Battles of Ajami

Fifty years ago, the Israeli film industry was largely churning out pro-Zionist propaganda films (Ephraim Kishon being the rare exception). To represent its face to the world in 2010, Israel brought to the Academy Awards an Arab-language flick co-directed by a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli, focusing largely on inter-Arab issues; Ajami was one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Film category.

The Palestinian co-director has been called a collaborator. Israel’s nominating committee has been demonized as a pack of lefties. But something is changing on the streets of Jaffa, whose citizens have been given, in Ajami, both a mirror in which to behold their own community and an international voice.

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Nailing Avatar

The fallacy that great events have great causes tempts both film critics and civilian interpreters to explain mass ticket sales in pretty grandiose terms. Avatar, touted to displace Titanic as the movie with the biggest box office gross in history, has provoked this impulse with a vengeance.

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Walking (and Stumbling) with Martin

President Obama gave the following sermon at a D.C. Church on January 17th. His Sunday text has historical interest since it hints the President wasn’t ready to hear the hard news from Massachusetts where Scott Brown would win Teddy Kennedy’s old senate seat two days later. But Obama’s speech is worth more than a snarky look back. While it underscores his over-confidence about the prospects of passing health insurance reform, it also speaks to what keeps America’s parties of hope alive. Take it as one true story behind the key line in the closing graph of his (much duller) State of the Union speech: “I don’t quit.”

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Who’s To Blame? (II)

Right after the Massachusetts debacle, Bernard Avishai published a short post on “Who’s to Blame” at his website BERNARD AVISHAI DOT COM. Avishai spoke as someone “marinated” in Massachusetts politics who wondered at Coakely’s grudging (“forced and fake”) nods to Obamacare. He argued: “The real question Democrats have to ask themselves is: how come the greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare is something a progressive Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy’s seat has to speak so defensively about.” Talking Points Memo linked to Avishai’s post and it sparked argument. Here’s Avishai’s response to his critics.

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All and Nothing

Fr. Rick Frechette is a Passionist priest-doctor (and FIRST contributor) who has been working in Haiti for a generation, running hospitals and social programs in Port-au-Prince as well as a Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos orphanage on the outskirts of the capital. One of the two hospitals he directs was destroyed by the earthquake. (Two medical volunteers from the U.S. died there.) The other, newer, state-of-the-art hospital, was damaged but it’s functioning. NBC reported on the work being done there last month. The reporter noted Fr. Rick had been taking care of his dying mother in Connecticut when the earthquake hit. She insisted he return to Haiti. He went back and forth, returning to U.S. in time to be with his mother as she died. He’s now in Port-au-Prince again and he’s updated friends and donors on the situation there. Please consider donating to Fr. Frechette’s hospital and orphanage.

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Two Nations

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”

Disraeli published Sybil, or The Two Nations in 1845, when his two nations were very famously the rich and the poor. The thought the phrase encapsulates is in part obsolete, for modern societies combine increasing economic inequality with a striking amount of cultural egalitarianism via a pervasive mass culture. In another respect, the phrase is very far from obsolete. A little over a year ago Elizabeth Samet published a fascinating book about a meeting of two nations between whom there is nowadays disturbingly little intercourse and sympathy: American military officers, and academics who have very confident opinions about what military officers are like.

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