Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bergman, Antonioni and the Religiously Inclined


The New York Times
Published: August 4, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni

In this week’s obituaries for Ingmar Bergman, perhaps no character in the great filmmaker’s work was mentioned more frequently than God.

Michelangelo Antonioni, whose works were unremittingly secular.
God had a leading off-screen role in several of Bergman’s most memorable movies, and supporting or minor roles in many others. God was a protagonist but hardly a hero. The most unforgettable image of the deity was as a terrifying spider that a mentally disturbed young woman believes is about to violate her.

The heroine of another Bergman film suddenly, almost obstinately, becomes mute, but that in fact is God’s major trait in Bergman films generally: God is mute, and this silence signals nonexistence at best, malevolence at worst.

It is an interesting question why so many people serious about religion, believers in particular, feel such a loss at the death of Bergman. His view of religion was anything but benign. He recalled his ultimate loss of faith with great relief. His personal life was not a model. Nor did his films respect proprieties.

One explanation was captured in a phrase appearing in some obituaries and echoed in most. He took on the “big questions” about the human condition: God, faith, desire, doubt, despair, death and, above all, love and its fragility. He did this with a vocabulary of images and language that were often explicitly religious and, when not, were still resonant with implied religious references.

There is an interesting contrast here with Michelangelo Antonioni, the other major filmmaker who died Monday. Of all the other great Italian directors, probably none were so unremittingly secular as Antonioni. His world is severely postreligious, a circumstance that made reflective believers intensely interested in his work, too. For Antonioni, however, the passage from religion was simply a fact; for Bergman it was a struggle.

The godless world portrayed by both directors was bleak, to put it mildly. Along with much of modern culture, they judged sensual life and human love to be the alternative and successor to religion as the repository of human hopes for fulfillment; but in their films those hopes regularly prove fleeting, illusory or betrayed by human (usually male) weakness.

Ingmar Bergman

So were believers, and again Christians foremost, drawn to these directors as powerful witnesses to what happened when God was declared dead? No doubt some religious defenders wanted to employ these bleak visions in a smug apologetic for faith, a greater temptation perhaps in the case of Antonioni, a post-Christian Italian, than of Bergman, an ex-Christian Swede. But for the most part, religious admirers of these directors treated them and their films not as object lessons for nonbelievers about the consequences of nonbelief but rather as revelations for believers about the true challenges of faith.

There is a straightforward little book, for example, called “God, Death, Art and Love: The Philosophical Vision of Ingmar Bergman” (Paulist Press, 1989), written by the Rev. Robert E. Lauder and including a touching prologue by Liv Ullmann, one of Bergman’s leading actresses, who lived with him, had a daughter with him and remained a close friend for years. The book is a close reading of the Bergman oeuvre by a Roman Catholic priest who teaches philosophy at St. John’s University in Queens.

Father Lauder’s book makes clear the intellectual grounds for his own philosophical and Christian convictions. But in no way does it try to evade the trajectory in the director’s films from a concern with God to a humanism focused exclusively on human love and on art as the only stays against death.

The book was written not for believers or nonbelievers or, for that matter, cinĂ©astes, but simply for anyone interested in the “big questions,” as dramatized by the extraordinary talent that Father Lauder considers the unrivaled “spokesman-artist for the third quarter of the twentieth century.”
It was the unflinching seriousness of Bergman’s struggle with these questions — regardless of the answers he reached — that made him so important for the religiously inclined. This is especially so because his probing, unlike Antonioni’s, recognized the continuing power of the Christian and biblical heritage and the deep resonance of its words and images.

“Why can’t I kill God within me?” the medieval knight-hero asks Death in a crucial exchange in the 1957 movie “The Seventh Seal.” “Why does he live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse him and want to tear him out of my heart? Why in spite of everything is he a baffling reality that I can’t shake off? Do you hear me?”

“Yes, I hear you,” replies Death, who is disguised as a confessor and suggests the obvious explanation for God’s silence: “Perhaps no one is there.”

When the knight protests, “No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness,” Death counters that “most people never reflect about either death or the futility of life.”

It is a full half-century since this stark scene appeared on the screen, on the far side of the cultural revolution initiated by the 1960s, when Bergman was himself easing aside (though never completely) his obsession with God and death. Films exploring the “big questions” continue to be made in the much-changed cultural climate but not so relentlessly by a single filmmaker, with a singular vision and a sensibility steeped in a religious tradition.

Searching for exceptions, one thinks of Krzysztof Kieslowski, who made “The Decalogue,” 10 wrenching television films based idiosyncratically on the Ten Commandments, and whose “Three Colors” trilogy earned several Academy Award nominations. Kieslowski died at age 54 in 1996.

Explorations of the “big questions,” at least in films from either side of the Atlantic, are now more apt to be single-shot efforts or to come guarded with irony or distanced as screwball comedies, thrillers or other genre forms. The religious legacies with which emerging artists grapple are now diverse, in contrast to Bergman’s almost archetypal childhood battle with an authoritarian pastor-father and his stern, repressive Christianity. But while the culture’s store of religious vocabulary, symbol and experience is much widened, what is held in common is much reduced.

It is right to see Bergman’s death, and Antonioni’s, too, as marking the end of an era. It would be wrong if a justifiable gratitude for its achievement or lament at its passing dulled the desire for a continuing conversation between faith and film.

Alex Rodriguez becomes youngest in baseball history to hit 500 home runs

Saturday, August 4, 2007


New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hits a three-run home off Kansas City Royals pitcher Kyle Davies, bottom right, during the first inning of the Royals-Yankees game on Saturday, August 4, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 home runs, sending the first pitch he saw Saturday just past the foul pole in left field.

Rodriguez stood at home plate for a second, waiting to see if his first-inning drive off Royals starter Kyle Davies would stay fair. He threw his hands in the air after the ball landed in the seats and began trotting around the bases with a wide grin on his face as the Yankee Stadium crowd cheered wildly.

When he reached the plate, he hugged Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who both scored on the landmark home run. His teammates were already on the field and he embraced several of them on his way to the dugout.

The crowd buzzed and roared again when A-Rod stuck his head out of the dugout for a curtain call.

After he took his seat the bench next to Jeter, the Yankees captain reached out and playfully rubbed A-Rod's head as the two superstars laughed.

His homer came eight days after he celebrated his 32nd birthday. Rodriguez surpassed Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 338 days) as the youngest player to reach 500 homers. A-Rod is the 22nd player to reach the mark, the second this season behind Frank Thomas.

"Never, as a kid, did I ever think I'd hit even one," Rodriguez said after hitting No. 499 in a 7-1 win over Kansas City on July 25.

Rodriguez went into a tailspin after his previous homer against the Royals. He was hitless in a career-worst 22 straight at-bats before he singled in the second inning of Thursday's 13-9 loss against the Chicago White Sox.

His 500th came in his 1,855th game. Only two players took fewer games to reach 500: Mark McGwire (1,639) and Babe Ruth (1,740).

Rodriguez also became the third player to accomplish the feat as a Yankee and the second to do it in the Bronx. Babe Ruth hit his 500th at Cleveland on Aug. 11, 1929, and Mickey Mantle reached the mark at home against Baltimore on May 14, 1967.

Yankees manager Joe Torre, standing next to the dugout mister on a hot summer day, saw the drive off A-Rod's bat and pointed toward the pole as it went out.

The Seattle Mariners took him with the first overall pick in the 1993 draft. One year later, he became the third 18-year-old shortstop in the majors since 1900. At that point, he gave little indication that he would develop into a two-time AL MVP and one of the game's greatest home run hitters.

He went homerless in 17 games for Seattle in that first season, and hit five in 48 games the following year.

But in 1996, his first full season in the big leagues, he hit 36 home runs. And after hitting 23 in 1997, he hasn't fallen short of 30 since. His seven seasons of 40 or more home runs are tied for fifth in major league history, and in 2001 he became only the fourth player with 50 homers and 200 hits in a season.

New York Yankees' Derek Jeter, center, and teammate Bobby Abreu, second from left, wait for Alex Rodriguez (13) at home plate after he hit a home run during the first inning of baseball action for his 500th homer as Kansas City Royals catcher Jason LaRue, right, looks on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2007 at Yankee stadium in New York. Rodriguez became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 home runs.

A-Rod's first home run came on June 12, 1995, against Tom Gordon and Kansas City. He hit No. 100 in August 1998, No. 200 in May 2001 with Texas and No. 300 in April 2003 with Texas. Number 400 came on June 8, 2005, against Milwaukee during his second season with the Yankees.

He hit 189 home runs with Seattle, 156 with Texas and has 155 with New York. He is one of only three players, along with Reggie Jackson and Darrell Evans, to hit 100 home runs for three different teams.

Rodriguez leads the majors with 36 this season, already surpassing the 35 he hit last year.

"Fifty home runs doesn't seem to be an issue," manager Joe Torre said recently. "Fifty home runs. That's incredible. You're talking about his age, you're talking about him hitting in the 50s -- in a couple of years he'll be going for No. 600."

Joe Guzzardi: "Wave of Hate"?

More Propaganda From The Treason Lobbyists At La Raza

Joe Guzzardi

August 4, 2007

In its latest assault on our sensibilities, the National Council of La Raza (i.e., “The Race”) alleges that the U.S. is drowning in “a wave of hate” aimed at Hispanics.

According to Cecilia Munoz, La Raza’s senior vice president of research, legislation and advocacy, if it weren’t for this massive surge of American hatred, the recent Comprehensive Immigration Reform proposal giving amnesty to millions of illegal aliens would have sailed through Congress
Said Munoz, referring to the radio talk shows she views as the main—but not the only—outlet for “hate”:

"That had an extraordinary impact in the Senate, and as a nation, I don't think we should be comfortable with the fact that the United States Senate responded to what was largely a wave of hate." [Hispanic Group Aims to Stop ‘Wave of Hate’” By Steven Dinan, Washington Times, July 22, 2007]

(Munoz was speaking at the same conference where Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart (R—Cuba) called for permanent Spanish-speaking enclaves in the U.S).

“Wave of hate”—that’s a good one—catchy, just the way the MainStream media likes it.

Grudgingly, I confess to admiring—in a very limited way—the National Council of La Raza.

While I deplore the anti-American stand that the country’s largest ethnic identity lobbyist takes, I am in awe of its ability to coin phrases and dupe the media (which considers La Raza the nation’s pre-eminent Hispanic think tank) into believing that it walks the high road.

At the same time, because of its skill at the word game, La Raza has convinced the press, Congress, the Chamber of Commerce and religious groups of all denominations that we who favor less immigration are lower than pond scum.

Twenty years ago, the most common term to describe individuals illegally in the U.S. was “illegal immigrant”. Although it appeared in print from time to time, the correct term, “illegal alien” was always a tough sell for us.

Then, out of nowhere, appeared “undocumented immigrant” appeared.

That lasted a while but before long “undocumented worker” replaced it—much more persuasive from La Raza’s view because it suggests that aliens work. That’s not always true, of course, but it sure sounds good.

Soon thereafter, the “undocumented workers” had deeply rooted and unshakeable “family values.”

And what are we? Among other things, we are “racists,” “xenophobes,” and “nativists”.

Now that a growing respect for our position has emerged, we have been upgraded to “anti-immigration” or, the warmest and fuzziest of all the terms used to describe us “immigration restrictionists”.

As it now stands, we, the “immigration restrictionists” who ride a “wave of hate” are pitted against the “undocumented workers” and their “family values.”

As I said earlier, you can’t help but admire how cleverly our opposition has outmaneuvered us.

Never underestimate La Raza’s reach and power.

Every move it makes is calculated and coordinated. La Raza excels at finding the right people to represent it. Look at the biography if La Raza’s Chief Executive Officer Janet Murguia.

Murguia earned three degrees from the University of Kansas: a B.S. degree in journalism (1982), a B.A. degree in Spanish (1982), and a J.D. degree (1985) from the School of Law before beginning her career in Washington, DC as legislative counsel to former Kansas Congressman Jim Slattery.

From 1994 to 2000, Murguia worked at the White House, ultimately serving as deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton and according to her biography, “providing strategic and legislative advice to the president on key issues” which I assume included immigration. Murguia also served as deputy director of legislative affairs, managing the legislative staff and acting as a senior White House liaison to Congress.

Before returning to K. U. in 2001 as Executive Vice Chancellor for University Relations, Murguia was the deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the Gore/Lieberman presidential campaign.

I’m impressed!

From her predecessor, Raul Yzaguirre, Murguia inherited an organization headquartered in Washington, DC with field offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and McAllen, Texas. And La Raza has more than 140 “formal affiliates”. See the NCLR brochure describing its operations here.
La Raza has money to burn.

In an NPR interview, outgoing La Raza CEO and chief financial officer Yzaguirre told correspondent Tony Cox that, during his thirty-year tenure, the organization’s budget had grown from $500,000 to $40 million—or an incredible $1.3 billion including its “affiliates”. Listen to the interview here.

The savvy Murguia parlayed her White House insider experience into a seat at the table during this year’s “behind closed doors” negotiations during this spring’s thwarted amnesty effort.

When pressed by Lou Dobbs in a recent interview about her role in the Senate meetings, [Transcript, June 17, 2007] Murguia refused to deny that she participated.

And a Capitol Hill insider told me that La Raza staffers work closely with Senator Edward M. Kennedy providing him with a laundry list of its demands.

In short, La Raza out-muscles us. The Federation for American Immigration Reform has the most offices of any immigration patriot organization with four.

I’ll estimate that the aggregate “restrictionist” budget is a fraction of the $1.3 billion available to La Raza.

And, as we all know, no “immigration restrictionist” a.k.a. patriot was present during the Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform dialogue. Murguia, on the other hand, with her insider background, has the Senate’s ear. We can’t get our phone calls answered.

But, despite La Raza owning the politicians and the print media and having bottomless pockets to carry out its open borders agenda, it could not pull off amnesty.

That says tons about our position’s merit and is an enormous comfort as we go forward in this endless battle. When our victory is considered in light of the La Raza frontal assault against us, it becomes all the more impressive.

La Raza is right about one thing. A “wave” is sweeping across America.
But hate isn’t part of it. What’s at play instead is frustration, disgust and anger.

We’re frustrated at the federal government’s refusal to enforce immigration legislation, disgusted at the Mexican government for condoning illegal immigration and angry at the likes of La Raza for its overtly subversive agenda.

La Raza has the money, the wide network of offices and the high level connections. But we are on the right side of the argument.

The American side.

And that’s why we’ll prevail next time…and the time after that…and the time after that, too.

Joe Guzzardi [e-mail him] is the Editor of VDARE.COM Letters to the Editor. In addition, he is an English teacher at the Lodi Adult School and has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Film Review: "The Bourne Ultimatum"

Matt Damon, That Hard-Working Beaver, Ends Bourne Trilogy With a Bang

Who needs Bond, anyway? This franchise has bigger thrills, splashier spills, cagier villains—and that classy dame, Joan Allen!

by Rex Reed

Published: July 31, 2007

This article was published in the August 6, 2007, edition of The New York Observer.

Running Time 111 minutes
Directed By Paul Greengrass
Written By Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns
Starring Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Julia Stiles

The first 20 minutes of The Bourne Ultimatum, the third and final chapter in the trilogy about the baby-faced C.I.A. operative with amnesia, are better than Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III, and anything with Bruce Willis all put together. From there, it’s uphill all the way. A knockout roller-coaster ride custom-made for adrenaline junkies, it’s easily the savviest and most satisfying spy movie in years, besting both of its preceding Bournes—Identity and Supremacy.

Picking up mere seconds from where the last one left off, the film opens on Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in Moscow, where the brain-scrambled super-spy is still hot on the trail of his own identity, having just tracked down a relative of one of his former victims. After enough expository flashbacks to catch up the uninitiated, the movie puts the pedal to the metal and never shifts gears for two hours straight. The action shifts to London, where a Guardian reporter (Paddy Considine) with a high-level source inside the C.I.A. has stumbled onto the story of Blackbriar, the secret C.I.A. program that replaced Treadstone, the botched C.I.A. program that created a squad of brainwashed government assassins, of which, we now learn, Jason Bourne was the pilot candidate. Splashing Bourne’s name all over the British tabloids, the reporter brings the full force of the C.I.A. down on Jason’s hapless head, luring him back to England to search for clues. A meeting between hero and reporter goes awry, and suddenly Bourne is back on his quest to fit together the pieces of the elusive puzzle that will ultimately lead him back to the shadowy place that spawned him. It’s here in London that we meet the crack team of spooks and G-men that oversees the 24-hour video and audio surveillance networks that our governments have so lovingly assembled for our protection in a paranoid world. (Think no one’s listening in on your cellphone conversations? Think again.) Leading the C.I.A. scabs as they break every law in the books is Noah Vosen, played smartly against type by David Strathairn. As soon as the oily Vosen gets wind of Bourne’s presence in London, he pulls out all the stops to nab him—and people start to die. The ingenious ways they die pump oxygen into the bloodstream of The Bourne Ultimatum, keeping you dizzy and creeping you out. Bring smelling salts.

Vroom, vroom! Matt in action.

Unlike the grandiose, megalomaniacal archfiends in the James Bond franchise, the assassins in the Bourne films have been played by some of our most down-to-earth character actors—everymen like Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and now Strathairn. The message is clear, and it’s chilling: the sang-froid of the Treadstone and Blackbriar spies may be the stuff of escapist Robert Ludlum fiction, but the men who play them are all too real. If the Bourne series does stretch to another installment (without Matt Damon), then don’t be surprised to see the Abe Lincoln countenance of nice guy Sam Waterston dispatching bounty hunters to wipe out women and children. The enemies here are the nameless, faceless, morally ambiguous bureaucrats who keep the system chugging along year after year, no matter who lives in the Oval Office. Who do you think is stationed in Washington typing up transcripts of all those government wiretaps? They have to be familiar faces at P.T.A. and town hall planning-board meetings somewhere. In the end, that’s a much scarier proposition than a guy in Armani with a solid-gold Rolls Royce who wants to blow up Fort Knox.

Fortunately, except for a few lines of hammy dialogue by Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns that hint too obviously at the current administration, British director Paul Greengrass (United 93) is content to leave the political commentary in the subtext. Instead he wisely concentrates on serving up thrills and spills, and lots of them—all flawlessly executed. In almost every action movie these days, the plot skids to a halt at random points while the actors blow things up or beat the hell out of each other. Here, every single set piece—the cat-and-mouse game in Waterloo Station, the rooftop footrace in Tangier, the de rigueur car chase through the streets of Manhattan—is shot and edited at Grand Prix speed, yet the film never loses its momentum, balance or sense of story and character. By the end, Bourne survives more explosions and demolitions than Wile E. Coyote. The scene where he drives himself off the roof of a parking garage strains credulity, to be sure, but by then you’re so wrapped up in the story that you’ll relish every curve the movie throws at you.

In addition to Strathairn’s fine turn as Vosen, Joan Allen does well in her returning role as Pamela Landy, Bourne’s only ally on the inside. And Albert Finney adds a dangerous tone to the finale as the Dr. Mengele behind the birth of Jason Bourne. The only false note is Julia Stiles, who reprises her role from the first two films in what seems like a contrived, plot-straining coincidence. But they all lend support in the truest sense, because it’s Matt Damon’s show all the way. Bourne is a bit of a cipher; his whole identity is that he has no identity. In the hands of a less accomplished actor that might be a recipe for blandness. But Damon is a hard-working beaver who brings such intensity and singularity of purpose to the role that you can’t take your eyes off him. Not too difficult, since he’s in almost every frame of film, but still quite an admirable feat to demand and get the kind of serious attention that is justified.

If The Bourne Ultimatum is purportedly the end of the franchise, it’s both a blessing and a shame. Few filmmakers and fewer movie stars have the good sense to leave well enough alone when they smell more money waiting in the sequel trough. As a trilogy, the Bourne movies added up to a single, thrilling arc of a narrative. We don’t need another. Mr. Damon says he has thrown in the towel with this one. Smart guy. He knows an exit line when he hears one.

Film Review: "The Bourne Ultimatum"

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) searches for answers from a hostage in "The Bourne Ultimatum."

Still Searching, but With Darker Eyes

The New York Times
Published: August 3, 2007

Jaw clenched, brow knotted, body tight as a secret, Matt Damon hurtles through “The Bourne Ultimatum” like a missile. He’s a man on a mission, our Matt, and so too is his character, Jason Bourne, the near-mystically enhanced superspy who, after losing his memory and all sense of self, has come to realize that he has also lost part of his soul. For Bourne, who rises and rises again in this fantastically kinetic, propulsive film, resurrection is the name of the game, just as it is for franchises. This is the passion of Jason Bourne, with a bullet.

Their sights set far beyond the usual genre coordinates, the three Bourne movies drill into your psyche as well as into your body. They’re unusually smart works of industrial entertainment, with action choreography that’s as well considered as the direction. Doug Liman held the reins on the first movie, with Paul Greengrass taking over for the second and third installments. And while the two men take different approaches to similar material (the more formally bold Mr. Greengrass shatters movie space like glass), each embraces an ethos that’s at odds with the no pain, no gain, no brain mind-set that characterizes too many such flicks. Namely remorse: in these movies, you don’t just feel Bourne’s hurt, you feel the hurt of everyone he kills.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” picks up where “The Bourne Supremacy” left off, with this former black-bag specialist for the C.I.A. grimly, inexorably moving toward final resolution. After a brush with happiness with the German woman (Franka Potente) he met in the first movie (“The Bourne Identity”) and soon lost in the second, he has landed in London. Stripped of his identity, his country and love, Bourne is now very much a man alone, existentially and otherwise. Mr. Damon makes him haunted, brooding and dark. The light seems to have gone out in his eyes, and the skin stretches so tightly across his cantilevered cheekbones that you can see the outline of his skull, its macabre silhouette. He looks like death in more ways than one.

Death becomes the Bourne series, which, in contrast to most big-studio action movies, insists that we pay attention and respect to all the flying, back-flipping and failing bodies. There’s no shortage of pop pleasure here, but the fun of these films never comes from watching men die. It’s easy to make people watch — just blow up a car, slit someone’s throat. The hard part is making them watch while also making them think about what exactly it is that they’re watching. That’s a bit of a trick, because forcing us to look at the unspeakable risks losing us, though in the Bourne series it has made for necessary surprises, like Ms. Potente’s character’s vomiting in the first movie because she has just seen a man fling himself out of a window to his death.

RAW: Jason Bourne (MATT DAMON) tracks his subject across rooftops in Tangier in the 2007 film "The Bourne Ultimatum," directed by Paul Greengrass.

That scene quickly established the underlying seriousness of the series, particularly with respect to violence. There’s a similarly significant scene in the new film, which caps a beyond-belief chase sequence in which Bourne runs and runs and runs, leaping from one sun-blasted roof to the next and diving into open windows as the cops hotfoot after him. He’s trying to chase down a man who’s trying to chase down Bourne’s erstwhile colleague, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). When Bourne comes fist-to-fist with the other man, Mr. Greengrass throws the camera, and us along with it, smack in the middle. It’s thrilling at first, and then — as the blows continue to fall, the bodies slow down, and a book is slammed, spine out, into one man’s neck — ghastly.

An intentional buzz kill, this fight succeeds in bringing you down off the roof, where just moments earlier you had been flying so high with Bourne. (Look at the dude go!) Mr. Greengrass knows how to do his job, and there’s no one in Hollywood right now who does action better, who keeps the pace going so relentlessly, without mercy or letup, scene after hard-rocking scene.

But he, along with the writers (here, Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi), also wants to complicate things, mix some unease in with all the heart-thumping enjoyment. Not because he’s a sadist, or at least not entirely, but because the Bourne series is, finally, about consequences, about chickens coming home to roost.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” drives its points home forcefully, making you jump in your seat and twitch, but it’s careful not to leave any bruises. (It’s filmmaking with a rubber hose.) Amid the new and familiar faces (David Strathairn and Joan Allen), it introduces a couple of power-grasping, smooth-talking ghouls and stark reminders of Abu Ghraib that might make you blanch even if you don’t throw up. As Bourne has inched closer to solving the rebus of his identity, he hasn’t always liked what he’s found. He isn’t alone. Movies mostly like to play spy games pretty much for kicks, stoking us with easy brutality and cool gadgets that get us high and get us going, whether our gentlemen callers dress in tuxes or track suits.

What’s different about the Bourne movies is the degree to which they have been able to replace the pleasures of cinematic violence with those of movie-made kinetics — action, not just blood. Mr. Greengrass and his superb team do all their dazzling with technique. They take us inside an enormous train station and a cramped room and then, with whipping cameras and shuddering edits, break that space into bits as another bullet finds its mark, another body hits the ground, and the world falls apart just a little bit more. Without fail, Mr. Greengrass always picks up those pieces, reshaping them so that Bourne can move to the next location, the next kill, as he gets closer and closer to the mystery of his terrible existence.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has graphic and very intense violence, if relatively little blood.


Opens today nationwide.

Directed by Paul Greengrass; written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, based on a story by Mr. Gilroy and the novel by Robert Ludlum; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley and Paul L. Sandberg; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 111 minutes.

WITH: Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Paddy Considine (Simon Ross), Edgar Ramirez (Paz), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch) and Joan Allen (Pam Landy).

Daniel Pipes: Ban the Burqa - and the Niqab Too

Daniel Pipes


Once-exotic forms of Muslim women's head and body garments have now become both familiar in the West and the source of fractious political and legal disputes.

The hijab (a hair-covering) is ever-more popular in Detroit but has been banned from French public schools, discouraged by the International Football Association Board, and excluded from a court in the U.S. state of Georgia.

The jilbab (a garment that leaves only the face and hands exposed) was, in a case partly argued by Tony Blair's wife, first allowed, then forbidden in an English school.

Sultaana Freeman wanted her Florida drivers license to show her in a niqab, but an Orlando court said no. The niqab (a total covering except for the eyes) became a hot topic when Jack Straw, a British Labour politician, wrote that he "felt uncomfortable" talking to women wearing it. If Quebec election authorities disallow the niqab from voting booths and a judge disallowed it from a Florida driver's license, it is permitted in British courts and a Dutch candidate for municipal office wore one. A British hospital even invented a niqab patients' gown.

The burqa (a total head and body covering) has been barred from classrooms in the UK, is illegal in public places in five Belgian towns, and the Dutch legislature has attempted to ban it altogether. Italy's "Charter of Values, Citizenship and Immigration" calls face coverings not acceptable. A courtroom in the United States has expelled a burqa'ed woman.

In brief, no general rules govern Islamic headwear in the West.

Some observers would ban hijabs from public places, but what legal grounds exist for doing so? Following my rule of thumb that Muslims enjoy the same rights and obligations as other citizens, but not special rights or obligations, a woman's freedom of expression grants her the option to wear a hijab.

In contrast, burqas and niqabs should be banned in all public spaces because they present a security risk. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds – female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, decent citizen, fugitive, or criminal – with who knows what evil purposes.

Some examples (full details can be found at my weblog entry, "The Niqab and Burqa as Security Threats"): A spectacular act of would-be escape took place in early July, when Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz Ghazi, 46, tried to flee the Red Mosque complex in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he had helped lead an insurrection aiming to topple the government. He donned a black burqa and high heels but, unfortunately for him, his height, demeanor, and pot belly gave him away, leading to his arrest.

One of the July 2005 London bombers, Yassin Omar, 26, took on the burqa twice – once when fleeing the scene of the crime, then a day later, when fleeing London for the Midlands.

Other male burqa'ed fugitives include a Somali murder suspect in the United Kingdom, Palestinian killers fleeing Israeli justice, a member of the Taliban fleeing NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the murderer of a Sunni Islamist in Pakistan.

Burqas and niqabs also facilitate non-political criminal behavior. Unsurprisingly, favorite targets of robberies include jewelry stores (examples come from Canada, Great Britain, and India) and banks (Great Britain, Bosnia, and two 2007 attacks in Philadelphia). Curiously, in Kenya, street prostitutes have donned buibuis (which reveals slightly more of the face than a niqab), the better to blend into the night population and avoid the police.

Expressing the universal fear aroused by these garments, a recent Pakistani horror film, Zibahkhana (meaning "slaughterhouse" in Urdu) includes a sadistic cannibalistic killer figure dubbed "Burqa Man."

The practice of covering the face derives from tribal customs that build on Islamic law, not the law itself. For example, some tribeswomen in Saudi Arabia's Al-Kharj region put on the burqa at puberty, then never take it off – not for other women, not for their husbands, and not for their children. These family members typically see the woman's face only when viewing her corpse.

British research offers another reason to drop the burqa and niqab, finding that covered women and their breast-fed children lack sufficient amounts of vitamin D (which the skin absorbs from sunlight) and are at serious risk of rickets.

Nothing in Islam requires turning females into shapeless, faceless zombies; good sense calls for modesty itself to be modest. The time has come everywhere to ban from public places these hideous, unhealthy, socially divisive, terrorist-enabling, and criminal-friendly garments.

Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers). This column will be on hiatus for the next 15 weeks, until mid-April, while Mr. Pipes teaches at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

Robert Novak: Jeri Thompson is No Trophy Wife

August 02, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times

WASHINGTON -- Speaking at his $1,000-a-ticket fund-raiser at the J.W. Marriott hotel in downtown Washington Monday night, Fred Thompson began by introducing "my campaign manager -- oh, I mean my wife." That little joke about Jeri Thompson reveals how the prospective Republican presidential candidate regards the attack on his intelligent, beautiful wife.

As the actor-lawyer-politician nears his long-awaited official announcement, Mrs. Thompson is slurred as a "trophy wife" 24 years younger than her husband -- privately by her husband's opponents for the Republican nomination and publicly by the news media. Even Thompson supporters grumble that Jeri, 40, is too alluring, should modify the way she dresses and even then should not practice her skills as a professional political operative on behalf of Fred, 64.

That Thompson made light of this at his fund-raiser reflects the cool reaction to crisis he has displayed as GOP counsel of the Watergate investigation, U.S. senator from Tennessee and many dramatic roles (most recently district attorney of Manhattan).That he is in a commanding position for the nomination may explain the extraordinary attention paid to his wife.

Murmuring about Jeri Thompson hit a peak of attention on Fox News Sunday July 22 when its round table engaged in whimsical contemplation of debate between spouses of Democratic presidential candidates. "Well, first," said Juan Williams of National Public Radio, "I think you should get Jeri Thompson in here, the trophy wife, right?" William Kristol of the Weekly Standard interjected: "That's unfair." Williams: "Unfair, unfair, I know, but -- ." Kristol: "It is unfair."

That ended the discussion. I asked Williams, a respected journalist, whether he had regrets about his "trophy wife" comment. He did not, but explained he got the idea from The New York Times of July 8 in a Style section report by Susan Saulny. "Is America ready for a president with a trophy wife?" she asked. "Subsequent to that," Williams told me, "I heard the same thing in conversation with people in other campaigns -- about her being so young, so attractive and so powerful."

The archetypal "trophy wife" (a phrase coined by Fortune magazine 18 years ago) conjures up the image of a rich corporate executive who tires of and abandons the woman he married when they both were young and has grown old with, and turns to a young, chic new wife, usually seen as a home wrecker. Mrs. Thompson does not fit that mold. Thompson had been divorced for 17 years and was on friendly terms with his first wife when he married Jeri Kehn in 2002. They also have two small children -- not the trophy wife caricature either.

Nor does Mrs. Thompson's background fit the caricature. After working for the Senate Republican Conference and the Republican National Committee, she became a big-time political media consultant in Washington. She has been intimately involved in the planning of her husband's campaign, including last week's staff shakeup. When Tom Collamore left as Thompson's campaign manager, he told CNN that he was "very respectful of the desire of Fred and Jeri to make some changes as they move to the next level." Those comments generated whispers in the political community that whoever ran this campaign would have to answer to the candidate's wife.

Actually, Collamore is a former bureaucrat and tobacco lobbyist with vastly less political experience than Mrs. Thompson. Not even Collamore's friends could conceive of him running a national political campaign. Indeed, Fred Thompson's close associates maintain there was no chance he would be a candidate for president were he not married to Jeri. He tells friends the reason he abandoned what seemed a promising campaign for the 1996 nomination was that he did not feel he could manage that endeavor as a single man.

The spectacle of Thompson's Republican adversaries demeaning his wife in conversations with newsmen suggests how seriously they regard his prospective candidacy. He starts his campaign in the top tier of candidates, and is already the candidate of the South and the favorite of social conservatives. His test is how he will do after Labor Day when his candidacy's phantom stage has been finished. Jeri Thompson will be at his side as an asset, not a liability.

Amity Shlaes: Wife-Swapping, Taxes and Spreads Are All Related

August 1, 2007

Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Finance Committee leaders are signaling that Congress will take up the topic of capital gains and private-equity firms next year. And no wonder.

The 20 percentage-point difference between the 15 percent capital-gains rate that many Wall Streeters pay and the 35 percent income-tax rate paid by a surgeon at a hospital makes a tempting election-year target for Democrats.

The focus on this particular spread is a shame. What really matters about the capital-gains rate isn't its relationship to the income-tax rate. What matters to everyone is a capital-gains rate that is low.

You can see this in the economic numbers over the decades and also, occasionally, in the general culture. When the capital- gains rate is low, America feels like doing business. When the rate is high, the country turns its attention elsewhere.

Laugh all you like. There is a case to be made that the capital-gains rate affects everything from politics to sports, cars, religion and even relationships between the sexes.

Consider the record of the past century. From 1922 to 1933, the spread between the top long-term capital-gains rate and the income tax level was sometimes even larger, as wide as 60 percentage points, as Leonard Burman of the Urban Institute notes in ``The Labyrinth of Capital Gains Tax Policy: A Guide For the Perplexed''

Once the capital-gains rate was reduced to 12.5 percent, the 1920s roared. Unemployment sank into the threes, twos, and even ones -- a level so low that the 4.5 percent level we enjoy now looks unexceptional. Even anarchists gave up politics and purchased Model T's to drive girls around in.

Taxed Economy

A few years into the Depression, lawmakers raised the capital-gains rate to as high as an effective 23.7 percent, prolonging the economic agony. In this dark and moralistic period, politics seemed more important than economics, since there wasn't much economics going on.

The 1950s had a spread that makes today's look narrow: the top income-tax rate was more than 90 percent, whereas the capital-gains rate for top earners, effective and statutory, was 25 percent. The difference mattered less than the fact that at 25 percent, capital gains were still low enough that the Organization Man earned profits for his corporation.

That rate persisted into the early and mid-1960s, low enough to keep the country focused on business. The cinematic context that comes to mind here is 1967's``The Graduate,'' released just around the time the capital-gains rate began to edge up. What matters most, as a parent says at poolside, is ``plastics'' -- the great new business. But Benjamin senses that the general outlook is weak, and turns to Mrs. Robinson.

On the Rise

In fact, the capital-gains rate was on the rise to an effective 45.5 percent by the early 1970s. Rashly, Congress pushed the effective capital gains up close to 50 percent. That postponed not only innovations, but also the extent to which existing innovations reached the consumer.

This frozen state is best captured not by Washington's data but by author Rick Moody in the ``The Ice Storm,'' later made into a film. One man at a boozy party has a brilliant insight into how to solve an abiding problem, that of packaging breakables for shipping. What about using Styrofoam bits to pack with? If you do that, notes the man in wonder, ``delicate stuff, stuff that can get tossed around by shippers, still arrives intact.''

There ought to be high hopes for the idea: ``it is just going nationwide, I see it, nationwide.'' But the whole Styrofoam-peanut pitch gets drowned out as the 30- and 40- something guests turn to a venture with greater possibility for immediate realization: wife-swapping.

Tech Boom

More recent decades offer yet more evidence for the value of lower capital-gains rates. When the famous Steiger Amendment slashed the capital-gains rate to 28 percent in the late 1970s, venture capital found its footing. As Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute writes on his Web log, the same financial structure that is now under assault by lawmakers helped fuel the growth of a number of companies, from Apple Inc. and Intel Corp., to Genentech Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and thousands of others.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan cut the capital-gains tax to 20 percent, at least in his first term, and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who copied Reagan, lowered it to 20 percent in the late 1990s. As for the spread, in 1986 a Reagan-Democrat compromise reduced that to a healthy zero. Both the long-term capital-gains rate and the top income-tax rate stood at 28 percent. The 1987 stock-market crash followed.

Why then the continued emphasis on the spread? There's an old definition of income, known among economists as Haig-Simons, under which wide spreads are viewed as damaging. The Haig-Simons theory finds frequent use nowadays, notwithstanding the 1987 crash. That is because it provides a reasonable pretext for an attack on the rich.

Burman noted in a conversation earlier this week that lowering the income tax, rather than raising the capital-gains tax, would narrow the spread just as effectively. But cutting the income tax probably isn't in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plans.

If a capital-gains rate increase alone, however, makes it into 2008 law, the U.S. economy will become less competitive compared with other economies at a crucial time. And if you don't mind me saying, that's a spread that can affect a lot of relationships.

To contact the writer of this column: Amity Shlaes at

Last Updated: August 1, 2007 04:30 EDT

Michelle Malkin: The Martyrs No One Cares About

August 01, 2007

The New York Post

The body of Shim Sung-min, 29, one of the South Korean hostages is carried to load in the back of a vehicle by policemen after he was killed by the Taliban militants in Ghazni province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, July 31, 2007. Police in central Afghanistan at daybreak Tuesday discovered the body of a second South Korean hostage slain by the Taliban, officials said.

The blood of innocent Christian missionaries spills on Afghan sands. The world watches and yawns. The United Nations offers nothing more than a formal expression of "concern." Where is the global uproar over the human rights abuses unfolding before our eyes?

For two weeks, a group of South Korean Christians has been held hostage by Taliban thugs in Afghanistan. This is the largest group of foreign hostages taken in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. What was their offense? Were they smuggling arms into the country? No. Inciting violence? No. They were peaceful believers in Christ on short-term medical and humanitarian missions. Seventeen of the 23 hostages are females. Most of them are nurses who provide social services and relief.

Over the past few days, the bloodthirsty jihadists have demanded that South Korea immediately withdraw troops from the Middle East, pay ransom and trade the civilian missionaries for imprisoned Taliban fighters. The Taliban leaders have made good on threats to kill the kidnapped Christians while Afghan officials plead fecklessly that their monstrous behavior is "un-Islamic."

Two men, 29-year-old Shim Sung-min and 42-year-old Pastor Bae Hyeong-gyu, have already been shot to death and dumped in the name of Allah. Bae was a married father with a 9-year-old daughter. According to Korean media, he was from a devout Christian family from the island province of Jeju. He helped found the Saemmul Church south of Seoul, which sent the volunteers to Afghanistan.

Across Asia, media coverage is 24/7. Strangers have held nightly prayer vigils. But the human rights crowd in America has been largely AWOL. And so has most of our mainstream media. Among some of the secular elite, no doubt, is a blame-the-victim apathy: The missionaries deserved what they got. What were they thinking bringing their message of faith to a war zone? Didn't they know they were sitting ducks for Muslim head-choppers whose idea of evangelism is "convert or die"?

I noted the media shoulder-shrugging about jihadist targeting of Christian missionaries five years ago during the kidnapping and murder of American Christian missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham in the Philippines. The silence is rooted in viewing committed Christians as alien others. At best, there is a collective callousness. At worst, there is outright contempt -- from Ted Turner's reference to Catholics as "Jesus freaks" to CBS producer Roxanne Russell's casual insult of former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer as "the little nut from the Christian group" to the mockery of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.

Curiously, those who argue that we need to "understand" Islamic terrorists demonstrate little effort to "understand" the Christian evangelical missionaries who risk their lives to spread the gospel -- not by sword, but through acts of compassion, healing and education. An estimated 16,000 Korean mission workers risk their lives across the globe -- from Africa to the Middle East, China and North Korea.

These are true practitioners of a religion of peace, not the hate-mongers with bombs and AK-47s strapped to their chests who slay instead of pray their way to martyrdom.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

2008 All-Star Game logo unveiled

Last Midsummer Classic played at Yankee Stadium was in '77

By Bryan Hoch /

07/31/2007 3:00 PM ET

The logo for the 2008 All-Star Game was unveiled at a news conference on Tuesday. (Major League Baseball)

NEW YORK -- An All-Star summer will take hold of New York City next year, and Yankee Stadium played host to a sneak glimpse on Tuesday.
The Yankees, Major League Baseball and the City of New York unveiled the official 2008 All-Star Game logo in a press conference at the historic stadium, discussing plans for a summer that will use the Bronx Midsummer Classic as a centerpiece for the metropolis.

The All-Star Game logo prominently features aspects paying homage to the stage upon which the game will be played. Yankee Stadium's historic and recognizable facade plays a headlining role, in addition to the Yankees' classic pinstripes.

With the new Yankee Stadium rapidly rising just one block away from the current facility in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium was announced as the site for the 79th All-Star Game at a City Hall press conference on Jan. 31.

The 2008 campaign will be the Yankees' final one on the current grounds, making the All-Star Game a fitting send off for a facility that has been the host to numerous historic events over the decades. Yankee Stadium has held four All-Star Games previously, including one most recently in 1977, following an extensive renovation of the building in the mid-70s.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg represented the City of New York in the official unveiling. The Yankees were represented by 15-time All-Star Yogi Berra, plus fellow multiple-time All-Stars Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Ron Guidry.

Also in attendance at the on-field press conference were MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, plus a host of other Yankees front-office officials, including executive vice president and treasurer Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

One more for the books

Yankee Stadium to host All-Star Game in its doors for final time

By Caleb Breakey /
07/31/2007 3:00 PM ET

NEW YORK -- If history truly repeats itself, then the American League All-Stars may be in trouble when Yankee Stadium hosts the 79th Midsummer Classic in 2008, because the Junior Circuit has lost two of the three previous All-Star Games played in The House That Ruth Built.

Then again, if modern history repeats itself, the AL All-Star squad will walk away victorious, as it has since the 1997 game (with the exception of the 7-7 tie in 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee).

Despite what happens in '08, one thing is for sure when it comes to All-Star Games played in the ballpark at 161st Street and River Avenue: future legends will be on display.

Yankee Stadium played host to its first Midsummer Classic in 1939. Ten Yankees players -- six of which were selected as starters -- joined their skipper and AL manager, Joe McCarthy, for a 3-1 victory over the National League in seventh All-Star Game played.

Yankees pitcher Red Ruffing started the game, and Joe DiMaggio connected for a home run in front of the 62,892 in attendance. Outfielder George Selkirk, third baseman Red Rolfe, pitchers Johnny Murphy and Lefty Gomez, second baseman Joe Gordon, first baseman Lou Gehrig, shortstop Frankie Crosetti and catcher Bill Dickey also suited up for the Bombers.

Officially, it was the second All-Star Game played in New York, because five years earlier, the Polo Grounds hosted the annual event in the Big Apple. The main reason Yankee Stadium welcomed the best players around the country to the Bronx in 1939 was because the World's Fair was being held at Flushing Meadows in Queens that very same year.

Now, fast forward to 1960, when catchers Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, pitchers Whitey Ford and Jim Coates, outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and first baseman Bill Skowron were honored with All-Star nominations for the Yankees.

The game occurred during the 1959-62 era, when the Midsummer Classic was played in a two-game format. After the AL dropped the first game, 5-3, on July 11 at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, the All-Star squads headed to New York for the second game.

Willie Mays after belting a home run in the 1960 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Bob Skinner of the Pittsburgh Pirates greets the superstar while catcher Yogi Berra and umpire Nestor Chylak look on.

Willie Mays came into the Bronx fresh off a performance in All-Star Game No. 28 in which he was a home run short of the cycle. The results didn't get any better for the AL team in All-Star Game No. 29, as Ford and the Junior Circuit lost, 6-0, at Yankee Stadium on July 13.

Mays finished the two games 6-for-8 at the plate. He even blasted a home run in Game 2, along with teammates Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial and Ken Boyer. Vern Law was the winning pitcher. That game also marked the 18th and final time that Ted Williams would play among the elite players in the Midsummer Classic.

Nearly 20 years later, a new slate of Yankees would take the field in the most recent All-Star Game played at Yankee Stadium in 1977, which came after the stadium's renovation.

Headed by manager Billy Martin, the Yankees were represented by outfielder Reggie Jackson, catcher Thurman Munson, third baseman Graig Nettles, second baseman Willie Randolph and pitcher Sparky Lyle in the 48th All-Star Game.

DiMaggio and Mays attended the game as honorary captains, much to the delight of the 56,683 in attendance. Once again, the NL beat the AL, 7-5, behind the pitching of the game's MVP, Don Sutton.

Future Hall of Famers in that 1977 game who were on the Senior Circuit roster included Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Sutton, Mike Schmidt, Dave Winfield, Tom Seaver, Bruce Sutter and Steve Carlton. Morgan, Steve Garvey and Greg Luzinski homered for the NL.

Future Hall of Famers who were on the Junior Circuit roster included Rod Carew, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Jim Palmer, Dennis Eckersley and Nolan Ryan. George Scott homered for the AL.

Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Changing the game

The author remembers San Francisco's coaching icon

By Dr. Z
Posted: Monday July 30, 2007 5:47PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 12:39AM

Bill Walsh shares a laugh with Joe Montana in the closing moments of a playoff victory in 1989.

Best of all I remember the dinners with Bill Walsh, usually the night before a game. No, we wouldn't discuss the team the 49ers would play the next day. Game strategy? Absolutely not. Check that. Once before a Redskins game he casually said, "Watch the tight end tomorrow." I watched him. He caught his usual two or three passes. Maybe he meant the 'Skins' tight end.

I don't kid myself that I occupied a special place in coach Walsh's life. It was just that he liked to get away from the grind late in the week, swap generalities with someone who had, basically, the same frame of reference. I'm sure those occasions meant very little to the coach, but they formed an indelible part of my memory. Best of all were Walsh's general observations about the game itself, the philosophy of it.

"You know how I'll know I'm getting old?" he once said. "I won't be wearing a head set on the sideline. Watch the coaches on the sideline. If I see one who's not wearing a head set, I know he's not in the game."

He was 52 at the time, but he had seen what the aging process had done to coaches.

"At 60 you begin to slow, physically, especially in the Midwest, where there's a tough climate," he said. "It's not so bad out here on the West Coast. The key to professional growth is natural inquisitiveness. When you lose that, you're not going to grow at all.

"The energy is the critical area. This job or any other can become a bore if it's the same basic life routine. First you get rather bored with practice, with the film breakdowns, everything but the game itself. Before long you're not a detail man; you're just waiting for the game. And some of them are not even game coaches."

Nobody could put an idea or a concept in a capsule the way Walsh could. Once I asked him why he'd never hired an offensive coordinator.

"That's step four," he said. "Step five is out the door."

Once at a press conference, they were needling him because he never considered putting his quarterback in a shotgun formation. He held up his hand. "We're considering it," he said. "The way we'll handle it is to just put 'gun' after everything we call."

Walsh as the receivers coach for the Bengals in 1975.

He was not above pointing out to you when you appeared ridiculous. Once in his office we were having a pretty intense talk about the upcoming draft. I found that we were agreeing on a lot of things, especially the heart and desire players, the overachievers. Finally I got so carried away with my own astuteness that, in a burst of lunatic egotism, I asked him if I could ever, possibly, land a job on someone's personnel staff.

He frowned. How to break it gently to this idiot?

"The problem would be," he said slowly, "that you would fill a roster with players who'd look good chasing guys over the goal line."

But when you admitted to absolute, absent-minded helplessness, he could tune in. I told him that with the advance of age, I found the need to carry around a pocket-sized notebook and constantly record, "Things to remember," when I could remember where I put the notebook, that is.

"How about this one?" he said. "I've been out in a parking lot at 2 a.m. looking for a rental car, with absolutely no memory of what it looked like or where I'd left my luggage. And how's this? I stop at a coffee shop an hour before I have to be at a banquet. I tell myself, 'Now don't lock the keys in the car,' and as I'm saying it, I'm doing it. Slam! I have to call the police, call the banquet ... 'Sorry, but I'm going to be late.'"

"Tell him about the plays on my back," said his wife, Geri.

"I'll be out with her, and I'll be talking to someone about some pass play, and I'll have my arm around her back," he said, "you know, an affectionate gesture, but I'll be going like this with my fingers." He punched out a pass pattern.

"What will Geri do?" I asked him.

"She'll say, 'Did it work?'"

I never could figure out whether or not he liked the Genius tag people put on him. I know that when they started mislabeling Sid Gillman's West Coast offense a Walsh creation, he called me, quite upset. "My offense is the Cincinnati Offense," he said. "I wouldn't even mind if they called it the Walsh Offense. But the West Coast offense is that Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, Ernie Zampese thing. Why do they keep making that mistake?"

That was in the early days of the West Coast. As it gained in popularity, Walsh's complaints lessened noticeably. But to constantly being called the Genius, often with a sneer? I wondered how he really felt about that.

"Genius ... wouldn't you say that's term usually associated with some figment of crackpot?" he said.

But how many real football geniuses have there been? If you'd been around Marv Levy's 1962 University of California staff when Walsh was a 30-year-old defensive assistant, you'd have seen a mentality so high-powered, filled with ideas that poured out so fast that he could barely get them on the blackboard in time. It was like watching simultaneous board chess matches.

"We ran our coaches' meetings in a room with three blackboards," Levy once said. "Walsh would scribble a play, but before he'd finish, his mind would shift to another one. He'd move to the second board and begin writing while he was still talking about the first one. I'd follow him around with an eraser and rub out the play because the coaches were getting confused."

When Walsh's name first came up at the Hall of Fame selection meeting, he swept through in almost record time. The one phrase that stayed with me, a criterion I was once taught to serve as a guideline for evaluating coaches, was "How did he change the game?" With Walsh, the answer is in absolutes. He changed it in infinite ways. He changed it forever.

Bill Walsh, genius

The man I knew was better than a mere dictator

By Michael Silver

Posted: Monday July 30, 2007 4:17PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 12:36AM

Early in his coaching tenure with the San Francisco 49ers, before he turned a long-suffering franchise into the greatest organization in professional sports, Bill Walsh once cut a player on the practice field.

Enraged by a cheap shot, Walsh fired the player -- who, to be fair, was not one of the team's major contributors -- right there on the spot, ordering a member of the security staff to escort him out of the building. To underscore his point, Walsh trailed behind as the two men trudged toward the locker room, screaming, "Don't even let him f----- shower!"

This was Walsh, who died today at 75 after a long bout with leukemia, at his most ruthless. Yet there was a calculated brilliance behind his brashness: After he took over in 1979, no Niner dared cross the new man in charge.

Nearly a decade later, as he was losing his grip after having completed the most impressive NFL coaching run since Vince Lombardi's in Green Bay, Walsh sometimes directed his enmity toward members of the local media. He was equal parts paranoid and condescending, and when he stepped down following his third Super Bowl title in January 1989, there wasn't a whole lot of sentimental sadness in either the press room or the locker room.

A few months later, I began covering the team as a beat writer for a Northern California paper, and the horror stories about Walsh's final days circulated with abandon. But he and I hit it off from the start, and over the next 17-plus years, whether I sought his opinion as a television analyst, as the progenitor of an offensive philosophy and unmatched tree of executive and coaching excellence, as a reinstalled Stanford mentor who'd just toyed with Joe Paterno, or a personnel guru who temporarily brought the 49ers back to prominence, he was invariably wise, witty and kind.

When people would ask about my relationship with the white-haired legend, I used to respond jokingly -- well, maybe half-jokingly -- that he and I bonded based on our shared belief of an unassailable tenet: Bill Walsh was a genius.

It wasn't that far from the truth. Growing up in L.A. as an oft-humiliated fan of the hometown Rams' chief rivals, I spent my high-school years watching in awe as Walsh transformed a 49ers team that went 2-14 his first year and 6-10 his second into a first-time champion in his third.

Because of Walsh, the franchise of a thousand choke jobs was now led by a cool, magical quarterback named Joe Montana, whose passes were as picturesque as the Golden Gate Bridge in heavy fog.

Because of Walsh, a group of young hellions led by Ronnie Lott took over a malleable defense that suddenly played with dash and defiance.

Because of Walsh and his innovative offensive schemes, receivers were five yards open, a 10th-round draft pick named Dwight Clark would become an All-Pro and Bay Area legend, and a washed-up running back named Lenvil Elliott would gain many of the key yards on the dramatic drive that produced The Catch.

On a more personal level, because of Walsh, I could wear my ratty, way-too-small 49ers jersey to school on Jan. 11, 1982, and for the first time in my life no one would dare laugh.

So, yes, after I started covering the Niners and thus stopped loving them like a gushy teenager, I was predisposed to think pretty highly of Walsh. But the more I learned of him -- and from him -- the greater my appreciation became.

In an era in which many head coaches callously prohibit their assistants from talking to the media (and, by extension, hurt their profiles and potential for attracting the interests of other employers), Walsh did the opposite, vigorously promoting the virtues of the coaches who worked under him through the press and back-channel diplomacy. This was especially true when it came to minority coaching candidates. Indeed, undoing racial injustices when it came to such hires remained one of Walsh's primary causes long after he stepped away.

Remember that in early January 1989, shortly before Walsh resigned as the Niners' coach, his receivers coach, Denny Green, got the Stanford job -- largely on the strength of his boss's recommendation. Walsh's reaction in the midst of a tense playoff drive? He essentially allowed Green to become the Cardinal's fulltime coach while filling in with the Niners whenever time allowed.

It's not surprising that, unlike Jimmy Johnson and other successful NFL head coaches whose assistants turned out to be substandard bosses, Walsh saw his legacy carried on directly (George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, Green) and indirectly (Mike Shanahan, Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden). It was Walsh, after all, who not only revolutionized football strategy with the West Coast Offense, but who also created the organizational blueprint for the modern franchise, from the down-to-the-precise-minute daily schedule to the filming of practices and play-installation meetings.

Give me an hour, and I can go on and on about the other areas in which Walsh made a lasting impact, including his insistence on cutting prominent players a year before their decline, rather than after it, all things being equal. Critics might call this another example of his ruthlessness, and some victims of the policy, such as Clark, would hold a longtime grudge.

But if you paid attention to the 49ers, you eventually understood that Walsh knew best, for he -- more than even Lott or Montana or Jerry Rice or owner Eddie DeBartolo -- was the man most responsible for the franchise's unprecedented run of excellence that included five Super Bowl championships in 14 years.

Manipulative as he might have been -- like all great coaches, really -- Walsh boldly strove for excellence and wasn't averse to risking everything while doing so. Every move he made was meant to create or sustain a dynasty, from the 1987 trade for Steve Young, that triggered a years-long quarterback controversy, to his persuading of Montana, Clark and other veterans not to cross the picket line during the '87 players' strike for fear of the damage to team chemistry it might cause (they nonetheless returned the following week).

As that strike reminded us, Walsh was a tactician whose brilliance shone behind-the-scenes and, most glaringly, on Sundays in front of a rapt, football-watching nation.

Playing his first game with replacement players against the Bill Parcells-coached Giants on Monday Night Football, Walsh, during interviews with the New York media, made a big deal about the presence on the roster of backup quarterback Mark Stevens, who'd run the option in college. Stevens, Walsh suggested, might be inserted in specific situations in which the Phony Niners could utilize his speed and running ability.

Sure enough, before a short-yardage play near midfield, Stevens came sprinting into the huddle, and everyone waited to see Walsh unveil his new toy. The bait successfully lowered, Stevens took the snap, faked a handoff, dropped back in the pocket and calmly delivered a touchdown pass to a wide-open receiver.

On one level, the whole thing was kind of coldblooded. It was also funny and sublime and, yes, genius. That was Bill Walsh, and those of us who got to observe him up close will remember him that way until we, too, are told to disappear without showering.

Ray Ratto: The Legend of Bill Walsh


A legend like Halas, Lombardi

San Fransisco Chronicle

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bill Walsh's legacy as a football man was always outsized, especially in these parts. He didn't make the Bay Area a football-first geographic zone, he didn't invent the 49ers as an important cog in the local culture and he didn't create the West Coast Offense out of whole cloth. We did mythologize him nearly to the point of caricature, just as we mythologized Al Davis and Buck Shaw and Pappy Waldorf and Andy Smith and all the other great football innovators in Bay Area history.

But if any of the others deserved it, so did he. He defined a three-decade era of football thought, characters and results, which renders his achievements extraordinary, and makes his passing all the more visceral.

Walsh had been in poor health for some time, fighting leukemia mostly in private. Thus, he is remembered as he was at his apex - the leonine head, the professorial voice that hid a coach's gift for ruthlessness, the pride in the ideas that bore his name, and the coaching tree that led back to Davis and Paul Brown, and forward to Brian Billick, Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy. He was an epochal figure in the history of the game, he looked every bit the part, and he took care to leave that as the world's lasting memory.

His story has been told down to a fine gray dust - as a player who wasn't quite as good as he'd hoped he could be, as an eager coach who worked for and learned from the grandest minds of the '50s and '60s, as a middle-aged man who feared he would be stuck on an assistant's track for life, as the coach who jump-started Stanford, revivified and then immortalized the 49ers of the '80s, as the man who nurtured the next generation of coaching talent.

He was also a complex man, well-read, solicitous, and curious about things beyond the 6,400-square-yard box in which he made his living and his reputation. Yet, at his core, he was the prototypical man of combat. He loved boxing, he was an avid reader of books about generals, and believed in the inherent truths of competition. That flew in the face of his reputation, largely unfair, that he was an effete, ethereal poser, not made of true coach's cloth.

Bill Walsh and Ronnie Lott at annual MS fundraiser.

Well, truth is he did like to cast the image of the grander thinker, the great conceptual artist, the whistled humanitarian, even the wry comedian. But he was very much a coach, with a coach's eye for skills, both ascendant and waning; for personalities, dominant and compliant; for the separate pieces and the greater whole; for strategies and tactics, for grace and brutishness - all the things that separate football from a bar fight. He built, dissembled and rebuilt with cold, remorseless precision, and his ruthlessness did not always sit well with those pointed toward the door.

It's what George Halas did, and Curly Lambeau, and Brown (his original mentor), and Vince Lombardi, and Davis, and Chuck Noll, and John Madden, and Tom Landry, and Jimmy Johnson, and Bill Parcells, and Bill Belichick. It's what they all do, and if there is another way to be successful at the football game, it hasn't been tried long enough by anyone of enduring consequence. Bill Walsh was driven to succeed, and he did it the way he'd been taught by his forbears, and passed along to his descendants.

He will be remembered for many things by many people, and his story will be told in shards and vignettes that when assembled point out his complexities, but everyone has a central ethos, and his was the art of an often artless game.

His acme was the 49ers years, when his creativity and pragmatism meshed with Eddie DeBartolo's no-check-left-unwritten approach to make the 49ers first relevant and then honored as one of the Teams Of The Decade, like the Bears of the '40s, the Browns of the '50s, the Packers of the '60s, the Steelers of the '70s, and then the Cowboys of the '90s. He filled a room, and a full chapter of a game's history, and there really isn't much more a football man can do.

And the wisdom of the years allowed him to minimize his missteps, like the network analyst role he shared with Dick Enberg, his second tour as Stanford coach and his uncertain role with the 49ers under the York Family regime. Just as he knew when it was right, he also knew when it wasn't, a skill that should not be glossed over or minimized.

His death, at age 75, didn't end the Walsh Era. Just as he refined old ideas, the next generation of coaches refined his. But his life, told and retold by a thousand authors with a million recollections, was one of grand and sweeping gestures. He was not a man to be ignored or taken lightly, and if he came to his moment later in life than our youth culture demands, he left deep imprints on his game, and on his adopted home.

Bill Walsh is linked to and embedded in San Francisco as deeply and surely as Herb Caen, and toward that end, his passing changes nothing. He lived a big life, and left nothing undone or unsaid. He got the full measure of years to do what he wanted most to the best of his ability, which is as good as it gets.

E-mail Ray Ratto at

This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Don Feder: The Cult of Global Warming


Global warming has become the apocalyptic cult of the new millennium. None of the other jeremiahs, throughout the ages, can hold an end-of-the-world candle to ozone-layer mystics prophesying climate Armageddon.

I just came across the ultimate Al Gore coffee table book, "The World Tomorrow: Scenarios of Global Catastrophe" by Yannick Monget.

On the jacket, the author is described as "the founder and chief representative of the Ankaa Group, an organization dedicated to conceiving and developing ambitious projects for the environmental protection of Europe."

If that weren't enough of a contribution to mankind, we are told Monget "has written several volumes of socially committed science fiction in France" - which didn't sell nearly as well as Gore's several volumes of socially committed science fiction, including "The Earth In Balance" and "The Assault on Reason."

"The World Tomorrow" is a lavishly illustrated book that stunningly depicts ecological end-times in familiar settings.

Singapore is demolished by super tornadoes. Fires ravage downtown San Diego (made to resemble Dresden during the Allied bombing). Torrential downpours and "terrible floods" drench Central Europe. (Prague looks like Venice during monsoon season.) Berlin's lush lawns are replaced by dusty, cracked earth. The ruins of Madrid are in the middle of a jungle. Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral is stranded in a snowy wasteland. New York City is locked in ice. And D.C. is returned to the forest primeval, with what appears to be a giant, mutant iguana crawling in front of the Capitol - oh, I beg your pardon, Senator Clinton.

This enviro-porn compliments the ravings of Global Warming's nuttier acolytes - chimp girl Jane Goodall, at the Live Earth U.S.A. concert, squawking: "Up in the North the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?"

Not to be outdone, and demonstrating that the Kennedy clan loses brain cells with each succeeding generation (impossible as that may seem), Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- son of RFK and president of something called the Waterkeeper Alliance - raved to the Live Earth audience: "Get rid of all of these rotten politicians (presumably, Republicans) we have in Washington, who are nothing more than corporate toadies. This is treason and we need to start treating them as traitors!" His old man, who once worked for Joe McCarthy, would be proud.

Boy Bobbie could have put it differently: "This is heresy. And we need to start treating them as heretics!" Which way to the Global Warming auto-da-fe?

The environmentalist canon may be described thusly: 1) Global Warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions is revealed truth. 2) If we don't repent, mankind will be eternally damned. 3) Doubters are monsters and mental defectives comparable to Holocaust-deniers and members of the Flat Earth Society. And 4) It's time to purge our SUV sins by abolishing the industrial revolution and turning to pig manure and solar power for energy. The former may in found in abundance among Global-Warming advocates in Congress and the media.

In a 2003 speech to San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, popular science novelist Michael Crichton described the religion of environmentalism, predecessor to the Church of Global Warming:

"Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism," Crichton disclosed. "Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. . There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability."

Facts are irrelevant, Crichton explains, "because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation (the elect), or on the side of doom, whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them." Them being RFK Jr's "corporate toadies," "traitors" and other wretches yet to be saved by the amazing grace of biodegradable products.

Ditto, Global Warming. The CO2 witch doctors view a modest rise in the Earth's temperature with the alarm of Stone Age savages in Borneo encountering a 747. It's as if the surface temperature of the planet has been a constant for the past 5 billion years and suddenly things are heating up - due to greenhouse gases.

In reality, the Earth has regularly gone through hot and cold cycles. A thousand years ago, Viking settlements in Greenland were growing crops. (It really was green then.) When Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants in 218 A.D., it wasn't nearly the feat many imagine. There was little ice and snow.

Reid Bryson, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is known as the father of scientific climatology. Bryson is a Global Warming iconoclast, and thus is shunned by many of his colleagues.

The professor does not doubt the Earth is warming, as we come out of what's known as the "Little Ice Age."

"However, there is no credible evidence that it is due to mankind and carbon dioxide," Bryson told a reporter for (in an interview published on June 18). "We've been coming out of a Little Ice Age for 300 years. We have not been making very much carbon dioxide for 300 years. It's been warming up a long time."

Why then do so many scientists bring offerings to the altar of the Greenhouse God? Says Bryson: "There is a lot of money to be made in this. If you want to be an eminent scientist, you have to have a lot of grad students and a lot of grants. You can't get grants unless you say, 'oh global warming, yes, yes, carbon dioxide.'" Or, as Big Brother told Winston Smith: "Right thinking will be rewarded - wrong thinking punished."

"Speaking out against global warming is like being a heretic," Bryson significantly declares.

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, observes that much of the recent warming trend occurred prior to 1940 - "before the emission of much greenhouse gas from human activities."

On March 22, 2002, the Associated Press reported that a study "appearing in the March 21, 2002 issue of the journal Science analyzed ancient tree rings from 14 sites on three continents in the northern hemisphere and concluded that temperatures in an era known as the Medieval Warm Period some 800 to 1,000 years ago closely matched the warming trend of the 20th century." Is AP in the pocket of Exxon?

Avery sees a sunny (you should pardon the expression) future: "We're in a mild, erratic natural warming cycle (driven by a cyclical uptick in the sun's energy) that will gradually return us to the finest weather pattern in all recorded history - the Medieval Climate Optimum (circa 900-1300 A.D.). Winters will be milder, storms less powerful, and rainfall more abundant. The polar ice caps will not melt, and the sea level will continue to rise very slowly."

You mean the Eiffel Tower won't end up in the middle of a lagoon? Drat!

Scientists have documented nine moderate global warming cycles and nine somewhat harsher global cooling cycles in the last 12,000 years. Each cycle lasted roughly 1,500 years and - miracle of miracles -- coincided exactly with the known cycles of the sun's magnetic activity.

But this is an inconvenient truth for the Church of CO2 Emissions. We can't enact an international treaty to control the sun's magnetic activity. We can't legislate against it. Nor can it be used as a club to beat energy companies bloody or to institute the type of draconian controls over humanity for which the left has always lusted.

Global Warming a la Gore is merely the left's latest attempt to frog-march us into its brave new world.

With Marxism (another doomsday cult), the apocalyptic vision was a world where the rich kept getting richer and the poor sank deeper and deeper into drudgery, near-starvation and despair. The party elite was the priesthood sent to exorcise these political demons.

Since then, there has been a succession of leftist secular faiths - each calling on us to repent social sin, prophesizing doom and holding out the hope of salvation if only mankind can be coercively saved from itself.

In the '50s and '60s, it was the military/industrial complex. Then came overpopulation. Does anyone recall Paul Ehrlich's 1968 bestseller "The Population Bomb"? Dr. Ehrlich confidently forecast worldwide starvation and the exhaustion of natural resources sometime between 1970 and 1985, due to overpopulation. With birthrates falling worldwide, and well below replacement levels in most industrialized nations, Ehrlich joins the League of Distinguished Malthusians.

The pollution scare started with Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" (1962). We were poisoning the Earth. Species were becoming extinct. We would shortly choke to death on our own garbage and toxic fumes. Part of the service for this particular faith was banning DDT - which led to millions of Third World deaths from disease-laden mosquitoes.

And now we have the Church of Global Warming, under the leadership of Pope Albert I and his college of cardinals (the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and editorial board of The New York Times).

Its Office for the Propagation of the Faith works overtime, churning out books, movies (from the fictional "The Day After Tomorrow" to the fictional "An Inconvenient Truth"), textbooks, concerts, congressional hearings, media pleading and inquisitions.

There are even children's versions of the Ozone Bible. "Arctic Tale" (opening in theaters August 17) is a "documentary" that follows the adventures of Mama Polar Bear and Mother Walrus and their cubs, as they try to deal with catastrophic changes in their environment due to - what else? - Global Warming.

Not to worry, soon they'll be cavorting among the ice floes of Manhattan.

As science, Global Warming ranks right up there with the Piltdown Man and the gay-gene theory.

All of the left's quasi-religions seek to take us to the same final destination - a state of rigid control, central planning, rationing, pre-industrial living standards and flagellation to purge us of our sins.

The end of the line can be vaguely discerned. In the United Kingdom, a group of Eco-Doom fanatics, called The Optimum Population Trust, recently got hysterical over a slight blip in the British birthrate (from 1.8 children per woman in 2005 to 1.87 in 2006 - still well below the replacement level of 2.11).

In its report, the Trust noted that a child born in Britain today will have a lifetime environmental impact (carbon-dioxide output) equal to the energy consumed on 620 round-trip, trans-Atlantic flights.

Brits have to limit childbearing, the Optimum Population Trust insists. If they won't do so voluntarily, the government should adopt coercive measures - which in China has meant forced abortions and sterilizations, and infanticide.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

How about this for a colorful coffee-table book "The World Tomorrow - Scenarios of Economic and Social Catastrophe Courtesy of the Church of Global Warming"?

Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website,