Friday, December 02, 2005

Christopher Hitchens: Sticking Up For Saddam

Ramsey Clark admits that his client is guilty.
Posted Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, at 5:51 PM ET

The best defense is ... not this guy
. All must agree that Saddam Hussein is entitled to the best legal defense team, and that it is a very special responsibility of the Coalition authorities to provide cast-iron protection to those who undertake the task. (This remains true even if, as is strongly implied in a Nov. 29 article by John Burns in the New York Times, Saddam and his lawyers have been caught hinting at involuntary changes in the composition of the prosecution team.)

But the phrase "best defense" and the name "Ramsey Clark" do not have the same apposition as, say, peaches and cream. Clark used to be Lyndon Johnson's attorney general and in that capacity tried to send Dr. Benjamin Spock, Marcus Raskin, and others to jail for their advocacy of resistance to the war in Vietnam. (In a bizarre 2002 interview in the Washington Post, he took the view that he was still right to have attempted this, even though the defendants were acquitted.) From bullying prosecutor he mutated into vagrant and floating defense counsel, offering himself to the génocideurs of Rwanda and to Slobodan Milosevic, and using up the spare time in apologetics for North Korea. He acts as front-man for the Workers World Party, an especially venomous little Communist sect, which originated in a defense of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

I was wondering when Clark would pop up in Baghdad, and there he was last Monday, presenting his credentials to the judge in the Saddam Hussein case and being accepted at his face value as a defense spokesman. He lost no time in showing what he is made of.

The first charge being brought against Saddam Hussein is that in 1982, after his motorcade came under fire near the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, he ordered the torture and murder of 148 men and boys. It's a relatively minor item in the catalog, but there it is. The first prosecution witness in the case, Wadah al-Sheikh, has actually testified that he knows of no direct link between Saddam and the killings. The defense team has to hope that it can prove the same, or perhaps suggest that no such massacre occurred. Not so Ramsey Clark. In a recent BBC interview, he offered the excuse that Iraq was then fighting the Shiite nation of Iran:
He (Saddam) had this huge war going on, and you have to act firmly when you have an assassination attempt.

Just go back and read that again. Ramsey Clark believes that A) the massacre and torture did occur and B) that it was ordered by his client and C) that he was justified in ordering it and carrying it out. That is quite sufficiently breathtaking. It is no less breathtaking when one recalls why Saddam "had this huge war going on." He had, after all, ordered a full-scale invasion of the oil-bearing Iranian region of Khuzestan and attempted to redraw the frontiers in Iraq's favor. Most experts accept a figure of about a million and a half as the number of young Iranians and Iraqis who lost their lives in consequence of this aggression (which incidentally enjoyed the approval of that Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter). And Ramsey Clark says that the aggression is an additional reason to justify the massacre at Dujail.

Rather than say what substance I think Ramsey Clark is made of, I shall quote from Jeffrey Blankfort. There are various Web sites devoted to undermining the war effort in Iraq, one or two of which are also devoted to attacks on my own moral turpitude. I can't read them all but I do usually look at the e-mail I get from Blankfort. He is a very serious guy with whom I have had a few exchanges. He is one of the few to have noticed what Ramsey Clark said, and here is his comment:

The problem is … that Clark is one of the most well-known representatives of the anti-war movement and represents the ANSWER coalition and in my mind this is more than the conflict of interest that it unquestionably is. Thus, the message that it sends to the Iraqi people is that the anti-war movement doesn't really care about any Iraqis other than those who have been killed by US and UK forces, that it, in fact, does not condemn Saddam for his long history of human rights violations and for his launching a bloody war against Iran that took well over a million lives.

That is to say the least of it. He adds:

It is long past time for the anti-war movement to drop its double standards. It can begin by saying Ramsey Clark does not speak for us. He certainly does not speak for me.

This is a nice twist on the self-regarding "Not In Our Name" slogan under which the anti-war movement filled the streets to hear speeches from Saddam sympathizers, Fidel and Kim groupies, and Islamic fundamentalists. Not really anti-war at all, but pro-war on the other side. It was more like a single standard if you ask me, but let's put this to the test.

So, how about it, Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore and Tim Robbins and all the rest of you? Do you need any prompting to say what you think? Or is the only crime scene to be found in the Downing Street memo and the identifying of a CIA bureaucrat? We know what Clark is made of: What about you? I meanwhile shall recline, happy in the knowledge that Saddam Hussein has engaged the services of an attorney who proclaims him to be guilty as charged.

Related in Slate

For more on why ANSWER is bad for the anti-war business, click here. Here's why Cindy Sheenan is preaching "sinister piffle." Leftist gadfly Michael Moore not only has poor taste in politics, he's also guilty of directing a film that is a "sinister exercise in moral frivolity." Team America creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker aren't fans of Tim Robbins and Michael Moore, either. If conservative agitator Ann Coulter had her druthers, this lot would be on trial for Treason. The gang at Today's Cartoons weighs in on Saddam's trial here.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. His most recent collection of essays is titled Love, Poverty, and War.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Daniel Pipes: Muhammad Ali's "Beautiful Soul"

Daniel Pipes
December 1, 2005

In an article two days ago, “Muhammad Ali v. George W. Bush,” I castigated President Bush bestowing a prestigious award on former boxer Muhammad Ali and for lavishly praising Ali’s beautiful soul, his compassion, and his being a man of peace. I offered some evidence to the contrary and concluded by calling this incident “the nadir of his presidency.”

The column prompted a fair amount of comment, positive and negative. I’d like to note here two noteworthy responses. One is from Judea Pearl, father of the late Daniel Pearl, murdered by Islamists in Pakistan in 2002:

When Danny was in captivity, we pleaded with Louis Farrakhan and Muhammad Ali to use their influence in the Muslim world and issue an appeal for his release. Farrakhan said: “Not ready.” Ali did not hesitate a minute and issued a plea that only Satan could resist; it was published next day in Pakistan. Ali further called me by phone and insisted on being invited to the party, once Danny is released. Jesse Jackson then made a statement, without our even soliciting him. At that point, Farrakhan came back and said: I am ready. But by then, it was too late. I appreciate Ali’s coming forward and, when I spoke at Danny's memorial (which Ali and his wife attended), I called him “a champion of humanity.” Later on, though, when we asked him to join the Honorary Board of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, he declined on the grounds that he must focus his energy on his own foundation.

To which my response is this: I am delighted to hear that Muhammad Ali did these good deeds. But by 2002 he was far along with Parkinson’s disease, so his decisions were largely made by his handlers in his name. These do not provide real insight into his character.

That character, rather, was shown earlier, when Ali had full control of his facilities. To understand that better, I turn to Jack Cashill, author of the forthcoming book, Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King's Dream. Cashill sent me a copy of the book manuscript and it, to say the least, confirms my thesis about Ali’s poor behavior. Here is an excerpt, reviewing Ali’s negative accomplishments during his first crucial years in the public eye, 1960-75:

• Ali knowingly betrayed Malcolm X, a betrayal that led at least indirectly to Malcolm’s assassination.

• Ali publicly turned his back on his press secretary, Leon 4X Ameer, which led to Ameer’s death.

• When Nation of Islam activists executed five friends and family of the Hanafi sect—four of them children—Ali did not quit the Nation or even publicly protest. Nor did the media ask him to.

• For at least four years running Ali publicly degraded Joe Frazier, often along the crudest racial lines. “There’s a great honor about Joe,” says baseball great Reggie Jackson. “That was evident in the way he fought. And Muhammad ridiculed Joe; he humiliated him in front of the world.”

• Ali also verbally and physically abused Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell, two men who did not deserve it.

• Ali was an unapologetic sexist. “In the Islamic world,” he told Playboy, “the man’s the boss, and the woman stays in the background. She don’t want to call the shots.” He wrote this in 1975, three years into the doomed struggle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Feminists still wrestle over this one.

• While the black family was under assault, with its rate of unwed births nearly tripling during these fifteen years, Ali was fathering children out of wedlock with at least one teenage girl.

• He also was about to leave four of his children without a father in the home after rejecting their Muslim mother for a more glamorous, only marginally black eighteen year-old.

• Belinda Ali was the second wife he had publicly humiliated. Sonji was the first.

• Ali remained an unabashed racist, calling for an American apartheid and the lynching of interracial couples as late as 1975.

• In the years that mattered, Ali drove a wedge between the races. This may not have been evident to the cultural elite, but anyone who had been at Gary or like venues would know exactly what I mean.

• He routinely denigrated black heroes who did not share his point of view, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall among them.

• He continuously belittled and undermined Christianity, a bedrock of cultural stability in black America.

• Ali shamelessly courted some of the most brutal dictators on the planet: Qaddafi, Idi Amin, Papa Doc Duvalier, Nkrumah, Mobutu, Marcos.

• One of those dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Wa Za Banga, was complicit in the death of the black nationalist hero, Patrice Lumumba.

• Ali helped launch the career of Don King.

• And, oh yes, he rejected his country in its hour of need and expressed no regret at the fate of those millions we all abandoned. The man who compelled him to do so had conspired with the Japanese and cheered them on at Pearl Harbor.

With due understatement, Cashill comments that this summing up, “however unpleasant, sheds some useful light both on the young Ali and the generation that made him.”

I repeat: this is not someone suitable to be honored by the president of the United States.

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Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

George Will: The Abortion Argument We Missed

George Will
The Washington Post
1 December 2005

WASHINGTON -- Henry J. Friendly, who died in 1986, was perhaps the most distinguished American judge never to serve on the Supreme Court, and he almost spared the nation the poisonous consequences of that court's 1973 truncation of democratic debate about abortion policy. The story of that missed blessing was told recently by Judge A. Raymond Randolph of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in an address to the Federalist Society.

In 1970, Friendly, then on the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, was a member of a three-judge panel that heard the first abortion-rights case ever filed in a federal court, alleging the unconstitutionality of New York's abortion laws. Friendly wrote a preliminary opinion that was never issued because, in that pre-Roe era, democracy was allowed to function: New York's Legislature legalized abortion on demand during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, causing the three-judge panel to dismiss the case as moot.

In 1965, the Supreme Court, citing a constitutional right to privacy, struck down a Connecticut law criminalizing the use of contraceptives. In 1968, a University of Alabama law professor, although acknowledging that legislative reforms of abortion laws were advancing nationwide, suggested a route to reform -- judicial fiat -- that would be quicker and easier than democratic persuasion. The tactic would be to get courts -- ideally, the Supreme Court -- to declare, building on the Connecticut case, that restrictions on abortions violate a privacy right that is a ``penumbral right emanating from values'' embodied in various provisions of the U.S. Constitution, as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment.

Which is what the Supreme Court did in 1973. But in 1970, when that argument reached Friendly, he warned in his preliminary opinion about the argument's ``disturbing sweep,'' and its invitation to judicial imprudence.

The assertion of such a privacy right would, he said, invalidate ``a great variety'' of statutes that existed when the 14th Amendment was adopted -- e.g., those against attempted suicide, bestiality, even drug use. And, Friendly wrote, it would be rash to suddenly find that the Constitution is an absolute impediment to the New York Legislature's deciding that a fetus deserves some protection. Declining to join the debate about when a fetus becomes a human being, Friendly wrote: ``It is enough that the legislature was not required to accept plaintiffs' demeaning characterizations of (the fetus),'' which is ``something more than inert matter.'' He continued:

``We would not wish our refusal to declare New York's abortion law unconstitutional as in any way approving or 'legitimating' it. The arguments for repeal are strong; those for substantial modification are stronger still. ... But the decision what to do about abortion is for the elected representatives of the people, not for three, or even nine, appointed judges.''

Three years later, the Supreme Court turned all policy choices about abortion -- even such details as spousal notification -- into matters of constitutional law. Who now really thinks that this exploitation of what Friendly called ``the vague contours of the 14th Amendment'' was wise?

The day after Roe was decided, The New York Times called it a ``resolution'' of the abortion issue. Not really. Roe short-circuited a democratic process of accommodating abortion differences -- a process that had produced a larger increase in the number of legal abortions in the three years before Roe than would occur in the three years after.

Since 1973, the privacy right has, as Judge Randolph says, ``morphed.'' Its original constitutional meaning pertained to preserving personal seclusion and keeping personal information secret. Now it means personal autonomy -- everyone's right to do whatever he or she pleases so long as others are not harmed.

That idea has a distinguished pedigree. John Stuart Mill wrote in ``On Liberty'' (1859): ``The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.'' That libertarian doctrine is, Randolph says, a defensible position for a legislature to take, but nothing in the Constitution's history or text suggests that Mill's philosophy is mandatory.In the polarized post-Roe politics, many Democrats are now poised to oppose the confirmation of Sam Alito on the ground that abortion rights, unlike all other rights (to free speech, private property, etc.), must be utterly unrestricted. Because Americans recoil from such immoderation, Democrats, after three decades of political difficulties, have reason to believe, if not the reasonableness to recognize, that they, especially, would have been better off if Friendly's preliminary opinion had been issued and if it had spared the nation Roe's diminishment of democracy and embitterment of politics.

© 2005, Washington Post Writers Group

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jimmy Breslin: Take a Stand? Not Our Hillary!

[I don't find myself rushing to post many articles by Jimmy Breslin but this is one has some funny stuff...some of it is shrill and sophomoric but it is entertaining and I try to never miss an opportunity to slag the Clintons. - jtf]

November 30, 2005

Beautiful. I am in receipt today of a mailing from the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign. This is different from the letter she sent out by e-mail in a rush. I don't know who got the e-mail. She announces it is 1,600 words long. That much of her sentences could end reading. The letter I got is more than a dead dry political mailing. I found it such compelling reading that I drop everything and share with you promptly and thus prominently.

It is a four-page questionnaire with the headline, "2005 Critical National Issues Survey." I thought that this was about the more than 2,000 dead in Iraq. Not even close. I read on, thinking that the pamphlet might tell me what Hillary stands for, as she is pretty much a blank thus far.

The questionnaire begins with a statement that we can't let Republican political attacks distract Hillary from her efforts in the Senate to address the critical issues our nation needs to address. Then there is the normal space for contributions by check or credit card. The amounts are from $25 to $100 and "other." Fine so far.

Here are the critical issues:

"Economy/jobs. Environment. Social Security/Medicare. Education. Homeland Security. Health Care. Tax Cuts. Reproductive Rights. Separation of Church and State."

Absolutely marvelous. Nothing about Iraq. Or the life and death of young Americans in Iraq. Or troop withdrawals from Iraq.

I go through the rest of the pamphlet.

"How concerned are you that President Bush is not doing enough to get Americans back to work, create more jobs and get the economy moving again?

"How concerned are you that the massive budget deficits caused by Republican economic and tax policies will inevitably result in drastic cuts in Social Security, Medicare, education and social services?"

Absolutely beautiful!

There are, as stated earlier, now more than 2,000 young Americans who have died in Iraq. She wants to be a candidate for president and she doesn't even mention our dead, or our next dead.

Wait. Here is question 9:

"How concerned are you that the administration's unilateral policies have reduced our number of allies and endangered our national security?"

How absolutely marvelous!

"It depends on what your definition of 'is' is," her husband said when he was questioned about rolling around on the office carpet with a young office worker.

And she not only copies, but clearly surpasses. She deals with something important.

Hillary Clinton today holds the new North American record for fakery.

She copies. She sneaks and slithers past you with her opinion on a war that kills every day.

Hillary Clinton is in favor of the war and of executions. Sensational!

The other day, when Rep. John Murtha of Johnstown, Pa., called for a withdrawal from Iraq, and obviously did so with half the Pentagon behind him, Hillary said, no, we shouldn't pull out at this time. Oh, it would cause so much violence.

We must stay. It takes a national Alzheimer's for her to be able to try to get away with things like this.

If Hillary Clinton wants this war to go on, then she should send her daughter to fight in Iraq.

We have had in New York as United States senators, Robert F. Kennedy, Jacob Javits and Daniel Moynihan.

We now have Hillary Clinton blowing on her fingers as she goes about cracking the combination to another safe. If the one hand glistens, it is from the wedding ring that she has used to hypnotize the public so far. Beautiful.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

'Walk the Line': A Faith-Lite

'Walk the Line' is a beautiful movie with a gaping hole--it separates the singer from one of his life's co-stars: God

By Mark Joseph

I was 19 when I fully understood that historians often can’t grasp the complexities of the characters they purport to speak of. It's something I learned once in a history class, when a professor suggested that George Washington was less than devout and merely used civil religion to unify the nation. When I raised my hand to question this, I was told to bring in evidence to the contrary--which I did the next day, reading aloud from Washington's diary, in which he expressed his deep religious faith in the manner less of a president and more of an 18th-century revival preacher.

"Who should I believe, your textbook or his diary?" I asked the professor.

"Walk The Line " the Johnny Cash biopic, features some truly inspired acting--and singing--by Joaquin Phoenix (playing Cash), and Reese Witherspoon (playing his wife, June), and some great music under the direction of T-Bone Burnett. That's the good news. The bad news is that it tries hard to do what no one was able to do in life and what my history professor tried to do to our first president: separate Johnny Cash from his God.

There were four great loves in J.R. Cash's life: music, God, June Carter, and drugs. But "Walk The Line" pretends there were only three. It is Johnny Cash for the secular set. The Almighty, omnipresent in Cash's life amidst his struggles to fight addiction, is barely worthy of a mention in "Walk The Line."

Imagine watching a movie about Kurt Cobain and hearing the name Courtney Love mentioned once or twice as an aside, or for that matter watching Bud Abbott's life story and never being introduced to Lou Costello. Such is the silliness of trying to tell the Johnny Cash story and leaving out either of his real-life co-stars, God or June Carter.

To his credit, Rick Rubin, the rock producer who took an interest in Cash and produced several brilliant records in Cash's twilight years--known as the American Recordings--understood this and never attempted to keep God out of the records he produced for Cash. It was Rubin who helped bring Cash's heretofore secular and sacred worlds together, allowing street-smart songs like "I've Been Everywhere" and "Rusty Cage" to co-exist on the same records with worshipful songs like "Redemption" and "Spiritual." But Rick Rubin didn't produce this film, and it shows.

Fortunately for those who have from experience learned to be suspicious of historians (or filmmakers), Cash, not unlike George Washington, left behind his own words to set the record straight.

"Walk The Line" is a love story, with June Carter Cash seeming to get all the credit for helping her man overcome his addictions. The message is a simple one: We are all just the right woman or the right man away from salvation. It's reminiscent of that singularly noxious line from the film "Titanic": "He saved me in every way a person can be saved."

The message is driven home by the film's relentless obsession with showing us over and over again how mismatched Cash was with his first wife Vivian and how deficient she was because of her inability to realize her husband's genius. Enter June Carter, whose determined love turned her man around. But in "Cash-The Autobiography," published shortly before his death, Cash made it clear that while June was a help, it was God who ultimately helped him overcome his addictions.

The key moment in Cash's turnaround happened when he tried a unique method of suicide--crawling through a cave hoping to never make it out alive. Cash wrote:

The absolute lack of light was appropriate, for at that moment I was as far from God as I have ever been. My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I'd felt over the years seemed finally complete. It wasn't. I thought I'd left him but He hadn't left me. I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity and sobriety. I didn't believe it at first. I couldn't understand it.... the feeling persisted though and then my mind started focusing on God.... there in Nickajack cave I became conscious of my destiny. I was not in charge of my own death. I was going to die at God's time, not mine. I hadn't prayed over my decision to seek death in the cave, but that hadn't stopped God from intervening…I told my mother that God had saved me from killing myself. I told her I was ready to commit myself to Him and do whatever it took to get off drugs. I wasn't lying.

In the wake of the box office success of "The Passion Of The Christ," 20th Century Fox and other studios are seeking to capitalize on the phenomenon by creating faith-friendly products, finally coming to the obvious conclusion that eluded them for so long: Millions of Americans want to experience media that affirms their faith instead of mocking or marginalizing it. What they don't yet seem to realize is that instead of creating an endless stream of third-rate productions about the end of the world and releasing them in a handful of markets or in churches, the best way to meet the demands of the red states is simply to faithfully retell great stories that have a strong faith component while simultaneously ensuring that they remain of interest to those who may not consider themselves religious or even spiritual. Any audience will put up with a certain amount of religion, so long as it is part of the natural fabric of a good story.

"Walk The Line" is a faith-lite version of a faith-filled story, and if traditionalists are smart they will punish it for its unfaithfulness not with loud protests, but by giving it the treatment they so brilliantly dished out to another picture, "Saved," a film that depicted a Christian high school in a stereotypically negative fashion. That film's backers were practically begging for a boycott, which they correctly understood as the only thing likely to save their film from the trash heap of obscurity it so richly deserved to be tossed into. Instead what it got from the leadership of the faith community was the worst punishment of all: It was ignored.

"Walk The Line" is a gorgeous movie, smartly told with some outstanding acting that will likely garner Reese Witherspoon an Academy Award nomination. It'd be a great movie if it weren't so manifestly incomplete. It releases in theaters on November 18th, a great day to stay outdoors and honor Cash's true memory by instead picking up a copy of "Cash-The Autobiography" or Steve Turner's "The Man Called Cash" and one of his American Recordings CDs, lovingly produced by an unlikely hero named Rick Rubin. He's a man who may not have shared Cash's faith, but well understood that Johnny Cash could never be understood in the absence of the God who gave him the strength to rebuild his shattered life as best he could, provided an angel named June to give him a second start, and empowered him to continue making unforgettable music that gave hope to many.

Related Features
An Interview With John Carter Cash
Johnny Cash's Connection to Christ
Johnny, We Fondly Knew You

Dennis Prager: Opponents of the Death Penalty Have Blood on Their Hands

[Not too sure about the title of this article but there are some interesting points to be found here.]

Dennis Prager
November 29, 2005

Those of us who believe in the death penalty for some murders are told by opponents of the death penalty that if the state executes an innocent man, we have blood on our hands.
They are right. I, for one, readily acknowledge that as a proponent of the death penalty, my advocacy could result in the killing of an innocent person.

I have never, however, encountered any opponents of the death penalty who acknowledge that they have the blood of innocent men and women on their hands.

Yet they certainly do. Whereas the shedding of innocent blood that proponents of capital punishment are responsible for is thus far, thankfully, only theoretical, the shedding of innocent blood for which opponents of capital punishment are responsible is not theoretical at all. Thanks to their opposition to the death penalty, innocent men and women have been murdered by killers who would otherwise have been put to death.

Opponents of capital punishment give us names of innocents who would have been killed by the state had their convictions stood and they been actually executed, and a few executed convicts whom they believe might have been innocent. But proponents can name men and women who really were -- not might have been -- murdered by convicted murderers while in prison. The murdered include prison guards, fellow inmates, and innocent men and women outside of prison.
In 1974, Clarence Ray Allen ordered a 17-year-old young woman, Mary Sue Kitts, murdered because she knew of Allen's involvement in a Fresno, California, store burglary.

After his 1977 trial and conviction, Allen was sentenced to life without parole.

According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, "In Folsom State Prison, Allen cooked up a scheme to kill the witnesses who testified against him so that he could appeal his conviction and then be freed because any witnesses were dead -- or scared into silence." As a result, three more innocent people were murdered -- Bryon Schletewitz, 27, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18.

This time, a jury sentenced Allen to death, the only death sentence ever handed down by a Glenn County (California) jury. That was in 1982.

For 23 years, opponents of the death penalty have played with the legal system -- not to mention played with the lives of the murdered individuals' loved ones -- to keep Allen alive.

Had Clarence Allen been executed for the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts, three innocent people under the age of 30 would not have been killed. But because moral clarity among anti-death penalty activists is as rare as their self-righteousness is ubiquitous, finding an abolitionist who will acknowledge moral responsibility for innocents murdered by convicted murderers is an exercise in futility.

Perhaps the most infamous case of a death penalty opponent directly causing the murder of an innocent is that of novelist Norman Mailer. In 1981, Mailer utilized his influence to obtain parole for a bank robber and murderer named Jack Abbott on the grounds that Abbott was a talented writer. Six weeks after being paroled, Abbott murdered Richard Adan, a 22-year-old newlywed, aspiring actor and playwright who was waiting tables at his father's restaurant.

Mailer's reaction? "Culture is worth a little risk," he told the press. "I'm willing to gamble with a portion of society to save this man's talent."

That in a nutshell is the attitude of the abolitionists. They are "willing to gamble with a portion of society" -- such as the lives of additional innocent victims -- in order to save the life of every murderer.

Abolitionists are certain that they are morally superior to the rest of us. In their view, we who recoil at the thought that every murderer be allowed to keep his life are moral inferiors, barbarians essentially. But just as pacifists' views ensure that far more innocents will be killed, so do abolitionists' views ensure that more innocents will die.

There may be moral reasons to oppose taking the life of any murderer (though I cannot think of one), but saving the lives of innocents cannot be regarded as one of them.

Nevertheless, abolitionists will be happy to learn that Amnesty International has taken up the cause of ensuring that Clarence Ray Allen be spared execution. That is what the international community now regards as fighting for human rights.

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Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show based in Los Angeles. He is the author of four books, most recently "Happiness is a Serious Problem" (HarperCollins). His website is To find out more about Dennis Prager, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Robert Spencer: Israel, Front Line of the Global Jihad

Robert Spencer
November 29, 2005

Israel has become the world’s new South Africa: the villain du jour, the universal oppressor, the whipping-boy of the United Nations. Its foes have even applied the South African concept of apartheid to its policies. The global Left eagerly propagates the view that Israel, which has been repeatedly attacked by its neighbors, is by virtue of its very existence actually an aggressor state. The only free Western-style democracy in the Middle East (with the increasingly shaky exception of Turkey on the northern margins of the area) has received more world opprobrium than the brutal regimes of Assad, Ahmadinejad, and even the lamented (at least by Ramsey Clark) Saddam Hussein.

Boosters of the Palestinian cause routinely refer to Israelis and their supporters as Nazis. In January 2005, Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain reached the apex of moral equivalence. He announced that his group would boycott a commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp: “we have now expressed our unwillingness to attend the ceremony because it excludes ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world and in the occupied territories of Palestine.”

Yet although Muslim spokesmen such as Sacranie, the international Left, and many others -- including some of the Arabic-speaking Christians with whom I am in daily contact -- believe fervently that Israel is the aggressor against an innocent and aggrieved Palestinian people, and that the conflict is wholly and solely about “stolen land,” the facts are otherwise. In reality, Israel is at the front line of the global jihad movement. Ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, and even before, it has faced jihadist opposition from groups adamant in their determination to destroy it utterly. Yet I expect that a poll of Americans would find only a tiny minority would affirm that Israel faces the same foe, with the same ideology, as the one the United States has faced since 9/11.

I was recently offered, and immediately seized, an opportunity to see for myself. Last week, I had the chance to:

• Explore the Muslim Quarter and other sections of Jerusalem’s Old City, the world’s holiest place and largest tourist trap. The ancient streets are barely passable, crowded as they are with tiny shops (all holding pretty much the same inventory, with a few minor variations) in which canny Muslim entrepreneurs sell Christian religious articles to eager Western visitors (“And because I love you like a brother, and see that you appreciate the finer things, I will give you a special price…”). One told me how happy he was to see tourists again, after years of intifada had driven them away.

• Visit and pray at the Western Wall, site of so much human longing.

• Peer into Syria from an Israeli bunker on the Golan Heights. The mountainous Golan is breathtakingly beautiful, although that beauty is broken here and there by the remnants of the 1967 and 1973 wars: bullet-riddled bunkers, rusted hulks of war machines. But most of this has been cleared away, for Israel has no room to spare; virtually every inch of land right up to the present border with Syria is cultivated. In stark contrast sits the Syrian ghost town of Quneitra, which the Syrians have left abandoned as a monument to Israeli atrocities ever since the Israelis withdrew from it in 1974. The international media has swallowed this tall tale as well, despite abundant evidence that Quneitra was in ruins before the Israelis ever got there.

• Travel by bulletproof bus through the West Bank, and inspect the security fence.

• Sleep (fitfully) in a Bedouin tent in the desert, and savor the stark magnificence of the rocky, mountainous landscape.

• Walk through the 700-year-old streets of Safed, modern-day home of, among other things, a notable artistic quarter. In this I was not too far from where Hizb’Allah rockets fell – unprovoked, as was noted even by the United Nations -- a few days later near Kiryat Shmona and Metulla.

• Stroll around modern Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

I also had the honor of meeting the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Moshe Amar, and Soviet dissident and heroic human rights activist Natan Sharansky. In the course of Sharansky’s moving address he noted that Israel had again and again aided Christians -- at their own request -- against Islamic violence and injustice, most notably when the Church of the Nativity was occupied by jihadists in 2002. Yet international Christian leaders, he said, have not responded with similar gestures toward Israel. This is unfortunate in the extreme both for Israel and for Palestinian Christians: those Christians are going to be in for a rude surprise when the Islamic state so many of them are abetting actually takes power, and they find life more difficult for them than it was in Israel. Christians in the Middle East are in a virtually impossible position (which is why they are streaming out of the area). If the support the Islamic agenda, they are signing their own return to the second-class status of the dhimma, as mandated by the traditional Islamic law that jihadists are bent on restoring. If they support Israel, they risk being targeted by the jihadists, who surround them on all sides.

I met a couple who had recently been evacuated by the Israeli government from their West Bank “settlement,” where they had lived and worked for twelve years, and endured daily gunfire from Palestinians since the Al-Aqsa intifada began in September 2000. I met an American who now lives and works on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights, cultivating land just across the Syrian border, in defiance of the danger involved. Like so many other Israelis all over the country, he must carry a gun at all times. I photographed a large, confidently imposing, and clearly thriving mosque near my hotel in Tel Aviv, the very existence of which stands as poignant refutation of the charge that Muslims are oppressed in Israel -- especially in light of the glaring non-existence of synagogues in Muslim lands and the precarious existence of churches in them.

Israel is a country at war, a country under siege. Everywhere I went, even into a shopping mall in Tel Aviv, armed guards stood at the entry, searching everyone. Many Israelis with whom I spoke discussed the weariness of the people after decades and decades of war. They said that many, and maybe even a majority, are willing to cut any deal, even one involving giving up half of Jerusalem, in order to buy a peace that they themselves acknowledge will last only a few years.Yet the game is by no means over. At the same time, there is a tremendous spirit among the people. I saw the greenhouses and agricultural projects making the desert bloom, and the determination of so many not to be intimidated, not to bow in the face of jihad violence. Long may they prosper.

Israel stands virtually alone in the world not only because of lingering antisemitism, but because Palestinian Arabs and their allies have succeeded in convincing opinion-makers that their land was taken illegitimately by Israel, and that they are oppressed there. The facts are otherwise, as I have discussed in a previous article here. The state was established legitimately and with the approval of the United Nations, and even the “occupied territories” were obtained according to what have been universally recognized throughout history as the rules of war. (Or should the United States give up the “occupied territories” of California, Texas, and other Western states? Should Russia withdraw from its “occupied territories” in K√∂nigsberg, eastern Finland and eastern Poland? Should Muslims across North Africa, the Middle East, Iran, India and Southeast Asia withdraw from those “occupied territories” back to Arabia?)

While I am sympathetic to genuine Palestinian Arab refugees, and with my friends from Ramallah and Jenin, I can’t help but notice the role of the neighboring Arab states in exacerbating and prolonging the refugee problem for political reasons that are ultimately rooted in the jihad ideology. I can’t help but notice that I was able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Tabor, and other Christian holy sites in Israel, which mean a great deal to me personally, while Bethlehem, under Palestinian Authority control, has become a dangerous place from which Christians are fleeing as quickly as they can. I can’t help but notice that there was no call to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza between 1948 and 1967, when those territories were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively -- despite the alleged difference of nationality between Palestinians and Jordanians and Egyptians.

Ultimately, if the nations of the world are interested in defending universal human rights and the equality of dignity of all people, they need to stand with Israel. Misdiagnosis of the problem -- that is, the unwillingness or inability of Western governments to acknowledge the motives and goals of the jihadists who want above all to destroy them -- has largely prevented this.

Yet as Benjamin Franklin said long ago in a far different context, we must all hang together, or we will most assuredly all hang separately.

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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mark Steyn: Hollywood's PC Perversion Stifles Storytelling

November 27, 2005

To judge from the way the weekend's box office is breathlessly reported in the news bulletins on Monday morning, more people seem to be interested in movie grosses than in the movies. Evidently, Hollywood's now recovered from this summer's all-time record "box office slump." Or at any rate news stories about the box office slump have themselves slumped. In a breathless dispatch on the opening weekend of ''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,'' the Associated Press reported that ''the latest Potter movie led a lineup that helped reverse the Hollywood box-office slump."

I wouldn't say the boy wizard and his Hogwarts chums exactly "led a lineup" of slump-reversers. When you look at the weekend numbers, ''Harry Potter's'' $101.4 million is more than the gross of the rest of the top five movies combined and doubled. Indeed, the rest of the top 10 between them managed $66 million. ''Harry Potter'' is an industry apart, and tells us nothing about Hollywood's general malaise, or alleged recovery therefrom.

I chipped in my own 20 bucks or so of that hundred mil. Went to see it opening weekend. Had a miserable time. Nothing to do with the movie. Everything to do with the theater I saw it in. It was a multiplex operated by a New England chain called Entertainment Cinemas of South Easton, Mass., and they really should make critics see the films in these kinds of joints. It was a small screen at the end of a dingy room with unraked seating and, instead of letting you lose yourself in the dark to the magic of the silver screen, they keep half the lights up for the movie. I e-mailed "customer service" at Entertainment Cinemas to inquire why, but received no response.

Small multiplexes apparently save money by hiring one projectionist to run several screens. The drawback is that one or other of the semi-unmonitored machines will jam, leading the projection lamp to burn a hole in the print. To lessen the risk of this, the projectionist expands the space between the gate and the lamp -- i.e., he shows the film slightly out of focus. I don't know whether that's why the Harry Potter I saw was so dark and blurry, but, after reading about all the lavish effects-laden set-pieces Mike Newell had put in the movie, I did rather feel that I was seeing the cinematic equivalent of a digitally remastered symphony concert played back through a 1950s transistor radio.

The average multiplex is surely not long for this world. Already, 85 percent of Hollywood's business comes from home entertainment -- DVDs and the like. Suits me. Or so I thought until, on the way home from the hell of Harry Potter, I stopped to buy the third boxed set in the ''Looney Tunes Golden Collection.'' Loved the first two: Daffy, Bugs, Porky, beautifully restored, tons of special features. But, for some reason, this new set begins with a special announcement by Whoopi Goldberg explaining what it is we're not meant to find funny: ''Unfortunately at that time racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in ways that may have embarrassed and even hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups,'' she tells us sternly. ''These jokes were wrong then and they're wrong today'' -- unlike, say, Whoopi Goldberg's most memorable joke of recent years, the one at that 2004 all-star Democratic Party gala in New York where she compared President Bush to her, um, private parts. There's a gag for the ages.

I don't know what Whoopi's making such a meal about. It's true you don't see many positive images of people of color on ''Looney Tunes,'' but then the images of people of non-color aren't terribly positive either (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam). Instead, you see positive images of ducks of color, roadrunners of color and tweety birds of color. How weirdly reductive to be so obsessed about something so peripheral to these cartoons that you stick the same damn Whoopi Goldberg health warning on all four DVDs in the box. And don't think about hitting the "Next" button and skipping to the cartoons: You can't; you gotta sit through it.

A Hollywood that's ashamed of one of its few universally acknowledged genuine artistic achievements is hardly likely to come up with any new artistic achievements. As the instant deflation of that Whoopi cushion reminds us, the movies are now so constrained by political correctness the very act of storytelling is itself endangered. That's something slightly more ominous than the feeble limousine liberalism many conservatives blame for the alleged box-office slump. Say what you like about those Hollywood writers of the '30s and '40s, but they were serious lefties. Their successors are mostly poseurs loudly trumpeting their courageous ''dissent'' while paralyzed into inanity. This year's Sean Penn thriller, ''The Interpreter,'' was originally about Muslim terrorists blowing up a bus in New York. So, naturally, Hollywood called rewrite. And instead the bus got blown up by African terrorists from the little-known republic of Matobo. ''We didn't want to encumber the film in politics in any way,'' said Kevin Misher, the producer.

But being so perversely ''non-political'' is itself a political act. If there were a dozen movies in which Tom Cruise kicked al-Qaida butt across the Hindu Kush, it would be reasonable to say, ''Hey, we'd rather deal with Matoban terrorism for a change.'' But, when every movie goes out of its way to avoid being ''encumbered,'' it starts to look like a pathology. And by the time Hollywood released this summer's ''Stealth,'' some studio exec must have panicked that, what with all this Bono/Live8 debt-relief business, it might look a bit Afrophobic to have any more Matoban terrorists. So ''Stealth'' was a high-tech action thriller about USAF pilots zapping about the skies in which the bad guy is the plane.

That's right: An unmanned computer-flown plane goes rogue and starts attacking things. The money shot is -- stop me if this rings a vague bell -- a big downtown skyscraper with a jet heading toward it. Only there are no terrorists aboard the jet. The jet itself is the terrorist.
This is the pitiful state Hollywood's been reduced to. Safer not to have any bad guys. Let's make the plane the bad guy. No wonder it's 20th century Britlit -- ''Harry Potter,'' ''Lord of the Rings,'' ''Narnia'' -- keeping those Monday morning numbers up. It's Hollywood's yarn-spinning that's really out of focus, and in the end even home entertainment revenue won't save a storytelling business that no longer knows how to tell any.

© Mark Steyn, 2005

Sunday, November 27, 2005

An Appreciation: Link Wray

Prophet of the Rock Guitar
With Pick and Pencil, Link Wray Pointed the Way
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2005; Page C01

With "Rumble," the classic 1958 instrumental first improvised at a Virginia sock hop, Link Wray invented the power chord, creating a template for modern rock guitar. Released as a single by Wray & His Ray Men, "Rumble" was gutbucket menace, awash in echo and reverb, built on Wray's slow drags across the strings of alternating major chords, capped by a run of notes up and down the fretboard.

It was the big bang of dangerous guitar.

Wray, who died this month in Denmark at age 76, and his group at the time were house band for "The Milt Grant Show," Washington's version of "American Bandstand." One night they played a Grant-sponsored show at the Fredericksburg Arena backing the Diamonds, who'd had a big dance hit with "The Stroll." Wray didn't know the song, but when his drummer (and brother) Doug Wray laid down a stroll-like beat, Link filled in with a slowly unfurling, ominous guitar sound so immediately cool the crowd demanded it three more times that very night.

When Wray went into a studio soon after to record what he initially called "Oddball," he had trouble replicating the sound he'd gotten onstage. Thinking it had something to do with the studio amps, Wray took a pencil and punched holes in his speakers, thereby inventing the fuzzbox and becoming one of the first guitarists to experiment with feedback and distortion.

Which may explain why one of his biggest fans was Pete Townshend of the Who. In liner notes to a 1974 Wray album, Townshend cited "Rumble" as a primary influence and pronounced him "the king." Bob Dylan called "Rumble" " the greatest instrumental ever"; on Sunday, Dylan opened his concert at London's Brixton Academy with a cover of the song.

England's music magazine NME dubbed Wray the man "who invented punk rock, heavy metal and every other form of sonic nastiness." For that we can thank Archie Bleyer's teenage daughter. Owner of Cadence Records in New York, Bleyer didn't like the "Oddball" demo but she loved it, saying it reminded her of the Jets-Sharks rumbles in the hot new Broadway musical "West Side Story." The song was released as "Rumble."

Apparently "Rumble" also suggested gang violence to radio programmers, some of whom banned it -- a first for an instrumental! Nonetheless, "Rumble" cracked the top 20 and sold several million copies. When Wray later went on "American Bandstand" to hype it, however, Dick Clark introduced him without ever mentioning the title.

Over the next few years -- which coincided with the last surge of classic-rock instrumental hits -- Wray crafted several other guitar standards, including "Raw-hide," "Jack the Ripper," "The Swag" and "Comanche" (one of three tribal tributes by Wray, who was part Shawnee).

Cadence dumped Wray after "Rumble," feeling he was a bit raw, dangerous and delinquent. His basic look -- black leather outfit, dark glasses, greased-back hair -- supported that finding. Subsequently recording for many labels, Wray tended to milk the raw, primitive guitar formula he'd originated and was soon supplanted by more melodic instrumental stylists like Duane Eddy, Dick Dale and the Ventures. That would doom Wray to cult figure footnote status, but anyone who really knew the music's history recognized his part in it.

By the mid-'60s, Wray had retreated to the family farm in Accokeek. Small career revivals seemed to take place periodically. A decade later punk fans embraced Wray when he teamed up with Washington's Robert Gordon for several neo-rockabilly albums; Bruce Springsteen gave "Fire" to Wray and Gordon after the death of Elvis Presley, for whom he had originally written the song.

"Bullshot," in 1979, was Wray's last American album for almost 20 years. He had moved to Denmark and married a local woman. The 1997 album "Shadowman" occasioned Wray's first American tour in 15 years, though his last Washington performance had occurred in 1985 at the Wax Museum. Efforts to book him locally were thwarted by Wray's fears of being sued over unpaid child support. When he did tour (as recently as this past spring), the aging guitarist was usually accompanied by his bass-playing son and go-go-dancing wife, Olive Julie Wray.

It was movies that reinvigorated Wray's career and refurbished his reputation. John Waters was the first to use a Wray track ("The Swag" on 1972's "Pink Flamingos"). Quentin Tarantino incorporated "Rumble" and "Ace of Spades" into "Pulp Fiction." And in 1999, Taco Bell used "Jack the Ripper" in its first television commercial featuring the talking Chihuahua.

Even in recent years, Wray pushed his equipment to extremes during concerts, rolling out the raw riffs he had pioneered almost half a century before. Link Wray never toned the music down.
He was always ready to Rumble.

A sample of "Rumble" can be heard at