Frank Sinatra and Walt Disney


Howard Adelman


To Esme — With Love and Squalor!

[No Spoiler Alert Needed]

Did Frank Sinatra and Walt Disney have anything more in common than smoking, a love of model trains and owning homes in Palm Springs? Their personalities were in stark contrast – Walt Disney was the epitome of the family man, of American optimism and hope and the admirer of suburbia with its green grass and neat homes even before suburbia was invented. Frank Sinatra, in contrast, was a moody manic-depressive, a lover of the limelight rather than shedding brightness and colour over everything, a hard drinker and a womanizer, and the star singer of the forties and fifties who transformed himself and won the Oscar as best supporting actor in From Here To Eternity as the moody and bitter Private Angelo Maggio.

The two certainly did not have politics in common for Walt Disney was a right-wing Republican. I was only 15 years old at the time, but I remember the scandal when Walt Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named cartoonists and directors who were allegedly associated with the Communist Party. From my far better informed classmates, I would learn that Walt Disney hosted Hitler’s great documentalist, Leni Riefenstahl, when she came to America in the year I was born. And Walt seemed to have a low regard for the many studio bosses who were Jewish. He also never managed to mix Blacks and Whites in his film, and that heritage has been preserved in his current hit, Frozen.

Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, had a mother who was a local Democratic ward heeler in Hoboken, New Jersey; she was an inside member of the Democratic Jersey political machine. In contrast to Walt, Frank never was called before HUAC though he, in fact, was a major contributor and USA would go on to raise money for Democrats, especially Jack Kennedy, and for Martin Luther King. However, by the time King was assassinated, Sinatra became a Republican, was a close friend of Spiro Agnew and a strong supporter of Ronald Reagan. But he remained a socially liberal party member.

So what do the two have in common beyond the list of three items I presented in my opening sentence? Something they never knew about or recognized. They had me in common, in spite of Walt Disney’s politics and even though I despised my father for being a womanizer who finally left the family for good when I was 12. However, my father had introduced me to the movies and took myself and my older bother very often from the time when we were very young. I still cry when I just think of Bambi’s mother being shot. I loved Pinocchio and Dumbo and even the dumb but terrifying horror films we saw. I can still remember some scenes, one in particular from a horror film I saw when I was four. My father was not very interested in protecting my young mind. He just wanted me to love Charlie Chaplin and I did.

When Walt Disney was testifying before HUAC, I was watching Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity. Unlike Walt Disney who lied about his age to become a soldier in WWI, Frank Sinatra got a deferment, either legitimately or illegitimately depending on which story you believe, but Sinatra was absolutely wonderful as the troubled young private in the American army in Hawaii just before PearlHarbour. His acting made me forgive him for having to listen over and over again to his singing because my aunt Jennie, who lived with us in the late forties, absolutely swooned over him. Finally, but not very graciously, I mitted that I loved his singing and his songs.

Well yesterday was nostalgia day. Yesterday evening we went to Koerner Hall to hear John Pizzarelli play his seven-string guitar with his wonderful quintet and sing a selection of songs in tribute to Frank Sinatra. He sang such oldies as How You Look Tonight, How About You, In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning and One For My Baby and One More for the Road. I even heard one I never recognized – Its Sunday. Actually, I am not so sure about what John Pizzarelli sang because his singing flooded my head with old Sinatra tunes such as Frank Sinatra playing Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls and singing The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York, Adelaide and Sue Me — though none of these were included in John Pizzarelli’s selections. Pizzarelli is a great guitar player, a delightful raconteur with many stories about Frank Sinatra – whether true or apocryphal – but one personal one when he was the opening act for a Frank Sinatra tour in Europe in the eighties – I had no idea Frank Sinatra was still touring and singing then. He told of his one and only and very brief meeting of a nervous performer with a great star. After a not-too-long shaggy narrative beginning to indicate his nervousness before the great Blue Eyes, he repeated Frank’s only words and advice to him – “You look terrible; you oughtta eat something.” John Pizzarelli’s scat singing was phenomenal, and he did it with even more delight and grace than the stories he told.

However, the best bit of nostalgia was yesterday afternoon. I took my granddaughter, Esme, to see the Walt Disney new hit, “Frozen”, a musical cartoon adaptation of Christian Andersen’s dark tale of Snow Queen, made into a very happy but unusual romance in the Disney style. We saw the 3-D version. I gather the critics have raved about it. They are correct to rave. It is vintage Disney for the twenty-first century in both style and substance. The plot twists into a female buddy movie and the heroine is full of spunk, courage, passion, determination and loyalty. The virtues are all traditional but the character who wears them is not. Even the snowman as the humorous side-kick is a phenomenal joy.  Most of all, the frozen landscapes provide a type of glitzie beauty that Disney always strived for but the frozen landscape suddenly made this fictional world seem almost naturally supernatural.

However, the greatest delight of the day was not the marvellous feature-length animation but the five or six minute madcap chaos and frenetic short that preceded it – Get a Horse, also in 3-D, a film that manages to marry old hand-drawn black and white cartoon technique with contemporary computer generated 3D.  I won’t give away the plot by saying it opens as if the cartoon was made in the late twenties at the time of Steamboat Willie. It has many of the classic Disney characters – Pluto, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, and Pete as Rob Ford, playing the villain. Oh, it wasn’t Rob Ford, but it could have been. In the traditional style, Pete gets dropped on his head, has his vehicle dropped on his head, gets a pitchfork up his ass, and many more physical punishments for being such a bully.

But the short is not just a nostalgic throwback, authentically vintage in  capturing all but the rubbery quality of the cartoon characters. The cloudy and flickering light of those old movies is not only married to the precision and inventiveness of the present, but the technique used becomes part of the movie. The short is self-referential not only in historical and character terms but to the contemporary technology as well. It has to be seen to be believed – which should have been Walt Disney’s motto for creating magic on the screen. The greatest innovation is the way the technology achieves the marriage of the two in the very film as the characters jump through the screen from the black and white past to the brilliant colour of the present to break through the fourth wall.   

Disney and Sinatra did have one more thing in common in spite of their differences in politics and character. They were both marvellous magicians and the child in me has always loved real magic.

Nelson Mandela

There will be much praise and many accolades for one of the greatest, if not the greatest statesman of the twentieth century. I have only two stories to add. Steve Lewis, in the wonderful CBC broadcast this evening dedicated to Mandela, praised Brian Mulroney for his leadership at the Commonwealth in taking on Margaret Thatcher and leading the charge against apartheid. Canada held a special place in Mandela’s heart because of Brian Mulroney’s leadership. 

I saw another aspect of Brian Mulroney’s commitment to human rights, the opposition to apartheid and the Canadian support for Nelson Mandela. The first time was at a dinner in Toronto only a few months after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison in 1990. I cannot remember why I had been invited, but it was an honour to attend. I was at the round table immediately to the right of Nelson Mandela sitting at the raised head table so I had the perfect profile view of our honored guest. Brian Mulroney introduced Nelson Mandela and announced that Canada was offering a gift to the ANC via Nelson Mandela of five million dollars to help the organization transform from a resistance organization to a full-fledged political party. Nelson stood to speak and thank Canada for its gift. But he began with what seemed like a dragged out shaggy dog story and it was not clear where he was going with his discussion of the state of the modern economic world until he said, “Given all that, I presume the gift is in American dollars.” The Canadian dollar was then worth, if I recall, about 85 cents to the $US. The wit, the sly way his joke was introduced, the perfect timing, brought the house down. I had never seen a stand-up comic do as well. Brian Mulroney, who could hardly contain his laughter, stood up and said: “OK, five million in American dollars.” The applause was deafening and very prolonged. With wit, warmth and a smile, but also with genuine gratitude, Mandela garnered an extra $750,000 to a million for his cause. 
In the second instance, in my research on Rwanda when we studied the international failures to stop the genocide, we learned that Brian Mulroney was the only international leader of a government to twice, not just once, write President Habyarimana of Rwanda before the massive murders ever began in 1994 – after all, Mulroney left office in 1993. In his letters, he asked Habyarimana to look into the human rights violations and targeting of Tutsis in Rwanda. 
We also learned that just before Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, just after the genocide broke out in full force on 6 April 1994, there were no international journalists in Rwanda. There were 3500 in South Africa, many if not most expecting civil war and a blood bath when Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency. When South Africa appeared not to be heading towards civil war, the international journalists started heading home. Two of the 3500 decided to stop in Rwanda to check out the rumours of a blood bath taking place in Rwanda. Thus, by chance, the world began to hear about the genocide underway. 
We could see one path that South Africa could have traveled. To a very large extent, Mandela made sure that South Africa took the path of reconciliation. Indirectly, he also brought the genocide to world attention even before he assumed the mantle of the presidency, but to little avail since the world community largely stood by as the massacres took place. There was not one leader anywhere close to his stature who stood up and said “Never Again!”
Like most tourists to South Africa, I visited Robbins Island, the prison where Mandela spent most of the 27 years he was incarcerated. I think of that prison and still find it hard to imagine how a man of his stature and accomplishments emerged from such an ordeal.
As everyone says, and they truly mean it, he will be sorely missed. 

Academic Boycotts and Israel

Academic Boycotts and Israel


Howard Adelman



There is no rest for the wicked, so the saying goes. If had not studied and taught logic, I might conclude that I must be wicked since I cannot get my planned rest. I had decided to take yesterday off after publishing a fairly heavy blog the day before – more philosophical than my usual fare. The temperature was 13 degrees and I went out to clean up the last of the leaves. That really exhausted me even though there were not many leaves and not much work and I only took on a very small area. I took a long nap after lunch.

When I got up and went to my computer, there was a note that informed me that the day before the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) had voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The note also interpreted this resolution as endorsing boycotting individual Israeli academics. From my peripheral knowledge and a quick check, I was sure the latter interpretation was incorrect. But I wanted to double-check and probe the reasoning, mechanics and intent of the resolution. I was going to the theatre last night and had considered possibly writing a review on the play, The Valley (Tarragon Theatre) this morning. However, I knew then and there that my blog this morning would be on the boycott resolution.

Then the announcement came through on the six o’clock news that Nelson Mandela had died. So after the theatre, I wrote a short reflection on the great man to add to the tens of thousands of accolades he will receive. This morning I turned to the boycott issue.

Background to the Boycott

The resolution itself was simple. It honoured and endorsed the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that is an integral part of the Boycott and Divestment (BDS) campaign. Unlike an original proposed resolution, it explicitly did not endorse the boycott of individual Israeli academics, but included in the boycott representatives of Israeli academic institutions – Deans, Presidents, etc. “The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication except if they are viewed as part of the propaganda machinery of Israel.” Further, the resolution was not binding on any individual member of the ASA. Finally, the resolution was subject to the confirmation by an electronic vote of at least 50% of its 3884 members. Voting was to be completed by 15 December.

In its official statement, the Council also said that it “voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.” The ethical argument was not elaborated. Nor were the material implications made clear. There was an added rationale: “A boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.”

The BDS movement to which the resolution paid homage has a website that begins with a quote from Desmond Tutu who addressed the University of Johannesburg which subsequently joined the boycott by severing its ties with BenGurionUniversity.

“It can never be business as usual. Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. [Ben Gurion University] is no exception. By maintaining links to both the Israeli defence forces and the arms industry, BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is a part of the overall Palestinian Civil Society BDS Campaign established in 2005, though it began separately by Palestinian academics in Ramallah in April of 2004. and remains a key part of the Palestinian-led, global BDS movement. The campaign is explicitly part of a much larger campaign for a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.

The resolution passed by the ASA applies only to Israeli academic institutions. The boycott does not apply to institutions which retain official links with Israeli institutions, including many of the academic schools to which many of the members of the ASA belong. It does not apply to Palestinian institutions either even though, for example, in May 2005, in response to the BDS campaign, Hebrew University of Jerusalem President Prof. Menachem Magidor and Al-Quds University President Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, signed a formal agreement of cooperation affirming the continuing academic cooperation between the two universities.

Cognizant of the moral leadership universities should provide, especially in already turbulent political contexts, we, the President of Al-Quds University and the President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have agreed to insist on continuing to work together in the pursuit of knowledge, for the benefit of our peoples and the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.

Cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than boycotts or discrimination, bridging political gulfs rather than widening them further, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism, were their watchwords. The action was explicitly “predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals”. In spite of such arrangements, the boycott movement advertises itself as an expression of Palestinian civil society.

Background to the Resolution at the ASA

For the last four years, dozens of American studies scholars in the ASA have been actively recruited and joined in a campaign to support the academic dimensions of the worldwide boycott campaign. They were self-confessed “activist” scholars. Last year, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus of the ASA asked the Executive Committee (EC) to consider a resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israel.

One year later, from 21-24 November, the ASA held its annual meeting in WashingtonDC. It was attended by 1970 members.

Learned society meetings are strange rituals for any outsider to comprehend. They are massive, with a conference this size running about twenty parallel sessions, most for the presentation of academic papers on the topics advertised, but others for business, caucus and organizational meetings. I attend the International Studies Association which is about twice the size of the ASA, but the concurrent sessions are almost all academic sessions and there is nothing close to the number of caucus sessions held at the ASA.

In the whole academic program of perhaps 1000 academic papers at about 250 topical sessions, I was only able to spot one purely academic session that dealt with Palestine, and it seemed to be a stretch. Keep in mind that the overall theme of the conference was, “Beyond the Logic of Debt, Towards an Ethics of Collective Dissent,” a topic which in itself suggests the ideological orientation of the ASA. The one academic session was called: “Debt and ‘The Palestine Question’ in Latin America: Colonization, Zionism, Imperialism and Dissent” scheduled for the morning of the Saturday on which the caucus was scheduled to meet for an open discussion at 5:00 p.m. on the topic: “The Israeli Occupation of Palestine,” not exactly the most objective and neutral title. However, after all, this was a caucus about activism, not a scholarly discussion.

There was a prime time session on Friday entitled, “The Crisis of Palestine” with an open forum with a panel that addressed the plight of Palestinian universities and academics, and, as advertised, discussed “the profound pressures on teaching and research contexts in the U.S. and Palestine where education and intellectual freedom [allegedly] were under attack.” The Saturday session before the debate was entitled “Academic Freedom and the Right to Education: The Question of Palestine.” The panel focused on the boycott consisted of the president of ASA, Curtis Munez, Angela Davis, Ahmad Saadi (an anti-Zionist sociologist teaching at Ben Gurion University), Jasbir Puar (Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University currently finishing her third book, Inhumanist Occupation: Sex, Affect, and Palestine/Israel), J. Kehaulani Kauanui (a longtime activist promoting the boycott) and Alex Lubin (co-founder of the ASA’s caucus on academic and community activism), all advocates of an anti-Israel and pro-Palestine ideological line. One would not be surprised to learn that no one on the panel was critical of the boycott.   

It helps also to understand the ASA. It is called the American Studies Association, but many of the best known scholars of American studies do not belong. Many who still belong feel a nostalgic loyalty to the Association. Thus, of the small minority who signed the petition opposing the boycott, seven were former presidents of the ASA. The list of papers at the conference might suggest why. I ran through the program and stopped arbitrarily at one set of sessions set for noon on the last day. The titles of the nineteen concurrent sessions were as follows:

Indebtedness To and For the Nation of Immigrants … 316

The Urban Turn?: A Roundtable on the City (at the) Center of American Studies … 317

File Under “Labor” … 318

Ethical Confrontations with Antiblackness: To Whom is the Human Indebted? … 319

ASA Site Resources Committee: Activist Responses to the Policing of Sex in DC … 320

Confronting Carceral America: Activist Responses to the Punitive Logics of Debt … 321

White Supremacist Cultures … 322

Movement Debts in the Age of Neoliberalism … 323

Mobilizing Against Settler Colonialism: Idle No More and Allied Dissent … 324

Producing Play: Labor and Leisure in Early Video Game Culture … 325

Slavery, Trafficking, and Criminalization: Using Historical Metaphors to Assess Interlocking Systems of Oppression … 326

American Modern Design: A Question of Cultural Indebtedness … 327

Specters of Du Bois: Dissent as Decolonization … 328

Muckraking, Dissent, and Social Change: Writing in the Public Interest … 329

Genealogies of Neoliberalism … 330

Queer Reorientations of the Good Life … 331

Neo/Colonial Pedagogies and the Creation of Indebted Knowledges in the American Century … 332

Refugee Archival Memory: Disrupting the U.S. Logics of Freedom and Debt in Hmong/Laotian History … 333

The orientation of the ASA currently has a fundamental commitment to the study and critique of racism. US imperialism and settler colonialism. The primary mode of discourse is rooted in a post-colonial orientation to scholarship, an approach not used by the vast majority of scholars in America. These scholars approach the world of learning through a fixed lens with an emphasis on what they call settler-colonial studies that provides the intellectual scaffolding connecting liberal nation-states with exploitation and the role of universities in perpetuating inequality.

The traditional presidential address of this learned society was delivered by Curtis Marez, who has a PhD in English and is an Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department of UC San Diego and who lists his main academic interests as Latino, migration and technology studies, more particularly, race and political economy in popular culture and media. He published Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics in 2004 which compared the official media representations of the drug culture with that of and by the media of immigrants and minorities.

Marez’ address began with a reference to Michael Rogin’s excellent 1996 book, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot that largely dealt with the story of Al Jolson, and, more particularly, the first movie talkie, The Jazz Singer, later remade as The Jolson Story, my personal favourite since Al Jolson was my favourite singer when I was a kid. Merez shows little interest in the book and the general thesis of one culture using another minority culture as a form of mediating and disguising a process of assimilation. He certainly ignored the critics of Rogin who argued that the process was not simply one way but itself was critical to transforming the culture of America,

Marez instead concentrates on the other side of that thesis, the white supremicist culture and the exploitation of the labour of blacks and the theft of “red” Indian lands on which the white supremicist culture was built. So the use of blackface is reduced simply to racism. Current revivals of blackface he sees as perhaps the result of a student need to distance themselves from poor people of colour in order to ignore and transcend the regime of educational debt into which they have been thrust. More positively, “students have been central to creative, collective actions against higher tuition and regimes of debt…[and] have also struggled to take some control over what student debt in effect finances by, for example, demanding that universities disinvest from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.”

There, in a nutshell, like a shell game played with three thimbles and a pea, the pea of exploitation/racism is moved from the racism of white America to the role of universities as perpetrators of that racism and colonialism through putting debt for education on the backs of students, and then, to everyone’s surprise except the fraudster and the shills that surround him, to the third thimble the American economic and cultural oppression by Israel of Palestine. Of course, in an expert hand, you cannot follow the pea or see how it has disappeared up the arm of the player. Only a critical close examination reveals the whole game as an absolute fraud.

The Vote on the Resolution

The result of the vote of the forum was virtually inevitable, as likely will be the result of the electronic vote. Though concurrent with the forum there were two competing receptions, one by the University of Southern California and the other by Harvard American Studies, receptions which, according to the rituals of learned societies, informally grade the sponsor on the quality and quantity of free food available, the caucus meeting on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. was unusually very well attended by 745 members – a very impressive figure representing about 35% of the attendees at the conference. To provide the appearance of fairness, 44 speakers were chosen at random from those who expressed an interest in speaking and were given two minutes each to either express their approval or disapproval of the motion. Of the 44 chosen, 37 supported the resolution, each to immense applause, and 7 opposed who received only scattered clapping. For anyone who opposes mob pressure, the meeting was a travesty and an exercise in intellectually bullying, though conducted in a respectful manner all the more painful given the underlying structure and dynamic. There was no attempt to ensure dissident voices had a fair and adequate time to present a case – not that I believe it would have mattered in the end. The pro-resolution speakers echoed a common theme – Israel was a settler colonial state, the US was complicit in fostering this state and in its own history of settler colonialism, and the ASA commitment to anti-racist and anti-colonial scholarship required support of the boycott.

The Arguments

The proponents of the resolution argue that the resolution supports academic freedom by NOT targeting individual scholars but only institutions that are covert partners of a repressive state and by fostering academic freedom of Palestinians. There was no discussion about how the alleged repression by Israel of Palestinian scholars was congruent with the fact that a vocal anti-Zionist such as Ahmad Saadi could be hired by Ben Gurion University and permitted to travel to the United States to appear on a panel advocating a boycott of Israeli universities or how they could brand America as a racist colonial imperial state yet boast of its academic freedom. The contradictions were just too plentiful to point out, but in the dialectics of post colonial studies could always be dismissed or explained away. For faculty of this persuasion who express solidarity with the oppressed and constantly complain of intimidation and retaliation by “liberal” institutions,  there was little self-critical consciousness that the process in which they were involved was profoundly intimidating. To be a post-colonial scholar logically meant joining the boycott campaign, at the every least in its truncated anti-institutional sanitized version. 

The ASA has demonstrated that it is indeed an academic body of shared intellectual values and commitments but not the traditional shared intellectual values of the liberal university. They accuse Zionists of refusing to debate but from my own experience, the atmosphere of these halls do not welcome debate but ideological posturing including by those who oppose their perspective. Being dispassionate is not seen as a virtue. Being objective, comprehensive, logically consistent and using evidence to support one’s position are not put forth as virtues but ideological commitment is. They insist their arguments are both moral and reasoned. I do not find them to be so. They see themselves as victims of the powerful and wealthy Zionist lobby using its power and material resources to attack and intimidate them. But one finds little evidence of any of that, and in the few cases where academics have not achieved tenure who hold positions like these, other factors are often at work, though I do not deny that in some cases, and I myself have documented some, that donor interference and threats have affected a judicious consideration of issues.

These proponents construct the world into a manichaean cosmos of anti-colonialists and anti-racists versus the neo-con oppressive and inegalitarian state. Small “l” liberals are squeezed out of the debate for they do not fit into their cosmology except as patsies of the oppressive colonial settler state.

Make no mistake. Any reading of the movement and the thinking behind these resolutions is based on an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist ideology that fundamentally opposes even the existence of Israel. When the proponents of the boycott say such charges are ludicrous and , for example, Cary Nelson’s claim that the academic boycott movement aims at the “abolition of the Israeli state” is an outright lie, what else can one conclude if one opposes Israel as an imperial colonial state and claim Zionism is rooted in racism. Though they say they oppose the boycott of individual scholars, they make the argument for selective boycott of those scholars because they are cultural ambassadors for Israel and, in effect, support Palestinian dispossession and occupation. Liberal arguments for academic freedom are just excuses for inaction.

I recall years ago when I gave a guest lecture at Bir Zeit University and suggested to Sari Nusseibeh that he invite me to teach their for a term. He replied that he could not envision the possibility of a Jew teaching at a Palestinian university for a century. Times have changed,. Now anti-Zionist scholars, including Israeli scholars, are welcomed to lecture at Palestinian universities, but what about middle-roaders and even right-wingers? After all, anti-Zionist Palestinians teach at Israeli universities. But these contradictions are side-stepped rather than considered and debated. Certainly Palestinian scholars and researchers have struggled – given the governments under which they work and the shortage of funds, but any objective analysis would show that these institutions were born under Israeli occupation and grew up under it with all its horrible characteristics and restrictions from both sides and more usually from their own side.

The fact is that the underlying thesis that the academic freedom of Israeli academics depends on the moral eviction of the Palestinians is a distortion. Palestinian (and Jewish) anti-Zionists teaching at Israeli institutions do not depend on the moral eviction of Palestinians. Nor do other scholars. Nor do critics of the United States as an imperial colonialist state depend on the eviction of native Americans from their land or the racist suppression of blacks.

In the 2012 report entitled a “Crisis of Competence: the Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California,” the authors on behalf of the California Association of Scholars document how the infusion of political ideology into all discourse and debate negatively impacts on the quality of both teaching and research, politicizing the curricula and promoting a culture of hostility and disruption on campus hostile to the free expression of ideas. As a young student activist, I never envisioned activism challenging the liberal presumptions of the university, or the effects of such a challenge on research, scholarship and teaching. Part of the reason is the asymmetry of the debate in which one side openly supports open exchanges from many points of view while the other side believes that any scholarship that is not wedded to the anti-colonial struggle against racism and inequality is just scholarship in the service of oppression. The terms of the debate ensure liberals lose simply if there are enough anti-colonial scholars present. 

Defenders of the boycott rebut the charge that they are hypocritical because they focus on Israel and ignore the denial of academic freedoms in Arab states, Turkey, Russia and China, not by denying that Israel is less repressive. Rather, they argue that Israel’s infringement of Palestinian academic freedoms is more objectionable because Israel claims to be democratic while oppressing the freedoms among Palestinians by denying the free movement, free communication and free circulation of ideas to Palestinians, asserted as if these were givens rather than conclusions needing empirical support. Further, unlike repressive states like China, the proponents of a boycott argue that, only Israel is a large receiver of US military and other aid. So the asymmetry on criticism matches the asymmetry of American support. So why not target Egypt? and why repeatedly state that historically, it has been very difficult to criticize Israel in the USA?

The Implications

If you support the boycott, the contrasting and conflicting rationales can be ignored and the first positive vote by a large American learned society after the Asian Scholars voted to support a boycott resolution will be cheered and applauded. The opponents will cry foul and argue that the stance conflicts with the principles of academic freedom. They will argue that the resolutions are hypocritical in their application and based on complete distortions of the state of academic freedom in Palestinian academic institutions and greatly exaggerates the role of the Israeli state in the inhibitions that do take place. I myself agree with the advocates of the boycott, that the position is indeed a logical outcome of post-colonial premises.

That is the real problem!

Image and Reality



Howard Adelman


Images and Words

Images recorded on tape have destroyed the career of Rob Ford. Others contend that the words he utters have done that job. Though the Toronto Star assiduously tried to get a copy of the notorious crack cocaine video, the same newspaper wrote an editorial yesterday depicting Rob Ford as a boastful serial liar. Rob Ford claimed that he, HE, had transformedToronto into an economic powerhouse, presuming that it was anything but before he took office. The audience of businessmen understandably laughed. Rob Ford claimed, “in a break from the past,” that he had succeeded in building a subway. Setting aside the fact that the Scarborough subway has not yet been built, or whether or not it is something to boast about, the reality is that the Spadina subway is moving slowly north to York University and beyond. Mel Lastman, for good or ill, built the Sheppard line. So why does anyone listen to a mayor who differentiates himself from his predecessors because he built a subway when he really differentiated himself from them by his inability to distinguish truth from outright lies.

This mayor who cavorts with drug users in his office and can barely follow an agenda or an economic analysis, claims to have run Toronto like a business. If the business was a mad circus, perhaps; he always showed only that he was excellent at getting potholes filled when constituents phoned to complain. Rob Ford says he was elected with the largest mandate in history. He did get a substantial plurality (47%), but Lastman won 80% support in his last run and even Miller got 57%. On the basis of these sheer fictions, Rob Ford claimed to be “by far the best mayor the city has ever had”.

This is the thinking and rhetoric of a psychopath, someone so detached from reality and wedded to his own self-created imagery that he cannot tell the difference between his beliefs and reality. I wrote in the past on Lance Armstrong and suggested that, though a very accomplished athlete, his psychopathological exercise in self-creation raced ahead of that ability until he became a prisoner of his own lies. Being a prisoner of your own lies is what this blog is about.

I have written about commentators on the Iran nuclear deal who distort and invent and contort the clear provisions of the agreement. The deal does not mean opposition is unwarranted. It does mean and require – in my world – that one be accurate in representing it. There is an epidemic of pundits and politicians who seem to believe the only thing that is important is the fictions they create and communicate and clearly seem to believe in phantoms and mirages, in dreams and illusions in the wish to blind us to the truth and isolate us in our imaginary worlds. I have just been introduced to another phenomenon, far worse, but related, and it horrifies me.

Internet Suicide

After downing pills and vodka, a student at GuelphUniversity evidently immolated himself in his dorm room, or tried to, while recording the event for the internet and while his electronic community on his chatroom site egged him on.  Not one of the 200 viewers over the forty minutes thought to call the police or fire department. Evidently this incident was far from a first. There have been a series of such events. Two weeks ago a thirteen year old succeeded.

Why do people watch? Why would they encourage such an act? I went online to see for myself. I actually watched in absolute horror one of those videos where a young man hung himself in his own bedroom and you literally watched him wriggle and his face turn blue. I had never seen anything like it before.

The explanations for the person who commits the act and the observers who watch and encourage vary. Evidently, students record such acts because they have both shock value and have the potential to go viral giving the person who commits the act a type of immortality. Further, in breaking social taboos in such an outrageous way, they become insiders with a select few, those few who subscribe and watch electronically tied to one another. The suggestion is that those who watch treat the performance as no different than all the other shootings and killings they watch on TV and movies. There is a diminished sense that what is occurring is actually happening. The sense of unreality is linked with the rejection of any sense of responsibility reinforced by the way watching a screen turns one into a spectator and not a participant. The horror is then escalated when, following the act and the widespread viewing, “trolls” call the person who attempted suicide a “retard”, not for trying, but for failing to accomplish the task at hand. The devastated family has to endure a plethora of vile abuse in the aftermath.

Is there any connection between these actions and the political performance of liars? Certainly in the most extreme cases, they share a common characteristic of self-destruction. But is there something more that can throw light on the phenomenon?

Plato’s Cave

One of my philosophy professors when I was a student at the University of Toronto was David Gallop, an expert on the Greek thinkers. His lectures on Plato’s Republic elaborated on the latter’s allegory of the Cave, in particular, the relationship between imagery and reality. In the perfect Republic, imagery and the imagination have no role in the perfect state, but, paradoxically, Plato makes that point with many very creative images, of which the Cave allegory is a prime example. This allegory, and the illustration of the divided line that follows in the Republic, more specifically, the bottom two sections of the divided line and what happens within the cave before anyone escapes into the sunlight, bears an eerie resemblance to these situations, particularly since they deal with the relationship between images, fantasy and fabulism versus realism. I will ignore the realms of science and pure mathematics, of understanding and reason. My concern is the imagination and common sense.

What is the relationship between the shadows and images we watch on our TV, movie and computer screens to the solid world of “real” chairs and table, acts and dogs? This question is impelled by politicians seemingly wedded to hyperbole and outright lies, whether commenting on the Iran -P5+1 nuclear agreement or acting out like Rob Ford. Philosophers have dealt with the relationship of imagery and reality – Plato is a prime example. So does the Tanach. After all, in the Garden of Eden, Adam is a scientist charged with naming objects found in the natural world. But he knows nothing about his own body or his passions. He does not even know he is alone and, in his sleep, has come to imagine that woman has been created simply as an extension of himself. He does not even know his own body. He imagines his penis is a separate being, an erect snake that has independent agency and talks. So he takes no responsibility for his (or its) actions.

Plato in the allegory of the cave envisioned people tied to a log and unable to turn their heads in any direction. They are in the bowels of a cave watching shadows projected on the wall; they take those shadows to be reality. They cannot turn their heads to look around. They are totally absorbed with the shadows they observe on the cave wall. In the unevenly divided line illustration of four sections where the upper and lower sections of the line are divided in the same unequal proportions as the whole line, using an unequal division of 2:1, the upper section of the line is an 8, the next section a 4 and, in the lower section, the upper section is a 4 and the lower section is a 2. Plato insists that each different segment signifies a different measure  or degree of clarity and obscurity. Thus, the bottom section, dealing with images and fantasies on the cave wall and identified with the world of imagination, contains the least clarity. Above it, what we now call common sense, can have double that value. This corresponds to the experience in the cave when individuals are freed from their bonds and fixed positions and are able to look around at others in the cave. Thus, the visible realm of knowledge (distinguished from the intelligible segments in the two upper segments of the line) is made up of common sense and the imagination. In the latter, we are mesmerized by the products of the imagination, by the shadow dancing across the cave wall. In the Jowett translation, it is: .

a line divided into two unequal sections and cut each section again in the same ratio—the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order—and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections of the visible world, images. By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth, and bright texture, and everything of that kind…As the second section assume that of which this is a likeness or an image, that is, the animals about us and all plants and the whole class of objects made by man.

Knowledge at the highest level is noêsis, at the next highest is understanding or dianoia making up the two intelligible sections of the line that you experience when you are outside the cave. The next segment down is belief or pistis where your knowledge is obtained, not my rational proof, but from experience and the opinion of others and empirically looking around. It is, therefore, only called belief. The last and lowest segment of the line is the observation of images, eikasia, the realm of the imagination where what is known is only projected shadows of reality as two-dimensional images.

Pay attention to the claim, not that the lowest section of the line possesses the least clarity when it comes to knowledge, but that it is a realm of knowledge. Further, without that realm, the upper sections of the line make no sense – we need to climb up to the higher realms through images. Further, as is clear in the tale of the Garden of Eden, the lowest section of the line is a realm of knowledge, the realm of knowledge where Adam came to know Eve. If we waited for common sense to get its ducks in a row, we would not be here. There would be no sex.

Part of the imagery of being tied to the log and watching images on a cave wall means that we are obsessed and possessed when we are totally within the realm of imagery, possession and obsession that leads to bodily knowledge that cannot be conveyed at the higher levels. It is the realm where blue is the warmest colour. It is the realm where we become possessed and do not take responsibility for our own actions. It is the realm where we are not in possession of clear and self-evident truths but see only through a cloud darkly, where we do not know what we do and where we do not take responsibility for our actions for we see ourselves imprisoned in the world of images. Hence the dangers two passionate lovers pose for one another for they live in the realm of conjectures able only to draw inferences from small and inadequate signs. As Plato wrote;

Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?  The truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. Fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Suicide in an Imaginary World

Why then is projecting your own suicide through a videotape onto the worldwide web seen as the ultimate expression of being caught up in this world of fleeting images and immediate bodily experience? ALL juveniles dream of being at their own funerals. Here they achieve this degree of agency, they are the producers and directors of the imagery that is the precondition for there being a funeral in the first place. It is the closest feeling to omnipotence and being at one with the gods,  While totally enraptured by one’s own state, one does not and cannot empathize with others. So why do we attend movies to experience the pain of others? Because it is not what we experience. We experience a simulation of pain and know we are in a movie theatre. That is why we are able to watch. I challenge you to watch those videos of young kids killing themselves on the internet and not feel corrupted and polluted rather than gaining cathartic relief.

The characteristics of being caught up in the self-destructive world of being totally obsessed and possessed by images is that we lose any ability to correct ourselves. We lose the ability to take responsibility for our own actions. We lose the ability, most of all, to distinguish the world of images from reality, for the world of images has become our reality. It is more real and more powerful and more convincing than anything we experience in the world of cats and dogs, tables and chairs, in the world where we get to look another in the eye.

Plato turns to Glaucon and says: “When our eyes are no longer turned upon objects upon whose colors the light of day falls but that of the dim luminaries of night, their edge is blunted and they appear almost blind, as if pure vision does not dwell in them.” Those young kids live in their own caves but now linked by the internet with other young people living in their caves. And they challenge one another to see who can best live on the edge.  

There is no longer a dichotomy of the hidden and the revealed, the suggestion that there are other surfaces to be seen from another perspective, for there is absolutely no sense of perspective. It is a 1-dimesnional world in which the observer envisions himself on the same plane as that which is watched. Thus, there is no occlusion and no binocular disparity. Part of this is achieved because head motion or motion parallax is reduced to zero. There is, however, convergence, for the eyes can and do focus and are absorbed by the spectacle witnessed. and the eyes accommodate to the shadowy light and the grey images but always in the sense that what is seen is not seen with clarity but in fog and what is in front of us is a dance of light and shadows.

Believing solely in the image is belief in a phantom, in a magic world not of causes and effects, of agency and acts. As Northrop Frye wrote in The Educated Imagination, “The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination.” How much truer that is of the world of movies and even much more so the world of UTube and the internet. Instead of being absorbed into that other world, the dreams and illusions insinuate themselves into the psyche mesmerized by the images. In the real world, eternal life is impossible. The imaginary world creates exactly such a possibility. The world of advertising had conditioned us to believe in the miraculous possibility of images, for products ARE their images. What higher magic than to be frozen for eternity on the internet, a poor fellow’s cyronics. 

Further, you have become the artist of your own being. “The genuine artist, Harris is saying, finds reality in a point of identity between subject and object, a point at which the created world and the world that is really there become the same thing.” (Northrop Frye, 211) As Frye writes, “Like all forms of fiction, these simulations depict, not the world as it is, but a vision of the world transformed by the imagination.”

Photographs and Action Videotapes

Why aren’t we happy with photographs of ourselves? It is not the same. Photographs are but frozen reminders, flimsy means of stimulating memory, not re-enacting life, and, most of all, not re-enacting the decision to end the life of the body so that desire can finally win its battle with the will to survive. Photographs capture and preserve experience. They do not reproduce it. Photography is the terminus for a possessive individualist and part of the modern age, not the age of post-modernity. Photographs package and preserve; the dancing  shadows on the cave wall mesmerize and seduce.

I can analyze this world but I cannot really understand it. I belong to print culture, to a world that is lineal and causal, where a correspondence theory of truth presides. It is a world that celebrates interpretation and not exhibition. It is a world of objects and subjects and not the merger of the two. In the world of objects and subjects engaged in describing and interpreting, a third world of meaning is created. The world of the shadows on the cave wall has no meaning, no third dimension and no second dimension.

On the other hand, there was a propensity in the modern world – as there was in the ancient – to ban the imaginary and the realm of interpretation. In the golden age of modernity in the twentieth century, when the printed word became king, and before advertising, television, movies and the realm of imagery usurped the throne, the objectivity of the world was expected to be accompanied by an objectivity to meaning. However, as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard already recognized in the nineteenth century, the infinite passionate interest in one’s eternal happiness was thrown overboard as superfluous. The great quest of desire had to be bracketed, limited, boundaried and even, for extremists and fundamentalists, discarded.

In the realm of the electronic, all that is solid vanishes into the cloud. Even the visual based on the eye loses its crown through the new visual universe for there, instead of isolating and privileging sight, all the senses become involved. Your whole body, not just your eyes, watch Blue Is The Warmest Colour.  Even more profoundly, the basic dichotomies of our structured understanding of the world are subverted. Those children committing suicide on the internet belong to a very different world in which images, signs and codes have no meaning in my world but ARE meaning in the world of the chatgroup that he joined. Unlike Plato’s depiction, the images on the wall are not representations of reality that mirror and reflect that reality. They become the reality, a super-reality that permeates the world in which we live. The relationship between image and reality is inverted.

So the suicide does not have meaning. It cannot be interpreted. And the hi-jinx of men – they are mostly men – become the new order of celebrity culture. Rather than a wall which miirrors and displays the dancing shadows, we have instead a Black Hole that aborbs and swallows up energy and gives nothing back. The content – any content – is dissolved by the very media itself. There is nothing there to interpret – the final revenge of this post-modern world on my world. The suicidal child offers an entry point to the entropy of the universe, its dissolution rather than its ordering where the spectacle of an exploding star just before a new black hole is created becomes the entertainment for the day. Instead of aspiring to reach daylight and see the sun, we have the vision of a cold and lifeless universe turned in and imploded on itself. The individual person becomes just a terminal in a process of self-destruction. and the last we see before Alice enters into this Black Hole is not the delightful stories of absurdity and inverted logic with which she returns but an explosive display of fireworks that seduce and fascinate, an ecstasy of obscenity, a simulacra to beat all simulacra where all is visibility and transparency before dying forever. 

Misrepresentations of the Iran Interim Nuclear Deal

The Misrepresentation of the Iran P5+1 Nuclear Agreement


Howard Adelman



There are legitimate differences over the value and risks of the Iran P5+1 Nuclear Agreement. For example, one need not even read the agreement and simply argue that, given Iran’s past record of both duplicity and determination, no agreement with Iran, whatever it said, is worth anything. Certainly these types of agreements must be made between parties that have good reasons to distrust one another, but when one of the parties has established such an extraordinary record justifying the distrust of it, and since the structure of decision-making in Iran has not fundamentally changed even if a much less rhetorically rabid government is now in place, since the real issue of the capacity to make nuclear weapons and not the actual making of them is the central issue, and, finally, since the agreement ignores entirely the plight of those who are victimized by the Iranian government, whatever the specifications of the deal, the agreement is not worth making.


“I believe that the attitude should be mistrust and verify. All we have to do is listen to our allies who are most proximate to the threat in the region — Israel, the Gulf Arab allies that we have, who have been saying all along that any kind of deal with this regime and Iran is not worth the paper it’s written on.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.


There is another reason to implacably oppose the deal. The goalposts have been set far too low. The issue is not limiting or even crippling Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon – as long as America cannot destroy the minds of Iranians, that capacity will remain intact when the issue is only the mechanics of making a nuclear weapon. And if mechanics can be the only point of agreement, then the mechanical capacity must be destroyed, not limited or even temporarily incapacitated. As Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, insisted, Iran must “irreversibly dismantle its nuclear stockpiles and not be allowed to continue enrichment.” Any agreement that permits Iran, in the short or long run, to continue enriching uranium is a fundamentally flawed agreement.


However, if you believe either proposition – the partner for the deal is unacceptable and/or the goals of the agreement are too limited – surely propositions that support either position must be examined by testing those propositions in the real world. Part of such a test surely should involve the degree to which the interim agreement supports or undermines such a position. That means that if one is unwilling to examine the details of the deal, and to do so accurately, you are willing to declare and hold your position while disregarding any evidence that may falsify it. An opponent of the agreement has three obligations: 1. to read the agreement with care; 2) to consider the degree allies distort or mis-report the contents of the agreement; and 3) to assess whether the implications drawn from the agreement are plausible and reasonable.


Distortions About the Interim Agreement


1. The UN Resolution Requirement


The agreement betrays the resolutions already passed by the UN Security Council entailed in the imposition of sanctions. In particular, UN Resolutions required that Iran stop enriching uranium. 

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ): “We’ve already ceded away from UN Security Council resolutions that say no enrichment….The UN Security Council resolutions call for ceasing enrichment.” CBS, Face the Nation 1 December 2013.


The UN resolution did NOT demand that Iran cease its enrichment program altogether. UN Res. 1696 of 31 July 2006 demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment program. Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Council calls upon Iran to follow through with the requirements of the IAEA which would build confidence and resolve outstanding questions. Iran is required to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, to be verified by the IAEA. Clause 2 reads: “Demands, in this context, that Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA.” The resolution insisted that guarantees be in place to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme is used exclusively for peaceful purposes, not that the program be dismantled.

The background discussions implied 6 months, sufficient time to start negotiations and put an inspection regime in place. NO UN resolution requires that Iran stop enriching uranium permanently. The phrase used is “suspend”; the implication is clear that Iran can resume enriching uranium provided that such enriched uranium is used and can only be used for peaceful purposes.

The agreement does permit Iran the right and the activity to enrich uranium to 5%; the UN resolution did not demand that Iran cease its enrichment program altogether.  

2. Iran’s Nuclear Program – Freeze or Reduction


The Interim Agreement only requires Iran to freeze its nuclear program. This claim has been made not only by opponents of the deal but by reports of the views of strong supporters. For example, the headline on a press release of the Americans for Peace Now (23.11.13) stated: “APN Welcomes Agreement to Freeze Iran’s Nuclear Program”.  An article by Michael Gordon in The Globe and Mail (24.11.13) read: “Iran’s nuclear program frozen”.


The Agreement does require a number of elements in the program just to be frozen:

  • Centrifuges – no new ones installed

                          – no additional ones prepared for installation

                          – advanced IR-2 centrifuges will not be made operable

                          – 50% of the centrifuges at Natanz will be left inoperable

                          – 75% at Fordow will be left inoperable

[It is assumed that these two percentages are roughly the numbers now not operating]

  • Enrichment Facilities – no new ones will be developed
  • Nuclear Reprocessing Facilities – no new ones developed
  • Fuel – no new fuel will be produced, tested or transferred to the Arak nuclear facility

              – no new enriched uranium at 3.5% will be produced.

The Agreement also provides that a number of elements in the program be rolled back or, at least, exposed to inspection

  • All uranium enriched beyond 5% will either be diluted or converted to uranium oxide
  • Transparency  – Iran will share plans of its Arak reactor

                              – IAEA will be permitted daily access to both the Natanz and the                                  Fordow reactor in addition to 24 hr. camera monitors

                              – IAEA is specifically given the right of daily access to both                                          Natanz and Fortow

                              – Iran will address (though not necessarily answer) the IAEA

                               request for information on the military dimensions of the nuclear                                  program

                                    – IAEA will be allowed access to Iran’s uranium  mines and                                                             centrifuge production facilities

Areas Where Neither Freeze nor Rollback

  • continued construction of the Arak power plant

3. Sanctions Relief


Critics accuse the negotiators of giving Iran relief from sanctions. Yes and No.

Yuval Steinitz. Israel’s Minister of Intelligence,  claimed that Iran would be getting sanctions relief worth up to US$40 billion based  insider knowledge from Israeli intelligence gathering on Iran.


Iran gained relief because the sanctions regime would not be expanded. Efforts to stop additional  oil sales would cease.  

Iran received about US$7 billion in relief, to be paid over six months, by being allowed to get monies owed to Iran, largely the US$5.3 billion owed by Indian oil importers before access to international backing transactions with Iran were cut. The redemption of these amounts owed to Iran could only be used for humanitarian relief and for payment of fees of Iranian students living abroad.

In some areas unrelated to the nuclear program directly, sanctions would be suspended:

  • on associated insurance and transportation services
  • on Iran’s petrochemical exports and associated services
  • on gold and precious metals and associated service
  • on Iran’s auto industry and associated services.
  • on the licensing of  the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for flight safety for Iranian civil aviation and associated services.

Otherwise the architecture of sanctions and their remain in place.

4. Weighing the Benefits


Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of North Carolina: “We had the chance to deliver a body blow,” but we let Iran off the hook.


The assertion implies that the sanctions, if allowed to continue and even expand, could have brought Iran to its knees until Iran called “Uncle!” Alternatively, if Iran did not give in, the sanctions could have been followed by an attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. It implies that, if allowed to run their course and even expand further, sanctions would have forced Iranian capitulation and even humiliation.

There is little historical evidence to support such a contention and much evidence to contradict it, but whatever the consequential calculation, an accurate interpretation of the interim agreement is required.

5. Imbalance of the Deal


The world is giving up so much while Iran gives up nothing. Yuval Steinitz: “the Iranians are giving nothing and getting so much.”


The Iranians are giving quite a bit and far from enough, but this is just an interim agreement.  The world is gaining significantly in transparency, getting a freeze and even a rollback on enriched uranium and giving up some areas of sanctions with little to do with the nuclear program.


Iran gains stature as an international player.

Iran’s regional power aspirations remain undiminished and probably strengthened.

There is no relief for the persecuted within Iran.


These as well as the trust willing to be accorded to Iran and greater ambitions required of any agreement are the core of any disagreement. But they do not justify misrepresentation. In fact, deliberate distortion only undermines the propositions supporting extreme distrust and a more ambitious strategy for they lead one to believe that the critics are merely fabulists.  


Philomena as a Buddy Movie – [NO SPOILER ALERT]

Though Philomena is a road movie and a romance in the literary sense, a detective story and a buddy movie, I will focus on the latter. The film is an unusual buddy movie, for instead of two men, it is a travel movie about a woman and a man. The value of characterizing the genre of the movie is that it helps one understand, first, why some material is included in the movie, while other material is excluded. Thus, in Philomena, the scene with Mary, though it does not advance the plot one whit, does throw light on the theme. Further, there is no scene that portrays the real life regret of Philomena for what she failed to do to find her son. That would have undermined rather than transformed the genre. Secondly, by understanding the genre characteristics, we are able to use movies as a public art form to track the changing Zeitgeist.

Buddy movies are usually the complement to chicflics and are mostly about two men travelling together, except when they are about two gay guys as in the 2005 movie, Brokeback Mountain, a buddy movie which is also a chicflic. Male buddy movies are about macho adolescent men pretending to be adults trying to keep their male bonding from becoming homosexual. In recent years, creative writers and directors have tried to invert the male buddy movie where instead of celebrating alpha male for their attractiveness, physical strength and social status, mock those same traits.

But, though rare, there are also buddy movies with two females in the lead. Female buddy movies are usually a variation of a chic-flic obsessed with getting “The Man I Love”. Though Billy Holliday’s version of the song depicts that man as a woman beater and a real loser, he is still “the man I love”.

Bette Midler and Shelley Long in the Arthur Hiller 1987 Outrageous Fortune, are two striving actresses, rivals on and off stage, one brash and the other serious. They travel across America in search of a lover they unknowingly shared who faked his own death. They are followed by both CIA agents and Russian assassins. When they find their lost love, he does not choose between them but tries to kill both of them. It is a great romp.

In a satire about the quest for eternal youth and eternal life, Meryl Streep, a self-absorbed and ambitious actress, Madeline Ashton, who will do anything to stay on top, and Goldie Hawn, the writer Helen Sharp, are also rivals in the 1992 movie Death Becomes Her. It is a movie hard to forget because Meryl Street ends up with her twisted backwards and Goldie Hawn ends up with a body with a huge hole in her midriff. The object of their rivalry is Bruce Willis, a plastic surgeon, and Goldie’s beau. Bruce is smitten with Meryl when they meet and Meryl covets Bruce simply because he “belongs” to Goldie. Further, Meryl is who she is – vain, self-centred and willing to do anything to best her rival. Meryl wins. Goldie ends up in a mental hospital as an obese wreck who cannot forget her double betrayal. She fakes sanity and gets released to try to enact her plot for revenge. But by then, Meryl is a has-been and Bruce is reduced to dressing corpses for a mortician. It is a darker comedy than Outrageous Fortune and gets darker and darker and more hilarious as the movie progresses and the two “bionic” women are forced to live together and literally destroy one another. This female buddy movie has the common ingredients of rivalry, a quest, betrayal, and the total and absolute inversion of romantic love.

Kirsten Dunst who plays Betsy Jobs, the daughter of a wealthy socialite, and Michelle Williams who plays Arlene Lorenzo, the poor one who happens to live in the Watergate Hotel with her mother, in the 1999 comedy Dick, is a satire of Tricky Dick, Richard Nixon and the Watergate affair. Two 15 year old girls who are best friends are revealed as the Deep Throat. In the movie, the two of them are unintentionally responsible for the discovery of the robbery. In order to preserve the secret, they are absurdly hired as Nixon’s dog walker and, like Forrest Gump, inadvertently are responsible for key events in history. The absence of rivalry, a real chase and the absence of betrayal make this a less than satisfying buddy movie as well as a failure at satire. 

The 2008 Michael McCulers movie, Baby Mama, is really a chicflic that ends up as a female buddy movie. Tina Fey is a career woman (Kate Holbrook) who discovers she cannot have a baby and hires Amy Poehler, an obnoxious twenties something adolescent, Angie Ostrowski, to be her surrogate. From a mutually dependent but resentful relationship, the two women become bitter rivals and then, through unbelievable coincidences, best friends. Baby Mama  is also a tale of rivalry, a quest for a future through love, dapper dressing and a romantic ending.

 Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat offer another female buddy movie. That’s just about it. Thelma and Louise is not included because the two women play the usual role of male buddies in a robbery film. If buddy movies with two women are few and far between, buddy movies with male and female leads are truly rare.

Philomena  is a male-female buddy movie about two fellow travellers coming from very different stations in life (Oxbridge versus working class) and having very different characters, but struggling to find common ground. However, there is no sexual innuendo between the two characters at all, though the whole story is really about the joy of sex – male and female sex and gay sex, and about the Catholic Church’s hatred of sexuality and the movie’s celebration of the unitary construction of gender and sexuality in a way that no gay movie has yet accomplished. For it is a movie that brackets the whole issue of marriage and relegates it to a sidebar. We never see or even hear of Philomena’s husband, the father of her two daughters.

Contrast this movie with some old classic possible precursors – Katherine Hepburn as Susan Vance in Howard Hawks 1938 Bringing Up Baby. Cary Grant is an academic unworldly paleontologist who becomes the target of Katherine’s affections as the two pursue a million dollar donation for the museum to get the missing bone for Cary Grant’s brontosaurus. The baby in question is a leopard, a charge of Katherine Hepburn’s. Cary Grant is engaged to a straight-laced Alice Swallow played by Katherine Hepburn’s rival in the film, Virginia Walker. Katherine sets her sights on Cary Grant and keeps him as a virtual prisoner and care giver for “Baby” so he cannot travel to his wedding. There are the usual plot twists and turns to ensure that love does not go smoothly, but in the end it does. This is really a romantic comedy and not much of a buddy movie of any kind for the female rival, Cary Grant’s fiancé is shifted into the background.

VeronicaLake travelling in the guise of a boy with Joel McRea in Sullivan’s Travels could be said to be a buddy movie with a male and a female, but since the female is disguised as a male, it doesn’t count. Again, it is really simply a romantic comedy. Can you think of another buddy movie with a male and female as the buddies?

Philomena is such a buddy movie. However, it is not a film about the dialectic of life and desire, survival and passion, but about passion, that whatever its tragic turn, remains forcefully and determinately wedded to life. But most surprising of all, wedded to Christian charity, love and self-sacrifice in stark juxtaposition with the Catholic Church. What remains true of all buddy movies is that this film, though focused on Judi Dench as the instrument for the transformation, is as much focused on her wise-cracking, cynical and unbelieving journalist travel companion and his transformation.

As with any buddy movie, there is the usual series of crises so you do not know whether the movie will end in tears or with laughter, while all the while you are certain that, since this is a buddy movie and a romance in the literary sense, it has to end on an up note. Part of the quiet tension is watching to see how this is achieved. How are love, sex and gender dilemmas worked through in the modern world? In Philomena, to one’s surprise, they are not worked through. They are just there, accepted in all their variations, but in high tension with the Irish Jansenist Catholic Church and its misogyny, duplicity, inhumanity and absolute amorality. But Philomena is a true believer and forgives the patriarchal nuns and priests who perpetuated these corrupt beliefs. Philomena is truly a child blessed, one truly beloved of God and the best of loving friends.

This is a female flic in a truer sense than any of the female buddy movies mentioned above. This is a film about self-realization as a man or as a woman but more about the relationship between the two characters rather than the superficialities of that relationship used to explore the relationship with oneself. This is the opposite of a masturbatory film in the guise of social intercourse. It is not about what it means to be a man. It is not about what it means to be a woman. It is not about the utopian (and unbelievable) perfect unity of marriage. It is about what it means to have a relationship. Judi Dench playing Philomena is the teacher in the quest for her long lost son who finds out whether or not her son always remained faithful, but that her adopted son who travels with her on the quest discovers what faith really is even if he does not embrace it.

That does not mean that Judi never suffers any crises of faith. There are several in the movie. It could not be a chicflic without them.  But the film is about friendship, not love ,and certainly not sex, which is considered as simply a biological function in contrast to the passion of sex in a love relationship in a movie like Blue Is The Warmest Colour which I saw yesterday. Contrary to standard chicflics or buddy movies, the primary relationship is not between two people both repelled and attracted to one another, but between a mother and son where the relationship of love is NOT about attraction and repulsion as if the two are magnets at opposite poles, but about a much deeper form of bonding than a Church offers built on the myth of a Son of God using the vehicle of a virgin and becoming the embodiment of love.

Will Philomena set a new trend? I think, rather, that it is part of a trend, not the retro trend of Paul Draper in Mad Men, but the trend to explore friendship rather than love in buddy movies as in I Love You, Man in which Peter is played by Paul Rudd and Sydney is played by Jason Segal. The focus is on friendship that develops into love, but not romantic love.