Monday, November 12, 2007

Before the Storm...

I'm hoping my ambition didn't overload my meager talents in this post. Good luck, reader(s).

Beirut, Lebanon - kind of...

My ringtone wakes me up. I pick my head off the sofa cushion and paw at the table feeling for my phone. The display tells me it's a long distance call. I answer.
On the other end I hear muffled gunfire, lots of it.
"Listen to this," I'm told, "I'm going to stick the phone out the shebehk (window)."
The crackle of Kalashnikovs morphs into a loud hiss of feedback; the tiny ear speaker can't handle the noise. I yank the phone away from my ear.
"Did you hear that?"
"Yes, I heard it, how could I have not? What's going on?"
"It's Hezbollhah!"
The phone's back outside the window again, more feedback, then slowly the shots ebb and then a new sound, cars honking, takes over. I briefly picture a nightmare scenario, firefights in streets, Hezbollah fighters crossing the airport road into a Sunni neighborhood. That can't be, I think, it's too soon. Plus, why are honking their horns?
"What's going on?"

Baghdad, Iraq - Bab al Sheikh neighborhood

The neighborhood is calm. People feel free to play music, drink arak, and hang in the barbershop talking politics... frankly. The vitriol directed at the central government, the insurgents, the militias, the Americans, the terrorists is withering but witty. The people here still smile. This is old Baghdad; the Baghdad that dates back to the times of the Caliphate, the grand libraries and the luscious gardens - to a time when it was the jewel of the world. The resident families have lived here for generations, they have intermarried, their children have grown up along side each other. They know each others sectarian affiliation but it doesn't matter; in this place you are from the neighborhood first, and everyone looks out for each other, no matter what.

Baghdad, Iraq - Ghazaliyah neighborhood, ground zero of the Petraeus surge

This is the Western edge of Baghdad. From here it's a straight shot to Fallujah and Ramadi, right through Abu Ghraib. To the north is the Shiite neighborhood and Sadrist stronghold of Shula. Ghazaliyah, before the invasion, was a mostly Sunni middle class neighborhood. Now it is an exclusively Sunni neighborhood, and poor. The Shiites were driven out or killed and the Sunnis with enough money have fled the fighting. The entire neighborhood is surrounded by miles of concrete blast barriers, and the only ways in and out are manned by U.S. soldiers and "Ghazaliayh Guardians," a U.S. armed and funded "concerned citizens brigade" (the current euphemism for militias allied with the Americans). This seems to have slowed, if not stopped, the flow of Shiite Jeish-al-Mahdi (aka JAM aka the Mahdi Army) fighters from Shula pouring south into Ghazaliyah, sweeping in and leaving mutilated bodies dumped in the ditches and empty lots between the two neighborhoods. It has also eliminated the need for Al-Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist militias, invited into the neighborhood to counteract JAM. Al-Qaeda and their ilk, the cure, tuned out to be worse than the disease; demanding money, enforcing rules that made life unbearable and killing anyone who disagreed. Most of their members are gone now, those that have stayed behind have joined on with the Guardians; working closely with the Americans. The talk among many of them is of revenge. They have exacted some, but there are still many blood debts to be paid. The thirst has yet to be quenched. Revenge against the Shiites to the north, revenge against the central government. (The Americans, until recently charter members of this list, are now glaringly left off.) They talk of retaking Baghdad, which after years of fighting and ethnic cleansing is a predominantly Shiite city. They plan for the next act, a bloody one. But for now, it's calm.

Baghdad: B denotes Bab el Sheikh, and G, Ghazaliyah

Beirut, Lebanon

It turns out that Nasrallah has just made a fiery speech. In the speech he pledged Hezbollah would never disarm, demanded that the cabinet be sacked and declared that early parliamentary elections are the only way out of the current impasse. He also suggested that the head of the military should be a nationalist who would fight Israel. (The man has clearly lost his mind - if the army can barely take on a trapped Islamic militia what can they do against the IDF? They'd be wiped out inside a week.) After the television address concluded, Hezbollah members took to the streets, firing volleys into the air to send a message - we may be hidden but we are numerous, ubiquitous, armed to the teeth and not to be be trifled with. For them laws don't apply, international resolutions don't apply, the constitution doesn't apply, logic doesn't apply - only brawn applies and they have it and are not about to give it up.
And Hezbollah are not the only ones in the region unwilling to give up their arms.

Before Edward Wong, a New York Times correspondent, left Baghdad for a new assignment, he wrote his first and only analysis/opinion piece about the situation in Iraq. He concluded the political parties of Iraq were not laying the groundwork for peace, they were arming for war.
(Recent example: The Iraqi government, Shiite dominated, just spent millions dollars on a huge order of Chinese weaponry, most of it destined for the National police and the Interior Ministry. The same police who are, for all intends and purposes, the uniformed arms of Shiite militias - state sponsored death squads. And the same Interior Ministry that was caught red-handed holding Sunnis without cause and torturing them. The Iraqi government turned to the Chinese after the US balked at providing weapons to organizations with such - deserved - reputations.)
I wrote Mr. Wong an email thanking him for all the reporting he'd one over the years and mentioned to him that I grew up in Lebanon during the civil war and compared it to present day Iraq. Here's my exact quote (please excuse the righteous indignation):
"The suits talk, the militias fight, the generals and presidents come and go. The ceasefires and promises of peace come and go too (but at a faster clip than the generals). On the ground, for you, John Q. al-Aziz, nothing changes. Like a hurricane, you just have to wait it out and hope your roof doesn't get blown off. Only this hurricane is not blowing away for a long time."

Mr. Wong wrote me back, saying that the people of Iraq were basically doing just that. Waiting for the storm to pass, and they are not optimistic that it will be over soon or that the worst has passed.

Iraq is now in the eye of that hurricane. The surge, destined to end in a few months, has only brought certain parts of the country under control. The eastern countryside is as wild and violent as as any part of Iraq has ever been. And even where it is calm, the situation is extremely fragile.

There is a precedent for the current U.S. tactics and their results; the French counter-insurgency campaign in Algeria under the command of Général Maurice Challe.

Challe was brought in at a critical moment. The FLN, the Algerian resistance, seemed absorb heavy blows from the French military and continue on, virtually unaffected. The French military, meanwhile, was short on manpower after years of fighting. It had lowered the criteria to enter the army in order to increase the number of recruits. And at home, the French population grew restless as more blood and treasure was sank into the sands with little effect. A change in tactics was needed.
Under Challe, the French army was was moved off its static and dispersed bases and put into the field, and concentrated into the resistance strongholds. The goal was to push the resistance out of its safe havens. Mass arrests were curtailed, seen as cumbersome and counter productive. The use of informers and French-allied Algerian militias was emphasized. The military plan was coupled with a political plan, whose aim was to improve the the image of the French occupation among the general population. The public works programs were intensified. In the field, with the help of Algerian eyes, the enemy, previously invisible, could be targeted. The resistance decreased significantly under the pressure; there were even mass purges after the first few informers were discovered (ironically, the purges did more damage than any informer could have dreamed). The FLN was pushed out of the large cities (walls were built up during the battle for the capital, Algiers, and access to certain neighborhoods strictly controlled) and the FLN was confined mostly to the countryside. The French went to work, building up areas they now controlled.
This, by now, should all sound eerily familiar. And it should. General Petraeus has read the history, and he knew a tactical success when he saw one. He has modified these tactics brilliantly to fit Iraq and the tactics have been, just like in Algeria, largely effective.
But there is a reason the French are no longer in Algeria. The tactics outlined above provided a tactical success but not a strategic one. The factor fueling for the war remained unchanged; most Algerians wanted the French out of Algeria. And today in Iraq the fuel is plentiful, the political factions are still armed and still bent on destroying each other and unless they're Kurdish, Iraqis have little appetite for the "South Korean model" that many American generals and politicians are proposing; an open ended, large-scale military presence.
Al-Qaeda are weaker, but not defeated. The level of sectarian strife, mostly carried out by armed wings of political groups, has slowed but not stopped. The situation could reverse very quickly, and it most likely will. A tragedy has five acts; I'm sure we haven't reached the fourth and it's possible we're still haven't seen the third.

More on this film soon.

Lebanon is now still mired in act one; it has yet to be struck by the full force of the storm. The only thing holding the country together is the army. But for how long can it hold together? How long before an order is refused? How long before Hezbollah brands it as loyal to a government of spies and traitors?

In Iraq and Lebanon, the problem is not between sects (who have previously lived alongside each other peacefully), or inside the societies (which were relatively coherent until recently) or some backwardness in the culture (American women in the 1890s couldn't vote or hold most jobs, but that didn't seem to hurt the peace or slow the growth during the Gilded Age). The problem is the political groups are also armed groups. These parties will never give give up their arms because their arms are a central pillar of their party platform. Without the guns, they wouldn't be important, because their parties are not built on ideas but on strength. They are protectors of their followers, not advocates for them. These parties don't have policies papers, or reforms to champion; their only goal is to rule. The politics practiced are distinctly of the zero-sum variety. Compromise is weakness, victory through strength and unyielding resolve is seen as the only way forward. This has knock-on effects. First, the parties fight amongst themselves for power. Second, the large and organized armed groups weaken the government, hurting its ability (to say nothing of its desire) to function normally. Third, the people, unable to get justice from an impotent government (if it's even trying to deliver it, that is) mete it out themselves, with all the obvious complications that entails.
The populations are left sitting there, waiting, while outside civil strife rages with no one strong and neutral enough to put a lid on it, the normal business of government is left unattended and blood feuds and clan rivalries drag on endlessly.
The conflicts have a momentum of their own. Nobody wants them except the people fighting in them.


Lebanon and Iraq are starting to feed off each other.

Watch this video for proof.

Just like in the 1970s with the Palestinian militias, Syrian intelligence is slowly making links, arresting, interrogating, and co-opting key elements of the insurgency. Damascus main transfer point for the Sunni jihadis and the Syrians have taken full advantage. Some of the most dangerous and the most useful jihadis have been deposited in Lebanon, mostly in and around Tripoli and the inside the Palestinian refugee camps. There can be little doubt that the Syrian intelligence apparatus would love turn some groups into their clients.

- A beautifully written article in the Nov 12 New York Time by SABRINA TAVERNISE and KARIM HILMI
- Jon Lee Anderson's Nov. 19 New Yorker article about the surge.
- Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (a powerhouse of a book)
- Unnamed sources in Beirut and Baghdad
- That NYT video linked above (quite frightening, huh?)
- The film, The Battle of Algiers (an overlooked masterpiece)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

R.I.P. Norman Mailer

1923 - 2007

An Interview

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Well, it happened again. I fell in love. It only took 5 minutes. I'm now head over heels.
Unfortunately, it's a book.

I was hacking away deep in the jungle that is yet another novel when I picked up my new obsession. After a few pages I immediately abandoned my failed expedition through the lands of fiction - Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential had me. I bought it a while ago and I did try to read it once but I started in middle (nasty habit) and quickly lost interest when I started another book before fully committing myself to it (nastier habit, which I just perpetuated). Now, I read it whenever I can; on the commute, on the way to a friend's house, at lunch, late at night when I should be sleeping. The other day I made the mistake of placing the book on my desk at work. It was torture; the temptation too great - I really wanted to read it. The book beckoned...
"Not now, they'll see us!" I thought. I had to put in a drawer.
Or what about when I brought it out to a pub on Friday night? I could squeeze in at least 15 minutes of reading time on the subway before I reached my destination, I figured. I had to stash it in a friend's purse when I got there and explain why I brought a book out with me on a Friday night.

I know, I know... "A book by and about a cook? That sounds sleep inducing." But you're wrong. It's actually one of the wildest and most entertaining books I've ever had the privilege to read.
Don't believe me? Here's an excerpt (from a chapter describing the first time Bourdain and his friends get to run a New York kitchen):
We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in at every opportunity to 'conceptualize'. Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Pot, quaaludes, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, Seconal, Tuinal, speed, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get. We worked long hours and took considerable pride in our efforts - the drugs, we thought, having little effect on the end-product. That was what the whole life we were in was about, we believed: to work through the drugs, the fatigue, the lack of sleep, the pain, to show no visible effects. We might be tripping out on blotter acid, sleepless for three days and halfway through a bottle of Stoli, but we were professionals, goddammit!
See, not exactly the Julia Child biography (but it does have good recipe ideas inside).

There are plenty of reviews of Kitchen Confidential available online, so I won't delve into the details; this is more of a personal slant. Suffice to say boy falls in love with food, boy gets kitchen job, boy drops out of college and goes to chef school, boy moves to New York, works in a collection of restaurants of varying quality (most go bankrupt), boy becomes drug addict, gets clean, redeems himself with chef job at Les Halles.
Also, there's a chapter about dick jokes and a couple more about his right hand men in the kitchen (men so badly behaved it's a miracle they are not in jail or dead). Some of events and people that populate the book are so outlandish that it's difficult not to think that the author went James Frey on us; embellishing for our entertainment.

I found the cook as rock star and the kitchen as insane asylum to be irresistible lures. It helps too, that Bourdain is a francophile with an appreciation for bandes-dessinés. Reading the book, for me, is like hanging out with a kindred spirit. Anyone who refers to vegans as a "Hezbollah-like splinter faction" of vegetarians is clearly my kind of guy.

And like Bourdain, I've always been fascinated by cooking from an early age. Lebanese food was my first love; those childhood Sunday afternoon lunches at my grandmother's were the highlight of my week. I can still taste those dishes; warak einab (stuffed grape leaves), coossa ma dibis remayhn (meat stuffed zucchini with pomegranate syrup), shish-barak (meat wrapped in dough and cooked in yogurt). Crowding around that dining room table with my extended family on Sundays was my atheist church.
Some of my best food experiences also happened in Lebanon even after I started living in Canada. That calf's brain, warm and spread on bread with sliver of garlic. Or the first time I had cracked open a fresh sea urchin and scooped up the succulent, salty, bright orange roe. All the food too weird or too dangerous to be served in Canada is one the things I look forward to when I get off the plane in Beirut.

The cooking, while interesting, was not what I enjoyed the most. It was the Bourdain's descriptions of another favorite hobby of mine that really kept me turning the pages: general debauchery. As I get older my nocturnal activities have grown more tame and the majority of the miscreants have been culled from my stable of friends. Things are slowing down; like an aging power-pitcher, I'm losing my fastball (but don't be fooled, like Schilling I can still get the outs). That's why I had so much fun to living vicariously through the documented misdeeds of others in Kitchen Confidential, however unbelievable. Which leads to the coincidence that occurred on Friday night and why I now believe all the tall tales Bourdain recounts in the book.

Friday night, post-pub, after retrieving my book from it's purse prison:

I was on the subway, riding home, when I overheard a girl engaged in an animated discussion with two Japanese proto-punks and I, in my infinite wisdom, chimed in. Thirty seconds later I was getting off the subway at a station that wasn't mine and following three people I didn't know to God knows where. The trio turned out to be cooks at Flow, and I, surprised by the apparent serendipity of the moment and spurred on by Kitchen Confidential, was tagging along on whatever late night unwinding these kitchen workers had planned. I soon found myself in a stranger's dark and smoky living room, swallowed up in a mushy futon, drinking pilfered eau de vie, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and listening to several lengthy treatises delivered by people of questionable sanity. The finer points of pharmaceutical drug abuse, why shoplifting isn't stealing is you really need it, how dumpster diving (aka freeganism) is great way to procure fresh produce, how much GHB it takes to reander someone unconscious - the topics discussed and behavior described varied between the odd, the worrying and the outright criminal. Later I, unwisely, tried to read a passage of the book to one cook (maybe she'd find it/me funny?) but she quickly cut me off - "The only thing I read is the funnies." (I'm going to assume she skips over Doonesbury ... and who under 60 still calls comics funnies?). She then went ahead to display ADHD behavior straight out of a textbook. And as she told endless stories with no point or conclusion, switching topics without warning and at full speed, I realized Bourdain wasn't embellishing - these people are nuts. When he calls his line cooks "a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts and psychopaths" he is not exaggerating.

The next night I went to a concert. After the show we ended up at a boisterous after-party in a 2 story studio on Queen west (see, like Schilling, I'm still effective). The party was populated by Latin Americans, mostly from Columbia and Argentina, the music was a disjointed mix of house and cumbia and the drinks ($5 a pop) were strong enough to strip paint. The party was fun but the atmosphere was vaguely threatening (as it usually is when people start arguing loudly in a language you barely understand), most the people there were high on more than one drug, and I almost got myself into trouble when I conversed with the wrong girl (her boyfriend was, to put it charitably, unimpressed). That being said, it was still more normal than hanging with those three cooks. Even though we were just sitting around, those three line cooks had more intrinsic menace than a whole room of drunk, posturing Latin men.

And since this entry seems to have no rhyme or reason... two simple recipes everyone should have in their repertoire and that are usually made incorrectly:

Bolognese sauce (a modified version of Mario Battali's):
Handful chopped pancetta.
Some hot pepper flakes.
A big onion, chopped.
Same volume as chopped onion of chopped carrots and chopped celery.
Few cloves of garlic.
1/2 pound of ground beef (medium)
1/2 pound of ground pork
1 cup of white wine
1 cup of milk (full fat)
2 - 3 cups of chicken broth (make it yourself if you can, it makes a big difference)
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste or preferably some Pomi (boxed pureed tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
Lots of thyme (fresh is better)
Olive oil

Fry pancetta and flakes with oil, add carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Fry until softened (don;t brown them). Add meat. When meat is cooked add wine. When dry add milk. When dry again, add stock, tomato paste and bay leaves. Simmer for at least 1 hour, preferably 2. When done, finish with fresh thyme and olive oil.

4 large tomatoes, stemmed and seeded.
two handfuls of white bread (crusts cut off)
Garlic (2 to 5 cloves, depends how much you like garlic)
Handful of parsley
1 shot glass sherry wine vinegar (can use other types, but balsamic should be a last resort)
1 normal cucumber or half an English one, peeled
1 red pepper (seeded, skin it if you want, but it's a pain in the ass)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
A good blender

Soak the bread in water for a couple of minutes, squeeze out the water. Blend everything (pulse the bread a little first) except the olive oil until smooth. Slowly pour in the olive oil as the blender is mixing (your goal is to emulsify the oil). The soup should be a peach colour when you're done. Serve alone or with croûtons, chopped boiled egg, chopped cucumbers, etc.

The colour you're after is on the left.
If you've ever seen gazpacho that wasn't that colour, it wasn't gazpacho.

And a quit tidbit about learning to cook.
Learning that creating good food was not magic and that I, even I, could do it was has been and till one of my great joys. All it took was many idle hours, no one to cook for me, copious amounts of green, and the Food Network. I never actually cooked anything that I saw, but watching some smooth-talking, bloated, self-satisfied publicity hound whip up a meal in 22 minutes coupled with the munchies provided me with enough motivation to walk into the kitchen and try to make something. Since then I've become a quite competent cook; definitely still an amateur, not close to the speed or precision of needed in a professional kitchen, but confident enough to feed family and friends well without too much stress.
It wasn't easy though. Along the road to competency, there were many hapless attempts and failed experiments due to inexperience and over-reaching. Other frustrations were brought on when an urge for adventure out-grew my tolerance for manual labor.
I still vividly remember an ill advised calamari fry with my roommate (another food lover) that ended well past midnight. We spent hours cleaning, washing, cutting, breading and then frying a box of squid the size of a small desktop commuter. Not exactly a clean job; I ended up covered in squid guts and hot oil. We then stayed up late drinking beer and eating so much squid that I though tentacles would sprout out of my urethra.
Or last fall, I committed myself to feeding 8 people with fresh, hand-made ravioli. If I had any idea how long it takes to make and roll out (by hand, with a rolling pin) enough dough for 100 ravioli, I would never have tendered the invitation. After that experience, whenever I see old Italian widows wandering through my neighborhood, with their black clothes, golden crucifixes and unsteady gaits, I'm tempted to kiss the rings of these high priestesses of pasta.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Banana-less Republic

Lebanon is living a deranged version of Groundhog Day as two rival political groups fight for control of the presidency. Meetings are held, gabbers gab, and everyday the headlines are the same. What no one notices is that while the two groups fight to get their man in the lead role in the play, the producer is running out of money, the theater is on fire and no tickets have been sold. That's why I hate writing about the place now. It's just too depressing.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

When I last lived in Lebanon, my aunt and I would meet once or twice a week or so and go down to the Corniche for a walk along the seaside, a berd'aan (orange juice) and the occasional pistachio ice cream.
She has a doctorate in Middle East history and knows Lebanon intimately (she's lived there from birth and never left during the war).
Our conversations were often political, and when they were no country's politics were more discussed than Lebanon's. As two (we think) reasonable people we were often bewildered by what passed as acceptable behavior from our politicians.
A line that that I often repeated was that "Lebanon is like a banana republic without any bananas." I always drew a laugh, but it's a lot less funny right now.

It's a country with a population of medium sized metropolis and with an area akin to some American and Canadian national parks. Running the place is not exactly the most difficult logistical challenge governance has to offer. That being said Lebanon teeters on the edge of self-annihilation.

Lebanese national debt tops 50 billion dollars. I'm going to write that in full, along with population and GDP, so you get the full picture (the zeroes bring to life).
50,000,000,000 $
4 ,000,000
That means that each man, woman and child owes approximately 12,500$ but makes less than half of that year. That's not even the worst part. The worst part is that most of that debt is owed in at interest rates in the neighborhood of 20% and in American dollars. And, just as a topper, the government is still running annual deficits in the billions of dollars. So, the debt will continue to grow, and become more and more difficult to service every fiscal year. No country on Earth faces such a macroeconomic problem. Without foreign assistance Lebanon would already be in default.

But wait... there's more. The country's infrastructure is crumbling. Population density is almost 350 per square km (putting Lebanon in the top twenty densest nations) but much of the infrastructure was built before the civil war and is simply not equipped to deal with the extra input. Sewage is dumped out of an overloaded system directly into the sea. The electricity grid, powered by some of the most economically inefficient generating systems in the world, lurches along, Frankenstein-like, somehow still delivering electricity - but for how long? Garbage is brunt as there is no room for it. Tap water isn't potable. One third of the population lives below the poverty line. And those are just some of the problems... education and health haven't even been mentioned.

How is it possible that after 60 years of independence we have still not figured out how to rule ourselves semi-competently? China and India have populations made up of a variety of ethnic groups and surpass 1 billion and manage to self-govern. Vietnam's population is 87 million, has survived a devastating civil war and now boasts a surging economy. Meanwhile tiny Lebanon cannot even organize itself in a rudimentary manner.

Honestly, I'm tired of it. Lebanon is a basket case. It's a prize barely worth fighting for, yet our politicians fight over it like mangy dogs struggling over a carcass. I'd like to call such behavior irresponsible but I don't think the word fully encompasses the moral depravity of their actions. The real danger in Lebanon is not falling into one sphere of influence or another but that the country will collapse into an unlivable giant ghetto.

We don't need resistance or pride or freedom. At the end of the day all three and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee. What Lebanon needs is a modicum of competency and sanity. It's not our place to be the flag bearer for Islam or liberal democracy. We are a tiny country with gigantic problems. Let's try and solve those first. They'll be plenty of time for fighting and foreign affairs later. Use all the clichés you want - now or never, the last chance, crunch time, etc - if we don't get our act together soon, the whole edifice of state will come crashing down on our heads and we won't be able to dig ourselves out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Frontline Rules

Frontline, to me, has gone beyond being a great show, it's become an institution. When I hear those first few bars with their string and the brass staccati, I get goosebumps. It's the only show that I'm currently watching by myself (I watch a couple of other shows but those are with friends and more of a social event).

On the Frontline website you can watch new programs as soon as they come out as well as 61 archived episodes.

There are two episodes that demand to be watched:

Tank Man: The story of Tiananmen Square and its role in shaping the economic reform of China

I was still a child when the protest were staged and then crushed, but the memory has stuck with me and led to intense curiosity about that time in 1989. I still remember the day when I first watched this online. I was absolutely hypnotized. The events surrounding Tiananmen Square are crammed with such extremes of human behavior, it's dizzying. I have never been more proud of humanity than when I saw Chinese protesters confront the the fisrt divisions of the Chinese army not with guns, or Molotov cocktail or even anger but with reason and compassion. They turned back armed men sent their to kill them, if necessary, with nothing but their minds and hearts.
I have never been more ashamed of humanity, though, than when another division of troops, more hard-line this time, came a few days later and shot and killed people whose only crime was asking for the rights of free speech and assembly. A section where unarmed protesters were shot at but refused to retreat, resulting in volley after volley of gunfire forced me to pause the show, sit in the dark, and regroup before I could continue.
The last third of the documentary, dealing with the economic liberalization of China, while lacking in drama, is still equally compelling.

If you want to know what's happening in Burma right now, watch this episode... I imagine it the Burmese military is not behaving much differently than their Chinese counterparts.

The Persuaders: exploring the cultures of marketing and advertising in America

Not quite as weighty but still fascinating. It's worth watching just observe to Clotaire Rapaille in action. A French psychiatrist who lives in the a Versailles-like mansion located in American suburbia, he is what would happen if Dr. Strangelove climbed out of his wheelchair and walked into the boardrooms of Madison avenue.

There's also the hilariously absurd story of Song, an airline with an advertising campaign so clever that consumers could not figure out what it was Song did or sold.