Munk Debate

My plan was to write about the Munk Debate on my HuffPost page, but alas, I never got around to it and now it feels too late. So I’ll just post a few thoughts/links here now. I brought my sister with me to see the debate – she had a particular interest in the topic as she has worked with refugees in the past. Further, she is knowledgeable and serious about the Middle East and about the difficulties we face in trying to be humane all while doing our best to not be stupid about our own security.

First of all, some links: Steve Paikin sums up how I viewed the evening, for the most part, and — with considerably more edge — so does Kathy Shaidle (I wish I could write like her!). Barbara Kay and Nicholas Nazar are also worth your time.

I went expecting to like Simon Schama and Mark Steyn and not knowing much about the other two speakers, Louise Arbour and Nigel Farage, other than that Arbour worked for the UN and therefore pleases my Annex-nik neighbours here in Toronto (and Farage decidedly does not). Now, it might seem odd that I attended with the expectation that both Schama and Steyn would impress me, but it shouldn’t. Schama is one of the few literati leftists who supports Israel and his Story of the Jews is quite a treat. And Steyn is, well, he’s Steyn — Sinatra, cats, politics, books, Broadway.

By the end of the evening, I found Arbour to be what my mother would have called “a pill,” and Farage to have been quite reasonable and serious. He and Steyn both showed up armed with statistics, facts, ideals and arguments based on an understanding of events and of history. I had expected the same from Schama, but I was disappointed. Other than his choice of very stylish footwear for the evening, he appeared to be phoning everything in, right down to his closing statement, which consisted of him reading John Donne’s Meditation XVII. The latter is a magnificent poem, but really, Simon Schama, that is your closing argument? It was as though both Schama and Arbour felt it was enough to get up there and say “we should be nice.” Well yes, we should be. I have not a doubt the opposing team agreed with that sentiment. But if we’re blind in our niceness, we will be incapable of helping anyone down the line, which is what Steyn pointed out in his closing argument (which was actually an argument).

There was a smugness in how the pro-side approached the debate, and I think that it was, in large part, why they lost. There was kind of a disbelief — particularly from Arbour — that the audience could possibly do anything other than support her statements. She became quite snarky and snide when she felt any change in the crowd’s mood, any sway in a different direction.

In a way, I don’t blame her for that attitude: I’ve been to many Munk Debates and it is generally a pretty Annex-nik audience (or “Trudeau-pian,” as Steyn called it on his website). Schama, for his part, kept mentioning that he “didn’t disagree” with Steyn and Farage about certain things. I couldn’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have felt more comfortable on the opposing team (particularly given Arbour’s, er, past attitudes about Israel), but couldn’t bring himself to admit it.

I don’t get out much, because I simply prefer to stay home, but I was glad I made the effort. Thanks to my sister, who really provided the impetus, coming from out of town to attend. If you click the link here, you can watch the debate (though you may have to sign in or register or something).

Don Matteo

I’m afraid I became far too emotionally invested in season 10 of the Italian series Don Matteo. The finale aired this past week, and while it is probably not worth reading a lot into it, I have to wonder what it says about Italians that apparently most of the show’s fans/viewers were happy with the ending. (I make this judgment based on reading online reviews and social media critiques of the series, for whatever that is worth.) Basically, this season revolved around a love triangle in which a truly horrible, trashy girl (Lia) wins over the heart of a police captain (Giulio) who is set to marry a sweet, beautiful woman (Margherita) who writes children’s books.

Now, the trashy girl is pregnant by someone other than the police captain and asks him to pretend he’s the kid’s father because, you know, she just didn’t really like the guy by whom she got pregnant. This is just for starters. As the season developed, she did the following: quit her job and moved in with her 60-something aunt and uncle, expecting them to pay for everything and look after her and her baby; pretended to be friends with her rival so that she could sabotage her wedding plans; poisoned her rival; threw herself repeatedly — and in a slutty manner — at the police captain even after he had announced his engagement; was spiteful and resentful that everyone liked the police captain’s fiancée and sulked and pouted about it; made scenes and just generally behaved like a drama queen when she didn’t get her way or when someone displeased her; manipulated and lied about any number of things in virtually every episode in which she was featured (far too many); asked the police captain to be in the delivery room with her regardless of how inappropriate such a demand was, given that a) he had a girlfriend and b) there were countless other people she could have asked; spied on the police captain and his fiancée via a closed-circuit camera (of which they were unaware) when they were on a romantic date, and…more. There was more.

Lia was just the worst. Una stronza.

And yet…she is insanely popular with viewers of the show. When Lia won over Giulio and he humiliated Margherita at the altar, a majority of viewers were happy! Why? I have no clue, but it’s a sorry reflection on Italian TV viewers.

All of this was aggravated by two other factors: 1) Lia’s character is the cousin of Giulio’s dead wife. In other words, he is marrying his dead wife’s cousin. Ew. And the dead wife was terrific — I have no clue why the show’s writers killed her off after Season 8. 2) The actress who plays Lia — Nadir Caselli — has what Italians call a voce di ochetta (roughly translated, a goose voice, a bimbo voice, a screechy, whiny, profoundly grating voice). I found her fastidiosa, una lagna, una stronza, egoista and cattiva. Of course, one of the reasons I watch Italian TV is to keep my level of Italian up, so I guess my contempt for Lia served a purpose. Lagna, for example, was a new word for me.

Further, the show’s title character behaved in an appalling way in the finale. Don Matteo is a priest who spends virtually every episode lecturing everyone and sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, but also being kind and empathetic, even with murderers and rapists and thieves.  And yet, in this last episode, when Giulio dumps Margherita at the altar to run away with trashy Lia, Don Matteo smiles and seems, like, really happy! And then, outside the church, when Margherita is clearly suffering, he doesn’t so much as offer her a kind word or a shoulder to cry on or an invitation to come and talk to him at the church (where he usually helps people in their moments of woe). He just talks about her behind her back with some of the guests. Huh? Gosh, very compassionate and priestly.

So that is my rant – I got far too upset and invested in the series this season. I’ve seen every season now (though not all of them in real time), but I honestly don’t think I will watch if there is a Season 11. I don’t think I can bear Lia’s voce di ochetta for another three months.

Where Have all the Moynihans Gone?

The extraordinary 1975 Daniel Patrick Moynihan speech, in response to the madness of the “Zionism equals racism” resolution that had passed. There are no Moynihans now, I fear, and more and more fools who think that Zionism is racism. (I’m related to a few.)

Daniel Pearl’s father wrote a column a few years ago in which he lamented the “normalization of evil.” He was quite right, and as Significant Other said upon reading those words, “there is also the evil-ization of normal.” One normal thing now made to appear evil is supporting Israel.

Listen to this speech, the moral clarity, the understanding of history. It makes me so miss my brother Alan – he was one of the few people (and even fewer relatives) with whom I could have serious discussions about politics and history.

Another Great Bernie Ad

He is wrong about many, many things. But man, does his team make great ads! This is another goosebump-inducer, rather like this one. I would challenge much of what he says here about “rights,” and also, I wonder what he means when he says the U.S. is the only “major” country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare as a “right.” What is “major,” first of all? There’s more I would challenge (particularly about unions and “dignity”), but man, why bother with the facts? Just enjoy! As my late brother used to say, there will be tears!

Ghomeshi, Unfortunately

Had hoped to keep this site as Ghomeshi-free as possible, but I wanted to comment on the #webelievesurvivors hashtag. I really resent the use of the word “survivors” to describe the three women in this case. Even if everything they are saying is true, they weren’t in Auschwitz, or buried under rubble for seven days, or stricken with cancer. It is a little bit like the over-use of the word “brave.” Supermodels who don’t wear makeup are called brave, for example. To me, brave is hiding Anne Frank in your attic.

Istanbul

Always upsetting to hear of these attacks anywhere, but when it is a place you once called home, more so. I have many friends in Turkey, most of them former students still in Istanbul and the surrounding area, and  so many have reached out to me via social media to let me know they are ok. Glad for that, but so sad for what has happened, what is happening and what will continue to happen.

I know Istiklal Caddesi well, for though I lived on the Asian side of Istanbul, I often crossed the Bosphorus to go shopping on the European side.

What I find most creepy is that it looks as though the bomber was eyeing Israeli tourists. So sick.

Frank Sinatra Jr.

On the death of Frank Sinatra Jr., I thought I’d post this very good piece by Tom Junod. It was written over 20 years ago and reposted in 2013. It was not easy being the Chairman’s son, as one can imagine. My Significant Other and I used to listen to Frank Jr. on Siriusly Sinatra and as S.O. once said, “Compared to most people, he is a decent singer. But compared to his father, he’s a disappointment.” Still, Sinatra Jr. seemed to have terrific humour about his unique situation and Junod shows great empathy.

Somewhat a propos, the  tribute I wrote to Frank on the 100th anniversary of his birth. In it, you can find links to many great pieces of writing about Sinatra, including Gay Talese’s famous “Frank Sinatra has a cold.”