Saturday, April 30, 2011

Make Him a Saint

How Pope John Paul II worked a political miracle.

By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/home-page
http://www.peggynoonan.com/
April 28, 2011


One of the greatest moments in the history of faith was also one of the greatest moments in modern political history. It happened in June 1979.

Just eight months before, after dusk on Oct. 16, 1978, a cardinal had stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica to say those towering, august words, “Habemus papem”—”We have a pope.” The cardinal pronounced the new pontiff’s name in Latin. Not everyone understood or could hear him, and the name sounded odd. For 456 years the church had been electing Italian popes. This didn’t sound Italian. The crowd was perplexed.

Then the new pope came out—burly, light-haired, broad cheekbones. He looked Slavic. He looked like a Pole! It was Karol Wojtylwa, the cardinal from Krakow. It was a breakthrough choice—so unexpected and unprecedented—and you knew as you watched that a whole new world was beginning. This was a former manual laborer who wore brown scruffy shoes, who was young (58) and vibrant (a hiker and kayaker). He was a writer, an intellectual who’d come up during the heroic era of the European priesthood, when to be a priest in a communist-controlled nation was to put not only your freedom at risk but your life.

Poland went wild with joy; Krakow took to the streets. The reaction was world-wide. They had vigils in the Polish neighborhoods of Chicago, and block parties in Boston.

*****

And here is the great moment of faith that became a great moment of history. John Paul II, naturally, wanted to return as pope to visit his homeland. This put the communist government in Warsaw in a bind. If they didn’t invite him, they’d look defensive and weak. If they did, he might spark an uprising that would trigger a Soviet invasion.

They invited John Paul to come on a “religious pilgrimage.” On June 2, 1979, he arrived at an airport outside Warsaw, walked down the steps of the plane, and kissed the tarmac. The government feared tens of thousands would line the streets for the motorcade into town.

More than a million came.

In a mass in the Old City, John Paul gave a great sermon. Why, he asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Why had Poland suffered for centuries under political oppression? Perhaps because Poland is “the land of a particularly responsible witness.” The Poles had been chosen to give witness, with humility, to the cross and the Resurrection. He asked the crowd if they accepted such an obligation.

“We want God,” they roared. “We want God!” This from a nation occupied by an atheist state.

John Paul said the great work of God is man, and the great redeemer of man is Christ. Therefore, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man!”

It was brilliant. He wasn’t asking for a revolution or an uprising, he wasn’t directly challenging the government. He just pointed out that God himself sees one unity in Europe, not an East and a West divided but one continent. And so must we all.

But it was what happened a week later, at the Blonie field outside Krakow, that led directly to 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. That was the event that made political history.

It was June 10, near the end of the trip. Everyone was tired. There was to be a last outdoor mass. The government had not allowed it to be publicized. But words spread, and two million people came, maybe three million. It was the biggest gathering in Polish history. Here John Paul took on communism more directly. He exhorted the crowd to receive the Holy Spirit. “I speak . . . for St. Paul: Do not quench the Spirit. . . . I speak again for St. Paul: Do not grieve the Spirit of God!”

“You must be strong, my brothers and sisters. You must be strong with the strength that faith gives. . . . You need this strength today more than any other period in our history. . . . You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death. . . . Never lose your spiritual freedom.”

The mass was stirring, with crowds saying, again, “We want God!” But here is the thing. Everyone at that mass went home and put on state-controlled television to see the coverage of the great event. They knew millions had been there, they knew what was said, they knew everyone there was part of a spiritual uprising. But state-run TV had nothing. State-run TV had a few people in the mud and a picture of the pope.

Everyone looked at the propaganda of the state, at its lack of truthfulness and its disrespect for reality, and they thought: It’s all lies. Everything the government says is a lie. The government itself is a lie.

The Solidarity movement took on new power. The Communist Party lost authority; the Polish government in time tottered, and by 1989 the Soviet Union itself was tottering.

Twenty-three years later, in an interview, the Solidarity leader Lech Walessa told me of how John Paul galvanized the movement for freedom: “We knew . . . communism could not be reformed. But we knew the minute he touched the foundations of communism, it would collapse.”

*****

John Paul went on to a fruitful papacy of historic length, 26 years. He travelled more than a million miles to 149 countries. He didn’t bring the world to the church, he brought the church to the world. He was shot and almost killed in 1981, survived and went to Rome’s Rebibbia Prison to make sure his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, understood he’d been forgiven. And at the end, sick with Parkinson’s, he did what statesmen don’t do: He made his suffering public, as if to say, “We who are imperfect, who are not beautiful, who are in pain—we too are part of the human race, and worthy of God’s love.” He insisted on the humanity of the weak, the wounded, the unborn.

And when he died, there was the miracle of the crowds. John Paul had been old and dying for a long time, and the Vatican knew he’d been forgotten. They didn’t plan for crowds.

But when he died, people came running. They dropped what they were doing and filled the streets of Rome, they got on trains and plans and Rome was engulfed.

Four million people came.

They travelled from every country in Europe and beyond, they had nowhere to sleep, they filled the streets carrying candles.

There had never been anything like it. Old Rome had seen its popes come and go, but the crowds came and wouldn’t leave until he was buried. And when his coffin was carried out and shown to them, they roared.

“Santo Subito!” they said. Make him a saint.

And now this weekend he will be beatified, a step toward sainthood. He will become Blessed John Paul the Second, and nobody will misunderstand his name.

Some will speak of mistakes and sins in his papacy, and they are right. But saints are first of all human, and their lives are always flawed, full of contradictions, and marked by stark failures. Yet they are individuals of heroic virtue. As he was.

Santo Subito. Make him a saint. And by the way, expect crowds.

Who hates high gas prices?

By Victor Davis Hanson
New York Post
http://www.nypost.com/
April 30, 2011


Are high gas prices a good thing?

It's not as dumb a question as it sounds. Examine a few revealing past remarks from President Obama and the Cabinet officials who are now in charge of the nation's energy use and oil leases on federal lands. Then decide whether the current soaring gas prices are supposed to be good or bad.

In 2008, then-Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar -- now Interior Department secretary in charge of the leasing of federal oil lands -- refused to vote for any new offshore drilling. In a Senate exchange with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Salazar objected to allowing any drilling on America's outer continental shelf -- even if gas prices reached $10 a gallon. We can now see why the president appointed Salazar, inasmuch as Obama recently promised the Brazilians that he'd buy their newfound offshore oil -- while prohibiting similar such exploration at home.

From 2007 to 2008, Steven Chu, now Energy secretary, weighed in frequently on global warming and the desirable price of traditional energy. At one point, Chu asserted, "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."

During the 2008 campaign, Obama himself said: "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." The candidate elaborated on the envisioned role of his administration in ensuring such high prices: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them."

As for consumers' plight in paying soaring gas prices, the president has sounded ambivalent. He recently told a questioner, "If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting eight miles a gallon, you know, you might want to think about a trade-in." Few large passenger vehicles today get only eight miles a gallon, and many squeezed Americans in recessionary times cannot so breezily think of "a trade-in"

In 2008, Obama addressed consumer fears about climbing gas prices: "But we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much."

Note again the fantasy. New-generation spark plugs and computerized ignition usually ensure 75,000-100,000 miles without a "tune-up." There is no evidence that Americans' tires are chronically under-inflated, or if they were, that such negligence would waste more gasoline than all that could be recovered from new offshore oil drilling.

What explains the weird rhetoric from Obama and his administration? First, not long ago they considered high energy prices as not that bad. If you believe in man-made global warming, then the less coal, gas or oil that Americans use, the better for the planet.

Second, a president who believes that modern cars get eight miles per gallon or need frequent tune-ups, and that proper tire inflation can substitute for drilling oil, has never run a business that hinged on having moderately priced gas to power a truck, tractor or car fleet.

In fact, most in the administration came to Washington from either academia or prior state and federal government employment, where policy is theoretical, without grounding in real experience.

Now the global economy is recovering and energy use is climbing, as the US dollar sinks. The oil-rich Mideast is in chaos. More than 2 billion people in India and China are desperate for imported oil. The result is that US gas prices are astronomical, and a furious public is starting to demand relief from the administration.

Its answer? Simple: Since re-election looms, the administration now insists that high energy prices are no longer good, but suddenly bad. And the evil oil companies are mostly to blame!

author@victorhanson.com

Friday, April 29, 2011

Raising the ceiling on a cracked foundation

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
http://www.ocregister.com/
April 29, 2011

The other day Paul O'Neill said that ...

Oh, wait. I suppose I ought to explain who Paul O'Neill is. A decade ago, he was President George W. Bush's first Treasury secretary. I have no very clear memory of him except that he toured Africa with Bono and they were photographed in matching tribal dress looking like Col. Gadhafi's Mini-Me twins at a Tripoli sleepover. Other than the dress-up fun, I've no idea why they were in Africa, but you paid for it, so I'm sure there was a good reason.

Anyway, Secretary O'Neill popped up the other day on Bloomberg Television to compare debt-ceiling holdouts to jihadists. "The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling," he said, "are our version of al-Qaida terrorists. Really."

Really?

Absolutely.

"They're really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk."

But hang on, generally speaking, when you hit your "debt ceiling," your credit is at risk. If you've got a $10,000 credit card, and you run it up to the limit, but you need a couple more grand right now, pronto, because you outspend your earnings by 50 percent every month, and you have no plans to change that anytime soon, well, the bank might increase the limit to $15,000, or $20,000. Or they might not. There is a question mark over your credit because there is a question mark over your creditworthiness: It is at risk.

Paul O'Neill seems to regard that attitude as unhelpful. So does Timothy Geithner, his successor at what is still laughingly known as the United States Treasury. Secretary Geithner says that even to be discussing the debt ceiling is "a ridiculous debate to have."

Ridiculous?

Absolutely.

"I mean, the idea that the United States would take the risk that people would start to believe we won't pay our bills," continued Geithner, "is a ridiculous proposition, irresponsible, completely unacceptable." The best way to convince people to believe we'll pay our bills is to borrow up to our limit, and then increase the limit and borrow a whole bunch more. This would be the 75th increase in the debt ceiling in the past half-century. Let's just get it done, and resume the party.

But if Geithner thinks that even discussing the question is "ridiculous," then, as my colleague Jonah Goldberg put it, why have a debt limit at all? What's the point?

Well, because it gives us more credibility with our creditors, right? Even if we set the debt ceiling way up in cloud-cuckoo land to a bazillion trillion gazillion dollars and 83 cents, even a debt limit entirely unmoored from reality still gives the impression we haven't quite flown the coop.

Yes, but why does the U.S. government need to maintain credibility with its creditors when increasingly it's buying its debt from itself? Every month there's more and more U.S. Treasury debt and fewer and fewer people who want it. The Chinese are reducing their exposure. The investment behemoth Pimco, which manages the world's largest mutual fund, recently dumped U.S. Treasuries entirely. To avoid the failure of U.S. bond auctions, or an increase in interest rates to make them more attractive to rational lenders, the U.S. government's debt is bought by the U.S. government's Federal Reserve.

I tried up above to come up with a real-world comparison for the debt ceiling – imagine you've got a credit card limit of 10K, etc – but it's harder to do that with the Fed's policy: Imagine your left hand issues an IOU to your right hand in return for an email with a large number on it ...oh, never mind, it'll only make your head hurt. "Quantitative easing" is extremely quantitative if not terribly easing, so raising the debt ceiling would enable us to issue more debt for us to buy from ourselves. You can see why Secretary Geithner thinks that's a no-brainer.

While Jonah Goldberg was asking why have a debt limit at all, Michael Kinsley took it to the next stage: "If the national debt doesn't matter, why have taxes at all?" Particularly when you no longer have to "print" money, you can just quantitatively ease yourself into it. Once we raise the old debt ceiling, we'll be pretty much at the point where the U.S. government is spending four trillion but only taking in two trillion: For every dollar we raise in taxes, we spend two. No surprise there: The "poorest" half of the population pay no federal income tax. They're not exactly poor as the term would be understood in almost any other country, but in federal revenue terms they're dependents, so in order to fund government services for the wealthiest "poor" people on the planet we borrow money from a nation of subsistence peasants where pigs are such prized possessions they sleep in the house.

But, if you can spend four trillion, of which two trillion is borrowed, why not borrow three and make even more Americans dependent? Hell, why not borrow the whole lot? After all, the sums we're borrowing right now – $188 million every hour of every day – are unprecedented. Wouldn't it be easier if we just made them even more unprecedented? That way we could have a federal budget of six trillion, of which, say, five trillion is raised by issuing Treasury bonds for the Federal Reserve to buy. That would stimulate the economy by creating 17 jobs for any remaining Americans who still feel the need to leave the house every morning.

Now I think about it, I seem to remember Secretary O'Neill and Bono were swanking around Uganda and Ethiopia in tribal garb as part of the Irish rocker's campaign for African debt-forgiveness. Now there's an idea. And, if it works for Africa, why not closer to home? After all, Bono supported the IMF's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, and America is way more "heavily indebted' than Uganda will ever be.

Under the 2011 budget, every hour of every day the government of the United States spends a fifth of a billion dollars it doesn't have.

Who does have it?

Er, the Federal Reserve?

A few years ago, I raised the ceiling on my own house. You can do that – up to a point. It depends on whether your foundation is solid and your framing is structurally sound. But, even if they are, you take it too high, and the roof falls in. We're structurally about as screwed up as you can get, and the foundation is badly cracked. But hey, let's just jack the roof up a little higher one more time. What could go wrong?

At this stage, nothing does more damage to our "full faith and credit" than business as usual. If you're going to bandy glib, witless al-Qaida analogies, the conventional wisdom Paul O'Neill represents is the real suicide bomb here. Men like O'Neill and Geithner think they're quantitatively easing American decline. They're not. They're quantitatively accelerating American collapse.

Onward and upward!

©MARK STEYN

Hate Speech Makes a Comeback

by Patrick J. Buchanan
http://www.humanevents.com/
04/29/2011

Well, it sure didn't take long for the Tucson Truce to collapse.

After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot on Jan. 8 by a berserker who killed six others, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and wounded 13, the media were aflame with charges the right had created the climate of hate in which such an atrocity was inevitable.

The Washington Post story on the massacre began, "The mass shooting ... raised serious concerns that the nation's political discourse had taken a dangerous turn."

Following Barack Obama's eloquent eulogy and call for all of us to lower our voices, it was agreed across the ideological divide that it was time to cool the rhetoric.

This week, however, hate speech was back in style.

After Donald Trump called on Obama to release his original birth certificate and produce the academic records and test scores that put him on a bullet train from being a "terrible student" at Occidental College to Columbia, Harvard Law and Harvard Law Review editor, charges of "racism" have saturated the airwaves.

To Tavis Smiley of PBS, this was a sure sign the most "racist" campaign in history is upon us. To Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg of "The View," this was pure racism. To Bob Schieffer, CBS anchor, an "ugly strain of racism" is behind the effort to get Obama's records.

Again and again on cable TV, the question is raised, "What, other than racism, can explain Trump's call for these records?"

Well, how about a skeptical attitude toward political myths? How about a legitimate Republican opposition research effort to see just how much substance there is behind the story of the young African-American genius who awed with his brilliance everyone who came into contact with him?

Trump is testing the waters for a Republican campaign. One way to do that is to attract the party's true believers by demonstrating that, if you get nominated, unlike John McCain in 2008, you will peel the hide off Barack Obama. Is there anything wrong with that?

As for the birth certificate, it was The Donald who forced Obama to make it public. Not in two years had anyone else been able to do it. The White House press corps did not even try. The pit bulls of Richard Nixon's time have been largely replaced by purse dogs.

Not since Jack Kennedy has a president had a press corps so protective of the man they cover -- though in Kennedy's case, they covered up a lifestyle that could have ended JFK's presidency.

Trump is drawing crowds because he speaks in plain language and appears unintimidated by the high priests of political correctness.

As Rush Limbaugh notes, it was Trump's demands for the birth certificate that turned the issue from a winner for Obama -- it had been seen as a young president bedeviled by conspiracy theorists and bitter-enders -- into an issue that had begun to cut.

When half of all Iowa Republicans, not a radical group, said they thought Obama was born somewhere else, and a fourth were not sure, the president, who had swept Iowa, was beginning to bleed.

The Donald had gotten under his armor.

As Newsweek's Howard Fineman notes, it was the rising doubts of independents about why Obama still refused to release his original birth certificate that caused him to end two years of stonewalling.

If the president has been hurt, is it not partly his own fault for not releasing the birth certificate and ending the matter after he was elected?

And the demand for Obama's test scores -- is that racism?

Well, was it racist of the New Yorker to reveal in 1999 that George W. Bush got a score of 1206 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test (566 verbal, 640 math) or that Al Gore got a 1355? Was it racist of the Boston Globe to report that John Kerry was a D student as a freshman, who eventually rose up to a C and B student at Yale?

Was it racist of The New York Times' Charlie Savage to report that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor had described herself as an "'affirmative action baby' whose lower test scores were overlooked by the admissions committees at Princeton University and Yale Law School because, she said, she is Hispanic"?

If a White House correspondent stood up at a press conference and said: "Mr. President, Donald Trump is asking for your college and law school test scores. Do you believe you benefited from affirmative action in your academic career?" would that be racist?

Perhaps Obama might begin his answer as he did, two decades before, in a Nov. 16, 1990, letter as president of Harvard Law Review:

"As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action programs during my career, and as someone who may have benefited from the Law Review's affirmative action program when I was selected to join the Review last year, I have not personally felt stigmatized."


Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, "The Death of the West,", "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic, Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."

The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/
April 29, 2011

Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the president’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.”

— Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker, May 2 issue


To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama foreign policy — Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic and confused as it appears[1] — this will have to do.

And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya, acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.

But underlying that style, assures this Obama adviser, there really are ideas. Indeed, “two unspoken beliefs,” explains Lizza. “That the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”

Amazing. This is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing and leadership in the world?

Take proposition one: We must “lead from behind” because U.S. relative power is declining. Even if you accept the premise, it’s a complete non sequitur. What does China’s rising GDP have to do with American buck-passing on Libya[2], misjudging Iran, appeasing Syria[3]?

True, China is rising. But first, it is the only power of any significance rising militarily relative to us. Russia is recovering from levels of military strength so low that it barely registers globally. And European power is in true decline (see Europe’s performance — excepting the British — in Afghanistan and its current misadventures in Libya).

And second, the challenge of a rising Chinese military is still exclusively regional. It would affect a war over Taiwan. It has zero effect on anything significantly beyond China’s coast. China has no blue-water navy. It has no foreign bases. It cannot project power globally. It might in the future — but by what logic should that paralyze us today?

Proposition two: We must lead from behind because we are reviled. Pray tell, when were we not? During Vietnam? Or earlier, under Eisenhower? When his vice president was sent on a goodwill trip to Latin America, he was spat upon and so threatened by the crowds that he had to cut short his trip. Or maybe later, under the blessed Reagan? The Reagan years were marked by vast demonstrations in the capitals of our closest allies denouncing America as a warmongering menace taking the world into nuclear winter.

“Obama came of age politically,” explains Lizza, “during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment.” But the world did not begin with the coming to consciousness of Barack Obama. Cold War resentments ran just as deep.

It is the fate of any assertive superpower to be envied, denounced and blamed for everything under the sun. Nothing has changed. Moreover, for a country so deeply reviled, why during the massive unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria have anti-American demonstrations been such a rarity?

Who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu (including his not-to-be-mentioned friends, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn); the church he attended for two decades, ringing with sermons more virulently anti-American than anything heard in today’s full-throated uprising of the Arab Street.

It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind — diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness — is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.

Other presidents have taken anti-Americanism as a given, rather than evidence of American malignancy, believing — as do most Americans — in the rightness of our cause and the nobility of our intentions. Obama thinks anti-Americanism is a verdict on America’s fitness for leadership. I would suggest that “leading from behind” is a verdict on Obama’s fitness for leadership.

Leading from behind is not leading. It is abdicating. It is also an oxymoron. Yet a sympathetic journalist, channeling an Obama adviser, elevates it to a doctrine. The president is no doubt flattered. The rest of us are merely stunned.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

Links:

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/02/110502fa_fact_lizza?currentPage=all

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obama_and_libya_the_professors_war/2011/03/24/ABPjvmRB_story.html?nav=emailpage

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/syrias-reformer/2011/03/31/AFy4JFCC_story.html

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Today's Tune: Gillian Welch - Annabelle

Sadly, I've been proved right. Britain IS a centre of terror. Tragically, our rulers can't see the truth

By Melanie Phillips
The Daily Mail
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
27th April 2011

Terror: Preachers like Abu Hamza helped spread the hated in London - and little was done to stop it.

So now we are all finally able to see just why Britain’s capital came to be known contemptuously as ‘Londonistan’.

Some five years ago, I wrote a book by that name which laid out the extent to which Britain had become the global hub of Islamic terrorism outside the Muslim world itself.

So bad was this phenomenon that the French secret service, which had tried in vain to alert Britain to the dangers, dubbed it ‘Londonistan’ in a sarcastic reference to the flow into London of Muslim extremists who had been radicalised in Afghanistan.

Worse still, I wrote, the British political, legal and security establishments were still refusing to get to grips with the threat posed to Britain by militant Muslims who wanted to conquer it for Islam.

At the time, such an analysis was considered pretty off the wall. I had a hard time getting the book published, and when it did appear I was called ‘mad’ by the Guardian, as well as ‘bonkers’, ‘alarmist’, ‘hysterical’ and, of course, ‘Islamophobic’.

Now, however, a new tranche of WikiLeaks documents, detailing the backgrounds of the inmates of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, confirms precisely what I wrote.

The UK, these papers reveal, furnished no fewer than 35 of the members of Al Qaeda — more than any other nation — who ended up in Guantanamo after having been indoctrinated by Islamic preachers in Britain into murderous hatred against the West.

The documents record how terrorist recruits from across Africa and the Middle East flocked to London to claim asylum.

As I wrote in my book, they were drawn like bees to a honeypot by Britain’s uniquely self-destructive combination of a generous welfare state, a long tradition of turning a blind eye to foreign political dissidents, and a judiciary and political class which had effectively decided to tear up Britain’s border controls in the cause of ‘universal human rights’.

The truly disturbing thing was not just that these characters were allowed into the country, but that it was in Britain itself where thousands of young Muslims were subsequently radicalised — a process that continues to accelerate.

And as these files state, this didn’t just take place in London’s notorious Finsbury Park mosque under those two key preachers and terrorist recruiters Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza.

It also occurred in self-styled moderate establishments such as the flagship Regent’s Park and East London mosques. Between them all, they dispatched dozens of extremists to be trained in terrorism against the West in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

One new and startling fact also thrown up by the WikiLeaks treasure trove is the possible part in this process played by the BBC. For, after several suspected terrorists were all found to possess a phone number at the BBC World Service, the U.S. government suspected the BBC of being a ‘possible propaganda media network’ for Al Qaeda.

It would doubtless be uncharitable to observe that, even without any knowledge of this entry in the Al Qaeda Rolodex, some of us have long thought the same thing.

Of course, it must not be forgotten that many hundreds of thousands of British Muslims shun violence or extremism. They want only to live peacefully and enjoy the benefits of Western democracy and human rights.

But an alarmingly high number do not. And this radicalisation has come about through a lethal cocktail of multiculturalism, welfarism and sheer spineless funk by the British authorities, laced with political correctness which turned right and wrong upside down.

What beggars belief even more is that the Government has been paying millions in compensation to some of these terrorists for having so inconsiderately deprived them of their ‘human rights’ by locking them up.

Even more ludicrously, we now learn that one Guantanamo inmate was paid more than £300,000 of British taxpayers’ money to eradicate his poppy crops in Afghanistan. But instead he allegedly supported Al Qaeda — while continuing to act as a major drugs trafficker.

It was, of course, under the previous government that all this madness took such hold. David Cameron, by contrast, has made excellent speeches condemning multiculturalism and promising a new approach.

Yet there are still signs of muddled thinking at the top. For example, Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones, who is drawing up the Government’s new counter-terrorism strategy, recently identified her task as ‘trying to convince minorities in this country that it’s their country as much as anybody else’s’.

But since the essence of the problem is that extremists in fact regard Britain as so much their own country they wish to turn it into an Islamic one, this is surely to miss the point spectacularly.

For it is not just terrorism that threatens Britain. It is also the steady incursion of Islamic sharia law, whose principles are inimical to Western values and human rights. This ‘sharia creep’ is now highly advanced in Britain. A parallel jurisdiction in Islamic family law has been allowed to develop in Muslim areas, turning British Muslim women into second-class citizens and worse.

There has been an enormous growth of Islamic banking — which, WikiLeaks says, the Americans feared might serve as an umbrella for the financing of Islamic terrorism.

Several education authorities have quietly taken to serving halal meat to all pupils. As TV programmes have shown, some Muslim schools and apparently ‘moderate mosques’ are teaching pupils and worshippers to hate ‘unbelievers’.

Islamic extremist speakers appear unchallenged regularly at British universities. Freely available in London are certain Muslim TV propaganda channels — one of which is owned and controlled by the fundamentalist Islamic state of Iran.

And the Government still hasn’t dealt with human rights law, which has driven our legal system so catastrophically off the rails and has come to act as the judicial weapon of the Islamic jihad.

The key problem I identified five years ago remains true today: that Britain’s ruling class even now does not want to acknowledge the true nature and scale of the threat that we face.

There remains a fixed belief within Whitehall that this is hardly more serious than, say, the threat once posed by Irish terrorism. But this is surely a terrible error.

Terrorism uses violence against civilians to force society to yield to its demands. The Islamic jihad, by contrast, is a world-wide war on many fronts to destroy a society altogether.

For heaven’s sake, as the WikiLeaks files reveal there has been much Al Qaeda ‘chatter’ that somewhere in Europe it has stowed away a nuclear weapon, to be detonated if Osama Bin Laden were ever to be killed or captured.

Whether or not that particular claim is true, there is no doubt that Al Qaeda is actively seeking nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in order to murder as many people as possible.

Yet although the British security service has warned repeatedly that it fears a dirty bomb in Britain is all but inevitable, people refuse to take this seriously.

So while the security people sweat over how to keep the British people safe from such a monstrous event, parliamentarians, human rights lawyers and civil liberties activists posture preposterously as defenders of western values protecting the ‘human rights’ of known terrorists, and by indulging in the lethal frivolity of trying to destroy control orders or detention before charge — on the grounds that all we are facing is just another type of crime to be dealt with in the normal way.

What the WikiLeaks files show us is that, on the contrary, a war is being waged against the free world. But unless Britain finally acknowledges this fact, it is a war we are destined to lose.

Steve Earle draws inspiration from Hank Williams in new CD and novel

By Jay Lustig
The Star-Ledger
http://www.nj.com/
Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 7:32 AM


It’s the early 1960s. John F. Kennedy is president, and the Beatles are still strictly a European phenomenon.

Morphine-addicted Doc Ebersole has lost his license to practice medicine, but ekes out a living offering illegal abortions and other medical services in a San Antonio boardinghouse. Hanging around with him, for some mysterious reason, is the ghost of his old friend Hank Williams, who had died a decade earlier.

That’s the premise of “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (Houghton Mifflin, 243 pp., $26), the first novel by singer-songwriter Steve Earle, due to be released on May 12. The title is borrowed from one of country legend Williams’ hits — his last single, in fact, released shortly before he died of a drug- and alcohol-induced heart attack, at 29.

Earle, who has overcome his own struggles with addiction, vividly captures the dead-end reality of an addict’s life — “Doc only just made it down the hall before the next spasm racked him like a toothpaste tube squeezed in the middle, the contents issuing simultaneously from both ends” — and his surprising path toward something better.

“I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” is also the title of Earle’s new album, released today on the New West label with a cover that looks much like the book cover. And it’s no exaggeration to say that the ghost of Hank Williams looms over it, too.

It’s Earle’s most country-flavored album in years, with lots of fiddle and pedal-steel guitar, and the arrangements tend to be simple. He recorded it with producer T Bone Burnett — a specialist in no-nonsense, roots-oriented projects — and recorded in just six days.

The songs are starkly plainspoken, in the Williams tradition, though they are not about the characters in the book. But the two projects were completed during the same time in Earle’s life — a period when he was dealing with the death of his father — and are linked, in his mind.

“What the book’s about, and where it comes from inside of me … it’s about mortality, and so’s this record,” Earle says in the 18-minute making-of documentary that is included in the deluxe CD/DVD edition of the album.

The album opens with the breezy “Waitin’ on the Sky,” a sigh of relief where Earle looks back on his life (“didn’t know that I was gonna live this long”) and pronounces himself ecstatic to be where he is. There’s an even more rousing tune later (“The Gulf of Mexico”), and some thought-provoking philosophizing in “God is God” (“Something sacred burning in every bush and tree … I believe in God, and God ain’t me”).

But there are also too many drab ballads, sung in a off-puttingly stoic style (“Lonely Are the Free,” “I Am a Wanderer,” “Molly-O”). “Little Emperor” is a several-years-too-late stab at President George W. Bush, while the sentimental love song “Every Part of Me” seems to be borrowed from another album.

This is not, ultimately, one of Earle’s best or most cohesive CDs, though its best moments — including the album-ending New Orleans tribute “This City,” with a subtly majestic horn arrangement by Allen Toussaint — make it worth the effort.

Earle, 56, will perform at a benefit concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York on May 27 and start a full-blown concert tour in June. Over the next few weeks, he will juggle solo-acoustic performances at record stores, to promote “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (the CD), with book signings to promote “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (the book).

What about “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (the song), though?

Earle recorded the Williams gem but, oddly, didn’t put it on the CD, though he did release it as a vinyl single (on Record Store Day, April 16) and is making it available as a bonus track on digital downloads of the album.

He duplicates Williams’ arrangement almost exactly, adding drums but nothing else. As he sings, you can imagine Doc Ebersole humming the song to himself as he faces another dreary day, or the hard-bitten narrators of Earle’s own songs adopting it as an anthem of their own: “You’re looking at a man that’s getting kind of mad/I’ve had a lot of luck but it’s all been bad/No matter how I struggle or strive/I’ll never get out of this world alive.”

Jay Lustig: (973) 392-5850 or jlustig@starledger.com

STEVE EARLE
Where: Wavy Gravy’s 75th-birthday celebration, with Ani DiFranco, Bruce Hornsby, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dr. John, Jackson Browne, Allison Moorer, Steve Kimock, others, at Beacon Theatre, Broadway and 74th Street, New York

When: May 27 at 8 p.m.

How much: $68.25 to $227.90, benefiting the Seva Foundation. Call (212) 465-6500 or visit beacontheatre.com or ticketmaster.com.


It's the spring of Steve Earle's contentment

By Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY
http://www.usatoday.com/
April 24, 2011


NEW YORK — Steve Earle has delivered plenty of potent messages during his turbulent career, but he has never pricked the public's conscience in as many different ways as he will this spring.

The renegade troubadour-turned-renaissance man is employing a new record, his first novel, a dramatic TV role, a full-blown band tour and behind-the-scenes advocacy work to challenge audiences to think about mortality, redemption, addiction, artistic commitment and other soul-searing questions.

"I grew up counterculture. I'm essentially a hippie, and I'm essentially a folkie," he says of his restless path.

Since his major label debut a quarter-century ago, that route has led him to reinvigorate the outlaw country movement, spend time in jail on drug and weapons charges, kick a longtime drug habit, walk down the aisle seven times, write plays and publish short stories, champion a death-penalty ban — and win three Grammys (amid 14 nominations).

Central to Earle's latest ventures is the song "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive", the prophetic last single released by tragic country icon Hank Williams before his New Year's Day death in 1953, at age 29. Earle adopts that title for his new T Bone Burnett-produced album, out Tuesday, and for his novel, out May 12 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Though the projects evolved independently, they embrace similar themes. The novel imagines the tormented life of the doctor who may have given Williams a fatal dose of morphine and who is haunted by Hank's ghost. Some of the album's songs were inspired by the deaths of Earle's father three years ago and a musician friend a year later.

Yet Earle, 56, insists the works are "not about mortality in any negative sense at all. They're about mortality in the sense that, this is the one thing we all have to do. You know what they say about death and taxes. But you have the option to not pay taxes. I have done that. And paid the penalty and interest and survived. You have no choice about death whatsoever."

The album ends on an uplifting note with "This City", a song about the resilience of New Orleans that Earle wrote for last year's first-season finale of the David Simon series Treme on HBO. Earle appeared in three episodes as a street musician named Harley ("me, without a record contract"), and the song was nominated for a Grammy and an Emmy. "It's one of the best songs I've written ... and represents one of a million second chances I've gotten in my life."

Earle reprises that role this season, starting with the third episode May 8. His character mentors Annie, the talented street-musician violinist played by Lucia Micarelli. Like Earle (who appeared in an earlier Simon HBO series, The Wire), Micarelli is a musician who later branched out into acting, and the two clicked immediately.

"As he has been a mentor to Annie, he has become a mentor to me as well," says Micarelli, 27, who wrote a song with Earle that will be featured this season. "He's very obviously a good man, incredibly bright, kindhearted and generous creatively and otherwise. My running joke is, 'C'mon, Uncle Steve, tell us a story!' We all love him."

Earle likely will soak up plenty of love from his longtime fans when he launches an extensive tour beginning June 9 in Seattle. After years of performing solo and acoustic, he'll play with an enhanced version of his old backup band, The Dukes, with whom he last toured in 2005. The "new" outfit is billed as Steve Earle and the Dukes (and Duchesses) featuring Allison Moorer. He and Moorer wed in 2005 and have a 1-year-old son.

What's different about marriage No. 7?

"It's Allison, for one thing," he says. "And I'm sober. I had never been married sober. It's totally different being married when you're sober. Totally different being a new father when you're sober."

So in spite of the sobering themes of his creative output and his work with Amnesty International on the death penalty, Earle proclaims himself "pretty happy. I make an embarrassing amount of money doing something I really love. I live in the greatest city in the world (New York), and I am looking forward when Treme ends to going to New Orleans on my own and feeling like it's my own.

"I've got nothing to complain about."


Lost Highway, Found Writer

Steve Earle conjures Hank Williams in a new album and a coming novel.


By JOHN JURGENSEN
The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/
April 22, 2011


In his past, singer-songwriter Steve Earle has drug addiction, jail and relationships up and down the family tree of American roots music—more than enough material for an autobiography. But that's not Mr. Earle's mode of sharing. "I would never f— myself out of song material by writing a memoir. What a waste," he says in a phone interview from New Orleans, where he was shooting scenes for his recurring role as a street musician in the HBO series "Treme."

Instead, he started with another musician's mythology and used it to write his debut novel, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." In the book, due May 12, the ghost of Hank Williams haunts a doctor who ministered to the addled country star. A new album by Mr. Earle deals with overlapping themes of mortality and spirituality and shares a title, borrowed from a song written by Williams—the last record released before he died on New Year's 1953.

Mr. Earle had long been intrigued by stories of a doctor who treated Williams for alcoholism and chronic back pain up until the singer died in the back seat of his Cadillac en route to a concert. Mr. Earle's editor, after shepherding a collection of Mr. Earle's short stories, "Doghouse Roses," had urged the singer to use his music experience, preferably in the more marketable form of a novel.

By all accounts, Williams's doctor, Toby Marshall, was a quack whose cure for drinking involved lots of chloral hydrate, a sedative. Mr. Earle imagined a different protagonist, a once-privileged physician named Doc Ebersole who bottomed out after Williams's death. On skid row in San Antonio (where Mr. Earle grew up), the doctor shoots dope and gets hectored by Williams's spirit. His slow-motion suicide is interrupted when a young Mexican girl comes to him for an abortion.

Mr. Earle, who stirred controversy in 2002 with a song written from the perspective of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, says he didn't hesitate to put words in the mouth of the king of country music—or at least a spectral version of him. "I have a connection to Hank Williams that not everyone has," he says, citing their common bond as singer-songwriters who rebelled against the Nashville establishment.

A protégé of the revered (and alcoholic) singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, Mr. Earle's own substance abuse torched his career in the early 1990s. He served jail time on drug and firearms charges and got sober, leading to a creative rebirth, and has been prolific for the past 16 years.

He drew on his past consumption of "big, big, big doses of heroin and cocaine" to describe Doc's habit. Narcotic highs, during which the character is "balanced precariously on the edge of a tiny flat world," are followed by an almost lethal overdose. Mr. Earle says he personally had "several" such near-death experiences: "I believe I was spared for a reason, I'm also no longer arrogant enough to believe that I'll know what it is."

Writing for the album, due Tuesday, began about three years ago, around the time Mr. Earle's father died and the novel was halfway done. His focus on prose influenced his music process: He delegated much of the instrumentation to the producer, T Bone Burnett, so he could continue refining his lyrics up to the last minute. He says, "I felt like I was hitting on all eight cylinders, as far as the shoving-words-around part of it goes."

That doesn't mean the rest of the novel came easy: "I probably wished I took drugs or drank after a day of working on long-form prose more than any other time in my life."

Write to John Jurgensen at john.jurgensen@wsj.com



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Today's Tune: The Animals - It's My Life

Cooling on Global Warming

Climate change has been put on the back burner.

By Jonah Goldberg
http://www.nationalreview.com/
April 27, 2011 12:00 A.M.


‘What the heck went wrong?” That, apparently, is the question roiling the environmental community as it realizes that the fight against climate change has fizzled.

As Brad Plumer writes in The New Republic, everything was looking great in 2008 for a sweeping effort to make good on candidate Barack Obama’s pledge to start turning back the rising oceans. The Democrats held Congress. Both John McCain and Obama had promised to push for capping carbon emissions. Corporations had gotten on board. Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth had seemingly softened up the public to the point where it might go along with whatever a popular president promised.

“Instead, the climate push was . . . a total flop,” laments Plumer.

And, of course, Plumer’s right, though not entirely for the reasons he claims.

Climate change is dead as a major political issue for the foreseeable future. Don’t believe me? Check out Obama’s remarks in his weekly radio address last weekend. It was all about energy policy, and yet not once did he talk about climate change.

In one sense that’s odd, given that without global warming, his energy policy goes from merely misguided to outright bonkers. After all, if you wanted to create non-exportable jobs, wean America off foreign oil, or pursue energy independence from the Middle East, absent any concerns about climate change or releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, you would unleash America’s massive energy reserves in coal, gas, and oil. According to the Congressional Research Service — hardly a mouthpiece for Big Oil — the U.S. has the largest energy resources of any country, Saudi Arabia and Russia included.

But in another sense it’s not odd, because telling voters that they have to pay high gas prices in order to ineffectually fight climate change would be honest but incalculably dumb politically. Recent polling shows that Americans care about the economy more — a lot more — than global warming. Skepticism about the existence of a problem or its scope has been rising in the U.S. and Europe. When a Pew poll in January asked voters what their biggest priorities were, climate change ranked second to last. Only obesity was deemed less of a priority. (Don’t tell Michelle Obama.)

Even Madison Avenue has noticed. The New York Times reports that increasingly budget-conscious consumers are no longer willing to shell out extra for self-described “green products.” As a result, the number of new earth-friendly products has plummeted. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has largely abandoned its failed experiment with becoming a proletarian purveyor of green goods no one wants to buy.

Why has climate change lost its oomph? Plumer lays out some of the reasons, though he minimizes the damage greens have inflicted on their own credibility thanks to the 2009 Climategate e-mail scandal and wildly overstated predictions. For instance, the United Nations predicted there would be 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010. Notably, the islands of the Caribbean would see massive population losses as denizens fled for their lives. Never happened. (Meanwhile, the U.N. Environment Program has removed the map of predicted devastation from its website.)

No wonder Obama constantly insists that switching to vastly more expensive and less-efficient energy sources will create jobs. No wonder he promises that if we all get on board the high-speed-rail bandwagon, we’ll win the future. No wonder he’s trying to change the subject to as-of-yet-nonexistent gas-station price gouging and allegedly outrageous subsidies for the oil industry.

Obama’s claims are dubious at best. In supposedly pioneering China, high-speed rail has been a boondoggle of biblical proportions. Green jobs destroy more jobs than they create, and pay less. In Spain, Obama’s favorite clean-energy innovator, one study found that 2.2 jobs were destroyed for every one that was created. Indeed, across Europe, massive investments in wind and solar simply haven’t paid off.

One suspects that Obama would dearly love to drill a lot for more oil and gas, simply for the political windfall in jobs and economic growth. But after he flipped on offshore drilling, then flopped after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he cannot flip again without infuriating his base. So he brags about how much more drilling there is today, even though that’s the result of policies already in the pipeline.

Obama and the greens are in an exquisite bind. Without economic recovery, Americans won’t support Obama’s “investments,” but Obama’s investments are a hindrance to recovery.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com or via Twitter @JonahNRO.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Today's Laugh Track: 'Men on Films' I

Today's Tune: The Cave Singers - Summer Light (Live)

What the World Sees in America

It’s not all something to be proud of.

By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/home-page
http://www.peggynoonan.com/
April 23, 2011

I want to talk a little more this holiday week about what I suppose is a growing theme in this column, and that is an increased skepticism toward U.S. military intervention, including nation building. Our republic is not now in a historical adventure period—that is not what is needed. We are or should be in a self-strengthening one. Our focus should not be on outward involvement but inner repair. Bad people are gunning for us, it is true. We should find them, dispatch them, and harden the target. (That would be, still and first, New York, though Washington too.) We should not occupy their lands, run their governments, or try to bribe them into bonhomie. We think in Afghanistan we’re buying their love, but I have been there. We’re not even renting it.

Our long wars have cost much in blood and treasure, and our military is overstretched. We’re asking soldiers to be social workers, as Bing West notes in his book on Afghanistan, “The Wrong War.”

I saw it last month, when we met with a tough American general. How is the war going? we asked. “Great,” he said. “We just opened a new hospital!” This was perhaps different from what George Patton would have said. He was allowed to be a warrior in a warrior army. His answer would have been more like, “Great, we’re putting more of them in the hospital!”

But there are other reasons for a new skepticism about America’s just role and responsibilities in the world in 2011. One has to do with the burly, muscular, traditional but at this point not fully thought-through American assumption that our culture not only is superior to most, but is certainly better in all ways than the cultures of those we seek to conquer. We have always felt pride in our nation’s ways, and pride isn’t all bad. But conceit is, and it’s possible we’ve grown as conceited as we’ve become culturally careless.

We are modern, they are not. We allow women freedom, they do not. We have the rule of law, they do not. We are technologically sophisticated, they are the Flintstones. We have religious tolerance. All these are sources of legitimate satisfaction and pride, especially the last. Our religious pluralism is, still, amazing.

I lately think of Charleston, S.C., that beautiful old-fashioned, new- fashioned city. On a walk there in October I went by one of the oldest Catholic churches in the South, St. Mary’s, built in 1789. Across the street, equally distinguished and welcoming, was Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, a Jewish congregation founded in 1749. They’ve been across from each other peacefully and happily for a long time. I walked down Meeting Street to see the Hibernian Society, founded in 1801. My people wanted their presence known. In a brochure I saw how the society dealt with Ireland’s old Catholic-Protestant split. They picked a Protestant president one year, a Catholic the next, and so on. In Ireland they were killing each other. In America they were trading gavels. What a country! What a place. What a new world.

We have much to be proud of. And we know it. But take a look around us. Don’t we have some reasons for pause, for self-questioning? Don’t we have a lot of cultural repair that needs doing?

*****

Imagine for a moment that you are a foreign visitor to America. You are a 40-year-old businessman from Afghanistan. You teach a class at Kabul University. You are relatively sophisticated. You’re in pursuit of a business deal. It’s your first time here. There is an America in your mind; it was formed in your childhood by old John Ford movies and involves cowboy hats and gangsters in fedoras. You know this no longer applies—you’re not a fool—but you’re not sure what does. You land at JFK, walking past a TSA installation where they’re patting the genital areas of various travelers. Americans sure have a funny way of saying hello!

You get to town, settle into a modest room at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. You’re jet-lagged. You put on the TV, not only because you’re tired but because some part of you knows TV is where America happens, where America is, and you want to see it. Headline news first. The world didn’t blow up today. Then:

Click. A person named Snooki totters down a boardwalk. She lives with young people who grunt and dance. They seem loud, profane, without values, without modesty, without kindness or sympathy. They seem proud to see each other as sexual objects.

Click. “Real Housewives.” Adult women are pulling each other’s hair. They are glamorous in a hard way, a plastic way. They insult each other.

Click. Local news has a riot in a McDonalds. People kick and punch each other. Click. A cable news story on a child left alone for a week. Click. A 5-year-old brings a gun to school, injures three. Click. A show called “Skins”—is this child pornography? Click. A Viagra commercial. Click. A man tried to blow up a mall. Click. Another Viagra commercial. Click. This appears to be set in ancient Sparta. It appears to involve an orgy.

You, the Kabul businessman, expected some raunch and strangeness but not this—this Victoria Falls of dirty water! You are not a philosopher of media, but you know that when a culture descends to the lowest common denominator, it does not reach the broad base at the bottom, it lowers the broad base at the bottom. This “Jersey Shore” doesn’t reach the Jersey Shore, it creates the Jersey Shore. It makes America the Jersey Shore.

You surf on, hoping for a cleansing wave of old gangster movies. Or cowboys. Anything old! But you don’t find TMC. You look at a local paper. Headline: New York has a 41% abortion rate. Forty-four percent of births are to unmarried women and girls.

You think: Something’s wrong in this place, something has become disordered.

The next morning you take Amtrak for your first meeting, in Washington. You pass through the utilitarian ugliness, the abjuration of all elegance that is Penn Station. On the trip south, past Philadelphia, you see the physical deterioration that echoes what you saw on the TV—broken neighborhoods, abandoned factories with shattered windows, graffiti-covered abutments. It looks like old films of the Depression!

By the time you reach Washington—at least Union Station is august and beautiful—you are amazed to find yourself thinking: “Good thing America is coming to save us. But it’s funny she doesn’t want to save herself!”

*****

My small point: Remember during the riots of the 1960s when they said “the whole world is watching”? Well, now the whole world really is. Everyone is traveling everywhere. We’re all on the move. Cultures can’t keep their secrets.

The whole world is in the Hilton, channel-surfing. The whole world is on the train, in the airport, judging what it sees, and likely, in some serious ways, finding us wanting.

And, being human, they may be judging us with a small, extra edge of harshness for judging them and looking down on them.

We have work to do at home, on our culture and in our country. A beautiful Easter to St. Mary’s Church of Charleston, and happy Passover to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim.

End Of An Era

By Jeffrey Wells
http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/
April 23, 2011

Why is a Bluray upgrade of From Here to Eternity that was supervised by Sony's Grover Crisp in '09 still without a firm release date (sometime in early '12 is the best guess so far)? Why does Paramount refuse to even talk about producing a mint-condition Bluray of the breathtakingly beautiful Shane, one of the jewels in the Paramount crown? Why did it take personal pressuring by Steven Spielberg before Paramount honcho Brad Grey agreed to fund the full-boat restoration of the three Godfather films?


And why right now are there only three Hollywood-based, studio-berthed restoration guys who are serious Movie Catholics and plugging away at trying to bring out tip-top Bluays from the cream of their libraries -- Paramount's Ron Smith, 20th Century Fox's Schawn Belston and Sony's Crisp?

I'll tell you why. Because the classic-film Bluray market is withering and perhaps even drawing to a close. (I'm not saying "dead" because it thankfully hasn't come to that...yet.) High-def classics will return, I suspect, when and if high-speed digital download technology improves. But Bluray is almost certainly down for the count. This is nothing short of an earthquake-level development, and one worth pondering just before the start of Hollywood's TCM Classic Film Festival (4.28 through 5.1), which is probably the most important celebration of classic films going on right now in this country.

For the last 25 years or so the elite film-buff culture has had a relatively steady stream of classic films being restored, remastered and replicated out on the most advanced format of a given time -- laser discs from the late '80s to the late '90s, DVDs from '97 until three or four years ago, and Blurays ever since. But these days classic titles aren't selling like they used to (Warner Home Video's Gone With The Wind and Wizard of Oz Bluray restorations costs mllions and failed, I'm told, to turn a profit), and those in positions of power in the Bluray distribution business aren't about to risk their jobs by pushing for restored Bluray titles that might financially fizzle. And those who get occasional work from these same people are loath to say anything for fear of being blacklisted...omerta.

The result is that potential first-rate Bluray upgrades of many fine classic films are either being ignored or on hold, in large part because they cost too much to restore and/or remaster and market and distribute. Fewer and fewer classic titles are likely to appear until -- this is key -- digital home delivery becomes fast and fibre-optic enough that 1080p films can be downloaded in a short period of time, and then classic titles can be sold without heavy marketing, manufacturing and physical distribution costs.


But when and if this happens (five years from now? ten?) you can forget about savoring making-of docs and commentary tracks and in fact owning several of these films and holding them in your hands. Physical ownership of great films has been a fact of my life since the mid to late '80s and now it's coming to an end. That whole tradition is (for the time being at least) winding down, and speaking as a Movie Catholic and one who has savored high-end restorations and remasterings for 20 or 25 years I feel personally devastated and appalled.

As one post-production and restoration veteran says, "The situation's not so bad...a lot of these films are going to look great on an iPhone."

Don't kid yourself -- this is nothing short of a tragic development in terms of the soul and necessary spiritual replenishing of the film industry.

Why? Because the truly great Hollywood classics need to be remastered and represented to the public in the finest possible way in order to keep the faith going and the religion of film kept as a vital cause. I'm talking about maintaining a ritual that, in its own realm, is no less necessary or important than ministers and priests keeping alive the memory of a certain Judean wanderer and preacher through Holy Communion.

Those who believe in the transformative power of film need to pay tribute to the legacy of classic films and keep alive visions of the best that Hollywood has produced over the last several decades, and they need to support those who know how to restore and remaster classic films in order to remind everyone how good Hollywood films of the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s used to look and sound in state-of-the-art first-run theatrical engagements...before they were downgraded by inferior home-video transfers.


And this needs to be done -- are you listening, Brad Grey? -- even if it doesn't bring in a sizable profit, or even if the endeavor merely breaks even. Because we're talking about religion here. Spiritual sustenance. The faith of it.

Obviously scores of classic films have been restored and remastered for Bluray over the last few years, and let's all breathe a sigh of relief for the expensive and time-consuming work that's been done (or is being done) on any number of big-studio properties, especially on the large-format films of the '50s and early '60s. Ron Smith's The Ten Commandments Bluray was terrific. Warner Home Video's forthcoming Ben-Hur Bluray will hopefully be a knockout. A Bluray of Lawrence of Arabia is coming out next year from Sony.

But truly choice titles are few and far between on the Bluray market, and many great films (particularly those shot on large-format processes in the '50s and early '60s) are yellowing and rotting on the vine, and many of those that are making it into the Bluray realm are being visually misrepresented -- i.e., made to look shiny and video-gamey.

One upside develpment, I'm told, is that a remastered, more celluloid-looking Bluray version of Franklin Schaffner's Patton (i.e., a 40th anniversay re-release) is coming out on May 10th. Certain large-screen Bluray connoisseurs felt that the earlier version was DNR'd (digital noise reduction'ed) to death and given overly smooth video-game textures. The "bad" Patton was created by HTV Illuminate, a San Fernando Valley-based company that could be called the ground zero of shiny Bluray makeovers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Emmylou Harris, in the moment

Her new album is called 'Hard Bargain,' but at 64, the singer-songwriter seems at ease with her life thus far.

By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/
April 24, 2011


NASHVILLE —— Emmylou Harris is trailed by a ragtag parade of eager dogs when she answers a knock at the door of the comfortable two-story home on a fenceless parcel a few miles from downtown Nashville, where she lives with her 89-year-old mother, Eugenia.

The singer and songwriter greets a visitor with the same unguarded openness with which she has welcomed in a steady stream of abandoned, abused or otherwise homeless canines as part of the Bonaparte's Retreat animal rescue operation she's run for the last several years.

One of them, Bella, is a large, gentle mutt who is the subject of "Big Black Dog," one of the songs from Harris' forthcoming album "Hard Bargain," her first in nearly three years. It's a lighthearted yet sincere ode to the loyalty and unconditional love that she prizes about her work with her animal companions.

"We probably give them too many human qualities, but they inhabit a world we might never understand. That's one of the reasons they can help us be more human," she says, settling into a small sofa in an upstairs bedroom she's converted into a music room. It's one of a couple of spaces at home where she likes to write.

Sheets of paper with lyrics are nearby on a music stand, a raft of guitars rest a few feet away, poised to assist when inspiration strikes. The walls around the stairway that leads to her workspace are adorned with family photos; inside her office are framed pictures and artwork of a smattering of the musicians — Johnny Cash and June Carter, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Gram Parsons — she's worked with over a recording career that now spans more than four decades since her largely unheralded debut album, "Gliding Bird," yet another animal allusion in her long, distinguished career.

"From the time you're born until the end of your life, I think they are our dearest companions," says Harris, her white-silver hair pulled up through a black scrunchie into a pony tail. She's wearing a comfortable black sweater, stylish scarf and knockabout thick black pants on a cool spring day during which the area is under the specter of tornado warnings.

An interaction with an animal is far less complicated than a relationship with another human. The latter are at the heart of Harris' new songs examining life from her perspective at 64. Married and divorced three times, she sings with more surprise than lament in "Nobody" and "Lonely Girl" about finding herself without a life partner at this point in life.

"No more teenage love," she says with an unforced grin. "Every time I do 'Love Hurts,' which I still do occasionally, I have to give a wry smile when I go 'I'm young/I know … .'" She sings the phrase, pauses, then adds a lightly defiant "I'm not" to the line from the Everly Brothers hit, which she famously covered in a duet with country-rock innovator Parsons in the early 1970s.

She also addresses her long-ago creative and romantic relationship with Parsons, who helped introduce the world to the angelic beauty of Harris' voice before he died at age 26 in 1973. His effect on her career was monumental, and the boost he gave her, musically and professionally, is something she's returned to dozens of musicians in the succeeding years.

"The Road," which serves as the album's opening track, brings an evenhanded understanding of what others might look at as tragic. "I couldn't save you, and no one was to blame," she sings.

She has alluded to Parsons over the years, notably in her 1985 concept album "The Ballad of Sally Rose," about a young singer making her way in the world. But "The Road" may be the most directly autobiographical song she's written about that time in her life, raising the question: Why now?

"The first lines just came out and from then on all I had to do was just tell the story," she says. "It just kind of fell out."

In the absence of motivation to write anything more on the subject of young love, she also turns her attention to issues that continue to capture her attention, as in "The Ballad of Emmett Till," her Dylan-esque recounting of the story of the African American teenager from Chicago who was killed in 1955 for speaking to a white woman on a trip to visit relatives in rural Mississippi.

The song points to her unwavering compassion throughout her career for the underdog, oppressed, the voiceless, the disenfranchised members of society, human or nonhuman. That's taken the form of the numerous benefits she's participated in, including those aiding land mine awareness campaigns, animal rescue and efforts to preserve and protect country music history.

She was a linchpin in the preservation of the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. The building came close to being leveled after the Opry moved its base from downtown Nashville to be part of the Opryland theme park.

Harris hasn't appeared in the upper reaches of the country sales charts in more than a decade.

She arrived in 1975 with her major-label debut album, "Pieces of the Sky," as both a rock-influenced rebel and a keeper of the country flame, recording tradition-minded material by the likes of Dolly Parton and the Louvin Brothers as well as genre-blind songs by Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles. She has championed the work of emerging talents including Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle and Conor Oberst.

As the country establishment began turning a blind eye to artists 40 and older, Harris moved on musically, connecting with producer Daniel Lanois for her watershed 1995 album, "Wrecking Ball," which won the Grammy for contemporary folk album — one of 12 she's collected in various categories over the years — and opened a new sonic world for her, one closer to the work of U2 than country chart-toppers such as Faith Hill and Shania Twain.

"It's rare that an artist can do something like 'Wrecking Ball,' which was probably her 20th record, that is that much of a reinvention, that much of a leap of imagination, and possibly her greatest record up to that time," said David Bither, senior vice president of Nonesuch Records, the label that signed Harris five years after the release of "Wrecking Ball."

"Paul Simon has a new record out that is one of the strongest records of his career," Bither said. "Emmy is still making important albums. It's not as if as you get older you stop becoming relevant, and those great artists, those we've been privileged to be around 30 or 40 years, it is important to be able to have them."

After joining Nonesuch, she made another breakthrough with "Red Dirt Girl," in which the woman who'd spent the previous quarter-century solidifying her reputation as one of the premier vocal interpreters in modern country suddenly blossomed as a songwriter, something she'd done to that point only sporadically, if impressively, on "Boulder to Birmingham" from the early "Pieces of the Sky."

What happened?

"I kind of got my marching orders from Daniel Lanois and [revered Texas singer-songwriter] Guy Clark at the same time," she says. "After 'Wrecking Ball,' Dan said, 'You need to write for your next record.' Shortly after that, Guy — I was sitting across from them at their house one Christmas, with Rodney — and he said, 'You need to write your next record, and I don't care if it takes you five years.' And it did — it took me five years. But then I thought, 'OK, I have written, and I can at least try,' so that's what I did.

"The other thing was, I wanted to follow through. 'Wrecking Ball' was such a revelation to me: the sound and the intense emotion of the music, and I knew I wanted to keep in that sonic world. But I also knew the price you had to pay for that — because you have to make sacrifices to the music gods — was that I needed to bring something new to the table. … I don't play an instrument, I couldn't become a jazz singer; this is the voice that I have. So the only thing I could bring to the table was my own song."

She wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 songs on "Hard Bargain," looking outside only for the title track, by Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, and producer Jay Joyce's "Cross Yourself," both spiritually attuned songs.

Of Sexsmith's song, she says, "I heard it, I don't want to say as a spiritual, but I didn't hear it as a love song. Although I think it can be about a particular person, whether it's about a lover or a close friend, to me it was about the thing that keeps pulling us back into the world."

"I just turned 64," she says with more than a small tone of disbelief in her voice. "You remember back when the Beatles sang that and you thought, 'I'll never be 64.' It was like it was the end of the world. Now, it's not young, it's not old, it just is. So you're in that moment.

"I think one of the keys to any kind of peace in the world is to live in the moment. I guess that's why I love dogs so much, because they are so in the moment. They just keep bringing you back to that."

randy.lewis@latimes.com


Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times








Uncharitable

Zakat is not about charity, but jihad.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
http://www.nationalreview.com/
April 23, 2011 4:00 A.M.


‘In the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation,” President Obama claimed during his 2009 Cairo speech. “That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”

This statement contained two falsehoods. One, as I’ve previously detailed, was obvious: There are, in fact, no American laws or rules that make it harder for Muslims to give to charity. What we have are laws against material support of terrorism — against using devices like charitable fronts to channel money to jihadists. Those laws are not directed at Muslims. They apply to everyone but are applied most often to Muslims, because Muslims carry out most anti-American terrorism.

The other falsehood was more subtle: the president’s suggestion that the religious obligation of zakat — one of the “five pillars of Islam” — is the equivalent of “charitable giving.” It is not. Zakat is every Muslim’s obligation to contribute to the fortification of the ummah, the notional worldwide Islamic nation. And that very much includes the funding of violent jihad against non-Muslims.

When an earthquake devastated Haiti last year, the West, led as always by the Great Satan, instantly opened its heart and pocketbook. Within days, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Claudia Rosett reported, the U.S. government had pledged $90 million in public funds, 44 percent of the total anted up by governments worldwide. That was just a fraction of the true American contribution. Despite a deep recession and widespread unemployment, private citizens contributed tens of millions of dollars to the relief efforts. In addition, our armed forces mobilized to provide food, medical treatment, and other humanitarian aid. Untold additional millions in American aid backed relief efforts by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the World Bank. The economic downturn was global, but still European, Canadian, Japanese, and South American governments and citizens also donated millions.

What of the world’s Muslims? Over the same period of time, they accounted for a whopping 0.1 percent of the total donations committed by governments — basically, a rounding error for a Saudi sheikh’s weekend in Vegas. Drawing a telling contrast, Ms. Rosett noted that the House of Saud’s annual contribution to ICRC operations in 2008 came to a grand total of $216,460 — less than a penny per Saudi, though quite generous compared with the $50,000 kicked in by Iran, whose population is three times larger. By contrast, the United States gave $237.8 million.

How could it be that the oil-drenched realm of zakat – of what we are to believe is obligatory benevolence — lags so embarrassingly behind Dar al-Greed? Very simple: Zakat is not “charity” as we understand that term.

Muslims are taught that charity means Muslims aiding Muslims, for the purpose of fortifying and extending the ummah until all the world is Islam’s domain. “Of their wealth, take alms,” instructs Allah in the Koran (9:103), “that so thou mightest purify and sanctify them.” Thus, zakat may be given only to Muslims.

Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law (Umdat al-Salik) was compiled by the renowned Muslim jurisprudent Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri in the 14th century. It is the most authoritative source on the subject of sharia (Islamic law), having been certified by al-Azhar University in Cairo — the font of Sunni learning — as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.” In fact, when an English edition of Reliance (now available through Amazon.com) was published in 1994, it won gushing praise from the government of Saudi Arabia (where sharia is the only law), as well as the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, all of which incorporate sharia in their legal systems. Reliance is quite blunt on the matter: “It is not permissible to give zakat to a non-Muslim.”

That is mainstream Islam, as the Haiti earthquake-relief effort reaffirms. In Social Justice in Islam, the late but still highly influential Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb explained that zakat is the “share taken by the [Islamic] state and spent on the welfare of Muslims to supply their bodily needs, to preserve their dignity, and to protect their power of conscience.” More recently, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at Sunni Path, the “Islamic Academy” that has become popular among Muslim web-surfers, observed that in all major schools of Islamic jurisprudence “there is consensus . . . that a non-Muslim (dhimmi) cannot be given any zakat.” We grubby capitalists may see Haitians as suffering beyond calculation, but for Muslims there is a calculation: The Haitians are infidels. The families of Palestinian suicide bombers and imprisoned al-Qaeda terrorists rate a brotherly helping hand, and the Haitians don’t.

In fact an essential purpose of zakat is to underwrite jihad. Americans see it as a dangerous fraud when Islamic charities are used as fronts for terrorist organizations. In mainstream Islam, however, there is no fraud at all — not if your understanding of “charity” is zakat.

“It is obligatory,” according to Reliance of the Traveller, “to distribute one’s zakat among eight categories of recipients, one-eighth of the zakat to each category.” The manual goes on to describe these categories, the seventh of which is “those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster.”

Al-Misri, the 14th-century scholar, did not dream that one up — and there was no al-Qaeda around to “hijack” Islam from him. He pulled it right out of the Koran. Sura 9:60, the verse most often associated with zakat, directs that “alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the funds; for those whose hearts have recently reconciled to Truth [i.e., to Islam]; for those in bondage [like those imprisoned terrorists] and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer. Thus is it ordained by Allah.” Echoing Reliance, the official Saudi version of the Koran annotates this verse with the clarification that “in the cause of Allah” refers to “those who are struggling and striving in Allah’s cause by teaching or fighting . . . [and] who are thus unable to earn their ordinary living.”

The stark fact is that the Islamic conception of alms unabashedly embraces what the brilliant scholar of Islam Raymond Ibrahim describes as “the money jihad” (jihad al-mal). A canonical hadith quotes Mohammed’s sentiments: “He who equips a raider so he can wage jihad in Allah’s path . . . is himself a raider.” That is, he achieves the same status as those Mohammed said would be most richly rewarded in the afterlife for having done the greatest service to Allah. Indeed, the Koran actually prioritizes the need to fund violent jihad over the need to fight it. Sura 9:41 declares: “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if you but knew.” As Ibrahim elaborates, several other verses “make the same assertion and, more importantly, in the same order: striving with one’s wealth almost always precedes striving with one’s life, thereby prioritizing the former over the latter.”

Ibrahim is quite right when he says the West’s tireless portrayal of Islamic charities as akin to “the Salvation Army, a Christian charity organization whose ‘ministry extends to all, regardless of age, sex, color, or creed,’” is flatly false. In Islam, it’s all about Islam. Zakat, like all Islamic tenets, serves the overarching cause of elevating Islam, to the exclusion and at the expense of nonbelievers. When President Obama proclaims his determination to ensure that Muslims “can fulfill zakat,” and when his Justice Department follows up that proclamation by relaxing the enforcement of federal laws against material support of terrorism, this is the system they are abetting.

— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pope's Easter Vigil Homily: We Celebrate the First Day of the New Creation

By Pope Benedict XVI
http://www.catholic.org/
4/24/2011


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
The Resurrection of Christ
Oil on panel
c1612
O.L. Vrouwekathedraal (Antwerp, Belgium)


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The liturgical celebration of the Easter Vigil makes use of two eloquent signs. First there is the fire that becomes light. As the procession makes its way through the church, shrouded in the darkness of the night, the light of the Paschal Candle becomes a wave of lights, and it speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets - the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness. The second sign is water. On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yet these great signs of creation, light and water, are not the only constituent elements of the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Another essential feature is the ample encounter with the words of sacred Scripture that it provides. Before the liturgical reform there were twelve Old Testament readings and two from the New Testament. The New Testament readings have been retained. The number of Old Testament readings has been fixed at seven, but depending upon the local situation, they may be reduced to three.

The Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and the liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ. In the liturgical tradition all these readings were called prophecies. Even when they are not directly foretelling future events, they have a prophetic character, they show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. They cause creation and history to become transparent to what is essential. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, they show us the true Light.

At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy's way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being.

Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation.

Our profession of faith begins with the words: "We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth". If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man's religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things. Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator.

Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church's faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life for ever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together.

The central message of the creation account can be defined more precisely still. In the opening words of his Gospel, Saint John sums up the essential meaning of that account in this single statement: "In the beginning was the Word". In effect, the creation account that we listened to earlier is characterized by the regularly recurring phrase: "And God said ...." The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. "Logos" means "reason", "sense", "word". It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense.

The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis.

As believers we answer, with the creation account and with John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason. And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation.

Hence a thick black line, so to speak, has been drawn across the structure of the universe and across the nature of man. But despite this contradiction, creation itself remains good, life remains good, because at the beginning is good Reason, God's creative love. Hence the world can be saved. Hence we can and must place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love - on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life.

The Old Testament account of creation that we listened to clearly indicates this order of realities. But it leads us a further step forward. It has structured the process of creation within the framework of a week leading up to the Sabbath, in which it finds its completion. For Israel, the Sabbath was the day on which all could participate in God's rest, in which man and animal, master and slave, great and small were united in God's freedom. Thus the Sabbath was an expression of the Covenant between God and man and creation.

In this way, communion between God and man does not appear as something extra, something added later to a world already fully created. The Covenant, communion between God and man, is inbuilt at the deepest level of creation. Yes, the Covenant is the inner ground of creation, just as creation is the external presupposition of the Covenant. God made the world so that there could be a space where he might communicate his love, and from which the response of love might come back to him. From God's perspective, the heart of the man who responds to him is greater and more important than the whole immense material cosmos, for all that the latter allows us to glimpse something of God's grandeur.

Easter and the paschal experience of Christians, however, now require us to take a further step. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. After six days in which man in some sense participates in God's work of creation, the Sabbath is the day of rest. But something quite unprecedented happened in the nascent Church: the place of the Sabbath, the seventh day, was taken by the first day. As the day of the liturgical assembly, it is the day for encounter with God through Jesus Christ who as the Risen Lord encountered his followers on the first day, Sunday, after they had found the tomb empty.

The structure of the week is overturned. No longer does it point towards the seventh day, as the time to participate in God's rest. It sets out from the first day as the day of encounter with the Risen Lord. This encounter happens afresh at every celebration of the Eucharist, when the Lord enters anew into the midst of his disciples and gives himself to them, allows himself, so to speak, to be touched by them, sits down at table with them. This change is utterly extraordinary, considering that the Sabbath, the seventh day seen as the day of encounter with God, is so profoundly rooted in the Old Testament. If we also bear in mind how much the movement from work towards the rest-day corresponds to a natural rhythm, the dramatic nature of this change is even more striking.

This revolutionary development that occurred at the very the beginning of the Church's history can be explained only by the fact that something utterly new happened that day. The first day of the week was the third day after Jesus' death. It was the day when he showed himself to his disciples as the Risen Lord. In truth, this encounter had something unsettling about it. The world had changed. This man who had died was now living with a life that was no longer threatened by any death. A new form of life had been inaugurated, a new dimension of creation.

The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins. Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation. We celebrate the first day. And in so doing we celebrate God the Creator and his creation. Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again. We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence.

We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death. We celebrate the first day because we know that the black line drawn across creation does not last for ever. We celebrate it because we know that those words from the end of the creation account have now been definitively fulfilled: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31). Amen.


Photo: Pope Benedict XVI (R) leads the Easter Vigil mass in Saint Peter Basilica in Vatican April 23, 2011. (Reuters)