Sunday, January 01, 2006

REV: Rising/Falling Stars

Maybe the Stars Have Gotten Small After All
By SHARON WAXMAN, LOS ANGELES, The New York Times, January 1, 2006

IT was months before the cameras were set to roll on one of 20th Century Fox's most ambitious projects for 2005, a $140 million historic epic about the Crusades by the director Ridley Scott. And still there was no one to play the leading role of Balian.

Mr. Scott had at first envisioned Russell Crowe, the scowling, muscled star of his "Gladiator" hit, to play the role of a blacksmith and reluctant Crusader in the Holy Land. But Mr. Crowe had other projects on his slate, and would not alter them to fit the director's timetable.

It took four more months of searching by casting agents and Mr. Scott to settle on Orlando Bloom, the long-haired, doe-eyed young British actor who was high on Hollywood's list of hot new stars in the making. Mr. Bloom, who had won a fan base of teenage girls with his performance in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and who was fresh off the set of another historical epic, Warner Brothers' "Troy," was the favored choice of Fox executives.

But as it turned out, "Troy" did not catch fire with the audience (not even the teenage girls), or with critics. And Mr. Bloom's next major outing, in Mr. Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven," was a bust, taking in just $211 million in ticket sales around the world, hardly enough to justify its production and marketing costs.

Next came the lead in Cameron Crowe's comic romance, "Elizabethtown," which pancaked at the box office when Paramount released it in the fall, and exposed Mr. Bloom to a withering verdict by movie critics. Just a month later, moreover, the 28-year-old actor was sued by his former management company, the Firm, for breach of contract and failure to pay management fees, over the defection of his manager to another firm.

By the end of 2005, what just a year earlier had looked like the start of an upward climb toward Hollywood stardom began instead to read like a cautionary tale about the difficulty of minting movie superstars from the ranks of a 20-something generation.

Stardom came easier to the young only a decade or two ago. At 23, Tom Cruise grasped it with the release of "Top Gun" in 1986, and flaunted it two years later by turning a vehicle as slight as "Cocktail" into a major hit. Julia Roberts was a superstar at 22, after the success of "Pretty Woman" in 1990, and Leonardo DiCaprio was just 23 when "Titanic" turned him into an international screen presence in 1997.

All quickly rose into Hollywood's top salary tier - the ranks of the $20 million actor, or thereabouts - and achieved bankable status with nervous executives who were willing to make a costly film because these actors were in it.

That kind of glitter has remained out of reach for Mr. Bloom's generation, notwithstanding a new crop of talent in the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, 25, who was featured in this past season's "Jarhead" and "Brokeback Mountain," or Heath Ledger, who co-starred in "Brokeback" and headlined in the just-released "Casanova."

YET none of them have proven their box-office clout with anything close to the certainty of their recent predecessors. And the calculus of the $20 million Hollywood equation has eluded them, as they have so far proved incapable of drawing the kinds of audiences that can justify the rising costs of producing and marketing movies. (One exception may be Daniel Radcliffe, the 16-year-old who recently signed on to star in the fifth "Harry Potter" film for a reported $14.4 million, but he has yet to test his drawing power outside that franchise.)

"The comfort level of hiring a star isn't what it used to be," said Jim Gianopulos, Fox's co-chairman. "I think people have recognized that there's a folly in allowing yourself to fall prey to the expectation that talent will always recover its value in the kinds of numbers we're playing with."

If new stars are born more rarely, it is partly because American audiences have been turning their backs on star-driven pictures. Of last year's top dozen box-office events, only three - "Hitch," with Will Smith; "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie; and "Wedding Crashers," with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson - relied more on celebrities than computer wizardry to achieve their success. And several expensive movies with proven stars fell flat, among them "Bewitched" with Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, and "Cinderella Man" with Russell Crowe.

"There's a shrinking number of dramatic stars who can guarantee an opening-weekend audience," said Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios and a former agent for A-list talent including Mr. Cruise and Tom Hanks. "They must be in the right vehicle at the right time."

So, what is the state of Hollywood stardom? Mr. Bloom's recent career experiences show that it is more difficult to achieve than it once was.

Agents and managers and a publicist for Mr. Bloom declined to discuss for the record his recent choices and the growing wariness toward stars on the part of audiences and film executives.

Mr. Bloom wrote in an e-mail message that he was focused on his craft, rather than on achieving stardom. (He declined to be interviewed further). "I am proud of my two films that came out this year, 'Kingdom of Heaven' and 'Elizabethtown,' " he wrote. "I learned so much from both Ridley Scott and Cameron Crowe, and view both experiences as the opportunities of a lifetime."

Still, court documents and interviews with colleagues provide a telling glimpse of a young actor in an era that has a new, more austere take on Hollywood stardom.

Born in Canterbury, England, in 1977, Mr. Bloom came to show business with an unconventional background. His father, Harry Bloom, was a famed political activist who fought for civil rights in South Africa and died when Orlando was 4. The boy was brought up, along with his older sister, by his mother, Sonia, and a family friend, Colin Stone. But when Orlando was a young teenager, his mother revealed that Mr. Stone was actually his biological father.

Suffering from dyslexia as a student, Mr. Bloom was drawn to the arts and poetry in school in the English county of Kent. At 16 he moved to London and joined the National Youth Theater, where he had a scholarship to train in a drama academy. He won a few television roles and had a small role in a 1997 movie about Oscar Wilde titled "Wilde."

Mr. Bloom went on to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where his first big break occurred during a student performance one night in 1998. The director Peter Jackson happened to be in the audience, and he came backstage to ask Mr. Bloom to audition for a set of movies he was preparing based on the J. R. R. Tolkien trilogy, "Lord of the Rings."

The fledgling actor's career quickly took hold as he gathered the accoutrements of Hollywood's star-making machinery. He was signed by International Creative Management in London, where he worked with Fiona McLoughlin, and in Beverly Hills, with Chris Andrews, both agents for young actors.

He made his Hollywood debut at 24 as the dashing Elvish archer Legolas Greenleaf in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," in December 2001. Mr. Bloom became an instant teenage idol - in 2002 he was chosen one of Teen People's "25 Hottest Stars Under 25" - and his following grew through the two Tolkien sequels.

In time-honored fashion, Mr. Bloom's entourage grew as well. He hired a manager, Aleen Keshishian, whose management company, the Firm, had just acquired the apparatus and ambitions of the faltering Hollywood powerbroker Michael Ovitz. He also hired a publicist, Robin Baum, from the high-profile company PMK/HBH.

Led by its chairman, Jeff Kwatinetz, the Firm had eyes for creating big stars and was busy building up the careers of performers like Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Cameron Diaz. Mr. Kwatinetz saw Mr. Bloom as a prime candidate to grow into a $20 million player, especially when Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," in which Mr. Bloom played a supporting role with Johnny Depp, became a surprise hit.

When the role of Paris in "Troy" came along, Mr. Kwatinetz clashed with Ms. Keshishian. He felt that the role presented too weak an image for an actor aspiring to the position of virile leading man. Ms. Keshishian felt differently. Mr. Bloom was slowly building a career, she believed, and a prominent part in a major international epic was a smart move.

Ms. Keshishian prevailed. But the dynamics of the star game were already changing. One star vehicle after another was coming up short at the box office - "Troy" with Brad Pitt," "The Terminal" with Tom Hanks, "The Manchurian Candidate" with Denzel Washington, "The Stepford Wives" with Nicole Kidman - and Hollywood was beginning to edge away from its commitment to high-cost talent.

This shift seemed at first to work in Mr. Bloom's favor. When Russell Crowe, a $20 million actor, bowed out of "Kingdom of Heaven," Mr. Bloom was briefly perceived as a bargain: an actor with a huge fan base among teenage girls, and one who would take a cut in his fee in exchange for the opportunity to have a leading role and work with Mr. Scott. He was paid just $2 million.

But when it opened in May, "Kingdom of Heaven" had disastrous ticket sales of just $47 million in the United States. While it did considerably better abroad, the film seemed to prove that Mr. Bloom was not ready to deliver a mass audience, at least not outside the framework of his earlier fantasy films.

The downward slide continued in another failed test of Mr. Bloom's drawing power, this time in a romantic comedy. Cameron Crowe, the acclaimed writer-director of "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous," had run into casting troubles with "Elizabethtown," about a young, successful sneaker designer who undergoes an identity crisis when his father dies. Mr. Crowe originally cast the 25-year-old television star Ashton Kutcher in the lead. But as the director said in a recent interview, he "didn't feel the movie coming together" during two months of work on location in Kentucky. The two parted ways, and Mr. Crowe looked for a replacement.

He thought of Mr. Bloom, whom he had met three years before when Mr. Crowe wrote and directed a commercial for the Gap in which Mr. Bloom and Kate Beckinsale were chased down the street by fans.

"I needed the same thing from both those actors," said Mr. Crowe, referring to Mr. Kutcher and Mr. Bloom, explaining why he chose a dramatic actor for a comic role. "It was an interior, whimsical thing. It was Bud Cort in 'Harold and Maude.' Ultimately Orlando got me closer."

The studio resisted. Sherry Lansing, then chairwoman of Paramount, wanted Owen Wilson. But Cameron Crowe got his choice, and Mr. Bloom was paid $3 million, which his representatives described as another finnancial compromise made for the chance to work with the director.

Cost, it turned out, was the least of the problems with "Elizabethtown." The film was made for about $70 million, but has taken in just $50 million in ticket sales, making it a calamity for the filmmaker, the studio and, most of all, the star, who was perceived by more than a few critics as having gotten in over his head. (In The New York Times, A. O. Scott wrote, "Mr. Bloom distinguishes himself, in this performance as in most of his others, by his steadfast reluctance to explore his range as an actor.")

"You can't blame the actor," Mr. Crowe now says of the movie's failure. "It's not math. It's like catching lightning in a bottle."

And he said that he still believed in the possibility of Mr. Bloom's success: "Stars arrive on their own timetable."

That may be true; just a few years ago Mr. Ledger was written off after the double disasters of "The Four Feathers" and "A Knight's Tale." But that timetable is often of Hollywood's own making, as the inner machinery of the entertainment industry - the agents, managers, lawyers, publicists and movie executives - continually seek the stuff of which stardom is made, and on which their livelihoods depend.

As for Mr. Bloom, he is in the Caribbean, trying to recover his footing with roles in back-to-back sequels to "Pirates of the Caribbean," alongside Mr. Depp. At least in this case, Mr. Bloom has seen his salary rise nicely; he is being paid $11.9 million for the pair of movies.

But Hollywood is most likely already on the march, hunting for its next new naif. The other day Mr. Cameron Crowe heard from a screenwriter friend whose new script calls for a leading man of 25. "He called me and said, 'I'd love to pick your brain,' " Mr. Crowe recalled. "And I said, 'You better get an ax and start working the hard road, my friend. You've got a long journey ahead.' "

Saturday, December 31, 2005

ENV: Losing Pikas

American pika seen headed toward extinction

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Human activity and climate change may be pushing the tiny American pika toward extinction in the mountains of western North America, according to research published Thursday.

The small rabbit-like mammals live in rock-strewn slopes but are gradually being pushed to higher elevations and are running out of places to live, archeologist Donald Grayson reports in the current issue of the Journal of Biogeography.

"Human influences have combined with factors such as climate change operating over longer time scales to produce the diminished distribution of pikas in the Great Basin today," Grayson said.

Seven of 25 historically described populations of pikas in the Great Basin -- the area between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains -- appear to have become extinct by the end of the 20th century, Grayson said.

Among the intrusions that appear to imperil the pikas are roads built close to their habitat and pressure from grazing livestock, Grayson said.

He examined 57 archeological sites dating as far back as 40,000 years, as well as unpublished studies by other researchers, finding that the tiny mammals have been pushed higher over the years.

"The Great Basin pika is totally isolated on separated mountain ranges and there is no way one of these populations can get to another," Grayson said in a statement. "They don't have much up-slope habitat left."

Pikas, which are very sensitive to high temperatures, are considered to be one of the best early warning systems for detecting global warming in the western United States, the journal reported.

Friday, December 30, 2005

ENV: King Kong and Island Evolution

Fictional King Kong mirrors odd island facts

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) -- King Kong may be a far-fetched creation of Hollywood but scientists say the big ape has some basis in biological fact: animals on islands often evolve into gigantic versions of their mainland kin.

"There is a whole body of research on islands which suggests gigantism occurs on them but of course nothing on the scale of King Kong," said Sue Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist and director of the global species program for WWF International.

"There is evidence that this happens because of isolation and a lack of competition ... the further an island is from the mainland the more potential there is for the evolution of new species," she told Reuters by telephone from Rome.

"King Kong," which is reigning at the North American box office this holiday season, is a remake of the 1930s classic about a giant gorilla found on an uncharted island. (Full story)

Besides falling for the female lead, director Peter Jackson's ape battles predatory dinosaurs on an island that is also inhabited by titanic bats and bugs.

Evolutionary extravagance
Jackson's monsters may be a stretch, but it is a fiction which mirrors some strange facts about island life.

"Islands are havens and breeding grounds for the unique and anomalous. They are natural laboratories of extravagant evolutionary experimentation," writes David Quammen in his book 'The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction'.

There are many examples of what biologists term "gigantism" on islands.

These include the Komodo dragons, the world's largest lizards which can be 10 feet long or more and weigh up to 500 pounds.

Found on a few small Indonesian islands, the Komodo -- a recorded man-eater -- is in many ways as chilling as anything from Jackson's fertile imagination.

Some of these quirks of evolution have occurred in a matter of decades -- an astonishing speed.

On remote Gough Island in the South Atlantic, "monster mice" are eating albatross chicks alive, threatening rare bird species on the world's most important seabird colony.

The house mice -- believed to have made their way to Gough decades ago on sealing and whaling ships -- have evolved to about three times their normal size.

Their remarkable growth seems to have been given a boost by a vast reservoir of fresh meat and protein in the form of the endangered Tristan albatross chicks on which they are feeding.

The huge Indian Ocean island of Madagascar -- the setting of another 2005 Hollywood blockbuster -- has also given rise to plenty of natural oddities.

These included massive elephant birds that stood over 9 feet 10 inches in height and lemurs that weighed 176 pounds and more.

Madagascar broke away from East Africa more than 100 million years ago, leaving it to evolve a rich ecosystem with 10,000 plant species, 316 reptiles and 109 bird species -- many of which are found nowhere else.

Moving in the opposite direction, island species have also displayed a marked tendency to shrink in size -- a process known as "dwarfism" -- though "Mini-Kong" would probably be a flop as a sequel.

This has been observed in island-dwelling hippos, elephant and deer, many of which have mutated into much smaller versions of their continental cousins.

Seemingly the last of his kind, King Kong also reflects another phenomenon of islands -- their disturbingly high rate of extinction, especially when humans land on them.

Many island species have evolved in a predator-free environment -- producing things like flightlessness in birds -- which makes them easy prey for meat-eating intruders.

Such was the fate of Madagascar's elephant birds as well as the famed dodo of Mauritius.

According to the World Conservation Union, close to 800 species have become extinct since 1500, when accurate historical and scientific records began.

While the vast majority of extinctions since that time have occurred on islands, over the past 20 years continental extinctions have become as common.

Scientists say this is partly because continental habitats are being diced up by human activities -- a process that is creating what some biologists term "virtual islands."

King Kong's real-life relatives are marooned on one of these "islands" on East Africa's Virunga mountain range, home to the last of the world's roughly 700 mountain gorillas.

Conservationists say poaching, logging and disease will soon wipe out the last of the world's great apes unless new strategies are devised to save humankind's closest relatives.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria in Africa to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Asia, scientists fear populations of gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans could disappear within a generation without urgent action.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

REV: The Best Old DVD Releases of 2005

Hailing the DVD Distributors: The Best Vault Raiders of 2005
DAVE KEHR, The New York Times, December 30, 2005

There were 53,737 different DVD's available in the North American market as of Dec. 14, not counting imports and pornographic films, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, a trade association. That's a lot of titles - far more than a mere human could possibly keep up with (though I sometimes think most of them are piled in my kitchen).

By now, DVD's have become much more than a delivery system for recent Hollywood hits. There are vast numbers of how-to titles; countless videos intended to make your offspring smarter (while getting them hooked on franchised cartoon characters); rafts of music and sports videos; and vast, uncharted realms of old television shows and prematurely canceled new ones.

Together, these almost certainly account for a far greater share of the DVD market than movies. But movies are what the medium does best. Because DVD's demand better source material than did the relatively low-fi media of VHS tape and laser disc, movies are now coming out in versions far superior to anything that's been seen since their original theatrical releases; in a few cases, like the digitally realigned Technicolor restorations from Warner Brothers and other producers ("The Wizard of Oz," "The Band Wagon"), the films actually look better in some respects than they did when they were first made.

The range of available films has grown tremendously, too. Where the major studios once contented themselves with reissues of Oscar winners and a handful of chestnuts, the more enterprising now dig into their libraries for movies that haven't been seen in decades. Independent labels are bringing in not just established art-house classics but also obscure titles drawn from the secret history of Italian horror films, Cantonese martial-arts movies, German crime thrillers and Bollywood musicals. And the avant-garde is making inroads, though compilations devoted to individual artists like Stan Brakhage and George Kuchar as well as anthologies like Bruce Posner's amazing "Unseen Cinema - Early American Avant-Garde Film," a groundbreaking seven-disc set that attempts nothing less than a redefinition of the field.

It is, in short, an exciting, exhausting and expensive time to be a movie lover. Rather than offer a list of the 10 or 20 "best" DVD releases of 2005 - how do you compare a sleekly engineered release of a recent Hollywood blockbuster with an obscure Filipino action film wrenched from a moldering negative? - it seemed more useful to look at what individual distributors achieved in the last year. Many of these companies have developed distinct personalities, as easily recognizable - if not more so - than some of the filmmakers they distribute.

The Titans
At the top of the heap stand the twin titans of Warner Home Video and the Criterion Collection, companies with radically different missions but equally strong commitments to quality. Warner, of course, has the Warner Brothers film library to draw on, a collection that now includes, thanks to Ted Turner, a good part of MGM, the totality of RKO and a large number of independent productions. But if Warner has Bogart, Criterion has Bergman - Ingmar, that is, along with the rest of the European classics that were the core of the old Janus Films theatrical library.

For 2005, Warner's headline release was the three-disc "King Kong" set, a superb packaging of the 1933 classic (transferred from a vintage print discovered in Britain, with all the naughty bits that were cut for the American theatrical reissue still startlingly intact) along with the curious, self-parodying sequel "Son of Kong" and the quasi-remake of 1949, "Mighty Joe Young." These are all titles familiar from years of television exposure, yet the Warner's set made them look burstingly new - particularly "Joe Young," which seems to have been taken directly from the camera negative. It's a sign of Warner's attention to detail that the fire sequence in "Joe Young," in which the big ape rescues a bunch of kids from a flaming orphanage, has been transferred with its original red tinting, a dramatic effect that much enhances the scene's impact. (Similarly, the tropical sequence in "The Sea Hawk," included in Warner's "Errol Flynn Signature Collection," has been restored to its original sepia tone.) All this, plus commentaries from the legendary stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen and the contemporary special effects wizard Ken Ralston, a documentary on the film's producer and co-director Merian C. Cooper directed by the film scholar Kevin Brownlow and even the original Max Steiner overture combine to create the definitive version of a key film that continues to live in the global subconscious.

Warner also deserves high marks for the second volume of its "Film Noir Classic Collection," a five-title boxed set that found a way to valorize lesser-known films like Robert Wise's "Born to Kill" (1947), Max Nosseck's "Dillinger" (1945, with commentary by John Milius) and Richard Fleischer's "Narrow Margin" (1952, with commentary by William Friedkin). It is one thing to reissue "The Wizard of Oz" in an excellent new edition, as Warner also did this year, but something quite different to take on neglected films and return them to the public eye. This is not just preserving our film heritage, but actively expanding it.

"The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection," which ended up at the Time-Warner subsidiary New Line Home Entertainment rather than the parent company, would be my pick for the best boxed set of the year - a seven-disc collection that, though eccentrically arranged, brought together a generous selection of Lloyd's silent classics, including "Safety Last" (1923) and "The Kid Brother" (1927), with three hours of bonus material that included a selection of Lloyd's 3-D photographs.

Probably my favorite DVD package this year was Criterion's "Boudu Saved From Drowning," which combined the latest French restoration of Jean Renoir's paean to paganism - embodied by the world's most repulsively lovable tramp, played by Michel Simon - with a wealth of inventive extras, including an interactive map of Paris that allowed viewers to follow Boudu's peristaltic path through the city (he is swallowed by the Seine on one side of the city and expelled by it on the other). And then there were "The Tales of Hoffmann" (1951) directed by Michael Powell; Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" (1985); Robert Bresson's indispensible "Pickpocket" (1959, on a disc that also included Babette Mangolte's fascinating documentary, "The Models of 'Pickpocket' "); "Ugetsu" (1953); "Le Samourai" (1967) by Jean-Pierre Melville; "The Flowers of St. Francis" (1950) by Roberto Rossellini; Michelangelo Antonioni's sublime "L'Eclisse" (1962); and Jules Dassin's 1950 "Night and the City" (1950). All this, and boxed sets for John Cassavetes (eight discs), Andrej Wajda's "war trilogy" and four overlooked Japanese swordplay films packaged as "Rebel Samurai." All wonderful stuff, and it never seems to stop coming.

Other Studio Treasures
The sleeping giant that is 20th Century Fox Home Video bestirred itself this year with the introduction of its "Fox Film Noir" series, 12 films so far (with more on the way in March) drawn from the studio vaults and presented in absolutely first-class transfers. The black-and-white of Otto Preminger's brilliant "Whirlpool" fairly pops from the screen, as does the color and CinemaScope of Sam Fuller's "House of Bamboo," a movie available for generations only in pan and scan television prints with badly faded color. Fox's "Studio Classics" series still seems to be lazily relying on Oscar-sanctioned but now nearly unwatchable titles like "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" and "Song of Bernadette," but things are picking up with livelier items like Robert Aldrich's "Hush ... Hush Sweet Charlotte" and Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road." Now, if only Fox could be convinced to examine its silent and pre-code holdings, a tremendous resource that includes some crucial titles by John Ford, F. W. Murnau, Howard Hawks, Frank Borzage, Allan Dwan and other canonical figures of the American cinema.

As the owner of the pre-1948 Paramount titles, as well as an almost completely unexplored library of its own, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has tremendous potential, though so far the company seems reluctant to go beyond its celebrated horror films. "The Bela Lugosi Collection" was a nice try, cramming no less than five Lugosi titles (including Edgar G. Ulmer's 1934 masterpiece, "The Black Cat") onto a single, double-sided disc, and their budget release of Preston Sturges's ultimate screwball comedy, "The Palm Beach Story," was probably the biggest bargain of the year (list price: $12.99). But while the company continues its quixotic quest to issue all of its Abbott and Costello and Ma and Pa Kettle programmers on DVD, it leases out classics like Ernst Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise" and Don Siegel's "The Killers" to Criterion, leaving its own studio heritage in the hands of others.

Paramount, having sold off its best titles to Universal in the early days of television, doesn't have much of a library remaining, though it has shown some resourcefulness in the last year, reviving little gems like Lewis Milestone's 1946 "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers," George Cukor's 1960 "Heller in Pink Tights" (the real first gay cowboy movie) and Blake Edwards's eternally reviled but quite interesting "Darling Lili" (1970). But it's Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the current owner of the Columbia, United Artists and the later MGM library, that has been the consistent underperformer. With all the excellent material under its control, the company seems content to colorize its Three Stooges shorts and let it go at that, though some interesting discs, including a terrific drive-in double bill of Ray Milland's "Panic in Year Zero" and "The Last Man on Earth" by Ubaldo B. Ragona, have slipped out through MGM Home Video (current owners of the American International library). MGM is now a Sony subsidiary that, one hopes, will continue to be permitted to follow its own path.

Disney, of course, has long been the one company with a passionate commitment to its past, perhaps because its past is still producing gigantic licensing revenue. This year brought gorgeous digital restorations of "Bambi" (1942) and "Cinderella" (1950), tricked up with phony stereo soundtracks and (I suspect) colors brightened for television consumption, but still excellent editions with copious extras. The continuing "Disney Treasures" series, curated by Leonard Maltin, has just yielded a fine collection of "Disney Rarities" (including some of the silent "Alice in Cartoonland" films that began Disney's career), and there is bound to be much more to come from Disney's well-maintained vaults.

The Indies
And then, for the wild world of the indies - those publishers unaffiliated with major studios who have to make their own discoveries. Kino on Video continues to dominate the independent field, with a steady stream of surprises like Fritz Lang's ultra-rare "The House by the River" and the "Slapstick Symposium" series produced with France's Lobster Films. The two volumes in "The Charley Chase Collection" assembles some crucial early work by the comedy genius Leo McCarey ("The Awful Truth"), including the most formally perfect two-reeler I know, the 1926 "Mighty Like a Moose." And Kino's first venture with the Museum of Modern Art has resulted in "Edison: The Invention of the Movies," a four-disc set produced for video by Bret Wood and containing some 140 short films from the earliest years of the medium.

New Yorker Films - like Kino, the video spinoff of a long-established New York theatrical distributor - has radically upgraded its DVD output in recent months. "The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach," by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, brings the rigorous work of these pioneering minimalist-materialists to the medium for the first time, in an edition that pays full respect to Mr. Straub's austere intentions. Milestone, a kitchen-table company that specializes in silent features and exotic travelogs, brought out two overlooked behemoths of the British silent cinema, E. A. Dupont's extravagant, Expressionistic melodrama "Piccadilly" (1929) and Maurice Elvy's working-class drama "Hindle Wakes" (1927), both startling discoveries that would otherwise have remained unknown in this country.

NoShame Video, an Italian-American company operating out of California, has carved out a niche for itself with its dual-pronged program of art-house revivals (including Bernardo Bertolucci's "Partner" and the anthology film "Boccaccio 70") and grind-house oddities (including Umberto Lenzi's genuinely disturbing "Almost Human"). Mondo Macabro, a British-based outfit, continues to amaze and astound with its pop discoveries from around the world, including "For Your Height Only," a secret agent spoof from the Philippines starring the two-and-a-half-foot-tall performer Weng Weng.

On a (much) more dignified note, First Run Features has been concentrating on documentaries and political films, bringing together the influential and entertaining first-person work of the documentarian Ross McElwee for a distinguished boxed set, and releasing selected titles from the East German studio DEFA, now owned by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "The DEFA Sci-Fi Collection" brings together three cold-war fantasies of space travel and Communist domination of the known universe, blending outrageous camp and Marxist ideology.

Tartan, another British company, has found its niche with its "Asia Extreme" series, which has introduced the work of the formally brilliant South Korean filmmaker Park Chanwook to American audiences ("Old Boy," "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," the forthcoming "Lady Vengeance") as well as several horror and suspense films from the busy Asian market, like Kim Jee-woon's subtle and insinuating "A Tale of Two Sisters."

One could go on, and one will - praising the Chicago-based Dark Sky Films for its discovery of Arnold Laven's striking "Without Warning!," a pioneering serial killer film, and Zeitgeist Films for its dedication to important contemporary auteurs like Guy Maddin ("Cowards Bend the Knee") and Jia Zhangke ("The World"), and the National Center for Jewish Film for releasing all four of Edgar Ulmer's Yiddish films in restored editions. But the DVD player is beckoning, and I think it is time for me to get back to the couch.

A Year's Feast for the Cinematic Epicure
Here is a listing of the DVD's discussed in this article, with their original suggested prices. Most are available at a discount from online retailers and the distributors' Web sites.

"Boudu Saved From Drowning," $29.95; "John Cassavetes: Five Films," eight discs, $124.95; "L'Eclisse," two discs, $39.95; "The Flowers of St. Francis," $29.95; "Night and the City," $39.95; "Pickpocket," $39.95; "Ran," $39.95; "Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics," four discs, $99.95; "Le Samourai," $29.95; "The Tales of Hoffmann," $39.95; "Ugetsu," two discs, $39.95; "Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films," three discs, $79.95.

"Without Warning!," $14.98.

"Bambi" Platinum Edition, two discs, $29.99; "Cinderella" Special Edition, two discs, $29.99; "Disney Rarities, Celebrated Shorts: 1920's-1960's," two discs, $32.99.

"The DEFA Sci-Fi Collection," three discs, $59.95; "The Ross McElwee DVD Collection," five discs, $99.95.

"Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941," seven discs, $99.99.

"The Charley Chase Collection" and "The Charley Chase Collection 2," each $24.95; "Edison: the Invention of the Movies," four discs, $99.95; "The House by the River," $24.95.

"Panic in Year Zero"/"The Last Man on Earth," $14.94.

"Hindle Wakes," "Piccadilly," each $29.95.

"For Your Height Only," $24.95.

Films of Edgar G. Ulmer: "American Matchmaker," "Green Fields," "The Light Ahead," "The Singing Blacksmith," $36 each, $126 for all four.

"The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection," six discs, $89.95.

"The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach," $29.95.

"Almost Human," $19.95; "Boccaccio 70," two discs, $29.95; "Partner," two discs, $29.95.

"Darling Lili," "Heller in Pink Tights," "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers," each $14.99.

"Old Boy," "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," "A Tale of Two Sisters," each $24.99.

"House of Bamboo," "Hush ... Hush Sweet Charlotte," "Two for the Road," "Whirlpool," each $14.98.

"The Bela Lugosi Collection," $26.98; "The Palm Beach Story," $12.98.

"Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 2," five discs, $49.95; "Errol Flynn Signature Collection," six discs, $59.95; "The King Kong Collection," four discs, $39.98; "The Wizard of Oz" Collector's Edition, three discs, $49.98.

"Cowards Bend the Knee," "The World," each $29.99.

ATH: Finding a Way to Surf?

Surfers in Turmoil With the Loss of a Major Supplier
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN, The New York Times, December 30, 2005

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The thefts began shortly after the day surfers call Blank Monday, when the surfing community from San Diego to Santa Cruz and beyond felt caught in the undertow of what Grubby Clark had done.

Mr. Clark, a reclusive surf industrialist whose given name is Gordon, is responsible for producing foam cores, or blanks, for most of the nation's surf boards.

On Dec. 5, Mr. Clark abruptly went out of business.

The sheriff's office in Santa Cruz County cannot say for sure that it was the closing of Mr. Clark's company, Clark Foam, that led to a rash of surfboard thefts in the charming but tattered bungalow neighborhoods near The Hook, one of roughly 65 famous surf breaks that have drawn free spirits here since the late 1930's.

But Sgt. Fred Plagement, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said that the thefts "followed the publicity regarding the unavailability of polyurethane blanks."

At roughly 1,000 blanks a day, Clark Foam had dominated the business of producing the buoyant foam innards of surfboards, some $175 million to $200 million worth a year.

All along the coast, board prices have gone up an average of $100, said Pete Johnson, the owner of Kane Garden Surfboards in San Diego.

Surfers and shapers have been hoarding their remaining blanks. "This is the last Mohican," said Michel Junod, one of Santa Cruz's most respected shapers, referring to his lone torpedo of white foam.

The thefts were an expression of the turmoil that has gripped many California surfing spots since Mr. Clark sent out a jarring, seven-page letter to his customers announcing that he was shutting down Clark Foam, his 44-year-old business, starting immediately.

"The Howard Hughes of the surfing world," in Mr. Junod's words, Mr. Clark said in his letter that his decision was based on many factors, including the cost of complying with state and federal regulations.

In 2003, Mr. Clark received a notice from the Environmental Protection Agency for, among other things, failing to safeguard workers against the accidental release of toluene diisocyanate, or TDI, a liquid catalyst and known carcinogen used in making polyurethane foam.

There was also the cost of workers' compensation, insuring machines of his own design and "a claim being made by the widow of an employee who died from cancer," he wrote.

"For owning and operating Clark Foam," the letter began, "I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits, and even time in prison."

Both the E.P.A. and the Orange County Fire Authority, which monitors factories for hazardous materials, said, however, that Mr. Clark had recently been in compliance.

"We were kind of dumbfounded," said Capt. Stephen Miller of the fire authority.

Mr. Clark, a former chemist and engineer who is considered both a shrewd businessman and maverick pioneer, has not spoken publicly and his office in Laguna Niguel refused to comment. But reaction from the surfing community was swift.

"It was like a close out wave that nobody can ride," said Steve Coletta, 58, a Santa Cruz shaper, referring to an ominously unridable wave that sometimes roars up without warning after a storm.

As in other towns ruled by waves, Blank Monday was memorable here. On the verge of Christmas, "Not for Sale" signs sprang up at local surf shops.

At Fiberglass Hawaii, which sells materials for surfboards, 426 blanks were snapped up. "Pretty much the whole town showed up," said Barry Barrett, the general manager.

David Balding, a 35-year-old glazer and surfer, was asleep when thieves sneaked into his carport and stole five of his prized boards, including an 11-foot $1,400 Lance Carson, named for a revered shaper.

"Maybe they thought, 'Shoot, prices are going up, so I'm going to grab these,' " Mr. Balding said.

The rise of Mr. Clark, who earned his nickname as a young man for his devil-may-care attire - he is now 74 - paralleled and, in many ways, fostered, the growth of American surfing.

Before foam, surfboards were made from wood, including balsa, which was hard to get, limiting production, said Matt Warshaw, author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing.

In 1958, a year before the surfing movie "Gidget," Mr. Clark, a laminator, teamed up with Hobie Alter, who made surfboards and sailboats.

Ensconced in a secret foam-making plant in Laguna Canyon, they developed the first commercially successful polyurethane foam blank.

"It was like shaping a stick of butter," Mr. Alter once said.

With the use of foam, surfers numbering in the tens of thousands on the mainland boomed into millions.

In a world of colorful hell-raisers, Mr. Clark was known as a ripper, a term for fearless, hypercompetitive surfers.

Remarkably efficient at customizing blanks for small backyard shapers, he was both beloved and feared.

"He was smart, aggressive and had a good rapport with shapers," Mr. Junod said. "But one thing about surfers is, they want the easy way out. They just want to go surfing. So people would submit to his pressure."

As theories persist about what prompted Mr. Clark to call it quits, many say the company's demise, though difficult in the short-term, presents an opportunity to rethink the way surfboards are made.

"Surfers are supposed to be environmentally sensitive, but the boards are questionable," said Steve Pezman, publisher of The Surfer's Journal. "They're a part of the puzzle that doesn't really fit the ethic."

Pete Reich, a specialist with the E.P.A. in San Francisco and an avid surfer, said blank makers and glassers are exposed to toxic fumes, and the people who sand and shape surfboards contend with noxious particulates.

Of the possibility of new methods, Yvon Chouinard, a surfer and mountain climber, said, "My attitude is, It's about time."

Mr. Chouinard's company, Patagonia, has developed what Mr. Chouinard says is a less toxic process.

Many surfboards wind up in landfills after six or eight months, said Randy French of Surftech, a Santa Cruz company making boards out of epoxy composite and one of Mr. Clark's few major competitors.

He said that some of the current shortfall will be filled by suppliers in Australia, Brazil and South Africa.

Looking out over The Hook, Boyd Halverson, wearing a wet suit and barefoot on a cold rainy Saturday, braced himself for what he called an "ice cream headache" from frigid waves. Mr. Halverson, 27, who repairs damaged boards, said that the demise of Clark Foam would be good for his business.

Mr. Coletta, the shaper, who was sitting on a three-month inventory of blanks, regarded the situation the way he might a long, glassy right point break. "Before, no one found the need to experiment with new materials, to get the feel right," he said. "I'm really stoked."

REV: New York City Ballet

Miranda Weese, Philip Neal, Kyra Nichols

L-R: Amar Ramasar, Adam Hendrickson, Ashley Bouder, Nikolaj Hübbe,
Wendy Whelan, Philip Neal and Tom Gold

At City Ballet, Some Especially Catch the Eye
By JOHN ROCKWELL, The New York Times, December 30, 2005

IN his later years George Balanchine liked to stress choreography over those choreographed. It was the dance that was important, not the dancers. Of course, he still had his principals and his promising soloists and up-and-coming members of the corps de ballet; stardom, or at least the individuality of the dancers, could never be eradicated. Nor, deep down, did he wish it to be.

The New York City Ballet, 23 years into the post-Balanchine era, begins its winter repertory programs on Tuesday night, after the last paper snowflake from "The Nutcracker" has wafted from the flies. (Actually, strays will keep wafting for weeks, if past experience is any guide.) To herald the beginning of the real winter season, five dance critics of The New York Times have selected dancers (and in one case, a musician) whom they particularly look forward to seeing (or hearing) - not just principals, but everyone from promising young corps dancers on up.

A caveat: Balanchine's choreographic philosophy, plus the ever-present prospect of injuries, has led the City Ballet to be wary about advertising casts far in advance. Unlike American Ballet Theater (whose star-driven casting can also change at the last minute), when you decide to buy tickets for a City Ballet program, it's the program you're buying, not any particular dancer. You may know the kind of roles in which a given favorite specializes, and by now even some (always tentative) casting for early in the season. But that's it.

Ashley Bouder
Ashley Bouder is one of the most exciting dance artists to come along in recent years. Her repertory for the winter season is likely to include five classics by George Balanchine - "Symphony in C" (third movement), "Ballo della Regina," "Firebird," "Divertimento No. 15" and "Union Jack" - and the company director Peter Martins's "Octet." But "Firebird" is hers in a special way. She claimed the title role when she stepped into it on the ballet equivalent of a moment's notice in 2001 as a 17-year-old corps dancer. She was astonishing, and continues to be. She can probably dance just about any technical trick in the book, but her daring, her dazzling clarity and her musical phrasing shine through. And the Firebird is likely to be a role when the fleeting old-time glamour Ms. Bouder has been acquiring of late, reminiscent of ballerinas of the 1940's, can best be enjoyed. JENNIFER DUNNING

Tom Gold
Tom Gold is a charmer, and nowhere did he charm more than in the role of the manic, Buster Keaton-like hero running from hordes of voracious prospective brides in the second half of Susan Stroman's "Double Feature," seen last spring but not on the bill this winter. Here his acrobatic control, his humor and his ability to win sympathy in the most ridiculous of situations endeared him to all.

Mr. Gold is a demi-caractère dancer, which usually means the dancer is short (he is) and hence unsuited to danseur noble partnering of towering ballerinas on toe. His kind of dancer specializes in lively, often humorous roles that require as much acting as dancing, although the dancing can be athletically exciting as well. An example is the Jester in Balanchine's version of "Swan Lake," which opens a 12-performance run next Friday. He won't be in every cast, and other Jesters may be charming, too. But he is scheduled for the first performance, and feel lucky if he's in the one you see. Other ballets in which he's likely to appear this season include "Fancy Free" and "Fanfare."

Adam Hendrickson
As an actor-dancer, Adam Hendrickson is just about invincible: understated, enigmatic and full of eccentricity. From his jet-black eyebrows, which lend his handsome face a range of devilish expressions, to his dignified, graceful line, Mr. Hendrickson is unparalleled in City Ballet's canon of character parts, including Herr Drosselmeier in "The Nutcracker," Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Dr. Coppelius in "Coppélia" and the Jester in "Swan Lake," which he will reprise this season. He enriches each role with exacting nuance, and the effects never appear premeditated; the details are so ingrained that you see the character instead of the dancer.

In pure dancing parts, Mr. Hendrickson, with whiplash legs and a buoyant jump, provides a different kind of joy. Jerome Robbins's "N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz," also part of City Ballet's winter season, provides a perfect vantage point for Mr. Hendrickson's gutsy, all-out attack, in which he takes each step to teetering limits. He's the one wearing orange, and he's as exuberant as a firecracker. GIA KOURLAS

Nikolaj Hübbe
Nikolaj Hübbe is blessed with great powers of concentration. He can command attention at any moment and attract all eyes to him. There are times when such focus almost makes him glow onstage, one reason he has been able in past seasons to offer a distinctive portrayal of the young god in Balanchine's "Apollo": he radiates nobility.

He is also a strong, caring partner who resembles a gallant protector in the pas de deux in the third movement of Balanchine's "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet." But his solo steps in that same movement are impetuous. His original training in the sprightly 19th-century Danish style has made the Danish-born Mr. Hübbe at home in quick, darting steps. And like many other Danish-trained dancers, he is capable of a great interpretative range.

Princely dignity can seem second nature to him. Yet he has also portrayed Riff, the leader of a street gang, in Robbins's "West Side Story Suite." Not only did the choreography make him look tough, but Robbins also required him to sing, which he did very well.

The versatile Mr. Hübbe is both a dancing deity and an artist whose human stage presence is a generous one.

Maria Kowroski
Tall, willowy and graceful, Maria Kowroski may be the most elegant of the current crop of City Ballet principals. She is known for her adagio passages, those statuesque showcases for grace and control. But she is lovely in her running leaps and airy turns, too. Her sweeping, sinuous arms have always seemed particularly captivating. She is as close to the ideal of the classical ballerina as anyone in the company.

She has been ill of late - nothing serious, the company says. But that means she won't be onstage for three or four weeks, so we'll miss the chance to see her Odette. But there will be other opportunities down the road, including, most likely, "Western Symphony," "Union Jack," "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" and "In the Night." ROCKWELL

Philip Neal
Look quickly when Philip Neal is dancing, and you may decide he is simply the consummate ballet partner. But though his every move is in resonant service to his ballerina, he is always quietly stylish in his own right in performing that blends today's requisite technical skills with vital individuality and freshness, whether he shares the stage or dances alone.

Mr. Neal stood out for his showmanship in the 1987 workshop performances of the City-Ballet-affiliated School of American Ballet. Over the years that exuberance has settled into a refined virtuosity that is best seen in Balanchine classics like "Symphony in C," in which he is likely to dance the dreamlike adagio this season. His simplicity and lyricism may be seen to their best advantage there. And it is hard to imagine that Mr. Neal will not continue to demand the most of himself in an art that seems to replenish him.

Kyra Nichols
Kyra Nichols is 47, and she no longer dances very much. But when she does, it is worth walking through a transit strike or braving extreme temperatures to see whatever she is performing.

Ms. Nichols is one of the last of the Balanchine-era ballerinas; she joined City Ballet, straight from the School of American Ballet, in 1974 and became a principal in 1979, just four years before Balanchine's death. Her 30th anniversary with the company last year was little remarked upon; Ms. Nichols simply went on doing what she has always done, which is dance with sublime and un-self-conscious purity and grace.

Ms. Nichols is tall and beautiful, with wide, curving shoulders, long legs and a regal carriage. In the earlier part of her career, she was known for her phenomenal technique and precision, and also for the nobility and force of her dancing. As if to compensate for an inevitable loss of technique, her other gifts now seem to be magnified onstage.

Her musicality and the clarity of her phrasing - the way she shapes movement in time and space - feel so spontaneous, so true to each work, that she becomes a utopian vision of the dance as the choreographer might have dreamed it.

City Ballet hasn't announced casting yet for its winter season, and Ms. Nichols chooses her ballets carefully now. Let's watch and hope for a few more glimpses of the enchanted worlds that she offers.

Amar Ramasar
Gifted dancers tend to grow up in public. That is true of Amar Ramasar, who has taken on a surprising range of roles for a corps dancer. He is never less than fully engaged in performance, and his joy in dancing is infectious, though it sometimes takes him over the top of his assignment. Mr. Ramasar is scheduled to perform featured parts this season in ballets including Robbins's "Fancy Free," "Fanfare" and "Concertino."

Some things to look forward to are the panache with which he unfailingly leads the Spanish Dance in "Swan Lake," a role that others often shrug off, and the quiet, gutsy eloquence of his dancing as a soloist in Christopher Wheeldon's haunting "After the Rain."

He has worked hard to hone his skills. Just a year ago he told a reporter that he hoped one day to dance the Cavalier in "The Nutcracker," which then seemed a wildly optimistic goal. But there Mr. Ramasar was this month, front and center in the role, and earning critical praise for his performance. The journey ahead should be interesting.

Miranda Weese
My favorite City Ballet seasons begin and end with Miranda Weese, whose inherent elegance is allayed by a mischievous, arch wit. Equipped with a startlingly sound technique - the sort that epitomizes the expression "turn on a dime" - Ms. Weese gives performances anchored by a razor-sharp musicality and a refreshing absence of self-conscious posturing. This season, she reprises Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake" (her mystical, creature-like Odette is enthralling) and will also appear in Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante," Mr. Martins's "Fearful Symmetries" and Mr. Wheeldon's new ballet, which will have its premiere on Jan. 24. (She was breathtaking in Mr. Wheeldon's "Shambards.")

Some find her dancing remote, perhaps because Ms. Weese doesn't oversell herself. She dances on her own terms, seemingly for her own pleasure and, most important, in the moment.

The joy to understanding Ms. Weese is to watch the way her undiluted, iridescent dancing begins on the inside and radiates out. She is a supremely natural dancer, and without her City Ballet would be lost: she dances as if Balanchine were alive.

Wendy Whelan
Wendy Whelan is the ballerina of geometry. Her long, lean arms and legs can trace straight lines and sharp angles in space with almost surgical precision. Moving at high speed, she proves capable of unusual stretches and balances, twisting herself into one shape after another. She can also make her dancing seem to explode like fireworks, as she does when she performs the Gypsy-inspired fourth movement of Balanchine's "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet."

One of her recent roles has been a reminder that Edna St. Vincent Millay once declared in a sonnet, "Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare." Just as mathematicians occasionally contemplate geometrical patterns with what can seem a mystical awe, so Ms. Whelan can invest her physical presence with an almost spiritual intensity. She does so superbly in Mr. Wheeldon's "After the Rain," in which she floats serenely from position to position, and when she is lifted by her partner she leans forward from his grasp as if she were a bird or an angel ready to soar. She thereby makes physical movements that demand extreme muscular control appear unearthly: flesh and spirit have been miraculously united. ANDERSON

Damian Woetzel
Damian Woetzel is a daredevil, a virtuoso who knows how to make the most complex combinations of steps look like fun. His dancing is often big and bold. Yet he is also capable of small, intricate shifts of weight, easy turns and carefree bouncy movements. Appropriately enough in a ballet that evokes Gypsy revelry, he can fill the finale of Balanchine's "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" with fiery passion, for Mr. Woetzel is more than a technician. He has considerable dramatic gifts.

In past seasons, he has been an eloquent interpreter of the title role of Balanchine's "Prodigal Son" and has been equally effective in such comic parts as Frantz, the romantically straying hero of Balanchine's version of "Coppélia." Indeed, he often turns frisky or roguish onstage. Mr. Wheeldon emphasized that aspect of his dancing personality by casting him in "An American in Paris." Here, he portrays a young man pursuing a "dream girl" through the streets of Paris with an irresistible jauntiness that makes it seem only logical that this fellow in search of an ideal would allow himself to be distracted by another, much more earthy and very jazzy, young woman.

Andrea Quinn
There are those (the critic Arlene Croce is one) who feel that the conductor plays as important a role in the overall impact of a ballet as the dancers.

The City Ballet's music director since 2001, Andrea Quinn has presided over a sharp upgrading of the sometimes disturbing sounds that used to emerge from the New York State Theater pit during City Ballet seasons. Part of that, Mr. Martins says, has to do with more reasonable, flexible union contracts. But a lot has to do, as he readily agrees, with her leadership and musicianship.

She is scheduled to conduct Tuesday's opening night and a new Martins ballet on Feb. 10 to a score (commissioned with the Juilliard School) by Christopher Rouse, and a host of other repertory as well. But hear her when you can. Most unfortunately, Ms. Quinn will be relinquishing her City Ballet post at the end of the spring season to return to her native England for family reasons.

The New York City Ballet's winter repertory begins Tuesday and continues through Feb. 26 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, (212) 870-5570.

OBT: Danielle LeBlanc

Murder suspect found dead
Arlington: Man wanted in girlfriend's slaying apparently shot himself
By HOLLY YAN / The Dallas Morning News / 12:00 AM CST on Saturday, December 24, 2005

Don Wayne Moody, an Arlington man suspected of killing his girlfriend and leaving her body at home with her 2-year-old daughter, apparently committed suicide Friday .

Mr. Moody's body was found in a Laredo hotel room the day after Arlington police issued a warrant for his arrest, department spokeswoman Christy Gilfour said. He is believed to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Police believe Mr. Moody killed 22-year-old Zana Danielle Leblanc, with whom acquaintances said he had a troubled relationship.

"Danielle had also stated that her boyfriend threatened to kill her and himself if she ever tried to break up with him," according to an arrest warrant affidavit that included interviews with Ms. Leblanc's family and a co-worker. The co-worker said Ms. Leblanc was trying to break up with Mr. Moody but was afraid to because "he had hit her when she tried to break up with him in the past."

Relatives of Ms. Leblanc became concerned after not hearing from her for a few days and stopped by her apartment on Sigmond Drive on Tuesday. Ms. Leblanc had been strangled in her bedroom, but her toddler was in good health after getting into the refrigerator on her own.

It was unclear how long Ms. Leblanc had been dead. Ms. Gilfour said Mr. Moody checked into the Laredo hotel on Monday and was supposed to check out on Thursday.

Police seeking slain woman's boyfriend
Arlington: Warrant issued; co-worker, family describe abuse
By JEFF MOSIER / The Dallas Morning News / 12:00 AM CST on Friday, December 23, 2005

ARLINGTON – Police have issued an arrest warrant for the estranged boyfriend of an Arlington woman found strangled this week.

Detectives are trying to locate Don Wayne Moody, 26, who is wanted on suspicion of murder. The body of Zana Danielle Leblanc, 22, was discovered Tuesday afternoon on her bedroom floor after relatives dropped by to find out why she missed work and had not been in touch with them. Ms. Leblanc's 2-year-old daughter was also in the apartment, but the toddler was unharmed.

An arrest warrant affidavit describes Mr. Moody as an abusive boyfriend who often threatened Ms. Leblanc. "Danielle had also stated that her boyfriend threatened to kill her and himself if she ever tried to break up with him," according to police interviews with family and a co-worker.

According to a statement from a co-worker, Ms. Leblanc was trying to break up with Mr. Moody. Mr. Moody, who also goes by Don Wayne Franks, has a long criminal record that includes convictions for assault, possession of marijuana and cocaine and hindering prosecution.

Ms. Leblanc told her mother and stepfather that she was scared of Mr. Moody, according to the affidavit. Her parents also said that Ms. Leblanc once fled her home and stayed in a women's shelter.

A co-worker told police that Ms. Leblanc had recently moved to Arlington with Mr. Moody. According to driver's license records, Ms. Leblanc had previously listed her address as the home of Mr. Moody's parents in Mansfield.

Although they continued to live together, the relationship between Ms. Leblanc and Mr. Moody was unstable.

Ms. Leblanc told a co-worker at the Hooters restaurant where she worked that Mr. Moody was unemployed, refused to look for a job and frequently demanded money.

"Danielle had gotten tired of this and wanted him to go," according to the affidavit.

On some occasions, Mr. Moody became violent and attacked Ms. Leblanc, the co-worker said. She told police that Mr. Moody choked her, threw her against the headboard of her bed and pointed a shotgun at her face several times.

Ms. Leblanc told her co-worker that she planned to tell Mr. Moody he had to leave. According to the affidavit, she was afraid because "he had hit her when she tried to break up with him in the past."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

COM: On Israeli Self-Determination

Saving Israel From Itself
A secular future for the Jewish state
By Bernard Avishai. Posted on Wednesday, February 9, 2005. Originally from Harper's Magazine, January 2005.

In the winter of 2002, I moved to Jerusalem for the third time, to join my new wife, a professor at the Hebrew University, and teach at an Israeli business school. It was not the best of times to move to Israel, for the Al-Aqsa Intifada was at its most terrifying and the Sharon government was preparing its response in Operation Defensive Shield. When I met one old friend, she put her hand to the back of my head and started feeling around through my hair. “I’m looking for the hole,” she said. I had spent the better part of the 1970s living in Israel, and most of the 1980s visiting and writing about the country, so the new disturbances, and the little ironic gestures of solidarity, were not unfamiliar. But something had changed, certainly among my graying friends: a sadder-but-wiser air, a barely suppressed hunger to speak of big categories and formative years.

Recent events—Sharon’s plan for Gaza, Arafat’s death—have raised hopes for new diplomacy but do not alleviate the tension. People call the conflict the matzav, the “situation.” Listen to talk shows, go out to dinner, and what leaks into nearly every conversation is uncertainty about how to envision Israel going forward in its existing boundaries. I don’t just mean geographic boundaries. I mean legal, institutional, and cultural limits. Nearly everybody here will tell you that they see Israel as Jewish and democratic. Almost nobody can tell you what this means.

Not that Israelis aren’t hearing clear arguments. The most common, which is widely considered hard-headed, argues that the occupation has presented Israel with a “demographic” threat. Maintain the occupation, the argument goes, lose the “Jewish majority” between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and Israel must become either an apartheid state or a binational state—a “Jewish state” or a “democratic state”—not both. Less commonly asserted, and widely considered hard-hearted, is an argument about Israel irrespective of its occupation. A Jewish state cannot be democratic, this argument goes, because a state in which the world’s Jewish people and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges is inherently discriminatory against non-Jewish citizens. Some kind of binationalism, if not inevitable, is more or less preferable. Both arguments are made by people in and around Israel, though only the former is made by people in and around the Israeli government.

So on the one hand are people whose preoccupation with “a Jewish majority” suggests an intuitive grasp of what it takes to preserve Jewish culture but whose grasp of building democracy is shallow and mechanical, who are painting by numbers—and (intentionally or not) laying the groundwork for ethnic cleansing. On the other hand are people who are more exacting about democracy but who’ve completely missed how radically, and for the better, historic Zionism has changed Jewish culture. The first group calls the second naive, the patsies of anti-Semites. The second group calls the first “racists” and “colonialists.” Little wonder people are disquieted and can’t explain why. It is becoming nearly impossible to say what has been right—and plainly wrong—about Israel since its founding and what needs to be done to save it.

Now, as before, the focus will be on occupied territory. But a quarter of Israel’s schoolchildren are Arabs. Were the West Bank and Gaza to disappear, and Israel did nothing to reform itself, it would face another intifada in a generation, this time from within. Israeli Jews know this in their guts, if not from their debate. Listen only to them, and the “situation” seems hopeless. Israel’s deficiencies as a “democratic state” were always most transparent to Arab Israelis. Paradoxically, it is only when I am speaking with them that I feel assured of the promise of a “Jewish state.” It will take at least a generation to fully realize this promise. That is the length of time it took all of us to create the disaster we will now have to unmake.

* * *

Arthur Koestler once wrote that becoming a Communist was an affair of the heart; in the summer of 1931, in Berlin, he fell in love with the Five Year Plan. In the summer of 1967, I fell in love with the Jewish National Fund—the old Zionist holding company, which formally owned the land on which most of Israel’s farming collectives had been built. I was eighteen, and had just finished my first year at McGill University. In what still seems to me an exhilarating rush of events, I arrived in Israel about a week after the end of the Six Day War and wound up volunteering to work on Kfar Yehoshua, the moshav (or cooperative farm) of an indomitable couple whose close neighbor had been killed early in the war. They were now working his widow’s dairy farm in addition to their own, so they needed an extra hand—a volunteer, they took pains to explain, since members of the moshav would not hire wage-laborers, certainly not Arabs, whom they refused “to exploit.”

They made it plain that Israel’s collectives enjoyed a certain authentic self-reliance. The old Hebrew motto of Labor Zionism was “kibbush avodah,” “the conquest of labor,” by which the real thing to be conquered was a Diaspora Jew’s civilized lethargy. And what had made it all possible was the Jewish National Fund, or Keren Kayemeth, whose green logo was still painted on the sign to Kfar Yehoshua. Members did not own their land, my friends explained; the land had been leased in perpetuity from the Keren Kayemeth, which had raised money abroad, penny by penny, then bought Arab estates in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, eventually distributing parcels to socialist halutzim, Zionism’s pioneers, their parents. As a child, I had myself slipped change into the Keren Kayemeth’s little blue tin collection boxes, for the fund kept on raising money for reforestation after the state was founded in 1948, after Israel could as easily expropriate land as have the Zionist fund buy it—and large tracts were expropriated after the 1948 war, effacing some 400 Arab villages. Anyway, we were now done with wars, and Kfar Yehoshua’s land remained the “inalienable property of the Jewish people,” that is, mine. I worked until I dropped. After about a month I was smitten: the warmth of welcome, the élan of revolution, the conviction that just war had brought lasting peace—that Israelis had won the former and Jews deserved the latter—the pleasingly triangular smell of cow’s milk, cow’s feed, and cow’s shit rising into Hebrew air.

This was not exactly love at first sight. My father had been a socialist-Zionist boy scout in Bialystok in the 1920s, and later a Zionist “leader” in immigrant Jewish Montreal. I had never really thought much about what his “Zionism” meant, except that it covered the bases for “modern” Jews. I understood, vaguely, that Zionism meant Jews could have fruit trees, fighter jets, a tan. More vivid was the prestige of the Hebrew language, which I had suspected since childhood contained a world worth knowing. When I was a pupil at Montreal’s Talmud Torah School, half my class’s day had been devoted to Hebrew studies, beginning in the second grade with readings from Breisheit, the Book of Genesis. Whereas the ABCs conjured scrubbed little boys watching girls play with kittens, the Alef Bet conjured families torn up by arbitrary fathers, jealous mothers, and rival brothers, all devoted to enigmatic things like “sacrifice” and “birthright,” or stirred by the promise of mysterious power. Hebrew stories seemed absolute, and talking about them seemed a kind of responsibility.

Zionism’s personal (or, if you were at McGill, “ideological”) requirement, that Jews should go and live in Israel, had always been finessed in my family. My father’s line, which I never quite bought, was that sending one’s money was “as Zionist” as sending oneself, though he often lamented that his “big mistake” was not joining his own pioneering group, which had founded Kibbutz Kfar Menachem in 1939. In May 1967, after my father told me that Israel was being “strangled” by Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran, he sat me down at the kitchen table and sketched a map on a napkin, explaining how Israel, whose reserves had been mobilized, would soon have to attack in Gaza. I became fixed on the vain fantasy I had had as a child—that were I to be lined up to board a cattle car, I would charge the guards in an ecstatic rage rather than get on the train. That is what “Israelis” did. In any case, I now had the body of a strong young man and told myself coldly that I could not just see it all end. I quit my job at Expo ’67 and determined to fly to Israel as soon as I could get there. My father finally went along, but to his relief (and mine), the war was over before I could leave.

* * *

Nothing prepared me for the atmosphere of the country when I arrived. It seemed that an entire people had done spontaneously what every human being should do deliberately—defend one’s life, touch one’s roots, spread progress, show magnanimity. The tokens of Israeli exceptionalism were everywhere. The radio played jingoistic songs, and no member of the Israeli government, however schlumpy, could appear in a newsreel without prompting the theater audience to burst into applause. Moshe Dayan visited West Bank villages and was greeted by “notables,” while Arab children pranced around him, a hand covering an eye in homage. Captured Russian trucks, looking like giant Ford pickups, appeared magically on the roads, and blond Swedish volunteers appeared magically in kibbutz dining rooms. Zionism had been proven right by, of all things, Zionism’s might.

I got to Jerusalem on June 28, driven in a lurching Citroën by a family friend, a paratrooper about my own age. We drove toward the Mandelbaum Gate, the old checkpoint in the divided city, just after noon, practicing how we might con the guard into letting us proceed to the Old City. But we found no checkpoint and no guard. We drove on, passing the shuttered Arab shops on Salah ad-Din Road, stopping the car a few times to stand silently at piles of rocks, topped by a rifle and a helmet, the makeshift memorials to friends who had been killed in the assault. Finally, somewhat bewildered, we flipped on the radio, only to discover that the Arab city had been annexed and the whole city declared united an hour before we got there. The government had decided to integrate all parts of Jerusalem by expanding Jewish neighborhoods in the Old City and in the eastern part, especially around Mt. Scopus, where the old Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University had been before 1948. An expanse around the Wailing Wall, we soon discovered, had already been bulldozed. The radio played the new Zionist anthem, “Jerusalem of Gold,” and tears streamed down my friend’s cheeks.

Nobody thought twice about the families whose houses had just been razed. Hadn’t Jordan used the Old City’s Jewish gravestones to pave their roads? As for the 70,000 Jerusalem Arabs who might be encroached upon or pushed around, there was land enough for all in the new “Middle East.” Twenty-one countries for them, one for us. One undivided Jerusalem for us, Mayor Teddy Kollek’s liberalism for them.

Only one moment, several weeks later, gave me pause. On a visit with my cousins to the new campus of Tel Aviv University, I noticed huge posters with a puzzling map, which seemed exactly like the Arabic map of Palestine in which Israel has been effaced, only this was a Hebrew map of Israel on which the West Bank and Gaza were effaced. The posters, my cousins told me, were from a new organization, the Whole Land of Israel Movement, which opposed returning any part of the conquered West Bank, even for peace, since (as their statement read) “no government in Israel is entitled to give up this entirety, which represents the inherent and inalienable right of our people from the beginning of its history.” The clear implication of the statement was that the West Bank should now be settled by Jews.

Even then, this prospect struck me as oddly greedy and provocative, nothing like what my moshav friends’ parents had achieved. The times were completely different, after all. There was no Hitler, no proletarian internationalism, no British mandatory government enforcing property law but keeping Jewish refugees out. Zionists had settled some land by force in the 1940s. But Jews were desperate then. When Jean Valjean became a mayor, he didn’t continue stealing bread. My cousins, too, were skeptical. Israel was a Jewish state, they said, but it was “also democratic.” The land was ours but, less esoterically, it was also theirs. It didn’t matter which people wanted it more or longer. What mattered were boundaries that allowed each people, Jews and Arabs, to be more or less peacefully self-governing. When I asked others about the Whole Land of Israel Movement, I was reassured to find that few people took it seriously. Fewer still (myself included) noticed that this movement was merely proposing for the West Bank as a whole what the government, with almost universal acclaim, had already enacted in Jerusalem.

* * *

It is tempting to look back on those times with a certain wistfulness: young people, heady victories, reckless enemies, unavoidable hubris. Wistfulness goes well with what is probably the most common conception of Israel that educated people in the West have: that it was once a nicely social-democratic state that is being ruined by the blowback from its occupation—by its quickly multiplying and pietistic settlers, whom successive governments somewhat naively tolerated—that if only Israel could end most terrorist attacks, emancipate itself from the occupation, and replant most settlers back within the Green Line, the internationally recognized border prior to 1967, then Zionism could get back to being itself. This half-truth often is posed against the big lie—that Zionism was just a remnant of great-power “colonialism”—and so Jews have an understandable reflex to defend the moral prestige of historic Zionism and deflect criticism of its legacy. But even David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, knew that Israeli democracy had serious problems before there was an occupation: specifically, that ultimately it would be folly to preserve the Zionist movement’s improvisations and institutions in a democratic state. Thinking back to 1967, certainly, it is obvious that the settlers’ ideas and stridency did not just grow out of thin air. Both emerged from a revolutionary Zionist logic and a powerful Zionist bureaucracy—right for their time, in the 1930s and ’40s, but terribly wrong once the state was firmly established, after 1967—a Zionism that automatically assured Jews privileges that other people, non-Jews subject to Israeli sovereignty, could not get.

I am not speaking here of the reasonable discrimination of a nation-state in favor of a dominant national culture: a day off for the Jewish Sabbath, support for the Hebrew University, the Star of David on the flag. I mean material discrimination by the state in favor of Jews as individuals. Settlements may seem part of a grand, premeditated national project, and were to some extent, especially around Jerusalem. But they were more often a spontaneous series of decisions by quasi-official Zionist offices to continue putting families formally defined as “Jewish” in and around where Arabs lived, or to support Jewish squatters, while excluding non-Jews from living there.

When I finally moved to Jerusalem in 1972, I was given a virtually interest-free mortgage to buy an apartment in Jerusalem’s French Hill, a new neighborhood that the state, in collaboration with Zionist philanthropic agencies, was putting up next to Mt. Scopus in Arab East Jerusalem. All I had had to do was prove myself a Jew by birth, which I had done, to an Israeli consul back in Canada. I did not think of this apartment complex as “a settlement.” I did not think it strange that I was moving into a neighborhood stringently segregated by the very Zionist laws, dreams, and management I had come to identify with liberation. The point is, settlements were made in territories beyond the Green Line so effortlessly after 1967 because the Zionist institutions that built them and the laws that drove them—The Jewish Agency, Zionist land banks and mortgage companies, the Law of Return, regulations supporting the Orthodox Rabbinate’s determination of what a Jew is—had all been going full throttle within the Green Line before 1967. To focus merely on West Bank settlers was always to beg the question.

After the Yom Kippur War, in the summer of 1974, when I began writing seriously about these matters, I reported on Henry Kissinger’s effort to mediate a disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria. I recall standing in a crowd in front of the prime minister’s office, surrounded by a few hundred West Bank settlers; their Gush Emunim (“Bloc of the Faithful”) movement was just getting started. Word had leaked out that Kissinger, then inside with Golda Meir’s government, was pressuring it to evacuate the captured Syrian town of Kuneitra. When he emerged, the settlers—a phalanx of knitted skullcaps—chanted, “Jew-boy, Jew-boy,” implying that one evacuation would lead to another, that the renunciation of one inch of promised land was something only a bare-headed court Jew like Kissinger could have entertained.

Mrs. Meir gave in to Kissinger on Kuneitra. She upbraided the settlers for their ugly behavior. And yet everybody knew her prejudices: that Jews had a right to live anywhere in Eretz (or Greater) Yisrael; that the Orthodox rabbis in her coalition, although not her type, were at least the genuine article; that Jerusalem was Israel’s “by historic right”; that pioneering settlement around Jerusalem, or on the Golan Heights, was heroic; that Western Jews who had never thought to settle in the Jewish state deserved an Israeli’s condescension. These prejudices reflected a basic cynicism about the fate of Jews in Western democracy, a cynicism that is even more widespread among Israeli Jews today, who decry the “anti-Semitism” of the press covering Israel. Meanwhile, the small band of Gush Emunim has grown to some 230,000 settlers today, not including those in Jerusalem. Army intelligence is rumored to have concluded that 10 percent of the settlers (not including their supporters in Israel proper) would violently resist being moved, and the army command warns against political decisions that would force Jews to shed the blood of other Jews.

* * *

Jaffa Gate, 1879.

Let us be clear: Israel is an open society. According to an Israel Democracy Institute poll, 81 percent of Jewish Israelis think “equality before the law” essential. And the judiciary is with them. The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, enacted in 1992, has something like the force of a Bill of Rights in Israel. Chief Justice Aharon Barak has applied the law broadly to protect civil liberties. Just recently, the court overturned the military censor’s effort to ban Mohammed Bakri’s 2002 film, Jenin, Jenin, which implicitly accused elite Israel Defense Force combat units (in the face of significant evidence to the contrary) of indifference to civilian casualties during Operation Defensive Shield. Israel publishes more scientific papers per capita than any other country, so silencing Israelis (including Arab Israelis) seems almost unimaginable. Israel is also a country, however, in which the institutional discrimination I spoke about has always been so routine as to be hardly noticed, especially among Jews. The most important continuing inequality is preferential residency on the land. Israeli Arabs, who are disproportionately engaged in farming, live mostly in separate towns having jurisdiction over 2.5 percent of the total land mass of pre-1967 Israel, augmenting their holdings with private land. This segregated pattern of settlement results from the fact that about 93 percent of pre-1967 Israel is public land administered by the Israel Lands Administration, which since its founding in 1960 has essentially taken over the mission of the prestate Jewish National Fund. Few outside observers have been able to penetrate the Lands Administration’s convoluted leasing arrangements with Jewish Agency mortgage companies, or with preferred contractors, or with large secretive holding companies such as Himanuta. Adding to the complexity, a 2001 Supreme Court ruling determined that old Jewish National Fund regulations, prohibiting sale of land to non-Jews, could not be used to keep an Arab couple from acquiring housing in the established village of Katzir. Yet nobody doubts that when any new housing developments are completed, only people with “Jewish nationality” need apply.

And what exactly is Jewish nationality? Now we are getting to the other side of the problem, the Zionist movement’s historic (and largely opportunistic) merging of rabbinic and state power. From its inception, Israel recognized two forms of personal status, ezrahut, most commonly understood as “citizenship,” and leom, which meant “nationality” or “peoplehood.” All citizens are entitled to equality in civil society, but people legally designated a part of the Jewish nation are entitled to immediate citizenship, and supplementary material benefits start from there. The courts came to rule that, insofar as the Law of Return applied, the child or grandchild of a Jew, or a convert by a recognized rabbinic authority, is a Jew. Under the pressure of the National Religious Party—to which Ben-Gurion pandered in order to maintain his own party’s hegemony in the early 1950s—other privileges were reserved for Jews as they are defined by Orthodox rabbinic courts. Moreover, a burgeoning, official rabbinical caste now supervises marriage, burial, and kashruth—critical for the restaurant, food-processing, and tourist industries. There is no civil marriage in the country, so no state official will marry a Jew to a non-Jew. Today, some 80,000 children in Jerusalem alone study in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, which are state subsidized in numerous ways. The state directly supports an even larger Dati Leumi (“national religious”) school system. Arabs have their own system, segregated and underfunded.

One Arab Israeli friend, the novelist Sayed Kashua (author of the Hebrew novel Dancing Arabs), told me recently that his childhood friends are feeling hemmed in and enraged, their towns in commercial despair, many coming under the threat of youth gangs. “When these towns blow, Israeli Jews will no doubt say it is for political reasons. But if the government would give us two meters for development, we’d all be volunteering for the army. Every time there is a suicide bombing I think two things: thank God my daughter is not among the victims, and I hope there is an Arab Israeli among the victims, so they won’t blame my daughter.”

Terror has always warped debate about these matters, making talk of Arab rights seem a failure of Jewish nerve. Since the beginning of the latest intifada, there have been four suicide bombings just blocks from my Jerusalem home (and Kashua’s, for that matter). The cousins with whom I stayed in 1967 were killed when their TWA plane was blown out of the skies of Athens by a Palestinian terrorist bomb in 1974. No sane person could doubt that various barriers against terrorist cells are justified, or that preemptive attacks on terrorists may be defensible if innocent bystanders could be protected from harm. Moreover, terror has prompted an understandable desire for “separation,” manifested in the controversial security fence. It is in the context of separation that one hears expression of demographic fears. Israel has 6.8 million citizens, so the argument goes, of whom about 1.3 million are Arabs. Gaza and the West Bank have another 3.2 million Arabs. The Arab birthrate in Gaza is triple that of Israeli Jews; in Israel proper and the West Bank, it’s double. Now do the math. If you keep the territories you lose the “Jewish majority” sometime after 2010. Meanwhile poll after poll shows that 61 percent of Israelis support Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza and 20 percent more support the security fence. The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg put the choices this way in a chilling article about Jewish settlers last spring:

Israel is faced with two options: keep the settlements, and risk either apartheid or binationalism; or separate cleanly from the Palestinians, by withdrawing settlements and raising a wall between the two sides.
What’s wrong with putting matters this way? Notice, first, that Arabs who are Israeli citizens are casually folded into the demographic projections. This is not just sloppiness; it betrays a curious slide into racial simplifications. If one assumes what is manifestly true, that Israel’s young Arab citizens have come into their own (albeit tensely) in Israel’s Hebrew culture, then equality of rights, not withdrawal behind a border or fence, is the only peace process that will mitigate fatal tensions between them and Israeli Jews. Even if terrorism could be crushed, even if the West Bank and Gaza could be taken completely out of the equation, Israel would still be left with hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens and a burgeoning number of young people. If a great proportion of them are not absorbed as equals into Israel’s civil society, the country will face within its 1967 borders virtually the same dynamic that it began to face in the occupied territories in the 1970s.

Clearly, “democracy” is being debased here to mean only some vague notion of national self-determination, like the sophomoric “ideology” I came to Israel with in 1972. For most, a democracy that enshrines “inalienable rights” seems an invitation to Arabs to swamp Jews, or it means a celebration of the bourgeois self, which sanctions moving to America. Old prejudices are at work here, too, casting Israel as a kind of work-in-progress for the world’s Jewish people, justifying its borders as provisional by, on the one hand, claiming the elastic, dream borders of ancient Eretz Yisrael and, on the other, recalling the horrific crimes of sixty years ago—crimes driven by anti-Semitic attitudes whose traces are still allegedly found in gentile countries. Who knows, so the argument goes, how many Jews Israel will eventually have to accommodate, or where the Palestinians will have to be placed to make Jews safe? Who knows how big Israel will have to be while the Zionist revolution continues? And until that revolution ends, why not continue to assure Jews special privileges: refuge, land, housing, investments—in a word, settlements?

Worse, there is an obvious way to safeguard a “Jewish majority” that hardly comes up in conversations, though the way most Israelis now grasp their history should give us pause. I mean ha’transfer, reducing by forced expulsion or economic pressure the numbers of Arabs living where Jews do. The fact is, it is impossible to get the “clean” separation Goldberg speaks of without extensive ethnic cleansing. And Israelis know this. A June 2002 poll by Tel Aviv University’s Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies revealed that 46 percent of Israelis entertain the idea of expelling Palestinians.

Benny Elon of the National Union argues openly that if Arabs are not willing to accept alternate citizenship they should be expelled. Efi Eitam, leader of the National Religious Party, proposes resettling Palestinians in the Sinai. In or out of Sharon’s coalition these parties now have 13 (out of 120) Knesset seats, and are gaining ground. Exclusion of Arabs from Israeli civil life is included in the platforms of the theocratic parties—Shas, Yahadut Ha’Torah—another 16 Knesset members. We have not even begun to explore attitudes in the dominant Likud, whose 40 Knesset members, and over 230,000 active members, anchor Ha’Machane Ha’Leumi, the “National Camp,” a coalition of Greater Israel advocates, ideological hardliners, Russian immigrants, and less well-educated Mizrahim, immigrants from Arab countries. Signs for the transfer of Arabs regularly paper the underpasses on highways between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They read, NO ARABS, NO TERROR.

Sharon is withdrawing from Gaza anyway, pointing to the polls that show a national majority behind the move. But by the end of last August, 3,700 new housing units were under construction in the West Bank and Gaza. Jewish Jerusalem is at the heart of the new construction. Its young people increasingly betray the limited horizons of the settlers’ cult, rooted in Orthodox education. Ultra-Orthodox haredim (or “awestruck”) are now a third of the Jewish population, and the city has elected a haredi mayor, Uri Lupolianski, the father of twelve children.

While Sharon is being depicted by the zealots he once coddled as caving in to Palestinians, the route of his fence is already responsible for the migration of thousands of them. It is creating Palestinian enclaves separated from Jerusalem and from one another—enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements that are linked by exclusive highways and bypass roads. It leaves hinterland towns separated from metropolitan centers, a rupture that denies any Palestinian business the prospect of viability. About two miles from my home is the neighborhood of Jabel Mukhaber. The fence is cutting it off from its sister village, Sheik Sa’ad, whose 2,000 residents are themselves cut off from the rest of the West Bank by steep cliffs. They are in danger of being “strangled.” One leader of Jabel Mukhaber told me that a third of those people—their own family members—have left, while the remaining villagers are living off the gifts of family abroad. Elsewhere in Jerusalem, the eastern suburb of Abu Dis (home to Al-Quds University) is cut off from the northern suburb of Hizma by Jewish settlements—which cuts both off from East Jerusalem’s businesses and hospitals. Yasir Barakat, one of the most established merchants in the Old City, tells me he knows “nobody whose educated children are not planning to leave Jerusalem if they can.”

Speak of this cruelty with Israelis and someone will counter with Yasir Arafat’s recalcitrance at Camp David during the summer of 2000. “We offered him 95 percent, and he came back with terror”—I must have heard the sentence a hundred times. This version of events is not unchallenged, but let us concede the retrospective logic: that today’s terror could justify, or even seem to justify, Israel’s continued occupation of the territories after 1974, when Jordan recognized the PLO’s hegemony there. Nevertheless, how could terror have justified Jewish settlement and its transformations? Why should democratic reasoning ever have been preempted by apocalyptic reasoning? What if, instead of settling the Palestinians’ land, Israeli officials had simply said they wanted for Palestinians what American officials said they wanted for the hated Germans in 1948: that the German state’s sovereignty derive from the consent of its governed, that it should have an integrated population and economy, the rule of law, conditions for the investment of advanced corporations, schools and universities that teach liberal values—and that an occupation army, reinforced by a Western coalition, would stay in place until it was safe to withdraw and not beyond? What if, at the same time, Israeli leaders had invested in Israel’s Arab citizens at a rate equal to Jews, and privatized state land and subjected its purchase to market forces? Would not Israelis and Palestinians be facing a very different reality today?

This is not the way Israelis are re-imagining their history. Instead, more and more young people I talk to are becoming resigned to a new master narrative, which sees the state’s founding in an exchange of populations, beginning with the Shoah and moving to attacks on all fronts by Arab states in 1948. In this flattened history, 750,000 Palestinian Arabs either fled or were driven from their homes, while the Arab states dispossessed and expelled some 800,000 Mizrahi Jewish refugees to Israel, especially during the 1956 Suez war. Israelis were not perfect, they say, but the pattern is unmistakable.

Dr. Uzi Arad, the former director of intelligence in the Mossad, has proposed that if a Palestinian state could be negotiated, Israel’s largest Arab towns in the “little triangle”—from Umm al-Fahm in the north to Kfar Kassem in the south—should be annexed by it. Not coincidentally, Arad is also the co-author of a new “Zionist Manifesto” for Israel, which would give “constitutional status” to Israel as a “Zionist-Jewish state,” a state of world Jewry; a state that would teach “the feeling of a right to the Promised Land, which is a central principle of Judaism.” The manifesto calls for “the preservation of democracy for all of its citizens.” It does not say if this is a central principle of Judaism.

* * *

This is where the demographic argument gets you. You put West Bank Palestinians behind a wall where economic life is virtually impossible, and you hive off another hundred thousand Arab Israelis and put them behind the wall too. Meanwhile, you expand your border to include new Jewish settlements and maintain existing political economic barriers for Arab Israelis, a barrier of institutional practice and law, a barrier of land and common ideology. You say Jews and Arabs must be separated because even if Israel’s Arab citizens will make the most of what liberties Israel gives them, they could not possibly want to be absorbed into Israel. And after all of this, you suppose yourself a democracy because you represent the general will of the “Jewish majority.” But is the choice really apartheid or binationalism?

People who put things this way, presumably to maintain Zionist momentum, have actually lost touch with what Zionism was mostly about at its inception, the power and grace of Hebrew culture. They underestimate the capacity of Israel’s cities to absorb new generations, including Arab citizens and foreign workers, to something both fully democratic and patently Jewish, yet in a way that does not presume to straighten the crooked timber—in short, to make Israel Jewish the way France is French. With the exception of the ultra-Orthodox, secluded in their spreading neighborhoods, nearly everybody in Israel (Arabs, too) is marinated in a popular Hebrew culture in which the international terms of science and business are incorporated, in which one shuttles from Hebrew fiction to subtitled Hollywood movies, or CNN, or the Lakers’ games, from Mizrahi music to sentimentalized Jewish holidays, or the beach. Go to a wedding or funeral in Tel Aviv, or an award ceremony in Haifa, and you’ll see that most feel homage when somebody reads, say, a poem by the late Yehuda Amichai, not when the rabbi chants perfunctorily from the traditional liturgy.

Israel’s Arabs remain close to the Arab world, and most will not likely assimilate as completely into Israel as, say, shtetl Jews have into New York City. But this does not mean they will not assimilate sufficiently into Hebrew culture to become responsible, even wonderfully iconoclastic, citizens. “One of the first novels I read,” Kashua told me, “was Saul Bellow’s Herzog in Hebrew translation. Then I bought all his books. I felt that Jews like Bellow understood me, understood what a democratic culture means when you’re a minority. Then I loved Primo Levi, then Zadie Smith. Arab literature, even the Koran, is full of stories of lost empire. The Arabs say, ‘We were once great and now have been brought low.’ The Jews say, ‘We were once slaves, but now we are free.’”

Kashua—who writes only in Hebrew—is unusual, but he is not an anomaly. Israel’s Declaration of Independence declares Israel “a Jewish state,” as the U.N. intended it to be, but also promises to ensure the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. . . .” When he read the declaration aloud, Ben-Gurion unselfconsciously substituted the phrase “Hebrew people” (Am Ivri) for “Jewish people” when referring to the Zionist home. Perhaps the most original Zionist of them all, Ahad Ha’am, argued (after his distant hero, Herbert Spencer) for an organic view of Jewish community, wired together by the Hebrew language, struggling for existence, competing on progressive sophistication. He advocated enlightenment, self-reliance, newness. Living in Odessa in the 1880s, he argued for colonial settlements in Palestine, not because he wanted a state—not yet—but because he wanted a “Hebrew national atmosphere” that could provide a new and more congenial space in which Jews could work out in individual ways what it means to be Jewish—a place they could ask modern questions in Hebrew. He edited and mentored the generation that created the state’s DNA: A. D. Gordon, the founder of the kibbutz movement; Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the creator of the modern Hebrew dictionary; Chaim Weizmann, the moderate leader of world Zionism during the Mandate; even, indirectly, Ben-Gurion.

It is Zionism’s singular tragedy that all of these figures are just street names today, while “Zionism” is applied to the people with caravans, Uzis, stylish forelocks, and visits from Pat Robertson. Once, Israel’s sympathizers took Zionism’s innovations for granted. Today, ironically, only Arab Israelis seem to grasp how radical Zionism was for Jews. About 70 percent say that the thing that makes you Israeli is the Hebrew language. Until the intifada began, a larger proportion of Arab Israelis than Jewish Israelis (over 63 percent) claimed “Israeli” for their primary national identity.

* * *

Which brings me, finally, to a curious petition, filed with Israel’s High Court of Justice last December. The petitioners are thirty-eight citizens of Israel, most of them Jews but a number of them Arabs: businesspeople, professors, entertainers, writers, jurists. Their petition enjoins the court to order the Ministry of Interior to inscribe them as “Israeli” in the Registry of Population. Given how much else is being contested in the country, one would think a petition to recognize Israelis as “Israeli” is frivolous. It is anything but that.

The petitioners are asking the state to recognize an inclusive, earned form of nationality, coterminous with and redundant to citizenship. They believe that fifty-five years after Israel’s founding—when two-thirds of its citizens have been born in the country, and half of those are third generation—the experience of Israel itself must be determinative of national identity. More important, they want to close the door on discrimination against individuals on religious or racial grounds.

“I have staked my life on the moral and cultural power of the Jewish people,” says Yoella Har-Shefi, a civil-rights attorney, who is leading the group, “but you can’t say, ‘Everybody is equal here, it’s just that a Jew is valued differently’—and if there is international or internal protest, well, that’s proof that ‘the whole world is against us.’ If Arab citizens can’t become ‘Israelis,’ the country will come apart. We are sitting on the edge of a volcano, because Israel is the only country on earth that does not recognize itself.”

The state’s attorney has so far responded to this petition predictably enough, arguing that it will divide the Jewish people—that it “undermines the very principles under which the State of Israel was created.” Barak’s court has not yet ruled definitively. But whatever the outcome, the petitioners are right to see that Israel’s real challenge in the coming generation is not only to get back into a peace process but to shore this up with a democratic revolution in civil rights; that is, to get Israeli Jews to “recognize” Israel. This Israel would not be a binational state; it would be a Hebrew republic, though what would be wrong, ultimately, with Israelis and Palestinians entering into some mutually convenient federal structure—or joining a larger one—to share jurisdictions that cannot be effectively exercised by either nation-state alone; to work on their roads, commercial links, water, labor standards, monetary policy, immigration, tourism, telecommunications policy, and more? The need for security cooperation around Jerusalem and its holy sites is obvious enough, and would probably require some international policing. I have yet to meet an Israeli businessperson who would not want Israel included in the European Community. Carl Hahn, the former chairman of Volkswagen, and an architect of European integration, told me recently that Israel would “certainly strengthen” the EU. But there is a caveat: “Israel must have peace with its neighbors and civil rights that conform to European law.”

Turkey, which has been Israel’s partner in so many economic and military ventures, is in advanced discussions with the EU. Why not an Israel subject to the EU’s collective security provisions, or formally joined to NATO, so that an attack on Israel would prompt a collective response? That Israel would still be a “Jewish state,” whose national literary and artistic masterpieces, created in Hebrew, would be open to the cultural and scientific currents of the developed world. But it would also be a country in which any citizen of the EU could choose to work, or start a business, and eventually go through a defined process of naturalization; that is, learn how to make the most of the Jewish nation’s civil society. And something very much like this process of naturalization would be the key to the advancement and integration of Israel’s Arab minority, who would be learning to be Israeli from primary school on, though individuals might well choose to live in the Palestinian state or to work in any country in Europe.

Israel would have to replace the Law of Return, but it could still have laws that prefer immigrants who are Diaspora Jews or victims of anti-Semitism. Greece has similar laws. At the same time, Israel would be a state in which, by law, the religious imaginations of citizens would be a matter of private conscience and voluntary assembly. It would be a state in which anyone could marry anyone, no religious institution would be supported by state funds, and all young citizens would be conscripted for some form of national service.

A pipe dream? Perhaps. The alternative, however, is a nightmare, and not only for Palestinians. According to recent polls, nearly half of Israel’s young people “do not feel connected” to the state, and a quarter of them do not see their future here. If the attitudes of my own business students are relevant, the brightest and most highly educated are as infatuated with America today as I was with Israel in 1967. There will be many interpretations of this poll, but one thing is clear: The absence of a coherent democratic vision cannot compete with the presence of a coherent, if outdated, Zionist vision. There will also be laments about how the Jewish state was supposed to be a “light unto the nations.” Perhaps Israel could just learn from the European nations for a while—not too much to ask, with its nemesis dead, its champion backtracking, its patron in too deep, and its once noble revolution in doubt.

About the Author
Bernard Avishai is the author of The Tragedy of Zionism: How Its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy. He teaches business and public policy at Duke University.

This is Saving Israel From Itself, a feature, originally from January 2005, published Wednesday, February 9, 2005. It is part of Features, which is part of