successful company, and it manages to sell itself to a foreign corporation at great profit to senior management, and the know-it-alls start arriving from overseas to tell you how to do your job, update your resume and start applying elsewhere. The ship is going down.

It will be your fault.

My heart goes out to the people who worked for decades and devoted their lives contributing to the success of an organization that thought nothing of tossing them in the street. In the case of Magma, some of the workers were third and fourth generation employees for the company.

Oh well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ranking Presidents and a Hero

What a beautiful image. During his first day in office, Obama issued orders freezing pay for his staff but far more importantly, limiting lobbyists from practices so obviously corrupt that Washington should be embarrassed that such activities weren't banned years ago. Obama also tossed the George W. Bush rule that all men in the Oval Office MUST be wearing their suit coats. Remember the images of JFK and RFK during the Cuban Missile crisis? Ties loose around sweat soaked collars and sleeves rolled up as men struggled to save the planet? I speculate that men who naturally command respect by virtue of who they are have less inclination to demand dress codes. For the first time in my life, I think I might actually admire our President. I certainly supported Bill Clinton, and yes, respected him, but admiration? Not exactly.

Displaying a proactive approach against potential disputes from those who do not know the Constitution, President Obama repeated the oath taking ceremony this evening, having Justice Roberts proceed slowly and without error. As I said yesterday, by virtue of the election, the President-elect becomes President at exactly noon, oath or no oath. In his very first day, President Obama issued two executive orders and three Presidential memoranda. I think I have a hero. That lobbying nonsense goes deep.

Until shown otherwise, I think we are witnessing history of extraordinary proportions, not just the first African American President, but one who may become one of the best in history, a figure of Lincoln and Washington proportions. Only time will tell, but so far, fantastic, which led me to consider the ranking of US Presidents from best to worst according to highly educated historians, political science professors, and other scholars. So, using an algorithm I won't take the time to describe, except to say that it aggregates numerous rankings from many sources, and I mean MANY sources, I obtained these results:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. George Washington
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. Theodore Roosevelt
6. Woodrow Wilson
7. Harry Truman
8. Andrew Jackson
9. Dwight Eisenhower
10. James Polk
11. John Adams
12. John F. Kennedy
13. James Madison
14. Lyndon Johnson
15. James Monroe
16. Grover Cleveland
17. William McKinley
18. John Quincy Adams
19. Ronald Reagan
20. William Howard Taft
21. Bill Clinton
22. Martin Van Buren
23. Rutherford Hayes
24. Chester Arther
25. Herbert Hoover
26. George HW Bush
27. Gerald Ford
28. Jimmy Carter
29. Benjamin Harrison
30. Calvin Coolidge
31. Richard Nixon
32. James Garfield
33. Zachary Taylor
34. John Tyler
35. Millard Fillmore
36. Ulysses S.Grant
37. William Henry Harrison
38. Andrew Johnson
39. Franklin Pierce
40. James Buchanan
41. Warren G. Harding
42. George W. Bush

If you don’t like the ranking, find your own. There are lots of them. Naturally, Lincoln emerges as the best, a finding consistent with my view, but several results surprised me. Again, I am not the scholar here. First, I expected Clinton to rank higher and Reagan to rank lower, and Theodore Roosevelt’s ranking seems too high. What made Teddy so good? I'm also not clear that Harding was actually worse than Buchanan. Who could be worse than Buchanan? Well, we have an answer to that, too.

The list only includes 42 people as a result of Grover Cleveland’s serving as both the 22nd and the 24th President.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Happy Day!

At long last after a brutally frustrating eight years of arrogance, incompetence, and greed, the United States has an administration in the White House worthy of the office and all that it represents. History delightfully placed the inauguration of the first African American President directly next to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The two days combined with a weekend in DC to produce several days of history making festivities from an extraordinary concert by outstanding performers to more formal events including an unprecedented dinner President-Elect Obama held in honor of Senator John McCain.

President Obama (doesn’t that just sound terrific!) begins his term with a most impressive 83% approval rating. His predecessor leaves office with a history making 22% approval rating, some of which emerged, although more mildly than I considered possible, as booing in the crowd and chants of "Nah! Nah! Hey! Hey! Goodbye!!" when the announcement came over the speaker that George W. Bush was no longer president, an event that taught me something. I thought the swearing in ceremony transferred the office. Not true. According to the constitution, power is transferred at precisely Noon, hence the announcement shortly before the ceremony took place.

The slightly awkward swearing in was due a slip by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who deviated slightly and interrupted Obama as he started to take the oath. Roberts spoke to Obama shortly afterwards and took responsibility for the minor snafu. Obama’s speech (text here) eclipsed it anyway.

2008 now stands as the most extraordinary and moving election I have experienced. The prior record was held by 1992. What a terrific day for this country. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


For reasons I have yet to fully understand, literature academics have tended to discount John Steinbeck, author of admirable novels including the masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the touching Of Mice and Men, and the thought provoking East of Eden. Most pertinent to this post is Steinbeck's novella The Moon is Down, a brilliant piece of work about a military occupation of a European village. Published in 1942, God and everybody interpreted the occupying army as that of Nazi Germany, but rigorously speaking the story does not assign any nationality to vanquisher or vanquished. In this novella we first read the now classic: The flies have conquered the flypaper.

In what must be considered one of the ironies of history, the state of Israel has resorted to tactics against the Palestinians in Gaza that are eerily similar to those the Nazis practiced in the Warsaw Ghetto. The region has been isolated, its borders blockaded, and any open mind would find it difficult to deny that those in Gaza face the systemic denial of food and more acutely, medical supplies. Yes, there are exceptions and occasions where relief is granted, but the long term downward pressure on food, medicine, and economic functionality persists. Perhaps toned down to fit 21st century public relations and less severe than the WWII era strangulation of Warsaw, the themes remain and are emerging in the international press. The reader should be clear I did not produce these images.

Newsweek has published a piece many could have foreseen, an article that plainly states what occurs as common sense in my reality. Butchering people rarely wins their hearts and minds. The death toll now approaches 1200 with heavy percentages of women and children. The piece declares that the Gaza violence, rather than turn its citizens against Hamas, has in fact made Hamas more popular. From the article: If the purpose of attacking Hamas was to make the more moderate leadership of al Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas stronger, the opposite has happened.

I want to re-emphasize my support for the state of Israel and its right to exist. My scholarship cannot address the creation of Israel minus the events of WWII and the Holocaust, but I know enough to say that forces for the creation of such a state were already underway and gaining momentum. Sooner or later, I think the worldwide Jewish community would find a way. I've already posted that positions against the existence of the country have no future and should be abandoned. I want what many want: prosperity and peace in the region which includes an Israel. Brutal oppression of the people of Gaza sows bitter seeds and exacerbates obstacles to a lasting peace.

In Beit Lahiya, some 1,600 displaced Gazans have taken shelter at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, which cares for Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war and their descendants.

John Ging, the Gaza director of the agency, said that two brothers, ages 5 and 7, were killed about 7 a.m. by Israeli fire at the school. Their mother, who was among 14 others wounded, had her legs blown off.

Peace is not obtained with a butcher knife.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Be Seeing You!

Patrick McGoohan, star of the brief and unusually cerebral television series The Prisoner, died this week at the age of 80.

From crashing a super computer by feeding it the question, "Why?" to entanglements in extraordinary mind games seldom seen on TV, Number Six never lost his resolve to escape The Village.

After experiencing the show, one never looks at a bouncing white ball quite the same way again, and the semantics of freedom and slavery dissolve into a quandary some find most intriguing.

Should the reader choose to rent a few episodes (available at Casa Video), bring the brain.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Most Painful Press Conference

The reader has no doubt seen or read about Bush’s final press conference held yesterday where for the first time he let enough guard down to acknowledge that all was not perfect with his administration. I won’t repeat what has been published prolifically throughout the network, but I will remark on certain aspects tweaking my meters.

The most compelling and shocking moment from my perspective involved Bush’s reaction to the need to repair America’s image with the international community. Sincerely or not, the President claimed sheer blindness to the issue, emotionally insisting that the image of the United States has not been impacted by the actions of his administration. Dismissing Europe as "elite" he asserted that those in Africa still think highly of America.

Another jaw dropper involved his statements regarding Katrina and the abysmal failure of the federal emergency apparatus to respond to the stranded, starving, and medically deprived Americans suffering in squalor for days in anarchy and mayhem while no National Guard, no transportation, no medical supplies, no relief effort arrived. His response? We reacted quickly, and very quickly, because the Coast Guard (under standing orders requiring no action from the federal government) successfully airlifted thousands from their roofs. Worse, he seemed to think that when and where he landed Air Force One (think photo op) ranked a top priority in his response to the disaster. It was painful to watch.

If a natural disaster strands my daughter and me on a roof without food, shelter, medication, or protection from those who find my daughter attractive, I don’t particularly care if the President is in Tahiti. I require transportation off my roof to a place where I can drink safe water, get a bite of edible food, and a place to safely reside (comfort be damned) until the mess can be sorted out. Bush said nary a word of any substantive response in terms of lives and safety, entirely focused on Air Force One. I assert this speaks mountains about his character. In fact, it sums up his presidency.

In an identical vein regarding Iraq, displaying no awareness of the deaths and life debilitating injuries inflicted on tens of thousands of Americans, his regret involved failing to find weapons of mass destruction, a development he called "disappointing."

Think about that.

I won't get into Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

Regarding the financial meltdown that I think will crumble to proportions rivaling the Great Depression, although it will occur in 21st century terms making a quantitative comparison problematic if not impossible, Bush almost seemed flippant, "I inherited a recession and left a recession."

That statement captures Bush’s reality better than Stone’s movie or any memoir the designated shadow writer could write. We are watching the behavior of a man whose opinion of himself takes first priority. Consistent with this was the response when the last two rows of the seven row seating arrangements were vacant for the event. White House officials rounded up interns, custodians, and any others that could be found to fill the last two rows.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Leaflets of Terror

The Israeli government is dropping leaflets warning residents of Gaza of impending attacks. The leaflets include:

Because of the terrorist actions carried by some terrorist figures out of the area of residence against the state of Israel, the IDF was forced to immediately respond and act inside your area of residence.

For your own safety you are required to leave the area immediately.

The leaflets go on to warn that any house "hiding weapons or ammunition" will be blown up.

Where are all of these people supposed to go? What are they supposed to do? The leaflets assert that those who fully cooperate with the IDF will not be harmed, but what does "fully cooperate" mean? The leaflets don't say.

Matters are worse.

In England, over a hundred thousand people were estimated to have taken part in the protest which started at Hyde Park Corner and ended at the gates to the road to the Israeli Embassy in Kensington.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Winning and Losing

The Senate found itself in a rather embarrassing place regarding the seating of Roland Burris as has been presented profusely on the news. Most mention the fact that Burris has already constructed a mausoleum dedicated to himself, one that refers to him as a "Trail Blazer" and the first African American to achieve certain distinctions. One distinction is his becoming the first African American non-CPA to become a member of the Illinois CPA Society.


Burris also invoked his knowledge of the will of the Lord regarding his senate appointment, "They can't deny what the Lord has ordained."


Well, regardless of what we think of the mausoleum or disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich, the fact remains that Burris was appointed in accordance with the law. The tenable recourse for those who are unhappy is to change the law for next time and unseat Burris should he seek to retain the seat in the next election. Early indicators suggest a good candidate could defeat him.

The Illinois House has voted to impeach Blagojevich, who claims the move was politically driven. After all, the 114-1 vote suggests the House is deeply divided on whether he should remain in office. Rod can pat himself on the back regarding a victory in the Burris appointment. I don't think the next fight will go his way.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

David and Goliath

The death toll continues to climb from Israel's invasion of Gaza. Today 44 were killed when they fired on an elementary school. The Red Cross is calling the situation a "full blown" humanitarian crisis.

I reprint the December Uri Avnery letter to Barack Obama from its posting on CBS News. It is one of the more intelligent and pragmatic assessments I have seen on the subject.

The following humble suggestions are based on my seventy years of experience as an underground fighter, special forces soldier in the 1948 war, editor-in-chief of a newsmagazine, member of the Knesset and founding member of a peace movement:

1) As far as Israeli-Arab peace is concerned, you should act from Day One.

(Photo - Ironic image of a Palestinian using a slingshot to resist Israeli troops) 2) Israeli elections are due to take place in February 2009. You can have an indirect but important and constructive impact on the outcome, by announcing your unequivocal determination to achieve Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-all-Arab peace in 2009.

3) Unfortunately, all your predecessors since 1967 have played a double game. While paying lip service to peace, and sometimes going through the motions of making some effort for peace, they have in practice supported our governments in moving in the very opposite direction. In particular, they have given tacit approval to the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories, each of which is a land mine on the road to peace.

4) All the settlements are illegal in international law. The distinction sometimes made between "illegal" outposts and the other settlements is a propaganda ploy designed to obscure this simple truth.

(Photo - dead Palestinian children) 5) All the settlements since 1967 have been built with the express purpose of making a Palestinian state--and hence peace--impossible, by cutting the territory of the prospective State of Palestine into ribbons. Practically all our government departments and the army have openly or secretly helped to build, consolidate and enlarge the settlements--as confirmed by the 2005 report prepared for the government by lawyer Talia Sasson.

6) By now, the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached some 250,000 (apart from the 200,000 settlers in the Greater Jerusalem area, whose status is somewhat different). They are politically isolated, and sometimes detested by the majority of the Israel public, but enjoy significant support in the army and government ministries.

7) No Israeli government would dare to confront the concentrated political and material might of the settlers. Such a confrontation would need very strong leadership and the unstinting support of the President of the United States to have any chance of success.

8) Lacking these, all "peace negotiations" are a sham. The Israeli government and its US backers have done everything possible to prevent the negotiations with both the Palestinians and the Syrians from reaching any conclusion, for fear of provoking a confrontation with the settlers and their supporters. The present "Annapolis" negotiations are as hollow as all the preceding ones, each side keeping up the pretense for its own political interests.

9) The Clinton administration, and even more so the Bush administration, allowed the Israeli government to keep up this pretense. It is therefore imperative to prevent members of these administrations from diverting your Middle Eastern policy into the old channels.

10) It is important for you to make a complete new start, and to state this publicly. Discredited ideas and failed initiatives--such as the Bush "vision," the Road Map, Annapolis and the like--should be thrown into the junkyard of history.

11) To make a new start, the aim of American policy should be stated clearly and succinctly. This should be: to achieve a peace based on the two-state solution within a defined time span (say, by the end of 2009).

12) It should be pointed out that this aim is based on a reassessment of the American national interest, in order to extract the poison from American-Arab and American-Muslim relations, strengthen peace-oriented regimes, defeat Al Qaeda-type terrorism, end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and achieve a viable accommodation with Iran.

13) The terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace are clear. They have been crystallized in thousands of hours of negotiations, conferences, meetings and conversations. They are:

13.1) A sovereign and viable State of Palestine will be established side by side with the State of Israel.

13.2) The border between the two states will be based on the pre-1967 Armistice Line (the "Green Line"). Insubstantial alterations can be arrived at by mutual agreement on an exchange of territories on a 1:1 basis.

13.3) East Jerusalem, including the Haram-al-Sharif ("Temple Mount") and all Arab neighborhoods will serve as the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and all Jewish neighborhoods, will serve as the capital of Israel. A joint municipal authority, based on equality, may be established by mutual consent to administer the city as one territorial unit.

13.4) All Israeli settlements--except any which might be joined to Israel in the framework of a mutually agreed exchange of territories-- will be evacuated (see 15 below).

13.5) Israel will recognize in principle the right of the refugees to return. A Joint Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, composed of Palestinian, Israeli and international historians, will examine the events of 1948 and 1967 and determine who was responsible for what. Each individual refugee will be given the choice between (1) repatriation to the State of Palestine, (2) remaining where he/she is living now and receiving generous compensation, (3) returning to Israel and being resettled, (4) emigrating to any other country, with generous compensation. The number of refugees who will return to Israeli territory will be fixed by mutual agreement, it being understood that nothing will be done that materially alters the demographic composition of the Israeli population. The large funds needed for the implementation of this solution must be provided by the international community in the interest of world peace. This will save much of the money spent today on military expenditure and direct grants from the United States.

13.6) The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip constitute one national unit. An extraterritorial connection (road, railway, tunnel or bridge) will connect the West Bank with the Gaza Strip.

13.7) Israel and Syria will sign a peace agreement. Israel will withdraw to the pre-1967 line and all settlements on the Golan Heights will be dismantled. Syria will cease all anti-Israeli activities conducted directly or by proxy. The two parties will establish normal relations between them.

13.8) In accordance with the Saudi Peace Initiative, all member states of the Arab League will recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it. Talks about a future Middle Eastern Union, on the model of the EU, possibly to include Turkey and Iran, may be considered.

14) Palestinian unity is essential for peace. Peace made with only one section of the people is worthless. The US will facilitate Palestinian reconciliation and the unification of Palestinian structures. To this end, the US will end its boycott of Hamas, which won the last elections, start a political dialogue with the movement and encourage Israel to do the same. The US will respect any result of democratic Palestinian elections.

15) The US will aid the government of Israel in confronting the settlement problem. As from now, settlers will be given one year to leave the occupied territories voluntarily in return for compensation that will allow them to build their homes in Israel proper. After that, all settlements--except those within any areas to be joined to Israel under the peace agreement--will be evacuated.

(Palestinian children) 16) I suggest that you, as president of the United States, come to Israel and address the Israeli people personally, not only from the rostrum of the Knesset but also at a mass rally in Tel-Aviv's Rabin Square. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Israel in 1977, and, by addressing the Israeli people directly, completely changed their attitude towards peace with Egypt. At present, most Israelis feel insecure, uncertain and afraid of any daring peace initiative, partly because of a deep distrust of anything coming from the Arab side. Your personal intervention, at the critical moment, could literally do wonders in creating the psychological basis for peace.

Uri Avnery is a veteran of Israel's 1948 war, a former Member of the Knesset, founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement and winner of the 2001 Right Livelihood Award, often called the "alternative Nobel Peace Prize." His book 1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem," which was published in Hebrew soon after the 1948 war and was a bestseller in Israel, has just been translated into English for the first time by Oneworld Publications.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Best 2008 Film

Most readers can surmise that your humble blogger’s taste in film tends towards the unusual and dark, material produced by David Lynch (Inland Empire), Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs), Jonathon Demme (Silence of the Lambs), Martin Scorcese (Goodfellas), Ridley Scott (Bladerunner) and the list goes on.

What decent films were produced in 2008? Few. Capturing the most attention (assisted by the tragic death of its co-star) is the latest Batman installment, The Dark Knight. Extremist ilk fancied the black prince (bending if not breaking the law to achieve his aim) symbolizing the Ignoramus-in-Chief's trouncing of the constitution to further his political agenda. Their cluelessness is illustrated by the reference to the box office results of other films including Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Redacted. I'll leave it to the reader to surmise why the latest Batman installment with Christian Bale, Keith Ledger, Morgan Freedman, Michael Kane, and an operating budget five times that of any of the films just listed, outperformed them at the box office.

In considering the best film of the year, despite it's box office chutzpah, The Dark Knight falls short, as does Benjamin Buttons (though interesting), Valkyrie, Happening, Twilight (Buffyphile Godiva), Menagerie, or the rest. Coming closest to the top slot in second place is Doubt. Let's face it, if Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the film, it's good. I am surprised that the best film of the year goes to a G-rated Disney film found on the shelves of the "Family" section.

Wall-E is a production of profound cinematic inspiration and genius juxtaposed with touching political and meta-political commentary on the nature of humanity, humanity’s issues, and humanity’s future. I would guess that while watching the picture the reader will immediately and without effort grasp its message, from the obvious Walmartization of the entire human economy to the precious scarcity of the photosynthetic plant (photosynthesis is the root of all life on earth) to the interactions of the machines and the way in which they are humanized.

Few films run over half an hour without dialogue. Wall-E makes it look effortless, thoroughly engaging both children and adults with masterful imagery. The facial expressions depicted on the machines is brilliance distilled and jaw dropping. Most notice the extraordinary work on the Wall-E machine. I would add that the work on Eve is just as profound, perhaps more. Watch her eyes. Science Fiction buffs will recognize the HAL eye of the ship's master robot as well as the 2001 theme song as the fat captain takes control, "You are relieved of duty."

The pathetically obese and dysfunctional couch cheese to which humanity has devolved perfectly captures the bankruptcy we are only now beginning to grasp. My favorite line in the film, probably, occurs when the captain declares, "I'm sure our forefathers would be proud to know that 700 years later we are doing the exact same thing that they were doing." What could be more W?

Seeing the humans find inspiration in a small plant is touching. Without the self-importance of so many politically correct films, Wall-E throws the ball straight over the plate in a pitch difficult to miss. Ahh, a garbage collecting drone finding the source of life. Yes. Wall-E is a spectacular achievement, and those responsible can rightfully declare themselves part of the solution in a world most desperate for one.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Destroying the Destitute

Israel is poised as we speak for a ground invasion of the Gaza strip after launching a week long bombing campaign that has now killed close to 500 Palestinians and injured over 2000 more, many of them non-combatants including women and children clearly not responsible for the rocket attacks fired into Israel, the reason cited for the bombing campaign and impending invasion. As one uncovers the truth, it gets worse.

Liza provided a link to a good Chris Hedges article at truthdig that effectively relates the extent of the humanitarian horrors unfolding in Gaza. Reuters Alertnet has a Situation Map that illustrates the location and nature of the carnage and an executive summary sheet showing some key facts. Among those listed is that 79 percent of the Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty line. That's four out of five.

From the Hedges piece:
The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza "a crime against humanity." Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as "a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention." He has asked for "the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

In what I consider deeply ironic, Falk compared what is happening in Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto at the hands of the Nazis, where an entire population is systemically deprived of food and medicine. The facts of this humanitarian plight would play most differently if the people being oppressed were Europeans. Think Sarajevo. Remember the front pages of Time, Newsweek, and the rest?

The upcoming February 10 Israeli elections play a role in this, after which prime minister Ehud Olmert will step down. The Israeli cabinet approved the attack in principle on December 24th, leaving the timing to Olmert, defense minister, Ehud Barak, and the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. Barak has been lagging far behind Livni and Binyamin Netanyahu, the opposition Likud leader (the link is his campaign Web site), in the election campaign. Netanyahu asserts at his site, "We've restrained ourselves long enough."

Last week Barak mounted a countrywide campaign on billboards and on the Internet, admitting that he is "not nice", "not cuddly", and "not trendy".


If the pummeling of the Palestinians in Gaza goes better than the 2006 effort against Hezbollah, perhaps Barak can score some anti-nice and anti-cuddly points, apparently perceived to be of value with the electorate.

Not surprisingly, Bush is touting his same oversimplified rhetoric, i.e., Israel is simply defending itself against terrorists in Gaza. Condoleeza Rice chimed in with a desire for a cease-fire "as soon as possible" once "rocket attacks can no longer occur." I don't know how to draw an interpretation different from "Go for it."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Twilight Zone Marathon

Most are probably unaware that for the last day and a half or so and continuing until tomorrow, the Science Fiction Channel is running a marathon of back to back episodes of Rod Serling's 1959 classic TV series The Twilight Zone, commemorating the fifty years since it first appeared. Now there is watching a show, simply seeing whatever is shown on the screen, and there is watching a program fully equipped with context. Sadly, heart disease killed Serling at the relatively young age of 50. His pen is behind the classic 1956 television event Requiem for a Heavyweight starring a young Jack Palance, but even less known is that Serling co-wrote the script for the original 1968 Planet of the Apes.

(Image from "Eye of the Beholder," one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes) A full appreciation of the series includes the awareness of the extraordinary number of aspiring actors and actresses who honed their skills with short performances on the set of this production. Ron Howard played several roles before he reached the age of six, and William Shatner's pre-Star Trek performance battling obsession with a devil headed fortune telling machine is a series classic ("Nick of Time"), as is the later episode where Shatner plays the terrified airline passenger who sees a demon outside his window ("Terror at 20,000 feet"). Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Charles Bronson, Elizabeth Montgomery, Burgess Meredith, Peter Falk, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, and many others appeared as young, unestablished wannabees on the show.

The show also had some established icons appear for late-in-life performances, including Buster Keaton, Agnes Morehead, and Mickey Rooney. The entire 156 episode series which includes the never aired 1958 pilot episode, "The Time Element," can be purchased for $160. The knowledgeable viewer can immediately identify which of the five seasons a particular episode was produced by the Rod Serling prelude that begins the show.

First Season: There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Second Season: You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.

Third Season: Same as the second except it eliminates "That's the signpost up ahead."

Fourth Season: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

The infrastructure for the show started to disintegrate during the fifth season, its last. Serling put his spooky pen on ice for a few years but brought it back out five years later for a another classic TV series, The Night Gallery. Remember the shadow of the dead grandma on the wall? That's something that can keep a kid up at night.