Thursday, October 30, 2008

The 'Real' Rashid Khalidi: Beyond the Political Smear Campaign

Rashid Khalidi, the Edward W. Said Professor of Arab Studies and a former director of the Middle East Institute at New York's Columbia University, has become the target of the Republican presidential campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin, American right wing pundits, and even the Republican National Committee, which issued a press release about him, filled with subterfuge and untruths. They have accused him of being an "extremist" (a keyword denoting that they do not like his point of view.) Those who have watched Prof. Khalidi's many appearances on PBS' respected interview program with Charlie Rose will know how false these claims really are. Khalidi, a well-respected specialist on Palestinian and modern Middle Eastern history, has published extensively on the subjects of Palestine, Israel, the Palestinian people, the "peace" process, and Arab nationalism.

Watch a talk by Prof. Khalidi, entitled "Alternative Views of American Primacy," at Conceptual Foundations of International Politics at Columbia University, held on October 8, 2007. He examines U.S. foreign policy, with a particular focus on the Middle East and Arab world, in a unipolar world.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Experience U2

U2 (Lead singer Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.), four friends from Dublin, Ireland, began their musical career in 1976. Since forming three decades ago, the quartet have written and recorded numerous critically acclaimed songs, while also dominating the popular music charts and the concert scene. Thirty years on, U2 is still going strong. Perhaps this is no clearer than on stage. U2 live is an experience that is difficult to describe. I was fortunate enough to see them on October 19, 2001 in Baltimore, just a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The band was already using a template that would be made famous during their Superbowl halftime show several months later: a screen behind them that listed the names of the victims killed in those attacks. See video examples below:

If one was to buy only three of their albums, they should be: 1983's War (with the seminal political protest anthem "Sunday Bloody Sunday," about "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland), 1987's The Joshua Tree (their pathbreaking masterpiece that also includes many of their biggest chart hits), and 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind (the band's return to form after the eccentric Pop album).

Bono has made a name for himself as a human rights and Africa debt relief advocate, and he is heavily involved in promoting social causes in the U.S., Europe, and around the world. He reportedly made the late Republican Senator Jesse Helms weep by describing the AIDS crisis in Africa.

For those who have not (yet) been able to experience U2 live, here are some video clips below. Even in video, the power of their live performance is still clear. These clips come from their two concert DVDs, one recorded at Slane Castle in Ireland and the other in Boston during their Elevation Tour (the tour that I saw them on). Enjoy.

"Kite," a song from All That You Can't Leave Behind. It was never a single, but it is one of my top 3 favorite U2 songs. Bono's father had died a month before the Baltimore show, and at that show, he remarked that the song is really from a father to their children. Initially, he said, he wrote it for his children, but following the death of his father, he said that, in a way, he saw it as a song that could also be seen as one from his father to him.

"With or Without You," from The Joshua Tree. Bono, the consummate showman, makes one fan's year.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday," U2's famous political protest song about "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland between Protestants, backed by the occupying British military and police, and Irish Roman Catholics. From their 1983 album War, the song was released at the height of violence between Protestant and Catholic groups, such as the Irish Republican Army and its various offshoots, and the British occupation forces, who often ignored human rights. This performance is at Slane Castle, Ireland.

"Where the Streets Have No Name," from The Joshua Tree. Perhaps U2's most recognizable (musically speaking) song, and one of their most powerful songs when performed live. Observe here.

"All I Want is You," a subtle but beautiful love song.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"The U.S. and the Arab World," a Short Talk by Hamid Dabashi

Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, delivers a talk ("The U.S. and the Arab World: An Assessment of American Policy in the Middle East") on October 10, 2008 at the annual Palestine Center conference.

Dabashi, whose scholarly interests and areas of research range from Shi'i religious and political art to the intellectual origins of the Iranian Revolution, Palestinian cinema, and the poems of Omar Khayyam, has published extensively in both scholarly journals, books, and in popular media. He writes a regular column of cultural criticism for Al-Ahram Weekly, an Egyptian English-language publication of commentary and analysis. The son of working class folk from the province of Khuzestan in Iran, he received his college education in Tehran. He completed a dual Ph.D. in Sociology and Islamic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among his notable publications are Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Staging a Revolution: The Art of the Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

RNC Gives Palin $150,000 for Clothing

RNC Shells Out $150,000 for Palin Fashion

By Jeanne Cummings
[October 22, 2008]

The Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August.

The cash expenditures immediately raised questions among campaign finance experts about their legality under the Federal Election Commission's long-standing advisory opinions on using campaign cash to purchase items for personal use.

Politico asked the McCain campaign for comment on Monday, explicitly noting the $150,000 in expenses for department store shopping and makeup consultation that were incurred immediately after Palin’s announcement. Pre-September reports do not include similar costs.

Spokeswoman Maria Comella declined to answer specific questions about the expenditures, including whether it was necessary to spend that much and whether it amounted to one early investment in Palin or if shopping for the vice presidential nominee was ongoing.

“The campaign does not comment on strategic decisions regarding how financial resources available to the campaign are spent," she said.
But hours after the story was posted on Politico's website and legal issues were raised, the campaign issued a new statement.

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it’s remarkable that we’re spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," said spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt. "It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."

The business of primping and dressing on the campaign trail has become fraught with political risk in recent years as voters increasingly see an elite Washington out of touch with their values and lifestyles.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore took heat for changing his clothing hues. And in 2006, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was ribbed for two hair styling sessions that cost about $3,000.

Then, there was Democrat John Edwards’ $400 hair cuts in 2007 and Republican McCain’s $520 black leather Ferragamo shoes this year.

A review of similar records for the campaign of Democrat Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee turned up no similar spending.

But all the spending by other candidates pales in comparison to the GOP outlay for the Alaska governor whose expensive, designer outfits have been the topic of fashion pages and magazines.

What hasn’t been apparent is where the clothes came from – her closet back in Wasilla or from the campaign coffers in Washington.

The answer can be found inside the RNC’s September monthly financial disclosure report under “itemized coordinated expenditures.”

It’s a report that typically records expenses for direct mail, telephone calls and advertising. Those expenses do show up, but the report also has a new category of spending: “campaign accessories.”

September payments were also made to Barney’s New York ($789.72) and Bloomingdale’s New York ($5,102.71).

Macy’s in Minneapolis, another store fortunate enough to be situated in the Twin Cities that hosted last summer’s Republican National Convention, received three separate payments totaling $9,447.71.

The entries also show two purchases at Pacifier, a top-notch baby store, suggesting $196 was spent to accommodate the littlest Palin to join the campaign trail.

An additional $4,902.45 was spent in early September at Atelier, a high-class shopping destination for men.

Editors' note: In earlier versions, a purchase at Steinlauf & Stoller was inaccurately described as a baby item.

AP INVESTIGATION: Palin Children Traveled on State

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Sarah Palin charged the state for her children to travel with her, including to events where they were not invited, and later amended expense reports to specify that they were on official business.

The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.

In all, Palin has charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters' 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since she took office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

Alaska law does not specifically address expenses for a governor's children. The law allows for payment of expenses for anyone conducting official state business.

As governor, Palin justified having the state pay for the travel of her daughters — Bristol, 17; Willow, 14; and Piper, 7 — by noting on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor's schedule.

But some organizers of these events said they were surprised when the Palin children showed up uninvited, or said they agreed to a request by the governor to allow the children to attend.

Several other organizers said the children merely accompanied their mother and did not participate. The trips enabled Palin, whose main state office is in the capital of Juneau, to spend more time with her children.

"She said any event she can take her kids to is an event she tries to attend," said Jennifer McCarthy, who helped organize the June 2007 Family Day Celebration picnic in Ketchikan that Piper attended with her parents.

State Finance Director Kim Garnero told The Associated Press she has not reviewed the Palins' travel expense forms, so she could not say whether the daughters' travel with their mother would meet the definition of official business.

After Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain chose Palin his running mate and reporters asked for the records, Palin ordered changes to previously filed expense reports for her daughters' travel.

In the amended reports, Palin added phrases such as "First Family attending" and "First Family invited" to explain the girls' attendance.

"The governor said, 'I want the purpose and the reason for this travel to be clear,'" said Linda Perez, state director of administrative services.

When Palin released her family's tax records as part of her vice presidential campaign, some tax experts questioned why she did not report the children's state travel reimbursements as income.

The Palins released a review by a Washington attorney who said state law allows the children's travel expenses to be reimbursed and not taxed when they conduct official state business.

Taylor Griffin, a McCain-Palin campaign spokesman, said Palin followed state policy allowing governors to charge for their children's travel. He said the governor's office has invitations requesting the family to attend some events, but he said he did not have them to provide.

In October 2007, Palin brought daughter Bristol along on a trip to New York for a women's leadership conference. Plane tickets from Anchorage to La Guardia Airport for $1,385.11 were billed to the state, records show, and mother and daughter shared a room for four nights at the $707.29-per-night Essex House hotel, which overlooks Central Park.

The event's organizers said Palin asked if she could bring her daughter.

Alexis Gelber, who organized Newsweek's Third Annual Women & Leadership Conference, said she does not know how Bristol ended up attending. Gelber said invitees usually attend alone, but some ask if they can bring a relative or friend.

Griffin, the campaign spokesman, said he believes someone with the event personally sent an e-mail to Bristol inviting her, but he did not have it to provide. Records show Palin also met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs representatives and visited the New York Stock Exchange.

In January, the governor, Willow and Piper showed up at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood Buffet, an Anchorage gala to announce winners of an earlier seafood competition.

"She was just there," said James Browning, executive director of Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which runs the event. Griffin said the governor's office received an invitation that was not specifically addressed to anyone.

When Palin amended her children's expense reports, she listed a role for the two girls at the function — "to draw two separate raffle tickets."

In the original travel form, Palin listed a number of events that her children attended and said they were there "in official capacity helping." She did not identify any specific roles for the girls.

In July, the governor charged the state $2,741.26 to take Bristol and Piper to Philadelphia for a meeting of the National Governors Association. The girls had their own room for five nights at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for $215.46 a night, expense records show.

Expense forms describe the girls' official purpose as "NGA Governor's Youth Programs and family activities." But those programs were activities designed to keep children busy, a service provided by the NGA

to accommodate governors and their families, NGA spokeswoman Jodi Omear said.

In addition to the commercial flights, the children have traveled dozens of times with Palin on a state plane. For these flights, the total cost of operating the plane, at $971 an hour, was about $55,000, according to state flight logs. The cost of operating the state plane does not increase when the children join their mother.

The organizer of an American Heart Association luncheon on Feb. 15 in Fairbanks said Palin asked to bring daughter Piper to the event, and the organizer said she was surprised when Palin showed up with daughter Willow and Bristol as well.

The three Palin daughters shared a room separate from their mother at the Princess Lodge in Fairbanks for two nights, at a cost to the state of $129 per night.

The luncheon took place before Palin's husband, Todd, finished fourth in the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmobile race, also in Fairbanks. The family greeted him at the finish line.

When Palin showed up at the luncheon with not just Piper but also Willow and Bristol, organizers had to scramble to make room at the main table, said Janet Bartels, who set up the event.

"When it's the governor, you just make it happen," she said.

The state is already reviewing nearly $17,000 in per diem payments to Palin for more than 300 nights she slept at her own home, 40 miles from her satellite office in Anchorage.

Tony Knowles, a Democratic former governor of Alaska who lost to Palin in a 2006 bid to reclaim the job, said he never charged the state for his three children's commercial flights or claimed their travel as official state business.

Knowles, who was governor from 1994 to 2002, is the only other recent Alaska governor who had school-age children while in office.

"There was no valid reason for the children to be along on state business," said Knowles, a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. "I cannot recall any instance during my eight years as governor where it would have been appropriate to claim they performed state business."

Knowles said he brought his children to one NGA event while in office but didn't charge the state for their trip.

In February 2007, the three girls flew from Juneau to Anchorage on Alaska Airlines. Palin charged the state for the $519.30 round-trip ticket for each girl, and noted on the expense form that the daughters accompanied her to "open the start of the Iron Dog race."

The children and their mother then watched as Todd Palin and other racers started the competition, which Todd won that year. Palin later had the relevant expense forms changed to describe the girls' business as "First Family official starter for the start of the Iron Dog race."

The Palins began charging the state for commercial flights after the governor kept a 2006 campaign promise to sell a jet bought by her predecessor.

Palin put the jet up for sale on eBay, a move she later trumpeted in her star-making speech at the Republican National Convention, and it was ultimately sold by the state at a loss.

That left only one high-performance aircraft deemed safe enough for her to use — a 1980 twin-engine King Air assigned to the public safety agency but, according to flight logs, out of service for maintenance and repairs about a third of the time Palin has been governor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The 'Frontier Gandhi'

Abdul Ghaffar Khan is 'The Frontier Gandhi'

The devout Muslim leader preached passive resistance and opposed violence.

By Allan M. Jalon
The Los Angeles Times [October 19, 2008]

NEW YORK — BLOOD-DRENCHED stories about suicide bombings, armed clashes and assassinations that pour from Pakistan's tribal belt these days, while stressing the eruption of Taliban-Al Qaeda-related conflict, often also define the regional culture as one steeped in violence for centuries. But what rarely gets told is how the people of the wild west of Pakistan also share the modern history of radical nonviolence.

Little known in the West is a figure named Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who argued that religiously justified violence was "not God's religion." Known as Badshah (also spelled Baacha) Khan to his followers, the devoutly Muslim leader was called "The Frontier Gandhi" and built an Islamic parallel to Gandhi's violence-eschewing ideals of compassion for one's enemies and peaceful resistance to oppression as a means of overcoming it.

Khan, a Pashtun tribal leader who died at 98 in 1988 in Peshawar, also founded the Awami National Party, which today fights against enormous odds to organize tribal aspirations in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan and nearby areas away from the Taliban. The ANP website -- -- carries an image of Khan's long-nosed, serene face at the top. On Oct. 2, Asfandyar Wali Khan, Khan's grandson and the president of the ANP, survived a suicide bomb attack outside Peshawar that killed four others.

On Nov. 8, the first full filmic account of Badshah Khan's exceptional life will get its American premiere in New York at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival, an art film showcase mounted by a group that includes novelist Salman Rushdie on its advisory board. The documentary, titled "The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace," is the work of filmmaker and writer T.C. McLuhan, daughter of the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who spent 21years to bring the story to the screen.

A restless, determined woman, McLuhan -- she's called Teri -- made numerous trips to Afghanistan and other places where the Badshah Khan story unfolded, even as American bombs fell in Taliban-held Afghanistan after 9/11 and through the dangerous times that followed. She shot the film in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province, giving this story of filmmaking persistence a geopolitical dimension not many can match. Just her tale of transporting two canisters of film stock from Los Angeles across several South Asian borders becomes a saga.

She says she made six trips over the winding Khyber Pass. She dug into archives Afghan film officials sheltered from the Taliban. She managed impossibly smooth tracking shots on rutted streets using a makeshift dolly her Indian cinematographer built with skateboard wheels. A warlord became her guide and appears with her in production stills, standing in a rugged Afghan gully. She had her equipment thrown into the street by police. And she kept going back, using her Canadian citizenship and a widening network of connections to make her account of South Asia's least known great man.

For McLuhan, 62, the finished film completes a journey that started in September 1987 in Berkeley, when an acquaintance gave her "Nonviolent Soldier of Islam," a book by the late Eknath Easwaran, who knew Khan.

McLuhan says her long commitment to her project grew from her feeling about Khan's "uncommon greatness. And that was accompanied by, certainly, uncommon courage. I felt a depth of spirit that I simply wanted to know more about."

She's sitting in her Manhattan editing studio with a poster of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" (her father made a memorable cameo in the movie) on a wall. The slightly built McLuhan speaks of her filmmaking adventure as if it was all somehow fated. She says that, upon receiving Easwaran's book, "I looked at it and thought, 'I don't know anything about this part of the world,' and three weeks later, at about 3 in the morning, I picked it up and felt all the electrons around me shift."

South Asian luminaries she interviewed included Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose memory of meeting Khan as a boy is one of the film's most intimate moments, and former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who makes it clear he doesn't view Khan as a Pakistani patriot (which Khan really was not, given his quasi-nationalistic ideal of a Pashtun homeland).McLuhan has made two other films, one a fictional tale about twins -- she is a twin -- called "The Third Walker." She also made "The Shadow Catcher," a documentary about photographer Edward S. Curtis, and has written several books. She refers to Khan, whom she never met, as "BK," as if they were close friends.

As a sweeping narrative of a charismatic pilgrim's progress, "The Frontier Gandhi" has both actual history and certain qualities in common with Richard Attenborough's 1982 epic film "Gandhi," in which Khan plays a minor role. McLuhan follows the arc from Khan's start as the member of an aristocratic family in Charsadda, a town in the Peshawar Valley, to the disappointment his universalist ideals met -- as also happened with Gandhi -- with the partition of India.

"As a young boy," Khan once said, "I had violent tendencies. The hot blood of the Pashtuns ran through my veins. We have an abundance of violence in our nature."

McLuhan uses an actor representing a generic (and sinister) British official to recite historical accounts of how the British empire used its military "streamroller" in the tribal areas to play the "great game" for regional influence against Russia. The British ignored the general welfare of the Pashtun people. Like Gandhi, Khan cultivated nationalistic fervor in the soil of deprivations, including poor education and hunger. He convinced villagers that the old ways of feuds and vendettas thwarted collective progress.

At 20, he opened a local school, making education the root of broader reforms. McLuhan says he started to develop his nonviolent philosophy before meeting Gandhi, after a sort of vision that she never quite details. "There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pashtun like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence," he says, in a line from McLuhan's film (the voice speaking Khan's words throughout the picture belongs to Indian actor Om Puri). "It was followed 1,400 years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca."

Khan founded a group called the Khudai Khidmatgar, or servants of God, known as the Red Shirts for the red cotton clothing worn by members, who defied ancient local and religious divisions to join. "The more conservative figure for how many there were at their height is the one I say -- more than 100,000," McLuhan says. "Others have said more than 300,000. There were representatives of many different tribes. Muslims, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist."

McLuhan recounted how she gathered and filmed 82 former Khudai Khidmatgars, five of them women, many in their 90s: "One of them had saved his complete uniform." In one interview, we hear how Khan taught people from a warrior world that their oppressors "may kill, but we won't. They may harm us, but we won't harm them."

"Do you know the one word BK used when asked to define nonviolence?" McLuhan asks with hushed intensity, eyes wide with a delight that often infuses them when she speaks of her hero. " 'Nonviolence,' he said, 'is patience.'

"Most certainly the heart of the film," she continues, is the "tone poem" she wove of those at-the-camera faces of the Khudai Khidmatgars as they passionately, in six languages, including Urdu and Pashto, speak the oath they learned when they were being jailed and tortured by the British for following Khan, who spent about two-thirds of his life imprisoned by British and then Pakistan authorities who feared his influence.

The oath turns into verbal music, the English translation orchestrated over the still-audible voices. (The music was overseen by composer-performer David Amram.) "I am a Khudai Khidmatgar," it begins. "And as God needs no service, serving his creation is serving him. I promise to serve humanity in the name of God."

Khan, offered the leadership of the Indian National Congress during India's independence fight, rejected it to avoid becoming a purely political figure. It was a larger focus shared by Khan and Gandhi, who were personally close.

Unlike Gandhi, Khan did not leave a large written record or become a media sensation. But McLuhan found photos of them together that are surprising for their glow of mutual warmth. The petite Gandhi is joined by an Islamic sage who stands towering and sinewy in simple cotton clothing, his gentle-fierce aura something like Gandhi's -- only different.

How, one wonders, can Khan be so little known? In the film, M.J. Akbar, one of India's best-known journalists, gives McLuhan an answer: "The market for nonviolence was so used up by Mahatma Gandhi there was no space left for an alternative Gandhi, for a second Gandhi. You know, this is one of the problems of media -- that even history becomes an exercise in brand building. So the brand was built around Gandhi, and not on Badshah Khan."

Khan is the subject of a book-length study, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match his Mountains, by Eknath Easwaran, the late Indian philosopher and spiritualist. Easwaran taught English in his native India before coming to the United States in 1959. He also wrote books on some classics of Hindu literature, such as the Upanishads and the Bahagvad Gita.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Olive Harvest Attacks on Palestinians by Israeli Settlers Widely Condemned, Except by the Settlers who Claim Palestinians Destroy their Own Trees

"Reporters Without Borders condemned an assault on photographer Abdelhafiz al-Hashlamouni, of the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) two days ago under the noses of soldiers in Hebron. Israeli settlers in Ramat Yashi beat him and tried to snatch his equipment as the journalist covered western and Israeli peace activists demonstrating their solidarity by helping Palestinian farmers to pick olives. He was left covered with bruises. [Statement, RWB]"

Olive Harvest Attacks on Palestinians by Israeli Settlers Brings Condemndation from Palestinian and Israeli Officials, Human Rights Activists

BBC News Online [October 20, 2008]

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has condemned violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians harvesting their olives as a "dangerous escalation".

There have been several reports of attacks in recent days, a week into the yearly olive harvest. But settlers have accused Palestinians of burning their own olive groves and then blaming them.

Mr Abbas criticised Israel for failing to stop the attacks, but the army says it is working to protect Palestinians.

Millions of olive trees across the West Bank provide a livelihood to many Palestinians.

"We condemn the attacks against our Palestinian people and the harassment by the settlers and army during the olive harvest in more than one place in the West Bank," said Mr Abbas, in comments published in Israeli newspapers on Monday.

He said he would fund the planting of a million trees, calling on Palestinians to green the West Bank with olive groves.

'Vocal and disruptive'

On Monday, the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement said more than 100 settlers had blocked roads near the West Bank town of Qalqilya and had been throwing stones.

They said four people, three internationals and one Israeli citizen, had been arrested "after being attacked by settlers" while helping Palestinian farmers pick olives.

In an incident filmed by the Associated Press on Saturday, a Palestinian photographer and a British woman were punched by settlers in the West Bank town of Hebron before the Israeli military broke up the scuffle.

The Israeli military criticised the Palestinians in the area for going out to harvest their olives without coordinating the timing with them.

Under measures which the Israeli military says are aimed at reducing clashes, Palestinians in some areas must harvest their olives according to a timetable agreed by Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

The Jerusalem Post on Saturday quoted an unnamed "top Israeli Defence Forces official" as saying this year's harvest was one of the most violent in recent years, with 20 clashes so far.

On Tuesday, Israel's defence minister lashed out at those he called "thugs" who interfere with the olive harvest.

"I condemn these thugs who interfere with the olive harvest which constitutes an important sector of the Palestinian economy," Ehud Barak told Israel's army radio.

The settlers' Yesha Council has said that while "a few very vocal, very visible and very disruptive Jews... allegedly carry out actions against the Arab olive groves", the number involved is "tiny" and the damage minor compared to "vandalism and theft against Jewish farms elsewhere".

The tensions come against a backdrop of a rise in violent incidents between Palestinians and settlers in the West Bank this year.

Israel has settled about 450,000 of its citizens in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since it occupied the areas in 1967.

Settlements, which are heavily guarded by the Israeli army, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

*Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak of the Labor Party has condemned Israeli Jewish settler attacks on Palestinian farmers harvesting their olives, calling them "thugs." Read more HERE.

*Israeli Jewish settlers clashed with Israeli soldiers, police, international activists, and members of the Rabbis for Human Rights organization who sought to protect Palestinian olive harvesters from attacks by the settlers. Read more HERE.

*Israeli Jewish settlers assaulted news photographers and international activists during attacks on Palestinian olive harvesters. Read more HERE and HERE.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wary of Islam, China Tightens a Vise of Rules on Uyghur Minority

Wary of Islam, China Tightens a Vise of Rules

By Edward Wong

The New York Times
[October 19, 2008]

Khotan, China--The grand mosque that draws thousands of Muslims each week in this oasis town has all the usual trappings of piety: dusty wool carpets on which to kneel in prayer, a row of turbans and skullcaps for men without headwear, a wall niche facing the holy city of Mecca in the Arabian desert.

But large signs posted by the front door list edicts that are more Communist Party decrees than Koranic doctrines.

The imam’s sermon at Friday Prayer must run no longer than a half-hour, the rules say. Prayer in public areas outside the mosque is forbidden. Residents of Khotan are not allowed to worship at mosques outside of town.

One rule on the wall says that government workers and nonreligious people may not be “forced” to attend services at the mosque — a generous wording of a law that prohibits government workers and Communist Party members from going at all.

“Of course this makes people angry,” said a teacher in the mosque courtyard, who would give only a partial name, Muhammad, for fear of government retribution. “Excitable people think the government is wrong in what it does. They say that government officials who are Muslims should also be allowed to pray.”

To be a practicing Muslim in the vast autonomous region of northwestern China called Xinjiang is to live under an intricate series of laws and regulations intended to control the spread and practice of Islam, the predominant religion among the Uighurs, a Turkic people uneasy with Chinese rule.

The edicts touch on every facet of a Muslim’s way of life. Official versions of the Koran are the only legal ones. Imams may not teach the Koran in private, and studying Arabic is allowed only at special government schools.

Two of Islam’s five pillars — the sacred fasting month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca called the hajj — are also carefully controlled. Students and government workers are compelled to eat during Ramadan, and the passports of Uighurs have been confiscated across Xinjiang to force them to join government-run hajj tours rather than travel illegally to Mecca on their own.

Government workers are not permitted to practice Islam, which means the slightest sign of devotion, a head scarf on a woman, for example, could lead to a firing.

The Chinese government, which is officially atheist, recognizes five religions — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism and Buddhism — and tightly regulates their administration and practice. Its oversight in Xinjiang, though, is especially vigilant because it worries about separatist activity in the region.

Some officials contend that insurgent groups in Xinjiang pose one of the biggest security threats to China, and the government says the “three forces” of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism threaten to destabilize the region. But outside scholars of Xinjiang and terrorism experts argue that heavy-handed tactics like the restrictions on Islam will only radicalize more Uighurs.

Many of the rules have been on the books for years, but some local governments in Xinjiang have publicly highlighted them in the past seven weeks by posting the laws on Web sites or hanging banners in towns.

Those moves coincided with Ramadan, which ran from September to early October, and came on the heels of a series of attacks in August that left at least 22 security officers and one civilian dead, according to official reports. The deadliest attack was a murky ambush in Kashgar that witnesses said involved men in police uniforms fighting each other.

The attacks were the biggest wave of violence in Xinjiang since the 1990s. In recent months, Wang Lequan, the long-serving party secretary of Xinjiang, and Nuer Baikeli, the chairman of the region, have given hard-line speeches indicating that a crackdown will soon begin.

Mr. Wang said the government was engaged in a “life or death” struggle in Xinjiang. Mr. Baikeli signaled that government control of religious activities would tighten, asserting that “the religious issue has been the barometer of stability in Xinjiang.”

Anti-China forces in the West and separatist forces are trying to carry out “illegal religious activities and agitate religious fever,” he said, and “the field of religion has become an increasingly important battlefield against enemies.”

Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, accounting for 46 percent of the population of 19 million. Many say Han Chinese, the country’s dominant ethnic group, discriminate against them based on the most obvious differences between the groups: language and religion.

The Uighurs began adopting Sunni Islam in the 10th century, although patterns of belief vary widely, and the religion has enjoyed a surge of popularity after the harshest decades of Communist rule. According to government statistics, there are 24,000 mosques and 29,000 religious leaders in Xinjiang. Muslim piety is especially strong in old Silk Road towns in the south like Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan.

Many Han Chinese see Islam as the root of social problems in Xinjiang.

“The Uighurs are lazy,” said a man who runs a construction business in Kashgar and would give only his last name, Zhao, because of the political delicacy of the topic.

“It’s because of their religion,” he said. “They spend so much time praying. What are they praying for?”

The government restrictions are posted inside mosques and elsewhere across Xinjiang. In particular, officials take great pains to publicize the law prohibiting Muslims from arranging their own trips for the hajj. Signs painted on mud-brick walls in the winding alleyways of old Kashgar warn against making illegal pilgrimages. A red banner hanging on a large mosque in the Uighur area of Urumqi, the regional capital, says, “Implement the policy of organized and planned pilgrimage; individual pilgrimage is forbidden.”

As dozens of worshipers streamed into the mosque for prayer on a recent evening, one Uighur man pointed to the sign and shook his head. “We didn’t write that,” he said in broken Chinese. “They wrote that.”

He turned his finger to a white neon sign above the building that simply said “mosque” in Arabic script. “We wrote that,” he said.

Like other Uighurs interviewed for this article, he agreed to speak on the condition that his name not be used for fear of retribution by the authorities.

The government gives various reasons for controlling the hajj. Officials say that the Saudi Arabian government is concerned about crowded conditions in Mecca that have led to fatal tramplings, and that Muslims who leave China on their own sometimes spend too much money on the pilgrimage.

A People’s Liberation Army political poster in a town in Xinjiang, China, a region largely inhabited by Uighurs, an ethnic group uneasy with the government’s rule.

Critics say the government is trying to restrict the movements of Uighurs and prevent them from coming into contact with other Muslims, fearing that such exchanges could build a pan-Islamic identity in Xinjiang.

About two years ago, the government began confiscating the passports of Uighurs across the region, angering many people here. Now virtually no Uighurs have passports, though they can apply for them for short trips. The new restriction has made life especially difficult for businessmen who travel to neighboring countries.

To get a passport to go on an official hajj tour or a business trip, applicants must leave a deposit of nearly $6,000.

One man in Kashgar said the imam at his mosque, who like all official imams is paid by the government, had recently been urging congregants to go to Mecca only with legal tours.

That is not easy for many Uighurs. The cost of an official trip is the equivalent of $3,700, and hefty bribes usually raise the price. Once a person files an application, the authorities do a background check into the family. If the applicant has children, the children must be old enough to be financially self-sufficient, and the applicant is required to show that he or she has substantial savings in the bank. Officials say these conditions ensure that a hajj trip will not leave the family impoverished.

Rules posted last year on the Xinjiang government’s Web site say the applicant must be 50 to 70 years old, “love the country and obey the law.”

The number of applicants far outnumbers the slots available each year, and the wait is at least a year. But the government has been raising the cap. Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that from 2006 to 2007, more than 3,100 Muslims from Xinjiang went on the official hajj, up from 2,000 the previous year.

One young Uighur man in Kashgar said his parents were pushing their children to get married soon so they could prove the children were financially independent, thus allowing them to qualify to go on the hajj. “Their greatest wish is to go to Mecca once,” the man, who wished to be identified only as Abdullah, said over dinner.

But the family has to weigh another factor: the father, now retired, was once a government employee and a Communist Party member, so he might very well lose his pension if he went on the hajj, Abdullah said.

The rules on fasting during Ramadan are just as strict. Several local governments began posting the regulations on their Web sites last month. They vary by town and county but include requiring restaurants to stay open during daylight hours and mandating that women not wear veils and men shave their beards.

Enforcement can be haphazard. In Kashgar, many Uighur restaurants remained closed during the fasting hours. “The religion is too strong in Kashgar,” said one man. “There are rules, but people don’t follow them.”

One rule that officials in some towns seem especially intent on enforcing is the ban on students’ fasting. Supporters of this policy say students need to eat to study properly.

The local university in Kashgar adheres to the policy. Starting last year, it tried to force students to eat during the day by prohibiting them from leaving campus in the evening to join their families in breaking the daily fast. Residents of Kashgar say the university locked the gates and put glass shards along the top of a campus wall.

After a few weeks, the school built a higher wall.

Huang Yuanxi contributed research.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Photos of the Day: Protests in Iraq against the U.S. Occupation

Poster to the right: Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr
Poster to the left, bottom: (Upper left) Muqtada and (Upper right) his father, Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was assassinated in 1999 with two of his sons by Iraqi Ba'thist agents.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How Acting is Done, Part 9

Philip Seymour Hoffman in his name-making role as Truman Capote in Capote, which documents the story behind the writing of the famous American author's genre-making non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood. Long an underrated actor, this role won him a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

How Acting is Done, Part 8

Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in Martin Scorsese's multi-Oscar-winning film The Departed. One of the best movie beginnings in recent memory.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rashid Khalidi on Palestinian History with Charlie Rose

Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi, the Edward W. Said Professor of Arab Studies and a Professor of History, a noted expert in modern Middle Eastern history and the history of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Listen to Khalidi speak about his latest book, the excellent historical inquiry and survey The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, on PBS' Charlie Rose Show. Khalidi is a frequent guest on Rose's show. Lately, many American conservatives and right wing Israeli activists have gone into overdrive attacking Khalidi as a "terrorist," as they attempt to smear Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama, who knew Khalidi when he taught at the University of Chicago. Few of them probably could talk substantively about Khalidi's scholarship, and instead criticize him because of their own political and ideological interests. Listen to Khalidi himself, rather than ideological smear merchants, as he and Rose talk about the intricacies of the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Al-Qaradawi Calls for an End to Capitalism

Replace Capitalism with Islamic Financial System, says Qaradawi

(as if there was just one view of what an "Islamic" system is)

Agence France-Presse [October 13, 2008]

DOHA: Muslims should take advantage of the global financial crisis to build an economic system compatible with Islamic principles, influential Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi said on Sunday.

"The collapse of the capitalist system based on usury and paper and not on goods traded on the market is proof that it is in crisis and shows that Islamic economic philosophy is holding up," said the Egyptian-born, Qatar-based cleric. "The Western system has collapsed and we have a complete economic philosophy as well as spiritual strength," he said at Sunday's opening of a conference on Jerusalem.

"All riches are ours... the Islamic nation has all or nearly all the oil and we have an economic philosophy that no one else has," Qaradawi said.

He urged Muslims to "profit from the crisis to bring about the triumph of the (Islamic) nation, which holds the spiritual and material resources for victory."

The sixth conference on Jerusalem is being attended by around 300 people representing political parties as well as Muslim and Christian NGOs, from various countries. It is staged by Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Institution, which is dedicated to the conservation of the holy city and its sacred places. Participants include Khaled Meshaal, exiled head of the Palestinian movement Hamas, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei. [He's not just a "spiritual" leader, he is the supreme religious "guide" who has immense political power, supposedly justified under Twelver Shi'i "religious" traditions, as envisioned by the late Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ruhullah Khumayni.]

The three-day conference will look at ways of protecting Jerusalem and its holy sites, which participants believe are threatened by Israel.

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a leading Sunni religious scholar from Egypt who resides permanently in the Arab Gulf state of Qatar. He was jailed several times in Egypt for his ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a widespread socio-political movement that is banned by the authoritarian government of President M. Hosni Mubarak. Al-Qaradawi is both widely published and popular, frequent commentator on Arabic-language television. The Al-Jazeera Television program Shari'a wa'l Hayah ("Islamic Law and Life") is a popular, regular program on which he appears. Once a proponent of dialogue between different Muslim groups, al-Qaradawi recently stirred up controversy when he called Shi'i Muslims "heretics" who were "infiltrating" Sunni countries, a charge similar to those of some Sunni Muslim takfiris, or those who proclaim other Muslims with whom they do not agree theologically apostates or non-Muslims.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Al-Qa'ida's Makeover (?)

Team of Rivals

Are al Qa’eda’s leaders – fueled by resentment of Hizbollah’s appeal – moving to rebrand themselves a “resistance” group?

By Nathan Field
The National, Australia [October 9, 2008]

Nothing must aggravate al Qa’eda more than Hizbollah’s enduring popularity in the Arab world. The leaders of al Qa’eda are forced to hide in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border, watching virtually every Arabic television station call them “terrorists” – while commentators compete to sing the praises of the “resistance” led by Hizbollah.

No political group has more respect on the streets of predominantly Sunni countries like Egypt than Hizbollah. In a 2008 Zogby Arab Public Opinion poll, 27 per cent of Arabs chose Hassan Nasrallah as their ideal leader – putting him in first place. The Egyptian Sunni religious scholar Dr Abla Khadawy expressed the sentiments of millions of Arabs when she told the Egyptian paper al Masri al Youm in June that Nasrallah was the “hope of the Umma” and praised Hizbollah for returning “some of our lost dignity”. >

Contrary to prevailing perceptions in the West, the Arabic media draws a sharp distinction between “resistance” and “terrorism”, with marked impact on the reputations of Hizbollah and al Qa’eda. The “resistance” – which also includes groups like Hamas and insurgents fighting the US in Iraq – is celebrated for its defence of Arab interests. On pan-Arab satellite networks, it is not uncommon for guests and commentators to proudly pay tribute to the Muqawama.

Al Qa’eda, by contrast, are invariably dismissed as mere terrorists. One programme on al Arabiya, called The Death Industry, is devoted entirely to attacking the deeds of jihadists – who have, perhaps unsurprisingly, vowed to kill the show’s presenter.

The “terrorist” label is a major dilemma for a group whose explicit aim involves societal revolution – it forces al Qa’eda to the margins while other militant groups bask in glory, drastically reducing their base of passive supporters and damaging their attempts at recruitment.

Many Arabs sympathised with the attacks waged by al Qa’eda and its allies against American forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, but this began to change after the group’s Iraqi affiliate, led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, devoted its efforts to massacring Shiites and killing fellow Sunnis deemed insufficiently pious.

Recent evidence, however, suggests that the leadership of al Qa’eda Central recognises the severity of the problem, and intends to change course in an effort to “rebrand” itself as part of the resistance. The first step for al Qa’eda and fellow-travelling Salafi jihadists is to reinsert themselves into the cause that enjoys widespread Arab support: resistance against Israel. If they can pull it off – and this is far from certain – it will pose serious problems for the United States and its allies.

Unfortunately for the US, the line between “terrorists” and “resistance” is thin, and it may be a mere matter of targets rather than tactics: groups that attack local Muslims or western civilians are terrorists; groups that attack “occupiers” are resistance.

A telling exchange on the May 5th episode of the al Jazeera talk show al Itijah al Muakis illustrated that for some, the line is so fine that you can be a terrorist one day and a member of the resistance the next. An Egyptian commentator pressed Mahsan al Awaji, a Saudi Salafi, to say whether he thought “Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Mohamed Atta and Khalid Islambouli” were “terrorists or fighters.”

Al Awaji danced around the question, noting that the US considered Bin Laden a noble Mujahid during the 1980s when he fought against the Soviet Union. Forced to give a concrete answer, Awaji finally said that “when Bin Laden raises his weapons against the US occupying forces such as in Afghanistan he is a fighter, when he attacks civilians he is a terrorist.”Over the last year, al Qa’eda’s leadership has been heavily criticised from within for its indiscriminate violence. In late 2007, Sayyid Imam al Shareef, the former leader of the Egyptian militant group Tanzim al Jihad, and one of the chief ideologues of the militant jihadist movement, published a devastating attack against al Qa’eda. His criticism was considered sufficiently damaging that Zawahiri himself felt the need to respond and denounce Imam.

At the same time, it may be that attacks against the “Far Enemy” – the United States – have reached the point of diminishing returns. As part of a 10-part series on jihadists in Lebanon that ran in the Beirut paper al Akhbar, the author spoke to Salafi jihadists in the Lebanon’s refugee camps, one of whom, Abu Sharif, admitted “we have sent our best youth to fight in Iraq since the beginning of the invasion. That has not stopped and it is not going to stop… But if we had the ability to go fight Jihad in Palestine, we would not have gone to Iraq.”

For the first time, Salafi jihadists seem to be focusing their energies on Israel: Abu Sharif also told al Akhbar that “we are focusing on forming a military wing in Palestine. On September 2, the London-based al Hayat published a front-page story about the sudden appearance of an al Qa’eda linked group operating out of Gaza who emphasise a shared ideology with al Qa’eda but aim to fight Israelis. In 2006 the al Jazeera reporter Yousri Fouda produced a documentary on al Qa’eda in the Levant, in which Fuad Hussein, an expert on Islamist groups, maintained that al Qa’eda’s goal in Iraq was to build a base from which to weaken security in Lebanon and Syria – for the purposes of laying the groundwork to operate in those countries against Israel, their ultimate goal.

But as their efforts to gain a foothold in Syria and Lebanon indicate, getting in position to carry out attacks on Israel is more complicated than announcing the intention to do so. For this brings the jihadists into direct confrontation with Hizbollah – not only does the Party of God have a monopoly over the hearts and minds of Sunnis from Amman to Morocco, they have firm control of the territory needed to launch attacks against Israel.

Hizbollah’s stronghold in South Lebanon has allowed them to keep Sunnis away from the fight with Israel, which has long enraged Salafis. On the May 10 episode of al Jazeera’s Open Dialogue, Da’ai al Shahel al-Islam, the founder of the Lebanese Salafi movement, complained that “We totally agree on the topic of resistance, but they don’t allow us to participate… Why do they ban the people of Sidon and the Fajr Forces from practicing their right of resistance. Isn’t this an insult?”

But the indications suggest that al Qa’eda has plans to overcome the Hizbollah roadblock in South Lebanon. In a September 23 article at Islam Online, the Jordanian writer Akram Hajazi argued that al Qa’eda intends to provoke Hizbollah into a conflict with Israel, which would “kill two birds with one stone.” Hizbollah would weaken Israel, but would also be weakened, allowing Sunni jihadists to insinuate themselves into fighting positions. In the meantime, al Qa’eda hopes it can bait Hizbollah to turn its weapons against other Lebanese. Hajazi notes how Nasrallah implored his fighters not to get involved in fighting during the battles at Nahr al Bared, saying “do you want to give al Qa’eda an opening?”

The bigger challenge for al Qa’eda is to stain Hizbollah’s reputation in the eyes of its millions of Sunni supporters throughout the region. Hejazi noted that in the predominately Sunni countries of North Africa and the Levant, respect for militant groups is based on their success against the Israelis. In this Hizbollah has excelled, while al Qa’eda has produced nothing.

The leaders of al Qa’eda Central have avoided criticising Shia forces in Iraq, Iran, or in Lebanon on religious terms. Because the “masses” judge Hizbollah by its military prowess and not religious beliefs, al Qa’eda cannot criticise them as Shiites without looking as if they are trying to divide the Umma.

But al Qa’eda may have got some help from one of their most fervent opponents, the prominent Islamic scholar Yusuf al Qaradawi. In a September 9 interview with al Masri al Youm, he called the Shia heretics and denounced them for what he alleged was an attempt to penetrate Sunni societies. Qaradawi’s remarks stirred a huge controversy, and he was criticised by prominent Iranian and Lebanese Shiite clerics. But many Sunnis, including scholars at al Azhar, defended him, and he did not back down.

Given Qaradawi’s enormous influence, his comments are likely to further inflame rising sectarianism in the region – exactly what al Qa’eda needs to cut into Hizbollah’s popular appeal.

It is too soon to tell whether Qaradawi has presented al Qa’eda with the “game-changer” it needs to resuscitate its own reputation. But al Qa’eda is running out of places to fight. In the last year the group has been kicked out of Iraq. And recent reports emerging out of Afghanistan suggest that Saudi Arabia is trying to drive a wedge between the Taliban and al Qa’eda, severing its ties in that country. Turning back to that old standby, the fight against Israel, might be al Qa’eda’s best strategy to regain credibility – but it looks increasingly like their only option as well.
Nathan Field is a journalist based in Cairo.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Write a Novel Series: Bernard Cornwell's 'Sharpe' Series

British actor Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe in the TV series based on Bernard Cornwell's series of novels which document the exploits of Sharpe, a fictional British soldier (and later officer), primarily during the Napoleonic wars. Bean is best recognized (in the U.S.) for his portrayal of Boromir, eldest and favorite son of Denethor, the last steward of Gondor in the last of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, The Return of the King. I have fond memories, from my otherwise "meh" days in seventh grade in southern Virginia, of eagerly reading through Cornwell's Sharpe novels or listening to them on books-on-tape. Sharpe's Waterloo, in particular, was a favorite and from Cornwell's crisp, engaging writing I imagined that I was at the small Belgian town in 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte, escaped from exile on the island of Elba, attempted to return as emperor of France by defeating the British and allied forces under the First Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, and the Prussians under the crochety old Field Marshall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The novel series is highly recommended. It's also been made into a British TV series starring Bean.

"Richard Sharpe is the central character in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series of historical fiction stories. These formed the basis for an ITV television series wherein the eponymous character was played by Sean Bean.

Cornwell's series (composed of several novels and short stories) charts Sharpe's progress in the British Army during the Napoleonic wars. He begins as a Private in Sharpe's Tiger gradually promoted to a field commission of Lieutenant Colonel in Sharpe's Waterloo. They dramatise his struggle for acceptance and respect from his fellow officers and from the men he commands. Sharpe was born a guttersnipe in the rookeries of London. Promoted on the battlefield he leaves his own class behind to take a commission in an army where rank is usually bought. Unlike many of the officers he serves with, Sharpe knows how to fight.

Sharpe is described as "brilliant but wayward" in Sharpe's Sword, and is acknowledged by the author to be a loose cannon. A highly skilled leader of light troops, he takes part in a wide array of historical events during the Napoleonic Wars and other conflicts, including the Battle of Waterloo. The earliest chronological books (they were published in non-chronological order) are set in India and chronicle Sharpe's years spent in the ranks. He is known for being a dangerous man to have as an enemy; he is a skilled marksman and grows to be a good swordsman."

Read the rest HERE.

Part 1 from Sharpe's Gold.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How to Make a Short Film

The original 2003 short film Saw, by the Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell. The short was lengthened into a full-length feature, which, despite the sometimes shocking violence, stayed fairly close to the feel of the original short. Unfortunately, the idea, so fresh in the short film and the first (and arguably second) full-length feature, has been bastardized into an incredibly violent multi-part series. Saw V is set to be released theatrically on October 24, 2008.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

How Acting is Done, Part 7

Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in Martin Scorsese's under-rated film GANGS OF NEW YORK. Only Day-Lewis could play an Irishman wrongly accused of carrying out an Irish Republican Army pub bombing in the 1993 film IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER and an Irish-hating gang leader in the Five Points in Civil War-era Manhattan in GANGS.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

David & Layla

A dramatic comedy seems to be the best forum in which to deal with these social issues, as opposed to a melodramatic drama or a straight comedy.


Sarah Palin & Hillary Clinton Press Conference

Great comedy from Saturday Night Live

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Dumbing Down of the GOP & Is Picking Palin Backfiring?

The Dumbing Down of the GOP

By Joe Conason [October 4, 2008]

Sarah Palin's debate performance should signal the beginning of the end of her fad. But for the moment it is worth looking at the meaning of her nomination, without the protective varnish of what conservatives usually dismiss as political correctness.

Why should we pretend not to notice when Gov. Palin's ideas make no sense? Having said last week that "it doesn't matter" whether human activity is the cause of climate change, she said in debate that she "doesn't want to argue" about the causes. It doesn't occur to her that we have to know the causes in order to address the problem. (She was very fortunate that moderator Gwen Ifill didn't ask her whether she truly believes that human beings and dinosaurs inhabited this planet simultaneously only 6,000 years ago.)

Why should we ignore her inability to string together a series of coherent thoughts? As a foe of Wall Street greed and a late convert to the gospel of government regulation, along with John McCain, Palin promised to clean up and reform business. But when her programmed talking points about "getting government out of the way" and protecting "freedom" conflicted with that promise, she didn't notice.

Why should we give her a pass on the most important issues of the day? Supposedly sharing the fears and concerns of the average families who face the burdens of mortgages, healthcare and economic insecurity, Palin simply refused to discuss changes in bankruptcy law and proved that she didn't know the provisions of McCain's healthcare plan.

All the glaring defects so blatantly on display in her debate with Joe Biden -- and that make her candidacy so darkly comical -- would be the same if she were a hockey dad instead of a "hockey mom." In fact, the cynical attempt to foist Palin on the nation as a symbol of feminist progress is an insult to all women regardless of their political orientation.

There was a time when conservatives lamented the dumbing down of American culture. Preservation of basic standards in schools and workplaces compelled them -- or so they said -- to resist affirmative action for women and minorities. Qualifications mattered; merit mattered; and demagogic appeals for leveling were to be left to the Democrats.

Not anymore.


Sarah Palin Exceeds Expections--and Still Loses

By Mike Madden [October 3, 2008]

There were two debates going on in St. Louis Thursday night. Joe Biden was debating John McCain. And Sarah Palin was debating Sarah Palin -- at least the version of her that most of America has seen on TV for the last few weeks.

As far as those particular battles went, they both might have won. Biden was ruthless in going after McCain on the economy and on foreign policy, all but ignoring Palin to focus on the top of the ticket and present contrast after contrast between McCain and Barack Obama. (And a few between Obama and George W. Bush for good measure.) It may have been the most disciplined performance of Biden's political career -- though given his proclivity for embarrassing gaffes, that's admittedly a low bar. And speaking of low bars, Palin cleared hers. This was not the Sarah Palin who was stumped when asked, just a few days ago, to name a single Supreme Court case she disagreed with or to list a newspaper she read. Yes, she got a little shaky when the questions strayed too far into the details of foreign policy, and she frequently seemed to be pushing the "play" button on preprogrammed talking points. Still, the meltdown even some Republicans feared ahead of the debate didn't materialize.

But overall, that probably adds up to a win for Biden -- or rather, for Obama. (Undecided voters insta-polled by various networks thought Biden won, by pretty hefty margins.) Palin had so much work to do convincing voters she belonged on the stage that she wasn't able to be as effective a messenger for McCain as Biden was for his ticket. She might have met a basic standard of competence, but only a cynic (or a McCain aide) would say that gave her the edge. With Obama building on his lead in national and battleground state polls every day, another debate -- like the first presidential encounter last week -- that did little to change the overall dynamic of the race wasn't what McCain needed.


McCain's Bid for South Florida Jewish Voters Derailed by Palin Pick

By Tristram Korten [October 6, 2008]

The local retirement community known as Century Village is just one outpost in a statewide network of Century Villages, Florida's largest chain of retirement complexes. It is also a time capsule of the New York Jewish gestalt, circa 1965, transplanted intact to the golf greens of Palm Beach County. If a small, unscientific sampling of the shoppers in the Hamptons Plaza mall, directly across from the complex, is any indication, John McCain's choice of running mates may have pushed the residents of this heavily Democratic enclave back in Barack Obama's direction.

"I was leaning towards McCain," growled Marvin Weinstein, 74, as he strode to an appointment in a doctor's office. "But I think his choice of her has turned me off."

"What I hear is she's an awful anti-Semite," George Friedberg said as he sat curbside in his Escalade. "She won't be getting my vote." Friedberg's wife, Florence, appeared at the passenger-side door, shopping bags in hand. "I was leaning towards McCain, but after he selected her I've ruled him out completely. I find her offensive."

Just a month ago, Florida was not considered top of the list among likely electoral vote pickups for Barack Obama. Since the spring McCain had held a consistent lead in the state, which dovetailed with rumors that many of South Florida's Jews, a major building block of the state's Democratic coalition, were wary of a black candidate with a Muslim middle name.

But that was before Wall Street's meltdown -- and before the full import of the Palin pick began to sink in. A poll from Quinnipiac University put Obama ahead of McCain in Florida by a substantive 51 to 43 percent as of Sept. 29, and cited "Gov. Sarah Palin's sagging favorability," among other things, as an influence.


Doubts about Palin Grow, even among Conservatives

By Linda Feldmann
The Christian Science Monitor [September 30, 2008]

In just a month, Sarah Palin has gone from being the darling of the GOP to a major question mark hanging over John McCain’s candidacy at a critical moment in the presidential campaign.

The appealing, reform-minded governor of Alaska, whose surprise selection as Senator McCain’s running mate electrified Republicans at their convention last month, now faces questions from prominent conservatives over whether she’s up to being a potential president – especially at a time of international financial turmoil. All eyes will be on her Thursday night when she debates Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden, a veteran senator from Delaware.

After some rough TV interviews and dead-on parodies of Palin on “Saturday Night Live” that have reinforced the questions, she risks becoming 2008’s Dan Quayle – the young Indiana senator plucked from obscurity for the GOP’s 1988 ticket, who never overcame early stumbles and a light-weight image. Mr. Quayle did not prevent the top of the ticket, George H. W. Bush, from becoming president. But the times are different: The bad economy, unpopular wars, and an unpopular president all slant the playing field toward the Democrats this year.

One by one, conservative columnists such as David Frum, David Brooks, and Kathleen Parker have come out against Palin, calling her in effect not ready for prime time. Among voters, polls show that initial enthusiasm for Palin has slipped, though the overall race remains competitive.

Still, the willingness of conservative opinion leaders to state their reservations out loud is striking, and may indicate growing doubts among Republican rank and file.