BEST OF ENEMIES: A REVIEW

August 10, 2015

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Produced and Directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon

Featuring: William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal

Review Date: August 12, 2015

Although it is hard to imagine today, there really was a time in the modern era when public intellectual giants bestrode the Earth.   And from the mid-1950s through to the end of the 70s, two of the most renown  of these collusii  were William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal.  Emerging from opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum – – the first conservative, the latter progressive, these towering figures with their writings, speeches, pronouncements and television appearances were the the stuff of endless public scrutiny and fascination.  Buckley, an overachieving prodigy, practically carved the conservative movement out of whole cloth; he was the founder of National Review, an essayist extraordinaire, a television host,  author of countless books on politics, art and culture, avid sailor and a concert harpischordist.   Vidal, a polymath and a hedonistic aesthete, was the author of such groundbreaking novels as The City and the Pillar(1948)  and  Myra Breckenridge (1968) and a historical revisionist of the first order.  They were born within months of one another; were almost the same height and spoke with the same honeyed, mellifluous accents of the East Coast patrician class.

 

 

So it was not so astounding that ABC, then limping well behind NBC and CBS in national viewership decided, before the Democratic and Republican Conventions of 1968, to enlist both men as commentators on the proceedings.  The antipathy between the two was well known, as was the divergence of views in politics, culture and art. Fireworks were certainly expected, but nothing on the level of what eventuated.

This documentary captures the two men in all  their scintillating, intellectual prime using the actual archival footage of the time to portray not just two men at diametrically opposed ends of the political spectrum,  but two cultures and ideas of America in direct collision. Here we can look into the first shots fired in America’s cultural  civil war –  a war that rages on unabated today, with the the Vidal wing  having gained the upper hand.

Much about the debate would presage the way the two camps would face off in the future.  The film makers go to great pains to reveal how Vidal had no real intention of fulfilling his role as commentator on the Conventions but from the beginning sought to provoke Buckley into revealing what he considered his ‘unbridled hypocrisy’.  The ad hominem attack strategy worked well for Vidal and he used it as bait to lure Buckley into a trap into which he fell helplessly in the ninth debate.   During the raucous and violent Democratic Convention of August that year, Vidal in an off hand comment, referred to his co-commentator as a crypto-Nazi; Buckley, the veins in his neck bulging, leaned close to Vidal and declaimed:

“Now stop calling me a crypto- Nazi, you queer, or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and  you will stay plastered.”

The outburst was entirely out of character for the unflappable Buckley who had learned to bear the lances of liberals for decades with considerable pluck and was one of the country’s finest debaters.

The host quickly cut to a break and Buckley stormed off.  But the incident was to take on a life of  its own, leading to years of litigation between the two men and unending public squabbles in the national press.

Clearly the documentary, which is even handed in its review of the life and work of the two men, attempts to portray an America at the crossroads, using the voices of two of its great antagonists as a barometer.

Yet even  more exquisitely it seeks to investigate the impact of the debates and the notorious outburst on the lives and consciousnesses of the two men themselves.  A telling interview of Buckley by Ted Koppel in 1994 is presented in which Buckley, now aged and frail, is shown the infamous clip once again.  His response is an uncomfortable silence and it is clear that he views the event with deep regret, one of the few missteps in an otherwise brilliantly calibrated public career.

Vidal, on the other hand, is shown at his mansion on the Amalfi coast in Italy, a house built on a precipice, which gives him the perfect vantage, he says, to witness “the collapse of western civilization.” Now aged and frail himself, his books out of print and his silver tongued voice no longer in demand in the public square, he bears his own regrets, and although the photos on his wall of the two men in 1968 are presented as a form of trophy, as if he won the scalp of the firebrand conservative, there is a sadness in his voice – perhaps revealing that the events of so long ago had left him with a bitterness he had not yet expunged.

All of us have moments in our lives that we regret – that we long to go back to and make right.  Some of those incidents and events lie buried for decades but occasionally flare up to haunt us.   Buckley and Vidal were no different in this regard and despite their tremendous public careers and famously impregnable intellects, remained sensitive men to the end.  The true beauty of this film is in its revelation of this simple truth  –  that they were gargantuan forces to be reckoned with, no doubt, but in reality mere mortals bearing their humanity with all the angst, pride, ego and sadness of us all.

 

Avi Davis is the President and Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles.


GOP HOPEFULS JUDGED BY NOT WHAT THEY SAY BUT HOW THEY SAY IT

August 10, 2015

By Avi Davis

Much has already been written about  the characterization of  the 17-strong field of GOP Presidential contenders as a stellar field of candidates, unlike anything seen in recent memory. That observation was only amplified by the first Republican debate on August 6th,making clear that this campaign has already produced a bumper crop – far out shining the measly pickings of only four years earlier.

And since they are off and running it is time to assess the prospects of these men and one woman.  The candidates who will take the lead in this race will not necessarily be those with the most detailed plans for righting the tottering U.S. ship of state; or those with the most refined vision.  It will be those those who can project the self assurance of a president.  What will ultimately matter in these early days will be not so much what the candidates say, but how they say it –  how they look on the stage and how they connect with an audience. Appearances, at this stage, are everything.

If we use these criteria to judge the performances of the first tier debaters on Thursday night ( I did not get a chance to watch the second tier), then the unqualified front runners emerging from the pack are Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Mario Rubio and  Ben Carson.  Cruz, because he was direct in his statements; did not flinch from his previously announced positions and presented a summary which was more targeted and emphatic than anyone else on the stage; Huckabee because he, more articulately than the others,drew attention to the prevailing malaise of the country and the lack of integrity and absence of vision within the country’s current leadership; Rubio, because he shone as the hardscrabble candidate, recounting his fighting struggle from poverty and debt to becoming a resoundingly articulate champion of American values;  And Ben Carson because he was the most likeable individual in the arena – bringing a levity and lightness to an otherwise overly serious discussion, without losing his focus on the gravity of the problems confronting the United States.

On the other hand, the two men who entered the debate as the once presumptive leaders-  Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fell flat and were largely uninspiring;   Jeb Bush often looked uncomfortable and awkward – and by my reckoning was the least polished and articulate of the speakers;  Scott Walker, who boasts of being just an ordinary guy, actually presented more like an Average Joe, reminding me too often of the actor Chris Parnell who often parodied politicians just like him on Saturday Night Live.

Of the others, Chris Christie did himself no harm when he convincingly roasted Rand Paul over the NSA wire tapping scheme but did not impress as a self assured leader; he was a little too much New Jersey bouncer and less presidential aspirant than he could have been.  His unfortunate positioning on the stage at the beginning of the line of speakers allowed the cameras to catch his girth in full profile; Unfortunate, because Americans, at least in the modern era, do not tend to elect fat men to the presidency.  Rand Paul, receiving a convincing drubbing from Christie, did not recover well and looked rather deflated afterward.  John Kasich came across as a good and honorable man, but not strident in his views nor feisty enough in his demeanour to convince anyone that he would be capable of engaging in mortal combat with the take-no-prisoners Clinton machine.

Which leaves of course the 800 lb. gorilla in the room.  Donald Trump captured the limelight before entering the debate with a populist brand of politics which should be familiar to anyone with a sense of American history.  William Jennings Bryan in the  mid-1890s – and to a certain extent in the two presidential campaigns which followed – became the first candidate to appeal to a wide constituency with a stark, simple message short on specifics but long on bravado.  I thought of him as I watched Trump’s performance.  Trump’s encounter with moderator Megyn Kelly over his characterization of women has now degenerated into a war of attrition between himself and the press, who devoured his tantrum – and his astonishing continued campaign against her – as red meat – in the process turning him into more of a circus act than a leading presidential contender. He must be starting to realize that ‘The Donald’ brand, honed in a spectacular real estate and entertainment career, does not easily mulch down into political capital.  His perpetual frown and surly defensiveness (together with the Megyn Kelly interface and the confusing refusal to disavow a third party stand),transformed him from populist hero into the evening’s bully.  And in the end, no one really likes a bully.

But overall, it was a great evening, full of sparkle and energy and it should give those of us fed up with seven years of our failed experiment in progressivism considerable heart that daring and assertive American leadership , coupled with a return to U.S. greatness, could be just around the corner.


Netanyahu Delivers a Warning

March 3, 2015

 


Netanyahu Flies into a Storm of Obama’s Making

March 2, 2015

By Avi Davis

As the time for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress rapidly approaches, the skies around him are beginning to darken in an ominous way.

Yesterday a report from a Kuwaiti paper alleged that some time in 2014 Netanyahu, in consultation with his general staff, had authorized a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities for fear that the United States and Iran had concluded a secret agreement which would have compromised Israeli national security.  Yet when informed of the prospective assault, Barack Obama warned that the U.S. military would shoot the Israeli planes out of the sky if they so much as dared to cross into Jordanian airspace.

While the story is almost certainly false (the U.S. army or navy has had a very limited capacity to interdict any squadron over Jordanian airspace – or even more likely Saudi Arabian airspace  – since the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011) , the fact that so many people registered their alarm that U.S. and Israeli pilots might be involved in a real military engagement against one another, only illustrates its believability.  Relations have apparently sunk so low that the United States government now appears to view the State of Israel itself as the most significant obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Such a view of course makes a convenient detour around both Islamic State and al Qaeda, both of whom possess a far more serious claim to that title.  Netanyahu might then be forgiven for a little exasperation with the U.S. President and his administration  – who do not seem to be responding to Israeli intelligence nor its analysis of the situation on the ground.

But the Israeli prime minister knows that he is dealing with an amateur in foreign relations, a leader who has demonstrated time and again a failed grasp of statecraft and whose stubbornness, even in the face of the most exigent facts, blinds him to the consequences of his actions and the catastrophic impact that they might have on the region.

Throwing caution to the wind is not a luxury afforded a tiny state like Israel, surrounded by hostile forces seeking its destruction.  But Netanyahu is not coming to Washington to represent just his own nation.   When he stands before the two house of Congress on Tuesday, he will, sotto voce, also be representing the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia , Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom have witnessed the United States’ abandonment of leadership in the region and its apparent willingness to appease a determined Iran, glowing with the satisfaction of having gulled and outsmarted the Americans.

For Netanyahu the gambit to address Congress, at the risk of raising the ire of the Obama administration, is a supremely dangerous one; Obama still has now a little less than two years left in office and during that time there are many measures he can take to either punish Israel or else continue to endanger Israeli security – a perilous position in which to be in, considering that Iran’s military advisers now sit virtually on Israel’s very doorstep on the slopes of the Golan Heights.

Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress, alarmed by the widening rift, have urged the Israeli prime minister to cancel the appearance.   After all, does he not know that Obama has repeatedly stated over the years that he would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons ( recycling those very words at a press conference with David Cameron not three weeks ago)? And hasn’t Obama just as often stated the United States’ commitment to the defense of Israel  – implying that it would back that commitment with military assistance – if not force – if necessary?

Why is he doing it then?

The first reason is that the negotiations, conducted in camera in Geneva, have not involved the Israelis at all.   The country most threatened by Iranian aggression – in fact the one singled out repeatedly by the theocratic regime for annihilation, has also been the one not even consulted about the outcome of the talks.  The Israelis are well aware that this is no oversight.  And it must surely invoke the memory of the Czechs who were not invited to join the British, French and Italian leaders at their negotiations with Hitler at his Berchtesgarden retreat in September, 1938.  The Czechs were handed a fait accompli and thereafter completely abandoned by the Allies – forced to surrender a sizeable chunk of their territory while dismantling their formidable defenses.

And while drifting down memory lane, the Israeli leaders are no doubt recalling the events of November, 1956 and May, 1967.

On November 5, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower, enraged by the surprise joint, coordinated attack by British, French and Israeli troops on the Suez Canal – just recently nationalized by the Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser, issued an ultimatum to the victorious armies – immediate withdrawal or face a Security Council denunciation at the United Nations.  The swift and sweeping conquest of the vast Sinai peninsula by the Israel Defense Forces relieved the country of a direct threat in the south from cross border fedayeen raids and Egyptian military insurgents and the Israelis were not about to give it up without something in return.  Eisenhower decided to give them a guarantee – that in the event of a future attack by Egypt in the south, an international  force would be stationed from now on in to help defend  the southern border.

Fast forward eleven years and Nasser was seen again threatening Israeli national security, this time mobilizing troops in the Sinai Peninsula and sabre rattling, in blood curdling national speeches, for the annihilation of the Jewish state.  Israel, pressed on three borders by hostile armies made urgent entreaties to President Lyndon Johnson, pointing to the guarantees offered by the Eisenhower administration.  Johnson hesitated, claiming his staff could not find the document but promising to organize an international flotilla to break the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba imposed by Nasser’s navy.  Weeks went by and no such flotilla appeared. Frustrated and alarmed, the government of Levi Eshkol realized it was truly alone – the U.S. guarantees were not worth the paper they were written on.  With nothing else to lose he authorized a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian air force, a mission which was ultimately so staggeringly successful that it essentially determined the outcome of the war –  concluded in Israel’s favor within six days.

This history lesson can surely not be lost on the current Israeli leadership.  They see the writing on the wall – a President who takes their security concerns with a passive non-chalance; who believes that Iran, for all its 30 years of fostering terrorism and instability in the Middle East, can be transformed overnight into a partner for peace; a leader who cannot grasp that the ideological engine which fuels the nuclear ambitions of the Mullahs in Tehran is the same motor spinning in the minds of al Qaeda and ISIS.

Benjamin Netanyahu, a far more savvy and focused strategist than the American president, knows all of this and knows the limited time the Israelis now have to make to make their arguments- if not to the U.S. president who has ceased to listen, then at least to the American people through their representatives in Congress.

In doing so, Netanyahu will be making the case that the quashing of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not just an Israeli interest, nor just an American interest – but an interest of the world community which must combine to recognize the most significant threat to world peace since the end of the Cold War and deal with in an unequivocal and final manner.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the editor of The Intermediate Zone.


A Child Born in Israel

February 18, 2015

By Avi Davis

In July, 1923, a 20-year-old Polish Jew named David Czmielewski and his older brother Yitzhak stepped ashore at the Port of Jaffa determined to help build the Land of Israel. Economic opportunities however were sparse and he found it hard to make a living. Despondent, he was forced to leave five years later. Yet he never gave up the hope of one day returning.

David Czmielewski thereafter traveled to Australia and became David Davis. He was my grandfather.

His dream, never quite realized in his own lifetime, nevertheless transferred through the generations to his son and several of his grandchildren who all established homes in the State of Israel. Today he has twelve great-grandchildren living in the land. Three great-grandsons have served or are serving in the IDF. One is about to enter training in the Golani Brigade and a fifth has been selected as a candidate for a pilot training course in the Israeli Air Force.

Last week, his first great-great grandchild, Shira Perlmuter, was born in Petach Tikva to my niece Avital Perlmuter(nee Davis) and her husband Sagi. She represents the fifth generation of the Davis/ Czmielewski family in the land of Israel.

She is a beautiful, living testament to Jewish determination and commitment. May she live a long, happy, prosperous life and may she be joyously blessed with many children of her own.

 


Boyhood: A Review

February 15, 2015

Featuring; Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Loralei Linklater

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time:  2 hrs  45 mins.

by Avi Davis

Coming of age movies are not exactly uncommon in Hollywood.  That is perhaps natural for an industry which focuses its steely gaze on an age range somewhere between the years 12 and 18.  So I might then be excused for my expectation that Boyhood would turn out to be just another boy meets girl flick, a rumination on the tawdry and confused sex lives of our over stimulated youth.

As a result nothing quite prepared me for this quiet miracle of a movie – two hours and 45 minutes which offered a sensitive journey undertaken in the company of a young boy who could almost be our own younger brother or son.

Director Richard Linklater took twelve years to film his subjects, using the same actors as they aged through the various time periods and bringing the two children Mason Jr.( Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Loralei Linklater) and their divorced mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) through the trials of growing up.   Through its tender revelations, the children emerge from their mother’s tempestuous 12 year argosy (which includes two disastrous marriages, several hurried moves across Texas, new schools and new loneliness) and into adulthood without being broken or tarnished by the experience.

 

Image result for Images of Boyhood

This is a movie about growing up – that might be true enough; but it is not only the children who we see develop.  Both of the parents also endure the growing pains of maturity- Olivia as she moves from  young and desperate single motherhood to capable provider, doubling as home maker; and the often absent father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) who moves from his free spirited iconoclasm and Disney Dad personality to a recognition of his adult responsibilities and expectations.

Yet the quiet, utter brilliance of the movie is in its subtle examination of children. Rarely do you feel the intrusion of the adult film maker.  The plot moves along in a natural progression and the time lapses, sometimes several years in length, don’t seem to matter; we are so engrossed in the spectacle of seeing a sweet, sensitive young boy mature before our eyes that we can forgive the rough seams needed to patch the story together.  True enough there is a script, but it is a rather loose one and the actors  have been given quite a bit of free rein to ad lib and provide their own dialogue.  This lends the production a lightness and elasticity which takes it well beyond the affectation and casual manipulation that movie audiences are so often forced to endure from over bearing directors.

The subtlety extends to the marvelous use of the actors’ facial expressions to presage the onset of a plot development or of an event which has already happened off screen.   The six -year-old Mason Jr., for instance, upon meeting his mother’s university sociology professor, senses that the teacher’s interest in his mother is more than educational and this sudden realization is caught with a sharp glance at the man himself-  a panicked alarm bell that warns him (and us) of something in his life that is about to change.   Sure enough the next scene has the university professor returning home from his honeymoon with Mason Jr.’s mother in tow.

An almost identical scene plays out several years later when as a young college professor herself, Olivia has invited some of her mature aged students back to the family home for a Thanksgiving dinner; and in one of these guests Mason senses his mother’s more than casual interest.    The next scene, a few years beyond, portrays a family dinner, yet this time it is the contemptuous look in the mother’s eye as she responds to a comment from her beer guzzling new husband that explains all we need to know of what has transpired in the interval between scenes.

As the movie progresses through the various stages of Mason’s life we see him confronting the many challenges all boys must endure at one time or another: the bullying of younger schoolboys; the experiments with drugs and alcohol;  fumbling through the unknown mysteries of sex; the heartbreak of youthful romance and the desperate attempt to latch on to an individual identity. Yet though these changes – which are prefigured by changes in hairstyle, physique, facial hair, the political environment and music, Mason’s inner self changes little; his goal has remained constant –   right into his late youth: the dreamy, sensitive child desperately searching for something real to hold onto.

This perhaps provides the special magic of Boyhood.  It is an argument for the notion that while our environment changes and we move through different styles, fashions and experiences, the inner person within us rarely changes.  Character, Linklater seems to be saying, is formed very early in the human species – perhaps even before we emerge from the womb – and while it will receive heavy bombardment from environmental factors, it remains resistant to change.  As we leave the bearded Mason on his first day of college, sitting shyly and a little awkwardly with a girl he has just met on a rocky outcrop in a national park, his wonder of the world and his sense of his place in it, does not seem to have changed much at all from the moment we had met him two hours and 45 minutes earlier, as a six-year- old, staring questioningly at the blue sky.

Those of us lucky enough to have children of our own also know how the changes in them can be captured by certain occurrences which register within us with something akin to shock:  The day we transform from “Daddy” into “Dad”; the long silence in the drive home from school when all answers to our questions are suddenly monosyllabic; the tendency to reject any advice we might have to offer and the growing contempt for our musical tastes.

But the real changes in our children are often imperceptible because they take place beyond our reach or our observation.  It is Boyhood’s special achievement in allowing a view of the developing mind of a child, which ultimately elevates the film above almost any other coming of age movie I have seen.  It is an education in itself and makes me long for another Linklater film, to appear in 12 years time, which will chronicle the same boy’s struggles through the pains, struggles, mistakes and ultimate triumphs of early adulthood.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


The E.U.Contribution to Perpetual War Between Israelis and Palestinians

February 13, 2015

By Avi Davis

For many years the European Union’s involvement in the Israel- Palestinian peace process has been one of benign benevolence on the outside but a malevolent interventionism in reality.

Rather than contributing to peace, the European Union has often done quite the opposite – backing the Palestinians on their wayward policies which directly and unambiguously contravene their international commitments, funding  NGOs who foment anti-Israel sentiment and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiation with Israel as a means of achieving statehood while pushing towards open conflict.

Now the pro-active stance of Europe has spiraled into an open conflict with the Jewish state.

The decision of the Swedish Parliament to unconditionally recognize a State of Palestine, with its borders marked by the 1949 cease fire lines was the first salvo. The parliaments of the U.K., France, Ireland and the Netherlands have followed suit with provisional recognition which the respective parliaments of these countries could convert into de jure recognition at the apprpriate time.

The European support of the Palestinian candidacy to the International Criminal Court was another attempt to circumvent the process.  The Palestinian Authority is legally proscribed from joining any international body until negotiations over the disposition of the territories is settled. Of course the Palestinians wish to use the court as leverage against the Jewish state – ludicrous when you consider how open to indictment it leaves the Palestinian leaders themselves.

Now comes reports of actual European Union settlements being erected in areas of the West Bank.  That is not Palestinian settlements just financed by the European Union but rather settlements stamped with the European Union brand.

 

Regavim, an Israeli non-governmental organization issued a report this week which detailed the construction of 400 homes in Area C of the West Bank, an area designated by the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements where no  Palestinian construction could take place without prior Israeli approval.

According to the report, the structures are being built in the E1 area of the West Bank within the municipal boundary of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, adjacent to and northeast of Jerusalem. They largely resemble prefabricated caravans.

But these are not your run -of- the-mill illegal settlements.  In order to stay the demolition of the houses, the report notes the village(s) fly the EU flag and the houses themselves sport the EU logo.

Asked about the report, an EU spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, denied any wrongdoing, insisting that construction had not  yet taken place:

“The EU’s funding will provide training and expertise, to help the relevant Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministries to plan and build new infrastructure and enable people to reclaim and rebuild their land there,” she said. “To date, no construction has started yet under these programmes. The EU is not funding illegal projects.”

But Shadi Othman, a spokesman for the EU in the West Bank and Gaza, told the Daily Mail  THAT construction was indeed taking place.

We support the Palestinian presence in Area C. Palestinian presence should not be limited Areas A and B. Area C is part of the occupied Palestinian territory which eventually will be Palestinian land. Palestinians have a right to live there, build schools there, have economic development,” he said. 

Hmm.  One would think that the EU would be better at coordinating the messages of its spokespersons.

But no matter.   There is plain evidence, gathered from its combined actions over the past 20 years, which provides solid proof of  the EU being a entirely prejudiced miscreant in the region, favoring the very organization whose supporters are now fomenting riots in their own cities, burning cars and plotting the next terrorist atrocity a la Charlie Hebdo.

The Israeli government will react to the construction of the EU villages with a demolition order – and probably, although not certainly, with a demolition;  which in turn, of course will spur more  West Bank protests and then further calumnies which will pour down on Israel from the august offices of the European Union in Brussels.

In this way the Europeans continue to fecklessly contribute to the downward spiral of relations between Israelis and Palestinians until open, violent conflict becomes inevitable.

The ultimate truth, of course, is that violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in this regard is really only a proxy war.  The Europeans long ago declared war on the Jewish state – having  now found just the right agents provocateurs to hasten the onset of a deadly confrontation.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone

 


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