Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anthony Weiner, John Profumo, and The Road to Redemption

Another scandal has hit former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner as he heads into the New York City mayoral primary.  Back in 2011, Weiner was forced to resign from the U.S. Congress for sending sexually suggestive photographs of himself to a woman.  He entered back into public life with his latest mayoral bid, but was thrown into chaos at a press conference a few days ago when he admitted to sending similar pictures to another woman in late 2012.

It was painful to watch Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, a former long term personal aide to Hillary Clinton, be humiliated in public by not only standing by his side but having to speak in his defense at the press conference.  Despite the current scandal, Weiner vowed to stay in the race.

Watching this take place, I was reminded of another scandal involving a politician.  In the 1960's, at the height of the Cold War, the British Secretary of War, John Profumo, was forced to resign after his name was linked to a model in England.  The subsequent scandal, known as the Profumo Affair, may have been a large factor in the British Conservative government falling from power.  Profumo had his political career destroyed and left office in disgrace.

Profumo's name didn't surface in the press for years.  Many years later, it was learned that he spent his days after the scandal as a volunteer at a charity in the poorest section of East London.  He did menial work, including cleaning toilets.

The lure of high political position is a powerful draw.  The mayor of New York is probably the most high profile mayoral post in the United States.  Anthony Weiner has probably spent numerous hours since this last scandal hit huddling with his political advisers on what moves to make to salvage his campaign.

But it is in those dark, lonely hours when one is alone, looking in the mirror with just himself, his conscience and his demons, that one has to decide which fork in the road to take.  John Profumo took the Road to Redemption.  Only time will tell which one Anthony Weiner takes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict

The jury has spoken with a not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.  It's now the time for the so-called experts to weigh in on the subject.    Let's not forget for a moment that this local shooting in a town in Florida has political implications.  The President of the United States had already commented on the case when it first occurred and later after the verdict was announced.

An interesting comment was made in today's Wall Street Journal by Kenneth Nunn, assistant director of the Criminal Justice Center at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law.  He was quoted as saying, "I think you could make out the case that unconscious racism caused Mr. Zimmerman to profile" Mr. Martin. He went on to add, "But there doesn't seem to be enough there to justify a claim that racial animus was the predicate behind Trayvon Martin's death."

Do you ever wonder like me where a term like 'unconscious racism' came from.  Who is the so-called expert who coined the phrase, and how did it evolve into a theory.  I see talking heads using terms like this and I would love to see someone just one once ask them to not only define the term but question them as to it's factual basis.

Here's my take now on the verdict.  An argument could be made as to whether this case would have even been filed if both parties were of the same race.  Being that it was, the state had a difficult time proving the case that it was murder and not self-defense.  The state's witnesses weren't all that good, and the best independent witnesse placed Mr. Martin on top of Mr. Zimmerman and said it looked like he was punching him.  The medical examiner testified that Zimmerman's injuries were not life threatening, yet you had pictures of him that showed his nose broken and blood streaking down the back of his head.

Pictures tell a thousand words, and that may have been a big reason for the acquittal.

Mr. Zimmerman's legal problems are not over, however.  The Huffington Post reported yesterday that the U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the case to see if any criminal civil rights charges can be filed in the case. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crime, Violence, Arrests, and the NFL: An Uneasy Convergence

After the arrest in Massachusetts of New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez for murder, the newspapers were filled with headlines regarding the number of NFL football players who had been arrested in 2013.  With the year just barely past the halfway mark, NFL players have been arrested for, among other things,  gun charges, attempt murder, assault, DUI, Public intoxication, drag racing and resisting arrest, burglary, battery, a prostitution sting, child abuse and domestic violence.

In many cases, you have young men barely out of their teens who suddenly find themselves with lots of money and little, if any, adult supervision.  It seems to me that some have adopted a gang culture mentality, complete with guns, tattoos and an intimidating attitude that we see portrayed in the entertainment media.  In a sport that prides itself on hard hits and physical violence, it's not hard to see how some players might lose their perspective here.

I'm also troubled by the comparison to football games and other sporting events as 'going to war' and 'combat.'  When I was growing up, most of our fathers served in World War II and Korean War and had seen real combat in the South Pacific, Europe and the Korean peninsula.  Many had seen untold carnage and death and lived with those memories.  It would never have crossed anyone's mind in those days to have referred to any sporting event as a war or combat.  Just as today, that comparison cheapens the sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces who gave so much in Vietnam and Iraq, and are still giving in Afghanistan.

My last comment is on how much sports have changed in my lifetime.  Today I see college players signing million dollar contracts.  As a young boy, I remember that most professional ball players in the 1950's and 60's had to have off-season jobs to supplement their incomes and support their families.

Take for example Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts.  He was the originator of the two minute drill and led his Colts to a come from behind victory over my New York Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game. To this day, many still call it the greatest football game ever played.  It's the game that put professional football on the map.  If I ever wanted one quarterback to lead my team down the field with the game on the line, it would be Johnny U.  He was the greatest quarter back I ever saw.

During the off-season, Johnny Unitas laid linoleum.    

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

American Crime Drama vs European Crime Drama

It's been a long time since I've seen a good American crime drama, whether it be on TV or in the movies.  Two notable exception were the HBO series 'The Wire' and Tom Selleck as 'Jesse Stone.'  It seems that Hollywood and the American entertainment industry is stifled by political correctness and thinks that special effects and violent shootouts with exploding blood is more important than taut plots and character development.  It seems that all the Hollywood script writers can turn out is big explosions, car chases with multiple car wrecks, hi tech gadgets and weapons, and large body counts.

I've taken to watching European crime dramas that I get on both public television or buy from I find it refreshing to see actors that actually act, plots that make you think, and an emphasis on character development rather than body count.  Maybe because they don't have a big budget like in Hollywood, but I've noticed that they make do with very few people and extras on the screen at any one time.  In one telling scene of one of the series listed below, the horror of a mother and her three young children who were murdered in a house came not from the sight of mutilated corpses with lots of blood but rather from the shocked look on the detectives faces when they entered the crime scene along with the chalked off figures on the floor where the bodies were.

Here's a list of my favorites:

1. Sherlock- I'm a stickler for authenticity, so when I first heard that the BBC was making a Sherlock Holmes series updated to the 21st century, I rolled my eyes.  After I read the excellent  reviews it received, I thought I'd give it a chance.  I'm glad I did because Benedict Cumberpatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson are simply outstanding.  The writers have updated Conan Doyle's stories into a modern day London and it works beyond all belief.

2. Foyle's War-Michael Kitchen is great as police inspector Christopher Foyle who tracks down criminals on the south coast of England during World War II.  The scenery is beautiful and the period costumes bring you back to a nation fighting for it's very existence.

3.  Agatha Christie's Poirot-David Suchet is wonderful as the eccentric Belgian (not French) detective who solves crimes by using his 'little grey cells' in 1920/30's England.  He is ably assisted by Hugh Fraser as his friend Captain Hastings in a series faithfully adapted from Agatha Christie's books..

4.  Detective Montalbano-Italian actor Luca Zingaretti plays author Andrea Camilleri's Sicilian police detective Salvo Montalbano.  Many of the author's books have been faithfully adapted in this series along with a number of others that are just as good.  You really get a comfortable feeling with his police squad as they solve crimes in the fictitious town of Vigata, Sicily.  The sun drenched scenery of Sicily is absolutely beautiful and is a great travel ad for that island.  The series is in Italian but it is sub-titled in English.  After about five minutes of viewing, you have no trouble following the dialogue.

5.  Luther-Idris Elba plays the lead in this BBC production about a suicidal London Homicide detective.  He has a powerful screen presence and is ably assisted by a squad of detectives as they comb through London for violent criminals.  I guarantee you that after the first five minutes, you will be hooked on this series.  The female antagonist in this series, played by Ruth Wilson, is deliciously evil as she matches wits with Luther.

6.  Inspector Nardone-This is another Italian crime series set in post World War II Italy.  Sergio Assisi is outstanding as the lead character.  The series is based on a real life police detective who along with his hand picked squad, fights both criminals and corruption in Milan.  Here again the period costumes and scenery brings you back to an Italy that was just recovering from the devastation of World War II.  The plots are well written, and the interaction between the actors is exceptional.  Even though it is in Italian with English subtitles, you have no trouble following the dialogue.

7.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes-For those who are Sherlock Holmes aficionados, look no further then this BBC adaption with Jeremy Brett as the fictional crime detective.  In my opinion, Brett is the definitive Holmes in all his brilliance and quirks.  The adaptions are faithful to the Conan Doyle stories, right down to the dialogue.  Both of the actors who play Dr Watson in the lengthy series, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke, are great and the chemistry between them and Brett works.  The period costumes, horse drawn cabs and fog laden scenery literally brings you back to 19th century London.   

8.  Single Handed-Owen McDonnell plays an Irish Garda police Sergeant investigating crime on the west coast of Ireland.  Well written and acted, he returns to his home area to find that things are often times not what they seem.  The beautiful yet harsh countryside is also a plus.

9.  Inspector George Gently-Martin Shaw plays the honest and by-the-book lead character in this BBC production about a police inspector set in the 1960's.  His assistant, played by Lee Ingelby, is a young sergeant who is somewhat immature and willing to step over the line.  Despite their differences, the chemistry between the two work as they solve crimes in rural England.