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A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Posted: January 6, 2012 9:44 a.m.
Updated: January 9, 2012 5:00 a.m.

For some reason, I had a very hard time coming up with a single topic to write about this week. So, I’ll pull a “Noted and passed” and mention a little bit of a whole lotta that.

• Two recent articles in the New York Times hint at the future of travel. As the first headline notes, after 40 years of battles, it looks like the Hawaiian capital island of Oahu is going to begin construction of a $5.3 billion (yes, that’s with “B”) project on a 20-mile rail line elevated 40 feet in the air, barreling over farmland, commercial districts and parts of downtown Honolulu, and stretching from here (western farmlands) to Waikiki. The idea is to accommodate more and more commuters and tourists, the article said, to while encouraging development. There is, naturally, much opposition -- one person called it “lunatic” but with, as the Times points out, nearly 1 million people living in Honolulu, I guess they’re running out of ways to move people around. In the meantime, those $200,000 “just beyond the space barrier” trips we’ve been hearing about are set to launch this year. Virgin Galatic (Capt. Sir Richard Branson, if you please) is, according to the Times, ready to offer two-and-a-half-hour “jaunts” featuring “five minutes of weightlessness.” OK, maybe it’s not the USS Enterprise or Millennium Falcom, but it’s a start, I suppose.

• Speaking of the Enterprise, Star Trek fans learned of two treats during the past week. First, on Jan. 31, three episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” will be released on Blue Ray to tease fans to buy the entire first season later this year, remastered for the higher definition format. I watched a comparison video and the results are nothing short of amazing. Meanwhile, anticipation is rising for the sequel to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of the franchise. Paramount’s announced the addition of two British actors to the cast: Noel Clarke, who played Mickey Smith in early seasons of the relaunched Doctor Who; and Bendict Cumberbatch, the BBC’s titular Sherlock in the modern take on the classic detective. It all sounds good to me.

• I may have to go see the U.S. film version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” despite what I hear is a pretty dark and violent plot. Or perhaps the book and its sequels. The Columbia Journalism Review claims the original Millennium trilogy, by Stieg Larsson, should have been called (as a series) “The Girl Who Loved Journalists.” Apparently, according to the CJR’s Eric Alterman, the hero works for a magazine engaged in “do-good, investigative business” journalism. While it seems the story’s main character, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, in the movie), “lives and works in a journalistic environment about as far as possible from the kind of politics-as-entertainment/entertainment-as-politics that dominates American mainstream news .... if highbrow American journalists would look up from their decaf soy lattés, they might find much to cheer, or at least ponder, in Larsson’s trilogy,” writes Alterman. He says the series “is among the most nuanced and thorough fictional demonstrations ever written of the importance of journalism to a democratic society.” I’ll leave it to you to look up and find Alterman’s take on the trilogy, but after I finish George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, I’m picking up Larsson.

• Raise your hand if you remember “Roots.” OK, do you remember the book or the mini-series (and its sequel)? I remember both. One week from tonight, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable channel will premiere her reunion/interview of some of the mini-series’ cast: LeVar Burton, Cicely Tyson, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Louis Gossett Jr. and Ben Vereen. The 1977 mini-series is celebrating its 35th anniversary, while Alex Haley’s novel reached that milestone last year. Although Haley ended up acknowledging (and paying for) using others’ material in the book and there were doubts that the novel was really a fictionalized family history, I happen to believe “Roots” remains as an important work, if only for one reason: it changed our perspective of African-American struggles and triumphs, making them more real to those of us who had not experienced them. For that, Winfrey should be credited for getting the cast back together for what was one of the best long-form television events in the media’s history.

• As I said to someone recently, extremism can be found in anywhere. We, in America, tend to think about extremism these days in terms of Islamic extremism that leads to terrorism. That’s not the only kind. In this country, we have the hard right- and left-wing extremism that has led to one of the most divisive I’ve ever experienced. But what to make of Israel at the moment? If you haven’t heard about this yet, ultra-Orthodox Jews have suddenly come to the forefront in rather alarming ways. Haredim, as they are known, have spat on an 8-year-old girl and called her a prostitute despite her wearing long sleeves and a skirt in what we would consider a modest style. Haredim believe in the separation of the sexes -- to the point where a huge row blew up over a uniformed female Isreali Defense Force officer who insisted on sitting in the front of a bus and was called a shiksa and slut for doing so. Sound familiar? Here’s hoping such extremism is somehow curbed. I’m a huge believer in the freedom to practice your faith -- or not -- as you see fit. What I don’t believe in is terrorizing or ostracizing others because they don’t believe as you do.

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