Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 12:05 PMGiven the “EXTRA! EXTRA!” coverage the American media have devoted to the launch of Bob Woodward’s pre-ordained bestseller State of Denial, one could be forgiven the impression that his book contains devastating new revelations about President George W. Bush’s intentional misrepresentations concerning the state of affairs in Iraq.
For example, the tease for Woodward’s promotional appearance tomorrow on CBS’s 60 Minutes implies that he finally exposes a Bush Administration scheme to mislead the American people about the level of violence in Iraq. And I have no doubt that Woodward would like to impute a pattern in this regard that began when the Administration allegedly misled the American people about the presence of WMDs in Iraq.
But this implication ignores the reality that most Americans do not rely on the Administration for their information about Iraq. Moreover, it denies daily (body-count) stories in Woodward’s own newspaper, The Washington Post (never mind 24-times daily reports on every cable news channel) about the escalating violence over there.
Indeed, it seems ironic at best for Woodward to charge the Bush Administration with a cover up, when the plaintive woe of all who support this war has long been that the media are reporting too much on its quagmire of violence and not enough on the rosy scenario depicted in the cartoon above. But even more ironic is the fact that just as Woodward accuses Bush’s aides of being so in awe of his political power that they are afraid to disabuse him of his delusions about Iraq; so too, it seems, Woodward’s fellow reporters are so in awe of his journalistic reputation that they are afraid to disabuse him of his delusions about the significance of this book.
After all, I became so disillusioned by such media reports that I felt compelled to write my own series of articles (dating back to May 2005) ridiculing Bush’s representations about the state of affairs in Iraq, including this one here entitled “BREAKING NEWS: President Bush is pleased with the progress of the war in Iraq…Puleeese!” and here entitled “Groundhog days in Iraq…and in President Bush’s head!”
Clearly, the titles of my articles alone preempted not only the recently declassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE – highlighted by the fact that US troops are being attacked hundreds of times a day), but also any purported revelation in Woodward’s book about the true state of affairs in Iraq.
(Incidentally, another declassified NIE highlight being reported as vindication of Woodward’s reporting is the reference to the war in Iraq becoming a “cause celebre” for jihadists all over the world. Yet I lamented this fact over a year ago here in an article entitled “BREAKING NEWS: Victory is at hand…Osama’s man in Iraq has been wounded! (We think…)”, and here in one entitled “Please, spare us the al-Qaeda obituaries”.)
Alas, this begs the question:
Why all of hype surrounding this book as if Woodward has finally broken another Watergate?
NOTE: Even Woodward’s scoops on turf battles within the Bush White House are old news. For example, he makes a big deal about Henry Kissinger’s backdoor channel to Bush’s inner sanctum to discuss war strategy. Yet Charlie Rose elicited this fact from Kissinger in a TV interview many months ago. He also reports on insider efforts (lead by former White House chief of staff Andrew Card) to get Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Yet aides loyal to former Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed this internecine political intrigue years ago.
ENDNOTE: I have tremendous respect for Woodward’s journalistic accomplishments and would not begrudge him relying on his laurels to sell a few books; notwithstanding this previous article here – from November 2005 – entitled “EXTRA: Bob Woodward traded his journalistic principles for access to power (and a string of political bestsellers)”, which, given his effort in this book, now seems rather prescient….No?
I find it utterly inexcusable, however, that so many respected journalists (like Mike Wallace of CBS and Wolf Blitzer of CNN) would present his recycled blurbs as breaking news….
Friday, September 29, 2006 at 10:23 AMAnthropologists have unveiled yet more evidence that white (in fact all non-black) people are just pea-brained blacks who continually left the confines of their African tribes – beginning around 4 millions years ago – for hunting and gathering outings, got lost and ended up on the other continents of the world. But, once there, the features of these disoriented and lost souls of Africa evolved over time – by natural selection – as they and their offspring adapted to prevailing climate and other conditions of their new environment.
[That’s my theory of evolution and I’m sticking to it!]
Last week, researchers presented “Selam”: the fossilized remains of a 3-year-old female of the same species (Australopithecus aferensis) the famous “Lucy” belonged to, but who lived almost 100,000 years before Lucy, or 3.3 million years ago.
It’s a pretty unbelievable discovery, to be honest….I think it’s sensational. [Will Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History in New York]Evidently, Selam was discovered in 2000 in the same region of Africa (Ethiopia) where Lucy was discovered in 1974. But since I’m no anthropologist, I shall refrain from expounding on the significance of this find except to assert that it should put to rest revisionist attempts by Egyptologists and Eurocentric researchers to place human origins in the Middle East (and even North America).
Indeed, I readily concede historian Niall Ferguson’s claim that much of what passes for civilization today “originated with the Greek, was planted across Europe by the Romans…and crossed to the New World with Columbus”. But the good news is that – try as they might to whitewash Africa’s birthright – the evidence continues to affirm the Dark Continent as the place where we all originated!
Until the discovery of Selam, Lucy was the oldest human ancestor known to science. [BBC News]
NOTE: Click here if my allusion to intelligent design was completely lost on you.
Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 10:25 AMI do not believe Terrell Owens (T.O.) was rushed to the hospital on Tuesday because he was dying from depression. Instead, I suspect he was rushed there because he was dying for attention. After all, with T.O., it’s all about getting attention: if not on the field, then by any means necessary….
Remember folks, this is the player who could not settle for the spontaneous dance many players perform when they score a touchdown. Instead, T. O. had to stick a sharpee in his socks to pull out and autograph the ceremonial football to celebrate his scores.
This is the player who could not settle for bad-mouthing the opposing team to get pumped-up for a game. Instead, T.O. had to pick self-destructive fights with the quarterback on his own team; e.g., calling Jeff Garcia of the San Francisco 49ers “gay” and Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles “overrated” (petty fights which got him kicked off both teams).
This is a player who – when his coach suspended him for his disruptive behavior – lured the press from covering his team’s workouts to cover his physical exhibitions in his own front yard. In fact, his antics with the Eagles became so delinquent that, after the team eventually fired him, I wrote this article – dated November 2005 – which I concluded as follows:
Indeed, the best resolution of this saga for the NFL (and for all of professional sports) would be for T.O. to be denied the opportunity to play another football game for the rest of his life!Finally, this is a player who – when he showed up to play for the Dallas Cowboys this season – complained of a mysterious leg injury that kept him out of all pre-season games. Yet he could not resist drawing attention away from those games by donning a (Lance Armstrong) cycling uniform – complete with crash helmet – and cycling like a clown on a stationary bike (and, incidentally, making a mockery of his alleged injury) while his teammates were busting their butts on the field.Enough?
Of course, these incidents comprise only a small number of the documented stunts T.O. has pulled during his short time in the NFL. But they should suffice to demonstrate why his reputation as a superstar athelete has become overshadowed by his reputation as a superstar pain in the ass!
Given his history, therefore, I’m not sure why anyone was surprised when T.O. gave a sub-par performance in the first game of the season, and looked more like a disoriented rookie than a franchise player during the second one last weekend. Moreover, after those embarrassing performances, it seems entirely fitting that he would suffer some fluke hand injury that threatened to make his fumbling of passes a permanent disability. (And, trust me, nothing was more devastating to T.O.’s ego than having the Cowboys win despite his liabilities….)
All of which brings me to his reported suicide attempt on Tuesday evening:
First of all, I find the mere notion of suicide so utterly incomprehensible that I consider anyone who presumes to know why people do it little more than an arrogant fool. Indeed, I even suspect that most suicide notes that purport to explain such motivations are invariably little more than manipulative rationalizations.
But, whereas I might be concerned about people who commit suicide, I am positively cynical about people who merely attempt suicide. After all, the notion itself is oxymoronic. And the means for anyone who truly wants to kill himself are so readily available (and foolproof) that any “attempt” in this regard must be deemed a ploy.
Indeed, where T.O. is concerned, what better ploy to get the attention he craves than to attempt suicide. Of course, I appreciate that when egocentric men confront the prospect of not being the centre of attention (because injury or anxieties inhibits their performance), they might consider suicide. But, that any of these men would choose popping pills as the way to go is patently absurd; especially for a man like T.O. who probably has access to more than a few (manly) handguns….
Therefore, this clearly reduces all of yesterday’s fuss over T.O. to just the latest episode where everything about football was about T.O. And he would have it no other way….
NOTE: T.O. apologizing to the Cowboys for causing this distraction is rather like an addict apologizing for getting high. But Cowboy fans should beware that – where superstar wide receivers like Lynn Swann and Jerry Rice were able to help their respective teams win multiple Superbowls – T.O. will never be able to help any of his teams win a single one!
Meanwhile, regarding the rest of his PR Conference, this will probably be his best football-related performance of the year. Although, it’s too bad for T.O. that a Columbine II (school-shooting) story broke and deprived him of the 24/7 coverage that would’ve been his….
Nonetheless, if you’re wondering why T.O. and his very attentive “publicist” were allowed to spin this story to make the police and hospital authorities look like liars, it has everything to do with the fact that – whatever T.O. did to become the focus of so much media attention yesterday – he did not commit a crime. Besides, all personnel involved in this pathetic saga are probably Cowboy fans who would do anything to help T.O. get back on the field to do what they’re paying him $25 million to do. And if that means playing along with his (no-harm, no-foul ploy), then so be it.
ENDNOTE to Deion Sanders and all other T.O. enablers: This guy needs a serious “time out”! Because T.O. is a grown man who evidently thinks he can still get away with behaving like a problem child….
Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 10:40 AMYesterday, those of us who revel in the comeuppance of corporate crooks were treated to an unusual bit of judicial symmetry. Because, at virtually the same bewitching hour, Andrew Fastow, the wunderkind who masterminded the historic collapse of Enron, and Bernard Ebbers, the godfather who lorded over WorldCom’s fraudulent enterprise were both hauled off to prison to serve time for their crimes.
Given the litany of corporate scandals that have plagued America in recent years, it’s understandable that details about the Enron and WorldCom scandals might already be filed away in that irretrievable lock-box in your brains labeled “information overload.”
But here’s an excerpt from this previous article I wrote on Enron to remind you of why Fastow’s day of reckoning is noteworthy:
Indeed, notwithstanding subsequent scandals, none of them has had a more devastating impact on the U.S. market, which included $60 billion in shareholder losses. Unfortunately, the impact Enron’s collapse had on the market was surpassed only by the impact it had on the lives of its employees, which included eradicating almost $2.1 billion in pension plans overnight and rendering 5,600 people unemployed.
Of course, upon learning that he was sentenced to only 6 years, it’s also understandable that you might be outraged. But trust me when I assure you that Fastow’s sentence is entirely justified. Because what most reports on his “shocking” sentence fail to mention is that, in addition to serving as the star witness for the prosecution of Enron honchos Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, Fastow also gave prosecutors a 175-page blueprint detailing every Enron scheme he ever concocted and naming all of the high-profile co-conspirators who helped him execute them.
Therefore, as indispensable as his testimony was in securing guilty verdicts against Lay and Skilling, it will prove even more so when prosecutors bring charges against many other corporate crooks; especially the executives Fastow fingers at big banks like Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse. Indeed, ironically, Fastow may end up doing more of his time in court than in jail….
But his sentence is also justified because – as repentant criminals go – Fastow even convinced prosecutors beyond reasonable doubt that he is genuinely repentant. In fact, here’s how he accepted his sentence yesterday:
I will serve my sentence as part of my repentance that I’ve already begun….I wish I could undo what I did at Enron but I can’t….
I am ashamed to the core. I am sorry for what I have done to other people and to my family and my community. I destroyed my life.
Meanwhile, Ebbers (65) reported to federal prison yesterday behind the wheel of a luxury Mercedes Benz (most likely one of his ill-gotten gains). By constrast, however, he was still insisting that he had done nothing wrong. And, such is the nature of his conceit and utter lack of remorse that Ebbers seems determined to oblige his family and friends to waste their money (especially if they benefited from his corporate crimes) on his futile appeals.
But, since his 25-year jail sentence is, in fact, a life sentence, the prospect of filing appeals may provide Ebbers his only hope for living the rest of his natural life behind bars. Nonetheless, if not for the 20,000 employees who lost their jobs or the shareholders who lost over $180 billion as a result of his WorldCom misdeeds, let’s hope that Ebbers spends a little time seeking redemption for his impudent soul….
Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 10:57 AMAfter fielding so many stupefied enquiries about Bill Clinton’s FOX News Sunday interview, I felt obliged to view it last night for my blogging edification. And, frankly, my first impression was, why all the fuss?!
After all, even before ABC’s Path to 9/11 “hit piece” on his war-on-terror record, Clinton and his political operatives were doggedly spinning and revising every aspect of his presidency (so much so that they would have you believe that intern Monica Lewinsky was a Trojan Horse sent by right-wing conspirators to entrap Clinton for impeachment). Indeed, as I watched Clinton spew moral indignation at right-wingers for lying about his record during this interview, I could not help recalling how his wife Hillary blamed these same right-wing boogeymen for lying about her husband having an affair with that woman during an NBC interview she gave almost a decade ago. (And, for the record, I think he was as truthful on Sunday as she was back then….)
Moreover, episodes of Clinton going ballistic (at the slightest provocation) at reporters, but more frequently at helpless staffers, are legendary in Washington, DC.
But then I realized that, despite many documented accounts of Clinton unhinged – in books like Primary Colors – until Sunday, most people were not aware of his whining, petulant temper. And that, for these people, seeing it in living color for the first time – even at half throttle (as it was) – was quite a riveting sight.
Incidentally, if you haven’t seen or heard about this infamous interview by now, then you must be hopelessly disinterested in international current events. And shame on you!
On the other hand, if you’re like my friends and colleagues – from Africa to Australia and all over America who can’t stop talking about it - here are a few points to bear in mind:
First of all, it’s important to appreciate that – even though a FOX News anchor – Chris Wallace is hardly the right-wing hit man Clinton accused him of being. In fact, even Clinton’s defenders would concede (as some have) that there is no fairer or more unbiased reporter in Washington than Wallace. Therefore, it was clearly a strategic blunder for Clinton to pick on this reporter as the agent provocateur for his latest woe-is-me rant.
It is also important to appreciate the ground rules Clinton set for this interview; namely: 1) that the interview last 15 minutes; and 2) that it be divided equally between questions relating to his Clinton Global Initiative and anything else Wallace wanted to ask about.
Nonetheless, within minutes, Wallace asked a perfectly reasonable, almost generic, question which proved to be a fuse that set Clinton off on a bellicose and defensive diatribe about how much more he did to kill Osama bin Laden compared to what President Bush has done. And, if you’d like to witness a grown man throwing a sustained hissy-fit, I invite you to watch the entire interview (or read the transcript) by clicking here. Otherwise, the following excerpts should suffice:
CLINTON: OK, let’s talk about it. Now, I will answer all those things on the merits, but first I want to talk about the context in which this arises.
I’m being asked this on the FOX network. ABC just had a right- wing conservative run in their little “Pathway to 9/11,” falsely claiming it was based on the 9/11 Commission report, with three things asserted against me directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report.
And I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans, who now say I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden….
No, wait. No, wait. Don’t tell me this — you asked me why didn’t I do more to bin Laden.
But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.
So you did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. What I want to know is…
WALLACE: Well, wait a minute, sir.
CLINTON: No, wait. No, no …
WALLACE: I want to ask a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?
CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question, but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of?
WALLACE: Do you ever watch “FOX News Sunday,” sir?
CLINTON: I don’t believe you asked them that.
WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of …
CLINTON: You didn’t ask that, did you? Tell the truth, Chris. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about — you said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7-billion-plus in three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.
WALLACE: But, President Clinton, if you look at the questions here, you’ll see half the questions are about that. I didn’t think this was going to set you off on such a tear….
WALLACE: Would you like to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative?
CLINTON: No, I want to finish this now….And you’ve got that little smirk on your face and you think you’re so clever.
______________________With that, I refer you to this recent article on the Path to 9/11 for my assessment on Clinton’s efforts to take-out bin Laden. But whatever one thinks of the merit of Clinton’s defense, I trust we can all agree that it is unseemly for a former president of the United States to be fulminating on TV in this (why is everybody picking on me) manner.
It is ironic, however, that the strongest point Clinton raised in his defense is also the one which undermines not only his record on bin Laden but his entire presidential legacy. And here’ why:
Clinton is absolutely right to assert that those now criticizing him for not doing enough are the very ones who criticized him for being “too obsessed with bin Laden.” But he’s so consumed with self-pity (and self-righteousness) that the irony seems completely lost on him that people did not criticize him for “not doing enough” as much as they questioned what motivated him to do what little he did. After all, even his supporters wondered aloud whether his feckless cruise-missile attack on a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan in 1998 was not merely a craven, if not criminal, example of life imitating art: namely, a Wag-the-Dog effort to divert the country’s attention away from his Monica Lewinsky affair.
: Some political pundits are proffering the fatuous notion that Clinton threw this temper tantrum to help Democrats frame the war-on-terror debate for Congressional elections in November. But I do not think his motives were quite so altruistic.
Instead, I suspect Clinton was still fuming over the way he was portrayed in Path to 9/11. And, like almost every other documented outburst he’s had in his political career, this one appeared to be a completely spontaneous emotional combustion. Yet he has no scruples about his spin doctors now diagnosing his breakdown as part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to discredit Chris Wallace and regain control of Congress….)
ENDNOTE: Meanwhile, completely overshadowed by Clinton’s temper tantrum was the truly inspired information he conveyed about his Global Initiative, which raised $8 billion in pledges during the week of the UN General Assembly 61st Session – to help reduce poverty, reconcile religious and ethnic conflicts, meet increasing energy needs, address climate change and improve global health.
Indeed, it’s also ironic that – had Clinton focused on his Global Initiative – it would have done far more to enhance his legacy than embarrassing himself trying to defend his irredeemably-flawed presidency.
Monday, September 25, 2006 at 10:37 AMUntil last summer, Jacob Zuma (right) was the unchallenged heir apparent to South African President Thabo Mbeki (left). After all, as deputy president, Zuma’s rock-star appeal amongst the (predominantly poor and uneducated) South African electorate made Mbeki seem like an interloper and even rivaled the appeal Bill Clinton enjoyed as U.S. president. (For the record, I lamented Zuma’s appeal in this 30 Aug ’05 article entitled, SOUTH AFRICA: Support for (principled) president wanes as it surges for his compromised deputy).
Alas, the comparisons with Clinton did not end there. Because, just as Clinton’s financial dealings (Whitewater) and sexual indiscretions (Never mind Monica, Juanita Broderick accused him of rape) beset his presidency, so too did Zuma’s financial dealings and sexual indiscretions compromise his political viability. Likewise, however, just as Clinton survived an impeachment trial and has thrived ever since, Zuma seems destined to emulate him by surviving prosecution not only for rape but also for his shady financial affairs (relating to a multi-billion dollar arms deal).
Nonetheless, although not as publicized internationally as Clinton’s, Zuma’s political travails have been a far more embarrassing and sordid mess. And, no doubt, Mbeki hoped to preserve the integrity of his government by sacking him - after Zuma was implicated in a web of corruption during the fraud trial of his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik (right). Indeed, he probably felt vindicated when, in subsequent months, Zuma himself was indicted on charges of corruption and rape.
But that was then. Because, for a man who was presumed politically crucified just months ago, Zuma seems so thoroughly resurrected today that even Mbeki must be questioning the wisdom of sacking him in the first place. And, here’s why:
Last May, Zuma was tried for rape. And reports abounded about how he sat with unbridled confidence as his HIV-positive accuser gave graphic and damning testimony against him. For example, here’s how she described her relationship with Zuma and the shock of his predatory attack:
…I treated him as a father and he treated me as a daughter….When I was diagnosed with HIV in April 1999, I told him because as a father it was an important part of my life that he should know about….
I thought: ‘Oh, no! It can’t be, he is on top of me, he is naked, I’m in his house.’ I was just confused. I actually thought it can’t be happening. At that point I faced reality. He was just about to rape me….
I said: “eh eh (no) umalume [uncle]…then he began…pushing and thrusting…and said ‘I told you I’d take care of you…sweetheart. You are a real girl’.Then, in his defense, Zuma took the stand and testified, without any hint of moral scruples, that – although he may have done “a stupid thing” (by having unprotected sex with his HIV-positive “daughter”) – the sex was entirely consensual.
But even more shocking than Zuma’s incredible defense was the judge’s incomprehensible verdict. Because, as South Africans and people all over the world listened with bated breath, he acquitted Zuma with the following paternalistic and gratuitous admonition:
…you should not have had sexual intercourse with a woman so much younger…who is HIV positive and the daughter of a friend.(Which, of course, was as legally significant as Judge Lance Ito admonishing OJ that he should not have driven away from the scene of his wife’s murder like a madman – running traffic lights and leaving his bronco badly parked on the street outside his mansion….)
Thus acquitted, Zuma (seen here reacting joyfully to the judge’s verdict) reveled as his zealous supporters made Mbeki squirm with riotous demands to reinstate Zuma as deputy president, immediately. Unfortunately, for him and them, there was still that little matter of his indictment on corruption charges.
And, as anxious as his supporters were to see Zuma get off on this one as well, his critics (and there are a few in South Africa) were anxious to see him put away. In fact, like most impartial people familiar with the facts in his rape case, not least amongst them the prosecutors, I thought that, instead of being reinstated in office, Zuma deserved to be thrown in jail. Therefore, after he was acquitted, many of us hoped that justice would prevail twofold at his corruption trial: with a guilty verdict and a very harsh sentence indeed.
But all hopes were dashed last Wednesday when the judge assigned to Zuma’s corruption trial incited even more shock and dismay than the judge who acquitted Zuma of rape. Because the judge presiding over this trial summarily dismissed the charges when the prosecution requested a continuance (i.e., more time to prepare their case).
Of course, Zuma proclaimed this a just verdict and announced his plans to resume his official duties. And, as he did so, he fomented the pernicious and thoroughly unwarranted suspicion (though widely held amongst his supporters) that his rape and corruption trials were part of an elaborate political conspiracy – orchestrated by a cabal of Mbeki supporters – to thwart his destiny with the South African presidency.
Unfortunately, all indications are that, despite prosecutors vowing to reinstate the charges, chances are very good that – no matter what legal impediments he faces between now and presidential elections in 2009 – Zuma will be elected the next president of South Africa….
Amandla! Hosanna Zuma!
Sunday, September 24, 2006 at 11:36 AM
Saturday, September 23, 2006 at 12:31 PMMuslims have decreed that Pope Benedict XVI must die for implying that Islam has been hijacked by evil and inhuman radicals…duh!
Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard about people dying in America from e. coli-laden spinach. In fact, U.S. intelligence experts have always suspected that al-Qaeda might try to contaminate the food supply. But using spinach hardly seems an effective strategy for inflicting mass casualties in this fast-food nation.
So, eat your spinach! (once the recall is lifted…).
Of course, using it to kill the Pope would be truly inspired…..(Just kidding!)
Friday, September 22, 2006 at 11:37 AMTurkey is arguably the most democratic and progressive of all Muslim countries. Yet, Article 301 of its penal code, which provides for the incarceration of anyone who “denigrates Turkish national identity”, has led to a series of criminal trials in recent years that make Turkey seem more like Afghanistan under the Taliban.
In fact, Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Community has been jeopardized by zealous state enforcers of Article 301 who have persecuted everyone from people who criticized the government to writers who dared to air Turkey’s dirty laundry, including exposing its misogynistic treatment of women and genocidal pogroms against the Armenians.
But it’s the prosecution of writers that has incited most international recrimination against Turkey’s relatively liberal government. However, the good news is that the latest of these has proved to be so controversial that it may finally force the government to repeal Article 301. And here’s why:
But, as a woman challenging Turkey’s vested national interest in denying that such mass killings (genocide) ever occurred (which is like an Iranian woman defying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust never occurred), she posed a particularly vexing defendant for prosecutors and doctrinaire revisionist historians.
If Article 301 will be interpreted in this way nobody can write novels in Turkey anymore, no-one can make movies anymore….[Elif Shafak]For these very reasons, however, her case became a most sympathetic cause celebre – not only for progressive Turks but also for human rights advocates all over the world (who also stood with Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in their fight for freedom of expression against Muslim fundamentalists). And, to say that her trial put Turkey’s suitability for admission into the EU centre stage would be an understatement.
Therefore, astute observers of Turkish (ultimately-pragmatic) politics were hardly surprised when a panel of judges dismissed the case yesterday – before prosecutors and the guardians of “Turkishness” had a chance to vent their jingoistic outrage. They ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Shafak “denigrated Turkish national identity” in her novel, The Bastard Of Istanbul.
Understandably, the acquittal of Shafak was as insulting to Turkish nationalists as the acquittal of the white cops who beat the crap out of Rodney King was to blacks in Los Angeles. Therefore, not surprisingly, these Turks are also rioting in the streets to express their outrage. After all, nothing could be more denigrating to Turkish national identity than for Turks to be compared to genocidal German Nazis, a moral and historical equivalence Shafak draws with prosecutorial skill.
Nonetheless, that she was acquitted is in fact an indictment of Article 301. Because, in this seminal test of its true intent, it proved an unworthy foe to the universal value of freedom of expression. Moreover, if Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “amends” it – as he vowed to do yesterday, this would enhance Turkish national identity immeasurably….
NOTE: Just months ago, former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma was presumed politically crucified. Yet today, he seems so thoroughly resurrected that virtually no one doubts that he’ll be elected president in 2009. Click here to see why.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 10:44 AMYesterday, while Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (Left) was strutting his stuff upon the international stage – at a meaningless Non-Aligned Meeting in Cuba and an equally meaningless UN General Assembly 61st Session in New York – army Commander-in-Chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin (Right, in green) was orchestrating a military coup d’état to oust him from office. And, as of the publication of this piece, for all intents and purposes, his coup is a fait accompli!
I don’t agree with the coup, but now that they’ve done it, I support it because Thaksin has refused to resign from his position….Allowing Thaksin to carry on will ruin the country more than this. The reputation of the country may be somewhat damaged, but it’s better than letting Thaksin stay in power. [University student Sasiprapha Chantawong]I appreciate how difficult it would be to disabuse anyone of the sentiment this student expresses. And I suspect that the vast majority of Thais share his (resigned) rationalization about this coup.
Nonetheless, even a benign (i.e., popular and bloodless) military coup is not only inherently inconsistent but also politically untenable in a democracy. After all, no matter the extent of Thaksin’s corruption (highlighted by an insider’s deal where he allegedly sold his family’s stake in a state telecommunications company to Singaporeans for $1.9 billion), constitutional provisions were in place to either impeach him or vote him out of office at elections that were due to be held within months.
Of course, given that Thais have changed their government by coups as often as they have by elections throughout their 74-year democracy, I suppose it’s no surprise that even former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai seems resigned to military coups as an oxymoronic staple of Thai democracy. Because here’s how he rationalized the current military state of affairs:
As politicians, we do not support any kind of coup but during the past five years, the government of Thaksin created several conditions that forced the military to stage the coup. Thaksin has caused the crisis in the country.
I am not so Pollyannaish, however, as to be indifferent to the fact that – as military coups go – this one was executed flawlessly. Moreover, there’s probably no greater indictment of Thaksin’s leadership than the fact that no one seems to have lifted a finger to defend his government.
It is also noteworthy that coup leader Gen Sonthi reportedly secured the blessing of Thailand’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. And, that King Bhumibol has endorsed him as caretaker prime minister until a new constitution is ratified and new elections are held.
Therefore, even though martial law has been declared, it’s reasonable to expect that democracy will soon be restored and all will be well in Thailand…until the next military coup….
Meanwhile, over in Hungary
Thousands of incensed Hungarians amassed in Budapest’s parliament square yesterday to protest the admitted corrupt practices of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Therefore, it would be remiss of me not to juxtapose the Hungarians – who have decided to oust their corrupt prime minister from office by non-military, democratic means, with the Thais – who resorted to a military coup to oust theirs.
It is interesting to note, however, that Hungarians have not turned on their prime minister so much because he’s corrupt; instead, they took to the streets because Gyurcsany was caught on tape admitting the deliberate, comprehensive and systematic nature of his socialist government’s corrupt practices. Indeed, here’s a little of his Nixonian confessions:
If I am honest with you, I can say that we are full of doubts. That torment and anguish are behind the self-assurance. I can tell you exactly that all that we are doing will not be perfect…We did what we could in the past month. We did whatever was possible to do in secret in the preceding months, making sure that papers on what we were preparing for would not surface in the last weeks of the election campaign….
I almost perished because I had to pretend for 18 months that we were governing.
Instead, we lied morning, noon and night. I do not want to carry on with this. Either we do it and have the personnel for it, or others will do it. I will never give an interview at the end of which we part with each other in argument. Never. I will never hurt the Hungarian left. Never.It is understandable, therefore, that even Hungarians who voted for him would now want him ousted from government – post haste! Indeed, here’s how one erstwhile supporter framed the situation:
The government has lied, we knew that they lied, but this arrogance afterwards…this is unacceptable.Although paying homage to the spirit of their predecessors – who mounted anti-communist protests 50 years ago – these Hungarian protesters would probably like to emulate Ukrainian protesters who – during their Orange Revolution in 2004 – forced their corrupt government out of office by paralyzing its activities with daily demonstrations in the tent city they set up in Kiev’s Independent Square for 34 days. And all indications are that, despite his declared intent to sit them out, the moral indignation behind this mass civil unrest is such that it’s only a matter of time before daily demonstrations in Budapest’s parliament square cause Gyurcsany’s government to fall.
Indeed, here’s how Ervin Csizmadia, an analyst with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, assesses his chance of surviving the protest of no confidence:
It will be very difficult for him to survive, not because his own party will back out, but becaus
e morality is a factor that’s gaining importance in Hungarian politics.NOTE: Latest reports are that pockets of violence have erupted throughout parliament square. But I stand in solidarity with these Hungarian protesters and hope that cooler heads prevail so that they do not forfeit their moral authority to force this corrupt prime minister to step down….
Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 10:33 AMOn Saturday, it became patently clear to me that violent Muslim reaction to a homily Pope Benedict XVI delivered last week was beginning to ape their violent reaction to the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February. The alleged trigger that set Muslims off on this latest round of mob protests – to exact retribution for a perceived insult to their faith – was, ironically, a passage in the Pope’s homily which condemned some of Muhammad’s teachings for exhorting his followers to use the sword to “coerce conversion” and spread “evil and inhuman things.”
On Sunday, therefore, I published this article extolling the straight and narrow path the Pope was taking to address their fury. In fact, I thought it was instructive that, although he expressed deep regret that some Muslims were offended, the Pope refused to apologize for entreating Muslims to be tolerant of other religions. (I suspect few, if any, of these rabid defenders of Islam have even bothered to read the full text of the Pope’s relatively conciliatory sermon.) And I felt it was so critical that he not give into their demands to do so that I wrote the following:
…if the Pope were to even appear to give in to their demands, I fear it would compromise the integrity of not only the Catholic faith but of all Christianity. Therefore, I pray he stands on the solid rock of his conviction and does nothing to appease his virulent Muslim critics.
So, imagine my profound dismay when I read the following Clintonian apology, which the Pope and his political operatives have made three attempts to perfect since Sunday – after I published my supportive article:
I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address….These were in fact quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.
I hope it’s self-evident why my dismay was suffused with consternation and foreboding about the implications and ramifications of his apology. Because it follows from the basic article of Catholic faith that it’s an apostasy for the Pope to be seeking absolution from crazed Muslims by claiming that he was not expressing personal thoughts in one of his public sermons.
Moreover, even I, a Protestant, know that Catholic faith is predicated on the ex cathedra doctrine, which holds that when the Pope delivers a homily, it is presumed to reflect the infallible beliefs of the Catholic Church. Therefore, it is untenable and wholly unsustainable for him to now require Catholics to parse his sermons to distill passages that are intended as papal teaching from those that are intended merely as papal fluff.
Alas, it seems the Pope fears Muslim protests more than he fears God’s wrath. Because only this would explain why he has thrice denied the plain meaning and illustrative intent of his words.
But he’s really gullible if he believes any apology – no matter how broken and contrite his heart – will quell the irrational fury of those who are fanatically committed to the Jihadist doctrine, which dictates that “the world must convert to Islam or die by the sword.” Indeed, even I could have warned him that his apology would only add fuel to the incendiary fury of fanatical Muslims who, despite it, are not only vowing to kill him but have already exacted their evil and inhuman Islamic justice by executing an innocent Nun….
Ultimately, it is regrettable that, instead of apologizing for his comments, the Pope did not address his critics by pointing out that their violent reaction to his homily was, in fact, confirming what they purportedly found so offensive about it. He should have challenged moderate Muslim clerics – with whom he has openly sought interfaith dialogue – to explain to their followers why it is they, not him, who insult Islam by threatening to kill anyone who criticizes their religion. And then he should have decreed that, as a threshold matter, all people of faith, including heretofore complicit moderate Muslims, should condemn the presumption radical Muslims have that they can defile other religions with impunity but that anyone who criticizes Islam risks death!
NOTE: Even though he offended Muslims by harkening back to the 14th Century to illustrate their violent proclivities, the Pope must have stupefied Catholics by retreating back to the 1st Century to emulate the apostle Peter (the before-the-cock-crows Jesus denier) when Muslims challenged his faith. In fact, here’s how one prominent Catholic expressed his stupefaction:
This [the Pope's apology] is really, really abnormal….It’s never happened as far as I know. [Alberto Melloni, professor of history at the University of Modena and author of several books on the Vatican]
SPECIAL REQUEST for il Papa: Since you’re in the spirit of making apologies, perhaps you’ll consider making one to the thousands of Catholic boys Catholic priests sodomized – with papal indulgence – for so many years. And, please do not retreat from this moral challenge by claiming that these cardinal (carnal) sins did not occur under your leadership. After all, you have now set an infamous precedent by apologizing to Muslim mobs for uttering words you claim were not your own….
Monday, September 18, 2006 at 10:17 AM
Not so long ago, some of us considered the war in Afghanistan as much an unqualified success as we deemed the war in Iraq an unmitigated failure. But a new crop of Taliban fighters are beginning to surpass die-hard insurgents in Iraq in their ability to undermine U.S. efforts to “stand up” a democratic government in their country.
Moreover, it is a particularly perverse feature of this Taliban resurgence that they are funding their comeback with proceeds from the Afghan opium fields the Americans vowed to destroy.
Alas, victory in Afghanistan may prove another casualty of the war in Iraq….
Sunday, September 17, 2006 at 12:57 PM
Papal infallibility does not signify infallible Pope. But Pope Benedict committed no sin with his comments on Muhammad, and he should not apologize!Since Tuesday, Muslims have been engaged in what is fast becoming an ironic and perverse religious rite: namely, defending perceived offenses to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by rioting, looting and threatening to kill!
Their latest acts of holy vigilantism were triggered – unwittingly, one assumes – by Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on a 14th Century Christian emperor’s (evidently perspicacious and prescient) condemnation of the fanatical worship the Prophet Muhammad inspires. And here’s what that emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, declared (and what the Pope reflected upon in his homily on Tuesday):
Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
But are these fighting words?
Indeed, wouldn’t it be wholly untenable for the Pope’s comments to lead to war – as Muslim fanatics are now threatening; especially considering that Mullah’s routinely make even more blasphemous and provocative comments about Jesus Christ? Moreover, imagine a world where Christians (or Jews) rioted in similar fashion every time a Muslim cleric made insulting comments about Christianity (or Judaism)?
Meanwhile, it is undeniable that what most people see today of the religion Muhammad brought is precisely the evil and inhuman things Emperor Paleologos condemned over 500 years ago. And, the irony is not lost on many of us that the bellicose way Muslims have reacted to the Pope’s comments only affirms the emperor’s condemnation.
Yet, even though Christian leaders not only comment on but also categorically condemn the evil and inhuman things that have been brought under the banner of Christianity – not least which the Crusades and the institution of slavery – most of them are loath to utter a single word of criticism about Islam. It is regrettable, therefore, that Muslim leaders are not as respectful and circumspect in their regard for Christianity and other religions….
Apropos this, I think the Pope’s reaction to the riots his comments incited was nothing short of extraordinary. After all, here, in part, is the statement Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone delivered on his behalf – like a savvy political operative trying to manage a public relations fiasco:
The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers.
But this statement is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that it has fallen far short of the prostrate contrition Muslims apparently expected – demanding, as they are, a personal apology (presumably in living color for the world to see), not a mere expression of regret. Alas, it seems moderate Muslims have become so emboldened (or cowered) by the way their fanatical brethren have made Christians and Jews more fearful of them than they are of God, that they deem it entirely reasonable to expect the Pope to apologize to them as if he were atoning for cardinal sins before the Almighty God!
However, if the Pope were to even appear to give in to their demands, I fear it would compromise the integrity of not only the Catholic faith but of all Christianity. Therefore, I pray he stands on the solid rock of his conviction and does nothing to appease his virulent Muslim critics.
NOTE: I suspect the Pope sincerely regrets that Muslims were offended by what he said. But why should he apologize for making the self-evident inference that evil and inhuman things (like hijackers, suicide bombers, jihadists and nuclear-bomb-craving genocidal maniacs) are now indelibly associated with Islam?
In fact, it is arguable that “evil and inhuman” zealots have hijacked Islam. After all, I have many Muslim friends who agree with every word in this article and who have expressed appreciation for what I wrote here and here (expressing solidarity – and noting that Pope Benedict did so as well – with their moral outrage over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, but appealing to them to help quell the fanatical riots that were undermining their moral authority), and here (expressing consternation that Muslims would hold a Holocaust exhibition to insult Jews because Danish cartoonists offended the Prophet…).
Yet none of my Muslim friends believe it is safe to challenge the way these zealots interpret the Quran or the way they choose to defend Islam. And, given that Vatican authorities have reinforced the Pope’s security detail because they fear one of Muhammad’s misguided avengers might try to assassinate him, I get the sum of their fears.
All?hu Akbar! Shalom! God help us!
Pope Benedict VXI
Saturday, September 16, 2006 at 11:44 AM
Englishman Mark Burnett should not be criticized for playing the race card to lift sagging ratings on his show Survivor: Cook Islands. Rather, he should be criticized for playing the American people for fools - by proclaiming that he’s playing the race card as “a social experiment like never before”.
After all, Burnett knows as well as the most uneducated American does that the contrived segregation on Survivor is played out, in reality, in churches every Sunday and in lunch rooms (at school and work) every weekday all over America.
Therefore, he really should spare us his patently absurd racial spin. And Burnett’s critics should spare us their self-righteous and hypocritical claptrap about his stupid TV show!
NOTE: Given the way his fellow countryman Simon Cowell has played Americans for fools with his American Idol franchise, I can see why Burnett would make such a craven pitch for ratings. But never mind him, what does it say about the “castaways” (blacks especially) that they would allow themselves to be used for such crass commercial purposes….
Friday, September 15, 2006 at 11:42 AMOn Wednesday, I received an email from an old friend which bore all of the hallmarks of one of those infamous chain emails that become urban legend. In this case, my friend – an unqualified supporter of the U.S. military – wanted me to help spread the word about an incredible act of spontaneous generosity Denzel Washington allegedly displayed during a recent tour of the Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), located at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. And here, in essence, is how his email read:
While Denzel Washington was visiting BAMC, they gave him a tour of one of the Fisher Houses. He asked how much one of them would cost to build. He took his check book out and wrote a check for the full amount right there on the spot. The soldiers overseas were amazed to hear this story and want to get the word out to the American public, because it warmed their hearts to hear it.
The question I have is why does Alec Baldwin, Madonna, Sean Penn and other Hollywood types make front page news with their anti-everything America crap and this doesn’t even make page 3 in the Metro section of any newspaper except the base newspaper in San Antonio.
Now, it’s important to note that my friend is no gullible redneck. In fact, he’s an extremely savvy partner at a well-known marketing firm in New York City. And at the end of his email, he exhorted me to forward it to all of my family and friends. But the cynic in me could not help wondering about the accuracy of his account or, indeed, whether Denzel ever visited the BAMC.
Therefore, I did what any good lawyer would do: I investigated!
The good news is that the truth turns out to be better than his fiction. Because, after a lengthy conference call yesterday with Mr Russ Fritz, the manager of the Fisher House in question (there are 34 of them in the U.S. and 2 in Germany), here’s what I found out:
Actually, before getting to the real Denzel deal, it might be helpful for you to read a little from the Fisher House mission statement:
Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, Fisher House Foundation donates “comfort homes,” built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times – during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury.
There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment. Annually, the Fisher House program serves more than 8,500 families, and have made available more than two million days of lodging to family members since the program originated in 1990. Based on a comparison of fees at a Fisher House (the average charge is less than $10 per family per day, with many locations offering rooms at no cost) with commercial lodging facilities in the same area, it is estimated that families have saved more than $60 million by staying at a Fisher House since the program began.
The first thing Mr Fritz conveyed to me was his bewilderment over why this story was suddenly spreading like wildfire throughout the Internet. It is two years old, after all. He then informed me that he was present when Denzel showed up at his facility in December 2004 – “unannounced and with no camera crew and no entourage” – and asked for a tour.
As it happens, the president of the Fisher House Foundation, Mr David Coker, was in residence and happily volunteered to give Denzel a personal tour. And, according to Mr Fritz, all military patients, their visiting family members and Fisher House staff were extremely impressed with Denzel’s down-to-earth demeanor as well as his affable and compassionate interaction with everyone he met.
More to the point, however, Mr Fritz confirmed that Denzel expressed genuine gratitude to the men and women of the U.S. military for their sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, that he was extremely interested in knowing whether they were being treated well at Fisher House. But Mr Fritz denied the rumor that Denzel offered the spontaneous check-book charity my friend gushed about in his email.
In the end, he referred me to one Mary Considine at Fisher House headquarters in Maryland for clarification on this sensational part of the growing legend. And, here’s what she confirmed:
That it was months after his tour (in the Spring of 2005) when Denzel’s lawyers informed Mr Coker of his desire to make an anonymous contribution to the Fisher House Foundation. Moreover, that his gift was so “substantial” that the officers of the foundation invited Denzel and his wife Paulette to serve as Trustees. And they accepted.
Incidentally, after researching the Fisher House Foundation, I am happy to report that it is eminently worthy of any charitable donation you can afford to make. Therefore, I urge you to do so by clicking here.
End of story. Now spread the word…and contribute!
NOTE: Given the highly publicized and generally unhelpful charitable gestures that are little more than career-enhancing gigs for most celebrities, Denzel’s discreet and very helpful gesture speaks volumes for not only his generosity but also his character. (Apropos grand gestures, did you happen to see George Clooney on CNN yesterday informing members of the UN Security Council about the shocking findings from his summer tour of Darfur refugee camps? He may be well-intentioned, but since, for over a year now, some of us, including President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have been condemning UN inaction in the face of the humanitarian atrocities Clooney just discovered, you’ll forgive me for regarding him as little more than a Johnny-come-lately to this cause. In fact, click here and here to see why….)
ENDNOTE: You’ve probably heard or read snippets in the news about the Non-Aligned Movement Summit taking place in Cuba this week. But click here to read why I think this summit is just a political farce.
Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 10:27 AMI have always been stupefied by people who compound a bad decision to marry by refusing to divorce. Therefore, I was heartened by yesterday’s announcement that Whitney Houston has finally decided to divorce her self-described bad-boy husband Bobby Brown.
Let me hasten to clarify, however, that I am not one who holds Whitney blameless for the public spectacle her life became after marrying Bobby – as I made clear in a previous article here.
But all hopes that they would live happily ever after were summarily dashed when – before their honeymoon ended – it became painfully clear that Bobby’s notorious demons had awakened Whitney’s dormant inner (wild) child. And it was the mutual impulses of their unhinged superegos that led them on an ill-fated 14-year journey of trials, tribulations and incarcerations (all played out on TV and in tabloids), which has finally come to an end….I hope.
NOTE: It’s not too late for Whitney to put her demons back to sleep. And enveloping herself in the nurturing and spiritual love of her religious family will be instrumental in this respect.
As for Bobby, however, I fear that the scroll of his life will remain laden with so many unatoned sins that “it’s gonna take a miracle” to prevent him from going straight to hell….
Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 10:07 AMThis week, as the madams of modeling in New York are flaunting their obsession with anorexic girls at their annual fashion bacchanal, the matrons of fashion in Spain announced that such sickly-looking mannequins will no longer be strutting their dry bones at Madrid’s annual fashion week, which begins on Monday.
Of course, for years, I have proselytized (in a truly dispiriting crusade) to deprogram the minds of women (especially young ones) from the brainwashing, by media and fashion conglomerates, that has them convinced that a skinny girl with no boobs and no hips is the paragon of a healthy beautiful woman. Therefore, no one greeted the Madrid announcement with greater enthusiasm and hope than I did. (Click here to read my most recent sermon attempting to debunk this skinny-woman mystique.)
Alas, Madrid is hardly the fashion trend-setting capital of the world. And I fear that, instead of setting a new tone, its fashion vanguards will suffer a backlash from fashionistas in places like New York and Paris who seem terminally vested, commercially and psychologically, in anorexic models. Indeed, here’s the certifiably insane reaction of one New York madam to their sensible announcement:
I think it’s outrageous. I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer….[this] move could harm careers of naturally gazelle-like models.
- Cathy Gould, of New York’s Elite modeling agency
Think about it folks:
This outraged madam is really saying that she would rather promote a (smoking, cocaine-snorting to look naturally gazelle-like) waif like Kate Moss (left), than a naturally gorgeous model like Tyra Banks (right), as an iconic beauty to be idolized and emulated. (And, never mind the race thing….)
But is there any wonder that, despite her egregiously unhealthy lifestyle, Moss remains the most coveted and highly-paid model in the fashion world today?
NOTE: Click here to see why I don’t think Jane Fonda’s hypocrital and self-righeous preaching about “scary skinny” models and actresses is helpful to our crusade….
Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at 2:45 PMAfter reading yesterday’s commentary on the film Death of a President, a few of my Canadian friends emailed to recommend what they consider to be a film far more worthy of my attention. The film, Ghosts of Cité Soleil, documents life in Haiti during the last days of the beleaguered presidency of Jean Betrand Aristide, which was dominated by gang warfare. And it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday, reportedly to unqualified acclaim from the audience, which included many politically-active celebrities like Danny Glover (of the Lethal Weapon movies).
Of course, my friends knew I would be interested because, for years, they’ve been hearing and reading my lamentations on the civil strife that has made Haiti an ungovernable mess for decades. Indeed, to get a sense of what my political rants about this god-forsaken country entailed, I invite you to click here to read my article entitled Haiti’s Living Nightmare Continues…Unabated!, here to read The Plague of Haitian Refugees in the Caribbean, and here to read Yo Bush! Never mind Iraq and Lebanon, what about Haiti?
Nonetheless, as much as I appreciate the reviews of my Canadian friends (Haitian immigrants amongst them), I am loath to recommend a film I have not seen. Therefore, I shall suffice to reprint the official review by Thom Powers and encourage you to see it when it comes to a cinema near you (or when it’s released on DVD, which may well be simultaneous).
Executive Producer: Kim Magnusson, Cary Woods, George Hickenlooper, Jerry Duplessis, Wyclef Jean
Producer: Mikael Chr. Rieks, Tomas Radoor, Seth Kanegis
Written By: Asger Leth
Cinematographer: Miloš Loncarevic
Editor: Adam Nielsen
Production Designer: Asger Leth
Sound: Hans MøllerMusic: Wyclef Jean, Jerry Duplessis
Principal Cast: Winson Jean (a.k.a. 2pac), James Petit Frère (a.k.a. Bily), Éleonore Senlis (a.k.a. Lele), Wyclef Jean
Meet 2pac and Bily, brothers with broad smiles and big guns. In the Haitian slum of Cité Soleil, 2pac and Bily are among a cadre of notorious gang leaders whose foot soldiers are known as chimères, or ghosts. Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide reputedly employed the chimères to attack his opponents. Director Asger Leth had remarkable access to this gang culture in the months leading up to Aristide’s overthrow in 2004. The resulting film is a Caribbean epic of family, love and violence.
2pac and Bily have big aspirations that sometimes collide. They both fall for the same woman, Lele, a French relief worker; she’s drawn to them even as she recognizes their “power over life and death, including mine.” 2pac and Bily sometimes skirmish with each other’s soldiers. When everyone carries a gun and a spliff, tensions can escalate in a heartbeat.
Allegiances constantly shift: between 2pac and Bily, gang leaders and politicians, Aristide and the rebels. Bily wants to go legit and join Aristide’s Lavalas political party. 2pac is fed up with Aristide; he dreams of giving up guns and battling with rap lyrics instead. (Indeed, he takes his name from Tupac Shakur.)
In Ghosts of Cité Soleil, the camera achieves an astonishing intimacy, from bedroom romance to street warfare. The colours are saturated, with heat radiating from every surface. The director knows this country well: his father, Jørgen Leth, has made films in Haiti since the early eighties and lived there since 1991.
Wyclef Jean collaborates on the haunting score and also appears in the film. From Haiti, 2pac calls Jean on the phone in New York City. Cameras capture both ends of this conversation between two modern Haitian legends. It’s one of several points where the viewer might wonder, Is this for real? The larger-than-life drama of Haiti seems a world away from the comfort and security of the United States. When Jean gets off the phone, he remarks, “That ain’t no Hollywood movie, that’s just the truth.”
- Thom Powers
NOTE: “Asger Leth has made several short films including Gala (96) and Again. Today (97) and worked as assistant director on Jørgen Leth’s documentary short New Scenes from America (02). He also was a writer and assistant director on Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier’s feature documentary The Five Obstructions (03), which screened as part of the Festival’s Real to Reel programme. Ghosts of Cité Soleil (06) is his first feature-length film.”
Tuesday, September 12, 2006 at 10:53 AM
“Death of a President” and “Path to 9|11”: Fuss over a tale of two movies that is much ado about nothing…Last weekend, two made-for-TV movies had partisan political pundits frothing at the mouth: The first, Death of a President, was screened at the Toronto Film Festival on Sunday at about the same time as the second, The Path to 9/11, was airing on TV in the United States.
In both cases, however, I think all the fuss over things said and/or depicted in these movies, respectively, amounts to much ado about nothing. And here’s why:
Death of a President depicts the Robert-Kennedyesque assassination of President George W. Bush. This political consummation – so devoutly to be wished by Bush haters at home and abroad – takes place on 19 October 2007. And viewers are led to believe that, by then, frustrations with his presidency (i.e. the war in Iraq) had reached such a point of delirium that violent and unruly mobs stalked his every move – making his assassination inevitable, if not justified.
But, to exploit as much raw emotion as possible, the filmmaker, Gabriel Range, pulled a race card from the deck of predictable war-on-terror scenes for the denouement to this movie. (A twist that was as politically contrived as Survivor producer, Mark Burnett, using a race card this season to lift sagging ratings under the fatuous pretext of fostering racial dialogue and understanding.) Although, I suppose it’s no coincidence that Range is an Englishman who probably wishes that one of his films had inspired last week’s political coups d’état against British PM Tony Blair (for being Bush’s “lapdog” ally in the Iraq war).
It’s also interesting to note that the only Americans who seem bothered by this depiction of Bush being assassinated are right-wing Republicans. And, that their political outrage is being vented, as it invariably is – through talking heads at FOX News.
But frankly, I’m such a freedom-of-expression libertarian that I am not bothered in the least by this movie. Moreover, it seems patently hypocritical that the people hurling moral indignation at this film are the very same self-righteous zealots who were promoting The Clinton Chronicles during Bill Clinton’s presidency. After all, the producer of this movie, Pat Matrisciana, used creative license to portray Clinton as everything from a drug smuggler to a serial murderer. And because Clinton is a “public figure”, Matrisciana could get away with peddling his fictionalized rubbish as “the shocking truth.”
Apropos the shocking truth, The Path to 9/11, was initially promoted as a movie based on well-documented facts about how cells of Islamic jihadists out-witted the most powerful and technologically-advanced law enforcement authorities in the world to perpetrate the most spectacular crime in U.S. history.
But the movie – as scripted – would have chronicled Clinton in such a disreputable manner that even he could not take it laying down. Therefore, in the days preceding Sunday night’s premier, he and his Clintonistas used any means necessary to force ABC to cancel the movie. To their credit, however, the suits at ABC refused to bend over and to let Clinton have his way.
(Of couse, it should be noted that the path to 9/11 has been well-trodden by partisans on both sides of the political aisle since that fateful day. But, in case you need a refresher, click here for an excellent synopsis of the 2-part mini-series, which ended last night.)
For the record, ABC deleted several scenes depicting Clinton as too preoccupied with his Monica Lewinsky scandal and a looming Congressional impeachment to deal with Osama bin Laden and the looming al-Qaeda threat. In addition, the network agreed to run periodic disclaimers informing viewers that this was not a documentary but a movie based on facts published by objective fact finders. But anyone watching – as I did – could not help but get the impression that the Lewinsky scandal coupled with bureaucratic narrow-mindedness, in-fighting and ass-covering amongst members of the Clinton Administration led inexorably to what happened on 9/11.
Still, the movie’s most intriguing and ironic portrayal was that of FBI agent John O’Neil. After all, he more than anyone else seemed to fully comprehend and appreciate the clear and present danger al-Qaeda posed to the U.S. Yet, after quitting the FBI in frustration over the refusal of Clinton Administration officials to seize any opportunity to take-out bin Laden, O’Neil moved to head-up security at the World Trade Center’s twin-towers, where he was killed when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked on 9/11….
Meanwhile, Clinton and his PR flaks seem only troubled by the fact that this movie has sullied his reputation ever further. Which is understandable given how assiduously they have worked to perfect his post-presidential character – focused as it seems more on alleviating poverty and fighting HIV/AIDS than on using his power to prey on impressionable young women.
But the truth of this movie is clearly in the eyes of the beholder – especially since Republican members of the purportedly non-partisan 9/11 Commission say it does “a pretty good job” of depicting what actually happened; whereas, Democrat members say “it is still utterly and completely false.” Nonetheless, I think there was enough truth depicted for the movie to have been worthwhile. However, I do not think for a moment that it depicted the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Indeed, I am resigned to the fact that we will never know the “truth” about the path to 9/11.
Ultimately, I just hope this movie serves as one more dramatic reminder to politicians, bureaucrats and law enforcement authorities of their monumental failures. And I pray that it compels them to finally put aside their partisan politics and turf battles and coordinate efforts to better serve and protect the American people….
Sunday, September 10, 2006 at 11:03 AM
Last week, bin Laden released his 9|11 terror tape in a preemptive (PR) strike against Bush’s 9|11 war-on-terror speech……And then had the nerve to call Bush to gloat about it!
NOTE: Click here to see bin Laden on this insolent tape instructing and exhorting the 9/11 hijackers to execute their terror in the name of Allah.
You can see President Bush on TV delivering his war-on-terror speech - for the 1000th time – on Monday night (when most Americans will probably be watching NFL Football)….