What You Need to Know About Stieg Larsson Before Seeing ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

Naomi Pfefferman over at the Jewish Journal has posted an interesting interview about Stieg Larsson of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” fame — just in time for the U.S. film release. (In theaters tomorrow!)

Pfefferman examines Larsson’s history fighting neo-Nazi movements in Europe and his grandfather’s time spent in a little known Swedish concentration camp.

I read Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and couldn’t put them down. An amazing investigation into modern evil – from the financial industry to far-right anti-democratic movements. With his fantastic protagonist Lisbeth Salander, Larsson flips the femme fatale script on its head. This girl uses her wicked smarts, rough-hewn moral code, and a vicious instinct for life to overcome her attackers. These novels are very violent–but it’s violence with a purpose and it takes readers into worlds where many people live and most of us would never ever want to visit.

Here’s an excerpt from Pfefferman’s article:

Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author of the international best-selling “Millennium” series, including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” died in 2004 at age 50 of a heart attack, before the publication of his crime thrillers made him one of the most famous writers of the decade. They have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, already spawned three Swedish films and, on Dec. 21, fans will no doubt be lining up for the opening of Hollywood’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, with a screenplay by the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” scribe Steven Zaillian. (The film opens in selected theaters on Dec. 20.)

But amid all this “Stieg industry,” as the late author’s life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, put it, a crucial element often has been overlooked: Just how much Larsson embedded in his novels a fundamental passion of his life — his crusade against neo-Nazism and violent far-right movements, which he viewed as anathema to Sweden and to all modern society.

“Those who see Stieg solely as an author of crime fiction have never truly known him,” Gabrielsson writes in her memoir, “There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me” (released last June by Seven Stories,and due out in paperback on Jan. 10). The “Millennium” series, she said, “is only one episode in Steig’s journey through this world, and it certainly isn’t his life’s work.”

“The trilogy is an allegory of the individual’s eternal fight for justice and morality, the values for which Stieg Larsson fought until the day he died,” Marie-Francoise Colombani wrote in the foreword to Gabrielsson’s book. … –by Naomi Pfefferman

Read Pfefferman’s whole article.

Dorothy Day: Previously Unpublished 1933 Essay ‘Our Brothers, The Jews’ Published for First Time

Dorothy Day, 1925
Dorothy Day, 1925

Fr. Charles Gallagher has discovered a previously unpublished essay by Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, which lay in a correspondence file in the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University. I’m stunned!

Dorothy Day was a lay Catholic woman with radical politics, a deeply rooted faith, and a phenomenal amount of courage. She co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in the 1930s.

The manuscript titled Our Brothers, The Jews was written in autumn 1933. It is published for the first time in the November 2009 issue of America magazine.

Five years before Adolph Hitler became “The Fuhrer,” when he was still chancellor of a coalition government and head of the Nazi party with the Nazis holding a third of the seats in the Reichstag, Dorothy Day called to account Catholics who supported and fostered Hitler’s hate-based political agenda in the U.S.

Her point of view was very unpopular at the time. So unpopular in fact that she had a hard time getting her essay published anywhere. (America magazine rejected it when she submitted it to them in 1933.) But race-baiting and Jew-hating was on the rise in the U.S. and Catholic speakers in Brooklyn, near where the Catholic Worker was based, were drawing cheering crowds when they excoriated Jews.

“She keenly foresaw the dynamic that five years later would lead to the rise of Brooklyn’s powerful Christian Front movement and its quasi-terrorist anti-Semitic plot, which was scuppered only by a spectacular set of arrests in early 1940 by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Day’s warning about how Catholics ought to deal with Hitler rested on two of the main pillars of her faith—scriptural reflection and concern for social justice. Her deep beliefs rested on an apostolic zeal that held out the possibility for all men and women to be fully integrated into the mystical body of Christ,” the editor’s note concludes.

Here’s an excerpt from Day’s essay:

For Catholics—or for anyone—to stand up in the public squares and center their hatred against Jews is to sidestep the issue before the public today. It is easier to fight the Jew than it is to fight for social justice—that is what it comes down to. One can be sure of applause. One can find a bright glow of superiority very warming on a cold night. If those same men were to fight for Catholic principles of social justice they would be shied away from by Catholics as radicals; they would be heckled by Communists as authors of confusion; they would be hurt by the uncomprehending indifference of the mass of people.

God made us all. We are all members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. We don’t want to extirpate people; we want to go after ideas. As St. Paul said, “we are not fighting flesh and blood but principalities and powers.”

Read the whole essay here.

The discovery of this Day manuscript is astonishing–for its historical resonance and insight into social activism. Day’s examination of hate politics from the perspective of her deeply rooted Catholicism provides us with clues for today. It forces the question: How do we bring scriptural reflection and the concerns of social justice to bear on the Tea-Partyers, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and others who use hate as a political strategy to gain power?

I was particularly touched by the comments of one contemporary reader of Day’s article who wrote, “I am an 80 -year- old Jew who lived thru the 30s in New York, and my hard heart is melted at seeing for the first time that we had such a beloved advocate. Is that what makes a saint?”

Indeed, Dorothy Day is on the path to official canonization in the Catholic Church (read my article on that here), but papal process is not what makes her a saint. Her prophetic stance rooted in faith and the response of an 80-year-old Jewish woman are.

How Did We Lose the Language of “We”?

Sept. 12, 2009, D.C. Tea Baggers protest
Sept. 12, 2009, D.C. Tea Baggers protest

Henry Giroux, cultural critic, author, and professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, posted a fantastic article today titled The New Illiteracy in American Life: Democracy and Politics in the Age of the Spectacle.

After Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Obama last week and the Tea Baggers march on Washington on Saturday (see my photo above of a truck parked downtown during the march), civil discourse is all the rage. When did we lose the ability to speak to each other? everyone bemoans. How do we restore civic literacy?

Giroux lays out a cogent analysis of why and how we lost the language of “we.” And the role emotionalism now plays in legitimating a political perspective (as in “I feel this true, therefore it is.”). Here’s an excerpt from his article, but read the whole thing.

Authoritarianism is often abetted by an inability of the public to grasp how questions of power, politics and history and public consciousness are mediated at the interface of private issues and public concerns. The ability to translate private problems into social considerations is fundamental to what it means to reactivate political sensibilities and conceive of ourselves as critical citizens, engaged public intellectuals and social agents. Just as an obsession with the private is at odds with a politics informed by public consciousness, it also burdens politics by stripping it of the kind of political imagination and collective hope necessary for a viable notion of meaning, hope and political agency. Civic literacy is about more than enlarging the realm of critique and affirming the social; it is also about public responsibility, the struggle over democratic public life and the importance of critical education in a Democratic society.

‘When Fortune Turns Against One of Us …”: In Defense of Liberalism

cardboardcityorigLast night, at the end of his health care speech, President Obama gave one of the great defenses of the modern Liberal political tradition — the important role that government has to play in defending liberty and providing for the common good.

He layed out a healthcare reform platform that sets in place a cushion for those times “when forture turns against one of us.” It’s an organized way of making sure that we are “there to lend a helping hand.” We do this because it is right, because it makes us better human beings, because it’s spiritually enlivening, because it is fiscally appropriate, and because it’s what we want someone to do for us and our kids if we ever need it.

In some ways, the reactionary town-hall tiffs orchestrated by a few folks on the Far-Right forced Obama to teach a national civics lesson. Sixth grade civics covers the meaning of citizenship; how citizens exercise roles, rights, responsibilities of civic duty at local, state, and national levels; how power, responsibility, and authority are distributed, shared, and limited; the purpose, organization, and function of local, state, and national government, etc.

Obama framed the end of his speech with excerpts from a letter from Ted Kennedy: “What we face,” Kennedy wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

Here’s the last section of Obama’s speech:

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed — the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town halls, in e-mails, and in letters.

I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.

In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight. And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform — “that great unfinished business of our society,” he called it — would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

I’ve thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days — the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That’s our history.

For some of Ted Kennedy’s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here — people of both parties — know that what drove him was something more. His friend Orrin Hatch — he knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient’s Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.

That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character — our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter — that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

That was true then. It remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road — to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that is not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard. I still believe — I still believe that we can act when it’s hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.

Because that’s who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Read the whole transcript here.

Green “Super Hero” Van Jones VS the Kryptonite of the Far Right

van-jones-hog-lgI’ve been tracking former Obama green czar Van Jones since his days as founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. He’s a good guy with a good vision who is very grounded in the working-class neighborhoods of California.

Jones has got the deep West Coast understanding about environmental issues plus the analysis of race and class. It’s a very needed combination.

He and Far-Right propagandist Glenn Beck have been fighting each other since the presidential campaign. With Jones’ forced resignation from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Beck struck a blow against Obama.

I’m afraid this shows that the virulent Far-Right spasm that’s rippling across the country has got the Obama crew scared and off their game. They should have backed Van Jones up and kept moving forward.

Maybe the West Wingers need to re-read The Politics of Unreason by Lipset and Raab and Richard Hofstadter’s essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” It’s time for them to get caught up on the history of Far-Right backlash and how to handle it.

Van Jones is the kind of real “super hero” we need to organize us for the fight to save the planet. But Beck and others have the kryptonite to weaken even the best of leaders, unless we surround them with a shield of truth.

Here’s an excerpt from a commentary by Francesca Rheannon on Jones’ resignation:

Green jobs champion Van Jones was dropped from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) last week after being targeted by a conservative smear campaign. Exceeded in its shamelessness only by its dementia, the right wing attack was spearheaded by Glenn Beck, a radical racist schlock jock host on Fox News.

Beck had a personal bone to pick with Van Jones, who was a senior advisor on the CEQ. After he called President Obama a “racist” who was “trying to enact a socialist agenda“, Beck’s show became the target of an effort to get advertisers to drop sponsorship. The campaign was mounted by Color of Change, an organization Jones co-founded but is no longer associated with. Fifty seven companies have already responded by pulling their ads. The roster includes some of Amerca’s best known corporations, including AT&T, Bank of America, Best Buy, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s, Procter & Gamble, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Wal-Mart.

The White House didn’t show the same courage against Beck’s mendacious spew the companies did. It failed to back up Van Jones in the days leading up to his technical resignation, nor, tellingly, did the Administration urge him to stay on after he tendered it. Jones had been one of its most visionary appointments in the effort to promote green jobs and wrest the economy out of recession.

Read  Rheannon’s whole commentary here.