A Borrowed Identity/Dancing Arabs Movie Review

If you are observing a cultural boycott of Israel please disregard this post.  If you are not, then please continue to read as I will now review an Israeli film called A Borrowed Identity and in other countries, Dancing Arabs.  This movie is worth seeing!  It’s about a young Israeli-Palestinian boy and his experiences growing up in Israel and attending the most prestigious boarding school there. It also shows how he faces issues of racism, assimilation, discrimination, friendship, and romance.  It’s a fascinating look at Israel from the perspective of its Arab citizens who often find themselves in conflicting situations as they are in the eyes of the state and the general population unwanted residents.  But honestly there are some things that the directors and producers did badly and I will outline those as well.  First, the positives:

  1. Good acting – Tawfeek Barhom does a great job portraying the stoic and reserved Eyad. Michael Moshonov might have given the best performance, portraying a paralyzed and ill student (Yonatan) who becomes Eyad’s best friend. The actress that portrays Edna, Yonatan’s mom, does a great job and so does Daniel Kitsis as Naomi.
  2. Good engagement with important aspects of Israeli society – The movie brings up the issue of education in a few scenes, both in Eyad’s childhood in an Arab/Palestinian school and in history class at the advance Israeli boarding school.  The viewer gets to see history as a contested field and how terribly biased the study can be when co-opted by the state to create narratives designating the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, establishing simple stories to explain who’s part of the Israeli we and who falls outside of the fold.
  3. Accepting ambiguity – Perhaps the most ambivalent aspect of the film is its acceptance of ambiguity.  It’s human nature to want a story to end decisively or for characters to be black or white.  The movie does a great job in accepting that life is not so simple.  Lots of issues and dilemmas in the movie are not resolved completely, but perhaps that is all right…

The negatives:

  1. Dialogue regarding the Israeli/Palestinian situation is a little too simple for me, especially when the scenes showed life for young Eyad in his Israeli-Arab town.  The director and writers could have done a way better job explaining perhaps the Israeli-Arab wars that occurred in the past or the military occupations of the West Bank and Gaza.  Instead, the writers chose to have Eyad’s family repeat empty rhetoric about the destruction of the Israeli state.  It’s too simplistic and too steorotypical.  In fact, to me, it seems to be catering to how an Israeli audience would want to see an Israeli-Arab family behave.  The writers completely failed in this front because movies should not be about pleasing an audience but about proposing evocative and provocative questions.  I don’t think any Arab family speaks about politics the way Eyad’s family is portrayed to do so; I think the writers completely failed there.
  2. I thought the interaction and relationship between Eyad and Naomi could have been initiated and developed better.

With that said, I think the movie is worth checking out.  If you see it, let me know what you think in the comments.


X-Ray Opt Out Difficulties at JFK Airport (NY)

As I approached the x-ray machine at the security checkpoint, I started to remember reading somewhere that it wasn’t obligatory to go through it.  Why should I give the airport full body images of myself that they may hold for an indefinite amount of time?  The x-ray machine is a virtual strip search with no suspicion of wrongdoing.  Psychologically speaking, people should not be made to feel like they needed to prove their innocence with no action or suspicion of wrongdoing.  With regards to the information in the x-ray image, that type of personal information is not something you want to hand over freely.  The issue at hand is not to determine what these images may be used for, but to realize that even if sinister usage is rare, we shouldn’t provide valuable information like this for free.  So, for privacy reasons as well as personal rights issues, I decided I would opt out.  I was nervous as I realized I may be the only person in the airport to do so.  I didn’t see anyone else request an opt out.  We were all being corralled through like sheep.  Human nature is often sheep-like in general.  We were designed to stay within the pack, to stay loyal to it, and that’s why the urge to fit in, especially at a young age, is greater than the desire to stand out and be different.  So despite the nerves, I decided to give it a shot.  What security responded with, however, was something greatly worth noting and sharing and I’m happy that I opted out so that I can share the reaction with everyone.

When I requested not to enter the machine, the security lady at JFK Airport told me that she wouldn’t do such a thing.  I repeated that I thought it was my right to opt out.  She responded vaguely admitting to such a protocol, saying that while she wouldn’t do such a thing, I may opt out but it would involve a longer waiting time, a “full pat-down”, and I’d have to wait for someone to free up for it.  I was surprised at this response and immediately I realized that there was a security policy to discourage people from opting out of the x-ray machine, a machine that would scan their entire body and save an image, who knows for what length; a machine that violates the fourth amendment of the Constitution and may be harmful for our health.  This was a peculiar time for me to practice my personal freedom because I was actually late for my flight; boarding had started 5 minutes before.  I notified her of this problem and she started getting snappy with me.  She exclaimed that she had already requested a pat-down expert and that I would have to wait.  She also said that she had warned me that this process would take a while so it was really my fault that I had chosen this path.  I waited and a full 5 minutes transpired before someone even freed up to come pat me down.  In that time, I would have gone through the x-ray and continued on to my gate.  When the security official showed up, I told him that my flight had started boarding.  He responded saying, “that’s what you get when you choose a pat-down”.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was being punished for exercising my right not to be strip-searched by a machine with potential health risks!  It was incredible.  There was no doubt about it; security was purposefully punishing those who chose to opt out verbally and by having no one ready to immediately pat you down once you elected not to use the machine.  You were made to feel like you made the wrong choice and the delay was significant.  I told the guy that I should not be punished for exercising my right and he iterated that if I had gone through the machine I would have been done already.  I was finally patted down thoroughly and by the time I was on my way, I would estimate that the process took about 10 minutes longer than if I had gone through the machine.  I ran to the gate and barely made my flight.

It’s clear that JFK airport security actively discourages passengers from opting out of the controversial machine.  Clearly security was understaffed and they should have appointed someone ready to pat down anyone who opts out.  We have to realize that we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty and subservient to security protocols that impede on our personal rights.  At the very least, JFK needs to change their security protocols so that there is always one guy ready to pat you down physically.  Hire another person!  OR maybe not have a pat-down guy at all and to just let opt-outers to walk through the metal detector and go on their way.

Spiritual Themes in Spider-Man 3

spider-man 3

There is a ton of spiritual and religious symbolism in the movie and I hope my discussions in this post allow people to enjoy the movie more next time they watch it. In fact, I think these spiritual themes help make it the best of the three Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies. My opinion is of course entirely contrary to the rating that Rotten Tomatoes assigns to it in relation to the first two in the trilogy. The first Spider-Man has an 89% approval rating, Spider- Man 2 features a 94% rating, and Spider-Man 3 has a much lower 63% rating. They’ve got it completely wrong. Here’s some cool symbols that I really enjoyed.

First and foremost, the director did a great job in having Venom initially bind with Peter Parker after a period of intense anger after hearing that Uncle Ben’s killer is still at large. He stays up listening to the police radio channel for any news of Sandman. When he falls asleep, he has nightmares about Uncle Ben’s death and the anger he felt when he first confronted the original suspect in the first movie. As, Peter Parker dreams, we see a shadow of the venom seize Peter Parker above his chest and continue to take over the rest of his body as it consumes him completely. The venom finding Peter Parker during this particular night is not coincidental; the Venom essentially represents Spider-Man’s lust for vengeance binding with his personality and transforming it. The villainous substance is purely metaphorical; Spider-Man turns into Venom because of his thirst for vengeance and his negative thoughts and emotions. This scene introduces the idea that one’s negative feelings can have a consuming effect on one’s personality. You can couple this desire for vengeance with Peter’s already inflating ego as a New York hero and icon, and you have a recipe for spiritual disaster.

The use of Venom as a symbol of negative personality development is seen in its takeover of Eddie Brock. After Peter manages to get rid of the substance, it falls onto Eddie Brock who unwittingly stands beneath it as it falls away from Spider-Man. Eddie Brock had just been fired by J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle, from a position he had desperately desired. And he had subsequently seen Peter Parker on a date with the girl of his dreams, Gwen Stacy. These two massive disappointments had left Eddie devastated and extremely angry at Peter. Once the venom falls on him, it takes him over completely and his desire for vengeance and rage take over his personality completely. Here again, we see that Venom isn’t really a character of his own. He is instead, a poison that enters the being of a person that lets dangerous desires and selfish motives consume him completely.

Lastly, we have another spiritual theme in what serves as kryptonite for the evil symbiote: the sound of bells. Spider-Man manages to get rid of his own venom through being close to a giant ringing church bell. The bell is anathema to venom who shrieks and moans when he’s subjected to the noise. What’s the symbolic meaning of this relationship? Well, the church is after all an institution that stands for many of the themes in the movie such as choosing to do right, being sincere, being “good”, and fighting against one’s selfish tendencies. That probably has to do with writers’ choice of a church bell as what removes the venom from Spider-Man.

Agree? Disagree? Regardless, I hope you enjoyed my little analysis. Keep it in mind if you ever watch this awesome movie again.

George Orwell Turns Over in Grave After Hearing Egyptian Television

From about a year ago:

George Orwell needs to become required reading material for the Egyptian public as soon as possible. I say this because the Egyptian media is currently pushing forward some of the most obviously Orwellian propaganda in the world today. Whether you are for or against the Muslim Brotherhood is besides the point of this article. What is at stake here is whether you are for or against democracy. The current media environment in Egypt is making a really strong effort to maintain the appearance of democracy. In many ways, the Orwellian media shows that big business, media pundits, and the military are still very much invested in protecting their image. To highlight some of the most aggravating things I’ve seen in the media, here are three ways in which the propaganda machine in Egypt has been defending the military coup and the ban of a popular party:

1. ”Egypt Fights Terrorism”

Most Egyptian channels made sure to display this slogan during the crackdown on the anti-military protests in Egypt a couple of months ago. It didn’t matter that the vast majority of the protesters were not even armed, the media had no qualms about sending a mass signal that it was in fact fighting “terrorists”, single-handedly aligning anti-coup and pro-Brotherhood protesters with other infamous terrorists of today such as Osama Bin Laden, suicide bombers, and the 9/11 hijackers.

2. Using Songs to Support the Army

Patriotic songs have been broadcast all over Egyptian television this past year. The amount of appropriation is appalling. Nationalism in Egypt is highly connected to the military. These nationalistic songs evoke strong emotions in the souls of Egyptians; they are not only patriotic and catchy, but also happen to be sung by Egypt’s greatest musicians and are nostalgia-evoking. The emotions that this music evokes is used by the media and military to stir devotion and support for the coup and against the “foreign” and “unpatriotic” Brotherhood.

3. Removing the Voice of the Opposition

The talk shows in Egypt are exclusively pro-military. The military shut down the pro-Brotherhood channels when they undertook the last coup. Most of the group’s leaders are in jail and most importantly, almost all pro-Brotherhood or anti-coup opinions are absent from the air. What replaces that vacuum is an onslaught of anti-Brotherhood opinions, arguments, and propaganda. I’ve personally seen talk shows spend hours discussing the separation of church and state (making the assumption that the Brotherhood violated that idea. They may have. But there is no alternative opinion or counterargument provided). I’ve also seen shows spend hours discussing outrageous claims about the Brotherhood, such as the MB’s impending plan to cede Sinai to Hamas, sell the Suez Canal to Qatar, and how they caused the gas shortage that preceded the coup by selling natural gas and oil to Gaza. As outrageous as those claims are to us, many or most Egyptians accept them as fact, even as the claimants provide no supporting evidence. The absence of a pro-Brotherhood voice or even a voice that reluctantly accepts their right to participate in the political process is completely absent in Egyptian media today.

I really don’t understand how this doesn’t aggravate more Egyptians. I don’t have a pro-Brotherhood stance myself, and I’ve heard many people justify the military coup in different ways. But I nonetheless cannot stand excessive and emotional rhetoric, which is pervasive in Egyptian media today.

Thoughts on The Namesake

the namesake










I recently finished reading The Namesake. I was first drawn to the book after watching about 20 minutes of the movie on a plane (the movie stars Kal Penn and it has received good reviews). I became more interested in picking it up when the book became a topic of conversation at a friend’s Brooklyn house party.  While the main character Gogol’s experience is not one that is shared by all progeny of immigrant parents, it is definitely one with which many identify.  Raised by Indian parents in New England, Gogol changes his name to Nikhil upon his acceptance to Yale. The novel is about how he grapples with his identity as he becomes an American adult, and his struggles to reconcile it with his past as a son of immigrant parents.  I was particularly touched by how characters attempt to define themselves in realms in which they can be born anew. For Gogol, that realm might be architecture, and for Moushumi that realm is the study of french literature and life in Paris. Overall, I wasn’t blown away by the novel, but it was a good read. I might pick up Jhumpa Lahiri’s (the author) Interpreter of Maladies at some point.

Why The International Olympic Committee Should Start an Olympic Compensation Program

A blog entry written last year by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, highlighted some interesting statistics regarding the International Olympic Committee’s revenues. On average, the IOC generates annual revenue of approximately $1.4 billion. A 2010 tax return shows that the IOC actually had a $1.4 billion net balance (in cash). Now that we’ve discussed the grand amount of revenue the IOC generates annually, it’s time to detail the share that the IOC gives to the participating athletes, without whom there would be no such thing as an IOC. This process won’t take me too long, because the IOC shares $0 of revenue directly with the athletes. The money is passed from the IOC to national olympic committees which then give that money to the plethora of sporting federations. The sporting federations then use that money for the athletes. In order to stop the rampant corruption and theft that occurs during this process, I implore the IOC to directly compensate the athletes that participate in each Olympics. They can set up the compensation process so that athletes get paid a portion of the amount the IOC makes from each sport’s broadcasting, sponsorship, and spectator revenue.

The reason I see this as a great policy solution is because I’ve become aware of the culture of corruption that exists in NOC (national olympic committees) around the world. Some of that corruption has made the news and some hasn’t. It would therefore benefit the athletes if they could receive at least some of their training funds directly from the IOC at the Olympics. The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of Olympic athletes aren’t professionals, do not win gold medals, and do not have lucrative corporate sponsorships. Many cannot support themselves from the stipends they receive from their sports governing bodies, and often hold down more than one job to support their primary responsibilities as Olympic hopefuls.  In order to pay rent and to support their families, athletes have to maintain a strict schedule that involves working during the day in a full-time job or even working two part-time jobs, while IOC and NOC executives maintain lavish salaries.

To present the most tragic victim of the IOC’s exploitation, I’d like to bring attention to the case of Samia Yusuf Omar, an impoverished Olympic runner from Somalia. Failing to find any support to train in Somalia in the pre-2012 training period, she moved to Ethiopia, which has better training facilities. When that attempt didn’t prove fruitful, she decided sailing to Europe from Libya was the way to find a coach to train her for the London Olympics. She drowned and died when the boat she was on capsized. Her death was a direct consequence of the horrendous support many athletes receive to fund their living and training. Perhaps if the IOC had a policy of directly compensating athletes for participation in each Olympics, Samia would have received enough money for participating in 2008 to better support her family and train a little more comfortably during the years running up to 2012. How many more Samia Omars are we willing to see drown in the Mediterranean while the IOC profits in billions of dollars?

It’s high time the IOC starts compensating athletes for participating in each Olympics. Athletes in London perform in front of a global audience to profit advertisers, sponsors, media, and the IOC. Why should the athletes, the most crucial segment of the event, not also be compensated? As an Olympian, I know that athletes feel that speaking out would be equivalent to showing ingratitude. Remaining positive is part of our psychological make-up and fuels our will to continue training with passion. This point is why few athletes joined Ray Allen and Dwayne Wade in highlighting the compensation issue in London. Many athletes share the same attitude as Omar El Ghazaly, Egyptian discus thrower, who trains 12 times a week, has two part-time jobs and rarely complains. Regarding the lack of support he stated via email, “I got nothing from my federation, just pressure and zero support…I am not happy with the lack of support for sure, but I am not sad either…if you want really to achieve something and reach your dreams then never wait for any support, and be strong…”

As athletes, we are honored and proud to represent our country. But we’re often underfunded by our sporting federations. It’s therefore crucial that we get support directly from the IOC for Olympic participation instead of getting funded indirectly by often incompetent national sporting federations and national olympic committees. Corruption is rampant among NOCs and national sporting federations. The IOC would eliminate much of this corruption by directly compensating athletes. As Mark Cuban wrote, “What’s more American than getting paid for a hard day’s work?”