Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Double Standard

Speaking of double-standards and hypocrisy, which I do from time to time, it's impossible to ignore this blatant example. Anyone been following Sri Lanka's campaign against the Tamil Tigers? Human rights organizations have reported thousands of civilians killed, some during a barrage that struck a hospital. Even the UN has acknowledged, "nearly 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last three months of fighting." Other sources suggest the death toll may be much higher. "An investigation by The Times into Sri Lanka’s civilian casualties, however — which was conducted in a week-long visit to Sri Lanka — has found evidence of a civilian death toll of 20,000, almost three times that cited previously."

We should expect some sort of investigation soon, right? Don't hold your breath. The UN human rights council has actually praised the Sri Lankan government's "victory over the Tamil Tigers and refused calls to investigate allegations of war crimes by both sides in the final chapter of a bloody 25-year conflict." It then passed a resolution describing the conflict as a "domestic matter that doesn't warrant outside interference."


Monday, May 18, 2009


Before I say a few words about the new Star Trek film, and you know I must, I need to describe going to the screening, our first 'movie date' in Israel. Israel is a modern country, and that applies to its movie cinemas. The experience was all very familiar, but just different enough to be memorable.

I knew I was going to have to deal with Hebrew subtitles; I didn't expect that everyone in the theatre would be English speaking. I expected to be able to get kosher food; I was surprised to discover that the popcorn was also pareve (as was another patron who deliberately had pizza for dinner assuming the popcorn would be 'dairy.')

I resigned myself to the inevitable commercials before the film; I never anticipated a 5 minute intermission in the middle of the film. Do Israelis have unusually small bladders? I hoped we might run into people we knew; instead, we got a lift with total strangers, and talked about the film all the way home.

Anyway, I was talking about Star trek. I've been watching Star Trek for, um, ever. I actually remember watching the original series with my Dad and recording the Animated series on cassette tapes (pre-VCRs, folks). I also have a scrapbook I started when they first started talking about a new film in the mid-70`s. Those of you who came into the series with TNG can`t imagine how exciting a time it was, going to conventions when they were still run by the fans and not those money-making scum who took them over, meeting other Trekkers, waiting and hoping for a movie or another series, or even just a chance to meet someone associated with the show. It`s easy now to be jaded, after Voyager and Enterprise, but the scene was so different during the 70`s. What a time it was. I`m so grateful to have been a part of it.

So, as one of Trek's 'old fossil' fans, I was admittedly nervous when the news of a reboot was made official. But, I was actually pretty excited, too. It's worth remembering that in many ways, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), albeit with the original cast, also felt to many of us like a reboot. There some of the same concerns leading up to the release of the film about the new look of the Enterprise and the Klingons, and the new production team, especially director Robert Wise who knew nothing about Trek. Even Wrath of Khan reinvented much of what we now consider canon. And most of all, this is Science Fiction. What does canon mean in a genre which has already established that events and characters can be altered?

A few months ago, I found myself actually looking through my Star Trek comics and memorabilia from the late 60's/ early 70's. I started to get excited about this one, and enjoyed seeing people hyped up the way I was before the first Trek film came out. I thought: I'm sure there are going to be things about this film I hate but I don't care. As Kirk said: "Young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant!"

Well, I've now seen the new one and, frankly, I'm undecided. It looked great. The actors were all very good. I especially liked Karl Urban, although my wife felt he was copying DeForest Kelly rather than just playing the part like the others. The weak one for me was Zoƫ Saldana as Uhura. She was fine, but lacked the grace and elegance of Nichelle Nichols. I liked the comedy but felt like Scotty was a bit too much comic relief, which is I'm sure why they went with Simon Pegg rather than Paul McGillion, who would have made a great Scotty.

In all honesty, though, my big issue with the reboot has nothing to do with dialogue, plot or even casting, none of which was consistently brilliant in any incarnation of Trek. JJ Abrams, whose work I greatly respect, has said on record that he preferred Star Wars to Star trek, and that he wanted to reboot Trek in that mold for a younger, ostensibly more A.D.D. audience. But, in fact, both film genres originally ran simultaneously, with TMP actually following the first Star Wars film (because, in large part, of the success of that film, Paramount was willing to go ahead with TMP.)

For years, we had both SW and Trek, one franchise fast, fun and FX heavy, the other more thoughtful and character oriented. In a sense, they complimented each other. I have enjoyed both series for different reasons.

In other words, I don't need my Star Trek to feel like Star Wars. It was possible to reboot the series, adding more FX, introducing a new, hip cast, and even adrenalizing the stories without sacrificing the philosophical nature of Star Trek. I'm not convinced they accomplished this even though I enjoyed the film. But, I am willing to cut them a fair bit of slack because this was a first film with a new cast and crew. My hope is that a sequel will put more emphasis on the hopeful future of the Star Trek universe. I really do wish them luck. I'd still like to believe that the world needs Star Trek.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Washington Merry-Go-Round

I want to hate Michael Oren.

He's not only a terrific historian, eloquent and clear, but he's also far too dashing for his own good. Oren, who was born in the US but has called Israel home for decades, is also a fervent Zionist, an army reservist who has served as a government spokesperson during times of war, and a father of a serving soldier. And now, as if I couldn't hate him any more, he's Israel's new Ambassador to the US.

If Benjamin Netanyahu is remembered for anything it may be this brilliant appointment of a most deserving and appropriate candidate. I've never met Michael Oren, unfortunately, but I would welcome the chance to tell him in person what I'm writing here. Mr. Oren, serve us well. Be honest. Be passionate. Be yourself. Make a difference. And good luck.

If you're not familiar with Michael Oren, you deserve it to yourself to read some of his political and historical articles (and get out there and buy his books, too. Oren is the author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East and of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: The United States in the Middle East, 1776 to 2006.) He never fails to educate and entertain.

From The TNR Archives: Michael B. Oren

The New Republic has made available a long list of articles, all worth checking out. "Unfriendly Fire: Why Did Israeli Troops Attack The USS Liberty?" from July 23, 2001 is essential reading.

Also, check out, at the Azure Magazine website:

Jews and the Challenge of Sovereignty
Michael B. Oren | Is "Jewish state" a contradiction in terms?

Levi Eshkol, Forgotten Hero
Michael B. Oren | Israel’s third prime minister offers a different model of Jewish leadership.

The Second War of Independence
Michael B. Oren | Fifty years later, the lessons of the Suez War are only now becoming clear.

Did Israel Want the Six Day War?
Michael B. Oren | Newly released documents reveal the government's true motives during the tense weeks leading up to June 5, 1967.

Save the Citizens’ Army
Michael B. Oren, Benjamin Balint

Zohan and the Quest for Jewish Utopia
Michael B. Oren | Adam Sandler's hit comedy reflects a deep divide between Israeli and American Jews.

Orde Wingate: Friend Under Fire
Michael B. Oren | The new historians take aim at the father of the IDF.

The 'USS Liberty': Case Closed
Michael B. Oren | June 8, 1967: Why did the IDF open fire on an American spy ship?

UPDATE: Two more articles, both from Commentary Magazine.

Seven Existential Threats

Michael B. Oren, May 2009

Does the U.S. Finally Understand Israel?
Michael B. Oren, July/August 2002