Friday, November 30, 2007
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) hosts a meeting with 2007 Nobel Award winners in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, November 26, 2007. At left is Peace Prize winner and former U.S. vice president Al Gore. REUTERS/Larry Downing
When Nobel laureate Albert Gore, Jr. collects his Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10, he should tell the gathered Norwegians exactly what he meant when he remarked about global warming:
“I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are,” Gore said in the May 9, 2006 Grist Magazine.
“Over-representation?” Is that anything like misrepresentation?
Gore’s approach infects the debate and even the methodology of so-called “global warming.” From the former vice-president to unseen academics, some who clamor for statist answers to this alleged climate crisis employ dodgy measurement techniques, while others embrace hype and fear-mongering to promote massive government intervention to combat an entirely questionable challenge. Worse yet, this applies to reputedly objective researchers, not just opinionated activists.
For starters, U.S. temperature data suffer from the “garbage in, garbage out” syndrome. As surfacestations.org meteorologist Anthony Watts discovered, numerous NASA and National Oceanic and Space Administration temperature sensors are situated not in open fields at uniform heights, as required, but near parking lots, beside central-air exhaust ducts, and even above barbecue grills. These artificially elevate temperature reports.
Since 1970, previously whitewashed temperature sites have been painted with semi-gloss latex. Because it absorbs more heat, Heartland Institute scholar James Taylor wrote in November’s Environment & Climate News, “latex paint at official temperature stations may account for half of the U.S. warming reported since 1970.” Thus, America could reverse half the detected post-1970 warming that aggravates climate activists, simply by stripping this latex paint and whitewashing these observation structures.
Stranger still, NASA adopted a new technique in 2000 to calculate average annual temperatures. NASA essentially gave a 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit (0.15 degrees Centigrade) “bonus” to readings for the last seven years.
However, Canadian statistical analyst Steve McIntyre of ClimateAudit.org caught NASA’s mathematical mistake. After the space agency admitted and corrected its glitch, America’s warmest year shifted from 1998 to 1934.
Global-warming enthusiasts should clarify why America was hotter during the less-developed Great Depression, yet cooler in purportedly carbon-choked 1998. In fact, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004 were cooler than 1900 -- three years before the launch of the Ford Motor Company.
“The alarmists who trumpeted recent years as ‘warmest ever!!!’ in the United States (by a mere tenth of a degree) now dismiss this reversal -- 2000 and subsequent years being cooler than 1900 -- as just being a tenth of a degree or so,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Horner. “Well, either that’s a big deal whichever direction it falls, or it isn’t. Which time are you lying?”
Meanwhile, the British High Court of Justice ruled October 10 that Gore’s picture, “An Inconvenient Truth,” peddles convenient untruths. Mr. Justice Burton determined that “some of the errors, or departures from the mainstream, by Mr. Gore…in the course of his dynamic exposition, do arise in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of his political thesis.” The court ordered that British secondary schools could present Gore’s movie only if students receive a Guidance Note distancing the Education Department from “the more extreme views of Mr. Gore” and admitting there are two sides, not one, to global warming.
Burton cited nine points in Gore’s “political film” that either were “apparently based on non-existent or misunderstood evidence” or “upon lack of knowledge or appreciation of the scientific position.” Among them: Despite Gore’s contrary claims, melting polar ice caps will not raise sea levels by 20 feet any century soon, global warming is not melting the glacier atop Mount Kilimanjaro, nor did it intensify Hurricane Katrina, nor are polar bears dying due to melting ice.
U.C. Santa Barbara emeritus professor Daniel Botkin recently lamented in the Wall Street Journal that some of his warming-oriented colleagues believe “the only way to get our society to change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe, and that therefore it is all right and even necessary for scientists to exaggerate…‘Wolves deceive their pray, don’t they?’ one said to me recently.”
Oslo’s applause notwithstanding, egregious errors, distortions, and lies have no place in what is supposedly unbiased scientific inquiry regarding one of Earth’s most controversial questions.
Mr. Murdock, a New York-based commentator to HUMAN EVENTS, is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.
Book Review: For You - Original Stories And Photographs By Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans by Lawrence Kirsch (Editor)
Written by Glen Boyd
Published November 24, 2007
Outside of perhaps Bob Dylan, few rock and roll artists have been written about, and studied from as many different angles as intensely as Bruce Springsteen.
He has been the subject of several books, from official and semi-official biographies by the likes of writers like Dave Marsh, Robert Santelli, and Backstreets Magazine founder Charles R. Cross, to the more weightier fare examining his impact on culture like Robert Coles' Bruce Springsteen's America.
Yet, of the many words, and numerous books written about this American icon over the years, none of them are quite like this one.
In For You: Original Stories And Photographs By Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans, editor Lawrence Kirsch has assembled hundreds of amazing photographs taken by the fans themselves, and covering every phase of Springsteen's extraordinary career, into a beautiful coffee table book. Accompanying the photographs, are personal stories told by the fans — usually recalling memories of a favorite tour or show.
Springsteen fans — the so-called nation of "Bruce Tramps" that have been known to follow the man on tour from coast to coast — are of course legendary for their devotion which often borders on obsession. They, and by that I mean "we," are like no group of fans outside of maybe the Deadheads.
Which needless to say, makes for some great storytelling in this book. The stories told here are heartfelt, poignant, and occasionally even humorous — much like the songs of the man they honor here themselves.
At this point I should also include something of a disclaimer on this review since one of the stories told in this book is by yours truly. It appears on page 33 of the book, and talks about my very first Springsteen concert, which I was basically dragged out to see by a friend back in 1975.
Next spring, I'll be attending my 33rd and 34th Springsteen concerts in Seattle and Portland.
In that story, I also touch upon a few other memorable Bruce shows I've seen, such as the time in 1980 I saw Bruce in Portland on the same day Mount St. Helens had one of its many eruptions that year. To commemorate the event, Bruce included what I am pretty sure is the only time he has ever performed the American folk standard "On Top Of Old Smokey," in his set, changing a key line to "I know that she's smoking, I hope she don't blow."
In the interest of giving equal time to my fellow Blogcritics, I should also mention that my BC brothers Mark Saleski and Alessandro Nicolo tell their own Bruce stories in the book as well. Saleski's appears on page 142, while Alessandro's is on page 170.
So now that we've cleared that particular hurdle, and since I can also report that none of us received any payment whatsoever for our contributions, I can also give this book my highest recommendation.
For anyone who has ever wondered just what it is about Bruce Springsteen that produces such rabid devotion amongst his hardcore fans, all I can say is that short of getting out and seeing a show yourself, this book comes as close to explaining it as any I have read.
The way I've tried to explain that special sort of sense of community among Springsteen fans, boils down to two things really. One, is that the songs heard on Springsteen's records tell stories that really connect with everyday Joes like us. And the other is that going to a Springsteen show is really like no other live concert experience I can think of.
With the way, you look all around you and see nothing but those shit-eating ear-to-ear grins, and the way his audience is known to break into impromptu sing-alongs at any given moment, a Springsteen concert is really like being in a room with about 20,000 of the best friends you ever met. As far as an interactive experience between a performer and his audience, there really is nothing quite like it.
And to those who still just don't get it, as another wise old songwriter once observed, "it's like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll."
Lawrence Kirsch's For You: Original Stories And Photographs By Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans, is currently available in a limited run of 2000 copies which can be ordered exclusively by going to ForYouBruce.com.
By Gustavo Coronel
November 30, 2007 4:00 AM
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right) shakes hands with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, before an official welcoming ceremony for Chavez in Tehran, Iran , Saturday, July 29, 2006.[AP Photo]
Venezuelan novelist Arturo Uslar Pietri coined the term “magical realism” to define the mixture of fact and fantasy, physical and psychological realities that characterized Latin American fiction in the 20th century. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez maintained that Latin American reality was stranger than fiction.
How right they are. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been known to keep an empty chair by his side in cabinet meetings, for revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar. On Sunday, Venezuelans will participate in an event so bizarre it could only be defined as magical realism. They will vote in a democratic referendum to decide if the country remains a democracy or if it becomes something akin to a tropical monarchy. President Chavez’s proposal to reform the constitution would transform Venezuela’s liberal democracy into a socialist dictatorship, a model of government that is expressly prohibited by the existing constitution. The referendum slated for Sunday amounts to asking Venezuelans to vote for their own political and social suicide.
In the last two weeks, the percentage of Venezuelans who have decided to vote “no” has increased so rapidly that all polls taken by the five most credible Venezuelan polling agencies show the vote to reject the reform leading by eight to ten points. The trend is so decisive that the Chavez government has ordered the agencies to stop publishing the polls altogether.
Chavez’s proposed reform violates core articles of the existing constitution (2,3 and 6), which stipulate that Venezuela will always be democratic, politically pluralistic, and have alternating political leadership. If approved, Chavez’s plan would convert Venezuela into a dictatorial state with no other possible ideology than socialism, and allow him be reelected indefinitely.
Among other negative changes, the reform calls for rigid administrative and political centralization as well as complete executive authority over financial matters, military promotions, the naming of regional vice presidents in charge of political and economic management and the selection of community leaders, dispensing with the popular election of these public officers. The reform also introduces severe restrictions to private property and private economic activity. School children and workers would be politically indoctrinated.
Faced with the necessity of rejecting the reform, which they consider immoral, Venezuelans are split between those who will vote “no” and those who refuse to vote on the grounds that it would validate an illegal proposal. Those who refuse to vote argue that the National Electoral Council is completely controlled by the government, and that a fraud is in the making. The Electoral Registry is, in fact, deeply corrupted and includes millions of registered voters without known addresses.
Close to two million voters without proper identification or known adresses have been added to the Registry in the last three years. Many counties show more voters than population. Almost 40,000 voters are reported as being over 100 years old, more than in the U.S., which has a population ten times higher. Thousands of voters show multiple ID papers, allowing them to vote more than once. Colombian terrorist Rodrigo Granda is registered to vote under ID card 22942118.
I recently presented detailed proof of these distortions, compiled by Venezuelan experts, to the Organization of American States.
What will happen Sunday? Under normal circumstances, the rejection of the constitutional reform proposed by Chavez would be all but assured. However, the tight control the regime maintains over the Electoral Council, the army, the media, and most public institutions could enable the government to claim victory. If this is the case, the level of civic resistance by freedom-loving Venezuelans could well approach open rebellion.
— Gustavo Coronel is the author of the Cato Institute study, “Corruption, Mismanagement and Abuse of Power in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.” He served on the Board of Directors of Petroleos de Venezuela (1976–79). As president of Agrupacion Pro Calidad de Vida, and he was the Venezuelan representative to Transparency International (1996–2000).
Our new millennium strategy is to pray the Black KKK goes away or ignores us. How's that working?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
November 28, 2007
Einstein is the perpetual example—what if restrictionists had kept him out? They never seem to mention Al Capone. (Former New York mayor Ed Koch pulled this trick when reviewing Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation.)
One regular salvo from the opposing shore is the "Immigrants of the Week" column which appears in the ILW.com email newsletter, targeted at immigration lawyers and other enemies of American sovereignty—what we call the “Treason Lobby.”
Actually, the ILW column can be a hoot, because it’s filled with people you never heard of and many you wouldn't want to know about. A recent offering (Nov 5) presented Andrew Grove, Hikaru Nakamura, Philippe Kahn, Isaac Larian, and Sonya Thomas. These are not exactly household names.
But Sonya Thomas might ring a bell if you follow the "sport" of competitive eating—think about the Nathan's hot dog face-stuffing contest held every July 4th—she is a champion glutton. She gobbles down the wieners that Americans just don't want to devour.
Thank you, immigration!
More seriously, multicultural immigration requires sustained and massive propaganda to convince citizens that importing culturally-alien foreigners is a good idea. After all, opening one's community to outsiders who may well have a hostile agenda (from jihad to reconquista) runs counter to the most basic aspects of human psychology, which is deeply tribal, not globalist.
Unfortunately, many foreigners come for the wrong reason. Criminals of the aspirational sort come to America because there is a lot more swag available for theft than at home. MS-13 and other drug gangs want to be here because this is the largest market for their illicit products.
Many others simply see America as a full refrigerator of perverse opportunity, from cars to be driven drunk to easy money to be made from illegal jobs using fraudulent identification. It doesn't help that many are illiterate peasants from a deeply corrupt country, and bring a marauder attitude to pillage and take whatever they can get. They don't come to be neighbors.
It shouldn't be a surprise then that American prisons have more than their share of foreign inmates (30 percent of federal prisoners in 2000).
* Alfredo Ramos was sentenced on Nov. 19 to 24 years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter deaths in Virginia Beach of teenaged best friends Tessa Tranchant, 16, and Alison Kunhardt, 17. He could have received a sentence of 40 years, so the judge must not have had the toughest punishment in mind. However, grieving father Ray Tranchant stated that the sentence was actually a decent one, compared to some of the handslaps that Virginia judges deliver.
The illegal alien had prior convictions for drunk driving before he killed the girls but was not deported. Instead, Alfredo Ramos was allowed to remain in America and end the lives of two girls who had everything ahead of them.
* Daniel Paredes pleaded guilty in early November to the murder of his live-in girlfriend Mayanim Betancourt in St. Louis County. He was miffed that she had become pregnant with the child of another man, so he strangled her. Illegal alien Paredes has a wife and children back in Mexico.
Family values in the extreme! Too much of a good thing can be bad for staying out of jail. (He could spend the rest of his life in prison—courtesy of the American taxpayer.)
* Alfonso Cedillo Maldonado was so drunk, he sideswiped a police car. While driving down the highway in the wrong direction. Imagine how drunk you would have to be to do that.
In fact, his blood alcohol level measured 0.26, more than three times the legal limit in Virginia.
State Trooper Maxwell Williamson, the driver of the sideswiped police car, suffered a bulging disk in the July accident and is still on disability.
* Jesus Bernal pleaded no contest in a Florida court to three counts of DUI manslaughter and two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury in the terrible head-on crash June 24, 2006, that killed Jim and Margie Rook. A passenger in Bernal's pickup truck also died. For his crime, Bernal received a prison sentence of 55 years.
Interestingly, a recent search for "Hispanic immigrant head-on crash OR accident" revealed 104,000 results, a numerous outcome for a limited subject. Not only do Hispanics drive drunk at higher rates than Americans (a fact even NPR admits), they tend to drive at more extreme levels of inebriation, which accounts for the "head-on" aspect of the crashes: many are speeding in the wrong direction. Driving drunk is culturally "normal" in Mexico, where young men may believe that several drinks make them smarter and better drivers. [Hispanic DWIs rooted in immigrants' culture Lifestyle, isolation figure in driving drunk, By Marti Maguire and Kristin Collins, News & Observer, April 1, 2007]
* Ricardo Contreras de la Torre lucked out with a ridiculously short prison sentence of 2-3 years for a drunk-driving felony death by motor vehicle. His drunk driving caused the death of George Smith of Cary, North Carolina, who worked as a computer programmer at Duke University.
* Marlon Berrioz broke into the home of a woman in Alexandria on November 3 and raped her at knife-point, according to police. He had earlier worked for the victim as a painter and had sneaked into the house through a window in the back.
Please note that this short compilation is a snapshot from November news reports, and is by no means comprehensive. The men were chosen to illustrate the diversity of crimes committed by uninvited foreigners in our midst and that such cases occur all the time.
The point is that no amount of “cheap labor” can possibly balance the human misery caused by the foreign criminal onslaught.
The preventable pain and death caused by immigrants of the week/year/decade must stop.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She actually admires several immigrants, in particular the pioneering environmentalist John Muir, songwriter Irving Berlin for writing "God Bless America" and Peter Brimelow for criticizing immigration before it was cool to do so.
By Roger Ebert
November 15, 2007
Cast & Credits
Beowulf: Ray Winstone
Hrothgar: Anthony Hopkins
Unferth: John Malkovich
Wiglaf: Brendan Gleeson
Grendel: Crispin Glover
Grendel's mother: Angelina Jolie
Paramount presents a film directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity).
In the name of the mighty Odin, what this movie needs is an audience that knows how to laugh. Laugh, I tell you, laugh! Has the spirit of irony been lost in the land? By all the gods, if it were not for this blasted infirmity that the Fates have dealt me, you would have heard from me such thunderous roars as to shake the very Navy Pier itself down to its pillars in the clay.
To be sure, when I saw "Beowulf" in 3-D at the giant-screen IMAX theater, there were eruptions of snickers here and there, but for the most part, the audience sat and watched the movie, not cheering, booing, hooting, recoiling, erupting or doing anything else unmannerly. You expect complete silence and rapt attention when a nude Angelina Jolie emerges from the waters of an underground lagoon. But am I the only one who suspects that the intention of director Robert Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary was satirical?
Truth in criticism: I am not sure Angelina Jolie was nude. Oh, her character was nude, all right, except for the shimmering gold plating that obscured certain crucial areas, but was she Angelina Jolie? Zemeckis, who directed the wonderful "Polar Express," has employed a much more realistic version of the same animation technology in "Beowulf." We are not looking at flesh-and-blood actors but special effects that look uncannily convincing, even though I am reasonably certain that Angelina Jolie does not have spike-heeled feet. That's right: feet, not shoes.
Angelina Jolie -- or a reasonable facsimile thereof -- in "Beowulf."
The movie uses the English epic poem, circa 700 A.D., as its starting point, and resembles the original in that it uses a lot of the same names. It takes us to the Danish kingdom of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), where the king and his court have gathered to inaugurate a new mead hall, built for the purpose of drinking gallons of mead. The old hall was destroyed by the monster Grendel, whose wretched life consists of being the ugliest creature on earth, and destroying mead halls.
To this court comes the heroic Geatsman named Beowulf (Ray Winstone), who in the manner of a Gilbert & Sullivan hero is forever making boasts about himself. He is the very model of a medieval monster slaughterer. (A Geatsman comes from an area of today's Sweden named Gotaland, which translates, Wikipedia helpfully explains, as "land of the Geats.") When the king offers his comely queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) as a prize if Beowulf slays Grendel, the hero immediately strips naked, because if Grendel wears no clothes, then he won't, either. This leads to a great deal of well-timed Austinpowerism, which translates (Wikipedia does not explain) as "putting things in the foreground to keep us from seeing the family jewels." Grendel arrives on schedule to tear down the mead hall, and there is a mighty battle which is rendered in gory and gruesome detail, right down to cleaved skulls and severed limbs.
Now when I say, for example, that Sir Anthony plays Hrothgar, or John Malkovich plays Beowulf's rival Unferth, you are to understand that they supply voices and the physical performances for animated characters who look more or less like they do. (Crispin Glover, however, does not look a thing like Grendel, and if you are familiar with the great British character actor Ray Winstone you will suspect he doesn't have six-pack abs.) Variety reports that Paramount has entered "Beowulf" in the Academy's best animated film category, which means nothing is really there, realistic as it may occasionally appear. I saw the movie in IMAX 3-D, as I said, and like all 3-D movies it spends a lot of time throwing things at the audience: Spears, blood, arms, legs, bodies, tables, heads, mead, and so forth. The movie is also showing in non-IMAX 3-D, and in the usual 2-D. Not bad for a one-dimensional story.
But I'm not complaining. I'm serious when I say the movie is funny. Some of the dialog sounds like Monty Python. No, most of the dialog does. "I didn't hear him coming," a wench tells a warrior. "You'll hear me," he promises. Grendel is ugly beyond all meaning. His battles are violent beyond all possibility. His mother (Jolie) is like a beauty queen in centerfold heaven. Her own final confrontation with Beowulf beggars description. To say the movie is over the top assumes you can see the top from here.
Now about the PG-13 rating. How can a movie be rated PG-13 when it has female nudity? I'll tell you how. Because Angelina Jolie is not really there. And because there are no four-letter words. Even Jolie has said she's surprised by the rating; the British gave it a 12A certificate, which means you can be a year younger and see it over there. But no, Jolie won't be taking her children, she told the BBC: "It's remarkable it has the rating it has. It's quite an extraordinary film, and some of it shocked me."
Here's the exact wording from the MPAA's Code people: "Classified PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity)." How does that compare with a PG rating? Here's the MPAA's wording on "Bee Movie": "Classified PG (for mild suggestive humor and a brief depiction of smoking)." I have news for them. If I were 13, Angelina Jolie would be plenty nude enough for me in this movie, animated or not. If I were 12 and British, who knows?
By Ty Burr
You're probably going into "Beowulf" expecting another "300" - a chest-beating paean to digitized historic machismo. A return to a time when men were men, women poured the mead, and pixels knew their place.
What you get, though, is something unexpected: an hour of violent, subversive near-parody followed by a meditation on the seductions of power, all wrapped up in a thrillingly vulgar blood-and-thunder 3-D comic book. Not all of it works - and not all of it works the way the target audience of jacked-up young males might want it to - but the movie is hugely provocative fun, and I'm pretty sure that's on purpose.
First things first: This is not the eighth-century epic poem you read in high school. Grendel's mum, that "monster of women," wasn't played by a purring Angelina Jolie even in the best-selling Seamus Heaney translation, nor were the human's and beasties' family trees entwined in ways worthy of a nighttime soap. Anonymous is doubtless rolling in his/her unmarked grave, but, hey, what's oral tradition if you can't improvise a little? Or a lot.
Second things second: "Beowulf" is director Robert Zemeckis's latest attempt to make a feature-length movie using digital motion-capture, a process in which actors' movements are tracked on film via sensors attached to their bodies, then "drawn over" using expensive computer-animation technology.
In "The Polar Express," the result was a cast of zombie children and a creepy, soulless Tom Hanks. The good news is that the technology has improved and that the cast of "Beowulf" merely looks like they have the squints. Occasionally they lumber about woodenly, like Weebles with Actors' Equity cards, and the character of Queen Wealthow (voiced by Robin Wright Penn) does seem to be on loan from the DreamWorks Animation stable. At its worst, the movie suggests "Shrek" on steroids.
At its best, though, "Beowulf" dares to be absurd in ways that open the whole heroic-quest genre to weird, playful scrutiny, and it occasionally takes flight into the plain amazing. The screenwriters are the cult novelist/comics author Neil Gaiman and "Pulp Fiction" co-writer Roger Avary, neither the sort of man to do what he's told. This is good for the movie, if not for college Comp Lit courses.
The setting, at least, is still Denmark in the early sixth century, and Herot, the hall of aging King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is still plagued by a rampaging monster named Grendel. Already you sense Zemeckis and his writers are up to something: Hrothgar is a fat, deluded Dionysus with Hopkins's face plastered on, and Grendel, who resembles the Frankenstein monster with his innards on the outside, is voiced with piteous homicidal sympathy by Crispin Glover.
It's a bad-neighbor issue, I guess, since the deafening revels in Herot have driven the noise-sensitive Grendel mad with rage. The first assault is terrifying, with the monster rending Danes limb from digitized limb, and eyeballs and other body parts regularly tossed at the screen (since many theaters are showing "Beowulf" in 3-D, this falls under the heading of contractual requirement). Whoever rated the movie PG-13 should have their MPAA card revoked; I wouldn't let a child near the thing.
Then comes Beowulf, he of brawny demeanor, with a cadre of rough, tough Geats in his wake. The hero is voiced by Ray Winstone but drawn more or less like Sean Bean in "The Lord of the Rings," with additional blond highlights. He's a braggart but the real deal, even if Hrothgar's sniveling second-in-command Unferth (John Malkovich) doesn't trust him, and he quickly drops trou and prepares to battle Grendel in the nude.
Why? Well, it's in the story - "Cast off then his corselet of iron, helmet from head" and all that - but it also gives Zemeckis a way to goof on the posturings of sword-and-sandal movies. As Beowulf fights Grendel, scampering this way and that over the great hall, his private parts always obscured by a convenient sword (!) or piece of furniture, the audience I saw the movie with started snickering, then hooting. Is this "Austin Powers" gone medieval? Are we supposed to be laughing at the movie or with it?
"Beowulf" intriguingly splits the difference - it works as a ripsnorting yarn and as sardonic commentary on same - and if you can't handle dueling agendas, too bad for you. In its second hour, the movie brings on Jolie as a seductive water-nymphomaniac - Grendel's mom has got it going on - and the tale takes a darker turn. In its kitschy, pulp-epic way, "Beowulf" asks us to think about what happens to heroes the day after, and about what monstrous bargains are necessary to take and keep power. It suggests the beasts we battle are of our own making.
Actually, it comes right out and says it - subtlety isn't the movie's strong suit. But there's pleasure to be had in such popcorn philosophizing, and there's sheer wonderment in the aging Beowulf's climactic battle with a dragon, a rocketing action set-piece that soars over cliff and sea at the speed of massive, leathery wings.
"Beowulf" ends on a quiet note of stalemate, though, as if to give the action crowd something to think about as they file out. The movie's a genuine curiosity: an empty-headed techno-blockbuster of ideas. Like all sagas of valor and bloodletting, it asks the question put forth in "Gladiator": "Are you not entertained?" Then it has the nerve to ask "Why?"
Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com.
By Owen Gleiberman
In the beginning, there were those 1950s 3-D glasses with the blue-and-red lenses, the ones that brought you such cheesy fun-house miracles as the Creature from the Black Lagoon swooping his claw out at the audience. Alfred Hitchcock enhanced the technology, using it to greater human effect in Dial M for Murder, but after the early '60s, the 3-D craze more or less faded away until the age of IMAX, when we all put on sci-fi headset goggles to gawk at larger-than-life images of dinosaurs, sharks, and Siegfried & Roy.
So you know that you've entered a new era when you go to one of the 650 theaters where Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis' soulfully spectacular medieval monster movie, is playing in 3-D (it's showing in good old two dimensions at other theaters), and you're handed a pair of glasses that look like something out of a Tom Cruise nostalgia convention. The lightweight specs never have to be adjusted (for once!), and they don't give you a headache. The best news is that the film makes good on the promise of its technology. In Beowulf, the images are built to pop, and not just because swords, spears, tentacles, blood, and monster drool keep bursting out at the audience. Every shot — of castles and midnight woods, of treasure-filled caves — is built for maximum sculptural luster.
Zemeckis also upgrades the ''performance capture'' technique (animation wedded to actors' facial movements) he employed two years ago in The Polar Express. There, the characters looked like dead-eyed rubber dolls shot full of Botox. They're now closer to being expressive humans, whether it's the dissolute Danish king Hrothgar — a dead ringer for Anthony Hopkins, who plays him — or Beowulf, the warrior legend voiced with blokey gruffness by Ray Winstone, his feral stare morphed into that of a squinty-eyed Viking hunk. Beowulf is summoned to kill the marauding creature Grendel, who is one grotesquely amazing beast — a big, misshapen humanoid glob who looks like he's been roasted on a spit and half-eaten. (He's like Gollum painted by Francis Bacon.) His face-off with a naked Beowulf has the wonder of a Ray Harryhausen creature feature.
According to the ancient poem, which the script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary follows very loosely, Beowulf must then confront Grendel's mother, a mystic siren who rises out of her cave in the person of a nude Angelina Jolie (are you sensing a theme here?), dripping water off her body like golden chocolate. (I thought: They just added $30 million to the gross.) It's here that Beowulf acquires an honest touch of intrigue, as our hero is revealed to be less than noble. Yet I won't overstate the drama. Beowulf is a solemnly gorgeous, at times borderline stolid piece of Tolkien-with-a-joystick mythology. It dares to be quiet, which is worthy of respect, but there would be little to it without the battles, like the hypnotic fight with a dive-bombing dragon, in which the aging Beowulf uses an ax to attach himself to the creature's hide and, in a thrilling sacrifice, does everything in his power to squelch its heart. Now that's fun in three dimensions.
Posted Nov 14, 2007
November 29, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Well-connected Republicans in Mississippi were shocked by more than the unexpected nature of Trent Lott's announced resignation Monday. They were stunned that Lott, in good health at age 66 and at the top of his game, was leaving the Senate one year into his fourth term in order to make more money.
One of Lott's longtime political associates put it this way to me (asking not to be quoted by name): "Can you imagine Pat Harrison, Jim Eastland, John Stennis [Mississippi senators of the past] or, for that matter, Thad Cochran [the state's other senator today] quitting the U.S. Senate to go into business? I cannot."
It is understood in Washington and Jackson why Lott is leaving without serving even the first two years of a six-year term. By getting out now, he can collect big lobbyist money in one year instead of having to wait two years under new congressional ethics regulations. Rep. Chip Pickering would have been Gov. Haley Barbour's certain choice to replace Lott had he not announced three months ago he would not seek a seventh term in Congress. Though 22 years younger than Lott, Pickering is also leaving for financial reasons. That makes it hard for Barbour to select Pickering.
Members of Congress talk among themselves about "getting out to make some money," and they do not mean pocket change. The swollen federal government and concomitant growth of massive lobbying firms means ex-lawmakers like Lott and Pickering can quickly pull down a seven-figure income. For many in today's Congress, big money trumps public service.
Actually, the federal legislators know how to build tidy nest eggs without spending one day in the private sector -- nobody much better than Trent Lott. Except for one year as a practicing attorney fresh out of law school, Lott has spent his career on the public payroll -- four years as a congressional staffer, 16 in the House and 19 in the Senate. Nevertheless, the Center for Responsive Politics in 2005 calculated his net worth between $1.4 million and $2 million or 42nd among 100 senators. It put his annual income from the Senate and private sources at $289,710, in the top 1.5 percent of American income earners.
That's not bad for the son of a shipyard worker and exceeds the fondest dreams of his fellow citizens, but it is not enough for Lott. He did not want to run for re-election last year, telling friends it was time to "make some money." Republican leaders, fearful of losing his seat and control of the Senate, prevailed on him to run. In announcing his candidacy two years ago, he said his long experience was needed to help Mississippi's "recovery effort from Katrina."
Lott's early exit casts a shadow on an extraordinary congressional career. Elected to Congress in 1972 at age 31 as a defender of Richard M. Nixon, he voted for impeachment as a Judiciary Committee member when faced with the evidence. He was the House's second-ranking Republican at age 39, won the same job in the Senate 14 years later, as 1984 Republican platform chairman shaped a supply-side document in defiance of the White House staff design and served six years as the most effective Republican Senate majority leader of his time.
Driven out of the leadership in 2002 when President George W. Bush would not stand by him against spurious charges of racism, Lott instead of resigning picked himself up and became an effective backbencher. Against all expectations, he returned to the leadership after the 2006 election by winning a hotly contested campaign for Republican whip.
When Lott in 2005 was pondering whether to run again, he expressed concern about taking on another six-year commitment -- not one year. At this week's conference in Pascagoula, Miss., Lott hurt his credibility by saying the new two-year ban "didn't have a big role" in his decision. "And," he added, "as I've talked to my former colleagues, they say that a lot of what you do anyway is involved with consulting rather than direct lobbying." But Lott will have to do more than consult to earn the big bucks that have led him out of the Senate.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
by Stefania Lapenna
Sardinia, Italy -- A girl verbally insulted and then killed by a Slavic-speaking person who used the tip of an umbrella as a murder weapon . Dozens of villas assaulted by a mix of Morroccans, Romanians and Albanians in northern Italy. Shop owners murdered at random. This is but a part of the very long list of criminal events Italians learn about on an almost daily basis when they turn over the pages of newspapers or watch the morning and evening news. The common thread linking these crimes is the fact that all of the perpetrators were in Italy illegally.
In some ways, Italians were used to all this, apparently even resigned to living with illegal aliens’ crimes. Those unfamiliar with this country's complex mentality wonder why it is that no Italian government has ever taken serious steps against the illegal aliens. The main answer lies in the political parties' thirst for votes from them. A secondary answer is the permissiveness generated by the fear of being accused of intolerance or, even worse, racism. No one dares to suggest that at least 40% of prison inmates are not Italians.
Open borders for everyone has been the official policy followed by all kinds of governments, from left to center to right for more than a decade. While the previous government somehow attempted to put an end to the massive flow of undocumented people into the nation through the "Bossi-Fini law" (named after two ministers of the then Berlusconi cabinet), the Left's electoral program stated that one of its priorities (yes, priorities) was to eliminate that only partially successful legislation.
Upon taking office, Prime Minister Prodi appointed a communist to lead the newly-created Ministry of the "Immigration and Social Politics." That speaks volumes on how the new policy was going to be like. It took just two months after the new minister's announced plan for the invasion to start. About 200 illegals are flooding the south-western coasts of the island of Sardinia almost every week, coming mainly from Algeria and Morocco. All claim to be fleeing poverty and persecution, but nobody explains how come they can afford paying up to $6000 to smugglers in order to come to here. I don't know of any poor of this world who can afford to pay such sums.
Authorities are now complaining about the lack of adequate means to host these people in over-crowded temporary migrant holding centers and alerted about radical Islamic infiltration. Don't hold your breath: Prodi & Company can't care less; the incompetent premier declared he has no intention of changing the failed policy. For years, Italians have been always told the old lie according to which “our economy owes foreigners so much.” Really? Our economy is on a slow but unstoppable decline, as recent statistics show, and I don't think unskilled workers can lend a hand. Quite the opposite. Nevertheless, a wide-ranging bill aimed at allowing immigrants to settle here without first getting a job and holding a residency permit, was unveiled in March after months of preparation and was approved by the cabinet.
Ignoring public opinion at home, Prodi was the only European chief of government to allow Romanian citizens to enter Italy without visas. Not even dhimmi Spanish PM José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has ever had such an absurd idea. Following a spike in criminal offences by Romanian nationals that sparked a wave of outrage and anger all over the country, exasperated Italians are demanding firmness against immigrants in order for general security to be granted.
Over two weeks ago, on the aftermath of the horrific assassination of a navy officer's wife who was walking along a secluded avenue in Rome, an emergency decree signed by the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano was issued, in which the police chief was instructed to identify aliens deemed a threat to national security because of their record and past convictions. Despite official propaganda showing buses full of Romanian gypsies leaving Italy, only two hundred people were deported of the thousands previously listed for expulsion. How about every single foreigner continuously breaking the law by living here illegally?
With State authorities failing to defend scared Italian citizens, local governors started taking matters into their own hands. The center-left wing mayor of Florence risked losing communist support for imposing fines on unlicensed window cleaners, after drivers complained about harassment and veiled threats. Padua's leftist municipality built a fence to isolate groups of drug traffickers from a residential area. The most significant decision of all has been the one taken by the mayor of a north-eastern town (a militant of the Northern League, a movement not to proud of) who bravely issued a legislation that literally says: "Those who have no work and housing permit aren't welcome and are urged to leave our town." You need to have guts to say these things in Italy.
I am following the American presidential debates and thus far I have not seen any Republican candidate willing to commit himself to a radical, not soft, reform of the immigration policy. Worse, some are either in favor of amnesty for illegals, or they have been so in the recent past. It seems to me that both Democrats and Republicans, with the exception of few, have no clue of how future is going to be like as consequence of a lack of concrete action.
The US has always been example of a nation that holds law breakers accountable and this has contributed very much to keep social peace. On the other side, not only millions of Mexican aliens were allowed to settle with little or no opposition over the last few decades, but they're imposing their traditions, culture and heritage, as well. What will remain of our countries?
I think America is still in time to rescue herself, but it takes more than mere electoral promises.
Are US politicians scared at the idea of fueling social tension by imposing the respect for the law? I wish they could carefully look at the Italian situation, hoping that it could teach them a lesson: on the long term, coddling illegal aliens will pave the way for civil unrest and the loss of sovereignty to criminals, who will ultimately rule our cities. Italy's likely to become a Third World, Muslim country in the not so distant future. Even if its leaders wake up now (I doubt they will) it's probably too late. America can make it. I’m still betting that it will, but the 2008 election may be its last chance.
Ms. Lapenna is an Italian freelance columnist and blogger presently living in Sardinia, Italy. She has been published in the Jerusalem Post, Real Clear Politics, Town Hall and is current contributor to TCS Daily and the American Thinker.
Palestinian youths demonstrate in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
As the Annapolis summit looms, Muslim opinion on it appears to be sharply divided, and no one is particularly enthusiastic. The Syrians, after initially refusing to go, relented once the Golan Heights was placed on the agenda. The Saudis are going, but warned that they wouldn’t put up with any “theatrics” such as staged handshakes with Israeli officials. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, was unhappy with the Saudi decision. “I wish the name of Saudi Arabia was not among those attending the Annapolis conference,” he told the Saudi King Abdullah. “Arab countries should be watchful in the face of the plots and deception of the Zionist enemy.”
The Palestinians were also wary. Writing in the Palestinian Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, Ahmad Dahbur adduced as proof that “our feet are standing on solid ground” the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “refuses to sign the document the enemy is proposing” -- apparently a reference to the call to the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Columnist Ali Jaradat, writing in another Palestinian publication, Al-Ayyam, declared that Annapolis was merely a gambit by the U.S. and Israel “to find a way out of most of their predicaments,” and made a dark prediction: “I think that the region is about to be hit by a storm and that the calm of Annapolis is deceptive.”
The press elsewhere in the Middle East was no more optimistic. “Syria,” opined Iz-Al-Din Al-Darwish in Tishrin, “does not have any illusions about what could happen because Syria is convinced that Israel does not want peace, and that the latter has been the main cause behind blocking the peace process for more than seven years.” Egypt’s Al-Akhbar warned of the risk of failure: “this will simply mean the failure of any future peace negotiations, which frankly means the failure of the US Administration.” The pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi said that the “conference will definitely fail because of the weakness of its participants from the Israeli and Palestinian sides represented by [Prime Minister] Olmert and President Abbas, as well as the host President Bush whose popularity has fallen...” Iran’s Jomhuri-ye Eslami stated: “It seems that the conference will not lead to any fruitful result or any important agreement,” and Resalat in the same country warned: “The Annapolis conference is like a fake picture, in which any kind of investment will definitely lead to a total defeat.”
The gloom was just as thick on the other side. Conservative activist David Horowitz predicted that “the Munich Bush and Rice have prepared for Israel in Annapolis will fail ultimately because the Palestinians are terrorists whose only path is violence and whose unwavering goal is genocide -- the destruction of the Jewish state. Seventy percent of Palestinians support suicide bombing and seventy percent support Hamas. The other thirty support the Islamo-fascists of Fatah and their terrorist armies…” Youssef Ibrahim wrote in the New York Sun: “Clearly what will happen at Annapolis is that Mr. Bush, the man who promised modernity and democracy for the Middle East, will inaugurate it with a speech that will be quickly forgotten, then leave the grounds for the rest of the world to grumble over the next year about yet another American Middle East failure.” Columnist Ben Shapiro thundered: “Over and over again, Israel has tried to buy the love of its enemies by conceding territory. And over and over again, Israel has suffered the consequences of its foolhardy appeasement.”
The gloom on both sides came from the incompatibility of expectations. As historian Bernard Lewis put it in the Wall Street Journal: “If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed.” For the Muslim observers committed to the jihadist proposition that the Jewish state has no right to exist on what they believe to be Muslim land, no Israeli concessions at Annapolis will be enough. For the Israelis, any further surrender of land could make a tenuous security situation almost untenable. For Bush and Rice, this attempt at legacy-building looks like a longshot at best.
No wonder the gloom only increases as the summit approaches.
Mr. Spencer is director of Jihad Watch and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)" , "The Truth About Muhammad" and "Religion of Peace?" (all from Regnery -- a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).
Back to ‘Don’t Look Back,’ This Time With Dylan’s Songs in the Spotlight
By MANOHLA DARGIS
The New York Times
Published: November 28, 2007
The great relief of D. A. Pennebaker’s “65 Revisited” — which pulls together never-released footage shot for his documentary “Don’t Look Back” — is that this time you can hear the songs in their entirety. Because Mr. Pennebaker wanted “Don’t Look Back” to be about Bob Dylan, not his 1965 British concert tour, he made the somewhat maddening decision to cut down the songs in that first film to tantalizing bits and pieces. The problem of course being that the songs were as much a part of this youthquaking sensation as his pipe-cleaner-skinny legs, his fuzzy ’fro, bobbing head, sly smile, riffs, rants, puns and playful, otherworldly genius.
“65 Revisited” restores some of the abridged and omitted pleasures with onstage performances (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “It Ain’t Me, Babe”), green-room idling (“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”) and a duet with Joan Baez (“Laddie”), who always seems to be warbling or smiling at some intensely private joke. One of the film’s most suggestive scenes finds Ms. Baez asking Mr. Dylan if he can “concentrate” long enough to help her with some songs. Mr. Pennebaker, a founding figure in the direct-cinema movement, never comments on his material, so you’re left to wonder what in the world all that was about. (He never even tells you that the singers were lovers.)
A fast 65 minutes, “65 Revisited” is best appreciated as an extension of “Don’t Look Back,” a kind of cinematic footnote. (Both are included in the DVD box edition of “Don’t Look Back” released in February.) Some of the same players appear in both documentaries, including the tour manager, Bob Neuwirth, and Mr. Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, who enlisted Mr. Pennebaker to make the first film and served as one of its producers.
Nico also swings by briefly, fluttering her feathery eyelashes. (Marianne Faithfull plays it quieter in “Don’t Look Back.”) Women and girls cling to the edges of these documentaries, waiting for Mr. Dylan, yelling for him, running after him, clutching at him. It’s like watching someone try to catch mercury with her hands.
“Don’t Look Back” opens with the much-copied cue-card rendition of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in which a sardonic-looking Mr. Dylan flips through cards hand-printed with words and phrases from the song while standing in an alley. “65 Revisited” ends with a different take on the cue-card routine, though this one takes place on what looks like a very nippy city roof. (A third cue-card clip is included in the DVD box.)
The setup resembles the alley version — Mr. Dylan drops cards while standing (if visibly shuddering) on the right of the frame — though in this version his Columbia Records producer, Tom Wilson, makes a stylish stand-in for Allen Ginsberg. Wearing shades, an overcoat and an insouciant fez, Mr. Wilson looks as cool as it gets, cooler than even that poetic alley cat.
Opens today in Manhattan.
Directed by D. A. Pennebaker; directors of photography, Howard Alk and Mr. Pennebaker; edited by Walker Lamond and Mr. Pennebaker; produced by Frazer Pennebaker; released by Ashes & Sand Inc. and Pennebaker Hegedus Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes. This film is not rated.
Published: November 28, 2007
President Bush watches as Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands at the Israel-Palestinian Peace Conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, November 27, 2007.
Annapolis, Md.- The Middle East is experiencing something we haven’t seen in a long, long time: moderates getting their act together a little, taking tentative stands and pushing back on the bad guys. If all that sounds kind of, sort of, maybe, qualified, well ... it is. But in a region in which extremists go all the way and the moderates usually just go away, it’s the first good news in years — an oasis in a desert of despair.
The only problem is that this tentative march of the moderates — which got a useful boost here with the Annapolis peace gathering — is driven largely by fear, not by any shared vision of a region where Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Jew, trade, interact, collaborate and compromise in the way that countries in Southeast Asia have learned to do for their mutual benefit.
So far, “this is the peace of the afraid,” said Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya, a satellite news channel.
Fear can be a potent motivator. Fear of Al Qaeda running their lives finally got the Sunni tribes of Iraq to rise up against the pro-Al Qaeda Sunnis, even to the point of siding with the Americans. Fear of Shiite thugs in the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army has prompted many more Shiites in Iraq to side with the pro-U.S. Iraqi government and army. Fear of a Hamas takeover has driven Fatah into a tighter working relationship with Israel. And fear of spreading Iranian influence has all the Arab states — particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan — working in even closer coordination with America and in tacit cooperation with Israel. Fear of Fatah collapsing, and of Israel inheriting responsibility for the West Bank’s Palestinian population forever, has brought Israel back to Washington’s negotiating table. Fear of isolation even brought Syria here.
But fear of predators can only take you so far. To build a durable peace, it takes a shared agenda, a willingness by moderates to work together to support one another and help each other beat back the extremists in each camp. It takes something that has been sorely lacking since the deaths of Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein: a certain moral courage to do something “surprising.”
Since 2000, the only people who have surprised us are the bad guys. Each week they have surprised us with new ways and places to kill people. The moderates, by contrast, have been surprise-free — until the Sunni tribes in Iraq took on Al Qaeda. What I’ll be looking for in the coming months is whether the moderates can surprise each other and surprise the extremists.
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, announced even before he got to Annapolis that there would be no handshakes with any Israelis. Too bad. A handshake alone is not going to get Israel to give back the West Bank. But a surprising gesture of humanity, like a simple handshake from a Saudi leader to an Israeli leader, would actually go a long way toward convincing Israelis that there is something new here, that it’s not just about the Arabs being afraid of Iran, but that they’re actually willing to coexist with Israel. Ditto Israel. Why not surprise Palestinians with a generous gesture on prisoners or roadblocks? Has the stingy old way worked so well?
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been so starved of emotional content since the Rabin assassination that it has no connection to average people anymore. It’s just words — a bunch of gobbledygook about “road maps.” The Saudis are experts at telling America that it has to be more serious. Is it too much to ask the Saudis to make our job a little easier by shaking an Israeli leader’s hand?
The other surprise we need to see is moderates going all the way. Moderates who are not willing to risk political suicide to achieve their ends are never going to defeat extremists who are willing to commit physical suicide.
The reason that Mr. Rabin and Mr. Sadat were so threatening to extremists is because they were moderates ready to go all the way — a rare breed. I understand that no leader today wants to stick his neck out. They have reason to be afraid, but they have no reason to believe they’ll make history any other way.
President Bush said in opening the Annapolis conference that this was not the end of something, but a new beginning of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. You won’t need a Middle East expert to explain to you whether it’s working. If you just read the headlines in the coming months and your eyes glaze over, then, as the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea put it to me, you’ll know that Annapolis turned the ignition key “on a car with four flat tires.”
But if you pick up the newspaper and see Arab and Israeli moderates doing things that surprise you, and you hear yourself exclaiming, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before!” you’ll know we’re going somewhere.
Boston Globe Columnist
November 28, 2007
HAS EVERYONE on Beacon Hill fallen fast asleep?
Two people were just slain by a Massachusetts thug who was released on personal recognizance rather than having to make steep bail. And who then skipped town and fled to Washington state, where he was arrested last Monday and charged with killing young newlyweds Brian and Beverly Mauck in their home.
Brian and Beverly Mauck
But so far, the official reaction here has been so muted as to defy belief.
We have a governor who, to burnish his tough-on-crime bona fides in last year's campaign, portrayed himself as an experienced former federal prosecutor who had put people in prison.
We have an attorney general who said her days as Middlesex district attorney showed she was an accomplished prosecutor ready to protect public safety.
We have a House speaker who thinks he's really governor. We have a Senate president eager to make her mark.
Are they all still sluggishly digesting their Thanksgiving turkey?
It's not enough to say, as Governor Patrick did on Monday - a full week after Daniel Tavares Jr.'s arrest for the Washington couple's murder - that he has asked his public safety secretary to review the case to help him understand exactly what happened.
Tavares allegedly executed two people, and from what we've read, there was ample reason to suspect he might do something like that. After all, he had stabbed his mother to death with a carving knife, allegedly assaulted several prison guards, and made several death threats, at least two of which were against public officials.
We've read about the threat against Mitt Romney. On Monday, former attorney general Thomas Reilly confirmed that Tavares had also made a threat against him.
"I got notified by the State Police several months ago that Tavares had been released from prison and that he had threatened to kill me and Romney, and that he had my home address," Reilly told me. "The State Police sent me his photograph in case either I or my family saw him."
Nor is it enough to say, as Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse did on Monday, that Judge Kathe Tuttman simply applied the law to the information provided her in reversing the district court bail of $50,000 for each assault count and freeing Tavares on personal recognizance. Explanations that treat decisions like hers as the unavoidable result of a mechanistic system should not suffice.
I would have thought that, a day or two after the horrible news broke, the governor, the attorney general, the speaker, and the Senate president would have appeared together to announce that they would be appointing, empowering, and supporting a high-profile independent commission, composed of people like former attorney general Scott Harshbarger plus a respected former judge or two, to determine precisely what happened here. And to propose reforms to ensure that it never happens again.
There are important questions that need to be answered, as swiftly and as completely as possible.
One: What was Tuttman's rationale for overturning the district court's bail decision and releasing Tavares pending his trial for assaulting the prison guards?
Two: The Globe's Michael Levenson has reported that the Department of Correction never told Tuttman of the death threats Tavares made. How could such a glaring omission have occurred?
Three: Why, as my colleague Kevin Cullen has wondered, didn't prosecutors seek a dangerousness hearing, which could have made it easier to justify a high bail?
Four: If a judge's options are restricted in a case like this absent such a hearing, shouldn't those hearings be routine where violent defendants are concerned?
Five: Why did the Department of Correction wait nearly 18 months before seeking to have Tavares prosecuted for assaulting the prison guards?
Six: What steps did State Police and prosecutors take to warn Washington officials about Tavares's possible presence there - and to apprehend him?
In other words, we need a full, complete, official, credible accounting that scrutinizes every aspect of this fiasco. And it needs to be a top priority.
"The families of those victims deserve answers and the people of both states deserve answers," says Reilly. "It is not up to me to decide what the forum should be, but we need to know what happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening in the future."
Yes, and we need something else that's been lacking: a real sense of urgency.
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Mapping out evil in the Coen brothers’ latest, No Country for Old Men.
By Peter Suderman
November 21, 2007 12:00 AM
Tommy Lee Jones in Miramax Films' No Country For Old Men - 2007
In No Country for Old Men, the newest movie from Joel and Ethan Coen, there’s a sign on Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s (Tommy Lee Jones) wall that says “Learn To Relax.” Like many Coen protagonists, it’s a task the laconic lawman has clearly mastered, and with every word and action, Bell encourages others to follow his lead. But unlike Fargo’s Marge Gunderson or the Dude in The Big Lewbowski, his penchant for relaxation isn’t merely a lazy, easy-going regional affect. No, this time out, it’s a defense mechanism, a statement of resignation as an old man looks upon the terror and tragedy of the world and wonders what to do.
How to deal with the presence of evil in the world is the question that drives the film, and Bell’s door sign provides just one possible answer. One character in the film, facing potential death, opts to play along with a killer’s coin-toss game; another turns down the same offer, refusing to allow the vagaries of a coin toss to control her fate. When Bell’s deputy, Wendell (Garrett Dillahunt), chuckles at a description of a grim murder scene, then tries to refrain, Bell tells him not to worry. “That’s all right. I laugh myself sometimes. There ain’t a whole lot else you can do.”
That statement, however, is more than just one response to No Country’s central problem. It’s also about as concise a summary of the Coen brothers’ attitude toward the world, as you’re likely to find. For two decades, the filmmakers have crafted offbeat cinematic gems out of the absurdity and hilarity in human foibles and follies. They are tough to pin down: alternately dark and funny, bleak and goofy, and, with the way they subtly prize homespun wisdom and local tradition, even underhandedly conservative in a broad cultural sense. Even their weakest films are curiosities, and many of their films — Fargo, The Big Lewbowski, Raising Arizona — are now minor classics with dedicated cult followings. But with No Country for Old Men, they’ve built upon their twenty year history and created what is surely the finest film of the year so far, and their first true masterpiece.
Josh Brolin in Miramax Films' No Country For Old Men - 2007
The story, based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, is deceptively simple. In the dusty flatlands of the Texas desert, a hunter named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a mess of dead bodies, pickup trucks, and drugs, as well as a suitcase full of cash. Knowing full well what trouble it could bring, he takes the case anyway — and trouble is just what he gets. The rest of film takes form of a chase as Moss is pursued by those who want their money back: a gang of Mexicans, a dandy assassin played by Woody Harrelson, and a freakish, demonic hired killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Meanwhile, Bell and Wendell track its aftershocks, following the path death and destruction while futilely trying to make sense of it all.
It sounds like an ordinary thriller, but it’s anything but. Indeed, it’s often distinctive and strange, bearing plenty of reminders that it only could have been made by the Coens. Often, No Country for Old Men plays like a cinematic greatest hits album, continuously quoting and referencing their previous films. The opening monologue, performed by Jones and set over a series of barren Texas landscapes, recalls the introduction to The Big Lewbowski. A scene in which a local detective finds a murder victim alongside a stranded vehicle is straight out of Fargo, as are the characters of Bell and Wendell, another wry local cop who explains the ways of the world to his naïve assistant. Chigurh is a flesh-and-blood analog to the fever-dream biker who haunted Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona, even taking similar potshots at small animals along the side of the road.
But despite the mashup quality, there’s nothing derivative about the film. Instead, it’s a marvel. Every performance is riveting. As Moss, Josh Brolin bears a strange resemblance to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, another silent, determined man with unclear motivations. “Things happen. Can’t take ‘em back,” he muses, more or less summing up his philosophy, but that’s about as much direct insight into the man as the film provides. Tommy Lee Jones provides the story’s emotional center, and fully makes up for his moping, hang-dog turn in In the Valley of Elah. Here, he’s a well-aged product of his environment. His verbal patter is as dry as the desert earth he walks on (“It’s a mess, ain’t it Sheriff?” Wendell asks at a murder scene, and Bell replies, “If it ain’t, it’ll due till the mess gets here.”), and his creased, wrinkled faces seems to have developed fault lines to match the craggy hills around him.
Javier Bardem in Miramax Films' No Country For Old Men - 2007
It’s Bardem, though, as the moppy-haired Chigurh, that makes the strongest impression. Lurking through the movie with a silenced shotgun and an air-powered cattle gun, he’s the embodiment of evil, a menacing, emotionless mystery whose power derives from his unwillingness to be accountable to anyone. Separated from the rules and customs of civil society, he is totally free, the film suggests, but also totally empty. It’s his parade of violence that drives the film, his moral void that is its central worry, and his eerie demeanor that makes it such an effective thriller. Silent and stealthy, he’s even scary in his socks.
Behind the camera, cinematographer Roger Deakins turns in effortlessly breathtaking work. Sturdy and quiet, like the Texans around which it revolves, the film makes exemplary use of silence, space, and distance. From the opening shots of the dry Texas plains to the long sequences without either dialog or music, the sparseness suggests Chigurh’s malevolence represents an expanse of human behavior too wide, too empty, and too desolate to fully comprehend.
But that doesn’t stop the characters from trying, in vain, to process the senseless violence that surrounds them. As the film draws to a close, Bell and another local lawman fresh from the scene of a massacre mull the bloody mess they’ve just witnessed. “The money and the drugs. It’s just beyond everything. What does it mean? What is it leading to?” the other sheriff asks, and then answers the question himself. “It’s the tide. It’s the dismal tide. It’s not the one thing.” In No Country for Old Men, it’s never the one thing, and that’s a significant part of its complexity and power. Terrible men walk the world, and there’s never anything one can do except try to relax, or maybe flip a coin, and resign oneself to the notion that evil, like the plains of Texas, is a barren wilderness that can never be mapped or understood.
—Peter Suderman is associate editor of Doublethink. He blogs at www.theamericanscene.com.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Surprisingly, something useful has emerged from the combination of the misconceived Annapolis meeting and a weak Israeli prime minister, Ehud ("Peace is achieved through concessions") Olmert. Breaking with his predecessors, Olmert has boldly demanded that his Palestinian bargaining partners accept Israel's permanent existence as a Jewish state, thereby evoking a revealing response.
Unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as "a Jewish state," Olmert announced on November 11, the Annapolis-related talks would not proceed. "I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state. This will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state."
He confirmed these points a day later, describing the "recognition of Israel as a state for the Jewish people" as the "launching point for all negotiations. We won't have an argument with anyone in the world over the fact that Israel is a state of the Jewish people." The Palestinian leadership, he noted, must "want to make peace with Israel as a Jewish state."
Raising this topic has the virtue of finally focusing attention on what is the central topic in the Arab-Israeli conflict – Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement, a topic that typically gets ignored in the hubbub of negotiations. Since nearly the birth of the state, these have focused on the intricacies of such subsidiary issues as borders, troop placements, armaments and arms control, sanctities, natural resources, residential rights, diplomatic representation, and foreign relations.
The Palestinian leadership responded quickly and unequivocally to Olmert's demand:
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Nazareth unanimously called on the Palestinian Authority not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Salam Fayad, Palestinian Authority "prime minister": "Israel can define itself as it likes, but the Palestinians will not recognize it as a Jewish state."
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee: "This issue is not on the table; it is raised for internal [Israeli] consumption."
Ahmad Qurei, chief Palestinian negotiator: "This [demand] is absolutely refused."
Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO Negotiations Department: "The Palestinians will never acknowledge Israel's Jewish identity. … There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined."
Saeb Erekat (left), head of the PLO Negotiations Department, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Erekat's generalization is both curious and revealing. Not only do 56 states and the PLO belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, but most of them, including the PLO, make the Shari‘a (Islamic law) their main or only source of legislation. Saudi Arabia even requires that every subject be a Muslim.
Further, the religious-national nexus extends well beyond Muslim countries. Argentinean law, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe points out, "mandates government support for the Roman Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth II is the supreme governor of the Church of England. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the constitution proclaims Buddhism the nation's ‘spiritual heritage.' … ‘The prevailing religion in Greece,' declares Section II of the Greek Constitution, ‘is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ'."
So, why the mock-principled refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Perhaps because the PLO still intends to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.
Note my use of the word "eliminate," not destroy. Yes, anti-Zionism has until now mainly taken a military form, from Gamal Abdel Nasser's "throw the Jews into the sea" to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "Israel must be wiped off the map." But the power of the Israel Defense Forces has prodded anti-Zionism toward a more subtle approach of accepting an Israeli state but dismantling its Jewish character. Anti-Zionists consider several ways to achieve this:
Demography: Palestinians could overwhelm the Jewish population of Israel, a goal signaled by their demand for a "right of return" and by their so-called war of the womb.
Politics: Arabs citizens of Israel increasingly reject the country's Jewish nature and demand that it become a bi-national state.
Terror: The 100 Palestinian attacks a week during the period, September 2000-September 2005 sought to induce economic decline, emigration, and appeasement.
Isolation: All those United Nations resolutions, editorial condemnations, and campus aggressions are meant to wear down the Zionist spirit.
Arab recognition of Israel's Jewish nature must have top diplomatic priority. Until the Palestinians formally accept Zionism, then follow up by ceasing all their various strategies to eliminate Israel, negotiations should be halted and not restarted. Until then, there is nothing to talk about.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).
Monday, November 26, 2007
New York Daily News
Tawana Brawley in 1987
In November 1987, a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley claimed to have been abducted by a group of white men who raped her for a couple of days, smeared dog dung on her body and scrawled racist epithets on her torso. It was the biggest lie to affect the tone of race relations in the last 50 years.
That happened because, as national compassion was emerging, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Alton Maddox and Vernon Mason rushed behind Brawley and mounted a furious dog-and-pony show.
The supposed victim put on a good act and pretended to be traumatized into silence for the first few weeks. Brawley remained silent and her mother, Glenda, refused to testify. A warrant was issued for her mother's arrest. Glenda Brawley took sanctuary in a Queens church.
By the time then-New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams finished his investigation and a grand jury concluded that Brawley had made the whole thing up, racial animus had gone through the roof.
Not one of the three militant stooges can be forgiven.
We should not be shocked that Glenda Brawley wants to come back to New York to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her family's most infamous hour. She and her husband, Ralph King, the convicted murderer, are demanding that Gov. Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo relinquish Glenda Brawley's arrest warrant and reopen the case!
"New York State owes my daughter. They owe her the truth," said Glenda Brawley.
Is that so?
Al Sharpton in 2004
When someone is proven to be a liar and has used every possible aspect of media to further that lie, authorities representing the interest of the people should sue them for the expense of the investigation and jail the guilty when they are proven, once again, to have consciously lied.
Tawana Brawley, who has since changed her name to Maryam Muhammad, is not part of this demand, perhaps because by now she might realize what a terrible thing she did.
In 1987, the authorities did not sit calmly twiddling their thumbs. They did everything that should have been done and, after an extensive investigation that revealed the hoax, Abrams rightly warned that lies such as those of the black teenager are especially dangerous. They might bring about an unfair level of doubt in the testimony of a real victim.
But the greatest victims of the Tawana Brawley hoax were the American people, who always teeter between confusion and cynicism on racial issues. White people with goodwill were pushed to sympathize with a lying teenager whom some think told a monstrous fib in order to protect herself from her stepfather who had murdered his previous wife. Maybe so, maybe not.
We do know this. A lot of attention can help some but do in others. Tawana Brawley did as much for Sharpton's career as MTV did for Michael Jackson's, but Maddox received a well-needed cancellation. Maddox was disbarred when he failed to produce the evidence that he so loudly claimed to have, evidence he promised would prove that Brawley had told the truth.
Even though producing the evidence would allow Maddox to practice law again, no such proof has ever appeared in two decades. Hmmm.
That should give everyone an idea of how seriously this case should be taken and why caution and skepticism should guide the reactions of all in authority whenever a potentially volatile charge of racism is made.