The Swiftboating of ‘Munich’

‘Munich’ producer Kathleen Kennedy blames the vast right wing conspiracy for the film’s lackluster box office returns to date:

“We live in a time where there is a very loud and strong right-wing constituency that is hellbent on suppressing any of this kind of dialogue. I’ve just been surprised at Hollywood and our own industry. It reveals more conservatism than I thought was there.”

Poor Spielberg!

Read the whole thing here.

Osama’s bin Readin’ the NY Times

The latest Osama bin Laden statement, if accurate, confirms that the anti-war movement has done real damage in the fight against terrorism. In the statement (available here), bin Laden is clearly addressing the Angry Left, even adopting much of their language. Here are some excerpts from his remarks, and you can determine if they are that far off from a NY Times editorial:

You can give us this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan that you have destroyed.

This will prevent the loss of millions of dollars, billions of dollars that go to corrupt businessmen in the United States

But I wanted to talk to you because of the lies that have been given to you by your President Bush when he commented on the results of the opinion polls in your country that showed the majority was for the pull out of U.S. forces in Iraq.

You [Bush] opposed this opinion by saying a pull out of U.S. forces would send the wrong message and that it is better to fight them in their land than they fight us in our land.

I have an answer for this. I’m saying that the war in Iraq is lit up like crazy and the operations are estimated in our favor in Afghanistan and the number of dead and injured on your side is greater and greater, in addition to material losses.

The result of the opinion polls are wise and Bush must follow it. Iraq has now become a point of attraction to all qualified people the mujahadeen who by the grace of God were able to infiltrate all the security measures that were taken by Coalition forces. And as proof to that: The bombings that you saw in many important capitals of the world…

So you see how Bush was misleading people. The opinion polls are for the pull out and it’s important that opinion polls say the people didn’t want to fight the Muslims in their land and they didn’t want the Muslims to fight them in their land.

I propose a long-term truce that will give the two sides stability and security.

And this is the most important, most diligent solution as a result of which there will be no losses.

Apparently, bin Laden realizes that his only hope in defeating the U.S. is to divide the country. However noble liberals think their motives are, make no mistake that the anti-war activists are playing right into bin Laden’s hands.

Giuliani: What America Needs Most?

James Q. Wilson on Rudy Giuliani in the latest issue of The Claremont Review of Books:

Republicans should keep in mind that, more than four years after 9/11, Giuliani still commands Americans’ respect and admiration. His worst behavior as mayor leads me to suspect that he is only as domineering and publicity-driven as many of our presidents (good or bad) have been. His best behavior as mayor suggests many of the qualities a good president should have, such as honesty, decency, and a commitment to make government work better and to enable the middle class to live better. As the presidential primaries approach, Republicans concerned with the country’s moral character may want to ask themselves whether, in the present predicament, what the country needs most is a strong executive, unafraid of criticism, to prosecute the war we are in.

Read the whole thing here.

Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ Fails On Every Level

I was initially hesitant to see ‘Munich,’ after reading Spielberg’s interview in Time, but after several people whose opinions I respect gave it a good review, I decided to give it a chance. Unfortunately, my initial instincts proved correct. I admit that I am somewhat biased against the movie for political reasons, which is why I’d like to evaluate it on four levels: purely as a film, as an historical piece, as a morality play and as a political statement. When I say it fails on every level, this is what I mean.

The movie itself was weak. I just didn’t find the characters all that compelling and I didn’t feel any suspense during the parts when they were killing off the terrorists. In a movie that is supposed to explore moral complexity, I thought that most characters lacked any subtlety. Even though the film is nearly three hours long, I don’t think any of the characters other than Avner (Eric Bana), the leader of Israel’s Mossad team, come off as anything but cardboard. The dialogue was also atrocious, with characters constantly spouting out their moral and political philosophy in convenient pronouncements. Also, I thought Spielberg made some rather odd cinematic choices that I personally didn’t feel worked. For instance, Spielberg waited until nearly the end of the movie to show a reenactment of the actual explosion that killed the Israeli athletes at the Munich airport, and he intercut it with a sex scene between Avner and his wife. It comes off as bizarre and arguably distasteful.

As for the film’s historical value, it does cover itself by saying “inspired by real events.” Certainly, I don’t get my history from Hollywood, and I understand that making a good historical movie often requires taking some liberties. Typically, I take historical films with a grain of salt and try not to be a purist. But while I’m willing to excuse historical liberties taken concerning Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” or in “Capote,” I’m more uncomfortable when it is a movie about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reason is that, as it is, one of the primary problems to understanding the conflict is the amount of misinformation that is disseminated. It’s upsetting for this film to come out, because it adds yet another prominent bit of misinformation out there that further fogs the truth. As Brett Stevens wrote:

“Vengeance,” the George Jonas book upon which the film is largely based, is widely considered to be a fabrication. The book is based on a source named Yuval Aviv, who claimed to be the model for Avner but was, according to Israeli sources, never in the Mossad and had no experience in intelligence beyond working as a screener for El Al, the Israeli airline.

Sure, you can argue that the mission was secret and that there’s no way of knowing what actually happened. But when it comes to creating a fictional version of Prime Minister Golda Meir and fabricating the quote that was used in all of the previews, “Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values,” it becomes troubling.

What’s even more frustrating is that in the film, Spielberg adopts the Palestinian narrative for why Israel exists (i.e. that Jews took the land and the world allowed it because of the Holocaust). The truth is that Jews started peacefully migrating to Israel in large numbers in the 1880s and had a large population there even before the Holocaust (not to mention a presence in the area dating back thousands of years). In once scene, an Israeli Mossad agent on the team says, “How do you think we got the land, by being nice?” And later Avner’s mom, after recalling the Holocaust says, “We had to take it, because nobody will give it to us.” So in other words, according to this film, there is no denying that Israelis took the land from the Palestinians by force, and the only dispute is whether Jewish suffering during the Holocaust justified it. This is precisely the attitude of anti-Semites who talk about how Jews exploit the Holocaust. But even if Spielberg wanted represent both points of view, he at least owed it to the Israeli side to have the Israeli characters make the best argument for their country’s existence.

It is true that the film portrayed the Mossad agents sympathetically and showed the great lengths they go to to protect innocent life. But while Avner and his fellow Mossad agents are portrayed sympathetically, the Israeli government itself is not. The government officials (especially Geoffrey Rush’s character) come off as soulless amoral bureaucrats who are just using the agents as pawns. When Rush’s character tells Avner to avoid killing civilians when he’s explaining the mission, he seems more concerned that it would complicate the mission than he is about actually protecting innocents. By the end of the movie, the Israeli government becomes so morally contemptible to Avner that he refuses to go on another mission, moves to America, and even suspects the Israeli government of trying to kill him and his family.

On a moral level, I have a problem with the film as well. Characters say things such as “Just because Palestinians do wrong, we don’t have to do wrong as well.” Or other such comments that seem to suggest that assassinating terrorists involves moral compromises (again, look at the fabricated Gold Meir quote). Sure, some of the compromises in the film deal with paying despicable characters for information, but that’s not the only thing that there seems to be moral conflict about. I guess one reason that I had a problem enjoying this movie is that I simple see no moral problems–zero–with killing terrorists who have plotted to kill your civilians in the past and are continuing to do so. Especially since the rest of the world is caving into terrorism, with Germany releasing prisoners who were a part of the Munich massacre.

The other major problem I have with the film is the whole idea that if you kill a terrorist leader, he’ll just be replaced by somebody worse, so what’s the point? This is absurd. Clearly, if an organization keeps on having leadership changes, and its leaders are always in constant fear of being killed, and they have to hide out and go to great lengths (and use more manpower) to protect themselves, they will be less effective than they would otherwise be. Real world evidence clearly demonstrates this. Targeted assassinations by Israel during the Second Intifada were instrumental in reducing the number of suicide bombings. Al Qaeda, too, is clearly having more trouble carrying out large scale attacks against America now than it did before we started going after them.

Essentially, at the end of the movie, after all that Avner has been through, he evolves into a modern day liberal. While in the beginning of the movie, he accepts the mission out of patriotism and duty, at the end of the movie, he refuses to go on another mission. In the final scene, Avner is:

a) Distrustful of his government (he asks, how do you know the people I killed

were really terrorists? What was the evidence? How can you be sure the

evidence was right?).

b) Naive (He asks, why couldn’t we just arrest them?)

c) Defeatist ( He says, if you kill a terrorist, you just create a new terrorist, so it will never end).

Having reached all of these conclusions, he decides that there’s no point to stay in Israel and fight terrorism, he may as well give up the futile battle, move to America, and live out his life in a fool’s paradise in Brooklyn.

The Hajj Lottery

According to my calculations, based on this AP dispatch, 3,243 people have been killed in nine different incidents at the annual Muslim pilgramage to Mecca since 1987. Most of the deaths occured as a result of stampedes as pilgrams rush to throw stones at walls that are supposed to represent the devil. The whole thing reminds me of the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery.”

Revealing Sharon

As the world waits to learn more about the status of Ariel Sharon, I can’t help but wonder whether Israel will allow him to appear in public, should he recover from his stroke in some capacity. This is a definite dilemma, which obviously isn’t pressing this moment, but could come up weeks or months down the line. On the one hand, should he survive and maintain some brain activity and motor functions, there will probably be a desire and natural curiosity among Israelis to see him. At the same time, Sharon has always projected an image of power, and parading him in public in a partially crippled state, with slurred speech, could hurt morale in Israel and be viewed by Palestinian terrorists as a symbol of weakness, emboldening them. In the meantime, all we can do is hope for the best.

Alito

I just got finished watching Judge Samuel Alito’s opening statement. Try as they might (and they might not even bother trying), Democrats will have a tough time portraying this intellegent, humble, family man with a Philadelphia accent as some sort of fire breathing radical.

A Million Little Lies?

James Frey fabricated major parts of his bestselling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, according to an expose by The Smoking Gun. His book, which is about his drug addictions and run-ins with the law, was a featured selection of the Oprah Book Club that everybody seems to be reading.

From The Smoking Gun:

Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey’s book. The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw “wanted in three states.”

In additon to these rap sheet creations, Frey also invented a role for himself in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students.

Read the whole thing here.

Apparently, Frey has said that he and his publisher went out of their way to make sure that all of the facts are accurate. I haven’t read the book myself, but somehow it doesn’t surprise me that a guy who is on drugs for much of the action of the book would be foggy on some stuff. It seems to me that Frey could have absolved himself from criticism by including the following disclaimer in the book:

This book is based on true events, but keep in mind that I was drunk off my gourd and smoking a lot of crack back then.

Of course, he probably wouldn’t have become a best-selling memoirist if he did so.

Violence in Gaza

Since he came into office this time last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been urged by Israel and the United States to move agressively against militants and terrorist groups, but he has failed to do so. The prospect of him taking such action has been greeted in Palestinian circles as something that Abbas would be doing merely as a concession to the U.S. and Israel. But as the recent flare up in violence in Gaza demonstrates, disarming militant groups is something that needs to happen if Palestinians are ever to have a viable state.

From the NY Times:

GAZA, Jan. 8 – Virtually sealed off from the outside world, residents of this violence-riddled strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea liken it to a giant, deteriorating prison, and at its worst it feels like the film “Escape From New York,” where inmates ran the show.

The economy beats feebly, filling the streets with armed men and markets and chaotic traffic during the day and emptying them but for scattered police patrols and idle young men at night. The Palestinian Authority, charged with governing the territory together with the West Bank, maintains tenuous control.

“The intifada has ended, but the violent energy is still there,” said Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist and human rights activist living here.

In Gaza City on Saturday night, one man was killed during a gun battle between armed militants and the police, while elsewhere in town another armed group threatened to destroy the local offices of the satellite television station Al Arabiya, which is based in Dubai. The men were angry at the station for broadcasting a documentary that suggested that female Palestinian suicide bombers had been put under pressure by male relatives.

Farther south that same day, gunmen cordoned off a neighborhood in Khan Yunis, Gaza’s second largest city, while members of a well-known drug-smuggling family battled with the Palestinian police. Eleven policemen were reported wounded.

And in Rafah, along the Egyptian border, armed men from the Abu Taha family stopped cars on Sunday, checking identification papers in hopes of catching members of Al Masri, the rival family with which they have been waging a deadly feud.

While the world is watching Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s fight for life and wondering who will govern Israel in his absence, people in Gaza are far more preoccupied with growing lawlessness and tension between armed factions since Israel’s withdrawal.

Read the whole thing here.