Abraham Lincoln gets a Hollywood reboot -- as a vampire hunter

Abraham Lincoln is known by many labels. The Great Emancipator. The Rail Splitter. The 16th president. Honest Abe. "That guy on Mt. Rushmore." And the face of the $5 bill.

But this summer he'll be reintroduced to America with a new moniker: "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

20th Century Fox honored Honest Abe on Monday by posting online a trailer for the hotly anticipated summer movie "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

Compare that with -- yawn -- the various ways the rest of the country is honoring the 203rd anniversary of Lincoln's Feb. 12, 1809, birth. Some schools are giving students the day off; some states are shutting down all city, county and state offices; and no doubt the countless memorials and monuments erected nationwide in Lincoln's honor will see increased foot traffic all this week.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a fantasy-fueled horror-thriller that re-engineers Lincoln as a politician who, in his spare time, wields a battle ax in his bid to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers. Lincoln is also out to avenge his mother's death at the hands of such a supernatural creature.

Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln in the movie, which is based upon the book of the same name by author Seth Grahame-Smith. The fictional tome expresses itself through Lincoln's previously undiscovered journal of his quest for vengeance, a quest that takes him all the way to the White House. (Not familiar with this new history-marries-horror genre? It's also given birth to the likes of "Alice in Deadland," "George Washington Werewolf," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.")

The film is produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted," "Night Watch") and you can see both influences in the action-packed trailer, which is creating a lot of buzz online Monday. It's slated for release June 22.

Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Clint Eastwood: Super Bowl ad aimed at Americans, not politicians

Unless you were taking a Super Bowl beer break at the time, you saw the ad -- the only Super Bowl ad, it seems that mattered: Gravely voiced, squinty-eyed Clint Eastwood giving Americans the pep talk of their lives. Since then, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been howling or crowing about subliminal political messages they believe to be embedded in the Chrysler ad and what they might mean for the November election.

Well, Eastwood himself is now weighing in, telling both sides to give it a rest. There was "no spin" or selling intended in that ad, no politics, no subliminal message, no endorsements. It was simply meant to inspire Americans to do what they do best -- get back in the game, no excuses, just get back in the game.

"This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood says in the ad. "We get right back up again and, when we do, the world is gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime America, and the second half is about to begin."

Eastwood, a well-known Republican, Fox TV watcher and acquaintance of Bill O'Reilly, issued an exclusive statement to Fox's "O’Reilly Factor" producer Ron Mitchell. Here is the statement:

"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain. I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any politician at this time. Chrysler to their credit didn’t even have cars in the ad. Anything they gave me for it went for charity. If any Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it."

Now, far be it from us to argue with Dirty Harry. We'll take him at his word, especially since he seems to be inviting both sides to invoke the ad if it suits their political needs -- that's about as bipartisan as you can get in an election year.

Still, it's fascinating to see how both sides are parsing the imagery, the timing, the sponsor and, of course, Eastwood's language for hints of partisanship or even whether this is a big "Thank You" ad from Chrysler to American people, and, of course, President Obama, for the tax-funded bailout.

If you were indeed taking a beer break during the Super Bowl and missed the ad, watch it for yourself, above. And then watch the O'Reilly's segment, below, which includes interesting takes on why both sides are eager to dissect the ad's subliminal symbolism.


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-- Rene Lynch

Tim Thomas guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct, snubbing teammates?

Boston Bruins goalkeeper Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas' decision to boycott a White House ceremony to honor the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup victory has some critics accusing the team's MVP goalie of being a sore loser, and snubbing not just President Obama, but Thomas' teammates as well.

The White House ceremony saw Obama joshing with the Bruins players and honoring the team for its charitable work off the ice. But Thomas, who is conservative, cited politics for his decision to skip the White House gathering. Here's the comment that he posted on his Facebook page, and he gets all the credit for the creative capitalization:

"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

"This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"

Many are blasting the athlete for snubbing not just the president, but the teammates who helped him win the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Here is a sampling of comments:

-- "...bottom line is that he should be there with his teammates that won him a cup," said one comment on ESPN.com

-- "His TEAM was being honored for the most part. He needs to open a dictionary and look up the words TEAM, HONOR, RESPECT, GRACE, etc....BAD MOVE, Tiny Tim!" said a comment on WSJ.com.

-- "Thomas is an idiot and selfish. You attend with your TEAM. He didn't and HE became the story. Gimme a break saying its not political," chimed in a comment posted at our sister blog Fabulous Forum.

On Tuesday night, Thomas might not start as goalie against the Washington Capitals. But team management says that decision has nothing to do with the White House flap, according to ESPN.com. Club policy keeps the starting goaltender away from the media on game day.


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Photo: Bruins goalkeeper Tim Thomas. Credit: Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas snubs Stanley Cup party at White House

Tim Thomas declined to join his teammates at the White House this afternoon when President Obama honored the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Why? Obama's views are apparently so liberal that the Bruins star goalie simply can't stand to be in the same room with him.

Obama was honoring the six-time champion Bruins for their latest 2011 title as well as their charitable work off the ice. The Boston Bruins Foundation has donated more than $7 million to charities in New England.

Hosting the champions at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon, the president noted it has been a good sports run of late for Boston fans -- with big victories for the Celtics in 2008, the Red Sox in 2007 and the New England Patriots in 2005. Moreover, the Patriots play in next month's Super Bowl.

"...the Bruins, the Sox, the Celtics, now the Patriots. Enough already, Boston," joked the president. (See video above.)

Not in attendance, however, was the team's star goalie.

Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli told Sports Illustrated that he'd discussed this very scenario with Thomas in recent months and the team's star goalie was apparently always adamant: He would not attend a White House ceremony because his political views differ so dramatically from Obama's.

(Is it any wonder that the country is so politically fractured when a bunch of guys can't agree to just get together and talk sports?)

"Everyone has the right to voice their opinion," Chiarelli said. Thomas has said he plans to explain his position on his Facebook page about 6 p.m. Eastern time.

"Whatever he will say is not reflective of our organization's views or beliefs," Chiarelli told Sports Illustrated.

Reaction over at Pro Hockey Talk was mixed.

"Whatever the reason, this just makes me love TT even more. Snubbing the president... LOLz," read one comment.

"Not cool Tim, you’re an athlete not a political pundit. Just shake the President’s hand, smile for a photo and be done with it," read another.

A third commenter criticized the media for paraphrasing Thomas' reasons, and urged everyone to reserve judgment until Thomas releases his statement.

There was no reaction from the White House regarding Thomas' absence.


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-- Rene Lynch
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Wikipedia blackout: Wednesday shaping up to be productive workday

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says the site will go dark for 24 hours.

Wikipedia blackout. Reddit going dark. No ICanHazCheezburger, for crying out loud.

Looks like we're all going to have to actually do some work Wednesday, when some of the biggest players in the online world areplanning to pull the plug for 24 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills making their way through Congress.

You can keep track of all the unfolding developments at our sister blog, Technology, but here's the quick take: Advocates say the two anti-piracy bills will help protect intellectual property. Critics say those bills amount to Internet censorship.

And some power players, such as Wikipedia, are vowing to go dark to remind folks what life was like before the online encyclopedia (and how much longer homework takes without it). 

Why should you care? Because parts of your Internet are going away in a few hours, starting at midnight tonight. Some sites, such as Wikipedia, are going completely dark; others, such as Google, are planning to use their homepage and other prominent spots to highlight the dispute.

"This is an extraordinary action for our community to take," Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said in a statement Monday announcing Wikipedia's decision to go dark. "While we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."

Wikipedia is the Web's fifth-most popular online property, with 470 million monthly users.

Here's the good news, though: If you get in an especially productive Wednesday, you can pretty much slide for the rest of the week, right?


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King Center shake-up: Martin Luther King III quits as president

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, speaks in November during the opening session at the London Cyberspace Conference in London. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press


Martin Luther King Jr.: What he really said

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a gifted orator who remains one of the most oft-quoted men in modern history; his "I Have a Dream Speech," above, is a stirring call to action to this day. Such a legacy also means there's trouble when King is misquoted.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has given the National Park Service 30 days -- because "things only happen when you put a deadline on it" -- to fix a badly mangled quote etched in stone on the side of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.

The offending line reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

PHOTOS: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

The quote is problematic on a number of fronts. First, King never said that. The line is a paraphrase, which in itself might be considered ironic. After all, King was responsible for many powerful utterances that have been captured, accurately, between quote marks.

Second, the line could be interpreted to have an arrogance and boastfulness that were uncharacteristic of the civil rights leader. It also seems to have a speaking-beyond-the-grave quality, as the Washington Post put it in a report on Salazar's deadline.

Poet and author Maya Angelou was among the first to take issue with the so-called quote.

Here's what King actually said in a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta: "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."

That context, and especially the use of the word "if," completely changes the meaning, Angelou said.

King's son, Martin Luther King III, told CNN that he wants the memorial fixed: "It's going to be corrected .... that was not what Dad said."

Even President Obama has weighed in regarding the quote.

It's unclear how the line will be fixed. Will an actual quote replace it?

On Monday, the nation is pausing to remember King, who was slain while trying to put the country on a path toward racial equality. Commemorations, service projects and, of course, a Google Doodle are among the observances.

King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis. Had he lived, he would have been 83 on Sunday.


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Katharine Hepburn estate? Being bought by Obamas? Um, no

Some rumors won't die. But why anyone would believe for a nanosecond that President Obama had $18 million to buy a house that once belonged to Katharine Hepburn, of all famous people, in Connecticut, of all places, in an election year, of all years?

Such a purchase would so put Obama squarely in the camp of 1%-ers -- not a popular move at a time when the 99% are supposed to go to the polls in November to elect a president. Plus, there is no evidence he has that kind of money.

That said, such a rumor circulated last week.

It first appeared as speculation reported by longtime gossip columnist Liz Smith, who knew and wrote about Hepburn. The rumor then was followed by a report in the Hearst Newspapers — and in no time was rampant on Twitter. Neither Smith nor Hearst and certainly not the tweeters cited sources, according to the Hartford Courant.

The White House made it clear the rumor was baseless: "It's not true," was the adamant denial to reporters.

But the agent representing the Hepburn estate, when asked by the Courant whether the Obamas were buying the house, mysteriously responded only with: "We can't offer a comment on that matter."

Even Smith, who started the rumor, characterized it as "absurd" for political reasons.

Frank J. Sciame, a Manhattan-based developer and his wife, Barbara, initially bought the home for $6 million, completed a massive, multimillion-dollar renovation and put the site on the market last year. The asking price: $28 million for the house and the surrounding 3½ acres on the shore of Long Island Sound — or $18 million for a buyer not interested in the entire property.

The estate, on the Fenwick waterfront near Old Saybrook, had been in Hepburn's family; she retired there before dying in 2003 at age 96.


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Photo: Katharine Hepburn in 1992 in the garden at Fenwick, her country home in the Connecticut town of the same name. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Jim Sensenbrenner sorry for saying Michelle Obama has 'big butt'


Republican lawmaker Jim Sensenbrenner has apologized for snarky remarks made about First Lady Michelle Obama's figure, including that she has a "big butt" for someone who is always admonishing the nation to eat right and exercise.

"I regret my inappropriate comment and I have sent a personal note to the first lady apologizing," the U.S. representative from Wisconsin said in a statement released to the media.

The lawmaker appears to have made two separate comments about the first lady's derriere, both connected with his appearance at a church's Christmas bazaar in Hartford, Wis. One church member in attendance, 72-year-old retiree Ann Marsh-Meigs, said she was among those stunned to hear Sensenbrenner's negative comments about the first lady, which also extended beyond her figure.

At one point, she told Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the congressman noted that the first lady wrapped up her work at a charitable event just as the media took its leave, while Sensenbrenner's handicapped wife continued to work it.

"He then talked about how different first ladies have had different projects -- Laura Bush and literacy -- and he named two or three others. And then he said, 'And Michelle Obama, her project is obesity. And look at her big butt,'" Marsh-Meigs told Bice.

She told Bice she was the only woman sitting at the table at the time, and wasn't going to let the comment pass. "I just said, 'I just happen to think Michelle Obama is a beautiful and elegant lady, and I think she dresses beautifully.' And then he said, 'Oh, well, I think she's elegant, too.' He just started backpedaling.'"

A while later, Sensenbrenner was reportedly overheard on a cellphone seeming to brag about the confrontation with Marsh-Meigs. According to Bice, the lawmaker allegedly said that he had been at a church event "buying all their 'crap'" when a woman began complimenting the first lady and he told her '"she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.'"

Amanda Infield, a spokeswoman for Sensenbrenner, said in a statement to Bice that Sensenbrenner planned to apologize: "Mr. Sensenbrenner was referring to the first lady's healthy food initiative," the statement said in part. "He doesn't think the government should be telling Americans what to eat. While he may not agree with all of her initiatives, he plans to contact the first lady's office to apologize for his comments."

No word yet on whether Sensenbrenner will also apologize for his remark about the church bazaar.

This story is making headlines for another reason as well. Because it involves politics, journalism and hearsay, there is also a story behind the story.

Bice said he had the goods on this story days ago but "Unfortunately his editors made him sit on it (pun intended) to gather more information," says Fishbowl D.C. It offers a look at the sausage-making in a story headlined, "Sensenbrenner Big Butt Plot Thickens."

As for Michelle Obama, she is unlikely to respond to Sensenbrenner. She didn't respond publicly when conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh made fun of her body shape. And besides, she's vacationing in Hawaii with daughters Sasha and Malia.


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Photo: First lady Michelle Obama carries a bag of donated Christmas toys to a Toys for Tots event last Friday. Credit: Associated Press/Evan Vucci

President Obama says happy Hanukkah to Jews around the world

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have a message for Jews around the world: chag sameach.

That’s Hebrew for wishing someone a festive holiday, akin to a "happy holidays" greeting. The Obamas issued the following statement today in honor of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, which begins tonight at sundown:

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah around the world. 

This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people, only to discover that the oil left in their desecrated temple –- which should have been enough for only one night –- ended up lasting for eight.

It’s a timeless story of right over might and faith over doubt –- one that has given hope to Jewish people everywhere for over 2,000 years. And tonight, as families and friends come together to light the menorah, it is a story that reminds us to count our blessings, to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors, and to believe that through faith and determination, we can work together to build a brighter, better world for generations to come.

From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, chag sameach.

Chag sameach and happy Hanukkah to all!


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Photo: First Lady Michelle Obama and the president arrive at a Hanukkah celebration held at the White House. (European Pressphoto Agency /Win McNamee)

Texas approves controversial license plate featuring crosses

Calvary Hills license plate with crosses

Texas license plates are again drawing national scrutiny.

Last week, the board of the state's Department of Motor Vehicles voted to approve the "Calvary Hill" specialty license plate that reads "One State Under God" and features three crosses.

Motorists who choose to buy the plate pay a surcharge, which is divided between the state and the sponsoring group -- in the case of Calvary Hill, a Christian-based youth anti-gang ministry in the east Texas city of Nacogdoches.

The board, all appointees of Gov. Rick Perry, voted 4 to 3 to approve the plate the same week he unveiled a television ad in Iowa in which he vowed to end President Obama's "attacks on religion."

The Republican presidential hopeful has avoided commenting about the Calvary Hill plate, saying the DMV board acted alone.

Critics said the governor should condemn the plate as religious discrimination.

“Texas is getting a reputation for being unwelcoming to all faiths. The decision by the DMV simply reemphasizes that problem," Kathy Miller, president of the liberal Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based watchdog group, told The Times. "This is the danger of government playing favorites with faith: It can lead to folks having their faith questioned or diminished by government bodies, and that’s wrong.”

Miller, whose group released a statement opposing the plates, called on the DMV board to reconsider its decision, and on the state Legislature to clarify what plate designs are permissible.

“This isn’t a question of free speech; this is a question of government endorsing particular symbols, in this case religious symbols, in a way that diminishes religious freedom,” Miller said.

But Jonathan Saenz, the director of legislative affairs for the Austin offices of the conservative Liberty Institute, blogged in support of the plates, saying critics are attacking Christians.

“People have this view that Christians should be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to exercising their 1st Amendment rights,” Saenz told The Times, adding that when it comes to purchasing the plates, "This is a private decision and private speech.”

“It’s ludicrous for anyone to suggest that because someone puts a license plate on their car, that is endorsing religion,” he said, adding that the design is “about as mainstream Texan and American as you can get.”

Saenz noted that Texas has already issued several specialty license plates featuring crosses, and that in 2007, the Legislature inserted "One State Under God" into the pledge to the Texas flag.

The Calvary Hill plate is among about 100 specialty license plates the DMV board has approved since the program's inception two years ago, a spokeswoman said.

Last week, the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the state in federal court for rejecting its proposed specialty plate featuring a Confederate flag. Before the November vote on that plate, Perry spoke out against it, as did many prominent Texas officials and the NAACP.


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Image: Last week, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board voted to approve the Calvary Hill specialty license plate. Credit: MyPlates


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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