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Four Days to “I” Day

December 31st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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It’s been the longest run-up to a presidential primary
in American history, but finally on Thursday January 3 somebody, somewhere in these United States gets to vote on something relating to the 2008 presidential elections.

It has hardly seemed fair that we’ve had to sort through the seemingly endless supply of dem and republican candidates without the help of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Fortunately for our collective sanity, all that will finally change, but not soon enough for Iowa.

(More vexing still, on the day of both the Iowa primary and the New Hampshire primary the following Tuesday, I’ll be in Vermont at Bennington College
for the next residency pertaining to my MFA program, a situation that worries me a bit as, when I was there this past summer, I don’t remember ever seeing a single television.)

With all this in mind, my favorite source of commentary
in the run-up to Thursday is coming from my esteemed pal and blogfather, Marc Cooper. I know many readers and commenters here are also Cooper readers. But for those of you who are missing his daily Iowa reports on Huff Post, do your self a favor and get on over immediately.

Today’s report has him hanging out with Dave “Mudcat” Saunders at the Edwards camp and trying to determine if dark horse John Edwards can really win with his strategy of working the rural districts, as some of the new polls predict he might. (I notice that Mark has worked a Saunders quote into as many Iowa reports as possible—- simply, I suspect, for the sheer joy of writing “Mudcat.”)

Early bets anyone? Is the Edwards surge real? If so, what does it presage—an Edwards win or a derailing of an Obama win, giving Iowa to Hillary? Or is Barack’s momentum strong enough to blow past ‘em both in these two early states?

And who’s likely to take Iowa
on the Republican side now that Huckabee’s surge–not helped by his bad Pakistan answers— seems to have fizzled?

Posted in Elections '08, National politics, Presidential race | 8 Comments »

Benazir, Fatima and the Psychology of Bhutto Farewells

December 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Out of all the homages
and the farewell essays pursuant to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto there are two that have stayed with me, one written by my friend Amy Wilentz, who went to school with Benazir, and kept in touch with her over the years. (Actually, Amy knew much of the family and even dated Benazir’s brother, Murtaza, Fatima Bhutto’s father, who was himself murdered in 1966, likely with Benazir’s complicity at least in the cover-up afterward.)

Amy writes in the Los Angeles Times of the last time she saw Benazir, 10 days before Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. It is a close-up and poignant glimpse of the personal woman behind the dynastic juggernaught.

It was nighttime as we spoke in her enormous fortress of a house in a gated community in Dubai. Outside, in the side yard behind walls and barriers, the guard dog barked. In the front receiving room was a little library stuffed with paperbacks, titles such as “Facial Workout,” “The Little Book of Stress,” “Eat to Beat Your Age” and Deepak Chopra’s “How to Know God.”

[snip]

On walls everywhere in her Dubai house
were enlarged photographs of Zulfikar Bhutto. As prime minister, Benazir had been notoriously high-handed, but she had an unpretentious manner in private. For an Oxford and Harvard graduate, she was unembarrassed by her addiction to bestsellers, blockbusters and psychobabble books. When I asked if she was frightened of going back to Pakistan, she was matter-of-fact: “For all the lows in my life, those self-help books helped me survive, I can tell you. There’s a focus on the present; don’t worry about tomorrow. … When the time comes that I have to die, I’ll die.” When I left her late that night, she seemed lonely, standing on the doorstep in a pool of light, waving goodbye. She had lost so much in her struggle to become great, to take on what she thought of as her father’s mantle.

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And then there is the essay that all Bhutto watchers have been waiting for, written by Benazir Bhutto’s harshest critic, the newspaper columnist who called Benazir the most dangerous woman in Pakistan. I’m talking of course about her niece, Fatima.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in International politics, literature, Pakistan | 9 Comments »

Would-Be Commanders-in-Chief and the Death of Benazir Bhutto

December 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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The death of Benazir Bhutto is assuredly going to matter
in the US presidential primaries that begin in Iowa next week. Exactly how much and to whom is as yet unclear. The majority of Americans know little of the nuances of Pakistani politics. And, for the most part, whatever knowledge voters gain in the coming days will be dependent on the information and spin they are fed by TVs nattering nabobs.

Last night, when talking about the meaning of Bhutto’s death, Wolf Blitzer in conversation with Dan Rather put forth a decidedly non-nuanced message that can best be summed up as follows: Terror central!!! Islamic extremism!!! Danger, danger, danger!!!

Of course, how events in Pakistan affect the US Prez race is, in the main, dependent on the candidates themselves, all of whom—Dem and Repub—have had something to say about the assassination and what it portends:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in International politics, Pakistan, Presidential race | 26 Comments »

“Pakistan is Bleeding” – The Killing of Benazir Bhutto

December 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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As most of you know by now,
former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday (today) as she left a political rally.

Benazir, despite her charisma and her passion,
was a controversial and, in the eyes of many, a deeply problematic leader, both beloved and reviled, her two administrations marred by corruption. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was arguably one of the most hated men in the country. (Fatima, Benazir’s niece, explains some of the issues in the WLA interview here.) Yet, however complex the feelings toward her, Benazir belonged to Pakistan, and her death leaves Pakistanis spinning and grief stricken.

Here’s what popular Pakistani blogger
Teeth Maestro writes of these confusing moments as they continue to unfold. His words say much about the country’s roiling emotions, and about its attitude toward what it regards as U.S. meddling.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide attack today in Rawalpindi outside the Liaquatbagh rally she addressed moments earlier. In all honesty, I was never a fan of her style of politics corruption but on hearing this sad news it leaves me and the entire nation in shock, quite literally forgiving her for everything, May Her Soul Rest in Peace.

As the country plunges into chaos with news of riots already afoot throughout Pakistan. Yes we will recover, yes the world will move on, but we will surely remember her ultimate sacrifice for Pakistan.

My analysis of who is to blame may be quite simple as we have been repeating the same thing over and over again – The Americans MUST stop their adventures and infiltrations into other countries and their war on terror has destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan stands on the edge ready to plummet into darkness. This war on terror is a war of the Americans and NOT our war.

We Pakistanis Plead with the movers and shakers in United States to Please For Gods Sake Leave US ALONE

Here and here and here are a few other links to top Pakistani bloggers. And here also Metroblogging Lahore pleads with everyone to stay home for safety’s sake as the country tips increasingly toward chaos. The words of the bloggers, in many ways, give a much fuller picture of what is going on inside Pakistan than anything you can get from CNN.

This event is loaded with implications
for the U.S. and for the world—as well as for Pakistan itself. Naturally, all the presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats, are rushing to make comments. (More on that later.)

But right now, our hearts simply go out to the Pakistani people in these dark hours.

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Posted in International politics, Pakistan, parole policy | 6 Comments »

Season of Lists – Stupid Pundit Tricks of 2007 – UPDATED

December 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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What remarks made by our political pundits
and the chattering media class sent you the most round the bend with fury this year? Which not so bon mots did you find to be the stupidist, most vile and generally destructive to the health and well-being of the national discourse?

I’ve named my top three below.

UPDATE: To be clear, I picked a trio of verbal hair balls coughed up by conservative commentators because these were the three examples that were most vividly lodged in my own particular (liberal-leaning) memory. But there’s been plenty of frog vomit and idiocy to go around among both conservatives and liberals. I’m sure the diligent among you can come up with some doozies of your own from each side of the blue/red fence.


1.. Quite a few Ann Coulter remarks make my top ten. But this one was definitely the winner.
(Actually, I look forward to a year when Coulter isn’t in my top three.) When asked on CNBC’s show, The Big Idea, for her wish for an ideal America, Ann Coulter said that everyone would be Christian. “It would be better if we were all Christian?” ” asked show host, Donny Deutsch. “Yes,” she said with her typical glassy-eyed smile. Deutsch pursued it, suggesting Coulter couldn’t possibly be serious. “There would be no Jews?” Deutch asked. Coulter smiled. “Yes, but they would be perfected, as they say.”

2. Second place in my book goes to the moment when on September 26, Rush Limbaugh called American service people who advocated withdrawal from the war in Iraq “phony soldiers.”

3. And third, but still a strong contender goes to nationally syndicated radio host Glenn Beck
who said that the victims of the October fires in Southern California hate America. “I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today.”

If you’ll remember, last year
, Beck scored big in the stupidist media pundit remark race when he said to US representative-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, “I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’ ”

There are many more.
But these are my top picks.

What are yours?

NOTE: Next we’ll do both Dem and Repub presidential nominees, so start gathering those memorably bad quips from those who would be president.

Posted in Season of Lists | 46 Comments »

Taking the Morning Off….and Movies

December 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Still in a Christmas-y frame of mind. But will post later today, so check back.

In the meantime, a quick film-going note. After the family festivities yesterday, I went and saw a couple of movies–-Juno and The Savages. One was wonderful; the other less so.

I loved The Savages, the story of a commitment-shy, underachieving brother and sister (the uniformly pitch-perfect Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) who must deal with their estranged father’s encroaching dementia. It’s smart,painful, heartbreaking and, at times, hysterically funny.

By the same token, Juno—about a smart, quirky, off-beat sixteen-year old who unexpectedly gets pregnant—is entertaining enough and filled with winning actors, but seemed terribly contrived and a bit too entranced with its own cleverness to be as good as it thinks it is.

Have any of you see either?
If so, what did you think?

Posted in Life in general | 15 Comments »

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

December 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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To all of you who come here….May your day be filled with love and loved ones.

More lists and vexing issues later this week.

But for now….

I wish each of you joy…peace…love…(with lots of laughter thrown in).

XO: Celeste

Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

Season of Lists: 6 Last Minute Gifts

December 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Homicides figures in Los Angeles are lower than they’ve been in decades,
which is a really great piece of news to hear going into Christmas.

And now on to other pressing issues: As we all know, our chance for holiday gift buying has officially dwindled to zip. So, with this emergency in mind, today’s list eschews serious topics in order to get down to the business at hand—namely last minute gifts.

Below you’ll find six of my off-the-top-of-my-head gift ideas.
But please be sure to fork over some good ones of your own.

NOTE: Try to avoid making suggestions like the Hillary Nutcracker—or the George W. Bush 2008 out of office countdown calendar, as we all know the ensuing discussion will NOT go anywhere good.)

Okay, here’re my six:

1. A Homeboy Attache bag .
(Surely everybody needs one of those.) At this late date, you’ll have to drive down to the Homeboy store on Alameda in order to acquire one, but hey, you can also have lunch at the Homegirl cafe, and get a snazzy Homeboy trucker hat or a Homegirl spaghetti strapped t-shirt for yourself.

2. The soundtrack to the Great Debaters.
A very cool CD filled with a range of classic blues, gospel and jazz sung , by Grammy Award-winning blues singer/guitarist Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart and soul diva Sharon jones. Lovely stuff. (Anybody who doesn’t like it—in the future just demote ‘em off your gift list and into greeting card-only status.)

3. A pound of Grizzly Blend coffee
- Yes, if you order it it’ll show up after Christmas, but it could be worth it. The coffee is a rich, dark blend roasted in Montana. The best part of the deal is the fact that a healthy percentage of the proceeds from Grizzly blend sales are dedicated to acquiring and preserving land as grizzly habitat through he non-profit group Vital Ground. (Virtue AND caffeine. Hard to do better than that!)

5. R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, & Country
– This was commenter reg’s idea, and it’s a very good one. At his rec, I went out and nabbed one of these books (with CD) as one of my own last minute gifts. It was given out on Saturday night, and its recipient appeared to be satisfyingly blown away by its sheer fubulosity.

6. A Bologna Chub - Yes, there is such a thing, and I have it on good authority that a certain mega-star actor (with a new film out) gave bologna chubs as Christmas gifts to his closest friends in the biz, including other mega-star actors. I think frankly that much of the reason for the actor’s choice of gifts had to do with the fact that he liked getting to say “bologna chub” over and over again. (And who wouldn’t????) Most of these puppies are mail-order only for us LA people, but the Spring Street Smoke House does make them for their bologna sandwiches, so maybe you can weasel a few gift-sized chubs out of them. (And think of the number of times you too would get to say “bologna chubs” while doing so.)

Alright, now over to y’all.

Posted in 12 days of Lists, Season of Lists | 18 Comments »

Season of Lists: LA’s 7 Worst Moments of 2007

December 21st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Before we get to some of the high points from 2007,
let’s look at seven of the bad, sad things done in this city by those who really ought to know better.

Below you’ll find my seven first-bounce nominations for worst Los Angeles moments
.

You likely have your own.
(You may think, for example, that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s tabloid-worthy romance and subsequent divorce was among the worst. And the studio’s unwillingness to settle in the WGA strike certainly qualifies—and that bad behavior is still on-going.)

Some of my choices below were selected because they were symbolic
of larger problems. Others were egregious all on their own.

And by the way, each of these were posted with the understanding
that, for the families of those killed in the 380 homicides that have occurred in LA thus far this year, the worst moments of 2007 were very personal ones.

7. ROCK DELGADILLO sticks the taxpayers with the $1,222 repair bill for his city-owned GMC Yukon that his wife smashed when she was driving it on a suspended license. (And she wasn’t supposed to be driving a city vehicle anyway.) Obviously this wasn’t a transgression to being down the empire, but it sucked symbolically and, if you’re the city attorney, it ain’t done dude.

6. RATHER THAN FIX THE TEACHER PAYROLL DEBACLE or do something substantive about the district’s below 50-percent graduation rate, LA School Supt. David Brewer Supt. Brewer decides to try a little smoke and mirrors by handing out consulting contracts worth more than $350,000 a year to a bunch of PR guys tasked with tarting up the district’s image.(Note to the Admiral. You know that image-fluffing ploy? It isn’t working.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in City Government, Season of Lists | 24 Comments »

Season of Lists: 5 People I’d Rather See as Person of the Year

December 20th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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On Wednesday, Time Magazine named Vladimir Putin its Person of the Year
because of Putin’s “extraordinary feat of leadership in taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability,” said Richard Stengel, Time’s managing editor.

Oh, please! That’s like saying a mom’s a good parent because she calmed her toddler down by knocking him to the floor then locking him in a closet.

Yes, sure, Putin deserves to be in the top 25
, maybe even the top ten. But he just ain’t number one—either in a positive or negative sense of the honor.

Instead of putin I’d have gone for one of the following (in no particular order):

1. Google – Access to information is everything.
And Google is the vehicle that guides and propels us through the maze that is the World Wide Web. It’s changed the way we think about information—and the way we think, period.

2. JK Rowling – She was
in Time’s top five, (as well she should be) The woman has inspired more kids to read than anyone in my lifetime. I rather liked this option, but apparently Time didn’t. At least not enough.

3. Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook guy) - What MySpace began, Facebook bettered many times over. It’s not so much him, per se, but the notion of social networking on the web that seems worth recognizing as an idea that’s changing the way we view community and has only begun to explode.

4. The WGA Striking Writers - The battle for the future of digital entertainment. Okay, it’s a long shot idea, but worth considering.

5. The monks of Burma - They demonstrated for all the rest of us the stunning power of moral authority.

*****************************************************************************************

Okay, now your turn.

Posted in International politics, media | 45 Comments »

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