Monthly Archives: February 2016

The 88th Oscars: Focus on Hollywood

The cast of the film "Spotlight" react after they won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The cast of the film “Spotlight” react after they won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Host Chris Rock opens the show at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Host Chris Rock opens the show at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Catholic Church abuse movie “Spotlight” was named best picture, the top award at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, reports Reuters’ Jill Serjeant, after an evening peppered with pointed punchlines from host Chris Rock about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has dominated the industry. … read our stories and photo essay, ‘Spotlight’ wins top Oscar amid night of race-related critiques

F&O’s Oscars package, Focus on Hollywood, includes:

Last but not least … if only the the unvarnished Facts grab you, here are the winners:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The 88th Academy Awards, the highest honours in the movie industry, were handed out a ceremony in Hollywood on Sunday hosted by comedian Chris Rock.

Following is a list of winners in key categories for the awards, also known as the Oscars.

  • BEST PICTURE
  • “Spotlight”
  • BEST DIRECTOR
  • Alejandro Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
  • BEST ACTOR
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
  • BEST ACTRESS
  • Brie Larson, “Room”
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
  • Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
  • Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
  • “Spotlight”
  • BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
  • “The Big Short”
  • BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
  • “Inside Out”
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
  • “Amy”
  • BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
  • “Son of Saul” Hungary
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
  • “The Hateful Eight” Ennio Morricone
  • BEST ORIGINAL SONG
  • “Writing’s On The Wall” from “Spectre”

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)

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Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , |

Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week

Reports:

Craig Venter, in 2007. Wikimedia/Creative Commons

CRAIG VENTER: Biotech’s biggest entrepreneur on a quest to delay ageing. By Roger Highfield

Craig Venter wants HLI to create the world’s most important database for interpreting the genetic code, so he can make healthcare more proactive, preventative and predictive. Such data marks the start of a decisive shift in medicine, from treatment to prevention. Venter believes we have entered the digital age of biology. And he is the first to embark on this ultimate journey of self-discovery.

Insight: The road to Aleppo – how the West misread Putin, by Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Jonathan Landay and Maria Tsvetkova

Last July, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seemed to be losing his battle against rebel forces. Western officials said the Syrian leader’s days were numbered and predicted he would soon be forced to the negotiating table. It did not turn out that way.

Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Where the Dead don’t Count. By Selam Gebrekidan and Allison Martell

International groups track numbers of migrants who drown crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year an estimated 3,800 people died that way. But no one counts the dead of the Sahara. This makes it easier for politicians to ignore the lives lost there, humanitarian workers say.

Arts:

‘Spotlight’ Gets Investigative Journalism Right, by Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica

“Spotlight,” the film based on the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church, is a remarkable achievement. The movie, which has been nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture, vividly captures the mix of frustration, drudgery and excitement that goes into every great investigative story.

Dreamworks/Publicity Photo

Bridge of Spies’: The True Story is Even Stranger Than Fiction, by Tim Weiner

Bridge of Spies tries to be true to life. But it reconstructs five grim years in two hours and twenty-one minutes. As it often is, the truth was stranger than its fictional portrayal.

Bagpipe bandits: how the English blew Scotland’s national instrument first, by Vivien Williams

Bagpipe studies has undergone a revival of late –  and it’s emerged that the English were playing the pipes hundreds of years before the Scots got their hands on them.

Photo-Essay

A trainer feeds a tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Thailand’s Tiger Temple, by Chaiwat Subprasom

Thailand’s Tiger Temple denies accusations that tigers bred there have been sold on the black market. But the allegations of mistreatment of tigers had dented Thailand’s tourism image, said a spokesman with the Wildlife Conservation Office.

Commentary:

Dancing with the devil, by Tom Regan

The process that led to the creation of the Trump monster began on the day of US President Barack Obama’s inauguration, January 20, 2009. The story has grown of how on that night a group of senior Republicans gathered at a private dinner, and decided to be not “the loyal opposition,” but a destructive and malignant force that would use any means at its disposal to achieve its desired outcome.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public DomaineChina’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Déjà Vu All Over Again, by Jim McNiven

The lesson from historical events: do not bet against whatever side the United States is on in a long-run Cold War. It is the acknowledged ‘champion’ of Cold Wars and will not give up its place in the face of Wahhabi/ Salafi/ Al Queda/ Taliban/ Islamic State, etc. pressure any time soon.

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Findings:
Elsewhere, two essential essays stand out from the flood of political reporting out of the United States this week:
How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable, by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
He’s no ordinary con man. He’s way above average — and the American political system is his easiest mark ever.
The Governing Cancer of Our Time, by David Brooks, New York Times
“There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. … Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. “

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Posted in Current Affairs

China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise” —  Adm. Harry Harris

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016)  The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domaine

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domain

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 26, 2016

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia/Wikimedia commons

It has been a long and expensive quest, but Beijing has now found a way out of Washington’s straightjacket aimed at blocking China from becoming an imperial power.

For the last 30 years or more, the barrier to China being able to project naval power into the Pacific and Indian oceans has been the control by the United States and its allies of the chain of islands and archipelagos stretching from northern Japan to the Philippines. This “first island chain” has effectively hemmed in Beijing’s navy by keeping eagle eyes on its every move.

Now Beijing has found a way around that barrier by first claiming sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, and now constructing islands with military installations and airstrips in maritime territory claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

When Beijing first began making claims to own 90 per cent of the South China Sea, claims that clearly had no legal or historical merit, the immediate calculation was that China lusted after the submarine oil and natural gas reserves, and the abundant fish stocks. The claim has generated strong push-back from Washington, which insists on the right of free passage across the sea, which carries some 25 per cent of global maritime trade worth over $5 trillion each year.

But the massive program in the last two years of dredging, island building, and military construction on previously untenable shoals and islets right down to Indonesia – about 1,200 kilometres from Chinese territory – has put a whole different complexion on this enterprise. Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, this week told America’s House Armed Services Committee that China has created more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of artificial land in the last two years. At least half a dozen of the man-made islands have military bases, most with airstrips, and at least one is home to a squadron of fighter aircraft.

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise,” said Adm. Harris. The admiral added that in order to match China’s increasingly capable naval and air power the U.S. needs “weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further and are more survivable.” He said he is only able to deploy 62 per cent of the attack submarine patrols he needs to be sure of keeping the Chinese forces under control.

A key piece of the puzzle of deciphering Beijing’s intentions came this week with the discovery that China had built a high-frequency radar station on Cuarteron Reef, in the Spratly Islands and midway between southern Vietnam and Malaysia’s Borneo states. Cuarteron Reef is about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the nearest undisputed Chinese territory at Hainan Island.

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Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

The supposition is that China is preparing to enforce an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the whole of the South China Sea. It has already done this in the East China Sea as a tactical move in its spurious claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands.

What is emerging is that Beijing is constructing a network of military bastions in the South China Sea to protect its base for its fleet of nuclear missile armed submarines at the southern tip of Hainan Island. The base at Yulin is in massive caves constructed in the sea cliffs and is capable, according to U.S. and Indian intelligence estimates, of housing 20 Type 094, or Jin Class submarines, each carrying 12 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The nuclear missile submarines, known as SSBNs, are able to leave and return to the base submerged, making it hard to spot them from U.S. patrol aircraft or spy satellites.

By taking military control of the South China Sea and attempting to cow the other littoral states, Beijing is trying to ensure it can deploy its SSBNs into the Pacific and Indian oceans without them being detected by the U.S. and its allies.

The South China Sea offers several deepwater passages into the Western Pacific, the major one being the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines. But there are others between the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia. To get to the Indian Ocean remains more of a problem. The most direct route is through the Malacca Strait, which is well guarded by Washington’s ally, Singapore. To cut the number of times its warships have to transit the Malacca Strait choke point, Beijing has sought port visit privileges, including for its submarines, with Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

China’s naval ambitions are alarming several of its neighbours and driving them into the arms of the U.S. Much to Washington’s delight, China’s rampant military expansion has given Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, the reason he wanted to water down the country’s “pacifist constitution,” imposed after the Second World War. The re-interpretations and amendments to the constitution allow Japanese forces to play a far more assertive role in partnership with allies.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and even old enemy Vietnam are boosting their military relations with Washington as a bulwark against what looks to them like Beijing’s dream of imperial expansion. However, Beijing has been clever at exerting divide-and-rule pressure among the 10 countries of South East Asia. China has used its economic and political muscle on Laos and Cambodia in particular to ensure that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been unable to develop a common front against Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the ASEAN leaders at a landmark summit in California on February 15 and 16. The hope was to develop a united front on the South China Sea issue, and to solidifying economic ties as the group forms a common market modelled on the European Union, and as the Trans- Pacific Partnership free trade agreement approaches completion. Progress on the economic issues was solid, but less so on political matters.

The mere fact that the summit happened underlines the reality that Asia and the growing confrontation with China will loom ever larger on the radar screen of whomever takes over the White House from Obama. It is to be hoped that when the U.S. votes later this year its citizens have in mind the real challenges for the next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Washington’s attack submarines are already engaged with the Chinese navy in “The Hunt for Red October” cat-and-mouse games they used to play with the Soviets under the North Atlantic. Those tensions will only increase as Beijing tightens controls over the sea-lanes to Hainan Island and deploys more and more nuclear missile SSBNs.

The situation is all the more dangerous because Beijing’s belligerence is a sign of the weakness of the regime. Weak regimes make mistakes.

Since it gave up the spiritual draw of communism three decades ago, the Chinese regime has relied almost totally on economic growth for its political legitimacy. That period has come to an end because the ruling Communist Party refuses to make the fundamental political and administrative reforms necessary for the economy to move forward. Those reforms require the party to give up its exclusive hold on power by accepting such things as the rule of law, and effective oversight of the administration. Instead, the party appears ready to go down with the ship rather than plug the leaks and repair the engine while there is still time.

To keep itself afloat, the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping is using two lifeboats. One is a massive expansion of authoritarianism. Chinese people have not been subject to the same kind of repression and restrictions since the days of Mao Zedong. And Xi is nothing if not an equal opportunity dictator. Foreign non-governmental organizations and even foreign companies investing in China are finding their China operations under increasing restrictions and bans.

Xi’s other lifeline is that age-old last refuge of a scoundrel: nationalism. Since he came to power as Communist Party boss and President over the winter of 2012, Xi has pursued an assertive and sometimes aggressive foreign policy aimed at convincing China’s 1.3 billion citizens that they belong to a powerful nation whose footsteps make the ground shake and other nations tremble. His first efforts were to goad Japan, China’s historic enemy. This was an obvious target because Chinese schoolchildren are indoctrinated at an early age with hatred of the Japanese, even though it was Japanese investment and technology that has made China’s “economic miracle” possible.

But supplanting the U.S. as the arbiter of peace and security in Asia has become Xi’s dream for China.

What we are seeing now has developed from another of Beijing’s imperial territorial ambitions; to take possession of the island nation of Taiwan and its 23 million people. But the U.S. has domestic legislation requiring it to aid the defence of Taiwan if the island is attacked. Thus for about 25 years China’s military planners have worked on the premise that in order to successfully invade Taiwan, they must first be able to deter or defeat any rescue bid by U.S. forces.

China’s building of a large fleet of attack submarines — now thought to number over 60 – is a major element in trying to make the seas unsafe for U.S. warships. Even more effective and a lot cheaper has been China’s development of a whole range of anti-ship missiles, which make elements like U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups very vulnerable.

The Chinese military planners could not go very far down this road, of course, before having to take into account that both China and the U.S. are nuclear powers. China insists it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, though only useful fools, fellow travellers and agents of influence would believe that pledge to be of any real value. But China’s problem is that if it were to be attacked by nuclear weapons, it has not had a serious second-strike capability. This phrase will be familiar to those who lived through the Cold War, but what it means is the ability to deter a nuclear attack because the enemy will know for sure you will have enough nuclear weapons that survive to be able to strike back.

China has worked hard to remove this weakness by making its nuclear weapons highly mobile and building safe sanctuaries for them in mountainsides. The most effective second-strike nuclear weapons, however, are on ballistic missiles in SSBN submarines. The dream of Chinese military planners has been to ensure the U.S. will never attack them with nuclear weapons because the Pentagon will know that lurking somewhere in the waters off California or New England are Chinese SSBNs.

When China first started developing SSBNs they were part of the Northern Fleet and based at Xiaopingdao in the Bohai Gulf. The problem with this location was that in order to go on patrol the submarines had to go through the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, where they could be detected by the U.S. and ally South Korea. The other route was to go through the East China Sea, which is also shallow, and to risk detection by the Americans and Japanese allies on the Ryukyu Islands.

Hence the move to Yulin on Hainan and the push to turn the islets and reefs of the South China Sea into a network of bastions to protect the base.

Washington and its allies will now have to try to check Beijing’s South China Sea move, unless, of course, the U.S. administration is prepared to see itself overshadowed in Asia and its allies put at risk of Beijing’s tantrums.

Adm. Harris said this week he wants more submarines and better weapons to be able to keep the Chinese in check. Another development already underway is much closer military relations between Washington and Manila. This is essential if effective surveillance of the Luzon Strait is to be maintained. That will also require closer co-ordination with the Taiwanese military. It will probably work in Washington’s favour that Tsai Ing-wen has been elected President of Taiwan at the head of a majority Democratic Progressive Party government. The previous government of President Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang whose ideology was dominated by Chinese who fled to the island in 1949 when the communists captured China, was far too interested in creeping into favour with Beijing to be trustworthy. Tsai and her party are dedicated to maintaining Taiwan’s independence, and can be expected to see a stronger partnership with the U.S. as a guarantee of that hope.

Other U.S. allies in Asia are beefing up their navies in order to be effective partners. Australia, for example, this week published a defence white paper envisaging a large increase in its air, land and sea forces, including 12 submarines and nine anti-submarine frigates. This move is bold because China has become Australia’s largest trade partner, especially as a buyer before the latest recession of Australian natural resources.

A Chinese government spokesman said Beijing regretted the Australian plans, which she said reflected “a Cold War mentality.”  She may be right, because that seems to be the appropriate frame of mind.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

References and further information:

Watch:  U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flies over new islands in South China Sea — U.S. Navy video

Watch: Asia Maritime Transparence Initiative, Center for Strategic & International Studies video

 

 

From F&O Archives:

China’s war for Asian domination going well, JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 2, 2015

China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims. JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
September 10, 2014

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea, JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs, May 23, 2014

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Details here.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

‘Spotlight’ Gets Investigative Journalism Right

 “Spotlight,” the film based on the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church, is a remarkable achievement. — Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica editor

 

STEPHEN ENGELBERG, ProPublica
February, 2016

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in 'Spotlight.' Publicity Photo: Kerry Hayes, © Open Road Films

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in ‘Spotlight.’ Publicity Photo: Kerry Hayes, © Open Road Films Next, read Tom Regan’s column, Priest sex abuse: before Boston, there was Newfoundland

There’s a moment in almost every movie when people in the audience who really know the line of work depicted on screen cry out in frustration and say: “Oh, come on!” “Absurd.” “Never happens.”

Over the decades, Hollywood screenwriters have taken liberties with every imaginable profession and craft, from doctors to lawyers to spies to police detectives. Rocky Balboa survives punches that would decapitate an ordinary boxer. The car chases in The Bourne Identity defy physics. John McClane, the hard-boiled cop in the Die Hard series, displays a supernatural ability to evade bullets.

Journalism movies have had their share of utterly improbable moments. In the 1994 film “The Paper,” the city editor of a New York City tabloid gets into a fist fight with his female boss as he tries to stop the presses. (Not a great career move.) More recently, the first season of HBO’s television series The Newsroom showed a producer landing a series of astounding scoops in the first hours after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. The reporter’s information came from miraculously well-placed sources – a sister who worked at Halliburton and a close friend who happened to be a junior BP executive attending all the key crisis meetings.

All of this makes “Spotlight,” the film based on the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church, a remarkable achievement. The movie, which has been nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture, vividly captures the mix of frustration, drudgery and excitement that goes into every great investigative story. Where liberties were taken, and there were a few, they are in line with the realities of the news business.

One of the most credible aspects of the movie is the cluelessness with which the reporters begin their quest. As is often the case, the Globe’s group of reporters, known as the “Spotlight” Team, have no idea of the size and scope of what they’re trying to examine. At first, they stumble around, lacking the most basic information about how the church bureaucracy worked.

The notion of pedophile priests was not new. Newspapers from Dallas to Portland had done deeply reported stories on individual cases. Boston itself had just witnessed the criminal trial of a particularly notorious priest, Father John J. Geoghan. Initially, senior editors at the Globe are not even persuaded there was a story worth chasing.

As the film briefly acknowledges, the Globe was behind the Boston Phoenix, a respected alternative weekly, in covering the subject for local readers. Kristen Lombardi, a reporter for the Phoenix, had already written a series of stories implicating Cardinal Bernard Law, the leader of Boston’s archdiocese, in allowing Geoghan to remain in daily contact with children for three decades.

“Spotlight” opens with the arrival of Marty Baron, a veteran journalist who took over at the Globe after a stint as editor of the Miami Herald. As investigative reporters know well, Florida is a reporters’ paradise, lousy with graft, corruption and colorful characters. The state’s public records laws are decisively tilted toward openness. When a Globe columnist covering the Geoghan trial wrote that “the truth may never be known,” Baron sat down with the head of the “Spotlight” team, Walter “Robby” Robinson, and asked him to take a fresh look at the issue.

The editor suggested filing a lawsuit to force release of records the Catholic Church had submitted under court seal. Such suits were unheard of in Massachusetts. Liev Schreiber, the actor who portrays Baron, captures the true life editor’s white-hot focus and intensity, so much so that long-time colleagues were taken aback by the resemblance.

The movie accurately depicts the team’s key early breakthrough. The reporters figured out that priests who had “acted out” with children were often listed in the diocese’s phone book as on leave. They obtained years of directories and pored through thousands of entries to create a database, using the then-remarkable new technology known as a computer spreadsheet. With artful editing and a stirring score, director Tom McCarthy made this excruciatingly boring work an inspiring event, which in a way it was.

Another turning point came when Sacha Pfeiffer, the Globe reporter played by Rachel McAdams, knocks on the door of a priest who off-handedly acknowledges that he has abused children. (He asserts, bizarrely, that his conduct was not improper because he was not sexually aroused.) The reporter is clearly flustered and unprepared for this admission and she rushes through the interview before a woman at the house can slam the door. The practice of “door stopping” is routine for investigative journalists; nearly all such encounters end in failure. But the few attempts that succeed deliver an adrenalin kick unlike anything in reporting.

Fascinatingly, one of the more compelling scenes about journalism in the movie was invented by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, the screenwriters who worked closely with the reporters and editors involved the story.

It comes late in the film, after the “Spotlight” team has figured out that scores of Boston-area priests had abused children. Eric MacLeish, a lawyer for the victims, angrily tells Robinson that he sent the Globe a list of 20 priests “and you buried it.” Soon after, the reporters come across a story that ran deep inside the Globe’s metro section when Robinson was in charge of local coverage.

The writers came across the buried story when they interviewed MacLeish as part of their research for the film. They seized on it as the perfect way to illustrate the Globe’s earlier failures to investigate an important local institution. The conversation between MacLeish and Robinson is fictional. But the sentiments portrayed in the movie are real. “It happened on my watch and I’ll go to confession on it,” the Robinson told Entertainment Weekly. “Like any journalist who’s been around this long, I’ve made my share of mistakes.”

In investigative reporting, of course, nearly all great stories are screamingly obvious in retrospect. The reporting and documents the Globe obtained through its lawsuit proved that Church leaders had knowingly shuffled around pedophile priests from parish to parish. Geoghan turned out to be a piece of a much, much larger story, one that has rippled across the United States and the world over the past 15 years. Baron has pointed out that the movie is not a stenographic record of how the investigation unfolded. But it gets the big things right, providing a compelling picture of how great reporters break big stories.

Creative Commons

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletterStephen Engelberg was the founding managing editor of ProPublica from 2008-2012, and became editor-in-chief on January 1, 2013. He worked previously as managing editor of The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., where he supervised investigative projects and news coverage. Before that, Engelberg worked for 18 years at The New York Times as an editor and reporter, founding the paper’s investigative unit and serving as a reporter in Washington, D.C., and Warsaw. Engelberg shared in two George Polk Awards for reporting: the first, in 1989, for articles on nuclear proliferation; the second, in 1994, for articles on U.S. immigration. A group of articles he co-authored in 1995 on an airplane crash was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Projects he supervised at the Times on Mexican corruption (published in 1997) and the rise of Al Qaeda (published beginning in January 2001) were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. During his years at The Oregonian, the paper won the Pulitzer for breaking news and was finalist for its investigative work on methamphetamines and charities intended to help the disabled. He is the co-author of “Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War” (2001).

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Next, read Tom Regan’s column, Priest sex abuse: before Boston, there was Newfoundland

It was a bombshell: a local paper printed an exposé on sexual abuse by Catholic religious figures. No, I’m not talking about the Boston Globe, and its 2002 series on sexual abuse that won a Pulitzer Prize and is also the subject of the much praised film released November 6, “Spotlight.” That happened almost a decade after the story I’m referring to.

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Courage, mystery, and death: Facts and Opinions about Harper Lee

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee dies, age 89, by Bill Trott, February 19, 2106

Harper Lee, who wrote one of America’s most beloved literary classics, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and surprised readers with a second book about racial injustice in the U.S. South after living a largely reclusive life for decades, died at the age of 89.

Harper Lee: a life of great courage, by Richard Gray, February 19, 2016

Harper Lee showed real courage throughout her life – not least, by writing a book that went against the tide of majority white opinion in the American South at the time. Her reward for that courage is to be loved by generations of readers, who have discovered – and will continue to do so – that reading her work can change everything.

There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird, by Richard Gray (F&O Archives, Feb. 2015)

Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

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Nothing is simple about Canada’s support for Kurdish fighters

Kurdish PKK fighters Photo: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/Creative Commons

Kurdish PKK fighters Photo: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 18, 2016

There is a generation of British soldiers, civil servants and planters, now mostly dead, who swear bloodcurdling oaths at the mention of the name of Canada.

They were posted to the then-British colony of Malaya after the Second World War, and they blame Canada for training and arming the ethnic Chinese communists who waged guerrilla war against the colonial power from 1948 until 1960. About 12,000 people were killed, including nearly 3,000 civilians.

There is some justice in the British accusation against Canada, though not much. Canada’s purpose in Malaya in the 1940s was to arm and train the communist guerrillas to fight the occupying Japanese. Many of those involved were Chinese Canadians, who volunteered to fight in the expectation Ottawa would no longer be able to deny them full citizenship after the war. Chinese Canadians were given the vote in 1947.

Once parachuted into occupied Malaya and Burma, the Canadian commandos linked up with local fellow ethnic Chinese, who they trained in sabotage, ambushes, and all the dark arts of guerrilla warfare, and then led in attacks on the Japanese. When the Canadians left, the Chinese Malays remembered the lessons, hid their weapons and bided their time.

Today the Malay Emergency – the British had far too much experience of these things to be so foolish as to declare a “war on terrorism” – is remembered as one of the few textbook examples of how to defeat a guerrilla insurgency. And in what is now Malaysia, there is a pact that allows the minority ethnic Chinese to make money so long as they don’t challenge the majority Malays for political power.

Now Canada is doing something similar with the Kurds in Iraq as it did with the Chinese Malays in the 1940s. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the end of Canada’s deployment of CF-18 fighter-bomber aircraft, which with other coalition airforces have been bombing territory occupied by the Islamic State terror group. Instead, Canada will triple, to about 150, the number of special forces soldiers it will send to train and advise Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, known as Peshmerga. Ottawa will also be supplying the Peshmerga with small arms.

The reason for backing the Peshmerga is that they are killing more Islamic State fighters and reclaiming more territory than any other soldiers in the region. The Iraqi army is a disgrace, despite years of training by the United States. In Syria, Islamic State holds large swathes of territory and has its capital, Raqqa. The army of President Bashar al Assad, and the militaries of his allies Russia and Iran, are intent on trying to destroy the so-called moderate rebels, and are leaving IS largely untouched.

There are good tactical reasons to back the Kurdish Peshmerga. But, unlike in Malaya in the 1940s, the probable consequences of supporting the Kurds are clear. The Kurds hope to emerge from the current upheaval and civil war with an independent state of Kurdistan covering their traditional homelands in northern Iraq and Syria, which they already largely control. That, they hope, will be a stepping stone toward adding their homelands in eastern Turkey and north-western Iran.

There are about 32 million Kurds, the world’s largest distinct ethnic group without their own nation state. There are good arguments to be made that they deserve their own country. However, Canada’s NATO ally Turkey, home to about 15 million Kurds and about 18 per cent of Turkey’s total population, has been violently opposed to Kurdish independence, since the Kurds started a separatist movement in 1984.

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Kurdish occupied lands. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Kurdish occupied lands. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Many Canadians may support aiding the Kurds in creating Kurdistan. But Canada should be clear that that is the probable end result of Canada’s military policy in the war against Islamic State. Canada should have no illusions it will be a clean, cut-and-dried affair. We are, after all, trying in Iraq and Syria — to which one could add Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine — to clean up mistakes made a century ago at the end of the First World War. Then the collapsed Ottoman Empire was shared out as spheres of influence among European powers, principally Britain and France. From that emerged the modern states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the Kurds living in the mountains where the four boundaries meet. The Kurds have pursued the quest for Kurdistan with persistence and determination in the century since the end of the First World War. They even managed to briefly establish independent governments in their homelands in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. But these nascent Kurdistans were swiftly destroyed by the central governments.

It was the Americans who set the Kurds on their modern course to create an independent state. After the First Gulf War in 1991 United States forces withdrew without deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But Washington realised it had left Iraqis, and especially Kurds in the north, vulnerable to revenge attacks by Saddam’s forces. The U.S. and its allies therefore established a no-fly zone over the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. This created a de facto independent Kurdish state, which continues to exist as a self-governing region in post-Saddam Iraq. In November, Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani called for a referendum to measure support for de jure independence from Baghdad. He has said outright in the last few weeks he considers the Anglo-French Sykes-Pigott agreement, which carved up the Middle East 100 years ago, to be a dead document. The map of the region needs to be redrawn in line with ethnic, political and religious realities, he has said, and the creation of Kurdistan should be part of the new dispensation.

But after a century of separation into four different countries, the Kurds are no longer a homogenous group, if they ever were. Barzani himself is a good example of the complexities that will cloud the creation of a broad Kurdistan.

Barzani is a vehement Kurdish nationalist, but he is also very close to the Turkish government of President Recep Erdogan, who is in the midst of a renewed military campaign against the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after the breakdown of a cease-fire last year.

The relationship between Barzani and Erdogan is crudely practical. The Iraqi Kurds seized control of the major oil fields around Kirkuk in July 2014. This has given Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government control of about 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil reserves, which it is exporting at a rate of up to 600,000 barrels a day through a new pipeline to Turkey and earning an average of $US600 million a month.

In return for being able to use Turkey for oil exports, Barzani raises little outrage when Erdogan’s forces attack Turkish PKK camps in northern Iraq.

Barzani has been a fixture as the president of the Iraqi Kurds for more than a decade. His last elected term ended in 2013, and he now refuses to step down. This has spawned a significant opposition movement. In October last year, supporters of the main opposition party in the Kurdistan parliament, Gorran, attacked offices of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and five people were killed. In retaliation, Barzani expelled four Gorran ministers from the Kurdistan government.

Turkey is watching the political infighting in Irai Kurdistan with some anxiety. If Gorran or some other opposition party were to come to power, it would likely be far more sympathetic to the Turkish Kurds PKK and far less willing to allow Turkish forces to attack PKK bases in Iraq.

The political context of emergent Kurdish independence in Syria is just as fraught. There are about 1.5 million Kurds living in Syria, mostly along the country’s northern border with Turkey. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime never regarded the Kurds as a natural enemy or threat the way he regards the Sunni Muslim Arabs. As the Sunni insurgency mounted in 2011 and 2012, Assad withdrew his forces from the Kurdish areas, leaving the Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) free to operate self-government in three prefectures: Efrin close to the Mediterranean coast, Kobani on the central border region with Turkey, and Jazirah in the northeast. Over the course of the five-year civil war, the Syrian Kurds and their militia, the People’s Defence Units (YPG) have extended their territory so that they now control over half the nearly 900-kilometre-long border with Turkey. The main gap is a stretch between Azaz and Jarabulus, which is a battle ground between moderate Syrian rebels and hardline jihadists of the Islamic State and the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. It is through this corridor that supplies from Turkey have been reaching Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which is held by moderate Syrian rebels. But on February 3 Assad’s forces, supported by Russia’s air force, veteran Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, and under the direction of officers of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, captured the territory north of Aleppo and cut the city off from its life-line to Turkey.

This may well give the Kurdish YPG forces an opportunity to take the land between Efrin and Kobani, and complete their aim of a contiguous Kurdish free state along the Turkish border.

This campaign would require air support from the U.S. and allies, especially the capture of the city of Jarabulus, and it is by no means certain the YPG will get it. Erdogan and the Turkish government are deeply suspicious of the YPG and the Syrian Kurds’ political wing, the PYD. Ankara sees the PYD as heavily influenced by Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Turkish Kurds’ PKK, who is now in prison serving a life sentence after being abducted from Kenya by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency in 1999. Thus if the Syrian Kurds are able to keep an independent state based on Ocalan’s political philosophy, Ankara fears this will become a long-term encouragement to Turkish Kurds and the PKK to ramp up their campaign for independence.

Ankara has already made it clear it would regard the capture of Jarabulus by the YPG as a red line requiring stern military action. It is to try to forestall this eventuality that the Erdogan government keeps calling on NATO and other allies opposed to the Assad regime to enforce creation of a safe zone for Syrian refugees in the border region between Jarabulus and Azaz. For Ankara, the zone would be to foil the Syrian Kurds as much as to save the refugees.

Because Turkey is a member of NATO, the extent to which other NATO members, such as Canada and the U.S., should encourage the creation of a wider Kurdistan is a significant question. In a world of harsh pragmatic politics, is the creation of Kurdistan, however much it is justified, worth the potential fracturing of NATO? That question has special potency when Turkey has the second largest NATO military after the U.S., and is a major element in containing Vladimir Putin’s rampant Russia.

On the other hand, Turkey’s Erdogan seems far more interested in making his country a power broker in the Middle East rather than looking west and, for example, pressing to join the Europen Union. Erdogan is also boosting Islamism in Turkey and seriously undermining democracy. He is trying to diminish the role of parliament and create an executive presidency with himself at the helm.

As I said at the beginning, the major reason for Canada and other allies to support and arm the Peshmerga Iraqi Kurdish fighters is that they are the best foot soldiers available and are killing more Islamic State fanatics than anyone else. But the fall out from such a decision can last a long time and have untold implications.

In 1943 the British were sending arms to royalist partisans fighting German occupying forces in Yugoslavia. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not persuaded the royalists had their hearts in the fight. Churchill called in a young veteran of the Long Range Desert Patrols, forerunner of the Special Air Service, in North Africa. Fitzroy Maclean later wrote that his mission was “simply to find out who was killing the most Germans and suggest means by which we could help them to kill more.”

Maclean got into Yugoslavia and made his way to the headquarters of the communist partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. Maclean had no illusions about with whom he was dealing. Before the war he had been a British diplomat in Moscow and knew all about Stalinism. His accounts of Joseph Stalin’s purges and show trials are riveting. But Maclean came to the conclusion the royalist Chetniks were at best half-hearted and at worst collaborating with the German occupying forces. Only Tito and the communist partisans were an effective force, Maclean told Churchill. They were killing Germans and should be supported.

And so it happened, with the inevitable result that both Maclean and Churchill had foreseen. Tito took power in Yugoslavia after the war, and held it until his death in 1980.

Tito’s regime was not as repressive as the Soviet Union satellite states in Eastern Europe, but it was no holiday camp either. After Tito’s death the unresolved ethnic and political complexities of Yugoslavia began to unravel into conflict. By the mid-1990s what had been Tito’s Yugoslavia had shattered into fighting between Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, Montenegrans, Kosovans and Albanians.

The United Nations dived in to separate the combatants, the Canadians, ever willing to don blue helmets with them. And then in May 1995 came a moment that should have been the end of innocence for Canada.

Canadian Capt. Patrick Rechner, an unarmed UN military observer, was captured by Bosnian Serb soldiers at Pale and chained to a lightning rod outside a warehouse holding mortar bombs. The aim of the Serb fighters was to stop NATO aircraft bombing their positions, and distressing pictures of Capt. Rechner were broadcast world wide. Capt. Rechner was held for 24 days, and the pictures became a clear statement that the age of classic UN peacekeeping was over.

Anyone overcome by nostalgia, who hopes that the rededication of the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the UN will mean Canada again being able to wrap itself in the cosy blanket of classic peacekeeping, is dreaming in Technicolor.

And the greatest irony is that the Bosian Serb fighters who captured and held Capt. Rechner were commanded by Nicholas Ribic, a Canadian who travelled to Serbia in 1992 because he “wanted to fight Muslims.”

In years to come there will undoubtedly come a time when people will ask how wise it was to train and arm the Kurds simply because they were killing more Islamic Group fighters than anyone else.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related:

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan. Jonathan Manthorpe, October, 2014

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.  Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now. … read more 
Related: Nation of Kurdistan springs from Arab chaos. Jonathan Manthorpe July 4, 2014

REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State. By Humeyra Pamuk

 Cemal Dede fled his home in a remote Turkmen village in Syria after warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State bombed the house next door. He had no idea he wouldn’t be coming back. Dede says the Kurdish YPG militia did not let his family of seven return to Dedeler near the Turkish border, telling him it was now Kurdish territory and Turkmens like him had no place there.

Who are the Yazidis? By Christine Allison

In 1918, the Yazidis of Sinjar mountain received an ultimatum from Ottoman forces – to hand over their weaponry and the Christian refugees they were sheltering, or face the consequences. They tore it up and sent the messengers back naked. The Sinjaris are the “Highlanders” of the Iraqi Yazidis – tough and proud. After suffering terrible casualties and appealing to the allied forces for help they were able to survive the subsequent attack and live out the war in their mountain homeland.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Antonin Scalia

U.S. President Reagan and then-nominee Antonin Scalia in 1986. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, White House Photographer

U.S. President Reagan and then-nominee Antonin Scalia in 1986. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, White House Photographer

Updated Saturday Feb. 20

The death on Feb. 13 of Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the conservative wing of America’s Supreme Court,  may be one of those rare events on which history pivots. And given the court’s oversized influence on world affairs, at a critical time for the environment, finance and human rights, the impact will be global.

Scalia died at a Texas ranch where he was vacationing. He was 79, and the longest-serving justice on the court, appointed when Ronald Reagan was president. Scalia was legendary for acerbic, eloquent, and sometimes sarcastic opinions.

His unexpected death is a blow for the court’s conservative faction. Their majority meant they prevailed in rulings with repercussions far beyond American borders; one world-changing example was this month’s 5-4  ruling against president Barack Obama’s “clean power” efforts to tackle global climate change.

 Scalia was “the most influential justice of the last quarter-century, his influence ramifying far outside the Court,” noted a 2011 New Republic story.   He was unloved by “progressives;” witness the satire site The Onion’s  photo today with the simple headline, “Justice Scalia Dead Following 30-Year Battle With Social Progress.” His “Scalia-isms” are legendary, as shown in Business Insider’s roundup today.

Scalia’s death creates a vacancy on the bench that will allow not only for his replacement (the partisan battle over that has already begun), but alter the nature of America’s top court.

Here are two pieces in Facts and Opinions:

The Supreme Court in Wonderland, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda columnist

Once upon a time, long ago and faraway, there was a magical kingdom … And then one day the most amazing thing happened. One of the great judges, Scalia of the Sarcastic Sanctimonious Sentences died quite unexpectedly. While in most cases the death of one of the great judges caused some hubbub, the death of the Scalia resulted in a total hissy fit among the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea.

Why Is Mitch McConnell Picking This Fight? By Alec MacGillis, ProPublica, report

After word of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death emerged last weekend, it took Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell less than an hour to announce that the Senate would not entertain a replacement before November. “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he said. McConnell’s blunt declaration was taken as the starkest exhibition yet of the obstructionism that has characterized the Kentucky senator’s stance toward President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Selected excerpts, from F&O archives and elsewhere, that speak to Scalia’s legacy:

” I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” said US President Barack Obama, adding there is time to do so. But he stressed that the day of his death was a day to think of Scalia:

“For almost 30 years, Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia was a larger-than-life presence on the bench — a brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions.

“He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape.  He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy:  The rule of law.  Tonight, we honor his extraordinary service to our nation and remember one of the towering legal figures of our time.”

Statements from the U.S. Supreme Court justices on the death of their colleague. Excerpt, statement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: “We are different, we are one,” different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

~~~

U.S. court affirms equality of same sex marriage, by Deborah Jones, June 26, 2015. Excerpt:

In a scathing critique of judicial elites, dissenter Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice, wrote: “the Federal Judiciary is hardly a cross-section of America. Take, for example, this Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single South- westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans19), or even a Protestant of any denomination.” Scalia added:

“When decisions are reached through democratic means, some people will inevitably be disappointed with the re- sults. But those whose views do not prevail at least know that they have had their say, and accordingly are—in the tradition of our political culture—reconciled to the result of a fair and honest debate. In addition, they can gear up to raise the issue later, hoping to persuade enough on the winning side to think again … That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work … But today the Court puts a stop to all that.”

~~~

The racist in the mirrorby Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda column, January, 2016:

Justice Antonin Scalia, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, during a recent Supreme Court hearing on the issue, brought up the popular theory in conservative circles that maybe top universities are just too “advanced” for minorities, that they have a better chance of succeeding at less strenuous educational institutes. And so one of the leading legal voices in the United States basically called African-American kids stupid and not as smart as white kids.

~~~

During a 2012 lecture he gave at his alma mater, the University of Chicago law school, Scalia was asked  what advice he would give a law student today, reported the school’s alumni magazine. He replied, “Try to find a practice that enables you to have a human existence. I’m not talking about time for goofing off; I’m talking about time to attend to your other responsibilities—to your family, to your church or synagogue, to your community. All of those are real responsibilities.”

~~~

“It is not the Atmospheric Protection Agency. It’s the Environmental Protection Agency,” Scalia once famously said. In the following video, in 2012, he explains to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president Shirley Ann Jackson his dissent in a ruling that America’s Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

~~~

Obamacare victory shows failure of Scalia’s conservative revolution. By Robert Schapiro, Emory University, June 2015

Justice Scalia once again failed to win over either Justice Kennedy or Chief Justice Roberts, revealing he is losing the war over the Supreme Court’s heart.

Antonin Scalia’s Legacy, by Nina Tottenburg, NPR:

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week

F&O’s fresh sheet this week includes the eclectic, the interesting, the fun stuff, several thought-provoking essays — and startling or stunning images. Bon appétit.

Riot police arrests a protester after a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2016.      REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Familiarity with China breeds contempt in Hong Kong, writes Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist Above, riot police arrests a protester after a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

In Arts:

Deepa Mehta, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and producer whose work in film has attracted significant recognition, including the Governor General’s award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. Photo: Simon Fraser University

Deepa Mehta. Photo: Simon Fraser University

Deepa Mehta: pushing boundaries with Beeba Boys

All of Deepa Mehta’s major films have caused controversy, including the latest, Beeba Boys. Just released,  Beeba Boys (kind of a Sikh Sopranos) depicts the stylish, violent  world of  second- and third-generation Indian gang-bangers in metro Vancouver.  The topic is timely, but not one that the local South Asian communities particularly want aired.  Deepa Mehta is used to pushing people’s boundaries.

Schiff sonatas score, Super Bowl blanked. By Rod Mickleburgh

While gazillions tuned into the greatest annual event in the history of the world, aka the Super Bowl, which surpasses even the Eurovision Song Contest in global importance, I sat entranced, with hundreds of others at the packed Vancouver Playhouse, for András Schiff’s virtuoso recital.

In Commentary:

Riot police arrests a protester after a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Familiarity with China breeds contempt in Hong Kong, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs

The only surprise in the Monday night clashes between Hong Kong police and demonstrators demanding self-rule is that it hasn’t happened before.  In all likelihood the Mong Kok riots herald increasingly violent clashes as Hongkongers vent their frustrations with Beijing’s refusal to keep its promises of political reform and the steady erosion of the territory’s freedoms. The Chinese government has only itself to blame for the alienation of Hong Kong’s seven million people.

    RelatedHong Kong’s Fish Ball Revolution turns bloody
                       Chinese New Year, the world’s biggest consumer festival

You say you want a revolution? By Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda column

You say you want a revolution …  Well, I’m all in. I’m seized with joy at the thought of overthrowing the corrupt U.S. financial establishment. I’m gripped with enthusiasm at the thought of bringing justice and economic security for all Americans. But there might be a few problems …

In Expert Witness: 

Resilience requires rethinking data. By Dawn Wright

If the bad news is that we’re living in a world in which resilience is more critical to survival than ever, the good news is that technology is more than ever providing the tools we need to cultivate resilience. But we need to make sure the tools that allow us to gather and use this information are resilient.  I propose a set of three principles that data generators should subscribe to and governments should adopt.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and survives on an honour system. Try one story at no charge; chip in at least $.27 apiece for more. If you value no-spam, no-ads, non-partisan, evidence-based, independent journalism, help us continue. Please share our links and respect our copyright.Details.

In Reports:

Illustration: Democracy Chronicles/Flickr

The Executive Pay Cap That Backfired. By Allan Sloan, ProPublica

Wealth, jobs and pay inequality are big political issues in America. A favoured political tool for tackling these problems is the U.S. federal tax code. But trying to legislate corporate behavior and economic fairness — however you define fairness — through the tax system is a lot trickier than it sounds.

Markarian 231, a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar host galaxy to Earth, is seen in a NASA illustration released August 27, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

Einstein’s gravitational waves detected in landmark discovery. By Will Dunham and Scott Malone

Scientists for the first time have detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesised by Albert Einstein a century ago.

Related: Why the gravitational wave discovery matters. By Gren Ireson

The theory of general relativity tied together that what we commonly consider to be separate entities – space and time – into what is now called “space-time”.  Space-time can be considered to be the fabric of the universe.

Recommended elsewhere on the web:

There’s no space for today’s young Einsteins, by Philip Ball, the Guardian
A century ago, general relativity had no obvious “impact”, even though the GPS systems in today’s smartphones rely on it. It didn’t even have a clear goal, except intellectually. If Einstein’s project had relied on a grant application today, it would surely be rejected; probably no young scientist could afford the luxury of contemplating it in the first place. It’s not clear there is a space for Einsteins in modern science any longer.

Last but not least: In Case You Missed It, our Contents page for fresh stories and analysis including about North Korea’s rocket, American politics, the gripping tale about Malaysia’s leader, a corporate-funded mental health initiative, and a stunning Norwegian photo essay.

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Deepa Mehta: pushing boundaries with Beeba Boys

Deepa Mehta, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and producer whose work in film has attracted significant recognition, including the Governor General’s award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. Photo: Simon Fraser University

Deepa Mehta, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and producer whose work in film has attracted significant recognition, including the Governor General’s award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada, was awarded an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University in 2015. Photo: Simon Fraser University

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY 
February, 2016

All of Deepa Mehta’s major films have caused controversy, including the latest, Beeba Boys. Just released,  Beeba Boys (kind of a Sikh Sopranos) depicts the stylish, violent  world of  second- and third-generation Indian gang-bangers in metro Vancouver.  The topic is timely — 150 young men have died in gang violence in the Western Canadian city since the 1990s — but not one that the local South Asian communities particularly want aired.

Former British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who supported the film project, told The Globe and Mail newspaper, “[Beeba Boys] is a very brutally honest depiction of a brutal disease that afflicts B.C., and some of it is in the Indo-Canadian community… Honesty offends. It hurts. It provides insights and provides hurts. It did all of that for me.”

Deepa Mehta is used to pushing people’s boundaries, which she does in the name of reflecting reality. “In every immigrant community, gangs have been part of the acculturation process,” she said. “Gangsterism begins with a strong sense of disenfranchisement, as well as greed and quest for power. The Indo-gangs in the film are the anthesis of conventional view of South Asians as timid shopkeepers.”

After 40 years of movie-making in Canada, Mehta’s numerous awards include several honorary doctorate degrees, the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, and the 2012 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. Wikipedia notes 1998 [Earth] and 2005 [Water] Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as a 2003 Genie for Best Original Screenplay for Bollywood, Hollywood.

On February 3, Deepa Mehta presented the 2016 Global Canwest Lecture at the University of Calgary’s Department of Communications, Media and Film — a two-and-a-half-hour review of her fascination with the role violence plays in relationships.

Born and raised in India, Mehta grew up helping her father, who distributed films for a living. “I sat in the front row every weekend,” she said. “I literally grew up with films. As a result, I decided if there was anything I wanted to do with my life it was not to be a filmmaker.” She earned a degree in philosophy at the University of Delhi instead. Unemployed, she offered to answer phones at a friend’s struggling film company. Instead, she began making short documentaries.

That’s how she met her first husband, Paul Saltzman,  a Canadian documentarian. She immigrated to Canada in 1973, and began writing children’s movies. In 1991, she released Sam and Me, her first feature-length film, about the relationship between an elderly Orthodox Jew and his South Asian caregiver. Beeba Boys is her 12th movie.

“I get interested in the subject first, and then I write the story,” she said. She used her film Water as an example. “I was in India, making two episodes of the Young Indiana Jones TV series for George Lucas. I got up early to see the sunrise, and I saw an old  hunched-up woman with a shaven head, all in white, looking for her glasses. I offered to take her home and saw something I’d never seen before. She lived in a house of widows, in 1996! I was shocked! The place was packed with widows, from 16 to 85 years old, and they all had shaven heads. That was the genesis of Water. It’s basically about the advent of patriarchy. When a woman is a possession and the owner dies, the widow is half dead.”

When she started to shoot Water in India, however, Hindu nationalists picketed her. “When we had shot the first scene, we came out of the house and found ourselves surrounded by protesters. We became a soft target for local politicians who styled themselves as Hindu saviours. Six hours later, the authorities stopped us because a man jumped off a bridge in protest. So we closed the production. We heard later that man used to pretend to commit suicide all the time.”

She shut down production and returned to Canada, “and that was the first time I really thought of Canada as home. I felt safe here, safe in my own country.” To take her mind off the frustration, she made the cross-genre comedy Bollywood Hollywood, a complete change of pace.

Of her other movies in The Elemental Trilogy, Fire re-imagines a deep friendship between women as a physical relationship, causing tension in their arranged marriages. Earth re-tells the horrific violence between Muslims and Hindus during Pakistan’s partition from India. Midnight’s Children, based on Salman Rushdie’s magic realism novel, also addresses Partition as well as India’s independence from England. She offered to make a film from any of his novels, and that’s the one he chose.

Mehta reflected on how her father the film distributor responded when she told him she wanted to be a filmmaker. “He said, there are two things in life you never know about: when you’re going to die, and how well a film is going to do. So if you don’t care about the outcome, go ahead.” She laughed.

“Last year TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival) showed a retrospective on my work and all the clips they chose had some aspect of violence,” she said. “Violence reaches across place or class. My stories are specific but they are universal. I try to fit tragedies within a personal context. I want to identify triggers, and try to modify the impact of violence — perhaps because I long for peace, and until we understand violence we can’t have it.”

As for Beeba Boys, critics either love it or they hate it. She’s familiar with the ambivalence. “Each of my films was rejected,” she said, “until it was loved.”

Copyright Penney Kome 2016

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and survives on an honour system. Try one story at no charge; chip in at least $.27 apiece for more. If you value no-spam, no-ads, non-partisan, evidence-based, independent journalism, help us continue. Please share our links and respect our copyright.Details.

 

Return to F&O’s Contents

Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Schiff sonatas score, Super Bowl blanked

Sir András Schiff, piano/Facebook

Sir András Schiff. Publicity photo/Facebook

ROD MICKLEBURGH
February, 2016

The treasured Leila Getz, described in the program as “Head Honcho” of the Vancouver Recital Society, welcomed us with her usual enthusiasm. “Thank you for choosing András Schiff over the Super Bowl. The magic begins.” And indeed, it did.

Moments later, the stately, 62-year old master pianist, wearing a knee-length black tunic, walked out from the wings, acknowledged our applause, sat down on the cushioned bench, rested his hands on the top of the piano for 20 seconds of contemplation, and began to play.

Levi's stadium. Photo: Jim Bahn/Flickr/Creative Commons

Superbowl half time show at Levi’s stadium. Photo: Jim Bahn/Flickr/Creative Commons

While gazillions tuned into the greatest annual event in the history of the world, aka the Feb. 7 Super Bowl, which surpasses even the Eurovision Song Contest in global importance, I sat entranced, with hundreds of others at the packed Vancouver Playhouse, for Schiff’s virtuoso recital. And to think, my first reaction when I discovered the cultural conflict between Super Bowl L and this long-ago booking was to ditch Schiff.

How could this life-long sports fan not prefer the performance of helmeted, gridiron goliaths bashing away at each other during those engaging snatches of football sandwiched between eight hours of commercials? Luckily, after one unsuccessful attempt to unload my Schiff ducat, I came to my senses. Denver and Carolina? Snore me big. Plus, I had PVR. András Schiff, it was.

The program by the renowned Hungarian-born maestro, no “hairy hound from Budapest” he, was sublime, even to these unclassical ears. Entitled The Last Sonatas, the program featured four pieces of music by Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert, all written during the composers’ final year of life. So there was a poignancy to them, too.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking of the Super Bowl, and how glad I was to be missing it. For one thing, András Schiff played 90 minutes straight. No half-time. Not a single time-out. No five-minute break for commercials every time he switched composers. Lovely. And mesmerizing.

Furthermore, what happened on the keyboard was easily the equivalent of what was taking place on the football field. You don’t believe me? You think a sonata is just a sonata? Take a gander at the commentary by wordsmith extraordinaire Donald G. Gislason in the programme notes.

Which is better? Another lame pass by Peyton Manning or the Star Wars-tinged Allegreto from Mozart’s Sonata in B flat major K. 570 “with its recurring tick-tock beat, [summoning] up the mechanical world of clockwork music, and [featuring} some robotic C-3PO-style humour in its cosmic leaps and mock-confused meanderings of imitative counterpoint”? To say nothing of Mozart’s ability to provide more than taco chips and chili at halftime. “[He is] like a celebrity chef challenged to create a multi-course meal using only a few ingredients,” Gislason tells us. “Mozart is masterfully economic in this movement, constantly re-using his material over and over again, making garnish and main course at will.”

I was hardly sorry to have missed all those third-and-outs by Manning and “Fig” Newton, when I got to hear the second movement from Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A Major D. 959: “A tour de force of compressed emotional energy that explodes into near-chaos in its middle section. It opens with a simple, sparsely textured, repetitive lament that circles fretfully round itself like a madman rocking back and forth in his hospital chair. More wide-ranging harmonic ravings lead to an outburst of unexpected violence and eventually to a dramatic confrontation.” Just like Von Miller taking down Carolina’s haughty, pouting quarterback.

And okay, there have been worse half-time shows than Beyoncé, the Mars guy and Coldplay, but Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major Op. 110 gave them a pretty good run for the money. “Beethoven lards his first section with rhythmic irregularities, dynamic surprises, dramatic pauses, and other raw signifiers of loutish humour,” enthuses Gislason. “The central section continues the mayhem with a series of tumble-down passages high in the register, rudely poked from time to time by off-beat accents”. With the added thrill of “[hearing] the same major chord, repeated over and over, getting louder and louder, leading back to the fugue theme…” A true pop sonata by that 57-year old hipster, Ludwig van. I slay, indeed….

So, all in all, with the help of a few, pretty fair country composers, András Schiff was my Super Bowl MVP, man of the match in every way. (In fact, the Stupor Bowl, still plodding along when I got home, was so boring, I wound up switching to curling, as its no offense and numbingly-long commercial breaks came to a stultifying close.)

I never bothered with the PVR.

Copyright Rod Mickleburgh 2016

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and survives on an honour system. Try one story at no charge; chip in at least $.27 apiece for more. If you value no-spam, no-ads, non-partisan, evidence-based, independent journalism, help us continue. Please share our links and respect our copyright.Details.

You might also like on F&O:

Bread, circuses and deflated footballs, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda column

This is where we have come to. We have, as a society, become obsessed with trivial pursuits. Not that this is necessarily a new development. As journalist H.L. Mencken said , you”ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. We have always been rather easily baffled by bullshit. But the advent of the Internet and social media has kicked this cultural trait into hyper-drive.

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 Listen to András Schiff perform Mozart’s Sonata in B flat major K. 570, in Los Angeles, February, 2015

Rod Mickleburgh F&ORod Mickleburgh has been a journalist for more than 40 years, with stops just about everywhere, from Penticton to Paris to Peking. Managed a few awards and nominations along the way, but highlight was co-winning Canada’s Michener Award with my highly-esteemed Globe and Mail colleague, Andre Picard, for our coverage of Canada’s tainted blood scandal. Left the Globe, my reporting home for more than 22 years, in the summer of 2013. Have my name on two books: Rare Courage, containing first person-accounts from 20 veterans of World War Two, and The Art of the Impossible, a tale of the wild and wooly 39 months of British Columbia’s first New Democratic Party government led by Dave Barrett. Co-authored with Geoff Meggs, The Art of the Impossible won the Hubert Evans Prize for non-fiction at the 2013 British Columbia Book Awards. Currently investigating time management, without regular deadlines. Visit Rod Mickleburgh’s WordPress site, Mickleblog.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |