Saturday, January 26, 2008

John McCain’s open-borders outreach director: The next DHS secretary?;

*Update: A “non-paid volunteer”

By Michelle Malkin • January 25, 2008 10:03 AM

*Update: Hernandez is a “non-paid volunteer,” says the McCain campaign. Was he “non-paid” at the Reform Institute, too? And does McCain share his “Mexico First/” “Just A Region”/”Free Flow of People” views or not? Ask.

*Update: Meet La Familia McCain.

***Dr. Juan Hernandez, McCain Hispanic outreach director: “We must not only have a free flow of goods and services, but also start working for a free flow of people.”

Last month, I received an e-mail from a concerned reader. She wrote:
“Hispanic Republicans here in Nevada had a chance to speak by conference to Sen. John McCain and many of us were appalled to learn that his National Director of Hispanic Outreach is none other that Dr. Juan Hernandez, notorious for his open borders stance. How can McCain reconcile the fact that he says he “learnt his lesson w/the American people” with choosing as his Hispanic Ntl. Dir. someone whose views and interests are so clearly anti-security and not in the interest of the American people or for that matter us legal Hispanic immigrants. Can someone question him directly on this?”

Bryan at Hot Air confirmed it. Here’s a photo he found on McCain’s daughter’s campaign website. The ethnocentrist, border obliteration activist is in tight with the top echelons of the McCain camp. McCain campaign guru Mark MacKinnon is in the foreground. Maybe sending e-mails about their future shamnesty plans with Teddy Kennedy and Lindsay Graham.

Photo credit: Copyright Heather Brand

Hernandez and I go way back. He had a bad habit of calling you “My friend” during TV debates while smoothly peddling open-borders propaganda. I cured that bad habit several years ago during a Fox News segment by pointing out that he was not, in fact, “my friend.”

He is not your friend, either.

Hernandez was a close advisor to Vicente “Welcome to North America” Fox and headed up a Mexican bureaucracy called the “Presidential Office for Mexicans Abroad.” It was designed to allow Hernandez to travel across the country, meddling with local, state, and federal immigration enforcement on behalf of millions of illegal aliens in America. He lobbied for illegal alien driver’s licenses and Mexico first, defended Mexican bus operators carrying illegal aliens to the USA, and promoted extending banking privileges to illegal aliens.

In an interview on ABC News’s Nightline, Hernandez stated bluntly that he was betting that the Mexican American population in the United States –all generations– “will think Mexico first…”I want ‘em all to think Mexico first.”

And here’s Tom Tancredo recounting how Hernandez told him that Mexico and the U.S. are not two separate countries, but “just a region:”

TANCREDO: I had a great argument one time with a gentleman by the name of Juan Hernandez who was at that time the minister of that ministry that I just mentioned, the Ministry for Mexicans Living in the United States.

And I asked him that very question. What he told me the purpose of his ministry was to push people into the United States, it was to—by the way, it was also AFC work with them so that they did—he was with the community, he said. He was three days a week in the United States, four in Mexico.

By the way, he himself is a dual citizen born in Texas, university—teaching at the University of Texas and on the Vicente Fox cabinet. And he said, “I work with the community in the United States, the Mexican community because I don‘t want them essentially going native on us. We want them continually tied emotionally, linguistically, politically to Mexico, because then they‘ll continue to send money home.”

And I said to him, that does not sound like—you know, you‘re doing something that‘s actually the act of an unfriendly government.

CARLSON: Well, of course, it doesn‘t in any way serve American interests. It undermines our country in a pretty direct and direct and obvious way.

TANCREDO: Tucker, his response. Let me tell you his response.


TANCREDO: At the end he goes, “Congressman,” in an incredibly condescending way. He goes, “Congressman, it‘s not two countries; it‘s just a region.”

CARLSON: That is not my view, to put it mildly.

TANCREDO: Not mine either.

Now, incredibly, Juan Hernandez is GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s Hispanic Outreach Director. He is, as my Nevada reader wrote, a sovereignty-undermining extremist who “whose views and interests are so clearly anti-security and not in the interest of the American people or for that matter us legal Hispanic immigrants.”

I repeat: Geraldo Rivera Republican John McCain has learned nothing from the shamnesty debacle.

Next stop for his friend Juan Hernandez: DHS Secretary?


More reax:

Mark Krikorian…”Does McCain agree with this? Has he offered Hernandez, a former high-level foreign government official who presumably swore an oath to uphold the Mexican constitution, a place in a future McCain Administration? That’s not a rhetorical question.”

Gateway Pundit: “When Senator McCain insisted that he had not changed his position on immigration in an interview after the South Carolina Republican Primary, he wasn’t kidding!”

Jake Jacobsen: “You have got to be freaking kidding me.”

Sundries Shack: “Let’s ask his Hispanic Outreach Director whether he’d work for a politician who intended on securing the borders before offering amnesty. What do you think his answer would be?”

Oh, I know too well what it would be. Hernandez would smile, lie through his teeth, and tell you he supports securing the border, just like his good friend John McCain does…

Mark Steyn: First, they came for Piglet

Orange County Register
Saturday, January 26, 2008

My favorite headline of the year so far comes from the Daily Mail in Britain:

"Government Renames Islamic Terrorism As anti-Islamic Activity' To Woo Muslims."

Her Majesty's government is not alone in feeling it's not always helpful to link Islam and the, ah, various unpleasantnesses with suicide bombers and whatnot. Even in his cowboy Crusader heyday, President Bush liked to cool down the crowd with a lot of religion-of-peace stuff. But the British have now decided that kind of mealy-mouthed "respect" is no longer sufficient.

So, henceforth, any terrorism perpetrated by persons of an Islamic persuasion will be designated "anti-Islamic activity." Britain's Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, unveiled the new brand name in a speech a few days ago. "There is nothing Islamic about the wish to terrorize, nothing Islamic about plotting murder, pain and grief," she told her audience. "Indeed, if anything, these actions are anti-Islamic."

Well, yes, one sort of sees what she means. Killing thousands of people in Manhattan skyscrapers in the name of Islam does, among a certain narrow-minded type of person, give Islam a bad name, and thus could be said to be "anti-Islamic" – in the same way that the Luftwaffe raining down death and destruction on Londoners during the Blitz was an "anti-German activity."

But I don't recall even Neville Chamberlain explaining, as if to a 5-year-old, that there is nothing German about the wish to terrorize and invade, and that this is entirely at odds with the core German values of sitting around eating huge sausages in beer gardens while wearing lederhosen.

Still, it should add a certain surreal quality to BBC news bulletins: "The prime minister today condemned the latest anti-Islamic activity as he picked through the rubble of Downing Street looking for his 2008 Wahhabi Community Outreach Award. In a related incident, the anti-Islamic activists who blew up Buckingham Palace have unfortunately caused the postponement of the Queen's annual Ramadan banquet."

A few days ago, a pretrial hearing in an Atlanta courtroom made public for the first time a video made by two Georgia Tech students. Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee went to Washington and took footage of key buildings, and that "casing video" then wound up in the hands of Younis Tsouli, an al-Qaida recruiter in London. As the film shot by the Georgia students was played in court, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee's voice could be heard on the soundtrack: "This is where our brothers attacked the Pentagon."

"Allahu akbar," responds young Ahmed. God is great.

How "anti-Islamic" an activity is that? Certainly, not all Muslims want to fly planes into the Pentagon. But those that do do it in the name of their faith. And anyone of a mind to engage in an "anti-Islamic activity" will find quite a lot of support from leading Islamic scholars. Take, for example, the "moderate" imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who once observed that "we will conquer Europe, we will conquer America. Not through the sword, but through da'wa" – i.e., the non-incendiary form of Islamic outreach.

What could be more moderate than that? No wonder Mr. al-Qaradawi is an associate of the Islamic Society of Boston, currently building the largest mosque in the northeast, and is also a pal of the present mayor of London. The impeccably moderate mullah was invited to address a British conference sponsored by the police and the Department of Work and Pensions on "Our Children, Our Future." And, when it comes to the children, Imam al-Qaradawi certainly has their future all mapped out. "Israelis might have nuclear bombs," he said, "but we have the children bomb, and these human bombs must continue until liberation."

As Maurice Chevalier used to say, thank heaven for little girls, they blow up in the most delightful way.

The British home secretary would respond that not all moderate imams are as gung-ho to detonate moppets. Which is true. But, by insisting on re-labeling terrorism committed by Muslims in the name of Islam as "anti-Islamic activity," Her Majesty's government is engaging not merely in Orwellian Newspeak but in self-defeating Orwellian Newspeak. The broader message it sends is that ours is a weak culture so unconfident and insecure that if you bomb us and kill us our first urge is to find a way to flatter and apologize to you.

Here's another news item out of Britain this week: A new version of "The Three Little Pigs" was turned down for some "excellence in education" award on the grounds that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues" and, as a result, the judges "had concerns for the Asian community" – i.e., Muslims. Non-Muslim Asians – Hindus and Buddhists – have no "concerns" about anthropomorphized pigs.

This is now a recurring theme in British life. A while back, it was a local government council telling workers not to have knickknacks on their desks representing Winnie-the-Pooh's porcine sidekick, Piglet.

As Martin Niemoller famously said, first they came for Piglet, and I did not speak out because I was not a Disney character and, if I was, I'm more of an Eeyore. So then they came for the Three Little Pigs, and Babe, and by the time I realized my country had turned into a 24/7 Looney Tunes it was too late, because there was no Porky Pig to stammer "Th-th-th-that's all, folks!" and bring the nightmare to an end.

Just for the record, it's true that Muslims, like Jews, are not partial to bacon and sausages. But the Quran has nothing to say about cartoon pigs. Likewise, it is silent on the matter of whether one can name a teddy bear after Muhammad.

What all these stories have in common is the excessive deference to Islam. If "The Three Little Pigs" are verbotenwhen Muslims do not yet comprise 10 percent of the British population, what else will be on the blacklist by the time they're, say, 20 percent?

Elizabeth May, leader of Canada's Green Party (the fourth-largest political party), recently spoke out against her country's continued military contribution to the international force in Afghanistan. "More ISAF forces from a Christian/Crusader heritage," she said, "will continue to fuel an insurgency that has been framed as a jihad."

As it happens, Canada did not send troops to the Crusades, mainly because the fun was over several centuries before Canada came in existence. Six years ago, it was mostly the enemy who took that line, Osama bin Laden raging at the Great Satan for the fall of Andalusia in 1492, which, with the best will in the world, it's hard to blame on Halliburton. But since then, the pathologies of Islamism have proved surprisingly contagious among Western elites.

You remember the Three Little Pigs? One builds a house of straw, and another of sticks, and both get blown down by the Big Bad Wolf. Western civilization is a mighty house of bricks, but who needs a Big Bad Wolf when the pig's so eager to demolish it himself?


John Edwards: Losing Ugly

By Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post
January 25, 2008

Democratic presidential hopeful, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, right, talks to the staff at Atley's BBQ in Orangeburg, S.C., Friday, Jan. 25, 2008, during a campaign stop asking people for their vote on eve of the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary.
(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

WASHINGTON -- There's losing. There's losing honorably. And then there's John Edwards.

Mike Huckabee is not going to be president. The loss in South Carolina, one of the most highly evangelical states in the union, made that plain. With a ceiling of 14 percent among nonevangelical Republicans, Huckabee's base is simply too narrow. But his was not a rise and then a fall. He came from nowhere to establish himself as the voice of an important national constituency. Huckabee will continue to matter, and might even carry enough remaining Southern states to wield considerable influence at a fractured Republican convention.

Fred Thompson will also not be president. His campaign failed, but quite honorably. He never tacked. He never dissimulated. He refused to reinvent himself. He presented himself plainly and honestly. Too plainly. What he lacked was the ferocious near-deranged ambition (aka, fire in the belly) required to navigate the bizarre ordeal that is today's nominating process. Political decency is not a common commodity. Thompson had it. He'd make a fine attorney general, and not just on TV.

Then there is John Edwards. He's not going to be president either. He stays in the race because, with the Democrats' proportional representation system, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton might end up in a very close delegate race -- perhaps allowing an also-ran with, say, 10 percent of the delegates to act as kingmaker at the convention.

It's a prize of sorts, it might even be tradeable for a Cabinet position. But at considerable cost. His campaign has been a spectacle.

Edwards has made much of his renunciation of his Iraq War vote. But he has not stopped there. His entire campaign has been an orgy of regret and renunciation.

-- As senator, he voted in 2001 for a bankruptcy bill that he now denounces.

-- As senator, he voted for storing nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Twice. He is now fiercely opposed.

-- As senator, he voted for the Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind education reform. He now campaigns against it, promising to have it "radically overhauled."

-- As senator, he voted for the Patriot Act, calling it "a good bill ... and I am pleased to support it." He now attacks it.

-- As senator, he voted to give China normalized trade relations. Need I say? He now campaigns against liberalized trade with China as a sellout of the middle class to the great multinational agents of greed, etc.

Breathtaking. People can change their minds about something. But everything? The man served one term in the Senate. He left not a single substantial piece of legislation to his name, only an astonishing string of votes on trade, education, civil liberties, energy, bankruptcy and, of course, war that now he not only renounces but inveighs against.

Today he plays the avenging angel, engaged in an "epic struggle" against the great economic malefactors that "have literally," he assures us, "taken over the government." He is angry, embodying the familiar zeal of the convert, ready to immolate anyone who benightedly holds to any revelation other than the zealot's very latest.

Nothing new about a convert. Nothing new about a zealous convert. What is different about Edwards is his endlessly repeated claim that the raging populist of today is what he has always been. That this has been the "cause of my life," the very core of his being, ingrained in him on his father's knee or at the mill or wherever, depending on the anecdote he's telling. You must understand: This is not politics for him. "This fight is deeply personal to me. I've been engaged in it my whole life."

Except for his years as senator, the only public office he's ever held. The audacity of the all-my-life trope is staggering. By his own endlessly self-confessed record, his current pose is a coat of paint newly acquired. His claim that it is an expression of his inner soul is a farce.

A cynical farce that is particularly galling to left-liberals of real authenticity. "The one (presidential candidate) that is the most problematic is Edwards," Sen. Russ Feingold told The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., "who voted for the Patriot Act, campaigns against it. Voted for No Child Left Behind, campaigns against it. Voted for the China trade deal, campaigns against it. Voted for the Iraq War. ... He uses my voting record exactly as his platform, even though he had the opposite voting record."

It profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the whole world. But for 4 percent of the Nevada caucuses?
Copyright 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

Friday, January 25, 2008

Stallone on a Mission

By Joel Stein
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

Sylvester Stallone has memorized a lot of Procol Harum lyrics, and for the next two minutes I'm going to hear them. Because if you want to know what inspires a man to write a movie in which hundreds of people are blown up and which, by his own estimate, contains only three pages of dialogue between the two main characters, apparently you have to listen to the lyrics of a psychedelic 1968 song called In Held 'Twas in I: Glimpses of Nirvana. This is the song that made Stallone want to be a writer, which is surprising because while it contains one Zen koan and mentions the Dalai Lama three times, it does not allude to firing a rocket launcher through a helicopter window.

The 61-year-old actor is explaining why he made this Rambo, which seems like a dumb career move after 2006's Rocky Balboa. Stallone—pretty much hitless since the 1980s, when he was one of the biggest box-office draws in the world—wrote, directed and starred in the sixth installment of that dead franchise and emerged with a critical and commercial success. Rocky Balboa was a touching, honest, personal look at longing for past glory; Stallone held off from pandering so much that it didn't even have a training montage. But Rambo—the fourth one, and the first in 20 years—is a movie without apology for the foreign markets that still adore him: Rambo quickly gets talked into saving captured missionaries in Burma, and then Rambo kicks ass—age and the physics of ballistics be damned.

Sure, Stallone agreed to do the movie before Rocky Balboa was approved, but that doesn't mean he didn't find something to say. Like Procol Harum, Stallone is not afraid of metaphor, of being opaque, of answering some questions with questions and other questions with a hail of bullets. What he wanted to say in the new Rambo came down to one smart speech: "Old men start wars. Young men fight them. And everyone in the middle gets killed. War is natural. Peace is an accident. We're animals." Stallone eventually cut all that dialogue out because Rambo is a silent man, and blurting out your thesis is for college papers, not movies.

No one remembers this, but First Blood, the first Rambo movie, about a Vietnam vet with massive posttraumatic stress disorder who winds up shooting up a small American town, is an antiwar movie. The second Rambo—the glossy action movie loved by many, including President Reagan—is about a vet who goes back to Vietnam and wins, freeing a bunch of pows. The new Rambo is supposed to be back in the antiwar camp. "What I was trying to say is that nothing changes. The world will never come together and say we are one," Stallone says, smoking a cigar and wearing a tight Army-green shirt in his Beverly Hills office, which is decorated with some paintings of Rocky that he made. "Rambo thought he would have accomplished something with all he's given. I think about the lifelong police officer who retires after 50 years, and crime is up. He's gotten hurt, he's lost his wife, and what has he accomplished? Crime is up."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, Julie Benz and Sylvester Stallone arrive at the Rambo premiere at Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008.
(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The guy who created Rocky is a cheery pessimist who believes that despite an ugly world, you can make incredible things happen with great effort. "Rocky represents the optimistic side of life, and Rambo represents purgatory," he says. The world, Rambo realizes, is perpetually chaotic and dangerous. "If you think people are inherently good, you get rid of the police for 24 hours—see what happens," Stallone says. "I could start a war in 30 seconds. But some countries spend 100 years trying to find peace. Just like good manners, peace has to be learned." So, after reading about the unrest in Burma in Soldier of Fortune magazine (You thought he subscribed to Better Homes and Gardens?), Stallone decided to set the film in Burma, shooting in Thailand and struggling to cast real Burmese, many of whom feared reprisals against family in their home country. Stallone says he regularly got threats from people associated with the Burmese government. "They were like my wake-up calls," he says. "They were very polite. 'This film will not be made, and if it is, people will be killed.'" He borrowed a Thai princess's armored vehicle to travel to the set, and at one point, people who worked with him on the movie say, he wanted to drop the project entirely.

Unlike the rest of Hollywood, Stallone was smart enough to make an antiwar movie that's not about the Middle East. And he wasn't about to make a pro-Iraq-war film; 2004 was the first year he didn't vote for a Republican presidential candidate, even though the man was born on the same day as he was and has pecs almost as big. Stallone's particularly galled by Bush's tough talk. "You see Bush, and you see the obstinacy and the arrogance. Go out there and ride in a humvee 10 times, and then I'll listen to you. Take the ride. Have your bowels go into a square knot. Then I'll respect you." Stallone is awesome at tough talk.

Of course, the futility of war isn't what you think about when you're watching an hour of bad-guy heads popping off in the latest Rambo, the most violent of the series. In fact, it's not even what Avi Lerner, one of the film's producers, saw in it. "This is the Rambo that makes America feel good about what he's doing," Lerner says. "This time it's a Rambo that's saving the world."

But the character, Stallone thinks, has always been misunderstood, even by Reagan. "I never saw Rambo as a Republican," Stallone says, though he liked the President too much to make an issue of it. "We watched Escape to Victory on folding chairs in the White House. It was really makeshift. You had a better sound system in your pickup truck." Rambo, he says, is underestimated emotionally and intellectually, just because he doesn't so much talk as use his voice like a car horn to warn or scare others. "In a film like Rambo, the more he speaks, the less interesting he is. It's much harder to play than Rocky," he says. Milo Ventimiglia, who played Rocky's son in the last movie, says he was impressed with how detail-oriented and self-assured Stallone was as both a director and an actor. "Maybe there were a little too many bullets in some of the movies or too much blood in other ones, but you saw a performer. And when I got to witness the process of a creative person knowing exactly what he wants to do, I was blown away. To me, he's an artist."

Sylvester Stallone makes an appearance at Planet Hollywood Times Square to promote his latest film 'Rambo', Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008 in New York.
(AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

Playing a guy who acts with only his eyes and his biceps is harder than playing a fast-talking, earnest boxer, especially on a 61-year-old body. Which was one of the reasons Stallone wanted to do it. He pumped up to a freakish 209 lbs. (95 kg); in Rambo II he weighed only 168 (76 kg). And, he insists, he did it without steroids, though with the help of a prescription testosterone. "HGH [human growth hormone] is nothing. Anyone who calls it a steroid is grossly misinformed," he says. "Testosterone to me is so important for a sense of well-being when you get older. Everyone over 40 years old would be wise to investigate it because it increases the quality of your life. Mark my words. In 10 years it will be over the counter." He was in such great shape, it freaked out his co-star, Julie Benz. "I'm a runner. I sprint. And I'm extremely competitive. And he blew past me every time. And he doesn't run at all. He's that focused," she says.

So the meaning of Rambo, really, comes just from the act of making it. "This was a physical tour de force," Stallone says. David Morrell, who wrote the novel that Rambo is based on, says Stallone has been thinking of the character this way for years. "Sly phoned me two years ago and said he thought [the postmovie] Rambo would be working with scrap metal from the Vietnam era, and the metaphor was that he's a salvager and was trying to salvage his life. Sly is very big on metaphors," he says.

Is the return to Rambo a sign of a last-quarter-life crisis? It's less of a sign than what's under Stallone's right sleeve. Yesterday, he says, he finished his tattoo, and it's not subtle. It's a huge, color-saturated portrait of his wife surrounded by three roses (the middle name of each of his three daughters is Rose) and looked over by a tiger (apparently, Rocky was fond of tiger eyes). "When people read about this, they'll go 'Tattoo?' But after a certain age it takes on a different meaning," he says. "You get your first tattoo at 61, you realize, what [event] are you saving it for?"

Richard John Neuhaus: Waking Up to Springtime

January 25, 2008

The Conversion of St. Paul
Oil on cypress wood, 237 x 189 cm.
Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome

It’s a good day to be thinking about the Christian mission, this Day of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Today is also the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an observation that has, regrettably, become more anemic in the last decade or so. In 1990, John Paul the Great issued the encyclical Redemptoris Missio—the Mission of the Redeemer. There he expressed his intuition, his hope, his prayer, that the beginning of the Third Millennium would be a “springtime of world evangelization.”

Something like that may be happening. Consider the explosive growth of Christianity, especially in the Global South. And who knows what will happen when—and surely it is a question of when rather than if—China opens up? Redemptoris Missio tied together Christian mission and Christian unity. And, of course, the tie between mission and unity was the dynamic that launched what is called the modern ecumenical movement at Edinburgh in 1910. Not for nothing was that meeting called the World Missionary Conference. Unity is in the service of mission, which reflects Our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that his disciples may be one so that the world may believe that he is sent by the Father.

Today the connection between mission and unity is not so evident. There are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world; about 1.2 billion Catholic, 400 million Orthodox, 150 million “classical” Reformation (Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, etc.), and the rest an assortment, especially in the Global South, of evangelical, Pentecostal, and indigenous movements, the last often being strange amalgamations of Christian and other religious cultures. Anything approximating ecclesial unity in this wild mix of ways of being Christian seems increasingly remote. That is the reality that informs the admirable article by Avery Cardinal Dulles in the December 2007 issue of First Things, “Saving Ecumenism From Itself.” (The points made by Dulles are reflected also in the report on the state of ecumenism by Walter Cardinal Kasper, head of the pontifical council on Christian unity, given to the consistory of cardinals in Rome last fall.)

Yet the mission/unity nexus is of abiding importance. Our Lord’s prayer of John 17 must continue to be our prayer. Nor can the ecclesiological significance of the conversion of Saint Paul be repressed. On the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To persecute his Church is to persecute him, for the Church is his body.

Through his body, the Church, Christ is engaged in a universal mission. So today we recall Paul preaching in the Areopagus of Athens. By conventional calculations, that was something of a bust. “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from among them” (Acts 17). The resurrection of the dead did not strike his hearers as good news but as bad news. After all, the aim of their religion and philosophy was to escape the body and the cosmos, and now Paul was telling them that the stuff of creation, restored in Christ, is forever.

The spiritualities of today’s Areopagus are not so very different. The last couple of years have seen a great deal of attention devoted to militant and depressingly vulgar atheisms promoted by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. A somewhat different position is advanced by André Comte-Sponville, who teaches philosophy at the Sorbonne and has adopted the role of “theologian” for contemporary atheistic humanism. His book, published by Viking, carries the unfortunate Hallmark-like title: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality .

Unlike recent books by angry atheist polemicists, this one is marked by a humane spirit. True, he occasionally drops into clichés connecting faith with childish immaturity, and unbelief with a courageous, adult willingness to confront reality. In the main, however, he is more interested in setting forth a positive account of a life of unbelief than in sniping at the lives of believers.

He says that life should be governed by love and truth. Love, he says, gives expression to the motives sustaining Western humanism. The lives of others matter, and we should commit ourselves to the dignity of the human person. Truth, however, pushes in another direction. Drawing on ancient philosophy, Comte-Sponville wants us to cultivate a deep sense of the impersonal vastness of the universe. Germs mutate in their endless evolutionary struggle to survive, and child, spouse, and friend will die. The sun will eventually burn out, a fact utterly indifferent to the destiny of the human race.

Our goal, he says, should be to affirm both the intimately human and the impersonally cosmic. We should value those we love—and accept the complete irrelevance of the personal in the larger scheme of things. His proposal is not without interest. If one subscribes to his view of the universe, and many do, it might be a good thing if cosmic coldness could be joined to human warmth.

In the Christian intellectual tradition, the Church Fathers engaged that problem of the particular and the universal. How could the particular man, Jesus of Nazareth, have such universal significance? They worked out the question by way of the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity. Centuries later, their way of thinking through these questions made possible the emergence of both the impersonal, universal project of modern science and the modern humanism that gives pride of place to the individual human person.

If we follow Comte-Sponville and reject the theological rationale for the unity of the universal and personal, can both survive? “All truth is universal,” he writes. Fair enough. But then the question follows immediately: “How can a truth belong to me personally?” His answer: “Things do not matter in and of themselves but only through the attention we bring to them and the love we bear them.” It’s a familiar and modern existentialist solution: Truth is truth, but then there is meaning, which is quite another matter. We serve truth but we make meaning. “We do not love an object because it is valuable; rather, our love confers value upon what we love.”

Perhaps Comte-Sponville will succeed in convincing his fellow atheists that humanity is to be loved even though our lives have no value. But one may be forgiven for entertaining doubts. The heyday of the modern existentialist approach was the 1930s, the decade before millions were killed in death camps, gulags, carpet bombing, and other horrors continuing into our time. It is not only in the horrors of history, however, but in the dark knowledge of our own hearts and in the irrepressible demands of reason that thoughtful people will find it implausible that the humanity we are to venerate is worthy of being venerated only because of our veneration. Andre Comte-Sponville’s “atheist spirituality” betrays a very large measure of the wishful thinking that he attributes to Christian faith.

Comte-Sponville reminds us, however, that there is atheism and then there is atheism. This is a truth underscored by Father Ranier Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, in a recent essay:

“The world of today knows a new category of people: the atheists in good faith, those who live painfully the situation of the silence of God, who do not believe in God but do not boast about it; rather they experience the existential anguish and the lack of meaning of everything: They too, in their own way, live in the dark night of the spirit. Albert Camus called them “the saints without God.” The mystics exist above all for them; they are their travel and table companions. Like Jesus, they “sat down at the table of sinners and ate with them” (see Luke 15:2). This explains the passion with which certain atheists, once converted, pore over the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, the two Maritains, L. Bloy, the writer J.K. Huysmans and so many others over the writings of Angela of Foligno; T.S. Eliot over those of Julian of Norwich. There they find again the same scenery that they had left, but this time illuminated by the sun. . . . The word “atheist” can have an active and a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also one who—at least so it seems to him—is rejected by God. In the first case, it is a blameworthy atheism (when it is not in good faith), in the second an atheism of sorrow or of expiation.”

The Conversion of Saint Paul, the ecclesial import of his call and its unbreakable tie to Christian unity, the universal mission entailing an engagement with the Areopagus of all times. These are the inescapable themes of this day, and all of them illuminated by the vision of John Paul the Great that we may be on the edge of, or already caught up in, “the springtime of world evangelization.”

Ready To Rambo

Stallone's Warrior Returns -- Older, Wearier, Deadlier

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008; C01

LOS ANGELES: Sylvester Stallone, in tight cashmere, his forearms as ripped as Popeye's, enters the hotel suite, which has been arranged for "a mini press conference." The chairs are filled with Rambo reporters, some wearing Rambo bandannas, Rambo T-shirts, Rambo fatigues. It will not be a tough crowd.

First question: "What happened to the shot where you punched the guy's head clear off?"

The reporter is referring to the so-called sizzle reel shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year to generate interest among overseas distributors for the fourth and perhaps final installment in the Rambo saga, a journey that Stallone compares favorably to the wanderings of the relative pantywaist Ulysses in the Odyssey. "Rambo," the film, written, directed, produced by and starring Stallone, opens nationwide on Friday and is perhaps the most graphically violent R-rated movie ever.

"I know," Stallone says, about the sizzle reel. His laugh is a low growl. "That's an optical confusion. What it was, was a knife, and it was such a bad print it looked like I punched his head off. I was reading the blogs. I was, 'Come on guys, look closely, nobody can punch someone's head off.' "

But if anyone could, surely . . .

"When you're pushed," says John J. Rambo, "killing's as easy as breathing." Oh, and his buttons are most definitely pushed in the new movie. It opens with Rambo, the former Green Beret, seemingly abandoned by both his country and his beloved father figure Col. Trautman. He's living as a monosyllabic misanthrope in a hooch at the Thai Snake Farm, where tourists pay to watch performers harass cobras collected in the jungle by Rambo, whose first line of dialogue is a percussive profanity.

It has been two decades since Rambo was last seen fighting alongside the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, which he visited to rescue his beloved puppet master Col. Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) from the Russkies in the poorly received "Rambo III." The years appear to have been kind to Stallone. He is 61. His face has softened, tenderized like a piece of flank steak, whacked by a meat mallet. He sports all his unnaturally jet black hair. His skin tone and resilience are excellent, perhaps benefiting from his model wife Jennifer Flavin-Stallone's line of beauty care products (he plugs her Olive Oil Moisture Cream). With a bandanna wrapped around his head in the movie, he resembles Sitting Bull. It is intentional.

"The ponderousness that comes with aging, the sense of weight, the sense of knowledge, of knowing too much, the lack of naivete, which has happened in my life, set the stage for me," he explains. "I wanted Rambo to be heavier, bulkier, that's why his first line in the movie is pretty negative. He's given up. He has nothing."

Stallone says, "The other Rambos had a bit too much energy, were a bit too spry. I'm not trying to run myself down but there was much more vanity involved." By which he means that shirtless Rambo of yore with pectorals hard as dinner plates, glistening with baby oil as he writhes in agony and ecstasy on a makeshift cross? Exactly.

"It was all about body movement rather than the ferocity and commitment of what he was doing," Stallone says of his previous Rambos. "This character to me is much more interesting."

Anyways, in this movie Rambo's bucolic semi-retirement in Thailand is interrupted by a group of Christian missionaries who hire the idling killing machine to take them upriver in his longboat to a village of Karen people, an ethnic minority living along the Burmese border. The Karen have been fighting for independence since 1949 and are brutally repressed by the Burmese government forces, represented in the film as sadistic baby-bayonetters, led by a monkey-faced chain-smoker, the vicious Maj. Tint.

Soon after Rambo dumps them off, the missionaries and the Karen people are brutally attacked by sinister Burmese government forces in a berserker scene straight out of Hieronymus Bosch (baby thrown into a flamethrower, etc.). And so Rambo and a team of international mercenaries go back and, you know, get them-- with bows and arrows (neck shots), knives (disembowelment) and a .50-caliber machine gun. Aided by the magic of computer-generated imagery, heads do fly, and in the final killing spree, actual doughnut holes -- holes that you can see through -- appear in human torsos.

Question: "It's one of the most violent movies . . "

Stallone interrupts, "Not one of the most. I worked very hard for this." Everyone at the presser has a laugh.

Stallone says he was surprised that the Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an R rating: "When babies are being bayonetted and people are being flamed, I thought this will never go." But he told the ratings board, "I said guys, this is happening today -- and if we're ever going to do something that responds, where art has the ability to influence people's awareness and impact the lives of these people, don't dilute it, don't water it down. . . . Don't cut away too soon. Let it sink it. I want people to feel it. To their credit, they allowed this film to be as truthful as it could."

Stallone is referring to the plight of the Karen people and the Burmese military junta that crushed the pro-democracy "Saffron Revolution" led by monks this fall -- after the film was wrapped, which manages to make Sylvester Stallone, as a kind of human rights activist, appear prescient.

"As you look at the opening credits," which contain actual news footage, Stallone says, "I had to live up to a certain responsibility, because people are dying as we're making the film. Therefore to just have me running through the film doing these extraordinary heroics I thought would demean what they are going through. So they had to have their moment, where you see a village decimated. In fact, it's even worse."

Meaning that he had to destroy the village in order to save it.

Stallone has been mulling a final (perhaps) Rambo movie for a very long time. Initially, the studios thought, hey, why not a caper film? "Like they wanted to have the corrupt CIA agent trying to sell plutonium rods. I said no. The biggest and most interesting crisis in the world is a human crisis. It never gets boring. It goes back to Shakespeare. It's man against man and their intolerance of each other," Stallone says.

Another producer came forward, Stallone says, proposing "this great idea where Camp David is attacked, and I said I'm out. It can't be. There's something about nature as part of the character, something about the primitive man, he's almost an Indian. Set in the city, I didn't think it would fly." Stallone thought he could place Rambo along the Mexican border, among the missing women of Ju¿rez, perhaps, and the human traffickers and wily coyotes. And then, "I did research and found that Burma is one of the great hellholes of the world. But no one knows about it. It's exotic and it's near Vietnam and the synergy was perfect."

What does it all mean?

"I don't know if it's coming across," Stallone says, but the message is "accept who you are, accept who you are, and finally Rambo does. He accepts it. I kill for myself. I don't kill for my country. Stop using this excuse that I'm a hero. I'm not. I got this penchant for violence inside of me that has to come out." During a dream sequence, which flashes on all the previous Rambos, this Rambo dreams that his beloved enabler Col. Trautman actually kills him, puts him out of his misery.

But no. "The warrior needs to war," he says. "Muscles are easy. Anybody can do muscles. You can do violence, violence, violence, action, action, action, but if you can find those little moments in between that connect with people, that aren't so physical, that's what takes the time, that's the challenge, that's what I love about it."

Film Reviews: "Rambo"

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Jungle

The New York Times
Published: January 25, 2008

Has it really been 20 years? Last time we saw John Rambo, in 1988, he was involved in some cold war endgame stuff in Afghanistan, and his action-movie franchise, begun in 1982 with “First Blood,” seemed to be sputtering toward self-parody. Since then Rambo has faded into semi-obscurity, though his name is sometimes still used, perhaps a bit unfairly, as a synonym for revanchist, go-it-alone militarism.

When I saw the posters announcing his imminent return, I wondered whom he would be fighting this time. In “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” the cumbersomely titled centerpiece of the earlier trilogy, he went back to Vietnam to collect payback both from the Communists and, indirectly, from the pusillanimous desk jockeys who supposedly messed up that war the first time around. Given this résumé, it seemed reasonable to assume that now he might be heading back to Central Asia to hunt down Osama bin Laden, a job no one else seems inclined to tackle.

But it turns out I misjudged Rambo, and maybe also Sylvester Stallone, who directed and wrote (with Art Monterastelli) the newest “Rambo,” and who plays the title character. When we first encounter him, this weary warrior has retreated from geopolitics, passing the time at a remote river station in the Thai jungle, where he hunts poisonous snakes and dabbles in blacksmithing. Old Rambo seems kind of depressed, to tell the truth, until his wrath is stirred by the viciousness of the Burmese Army.

Burma? But why not Burma? (In this movie, no one calls it Myanmar.) As a precredit montage of actual news clips reminds us, the military government of that nation has been engaged not only in widespread authoritarian abuses but also in a brutal, long-running campaign against the Karen ethnic minority. And it is with the Karen that Rambo, once roused from his weary cynicism, throws in his lot. No longer the bloody avatar of wounded American pride, he seems more inclined toward humanitarian intervention — a one-man N.G.O. with a machete. Will he show up in Darfur next?

Not that he is motivated by abstract moral concern. (And not that he is entirely alone. Some grumpy mercenaries are on hand to add firepower and profanity to the cause.) With Rambo, the political is always personal. He temporarily joins the Karen cause because some Western aid workers, carrying only Bibles, medical supplies and an air of sanctimony, hire him to ferry them upriver into Burma. He is skeptical about their mission, and their leader (Paul Schulze) seems like kind of a jerk, but something about Sarah (Julie Benz), the only woman in the group, touches Rambo’s soul. This is not a matter of sexual desire, but rather the kind of spiritual awakening that can be expressed only in misty abstractions. (“What you’re trying to do is change what is?” “And what is?” “Go home.”)

Sarah wonders why Rambo — she calls him John — has stayed away from the United States for so long. (This is partly answered in a dream sequence flashing back to some of the earlier episodes.) “Don’t you want to see what’s changed?” she asks. One thing that has is that women in action movies are encouraged to do their own fighting, but Mr. Stallone is old school in this regard. Blowing heads off and slicing abdomens is man’s work. Ms. Benz is on hand to scream, gasp, fall in the mud and huddle in a damp bamboo cage, waiting to be raped by the Burmese bad guys or rescued by Rambo.

And these bad guys make the Vietcong in the second Rambo movie look like paintball-slinging weekend warriors. “Rambo” is, for most of its fairly brief running time, a blood bath punctuated by occasional bouts of clumsy dialogue. There are beheadings, mutilations, disembowelings — enough gore to rival “Apocalypto.”

But the movie does have its own kind of blockheaded poetry. The first installments in the cycle were better films than polite opinion might lead you to believe. At the time their politics made some people nervous, but to dwell on Rambo’s ideological significance was (and still is) to miss his kinship with the samurais and gunslingers of older movies. Mr. Stallone is smart enough — or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not — to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back.

“Rambo” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has unhinged, sadistic genocidal violence and righteous retribution for same.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; written by Art Monterastelli and Mr. Stallone, based on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Sean Albertson; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton and John Thompson; released by Lionsgate Films. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.

WITH: Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo), Julie Benz (Sarah), Paul Schulze (Burnett), Matthew Marsden (Schoolboy), Graham McTavish (Lewis) and Tim Kang (En-Joo).

Rambo rises to wreak more havoc

New York Daily News
Friday, January 25th 2008, 4:00 AM

RAMBO. The third sequel in the 'First Blood' series sends its hero to Burma to rescue kidnapped missionaries. With Sylvester Stallone. Director: Stallone. (1:33) R: language, extreme violence. At area theaters.

Like a lost recording by the Beatles, Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo" arrives in theaters today with its feet planted firmly in the past, a reminder of a time when Stallone, Chuck Norris and other wooden soldiers of the big screen filled multiplexes with the floor-shaking thunder of trivialized war.

It's been 20 years since we last saw the hero of the "First Blood" series, that scarred Vietnam vet with an addiction to revenge and a supernatural ability to defeat Third World armies and live to fight another day.

This time, the fantasy is so over-the-top, the enemies so comically monstrous and their deaths so gory, that you may just throw your head back and roar with laughter.

"Rambo" is the second film in Stallone's Greatest Hits comeback tour, following 2006's "Rocky Balboa," the sixth film in that boxing series and the first since 1990.

To his credit, or to the credit of the human growth hormone he espouses, the 61-year-old star, writer, director and producer looks as fit as Jack LaLanne pulling a tugboat across San Francisco Bay. And his unmellowed Rambo has the same signature snarl, nasal grunt and steely stoicism of those long-ago triumphs.

In this episode, Rambo's misanthropic world-view clashes with the Good Samaritanism of a group of Colorado missionaries that he and a church-hired band of mercenaries attempt to rescue from military captors in Burma.

Rambo, now retired in Malaysia where he traps snakes for a freak show and renovates old boats, had taken the missionaries to Burma earlier and offended their leader (Paul Schulze) by killing a half-dozen Burmese pirates en route.

The contrast between Rambo's some-people-need-killing pragmatism and the missionaries' every-life-is-sacred credo is the dramatic fill between the frequent battle scenes. However, the only question hanging over this show is exactly when the head missionary will begin singing "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."

And what a lot of quality ammo there is: machine guns that tear bodies apart and explode skulls like water balloons; arrows that Rambo flings through the eyes of enemies at 100 yards; a trip-wire explosive with the force of a small atomic bomb. Ah, Rambo, how we missed ya.

Rough-and-tumble 'Rambo' hits target

By Kevin Crust
Los Angeles Times
January 25, 2008

There's something oddly touching about Sylvester Stallone's march down memory lane, dusting off one of his most iconic characters for another outing after years in mothballs. As with 2006's Rocky Balboa and now Rambo, the 60-year-old star dons the persona like a comfy old suit, a little worse for wear but eminently recognizable.

Since drawing First Blood in 1982, John Rambo, a taciturn, nihilistic Vietnam vet who favors a bow and arrow and knife over modern weaponry (but can pretty much wipe out an entire regiment single-handedly with anything in reach), became the ultimate symbol of action-movie excess. A walking, grunting monolith with giant, vein-rippled forearms, Rambo represented a video-game approach to filmmaking long before PlayStations and Xboxes surpassed the multiplex as the hideaway of choice for teenage boys.

Nearly 20 years after fighting the Soviets cheek-by-jowl with the Afghan mujahedeen in Rambo III, John returns to the screen working as a humble river guide in northern Thailand. The hulking former Green Beret is still haunted by his experiences, still hears the voice of his commanding officer (the late Richard Crenna) in his head and still speaks in movie poster-friendly taglines ("Live for nothin' or die for somethin'") when he speaks at all.

Stallone directed and co-wrote the script (with Art Monterastelli) with a modicum of humor - when another character asks if he simply remained in Southeast Asia after the war, he replies, "It's complicated" - and a boatload of blood. It's a labored reunion that hews closer in tone to the series' first movie, but suffers from some typically inane dialogue and the lack of an actor such as Crenna or Brian Dennehy to carry some of the dramatic burden.

A small group of missionaries from a Colorado church asks Rambo to take them upriver into civil war-torn Burma (Myanmar) and after first refusing, he reluctantly caves to the insistent pleas of the group's lone woman, Sarah (Julie Benz). Though there is zero chemistry between Stallone and Benz, there is a strange King Kong/Ann Darrow vibe to the relationship that seems to inspire Rambo to act against his better judgment.

The group fails to return and the church's pastor (Ken Howard in a cameo), after failing to gain assistance from the U.S. embassy, engages a quintet of mercenaries and hires Rambo to take them to the spot where he dropped the missionaries. Led by the bottom-line driven Lewis (Graham McTavish), the guns for hire take their pilot for granted, dismissing him as "boatman," but when they encounter the vicious Burmese army holding the missionaries they quickly realize they're lucky to have Rambo along. The Burmese are rapists and killers who force villagers to scramble through mined rice paddies while they gamble on the outcome. Their leader is a sadist with an appetite for young boys, all of which makes them easier to cheer against.

When the mercenaries, with the exception of an idealistic sharpshooter schoolboy (Matthew Marsden), determine that the danger of a rescue attempt outweighs their paychecks, it's Rambo who exhorts them with a terse, "It's who we are." Moved to take charge by something like chivalry, Rambo hits his stride in the film's second half, meting out justice in an unjust world, and ultimately the movie works best when warbling its out-of-tune greatest hits.

Just as John Rambo reconciles himself to the facts of his situation, Stallone seems to have arrived at an acceptance of his place in the Hollywood pantheon. Peter O'Toole probably said it best as the Errol Flynn-like Alan Swann in My Favorite Year: "I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!"

Rambo (Lionsgate) Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz. Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Rated R. Time 93 minutes.

Kevin Crust writes for the Los Angeles Times.


“Live for nothing or die for something. Your call.”

Pacifism is a disease. Rambo is the cure.

Why do I have a feeling Hollywood just got schnookered by one Sylvester Stallone. Stallone’s a bright guy. He knows the deal. He understands the only way he’ll get the Weinsteins to throw him some cash for a movie which portrays left-wing, pacifist liberals as the dangerous, pansy-asses they are is to disguise them as Christians.

You don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to watch Rambo and realize Stallone’s made an allegory about the fight against al-Queda, the fight against evil — the fight against those who do nothing to stop evil. The only way to miss it is if all that Christian-hate’s clouded your mind.

Man, it was like being twenty again sitting in the balcony of that crummy downtown theatre where I spent all my free time when I wasn’t working the janitor job or sleeping in a $225 a month hole someone dared to call a walk-up. Yup, just like being twenty again watching Rambo: First Blood Part II and going, Hell, yeah, through a mouthful of Twizzlers.

Rambo is a total 80’s actioner and God bless it for that. Simple plot. Simple characters. Obvious character arcs, some emotion, badder than bad guys, and a little of the ole’ ultra-violence.

Rambo’s nowhere near as violent as Kill Bill or any number of famous violent films liberal critics gush over because it’s their kind of violence — the nuanced kind critical of the white Western European patriarchal capitalist patriotism thing. But liberal critics do hate violence which might, you know, help Bush.

Rambo helps Bush. Rambo shoves the namby-pamby, pacifist, hand-wringing, obnoxious, holier-than-thou, liberal, do-gooders (uhm, I mean, Christians) out of the way and blows some evildoers into pieces small enough to stick in a See’s candy box and mail back to the mothers who spawned them.

Is Rambo a great movie? No. It’s not even all that good. But it is fun. Heck, I’d drop another nine-bucks just to see Harvey’s name in the credits again.

It’s been twenty-years since Charlie Wilson sent former Green Beret John Rambo into Afghanistan to create the Taliban and cause September 11th. Today, Rambo’s bigger, carrying his weight like a burden, and catching dangerous snakes for a living in Thailand when a group of liberal, pansy-asses only missing their blue helmets (uhm, I mean, Christians) approach and ask to be taken upriver to Burma. They want to “change things” for the innocent Burmese who are raped, tortured, butchered, and murdered everyday.

Rambo: You bringing any weapons?

Pansy-ass: Of course not.

Rambo: You’re not changin’ anything…

So, Rambo refuses, but then a cute, young, hottie hippie pansy-ass asks him (uhm, I mean, a Christian), and off they go.

The plot’s that simple and I see no reason to spoil the rest.

**MINOR SPOILER** But I promise you some of the, er, uhm, Christian characterc arcs are almost as gratifying as Harvey Weinstein’s name in the credits. **END SPOLIER**

The secret to a successful action film of this kind is the set-up of the action scenes, not the scenes themselves. The actual action can be as beautifully shot and choreographed as you want but if the audience isn’t leaning forward, fists-balled, waiting for release through mayhem, you’ve lost. This is something Rambo does very well. You want to see the bad guys get theres and that want is fed, and then some. Existential it’s not.

Stallone looks great, doesn’t try to play it young, and definitely hasn’t lost his touch directing big set-piece action scenes. He still hangs with the best of them. Everything’s well choreographed with a fine rhythm and you always know exactly what’s going on. He even whips out the dreaded shakycam, but again, he knows what he’s doing and uses it to proper effect rather than trying to make up for an energy deficiancy.

The three previous films get a hat tip here and the Rambo theme is used to great effect mainly to bookend the story which Stallone brings full circle. With some stronger characters, better defined villians, and stronger dialogue Rambo could’ve been the Rocky Balboa of the series — one of the better entries, but at 90-minutes (again, very 80s) the pacing’s as brutal as our protagonist and the hell yeahs keep adding up.

Comments (18)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

NHL All-Star game lacks appeal

By Ross McKeon, Yahoo! Sports
January 24, 2008

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates off the ice after suffering a high ankle sprain of his right ankle against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh on Friday, Jan. 18, 2008. Crosby did not return to the game, which the Lightning won 3-0.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Nice timing, eh?

With football winding down and baseball's spring training still a ways off, a small window of opportunity presents itself for the National Hockey League to attract more attention than it's used to receiving.

So, of course, the game's most promoted star – Sidney Crosby – goes down to injury for up to two months on the eve of an NHL showcase event, its All-Star game, when he otherwise would have fulfilled his unsolicited responsibility to carry the flag for the NHL.

Speaking of Sunday's "midseason shinny classic," hardly representative of what the game really looks like, selected players are bailing left and right.

Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur, Henrik Zetterberg and Sergei Zubov are the biggest names either pointing to nagging injuries or family obligations to skip the trip to the hockey hotbed of Atlanta, which is already on its second NHL franchise.

Toronto's Mats Sundin went the preemptive rout, informing those who make roster selections not to bother calling his name, he wasn't going to go even if invited. He says he needs the rest. You'd think the way things are going where he plays he'd welcome a nice long weekend as far away from Toronto as he could get.

The new collective bargaining agreement is proving to be a tough animal for general managers and a trade-starved league. Trades, or even the news of possible transactions, make headlines. But when there are no deals, the rumors don't carry much weight. No rumors, no buzz, and even less attention.

And the NHL is still not receiving the national television exposure it wants and needs. The game is better than pre-lockout, even taking into account the fact it was better 20 years ago. But not enough fans, or potential fans can judge for themselves without buying a ticket or owning a satellite.

Does it ever change for the NHL?

Gary Bettman is sure to hear about these topics when the league's commissioner holds a Q&A during this weekend's festivities. He'll gloss over all the negative queries in his glass-half-full way, accentuating league attendance is up for the umpteenth season (but we see the empty seats) and how wonderful the product is on the ice (when plenty would beg to differ).

It's been another start and stop year for the NHL. Every time you think they're on to something good the league does something that makes no sense – did it really need those new uniforms? Can we go back to the old ones now please, circa 1982?

Exposure is the No. 1 challenge for the league. Outstanding players such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin aren't featured enough because they don't play for the Penguins, Rangers or Red Wings. They play for bad teams, regardless of what the parity in the standings suggest, as Atlanta and Washington, are the only two that have fired coaches this season.

Scoring is down, the size of goaltenders' equipment is up, the schedule is getting changed because no one likes having to wait three years to see every opponent. Where have you gone Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Ed Belfour, Super Mario and No. 99?

The only game anyone talked about during the first half of the season was played outdoors. It took a New Year's Day gimmick in Buffalo to get more than the hard-core fans to tune in. The Nielsen overnight ratings (2.6) translate to almost 3 million households tuned in for NBC's telecast of the Pittsburgh-Buffalo game, which is the highest regular-season rating in the United States since 1996. And the figure more than doubled the average regular-season rating on NBC last season.

Is it any wonder why the NHL can't do any better than Versus?

With the popularity and buzz the Winter Classic created, at least for a few days, the league should have been poised to announce when and where the next outdoor game would occur. It was the No. 1 question on many minds. Now those same inquisitive onlookers have turned their attention elsewhere.

Where does the league turn now for attention? The All-Star game is sure to be a dud. You can't replicate a true hockey game when the emotion and competitiveness of the event is removed.

The flurry of trades will come in a one-week span late next month by the Feb. 26 deadline. Crosby is lost for much if not all of the regular season. But what does it say about a league that is so dependant on one player in the first place?

Sounds like Bettman will have a lot to answer this weekend. At least there's one thing to look forward to.

Ross McKeon is the NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Ross a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Global Warming or Climate Change?

by Joseph Farah
Posted: 01/23/2008

Maybe it's the weather -- cold. Maybe it's the season -- winter. Maybe it's the year -- election.

Or maybe it's a case of hedging one's bets. But I've noticed a not-so-subtle shift in the rhetoric from those who would like to do away with private property, nation-states, freedom, the rule of law, the will of the people, and all the other essentials of self-government -- people such as Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and other great scientific minds.

They're not talking about global warming anymore. They're talking about "climate change."

The power grabbers and money-grubbers who have been selling the notion that man's activity on the planet is heating it up are changing their tune. We're not hearing nearly as much about catastrophic man-made global warming this month.

Gee, I wonder why? Let's see.

On Dec. 4 in Seoul, South Korea, the temperature was a record minus 5 C.

On Nov. 24 in Meacham, Ore., the low temperature was 12 F -- colder than the previous record low set in 1952.

Last year, South America experienced one of its coldest winters in decades. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, snow fell for the first time since 1918. In Peru, 200 people died from the cold, and thousands more became infected with respiratory diseases. Crops failed, livestock perished and the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency.

Last week, it snowed in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

It's hard, with a straight face, to blame these conditions on global warming, though the Kool-Aid drinkers among those who would remake the world in their own hopelessly humanistic and self-centered image will try.

More dramatic by far than any detectable warming of the atmosphere and oceans are the new word games played by the eco-freaks at the United Nations, who have dubbed today World Cooling Day.

Somehow, I doubt they will be celebrating with much enthusiasm in South America.
But think about the real absurdity of fighting "climate change" -- the new apocalyptic menace. As a political ax, it can't be beat. Any variation in the weather represents a reason for controlling human behavior by any means necessary and to any extent necessary.

In a few years, it will be evident to one and all they have been hoaxed by the doomsday salespeople about global warming. But there always will be shifts in the weather. And anytime we experience those shifts that have occurred since the beginning of the world, there will be justification for Draconian actions by government.

People will be blamed when it's hot. People will be blamed when it's cold. Ritual sacrifices will be required by the high priests of the climate change religion either way.

The whole program would be almost ludicrously funny if the Congress and president of the United States hadn't recently agreed to ban the production and sale of the incandescent light bulb as a step toward halting "climate change."

It's not funny when freedom is at stake.

The rules of this game will no doubt continue to change. That's because the predetermined outcome of the game is what is important to the rule makers.

It's about control -- absolute control. It's about power -- absolute power. It's about the ends justifying the means. It's about a big lie -- perhaps the biggest lie ever told.

The stakes are huge. There is only one thing that can save us from the bondage that inevitably will result from the spread of this climate change zealotry: the truth.

If you want to hold onto your property, your country and your freedom, spread it far and wide.

Mr. Farah is a nationally syndicated columnist.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Film Reviews: "U2 3D"

U2 3D (2007)

NYT Critics' Pick
This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.

More Than Rock ’n’ Roll: U2 on Tour in 3-D Images

The New York Times
Published: January 23, 2008

C. Taylor Crothers/3ality Digital
U2 performing in a scene from the 3-D documentary “U2 3D,” which uses images from three concerts in South America.

The musical documentary “U2 3D,” which stitches together three performances by this Irish rock band during a recent tour of South America, is not merely a technical landmark — shot entirely in digital 3D — but also an aesthetic one, in that it’s the first Imax movie that deserves to be called a work of art.

The person most responsible for the film’s vision, Catherine Owens — one of the movie’s two directors, who is also in charge of production design for the band’s live shows — has brazenly ignored the usual stipulations about making a 3-D film. She favors quick edits and slow dissolves rather than long takes and hard cuts. Throughout, she layers the screen with multiple planes of information: long shots and medium shots of the musicians, images of the crowd, close-up details of graphics from the big screen that the band performs in front of that make the designs abstract and merge them with the performers.

The result is not a confusing mishmash of images but a musical/experimental work that visually simulates the sensation of thinking. The very idea of self-contained screen geography is thrillingly reconceived.

The style of the film dovetails with the international, humanistic vision that U2 has presented in songs and public statements for more than 20 years. When the band performs its hit “One,” the lyrics take on new meaning.

U2 3D

Opens on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington; director of photography, Tom Krueger, director of 3-D photography, Peter Anderson; edited by Olivier Wicki; music by U2 (Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.); 3-D and digital image producer, Steve Schklair; produced by Jon Shapiro, Peter Shapiro, John Modell and Ms. Owens; released by National Geographic Entertainment and 3ality Digital. In Manhattan at the Loew’s Imax Theater at Lincoln Square, 1998 Broadway, at 68th Street. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. This film is rated G.

U2 band members, from left, Adam Clayton, Bono, The Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr. arrive at the premiere of their film 'U2 3D' at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta) (Amy Sancetta - AP)


'U2 3D'

In an Imax concert film, the band gets to enlarge its message of rock and liberalism.

By Ann Powers, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 23, 2008

Some people just won't stop believing in the romance of rock. Hip-hop and dance pop are more innovative; country has a more loyal audience; Josh Groban makes way more money. But being a rock fan is just like getting seduced: You have to believe that your partner is the most potent lover out there. So people still pump their fists for middling talents like Nickelback and keep swooning for the great ones, like U2, years after their sell date should have expired.

Given rock's erotic pull, it's fair to compare "U2 3D," U2's foray into 3-D digital film technology, to a shot of Viagra. And guess what? The potency drug does its job: 85 beautifully paced minutes of crystal clear, artfully lit shots of Bono and his mates doing their inspirational thing for an arena crowd whose joy surges forth like a tiger in an Imax nature presentation is enough to renew the spark with longtime fans and draw in kids who otherwise might not go for older men.

But it's a strange ravishment. U2 has based its phenomenally successful career on the other kind of Romanticism: the belief that intensely wrought personal expression can unite people and change the world. In "U2 3D," this message comes across through shots of band members on catwalks that immerse them in the crowd -- they stand alone, supreme individuals, supported by a mass of loving bodies. "We're one, but we're not the same," sings Bono in "One," expressing the philosophy of both classic rock and liberalism. "We've got to carry each other, carry each other."

Physical experience drives home this message. Screen images, even ones that lunge out at you, can't replace the sweat and din of thousands of fellow fans turned toward those anointed figures channeling all that energy onstage.

"U2 3D" comes very close, though, thanks as much to Olivier Wicki's editing as to those lunging 3-D effects. Co-directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, whose work on U2's 1992 ZooTV tour redefined multimedia-driven arena rock, use the trickery of 3-D digital technology tastefully, rarely going beyond what "the best seat in the house" would actually offer. Wicki skillfully weaves together footage filmed during several dates of a Latin American tour, though a hawk-eyed viewer will notice Bono's myriad unexplained jacket changes.

The occasional stabbing guitar neck or close-up of Bono's noble forehead aside, "U2 3D" mostly relies on the music itself to captivate the viewer. A hits-heavy set list builds excitement as one sweeping anthem merges with another, and the filmmakers wisely focus on the two elements that make every U2 show huge: the band's precision as it moves through its roomy songs, and Bono's reenactment of the hero's journey from regular mate to magic man.

Taken in increments, Bono's theatrics -- stumbling around with a blindfold on, embracing his bandmates like a footballer who's just won the World Cup, falling back as if struck by God or reaching forward to throw imaginary loaves and fishes -- are plain silly. But within the arc of a U2 show, they become convincing. The music simultaneously contains and elevates Bono's enthusiasm; the staging makes it seem modern.

Structuring the arena experience this way through its tours since the early 1980s, U2 made it relevant for its own somewhat cynical generation. "U2 3D" is the next step toward engaging the "iGeneration" (as Bono and others have called it) by proving that what happens in the flesh can feel as potent in a virtual context.

The next wave of concertgoing may indeed be virtual. There's been an explosion of music-related videos and films, from documentaries to screen versions of "one time only" concert events. For this longtime U2 fan, the "U2 3D" experience wasn't quite sensual enough, but to quote another Bono lyric, others may find it "even better than the real thing."

It will depend on the crowds in theaters; if they're willing to cheer and raise the occasional illuminated cellphone (as they did at Sundance), they'll feel connected to each other, not just the images bursting forth from the screen. That connection is U2's paradigm. Only the audience can judge whether "U2 3D" sustains it.

"U2 3D." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. In limited release.

U2 gets even bigger than life

By David Menconi, Staff Writer
Raleigh News & Observer

Given the band's obvious megalomania, it's impossible to consider U2 without asking: Could any group of people possibly take themselves any more seriously? And the self-consciously arty beginning of "U2 3D," U2's new 3-D concert movie, bears that out. Indistinct voices repeatedly murmur the word "everyone" as murky lights appear, finally turning into washed-out shots of people rushing about.
But then the band finally appears and goes rampaging through the aptly named show-owner "Vertigo," and the four pretty much run roughshod over whatever level of snark you've managed to work up. "Overwhelming" doesn't begin to do this movie justice.

Even if you've seen "Rattle and Hum" or "U2 Go Home" -- even if you've been on the front row of a U2 concert -- you've never experienced anything quite like this, which is the "Lawrence of Arabia" of concert movies. The massive sonic grandeur comes at you in a rush, wave after wave of it, which is remarkable when you consider that this ginormous sound comes from just four guys playing.

"U2 3D" was shot at four stadium shows in South America, where U2 played for adoring and beautiful throngs in 2006 at the end of its "Vertigo" tour. But the project's wild card is a performance the band gave for just the cameras, to add close-ups that make you feel as if you're standing onstage with the band.

U2's recent period accounts for much of the 13-song set list, including "Beautiful Day," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and "Love and Peace or Else." Of course, there's lots and lots of evangelizing. The latter reaches a peak of heavy-handedness with "Miss Sarajevo," which concludes with a partial recitation of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in heavily accented English.

But just as your eyes are about to glaze over, the Martin Luther King Jr. tribute "Pride (In the Name of Love)" kicks in and the day is saved. Also hitting majestic notes are "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "New Year's Day," especially the latter with The Edge doubling on piano and guitar -- and peeling off a guitar solo that is still among the most perfect in the classic-rock canon. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton also get plenty of close-up time.

Still, this is ultimately Bono's show. He'd be the first to admit he has a rather severe messiah complex. But he takes such obvious delight in whipping up the crowd that you can't help getting caught up in his rush. By the end of "Pride," he's practically cackling with glee at the delirium he and his mates have wrought. Rock 'n' roll truly saved Bono's life, because you simply can't imagine the guy doing anything else. If nothing else, it's inspirational to see someone who has embraced his life and times and calling in fulfilling his destiny. or or (919) 829-4759

U2 3D ***1/2

Cast: Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton and a cast of thousands

Directors: Catherine Owens, Mark Pellington

Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Web site:

Theater: IMAX at Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh (through April 24)
Rating: G

Turin holy water theft blamed on Satanists

By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 2:00am GMT 23/01/2008

Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, Torino

Satanists have struck at one of Turin's most famous churches, stealing a vial of holy water and a missal, or prayer book.

The items were taken from behind the altar at the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, or Church of the Great Mother of God, at the end of last week.

A source at Turin police said a special team of carabinieri military police are investigating the break-in, and that the "most likely explanation" was that "the items were stolen to be used in a rite of black magic".

The holy water, from the river Piave, was in a crystal sphere which was around 14 inches wide. It was mounted on a marble base. The missal was around 20 years old and was lying on a prayer stand.

Father Sandro Menzio, the priest in charge of the church said the job had been done by professionals.

"They forced open exactly the right door and took their targets in the most rational way. They also avoided setting off the alarm. The things they stole were just symbolic, so it is difficult to find an explanation for their behaviour," he said.

An artist's impression of a Satanist

Experts in the occult said the church, which was built in 1814 to celebrate King Victor Emanuel I's return to Italy, is one of the most important sites in the cosmic battle between white and black magic.

Sitting on the banks of the river Po, it forms one point of a "triangle of good" and is linked to other points in Lyons and Prague.

Twin statues stand at the base of the stairs leading up to the doors of the church, representing Faith and Religion. The statue of Faith holds a chalice in its hand and is looking at the location of the Holy Grail, which is buried in the city, according to legend.

"This church is full of important symbols to practitioners of the occult," said Giuditta Dembech, the author of Turin: Magic City.

"But only the theft of the prayer book makes any sense. You can organize a black mass with the prayer book, but I do not know what the thieves would do with the water."

She added: "For the objects to have any power for Satanists, they would need to come from a church, and this is one of the most important magical sites."

Turin is said to lie on the 45th parallel, an invisible line that runs around the globe and is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. But a "line of evil" also intersects the city, and connects it to London and San Francisco.

In the Piazza Statuto is a stone monument dedicated to workers killed while building the Frejus rail tunnel linking Italy and France. Atop the monument is a crown-wearing figure believed by some to be Lucifer, the rebel angel.

The city allegedly has the highest concentration of Satanists in Italy.

The Piazza Statuto, a short way away from the church, is a shrine to devil-worshippers, who believe that the gateway to hell lies underneath. Thousands of criminals and deviants were executed in the piazza in Roman times, because it was believed to be a cursed place which often lay in shadow.

The city's reputation as a battleground between good and evil has also been boosted by the fact that Nostradamus, the French seer, chose to briefly live in Via Michele Lessona in the 16th century.

More on the city of Turin:

Top-Notch Thompson

We’re lucky to have men like Fred.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez
January 22, 2008, 4:10 p.m.

Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) (R) delivers remarks during a campaign stop at Ryan's Steakhouse in Anderson, South Carolina January 17, 2008.
(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

‘We need to deserve to lead. And this is what this is all about; it’s about deserving to lead.”

That was Fred Thompson on Saturday in South Carolina during a sincere, passionate, well-grounded speech that sounded like his farewell to the campaign trail. With his announcement Tuesday afternoon that he has withdrawn his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president, we now know it was. It was a bittersweet moment for any conservative who had been watching his campaign and wished it had been a more effective one earlier in the process. It was also a moment for the ages — one that every civics class in America should reflect upon: Politics is about policy and service to this great nation; that’s what makes the campaign worthwhile. That’s why you put up with the trophy-wife slanders and Chris Matthews’s questions.

It was about a year ago that Thompson filled in for radio legend Paul Harvey on ABC radio. In commentaries we reprinted here on National Review Online, the former Tennessee senator took on Ahmadinejad, anti-Americanism, Hugo Chavez, feminists, Islamic radicals, and even the Sainted Al Gore’s inconvenient religion. He praised the work of our men and women in uniform. He took on immigration plans offered by the president and John McCain.

You got the sense from those commentaries that he just gets it. He cares about his country and he cares about common sense. The good conservative sense Thompson articulated certainly resonated — the blogosphere got enthused for a possible presidential run. They could get into this guy.

That enthusiasm showed in national polls before he even got into the race. And once he got in, what he lacked in fire on the trail, he made up for with solid conservative policy on Social Security, immigration, and the size of the military. He raised the bar for detailed policy prescriptions. You get the impression from what he says and from how he says it that he’s got consistent conservative instincts. He’s grounded.

You believed him when he said Saturday night, “It’s never been about me. It’s never even been about you. It’s been about our country and about the future of our country …. Our party is being forced to look in the mirror….” If it was about him he’d probably have kept his comfortable Law & Order paycheck (nevermind the syndication paychecks!) and let someone else brave the Iowa State Fair heat and reporters’ comments on his Guccis and golf cart.

They say he had no “fire in the belly.” As he’s put it: If the worst thing you can say about him is that he does not want to be president desperately enough, that’s not a bad position to be in.

What his campaign may have lacked in organizational luster and ambition it made up for in authenticity and charm. You knew his greatest dream in life wasn’t to be president. You knew he’d be happy living life with his family, advising those who wanted his opinion and expertise, talking federalism with Beltway friends on weekends. When he was on Meet the Press a while back, Claremont’s Seth Leibsohn said, admiringly, “Fred came off like his hour there was not the most important thing he had to do that day.” There’s something attractive about that. And that it won’t get you elected president is today’s reality, it’s a reality to reflect on.

“He’s a depth guy,” is the way Rush Limbaugh described the senator. Much, much worse could be said. He has something politicians ought to emulate, who too often have their thoughtfulness media-trained right out of them from the get-go. You saw it in his policy positions; you saw it when he debated our Ramesh Ponnuru on federalism last year; you saw it at times during the debates — especially the last one in South Carolina, where he was clear, commanding, entertaining — and, of course, conservative.

Whoever winds up the Republican nominee for president this year, he’d be doing his country a service if he read Fred’s pre-caucus message to Iowa voters that Thompson posted on his website. In it he listed “the fundamental, conservative principles that have unified us for over two centuries.”

-First, the role of the federal government is limited to the powers given to it in the Constitution
-Second, a dollar belongs in the pocket of the person who earns it, unless the government has a compelling reason why it can use it better
-Third, we don't spend money we don't have, or borrow money that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back
-And the best way to avoid war is to be stronger than our enemies. But if we’re caught in a fight, we need to win it because not doing so makes us much more likely to be attacked in the future
-Also the federal judiciary is supposed to decide cases, not set social policy — and bad social policy at that
-And the bigger the government gets, the less competent it is to run our lives.

“Doing our part. Stepping up to the plate. Stepping up for service. Stepping up to do the right thing.” That’s how Fred Thompson put it on Saturday night. That’s what he’s done. And no pandering or hand-holding (or -raising!) along the way.

There’s no doubt we’ll be seeing him again — he’s too invested in this country he loves for us not to. Thank God for Fred Thompson. May he inspire more to serve. And may he encourage us to rethink our may-the-man-with-the-best-soundbites-win electoral process.