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Why California Will be a Significant State in Banning Sharia Law

 

Background

California’s significance lies in its size of its population (38.8 million as of 2014). California is the largest state in the union as to its population. Otherwise, Alaska claims the trophy for land mass, with California in third place.).

California is the most populous sub-national entity in North America. If it were an independent country, California would rank 34th in population in the world. It has a larger population than all of Canada and Australia. Its population is one third larger than that of the next largest state, Texas. California surpassed New York to become the most populous state in 1962.

No single racial or ethnic group forms a majority of California’s population, making the state a minority-majority state. Non-Hispanic whites make up 40.1% of the population. Spanish is the state’s second most spoken language. Areas with especially large Spanish speaking populations include Los Angeles metropolitan area, the California-Mexico border counties of San Diego and Imperial, and the San Joaquin Valley.  Nearly 43% of California residents speak a language other than English, a proportion far higher than any other state.

 

Muslim Population in the United States and California

     There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in the United States. Twenty percent or 1,000,000 Muslims live in California.

 

     Geographical Distribution:  The table below represents a breakdown by states of the largest Muslim communities in the United States. It shows that there are an estimated 3.3.  Million Muslims in these states. The figure represents 62 percent of the estimated 5 million Muslims living in the United States. 

Muslim State Population Table 

  Muslim Population   (1,000)  Percentage Total Muslim Population  Percent of Total State Population 
California 1,000 20.0 3.4
New York 800 16.0 4.7
Illinois 420 8.4 3.6
New Jersey 200 4.0 2.5
Indiana 180 3.6 3.2
Michigan 170 3.4 1.8
Virginia 150 3.0 2.4
Texas 140 2.8 0.7
Ohio 130 2.6 1.2
Maryland 70 1.4 1.4

* Estimates under column 2 have been rounded to the nearest even number.

The list below shows the number of facilities used by Muslims for religious activities and community affairs:

Mosques/Islamic Centers 843
Islamic Schools 165
Associations 426
Publications   89

There are 165 Islamic Schools in the United States, of which 92 are full time. Figures here for Masjids/Islamic Centers are based on directory listings.

Note: The exact number of businesses owned and operated by Muslims is unavailable, but they are estimated in the thousands. These preliminary findings represent data collected during 1986-1992.

Controversy

Some Muslim Americans have been criticized because of perceived conflicts between their religious beliefs and mainstream American value systems. Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis, Minnesota have been criticized for refusing passengers for carrying alcoholic beverages or dogs. The Minneapolis –Saint Paul International Airport authority has threatened to revoke the operating authority of any driver caught discriminating in this manner. There are reported incidents in which Muslim cashiers have refused to sell pork products to their clientele.

Based on data from a 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center, their graph records the distribution of feelings of U.S. Muslims on the topic of suicide bombings, separated by age group.

Terrorism that involved Muslim perpetrators began in the United States with the 1993 shootings at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, followed by the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City. The latest was the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings in Massachusetts. After the September 11 attacks and the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, there was concern about the potential radicalization of American Muslims. A 2007 Pew poll reported that 15% of American Muslims under the age of 30 supported suicide bombings against civilian targets in at least some circumstances, on the other hand 11% said it could be “rarely justified.”

Among those over the age of 30, just 6% expressed their support for the same. (9% of Muslims over 30 and 5% under 30 chose not to answer). A March 2010 Bipartisan Policy Center paper points out an increasing number of American Muslims are playing high-level operational roles in al-Qaeda and aligned groups, as well as a larger numbers of American Muslims who are attaching themselves to these groups.

Between 2001 and the end of 2009, there were 46 publicly reported incidents of “domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism” that involved at least 125 people between 2001 and the end of 2009. There had been an average of six cases per year since 2001, but that rose to 13 in 2009.

While the seeming increase in cases may be alarming, half “involve single individuals, while the rest represent ‘tiny conspiracies,’ ” according to Congressional testimony.

Furthermore, a 2012 study by the University of North Carolina indicated that the yearly number of cases of alleged plots by Muslim-Americans appears to be declining. The total of 20 indictments for terrorism in 2011 is down from 26 in 2010 and 47 in 2009 (the total since 9/11 is 193). The number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism also fell, from 27 individuals in 2010 to just eight in 2011 (the total since 9/11 stands at 462). Also in apparent decline is the number of actual attacks: Of the 20 suspects indicted for terrorism, only one was charged with carrying out a terrorist act. This number is down from the six individuals charged with attacks in 2010. The study’s author concludes that the “limited scale of Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 runs counter to the fears that many Americans shared in the days and months after 9/11, that domestic Muslim-American terrorism would escalate.”

Muslim Americans are significantly represented among those who tip authorities off to alleged plots having given 52 of the 140 documented tips regarding individuals involved in violent terrorist plots since 9/11.

Extremism in the United States

At least one American not of recent immigrant background, John Walker Lindh, has been imprisoned, convicted on charges of working with the Taliban and carrying weapons against American soldiers. He had converted to Islam while in the United States, moved to Yemen to study Arabic, and then went to Pakistan, where he was recruited by the Taliban.

Another American that was not of recent immigrant background, Jose Padilla (prisoner), of Puerto Rican decent and the first Hispanic-American to be imprisoned and convicted on suspicion of plotting a radiological bomb (“dirty bomb”) attack.

He was detained as a material witness until June 9, 2002, when President George W. Bush designated him an enemy combatant and, arguing that he was not entitled to trial in civilian courts, had him transferred to a military prison. He had converted to Islam while serving his last jail sentence in prison, and went to Pakistan where he was recruited into Al-Qaeda.

Islamophobia

     A 2011 Gallup poll report has stated that there has been an increase in Islamophobia over the past decade and defined it as “An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.” A 2014 Pew poll found that Muslims were the most disliked religious group in the United States with an average 40% cold rating, which is lower than the 41% cold rating received by atheists.

Public institutions in the U.S. have also drawn fire for accommodating Islam at the expense of taxpayers. The University of Michigan-Dearborn and a public college in Minnesota have been criticized for accommodating Islamic prayer rituals by constructing footbaths for Muslim students using tax-payers’ money.

Critics claim this special accommodation, which is made only to satisfy Muslims’ needs, is a violation of Constitutional provisions separating church and state. Along the same constitutional lines, a San Diego public elementary school is being criticized for making special accommodations specifically for American Muslims by adding Arabic to its curriculum and giving breaks for Muslim prayers. Since these exceptions have not been made for any religious group in the past, some critics see this as an endorsement of Islam.

The first American Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, created controversy when he compared President George W. Bush’s actions after the September 11, 2001 attacks to Adolf Hitler’s actions after the Nazi-sparked Reichstag fire, saying that Bush was exploiting the aftermath of 9/11 for political gain, as Hitler had exploited the Reichstag fire to suspend constitutional liberties.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Anti-Defamation League condemned Ellison’s remarks. The congressman later retracted the statement, saying that it was “inappropriate” for him to have made the comparison.

At Columbus Manor School, a suburban Chicago elementary school with a student body nearly half Muslim Arab Americans, school board officials have considered eliminating holiday celebrations after Muslim parents complained that their culture’s holidays were not included.

Local parent Elizabeth Zahedan said broader inclusion, not elimination, was the group’s goal.” I only wanted them modified to represent everyone,” the Chicago Sun-Times quoted her as saying. “Now the kids are not being educated about other people.” However, the district’s superintendent, Tom Smyth, said too much school time was being taken to celebrate holidays already, and he sent a directive to his principals requesting that they “tone down” activities unrelated to the curriculum, such as holiday parties.

Comments

     Totalitarian regimes based on a religion carry no more weight than totalitarian regimes whose primary motives are based on greed for resources such as land, oil, or raw power and control over others. Sometimes such regimes are one and the same.

In a civilized world people’s individuality is put first in harmony with the community in which they live. People are free to pursue their own individual dreams and live out their lives to the best of their ability according to common sense and the rule of law, and supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights espoused in 1948 by the United Nations.

In the weeks and months ahead, a five-part series will be posted that delves into the psychology and sociology of Religious Fanaticism. In part five of the series I will present the seminal work of the late sociologist/philosopher/longshoreman, Eric Hoffer.

I leave you now with one of his many quotes about—The True Believer.

“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” ― Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

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Should California be the Next State to Ban Sharia Law?

Background

There is great controversy brewing in the United States these days concerning the use of Sharia law in American courts. Most Americans are not even aware that foreign law can be used in an American Court. Sharia law is based on the religious teachings found in the Quran and the pronouncements of Islam’s originator—The Prophet Muhammad.

Our law of the land is, of course, the U.S. Constitution and the various laws at the federal, state and local jurisdictions.

The most basic question Americans are asking themselves is this: With jihadists in a foreign land using Sharia law to violate human rights everywhere, why in the hell is the United States condoning the use of such an abusive, archaic, demeaning set of legal canons?

The answer to this question should be a “no-brainer” until one realizes the fact that some foreign laws (such as Sharia) are being used in some American courts.

Laws based on religion or religious thought is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state. The added features to this issue is that foreign laws are not American laws, and Sharia law arose in the Muslim world, not in the United States.

These 16 States Have All Introduced Legislation to Ban ‘Sharia Law’

     The following is an article by Jason DeWitt of Top Right News from February 9, 2015.

     “Muslims are determined to push their religious doctrines on the American people.”

 

 

“Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis and several airports have kicked out blind passengers with guide dogs (dogs are “unclean” in Islam). Somali Muslims on welfare have demanded that their free food comply with “Islamic requirements.”

Muslim groups have demanded that their women be permitted to wear full face and body coverings even on driver’s licenses.

And Muslim pressure groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have pushed to force Sharia Law on our courts and law enforcement — with some U.S. judges insanely agreeing to comply.

A New Jersey judge recently cited Sharia Law in refusing to grant a Muslim woman a restraining order in a horrible case of sexual assault and abuse, because her husband said his abuse was acceptable “according to his Muslim beliefs.”

In Texas, a group of unlicensed Muslim “judges” have set up an “Islamic Tribunal” which they say will “resolve disputes” in law, family and businesses using, of course, Sharia Law — not the U.S. Constitution.

Well, some states are fighting back. As far back as 2010 Sixteen U.S. states have introduced legislation to ban or restrict Sharia law.

The list was compiled by the radical, terror-linked CAIR — which meant it to condemn the states, but to most Americans, it will bolster those states as somewhere they would want to live.

Ironically, CAIR claims they oppose Sharia Law in America. So why is it that any time a state wants to ban Sharia from inside its boundaries, CAIR fights it and cries “Islamophobia”? Because they want Muslims to only be subject to Sharia, not our laws. Herman Mustafa Carroll, executive director of the Dallas CAIR branch was most revealing when he brazenly said: “If we are practicing Muslims, we are above the law of the land.” 

Well the following states are saying: no damn way.

Alabama became the latest state to ban Sharia law when voters overwhelmingly passed a measure adding an amendment to the state constitution. CAIR said that the motion was “virulently racist” and shows “outright hostility towards Muslims.” Alabamans apparently didn’t care what they said.

The list of all 16 states is:

  • Alabama (two bills)
  • Arkansas
  • Florida (two bills)
  • Indiana (two bills)
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi (four bills)
  • Missouri (two bills)
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma (seven bills)
  • South Carolina (two bills)
  • Texas (six bills)
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming (two bills)

And hopefully in 2015, the list will get longer.

It depends on you. Tell your state reps you want Sharia banned in your state next.”

 

Human Rights in Islamic Countries

     Human rights in Islamic countries have been a hot-button issue for many decades. According to the Global Network for Rights and Development, the United Arab Emirates is the only one of 48 Muslim-majority countries with human rights comparable to Western democracies.

International Non-governmental Organizations (“INGOs”) such as Amnesty International (“AI”) and Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) consistently find human rights violations in Islamic countries. Amongst the human rights issues that are frequently under the spotlight are gay rights, the right of consensual sex outside of marriage, individual freedom of speech and political opinion. The issue of women’s rights is also the subject of fierce debate.

The fundamental reason why Islamic countries are ranked so lowly in human rights indicators such as The International Human Rights Rank Indicator (“IHRRI”) has to do with how Western democracies and the Islamic world approach the topic of human rights. While the concept of human rights in Western democracies was developed over centuries through Western experience and grounded in the idea of faith, human rights in the Islamic world is based on the Qur’anic ideal of human dignity. As a result of this differing basis, it is impossible for Islamic countries to measure up to the standards of human rights set by Western democracies since their views and understanding of human rights differ from their Western counterparts, thus resulting in different practices in their societies.

When the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) in 1948, Saudi Arabia refused to sign it as they were of the view that sharia law had already set out the rights of men and women. To sign the UDHR was deemed unnecessary. What the UDHR did do was to start a debate on human rights in the Islamic world. Following years of deliberation, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (“OIC”) adopted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights.

International Human Rights Rank Indicator

The International Human Rights Rank Indicator (IHRRI), which combines scores for a wide range of human rights, is produced by the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD); ratings in the table below are as of 11 October 2014.

All Muslim countries have a human rights rating less than 53%, with the notable exception of United Arab Emirates, whose rating (61.49%) is similar to many Western democracies; for comparison, Sweden is the highest-rated country worldwide with 89.13%, and the US is rated 69.23%.

Population percentage figures below are from the Pew Research Center report The Future of the Global Muslim Population, as of 27 January 2011; all majority Muslim countries (with population over 50% Muslim) are listed.

Country Muslim % of total population International Human Rights Rank Indicator rating
Afghanistan 99.8 27.96%
Albania 82.1 52.15%
Algeria 98.2 33.49%
Azerbaijan 98.4 44.40%
Bahrain 81.2 47.03%
Bangladesh 90.4 47.20%
Brunei 51.9 29.99%
Burkina Faso 58.9 41.14%
Chad 55.7 21.68%
Comoros 98.3 37.89%
Djibouti 97 37.31%
Egypt 94.7 42.67%
Gambia 95.3 35.80%
Guinea 84.2 38.90%
Indonesia 88.1 29.29%
Iran 99.7 36.22%
Iraq 98.9 30.42%
Jordan 98.8 45.83%
Kazakhstan 56.4 47.09%
Kuwait 86.4 48.25%
Kyrgyzstan 88.8 38.55%
Lebanon 59.7 42.53%
Libya 96.6 36.95%
Malaysia 61.4 52.10%
Maldives 98.4 48.17%
Mali 92.4 30.58%
Mauritania 99.2 40.01%
Mayotte 98.8 37.47%
Morocco 99.9 50.92%
Niger 98.3 35.60%
Oman 87.7 45.73%
Pakistan 96.4 38.61%
Palestine 97.5 44.93%
Qatar 77.5 47.80%
Saudi Arabia 97.1 27.08%
Senegal 95.9 29.17%
Sierra Leone 71.5 21.51%
Somalia 98.6 22.71%
Sudan 71.4 30.21%
Syria 92.8 23.82%
Tajikistan 99 40.11%
Tunisia 97.8 50.47%
Turkey 98.6 47.64%
Turkmenistan 93.3 43.04%
United Arab Emirates 76 61.49%
Uzbekistan 96.5 36.77%
Western Sahara 99.6 27.55%
Yemen 99 41.91%

Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam

[CDHR]

The CDHR was signed by member states of the OIC in 1990 at the 19th Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Cairo, Egypt. It was seen as the answer to the UDHR. In fact, the CDHR was “patterned after the UN-sponsored UDHR of 1948.” The object of the CDHR was to “serve as a guide for member states on human rights issues.” CDHR translated the Qur’anic teachings as follows: “All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the basis of race, color, language, belief, sex, religion, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True religion is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity.” On top of references to the Qur’an, the CDHR also referenced prophetic teachings and Islamic legal tradition.

While the CDHR can be seen as a significant human rights milestone for Islamic countries, Western commentators have been critical of it. For one, it is a heavily qualified document. The CDHR is pre-empted by sharia law – “all rights and freedoms stipulated [in the Cairo Declaration] are subject to Islamic Sharia’s.”

In turn, though member countries appear to follow sharia law, these laws seem to be ignored altogether when it comes to “[repressing] their citizens using torture, and imprisonment without trial and disappearance.” Abdullah al-Ahsan describes this as the Machiavellian attempt which is “turning out to be catastrophic in the Muslim world.”

Individual countries

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been under the human rights spotlight for a number of decades, receiving increased attention from the early 1990s onwards. Much of the period between the 1940s to 1980s was characterized by Saudi’s perceived passivity on the issue as well as its refusal to sign the UDHR. The period thereafter has seen a significant uptake on the matter. It all began with Saudi’s handling of the Second Gulf War in 1991, which created much unhappiness and opposition amongst its citizens. Thereafter, a group of Saudi citizens attempted to establish a non-governmental human rights organization called the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (“CDLR”).

Within weeks of its formation, Saudi authorities arrested many of its members and supporters. Following the release of its main founder and president Alma sari, the committee was reformed in London where it received attention from human rights organizations worldwide. CDLR’s work shed much needed light on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia that was previously clouded in secrecy.

The events which have followed since the early 1990s such as the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States of America, has further impacted the issue of human rights in Saudi, more so than any other country. Since these events, Saudi has steadily opened itself up to scrutiny by international agencies; they have also participated and engaged the human rights front more actively.

Amongst them, the country has allowed visits from Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups. Saudi has also joined the international human rights legal arrangements which means that the country is legally subject to Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“CERD”), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women (“CEDAW”), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”).

While some have lauded the progress made, others have remained highly critical of the country. In a 2013 human rights review of Saudi by Country Watch, it is said that Saudi has a “poor record of human rights” with the country’s law “not [providing] for the protection of many basic rights”. The report goes on to detail the many shortcomings in the country such as corruption, lack of transparency, the presence of corporal punishments and the lack of separation between the three branches of the State i.e. Judiciary, Executive and Legislature.

Pakistan

The human rights situation in Pakistan is generally regarded as poor by domestic and international observers. Pakistan is a center of Islamic fundamentalism. The human rights record of Pakistan was particularly grave under the dictatorship of the US-supported General Zia.

General Zia introduced Sharia Law which led to Islamization of the country. The current regime in Pakistan has been responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Honor killings are also common in Pakistan.

Turkey

Turkey is considered by many as being the exemplary country of the Muslim world where a satisfactory compromise is made between the values of Islamic and Western civilizations.

One of the main reasons cited for Turkey’s significant improvement in its human rights efforts over the past few decades is the country’s push towards satisfying European Union pre-conditions for membership. In 2000, AI, on the back of visits made to the country to observe human rights practices, found that Turkey was demonstrating signs of greater transparency compared to other Muslim countries. In 2002, an AI report stated that the Turkish parliament passed three laws “…aimed at bringing Turkish law into line with European human rights standards.”      The same report further noted that “AI was given permission to open a branch in Turkey under the Law on Associations.”

Some of the latest human rights steps taken by Turkey include: “the fourth judicial reform package adopted in April, which strengthens the protection of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the fight against impunity for cases of torture and ill-treatment; the peace process which aims to end terrorism and violence in the Southeast of the country and pave the way for a solution to the Kurdish issue; the September 2013 democratization package which sets out further reform, covering important issues such as the use of languages other than Turkish, and minority rights.”

Further progress was also recorded on the women’s rights front where Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention against Domestic Violence. Also, in 2009, the Turkish government established a Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women to look at reducing the inequality between the sexes.

Despite all these advancement, there are still many significant human rights issues troubling the country. In a 2013 human rights report by the United States Department of State, amongst the problems to receive significant criticism were government interference with freedom of expression and assembly, lack of transparency and independence of the judiciary and inadequate protection of vulnerable populations.

Human Rights Watch have even gone as far as to declare that there has been a “human rights rollback” in the country.

According to the report, this has taken place amidst the mass anti-government protests which took place in 2013. Under the current leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ruling party has become increasing intolerant of “political opposition, public protest, and critical media.”

 

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran has one of the worst human rights records of any country in the world. Amongst the most serious human rights issues plaguing the republic are “the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.”

In 2014, Human Rights Watch reported that despite changes to the penal code, the death penalty was still liberally meted resulting in one of the highest rates of executions in the world. On top of that, security authorities have been repressing free speech and dissent. Many opposition parties, labor unions and student groups were banned and scores of political prisoners were still locked up.

The country has generally closed itself off to outside interference. The government has refused the request of the United Nations to have Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed report on the human rights situation in the country though they did however announce that two UN experts would be allowed to visit in 2015.

     The above information was obtained from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. For those interested one can learn the Origins of Islamic law from the Constitutional Rights Foundation website.

 

Comments

 

     My politics have always been very complex. I am an ultra-liberal when it comes to human rights and civil rights. And, I’m a card-carrying member of Amnesty International. Being a former U.S. Navy combat veteran of the Vietnam War, I can say that when it comes to national defense, homeland security, veteran’s issues, military families and wounded warriors my politics are conservative.

 

     The idea of the need to ban Sharia Law in deference to American law and the U.S. Constitution, is neither a liberal nor a conservative issue—It is an American issue.

 

     From a legal point of view, the operation of Sharia Law in the United States is unconstitutional as it violates the separation of church and state. From a moral point of view Sharia Law is an archaic notion of justice, best left back in the sixth century A.D.

 

     Sharia law is currently fostered by misogynist totalitarian regimes that indiscriminately murder and torture their own people based on intolerance of all human rights spelled out in 1948 by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

 

     There have been efforts over the years since 1948, on the part of Islamic countries (OIC) in the United Nations, to scrap or seriously modify the 1948 (post World War II) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

 

     In the aftermath of 9-1-1 we, as a country, still have to fight with fundamentalist extremists worldwide. But, even more important there are now dangers everywhere on the home front from Boston to Texas. Some of these dangers are homegrown, but some terrorist activities against the United States may still be precipitated from Islamic terrorist groups outside our borders.

 

     What is needed in California now is an amendment to the state’s constitution to ban Sharia Law in any form. 

 

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In this Blog I’m making a recommendation for eleven movies to see and a couple of really neat places to visit. If you can take time from your busy schedule I’m sure you will be thoroughly rewarded for time well spent. 

 

Back in June, 2010 I recommended a few great movies including: Uncle Nino, Somewhere in Time, Where the Heart is, and Taking Chance. I hope you’ve had a chance to see them. From time-to-time I plan to share with you other movies I think you would really enjoy and find entertaining. Recently, I watched all of the movies I’ve listed below. They are very much worth your taking the time to see them. These movies are all 4-star plus movies in my book.

 

Three out of these eleven movies I recommend are about artists. Yeah! It’s true. I really identify with the artists of this world and have a real undying respect for their work. When some producer is willing to do a movie (usually some form of biography about an artist) I’m always one of the firsts to watch it. I like to see movies on the “Big Screen” but the last few years I do that less often because movie houses like to charge a trillion dollars for a bag of popcorn, not including a diet coke.

 

My Recommendations

 

Serious Drama 

 

Stolen

 

A detective deals with the loss of his own son while trying to uncover the identity of a boy whose mummified remains are found in a box buried for fifty years (2008). Josh Lucas is outstanding in his role, as are James Van Der Beek and Jon Hamm. This is a powerful, emotional movie that will cause you to feel the fear a parent would have with a child who has been kidnapped.

 

Bordertown

 

The film (2006) is based upon a true story surrounding the multiple murders of young women in Juarez, Chihuahua. Those of you who read my Blog on the Hidden Side of Immigration will immediately recognize the infamous nature of the city of Juarez, Mexico. In the movie two men brutally rape a young woman by the name of Eva Jimenez (Maya Zapata) and leave her for dead. She wakes up in, and crawls out of, her own grave.

Lauren Adrian who is played by Jennifer Lopez is an American journalist from the Chicago Sentinel who is assigned to cover the story of the murders in Juarez. Lauren is haunted by terrible memories of her own while she helps Eva, the only surviving victim.

Lauren is determined to catch Eva’s rapist. With the help of Eva and a Mexican newspaper editor Alfonso Diaz, (Antonio Banderas), Lauren goes undercover and poses as a Mexican worker to identify and trap the rapists. As she discovers hundreds of victims, she gains the trust of local factory workers but becomes a target herself. They catch one of the rapists, but the other escapes.  Then, only days before Eva is to testify against the rapist, Lauren is forced to leave Juarez to try to have her story published.

With Lauren gone, Eva flees to the United States but is caught by the border police and returned to Juarez. Lauren returns and while looking for Eva, encounters the rapist instead.

 

 

The Stoning of Soraya M.

 

This is one of the most emotionally powerful movies I’ve seen in a very long time. It is a drama set in Iran in 1986 and is centered on a man, Sahebjam, whose car breaks down in a remote village and enters into a conversation with Zahra, who tells him a story about her niece, Soraya, whose arranged marriage to an abusive tyrant led to a tragic ending. Without reading the credits, see if you can recognize at the beginning of the movie the actor who plays Sahebjam. I was not aware of who he was until the end credits; see if you can do better.

 

Green Zone

 

This movie is about discovering covert and faulty intelligence information. It causes a U.S. Army Officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq in an unstable region.

The 2010 movie stars Matt Damon as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson who plays Baghdad CIA Bureau Chief, Martin Brown. There are many good performances in this movie but Damon and Gleeson really stand out as two terrific actors. The recent historical back story to the movie’s plot makes it both intriguing and thought provoking. If you like action movies as I do you’ll find watching this movie very rewarding, and sobering at the same time in terms of its recent historical content.

 

Gran Torino

 

Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed) is an embittered Korean War veteran who just lost his wife. He finds himself in the middle of a changing world. The formerly all-white neighborhood he once lived in is now mostly Southeast Asian and he has a Hmong family living next door. On his own family front he doesn’t get along with his sons, and is out of touch with his grandchildren, all of whom seem more interested in getting his house than anything else.

But Walt’s greatest interest is in his mint condition, 1972 Gran Torino. When the Hmong teenager next door, Thao, is challenged in a gang initiation ritual by his cousin and other gang members, to steal the Gran Torino, Walt nearly shoots him.

Soon, however, Walt realizes that he has more in common with his neighbors than with his own family, he becomes something of a neighborhood hero when he prevents gangbangers from forcing Thao into their car. He gradually takes Thao under his wing, teaching him a few things about life and helps get him a job.

Walt’s intervention has a price when the gang shoots up Thao’s house, and attacks his sister. Walt is determined to take action.

The script writing is fabulous and the script’s unexpected ending testifies to that fact. I’ve always liked Clint Eastwood for all his many roles and movies he directed and acted in. Clint Eastwood is now 80, and has seen and done it all in Hollywood.

 I like him best as an actor; others appreciate his ability as a movie director.  But by far his greatest talent is his uncanny ability to sniff out what makes a good story, and his story-telling genius that helps him translate a good story (David Baldacci’s Absolute Power comes to mind) into a great movie. And, for that reason above all else, I think you will see what makes Gran Torini a great movie, and top-notch entertainment.

 

 

Georgia O’Keefe

 

This movie is about American artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz (2009). Joan Allen gives a nice performance in the movie as her subtle acting qualities gives the movie a nice handling touch to her dialogue in the script. There is an underlying tone of sadness to the story of Georgia O’Keefe.

You may come away with a different assessment than I did, but I felt that Stieglitz and O’Keefe absolutely loved each other but whose inner self-directed personalities made it impossible for them to live together. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not all that uncommon today. Opposite her (playing Stieglitz) is Jeremy Irons, who has always been a first rate actor and is very convincing in his role as the self-centered jackass.

 

Little Ashes

 

In the years that followed after World War I, life and values were changing in Europe. Spain during the decade of the 1920s was no exception. In 1922, Madrid was wavering on the edge of change as traditional values were challenged by the dangerous new influences of Jazz, Freud and the avant-garde. During this year Salvador Dali arrived at the university. He was 18 years old and determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracted the attention of two of the university’s social elite – Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunel. Dali is absorbed into their youthfully decadent group and for a time Salvador, Luis and Federico became a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. However, as time passed, Salvador felt an increasingly strong pull towards the charismatic Federico – who is himself oblivious of the attentions he is getting from his beautiful writer friend, Magdalena. In the face of his friends’ preoccupations – and Federico’s growing renown as a poet – Luis sets off for Paris in search of his own artistic success. There are twists and turns in the lives of these three friends, but one of the turns made was totally unexpected for the famous Poet Lorca (2008).

 

 

Broken Trail (2 Discs—TV Miniseries)

 

Set in 1898, Print Ritter and his estranged nephew Tom Harte become the reluctant guardians of five abused and abandoned Chinese girls. Ritter and Harte’s attempts to care for the girls are complicated by their responsibility to deliver a herd of horses while avoiding a group of bitter rivals who are intent on kidnapping the girls for their own purposes (2006).

In todays urban modern life most of us don’t even know our neighbors and seldom interact, positively or negatively. What I was struck by in this movie was the stark contrast in temperament in relationships during social interaction despite living in a rather harsh and sometimes dangerous violent environment. In 1898, there was a rather formal politeness and gentility (even unexpected tenderness) between men and women as reflected in language and custom. However, getting someone to talk about their inner feelings (usually for one another) was just as difficult a hundred plus years ago as it is now. Broken Trail was an award-winning miniseries on TV. As soon as you start watching it you’ll see why.

 

 

Feel Good Movies and Fine Family Entertainment

 

Blind Side

 

A homeless black teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) has drifted in and out of the school system for years. Then Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Sean (Tim McGraw), take him in, transforming Michael’s life and theirs (2009).

This was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron are outstanding in their roles. This is one movie where I think the casting director was an unsung hero. All of the actors, including supporting actors, mesh very well together producing a kind of human chemistry that goes way beyond people coming together to act. All the characters in this movie really make the entire movie work extremely well.

 

 

My Kid Can Paint That

 

Don’t bet your life on that! Your kid can’t paint the way Marla Olmstead does today as a 10-year old, much less the way she did as a 4 year old when she became such a national sensation. I’ve reviewed the film, evaluated the controversy, and looked at her paintings. As an abstract artist myself I came away from this movie convinced that Marla Olmstead is indeed the real McCoy —Yes, Marla Olmstead is the real McCoy. She is a true prodigy of color, form, composition and line. Her abilities are not a function of learning how to do it; they are a function of her feeling how to do it. What Marla Olmstead composes with paint is like a great symphony; what most children do with a paint brush in their hands is a lot more like playing chop sticks, not a symphony. Innate abilities are in some of us. I have a close 70-year old friend who possesses natural gifts. He has the uncanny ability to draw cartoons with pen and ink, draw landscapes with a pencil, and do oil painting with tremendous visual clarity. Unfortunately, oil painting doesn’t come that easy to me. I don’t have natural gifts in art like my friend; I have to work very hard at my craft. Marla Olmstead, like my friend, does have innate natural abilities. Go to Marla Olmstead’s website and see her paintings, and painting style, firsthand. You will be rewarded many times over.  

 

 

Leap Year

 

A woman who has an elaborate scheme to propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day, an Irish tradition which occurs every time the date February 29 rolls around, faces a major setback when bad weather threatens to derail her planned trip to Dublin. With the help of an innkeeper, however, her cross-country odyssey just might result in her getting engaged (2010). In many ways this movie reflects the age-old notion that opposites really do attract. This is a delightful movie and Amy Adams and Matthew Goode are a good match for these roles. I found Amy Adams, a red headed beauty, to be one actress worth watching. Her quirky yet innocent outlook on life and her adorable personality was very appealing in Leap Year. She has played other excellent roles in such movies as Enchanted (2007), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008), Night at the Museum, (2009), Julie and Julia (2009), and Moonlight Serenade (2009).    

 

 

In Memoriam

 

Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

 

Tony Curtis passed away on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at the age of 85. He will be remembered for a long time and he will be missed by those among us who enjoy movies and what breathes life into any movie or book—great characters.

Tony Curtis was an American Icon of the Hollywood Movie Industry. I enjoyed watching him act and in fact first saw him while I was in High School. I enjoyed his seedy role as Sydney Falco in the drama, The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) in which Actor Burt Lancaster also was very convincing as the “sleeze-ball” New York City Columnist, J.J. Hunsucker.

I later bought the music from the movie in an old vinyl 78 RPM album format. That album I still own today, having kept every record (all 500 of them) I ever owned. Two other favorites of mine are, Some Like it Hot (with Jack Lemmon), and The Pink Submarine where Tony Curtis played opposite another favorite actor of mine, Cary Grant.

During his career Tony Curtis was nominated for Best Actor in 1958 for The Defiant Ones opposite Sydney Portier, who also received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe in 1968 for his role as Albert De Salvo in a very chilling movie, The Boston Strangler. The role he played as a psychopath was brilliant and demonstrated his great versatility as an actor for serious drama in addition to his outstanding performances in comedy roles.  How many of you remember his role as The Great Houdini with Janet Lee in 1953? I was 10 years old at the time and was captivated by all the stunts the real Houdini was capable of doing.   There are, and were, many great actors in Hollywood and elsewhere. For me, Tony Curtis has to be worldwide among those at the very top of the list.  

 

Full biographies of Tony Curtis’ film career can be found on the Internet if you are interested in more detail.

 

 

 

Some Fine Places to Visit

 

Two places I visited this year worthy of your time are the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California and the Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg along the California coast. These places are different venues but both are very enjoyable to see.

 

Charles M. Schultz Museum

 

Have you ever enjoyed the Peanuts comic strip and wondered about the cartoonist who could so easily translate all your feelings into a funny comment?  Then the Charles M. Schultz Museum will be worth a visit or two.  This museum used Schultz’s own comics to help chronicle his life and ideas.

 

In the museum are two scrapbooks which you can spend a lot of time reading. One scrapbook chronicles his life and family and one shows the history of his career.  It seems he wasn’t an overnight success.  This is amazing for a man who eventually won the Reuben Award for cartoonists not once, but twice.

 

Schultz once said that, “Drawing cartoons is a great way to share your ideas. A cartoonist is no different from any other type of artisthe or she wants to express him/herself. There is a joy in playing the piano or painting a wonderful watercolor. There is also a joy in communicating a thought, whether serious or funny, to another person (1996).” This museum is an enjoyable visit to the world of Schultz’s art.

 

Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge. On the north side of Santa Rosa, exit at Guerneville Road/Steele Lane. Turn left onto Steele Lane, then get into the right lane and stay there. Where the street splits, go straight ahead on West Steele Lane. After you cross Range Avenue and past the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, you’ll find the museum at the corner of West Steele Lane and Hardies Lane.

 

 

Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, California

 

 

Garden by the Sea…
A Rare Botanical Jewel on the
Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, California is one of the most beautiful, relaxing spots on this earth.  It has had many years to flourish since being founded in 1961. Financed through grants from the California Coastal Conservancy these gardens now have one of the best collections of coastal flora.

If you’ve always wanted to grow rhododendrons this is the place to visit. Here you can see almost limitless possibilities and varieties.  The rhododendrons grown here are species that are unique to Southeast Asia and the Himalyas and require a foggy coastal climate such as the one California has.  Take the time to enjoy these fabulous plants because many are rare and difficult to find in nurseries today.

One of my favorite spots is the cactus and succulent garden.  These are plants that can be grown in the dry inner valleys of California but evidently they can grow along the coast as well.  This section always makes me want to go home and plant a cactus.

A short walk will take you to the bluffs overlooking the ocean.  On a beautiful day the breeze and sunshine along the ocean can make the prairie grasses and stunted pine trees seem like the most beautiful view you’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing like a walk along the California coast, and if you keep your ears open, you can enjoy the bird sounds of over 150 bird species; more than you can spot.

I highly recommend an afternoon at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens even on a foggy dreary day.  It can lift your spirits and bring out the sunshine a little. But, above all, just enjoy yourself and soak up the ambience of a truly beautiful place on earth.

Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens yourself at:

http://www.gardenbythesea.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/home.home/index.htm 

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