A Word On My Sources

You may have noticed many links peppering my posts. I always try to link to the most reliable source material possible. That frequently means linking to original documents on corporate or government websites, transcripts of interviews or speeches, or complete periodical articles or book excerpts published online. I take great pains to avoid transcribing hearsay posted on partisan websites, and I try to corroborate all facts with reliable sources.

This achieves a few objectives. It presents you with the opportunity to read the original source material so you can draw your own conclusions. It safeguards the quality and accuracy of the information I present. And it affords me an opportunity to do my own reading of the source material and draw conclusions which may be different from those appearing in the publications which initiated my search.

I am continually amazed at the breadth of documents accessible while sitting on my ass in front of my computer. It can be a challenge sometimes to find reliable information on the web, but some dilligence with a search engine usually pays dividends quickly. Finding these needles among the acres of haystacks is an art in itself, and an absurd source of pride. But that's what I'm like.


Sometimes, I Hate It When I'm Right

I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American. Iraqis will write their own history, and find their own way. As they do, Iraqis can be certain, a free Iraq will always have a friend in the United States of America.
--George II in a speech at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 24 May 2004

I want to believe this. I really do. And yesterday I spoke to a friend who does believe this is the rationale of the Iraq invasion. I didn't think anyone believed that anymore, what with the Project for the New American Century begging President Clinton to invade Iraq as early as January, 1998 in a letter co-signed by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. And the flimsy pretext for war that was discredited by the 9/11 Commission...

Responding to a presidential tasking, Clarke’s office sent a memo to Rice on September 18, titled “Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraq Involvement in the September 11 Attacks.” Rice’s chief staffer on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, concurred in its conclusion that only some anecdotal evidence linked Iraq to al Qaeda.The memo found no “compelling case” that Iraq had either planned or perpetrated the attacks.

Secretary Powell recalled that Wolfowitz—not Rumsfeld—argued that Iraq was ultimately the source of the terrorist problem and should therefore be attacked. Powell said that Wolfowitz was not able to justify his belief that Iraq was behind 9/11. “Paul was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with,” Powell told us.“And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.”

...and UN Weapons Inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei.

In preparing this post, I discovered that there are more bits of evidence of a fledgling WMD program in Iraq than the press generally leads us to believe. So although Iraq failed to constitute an imminent threat to the US or demonstrate direct ties to Al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, it certainly contravened a number of UN resolutions and did appear to be fostering a WMD program.

Nevertheless, such an embryonic program merits continued and intensifying international pressure, not invasion of the country, destruction of the Presidential Residence, ejection of the President from power, assassination of his sons, and long-term occupation.

Try to imagine the reaction of Americans and the international community to China invading the US, razing the White House, capturing George I, assassinating George II and Jeb, occupying the country, killing a few thousand civilians in the process, then installing a provisional government which would facilitate Chinese corporate development in the US. Unthinkable? Not for Oval Office Hawks.

Back to my conversation last night. I said that instead of a nationalized oil industry, with the potential to return substantial profits to the citizenry of Iraq, American companies are treating Iraq--home of 11% of the world's oil reserves--like a land rush, and will siphon off as much profit from the country as they can. He said that now the free market will reign in Iraq. Of course, that's true only if your companies originate in a member state of the Coalition of the Willing. That doesn't sound like any free market I know. He conceded that, but said that among these eligible companies, a legitimate bid competition process will be in force.

Not so fast. Mother Jones reported that this process is routinely circumvented ($71.6b in non-competitive defense contracts awarded in 2002):

Defense Department [...] awarded a contract -- behind closed doors and without any competitive bidding -- to a subsidiary of Halliburton, the construction and oil services company where Vice President Dick Cheney formerly served as chief executive officer.[...] Although Halliburton had little experience buying fuel, it did have a broad logistical support contract with the Pentagon -- which Cheney, as secretary of Defense in 1991, had asked Halliburton to design. "Only the contractor that developed these complex plans," stated a Pentagon briefing document last year, "could commence implementing them on extremely short notice."
Halliburton didn't do a better job than [Jeffrey] Jones and his agency [the Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center]. The military soon was paying $2.64 for a gallon of gas, double the price that Jones says he would have paid. Although Halliburton subcontracted much of the work to Kuwaiti buyers with minimal competition, it still earned as much as $100 million from the deal. A Pentagon audit has reported that Halliburton may have overcharged taxpayers about $61 million, prompting the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation.

Wow. The Operation is circumventing competition with a government agency on Halliburton's behalf. What hope do Italian, Japanese, or Australian companies have of getting in on the action? Let alone German, Canadian, or French companies from outside the Coalition? This is a case of an entirely too visible hand guiding commerce. Too bad there's nobody bigger out there to slap it when it gets out of line. We have to rely on the American Public to do that.


Why "Pharos"?

Pharos is not a misspelling of Pharaohs.  It is the name of the lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

I selected the name first for our book club, then adopted it for this here blog.  Of the remaining six Wonders, only the Pyramids at Giza outlived it.  The lighthouse is symbolic of the Torch of Learning, and recalls the famed Library of Alexandria.  The ancient world’s greatest repository of knowledge, the Library was founded by Ptolemy I in 283 BC and destroyed in the 2nd century AD.  The name also suggested the scope of our book club:  reaching back to antiquity and embracing the world’s great literature, as well as contemporary fare. 

That's why I chose Pharos.


Must There Be US Foreign Aid to Israel?

I recently read of a troubling statistic:  the US has awarded more foreign aid to Israel than to any other nation.  Here is how the Congressional Research Service (CRS) Issue Brief words it:
Israel is not economically self-sufficient, and relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to maintain its economy. Since 1985, the United States has provided $3 billion in grants annually to Israel. Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II. In addition to U.S. assistance, it is estimated that Israel receives about $1 billion annually through philanthropy, an equal amount through short- and long- term commercial loans, and around $1 billion in Israel Bonds proceeds.

Israel is a nation of only 6.2 million, and $6 billion is equivalent to nearly 20% of the government's annual revenues ($38.5b in 2002; source CIA World Factbook).  It is a colossal sum.  Nearly all of the aid is provided without designation for use in particular development programs.  This too is exceptional.
Israel does receive aid on more favorable terms than other nations. For example, all economic aid is given directly to the Israeli government rather than allocated under a specific program.
-- from a report posted to the Jewish Virtual Library, A Division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise

I was trying to work out why I found this troubling.  I resent the provision of so much economic assistance to a nation with a per capita GDP that exceeds that of 190 other nations in the world, including nearly every nation in its region (even Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).  In the Middle East, only the United Arab Emirates and Qatar supersede Israel, and do so by less than $4000.  If you also consider that nearly 20% of Israel's population is Arab, the per capita GDP figure of non-Arab Israelis is even higher.

I read a comic book recently that asked "Must there be a Superman?" (DC Comics, 1972).  Bear with me.  Superman was being tried for crimes against humanity by the Guardians of the Universe, "a race of immortals whose self-appointed task is to survey and safeguard" the Milky Way and its inhabitants.  The Guardians allege that Superman's presence on Earth "directly contributes to the Terrans' cultural lag."  The idea works on Superman's mind:

For years I've been playing Big Brother to the Human Race!  Have I been wrong?  Are they depending on me too much...too often...? [...] I decide what's right or wrong--and then enforce my decision...by brute strength!
Upon his return to Earth, Superman counsels a group of migrant farm workers.  He says they don't need a superman, they need "a super-will to be guardians of your own destiny!"  He also arrests an earthquake and rescues a yacht.  The temptation to wield his awesome power to help those in need is too great for him to resist.

But what of Israel?  What is their need?  Is the US serving Israel, or does Israel serve the US?  Could the billions of dollars flowing into the tiny country actually be destabilizing?  If Israel is dependent on the US, why doesn't the US attach some strings to those payments, constrain the fashion in which the funds are spent, limit or eliminate aid in light of human rights transgressions, or disregard for World Court decisions?

Must there be US foreign aid to Israel?

It is difficult to imagine what the region would look like without US foreign aid to Israel.  Without Israel spending $9.11b (FY 2003) a year on the military.  Would the schism in the region be defused out of necessity?  Is the region irreversibly polarized?

Say It Isn't So, James...Do Be A Good Chap And Say It Isn't So

Like most people encumbered by a Y chromosome, I have a soft spot for James Bond and his pantheon of villains and floosies.  I have enjoyed Pierce Brosnan's current incarnation in the role, but recently read of unfriendly remarks Mr Brosnan directed at his producers.  This despite a reliable eight-figure-payoff for appearing in the role, enough to placate the nefarious Dr Evil twenty times over.  The most recent figure being negotiated was twenty-five meelyon dollars.

I was relieved in early March when I read "Brosnan Still Bond-ing", but apparently was falsely reassured.  The media has wasted no time in suggesting alternative, younger Bonds: Ewan McGregor (31 Mar 1971), Heath Ledger (4 Apr 1979), Orlando Bloom (13 Jan 1977), and Jude Law (29 Dec 1972).  I am concerned that one of these tykes may actually win the role, like Ben Affleck taking over from Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin in the Jack Ryan franchise.  Bond should be played by someone with poise, physical presence, and a sense of maturity.  Someone like Ralph Fiennes (22 Dec 1962), Clive Owen (3 Oct 1964), Eric Bana (9 Aug 1968), or even Rupert Everett (29 May 1959) would work better in the role than the youngsters I read about. 

That's my tuppence.


Be My Friend...Godfather

I held the second screening of the Egyptian Repertory Theater on Friday, July 23.  We continued our retrospective of Marlon Brando's career with The GodfatherFor many reasons, it is hard to believe that Coppola made this film only twenty years after the last films we screened, Streetcar and Waterfront.  The first two films had a limited scope and setting, focusing on a handful of characters and on the events of a few months.   Godfather tells a story set in two countries, of two generations, transpiring over about ten years.  The film is told on a grand scale with great set and location shots, a beautiful and memorable score, and compelling performances by Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall. 

Marlon Brando transforms himself into Don Vito Corleone, the aging patriarch of the most influential mob family of the 1940's.  He hopes that one of his sons can escape the legacy of his criminal activity, but even Michael (Pacino) succumbs to immersion in the family business, and futilely struggles to achieve legitimacy.  We see virtues of  fidelity, honor, and love perverted into greed, vengeance, and betrayal.  Brando generates real presence and credibility in the role, and for years after seeing the film, I thought he must be an Italian American from New York and that the role wasn't much of a stretch.  In fact, Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska of Dutch, French, English, and Irish stock.  He was also only 47 at the time, but his manner and bearing--as well as great makeup--easily concealed the fact.

Some of those in attendance rediscovered an appreciation for the film.  It contains some iconic sequences that have been so often imitated that you can forget the film is not just a concatenation of a few of these set pieces (the severed horse head, the shooting on the causeway, the tumbling oranges).  Godfather is a moving account of the tragedy of Vito's life exploring big themes.  Just as Waterfront depicts the redemption of Terry Malloy, Godfather also shows a man seeking redemption.  But Vito and Michael cannot achieve redemption for the lives they chose.  In the film's climax, as Michael renounces Satan during the christening of his nephew and godson, Coppola juxtaposes the carnage of Michael's vengeance.


Halliburton -- Building an Unsustainable Future

Mother Jones posted an update on a Halliburton scandal that has been percolating for about three years now.  Here's Halliburton's somewhat candid telling of the situation:

We received and responded to an inquiry in mid-2001 from OFAC with respect to the operations in Iran by a Halliburton subsidiary that is incorporated in the Cayman Islands. The OFAC inquiry requested information with respect to compliance with the Iranian Transaction Regulations. Our 2001 written response to OFAC stated that we believed that we were in full compliance with applicable sanction regulations. In January 2004, we received a follow-up letter from OFAC requesting additional information. We are responding to questions raised in the most recent letter. We have been asked to and could be required to respond to other questions and inquiries about operations in countries with trade restrictions and economic embargoes.

--from the Halliburton 2003 Annual Report

In other words, while Dick Cheney was still CEO (1995-2000) of the company, Halliburton was circumventing US trade sanctions against Iran by allegedly acting through an arms length subsidiary in the Caymans.  That claim was discredited in  January on 60 Minutes.  

60 Minutes was expecting to find a bustling business, but, to our surprise, Walker told us that while Halliburton Products and Services was registered at this address, it was in name only. There is no actual office here or anywhere else in the Caymans. And there are no employees on site. We were told that if mail for the Halliburton subsidiary comes to this address, they re-route it to Halliburton headquarters in Houston.
You can read the MoJo post here.  Also, read this great timeline of Cheney's involvement with Halliburton.  It is exhaustively referenced, and includes interesting tidbits like:
  • Under Cheney’s leadership, Halliburton moves up from 73rd to 18th on the Pentagon’s list of top contractors.

  • Cheney contributes to the creation of an influential right-wing policy group called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The group advocates for the removal of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime as early as January 1998, and is later revealed to be the intellectual center of the drive to war in Iraq.

  • Cheney appears in an Arthur Andersen promotional video praising the firm’s accounting practices

  • While Vice President Cheney was Halliburton’s CEO, the number of its subsidiary companies in offshore tax havens increased from 9 (in 1995) to 44 (in 1999). One of these subsidiaries (Halliburton Products and Services Ltd.), incorporated in the Caiman Islands, is used since 2000 to get around sanctions on doing business in Iran. At the same time, Halliburton’s federal taxes dropped dramatically from $302 million in 1998 to an $85 million rebate in 1999.
I guess betraying the public trust is only difficult the first time.  After that, it gets much easier.  I doubt Cheney, the man who could be POTUS at any time if some misfortune should befall George Walker Bush, harbors any cumbersome vestiges of conscience anymore. 


The Temptations of Nihilism

I listened to a fascinating program on CBC Radio's Ideas tonight.  In his January 2003 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Canadian historian and Harvard lecturer Michael Ignatieff enunciates "The Temptations of Nihilism."  He explains the perversion of all that is good in a people by terrorist organizations: the inspiration first by often legitimate political aims; the spurious call to arms in the name of religion; the exploitation of the vigor, enthusiasm, and passion of youth; and then pursuit of the nihilistic thrill of inflicting violence on the target. 

Authorities, in their counter-terrorist activities, are often hamstrung by pressure to conform to a standard of conduct that their quarry can blithely ignore.  But in the pursuit of these perpetrators, those repelling terrorists must act above reproach if they are to earn the moral authority of their standing.

Equally, self-defense claims -- every people has a legitimate right to self-defense and to ensure its survival -- do not entitle you to do anything you please. There are no table-clearing claims in the poker sense: I’ve got trumps, therefore they clear the table, my arguments win. The self-defense and self-determination arguments don’t clear the table. All moral action requires forms of balancing.

--from a lecture delivered to the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, based on the Gifford Lectures

Ignatieff also counsels a multilateral preemptive strategy, while at the same time criticizing the ability of the UN to carry out such a mandate with its current Charter:

One of the strongest criticisms of American policies since 9/11 has been that it proceeds from an “Americans first” set of moral preferences. We can't have an effective global war on terrorists if every nation state is saying, “I'm going to take decisions on the basis of a moral preference for my citizens above all others,” because that way literally the madhouse lies.

One of the problems with the Charter now is that in a world in which there must be preemptive military action to forestall weapons transfer to terrorists, to forestall and preempt attacks before they take place, either by states in collusion with terrorists or terrorist groups alone, preemption is simply an inevitable feature. Whatever your view of its morality, it’s an inevitable part of any ongoing war on terror. 
This drives a truck straight towards the articles of the UN Charter that define aggression. We have to think in realistic terms, instead of barring the door to preemption and saying that we must maintain a definition of aggression that takes preemption off the table. The moral justifications for preemption proceed from our verifiable, imminent evidence of attack.

--again, from the CCEIA

You can hear the final instalment of the five part lecture series next Wednesday night on CBC Radio One at 2100h.  You can listen on the Web.  You can also purchase the transcript as a book from Penguin titled, The Lesser Evil.

"God chose me to write this book"

So begins Al Franken's diatribe: Lies, and the lying liars who tell them--A fair and balanced look at the right.
It occurred to me the other day that the most visible proponents of the liberal viewpoint in the US tend to be comedians (Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, Al Franken), while those for the right tend to be journalists--or at least quasi-journalists (Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews).  Why is that?  Is it that the innate perceptiveness and insight of comedians leads them to adopt a liberal moral framework?  Does the bleating of right-wing journalists appeal more to a like-minded audience than that of liberals to their audience?  Are liberal audiences not serious-minded enough to watch or listen to liberal journalists?  Would they rather just watch someone funny?  I don't know.  Maybe you can tell me.


Five Fibs in Fallujah

In the July/August 2004 issue of The Atlantic, Robert D Kaplan recounts his harrowing experience accompanying a Marine unit during the invasion of Fallujah in April, 2004 ("Five Days in Fallujah", pp 116-26; not posted to the web).  I admire the candor of his report as he quotes the scatological utterances of his hosts, and sometimes himself adopts such a tone (though "cat shit" around my cot would provoke me, too).  I appreciate his use of military vernacular to lend authenticity and immediacy to the tale.  And I respect his willingness to place himself, if not in harm's way, then at least in harm's vicinity.
But Kaplan sometimes misleads his readership, contradicts himself, or betrays his prejudices in the article.  Let's explore Five Fibs in Fallujah.

Kaplan notes that gunmen are referred to as Ali Babas by local children, then proceeds to pepper the remainder of his article with the expression.  I winced as I encountered each occurrence of the epithet.  I was reminded of the last time I heard the term used: during Fahrenheit 9/11, by an American soldier saying of a tumescent Iraqi kill, "Ali Baba still has a hard-on!"

In a letter to the editor of The Atlantic, journalist and New Yorker contributor Nir Rosen points out that fighters in Fallujah are not
known as Ali Babas, a common Iraqi term for thieves, and what [Kaplan] claims the one Iraqi he met called them. They were known as Mujahedin or Muqatilin, which both mean “fighters,”

So, perhaps Kaplan's usage originated with the US military, confused by locals referring to thieves and not fighters.   Who knows.  Sounds colorful, though. 
Kaplan employs an interesting oxymoron here to lament the skyline of Fallujah as "the classic terrain of radicalism, occupied by the lumpen faithful."  What is classic radicalism?  Kaplan explains:

Islamic radicalism needs to be distinguished from Islamic conservatism.  Conservatism signifies tradition, with a high degree of aesthetics--notably represented by the venerable royal courts of Morocco, Jordan, and the Gulf States
...yes, monarchies all, with not a semblance of democracy to their credit.  But they do have some gorgeous architecture and other purty things.  Unlike the "decrepit factories" of Fallujah, which bear a "Cold War, Eastern bloc aspect to them."  Kaplan here recalls the godless Communist Empire in his attempt to disparage the target of the Marines' attack.
The fact that his hosts and aspiring occupiers of Fallujah are "lumpen faithful" of their own creed appears to escape his notice.  He does concede that "The spirit of the U.S. military is fiercely evangelical, even as it is fiercely ecumenical."  He even concedes that this last point may be a bit overstated, because, "the fact is that not all races, religions, and regional types join up in equal numbers.  So [...] the martial evangelicalism of the South and the Bible Belt gives the military its true religious soul."  To wit, during an address to the troops, chaplain and Navy Lieutenant Wayne Hall likens the military's impending invasion to Jesus' "triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he broke the bonds of Hell."

This is the passage that has Marine Moms buying stacks of The Atlantic to send to their sons overseas.  Yet again, Kaplan is wrong.  They are like him.  They are like all of us.  And when we imperil them, and ask them to kill, we better have damn good reasons for doing so.  I can't do what they do, but I haven't been conditioned to function like a tactical combat automaton, to follow the dictates of a chain of command, to achieve a mission objective even if doing so entails, "Running into fire rather than seeking cover from it." 
Here, Kaplan contradicts himself in the very same sentence:  "There was zero tolerance for civilian casualties, though it was impossible to meet the standard always."  After all, you can't make an omlet without breaking a few eggs, right?  We get a taste of the military's keen intolerance in a scolding delivered by Captain Jason Smith.  He reams out a soldier responsible for a civilian death during a firefight near a mosque: 
"'Did he have a weapon?  No!  So where in the ROEs [Rules of Engagement] does it say you can shoot him?'  Everyone now became somber.  I felt bad for the Marine who had fired the shot." 
I notice Kaplan omitted mentioning his remorse for the downed civilian.  To their credit, the Marines showed some.  The two occasions when Kaplan had seen the "Marines of the 1/5 most depressed in Fallujah" included this incident.
Fawning over the "rawboned visage" of Captain Jason Smith, Kaplan imagines the unflinching, courtly Marine as "a nineteenth-century cavalry officer fighting the Plains Indians, or [...] an officer of the old Confederacy."  Interestingly, Kaplan invokes the two Great Oppressions of the American experience in his reverie, the obscene conquest of Native Americans, and the defense of slavery that pitted, if not brother against brother, a nation against itself. 
The romance of "an earlier, less complicated age" is fueled by those oil portraits of Frederic Remington and the 1001 tales of Scheherazade.  That Kaplan can be seduced by such romance lends much flair to his swashbuckling account of five days in Fallujah, but drains much of its credibility.


Super Spider Battle Armor

I was telling my friend yesterday about a stunning sight I witnessed on my driveway:  a spider web dragline that extended from the hood of my wife's car to the branch of a cedar about 20 feet away.  We talked about the high strength by weight of web silk.  He told me about a project funded by the US military to employ transgenic sheep in the manufacture of websilk fibers in milk.  The material can be harvested and used to build lightweight, flexible, and nearly impregnable battle armor, or so he says.
I took a look around.  This is what I could find: 

  I think a lot of these stories co-incided with the release of Spider-Man in early 2002.  I couldn't find any news stories since.   The latest posting to the Nexia Biotech website lists the product as BioSteel, but not much beyond that.  Nexia is also looking at developing the material for biodegradable medical sutures.


Pharos Book Club Reading List

In January, 2002, five friends and I became the charter members of the Pharos Book Club, a reading group focused on great works of literature regarded as classic, innovative, or influential.  When we meet on future occasions, I'll be sure to post the gist of our discussion.  For now, a list of our previous readings will have to suffice.
  1. Ayn Rand's "Ethics of Emergencies" in The Virtue of Selfishness; Carol Shields' "Words"
  2. Thornton Wilder's The Bridge on San Luis Rey
  3. Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince
  4. Martin Amis' Time's Arrow
  5. Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray
  6. Homer's Odyssey
  7. F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
  8. Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Poetic Principle"
  9. Yann Martel's Life of Pi
  10. Fyodr Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment
  11. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
  12. Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary
  13. John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany
  14. Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge
  15. Rudyard Kipling's Kim
  16. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
  17. William Gibson's Neuromancer
  18. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Marjane Setrapi's Persepolis
  19. Jonathan's Swift's Gulliver's Travels
  20. James Joyce's Dubliners


Let's Get Started

Finally, a place to broadcast my Obsessions-of-the-Moment in current events, literature, film, science, and whatever else is preoccupying me.  Here you will find The Pharos Book Club reading list and the screenings of The Egyptian Repertory Theater.  Let's begin, shall we?
I have lately been mourning the passing of film legend Marlon Brando.  For the inaugural screening of The Egyptian Repertory Theater, I hosted a double feature last week highlighting Brando's explosive early career:  A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront.  Brando reprised his role as Stanley Kowalski for film in Streetcar, a role he had played on stage for then stage-director Elia Kazan.  His performance was electrifyingly naturalistic, making his co-stars—all receiving Academy Awards for their performances—appear jarringly wooden.  Though he was nominated in 1952 for Best Actor in Streetcar, he lost to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.  In fact, Marlon Brando was nominated in 1953 for Viva Zapata!, and again in 1954 for Julius Caesar (also appearing in The Wild One that year), before finally winning his fourth consecutive nomination in 1955 for On the Waterfront.  Interestingly, both Streetcar and Waterfront were directed by Elia Kazan and co-starred Karl Malden.  Brando turned in a compelling performance depicting Terry Malloy's journey to redemption.  These early triumphs appeared to foretell many trips to the podium over his career.
I decided to skip screening films from Brando's muddled middle period, lamented by Pauline Kael in this article appearing in The Atlantic, March, 1966:  "Marlon Brando: An American Hero."  Instead we will next focus on Brando's renaissance with a screening of The Godfather.   I could also have easily selected Last Tango in Paris from this period.  Finally, we'll wrap-up the retrospective with a film of his late career, Don Juan de Marco, a dignified role for Brando, this being an unfortunate rarity in his final films.
I personally will view as many additional Brando films as my limited access will permit.  I'll keep you posted.
I have also recently watched "New York: A Documentary Film", originally aired on PBS.  you can find my review here at imdb.com.