Despite flotilla deaths, peace in the Holy Land is still in view

A handshake between Hussein I of Jordan and Yi...

Image of King Hussein, Bill Clinton, and Yitzhak Rabin via Wikipedia

They floated along Israel’s coastline, then came ashore – and when members of the PLO’s Fatah faction were through, more than 20 Israelis (including children) had been killed. Days later, Israeli troops entered Lebanon in what the New York Times called a “retaliatory raid.” It was March of 1978, and peace in the Holy Land never seemed so far away. Except that six months later, Israel and Egypt signed a historic accord that heralded a new era in Arab-Israeli relations. And then, the next year, more killings of Israelis and Palestinians, and more revenge killings. The Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 signified how low the Arab-Israeli conflict could get – and yet, a decade later, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin were shaking hands on a new agreement for peace.

It doesn’t seem possible now, but Arab-Israeli peace is still a distinct possibility in the year ahead, despite the finger-pointing after Monday’s horrific flotilla fiasco. George Mitchell, President Obama’s special Middle East envoy, is scheduled to meet today and tomorrow with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Peace is the Holy Land is a priority for the Obama administration, just as it is for hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who are urging their support for a two-state solution through the OneVoice movement. It’s not all darkness in the Middle East, even though it seems that way now.

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Dennis Hopper’s drug issues are spotlighted high up in his obit. Is that necessary?

Dennis Hopper

Image of Dennis Hopper via Wikipedia

What was it like to live in the 1940s and ‘50s? You can get clues by watching TV shows like “Leave It To Beaver,” or you can read old newspapers from the period and see how celebrities were covered in life and death. Celebrities’ personal lives were often completely missing from their obituaries. For example, when W.C. Fields died in 1946, the New York Times’ obituary had nothing – absolutely nothing – on his alcohol problem. Five years earlier, Life magazine practically made light of Fields’ drinking, showing the comedian/actor with a drink of pineapple and rum. Hit and miss. In the 1940 and ‘50s, the public was often unaware of famous people’s personal lives – whether it was drinking or womanizing or anything else.

Today, all bets are off. Dennis Hopper, the great actor who passed away earlier today, is defined in the third paragraph of the New York Times’ obit by his relationship to drugs and alcohol. Actor Gary Coleman, who died last night, received the same treatment by the New York Times. Here’s the lead sentence of Coleman’s obit:

Gary Coleman, the former child star of the hit television series “Diff’rent Strokes,” who dealt with a well-publicized string of financial and personal difficulties after the show ended, died on Friday in Provo, Utah.

One can argue whether it’s a sign of progress that, upon a star’s demise, the media exhumes the behind-the-scenes details of their personal lives. Needless to say, the Internet is full of innuendo, gossip, and trashy items about celebrities. (Fields’ Wikipedia entry has a whole section on his alcohol issues.) But the fact that the New York Times – a paper with a more distinguished reputation than, say, TMZ.com – also trafficks in these sideshow facts is worthy of debate. The zeitgeist? It’s there in the obits of the paper of record. In the media food chain, there’s now no place to hide for a star of any kind. Their foibles – even in death – will be on display for all to see and ponder.

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Is the fist-bump a 'low-class' gesture?

President Barack Obama receives a fist-bump fr...

Image of Barack Obama and U.S. soldier doing a fist-bump via Wikipedia

Barack Obama does it. So does Michael Jordan and Pat Buchanan and Georgia State Troopers and the Dalai Lama and Barbara Walters. Even Bill O’Reilly approves of it. The fist bump. Who wouldn’t like this quintessentially American way of greeting another human being. Who wouldn’t revel in the joy of touching knuckles with friends and strangers alike? I’ll tell you who: The man who works as a guard at my son’s after-school program. Yesterday, the guard said he thinks the fist-bump is low-class. He didn’t use the exact words “low class,” but he might as well have. “You wouldn’t bump fists after a job interview,” he told my 8-year-old son and his friend, who had just bumped fists in playful solidarity. “You wouldn’t bump fists with your employer.”

Maybe not. It depends on the employer – though I understood the guard’s point: If you’re trying to land a job in corporate America, and you’ve just spoken with the suit-wearing head of HR, it’s generally not a good idea to raise your right hand and direct it toward the director’s chest area. Not a good idea at all. However, if the job you’re eyeing is, say, one in advertising where you’re pitching beer or sports gear to a mainly twenty-something audience, and you and the HR head had joked about the Budweiser commercials that lampoon fist-bumping – then, by all means, consider doing the fist-bump in the interview room. It might even get you the job, by showing you have a sense of humor and style.

On the other hand, many people share the sentiment of the guard at my son’s after-school program. Last September, after the Dalai Lama fist-bumped with Memphis mayor pro tem Myron Lowery, a man named Ric Weide wrote a post at asylum.com excoriating the fist bump, saying that it “seems to be the low class, no class way that street thugs greet each other. There is a certain breed of politicians that are some of the lowest class trailer trash scum around. This is their way of greetings! Trash!!!!!”

In 2008, when Obama first came out of the fist-bump closet, his knuckle-touch with Michele Obama caused a national conversation about the practice, with one Fox-TV anchor describing it as a “terrorist fist jab.” Not so, responded the future First Lady, who – in an interview on ABC-TV’s “The View” – said the fist-bump was “the new high five.” I agree with Michelle Obama. Children my son’s age – at least children who are already into professional sports, pop music, and the Obamas’ social mannerisms – do the fist-bump with aplomb and joie de vivre. It’s fun.

The guard who warned my son and his friend about the fist-bump’s potential demerits was projecting a bit too much. Besides, my son won’t be interviewing for a job until at least 2015. Who knows if the fist-bump will even be popular then. For now, the fist-bump is a tame gesture of endearment. It’s also healthier than a hand-shake, which – as Howie Mandel and others have noted – can more easily spread germs from fingers and palms. Healthy. Enjoyable. No surprise there was a movement to make June 3rd National Fist Bump Day. Inevitably, those who fist-bump for the first time find they like it – especially if they let go of their preconceptions. I mean, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan? Who would have thunk. To see the smile of his face (see here) is to see the humanity in someone who got out of his own skin for just a brief moment.

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Why isn’t the ‘Prince of Persia’ a real Persian?

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (film)

Image via Wikipedia

It’s impossible to avoid trailers for the film “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which have even appeared embedded in ABC-TV’s coverage of the NBA playoffs. Those who’ve missed the trailer can watch it below, and when you do, notice the Persian domes and minarets. Notice the Persian-style dress. Notice the other Middle Eastern motifs (including sand dunes) that conjure up images of 1001 Nights. And notice that the prince himself, a man named Dastan (a Persian word meaning “story”) is played by a non-Persian actor, Jake Gyllenhaal. What’s wrong with this picture?

On the one hand, nothing. Why shouldn’t a white American actor portray an ancient Persian prince? After all, the movie itself is based on an original video game created by a white American (Jordan Mechner), and the prince in that video game (see here) has the exact same non-Persian traits as Jake Gyllenhaal. Still, there’s something disjointed about an entertainment franchise built around “Persia” – i.e., the empire that spawned Iran – whose main character is a non-Persian. Wait, you say. Didn’t Alexander the Great (he of European heritage) conquer Persia 2300 years ago? And didn’t he arrange intermarriage between Macedonian soldiers and Persian women? So couldn’t an ancient Persian prince be as fair-skinned as Gyllenhaal? Not really. And he certainly wouldn’t speak with Gyllenhaal’s “Prince of Persia” accent – a king of pseudo American/British construct that complements the full British accent of co-star Gemma Arterton. (In “Prince of Persian,” Aterton is a white actress who portrays a Persian princess named Tamina.)

The clue that should have warned me “Prince of Persia” would be watered down ethnically? It’s a Disney film. And Disney has a history of whitening its Middle East movies – most notably its animated Aladdin franchise, which featured Robin Williams, and an Aladdin character who spoke like he was from Madison, Wisconsin, not Mecca or Baghdad.

Gyllenhaal is a formidable actor (one fan even mistakenly assumes Gyllenhall is Persian), but if Disney and director Mike Newell (who’s from Britain) wanted an actor of Iranian/Persian descent, they had a wide range of options, including Maz Jobrani, Cas Anvar and (from Iran itself) Mohammad Reza Golzar. Golzar has been likened to Brad Pitt for his good looks. In fact, Golzar looks a bit like an Iranian . . . Jake Gyllenhaal. OK. Maybe the choice of Gyllenhaal wasn’t that atrocious. Disney and Newell could have cast Brad Pitt as the Persian prince. That would have been a tragedy of cinematic proportions.

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Money and fame are never enough: One lesson of LeBron James' loss to Celtics

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 6: (FILE PHOTO) LeBron Jame...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

$21,000 an hour. That’s what Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James makes on the basketball court in salary. Endorsement money takes his income to a stratospheric level: According to one calculation, he makes more than $40 million a year, meaning James is one of the wealthiest athletes in the world. Cut to last night’s press conference – the one where James had to talk about his team’s upset loss to the Boston Celtics; the one where James looked like he had just lost a loved one or worse.

All of Cleveland seems to be in mourning. James’ dour demeanor was topped by two Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriters, who – in the quiet din of a Boston locker room – acted as if the Cavaliers’ loss was the most shocking thing to happen since Watergate. Sports pundits in Cleveland (and James’ fans around the world) are agonizing over the dent – the big, big dent – in their idol’s invincibility. But they and James should pay attention to the proverb that has been around for ages: Money and fame can’t buy you happiness. Even “winning it all” is ephemeral. James had a season to remember: Another MVP award; another series of games that excited kids and adults alike. My 8-year-old son thinks James is one of the best NBA players in history. But before my son went to bed last night, this is what he said after watching the Cavs’ and Celtics’ post-game press conferences: “LeBron is probably crying.”

Maybe. If tears did fall, that was OK. James is only 25 years old. He has lots of years left in his career. What if he never wins an NBA title? One day, James may still give the kind of college commencement address that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gave the other day – the one where Bernanke said that money doesn’t buy happiness. James might take heed, as well, to the million-dollar lottery winner name Evelyn Adams, who – very briefly – made as much money as LeBron makes. Adams lost all her wealth.

“Winning the lottery,” Adams said, “isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.”

For James, though, the quest will go on. He wants to earn a billion dollars and join Tiger Woods in the rarified earnings category. It’s another quest that James’ fans will undoubtedly follow with interest.

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Only in San Francisco: ‘Liberal hate note’ is put on SUV’s windshield

GM Daewoo's sport-utility vehicle 'Winstorm' i...

Image by AFP via Daylife

Walking to the post office earlier today, I came across an SUV that had been ticketed for parking in a street-cleaning zone. Nothing unusual about that. But on the other side of the windshield flapped a big piece of paper with the headline, “Oh No! A Fu–ing Ticket!” That was unusual – enough for me to read the note myself, which said as follows:

“It’s not just a ticket.

Consider this:

When you leave your car in a street sweeper zone, the garbage that is under your car stays on the street all week.

In effect, you contribute to the ugliness of the world.

You make San Francisco ugly and dirty.

Your lack of responsibility is one more tiny part of The Problem.

Wake up.

Assume some responsibility for your role in the world.

Mama’s not here to wipe your ass.

You are responsible for your car.”

Whoever left the note didn’t leave a signature. Nor an email address. Nor any other way to contact him/her. Nope. Just the darkly-humorous invective on a white piece of paper, meant to change the thinking of the SUV owner. Obese cars aren’t welcome in San Francisco. Their fuel-inefficiency, their contribution to global warming, is an affront to everything San Francisco stands for. Do they warrant the aforementioned “liberal hate note”? Let’s say this: It’s not just San Francisco where SUVs are vehicles non grata. Signing out of my email tonight, I was greeted by a series of news and feature-story headlines, including this one: “Big, bad SUVs might be on the outs with most Americans, but the utility vehicle is far from dead, as consumers usher in the era of the crossover.” The “crossover” is a kind of “car-based utility vehicle” – i.e., a small-sized SUV. Stay tuned. In San Francisco, these kinds of automobiles will be targeted just like the SUV near my neighborhood post office. It’s another “only in San Francisco” phenomenon.

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