Saturday, March 24, 2007

Adam Lucas: Do What You Do

North Carolina's Brandan Wright goes up for two between the defense of Southern California's Taj Gibson, left, and Southern California's RouSean Cromwell during the second half of their NCAA East Regional basketball game.

Adam Lucas on the win over Southern Cal.

March 24, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.--Ty Lawson was gassed.

You might not have seen it, but he was. There were four minutes and eight seconds left in the East Regional semifinal and his hands were on his hips, his mouth was wide open, and he was gasping for air.

Brandan Wright was shooting free throws, so Lawson took the opportunity to sidle over to the Carolina bench.

"Man, I'm tired," he told Roy Williams.

That is point guard speak for, "I need a rest."

Another time, another game, Williams would have looked down his bench and pointed his finger at Bobby Frasor or Quentin Thomas. "Get Ty," he would have said, and Lawson would have taken a seat beside Joe Holladay.

Not on Friday. Not in the middle of what was--according to sports information as of 2 a.m.--Carolina's best NCAA Tournament comeback.

"You've got eight more seconds until the timeout," Williams told his droopy point guard.
"OK," Lawson said. "I'm staying in."

Of course he is.

Four minutes left, round of 16, there is no other choice. This is the time that you do what you do. Lawson plays. We pray.

Wes Miller, for example. As Carolina stretched the improbable lead from three points to five points, the entire Tar Heel bench was standing--some of them, these 6-foot-6 trees, were standing on their tiptoes.

Not Miller. The shortest Tar Heel was crouched down, his hands on the floor. Asked what he was thinking right at that moment, right as he watched Danny Green coax a turnover out of Southern Cal, he said exactly what you were thinking and exactly what I was thinking:

"Whew. I was thinking I couldn't take it."

It's harder to watch than it is to play. Not physically. Physically it is not that difficult to sit in your recliner and watch the Tar Heels, rising only to protest the latest blown call or exchange a high five.

But mentally, it is harder. On the court, there is no time to think about what is happening. Just run down the court, run the offense, see the ball, crash the boards. That is why Green didn't have time to consider the ramifications of his enormous play that gave the Tar Heels the lead for the first time.

You remember it. Green got a steal out of a media timeout. He fired ahead, and it looked like Wayne Ellington was going to coast in for an easy dunk.

Except he missed it.

It wasn't quite Brian Reese's missed dunk against Cincinnati in 1993 in this same arena, but it was close enough to be painful. All this comeback, all this work, and now a dunk was bouncing off the back of the rim. There would be no one there to rebound it. This could be a comeback-snuffer. Surely Green would not have bothered to waste the energy to run down the floor and follow the play.


"No, no, no," said Green, who was playing in front of a sizable chunk of family and friends. "I wanted to chase it. I had to chase it. I thought he might get cut off and need to pass it back, so I wanted to be there for that. Luckily, Brandan and I were there to follow it up."

Yeah, that was pretty lucky. Or maybe it has to do with all those practices in an empty Smith Center, all those afternoons with Williams screaming, "Run!" at his team as they go through another 2-hour session.

Oh, about Williams. You were doing what you do. You changed seats or wore your lucky shoes or sat completely still lest you disturb the comeback mojo. And what did he do?

Exactly what he always does--let his team work through their problems.

He watched a 42-33 halftime deficit balloon to 49-33 with 17:43 remaining. There were no timeouts called. The lone timeout he used all game came with 0.8 seconds left in the first half, when the Tar Heels diagrammed a terrific play that gave Wayne Ellington a perfect look at a three-pointer, but it didn't fall.

How do you let your team fall behind by 16 points without calling timeout? Go ahead, admit it, you were saying that in your living room or in your seat at the Meadowlands. Call timeout, Roy! You don't get to take them home with you after the game!

How do you let that happen?

You trust your team. And they reward you.

"We look over at Coach Williams, and he's not calling a timeout," Marcus Ginyard said. "He's just telling us to get the ball up the floor and continue to play. All the players can feel the confidence Coach has in this team. It's really hard to say how important that is for a player, for a coach to feel that confident about his team and the way he knew we'd be able to come back."

Hey Roy, how about a favor? Next time, if you know it, can you flash us a little sign or something? Scratch your nose or cross your eyes or whatever it takes. Maybe then these games won't be quite so exhausting. How can a basketball game sap every ounce of your energy and at the same time wire you to the point that you can't sleep for hours?

There's bad news for Williams, too. At some point during the comeback, the Tar Heel bench turned into a melee. It was at about that point that Dewey Burke clocked his head coach in the jaw with a misplaced forearm. Burke later claimed that Wes Miller had initiated the contact that led to the collision. Williams wasn't having any of it.

"How many plus points does Dewey have?" he asked in a happy Carolina locker room. "I think we've got to take some away for that."

Well, OK. But just be aware it might be necessary to repeat the performance on Sunday. This is the NCAA Tournament and there are eight teams left. This is no time to take a chance. Ty and Brandan and Marcus and Danny and you other guys in argyle, you were important. But don't forget about the fan in Gastonia leaving the room, the diehard in Richmond changing into his lucky t-shirt, the slightly obsessive Tar Heel in Swansboro laying her hands on her team poster, and even William Graves and his magical shiny belt buckle (seriously, check it out).

"You know what I think the turning point of the game might have been?" Woody Durham asked after the Tar Heel Sports Network went off the air. "I think it was when I said, `Go where you go and do what you do.'"

Everyone nodded. It made perfect sense. Probably, he was right. It made as much sense as anything, because how else do you explain recovering from a 16-point second-half deficit in the NCAA Tournament?

Doing what you do--no matter who you are or what it is that you do, from the head coach right on down to whoever holds up the bottom end of the Tar Heel totem pole--did it. This was an acceptable explanation for what had just transpired. At some point, life will return to normal and you can drive to work on a different route or use a different toothpaste or wash your shirt.

Yes, it is irrational and it is silly.

Just keep doing it.

Adam Lucas's third book on Carolina basketball, The Best Game Ever, chronicles the 1957 national championship season and is available now. His previous books include Going Home Again, focusing on Roy Williams's return to Carolina, and Led By Their Dreams, a collaboration with Steve Kirschner and Matt Bowers on the 2005 championship team.

Terrorists shatter Thai peace

Thai policemen stand guard next to a minibus whose passengers were shot dead by militants in Yala province. Nine Buddhists were massacred when their bus was ambushed on Wednesday, while 11 Muslims were injured in a bomb attack at a mosque in Thailand's insurgency-torn south, capping a bloody day in the region.

Greg Sheridan, foreign editor
The Australian
March 24, 2007

Two weeks ago, gunmen stopped a small passenger van in the street. They forced all of its occupants out and on to the roadside. The gunmen then shot all nine of them dead. Three of the passengers were women, one was a young girl.

Just another day of Baghdad carnage, you say. But no, this was Thailand, traditionally a peaceful, prosperous and stable Southeast Asian state at the heart of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a formal treaty ally of the US and a close trade and diplomatic partner of Australia.

But the truth is that a savage, terrible and appallingly bloodthirsty insurgency is under way in southern Thailand. It is the third great insurgency in the world today, after Iraq and Afghanistan. More people are dying in horrific violence in southern Thailand than in Palestine or the southern Philippines, or in the ethnic strife in some of the outlying islands of Indonesia.

Neither the Thai Government nor the international media quite wants to admit the horrible truth at the heart of the increasingly surreal sadism and violence in southern Thailand. This is an Islamist insurgency. While it is organisationally independent of al-Qa'ida or Jemaah Islamiah, it fits into the global pattern of Islamist insurgency.

It is an insurgency restricted to the four Muslim provinces in southern Thailand. It is true that they are poor, but other provinces are poorer and have nothing like this savagery. It is true there is a good deal of criminal smuggling over the border to Malaysia, which goes beyond any Islamist ideology. But smuggling is even bigger across the Burmese and Cambodian borders and criminality there has not led to the gruesome acts of insurgency seen in southern Thailand.

The difference is the Islamist ideology of the shadowy insurgents. Increasingly the insurgents are killing women and children. The arc of violence has got consistently worse. The best estimates are that since January 2004, about 2100 people have died violently in the insurgency in southern Thailand.

Last September, Thailand's military ousted the elected prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a typically bloodless coup. The justification was the corruption of Thaksin's government and its heavy-handed and counterproductive efforts in the south.

The head of the Thai army, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, is a Muslim and the new military Government said it would be more conciliatory in the south. It would follow a political strategy. It would enhance dialogue. It would offer concessions. But the result of all this is that killings have increased to their highest rate yet: up to four deaths a day. The violence has just got worse and worse.

I find it strange that this conflict has not received greater international media attention. Perhaps two dynamics are important.

The first is that the insurgents have no interest in a broad public relations strategy, and certainly no interest in the Western media. In this they are unlike most Islamist insurgencies. But in fact this reflects the strength of the insurgents. They are brutally effective on the ground and they are achieving their short-term objectives, so they have no need to seek a victory in the media.

And second, all Thai governments have tended to play down internal security problems, in part so as not to discourage tourism, which is so important to Thailand's economy. Thai tourism benefited from the Islamist violence elsewhere in Southeast Asia as Thailand's image, previously an accurate one, is of a Buddhist haven of peace and hospitality.

Thaksin's government and now the military-backed successor Government have shied away from the idea of confronting a full-blown Islamist insurgency in the south. As much as possible they want to see it as criminality on a big scale. But this doesn't square with the facts and is no longer a plausible story. Regional security analysts believe the failure of the Thai Government to grasp the nature and enormity of the task they face has led to insufficient resources going into the problem and the continuation of crippling inter-agency rivalries between the police and the military and the various security and intelligence agencies involved in the south.

There may be a terrible irony of Western, including Australian, policy at work here. Historically, the Thai military was good at two things: coups and counter-insurgency. Throughout the 1990s, however, Canberra and Washington urged the Thai military to reform itself into a conventional force designed to protect Thailand's territorial sovereignty rather than to interfere with politics or internal security, which was meant to be left to the police. But after last September's coup, the military appointed a notably clumsy and sub-par Government which has squabbled internally and taken several poor policy decisions that have frightened away foreign capital. Most analysts now believe the Thai economy is at least three to five years away from recovering its pre-coup robustness, even if the situation in the south is somehow resolved.

So the traditional ability of the military to mount a coup and then attract high-quality people to serve in the subsequent government - as when it attracted the outstanding Anand Panyarachun in the early 1990s to be an interim prime minister - is no longer evident.

Similarly, the Thai military had dealt in its history with several serious insurgencies - communist, Muslim and regional - as well as endless cross-border difficulties with Burma and Cambodia.

It had generally been highly effective in its own territory. Now its performance in the south could hardly be worse. It is spasmodically brutal and generally ineffective, with poor intelligence and little ability to provide protection to leading moderates or security to the population at large, the supreme bad combination in counter-insurgency.

Zacahry Abuza, the US-based terrorism analyst who has perhaps the most detailed knowledge of the Thai insurgency, identifies six trends in southern Thailand since last September's coup.

* While most people are still killed by guns, the number of deaths caused by bombs is rising, and the size, sophistication and lethality of the bombs is consistently increasing. In 2004, most bombs were under 2kg. In 2006, they were generally 4kg-5kg. Now they are frequently 15kg in size and detonated by an increasing variety of methods, from mobile phones to digital watches and timing devices.

* The insurgent attacks are becoming more savage and provocative. There has been an increase in beheadings. Women and children are frequently targeted. The insurgents have three times attacked royal entourages. A successful attack on any part of the Thai royal family would be an escalation in itself and a further humiliation for the Thai state.

* Schools and teachers, because they are agents of secularisation and assimilation of Muslims into the broader Thai society, are increasingly targets. The insurgents want to force Muslims out of government-run schools, or even government-supported Muslim schools, which teach a mixed curriculum. For many Muslims it is only safe now for their children to attend private Muslim schools.

* Abuza sees a rise in sectarian attacks and ethnic cleansing. Although most of the insurgents' victims have been Muslims - partly because of the insurgents' wide definition of collaborators - they have succeeded in pushing 15 per cent of the Buddhist population out of the affected provinces.

* There are more concerted attacks on economic targets, a trend Abuza identifies as beginning in 2005.

* There is increasing civil disobedience, often involving women and children. Despite the Thai forces' occasional episodes of brutality, people are more frightened of the insurgents than of the soldiers. The insurgents also undoubtedly have a degree of popular support, despite their savagery. Thus civilians, especially women and children, will demonstrate at police stations to demand the release of particular suspects.

Analysts believe the insurgents' short-term goals include making it impossible for the Thai state to function in the southern Muslim provinces; provoking heavy-handed responses from the security forces in order to increase alienation and mistrust between the people and the state; to begin imposing informal sharia law in the region; and to silence or co-opt any political alternatives within the Muslim community. The long-term goal is assumed to be an independent Muslim state under full sharia law.

There was a series of mysterious explosions in Bangkok on New Year's Eve. Most analysts don't think they were the work of the southern insurgents but represent some manifestation of intra-elite conflict. While the insurgents have so far made a strategic decision not to target Bangkok or Phuket, this could change at any time. This whole disastrous situation is the most urgent security challenge in Southeast Asia today.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mark Steyn: A Fond Farewell

Friends and fans remember Cathy Seipp.

March 22, 2007 6:30 AMA

I loved Cathy Seipp’s writing, even though much of it was in areas I usually avoid like the plague:

1) She wrote media criticism, which is almost always the province of the indestructible ethics bores;

2) She wrote about hanging out in a glamorous city with a bunch of vaguely cool people you’ve never heard of, which grates very quickly on those of us who live in obscure zip codes where nothing ever happens;

3) She wrote droll observational scenes of everyday life, like all those leaden officially designated “humorists” in every newspaper across the land trying to wring 600 words out of the amusing aspects of barcode scanners;

4) And she wrote about the funny things her kid said, which is the kind of perilous terrain that leaves even the most well-disposed reader feeling like W. C. Fields.

But Cathy was the exception to the rule in all the above and many other areas. The media criticism was much needed in her home state, where she was a welcome disruption to the entertainment capital’s industrial production line of the world’s dullest journalists. Her analyses of the Los Angeles Times-servers were dead right, but my favorite moments were when some stylistic quirk caught her eye:

I almost didn’t finish reading Lopez’s column today because in the opening graph he wrote that he “motored about” L.A. to hear what people were saying about yesterday’s protests. Motored about? What is he now — Jeeves?

As for the hanging-out-in-LA stuff, Cathy wrote with a very unforced warmth that could make almost any of her pals sound like someone you’d like to meet, even when (as with my Spectator colleague Toby Young) you already have and wish you hadn’t. The observational humor usually turned up as an odd digression, as if she’d been motoring about and turned down a winding side street. A few years back, some guy sent her an e-mail to say half-an-hour earlier he’d just recognized her driving a gray Volvo east on Beverly Boulevard:

At least I didn’t attract his attention because I was picking my nose in the car, which people often do while for some reason assuming they’re invisible.

Sudden, horrible thought....or did I?

And, as for the kids-say-the-darnedest-things stuff, while trying to run down the above passage, I stumbled across this mother/daughter exchange after Maia somehow manages to get the wrong end of the stick on Hitchcock’s Rear Window :

“What a stupid movie! That’s the most terrible ending I’ve ever seen!”

“It’s a perfectly happy ending,” I sighed.

“It’s happy now that Grace Kelly’s leg is amputated?”

Which is surreal. Although she was happy to describe herself as a Republican, I assumed at first she was a “conservative” mainly in the sense that there was a limit to the amount of solemn PC codswallop she was prepared to swallow. But in the end she was a more morally serious person than her Governor and most other prominent “moderate” GOP-ers. For example:

Well, as they used to say in gay circles, Silence=Death, and that’s been pretty much the official gay party line about the dangers of Islamofascism. (As it is also with feminist groups like Not in Our Name et al.) Here’s a typical post 9/11 news release from GLAAD: “Survey Finds LGBT Muslims Were Scared And Harassed After 9/11.”

Not scared or harassed in Iraq or Afghanistan or Egypt, but in the U.S. and Canada and Britain. Because compared to life under George Bush or Tony Blair, it’s all kite-flying fun and sales at Barneys in the average Islamist person-of-color dictatorship.

I’ve quoted her a lot here because I love the great brio of her writing. She was naturally funny, and so she had the confidence never to fake it. But she also communicated a great joy and relish in writing, and you’d be surprised how few writers do that. I also liked the way you never quite knew where the next paragraph would lead. She starts off in a doctor’s waiting room watching President Bush give a speech on Iraq while her fellow female patients hurl ever more demented insults at the screen, and she somehow winds up with:

The other constant refrain I’ve been hearing lately is from Lewis, who’s become obsessed with what he imagines is my father’s kinky and overly active sex life ever since he heard him moving furniture around downstairs one night and insisted it was the sound of...something else. So now every time he leaves a phone message, it’s “I guess you’re out buying your dad condoms,” or “Shopping for sheets?” Etc.

Occasionally he lays off for a while, but that’s only so he can hit me with it again when I least expect it. “Did you feel the earthquake last night?” Lewis asked a few days ago, when I made the mistake of picking up the phone.

“I don’t think there was an earthquake last night.”

“Well, you’re right, there wasn’t, but I thought there was. So I called the U.S. Geological Survey and they said, ‘No, no, it’s just that Harvey Seipp was having sex last night. We’ve been getting these calls all day.’”

Great writing is all about rhythm, and Cathy’s was beautiful. I shall miss her enormously.

— Mark Steyn is author of America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.

Bob Klapisch: Well-wishers lifted Murcer's spirit

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bergen County Record

Bobby Murcer didn't want to call it a miracle, because to do so would suggest his battle with brain cancer is officially over. It's not – not with a disease this aggressive. Yet three months after he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor, Murcer's doctors say there's no irregular cell activity in his body. Chemo and radiation, and a million prayers, have brought the cancer to a halt.

The man with a sweet Oklahoma twang and even gentler soul says, "It's obvious that I've been blessed by all the love around me."

So the countdown has begun in the Murcer household. Sometime in the next month, the former Yankee slugger and YES broadcaster will return to the Stadium. Murcer isn't planning to make a sympathy tour of New York; there'll be no Lou Gehrig-type farewell speeches. Instead, Murcer intends to show up for work again. Despite the brutal odds of survival, Murcer finds himself well enough to indulge his love of baseball.

If this isn't a miracle, what other description possibly fits? Murcer was on the phone from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he's been undergoing treatment, sounding as empowered as any man who'd just rediscovered his life. Only the deeply religious Murcer says he never lost faith, not in the darkest days of December when he was nauseated from chemo, his hair started falling out, and a terrible cold made getting out of bed a personal hell.

What Murcer didn't know, however, was that his body was neutralizing the cancer cells in his brain. Surgeons had removed the tumor – or at least what they could detect with the naked eye. But they knew there were remaining infected cells they couldn't see. In most cases, those cells start multiplying and growing within three months; that's the heartbreak of neuro-cancer; no one knows why it's so aggressive. But for reasons only the fates understood, Murcer was spared.

"When the doctors told me there's nothing going on in my head, I told them, 'That's been the case all along,' " he said with a laugh. "But, seriously, they say everything looks good right now. I don't know if you can say I'm cancer-free, because there is no cure for this. But we're hoping to treat it as a chronic thing."

Phase two of Murcer's treatment calls for him to participate in a new clinical trial. He had to be cancer-free to even be considered for the experiment. But now that Murcer has beaten one set of odds, he'll be administered a vaccine to boost his immune system tenfold. Ideally, the enhanced defense will keep those infected cells dormant for the rest of Murcer's life.

Will it work? That's a question doctors can't touch. Murcer doesn't know how long his luck will hold out, but those who know him say if anyone can live one day at a time, it's Bobby Murcer. Indeed, friends are already urging him to write a book about his experience, although the family isn't quite ready to say yes. After all, Murcer will be flying back to Houston all summer for his vaccinations. And then there's his other scheduling conflict – YES and the Yankees.

The network's hierarchy has told Murcer to take as much time as he needs; his job is safe, now and forever. But Murcer intends to be busy – soon. Too busy for his memoirs, which is more than anyone could've expected when the awful news was made public.

Murcer was the unlikeliest victim for an illness that attacks only 1.4 people per 10,000. Even at 60, he was too young-looking to be that sick, too young at heart to be that close to dying. The entire Yankee community checked in by telephone, everyone calling to say they were praying for their friend. It was more than just allies who made deposits in the karma bank; everyone got in touch. Strangers, fans from the '70s, present-day YES viewers, bloggers, cancer survivors, even sworn enemies of the Yankee empire.

"Yes, even Red Sox fans," Murcer said. "When they started wishing me well, I had a feeling things were going to turn out OK."

One more time, Murcer laughed. He wasn't gloating, just appreciating the world in a new, cleared-eye way. Murcer is protected by a sheath of faith, and if you're willing to listen, he explains that his cutting-edge doctors would've never had a chance against this cancer without God. When those same doctors tried telling Murcer how few patients survive this cancer, he stopped them cold. He knew. From the day he was diagnosed, Murcer has prepared himself for what could be. His faith keeps him from surrendering to fear.

That's why Murcer made the phone call from his hospital room Thursday. He wants well-wishers to know nothing is impossible, not even the fight against a brain tumor. Imagine the reception that awaits him in the Bronx, Murcer was told. Think of all the friends in the ballpark who are waiting to shake his hand.

Murcer thought about that for a moment. You could sense the smile through the long-distance static.

"I don't think it'll be a handshake," Murcer said. "I'm going to hug everyone."


Does Soprano Get Whacked? Does He Get a Banana Split?

Onlookers gathered Thursday by an ice cream parlor in Bloomfield, N.J., for what some believed was the filming of the last scene of the last episode of “The Sopranos.”

The New York Times
Published: March 23, 2007

BLOOMFIELD, N.J., March 22 — They gathered here — an old man in a black fedora and leather jacket, a woman in a tracksuit, a young mother pushing a stroller — for a final glimpse at Tony and Carmela and A. J. and Meadow.

As HBO’s television series “The Sopranos” films its final episode in this blue-collar town outside Newark, the citizens of New Jersey are, in many ways, rushing to get one last look at themselves.

So dozens of people crowded around Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionery on Thursday afternoon, though it was impossible to see the first family of fictional Mafia through the thick black shroud over the door of the old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

There was a man selling silk-screen T-shirts for $20 bearing a picture of the parlor and the words “The Final Episode.” Another claimed he was related to the actors Michael Imperioli (who plays Tony’s nephew Christopher) and Edie Falco (Carmela).

And there was much discussion of “whacking,” as in, “Is Tony going to get whacked?” — which was the question one woman put to a Bloomfield police officer at the scene of the scene.

“No,” the officer replied confidently.

For the past eight years, “The Sopranos” has played a pivotal role in defining New Jersey to the rest of the nation — from the shots of the New Jersey Turnpike and shops like PizzaLand in the opening credits, to people who pronounce “this” with a “d.” The series creator, David Chase, a New Jersey native, has said he insisted on filming here because the state is integral to the show.

Steven Gorelick, associate director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, estimated that the show had spent $60 million shooting (the nonlethal variety) in the state. “I think it’s given New Jersey as much fame as any project that’s been shot here,” he said. “When people watch it abroad, they say ‘Ahh, New Jersey. Sopranos.’ ”

But since it first went on the air in 1999, “The Sopranos” has had a complicated relationship with the Garden State. While many residents feel a sense of pride in the series, others, especially politicians, have complained that it plays to ugly stereotypes about Italians as thuggish criminals.

In 2000, James W. Treffinger, who was then the Essex County executive, banned the series from shooting there, saying it “stereotypes an ethnic group.” (Mr. Treffinger was later sentenced to 13 months in prison after being convicted of corruption.)

Such controversy did not escape Bloomfield, whose mayor and council initially denied a permit to film in town. That decision was later overturned, but not before the mayor, Raymond McCarthy, told The Associated Press, “I don’t think ‘The Sopranos’ depicts the life of a typical Italian-American in a positive way, and I still don’t like the way people see New Jersey based upon the ‘Sopranos’ series.”

Though the series has filmed in dozens of spots around the state — from exteriors of the Sopranos’ house in North Caldwell to a Jersey City cemetery near a turnpike overpass — there was particular fanfare around Holsten’s because of persistent reports that the Soprano family gathering would be the final scene of the final episode of the final season. But a spokeswoman for HBO noted, “Until Mr. Chase goes into the edit room, it would be impossible to say what the final scene will be.”

Michael Imperioli and James Gandolfini

It was also impossible to know on Thursday what was happening behind the black curtain inside the ice cream parlor, but that did not stop a woman who had stayed home from work from calling in frequent updates to her boss as she sat on a folding chair across the street.

At one point, when James Gandolfini, who plays Tony, emerged from a van, someone in the crowd gasped, “Oh, my God!”

Outside Rita’s Water Ice nearby, Michael Masucci, 49, a beefy, goateed man in a dark tracksuit, surveyed the scene. “They say I have the look,” he confided. Though he had no luck snaring a walk-on role here, he said his Jeep had been used this month in a scene at the Bada Bing! club (a k a the Satin Dolls lounge on Route 17 in Lodi).

To Mr. Masucci, the uproar over the series had been silly. “Growing up here, you know there’s mobsters everywhere,” he said, adding that people were upset with the show only because some “don’t want to talk about the truth.”

Leo Mongiovi, 84, was decked out all in black: fedora, leather jacket, pants, sunglasses. He said he was retired from the wholesale meat business in Newark. While he was on his cellphone trying to persuade his wife to bring a chair down for him, a man spotted him.

“Hey, he looks like one of the actors here!” said Mike Markwith, 37. “Hired hit man over here!”

“Yeah,” said Mr. Mongiovi. “I fit right in.”

Jonah Goldberg: Turning Up the Heat on Gore

The former VPOTUS wants to change attitudes more than he wants to solve problems.

March 23, 2007 12:00 AM

As fate would have it, the same week Al Gore was testifying before Congress, I was doing a little testifying myself. Admittedly, there were a tad fewer paparazzi in the Madison, Wis., classroom where I was giving a talk on global warming (sponsored by Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, or CFACT). The debate in Washington offered some familiar echoes.

One student asked a long and rambling question that went basically as follows: He understood why I think Al Gore is dishonest and misleading. But how can I criticize Gore when all he wants to do is make people change their behavior and take care of this planet?

Translation: Gore is on the side of the angels and therefore it’s mean-spirited to throw inconvenient truths back at the Oscar winner for An Inconvenient Truth. “Yeah, exactly,” the kid responded when I rephrased the question thusly.

The press and the Democrats seem to share this kid’s sensibility. Covering Gore’s congressional testimony, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank portrayed Gore as a man of science versus a bunch of creationist nutjobs. Milbank wrote: “... instead of giving another screening of An Inconvenient Truth, the former vice president found himself playing the Clarence Darrow character in Inherit the Wind.” It’s an unintentionally accurate comparison, because the movie completely distorted the reality of the Scopes trial. The real Clarence Darrow contentedly lost the open-and-shut case after a nine-minute jury deliberation. The movie was about something bigger than the facts. So is Al Gore. And that’s why his fans love him.

Gore says global warming is “a crisis that threatens the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth.” It’s graver than any war. He compares it to the asteroid that allegedly killed the dinosaurs.

But here’s the thing. If there were an asteroid barreling toward earth, we wouldn’t be talking about changing our lifestyles, nor would we be preaching about reducing, reusing and recycling. We would be building giant wicked-cool lasers and bomb-carrying spaceships to go out and destroy the thing. But Gore doesn’t want to explore geo-engineering (whereby, for example, we’d add sulfate aerosols or other substances to the atmosphere to mitigate global warming). Why? Because solving the problem isn’t really the point. As Gore makes it clear in his book, Earth in the Balance, he wants to change attitudes more than he wants to solve problems.

Indeed, he wants to change attitudes about government as much as he wants to preach environmentalism. Global warming is what William James called a “moral equivalent of war” that gives political officials the power to do things they could never do without a crisis. As liberal journalist James Ridgeway wrote in the early 1970s: “Ecology offered liberal-minded people what they had longed for, a safe, rational and above all peaceful way of remaking society ... (and) developing a more coherent central state.”

This explains Gore’s relentless talk of “consensus,” his ugly moral bullying of “deniers” and, most of all, his insistence that because there’s no time left to argue, everyone should do what he says.

Isn’t it interesting how the same people who think “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” when it comes to the war think that dissent when it comes to global warming is evil and troglodytic?

“If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor,” Gore said this week. “If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science fiction novel that told me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action.”

True enough. But if your baby’s crib is on fire, you don’t run to a politician for help either.

You can tell that Gore’s schtick is about something more than the moderate and manageable challenge of global warming when he talks of sacrifice. On the one hand he wants everybody to change their lifestyles dramatically. These are the sacrifices the voracious energy user Al Gore won’t have to make because he can buy “carbon credits” for his many homes and his jet-setting.

But when asked this week about the enormous and unwise costs his plan would impose on the U.S. economy (according to the global consensus of economists), Gore said that his draconian emissions cuts are “going to save you money, and it’s going to make the economy stronger.”

Wait a second. This is the gravest crisis we’ve ever faced, but if we do exactly as Gore says (but not as he does), we’ll get richer in the process as we heal Mother Earth of her fever? Gore’s faith-based initiative is a win-win. No wonder so many people think it’s mean to disagree.

— Jonah Goldberg is Editor-at-Large of National Review Online.

Born to Run Home

East Village icon Jesse Malin returns for some inspiration, and gives it right back

by Richard Bienstock
The Village Voice
March 13th, 2007 1:02 PM

"New York is a great place to leave and come back to," says Jesse Malin, who recently returned to his hometown after a brief move to Los Angeles, where he recorded much of his third solo album, Glitter in the Gutter. "They've got some good-hearted people and decent Mexican food," he admits of his westward jaunt, "but I didn't last out there. I like to hang out, run into different people, just walk the streets—do that in L.A. and everyone thinks you're a male prostitute. But I need that contact, that spontaneity. It inspires me."

It's clear that Malin, presently holed up in a corner booth at Life Café on Avenue B, never wants for inspiration here. He's relaxing—as much as I imagine the fast-talking, constantly buzzing 39-year-old ever relaxes—with a cup of hot tea, chatting up with easy familiarity just about every customer coming or going. He politely apologizes for the repeated interruptions, much as he did when a similar scenario played out during our last meeting, at Dojo on St. Marks Place. And it explains why his apparent ubiquity around these parts has led some to jokingly refer to Malin as "the mayor of the East Village." I'd mention this, but I've heard he's not too fond of the tag.

And yet his prints are all over the area. Located a few blocks south and west of Life Café is a building that, back in the early '80s, housed the club A7, where Malin's teenage hardcore band Heart Attack would open for Bad Brains and SS Decontrol and blast through songs with titles like "Hitler" and "God Is Dead"; today, he leases the space for his neighborhood bar, Niagara. Between then and now, in sorta chronological order, Malin dropped out of high school, disbanded Heart Attack, worked odd jobs ranging from gas station attendant to health-food store clerk to all-purpose "man with a van" (the mention of which now inevitably leads to a comical tale about moving Barbra Streisand's bed), formed the East Village glam-punk act D Generation, recorded three undervalued major label albums, befriended childhood heroes Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer, opened the infamous St. Marks Place club Coney Island High, watched D Generation disintegrate and Coney be shut down, and, around the turn of the century, re-emerged on the local scene as a storytelling solo artist, mining a sound that pulled predominantly from his love of classic rock, Americana, and powerpop.

"There are some people who were like, 'What the fuck are you doing? You sound like Bruce-Seger-Cruisers-Jovi-whatever,' " says Malin. "But to me it's all just rock 'n' roll, and you take those three or four minutes you have in a song to say what you gotta say. When I was younger, it was all pretty angry and aggressive, but now I'm more secure; I'm capable of exposing more of myself without being so self-conscious about it. And I think I'm more comfortable doing this, and actually a little happier."

Happier, perhaps. Happy—not exactly. Malin writes songs that are built for dusk or dawn, weary with regret for dreams unfulfilled or rife with anxiety for those yet to be realized. His narratives are plainly stated yet unabashedly poignant, instilled with a true believer's sense of hope but seemingly preordained to end in despair. But in contrast to his two prior solo albums, Glitter in the Gutter—which features guitar contributions from Josh Homme and old friend Ryan Adams, as well as a vocal duet with Bruce Springsteen on the piano ballad "Broken Radio"—is, at least musically, a largely upbeat affair, its songs outfitted with ringing, widescreen guitars and coated in a sparkling production sheen. Furthermore, says Malin, the album, at its core, "is not a crying-in-your-beer record. It's more about hope." Case in point: For Glitter, Malin re-recorded his song "Since You're in Love," a tale of rejection and depression set in a 9/11-scarred New York that first appeared on 2004's The Heat. This time, he jacked up the tempo, added some new lyrics, and changed the name. The new title? "Happy Ever After." He still doesn't get the girl, but, he says, "I thought it was a nice sentiment, to be able to offer love anyway, instead of just saying, 'Fuck you.' "

Which, in a way, kinda sums up the album. "When I was writing these songs I kept asking myself, 'How do people experience everything life throws at them without becoming jaded and cynical?' " says Malin. "The truth is you just find a way to keep going, because you never know who you might meet tomorrow, or what might happen next."

Malin needs that contact, that spontaneity. It inspires him.

Jesse Malin plays the Bowery Ballroom March 19,

John Podhoretz- Duke: Who Won't Pay

The New York Post

March 23, 2007 -- IT seems that the trumped-up charges against three young men who played for the la crosse team at Duke University will be dismissed either today or sometime next week.

That will mostly end their ordeal, though they'll still have to deal with millions of dollars in legal fees (which, in the end, the city of Durham, N.C., will probably have to pick up).

The same can't be said of their false accuser - who is in a world of trouble, since you're not supposed to make false accusations to the authorities.

But her dire fate will seem positively sunny compared to that of Durham DA Mike Nifong - who is certain to be sued for defamation, likely to be disbarred and very possibly charged with an open-and-shut case of perjury that could land him in jail for a long time.

Mike Nifong, Durham District Attorney

Yet some of the most disgraceful actors in this case will go unpunished.

I'm referring to a huge cohort of the professors at the top-flight university attended by the three unjustly accused men.

Some 88 of them - more than 10 percent of the entire Duke professoriat - engaged in a shocking rush to judgment in the weeks following the party where the accuser falsely alleged she had been raped.

They signed an ad declaring they were "turning up the volume at a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down."

Their shameful conduct helped create the lynch-mob atmosphere that tempted and seduced DA Nifong to believe he could ride an indictment of the three young men to political victory in the Democratic primary that took place only weeks after he charged them.

It is not too much to say that many of the adults at Duke, who should be stewards for their students, actually wanted the false rape story to be true because it fulfilled their ideological predilections.

Since the academic work of those who organized the ad centers around the notion that the white male power structure subjugates and violates all those who are neither white nor male, the case was actually a dream come true for them.

After all, a poor African-American woman said a gang of white boys - a gang whose number changed each time she told her cock-and-bull story - had raped her only a few yards from the Duke campus.

These academics must realize there is something more than faintly ridiculous about professors living in bucolic splendor with lifetime tenure at one of America's most prestigious universities claiming that they and people like them - students whose admittance to the university represents an irrevocable ticket into the highest reaches of the American power structure - are being socially suppressed.

Duke University English Professor Houston Baker, who holds a tenured chair, was one of the most vociferous critics of Duke's administration and its handling of the lacrosse rape scandal.

So here the accusation of a race-and-sex crime falls right into their laps.

Ah! At last! Proof!

Here it was: Real-world support for their absurdly airy conspiracy theories.

So what if the tale made no sense, that anyone with eyes to see could perceive almost from Day One that it was a preposterous invention?

So what if the lives of young men in their charge were at stake? It was time to "turn up the volume" - not to save countless African-American women from rape, but rather to justify their own ideas.

There will be consequences for the unseemly conduct at Duke. The university's president, Richard Brodhead, may not survive his own rush to judgment. His conduct may lead the school's board of trustees to look for a successor who won't destroy reputations at the drop of a hat to satisfy the desires of the politically correct.

But for those 88 professors - what consequences will they experience?

Consequences? Don't make me laugh.

The tenured ones will continue to enjoy their aristocratic installment in Durham. The untenured will be supported in their efforts to find similar perches elsewhere by the rest of the Gang of 88, because that's how academic politics works.

How about even the loss of even a single night of sleep?

Oh, no. Not these folks. They're fighting the white patriarchy. They're on the side of the dispossessed and oppressed. They're giving voice to the voiceless. They're giving hope to the hopeless.

They're fools at best and monsters at worst - and neither fools nor monsters are much troubled by attacks of conscience.

Charles Krauthammer: Unnecessary Scandal

March 23, 2007

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Alberto Gonzales has to go. I say this with no pleasure -- he's a decent and honorable man -- and without the slightest expectation that his departure will blunt the Democratic assault on the Bush administration over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. In fact, it will probably inflame their bloodlust, which is why the president might want to hang on to Gonzales at least through this crisis. That might be tactically wise. But in time, and the sooner the better, Gonzales must resign.

It's not a question of probity, but of competence. Gonzales has allowed a scandal to be created where there was none. That is quite an achievement. He had a two-foot putt and he muffed it.

How could he allow his aides to go to Capitol Hill unprepared and misinformed and therefore give inaccurate and misleading testimony? How could Gonzales permit his deputy to say that the prosecutors were fired for performance reasons when all he had to say was that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and the president wanted them replaced?

And why did Gonzales have to claim that the firings were done with no coordination with the White House? That's absurd. Why shouldn't there be White House involvement? That is nothing to be defensive about. Does anyone imagine that Janet Reno fired all 93 U.S. attorneys in March 1993, giving them all of 10 days to clear out, without White House involvement?

The Bush administration fired eight. Democrats are charging this was done for reasons of politics, and that politics have no place in the legal system. This is laughable. U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president -- and, by tradition, are recommended by home state politicians of the same party, not by a group of judges or a committee of the American Bar Association. Which makes their appointment entirely political.

OK, say the accusers, but once you've made the appointments, they should be left to pursue justice on their own. It's nice to see that Sen. Charles Schumer, who is using this phony scandal to raise funds for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has suddenly adopted a Platonic view of justice. But the fact is that there are thousands of laws on the books and only finite resources for any prosecutor to deploy, which means that one must have priorities about which laws to emphasize and which crimes to preferentially pursue.

Those decisions are essentially political. And they are decided by elections in which both parties spell out very clearly their law enforcement priorities. Are you going to allocate prosecutorial resources more to drug dealing or tax cheating? To street crime or corporate malfeasance? To illegal immigration or illegal pollution? If you're a Democrat today, you call the choice "political'' to confer a sense of illegitimacy. If you're a neutral observer, you call the choice a set of law enforcement priorities reflecting the policy preferences of the winner of the last presidential election.

For example, both voter intimidation and voter fraud are illegal. The Democrats have a particular interest in the former because they see it diminishing their turnout, while Republicans are particularly interested in the latter because they see it as inflating the Democratic tally. The Bush administration apparently was dismayed that some of these fired attorneys were not vigorous enough in pursuing voter fraud.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Pursuing voter fraud is not, as The New York Times pretends, a euphemism for suppressing the vote of minorities and poor people. It is a mechanism for suppressing the vote of (among other phantoms) dead people. Conservatives have a healthy respect for the opinion of dead people -- conservatives revere tradition, which Chesterton once defined as "the democracy of the dead'' -- but they draw the line at posthumous voting.

If the White House decides that a U.S. attorney is showing insufficient zeal in pursuing voter fraud -- or the death penalty or illegal immigration or drug dealing -- it has the perfect right to fire him. There is only one impermissible reason for presidential intervention: to sabotage an active investigation. That is obstruction of justice. Until the Democrats come up with any real evidence of that -- and they have not -- this affair remains a pseudo-scandal. Which would never have developed had Gonzales made the easy and obvious case from day one.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

N. T. Wright: Simply Lewis

“Simply Lewis” first appeared in the March, 2007 issue of Touchstone.

Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years

I once found myself working closely, in a cathedral fundraising campaign, with a local millionaire. He was a self-made man. When I met him he was in his 60s, at the top of his game as a businessman, and was chairing our Board of Trustees. To me, coming from the academic world, he was a nightmare to work with.

He never thought in (what seemed to me) straight lines; he would leap from one conversation to another; he would suddenly break into a discussion and ask what seemed a totally unrelated question. But after a while I learned to say to myself: Well, it must work, or he wouldn’t be where he is. And that was right. We raised the money. We probably wouldn’t have done it if I’d been running the Trust my own way.

A Great Debt

I have something of the same feeling on re-reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I owe Lewis a great debt. In my late teens and early twenties I read everything of his I could get my hands on, and read some of his paperbacks and essays several times over. There are sentences, and some whole passages, I know pretty much by heart.

Millions around the world have been introduced to, and nurtured within, the Christian faith through his work where their own preachers and teachers were not giving them what they needed. That was certainly true of me.

My Oxford tutors looked down their noses if you so much as mentioned him in a tutorial. This was, we may suppose, mere jealousy: He sold and they didn’t. It may also have been the frustration of the professional who, busy about his footnotes, sees the amateur effortlessly sailing past to the winning post.

And partly it may have been the sense that the Christianity offered by Lewis both was and wasn’t the “mere” thing he made it out to be. There is a definite spin to it. One of the puzzles, indeed, is the way in which Lewis has been lionized by Evangelicals when he clearly didn’t believe in several classic Evangelical shibboleths. He was wary of penal substitution, not bothered by infallibility or inerrancy, and decidedly dodgy on justification by faith (though who am I to talk, considering what some in America say about me?).

But above all, like my businessman friend, it worked; a lot of people have become Christians through reading Lewis and, though, like me, they may have gone on to think things through in ways he didn’t, they retain, like me, a massive and glorious indebtedness. All that now follows stands under that rubric.

A Real Humility

Part of the reason for the appeal of Mere Christianity is of course that—like virtually everything Lewis wrote—it remains a splendid read. Lewis is feisty and lyrical, funny and moving, full of brilliant images, similes, and extended metaphors.

Even when they don’t work as well as they might (he regularly uses maths, or “sums” as he calls it, as an illustration, and I found myself wondering whether theology and maths are really the same sort of thing), they take our minds darting to and fro, leaping over hedges and ditches, constantly glimpsing the countryside from new angles and with the fresh air of intelligent argument in our lungs.

Reading someone like this, you want to believe him—a dangerous position, perhaps. He takes us, as it were, into his confidence, drawing us aside gently by the arm and whispering, “You and I aren’t concerned with things like that. . . .” We are flattered to be his companions on the way, to know (because he tells us) that this isn’t simply a “religious jaw” (remarkable how dated that language sounds, and yet how easily today’s reader skips over it) and that we who think like this are actually in the know while some—including some clergy, because Lewis isn’t above a quick jibe in that direction—are missing out.

And when he tells us that we shouldn’t be taken in by “soft soap,” or that we can “cut all that out,” we find it exciting, like the piano pupil whose teacher tells her it’s time to graduate from blues to Bach (or conceivably, as one hearer of this paper suggested, the other way around). Now, we feel, we’re growing up, we’re getting to the real thing.

There’s a good reason why we allow Lewis to lead us on. There is a real, not a pretend, humility about his “only-a-simple-layman” stance. For some of the time, as I shall suggest, he is a professional pretending to be an amateur; for much of the time, he’s a gifted amateur putting some of the professionals to shame; sometimes he’s an amateur straightforwardly getting things wrong (and note what he says about paying attention to Freud when he’s on his professional topic but not when he’s writing as an amateur!).

But he constantly says, “If this doesn’t help, go on to the next bit, which may,” and he seems really to mean it. In particular, when he’s talking about the struggles and strains of trying to live as a Christian, we know we are listening to someone who has been struggling and straining.

This isn’t theory; like The Screwtape Letters and similar works, this is a direct report from the Front Line. (While we’re on that subject, I don’t myself find the frequent references to the Second World War intrusive or off-putting. You would have to be quite an extreme pacifist to object to the regular military imagery, which, quite apart from its immediate appeal to his first audience, does have quite strong biblical resonance.)

Faith & Truth

There are two constant powerful refrains throughout Mere Christianity. First, faith matters more than feelings; faithfulness to the high and hard standards of Christian behavior matters more than doing what you feel like at the time. Lewis was swimming against a strong tide of popular romantic existentialism, a tide running even more strongly in our own day.

He was not, of course, opposed to feelings; but he knew, and it comes as a relief to our generation to be reminded, that if you go with the flow of feelings you will be inconsistent, unfaithful, lacking in all integrity. To realize that we don’t have to float out to sea on that strong tide, but that we can and must swim against it, is challenging but also liberating.

Second, you can understand falsehood from the standpoint of truth but not the other way around, just as someone who knows light can understand darkness but not vice versa: Thus you can understand sexual perversion once you know the norm; “good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either”; “virtue brings light; indulgence brings fog.” (Incidentally, I don’t know whether it’s Lewis or his republishers, but I am puzzled that such a great writer should have been so indiscriminate and seemingly muddled with his use of the colon and semi-colon.)

So to the four different sections of the book. I rate the third (“Christian Behaviour”) as the finest; the first and last (“Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” with its moral argument for God, and “Beyond Personality,” the closing pieces on the Trinity and on regeneration) as fascinating though in some ways problematic; and the second (“What Christians Believe”) as, worryingly, the most deeply flawed.

Even there, however, I remind myself that my millionaire friend knew some tricks I didn’t, and they worked. I also remember the apparent fact that from a scientific point of view there is no way a bumblebee should be able to fly, because its wings can’t support its body, but bees succeed not only in flying but in bringing home the honey. And if you conclude that Lewis is like the bee, and I am merely like the puzzled scientist who says it can’t be done that way, so be it.

Christian Behavior

The third part of the book, titled “Christian Behaviour,” is the most professional, and there is a reason for that. As well as teaching English literature, Lewis had at one stage taught philosophy. He knew his way round the classic discussions of the virtues and vices and how they operate. He also submitted himself to regular, serious spiritual direction, and as well as knowing the intellectual framework of behavior, both classical and Christian, he was deeply alert to the nuances of motivation and action, able to articulate moods and behavior patterns that for most people, in his day and ours, remain a mystery.

I suspect that one of the great appeals of his book, then and now, is that it gives one a grammar of everyday morality, enabling one to understand and speak a highly useful and indeed mellifluous language most of us didn’t know existed. Some of his moral discussions are small classics.

He is superb on generosity. He sticks a small but sharp pin into the system of usury on which the entire modern world is based. He is fascinating and fresh on sex (though of course even more deeply unfashionable today than then); and his reflections on marriage, despite his bachelor disclaimers, are worth pondering deeply (especially his final comments about it being important for the man to be in charge of what he calls the couple’s “foreign policy”).

He is clear and challenging on forgiveness, spot on in his analysis of pride and its centrality, and shrewd and helpful on the fact that charity is not an emotion but a determination to act in a particular way, and that to our surprise we find that when, without any feeling of love towards someone, we act as if we loved them, we discover that the feelings bubble up unbidden, so that we end by feeling in reality what before we had merely determined to do.

At this point, of course, we come up against Lewis’s implied soteriology, and I suspect that others have challenged him on this point. Several times he insists, effectively, on the priority of grace: We can’t save ourselves, but God does it, takes the initiative, rescues those who couldn’t rescue themselves. But equally often he speaks as though it’s really a matter, as with Aristotle, of our becoming good by gradually learning to do good things, and with Jesus coming alongside, and indeed inside, to help us as we do so. Salvation, and behavior, are caught by infection, by our being in Christ and his being in us.

I suspect that Lewis never really worked all this out; and I suspect, too, that the outsider looking in doesn’t need to, either. I know that’s heresy in some circles, but I think it’s important that we are justified by faith: not by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus Christ. Obviously a clear understanding of justification would help a great deal, but I don’t myself regard that as the first thing to explain to a potential convert. Sufficient to draw them to Jesus.

But does Lewis really do that? I’ll return to Part II in a moment; but first, some words about the final section, and then the first.

Beyond Personality

I find the final section of the book, “Beyond Personality: Or first steps in the doctrine of the Trinity,” brave and intelligent though not entirely convincing. To point out to those who say they “can’t believe in a personal God” that that’s all right, because God is in fact more than “personal,” is a bit of an intellectual coup. I’m not sure how convincing a skeptic would find it, but it opens up the discussion in new ways.

Lewis writes movingly in this part of the book about prayer and the Trinity, about being “prayed in” by the Spirit, prayed “with” by Jesus, and so coming to the Father. He opens up the landscape of what Christians mean by the word “God” in a way that must have been as strange and surprising to his contemporaries as it remains, alas, to ours.

In this last section Lewis does two things, one of which is an interesting attempt at a fresh proposal and the other of which shows, I think, some less-than-fully-integrated aspects of his own thought. First, I notice as a kind of running theme his attempt to steal the clothes of the evolutionists—who were, of course, as strident in his day as Richard Dawkins is in ours.

He is happy to affirm basic biological evolution, but then suggests that if the world, and the human race, have advanced in the way they have so far, we are maybe due now for a different kind of advance, a new step in which evolution itself will evolve, producing a new human race, a new kind of human being, but by a new type of step. Lewis is here, of course, stealing not only Darwin’s clothes, but Nietzsche’s, and he is well aware of that.

I did wonder how dangerous a position it was to take, but he disarms potential objections by making his New Humans not a powerful race of the species Übermensch, but actual children of God, those who have caught the “good infection” from being with Jesus Christ and who are thereby changed from being toy tin soldiers into actual warriors, from mere creatures to newly begotten sons like the Son himself.

This is where he locates his powerful and moving (and of course biblical) material about dying and rising with Christ, a major theme here and in several of his other works. I don’t know that anyone else has either advanced this synthesis of regeneration and a kind of second-order evolutionism, but it remains evocative and suggestive.

Second, however, I find Lewis frustratingly fuzzy on heaven and immortality. He clearly believes in the bodily resurrection and the essential materiality of the ultimate future world, but—quite apart from the astonishing fact that in talking about Jesus he never in this book mentions his Resurrection—he persistently refers to “Heaven” in ways that go, to my mind, far too far towards Plato.

He frequently draws back from this, insisting for instance on the importance of sacraments because God made the material world and likes it, but I’m not sure he has fully integrated his positive view of the material creation into his assumed view of heaven. He tells us that if we aim at heaven we’ll get earth thrown in, and this is not only true but appealing; but he never indicates how this works out, never engages with the New Testament’s picture of the new heavens and new earth which ultimately make sense of the whole thing.

Thus he can say, in a moving but I think deeply misleading passage, that “the anaesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ [will] fade away”; I regard this as a substantial hostage to Platonic fortune. This problem emerges particularly in his repeated insistence that all human beings have an immortal soul, which is the “real” part of them, and which is to be one day either a creature of loathing and horror or one we might be tempted to worship.

I simply don’t think this is either biblical or helpful, and I fear that those who read Lewis will at this point have their traditional expectations of a kind of Christianity-and-Plato reinforced where they should have them undermined.

Right & Wrong as a Clue

So to the first section, where Lewis, as often elsewhere, uses a kind of the moral argument for the existence of God. We all know the moral law; and we all know we break it; and isn’t this odd? I think this is powerful and important, and indeed I paid homage to Lewis when I wrote Simply Christian by beginning with a similar, though not identical, argument about justice, and then extending it to the puzzles we find today about spirituality, relationships, and beauty.

But I’m not sure that Lewis’s point ultimately works as an argument. I think drawing attention to this kind of phenomenon alerts us to questions that should be asked, but not necessarily to a line of reasoning that will then automatically lead the thinker inexorably upwards, as Lewis tries to do, first to the affirmation of God and then to the affirmation of the Christian God.

The virtue of this first section, I think, lies not in the fact that it makes a convincing argument as such, but that it highlights features of human existence that are puzzling and interesting and point beyond themselves. Thus this first section performs its function, it seems to me, despite its actual intention.

Lewis was trying to argue step by step, but I think he succeeds in engaging and interesting people sufficiently to move them forwards despite the fact that the logic doesn’t quite work. I would be interested to hear what other apologists say about this.

What Christians Believe

The weakest part of the book, beyond doubt, is its heart: the treatment of God, and especially of Jesus, in the second section, “What Christians Believe.” He simply does not know that Jesus wasn’t born in A.D. 1, and I have already mentioned the astonishing absence of the Resurrection.

Why was this? Not because Lewis didn’t believe it, as his other writings show. Because he thought it was a bridge too far for the people he was addressing? Surely not: He leads them skillfully across several narrow bridges spanning deep and dangerous intellectual and moral ravines.

Can it be that, though he firmly accepted the bodily Resurrection as true, he simply hadn’t, at this stage at least, thought through the way in which, beginning with the New Testament, Easter isn’t just something that happened to Jesus, nor simply something that happens to us in both the present and the future, but something that gives focus to faith and color to all Christian living?

I am not sure, and remain genuinely puzzled. Perhaps he simply had to give some talks and decided too quickly and unreflectively on which topics to treat.

But of course the real problem is the argument for Jesus’ divinity. And this problem actually begins further back: There is virtually no mention, and certainly no treatment, of Israel and the Old Testament, and consequently no attempt to place Jesus in his historical or theological context. (One of the “Screwtape Letters” contains a scornful denunciation of all such attempts, and lays Lewis wide open to the charge of ignoring the historical context of the writings he is using—a charge that, in his own professional field, he would have regarded as serious.)

I am well aware that some in our day, too, see the historical context of Jesus as part of what you teach Christians later on rather than part of how you explain the gospel to outsiders. I think this is simply mistaken. Every step towards a de-Judaized Jesus is a step away from Scripture, away from Christian wisdom, and out into the world of . . . yes, Plato and the rest, which is of course where Lewis partly lived. If you don’t put Jesus in his proper context, you will inevitably put him in a different one, where he, his message, and his achievement will be considerably distorted.

This deficit shows particularly in Lewis’s treatment of incarnation. Famously, as in his well-known slogan, “Liar, Lunatic or Lord,” he argued that Jesus must have been bad or mad or God. This argument has worn well in some circles and extremely badly in others, and the others were not merely being cynical.

What Lewis totally failed to see—as have, of course, many scholars in the field—was that Judaism already had a strong incarnational principle, namely the Temple, and that the language used of Shekinah, Torah, Wisdom, Word, and Spirit in the Old Testament—the language, in other words, upon which the earliest Christians drew when they were exploring and expounding what we have called Christology—was a language designed, long before Jesus’ day, to explain how the one true God could be both transcendent over the world and living and active within it, particularly within Israel.

Lewis, at best, drastically short-circuits the argument. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is not claiming straightforwardly to be God, but to give people, out on the street, what they would normally get by going to the Temple.

Lewis’s Cross

As I’ve shown elsewhere, understanding Judaism’s incarnational principle doesn’t undermine the eventual claim, nor does it short-circuit it. It places it in its proper historical context and enables it to be at once nuanced into a proto-Trinitarian framework, employing and appropriately transcending the messianic category “son of God,” which simultaneously settles down into first-century Judaism and explodes beyond it. Lewis’s overconfident argument, by contrast, does the opposite: It doesn’t work as history, and it backfires dangerously when historical critics question his reading of the Gospels.

This then plays out in Lewis’s treatment of the Cross, with Jesus as the “perfect penitent.” Lewis is right to stress that Christians are not committed to one single way of understanding the meaning of the Cross, and that as long as one somehow looks at the death of Jesus and understands it in terms of God’s love and forgiveness, that is sufficient to start with.

But his idea—that (a) God requires humans to be penitent, that (b) we can’t because of our pride, but that (c) Jesus does it in and for us—though ingenious, places in my view too high a value on repentance (vital though it of course is), implies again that soteriology is about God doing something in us rather than extra nos (though I think Lewis believed that as well, but he doesn’t expound it here), and minimizes all the other rich biblical language about the Cross, not least the Christus Victor theme.

This last is the more curious in that Lewis talks a lot more about the devil than one might expect in a book of apologetics. One might have supposed that, having introduced us to the devil before we’ve really even got our minds around God, still less Jesus, he would go on to speak of the Cross as, among other things, the defeat of the devil and the rescue of those in his grip. But he doesn’t.

In amongst his treatment of incarnation and Cross, we note, along with the astonishing omission of Easter, the complete absence of anything to do with Jesus’ announcement of God’s kingdom. This is less surprising, though still regrettable, because, to be frank, the Western church in the middle of the twentieth century simply didn’t understand what the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching was all about—again, at least in part, because of its relentless de-Judaizing of the whole story.

Some might say that this, too, is a topic to pick up in Christian instruction after conversion rather than in apologetics. I disagree, and I think the fruits of the omission show up elsewhere, where Lewis really has little or no concern for a social or cultural ethic, still less a political or ecological one. Omit one of the vital foundation stones and the building will lean over dangerously.

A Fine but Leaky Building

So to my conclusion. Lewis has indeed built a fine building with lots of splendid features, and many people have been properly and rightly attracted to buy up apartments in it and move in. Some parts of the building have remained in great shape, and are still well worth inhabiting. But I fear that those who move in to other parts will find that the foundations are indeed shaky, and that the roof leaks a bit.

Someone who converted to the Christian faith through reading Mere Christianity, and who never moved on or grew up theologically or historically, would be in a dangerous position when faced even with proper, non-skeptical historical investigation, let alone the regular improper, skeptical sort. Lewis didn’t give such a person sufficient grounding in who Jesus really was.

Similarly, I don’t know how his line of argument in the first part would stand up against the rigorous and relentless assault from the determined atheists of our own day. He was well used to arguing with their predecessors, of course, but I don’t think the first section would be seen in such circles as anything more than arm-waving about moral perceptions and dilemmas that today’s robust cynic would dismiss as atavistic fantasy.

And I do think he could have gone further in his understanding of the Christian hope, further towards the new creation, the new heaven and new earth, of which many of us gained our first inkling (important word!) through his writings, but which he never pulls together, and relates to Jesus and to Christian faith and life, in the way that he quite easily could have done.

Jesus Takes Over

But the bee flies, and gets the honey. Credit where credit is due. Lewis himself would have been the first to say that of course his book was neither perfect nor complete, and that what mattered was that, if it brought people into the company, and under the influence (or “infection”) of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself would happily take over—indeed, that Jesus had been operating through the process all along, albeit through the imperfect medium of the apologist.

And, as another imperfect apologist, I salute a great master, and can only hope that in sixty years’ time children yet unborn will say of me that, despite all my obvious and embarrassing failings, I too was used, in however small a way, to bring people under the influence and power, and to the love and kingdom, of the same Jesus Christ.

N. T. Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and the author of many scholarly and popular books, most recently Simply Believing, Evil and the Justice of God, and Paul: In Fresh Perspective. (His Judas and the Gospel of Jesus is reviewed on page 47.) “Simply Lewis” was first delivered at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in mid-­November. Readers will also find helpful his (unofficial) website,

If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. An introductory subscription (ten copies for one year) is only $34.95.

Srdja Trifkovic: Utah Shootings and Sudden Jihad Syndrome

Srdja Trifkovic

Monday, March 19, 2007

Utah Shootings: Yet Another Case of Sudden Jihad Syndrome, After All

Five weeks after the shooting spree by a 19-year old Bosnian Muslim, Sulejman Talovic, left five people dead and four wounded in a Salt Lake City shopping mall, the authorities claim to be clueless about his motives. The mainstream media, as our readers may recall, were quick to blame the Serbs for Talovic’s alleged early-childhood traumas that supposedly caused him to crack. (They even interviewed a Bosnian jihadi veteran to make that point.) From what we now know about the case, however, it appears that the rampage in Utah was yet another “lone wolf” attack by a Muslim-as-Muslim—in other words, yet another outbreak of the deadly sudden jihad syndrome (SJS) that is erupting across America with increasing regularity.

Talovic’s family and a “shocked” Bosnian-Muslim community were unsurprisingly quick to reject any possibility of the jihadist connection. “We are Muslims, but we are not terrorists,” the killer’s aunt, Ajka Omerovic, told the media. She rejected out of hand any religious motive for the shooting and claimed the family “can’t explain it”; but this may not have been the first case of SJS in the family: Amir Omerovic, apparently Talovic’s cousin, threatened to spread anthrax in 2002. Omerovic admitted sending letters to the offices of Gov. John G. Rowland, the U.S. Coast Guard and Marines in Connecticut, and the Judicial Review Council in Hartford. “This is only the beginning,” Omerovic’s letters said. “Americans will die. Death to America and Israel.”

Talovic’s Bosnian-born girlfriend who lives in Texas, and who knew him only through daily hours-long telephone conversations, says that his favorite film was Malcolm X—the same movie that triggered off John Walker Lindh’s path to jihad. Contrary to the family’s assurances, she also revealed that he had a contact at the local mosque, a man he met while attending services there. The mosque in question is just two blocks from the scene of carnage. It is the same mosque attended by U.S. Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, the deserter now safely back in his native Lebanon.

On the eve of his attack Talovic told his girlfriend that something was going to happen the following day, an event that she may find unforgivable; yet he added that it was going to be “the happiest day of his life,” and that “it could only happen once in a lifetime.” The statement seems mysterious, and indicative of mental instability, if pondered outside the framework of Islamic imagery. If we assume that Talovic was motivated by jihad, however, the meaning of “the happiest day” that could “only happen once” becomes clear. The Kuran vouches that “those who are slain in the path of Allah” are not dead; (3:169) they are granted immediate entry to paradise, “to rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah.” This assurance is elaborated in the Tradition, and it is reiterated by countless orthodox Islamic sources. Thus when a suicide bomber blows himself up at an Israeli bus stop, loudspeakers on mosque minarets in the West Bank and Gaza announce his name with the “glad tidings” that “the virgins of paradise are happily receiving their new groom.” Families distribute sweets, as they would do at a wedding celebration.

A particularly intriguing revelation by the girl concerns a vision that Talovic told her he had experienced while still in Bosnia: One evening, as the sun was falling, he heard a horse outside of his family’s home. He walked out and, standing before him was a white horse “with two beautiful eyes.” He alerted his aunt, but she could not see the animal. The incident nevertheless made young Talovic “very, very happy.” To understand the meaning of this episode, and the reasons for the killer’s happiness, we need to turn to the Islamic Imagery Project compiled by the West Point Combating Terrorism Center:

The white horse is inextricably tied to conceptions of the prophet, martyrdom, and paradise (heaven). It is most often associated with . . . Muhammad’s miraj or night journey to heaven, when the Prophet ascended to heaven on the back of a white horse. In this regard, the white horse most specifically evokes notions of the afterlife and the heavenly paradise awaiting pious Muslims (or jihadi martyrs) upon their death . . . [I]n both Sunni and Shiite traditions, the white horse is strongly associated with martyrdom and the expectation of heavenly paradise. In the images selected, the white horses are associated with images of individual jihadi martyrs. Used in this manner, the white horse evokes the righteousness of these individuals’ martyrdom, and reminds the audience that these men have been granted the martyr’s promised reward of ascension to heavenly paradise.

If it looks like SJS, and kills like SJS… but the mainstream media refuse to connect the dots, and the authorities claim that there are no dots to be connected.

We’ve seen it all before, of course. As I noted in these pages almost two years ago, the pattern is by now almost boringly predictable: a Muslim commits an act of violence, or is caught plotting to commit one. The authorities are either quick to deny the suspect’s links with Islamic terrorism, or, if such a link is nevertheless suspected, adamant that he is acting alone. The local Muslim community responds with a mix of indignation and denial, with the assurances of the suspects’ impeccable character and surprise at his action, and with accusations of anti-Muslim bias. Non-Muslim civic leaders then respond by reassuring the Muslim community that it is loved and appreciated in spite of this “isolated incident,” and by calling on their fellow-citizens to be warm and supportive to their Muslim neighbors. The media report heart rendering stories of the Muslim sense of sadness, rejection, alienation, or else dwell on the perpetrator’s history of woe—in Talovic’s case by blaming the bloodthirsty Serbs.

As Robert Spencer reminded us in the immediate aftermath of Talovic’s attack, over the past year there have been several incidents of sudden acts of random extreme violence by Muslims against Americans. It is remarkable that even when the perpetrator explicitly linked his motives to jihad, the authorities refused to accept that explanation:

—On January 31, Ismail Yassin Mohamed, 22, stole a car in Minneapolis, rammed it into other cars, then stole a van and continued to ram other cars, injuring one person. All along, Mohamed repeatedly yelled, “Die, die, die, kill, kill, kill”; when asked why he did all this, he replied, “Allah made me do it.”

—Omeed Aziz Popal, an Afghan immigrant, killed one person and injured 14 during a murderous drive through the streets of San Francisco in August 2006, during which he targeted people on crosswalks and sidewalks. He identified himself as a terrorist but the authorities subsequently ascribed the incident to Popal’s mental problems and stress resulting from his forthcoming arranged marriage.

—On July 28, 2006, Naveed Afzal Haq forced his way into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Once inside, Haq announced, “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel,” and then began shooting, killing one woman and injuring five more; yet an FBI agent stated: “We believe . . . it’s a lone individual acting out his antagonism. There’s nothing to indicate that it’s terrorism-related.”

—In March 2006, a 22-year-old Iranian student named Mohammed Reza Taheri-Azar drove an SUV onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, deliberately trying to kill people and succeeding in injuring nine. At a court appearance he explained that he was “thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah.” Officials again dismissed terrorism as a motive, even after Taheri-Azar wrote a series of letters to the UNC campus newspaper detailing the Qur’anic justification for attacks on unbelievers.

The list of SJS-related incidents, and official denials of the syndrome’s existence, is growing longer each year, starting with the killing of Meir Kahane in New York in November 1990 by
El Sayyid Nosair. The authorities ascribed the killing not to jihad but to Nosair’s “depression.”

In March 1994, Rashid Baz, a Lebanese immigrant, opened fire on a van carrying members of a Jewish congregation on Brooklyn Bridge, killing one boy. The authorities claimed it was a case of “road rage.”

In February 1997 Ali Abu Kamal, a Palestinian immigrant, opened fire on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one tourist and injuring six others before committing suicide. The authorities attributed the incident to Kamal’s “mental instability” caused by a failed business venture, and that version remained officially accepted until a month ago. Last month, however, his daughter admitted that a letter had been found on her father’s body justifying his act by his religiously inspired hatred for America, Britain, France, and Israel.

In 2002 two cases of SJS occurred at airports. In July Hesham Mohammed Hadayet opened fire at the Israeli Airlines counter at LAX, killing two people and injuring four. The FBI initially claimed that “there’s nothing to indicate terrorism,” but reclassified the attack as a terrorist act when it was revealed that Hadayet may have been involved with Al-Qaeda. In September Patrick Gott, a Muslim convert, killed one person and wounded another at New Orleans airport. He was armed with a shotgun and his Kuran, but the authorities claimed he was insane.

In October of that same year two converts to Islam, John Mohammed and Lee Malvo, killed 13 people in a spree that terrorized Washington and its suburbs for weeks; and yet again the media and the authorities denied the obvious connection. It was subsequently revealed that Malvo’s prolific religiously-inspired “artwork” included a self-portrait in the cross hairs of a gun scope shouting, ALLAH AKBAR! with the word SALAAM scrawled vertically, and a drawing of the Twin Towers burning and captions JIHAD ISLAM UNITE RISE! along with “America did this” and “You were warned.”

In March 2003 U.S. Army Sergeant Asan Akbar threw a grenade into a tent with fellow soldiers in Kuwait, killing an officer and wounding 13. He declared at the time of his arrest, “You guys are coming into our countries, and you’re going to rape our women and kill our children.” He gave his home address as the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center in South Central Los Angeles, to which he belonged and where he worshiped. In spite of this, George Heath, a public affairs officer for Fort Campbell, Ky., where the suspect was based, explained the incident by asserting that Akbar faced “a leadership challenge.” Another U.S. Army spokesman said the motive for the attack was most likely “resentment” rooted in Akbar’s “attitude problem.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld blandly called the attack “the kind of an incident that occurs in cities and towns from time to time, and it’s always unfortunate, always tragic, and one has to go through a process of investigation to try to determine what in fact happened and why it happened.”

Five months later Mohammed Ali Alayed slashed the throat of his erstwhile Jewish friend, Ariel Sellouk, following Alayed’s rediscovery of his Islamic identity. After the murder he went to a mosque. The authorities nevertheless “could not find any evidence that Sellouk…was killed because of his race or religion,” enabling Alayed’s defense attorney to claim that “there was no evidence to substantiate the hate element.”

In May 2005 firefighters conducting a routine inspection in a Brooklyn supermarket found 200 automobile airbags—which contain components that can be used to make bombs—and a room lined with posters of Osama bin Laden and beheadings in Iraq. Yet officials were again adamant: this has nothing to do with terrorism.

In June 2006 Michael Julius Ford, a Muslim convert, shot to death one fellow worker at a Denver Safeway and injured five before being killed by the police. And yes, his friends and family, and the Denver Post, were all baffled:

apparently he did not drink or smoke, He did not have conflicts with people. He did not run with gangs. He wasn’t moody. He never was known to carry weapons. What isn’t known is why the 22-year-old walked into work on Sunday at the Safeway distribution center and started shooting at his co-workers with a long-barreled handgun and setting fires inside the building.

Later in the same article Ford’s sister Khali is quoted as saying, “He told me that Allah was going to make a choice and it was going to be good, and told me people at his job was [sic!] making fun of his religion and he didn’t respect that.”

But why did he do it? The mystery remains unresolved. Watch this space.

/Islam print permanent link

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