Friday, December 07, 2007
December 7, 2007
Jay Gibbons is congratulated by third base coach Juan Samuel after his three-run home run in the sixth inning gave the Orioles the lead for good at 3-2. Gibbons added a two-run single in the seventh inning. (AP photo / July 17, 2007)
Presumably, any day now George Mitchell will release a scathing report on steroids in baseball that will either eternally restore our faith in the national pastime or shock us all into moving to Ottawa and becoming NHL fans. But there's a slight problem with this premise: As far as shock goes, baseball has successfully waited out our attention span.
Steroids, human growth hormone, amphetamines, the cream, the clear, equine Viagra - it's all pushed to the very back of my mind's medicine cabinet. Mitchell can't possibly produce a guilty name that will generate any surprise or disbelief.
Barry Bonds? Zzzzzzz.
Eddie Gaedel? Perhaps no one needed more help in the growth department.
Elmo? The red fur never struck me as natural.
What's most bothersome now has less to do with cheating the game and so much more with cheating our collective sensibilities. Yesterday's news that Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons faces a 15-day suspension for violating Major League Baseball's substance-abuse policy was hardly a surprise. But Gibbons' admission that he purchased and used hGH should have stirred deeper feelings for fans.
He's an excellent example of why fans have built up so much distrust, why it's so difficult to look at a man or woman capable of superhuman athleticism and feel that innocent sense of awe bubble inside. Gibbons' actions are disappointing, but his words are much more damaging.
Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons is greeted by cather Geronimo Gil upon arriving at the team's spring training camp on Monday. (Sun photo by Doug Kapustin / February 21, 2005)
Here's the nickel tour through the Jay Gibbons Lie, as told by Jay Gibbons:
March 2004: Reports surface that Bonds, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi have received performance-enhancing substances, and Gibbons opined: "It's kind of like people are being convicted before they're even tested. Nobody knows who did what, you know what I mean? And it's really frustrating for a guy who works so hard, just to be accused of something."
August 2005: One day after teammate Rafael Palmeiro is suspended, Gibbons says: "Not one person has come out and said, 'Yeah, I took steroids.' I don't know, is everybody telling the truth? Something's got to give here eventually."
November 2005: After Major League Baseball and the players union announce new, stiffer penalties: "We want to end the problem now and get back to playing ball and not worrying about steroids every day."
October 2006: After the Los Angeles Times reports that former teammate Jason Grimsley has fingered Gibbons, among others, as a steroid user, he says: "I have passed every test administered by Major League Baseball over all the years. I have never taken anabolic steroids. And I am not going to dignify these claims and accusations with any further response."
Yesterday: "I am deeply sorry for the mistakes that I have made. I have no excuses and bear sole responsibility for my decisions. Years ago, I relied on the advice of a doctor, filled a prescription, charged the hGH, which is a medication, to my credit card and had only intended to help speed my recovery from my injuries and surgeries."
Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons sprints onto the field during opening ceremonies. (Sun photo by John Makely / April 3, 2006)
Perhaps the reaction would have been different if he were among the first busted offenders, but as it is - Gibbons is one of eight players connected to the Orioles to be tied to performance-enhancing drugs - what feels especially repulsive today is his parallel career of lying.
Gibbons walked around the clubhouse with a body that was supposed to be chiseled in the gym, not over the counter. The steroid witch hunt unfairly chased after the game's bulky gym rats, Gibbons said, and he promised us time and time again that his statuesque physique was solely the product of an incredible work ethic.
We wanted to believe him, mostly, I suppose, because Gibbons seems like a decent guy. He was the clubhouse union rep. He attended chapel before Sunday games. He rode an inspiring underdog story into the starting lineup, and both he and his wife constantly gave back to the community. He treated reporters, teammates and fans with respect and appreciation.
Which is exactly why the lying and the hypocrisy are so damaging.
Gibbons was one of the good guys, and if the good guys are cheating and able to look us in the eye and lie, what does that really say about the game? And its athletes?
And what does it really say about the rest of us?
Steroids, hGH, cheating - it's all offensive. The lying, however, that's insulting. It's the way a fraud tells you, "You're too stupid to figure out the truth."
And in retrospect, the game's grifters are right. Anyone today still willing to take a baseball player at his word is, in fact, pretty stupid.
Gibbons' admission yesterday didn't sully his reputation; that disappeared when the accusations, injuries and declining statistics bowled over his career. It might not be fair, but what Gibbons has done is cast doubt on every other ballplayer from this point forward who tries to sell us on his innocence. Sorry, we're done buying it.
More names are coming. Mitchell's report drops any day now. But don't expect any shock. Just disappointment from here on out.
We've all lost some innocence here. But it's the game of baseball that moves forward, and no matter what Mitchell finds, there aren't many innocents left.
The Young Bob Dylan, Charismatic and Electric
By A. O. SCOTT
The New York Times
Published: December 7, 2007
These days, and not for the first time, it seems as if everyone wants to be Bob Dylan. There are the half-dozen impersonators in Todd Haynes’s “I’m Not There,” soon to be followed by John C. Reilly in a few scenes of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” and behind them there are several generations of guitar strummers and harmonica blowers Dylanizing in the streets and subway tunnels of every major city in the world.
All of which makes the appearance of “The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965” especially welcome. Directed by Murray Lerner, it stars the man himself, with a few of his colleagues and friends: Joan Baez, Johnny Cash and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, members of which played backup for Mr. Dylan at the 1965 festival, when he shocked the folk establishment by “going electric.”
Such is the legend, at any rate. In Mr. Lerner’s film you hear boos after “Like a Rolling Stone.” But that’s a great performance, as is the encore, an acoustic version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that seems less penitential than triumphant. Those songs provide a thrilling climax to the film without quite overshadowing the others, which are culled from Mr. Dylan’s Newport appearances in 1963, ’64 and ’65, and presented out of chronological order.
How young he looks! In his early 20s, Mr. Dylan found himself not just at a musical crossroads, edging from folk and protest songs toward rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues, but also at a collision point between the diffident folkie ethic and the frenzy of celebrity culture. Mr. Lerner catches glimpses of Mr. Dylan’s transition from a troubadour in a work shirt to something like a rock star. But mostly he shows a skilled, charismatic musician developing beyond the scene where he first established himself.
Bob Dylan, 1963 in "The Other Side Of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-65."
If you were not at the Newport Folk Festival in the ’60s — or, for that matter, if you were — “The Other Side of the Mirror” places you in perfect seats, out of the sun and wind and without any extraneous contextualization. It’s a remarkably pure and powerful documentary, partly because it’s so simple. The sound mix is crisp, the black-and-white photography is lovely, and the songs, above all, can be heard in all their earnest, enigmatic glory, performed by an artist whose gifts are at once mysterious and self-evident.
The Other Side of the Mirror
Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965
Opens today in Manhattan.
Produced and directed by Murray Lerner; directors of photography, Mr. Lerner, Stanley Meredith, George Pickow and Francis Grumman; edited by Alison Heim, Einar Westerlund, George Panos, Pagan Harlemann, Howard Alk and Mr. Lerner; released by MLF Productions. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. This film is not rated.
After 66 years, some survivors wonder if they are the last reminders of the attack that led the U.S. into war.
By H.G. Reza, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 7, 2007
Their ranks thinned by age, Pearl Harbor veterans today are commemorating the 66th anniversary of the Japanese attack and wondering whether Americans will remember one of the most defining moments in history after they die.
"When we're gone, we're gone," said 87-year-old Jack Ray Hammett. "We're already just a paragraph in the history books. Will even that disappear when the last one of us dies?"
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a speech to Congress, immortalized the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other military installations on Oahu, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, as a "date which will live in infamy." Today, those words are remembered mostly by the generation that lived through World War II.
It is a generation in steady decline. About 16 million Americans served in uniform during the war. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 2.7 million are living, but they are dying at the rate of about 1,000 per day.
The exact number of Pearl Harbor survivors, though unknown, is smaller, and they are older than the average WWII veteran. Hammett, a former Costa Mesa mayor, said he liked to think of his buddies as "walking, living history."
Some Pearl Harbor veterans in Southern California are keeping that history alive through Hammett's Freedom Committee of Orange County, a speakers bureau that arranges for survivors to speak before groups about the day that changed their lives and turned a reluctant United States into a superpower.
Jack Ray Hammett, shown in January 1941, was a medical corpsman for 30 years in the Navy and reserves. He was sleeping when the attack on Pearl Harbor began Dec. 7 and he spent the next several days treating the wounded and collecting the dead.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Martin K.A. Morgan, historian in residence at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, said Pearl Harbor was "where the United States rendezvoused with the destiny we are experiencing now as a world power."
"Almost everyone can trace how World War II touched his or her family," Morgan said. "When all of our World War II vets are gone, how much of this interest will continue?"
El Toro Memorial Park cemetery's annual Pearl Harbor Day ceremony today in southern Orange County will feature two speakers: Hammett and Orange resident Robert Thomas, who was awarded the Navy Cross for bravery during the battle. The medal is the service's second-highest award for bravery.
Thomas, 88, retired as a captain in 1964 and went on to become Orange County's first chief administrative officer. The county hall of administration is named in his honor.
The Japanese attack, which killed 2,403 Americans, jarred the country out of its isolationist lull.
"The effect was significant. But compared to the Battle of the Bulge, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor was a minor battle," Thomas said. U.S. casualties in those battles ranged as high as 72,000 men.
Thomas, who had graduated from the Naval Academy months earlier, was an ensign aboard the battleship Nevada commanding a 5-inch antiaircraft battery. He suffered shrapnel wounds in his legs and right wrist but remained on deck barking orders until he collapsed.
"I was probably going into shock, because I felt so safe and serene, even while the attack continued," he said.
"I remember thinking, OK, you SOBs. You tried to kill me and you didn't."
Jack Ray Hammett, a Pearl Harbor survivor and former Costa Mesa mayor, runs the Freedom Committee of Orange County, which sends Pearl Harbor veterans to speak at schools and social groups. The 87-year-old is intent on keeping the memory of Pearl Harbor alive for generations.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Thomas recalled watching Japanese planes crisscross the smoke-filled sky, and the sound of explosions from enemy torpedoes and bombs hitting what was left of the Pacific Fleet. The curses of sailors desperately defending the Nevada punctuated the chaos. His father, a Navy captain, died in an aircraft crash during the war.
Hammett and his wife, Mary Jo, now 84, were sleeping when the attack began. He said they were awakened by his landlord, who arrived to collect the rent and told them the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor, "12 miles down the hill." He peeked out the door just in time to hear a tremendous explosion from Battleship Row.
Hammett, a medical corpsman who served 30 years in the Navy and reserves, went to the Naval Hospital, where he spent the next three days treating the wounded and "stacking the dead like cordwood in a basement." After going home for a few hours, Hammett said, he returned to bury the dead, who had been laid out on tennis courts behind the hospital.
Mary Jo was 18, and although Hammett was on active duty, "we were on our honeymoon," he said.
Were it not for a sympathetic chief petty officer, Hammett said, he could have been among the dead.
Weeks earlier, he had been ordered to report to the battleship Arizona. Because Hammett was married, the officer sent a different corpsman.
"He's still aboard the Arizona," Hammett said solemnly.
The exploding ship, on which 1,177 crewmen died, is one of the iconic images captured on film that day, and the Arizona Memorial in Oahu has come to symbolize the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Arizona was one of 21 ships, including eight battleships, sunk or damaged in the attack. Almost 350 planes were destroyed or damaged.
Historian Morgan said the World War II generation was unique in that, for a while at least, its members accepted the sacrifices asked of them to achieve victory. When the U.S. was plunged into war, it had the 18th largest military in the world, and Americans were divided over supporting Britain in its war with Germany, which had a pact with Japan.
That changed quickly. Pearl Harbor became a rallying cry, and 16 months later, U.S. Army Air Forces P-38 pilots killed Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, responsible for planning the attack on Pearl Harbor, in an aerial ambush near the Solomon Islands.
"Americans mobilized under one ideological direction and made a great industrial contribution to the war effort," Morgan said.
"It was a breathtaking unity we didn't see after 9/11, but it began to come apart as the war continued and people grew weary of rationing and getting telegrams notifying them about loved one's deaths."
Hammett, who has health problems associated with age, said he literally sees the survivors' ranks depleting within Chapter 14 of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn., whose members come mostly from Orange and Los Angeles counties. There are 58 members, but only 10 or 12 are active, he said in an interview this week.
"Everybody wants to make it to the next anniversary. I'll be happy if I make it to Friday," he said.
The New York Times
Published: December 7, 2007
The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)
IN the last few weeks, in three widely publicized episodes, we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror.
A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called “mingling”: when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal. Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.
Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the “girl from Qatif,” as she’s usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her “crime” has tarnished her family’s honor.
We also saw Islamic justice in action in Sudan, when a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail before the government pardoned her this week; she could have faced 40 lashes. When she began a reading project with her class involving a teddy bear, Ms. Gibbons suggested the children choose a name for it. They chose Muhammad; she let them do it. This was deemed to be blasphemy.
Then there’s Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women’s rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head. In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen’s visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.
It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.
But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?
Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.
But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.
I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.
Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.
If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?
When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Infidel.”
Thursday, December 06, 2007
December 5, 2007
One of the critical differences between America and the rest of the west is that America has a First Amendment and the rest don't. And a lot of them are far too comfortable with the notion that in free societies it is right and proper for the state to regulate speech. The response of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security to the Danish cartoons was to propose a press charter that would oblige newspapers to exercise "prudence" on, ah, certain controversial subjects. The response of Tony Blair's ministry to the problems of "Londonistan" was to propose a sweeping law dramatically constraining free discussion of religion. At the end of her life, Oriana Fallaci was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland and sundry other jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely disagreeable but criminal. In France, Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other "anti-racist" groups who believed opinions held by a fictional character in one of his novels were not merely disagreeable but criminal.
Up north, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced the other day that at least two of Canada’s “Human Rights Commissions” – one federal, one provincial – had agreed to hear their complaints that their “human rights” had been breached by this “flagrantly Islamophobic” excerpt from my book, as published in the country’s bestselling news magazine, Maclean’s. Several readers and various Canadian media outlets have enquired what my defense to the charges is. Here’s my answer:
I can defend myself if I have to. But I shouldn’t have to.
If the Canadian Islamic Congress wants to disagree with my book, fine. Join the club. But, if they want to criminalize it, nuts. That way lies madness. America Alone was a bestseller in Canada, made all the literary Top Ten hit parades, Number One at Amazon Canada, Number One on The National Post’s national bestseller list, Number One on various local sales charts from statist Quebec to cowboy Alberta, etc. I find it difficult to imagine that a Canadian “human rights” tribunal would rule that all those Canadians who bought the book were wrong and that it is beyond the bounds of acceptable (and legal) discourse in Canada.
As I say, I find it difficult to imagine. But not impossible. These "human rights" censors started with small fry - obscure websites, "homophobes" who made the mistake of writing letters to local newspapers or quoting the more robust chunks of Leviticus - and, because they got away with it, it now seems entirely reasonable for a Canadian pseudo-court to sit in judgment on the content of a mainstream magazine and put a big old "libel chill" over critical areas of public debate. The "progressive" left has grown accustomed to the regulation of speech, thinking it just a useful way of sticking it to Christian fundamentalists, right-wing columnists, and other despised groups. They don’t know they’re riding a tiger that in the end will devour them, too.
Robbing a Mom and Pop Store, Too Close to Home
By A. O. SCOTT
The New York Times
Published: October 26, 2007
The grim lesson of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is delivered by an elderly jewelry dealer sitting in a tiny, dark room somewhere in the diamond district of Manhattan. “The world is an evil place,” he declares, with the authority of someone who has seen and done plenty of bad things. “Some people make money from it, and some people are destroyed by it.”
“Devil,” directed by Sidney Lumet from a script by Kelly Masterson, is a chronicle of destruction — physical, spiritual and moral. That most of the victims and most of the perpetrators are members of a single family gives the story some of the suffocating fatalism of an ancient tragedy. But the workings of fate figure far less in the narrative than bad choices and unlucky accidents. The evil in this world arises not out of any grand metaphysical principle, but rather from petty, permanent features of the human character: greed, envy, stupidity, vanity. There are no demons on display, just small, sad, ordinary people. The filmmakers rigorously tally the results of their sins, minor lapses made monstrous by the failure of love and the corruption of ambition. Simple, familiar desires — for money, sex, status, respect — end in murder.
Murder, indeed, is where the story begins, with sex providing a teasing, tawdry prologue. A robbery at a suburban jewelry store shatters the quiet of a Saturday morning with gunfire, breaking glass and the squealing tires of a getaway car. We will witness this crime a few more times, from different points of view, as Mr. Lumet backs up and goes over it again, drawing out its every consequence and implication.
The robbery was planned by Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who enlisted his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), to carry it out. The dead body on the sidewalk belongs to Bobby Lasorda (Brian F. O’Byrne), a small-time hood Hank recruited for the dirty work. The saleswoman bleeding on the floor is Nanette Hanson (Rosemary Harris), Andy and Hank’s mother and the owner, with their father, Charles (Albert Finney), of the store her sons decided to hold up.
What kind of people would do such a thing? Mr. Lumet, who has been directing movies for 50 of his 83 years, has the wisdom to leave the answer mainly to his actors. Andy and Hank are not explained, dissected or excused. They speak their lines and carry out their actions, and, by the time the film is over, we know them inside and out.
Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in THINKFilm's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" - 2007
We know that Andy’s marriage to Gina (Marisa Tomei) has hit a snag, that Gina is sleeping with Hank, and that, aside from their affair, Hank’s shrunken life includes a furious ex-wife (Amy Ryan), a young daughter and a collection of nervous tics. He is weak and indecisive — “a baby” to both Andy and Charles — and probably the last person you would trust to carry out a robbery. If you gave him a quarter to feed the meter, you’d end up with a parking ticket and a stream of pathetic apologies.
But Andy is sure he has everything figured out. A real estate accountant with a high-end drug habit and pathetic fantasies about moving to Brazil, he tends to overestimate his intelligence and underestimate his desperation. He is a cold, shallow, angry man, one of the least likable guys Mr. Hoffman, a specialist in acutely observed male unpleasantness, has ever played. Andy bullies Hank mercilessly, lies to his employers and seems to experience minimal remorse after his perfect crime goes horribly awry. And yet, while never for a moment soliciting our empathy, Mr. Hoffman makes us care about this man, the scale of whose ethical failures gives him a kind of negative grandeur. Besides, his self-hatred makes our disapproval seem a bit redundant.
Mr. Lumet takes what might have been a claustrophobic genre exercise and gives it both moral weight and social insight. His great New York movies of the 1970s and ’80s — “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Prince of the City,” “Q & A” — were realist fables, often based on true stories and always full of dense local knowledge. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is relentlessly focused on the terrible events of a few days, but as it zigzags back and forth in time it takes in a larger, longer story, a history of upward mobility and family displacement.
Some time in the past, a tough New York diamond cutter and his wife moved out to Westchester, where they raised three kids (Hank and Andy have a sister) and ran a nice little business. How that modest little dream begat the nightmare of Hank and Andy’s violent fall is an intriguing blank space, a latter-day Theodore Dreiser novel lurking in the shadows of an updated Jim Thompson noir.
Marisa Tomei in THINKFilm's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" - 2007
Mr. Lumet’s novelistic instincts — and his generosity with actors — are evident in how richly populated the small, involuted world of this movie feels. Secondary and tertiary characters — Gina; Bobby’s wife, Chris (Aleksa Palladino); his thuggish brother-in-law, Dex (Michael Shannon); that old man in the diamond district — do much more than carry the plot forward. Every scene has a sharp, gamy vitality, even when experienced, from a different angle and with a new significance, for the second or third time.
As pessimistic as it is — you have to squint hard to find the barest flicker of redemption in its denouement — “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is also curiously exhilarating. Some of this comes from the simple thrill of witnessing something, or rather everything, done well. Even the overwrought performances — Mr. Finney’s growls, Mr. Hawke’s twitches — have integrity and conviction. This is a melodrama, after all, and its lifeblood is in the manic acting, just as surely as it is in the plaintive horns of Carter Burwell’s score.
My grandfather, whose background was not so different from Mr. Lumet’s, was dismissive of movies that seemed overly dark or despairing. “There wasn’t a single decent human being in the whole movie,” he used to complain. He might not have found any in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” but he would also have recognized the humanism that saves this harsh tale from nihilism. The screen may be full of losers, liars, killers and thieves, but behind the camera is a mensch.
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The world is an evil place, kids.
Thursday, December 6, 2007; Page A29
Rarely has a document from the supposedly hidden world of intelligence had such an impact as the National Intelligence Estimate released this week. Rarely has an administration been so unprepared for such an event. And rarely have vehement critics of the "intelligence community" on issues such as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction reversed themselves so quickly.
All this shows that we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.
Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.
First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."
The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.
Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."
Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was "possible" but not "likely" that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.
Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. In the bureaucracy, where access to information is a source of rank and prestige, ramming home policy changes with the latest hot tidbit is commonplace, and very deleterious. It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis.
Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as "intelligence judgments."
That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad." He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
December 5, 2007 3:00 AM
(Click to Enlarge)
The Left isn’t wasting any time to portray recently declassified findings in the latest National Intelligence Estimate as evidence that Iran isn’t such a threat after all. The authors of the NIE assess “with high confidence” that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003 — and that’s about all you’re likely to hear from administration critics and the mainstream media. But it is a very small part of a very big picture — and when you look at that picture, the threat is as great as ever. Here are a few things to remember.
First, the NIE says that Iran was indeed operating a covert nuclear-weapons program up to the fall of 2003. Until now, no NIE had held that such a program existed. The acknowledgement that one did is a big piece of news — even if not many people want to talk about it. Yes, the NIE also claims that Iran suspended weapons-related activities in 2003. But the question for policymakers is whether a regime that has, in the past four years, tried to build atomic bombs should be trusted with civilian technologies that greatly increase its ability to make a bomb, should it choose to do so.
And that’s the second thing to remember about this NIE: It relies on an unrealistic distinction between civilian and military nuclear technologies. When it says Iran suspended its weapons program in 2003, what it means is that Iran isn’t currently designing or building warheads, or other components of nuclear weapons. But it concedes that Iran “made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz.” And while the NIE judges “with moderate confidence” that Iran “still faces significant technical problems” operating the centrifuges, it does not question that the enrichment of uranium continues.
That matters because Iran’s uranium-enrichment program — while ostensibly for the generation of electricity — could easily be diverted to military use. The primary obstacle to building a nuclear weapon isn’t making the warhead, but securing enough enriched uranium to make the warhead explode. Iran presumably has all the know-how it needs, courtesy of A. Q. Khan. Every step Iran takes toward mastering the nuclear-fuel cycle for “civilian purposes” also enhances its ability to quickly build an atomic bomb. The only thing backing up Iran’s word that it won’t divert nuclear fuel for use in weapons is . . . Iran’s word. What the NIE does not explain — what no one has explained — is why the world’s third-largest exporter of oil and gas needs nuclear power.
A. Q. Khan displaying his gold medal awarded by Pakistani President Rafiq Tarrar in Lahore after the 1998 tests.
Third, consider the NIE’s judgment “that Iran halted the [weapons] program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure,” and that this “indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach.” If you believe that, shouldn’t you believe all the more that the U.N. must impose a third round of sanctions on Iran? Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of Security Council resolutions ordering it to stop. If Iran responds to pressure, now is the time to apply more pressure.
Of course, all this assumes that the NIE is accurate and impartial — and there is reason to doubt that. It’s no secret that careerists at the CIA and State have been less interested in implementing the president’s policies on Iran, Iraq, and North Korea than in sabotaging them at every opportunity. Sources close to the intelligence community question the objectivity of the NIE’s Iran conclusions, and tell us that three principal authors of the report are longtime critics of the administration’s policy who have axes to grind.
We can’t know for sure whether the claims in the NIE are correct. What we do know is this: The Islamic Republic is killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has exported terror around the globe. It has powerful strategic reasons to want an atomic bomb: to counterbalance American influence, and to become a hegemon in the Middle East. And it continues to enrich uranium while refusing to allow the kind of intrusive and thorough inspections that would allow us to test its claim that it seeks nothing but electricity. Until that big picture changes, it would be irresponsible for any American policymaker to conclude that the Iranian threat had diminished.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
Students of Jamia Hafsa (Women’s University) in Islamabad demonstrate for Shariah law.
Suddenly, a new national debate is beginning about the national security, economic and other implications of Persian Gulf potentates using their petrodollars to buy up strategic American assets. Most recently, the Emir of Dubai’s purchase at fire-sale prices of 4.9 percent of the largest U.S. bank, Citigroup, has caused a level of unease not seen since he tried to buy his way into a large number of this country’s port facilities.
Almost completely unremarked thus far has been a parallel – and in many ways far more insidious – effort to penetrate, influence and dominate America’s capital markets: so-called “Shariah finance.” Some estimates suggest that there are approaching $1 trillion now being invested around the world under this rubric. If present trends continue, all other things being equal, such funds may grow to many times that amount within a few years.
Shariah is, of course, the term used by adherents to the totalitarian ideology practiced by the Saudi Wahhabis, the Iranian mullahs and the Taliban to describe the all-encompassing theocratic code they use to justify repressive rule at home and to extend their dominance elsewhere. While it is often depicted by its promoters as Koranic in character, in fact, it is largely man-made, the product of dictates and rulings by caliphs and scholars over many centuries.
For non-Muslims, Shariah is best known for its sanction for the brutalization of women, homosexuals and Jews. Beheadings, amputations, flagellation and stoning are among the prescribed punishments for those who transgress this barbaric code, punishments plucked from primitive tribal practices in the Arabian deserts dating back to medieval times.
As a recent, excellent paper by my colleague at the Center for Security Policy, Alex Alexiev, points out, however, Shariah finance is a relatively contemporary innovation. It was not until mid-20th Century that Islamofascist ideologues like Abul ala Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb introduced the notion that faithful Muslims must invest their wealth only in vehicles that comply with Shariah’s putative prohibition on interest. In the decades that followed, relatively few in the Muslim world followed this admonition as most Muslims regarded with appropriate skepticism financial schemes that generally were not reliable investments, especially those that went to almost-farcical lengths to conjure up returns without acknowledging they amounted to interest payments.
Until now. In recent years, the windfall revenues flowing to the oil-exporting nations of the Persian Gulf have translated into an opportunity for the Islamists who dominate their societies to enlist the West’s leading financial institutions as partners in promoting Shariah finance. In overseas capital markets and increasingly on Wall Street, “Shariah advisors” are being hired at great cost to bless investment instruments as compliant with this religious code.
As a result, three ominous things are occurring:
First, Shariah finance creates a mechanism for systematically legitimating the underlying, repressive theo-political regimen – and, thereby, advancing its adherents’ bid to govern all Muslims and, in due course, the entire world.
Presumably, Western bankers and investment houses would be horrified to know they are helping promote such arrangements. One would think their governments would be, too. Yet, the former are so avidly pursuing Mideast wealth that few seem prepared to engage in even the most superficial due diligence about the implications of Shariah finance. And British prime minister Gordon Brown, for example, has declared he intends to make London the Islamic finance capital of the world. His government has said it intends to issue its own sukuk (or “Shariah-compliant” bonds) sometime next year.
The trouble is that, having embraced one aspect of Shariah, it will be vastly more difficult, if not as a practical matter impossible, to deny Islamist activists their demands to accommodate other aspects such as: footbaths in public institutions, prayer rooms and time off for prayers in both public and private sector establishments, latitude for cab drivers and cashiers to decline to do business with certain customers or handle certain products, an Islamist public school in Brooklyn, etc. Like Shariah finance, each of these is but a beachhead in the Islamofascists’ patient, determined and ultimately seditious campaign to subvert and supplant Western free societies.
Elsewhere in some of those societies, such inroads have been expanded to include: demands for Shariah-compliant schools as in the UK; a push in Canada for separate shariah courts for all matters within the Muslim community; Shariah tolerance for honor killings of women attempted in Germany; destruction of non Shariah-compliant businesses in dedicated “Muslim enclaves” in France; and in various countries, Shariah-approved assassinations of critics of Islam and anyone leaving Islam worldwide.
Second, the Shariah advisors hired by Western capitalists to determine whether investments are “halal” (the Muslim equivalent of kosher) are generally among the foremost adherents to the Islamist creed and associated with organizations that promote it. As one of them put it, Shariah investing is simply “financial jihad” against the unbelievers.
Third, under the direction of these Shariah advisors, at least 2.5% of the proceeds of the investments they control are donated to Zakat funds. Some of these “charities” have been known to contribute to organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, the families of suicide bombers in Palestinian communities and Islamist madrassas in places like Pakistan. As investment advisors start promoting Shariah finance vehicles and Islamic indexes like Standard & Poors and Dow Jones, non-Muslim Americans will find themselves tithing to these dubious causes, as well.
Before the Trojan horse of Shariah finance is fully wheeled inside the gates of the American capital markets, federal regulators, corporate boards of directors and U.S. shareholders need to understand whether such investing conforms with the good governance and accountability required under Sarbanes-Oxley, the transparency depositors are entitled to under our banking laws and legislation barring material support to terrorism. To do otherwise is to invite the introduction of the instrument of our undoing into our capitalist system and the freedom-loving society it underpins.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 4, 2007
Filed at 6:43 p.m. ET
NEW YORK (AP) -- The College Football Hall of Fame news conference had already started by the time Joe Paterno showed up and grabbed his seat at the end of the dais.
''I apologize for being one year and 20 minutes late,'' the 80-year-old Penn State coach said.
No apologies necessary, JoePa.
The second-winningest coach in the history of major college football was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, but his induction had to be put on hold because this time last year he was recovering from a broken leg which was the result of two players ran into him during a game.
The rest of the class of 13 new hall of famers, including 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and former Oregon star Ahmad Rashad, were voted in earlier this year and were to be inducted at a banquet Tuesday night at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Paterno, who led Penn State to an 8-4 record this season, was hoping to take his children back to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn while he was into town, but he's been too busy.
''I'll always be a New Yorker. It's great to come back,'' he said.
On Monday night, Penn State threw a reception at another Manhattan hotel for Paterno. About half of the 400 people who showed up were Paterno's former players, including Franco Harris, John Cappelletti and Lydell Mitchell and Todd Blackledge.
''So many of the kids came back,'' Paterno said. ''It was very emotional. I didn't get to spend enough time with any of them. It was like holding court.''
Paterno will complete his 51st season as head coach at Penn State in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 19 against Texas A&M. No other major college coach has been at one school longer and his 371 career victories ranks second only to Bobby Bowden (373).
Bowden and Paterno were supposed be inducted into the Hall of Fame together last year, but Paterno was still gimpy from surgery to repair a broken left shinbone and torn ligaments in his knee.
''I'm only sorry I wasn't here last year with Bobby Bowden, somebody I respect so much; somebody I think has done a magnificent job at his school,'' Paterno said. ''We've been very fortunate. God's given us good health. Every once in a while you get a little sloppy on the sideline and let somebody run into you.''
Paterno became the head coach at Penn State in 1966, before any of the 12 players in the latest hall of fame class started college.
Chris Zorich, who played defensive tackle for Notre Dame from 1988-90 and was the youngest member of the induction class, marveled at how Paterno's career has spanned generations of college football players.
''He represents what college football is supposed to be about: Tradition and building character,'' Zorich said. ''It's not about hiring a new guy every three, four years.''
The rest of the new Hall of Famers were: Oklahoma center Tom Brahaney; Michigan defensive back Dave Brown; Clemson linebacker Jeff Davis; Texas defensive back Johnnie Johnson; Ohio State quarterback Rex Kern; Indiana running back Anthony Thompson; Houston defensive tackle Wilson Whitley; Dartmouth linebacker Reggie Williams; and Southern California linebacker Richard Wood.
Former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi, who led the Chippewas to 14 winning seasons from 1978-83, was the other coach going into the hall.
Brown and Whitley, the 1976 Lombardi Award winner, are both deceased and were represented by their wives.
''It's a huge validation, knowing he made a contribution to this great institution of college football,'' said Norma Whitley, whose husband died in 1992 of a heart attack at the age of 37.
Brown, part of a Michigan defense from 1972-74 that recorded 11 shutouts in 33 games, died in 2006 at 52 of a heart attack.
''He was an exceptional man. Not only an exceptional football player, but an exceptional father and an exceptional husband,'' said Rhonda Brown, who attended the news conference with her sons, Aaron, 27, and Sterling, 25.
Paterno, who said recently he feels like he can coach at least another three more years, didn't anticipate a long coaching career when he got into it as an assistant at Brown, his alma mater.
''My dad wanted me to be a lawyer. I started coaching to save some money and pay off some debts we had before I started Boston University Law School,'' he said. ''Then I get hooked.
''My Mom got on the phone and said 'What did you go to college for?' My dad said 'Whatever you're going to do, have an impact.'
''I think he'd be proud.''
New York Daily News
Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 4:00 AM
Dodger manager Walter Alston (l.) and owner Walter O'Malley in 1953
Forget the dithering about Barry Bonds. Send apologies to Pete Rose. Warm up a place for Shoeless Joe Jackson. All moral arguments about who belongs in Cooperstown are over forever. Walter O'Malley has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I know, I know: The thing about the Dodgers and Brooklyn was a long time ago. Several generations of fans have grown up in the 50 years since O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles and they don't really care.
Scholars have made cases that O'Malley had no recourse, that the true villain was Robert Moses, that New York and the rest of the country were being transformed by television, blah and blah and blah.
But there are millions of us who still subscribe to an almost biblical injunction: Never forgive, never forget.
They included my father. He was an immigrant from Northern Ireland who did not become an American by reading the Federalist Papers. He became an American by reading the sports pages of the Daily News.
His James Madison was Dick Young. His team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, and most of all, the team that played together 10 years after Jack Roosevelt Robinson, No. 42, first walked onto the sweet grass of Ebbets Field.
There were hundreds of thousands of others like him: Jews from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, Italians from Sicily and Naples and Calabria, Poles who came as displaced persons after the war. They became Americans by embracing the secular religion of baseball.
After the spring of 1947, the descendants of those Africans who came to thecountry in manacles were also partofthe alloy in the bleacher. This is America, baby.
They roared together when Robinson stole home or Reese turned the double play. They wept together when the goddamned Yankees won again in the World Series.
If they could not get to Ebbets Field, they followed the games in this paper, reading it each morning on the subways from back to front.
They argued in thousands of bars, in shipyards, factories and construction sites, at American Legion posts and at parades.
Baseball was one of the great factors that unified Brooklyn, as it did for almost everybody else in the larger city.
Ethnicity and religion didn't matter as much as coming out of the subway, hurrying home and asking someone with a radio: "How are they doing?" In Brooklyn, you never had to ask who "they" were.
Together we had the great Series of 1955, when they finally beat the goddamned Yankees. But the Boys of Summer (as Roger Kahn called them later) were growing older, evoking the line from Yeats: "What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?"
There were rumors of departure, but most of us laughed them off. How could there ever be a Brooklyn without the Dodgers? It was like trying to imagine New York without the Statue of Liberty.
I was in the Navy in Pensacola, Fla., in 1953, where a few black sailor friends took me to a club near New Orleans where I first saw Little Richard. I was the only white guy in the joint.
Some customers were uneasy. When word got around that I was from Brooklyn, all tension evaporated. There were hugs and handshakes. The Dodgers had millions of fans in the American South, too, because of Robinson and Campanella and Newcombe and the righteous white men who played with them.
Then O'Malley took them on the lam. I was in Mexico, studying on the GI Bill, when the tale of departure got serious. I came home in the late summer of 1957 and my father was a ruin. He wouldn't watch any of the remaining games and cursed O'Malley whenever the name came up.
He wasn't alone. For some of those people who roared and cheered, the hurt would last a lifetime. Many felt like naive fools. Baseball wasn't a secular religion after all.
It was a business, as cold as any business. That disillusion was permanent. Some became Knicks fans, because they could never root for the Yankees and the Giants were gone, too. Others felt the connection to Brooklyn was an illusion and began to move away.
Today, not many remain alive, or they are living in Florida or Arizona. I can hear them cursing at this dreadful news. And muttering, as I am: Never forgive, never forget.
New York Daily News
Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 4:00 AM
MLBPA director Marvin Miller (c.) announces end of baseball strike on April 13, 1972 as (from left) Boston's Gary Peters, Dodger Wes Parker, counsel Dick Moss, and Cardinal Joe Torre look on.
NASHVILLE - This time, the poobahs of the Hall of Fame had vowed to get it right, maintaining they'd eliminated the politics and cronyism that had resulted in previous Veterans Committees either electing the wrong people to Cooperstown or, in the case of the last three elections, no people at all.
Unfortunately, Monday's results proved they've only got it half right. The committee of 16 that elected Dick Williams and Billy Southworth from the managers/umpires category did its job and did it well. Their records - each with four pennants and two world championships - speak for themselves as two of the greatest managers in history.
The other committee of 12, assigned to pass judgment on executives and pioneers, ought to be ashamed of itself. This is not to denigrate Bowie Kuhn, who, as commissioner from 1969-84 was a fierce defender of the game's integrity and made millions for the owners in TV and marketing revenue advances, or Walter O'Malley, who opened up the gateway to the West Coast for baseball while breaking a million hearts in Brooklyn, or Barney Dreyfuss, the first Pittsburgh Pirates owner and father of the first World Series. They were all worthy electees. But three paltry votes for Marvin Miller from this committee is an absolute joke.
It just goes to show how the vast majority of this committee could not bring itself to serve in the historian role for which the panel was entrusted. The majority obviously couldn't get past the animosity it and its management cohorts felt toward Miller over all the gains he won for the players on the other side of the bargaining table.
In short, the members put politics right back into this election process. Otherwise, on what criteria does one judge an executive? Impact and influence on the game? I would submit that the three people in the history of baseball who have had the most impact and influence on the game were Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller and I would challenge any member of that committee to name anyone who had more.
But then just look at the makeup of the committee: Seven of the 12 - former American League president Bobby Brown, Orioles president Andy MacPhail, Twins president Jerry Bell, Royals owner David Glass, Phillies chairman Bill Giles, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt and former Red Sox CEO John Harrington - were or are owners/chief executives who either did battle with Miller or were closely associated with Miller foes in management. Only one member of the committee - Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew - was a player who benefited from the many gains won by Miller in collective bargaining.
ask you, how does Jerry Bell, whose prime responsibilities with the Twins have been in stadium operations, or David Glass, the king of revenue-sharing pocketing who's owned the Royals for all of seven years, or that old phony Harrington, the failed caretaker of the Red Sox, qualify as baseball historians? At least DeWitt, MacPhail and Giles come from baseball families, although, presumably, none of them could bring himself to look at Miller from a historical standpoint, either.
At the same time, you have to ask: Who selected this committee and why weren't more Hall of Famers and acknowledged students of the game such as Ralph Kiner, Tom Seaver, Joe Morgan or Bob Feller on it? No one from the Hall of Fame was willing to offer a straight answer to that question yesterday, although Seaver did say he believed the fact he and Morgan are on the Hall's board of directors may have been the reason they weren't asked to serve. If so, that's incredibly misguided reasoning - especially if it meant filling up the 12-man committee with the likes of Glass and Harrington, whose baseball accomplishments are nil.
"It's sad if people allowed their personal feelings to override the historical importance, the magnitude and the impact on the game of Marvin," Seaver said by phone from Calistoga, Calif. "The irony is he ended up making millions for the owners because he made them push the envelope, revise their business plan and take the game to a different level. How many years did the players have chains on them? A hundred? How can you underestimate what Marvin did?"
Indeed, how can you write the definitive history of baseball and not have Marvin Miller prominently mentioned throughout? And yet, this new and revised Veterans Committee of so-called historians saw fit to give more votes to Ewing Kauffman, whose contributions to the game consisted of being the first owner of the Royals.
They walked away from the press conference Monday undoubtedly feeling proud of themselves for electing three people to the Hall from this very subjective category where there are no statistics to measure a candidate's worthiness. In fact, by so totally dismissing the one candidate who towered over all the others, they merely come out looking petty and very small.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir talks during a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday Dec. 3, 2007, after he agreed to pardon a British teacher jailed here after she allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad. The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, said she did not intend to offend anyone and had great respect for Islam. Officials with al-Bashir's office said she would be released later Monday. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)
Mothers, cover your childrens’ eyes: Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old British schoolteacher working in Sudan, has allowed the children in her class to name a teddy bear…Muhammad. The Sudanese government’s reaction teaches us a lesson about the weapon we most neglect in the ideological war with the global jihad.
Gibbons’ blasphemy couldn’t go unpunished. She was sentenced to fifteen days in prison and deportation, but mobs in Khartoum wanted more: on Friday they burned photos of Gibbons and called for her blood while chanting, “Shame, shame on the UK”; “No tolerance -- execution”; and “Kill her, kill her by firing squad.”
Yes, shame on the UK. Shame on the West. Isn’t it time we learned? Manya Brachear, writing at the Chicago Tribune blog The Seeker, thinks so: “Should all have been forgiven or does the teacher’s sentence send a fair message that foreigners should be more sensitive when it comes to religion?” And Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd on ABC’s "The View" scolded Gibbons for not being sensitive to Sudanese customs.
It’s time we get serious about being culturally sensitive. The penalty for blasphemy in Islamic law isn’t fifteen days in prison -- it’s death. What better message of accommodation, then, could we send to the Islamic world in these days of Islamophobia than to hand Gibbons over to the mobs? After all, if she isn’t executed, it will send a signal that blasphemy against Muhammad is just fine -- and what will come next? Blasphemous…cartoons of Muhammad?
Oh, wait, we already had those. And the reaction was frenzy, rage, riots, and -- in that case -- murders of innocent people. It should be clear: the Islamic culture is at this point extremely brittle and insecure. Would Gibbons be pardoned if her “offense” were to have brought a puppy to class? premeditated? Probably not. She might have had to join Salman Rushdie in the elite category of those condemned to death -- irrevocably -- for disrespect to Islam. Amidst the black humor, there is an important point.
The insightful Flemish journalist Paul Belien observed last year, when Muslims were rioting over the Pope’s quoting the 600-year-old words of an obscure emperor: “If a person is incapable of tolerating criticism, including mild criticism, and especially if he perceives criticism where there is none, this is often a sign of this person’s deep psychological insecurity. Rude aggression and wild rage, too, are usually not the normal behaviour of a self-confident person, but rather of someone who knows that he will lose an argument unless he can bully others into silence….It looks as if Muslims cannot cope with an open society and the modern globalized world.”
Even Muslims in the West who condemned the arrest and sentencing of Gibbons did so in disquieting terms. A delegation of British Muslims -- having met with the Sudanese -- apparently expects her to be pardoned. But Muhammad Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith.” But what if there had been? If Gibbons had named the teddy bear Muhammad in order to mock the Muslim prophet, would Muhammad Abdul Bari have approved of her being arrested, imprisoned, lashed or even executed?
It’s madness, mind-boggling madness: what Bush, Brown, Blair, Rice and the rest keep calling a “great religion” brought to its knees by a teddy bear. But this should be a point for strategists. Years ago, at the height of French Chiracism, William F. Buckley, Jr. pointed out that the French were most vulnerable in their national ego: puncture their balloon and the whole of France zipped around the room, falling flat in a corner. The same would be true if we used humor – and apt insults – against the jihadis.
Many have said that we are in is as much an ideological war as a shooting war. In so many ways, words can be as effective as bullets and bombs. So how do we win the war of ideas against the jihadists? By remembering the Will Rogers Rule.
The great Depression-era comedian was a huge political force because he understood that you can do more political damage by hanging a good joke on someone than by calling him names. And that’s what we need to do in the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. Our greatest weapons can be humor and ridicule.
Sure, the jihadists look lethally formidable now, but if they can be undone by a stuffed animal, let’s beam Jackie Mason and Dennis Miller behind the Qur’anic curtain, and end this thing once and for all.
Mr. Spencer is director of Jihad Watch and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)" , "The Truth About Muhammad" and "Religion of Peace?" (all from Regnery -- a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Protesters burn the picture of British teacher Gillian Gibbons during a demonstration after Friday prayers in Khartoum, November 30, 2007. Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims, waving green Islamic flags, took to the streets of Khartoum on Friday demanding death for the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Mohammad. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla (SUDAN)
The holiday season is here, and that means it's time to engage in the time-honored Christmas tradition of objecting to every time-honored Christmas tradition. Australia is a gazillion time zones ahead of the United States – it may even be Boxing Day there already – so they got in first this year with a truly fantastic headline:
"Santas Warned 'Ho Ho Ho' Offensive To Women."
Really. As the story continued: "Sydney's Santa Clauses have instead been instructed to say 'ha ha ha' instead, the Daily Telegraph reported. One disgruntled Santa told the newspaper a recruitment firm warned him not to use 'ho ho ho' because it could frighten children and was too close to 'ho', a U.S. slang term for prostitute."
If I were a female resident of Sydney, I think I'd be more offended by the assumption that Australian women and U.S. prostitutes are that easily confused. As the old gangsta-rap vaudeville routine used to go: "Who was that ho I saw you with last night?" "That was no ho, that was my bitch."
But the point is that the right not to be offended is now the most sacred right in the world. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, all are as nothing compared with the universal right to freedom from offense. It's surely only a matter of time before "sensitivity training" is matched by equally rigorous "inoffensiveness training" courses. A musician friend of mine once took a gig at an elevator-music session, and, after an hour or two of playing insipid orchestral arrangements of "Moon River" and "Windmills of Your Mind," some of the lads' attention would start to wander, and they'd toot their horns a little too boisterously. The conductor would stop and admonish them to bland things down a bit. In a world in which everyone is ready to take offense, it's hard to keep the mood Muzak evenly modulated.
For example, when I said the right not to be offended is now the most "sacred" right in the world, I certainly didn't mean to offend persons of a nontheistic persuasion. In Hanover, N.H., home to Dartmouth College, an atheist and an agnostic known only as "Jan and Pat Doe" (which is which is hard to say) are suing because their three schoolchildren are forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Well, OK, they're not forced to say it. The pledge is voluntary. You're allowed to sit down, or, more discreetly, stand silently, which is what the taciturn Yankee menfolk who think it's uncool to sing do during the hymns at my local church. But that's not enough for "the Does." Because the pledge mentions God, their children are forced, as it were, not to say it. And, as "Mr. and Mrs. Doe" put it in their complaint, having to opt out of participation in a voluntary act exposes their children to potential "peer pressure" from the other students. U.S. courts have not traditionally been sympathetic to this argument. The ACLU and other litigious types might more profitably explore the line that the Pledge of Allegiance is deeply offensive to millions of illegal aliens in the public school system forced to pledge allegiance to the flag of a country they're not citizens or even legally admitted tourists of.
Let us now cross from the New Hampshire school system to the Sudanese school system. Or as The Associated Press headline put it:
"Thousands In Sudan Call For British Teddy Bear Teacher's Execution."
Last week, Gillian Gibbons, a British schoolteacher working in Khartoum, one of the crumbiest basket-case dumps on the planet – whoops, I mean one of the most lively and vibrant strands in the rich tapestry of our multicultural world – anyway, Mrs. Gibbons was sentenced last week to 15 days in jail because she was guilty of, er, allowing a teddy bear to be named "Mohammed." She wasn't so foolish as to name the teddy Mohammed herself. But, in an ill-advised Sudanese foray into democracy, she'd let her grade-school students vote on what name they wanted to give the classroom teddy, and being good Muslims they voted for their favorite name: Mohammed.
Big mistake. There's apparently a whole section in the Quran about how, if you name cuddly toys after the Prophet you have to be decapitated. Well, actually there isn't. But why let theological pedantry deprive you of the opportunity to stick it to the infidel? Mrs. Gibbons is regarded as lucky to get 15 days in jail, when the court could have imposed six months and 40 lashes. But even that wouldn't have been good enough for the mob in Khartoum. The protesters shouted "No tolerance. Execution" and "Kill her. Kill her by firing squad" and "Shame, shame to the U.K." – which persists in sending out imperialist schoolmarms to impose idolatrous teddy bears on the youth of Sudan.
Whether or not the British are best placed to defend Mrs. Gibbons is itself questionable after a U.K. court decision last week: Following an altercation with another driver, Michael Forsythe was given a suspended sentence of 10 weeks in jail for "racially aggravated disorderly behavior" for calling Lorna Steele an "English bitch." "Racially aggravated"? Indeed. Ms. Steele is not English, but Welsh.
Still, at exactly the time Gillian Gibbons caught the eye of the Sudanese authorities, a 19-year-old Saudi woman was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail. Her crime? She'd been abducted and gang-raped by seven men. Originally, she'd been sentenced to 90 lashes, but her lawyer had appealed and so the court increased it to 200 and jail time. Anybody on the streets in Sudan or anywhere else in the Muslim world who wants to protest that?
East is east, and west is west, and in both we take offense at anything: Santas saying "Ho ho ho," teddy bears called Mohammed. And yet the difference is very telling: The now-annual Santa lawsuits in the "war on Christmas" and the determination to abolish even such anodyne expressions of faith as the Pledge of Allegiance are assaults on the very possibility of a common culture. By contrast, the teddy bear rubbish is a crude demonstration of cultural muscle intended to cow and intimidate. When east meets west, when offended Muslims find themselves operating in Western nations, they discover that both techniques are useful: Some march in the streets, Khartoum-style, calling for the pope to be beheaded, others use the mechanisms of the West's litigious, perpetual grievance culture to harass opponents into silence.
Perhaps somewhere in Sydney there's a woman who's genuinely offended by hearing Santa say "ho ho ho" just as those New Hampshire atheists claim to be genuinely offended by the Pledge of Allegiance. But their complaints are frivolous and decadent, and more determined groups are using the patterns they've established to shut down debate on things we should be talking about. The ability to give and take offense is what separates free societies from Sudan.
December 03, 2007
ACCORDING to my Oz-watching pals in Britain and the US, John Howard is not a failure but a victim of his own success. He made Australia safe for the Labor Party: or, at any rate, safe enough that a sufficient number of bored electors were willing to take a flier on a house-trained Labor on the short leash of a quasi-Blairite leader.
That, at any rate, is the spin. Even if it's correct, and accepting that in parliamentary democracies even the greatest generals go a bridge too far, I regret Howard's end. True, I object in principle to Australia's gun laws, and I regard much of the Aussie economy as embarrassingly overregulated after a decade of supposedly conservative rule. But, as the former prime minister put it in one of his most famous soundbites, this is no time to be an 80 per cent ally.
I am a 100 per cent ally of Howard.
From my perch several thousand kilometres away, I won't pretend to be an informed analyst of the internal dynamics of the Liberal Party. During my last visit, en route to yet another meeting, there'd usually be someone in the car explaining why the fellow I was on the way to see was on the outs with whichever prime-minister-in-waiting I'd met the day before. I felt a bit like Bob Hope in The Paleface, heading for the big shootout and getting his head stuffed full of contradictory advice: He leans to the Left, so draw to the Right; the wind's in the east, so shoot to the west.
What mattered to the world was the strategic clarity Howard's ministry demonstrated on the critical issues facing (if you'll forgive the expression) Western civilisation.
First, the prime minister grasped the particular challenge posed by Islam. "I've heard those very silly remarks made about immigrants to this country since I was a child," said the Democrats' Lyn Allison. "If it wasn't the Greeks, it was the Italians ... or it was the Vietnamese." But those are races and nationalities. Islam is a religion, and a political project, and a globalised ideology. Unlike the birthplace of your grandfather, it's not something you leave behind in the old country.
Indeed, the pan-Islamic identity embraced by many second and third-generation Muslims in the West has very little to do with where their mums and dads happen to hail from. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian or Greek or Lebanese or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad," said Howard, stating the obvious in a way most of his fellow Western leaders could never quite bring themselves to do.
"Raving on about jihad" is a splendid line which meets what English law used to regard as the reasonable-man test. If you're a reasonable bloke slumped in front of the telly watching jihadists threatening to behead the Pope or Muslim members of Britain's National Health Service ploughing a blazing automobile through the check-in desk at Glasgow airport, "raving on about jihad" fits in a way that President George W. Bush's religion-of-peace pabulum doesn't. Bush and Tony Blair can be accused of the very opposite of the traditional politician's failing: they walked the walk but they didn't talk the talk. That's to say neither leader found a rhetoric for the present struggle that resonated. Howard did.
Likewise, Peter Costello. Sympathising with Muslims who wish to live under sharia law, he mused: "There are countries that apply religious or sharia law: Saudi Arabia and Iran come to mind. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia." It's a glum reflection on the times that such an observation should be controversial.
Yet it stands in marked contrast to, say, the Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, who remarked that if the electors voted to bring in sharia he'd be OK with that, or the Swedish politician who said that Swedes should be "nice to Muslims while we are in the majority so that when they are in the majority they will be nice to us".
Underpinning those words is the realisation that most of the Western world is very demographically weakened. Immigration adds to the gaiety of the nation, improves the choice of restaurants and makes pasty-faced white folks feel very virtuous about their multiculti bona fides, but a dependence on immigration is always a structural weakness, and should be addressed as such. At a time of unparalleled prosperity and peace, the majority of developed nations have chosen, in effect, to give up on the future. Howard's ministry was one of the first governments to get this and, in contrast to the dismal Euro-fatalism above, to try to do something to reverse it.
Costello's exhortation to Aussie couples - have one for mum, one for dad, and one for Australia - gets the stakes exactly right. The mid-20th century entitlement state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it.
When I made this point in a speech in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull passed me a note in which he'd scribbled down various population models based on certain fertility-rate calculations. I confess I've always had a certain antipathy to Turnbull because his republicanism seemed small-minded and unworthy, but in the years in which I've spoken on this subject to political figures on three continents, that's the only occasion in which a key government figure already knew the numbers and understood their implications.
And that brings us to the Coalition's next great strand of strategic clarity. At his 2006 education summit, Howard called for "a root and branch renewal of Australian history in our schools, with a restoration of narrative instead of what I labelled the 'fragmented stew of themes and issues"'.
As he explained at the Quadrant 50th anniversary celebration: "This is about ensuring children are actually taught their national inheritance." The absence of a "narrative" and an "inheritance" is a big part of the reason that British subjects born and bred blow up the London Tube, why young Canadian Muslims with no memory of living in any other society plot to behead their own prime minister.
You can't assimilate immigrants and minorities unless you give them something to assimilate to. It's one thing to teach children their history "warts and all", quite another to obsess on the warts at the expense of all else. The West's demographic weakness is merely the physical embodiment of a broader loss of civilisational confidence. Australia should never have had a "department of immigration and multicultural affairs", but, given that it did, Howard was right to rename it the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Government should promote citizenship, not multiculturalism.
The Coalition was all but unique in understanding the three great challenges of the age - Islamism, demography, civilisational will - that in other parts of the West are combining to form the perfect storm. Just as importantly, unlike so many second-tier powers, Australia did not put its faith in the chimera of insipid obsolescent transnational talking shops in which attitudes substitute for policy. I liked to call Alexander Downer my favorite foreign minister, which, in hindsight, was damning with the faintest of praise.
After all, I'm not sure during his long tenure how many candidates there ever were for runner-up: Dominique de Villepin? Britain's Robin Cook and Margaret Beckett? Canada's Lloyd Axworthy and Bill Graham? Colin Powell I never expected much from, but few hitherto clear-headed types have shrunk in office as remorselessly as Condi Rice. I loved Downer for his gleeful mockery of transnationalism and its pointless committees stuffed with representatives of what he called "busted arse countries".
In more genteel mode, he put it like this: "Multilateralism is a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator." See Darfur, the Iranian nukes, the UN's flop response to the tsunami. If it's right to intervene in the Sudan, it's not wrong because the Russian guy declines to stick his hand up at the relevant meeting. The Howard years saw the emergence of a regional power that, from East Timor to Solomon Islands, understood its responsibilities at a time when the Euro-Canadian poseurs shrunk from theirs.
As a distant observer of Australian affairs, I had some small personal contact with Howard and co. over the years. Merry, feisty, blunt and fair, they were exactly what we need at this moment: happy warriors. I'm saddened Australians feel differently. But if it's too late to get the US constitution amended in time for them to run for president next November, the savvier candidates ought to snap 'em up as speech writers.
Mark Steyn, a Canadian columnist and film and music critic, is author of America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (2006). This is an extract from the December issue of the Institute of Public Affairs Review in Melbourne.