• Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    83rd Annual Academy Awards

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I say give the hosting gig back to Billy Crystal, permanently!

    (The Oscars, The iPINIONS Journal, March 6, 2006)

    As this opening quote indicates, I’ve been arguing for years that producers should give up trying to make the Oscars into a comedy/variety show. And last night’s cringe-worthy offering proved yet again why they should.

    But one would have thought that, after genuinely funnymen Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin bombed last year, no producer would have hired two straight actors, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, to follow them this year.

    As it happened, it was immediately and painfully apparent that their canned opening bits (in which they recreated scenes from this year’s top contenders for Best Picture) would not compensate for their Ricky-and-Lucy shortcomings on stage throughout the show. They sucked!

    In fact, though surely unwitting, it was an indication of how poorly Hathaway and Franco were doing that – when she introduced former host (nonpareil) Billy Crystal two hours into this snoozefest – the audience arose and gave him a rousing and clearly wistful standing ovation.

    [A] three-hour show – only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for best supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director and best picture).  And, alas, the hosts do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (“2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    So, with due respect to all of the winners, I shall comment only on the few categories most people were interested in. Never mind that the outcome in each case was as surprising as the sun rising in the east.  

    But, to be fair, the director deserves praise for doing a slightly better job this year of spreading out the presentation of these key awards; i.e., instead of making us sit through three hours of awards for things like costume design before jamming them in at the end when most viewers had already dozed off from boredom.

    My picks reflect who I think should win, not necessarily who I think will win. For example, I think Annette Bening should win but all of the critics seem to think Natalie Portman will win.  So please be advised in case you’re planning to bet the farm on my picks.

    (83rd Annual Academy Awards predictions, February 27, 2011)

    With that, here are the winners, followed by my comparative predictions and the reasons for them:

     

    And the Oscar goes to…

     

    Actor in a Leading Role: Colin Firth in The King’s Speech

    My pick is Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.

    Not only did he give a truly riveting and technically precise performance, he really endeared himself to me by disclosing the terrific irony that he’s an avowed anti-monarchist who is winning all kinds of accolades for playing a British king. 

    Actor in a Supporting Role: Christian Bale in The Fighter

    My pick is Christian Bale in The Fighter.

    To be honest I don’t care too much for performances where actors losing or gaining tons of weight is half the gig.  And this masochistic form of method acting is becoming Bale’s schtick.

    Instead, I picked Bale to win for the same reason I picked Jeff Bridges to win last year: he has amassed a really impressive body of work and, like a Republican who has sought the presidential nomination many times to no avail, it was finally his due.

    Best Acceptance Speech: David Seidler for The Social Network

    Clearly not a prediction, but I think this highly-evolved stutterer and writer of The King’s Speech screenplay deserves an honorable mention for the classy, modest and articulate way he accepted his award and gave a shout out to stutterers everywhere saying, “We have a voice. We have been heard.”

    A very close second in this category was Charles Ferguson who won for the Documentary Feature Inside Job, which chronicled the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the global financial crisis in 2008I saw him being interviewed by Charlie Rose last year and found his righteous indignation towards Wall Street bankers quite refreshing. But I was even more impressed when he seized the world stage last night to announce that, as much as he appreciates his Oscar, he would be remiss not to decry the fact that none of the crooked bankers who perpetrated this “inside job” have been sent to jail.

    Actress in a Leading Role: Natalie Portman in Black Swan

    My pick is Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right.

    Perhaps this had more to do with my regard for the way she has managed to pussywhip Warren Beatty. But in truth she, like Bale, was more of a sentimental pick than anything else.

    Actress in a Supporting Role: Melissa Leo in The Fighter

    My pick is Hailee Stenfeld in True Grit.

    Actually, this is one of four of the ten-nominated films that I did not see. But I just liked the idea of this young girl pulling a Tatum O’Neal by upsetting all of her adults competitors.  Ah well….

    But why they chose the stroke-ravaged Kurt Douglas to present this first of the six most-important awards is beyond me.  Watching him was almost as sad (and anxiety-ridden) as watching Dick Clark host ABC’s New Year’s Eve countdown…. 

    Anyway, nothing showed how important writers are to everything actors say quite like Leo standing utterly dumbstruck on stage and letting rip an F-bomb to begin what little she was finally able to get out.

    Directing: Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech

    My pick is Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech.

    I apologize to readers who saw that I (initially) predicted Guy Hendrix Dyas for Inception. This clearly could not have been what I intended since Dyas was not even nominated in this category. 

    My only explanation for this Freudian slip is that I thought he was so deserving for entertaining us with such wonderfully surreal imagery – like nothing we’d ever seen on screen before.

    Best Picture: The King’s Speech

    My pick is The King’s Speech.

    It helps that it presented a remarkably compelling true human story. But I was even more moved by the fact that the screen writer, David Seidler (who duly won for Screenplay), honored the Queen Mother’s request that he wait until she died (over 20 years later) to expose her husband’s agonizing struggles with stuttering on screen.

    NOTE: The biggest fail of the night had to have been some lone-ranger street artist named Banksy losing the Documentary Feature Oscar after perpetrating more promotional hype than a WWE smackdown.

    Oh, and one more thing, am I the only one who found Franco’s self-gratifying squint and smirk more staged and smug than “young and hip”…?

    Related commentaries:
    The Oscars 2006
    The Oscars 2008
    The Oscars 2010

  • Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    Charlie Sheen, the Daffy Gaddafi of Hollywood…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It is probably as much a wonder that Charlie Sheen has managed to star in the number one  sitcom on TV (Two and a Half Men) for the past eight years as it is that Muammar Gaddafi has managed to rule Libya for the past 41 years.

    After all, it is well documented that both men are prone to fits of hallucinogenic rants, during which they wax delusional about uncovering and combating all kinds of conspiracies, as well as bouts of anti-social behavior, which often result in bodily harm or death to the subjects of their deranged fixation.

    Of course, unlike Gaddafi, Charlie hasn’t killed anybody; although in 1990, while in yet another booze and drug-fuelled stupor, he shot his then-fiancée Kelly Preston (now Mrs. John Travolta) in the arm.  And only God knows what he has in mind with all of his delusional talk last week about being a fighter jet that will soon unload ordinances on his enemies, real and imagined. But I’m getting ahead of this story….

    The point is that he already has blood on his hands as a serial abuser of women, including his most-recent wife, Brooke Mueller, who he was arrested for choking and threatening with a knife in December 2009.

    Yet, like Gaddafi, Charlie seemed coated with Teflon that always made him immune to the truth and consequences of his high crimes, misdemeanors, and bad-boy antics.

    For example, after being charged for assaulting his wife, his high-priced lawyers got him off with domestic violence counseling and just 30 days in rehab, which clearly did him no good. (She immediately filed for divorce but, strangely enough, now acts like a madam for all of the professional women who cater to his debauched lifestyle.)

    This is why I could not resist inferring a coincidence between Gaddafi’s Teflon shield leaving him naked and vulnerable at the same time last week when Charlie’s was leaving him: in Gaddafi’s case, a popular uprising stuck and now threatens to topple him; in Charlie’s, the producers of his show gave him a pink slip informing him that they’d rather suffer monumental financial losses than to continue putting up with his aberrant and narcissistic escapades.

    I refer you to related commentaries for more on Gaddafi. As for Sheen, he had taken to calling in to radio stations – in the midst of what seemed like cocaine binges – to rant and rave about not getting enough respect and appreciation from the producers and, ironically, about becoming clean and sober after one week of self-administered rehab at his mansion in Los Angeles.

    But what finally pierced his Teflon must have been his anti-Semitic tirade against producer (and show creator) Chuck Lorre for insisting that he take more time off to sober up.

    Here is just a sample of what Charlie said:

    There’s something this side of deplorable that a certain Chaim Levine – yeah, that’s Chuck’s real name – mistook this rock star for his own selfish exit strategy, bro. Check it, Alex: I embarrassed him in front of his children and the world by healing at a pace that his unevolved mind cannot process.

    Last I checked, Chaim, I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold. And the gratitude I get is this charlatan chose not to do his job, which is to write.

    (National Enquirer, February 25, 2011)

    Then, when challenged about the anti-Semitic nature of this outburst, here is the glib reply Sheen proffered (FYI – Chuck’s birth name is Charles Levine … and his Hebrew name is Chaim):

    I was referring to Chuck by his real name, because I wanted to address the man, not the bullshit TV persona. So you’re telling me, anytime someone calls me Carlos Estevez, I can claim they are anti-Latino?

    (TMZ, February 25, 2011)

    Not surprisingly, the hypocrisy inherent in his reply seemed completely lost on Charlie.  After all, Chaim Levine changed his name to Chuck Lorre for the same reason Carlos Estevez changed his to Charlie Sheen: to escape ethnic prejudice and stereotypes. Indeed, if Charlie continues speaking and acting out in this manner he will soon find that he is about as welcome in Hollywood as his Mexican brothers are in Arizona.

    But backlash from the so-called Jewish mafia that controls Hollywood should be the least of his worries.  For here is a sample of the delusions of grandeur and invincibility that have him on a downward spiral that can only end the way it did for other drug-addled celebrities like Jim Belushi and Anna Nicole Smith:

    Newsflash, I’m special … The only thing I’m addicted to right now is winning. My success rate is 100% … I was shackled and oppressed by the cult of AA for 22 years. I finally extracted myself from their troll hole and started living my life the way I want to live it. It’s vintage, outdated and stupid and it’s followed by stupid people. I hate them violently. They will come at me. Debate me on AA right now. I have a disease? Bullshit. I cured it right now with my mind. I was told if I went on the attack they’d cancel the show. Are they happy with the 5 billion dollars they made off me or do they want 10?

    (X17, February 24, 2011)

    And to twist the dagger in his anti-Semitic rant against the show’s Jewish producers, a February 25 report by the Los Angeles Times on his meltdown quotes Sheen dismissing them as “a couple of AA Nazis.”

    Anyway, like Gaddafi, he seems oblivious to the fact that the more he attempts to defend his outrageous behavior the more manic and delusional he comes across. Like all human train wrecks, however, he is perversely entertaining, which is why radio and TV stations are falling all over themselves to air every word he utters:

    They’re in absolute breach. They picked on the wrong guy . . . I’m not normal . . . and they’ve never gotten their mind around that. Can you imagine going back . . . with those nutbags? It would go bad quickly . . . We’re pretty much done…

    We’re having a ball . . . Everybody’s mad because I’m having too much fun and I’m clean.

    (New York Post, February 26, 2011)

    (Sorry Charlie, but paying whores tens of thousands of dollars to have a … ball is nothing to brag about. And you’re about as clean as the white stuff you keep snorting up your nose. On the other hand, if you go through with your threat to write a tell-all book, please be sober long enough to appreciate that your fans will be far more interested in your skin action with your live-in porn stars than in your rants about producers who have gotten under your skin.)

    As for this hit show, it would take the swallowing of pride the likes of which would give even Shylock indigestion for it to continue – with him as its star – after Charlie referred to it in the above-referenced Los Angeles Times report as:

    …a bad-joke-filled pukefest that everyone worships.

    Yeah, I’d say that’s a wrap.

    In any event, the train wreck that Charlie is making of his life would just be pathetic if it were not so patently tragic. I pray that his loved ones are able to organize an intervention, even if by force, to get him into a proper rehab facility before it’s too late. Because at this rate, I fear he has only months to live.

    God help him….

  • Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 6:45 AM

    83rd Annual Academy Awards: My predictions

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    My Picks:

    Actor in Leading Role:  Colin FirthThe King’s Speech

    Actor in Supporting Role:  Christian BaleThe Fighter

    Actress in Leading Role: Annette BeningThe Kids are All Right

    Actress in Supporting Role: Hailee SteinfeldTrue Grit

    Best Director: Tom Hooper The King’s Speech

    Best Picture: The Kings Speech

    The Oscars will be broadcast tonight.  It’s a 3-hour show but most people only tune in for the six minutes it takes to present awards in the six categories above.  Check in tomorrow to see how I did…

    NOTE: My picks reflect who I think should win, not necessarily who I think will win. For example, I think Annette Bening should win but all of the critics seem to think Natalie Portman will win.  So please be advised in case you’re planning to bet the farm on my picks.

  • Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 7:27 AM

    Rush Limbaugh calling Michelle Obama fat is like … well, this picture says it all:

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, February 25, 2011 at 5:33 AM

    Lance Armstrong retires … again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Superstar athletes invariably vow (early in their careers) to retire at the top of their game. But few of them ever do.  In fact only two come to mind: one is heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano who retired with a perfect 49-0 record, which included an instructive victory over his childhood hero Joe Louis – who was way past his prime but suffering too much foolish pride to quit; the other is football player John Elway who retired after leading the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl championships in 1998 and 1999.

    By contrast, the list of those who retired under a cloud of long-faded glory is, well, as legendary as it is long. It includes Willie Mays in baseball, Bobby Orr in hockey, Michael Jordan in basketball, Brett Favre in football, Merlene Ottey in track and field, and Mark Spitz in swimming.  Now, alas, we can add Lance Armstrong in cycling.

    Armstrong’s bona fides as a superstar athlete are well known – highlighted by his unprecedented seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France. As it happened, when he announced his retirement after that seventh victory in 2005 he seemed destined for the hall of fame of superstar athletes who retired on top.

    Unfortunately, like far too many of his peers, Armstrong found the nostalgic pull of old glory too much to resist. Therefore, he came out of retirement in 2008 in a foolish pursuit to recapture it.

    He failed spectacularly. Actually, he could not win a race to save his life, finishing 23rd in last year’s Tour de France and 65th in the final race last month that forced him to announce his second (and final) retirement last week.

    Even worse, his comeback was dogged by increasingly credible reports about his use of performance enhancing drugs – reports which are now threatening to undermine, if not render null and void, all of his legendary accomplishments.

    Officials probing possible fraud and doping charges against U.S. cycling champion Lance Armstrong and his associates are issuing grand jury subpoenas to witnesses…

    The investigation was sparked by former Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, who alleged that he and other riders on the U.S. Postal Service team engaged in doping in the early to mid-2000s. Landis claimed the team used its funds to buy doping products and said seven-time Tour winner Armstrong had encouraged doping.

    (FOX News, July 13, 2010)

    Reports are that several other teammates have already ratted on him to federal authorities. And I remember well watching three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond say (on the July 20, 2010 edition of the CBS Evening News) that the evidence of Armstrong’s drug use is “overwhelming.” At the time I thought it was Tour envy, but the defiantly drug-free LeMond may yet be vindicated.

    But I was not without my own suspicions. For here is how I presaged his fate in this respect almost six years ago:

    Is Lance Armstrong a legitimate sports hero or a cycling dope fiend who used his cocktail of cancer drugs to mask the illegal drugs he took to juice his body through seven-consecutive victories in the Tour de France? Lance, buddy, say it ain’t so…

    If Armstrong turns out to be another Rafael Palmeiro, then I’m sure his cycle of bad karma will soon render the one testicle he has left utterly useless. [Palmeiro is the baseball superstar who, like Armstrong, continually denied taking performance-enhancing drugs with self-righteous indignation only to finally confess after being confronted with undeniable evidence.]

    (French trying to ensnare Armstrong in drugs scandal, The iPINIONS Journal, August 25, 2005)

    The jury is still out in Armstrong’s case. But I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that he would be basking in nostalgic glow instead of sweating a looming federal indictment if he had sufficient humility and good sense to let that seventh-consecutive Tour victory be his swan song.

    I am also convinced that an indictment would precipitate a fall from grace that surpasses Bernie Madoff’s; not least because Armstrong traded on his reputation as testicular-cancer survivor to raise over $400 million for his Livestrong Foundation.

    Indeed, I suspect people would not even wait for a jury verdict to begin ripping off their yellow bracelets in disillusionment and utter disgust.  This, of course, would put his plan to dedicate the rest of his life to raising more funds for cancer research on terminal support.

    Related commentaries:
    A plea for Landis, et al: decriminalize drugs
    French trying to ensnare Armstrong
    Comeback Tour: he did not win, but

  • Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 5:14 AM

    Gaddafi Vows to Fight to the Death

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Proving that Saif Al-Islam is in fact his son, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi delivered a rambling and menacing diatribe of his own on Tuesday, making the one Seif delivered on Sunday seem like President Abraham Lincoln’s lucid and ennobling Gettysburg Address by comparison.

    More to the point, though, I got the eerie impression that Gaddafi was channeling the last speech Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak delivered before his fall. Like Mubarak, he came across like an indignant parent scolding his unruly and ungrateful children. He spoke of all of the heroic sacrifices he made to bring glory to Libya and heaped scorn on the protesters for seeking to overthrow what he remains convinced is his benign 41-year dictatorship.

    Still, here is how I warned that Gaddafi was bound and determined to distinguish himself from Mubarak and Tunisia’s fallen dictator, Zine Al-Abidine (Ben Ali):

    Gaddafi may yet distinguish himself from these two fallen dictators by actually prevailing upon his military to open fire on fellow Libyans.

    (Now Libya, The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2011)

    And sure enough, he spent most of his 75 minutes not just spewing vile contempt at the very thought that he too would cut and run, but also threatening to unleash his military and die-hard supporters to show the proper way to squash a democratic “rebellion.”

    More ominously, however, he vowed that he would fight to the death to hold on to power:

    I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn…

    You men and women who love Gaddafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets. Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs… Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them…

    I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents… I will die as a martyr at the end… I will fight on to the last drop of my blood.

    (Reuters, February 22, 2011)

    Of course, he is probably resigned to this fate because he knows that the only country that would accept him in exile at this point is Zimbabwe.  But I digress.

    On the one hand, he blamed the uprising against his regime on foreign agitators who turned a few Libyan kids into “drug-fueled mice” scurrying about in the middle of the night, trying to imitate Tunisian and Egyptian protesters.  On the other hand, he blamed it on al-Qaeda sympathizers who want to turn Libya into an Islamist (Taliban-inspired)  haven. 

    But his genocidal rage was on full display when he began flipping through his Green Book, which he clearly fashioned on the infamous Code of Hamurabi, citing all of the laws the protesters – who he also called “cockroaches” – had broken and decreeing in each case that, for their crimes, they shall be put to death.

    All indications are that, even as he spoke, Gaddafi had already given orders for his mercenaries to exact unspeakable vengeance on the protesters, ordering them to “cleanse Libya house by house.”

    However, he seemed maniacally oblivious to the fact that protesters were systematically seizing control of the county; and that they were being aided in this by many army and government defectors, including his own minister of the interior. Actually, the analogy to Adolf Hitler hunkered down in his Führerbunker during his last days seems apt.

    No doubt many will continue to kill in Gaddafi’s name. But the only question that remains is whether he will take the coward’s way out like Hitler or be shot and hung up for public display like Mussolini. 

    As for his notorious sons (all seven of them), some will probably end up like Saddam’s. But those who survive will be more reviled than Madoff’s and similarly hounded for every cent they have to their names. Not to mention being prosecuted as accessories for every crime against humanity their father committed.

    Meanwhile, it’s a measure of how much of a pariah Gaddafi has become in the international community that not even the oil-hoarding and amoral Chinese are coming to his defense. In fact, President Obama duly noted yesterday that every regional and international organization, including the African Union and Arab League, have joined in condemning Gaddafi.  

    But what I wrote in this respect after his son’s speech bears repeating here:

    I wish the brave Libyan freedom fighters well. They have clearly broken that psychological barrier of fear that fuels revolutions.

    But Allah help them if they are looking to the UN or even the U.S. to save them from Gaddafi’s genocidal wrath. Because it is patently clear that no foreign country is going to lift a finger to stop him.  And political and economic sanctions won’t do a damn thing for democratic freedom fighters who have already been slaughtered.

    (Now Libya, The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2011)

    To be fair, though, there really is nothing the U.S. or any other country can (or is willing to) do to stop the killing – since no country will sacrifice the lives of its soldiers to liberate Libya: it doesn’t have that much oil; and the debacle of Somalia remains an open and inhibiting military wound. In any event, it’s worth remembering that, notwithstanding recent trends, revolutions are more often than not very messy and bloody affairs.

    So when you hear blowhard politicians and commentators (aka arm-chair generals) barking orders for the president to “get tough with Libya,” just bear in mind that they are spewing theoretical rubbish.  Hell, the military is having a hard enough time trying to evacuate U.S. citizens from this civil-war zone. And, for the record, the only way Obama can be more forceful in condemning Gaddafi is to start hurling profanities at him.

    NOTE: As newsworthy as the democratic protests spreading throughout the Arab World are, I see no point in commenting on them any further – except to duly herald the fall of another regional despot.

    Apropos of this, the Saudis have announced a $36-billion package of pay rises and additional welfare benefits and the Chinese have put their security forces on red alert to keep a lid on simmering protests in their respective countries.

    Related commentaries:
    Now Libya

  • Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    New Zealand Earthquake

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Natural disasters – like earthquakes – should always remind us that there but for the grace of God…  But there’s no denying that living in a relatively rich country increases one’s chance of surviving such disasters tremendously…

    It’s bad enough that accident of birth can consign one to a life of chronic poverty. It just seems unfair that even the wrath of Mother Nature affects the poor so disproportionately.

    (Killer earthquakes: First Haiti, now Chile, The iPINIONS Journal, March 2, 2010)

    Yesterday a 6.3 magnitude quake hit the historic city of Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 75, destroying hundreds of buildings, and trapping dozens more under rubble.  Emergency crews from the United States and other countries have rushed in to help with the search and rescue efforts.

    The equality of all human life should compel us to regard all such tragedies with equal sympathy.  But as my opening quote indicates, we invariably show less sympathy and render even less support when natural disasters befall relatively rich countries like New Zealand than we do when they befall poor ones like Haiti.

    The primary reason for this of course is twofold: natural disasters always come as an insult to the injury of chronic poverty and other privations that constitute daily life in poor countries; and rich countries always have more resources to recover and rebuild.

    But there’s also the crude fact that the tragedy of the hundreds who may have died in New Zealand cannot compare with that of the hundreds of thousands who died in Haiti. On top of that, international media focus on the democratic revolution unfolding in Libya will make it seem as though we care less about the fate of New Zealanders than we actually do.

    Nevertheless, I am mindful that they will grieve their loss just as intensely as Haitians did. 

    We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day.

    (Prime Minister John Key, London Telegraph, February 22, 2011)

    Accordingly, I hereby convey my deep sympathy to all directly affected by this quake, as well as to all New Zealanders as their country moves from rescue and recovery to rehabilitation and rebuilding in the days, months and years ahead.

    Related commentaries:
    Killer earthquakes

  • Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    Now Libya…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Whose next: Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Abdullah of Jordan? Saleh of Yemen? … Gaddafi of Libya? The prospects make me positively giddy. When Obama spoke of HOPE and CHANGE during his presidential campaign these are not the transformations I anticipated; but I’ll take them.

    Allah-u-akbar!

    (Egypt on Fire, The iPINIONS Journal, January 31, 2011)

    This quote makes clear my fervent hope that the democratic revolution that led to the fall of Ben Ali of Tunisia would turn out to be more of a regional contagion than an isolated case.  And sure enough, since then, Mubarak of Egypt has fallen and the leaders of several other Mideast and North African countries are currently under siege.

    I was also sensible enough to insist that only Allah knows how these protests will turn out in each case. Indeed, no leader seems more determined to cling to power by any means necessary than Gaddafi of Libya.

    No doubt this is why his son and putative successor, Saif Al-Islam, commanded air time on state TV on Sunday to warn fellow Libyans of grave consequences if they persist in trying to emulate Arab revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt:

    We are all aware that the region is undergoing an earthquake, or a storm – the storm of change, of democracy, and of liberation…

    Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is composed of clans and tribes. There are alliances. Libya does not have a civil society with political parties. No, Libya is composed of clans and tribes…

    There will be civil war in Libya. We will return to the civil war of 1936. We will kill one another in the streets. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya has oil, and that is what united the country…

    Before it comes to this, and every Libyan has to bear arms in order to protect himself, and there is bloodshed, I say: Tomorrow, we will embark upon an historic national initiative. Within 48 hours… three days… one day… six hours… we will call for the convening of the General People’s Committee, with a clear agenda: the ratification of a group of laws which were already agreed upon – the press law, a law for civil society, and a new penal code…

    Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi is not Zine Al-Abidine or President Mubarak. He is not a traditional or classic president. He is a popular leader…

    In any event, our morale is high. The leader Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi is here in Tripoli, leading the campaign. We stand by him, and the armed forces stand by him. Tens of thousands of people are on their way to Tripoli. We will not sell Libya short. We will fight to our very last man, woman, and bullet. Under no circumstances will we leave our country…

    Let Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Arabiya TV, and the BBC laugh at us. Let those bullies and those traitors, who live abroad, laugh at us, and say that we are destroying our country, but we will not leave it….

    (Middle East Media Research Institute, February 21, 2011)

    Saif has been widely criticized for the rambling and apocalyptic nature of his address; and rightly so. But there’s no gainsaying the truth of much of what he asserted. It is also worth bearing in mind that this was a man speaking effectively from a bunker under siege and for whom it was far more important to appear menacing to Libyan protesters than statesmanlike to Westerner observers.

    Indeed, Gaddafi may yet distinguish himself from these two fallen dictators by actually prevailing upon his military to open fire on fellow Libyans.

    For reports are that, even though members of his diplomatic core in places like London and Washington have switched allegiances (like rats abandoning a sinking ship), members of his military are opening fire on protesters all over the country.

    In fact the crackdown is reportedly so brutal that his ambassador to Washington justified his turning state’s evidence by claiming that he could not be party to the genocide that Gaddafi has allegedly ordered to protect his hide.

    But, truth be told, I can’t blame him for going out with a bang. For his only other option would be to suffer the indignity of going out with a whimper only to have a successor regime hound not just him, but every member of his family for the billions that were expropriated during his 41-year reign.

    Not to mention that, even more than Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi has always fancied himself the de facto leader of the Arab world; so for him to turn tail and run would be a humiliation too great to even contemplate….

    Frankly, I’m sure Ben Ali and Mubarak would have put up more of a fight if they knew their assets would be immediately frozen and prosecutors would be demanding they stand trial for crimes against humanity.

    In any event, all I can say is that democratic revolutions are not always as peaceful as those in Tunisia and Egypt. In fact they are often deadly like those in America and France demonstrated centuries ago.

    I wish the brave Libyan freedom fighters well. They have clearly broken that psychological barrier of fear that fuels revolutions.

    But Allah help them if they are looking to the UN or even the U.S. to save them from Gaddafi’s genocidal wrath. Because it is patently clear that no foreign country is going to lift a finger to stop him.  And political and economic sanctions won’t do a damn thing for democratic freedom fighters who have already been slaughtered.

    Related commentaries:
    Protests spread across the Middle East
    British exposed as hypocrites on Lockerbie Bomber

  • Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    U.S. fighting deficits rather like bailing out Titanic with a spoon

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    Being a superpower is not what it used to be…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, February 18, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    Egyptian Protesters Sexually Assault U.S. Reporter

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    CBS News released a statement on Tuesday concerning veteran war reporter Lara Logan, which read, in full, as follows:

    On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a 60 Minutes story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

    In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.

    (CBS News, February 15, 2011)

    This is awful, and I wish Logan a speedy recovery

    But I submit that the only reason it is coming as such a shock is that almost every Western reporter and commentator made it seem as though the protests in Egypt were being carried out by a bunch of boy scouts.  No doubt some would now have you believe that this assault was perpetrated by Mubarak supporters who infiltrated the protesters’ celebrations to exact revenge on this reporter as payback for Western governments abandoning their president….

    By contrast, I duly noted that it was these protesters, not Mubarak’s camel-riding thugs, who were responsible for the burning and looting that destroyed so much of Cairo. Therefore, it comes as no shock to me that their pillaging extended to raping this attractive, blonde reporter – who must have stood out like a stranded gazelle in the midst of a pride of lions.

    [P]rotesters duly fanned out from mosques all over the country shouting ‘Mubarak must go!’ More daringly, they defied police and security forces by hurling rocks and setting buildings and cars on fire with relative impunity.

    (“Egypt on fire, The iPINIONS Journal,” January 31, 2011)

    That said, I found the CBS statement somewhat ambiguous because it is not clear from it, or any other reporting, that Logan was actually raped. Since, to be brutally frank, a “sustained sexual assault” could entail lots of aggressive fondling without any penetration: still horrific to be sure, but a gang rape (as the statement implies) it is not.

    In any case, reports are that this mother of a 14-month-old child is now recovering comfortably at home, but is determined to get back to covering unfolding protests across the Middle East within weeks. Which suggests that she is psychologically disassociated not just from her body, but from her maternal instincts as well….

    This is not to suggest, however, that women reporters should not be covering this story, which could turn out to be the most significant political development since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. For not only should they, but some, like Christiane Amanpour of ABC who snagged the only interview with President Mubarak as he was being deposed, are acquitting themselves as far better reporters than men.

    I just find it more than a little peculiar that a mother would be so eager to get so far away from her practically new-born child to cover this story with all of the obvious dangers it entails.

    Related commentaries:
    Revolutionary protests spread across Middle East

  • Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    Revolutionary Protests Spread Across the Middle East

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Arab leaders across the Middle East, including North Africa, are scrambling to prevent the revolutionary contagion that toppled President Ben Ali of Tunisia and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt from infecting their country.

    Their actions range from the king of Bahrain pleading for calm while warning of an imminent Tiananmen Square-style crackdown to the president of Yemen aping the king of Jordan by throwing government officials under the bus and the emir of Kuwait giving every citizen $3,572 and promising free food for all for one year.

    But nothing demonstrates how truly desperate and clueless these leaders are quite like President Khadafi of Libya trying to deflect protests by exhorting the Libyans he has oppressed during his 41-year dictatorship to help the Palestinians fight for liberation from Israel and calling for a Pan-Arab jihad against white people:

    Fleets of boats should take Palestinians … and wait by the Palestinian shores until the problem is resolved…This is a time of popular revolutions. The white colour has decided to get rid of the green colour. These countries should be united against the white colour because all of these white countries are the enemies of Islam… All Arab states which have relations with Israel are cowardly regimes

    (Al Arabiya, February 13, 2011)

    But protesters have broken the psychological barrier of fear that once made demanding democratic freedoms seem like a death wish. 

    In fact, they appear to be inspired by the Patrick Henry-like words of Wael Ghonim, the Google employee who became the de facto youth leader of the Egyptian revolution:

    The regime was extremely stupid. They are the ones who basically ended themselves. They kept oppressing and oppressing and oppressing and oppressing… We’re gonna win because we have a dream. We’re gonna win because we’re convinced that if anyone stands up in front of our dream, we’re ready to die defending it.

    (60 Minutes, February 13, 2011)

    With all of these protests, leaders in Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran must all be fretting about suffering the same fate as Ben Ali and Mubarak.

    After all, if this revolutionary contagion could bring down Mubarak, leader of the biggest and most powerful country in the Arab world, clearly no leader is safe. Unfortunately, like Mubarak, many of them might find that no amount of political and economic reform at this point will stop emboldened protesters from demanding their heads too.

    Meanwhile, the United States is doing its best to fan the flames of these democratic protests without burning bridges that are critical to furthering its foreign policy interests. And nowhere is this balancing act more delicate than in Bahrain, home to the mighty U.S. Fifth Fleet and where ground was broken just last year on a $580 million expansion to double the size of its naval base.

    Not to mention that supporting the democratic protesters in this case is complicated by the fact that the vast majority of them (in fact 70 percent of all Bahrainis) are Shiites who are trying to depose a Sunni despot whose family has ruled the country for over 200 years.  Which means that a new government there is far more likely to be inspired by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini than the American Thomas Jefferson.

    But hey, democratic elections do not always produce the government we want. Just look at George W. Bush in 2000 for example. I would be willing to bet my life savings, however, that Bahrain’s powerful Sunni patron, Saudi Arabia (covertly aided by the U.S.), will never allow a Shiite government to come to power….

    Related commentaries:
    Mubarak resigns

  • Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 5:16 AM

    The Problem is Not Kate’s Weight, it’s William’s Title

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am profoundly dismayed that even American news organizations report every tidbit about the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton as if it were the latest breaking news about the revolutions spreading across the Middle East.

    The latest example of this farce came on Monday when the purportedly serious NBC Nightly News reported the hardly surprising news that William had chosen his brother Harry as his best man, and Kate her sister Pippa as her maid of honor. And in due course the media will undoubtedly be reporting on who received a coveted invitation to this wedding as if they were reporting on who made the scrolls for entry into heaven.

    Meanwhile, I took a royal beating for ending my November 16, 2010 commentary on their engagement as follows:

    I wish this couple all the best – especially Kate. For, as Lady Di found out in so many tragic ways, marrying a prince and future king does not guarantee living a charmed life.

    Indeed, William proposing to her with his mother’s engagement ring might be another bad omen in this respect. Not to mention that she already seems afflicted with the anorexia nervosa that the anxieties of joining ‘the firm’ caused Diana to develop….

    (Prince William to Kate: enough of the wait, The iPINIONS Journal, November 16, 2010)

    Well, I wonder what kind of flak the editors of London’s leading newspaper are taking for publishing a report a few days ago, which echoed my observations about Kate’s weight:

    Every bride-to-be loses weight – but, with three months to her big day, Kate Middleton looks extra slim.

    As she left a London restaurant the sporty curves that first caught Prince William’s eye seemed to have changed… Her legs, previously toned but shapely, looked very thin.

    (The SUN, February 11, 2011)

    After all, socialite and Princess Di friend Jemima Khan was reportedly disinvited from this wedding of the century for posting the following catty, but true tweet just weeks after I posted my offending commentary last November:

    Kate Middleton – those are not heir-bearing hips are they? Unfeasibly thin.

    Meow!!!

    All the same, the point of my original commentary was not Kate’s weight; rather it was William’s title. Because, truth be told, I couldn’t care any less about whether or not Kate will end up on her “big day” as mere skin and bones underneath her wedding dress.

    Instead, what concerns me is that people around the world seem even more vested in this anachronistic institution today than they were when William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, got married 30 years ago (on July 29, 1981).

    I have long maintained that royalty is anathema to the universal principle that all people are created equal. Moreover, that a democracy that perpetuates royalty in the twenty-first century is almost as cancerous (and oxymoronic) as one that perpetuated slavery in the nineteenth.

    This is why I find it somewhat hypocritical that Western media are praising the Egyptians for overthrowing their dictatorship, while celebrating the British for perpetuating their monarchy (with all of its state-supported perks, privileges, and regal indulgences).

    And it’s no consolation to argue in mitigation that Western monarchs are now constitutionally prohibited from oppressing their subjects the way Mideast dictators still do.

    Because what offends is that monarchies are undemocratic by nature; dictatorships are not. In point of fact, Hosni Mubarak proved that anyone can grow up to be a dictator; whereas, William proves that only a royal heir can grow up to be a king (albeit in waiting).

    And, lest you think my view smacks of congenital iconoclasm, take it from Colin Firth. Firth, of course, is a sure bet to win this year’s Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of British King George VI in The King’s Speech. Yet here is how he expressed his problem with this institution:

    I really like voting.  It’s one of my favourite things. It [an unelected monarchy] is a problem for me.

    (Daily Mail, February 16, 2011)

    So instead of reveling in the rites and rituals of an institution that devalues them as “commoners,” perhaps Britons should mark William and Kate’s wedding by launching protests of their own to get rid of it. But since William and Kate are relative innocents, I urge protesters to stay well clear of Westminster Abbey and other places where they will be celebrating their wedding.

    NOTE: As for the success of their royal marriage, another bad omen might be choosing the same day of the month, the 29th, as their wedding day as Charles and Diana did. Things that make you go, hmmm…?

    Related commentaries:
    Prince William to Kate

  • Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    UPDATE: Berlusconi indicted

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It is his reported schtupping of underage girls at these bacchanalian soirees that has finally ensnared him in a legal vice grip from which I doubt even he can escape.

    (Berlusconi caught in sex vice grip, The iPINIONS Journal, February 10, 2011)

    The irony is not lost on me that it is a female judge who ruled today that prosecutors have established a prima facie case to subject this notorious chauvinist to an expedited trial for having sex with a minor, then trying to cover it up.

    Moreover, that he will be tried before a panel of three judges, all of them women.

    I am also mindful of the instructive coincidence that this indictment comes just two days after tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Rome and other cities around Italy shouting “Basta!” (Enough!) to protest Berlusconi’s history of denigrating women and defiling their image.

    His trial date has been set for April 6.  Forget poetic justice; karma, she’s a bitch!

    Related commentaries:
    Berlusconi caught in sex vice grip

  • Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 5:20 AM

    Arrest Warrant for former Pakistani Pres. Musharraf

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On Saturday Pakistan issued an arrest warrant for former President Pervez Musharraf:

    A joint investigation team in its report to the court has found Musharraf guilty of being involved in the conspiracy and abetting to kill Benazir Bhutto.

    (Zulfikar Ali Chaudhry, the lead prosecutor, Associated Press, February 12, 2011)

    But, like anyone who knows anything about Pakistani politics, I smell a rat. After all, much of the judiciary in Pakistan is now comprised of judges and prosecutors who Musharraf either fired or persecuted during his dictatorship. 

    Pakistan’s Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, issued a ruling which could only be regarded as an untenable challenge to the authority of General Pervez Musharraf – who appointed himself president in 2002, after seizing power in a military coup in 1999…  It’s hardly surprising that Musharraf wasted no time arresting, or putting under house arrest, all judicial and political opponents who he suspects might be inclined to oppose his declaration of emergency.

    (Crocodile tears in West as Musharraf imposes martial law, The iPINIONS Journal, November 5, 2007)

    Then there’s the red flag of Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, being not only the current president, but himself a notorious victim of Musharraf’s iron-fisted dictatorship.  In fact, he spent much his time between 1997-2004 in jail accused of using his wife’s position as prime minister to extort a piece of most business deals in the country, which earned him the nickname “Mr. 10 percent.”

    Of course Zardari has always denied the accusations; but, like Hosni Mubarak, he would be hard-pressed to prove that he acquired his billions by legal means….

    But there’s more: Musharraf announced recently that he was planning to return from exile in London to form a new political party. He seemed motivated by the delusion that his dictatorship was so popular that people would jump at the opportunity to return him to power democratically this time.

    Yet it’s a testament to the unpopularity and insecurity of those who ousted and replaced him that they dare not give Musharraf a chance to even test his delusional proposition.

    This is why this arrest warrant smacks of vengeance being served cold, as well as of a preemptive strike against any chance of Musharraf establishing a political base in the country again.

    For the record, though, Musharraf not only denies having anything to do with Bhutto’s assassination, he claims that she steadfastly refused his efforts to provide enhanced protection. In fact, apropos of this claim, I personally recall Bhutto insinuating that Musharraf was trying to limit her freedom to campaign for his job by continually raising the specter of security threats against her. 

    This led me to frame his dilemma as follows the day after she was eventually assassinated:

    Bhutto repeatedly warned that if (or when) she’s assassinated her blood would be on his hand…  It’s impossible to say that Musharraf’s failure to provide the security Bhutto requested (if in fact he did) was the proximate cause of her death.

    Frankly, Musharraf was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. Because just last month, Bhutto condemned him for preventing her from holding a political rally at the very location where she was assassinated yesterday because he deemed it be unsafe. But he clearly knows that her supporters are too hysterical at the moment to appreciate his saying ‘I told you so….’

    (The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, The iPINIONS Journal, December 28, 2007)

    That said, it will come as no surprise to regular readers that of all the foreign dictators America coddled over the past 50 years, I found Musharraf most sympathetic.  Mind you, I cannot articulate any rational basis for this.  He just struck me at gut level as an honorable rogue.

    Interestingly enough, my sympathies even led me to admonish him to abandon the fractious politics of Pakistan months before the Bhutto assassination in December 2007, which triggered his ignominious ouster in August 2008:

    It would behoove Musharraf to follow the trail so many of his predecessors have blazed into exile. And, frankly, given the numerous assassination attempts on his life, it would be understandable if Musharraf decided that he’d be better off enjoying time in London, spending the millions he skimmed from U.S. military aid, than wasting time in Pakistan chasing Islamic terrorists.

    (D-Day for America’s most-favored dictator…, The iPINIONS Journal, August 24, 2007)

    So now it has come to this: but hell will freeze over before Musharraf subjects himself to the jurisdiction of Pakistani courts. And he will be aided in this by the fact that Pakistan does not have an extradition treaty with Britain. All of which lends credulity to my suspicion that this arrest warrant was issued more to keep him out of Pakistani politics than to prosecute him for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

    Related commentaries:
    Crocodile tears in the west
    The assassination of Benazir Bhutto
    D-Day for America’s most-favored dictator

  • Monday, February 14, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    53rd Annual Grammy Awards

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    One of the many reasons the Grammys is my favorite awards show is that it is always jam-packed throughout not only with terrific LIVE performances but with key awards as well. By contrast, for example, the Oscars is always a consistent bore because it is:

    …a three-hour show – only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for best supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director and best picture).  And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (2008 Oscars, The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    True to form, tonight’s telecast of the Grammys did not disappoint.  Here are some highlights:

    The show opened with truly riveting and (I suppose) timely tribute to Aretha Franklin, the 18-time-Grammy-award winner who was rumored to be on her death bed.

    It featured some of the best vocalists in pop music, including Jennifer Hudson (who sang Aretha’s signature song R-E-S-P-E-C-T probably better than Aretha ever did) and Christina Aguilera (who easily won redemption for her bungled performance of the Star Spangled Banner at last Sunday’s Super Bowl), singing some of Aretha’s greatest hits.

    And it was very heartwarming when Aretha appeared on tape after their performance to say thanks; she looked half the woman she used to be, but surely that’s a good thing….

    It’s not enough that Ricky Martin has appeared on every talk show lately expressing how happy he is to be out of the closet; he had to show up on stage at the Grammys (to introduce Lady Gaga) wearing silk jeggings and black army boots. I suspect gay men everywhere were impressed.

    But being gay these days is supposed to be cool (take Neal Patrick Harris for instance). Yet Ricky seems to have lost all of his cool since coming out…. Maybe it’s because he comes across like one of those self-righteous, born-again Christians whenever he talks about being gay….

    Anyway, Gaga killed it!  Not only does she write all of her own stuff, she dances as well as Madonna and sings as well as Christina.  But nothing impressed me quite like the interlude she took in her performance of Born This Way to strike a few Cathedral-like notes on the organ.

    It’s too bad that there’ll be far more talk about the freak show she provided off stage (by showing up on the red carpet inside an egg shell and donning a series of outlandish costumes throughout the telecast) than about the performance she gave on stage. But Gaga has clearly determined that the key to her fame is not performing music, but making an increasing spectacle of herself. This is why I already pity her.

    For now, though, she’s still winning Grammys, including one (of three) tonight for best pop vocal album for the eponymously titled, The Fame Monster – duly beating out the likes of Justin Bieber.

    They gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Cold Play, and a few other noteworthy bands. And last night England gave us Muse. They were more Pink Floyd than Rolling Stones, which I really liked: great performance of The Resistance showed why their win for best rock album was so well deserved.

    Unfortunately, even though he looked the part, some kid named Bruno Mars nearly croaked trying to emulate 1960s Motown crooners. To his credit though, he is a much better drummer, which he demonstrated by backing up Grace-Jones wannabe Jonelle  Monáe – who actually did Grace proud.  Jonelle was terrific!

    But enough of Justin Bieber already! So the kid can strum the guitar and play a few notes on the piano. But he can’t sing worth a lick and he can’t dance his way out of a paper bag: the new Michael Jackson?  My ass. 

    I wish Will and Jeda would stop using their Hollywood clout to promote their obnoxious kids in every corner of the entertainment industry. Their parental zeal is in this respect is bordering on the pathological.

    Who knew Bob Dylan was still alive…?!  When they mentioned his name I thought he’d be appearing in the In Memoriam segment of the show. Of course, if you’re a living legend, just showing up is 99 percent of the gig

    Apropos of legends, the Grammys could have done without Mick Jagger waiting all these years to make his first appearance. Especially since all he did was sing some obscure song in tribute to an even more obscure artist….

    But just to show that I harbor no prejudice against old timers, I thought Barbra Streisand gave a mesmerizing performance of Evergreen. Unlike Mick, she actually earned her standing ovation with her, well, ageless and evergreen voice….

    I have no idea why Cee lo Green  dressed up like Elton John in Vegas drag to sing his hit Fuck You. He looked like big, black, gay peacock

    And Gwyneth Paltrow did him no favors by warbling along in their disastrously miscast duet. No doubt she now fully appreciates the difference between singing country songs on a movie set – with directing and retakes aplenty – and singing pop songs live on TV. Don’t give up your day job Gwyneth.

    After this shabby performance I was not at all disappointed when Cee lo lost out for song of the year to Lady Antebellum for Need You Now. 

    That said, I don’t think this country song should have beat out Empire State of Mind (Jay Z and Alicia Keys) and Love the Way You Lie (Eminem and Rihanna) for record of the year. But the Academy seemed to be going out of its way to feature and reward country performers this year. Which accounts for why the show was a little “slow” at times….

    (BTW, perhaps someone could explain to me the difference between record of the year and song of the year….)

    Speaking of which, the best performance of the night was easily Rihanna, Dr. Dre, and Eminem performing Love the Way You Lie

    Eminem seemed genuinely surprised later when his Recovery  won rap album of the year. By the same token, rappers like Jay Z and Kanye must have been genuinely shocked. But I called it:

    With all due respect to 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and even Jay Z, Eminem is the baddest rapper in the business. And that he’s a white boy only makes this fact all the more extraordinary.  Actually, it’s no exaggeration to assert that Eminem is to hip hop what Tiger is to golf (Tiger’s current slump notwithstanding). 

    (Eminem: no profanity allowed in my house, The iPINIONS Journal, October 12, 2010)

    Never mind that he won only 2 of the 10 Grammys for which he was nominated….

    Finally, the most deserving award of the evening went to Esperanza Spalding for best new artist, becoming the first jazz artist in history to win this award. I was particularly impressed that she beat out not just that over-hyped and over-coiffed little Bieber but rapper Drake as well. 

    I fell in love with her after seeing her perform as President Obama’s guest artist at the ceremony for his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Imagine a woman who sings like Billie Holiday, looks like a young Diana Ross, and plays the jazz bass the way Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello: that’s Esperanza!

    And that’s a wrap for this show.

    NOTE:  It was so anticlimactic as to be barely worth mentioning, but some group nobody had ever heard of – named Arcade Fire – won for album of the year (beating out albums by Eminem, Lady Gaga, and the night’s favorite darlings, Lady Antebellum).

    This was clearly the upset of the night, but at this point I really couldn’t care any less. I was still rejoicing over Esperanza’s win….

    Related commentaries:
    2008 Oscars
    Eminem: no profanity allowed

  • Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    Revolution flowing over the Arab World

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, February 11, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    On Second thought, Mubarak Resigns! Mubarak Resigns!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    During a televised address to the nation last night, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed with a bang that he would not resign come hell or high water. Yet, less than 12 hours later, he did just that with a whimper – by having Vice-President Suleiman read his one-sentence resignation letter, which also conferred his presidential reins of power to the military.

    Well, after 18 days of protests, Allah has answered their prayers. But only Allah knows what will happen now….

    I have no doubt that if I were in Egypt, I would be marching today too.  So I wish them well.

    (Army pledges no force against protesters, The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2011)

    But these revolutionaries are already calling for Mubarak to stand trial for human rights abuses and the alleged expropriation of over $70 billion dollars (surely an exaggeration) from the Egyptian treasury.  

    Beyond that, there’s this:

    Whose next: Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Abdullah of Jordan? Saleh of Yemen? … Khadafi of Libya? The prospects make me positively giddy. When Obama spoke of HOPE and CHANGE during his presidential campaign these are not the transformations I anticipated; but I’ll take them. 

    Allah-u-akbar!

    (Egypt on Fire…, The iPINIONS Journal, January 31, 2011)

    NOTE: I doubt we’ll ever know exactly how forces conspired overnight to force Mubarak to resign. But I suspect the often-touted ties between the U.S. government and the Egyptian military was instrumental. Perhaps Mubarak can commiserate with Baby Doc Duvalier and Jean Bertrand Aristide in this respect.

    It’s worth debating at some point, however, whether or not this was really a coup if the military removed a dictator at the behest of the people – notwithstanding what outside influence the world’s only super power may have exerted.

    Related commentaries:
    Mubarak says hell no, he won’t go
    Army pledges no force against protesters
    Egypt on fire

  • Friday, February 11, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    Mubarak Says Hell No, He Won’t Go!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Egyptian military sparked dizzying expectations worldwide this morning when it announced that it was taking “steps to protect the nation [and to ensure that] the legitimate demands of the people are met.”

    Those expectations were soon anchored when word got out that President Mubarak would be addressing the nation later this evening. For everyone inferred that the only reason for his address would be to announce his belated resignation.  In fact, so certain were they that this was forthcoming that hundreds of thousands of protesters began celebrating in Tahrir Square – even tweeting among themselves “mission accomplished.” (Evidently, the ironic and instructive Bush precedent was completely lost on them….)

    Actually, no less a person than President Obama was so certain this would be the case that he gave an address of his own ahead of Mubarak’s (perhaps trying to claim credit for finally pushing this beleaguered leader into exile), in which he spoke triumphantly of watching history unfold in this “moment of transformation;” CIA Director Leon Panetta elaborated by adding that there was a strong likelihood that Mubarak would be announcing his resignation “later tonight.”

    When Mubarak finally spoke, however, he sounded as if he were reading from the same defiant address he gave after protesters took to the streets two weeks ago. 

    He reiterated his determination to oversee the orderly transition from his dictatorship to democracy, delineating all of the steps he has already taken, including proposing constitutional amendments to ensure free and fair elections and impose term limits on all future presidents.

    Most significantly, he reiterated his intent to remain in power until his term ends in September, making a mockery of universal expectations that he would be announcing his immediate resignation.

    He even manifested the delusions and ability to deflect blame that have sustained him for 30 years when he cited foreign agents as the ones inciting the protests in a deliberate attempt to destroy all of the good he has done for Egypt.  Indeed, one could be forgiven the impression that he was channeling Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in one of his patented diatribes blaming the United States and Israel for poisoning the minds of his people with utterly untenable notions about democratic freedoms.

    Then, in a bit of condescension they must have found particularly galling, he said he wanted to speak to the protesters as a father to his sons and daughters. He proceeded to wax paternal about how proud he was of their actions – even coming across like putative opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei deftly co-opting their cause. 

    But, like a father, he made it clear that they were out of line telling him to resign and leave the country. He insisted that the historic concessions already made (namely, not standing for re-election, not nominating his son to succeed him, and transferring his presidential authorities to Vice-President Suleiman) are all he intends to make.  He concluded by declaring once again that no foreign power or local saboteur would ever run him out of Egypt; for he fully intends to live and die on its soil.

    Apropos of this latter point, the aphorism, past is prologue, comes to mind. Because it seems the only way they’ll get rid of Mubarak is for army soldiers to assassinate him the way they assassinated his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981.

    Anyway, to say the protesters were dumbstruck would be an understatement. More to the point, despite all of their efforts, Egypt is facing the same combustible impasse it was facing two weeks ago: Mubarak is still firmly in charge; the army is still straddling the fence; and the protests show no signs of waning.

    In fact, after greeting his address with unbridled rage, protesters left Tahrir Square tonight vowing that over 20 million will be taking to the streets all over the country tomorrow (as part of a national strike) all shouting their rallying cry for Mubarak to “leave, leave, leave!”

    Then, adding insult to their disappointment, Suleiman disabused them of any expectation that he would serve as a genteel and trustworthy transitional figure when he followed Mubarak’s address with one of his own, in which he played the role of bad cop (or the Godfather) to Mubarak’s good cop (or the father figure).  In short, he told them to shut up, go home, and get back to work!

    Clearly, this does not bode well.  And everybody, including Mubarak and Obama, seems to be looking to the military to resolve this crisis.  But here is how I cautioned about placing oxymoronic hope in the military to usher in and sustain democracy to Egypt.

    With all due respect to the protesters, the issue is not whether Mubarak will go, for he will. (The man is 82 and already looks half dead for Christ’s sake!) Rather, the issue is who will replace him. And it appears they have not given any thought whatsoever to this very critical question.

    The devil the Egyptians know might prove far preferable to the devil they don’t. Just ask the Iranians who got rid of the Mubarak-like Shah in 1979 only to end up with the Ayatollah – whose Islamic revolution they’ve regretted (and have longed to overturn) ever since….

    (“Army pledges no force against protesters,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2011)

    Not to mention that the military top brass who kept Mubarak in power were themselves atop the pyramid scheme that fleeced the country of tens of billions during his reign. Which means that they clearly have a vested interest in making sure that a transition to democracy does not mean forfeiting any of their ill-gotten gains.

    So stay tuned….

    But in the meantime, I urge President Obama to stop issuing statements about what the United States wants to see happen in Egypt. For they not only make it plain how little influence the U.S. has on events unfolding there, but provide a misleading and potentially dangerous sense of support for the protesters as well.

    Related commentaries:
    Egypt on fire
    Army pledges no force

    * This commentary was originally published last night, Thursday, at 10:08.

  • Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 5:15 AM

    Italian PM Berlusconi Caught in Sex Vice Grip

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve been commenting on the public machinations and private peccadilloes of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for many years.  And I’ve always been stupefied by the way he invariably escaped the consequences of his bad, if not illegal, behavior.

    In fact, the only time he appeared to suffer any blow to his Caesarian pride in this respect was in 2007 when his longsuffering wife finally published an Open Letter (in the most popular Italian newspaper media baron Berlusconi does not own), in which she aired the reasons for her dissatisfaction with him as a husband, as the father of her children and, surely most devastating for him, as a lover.

    He was evidently so pussywhipped by this unimpeachable indictment of his manhood that he published a groveling Open Letter of his own, in which he shamelessly wooed his wife in an attempt, I presume, to show the world that he could still keep her despite his, em, er, shortcomings. 

    Alas, his efforts were all in vain. She duly filed for divorce, which was finally settled last year. More to the point, just imagine how unhinged with jealousy the then 70-year-old Berlusconi must have become when reports began circulating that his then (very attractive) 50-year-old wife was beginning to eye young Italian studs the way a cougar eyes baby gazelles

    Consequently, Berlusconi seems to have been on a Faustian quest to re-cultivate his reputation as a lover ever since.  This usually entailed hosting “bunga bunga parties” at his Italian villa at which scores of nubile girls catered to his Viagra-engorged desires for a very hefty price.

    It is his reported schtupping of underage girls at these bacchanalian soirees that has finally ensnared him in a legal vice grip from which I doubt even he can escape.

    Specifically, after years of watching him make a national spectacle of his dalliances with prostitutes (all perfectly legal if they are over 18), prosecutors filed charges yesterday alleging that he paid for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan girl, and then abused his good offices as premier to get her released from police custody on charges of petty theft.

    I am mindful, however, that Italian prosecutors have repeatedly tried (to no avail) to convict Berlusconi for all kinds of other vices – mostly having to do with their abiding suspicion that he amassed his multibillion-dollar fortune through an orgy of insider dealings and other corrupt practices, including tax evasion and bribery.

    Which means that their seizing this opportunity to put Berlusconi away for having sex with a minor is rather like American prosecutors seizing the opportunity to put Al Capone away for tax evasion.

    In this case, Berlusconi is pleading the same defense that has gotten him out of every other legal vice grip; namely, that these charges are nothing more than the latest “farcical” attempt by overzealous, perhaps even jealous, prosecutors to oust him from power.

    Here, in part, is how he responded during a press conference yesterday after they filed their charges:

    I can only say that it’s a farce. They are accusations without any basis. The only aim of the inquiry is to defame me in the media. But I am not worried about myself. I am a rich man who could spend his time building hospitals around the world, as I have always wanted, These acts are violating the law… It’s shameful and disgusting.

    (BBC, February 9, 2011)

    This is actually consistent with my assertion that Berlusconi seems to think of himself as a latter-day Jesus Christ being persecuted by non-believing Roman authorities: 

    His persecution complex … causes him lament on occasion that he is ‘the person the most persecuted by the judiciary of all times, in all history.’

    (The self-fulfilling crucifixion of Silvio Berlusconi, The iPINIONS Journal, December 16, 2009)

    But these latest allegations against him were deemed so sacrilege that even the Vatican felt compelled to rebuke him, using the occasion to call on all public officials to:

    …commit themselves to a more robust morality, a sense of justice and legality.

    (BBC January 20, 2011)

    The presiding judge now has five days to rule on the prosecutors’ request to subject Berlusconi to an expedited trial which, if granted, means that he could be in the dock before Easter. They insist that they have more than enough hard evidence to convict him; not least of which are plainly incriminating wiretaps. 

    Therefore, the only hope for the now 74-year-old Berlusconi is that the judge will play along with his procedural motions to delay his trial (over such technical issues as parliamentary immunity and jurisdiction) until … well … until he dies.

    If convicted he faces 15 years in prison.

    Related Articles:
    Berlusconi’s wife pussywhips him in public
    The self-fulfilling crucifixion of Silvio Berlusconi

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