Friday, May 27, 2005

Victor Davis Hanson: Our Spoiled and Unhappy Global Elites

From hypocrisy to tedium.
27 May 2005

Not long ago Pepsi Cola’s chief operating officer, Indra Nooyi, gave an address to the graduating class at Columbia Business School. In it, she metaphorically likened America to the middle finger on the global hand.

Denunciations and anger arose from her use of the silly metaphor (e.g., “This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, the United States.…However, if used inappropriately — just like the U.S. itself — the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I'm talking about… So remember, when you extend your arm to colleagues and peoples from other countries, make sure that you're giving a hand, not the finger.”)

Then came her employer’s obligatory explication that she really did not mean what she said. And soon her defenders claimed hypersensitive Americans could not take well-meaning admonishment. Pepsi is a $27 billion company. Those who run it, like Nooyi, make big money from its global sales and take-no-prisoners marketing approach. Pepsi is not known for worrying too much about putting indigenous soft-drink makers out of business. Here at home it does not often allow small businesses to offer both Coke and Pepsi in a spirit of consumer convenience and choice. Roughshod, no-holds-barred business gets such a company to the top — and allows multimillion-dollar salaries for its grandee hardball officers.

Former cricket-star-turned-Pakistani-politician Imran Khan in some ways jumpstarted the Newsweek-induced frenzy when in a May 6 press conference he demanded an apology for the alleged slight to the Koran. “This is what the U.S. is doing,” Khan boomed, “desecrating the Koran.” His mischaracterization, based on a lie, was then beamed across the Middle East — and, presto, Mr. Khan got the anti-American outburst he apparently wanted.Khan may have made his fortune and name in the British tabloids as a cricket star and international playboy of the London salons, a lifestyle that had strong affinities with the West rather than the madrassas. But now he is back in Pakistan crafting a political career and catering to the Islamists, even though religious extremism is antithetical to what allowed him to succeed and prosper abroad. Yet this same demagogue earlier urged Hindu extremists to remain calm during a recent cricket match between India and Pakistan. After all, religious extremism is valuable to beat up the West and the United States — but not to the point that such fervor might endanger playing a Western sport amid frenzied Hindus. Left unsaid is that there is no place for an Imran Khan in the world of the Taliban, where soccer stadiums were used to lynch moderate Muslims, not enrich pampered athletes.

Arundhati Roy, the Booker-prize-winning novelist, has developed a second career critiquing the United States, especially its promotion of the free markets and capitalism that she believes are the catalysts for righteous hatred against America.

Roy doesn’t quite get that the reason that the UK recognizes an Indian novelist like her, writing halfway across the globe — and that she is able to jet over to the United States for lucrative speaking engagements, and that her books are mass-produced and hawked aggressively over global Internet book marts — is precisely the system that this child of capitalism so vehemently detests.

Pakistan, well before 9/11, was the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid, and, in response, its intelligence services created the Taliban that in turn helped al Qaeda pull off September 11. India is making billions from an American free-trade policy that encourages outsourcing business overseas, even if it means the loss of U.S. jobs. Neither country has much of a legitimate gripe against the United States, and surely has not objected that its elites are going to the West to be educated, to profit — and, in these above cases, apparently to master the easy anti-Western rhetoric.

But note the anti-American two-step. Immediately after her silly remarks, the corporate mogul Nooyi provided a recant. Neither Khan nor Roy has vowed to stay out of the U.K. or the U.S., where the Koran is supposedly not respected and where the homeless starve as a result of capitalism — a system that both created and enriched them all and which they apparently love to chide. The anti-Americanism that we frequently see and hear, then, is often a plaything of the international elite — a corporate grandee, a leisured athlete, or a refined novelist who flies in and out of the West, counts on its globalizing appendages for wealth, and then mocks those who make it all possible — but never to the point that their own actions would logically follow their rhetoric and thus cost them so dearly. We might expect that a chagrined Ms. Nooyi would resign from Pepsi since it is the glossy fingernail of the American middle finger that apparently so bothers her. We pray that Mr. Khan will stay among the mobs and rioters of the madrassas and mosques he stirred up. Perhaps novelist Roy can write in an indigenous Indian language, peddle her books at home, and thereby disinvest from this hegemonic system that drives her to fury.

Then there is the director of anti-American films from Denmark, Lars von Trier, who whined, “Mr. Bush is an a**hole. So much in Denmark is American. . . America fills about 60 per cent of my brain. So, in fact, I am American. But I can't go there to vote and I can't change anything, because I am from a small country. So that is why I make films about America.”

Memo to poor head-pounding Mr. von Trier: There is no compelling reason to have anything American in your country — except in the past to expel German invaders you either could not or would not keep out. Simply stop buying American. Don’t watch American movies. Admonish not us, but your own leaders to get out of NATO, pronto — the faster the better. Deny entry to all American troops — and tourists. Embrace the EU. It’s bigger and more populous than the U.S. Create an all-EU defense force. Go for it all!

Above all, be sure that your films are not marketed through any global organization that is either American-financed, directed, or substantiates a Westernized hegemony in the promulgation of intellectual property. Perhaps there are plenty of Danes who would see your films about Denmark at home — and that might cleanse your brain of what you hate, if make you a little less money.

There are easily identifiable constants in these sad examples. Rhetoric is always at odds with lifestyle: A novelist who tours and writes in English is the epitome of the Western liberal tradition that allows freedom of expression, promotes book sales through open markets, and enjoys unfettered peer review. Ms. Roy will always operate deeply embedded in the system she ridicules, and Western grandees will always pay her well for making them feel badly for a few hours. Islamists, Communists, and theocrats — in a Saudi Arabia, Iran, Cuba, or China — would not only not pay her, but might well issue a fatwa, jail time, or a death sentence for what they didn’t like to read or hear.

As a cricketer Khan made a fortune doing what most normal Westerners do not do. By some reports, corporate grandee Nooyi took in $5 million-plus a year — and lives a life that most Americans outside of Greenwich, Connecticut, and without her access to a globalized captain’s seat at PepsiCo could only dream of.

So it is not just the West per se that has enriched these megaphones, but the hard-driving, over-hyped culture of the West, as exemplified by marquee sports, highbrow publishers, and the Pepsi Corporation.

In other words, Khan, Roy, and Nooyi are, by their own volition, knee-deep in the supposed greed of the West in a way that most ordinary Americans surely are not. Maligned Americans on the tractor in Kansas or walking the beat in the Bronx have not a clue about the privileges that a Roy or Nooyi enjoy — and they are not whining, complaining, or biting the hand that feeds them far less well.

No, these ungracious operators all seem to gravitate to, profit from, and then spite the paradigm that created rich global business, media, publishing, and entertainment conglomerates — and themselves.

A second constant is illustrated by director von Traer’s remark: “America fills about 60 percent of my brain.” There is a sort of schizophrenia also common among the “other” who bumps up against the U.S. The extreme example of this syndrome can be seen in bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, who seemed mesmerized and yet repelled by their own thralldom to things Western.

In the case of von Trier, does he ever ask why the U.S. is so obtrusive in his gray matter, and why, for instance, Scandinavia is not — or for that matter a larger France or an even larger Russia? Instead in his movies and outbursts he retreats into the usual racist or exploitative mantra that serves a psychological need of reconciling what you want and enjoy and won’t give up with a feeling of unease and guilt about your own expanding appetite — or exploding brain.

A final suggestion for these unhappy and privileged few: To end your obsessions with the pathologies of America and the West, find a way to create your own alternative sports, literature, corporations, soft drinks, and filmmaking in the non-West.

It is not that we Americans are mad at what you say. It is just that you have all become so hypocritical, then predictable, and now boring — you are all so boring.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is

Mona Charen: Stem Cell Reasoning
Mona Charen (archive)
May 27, 2005

The Kansas City Star, editorializing about the president's threat to veto the stem cell bill passed by the House, described human embryos as the "excess products of fertility procedures." The Los Angeles Times, contemptuous of the president's ethical misgivings, declared: "It's not a choice between a human life and an embryo's life. It's a choice between real human lives and a symbolic statement about the value of an embryo."

The New York Times and others object that majorities in public opinion polls support this research. Is that how we should evaluate moral claims? Majorities also support the judges Bush has nominated, and yet the Times has gone gooey for the "rights" of minority senators and the sanctity of the filibuster.

Critics of the president's position frequently charge that Bush is influenced by religious belief and that, therefore, his objections to stem cell research are illegitimate. The New York Times is the master of this argument. In an editorial titled "The President's Stem Cell Theology," the paper asserts that "his actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation."

Let's have a show of hands: Who thinks the New York Times would object to a president who, say, endorsed unrestricted immigration on moral grounds? Would the Times chide such a president for imposing his private religious sentiments on "this pluralistic nation"? Hardly.

It isn't moral reasoning the Times and other liberal organs dislike, it is moral reasoning that threatens to pinch. Advocates of unlimited stem cell research believe or hope that this science will bring early cures to diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's. Everyone hopes for such breakthroughs -- though level-headed scientists caution against overly optimistic expectations from this line of inquiry. Yet morally serious people cannot focus only on the imagined cures and ignore the hard facts about destroying or cloning human embryos.

The suggestion, repeated so often in the press, that only conservative Christians oppose stem cell research, is simply false. One influential voice against the practice belongs to William Kristol. As editor of The Weekly Standard, he has offered moral objections to stem cell research, euthanasia, abortion and other assaults on the sanctity of life. Kristol is Jewish, but his arguments are couched in non-sectarian -- indeed, in non-religious -- terms.

Steve Chapman, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, dispensed with the sectarian argument in his title: "You don't have to be a believer to think there is something wrong with destroying human life, however immature."

By pigeonholing the president's position as that of a "conservative Christian," cheerleaders for stem cell research hope to avoid grappling with the moral question altogether. The New York Times objects, "The president's policy is based on the belief that all embryos, even the days-old, microscopic form used to derive stem cells in a laboratory dish, should be treated as emerging human life and protected from harm. This seems an extreme way to view tiny laboratory entities that are no larger than the period at the end of this sentence ..."

Yes, it's difficult to think of human embryos ("entities") as members of the human family. But those tiny dots, no larger than the period at the end of this sentence, if implanted in a woman's womb, will not grow up to be paragraphs or essays, but full-term infant boys and girls.

An embryo does not look like a baby, but that is part of the miracle of creation (or reproduction, if you're looking at it clinically). Surely the stem cell enthusiasts can recognize, if they reflect on it, that denying the humanity of others is at the root of countless atrocities in human history.
And yes, many of these potential human beings are being destroyed at fertility clinics around the nation. That is wrong. But using them for medical research does not mitigate that wrong, it compounds it. Even if destroying embryos were certain to bring a cure for grave diseases (and it is far from certain), it is never justified to use one human being -- or even potential human being -- as a source of spare parts for another.

©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (And the Rest of Us)
Marian Wright Edelman, John Kerry, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michael Moore, Jesse Jackson, Dan Rather, Rosie O'Donnell... Charen exposes these and other so-called "Do-Gooders" in her latest book. In fact, she uses their own outrageous words and actions to prove that their schemes to remake society have caused our nation immense harm.

John Podhoretz: Idiocy Over Gitmo

The New York Post

May 27, 2005 -- Can it be? Did Amnesty In ternational, which purports to be the world's leading in dependent monitor of human rights abuses, describe the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times"?

Yes, it did. So let's do a few comparisons between Gitmo and the Gulag — the network of Soviet prison camps set up by Stalin in the 1920s.

Number of prisoners at Gitmo: approximately 600.

Number of prisoners in the Gulag: as many as 25 million, according to the peerless Gulag historian Anne Applebaum.

Number of camps at Gitmo: 1

Number of camps in the Gulag: At least 476, according to Applebaum.

Political purpose of Gulag: The suppression of internal dissent inside a totalitarian state.

Political purpose of Gitmo: The suppression of an international terrorist group that had attacked the United States, killing 3,000 people while attempting to decapitate the national government through the hijack of airplanes.

Financial purpose of Gulag: Providing totalitarian economy with millions of slave laborers.

Financial purpose of Gitmo: None.

Seizure of Gulag prisoners: From apartments, homes, street corners inside the Soviet Union.

Seizure of Gitmo prisoners: From battlefield sites in Afghanistan in the midst of war.

Interestingly enough, even the most damaging charge Amnesty International levels against the United States and its conduct at Gitmo — that our government has been guilty of "entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law" — bears no relation to the way things worked when it came to the Gulag. Soviet prisoners were charged, tried and convicted in courts of law according to the Soviet legal code.

For this reason, Gulag prisoners like Vladimir Bukovsky and Anatoly Shcharansky (later Natan Sharansky) were able to gum up the Soviet legal works by using the letter of Soviet law against their captors and tormentors.

The problem with the Gulag wasn't that the letter of the law wasn't followed — that the prisoners were given "arbitrary and indefinite" sentences. It's that the charges were trumped up and confessions were coerced.

The situation at Gitmo is entirely different. No one argues that, at the very least, the vast majority of those imprisoned there were, in fact, al Qaeda personnel. The problem, according to those who scream about the unfairness at Gitmo, is that the prisoners aren't being treated as lawful combatants under the terms of the Geneva Convention or as prisoners of war.

They have been handled under special terms because they are stateless — because they granted their allegiance not to a country but to a terrorist group and because their nations of origin wouldn't have wanted them back, would have killed them if they had been returned there or would have foolishly released them to foment further terrorist activity.

The people who work at Amnesty International surely know something of the history of the Gulag. After all, the group was founded in part to serve as a watchdog of Communist human-rights abuse. They surely know that even though they might consider the American camp at Guantanamo Bay a terrible violation of human rights, it is a speck on a speck of a mote of dust compared to the Everest of horror that was the Soviet Gulag.

On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe the people who work at Amnesty International really do think that the imprisonment of 600 certain or suspected terrorists is tantamount to the imprisonment of 25 million slaves.

The case of Amnesty International proves that well-meaning people can make morality their life's work and still be little more than moral idiots.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Marvin Olasky: Uneasiness on the Hudson
Marvin Olasky (archive)
May 26, 2005 Print Send

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Two hundred and seventy-two.

That was the number my birthdate drew in a national lottery that meant something, the draft lottery of 1969.

It was sufficiently high that I didn't have to serve. My Yale roommates had low numbers but found ways to avoid military time. We all went to antiwar rallies and looked down on soldiers.

People often ask how often it takes me to write the weekly columns that I've been producing for the past dozen years. With research and writing, typically a day, but it all depends on whether I can approach a subject with an easy conscience or a distressed one.

Here at the U.S. Military Academy, shortly before Memorial Day, plaques like this one are hard to miss: "In memory of those classmates who gave their lives in the service of our country while serving in the Republic of Vietnam." My conscience is not easy, because (dare I write this?) U.S. casualty reports were good news for my comrades and myself. U.S. deaths in Iraq work the same way for some among the left today.

Here at this majestic site on a cliff above the Hudson, it seems that people should measure up to at least this part of the Cadet Prayer: "Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong." I did not: I chose a wrong not only easier but vile. So did the United States in its post-Watergate twitching, as we suddenly withheld arms from our Southeast Asian allies and were thus complicit in the creation of killing fields.

Here, in sight of statues of Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur, Cadet Jon Hendershott explained one of his reasons for entering West Point and planning to serve in the Army for at least five years after graduation: "In a lot of occupations, you don't get a sense that you're helping. In Iraq, we're helping people, solving problems, spreading democracy."

"Helping." It's not a word most people would associate with those generals, but they did lead armies that freed Europeans and Asians from fascism. West Point graduates tried to save the people of Indochina from communism, and they have led the way in freeing Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. So it's true: In a fallen world where terrorists and dictators aim to hurt and enslave innocent people, the United States Army is a helper.

Who are the 4,000 helpers-to-be now bunking in these massive stone buildings? To get here, they need to be much more mature than the typical high school senior. By benches labeled "courage," "perseverance" and "determination," Kelsey Tardieu -- 15 percent of the students are now women -- mentioned that she was valedictorian at her Oregon high school and, along with submitting mountains of paperwork and winning her congressman's recommendation, had to be interviewed by a panel of 10 retired generals and colonels.

To stay here, they need to be disciplined. Students are expected to know the day's lesson before class begins. Since classes are small, they can't hide at the back of a lecture hall. With students and most professors living on campus, even heavy snowfalls don't create class cancellations. And the honor code stipulates that "a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do."

The Academy, unlike most U.S. secular universities now, is not hostile to theistic belief, and students report that they aren't, either. Maybe one reason for religious sensitivity is that many of my 20-year-old Texas students think they have at least 50 years before it's time to think about death. The realization of students here that they may face it in not more than five concentrates the mind wonderfully.

So this hard-to-write column is in honor of West Point and those who died to protect me not only now when I'm grateful, but also a third of a century ago when I was at my worst. And isn't that how Christ dies for sinners?

Marvin Olasky writes daily commentary on Worldmagblog, a member group.
©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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The Religions Next Door Aren't all religions fundamentally the same? To the media, the answer is an obvious "yes" -- but the real answer is an emphatic "no." Now, in The Religions Next Door: What We Need to Know about Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam -- and What Reporters Are Missing, Marvin Olasky tells the truth about non-Christian religions -- and the danger of believing that all religions hold different variations of the same tenets.

Larry Elder: Time For Reverend Sharpton's Apology?

[I cannot believe that a huckster like Sharpton is taken seriously by see him now viewed as any sort of legitimate defender of the downtrodden is just see him granted any level of credibility by the Democratic Party is sickening and see the word 'Reverend' used in any reference to him is laughable. - jtf]
Larry Elder (archive)
May 26, 2005 Print Send

Where is Reverend Al Sharpton's apology?

"Black leader" and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton recently capped off a busy week by demanding apologies from Mexican President Vicente Fox and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Fox, in defending Mexican illegals working in America, said such workers take jobs that "even blacks" refuse to do. Enter Sharpton. He demanded an apology, arguing Fox's words "confirm the stereotype that blacks are the lowest peons in the workforce of this country." Although Fox promptly "clarified" his remarks and told Sharpton that he "regretted any hurt feelings," Sharpton remains unappeased. "If I step on your toe," said Sharpton, "I should apologize. I should not say that I regret that you think your foot hurts."

In Compton, a city near Los Angeles, 10 sheriff's deputies fired 120 rounds into an SUV driven by a black man, after a radio dispatcher described a similar vehicle as having been involved in a shooting. It turns out the suspect had no weapon and was not a murder suspect. Sharpton steamed into town. He demanded an investigation -- an apology was not good enough -- and likened the shooting to the "O.K. Corral."

L.A. County Sheriff Baca apologized, stating, "I know there were too many shots fired. I don't need an investigation to tell me that." But get this. Not only did Baca accompany Sharpton on a shooting scene tour, Baca even said, "I happen to be a big admirer of Reverend Sharpton -- with all his flaws. He is a voice for justice."

A voice for justice? Let's go to the videotape.

Remember how Sharpton burst onto the national scene? He falsely accused then-district attorney Steven Pagones of raping Tawana Brawley. Brawley claimed a white man abducted and raped her, scrawling racial epithets on her body with feces! A grand jury later determined that Brawley made everything up to avoid punishment for staying out too late. Pagones received death threats and threats against his child. A unanimous jury found Sharpton liable for defamation, but it took Pagones over two years to collect Sharpton's judgment. Apparently, Sharpton transferred his assets to his wife's name, paying Pagones only when Sharpton's friends ponied up the money. To this day, Sharpton refuses to apologize.

A voice for justice?

In 1991, Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old black child, was killed in a Crown Heights (Brooklyn) traffic accident, when a car driven by a Hasidic Jew went out of control. Sharpton turned it into a racial incident, leading 400 protesters -- one holding a sign reading, "The White Man Is the Devil" -- through Crown Heights' Jewish section. Sharpton called Jews "diamond merchants," and later said, "If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house." During four nights of rock- and bottle-throwing, a young Talmudic scholar was surrounded by a mob shouting, "Kill the Jew!" and stabbed to death. A hundred others were injured.

A voice for justice?

In 1995, a Jewish storeowner in Harlem was accused of driving out a black storeowner and sub-tenant by raising his rent. Sharpton helped to make it racial. At one rally meant to scare the Jewish owner away, Sharpton said, "[W]e will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business." Following a demonstration three months later, one protestor, an armed black man, stormed Freddy's Fashion Mart, screaming, "It's on now! All blacks out!" The man also set fire to the building, eventually killing himself and seven others. At first, Sharpton denied any moral responsibility, after all, claimed Sharpton, he never spoke at any protest rallies, and therefore could not be held responsible for the climate. But tapes surfaced, showing Sharpton did, indeed, make at least one provocative speech. Sharpton then said, "What's wrong with denouncing white interlopers?" Eventually, he apologized -- for saying "white," not "interloper."

A voice for justice?

In 1983, the FBI filmed Sharpton with an undercover agent discussing a cocaine deal. On the videotape, Sharpton asks, "What kind of time limit are we dealing with?"

"Coke?" the agent asks.

"Yeah." Sharpton says.

The phony dealer says, "Could be about the same time we have 4 million coming to us."

Sharpton: "End of April?"

Agent: "End of April. . . . Is that a good time you think?"

"Probably," Sharpton replies.

The undercover agent offers Sharpton a fee, saying, "I can get pure coke for about $35,000 a kilo. . . . Every kilogram we bring in, $3,500 to you. How does that sound?" Sharpton nods in response.

Sharpton later said that, since he did not know the men with whom he was discussing the drug deal, he was play-acting "out of fear."

A voice for justice?

This bigoted, mean-spirited, anti-Semitic, race-card-playing incendiary regularly appears on cable news shows, where, incredibly, few seem to question his moral authority.

Enough, Reverend Alfred C. Sharpton. It's your time to apologize.

©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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Dublin: Springsteen Fans Stumped as 'Tout" Website Fails on Tickets
Wednesday May 25th 2005

BRITISH fans hoping to see their idol Bruce Springsteen in Dublin last night were left out in the cold after an internet ticket site failed to deliver their tickets.

Hours before the Boss was to take to the stage at the Point, irate concert-goers who booked and paid for their tickets through British-based internet site were told the firm was in the midst of a legal battle and that the High Court in London had served an injunction on it.

Customer service staff then told fans to "try a tout" outside the Point as this was the only way they would get in. Jakki Beedham from Leeds told the Irish Independent she had paid the internet firm almost €600 for a pair of standing tickets - over eight times their cover price. "We'll probably have to pay a lot more than even that for the touts but I'd rather pay over the odds than miss seeing him. He's not just a man, he's a religion," she said, pointing to her Springsteen tattoo.

Ms Beedham and her partner Alan cancelled their summer holiday to scrape together the money to afford the tickets and were first told by the internet site that the tickets would be sent to their home within 3-5 days of the concert.

"I was waiting on hold for 45 minutes before I was told that the tickets would be sent to our hotel instead. When we got to the hotel this morning there were no tickets. I phoned the ticket office again and a woman said that, due to the injunction, there would be no tickets given out for anything.

"She said we'd get a cheque in the post but what use is that to us now that we're here in Ireland having paid for flights, hotels and got the time off work? We're not just fans, our lives revolve around Bruce."

Englishman John Tarrant, who camped at the Point from early yesterday afternoon in the hope of getting a ticket, also got burned by the internet site.

He said he had been told there was a "delay" in getting tickets to purchasers here. First in the queue of fans last night was Stephen Southam from Belfast, proudly clutching his front row ticket. "A friend offered me stg£1,000 for it but I couldn't sell it. These tickets are like gold-dust and I follow Bruce everywhere."

Springsteen's solo and acoustic show at the Point was one of the most eagerly anticipated concerts to be held in Ireland this year, with all 5,000 tickets selling out within three minutes of going on sale last month.

A spokesperson for Aiken Promotions said the people behind londonticketshop were "internet touts" and speculated on whether they ever had any tickets for the concert in the first place .
"They're touts and unfortunately that means that these people have no recourse at all. If they had booked through Ticketmaster at least then we could find their seat numbers."

Breda Heffernan

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Cal Thomas: Moral 'Home Base' Needed

The Washington Times
25 May 2005

I have a new toy. It is a GPS system that takes me where I want to go and tells me how to get there. When I unpacked the device, I first had to give it the location of my "home base." Now when I enter a destination it takes me there without any wrong turns.

That seems an apt analogy in the debate over stem cell research. Is there a fixed point -- home base -- in this debate, or are we to be left to our own devices without any knowledge of where to begin or where the path will lead?

Researchers in South Korea have announced creation of 11 new stem cell lines. They made them by taking the skin cells of children and adults and injecting them into donor eggs. After fusing them with electricity, this product of biological deception divided and became cloned embryos, the cells of which carry the genes of the skin-cell donor.

Congress this week debates several stem cell research bills. President Bush has threatened to veto any that involve using cloned human embryos, no matter how produced.

The victim lobby has been strong. Children and adults with now-incurable diseases have testified before Congress that stem cells might offer them an opportunity for a normal and healthy life.

But science and the give-them-what-they-want-so-they-will-vote-for-me politicians are racing ahead of any fixed moral position, without any kind of tracking to show where this will take us. Perhaps there are other methods that will get us to the destination -- helping people without killing what remains of a moral guidance system.

Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, believes there are other ways to get where we want to go besides cloning and using human embryos or aborted babies. He is introducing a bill this week called the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005. It would create a national program using cells from umbilical cords.

According to the National Cord Blood Program at the New York Blood Center and researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, umbilical cord blood transplants have proved effective for treating patients suffering from inherited immune disorders like sickle cell anemia and leukemia, even when those transplants are from unrelated donors. These are precisely the type of afflictions some believe embryonic stem cells might cure.

If we can make scientific progress toward curing maladies from paralysis to leukemia, but without destroying human embryos, isn't this a win-win for everyone? We preserve at least some value for human life (already severely damaged by our tolerance of abortion on demand), while simultaneously moving ahead with our desire to find cures for various afflictions.

Some politicians like Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Bush are sticking to their principles, refusing to sign legislation allowing taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research. Last week, Mr. Bush said, "I made very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life -- I'm against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it."

Members of the president's party, including Rep. Mike Castle, Delaware Republican, are pushing for embryonic stem cell research. Mr. Bush's refusal to compromise his convictions might strengthen the backbones of any wavering members.

Before rushing headlong into the unknown, we should ask some basic questions: Where is our home base and what is the fixed moral point that will guide us? Who are we -- evolutionary accidents upon whom any and all experiments should be tolerated for the "greater good," or are we something else and someone else's? Who made us -- a scientist in a laboratory dish, a cosmic accident or "our Creator"?

You don't have to be religious to embrace the notion life and rights must come from outside of man for them to be protected and unalienable. To embrace anything less and to kill embryos in order to "save" older and more developed human beings is to embrace an Orwellian philosophy that "death is life." Do we want to travel to that destination?

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Frank Dascenzo: Hebner on Life, Career

The Durham Herald-Sun
May 25, 2005 : 12:28 am ET

Richie Hebner is spitting everywhere. Near his shoes. Near my shoes. On the top of the dugout steps, then near the bottom. Then into the well-ground dirt in front of the Bulls dugout at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

It is an hour and a half before the Bulls hitters will face the best pitcher in the International League, Zach Duke of the Indianapolis Indians. To say Hebner, the Bulls' hitting coach, is nervous would be ridiculous. He was more nervous while watching his daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from Massachusetts over the weekend.
Hebner, who never will lose his Boston accent, tells this neat story about all these balloons which filled the Amherst skies as new UMass grads were about to enter the working world.

"Elizabeth and five friends watch these balloons go up in the air and they all went in separate ways," Hebner said.
Right, balloons go where people go -- in separate ways. It's life. It's the real world. You realize things change and you must change.
"It was almost kind of sad to watch the ballons go different ways," Hebner said.

No philosopher, not even close, Hebner isn't to be sold short. He has a memory to kill for. He saw Roberto Clemente throw guys out at first base -- from right field. Hebner got a World Series ring in 1971 when the Pirates came back after trailing Baltimore, and its four 20-game winners, 2-0. He can tell you where he was when news reached him Clemente had died in a plane crash in the Caribbean.

"I played third base and so many guys tried to go from first to third on his arm. I'd say 'Here comes another sucker. Don't they know this guy?' I could have had a five-course meal sometimes waiting for the guy to slide into third. I mean, Clemente's arm was tremendous. I never had to move my glove when he threw to third -- right on the money.
"I played a year and a half at Forbes Field and he threw two guys out at first base on a base hit to right field. I remember saying to myself, if that ever happened to me, I'd crawl back into the dugout. I'd never seen that before. He was only 38 when he died. He could have played three, four, more years."

Hebner, careful not to swallow that tobacco juice in the right corner of his jaw, spits again.
Of today's players: "They're stronger. When we played, in the 1960s and 1970s, you had a one-year contract. If you didn't perform, you were looking for another job."
Of digging graves and playing hockey, which Hebner did: "I loved it. I loved digging graves and I was a bleeping better hockey player than baseball player. We'd get five people for a high school baseball game and 5,000 for a hockey game. I could hit, sure, but I could score goals. The Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings offered me a contract in 1966."
On playing 18 years, mostly with the Pirates: "I was on the DL once. You were afraid to go on the DL. Somebody could take your job."
On money in baseball: "Money is an awful big thing in this business. It has ruined some players."
On guys who get sent down to the minor leagues: "They have to know to get back, they've got to play well. To me, you've got to earn a big-league uniform"
On job happiness: "I am happy. I missed a lot of recitals, a lot of little league games but I told my wife, if I don't like it, I'll come home and see what Cape Cod looks like in the summer."

And after the game where Zach Duke recorded his 8th IL win: "He keeps it down, is consistent. Let me wait and see what he does. He's 8-2, right? Don't put him in the Hall of Fame yet."
It was almost 10 p.m. on Monday and Richie Hebner spit for the final time -- until the next game.

Have a comment or a suggestion for a column? You may contact Frank Dascenzo by phone at 419-6609 or by e-mail at

Janice Shaw Crouse: Saran Wrap For 'Safe' Teen Sex?
Janice Shaw Crouse (archive)
May 24, 2005

Years ago, the whole country got a laugh out of The Total Woman’s recommendation that wives occasionally spice things up by greeting their husbands wrapped only in Saran Wrap –– the clear, flexible plastic film meant to cover food in the refrigerator.

Today, right-thinking adults should be outraged by the recommendation in the latest “comprehensive” sex-education materials from Planned Parenthood that, for “safe” sex, 8th graders should use Saran Wrap as “protection” when engaging in oral and anal sex.

Excuse me! How did we get to the point where it must be assumed that 8th graders are going to be “performing” oral and anal sex and we have to equip them to do it “safely”? This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the sex education lobby — in its supposed superior wisdom — has been pushing to strip kids as young as kindergarten age of their innocence by insisting that they be taught about every kind of deviant sexual practice long before they are emotionally ready for such information.

Why in heaven’s name should teachers be providing curious 8th graders with ever more detailed information that is bound to encourage the more adventurous or emotionally needy ones to experiment sexually? Why talk about oral and anal sex to children, period? The unspoken purpose is clear and has the fingerprints of the gay lobby and NAMBLA all over it. The FBI publishes A Parent’s Guide to the Internet. Note well how it describes the modus operandi of pedophiles: “These individuals attempt to gradually lower children's inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations.” And millions of parents are letting so-called sex-education experts do exactly this to their children in the classroom without raising any objection. Unbelievable!

It distresses me to think that any sane, caring adult would want classroom discussions of casual oral and anal sex to be a child’s introduction to such a powerful drive as sex. As a woman I am outraged at the idea that anyone — least of all, a teacher — would want to encourage an adolescent girl to be “used” in such a blatantly sexist way by either young boys wanting to experiment or older guys looking for someone gullible enough to give them momentary pleasure?

Eighth-grade girls should be learning the basic elements required for successful adult relationships; good manners, social etiquette, the give and take of negotiation and conflict resolution –– how to respect themselves and each other; not how to use and abuse the opposite sex in throw-away, disposable, meaningless, fast-food-type couplings.

The Saran Wrap recommendation ought to remove any remaining doubts about Planned Parenthood’s agenda and its qualifications to have a voice in determining our school’s sex-education curriculum. Added proof, the interim president of Planned Parenthood, Karen Pearl, complained that President Bush wanted to increase funding for “dangerous abstinence-only programs by nearly 25 percent.” Without a shred of evidence and contrary to numerous studies, Pearl also asserted that these programs “don’t work” and that the President is catering to “ideological extremists.” Adding further confirmation of the Left’s disgusting agenda and its callous disregard of children’s well-being, a coalition of organizations from the ideological Left recently mobilized a campaign to stop federal funding for abstinence programs, though abstinence funding is already a minuscule amount of the total federal money allocated to sex education.

The real “ideological extremists” are those groups who show that they really have not a shred of concern about children’s well-being by pushing programs that encourage risky behavior in the short run that will compromise our children’s long-term future prospects for a good and decent life. Nothing could be clearer than the fact that the programs they design, and try to bully parents into accepting, serve only to short-circuit the development of discipline and character formation, and undermine our children’s ability to learn the delayed gratification and self-restraint needed for a productive, happy life.

Janice Shaw Crouse, Senior Fellow, Concerned Women for America, writes regularly on social and cultural issues.
©2005 Janice Shaw Crouse

Robert Spencer: Taking the Sting Out of Jihad

By Robert Spencer
May 25, 2005

Robert Redford and Paul Newman aren’t in on it this time, but The Sting has become a key weapon in stateside anti-terror efforts. Last week a 68-year-old Pennsylvania man named Ronald A. Grecula went to Houston for a meeting. He told the men he had arranged to meet there that he had “no loyalty for America.” Blaming the U.S. government for his losing a custody battle for his children, Grecula was prepared to build a bomb and sell it to Al-Qaeda for use in the United States.
But Grecula’s Houston meeting didn’t go entirely as planned: the men he met were undercover FBI agents, and Grecula is now under arrest.

Last August, Yassin M. Aref, imam at the Masjid Al-Salam in Albany, New York, was arrested along with one of the mosque’s leaders, Mohammed Hossain. They were allegedly involved in a money-laundering scheme connected to a plot to kill Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations with a shoulder-fired missile. But like Grecula, they were dealing with FBI agents, and are now awaiting trial.

Two months later in Nashville, Tennessee, an Iraqi named Ahmed Hassan Al-Uqaily, who had spoken to a friend about “going jihad” and planning to “blow something up,” took $1,000 out of the bank to buy weapons. According to a Justice Department press release, Al-Uqaily made inquiries about buying “four grenades and two handguns….Al-Uqaily told the individual he wanted two or three machine guns with clips and bullets, as well as ‘missiles.’ After discussing prices for the weapons, Al-Uqaily allegedly expressed an interest in a missile designed for use against a tank.”

But this again was a sting, although Al-Uqaily claimed that he himself was working on a “reverse sting.”

In January 2005, federal agents cooperated with Nicaraguan officials in a sting operation that headed off the sale in Managua of SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles that could have been used to bring down commercial airliners. Another sting led to the August 2003 arrest of Hemant Lakhani, who got caught trying to do the same thing: sell missiles to jihad terrorists. Lakhani is now 69 and awaiting trial in New Jersey, although his severe ill health — he has undergone three operations this year alone — may make a trial impossible. And in March 2004, Ilyas Ali, an American citizen, and Muhamed Abid Afridi, a Pakistani, pleaded guilty to plotting to sell Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They too were dealing with undercover agents.

Six separate cases, six successful sting operations. It is reassuring to see the feds doing their jobs well, preventing the names of Ahmed Hassan Al-Uqaily, Hemant Lakhani, Ronald A. Grecula and the rest from joining those of Muhammad Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari in murderous infamy. It seems as if whenever a would-be jihad terrorist wants to plot large-scale mayhem in the United States, he runs into an FBI agent. If agents are really as thick on the ground as they seem to be from the frequency of these stings, the day will come when one agent will attempt to buy shoulder-fired missiles from another agent, with nary a genuine jihadist in the room.

But of course each of these cases also suggests that a day may come in which jihad terrorists actually succeed in buying shoulder-fired missiles, with nary an FBI agent around, and bring down aircraft with them. They emphasize that there is an unknown number of Muslims in America who are actively plotting the deaths of Americans and the destruction of American institutions -- despite the blanket denials of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the willful silence of media outlets anxious to appease those groups. Media attention tends to focus not on the presence of Muslims with violent jihadist sympathies in the United States, but on the discomfort and pain that law enforcement operations cause for American Muslims.

Unless all these men caught in stings have been framed — as some of their defenders have claimed — their arrests are evidence that that focus is misplaced. After all, virtually every day the news brings us more curious little details: in September 2004, a man arrested by American authorities was found to have a computer disc containing a crisis management plan for the San Diego Unified School District. In late April 2005, firefighters conducting a routine inspection in a Brooklyn supermarket found 200 automobile airbags and a room lined with posters of Osama bin Laden and beheadings in Iraq. An element in the airbags can be used to make pipe bombs. That same week a 19-year-old resident of New York State, Mark Robert Walker, pleaded guilty to charges of trying to aid a terrorist organization. According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “prosecutors determined Walker, who also used the name ‘Abduallah,’ was an administrator of an Islamic Web site that supported the terrorist group Al-Ittihad Al-Isiami.” One official remarked that Walker seemed “like a lost guy who got obsessed with jihad.”

As long as there continue to be young men in the United States who are “obsessed with jihad,” we can all be grateful that the sting operations seem to be going so well. What would complement them perfectly at this point would be a searching and honest public debate about what has made them necessary: what makes young men “obsessed with jihad” in the first place. Only then can we afford to be confident that officials are dealing with the cause, and not just the symptoms, of our present troubles.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch; author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter); and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: Islamic Law and Non-Muslims (Prometheus). He is working on a new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (forthcoming from Regnery).

Pat Buchanan: McCain Sells Out the GOP

May 25, 2005

With the Republican Senate 24 hours away from liberating all seven judicial hostages of Minority Leader Harry Reid and his Democrats, Sen. John McCain stepped in to snatch compromise from the jaws of victory.

We will, said McCain, settle for only three. McCain's Gang of Seven had just engineered a Republican Munich.

As of Monday, Majority Leader Bill Frist had the 51 votes needed to free all seven. Had a cloture vote been taken, all seven Bush appellate court appointees would soon be on their way to the federal bench. Reid's Democratic minority would have been stripped permanently of its power to abuse, delay and kill Bush judges and Supreme Court justices.

After months of painstaking work and press abuse, Republicans were on the precipice of a triumph. The McCain Seven stepped in -- to trade the horse for a rabbit.

Now, instead of Republicans winning all seven and disarming Reid, Ted Kennedy and Co. of their lethal weapon, Democrats agreed to release three hostages, but hold the other four -- and were given a GOP blessing to use their filibuster-veto in "extraordinary circumstances," i.e., should Bush name to the Supreme Court a jurist like William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas.

McCain is doing victory laps on the morning talk shows and assuring us, "The country won." But Dick Durbin and Reid are talking like men who just rubbed Republican noses in the dirt. "The nuclear option is off the table," said Sen. Durbin. Reid was especially gracious: "Abuse of power will not be tolerated, and attempts to trample the Constitution and grab absolute control are over."

As of now, the winners are McCain -- who has burnished his credentials with liberals -- Democrats and the mainstream media, who will lacquer up any Republican who sells out the right. The losers are Bill Frist, the Republican majority, the four abandoned nominees -- now back in limbo -- and George Bush.

In a shot at the president, South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham, who appears to look to McCain as his future leader rather than Bush as his present leader, said: "We're going to start talking about who would be a good judge and who wouldn't. And the White House is going to get more involved and going to listen more."

Not only did Graham dump his party to go with the Gang of Seven and collude with Democrats, he gave credence to the liberal charge that some Bush nominees are indeed beyond the pale.

Graham should state exactly which conservative jurist Bush named who would not be a "good judge." If he believes Bush has failed to consult, or appointed unqualified men or women, why not vote them down, rather than let liberal obstructionists keep their lethal weapon to kill Republican Supreme Court nominees?

What McCain has done is to cobble together a small but controlling block of dissident Republicans to deny the GOP majority its right to rule and run the Senate, except on McCain's terms.

This is a direct challenge to Bill Frist. If he and the GOP majority accept the McCain Compromise, they will invite the contempt of the people who sent them here with a conservative mandate. At that top of that agenda is to remake the federal courts and to terminate the Supreme Court's 50-year tenure as judicial dictator and supreme agent of social, cultural and moral revolution in America.

What ought Frist to do?

Hold a press conference and declare to the party and country that, while the McCain Compromise may bind the seven, it does not bind the Senate, and, as majority leader, he intends to give every nominee to come out of the Judiciary Committee a floor vote. Should any nominee be filibustered, he will move to invoke cloture and shut off debate.

If McCain's Gang of Seven wishes to vote with 45 Democrats to let judicial nominees be filibuster-vetoed, that is their right. But they will have to vote with Reid, Barbara Boxer and Kennedy, and against their fellow Republicans and President Bush.

McCain has thrown down a challenge to Bush, as well. Before Monday, the Democratic minority was dictating which judges would be held hostage and which ones would be released. Now, it is the Democratic minority, plus the McCain Seven, that is doing the dictating.
What Bush should reply is: There is not an extremist among them.

All are men and women of integrity, intelligence and judicial demeanor. I want them all voted up or voted down. To deny them a vote is to do them and the nation an injustice.

If the president and Frist move toughly, and together, they can scatter the McCain gang, get every judge voted on and disarm the Democrats of their lethal weapon. They have the votes. The question is: Do they have the nerve?

©2005 Creators Syndicate

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Saddam Hussein Sponsored Birth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

By adnokronosinternational
adnokronosinternational May 24, 2005
Reprinted at

The number two of the al-Qaeda network, Ayman al-Zawahiri, visited Iraq under a false name in September 1999 to take part in the ninth Popular Islamic Congress, former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi has revealed to pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. In an interview, Allawi made public information discovered by the Iraqi secret service in the archives of the Saddam Hussein regime, which sheds light on the relationship between Saddam Hussein and the Islamic terrorist network. He also said that both al-Zawahiri and Jordanian militant al-Zarqawi probably entered Iraq in the same period. "Al-Zawahiri was summoned by Izza Ibrahim Al-Douri – then deputy head of the council of the leadership of the revolution - to take part in the congress, along with some 150 other Islamic figures from 50 Muslim countries," Allawi said.

According to Allawi, important information has been gathered regarding the presence of another key terrorist figure operating in Iraq - the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "The Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi entered Iraq secretly in the same period," Allawi affirmed, "and began to form a terrorist cell, even though the Iraqi services do not have precise information on his entry into the country," he said. Allawi's remarks come after statements to al-Hayat by King Abdallah II of Jordan over Saddam's refusal to hand over al-Zarqawi to the authorities in Amman. On this question Allawi said: ''The words of the Jordanian King are correct and important. We have proof of al-Zawahiri's visit to Iraq, but we do not have the precise date or information on al-Zarqawi's entry, though it is likely that he arrived around the same time."

In Allawi's view, Saddam's government "sponsored" the birth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, coordinating with other terrorist groups, both Arab and Muslim. "The Iraqi secret services had links to these groups through a person called Faruq Hajizi, later named Iraq's ambassador to Turkey and arrested after the fall of Saddam's regime as he tried to re-enter Iraq. Iraqi secret agents helped terrorists enter the country and directed them to the Ansar al-Islam camps in the Halbija area," he said.

The former prime minister claims that Saddam's regime sought to involve even Palestinian Abu Nidal - head of a group once considered the world's most dangerous terrorist organisation - in its terrorist circuit. Abu Nidal's organisation was responsible for terrorist attacks in some 20 countries, killing more than 300 people and wounding hundreds more. He added that Abu Nidal's refusal to cooperate with Islamist groups was the reason for his death in Iraq, in the summer of 2002.

Thomas Sowell: Liberals, Race & History

May 24, 2005

If the share of the black vote that goes to the Democrats ever falls to 70 percent, it may be virtually impossible for the Democrats to win the White House or Congress, because they have long ago lost the white male vote and their support among other groups is eroding. Against that background, it is possible to understand their desperate efforts to keep blacks paranoid, not only about Republicans but about American society in general.

Liberal Democrats, especially, must keep blacks fearful of racism everywhere, including in an administration whose Cabinet includes people of Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, and Jewish ancestry, and two consecutive black Secretaries of State. Blacks must be kept believing that their only hope lies with liberals.

Not only must the present be distorted, so must the past -- and any alternative view of the future must be nipped in the bud. That is why prominent minority figures who stray from the liberal plantation must be discredited, debased and, above all, kept from becoming federal judges.

A thoughtful and highly intelligent member of the California supreme court like Justice Janice Rogers Brown must be smeared as a right-wing extremist, even though she received 76 percent of the vote in California, hardly a right-wing extremist state. But desperate politicians cannot let facts stand in their way.

Least of all can they afford to let Janice Rogers Brown become a national figure on the federal bench. The things she says and does could lead other blacks to begin to think independently -- and that in turn threatens the whole liberal house of cards. If a smear is what it takes to stop her, that is what liberal politicians and the liberal media will use.

It's "not personal" as they say when they smear someone. It doesn't matter how outstanding or upstanding Justice Brown is. She is a threat to the power that means everything to liberal politicians. The Democrats' dependence on blacks for votes means that they must keep blacks dependent on them.

Black self-reliance would be almost as bad as blacks becoming Republicans, as far as liberal Democrats are concerned. All black progress in the past must be depicted as the result of liberal government programs and all hope of future progress must be depicted as dependent on the same liberalism.

In reality, reductions in poverty among blacks and the rise of blacks into higher level occupations were both more pronounced in the years leading up to the civil rights legislation and welfare state policies of the 1960s than in the years that followed.

Moreover, contrary to political myth, a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But facts have never stopped politicians or ideologues before and show no signs of stopping them now.

What blacks have achieved for themselves, without the help of liberals, is of no interest to liberals. Nothing illustrates this better than political reactions to academically successful black schools.

Despite widespread concerns expressed about the abysmal educational performances of most black schools, there is remarkably little interest in those relatively few black schools which have met or exceeded national standards.

Anyone who is serious about the advancement of blacks would want to know what is going on in those ghetto schools whose students have reading and math scores above the national average, when so many other ghetto schools are miles behind in both subjects. But virtually all the studies of such schools have been done by conservatives, while liberals have been strangely silent.
Achievement is not what liberalism is about. Victimhood and dependency are.

Black educational achievements are a special inconvenience for liberals because those achievements have usually been a result of methods and practices that go directly counter to prevailing theories in liberal educational circles and are anathema to the teachers' unions that are key supporters of the Democratic Party.

Many things that would advance blacks would not advance the liberal agenda. That is why the time is long overdue for the two to come to a parting of the ways.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Steve Morse: In the Shadows, Edge Sharp as Ever

The Edge helps U2 balance its big sound with Bono's big agenda

By Steve Morse, Boston Globe Staff
May 22, 2005

Imagine for a moment what it's like to be the Edge. The U2 guitarist has defined an era's worth of rock riffs and rhythms, making the band one of the most successful of all time. A multitude of modern-rock acts bear his sonic stamp.

And yet Bono -- he of the slicked-back hair and wraparound shades -- gets the glory. When the charismatic lead singer isn't stalking the stages of the world, he's elbowing his way onto the world stage, meeting with politicians and power brokers, rallying for third-world debt relief and AIDS funding.

All the while, the Edge remains the ultimate team player, one who doesn't mind serving as the quiet stoic (his nickname is ''the scientist") to Bono's rabble-rouser. But one has to wonder, does the band ever try to rein in Bono -- just a little? The Edge would be the man to ask.

''There are moments when you question whether it's the right balance between the politics and the music," the Edge acknowledges. ''It's a challenge to make sure the music doesn't become a sideshow to what Bono is doing. But, really, Bono enjoys the music so much more than he enjoys any of the other stuff, so I don't think he'll ever allow it to get too far out of balance.

''If we weren't still making good records and still functioning as a band," the Edge adds, ''I don't think [Bono] would be given the political access that he has."

There's no debate about the potency of U2's latest album, ''How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," which has sold more than 3 million copies since its release last November. Tickets for the band's tour, which comes to the FleetCenter for three nights this week, disappeared in the blink of an eye.

The new album has been called the band's best since 1987's ''The Joshua Tree," but the Edge thinks the new one is even stronger. ''I think side one of 'The Joshua Tree' is an amazing collection of songs, but side two was good but not as great. I'm talking now about pure songs. But I think the new collection, just in terms of songs, is our best-ever record."

''At this point, U2 remains the most vital and important band on the planet," says Carter Alan, the midday DJ for Boston rock station WZLX-FM (100.7) who wrote the unauthorized U2 biography ''Outside Is America," reissued in 1997 as ''The Road to Pop."

''A lot of bands that started when U2 did [in the late 1970s] stopped caring later on, or got sidetracked or taken off course by personal problems, drug problems, or band problems," Alan says. ''U2 has never gotten knocked off their course. . . . They defy the rock 'n' roll model that if you become famous, you self-destruct."

Of course, bands, even the best intentioned, can get sidetracked for a variety of reasons. The Edge says U2 works hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

''Even on this tour, we had to be careful about what the opportunities were in the show to include some aspects of [Bono's] work," says the Edge, whose real name is David Evans. ''Of course, it would be ridiculous not to comment in some way, because it's such a central part of what has been going on for the last while. But at the same time, it's only one aspect to what the show is about. It's become, I think, the central theme in some ways, but obviously there are a lot of songs about other things, so you don't want it to be the entire show."

Bono has always been a firebrand. His political views have informed some of the U2's best songs, from ''Sunday Bloody Sunday" to ''New Year's Day." And while the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. may not be as vocal, they are hardly apolitical.

''We grew up in the punk era," the Edge says, recalling the start of the group in Dublin. ''The first live band I ever saw was Stiff Little Fingers and, you know, the Clash were not long after that. We didn't grow up listening to bands like Led Zeppelin -- the bands that were about pure musicianship. Our first experiences with live bands were bands that had a political awareness, and it always felt natural for us to include it."

U2 didn't get where it is without shaking things up.

''We've always thought, 'Throw it all in there -- politics, sex, religion, spirituality, everything.' And I think it's worked over the years," the Edge says. ''One of our favorite acts was Bob Marley for the same reason. He didn't avoid areas of his life."

The Edge is the first to admit that he's amazed at how much Bono has accomplished personally, especially in his fight to reduce the AIDS pandemic in Africa. ''I think what has been fascinating to Bono, and to me as a close observer of his activities, is to see how some help from key people -- like Bobby Shriver [nephew of John F. Kennedy] and the rest of his advisers -- has helped Bono infiltrate the political system of America and really get some traction. And being, as he describes himself, a 'pain in the [expletive]' for a lot of politicians, it does actually work."

For his part, the Edge is known as the band's technology activist -- and is given credit for pushing U2 into doing an iPod commercial featuring the first single, ''Vertigo," from the band's latest album. The ad ignited some controversy from U2 fans.

''I think the iPod commercial was brave," he says. ''It was taking a chance and we knew it would draw some fire, but I think the vast majority of people understood the reasons why we did -- and that it was partly to support something really good for music, which is the digital distribution system concept. Also, from our point of view, it was a great way to draw attention to our song at a time when it was coming out."

U2 has continued to roll this year. The group won three Grammy Awards and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. ''There aren't many artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year that they win a Grammy," says the Edge, who has stayed fresh musically by listening to many up-and-coming groups. (He likes the guitar sound of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to cite one example.)

''I've always loved U2," says Bruce Springsteen, who inducted U2 into the Hall of Fame, in a recent phone interview. ''I've loved their open heart, the openness of their music, and their willingness to lay it all out on tour. They welcomed the audience in a certain way without allowing it to ever compromise what they did."

U2 has received a few critical knocks on this tour -- notably from a Chicago writer who ripped the ''tired nostalgia" of its first show in that city. The Edge, forever candid, acknowledges that show wasn't the band's best.

''But mostly, I've been very happy with the shows," he says. ''We've tried to mix it up and do some songs we haven't played for years from our early records, and also play a reasonable amount of the new album with some old classics. So far, we're not really playing our big, big songs. I think we might have done 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' just one night, and 'With or Without You' might have been just one night, too. And we put 'Bad' in just a couple of nights ago.

''We're being very selective about the really well-known songs from the past. . . . There's a big debate all the time to get the balance right."

Boston Globe: Bruce Springsteen Interview

The Quiet American
Bruce Springsteen revisits his acoustic, folk-poet side and revels in storytelling on 'Devils & Dust' tour
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff May 19, 2005

On leave from his more raucous, arena-tailored E Street Band, a solo Bruce Springsteen has been playing guitar, keyboards, harmonica, and even a little banjo on his current small venue tour, which hits the Orpheum Theatre for a sold-out show tomorrow. The New Jersey troubadour is promoting a new CD, ''Devils & Dust," which revisits the acoustic, folk-poet side of his nature, heard previously on 1982's ''Nebraska" and 1995's ''The Ghost of Tom Joad."
Reached by phone in the Midwest this week, Springsteen opened up about politics, the war in Iraq, and what it was like to play Fenway Park:

You're in Cleveland. Isn't that where you also did the last rally for John Kerry before the election?

Yes, you're right. I didn't even think about that. But it was quite a night.
Do you talk to Kerry at all now?I've seen him since the election, but just briefly. [Campaigning] was something I was glad I did, and I met a lot of interesting people. There was a lot of hope and idealism. And on the [Vote for Change Tour] I got to play with all those great musicians -- with John Fogerty and Neil Young and Bright Eyes. It was just an amazing musical experience, but what can I say? I would have liked to see it go the other way. I had a couple of weeks where it was, ''Whoa, what happened?'' Then it's on down the road.

You said onstage recently that someone sent you a box of broken albums and a dead chicken as a protest after the election. Was that true?

Well, the dead chicken part I made up. (He laughs.) That was artistic license. The other parts were true, though. Yeah, I had some spirited responses that let me know that I was striking a chord -- and that's what I was out there for.

Some people say that you're tough on the crowd this tour. I've heard you quoted that if you see cellphones in the crowd, you're going to bring a chainsaw out there. And is beer cut off 10 minutes before the show?

I think the concessions do get shut down early on. . . . But I'm trying to present a certain experience. I say those things [about the chainsaw] with humor, but I'm also very serious about my fun. It's just the kind of music it is -- the quiet and the spaces in between the lines are where a lot of the meanings are. So I don't think I'm too hard on the crowd. They know what I'm trying to do. . . . And I've had some of the best audiences of my life on this tour. I thought the ''Tom Joad" audiences were great, but these have been better.

I've seen many critics compare the new album with ''Tom Joad," but what do you think? To me, the new one has more hope and optimism.

I wrote a lot of this stuff during and immediately after the ''Tom Joad" tour. And because I had such a great time on that tour, I thought, well, maybe I'll do another one and continue to play acoustic. Then we started to work with the band again and four or five years went by. So I had this stuff sort of sitting and waiting to be addressed. . . . There are similarities to ''Tom Joad'' in a lot of the narrative storytelling, but the record as a whole, I haven't made it before.

In ''Devils & Dust," the most recent song you wrote for the album, what kind of feedback have you had on that? Have you had any soldiers comment on it? I presume you're referencing Iraq there.

Yes. I haven't received any immediate letters [from soldiers] as of yet, but I'm always kind of behind on my mail. So it will be interesting to see. So far, it's gotten a variety of responses. There are some people it has made angry. . . . I've seen both sides of the coin on it.

Any thoughts on Iraq now? What do you think of the situation? You took a real humanitarian approach in the song.

I was interested in the soldier's point of view of being young and put in a situation where your decisions are all untenable, that you have to make these incredible life-and-death decisions and you have to make them immediately, then you have to live with them for the rest of your life. . . . The Iraq war continues to be a very confusing mess, and I've lived through that before as a younger man.

The most incredible song to me is ''Matamoros Banks," where you took a reverse chronology of an immigrant going back from his death to a happier moment in his life. How did you decide that?

I don't know exactly. I think what happened is that I wrote the first verse [''The river keeps you down"] and normally that would be a final act. Then I had to think, well, this first verse is very powerful. Where do I go with this? I can't go forward, so I have to go back. It sort of defined itself. I don't think I ever tried to make that verse the last verse. Right from the beginning, that line ''The river keeps you down," that's an opening line. You're into the song the minute you hear it.

How about the song ''Reno," about the prostitute? I heard Starbucks turned the record down (for distribution in its stores) because of that.

Well, that whole Starbucks thing was totally blown out of proportion. There were some discussions, but it wasn't a big deal. And I never took any offense. Hey, it was just a particular record that wasn't for them, and that was fine with me.

Down the road, where does the E Street Band fit in?

I've got some band songs in my notebook right now and eventually I'm going to start to demo them and we'll get together and play again. . . . I don't know if it's something I'm exactly going to be doing next, but I hope to be doing it sooner than later. . . . I love playing with the guys and I also love doing this.

Did you hear the Stones are playing Fenway Park this summer? You got things started there two years ago. The difference is that 10 percent of the Stones' tickets are $453 each. (Springsteen charged $75.)

Really? (He laughs). Well, I'm sure they're going to have a good time. All I can tell you is that it was certainly one of the most memorable concerts of our whole work life. First of all, what was going on inside the park was incredible. The audiences were amazing and on the way out, the streets were just lined with kids and fans. I've never seen anything like it in an American city. We just had a great time, and my thanks once again to Boston fans.

Boston Globe: Springsteen Concert Review

Minus the thunder, Springsteen still rocks
By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff May 22, 2005
Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

Bruce Springsteen's new album, ''Devils and Dust," has less of everything his fans relish most: anthems and energy. But it was exactly the absence of those familiar triggers that allowed the musician, whose sold-out show at the Orpheum Friday night was part of a solo acoustic tour, to offer something other than fist-pumping sing-alongs and screaming saxophone solos: a piece of himself.

Springsteen's intimate two-plus-hour set was filled with anecdotes and memories, reflections on the mysteries of parenting and songwriting, and more than a few political comments -- one in particular involving a certain windsurfing incident in honor of audience member John Kerry, whose entrance earned the evening's first standing ovation. But the music (a thoughtful, seasoned blend of new and vintage) and the man (about whom one could say the same thing) were, as ever, closely twined. At his best, Springsteen puts a human face on distant, difficult tales, and in this stripped-down setting the connection between story and storyteller was brought into bold relief.

Having children, and experiencing the primal urge to protect them, inspired him to investigate the idea that Jesus was ''somebody's boy," Springsteen explained before playing ''Jesus Was an Only Son." Parenting was a recurring theme during the concert, and it is on the new album as well. ''Long Time Coming," an exuberant, hopeful tune, followed a discussion about trying to get things right that your parents got wrong, and ''Black Cowboys" explored the fallout of severed bonds between mother and son.

Without the E Street Band in tow, Springsteen's dynamic range was limited, and yet he mustered impressive spirit, both mournful and jubilant. The set began starkly with Springsteen at the harmonium singing ''My Beautiful Reward" while two video screens showed black and white images of his feet pumping the churchlike bellows. Next came a rough, unintelligible take on ''Reason to Believe," during which Springsteen stomped on a wooden board and played distorted harmonica, and ''Devils and Dust," where he fully and fearsomely inhabited the heart and mind of a soldier in Iraq.

At that point ''Lonesome Day" arrived like a breath of air, as did a lush piano version of ''The River," which he introduced as a ''hidden love song" from his catalog. A riveting one-man reworking of ''The Rising," as well as a scorching ''Further On (Up the Road)" and grit-filled ''Real World" revealed an artist who has no need for a large, loud band to help him find boldness and backbone.

Springsteen is one of the few artists who could successfully program a set to feature ''Part Man, Part Monkey" (complete with scathing explication of the current debate about evolution and creationism) back to back with ''All the Way Home," a hip-swiveling ode to second chances, and then segue into ''Reno," a sexually explicit ballad about a heartbroken john and his hooker. The so-called two Springsteens, one folkie and one rocker, are in fact two points on a continuum whose span was on gratifying display Friday night.

Joan Anderman can be reached at

Monday, May 23, 2005

David Skinner Reviews Dennis Leary's 'Rescue Me' & 'The Job'

The Job Without Tears
Denis Leary's short-lived network sitcom was very good, but not as good as his pioneering cable drama.
by David Skinner
05/20/2005 12:00:00 AM

IF DENIS LEARY'S PERFORMANCES came with stage directions, they might say something like: Exhales smoke to punctuate tirade. Flicks cigarette butt as if littering is his right and duty. Chews gum tortuously, trying to exact punishment for every time gum has let him down by revealing alcohol on his breath.

Leary, the actor-turned standup comic-turned television star, seemed for a while to serve no higher purpose (not that I was complaining) than rebuking the overwrought forces of public health and political correctness. His hard-drinking, chain-smoking, potty-mouthed spiel was a middle-fingered salute from America's unreformed regular guys to its armies of yuppified, feminized, new religion, gym-toned improvers.

But it's time to update the file on Leary. With his successful FX series Rescue Me riding high and glorious into a second season beginning June 21, the blue-collar rebel is helping to lead cable television's ongoing charge into entertainment excellence. Which makes the Shout! Factory's DVD release this month of Leary's er-Rescue Me series The Job (4 discs, $49.98) especially timely.

Leary (who also produced and receives writing credit on several episodes) created this half-hour sitcom about a New York police station with veteran writer Peter Tolan, a former writer for The Larry Sanders Show who is also the co-creator of Rescue Me. In the bonus feature interview, Leary and Tolan gripe extensively about ABC's failure to market The Job (which debuted in March 2001 and closed shop a year later), despite the splash it made with critics and audiences.
The sitcom also developed a cult following among the ranks of the NYPD. One such cop told me it was the most accurate portrayal of the police department he'd seen on television. Revisited, the show remains brilliant. And yet deeply flawed. But, however you add that up, it's hard to feel bad about The Job's demise knowing that Rescue Me succeeded it.

The best episodes of the series take problems so ridiculous they could only happen in real life (and many of them apparently did, as Leary's character Mike McNeil is based on the bad habits and detecting successes of real-life cop Mike Charles), then boldly makes them into television. In the pilot, a legless suspect in a wheelchair tries to elude capture and almost succeeds thanks to a steep hill. In another episode, Leary's character gets taken hostage during a grueling moment of incontinence by a non-English-speaking suspect who is hiding out in the downstairs bathroom of the precinct house. When McNeil is sent to anger management class in the sixth episode for assaulting a cab driver, his classroom remarks result in an all-out brawl. The high point of the series is the third-to-last episode in which McNeil's artsy black girlfriend (he is Irish Catholic, living in an outer borough, and married with child) manipulates him into having dinner with her mother and father, who's a minister.

But as good as the writing is, the cast and characters are not uniformly winning. A muffled but hilarious lieutenant in the pilot played by Richard Gant is replaced one episode later by the over-the-top carnival barker Keith David. Standup comic Adam Ferrara as Detective Tommy Mannetti seems to be on hand to simply play "the young guy," which is not as bad as the job of Julian Acosta, who never says a word on the show, only to become the floating ghost of Buster Keaton throughout. Tolan mentions that he conceived of the latter role for the simple reason that it seemed like the precinct house needed more people in it. Not that the show was incapable of finding good roles for good actors: Lenny Clarke (who plays the messed-up Uncle Teddy on Rescue Me) as Frank Harrigan, Diane Farr (Laura on Rescue Me) as Jan Fendrich, and John Ortiz as Ruben Sommariba, all make you wonder if, given another season, The Job might have ascended to a new level of excellence.

First, though, Leary and Tolan would have had to resolve a major contradiction. It was up to Leary's McNeil to carry the gritty, documentary-style show, but the episodic, gag-focused routine fails to make the most of his compulsive character. The consequences of his lies, for example, would be dramatic if they were allowed to play out (as they do, brilliantly, on Rescue Me). But sitcoms are by definition static. Life-changing behavior, of the good or bad kind, would necessitate a changing situation, undermining the structural assumption of the genre. Allowing McNeil's marriage to fall apart, say, under the weight of his adultery would be more realistic, arguably more interesting, but possibly less funny. But by not allowing his infidelity and his pill-popping to really play out, The Job makes his failings too cute, like the neatly parted haircut that, on the show, sits atop Dennis Leary's haggard face. Together, the two don't make sense--though critics applauded the show for having the courage to make its lead character human and potentially unattractive.

Fair enough--anti-heroes require more courage than throwing on another fat-husband/hot-wife sitcom full of jokes as canned as the laughter. But not seeing your anti-hero through to the un-heroic implications of his actions frustrates the natural arc of storytelling. The problem isn't really that network executives lacked the courage to get behind a show about an unattractive character, but that the situation comedy lacks the wherewithal to accommodate the rise and fall of a truly self-destructive person.

Sleeping with a woman not your wife? "That stuff is biblical," says McNeil's partner, Pip, played by Bill Nunn, who also disapproves of McNeil's drug habit. And he's right, but the sitcom cannot handle Old Testament disaster, only short-term shock.

Where The Job failed, however, Rescue Me saves the day. Using a very similar "on the brink" character (Painkillers and "a bottle of Bushmills are all that's keeping me from taking hostages," says McNeil in the opening episode of The Job, a line that could easily be uttered by Tommy Gavin, Leary's faithless alcoholic fireman on Rescue Me), the new show is every bit as funny, but far more compelling. Instead of making Leary's wife a fool who appears on the show only when convenient, Rescue Me makes her a major character, a fed-up ex-wife who lives across the street from his house. And what's true of the wife is true of several characters on Rescue Me, as they move from gag to character drama and back, not to indulge some primadonna's thirst for character development, but to advance the ongoing ensemble drama.

In Rescue Me, Leary has taken his trademark pissed-off character and allowed him to grow into a person of generous proportions, full of faults, and yet ennobled by his struggle to make good on the memory of his fellow firemen who died in 9/11. (One wonders also if by some bizarre logic 9/11 has finally made it easier to show the excremental side of the heroic first responder.) With this touch of grace and the dramatic room to live out the consequences of his actions, Denis Leary's angry white male is developing into a tragic figure both breathtaking and side-splitting. The Job is, at its best, only side-splitting (again, not that I'm complaining), having preserved its main character from his surely tragic destiny.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributor to the blog Galley Slaves, and the editor of Doublethink.

Newark Star-Ledger: Beginning of the End For the Sopranos

Thursday, May 19, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

Dons don't wear shorts except in rehearsal.
It's Tuesday morning, and the cast and crew of "The Sopranos" have descended on Cozzarelli's in Belleville, the unofficial funeral home of the HBO mob drama.

As with all "Sopranos" wakes, most of the cast is on hand. A few minutes before the first rehearsal, some of the supporting actors (Max Casella, Frankie Valli) are already in full wardrobe. Edie Falco strolls over from her trailer with her hair in curlers, while Steven Van Zandt shows up sporting Silvio Dante's hairpiece and Little Steven's concert wear.

Then in strolls Van Zandt's other Boss, James Gandolfini, in black T-shirt, shorts and rumpled hair, trying to polish off his breakfast before the start of what will be a 12-plus- hour day for the actors and even longer for the crew.

Tim Van Patten, director for this episode, pulls the main cast inside Cozzarelli's while another crew member tries to wrangle the extras.
"Where are my wiseguys?" he asks. "Raise your hands if you're non-SAG (Screen Actors Guild)."
It looks like business as usual for "The Sopranos," but before fans get too excited about the return of Tony and Carmela, keep in mind that business as usual for this show includes longer and longer breaks between seasons.

Season 5 ended nearly a year ago, and though production on season 6 began at the end of April, the finished episodes won't air until probably March or April of 2006.

Asked whether he gets questions from fans about when the show will be back, Van Zandt groans, "Only every day!" Aida Turturro says, "We should just wear the T-shirts out all the time," referring to shirts the cast has printed in off-seasons past detailing the return date.

To all those viewers perplexed or angry about having to wait nearly two years between seasons, writer/producer Terence Winter says, "Your patience will be rewarded. If you've enjoyed the show in the past, you'll continue to enjoy it. The reason I think it's so good and it works is we really take the time to craft it. We don't just churn them out."

Winter, who wrote the episode being shot at Cozzarelli's, the sixth season premiere, adds, "Our season is very long, very intense. We have months on end of 15-hour days; we're all really tired. We need time to rest and regroup. This year in particular. David (series creator David Chase) wrote this pilot in 1997, he's been with this thing more than anyone, he needs some time to rest and think about things."

Tony Sirico, his hair already sculpted into the famous wings of Paulie Walnuts, calls the long production hiatus "a little hard to swallow, but when you think of the alternate of not coming back at all, we all raised our hands."
The new season will pick up roughly in real time, about two years after the deaths of Adriana and Tony B. and the arrest of Johnny Sack.

"There will be some changes," Winter explains. "There are certain ramifications to things that have happened in the past. These characters aren't necessarily in touch with their feelings, so there will be old wounds still there, but not necessarily in your face."
And though the actors had been away from these characters for more than a year, few found it tough to readjust.

"It's amazing how quickly it comes back. You get into battle gear here," Van Zandt says, pointing to Silvio's pompadour, "and you're there. By the time you come out of the trailer, a year and a half goes away."

"At the first script read-through, we sat down and all the characters were there at the table," recalls Falco. "The longer you are someone, the easier it is to fall back into them."
An hour after the first rehearsal, the actors return -- Gandolfini now cutting a far more imposing figure in one of Tony Soprano's pinstriped suits and continue working with Van Patten and Winter on the staging of the scene.

The mood is light. Sirico and Joe Gannascoli (Vito Spatafore) study each other's suits to see which has the better tailoring. Gandolfini mocks the new tan on the face of Steven Schirripa (Bobby Bacala), while Schirripa is giving Van Zandt the business about Silvio's fuller, less helmet-y hairstyle.

"It grew overnight, what can I say?" Van Zandt cracks, as Schirripa tries to get the rug to move with a hand-held electric fan. "I haven't had a haircut in a while."

Whatever cut-throat action may happen when the cameras roll, in real life this remains one of the tightest-knit groups on television.

"This show has the lowest rate of turnover in the crew of any show I've worked on," says Van Patten. "It's pretty much 90 percent of the same people who are here. That's rare. People who work on the show love it, are protective about it."

"This show is monumental in my life, and it goes beyond money or celebrity," says Sirico. "It means a lot to me. I put a lot of time and a lot of hard work into it, and it works. It's our family. Everybody on this show, we're really friends. I can't wait to get to work."
The cast goes through the long scene take after take. Gandolfini has particular trouble with a line where Tony replies to Christopher's complaint that the mood is morbid by saying, "This is a funeral home. We're surrounded by death." On one take, he mistakenly says, "We're surrounded by dead people," and Michael Imperioli jumps back and delivers a startled "Where?"
Between takes, Sirico, a reformed ex-con, gives mob etiquette lessons to the other actors on when to kiss and when to shake hands.

"Well, they asked me," Sirico says later, insisting that during his long-ago life of crime, "I was never at mob sit-downs, but I know the way they act."

Huddled in with familiar wiseguys like Gandolfini, Sirico and Imperioli is Lenny Venito, playing a new character called Butter. One actor wonders what role Butter will play in the season.
"He's the new Richie Aprile, the guy we yell at for nine months," Gandolfini suggests, but no one knows especially not Venito.
"This is not only my first day, but my first two hours," he shrugs. "I know what you know."

This need-to-know approach isn't limited to the newcomers. In an attempt to prevent storylines from leaking, no actors have seen more than the script for this episode, and some claim to have only been given the pages featuring their characters. This can lead to some frantic information-sharing, especially for a show where the high fictional death rate means no one's long-term employment is guaranteed.

"We always ask each other, 'What have you heard?'" says Gannascoli, whose character was revealed to be secretly gay last season. "I'm worried. After what I did, it (getting whacked) could happen to me."

"It seems like there's a lot of interesting things this year," says Turturro. "I don't really know what they all are, and if I did, I probably couldn't tell you."

As big a mystery as their alter egos' fates is the future of the series. Chase has declared this will be the final season, but as several actors are quick to point out, he's said that in years past and then changed his mind.

"The most current information I have is that this is the last year, but it's not etched in stone," says Winter. "I think I'll believe it when I'm told it, when we're on the set and they say, 'That's it. Don't come back.'"

The writers are working on the fifth and sixth scripts right now, and Winter predicts a final decision will have to be made by the time they get to episode eight or nine. Chase has kept plans for the series finale entirely to himself "It could end with a giant nuclear holocaust that destroys New Jersey, for all I know," says Winter but no one is eager to hear them.

"I'm trying not to think about it, because for this to end completely is truly depressing," says Van Zandt. "It's a wonderful thing to do. It's a vacation for me, it's a way of relaxing, getting my mind off of work."

"I'm going to wake up in bed one morning and not have an office to go to, and I'm sure I'll break down crying and it'll be a sad and pathetic scene," says Winter. "I've been doing this so long and loving it so long that I'm in denial about it."

Winter's denial is not unique. Sirico is making references to the idea of the long-rumored "Sopranos" movie, even though Chase has said this sixth season is being done in lieu of a film. Imperioli responds to any question about the end by saying he won't think about it until Chase is definitive on the subject. In the event of the worst, Van Zandt is already proposing a Silvio spin-off. ("I'm not kidding.")

Falco, for one, is glad that, "pretend or not," Chase is letting everyone think the show could keep going.

"Because if we all knew all year long that it was the end, there'd be a lot of moping around," she says while having a late lunch in her trailer. "And this way, we're all like, 'Oh, maybe yes, maybe no,' and then episode nine will come; 10; then we'll be done and they'll say, 'Oh, this is really the end,' and I'll be glad I didn't spend the whole year being depressed about it."

Alan Sepinwall can be reached at, or by writing him at 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J. 07102-1200.