Saturday, April 28, 2007
EX-METS EMPLOYEE ADMITS TO SUPPLYING MAJOR LEAGUERS
By Elliott Almond
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched: 04/28/2007 01:29:57 AM PDT
Major League Baseball might be facing another explosive drug controversy: A former New York Mets employee pleaded guilty Friday in San Francisco federal court to dealing steroids to dozens of players for a decade.
Though the players weren't identified Friday, the case is certain to leave fans wondering what names will emerge.
As part of his plea agreement, Kirk J. Radomski will cooperate with authorities, including the baseball steroid investigation led by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
"We look forward to working together with federal law enforcement toward our shared goal," Mitchell said in a prepared statement.
Until now, the steroid debate has largely focused on Giants left fielder Barry Bonds. But, according to Travis Tygart, general counsel for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the new case "exposes a dark corner of the clubhouse. A lot of players have good reason to be pretty nervous."
According to an unsealed search warrant affidavit obtained by the Mercury News, the recipients in the Radomski case included one unnamed player involved in the Balco Laboratories scandal - a group that includes Bonds, the Detroit Tigers' Gary Sheffield and the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi. The names of the players who received drugs were blacked out in the affidavit.
"This individual was a major dealer of anabolic steroids, including human growth hormones, whose clientele was focused almost exclusively on Major League Baseball
players," assistant U.S. attorney Matt Parrella, the lead prosecutor, said outside the court of Radomski.
Though the Balco case revealed drug use in baseball, football and track, this marks the first time someone who has been employed by a major league team has admitted supplying players with steroids. It also underscores the fact that concerns about drug use in baseball go beyond Bonds, who is 15 home runs shy of becoming the career record-holder.
Radomski, 37, a former batboy who became a clubhouse assistant, faces a 25-year sentence and a $500,000 fine for distributing steroids and laundering money from drug sales. He could get a reduced sentence for his cooperation, which might include testifying in front of a grand jury - something Bonds' personal trainer, convicted drug dealer Greg Anderson, has refused to do in the Balco case.
Radomski, of New York, worked for the Mets from 1985 to 1995, before he is accused of supplying athletes with drugs. He could be crucial to authorities' efforts to clean up baseball. According to the affidavit, Radomski told an FBI informant that he could write a steroids tell-all book that would be more significant than Jose Canseco's 2005 expose` about drug use in baseball.
The warrant listed 23 bank deposits to Radomski's account over a two-year period starting in 2003 totaling $31,000 by individuals associated with Major League Baseball. Radomski, who described himself in court as a personal trainer, dealt a variety of drugs, including human growth hormone, the steroid deca-durabolin and testosterone, according to court records.
Radomski's involvement surprised Howard Johnson, an infielder on the Mets' 1986 World Series team.
"That would be a shock," he told the New York Daily News. "I wasn't aware of that. He was a nice kid."
Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said in a statement: "We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the guilty plea. The conduct in question is diametrically opposed to the values and standards of the Mets organization and our owners."
The case also shows that federal investigators are continuing their work to uncover corruption in sports despite changes at the U.S. Attorney's office. The Balco investigation began in 2002 with U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan, who was among those fired in the Bush administration's recent removal of federal prosecutors.
The Radomski case is an offshoot of Balco. Lead Balco investigator Jeff Novitzky of the San Jose office of the Internal Revenue Service took over the case in 2005 after receiving a tip from the FBI. Like Balco, it fell under the IRS's jurisdiction because of the money laundering charge.
The Balco case isn't over, however, as a San Francisco grand jury continues to investigate Bonds. The government believes he intentionally lied under oath in 2003 when he told another grand jury he didn't knowingly take steroids. Bonds said he took substances he believed to be flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm; authorities say those products were steroids known as "the clear" and "the cream."
Since last year, the Mitchell commission has tried to interview players, coaches, officials and others associated with baseball. Commissioner Bug Selig, who appointed Mitchell to run the probe, said this month he hasn't given the commission a deadline to complete its report.
But with Radomski expected to name players, the report could turn out to be an indictment against the league.
Baseball officials didn't seem worried Friday.
"We urge all personnel connected with Major League Baseball to come forward with whatever information they may have that will assist Senator Mitchell in his investigation," MLB President Bob DuPuy said in a statement.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
BERGEN COUNTY RECORD
There are a million reasons for the Yankees to be panicking today, but their greatest trauma is the lack of movement on Mariano Rivera's cut-fastball. The fact that he was unable to survive a mop-up assignment in an 11-4 loss to the Red Sox on Friday means the Yankees are now, officially, in crisis.
This isn't about a losing streak (seven) or the dismal standings (last place, 6½ games out). It's about the Red Sox squaring up on Rivera for the second time in a week, which occurred on a night when Andy Pettitte was knocked out in the fifth inning.
That makes it 19 of 21 games the Yankees have needed four or more pitchers. The rate of burnout is almost beyond comprehension. When Joe Torre says, "we need to pitch better" it's more than a declaration for reporters. It's an open plea to his starting rotation.
Mostly, though, the Yankees are groping for answers about Rivera. He allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach base, charged with four runs in just one-third of an inning, raising his ERA to 12.15. In what already had been an unthinkable night for the Bombers, Rivera's collapse was almost too much for Torre to comprehend.
The manager wants to believe Rivera was simply too strong after four days' rest. That may or may not be true, but something's robbed the life from Rivera's cutter. There he was, staring at the ground as Torre took the ball out of the closer's hand. Rivera was too dazed to be angry. The Yankees were just as woozy. The ramifications were as subtle as a fist to the face: if Rivera is no longer a late-inning guarantee, who's to say the Yankee dynasty isn't in irreversible decline?
It's a crazy question, but there's legitimate reason for doubt. Rivera had rest, maybe too much. But his mechanics, historically perfect, were visibly out of sync. The front shoulder flew open, the right arm dragged behind and the magical, last-second darting action on his cutter was gone.
The final blow was the walk to Dustin Pedroia, the Sox' No. 9 hitter who was batting .189. When it was obvious that Rivera couldn't prevail over Boston's worst hitter, Torre mercifully decided on a change.
Rivera's suddenly wobbly status is one more hole in a landscape full of question marks: there's no production at first base, no help on the bench, a bullpen close to ruin. One major league executive nailed the scouting report when he said, "I wouldn't call this one of the better Yankee teams of the last few years."
In any other year, Torre might've already been replaced in a typical George Steinbrenner coup. At the very least, The Boss would've humiliated his manager by firing a hitting instructor or pitching coach. But people who are close to Steinbrenner say he's not healthy or alert enough to take down Torre. One team source says, "[Steinbrenner's] ratio of good days to bad days is getting worse all the time."
If Steinbrenner's medical condition is indeed deteriorating, it's hard to imagine Torre being replaced before the end of the 2007 season. That responsibility would be left to general manager Brian Cashman, who, until now, has been the manager's closest ally in the organization.
Indeed, many of the Yankees' early problems can be attributed to Cashman's personnel decisions, not necessarily Torre's strategy choices. It was the GM, for example, who signed Kei Igawa, awarding him $20 million before anyone knew the left-hander wasn't good enough to stay in the rotation.
Cashman is the one who believed in Carl Pavano, refusing to trade him when he had a chance in spring training. The right-hander is again on the disabled list, having practically awarded himself a leave of absence because of a mysterious "grabbing" sensation in his right forearm.
Just how removed is Pavano from the Yankees' day-to-day operation? Torre said Friday "there's no timetable" for his return, which is to say, he's become an invisible man.
Even in their darkest moments, though, the Yankees have counted on a few axioms. A ninth-inning save is always safe in Rivera's hands. Derek Jeter would always hit in the clutch. Chien-Ming Wang would always get ground balls. And Pettitte could deliver the Yankees from the clutches of any losing streak.
That was the goal when Pettitte took the mound Friday night. His big-game resume, his calm demeanor and his familiarity with Bronx pressure were exactly the ingredients the Yankees thought would stop the Red Sox cold.
But it didn't happen quite like that. In fact, Pettitte was betrayed by a lack of control, leading to the unthinkable – he was knocked out in the fifth inning, forcing the overworked Yankee bullpen into action one more time.
For the first time all year, the Yankees had lost their invincibility, completely and unconditionally. Not even Pettitte could save them now. He became one of a long list of starters who couldn't get even 18 outs; the average of 4.9 innings per appearance from Yankee starters was already the worst in the majors.
So there was Pettitte, getting roughed up in a three-run fifth, squandering what'd been a 4-2 lead, taking the long, lonely walk back to the dugout. The Stadium crowd gave the lefthander a nice hand, but there was no mistaking the sense of shock in the ballpark.
If Pettitte was unable to reverse the Yankees' downward spiral, then who could? The question alone was enough to create panic. No one wants to utter that word – panic -- but whatever the Yankees call it, it's been a horrible month in the Bronx.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Apr 24, 2007
Tolkien's Christianity and the pagan tragedy
The Children of Hurin, by J R R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
Reviewed by Spengler
Asia Times Online
J R R Tolkien was the most Christian of 20th-century writers, not because he produced Christian allegory and apologetics like his friend C S Lewis, but because he uniquely portrayed the tragic nature of what Christianity replaced. Thanks to the diligence of his son Christopher, who reconstructed the present volume from several manuscripts, we have before us a treasure that sheds light on the greater purpose of his The Lord of the Rings.
In The Children of Hurin, a tragedy set some 6,000 years before the tales recounted in The Lord of the Rings, we see clearly why it was that Tolkien sought to give the English-speaking peoples a new pre-Christian mythology. It is a commonplace of Tolkien scholarship that the writer, the leading Anglo-Saxon scholar of his generation, sought to restore to the English their lost mythology. In this respect the standard critical sources (for example Edmund Wainwright) mistake Tolkien's profoundly Christian motive. In place of the heroes Siegfried and Beowulf, the exemplars of German and Anglo-Saxon pagan myth, we have the accursed warrior Turin, whose pride of blood and loyalty to tribe leave him vulnerable to manipulation by the forces of evil.
Tolkien's popular Ring trilogy, I have attempted to show, sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner's operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism.  With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien's prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan's tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life's work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West.
It is too simple to consider Tolkien's protagonist Turin as a conflation of Siegfried and Beowulf, but the defining moments in Turin's bitter life refer clearly to the older myths, with a crucial difference: the same qualities that make Siegfried and Beowulf exemplars to the pagans instead make Turin a victim of dark forces, and a menace to all who love him. Tolkien was the anti-Wagner, and Turin is the anti-Siegfried, the anti-Beowulf. Tolkien reconstructed a mythology for the English not (as Wainwright and other suggest) because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity.
"Alone among 20th-century novelists, J R R Tolkien concerned himself with the mortality not of individuals but of peoples. The young soldier-scholar of World War I viewed the uncertain fate of European nations through the mirror of the Dark Ages, when the life of small peoples hung by a thread," I wrote in an earlier essay.  Christianity demands of the Gentile that he reject his sinful flesh and be reborn into Israel; only through a new birth can the Gentile escape the death of his own body as well as the death of his hopes in the inevitable extinction of his people.
Tolkien is a writer of greater theological depth than his Oxford colleague C S Lewis, in my judgment. Lewis is a felicitous writer and a diligent apologist, but mere allegory along the lines of the Narnia series can do no more than restate Christian doctrine; it cannot really expand our experience of it. Tolkien takes us to the dark frontier of a world that is not yet Christian, and therefore is tragic, but has the capacity to become Christian. It is the world of the Dark Ages, in which barbarians first encounter the light. It is not fantasy, but rather a distillation of the spiritual history of the West. Whereas C S Lewis tries to make us comfortable in what we already believe by dressing up the story as a children's masquerade, Tolkien makes us profoundly uncomfortable. Our people, our culture, our language, our toehold upon this shifting and uncertain Earth are no more secure than those of a thousand extinct tribes of the Dark Ages; and a greater hope than that of the work of our hands and the hone of our swords must avail us.
Tolkien set The Children of Hurin in a doomed world menaced by a fallen angel of sorts, the Lucifer-like Morgoth. An alliance of mortal men and immortal Elves attacks Morgoth's stronghold but is crushed and dispersed; only a few hidden Elvish strongholds remain free. Hurin is the lord of a small land and a leader of the failed alliance against Morgoth. He is taken prisoner and his country overrun and occupied, his people reduced to slavery. His young son Turin escapes and is adopted by the Elven-king of the secret city of Gondolin. Rather than remain with the Elves and await the divine intervention of Elvish prophecy that ultimately will destroy Morgoth, Turin grows to impetuous manhood and sets out to seek revenge or death.
Morgoth has cursed Turin's family, and the curse succeeds not by force of magic, but through Turin's own stubbornness and resentment. With the occupation of his homeland and the destruction of his clan, Turin would rather perish in a futile gesture of resistance than master his own hatred. Through his agents, Morgoth entraps Turin in a web of lies that prevent him from reuniting with his family except under sordid circumstances. It is Turin's own flaws, not Morgoth's magic, that make him susceptible to these traps.
In Tolkien's mythology the Valar are gods of whom Morgoth was a renegade. It is through their aid that Morgoth's fortress of Thangorodrim one day will be thrown down. An Elvish lord attempts to convince Turin that thoughtless pursuit of warfare will not succeed: "Petty victories will prove profitless at the last ... for thus Morgoth learns where the boldest of his enemies are to be found, and gathers strength great enough to destroy them ... Only in secrecy lies hope of survival. Until the Valar come."
To this Turin rejoins: "The Valar! They have forsaken you, and they hold Men in scorn. What use to look westward across the endless Sea to a dying sunset in the West? There is but one Vala with whom we have to do, and that is Morgoth; and if in the end we cannot overcome him, at least we can hurt him and hinder him ... Though mortal Men have little life beside the span of the Elves, they would rather spend it in battle than fly or submit." His lack of faith makes him desperate, and his acts of heroic desperation have terrible consequences.
In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien returned to this theme of faith in a higher power rather than in one's own force of arms. It is not the valor of the small remnant of free peoples that overcomes Sauron (Morgoth's successor) but rather the improbable mission of the Ringbearer that will overcome the Darkness that threatens Middle-earth.
After the exchange cited above, Turin's arrogance causes the destruction of the Elvish stronghold of Nargothrond by the dragon Glaurung. Once again a fugitive, Turin becomes the leader of a band of woodmen. When Glaurung reappears to menace them, he sets out to kill the dragon and save his people, in precise emulation of Beowulf's single combat with the barrow-dwelling dragon. Like Beowulf, Turin slays the dragon, and like Siegfried, he is bathed in the dragon's blood when he stands upon the dying beast to gloat.
Siegfried's bath in dragon's blood, however, makes him invulnerable to weapons (except for the one spot on his back where a treacherous spear-thrust will kill him). Turin, by contrast, is immobilized by the venomous blood, long enough for a horrible event to occur; this will provoke him to kill himself with his own blade. Morgoth's vengeance is complete at the conclusion of this dark and sad tale.
What made Beowulf a great man to the anonymous Saxon bard who composed the only major Old English work of the 9th century was his willingness to defend his people against monsters. His death in single combat with the dragon might mean the destruction of his people, as the Old Woman's lament at his pyre makes clear. Turin saves his little band by destroying the dragon, but only after he has allowed the dragon to destroy a great Elven city. Gloating over his victim leads to his own destruction.
Siegfried's fearlessness before his dragon is rewarded in the form of invincibility; Turin's fearlessness is born of despair and therefore expresses self-destructiveness. It is punished by an awful chain of events that I will leave readers of the book to discover for themselves.
It is useful to contrast Tolkien's purpose to that of T S Eliot, too often held up as the exemplary Christian poet of the 20th century. Eliot sifted through the detritus of the pagan past in the cellars of Christianity.  As he wrote in his notes to The Waste Land (1922), "To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough" of James Frazer. Frazer attempts to show that all Christian imagery and ritual derive from pagan myth, for example, the commonplace idea of a sacrificed god. His conclusions have been rejected by later scholars, but the relevant point regarding Eliot is that he embraced the pagan antecedents of Christianity as he thought it was (even though it turned out to be something else than he thought).
Tolkien knew far more about the pagan past than Eliot; as the great philologist of his time, he produced the first readable translation of "Beowulf", as well as seminal editions of the most important Anglo-Saxon classics. He loved the material more than any man living, but unlike the dilettantish Eliot, the authority Tolkien sacrificed his love for the Anglo-Saxon sources, and chose to transform the modern memory of it by creating a variant of it more congenial to Christianity.
That is the miracle of The Children of Hurin. Not the least of Tolkien's legacy is a son with the devotion and craft to reconstruct the projects of his father's youth. We owe Christopher Tolkien a great debt of gratitude for putting this work before us. Readers who enjoyed The Lord of the Rings as a work of fantasy (which it most surely is not) will find the present volume tough going, for it comes out of the world of Anglo-Saxon epic. As the editor reports, Tolkien originally cast it as poem in alliterative verse in the Anglo-Saxon fashion. But for readers who want to understand better what Tolkien was driving at, this work of the writer's youth will provide insight, as well as a few tranquil hours of respite from the noise and clutter of the world.
The Children of Hurin, by J R R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2007. ISBN 10:0618894640. Price US$26, 320 pages.
1. The 'Ring' and the remnants of the West, January 11, 2003.
2. Tolkien's Ring: When immortality is not enough, January 5, 2004.
3. See The Dead Peoples Society, February 15, 2005.
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Justice Anthony Kennedy
Published 4/20/2007 12:08:46 AM
The American Spectator
Reading Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion in the partial birth abortion decision, just handed down, can be tough going even for a recovering lawyer like me. While he came out on the right side, i.e., banning the horrific practice, he justified his majority opinion through a close reading of and maneuvering through the labyrinth of the jurisprudence established in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
Contrast Kennedy's majority opinion with the short, concise concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas (Justice Scalia concurring). While joining the Supreme Court's opinion "because it accurately applies current jurisprudence," Thomas hastens "to reiterate my view that the Court's abortion jurisprudence [citations omitted] has no basis in the Constitution." Period. End of story. Unfortunately, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were no-shows on this concurring opinion.
Notwithstanding that Justice Kennedy's opinion remained firmly grounded in the deformities of Roe and its progeny, the man deserves credit for an excruciating, factual, and grueling statement of the underlying facts of the case, specifically the horror which is abortion and partial birth abortion. He does not mince words.Kennedy cites a 1992 presentation by a Dr. Martin Haskell describing the method of "intact D&E" ("dilation and evacuation"):
The surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull or into the foramen magnum. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening.
The surgeon removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents.
After quoting this clinical description, Justice Kennedy goes on to relate the eyewitness testimony of a nurse who witnessed the same method performed on a 26-and-a-half-week fetus:
The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.
Kennedy notes that Dr. Haskell's approach is not the only method of "killing" (Kennedy's word) the fetus once its head lodges in the cervix. The procedures have evolved. He recites the gruesome litany of alternative ways of accomplishing the same end. Again, relying on Haskell, Kennedy says:
Another doctor, for example, squeezes the skull after it has been pierced "so that enough brain tissue exudes to allow the head to pass through." [citations omitted] Still other physicians reach into the cervix with their forceps and crush the fetus' skull. [citation omitted] Others continue to pull the fetus out of the woman until it disarticulates at the neck, in effect decapitating it. These doctors then grasp the head with forceps, crush it, and remove it. [citations omitted]
Kennedy provides much more detail, but I will spare you, gentle reader, from the gory details. You get the idea.
Previously, on this website, I have written on the way language is distorted to obscure the reality of partial birth abortion. Such obfuscation permeates all of federal jurisprudence relative to the matter of abortion. Generally.
Justice Kennedy defers to those precedents more than I would wish. Nevertheless, in this, his latest opinion, he is scrupulous in setting out the complete record documenting the existential realities of partial birth abortion. It remains to be seen if he will conform his jurisprudence to real life. But for now, at least, Justice Kennedy deserves our praise for his landmark decision and his unflinching description of what is at stake.
This decision will not make a significant dent in reducing the 1.3 million abortions performed each year in the United States, 85 to 90 percent of which occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. But drawing a line between abortion and something very close to infanticide, at almost the very moment of birth, is no small thing. The forces promoting unlimited abortion, on demand, for all nine months of pregnancy, will have to content themselves with that dark achievement for the time being.
G. Tracy Mehan, III, is an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.
Jack Valenti speaks on the phone in his Washington office in 2004.
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
The New York Times
Published: April 27, 2007
Jack Valenti, who became a confidant of President Lyndon B. Johnson and then a Hollywood institution, leading the Motion Picture Association of America and devising a voluntary film-rating system that gave new meaning to letters like G, R and X, died yesterday at his home in Washington. He was 85.
Jack Valenti The cause was complications of a recent stroke, his family said. He had been hospitalized in Baltimore in March.
For 38 years, Mr. Valenti was the public face of the movie and television production industry and one of its fiercest advocates. He lobbied Congress to protect filmmakers’ intellectual property from piracy and to ease trade barriers overseas. And he fended off lawmakers’ recurring campaigns to curb violence and sex on the screen, arguing for free expression. He devised the film-rating system precisely to avoid censorship by local review boards.
He also remained a starry-eyed fan, cherishing his friendships with Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier and Frank Sinatra, falling speechless before Sophia Loren and savoring his seconds in the spotlight as a regular presenter at the Academy Awards.
As a Houston political consultant, he was in the motorcade when President John F. Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963, and he watched as Johnson was sworn in beside Jacqueline Kennedy aboard Air Force One.
Mr. Valenti soon became known, and for a time mocked, for his unfailing loyalty to Johnson, if not outright idolatry of him. “I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently because Lyndon Johnson is my president,” he once said in Boston, inviting guffaws nationwide.
Even after leaving a senior post at the White House in 1966, Mr. Valenti remained at Johnson’s service, secretly arranging the president’s surprise detour to the Vatican to meet with Pope Paul VI on the way back from Vietnam in December 1967.
His fidelity was lifelong. Mr. Valenti, a bantam 5-foot-7 who forever looked up to the towering Johnson, picked fights with critical Johnson biographers like Robert Caro and Robert Dallek.
Mr. Valenti’s forthcoming memoir, “This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House, and Hollywood” (Crown), does as much to polish Johnson’s legacy as his own. He was to have begun a six-city tour on June 5 to promote the book.
In 1966 Mr. Valenti took his talents for personal politicking — and lionizing his bosses — to Hollywood, heeding the request of Lew Wasserman and Arthur Krim, then chairmen of MCA/Universal and United Artists respectively, that he take over the Motion Picture Association. “If Hollywood is Mount Olympus,” Mr. Valenti once said of his new liege, “Lew Wasserman is Zeus.” He became the organization’s third president.
At the time, Hollywood was still officially operating under the Hays Production Code, the industry’s draconian and increasingly outmoded self-censoring rules that flatly barred nudity, profanity, miscegenation and even childbirth scenes from being depicted on film.
Mr. Valenti was soon confronted with two films in 1966 that convinced him that the code had become obsolete. He dealt with one, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” by negotiating a compromise in which three out of four particular vulgarisms were cut.
Later that year, M.G.M. released Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blowup” even though that film, showing brief scenes of nudity, lacked Production Code approval. Sensing that other films would also begin flouting the code and in turn create a vacuum into which local politicians and censorship boards might rush, Mr. Valenti decided to act.
“I knew I had to move swiftly, and I did,” he later recalled. “I was determined to free the screen from anything like the Hays Code. But I also emphasized that freedom demanded responsibility.”
So by late 1968 he persuaded the national theater-owners association to buy into a system of voluntary ratings, based on an ascending scale of adult content, that would be enforced at the box office: G, M (later PG), R and X.
The system was not without flaws and detractors, and it required some tinkering. In 1984, after receiving complaints about frightening parts of PG-rated movies (“parental guidance suggested”) like “Gremlins,” the association added the PG-13 category (“parents strongly cautioned”). Though the other ratings were trademarked, the X was not, and pornographers quickly co-opted it. In 1990 the association replaced the X with NC-17 (no one 17 and under admitted), hoping it would be embraced, but distributors have mostly spurned it for commercial reasons, leaving many filmmakers to make wrenching cuts to adult-themed films in pursuit of an R rating.
Mr. Valenti always rebutted critics by citing an annual survey, paid for by the association, showing that parents of young children strongly believed that the ratings were useful.
In 1983, at the height of the Reagan administration’s deregulation efforts, Mr. Valenti led a fight to preserve federal rules intended to protect television producers and studios from the market power of the three major networks. The Federal Communications Commission was considering repealing the rules and allowing the networks to produce programs, thus giving them vertical control over production, distribution and exhibition.
In his memoir, he said he asked Mr. Wasserman, who had once been Ronald Reagan’s agent, and Charlton Heston to urge the president to oppose the repeal. The White House did just that, and the federal rules remained in place until 1995, by which time mergers between studios and networks had rendered them unnecessary.
In Mr. Valenti’s last decade at the association, it became consumed with fighting digital piracy. But one of his bolder strokes, in 2003, blew up in his face. He had learned that half the films being sent to industry people on DVD, known as screeners, for awards campaigns were turning up for sale illegally around the world. So he banned screeners altogether. A storm of protest ensued — loudest of all from the major studios’ own specialty divisions, which rely heavily on awards attention to publicize their films — and the policy was overturned by a federal judge, who said it ran afoul of antitrust laws.
Jack Joseph Valenti was born in Houston on Sept. 5, 1921, to the son and daughter of Italian immigrants from Sicily. He traced his passion for politics to the day his father, a clerk for the city government, took him to a political rally, where the 10-year-old Jack was invited to give his first speech, from a flatbed truck, for the Harris County sheriff. “I never recovered from it,” Mr. Valenti wrote.
As a youth he worked for a chain of second-run movie theaters in downtown Houston, roaming the city putting up posters in storefront windows in exchange for free passes. Hired as an office boy at the Humble Oil Company (an antecedent to ExxonMobil), he attended the University of Houston at night but still managed to be elected class president his sophomore year.
A voracious reader, he devoured everything by Macaulay, Churchill and Gibbon, and his speaking and writing style would mix his native twang with the rhetorical flourishes of his heroes in a brew of cliché, cornpone, compelling phrases and clunkers that one critic called “a kind of Texas baroque.”
In 1982 Mr. Valenti published a guide to oratory, “Speak Up With Confidence,” which was revised and reissued in 2002. He also wrote “The Bitter Taste of Glory,” a book of essays (World, 1971); “A Very Human President” (W. W. Norton, 1975), about Johnson; and a political novel, “Protect and Defend” (Doubleday, 1992), edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
As an Army B-25 pilot in World War II — the Naval air corps had rejected him because of a heart murmur — he flew 51 missions over Italy, but never piloted a plane again after returning his flak-battered bomber to the United States. He went to Harvard Business School on the G.I. bill, then returned to Humble Oil’s advertising department, where he helped its Texas gas stations jump from fifth to first in sales through a “cleanest restrooms” campaign. He co-founded an advertising agency in 1952, with a rival oil company, Conoco, as its first client. He later added Representative Albert Thomas, a Johnson ally, as a client.
It was in 1956 that he met Senator Johnson at a gathering of young Houston Democrats. As a sideline, Mr. Valenti had begun writing a weekly column in The Houston Post, and he rhapsodized there about the senator’s “strength, unbending as a mountain crag, tough as a jungle fighter.” Their friendship grew, and when Johnson became Kennedy’s running mate, he had Mr. Valenti run the ticket’s campaign in Texas. Mr. Valenti helped stage Kennedy’s televised meeting on Sept. 12, 1960, with a group of Protestant Houston ministers, an event that was instrumental in helping him overcome anti-Catholic bias.
Mr. Valenti cemented his ties to Johnson in 1962 when he married Mary Margaret Wiley, a Johnson secretary. The couple accompanied Johnson to Rome for the funeral of Pope John XXIII, and Mr. Valenti was put in charge of the Houston leg of Kennedy’s 1963 swing through Texas. After a dinner there on Nov. 21, Johnson asked Mr. Valenti to fly on Air Force Two the next day. Moments after learning Kennedy was dead, Mr. Valenti was summoned to Air Force One, where he was hired on the spot as a special assistant.
In his memoir he recalled helping rustle up votes for Johnson’s monumental Great Society legislation; witnessing Johnson’s private browbeating of Gov. George Wallace of Alabama after the attacks on civil-rights marchers in Selma; and being accused (unfairly, he maintained) by Robert F. Kennedy of leaking to the news media stories about Kennedy’s chances of being made Johnson’s 1964 running mate.
But Mr. Valenti may have rendered his most vital White House service by being a source of companionship, public praise and private candor, Mr. Dallek said; before leaving the White House, he warned Johnson how much the war was hurting his credibility with voters. Mr. Valenti spent more time socially with the president than any other aide, often bringing along his wife and their toddler daughter, Courtenay Lynda, a Johnson favorite.
In addition to his wife of 45 years and his daughter, now an executive vice president for production at Warner Brothers Pictures, Mr. Valenti is survived by a son, John Lyndon, of Los Angeles, the chief executive of icreate.com, an informational service for the film industry; another daughter, Alexandra Alice, a photographer and video director in Austin, Tex.; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Valenti, who was four days shy of 83 when he stepped down from the motion picture association, continued to come to work, nattily dressed, long afterward. “Retirement to me is a synonym for decay,” he wrote in his memoir. “The idea of just knocking about, playing golf or whatever, is so unattractive to me that I would rather be nibbled to death by ducks. So long as I am doing what I choose to do and love to do, work is not work but total fun.”
The Weekly Standard
04/27/2007 12:00:00 AM
BECAUSE OF AND in spite of Hollywood films like The African Queen and television shows like Tarzan, tropical Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Zambezi is terra incognito for most Americans. Some cling to fragments of the "noble savage" myth advanced by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that in an idyllic "state of nature" uncorrupted by civilization, people are innocent, happy, and brave.
Others accept the opposing myth promulgated by Thomas Hobbs that in a "State of Nature," there are "no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worse of all, persistent fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Neither myth reflects the real tropical Africa that I saw in the 1960s while there researching three books on U.S. policy. Almost everywhere I saw poverty, corruption, and a retreat from the rudimentary rule of law established by the British and French colonial powers.
As Kempton Makamure, a political opponent of President Mugabe, wrote recently in Zimbabwe's Financial Gazette, "It is entirely possible that conflicts within independent states in Africa have caused more privation, deaths and stalled development than the colonial rule they have replaced."
President Kennedy and some of his Africa hands were more optimistic. Naive might be a better word. They saw themselves as heralds of freedom. Unduly critical of the European colonists, they seemed unaware that the British, for example, had ended slavery 79 years before Lincoln signed the Emaciation Proclamation. Perhaps the greatest flaw in the official U.S. perception was the failure to recognize that long before the Europeans had arrived, Africa had seethed with tribal wars and indigenous slavery. The Western traffic in human beings would not have been possible without the active participation of African slavers eager to sell Africans of other tribes to their Western counterparts. As a poignant African proverb put it, "The tears of a stranger are only water."
Back to Hobbs. If it took a thousand years for the barbarian tribes of Europe to become democratic and prosperous states, how long will it take African tribes that missed the Renaissance, Reformation, Magna Carta, and Industrial Revolution?
The British, French, and Portuguese colonialists--and Christian missionaries--introduced Western medicine, schools, and rudimentary institutions for governing by the rule of law. Despite these benefits and postcolonial aid efforts, economic development and democracy faced formidable obstacles.
When the colonial powers withdrew, tribal conflict again erupted and in some places indigenous slavery reappeared. Since 1955, bloody wars in Nigeria, Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and elsewhere killed as many as five million people and produced more than six million refugees. Indigenous slavery, stamped out by the colonial powers, had returned in some places, notably in Sudan.
And brutal demagogues like Mobutu in the Congo, Adi Amin in Uganda, and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe have ravaged their countries to enjoy the fruits of unbridled power.
From the onset of postcolonial Africa, Rhodesia showed greater promise than any other country. An exquisitely beautiful landlocked territory slightly larger than Montana, it was conquered by explorer-entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes in 1897 and eventually established as a self-governing British colony. Determined to make the country safe and prosperous, Rhoades established the world's first national park there, insisting that it be open to all races.
Few Americans are aware that during the Second World War, Rhodesia, like other African colonies, provided troops to the Allied effort. Rhodesian units served in Europe, North Africa, and Burma.
Rhodesia was also misunderstood in the 1960s because Western perceptions were filtered through a prism of false comparisons with the American racial experience. Seen as a state struggling for independence, or as another stage for the conflict between white and black, it was neither.
On one of several visits to Rhodesia in the mid-1960s, I met with Prime Minister Ian Smith, a statesmen and a farmer, who argued that his country was already independent. He had a point, but with the Cold War raging, both Moscow and Washington pushed for "self-government," though they differed on how to achieve it. Smith felt that Washington wanted him "to concede to the men with guns rather than negotiate with the men with votes," as CBS reporter Morley Safer put it at the time.
After seven years of turbulence, Soviet-backed Mugabe emerged as president of a prosperous country, rich in arable land and other natural resources and with 85 percent of its adult population literate in English, far higher than in any other tropical African country.
Vowing to forge a one-party Marxist-Leninist state, in 2001 Mugabe finally became a virtual dictator. Citing nonexistent threats of neocolonialism, he rammed his Land Redistribution Act through a reluctant parliament, promising millions of acres of white-owned farms to poor blacks. Within a year, his party thugs had seized 2,900 out of 4,500 prosperous white-operated farms, killing at least ten white farmers and a hundred black workers. Among the recipients of the richest farms were his wife, two sisters, and his ambassador to Washington.
In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder wrote, "There is always something new out of Africa." Indeed there is, but it is not always good.
Ernest Lefever, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is author of Spear and Scepter: Army, Police, and Politics in Tropical Africa (1970).
Tony Auth, The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/20/07)
Friday, April 27, 2007
The editorial cartoon appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the wake of the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. It featured the nine justices sitting on the bench. The five Catholic justices who voted to uphold the ban are depicted wearing bishops’ mitres. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish, is staring at them with a horrified look. So are the three Protestant justices.
The cartoon’s message was clear: The Catholics had voted, not to uphold the law, but to impose their personal religious views. It’s a graphic example of anti-Catholic bigotry.
The Philadelphia Inquirer was hardly alone. Now, it’s not surprising when irresponsible commentators like Rosie O’Donnell make bigoted remarks about Catholics—as she did. Well, at least she won’t be on ABC for a while. But it is shocking when more respectable observers do so.
For instance, Geoffrey Stone, former dean of the University of Chicago law school, writes that “all five justices in the majority in [this case] are Catholic. The four justices who either are Protestant or Jewish all voted in accord with settled precedent”—note that. And then he adds: “The five justices in the majority [that is, the Catholics] . . . failed to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality.”
If you uphold a law approved by both parties in Congress and supported by most Americans, you are imposing your morality. But if you vote against the ban, you have nobly kept your religious views from interfering with your job. The ugly implication here is obvious: that it is not possible for faithful Catholic judges to carry out their responsibility to interpret and uphold the law.
Imagine the reaction if a cartoonist had suggested this of other religious groups—if they had portrayed justices wearing yarmulkes or holding the Koran. Joseph Cella, head of a Catholic pro-life group, is right in saying that the Philadelphia Inquirer cartoon is “venomous, terribly misleading, and blatantly anti-Catholic.”
Protestants have a special duty to condemn anti-Catholic bigotry. Shamefully, at one time many Protestants accepted the vile teachings of Paul Blanchard, author of American Freedom and Catholic Power. They supported the anti-Catholic agenda of the group for which he was general counsel: Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Our Catholic brethren should not have to wait to hear our voices forcefully raised against the bigotry now directed against them.
That’s why I am circulating with some other Christian leaders a statement calling on Protestants to join us in condemning this bigotry.
We also call on groups that present themselves as the enemies of prejudice to join us as well. And in particular, we invite Americans United to do so. Let us know once and for all: Are they selective opponents of prejudice? Do they regard anti-Catholicism as an acceptable form of bigotry?
It is appropriate to demand an apology when people in public life use their position to engage in bigotry—just as we did with Don Imus. Subscribers to the Inquirer ought to drop their subscriptions, or boycott the products of their advertisers, until an apology is forthcoming.
All forms of bigotry are vile and must be exposed for what they are: attacks on the very character of a civil society. Apologies are called for.
Professor Russell Berman
April 27, 2007
On Monday, April 16, Stanford University played host to three former terrorists turned peace activists. Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who has built a name for himself on college campuses and other venues, was joined by speakers Zack Anani and Kamal Saleem. Together they explained why, as former Muslims, they left the cause of jihad and rejected their backgrounds and terrorist training to embrace America, Israel and the West.
Hosting the event was Professor Russell Berman of the Hoover Institute at Stanford. Berman is not your typical college professor, as evidenced by his outspoken criticism of terrorism. He introduced the headlined speakers by promising an evening that would be both “somber and controversial,” first calling for a moment of silence for the victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech. "You may disagree or agree with what is presented here tonight," he said, but stressed that courtesy and thoughtfulness should prevail. “This is Stanford, it’s not Columbia,” Berman pointed out -- a reference to the now-infamous radical protestors at the latter school -- drawing laughter from the audience of nearly 500 people.
“9/11 casts along shadow,” Berman continued. “We as a society don’t always have the strength and courage” to deny what he called “the imperialism of guilt” that always blames America first when terrorism occurs. He likewise referred to writings by authors like Dinesh D'Souza who, he said, blame terrorism on our foreign policy and perpetuate an American attitude of always “blaming things on ourselves.” He pointed out that terrorism occurs all over the world and not just the Middle East, mentioning attacks in London, Buenos Aries and Istanbul, in Africa, as well as in Egypt and Jordan, and he criticized those he referred to as “the crowd of emulators comfortable enough to explain these events by rationalizing violence that is in fact just evil.”
“The 20th Century politicized violence through several movements such as Nazism and Communism,” Berman continued, pointing out how “core groups” used violence as an accepted method of political change. However, Berman noted that such groups also produced dissidents who abandoned their party line to cast light on the failures of the movements they once embraced. As an example, Berman referred to supporters of the Soviet Union who defected during the Cold War only to come back and speak against communism in order to educate people in the West. Using this analogy, he introduced the three terrorists who had also grown disillusioned with the violence of jihad.
The first to speak was Kamal Saleem. A tall, handsome man in a Brooks Brothers suit and tie and an impressive speaker, Saleem looked more like a banker than a terrorist. Central to his presentation was his view that the United States remains insufficiently attentive to the threat of Islamic terrorism. To demonstrate, he began by saying, “I want to show you America on 9/11.” He then went downstage and laid down on the plank floor, suit and all, and pretended to be sleeping. Sitting up, he said, "I want to show you America today after 9/11," at which point he pretended to hit the snooze button, then went back to sleep. His message was clear: America had yet to awaken to the danger of Islamic terror.
Saleem then recounted his own story. Born a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon, he came from a family that had 14 imams. At the age of six, he was recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood, soon joining the PLO after being inspired by the words of his father, who cited the Koran: “What you do in life should never be small. God will weigh you when you die and you’ll go to hell or heaven,” his father impressed on him.
“I learned to do what was right. I also learned from his reciting the Koran that the Day of Judgment won’t come until the Moslems fight the Jews and Christians,” Saleem said. Saleem recalled how, as a boy, he envisioned himself as an Islamic white knight astride a white horse, leading his Islamic army to kill the infidels. He asked the audience: “What do your children do at six-years-old?”
By age seven, he was training in weaponry, including explosives and anti-personnel mines, and combat. How to slit the throats of Jews was one lesson. Also at seven, he went on his first mission for the PLO, smuggling 100-pound packs of explosives and ammunition into the Golan Heights to shepherds who were working with the terrorists and who were as committed as he to attacking the Jews. “I was hailed a liberator!” he bellowed to the audience.
One day in a PLO training camp, Yasser Arafat had actually praised him and kissed him on the forehead. “I didn’t bathe for two weeks. You can imagine how badly I smelled after training all day,” he said. Arafat told him how Jerusalem was to be their target. “The cleansing of the Jewish blood from Jerusalem, not a state, was our goal. I hated Jews. But I loved Allah. We learned that jihad was our path and what we desired as the highest goal was to be a martyr.” The young Saleem also recruited other children like himself, including a neighbor next door. His parents expressed pride in their noble son.
Saleem lost his best friend, Mohammed, on a mission for the PLO. Mohammed was only six and wounded by Israeli forces that intercepted their mission and group. Saleem recalled how, at 7 years-old, he had put his wounded friend on his back to evacuate him, only to learn Mohammed had been shot several more times, serving as a human shield as Saleem escaped with his life. Mohammed died that day.
Saleem later came to the United States to recruit, train and teach others on college campuses to embrace his cause. Reciting sections of the Koran, he warned against taking Jews and Christians as allies. He presented himself not as a terrorist, but as "a liberator of the truth." Yet his goal was to engage in taquiyya (deception).
Although Saleem has since repudiated his terrorist past, he stated his view that Americans remained deceived about the true menace of Islamic terror. “America is not just asleep. America is ignorant about the truth,” he warned. “The UK, France, Germany, indeed, most of Europe now finds itself under a major threat from militant Islam,” he said and asked, “How long before the same thing happens to the US?”
In this connection, Saleem questioned whether so-called moderate Muslims in America have rallied to their country’s defense. Out of an estimated 8 million Muslims in this country, why did only 50 people show up at a rally of moderate Muslims to support America? he wondered.
Following Saleem was Zachariah Anani. A former Lebanese terrorist, he recounted that, like Saleem’s, his family had included many Islamic religious leaders. Since the age of three, he explained, he was indoctrinated into what he called “the evil of the others” -- that is, a deep hatred for non-Muslims. Also like Saleem, he spent his earliest years dreaming of being a warrior knight “carrying the skulls of the enemy.” By age 15, Anani became a “fighting machine,” a specialist at killing with daggers. When he left Islam at age 17, after hearing a Christian missionary speak, he already had over 200 kills in his record. It was then that he decided that “Islam’s doctrine is death.” Saleem left Islam for Christianity. Referring to militant Islam, he warned the audience: “We need to teach new generations to avoid this path.”
Anani's remarks prompted opposition from some in the audience. For instance, some students tried to challenge the historical record of Islam during his presentation; others even accused the speakers of lying. Unfazed, Anani expertly cited specific sections of the Koran to prove students wrong. When one student had heckled another speaker by denying that Shiite and Sunni Muslims kill each other, Anani cited historical battles in the Koran during the schism over the Caliphate, which left tens of thousands of Muslims from both sects dead. Given the current civil war in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis, the ignorant claims of a student at a major university only underscored the educational value of seminars about radical Islam.
Last to speak was Walid Shoebat. Taking on a prominent shibboleth, Shoebat made clear to the audience that the Israeli-Palestinian is not about land, occupation, or poverty. Rather, it is about the adherents of militant Islam being unwilling to accept the faiths of others. “Fundamentalist Islam existed long before Israel,” he told the audience. 1.2 million Arabs live inside Israel with no problem, yet the Islamic world screams it wants Jews removed from Palestine.”
A Christian convert, Shoebat explained how he had been accused of “going from one extremist position to another” since his conversion from Islam and even accused of “preaching hate.” Shoebat countered: “In America you can criticize religion. Criticizing a religion is not hate, it is freedom of speech.” According to Shoebat, the real cause of terrorism and events such as 9/11 was the Islamic quest for hegemony. “Christians proselytize too much,” he said, “But while a Christian fundamentalist will only give you a headache, a Muslim fundamentalist will chop the whole head off.” The PLO has Christian Arab wings, he explained, yet there are no Christian Palestinian suicide bombers, an illustration of the difference between the faiths (in fact, there has been only one Christian Arab suicide bomber to date). Recalling his time as a member of the PLO, Shoebat said that the terrorist group would recruit only Muslims for suicide bombings. Christians were not sent.
Shoebat said that many were not receptive to his message. Some had even charged that he was speaking out against radical Islam for financial gain. Addressing these critics, Shoebat said: “I hate this job. I have to conceal my identity and where I live and worry for the safety of my family to get the truth out to the world.” He pointed out that he has made more money in his software business -- and that didn’t require him to endure death threats. Nonetheless, he believed that the risks were worth taking in order to warn the West about the danger of militant Islam. Judging by the standing ovation that concluded the evening, the audience agreed.
Lee Kaplan is an undercover investigative journalist and a contributor to Front Page Magazine. He is also a regular columnist for the Israel National News and Canada Free Press and a senior intelligence analyst and communications director for the Northeast Intelligence Network. He heads the organizations Defending America for Knowledge and Action (DAFKA) and Stop the ISM. He has been interviewed on over one hundred nationally and internationally syndicated radio shows and been a guest on Fox Cable TV’s Dayside with Linda Vester and Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor. He is a guest every Tuesday and Thursday on the Jim Kirkwood Show on Utah's K-Talk Radio 630am. He is currently working on a book about America's colleges in the War on Terror.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
by Alan Sepinwall
The Newark Star-Ledger
April 23, 2007 3:45AM
WARNING: This column contains major plot spoilers for last night's "Sopranos" episode.
"Things are going great, finally," says Tony Soprano. "Maybe I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."
So are we, Tony.
As this final season has gone on, fans have been waiting to see who will die, who will wind up in jail, who will rat. If a sad, moving episode like last night's "Remember When" is any indication, the wait might not end -- and that might be okay.
"Remember When," is an entire hour of shoe-levitation. The FBI digs up the body of Willie Overalls, the first man Tony ever killed. Tony and corpse-disposal accomplice Paulie drive down to Miami to lay low, but everything's fine after incarcerated capo Larry Boy Barese pins the murder on the late Jackie Aprile.
On the road trip, Tony's first prolonged exposure in years to Paulie's verbal diarrhea makes him wonder if Paulie can keep his lips zipped in front of the feds should it come to that. On a celebratory fishing trip in the Atlantic, we're cued to believe that Tony is on the verge of sending Paulie to sleep with Pussy, but at the last minute, he backs off, not ready to kill Paulie for something he only might do.
There's a murder, as Phil Leotardo's guys give the food-poaching Doc Santoro a Moe Greene Special, but the biggest explosion of violence is perpetrated on Uncle Junior, who takes a nasty beating from his mental hospital protege Carter Chong (guest star Ken Leung).
I expect more misdirection like this as the season goes on. Thus far, the murders have involved minor characters like Doc and Gerry The Hairdo, while Johnny Sack had a non-homicidal passing. David Chase and company (in this case, writer Terence Winter) have never liked to do what the audience is predicting. I think we're going to see a lot of characters suffer a fate worse than jail or even death: being forced to confront who they really are.
In episode one, it was Bacala who had to abandon the pretense that he could be a made man without blood on his hands. Last week, Tony saw how much Christopher resented him, while Phil and Johnny Sack questioned how they had lived their lives. Here, Junior and Paulie -- Tony's biological uncle and his unofficial one -- come to terms with their decay into lonely, pathetic old men, not useful for much besides dirty jokes and stories about the good old days.
Characters have been telling old stories all season, often about the resentment that grows between fathers and sons, or between mentors and proteges. Here, Junior recalls the day his father (Tony's grandfather) made him walk home 11 miles for turning down a 25-cent tip from a rich woman. Carter loses his temper recounting the time his father dismissed a 96 score on a third grade spelling test because it wasn't a 100. Paulie notes that Johnny Boy Soprano gave Tony the Willie Overalls hit when Tony was 24, but Tony quickly and forcefully says that he was 22.
It's those details they don't forget. Even in the grips of dementia, Junior knows he walked 11 miles. Carter remembers the exact grade on the test. Tony remembers how old he was when his father made him into a killer (which he in turn would do to Christopher and Bacala).
Earlier in that conversation, Tony suggests that Johnny Boy never believed in him. Paulie counters that Johnny trusted him with the hit, after all, but Tony clearly resents that Johnny didn't believe he could become anything but a thug, condemning him to this life.
Tony's always been one to dwell on the past, but spending so much time with blabbermouth Paulie takes away his taste for it. Annoyed by Paulie's endless stories -- including one, uttered in front of civilians, about an apparent murder at a Jersey shore house -- he excuses himself from the table "because 'remember when' is the lowest form of conversation."
At least Tony still has a present to hold onto. Junior and, to a lesser extent, Paulie don't.
Junior tries to recreate the past in the hospital, enlisting Carter to help him run a funhouse mirror version of his old Executive Game, with the patients playing for buttons and non-diet sodas. But he's not as strong as he once was, and faced with the threat of being transferred to a less cushy facility, he consents to a new drug regimen that leaves him a blurry, sleepy shell of himself.
Carter, bitter at the perceived betrayal by another father figure -- and perhaps having read "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" too many times -- gives Junior a beatdown. Our final glimpse (ever?) of the official boss of New Jersey shows him sitting in a wheelchair, a cast on his arm, a blank, depressed look on his face, and a cat from pet therapy as his only companion. (Can Dominic Chianese and Vince Curatola share the Emmy? Damn.)
Midway through their fugitive vacation, Tony and Paulie are shown a black and white photo of Paulie in his '60s heyday, flexing a bicep for the camera. What we realize instantly is that Paulie is trying to preserve that image all these decades later. He still pounds the dumbbells, even though the skin sags around his muscles. He still wears the same hairdo, even though the hair is grey and thin. He lives alone, has no real friends, is the least-productive, least-respected captain in the Family and he can't stop talking. The only real difference is the amount of TV he watches; in the '60s, he didn't know who Barney Fife was, while today he cackles hysterically at a "Three's Company" rerun.
Paulie's just self-aware enough to know that Tony's displeased with him. He has a flashback to Pussy's oceanic murder as he and Tony cast off in their fishing boat, is terrified throughout the voyage and later has a dream (very literal by "Sopranos" standards) where he confronts Pussy the rat to ask, "When my time comes, tell me: will I stand up?"
Paulie hasn't had to make that choice yet. None of the major surviving characters have. Right now, Paulie's punishment is simply having to be Paulie Walnuts, just as Tony's punishment is to be the boss of a decaying empire, and having to work with guys like Paulie. Will that be enough for the fans?
Some other thoughts on "Remember When":
-More foreshadowing that Tony was going to murder Paulie: the three men who took Tony out for a celebratory dinner after the Willie Overalls hit were Pussy (killed by Tony), Ralphie (ibid), and Paulie.
-Art inadvertently, awkwardly imitating life: days after the Virginia Tech tragedy, we have an episode (shot months ago) featuring a violent, emotionally disturbed young Asian American man, as well as talk of on-campus violence (another patient at the hospital is a Rutgers professor who stabbed his dean and then slit his wrists in the faculty lounge).
-Know your Family: The two gentlemen volunteering to spring Junior were Uncle Pat Blundetto, whose upstate New York farm featured its own buried corpses in season five's "Cold Cuts," and Beppy Scerbo, a member of Junior's old crew. Beansie Gaeta, Tony and Paulie's Miami host, is the pizzeria owner paralyzed by a Richie Aprile hit-and-run in season two.
-Not since Junior confused himself and Bacala with characters from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has there been as hilarious a Junior parallel as him writing to Vice-President Cheney to note that they're both "powerful (men) all too familiar with accidental gunplay."
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com
The New York Sun
April 26, 2007
On "60 Minutes" last Sunday, rapper Cam'ron told Anderson Cooper that he would not inform the police if a serial killer were living next door to him, as it would alienate his fan base.
The "stop snitching" Zeitgeist has become a shibboleth of being "down with" your people in poor black neighborhoods and refusing to give the police information about a black-on-black homicide, even if you witnessed it. This version of black identity has become so entrenched over the past few years that it is making it ever harder for investigators to crack murder cases.
Using this technique as a means to stop racism is as misguided as it is easy. Police brutality was much worse in the past, and the war on drugs is old news. The current "stop snitching" notion is, quite simply, a subcultural fashion of the moment.
It is also a facet of a larger phenomenon: a sense among black teens and 20-somethings that being aggressive toward the opposition is the soul of being authentic. There has been this element in the black community since the 1960s, but these days, it is so deeply felt that it is tacitly approved to place anti-authoritarian sentiment over saving black lives.
I got an earful of this generation's sense of self not long ago from an overheard conversation between three teens, a boy and two girls, on a subway. Our aggrieved musings over black people's use of the N-word had no application: all three were using it twice a minute. The exchange kept wending back to the leitmotif of joys of breaking rules: one girl exclaimed how good it felt to jaywalk, the other celebrated the police's inability to curb open drinking in Harlem.
The boy, teasing one of the girls, casually addressed her as "bitch." This was not a problem with these teens — the girl actually genuinely smiled.
The boy recounted a flirtation with being a gangbanger only to be turned off by how the members did not look out for one another. I will never forget how he ended this narration: "Guess I'll just be black by myself." Notice that assumption that there is something "black" about being a gangbanger.
Needless to say, all of this was delivered with a smile. These kids were, actually, rather thoughtful. In its way, the conversation was about ideas — trends, explanations, opinions. But this is a new kind of thoughtfulness, trumping logic and compassion. It is a religion, beyond the reach of reason.
Rapper Kanye West urges people to stop buying diamonds from murderous African nations and then calls women names and revels in anti-school rhetoric on the same CD.
One reason black America has reached this point is, ironically, the eclipse of open racism and segregation.
When all black people had to huddle together and make the best of the worst, there was no room for calisthenic acting up. When the community had to generate its self-respect from within, black boys looking black girls in the eye and calling them bitches for fun was unthinkable. A black teen jaywalking for the fun of showing that he could, might have been beaten by the police.
These days there is more room for acting out. All humans like acting out when they can. Poor and working class black teens are no exception, and thus they do.
But the reason these youngsters have elevated this attitude into an identity is because the civil rights movement freed blacks into an America that had just made the upturned middle finger into an icon of higher awareness.
The Great Society sowed the seeds for a black identity based on being bad, and treating it as enlightened to pull poor black women out of the job market and pay them to have children instead. Generations of young people grew up in fatherless communities in which full-time employment — i.e., conformity to a long-established American norm — was rare.
Meanwhile, America continues enshrining acrid derision of "the suits" as wisdom. It increasingly gets its news from the likes of the Daily Show. T-shirts read "F—k Milk — Got Pot?" Plus, whites constitute most of the buyers of the nastiest brands of rap music, undergirding the genre's very existence.
As such, the mentality of Cam'ron and the kids on the train cannot be reached by those concerned with exploring these issues on panels and "Oprah." Nothing will cut through a subcultural world view founded upon a religious devotion, capitalism, and mainstream attitudes. We are faced not with something these people do. It is who they are — just as it is, in less raucous but equally trenchant implacable fashion, what so much of America is today.
There is an exquisite equipoise in maintaining a reflexive cynicism about authority of any kind and labeling it enlightenment. Those who savor this Weltanschauung in formal prose, on blog sites, and on bumper stickers must embrace its less refined airings among young black folks.
Mr. McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Do we still need to fight a war on terror?
The answer seems to be no for an increasing number in the West who are weary over Afghanistan and Iraq or complacent from the absence of a major attack on the scale of 9/11.
The British Foreign Office has scrapped the phrase "war on terror" as inexact, inflammatory and counterproductive. U.S. Central Command has just dropped the term "long war" to describe the fight against radical Islam.
An influential book making the rounds - "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them" - argues that the threat from al-Qaida is vastly exaggerated.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, goes further, assuring us that we are terrorized mostly by the false idea of a war on terror - not the jihadists themselves.
Even onetime neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, who in 1998 called for the preemptive removal of Saddam Hussein, believes "war" is the "wrong metaphor" for our struggle against the terrorists.
Others point out that motley Islamic terrorists lack the resources of the Nazi Wehrmacht or the Soviet Union.
This thinking may seem understandable given the ineffectiveness of al-Qaida to kill many Americans after 9/11. Or it may also reflect hopes that if we only leave Iraq, radical Islam will wither away. But it is dead wrong for a number of reasons.
First, Islamic terrorists plotting attacks are arrested periodically in both Europe and the United States. Just last week a leaked British report detailed al-Qaida's plans for future "large-scale" operations. We shouldn't be blamed for being alarmist when our alarmism has resulted in our safety at home for the past five years.
Second, have we forgotten that Nazi Germany was never able to kill 3,000 Americans on our homeland? Did Japan ever destroy 16 acres in Manhattan or hit the nerve center of the U.S. military? Even the Soviet Union couldn't inflict billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy in a single day.
Third, in some ways stateless terrorists can be more dangerous than past conventional threats. Autocrats in some Middle East countries allow indirect financial and psychological support for al-Qaida terrorists without leaving footprints of their intent. They must assume that a single terrorist strike could kill thousands of Americans without our ability to strike back at their capitals. This inability to tie a state to its support for terrorism is our greatest obstacle in this war - and our enemies' greatest advantage.
Fourth, jihadists have already scored successes in all sorts of ways beyond altering the very nature of air travel. Cartoonists now lampoon everyone and everything - except Muslims. The pope must weigh his words carefully. Otherwise, priests and nuns are attacked abroad. A single false Newsweek story about one flushed Koran led to riot and death.
The net result is that terrified millions in Western societies silently accept that for the first time in centuries they cannot talk or write honestly about what they think of Islam and the Koran.
Fifth, everything from our 401(k) plans to municipal water plants depend on sophisticated computers and communications. And you don't need a missile to take them down. Two oceans no longer protect the United States - not when the Internet knows no boundaries, our borders are relatively wide open, and dozens of ships dock and hundreds of flights arrive daily.
A germ, some spent nuclear fuel or a vial of nerve gas could cause as much mayhem and calamity as an armored division in Hitler's army. The Soviets were considered rational enemies who accepted the bleak laws of nuclear deterrence. But the jihadists claim that they welcome death if their martyrdom results in thousands of dead Americans.
Finally, radical Islamists largely arise from the oil-rich Middle East. Since 9/11, the price of oil has skyrocketed, transferring trillions of dollars from successful Western, Indian and Chinese economies to unsuccessful Arab and Iranian autocracies.
Terrorists know that blowing up a Saudi oil field or getting control of Iraqi petroleum reserves - and they attempt both all the time - will alter the world economy. Even their mere threats give us psychological fits and their sponsors more cash.
This is a strange war. Our successes in avoiding attack convince some that the real danger has passed. And when we kill jihadists abroad, we are told it is peripheral to the war or only incites more terrorism.
But despite the current efforts at denial, the war against Islamic terrorism remains real and deadly. We can't wish it away until Middle Eastern dictatorships reform - or we end their oil stranglehold over the world economy.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War." You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
April 25, 2007, 6:35 a.m.
John Shelby Spong’s “nontheistic” Christianity.
By Jason Lee Steorts
What’s a religion good for, anyway?
That is the question retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong never gets around to asking, let alone answering, in his new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. His title suggests an answer, and he has tried to lob his book like a hand grenade into the institutions of Christendom. The idea is to explode two millennia of traditional belief on which these institutions rest, thereby making room for a new Christianity based on a conception of Jesus that is palatable to “a twenty-first century person.” What actually crawls out of the rubble is a Jesus for John Shelby Spong.
This Jesus would be unrecognizable to most Christians. The largest section of the book is an attack on “the supernatural forms of yesterday’s Christianity.” Spong executes this attack by means of a lengthy textual criticism of the Gospels, sprinkled with occasional undeveloped thoughts on the incompatibility of traditional belief with a modern worldview. (“The ability of anyone to walk on water exists in our world not in reality, but only in very bad golf jokes.”) Along the way, he jettisons the following claims, among others: that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth; that Jesus performed miracles; that Jesus atoned for the sins of mankind; that Jesus was resurrected; and that the resurrected Jesus ascended to Heaven.
Spong’s analysis is interesting as far as it goes, though his tendency to dismiss all disagreement as “hysterical” — his adjective of choice for traditional believers — is unbecoming, morally and intellectually. I offer here no evaluation of his textual criticism, as literary sleuthing is rarely dispositive. Instead, let’s assume for the sake of argument that his thesis is correct: Jesus performed no miracles, wrought no atonement, and rose from no tomb. When one is left with such a Christ, what does it mean to say — as Spong says of himself — that one is “a believing Christian”? What does one believe in? How could one persuade anyone else to share this belief?
Spong’s attraction to Jesus seems to be rooted largely in the ethics Jesus taught and lived. Jesus was nice to Samaritans. Jesus didn’t shun lepers. Jesus protected adulteresses from the stoning mobs. All to the good, as hysterical Christians would agree.
Disagreement is likely to begin where Spong’s Jesus starts preaching the Gospel according to Howard Dean. For instance, this Jesus would support the ordination of homosexual bishops and oppose the “authoritarian” institutions of the Christian churches. Why? Because “moral judgment is not life-giving; love that transcends the boundaries of judgment, as Jesus’ love did, is.” One can charitably assume that, had Spong written more carefully, he would not have implied that all moral judgments are to be forsworn. (His admonition not to judge rests on a judgment against those who are judgmental in ways he disapproves of.) But the principal message of Spong’s Jesus is clear enough: We must set aside unacceptably exclusionary traditions and moralities.
Whether this appeals to you as an ethics will depend on whether you share Spong’s opinions about which exclusions are unacceptable. But even if you do, Spong does not want you to think of Jesus as a moral exemplar merely. Probably he wishes to preserve some necessary connection between Christ and Christianity, and recognizes that the soundness of an ethical system does not depend on who taught it, or whether anyone taught it at all. (We could pattern a very fine Christian ethics on the “life” of Alyosha Karamazov.) How, then, does Jesus transcend the ethical? “As a Christian,” Spong explains, “I live inside a faith system which, at its core, asserts that in the life of this Jesus, that which we call God has been met, encountered and engaged.”
A FAREWELL TO THEISM
“That which we call God,” eh? And what might that be? Spong starts by telling us what it isn’t. The “theistic definition of God” is dead, he says. What he means is that he does not believe — and does not think anyone else should believe — in “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and able to invade the world in miraculous ways to bless, to punish, to accomplish the divine will, to answer prayers and to come to the aid of frail, powerless human beings.” Our goal should be to “separate God understood theistically from the experience of God that we claim for Jesus.”
Unfortunately, Spong never explains what his nontheistic God is. His book abounds in passages such as this: “There is something about this Jesus that erases tribal boundaries, that calls people to step beyond security systems and that flows into a new humanity unbounded by the walls of protectionism. That is one huge dimension of what it means to say that God was experienced as present in this man Jesus.” One reads on in the hope that Spong will come around to the other dimension — to whatever it is about God that cannot be reduced to ethics. (For if the word “God” denotes nothing but the totality of sound ethical propositions, it is simply a metaphor for what could be discussed more clearly without it.) One’s hope is finally disappointed in the last chapter, when Spong admits to having no idea what God is: “I cannot tell anyone who or what God is. . . . The reality of God can never be defined. It can only be experienced, and we need always to recognize that even that experience may be nothing more than an illusion.”
Spong’s position, then, is this: There is a higher reality, and we have named it “God.” Somehow we encounter this higher reality in the life of Jesus. But we have no idea what the higher reality is, and can say nothing intelligible about it.
This view has one troublesome little catch: It destroys the possibility of justifying the claim that the higher reality exists. It would be one thing if we had a way of cognizing some aspect of the higher reality, an ability to articulate propositions about it and adduce reasons for thinking these propositions true. It is quite another to posit the higher reality’s existence simply because you feel you have “encountered” it. If you can say nothing about what you have encountered — and if the supposed encounter might in fact be “an illusion” — how can you know that you have encountered anything at all?
The blindness of this epistemological alley is all too apparent when Spong uses “the language of human analogy” to describe his experience of God. What he actually describes is his feelings. “I experience life to be more than I can embrace.” “I experience love as something beyond me.” “I experience being as something in which I participate, but my being does not come close to exhausting the content of Being itself.” This is all fascinating as one man’s account of his personal psychology. But there is no reason to suppose that what John Shelby Spong feels tells us anything other than what it feels like to be John Shelby Spong.
Even if we could somehow know that the nontheistic God existed, its obscurity would vitiate Spong’s conception of Christian ethics. Consider again my original question: What is a religion good for? One answer is that it goes on where Spong stops. It offers an account of the higher reality. It is not just an aggregation of imperatives, but a group of answers to such questions as: Why does something exist instead of nothing? Is there a supreme being? If so, what is his nature, and what does he expect of me? Will I survive my death? What must I do to ensure that my life after death is agreeable?
A religion’s answers to these questions are perfectly intelligible, even if its success in justifying them is open to debate. This intelligibility in turn provides a secure foundation for the religion’s ethics. If you believe (1) that you owe obedience to God and (2) that God has commanded you not to murder, it is a simple deductive step to the conclusion (3) that you ought not murder. I am not saying that an ethics must make reference to claims about God. But Spong thinks Jesus’s ethics is grounded in the divinity that was present in Jesus. By insisting that this divinity is unknown and unknowable, he destroys the possibility of such grounding.
SOMETHING ERE THE END . . .
So the nontheistic God is mute. It can say nothing about how we should live. Worse, it can say nothing about how we should die. That too is something a religion — or a theistic one, at least — is good for. Spong seems to recognize this. Theism arose, he says, as an adaptive response to the irreducible anxiety of self-consciousness, and in particular the fear of death. Whether or not he has his evolutionary biology right, it is surely true that theism, coupled with a belief in personal immortality, helps ease the way into that good night.
John Shelby Spong is an old man. In a passage both moving and sincere, he writes of his own approaching end and his hope to write another book:
I have one further literary task that I hope to complete in my already more than ‘three score and ten years.’ . . . I want to take the idea of a nontheistic but eminently real God met in the human Jesus and from that vantage point address the subject of death and dying, as well as what the church has tried to say throughout the ages on the subject of eternal life. . . . If my idea of God and my vision of a redefined Jesus cannot speak to the human anxiety of death, then I do not believe that I have found either the new beginning for the Jesus story that I seek or one that will survive.
It is hard to see how the new story can survive when the God at its center is nothing but an overwrought sentimentality plummeting down an abyss. If that is all we have left, Spong can keep his Christianity. There would be more dignity and courage — to say nothing of honesty — in facing life’s terrible question marks with a mind that does not flinch.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
By Bill Dwyre, Los Angeles Times
The boy who wrote "The Boys of Summer" will be 80 on Halloween. At this stage of his life, the trick for Roger Kahn is to treat himself to writing projects that are comfortable and not consuming.
"I'm a consultant now," he says, from his home in Stone Ridge, N.Y. "Best job in the world, a consultant."
He is a frequent public speaker, is working on several screenplays and continues to write and make appearances in connection with the 21 books he has written. He retains the personal and financial fruits of his 1972 masterpiece about Kahn, his dying father and the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball players from the early 1950s they both loved.
Sports Illustrated once called "The Boys of Summer" the "best baseball book ever written."
No less an author than James A. Michener called it "a work of high moral purpose."
So, Kahn should be able to assume hyperbole and superlatives on his gravestone. He should be confident that his legacy is the language of a generation of baseball fans, that his literary image should be devoid of question marks.
Because of Pete Rose, he is not sure.
The occasional sleepless night for Kahn over the Rose book had ended years ago. Then came the recent ESPN interview when Rose told Dan Patrick that he had, indeed, gambled on baseball. The quote was, "I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team."
Kahn first heard it on CNN.
"My first reaction was to reach for the barf bag," Kahn says.
The news in Rose's statement was not lost on the media. It brought headlines. Rose, who played the most major-league games and had the most hits, was banned from baseball in 1989 by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti because Giamatti was convinced Rose had bet on baseball games. Rose, then manager of the Cincinnati Reds, admitted only to gambling on lots of other sports and to being a "terrible selector of friends."
Most people who cared believed he had bet on baseball, and most did so based on the same logic used by Jim Murray, longtime Los Angeles Times sports columnist and advocate of Rose's eventual admission into baseball's Hall of Fame.
"Did Rose bet on the game?" Murray once asked in a column. "Probably. Rose bet on the color of the next car coming down the street."
Into this mess, unknowingly, had stepped Kahn. He had begun research on a book on Rose before the gambling allegations surfaced. He had reservations from the start, but when the publishers promised that it was a million-dollar project, half for him, half for Rose, he did what any writer would have done. He said yes.
Kahn had additional pressures. His son, Roger Laurence Kahn, was battling depression and drug addiction, and the bills for his medical care were exorbitant. Kahn's son committed suicide in 1987.
Kahn says he never felt 100 percent comfortable with Rose or the Rose project, especially when, in the middle of work on "Pete Rose: My Story," the gambling accusations started tumbling out.
"He was always surrounded with a bodyguard of liars," Kahn says, "and so the question had to be put to him, before we went forward with the book. I must have sat him down and asked him five times, 'Did you bet on baseball?'
"And the answer was always the same. He'd look me in the eye and say, 'I've got too much respect for the game.' "
Until the recent interview on ESPN radio, that remained Rose's stance. He admitted to betting on all sorts of sports and to probably having a gambling problem.
But he never admitted to betting on his own game because he "respected it too much."
Now, Kahn feels the sting of having his name on a book based on a lie.
"I regret I ever got involved in the book," Kahn says.
Kahn, who made about one-fifth of his promised $500,000, is not the first author, nor will he be the last, to get it slightly wrong. And his body of work, minus "Pete Rose: My Story," speaks volumes. He will always be much more a boy of summer than a biographer of Pete Rose. And the joy and insight he gets from his "boys" remains a source of never-ending stories and inspiration.
"A couple of years ago, I was sitting at a table at an event at Cooperstown, with Clem Labine, Frank Robinson and Enos 'Country' Slaughter," Kahn says. "Slaughter was one of the great rednecks of our time, but here it was, years later, and he was an old man, sitting with old baseball players, and any racial things are history. Slaughter asks Robinson if he'd go over to the buffet table and get him some oysters, but please make sure to get soft ones because his teeth hurt.
"Sure enough, Robinson goes off and gets a plate of soft oysters for Enos Slaughter, and Labine, watching closely, tells me later that nothing will ever surprise him again."
Slaughter and Labine are both dead now, and Robinson isn't as good a storyteller as Roger Kahn.
So, for the sake of baseball fans everywhere, Kahn needs to stop plotting ways to find and burn all copies of his book on Rose and return to "consulting" on our behalf.