The new season of Downton Abbey opened with a two hour segment Sunday night. In it, Julian Fellowes constructs a loving and politically incorrect portrait of the Granthams and their relatives, our favorite upstairs aristocrats, portraying them as people who are truly noble as well as members of the nobility. And continuing with currently unpopular themes, it is the downstairs people who show their petty jealousies and vindictive natures. Mayor de Blasio, intent only on punishing the wealthy in order to provide for universal kindergarten, might want to start watching Downton and expanding his mind to allow for rich, good-hearted citizens of Gotham, as well as Edwardian English Granthamites.
New Yorkers who watched the inauguration ceremonies of Bill de Blasio saw something quite extraordinary take place - the conversion of the Big Apple to the Apple that is Rotten to its core. Not one speaker came to praise our city - all were there to bury it and focus only on its racism and indifference to social justice. Starting with Harry Belafonte, a singer from Trinidad whose career was internationally launched from this country but who espouses anti-Americanism at every opportunity, we heard a litany of our many sins, notably our treatment of the black man. Instead of using his time at the podium to inspire his black brothers to stay in school, stay off drugs and marry before reproducing - he seized on New York’s stop and frisk law which has already been modified and needs no further comment. Instead of chastising his black brothers to stop murdering (mostly their own brethren), he bemoaned the fact that our country has the largest population of black prisoners in the world. On to the Reverend Fred Lucas Jr. (chaplain for the Dept of Sanitation), dressed in an elegant coat, scarf and hat, who referred to New York as a plantation but failed to say which massah gave him the fancy threads.
When he died recently, Larry Lujack had not been a regular disc jockey on a major Chicago radio station for over quarter of a century. Yet tributes poured in not just from Chicago, but from all over the country. How was he able to evoke vivid, long-ago memories from so many people, most of whom never met him personally? It is a testimony to the medium - and to the man.
The movie that purports to tell the tale of how Mary Poppins’ disagreeable author, P.L. Travers, succumbed to giving Walt Disney the rights to turn her creation into a studio blockbuster is strangely mis-titled. The story presented involves a sensitive young girl growing up in the Australian boonies with an alcoholic father leading his wife and three daughter family into a tailspin of misery and financial ruin. Played by Colin Farrell, the father is handsome, dashing and adventurous - except when he’s a falling down drunk who gets fired from every job and leaves his bewildered and vulnerable wife on the verge of suicide. Strangely, the little girl who is meant to be P.L. Travers never manages to identify with the mother’s plight even as she grows into middle-agehood. Instead, she remains stuck in the muddy memories of having let down her profligate father - a guilt so intense that it carries forward a traumatic memory involving some dropped pears - much heavier in every way than Proust’s madeleines.
The FDA prides itself on taking an active role in protecting consumers from the risks associated with direct-to-consumer testing. Yet the FDA has been notably restrained on the pharmaceutical marketing saturating the media and Internet concerning “Low T”, a condition that might be a “disease” or simply just a slick advertising strategy to generate drugs sales.
South Sudan is the newest country in the world and unfortunately seems to be on the edge of the newest civil war in the region. For the past week, clashes and killings have ravaged the capital and other areas of that young African country, yet all that comes from Washington is a heavy silence. Some observers believe that the U.S. administration is silent on purpose, allowing the confrontation to spread until the country no longer able to govern itself, ultimately leading the northern Jihadi regime to recapture influence over the south and restore itself as an Islamist power in the region after the loss of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo. While there is no hard evidence to directly blame the Obama administration for this looming new disaster, we certainly can see that the protracted U.S. absence from the scene as indirect proof that pressure groups within the Beltway might want to see free South Sudan go down in flames. But is the drama only due to U.S. policies, or are there also local disastrous politics to indict? A full review is warranted to see clearer through the fog of war.
The African people of southern Sudan, trapped against their will within a wider border under violent regimes that suppressed their traditions since the late 1950s, struggled for sixty years, resulting in the massacre of a million (mostly) civilians, the enslavement of half a million, and four generations of men and women devastated by an atrocious war. From 1983, and increasingly since 1989, a northern Islamist regime unleashed ethnic cleansing and extreme horrors on the populations of the South, devastating villages and towns. Omar Bashir’s forces, indoctrinated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, committed genocide in the South before they later turned to Darfur. But the African resistance led by John Garang, commander of the Sudan Popular Liberation Movement, stood firmly, even as the movement lost most of its ground to the Jihadist army. Eventually, and thanks to support from American churches, Western lawmakers and NGOs, the Bush Administration helped the oppressed Black nation to obtain its right for self-determination in January 2011. In my book The Coming Revolution of 2010, I projected a victory to the south Sudanese who would then face the challenge of building a new republic. Indeed, after a referendum handsomely legitimized their claim to liberty, the Africans of South Sudan obtained their independence and separated from the oppressive northern regime, which was later accused by the International Criminal Court of Genocide in Darfur.
The Republic of South Sudan joined the international community and was endowed with hopes and oil resources to bridge the gap of poverty created by Khartoum over decades. International companies and foreign countries rushed to invest and help the new country rise. But the old “colonial power” in the north did not let go of the formerly enslaved people. Omar Bashir maintained his military pressure on border areas, including Abei province, to preempt similar African revolts among Nubians, Beja and Darfuris in the north. On al Jazeera, Jihadi ideologues often menaced the south with retaliation for separation “from the Umma’s land” and many programs “predicted” an internecine war inside the south. These “predictions” finally materialized when followers of the Vice President Riek Machar and the troops of the President Silva Kir clashed over a so-called “coup attempt” in December. Sources in the region said outside parties, with the blessings of Khartoum, worked on encouraging these fights as a way to trigger a civil war that would end in the economic and political collapse of the landlocked country. The sources added that the Islamist regime of Bashir made the same promise to both sides in the south – to open northern Sudan’s pipelines to the seaports, the only access for Petrol exporting, if the one camp defeats the other – hence pushing the two influential parties in Juba to clash.
While it looks like the international Islamist networks drove South Sudan over the cliff, the leaders of the young African countries are to be lamed as well. Both Silva Kir and Riek Mashar were longtime deputies to the historic leader of the southern struggle, Colonel John Garang, who was killed in an accident which many believe was an assassination by the north. President Kir and Vice President Mashar were supposed to lead South Sudan to democracy and prosperity, but post-independence experiences, particularly in Africa, present the danger of power struggle. However, Kir and Mashar and their friends in the West could have and should have avoided this bloodbath over power. Some indicate that Mashar has in the past sided with the regime against Garang before reuniting with the southern resistance. We will leave that argument to the southern Sudanese themselves to resolve, democratically, at the ballot boxes. For now, we need to do all we can to stop the violence, restore legal order, and insure human rights.
The Obama Administration has shyly stated that these are regrettable incidents and sent few dozen Marines to protect the embassy, as well as dispatched an envoy. This is not foreign policy at the level of the challenge. President Obama should say more and do more to save this African country born under his watch as a leader of the free world and first black president of the United States. President Obama should phone leaders of southern Sudan and ask them publicly and sharply to stop the violence immediately and initiate an immediate reconciliation process, with all measures needed to stabilize south Sudan. To allow the situation to decay to a point of no return is to indirectly be part of its demise. Sources in Washington are advancing that the Muslim Brotherhood lobby, backed by petrodollar interests groups, is behind the Washington “laisser-faire” policy attitude towards Juba. According to these sources, South Sudan is the most experienced resistance against the Jihadists on the continent, and since the fall of the Ikhwan regime in Cairo, the Brotherhood lobby wants to reinstall itself in Khartoum to counterattack the new Egypt with further destabilization. It seems that the price for Bashir to go after General Sisee and the Egyptian revolution is to topple South Sudan and give Khartoum a say over its lost oil. Are these sources going too far in their analysis? Facts on the ground seem to validate such an analysis, particularly the irresponsible inaction of Washington vis-à-vis South Sudan’s tragic events. The U.S. Congress must rise to hold the administration accountable for the potential fall of the newest and freest African nation, now submitted to the horror of Brotherly killings.
Dr Walid Phares advises members of the US Congress on the Middle East and is the author of The Coming Revolution (2010). He is writing a new book on the future of the Arab Spring to be published in 2014
The conceit of HER, Spike Jonze’s highly praised film is that as humans become more and more dependent on the increasingly sophisticated programs in their tech devices, the programs become more dependent on the humans as well. It’s a clever concept and would have made an amazing shorter film with its elegiac mood set off by tinkling piano keys and a nuanced performance by Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Its problem is that the loneliness and sadness of Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, become attenuated to a repetitive series of sad-sack scenes, most of which seem more appropriate for a much younger character. I was reminded of a regular feature on Saturday Night Live years ago called “Deep Thoughts,” a parody of tendentious emotional outpourings.
Barack Obama’s political history is littered with lies. There are smallish lies (”I never knew my Uncle Omar”) to the mega-lies (see the very partial list above.) One of my personal favorites is his constant refrain that if “anybody” has any “good ideas” about how to do X,Y, or Z, he’s “happy” to hear them out.
Years ago there was a popular TV commercial for an investment firm that proclaimed: When we talk, people listen. For the national security crowd, when the House and/or Senate intelligence chairs talk, people listen.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” Those words, written by 19th Century poet John Greenleaf Whittier, may turn out prophetic for two of America’s most talented 21st Century athletes beset by career-threatening injuries, Derrick Rose and Robert Griffin III.
When Palo Alto, California resident Merrill Newman was held captive in North Korea recently he was coerced into reading an “apology” for his “crimes” during the Korean War, a statement written by his captors. Last night I dreamed I was taken prisoner by the Democratic National Committee and forced to read the following “confession:”
Almost everything that is wrong with the Times’ sensationalized front page story, “Girl in the Shadows,” (12/9/13) is foretold by the explanatory caption in the passive voice: “As New York has been reborn, children like Dasani have been left behind.” The implication is that we New Yorkers, under the spell of our old imperial mayor, have cruelly abandoned the poor children of our city.
So I’m up at 5 a.m., too early to start working. Might as well browse online. As a change of pace, I slide over to the Daily Beast, the online remnant of Newsweek. Naming the site for the London tabloid in Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel “Scoop” surely seemed more clever when they first thought it up than now, when some slice of America must avoid it, assuming, with that name, it must be the house organ for Satan.
In the annals of world literature, there are some very long books: Tolstoy’s War and Peace clocks in at 1,440 pages and Hugo’s Les Miserables beats that at 1,488. Now comes Part 1 of a biography of Barbara Stanwyck by Victoria Wilson: at 1,044 pages, it’s more than twice as long as three combined biographies of John Wayne, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe, infinitely more important screen icons than Ms. Stanwyck whose name would not be familiar to most people under 50. If Volume 2 of this devotional work is the same length as its predecessor, it might be longer than both the Old and New Testaments, a sobering and distressing thought. Fortunately, we can rely on the marketplace to correctly balance Ms. Wilson’s idee fixe with the realities of consumer interest, if not the subject’s proportionate merit.
I’m still combing through the details of the “deal” that President Obama, Secretary John Kerry and others in the administration struck with the Iranian regime, but one thing is obvious: it essentially clears the way for Iran to become a nuclear-armed power. Setting aside multiple, hard-fought UN resolutions calling for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, the “deal” allows Iran to continue enrichment and requires little to nothing of the regime in return for the easing of some sanctions.
The NYTimes of Nov 27th devoted one and a quarter pages of text and an oversized, inflammatory front page picture of an Israeli’s woman’s breast revealing a scar and the top of her nipple under a tattooed Star of David. The shorthand association reads: Israel, Jews, cancer. Is this another disease caused by the same people who brought on the black plague in the middle ages? Has Bibi spurred the spread of breast cancer? Is this a further extension of Israeli occupation? By contrast, there is no photograph of a partially exposed penis accompanying the story on page 4 of the NYT of Nov 28th concerning the rapid rise of unprotected sex among gay American men. The Times tiptoes through the statistics saying only that the rate of unprotected sex had risen 20% from 2005 - 2011 and that infection rates are highest among young black gay men. Here are some of the statistics that the Times didn’t include in this delicate treatment of a disturbing subject.
Team Obama has been working overtime to dissuade Congress from slapping new economic sanctions on Iran during ongoing nuclear negotiations — which resume today in Geneva — because they believe new squeeze tactics might put America and Iran on a path to war.
Bruce Dern’s default countenance is that of a dour man. In “Nebraska,” he plays the part of an exceedingly dour man - one who is also bitter, withdrawn, resigned, stubborn, taciturn, partially demented, alcoholic and very difficult. The plot of the movie hinges on Woody Grant’s determination to get to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to cash in on a Publisher’s Weekly type flyer promising that he could be a winner of one million dollars - the last opportunity in his collapsed life to regain some pride in himself and some measure of autonomy. Though we can believe that this character might set his clouded mind to undertake this fool’s journey from Montana to Nebraska, it’s harder to believe that his younger son, David, would decide to drive him there. There has been virtually no relationship between Woody and his sons throughout their lives and we discover, as David does, that before he was born, his father was involved with another woman and contemplating divorce from his wife. Yet, despite a serious accident and other difficulties that his father gets into en route, David is determined to keep going in order to satisfy the old man’s demands.
Anyone under 50 today must harbor at least some cynicism about the current obsession with 11/22/63, the day of the JFK assassination. Unlike much of what is written about that era, in this case it’s not simply another case of Baby-Boomer self-indulgence; the day is critical to understanding 20th Century American history. No other day, except possibly Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, marked a greater transition in American society than November 22, 1963.
Paris is the destination for all young, aspiring writers. So why did it take Stephen King so long to come here? - waiting until he was 66 years old and the acclaimed author of 50 books that have sold 350 million copies and spawned numerous films
Leo Ryan’s intellectual curiosity and a desire to perceive the harsh realities of life first-hand led the late Congressman to Guyana 35 years ago this week. It seems like yesterday. I spent much of the last evening of the 95th session of Congress in 1978 with the Democrat from Northern California. It was his final night in Washington before he would head back home and then, several weeks later, embark on his fact-finding trip to Guyana.