Archive for December, 2009

‘Avatar’ is a holiday trip of a different sort

avatar
“Avatar” is a James Cameron movie in 3-D. Those words alone tell you a lot, but they don’t tell you everything. Not by a long shot.

The “Avatar” plot is familiar, an easy mashup of cowboy movies, “Dances with Wolves,” “Pocahontas” and even “Ferngully,” a 1992 children’s film in which the fairy people defend their rainforest from predatory loggers, with the assistance of a turncoat logger “gone native.” (The “Ferngully” reference comes courtesy of Elder Daughter.)  There’s also a backhanded swipe or two at U.S. policy in the oil-rich Middle East.

However, a more original, demanding plot might have detracted from the true achievement of “Avatar,” which is the conception of an entirely new world and its presentation on the movie screen. Cameron, who has a taste for the grandiose, has said that watching “Avatar” isn’t like watching a movie, “it’s more like being in a dream state, like dreaming with your eyes wide open,” and it’s not bragging if it’s true.

It’s not bragging.

The …

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The attack on Northwest Flight 253 was far from a failure

The struggle to defeat terrorism has two dimensions.

The first and most obvious is physical. In the physical world, we must tighten our security measures; we must find and kill those committed to terrorism; we must discourage others from choosing that course of action; we must seek allies in our common cause and deny our enemies safe haven. We have been doing all those things, and will continue doing so.

But the second dimension is psychological. Our enemies cannot terrorize us unless we allow ourselves to be terrorized. Their goal, remember, is not to bring down airliners or inflict mass casualties; those are merely the means they hope to use to achieve their real goal of provoking panic, fear and overreaction.

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of Sept. 11, put it well: “The language of war is victims,” he said. Killing is a means of sending a message.

In that sense, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded even while failing. The Nigerian engineering student did not bring …

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Detroit terror attempt reverberates politically

In Iran, the crackdown grows ever more brutal as the government desperately seeks to suppress dissent. In Washington and capitals around the world, attention focuses on Yemen’s increasing role as a terrorist haven. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reverses her rhetoric, acknowledging that the attempted terror attack on a Northwest Airlines plane exposed gaps in security.

And Republican leaders such as Rep. Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, leap to politicize and dramatize the Detroit incident, trying to blow it up into an indictment of the entire Obama approach.

“This is an international movement of radicalization. The Obama administration came in and said we’re not going to use the word terrorism anymore, we’re going to call it man-made disasters, I think downplay the threat from terrorism,” Hoekstra said on “FOX News Sunday”.

“In reality, it’s getting much more complex,” he added. “Radicalization is alive, it’s …

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Hero of Flight 253 recounts terror attempt

Here’s a CNN  interview with Jasper Schuringa, one of the passengers on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 into Detroit.  Accounts emerging so far credit the young Dutchman with initiating the effort by passengers and crew to thwart the terrorist attack.

“We just jumped and tried to save the plane,” he says. “And we did luckily save the plane.”

Schuringa’s quick action apparently helped save many lives, and he deserves a lot of praise. On the other hand, when somebody is thrust from anonymity into the heat of the media spotlight,  you always have to worry about how they’ll handle it. Based on this interview, Schuringa doesn’t seem all that enthralled with the spotlight. Somehow, that makes his story all the more appealing.

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Actors who play heroes, and heroes who turn actor

After watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas Eve, family conversation turned to Jimmy Stewart. I noted to the kids (well, not so much kids any more) that to my knowledge, Stewart was the only pre-war Hollywood type who actually saw combat in WWII, flying numerous bombing missions over Germany (I didn’t realize until looking it up that Stewart had enlisted before Pearl Harbor),

Of course, a lot of people who became stars in the late ’40s and ’50s came out of combat in the war, people such as Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and of course Audie Murphy. (The late very much alive Charles Durning, who played the governor in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”), was quite the hero himself.) One of the girls brought up the post-war drama “The Best Years of Our Lives,” for which multiple amputee Harold Russell won Best Supporting Actor. (For a pretty amazing and updated version of that story, see the tale of Spec. Brandon Marrocco.)

But it got me to thinking: Did any actors of the ’60s, ’70s and …

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Attempted Xmas-day terrorist attack fails; suspect held

Details are still sketchy, but it does appear to have been a serious, if botched, terrorism attempt.

From the Washington Post:

A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit’s airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.

The man was quickly subdued after another passenger leapt on top of him, others on the plane said, and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam landed safely around 1 p.m. Friday. The suspect was being treated at a hospital for burns he suffered while igniting the device, the Transportation Security Administration said….

Officials said they are not prepared to raise the terrorism alert level, currently at orange — or the second-highest of five levels — for domestic and international air travel. However, the Homeland Security Department said late Friday that passengers “may notice additional screening measures, …

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Some Friday stayin’ at home music

Last night we were sitting around and catching up, with the lights low, the Christmas tree lit, a bourbon in hand and Miss Etta playing on the stereo, and I told myself I’d have to post this song today. A perfect mix of song, mood and artist.

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Merry Christmas, everybody

wayback machine

"Sherman, set the WayBack Machine to 1659."

Merry Christmas, America.

Yes, I know. Times are tough, and with the nation increasingly mired in debt to the Chinese and the rest of the world, our options appear at first glance to be kind of limited.

But fear not. We have always found strength and inspiration in our shared national history, and if we look far enough back into our past, I’m confident that we can once again discover solutions to the problems that plague us.

With that in mind, let us step into the WayBack Machine and set the time-travel dial for, say, 1659.

That year, the Portuguese defeated the Spanish at the historic Battle of Elvas, a victory they no doubt commemorated in black velvet Elvas paintings still found in Portuguese flea markets today. Over in England, “the Mother Country,” they were squabbling over something they called the Rump Parliament, which sounds suspiciously like the Georgia Legislature in recent years but probably wasn’t, since it was dominated …

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From ‘Bah, humbug!’ to ‘God bless us, every one’

Scrooge, from Disney's "A Christmas Carol"

Scrooge, from Disney's "A Christmas Carol"

from “A Christmas Carol”
By Charles Dickens

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear …

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American people torn about policy in Afghanistan

I guess you’d have to say that the American people are torn about this issue:

From CNN:

Fifty-nine percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Wednesday morning said they favor the president’s plan to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, with 39 percent opposed.

And yet:

The survey indicates that a majority of the public opposes the war, with 55 percent of respondents opposed and 43 percent in support of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Clearly, that makes no sense. Except that in a strange way, it does. The American people want to support their troops overseas and understand that withdrawal could have immense consequences. But with so little to show in Afghanistan after eight years, they don’t like it much and don’t have much confidence in the eventual outcome.

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