Monday, June 22, 2015

Defunding Isreal but Blind to Islamophobia Ripoffs?

Sentinel
June 20, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

Only in the free Western world can such asymmetrical nonsense take place. Israel, the one western country unfortunately located in the middle of the Muslim world is the focus of accusations of Islamophobia and targeted with boycotts of its industries and products. How ironic. Israel is the one country where Arab citizens can vote, have the highest standard of living, and have any kind of future. Yet young stupid liberals in Europe and the US vent their spleen on Israel and turn a blind eye to the horrors of Islam. These are the monkeys who see no evil.

And in the United States and Europe, where Muslims have managed to find refuge, Islam's well-healed (Saudi money) legal arm (CAIR) brings lawsuits and carps about how badly Muslims are treated. They even take a ridiculous lawsuit to the American Supreme Court and win (!), permitting a woman to wear her headscarf in an upscale department store despite the store's standards. What a triumph for Islam.

How reciprocal is the Muslim world's liberality today around the world? Here are a few items from just one day's news (June 10).

     o     Sikhs. There used to be a thriving community of 100,000 Sikhs (non-Muslim) living in Afghanistan in 1990. There are now 2,500, and they are being pushed out. They cannot reclaim the houses and businesses and houses of worship that were seized by the Taliban. The same is true for Afghan Hindus. All are leaving and returning to India, which will be Afghanistan's loss. Tolerance is not Islam's strong suit.

     o     Women. While CAIR worries about a head-scarfed woman, Nigeria has more serious problems. A child forced to marry at just 13, who then poisoned her 35-year-old-husband and three of his friends (forced confession), was freed from execution but kept in juvenile detention. Her family wants her back so that they can force her into another marriage (if they don't kill her first). This is, after all, Islamic law. She was a second wife. Good old polygamy and child brides are favored by Nigerian Muslims. Another 13-year-old was recently executed for the same trumped-up crime.

     o     Karnak, Egypt. Islam's famous hatred of pre-Islamic history is illustrated again in an attack on one of Egypt's most important tourist attractions, the Temple of Karnak in Luxor. Visited by millions every year, touists will hesitate to come, which is of course the reason for the Islamic militants' attack. It is not enough to just hate rival religions.

     o     Christians in Pakistan. Christians are not doing well anywhere in the Muslim world. We hear more about Christian women, forced to convert, or kidnapped and raped (as in Iraq or Egypt or with the African schoolgirls), but this time it was a young man who was convicted of murder as a 15-year-old, whose confession was obtained under torture, although prosecution witnesses had since recanted. He was executed anyway despite international protests. The Pakistani death penalty was supposed to be reinstated only for terrorists----but so what. A Christian doesn't have a chance in Pakistan.

     o     Turkish Judge's Strange Standard. First, there were the beatings in their home in Ankara, her husband's fist crashing hard against her body. Then came the beatings at the shelter, where she'd found refuge with their child, when the husband came to visit. The judge imposed a fine: 3,000 liras (about $1,000) against the man for physical abuse, and 3,000 more against the wife, for the injury to her husband's hand when he'd beaten her too hard. At first I thought this had to be a joke, but it was not. Is this from some obscure passage in Sharia law, because it certainly is not in Turkish secular law! Kamal Ataturk must be turning over in his grave!

     o     Gaza.     Where are all those demonstraters who want to defund Israel?  Hamas spent all reconstruction money on tunnels and missiles and doesn't give a hoot about Gaza's civilians. Who is the bad guy here?

Where are all those feminists who are blind, deaf, and dumb to what Muslims are doing to women? Are they shopping in Abercrombie for headscarfs?



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.        

Dispatch from the Field: Influence of China, Russia and the United States in Today’s Mongolia


Harry Rhodes
June 2015, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

In June of 2015 I attended the Building Resilience of Mongolia Rangelands conference in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  It was primarily a trans-disciplinary scientific research conference addressing current problems facing the Mongolian steppe, its nomadic herder population, wild and domestic animal management and welfare, a changing environment (global warming), drought, and the loss of traditional rangelands and water sources to foreign mining interests with attendant environmental pollution.  I participated as both an attendee as well as a presenter (for work done by my wife, Lynn Rhodes).

The conference was sponsored by Colorado State University with assistance and support from the U.S. Embassy and the American Center for Mongolian Studies and was also supported by many other international academic, scientific, and environmental organizations.  Scientists from a wide variety of countries attended the conference, including scientists from Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Japan.

Mongolia is a country with a long and colorful history.  It is landlocked between two massive civilizational forces, Russia and China, and its history and culture have been significantly impacted by both of these neighboring cultures.

I had budgeted sufficient time both before and after the conference to see some of the country, and meet with local people.  I was surprised by some of the things I learned.  My interviews with Mongolians were frequently initiated by the Mongolians (I was obviously an American and my presence provided an opportunity for them to practice English with a native speaker).
My conversations with Mongolians included academics (primarily in the sciences), and young people residing in the capital city, but with both groups maintaining strong ties with nomadic relatives on the steppe.

The first thing apparent was a pride in the history of Mongolia and especially with its nomadic culture.  The second concern was about government corruption, especially corruption caused by the influx of foreign money, primarily related to Chinese mining interests and involvement in massive building projects in the capital city.  These operations were marked by the exclusion of Mongolian workers, with teams of Chinese workers being brought in to work on major construction projects.
A consistent theme with young people I interviewed was a desire for Mongolia to be independent from foreign influence.  Foreign influence was seen, by them, to be damaging to the culture of Mongolia.

The young people realized Mongolia existed within the primary spheres of influence of Russia and China.  When asked which influence they would choose if they had to choose between the two, they preferred Russian influence.  Answers to my inquiries as to why Russian over Chinese influence were consistent for historical reasons, hundreds of years in the past, but also for the corrupting influence associated with modern financial investment.  Russia, on the other hand, was seen more as a benefactor to Mongolia.  Russia was seen as a historical benefactor relative to activities in World War II, but also as a current benefactor providing trained educators and other less-exploitative involvement in the country.

The U.S. was seen as not significantly relevant to the political or economic situation.  As one Mongolian told me, the U.S. was liked but it was geographically too far away for its influence to be seen or felt.  They said “Russia and China were here”.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Asking the Wrong Question Can Lead to War

Pajaronian
June 13, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

The United States has gone to war twice by asking the wrong questions. Fortunately for us, even though we did not “win” either of those wars (in the conventional sense, such as the way we won World Wars I and II), we did not lose them either. No enemy came to our shores and conquered us. But in both of those wars, we made a terrible mess of two countries and suffered a terrible cost of young lives of our own, costs that we are still paying. Those two wars were the Vietnam War and the second Iraq War.

The reason for thinking about questions is the 40th anniversary of our withdrawal from the painful Vietnam War, with the searing image of the last helicopter taking off leaving behind many Vietnamese who helped us to the vengeance of the North Vietnamese shortly to arrive. It was shameful.

This was also the last war in which young Americans were drafted to fight-a system that was designed to be fair but had been badly corrupted by then. Too many of the well connected managed to get out of it, leaving the miseries of that war to the underclass, who returned from the war bitter, hooked on drugs, and alienated from an America hostile to them. A very bad war indeed, and even our political objective: to save Vietnam from being taken over by Communism, failed.

Why did we spend so much blood and money on such a war with so little benefit? What question had we failed to ask? We were fighting a cold war with the Soviet Union (rightly; they were monsters) but had wrongly cut off all communications with Communist China. We assumed, wrongly, that Communism was just one thing; that it was a monolith. Once we corrected that mistake, our Cold War was fought with much more finesse, and brought to a much better end.

We assumed that North Vietnam was a client of Communist China, never understanding that it was a client of the USSR, and that there was actually bad blood between China and Russia that we could have exploited.  We never understood from the start that we could have listened to our China experts who knew this. Instead, demagogue Joseph McCarthy and his friends in Congress persecuted the China Experts and all of them had their careers ruined.

We could have talked to Ho Chi Minh, who was a Vietnamese patriot first, and a Communist second, but never did. Our Congress was so blinded on monolithic anti-communism that only the wrong question was asked and the wrong war fought. It cost everyone big not having asked the right question.

In Iraq, the same problem happened. We never asked the right questions about Saddam Hussein. The question should have been: Why would he boast about having a two million-man army and weapons of mass destruction? Did he really want the US to take him on?  Was he really that stupid? Or was he really directing that boast to someone else?

Those who know the Middle East have to understand the role of lying. In a region of constant insecurity, nobody ever has the luxury of telling the truth. I would even question demographic information from the region. If one asks how many children a man has, he will tell you how many sons (and may even lie about that). When a family's religion can be a matter of life or death, one cannot expect truth either, hence the skewed Sunni-Shi'a demographics for so long. Saddam was aiming his boast at Iran, and assumed that the US would understand this. We did not, and launched a war that was a huge mistake.

It might not have been such a disaster if we had not compounded it by a second mistake: did Iraq just need a new and better dictator or did it need democracy? Good question, bad answer.

President Obama has asked the right question this time. “If the Ayatollas are suicidal enough to go nuclear, why is their money in Swiss banks?” Good question!



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.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Candidates Are Missing the Right Answer About the Iraq War!

Laina Farhat-Holzman
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Monterey Herald
June 6, 2015

Watching all the candidates for the 2016 election dancing on a tightrope trying to answer the question about why they voted to go into Iraq in 2003 (or what lesson they should have learned from this “mistake”) is painful and unnecessary. There is a simple answer to this dilemma that nobody seems to want to say. Yet this answer is being played out right under our noses.

It was not a mistake to remove a dangerous, murderous, unpredictable dictator such as Saddam Hussein! We could have saved ourselves the trouble if we had removed him in the first Gulf War. The mistake was trying to replace him with a democracy. We could have gone to Baghdad and handed over the government to a decent general. There were quite a few whom we had trained who could have kept the country together.

The same thing could have been done in the second invasion too.  We would not have had to disband the army.  The country would not have fallen apart. Iraq would still have been a single country, not an ethnic stew as it is now.

We are captive of our own misbegotten policy of “making the world safe for democracy,” one that we handed to the United Nations, that has made a terrible mess of the world. It was very well intentioned, but the road to hell has always been paved by good intentions.

Democracy is not the result of a free and fair election. It is a process dependent upon a number of elements:  a large and literate middle class; private property; independent press; independent judiciary; gender equality; separation of religion from governance; a regular and orderly election process; universal education system; and one other thing not considered: geographic luck----relative safety from predatory neighbors or the ability to defend oneself from such.

This list eliminates much of the world from the requirements needed to even have a democracy unless under the protective umbrella of the United States, and we are no longer in the business of policing the world.

The candidates should say frankly that knowing what we thought we knew at the time, it was right to go into Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein, even though the intelligence was wrong. But to Part 2 of the question, what did we learn, they should answer that we should never again try to plant a democracy where it does not belong! That is the lesson.

The proof of this is right under our noses in Egypt, the only country that survived the “Arab Spring” with the right conclusion. Egypt dumped a dictator who stayed too long; held an election that taught
them a lesson: that the educated city people were outvoted by the illiterate Islamist majority in the villages, who voted in the Muslim Brotherhood. A second rigged election gave them what they should have had in the first place: a modernizing general, General Sisi, who is doing what is necessary to keep the country from falling apart.

Democracy lovers are wringing their hands. Of course they are. But they still have not learned their lesson. Egypt is a country that is drastically overpopulated, the majority of its people ignorant, living in villages whose attitudes and customs have not changed in several thousand years. They are nominally Muslim, Islam barely overlying ancient Egyptian custom and mythology tied to the Nile and its annual risings upon which the agricultural cycle has depended. Democracy is not even on their radar!

The problem today is that there are too many Egyptians. The River cannot sustain all of them properly. It is asked to provide power, irrigation, fertility, and flow into the Mediterranean; however, it is not doing any of these things well. Egypt was once the breadbasket of the Roman world. Egypt is now on the verge of famine, and this breadbasket no longer feeds itself. Egypt needs neither an election nor Islam. It needs a firm hand, modernization, and contraception.

Don't replace dictators with elections! They need good generals and guided modernization.

Have we learned this yet?


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.    

Monday, June 1, 2015

Final Program for ISCSC 2015, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


There will be an informal reception at the hotel on Wednesday, June 10, starting ~ 7 pm
on a roof lounge with a lovely view.  “Informal” means you pay for your own drinks or food.

Thursday, June 11

9 – 9:13 am, Welcome from the ISCSC President and our Brazilian Hosts, in Room A.

9:15 – 10:40 am, Thursday Panel Session 1

Room A (larger)
David Rosner, chair

Theodor Damian, Metropolitan College of New York, USA.  “The Signs of the Time:
With or Without Postmodernism.”  
Marek Jakubowski, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun, Poland.  “The Theory
of Civilization by Felix Koneczny – Archaic or Inspiring?”
Adnan Çelik, Selçuk University, Turkey.  “Have the Global Crises a Philosophy?
Who Creates them and Why?”
David Rosner, Metropolitan College of New York, USA.  “On Civilizational Trauma:
The Black Death and ‘Values at the Crossroads’ in Boccacchio’s Decameron.”

Room B (smaller)
Michael Andregg, chair

Dina Moscovici, Artigo de, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  “The Nomad Space of Art.”
Rochelle Almeida, New York University, NY, USA.  “A Clash of Titans in India: Post-
Modernist Quasi-Capitalism versus Socialism in Literature and Film.”
David Wilkinson, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA.  “Was there a pre-Columbian
Civilization in the Amazon Basin?”
Michael Andregg, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, USA.  “Book reviews of
‘The Lowland Maya in the Late Preclassic: The Rise and Fall of an Early Mesoamerican Civilization’ (2011) and Marek Celinski’s ‘Civilizational Crisis and Renewal’ (2015).”

Break --  10:40 – 11:00 am

11–12:30 pm, Thursday Panel Session 2

Room A (larger)
Lynn Rhodes, chair

James Kielkopf, Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban
Policy, New York, USA.   “What’s really new about anti-neoliberal South
America? A comparative analysis of New Left governance in Latin America using analytical tools from the policy studies field.”
David Wilkinson, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA.  “Mathew Melko:
A Civilizationalist Looks at Real Peace.”
Tereza Coni Aguiar, Consultant on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil.   “Lebret’s Legacy to Humanistic Planning.”
Randall Groves, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI, USA.  “The Origins of
Religion and the New History of Reason.”

Room B (smaller)
Michael Andregg, chair

Abdulmajed Muhammed Wali, King Saud University, Rihadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Education Means Influencing the Sons and Daughters.”
Khalid Aleid, King Saud University, Rihadh, Saudi Arabia.  “The Impact of Islam on
Strengthening Family Ties:  A Value of the Civilized.”
Abdullah Saleh Alsaif, King Saud University, Rihadh, Saudi Arabia.  “Islamic Cultural
Values Regarding the Treatment of Children and Children with Special Needs.”
Essa Nasser Alduraibi, King Saud University, Rihadh, Saudi Arabia.  “Civilizational
Values in Dialogue, and Means for Promotion of Dialogue in Education.”

Lunch  (12:30 – 2:00, panels begin exactly then) (On your own  - Many restaurants nearby)

2:00 – 3:30, Thursday Panel Session 3

Room A (larger)
Michael Andregg, chair

Carla Monteiro Sales, Rio de Janeiro State University, Rio, Brazil.  “Representations
of North South Relations in an Inverted Map of South America.”
Mauricio Goncalves Silva, with Maria Monica Vieira Caetano O’Neill, and Claudio
Stenner, Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Population Arrangements and Urban Concentrations in Brazil: Conceptual Aspects.”
Evandro La Macchia, with Jacob Binsztok and Julio Wasserman, Universidade
Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  “Petroleum Exploration and Production Policy:  Brazilian Winding Paths.”
Mehmet Huseyin Bilgin, Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey.  “The Effects of
Religious Beliefs on the Working Decisions of Women: Some Evidence from Turkey.”

Room B (smaller)

Randall Groves, chair

Abdulmajeid Aldarwish, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Civilized Values of Dealing with Neighbors in Islam.”
Abdulaziz Saud Aldhowaihy, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“The Determinates of Prestigious Values in Islam.”
Khalid Alsharidah, Qassim University, Burayaday City, Saudi Arabia.
“Socio-Cultural Transformations in Saudi Arabia: Displacement vs. Resistance Theories of Change.”
Abdullah Alfauzan, Qassim University, Alqassim City, Saudi Arabia.  “Contributions
of Civilization Towards Social Freedom and Alienation in the Arabic City:  A Literary Point of View.”

Break --  3:30 – 4:00 pm

4:00 – 5:30 Thursday Plenary Session:  Emmanuel Carneiro Leão, Distinguished Professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Our Crises”   In Room A.

Evening on your own.  There are more than two things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil ;-)!!


Friday, June 12

9:00 – 10:30 am, Friday Panel Session 4

Room A (larger)

Michael Andregg, chair

Hisanori Kato, Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan.  “Philanthropic Aspects of Islam:  The
Case of the Fundamentalist Movement in Indonesia.”
Faranak Bavardeh, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Baku, Azerbaijan.
“Ibn Khaldun’s Socio-Economic Wisdom and its Influence on the Rise and Fall of
Civilization.”
Juri Abe, Rikkyo University,Tokyo, Japan.  “The Role of Foreign Teachers in
Modernizing Meiji, Japan”
Tatiana Bystrova, Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg, Russia.  “Open City as a
‘Soft Power’ of Modern, Urban Environments.”

Room B (smaller)

Lynn Rhodes, chair

Sami Alkhalil, Mohammed A. Alsuhaim, Ahmed M. Alkhalil, and Omar A. Alsedees
King Saud University and Qassim University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Islamic Values that Regulate Finance and Economy.”
Kamel Saud Alonazi, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Economic Crises:  Reality and Solutions.”
Adel Mohammed Alabisy, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  “Samples
in the Economic System From an Islamic Perspective, and its Effect on Building Values.”
Bandar AlAnazi, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“The Values of Faith and Moral Values in Islamic Economics.”

Break  10:30 – 10:50 am


10:50 am–12:20 pm Friday Plenary Session:  Pedro Geiger, Distinguished Professor,
State University of Rio de Janeiro.  “An Introduction to Brazil.”  

Lunch – 12:20 – 2 pm   (On your own; many options)

2:00 – 3:30 pm, Friday Panel Session 5

Room A (larger)

David Rosner, chair

Zoltan S. Novak, Budapest, Hungary.
“’Panta Rhei’ as the Central Idea of Spengler’s Life Work.”
Mario Wenning, University of Macau, Macau, China.  “The Fate of Transcendence in
Postsecular Societies.”
Vincent Ho, University of Macau, Macau, China.  “Chinese Heritage in East Asia:
Comparative Approaches in Literature, Religion and Culture.
Hasan Tasci, Dr. Esenler Municipal City Thought Center, Istanbul, Turkey.
“City, Civilization, and Prophets.”

Room B (smaller)

George Von der Muhll, chair

Habibollah Babaei, Academy of Islamic Science and Culture, Qom, Iran.
“Standards of Islamity of Civilization.”
Fahad Mohammed Alsultan, Qassim University, Buraydah City, Saudi Arabia.
“Was there an Ideological Impact on Saudi-Iranian Relations Prior to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979?”
Saeed Ali Alghailani, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  “Alexis de
Tocqueville and Muhammad on War: A Comparative and Historical Perspective.”
Nasser Mohammed Almane, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  “The
Motives of Ethical Commitment in Islam – a Comparative Study.”

Break:  3:30 – 3:50 pm

3:50 – 5:20 pm, Friday Panel Session 6

Room A (larger)

Lynn Rhodes, chair  

Ronald J. Glossop, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, IL, USA.  “The
Meaning of the Twenty-First Century: From Inter-Nationalism to Globalism.”
Anna Sobolewska-Bujwid, Wroclaw University of Technology, Wroclaw, Poland.
“Together or Separately?  The Problem of Social Capital in Central Europe.”
Itzchak Weismann, Haifa University, Haifa, Israel.  “Salafi Interpretations of the
Civilizational Values of Islam.”
George Von der Muhll, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA.
“Civilizations and Their Frontiers: Identities and Imagery.”

Room B (smaller)

David Rosner, chair

Hamza Ates, Istanbul Medeniyet University Ctr. for Civilizational Studies, Turkey.
“Ethics-Based Civilization:  What Can Islam Contribute?”
Sultan S. Alsaif, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Values Between Religions in Islam.”
Ahmed Allhaib, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  “Civilized Values and
Dealing with the Other in Islam.”
Ibrahim Guran Yumusak, Istanbul Medeniyet University Centre for Civilizational
Studies, Turkey.  “Economic Development: Management from Al-Siyasah Al-Shar’iyah.”

Note Bellum: A tour of Rio de Janeiro is available this Friday evening with
Dr. João Baptista Ferreira de Mello, a Geography Professor from the State University of Rio de Janeiro.  The tour is called:  “Walking Between Night Lights in Downtown Rio.” Dinner will be on your own, perhaps grazing from the variety of restaurants along the way.

Saturday, June 13

9 -- 10:30 am, Saturday Panel Session 7

Room A There is no Room B on Saturday

Michael Andregg, chair

Nissim Mannathukkaren, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.
“Replicating or Reinventing Modernity?  The Case of Kerala India.”
Ashok Malhotra, State University of New York (SUNY), Oneonta, NY, USA.
“Reflections on Clash or Reconciliation of Civilizations.”
Joseph Gualtieri, University of Hong Kong, China.
“Nature and the Crisis in Global Civilizational Values.”
Ahmed Alshbaan, Qassim University, Buraydah City, Saudi Arabia.  “The Role of
Social Endowment Institutions for Promoting Geographic Trips to the Orient (From the Sixth to the Eighth Century AH).”  (~1122 – 1322 of the Common Era)


Break:  10:30 – 11:00


11 – 12:30 Saturday, Panel Session 8

Room A

Lynn Rhodes, chair

Andrzej Szahaj, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.
“The Values of Multiculturalism.”
Ahmed Almazyad, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  “Values in Islam.”
Tarkan Oktay, Istanbul Medeniyet University, Istanbul, Turkey.  “Sister City
Relationships of Municipalities in Turkey in the Context of Soft Power.”
Lynn Rhodes, Royal Oaks, CA, USA.  “Community Trust and Law Enforcement
Around the World: a Key to Peace and Prosperity Everywhere.”

12:30 – 1 pm latest   Business Meeting!  This business meeting will be very short because
the Banquet starts at 2 pm at an off-site location to be announced at the Conference.

The most important agenda is announcement of our venue for 2016 and possibly more details about Montreal in 2017.  Senior officers come up for election in 2016.



[Stats: 14 panels with 58 papers from 16 countries and most occupied continents]




Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
May 2015

The Age of Adeline

I went to see this movie, warned off by a negative review, yet having a free afternoon, prepared to see a silly movie. To my delight, despite a silly premise, it was entertaining.

A young woman, Adaline Bowman (played by Blake Lively) born at the turn of the 20th century, had a strange accident that somehow left her incapable of ageing beyond her 29 years when it occurred. A scientific voice-over tells us that while driving in Sonoma (on a road familiar to me) a very freak snowstorm occurs, simultaneous with a rare cosmic lineup and an auto accident that plunges her into freezing water, that stops her normal ageing. Well, once we swallow that, the rest of the story makes sense.

As Adeline's little girl grows up and people think she is the young woman's sister, she realizes what has happened and fears the consequences of being a medical freak. She takes off, changing identities every decade, just keeping contact with her daughter until her child now looks like her grandmother (played by Ellen Burstyn).

For any of us, myself included, who thinks it might be lovely to remain young looking, this film can be a wakeup call. It is terrible to be forever frozen in time as everyone one knows-and loves---has a normal life span. It is fascinating to see what happens when Adaline runs into a lover from her past (Harrison Ford)---and falls in love with his son---and does not know what to do.

This charming fantasy was a nice matinee movie to enjoy. Not profound, but quite entertaining.  Embrace your gray hair.  Maybe some day I will embrace my own.


Ex Machina

This clever science fiction movie is about artificial intelligence, but it is also about creation:  about wanting to be god-like and create something or someone that is more than a robot, but is almost human. We certainly do this as human beings when we make babies, but we have little real control over how those babies turn out. That is still in the realm of the mystery of genetics, no matter as yet how we tamper with genes and gender; we are not there yet.

But back to this film. A genius reclusive CEO of an internet-search company, Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac) brings a 26-year-old very bright programmer, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) to spend a week at his remote home laboratory as the human component in a Turing Test, charging him with evaluating the capabilities of his latest creation, a robotic female that can think and feel.

The setting is not only unbelievably beautiful, but is deliberately in a natural environment (forests, mountains, waterfalls, nothing but wilderness) and the home-laboratory is as lovely as human ingenuity can make it: all wood and glass.  Add to this two human beings, one a genius with arrogance, the other clever and yet innocent, and see what happens.

Bateman is the latest incarnation of Dr. Frankenstein, of course, but he is also Shakespeare's Prospero, a magician of sorts, living on a desert island, isolated from the rest of mankind, and the “father” of this lovely creature, Ava, the thinking, feeling “daughter” who has never seen any other man than him until Caleb arrives.

Her name, of course, Ava, is Eve, the first woman. Ava is played magically by Alicia Vikander, whose beautiful face sits atop a mechanical body until she assumes parts later in the film.

The tests that Bateman sets Caleb to is to determine whether his creation is really capable of true feeling or does she only simulate feeling to get what she wants (is she manipulative).

Ava asks the same questions that humans have always asked of their creators: Is it fair that you have created me and then give me death?

When you get to the end of this film, remember what Ex Machina means. Greek playwrights, when painting themselves into a corner with their plots, used a piece of machinery (often a crane) to haul something (a god) on stage to rescue the story.

Super ending on this one!!!!

Tomorrowland

How could you go wrong with a Disney movie with George Clooney and Hugh Laurie in it? My goodness, a summer movie that is not a disaster film, how nice. Well, it is not nice. It was absolutely awful. It was impossible to follow, and when one could follow it, it has moments of such creepiness, obviously unintentional, that one could only ask: What were they thinking? This is one not to spend any time or money watching.

Far From the Madding Crowd

If you have an idle afternoon and want to bask in the late Victorian English countryside with green pastures, fat sheep, hearty farmers, and a pretty young woman with more suitors than she knows what to do with, than this one is for you.

This film is based on the one novel by Thomas Hardy that does not end in misery. He is not my usual cup of tea. When I want a romp in the 19th century, I prefer Jane Austen. If I must do Victorian, I prefer Dickens or Thackeray. And if I must do 19th century rural, I prefer France. Their countryside is sunnier and their wine better. But, for an idle afternoon, this film was rather fun.

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a young and very independent land owner, attracts three very different men who propose marriage:  a neighboring sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a wealthy older bachelor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and a charming military man Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge).

Unlike many 19th century women, Bathsheba does not need a husband. She is in the unusual position of being able to choose, and she ultimately chooses very badly indeed---letting the one instinct with which she has never had experience----her sexuality. Hardy does not punish her too much, nor punish us too long. Enjoy the film.

Aloha

Yes, summer movies have come, and it is difficult to find one that is not noisy, designed for teen-age boys, and threatening the end of the world. So this one was a pleasant exception. It was a romance, with only a little threat of the end of the world. There was a new villain in town in this case, an independent space contractor---a billionaire probably modeled after someone like Elon Musk.

Charmer Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a defense contractor who got in big trouble in Afghanistan but has been given another chance to redeem himself by independent space magnate Carson Welch (Bill Murray) who is planning a launch a satellite from Hawaii. Cooper is assigned a watchdog public relations officer, an Air Force fighter pilot woman, Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who tells him a number of times that she is one-quarter Hawaiian and (hard to believe) part Chinese and part Swedish. The Swedish is the only believable part.

Gilcrest meets a former flame as he arrives in Hawaii: Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams) whom he came close to marrying 15 years before. She is now a married woman with a 14 year old daughter, 10 year old son, and very big, very handsome, very taciturn husband “Woody” (John Krasinski) who may not know if he is or is not the father of the lovely daughter.

Ah, a romantic triangle or quartet here.

Add to this the impending launch, a deal needed with the native Hawaiians for whom the land is sacred and the sky governed by their gods, Gilcrest who has become very cynical over the years, Rachel confused about her marriage, and Allison Ng an idealist but no fool, and you have an old-fashioned romantic drama.

Will Gilcrest rise to the occasion and find his soul again? Will the Hawaiian sky gods prevail over the wicked space villain? Have a nice afternoon or evening and find out.