Friday, December 31, 2010

Government by Regulation

Death counseling by administrative fiat

By Charles Krauthammer
http://www.nationalreview.com
December 31, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Most people don’t remember Obamacare’s notorious Section 1233, which mandated government payments for end-of-life counseling. It aroused so much anxiety as a possible first slippery step on the road to state-mandated late-life rationing that the Senate never included it in the final health-care law.

Well, it’s back — by administrative fiat. A month ago, Medicare issued a regulation providing for end-of-life counseling during annual “wellness” visits. It was all nicely buried amid the simultaneous release of hundreds of new Medicare rules.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D.,Ore.), author of Section 1233, was delighted. “Mr. Blumenauer’s office celebrated ‘a quiet victory,’ but urged supporters not to crow about it,” reports the New York Times. Deathly quiet. In early November, his office sent an e-mail plea to supporters: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your list…e-mails can too easily be forwarded.” They had been lucky that “thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it…The longer this regulation goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”

So much for Democratic transparency — and for their repeated claim that the more people learn what is in the health-care law, the more they will like it. Turns out ignorance is the Democrats’ best hope.

And regulation is their perfect vehicle — so much quieter than legislation. Consider two other regulatory usurpations in just the last few days.

On December 23, the Interior Department issued Secretarial Order 3310, reversing a 2003 decision and giving itself the authority to designate public lands as “Wild Lands.” A clever twofer: (1) a bureaucratic power-grab — for seven years up through December 22, wilderness-designation had been the exclusive province of Congress, and (2) a leftward lurch — more land to be “protected” from such nefarious uses as domestic-oil exploration in a country disastrously dependent on foreign sources.

The very same day, the president’s Environmental Protection Agency declared that in 2011 it would begin drawing up anti-carbon regulations on oil refineries and power plants, another power grab effectively enacting what Congress had firmly rejected when presented as cap-and-trade legislation.

For an Obama bureaucrat, however, the will of Congress is a mere speed bump. Hence this regulatory trifecta, each one moving smartly left — and nicely clarifying what the spirit of bipartisan compromise that President Obama heralded in his post-lame-duck December 22 news conference was really about: a shift to the center for public consumption and political appearance only.

On that day, Obama finally embraced the tax-cut compromise he had initially excoriated, but only to avoid forfeiting its obvious political benefit — its appeal to independent voters who demand bipartisanship and are the key to Obama’s reelection. But make no mistake: Obama’s initial excoriation in his angry December 7 news conference was the authentic Obama. He hated the deal.

Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of December 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy, and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.

These regulatory power plays make political sense. Because Obama needs to appear to reclaim the center, he will stage his more ideological fights in yawn-inducing regulatory hearings rather than in the dramatic spotlight of congressional debate. How better to impose a liberal agenda on a center-right nation than regulatory stealth?

It’s Obama’s only way forward during the next two years. He will never get past the half-Republican 112th what he could not get past the overwhelmingly Democratic 111th. He doesn’t have the votes and he surely doesn’t want the publicity. Hence the quiet resurrection, as it were, of end-of-life counseling.

Obama knows he has only so many years to change the country. In his first two, he achieved much: the first stimulus, Obamacare, and financial regulation. For the next two, however, the Republican House will prevent any repetition of that. Obama’s agenda will therefore have to be advanced by the more subterranean means of rule-by-regulation.

But this must simultaneously be mixed with ostentatious displays of legislative bipartisanship (e.g., the lame-duck tax-cut deal) in order to pull off the (apparent) centrist repositioning required for re-election. This, in turn, would grant Obama four more years when, freed from the need for pretense, he can reassert himself ideologically and complete the social-democratic transformation — begun Jan. 20, 2009; derailed Nov. 2, 2010 — that is the mission of his presidency.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 the Washington Post Writers Group.

Mike Krzyzewski: 880 wins won't dampen his drive and respect for Dean Smith

By John Feinstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
http://www.washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 31, 2010; 1:06 AM

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski waves to the crowd after Duke's 108-62 win over North Carolina-Greensboro in an NCAA college basketball game in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. Krzyzewski moved past longtime rival Dean Smith into second place on the men's all-time wins list. (AP)


GREENSBORO, N.C. - A little more than 24 hours before he went past Dean Smith on the all-time wins list for college basketball coaches, Mike Krzyzewski threw his team out of practice.

"I didn't just get angry," he said that afternoon. "I worked my way up to being really angry."

All of which may explain, at least in part, why Duke's 108-62 rout of UNC Greensboro on Wednesday night was Krzyzewski's 880th career victory - one more than Smith and 22 fewer than Bob Knight.

Soon after telling his players they were soft and spoiled and nowhere close to being ready to play in the ACC, Krzyzewski got on a private plane and flew to Washington to watch a high school junior play. That night he was back on the practice court, giving his players a chance to show him they weren't as soft and spoiled as he had told them they were.

At 63, Krzyzewski still gets angry and he's still relentless. He completely understood the significance - especially in the state of North Carolina - of his 880th win because of his respect for Smith and because of how his career at Duke began.

"All of that said, I'll be glad when it's over," he said Wednesday afternoon, sitting in his customary seat - second row, right side, next to the window - as the Duke team bus rolled down I-85 to Greensboro. "We're a team in transition right now and there's a lot we have to do before Sunday [the ACC opener against Miami] and going forward to get these guys accustomed to playing without Kyrie [Irving]. Yesterday morning they just weren't getting any of that.

"That's why I got angry. I've been blessed with the ability to get angry. Anger is good when you use it to make something better. Most of the time I can do that."

Until Irving, the star freshman point guard from New Jersey, seriously injured his big toe on Dec. 4 in a game against Butler, Duke was an overwhelming favorite to win a second straight national title. Without Irving, the Blue Devils are still a deep, talented team but are now one of many that might be good enough to make a deep run in March.

Irving's foot is in a cast and will be re-examined next week. The worst-case scenario is surgery, which would end his season. The best case is the toe might heal on its own by the end of the regular season.

That's why Krzyzewski is obsessing about recasting his team, because almost every player must play a different role with Irving gone. That's why, as touched as he was by the lengthy ovation he received when the game ended Wednesday evening, he wanted to put it behind him so he could stop talking about Dean Smith and start worrying about Nolan Smith and his ability to run Duke's offense.

In advance of the milestone, Krzyzewski said all the right things about Smith - things he truly believes: Smith made him better because he set the bar so high at Chapel Hill, just eight miles down the road from Durham and the program he took over in 1980. He respected Smith because he did things the right way - he won with good kids and took care of his players from the day they set foot on campus.

"Dean made my job a lot harder," Krzyzewski said. "He wasn't the only one. Jimmy Valvano won a national championship at [North Carolina] State my third year. Bobby Cremins had a fantastic program at Georgia Tech. Lefty [Driesell] was doing great work and so was Terry Holland. It was an amazing league. But Dean was the benchmark. And because he was so good he forced me to be better."

There were people who couldn't stand how good North Carolina was in Smith's heyday and there are people who can't stand how good Duke is now. Several years ago, Smith pointed out that the pressure was tougher on Krzyzewski than it was on him. "There wasn't nearly as much media," he said. "There was no Internet. Every game wasn't on television. I know I wouldn't have enjoyed all the attention the best teams get now. I think Mike handles it very well."

Krzyzewski's greatest strength may be his ability to make failure work for him: to learn from it and grow from it. Just before his players got off the bus Wednesday, he showed them a tape of great players and coaches talking about winning championships and what it means. "I showed them this tape before practice yesterday," he said. "They didn't respond to it at all. I want to give them another chance."

A couple of hours later, they jumped to a 15-2 lead and never slowed down. When the buzzer sounded, no one had left in spite of the score. Mike Dement, the UNC Greensboro coach who was a volunteer assistant for Krzyzewski in his third season at Duke, walked over to offer congratulations.

The two men were standing on almost the exact same spot where Krzyzewski and Smith first shook hands at the end of a game a little more than 30 years ago in the old, early-season Big Four Tournament. North Carolina was about to win, 78-76. The Duke fans were cheering that night, too - glad the game had been close.

With his players inbounding with one second on the clock, Smith, who always believed in fast postgame exits, walked briskly to shake Krzyzewski's hand. Looking at the clock, Krzyzewski angrily said, "The game's not over, Dean."

As it turned out, in the grand scheme of things, he was right. The game was just beginning.

For more from the author, visit www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

As Gay Becomes Bourgeois

An ironic progressive victory

By Jonah Goldberg
http://www.nationalreview.com
December 29, 2010 12:00 A.M.

The cast of "Modern Family" gathers 'round the table together in this shot for Emmy magazine's Issue No. 3.

So now openly gay soldiers get to fight and die in neocon-imperialist wars too?

David Brooks saw such ironic progressive victories coming. In his book Bobos in Paradise, he wrote that everything “transgressive” gets “digested by the mainstream bourgeois order, and all the cultural weapons that once were used to undermine middle-class morality . . . are drained of their subversive content.”

Two decades ago, the gay Left wanted to smash the bourgeois prisons of monogamy, capitalistic enterprise, and patriotic values and bask in the warm sun of bohemian “free love” and avant-garde values. In this, they were simply picking up the torch from the straight Left of the 1960s and 1970s, who had sought to throw off the sexual hang-ups of their parents’ generation along with their gray flannel suits.

As a sexual-lifestyle experiment, they failed pretty miserably, the greatest proof being that the affluent and educated children (and grandchildren) of the baby boomers have re-embraced the bourgeois notion of marriage as an essential part of a successful life. Sadly, it’s the lower-middle class that increasingly sees marriage as an out-of-reach luxury. The irony is that such bourgeois values — monogamy, hard work, etc. — are the best guarantors of success and happiness.

Of course, the lunacy of the bohemian free-love shtick should have been obvious from the get-go. For instance, when Michael Lerner, a member of the anti–Vietnam War “Seattle Seven,” did marry, in 1971, the couple exchanged rings made from the fuselage of a U.S. aircraft downed over Vietnam and cut into a cake inscribed in icing with a Weatherman catchphrase, “Smash Monogamy.”

Today Lerner is a (divorced and remarried) somewhat preposterous, prosperous progressive rabbi who officiates at all kinds of marriages — gay and straight — and, like pretty much the entire Left, loves the idea of open gays becoming cogs in the military-industrial complex.

The gay experiment with open bohemianism was arguably shorter. Of course, AIDS played an obvious and tragic role in focusing attention on the downside of promiscuity. But even so, the sweeping embrace of bourgeois lifestyles by the gay community has been stunning.

ABC’s “Modern Family” characters Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson)

Nowhere is this more evident — and perhaps exaggerated — than in popular culture. Watch ABC’s Modern Family. The sitcom is supposed to be “subversive” in part because it features a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Asia. And you can see why both liberal proponents and conservative opponents of gay marriage see it that way. But imagine you hate the institution of marriage and then watch Modern Family’s hardworking bourgeois gay couple through those eyes. What’s being subverted? Traditional marriage, or some bohemian identity-politics fantasy of homosexuality?

By the way, according to a recent study, Modern Family is the No. 1 sitcom among Republicans (and the third show overall behind Glenn Beck and The Amazing Race) but not even in the top 15 among Democrats, who prefer darker shows like Showtime’s Dexter, about a serial killer trying to balance work and family between murders.

Or look at the decision to let gays openly serve in the military through the eyes of a principled hater of all things military. From that perspective, gays have just been co-opted by The Man. Meanwhile, the folks who used Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as an excuse to keep the military from recruiting on campuses just saw their argument go up in flames.

Personally, I have always felt that gay marriage was an inevitability, for good or ill (most likely both). I do not think that the arguments against gay marriage are all grounded in bigotry, and I find some of the arguments persuasive. But I also find it cruel and absurd to tell gays that living the free-love lifestyle is abominable while at the same time telling them that their committed relationships are illegitimate too.

Many of my conservative friends — who oppose both civil unions and gay marriage and object to rampant promiscuity — often act as if there’s some grand alternative lifestyle for gays. But there isn’t. And given that open homosexuality is simply a fact of life, the rise of the HoBos — the homosexual bourgeoisie — strikes me as good news.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Why Muslims must look in the mirror

By M. ZUHDI JASSER
New York Post
http://www.nypost.com
December 30, 2010


If 2010 was the year America finally woke up to political Islam's ne farious reach on US soil, with luck 2011 will be the year we launch an offensive against it. One way to begin that process is through hearings that Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the new chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, plans to hold on American Muslim radicalization.

Attention to this issue offers an opportunity for American Muslims to confront the radicalization problem and provide solutions -- as only they can.

My group, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, believes these hearings will shed light on the diversity of American Muslims, giving our community a chance to step from behind the veil of Muslim victimization and address head-on the need for long-overdue ideological reforms.

Peter King: Will hold hearings on "homegrown radicals."

Alas, the announcement of the hearings has triggered heated denunciations by groups like ISNA, CAIR and MPAC, which try to deny and obfuscate the connection between "political Islam," or Islamism, and terror.

This year, the debate on the development of the Ground Zero mosque brought the discussion of political Islam to the front page of every newspaper. While raucous at times, it provided an opportunity for Muslims who don't toe the line of American Islamist organizations to present an alternative vision for American Muslims -- one based in American values and Muslim reform.

Unfortunately, political correctness still too often dominates incidents involving Islamists. This year, the Pentagon released a report on Maj. Nidal Hasan's Fort Hood attack, titled "Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood." The report was intended to convey to military commanders whatever lessons were learned from the incident, so as to prevent similar attacks in the future. Yet it never mentioned the word Islam or Muslim. Nowhere to be found was any dissection of Hasan's slide into militant Islamism or of his relationship with his homegrown jihadist mentor, Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Meanwhile, President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg used the Ground Zero mosque controversy to tell the more than 70 percent of Americans who oppose the mosque that they were either wrong or confused. Discourse over recent arrests of jihadists in Portland and Baltimore focused on Islamist claims of FBI entrapment, rather than overdue introspection and calls for reform. Worries of Muslim victimization still rule the day.

Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.

A recent global study by the Pew Research Center showed that Muslims are aligning themselves more and more with Islamism. Of course, most major American Muslim groups, such ISNA, CAIR and MPAC, were built on some strand of that ideology. But knowing where most American Muslims fall in the spectrum of Islamism-vs.-liberalism, as King hopes to find out in his hearings, would be a key step toward counterradicalization.

The fact is, we can't go into 2011 without a discernable strategy on how to defeat Islamist radicalization. House hearings on Muslim radicalization would only be the first step toward finally crafting a US offensive against political Islam.

Again, only liberty-minded Muslims working from within Muslim communities can counter the narrative of Muslim victimization. But America needs to be unashamed of taking the side of those Muslims who advocate reform against political Islam.

In 2011, more Americans need to understand that jihadism is a natural by-product of a political Islam that is incompatible with Western secular democracies based in liberty. America is at war with theocratic Muslim despots who seek the imposition of sharia and don't believe in the equality of all before the law, blind to faith. They detest the association of religious freedom with liberty.

We need a coordinated national strategy of offense that gives Muslim youth an Islamic counternarrative, that defends liberty and that separates mosque and state.

The idea of the Islamic state must be left for history. It is time to help usher in a modern era for Islam and Muslims. Our national security depends on it.

M. Zuhdi Jasser, a physician and a former US Navy lieutenant commander, is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. info@aifdemocracy.org


Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/why_muslims_must_look_in_the_mirror_g6HY8SYPEtYo8gHubxnNhI#ixzz19bHafmlQ

Muslim Batman

[I'm certain that Christian and Jewish Batman will be soon making their appearance in DC Comics. - jtf]

Meet the New Batman: An Algerian Muslim Who Saves France from Nazis and Communists

by Warner Todd Huston
http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/
December 27, 2010

Reality isn’t always very fun. Because of that many people turn to comic books for a little escapism. But there’s escapism and PC indoctrination. Sadly, it appears that DC Comics’ Batman is angling for the latter and not the former. You see, Batman has decided to hire a Muslim to “save France.”

First the reality. The country of France is having serious domestic problems between its immigrant Muslim community and those natural-born, European Frenchmen. Immigrants have been rampaging across the country for several years now. Clashes between police and large groups of rioting Muslim youth have wreaked havoc on the Gallic nation. Violence is all too common — it is woefully common for hundreds of cars to be lit afire in these riots and dozens of arrests to be made. It has the country split and frightened.


It has gotten so bad in France that in some parts of its cities, those parts controlled by marauding gangs of Muslim youths, whites never enter for fear of their lives. Not only that but not even police dare enter these areas. This dangerous situation does not seem anywhere near being solved. In fact, it’s just getting worse.

Now for the fantasy: enter The Batman.

DC Comics recently launched a series called “Batman Incorporated.” Essentially, Bruce Wayne (well-known as Batman’s alter ego to comics fans) is cruising the world setting up a “Batman” for major cities across the globe. These Batman figures, though, will not be vigilantes. They will be sanctioned by whatever local police force is in charge of the area in which the new Batman is operating. In the case of Detective Comics number 12 (Part one) and Batman Annual number 28 (Part two), Bruce Wayne has come to Paris, France to find a “French savior.”

The story reveals to us a cult-like group that is assassinating France’s fringe political figures. The cult’s goal is to cause unrest and riots to be led by the murdered political figure’s followers. This group hypnotizes its members to kill and then to commit suicide so that the cult cannot be discovered.

First a “popular” French union activist “with ties to the French Communist Party” is murdered. Next the leader of a “break-away Neo-Nazi Party” is killed. Then Batman discovers that a “minor diplomat” from Saudi Arabia is targeted. Batman tries to stop the assassination but is too late.


Batman turns to a man that he helped police arrest earlier in part one. When first encountered the young man was dressed in a skin-tight, black costume and sported a face mask. Batman arrested him when this man tried to involve himself in some rioting. Batman didn’t know the young masked man was actually trying to stop the riot but later learns of his good intentions. Consequently the Dark Knight decides to put this man to work to help stop the cult that is assassinating French political figures and causing riots.

In the course of this story Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, decides that this man should become the French representative of Batman Incorporated. As Wayne styles the man, he’ll be the “French savior.” He ends up calling himself Nightrunner.

So what’s wrong with all this? Only that it is completely absurd and so badly misleads people from any understanding of why riots are really going on in France that it almost qualifies as a crime itself.

You see, DC Comics has decided that the “French savior,” the French Batman is to be a Muslim immigrant. The character’s name is Bilal Asselah and he is an Algerian Sunni Muslim and an immigrant that is physically fit and adept at gymnastic sport Parkour. Apparently Batman couldn’t find any actual Frenchman to be the “French savior.”

The whole situation is a misreading of what ails France. The truth is, neither communist Union members nor “Neo-Nazi” Parties are causing riots in France. Muslims are. Yet DC Comics is absurdly making a Muslim immigrant the “French savior”? This is PCism at its worst. Not only that but it is pretty condescending to France, too. France is a proud nation. Yet DC Comics has made a foreigner the “French savior.” This will not sit well with many Frenchmen, for sure. Nor should it.


As DC told the tale of this character’s origin, it badly downplays the seriousness of the actual racial tension in France. In essence, all you get from the story is that “they hate us, and we hate them.” There is no attempt at all to explain the real underlying problem. The true cause of the riots and violence between Frenchmen of European stock and that of immigrant Muslim stock is glossed over as if it doesn’t even exist. DC Comics makes the whole problem as simplistic as mere racism as if that is all there is to it ignoring the fact that Islam is the single most important factor in the strife.

Unfortunately, readers of Batman will not be helped to understand what troubles are really besetting France. In this age when Muslim youths are terrorizing the entire country, heck in this age of international Muslim terrorism assaulting the whole world, Batman’s readers will be confused by what is really going on in the world. Through it all DC makes a Muslim in France a hero when French Muslims are at the center of some of the worst violence in the country’s recent memory.

But it isn’t surprising for DC, a comic book company that has a character whose creator based it on “corporate greed.” Nor is it surprising in an industry where tea party members are made the enemy of super heroes. For the character based on “corporate greed” look up DC’s Larfleeze character[1] and see the Marvel comic Captain America issue 602 where The Captain makes Tea Partiers into an enemy to America (Marvel later apologized).[2] For that matter, check out the words of the director of the new 2011 Captain America movie who said that his Captain America won’t be a big “flag waver.”[3] Imagine that. Captain America not being that into America.

These few examples aren’t the only ones, either. Among many other instances, last April the venerable Archie Comics announced they were adding a gay character[4] and back in 2007 movie makers announced that they intended to remove all mentions of the U.S. military from G.I. Joe (they later relented to a degree).[5]

It all adds up to a PCing of the American comic book industry that has been going on for far too long.


Links:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larfleeze

[2] http://www.publiusforum.com/2010/02/08/marvel-comics-captain-america-says-tea-parties-are-dangerous-and-racist/

[3] http://www.publiusforum.com/2010/07/22/new-captain-america-movie-dear-america-im-just-not-that-into-you/

[4] http://www.publiusforum.com/2010/04/23/gay-archie-comic-character-my-channel-2-news-response/

[5] http://www.publiusforum.com/2007/09/06/hollywood-gi-joe-no-longer-american-soldier-but-an-international-operative/

Related:

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/12/28/racists-batman-muslim-paris/

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Bell Tells for You

Hot Sensations Vs. Cold Facts

By Larry Bell, 12.27.10, 10:00 AM ET
http://www.forbes.com/

As 2010 draws to a close, do you remember hearing any good news from the mainstream media about climate? Like maybe a headline proclaiming "Record Low 2009 and 2010 Cyclonic Activity Reported: Global Warming Theorists Perplexed"? Or "NASA Studies Report Oceans Entering New Cooling Phase: Alarmists Fear Climate Science Budgets in Peril"? Or even anything bad that isn't blamed on anthropogenic (man-made) global warming--of course other than what is attributed to George W. Bush? (Conveniently, the term "AGW" covers both.)

Remember all the media brouhaha about global warming causing hurricanes that commenced following the devastating U.S. 2004 season? Opportunities to capitalize on those disasters were certainly not lost on some U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change officials. A special press conference called by IPCC spokesman Kevin Trenberth announced "Experts warn global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense activity."

But there was a problem. Christopher Landsea, a top U.S. expert on the subject, repeatedly notified the IPCC that no research had been conducted to support that claim--not in the Atlantic basin, or in any other basin. After receiving no replies, he publicly resigned from all IPCC activities. And while the press conference received tumultuous global media coverage, Mother Nature didn't pay much attention. Subsequent hurricane seasons returned to average patterns noted historically over the past 150 years, before exhibiting recent record lows with no 2010 U.S. landfalls.

Much global warming alarm centers upon concerns that melting glaciers will cause a disastrous sea level rise. A globally viewed December 2005 BBC feature alarmingly reported that two massive glaciers in eastern Greenland, Kangderlugssuaq and Helheim, were melting, with water "racing to the sea." Commentators urgently warned that continued recession would be catastrophic.

Helheim's "erratic" behavior reported then was recently recounted again in a dramatic Nov. 13 New York Times article titled "As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas."[1] Reporters somehow failed to notice that only 18 months later, and despite slightly warmer temperatures, the melting rate of both glaciers not only slowed down and stopped, but actually reversed. Satellite images revealed that by August 2006 Helheim had advanced beyond its 1933 boundary.

According to two separate NASA studies, one conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the other by the Langley Research Center, the oceans now appear to be heading into another natural periodic cooling phase within a typical 55- to 70-year dipolar warm/cool pattern. Although Greenland has recently been experiencing a slight warming trend, satellite measurements show that the ice cap has been accumulating snow growth at a rate of about 2.1 inches per year. Temperatures only recently began to exceed those of the 1930s and 1940s when many glaciers were probably smaller than now. (We can't be certain, because satellites didn't exist to measure them.)

A recent study conducted by U.S. and Dutch scientists that appeared in the journal Nature Geoscience concluded that previous estimates of Greenland and West Antarctica ice melt rate losses may have been exaggerated by double. Earlier projections apparently failed to account for rebounding changes in the Earth's crust following the last Ice Age (referred to as "glacial isostatic adjustment").

Nils-Axel Morner, head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden, argues that any concerns regarding rising sea levels are unfounded. "So all this talk that sea level rising, this comes from the computer modeling, not from observations. ... The new level, which has been stable, has not changed in the last 35 years. ... But they [IPCC] need a rise, because if there is no rise, there is no death threat ... if you want a grant for a research project in climatology, it is written into the document that there 'must' be a focus on global warming. ... That is really bad, because you start asking for the answer you want to get."

Studies by the International Union for Quaternary Research conclude that some ocean levels have even fallen in recent decades. The Indian Ocean, for example, was higher between 1900 and 1970 than it has been since.

Other world climate alarm bells chimed when it was reported in the media that September 2007 satellite images revealed that the Northwest Passage--a sea route between the U.K. and Asia across the top of the Arctic Circle--had opened up for the first time in recorded history. (This "recorded history" dates back only to 1979 when satellite monitoring first began, and it should also be noted that the sea route froze again just a few months later (winter 2007-2008).

The Northwest Passage has certainly opened up before. Diary entries of a sailor named Roald Amundson confirm clear passage in 1903, as do those of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Arctic patrol crew that made regular trips through there in the early 1940s. And in February 2009 it was discovered that scientists had previously been underestimating the re-growth of Arctic sea ice by an area larger than the state of California (twice as large as New Zealand). The errors were attributed to faulty sensors on the ice.

But these aren't the sorts of observations that most people generally receive from the media. Instead, they present sensational statements and dramatic images that leave lasting impressions of calving glaciers, drowning polar bears and all manner of other man-caused climate calamities.

Many intentionally target impressionable young minds and sensitive big hearts with messages of fear and guilt. Take, for example, a children's book called The North Pole Was Here, authored by New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. It warns kids that some day it may be "easier to sail than stand on the North Pole in summer." Imagine such images through their visualization: How warm it must be to melt that pole way up north. Poor Santa! And Rudolph! Of course it's mostly their parents' fault because of the nasty CO2 they produce driving them to school in SUVs.

Lots of grown-ups are sensitive people with big hearts too. Don't we all deserve more from the seemingly infinite media echo chamber of alarmism than those windy speculations, snow jobs and projections established on theoretical thin ice?

Weekly columnist Larry Bell is a professor at the University of Houston and author of Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax, which will be released on Jan. 1, 2011. It can be previewed at: www.climateofcorruption.com..


Link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/science/earth/14ice.html?_r=1

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kenneth Branagh Talks Thor

Kenneth Branagh is hammering away on ‘Thor’ — and those nasty rumors

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/
April 01, 2010 5:55 p.m.

It’s no surprise to learn that back in Ireland, young Kenneth Branagh — who would grow up to direct film adaptations of “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Henry V” — fell under the spell of tales about royal family intrigue, ancient rivalry and clanging battlefields. What is unexpected, though, is that epic of obsession was by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, not William Shakespeare.

“Growing up, my single comic book passion was Thor,” says the 49-year-old actor and filmmaker who surprised many industry observers by taking on the director’s job on the big-budget adaptation of the Marvel Comics thunder god. “From my time in Belfast as a kid, that’s the first time I came across that comic, really, exclusively, I don’t know why, but it struck a chord. I was drawn to it. I liked all the dynastic drama.”

For the uninitiated, the Marvel character Thor first appeared in the August 1962 issue of “Journey into Mystery” (it was a big summer for Marvel — the first Spider-Man comic book hits stands that same month) as an odd mix of Norse myth and Marvel’s distinctive brand of wildly kinetic cosmic melodrama.

With his winged helmet, magic hammer and odd old English diction, he fought evil aliens, ancient wizards and costumed crooks and even teamed up with Hercules in Marvel’s no-borders brand of mythology.

“Thor,” due in 2011, is filming now in Santa Fe, N.M., and stars newcomer Chris Hemsworth (who played the doomed father of James T. Kirk in last year’s “Star Trek“) will carry the magical hammer of Thor in the film, with Natalie Portman playing his mortal love, Jane Foster. Anthony Hopkins is Odin, Thor’s father, and Tom Hiddleston plays the thunder god’s duplicitous brother, Loki.

For both Branagh and upstart Marvel Studios (which arrived with a splash in Hollywood in 2008 with “Iron Man”) the cinematic mash-up of Viking deity and 21st century do-gooder will be a singular challenge in Hollywood’s crowded superhero sector.

The story is split between Asgard, the majestic and eternal home of the Norse gods, and the modern world, which Branagh says he views more as an opportunity than a challenge.

“Inspired by the comic book world both pictorially and compositionally at once, we’ve tried to find a way to make a virtue and a celebration of the distinction between the worlds that exist in the film but absolutely make them live in the same world,” Branagh said. “It’s about finding the framing style, the color palette, finding the texture and the amount of camera movement that helps celebrate and express the differences and the distinctions in those worlds. If it succeeds, it will mark this film as different…. The combination of the primitive and the sophisticated, the ancient and the modern, I think that potentially is the exciting fusion, the exciting tension in the film.”

It was a different sort of tension that put the film in headlines this week. Gatecrasher, a report in the New York Daily News gossip column, quoted unnamed sources that painted a picture of a sour movie set, with Hopkins making it clear to the crew that he thinks little of 26-year-old Hemsworth’s acting skills and Branagh growing frustrated with the Oscar-winning elder’s pessimism and complaints.

Hopkins was said to be outraged by the report. The 72-year-old Welsh actor issued this statement: “I am having the time of my life making Thor with Ken and Chris. They have made every day immensely fun and collaborative, and we’re all puzzled that someone would fabricate a story suggesting otherwise. I’m proud to say that Thor has been one of the great experiences of my career.”

Branagh, meanwhile, went on at length about the esprit de corps of his cast, which also includes Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson and Stellan SkarsgÄrd.

There will also be elements that will move forward with Marvel Studios unprecedented plan to create a unified universe of heroes and stories that spreads across films, including the upcoming Captain America movie in 2011 and “Iron Man 2,” which arrives May 7 as one of the most anticipated movies of 2010.

“It’s going very, very well,” Branagh said Wednesday. “We’re in New Mexico now where we have a contemporary Earth part of our story. I guess we’re two-thirds of the way through the story and at this stage of the game what’s surprising and delighting me is the way the cast, the ensemble, has fused together. It’s kind of an interesting combination of very young and very experienced people and the double-up of that, it seems to me, is there is a lot of fire in the movie. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t try to be too solemn.”

Branagh made a point to praise Hopkins as ”an extraordinary actor with his Celtic passion and incredible technique” and said he has been a binding force for the film on the set and will do the same on the screen. The cast that plays Asgard’s royal family are “people who can embody larger-than-life characters but retain at the center a natural, recognizable, human dynamic … and these people run the universe.”

To read the rest of Geoff Boucher's article click on the link below:

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2010/04/01/kenneth-branagh-and-thor/


Kenneth Branagh: ‘Thor’ required a ‘different kind of dance’ than ‘Iron Man’

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/
Sept. 16, 2010 12:24 p.m.

“Thor” director Kenneth Branagh is a big fan of the “Iron Man” tandem of director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr., but he says his entry into the ever-expanding cinema of the Marvel Universe will be quite different in tone and construction.

The “Iron Man” films, the box-office jewel of Marvel Studios, were filmed with an emphasis on bottling the on-set lightning of star Downey, and the actor’s improvisation work kept the harried writing team busy throughout the production as they tweaked and twisted the script to connect the dots between the star’s ad-lib riffs. That approach worked for a franchise that found its axis in the mercurial charm of Tony Stark, but Branagh said Thor’s tale of gods and monsters would not have benefited from a fast-and-loose approach.

“It’s a different story, and also, in that regard, Jon is a bit of a genius when it comes to that orchestration and getting the max out of another genius in Downey,” Branagh said.

“It’s how you dance pretty close to the edge to get the sort of modernity and the edge that ‘Iron Man’ has and the real sharp comic sensibility of those two men,” he said. “So it’s a different kind of dance.

“I think ‘Thor’ comes from a different place story-wise and character-wise. We have both Norse histories for Thor, hundreds of myths and fables told in many different ways, in addition to what Marvel has pillaged for the past 40 years or so to come up with their version of things, which sits in very strong structure, a really strong narrative structure.”

To read the rest of Geoff Boucher's article click on the link below:

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2010/09/16/kenneth-branagh-thor-required-a-different-kind-of-dance-than-iron-man/

Benedict XVI's New Counter-Reformation?

Posted by Terry Mattingly
http://www.getreligion.org/
Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI and Monsignor Guido Marini

While it is hard to explain to outsiders, one of the most fascinating battles in the American Catholic church today is the one that pits the kneelers vs. the non-kneelers. I refer, of course, to the issue of whether bishops should — bowing to the modernization of ancient rites — attempt to prevent the faithful from kneeling before the altar as they receive Holy Communion during the Mass.

Let me explain: If people are allowed to kneel, that would mean that the Latin Mass is coming back and the next thing you know the pope will be seeking draconian student-life codes on Catholic campuses that prevent student funds from being used for activities that directly attack Catholic doctrine. It would be like the reforms of the Second Vatican Council never happened (or the spirit of the council has been quenched or something like that). Horrors. Then again, I am Eastern Orthodox, so I am biased.

This liturgical war is the subject that looms behind this fascinating, but consistently shallow, Washington Post piece that ran under the headline, “Pope’s master of liturgy helps Benedict restore traditions.” [1]

The bad guy in this piece is Monsignor Guido Marini, the relatively young Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations for Pope Benedict XVI. The good guy is Archbishop Piero Marini, who held this post for two decades. The young man is into all (or most) things ancient. The older man is into all (or most) things modern and progressive.

The battle ground? The sights, sounds, smells and rubrics of the rites celebrated by the man who sites in the throne of St. Peter. Why does this matter? Change the words and the rites and you eventually change the doctrines. Both Marinis know that. Using the most loaded of images, the Post even suggests that the young liturgist is, with this pope, attempting a “counter-reformation.” Is that with our without a large “R”?

Here’s a sample of the warfare:

Since the Marini II era began in October 2007, the papal Masses clearly have a stronger traditional element. Guido Marini, who has degrees in canon and civil law and a doctorate in the psychology of communication, caused considerable consternation among some progressive Catholics in January when he talked to English-speaking priests about a “reform of the reform.”

In an interview Thursday, he argued that the changes should not be seen as a liturgical backlash to modernity but as a “harmonious development” in a “continuum” that takes full advantage of the church’s rich history and is not subject to what he has called “sporadic modifications.” Liturgical progressives, like Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., are concerned that Marini considers the reforms of the 1960s ecumenical council known as Vatican II as being among those sporadic modifications.

At most papal Masses, a large crucifix flanked by tall candles is now displayed on the altar, even though many progressives say the ornaments block the view of the priest and the bread and wine. They argue that this obstructs the accessibility urged by liturgical reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council. Marini responds by saying that the crucifix reminds the faithful of who is really front and center in the Mass. He also says that the pope cannot sit in front of the altar when it bears the crucifix because “the pope can’t give his back” to sacraments on the altar.


Keep reading. It’s all here — Gregorian chants, fancy vestments, a few Latin rites, etc.

What is NOT here is the crucial third level of the drama. The story demonstrates that a battle is going on and even gives a few insights into what the battle is about. What is missing? That would be voices on the left or the right (but mainly the right) who can explain what the symbols represent. Readers are not allowed to listen to the doctrinal debates that add substance to the symbols.

In other words, what do these liturgical changes MEAN? Why are these fights packed with so much substance and emotion? Take this passage for example:

Piero Marini, who stepped down in 2007 after serving as the master of celebrations for 20 years, has championed the Vatican II reforms, including the simplification of rites that he believes facilitates active participation.

In the name of “inculturation,” or integrating church rites with local customs, the silver-haired Marini in 1998 accepted the request of local bishops to allow a troupe of scantily clad Pacific islanders in St. Peter’s Basilica to honor the pope with a dance during the opening liturgy of the Synod for Oceania. During John Paul II’s visit to Mexico City in 2002, Marini likewise granted a local bishop’s wish to let an indigenous Mexican shaman exorcise the pope during a Mass there.


Now that is a quick glimpse of true substance, a window into the third layer of the issues addressed in this news report.

Note: A practitioner of another religion — Catholic, polytheistic or some fusion of the two? — is allowed to exorcise demons from the pope, during a Mass. The Post flies right by this. Where are the voices that interpret the meaning of this extraordinary moment? Which divine power is casting out evil forces from the leader of the Catholic faith?

Methinks that the discussions behind closed Vatican doors about the theology built into that act probably lasted for more than a few moments. This was not idol chatter.

This is a great subject for a story. It contains many details linked to topics that are genuinely newsworthy. But where is the substance, other than the old theme that nasty people locked into the past still want to crush the brave voices of the new?


Link:

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/24/AR2010122403023.html


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash And Friends - Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy

America’s First Christmas

How we reversed our fortunes in the Revolutionary War

By Rich Lowry
http://www.nationalreview.com
December 23, 2010 12:00 A.M.

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze

Gen. George Washington’s army retreated from New York in ignominy in November 1776. As it moved through New Jersey, Lt. James Monroe, the future president, stood by the road and counted the troops: 3,000 left from an original force of 30,000.

In December 1776, the future of America hung on the fate of a bedraggled army barely a step ahead of annihilation.

The Americans confronted about two-thirds of the strength of the British army, and half of its navy, not to mention thousands of German mercenaries. Ron Chernow recounts in his new book, Washington: A Life, that when the British fleet showed up off New York, an American soldier marveled that it was as if “all London was afloat.”

The defense of New York was barely worthy of the name. When British troops crossed into Manhattan at Kips Bay, the Americans ran. Washington reportedly exclaimed in despair, “Are these the men with which I am to defend America?”

Later, from the New Jersey Palisades, he watched as the British took Fort Washington across the Hudson, held by 3,000 American troops, and put surrendering Americans to the sword. According to one account, Washington turned away and wept “with the tenderness of a child.”

British strategy depended on shattering American faith in the Continental Army and reconciling the rebellious colonies to the Crown. As the Americans fled to the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, the British occupied New Jersey and offered an amnesty to anyone declaring his loyalty. They had thousands of takers, including one signer of the Declaration of Independence.

As David Hackett Fischer emphasizes in his classic Washington’s Crossing, the American revival began spontaneously. Low on supplies, occupying troops had to forage for food. The forage turned to plunder. That fueled a grassroots rising among “the rascal peasants,” in the words of a Hessian officer.

With New Jersey boiling and expiring enlistments about to reduce his army further, Washington decided on a scheme to cross the Delaware on Christmas and surprise the Hessian garrison in Trenton. “If the raid backfired,” Chernow writes, “the war was likely over and he would be captured and killed.”

Behind schedule, Washington’s main force of 2,400 started crossing the river that night. Yes, most of them were standing up in flat-bottomed boats. Yes, there were ice floes. It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that all the men were across the river. They had nine miles still to march to Trenton in a driving storm and no chance of making it before daybreak. Washington considered calling it off, but he had already come too far.

Arriving at Trenton at 8 a.m., his spirited troops seemed “to vie with the other in pressing forward,” he wrote afterward. They surprised the Hessians, not because they were sleeping off a Christmas bender. Harried in hostile New Jersey, the Hessians had exhausted themselves on constant alert. They didn’t expect an attack in such weather, though. The battle ended quickly — 22 Hessians killed, 83 seriously wounded, and 900 captured, to two American combat deaths.

“It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world,” British historian George Trevelyan wrote.

The American troops found 40 hogshead of rum in the town, which temporarily blunted their effectiveness. Washington followed up soon enough with another victory at Princeton. In the space of a few weeks, the Americans killed or captured as many as 3,000 of the enemy and irreversibly changed the dynamic of the war.

David Hackett Fischer sees in that resurgence after our fortunes were at their lowest a reassuring aspect of our national character in this season of discontent: We respond when pressed. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a great supporter of the American cause, wrote: “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” May it still be so.

— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.

Album Review: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - III/IV

By Greg Gaston
http://www.crawdaddy.com/
December 17, 2010

Has there been a more polarizing artist in the last 10 years than Ryan Adams? Maybe so, but the little-dynamo-that-could still riles critics up with his one-man assault on the outer bounds of prolific creativity. Releasing III/IV, the second double-record set with his band the Cardinals, Adams continues to challenge his muse with this solid but too long-by-half collection.

These 21 songs come directly out of the NYC Electric Ladyland studio, Easy Tiger sessions from 2007. He had so many leftover cuts that he’s been unloading them in bunches since then. This is his second release in the last 12 months; the first was Orion, an underpublicized project described as his “sci-fi, metal concept record.” III/IV comes out on Adams’ own label, Pax-Am Records, who modestly call it a “double-album concept rock opera about the ‘80s, ninjas, cigarettes, sex, and pizza.” Why not?

The great thing about Adams and his inconsistent but ample output is you never know what will ricochet out of his studio next. He pinballs between genres, whether alt-country, garage rock, or new wave-style pop-rock, in always entertaining if uneven ways. He can be fun to follow, and it pays off every few records—his last great set was 2005’s Cold Roses, a raggedy, but twang-tight, jam-guitar drenched double-album with the Cardinals, inspired by Jerry Garcia.

III/IV verves off in another direction, a crunchy distillation of guitar pop and lite-metal sheen complete with Adams’ freewheeling attitude. His crucial touchstone influence here are his buddies, the Strokes, with whom he shares a love of British ‘80s New Wave shot through with NYC’s grit and grind-you-up streets. This set definitely ranges in the mold of his earlier Rock N Roll, a record that temporarily put his roots-country sound in check.

“Breakdown into the Resolve”, the fiery opener, pushes us straight into this record’s catchy dynamics: Both Adams’ and Neil Casal’s brash guitars lead the Cardinals with streamlined hooks intact, and then the verse peels open as Adams welcomes us back into the fold with his greeting, “Hi, hello, it’s me again, don’t worry I’ll talk slow / So you probably heard / I went away, where do we start?”

Though Adams never goes away for long, he has been on hiatus lately following his marriage last year to the actress, Mandy Moore. All signs point to another fertile period, though, as he has scheduled several new releases coming up in the next year. But, however, we choose to classify this guy, there’s no denying his songwriting DNA gift, and the livewire rush that runs through some of his music.

The songs just pile up here on III/IV, ranging from the clever synth riffs of “Happy Birthday” to the muscular power pop glaze of “Wasteland” and “Users.” Adams tries out different vocals here too; on one song he echoes the mopey theatrics of Morrissey, one of his idols, and on the next he’s giving us a decent Bono impression. All of this bodes well, if that’s what you look for on an Adams’ record. Though often, Adams’ weakness lies in the fact that he’s such a musical chameleon that much of his music reminds us of other artists, and sometimes he suffers in the comparison. I find this to be less true with his country records, which more than capably stand on their own compared to his more derivative rock releases.

If this is a concept record, there’s no narrative that connects the songs besides the overall sound. I couldn’t find the “ninjas, sex, and pizza” here so much, but the 1980s’ influence bleeds through the tracks. He even references “Star Wars” in a clunky, throwaway rocker named after the movie, as he yearns for a girl he can love as much as his favorite film. Let’s call it sci-fi, geek rock; at least he left the godforsaken Star Trek franchise alone—Adams projecting Spock would be one alien too far.

As with many double records, the first disc is stronger than the second, which dissipates into mediocre genre exercise writing like “Icebreaker”, an annoying metal rehash, and “Numbers”, a thrashed out concoction, and numerous others. Since these are leftovers culled from Adams’ overflow, maybe we should expect some lesser efforts along the way. The second disc winds down with a lovely, loping ballad, unfortunately named “Death and Rats”, just for good measure.

This always leads to the question, why release so much material? Why not whittle this down to one stronger package? And, of course, these concerns always dog the obsessive Adams with almost every record. It depends what you want as a fan: Songwriting quality or quantity? At his best—say every three or four records, Ryan Adams offers both. The rest of the time Adams is clearing the decks, making way for the next inspiration, and letting us hear about it. He is a songwriter, after all; this is what he does.

Today's Tune: Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dave Camp's plan: Taxes made simple

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Thursday, December 23, 2010


Many parents have heard FICA Screams. Indignant children, holding in trembling hands their first paychecks, demand to know what FICA is and why it is feasting on their pay.

FICA (the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax) is government compassion, expressed numerically: It is the welfare state; it funds Social Security and Medicare. Sometimes it makes young people into conservatives.

Dave Camp was 14, working for his father's garage in central Michigan, when he made the acquaintance of FICA. Now 57 and about to begin his 11th term in Congress, he will chair the House Ways and Means Committee, where he will try to implement the implications of his complaint that "the tax code is 10 times longer than the Bible, without the good news."

His aim is "fundamental" tax reform, understood the usual way - broadening the base (eliminating loopholes) to make lower rates possible. He would like a top rate of 25 percent - three points lower than Ronald Reagan achieved in 1986, with what proved to be perishable simplification.

In George W. Bush's 2004 speech to the Republican convention, he denounced the tax code as "a complicated mess" that annually requires "6 billion hours of paperwork" - now estimated at 7.6 billion. He vowed to "simplify" it. The audience cheered. Then he promised new complexities. There would be "opportunity zones" - tax relief for depressed areas - and a tax credit to encourage businesses to establish health savings accounts. The audience cheered.

This is perennial mischief - using the tax code not simply to raise revenue efficiently (with minimal distortion of economic behavior) but to pamper pet causes, appease muscular interests and make social policy. Since 1986, the tax code has acquired more than 15,000 complications.

"Targeted" tax cuts are popular complexities because they serve a bossy government's agenda of behavior modification: You can keep more of your money if you do what Washington wants. The tax code, says Camp, "should not be a tool of industrial policy" or of "crony capitalism": "Politicians should not pick the industry of the day."

One of Camp's objections to the health-care law is its obvious design to cripple health savings accounts. With HSAs, an individual who buys high-deductible health insurance becomes eligible for tax-preferred savings out of which he or she pays routine health expenses. (No one expects auto insurance to pay for oil changes or new windshield wipers.) This gives consumers of health care an incentive to shop wisely for it. Camp says the health-care law will make HSAs less attractive because "a qualified plan will be defined by the government rather than the market." And government will make HSAs unnecessarily expensive by requiring them to have "all the bells and whistles."

Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard - incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes.

"I believe," Camp says, "you've got to have some responsibility for the government you have." People have co-payments under Medicare, and everyone should similarly have some "skin in the game" under the income tax system.

In addition to the one-third of the 143 million tax returns filed by individual earners for 2007 that showed no tax liability, additional millions of households have incomes low enough to exempt them from filing tax returns. The bottom two quintiles of earners have negative income tax liabilities - they receive cash payments from the government via refundable tax credits.

Camp remains amazed by the slipshod practices by which banks and other financial institutions made mortgage loans without due diligence. He remembers that "the president of the bank approved my first Visa card." Other things have changed, too. "I used to do my own taxes," Camp says, "until I got on Ways and Means." No more. The tax code is so complex that the chairman of the tax-writing committee, like many millions of Americans, cannot be confident he can properly perform, unassisted, the duty of paying taxes.

If Barack Obama is accurately reported to be considering serious tax simplification and lower rates, he will have an ally in Camp - up to a point. Serious arguments about taxes are never just about taxes. They are about government's proper size and purposes. Concerning that, Obama differs with Camp, who says: "Washington doesn't have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem."

georgewill@washpost.com

Obama's new start

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 8:00 PM

Riding the lamest of ducks, President Obama just won the Triple Crown. He fulfilled (1) his most important economic priority, passage of Stimulus II, a.k.a. the tax cut deal (the perfect pre-re-election fiscal sugar high - the piper gets paid in 2013 and beyond); (2) his most important social policy objective, repeal of "don't ask, don't tell"; and (3) his most cherished (achievable) foreign policy goal, ratification of the New START treaty with Russia.

Politically, these are all synergistic. The bipartisan nature of the tax deal instantly repositioned Obama back to the center. And just when conventional wisdom decided the deal had caused irreparable alienation from his liberal base, Obama almost immediately won it back - by delivering one of the gay rights movement's most elusive and coveted breakthroughs.

The symbolism of the don't ask, don't tell repeal cannot be underestimated. It's not just that for the civil rights community, it represents a long-awaited extension of the historic arc - first blacks, then women, now gays. It was also Obama decisively transcending the triangulated trimming of Bill Clinton, who instituted don't ask, don't tell in the first place. Even more subtly and understatedly, the repeal represents the taming of the most conservative of the nation's institutions, the military, by a movement historically among the most avant-garde. Whatever your views, that is a cultural landmark.

Then came START, which was important for Obama not just because of the dearth of foreign policy achievements these past two years but because treaties, especially grand-sounding treaties on strategic arms, carry the aura of presidential authority and diplomatic mastery.

No matter how useless they are, or even how damaging. New START was significantly, if subtly, damaging, which made the rear-guard Republican opposition it engendered so salutary. The debate it sparked garnered the treaty more attention than it would have otherwise and thus gave Obama a larger PR victory. But that debate also amplified the major flaw in the treaty - the gratuitous reestablishment of the link between offensive and defensive weaponry.

One of the great achievements of the past decade was the Bush administration's severing of that link - first, by its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which had expressly prevented major advances in missile defense, and then with the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, which regulated offensive weapons but ostentatiously contained not a single word about any connection to missile defense. Why is this important? Because missile defense is essential for protecting ourselves from the most menacing threat of the coming century - nuclear hyper-proliferation.

The relinking that we acquiesced to in the preamble to New START is a major reversal of that achievement. Sure, Obama sought to reassure critics with his letter to the Senate promising unimpeded development of our European missile defense system. But the Russians have already watched this president cancel our painstakingly planned Polish and Czech missile defenses in response to Russian protests and threats. That's why they insisted we formally acknowledge an "interrelationship" between offense and defense. They know that their threat to withdraw from START, if the United States were to build defenses that displease them, will inevitably color - and restrain - future U.S. missile defense advances and deployments.

Obama's difficulty in overcoming the missile defense objection will serve to temper the rest of his nuclear agenda, including U.S. entry into the test-ban treaty, and place Obama's ultimate goal of total nuclear disarmament blessedly out of reach. Conservatives can thus take solace that their vigorous opposition to START is likely to prevent further disarmament mischief down the road. But what they cannot deny is the political boost the treaty's ratification gives Obama today, a mere seven weeks after his Election Day debacle.

The great liberal ascendancy of 2008, destined to last 40 years (predicted James Carville), lasted less than two. Yet, the great Republican ascendancy of 2010 lasted less than two months. Republicans will enter the 112th Congress with larger numbers but no longer with the wind - the overwhelming Nov. 2 repudiation of Obama's social-democratic agenda - at their backs.

"Harry Reid has eaten our lunch," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, lamenting his side's "capitulation" in the lame-duck session. Yes, but it was less Harry than Barry. Obama came back with a vengeance. His string of lame-duck successes is a singular political achievement. Because of it, the epic battles of the 112th Congress begin on what would have seemed impossible just one month ago - a level playing field.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

In defense of Santa and the cult of Christmas

By Michael Gerson
The Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Friday, December 24, 2010

An earnest academic, writing on the Web site Patheos, recently made the case against Santa Claus. Saint Nick is a multicultural nightmare: "A person shouldn't have to pander to a white man - sit on his lap and beg, even! - to enjoy the good life. . . . If Santa were a refugee, or a woman of color, or even a plant or animal, I could probably get on board."[1]

But Saint Nick's offense is also religious. He is "in direct competition with God, and it seems Santa may have the upper hand." "They're both invisible characters that appear from time to time," Jenell Paris continues, "so how does a Christian parent convince a child that God is really real (especially if you once told the child that Santa was also real)?"

This was never much of a problem in my home. My eldest son from an early age was a Santa skeptic - the Christopher Hitchens of his elementary-school set. Having spied out our Christmas preparations, he delighted in dashing the illusions of other children, including our youngest.

Still, I rise to Santa's defense. It is true that the Thomas Nast version of Santa Claus is the same pale shade as Bull Connor.[2] Yet perhaps even mythical figures should be judged, not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character - which, in this case, seems pretty admirable. And, though outwardly resembling Haley Barbour, Santa is unlikely to commit racially charged gaffes in the future.

The second critique is more substantial. Christmas has become a kind of alternative religion, offering watered-down versions of profound theological doctrines. Its miracles are found on 34th Street, not in Bethlehem. The visitation of Gabriel has become the visitation of Clarence, assuring us that it is a wonderful life. The modern cult of Christmas offers a domesticated form of transcendence. Naughty or nice instead of good or evil. A jolly old elf rather than an illegitimate child, destined for an early death.

One's reaction to the modern cult of Christmas depends on one's view of comparative religion. Believers often assert that other religious traditions are simply wrong and inherently dangerous, worthy of attention only to condemn or debunk.

Admittedly, it is not credible to assert that all religions - from Buddhism to Aztec human sacrifice to Quakerism to Wahhabi Islam - are equally true. Religious differences are not trivial. But most faiths share a similar striving. Across the world and across history, human beings have been hounded by an instinct to seek meaning beyond the material - a desire for forgiveness, acceptance, holy awe and ethical behavior. This search takes many forms and faiths, from animism to Zoroastrianism. If the instinct is not merely a cruel evolutionary joke, the practice of religion has produced varied insights and wisdom. As a Christian, I believe that the claims of Christianity are true - but this does not mean other faiths are devoid of all truth.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: "If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view."

So I choose to take a more liberal view of the Christmas cult. Its tacky materialism can be unattractive. But the desire for Christmas miracles and visiting angels - for Tiny Tim not to die and for hooves on the rooftop and for George Bailey to be the richest man in town; for just one night of calm and hope - are not things to be lightly dismissed.

"If I find in myself," says Lewis, "a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." In this argument, the sentimental desires of Christmas are hints and rumors and reminders of a birth that somehow represents their culmination. Put another way: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.

Links:

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Santa-vs-God.html

[2] http://www.sonofthesouth.net/Thomas_Nast/Thomas_Nast_Santa.jpg

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Internet Access Is Not a Civil Right

Net neturality is the Obamacare of the Web.

By Michelle Malkin
http://www.nationalreview.com
December 22, 2010

When bureaucrats talk about increasing our “access” to X, Y, or Z, what they’re really talking about is increasing their control over our lives. As it is with the government health-care takeover, so it is with the newly approved government plan to “increase” Internet “access.” Call it Webcare.

By a vote of 3–2, the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday adopted a controversial scheme to ensure “net neutrality” by turning unaccountable Democratic appointees into meddling online traffic cops. The panel will devise convoluted rules governing Internet-service providers, bandwidth use, content, prices, and even disclosure details on Internet speeds. The “neutrality” is brazenly undermined by preferential treatment toward wireless broadband networks. Moreover, the FCC’s scheme is widely opposed by Congress — and has already been rejected once in the courts. Demonized industry critics have warned that the regulations will stifle innovation and result in less access, not more.

Sound familiar? The parallels with health care are striking. The architects of Obamacare promised to provide Americans more access to health insurance — and cast their agenda as a fundamental universal entitlement.

In fact, it was a pretext for creating a gargantuan federal bureaucracy with the power to tax, redistribute, and regulate the private health-insurance market to death — and replace it with a centrally planned government system overseen by politically driven code enforcers dictating everything from annual coverage limits to administrative expenditures to the makeup of the medical workforce. The costly, onerous, and selectively applied law has resulted in less access, not more.

Undaunted, promoters of Obama FCC chairman Julius Genachowski’s “open Internet” plan have couched their online power grab in the rhetoric of civil rights. On Monday, FCC commissioner Michael Copps proclaimed: “Universal access to broadband needs to be seen as a civil right . . . [though] not many people have talked about it that way.” Opposing the government Internet takeover blueprint, in other words, is tantamount to supporting segregation. Cunning propaganda, that.

“Broadband is becoming a basic necessity,” civil-rights activist Benjamin Hooks added. And earlier this month, fellow FCC panelist Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Congressional Black Caucus leader and number three House Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina, declared that free (read: taxpayer-subsidized) access to the Internet is not only a civil right for every “nappy-headed child” in America, but is essential to their self-esteem. Every minority child, she said, “deserves to be not only connected, but to be proud of who he or she is.”

Calling them “nappy-headed” is a rather questionable way of boosting their pride, but never mind that.

Face it: A high-speed connection is no more an essential civil right than 3G cell-phone service or a Netflix account. Increasing competition and restoring academic excellence in abysmal public schools is far more of an imperative to minority children than handing them iPads. Once again, Democrats are using children as human shields to provide useful cover for not-so-noble political goals.

The “net neutrality” mob — funded by billionaire George Soros and other left-wing think tanks and nonprofits — has openly advertised its radical, speech-squelching agenda in its crusade for “media justice.” Social justice is the redistribution of wealth and economic “rights.” Media justice is the redistribution of free speech and other First Amendment rights.

The meetings of the universal-broadband set are littered with Marxist-tinged rants about “disenfranchisement” and “empowerment.” They’ve targeted conservative opponents on talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet as purveyors of “hate” who need to be managed or censored. Democratic FCC panelists have dutifully echoed their concerns about concentration of corporate media power.

As the Ford Foundation–funded Media Justice Fund, which lobbied for universal broadband, put it: This is a movement “grounded in the belief that social and economic justice will not be realized without the equitable redistribution and control of media and communication technologies.”

For progressives who cloak their ambitions in the mantle of “fairness,” it’s all about control. It’s always about control.

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Film Reviews: 'True Grit'

Wearing Braids, Seeking Revenge

By MANOHLA DARGIS
The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/
December 21, 2010

NYT Critics' Pick

That old-time American religion of vengeance runs like a river through “True Grit,” a comic-serious tale about some nasty, brutish times. Beautifully adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen from the parodic western novel by Charles Portis, it turns on a 14-year-old Arkansas girl who hires a “one-eyed fat man” to hunt down her father’s killer. First published in 1968, Mr. Portis’s tall tale was brought to the screen the next year custom-fitted for John Wayne, who rode the role of that fat man, Rooster Cogburn, straight to an Oscar. Now it’s the thinner scene-stealer Jeff Bridges who sits and sometimes drunkenly slumps in the saddle.

Much as he did in the raucously entertaining original film directed by Henry Hathaway, Rooster enters on his best behavior, seated in a courtroom amid a fog of cigar smoke and conspicuous lies. The pale, ghostly light comes courtesy of the Coens’ frequent cinematographer, Roger Deakins, while many of the twisty, funny sentences have been plucked by the filmmakers right from the novel. A deputy United States marshal, Rooster has attracted the interest of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld, in a terrific film debut), a half-pint who, with her bloodlust and severely braided hair, is an authentic American Gothic. As she listens to Rooster recount his bloody deeds and high body count, her eyes shine with a true believer’s excitement.

Avenging her father and keeping close track of her family’s expenses are what preoccupy Mattie, a richly conceived and written eccentric, as memorable on the page as she is now on screen. Softened for the first film (in which she was played by a 21-year-old Kim Darby, in a bob), she has been toughed up again by the Coens so that she resembles the seemingly humorless if often unintentionally humorous Scripture-quoting martinet of Mr. Portis’s imagination. At times she brings to mind D. H. Lawrence’s famed formulation that “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” At other times, as when she wears her dead father’s oversize coat and hat, she looks like a foolish child left to perilous play.

Those dangers are telegraphed early by the public hanging that occurs soon after the story opens. Mattie, along with a family worker, Yarnell (Roy Lee Jones), has traveled from her Yell County home to Fort Smith, Ark., to identify her father, who has been gunned down by another worker, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). After doing so, she sends Yarnell home and gets down to business, first by settling her father’s accounts. She then hires Rooster because she hears that he has “true grit,” a quality that mostly seems to entail a disregard for preserving the lives of his prisoners. It’s no wonder she watches the hanging with such avidity, and no wonder too that she takes off after Chaney, armed with Rooster and her father’s heavy gun.

Their journey leads them into Indian country (with few Indians) and increasingly tense and violent encounters featuring corpses, severed fingers and a bad, bad man (Barry Pepper, spewing fear and spittle). On occasion a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who calls himself LaBeef, joins in the search. Wearing jangling spurs and a luxurious mustache that sits on his lip like a spoiled Persian cat, LaBoeuf hopes to bag Chaney for a large reward. Dead or alive, everyone in this story — snaggletooth thief or boardinghouse owner — has a price either on his head or in mind, usually in the form of the dollars and cents one person hopes to extract from another. “Why do you think I am paying you,” Mattie asks Rooster, “if not to have my way?”

The Coens deliver that line with a touch so light you might not even notice its sting. They have been surprisingly faithful to the tone and idiomatic tang of Mr. Portis’s novel, perhaps because its worldview suits their ironic purposes. The whiskey-soaked Rooster still likes to “pull a cork,” as he does in the book, and the Coens and Mr. Bridges get into the boozy spirit of things with slurs and pratfalls.

Despite Mr. Bridges’s showy turn, the movie opens and closes with Mattie’s voice-over, which shifts the story away from Rooster and back to her. The Coens also restore the novel’s framing device: “True Grit” isn’t just the story of a gutsy 14-year-old; it is her story as called from the memory of the woman (Elizabeth Marvel) she became.

The Coens opened their last film, “A Serious Man,” about a 1960s Minneapolis professor who endures trials worthy of Job, with an enigmatic short story about a 19th-century tale involving a possible dybbuk. That story is prefaced with a quotation attributed to the medieval Jewish scholar Rashi (“Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you”) that appears in a 19th-century comic story, “The Gilgul, or The Wandering Soul,” about a dybbuk, or restless spirit, that inhabits a person. In “True Grit” the Coens switch to Solomon, opening the film with the first half of Proverbs 28:1 (“The wicked flee when none pursueth”), a line Mattie quotes early in the novel. Like Mr. Portis, they notably omit the second line: “But the righteous are bold as a lion.”

Mr. Portis’s book hit in 1968, in the midst of a pop-cultural cycle that, partly fueled by the Vietnam war, was revisiting the cowboy myth with degrees of cynicism and nostalgia. “True Grit” sticks to the western template, but with characters who, at least initially, fall far short of the heroic ideal of the type that Wayne himself embodied for decades. Yet no matter how roguish (and laughable) in the novel, Rooster can’t help registering as a larger-than-life hero on screen because the legend who played him, by then a survivor of cancer and countercultural assaults (for the jingoistic “Green Berets”), had played his role for so long. When Wayne won best actor for “True Grit,” it was for playing John Wayne.

The first “True Grit” opened in New York in early July 1969, a week after “The Wild Bunch,” the Sam Peckinpah western that’s widely seen as a metaphor about interventionist follies like Vietnam and that remains an enduring evisceration of the genre. The Coens, who like to play with genre, often with giggles and winks, haven’t mounted an assault on the western. But in Mattie they have created a character whose single-minded pursuit of vengeance has unmistakable resonance. In the first “True Grit,” when Rooster watches Mattie cross a river on horseback, he jocularly says, “She reminds me of me.” The line isn’t in the remake, but from the long, hard look Rooster gives her now, it’s clear that she still does, for better and worse.

In classic Coen style, the brothers punctuate the image of Mattie riding to dry ground with a cutaway to a slack-jawed Rooster, his mouth agape in wonder. By the time the scene ends, the mood has switched again, and Rooster has drawn his gun on LaBoeuf in deadly seriousness. (Mr. Damon plays the designated clown with grace, as Mr. Bridges slides between buffoonery and malice.)

In some ways, much like Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter,” which the Coens quote both musically and visually, “True Grit” is a parable about good and evil. Only here, the lines between the two are so blurred as to be indistinguishable, making this a true picture of how the West was won, or — depending on your view — lost.

“True Grit” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Three severed digits and several holes to the head.

TRUE GRIT

Opens on Wednesday nationwide.

Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production design by Jess Gonchor; costumes by Mary Zophres; produced by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen and Scott Rudin; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes.

WITH: Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Bruce Green (Harold Parmalee), Roy Lee Jones (Yarnell) and Elizabeth Marvel (adult Mattie).



True Grit, Odd Wit: And Fame? No, Thanks

By CHARLES McGRATH
The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/
December 19, 2010

A photograph of the camera-shy Charles Portis, left, with John Wayne during the filming of the first “True Grit” (1969). (Paramount Pictures)


The arrival of the Coen brothers’ movie “True Grit” on Wednesday is likely to bring Charles Portis a new surge of attention he has no use for. Mr. Portis, the author of the 1968 novel on which the new film is based (as was the 1969 John Wayne version) is allergic to fame.

He’s not a Pynchonesque recluse, exactly. He is occasionally spotted in Little Rock, Ark., where he has lived for 50-odd years; he even went to a gala sponsored there recently by the Oxford American, a literary magazine, and consented to receive a lifetime achievement award, though he sat in the 14th row, or as far from the stage as he could. But Mr. Portis doesn’t use e-mail, has an unlisted phone number, declines interview requests, including one for this article, and shuns photographs with the ardor of a fugitive in the witness protection program. He hasn’t published a novel in nearly 20 years.

The writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, who got to know Mr. Portis in the early ’60s, when he was a reporter for The New York Herald Tribune, recalled that back then he was more sociable. “Charlie was just charming, the life of the party almost,” she said. “But he was a newspaper reporter who didn’t have a phone. The Trib had to make him get one. So even back then the pattern was there.”

His elusiveness has only enhanced his status as a cult writer’s cult writer, cherished by a small but devoted following. He has published four novels besides “True Grit” (all five have recently been reissued in paperback by the Overlook Press), and for years those in the sect have been pressing them on new readers like Masons teaching the secret handshake. The journalist Ron Rosenbaum, the unofficial grand vizier and first hierophant of Portis admirers, has called him “perhaps the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America.”

“True Grit,” Mr. Portis’s second novel, which was serialized by The Saturday Evening Post and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for 22 weeks, is actually a divisive matter among Portis admirers. There are some, like the novelist Donna Tartt, who consider it his masterpiece, a work comparable to “Huckleberry Finn.” Others, like Mr. Rosenbaum, resent “True Grit” a little for detracting attention from Mr. Portis’s lesser-known but arguably funnier books: “Norwood” (1966), “The Dog of the South” (1979), “Masters of Atlantis” (1985) and “Gringos” (1991). The writer Roy Blount Jr., an old friend of Mr. Portis’s, suggested recently that Mr. Portis himself was a little embarrassed by the success of “True Grit.”

“I think that’s why in his next book, ‘Dog of the South,’ he set himself the challenge of a funny book written by a boring narrator,” Mr. Blount said. “That’s why other writers love him so much.”

“True Grit,” the story of the 14-year-old Mattie Ross, from Yell County, Ark., who with the help of the one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn sets out to avenge the murder of her father by a drunken hired man named Tom Chaney, is not unfunny. It’s simultaneously a thoroughly satisfying western and a parody of one. But unlike Mr. Portis’s other books “True Grit” is a period piece — the story takes place in 1873 but is recounted decades later, when Mattie is by her own description a cranky old spinster — and the narrative voice is a feat of historical ventriloquism.

Mattie’s prose is stiff, formal (a quality lovingly captured by the Coen brothers), a little pious and platitudinous, given to scriptural quotation and fussy quotation marks: “I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces? Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious ‘claptrap.’ My answer is this: Preacher, go to your Bible and read Luke 8: 26-33.”

Mattie is lovable in her way, and though grit is what she admires in Rooster, she is hardly lacking in that department herself. But she is also humorless, righteous and utterly without either self-doubt or self-consciousness. She has no idea how she or her words come across on the page, nor would she care if she did.

“The Dog of the South” and “Gringos” are also written in the first person, and the two others might as well be. The voice in all them is loose and informal, even a little digressive, with a noticeable Southern quality. Mr. Portis’s friends say he talks much the same way, and to judge from “Combinations of Jacksons,” a memoir he published in The Atlantic in 1999, his nonfictional style isn’t much different from his fictional one: in both he is a great noticer, always alert to the odd but telling detail.

What the other novels have in common with “True Grit” is their deadpan quality. Most comic novels — think of anything by P. G. Wodehouse, say, or Ring Lardner — are fairly transparent: they unabashedly try to be funny and let the reader in on the joke. The trick of Mr. Portis’s books, especially the ones told in the first person, is that they pretend to be serious. They’re full of odd events and odd people with names like Norwood Pratt, Raymond Midge and Dr. Reo Symes, inventor of the underappreciated Brewster Method, a miracle cure for arthritis. But these are presented without a wink or a nudge, or any sense that slapstick touches like smooth-talking midgets, bread-fondling deliverymen or elderly gents wearing conical goatskin caps are at all unusual.

Mr. Portis evokes an eccentric, absurd world with a completely straight face. As a result there are not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments or explosive set pieces here. Instead of shooting off fireworks the books shimmer with a continuous comic glow.

Unlike the tightly plotted “True Grit,” the other books are all shaggy-dog stories of a sort. In “Norwood” (which was made into a 1970 movie starring Glen Campbell) Norwood Pratt travels all the way to New York from his home in Ralph, Tex., to collect a $70 debt and winds up engaged to a girl he meets on a Trailways bus. In “The Dog of the South” Ray Midge drives to Mexico from Little Rock in search of his wife, who has run off with her first husband and Ray’s Ford Torino. “Masters of Atlantis” is about two guys who create the Gnomon Society, an esoteric, Rosicrucian-like sect based on wisdom from the lost city of Atlantis. And in “Gringos” an American expat in Mexico falls in with some U.F.O. nuts and archeologists searching for a lost Mayan city.

But in one way or another the subtext of all these novels is the great Melvillean theme of the American weakness for secret conspiracies and arcane knowledge, and our embrace of con men, scam artists and flimflammers of every sort. In Mr. Portis’s pantheon of tricksters, moreover, writers rank pretty high. There’s John Selmer Dix, author of “With Wings as Eagles,” an inspirational manual for salesmen, whose admirers rank him higher than Shakespeare; the hack writer Dub Polton, author of “Hoosier Wizard,” a political biography that pretty much makes everything up; and Lamar Jimmerson, compiler of the Codex Pappus, the sacred Gnomon text, which deliberately includes a lot of obfuscation to “weary and disgust the reader” and put him off the track.

All these texts, you can’t help noticing, are in their way not unlike Mr. Portis’s books in the degree of devotion and enthusiasm they evoke in their readers. They’re not self-parodies but, rather, warnings about the dubiousness of reputation and about the dangers of taking the cult of authorship too seriously.

“Talking about himself is something that would feel false and strange to him,” William Whitworth, the former editor of The Atlantic and his old friend, said of Mr. Portis. “It would be like asking him to stand up and sing like Frank Sinatra, or be on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ”



True Grit

BY ROGER EBERT
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/
December 21, 2010

In the Coen Brothers' “True Grit,” Jeff Bridges is not playing the John Wayne role. He's playing the Jeff Bridges role — or, more properly, the role created in the enduring novel by Charles Portis, much of whose original dialogue can be heard in this film. Bridges doesn't have the archetypal stature of the Duke. Few ever have. But he has here, I believe, an equal screen presence. We always knew we were looking at John Wayne in the original “True Grit” (1969). When we see Rooster Cogburn in this version, we're not thinking about Jeff Bridges.

Wayne wanted his tombstone to read, Feo, Fuerte y Formal (Ugly, Strong and Dignified). He was a handsome, weathered man when I met him in the 1960s and '70s, but not above a certain understandable vanity. Roo­ster might be an ornery gunslinger with an eye patch, but Wayne played him wearing a hairpiece and a corset. Jeff Bridges occupies the character like a homeless squatter. I found myself wondering how young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) could endure his body odor.

Bridges' interpretation is no doubt closer to the reality of a lawman in those years of the West. How savory can a man be when he lives in saloons and on horseback? Not all riders on the range carried a change of clothes. Of course he's a lawman with an office and a room somewhere in town, but for much of the movie, he is on a quest through inauspicious territory to find the man who murdered Mattie's father.

As told in the novel, Mattie is a plucky young teen with a gaze as level as her hat brim. She hires Marshal Cogburn to track down that villain Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She means to kill him for “what he done.” If Bridges comfortably wears the Duke's shoes, Hailee Steinfeld is more effective than Kim Darby in the earlier film, and she was pretty darn good. Steinfeld was 13 when she made the film, close to the right age. Darby was a little over 20. The story hinges on the steely resolve of a girl who has been raised in the eye-for-an eye Old West, seen some bad sights and picked up her values from the kind of old man who can go and get hisself shot.

What strikes me is that I'm describing the story and the film as if it were simply, if admirably, a good Western. That's a surprise to me, because this is a film by the Coen Brothers, and this is the first straight genre exercise in their career. It's a loving one. Their craftsmanship is a wonder. Their casting is always inspired and exact. The cinematography by Roger Deakins reminds us of the glory that was, and can still be, the Western.

But this isn't a Coen Brothers film in the sense that we usually use those words. It's not eccentric, quirky, wry or flaky. It's as if these two men, who have devised some of the most original films of our time, reached a point where they decided to coast on the sheer pleasure of good old straightforward artistry. This is like Iggy Pop singing “My Funny Valentine,” which he does very well. So let me praise it for what it is, a splendid Western. The Coens having demonstrated their mastery of many notes, including many not heard before, now show they can play in tune.

Besides, isn't Rooster Cogburn where Jeff Bridges started out 40 years ago? The first time I was aware of him was in “The Last Picture Show” (1971), where he and his friends went the local movie theater to see “Red River,” starring John Wayne. Since then, that clean-faced young man has lived and rowdied and worked his way into being able to play Rooster with a savory nastiness that Wayne could not have equaled.

All the same, the star of this show is Hailee Steinfeld, and that's appropriate. This is her story, set in motion by her, narrated by her. This is Steinfeld's first considerable role. She nails it. She sidesteps the opportunity to make Mattie adorable. Mattie doesn't live in an adorable world. Seeing the first “True Grit,” I got a little crush on Kim Darby. Seeing this one, few people would get a crush on Hailee Steinfeld. Maybe in another movie. But the way she plays it with the Coens, she's more the kind of person you'd want guarding your back.

Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper have weight and resonance in supporting roles. Damon is LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger who comes along for a time to track Tom Chaney. Glen Campbell had the role earlier, and was right for the tone of that film. Damon plays it on a more ominous note. His LaBoeuf isn't sidekick material. He and Cogburn have long-standing issues. Nor, we discover, is LaBoeuf a man of simple loyalty.

As Tom Chaney, Brolin is a complete and unadulterated villain, a rattlesnake who would as soon shoot Mattie as Rooster. In the Western genre, evil can be less nuanced than in your modern movies with all their psychological insights. Barry Pepper plays Lucky Ned Pepper, leader of a gang Chaney ends up with, and part of the four-man charge across the meadow into Rooster's gunfire, a charge as lucky for them as the Charge of the Light Brigade.

The 1969 film, directed by Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway, had glorious landscapes. The meadow and several other scenes were set in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, near Telluride. This film's landscapes are all in Texas, and although some are beautiful, many are as harsh and threatening as the badlands described by Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry.

I expect Bridges and Stein­feld have good chances of winning Oscar nominations for this film. Steinfeld is good the whole way through, but the scene audiences love is the one where she bargains with a horse trader (Dakin Matthews) for the money she feels is owed her. Here the key is the dialogue by the Coens, which never strains, indeed remains flat and common sense, as Mattie reasons the thief out of his money by seeming to employ his own logic.

I'm surprised the Coens made this film, so unlike their other work, except in quality. Instead of saying that now I hope they get back to making “Coen Brothers films,” I'm inclined to speculate on what other genres they might approach in this spirit. What about the musical? “Oklahoma!” is ready to be remade.