Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

November 30, 2008

The Tragedy of False Optimism in Jihad World

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:04 pm

Thomas Friedman wrote an entire column today, in Sunday’s New York Times about an Iraqi legislator who was prosecuted for visiting Israel in a brave one-man attempt to make a statement that hatred didn’t have to prevail in the Middle East. Friedman reported that the Iraqi Parliament attempted to strip Mithal al-Alusi of his Parliamentary immunity so that he could be prosecuted under an old law that could have given him the death penalty for such a “crime”.

And then, Friedman told us the Iraqi federal high court took the brave action of overturning the Parliament’s decision, affirming the right to freedom of travel. And 400 Iraqi intellectuals signed an open letter in an Iraqi newpaper supporting Alusi. Good for them of course. And Friedman spent the rest of the column attempting to extract some optimism from all this, indeed to argue that perhaps we can “salvage something positive” from the entire Iraqi venture. Maybe we can. I guess it deends on what you view as “optimistic” or “positive”.

Because as I was drifting off to sleep last night I heard an interview on the BBC world service radio with al-Alusi that mentioned something Friedman did not. Maybe Friedman didn’t know it. But this brave man’s two sons were murdered because of his trip. Murdered in an attempt to murder him as well. How many Iraqis are going to now take advantage of the fabulous “freedom of travel” Friedman celebrates now? Maybe he didn’t get the death penalty–yet–but his sons did.

I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I find this all that optimistic an episode. I felt sickened by hearing it especially after Mumbai. I read Friedman’s column over and over again looking for a mention of the murder of the brave man’s sons. Was he not aware of it? I hope that’s the reason, rather than that he left it out knowingly.

But shouldn’t he have known? Shouldn’t it have made a difference to his conclusion? Americans always want to believe in hope, that there’s a solution to every problem. I’m not sure any more. Combined with Mumbai it made me think that religious hatred has won. That it will never go away. That it’s just too easy to slaughter people in the name of God. That as much as the optimists might seek to find some reason for hope, there is always going to be another al-Alusi seeing his sons murdered, another Mumbai seeing 200 or more. Let’s not fool ourselves. I’m willing to listen to counter-arguments–I’d like to find a reason to be optimistic–but not arguments that leave out little facts like the murder of a brave man’s two sons.


November 29, 2008

Jeff Jarvis's Cowardly Evasions (1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:02 am

I suppose I should have been satisfied to have been one of the first to have called “bullshit” on one of our age’s biggest and most fraudulent media bloviators and peddlers of second rate pretensions to “new thinking” about journalism.

And it has been satisfying to see him squeal like a stuck pig at being called out for his heartless midget-mindedness (you can almost forgive heartlessness from someone with a great mind, but not from such an egregious mediocrity, whose pretensions reveal such an utter failure to understand what journalism is about–despite his mercenary exploitation of real journalists’ misfortunes.)

But since it promises to be–if only for its comic pleasure–worthwhile to keep an eye on his ballooning ego and further empty-headed pontifications, as a kind of measure of how low the culture has sunk that it pays attention to such a second-rater, therefore, as a public service, I’m going keep a kind of informal Jeff Jarvis watch.

I suppose if I were mean spirited I would be satisfied with reprinting some of the comments e-mailed to me by–I was going to say “his peers”, but let’s be frank his superiors–in the profession, in response to my critique of Jarvis’s notions about journalism. But he seems determined, in a disingenuous way, to avoid taking responsibility for his mean-spirited and cowardly kick-them-when-they’re-down attacks on more talented but less fortunate journalists–those who have brought honor to the profession rather than shame themselves by profiting, as Jarvis has, off the misery he’s helped create, by shilling for the Zells of this world. Therefore I think I might as well, for the benefit of the families of his betters who’ve been laid off for not devising–as Jarvis has–a parasitic way of feasting on the dying body of the print profession, let Jeff know what his betters are saying about him.

These are not people who are laid off but some of the smartest people in the profession, concerned of course by the upheaval in the business, but contemptuous of the dimbulb consultants who set themselves up as experts without ever having demonstrating any excellence but self promotion. The people below didn’t write me to be quoted by name, so I won’t use their names, just some of the delightfully vitriolic and contemptuous words they pour upon JJ’s insufferably smug and self-congratulatory head.

More than anything I feel that pity for the unfortunate students who are being taught a pinheaded caricature of “journalism” by a posturing self promoter who doesn’t know the first thing about it, requires that I begin with letting those students know just what a ridiculous figure he makes, capering around as he does, to intelligent people in the profession.

We’ll go on from there to consider the intellectual bankruptcy of his “thinking”, but the quotes are a good place to start, to give a sense that I’m not alone in my views of the p.r. con game he’s running:

“… [I] wept tears of blackhearted joy when I caught wind of your almost too-genteel evisceration of the insufferably pompous Jeff Jarvis. I read your SLATE post with unalloyed glee, savoring every word …There’s more hubris in a single Jarvis entry than all of Sophocles laid end to end…”

“Loved your critique, except that you were much too nice to him…”

“Ron, Your defenestration of Jeff Jarvis is much appreciated. His great contribution to journalism is EW and he thinks he is the AJ Liebling of the web. Good God!…”

“… [his] arrogance and vehemence are remarkable. Perhaps some day Jeff will explain why some poor bastard who has spent his or her life doing the honorable, day to day work of reporting for a newspaper should be held responsible for Craig’s List …”

“Thank you! There is no one I despise more in media more than Jeff Jarvis. He’s the absolute worst, and why any self-respecting media company would pay this guy a cent is beyond me…”

Just a sampling, and again, not one of them from a laid off journalist but from successful editors and writers who see through Jarvis’s jive.

And now let’s turn to the intellectual dishonesty of his response to me in which he claims that I didn’t engage with his “ideas” but merely attacked him because I no longer “liked” him.

November 28, 2008

A Quantum of Oscar for Daniel Craig's Bond

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:27 pm

Okay, I admit, I’ve been seeing too many movies over the holiday weekend, but really, I have to pay tribute to Daniel Craig who’s re-invented James Bond and made him relevant to me. No longer a Bon(d) vivant, he’s an icon for the suffering soul of the age. Seriously! The film is full of chases but it’s all about faces, Daniel Craig’s faces of doubt, regret, sorrow, disilusion, betrayal, and above all lost love. It’s the best performance by a male actor I’ve seen all year (possible second: Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah.

So what if A Quantum of Solace is a Bond franchise flick, Daniel Craig gives it a dimension beyond the appealingly confident-turned pathetically camp Sean Connery and successors. He walks, flails, flies leaps and bounds through a world of hurt and ridiculous plotting and gives it a dignity that only a great actor can. Only a great actor could give a Bond film a touch of Sophocles.

I went thinking I’d walk out after a chase or two just for the hell of it, because I live next to a multiplex and like to keep in touch. I’m not a fan of the action–the chases–in action flicks but I found these exhilirating perhaps because they were given weight by the ever-deepening lines in Craig’s face. The obscure wound that he bears–his secret knowledge his lost love betrayed him–makes Craig’s Bond like a painfully self aware version of a Graham Greene sufferer.

The great difference of course is that Connery’s Bond and his successors were never conceivably, believably in love. No harm in that, everyone likes a playful seducer. But their Bonds were bonds of gold and glitter. This Bond is bound by chains of love.

I recently saw a screening of The Reader the oh-so literary film made from the meretricious novel of Nazis and sex (see my essay on that subject here. And poor Ralph acts so, so sweatily hard trying to be oh-so-deep, clearly playing for the Oscar for super seriousness for the befuddled Academy voters who don’t realize what a sham the novel and film are. But Craig’s Bond leaves Fiennes’ emoting in the dust. He’ll never get an Oscaar because it’s a Bond film and the Acadmey voters like to show they know how to read (though you wouldn’t guess it from the films they make) but, damn it, Daniel Craig deserves it more.

November 27, 2008

The Tragedy of Nicole Kidman's Forehead

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:01 pm

Having just seen Austrailia I’m afraid I have to say that the tragedy of Nicole Kidman’s forehead–boxtoxed into the vast broad trackless emptiness of the Austrialian outback, shining in the sun– is really our tragedy. The tragedy of our society’s values. The tragedy in particular of male/ female relations, the tragedy of the way the pharmaceutical industry exploits women’s fears and creates monsters.

Because Nicole Kidnman once was a beautiful woman. Now she looks half-alien, like someone kidnapped–Kidman-napped?–by aliens and implanted with an unconvincing humanoid silicone-like expanse of flesh above her brows that no longer seems either beautiful or human. She could/should be the star of a move called Changeling

How did she let this happen? It’s just shocking being exposed to it for a long movie, that is absolutely ruined by the fact that you can’t stop staring at this forehead implant. As off-utting if silicone implants–another cultural tragedy–were affixed to the outside of a woman’s breasts, it’s just that weird.

And she was so natually beautiful. She could have been Katherine Hepburn, she might have been Audrey Hepburn, now it’s like she makes you think of a fleshburn and the artificial skin graft that burn victims have to cover up their scars.

I feel terrible saying this, I’m no one to be commenting on people’s looks, and try never to do so, but these aren’t her looks, not any more. Why won’t anyone speak out about this abuse inflicted on this poor woman. Run the Botoxer who did it out of town on a rail? except in all likelihood she did it herself and has been conditioned by our stupid values to think it’s worthwhile.

I don’t know of a single straight guy in the world who would, glimpsing some lines on Nicole Kidman’s brow think, “nah, not gonna hit that” (like they’d be so lucky). But now there’s something terribly off-putting, anti-sexual–scary even–about her facial physiognomy. It’s like a metaphor for all the worst excesses of all plastic surgery. (But at least with Botox–or whatever brand of venom she used, it’s reversable–I think). Reverse, Nicole, reverse!

Who is it then who convinced her that she had to have this vast featureless desert above her eyes, this blank moonscape, that, alas, makes the word, “moonfaced” come to mind when looking at her–and not in a good way.

Can we hold her manager or Hollywood producers responsible for this plastic malpractice? Don’t theyrealize what it’s done, how increasingly ridiculous she’ll become, if it’s possible to look more ridiculous. It’s an insult to women to make it seem as if lines on their forehead make them less attractive (when sometimes the reverse is true). It’s an insult to men to think they demand plastiscene flawlessness. No it’s self-mutilation in the guise of self beautification.

Perhaps someday the films of this period will be looked back upon as instances of a stunningly stupid, barbaric practice, long since abandoned. Let the abandonment start now.

November 25, 2008

A Realy Mindless Movie That Will Somehow Make You Happy…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:47 pm

…in a really mindless way.

The end of a long day. Finished a chapter of my new book. Closed a column.(look for it Friday) Did an interview about my last column in which I took on a certain new media Pontificator in a way that brought lots of unsolicited emails of solidarity from media people I admire.

Sent roses to my girlfriend. Tanked up on noxious Starbucks “Pike’s Place” essence-of-dirt coffee (don’t get me started on how they stop selling their decent alternative “bold” selection after 5 p.m. and force you to drink that Pike’s Place swill) and decided to see a bad movie at the multiplex next door

Walked in just at the starting time of Role Models which is kind of funny and kind of stupid, but sort of touching in the way movies about people who learn to act better than you (or they) expect them to are, except in this one you knew they would. But who cares? It had Seann Wiliam Scott from maybe my fave bad movie of all time Dude, Where’s My Carand Paul Rudd and the lovely Elizabeth Banks and it made me happy. Don’t hate me if it’s no Citizen Kane, but let me know if it makes you happy too.

November 23, 2008

The JFK Assassination: Your Theories Please

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:34 pm

Okay I spent all of yesterday remembering two tragedies–one cruel and profound, one trivial and yet still hurtful: the JFK assassination and the 1968 Harvard Yale Game now immortalized in a film . I still can’t understand–or get over–either.

it seems I’ve spent a lifetime immersed in the former. Ever since as a high-school kid I heard Mark Lane lecture–I know much discredited. Then at Yale I had a philosophy professor who represented the respectable side of dissent–Josiah Thompson, who authored Six Seconds in Dallas as well as a brilliant work on Kirkegaard The Golden Labyrinth.

For two decades I was a conspiracy believer, then I came to believe that Oswald fired alone, although he may not have acted alone. That is, he may have been aided or encouraged by others. I thought the real unsolved mystery was Oswald’s motive.

I didn’t rule out the lone psychopath theory, but for a long time I leaned toward the Mob hit (or Mob plus Cuban exile hit) theory, which seemed almost over determined. Then recently I came to suspect the DGI, Cuban intelligence, in revenge for the assassintation plots that JFK and his brother were endlessly generating against Castro with the help of the CIA. (I never really took the CIA too seriously because they were so incredibly incompetent at EVERYTHING). Once I published (in Time magazine the name of the man Jim Garrison claimed fired the fatal shot, but I didn’t believe it for a moment, I think it was a name he just pulled out of his….hat. (a real person an employee of Jack Ruby’s strip club who, I made clear I believed was totally innocent) . And I still think Garrison didn’t know what he was talking about, but may have been right about the New Orleans connection.

Now the two massive books by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, most recently Legacy of Secrecy have me going back to the Mob hit theory although I just don’t buy their unnecessary post-assassination cover-up theory which involves a supposed coup against Castro. Like that was more shameful than the murder of a president. But they’ve done a service by digging up the deepest, darkest, most disturbing archival evidence to support their Mob hit theory.

Anyway, I’m interested: what do people think, those of you who still think about it? Some may say, who cares we’ll never know, it’s old news, but I’m not satisfied with that. Historical truth means a lot to me. At one point LBJ said nuclear war was at stake. I want to know if there was someone behind Oswald and why. It’s more important than how Yale could allow Harvard to score two touchdowns (and two two-point conversions) in 42 seconds–though I still can’t reconcile myself to that either.

November 17, 2008

Modest Proposal: A Moron-torium

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:36 pm

I was going to call for a moratorium on vicious wicked creeps giving all religion a bad name by blaming natural disasters on “God’s wrath” at some behavior they, in their all-knowing idiocy, disapprove of. An ignoble tradition going back to 9/11. Right: 3000 people in my city died because they don’t believe in your primitive theocracy. Now it’s heartless, cruel fools blaming the California wildfires on God’s wrath at gay marriage proponents. Isn’t it enough for their stunted souls to revel in breaking the hearts of people who merely want to be allowed to have their relationship recognized by the state?

Or must all suffer because these mean spirited jerks somehow fear their marriage is threatened by this minor concession to tolerance and civility of others. What pathetically weak marriages they must be. (And by the way, when is this supposedly just and loving God going start displaying some of that wrath at the way these cruel fools slime His name with their hatred? Wake up and smell the coffee brewing Big Guy.)

Go ahead believe whatever hate-filled interpretation of religion you want but don’t insult God and man with your moronic interpretation of the weather.

So I can’t help but feeling that moratorium isn’t sufficent to describe what I’m proposing. Moron-toroium is more like it.

November 14, 2008

Tammy Duckworth for Obama's Senate seat

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:28 pm

I can’t believe I’m the first one ot think of this, but I think it’s a great idea. You know about her, right? She was the helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq and ran for Congress in 2006 as a Dem. She’s whip-smart, incredibly brave and seeing her in the Senate would be a beautiful tribute–and strong voice–for the vets who are coming home and need to be treated better than they have been by the Bush admin.’s VA.

The Illinois gov. who has the ower to appoint O’s relacement will certainly listen if the President elect asks for it. Do it, Barack! It would be an incredbily smart and moving gesture and she’d do honor to a body that needs it.

November 8, 2008

Grant Park: 1968 and Now

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:13 pm

It’s still sinking in, the Obama victory, it’s something almost too beautiful to believe. I think about Tuesday’s victory celebration in Grant Park, the mass of people filled with almost disbelieving joy. Tears of joy. I wasn’t there but I knew how they felt. And I think about another moment in Grant Park: the Chicago 1968 police riot. I was there that time. There were tears then too: Tears from tear gas.

It was my very first press-credentialed reporting assignment and it was amazing suddeny witnessing history being made. Bad history. Ugly history. History I never thought we’d recover from.

But Grant Park. It only now occured to me that it was named after the general who won the Civil War. A war about race. (please don’t insult your own intelligence with silly quibbles about the “real” cause of the Civil War being something else. No slavery, no Civil War. End of story).

At the time it seemed like we were heading for another civil war. I remember giving a ride back from the shattered city to three proto-Weather Underground types who talked all the way home about prerearing for “small group actions” whatever that meant and it didn’t mean anything good. It meant something like the West Eleventh Street townhouse explosion and self- immolation of one such “small group”. A few minutes away from the office where I worked then. I remember sifting through the rubble with Dustin Hoffman’s wife (they owned the place as I recall). Bad times.

And now another era, another crowd in Grant Park. I was thousands of miles away with a woman I loved. I’m sure everything will return to its normal state of hopelessness and horror and nuclear apocalypse before too long. But I had allowed myself to hope for this moment for a year. This one moment, this moment granted us to revisit Grant Park. To revisit, to revise it. I love this country, I feel immensely lucky to have been born here, to have been raised by parents who taught me that racism was evil. I particularly wish my mother was alive to witness this moment. I can see her furiously trying to wipe away the tears of joy she would have wept.

As Michelle Obama said, I’ve never felt as proud to be an American as I do now.

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