Monthly Archives: May 2010
Stephen Saito at IFC:
At the risk of being tacky to bring up Dennis Hopper’s personal travails late in life, as they unfortunately will be alongside the glowing career retrospectives now that he finally succumbed to prostate cancer at the age of 74, it’s worth mentioning that he wouldn’t let his weakened state keep him from being a daring rabble-rouser until the very end.
Although Hopper’s long battle with disease robbed us of one of cinema’s great rebels too soon, it also allowed for moving considerations of his work while he was still alive as the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis and Matt Zoller Seitz did of both his work as a director right here for IFC.com and his career as a whole for Moving Image Source around the time he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Hopper’s speech for the occasion can be found here.)
Of course, Hopper was always an odd fit with Hollywood — a fiercely talented actor with all-American looks whose early roles opposite James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant,” always hinted at his independent streak with the ever-present mania behind those blue eyes. It may not entirely have been his plan to overthrow the film business in 1969 (and using studio distribution to do it, no less) with “Easy Rider,” a film that helped bring counterculture to the masses and kickstarted one of the most creatively fertile periods in Hollywood history, not to mention its influence on shaping the modern independent film movement. (In a study of extremes, Hopper acted in Tinseltown stalwart John Wayne’s “True Grit” the same year.)
Showing my age, I grew up with Hopper in the era long after his exploits offscreen and on (let’s just say it was a long time before I got to appreciate his turn as Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet”) had given way to a steady stream of villains in mainstream Hollywood fare. His appearance alone was instant code for crazed mastermind in such films as “Super Mario Brothers,” “Waterworld” and “Speed,” even though he was doing some of the most nuanced work of his career in films like the May-December romance “Carried Away” and his pivotal supporting turn as Christian Slater’s blue collar father in “True Romance.”
David Thomson at The New Republic:
There was a time when Dennis Hopper exulted in the reputation of being the first kid who knew what was wrong with Hollywood. What he said, more or less, was that the movies have gone dead, man, that it’s just old-timers doing it all on automatic pilot, that there’s no truth, anymore, man, and they won’t put me in lead parts.
There was some truth in what he said, and it was certainly the case that a number of veteran directors found Hopper an intolerable smart-ass who said he had known Jimmy–Jimmy Dean–and that what he was saying now was only what Dean would have said. Which may have been true. But which also allowed that Nicholas Ray–the director of Rebel Without a Cause, one of their two films together–also knew some of what was wrong about Hollywood, even if there was very little he could do about it. Come to that, Orson Welles, 15 years earlier had known, too, and had done his best to indicate another way out of the jungle.
Dennis Hopper was not a Dean or a Welles; he was not a Ray. But he was a bright-eyed, wide-browed kid with a slightly frozen beauty who looked a little like some silent screen actors.
Though he had come out of Dodge City, Kansas, he got to California early on and for a moment it was reckoned he had a career. He was a guy in the gang that hazes Dean in Rebel, and just a year later he played the grown-up son to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant.
He did a few other films–Westerns, like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (that’s the Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas version) where he played Billy Clanton, From Hell to Texas, and The Sons of Katie Elder (with John Wayne).
In 1961, he married Brooke Hayward, the stunning daughter of agent Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan. The young couple was good looking enough to be taken for the next generation of Hollywood royalty, but no one quite noticed that the kingdom was melting like an ice sculpture out in the sun. Hopper fought with directors. He spouted a lot of Method talk about the actor feeling “right,” and his career was going nowhere.
Then something happened. Roger Corman was making his exploitation films of the moment and the subject was bikers on drugs having sex. One of these pictures was The Trip, with a scene where Hopper, Peter Fonda, and some others were at a campfire, passing round a joint, and improvising. Was that a real joint? Corman would ask later. He was shocked to think that could be going on. But others noted that the joint gave Dennis a gift of tongues–he made up a speech using the word “man” 36 times.
As a reward, he said, Corman sent Hopper and Fonda off into the desert with a nonsynch camera to get some atmosphere shots. They had a terrific time as can happen with gorgeous kids, a camera, and what may be joints. As Fonda remembered, “So we shot for a couple of days in Yuma, in Big Dune and back towards L.A. Dennis got some beautiful, beautiful stuff of me in the dunes with water behind me, water going into my profile and bursting behind me.”
Gee, this is easy, they thought, and so they reckoned they’d make a whole movie more or less that way. They called it Easy Rider and they did it without Corman. And Dennis would direct. A wild bunch of Hollywood kids came on board–Hopper and Fonda, Terry Southern, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, Donn Cambern, Henry Jaglom and Laszlo Kovacs. Anyone they knew, passing by, was likely to be asked to help in the editing. Another kid they knew, Jack Nicholson, got the third acting role, the disenchanted lawyer–though there was a good deal of argument (and money in court later) over how he got the part when Rip Torn had been in line first. Thy shot stuff–beautiful, beautiful stuff. They had desert, sunrise-sunset, and girls. Kovacs was a terrific camera man. They laid music on the soundtrack and the film has a quest if not a story–of these cowboys driving across America for drug money (Phil Spector made a cameo as their connection–I’m not making this up).
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:
On the one occasion when I met Hopper, at a film-festival party in San Francisco about 15 years ago, he gave a vintage performance, drinking wine and laughing it up with a group of people he barely knew (or, in my case, didn’t know at all). He wore a white linen suit and a trim goatee, regaled us with yarns from his heyday as a “total madman” in the 1960s, and looked terrific against what I remember as a crisp, sunny day. At some point his female companion — I’m not going to try to figure out who that was, and it doesn’t matter — stalked off after some heated private conversation, but he didn’t seem concerned.
When I asked Hopper what he remembered most about James Dean, with whom he appeared in “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant,” his demeanor changed. He became intensely earnest, explaining that Dean had changed his approach to acting and to life. Hopper had begun acting in television at a time when it was all about clarity and economy, he explained: You hit your mark, you said your lines clearly, you made your exit. Then he got on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause” (his film debut) and met Dean, who had been studying under Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio in New York.
“Here was this kid, Jimmy — I mean, he was older than me, but he was still a kid,” Hopper said, “and the stuff he was doing was amazing, it just blew me away.” (I won’t pretend these are verbatim quotes; this is the conversation as I recall it.) He remembered Dean rolling around on the carpet of the set that was supposed to be the Stark family’s Los Angeles home. “I asked him what the hell he was doing. I mean, you just didn’t do that. It was completely from another planet.” Dean explained that Jim Stark, his alienated teenage character, had spent a lot of time on that carpet and was intimately familiar with it. He needed to know what it felt like.
Along with Marlon Brando, Dean was one of the principal vectors for the transmission of Strasberg’s “Method acting” approach into the Hollywood mainstream, and Hopper became an eager disciple. (Publicity photographs from “Rebel Without a Cause” show Hopper reading Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” on the set, which can only have been Dean’s idea.) After Dean’s death, Hopper abandoned Hollywood for Manhattan and spent five years studying under Strasberg. In later years, as the Method came to dominate American film acting, several of its practitioners became much bigger stars than Hopper: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Sean Penn, along with Hopper’s close friend Jack Nicholson. But I’m not sure any of those men internalized the Method, or pursued its philosophical and psychological dimensions to their logical extremes, the way Hopper did.
Viewed narrowly, the Stanislavski-Strasberg Method is a means to an end: An actor employs his own emotions, memories and sensations in order to portray a character in more lifelike and convincing fashion. Hopper seemed to develop his own expanded, synthetic interpretation, probably shaped by his appetite for consciousness-altering substances, avant-garde art and thorny philosophy. Every Hopper performance was just a facet of his lifelong, overarching performance as Dennis Hopper, and the professional separation most actors maintain between themselves and their characters evaporated entirely. Apocryphal or not, the story of Hopper’s phone call to David Lynch after he had read the script for “Blue Velvet” is on point: “You have to let me play Frank Booth. Because I am Frank Booth!”
Of course Hopper wasn’t really an amyl-nitrite-huffing, psychopathic rapist any more than he was a disgraced Indiana basketball coach (as in “Hoosiers”) or a disgruntled bomb-squad officer (as in “Speed”). But he pursued roles as dangerous and damaged characters, at least in the second half of his career, with a fervor that suggests he found them personally therapeutic as well as financially rewarding. Frank Booth was a revelation because he was horrifyingly, recognizably real, in a way movie villains hardly ever are. Even with his exaggerated vices and mannerisms, his foulness was rooted in genuine pain. (And Frank’s profane preference for Pabst Blue Ribbon over Heineken launched a trend among young consumers that endures two decades later; the brewery should have paid Hopper and Lynch a lifetime commission.)
Roger L. Simon at Pajamas Media:
Unlike other Hollywood hot shots like Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, etc, who never once changed a single thought they ever had, whether on LSD or a glass of milk, Dennis Hopper was able to see that the very thing that allowed him to live the wild and crazy life he did was deeply obvious. Forget all the self-serving narcissistic left-wing baloney. It was good old fashioned American Freedom! Nowhere else could Dennis have been Dennis — and he knew it. He wanted that for everybody.
So when you think of Dennis on that iconic bike in Easy Rider, think of America at its best, out on the open road, optimistic and heading straight on with unflinching belief in liberty.
And to my Hollywood friends, let this be a reminder that traditionally an artist is not someone who goes with the crowd, especially when that crowd hasn’t revised an idea since the presidential campaign of George McGovern. Open your minds. What’s cool may not be so cool anymore. If Dennis can do it, so can you. He wasn’t afraid of losing his job.
Yes, I know, this is not exactly the perfect guy to pick as a role model — but in a way I do. In fact, in honor of Dennis I’m thinking of turning in my Prius for a Harley.
J. Hoberman at Village Voice:
“The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad!” So Hopper described Marlon Brando towards the end of Apocalypse Now in a no-doubt improvised line that basically referred to himself. Hopper took Method Acting to the far side of the moon and turned Hollywood on to Pop Art, he appeared in Andy Warhol’s first narrative movie (Tarzan and Jane Regain… sort of) in support of Taylor Mead, and pioneered the naturalistic use of marijuana on the screen. He never won an Oscar or a lifetime achievement award but there are lines like “Hey man, I’m just a motherfuckin’ asshole, man!” (delivered while pouring a bottle of bourbon over his head in Out of the Blue) to which no other actor could possibly do justice. Blue Velvet is unthinkable without him.
As an actor, the young Hopper combined the image of the Cowboy with that of the Juvenile Delinquent; later, he was pleased to incarnate the chaos of the Sixties (and not just as a Ronald Reagan supporter). Eighteen years after Easy Rider, Hopper enlivened the youth film River’s Edge as a one-legged ex-biker living alone with an inflated sex doll called Ellie, selling loose joints to the local punks, and reminiscing about his colorful past: “I ate so much pussy in those days, my beard looked like a glazed donut.” Last seen, he was in heavy rotation on TV as a clean-shaven but acid-ripped investment services pitchman proposing to redefine his generation’s notion of retirement. (See his villainous turn in fellow Sixties-man George Romero’s Land of the Dead to see how.)
Not long ago I made a pilgrimage to Chinchero, the Indian town 14,000 feet up in the Andes where The Last Movie was shot–sacred ground for the Incas, man, even before Hopper re-sanctified it! There was no monument to, or even a memory of his antics, just the realization that this crazy gringo had somehow taken over the whole town as the set for his masterpiece. The Last Movie is the one Hollywood production since Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons that deserves a place in Anthology Film Archives’ Essential Cinema. It used to be that Hopper had the only decent 35mm print in existence. What will happen to it now, I wonder?
UPDATE: Dana Stevens in Slate
UPDATE #2: Jesse Walker in Reason
Tim Smith at The Baltimore Sun:
The original purpose of Memorial Day can get easily lost amid all the cookouts or, in these parts, trips to the beach for the unofficial start of the summer season. The origin of the holiday can get overlooked, too, since there have been so many wars since the one that led to the practice of commemorating those who died in service to the country.
It was in 1868 that the first Decoration Day ceremonies were held, honoring the dead of the Union Army in the Civil War. Over time, of course, the observance incorporated the dead of both sides and, renamed Memorial Day, encompassed all of this country’s fallen in subsequent wars.
I was thinking today of those Civil War roots of the holiday and of a song that was popular with Northern troops: “We’re Tenting Tonight On the Old Campground.” I’m fascinated by Walter Kittridge’s words from 1864 as much as the tune. This is a remarkably powerful, personal expression of that war’s toll — any war’s toll.
It seems doubly appropriate to recall it on this Memorial Day, when there are still conflicts and casualties. I’ve posted some of the lyrics here, followed by a recording of “Tenting Tonight” that effectively communicates the song’s sadly timeless message:
We’re tenting tonight on the old campground. Give us a song to cheer our weary hearts, a song of home, and friends we love so dear. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease. Many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace …”
E.J. Dionne at WaPo:
Why is it that every Memorial Day, we note that a holiday set aside for honoring our war dead has become instead an occasion for beach-going, barbecues and baseball?
The problem arises because war-fighting has become less a common endeavor than a specialty engaged in by a relatively small subset of our population. True, some people slipped out of their obligations in the past, and military service was largely, though never exclusively, the preserve of men. The steady growth of opportunities for women in the armed forces is a positive development. I say this proudly as someone whose sister is a veteran of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as is her husband.
Can we ever return to a time when we pay proper homage to the service of our warriors, living and dead? Closing the divide that exists between military life and the rest of our society is the first step on that path. Achieving that end is the single best reason for ending the ban on gays in the military. This is not a special-interest demand. It is a powerful way of declaring that in a democracy, service should be seen as a task open to all patriots.
Our major wars — particularly the Civil War, which gave rise to Memorial Day, and World War II — were in some sense mass democratic experiences. They touched the entire country. The same cannot be said of our more recent conflicts.
Because it has been 65 years since we’ve seen anything like a mass mobilization, regular contact with our military is largely confined to the places where our men and women in uniform live. And, according to a 2007 Defense Department report, more than half of our home-based military personnel — 54.5 percent of them — are stationed in only six states: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Twelve states account for three-quarters of our service members. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a terrible principle when it comes to honoring those who protect us. But is there any doubt that it applies?
I really hate the annual ritual of writing columns about how people don’t behave properly on Memorial Day. People don’t get many vacation days in the greatest country on Earth, and sitting around pretending to be sad or watching Spielberg war porn doesn’t really honor those who served either. Not going to read the minds of those who served, willingly and enthusiastically or otherwise, but when after I die Atrios Memorial Day is declared, feel free to grill some burgers and have a few beers in my name. I’ll be honored.
Robert H. Scales at Politics Daily:
The heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan is being done by a very small and increasingly isolated minority. We find that military service is fast becoming a family business. At least 100 sons and daughters of general officers are in harm’s way as we speak. The level of relative sacrifice is far greater today than it was in my generation. It’s not unusual to find a soldier or Marine who is now in double-digit deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we don’t sense the difference between their lives and ours, but increasingly they do. We don’t hear much from them publicly because, unlike my generation of draftees, they are professionals and tend to keep their own counsel. But resentment is there, just under the surface. Unlike my generation, soldiers are plugged into the outside world through the Internet. You can often find a young soldier in the remotest and most inhospitable place blogging and tweeting and watching his countrymen with a wry cynicism.
Soldiers often ask why the media gave them so much attention before the surge when things were going badly in Iraq and so little attention now when things are going well. They wonder how so many political and media pundits know so much about a soldier’s business, and yet lately, soldiers see so few of them near their foxholes. The Internet is a two-edged sword. In Vietnam, we only heard from home infrequently, by letter. Today a soldier is likely to go off on patrol after getting an earful about his loved one’s problems with bill collectors, teachers or, increasingly, family counselors.
Memorial Day should be about memories, to be sure. But it should also be about remembrances of those who are serving us so selflessly now. We must never allow this precious and tiny piece of Sparta to become permanently detached from America’s Babylon. Next time you’re in an airport, spend a second to shake a soldier’s hand. Commit to rekindling that sense of good will toward our men and women in uniform you felt just after 9/11. The war for us is now background noise. But believe me, war is very real and increasingly dangerous for those whom we charge to fight it.
Michelle Oddis at Human Events:
–> At a time when President Obama’s relationship with the military is already on shaky ground, his decision to take a vacation with his family in Chicago rather than pay his Memorial Day respects at Arlington National Cemetery further proves his apathy toward our armed forces, according to some veterans.
“The President seems to demonstrate almost weekly just how, at least to me, little he cares about this country and our history and our heritage,” retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle told HUMAN EVENTS.
“He seems almost to resent it, which is the most mind-boggling thing in the world, because without a country like America Barack Obama could not be President. He seems to dislike our institutions… and that’s a sad, sad thing,” said Swindle, a decorated Vietnam prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain’s cellmate in Hanoi.
David Corn at Politics Daily:
There’s a hole in the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is still near 10 percent. There are two wars underway. And what are conservative pundits fretting about? That this year President Obama won’t be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
The liberal watchdog outfit, Media Matters, has been keeping track of this latest right-wing meme:– Glenn Beck says, “Obama is skipping out on a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington Cemetery because he’ll be in Chicago on vacation. I’m sorry, I don’t ever, ever question the president’s vacation. I didn’t under Bush, I didn’t under Clinton, I don’t under Obama. . . . I have no problem with the man taking a vacation. But I am sick and tired — sick and tired — of people believing the lie that this administration has respect for the police or has respect for the soldiers of our country. I’m tired of it.”
– Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and CNN contributor, tweeted, “Obama skipping the Tomb of the Unknowns this weekend for Chicago is offensive. Chicago can wait. The Commander-in-Chief has a job to do.”
– Noting that Vice President Joe Biden will assume the wreath-laying duties this year, Doug Powers, a guest blogger for conservative Michelle Malkin, grouses, “President Obama went to Arlington Cemetery to lay the wreath last year, but this year Obama’s handing the wreath to [Biden] and heading off to the more welcoming political climes of Chicago. . . . Obama will however make it back to Washington in time to honor Paul McCartney next week. Boy, I’m starting to think that West Point speech [Obama gave this past weekend] wasn’t from the heart.”
You’d think these folks would have better things to gripe about. And Obama is not retreating on Memorial Day. (What president would?) Instead of visiting Arlington cemetery, Obama and the first lady will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., about 50 miles south of Chicago. Moreover, not every president has spent Memorial Day at Arlington. In 1983, President Reagan was at a summit meeting, and the deputy secretary of defense — not even the veep! — placed the wreath. Nine years later, President George H.W. Bush passed off the wreath to Vice President Dan Quayle (who had used family connections to get a slot in the National Guard during the days of the Vietnam War draft). And in 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney took on the wreath mission, while President George W. Bush was in Texas, perhaps clearing brush.
This wreath scuffle is yet another silly episode in the right’s never-ending campaign to persuade Americans that Obama doesn’t care about U.S. troops and is weak on national security. It shows how unserious these bloviators can be. Obama is in the middle of sending an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan and has boosted the number of drone attacks aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, conservative wingnuts insist on questioning his commitment to the defense of this nation. (I’m skeptical of the Afghanistan surge, but it certainly is a commitment to the war — for at least the time being.)
Some conservatives have criticized President Obama because he won’t pay homage to America’s fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery today. Instead, he will be at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois. This is a silly controversy and has the potential to make the complainers look petty. Thousands of American veterans are buried at national cemeteries that aren’t as famous as the one at Arlington. These heroes are worthy of presidential visits on Memorial Day, too.
Isabel Kershner at NYT:
Israel’s deadly naval commando raid Monday morning on a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza is generating widespread international condemnation and diplomatic repercussions far beyond the waters where the confrontation occurred.
Several European nations summoned their Israeli envoys to explain Israel’s actions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans for meeting with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, an Israeli government official confirmed. Mr. Netanyahu, who is visiting Canada, planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid, the official said.
The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel’s ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling the raid “state terrorism,” cut short a visit to Latin America to return home.
The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.
Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.
“That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”
“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.
At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.
A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”
The warships first intercepted the convoy of cargo and passenger boats shortly before midnight on Sunday, according to activists on one vessel. Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza.
Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza.
About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland.
There are, not surprisingly, competing versions of exactly what transpired, and Israeli officials not only defended the existing blockade policy, but said Israeli forces faced resistance on the ships. Every claim has a counter-claim, of course, and those condemning the violent raid this morning insist Israeli forces attacked peaceful civilians, including a flotilla carrying a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor.
Either way, as the AP noted, the pre-dawn violence has “set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.”
This much is clearly true. The ship was unofficially sponsored by Turkey, which has long been a key Israeli ally in the regional, and which recalled its ambassador to Israel this morning in the wake of the incident. The United Nations, among others, is demanding a detailed Israeli explanation.
The White House issued a written statement, noting that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries, and was gathering information to understand exactly what transpired in this “tragedy.”
Scott Lucas at Enduring America:
1605 GMT: Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that NATO’s spokesman James Appathurai had stated that the organisation would be gathered extraordinarily, at the request of Turkey.
NATO issued a very short statement earlier today: “NATO is deeply concerned about the loss of life in this incident. We look forward to a further establishment of the facts of what has happened.”
1600 GMT: IDF said Defne Y, the 5th ship in Gaza flotilla, cleared of its crew – Mavi Marmara currently being brought into Ashdod Port.
1555 GMT: Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros reports, “We’re hearing 14 activists have agreed to be deported and on way home;50 taken to prison in southern Israel resisting deportation.”
1550 GMT: Pictures of wounded activists were released. Plastic handcuffs during the transport of heavily wounded ones are noteworthy.
Gaza Flotilla Attack: Israel Line “We Are Sorry but It Was a Life-Threatening Situation!”
Gaza Flotilla Video: Questions from Last Report Before Israeli Attack
Gaza Video: “If You’re Watching This, The Flotilla Has Been Attacked”
1548 GMT: The United Nations Security Council will meet on Monday afternoon for an emergency session that will start at 1 P.M., New York time.
1545 GMT: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Chile: “This is a state terrorism.”
1515 GMT: While on his way to Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “This is clearly a piracy. Israel must apologize and answer. According to unconfirmed information, we have around 50 wounded and 10 martyries. No country is above the international law.”
Meanwhile, tens of thousands people are protesting in front of Israel’s Consulate General in Istanbul.
1500 GMT: Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning Israel:
Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians. We strongly condemn these inhuman acts of Israel. This grave incident which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law might cause irreversible consequences in our relations.
Besides the initiatives being conducted by our Embassy in Tel Aviv, this unacceptable incident is being strongly protested and explanation is demanded from Israeli Ambassador in Ankara, who has been invited to our Ministry.
Whatsoever the motives might be, such actions against civilians who are involved only in peaceful activities cannot be accepted. Israel will have to bear the consequences of these actions which constitute a violation of international law.
May God bestow His mercy upon those who lost their lives. We wish to express our condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased, and swift recovery to the wounded.
1440 GMT: Israel’s Portrayal. Amidst the rush of Israeli depictions of the attack — with the continuing use of the word “lynching”, now from the commandos who carried out the assault — this story stands out from a “Ron Ben Yishai” in YNet:
Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.
However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapon.
1435 GMT: Washington’s Reaction. The US statement, given by White House spokesman Bill Burton, is far more restrained than the UN denunciation of Israel (1330 GMT) and even Britain’s expression of concern (1035 GMT). Burton said the Obama administration “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” and officials are “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.
Ron Ben-Yishai at Ynet:
Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.
Officials estimated that passengers will show slight resistance, and possibly minor violence; for that reason, the operation’s commander decided to bring the helicopter directly above the top deck. The first rope that soldiers used in order to descend down to the ship was wrested away by activists, most of them Turks, and tied to an antenna with the hopes of bringing the chopper down. However, Flotilla 13 fighters decided to carry on.
Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.
However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.
One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows. The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” even though they sustained numerous blows.
‘I saw the tip of a rifle’
The Navy commandoes were prepared to mostly encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, rather than trained street fighters. The soldiers were told they were to verbally convince activists who offer resistance to give up, and only then use paintballs. They were permitted to use their handguns only under extreme circumstances.
The forces hurled stun grenades, yet the rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandoes who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter. At one point, the attackers nabbed one commando, wrested away his handgun, and threw him down from the top deck to the lower deck, 30 feet below. The soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost his consciousness. Only after this injury did Flotilla 13 troops ask for permission to use live fire. The commander approved it: You can go ahead and fire. The soldiers pulled out their handguns and started shooting at the rioters’ legs, a move that ultimately neutralized them. Meanwhile, the rioters started to fire back at the commandoes. “I saw the tip of a rifle sticking out of the stairwell,” one commando said. “He fired at us and we fired back. We didn’t see if we hit him. We looked for him later but couldn’t find him.” Two soldiers sustained gunshot wounds to their knee and stomach after rioters apparently fired at them using guns wrested away from troops.
The planned rush towards the vessel’s bridge became impossible, even when a second chopper was brought in with another crew of soldiers. “Throw stun grenades,” shouted Flotilla 13’s commander who monitored the operation. The Navy chief was not too far, on board a speedboat belonging to Flotilla 13, along with forces who attempted to climb into the back of the ship
I have my doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and there was obviously an operational/intelligence failure that led to Israel’s naval commandos having to open fire to defend themselves, giving the other side a propaganda victory. But it does appear that the physical violence started from the other side, which to begin with had the rather unhumanitarian mission of aiding Hamas, and, to the extent there were sincere humanitarian/peace activists involved, allowed themselves to get hijacked by violent Islamic extremists who manned one of the ships.
Net result of the “peace/humanitarian” mission: dead activists, wounded Israeli soldiers, no more humanitarian aid to Gaza than if Israel’s offer to transfer the aid to Gaza from Ashdod had been accepted, and a likely breakdown in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that were about to start. Congratulations.
Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:
This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas. The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide. Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?
The Israeli assault on the flotilla has galvanized Arab and international media attention (to say nothing of my Twitter feed). Arab and Turkish publics appear to be truly outraged, as do the Turkish, Arab and many European governments. The issue is evidently headed to the Security Council. It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis. We’ll be keeping track of the story as it develops.
John Hinderaker at Powerline:
The incident is being portrayed in the Arab press as an unprovoked attack by the soldiers. As usual, the flaw in this theory is that if the soldiers had set out to massacre the activists, they would have done a better job of it. Violence occurred on only one of the six ships, because only on that ship was it instigated by the pro-Palestinian activists. But that won’t stop the incident from triggering another round of world-wide Israel-bashing.
Jim Sleeper at Talking Points Memo:
The government has let the flotilla “drive Israel into a sea of stupidity,” writes Gideon Levy, a senior columnist for Haaretz the country’s most prominent liberal daily.
“We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second,” writes Bradley Burston, a senior editor at Haaretz. “We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel’s Vietnam.”
Burston would know: A Los Angeles native and Berkeley graduate, he moved to Israel in the 1970s with some young Americans I knew to settle in Kibbutz Gezer, a progressive outpost between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If you can recall that in those Vietnam War/Nixon years Israel seemed a lot more noble and just to many of us than the U.S. did, you’ll understand why Burston served in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat medic and studied medicine in Be’er Sheva for two years.
But Burston must also know that his scathing Vietnam analogy has its limits: The U.S. could have walked away from Vietnam with no dangerous consequences. In Gaza, by comparison, the influence of Iran and other powers make the Israeli situation a little more… existential. Israelis also don’t have Americans’ history of conquering a whole continent and not having to care about it. Their history, too, is more… existential.
But precisely for those reasons, Haaretz reports, Israeli security forces are now on high alert, bracing for protests closer to home, maybe even for a third intifada if it turns out that one of the Palestinian activists on board the flotilla was killed. That only underscores the government’s stupidity.
There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a “Jewish head,” is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.
I don’t know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters. I learned from the Second Intifada (specifically, the story of the non-massacre at Jenin) not to rush to judgment without a full set of facts (yes, I know what you are thinking: So why have a blog?). I’m trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal. It faces another existential threat as well, from forces arguing that Israel’s morally disastrous settlement policy fatally undermines the very idea of a Jewish state. Is Israel ready to deploy seichel in these battles, rather than mere force?
UPDATE: Lots and lots of posts on this one. Just a handful, a sprinkling here.
Max Boot at WSJ
Jonathan Schanzer at The Weekly Standard
Mona Charen at National Review
UPDATE #2: Elliott Abrams at The Weekly Standard
Marty Peretz at TNR
Daniel Larison (one of many posts) responding to Henley
UPDATE #3: Leon Wieseltier at TNR
Robert Farley and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads
UPDATE #4: Heather Hurlburt and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads
Ed Oswald at Technologizer:
In a sign of Apple’s continuing ascension to the top of the technology heap, at 2:30pm ET today the company became the most valuable technology company in the world with a market capitalization of $227.1 billion. This was slightly morethan Microsoft’s $226.3 billion.
Both shares took a significant tumble late in the afternoon as the market gave up its gains and then some in the final hour of trading. Even so, Apple still finished in front at $222.1 billion, far ahead of Redmond at $219.2 billion.
How important is this? On the entire New York Stock Exchange there is only one American company that is more value, and that is oil giant Exxon Mobil. It also completes what could really be called a stunning comeback for Apple, which as recently as teh years ago had been in bad financial shape.
One ironic point: Microsoft itself could be credited with helping bring back Apple from the dead: in 1997, the company made a $150 million investment in the company shortly after Steve Jobs returned for his second and current stint as CEO
MG Siegler at TechCrunch:
Some publications reported this milestone happened back in April, but that was a slightly different metric. That was the market cap on the S&P 500, which uses float-adjusted numbers. Today’s milestone is straight-up market cap: numbers of shares outstanding multiplied by share price.
Of course, just how much this number means is a matter of debate. The truth is that it really doesn’t mean that much in terms how strong or weak a company is from a financial perspective. But it is a good indicator of trends, and obviously stock performance. That trend is obviously that over the past five years or so, Apple has been destroying Microsoft is gaining stock value.
Over those past five years, Microsoft’s stock has been largely stagnant: it’s up about 4%. Apple’s stock, meanwhile, is up some 550% over that same time frame.
Regardless of how the market closes today, you can likely expect Apple market cap to surge ahead in the coming days. A week from this coming Monday is Steve Jobs’ keynote at Apple’s WWDC event. There, he’s widely expected to unveil the new iPhone — and undoubtedly some other things. The mere speculation about what he’ll unveil will fuel the price. Microsoft, meanwhile, is losing key executives.
Dylan Tweney at Wired:
Ten years ago, Apple was all but written off by most expert commentators. An also-ran computer company that once dominated geeks’ hearts and minds with the Apple II and the Macintosh, Apple made serious missteps in the 1990s that relegated it to a tiny niche of the overall computer market, with market share in the low single digits. It was all but certain that its share would continue dwindling until the company faded away entirely, like Commodore, Atari, Tandy and dozens of other computer makers before it.
What the commentators didn’t count on was the string of hits Apple would deliver over the next 10 years. Founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 and removed then-CEO Gil Amelio in 1997, making himself interim CEO (and then eventually dropping the interim title).
Jobs then instituted what can now clearly been seen as a far-reaching strategy to consolidate and simplify Apple’s product line, while gradually leveraging the company’s strengths (ease of use, consumer-friendly branding, attractive design, and high margins) to expand into new areas of consumer technology.
Jobs also carefully created a new company culture, one that’s centered on innovation, control and secrecy. That approach has alienated many people — and runs counter to Silicon Valley received wisdom about the value of openness and sharing — but the proof is in the pudding. With a CEO of Jobs’ caliber, at least, that kind of top-down control works.
This list of product rollouts tells the story:
- iMac (Bondi Blue) – 1998
- iBook (clamshell) – 1999
- iPod with scroll wheel – 2001
- Mac OS X – 2001
- iTunes Store – 2003
- MacBook (switch to Intel) – 2006
- iPhone – 2007
- App Store + iPhone SDK – 2008
- iPad – 2010
By 2010, Apple had firmly established its dominance (in mindshare and innovation, if not in absolute numbers) in three areas: computers, MP3 players and smartphones; the company also controls an increasingly large marketplace for music, video and applications with iTunes, which counts its users in the hundreds of millions and has served more than 10 billion songs, 200 million TV shows, 2 million films and 3 billion apps. Apple’s now the largest distributor of music in the United States with 26.7 percent market share, according to a Billboard analysis.
The recent introduction of the iPad — Apple claims over a million have been sold so far — may not move the needle much in terms of revenue, but it’s probably what pushed the company’s stock over the top. Early numbers of 200,000 sales per week suggest that Apple’s iPad is on track to outsell the Mac.
Macs still account for fewer than one in 10 computers sold, but its market share has increased significantly in recent years and the company has built a consumer juggernaut that extends well beyond the computer.
As for Microsoft, the company remains highly profitable, but investors and analysts alike are concerned that Microsoft remains dependent on its Office and Windows franchises for the lion’s share of its profits. The company has poured billions into its cell phone, online advertising and other new businesses that have yet to really help the company’s balance sheet.
Even its desktop franchises are seen as vulnerable in the longer term, particularly as Google aims to deliver many of the same capabilities through the browser.
So where will things go from here? Will Microsoft be able to transform itself into a company whose cloud computing and search efforts someday produce returns on the scale of Windows and Office? Will Apple’s remarkable run continue? Sound off below.
Where’s Google, you wonder? A bit behind, with a market cap value of about $150 billion according to Yahoo Finance. Rounding out the top six, as of March 2010, according to the Financial Times Global 500, are Wal-mart, Berkshire Hathaway, and General Electric.
Kevin Kelleher at Big Money
UPDATE: Reihan Salam at The Daily Beast
Capture from Huffington Post
Craig Kanalley at Huffington Post:
A fake BP Twitter account tweeting its “public relations” response to the oil spill now has five times more followers than the official BP Twitter feed, and it continues to grow.
The @BPGlobalPR Twitter account gives users no indications it’s a fake account. Its bio reads, “This page exists to get BP’s message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!” and its location says “Global.”
But according to AdAge, BP officials are aware of the account, and so far have seen it as people’s right to express their opinions. Twitter is unlikely to take the account down without an objection from BP.
The account began on May 19 with this tweet: “We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to come.” It has enjoyed a boost in attention due to hundreds of retweets, including from celebrities.
Caroline McCarthy at Wired:
Update 4 p.m. PDT: Wired magazine writer Mat Honan outed Mike Monteiro as the author of @BP_America on Wednesday, which Monteiro initially denied via Twitter until he obliquely admitted it later in the day with an “I give up.” The headline of this story has been changed to reflect the update.
Along the beleaguered Gulf Coast, the emergency measure known as “top kill” appears to have halted the flow of oil from a ruptured offshore BP well–but the bogus Twitter sensation known as @BPGlobalPR continues to gush out black comedy gold.
“Just got the concession call from Exxon Valdez. They were great competitors and remarkably evil about everything,” the account, which claims to be written by the British oil giant’s public relations department, tweeted shortly after the unfortunate revelation that the recent Gulf Coast disaster had surpassed the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in volume. “They want to fine us $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled? Umm, we’re not spilling barrels, the oil is going directly into the gulf. DUH,” @BPGlobalPR asserted irreverently on Wednesday.
Chris in Paris at AmericaBlog:
I might add a few more.
A lot of people are asking if we could have prevented this mess. Honestly, we have no clue. Our hindsight is 20/80.
They want to fine us $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled? Umm, we’re not spilling barrels, the oil is going directly into the gulf. DUH
Lots of people blaming this on Bush or Obama. Pph, we wish. The truth is Presidents don’t have any control over what we do.
Just saw new satellite images of the spill. Actually, it kinda looks like the Earth has a beauty mark! Ooolala!
Please help us with rebranding. We’re not calling it an “oil spill” anymore, now it’s a “Southern Fun Party”.
Bernhard Warner at Big Money:
What is really hard to understand is why BP, with its well-paid crisis PR team working round-the-clock, is allowing someone to completely hijack its message so thoroughly. What could it have done better? Well, for starters, it could have had its Twitter accounts “verified” so the public would know at least that its own tweets are legit and that others are not to be trusted. And BP has done nothing that we can see to distance itself from the fake tweeter. Not a single alert to say don’t trust the person behind the @BPGlobalPR curtain.
Maybe BP really doesn’t care.
Jen Doll at Village Voice:
Mark Smith of the Free Press says “BP has a strong case to ask Twitter to remove the account, which will surely happen any moment now. Take a look while the account is still valid; it won’t be around for much longer.”
Do, because fake BP Twitter is amusing. But what’s not amusing is that the leak is still going, and that no one seems to have more than the barest of inklings of how to actually fix it. (By the way, that hair boom thing didn’t work.) Oh, yeah, and BP has continued spraying the hilariously named but rather toxic chemical dispersant “Corexit” into the Gulf despite the EPA’s demand that they use something less toxic.
Andrew Leonard at Salon:
It must be more than a little crazy-making to watch people make mean jokes about your nonexistent attempt to quash a source of mean jokes about you. But BP is making the right call by not making a big deal of the parody. Social media networks are the adult playgrounds of the 21st century — better to let the masses let off steam there than, oh, filing class action suits, or chaining themselves to dead pelicans. Besides, the company obviously has more important things to focus on at the moment — the latest news from the New York Times suggests that the “top kill” effort to plug the leak isn’t working quite as well as some reports indicated earlier Thursday.
With each day that the leak continues, frustration swells, from the White House on down to the Twitter masses. But on Twitter, at least, there is some humor to be found, even if most of it is the same color as the oil.
UPDATE: Leroy Stick, the guy behind the twitter account