Saturday, February 04, 2012

Komen has its awareness raised

The breast-cancer-fighting foundation could not be permitted to get away with disrespecting Big Abortion.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
February 4, 2012

As Sen. Obama said during the 2008 campaign, words matter. Modern "liberalism" is strikingly illiberal; the high priests of "tolerance" are increasingly intolerant of even the mildest dissent; and those who profess to "celebrate diversity" coerce ever more ruthlessly a narrow homogeneity. Thus, the Obama administration's insistence that Catholic institutions must be compelled to provide free contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. This has less to do with any utilitarian benefit a condomless janitor at a Catholic school might derive from Obamacare, and more to do with the liberal muscle of Big Tolerance enforcing one-size-fits-all diversity.

The bigger the Big Government, the smaller everything else: In Sweden, expressing a moral objection to homosexuality is illegal, even on religious grounds, even in church, and a pastor minded to cite the more robust verses of Leviticus would risk four years in jail. In Canada, the courts rule that Catholic schools must allow gay students to take their same-sex dates to the prom. The secular state's Bureau of Compliance is merciless to apostates to a degree even your fire-breathing imams might marvel at.

Consider the current travails of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This is the group responsible for introducing the pink "awareness-raising" ribbon for breast cancer – as emblematic a symbol of America's descent into postmodernism as anything. It has spawned a thousand other colored "awareness-raising" ribbons: my current favorite is the periwinkle ribbon for acid reflux. We have had phenomenal breakthroughs in hues of awareness-raising ribbons, and for this the Susan G. Komen Foundation deserves due credit.

Until the other day, Komen were also generous patrons of Planned Parenthood, the "women's health" organization. The Foundation then decided it preferred to focus on organizations that are "providing the lifesaving mammogram." Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, despite its president, Cecile Richards, testifying to the contrary before Congress last year. Rather, Planned Parenthood provides abortions; it's the biggest abortion provider in the United States. For the breast cancer bigwigs to wish to target their grants more relevantly is surely understandable.

But not if you're a liberal enforcer. Sen. Barbara Boxer, with characteristic understatement, compared the Komen Foundation's Nancy Brinker to Joe McCarthy: "I'm reminded of the McCarthy era, where somebody said: 'Oh,' a congressman stands up, a senator, 'I'm investigating this organization and therefore people should stop funding them.'" But Komen is not a congressman or a senator or any other part of the government, only a private organization. And therefore it is free to give its money to whomever it wishes, isn't it?

Dream on. Liberals take the same view as the proprietors of the Dar al-Islam: Once they hold this land, they hold it forever. Notwithstanding that those who give to the Foundation are specifically giving to support breast cancer research, Komen could not be permitted to get away with disrespecting Big Abortion. We don't want to return to the bad old days of the back alley, when a poor vulnerable person who made the mistake of stepping out of line had to be forced into the shadows and have the realities explained to them with a tire iron. Now Big Liberalism's enforcers do it on the front pages with the panjandrums of tolerance and diversity cheering them all the way. In the wake of Komen's decision, the Yale School of Public Health told the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff that its invitation to Nancy Brinker to be its commencement speaker was now "under careful review." Because God forbid anybody doing a master's program at an Ivy League institution should be exposed to anyone not in full 100 percent compliance with liberal orthodoxy. The American Association of University Women announced it would no longer sponsor teams for Komen's "Race for the Cure." Sure, Komen has raised $2 billion for the cure, but better we never cure breast cancer than let a single errant Injun wander off the abortion reservation. Terry O'Neill of the National Organization for Women said Komen "is no longer an organization whose mission is to advance women's health." You preach it, sister. I mean, doesn't the very idea of an organization obsessively focused on breasts sound suspiciously patriarchal?

As Kate Sheppard, the "reproductive rights" correspondent of Mother Jones, tweeted triumphantly, "Overheard in the office: 'Come at Cecile Richards, you best not miss.'"

Indeed. If you strike at the King, you must kill him. If you merely announce that, following a review of grant-eligibility procedures you're no longer in a position to make your small voluntary donation to the King, your head will be on a pikestaff outside the palace gates. By Friday morning lockstep liberalism had done its job. All that was missing was James Carville to declare, "Drag a hundred-dollar bill through an oncology clinic awareness-raising free mammogram session, you never know what you'll find." After 72 hours being fitted for the liberals' cement overcoat and an honored place as the cornerstone of the Planned Parenthood Monument to Women's Choice, Komen attempted to chisel free and back into the good graces of the tolerant: As Nancy Brinker's statement groveled, "We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives."

Congratulations! Planned Parenthood certainly raised Nancy's awareness. I wonder what color ribbon that comes with? Black and blue?

The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto was unimpressed by the liberal protection racket (Nice little charity you've got there; be a shame if anything were to happen to it). As Taranto pointed out, in a real-life protection racket, the victim never pays voluntarily: "The threat is present from the get-go." By contrast, Komen's first donations to Big Abortion were made voluntarily. A prudent observer would conclude that the best way to avoid being crowbarred by Cecile Richards is never to get mixed up with her organization in the first place.

It's not like she needs the money. Komen's 2010 donation of $580,000 is less than Ms. Richards' salary and benefits. Planned Parenthood commandos hacked into the Komen website and changed its slogan from "Help us get 26.2 or 13.1 miles closer to a world without breast cancer" to "Help us run over poor women on our way to the bank." But, if you're that eager to run over poor women on the way to the bank, I'd recommend a gig with Planned Parenthood: the average salary of the top eight executives is $270,000, which makes them officially part of what the Obama administration calls "the one percent." In America today, few activities are as profitable as a "nonprofit." Planned Parenthood receives almost half a billion dollars – or about 50 percent of its revenues – in taxpayer funding.

A billion dollars seems a lot, even for 322,000 abortions a year. But it enables Planned Parenthood to function as a political heavyweight. Ms Richards' business is an upscale progressives' ideological protection racket, for whom the "poor women's" abortion mill is a mere pretext. The Komen Foundation will not be the last to learn that you can "race for the cure," but you can't hide. Celebrate conformity – or else.


Friday, February 03, 2012

Today's Tune: Bodeans - Fade Away

Wind Energy, Noise Pollution

Living near wind turbines can be hazardous to your health.

By Robert Bryce
February 2, 2012

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama touted renewable energy and declared that he would “not walk away from workers” such as Bryan Ritterby, who is employed by a wind-turbine manufacturer in Michigan.

But in their rush to embrace the wind-energy business, Obama and numerous other politicians are walking away from rural residents such as David Enz and his wife, Rose. A year ago, the couple abandoned their home near Denmark, Wis., because of the unbearable low-frequency noise produced by a half-dozen 495-foot-high wind turbines that were built near the home they’ve owned since 1978. The closest was installed about 3,200 feet from their house.

Shortly after the Shirley Windproject’s turbines began operating, the couple began experiencing numerous symptoms, including “headaches, ear pain, nausea, blurred vision, anxiety, memory loss, and an overall unsettledness,” says Mr. Enz, 68. Today, the Enzes are living in their RV or staying with friends. “We didn’t expect any of this stuff,” says Enz, who spent more than 30 years working as a millwright at a paper mill in Green Bay.

Policymakers and health experts are casting a hard eye on wind energy at the same time that the wind industry is desperately trying to convince Congress to pass a multi-year extension of a tax credit that supports it. Without the subsidy, the domestic wind business, which is already being hammered by falling natural-gas prices, will be forced to downsize even further. In December, the American Wind Energy Association issued a report predicting that some 37,000 wind-related jobs in the U.S. could be lost by 2013 if the tax credit is not extended.

That possibility doesn’t faze Wisconsin Republican state senator Frank Lasee, whose district includes the Enzes’ 41-acre property. Last October, Lasee filed legislation that would require the state to investigate the health effects of the noise produced by industrial wind turbines. If passed, the bill– the first of its kind in the U.S. — will impose a moratorium on new wind projects until the study is completed. “I’ve heard and seen enough from people I represent to know that we need a factual study,” Lasee told me recently. In addition to the Enzes, Lasee says he knows another family among his constituents who have abandoned their home because of wind-turbine noise. “We shouldn’t be embracing an agenda that hurts people’s property values and their health,” he said. In mid-January, Lasee filed another bill that could allow cities and counties to establish minimum setback distances between wind projects and residences.

It’s tempting to dismiss the complaints about wind-turbine noise as little more than NIMBYism. And to be clear, not every wind project is causing problems. Further, the most problematic noise generated by the turbines — low-frequency sound (20 to 100 hertz) and infrasound (0 to 20 Hz) — has varying effects. Some individuals feel the effects of the noise quickly and compare it to motion sickness. Others may not feel it at all. That said, the harmful effects of infrasound are well known. A 2001 report published by the National Institutes of Health said that exposure to infrasound can cause vertigo as well as “fatigue, apathy, and depression, pressure in the ears, loss of concentration, drowsiness.”
Furthermore — and perhaps most telling — are the news reports. And there are lots of them. Newspaper stories from Missouri, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Britain, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and New Zealand indicate that the wind-turbine-noise problem is global and that the frustration among rural landowners is growing.

The wind-energy lobby desperately wants to downplay the problems associated with low-frequency noise and infrasound. That’s not surprising. The industry has no solution for the noise problem, except, of course, to increase the setbacks between wind turbines and residential areas. But doing so would dramatically reduce the industry’s ability to site turbines (and collect fat taxpayer subsidies).

In 2009, the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association commissioned a group of doctors to review the available literature on wind turbines and noise. The two lobby groups published a paper that concluded, “There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.” It also said that the vibrations from the turbines are “too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.” However, that same study also said that extended exposure to unwanted noise can cause a number of symptoms, including “dizziness, eye strain, fatigue, feeling vibration, headache, insomnia, muscle spasm, nausea, nose bleeds, palpitations, pressure in the ears or head, skin burns, stress, and tension.”

To bolster its claims that turbine noise is not harmful, the wind-energy lobby is touting a study released in mid-January by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that largely dismissed complaints about wind-turbine noise. But the authors of the Massachusetts report did not interview any of the homeowners who’ve left their houses because of turbine noise. Instead, they did a cursory review of the published literature.

Shortly after the Massachusetts report came out, Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute, a non-profit organization that tracks noise issues, wrote that the authors of the Massachusetts report “dropped a crucial ball” because they did not “provide any sort of acknowledgement or analysis of the ways that annoyance, anxiety, sleep disruption, and stress could be intermediary pathways that help us to understand some of the reports coming from Massachusetts residents who say their health has been affected by nearby turbines.”
Over the past few months, a spate of reports have been released that provide credence to the complaints being made by the Enzes and people like Janet Warren, who raised sheep on her property near Makara, New Zealand, until a wind project was built near her home. Noise from the turbines caused “loss of concentration, irritability, and short-term memory effects” that forced her and her husband, Mike, to leave their property in early 2010.

Among the most important of the recent reports is a decision issued last July by Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal regarding a wind-energy facility known as the Kent Breeze Project. Although the Canadian officials allowed the facility to be built, they said that
this case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.
In other words, Canadian regulators have stated, on the record, that wind-turbine noise can harm human beings if turbines are built too close to homes. That finding was corroborated, again, in August, in a peer-reviewed article published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. Carl V. Phillips, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. who now works as a researcher and consultant on epidemiology, concluded that there is “overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate.” That same issue of the journal carried eight other articles that addressed the issue of health and wind-turbine noise.

In October, a peer-reviewed study of wind-turbine-related noise in New Zealand found that residents living within two kilometers of large wind projects reported
lower overall quality of life, physical quality of life, and environmental quality of life. Those exposed to turbine noise also reported significantly lower sleep quality, and rated their environment as less restful. Our data suggest that wind farm noise can negatively impact facets of health-related quality of life.
Alec Salt, a research scientist at the Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has written extensively about the health effects of wind-energy projects. He flatly concludes that wind turbines “can be hazardous to human health.”

Dr. Robert McMurtry, a Canadian orthopedic surgeon, is also pushing for more study; he is among the leaders of a large anti-wind contingent in Ontario. Try as they might, McMurtry’s opponents cannot dismiss him or his credentials. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada and was recently named a member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor.

Ontario has become ground zero in the fight against the wind-energy sector. In September, a Canadian family filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the owners of a wind project in southwestern Ontario. That same month, CBC News reported that Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment has logged “hundreds of health complaints” about the wind projects there. According to the Society for Wind Vigilance, a group of doctors, acousticians, academics, and health professionals that is focused on the adverse health effects of wind turbines, about 40 families in Ontario have moved out of their homes because of turbine noise. Last month, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the province’s biggest farm organization, said that the push for wind energy had “become untenable” and that “rural residents’ health and nuisance complaints must be immediately and fairly addressed.”

Finding people in Canada and elsewhere who are being victimized by turbine noise is easy. Over the past two years, I’ve personally interviewed, by phone or e-mail, homeowners in Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and England who’ve had wind turbines built near their homes. Their health complaints are nearly identical to those made by the Enzes. For instance, Darrel Capelle, a 34-year-old farm hand, lives in De Pere, Wis., with his wife and their two young boys. In October 2010, two large wind turbines were built within a quarter mile of their home. “Sleeplessness with the kids started right after the turbines went in,” says Capelle. His wife, Sarah, now suffers from frequent, intense headaches.

Although the federal government has yet to undertake any broad studies of infrasound and wind turbines, other countries are responding to the surging resistance against land-based wind projects. Among those countries: Denmark, which has become the Green Left’s favorite example of the merits of wind energy. Alas, the Danes themselves aren’t so enthusiastic.

In 2010, the Copenhagen Post reported that “state-owned energy firm Dong Energy has given up building more wind turbines on Danish land, following protests from residents complaining about the noise the turbines make.” The newspaper quoted Dong CEO Anders Eldrup as saying, “It is very difficult to get the public’s acceptance if the turbines are built close to residential buildings, and therefore we are now looking at maritime options.”

The controversy over wind-turbine noise has been raging in Australia for more than two years. Much of the fight has focused on the noise generated by the Waubra wind project in the state of Victoria. Residents near the project began complaining of health problems shortly after the 192-megawatt facility began operating in 2009, and several residents near the project abandoned their homes. Australia’s mainstream media have paid serious attention to the turbine-noise issue, including a 2010 TV report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that focused on the problems at Waubra.
In mid-2011, Victoria’s state government responded to the problems at Waubra by announcing that it would enforce a two-kilometer (1.25-mile) setback between wind turbines and homes. The state’s planning minister said the setback was needed for health reasons. In December, government officials in the state of New South Wales issued guidelines that give residents living within two kilometers of a proposed wind project the right to delay, or even stop, the project’s development. The rules also will impose strict noise limits.

The backlash against the wind-energy sector is particularly fierce in Europe, where the European Platform against Windfarms now lists 518 signatory organizations from 23 countries. In the U.K., where fights are raging against industrial wind projects in Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere, some 285 anti-wind groups have been formed. Last May, according to the BBC, some 1,500 protesters descended on the Welsh assembly, demanding that a massive wind project planned for central Wales be halted. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., about 140 anti-wind groups have been formed.

The growing resistance to large-scale wind projects raises a number of questions that must be addressed before Congress approves any further subsidies.

The most important one is also the most obvious: If the noise generated by wind turbines isn’t a health problem, why are so many people, in so many different countries, complaining about the noise in nearly identical terms? And why are some of them going so far as to abandon their homes?

Another question: Why isn’t wind-turbine noise getting more attention from the Environmental Protection Agency? The EPA has plenty of resources to investigate complaints about the oil-and-gas sector on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. Meanwhile, the wind industry is getting a free pass, even though tens of thousands of wind turbines could be built in the U.S. over the coming years thanks to the renewable-energy mandates that have been instituted in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

The Green Left is so married to the notion that wind energy might help reduce carbon-dioxide emissions that they are blithely ignoring the “energy sprawl” and noise problems that come with large-scale wind projects. Never mind if dozens, or even hundreds, of rural homeowners are being euchred out of their homes and property. They can be ignored. They can easily be sacrificed in the quest to appear to be doing something — anything — in the push to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, no matter how small or inconsequential those reductions might actually be.

That same mindset prevails in the White House and at the Department of Energy. Indeed, despite the panoply of evidence that shows wind-turbine noise causes health problems, President Obama has made it clear that he wants lots more renewable energy. In his State of the Union speech, he said that he wants to impose a national standard requiring the use of “clean energy,” and that he wants to “double down” on the “clean-energy industry.”

When Dave Enz heard the president’s proposal, his response was simple: “I don’t think he cares about people like us.”

— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book is Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Movie for All Time

EDITOR’S NOTE: OK, campers, rise and shine! It’s become a Groundhog’s Day tradition around here to run this cover story from the February 14, 2005, issue of National Review over and over and over . . .
Here’s a line you’ll either recognize or you won’t: “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.” If you don’t recognize this little gem, you’ve either never seen Groundhog Day or you’re not a fan of what is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the last 40 years. As the day of the groundhog again approaches, it seems only fitting to celebrate what will almost undoubtedly join Its a Wonderful Life in the pantheon of America’s most uplifting, morally serious, enjoyable, and timeless movies.

When I set out to write this article, I thought it’d be fun to do a quirky homage to an offbeat flick, one I think is brilliant as both comedy and moral philosophy. But while doing what I intended to be cursory research — how much reporting do you need for a review of a twelve-year-old movie that plays constantly on cable? — I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my interest. In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup. On National Review Online’s group blog, The Corner, I asked readers to send in their views on the film. Over 200 e-mails later I had learned that countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on “The Hidden God: Film and Faith” two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.” Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, “It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world.”

I know what you’re thinking: We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,” right? Yep, that’s the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that’s what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.”
That may be going overboard, but something important is going on here. What is it about this ostensibly farcical film about a wisecracking weatherman that speaks to so many on such a deep spiritual level?


A recap is in order. Bill Murray, the movie’s indispensible and perfect lead, plays Phil Connors, a Pittsburgh weatherman with delusions of grandeur (he unselfconsciously refers to himself as “the talent”). Accompanied by his producer and love interest, Rita (played by Andie MacDowell), and a cameraman (Chris Elliott), Connors goes on assignment to cover the Groundhog Day festival in Punxsutawney, Pa., at which “Punxsutawney Phil” — a real groundhog — comes out of his hole to reveal how much longer winter will last. Connors believes he’s too good for the assignment — and for Punxsutawney, Pittsburgh, and everything in between. He is a thoroughly postmodern man: arrogant, world-weary, and contemptuous without cause.
Rita tells Phil that people love the groundhog story, to which he responds, “People like blood sausage, too, people are morons.” Later, at the Groundhog Festival, she tells him: “You’re missing all the fun. These people are great! Some of them have been partying all night long. They sing songs ’til they get too cold and then they go sit by the fire and get warm and then they come back and sing some more.” Phil replies, “Yeah, they’re hicks, Rita.”

Phil does his reporting schtick when the groundhog emerges and plans to head home as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, a blizzard stops him at the outskirts of town. A state trooper explains that the highway’s closed: “Don’t you watch the weather reports?” the cop asks. Connors replies (blasphemously, according to some), “I make the weather!” Moving on, the cop explains he can either turn around to Punxsutawney or freeze to death. “Which is it?” he asks. Connors answers, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” Reluctantly returning to Punxsutawney, Connors spends another night in a sweet little bed and breakfast run by the sort of un-ironic, un-hip, decent folks he considers hicks.

The next morning, the clock radio in his room goes off and he hears the same radio show he’d heard the day before, complete with a broadcast of “I Got You Babe” and the declaration, “It’s Groundhog Day!” At first, Connors believes it’s an amateurish gaffe by a second-rate radio station. But slowly he discovers it’s the same day all over again. “What if there is no tomorrow?” he asks. “There wasn’t one today!”

And this is the plot device for the whole film, which has seeped into the larger culture. Indeed, “Groundhog Day” has become shorthand for (translating nicely) “same stuff, different day.” Troops in Iraq regularly use it as a rough synonym for “snafu,” which (also translated nicely) means “situation normal: all fouled-up.” Connors spends an unknown number of days repeating the exact same day over and over again. Everyone else experiences that day for the “first” time, while Connors experiences it with Sisyphean repetition. Estimates vary on how many actual Groundhog Days Connors endures. We see him relive 34 of them. But many more are implied. According to Harold Ramis, the co-writer and director, the original script called for him to endure 10,000 years in Punxsutawney, but it was probably closer to ten.

But this is a small mystery. A far more important one is why the day repeats itself and why it stops repeating at the end. Because the viewer is left to draw his own conclusions, we have what many believe is the best cinematic moral allegory popular culture has produced in decades — perhaps ever.

Interpretations of this central mystery vary. But central to all is a morally complicated and powerful story arc to the main character. When Phil Connors arrives in Punxsutawney, he’s a perfect representative of the Seinfeld generation: been-there-done-that. When he first realizes he’s not crazy and that he can, in effect, live forever without consequences — if there’s no tomorrow, how can you be punished? — he indulges his adolescent self. He shoves cigarettes and pastries into his face with no fear of love-handles or lung cancer. “I am not going to play by their rules any longer,” he declares as he goes for a drunk-driving spree. He uses his ability to glean intelligence about the locals to bed women with lies. When that no longer gratifies, he steals money and gets kinky, dressing up and play-acting. When Andie MacDowell sees him like this she quotes a poem by Sir Walter Scott: “The wretch, concentrated all in self / Living, shall forfeit fair renown / And, doubly dying, shall go down / To the vile dust, from whence he sprung / Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”

Connors cackles at her earnestness. “You don’t like poetry?” She asks. “I love poetry,” he replies, “I just thought that was Willard Scott.”

Still, Connors schemes to bed Rita with the same techniques he used on other women, and fails, time and again. When he realizes that his failures stem not from a lack of information about Rita’s desires but rather from his own basic hollowness, he grows suicidal. Or, some argue, he grows suicidal after learning that all of the material and sexual gratification in the world is not spiritually sustaining. Either way, he blames the groundhog and kills it in a murder-suicide pact — if you can call killing the varmint murder. Discovering, after countless more suicide attempts, that he cannot even die without waking up the next day he begins to believe he is “a god.” When Rita scoffs at this — noting that she had twelve years of Catholic school (the only mention of religion in the film) — he replies that he didn’t say he was “the God” but merely “a god.” Then again, he remarks, maybe God really isn’t all-powerful, maybe he’s just been around so long he knows everything that’s going to happen. This, according to some, is a reference to the doctrine of God’s “middle knowledge,” first put forward by the 16th-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, who argued that human free will is possible because God’s omniscience includes His knowledge of every possible outcome of every possible decision.


The point is that Connors slowly realizes that what makes life worth living is not what you get from it, but what you put into it. He takes up the piano. He reads poetry — no longer to impress Rita, but for its own sake. He helps the locals in matters great and small, including catching a boy who falls from a tree every day. “You never thank me!” he yells at the fleeing brat. He also discovers that there are some things he cannot change, that he cannot be God. The homeless man whom Connors scorns at the beginning of the film becomes an obsession of his at the end because he dies every Groundhog Day. Calling him “pop” and “dad,” Connors tries to save him but never can.

By the end of the film, Connors is no longer obsessed with bedding Rita. He’s in love with her, without reservation and without hope of his affection being requited. Only in the end, when he completely gives up hope, does he in fact “get” the woman he loves. And with that, with her love, he finally wakes on February 3, the great wheel of life no longer stuck on Groundhog Day. As NR’s own Rick Brookhiser explains it, “The curse is lifted when Bill Murray blesses the day he has just lived. And his reward is that the day is taken from him. Loving life includes loving the fact that it goes.”

Personally, I always saw Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return of the same in this story. That was Nietzsche’s idea — metaphorical or literal — to imagine life as an endless repetition of the same events over and over. How would this shape your actions? What would you choose to live out for all eternity? Others see Camus, who writes about how we should live once we realize the absurdity of life. But existentialism doesn’t explain the film’s broader appeal. It is the religious resonance — if not necessarily explicit religious themes — that draws many to it. There’s much to the view of Punxsutawney as purgatory: Connors goes to his own version of hell, but since he’s not evil it turns out to be purgatory, from which he is released by shedding his selfishness and committing to acts of love. Meanwhile, Hindus and Buddhists see versions of reincarnation here, and Jews find great significance in the fact that Connors is saved only after he performs mitzvahs (good deeds) and is returned to earth, not heaven, to perform more.

The burning question: Was all this intentional? Yes and no. Ultimately, the story is one of redemption, so it should surprise no one that it speaks to those in search of the same. But there is also a secular, even conservative, point to be made here. Connors’s metamorphosis contradicts almost everything postmodernity teaches. He doesn’t find paradise or liberation by becoming more “authentic,” by acting on his whims and urges and listening to his inner voices. That behavior is soul-killing. He does exactly the opposite: He learns to appreciate the crowd, the community, even the bourgeois hicks and their values. He determines to make himself better by reading poetry and the classics and by learning to sculpt ice and make music, and most of all by shedding his ironic detachment from the world.

Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, the writers of the original story, are not philosophers. Ramis was born Jewish and is now a lackadaisical Buddhist. He wears meditation beads on his wrist, he told the New York Times, “because I’m on a Buddhist diet. They’re supposed to remind me not to eat, but actually just get in the way when I’m cutting my steak.” Rubin’s original script was apparently much more complex and philosophical — it opened in the middle of Connors’s sentence to purgatory and ended with the revelation that Rita was caught in a cycle of her own. Murray wanted the film to be more philosophical (indeed, the film is surely the best sign of his reincarnation as a great actor), but Ramis constantly insisted that the film be funny first and philosophical second.
And this is the film’s true triumph. It is a very, very funny movie, in which all of the themes are invisible to people who just want to have a good time. There’s no violence, no strong language, and the sexual content is about as tame as it gets. (Some e-mailers complained that Connors is only liberated when he has sex with Rita. Not true: They merely fall asleep together.) If this were a French film dealing with the same themes, it would be in black and white, the sex would be constant and depraved, and it would end in cold death. My only criticism is that Andie MacDowell isn’t nearly charming enough to warrant all the fuss (she says a prayer for world peace every time she orders a drink!). And yet for all the opportunities the film presents for self-importance and sentimentality, it almost never falls for either. The best example: When the two lovebirds emerge from the B&B to embrace a happy new life together in what Connors considers a paradisiacal Punxsutawney, Connors declares, “Let’s live here!” They kiss, the music builds, and then in the film’s last line he adds: “We’ll rent to start.”

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, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Big-Government Republicans

By Andrew C. McCarthy
February 2, 2012

House Republican Leader John Boehner holds up a copy of 'A Pledge to America' while outlining 'A New Governing Agenda' for the 111th Congress at the Tart Lumber Company in Sterling, Va., in 2010. (Larry Downing/Reuters)
Forget the fratricidal warfare between two establishment soldiers so harmonious on substance that their contest, inevitably, has descended into a poisonous, personal food-fight. The problem is not the GOP infighting. The problem is the GOP. Republicans are simply not interested in limiting government or addressing our death spiral of spending.

My weekend column was about the dog-and-pony show that congressional Republicans just put on to snow you into thinking they oppose the $2.4 trillion debt-ceiling increase they actually approved only six months ago. Now, get ready for House Republicans to unveil their $260 billion transportation bill.

The federal government should not be in the transportation business at all. A federal role was rationalized in the mid-Fifties to finance the construction of interstate highways. As National Review’s editors observed in 2005, that project was completed in the early Eighties, at which time the fuel tax that funded it should have been repealed and the upkeep of highways left to the states. “Instead,” they wrote, “Congress morphed the program into a slush fund for some of its most indefensible pork-barrel spending.”

The cover story for this permanent spendathon is that we now have a national highway “system” that ought to be financed by its main users. “Systems” is the abracadabra chanted by the progressives who run both parties when they’re about to pick your pocket. We don’t have a highway “system.” We have 50 states, whose widely varying transit needs are best known, and can be best addressed, by the affected local communities.

Plus, see how easily a “highway system” morphs into a “transportation system.” The taxes that Leviathan confiscates from drivers, purportedly for road construction and maintenance, are actually redistributed to subsidize other forms of transit preferred by progressives — including walking. For that, you can thank Republicans. With a compassionate wink from President Bush, the Republican Congress enacted an obscene $286.5 billion transportation bill in 2005, assigning the act one of those precious Washington acronyms — SAFETEA-LU (who cares what it stands for?). The editors accurately described it as a “monstrosity of wasteful spending.”

SAFETEA-LU featured all the uglies that outraged voters into telling the GOP to take a hike in the 2006 and 2008 elections. These included Alaska’s infamous $250 million “Bridge to Nowhere,” one of the bill’s 6,376 earmarks totaling $24 billion — you know, the sorts of budget-busting recklessness Republicans promised us they’d sworn off in order to get elected in 2010.

One of SAFETEA-LU’s worst aspects — and that’s saying something — was that it blew to smithereens the premise that federal transportation spending must be limited to the federal fuel-tax receipts collected to pay for it. As Red State’s Ross Vought explains, the Republican Congress increased expenditures on transportation by a whopping 31 percent. As the pols well knew, that was leaps and bounds beyond what the fuel tax would generate, especially given that collections flag when spiking gas prices reduce driving.

For households, less money coming in means less spending — you mere mortals must make grown-up choices about what is essential and what must be deferred. That, of course, is not how it works for Congress, regardless of which party is minding the store. Control over other people’s money is power. So once transportation spending broke out of its fuel-tax moorings, there was no going back. Since 2008, as our national debt has zoomed from $10 trillion toward $17 trillion, Vought calculates that Congress has taken an astounding $34.5 billion from general taxpayer funds to maintain the unsustainable SAFETEA-LU spending levels.

And now that the “Pledge to America” crowd that promised to stop the madness is back in charge, what do you suppose the plan is? Why, to persist in the madness. Team Boehner, whose “pledge” to voters explicitly promised “to stop out-of-control spending and reduce the size of government,” proposes to continue funding transportation at “current levels” for the next five years, which translates to an additional budget shortfall of about $60 billion dollars. So much for decrying “Washington Democrats [who] refuse to listen to the American people and eliminate, restrain, or even budget for their out-of-control spending spree.” So much for warning that, unless Republicans are returned to the helm, “Washington will try to get away with continuing to spend at current ‘stimulus’ levels. We cannot allow that to happen.”

It’s happening. Naturally, conservatives who expected Republicans to do what they promised are apt to go ballistic. So, just as in the debt-ceiling fiasco, the establishment’s plan is to dazzle the rubes with some smoke-and-mirrors. On the debt ceiling, it was phantom cuts that would occur, um, someday. This time around it is a commitment to ramp up oil and gas production, the additional revenues from which, we’re told, will alleviate the transportation burden.

It is a cynical joke, the sort you’d expect from the folks who brought you last week’s debt ceiling “disapproval” charade. Michael Needham, who heads up the Heritage Foundation’s activist arm, Heritage Action for America, put it well: “One of the problems you have in Washington is you take really bad legislation, which the highway bill is, and you put a sweetener in it. That’s what’s going on here.”

Of course we want more energy production — “Drill, baby, drill!” and all that. But energy production is imperative on its own economic and national-security merits. Like federal transportation spending, moreover, it is the kind of “major legislation” that Boehner, Cantor & Co. pledged during the 2010 campaign to “advance . . . one issue at a time.” Yet here they come again, same old GOP, telling us we cannot have what is good and essential unless we simultaneously swallow what is bad and profligate — exactly the practice they promised to end.

Washington should not be involved in transportation at all, but at least there was some sense to the original rationale that tied highway spending to gas taxes. There is no such connection between transportation and energy taxes. And let’s remember Republicans’ fabulous debt-ceiling formula: Obama gets his trillions to spend right away, and we get our billions in spending cuts maybe ten years from now, maybe never. They’re running transportation off the same page in the playbook: Transportation spending pours out by the tens of billions, right on schedule, but the energy revenues, if they materialize at all, are speculative and comparatively paltry — maybe a little over $5 billion, likely a lot less.

That’s a drop in a new $60 billion debt bucket. The rest would have to be made up by more taxes and/or spending offsets. Besides cruising us more rapidly toward Mark Steyn’s Armageddon, the Republican proposal would ensnare transportation more tightly in Washington’s budget web. It is pure fantasy to believe these guys would ever return it to state control.

The brute fact is that today’s Republican establishment does not believe in limited government. “Limited government” is a slogan reserved for campaigns and fund-raising drives. The idea is not to rein in big government; it’s to hold the reins of big government.

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.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

‘Notorious’ (1946) Blu-ray Review: Hitchcock’s Greatest Film Arrives In High-Definition

by John Nolte
February 1, 2012

You wouldn’t know it to read me, but when it comes to my language regarding movies, I am careful. It’s not that I’m overly enthusiastic, it’s just that I really do believe that many films qualify as a classic, a masterpiece, or an epic. I’m more than willing to concede that my threshold might be lower than some others, and in that respect I may be a little too enthusiastic, but that doesn’t mean I throw those words around carelessly.

Something you almost hear from me, though, is “my top 5″ or “my top 10″ or “my top 25.” That description is used for all-time favorites, and represents a pool of about 50 steady titles that, over the years, have fallen in and out of one of those categories. So when I tell you that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 romantic-thriller “Notorious” has been a perennial top 5 of mine for over two decades now, you understand what this film means to me.

There is no other movie that makes me feel as much as this one does. Thanks to the extraordinary performances of two of the most beautiful people ever to stand before a camera, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergmann, “Notorious” throws me on an emotional roller coaster of suspense, exhilaration and, most of all, heartache, for the full 101 minutes. And the reasons are many.

No matter how many times I’ve seen this pulse-pounding story of an American girl with a sordid past who, on behalf of her country, agrees to pretend she’s in love with a man aligned with a group of dangerous post-war Nazis in South America, within the first few minutes I fall deeply in love with Bergman’s Alicia. But that’s the least of it. The thing that wrecks me, thanks to Grant giving one of the greatest performances ever put on film (and again I’m choosing my words carefully), is the emotional grinder Alicia is put through.

Usually, when a love story keeps its lovers apart based on something that remains unspoken between them, the conceit is lazy and maddening to watch. But Ben Hecht’s script is so brilliantly crafted and Grant’s Devlin is so obviously tortured by his own pride (and things we’re never told about but see in his tormented eyes), that we buy into it; which makes for a deliciously agonizing road to a climax so satisfying repeat viewings never diminish the impact.

Alicia’s father is an America traitor, a Nazi sympathizer, sentence to 20 years in prison. Alicia herself is a party girl, a full-blown alcoholic who likes to take men to bed. It’s at one of her many parties where she meets Devlin, a quiet, handsome man she intends to seduce. Only instead of waking up like she usually does, nude, hung-over, and alone, she’s hung-over, dressed, and offered the opportunity to do something for her country.

Alicia tells Devlin she doesn’t give a damn about patriotism, as a response he plays a secret recording of a conversation she had with her father. The truth is that she loves her country, quite a bit in fact, and while she could never turn her father in, it’s clear that nothing will ever convince her to betray America.

The people Devlin works for have been monitoring her and now need her for some kind of top secret mission in Rio de Janeiro. Though Devlin doesn’t know what the mission is, she agrees and during the week they spend waiting for instructions, the two of them fall in love.

It’s obvious Devlin doesn’t want to fall for her, not for someone so striking and vulnerable. This isn’t the kind of woman you have a fling with. This is the kind of woman you either win for life or long for for life. Though not a word of exposition is used to tell us this, Grant’s performance is so pure, we know she terrifies him, and that her past — the drinking and the men — rips him apart inside. As a consequence, he tears away at her. The fact that she loves him, gives him this power, and with an emotional paper cut here and there, he throws her past in her face at every opportunity.

But passion eventually overcomes all until the details of the mission are revealed. A number of well-connected Nazis have fled to Brazil after the war. One of them, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), used to be in love with Alicia. Using her father’s reputation as cover, the plan is for her to reconnect with him in the hopes she can find out what they’re up to.

What follows is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes ever put on film. Just an hour prior, Alicia and Devlin had been blissfully happy in the glow of young, new love. Now they’re alone on the romantic, outdoor terrace of what was going to be their love nest. Devlin explains the mission to her, and they both know what it means; that taking the assignment means she will have to become Sebastian’s lover. Alicia is desperate for Devlin to tell her not to accept. Devlin is just as desperate for her to refuse.

Because this scene is so perfectly crafted, we know that Alicia agrees to the mission because she loves Devlin. More importantly, we know Devlin knows this and yet he still resents her for it. And what will follow is the fullest expression of human anguish you will ever experience through the medium of the motion pictures.

Forget the classic elegance of Hitchcock’s shooting style and even the impossibly suspenseful sequence that involves the key to a wine cellar. All of that is wonderful, classic moviemaking to be sure, but nothing compares to the closing sequence, when every bit of emotional and storytelling track that’s been laid, pays off with unparalleled precision. The hero saves the girl. The hero saves himself. The hero gets the girl. The hero redeems himself. The hero defeats the bad guy.

And those of us watching are left breathless.

“Notorious” is not only Hitchcock’s masterpiece, it is Hollywood’s masterpiece. It is as though the movie gods poured everything that made the Golden Era the Golden Era into a bottle, shook it up, distilled it over a flame, and found the essence, the formula … the perfection.

“Notorious” is available at

First, they came for the Catholics

My latest column examines the Obama administration’s continuing war on religious health care professionals, which I spotlighted when the ACLU first launched its salvo against Catholic hospitals in 2010. What’s noteworthy now is the united front that Catholic bishops (who have traditionally taken big government positions) are now taking against the Obamacare abortion edict. Better late than never.

The Anchoress and LifeNews have excellent coverage of the controversy — see here, here, here, and here. As I mention below, the Becket Fund is representing two schools suing over the unconstitutional abortion mandate in federal court. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is sponsoring a bill to restore the conscience clause protections for health care providers of faith.

This outrageous power grab is one which both fiscal and social conservative can rally behind. Every one of the GOP presidential candidates should be raising it on the campaign trail, in debates, and media interviews. Send messages to @HHSGov and @WhiteHouse. The grass-roots revolt is growing. NCHLA has a petition and action alert info here.

Where’s the MSM? Mostly AWOL, as usual.

Related news: Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research has finally halted grants to Planned Parenthood.

And: Pfizer recalls 28 lots of birth control pills


First, they came for the Catholics

by Michelle Malkin
January 31, 2012
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2012

President Obama and his radical feminist enforcers have had it in for Catholic medical providers from the get-go. It’s about time all people of faith fought back against this unprecedented encroachment on religious liberty. First, they came for the Catholics. Who’s next?

This weekend, Catholic bishops informed parishioners of the recent White House edict forcing religious hospitals, schools, charities, and other health and social service providers to provide “free” abortifacient pills, sterilizations, and contraception on demand in their insurance plans – even if it violates their moral consciences and teachings of their churches.

NARAL, NOW, Ms. Magazine, and the Feminist Majority Foundation all cheered the administration’s abuse of the Obamacare law to ram abortion down pro-life medical professionals’ throats. Femme dinosaur Eleanor Smeal gloated over the news that the administration had rejected church officials’ pleas for compromises: “At last,” she exulted, the Left’s goal of “no-cost birth control” for all had been achieved.

As always, tolerance is a one-way street in the Age of Obama. “Choice” is in the eye (and iron fist) of the First Amendment usurper.

Like the rising number of states who have revolted against the individual health care care mandate at the ballot box and in the courts, targeted Catholics have risen up against the Obamacare regime. Arlington (Va.) Bishop Paul Loverde didn’t mince words, calling the U.S. Department Health and Human Services order “a direct attack against religious liberty. This ill-considered policy comprises a truly radical break with the liberties that have underpinned our nation since its founding.” Several bishops vowed publicly to fight the mandate.

Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan asserted plainly: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

It’s not just rabid right-wing politicos defying the Obama machine. Pro-life Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania denounced the “wrong decision.” Left-leaning Bishop Robert Lynch threatened “civil disobedience” in St. Petersburg, Florida, over the power grab. Lefty Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote that Obama “botched” the controversy and “threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus” by refusing to “balance the competing liberty interests here.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney blithely denied on Tuesday that “there are any constitutional rights issues” involved in the brewing battle. Yet, the Shut Up and Hand Out Abortion Pills order undermines a unanimous Supreme Court ruling issued just last week upholding a religious employer’s right to determine whom to hire and fire. And two private colleges have filed federal suits against the government to overturn the unconstitutional abortion coverage decree.

Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the non-profit law firm, the Becket Fund, which is representing the schools boiled it down for Bloomberg News: “This is not really about access to contraception. The mandate is about forcing these religious groups to pay for it against their beliefs.”

How did we get here? The first salvo came in December 2010, when the American Civil Liberties Union pushed HHS and its Planned Parenthood-championing secretary, Kathleen “The Shredder” Sebelius, to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions in violation of their core moral commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn.

The ACLU called for a litigious fishing expedition against Catholic hospitals nationwide that refuse to provide “emergency” contraception and abortions to women. In their sights: Devout Phoenix Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who revoked the Catholic status of a rogue hospital that performed several direct abortions, provided birth control pills and presided over sterilizations against the church’s ethical and religious directives for health care.

ACLU and the feminists have joined with Obama to threaten and sabotage the First Amendment rights of religious-based health care entities. The agenda is not increased “access” to health care services. The ultimate goal is to shut down health care providers – Catholic health care institutions employ about 540,000 full-time workers and 240,000 part-time workers – whose religious views cannot be tolerated by secular zealots and radical social engineers.

Is it any surprise their counterparts in the “Occupy” movement have moved from protesting “Wall Street” to harassing pro-life marchers in Washington, D.C., and hurling condoms at Catholic school girls in Rhode Island?

Birds of a lawless, bigoted feather bully together.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Church and the Fiction Writer

Flannery O'Connor
From March 30. 1957

When "The Church and the Fiction Writer" appeared in America in March 30, 1957, Georgia-born Flannery O’Connor had just turned 32. By then her novel, Wise Blood (1952), and her short stories, some of which had appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, The Kenyon Review, The Sewanee Review and Shenandoah (eventually published in A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories [1955]), had gathered national acclaim, though not all critics could locate her genius with any precision. Granville Hicks, for example, wrote in The New Leader of A Good Man Is Hard to Find that "Miss O’Connor regards human life as mean and brutish and that she makes this judgment from an orthodox Christian point of view. But one does not have to believe in original sin to be affected by the stories."

It is not surprising that after one of her priest-friends, James McCown, S.J., recommended her to Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., the literary editor of
America, O’Connor submitted an essay clarifying her views about the relationship of a professedly Catholic fiction writer to the tenets of the Catholic Church. Her taut prose, sensitive both to the mystery of God’s presence in the world and obligations of a writer to his or her task, argues that the faith of a writer does not needlessly limit a writer but provides an "added dimension" to a creative work, which must be judged "by the truthfulness and wholeness of the natural events presented." In her essay, O’Connor measured her argument and her prose carefully, and it is understandable that she was upset that Father Gardiner had altered one of her paragraphs, which we have inserted into the text below in brackets. We publish this original paragraph with our belated apologies.

Patrick H. Samway

The question as to what effect Catholic dogma has on the fiction writer who is a Catholic cannot always be answered by pointing to the presence of Graham Greene among us. One has to think not only of gifts that have ended in rut or near it, but of gifts gone astray and of those never developed. Some time ago, the editors of Four Quarters, a quarterly magazine published by the faculty of La Salle College in Philadelphia, printed a symposium on the subject of the death of Catholic writers among the graduates of Catholic colleges. In response, letters appeared from writers and critics, Catholic and non-Catholic.

This correspondence ranged from the statement of Philip Wylie that "a Catholic, if he is devout, i.e., sold on the authority of his Church, is also brain-washed, whether he realizes it or not" (and consequently does not have the freedom necessary to be a first-rate creative writer) to the often repeated explanation that the Catholic in this country suffers from a parochial esthetic and a cultural insularity. A few held the situation no worse among Catholics than among other groups, creative minds being always hard to find; a few held the times responsible.

The faculty of a college must consider this as an educational problem; the writer who is a Catholic will consider it a personal one. Whether he is a graduate of a Catholic college or not, if he takes the Church for what she takes herself to be, the writer must decide what she demands of him and whether she restricts his freedom. The material and method of fiction being what they are, the problem may seem greater for the fiction writer than for any other.

For the writer of fiction everything has its testing point in the eye, an organ which eventually involves the whole personality and as much of the world as can be got into it. Msgr. Romano Guardini has written that the roots of the eye are in the heart. In any case, for the Catholic those roots stretch far into those depths of mystery about which the modern world is divided--one part of it trying to eliminate mystery, while another part tries to rediscover it in disciplines less personally demanding than religion.

What Mr. Wylie contends is that the Catholic writer, because he believes in certain defined mysteries, cannot, by the nature of things, see straight; and this contention, in effect, is not very different from that made by Catholics who declare that whatever the Catholic writer can see, there are certain things that he should not see, straight or otherwise. These are the Catholics who are victims of the parochial esthetic and the cultural insularity and it is interesting to find them sharing, even for a split second, the intellectual bed of Mr.Wylie.

It is generally supposed, and not least by Catholics, that the Catholic who writes fiction is out to use fiction to prove the truth of his faith or, at the least, to prove the existence of the supernatural. He may be. No one can be sure of his motives except as they suggest themselves in his finished work, but when the finished work suggests that pertinent actions have been fraudulently manipulated or overlooked or smothered, whatever purposes the writer started out with have already been defeated. What the fiction writer will discover, if he discovers anything at all, is that he himself cannot move or mold reality in the interests of abstract truth. The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what is. What is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them.

The Life of Mystery

Henry James said that the morality of a piece of fiction depended on the amount of "felt life" that was in it. The Catholic writer, in so far as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery; that it has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.

To the modern mind, as represented by Mr. Wylie, this is warped vision which "bears little or no relation to the truth as it is known today." The Catholic who does not write for a limited circle of fellow Catholics will in all probability consider that since this is his vision, he is writing for a hostile audience, and he will be more than ever concerned to have his work stand on its own feet and be complete and self-sufficient and impregnable in its own right. When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist.

The limitations that any writer imposes on his work will grow out of the necessities that lie in the material itself, and these will generally be more rigorous than any that religion could impose. Part of the complexity of the problem for the Catholic fiction-writer will be the presence of grace as it appears in nature, and what matters for him here is that his faith not become detached from his dramatic sense and from his vision of what is. No one in these days, however, would seem more anxious to have it become detached than those Catholics who demand that the writer limit, on the natural level, what he allows himself to see.

Nature and Grace in Fiction

If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be something of a Manichean. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence; and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.

We lost our innocence in the fall of our first parents, and our return to it is through the redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography, on the other hand, is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purposes, disconnects it from its meaning in life and makes it simply an experience for its own sake.

Many well-grounded complaints have been made about religious literature on the score that it tends to minimize the importance and dignity of life here and now in favor of life in the next world or in favor of miraculous manifestations of grace. When fiction is made according to its nature, it should reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete observable reality. If the writer uses his eyes in the real security of his faith, he will be obliged to use them honestly and his sense of mystery and his acceptance of it will be increased. To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God; but what is one thing for the writer may be another for the reader. What leads the writer to his salvation may lead the reader into sin, and the Catholic writer who looks at this possibility directly looks the Medusa in the face and is turned to stone.

By now anyone who has faced the problem is equipped with Mauriac’s advice: "purify the source." And along with it he has become aware that while he is attempting to do that, he has to keep on writing. He becomes aware, too, of sources that, relatively speaking, seem amply pure but from which may come works that scandalize. He may feel that it is as sinful to scandalize the learned as the ignorant. In the end, he will either have to stop writing or limit himself to the concerns proper to what he is creating. It is the person who can follow neither of these courses who becomes the victim, not of the Church’s dogmas, but of a false conception of their demands.

[The business of protecting souls from dangerous literature belongs properly to the church. All fiction, even when it satisfies the requirements of art, will not turn out to be suitable for everyone’s consumption, and if in some instance, the church sees fit to forbid the faithful to read a work without permission, the author, if he is a Catholic, will be thankful that the church is willing to perform this service for him. It means that he can limit himself to the demands of art.]

The author must, of course, realize that it is his function, no less than it is the function of the Church, to protect souls from dangerous literature. But in striving to live up to the legitimate requirements of his rut, he will know that not all fiction will turn out to be suitable for everyone’s consumption. If in some instances the Church sees fit to forbid the faithful to read a work without permission, the Catholic author will be thankful that he has been recalled to a sense of responsibility.

The fact would seem to be that for many writers it is easier to assume universal responsibility for souls than it is to produce a work of art, and it is considered better to save the world than to save the work. This view probably owes as much to romanticism as to piety, but the writer will not be liable to entertain it unless it has been foisted on him by a sorry education or unless writing is not his vocation in the first place. That it is foisted on him by the general atmosphere of Catholic piety in this country is hard to deny, and even if this atmosphere cannot be held responsible for every talent killed along the way, it is at least general enough to give an air of credibility to Mr. Wylie’s conception of what a belief in dogma does to the creative mind.

The Added Dimension

A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it. It will, of course, add to the writer’s observation a dimension which many cannot, in conscience, acknowledge; but as long as what they can acknowledge is present in the work, they cannot claim that any freedom has been denied the artist. A dimension taken away is one thing; a dimension added is another, and what the Catholic writer and reader will have to remember is that the reality of the added dimension will be judged in a work of fiction by the truthfulness and wholeness of the literal level of the natural events presented. If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. A purely affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God.

If we intend to encourage Catholic fiction writers, we must convince those coming along that the Church does not restrict their freedom to be artists but ensures it (the restrictions of art are another matter). To convince them of this requires, perhaps more than anything else, a body of Catholic readers who are equipped to recognize something in fiction besides passages that they consider obscene.

Insight Required

It is popular to suppose that anyone who can read the telephone book can read a short story or a novel, and it is more than usual to find the attitude among Catholics that since we possess the truth in the Church, we can use this truth directly as an instrument of judgment on any discipline at any time without regard for the nature of that discipline itself. Catholic readers are constantly being offended and scandalized by novels they don’t have the fundamental equipment to read in the first place, and often these are works that are permeated with a Christian spirit.

It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life, and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the sense of the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost. Fiction, made according to its own laws, is an antidote to such a tendency, for it renews our knowledge that we live in the mystery from which we draw our abstractions. The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if be obeys those, other blessings will be added to his work. The happiest of these (and the one he may presently least expect?) will be the satisfied Catholic reader.

- Flannery O'Connor is the author of, among other works, Wise Blood and A Good Man is Hard to Find. She died in 1964.


Flannery O’Connor & the Christian Novelist, Part 1 -

Flannery O’Connor & the Christian Novelist, Part 2 -

The NYPD Caves to CAIR

January 31, 2012

On Monday, the New York Post reported on a website where would-be jihadists have been “meticulously dissecting” convicted terrorist Faisal Shahzad’s failure to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in 2010. The purpose of this dissection is to improve the chances of the next bomber’s ability to carry out a mission of destruction. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who has distributed these analyses to law enforcement officials, consider them critical in understanding violent jihad. Thus, it is a little more than ironic that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has been brow-beaten by the American left and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to stop showing the anti-extremist film, The Third Jihad to police personnel. Thankfully, some Muslims have seen through the political intimidation. Enter Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).

Dr. Jasser, a devout Muslim, refuses to buy into the conventional “wisdom” embraced by both the New York Times and CAIR, both of whom see any attempt to inform police personnel (or anyone else) about the aspirations of violent jihadism as tantamount to Islamophobia. “Last week’s controversy over the NYPD’s showing of the documentary ‘The Third Jihad,’ which I narrated, has brought horrendous distortion of the film and my body of work against radical Islam,” writes Jasser. “It seems obvious that The New York Times, and in its wake the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg, is buying into blatant inaccuracies peddled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations–a group named in federal testimony as linked to the terrorist organization Hamas and one to which the FBI has broken off all ties.”

Times reporter Michael Powell’s latest article, “In Police Training, a Dark Film on Muslims,” is hardly news. It is essentially the re-telling of a story published by the uber-leftist Village Voice newspaper over a year ago, describing the film as “a full-length color feature, with more explosions than a Transformers sequel and more blood-splattered victims than an HBO World War II series.” The Voice contends the film is a “spectacularly offensive smear of American Muslims.” Powell augments that theme. “Ominous music plays as images appear on the screen: Muslim terrorists shoot Christians in the head, car bombs explode, executed children lie covered by sheets and a doctored photograph shows an Islamic flag flying over the White House,” he writes.

If Mr. Powell has bothered to do anything resembling honest reporting, he might have informed his readers that the flag in question can be found in a picture of a poster held by Muslim radical themselves, demonstrating at the site of the 9/11 terror attack in New York during an anti-jihadist rally on February 1st–2006. Powell further notes that the film was shown even as the NYPD “wrestles with its relationship with the city’s large Muslim community” and, as a result of the film’s dissemination, “members of the City Council, civil rights advocates and Muslim leaders say the department, in its zeal, has trampled on civil rights, blurred lines between foreign and domestic spying and sown fear among Muslims.”

Dr. Jasser isn’t buying it. “The facts outlined in ‘The Third Jihad’ are almost entirely based on documents submitted into evidence by federal prosecutors in the largest terrorism-financing trial in American history, US v Holy Land Foundation, et al.,” he writes. “Those documents show the common Muslim Brotherhood origins of CAIR and many of the other groups courted by most of the US media and many government officials, especially since 9/11. The Muslim Brotherhood may have vast differences with al Qaeda on tactics, but they share the same Islamist, global goals,” he adds.

In the 2008 case, United States v. Holy Land Foundation, where five former leaders of a U.S.-based Muslim charity were convicted on all 108 counts of funneling more than $12 million to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, CAIR was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” As mentioned above by Dr. Jasser, this resulted in the complete severing of ties between CAIR and the FBI. Yet CAIR is nonetheless apparently influencing the NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

According to the original Village Voice article, “Zead Ramadan, president of CAIR’s New York board, said he raised the matter [of the film] with police commissioner Ray Kelly when he saw him at a Gracie Mansion celebration of Eid, the Muslim holy day. ‘I told him we’d had this report about a disturbing movie being shown to police officers. The commissioner seemed concerned, but said he knew nothing about it, that a consultant company handled that part of the training. I said, ‘You should review who your consultants are because this is potentially damaging to the city.’ He said he would take care of it.’”

Taking care of it is exactly what Kelly and Bloomberg did. Kelly, who appeared in the film after agreeing to do an interview in 2007 with the film’s director, Erik Worth, acknowledged last Tuesday through spokesman Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne that he had “personally cooperated” with the film-maker. Brown had originally told the NY Times that Kelly’s participation consisted of old interview clips. The film’s producer, Raphael Shore, emailed the newspaper, detailing Kelly’s cooperation in a 90-minute interview on March 19, 2007. Browne then revised his story, noting that he himself “recommended in February 2007 that Commissioner Kelly be interviewed.”

Yet Kelly apparently couldn’t handle the political pressure inveighed against him, pressure from Muslim civil rights groups (including CAIR) demanding his resignation from the force. Nihad Awad, national director of CAIR, contended Kelly has “disqualified” himself from leading the NYPD. “As leaders of the nation’s largest police department, Commissioner Kelly and Deputy Commissioner Browne’s actions set a tone for relations with law enforcement that impact American Muslims nationwide,” Awad said. “It’s time for change.” As a result, Kelly disavowed his participation in the film. “Commissioner Kelly told me today that the video was objectionable,” explained Browne, “and that he should not have agreed to the interview five years ago, when I recommended it.”

Undoubtedly influencing Kelly’s decision was see-no-Islamist-evil Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg explained that whoever showed the film to police during training “exercised some terrible judgment,” and he vowed to find out who it was. A police sergeant who reportedly made the decision to play it has been reprimanded.

Dr. Jasser is incensed by such political capitulation to the likes of CAIR and its leftist enablers: “I participated in the documentary because we Muslims need to have a true jihad against the radicals who seek to hijack our faith. In this country, millions of us cannot be represented by any single leader or lobby; we are far too ideologically diverse. Political Islam is the lifeblood of groups like CAIR; they will never publicly acknowledge its incompatibility with western liberalism and Americanism. Were Americans ever to finally become educated to the slippery slope between nonviolent Islamism (political Islam) and Islamist militancy, the legitimacy of these Muslim-Brotherhood-legacy groups would evaporate. In fact, many of us who have long sought to take on the Islamist establishment in America formed the American Islamic Leadership Coalition, a group Mayor Bloomberg and the Times would do well to reach out to in the future before trying to apostatize any movies narrated by observant Muslims.”

This is the crux of the issue. For years, CAIR has been granted the greatly undeserved status of “official spokesmen” for the Muslim community at large. That they have remained so in light of their status as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case is appalling. Even more appalling is the fact that the Eric Holder-led Department of Justice declined to pursue further investigations against the 246 individuals and organizations named as unindicted co-conspirators in United States v. Holy Land Foundation–specifically the CAIR and its co-founder, Omar Ahmad, along with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).

Why are we attempting to “build bridges” with suspect Muslim organizations while legitimately pro-American Muslim organizations remain marginalized? Dr. Jasser has the answer. “One of the chief ways that radical Islamists across the globe silence anti-Islamist Muslims is to publicly push them outside of Islam, to declare them non-Muslims, not part of the community (ummah), and so subject them to takfir (declaring them apostates). That is what the vicious distortions about this film do to my work and the work of so many others within the House of Islam who are trying to publicly take on the American Islamist establishment.”

Political statesman Edmund Burke said “all that is necessary for triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy are attempting to do something, as in illuminate both the problem of, and the solution to, the West’s relationship with Islam. That he remains a relatively obscure voice, even as leftists remain naively attached to the machinations of CAIR, et al., is a tragedy.

Unindicted terrorist co-conspirators have no business contributing anything to the national conversation about radical Islam. That they still do speaks as badly of those who take them seriously as it does of the co-conspirators themselves. Perhaps all of their motives should be as “meticulously dissected” as the plans of would-be jihadists.