Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yoga Life Column by Ashok Malhotra

Yoga Life Column (June 2014)
Meditation in Action

Janaka was a famous king of India who had mastered the art of meditation in action. Having perfected a number of meditation skills, a monk boasted that he was as good as King Janaka. To test his special capabilities, the monk approached the king and said, "I have mastered the art of meditation in action and am as good as you. If you want proof of my mastery, put me through a test." After listening to the monk intently, the king replied, "I am delighted that you have mastered the art of meditation in action. There is a simple way to check it out. Here is a task for you. Take this wine goblet filled to its brim. Walk through every nook and corner of the palace and come back to me without spilling a single drop."

As the monk picked up the wine goblet, he told himself that he would fix his attention only on the goblet and would not let anything to distract him. With this determination, he walked through the entire palace, watching very carefully his every step so that not a single drop of wine spilled on the ground. Since he was successful in his concentration, he came back to the king and boasted that no one on this earth was equal to him in meditation.

After listening to the monk, the king said, "I am impressed with your power of concentration. You have proved your skills but there is another part to the test. Now take the goblet of wine and walk through the entire palace, make stops to talk to the guards, watch the dancers, look at the paintings and chandeliers, observe the cooks preparing a delicious meal, watch the royal children learning their lessons in the school, smell the flowers in the garden, talk to the ministers, and hold discussion with the justice of the peace. While you are enjoying the panorama of royal life within the boundaries of the palace, see to it that not a single drop of wine spills. If you can accomplish this simple feat then you have perfected the art of meditation in action."

Moral: Live your daily life as meditation in action!

Yoga Life Column by Ashok Malhotra

Yoga Life Column (July 2014)

What is the real meaning of the Yoga, which is so popular in the West? This question was asked by a student who was taking my course on the Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga. He offered me an opportunity to go beyond the philosophical definition of yoga to present a more general understanding of the concept. I started thinking about how to talk about this very important concept in the most genuine way while still keeping its profundity intact.
The word "yoga" comes from the root "Yuj", which means union, harmony or balance. Yoga can be understood as the union of the ordinary-day-today (socially constructed) self with the real self. It can also be grasped as harmony in the three parts of the human being consisting of the bodily, emotional and mental self. Furthermore, it can also be construed as the balance brought about through the physical postures, harmony in the emotions through the breathing exercises and serenity of the mind through the meditation exercises.

Balance is a simple as well as a complex concept. It is simple because it means bringing together different parts so that once they are joined together, they will not topple. This concept becomes complex when it means harmony, togetherness, fitting into each other diverse parts and much more.
Let's look at it in a simple way first. When yoga uses the term balance, it means the fitting together of diverse parts.

For yoga, a human being is a complex creature. It is made up of three parts of the body, heart, and mind. All of these make up one's day to day ordinary self. But there is also another aspect of a human being, which is one's silent self. This silent self is called variously as one's essence, one's soul, one's mind or one's spirit. The three parts of the body, heart and mind make up the psycho-physical aspect or ordinary self of a human being. However, the silent self is the spirit or conscience part of a human being.

The goal of yoga is to bring harmony in the person by offering physical exercises (asanas) to form good habits of the body, breathing exercises (pranayama) to form good habits of the heart and meditation exercises (dhyana) to form good habits of the mind. Once these superior habits of the body, heart and mind are formed, the entire person will be able to achieve a sense of balance. This harmony in the diverse parts of a human being creates a perfect balance in the physical and psychological organism. In the yogic terminology, this perfection in the psychophysical self makes the body and the mind a perfect mirror to express the silent self, which is our conscience or spiritual self.

However, there is a big difference between expressing the ordinary or psycho-physical or talkative self, which is conditioned by the social norms and the silent self that is full of joy, happiness and contentment. The ordinary-talkative self is the stressed-out one, which is full worries and anxieties and is often confused, whereas the silent self is happy and joyful. It experiences the delight of the very fact of existing. In contrast to the ordinary-talkative stressed out self,  the silent self is content. The ordinary self represents imbalance whereas the silent self is the embodiment of balance. According to Yoga, a person who is balanced is together, is healed, is whole and thus is holy.

Exercise for this month:
Caution: This exercise is offered as a suggestion. If done correctly on a regular basis and for a long time, it might help.
Sit in the easy posture. Put your thumbs on the index fingers and place your hands on the knees. Close both of your eyes. Breathe in and out. Observe the flow of your breathing. It will feel good. As you breathe in, think about the sound SO. When you breathe out, think about the sound HUM. While you are breathing in SO and breathing out HUM become aware of the sounds around you. Notice these sounds but do not linger on them. Go back to breathing in SO and breathing out HUM. Continue with breathing in SO and breathing out HUM for a few minutes and then stop. Take a break for one minute. Then continue with breathing in SO and breathing out HUM for two more minutes. It will feel very good.
Start your day by doing this exercise every morning and end your day by doing this exercise every evening for five-six minutes. Power up the engine of your life with this simple exercise each day!

Yoga Life Column by Ashok Malhotra

Yoga Life Column (August 2014)

Students of yoga are usually curious about how to define or grasp the concept of health. In the West, the notion of health is intertwined with our emphasis on running, jogging and spending time on the tread mill. The goal is to bring the heart rate up by speeding the blood flow to different parts of the body so that they will be cleansed. However, the yoga system does not emphasize running or jogging or going on the jogging belt. Instead it offers very simple stretch exercises as a way to sound health.
The Western view lays stress on running and jogging. This points in the direction of vigorous exercise so that the heart keeps going. Whereas the yoga system emphasizes the slowing down of the entire process so that the inner changes in the body or the entire organism take place.
The two outlooks are based on similar concepts of health but offer different ways to refurbish it. Both in the West as well as in Yoga, the goal is to restore to the human being perfect health so that one could live a long life of contentment and joy.

However, there is a difference. The Western view is based on the idea that a human being is a unique entity that is set apart from the world. Its job is to understand the laws of the universe in order to control and lord over the external world. Using this model, the Western emphasis on running, jogging and walking on the treadmill to speed up the heart rate is understandable. By controlling one's metabolism, one controls one's body and health.

Whereas the idea behind the yoga system is that we are organically connected to this earth as well as to the entire universe. Thus we need to work with the external world by getting recharged with its energy to improve ourselves and others in harmony with nature. In contrast to the Western view, Yoga's emphasis is on the eco-logical balance rather than control of nature.
Yoga follows the view of health as understood by the ancient Indian system of Ayurvedic medicine. It believes in three doshas or humors that control our health and well-being. These three doshas are a combination of air and water; water and fire and a congealed form of air, water and fire. If there is an imbalance between and among any of the three doshas, it leads to disease and ill-health.
The goal of physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation exercises (dhyana) is to correct any imbalance among these three doshas so that a person stays healthy and strong and enjoys a long life of contentment and joy.

Note: We might devote some of the future columns on how to achieve physical balance through moderation in eating foods, emotional balance through breathing exercises and mental balance through the meditation exercises.

Exercise for this month:
Caution: This exercise is offered as a suggestion. If done correctly on a regular basis and for a long time, it might help.
Meditation on Sound and Silence: Sit in the easy posture. Keep your back, neck and head straight up. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out. Become aware of the sounds around you. Pay attention to the sounds followed by silence, followed by sounds, followed by silence and so on. Keep your mind on the rhythm of sound, silence, sound, silence and so on. After doing this for two minutes, go back to normal breathing.
When you are trying out this meditation exercise the first time, practice it for two minutes. Go back to your normal breathing for two minutes. During the first week, practice it for a total of ten minutes at each sitting with a break for 1-2 minutes of regular breathing. You can also do this meditation exercise while you lie down on your back or sitting in a chair. This exercise comes in handy when you are taking a long flight.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Proxy Wars Have Unanticipated Consequences

Proxy Wars Have Unanticipated Consequences
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Sentinel
August 16, 2014


Getting somebody else to fight while you watch is an old idea. “Let me hold your coat,” says an onlooker in a bar fight. Even better is watching a prizefight in which poor, unfortunate idiots beat each other to a pulp for entertainment and prize money.

World War II was actually the last time that major powers were locked in deadly combat. Since that time, almost all wars have involved proxies: conflicts in which the actual beneficiaries are not doing the fighting. The entire Cold War was fought that way, starting with the Korean War and certainly with the war in Vietnam. One proxy war (between the US and Cuba) almost destroyed the world when it became apparent that the conflict was really between nuclear-armed military giants, the US and USSR.

One particular proxy war not only came to a bad end, but is still having dire ramifications: the Afghan War. The Russians invaded Afghanistan with the aim of providing one more buffer to its south, but also bring it closer to their aim of getting some warm water ports. The relative contrast of powers between USSR and pitiful Afghanistan made the outcome seem predictable, which would have been the case if the US had not decided to go after the Russians using a surrogate: the Afghan religious fanatics. Our agents provided these militants with shoulder-launched missiles that could take out low-flying helicopters and aircraft. Our gambit succeeded and the Russians left, licking their wounds. The wounds included a lot of Russian veterans hooked on Afghan narcotics and embittered by their experience, and an Afghanistan in the clutches of warlords and fanatics, giving birth to Al Qaeda.

The Middle East is rife with proxy wars, encouraged, paid for, and armed by the Saudis, Turks, Gulf States, and Iranians. The real antagonists are not fighting themselves (Shiites and Sunnis) but are arming all sorts of unsavories to do the fighting. Syria is a perfect example of this. Were it just a rebellion against the Assad government, Assad would have long since won and the country would once more be stable. Sad to say, dictatorships are much more stable than anarchy, which is the reason that the US (and even Russia) have for so long supported dictatorships. Where dictators have fallen, democracy does not follow; anarchy and proxy wars do. This is the main reason that President Obama is not letting himself get goaded into “holding someone's coat.”

The war in Gaza is another example of a proxy war. For the first time, a number of Arab states (the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordan) are not critical of Israel's response to Hamas; they support it. And Hamas would not have their trove of missiles were it not for Iran using them as a proxy for their Shiite fight against the Sunni Arabs. The Turks and, strangely enough, Qatar in the Persian Gulf, are funding Hamas. Hamas is a proxy for them in their resentment against the Saudis.

Another proxy war player, as always, is Russia, which supports the Syrian dictatorship with money and votes in the UN. This proxy, as well as the Ukrainian proxy, are a thumb in the eye of the US and the European Union. So far, Russia is counting on the reluctance of the EU to endanger their energy supply and the reluctance of the US to get embroiled in yet another war. However, this situation is fluid and the end game is not a good one for Russia.

The worst thing about proxy wars is that the players are almost always horrible and unpredictable. Russia's proxies in Eastern Ukraine are brutes, drunks, and incompetent. The “moderates” in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq have turned into ugly Islamists whom nobody can control. Those who hoped for better have been disappointed. The Arab financiers supporting such Muslim Brotherhood groups as Hamas and the Iranians supporting Hezbollah are beginning to rue this support.

The Saudis once supported Al Qaeda. They now know that groups such as this are happy to take their money but then slit the throats of their benefactors. Let the buyer beware.



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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.    

Caliphates and Tooth Fairies Are Cousins.

Caliphates and Tooth Fairies Are Cousins.
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
August 23, 2014

Those Islamists who have announced that they are a new Caliphate must also look under their pillows when they lose a tooth. Maybe they will find a quarter there. The likelihood of the quarter is better than that of a Caliphate. However, they represent pure Islam, tracing their decapitation of non-Muslims to the example of the Prophet himself. Mohammad preached a war of terror, with plenty of examples of it in the Koran.

Caliph is the Arabic word for successor to the Prophet Mohammad, who died without leaving a will. Nobody knew whom Mohammad might have appointed to lead his new religion, and nobody knows that even today. Out of necessity, his small leadership group met and selected among themselves a competent warlord who began the process of moving Islam beyond the Arab peninsula and into the outside world. Abu Bakr moved his army into Persia, a powerful old empire, and against the imperial holdings of Byzantium. These two great powers never saw it coming.

Abu Bakr was a successful Caliph, but died just a few years after taking power. One of the candidates in the original leadership was Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad. He and his followers believed that the Caliphate should go to the Prophet's direct bloodline. The other leaders did not believe this, and passed over Ali twice, until finally he was selected as the third Caliph. He was, as were most Caliphs, assassinated, and the leadership refused to continue the bloodline Caliphate; they appointed someone else.

Ali's family took their grievance to the battlefield and lost definitively. The slaughter of Ali's family became a rallying point for Ali's followers, known as the Party of Ali (Shiites). They still commemorate his children's martyrdom in bloody processions of men beating themselves with whips and chains, women keening and crying, and reenactments of the disastrous battle.

Except for the first Caliph, no other Caliph died in bed as an old man. Poison and assassination while at prayer were the most frequent modes. Arab tribalism is vicious, savage, and backstabbing, habits that live on in the Muslim Middle East to this day. The latter-day reverence for a Caliphate is just wishful thinking that somehow, someone can unify a religion that has never been unified.

The original Caliphates flowered briefly in Baghdad; the famous “Golden Age of Islam” actually lasted in Baghdad only about 80 years, and it was golden only because one Caliph supported science and Greek philosophy. He famously reported a dream in which God told him that Aristotle was good, and his philosophy should be accepted. His successor disagreed.

A rival Caliphate was set up in Spain, which lasted once again only about 80 years. As the lights were dimming in Baghdad, the Spanish Caliphate was producing great science in Cordoba. Both Caliphates fell to outside attackers after they first collapsed internally when religious fanatics shut down the learning.

When a motley rabble of modern day Islamists announces that they are now creating a Caliphate and that all Muslims must join with them and accept their leader as Caliph, I can hear the guffaws. Immediately, other Islamists break off from them; even Al Qaeda condemns them; and every Muslim who has suffered abuse and torture at the hands of ISIS or ISIL follows the disdain with promises of vengeance.

The disdain of the rest of us is aimed at what this new Caliphate is offering: total ignorance of everything except mayhem; trying to put the emancipation of women back in the bottle from which it escaped; offering unbelievers and even conflicting Muslim sects amnesty if they join, death if they refuse; and threatening modern states that they will infiltrate from inside and make the whole world Muslim.

These people are just the latest version of anarchists with nothing to offer but destruction. They can use pickup trucks as car bombs, but haven't a clue how to make a new one. Medieval values produce neither cell phones nor modern medicines, and not even Viagra, their favorite drug of choice.

Misguided “multiculturalists:” consider yourselves warned. This is a bad culture.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.    

Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?

Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
August 9, 2014

Did the US go to war with the wrong countries when we took on Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps we should have gone after our “good allies” Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who were really responsible for 9/11. This is, of course, wishful thinking considering the many ways that we need relations with these two countries, so we hold our noses and deal with them as “frenemies,” not friends.

Pakistan grows more troubling by the day, with the Islamists increasingly violent and the secular society under constant threat. The Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) has long used Islamists to carry out their agendas in Afghanistan (they created the Taliban) and against India (terror attacks such as the horrific one in Mumbai a few years ago).

It is important to understand why the ISI does this. Their notion of protecting Pakistan is based on a long-standing fear of India, their much larger and ultimately more powerful neighbor. Both countries have developed nuclear capability: Pakistan, out of unreasonable fear of India, and India out of reasonable fear that the Pakistanis are crazy enough to consider using such a weapon. Both countries have spent money on developing nukes to intimidate each other while failing to spend the money educating their young and cleaning up their air, water, and crumbling infrastructure. The paranoid Pakistanis don't realize that India is afraid of China, also a nuclear power, more than they fear Pakistan.

Pakistan began in 1947 as a secular breakaway state where Muslims would be safe. India, also in 1947, became a secular state where all its multi-ethnic, multi-religious population could enjoy the freedoms of the modern world. India's long romance with the Soviet Union hampered its development, but when the Cold War ended and India came out of its fog, it began the long-delayed process of joining the modern secular world. They still have far to go, but they are on the right path.

Pakistan, however, is in a downward trajectory, ever since one military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, found it politically expedient to promote a most backward form of Islam. During his reign, Sharia law replaced much secular law, with consequences such as the growing floods of “honor killings,” blasphemy executions, and assassinations of journalists, academics, or politicians whose views Islamists didn't like. They also have the honor of being the last repository of polio; cynical  clerics claim that polio vacine is a western plot to make their children sterile.

Their latest horror is the public stoning of a pregnant woman who married a man her family did not like. They beat her right outside the courthouse and then finished her off, stoning her to death with bricks. Her murderous father justified this as an honor killing of a disobedient woman, and said he had no regret. He thinks his religion justifies this. What an embarrassment to Pakistan!

Pakistani immigrants to the British Isles have taken their terrible values with them with dire consequences. The British only now realize that their indulgent immigration policies threaten their very survival as a modern state. Canada has also suffered from Pakistani immigration, as have many European states. In addition, the danger does not come from Pakistan alone, but from a global Islamist movement that lures the young. Every modern state is in danger.

But there is a glimmer of hope. India has just elected a new Prime Minister (Narenda Modi), someone with backbone, who invited the Pakistan's PM, Nawaz Sharif, to attend his inauguration. If these two can develop a relationship, much could change.

When India no longer threatens them, there is no need for the ISI to support Islamists. By stopping anti-India propaganda, these two nations could benefit each other. Secular Pakistanis love India's movies, foods, and TV. If India no longer had to fear Pakistan, India's own Muslim population would just be Indians, not perceived as potential agents of Pakistani terror.

Even Afghanistan might be able to get out from under when Pakistan no longer poisons its survival. This could be a win/win for everybody (other than Islamists). Are Pakistan and India smart enough to do this?

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Can Wars Be Proportional?

Can Wars Be Proportional?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Santa Cruz Sentinel
August 2, 2014

If columnist Amy Goodman had covered the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War II, she would have indignantly defended the Nazis. Fortunately for the outcome of that war, the public did not get a play-by-play description from observers who want war to be “proportional.”

Throughout 10,000 years of human history, wars were never “proportional.” Winners won.  Chivalry plays no role in warfare.

In history, total conquest was used when repeated conflicts between warring parties couldn't end otherwise. Ancient Greece fought a ten-year war with the Trojans that cost both sides dearly. The war ended when the Greeks tricked the Trojans into accepting their departing “gift,” a gigantic wooden horse, concealing soldiers. Troy fell, with the usual results: total slaughter of all males and captivity for all females. The Greeks never had another war with Troy.

Rome had repeated wars with Carthage (Phoenicians) which came to an end with a final war of unconditional surrender, resulting in the slaughter of all males and captivity of females. Carthage never rose again.

In our own Civil War, the South wanted to negotiate an “honorable surrender,” but President Lincoln refused to consider it. He knew that unconditional surrender was the only way to permanently end any attempt to secede from a unified United States again. It was brutal, but was the right decision.

World War II ended in unconditional surrender. It was exceedingly disproportionate; far more Germans and Japanese died than Americans or British. Unconditional surrender is certainly far more deadly than negotiated truces, but it has the benefit of ending that conflict for all time. World War I ended in an armistice, and morphed into a far worse World War II. Bad choice.

The Dresden bombing raids of 1945 were horrific. So many incendiaries were used that the entire city, once the most beautiful city in Europe, had fire-storms that sucked up all the oxygen. Most of the population died by asphyxiation. No reporter observed this.

The British airmen, some reluctant to destroy beautiful Dresden, nonetheless remembered who started that war.  The Nazis began with the total destruction of Britain's Coventry, Rotterdam in the Netherlands; and Warsaw in Poland. The Germans were the first European power to take the war to civilian populations, a giant step beyond the trench warfare of World War I. The Japanese had already introduced this horror in China.

Both the carpet-bombing of Germany and the atomic bomb destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary because the Nazis and the Japanese were unwilling to surrender unconditionally. Had the war lasted another year or two, many millions more people would have died, many our own.

How many times have the Israelis put up with shelling from Hamas in Gaza? Truces have not stopped this campaign, merely permitting Hamas more time to re-arm. These two cultures are not equivalent. Hamas has spent its money on digging tunnels, buying and making missiles, and totally ignoring their responsibilities to govern a civilian population. Israel is a vibrant modern democracy.

Israel cannot do what Greece or Rome did, nor what the Allies did in World War II. The rules have changed. We have not fought a major war to win since World War II, with unfortunate consequences (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even the Cold War). However, the Israelis must break this cycle of belligerence once and for all if they can. They are dismantling the hundreds of tunnels used to hide missiles or to smuggle war materials or terrorists into Israel.

This conflict will not end in genocide or unconditional surrender. But the latest bout between the Israelis and Palestinians is so awful that there can only be one satisfactory outcome: the decision of the Palestinians to choose life, not death; to choose a modern culture over a death-cult. If they do this, Israel will not need disproportionate force to live with them as a neighbor.

Imagine how the US would respond to Mexico if they were shelling San Diego. Would our response be proportional? Would Amy Goodman defend Mexico? Her handwringing over bad underdogs is predictable.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.    

Laina At the Movies

Laina At the Movies
By Laina Farhat-Holzman
July, 2014

Netflix

Dresden
Dresden is a two-part 2006 German TV film set during three days before and during the horrendous British bombing raid on Dresden (13-15 February 1945). This film is particularly significant now to reconsider how little we remember history in the face of current issues, such as the clamor about the “disproportionate” war being fought between Israel and Hamas. War is not cricket, and throughout 10,000 years of the history of civilization, wars were never “proportional.”

The Dresden bombing raids of 1945 were horrific. So much ordnance was used that the entire city, once the most beautiful city in Europe, had fire-storms that sucked up all the oxygen. Most of the population died by asphyxiation.

The German movie raises a number of issues about that decision. The British airmen, although reluctant to destroy such a city, remembered who started that war and how it was started with the total destruction of Coventry, a peaceful old British city, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Warsaw. The Germans were the first European power to take the war to civilian populations, a giant step beyond the trench warfare of World War I. The Japanese introduced this horror in China.

A common issue throughout the film was decision-making. A doctor who owned and ran a hospital in Dresden made a decision that his family's survival was more important than his duty as a doctor. The doctor's daughter made a decision putting her love for a downed British pilot ahead of her engagement to another man and her loyalty to her country. A Nazi official decided that his own survival was more important than his duty or honor and he acted accordingly. The British made a decision that they had to carry out this raid, despite their reluctance.

Both the destruction of Dresden and the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were carried out because the Nazis nor the Japanese were unwilling to surrender. Had the war lasted another year or two, many millions more people would have died, many our own.

A critical note about this film: the love story between an aristocratic young German and a British pilot shot down over a raid is not very convincing. However, the movie is certainly worth seeing because of the visuals of that infamous bombing raid and the discussions about what wars are about.

Man On A Ledge
This thriller was far better than any of the other dreary movies shown in July. It is a 2012 film about an ex-con (once a policeman) who is threatening to jump from the Roosevelt Hotel rooftop in New York. He had been jailed because he was convicted of participating in a big diamond heist, a crime he insisted he did not commit.  A police psychologist is called to talk down the man. Does she believe him?

An additional layer of interest in this film was the macho culture of the police who belittled the woman police psychologist and who may or may not be involved in framing the convicted cop.  Very exciting film.
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Lucy
This was the first major film in July worth seeing. Scarlett Johansson plays an ordinary young woman who unwittingly gets drawn into a criminal action in Taiwan. She and three young men are forced to be “mules” to transport bags of some unknown substance surgically implanted. They were all to be met at airports in Europe by members of the cartel who will then surgically remove the bags.

The bags contained a substance usually found in pregnant women, a hormone that promotes an explosion of brain cell growth in their fetuses. Lucy is beaten by the cartel and the bag inside of her bursts, flooding her with this brain cell hormone. She goes from being a normal woman, using (as humans do) only a small part of the brain cells we have. As she approaches 100 percent, her powers transform her into a phenomenon never seen before.

Scientists have long known that in our current stage of evolution, only a modest percent of our potential intellectual power is available to us. In evolution's slow process, human intelligence has grown from our origins back to the first Lucy (the first upright ancestor of us all) to today. What would happen if this evolutionary growth could be accelerated?

I would recommend renting the movie Algernon  or reading the splendid short story: “A Rose for Algernon,” for a more serious exploration of human intelligence. I had difficulty in imagining that enhanced intelligence could also have control over matter (levitating weapons or tossing bodies), as shown in the film.

Despite this nonsense, the movie is very fast moving and exciting.  A nice try.

A Most Wanted Man

This film is based on a John le Carré novel, which guarantees a jaundiced view of the spy business and whenever possible, a slap at Americans. Despite my distaste for Carré as a person, he certainly writes a good spy novel.

A Most Wanted Man also gives us a final look at the acting of Philip Seynmour Hoffman, who died shortly after this film was made.  But most important of all, it demonstrates that the intelligence business is more of an art than a science. Differences in approach still prevent the Western intelligence world from acting with any kind of trust or unity.

Hoffman (Gunther Bachmann) plays a German counterterrorist in Hamburg, and we learn that because of the German overcorrection of their Nazi past, counterterrorists must keep a very low profile. There is also a conflict in values between his approach, for example, and the American approach. Although both recognize that the Islamist enemy they are fighting is deadly, Hoffman's approach is subtle and nuanced whereas the Americans are heavy-handed and blunt. The British have long believed that about us.

A young Chechen Muslim (Issa Karpov) arrives in Hamburg seeking help from the Muslim community. He has been tortured by the Russians, and has the misfortune of being the son of a recently deceased, notorious criminal in Chechnya. The Americans and the official German Intelligence service are on the hunt, assuming that this young man is, like his father, a terrorist.

A naïve young German human rights attorney (played by Rachel McAdams) rushes in to protect the Chechen and she learns that he has indeed been tortured and that he detests his father, who raped Issa's mother when she was just 15, impregnating her; she died during childbirth. Issa is a religious Muslim, but in no way a terrorist. He doesn't know who he is, but he does know that he does not want to touch the inheritance of dirty money left by his father in a bank in Berlin.

Bachmann enlists the reluctant attorney to help him in an important caper, promising that her Chechen charge will receive a German passport in return for his help. The plan is for him to accept the money and turn it over to a respected Muslim doctor to disburse over a range of acceptable charities. If this plan works as designed, the Muslim doctor will try to substitute a terrorist recipient for one of the charities. Bachmann would then confront and “turn” the doctor in a plan to catch the next larger player in this terrorism. This is the sort of subtle gamesmanship and tradecraft used throughout the Cold War by both sides: entrapment and cooperation.

Things do not go as everyone hopes. The rest of the story unfolds with fascinating and regrettable consequences. Remember, Intelligence is not a science. Nothing that pertains to human behavior is. But this is very good cinema indeed, and well worth your time.