So respectfully does A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s film about the death of the journalist Daniel Pearl, treat its subject that criticism seems indecent, like rebuking someone for their tears at a funeral. It depicts Pearl’s kidnapping in January 2002 and the anguish of his French wife Mariane—then six-months pregnant with their first child—waiting in torment for news of him. The outcome of this vigil is no secret: Pearl was beheaded a week after his kidnapping, although another three weeks would pass before the videotape of his murder was recovered. Mariane’s book about this experience, Un coeur invaincu (literally, “an undefeated heart”), serves as the basis for Winterbottom’s often poignant film.
One can see why the story appealed to Hollywood, or—to be precise—to Angelina Jolie. It is difficult to imagine a better role for an actress aspiring to real gravitas. Mariane Pearl has become, in the years since her husband’s death, a kind of secular saint. (Slate’s review aptly called the film “a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl.”) In the wake of her husband’s murder, Mariane refused to stoop to public hatred or to become a shill for any political cause, devoting her energy instead to creating the Daniel Pearl Foundation, a philanthropic organization of deliberately ecumenical scope. But if Mariane Pearl eschews politics of any color, the film about her does not, to its ultimate detriment.
What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?
It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.
So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.
It may not be worth the billions in dues that we pay, but the United Nations does perform a few useful functions, among them producing some interesting reports. The latest of these is The State of World Population 2007 from the United Nations Population Fund. The news is summarized in the first few paragraphs of the introduction:
In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.
While the world’s urban population grew very rapidly (from 220 million to 2.8 billion) over the 20th century, the next few decades will see an unprecedented scale of urban growth in the developing world. This will be particularly notable in Africa and Asia where the urban population will double between 2000 and 2030: That is, the accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation. By 2030, the towns and cities of the developing world will make up 81 percent of urban humanity.
The report notes, even-handedly, that the implications of this shift for social policy are mixed: “The current concentration of poverty, slum growth, and social disruption in cities does paint a threatening picture. Yet no country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanization. Cities concentrate poverty, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it.” The rest of the report looks at how to alleviate the negative consequences and accentuate the positive.