Friday, January 11, 2008

"Free Fouad" update: please sign the petition.

An earlier post called attention to the plight of Fouad Al-Farhan, a Saudi citizen and blogger who, just over a month ago, was arrested and is being held in an undisclosed location without any publicly announced charge against him. His only offense, apparently, was criticizing some government officials. This action appears to run counter to King Abdullah's own declared intent to allow greater freedom of speech and the press.

Ahmed Al-Omran, publisher of the excellent English language blog Saudi Jeans, has linked to his blog a petition to free Fouad. The link to the petition is here. Please follow the link and consider adding your name to mine and to the almost 900 (as of the time I write this) people who have signed and submitted it. Note that you may edit the words of the letter to suit your own taste or convictions (wimp that I am, I changed "demand" in the first line to "respectfully request", noting that it was addressed to high Saudi and U.S. officials).

Get to know Andrew Olmsted.

I recently did, if only by reading his words, and that's as much, unfortunately, as I ever will. He's dead. He was a blogger, like me, until a sniper's bullet found him a few days ago. A major in the U.S. Army, serving in Iraq, he had prepared a final message, which he entrusted to a friend to post to his blog in the event of his death. It's here, and I offer it without further comment on my part, which would be superfluous.

Well, OK, I will add this to the many good things being said about him: he was a Yankee fan who converted to the Red Sox. And, as he noted concerning the brevity of his life: "few of us are destined to make more than a tiny dent in history's Green Monster."

He suggested that the reader of his final post "put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984)"; so, for you, Andy, here's Joan Jett:

Kudos to Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings for being the caretaker and publisher of Andy's final post.

Update: Hilzoy has posted this on Obsidian Wings:
A member of Andy Olmsted's family has just written me to say that if people want to do something in honor of him, they can send donations to a fund that has been set up for the four children of CPT Thomas Casey, who served under Andy and was killed while trying to help him. The address is here:

Capt. Thomas Casey Children's fund
P.O. Box 1306
Chester, CA 96020

Thanks so much.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

College football wrap-up: Tigers truimphant.

A thoroughly bizarre season, which started with a huge upset, and saw my alma mater rise briefly to glory in the AP and USA Today polls before falling to 23rd and then getting pounded by Oregon in the Sun Bowl, has come to what for me is a somewhat satisfactory conclusion with the Bayou Bengals' (for whom I've long had a soft spot) convincing victory over Ohio State, a team I've despised since the days of the loathsome Woody Hayes.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New York gets it again, and again ...

A month or so ago I was walking through a subway station when I saw a poster advertising the movie I Am Legend, showing Will Smith leading a German Shepherd along the Manhattan abutment of a ruined Brooklyn Bridge. Its center span is missing, and its main cables droop from the towers into the water. On the Brooklyn side, near where I live, the buildings (including, perhaps significantly, the tower housing the headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses) look intact, but lifeless. Above Will's head, under a gloomy, sepia-toned sky, are the words: "The last man on earth is not alone."

A few days ago, again in the subway, I saw a poster for a movie with the bucolic title Cloverfield; however, the scene on the poster was far from idyllic. It showed a decapitated Statue of Liberty, torch arm still aloft, and, beyond it, fires raging in lower Manhattan in the vicinity of my office.

Legend, it seems, is about a plague; a human-generated plague caused by a mutant measles virus made to combat cancer. Cloverfield is just a good old monster movie, though, no doubt, with more sophisticated special effects than say, the first New-York-gets-trashed movie I can remember seeing, the 1953 release The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, in which a gigantic amphibious dinosaur-like creature, Rhedosaurus, freed from arctic ice by a U.S. H-bomb test somehow conducted with the compliance of the Canadian government (oh, for those halcyon days when Louis St. Laurent was Ike's favorite golfing buddy), makes its way southward to its ancient hunting grounds, now inconveniently occupied by The World's Greatest City. In this respect, Beast prefigures the original 1954 Godzilla, also put into action by a nuke test, in which the creature trashes Tokyo (a 1998 remake had Godzilla attacking New York, thereby bringing things full circle).

I generally avoid movies that feature the destruction of, or even major damage to, the city I live in and love. I did make an exception for The Day After Tomorrow, but only because a friend plays a part in it. I had thought to make a list of such movies. For me, an especially gruesome example is Fail-Safe (1964), in which POTUS orders the thermonuclear vaporization of New York in order to convince the surviving members of the Soviet chain of command that we are sincere in saying that our obliteration of Moscow was just a mistake caused by a communications fiasco.

Anyway, I quickly realized such a list would be unmanageably long and probably still way short of complete. So, I invite you to submit your favorite examples. If you want to submit movies in which other prominent cities get laid waste, feel free. If anyone can confirm or deny the existence of a movie called The Creature That Devoured Cleveland, I'll be grateful. A quick Google search left the question unanswered.

Update: Somehow (probably because it was in the December 26 Times, which was part of a pile of papers waiting for us when we got back from Massena and which were gone through quickly), I missed Sewell Chan's piece on this very subject, in which he includes a list of movies in which New York is obliterated.