Saturday, September 05, 2009

Long and Winding Road, Newly Repaved

By ALLAN KOZINN

The New York Times
September 6, 2009

THE newly remastered CDs of the Beatles’ original albums and singles, which EMI and Apple Corps, the Beatles’ company, are releasing on Wednesday, have less of a gee-whiz factor than The Beatles: Rock Band, which hits stores on the same day. But for those of us for whom the music is paramount — and who will forever refer to Rock Band as “the toy” — the game is a plastic tail wagging a cartoonish dog. And though the compact disc, as a format, may be on its deathbed, these remastered CDs are really the main event.

The complete catalog, in mono and stereo, has been given a careful digital upgrade. These are straightforward transfers of the albums as they were released in Britain, rather than the American versions, which were reconfigured by Capitol Records (to the Beatles’ chagrin). Do not look for bonus tracks: the only extras are making-of documentaries on each of the stereo discs. And although the stereo and mono mixes could have fit together on single CDs, in most cases EMI is selling them separately.

The up side: In most cases this music has dimension and detail that it never had before, and the new packaging reflects each album’s musical and cultural importance. Over all, the new discs sound substantially better than the Beatles’ original CDs, which EMI issued in 1987. The most striking and consistent improvements are a heftier, rounded, three-dimensional bass sound, and drums that now sound like drums, rather than something in the distance being hit. But because each album has its own sonic character, due partly to developments in recording technology during the Beatles’ career, and partly to the growing complexity of their work, some discs are improved more radically than others, and some are hardly improved at all.

Probably the most revelatory of the new transfers is the stereo White Album. From the opening jet engine effects on “Back in the U.S.S.R” to the final orchestral chord on “Good Night,” this album now leaps from the speakers. Gentler songs like “Julia” and “I Will” have a lovely transparency, and hard rockers like “Yer Blues” and “Helter Skelter” — as well as John Lennon’s quirky vision of dystopia, “Revolution 9” — have a power and fullness unheard until now.

“Abbey Road” also benefits considerably. The clearer instrumental profiles serve this rich-textured album beautifully: “Sun King” and “Here Comes the Sun” are unusually supple; the vocal on “You Never Give Me Your Money” no longer has a shrill edge, and Lennon’s proto-Minimalist “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” has never sounded more mesmerizing. Nor has the group’s valedictory jam in “The End.”

And if you are cherry-picking among these reissues, the two-CD singles compilation “Past Masters” should be near the top of your list. The stereo mixes of these songs are often less hard hitting than the mono singles were, but the remastered versions, with their enriched bass, palpable drum sound and improved sense of vocal presence, no longer sound anemic. You find yourself discovering textural details (the percussion overlay in “She’s a Woman” is one such surprise) that show how imaginative the Beatles’ arrangements are.

It’s about time. In 1987 the elation of finally getting the group’s classic recordings on CD, four years after the format was introduced, quickly gave way to disappointment with the discs’ sound quality and presentation. Like many early CDs, several (though not all) of the Beatles’ discs had a harsh upper range. And except for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which was put in a deluxe package with liner essays and archival photos, the 1987 CDs came with minimal, slapdash artwork.

Collectors who had long prized both the mono and stereo mixes of the group’s albums, which have different attractions (and sometimes different vocal takes and instrumental details), and had hoped that EMI would find a way to release both mixes on CD, were upset that the 1987 series offered the first four albums only in mono and the rest only in stereo. In one sense all of the group’s music had made the transfer; in another, about half the catalog was missing.

In a way it still is: the stereo recordings are available either individually for $18.98; $24.98 for double albums, or boxed (as “The Beatles”) for $259.98. But the mono albums can be had only in a 13-disc boxed set, “The Beatles in Mono,” for $298.98, which covers up to the White Album (the last album the group mixed in mono) and includes a mono version of the “Past Masters” singles compilation that includes previously unissued mono mixes of “Across the Universe” and songs from the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack.

The Beatles and their producer, George Martin, considered the mono mixes definitive, and you don’t have to be a Beatles completist to see why. “She’s Leaving Home,” which drags sappily on the stereo “Sgt. Pepper,” is faster on the mono album, which also has a decidedly more psychedelic sounding “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” a punchier “Good Morning, Good Morning” and a sizzling reprise of the title song. “Magical Mystery Tour” is far more solid and detailed in mono, and the White Album is packed with details you don’t hear in the stereo mix. But by making them available only in a collectors’ box, EMI has made it impossible for many listeners to sample one or two.

To produce the new CDs, EMI returned to the mono and stereo masters prepared for the group’s vinyl releases in the 1960s, which the label says have remained in pristine condition. These are the same tapes EMI used in 1987, but analog-to-digital technology has improved considerably since then, making it possible to get a much more fine-grained, high-resolution digital transfer. And where the 1987 transfers were done quickly, the new set was assembled over four years, with different teams working on the mono and stereo recordings.

As in 1987 there are two exceptions to the “’60s masters only” rule: the stereo “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” discs use the remixes that Mr. Martin made for the 1987 CDs. It may seem inconsistent to present these remixes as the de facto standards, given that Allan Rouse, who oversaw the project, has said that the goal was to produce a series of CDs that sound as close as possible to the ’60s master tapes.

But Mr. Martin’s updates largely match the placements and balances of the originals, and because they were made from the multitrack session tapes, instruments and vocals sound strikingly fresher than in the 1965 versions (which are included in the mono box). Perhaps not surprisingly, given their digital origins, the new “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” CDs, though slightly louder than their 1987 counterparts — as all the new discs are — are identical in matters of timbre and definition. The group’s experimental “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour,” and its back-to-basics “Let It Be,” if not as lapel-grabbing as the upgrades of the White Album and “Abbey Road,” nevertheless benefit from the more distinct instrumental and vocal profiles of the new transfers.

“Sgt. Pepper,” oddly, is a mixed bag. Instrumental textures are crisper and cleaner, and the bass is firmer. And songs like “Getting Better” have shed the piercing treble sound that afflicted the 1987 version. Yet several songs — “Fixing a Hole” and “She’s Leaving Home,” among them — now sound flatter, or less dynamically fluid, than they did on either the 1987 CD or a good British LP.

Among the early albums I have always loved the wide stereo separation of “Please Please Me” and “With the Beatles” — despite its vigorous condemnation by Mr. Martin (which is why they have not been available on CD) — because it lets you hear exactly what’s happening in both the instrumental and vocal arrangements. Those albums sound superb, as do the better-balanced “Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles for Sale.”

Few listeners are likely to replace their CDs for the sake of new cover art, but it is a distinct attraction. The stereo discs come in three-panel (four for the “White Album”) laminated sleeves, with booklets that include the original liner notes and lyrics (if they came with the LP), contemporaneous photos and new essays about what the Beatles were up to when they made the album at hand and (more cursorily) how the recordings were produced. The discs are pressed on reproductions of the various Parlophone, Capitol and Apple labels on which the albums first appeared.

The video documentaries, embedded as computer-playable QuickTime files on the stereo CDs, draw largely on interviews recorded for “The Beatles Anthology” (1995) and offer a few surprises. With the exception of Mr. McCartney, for example, the group had an almost perversely dismissive attitude toward “Sgt. Pepper.” Ringo Starr says he preferred the group dynamic on the White Album (even though he quit in frustration during the sessions) and “Let It Be” (when the band was at its most fractious). The stereo box also includes a DVD compilation of these video clips.

The mono discs lack the documentaries (and the DVD) and are packaged as copies of the original albums. The covers are accurate down to the quaint way EMI LP jackets were assembled in the ’60s (with glued-down cardboard flaps on the back). Extras like the White Album poster and portraits, and the “Sgt. Pepper” cutouts, are included too, as is a 44-page book of historical notes and pictures.

In the 22 years since the release of the original, mediocre CDs, just about all of the Beatles’ great contemporaries — the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among them — have had their catalogs upgraded as technology has changed. Beatles fans have been begging EMI to do the same, and although the wait has been long, the new transfers are so good that this thrice-familiar music sounds fresher than ever.

Now EMI should consider moving the catalog to a truly high-definition format, like Blu-ray DVD, adding newly remixed Surround versions like those on “The Beatles Anthology.” With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first hit coming in 2012, there isn’t much time to waste.

Pledging allegiance to our beloved Obama

The starry-eyed Hopeychangey Generation growing bored with Obama. Now he's targeting the kindergarten constituency.

By Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
The Orange County Register
http://www.ocregister.com/
Friday, September 4, 2009

On Friday, I had the rare honor of appearing in the pages of The New York Times, apropos President Obama's plans to beam himself into every schoolhouse in the land in the peculiar belief that Generation iPod will find this an enthralling technical novelty. As Times reporters James C McKinley Jr. and Sam Dillon wrote:

"Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and political commentator, speaking on theRush Limbaugh show on Wednesday, accused Mr. Obama of trying to create a cult of personality, comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader."

Oh, dear! "A Canadian author": Talk about damning with faint credentialization. I don't know what's crueler, the "Canadian" or the indefinite article. As to the rest of it, well, that's one way of putting it. Here's what I said on Wednesday re dear old Saddam and Kim:

"Obviously we're not talking about the cult of personality on the Saddam Hussein/Kim Jong-Il scale."

Close enough for Times work.

But, if the Times wants to play this game, bring it on. The Omnipresent Leader has traditionally been a characteristic feature of Third World basket-case dumps: the conflation of the man and the state is explicit, and ubiquitous. In 2003, motoring around western Iraq a few weeks after the regime's fall, when the schoolhouses were hastily taking down the huge portraits of Saddam that had hung on every classroom wall, I visited an elementary-school principal with a huge stack of suddenly empty picture frames piled up on his desk, and nothing to put in them. The education system's standard first-grade reader featured a couple of kids called Hassan and Amal – a kind of Iraqi Dick and Jane – proudly holding up their portraits of the great man and explaining the benefits of an Iraqi education:

"O come, Hassan," says Amal. "Let us chant for the homeland and use our pens to write, 'Our beloved Saddam.'"

"I come, Amal," says Hassan. "I come in a hurry to chant, 'O, Saddam, our courageous president, we are all soldiers defending the borders for you, carrying weapons and marching to success.'"

Pathetic, right?

On Friday, Aug. 28, the principal of Eagle Bay Elementary School in Farmington, Utah – in the name of "education" – showed her young charges the "Obama Pledge" video released at the time of the inauguration, in which Ashton Kutcher and various other big-time celebrities, two or three of whom you might even recognize, "pledge to be a servant to our president and to all mankind because together we can, together we are, and together we will be the change that we seek."

Altogether now! Let us chant for mankind and use our pens to write, "O beloved Obama, our courageous president, we are all servants defending the hope for you and marching to change."

And, unlike Saddam's Iraq, we don't have the mitigating condition of being a one-man psycho state invented by the British Colonial Office after lunch on a wet afternoon in 1922.

Any self-respecting schoolkid, enjoined by his principal to be a "servant" to the head of state, would reply, "Get lost, creep." And, if they still taught history in American schools, he'd add, "Oh, and by the way, that question was settled in 1776."

To accompany President Obama's classroom speech this week, the White House and America's "educators" drafted some accompanying study materials. Children would be invited to write letters to themselves saying what they could do to "help the president."

My suggestion: "Not tell people what I really think about his lousy health care plan."

Well, after the unwelcome media attention, that exercise was hastily dropped.

For the rest of us, the president does not yet require a written test from grown-ups after his speeches, but it's surely only a matter of time. The New York Times managed to miss my point: Far from "accusing" the president of "trying to create a cult of personality," I spent much of my airtime on Rush's show last week "accusing" the president of doing an amazing job of finishing off his own cult of personality in record time. Obama's given 111 speeches, interviews and press conferences in which he's talked about health care, and the more he opens his mouth the more the American people recoil from his "reforms." Now he's giving a 112th – to a joint session of Congress – and this one, we're assured, will finally do the trick. That brand new Chevy may be rusting and up on bricks by the time he seals the deal but America's Auto Salesman-in-Chief will get you to sign in the end.

The president has made the mistake of believing his own publicity – or, at any rate, his own mainstream media coverage, which is pretty much the same thing. They told him he was the greatest orator since Socrates, but, alas, even Socrates would have difficulty playing six sets a night every Open Mike Night at the Soaring Rhetoric Lounge out on Route 127. Even Ashton Kutcher's charms would wane by the 112th speech.

"Mr Obama," wrote Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal, "has grown boring." Amazing, but true. He's a crashing bore, and he's become one in nothing flat. His approval ratings have slumped – not just among Republicans, not just among independents, not just among seniors, who are after all first in line for the death panels. But they've fallen among young people – the starry-eyed members of the Hopeychangey Generation who stared into the mesmerizing giant "O" of his logo and saw the new Otopia. According to the latest Zogby poll, Obama's hold on the young is a wash: 41 per cent approve, 41 per cent disapprove. Zogby defines "young" as under 30, so maybe the kindergartners corralled into his audience this week will still be on side, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The President's strategy on Jan. 20 was to hurl all the vast transformative spaghetti at the wall – stimulus, auto nationalization, cap'n'trade, health care – and make it stick through the sheer charisma of his personality. Unfortunately, the American people aren't finding it quite so charismatic, and they're beginning to spot the yawning gulf between the post-partisan hopeychangey rhetoric and the budget-busting, prosperity-throttling, future-beggaring big government policies.

No wonder the poor chap's running out of material. At the time of writing, one of his exercises for America's schoolchildren is to suggest what you'd like him to do in his next speech. Here's mine: Call in sick, sir. You'll be doing your presidency a favor.

The president is not our ruler but our representative, a citizen-executive drawn from the people. It is unbecoming to a self-governing republic to require schoolchildren to (to cite another test question) select the three most important words in the president's speech.

But, if we have to trudge down this grim road, go on, kid, I dare you: "That's all, folks!"

Oh, wait. You have to rank the three most important words in order:

1) Try

2) Something

3) Else

©MARK STEYN

Today's Tune: Roxy Music - My Only Love (Live)



(Click on title to play video)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Gehrig’s Final Hit: A Single on a Cold April Day in the Bronx

By RICHARD SANDOMIR
The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/
September 4, 2009

His body betraying him for reasons he could not understand, Lou Gehrig came to bat at Yankee Stadium in the fourth inning against the Washington Senators on April 29, 1939.

He had only three hits in the young season.

But he had 2,720 in his magnificent career and was playing in his 2,129th consecutive game.

His power was almost gone. A degenerative neurological disease that would be named for him was decimating his body. Gehrig was 35, only weeks from turning 36.


Associated Press

Lou Gehrig on May 2, 1939, the day Gehrig benched himself and ended his consecutive games played streak at 2,130.

Derek Jeter, another 35-year-old Yankee captain, has a different and much happier story. He is having one of his best seasons, batting .330, with 17 home runs, more than his total in any of the last three seasons.

And with 2,713 hits, he is close to passing Gehrig as the Yankees’ career hits leader.

In 2009, Jeter can look forward to several more seasons and, if he stays healthy, to 3,000 or more hits. He is signed through next season and has said he might still be playing at shortstop when he’s 41.

As Gehrig came to the plate at the end of April 1939, he had just over two years to live.

His hitless game on April 24 prompted Arthur Daley of The New York Times to say that Gehrig’s batting average “has reached an alarming state of anemia.”

Even the next day, with two hits against the Philadelphia Athletics and his only run batted in of the season, Gehrig could not celebrate a respite from the indignity of failure. When a fly ball fell in for a hit (the left fielder was playing him to pull), Gehrig could not make it to second for what would have most likely been a double if he had been healthy. He rounded first base, but could neither return to first nor reach second.

He did not even wait to be tagged. “He just lowered his head and jogged slowly back to the Yankee dugout,” Jonathan Eig wrote in his book “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.” The Times reported it differently, saying he was tagged out in a “reckless attempt” to stretch a single into a double.

Yet that day Gehrig felt optimistic enough that his ailment was temporary that he ordered three new bats from Hillerich & Bradsby, Eig wrote. They weighed 33 ounces, lighter than those he used in 1938.

April 29 was a Saturday, with 11,473 fans watching the Yankees play the Senators on a chilly, cloudy afternoon. The Yankees’ Lefty Gomez was pitching against the Senators’ Ken Chase.

Gehrig was fifth in the Yankees’ lineup, behind Frank Crosetti, Red Rolfe, Jake Powell and Joe DiMaggio.

In his fourth season, DiMaggio was now the team’s superstar, not Gehrig, whose .295 batting average in 1938 represented a worrisome fall from his .351 average in 1937. In 1938, DiMaggio hit .324 with 32 home runs and 140 R.B.I. In 1939, he was on his way to hitting .381, his career best.

In the second inning, Gehrig walked against Chase, a left-hander.

Before fans could will Gehrig another hit, they were distracted by a more immediate concern: DiMaggio was hurt. As he ran to catch up with a hard line drive hit by Bobby Estalella, his right leg got stuck in the mud, tearing muscles just above his right ankle. He writhed on the grass for eight minutes, The Times reported. He limped off the field and was later quoted as saying, “I heard something snap in my leg” and “I felt something crack.”

An inning later, Gehrig singled, but few, if any, could imagine it would be his 2,721st and last hit.

There was no announcement, no acknowledgment, no tip of the cap, no curtain call.

Bill Dickey came up next and singled. Gehrig stopped at second but advanced no farther.

The next day, Gehrig came to bat four times with men on base and did not get a hit. After the game, “there was a buzz of disgruntlement in the Yankee clubhouse,” Ray Robinson wrote in “Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time,” a 1990 biography. Some of his teammates doubted that they could win with Gehrig hitting .143.

With the Yankees heading to Detroit, The New York Mirror wrote, “Captain Lou Gehrig isn’t hitting and may be demoted from his present slot.” The New York Sun suggested that Gehrig’s “benching seems imminent.”

Gehrig, not Manager Joe McCarthy, took the initiative. On May 2, Gehrig benched himself, and he would never return. “Maybe a rest will do me some good,” he said. “Maybe it won’t. Who knows? Who can tell? I’m just hoping.”

Multimedia
Graphic
Gehrig’s Last Hit

Why Parents Don't Trust the Educator-in-Chief and His Comrades

By Michelle Malkin
http://www.vdare.com/
September 03, 2009

They think we're crazy. "They" are the sneering defenders of Barack Obama who can't fathom the backlash against the president's nationwide speech to schoolchildren next Tuesday. "We" are parents with eyes wide open to the potential for politicized abuse in America's classrooms.
Ask moms and dads in Farmington, Utah, who discovered this week that their children sat through a Hollywood propaganda video promoting the cult of Obama. In the clip, a parade of entertainers vow to flush their toilets less, buy hybrid vehicles, end poverty and world hunger, and commit to "service" for "change." Actress Demi Moore leads the glitterati in a collective promise "to be a servant to our president." Musician Anthony Kiedis pledges "to be of service to Barack Obama."

The campaign commercial crescendos with the stars and starlets asking their audience: "What's your pledge?"

This same "Do Something" ethos infected the U.S. Department of Education teachers guides accompanying the announcement of Obama's speech—until late Wednesday, that is, when the White House removed some of the activist language exhorting students to come up with ways to "help the president." Education Secretary Arne Duncan had disseminated the material directly to principals across the country—circumventing elected school board members and superintendents now facing neighborhood revolts.

O's bureaucrats can whitewash offending language from the Sept. 8 speech-related documents, but they can't remove the taint of left-wing radicalism that informs Obama and his education mentors. A spokesman maintained that the speech is "about the value of education and the importance of staying in school as part of his effort to dramatically cut the dropout rate." But the historical subtext is far less innocent.

Obama served with Weather Underground terrorist and neighbor Bill Ayers on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge education initiative. Downplaying academic achievement in favor of left-wing radical activism in the public schools is rooted in Ayers' pedagogical philosophy. Obama served as the program's first chairman of the board, while Ayers steered its curricular policy. The two oversaw grants to welfare rights enterprise ACORN and to avowed communist Michael Klonsky—a close pal of Ayers and member of the militant Students for a Democratic Society. SDS served as a precursor to the violent Weather Underground organization.

As investigative journalist Stanley Kurtz reported, Klonsky and Ayers teamed up on the so-called "small schools movement" to steer schoolchildren away from core academics to left-wing politicking on issues of "inequity, war and violence."

A cadre of like-minded educators and national service administrators across the country share the same core commitment to transforming themselves from imparters of knowledge to transformers of society. The "change" agenda trains students to think only about what they should do for Obama—and rarely to contemplate how his powers and ambitions should be limited and restrained.

Ayers preached his education-as-"social justice" agenda to his "comrades" at the World Education Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, three years ago:

"This is my fourth visit to Venezuela, each time at the invitation of my comrade and friend Luis Bonilla, a brilliant educator and inspiring fighter for justice. Luis has taught me a great deal about the Bolivarian Revolution and about the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President (Hugo) Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution, and I've come to appreciate Luis as a major asset in both the Venezuelan and the international struggle—I look forward to seeing how he and all of you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane."

Ayers continued:

"I walked out of jail and into my first teaching position—and from that day until this I've thought of myself as a teacher, but I've also understood teaching as a project intimately connected with social justice. After all, the fundamental message of the teacher is this: You can change your life—whoever you are, wherever you've been, whatever you've done, another world is possible. As students and teachers begin to see themselves as linked to one another, as tied to history and capable of collective action, the fundamental message of teaching shifts slightly, and becomes broader, more generous: We must change ourselves as we come together to change the world. Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions small and large. La educacion es revolucion!"

This is why informed parents do not trust the Educator-in-Chief and his "comrades." You can take Obama from the radicals in Chicago. But you can't take the Chicago radicalism out of Obama.

COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

- Michelle Malkin [email her] is the author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin is also author of Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild and the just-released Culture of Corruption: Obama and his Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies.

Obama, the Mortal

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Friday, September 4, 2009

What happened to President Obama? His wax wings having melted, he is the man who fell to earth. What happened to bring his popularity down further than that of any new president in polling history save Gerald Ford (post-Nixon pardon)?

The conventional wisdom is that Obama made a tactical mistake by farming out his agenda to Congress and allowing himself to be pulled left by the doctrinaire liberals of the Democratic congressional leadership. But the idea of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi pulling Obama left is quite ridiculous. Where do you think he came from, this friend of Chávista ex-terrorist William Ayers, of PLO apologist Rashid Khalidi, of racialist inciter Jeremiah Wright?

But forget the character witnesses. Just look at Obama's behavior as president, beginning with his first address to Congress. Unbidden, unforced and unpushed by the congressional leadership, Obama gave his most deeply felt vision of America, delivering the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president. In American politics, you can't get more left than that speech and still be on the playing field.

In a center-right country, that was problem enough. Obama then compounded it by vastly misreading his mandate. He assumed it was personal. This, after winning by a mere seven points in a year of true economic catastrophe, of an extraordinarily unpopular Republican incumbent, and of a politically weak and unsteady opponent. Nonetheless, Obama imagined that, as Fouad Ajami so brilliantly observed, he had won the kind of banana-republic plebiscite that grants caudillo-like authority to remake everything in one's own image.

Accordingly, Obama unveiled his plans for a grand makeover of the American system, animating that vision by enacting measure after measure that greatly enlarged state power, government spending and national debt. Not surprisingly, these measures engendered powerful popular skepticism that burst into tea-party town-hall resistance.

Obama's reaction to that resistance made things worse. Obama fancies himself tribune of the people, spokesman for the grass roots, harbinger of a new kind of politics from below that would upset the established lobbyist special-interest order of Washington. Yet faced with protests from a real grass-roots movement, his party and his supporters called it a mob -- misinformed, misled, irrational, angry, unhinged, bordering on racist. All this while the administration was cutting backroom deals with every manner of special interest -- from drug companies to auto unions to doctors -- in which favors worth billions were quietly and opaquely exchanged.

"Get out of the way" and "don't do a lot of talking," the great bipartisan scolded opponents whom he blamed for creating the "mess" from which he is merely trying to save us. If only they could see. So with boundless confidence in his own persuasiveness, Obama undertook a summer campaign to enlighten the masses by addressing substantive objections to his reforms.

Things got worse still. With answers so slippery and implausible and, well, fishy, he began jeopardizing the most fundamental asset of any new president -- trust. You can't say that the system is totally broken and in need of radical reconstruction, but nothing will change for you; that Medicare is bankrupting the country, but $500 billion in cuts will have no effect on care; that you will expand coverage while reducing deficits -- and not inspire incredulity and mistrust.
When ordinary citizens understand they are being played for fools, they bristle.

After a disastrous summer -- mistaking his mandate, believing his press, centralizing power, governing left, disdaining citizens for (of all things) organizing -- Obama is in trouble.

Let's be clear: This is a fall, not a collapse. He's not been repudiated or even defeated. He will likely regroup and pass some version of health insurance reform that will restore some of his clout and popularity.

But what has occurred -- irreversibly -- is this: He's become ordinary. The spell is broken. The charismatic conjurer of 2008 has shed his magic. He's regressed to the mean, tellingly expressed in poll numbers hovering at 50 percent.

For a man who only recently bred a cult, ordinariness is a great burden, and for his acolytes, a crushing disappointment. Obama has become a politician like others. And like other flailing presidents, he will try to salvage a cherished reform -- and his own standing -- with yet another prime-time speech.

But for the first time since election night in Grant Park, he will appear in the most unfamiliar of guises -- mere mortal, a treacherous transformation to which a man of Obama's supreme self-regard may never adapt.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

A Dangerous Delusion

We go to war to defend our interests, not to encourage democracy.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
http://www.nationalreview.com/
September 04, 2009, 4:00 a.m.

Right after 9/11, Pres. George W. Bush made a succinct demand of the Taliban: Hand over Osama bin Laden and his cohorts or face horrific consequences. The demand, the president emphasized, was non-negotiable. The Taliban refused, insisting that the U.S. produce evidence against al-Qaeda. Because Islamists — not just terrorists but all Islamists — believe the United States is the enemy of Islam, the Taliban also floated the possibility of rendering bin Laden to a third country. No deal, Bush replied. As promised, the consequences were swift and severe. Yet, two weeks into the first bombing raids, the president offered the Taliban a “second chance.” Mullah Omar declined to take it. The invasion proceeded and the rest is history.

It’s now a long, confused history. The distance we’ve traveled from the clarity of the first days is manifest in the Right’s ongoing intramural skirmish over the eminent George Will’s latest column.

Will has called for a steep reduction of our 60,000-strong military force (out of a total of about 100,000 coalition troops) in Afghanistan. That country, he argues, is an incorrigible mess where we’re engaged more in social work than in combat. Instead, Will would have our forces retreat to offshore bases from which, “using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units,” American efforts could be concentrated on Afghanistan’s “porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.” This suggestion comes just as other conservatives are backing a Pentagon proposal to add about 40,000 troops. They seek a counterinsurgency surge for Afghanistan, similar to the one they claim worked so well in Iraq three years ago.

There’s no question that the surge in Iraq resulted in the rout of al-Qaeda. For that reason, it has to be counted as a net success. It would have been a strategic disaster to retreat while al-Qaeda was present and fortifying itself.


Kandahar City, Afghanistan

But then there was the rest of the surge rationale: the claim that we needed to secure the Iraqi population so a stable government, one that would be a reliable ally against terror, could emerge. The same argument now is being made about Afghanistan. Have you taken a look at Iraq lately? We went there to topple Saddam; we stayed to build an Islamic “democracy,” and the result is an Iranian satellite. The new Iraq is a sharia state that wants us gone, has denied us basing rights for future military operations, has pressured a weak American president into releasing Iran-backed terrorists, has rolled out the red carpet for Hezbollah, allows Iranian spies to operate freely (causing the recent ouster of the intelligence minister, who was an American ally), tolerates the persecution of religious minorities, and whose soon-to-take-power ruling coalition vows “not to establish relations with the Zionist entity” — a vow that would simply continue longstanding Iraqi policy, as Diana West points out. If that’s success, what does failure look like?

Democracy-project naysayers (I’ve long been one) reluctantly supported the surge in Iraq because our nation could not allow al-Qaeda a victory there. By contrast, as Rich Lowry mentions in passing at The Corner, “al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan.” Rich’s observation came in the course of chiding Will’s advocacy of “counterterrorist strikes from a distance.” But if al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan, why do we still need 60,000 troops there, let alone 40,000 more? We don’t invade other hostile countries where al-Qaeda is actually present (see, e.g., Iran, Kenya, Yemen, Somalia), and the likelihood of al-Qaeda’s return is not enough to keep us in other countries where we’re not wanted (e.g., Iraq). That is, we’re already banking on our capacity to conduct counterterrorist strikes from a distance.

The reason for going to war in Afghanistan was that al-Qaeda was there. The Bush administration was content to live with the Taliban ruling Afghanistan. They are a tyrannical lot, but Islam doctrinally and culturally lends itself to tyranny. The Taliban’s brutalization of the Afghan people was not our military concern. That was a problem for the State Department to take up with our “allies” — like Pakistan, which created the Taliban, and Saudi Arabia, which helped Pakistan sustain it. Our military issue with the Taliban was bin Laden. Had the Taliban agreed to our terms, there would have been no invasion of Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding al-Qaeda’s departure, the idea now seems to be that we should substantially escalate our military involvement in Afghanistan to replicate the experiment that supposedly worked so well in Iraq. It’s the age of Obama, so our commanders are talking not about combat but about a stimulus package to fight the “culture of poverty.” As military officials described it to the New York Times, “the overriding goal of American and NATO forces would not be so much to kill Taliban insurgents as to make ordinary Afghans feel secure, and thus isolate the insurgents. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance.” This is consistent with the delusional belief that terrorism is caused by poverty, corruption, resentment, Guantanamo Bay, enhanced interrogation tactics, Israel — in short, anything other than an ideology rooted in Islamic scripture. But before we all laugh George Will out of the room, we might remember that the Taliban was not our reason for invading. We would not have gone to war to save Afghanistan from the Taliban — which is to say, to save Afghanistan from itself.


THE WAR AND THE DREAM

At Contentions, Pete Wehner offers a withering critique of Will’s column. Pete reminds us that, not so long ago, Will predicted that the Muslim world would be overrun by “a ripple effect, a happy domino effect . . . of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies.” But now, in a dizzying turnabout, Will ridicules the very premise of the democracy project: the conceit — to quote Will quoting Tony Blair — that “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit.” Typical of Pete, it is a very effective smack-down. And it would be a show-stopper — except that the pertinent issue is not Will’s inconstancy. The question is: Was Will wrong then or is Will wrong now?

And that’s where Pete and the rest of the surge-minded lose me. George Will is not being faithless about the war. To the extent there was national agreement about its objectives, the war was about routing al-Qaeda, driving it out of its safe haven, and killing or capturing its main players. Those objectives have been substantially accomplished, and, while we’ve failed to round up bin Laden, Zawahiri, and some others, they are not in Afghanistan.

What Will is being faithless about is the democratic vision. Democracy enthusiasts have always conflated the war and the dream, but the two are and will always be separate. The American people overwhelmingly supported, and still support, a vigorous war — not an experiment, but a war — against the enemies who threaten us: Islamist terrorists and the regimes that abet them. Americans do not support, have no patience for, and would never go to war over the thankless enterprise of transforming the Islamic world.

Mind you, I’m no dove. I daresay I’m as much or more of a hawk than the nation-building side of the house. I’ve bit my tongue for a long time, and it kills me to write this, because I’ve never bought the nonsense about how you can support the troops but not support the mission. And if someone can convince me we need 40,000 or 400,000 or 4 million more troops in Afghanistan to destroy enemies who would otherwise attack the United States, count me in. But I think Rich, Pete, and others I admire — Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and Jen Rubin, for example — go too far in their condemnation of Will. Americans have a right to wonder what on earth we’re doing. The war against Islamist terror is global and, even in the region where we are fighting, has always involved more than Iraq and Afghanistan. There are hostile regimes (particularly in Iran) that we have left in place, unscathed, and growing stronger. For all the brave “you’re with us or you’re against us” talk after 9/11, we never walked that walk. Americans would have supported such a war, which was — and is — patently in the national interest. There is no political will for it now because, without first defeating the enemy, we tried to reprise the Marshall Plan in a place where it won’t work.

On that score, one of the more baffling things I’ve read recently was from Powerline’s John Hinderaker, whom I also admire. John was questioning former vice president Dick Cheney’s apparent admission (in a Fox News interview) that he had favored attacking Iran, which President Bush declined to do. John counters that “at the time, it seemed to me that we had our hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan, and military conflict with Iran was not a serious possibility.” But we had military conflict with Iran whether we wanted it or not — they were orchestrating terror attacks and killing Americans. And what we had our hands full with in Iraq and Afghanistan was nation-building. Quite apart from the inherent futility of trying to democratize fundamentalist Muslim countries, our efforts in those two places were doomed if we failed to address Iran’s promotion of terrorism and its intolerable nuclear threat. What has happened to Iraq has happened because we lacked the will to deal with Iran. We left unaccomplished the mission that was vital to our national interests while laboring exhaustively to create Islamic democracies that are either hostile or useless to us. And now, while we are still idling on Iran, the plan is to double-down against the Taliban?

There has been a fascinating point of alignment since 9/11 between the anti-war Left and the democracy hawks. Both sides have failed to identify the enemy: Islamists. The hard Left resists because it doesn’t see Islamism as an enemy at all. The Islamists, like the Left, regard the United States as the problem in the world.

Democracy hawks are another matter. Their boundless faith in democracy blinds them to the severity of the Islamist challenge. For them, dwelling on Islam is counterproductive: If Islam is understood as a huge liability, Americans will rebel against the prohibitive costs, in lives and money, of democracy-building. So the democracy-hawk approach is either not to mention Islam at all or to absurdly portray it as a “moderating” influence that will help build stable democracies. They shame doubters into silence by decrying “Islamophobia” and “cultural condescension” — mortal sins these days. On some level, the democracy hawks may grasp that the threat here involves more than terrorism. But they’ve convinced themselves that if we could just get rid of the terrorists, the rest of the Muslims who abhor us would be brought around by democracy’s light.

It’s a fantasy, and we’re betting our lives on it. So let me try to spell out the folly of the democracy project’s fundamental assumptions.

ISLAMISM

We like to think Islamism represents only a fringe of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims. But that’s because we confound Islamists and terrorists. The terrorists — those who commit and materially support violent attacks — are a fringe (bigger than we’d like to think, but still a tiny minority). By contrast, Islamists may be a majority, and, if they’re not, they constitute a very substantial minority.

Islamism is not terrorism. To be sure, Islamism includes terrorism in its arsenal. Still, there is major disagreement among Islamists about when violence should be used and how effective it is. In any event, we must fight the tendency to meld these concepts. Terrorism is a tactic that divides Muslims. Islamism is a belief system that unites tens of millions of Muslims. Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, estimates what he calls the “radicalized” portion of the umma at about 15 percent. I think he’s low-balling it, but even if he’s right, that would be about 200 million people.

So what is Islamism? It is the belief that Islam is not merely a religious creed but a comprehensive guide to human existence, conformity to which is obligatory, that governs all matters political, social, cultural, and religious, from cradle to grave (and, of course, beyond). The neologism “Islamist” was minted over three-quarters of a century ago by Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. To this day, the credo of the Brotherhood is “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” The Brotherhood claims, preposterously, to have renounced terrorism. It maintains, more credibly, that it is the Muslim Nation, as in a mass movement representing what Muslims, broadly, believe.

The Brotherhood’s Islam is called Salafism. Developed in the 19th century, Salafism calls for a return to the unalloyed Islam of the 7th-century founders. It is to be “unalloyed” in the sense that it should be stripped of modernizing influences — particularly Western influences. This is to be achieved by implementing sharia, the divine law designed to govern all aspects of life.

Implementing sharia is the aim of jihad. Because our government does not want to be seen as Islamophobic, we are discouraged from noting the palpable nexus between Islamic scripture and Islamist terror. Thus we’re conditioned to think of jihad, a creature of Islamic scripture, as a form of madness — as if terrorists blew up buildings for no better reason than to blow up buildings. But jihad is a central tenet of Islam. It is the obligation to struggle in the path of Allah — to impose God’s law everywhere on earth. Jihad can be savage, but it is not irrational.

Jihad is correctly understood as a military duty, but it need not be violent. That does not mean, as Islam’s Western apologists claim, that jihad is some wishy-washy internal struggle to become a better person. To the contrary, just as war is politics by other means, violent force is one of several jihadist tactics by which the Muslim Nation seeks to install sharia. If non-Muslims are willing to accommodate sharia in their political, legal, and financial systems, combat is not required. Surrenders are happily accepted.

But jihad undeniably includes the duty to drive infidel armies out of Muslim countries by force — even infidels who see themselves as benign, progressive, good Samaritans rather than occupiers. In 2004, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the “nonviolent” Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to fight the Americans in Iraq. He was zealously supported by the faculty at al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most authoritative voice of Islamic jurisprudence in the Arab world. A few months later, Alberto Fernandez, then the State Department’s top spokesman in the region, gushed that Qaradawi was an “intelligent and thoughtful voice from the region . . . an important figure that deserves our attention.” It was an idiotic thing to say, but it was said in recognition of the grim reality that Qaradawi is not a fringe figure. His influence is vast. Understand this: It is not just terrorists but millions of Muslims who believe Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed even if they believe they are risking their lives so that Muslims can have a better life.

Why should Islamism matter to us? Because, besides being the ideology that catalyzes jihadist terrorism and threatens our freedoms in sundry other ways, Islamism rejects the premises of Western democracy. Islamists believe that sharia is the perfect, non-negotiable blueprint for law and life, prescribed by Allah Himself. Therefore, Islamists reject the notion of free people at liberty to govern themselves, to legislate in contradiction to God’s law. They reject freedom of conscience: Islam must be the state religion, and apostasy from Islam is a capital crime. They deny the principle of equality under the law between men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims. They abjure any semblance of Western sexual liberty: gay sex, adultery, and fornication are brutally punished. They countenance slavery. They encourage polygamy. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This is all horrifying to us, but that is because we are a different civilization. Tony Blair was wrong, as Will has realized in more recent times. Individual liberty and democracy are not “universal values of the human spirit.” And our democracy-building enthusiasts are wrong, and unintentionally insulting to Muslims, when they intimate that the Islamic world will fall in love with our values once they taste a little freedom.

President Bush decried the “cultural condescension” of us democracy doubters. But the shoe of arrogance is on the other foot. Those of us who’ve studied Islam have never doubted its “aptitude for democracy” (to borrow Will’s phrase). The issue has never been one of aptitude; it is about principled beliefs. Fundamentalist strains of Islam, including Salafism, have been developed by extraordinary minds. It is not that these Muslims fail to comprehend our principles; they reject them. They have an entirely different conception of the good life. They believe freedom is not individual liberty but individual submission to Allah’s law. Their very conception of freedom is the opposite of ours. When we talk to them about “freedom,” we are ships passing in the night.

That doesn’t make the Islamists backward. They are convinced that Western liberalism and the Judeo-Christian veneration of reason in faith are corrupting influences that rationalize deviations from Allah’s law and His natural order. They believe, instead, in a pre-ordered, totalitarian system in which the individual surrenders his freedom for the good of the umma — and in which sowing discord (i.e., engaging in what we think of as free speech) is a grave sin, on the order of apostasy. They are wrong in this. Our civilization is superior to theirs, which is why we have flourished and they have faltered. But being wrong doesn’t make them crazy. They don’t want what we’re selling, and they have their reasons.

DEMOCRACY BEGINS AT HOME

Most of our uninformed national conversation about Islam since 9/11 has been about the degree of Muslim support for terrorism. If you’re going to embark on a quest to remake the Middle East, that’s the wrong question. We should be asking: What is the degree of Muslim support for Islamism? The answer to that question is: immense.

Islamism is the official creed of Saudi Arabia, which, as noted above, is risibly portrayed as a U.S. ally against terrorism. The Saudis have lavishly supported and collaborated with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s, enabling the Brothers to spread Islamism globally, including in America and Europe. Islamism, moreover, is the dominant ideology in the Arab world and in much of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. It is strengthening in northern and eastern Africa. Despite decades of suppression, it is resurgent in Turkey. Even in Indonesia, where Islamism is not preponderant, it is a growing force.

The fact that Islamists disagree with their terrorist factions on tactics obscures the reality that they heartily agree with the terrorists’ contempt for the West. Most of the places that are sources of Islamist terror do not want Western democracy. They want sharia.

We can’t change that about them, and it cheapens us when we try. The State Department’s new “democratic” constitutions for Afghanistan and Iraq are a disgrace: establishing Islam as the state religion and elevating sharia as fundamental law. That is not exporting our values; it is appeasing Islamism. It is putting on display our lack of will to fight for our principles, which only emboldens our enemies. Recall, for example, the spectacle of the Christian prosecuted for apostasy a couple of years back by the post-Taliban, U.S.-backed Afghan government. He had to be whisked out of the country because it’s not safe for an ex-Muslim religious convert in the new Afghanistan. It’s not safe for non-Muslims, period. We’re not building a democratic culture.

Further, even if we could clear the hurdle that Islamists don’t want Western democracy, there remains the problem that a Muslim country’s becoming a democracy would not make us safer from Islamist terrorists. It is illogical and counter-historical to suppose otherwise. The 9/11 attacks were extensively planned, over long periods of time, in, among other places, Berlin, Madrid, San Diego, Florida, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. Clearly, thriving democracy in those places provided no security. The doctrine that democracy is preferable because democracies don’t make war on one another applies only if your threat matrix consists of hostile nation-states. A transnational terror network with no territory to defend and no normal economic system lacks the incentives a democracy has to avoid war. And, far from discouraging terrorists, democratic liberties work to their advantage.

We can’t stop Muslim countries from being Islamist. That is their choice. It should be no concern of ours who rules them as long as they do not threaten American interests. When they inevitably do threaten us, or allow their territories to be launch pads for terrorists, we should smash them. But the price of defending our nation cannot be spending years — at a cost of precious lives and hundreds of billions of dollars — in a vain attempt to give people who despise us a way of life they don’t want.

Meanwhile, we must accept that Islamism is our enemy and has targeted our constitutional system for destruction by slow strangulation via sharia. Instead of worrying about democracy in Afghanistan, we need to worry about democracy in America. The surge we need is at home: to roll back Islamism’s infiltration of our schools, our financial system, our law, and our government. In addition to not being universal, the “values of the human spirit” are not immortal. If we don’t defend them in the West, they will die.

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The issue of social justice is far bigger than the abortion debate

By Kathryn Jean Lopez
The Daily News
http://www.nydailynews.com/
Wednesday, September 2nd 2009, 4:00 AM

On Saturday, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who supported legal abortion, was hailed as "a beacon for social justice" at a Catholic church in Boston. On Friday, The New York Times reported on Catholic bishops speaking out against anti-life provisions in various versions of the proposed health care reform in Washington: "The bishops' backlash reflects a struggle within the church over how heavily to weigh opposition to abortion against concerns about social justice."

An expert confirmed: "It is the great tension in Catholic thought right now," said Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Notre Dame.

The fights exist. But reports of a "great tension" are exaggerated. Fundamentally, what is social justice if it does not include the very right to life?

Getty Images

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JULY 07: Pope Benedict XVI signs his new Encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate at his studio on July 7, 2009 in Vatican City, Vatican.

The New York Times and every Catholic politician who follows the Ted Kennedy beacon missed a primer on just this issue. Manhattan's St. Vincent Ferrer Church recently hosted a workshop headlined by Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Pope Benedict's third encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," or "Love in Truth."

The event stood in contrast to much of the media coverage following the encyclical's release. Many conservatives immediately groaned about its expressed need for "a true world political authority." Liberals celebrated the same. Many are missing the soul of it. The Pope described "charity in truth" as the "principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and all humanity" and the "heart of the church's social doctrine."

"Social justice doctrine" doesn't belong to any one political party or ideology. Rather, it poses challenges to all of us.

Lack of harmony, Dolan argued, is not in the social doctrine of the church, but in "somewhat of a rift that has taken place in the social justice activity of the church throughout the world." He pointed to a "cleavage" between "the economic social justice people and the pro-life social justice people," who are at an unnecessary "loggerheads."

Dolan presented the continuum with a fourfold focus on the innate dignity of the human person ("every man and woman is made in the image and likeness of God"), the common good ("everything we do has a social implication"; "an economic decision is also a moral decision), solidarity ("we're in this together"; "we are social beings . . . brothers and sisters of a common Father"; "always be aware of the implications"), and subsidiarity ("apprehension of big, huge, massive bureaucracy, especially when it comes to the protection of the basic unit of human life, the family").

The integrated message of focusing on these fundamentals is: Be not confused. In this way, though, the forum was very different from most of the media coverage immediately following the release of the Holy See's latest contribution to the church's social justice canon and some of the misleading messages stemming from Kennedy's Catholic sendoff.

The encyclical states, unsurprisingly: "When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good." This underscores a great shame of our current political discussions involving Catholicism: They're always focused on abortion because of the endless game we're subjected to by Catholic politicians pretending that they can advocate for legal abortion with right reason and clear conscience.

While we listen to the Gospel According to Nancy Pelosi and ignore the Kennedy contributions to cementing a culture of death, we are deprived of an even deeper conversation about just what social justice is, how exactly to best serve the common good. It doesn't necessarily mean "government gives." It's a lot more complicated. And the political conversation could benefit from some shepherding from a position of love and truth. Unfortunately, at the moment we're still focused on just trying to stay alive.

Lopez is editor of National Review Online.

LIBERAL LIES ABOUT NATIONAL HEALTH CARE: THIRD IN A SERIES (COMMEMORATIVE PLATES ON SALE NOW!)

By Ann Coulter
http://www.anncoulter.com/
September 2, 2009

(9) If you like Medicare, you'll love national health care, which will just extend Medicare's benefits to everyone.

Hey -- I have an idea: How about we make everyone in America a multimillionaire by pulling Bernie Madoff out of prison and asking him to invest all our money! Both Medicare and Bernie Madoff's investment portfolio are bankrupt because they operate on a similar financial model known as a "Ponzi scheme." These always seem to run fabulously well -- until the money runs out.

Not only is Medicare bankrupt, but it is extremely limited in whom and what it covers. If Medicare were a private insurer, it would be illegal in many states for failing to cover hearing aids, podiatry, acupuncture, chiropractic care, marriage counseling, aromatherapy and gender reassignment surgery.

Moreover, Medicare payments aren't enough to pay the true cost of those medical services it does cover. With Medicare undercutting payments to hospitals and doctors for patients 65 and older, what keeps the American medical system afloat are private individuals who are not covered by Medicare paying full freight (and then some). That's why you end up with a $10 aspirin on your hospital bill.

National health care will eliminate everything outside of Medicare, which is the only thing that allows Medicare to exist.

Obviously, therefore, it's preposterous for Democrats to say national health care will merely extend Medicare to the entire population. This would be like claiming you're designing an apartment building in which every apartment will be a penthouse. Everyone likes the penthouses, so why not have a building in which every apartment is a penthouse?

It doesn't work: What makes the penthouse the penthouse is all the other floors below. An "all-penthouse" building is a blueprint that could make sense only to someone who has never run a business and has zero common sense, i.e., a Democrat.

(10) National health care won't cover illegal aliens -- as the president has twice claimed in recent radio appearances.

Technically, what Obama said is that the bill isn't "designed" to give health insurance to illegal aliens. (That bill, the "Health Insurance for Illegal Aliens Act of 2009," was still being drafted by Ted Kennedy at the time of his death, may he rest in peace.)

But unless the various government bureaucracies dispensing health care are specifically required by law to ask about citizenship status, illegals will be covered. We can't even get employers and police to inquire about citizenship status, but liberals assure us that doctors will?

And by the way -- as with the abortion exclusion -- the Democrats expressly rejected amendments that would have required proof of residency status to receive national health care.

Still not convinced? Day after day, The New York Times has been neurotically asserting that national health care won't cover illegal aliens (without ever explaining how precisely it will exclude illegal aliens).

So far, just this week, these Kim Jong Il-style pronouncements have appeared in the Treason Times:

-- "Illegal immigrants will be covered. (Myth)" -- Katharine Q. Seelye, "Myth vs. Fact vs. Other," The New York Times, Sept. 2, 2009

-- "(Sen. Jim DeMint) fueled speculation that a health care overhaul would cover illegal immigrants, although specific language says it would not." -- Katharine Q. Seelye, "Fighting Health Care Overhaul, and Proud of It," The New York Times, Aug. 31, 2009

-- "'Page 50: All non-U.S. citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free health care services.' ... The falsehoods include (that italic statement)." -- Michael Mason, "Vetting Claims in a Memo," The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2009

-- "But that would not help illegal immigrants. Contrary to some reports, they would not be eligible for any new health coverage under any of the health overhaul plans circulating in Congress." -- Duff Wilson, "Race, Ethnicity and Care," The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2009

The last time the Times engaged in such frantic perseveration about a subject was when the paper was repeatedly insisting that Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong had a solid case against the Duke lacrosse players.

By August 2006, every single person in the United States, including the stripper, knew the stripper's claim of "gang rape" was a lie. That was when Duff Wilson -- quoted above -- co-wrote the Times' infamous cover story on the Duke case, titled: "Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers." No answers!

(11) Obama has dropped his demand for the ironically titled "public option" (i.e., government-run health care), which taxpayers will not have an "option" to pay for or not.

Liberals never, ever drop a heinous idea; they just change the name. "Abortion" becomes "choice," "communist" becomes "progressive," "communist dictatorship" becomes "people's democratic republic" and "Nikita Khrushchev" becomes "Barack Obama."

It doesn't matter if liberals start calling national health care a "chocolate chip puppy" or "ice cream sunset" -- if the government is subsidizing it, then the government calls the shots. And the moment the government gets its hands on the controls, it will be establishing death panels, forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions and illegal aliens, rationing care and then demanding yet more government control when partial government control creates a mess.

Which happens to be exactly what liberals are doing right now.

Never mind starters, Mariano Rivera deserves Cy Young

By John Harper
The Daily News
http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/index.html
Thursday, September 3rd 2009, 4:00 AM

BALTIMORE - If this were the Oscars, where a long career of unrewarded greatness has been known to help put a deserving nominee over the top, Mariano Rivera would be a shoo-in this season to win his first Cy Young Award.


Sipkin/News

Mariano Rivera's numbers this season put him in the discussion for the Cy Young award, even as a closer.


In baseball, however, career achievement almost never factors into the voting on such awards. Furthermore, relievers have won only 11 out of 97 times the Cy Young has been awarded, so despite still another season of brilliance, Rivera is probably closer to a longshot.

The man they call Mo is deserving, to be sure. And even though a hot September from starters such as Zack Grienke, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez or Josh Beckett could make any of them the front-runner for the award, none is having the kind of lights-out season that would all but eliminate talk of a reliever winning.

That leaves the door open for Rivera, assuming the groin tightness the Yankees disclosed Wednesday night only keeps him out a few days as Rivera says he expects. Because to this point he is not only leading the American League with 38 saves, but also pitching to a 1.78 ERA and has coverted 34 straight saves opportunities, the longest streak of his career, while blowing only one save all season.

Most impressive, Rivera had allowed only one run in 29 appearances since June 12, as he adds still another chapter, at the age of 39, to his remarkable career.

As such there are plenty of people in baseball who think it would be quite fitting for him to be recognized as the Cy Young winner as punctuation to all that he has done as a Yankee.

As Andy Pettitte says, "I know I'm biased as his teammate, but I feel like he should win one because he's the best, that's all there is to it. He's dominated this game the way Michael Jordan dominated basketball."

Former Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez, now an Orioles broadcaster, seconds such a notion.

"In Toronto I had (switch-hitter) Felipe Lopez ask me if he could hit righthanded against Rivera because that cutter was so tough on lefties," Martinez recalled yesterday. "Mariano's a guy who changes the game that way.

"I think he's worthy of the Cy Young, especially this year, but he has the burden of being so consistent that we expect it every year, as if it's not exceptional because it's just what he does."

The problem, of course, is that in some ways the Cy Young argument is an apples-and-oranges debate between starters and relievers. Baseball Writers Association of America voters - two from each AL city vote on the award - often have a hard time considering relievers who throw 70-80 innings a year on equal footing with starters throwing 220 or so.

Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe has a Cy Young vote this season, and he said yesterday that he is "absolutely" considering Rivera, but admitted it usually takes extraordinary circumstances for him to vote for any reliever over a deserving starter.

"It's hard with a closer unless they have some sort of historic season," Massarotti said. "Everything has to line up exactly right for a reliever to win it."

That seems increasingly unlikely since the position of closer evolved into primarily a one-inning job over the last 20 or so years. Since Dennis Eckersley won the AL Cy Young Award in 1992 with the A's, the Dodgers' Eric Gagne in 2003 is the only other reliever to get the vote.

Eckersley was so dominant in '92, with 51 saves to go with a 7-1 record and a 1.91 ERA, he earned MVP honors as well. And Gagne, who was later tied to steroids via the Mitchell Report, tied the NL save record with 55 in 2003, never blowing one as he converted a major-league record 84 consecutive save opportunities over a three-year period.

There were a couple of winners in the late '80s who benefited from down years for starters - Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian in '87 and Padres reliever Mark Davis in '89 - and before that relieving was whole different game.

When Willie Hernandez won the MVP and Cy Young for the Tigers in 1984, for example, he pitched 140 innings while going 9-3 with a 1.92 ERA, earning 32 saves. When Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young for the Yankees in 1977, he had only 26 saves, but pitched 137 innings while going 13-5 with a 2.17 ERA.

And so it went for pitchers such as Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, and Mike Marshall, the first reliever to earn a Cy Young. Marshall appeared in 106 games and threw 208 innings for the Dodgers in 1974 while going 15-12 and earning 21 saves.

Rivera, by contrast, has thrown only 552/3 innings this season, and the specialist nature of the job these days obviously makes it more difficult for a closer to win the award.

It doesn't mean he shouldn't win. In fact, a case can be made that he should have won in 2005. That season, Rivera had 43 saves and a career-low 1.38 ERA, yet finished a distant second in the voting to Bartolo Colon, who went 21-8 for the Angels but had a relatively high 3.48 ERA and gave up 26 home runs, benefiting greatly from good run support.

Rivera has finished third three other times, and even though he continues to defy age-related odds, you have to think this will be his last real shot at the award. Much depends on what happens over the next few weeks, especially in the case of Greinke, who has by the far the best overall numbers, including a league-leading 2.32 ERA, but only 13 wins for the last-place Royals.

If Greinke gets to 16 wins, the lowest total a Cy Young-winning starter has ever had, he'll be a heavy favorite. Meanwhile, Rivera, who hasn't blown a save since giving up that memorable home run to Jason Bay at Fenway Park on April 24, needs to get plenty of save opportunities and likely convert them all the rest of the way to make voters notice.

Rivera admits he feels like it's been something of a special season, especially since he had to come back from shoulder surgery and wasn't at full strength early.

"I knew that I was fine, but my shoulder needed time to get stronger," Rivera said yesterday. "It was a big challenge."

Still, Rivera, ever the team guy, insists he doesn't give the Cy Young Award a thought.

"If it happens, it happens, and I'll thank God, but to me it's about winning championships," he said. "Winning, winning, winning, winning, and be there for my teammates. That's what I care about. That's what I want to be remembered for."

Actually, Rivera stands to be remembered as the greatest reliever ever, as much for his postseason dominance as his save total, which stands at 520 and counting.

And even though Rivera shows no signs of being ready to retire, the chance is there for something of a Hollywood ending in this wide-open AL Cy Young race.

"I know we don't do things based on career achievements," Buck Martinez said, "but certainly that's the one thing missing in a career that's had everything else. Mariano is a special guy. It'd be nice to see him get it."

Recent history says it's unlikely. But if none of the top starters has a hot month, Rivera's opportunity could become a compelling story. It may not be the Oscars, but in a close call, voters might be swayed at least a bit by sentiment.

Indeed, if Rivera's consecutive-saves streak gets to 40-plus over these final weeks, you wonder how any voter would say he doesn't deserve the Cy Young.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Might Makes Right

Yale University Press blinks.

by Christopher Caldwell
The Weekly Standard
09/07/2009, Volume 014, Issue 47
http://www.weeklystandard.com/


During the "cartoon crisis" of early 2006--when mobs in Nigeria, Pakistan, Libya, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere attacked embassies, looted buildings, and murdered bystanders to protest the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten--Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born social scientist and a professor at Brandeis, was less sympathetic to the newspaper than most observers. "This all would have been very well," she wrote in Salon, "if the paper had a long tradition of standing up for fearless artistic expression. But it so happens that three years ago, Jyllands-Posten refused to publish cartoons portraying Jesus, on the grounds that they would offend readers."


Klausen has done serious scholarly work on the attitudes of Europe's Muslim elites. But she was wrong about this. Just because Jyllands-Posten was not neutral in its attitudes towards the world's religions did not deprive it of its right to say what it wanted. Freedom of speech means freedom of speech. It does not mean freedom to be neutral or freedom to be constructive. Even totalitarian societies have that kind of freedom of speech.

And that kind of freedom of speech has now claimed Klausen herself as a victim. Her account of the cartoon crisis is due to be published by Yale University Press (YUP) this fall. It is the product of years of work, and it was supposed to be illustrated. But in July, the press's director, John Donatich; the chair of Yale's Council on Mideast Studies, Marcia Inhorn; and the secretary of the Yale Corporation, Linda Lorimer, all traveled to Boston to let Klausen know that they had consulted a group of experts about her book. It included the Nigerian politician Ibrahim Gambari and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte. (It is a mystery what these people, none of whom read the book, are supposed to be experts in.) The panel warned of violence if the press published the cartoons and counseled against including them.

In fact, they counseled taking out all pictures of Mohammed, including an etching done by the French artist Gustave Doré in the 19th century. This is perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the incident. According to YUP's catalogue description of the book (the press would not send THE WEEKLY STANDARD a copy this week), Klausen's thesis is that the cartoon riots were not a "spontaneous" outburst of religious anger. They were orchestrated by extremists to serve particular political ends in Denmark and in the Muslim world. This reading makes sense. But, by not publishing the Doré caricature, Yale leaves the impression that it is Muslims' religious sensibilities, and not extremists' political ones that are at the root of its self-muzzling.

Gustave Dore: Mohammed in Dante's La Divina Commedia (1861)

Of course, an illustrated history of the cartoon crisis which does not include the Danish cartoons themselves is something of a joke. There are lots of important historic episodes in which offensive graphics play a big role. Academic studies of the anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer or of the Ku Klux Klan have published, for illustrative purposes, material that is as offensive as offensive can be. Jyllands-Posten's provocation was not in the same league. It was an experiment in free speech, not an exercise in hatred. Klausen's book, moreover, reproduced only a shot of the spread with the caricatures on it, not the caricatures themselves.

Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, issued a statement in which he described YUP's position as: "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands." YUP is not the first institution to do so. The Berlin Opera three years ago canceled a production of Mozart's Idomeneo that included decapitated heads of Muhammad, Jesus, and Buddha.

But was this the whole story? Some of the most probing reporting on the matter has been done by the Islamologist and blogger Martin Kramer, whose short book Ivory Towers on Sand (2001) detailed how large gifts from Saudi Arabia and other oil magnates have eroded academic standards in the Middle Eastern studies departments of American universities. He suggests that fear of violence may not have been the real reason for Yale's demurral. The prospect of a gift from the Saudi decabillionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has doled out tens of millions to set up sympathetic Islamic Studies centers at select universities, may have played a role. Kramer notes that Muna AbuSulayman, the executive director of Alwaleed's foundation and responsible for setting up mammoth donations to Harvard and Georgetown, will shortly be moving to New Haven, having been named by the university as a "Yale World Fellow."

The Yale editors declare themselves willing to be offensive, as if that were the heart of free speech, but unwilling to risk violence, as if that were a totally separate question which has nothing to do with free speech at all. There was a touching lameness to the explanations Donatich gave the New York Times. He had "never blinked," he said, when it came to publishing controversial books and gave as an example a "recent unauthorized biography of Thailand's current monarch." The message is that if you are offended and threaten violence, we'll obey you. But if, like the Thai royal family, you are offended and don't threaten violence .  .  . Well, there is another way of putting it. Might makes right.

Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.

Global Warming and the Sun

We have only just now discovered how sunspots make the Earth warmer.

By Jonah Goldberg
http://www.nationalreview.com/
September 02, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

On the last day of August, scientists spotted a teeny-weeny sunspot, breaking a 51-day streak of blemish-free days for the sun. If it had gone just a bit longer, it would have broken a 96-year record of 53 days without any of the magnetic disruptions that cause solar flares. That record was nearly broken last year as well.

Wait, it gets even more exciting.

During what scientists call the Maunder Minimum — a period of solar inactivity from 1645 to 1715 — the world experienced the worst of the cold streak dubbed the Little Ice Age. At Christmastime, Londoners ice-skated on the Thames, and New Yorkers (then New Amsterdamers) sometimes walked over the Hudson from Manhattan to Staten Island.

Of course, it could have been a coincidence. The Little Ice Age began before the onset of the Maunder Minimum. Many scientists think volcanic activity was a more likely, or at least a more significant, culprit. Or perhaps the big chill was, in the words of scientist Alan Cutler, writing in the Washington Post in 1997, a “one-two punch from a dimmer sun and a dustier atmosphere.”

Well, we just might find out. A new study in the American Geophysical Union’s journal, Eos, suggests that we may be heading into another quiet phase similar to the Maunder Minimum.

Meanwhile, the journal Science reports that a study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, has finally figured out why increased sunspots have a dramatic effect on the weather, increasing temperatures more than the increase in solar energy should explain. Apparently, sunspots heat the stratosphere, which in turn amplifies the warming of the climate.

Scientists have known for centuries that sunspots affect the climate; they just never understood how. Now, allegedly, the mystery has been solved.

Last month, in another study, also released in Science, Oregon State University researchers claimed to settle the debate over what caused and ended the last Ice Age. Increased solar radiation coming from slight changes in the Earth’s rotation, not greenhouse-gas levels, were to blame.

What is the significance of all this? To say I have no idea is quite an understatement, but it will have to do.

Nonetheless, what I find interesting is the eagerness of the authors and the media to make it clear that this doesn’t have any particular significance for the debate over climate change. “For those wondering how the (NCAR) study bears on global warming, Gerald Meehl, lead author on the study, says that it doesn’t — at least not directly,” writes Moises Velasquez-Manoff of the Christian Science Monitor. “Global warming is a long-term trend, Dr. Meehl says. . . . This study attempts to explain the processes behind a periodic occurrence.”

This overlooks the fact that solar cycles are permanent “periodic occurrences,” a.k.a. a very long-term trend. Yet Meehl insists the only significance for the debate is that his study proves climate modeling is steadily improving.

I applaud Meehl’s reluctance to go beyond where the science takes him. For all I know, he’s right. But such humility and skepticism seem to manifest themselves only when the data point to something other than the mainstream narrative about global warming. For instance, when we have terribly hot weather, or bad hurricanes, the media see portentous proof of climate change. When we don’t, it’s a moment to teach the masses how weather and climate are very different things.

No, I’m not denying that man-made pollution and other activity have played a role in planetary warming since the Industrial Revolution.

But we live in a moment when we are told, nay lectured and harangued, that if we use the wrong toilet paper or eat the wrong cereal, we are frying the planet. But the sun? Well, that’s a distraction. Don’t you dare forget your reusable shopping bags, but pay no attention to that burning ball of gas in the sky — it’s just the only thing that prevents the planet from being a lifeless ball of ice engulfed in darkness. Never mind that sunspot activity doubled during the 20th century, when the bulk of global warming has taken place.

What does it say that the modeling that guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s? (MIT’s Richard Lindzen says that “there has been no warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995.”)
What does it say that the modelers have only just now discovered how sunspots make the Earth warmer?

I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that maybe we should study a bit more before we spend billions to “solve” a problem we don’t understand so well.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.