President Obama’s War Crimes

He promised to deliver “hope” and “change” to the American people.  He vowed to oversee “the most transparent administration in history”.  He reassured the world that he was different from George W. Bush, that he would scale back the excesses and abuses of The War on Terror, and bring the United States back into harmony with international law.

But after five and a half years in The White House, President Barack Obama has a lot of explaining to do.  As cynicism and anger continue to rise in global opposition to his policies, it’s time to examine the worst of his transgressions, the war crimes he has committed in America’s name.

Torture

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed The United Nations Convention against Torture. Article 2 states that all participating nations “shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Two times a day at the Guantanamo Bay gulag in Cuba, hunger striking detainees are forcibly removed from their cages by US military personnel in riot gear and taken to an isolated room where they are strapped into a chair.

Then, a tube is violently stuffed down their throat through one of their nostrils.  It is filled with liquid meal replacement. Detainees often feel the need to vomit because of the excruciating pain.  But they can’t or the process has to start all over again.  It can take as long as two hours to complete.  There are no bathroom breaks.

When questioned about this barbaric practice, which has been condemned by numerous medical associations, Obama argued that he didn’t want the detainees to die.  So torturing them is the only alternative?

Article 12 of the UN Convention explicitly states that there should be “a prompt and impartial investigation…wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

During a famous 2009 interview on ABC shortly after winning the Presidency, Obama declared that it was best to “look forward, not backward” with regards to the Bush Administration’s horrifying torture legacy, the first of many examples of his utter contempt for international law.

Article 13 enforces the obligation to prevent the “ill-treatment or intimidation” of the tortured as well as whistleblowers “as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.”

Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was cleared for release from Gitmo years ago, has been trying to convince a judge to end his force feeding for good.  No longer able to walk, he requires a wheelchair.  He claims the US military has taken it away because of his ongoing legal fight.  Despite a brief reprieve, he continues to be violently force fed against his will.  He grows weaker by the day.

In Afghanistan, the US Army continues to oversee the Bagram gulag where roughly a few dozen prisoners remain.  As the BBC noted in 2010, they have been subjected to all kinds of psychological torture.  And as The Guardian reported recently, they, too, have been hunger striking in protest.

What does it say about the state of the American justice system that John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who blew the whistle on Bush’s torture policy (which is clearly continuing under Obama), is the only government official to ever pay a price for it, thanks to Obama’s ruthless, “legal” retaliation.

Indefinite Detention

As of this writing, there are 149 detainees remaining in Gitmo and about 40 in Bagram.  (And those are just the gulags we know about.)  More than half of those in Gitmo have been cleared for release, meaning they are not guilty of any crime, by two different administrations.

The Bagram detainees are a different story.  Like the Gitmo prisoners, they have also not been charged with any wrongdoing.  But it’s not certain if any of them have been cleared by the military.  They certainly haven’t had their day in any legitimate courtroom.

As a result of so much cowardly inaction by Obama, hunger strikes (which began during the Bush era) are the last resort of these desperate people who have completely and understandably run out of patience.  (Some have been locked up in cages for a decade or longer.)

Despite vowing to close Gitmo within the first year of his Presidency, Obama was never interested in releasing all the detainees.  Instead, he had hoped to relocate them to a Supermax prison somewhere in America.  Republicans balked and the Gitmo gulag remains open for torturous business.

As Human Rights Watch noted in 2011, this is a violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which “prohibits arbitrary detention”.  (The US signed the treaty in 1992.)  Furthermore, “detentions are arbitrary if not in accordance with due process of law or are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable.”

Before it was practically neutered by Bush’s draconian Military Commissions Act of 2006, indefinite detention would also be a human rights violation under the Clinton-era War Crimes Act of 1996 which also condemns torture.

With no domestic or international investigative body willing to hold Obama accountable for this and no sustainable, intensely pressurized public campaign against the policy, indefinite detention will continue unabated as the failed War on Terror drags on.

Drone Assassinations

Drones were first developed during President Clinton’s time in office but became flying death machines during the Bush years.  Under Obama, their use has accelerated.  Wrongly considered more precise and safer than invading ground troops, there have been numerous civilian casualties.  Because of Obama’s depressingly common use of secrecy, however, it’s not clear why any of them were killed in the first place.

There are so many examples to highlight but one sticks out more than the rest:  Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old American son of Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar Al-Alwaki.

According to a UN report released this past February, on October 14, 2011, Abdulrahman was murdered along with several others when “precision-guided munitions were launched at an outdoor location in Azzan in Shawba province” in Pakistan.  The Obama Administration claims he wasn’t the target along with all the other civilian casualties that tragic day but no “legitimate military target for the operation” has ever been put forward.  (None were at the scene.)  Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill noted in his book that Abdulrahman was only identified by the discovery of his long hair connected to a detached piece of his scalp.

Is it possible that because he was the son of a radical Muslim-American preacher (who himself was murdered by a drone that same year under questionable circumstances) the government viewed him as a future threat that needed to be terminated immediately?  (For the record, there is no evidence Abdulrahman was a “terrorist”.)

Considering that Obama personally authorizes every drone strike before it happens, including the one that killed this teenage American boy, how is it possible that it was an accident?  If there was a legitimate military target for that particular assassination campaign, why hasn’t it been mentioned publicly?  The fact that it hasn’t raises suspicions of a cover-up, one of many on this sole issue alone.

Funding Israel’s Ongoing Genocide of Palestinians

The occupation of Palestine has gone on for more than 60 years.  The recent, ongoing massacre of the open prison known as Gaza is one of innumerable examples of Israeli war crimes.  Making matters worse is that America has long financed these egregious human rights abuses through various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and has constantly protected Israel from potential repercussions at the UN.

Under Obama, and with the full support of Congress, military aid for Israel is now more than 3 billion a year.  That money has helped pay for the murders of more than 500 people and injured thousands more in this recent massacre of Gaza alone, not to mention destroy much of the area’s civilian infrastructure including numerous residential homes & hospitals.  It’s been reported that between 70 and 80% of the current victims are innocent civilians.  These are not careless mistakes, they are deliberate acts of genocide funded by the United States federal government.

According to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “complicity in genocide” is a violation of article 3.  (The US finally signed on to it 40 years after it was first unveiled.)  The definition of “complicity” is not narrowly defined nor restricted so when it comes to the matter of the ongoing collective punishment of the Palestinian people, financing this genocide, an act of complicity, is indeed a violation of that convention.

Instead of restoring America’s respect for international law as he promised all those years ago, President Barack Obama has made a mockery of it time and time again, not unlike his predecessor.  If no legal authority is willing to hold him (or George W. Bush, for that matter) accountable for his atrocious human rights record now, America will no longer be defined by its mythic “dream” but rather for its entrenched system of injustice.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 21, 2014
3:05 p.m.

Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Spilling The Blood Of Innocence

(For the people of Palestine who have suffered long enough.)

The back of his head is missing
His tiny body has turned cold
His wailing father can’t let go
He was two years old

He was targeted for reasons
No human being can understand
They don’t believe his people
Are entitled to their own land

They drop bombs by the thousands
Hoping desperately to succeed
In demoralizing the occupied
And laughing as they bleed

The child is only one
Of many more who have perished
In the eyes of their killers
Their deaths are always cherished

They kill their moms & their dads
Their whole families & their friends
Even journalists & doctors
All to suit their own ends

They kill the old & the pregnant
The crippled & the defiant
There’s no safe place here
And there are those who are too silent

They cut the power to the city
And poison what you drink
They gas you when you’re sleeping
To paralyze how you think

After they torched that young boy
They came back hungry for more
Arresting the survivors
They are rotten to the core

The media in the West
Are on a self-imposed gag
No discussion of the son
Decomposing in a bag

There is uncomfortable grief
There is palpable rage
But the resistance is growing
On the global stage

Apartheid is dying
It’s only propped up by fear
What will ultimately replace it
Is not quite clear

2 states can’t happen
It’s one or nothing at all
Zionism is a failure
It’s headed for a freefall

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 19, 2014
5:31 p.m.

Published in: on July 19, 2014 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Darkness Inside

(Please note:  this is NOT autobiographical.)

I want to confess
There is darkness inside
It conspires in secret
It will not subside
Feasting on the past
That will not die
Living for confusion
And the perfect lie

I want to undress
Shed this dishonest skin
Expose the raw ugliness
Caged from within
It begs for freedom
But does not appreciate
The risk of revealing
A philosophy of hate

I want to express
This closeted contempt
It will infect the culture
On my first attempt
I can influence the world
With my xenophobic trash
See it disintegrate
In a momentous flash

I want to depress
I don’t want to save
Pile the ashes of my enemies
Into a single mass grave
Aroused by their sadness
Amused by their fear
If all goes to plan
It will be one hell of a year

I want to impress
The international community
By laughing at their laws
While enjoying immunity
It’s not so farfetched
I know it can be done
Just look at Palestine
The genocide has begun

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 17, 2014
5:57 p.m.

Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thank You, CM Punk

Phil Brooks was an angry kid.  God knows he had every right to be.  Growing up in Chicago with an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother, ultimately betrayed by a thieving sibling, it’s no wonder he kept getting into trouble with local police.  With little guidance and no appropriate outlet for his rage, he was lost.

Five things saved him:  the much nicer family that took him in when he reached his mid-teens, comic books, punk rock, the straight edge lifestyle and professional wrestling.

Establishing his own renegade backyard promotion, the Lunatic Wrestling Federation, in the late 1990s without immediately seeking any proper training (he would eventually get it and later train others), it would mark an important albeit reckless turning point.  (Before learning how to wrestle like the pros, he took needless risks to entertain the small but loyal audiences these independent shows attracted.)

During this period he would be briefly placed in a tag team after one of LWF’s performers dropped out.  He became CM Punk, his partner was CM Venom.  Together, they were The Chick Magnets.  The gimmick didn’t last but the name sure did.  Despite numerous attempts to change it, Phil Brooks and CM Punk were married for life, professionally speaking.

Then, betrayal.  Brooks discovered that his brother, Mike, had been secretly stealing thousands of dollars from LWF.  They haven’t spoken since.  They may never again.

In 2000, he left his extreme backyard wrestling days behind to try his luck in the independent pro scene.  The Independent Wrestling Association in the Mid-South is where he first worked with Eddie Guerrero and met lifelong friends Colt Cabana and Chris Hero (who had a short run in WWE’s NXT development roster as Kassius Ohno).  His matches with Hero were often old-school NWA-style time limit draws that lasted an hour apiece.  One such encounter, a 2-out-of-3 falls bout that was part of a well-respected trilogy for the IWA Mid-South Heavyweight title, went over 90 minutes.

Three years later, he moved on to Ring Of Honor.  It was here that he would develop the character that would go to become one of the most unique in WWE history.  After reading about Fugazi in a punk zine in his teens, he realized that living a life without drugs (both recreational and medicinal) was a good fit for him, considering his dysfunctional family history.  In ROH, he started to use his real-life straight edge philosophy in promos as a reason to be arrogant and snobby.  “I’m better than you,” he would say because he didn’t succumb to the same chemical temptations everyone else did.  No wonder he was booked to work with real-life recovering addict Raven (one of the defining characters of the ECW era).  The worked feud, where Brooks often compared him to his own alcoholic father, got him heat.  It also afforded him the opportunity to wrestle the legendary Terry Funk.  Brooks also worked with future Total Non-Stop Action talents like AJ Styles, Austin Aries and Samoa Joe.  Oh, and some guy named Bryan Danielson, another close friend.

Speaking of TNA, he would work there himself for a short period in late 2003/early 2004 but it was a tumultuous stint filled with in-fighting, creative differences and one controversy unrelated to him.

By 2005, during what became known as The Summer Of Punk in Ring Of Honor, Brooks caught the break he had long sought.  He signed a development deal with WWE.  During what many thought was going to be his last match in ROH, he beat the champion Aries at the Death Before Dishonour III show in May.  A babyface at the time, after winning he suddenly turned heel and threatened to take his title with him to Vince McMahon Jr.’s promotion.  (At several subsequent shows, Mick Foley urged him to stay and defend it before jumping promotions.)

That ultimately didn’t happen.  Brooks dropped the title three months later.  The very next night, August 13, he put over his friend Colt Cabana and made a teary-eyed exit for the big leagues.

Not at all happy to be placed in the WWE’s then-development territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, instead of the main roster, it ultimately worked out for the best.  OVW’s showrunner, Paul Heyman, the man who transformed Eastern Championship Wrestling into Extreme Championship Wrestling, was an early, vocal supporter who took him under his wing.  When ECW was revived as a third WWE brand, alongside Raw and Smackdown, the following year, Heyman felt Brooks was ready to join him.

Eight years later, after numerous highs and lows, CM Punk is now officially done with the company.

The day after the 2014 Royal Rumble in January, where he lasted almost the entire hour-long match as the number one entrant, Brooks finally made the decision he had been wanting to make for quite some time.  He told McMahon he was done and he was going home.

Bizarrely, the WWE avoided telling its audience this for weeks.  As the sounds of occasionally loud “CM Punk” chants reverberated in arenas during TV and pay-per-view broadcasts, it was absurd for the company to just pretend he didn’t exist anymore or that he might change his mind for one last run.  Finally, some time later, lifelong friend (and recent on-screen rival) Paul Heyman cut a terrific promo at the start of a Chicago Raw that fully addressed how everyone was feeling while maintaining his villainous ways.  From that point on, the chants would still continue but Punk would be mentioned only obliquely by The Authority, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley’s current collective heel moniker, and only rarely.  Never was it positive.

While there was much hope and speculation that he would indeed come back, it always seemed doubtful to the extreme.  Punk’s body is seriously banged up, he was deeply unhappy with the direction of his character, and judging by this, he was just tired of being CM Punk.  Who can blame him?  While fame has its perks, it can also turn you into a walking zoo exhibit where so many demand your attention when you just want to buy groceries, watch a ball game or eat with your friends in peace.  We don’t treat celebrities with a lot of respect.  In fact, we think we own them, especially during their free time.  Quite frankly, we don’t believe they should be left alone when they’re not performing.

It’s utter stupidity.  In fact, it’s madness.  Just because a man can convince you to hate him or cheer for him in the context of a wrestling show doesn’t mean he’s inviting you into his personal life.  And Phil Brooks has made it clear on countless occasions that while he’s grateful for his professional success and his supporters, and is usually gracious to respectful fans who approach him or send him thoughtful messages, paintings & gifts, he’s not your friend.  He doesn’t owe you anything.  Neither does his beautiful and talented wife who he recently married.

What we owe him, however, is a big thank you.  So, here goes:  Thank you, Phil Brooks, for deciding to become a professional wrestler.  Thank you for staying away from drugs your entire life.  (I’m glad I wasn’t the only one, minus the occasional Aleve for bad headaches.)  Thank you for your creativity, your wit, your articulation, your originality, your respect for the ones who came before you, your ballsiness and your remarkable athleticism.  Thank you for sticking it out as long as you did despite your frustration and your pain.  Thank you for your world class matches with John Cena, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, Triple H, The Undertaker and Daniel Bryan.  Thank you for the Pipe Bomb in 2011.  Thank you for mocking John Laryngitis (“clown shoes”, “toolbox”, “douchebag”) and Vince McMahon (“What a maneuver!”).  Thank you for cutting that promo on Chris Brown.  Thank you for The Straight Edge Society.  Thank you for your participation in CM Punk: Best In The World, especially for insisting on having complete TV matches that include action from the commercial breaks.  Thank you for your underappreciated and short-lived stint as a colour commentator.  Thank you for apologizing when you fucked up.  Thank you for your love of punk rock, most especially The Ramones, who I also adore.

Most importantly, thank you for retiring when you did, while you can still walk and think.  I never had the pleasure of seeing you work in person (I haven’t been to a live show in 25 years) but TV and DVD have been welcome consolations.  I will continue to appreciate your legacy while you appreciate a life after wrestling.

Thank you, CM Punk.  You are the Best In The World.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
1:44 a.m.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 1:44 am  Leave a Comment  

There Is No Tomorrow, Only Yesterday

(For the people of Palestine.)

They spill our blood
With heartless goals
They fill the flood
With our drained souls

The bombs they drop
The guns they fire
Will never stop
Til we expire

We have no hope
We have few friends
It’s hard to cope
With no amends

They just don’t care
They want us dead
It’s hardly fair
They’ve lost their head

They stole our land
But they want more
How can they stand
Their rotten core?

We live in fear
The terror is real
But can they hear
The ache we feel?

There is no use
We have to fight
No more abuse
It ends tonight

Through our sorrow
We cannot say
There is no tomorrow
Only yesterday

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 13, 2014
6:55 p.m.

Published in: on July 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

6 Actors Who Made The Most Of Their Second Chances

Constant rejection.  Fierce competition.  No guarantee of a major breakthrough or longterm employment.

The odds of becoming a successful actor in Hollywood are incredibly slim.  And yet, that never deters the ambitious many, the true believers who feel they have nothing to worry about.  They will be discovered and they will become big stars, no matter what.

Most will be inevitably crushed by reality (the business isn’t for everyone, regardless of how gifted you may be) but for the persevering few who do become known to the public through their various on-screen performances, fame & artistic success bring about a new set of challenges.  If unlucky or careless, a series of bad decisions can lead to a significant period of decline where audiences, the critics and the business itself question just how much of a future your once shining talent has left.

Many stars come and go, never to be heard from again.  (Only the smartest and luckiest have long, consistently fruitful careers.)  But then there are the exceptions, the ones who go on to enjoy a resurgence in popularity & creativity after a frustrating lull.

Don’t call it a comeback, call it a second chance, a rare opportunity to climb back to the top after years of failure, absence or personal misfortune.  Here are six such stars who made the most of their unlikely returns.

1. Vin Diesel

Eight years after a small, unbilled role in Awakenings, this New York muscleman caught a big break playing a soldier in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.  In 2000, he found his first signature character, the anti-hero Riddick in Pitch Black.  In The Fast & The Furious and XXX, he found two more.

Either not appreciating his good fortune in acquiring these gigs or thinking it would permanently trap him in Franchise City, Diesel didn’t appear in either 2 Fast 2 Furious nor XXX:  State Of The Union.  (Ice Cube replaced him in the latter.)  Although he did return as Riddick in The Chronicles Of Riddick in 2004, it didn’t do so well.  Beyond the awful family comedy, The Pacifier, which made almost 200 million worldwide, Diesel couldn’t figure out a viable way out from his most famous roles.  All but one of his other films were either ignored by fans, panned by critics or both.

After a quick, unhyped cameo in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, he returned as Dominic Toretto in the fourth installment, Fast & Furious.  He has stuck with the remarkably lucrative franchise ever since.  (Despite the tragic death of co-star Paul Walker, look for him in Fast 7 next year.)  After the third Riddick movie’s surprise commercial success in 2013, Diesel is set to return as Xander Cage in the third XXX movie.  Perhaps he should’ve never left any of these series in the first place.

2. Mickey Rourke

Unlike Diesel, this New Yorker didn’t have the benefit of returning to a multi-million dollar franchise.  In fact, despite respected performances in films like Diner, 9 1/2 Weeks and Barfly, he never really had a breakout hit.  (How different his career might have been if he accepted the offer of playing Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.)  He also had a big mouth.

Publicly knocking legends like Warren Beatty & Robert De Niro (his co-star from Angel Heart) probably didn’t endear him to a number of important Hollywood decision makers.  (He also had a famous spat with Spike Lee over the 1992 LA Riots.)  Also not helpful was all the beatings he took during a brief foray as a professional boxer in the first half of the 1990s.  (He was an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth.)  Several botched plastic surgeries followed.  All the while, he never stopped acting.

But good roles were hard to come by.  In between fine efforts in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker and the otherwise underwhelming Get Carter remake were a lot of low profile gigs that few cared about.  Then in 2003, he was cast in Once Upon A Time In Mexico.  That was followed by Tony Scott’s Man On Fire with Denzel Washington.  Suddenly, Rourke’s luck was changing.

By 2005, he had a major part in Frank Miller’s Sin City, one of the best movies released that year.  Three years later, he achieved his first ever Oscar nomination for playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler.  In 2010, he was the villain in Iron Man 2 and part of the ensemble cast of action heroes in The Expendables, both critical & commercial faves.

Far less outspoken now than he was in his cockier early days in the business, look for the more appreciative Rourke next in the upcoming Sin City sequel.

3. David Caruso

After almost two decades in the business, this distinctively voiced redheaded New Yorker was finally able to make a name for himself when he was cast as Detective John Kelly in the influential TV drama, NYPD Blue.  But just as soon as he landed the role, there were problems.  A perfectionist, Caruso was a bit demanding during shooting which alienated the cast & crew.  Just a few episodes into the show’s second season, he was written out.  He never returned.

After a couple of high profile film bombs (Kiss Of Death, Jade), he tried another dramatic series, Michael Hayes.  It lasted a season.  After a supporting role in the Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe stiff, Proof Of Life, Caruso’s career seemed to be in freefall.

Enter CSI.  Three seasons into the blockbuster TV crime series, a spin-off, CSI: Miami, was ordered.  Caruso was cast as Lieutenant Horatio Caine.  The gig would last a decade.  He learned his lesson.

4. Dennis Hopper

He was in Rebel Without A Cause, Giant, Cool Hand Luke, the original True Grit and Easy Rider.  But after 1971′s The Last Movie, this notorious Kansas native disappeared from the American mainstream for almost a decade.  Blame all the hardcore drugs he was viciously abusing.

In 1979, he made a triumphant return as a stoner photog in Francis Ford Coppola’s memorably gut wrenching Vietnam masterstroke Apocalypse Now.  In the 1980s, he would continue to deliver acclaimed performances in features like No Looking Back, Rumble Fish, Blue Velvet and Hoosiers, the latter of which generated his only Oscar nomination for acting.

In the 90s, he had memorable heel turns in Speed and Waterworld.  And in the Aughts, he appeared on several episodes of 24 during its first season.  Five years after appearing in George A. Romero’s zombie sequel, Land Of The Dead, he tragically died of prostate cancer.  The former hippie turned latter-day conservative was 74.

5. John Travolta

After the disappointing Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive, this one-time sweathog floundered for almost the remainder of the 80s.  That is, until he played the cabbie love interest of Kirstie Alley in the surprise hit romantic comedy, Look Who’s Talking.  Too terrible sequels kept his name out there in the next decade.  Thankfully, all it took to erase their unbearable stench was a memorable appearance in Pulp Fiction.  Cast as a chatty hitman who can do a mean twist, it earned him his second Best Actor nomination.

The following year he played Chili Palmer, another chatty hitman (this one an ambitious movie fan) in Get Shorty.  In 1998, he portrayed a thinly-disguised Bill Clinton in Primary Colours and a redemptive lawyer in A Civil Action, two very strong features.  Throughout the rest of the decade, he would have more commercial hits than misses.

Despite some missteps (most notably, the incredibly silly sci-fi debacle Battlefield Earth), Travolta continues to be an audience favourite thanks to financial successes like Wild Hogs, and critical hits like Bolt and the musical version of Hairspray where he took a rare turn in drag.  His opening speech was the best thing about the ultimately undercooked Swordfish and his lead work in A Love Song For Bobby Long (which costars Scarlett Johanssen) remains underappreciated.

After the tragic death of his only son, look for him to make up for lost time with a succession of features in the coming years.

6. Al Pacino

One of the most respected actors in the history of cinema, he achieved no less than five Oscar nominations between 1973 and 1981.  But after appearing in 1985′s Revolution (it made less than $400000), he retreated to the stage for several years.

When he returned in 1989 to appear in Sea Of Love with Ellen Barkin and John Goodman, it was as if he had never left.  The 1990s were a particularly fertile period:  Dick Tracy, Frankie & Johnny, Scent Of A Woman (his only Best Actor Oscar), Carlito’s Way, Heat, Glengarry Glen Ross, the documentary Looking For Richard, The Insider and Any Given Sunday, not a stinker among them.

In the Aughts, he was the guilt-ridden sleep deprived cop in the terrific Insomnia remake, Colin Farrell’s CIA boss in The Recruit and a casino owner in Ocean’s Thirteen.  He found even greater success on Television playing closeted anti-gay lawyer Roy Cohn in Angels In America, controversial assisted suicide advocate Dr. Kevorkian in You Don’t Know Jack and the eccentric rock producer turned convicted murderer Phil Spector, all Emmy-nominated performances.  (He won for the first two.)  It’s a testament to his incredible talent that he didn’t embarrass himself in the otherwise egregious Adam Sandler misfire, Jack & Jill.  He’s often very funny, particularly in the scene where he interrupts his own theatrical performance on stage to take a call from Sandler.

Now approaching 75, it’s hard to imagine he has anything left to prove.  But a lifelong passion is not so easy to extinguish.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 6, 2014
8:58 p.m.

CORRECTION:  An astute commenter over on The Huffington Post (where this piece can also be seen in slightly revised form) has correctly noted that John Travolta didn’t make a film called Old Hogs, it was called Wild Hogs.  (I must’ve got this confused with Old Dogs.)  Anyway, the right title is now in the piece.  (I’ve asked HuffPo to correct their version.)  My thanks to Andrew J. Coutinho for pointing out the error.  It’s now been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 10, 2014
3:39 a.m.

Published in: on July 6, 2014 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Thoughts On Becoming A Huffington Post Contributor

The email came out of nowhere and it has already changed my life.

Last Friday morning, a friendly fellow had written a very complimentary message about this website.  More importantly, he made me an offer:

“I came across your blog and wondered if you’d like to repost your list of 9 figures who opposed the Iraq War on The Huffington Post.”

As you can imagine, I was stunned.  The Huffington Post?  For real?

Yes.  HuffingtonPost.com editor Seamus McKiernan was serious.  When I first read his message that same Friday afternoon, it took me a nanosecond to think, “Hell, yeah!”

A couple of days later, he asked me to supply a personal head shot and a brief bio.  Wow, I was going to have my own author page, something every contributor gets on HuffPo.  This was unbelievable.

Then came a dose of reality.  My original three-part series, 9 Public Figures Who Rightly Opposed The Second Iraq War, collectively runs more than 3600 words, far too long for HuffPo.  Would I be willing to cut some of the quoted sections so it would fit on their site?

Uncharacteristically, I was ok with that.  In fact, I had anticipated this from the start.

I say “uncharacteristically” because generally I hate to excise anything from a posted piece or even a submission, especially if I think it’s integral to the overall presentation.  But what Seamus suggested I cut wasn’t any of my own words, just some of the comments & writings of the nine principled souls who went against the conventional “wisdom” of invading Iraq.  As he noted in a subsequent email, “I think you could cut half or more of each of the quoted sections and still make those points. It’d read a little swifter, which would work well with our audience and keep their attention.”

I thought about it and realized that he was right, that the original series could be neatly condensed into a single piece of writing without losing its core essence.  But by God, how hard it was to decide what to keep and what to remove in a process that took hours.  Not helping matters was 1) my stubborn migraine (long story and unrelated to this wonderful opportunity) which meant being extra vigilant in the face of persistent pain, and 2) the distraction of the World Cup football tournament.  (I’m feeling a bit better now thanks to my pal Aleve but the ache hasn’t completed vanished yet.  I hope it does soon.  I may have to up the dosage.)

In the end, I was very happy with this new Jenny Craiged version.  After cutting more than 1500 words, it was sent back to Seamus who made some last-minute changes of his own.  (Surprisingly, some quotes were fully restored or lengthened while some others disappeared.  Everything else remained intact.)

Shortly after Noon yesterday, having not yet heard back from him (he emailed me not that long afterward), I impatiently Googled my name and Huffington Post, each in separate quotations.  In an instant, there it was, the first hit in the search.  I clicked it.  I couldn’t wait to read the final result.

Now renamed 9 Public Figures Who Were Wrongly Maligned for Opposing The Iraq War, God damn it looks great.  Seamus did a wonderful editing job.  (There was only one small mistake that needed to be corrected.  In the first Ron Paul quote, “Asia” was missing from “and Central” (I had actually cut those three words that were thankfully restored), but after bringing it to his attention, Seamus added it in.  I always appreciate when editors do that.  It shows they’re listening and they care.)

The best part was showing my Mom.  She was thrilled.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard her say to me, “I’m really proud of you.”

The day before the piece was posted, I made the announcement on Twitter and to my friends & family on Facebook.  They were really happy for me and very supportive, as well.  After it surfaced on HuffPo, I made sure they were all aware of its posting which led to more welcome support.

As of this writing, on HuffPo, the article has generated almost 50 comments (twice as many as my first Gene Simmons Family Jewels posting from 2011), it’s has been shared dozens of times through various social media sites & email, and it has been liked almost 300 times, unreal statistics for someone like me.  The only statistic I don’t know is how many times it’s been accessed.  Surely, that number, conservatively, is in the thousands.

As for the comments, well, unfortunately, there are more complaints about who I left out of the piece than its actual contents.  Regarding retired Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, another vocal opponent of the Iraq War who was endlessly ridiculed, one reader said, “It’s actually sickening that the leading voice against the war is left out of this article.”

That’s a little harsh.  The article was by no means intended to be comprehensive.  By God, how long it would be if I mentioned every single person, private citizens included, who exercised their Constitutional rights to protest the invasion?  There’s no way HuffPo would’ve encouraged me to do that, nor should they!  It was challenging enough editing down the quotes from the nine in the original 3-part series!

That said, how wonderful it is to have access to a whole new group of readers not at all familiar with the eight years I’ve been blogging, first on Windows Live Spaces and now WordPress.  It’s a huge breakthrough for me, a major break in my career, and I could not be more thankful and appreciative to Seamus and The Huffington Post for this privilege.  So far, this has been a very exciting and overwhelmingly positive experience.

Let’s hope it continues as I think about what to write next.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 3, 2014
8:08 p.m.

Published in: on July 3, 2014 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Michael Coren’s Non-Apology To The LGBT Community

Being a public figure can be very difficult at times, most especially when you fuck up.  And just like ordinary citizens, they fuck up often.  The big difference being the whole world knows when they fuck up.

Politicians, athletes, entertainers, cops, reporters & pundits are as humanly flawed as the rest of us.  Hopefully, when they do fuck up, they immediately recognize their mistake, own it entirely, apologize for it, make amends and sincerely vow to never repeat it.  In other words, as long as they are truly accountable for their fuck-up (ex: resign from their job), their wrong will be righted.

Which brings me to Michael Coren.  Yesterday, The Toronto Sun published his latest column.  Entitled “I was wrong”, apparently the longtime Sun Media columnist has had a change of heart about gay people:

“In the past six months I have been parachuted into clouds of new realization and empathy regarding gay issues, largely and ironically because of the angry and hateful responses of some people to my defence of persecuted gay men and women in Africa and Russia. I saw an aspect of the anti-gay movement that shocked me. This wasn’t reasonable opposition but a tainted monomania with no understanding of humanity and an obsession with sex rather than love.”

Coren is 55 years old.  Despite voluminous evidence of hateful comments directed at the LGBT community and their supporters for decades, not counting rapes, physical assaults and murders, until he started defending “persecuted gay men and women in Africa and Russia” himself this year, he had no idea how much harassment they truly face.  What an idiot.

He ends his short piece thusly:

“…I have evolved on this single subject because I can no longer hide behind comfortable banalities, have realized that love triumphs judgment, and know that the conversation between Christians and gays has to transform — just as, to a large extent, the conversation between conservatives and gays has.”

I am not prepared to throw around ugly terms like ‘sin’ and ‘disordered’ as if they were clumsy cudgels, or marginalize people and groups who often lead more moral lives than I do. I am sick and tired of defining the word of God by a single and not even particularly important subject.

If we live, we grow. The alternative is, of course, death.”

Sounds like belated personal growth, doesn’t it?  Sounds like he has finally “evolved” on gays.

Unfortunately, a much closer examination of his column proves his “thinking” hasn’t changed at all.

Consider paragraph 2:

“I’m still regarded by many in the gay community as an enemy and I understand that reaction. I have said and written things in the past that, while never intentionally hateful, caused offence and pain. This isn’t necessarily relevant, in that truth cannot change according to response, but I could and would not say such things any longer. I was wrong.”

Note how he doesn’t specify what he actually said and wrote that caused so much anger.  Also note how he downplays the severity of these unspecified comments by claiming rather unpersuasively they were “never intentionally hateful”, suggesting more of a big misunderstanding between two equal parties rather than hurtful, bigoted rhetoric directed from a privileged white man to a marginalized community he holds in contempt.  (Why else would he use the phrase “reasonable opposition” in paragraph 3?)

Before he declares, “I was wrong,”, pay particular attention to the sentence that appears before it.  It is within the short section in between the commas that reveals how Coren really feels about gays.  When he says, “truth cannot change according to response”, that means no matter how much anger his anti-gay vitriol inspires, he has not changed his actual position.  He just won’t use words like “sin” and “disordered” any more.  Ignorant insults attract too much unwanted attention, you see.

In other words, like Pope Francis, Michael Coren is choosing his language more carefully now when discussing LGBT issues.  He’s putting his rusty, out-of-date insults back in his hack pundit toolbox and locking the key.  But also like the head of the Catholic Church, that doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind on gay rights.

Go ahead.  Pour through that column and find the parts where he says he now believes homosexuality is a-ok and a normal form of sexuality, that he’s now a big champion for gay marriage and gay adoption, that he doesn’t think transgendered men and women are crazy, deluded perverts.

What’s that?  You can’t find any of that in there?  Of course you can’t.  He wrote none of those things.  Nor does he believe them.

This business of Coren declaring he won’t offend gay people any more with his dopey insults is not new.  In the Sun specifically, he has written this promise countless times over the years.  It has never led to him actually supporting full equality for gays which is the biggest insult of them all.

This past February in a Sun column entitled “Gay insults shouldn’t be tolerated”, he plainly states, “I oppose gay marriage”, “I uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman” and “most gay people do not choose their sexuality” (who are the ones that don’t?)

In another column from that same period, “Uganda’s anti-gay law a travesty”, while defending homosexuals, he does not defend homosexuality.  “This isn’t the place for a discourse about the nature of sexuality,” he oddly declares before taking this convenient libertarian stance:  “What consenting people do in private as long as it harms nobody is absolutely up to them.”

In the very next paragraph, though, he opines, “I find some of the excesses of the pride parade vulgar and annoying and I find some of the intolerance and triumphalism of gay activists in North America and Europe to be offensive.”  So you can be gay in private but by God, don’t be gay in public!  That’s vulgar!  That’s annoying!  That’s offensive!

In October 2012, during a broadcast of his Sun News talk show, The Arena, he had this to say about a private member’s bill regarding added protections for transgendered folks who use public washrooms:

“What this is saying is if you do not want a boy to go into your daughter’s washroom you are the problem…not the person who says ‘Oh, I feel like a girl today.”

During a subsequent discussion about the Toronto District School Board possibly hiring transgendered teachers, Coren, sarcastically pretending to be a possible candidate, remarked, “No I don’t have a BA no I don’t have an MA, but I did have my penis cut off.”

Finally, there was this:

“I’ve interviewed people who think they’re in another gender’s body… Invariably, I believe they need a lot of psychiatric help.”

In November 2010, after comedian Rick Mercer came out in a famous video, Coren called his actions “pathetic”.  Regarding the It Gets Better campaign that inspired it, he decried, “[the] love that dare not speak its name will not now shut up.”

For his part, Mercer responded, “This is a perfect example of how it gets better, as I might have once let someone like Coren get to me, but now it doesn’t affect me one bit…I know the type of homosexual he likes: one in the Conservative party who does what they’re supposed to do.”  In other words, keeping their gayness to themselves and voting against their own interests.

In the “I was wrong” column, Coren writes, “It’s tragic but indicative that there are critics who cannot come to terms with growth and change and, rather than consider what I have to say, try to question my motives.”

It’s neither “tragic” nor “indicative” to point out the obvious.  Coren hasn’t grown.  He hasn’t changed.  And the suspicious timing of his column (in the middle of World Pride Weekend after all) is an excellent reason to question his motives.

His long history of abhorrent anti-gay views cannot be instantly erased because of a questionable shift in tone.  He still harbours them.  They can’t be forgotten, either, nor should they, as much as Coren would like them to be.  Just because someone once again announces they won’t say hurtful things about gay people anymore doesn’t mean they’ve stopped thinking them or that they’ll actually live up to their word.

What does he mean when he says, “I was wrong”, anyway?  What sorts of anti-gay “insults” is he referring to, besides the aforementioned “sin” and “disordered”?  By not specifying the full context of what he actually said that “caused offence and pain”, he’s avoiding being accountable.  He’s refusing to be real.

When I was a teen, my former church briefly contemplated having openly gay ministers.  It caused such a backlash that it never happened.  In History class, a Hamilton Spectator article about this was included in a project I did about current events which included my own summaries & brief analysis.  Right next to the clipped out story, I wrote the phrase “can the queers” which actually got a bonus mark from my teacher.  I don’t remember the full context of the line now, unfortunately (I’m sure I meant it as a mean joke), but nonetheless I am ashamed that I wrote it in the first place.  In fact, I ultimately threw out the whole project years later.  Today, I have no problem with gay ministers.  (I’ve been an atheist since 1996.)

In college, I took a human sexuality class.  We needed to submit an essay so I stupidly wrote one declaring that homosexuality was a mental illness.  Even though the teacher wasn’t persuaded, I actually got a B+ on it.  I’m not proud of that.  It, too, was tossed quite some time ago.  For the record, I no longer believe being gay means you’re mentally ill.  It’s a perfectly normal form of sexuality.  I regret writing that essay.

What does Coren himself regret, exactly?  Beyond saying “sin” and “disordered” out loud to describe homosexuality, who knows? His column lacks full candor and humility, he refuses to admit his comments were “intentionally hateful” and he won’t specify exactly what he said in the past that he won’t say today.  As a result, “I was wrong” is nothing more than an empty statement devoid of true contrition.

Speaking of contrition, where’s “I’m sorry”, “I apologize”, or any plea for forgiveness and reconciliation?  If Coren is serious about making peace with the LGBT community, he’s only taken a half-hearted approach here, one that should be met with collective contempt and great suspicion.  He hasn’t earned anyone’s respect on this.

What does it say about him that even his own children don’t agree with his outdated views on gays and gay marriage?  As he notes, “that generation in the west simply does not comprehend opposition on these issues.”

Knowing their father’s long history of hateful anti-gay bigotry, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 30, 2014
1:57 a.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  

World Cup 2014 Doppelgangers

English Captain Steven Gerrard

Ricky Gervais

Italian striker Mario Balotelli

Robbie Sinclair from TV’s Dinosaurs

Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez

A young Arnold Schwarzenegger

Algerian defender Rafik Halliche

WWE superstar Wade Barrett

Greek striker Lazaros Christodoulopoulos

Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson

American goalkeeper Tim Howard

Rapper/Actor Common

Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje

A young Mr. T

(Photos taken from telegraph.co.uk, zap2it.com, express.co.uk, dailyoftheday.com, dailymail.co.uk, zimbio.com, stu-bennett.com, the-void.co.uk, nndb.com, bossop.wordpress.com, edgecastcdn.net, gettyimages.com and andrewkardon.com.)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
3:19 a.m.

UPDATE:

Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli

Comedian Jim Breuer

(Photos taken from wikimedia.org and wc.arizona.edu.)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
6:08 p.m.

Published in: on June 25, 2014 at 3:19 am  Leave a Comment  

9 Public Figures Who Rightly Opposed The Second Iraq War (Part Three)

7. Rep. Ron Paul

While there were dozens of Democrats who were publicly against the Bush Administration’s war plans, there were even fewer Republicans who agreed with them. This outspoken Libertarian from Texas was the most outspoken one.

In late February 2002, many months before Washington would vote on authorizing the invasion, Congressman Paul wrote this excellent piece for CounterPunch.org.  Among his standout comments:

“All we hear about in the biased media is the need to eliminate Saddam Hussein, with little regard for how this, in itself, might totally destabilize the entire Middle East and Central Asia. It could, in fact, make the Iraq ‘problem’ much worse.”

“…it is rarely pointed out that the CIA has found no evidence whatsoever that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.”

“Rarely do we hear that Iraq has never committed any aggression against the United States. No one in the media questions our aggression against Iraq for the past 12 years by continuous bombing and imposed sanctions responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.

“Iraq’s defense of her homeland can hardly be characterized as aggression against those who rain bombs down on them. We had to go over 6,000 miles to pick this fight against a third-world nation with little ability to defend itself.”

“Could it be that only through war and removal of certain governments we can maintain control of the oil in this region? Could it be all about oil, and have nothing to do with US national security?”

“It seems that Tony Blair’s approval is more important than the approval of the American people!”

“Only tyrants can take a nation to war without the consent of the people. The planned war against Iraq without a Declaration of War is illegal. It is unwise because of many unforeseen consequences that are likely to result. It is immoral and unjust, because it has nothing to do with US security and because Iraq has not initiated aggression against us.

“We must understand that the American people become less secure when we risk a major conflict driven by commercial interests and not constitutionally authorized by Congress. Victory under these circumstances is always elusive, and unintended consequences are inevitable.”

Eleven years later, after a couple of failed runs for President, Paul retired from political office after 16 years in the House Of Representatives.

8. Al Gore

On September 23, 2002, the former Vice President delivered a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.  Like his fellow Democrats, which included Russ Feingold & Ted Kennedy, he openly opposed the idea of America invading Saddam Hussein’s sovereign land, particularly without the support of the United Nations, among many other reservations:

“…I am deeply concerned that the policy we are presently following with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”

“The foreshortening of deliberation in the Congress robs the country of the time it needs for careful analysis of what may lie before it. Such consideration is all the more important because of the Administration’s failure thus far to lay out an assessment of how it thinks the course of a war will run – even while it has given free run to persons both within and close to the administration to suggest that this will be an easy conquest. Neither has the Administration said much to clarify its idea of what is to follow regime change or of the degree of engagement it is prepared to accept for the United States in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place.”

“The problem with [the Bush doctrine of] preemption is that in the first instance it is not needed in order to give the United States the means to act in its own defense against terrorism in general or Iraq in particular…the doctrine is presented in open-ended terms, which means that if Iraq if the first point of application, it is not necessarily the last. In fact, the very logic of the concept suggests a string of military engagements against a succession of sovereign states: Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, etc., wherever the combination exists of an interest in weapons of mass destruction together with an ongoing role as host to or participant in terrorist operations. It means also that if the Congress approves the Iraq resolution just proposed by the Administration it is simultaneously creating the precedent for preemptive action anywhere, anytime this or any future president so decides.”

“Far more damaging, however, is the Administration’s attack on fundamental constitutional rights. The idea that an American citizen can be imprisoned without recourse to judicial process or remedies, and that this can be done on the say-so of the President or those acting in his name, is beyond the pale.”

“If what America represents to the world is leadership in a commonwealth of equals, then our friends are legion; if what we represent to the world is empire, then it is our enemies who will be legion.”

“President Bush now asserts that we will take pre-emptive action even if we take the threat we perceive is not imminent. If other nations assert the same right then the rule of law will quickly be replaced by the reign of fear…An unspoken part of this new doctrine appears to be that we claim this right for ourselves – and only for ourselves. It is, in that sense, part of a broader strategy to replace ideas like deterrence and containment with what some in the administration [call] ‘dominance.’”

“What this doctrine does is to destroy the goal of a world in which states consider themselves subject to law, particularly in the matter of standards for the use of violence against each other. That concept would be displaced by the notion that there is no law but the discretion of the President of the United States.”

Would Gore have felt this way if he had won the 2000 election instead of Bush?  We’ll never know.  Regardless, twelve years after making this important speech, he looks a hell of a lot wiser than everyone in Bush’s Administration.

9. Pope John Paul II

There are many reasons to criticize this now-deceased Polish Pope.  Opposing the Iraq invasion is not one of them.

In his annual written address released to the public in January 2003, the then-leader of the Catholic Church wrote briefly but bluntly about his views about war in general & the Iraq conflict specifically:

“‘NO TO WAR’! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between States, the noble exercise of diplomacy: these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences. I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons and of the all-too-numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity…And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than twelve years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.”

Amen.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 23, 2014
3:14 a.m.

Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 3:14 am  Comments (1)  
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