SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

Major Changes Depend on Little Details

President Barack Obama knows that if he wants to improve relations between the United States and the Muslim world, he will have to focus on the details. On Day 2 of his presidency, Obama made a statement by visiting the State Department.

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February 1, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Films You Need to See: Earth, Good

Here are some more movies I think you should see.

Earth:

Not sure if this is March of the Penguins revisited, but it looks like a great, great movie. I love nature films, anyway.

Good:

The struggle between good and evil has always fascinated me. Sometimes external circumstances force you to make difficult choices. When the time comes, will you make the right choice? Will you choose to be good?

Nine:

This film is visually stunning.

Tokyo Sonata:

I love a good family drama. This film was at Cannes, too.

Blessed is the Match:

A heroic tale. There is always the hope that someone better than us, braver than us, will rescue us from what troubles us.

Coraline:

From the director of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” this type of film isn’t for everyone. The innovation behind a film like this, however, is something to be respected.

State of Play:

While any movie with Ben Affleck is an automatic red flag (Good Will Hunting excluded), I’m hoping that Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren will continue to have a good taste in movie selection. I’m betting against it, though.

The Last House on the Left:

While I’m not a terribly huge fan of horror movies, I did like the question this film asks: if someone hurt someone you love, what would you do? How far would you go? Those questions, at least from an artistic/dramatic perspective, intrigue me.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Foreign Films (Maybe More) Show Hollywood’s a Bit Soft

Below are the five nominees for the Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film. After seeing all five trailers, a couple issues came to mind:

(1) Why are these foreign language films not competing against the likes of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Frost/Nixon” for Best Picture contention? If my memory serves me correctly, “Il Postino” has been the only foreign film, at least in recent years, to be among the five nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. These films are, in my opinion, far more raw, intense, provocative, and ultimately more gratifying to a film lover. While there are exceptions (“Scent of a Woman” and “Brokeback Mountain” to name just a couple), I feel that terms like “grittiness” and “beautiful,” while commonplace among foreign films, are still not usually associated with Hollywood pictures.

My final thought is that Hollywood is much too safe; it focuses on the bottom line rather than on satiating our appetites as human beings.

(2) How was “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime” nominated over “Entre les Murs” (“The Class”)? “Entre les Murs” won the Palme d’Or (Best Picture) at the 2008 Cannes International Film Festival, and it’s France’s official entry to the 2009 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film! Interesting…

Going back to the movie trailers, I’ve arranged them from worst to best based on my own personal preferences.

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (“I’ve Loved You So Long” – France):

I will say this about Kristin Scott Thomas: she’s perfect for this kind of role (the character who carries pain silently, or has a mysterious or troubled past). There is a melancholy look to her blue eyes, most emblazoned in my mind by the movie “The English Patient.”

Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick (“Everlasting Moments” – Sweden):

For other artistic works based on female liberation or empowerment (at least that’s what I got out of the trailer), I particularly find relevant Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (“The Baader Meinhof Complex” – Germany):

Gomorra (“Gomorrah” – Italy):

Vals Im Bashir (“Waltz With Bashir” – Israel):

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Speech for Then and Now

Over the past few days, I have blogged on matters that have troubled me deeply: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States’ response in the Middle East, and the rampant corruption within our own political structure.

In moments like this, I turn to art. Somehow, art has a revitalizing, redeeming quality. It reminds me that there is goodness in the world, or that, at the very least, there is hope for it. It inspires me to participate; to lend a hand to those who need it, to smile at those who have seen darker days than I.

Here is Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of “The Great Dictator.” Though this is a film from 1940, it is as timely now as it was then.

“We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in…

Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want…

Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind…

We think too much and feel too little…

More than machinery we need humanity…

More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness…

Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Foreign Policy, Politics, Protests | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Richardson Withdraws Bid, Possible “Pay-to-Play” Scandal

Richardson withdraws bid to be commerce secretary – Yahoo! News.

Man, Obama just can’t catch a break. Multiple bailouts, the corruption scandal in Illinois (we still really don’t know the extent of his transition staff’s involvement), the Israeli-Palestinian escalating conflict, and now Bill Richardson’s possible “pay-to-play” situation — all before he even takes office.

It seems a California-based company that contributed to Richardson’s political activities was later granted a state contract worth over $1 billion.

Secretary of Commerce was a mere consolation prize for Mr. Richardson, at one time thought to be the next Secretary of State. Now, that’s all a moot point. Mr. Richardson has withdrawn his candidacy so that the new administration doesn’t “delay for one day the important work that needs to be done.”

Mr. Richardson, I hope you and your staff have some good attorneys.

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Films You Need to See: Waltz With Bashir

I’m beginning a new section titled, “Films You Need to See.” Whenever I find a potentially great film that’s foreign, still in production or post-production, produced independently, or for any other reason is just beyond America’s radar, I’ll post it here.

The first film below, “Waltz With Bashir,” is an animated documentary film that captures the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon War:

I don’t think it’s been released into American theaters yet. So, in the event that I hear of anything, I will be sure to post it here.

After watching “Waltz With Bashir,” I’m reminded of another animated, auto-biographical feature that everyone should see…”Persepolis”:

Here’s another foreign film that you must see – “The Class”:

Perhaps the French version of “Dangerous Minds” or “To Sir, With Love,” this film is a microcosm of present-day France, its school system, and the clash between cultures and attitudes.

When I saw Mark Ruffalo in “Zodiac,” my immediate thought was that here was a young actor in Hollywood with a bright future. Since then, I’ve decided to follow him no matter what project he pursues. His latest film, “What Doesn’t Kill You,” looks to be worth seeing:

Here’s a film currently out in theaters that you should see, “Slumdog Millionaire”:

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Art, Education, Film, Français | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Israel, Watch Your Step

According to this NY Times article, Israel is facing a political quagmire: how far should it take this military campaign against Hamas?

Israel’s main concern is addressing the rockets being fired into southern Israel. So the question becomes: can the rockets be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power? If not, then is the operation to remove Hamas entirely, at any cost?

In 2006, Israel was unable to defeat Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and the terrorist organization was legitimized. Here, it seems that Israel is facing a very similar problem. Aluf Benn, a political analyst for Haaretz, contends that if the war ends in a draw, then Hamas will be legitimized and grow stronger.

Most people, including many Israelis, would prefer that a truce be brokered. Any potential truce would likely have to include an end to the economic boycott that Israel has imposed on Gaza. However, such a result would build up Hamas. If the boycott remains in place, though, 1.5 million Gazans will remain living in poverty.

The article goes on to say that Israel can only achieve victory if it were to once again occupy Gaza.

As several political insiders point out, though, removing Hamas would be unrealistic. Hamas won a democratic majority four years ago, and the group has 15,000-20,000 armed men.

What about the Fatah party? Couldn’t it just take the place of Hamas, as it once did? The article points out that Fatah is likely too disorganized to take over. Complicating this matter further, the longer Israel retains a military presence in Gaza, the weaker Fatah becomes. In the minds of Gazans, it would appear as though Fatah were collaborating with Israel.

Ultimately, the article notes that the destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure would likely result in chaos. With no influx of capital, and no political party to maintain order, Gazans won’t know which way is north.

If Israel’s goal is to reach a peaceful accord with its surrounding enemies, it had better calculate its moves very, very carefully.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Protesters glued inside BBC HQ

If the media is to be objective, it should show the different sides of any argument. Here, the protesters contend that the BBC is offering a one-sided, pro-Israel angle.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

One thing I found interesting was how the woman called for the BBC to give equal coverage to Palestinian government officials. Isn’t Hamas the leading political party in Palestine (In January 2006, Hamas took 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliamentary elections)? Hamas…the known terrorist organization? In essence, then, the woman is calling for BBC to share the limelight between Israel and Hamas.

Should the BBC air whatever Hamas has to say? There does seem to be something inherently wrong with handing the podium over to a terrorist organization whenever it feels like spouting off its religious/political agenda. As far as the western media is concerned, wouldn’t it be enabling or legitimizing the organization were it to chronicle every spoken word or action?

My feeling is that, even though the Palestinians have democratically given Hamas the right to speak on their behalf, Hamas should not be entitled to equal air time.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | Law, Media, Politics, Protests | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Israeli Missile Attacks on Gaza

This video gives a sense of the horrors currently transpiring in Gaza (WARNING: some images may be too disturbing for some viewers):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The most shocking image for me was the Palestinian policeman, presumably praying as he met his end. Watching him, I was reminded of two things: José Martí ‘s poem, “Cultivo una Rosa Blanca,” and the final scene in the film, “All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).”

In the poem, José Martí writes, “Cultivo una rosa blanca…para el amigo sincero que me da su mano franca. Y para el cruel que me arranca el corazón con que vivo…cultivo la rosa blanca.” Martí’s message is that one should cultivate a white rose, a symbol of purity and innocence, for both friend and foe. Martí, a prominent thinker during Cuba’s war for independence from Spain, was instructing his readers to love, not hate. The poem calls for us to embrace, rather than kill, the enemy.

The ending of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) is a cinematic classic:

In the film’s final scene, the soldier is killed as he reaches to touch a butterfly. That image has stuck with me. The soldier, weary and solemn, found beauty on the battlefield. In that moment, he forgot about the hell he was living in. He was in a trance pursuing something pure. In reaching for the butterfly, the soldier’s heart beat louder than any gunshot. In that moment, just for that moment, he was human again.

I don’t have an answer for the Middle East crisis generally, or the Israel-Palestine conflict specifically. I don’t know if Israel’s response (Israeli bombs have killed 270+ Palestinians, mostly militants) was proportional to the Palestinian militant aggression (300+ rockets fired into Israel in the past week). On this matter, I am truly impotent.

I can, however, provide a few words in favor of peace. This is my message to those in Gaza, Israel, and any other war-torn territory:

God, watch over them. Watch over their families and their people. Let them know that violence inevitably leads to more pain. Teach them that love for the enemy, while difficult and seemingly unnatural, may be the only solution to keeping their skies blue and not gray with smoke. Guide the soldiers away from the war zone and back into their homes. Heal the wounded and soothe the broken-spirited. Let rain, not warplanes, fall from the sky to wash away the blood, tears, and soot. Allow words, not guns, to determine the outcome.

Shalom Aleichem (Hebrew for “peace be upon you”).

Wa Aleykum As-Salaam (Arabic for “and upon you be peace”).

December 28, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 4 Comments