Saturday, January 27, 2007

Edward T. Oakes, S.J.: Reason and Pop Atheism

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Monday, January 22nd 2007, 10:56 AM

On The Square

The publishing world, it seems, is just as prone to the fickleness of trends and fashions as is, well, the fashion industry. A few years ago, a whole spate of books came out on Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, most of them flogging (surely not by coincidence) the same dead horse of papal perfidy. More recently, several books arguing for atheism have cropped up on the bestseller lists. I’ve looked at a few, and none of them struck me as even trying to get beyond that old dorm-room chestnut: “If God made the universe, who made God?” Gosh, thanks for bringing that up, Professor Bright. I had never really thought of that before—and now, horribile dictu, I’ve lost my faith!

Needless to say, our recent atheists, without exception, have to drag Darwin into the business. But—also without exception—they end up taking the implications of Darwinian biology so far that their arguments become self-consuming. I am thinking especially of the notion that cultural ideas are only “memes,” that is, self-replicating trends that catch on and take over a culture the way viruses do in the human body. One favorite example would be teenagers who wear baseball caps backwards: An impish adolescent somewhere gets the idea to wear his cap backwards, and soon every boy in the land is following suit.

The next step then is to claim that religion, too, is a meme, and a mighty destructive one at that, the Ebola virus of human civilization. The trouble is, if all ideas are but memes, then so is natural selection, whose cultural influence has its own bloody history to account for. On that, I recommend the reader get a hold of Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, which carefully traces Darwin’s influence on a host of prominent intellectuals in Germany from 1860 to 1939, a genealogy of “memetic contagion” that made Nazi ideology so plausible to so many. (For a fuller review of this truly brilliant book, see my article “Darwin’s Graveyards” in the December 2006 issue of Books & Culture.”)

Tedious and self-consuming as these arguments are, their popularity—if one is to judge by the bestseller lists—did get me to thinking about atheism as a cultural phenomenon. As I always ask my class when I teach contemporary theology: If God exists, why are there atheists? Or rather, and to put more strongly: Since God exists, what makes atheism conceptually possible?

I let my students crack their noggins on that question for a while to prepare them to take up one of the texts in the course, The Discovery of God by the renowned French Jesuit Henri de Lubac, which deals directly with this issue of atheism as made possible by God.

Part of the problem is psychological: even the most knock-down arguments in mathematics fade in the brain after a while, like sand castles on the beach. For example, I would never presume to raise objections against Euclid’s plane geometry, but I’d be hard pressed to reproduce what I learned in sophomore high-school geometry after all these years.

But the problem goes much deeper than the vagaries of human memory. St. Anselm thought he had his own knock-down argument for the existence of God, which later went by the name of the Ontological Argument (which Thomas Aquinas held to be invalid). But however much Anselm was convinced of the argument, he never went so far as to place moral blame on those who rejected it, because for him there was a deeper reality behind the phenomenon of atheism. As he said in the Proslogion (the best translation is here:

Why this, O Lord, why this? Is the eye darkened by its own weakness, or blinded by your light?—Without doubt it is darkened in itself and blinded by you, obscured by its own littleness and overwhelmed by your immensity, contracted by its own narrowness and overcome by your greatness.

As I presume most people reading this site know, the First Vatican Council declared de fide that the existence of God can be proved by reason. At first glance, this seems paradoxical. For if God can be proved through rational demonstration, one would expect the council to adduce this marvelous proof and let it be judged on its own merits. And because of de Lubac’s critique of the “manual Thomism” of the Roman universities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries (which placed heavy emphasis on rational proofs for God’s existence), one might also think that de Lubac would dismiss the sterile rationalism that some theologians claim lurks behind Vatican I.

But that is not his position at all. De Lubac quite openly asserts that “behind the apparent variations, the skeleton of the proof always remains the same. The proof is solid and eternal, as hard as steel. It is something more than one of reason’s inventions: it is reason itself.”

What happens then is that, once this proof is formulated in words, the learned make adaptations and modifications as they encounter objections. But these modifications are for de Lubac in no way part of the incontrovertible proof that he holds to be the common patrimony of mankind: the use of reason itself. Hence de Lubac’s confident conclusion:

All the objections brought against the various proofs for the existence of God are in vain; criticism can never invalidate them, for it can never get its teeth into the principle common to them all. On the contrary, that principle emerges more clearly as the elements with which the proofs are constructed are rearranged. . . . It forms part of the substance of the mind. It is not a path which the mind can be discouraged from pursuing to the end, or one from which it can turn away, afraid of having taken the wrong road. Path and mind are merged together. The mind itself is a moving path.

At first glance, de Lubac might seem to be elevating the place of reason here to such a height that he ends up conceding reason’s right to judge the things of God—the very procedure he found so objectionable in Descartes and Kant. That, however, is not his intent, which is why he so stresses the dynamism of reason. Augustine defined sin as “the heart turned in on itself,” the corollary of which for de Lubac would be: The Enlightenment (at least in its French and German versions) is reason turned in on itself.

What has always struck readers of the Continental Rationalists from Descartes to Kant is how all these Rationalists divide reason from desire (usually called by them, tellingly, the passions, meaning feelings that overwhelm us rather than longings that express our inmost nature). De Lubac, on the contrary, sees reason and desire as parts of the same whole, subsumed under the wider image of “heart,” encompassing them both. And because desire is inherently outward in its aim, thereby testifying to a deficiency in the self, the same holds true of reason. Precisely because we never start off in possession of the truth, we must go out in search of it, always desiring it on the way. And that dynamism aims, however unawares, at God. This is why Thomas Aquinas can say in De veritate: “All knowing beings implicitly know God in everything they know.”

In other words, what all proofs are really reaching for is this common fund of inchoate awareness of the necessity of God already present whenever reason exercises its rational faculties. In one of his many footnotes, de Lubac quotes Maurice Blondel, who makes just this point: Proofs for the existence of God, Blondel says, “are not so much an invention as an inventory, not so much a revelation as an elucidation, a purification and a justification of the fundamental beliefs of humanity.”

That said, de Lubac refuses to countenance faulty reasoning just because an invalid argument is aiming for the same conclusion as do valid proofs. Believers’ faith might well be strong enough to slough off bad arguments for God’s existence, but that should be no excuse for sloth in reasoning: “Where belief in God is concerned, I cannot rest content with a doubtful argument, and an inconclusive proof is as repugnant to my moral sense as it is offensive to my intelligence.” And further: “Even in the most essential matters a sinner may reason better than a saint.” Rigor in reasoning is no sin; rightly realized, it testifies to faith’s underlying rationality.

But even in cases where, say, a Thomas Aquinas trumps a David Hume in the field of argument, the believer feels vaguely dissatisfied:

Why is it that the mind which has found God still retains, or constantly reverts to, the feeling of not having found him? … The temptation is to succumb to this scandal and to despair in proportion as one has formerly thought to have found him: a temptation to deny the light because the veil becomes opaque once again…. The temptation in this case is to underestimate the obstacles, to imagine that serenity is easily acquired, and to confuse the faint clarity of being with the divine light.

Just think what would happen, de Lubac asks, if rational proofs really did lead to certainty: Then we would mistake the proof for God; and, in the manner of the French “enlightened” philosophes, we would in effect end up building a temple, not to God, but to reason. But that is the very definition of reason’s sin, turning inward. We would then make reason the object of our worship, rather than God. (In the midst of the maelstrom of the French Revolution, some Jacobins actually built a “Temple to Reason.”)

But when we turn to God via our rational faculties, we simultaneously recognize both the underlying rationality of our faith in God and yet also reason’s insufficiency to grant us what we really long for: light itself in a dark world. That light, however, only comes from God, not reason. We are pilgrims, and reason is our viaticum —but it is only viaticum. The nourishment this food for the journey provides is salubrious (when the reasoning is correct), but it is not life itself, only the provisions for life, which only God can provide.

Edward T. Oakes, S.J., teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake.

William C. Rhoden: Riding Perseverance to Finals in Australia

January 27, 2007

The New York Times

For Asha Price, watching from afar as her youngest sister made a remarkable run at the Australian Open has been a nerve-racking, eye-opening experience.

Price, the oldest sister of Serena Williams, frequently acts as the family’s spokeswoman. You often see her in the Williams box during Grand Slam matches. This time, she stayed in the United States with her sister Venus. They watched Serena’s extraordinary run on pins and needles.

“It’s been interesting to watch it from over here,” Price said yesterday from her home in Washington. “Venus needs a sedative. We’re all struggling through it together.”

The sisters watched last night as Serena pulled of the most incredible upset of her career, defeating the top-seeded Maria Sharapova in two lopsided sets to win the Australian Open.

In Price’s mind — and I agree — Serena’s greatest victory was simply in reaching the finals in Melbourne. After watching Serena play what may have been the best wire-to-wire match of her career, one wonders how there was ever any doubt about her. What made her dominance more impressive was the steep hill she had to climb to make it this far, a climb that should throw cold water on all the talk about her commitment to the game.

After spending much of last year away from tennis rehabilitating nagging injuries, the Australian Open should have been a testament to Serena’s perseverance.

At virtually every session, however, she is asked the obligatory question about conditioning. Even in successful years like 2003, 2004 and 2005, questions were asked about her dedication to the game.

“To me,” Price said, “it’s a disservice to say continuously, ‘She’s not in shape, she’s not match tough.’ She’s not match ready and she made the final. So now what are you going to say?”

There’s not much to say.

Serena reaching a Grand Slam final, and winning in convincing fashion, without being in peak condition is either a commentary on the state of women’s tennis or testimony to her dominance. I say the latter. Serena is one of the most phenomenal athletes of her generation, although her presence in this Grand Slam final was the result of sheer will.

Serena Williams is a fascinating athlete and a fascinating tennis player. She doesn’t fit the mold. She has never fit the mold, in her ethnicity, her build, her athleticism and her style. She has power, skill, determination, and a body many in her sport would die for.

“She’s never going to look like Venus,” Price said yesterday. “She’s never going to look like a typical European type of player. She’s shaped just like our mom. She’s going to have a behind, she’s going to have breasts, she’s going to be very feminine. She’s going to look like that.”

Over the last 13 days in Melbourne, Williams has offered a number of fascinating insights into her psyche as she scaled one unexpected level after another.

Her recurrent themes were stamina, mental ability and desire. One reporter wondered how she was able to prevail in Melbourne despite being in less than perfect condition.

“I’ve always been mentally strong, I think probably mentally stronger than a lot of players on the Tour,” she told reporters.

No one expected Williams to reach, much less win, a Grand Slam final. The undercurrent has been that her days as a dominant player were over. That may be, but for some athletes, and Williams is one of them, there’s something energizing about being doubted.

“I love doubters,” Williams said after a match last week. “I have a lot of people even close to me who doubt. I love doubters. More than anything what I love, besides obviously winning, is proving people wrong.”

Serena and Venus Williams are the great American story, a story often told but not yet fully comprehended. I’m not sure any of us will completely grasp the magnitude of the story until the sisters are out of tennis: Two sisters, raised in Compton, Calif., training on public courts, operating on the periphery of the tennis establishment. They rose and dominated women’s tennis, along the way introducing new clothes, a new style, and establishing a new standard of athleticism in woman’s tennis. It was a standard embraced and taken to new levels by young players like Sharapova. In addition to all of her injuries, in 2003 Serena’s older sister Yetunde Price was murdered, and today in Melbourne, Serena dedicated her stunning victory to her.

At the same time, the family has been a lightning rod for controversy around issues surrounding race, gender and class. The family has been criticized nearly every step of the way, from Venus’s detachment to Serena’s wardrobe and conditioning to the eccentricities of their father, Richard Williams. They have been criticized for not playing enough, for not playing hard enough against each other. Serena was confronted Thursday with an accusation that someone in her box was intentionally flashing a watch into the eyes of Nicole Vaidisova during their semifinal match. Even the color (green) of Serena’s outfit was called into question as a potential (and intentional) distraction.

“It’s a constant fight of fighting America,” Price said yesterday.

“Fighting everybody, it’s a constant fight. They should know how strong she is. They made her that way.

“It’s difficult listening to the American commentators talk about how important it is in America that we have great tennis players, and you have an American there and you mistreat her.”

For selfish reasons, I want to see the Williams sisters make one more outstanding run. Tennis is never more exciting or combustible than when Venus and Serena are in the mix, either battling each other or fighting off the pack.

The season’s first Grand Slam is over. But clearly, for Serena Williams, the final chapters are still being written.


L. Brent Bozell III: The Black Hole of Sundance

Posted Jan 27, 2007

Hollywood types speak gauzily of their "art," even if nothing seems to fit the definition of some of this "art" better than "films almost no one wants to watch." Robert Redford became a hero of the "art" film world by founding the Sundance Institute in 1981, based on the call for "creative risk-taking" and "nurturing the diversity of artistic expression." But the search for risk-taking-cum-creative-diversity is a hopeless free-fall into the abyss, and all too often, and too predictably, results in creative perversity. What Mapplethorpe brought to the photograph, Redford's festival is now bringing to the silver screen.

The 2007 Sundance festival has reached a new low with a strange, yet highly publicized film called "Zoo." No, it isn't about giraffes and hippos. "Zoo" is about "zoophiles" -- you know, humans who like sex with animals. The documentary explores the activities of a group of men in the Pacific Northwest who engaged in bestiality. To be precise, they engaged in sex with Arabian stallions -- until a man died from a perforated colon in 2005.

No one seems to have asked Redford how far outside the orbit of common sense he had to float to allow this film a hallowed place at his "art" film festival.

In Redford's orbit this movie qualifies as "art," and he's not alone in that sentiment. Film critic Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times raved to the skeptical reader that "this strange and strangely beautiful film" contained off-camera interviews with the horseplay participants (what a surprise), as well as "elegiac visual recreations intended to conjure up the mood and spirit of situations." Turan even claimed the director, Robinson Devor, put it best, "I aestheticized the sleaze right out of it."

What on Earth does that mean? Aesthetic means appreciative of beauty. So the sleaze of bestiality was made beautiful? And is "elegiac" the right adjective to describe the recounting of man-on-horse (or in this case, fatal horse-on-man) sex scenes? What kind of editor at the Los Angeles Times allows this kind of copy into the newspaper? If this newspaper is so convinced the scenes are not just tasteful, but touching, how long before the Times is publishing its own "elegiac" diagrams?

The official promotional copy of the Sundance festival lauds the film's cleverness and "visual poetry" of male "alienation." But the message is also stated more bluntly. This documentary challenges viewers to examine "where we draw the line, how much perversity we can tolerate in others." At Sundance, it's no problemo. People like Redford apparently have no limit in how much perversity they can tolerate for the greater good of "creative risk-taking."

I can hear the movie's defenders already: "Bozell, you haven't seen it! You have to see it to judge it." But do some films really need to be seen before we can form a judgment that they're revolting? Aren't there concepts (think "Auschwitz comedy") that can be -- should be -- rejected out of hand, without a need for three days of deep contemplation? The avant-garde elite ask us where we should draw the line, but that's not their intent. They are daring someone to draw a line they won't cross.

Then there's that other sick Sundance sensation making headlines. Twelve-year-old Dakota Fanning, the star of "Charlotte's Web" and other family films, like "The Cat in the Hat," is starring in a five-minute rape scene in a film titled "Hounddog."

Is this -- this -- enough to shock the critics into denouncement? C'mon. David Halbfinger of The NewYork Times was perfectly predictable. After explaining how Fanning's character gyrates in her underwear, wakes up as her naked father climbs into her bed, demands that a pre-pubescent boy expose himself to her in exchange for a kiss and, finally, is raped by a teenager with the promise of Elvis Presley tickets, he attacked the moralists: "She's growing up. Get used to it."

For her part, Fanning is insisting people see this spectacle and be "touched" when they "see the truth" of the movie's theme of loneliness on screen. She is 12 years old, and Hollywood has her telling adults how to "aestheticize the sleaze right out of it." The world's gone mad.

Thankfully, there are a few people willing to speak the truth. Former child actor Paul Petersen has been vigilant in condemning the concept of a "tasteful rape scene" with a 12-year-old actress. "Nothing excuses it," he says, adding reports that the movie crew was so outraged during filming of the rape scene that they walked off the set. But sadly, the Sundance festival sees the exploitation of minors as only another courageous episode in the "diversity of artistic expression."

This year's Sundance makes last year's "Brokeback Mountain" look like a Disney release. God help us next year, when these "artists" plumb ever deeper.

Mr. Bozell is president of the Media Research Center.

Alex Alexiev: Playing by Islamofascist rules

Islamic Center of America, Dearborne, Michigan - upon it's opening in May 2005 it was the largest mosque in the United States.

January 27, 2007

The Washington Times

Some two years ago Saudi clerics issued fatwas forbidding Muslims to play soccer unless its rules were replaced by "Islamic rules," or it was used as physical training for jihad. To the extent that anybody noticed that in the West, they were promptly dismissed as the inconsequential ravings of misguided fanatics.

This is not likely to be the fate of recent promises by British chancellor and prime minister in waiting, Gordon Brown, to make Britain "a key hub for facilitating Islamic finance" and to turn London into "a major enabling and structuring center for global Islamic finance." Yet, completely different as these two cases appear to be at first blush, they are both part of a concerted effort by radical Islamists to make the rest of us accept their reactionary worldview as legitimate in the name of multiculturalism and diversity.

The apparent cluelessness of an otherwise economically literate person like Gordon Brown, regarding "Islamic finance" is a case in point. To put it simply, there could no more be "Islamic finance" or "Islamic economics" than Christian physics or Buddhist biology. It is a completely bogus concept based on a misinterpretation of Quranic teaching and designed to advance radical Islam. It has everything to do with Islamic, indeed, Islamist, desiderata and very little with finance. The guiding principle of Islamic finance is built around the ostensible Quranic prohibition of charging interest. Except that the Quran bans usury, not interest. As the leading authority on the subject, Professor Timur Kuran, explains in his devastating critique of Islamic finance, "What the Quran bans unambiguously is the pre-Islamic Arabian institution of "riba," whereby a borrower saw his debt double following a default and redouble if he defaulted again." And so, having foresworn interest without which banking is virtually impossible, Islamic finance is little more than a hoax perpetrated on its clients through a series of deceitful ruses that amount to interest just the same.

No wonder that the concept of Islamic finance or economics was virtually unheard off until invented some 50 years ago by hard-line Islamists like Abul Ala Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb, neither one of whom knew anything about economics. Nor did any Islamic banks or institutions exist in the entire history of Islam until 1975, when the Saudis started investing massive amounts of petrodollars into the worldwide export of Wahhabi extremism.

None of this has prevented Mr. Brown, or the U.S. treasury, which hired itself an adviser on Islamic banking, or countless Western universities and institutes sponsoring conferences on the subject, from legitimating this fraud on the altar of the false gods of multiculturalism.

Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated case of Western acquiescence to radical Islamist agendas. A few weeks ago, Muslim cab drivers at Minneapolis airport started refusing to carry passengers carrying alcohol purchases, following a fatwa by the extremist Muslim Students Association, which has no authority to issue fatwas to begin with. Yet, instead of immediately pulling their licenses for refusing to perform the service for which they were licensed, the city meekly submitted to this outrage. Where does this all end? How far are we from the day when an emergency room surgeon refuses to operate on a person because he had a glass of wine or ate pork before getting ill?

There are now countless Islamic centers, mosques and extremist organizations of all kinds incorporated in the U.S. that officially swear allegiance to shariah in their bylaws in blatant disregard to the law of the land. These are American non-profit organizations that pledge fealty to a reactionary code which requires rape victims to find four male witnesses to prove the crime, or face being stoned to death for adultery.

Nor do our public officials appear better informed than the British chancellor about the threat we're facing. Top government representatives regularly engage in meaningless "Muslim outreach" programs with the most radical of Islamist organizations, thereby legitimating them again and again in the eyes of mainstream Muslims as the powers that be in their community. Karen Hughes, the public diplomacy guru of the land, told a convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA): "You are the frontline in public diplomacy because you are more credible than I am." Who exactly are these credible frontline troops? A recent survey of ISNA members provides some unambiguous answers. By nearly a 3 to 1 margin they believe that America is at war with Islam as a religion and that the U.S. government had advance knowledge of the September 11, 2001 attacks and allowed them to happen. A majority did not believe that the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attack and the July 7, 2005 attack on London were Muslim. Even our law enforcement is not immune to this pernicious affliction, with FBI honchos across the country now forcing their agents to sit through "sensitivity training" sessions administered by the likes of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, several high officials of which have been sent to jail by these same agents for terrorist activities.

A historian once remarked that civilizations do not die of old age: they commit suicide. He might have added that a civilization that submits to the rules of those who would destroy it is halfway there already.

Alex Alexiev is vice president for research at the Center for Security Policy.

Patrick Buchanan: Bush's Errant Ideology

Osama bin Laden

January 27, 2007
The Miami Herald

Churchillian it was not. Yet the State of the Union seemed a success if Bush's purpose was to buy time from Congress to wait and see if his surge of U.S. forces into Iraq might yet succeed.

But when Bush started to describe the ideological war we are in, one began to understand why we are in the mess we are in.

"This war," said Bush, "is an ideological struggle. ... To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come to kill us."

But the "conditions" that drove those 19 men "to come to kill us" is our dominance of their world, our authoritarian allies and Israel.

They were over here because we are over there.

If Bush is going to remove those "conditions," he is going to have to get us out of the Middle East. Is he prepared to do that? Of course not. Because Bush, believing the problem is not our pervasive presence but the lack of freedom in the Middle East, is waging his own ideological war to bring freedom in by force of arms, if necessary.

"What every terrorist fears most is human freedom -- societies where men and women make their own choices."

Very American. But the truth is terrorists do not fear free societies, they flourish in them. The suicide bombers of 9-11, Madrid and London all plotted their atrocities in free societies. From the Red Brigades, who murdered Italy's Aldo Mori, to the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, who tried to kill Al Haig, to the Basque ETA, the IRA and the Puerto Rican terrorists who tried to assassinate Harry Truman, free societies are where they do their most effective work.

Stalin's Russia and Nazi Germany had no trouble with terrorists.

"Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies," declared Bush. Oh? Explain, then, why 70 million Germans, under the most democratic government in their history, gave more than half their votes to Nazis and Communists in 1933? In every plebiscite he held, Hitler won a landslide. In the year of Anschluss and Munich, 1938, Hitler was Time's Man of the Year and far more popular than FDR, who lost 71 seats in the House.

During 2006, free Latin peoples brought to power anti-American Leftists Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and came close to electing their comrades Ollanta Humala in Peru and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico.

In the free elections Bush demanded in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, the winners were the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas and Shia militants with ties to Iran.

If a referendum were held in the Middle East on the proposition of the U.S. military out and Israel gone, how does Bush think it would come out?

"So we advance our security interests by helping moderates, reformers and brave voices for democracy," said Bush. But how many of those "moderates" -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, the Gulf States -- are ruled "by brave voices for democracy"?

Our Islamist enemies would likely endorse unanimously a Bush call for free elections in all those countries, as elections could not but help advance to greater power, at the expense of our friends, those same Islamist enemies.

What is Bush doing? The America that won the Cold War said ideology be damned, we stand by our friends.

"The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies," said Bush.

But if we bleed our country to give the men and women of the Middle East the freedom to choose the society they wish to live in, are we sure they will not choose a society where Sharia is law? In liberated Afghanistan, popular sentiment was behind beheading that Muslim who converted to Christianity.

What leads Bush to believe everyone wants to be like us? Is it not ideology?

To characterize "the totalitarian ideology" we confront, Bush quoted Osama bin Laden: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

This is the true mark of the true believer. But did not the Spain of Isabella want the "unbelievers" removed from "among us"? Did not Elizabeth I feel the same about Catholics?

"Give me liberty or give me death!" said Patrick Henry of the Brits remaining in this country that Brits had founded. "Live free or die!" is the motto of the great state of New Hampshire.

This is the heart of the war we are in. Americans believe in freedom first. Millions of Muslims believe in Islam first -- submission to Allah. We decide for us. Do we also decide for them?

Perhaps the best advice we can give our Muslim friends in the Middle East is the hard advice Lord Byron gave the Greeks under the Islamic rule of Ottoman Turks:

Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not,

Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Introduction: Utopia vs. Nationhood

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

By Roger Kimball

I think I know man, but as for men, I know them not.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In a memorable passage at the beginning of The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant evokes a soaring dove that, “cleaving the air in her free flight,” feels the resistance of the wind and imagines that its flight “would be easier still in empty space.” A fond thought, of course, since absent that aeolian pressure the dove would simply plummet to the ground.

How regularly the friction of reality works that way: making possible our endeavors even as it circumscribes and limits their extent. And how often, like Kant’s dove, we are tempted to imagine that our freedoms would be grander and more extravagant absent the countervailing forces that make them possible.

Such fantasies are as perennial as they are vain. They insinuate themselves everywhere in the economy of human desire, not least in our political arrangements. Noticing the imperfection of our societies, we may be tempted into thinking that the problem is with the limiting structures we have inherited. If only we could dispense with them, we might imagine, beating our wings, how much better things might be.

What a cunning, devilish word, “might.” For here as elsewhere, possibility is cheap. Scrap our current political accommodations and things might be better. Then again, they might be a whole lot worse. Vide the host of tyrannies inspired by that disciple of airy possibility, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “Man was born free,” he declaimed, “but is everywhere in chains”: two startling untruths in a single famous utterance. Rousseau was keen on “forcing men to be free,” but we had to wait until his followers Robespierre and Saint-Just to discover that freedom in this sense is often indistinguishable from what Robespierre chillingly called “virtue and its emanation, terror.” Something similar can be said about that other acolyte of possibility, Karl Marx. How much misery have his theories underwritten, promising paradise but delivering tyranny, oppression, poverty, and death?

It wasn’t so long ago that I had hopes that the Marxist-socialist rot—outside the insulated purlieus of humanities departments at Western universities, anyway—was on the fast track to oblivion. Has any “philosophy” ever been so graphically refuted by events (or number of corpses)?

Maybe not, but refutation plays a much more modest role in human affairs than we might imagine. In fact, the socialist-inspired utopian chorus is alive and well, playing to full houses at an anti-democratic redoubt near you. Consider the apparently unkillable dream of “world government.” It is as fatuous now as it was when H. G. Wells infused it with literary drama towards the beginning of the last century.

Every human child needs to learn to walk by itself; so, it seems, every generation needs to wean itself from the blandishments of various utopian schemes. In 2005, the political philosopher Jeremy Rabkin published a fine book called Law Without Nations? Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States. Rabkin ably fleshes out the promise of his subtitle, but it would be folly to think this labor will not have to be repeated. As the essays in this special section demonstrate, the temptation to exchange hard-won democratic freedom for the swaddling comfort of one or another central planning body is as inextinguishable as it is dangerous. As the English philosopher Roger Scruton argues in “Conserving Nations,” “Democracies owe their existence to national loyalties—the loyalties that are supposedly shared by government and opposition.” Confusing national loyalty with nationalism, many utopians argue that the former is a threat to peace. After all, wasn’t it national loyalty that sparked two world wars? No, it was that perverted offspring, nationalism, which was defeated at great cost only by the successful mobilization of national loyalty. Scruton quotes Chesterton on this point: to condemn patriotism because people go to war for patriotic reasons, he said, is like condemning love because some loves lead to murder.

It is one of the great mysteries—or perhaps I should say it is one of the reliable reminders of human imperfection—that higher education often fosters a particular form of political stupidity. Scruton anatomizes that stupidity, noting “the educated derision that has been directed at our national loyalty by those whose freedom to criticize would have been extinguished years ago, had the English not been prepared to die for their country.” This peculiar mental deformation, Scruton observes, involves “the repudiation of inheritance and home.” It is a stage, he writes,

through which the adolescent mind normally passes. But it is a stage in which intellectuals tend to become arrested. As George Orwell pointed out, intellectuals on the Left are especially prone to it, and this has often made them willing agents of foreign powers. The Cambridge spies [Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, et al.] offer a telling illustration of what [this tendency] has meant for our country.

It is also telling that this déformation professionelle of intellectuals encourages them to repudiate patriotism as an atavistic passion and favor transnational institutions over national governments, rule by committee or the courts over democratic rule. Rabkin reminds us of the naïveté—what others have called “idealism”—that this preference requires. In order to believe that international bodies will protect human rights, for example, you would have to believe

that governments readily cooperate with other governments on common projects, even when such cooperation promises no direct exchange of benefits to each side. In the end, you must believe that human beings cooperate easily and naturally without much constraint—with- out much actual enforcement, hence without much need for force.

To believe this you must believe that almost all human beings are well-meaning, even to strangers. And you must believe that human beings have no very serious disagreements on fundamental matters.

The persistence of such beliefs is no guide to their cogency or truth. What that other Jeremy, Jeremy Bentham, long ago called “nonsense on stilts” presents a spectacle that is perhaps unsteady but nonetheless mesmerizing. And when it comes to the erosion of the nation state and its gradual re- placement by unaccountable, transnational entities such as the EU, the UN, or the so-called “World Court,” the results are ominous. As Andrew C. McCarthy notes in his essay below,

[w]ith the potent combination of a seismic shift in public attitudes away from democrat- ic self-determination and toward oligarchic juristocracy (or rule by courts), as well as a sweeping infrastructure of so-called “international human rights law,” this movement is now poised to realize much of its goal: A world in which the nation state, the organizing geopolitical paradigm and engine of human progress since the Treaty of Westphalia, substantially gives way to a post-sovereign order of global governance led by supra-national tribunals (or tribunals that, though nominally “national,” pledge fealty to the higher calling of “humanity”). Like other utopian projects, the end of this one is tyranny.

Today, the nation state, that territorially based network of filiation bound together through shared history, custom, law, and language, is under greater siege than at any time since the dissolution of the Roman Empire. The external threat of radical Islam—pardon the pleonasm—may be the geatest threat to Western civilization since 1571 when the Battle of Lepanto checked the incursion of what we used to call the paynim foe into Europe. Daniel Johnson is undoubtedly right when he observes that “We must rid ourselves of any illusion that we can eliminate the contrasts between Islam and the West: the Koran is not about to be interpreted less literally, Muslims are not about to embrace Western ideas of toleration or terrorism, and jihad will remain a fundamental part of the Islamic attitude to the rest of mankind.” But in the end, perhaps the greatest threat to the West lies not in its external enemies, no matter how hostile or numerous, but in its inner uncertainty—an uncertainty that is all-too-often celebrated as an especially enlightened form of subtlety and sophistication—about who we are. Johnson is right, too, in stressing the importance of the nation state as a bedrock of Western identity—a foundation we can abandon, whether through the embrace of judicial or bureaucratic fiat or the slow-drip method of unchaperoned immigration, only at our peril.

The attack on the nation state—a less orotund formulation might say our unwitting self-demolition—proceeds apace on several fronts. The essays below offer a sort of pathologist’s report as well as some suggestions for therapy. As to the latter, it’s a never-ending prescription, but its fundamental requirements are clear. As Keith Windschuttle puts it below,

there is no mystery about how to combat the long campaign waged by the intelligentsia to undermine the nation and to create “community without nation.” It requires a contest for ideas and a contest for the electorate. It means rejecting racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious compartmentalization, as well as the vast legal and ideological baggage accumulated in its train. It means regarding victimhood not as a virtue but a weakness. It means reviving national history as a political narrative and putting the interests of the democratic majority first. In the English-speaking world, it means reviving the values of the thousand-year-old British tradition. The fact that so many influential Western political and intellectual figures have today either forgotten or discarded these once elementary values and interests is a measure of how much ground there is to reclaim.

The simplest, most fundamental things are often the most difficult to acknowledge and preserve, especially among those too clever to countenance the reality of anything simple, let alone fundamental. That is one reason, to adapt a line from the poet Theodore Roethke, that we find so much beating of wings “against the immense, immeasurable emptiness of things.”


“Is the Nation State Threatened?,” a symposium organized jointly by The New Criterion and London’s Social Affairs Unit, took place on September 29, 2006 in Winchester, England. Participants were Jeremy Black, Christie Davies, John Fonte, Michael W. Gleba, Daniel Johnson, Roger Kimball, Andrew C. McCarthy, Kenneth Minogue, Michael Mosbacher, Douglas Murray, John O’Sullivan, James Piereson, David Pryce-Jones, and Keith Windschuttle. Discussion revolved around earlier versions of the essays printed in this special section and additional presentations by Messrs. Black, Davies, and Murray.

This article originally appeared in
The New Criterion, Volume 25, January 2007, on page 4
Copyright © 2007 The New Criterion Back to top

Charles Krauthammer: Energy Independence?

January 26, 2007
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Is there anything more depressing than yet another promise of energy independence in yet another State of the Union address? By my count, 24 of the 34 State of the Union addresses since the oil embargo of 1973 have proposed solutions to our energy problem.

The result? In 1973 we imported 34.8 percent of our oil. Today we import 60.3 percent.

And what does this president propose? Another great technological fix. For Jimmy Carter, it was the magic of synfuels. For George Bush, it's the wonders of ethanol. Our fuel will grow on trees. Well, stalks, with even fancier higher-tech variants to come from cellulose and other (literal) rubbish.

It is very American to believe that chemists are going to discover the cure for geopolitical weakness. It is even more American to imagine that it can be done painlessly. Ethanol for everyone. Farmers get a huge cash crop. Consumers get more supply. And the country ends up more secure.

This is nonsense. As my colleague Robert Samuelson demonstrates, biofuels will barely keep up with the increase in gasoline demand over time. They are a huge government bet with goals and mandates and subsidies that will not cure our oil dependence or even make a significant dent in it.

Even worse, the happy talk displaces any discussion about here-and-now measures that would have a rapid and revolutionary effect on oil consumption and dependence. No one talks about them because they have unhidden costs. Politicians hate unhidden costs.

There are three serious things we can do now: Tax gas. Drill in the Arctic. Go nuclear.

First, tax gas. The president ostentatiously rolled out his 20-in-10 plan: reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. This with Rube Goldberg regulation -- fuel-efficiency standards, artificially mandated levels of "renewable and alternative fuels in 2017'' and various bribes (er, incentives) for government-favored technologies -- of the kind we have been trying for three decades.

Good grief. I can give you a 20-in-2: tax gas to $4 a gallon. With oil prices having fallen to $55 a barrel, now is the time. The effect of a gas-tax hike will be seen in less than two years, and you don't even have to go back to the 1970s and the subsequent radical reduction in consumption to see how. Just look at last summer. Gas prices spike to $3 -- with the premium going to Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and assorted sheiks, rather than the U.S. treasury -- and, presto, SUV sales plunge, the Prius is cool and car ads once again begin featuring miles per gallon ratings.

No regulator, no fuel-efficiency standards, no presidential exhortations, no grand experiments with switchgrass. Raise the price and people change their habits. It's the essence of capitalism.

Second, immediate drilling to recover oil that is under U.S. control, namely in the Arctic and on the Outer Continental Shelf. No one pretends that this fixes everything. But a million barrels a day from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is 5 percent of our consumption. In tight markets, that makes a crucial difference.

We will always need some oil. And the more of it that is ours, the better. It is tautological that nothing more directly reduces dependence on foreign oil than substituting domestic for foreign production. Yet ANWR is now so politically dead that the president did not even mention it in the State of the Union, or his energy address the next day.

He did bring up, to enthusiastic congressional applause, global warming. No one has a remotely good idea about how to make any difference in global warming without enlisting China and India, and without destroying the carbon-based Western economy. The obvious first step, however, is an extremely powerful source of energy that produces not an ounce of carbon dioxide: nuclear.

What about nuclear waste? Well, coal produces toxic pollutants, as does oil. Both produce carbon dioxide that we are told is going to end civilization as we know it. These wastes are widely dispersed and almost impossible to recover once they get thrown into the atmosphere.

Nukes produce waste as well, but it comes out concentrated -- very toxic and lasting nearly forever, but because it is packed into a small manageable volume, it is more controllable. And it doesn't pollute the atmosphere. At all.

There is no free lunch. Producing energy is going to produce waste. You pick your poison and you find a way to manage it. Want to do something about global warming? How many global warming activists are willing to say the word nuclear?

So much easier to say ethanol. That it will do farcically little is beside the point. Our debates about oil consumption, energy dependence and global warming are not meant to be serious. They are meant for show.

James A. Lyons Jr.: Untie Military Hands

January 26, 2007
The Washington Times

In order to ensure that the additional combat troops being deployed to Iraq can achieve their objectives, we must change the current restrictive rules of engagement (ROEs) under which they are forced to operate. The current ROEs for Baghdad -- including Sadr City, home of the Mahdi Army -- have seven incremental steps that must be satisfied before our troops can take the gloves off and engage the enemy with appropriate violence of action.

(1) You must feel a direct threat to you or your team.
(2) You must clearly see a threat.
(3) That threat must be identified.
(4) The team leader must concur that there is an identified threat.
(5) The team leader must feel that the situation is one of life or death.
(6) There must be minimal or no collateral risk.
(7) Only then can the team leader clear the engagement.

These ROEs might sound fine to academics gathering at some esoteric seminar on how to avoid civilian casualties in a war zone. But they do absolutely nothing to protect our combat troops who have to respond in an instant to a life or death situation.

If our soldiers or Marines see someone about to level an AK-47 in their direction or start to are receive hostile fire from a rooftop or mosque, there is no time to go through a seven-point checklist before reacting. Indeed, the very fact that they see a weapon, or begin to receive hostile fire should be sufficient justification to respond with deadly force.

We do not need to identify the threat as Sunni, Shia, al Qaeda or Mahdi Army. The "who" is immaterial. The danger is not. The threat of imminent attack must be immediately suppressed. And while we must always respect the lives of the innocent, the requirement of minimal or no collateral damage cannot preempt an appropriate response.

The insurgents, be they Sunni or Shia, are well aware of our restrictive ROEs and they use them to their advantage. Indeed, as the thousands of insurgent-inflicted Iraqi civilian deaths illustrate, the death squads, assassination teams and al Qaeda killers in Iraq have no regard for human life. Victims are looked upon as expendable: cannon fodder in order to achieve their objectives. As we saw in Lebanon, Hezbollah held women and children hostage in the same buildings they used to conduct offensive operations. They wanted civilian deaths. This same tactic is being used in Iraq today.

We cannot, therefore, afford to keep our combat troops shackled by a naive, legalistic disadvantage that takes no note of the real world, or the real battlefield. Moreover, our combat forces are currently fighting a two-front war: a literal battlefield in Iraq, and a virtual front in Washington, where politicians snipe at our troops with words, threats of budget cuts, and unrealistic strictures on our warriors' behavior. Both the Iraqi insurgents and the radical Islamist fundamentalists dedicated to the destruction of Western values and democracy understand quite well that today, wars are not only fought on the battlefield but are also won or lost in Washington. They are only too happy to watch as our politicians water down our military goals and objectives in the name of some misbegotten legalistic concept of fair play and gentle warfare.

Our combat forces have never lost an engagement in Iraq. Let's make sure they don't lose the war in Washington. Unshackle the military and let our soldiers and Marines do their job. This will quickly silence the critics, as well as the insurgents and radical Islamist fundamentalists.

James A. Lyons Jr. is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

Kenneth R. Timmerman: France's Pro-American Turn

St. Tropez
January 26, 2007

(St. Tropez, France) – Not only in America did a presidential election cycle kick off this past week, but also in our alter-ego, France.

There were no grand debates about war and peace, however. No questions raised about this candidate trying to disguise his Muslim upbringing by joining a mainstream Christian church. No huge gambles over the fate of the free world.

This is France, after all. So the biggest “news” of the presidential campaign – just three months from the first round! – was the grammatical error Socialist Segolene Royal made during a trip to China. Or again, an offhand comment she made in Paris this week in support of a visiting separatist leader from Quebec.

France has become a profoundly frivolous nation, dedicated to pleasure, and that suits many French men and women very well.

In St. Tropez this week, the movie stars and the sun-bathers have gone home. Now as the mistral whips the port into a chilly froth, the local clothing boutiques are well into their annual half-price sale, and nearly everyone one of them is staffed by wannabe teenage beauty queens or by ever-tanned women in the 50s who can still wear skin-tight jeans and boots and look stunning..

Disco Volante of James Bond fame looked positively tiny parked down the quai from two 135 foot Mangousta yachts registered in Nassau and the Cayman Islands (one of them called, appropriately, Don’t Touch!). How many of you have ever seen a 135 foot yacht? It’s the maritime equivalent of a ten carat diamond. – and about as expensive.

The biggest gripe among locals this week was the outrageous price of fresh truffles. Alas, they’ve quadrupled from last year and are going for 1,000 euros a kilo – that’s $650 a pound. What is the world coming to?

Nicholas Sarkozy is widely touted as the front-runner for president, and that is good news for America. He is smart, he is conservative, and he understands that the protector of French prosperity is in Washington, not Brussels.

No French president is going to increase French defense spending to the level where the French could actually deploy an army overseas any time in the near future. Unlike the other candidates, however, Sarkozy doesn’t just know this, he says it openly with realism and clarity.

He came to Washington this past autumn – none of the locals there noticed him much, but his visit was widely commented upon here in France. Sarkozy the pro-American, his enemies call him. And to his credit, he finds that title just fine.

Sarkozy began his political career three decades ago as the protégé of Jacques Chirac. At one point, he was even dating Chirac’s daughter. He fell out first with one, then the other, and became a fierce critic of Chirac’s silly (and at times, dangerous) anti-Americanism during the Iraq war.

Two years ago, Chirac was hoping to put an end to Sarkozy’s career once and for all, as allegations floated in the media that he had a secret (and illegal) overseas bank account. This perfidious deed came to light when a list of these secret accounts, held with Clearstream in Luxembourg, surfaced in the French press.

To Chirac’s surprise, Sarkozy didn’t just bow down and surrender; he fought back, filing a civil lawsuit for defamation. That turned the matter over to a French investigative magistrate, who bit by bit began interrogating witnesses under oath until – mince, alors! – he discovered that the whole business appeared to have begun in 2004 in the private office of Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, Chirac’s swashbuckling foreign minister.

Sarkozy came out the winner, and it was Villepin’s career that took a fatal tumble. Instead of rushing to battle on his white charger, a fanion with Napolean’s eagle waving in the breeze, the overwrought Prime Minister plunged to his political death at under 20% in the polls. He recently pledged fealty to Sarkozy, for the few centimes his support is still worth.

A very pleasant man named François Bayrou has also joined the presidential steeple chase, and the press is falling over themselves to push him forward. He hails from the centrist party of former president Valery Giscard d’Estaign, and is a very sensible, honorable professional politician.

But French politics can get serious, and it can get ugly. And it can have a decided negative impact on the United States, as the 2002 election showed. Faced with neo-fascist leader Jean-Marie LePen in the second round, Chirac rallied the left and won the run-off with a resounding 82% of the vote. That led him to believe – mistakenly – that he had a mandate to transform France into America’s strategic adversary and save the Middle East for French banks, oil companies and arms merchants,

The press would love Mr. François Bayrou to become the spoiler, and knock out Sarkozy in the first round so their real favorite, the Socialist Segolene Royal, will face the ageing LePen in the run-off.

That’s the scenario, folks. And unlike America’s elections, we’ll know how it plays out soon enough.

Meanwhile, the French have begun to see the downside of a weakened George W. Bush. Just last week, political commentator Bernard Guetta was reviewing the Latin American tour of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, where he was squired around by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

The two of them pledged to try to convince OPEC to lower production quotas, so oil prices would return to record highs. Ah, but why didn’t America do anything about all this, Monsieur Guetta wondered. What did this mean? He knew the answer (after all, he is French).

“It means we are seeing the weakening of America,” he moaned.

When America is too strong, too self-confident, and too rich, the French worry they will become insignificant and do everything they can to hold us in check (as Chirac did in Iraq).

But when America becomes weak, the French start to fear for their own safety.

America is still the guarantor of freedom in this fallen, imperfect world of ours. And we should never forget it.

Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bob Klapisch: Murcer reassures fans, points to spring training

Thursday, January 25, 2007


The Oklahoma drawl sounds as healthy and lighthearted as it's ever been, which made it even harder to believe Bobby Murcer was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor two weeks ago. The Yankee announcer is fighting for his life against ferocious odds, but he spent a half-hour on ESPN Radio on Tuesday afternoon, comforting his fans instead of the other way around.

"Spring training is in my plans, I'm looking forward to the 2007 season," Murcer said on the air. "What a great future we have in front of us."

Only a man of faith could make such a proclamation; brain tumors are found in just 1.4 people per 10,000, so it would be easy for Murcer to have said, "Why me?" Instead, he told host Michael Kay's listeners about the "sense of calm" that's guided him through initial chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Kay graciously stepped aside for most of the half-hour Murcer was on the show, allowing callers to deliver messages of hope and love. That's what it was, adoration for a man who represents all that was once good about baseball. Kay, a boyhood Yankee fan, still describes Murcer as "my idol" – and he wasn't alone in that sentiment.

A 45-year-old woman told Murcer she had such a crush on him as a teenager, she went to his home. Both of them recalled the incident, laughing on the air. Good guy that he was, Murcer came outside to speak with the love-struck teen. Another man, also in his 40s, told Murcer he'd met him at the Stadium in August 1995, the day the Yankees mourned the death of Mickey Mantle. The caller was grateful that Murcer was so polite to a complete stranger. One by one, caller after caller, New York's baseball community was paying Murcer back for his years of kindness.

Good guy, gentle soul. It's been Murcer's profile forever. Even as a star in the 1970s, he was friends with the world. Goose Gossage, a teammate of Murcer's from 1979-83, said, "The game never changed him. He's been Bobby all the way. There was never an ounce of selfishness about him. Those are always the best kind of teammates. He treated everyone great, even the little people in the ballpark, which is why when I heard he was sick, I couldn't believe it."

A day after the devastating news, Goose placed a call to Murcer's home. He got voice mail, and found himself fumbling for the right words. Finally, Goose told Murcer he was praying for him, but not to worry about returning the call. Of course, Murcer did, telling Goose he was feeling great, chemo and all.

"I didn't know what to expect when I started talking to Bobby. I mean, it's hard to know what to say in that situation," Goose said. "But his optimism, his confidence, was amazing. I hung up feeling great, which is the last thing I thought would happen."

Obviously, the path ahead of Murcer is an unanswered question. For now, he and his wife are staying in a Houston hotel, making daily visits to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for a combination of chemo and radiation sessions. He was first operated on Dec. 28, although the malignancy wasn't known until tests were completed Jan. 10. According to medical data, Murcer is one of approximately 15,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with a brain tumor this year.

Looking back, Kay recalled how Murcer complained of headaches through the 2006 season, prompting doctors to administer an MRI. They decided it was a sinus infection. Now Kay wonders if Murcer had been seriously ill all along. Murcer himself would joke about his failing memory. When Jim Kaat retired from the booth in September, Murcer marveled at his colleague's memory of virtually every pitch from his 25-year career.

"Me, I don't remember a thing," Murcer said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

Today, there's little reason for laughter, although Murcer has been buoyed by a radical new treatment that delivers chemo orally instead of intravenously. The other ray of hope is that Murcer's doctor was diagnosed with the same type of brain tumor, and that was 3½ years ago.

Still, Kay finds himself raging the fates, wondering how a good man like Murcer could be saddled with such horrible luck. If Murcer won't ask "Why me?" then Kay will do it for him.

Why Bobby?

"I was so profoundly saddened and so shocked. It's so unfair," Kay said Wednesday. "You're talking about one of the nicest people ever in the world, and you wonder why these things happen. I've never seen Bobby be rude to anyone, including the fans at the press gate. He always says, 'Hey, how you doing?' to everyone."

Kay kept his distance from Murcer last month, convinced his broadcaster buddy wanted (and deserved) privacy. But media agent Steve Lefkowitz, who represents both Kay and Murcer, suggested putting Murcer on the air. That way, fans could hear that nothing, not even a malignancy, could steal this man's appreciation for life. Kay and Murcer finally spoke at noon Wednesday, five hours before his live interview, and like Gossage, Kay treaded lightly.

Within moments, however, it was clear the same old Murcer was on the phone, and it didn't take much for Kay to persuade him to go on the air. But taking calls was another matter. The public needed to hear from Murcer himself that he's standing up to this terrible disease. To that suggestion, Murcer readily agreed.

"I love my fans," Murcer told Kay.

Now more than ever, it goes both ways.


Srdja Trifkovic: Dinesh the Dhimmi

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jihad’s Fellow-Traveller’s Agenda

Nearly two years ago the Jihadist lobby in the United States made a concerted affort to have my book The Sword of the Prophet banned from National Review Online. Jihadi activists gathered around CAIR claimed the book defamed Islam and its “prophet.” When it did not get immediate satisfaction from National Review, CAIR instructed its partisans to pressure the Boeing Corporation to withdraw its advertisements from the magazine. Faced with the loss of revenue National Review briefly took down The Sword, but then quickly reposted it, under pressure from mainly conservative quarters.

Srdja Trifkovic

It is now, perhaps inevitably, the turn of a phony conservative to join CAIR’s ranks. In his latest book, The Enemy At Home, Dinesh D’Souza writes that,

In order to build alliances with traditional Muslims, the right must take three critical steps. First, stop attacking Islam. Conservatives have to cease blaming Islam for the behavior of the radical Muslims. Recently the right has produced a spate of Islamophobic tracts with titles like Islam Unveiled, Sword of the Prophet, and The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. There is probably no better way to repel traditional Muslims, and push them into the radical camp, than to attack their religion and their prophet.

Two of the titles D’Souza finds so offensive that condemning them tops his list of “critical steps” are by my friend Robert Spencer, and “The Sword” is mine. D’Souza wants us, and presumably other similarly minded authors (Bat Ye’or, Ibn Warraq, Andrew Bostom, Walid Shoebat, et al.), to shut up.

As my fellow offender Spencer has noted, D’Souza assumes that peaceful Muslims will have a greater sense of solidarity with jihadists than with non-Muslims, which is indeed the case, but it makes hash of his entire thesis—that social conservatives should ally themselves with these “traditional” Muslims:

For if these peaceful Muslims really abhor jihadism, they should have no reason to object to critical presentations of the elements of Islam that foster jihadism. But if such presentations will just drive them into the arms of the jihadists, then how committed could they really have been to peace and moderation in the first place? If they think ‘Islamophobic tracts’ . . . are more threatening to their religion than acts of terrorism done in the name of Islam, how ‘traditional’ and moderate could they possibly be?

It is noteworthy that D’Souza is condemning our writings as “Islamophobic” without further elaboration. Like the term “Islamophobia” itself—a classic product of the Hate Crime Industry—his technique is characteristic of the totalitarian Left. I remember reading, as a teenager in Tito’s Yugoslavia, similarly worded condemnations of dissident writers and their “tracts” in the communist-controlled press. Once they were defined as “anti-socialist,” “reactionary,” or “nationalist,” no further elaboration was needed and no debate allowed.

Furthermore, D’Souza uses “Islamophobia” with the implicit assumption that the term’s meaning is well familiar to his readers. For the uninitiated it is nevertheless necessary to spell out its formal, legally tested definition, however. It is provided by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), a lavishly-funded organ of the European Union. Based in Vienna, this body diligently tracks the instances of “Islamophobia” all over the Old Continent and summarizes them in its reports. The Monitoring Center’s definition of Islamophobia includes eight salient features:

1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.

2. Islam is seen as separate and “other.”

3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West, barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.

4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a clash of civilizations.

5. Islam is seen as a political ideology.

6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.

7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

This definition is obviously intended to preclude any possibility of meaningful discussion of Islam. The implication that Islamophobia thus defined demands legal sanction is a regular feature of the Race Relations Industry output. It also routinely refers to “institutional Islamophobia” as an inherent social and cultural sickness of most Western societies that needs to be rooted out by education, re-education, and legislation. In reality, of course, all eight proscribed statements are to some extent true. As I have argued in these pages and elsewhere,

1. That Islam is fundamentally static and unresponsive to change is evident from the absence of an orthodox school of thought capable of reflecting critically upon jihad, Sharia, jizya, etc. and developing new Islamic interpretations that Western liberals (and notably the 9-11 Commission’s Final Report) keep hoping for. Attempts to reformulate the doctrine are not new, but they have failed because they opposed centuries of orthodoxy. As Clement Huart pointed out back in 1907, “Until the newer conceptions, as to what the Koran teaches as to the duty of the believer towards non-believers, have spread further and have more generally leavened the mass of Moslem belief and opinion, it is the older and orthodox standpoint on this question which must be regarded by non-Moslems as representing Mohammedan teaching and as guiding Mohammedan action.” Huart’s near-contemporary Sir William Muir, noted that «a reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer. A century later the diagnosis still stands: it is not the jihadists who are “distorting” Islam; the would-be reformers are.

2. That Islam is separate from our (Western, Christian, European) culture and civilization, and other than our culture and civilization, is a fact that will not change even if the West (Christendom, Europe) eventually succumb to the ongoing jihadist demographic onslaught.

3. Whether Islam is “inferior to the West” is a matter of opinion. That it cannot create a prosperous, harmonious, stable, creative and attractive polity is not. Whether Islam is “barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist” is at least debatable; but that its fruits are such is beyond reasonable doubt.

4. Islam is seen as “violent, aggressive, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a clash of civilizations” not because of an irrational “phobia” in the feverish mind of the beholder, but because of the clear mandate of its scripture, because of the record of almost 14 centuries of historical practice, and above all because of the timeless example of its founder.

5. “Islam is seen as a political ideology” because its defining characteristic is a highly developed program to improve man and create a new society; to impose complete control over that society; and to train cadres ready, even eager, to spill blood. The doctrine of Jihad makes Islam closer to Bolshevism or National Socialism than to any religion known to man. It breeds a gnostic paradigm within which the standard response to the challenge presented by non-Muslim cultural, technological and economic achievements is hostility and hatred. D’Souza’s alleged distinction between Islamic “extremists” and “moderates” is a Western liberal construct, of course. The difference between them may concern the methods to be applied but not the final objective: to turn every last square mile of Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam.

6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam should not be rejected out of hand, they should be understood. Islam’s chief “criticism” of the West—and each and every other non-Islamic culture, civilization, or tradition—is that it is infidel, and therefore undeserving of existence.

7. A priori hostility towards Islam should not be “used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims.” Quite the contrary, a comprehensive education campaign about the teaching and practice of Islam should result in legislative action that would exclude Islam from the societies it is targeting, not because it is an offensive religion but because it is an inherently seditious totalitarian ideology incompatible with the fundamental values of the West—and all other civilized societies, India, China and Japan included.

8. “Anti-Muslim hostility” is not “natural or normal.” The infidels’ determination to defend their lands, families, cultures and faith against Islamic aggression is both natural and normal, however, and must not be neutralized by the Eurocrats from the left of by D’Souza and his likes on the “right.” They will deny that Islam, in Muhammad’s revelations, traditions and their codification, threatens the rest of us, that it is the cult of war and intolerance, but the truth will out. Until the petrodollars support a comprehensive and explicit Kuranic revisionism capable of growing popular roots, we should seek ways to defend ourselves by disengaging from the world of Islam, physically and figuratively, by learning to keep our distance from the affairs of the Muslim world and by keeping the Muslim world away from “the world of war” that it seeks to conquer or destroy.

It is entirely possible that Dinesh D’Souza subscribes to some other definition of “Islamophobia” than the one provided above. If he does, he should spell it out so that those he singles out for criticism can defend themselves. Until and unless he does so, we’ll have to agree with a recent commentator who concludes that D’Souza wants me and others “to lie about Islam, like himself, or to be silent”:

Now think how amazing this is. Has it ever happened in this country—I’m not talking about some totalitarian country but America—has it ever happened that a prominent “intellectual” called on leading writers on a subject of major importance to stop writing what they’re writing, because it would “offend” someone? No, this has never happened before. It has never happened before, because it’s only in response to Mohammedanism that Westerners adopt the posture of pre-emptive surrender, which Bat Ye’or calls mental dhimmitude. Of all the social, ethnic, religious, political movements in the world, only Islam has the ability to evoke this eagerly cringing attitude, only Islam has this faculty of inducing people to surrender psychologically to it even before it has any actual power over them.

Dixit. A man is defined, to some extent, by his enemies. Counting D’Souza and his ilk among mine casts an eminently pleasing glow on this drab January morning.

Srdja Trifkovic is the foreign-affairs editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and director of The Rockford Institute's Center for International Affairs.

Victor Davis Hanson: How Will Illegal Immigration End?

January 25, 2007

We hear all sorts of solutions for ending illegal immigration. Build a wall! Beef up border security! Fine employers, and create a massive guest-worker program. Or America could insist on tamper-proof identification cards, or detention, deportation or even amnesty for some illegal aliens -- or all of these measures somehow combined.

But ultimately the solution lies in the hope that a Tijuana might become as prosperous as a San Diego -- now a few miles away but a world apart.

After all, Hong Kong used to be a magnet for illegal immigrants who streamed in from impoverished Red China. Not so much any longer. Shanghai, for example, in two decades has become almost as wealthy as the old British colony.

East Berliners used to risk their lives to cross the wall into the West. Now billions of dollars are being invested in restoring the eastern half of a united Germany's capital.

Since World War II, poor workers from largely agrarian, Catholic and authoritarian Spain flocked northward into industrialized, Protestant and more democratic Germany and France to find work. Today, Spain's employment and growth rates compare favorably with those of its northern neighbors.

In each of these cases, once poorer regions bordering far wealthier societies have -- either by emulation, absorption or coercion -- radically liberalized their economic systems. With jobs and capital almost as plentiful at home as abroad, few wish to leave.

When Mexico follows suit, its relationship with the United States will resemble our connection with Canada. That should be our goal. Our northern neighbor's economy and political system are comparable to America's -- and thus the number of Canadians arriving here is small and almost the same as the number of Americans leaving for Canada. And by any benchmark, the weather, arable land and coastline of Canada are not nearly as inviting as Mexico's.

Yet currently, Mexico's per capita gross domestic product is about a quarter of the United States'. Wages in Mexico are far lower than in America. No wonder Mexicans come here by the millions.

So how will Mexico ever achieve parity with the United States?

The Mexican government must begin selling off inefficient state enterprises, especially in gas and oil. It should offer greater protection of property rights and ensure title searches. Mexico must stop the old nationalist rhetoric and welcome foreign investment, create a transparent judicial system and allow land to be freely bought and sold.

Most importantly, the Mexican bureaucracy must end endemic corruption that so exasperates foreign investors who would otherwise bring to Mexico efficient job-producing businesses.

There is no chance of Mexico being absorbed by its neighbor as East Germany was by the West. America will not create a continental union as happened in Europe and which so benefits Spain. Nor can even we count on complacent Mexican elites to believe they can become richer by deregulating their economy and competing in the global marketplace as has happened in China. Apprehensive Chinese leaders, after all, changed their rules only because they thought they had no choice after seeing the Soviet Union fall.

So what can the United States do?

Offer both help and tough love.

Granting Mexico favorable trade incentives is cheaper in the long run than dealing with the social problems caused by illegal immigration and the economic consequences of billions of U.S. dollars being sent southward from Mexican workers. The North American Free Trade Agreement, however controversial, has probably helped decrease Mexico's general poverty rate and increase its gross domestic product.

By closing the borders, the U.S. would stop subsidizing Mexican failure. At present, workers come to America not only because of higher wages, but also on the assumption that their cash income will often be untaxed and augmented by subsidized state health care, housing and education.

Tax evasion and American entitlement help to free up workers' dollars to be sent back to Mexico. In economic terms, that translates to the United States economy subsidizing millions of the unemployed in Mexico through $20 billion annually in cash remittances. This money weakens the incentive of millions in Mexico to seek employment or to demand government reform.

Finally, we need honesty about the problem. Mexico masquerades as a revolutionary socialist state, replete with flashy radical slogans that date back to the old days of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.

In truth, Mexico City's creed is elitism and a fossilized cronyism. Its privileged few have hurt millions of their hardworking citizens who deserve far more humane treatment -- and sometimes find it only here in America.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War." You can reach him by e-mailing

Ann Coulter: I Am Woman, Hear Me Bore
January 24, 2007

It's nice to have a president who is not so sleazy that not a single Supreme Court justice shows up for his State of the Union address (Bill Clinton, January 1999, when eight justices stayed away to protest Clinton's disregard for the law and David Souter skipped the speech to watch "Sex and the City").

Speaking of which, the horny hick's wife finally ended the breathless anticipation by announcing that she is running for president. I studied tapes of Hillary feigning surprise at hearing about Monica to help me look surprised upon learning that she's running.

As long as we have revived the practice of celebrating multicultural milestones (briefly suspended when Condoleezza Rice became the first black female to be secretary of state), let us pause to note that Mrs. Clinton, if elected, would be the first woman to become president after her husband had sex with an intern in the Oval Office.

According to the famed "polls" – or, as I call them, "surveys of uninformed people who think it's possible to get the answer wrong" – Hillary is the current front-runner for the Democrats. Other than the massive case of narcolepsy her name inspires, this would cause me not the slightest distress – except for the fact that the Republicans' current front-runners are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Fortunately, polls at this stage are nothing but name recognition contests, so please stop asking me to comment on them. "Arsenic" and "proctologist" have sky-high name recognition going for them, too.

In January, two years before the 2000 presidential election, the leading Republican candidate in New Hampshire was ... Liddy Dole (WMUR-TV/CNN poll, Jan. 12, 1999). In the end, Liddy Dole's most successful run turned out to be a mad dash from her husband, Bob, after he accidentally popped two Viagras.

At this stage before the 1992 presidential election, the three leading Democratic candidates were, in order: Mario Cuomo, Jesse Jackson and Lloyd Bentsen (Public Opinion Online, Feb. 21, 1991).

Only three months before the 1988 election, William Schneider cheerfully reported in the National Journal that Michael Dukakis beat George Herbert Walker Bush in 22 of 25 polls taken since April of that year. Bush did considerably better in the poll taken on Election Day.

The average poll respondent reads the above information and immediately responds that the administrations of presidents Cuomo, Dole and Dukakis were going in "the wrong direction."

Still and all, Mrs. Clinton is probably the real front-runner based on: 1) the multiple millions of dollars she has raised, and 2) the fact that her leading Democratic opponent is named "Barack Hussein Obama." Or, as he's known at CNN, "Osama." Or, as he's known on the Clinton campaign, "The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations."

Mrs. Clinton's acolytes are floating the idea of Hillary as another Margaret Thatcher to get past the question, "Can a woman be elected president?" This is based on the many, many things Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher have in common, such as the lack of a Y chromosome and ... hmmm, you know, I think that's it.

Girl-power feminists who got where they are by marrying men with money or power – Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Arianna Huffington and John Kerry – love to complain about how hard it is for a woman to be taken seriously.

It has nothing to do with their being women. It has to do with their cheap paths to power. Kevin Federline isn't taken seriously either.

It is as easy to imagine Americans voting for someone like Margaret Thatcher or Condoleezza Rice for president as it is difficult to imagine them voting for someone like Hillary (or Kevin Federline). Hillary isn't piggybacking on Thatcher because she's a woman, she's piggybacking on Thatcher because Thatcher made it on her own, which Hillary did not.

But the most urgent question surrounding Hillary's candidacy is: How will the Democrats out-macho us if Hillary is their presidential nominee? Unlike their last presidential nominee, she doesn't even have any fake Purple Hearts.

Sen. Jim Webb, who managed to give the rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night without challenging the president to a fistfight (well done, Jim!), won his election last November by portraying himself as one of the new gun-totin' Democrats.

He once opposed women in the military by calling the idea "a horny woman's dream." But – as some of us warned you – it appears that Webb has already been fitted for his tutu by Rahm Emanuel.

Webb began his rebuttal by complaining that we don't have national health care and aren't spending enough on "education" (teachers unions). In other words, he talked about national issues that only are national issues because of this country's rash experiment with women's suffrage.

He then palavered on about the vast military experience of his entire family in order to better denounce the war in Iraq. As long as Democrats keep insisting that only warriors can discuss war, how about telling the chick to butt out?

Ann Coulter is a bestselling author and syndicated columnist. Her most recent book is Godless: The Church of Liberalism.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

'Dreamgirls' leads in Oscar Nominations but Is Snubbed for Best Picture

The New York Times
Published: January 24, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Jan. 23 — Everything went as planned for “Dreamgirls,” a perfectly confected Oscar machine. Great cast, showstoppers that stopped the show, and a wonderful back story in Jennifer Hudson, the washed-out “American Idol” turned movie star. And it was all propelled by hype-filled rollout, plenty of strong reviews and, finally, widespread belief that it was the favorite in the best-picture throwdown.

Everything continued to go as planned during the news conference at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences here on Tuesday morning, with this crowd-pleasing costume musical racking up eight nominations. And then the best-picture category was announced: “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.”

Wait. Are they nominating six this year? The hundreds of reporters in the auditorium were leaning heads together, making sure that they did not hear the name “Dreamgirls.”

They did not.

“Dreamgirls” had the most nominations for the day, eight, including a pair for its supporting players, Eddie Murphy and Ms. Hudson, but it will not be around for the war. It is the first film in many decades to have the most nominations and not be in the best-picture category.

The seven nominations for “Babel” prove that the academy is a sucker for a weave of ambitious filmmaking (multiple languages and stories are represented) and big stars in small roles. (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were in just one segment of the movie’s triptych.)

“Pan’s Labyrinth,” a Spanish-language film, received a half-dozen nominations, as did “The Queen,” in an array that was announced by Sid Ganis, president of the academy, and the actress Salma Hayek at 5:38 a.m Pacific time; it was planned to land in the middle of morning shows in the East.

Much of what happened was expected — Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren, who played monarchs to very different effect — continued their stately walk to the podium, with nominations for best actor and best actress. (“I’m not going to win in a million years, and that’s absolutely fine,” said Kate Winslet, a fellow nominee in the actress category.)

Ms. Mirren said of her nomination: “It’s the mother lode. It’s the big mama of the whole thing. There’s nothing in the whole world like the Oscars.”

Mr. Whitaker described his excitement: “I’m stoked. I have to find the right word, and ‘stoked’ is O.K.,” he said, joining the ritual outpouring of gratitude and expectation.

Mr. Murphy, a seasoned veteran, and Ms. Hudson, an absolute beginner, were joined in the supporting categories by 10-year-old Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin, 72, for their roles in “Little Miss Sunshine.” (It’s been 38 years since Mr. Arkin’s last nomination, for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” )

The supporting-actor category was notable for its eclecticism, with Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of a pedophile in “Little Children” being recognized, as was Rinko Kikuchi’s role in “Babel” as a deaf-mute Japanese girl with a lot on her mind. In total, out of 20 slots for acting awards, 5 black actors were nominated, 2 Latinas and a Japanese woman.

And in a year when the precursor awards have been all over the road, the movies came from all over the world. “Cinema is an international art form, and you can do it in any language the artist dreams about,” Mr. Ganis said after coming offstage. He pointed to Clint Eastwood’s vivid example in making two movies in two languages about the same war.

The academy, frequently criticized for being a prisoner of convention, ventured far and wide in search of films that represented the year’s most spectacular achievements. Tidy little movies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Queen” were selected for best-picture nods, and two movies in which English is a second language — “Babel” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” — also made the cut, while “The Departed,” a big popcorn movie with a bloody, relentless end, was recognized as well.

Even “United 93,” a movie that made the unthinkable watchable, was given a significant nod when Paul Greengrass was nominated for best director. None of these movies had a built-in Oscar-winning apparatus — far from it, actually, but perhaps that was precisely the point.

Los Angeles is a place that worships success, but can be very punishing when it comes to striving for it. Paramount/DreamWorks learned as much, as it sought to position “Dreamgirls” as a favorite and succeeded; but something went wrong on the way to the podium. It most likely did not help that the movie, with its gorgeous songs and amazing costumes, was a tough sell to begin with among white males, a demographic that describes the majority of the academy’s 5,800 voting members.

The marketing of the film didn’t help, either. Regardless of what you have heard, “Dreamgirls” was a story that was about something, a particularly American story of success and redemption. Instead it was sold as a parade float, majestic and unstoppable. Behind that miscalculation, the basic blocking and tackling of an Oscar campaign fell short. The decision to send out screeners of the movie late was built on hubris — the same reason that Parmount/DreamWorks chose to charge $25 for early peeks at the movie — which suggested that it was an Important Film that must be seen on a big screen.

But the death of President Gerald Ford, combined with a national holiday, meant that most academy members did not get the film until Jan. 3, 10 days after they had received “Letters From Iwo Jima,” a movie that wasn’t even supposed to come out in 2006. That means that academy members saw the hype long before they saw “Dreamgirls” and had just 10 days to see it before they voted. (“Flags of Our Fathers,” another Paramount/Dreamworks project, this one from Mr. Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, came basted in Oscar juice and went nowhere.)

It made for a bad day at Paramount, although the studio’s chief, Brad Grey, was traveling and not taking calls, so no one can say for sure. The studio can find solace in “Babel,” a movie from its specialty division, Paramount Vantage, that did extremely well on Tuesday.

At Warner Brothers, things did not go as planned, either. It was thought early on that “Blood Diamond,” with its serious themes and star wattage from Leonardo DiCaprio, would be a durable contender. Mr. DiCaprio scored a best-actor nomination. But it was Warner’s “Departed” that landed in the thick of the best-picture race, and its director, a hardy unrequited perennial named Martin Scorsese, was also chosen. And the studio’s decision to release Mr. Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” is looking pretty smart just about now.

Alan F. Horn, chief executive of Warner Brothers, said best-laid plans or not, he was thrilled for both directors, Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Eastwood — the face-off will reprise 2005, when “Million Dollar Baby” edged out “The Aviator” — and with the five nominations “Blood Diamond” received. (In one indication of “The Departed’s” underlying strength going forward, Mark Wahlberg was nominated in the supporting category for his profane, explosive depiction of a police official.)

“We ended up in a good place,” Mr. Horn said.

Now that the nominations have been settled, the battle for credits will begin. The academy handout listed the best-picture nominations of both “The Departed” and “Little Miss Sunshine” with “nominees to be determined.” The academy will have to decide which of the five producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” deserve a statue, and although Graham King is currently listed, for the purposes of the best-picture nomination, as the sole producer of Warner Brothers’ “Departed,” Mr. Grey, who packaged the movie as an agent before he came to Paramount, may yet have something to say about that. As murky as that seems, it can be said with certainty that it won’t be pretty.

And, going forward, the best-picture race was left without a clear favorite, which is great news for the academy. The voters love a contest, and ABC does, too, because television of all kinds thrives on suspense. With a new host, Ellen DeGeneres, and a collection of films that millions of people actually paid money to see, ABC is hoping on reversing a drop-off in viewership and certainly improving on last year’s 39 million viewers when the show comes up on Feb. 25.

Paula Schwartz contributed reporting for this article.