Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“The Missionary Position”– Book Review



For my final book of the summer, I read “The Missionary Position:  Mother Teresa In Theory And Practice” by Christopher Hitchens.


Mother Teresa has made a reputation for herself as someone who helps the poor – but upon closer examination, is this “saintly” woman really all she’s cracked up to be?


Around the world, Mother Teresa of Calcutta has been lauded as a great humanitarian and spokesperson for valetudinarian indigents.   But is she truly as magnanimous as The Catholic Church would have us believe?  With The Church behind you, you’ve got some powerful Public Relations machinery – at least, so author Christopher Hitchens believes.  That’s why he decided to take a closer look to see if the woman actually lived up to her legend.  It is no surprise, then, that Hitchens set about to disprove her believers and expose Mother Teresa as a total phony. 

In pursuit of the truth, the premise of Hitchens’ book poses one key question:  Should the world judge Mother Teresa’s reputation by her actions and words rather than judge her actions and words by her reputation?  Is this Albanian nun worthy of beatification and canonization?  If she is in fact going to be considered a saint, has she truly performed any miracles that have been verifiable?  All are reasonable questions, despite the fact that some would accuse the inquisitor of blasphemy.  But do people prefer to believe in the myth over the reality because the reality shatters their world view and personal beliefs?

Among Hitchens proof includes Mother Teresa’s associations, which have included Haitian dictator Duvalier (who stole millions of dollars from his country before fleeing to avoid prosecution) and disgraced financier Charles Keating (who did prison time for his role in the Savings & Loan scandal).  Despite the fact that millions were donated to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, it is difficult to trace exactly what happened to all of that money.  Since Mother Teresa believed that the ill should suffer just as Christ suffered during his crucifixion, she chose not to spend any of that money building a hospital and hiring physicians to treat and heal them. 


Christopher Hitchens is at his best in “The Missionary Position”; he was an evil genius who’s both mean and hilarious concurrently – resulting in a fully entertaining read.  The last thing you ever wanted to do was to wind up on Hitchens’ radar, because when you did, he would bombard his target with a degree of vitriol that has to be witnessed in order to be fully appreciated.  He was notorious for whittling any target down to size in a seemingly effortless manner.  This pretty much sums up Hitchens’ approach toward dealing with Mother Teresa in this book, which was considered highly controversial when originally published 20 years ago. 

Is nothing sacred?  To Christopher Hitchens, the answer was an unambiguous “no”.  Hitchens shunned the appellation “atheist” in favor of “anti-theist” – basically, he thought religion was poisonous.  It didn’t matter what the religion was, he believed they were all corrupt and suffered from their own various hypocrisies.  So, Hitchens was not about to pull any punches with a nun whom the powerful Catholic Church had beatified.  In this work, Hitchens brilliantly reveals Mother Teresa to be a manipulative fraud who believed more in palliative care for the afflicted in favor of the more costly medical treatment that might have saved lives.  In keeping with Catholic doctrine, she also opposed abortion, thus enabling poverty stricken women to remain in dire financial straits.  

To be perfectly honest, I chose this book as my final read for the summer because it was by one of my favorite writers (Hitchens) and because it was a short, quick read.  Also factoring into my decision was the fact that Mother Teresa was recently canonized.  What makes “The Missionary Position” such a pleasurable read is due in part to the author’s style and wit as well as both the depth and breadth of his research.  In “The Missionary Position”, Hitchens pulls the curtain back on Mother Teresa – this woman who exploited the sick and the poor and who said the way to make the world a better place would be by smiling more.  Surely, if Mother Teresa or her acolytes read this book, none of them would be smiling. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

“Sully”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new biographical drama “Sully”, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood.


When a veteran airline pilot saves the lives of his passengers by landing his disabled plane on The Hudson River, will he be able to rescue his reputation when investigators believe he used poor judgment?


On the afternoon of January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) courageously and safely landed a severely impaired commercial jet airliner atop New York City’s Hudson River; the lives of all 155 people on board were spared.  When both of the plane’s engines were damaged after a flock of Canadian geese were sucked into them, he determined that the jet would not be able to get to an airport in time.  As a result, his decades of experience as a pilot informed his decision to bring the airplane down on the water, thus avoiding crashing into a building, bridge or highway. 

While much of the country reasonably lauded Sully as a hero, there were some who had their suspicions about him – namely the airline’s insurance company who were charged with investigating the incident.  Based on their engineers’ analysis and running computerized simulations, it is determined that Sully made the wrong decision to land in the water because he could have easily made it to a nearby airport.  Sully, of course, disagrees with their findings, in large part due to the fact that much of it is based on merely theoretical knowledge.  

Before Sully can be permitted to return to his job, he has to attend a hearing held by The National Transportation Safety Board where they will question him about his thought process and his choices.  Having spent 42 years as a pilot and as someone whom the industry has regarded as something of an expert on safety practices and procedures, Sully is understandably outraged at having to undergo such scrutiny.  Because of this, he is now also beginning to question himself as well and becomes anxious about his standing being ruined.  Will Sully be forced to resign in disgrace or will he be vindicated?


Perhaps the greatest challenge when it comes to making a movie about a well-known event from the recent past is holding the suspense of the audience when people already know the outcome.  In “Sully”, director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki manage to do so with great aplomb and admirable craftsmanship, resulting in a film that’s worth seeing not only for its entertainment value but also for the scintillating performance of its star, Tom Hanks.  “Sully” is filmmaking at its very best, with a hero worth rooting for in the ultimate feel-good story. 

Although the movie depicts The Miracle On The Hudson multiple times, it’s not really about that so much as its aftermath.  Despite having saved the life of all passengers and crew, Sullenberger is shown haunted by the thought of potential alternative outcomes as well as being plagued with self-doubt regarding his choice. This proves to be a clever way to approach the story because it pulls back the curtain to show that not only did Sullenberger not enjoy his new-found fame, it troubled him because all of the attention now put his career under a microscope.  As a result, “Sully” is about how a man redeems his good name. 

At only an hour and a half, “Sully” is deceptively short; by the end of the movie, you would think it had been at least two hours because of the emotional roller coaster viewers have been on up to that point.  For one thing, having to watch the landing on the water multiple times – including the anxiety in the cockpit which led up to it – really takes something of a toll.  By the end, the audience can’t be blamed for feeling overwrought.  Unlike with Eastwood’s “American Sniper”, one can feel comfortable rooting for the protagonist in “Sully” – this is a man who is a hero because he saved lives rather than one who took lives. 

Sully (2016) on IMDb

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

“No One Left To Lie To”– Book Review



Recently, I read “No One Left To Lie To:  The Triangulations Of William Jefferson Clinton” by Christopher Hitchens. 


After two terms of President Bill Clinton, in what shape is the nation and the Democratic party?


The book is made up of seven chapters, plus a Preface and Afterward, as well as a Foreward that was done by presidential biographer Douglas Brinkley specifically for the twelfth edition.  The chapters, in order, are:  Triangulation; Chameleon In Black and White; The Policy Coup; A Question Of Character; Clinton’s War Crimes; Is There A Rapist In The Oval Office?; and The Shadow Of A Con Man. 

Originally published in 1999, Hitchens began working on this book as President Clinton’s second term was nearing its end, shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke and around the time of the impeachment proceedings.  Hitchens uses the book as a way to not only reflect on the many scandals that touched Clinton’s presidency but also to look at his history of repeated behavior that foretold what he would do once he became the most powerful man in the country, if not the world.

Ultimately, Hitchens concludes that Clinton has left a legacy that neither the former President nor The Democratic Party can point to with any degree of pride.  For example, Hitchens cites The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), which basically sold the homosexual community down the river, angering many of the Liberals who supported him (not to mention the gays themselves).  DOMA alone is believed to have significantly delayed marriage equality in The United States. 

Whenever scandal threatened to draw negative attention his way, “Slick Willy” would invoke tactics similar to those seen in the movie “Wag The Dog” by bombing a country for no apparent reason, whether they deserved it or not; this would distract the press and the public substantially in the hope that by the time the “war” coverage was no longer on the front page of the newspapers or the lead story of the evening news, the scandal that precipitated it would have long since died down and the source of the hubbub will be a distant memory.   


The title “No One Left To Lie To” was not an original thought by author and journalist Christopher Hitchens; it was actually borrowed from someone whom he heard on the news.  In an airport waiting to board a plane, Hitchens was watching television when David Schippers was being interviewed; Schippers was the chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee at the time Clinton’s scandals had reached their peak.  In his analysis of the besieged President, Schipper said of Clinton, “He lied to the people, he lied to the Cabinet, he lied to his top aides and now he’s lied under oath to the Congress of The United States.  There’s no one left to lie to”.   

The subtitle of the book is “The Triangulations Of William Jefferson Clinton”.  Triangulations, as explained by Hitchens, were those acts by Clinton where he made promises to the Liberals and Democrats while delivering actions to the Conservatives and Republicans for the purpose of holding on to political power.  The author poses the reasonable question, “Why is Clinton not hated by the Left and not loved by the Right?”.  The result of this was that not only did Clinton in fact hold on to his power, but also, he dragged the Democratic party further to the political Right than the party itself wanted.  The pain of such Clinton acts as NAFTA, for example, are still being felt by Americans to this day. 

This is a short book and an easy read – one you can get through rather quickly.  Especially pleasurable is Hitchens’ typically meticulous research and rapier wit.  Hitchens, an avowed Socialist, was much further to the left than Clinton himself, so this is in no way a hit-job by someone with Conservative leanings.  In the last weeks before this year’s presidential elections, it is also a vital book to read.  Even if you choose not to read the entire work, you should at the very least read its final chapter which details similar misdeeds by Clinton’s wife.  Did one teach the other or are they two people with similar talents who found each other?  In any event, it is worthwhile to check out before deciding for whom to cast your vote in November.