Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Bookstore That Changed My Life

by Josh Hanagarne
April 26, 2013

Josh Hanagarne is the author of THE WORLD'S STRONGEST LIBRARIAN ($26, Gotham, May 2nd 2013) and is a librarian in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The sign on the door said EXPERIENCED BOOKS. I found the store while wandering around my new neighborhood after moving to Salt Lake City.
The door opened and a guy walking a dog exited. He said, "Go in man, you'll definitely leave with something." This reminded me of the shop in Stephen King's Needful Things. But then, books remind me of everything, and everything reminds me of books.
Inside, the upper floor was about the width of a large elevator. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and were also stacked in piled on small tables. Something brushed against my legs. A grey cat. Another cat, orange and white, perched on one of the upper shelves, looking both bored and judgmental.
I turned a corner and nearly fell into the lap of the elderly man sitting there, reading. He turned his book upside down, set it on the table, and stood.
"I'm Keith Clawson," he said, extending a hand. He wore a plaid shirt, and khaki pants with suspenders.
"I'm Josh. I like your store."
"Really? Why's that?" He smiled. He knew why. I've been told I get glassy-eyed and slack-jawed in bookstores.
At that point, I jerked my head around, flapped my arms a bit, and made a loud noise. "Sorry, I've got Tourette Syndrome," I said. "So while I'm here, when it gets quiet, I'll probably--"
He held up a hand. "Follow me and I'll show you something."
I followed him to what turned out to be the L section, which was about three feet away from the chair he'd been sitting in. He took Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn off the shelf and put it in my hand. "Have you read this?"
"No. I'm guessing I should?" I opened the cover to see if the price was written on the inside cover.
He smiled again and said, "This one's on me. Tell me what you think next time you're in."
"Did you buy something?" my wife said when I walked into our apartment.
"Did you steal it?"
I told her about Mr. Clawson--calling him Keith would never feel right to me, despite his insistence--and she said, "Well he sounds sweet, but try to sneak some money to him next time."
The protagonist of Motherless Brooklyn had Tourette Syndrome. Mr. Clawson gave me that book for me at a time when my condition was worsening and I was handling it poorly. It helped me in ways that I've never been able to put into words.
From then on, I went to Experienced Books at least once a week. From a commercial standpoint, the store was tragically calm. But for a reader like me, having access to Mr. Clawson was like attending Book University. He was just as insatiable for books as I was, but he'd had a head start of several decades.
Sometimes I would say hi and then, if he was engrossed in reading, I'd browse on my own. But most days we'd just sit there and talk, sometimes for an hour. Every time I'd try and apologize for my noisy tics, he's say, "Apologize again and I'm kicking you out, pal." And most days, he wouldn't let me pay for anything.
"I just don't feel right," I would say. "You're running a business here."
He patted me on the shoulder and said, "It's a lot more than that. But whatever it is, it's mine, and I'll run it the way I want." Then he shooed me out the door with another book.
When I mentioned that I had loved the latest Tom Robbins book, he sent me home with Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe, and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
When I came in raving about Something Wicked This Way Comes I left with Geek Love.
When I told him I loved Alice's Adventures Through The Looking Glass he said I might enjoy Aeschylus. I've never understood why he drew the connection between the two.
One day a woman who I believe was his wife was there talking with Mr. Clawson. I heard her say that she had seen a book at the Barnes And Noble down the street, 101 Things To Do With A Cake Mix. She wanted it.
I don't remember if I took a book home that day, but I walked straight to Barnes and Noble and bought a copy of that cake mix book. The next day I went to Experienced Books and, just before I left, dropped it on the table which held the cash register and credit card machine. 
He never mentioned it, but I hope they used it and tried all 101 ideas.
From then on, whenever I'd go to Experienced Books, I'd leave a book on one of the piles. Sometimes it would be one of my own books. Sometimes I'd buy something just to give to his store. Usually I'd just put one of the books he'd given me back on his shelves.
Occasionally his daughter would be there helping out. Whenever she was there, it was a relief to actually pay for the books.
Mr. Clawson introduced me to Cormac McCarthy and Stanley Elkins and Catch-22.
He quoted from The Velveteen Rabbit when I'd ask him if his ailing back was bothering him.
He knew the order of Kurt Vonnegut's books off the top of his head.
He once said I reminded him of Dorothy Parker, whom I'd never heard of. When I took home one of her books, I wondered if I'd ever be as funny as she was.
Most importantly, he was my first encounter with the calling--I think he would have agreed with the word--of the passionate bookseller.

Experienced Books is gone now, and Mr. Clawson's not with us anymore.
But I think of him every time I meet a sharp, dedicated, lovable bookseller. I see his face every time I drive through that neighborhood. Often, when I finish reading something new, I wish that I could ask him what he thought of it.
And I'd give a lot to be able to show him my own book, which talks about so many of the books he introduced me to.
Most of the time when people tell me something changed their life, it's hard to tell if anything has actually changed. But Mr. Clawson and that store changed my life. I'm reminded of that fact every time I walk through my own personal library. I'm reminded of it every time a bookseller recommends something for me to read. And now, most days, I'm able to put the right book in the right person's hand while I'm working at the library.
Mr. Clawson was correct. What he did was much more than simply running a business.
I always felt like his favorite, but I'd guess that you could find a lot of book lovers in Salt Lake City who felt the same way.


The New Yorker
April 26, 2013


George Jones, the man with perhaps the most distinctive and iconic voice in country music, diedon Friday in Nashville at the age of eighty-one.
In the first moments after the news broke, thousands of people reached the same conclusion at the same time, a nice instance of hive-mind solidarity, and the Spotify and YouTube tracking numbers will surely reveal a massive spike for his song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which is one of the great sad songs in the American songbook, written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman. Jones took it to No. 1 on the country charts in 1980. Great artists are always preparing us for their deaths, giving us, through their careers, the tools with which to remember them. But rarely is a song so apt. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the ur-country story song, about a man who’d never gotten over his broken heart. The man kept a picture of his old flame by his bed, and her old letters, where he’d underlined “Every single ‘I love you.’ ” The man had lived in torment, released only by death. The chorus goes like this:
He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they’ll carry him away
He stopped loving her today.
The words are fine, but they don’t do the song, or Jones, much justice. His voice was the source of envy, and sometimes envious parody, among his peers. In its most notable and glorious movement, his voice bent and twanged like the sound an old saw makes when you give it a shake. He found vowels in words where no one had ever seen them before. Other pop singers have possessed what is often called “an instrument,” but Jones’s voice was the closest to making this expression real: it was a thing, like a reliable tool dusted off in an old shed, smooth in places, rough in others. It was like honey that had caught a few specks of dirt.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” came along at a time when Jones really needed it. It had been six years since he’d had a No. 1 hit, and he’d spent most of those, and the ones before it, mired in bouts of brutal, destructive, and massively anti-social alcoholism. Booze ruined his first marriage, and gave the world the notorious tale of how Jones, his car keys hidden by his wife, once left home on a riding lawn mower to put-put down the highway to a liquor store. At his worst, Jones could be a country-music caricature. Later, he made a cruel mess of the nineteen-seventies: alcohol and cocaine left him broke. The stories of Jones’s drunken antics are legion, and while their hard-living, hard-loving particulars might inspire a bit of awe (and gave him cred with rock and punk artists), just ask the women in his life what it was like to live with him. Yet, even in some of his lowest personal moments, Jones created great, signature music. He recorded “Bartender’s Blues,” written by James Taylor, in 1978. His rendering of the chorus, with its “four walls around me to hold my life,” may be the best expression of his incredible vocal gifts—despair and joy fighting out their eternal battle.
The recording sessions for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” took a long time, and were contentious. Jones was capricious and unreliable—other words for saying that he was a drunk. He never liked his nicknames. “Possum” disparaged his middling looks. “No Show Jones” impugned his reliability and professionalism. Both were unkind, and both were deserved. He idolized Hank Williams, and it seemed like he was bound to follow him to an early grave. Yet “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was a hit, and three years later, at rock bottom, Jones quit the drinking and drugs, and lived on for three more decades, making music, recording too many albums, lending his golden voice to innumerable duets. He was Nashville royalty, name-checked by every young country singer with any sense. He’d been married to his fourth wife, Nancy, for those thirty years. In the end, he wasn’t the lonely, regretful man in his most famous song.
Jones’s songs lifted country-music aphorisms to a kind of high art, and his life and now death seem to demand aphorism as well, something blunt and simple like: George Jones was an imperfect man with a perfect voice. He lived like a devil and sang like an angel. Well, sure, but let’s skip that. There have been more interesting country singers, better musicians, and songwriters that have left a more indelible stamp on the genre. George Jones was, like Frank Sinatra, a gunslinger for hire—and he probably recorded as many bad songs as he did good ones. But let’s say, for today, that the good ones won out, and the best are the best there are: sad songs (“Things Have Gone to Pieces”) love songs (“Golden Ring,” with his longtime duet partner Tammy Wynette, who was also his wife and then his ex-wife), funny songs (“The Race Is On”), and silly songs (“The One I Loved Back Then”).
It’s barely after noon on the east coast, probably too early for a whiskey. But later, if you’ve got a moment, pour a couple of fingers and cue up some George. I’d start with one of his earliest hits, “Tender Years,” which was recorded in 1961 but may have been the best thing he ever did. George Jones outran and outlived his shadow for half a decade. He lived a long time. But his best songs are short. “Tender Years” runs at 2:28; you may want to set it on repeat.
Photograph by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty.

The Education of the Romeiki Family

By Daniel Payne
April 25, 2013

The Romeiki Family

One of the great moments in this author's academic career came when I dropped out of public high school to return to homeschool. My mother marched into the principal's office and informed the administration that she would be taking me out.

The principal, a woman who ran the school with all the delicacy of a Hessian dragoon, was visibly indignant. "You can't do that," she said.

"Oh," my mother said, smiling, "yes I can."

And she could, thanks to Virginia's generally permissive homeschooling laws. So I left, free to pursue an actual education instead of a daily helping of public school eyewash.

Years later and across the Atlantic, the Romeike family would believe they had the same unremarkable prerogative: they too wanted to teach their children according to their own beliefs and preferences. Just as my ex-principal had done, the German government told them, "You can't do that." But the German government was serious about it -- the Romeikes really couldn't homeschool their children, at least not if the government had anything to do with it. The Romeikes were presented with quite a lot of challenges: "[They faced high fines and tension with local authorities. At one point, police forcibly corralled the oldest children into a van and delivered them to school."

"Police forcibly corralled..." Is the German government really that bereft of historical awareness?

It is. So the Romeikes fled to the United States; specifically Tennessee, whose homeschooling laws are similar to that of Virginia. They were hoping to seek political asylum due to the fact that their homeschooling was grounded in religious beliefs. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, has argued that the Romeikes are not facing religious persecution in Germany and thus do not qualify for asylum. Their rationale? All homeschoolers in Germany, religious or otherwise, are persecuted in the same way; since the Romeikes aren't being singled out for their religious beliefs, but are merely suffering the same indignities as everyone else, they don't have a case.

Got that? We've gone from a country of "All men are created equal" to "All men are created to suffer equally."

It's hardly surprising that Germany would behave this way. As the Charter Of Fundamental Rights of the European Union points out: the right to education "includes the possibility to receive free compulsory education." One is entitled, apparently, to be forced to do something, a novel concept that could only come out of a European subcommittee on "rights." And it's equally unsurprising that the Obama Administration would argue against a homeschooling family's seeking political asylum; this is, after all, a president who has spent a good deal of his two terms arguing that we need to "invest" more in education, a clever euphemism for "Give public school teachers more money than they already make," and who demanded that all states in the Union raise their dropout age to 18, as if the problem is not enough lackluster education. That the administration would be unenthused by a homeschooling family's plight is not exactly breaking news.

Still, it's a sobering set of affairs. The Romeiki family has received a crash course in how statists approach education: from the Vaterland to the New World, it's all the same. MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry put it best earlier this month: America has had a "private notion of children" up until this point; we haven't had a "collective notion." So we need to recognize that "kids belong to whole communities."

That is to say, kids belong to the state, and the state wants to educate them, and it's not going to take no for an answer. In fact, kids belong so much to the whole community, it can elect to "forcibly corral" them. Who cares about the antiquated "private notion of children?" Less and less people, it seems; and as the Romeikis have unfortunately learned, this is what happens. Even when you flee from a stifling European nanny-state to the Land of the Free, you're still going to face opposition from those who know better.

The whole fracas has laid out perfectly the fundamental brokenness found throughout so much of state-run education: they'll take your kids because they don't approve of the way you want to educate them, and when you move to a country that has a little reputation for liberty and freedom of conscience, the dimwitted bean counters at the top of the government will tell you that your circumstances don't qualify as "persecution." Then what does?

Daniel Payne is a freelance writer living and working in Richmond, Virginia. He blogs at

Page Printed from: at April 27, 2013 - 05:53:17 AM CDT

Obama’s National-Security Fraud

The administration’s Boston explanations don’t add up.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
April 27, 2013

Image of the Tsarnaev brothers captured from a video surveillance feed.

Unlike you, federal government officials are immune from charges of fraud. The executive branch, vested with all of the government’s prosecutorial authority and discretion, is not going to investigate its own operatives for carrying out its own mendacious policies.
That is the story of last week’s Boston Marathon bombing and the frantic efforts of the bombers, the brothers Tsarnaev, to evade capture, shoot it out with police (two of whom they killed), and — we’re now told — detonate more bombs in Times Square.

The Times Square non-attack is quite interesting. The specter of it, projected in the immediate wake of the Marathon murders and maimings, is horrific . . . so horrific that the government, in leaking this tidbit from its botched interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, knew that news media were certain to lead their broadcasts with it. The press would never wonder why they, and thus we, were being told about it.

But why were they told? Remember, the Times Square bombing not only never happened, it never came close to happening. It was, at most, a passing jihadist fantasy, one that the jihadists in question peremptorily dismissed as implausible. The threat was no more real than those that regularly stream out of Islamic-supremacist mosques and, just as regularly, go studiously unreported.

Mind you, there is nothing inappropriate about government officials’ speaking about matters on the public record — such as the allegations lodged in criminal complaints. But the Times Square non-attack is not mentioned in the complaint filed against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In fact, the complaint includes no information from Tsarnaev’s interrogation.

Yet somehow the airwaves are now full of startling revelations from his Miranda-aborted 16-hour post-arrest interview, including not least his confession, and, of course, his assurance, as Allah is his witness, that no one other than he and his Svengali older brother — and certainly no foreign Islamic terrorist organization — had anything to do with their terror spree.

Strange, isn’t it? We are governed by leftists given to finger-wagging about their commitment to due process and the rule of law — they’re not like those bad old warmongering Bushies. Still, here we are in the post-arrest phase of the civilian prosecution the administration was hell-bent on commencing — the phase when due process obliges government officials to remain mum about non-public investigative information that could taint the jury pool and undermine the defendant’s right to a fair trial — and we’re being inundated with stunning confession evidence.

Remember, this is the same crowd that labels the Fort Hood massacre “workplace violence” and won’t honor its victims with Purple Heart medals. To do so, they sniff, might prejudice the objectivity of the trial of a jihadist mass murderer who has publicly announced he’d like to plead guilty. Now, though, in Tsarnaev’s case, government agencies are leaking like sieves.


Because you are being softened up. Steered by its Gitmo Bar veterans and Lawyer Left compass, the Obama administration is executing a massive national-security fraud: the farce that the jihad against America can be judicialized, that civilian-court processes are a better answer to enemy warfare than are combat protocols.

That is why Eric Holder’s Justice Department, together with the FBI, darted into federal court in Boston last Sunday evening to file the complaint against Tsarnaev. Obama was determined to end the public debate over whether the jihadist is a wartime enemy combatant or a mere criminal defendant. As in the case of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and al-Qaeda’s alleged “consigliere,” who was whisked into the country and into civilian court before anyone even realized he’d been captured, the administration calculated that a fait accompli is the best way to impose the president’s deeply unpopular preferences.

So now, the next necessary deception in the campaign is to convince you that — all together now — “the system worked.” In reality, the civilian justice system did not work, and that is because it cannot work — not if the objective is the swift acquisition of vital national-defense information.

It could not be more obvious to an objective, rational person that if the aim is intelligence collection, it is far better to interrogate a terrorist without limitations on time and subject matter, without the interference of a defense lawyer, and without empowering the detainee by giving him plea-bargaining leverage to trade for information. The Obama administration, however, is telling you, with a straight face, that the imposition of civilian due process will produce intelligence just as effectively, if not better.

Most people, of course, realize that this is impossible if Miranda warnings must be given. So the administration rolls out canard No. 1: the “public-safety exception.” The public is led to believe that this exception means agents have at least 48 hours of freewheeling interrogation before Miranda kicks in and the terrorist clams up (upon lawyering up). This is brazenly false.

The public-safety exception is an exceedingly limited end-around. It applies only when arrest is accompanied by an immediate threat to public safety. It is not designed to provide the government with an information-gathering advantage against the arrestee. It is narrowly tailored to address the threat that triggers the exception.

There is no 48 hours. The exception ends when the threat ends — which, in the view of most courts, happens as soon as the detainee is rendered defenseless. This usually amounts to something closer to 48 seconds than to 48 hours. Moreover, the exception is not a license to do an extensive intelligence debriefing; the pre-Mirandaquestioning must be tailored to the threat — along the lines of, “Where is the gun?” or “Where are the unexploded bombs?” The public-safety exception does not cover “Where did your brother get terrorist training in Dagestan?”

For intelligence purposes, the public-safety exception to Miranda does not come close to putting arrest in the civilian-justice system on par with enemy-combatant detention. The administration rightly figures the public does not know this, but to anyone with a passing acquaintance with the relevant law, the suggestion that the two paths are comparable is insulting.

Thus canard No. 2: The judge did it. The administration and its accomplices on Capitol Hill have spread the story that the Tsarnaev interrogation was going just swimmingly when, to the shock of everyone, a magistrate judge barged into the hospital room and Mirandized the terrorist, abruptly ending the hugely successful intelligence effort. This, too, is utter nonsense.

As the Justice Department well knows, the filing of the criminal complaint is the action that vested the federal court with jurisdiction to act. The moment the complaint was filed, everyone involved in that decision knew that the rules of criminal procedure mandated a prompt “presentment” hearing before a magistrate judge, who would be required by statute to advise Tsarnaev of his rights to counsel and to stop speaking with government agents. Indeed, it is customary that the Justice Department prosecutors on the case orchestrate these proceedings as soon as they file the complaint. They make sure a defense lawyer is assigned by the court, schedule a hearing time with the magistrate judge, and arrange for a court reporter and, if necessary, an interpreter.

The whole point of the presentment is to get the arrested person out of the government’s clutches and into the Bill of Rights’ carapace. Moreover, when an arrestee is incapacitated, as Tsarnaev was, it is unexceptional to convene the presentment at a hospital — and the magistrate judge and defense lawyer cannot get into the location where the detainee is held under heavy security unless the Justice Department arranges for that to happen.
It was not the magistrate judge who decided Tsarnaev should be Mirandized. It was President Obama and Attorney General Holder.

That being the case, we are now witnessing canard No. 3: There may have been a few bumps in the road, but we learned everything we needed to know in the Tsarnaev interrogation.

Ridiculous. A competent intelligence debriefing involves weeks, if not months, of questioning. That’s because its aim is to develop a complete threat mosaic and arrange our defenses accordingly. By contrast, a post-arrest interrogation by law enforcement is designed to obtain a confession for use at trial. It is not an intelligence-gathering exercise, which is why its purposes can be served by 16 hours of questioning — and often a lot less.

An intelligence debriefing means following the leads uncovered in the questioning of the detainee, then repeatedly coming back to the detainee for clarification and additional insight as new information is discovered. That is not something that can or should be permitted in the case of a criminal defendant presumed innocent; it is for the extraordinary case of a wartime enemy operative who is part of the forces waging jihad against our country.

Obama and the Lawyer Left know this. 
Anyone who took a few minutes to think about it would know it. But in their twisted conceit that the threat to our nation results not from the enemy’s ideology but from American aggression, they have convinced themselves that American aggression (what the rest of us call national defense) must be hamstrung by civilian due process — that war can be reduced to crime, even if the enemy declines to play by the rules.

So in the effort to tame you into believing civilian due process has proved wildly successful in the Marathon bombing investigation, just as Obama and Holder promised it would, the government is now strategically leaking interrogation details.

Sure it may look like the investigation was a tragicomedy of errors in which our $100 billion national-security edifice, despite investigating Tamerlan Tsarnaev for a year and a half before the bombing, had to ask the public’s help in identifying a picture of him. But look: We stopped a spectacular bombing at Times Square! And sure, there’s a lot of innuendo about Islam and overseas “extremists,” but after 16 hours of penetrating scrutiny we’ve figured out that this was just wanton “homegrown” violence committed by a couple confused kids — the sort of thing that is bound to happen if we don’t crack down on gun ownership and Islamophobia.

The fraud is on. Will we keep falling for it?

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Did we all fail the Tsarnaevs?

The Orange County Register
2013-04-26 13:02:50

One of the most ingenious and effective strategies of the Left on any number of topics is to frame the debate and co-opt the language so effectively that it becomes all but impossible even to discuss the subject honestly. Take the brothers Tsarnaev, the incendiary end of a Chechen family that in very short time has settled aunts, uncles, sisters and more across the map of North America, from Massachusetts to New Jersey to my own hometown of Toronto. Maybe your town has a Tsarnaev, too: There seems to be no shortage of them, except, oddly, back in Chechnya. The Tsarnaevs' mom, now relocated from Cambridge to Makhachkala in delightful Dagestan, told a press conference the other day that she regrets ever having gotten mixed up with those crazy Yanks: "I would prefer not to have lived in America," she said.

Not, I'm sure, as much as the Richard family would have preferred it. Eight-year-old Martin was killed; his sister lost a leg; and his mother suffered serious brain injuries. What did the Richards and some 200 other families do to deserve having a great big hole blown in their lives? Well, according to The New York Times, they and you bear collective responsibility. Writing on the op-ed page, Marcello Suarez-Orozco, Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Carola Suarez-Orozco, a professor at the same institution, began their ruminations thus:
"The alleged involvement of two ethnic Chechen brothers in the deadly attack at the Boston Marathon last week should prompt Americans to reflect on whether we do an adequate job assimilating immigrants who arrive in the United States as children or teenagers."


Maybe. Alternatively, the above opening sentence should "prompt Americans to reflect" on whether whoever's editing America's newspaper of record these days "does an adequate job" in choosing which pseudo-credentialed experts it farms out its principal analysis on terrorist atrocities to. But, if I follow correctly, these UCLA profs are arguing that, when some guys go all Allahu Akbar on you and blow up your marathon, that just shows that you lazy complacent Americans need to work even harder at "assimilating" "immigrants." After all, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were raised in Cambridge, Mass., a notorious swamp of redneck bigotry where the two young Chechens no doubt felt "alienated" and "excluded" at being surrounded by NPR-listening liberals, cooing, "Oh, your family's from Chechnya? That's the one next to Slovakia, right? Would you like to come round for a play date and help Jeremiah finish his diversity quilt?" Assimilation is hell.

How hard would it be for Americans to be less inadequate when it comes to assimilating otherwise well-adjusted immigrant children? Let us turn once again to Mrs. Tsarnaev:

"They are going to kill him. I don't care," she told reporters. "My oldest son is killed, so I don't care. I don't care if my youngest son is going to be killed today ...I don't care if I am going to get killed, too ... and I will say Allahu Akbar!"

You can say it all you want, madam, but everyone knows that "Allahu Akbar" is Arabic for "Nothing to see here." So, once you've cleared the streets of body parts, you inadequate Americans need to re-double your efforts.

There is a stupidity to this, but also a kind of decadence. Until the 1960s, it was assumed by all sovereign states that they had the right to choose which non-nationals were admitted within their borders. Now, to suggest such a thing risks the charge of "nativism," and to propose that, say, Swedes are easier to assimilate than Chechens is to invite cries of "Racist!" So, when the morgues and emergency rooms are piled high, the only discussion acceptable in polite society is to wonder whether those legless Bostonians should have agitated more forcefully for federally mandated after-school assimilationist basketball programs.

As Ma Tsarnaev's effusions suggest, at the sharp end of Islamic imperialism, there's a certain glorying in sacrifice. We're more fatalistic about it: After Maj. Hasan gunned down 13 of his comrades and an unborn baby, Gen. Casey, the Army's chief of staff, assured us that it could have been a whole lot worse:

"What happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy, but I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here."

What happened at Boston was a "tragedy," but it would be an even greater tragedy if there were to be any honest discussion of immigration policy, or Islam, or anything else that matters.

Speaking of glorying in blood, in Philadelphia, the Kermit Gosnell defense rested, without calling either the defendant or any witness to the stand. As I wrote last week, "Doctor" Gosnell is accused of cutting the spinal columns and suctioning out the brains of fully delivered babies. The blogger Pundette listed some questions she would have liked the "doctor" to be asked:

"Why did you chop off and preserve baby hands and feet and display them in jars?"

There seems to be no compelling medical reason for Gosnell's extensive collection, but bottled baby feet certainly make a novelty paperweight or doorstop. "I think we already know the answer," wrote the Pundette. "He enjoyed it."

Unlike the Boston bombings, even the New York Times op-ed team can't figure out a line on this. Better to look away, and ignore the story. America is the abortion mill of the developed world. In Western Europe, the state is yet squeamish enough to insist that the act be confined to 12 weeks (France) or 13 (Italy), with mandatory counseling (Germany), or up to 18 if approved by a government "commission" (Norway). Granted, many of these "safeguards" are pro forma and honored in the breach, but that's preferable to America, where they're honored in the breech, and the distinction between abortion and infanticide depends on whether the "doctor" gets to the baby's skull before it's cleared the cervix. The Washington Examiner's Timothy Carney sat in on a conference call with Dr. Tracy Weitz of the University of California, San Francisco:

"When a procedure that usually involves the collapsing of the skull is done, it's usually done when the fetus is still in the uterus, not when the fetus has been delivered. ... So, in terms of thinking about the difference between the way abortion providers who do later abortions in the United States practice, and this particular practice, they are completely worlds apart."

Technically, they're only inches apart. So what's the big deal? The skull is collapsed in order to make it easier to clear the cervix. Once a healthy baby is out on the table and you cut his spinal column, there's no need to suck out his brains and cave in his skull. But "Dr." Gosnell seems to have got a kick out of it, so why not?

You can understand why American progressivism would rather avert its gaze. Out there among the abortion absolutists, they're happy to chit-chat about the acceptable parameters of the "collapsing of the skull," but the informed general-interest reader would rather it all stayed at the woozy, blurry "woman's right to choose" level.

We're collapsing our own skulls here – the parameters in which we allow ourselves to think about abortion, welfare, immigration, terrorism, Islam shrink remorselessly, not least at the congressional level. Maybe if we didn't collapse the skulls of so many black babies in Philadelphia, we wouldn't need to import so many excitable young Chechens. But that's thinking outside the box, and the box is getting ever smaller, like a nice, cozy cocoon in which we're always warm and safe. Like – what's the word? – a womb.

The Presidential Wheel Turns

Disaffection for Bush gave us Obama. That explains the new affection for Bush

By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
April 26, 2013

Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 because he was not George W. Bush. In fact, he was elected because he was the furthest thing possible from Mr. Bush. On some level he knew this, which is why every time he got in trouble he'd say Bush's name. It's all his fault, you have no idea the mess I inherited. As long as Mr. Bush's memory was hovering like Boo Radley in the shadows, Mr. Obama would be OK.

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In an excerpt from a longer interview, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is asked by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution whether he plans to run for president in 2016. "Uncommon Knowledge" is produced by the Hoover Institution for WSJ Live.
This week something changed. George W. Bush is back, for the unveiling of his presidential library. His numbers are dramatically up. You know why? Because he's the furthest thing from Barack Obama.
Obama fatigue has opened the way to Bush affection.


In all his recent interviews Mr. Bush has been modest, humorous, proud but unassuming, and essentially philosophical: History will decide. No finger-pointing or scoring points. If he feels rancor or resentment he didn't show it. He didn't attempt to manipulate. His sheer normality seemed like a relief, an echo of an older age.
And all this felt like an antidote to Obama—to the imperious I, to the inability to execute, to the endless interviews and the imperturbable drone, to the sense that he is trying to teach us, like an Ivy League instructor taken aback by the backwardness of his students. And there's the unconscious superiority. One thing Mr. Bush didn't think he was was superior. He thought he was luckily born, quick but not deep, and he famously trusted his gut but also his heart. He always seemed moved and grateful to be in the White House. Someone who met with Mr. Obama during his first year in office, an old hand who'd worked with many presidents, came away worried and confounded. Mr. Obama, he said, was the only one who didn't seem awed by his surroundings, or by the presidency itself.
Mr. Bush could be prickly and irritable and near the end showed arrogance, but he wasn't vain or conceited, and he still isn't. When people said recently that they were surprised he could paint, he laughed: "Some people are surprised I can even read."
Presidents present and past gathered for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, April 25.
Coverage of the opening of his presidential library Thursday was wall to wall on cable, and a feeling of affection for him was encouraged, or at least enabled, by the Washington press corps, which doesn't much like Mr. Obama because he's not all that likable, and remembers Mr. Bush with a kind of reluctant fondness because he was.
But to the point. Mr. Obama was elected because he wasn't Bush.
Mr. Bush is popular now because he's not Obama.
The wheel turns, doesn't it?
Here's a hunch: The day of the opening of the Bush library was the day Obama fatigue became apparent as a fact of America's political life.
When Bush left office, his approval rating was down in the 20s to low 30s. Now it's at 47%, which is what Obama's is. That is amazing, and not sufficiently appreciated. Yes, we are a 50-50 nation, but Mr. Bush left office in foreign-policy and economic failure, even cataclysm. Yet he is essentially equal in the polls to the supposedly popular president. Which suggests Republicans in general have some latent, unseen potential of which they're unaware. Right now they're busy being depressed. Maybe they should be thinking, "If Bush could come back . . ." Actually, forget I said that. Every time Republican political professionals start to think that way, with optimism, they get crude and dumb and think if they press certain levers the mice will run in certain directions.


The headline of the Bush Library remarks is that everyone was older and nicer.

Jimmy Carter, in shades, with wispy white hair, was gracious and humorous. Anyone can soften with age, but he seemed to have sweetened. That don't come easy. Good for him.
George H.W. Bush was tender. He feels the tugs and tides of history. "God bless America, and thank you very much." He rose from his wheelchair to acknowledge the crowd. That crowd, and the people watching on TV—the person they loved and honored most was him.

Peggy Noonan's Blog

Daily declarations from the Wall Street Journal columnist.
Bill Clinton does this kind of thing so well—being generous to others, especially former opponents. "We are here to celebrate a country we all love," he said. He was funny on how he wanted Mr. Bush to paint him and then saw Mr. Bush's self-portrait in the bath and thought no, I'll keep my suit on. He got a laugh when he called himself the black sheep of the Bush family.
I said everyone was older and nicer. It's occurred to me that the Clintons and both Bushes were president when baby boomer journalists were in their 30s and 40s and eager to rise. Everyone was meaner, both the pols and the press, because they were all young. Now they're in their 60s. When they went through the 9/11 section of the library, the day before the opening, some had tears in their eyes. They understood now what that day was. Young journalists: You're going to become more tolerant with time, and not only because you have more to tolerate in yourself. Because life will batter you and you'll have a surer sense of what's important and has meaning and is good.
President Obama was more formal than the other speakers and less confident than usual, as if he knew he was surrounded by people who have something he doesn't. "No matter how much you think you're ready to assume the office of the president, it's impossible to understand the nature of the job until it's yours." This is a way of seeming to laud others when you're lauding yourself. He veered into current policy disputes, using Mr. Bush's failed comprehensive immigration reform to buttress his own effort. That was manipulative, graceless and typical.
George W. Bush was emotional: "In the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. . . . My deepest conviction . . . is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom. I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart." He then announced that on Saturday he would personally invade Syria.
Ha, kidding. It was standard Bush rhetoric and, in its way, a defiant pushing back against critics of his invasions and attempts to nation-build. Who isn't for more freedom? But that bright, shining impulse, that very American impulse, must be followed by steely-eyed calculation. At the end Mr. Bush wept, and not only because the Bush men are weepers but because he means every word of what he says, and because he loves his country, and was moved. John Boehner weeps too when he speaks about what America means to him. You know why they do that? Because their hearts are engaged. And really, that's not the worst thing.
Back to the point. What was nice was that all of them—the Bush family, the Carters and Clintons—seemed like the old days. "The way we were." They were full of endurance, stamina, effort. Also flaws, frailty, mess. But they weren't . . . creepy.
Anyway, onward to Obama fatigue, and the Democratic Party wrestling with what comes next. It's not only the Republicans in a deep pit.
A version of this article appeared April 26, 2013, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Presidential Wheel Turns.

The true genius of George Jones

By David Cantrell
April 26, 2013

George Jones.
George Jones has long been the consensus pick for country music’s greatest ever singer. No less a country legend than Roy Acuff, whose tearful, gulping singing had been a major building block of Jones’s own style, once allowed, “I would give anything if I could sing like George Jones.” Waylon Jennings said, “If we could all sound like we wanted to, we’d sound like George Jones.” Through the years a who’s who of country stars—Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless, countless more—have in one way or another endorsed the sentiment. Like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash (and Merle Haggard, who recorded fine duet albums with Jones in 1982 and again in2006), Jones has become a modern symbol of old-school country-ness itself. “Don’t rock the jukebox,” Alan Jackson, among his chief contemporary disciples, shouts to the world. “I want to hear some Jones.”
What Jones made sure we heard in his recordings was emotional presence. Singing open-throated but clench-jawed, he sounded restrained and melodramatic, could come off soothing and terrifying, all at once. He sang with deep-down wisdom of just how lowdown it can feel to be a damn fool. Listen to him, for example, on the 1960 hit “Window up Above.” He informs his wife in the song, one of a handful of self-penned classics from early in his career, that he’s seen her kissing her lover in front of the house. “You must have thought that I was sleepin’,” he tells her bitterly. “And I wish that I had been,” he adds, making those seven simple words sound like a suicide note, like a noose he can’t slip around his own neck fast enough. He was a slave to each song’s particular passion just like that. His approach to singing, he told me once, was to call up those memories and feelings of his own that most closely corresponded to those being felt by the character in whatever song he was performing. He was a kind of singing method actor, creating an illusion of the real.
The last time I saw George Jones in person was on a late afternoon in Branson, Mo., sometime in the early 2000s. We’d been scheduled to do an interview together earlier in the day but had gotten our times wrong. His wife Nancy phoned me from a Dairy Queen drive-through to apologize (George craved a Blizzard) and to invite me by the tour bus later to say a quick hello. When I boarded his Silver Eagle a few hours later, Jones had just woken from a pre-show nap and was still wearing a pajama short set, robin’s-egg blue, and his hair, which normally rose as swooping and tall as if it had been styled by Frank Gehry, clung limply down the sides of his head. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and said he was sorry several times in a row for missing our date. In that evening’s fading light, he looked like a little boy.
What he didn’t look like then was the alcoholic honky-tonk singer of legend, or a cocaine-snorting country-soul master with 160+ charting singles to his credit over half a century, or a musical genius. He looked happy and healthy and ordinary. After all those no-show concerts through the years, and the tabloid coverage of his brief marriage to Tammy Wynette, after the car crash a few years earlier that had left him in a coma for several days, I was so glad to see him healthy and happy and ordinary.
If you don’t know George Jones’ music, there are all sorts of places to begin. Some would recommend his 1950s hits, songs like “Why Baby Why” and "White Lightning” that today sound like Hank Williams in a rockabilly band. Others prefer his work from the ’60s, when he recorded so many of country music’s—American music’s—most pained ballads: “She Thinks I Still Care,” “Color of the Blues,” “Tender Years,”” A Girl I Used to Know,” and literally dozens more. My favorite period of Jones’s career, though, was the nearly two decades he spent at Epic Records in collaboration with producer Billy Sherrill. In those years, on cuts like “The Grand Tour” and “The Door” and “Memories of Us,” and on his tragic, heaven-bound masterpiece, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Jones sang in a lower register over more soulful rhythms and to piano-centered arrangements that were sweetened—bitter-sweetened, more like—by orchestra and backing choirs. My favorite of the bunch is probably “A Picture of Me (Without You),” a top five country hit back in late 1972, in which Jones tries to explain how it would feel to be without the woman he loves. “Imagine a world where no music was playing,” he begins. Somehow, impossibly, George Jones makes the music of his voice on that line suggest the loss of music from the world. This afternoon, when news came that Jones had died at 81, it sounded like an epitaph.