They’re After Salman Rushdie Again

Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Some Things Never Change

You would think that by now that the grand wizards of Iran would have come to terms with the renegade writings of Salman Rushdie……But apparently they have not. Believe it or not, Salman Rushdie is back on the Persian hit list of undesirables. (I’m not certain if he was ever free from those lists.) Obviously, there is one thing that is still true. And that one thing is, that for insulting the status quo of Revolutionary Iran, there are no statue of limitations. In fact, as the situation presently stands, the Fatwa on Rushdie was never taken off, but instead it was increased in recent weeks, possibly due to the changing economic picture in Iran. According to PEN, the bounty has received at increase of approximately $600,000 to the already existing 2.8 million.

Could Elections Actually Change Things?

Recently, Iran made international news by holding national elections that did not go quite go the way that the conservative hardliners wanted. However good this may sound, this is not a new struggle in Iran. Centrists, moderates and progressives have from time to time been able to create change in Iran, through elections and other means. Whether the country’s newly signed nuclear deal with the West will actually help secular Iran remains to be seen, but there is definitely a political divide in Iran between the fundamentalists and those who wish to see Iran modernized. This has been going on for years and it is possible that the agreement with the West could benefit these people.

A Not-So-Nervous American Resident

Currently, Salman Rushdie lives in the U.S., where he is relatively same from Iranian threats. Born into a Muslim family in Bombay, India, Rushdie has never lived in Iran. Today, Rushdie declares himself an atheist, as it was his fourth novel titled Satanic Verses that has fueled the wrath by Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere. Rushdie also had the distinct honor of making an Al-Qaeda hit list in 2010. On the positive side, Rushdie has been knighted by the Queen of England, plus he has received numerous literary awards, including membership in the British Royal Society of Literature.

Death Threats

Every February Rushdie receives a not-so-friendly Valentine’s Day card from Revolutionary Guard of Iran, kindly reminding him that he is still on their hit-list. Though the threats have been numerous, the closest anyone has come to killing Rushdie occurred in London, England in 1999, when a bombmaker died, while trying to make a book bomb. The blast was strong enough to also take out two floors of a London hotel, where the bombmaker lived. At present, the current threats seem more rhetorical than real and hopefully the situation will stay that way.

Salman Rushdie in 2014
Salman Rushdie in 2014
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A Rocky Mountain Oscars: Al Sharpton Is At It Again

The Grand Tetons in winter make for a majestic skyline, photo by NPS
The Grand Tetons in winter make for a majestic skyline, photo by NPS

“Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets and this year’s Academy Awards will be yet another Rocky Mountain Oscar,” said Sharpton.

State of Affairs In Tinseltown

Even though Al Sharpton let loose with this zinger over a month ago, the sentiments in this sentence have taken on a life of their own and now with the Oscars just around the corner, (tomorrow night to be exact) many folks are talking about the “whiteness of the upcoming Oscars”.  In fact, as things stand now, this presentation of awards, could be greatly overshadowed by the lack of minority participation. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if most major news outlets, cover the 2016 Oscar Awards from Sharpton’s viewpoint. Since the real-life event is just over 24 hours away, not only will we soon be aware of the new winners, but also we will know just how this whole scene plays out in the eyes of the national press.

Several years ago, Al Sharpton appeared on SNL in a short skit satirizing lack of racial diversity on the popular TV program.
Several years ago, Al Sharpton appeared on SNL in a short skit satirizing lack of racial diversity on the popular TV program.

Al Sharpton’s Wit

“Bush said after Sept. we have to go and get bin Laden. Yet he can’t find bin Laden. He can’t find bin Laden, he can’t find the weapons. Now we’ve got to take pride that Saddam Hussein is still alive; we can’t find him.  Now I promise you that if I am elected, President Bush will not be in charge of the bureau of missing persons.” Al Sharpton 2003

With many Movie and TV appearances, plus numerous involvements in various political events, Al Sharpton has been in the public eye for a long time. Over the course of time, what stands out is his lucid and biting wit. Perhaps, one of the most vivid examples of Sharpton’s skill at satire, comes from his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2003, when he lauded George W.’s inability to locate bin Laden and even though his run for the White House did not go very far, he did gain an appearance on SNL. In fact, looking back over the years, it may be that Al Sharpton’s innate gift for ridicule and satire is his most popular attribute. Certainly, his recent comment on the Oscars emphasizes this skill.

The 2016 Oscars

By chance, two of the major 2016 films competing for awards, are set in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains of the western USA. Though I have not actually seen The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, I do know that both films are stories from the 19th century high mountain West and do contain many snowy scenes, shot at higher altitudes. In fact, these two snowy Westerns may be competing for Best Picture and various other awards. By the secondhand accounts that I have read, The Revenant, which is based on a gruesome true story, may win out, but we won’t know for sure until Monday night. Personally, having worked in High Rockies, as a ski lift operator, I am intrigued by this outcome and I do hope to see both these movies sometime soon. Please keep in mind that this year’s criticism is not necessarily misplaced….as it is also possible that one or even both of these films could turn out to be epic and iconic films of the 21st century.

Russell Means playing Chingachgook in the Last of the Mahicans
Russell Means playing Chingachgook in the Last of the Mahicans

The Sad State of the Native America Cinema

It is also important to note that the above criticism does not solely apply to the African-American community, as there are similar situations throughout the Non-white population, especially among Native Americans. At least Chinese, Asian Indian and Hispanic people have films originating in respective home countries, though having more American representation would be a good thing. For American Indians, a host of cinema releases (Pow Wow Highway, Smoke Signals, Skins (2002), Thunderheart etc.)  in the latter years of the twentieth century, seem to suffice as the latest cultural import to mainstream America. And most of these films seem centered around the Sioux nations which gave rise to the late firebrand and actor, Russell Means.

What Needs To Happen

“How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?”  Writer/director Spike Lee

A short scene in the movie, Boyz In the Hood, may provide the positive direction in which this discussion has to go. In this 1991 hood classic, the father of the main character, has a brief discussion with some associates about the economic success of their nearby Korean residents. A the same time, he bemoans the fact that his own black community has a much tougher time with this most basic challenge of producing successful start-up businesses. Though hood dramas may be an overused cliche that current Hollywood minority actors may what to avoid, there is a lot to be said for, not only building strong financial backing, but also a network of screenwriterswriters, directors and authors that can hone raw experience into a viable entertainment product.

 

 

A Thanksgiving Tale

One of the stragest American customs is the annual pardoning of a domestic turkey by the POTUS, photo courtesy of the White House.gov
One of the strangest American customs is the annual pardoning of a domestic turkey by the POTUS, photo courtesy of the White House.gov

The History of the White House Turkey

The presidential pardoning of a live domestic turkey is a 20th century tradition that did not begin until after the end of World War Two. In fact, a slightly different tradition started in 1947, when Harry S. Truman received a live turkey several days before Thanksgiving. That turkey was cooked and eaten, as were the rest of the plump birds that our 33rd president received during his time as President of the United States. The next President, Dwight D. Eisenhower also received a free turkey right before the popular American feast day, and like his predecessor, the feathered creature was the centerpiece on the Thanksgiving dinner table.

On November 19th, 1963, the first turkey was spared by President John F. Kennedy. Tragically, Kennedy was shot and killed three days later, but the tradition of sparing a turkey destined for the Thanksgiving table continued, when President Nixon dispatched several of the big birds to the safety of a nearby farm.

President John Kennedy was the first to spare the life of a Thanksgiving turkey (1963)
President John Kennedy was the first to spare the life of a Thanksgiving turkey (1963)

The Turkey Pardon Begins

Next, the story of the turkey pardon jumps forward to the year 1987, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. At this time, he was caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal and so he had to answer questions from the press, as to whether he might pardon Lt. Colonel Oliver North for his role in the Contra affair. Somehow these questions from the inquisitive press were deflected by a reference that the President might pardon the Thanksgiving turkey, who was named Charlie. Reagan did pardon Charlie, the Thanksgiving turkey, but took no action on Lt. Col. North, because his trial did not begin until after Reagan had left office.

Reagan did not pardon any more turkeys, but two years later, George H.W. Bush made the Thanksgiving turkey pardon official, when he granted one turkey, his life. Since then every president has pardoned a turkey at Thanksgiving.

Obama Will Pardon A Turkey On Thursday

Nowadays, the process of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey has grown rather complicated. It all begins a year before, when the turkeys are born. The first selection takes place on the farm of the current chairperson of the National Turkey Federation. Typically, 20 turkeys are chosen. Next, these birds are exposed to loud noises and bright lights, which are a simulation of the press exposure that the birds will receive if they make the final selection. As Turkey Day approaches the two best candidates are chosen. One will actually be pardoned, while the second bird serves as an alternative. A name for the pardoned turkey is chosen by the White House and sometime in Thanksgiving the two lucky birds are picked up by Air Force One and flown to the White House. After the ceremony the two turkeys are retired to a petting zoo or friendly farm.

Stars was pardoned by President George W. Bush in 2003 before heading to Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Va.
Stars was pardoned by President George W. Bush in 2003 before heading to Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Va.

Thanksgiving Storytelling Time

I once witnessed a very, strange event at dusk on Thanksgiving Eve. It occurred in southern Maine, somewhere back in the late 90s, when I was working as a Christmas season packer at L.L. Beans in Freeport. While driving home from a busy day of preparing out-of-state orders for shipping, I came across a sight of two large birds perched in a tree next to a heavily-used rural road. I slowed down and upon closer examination, I came to the conclusion that they were domestic turkeys. Obviously, they had escaped their big feast day, but somehow I can’t see how they would have survived very long in the wild without becoming dinner for a hungry lynx, fox or bobcat.

Several months later, I began a short story based on this event, but as of present the story remains unfinished. In the story, a guy driving home from work has the same experience, but when he gets home, his wife doesn’t believe him and accuses him of “falling off the wagon”. From there things between the couple go downhill fast. In real life, I lived alone at the time, so nothing like that ever happened. Maybe it’s time to complete the story.

 

Can Hardcover Book Sales Successfully Predict Who the Next President Will Be?

The White House as seen from the extensive front lawn, from wikipedia, photo by Daniel Schwen
Who will the next resident be?   The White House as seen from the extensive front lawn, from wikipedia, photo by Daniel Schwen

Presidents As Authors

Just the nature of the job demands that the President of the United States be very adept with the English language. Keeping this in mind, it is no big surprise that the highest office in the land is filled with many authors. In fact, one of the twentieth centuries most successful author-presidents now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In 1995 Barrack Obama released Dreams From My Father, a personal memoir of the President’s youth. This memoir helped the Illinois Democrat launch his political career, as he was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996.

Then in 2003, Obama wrote another book, titled The Audacity of Hope. This non-fiction piece was very successful (it has sold over 4 million copies to date), as was Barrack’s Obama campaign for the US Senate. So successful in fact, that in 2008, Obama was elected president of the United States. In 2012, Barrack won re-election.

Presidents As Authors

The tradition of presidents as authors goes all the way back to George Washington, who wrote a memoir about his adventures in the western wilderness, long before the United States became a reality and General Washington was elected to be the first president.  Since then many presidents have followed suit with books written both before and after serving in the White House. Since WWII the frequency of presidential authorship seems to have increased dramatically. Some of the classic examples of books written by future presidents include Six Crises by Richard Nixon (1962), Crusade In Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower(1948), Profiles In Courage by John Kennedy (1955) and the already-mentioned Dreams From My Fathers by Barrack Obama. Otherwise most post WWII presidential literary efforts seem to be either post-presidential or written solely as pre-campaign literature.

Looking Ahead To 2016

Presently there are many aspiring presidential candidates for 2016,  a situation made more interesting by the fact that our present Commander-in-Chief will be ineligible to seek another term. Though these candidates come from many different political stripes, their one common denominator seems to be that they all have recently written a full-length book detailing their political philosophy and visions for a future America. On the Democratic side, the main contenders appear to be Hillary Clinton, author of Hard Choices(2014), Joe Biden, who has written Promises To Keep (2007),  and Elizabeth Warren, who recently pened A Fighting Chance (2014). Hillary Clinton leads the pack in book sales by a long shot with her recent release about her tenure as Secretary of State, but it remains to be seen if she will even run, much less take the nomination.

Although book sales of potential Republican candidates lag behind their Democratic counterparts, there is no shortage of literary contenders to be the next resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On this side of the aisle, Rand Paul is in the lead with Taking a Stand (2014). Also of note are Scott Brown’s Against All Odds, Rick Perry’s Fed Up, Marco Rubio’s A Political Son and  Scott Walker’s Unintimidated.  Followers of the political spectrum should also be aware of  Ted Cruz’s recent 1.5 million advance for a political memoir to be released before the 2016 election and Paul Ryan, who has also received a 2013 book deal that is due out sometime this year.

The Prediction

So there you go; Hillary Clinton will defeat Paul Rand to win the 2016 presidential race, unless of course Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz set the literary world ablaze with their upcoming book releases.

Romney’s Delusions

NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars
NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars
Image Credit: NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (IAA, Spain)

Election Night

After a long and drawn out campaign Mitt Romney went into election night with an overwhelming  feeling of competence that they would win the election. Evidence for this can be seen in the website that was put up right after the polls by the Republican Presidential Campaign Staff and in the fact that Romney only wrote an acceptance speech, which of course he planned on delivering to the nation sometime later that night. I hate to gloat, but I would had loved to been a fly on the wall, when Mitt finally sat down and penned a short concession speech. In Mitt’s defense it should be noted that concession speeches are usually very brief, while a victory proclamation necessitates a bit more effort. And furthermore, writing a victory speech is good PR, especially if you are able to get a press release out before the polls close. Still, the overall effect, remains that despite the fact the race was close, Romney and staff missed some key warning signs as to how the election would turn out, especially in the electoral college, where President Obama outpaced the ex-Massachusetts Governor by more than a 100 points.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, from Wikipedia, photo by Alkarex Malin äger

Romney’s Miscalculations

Unseating a sitting president is not so easy, especially when the incumbent enjoys a 50 % approval rating. In this sense presidential politics is a lot like a heavyweight boxing match. And that means you have to soundly beat the champ to get the referee’s decision. I think this is one area, where the Romney camp underestimated the challenge of defeating the president.

And the other would be the swing states. Even though Obama’s lead was statistically slim it was still steady and did not change much during the last few weeks of campaigning. The fact that Obama carried places like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada by a good five percentage points raises the question whether these places really were toss-ups.

What Romney Did Right

The best thing Romney did for the Republican party was revive the Nixon strategy….and that is…… where you run to the right to get the nomination, then circle back towards the left and the center to win in November. I think that if the Republicans what to revive their hopes in the next presidential contest, they will have to follow this strategy. Also of note is the fact that Romney was the only major Republican candidate to accept the likelihood that “climate change” is affecting us right now in 2012. How it affects us and what we can do about it, is another story, but acknowledging the existence of this recent phenomena does put anybody running for higher office on the right track.

What Gore, Romney and George W. Bush Have In Common

Quite simply, they are all sons of prominent politicians. And they have all been selected by their respective parties to run for the office of the President of the United States. As a group they have not fared well, for only George W. has been able to break the 50% barrier…..and that only occurred once in 2004. Even then, Mr. Bush saw his popularity plummet after the election due to war and a deteriorating economy.

A Tale of Two Firebrands

Christopher Hitchens in 2007
Christopher Hitchens in 2007
Russell Means
Russell Means

Two Public Figures Share A Common Fate

Despite the fact that they come from countries and continents separated by a large ocean, Christopher Hitchens and Russell Means share a common dilemma. They both have been recently diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, a potentially fatal ailment that has necessitated sophisticated medical treatment.  Born ten years apart in Great Britain and the United States,  Hitchens and Means have responded to their life-threatening cancers in different ways. In fact, how they have responded to the cancer,  reflects not only on the lands where they dwell, but on their outlook and philosophy towards life.

The Cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs in the esophagus, a long tube that connects the back of your mouth with your stomach. This internal structure is the organ, which transfers food from the back of your mouth to your stomach. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of cancer often occurs where smoking, heavy alcohol use and obesity are present. Treatment and cure for this type of cancer is not always successful, especially when the disease is not diagnosed in its beginning stages.

Hitchens and Means

Even though these two men have derived from differing backgrounds and countries, they have come to represent strong viewpoints that are often at odds with the dominant way of thinking in each country. Russell Means background is Oglala Sioux and he has become a fixture of the American public scene that dates back to the early 70s, when he was part of a highly visible confrontation between American Indians and the US government. Since that time, Russell has been much sought-after as a public speaker, writer and movie actor, who starred in ‘Last of the Mohicans’.

On the other hand, Hitchens grew up as the oldest son of two parents, who served long careers with the British military. As a young man, Mr. Hitchens moved from base to base with his parents before attending a prestigious boarding school and college (Oxford). From his well-educated background Hitchens went on to become a controversial, but widely read author and public speaker. Perhaps the most common traits the two men share is the controversial nature of their public speaking and writing.

Bad News Arrives

Hitchens received his serious diagnosis in 2010, just as he was about to undertake a speaking tour to promote his new book, “Hitch 22”. Since that time Christopher has been forced to cancel many speaking obligations because of his inability to talk. He is also undergoing cancer treatment in Great Britain. For Means, the bad news did not show up until July 2011, when he was diagnosed with an advanced stage of esophagus cancer.  At the time Means said that he would seek Native remedies and that he was prepared to die, if these efforts failed.

Means Does A 180

Despite his original proclamation, Means did seek out professional help from the mainstream American medical community and did receive sophisticated tomo therapy at the Sunridge Medical Wellness Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. As of late September (2011) Means claimed that his tumor is significantly diminished and that he can now swallow and talk. In regards to his big turn around, the noted activist stated “Pete Catches, a strong spiritual Oglala Medicine Man told us in AIM back in the 1970s that there will be times when we have to use the white man to fight his diseases”.

Recent picture of Russell Means
Recent picture of Russell Means

Hitchens Struggles

Unfortunately, the struggle of Christopher Hitchens in his cancer battle has not followed a parallel course. After a prolonged chemotherapy treatment and loss of his gall bladder, Christopher still struggles with daily life and maintaining at least a partial writing schedule. Still, his fight with cancer has drawn much attention and best wishes from around the globe and his occasional appearances on video tape have gained quite a following, plus his new book, “Hitch 22” is selling very well.

Hitchens during cancer in 2010
Hitchens during cancer in 2010

In Conclusion

Hopefully both men will recover from their ordeals and enjoy some more time on the planet, but no matter how well you say it, this type of cancer is difficult to survive.

Two U.S. Hikers Freed From Iranian Prison

Land inhabited by the Kurds covers portions of four nations.
Land inhabited by the Kurds covers portions of four nations.

Freedom

This past week the two male American hikers, who had been detained in Iran for just over two years were freed from their Tehran prison and flown to Oman. Now, several days later, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, are back in the US, where they have been united with friends and family, as well as their female companion, Sarah Shourd, who was detained for just over a year in Iran. Not only does the release close an imprisonment case that should never have occurred in the first place, but it also allows Shane and Sharon to fulfill the  wedding vows, which they exchanged in prison. The Iranians claim the trio were spying for the U.S., but the freed hikers have made the claim that they were held against their will because they were American.

How It Happened

The whole episode occurred on a visit the trio was making to the Kurdish region of Iraq, a region that is considered relatively safe for Americans and western visitors. This region has attracted nearly 500,ooo tourists since 1998. Their first stop on the tour was the city of Sulaymaniyah, where they stayed in a tourist hotel. At the hotel, the American travelers inquired about a place to go hiking. They were referred to a popular waterfall called, Ahmed Awa. Here they intermingled with hundreds of local visitors, who were enjoying not only the natural marvel, but the many food and craft vendors that were present at the falls.

The trouble occurred the next day went they small group went hiking in the nearby, local mountains and followed a trail that lead them very close to the Iran border. It is here where they encountered an Iranian guard and were taken prisoner. The story can be viewed on Vimeo on a short film made by Sharon Shourd upon her return to the US after a year of imprisonment.

Implications

The release is good news. The hikers are home, plus a diplomatic channel to Iran has been opened through the nation of Oman. Unfortunately, a wider view of events yields a more disturbing picture. Were the trio lured into Iranian territory by an over-zealous, armed Iranian, border guard? Even if they weren’t, the whole episode signals a warning that even safe areas may yield hidden dangers for Americans and other western travelers.