Archive for August, 2005

Israel’s Best P.R. Ever

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been getting a lot of good press lately for his withdrawl of settlers from the Gaza Strip. But is the praise really all that deserved? From the moment Sharon was elected he was widely considered to be an obstacle to the peace process in the region as a supporter of Israeli settlements. The recent pullout was seen as a massive turnaround in policy for Sharon and an enormous step toward peace and a Palistinian state. But was it?

NYT: Israel on Monday wrapped up its withdrawal of the nearly 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip. Despite the pullout, there will almost certainly be more Jewish settlers at the end of this year than at the beginning, said Yariv Oppenheimer, the leader of Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes settlement building.

The West Bank settler population is about 240,000. With the number increasing by more than 10,000 a year, the growth will offset those who have been removed, even if none of the evacuees resettle in the West Bank. The figures do not include Israelis in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians, as well as Israeli critics of the settlements, say the Gaza evacuation was welcomed, but they note that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he plans to continue strengthening the much larger West Bank settlements.

Mr. Oppenheimer said he expected settler leaders to push for the Gaza evacuees to relocate in the West Bank. “The settler leadership has a political interest in showing that this was not a defeat, and that it will only result in the further building of West Bank settlements,” he said.

If the Gaza settlements are to be disbanded only to bolster West Bank settlements, how are we any closer to a peaceful arrangement? It would seem that Sharon has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by demonstrating a massive sacrifice on the part of Israel complete with heart-wrenching news feeds of people being dragged from their homes for the sake of peace, while continuing to provoke Palestinians with West Bank settlements.

Before we applaud Israel, it is important to scrutinize what exactly this will accomplish. While even the most skeptical of us is willing to concede that this is a sacrifice on the part of Israel, what does it really accomplish? If violence suddenly ceases in the Gaza Strip only to escalate in the West Bank, this only weakens the Palestinian position while further solidifying the Israeli grip on the territory. While I of course commend the Gaza pullout, I believe if Sharon were truly interested in peace he would be interested in evacuating West Bank settlements as well, as per UN Security Council Resolution 446, March 1979:

The Security Council, […] Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;

Instead twenty-five years later we still can’t achieve much more than token gestures and visual overtures.

The Master Novelist and the Screen Cliches

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

The New York Times featured an article on a few upcoming films that will be based on the stories of twenties novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Many, many films have been made from his work, none of which I have seen, but apparently thus far not one has done justice to the power of his writing. One sentence in particular from the Times’ article grabbed my attention: “To date, more than 20 films have been drawn from Fitzgerald’s life and books – and their almost unalloyed failure to do justice to his work is rivaled only by Fitzgerald’s own failure to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter.”

This immediately reminded me of a scene in Fitzgerald’s final, unifinished novel The Last Tycoon: a meeting between the novelist-turned-screenwriter Mr. George Boxley and the master producer Monroe Stahr. Boxley is clearly unhappy as a screenwriter, and is trying desperately to quit. As the passage demonstrates, Boxley’s opinion of Hollywood is so low that his writing suffers from his perception of far lower standards for screenwriting:

Stahr smiled at Mr. George Boxley. It was a kind fatherly smile Stahr had developed inversely when he was a young man pushed into high places. Originally it had been a smile of respect toward his elders, then as his own decisions grew rapidly to displace theirs, a smile so that they should not feel it–finally emerging as what it was: a smile of kindness–sometimes a little hurried and tired, but always there–toward anyone who had not angered him within the hour. Or anyone he did not intend to insult, aggressive and outright.

Mr. Boxley did not smile back. He came in with the air of being violently dragged, though no one apparently had a hand on him. He stood in front of a chair, and again it was as if two invisible attendants seized his arms and set him down forcibly into it. He sat there morosely. Even when he lit a cigarette on Stahr’s invitation, one felt that the match was held to it by exterior forces he disdained to control.

Stahr looked at him courteously.

“Something not going well, Mr. Boxley?”

The novelist looked back at him in thunderous silence.

“I read your letter,” said Stahr. The tone of the pleasant young headmaster was gone. He spoke as to an equal, but with a faint two-edged deference.

“I can’t get what I write on paper,” broke out Boxley. “You’ve all been very decent, but it’s a sort of conspiracy. Those two hacks you’ve teamed me with listen to what I say, but they spoil it–they seem to have a vocabulary of about a hundred words.”

“Why don’t you write it yourself?” asked Stahr.

“I have. I sent you some.”

“But it was just talk, back and forth,” said Stahr mildly. “Interesting talk but nothing more.”

Now it was all the two ghostly attendants could do to hold Boxley in the deep chair. He struggled to get up; he uttered a single quiet bark which had some relation to laughter but none to amusement, and said:

“I don’t think you people read things. The men are deulling when the conversation takes place. At the end one of them falls into a well and has to be hauled up in a bucket.”

He barked again and subsided.

“Would you write that in a book of your own, Mr. Boxley?”

“What? Naturally not.”

“You’d consider it too cheap.”

“Movie standards are different,” said Boxley, hedging.

“Do you ever go to them?”

“No–almost never.”

“Isn’t it because people are always duelling and falling down wells?”

“Yes–and wearing strained facial expressions and talking incredible and unnatural dialogue.”

“Skip the dialogue for a minute,” said Stahr. “Granted your dialogue is more graceful than what these hacks can write–that’s why we brought you out here. But let’s imagine something that isn’t either bad dialogue or jumping down a well. Has your office got a stove in it that lights with a match?”

“I think it has,” said Boxley stiffly, “–but I never use it.”

“Suppose you’re in your office. You’ve been fighting deuls or writing all day and you’re too tired to fight or write any more. You’re sitting there staring–dull, like we all get sometimes. A pretty stenographer that you’ve seen before comes into the room and you watch her– idly. She doesn’t see you, though you’re very close to her. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse and dumps it out on the table–“

Stahr stood up, tossing his key-ring on his desk.

“She has two dimes and a nickel–and a cardboard match box. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black glvoes to the stove, opens it and puts them inside. There is one match in the match box and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove. You notice that there’s a stiff wind blowing in the window–but just then your telephone rings. The girl picks it up, says hello–listens–and says deliberately into the phone, ‘I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.’ She hangs up, kneels by the stove again, and just as she lights the match, you glance around very suddenly and see that there’s another man in the office, watching every move the girl makes–“

Stahr paused. He picked up his keys and put them in his pocket.

“Go on,” said Boxley smiling. “What happens?”

“I don’t know,” said Stahr. “I was just making pictures.”

My point? At a glance (which is about as much thought as I lent this idea–I have no real historical basis for this) Mr. Boxley is a window to Fitzgerald’s feelings as a screenwriter. If this is true, what’s amazing to me is that someone so incredibly suited to one medium can find himself so completely inadequate in another.

Comments Functioning

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

I finally got the comments back up and running after a very minor bug took them down months ago. I’m so happy I’m feeling a little verklemt. Discuss amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: August points out that while you can lose weight at McDonalds, their overwhelming agenda is to take your money and make you fat. Discuss.

“One Hour Until Iraqi Constitution Deadline”

Monday, August 15th, 2005

That was the headline on Fox News about twenty minutes ago. Apparently the Iraqi Parlaiment has been holed up for weeks trying to approve a constitution.

BBC: Its 71 members met late into the night on Sunday to consider their progress.

The US and Britain fear that a delay might play in the hands of insurgent groups, which have intensified their attacks.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad last week to insist that the panel meet the original 15 August deadline.

So there they are, burning the midnight oil, cramming through this constitution like its some kind of college term paper. Our eager pupils of democracy, who’ll turn in their frantically prepared project at the last minute and wait nervously for their grade.

It sure feels good to be the professor, passing down grades in democratic structure, imposing deadlines and making sure our students stick to them. The thing is, when I stayed up all night on a term paper, I rarely got more than a B-minus on it. Is that really any way to write a constitution?

Edit: Oooh.. and they didn’t make it. And nobody gave them the extension. That’s gonna hurt their GPA.

Reasons for a Pullout in Iraq

Thursday, August 11th, 2005

by retired Gen. William E. Odom, head of the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration.