• Monday, August 30, 2010 at 7:13 AM

    Follow up: Beck Turns Political Rally into Religious Revival

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On Friday, in commentary entitled Turning MLK’s dream into a nightmare,  I previewed Conservative talk-show host Glen Beck’s rally that took place on Saturday. Therefore, it would clearly be remiss of me not to publish a follow up. So here it is:

    Beck incited a fair amount of indignation, even anger, by promoting this rally at the Lincoln Memorial with a clarion call to “take our country back [and] reclaim the Civil Rights Movement.” Not surprisingly nobody was more indignant at Beck’s effrontery than black civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton.

    Imagine the disappointment the hundreds of thousands (of mostly white supporters of the Tea Party and Republican Party)  who heeded his call must have felt then, when Beck turned this expected political rally into a religious revival – complete with Beck preaching like Billy Graham instead of protesting like Thomas Paine

    After all, these folks wear their Christian fundamentalism on their sleeves and they hardly needed to travel from all over the country just to hear Beck bellow the same religious platitudes at them on Saturday that their pastors bellow at them in church every Sunday. (And I have no doubt that many attendees will be even more disappointed when they find out that he’s a Mormon, which for them is almost as sacrilege as being a Muslim….)

    On the other hand, Beck’s conversion on the road to Washington, DC must have filled Sharpton with a sense of political vindication.  Not least because he publicly admonished Beck against doing anything that would defile the anniversary of MLK’s 1963 “I have A Dream” speech. Sharpton also warned him against trying to usurp his role as the de facto leader of the Civil Rights Movement by proceeding pursuant to his (Beck’s) clarion call.  Instead of defying Sharpton, Beck turned to Jesus.  Indeed, so much so that, in a conversion worthy of Saul of Tarsus, he’s even expressing “regret” now for calling President Obama a racist

    Beyond this, the only thing noteworthy about Beck’s rally was the extent to which he went to feature black folks. Unfortunately, this led to the pandering spectacle of Beck awarding a black pastor his “Medal for Honor”, awarding a black baseball player his “Medal for Honor”, and enlisting MLK’s niece to try her best to emulate her “Uncle Martin”. Hell, he even gave this heretofore obscure niece more stage time than Sarah Palin….

    That said, Beck deserves unqualified credit for raising $5.5 million dollars for the “Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides scholarships and services to family members of military members.” 

    I should also mention that he clearly succeeded in demonstrating that he’s just as big a draw among teabaggers as Palin. Apropos of this, despite his belated efforts to eschew politics, many at this event were reportedly aching to vent the “revolutionary” political views that earned the Tea Party its nut-job reputation. This is why it remains to be seen what kind of backlash Beck will suffer for disappointing so many of them (with his affected kumbaya shtick) on this very public stage….

    Meanwhile, at his simultaneous rally, Sharpton did his usual thing – complete with the MLK-inspired oratory that comes so naturally to him. But nothing demonstrated which one would have enjoyed MLK’s seal of approval quite like his son, Martin Luther King III, shunning Beck’s to be featured at Sharpton’s rally.

    Related commentaries:
    Turning MLK’s dream into a nightmare

  • Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    On the Mall Today: King’s Dream vs. Beck’s Scheme

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, August 27, 2010 at 7:12 AM

    Turning MLK’s Dream into a Nightmare

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Tomorrow is the 47th anniversary of the I Have A Dream speech that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. 

    Clearly, under ordinary circumstances, one would just wait until the 50th to commemorate this occasion. But these are no ordinary times. Not least because the lips of President Obama’s critics are dripping with the same words of interposition and nullification today that were dripping from the lips of MLK’s critics during the Civil Rights Movement. 

    In point of fact, nothing demonstrates the need to reprise MLK’s words of equal justice and racial reconciliation quite like the nightmare of Glenn Beck, a latter-day Bull Connor in civilian clothing, scheduling a Tea-Party rally at the Lincoln Memorial on this historic day. This, after all, is the portly Pied Piper of the “take-our-country-back” (from whom?) movement who rallies his followers with rantings like this:

    [President Obama] is a guy who has a deep-seated hatred of white people or white culture. This guy is, I believe, a racist.

    (Huffington Post, July 28, 2009)

    For the record, though, when one considers the remarkable things that blacks have achieved in every facet of American life, as well as the breadth of equal opportunities that are now available to them, there’s no denying that MLK’s dream has been fulfilled to a praiseworthy degree.  Never mind that Beck and Reverend Al Sharpton holding separate (and no doubt unequal) rallies tomorrow might suggest otherwise.

    In any case, to properly commemorate this occasion – honoring King’s dream not Beck’s scheme, I have decided to republish that 1963 speech in its entirety. It requires no further comment.


    I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

    Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

    But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

    In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check – a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

    This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

    It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

    But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

    We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

    As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?”

    We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

    I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

    Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

    I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

    I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

    This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

    And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

    Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

    Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

    But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

    Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

    Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

    And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

  • Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 7:05 AM

    Chilean Miners Trapped

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Chileans rejoiced on Sunday when it was reported that the miners trapped for 17 days inside a collapsed copper mine were all still alive.

    In fact, the miners managed to attach a message to the end of the probe that rescuers drilled some 2,257 feet into this mine. Their message read:

    Estamos Bien En El Refugio los 33 [All 33 of us are well inside the shelter].

    (London Guardian, August 23, 2010)

    Unfortunately, this rejoicing was rudely interrupted when relatives – who sat in vigil all those days – received the damoclean word that rescuers would not be able to reach their loved ones until around Christmas.  That’s four months from now. 

    No doubt, if any of the miners is still alive then, this would make for one hellava Christmas present.  But I have to think that despairing hope is now palpable among all concerned. Not to mention the fatalism that could take over the minds of the miners once they realize that they’re going to be cooped up in that dank and unsanitary space for months. 

    Remember how fatalistic Americans became as BP struggled for three months to plug that exploded oil well in the Gulf Coast? There were even reports of fishermen committing suicide….

    This is not to say all hope is lost. Because reports are that the miners have access to a fresh water canal and rescuers can now supply them with food and medicine (as well as cards and dominoes) via this six-inch probe that is now serving as an umbilical cord.  The primary question is will they have enough oxygen and is the mine now sturdy enough to avoid further collapse from the tremors rescue efforts are bound to cause?

    Meanwhile, help is pouring in from around the world.  Indeed, one would think that BP engineers could offer some unique expertise.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the miners and their families. Good luck to the rescuers.

  • Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    The 2010 Primaries: Triumph of the Panderer over the Politician

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have always marveled at the derision with which some candidates charge their opponents as being “just another politician“- as if they were referring to someone with no more socially redeeming value than a common thief.  Especially since all of them are acutely aware that, in making this charge, they are deriding the very office they’re campaigning for.

    Sadly, the dumbing down of politics in America today is such that a candidate would rather be called a shameless panderer than a politician.  Of course, pandering is the political strategy of the moment because never before in the history of this republic have so many “politicians” been so handsomely rewarded for saying so many outrageous and politically untenable things.  And former Speaker Newt Gingrich equating Muslims with Nazis is Exhibit A in this respect.

    But nobody personifies this triumph of the panderer over the politician more than Senator John McCain. For, in order to pander to the Arizona voters – who gave him a primary win yesterday, he adamantly disavowed all of his views on hot-button issues (like immigration reform) that made him worthy of his self-anointed title as a Washington maverick. He even gainsaid this title despite the fact that he ran his 2008 presidential campaign as “the original maverick.”

    Ironically, McCain pandering in this fashion – to curry favor with the Christian pharisees and Tea-Party philistines who are now the kingmakers in his Republican Party – reminds me of the Christian proverb:

    For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

    (Mathew 16:26)

    Because all he has profited is a chance now to be re-elected for one final term as a United States senator. And for this he has lost his political soul?

    In any case, here’s to McCain and all of the other craven panderers who clearly think that you really can fool enough of the electorate enough of the time.  And shame on American voters for proving them right. Not least because, as more and more politicians convert to this “winning” strategy of pandering, America itself will lose its own soul.

  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    Miss Universe 2010: Mexico!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Reports are that business mogul Donald Trump, owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, effectively handpicks the winners to serve his PR purposes.  Therefore, he would do well to tap Miss Haiti for Miss Universe this year for all of the international goodwill this would surely engender….

    (Miss Haiti: a black nation’s white hope, The iPINIONS Journal, June 3, 2010)

    Well, so much for my sentimental pick. In fact, Miss Haiti (Sarodj Bertin) failed to even make the first cut.  But I suspect that, with the Pakistani floods now the natural disaster du jour, the Haitian earthquake no longer figures in the consciousness of the opportunistic Mr. Trump or his deferential judges.  And, alas, Miss Pakistan did not participate.

    In any case, after my jingoistic pick, Miss Bahamas (Braneka Bassett), failed to make the first cut as well, I lost all interest in last night’s telecast from Las Vegas. 

    Don’t get me wrong, the 15 women who made this cut were hot. It’s just that listening to host Bret Michaels, lead singer for the rock band Poison, continually flub his lines was not. And the way he seemed to deep throat his microphone every time he spoke did not help. Even worse, Bret, looking dazed and confused, kept trying to turn this elegant show into a rock-n-roll concert with his turrets-like yelps of, “let’s rock!” No, Bret, we just wanna see the girls.

    Not to mention how stupid he looked wearing his rock-n-roll bandana – a preternaturally vain accessory designed to cover his balding crown.  Trust me folks, his ponytail is about as real as Heidi Montag’s boobs.

    I hope Donald Trump now realizes that casting Bret to host this pageant was rather like casting The Situation to host the Oscars. But that might  be hoping for too much; after all, he cast himself as the show’s announcer. In point of fact, the surreal annoyance of listening to The Donald trumpet his sponsors’ wares at each commercial break was even worse than listening to Bret. Clearly Trump’s hucksterism knows no bounds.

    At any rate, before switching (just after the swimsuit competition) to PBS to catch History Detectives, I picked the bootylicious Miss Jamaica (Yendi Phillips)  to win.  But this only made me a three-time loser when Miss Mexico was crowned as the new Miss Universe. To be fair, though, she really deserved to win.

    Still, kudos to our little Caribbean country of Jamaica for producing not only the best athletes, but also the most beautiful women, in the world.

    Apropos of this, I am compelled to note that, by being selected as the first-runner up, the very black and proud Miss Jamaica demonstrated to other predominantly black countries that they do not have to send a white or half-white girl (as South Africa and Haiti did, respectively) to compete for this most coveted beauty crown.  Indeed, it speaks volumes that none of the five finalists had blonde hair and blue eyes.  

    Finally, I would be remiss not to comment on the fact that Miss USA (Rima Fakih), a perennial finalist, did not make the first cut either.  Yet she was still the most talked about contestant: not only because she was the first Muslim-American to wear the crown, but also because she blithely waded into the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy by declaring that her fellow Muslims should give in to their overwrought, if not bigoted, critics and build their Islamic center elsewhere.

    I suppose there really are some women who should just shut up and look pretty….

    Related commentaries:
    Miss Haiti
    A mosque near Ground Zero
    Obama wades in on Ground Zero mosque

  • Monday, August 23, 2010 at 7:19 AM

    Indictment Is Strike Two Against Roger Clemens

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As I watched highlights of Roger Clemens testifying before Congress yesterday, it occurred to me that … the more he said, the more he incriminated himself – not only on the settled charge of taking illegal performance enhancing drugs, but also on the looming charge of perjury and obstruction of justice.

    (Forget the Hall of Fame, Clemens may have played his way into Prison, The iPINIONS Journal, February 14, 2008)

    This quote indicates why I was not at all surprised on Thursday when a federal grand jury indicted seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens on obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury – all stemming from his above-referenced testimony before Congress.

    Nor am I surprised that Clemens remains in a state of denial about his steroid use:

    He maintains that Andy Pettitte, his erstwhile best friend and starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, was simply mistaken when he testified that Clemens not only told him that he was on the juice but even offered advice on which steroids would be most effective to enhance his (Pettitte’s) performance on the mound.  Moreover, that Brian McNamee, his erstwhile trainer and chief accuser, was simply lying when he testified that he injected Clemens more than a dozen times with steroids and human growth hormone from 1998 to 2001.

    The federal pen is filled, though, with self-righteous people like Clemens who become addicted to their own lies. 

    Clemens was not under subpoena. He came voluntarily. He wanted to come to the committee and clear his name. And I sat there in the office with (committee chairman) Henry Waxman and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t lie.

    (Former Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, top Republican on Congressional panel before which Clemens testified, Associated Press, August 19, 2010)

    Well, he did.

    But it’s arguable that his lawyer was guilty of malpractice for sitting by and allowing Clemens to appear before Congress in an arrogant and inherently misguided attempt to “clear his name”. 

    Now, however, this lawyer could redeem his professional reputation somewhat by prevailing upon Clemens to accept a plea deal. To be sure, any deal would require him to come clean about his use of steroids, but it would also greatly reduce the time he’d have to serve behind bars. 

    In any case, his testimony was strike one; this indictment is strike two; and conviction at trial (or even a plea deal) will be the strike out that ends Clemens’ storied career – not with induction into the Hall of Fame but with incarceration in federal prison. 

    By the way, the same fate awaits home-run king Barry Bonds, who goes on trial on similar charges in March:

    Alas, despite his protestations of innocence, I have no doubt that just as domestic diva Martha Stewart was imprisoned – not for securities fraud, but for lying to a federal grand jury about it, so too will Bonds be imprisoned – not for taking steroids, but for lying to a federal grand jury about it.

    (Bonds is indicted…, November 16, 2007)

    Related commentaries:
    Forget the Hall of Fame
    Bonds is indicted

  • Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    U.S. Combat Operations in Iraq: in with a bang, out with a whimper

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    Teenagers Today: Deaf, Dumb and Lazy

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A couple of weeks ago, researchers from Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston reported that:

    A stunning number of teens have lost a little bit of their hearing – nearly one in five – and the problem has increased substantially in recent years.

    (NPR, August 13, 2010)

    The chief cause of this pandemic of perforated eardrums is the deceptively high volume at which these kids listen to digital music through little iPod ear buds. 

    But clearly no parent of a teenage child needed this study to figure out that kids these days are deaf as well as dumb and lazy.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 7:12 AM

    My New Book Has Just Been Published!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Reprinted from Caribbean News Now!

    [NOTE: Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward pioneered the practice of writers relying on their own news organization to provide authoritative reviews of their books.  So, in keeping with this practice, the following book review is reprinted here courtesy of my news organization, Caribbean News Now.]

    Book review: CHANGE We Can Believe In? by Anthony L. Hall
    Published on August 20, 2010

    Caribbean News Now op-ed columnist Anthony Hall has recently published his fifth retrospective compendium of insight and observations on the major events of our times.

    Mr Hall’s latest look back — CHANGE We Can Believe In? — covers his usual wide range of subjects, including sports, celebrities and their glorified misbehavior, the Obama presidency, resetting Cold War relations, the politics and business of religion, and the end game of corruption in an island paradise, in his inimitably enlightening and entertaining style.

    Once again, the latest volume is conveniently ordered by topic, making it easy for the reader to refer to particular sections and items of interest.

    Of particular interest to our readers will be the regional perspective Mr Hall brings to much of his commentary.

    Topics of special Caribbean interest in the latest volume include follow-up commentaries on the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands that eventually resulted in the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry to look into allegations of government corruption and serious dishonesty; the changing (or not) of the political situation in Cuba; and events following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

    For Mr Hall, like Shakespeare, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are players (often to be lampooned), with their exits and their entrances.

    In politics, we have the “no brainer” exit of Sarah Palin and, in sports, the Tiger Woods “bimbo eruption”.
    This year, Mr Hall also comments on the ways in which celebrities become far more famous in death than they ever were in life … for a few days.

    As always, Mr Hall tackles all of these topics and many more with his trademark confidence, flair and humour.

    Highly recommended reading.

    CHANGE We Can Believe In? is now available at all major booksellers, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

  • Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 7:09 AM

    The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Any adult who has not read any of the novels in Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander trilogy, which begins with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is rather like a child who has not read any of the novels in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

    This analogy fairly indicates what a literary phenomenon Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which also includes The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, has become. And as one who normally has no interest in fiction, I can attest to the fact that they are all thrilling reads. 

    It’s just too bad Larsson never got to enjoy any of this success. He died of a sudden heart attack before the first book was published….

    Naturally, as was the case with Harry Potter, a movie adaptation of each Lisbeth Salander novel is being planned. In fact, I’ve already seen the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – complete with subtitles, and gave it two thumbs up. But even the executors of Larsson’s estate knew that only a Hollywood adaptation will do his novels (commercial) justice

    And so the search was on to cast the two main characters who drive this trilogy: Mikael Blomqvist, a disgraced journalist turned private investigator (based loosely on Larsson himself) and Lisbeth Salander, a troubled computer hacker who, ironically, acts more like Sherlock Holmes with Blomqvist as her Watson.

    Indeed, Lisbeth is the star.  And here, for a little tease, is how Michiko Kakutani, of the New York Times, described her character:

    Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s fierce pixie of a heroine, is one of the most original characters in a thriller to come along in a while – a gamin, Audrey Hepburn look-alike but with tattoos and piercings, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Lara Croft and the cool, unsentimental intellect of Mr. Spock. She is the vulnerable victim turned vigilante; a willfully antisocial girl . . . who has proved herself to be as incandescently proficient as any video game warrior.

    (Books of the Times, May 10, 2010)

    Incidentally, I see no point in giving away any of the plot; except to say that the way Lisbeth exacts revenge on her state-appointed guardian – who brutally raped her – is truly inspired … and instructive.

    Anyway, given the trilogy’s popularity, it was hardly surprising that every actor in Hollywood used every trick of the trade to win this coveted gig. I gather that the consensus among those who have actually read the books is that it would have been best to cast relatively unknown actors to play these parts. 

    I actually thought it would’ve been best to cast the actors from the Swedish version: They were brilliant.  Besides, who better to speak English with a Swedish accent (as the director insists he wants the actors in this Hollywood version to do) than Swedish actors who speak English?

    The remarkable thing is that Swedish actor Noomi Rapace seemed the very personification of Larsson’s Lisbeth in the original version.  Indeed, so much so that I thought casting another actor to play this role would be like casting someone other than Daniel Radcliffe to play Harry Potter.

    Imagine the dismay and consternation then when it was announced this week that, on the one hand, no less an international superstar than British actor Daniel Craig, a.k.a. James Bond, has been cast as Bloomqvist; while on the other, the relatively unknown American actor Rooney Mara has been cast as Lisbeth.

    Well, Craig certainly has the acting skills, and I’ve read enough about his mastery of foreign accents to think that he will be quite convincing. But I do wonder not only whether the genteel looking Mara has the acting chops but also whether she has that Meryl Streep-like talent for accents to be equally convincing….

    In any case, production on this certified Hollywood blockbuster begins next month and is scheduled for release in cinemas worldwide in December 2011.

    Stay tuned.

    NOTE: The irony is not lost on me that people said that casting someone other than Sean Connery to play James Bond would be disastrous. After all, Craig himself has proved to be the most popular Bond ever!  Which begs the question: can Mara emulate Rapace the way Craig has emulated Connery?

  • Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    Blagojevich Loses on One Charge, and Draws Feds on 23 Others

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It speaks volumes about the brazen, pathological and pervasive nature of the “corruption crime spree” alleged against Illinois’s sitting governor, Rod Blagojevich, that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald felt moved to describe it as “staggering”. In fact, in presenting the Justice Department’s 76-page complaint, Fitzgerald claimed that, because a clearly delusional and venal Governor Blagojevich was escalating his crime spree to such irreparable extremes, federal prosecutors felt compelled to arrest him yesterday to stop it.  Specifically, the complaint alleges that:

    “Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States senator [to the seat vacated by President Barack Obama]; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism.”

    (Blagojevich arrested for soliciting bribes…even for Obama’s seat, The iPINIONS Journal, December 10, 2008)

    Frankly, I thought the evidence of his guilt was so overwhelming that the federal jury empanelled for his case would take only hours to convict him on all counts.

    Yet, after an 11-week trial and 14 days of deliberations, jurors managed to convict this impeached former governor yesterday on only one of 24 charges.  And it only compounds the feds’ (and Fitzgerald’s) embarrassment that this conviction stemmed from the least serious charge that was hanging over Blago’s head; namely, that of lying to federal agents.

    The fact that Blago still faces up to five years on this perjury conviction seems utterly irrelevant to both sides.

    This jury shows you that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me. They could not prove I did anything wrong – except for one nebulous charge from five years ago.

    (A triumphant Blago after the jury’s verdict, Associated Press, August 16, 2010)

    Not surprisingly, Fitzgerald has vowed to retry him on all of the 23 charges on which the jury deadlocked. So it’s very likely that yesterday’s apparent victory for Blago will end up being short-lived, if not pyrrhic.

    In the meantime, though, there seems little doubt that Blago will continue to make a spectacle of himself on talk shows and reality TV, shamelessly turning his infamy into as much cash as possible. Not to mention that he’s probably betting his life on the fact that America’s blind obsession with reality TV stars gives him a very good shot at getting at least one “lone wolf” on his jury again who thinks he’s too much of a celebrity to be guilty of anything. God help America.

    Incidentally, reports are that 11 of the 12 jurors were prepared to convict Blago on all of the more serious charges as well.

    Stay tuned…

    Related commentaries:
    Blagojevich arrested for soliciting bribes

  • Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    Obama Wades in on Gulf Recovery and Ground Zero Mosque

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Last weekend President Obama not only declared the Gulf Coast open for business, but even took his daughter Sasha for a swim to dispel any suspicion that the waters there were unsafe (for humans or the fish we so love to eat).  It’s just too bad that his declaration was drowned out by his mixed messages on the plan to build a mosque (as part of a Muslim cultural center) near Ground Zero: 

    He seemed to be supporting it on Friday:

    Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground. But let me be clear: As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

    (President Obama at a Ramadan Dinner at the White House, Washington Post, August 14, 2010)

    But he seemed to be opposing it on Saturday:

    I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.

    (President Obama “clarifying” on his remarks when pressed by reporters, Washington Post, August 15, 2010)

    Clearly one can be forgiven the impression that he was for it before he was against it.  Sound familiar…?  Meanwhile, his first statement had the rare force of being both perfectly clear and entirely correct.

    And he wonders why pundits (right and left) keep harping on nonsensical and divisive issues like this instead of commenting (and commending him) on all he’s doing to create jobs, improve health care, and keep America safe from terrorist attacks….

    Luckily for Obama, the following statement by right-wing doughboy and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is causing even greater consternation and furor:

    You know, Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.

    (Huffington Post, August 17, 2010)

    His analogy is demonstrably flawed of course. But Newt knows full well that this will hardly matter to the political extremists and Christian Jihadists in his Republican Party to whom he is clearly pandering to win the nomination for president in 2012. 

    Ironically, his insinuation that America is at war against Muslims today, just as it was against the Nazis and Japanese during World War II, makes a mockery of former President George W. Bush’s repeated declaration that America is at war against terrorism, not Islam.

    More to the point, though, Newt’s statement demonstrates why overwrought relatives of the victims of 9/11 and their political enablers should not be granted veto power over the building of this Muslim center. His statement should also finally disabuse all sensible Americans of the notion that it’s only radical Islamists who are plotting for the “clash of civilizations” (i.e., between Christianity and Islam) that should usher in Armageddon Day … The Rapture.

    Related commentaries:
    A mosque near ground zero?

  • Monday, August 16, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    Budget Cuts at the Pentagon?! When Pigs Fly…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In his Farewell Address to the American people in 1961, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned that:

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    (US defense budget: more about politics than national defense, May 17, 2005)

    Yet since then every successive president has presided over such glutinous growth in America’s military industrial complex that the meshing of defense and peace has been rather like the serving of a Big Mac and broccoli to a typically fat American.

    Good luck Secretary Gates.

    Related commentaries:
    US defense budget

  • Friday, August 13, 2010 at 5:09 AM

    The U.S. Senate: Framers’ Intent vs. Today’s Reality

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This pretty much explains why President Obama and Democrats in Congress have been unable to strike agreement with Republicans on any issue.

    Frankly, the Republicans’ strategy for dealing with everything from the banking crisis to climate change has been every bit as cynical and simplistic as Nancy Regan’s strategy for fighting the war on drugs:  “just say no“.  In fact, here’s how Obama chided them recently during a speech in which he touted the success of his economic recovery initiatives, which brought the US from the brink of a second Depression:

    If the just-say-no crowd had won out, if we had done things the way they wanted to go, we’d be in a deeper world of hurt than we are right now. The steady progress we’re beginning to see across America would not exist. And neither would the plant that you’re about to build.

    (ABC News, May 18, 2010)

  • Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 5:09 AM

    JetBlues: Revenge of the Flight Attendants

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Like most people I got a good laugh at the way JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater went off after a difficult passenger spewed expletives in his face and another gashed his forehead while opening the overhead bin and then refused to apologize. 

    This abuse proved to be the last straw. Because as soon as his flight (1052 from Pittsburg) reached the gate at JKF on Monday, he reportedly commandeered the plane’s public address system and spewed forth the following:

    To the passenger who just called me a motherfucker, fuck you. I’ve been in this business 28 years and I’ve had it!

    (Anderson Cooper 360, CNN, August 10, 2010)

    He then grabbed a beer from the galley, deployed the emergency exit slide and jumped off the plane – kissing those unruly passengers, and his career, goodbye. Which, to correct a mistaken allusion other commentators are making, is fundamentally different from saying to an abusive boss, “take this job and shove it”.

    This meltdown has turned Slater into a folk hero – no doubt for venting the professional frustrations many people suffer in quiet desperation.

    But it’s the revenge-of-the-flight-attendant angle that must truly resonate. For I suspect Slater’s reaction filled all flight attendants with a vicarious sense of vindication. And the rest of us are cheering because we’ve all witnessed some idiot passenger treating a flight attendant like his personal servant and wished that attendant would “accidentally” spill hot coffee in that passenger’s lap. 

    This is what Slater should have done if he wanted to keep his job with JetBlue, or to ever work as a flight attendant again. Instead, going beserk the way he did says far more about his mental stability than it does about the manners of the passengers who provoked him. A hero? I don’t think so….

    In any case, he would be well-advised to milk his 15 minutes of (international) fame for all it’s worth. Specifically, he should demand fees for all interviews and, who knows, given the caliber and character of the stars on reality TV, he could parlay this episode into a very lucrative gig. 

    God knows the private life he leads with his boyfriend would probably prove far more entertaining than watching Snooki and others on the Jersey Shore get paid to act like fools.

    That said, it behooves all parents hailing this guy as a hero to explain to their children that Slater’s behavior is nothing to emulate; i.e., that it was appropriate only for this one occasion.

    After all, if the Supreme Court can excuse its bad ruling in Bush v. Gore 2000 by saying it’s not a precedent to ever be followed or cited, then parents can excuse Slater’s bad behavior by the same logic.

  • Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 5:38 AM

    Michelle Obama’s Spanish Flytrap

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It smacks of the political tone-deafness that got Bush in trouble over Katrina that Obama sees nothing wrong with commissioning Air Force One (and all of the resources his presidential travel entails) just to fly him and his wife up to New York City for dinner and a play.

    (Obamas’ Marie-Antoinette faux pas, The iPINIONS Journal, May 31, 2009)

    Alas, for the first family, a vacation is never just a vacation…

    But, given the fickle, simplistic, myopic and polarized nature of political debate these days, I feel obliged to make three points crystal clear before venturing any further:

    • I am as avid a supporter of Barack Obama today as I was even before he declared his candidacy for president of the United States in January 2007;
    • I think the world of Michelle Obama, and she’s clearly the best thing that has ever happened to him; and
    • By all objective criteria, he’s doing a terrific (in fact, a truly transformative) job as president, she’s doing a terrific job as first lady, and they’re doing a terrific job as first family.

    That said, my opening quote demonstrates that I am not one of those yellow-dog liberals who believe that the Obamas can do no wrong. This brings me to Michelle’s highly publicized vacation to Spain last week, which has become quite a political flytrap.

    First of all, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that she went on this European vacation with their youngest daughter Sasha and a few of her friends, leaving Barack behind to celebrate his 49th birthday with Oprah and a few of his friends.  This, after all, is a first family that has preached about the virtues of dining as a family unit … every night.

    Apropos of preaching, it was none other than Michelle who went down to the Gulf Coast just a few weeks ago and preached about the patriotic duty of vacationing there to help businesses affected by the BP oil spill to recover.  Yet here she was flying off to Europe on board Air Force Two at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Reports are that the destination and timing of this trip were determined by her desire to honor the request of a grieving personal friend. But, if true, this is even more self-indulgent than Obama taking Air Force One to New York City to honor a special date he promised Michelle: It’s one thing for the president to take some liberties with the taxpayer-funded perks of his job to appease his supportive wife. It’s quite another for the first lady to do so to console one of her girlfriends.

    Mind you, I would have no complaint whatsoever if Michelle had traveled to Spain to further some declared public policy agenda.  In that case, I would not begrudge her a little sightseeing too.  Indeed, in criticizing the Obamas’ trip to New York City, I specifically noted that it would have been prudent for them to coordinate this date with one of the number of official trips both of them had already taken to this city. 

    To be clear, though, I think Michelle would do a great deal to further her husband’s foreign policy agenda if she were to take many more solo official trips like the first one she took to Mexico earlier this year. Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush made many such trips on their husband’s behalf with nary a word of protest.

    Her unconditional supporters argue that Michelle is entitled to have a personal life, and that if this means vacationing in Europe with her daughter and girlfriends, so be it. It’s axiomatic, however, that all first families must endure public scrutiny, including censure, of their personal lives. They know full well that this scrutiny is inherent in the nature of the office they seek, and that it’s a material part of the grand bargain they strike with the American people.

    Of course, this is not to suggest that the Obamas should be so politically driven that they commission polls to determine where and when to take family vacations the way the Clintons did. But it’s instructive to note that Laura Bush was sensitive (and sensible) enough to vacation with her daughters in U.S. national parks when she was first lady….

    Incidentally, it completely misses the point to argue that taxpayers only paid for Michelle’s travel and security because she paid for her food and five-star hotel accommodations out of personal funds.  After all, it’s the blithe extravagance of the whole trip, especially during these hard times, that offends all notions of political sensibility.

    Consequently, this trip to Spain now makes the Obamas’ plan to visit the Gulf Coast for one day this weekend – at the beginning of their 10-day family vacation to ritzy Martha’s Vineyard – seem like an imperious and patronizing afterthought.

    Clearly the Obamas are too politically savvy to have been oblivious, not only to the political fodder this trip would provide their detractors but also to the hypocritical message it would send about how much they truly feel the pain of ordinary Americans.

    Therefore, this leaves one to conclude that, like King Louis XVI and his first lady, Marie Antoinette, they just don’t care what people think about their regal indulgences. In point of fact, her hobnobbing with the King and Queen of Spain now makes one think that the surprising familiarity she assumed with the Queen of England was no commoner’s faux pas at all….

    Related commentaries:
    Obamas’ Marie-Antoinette faux pas

  • Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    Floods Over Pakistan

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    For over 10 days now, floods of biblical proportions have been devastating many areas of Pakistan, including the perennially fertile Punjab as well as the Taliban safe haven in northwest Swat valley (Thank God for small favors…?). The floods have reportedly made a flowing and swirling stew of shanty homes, bridges, schools, health clinics, power facilities, sewage systems and everything else along their path.

    This [scale of physical damage] is unprecedented … it’s beyond imagination, it’s beyond expectations. Our country has gone back several years.

    (Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Reuters, August 8, 2010)

    Relatively few people have died (last reported at 1,600), but 14 million have been displaced.  And it’s this number of displaced survivors that compelled the United Nations to declare these floods an even greater natural disaster than the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami, which killed approximately 220,000, or this year’s Haitian earthquake, which killed at least 250,000.  Of course, relief officials, as well of those affected, invariably hype the impact of disasters as a means of generating the maximum amount of emergency relief supplies and funds for long-term recovery….

    At any rate, given its historic proportions, you’d think the floods in Pakistan would be receiving at least the same kind of international media coverage that was accorded the earthquake in Haiti.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth. 

    I suspect the primary reason for this, though, is that no less a person than President Asif Ali Zardari has treated this national disaster as nothing more than a local problem for local officials to deal with. 

    After all, Zardari was at the beginning of a European tour when the flood gates opened, and instead of returning home – as most politically savvy, if not genuinely concerned, leaders would have done – he continued on as scheduled until his official trip ended yesterday.  This is clearly Zardari’s Katrina….

    Meanwhile, all indications are that the relief effort is so inadequate and disorganized that it’s making the Haitian relief effort seem like a well-oiled German machine.  (Recall the heart-rending complaints back then – even with the mighty USA leading the effort?) 

    Even worse, it does not bode well that the Taliban, that infernal terrorist group, is doing a far better job of providing aid than the government.

    All the local roads are destroyed. All the schools are destroyed. We never had any medical facilities… This is the basic reason for militancy: anger at the government. If we had a place to live, if we had food, if we had schools, there would be no militancy [i.e., Taliban] in Pakistan.

    (Local Pakistani Obaid ur-Rehman, 26, Reuters, August 8, 2010)

    But this is especially ironic because, only days before this disaster struck, President Zardari was lecturing the United States on how to compete with the Taliban for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan.  Talk about “do as I say, not as I do”.

    Anyway, it is noteworthy that the U.S. is in the vanguard of this relief effort too. But I’m sure the Obama administration’s primary concern is that these floods do not create political conditions that could turn Pakistan’s nuclear weapons into loose nukes….

    NOTE: I would be remiss not to acknowledge the floods that are also devastating parts of Poland and the wild fires that have Muscovites wading through and inhaling thick plumes of toxic fumes, giving truly deadly meaning to concerns about second-hand smoke.  The end of times? All we need now is for the Sun to rise in the West instead of the East.

  • Monday, August 9, 2010 at 5:06 AM

    A Mosque Near Ground Zero?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Given the way opponents of the plan to build a Muslim cultural center near ground zero are being portrayed in the media, one can be forgiven the impression that they are all anti-Muslim bigots. And, alas, the way some right-wing nuts are crusading against it only reinforces this impression. Talk about giving al-Qaeda fodder for propaganda…. Mind you, this center will include, among other things, a gymnasium as well as a mosque.

    But there are bona fide liberals who are equally opposed.  And I happen to be sympathetic to their view that:

    Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam… But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. Building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.  

    (The Anti-Defamation League, Huffington Post, August 6, 2010)

    Nevertheless, I believe the bedrock principles of freedom of religion and good old-fashioned capitalism far outweigh any concerns about offending the sensibilities of “some” whose loved ones died on 9/11. More to the point, it would set an untenable and unsustainable precedent for cities to start zoning off areas based on the prevailing sentimentality of the moment. Never mind the inconvenient truth that strip clubs compete with porn shops all around the so-called “hallowed ground” where this mosque will be built.

    Meanwhile, given the way relatives of the victims of 9/11 are being portrayed in the media, one can be forgiven the impression that they all oppose this mosque.  But nothing could be further from the truth. 

    Frankly, I don’t know of a single poll that has been taken on this issue to determine even if a majority of them share the sentimental and religious indignation being vented by these vociferous opponents. Not to mention that some of these surviving relatives have become so zealous in venting their self-righteous and overbearing grief that they show no regard for the sensibilities of Muslims whose loved ones died as well. 

    In any case, I’m reminded that a great deal of media attention was paid to the so-called families of 9/11 who opposed the rebuilding of any commercial space on the actual site of ground zero.  But back then politicians from all over the country put this sentimentality into proper perspective by calling for the building of a memorial to the dead in the shadow of new towering monuments to capitalism.

    This is why, despite my sympathy and the fear that radical Muslims might regard the building of a mosque in this location as a psychological victory, I endorse the view that:

    This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

    Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that…

    Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.

    (New York Mayor Bloomberg, New York Post, August 4, 2010)

    Allahu Akbar!

  • Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 6:43 AM

    Yes, Blame the Messenger (too) if the Message is Opposition to Gay Marriage

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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