Saturday, September 15, 2007
The New York Post
September 15, 2007 -- For Hillary Clinton, it must seem like déjà vu all over again (as Yogi Berra might put it).
But for voters, Camp Clinton's panicky move to refund $850,000 (temporarily, anyway) in donations linked to former fugitive con artist Norman Hsu hearkens back to hubby Bill's sordid fund-raising during his 1996 re-election campaign.
And the funny money isn't the only ghost from the Clintons' past.
Newsweek reports that the senator is relying for foreign-policy advice on a triumverate of her husband's top advisers - including Sandy "Sticky Fingers" Berger.
You remember Berger - who pleaded guilty to stealing secrets from the National Archives by smuggling them out in his pants and socks. (That's Hillary's problem in a nutshell - socks and Hsus.)
Specifically, the documents Berger heisted and shredded were drafts of a memo by anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke (who's also now mentoring Hillary) that reportedly identified national-security weaknesses so "glaring" that only sheer luck prevented a 9/11-style attack during Clinton's presidency.
Bill Clinton laughed the whole thing off as "typical absent-minded Sandy." Now this convict is poised to get a high-level job in a Clinton II administration.
As for Norman Hsu, an aide to GOP White House hopeful Fred Thompson asks: "Didn't Hillary learn anything from Charlie Trie?" (He's the guy who delivered hundreds of thousands in illegal "straw man" donations to the '96 re-election campaign in two manila envelopes.)
You might have thought that Hillary's intimate knowledge of that scandal-plagued cash drive would have prompted her to avoid "bundlers" like Hsu.
If so, you would be wrong.
Last June, when the California Democratic Party passed on concerns that Hsu was involved in shady business, Hillary's finance director responded: "I can tell you with 100 [percent] certainty that Norman Hsu is NOT involved in a Ponzi scheme. He is COMPLETELY legit."
It then emerged, of course, that Hsu had been a fugitive for 15 years on charges of defrauding investors. He promised to surrender, failed to do so, then got nabbed after having some sort of breakdown on a passenger train.
Clinton's campaign insists that Hsu fell through the cracks of a faulty computer search (though reporters checking the same database found records of a bankruptcy filing, multiple lawsuits and links to possible criminal cases).
And her campaign chairman - Terry McAuliffe, known for his methodical courtship of big-money sources for Bill and Hillary - is pleading ignorance, telling The Washington Post, "I don't know how [Hsu] became involved."
This, despite reports that Hillary told her top finance aides to carefully vet big-money people - so as to avoid anything that would conjure up bad memories of Clinton-Gore '96.
But as one unnamed major fund-raiser told The New York Times: "The Clintons are the ultimate pragmatists in who they hang out with. If you can be useful to them, they will find a way to make it work."
That explains why Team Hillary turned a blind eye to Norman Hsu.
But what about Sandy Berger?
Probably just nostalgia.
Saturday, September 15th 2007, 4:00 AM
The last four months was rolled into five hours last night. And yes, the race in the AL East is still on.
BOSTON - The best inning the Yankees have had this year, the best they have had as they have been coming at the Red Sox for months, began with what looked like two garbage-time home runs from Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano. Then Hideki Okajima walked Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon doubled off Okajima and Derek Jeter hit a bloop single against Jonathan Papelbon. Then came another double, this one from Bobby Abreu, a monster shot to dead center. And when Alex Rodriguez singled home Abreu, it wasn't 7-2 Red Sox anymore at old Fenway, and the race in the American League East wasn't over.
In one of the longest nine-inning games ever played, this was the whole long Yankee comeback from 14-1/2 behind Boston rolled into one comeback at Fenway Park.
One comeback this time, one inning.
"A remarkable game," Joe Torre said in the visiting manager's office at Fenway, one that is the size of a shoebox. "Especially at this time of year."
Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown everything he had at the Yankees last night, thrown 120pitches into the top of the sixth, gotten out of huge jams in the first and the fourth. Giambi had had a terrible night in the field, and Andy Pettitte, big-game Andy, had nothing. And after the Red Sox tacked on two more runs after Giambi's dropped throw - Abreu had Papi Ortiz doubled off first in the bottom of the sixth - the Red Sox seemed to have finished the Yankees on this night, knocked them 6-1/2 games back with 14 to play for Boston and 15 for New York.
Then came the eighth, against the two best relievers Boston has, Okajima and Papelbon. The Yankees had lit up Okajima the last time the two teams had played, at Yankee Stadium. They had never gotten Papelbon like this. Single, double, single, and just like that the life had been sucked out of Fenway and the Yankees were on their way to the best win they have had this season, even better than the one they had here on that Sunday night at the end of May when they kept coming back and coming back, against Papelbon and everybody else.
The way the Yankees picked themselves up that night, and then big after the All-Star break, that's what they had done now in Boston, on a night when they seemed to have gotten themselves too far behind this time, too late in the season. By the time they had batted all the way around in the eighth and Papelbon had struck out Giambi to finally get the Red Sox to the dugout, Boston's young closer was screaming into his glove, and Fenway was suddenly as quiet as ballparks get when a baseball night has gone wrong, gotten itself sideways for the home team, like this.
Two solo home runs. Walk to Cabrera. Double for Damon. Single for Jeter, who had left the bases loaded when he struck out against Mike Timlin to end the Yankee sixth. Big, rousing double for Bobby Abreu. Single for A-Rod. Suddenly, on this ridiculously long night, a nine-inning game trying to get near five hours, suddenly between 11 and 11:30, there was all this life to the Yankees, all this hope still in them.
"I think it makes us feel better than it makes them feel bad," Torre said, and we'll start to see if he's right about that this afternoon.
Last night had been dragging on and dragging on and changed that quickly, because baseball can, between the Yankees and Red Sox and everybody else. Seven to two for Boston, a game that it had been winning for hours. Then 8-7 for the Yankees, just like that. Four-and-a-half games now for the Red Sox, four in the loss column, Josh Beckett against Chien-Ming Wang this afternoon.
The Yankees had taken an awfully good shot from the Red Sox. They were facing the best the Red Sox had out of a bullpen that is one of the reasons Boston still has the best record in the AL East and all of baseball. And in the top of the eighth at Fenway, the Yankees just laid the Sox out. The Yankees had stopped hitting at the end of the Toronto series, they had wasted seven one-hit innings from Ian Kennedy the night before, they had gotten to Boston in the middle of the night.
And when up against it, they came at the Red Sox with the best inning of the season on offense. No runs against Papelbon in the last 16-2/3 innings he had pitched. He had been unhittable for a couple of weeks. No matter. Single against him, double, single. His worst game, at the worst time.
Matsuzaka had gotten out of bases loaded, one out, in the very first inning. Matsuzaka had gotten out of bases loaded, one out, in the fourth, getting Cabrera to hit into a double play. He left to a huge ovation. The Red Sox got those two runs to make it 7-2. Game was theirs, night was theirs, then it wasn't. No clock to run out, although if you ever wanted to put a clock on a ballgame, it was last night at Fenway, the bottom of the ninth starting four hours and 35 minutes after the game had begun at 7:11.
Time was supposed to have run out on the Yankees when they were way behind last night. It did not. Mo Rivera closed the Red Sox in the ninth when, as Torre said, "the managing is over."
The AL East is not. The Yankees have been coming back for awhile, sometimes in fits and starts. They came back last night. This was the last four months, rolled into nearly five amazing hours at Fenway Park.
Yankees score six in eighth to shock Red Sox
Francona pushes panic button with bullpen
Jason Giambi goes from error to homer
Red Sox pen writes unhappy ending
Yankees, Red Sox given 'heads-up'
Friday, September 14, 2007
By TERRY MATTINGLY
Scripps Howard News Service
Madeleine L'Engle found it amusing that her critics kept missing the obvious in her fiction.
Consider the magical women in "A Wrinkle In Time" -- Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. It's true that they have strange wardrobes and unique ways of speaking. Mrs. Whatsit is chatty, for example, because she is so young -- a mere 2,379,152,497 years, eight months and three days old.
When the elder Mrs. Which arrives from another dimension, her colleagues begin giggling. Why? Since she is meeting three human children, Mrs. Which elects to appear as a "figure in a black robe and a black peaked hat, beady eyes, a beaked nose and long gray hair." She is holding a broomstick.
Get the joke? For decades, L'Engle's fiercest critics kept missing it. Thus, "A Wrinkle In Time" -- which won the 1963 Newberry Medal -- became one of America's most frequently banned children's books.
"If you read the book, there is no way that they are witches. They are guardian angels -- the book says so. You don't have to clarify what is already clear," L'Engle told me, in a lengthy 1989 interview.
"Don't they know how to spell? W-H-I-C-H is not W-I-T-C-H."
This interview came during a time when L'Engle (pronounced LENG-el) had increased her already busy lecture schedule after the death of her husband of 40 years, actor Hugh Franklin. But L'Engle kept writing and talking about the themes that dominated her life -- faith, family and creativity -- until her health failed. She wrote more than 60 works of fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry and prayers during her life, which ended with her Sept. 6 death in Litchfield, Conn., at age 88.
Wherever L'Engle went, people kept asking her to explain her beliefs, from heaven to hell, from sex to salvation, from feminism to the arts. The writer did not hide her views, but rarely used the kind of language that so-called "Christian writers" were supposed to use.
Thus, her career was defined by a paradox: Many of her strongest admirers were evangelical Christians, as were most of her fiercest critics. Thus, it's symbolic that she donated her personal notes and papers to Wheaton College, the Rev. Billy Graham's alma mater, where they are part of a collection best known for its materials about the life of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.
L'Engle was also candid about the role her faith played in her writing. She was, throughout her life, an Episcopalian's Episcopalian from New York City who was determined to keep describing the visions and voices that filled her soul. While her writing was often mysterious, she kept hiding the crucial clues right out in the open.
It's hard, for example, to miss the source of the climactic speech to Meg Murray, the heroine in the science fiction series that began with "A Wrinkle In Time."
"The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men," says Mrs. Who, who always speaks in quotations, such as this lengthy passage from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. "... God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty."
It's even clearer, in the next novel, that the children are backed by the powers of heaven. Meg finds herself face to face with a many-eyed creature with a 10-foot wingspan, a being with too many wings to count, wings that were in "constant motion, covering and uncovering the eyes." This is a biblical cherubim, yet another angelic vision. He stresses that he is not a singular cherub, and adds, "I am practically plural."
The goal, said L'Engle, was to create fiction that was unmistakably Christian, while writing to an audience that included all kinds of believers and unbelievers.
"I have been brought up to believe that the Gospel is to be spread, it is to be shared -- not kept for those who already have it," she said. "Well, 'Christian novels' reach Christians. They don't reach out. ... I am not a 'Christian writer.' I am a writer who is a Christian. I think that you have to be the best writer that you can be. Now, if I am truly a Christian, then that will show in my work."
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
A race in the AL East that was declared over at the end of May when the Yankees were 14 1/2 games behind Boston, arrives at the corner of Brookline Ave. and Yawkey Way at a little after 7 tonight. The Red Sox try to hold on, after being the best team and having the best record for most of this baseball year. The Yankees try to come all the way back and not have to play the Angels in the first round of the playoffs, because if they do, they could be one round and out for a third year in a row.
The Yankees can get another sweep and move to within two games of the Red Sox in the loss column. The Red Sox can turn things around and sweep the Yankees and make the Yankees fight for the wild card to the very end. The Yankees have overcome a lot. The Red Sox have overcome more, are 9-3 in September without Manny Ramirez.
The Yankees? They are playing the way they were supposed to play all along, especially with a team full of stars, and another payroll pushing $200 million. For the last time, this Yankee team isn't a "Rocky" movie.
The other night, the Yankees went up against the Blue Jays with Alex Rodriguez, the MVP of everything, and Jorge Posada, an MVP candidate himself in any other season except A-Rod's. They had Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. They had Derek Jeter, who still has the numbers, even though they seem pretty soft this time.
At the same time, the Red Sox went up against the Devil Rays with the following lineup: The great Papi Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Eric Hinske, Dustin Pedroia, Julio Lugo, Kevin Youkilis, Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, J.D. Drew. With Mike Lowell sick, Ortiz was the only .300 hitter on the field for Boston. He hit two home runs, one of them a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth, knocked in all his team's runs, and the Red Sox came from behind again.
The Yankees never should have fallen behind the way they did, never should have looked as inconsistent as they did until September. Give them all the credit in the world for being tough. But then Joe Torre's Yankees have often displayed tremendous toughness in the years since they last won the World Series, even if it hasn't really extended to the playoffs since they came back in Game 7 to beat the Red Sox four years ago. Hung tough, hung around.
Now comes this last chance to extend a streak of winning the AL East that extends back to 1998. You say it doesn't matter in the whole grand scheme of things, and it doesn't, because wild-card teams make the World Series now and win the World Series now. But it matters to the Yankees, who never want to finish second to the Red Sox, who are managed by Torre to finish first, you see it more and more, you see it by the way he treats an amazing number of regular-season games like the Super Bowl.
The Red Sox have been vulnerable for awhile. The Red Sox should have added a hitter instead of Eric Gagne at the trade deadline, and paid for it when Gagne came over and blew three games fast. If that doesn't happen, the East is over already. Only it's not. Manny is hurt, Tim Wakefield got hurt and has had two bad starts since coming back, Daisuke Matsuzaka - tonight's Red Sox starter - has looked tired over his last several starts, and as hittable against everybody else as he usually is against the Yankees.
The Yankees should be closer than they are. And yet: When they left here way behind at the end of May, they would have taken the chance they get tonight, and tomorrow afternoon, and Sunday night, when Family Guy Clemens, the bravest guy ever, is supposed to make another return.
It will be a show. It is always a show, in April and September and in between. Yawkey Way waited quietly for it yesterday in the early afternoon, cars lined on both sides of the narrow street that will turn into the best street fair in baseball and maybe all of sports in the late afternoon today, when the turnstiles are set up and the music is played. And from Brookline Ave. to Van Ness there is as much baseball in this one block as there could ever be anywhere - because the Yankees have come to town again.
There was foot traffic, too, yesterday, and a good crowd at the team store, where a young guy stood at 12:30 and announced that the Fenway Park tour was about to begin. The first thing he asked was, "How many have been here before?"
It sometimes seems as if the Yankees are here all the time, almost always in front. Not this time. But not quite done yet. This time the Yankees took the long way here.
Friday, September 14, 2007; E01
Coach Bill Belichick picked the absolute worst time to cheat, or more to the point, the worst time to get caught cheating. Of course, the New England Patriots aren't the only team that has spied on opponents to gain a competitive advantage. But the Patriots, with Belichick leading the way, already were perceived in a great many football circles as smug, dismissive and manipulative to the highest degree, and they got caught cheating at a time when the boss of the NFL, Roger Goodell, has declared zero tolerance on anything that reflects negatively on the product.
Word late last night was that Goodell had decided on the Patriots' punishment, which wasn't nearly as severe as many were hoping for, or as it could have been. If Goodell can hand out multiple-game suspensions in the name of protecting the integrity of the NFL, then he ought to have hit Belichick with something more than a $500,000 fine, and the Patriots with half that big a fine and perhaps a couple of draft picks. No single pro football player, even one pumped up on steroids, has the impact on a football game that a coach does.
Goodell should have sat Belichick for a game, should have flexed like he has with the players and dished out a punishment that would serve as a deterrent. This isn't, and it's disappointing in the context of his get-tough commissionership.
There's not much of a case to be made on behalf of leniency for the Patriots. The New York Jets' veteran director of security, a former FBI agent, caught them with the unethically obtained videotape. Belichick already has issued one of those phony celebrity apologies that tries to mitigate the circumstances. In another place and time, Belichick probably would have gotten off with a frown and a scolding.
But not now. There's context to everything and the NFL helped create that context. The NFL decided lawless times called for extreme measures, and if there's no tolerance for players to bring into question the integrity of the league, then there should be no tolerance for coaches doing it. As Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer told reporters in Cincinnati the other day, "I hope the commissioner is just as harsh on [management] as he's been on individual players for making mistakes."
It's one of those cases where the league could have justified making the punishment bigger than the crime. The Patriots, if this is all Goodell does, appear to have dodged the perfect storm.
A good number of people already resent the team because they've won three Super Bowls, because they seem to embrace the notion that they're better and smarter and more resourceful than everybody else in the NFL. While the Patriots aren't the source, there are nonetheless no shortage of reports about how superior of character the coaches and players are. Yet there's the matter of Belichick constantly lying about his teams' injuries or refusing to disclose them as the league requires. Belichick thumbs his nose at the league's silly dress code for coaches by wearing those hideous hooded sweatshirts during games. At one point, after winning the three Super Bowls, Belichick wouldn't speak the name of his recently departed lieutenant, Eric Mangini, who dared leave to coach the Jets.
It certainly didn't help the Patriots that the flap involved the Jets and got the New York media all fired up and looking for revenge. If the Patriots had been playing Jacksonville, there wouldn't have been a peep out of the media in New York, where the outrage started.
But this is just the latest episode for Belichick and the Patriots, not the first. The Patriots have been playing fast and loose for years. Paul Zimmerman, the veteran football writer for Sports Illustrated, recounts meetings between league coaches and executives in which they swap stories about their headsets being sabotaged while playing in New England and other signal-stealing anecdotes.
Okay, gaining a competitive advantage is part of sports, right? Signal stealing is a romanticized part of major league baseball. The big problem is that the NFL declared this kind of espionage against the league's rules and Goodell warned teams about it. The Patriots had previously been caught doing the same thing to the Packers. So, in essence, Belichick went right ahead with his video spying. He knowingly violated a league rule, both in spirit and letter. So Belichick needed to go down and go down hard. As the Steelers' Hines Ward said, "Hopefully [the penalty] will be stiff enough that no one else will try it."
Ward will find out officially today Belichick got a nudge, not a pop.
While the coach needs to bear the brunt of the punishment, Robert Kraft, probably the league's most respected owner, should have been hit much harder, too, whether or not he had direct knowledge. He's on the wrong end of what the NCAA used to call "a lack of institutional control."
Usually, fining billionaires means nothing. But look at the $100 million fine Formula One levied against the McLaren team yesterday for spying on and obtaining secret technical documents belonging to its rival, Ferrari. You think McLaren's going to try that again? Had the Patriots been hit with a fine one-tenth of that, $10 million, Kraft would have banned his coaches from videotaping their own sideline. He'd have every piece of electronic equipment in Foxboro trashed.
But Goodell didn't apply the muscle to management he did to labor. He was awfully aggressive (and perhaps justifiably so) with the likes of Chris Henry and Tank Johnson and Adam "Pacman" Jones, but pulled his punch when it came time to fight with one of the fair-haired guys in management.
Normally, I tune out Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter completely, but he made a great point the other day when he told reporters in Miami: "People take a supplement that has a little more than caffeine in it and they call that cheating and suspend you for four games for that? But these guys are videotaping our signals from the sideline? New England went from not being a good team to being a powerhouse. Now I have a question."
Dan Le Batard, writing in the Miami Herald, says that the people who spent much of the summer in outrage over Barry Bonds's chase of the home run record owe Belichick the same treatment because they've both cheated the game. I'm not willing to go that far because steroids are illegal. Still, it's a fair question.
The Dolphins' Jason Taylor brought some balance to the debate when he said: "Stealing signs is not the same as changing the hormone levels in your body in a game that is built on speed, power and quickness. I'm not condoning the cheating part of it, but they are two different things."
But we can agree, hopefully, that both things are bad for pro football and for competition, especially at the highest level. We don't know exactly how much steroid or HGH use helps a slugger and we don't know exactly how much spying hurts an opponent.
Please, stop with the notion that the spying didn't help at all. If it didn't help, why did the Patriots keep doing it?
What we're finding out from the firestorm that has ensued is that even if the punishment is weak, there nonetheless is a taint on cheaters and this time it's Belichick's previously lofty reputation that's taking a big and justifiable hit.
September 14, 2007 12:00 AM
Down on The Valley
A tiresome movie.
By Peter Suderman
Most people who’ve taken an acting class are probably familiar with the term “indicating.” It’s used to note when an actor is overtly signaling to the audience that he or she is feeling an emotion rather than simply playing the feeling, and it’s considered one of the worst sins a performer can commit. Paul Haggis isn’t an actor, but maybe he could use a course or two, because in his newest film, In the Valley of Elah, he spends most of the running time engaged in the directorial equivalent of indicating, and it’s just as wearisome here as it is in Intro to Theater.
But of course, Haggis, who both wrote and directed Elah, is no beginner. In fact, he’s got an award-filled Hollywood pedigree. In 2005, he was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar for Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, a dopey downer of a film that mixed boxing drama with cheap moral conundrums about assisted suicide, and which, of course, ended up bringing home the award for Best Picture. He followed that up by writing and directing Crash, a hilariously contrived bit of goopy racial gobbledygook dressed up like a high-class drama. Needless to say, it won Best Picture too.
That means that these days, Haggis is operating under the Tinseltown equivalent of a voter mandate to make films that are morally resonant, big and bold, concerned with the deep ambiguities and complexities in American life and, indeed, all human nature. But since he’s pretty clearly incapable of doing that, he went for the next best thing: Bash the Iraq war.
Thus, Elah is part murder mystery, part anti-war agitprop, and all tedium. In rural Tennessee, Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), whose country-boy name is Hollywood shorthand for “some guy from the sticks who probably drives a pick-up truck” (he does), finds out that his son, a soldier just returned from Iraq, has gone AWOL. He drives out to his son’s military base and finds his son not just missing, but gruesomely murdered. Assisted by Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) and armed with both a handy background as a military cop and observational powers that would make Sherlock Holmes spew out his afternoon tea, he shows up both the squad of dirt-dumb good old boys running the local police department and the ruthless, uncaring military police who only want to make the incident go away.
For two hours or so, the mystery plods forth, and unraveling it is about as tense and exciting as a long lecture from John Kerry. But all that story guff is secondary, really, because Haggis, Oscar-winning sage that he is, has wisdom to impart. So there’s a lot of laughably obvious symbolism, yokel stereotypes, and long, meaningful pauses, all of which are intended to teach us something — something Haggis really, really wants to know is Very Important — about the degrading effects of war. It’s like an especially lame episode of Murder, She Wrote mixed with a tenth-grade speech class.
The whole thing is creaky and glum, portentous and preposterous, and generally lifeless no matter who’s on screen. Jones, whose creased, leathery face increasingly resembles satellite photography of extremely rocky terrain, plays Hank as slow and stubborn, simple but not stupid, prone to occasional temperamental outbursts but, overall, a man of few emotions. Hank’s not a character so much as a placeholder, a drooping, dour mug that Haggis can use to fill his maudlin frames and thus reinforce his general aura of sadness.
But it’s not just Jones’s performance that drags the film down. Haggis seems incapable of crafting any character that isn’t top-grade stereotype. Susan Sarandon, who, as Hank’s wife Joan has a few hammy scenes in the beginning and then seems forgotten, douses every word in a deep-fried accent so unconvincing I’d be surprised if she could even find Tennessee on a map, much less actually sound like she’s from there. The owners of a gun store Hank visits are a perfect NRA caricatures — an obese wife with big hair and a lanky old man with a cowboy shirt and an oversized belt buckle. Soldiers are square-jawed grunts who can always be bought or placated with a shot of Jim Beam. The local cops are fat, crass, and lazy. As with Crash, Haggis doesn’t really care about anything as mundane as people; in his world, everyone is just a type, a walking symbol whose purpose is first and foremost to represent an idea about The Way The World Is.
Haggis films everything in capitol letters, spelling out his (mostly lame) intentions with brain-numbing obviousness. Everything scene is lit in a dull, cloudy gray; there are, quite literally, no sunny days in Haggisland. Conversations either involve people spouting faux-poetic platitudes (“You shouldn’t send heroes to Iraq.”) or making obvious chit-chat about things that don’t matter in order to show that they’re actually worried about things that do matter.
And, of course, he peppers every scene with great, yawning pauses, presumably to ensure we absolutely understand the gravity of it all. Haggis clearly intends to be pointedly sparse and minimalist, but ends up largely empty and dull. He’s clearly convinced himself that he’s saying something meaningful and groundbreaking, delivering the hard truth that no one else wants to say. You can tell he’s convinced because he feels the need to constantly remind you of it. The whole thing is like listening to a guy who makes a regular point of loudly and grandly declaring how humble he is.
Perhaps this is to be expected. After all, it’s fall in Hollywood — prestige season — and Haggis is now an officially-licensed purveyor of movie-land seriousness. Elah is shameless Academy-bait, self-righteous, bullying, entitled, and tiresome, like a snotty student explaining why the professor simply must be wrong. And maybe that would be fine if Haggis had anything to say worth listening to. But in the end, the best he can come up with is a lame-brained slam against soldiers who’ve seen battle. He thinks he’s speaking truth to power, but with this sort of blatantly obvious Oscar-bid, it’s more like he’s speaking stupid to prestige — or at least he hopes.
Conservatives will no doubt make plenty of hay over the way Haggis treats soldiering. But his point is too broad, too unserious, too thickheaded, and too full of itself to be taken seriously. Elah isn’t bad because it’s antiwar; it’s bad because it’s artless and dumb.
His bill comes due big time
Boston Globe Columnist | September 14, 2007
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dropped the hammer on the head of Bill Belichick last night. The cheatin' camera the Patriots used against the Jets last Sunday is going to cost the coach a half-million dollars and maybe worse . . . a first-round draft pick.
With all the timing of a Red Sox late November Friday evening ticket price increase (the NFL made its announcement long after dinner and just a few minutes before President Bush addressed the nation on the war in Iraq), the league last night slapped Belichick and the Patriots upside the helmet.
The cash doesn't really matter. Belichick is out $500,000 (maximum fine allowed by the league), and Bob Kraft will have to fork over an additional $250,000. But the news that the Patriots will lose a first-rounder if they make the playoffs (a second- and third-rounder if they don't) is a devastating blow to the coach and the franchise.
There is no more gray area now. Those claims that "everybody does it" and "the Patriots didn't need surveillance to beat the Jets" ring hollow. The Commish has spoken, and his ruling ensures the Patriots will pay a steep price for their transgression.
In many ways, the damage was done before last night's sanctions were announced. Having Belichick and the Patriots outed as "cheaters" will always be the worst part of this. There's a legion of people waiting to harpoon the arrogant New England organization, and this episode has armed Patriot critics with weapons they can use forever.
There are so many layers to the scandal.
Let's start at the top with Kraft. Old Amos Alonzo is always there for the trophy presentations and ring ceremonies. His press guide bio, lengthy enough to fill a Ken Burns PBS series, holds that "Kraft is now widely recognized as one of the most respected and influential owners in sports." Kraft's bio in last year's guide said the Patriots "are often referred to as a model franchise."
So where is Kraft now? He was last seen at a supermarket event Monday where he hinted that the Pats were being targeted because they are top dogs ("When you're successful in anything, a lot of people like to try to take you down").
We can't expect Kraft to come forward during Rosh Hashanah, but someday soon the owner is obligated to explain this mess. Ownership needs to be accountable. To use an old Watergate question (and the parallels are almost infinite), "What did Kraft know and when did he know it?"
Kraft could have made some points by punishing his coach in advance of the NFL sanctions instead of falling back on the old "everybody is out to get us" defense. But the owner of the "model franchise" did not choose that path.
And what about his players? What must they think of all this? Patriot players have long been reminded that their skills are almost irrelevant to the brilliant system that enables them to succeed. The message has been "most of you are interchangeable parts and we can win with other people if you choose to leave." Their achievements are minimized.
Now they get hit with the double whammy. Because of the arrogance of the coach and his minions, the championship deeds of the players are reduced again.
Now enemies of the Patriots can claim that all those championships were won because of cheating, which, of course, is untrue. Patriot players have a right to be furious about this development.
Notice how many rival players, coaches, and executives have pounced on the Pats and Belichick this week? There's been a rush to pile on, a frenzy of Patriot hate. It's residue of seven years of coaches being reminded that they are stooges - they will lose to the Patriots because Belichick and his guys are smarter than everybody else.
And that's why we have heard from a parade of players saying, "The Patriots seemed to know exactly what we were going to do when we played them."
Mercy. It's a joke. The pathetic Steelers, who never could come to grips with the fact that the Pats were better, are now using "Cheatgate" as an excuse for blowing the AFC Championship game at home in 2002. It'll never end now.
Getting caught in this stupid stunt has emboldened all those who were legitimately flattened by the Patriots in the last seven years. And it's never going to go away.
It's not fair, of course. Videotaping the other sideline is probably a tactic used by a lot of teams and no doubt it's been done for a long time. The competitive gain is certainly debatable and the punishment seems excessive, given that the Patriots had the misfortune to get caught.
Doesn't matter. Rafael Palmeiro came up positive for steroids only once, but it was enough to invalidate his 569 home runs and it will keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," stated the commissioner.
So there you go. Belichick blew it when he flouted the rules and tried to rub it in against Eric Mangini and the Jets. It was absolutely unnecessary - truly Nixonian.
A draft pick is lost and Belichick and the Patriots must live with the label of "cheaters." The Lombardi trophies are tarnished and every team the Pats trample forever has a one-size-fits-all excuse.
It's a sad chapter in the long history of New England sports.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Japan Times
Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007
Marine sniper in a modern-day retelling of the legendary 47 ronin
By MARK SCHREIBER
Author Stephen Hunter's series character Bob Lee Swagger, the ex-marine sniper who gained the nickname "Bob the Nailer" for his wartime exploits in Vietnam, has few soft spots. One is his late father, Earl, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for valor on Iwo Jima.
So when Philip Yano, a retired colonel in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces, requests Swagger's help in locating the sword that Yano's father carried into battle on Iwo Jima, the two form an immediate emotional bond.
Swagger succeeds in tracking down the sword and flies to Tokyo to return it. But Yano's sword, it seems, has a dark history, one that certain people are willing to kill for, and what started out as mere modern-day mayhem metamorphoses into a resourceful retro-telling of Japan's most famous vendetta, the tale of the 47 Ronin.
Hunter, an acknowledged master of the thriller genre whose 1993 novel featuring Swagger, "Point of Impact," made it to the silver screen earlier this year as "The Shooter," discusses his latest work, scheduled for release in September.
In the book, you have a Japanese kendo (fencing) instructor tell your American protagonist that he "hated 'The Last Samurai.' " How did you feel about that film?
I hated it as well, because it put the little white guy at the center of a Japanese story, and he proved to be smarter, faster and tougher than anyone. In one sense, "The 47th Samurai" is a rebuke to that movie and to the "White Samurai" genre, where that generally happens as well; I made certain that my hero didn't become a better swordfighter than the Japanese, but only a passing adequate one, with definite limits on his skills. His only chance lay in figuring out ways to cheat rather than any innate superiority and he knew that he was doomed against a first-class swordsman.
Did the appearance of two Clint Eastwood films on Iwo Jima influence the timing of "The 47th Samurai"?
Absolutely not. The project was conceived and designed before I even knew the two Eastwood films were coming out. I was three-quarters of the way through the first draft when I saw "Flags of Our Fathers." I was worried that people would somehow be "sick" of Iwo Jima by the time the book came out, and one friend advised me to change the location to another island. But in the end, because Iwo stands for something in the Japanese and the American imagination, I decided to stick with it.
What were some of the more challenging aspects of setting a work in Japan?
Not to trivialize it, not to fall into the cliche of American-in-Japan-finds-the-little-yellow-folks-funny. I tried to imagine a Japanese mind-set and base the motives of the Japanese characters on cultural concepts that have meaning in Japan more powerfully than in America. My worst trouble, however, was with the thing called "Japlish," or the imperfect English spoken in the tourist trade by many Japanese, often to comic effect. Usually I represent Japanese English speakers as fluent and eloquent; on a few occasions I did try and reduce the vocabulary and some of the connective words, because such forms of communication do exist and are a common experience for Americans visiting Japan. I hope my ear for it was good enough so that when Japanese read it, they aren't insulted.
Do you think your American readers will be able to empathize with the tale of the 47 ronin, which took place in 1701?
Who can guess what Americans will empathize with? I only know I empathized with it, and thought it was one of the coolest stories of revenge I'd ever heard and wanted to use it as a basis for a book from the start. I hope the characters and the action and the plot carry the book whether Americans recognize its antecedents or not.
You seem to have spent a great deal of time researching Japanese history and sword fighting. . .
I get obsessed sometimes and in a state of almost reverie; and remember also that the first part of the project, the "research," occurred before I'd even conceived the project. I just had to see samurai films, sometimes two a night, many great, many more really good, pretty many mediocre and a few stinkers. The movies led me to the swords, which led me to the histories, which led me to books on sword fighting. I tried in those sequences to evoke the grace, violence and majesty that I'd seen on film . . . to create, if you will, prose poems that in their rhythms and power and anatomical reality make the reader feel the fight as real, not a movie construct.
In this book, Swagger bonds emotionally with several other characters. He's no longer a tough loner with encapsulated emotions, but has gone a bit sentimental and even mushy. . .
I'm aware that Bob has grown. He is becoming more like his father, with a sense of humor, and a confidence in his ability to speak the language, motivate and lead people in larger contexts than strictly military. He has overcome his bitterness at Vietnam, transcended his exile, taken care of much family business, and now exists as a fully involved person. This may disenchant longtime readers, but if he doesn't grow, he isn't interesting to me.
As Swagger's wife could attest, he took a long time to domesticate. Does the book's happy ending suggest his fighting days are probably over?
I think the old boy may have a fight or two left in him, but no soldiering, no "missions," no "projects." He'll definitely be less physical and more a thinker, a calculator, an investigator, a man with a natural gift for forensics, for understanding the dynamics of a violent encounter. But old men can win gunfights based on skill and savvy as opposed to blinding speed and super reflexes of the young; we might see him do that a time or two.
"The 47th Samurai" is published by Simon & Schuster, 384 pp., $26 (cloth)
That brings us to the Los Angeles Angels, a team that doesn't hit home runs, doesn't draw walks, doesn't successfully steal bases and doesn't show patience at the plate, all cardinal sins in the stat-geek world. However, the Halos do score tons of runs and have the second-best record in the sport, despite only one household name (Vladimir Guerrero). The Angels currently can be seen torturing the Orioles at Camden Yards; their series concludes Thursday night, none too soon for Baltimore's taste, after being edged 10-5 and 18-6 the last two nights.
"They're like the '59 Go-Go White Sox, though I guess nobody remembers them," Orioles Manager Dave Trembley said of those AL champs led by pesky bunters, base stealers and hit-and-run specialists. "They force your hand on every ball. When they get a hit, you better hurry up and get it back [to the infield]. On a single, it's like they go first to third automatically."
Some teams claim they've never seen the Angels' third base coach wave home a runner. That's because every Angel hits third base at a full-tilt boogie, assuming he's going to score, and only alters plans when he sees his coach's only sign: Stop.
"We've gone from first to third base on a single 107 times this season," Garret Anderson said. On what other team does a man with 1,205 career RBI, 10 of them in one game last month at Yankee Stadium, know how many times his teammates have gone first to third? Anderson knows because, at 35, he's still doing it himself. "Constantly going for the extra base is an attitude. You have to be thinking about it before the play starts. You've got to want to do it," he said. "And we all do."
As the season rolls toward the finish line, you can sense which teams are rising, which are sagging. When Boston came through Crab Town, Daisuke Matsuzaka (net cost $103 million) looked gassed, got crushed and left with a 12.56 ERA in his last three starts. In the Bronx, the Yankees wring their hands as Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina show their age. Meanwhile, the Angels have simply lapped the field in the AL West, built a 9 1/2 -game lead entering Wednesday night, rested their injured and now lay in wait.
Everywhere you look, there's an Angel on the mend or on a torrid streak. On Tuesday, after five days' rest for a minor injury, Guerrero returned with two homers to dead center. Since May 31, leadoff man Chone Figgins is baseball's top hitter (.406). The classy Anderson, hurt early, has 62 RBI in 56 games since the all-star break. The bullpen, anchored by Francisco Rodriguez, is so strong that they haven't lost a game after taking a lead into the eighth inning since April 19 -- of 2006. Kelvim Escobar (17-7) and John Lackey (16-8) are having Cy Young-contender seasons. Orlando Cabrera, hitting .305 and leading all shortstops in fielding percentage, "does everything for us that Derek Jeter does for the Yankees," Manager Mike Scioscia said.
"The Angels may not be the most publicized team, but a lot of people [in the game] may be picking them to go all the way," Orioles President Andy MacPhail said. "They'll be rested, have their pitching all set up. They can identify a certain type of player that really suits their game. There's method to their madness."
And delicious madness it is. Nobody plays like the Angels. The burly Scioscia stresses fundamentals, demands hustle and is delighted that few people understand what makes his team tick. The Angels are 26th in home runs with only three more than the lowly Nationals. Yet they'd scored 177 more runs than Washington. They're 27th in walks and next to last in "pitches seen" (patience at the plate). They've been caught stealing more than any team and rank 20th in stolen base percentage, though they're second in steals.
According to the "Moneyball" types, this should neuter their offense. But they are fifth in baseball in runs, close to Boston.
"We're aggressive because we have to be. It's not an organizational idea; it's just suits the personnel we have. We can't wait for homers. We think it's what you do once you get on base that matters. Don't die on the vine," said Scioscia, aware that this baseball age denigrates the stolen base as an antiquated tool, discredited by statistical analysis. But the geeks are wrong -- at least in the case of a team built on all-fields, high-batting-average slash hitters who seldom strike out (third lowest in baseball).
"There is a residual effect that goes beyond the stolen base itself. And it doesn't show up in statistics," Scioscia said. Yet, if you watch the Angels, you can sense how anti-steal "Moneyball" numbers can lie while aggressive base running creates chaos and kills.
As an added benefit, gaudy superstar-laden teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees -- who often have offense-first outfielders with weak arms -- are driven crazy by such humble dead-ball era tactics. Being beaten by the Angels is like being tied down, covered in honey and nibbled to death by insects.
"We're not reinventing the game. We're a group doing what we need to do to win with what we've got," Scioscia said.
Told that Trembley compared his team to the '59 Chisox, a team with only one 20-homer man and led by little pests Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, Scioscia took it as a compliment. After all, Guerrero may be his only hitter with 20 homers or 85 RBI.
"There have always been teams that were hard to explain, but they won -- the '69 and '73 Mets," Scioscia said. "We'll see. No talkin' about October yet. That's too far off."
When next month rolls around, the Angels will be there, with bugs such as Figgins, Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick, Reggie Willits, Mike Napoli and Maicer Izturis in key roles. How can that be? Those six, combined, are hitting .300.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
This week of national remembrance also marks the release of the new book by Laura Ingraham, Power to the People. John Miller interviews her about the book a bit here. I'd like to talk more personally about what Laura's voice on the radio has come to mean to many of us.
I've known Laura for a long time: first as a crusading young journalist at Dartmouth, then as a rising young law clerk, next as a television host, and now as one of America's leading stars of talk radio. She has always been brilliant and brave, but over the past three years — uncoincidentally coinciding with her triumphant struggle against cancer — she has gained a new eloquence.
Laura was among the very first to come out in opposition to the Harriet Miers nomination — not because she is undeliberate, but because she is one of the best-informed journalists in America on everything to do with the legal system and the courts. It's not just that she knows a lot of law (although she does). She also does the work to stay plugged into the discussions among lawyers and legal scholars.
Laura's show is truly very funny, but it is also very sophisticated and smart. For all that we are supposed to denigrate the evils of life inside the Beltway, there's no substitute for being connected and knowledgeable.
Best of all, Laura's radio persona remains remarkably untainted by ego. Radio is no medium for the bashful, of course, but when I listen to Laura, I hear the voice of someone who has much to share — but also never pretends to know all the answers.
We fans have seen Laura through some very difficult personal times these past months. She has poured much of the emotion of those days into this new and very personal book. We her listeners have come to cherish her more as we feared we might lose her — and now we have her back securely among the living again, feistier than ever, with more battles to wage and much more than ever to say.
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 13/09/2007
Bruce Springsteen's latest album and tour will see him roaring with renewed energy and anger, says Neil McCormick
There are thundering drums, a towering wall of chugging, chiming, riffing guitars through which a raw, wailing sax is trying to punch a hole, while a gruff, desperate voice calls: "Is there anybody alive out there?" It is the return of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, laying their marker down with roaring rocker Radio Nowhere.
The anthemic single, which has already been widely heard, heralds a new album from New Jersey's finest. To be called Magic, it will be released on Oct 1. This is the kind of news capable of inducing paroxysms of excitement in music fans of a certain age, for whom the 57-year-old veteran represents the very pinnacle of rock culture.
Those less enamoured may just shrug their shoulders. After all, Springsteen can hardly be considered the most groundbreaking artist, his rootsy style drawing on rock and roll, doo wop, soul, gospel and country.
There is nothing in this track to suggest any new sonic developments, and even the lyrics cover well-worn themes, with the narrator "driving through the misty rain" on "the last lone American night", his fingers "spinnin' round a dead dial" while all he can hear is "a drone bouncing off a satellite". "I just want to hear some rhythm," he pleads.
It might seem a lot of fuss about not being able to find a decent station on the car radio.
Ah, but things are rarely quite that simple in the world of Springsteen. For all the fist-waving associated with his live performances, he is a subtle master of the miniature narrative in which big themes are refracted.
In his best songs, the personal becomes universal and, as often as not, political. And there is an undercurrent of disquiet in the single, a sense that all is not well in Springsteen's very particular vision of America.
Perhaps it is the fact that music - and in particular rock-and-roll radio - forms an essential part of his mythos, something that connects Americans to the true values of their nation. But, in Radio Nowhere, his driver's loneliness is accompanied only by static. Something has been lost, and he seems uncertain where to find it.
The one-word album title, Magic, is very un-Springsteen. There is no beat poetry here, just a seemingly generic, innocuous and much over-used word, much associated with glitzy entertainment.
But there is a deep irony in the way Springsteen employs it, for there is a particular kind of black magic at the heart of his most recent songs. It is visible between the lines of 2005's sombre Devils & Dust, where idealistic visions of the land of the free disappear in the shimmering heat haze of the Iraqi desert.
Although Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, has been insisting "politics is not the primary intention of this album", there are plenty of indications that this could be misleading.
An artist deeply tuned into the American psyche, Springsteen has almost acted as the musical conscience of his country, and his output over this decade has chronicled a nation's increasing unease with itself.
His extraordinary 2002 double album, The Rising (marking a reunion of the E Street Band for the first album since the 1984 classic Born in the USA), was an attempt to articulate his countrymen's bewildered response to the events of 9/11.
The sombre, solo, stripped-back Devils & Dust suggested disillusion with the warmongering direction his country was taking, pondering "what if what you do to survive/kills the things you love?" The characters in Devils & Dust are bewildered and bereft, honourable ordinary men and women clinging to fading ideals.
Last year's joyously raucous We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, recorded with a large, improvising ensemble, might have seemed a complete departure except that, by reclaiming old protest songs, Springsteen was reasserting the innate political liberalism of that mythical America, built on principles of freedom and equality.
There was a sense that Springsteen initially disbanded the E Street Band because the scale of their sound was somehow limiting. When he calls them together, it is because that scale suits the songs, suggesting he has something vital and significant to say. "We've been together since 1974, and I don't think I've ever seen him more excited than he is right now about this record," says Landau.
With a tour kicking off in North America in October, reaching Europe in November (and London's O2 on Dec 19), it would appear Springsteen is ready to do some grandstanding, and somehow turn his complex thoughts and feelings about the country he loves into big, radio-friendly pop music.
I will let you into a secret: I have heard the new album. But all I can say for now is that it excited me as much as anything Springsteen has produced, bitter pills sugar-coated by the immense rock and roll of a great band.
Some of the titles alone convey a sense of Springsteen's ambivalence, verging on disappointment, with his emotionally divided nation: Your Own Worst Enemy, Last to Die, Devil's Arcade and Long Walk Home. The latter was performed during his last tour, and a version has been previously available as an official live recording on the internet. Landau called it the "summational song on the album, one of Bruce's great masterpieces".
It is a truly great song, as anyone who heard it live can attest, and a key to his subtle marriage of the personal and political.
The narrator recalls his father's words about a time when "the flag flying over the courthouse/Means certain things are set in stone/Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't." Springsteen concludes, "It's gonna be a long walk home", yet makes the idea of the journey uplifting, with that knack he has of discovering redemption in the most desperate situations.
There was a time when Springsteen's protagonists yearned to escape small-town America, rebelling against its stultifying insularity on Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Now, it appears, he longs for a return to simple values, kindness to neighbours, the familiarity of what we know - basic decency.
That he can distil all of this in ultimately life-affirming pop music is a gift. They don't call him The Boss for nothing. There was a time when Springsteen's protagonists yearned to escape small town America, rebelling against its stultifying insularity on 'Born To Run' and 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'.
Now, it appears, older and wiser, he longs for a return to simple values, kindness to neighbours, the familiarity of what we know, basic decency. That he can distil all of this in what is ultimately life affirming pop music is a special gift.
"I want a thousand guitars / I want pounding drums / I want a million voices speaking in tongues," Springsteen demands on 'Radio Nowhere', while his band do their best to provide just that. They don't call him The Boss for nothing.
Copyright © 2007 The American Conservative
From death of the West—to knights of the West
The Call of Duty—and Destiny
In one of the great epics of Western literature, the hero, confronted by numerous and powerful enemies, temporarily gives in to weakness and self-pity. “I wish,” he sighs, “none of this had happened.” The hero’s wise adviser responds, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.” The old man continues, “There are other forces at work in this world … besides the will of evil.” Some events, he adds, are “meant” to be, “And that is an encouraging thought.”
Indeed it is. Perhaps, today, we are meant to live in these times. Perhaps right here, right now, we are meant to be tested. Maybe we are meant to have faith that other forces are at work in this world, that we are meant to rediscover our strength and our survival skills.
And so the question: can we, the people of the West, be brought to failure despite our enormous cultural and spiritual legacy? Three thousand years of history look down upon us: does this generation wish to be remembered for not having had the strength to look danger squarely in the eye? For having failed to harness our latent strength in our own defense?
With apologies to the frankenfood-fearers and polar bear-sentimentalizers, the biggest danger we face is the Clash of Civilizations, especially as we rub against the “bloody borders” of Islam.
What if, in the coming century, we lose that clash—and the source of our civilization? What if Muslims take over Europe? What if “Eurabia” indeed comes to pass? Would Islamic invaders demolish the Vatican, as the Taliban dynamited Afghanistan’s Buddhas of Bamyan in 2001? Or would they settle merely for stripping the great cathedrals of Europe of all their Christian adornment, rendering them into mosques? And what if the surviving non-Muslim population of Europe is reduced to subservient “dhimmitude”?
It could happen. Many think it will. In July 2004, Princeton historian Bernard Lewis told Germany’s Die Welt that Europe would be Islamic by the end of this century, “at the very latest.” Other observers, too, have spoken out: Melanie Phillips in Londonistan, Bruce Bawer in While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, and Mark Steyn in America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. Admittedly, these writers share a mostly neoconservative perspective, but such can’t be said for Patrick Buchanan, author of the book that out-Spenglers Spengler, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization.
On the other side of the great divide, militant Muslims are feeling the wind at their backs. Last November, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, released an audiotape in which he vowed, “We will not rest from our jihad until we are under the olive trees of the Roman Empire”—which is to say, much of Europe. This August, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, traveling to Afghanistan, declared, “There is no way for salvation of mankind but rule of Islam over mankind.” To be sure, there’s no shortage of Christians who speak this way, but none of them are currently heads of state.
If demography is the author of destiny, then the danger of Europe falling within dar al-Islam is real. And in addition to the teeming Muslim lumpen already within the gates, plenty more are coming. According to United Nations data, the population of the Arab world will increase from 321 million in 2004 to 598 million in 2050. Are those swarming masses really going to hang back in Egypt and Yemen when Europe beckons? And of course, over the horizon, just past Araby, abide the Muslim multitudes of Central Asia and Africa, where tens of millions more would love to make the secular hajj to, say, Rome or Berlin.
In other words, if present trends continue, the green flag of Islam—bearing the shahada, the declaration of faith, “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God”—could be fluttering above Athens and Rotterdam in the lifespan of a youngster today. If so, then the glory of Europe as the hub of Greco-Roman and Christian civilization would be extinguished forever.
If this Muslimization befalls Europe, the consequences would be catastrophic for Americans as well. Although some neoconservatives, bitter at Old European “surrender monkeys,” might be quietly pleased at the prospect, the fact is that a Salafist Surge into the heart of Europe—destroying the civilization that bequeathed to us Aesop and Aristotle, Voltaire and the Victorians—would be a psychic wound that would never heal, not across the great sward of America, not even in the carpeted think-warrens of the American Enterprise Institute. A dolorous bell would toll for all of us, scattered as we might be in the European Diaspora.
So for better ideas, we might turn to J.R.R. Tolkien. The medievalist-turned-novelist, best-known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, has been admired by readers and moviegoers alike for his fantastic flights. Yet we might make special note of his underlying political, even strategic, perspective. Amid all his swords and sorcery, we perhaps have neglected Tolkien’s ultimate point: some things are worth fighting for—and other things are not worth fighting for; indeed, it is a tragic mistake even to try.
In his subtle way, Tolkien argues for a vision of individual and collective self-preservation that embraces a realistic view of human nature, including its limitations, even as it accepts difference and diversity. Moreover, Tolkien counsels robust self-defense in one’s own area—the homeland, which he calls the Shire—even as he advocates an overall modesty of heroic ambition. All in all, that’s not a bad approach for true conservatives, who appreciate the value of lumpy hodgepodge as opposed to artificially imposed universalisms.
So with Tolkien in mind, we might speak of the “Shire Strategy.” It’s simple: the Shire is ours, we want to keep it, and so we must defend it. Yet by the same principle, since others have their homelands and their rights, we should leave them alone, as long as they leave us alone. Live and let live. That’s not world-historical, merely practical. For us, after our recent spasm of universalism—the dogmatically narcissistic view that everyone, everywhere wants to be like us—it’s time for a healthy respite, moving toward an each-to-his-own particularism.
Tolkien comes to the particular through the peculiar, creating his Bosch-like wonderland of exotic beings: Elves, Orcs, Trolls, Wargs, Werewolves, Ents, Eastlings, Southrons. To audiences relentlessly tutored in the PC pieties of skin-deep multiculturalism, Tolkien offers a different sort of diversity—of genuine difference, with no pretense of similarity, let alone universal equality. In his world, it is perfectly natural that all creatures great and small—the Hobbits are indeed small, around three feet high—have their own place in the great chain of being.
So the Hobbits, low down on that chain, mind their own business. One of their aphorisms is the need to avoid “trouble too big for you.” Indeed, even Hobbits are subdivided into different breeds, each with its own traits. Frodo, for instance, is a Fallohide, not to be confused with a Harfoot or a Stoor. Tolkien wasn’t describing a clash of civilizations—he was setting forth an abundance of civilizations, each blooming and buzzing and doing its own thing.
In addition to the innate differences, Tolkien added a layer of tragic complexity: the enticement of power. Some races in Middle Earth were given Rings of Power—19 in all, symbolizing technological might but also a metaphor for hubristic overreach: “Three Rings for Elven-kings under the sky / Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone / Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die.” One notes immediately that the Hobbits, along with other categories of being, have received no rings. Again, Tolkien’s world doesn’t pretend to be fair; we get what we are given, by the design (or maybe for the amusement) of greater powers. Only one threat endangers this yeasty diversity—the flowing tide of overweening universalism, emblemized by Sauron, who seeks to conquer the whole wide world, and everyone and everything in it.
Of all the men and mice in Tolkien’s bestiary, the Hobbits are his favorite. Jolly good peasants that they are, Hobbits never hunger for martial fabulation or Riefenstahlian dramatization; their nature is to accomplish their mission first and brag about it only afterward. And the Hobbits’ biggest mission, of course, is the destruction of the One Ring. In Tolkien’s tale, there aren’t 19 Rings, as thought, but actually 20, and that 20th Ring, the One Ring, or Ruling Ring, is most to be feared. Loaded as it is with Wagnerian overtones, the One Ring is Tolkien’s symbol of evil, or, more precisely, it symbolizes temptation, which leads to evil. Even the dreaded Sauron is but a slave to his ambition to acquire the One Ring—and if Sauron can get it, then all hope for freedom and difference will be lost under his world-flattening tyranny.
Happily, unique among sentient beings, the Hobbits seem relatively immune to Ringed seduction. Hobbits like to smoke and drink, but all grander forms of world-girdling intoxication are lost on these simple folk. Hobbits just want their Shire to return to normalcy.
Enter Frodo, hero Hobbit. Tolkien, who served as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the Great War, modeled Frodo, admiringly, after the Tommies—the grunt infantrymen—who fought alongside him. Neither a defeatist nor a militarist, Tolkien admired those men who were simultaneously stoic and heroic. In the words of medieval historian Norman Cantor, “Frodo is not physically powerful, and his judgment is sometimes erratic. He wants not to bring about the golden era but to get rid of the Ring, to place it beyond the powers of evil; not to transform the world but to bring peace and quiet to the Shire.” Because of their innate modestly, only Hobbits have the hope of resisting the sorcery of the Ring. Frodo volunteers to carry the Ring to the lip of a volcano, Mt. Doom, there to cast it down and destroy it once and for all.
And even for Frodo, the task is not easy; he’s that lonely epic hero who wishes that none of this had happened. But as the wise Gandalf tells him, it was meant to happen And so it goes: events unfold to a successful but still bittersweet conclusion.
Indeed, the greatest desire for power, Ring-lust, is felt by men, not the lesser beings. And so when our heroes are confronted by two dangers—the danger from Sauron’s encroaching army, hunting for the Ring, and the infinitely direr prospect that Sauron might gain the Ring—it is a mostly virtuous man, Boromir, who is most sorely tempted. Don’t destroy the Ring, Boromir insists; use the Ring to repel Sauron: “Take it and go forth to victory!” In other words, use the Ring to guarantee triumph. But that’s Tolkien’s point: absolute power is always tempting—and always corrupting.
The good are good only as long as they resist temptation. A wise Elf, Elrond, answers Boromir: “We cannot use the Ruling Ring … the very desire of it corrupts the heart.” That is, a good man who uses the Ring automatically becomes a bad man, who would “set himself on Sauron’s throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear.” And so the varied group convened by Elrond—Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits—agrees to an arduous plan. The Council of Elrond will fight Sauron’s army through “conventional” means, while a smaller team, the Fellowship of the Ring, chiefly Frodo, crosses into enemy territory in hopes of destroying the sinister golden band. But as Tolkien makes clear, the Ring threatens to overwhelm everyone, and everything, with temptation.
Tolkien died in 1973. During his lifetime, and ever since, critics and pundits have put their own spin on his work. He was writing, it was said, about the totalitarian temptation. About the lure of fascism. Or maybe about the Circean song of communism. Or perhaps it was all a jeremiad aimed at industrialization. Each of these was, of course, a universalism, and so each was, in its way, antithetical to the natural variegation that Tolkien so treasured.
J. R. R. Tolkien
The author himself abjured simplistic allegorical explanation, perhaps in part to keep his multiple audiences happy. In the ’60s, for instance, the Hobbits were celebrated as proto-hippies, inspiring jokes about what might be tamped into their smoking pipes; the whole oeuvre was seen as a druggy trip. But Tolkien once confided, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” That is, Catholic in the sense that reality and history are complicated, that the world is rich in majesty and mystery, that human nature is but a poor vessel. In his world, the Shire is Christendom, and Christendom is the Shire.
Yet more than three decades after Tolkien’s death, new universalisms—new all-encompassing ideologies—have gained prominence, vexing, once again, tradition and difference throughout the world. One such universalism is capitalist globalism. In the late ’80s, Francis Fukuyama published his legendarily misguided piece “The End of History?” suggesting that the West had found The Answer. Madeleine Albright expressed similar hubris when she declared that America was “the indispensable nation.” And Thomas Friedman has since argued that everyone has to submit to “golden handcuffs,” managed by planetary financiers, even as the wondrous force of capitalism “flattens” the world. But of course, it took Paul Wolfowitz to bring Rousseau to life in another century: Uncle Sam would force people to be free. And how are these bright bold visions working out, in the wake of 9/11, in a world that includes IEDs, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-Jazeera?
Defending—and Redefining—the Shire
Underneath his neo-medievalism, Tolkien preached realism. He wrote, “It will not do to leave a live dragon out of your plans if you live near one.” That is, the dragon, red in tooth and crescent, is lurking. It cannot be ignored.
Nor can we ignore the painful reality of a genuine fifth column in the West. This summer, Gordon Brown’s government concluded that 1 in 11 British Muslims—almost 150,000 people living in the United Kingdom—“proactively” supports terrorism, with still more rated as passive supporters. And this spring, a Pew Center survey found that 13 percent of American Muslims, as well as 26 percent aged 18-29, were bold enough to tell a pollster that suicide bombing was “sometimes” justified. These Muslim infiltrators, of course, have potential access to weapons of mass destruction.
So what to do? Call the ACLU? The United Nations?
That won’t work. Just as the Roman Empire’s dream of universal dominion once collapsed, leaving the peoples of Europe to create new institutions for their own survival, so, today, any thought that the United Nations could save us from ruin has evaporated. The Blue Helmets have fallen, and they can’t get up.
At the same time, at a level just below the UN, the vision of an ever-expanding European Union, to include all the states touching the Mediterranean, has happily collapsed. Now it seems certain that even Turkey will never be admitted. Increasingly, people see that in a world of transnational terrorism, the key issue is not figuring out a common agricultural policy that unites Denmark and Cyprus, but rather a common survival policy for Europa, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Ural Mountains.
So we must look to older models for hope and survival—models more faithful, more fighting, more fertile. A case in point is France. To be sure, on the Mars-Venus continuum, most Americans regard the French as hopelessly Venus, but they were Mars in the past. Perhaps their most virtuous Martian was Charles Martel, King of the Franks, who defeated the Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours in AD 732. In the words of the contemporaneous chronicler, Isidore of Beja, “In the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords, they hewed down the Arabs.” The defeat of the Muslims was one of the “Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,” according to 19th-century historian Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy, because it saved the West from destruction.
Charles Martel at The Battle of Tours
The French have remembered “Charles the Hammer” ever since, even naming warships after him. Indeed, across 2,000 years, from Vercingetorix to Charlemagne (Martel’s grandson) to Napoleon, the French have showed plenty of fight, and usually much skill. That’s why there’s still a France. And now, despite their recent failures and cupidities, the French are showing renewed determination, as in the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, a man who based his campaign on restoring border security, as well as law and order, to his beleaguered nation.
Meanwhile, as European birthrates plummet, the continent faces the prospect of demographic desiccation. Yet surely a civilization-saving alternative to imported Muslimization must be found. One option, bringing in Eastern Europeans to Western Europe, is probably less than desirable because those Eastern Europeans are needed where they are, to defend Russia and Ukraine against the New Tatars further east. A better solution would be to bring the poorer children of Europe—from countries such as Argentina—home to Europe, allowing the New World to help rescue the Old World.
But we need bigger and broader ideas as well, to replace the doddering vision of international law as the antidote to terrorism.
The Revival of Christendom
Two years ago, the Eurocrats in Brussels drafted a 300-page EU constitution that consciously omitted reference to Europe’s specifically Christian heritage. The voters of France, as well as Holland, rejected that secular document.
Maybe there’s a lesson here. The people of Europe might not be so eager, after all, to declare that they are “united in diversity.” What does that phrase mean, anyway? How about trying to find something that unites Europeans in unity? How about a revival of Christendom as a concept—as a political concept? A revival, or at least a remembrance, of Europe’s cultural heritage could be the healing force that Europe needs.
After all, it worked in the past. In the words of the 19th-century French historian Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, the victory of Christianity marked “the end of ancient society”—and all the petty divisions that went with it. Fustel de Coulanges continues, “Man felt that he had other obligations besides that of living and dying for the city. Christianity distinguished the private from the public virtues. By giving less honor to the latter, it elevated the former; it placed God, the family, the human individual above country, the neighbor above the city.”
As history proves, a larger communion can be built on such sentiments. In the 9th century, Alcuin of York declared that the crowning of Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor would bring forth a new Imperium Christianum. Ten centuries later, Hilaire Belloc asserted, “The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith.” Indeed, during those many centuries, Europe enjoyed a pretty good run. Only in the last century—the century of atheists, psychiatrists, and National Socialists—has Europe’s survivability come into question. Today, the Christian author Os Guiness puts the issue plainly: “A Europe cut off from its spiritual roots cannot survive.”
Some will smile at the thought that Christianity might be part of the solution to the problems of the Third Millennium. Admittedly, there’s an element of faith in the idea of trying to revive the idea of Christian unity. But Christendom is the Shire Strategy, applied.
To keep the peace, we must separate our civilizations. We must start with a political principle, that the West shall stay the West, while the East can do as it wishes on its side of the frontier, and only on its side. The classical political maxim cuius regio, eius religio (“whose region, his religion”) makes sense. To be sure, it has been unfashionable to talk this way in the West, but Muslims are avidly applying it as they set about martyring the remaining Christian populations of Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt. So we of the West can build walls, as needed, and as physically imposing as need be. Going further, we can finally recognize the need for an energy-independence embargo, so that we no longer finance those who wish to conquer or kill us.
For obvious reasons, strategic as well as moral, the Western political alliance must be bigger than just a few relatively friendly countries along the other side of the Atlantic. It should include, most pressingly, Russia. Vladimir Putin might think of himself as a rival, even a foe, of the United States, but he knows he faces a mortal enemy in Islam; it’s the Chechens who are killing his soldiers. So as Russia enjoys its own Christian revival, a reconciliation with mostly Christian America is possible. Immediately, America should renew the spirit of Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative speech, in which the Gipper called for including Moscow inside the protective shield. So instead of building missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe, dividing Europe from Russia, the United States should put those sites in Russia’s southern reaches, to face the real enemy, which is Iran and the rest of nuclear Islam. Even Putin has suggested this defensive placement, perhaps because down deep, he, too, understands that the Christian West should be unified, not divided.
But what of Christians elsewhere in the world? What, for example, of Latin America—which includes the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez? And even more urgently, what of Africa, where Christians are suffering from many afflictions, including the inexorable Muslim advance, pushing south past the 10th parallel into the Christian populations of countries including Nigeria, Sudan, and Ethiopia? How to withstand these many challenges?
The answer: through political co-operation. In Tolkien’s world, it was the Council of Elrond. Perhaps in our world, it could be Council of the West.
It’s been done before. In AD 325, Constantine the Great convened the Council of Nicaea, drawing together quarrelsome bishops from across Europe to hammer out the basic doctrines of the church. Constantine was the first Christian Roman Emperor, although he concerned himself more with geopolitics than theological minutiae. “It is my desire,” he told this first ecumenical convocation, “that you should meet together in a general council … and to know you are resolved to be in common harmony together.” The council was a success, producing the Nicene Creed, which united European faith for centuries to come.
But today, how to find a new unity that reaches across oceans and continents, to include the likes of Putin and Chavez? Answer: with great difficulty, not all at once, and with no certainty of success.
And what of other hard cases? What of Africa? The Christian countries of Africa are part of the Shire Strategy and need to be embraced with tough love. The immediate mission is to delineate a Christian Zone and a Muslim Zone, dividing countries if need be. All Christians, and all Muslims, have a stake in minimizing conflict; the obvious way is by separating the combatants. So a wall should go up between the warring faiths, and then a bigger wall, until the flashpoint risk of civilization clash goes away. Then, and only then, might we hope to find workable solutions within the Christian Zone.
Some will insist that this neo-Constantinian vision of muscular political Christendom is implausible—or inimical to world peace. But in fact, whether we like it or not, the world is forming into blocs. Samuel Huntington was right about “the clash of civilizations”—but with political skill, we can keep clashes from becoming larger wars.
No matter what we say or do, the blocs of Hindus, Chinese, and Japanese are all going their separate cultural ways, rediscovering their own unique heritages. And Islam, of course, is at odds with all of its neighbors. In his book a decade ago, Huntington, mindful of the indirect danger posed by American universalism, was even more mindful of the direct danger posed by Muslims: “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards,” he writes. “Muslim bellicosity and violence are late-twentieth century facts which neither Muslims nor non-Muslims can deny.” That’s bad news, but there’s a silver lining: if Westerners, Russians, Africans, Hindus, and Chinese all feel threatened by Islam—and they all do—there’s plenty of opportunity for a larger encircling alliance, with an eye toward feasible strategies of containment, even quarantine. But not conquest, not occupation, not “liberation.” So the big question is whether or not Christians will continue to be divided into four blocs, as they are at present: Western, Russian, African, Latin. Can four smaller Christian blocs really become one big bloc? One Christendom? Perhaps—borrowing once again from Tolkien—such unification was meant to happen.
That is an encouraging thought: a Council of the West, bringing all the historically Christians countries of the world into one communion.
The Rescue of Israel
But what of Israel? If East is East and West is West, what of the Jewish state, which sits in the East? After all, the entire Middle Eastern region is looking more and more Mordor-like. Tolkien described that terrible wasteland: “High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.” Not much hope there, at least for Westerners. Whatever possessed us to think we could make Muslims into our own image? Was it a Ring that lured us?
We can make two points: first, Israel must survive, and second, on its current course, Israel will likely not survive.
In recent years, Israel finds its strategic situation worsening. It is increasingly confronted, not by incompetent tinhorn dictators but by determined Muslim jihadists, many of whom live in the Palestinian territories, some of whom live within Israel itself. Meanwhile, Iran proceeds with its nuclear program, while Pakistan, just a heartbeat away from Taliban-ification, already has its nukes in place, ready for export should the right fatwa be uttered. And the Russians and the Chinese, empowered and lured by high energy prices, have their own designs on the region, which include no good tidings for Jews.
Unfortunately, if we look forthrightly into the future, we can see blood and fire ahead for Israel. Aside from the civilization-jolting moral tragedy of a Second Holocaust—a phrase used freely, albeit not lightly, by such Jewish observers as Philip Roth and Ron Rosenbaum—there would be the physical devastation of the Holy Land. How would Christians recover from the demolition of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem? How would Diasporic Jews absorb the Temple Mount’s obliteration? And how, for that matter, would Muslims react to the detonation of the Noble Sanctuary, which sits atop that mount?
Any destruction of Israel would be accompanied, one way or another, by the destruction of much of the Middle East. If Masada came again to Zion, it would likely also be a Strangelovian doomsday for tens or hundreds of millions in the Middle East. And it might mean the annihilation as well of other Muslim religious sites, from Qum and Karbala to, yes, Mecca and Medina.
Some say that the solution to Middle Eastern problems is some sort of pre-emptive strike: get Them before they get Us. That, of course, is exactly the sort of bewitching that Tolkien warned most strongly against—the frenzy to solve a problem through one hubristic stroke, to grab the One Ring of power for oneself, even if that grabbing guarantees one’s own fall into darkness.
A better vision is needed. The Council of the West must do its duty, to Christians, to Jews, and to the need of the world for peace. Having agreed that Israel must survive, within the protective ambit of Christendom, the council could engage Muslims—who are, themselves, in the process of restoring the Caliphate—in a grand summit. Only then, when West meets East, in diplomatic twain, might a chance exist for an enduring settlement. When all Christians, and all Muslims, are brought to the bargaining table, they all become stakeholders in a pacific outcome.
This summit of civilizations would be difficult and expensive, even heartbreaking. It might take a hundred years. But let us begin because the reward could be great: blessed are the peacemakers.
The Knights of the West
With great effort, the West could unite around the Shire Strategy, seeking to secure and protect all our Christendom, spanning oceans and continents. But it won’t be easy. It will take more than diplomacy—it will take strength.
This Shire is ours now, but the way things are going, it won’t be ours permanently. So we must vow to defend the Shire, always. In the last of the “Rings” films, Aragorn the Strider proclaims, in full St. Crispin’s Day mode, “A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!”
Inscription: Molon Lave (Come and get it!)
The sculpture was dedicated to King Leonidas by Panos S. Koumantaros, a citizen from Sparta in 1968.
We in the West will always need warriors. We must have chevaliers sans peur et sans reproche—“Knights without fear and without reproach”—to safeguard our marches and protect our homes. Men such as Leonidas, whose Immortal 300 held off the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 BC, long enough for other Greeks to rally and save the nascent West. Or Aetius, the last noble Roman, who defeated Attila the Hun, Scourge of God, at Chalons in AD 451. Or Don Juan of Austria, who led the Holy League to naval victory over the Turks at Lepanto in 1571. Or Jon Sobieski, whose Polish cavalry rescued Vienna from the Turks in 1683.
These are not just legends, not just fictional characters—they were real. And if we dutifully honor those heroes, as heroic Men of the West and of Christendom, we will be rewarded with more such heroic men.
Future epics await us. Future Knights of the West, ready to defend Christendom, are waiting to be born, waiting for the call of duty. If we bring them forth with faith and wisdom and confidence, then also will come new heroes and new legends.
Maybe it was meant to be. And that is an encouraging thought.
James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday and a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. He served in the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.