Saturday, May 03, 2008

Today's Tune: Joan Jett - Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)

(Clcik on title to play video)

Mark Steyn: To Obama, 'we' means 'me'

Orange County Register
Saturday, May 3, 2008

Four score and seven years ago … No, wait, my mistake. Two score and seven or eight days ago, Barack Obama gave the greatest speech since the Gettysburg Address, or FDR's First Inaugural, or JFK's religion speech, or (if, like Garry Wills in The New York Review of Books, you find those comparisons drearily obvious) Lincoln's Cooper Union speech of 1860.

And, of course, the senator's speech does share one quality with Cooper Union, Gettysburg, the FDR Inaugural, Henry V at Agincourt, Socrates' Apology, etc.: It's history. He said, apropos the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that "I could no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother." But last week Obama did disown him. So, great-speech-wise, it's a bit like Churchill promising to fight them on the beaches and never surrender, and then surrendering a month and a half later, and on a beach he decided not to fight on.

It was never a great speech. It was a simulacrum of a great speech written to flatter gullible pundits into hailing it as the real deal. It should be "required reading in classrooms," said Bob Herbert in the New York Times; it was "extraordinary" and "rhetorical magic," said Joe Klein in Time – which gets closer to the truth: As with most "magic," it was merely a trick of redirection.

Obama appeared to have made Jeremiah Wright vanish into thin air, but it turned out he was just under the heavily draped table waiting to pop up again. The speech was designed to take a very specific problem – the fact that Barack Obama, the Great Uniter, had sat in the pews of a neo-segregationist huckster for 20 years – and generalize it into some grand meditation on race in America. Sen. Obama looked America in the face and said: Who ya gonna believe? My "rhetorical magic" or your lyin' eyes?

That's an easy choice for the swooning bobbysoxers of the media. With less impressionable types, such as voters, Sen. Obama is having a tougher time. The Philly speech is emblematic of his most pressing problem: the gap – indeed, full-sized canyon – that's opening up between the rhetorical magic and the reality. That's the difference between a simulacrum and a genuinely great speech. The gaseous platitudes of hope and change and unity no longer seem to fit the choices of Obama's adult life. Oddly enough, the shrewdest appraisal of the senator's speechifying "magic" came from Jeremiah Wright himself. "He's a politician," said the reverend. "He says what he has to say as a politician. … He does what politicians do."

The notion that the Amazing Obama might be just another politician doing what politicians do seems to have affronted the senator more than any of the stuff about America being no different from al-Qaida and the government inventing AIDS to kill black people. In his belated "disowning" of Wright, Obama said, "What I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that – that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the – the commonality in all people."

Funny how tinny and generic the sonorous uplift rings when it's suddenly juxtaposed against something real and messy and human. As he chugged on, the senator couldn't find his groove and couldn't prevent himself from returning to pick at the same old bone: "If what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough. That's – that's a show of disrespect to me."

And we can't have that, can we?

In a shrewd analysis of Obama's peculiarly petty objections to the Rev. Wright, Scott Johnson of the Powerline Web site remarked on the senator's "adolescent grandiosity." There's always been a whiff of that. When he tells his doting fans, "We are the change we've been waiting for," he means, of course, he is the change we've been waiting for.

"Do you personally feel that the reverend betrayed your husband?" asked Meredith Vieira on "The Today Show."

"You know what I think, Meredith?" replied Michelle Obama. "We've got to move forward. You know, this conversation doesn't help my kids."

Hang on. "My" kids? You're supposed to say "It's about the future of all our children," not "It's about the future of my children" Рwhose parents happen to have a base salary of half a million bucks a year. But even this bungled clich̩ nicely captures the campaign's self-absorption: Talking about Obama's pastor is a distraction from talking about Obama's kids.

By the way, the best response to Michelle's "this conversation doesn't help my kids" would be: "But entrusting their religious upbringing to Jeremiah Wright does?" Ah, but, happily, Meredith Vieira isn't that kind of interviewer.

Mrs. O is becoming a challenge for satirists. My radio pal Hugh Hewitt played a clip on his show of the putative first lady identifying the real problem facing America:

"Like many young people coming out of college, with their MA's and BA's and PhD's and MPh's coming out so mired in debt that they have to forego the careers of their dreams, see, because when you're mired in debt, you can't afford to be a teacher or a nurse or social worker, or a pastor of a church, or to run a small nonprofit organization, or to do research for a small community group, or to be a community organizer because the salaries that you'll earn in those jobs won't cover the cost of the degree that it took to get the job."

I'm not sure why Michelle would stick "pastor of a church" in that list of downscale occupations: Her pastor drives a Mercedes and lives in a gated community. But, insofar as I understand Mrs. O, she feels that many Harvard and Princeton graduates have to give up their life's dream of being a minimum-wage "community organizer" (whatever that is) and are forced to become corporate lawyers, investment bankers and multinational CEOs just to pay off their college loans. I'm sure the waitresses and checkout clerks nodded sympathetically.

Michelle Obama is a bizarre mix of condescension and grievance – like Teresa Heinz Kerry with a chip on her shoulder. But the common thread to her rhetoric is its antipathy to what she calls "corporate America." Perhaps for his next Gettysburg Address the senator will be saying, "I could no more disown my wife than I could disown my own pastor. Oh, wait … ."

Whatever one thinks of Sens. Clinton and McCain, they're as familiar as any public figures can be. Obama, on the other hand, is running explicitly on a transcendent "magic." It doesn't help when the cute girl in spangled tights keeps whining about how awful everything is, and the guy you sawed in half sticks himself together and starts rampaging around the stage. The magician has lost control of the show.


Springsteen gives Lynchburg man time of his life

By Catherine Chapman Mosley
Published: May 2, 2008

Bruce Springsteen (center), poses for a photo with Roger Rudder (from left), Jeff Maxwell, Mike Ion and Joe Esposito. Rudder’s friends set up the meeting with Springsteen earlier this week.

Roger Rudder was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis nearly four years ago. At the same time, several masses were also found on his pancreas. The 48-year-old, however, doesn’t like for people to feel sorry for him.

“Now that I am getting closer to the end,” Rudder said, “I want to make the most of what time I have.”

He got some help from his friends this week to do just that.

Rudder and several friends drove to Greensboro on Monday to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Rudder wasn’t feeling well after five songs, so his friends urged him to leave, taking him to the emergency facility at the coliseum.

Upon reaching Rudder’s truck in the coliseum parking lot, his friends discovered it had been broken into, and 96 of Roger’s CDs, many Springsteen ones, had been stolen.

Rudder, of Lynchburg, has shopped for years at Plan 9 Music (formerly The Record Exchange) at Candlers Station. “Just by seeing what he buys and conversations we’ve had, I knew he was a huge Bruce Springsteen fan,” said store manager Adam Lee.

Lee knew Rudder and his friends were going to try again on Wednesday to attend Springsteen’s concert in Charlottesville.

“You could tell that he (Rudder) thought this was his last concert or the last time he would see Bruce Springsteen.”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at Orlando's Amway Arena. (Jacob Langston, Orlando Sentinel / April 23, 2008)

On Tuesday, Lee said he walked out of the store with Rudder, put his arm around him and prayed for him, his health, and God’s will.

“My heart was stirred,” Lee said. After a series of phone calls, he sent an e-mail Tuesday afternoon to Sony BMG. Subject line: “Urgent Bruce Springsteen fan request.”

Wednesday morning arrived with a call from a Sony BMG representative who said, “Let’s make this thing happen.”

Rudder still didn’t know anything about it, and throughout the day, plans were put in place for him to meet Springsteen, his “lifetime hero.”

And Rudder did exactly that — along with friends Mike Ion, Jeff Maxwell and Joe Esposito — shortly after the concert Wednesday night.

“He met us and signed things for us,” Rudder said on Friday. “He went out of his way to treat me as a friend, with familiarity. He gave me a stack of CDs and gave me the set list he wrote up before the concert. He made sure I had an experience I would remember forever.

“I felt like I knew him forever, and I was not just meeting him.”

Springsteen recently lost a friend and longtime member of the E Street Band. Danny Federici, organist and keyboard player for 40 years, died on April 17 after battling melanoma.

Rudder recalled the concert’s opening tribute to Federici in Charlottesville. The band played “Blood Brothers” in darkness with a huge screen showing images of Federici.

“It choked me up,” Rudder said, “… knowing where I am in my life. Knowing that Bruce made the effort to meet me.”

“(This experience) has touched my heart,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.”

Or better friends.

“Roger said it was the highlight of his life,” Lee said. “The smile on his face is all I wanted.”

“What it all boils down to is friends,” Rudder said. “(Mike Ion) didn’t care about missing the concert (Monday night). He cared about getting me home. To have Mike get to meet Bruce — that meant the world to me.”

“I still have a smile on my face. I feel terrible, but I have a smile on my face that just won’t go away.”

Bruce Springsteen gives 'thrilling' sold-out performance

By Sean Piccoli
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
12:25 AM EDT, May 3, 2008

(Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin / May 2, 2008)

SUNRISE - If a maxim runs through all of Bruce Springsteen's songs, it might be contained in a line he sang on Friday night at BankAtlantic Center, from "Badlands": "You gotta live it every day."

That imperative takes on more urgency as Springsteen and his audience grow older. But the New Jersey rocker isn't contemplating mortality in a state of panic. His approach in concert wasn't to defy age or wish it away; the characters in his songs live voraciously because they know the clock is running. Instead, Springsteen challenged himself and everyone listening to be vital and engaged at every stage of existence -- to be a little larger than life while it lasts.

Song after song in a sold-out show contained that message: to know "what it's like to live and die" on "Prove it All Night"; to cry "Is there anyone alive out there?" on "Radio Nowhere"; and to "take one moment into my hands" on "The Promised Land".

(Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin / May 2, 2008)

Springsteen himself, with his ravenous stage presence, was nothing if not a living example of this creed. He and the eight-piece E Street Band put on a thrilling performance. From the rough determination in "This Hard Land" ("Stay hungry, stay alive if you can") to the stab of desire in "Candy's Room", Springsteen and friends offered up the kind of spectacle that's bound to be called life-affirming -- but an affirmation drained of sentimentality and replaced with appetite.

The set opened with an elegy, "Blood Brothers", played in a near-total stage darkness that directed attention to the video screens above. Photos and reels of Danny Federici, the E Street keyboard player who died of cancer last month, flashed by as Springsteen sang, "I'll keep movin' through the dark with you in my heart."

The rest of the show was for the living. The band played two dozen songs over the next 2 1/2 hours, putting strong material from a new album, Magic, next to standards such as "Growin' Up", "Rosalita", "Born To Run", "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Thunder Road" -- the latter played on request for a concertgoer celebrating his 21st birthday. Springsteen, 58, seems to have stopped worrying about being treated like a jukebox.

(Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin / May 2, 2008)

Taking requests was one demonstration of the band's great responsiveness and flexibility. Another was the willingness to depart from the script. More than once, fans in up-close seats behind the stage saw Springteen turn to his mates and call audibles on his set list, swapping something on tap for something that felt more right and more suited to the moment.

Magic has played a smaller role in Springsteen's live show since Federici's death, which led to a handful of postponements in Florida -- Friday was one rescheduled date -- and some deeper trips into the back catalogue.

Even so, Springsteen didn't shy away from the new album. Songs including "Gypsy Biker" and "Last To Die" showcased Magic's guitar-powered, garage-band feel -- a lean complement to the lusher arrangements of his Jersey-shore classics. If the older songs, with their chiming keys and percussion, carry the noise and music of seaside carnivals, Magic is the arid sound of desert and open sky.

(Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin / May 2, 2008)

Rumors have circulated on Springsteen fan sites that this could be the last E Street tour. Springsteen himself has said nothing definitive either way on that question. Beyond the willingness to field requests, nothing about the Magic show felt valedictory or like a ceremonial last lap.

Then again, it wouldn't be like Springsteen to project too far out, or to tip his hand. As a performer, he's always tended to put himself and the audience squarely in the present. He could be thinking about life after the E Street Band. But as he sang on Friday on "Livin' in the Future", "None of this has happened yet."

Sean Piccoli can be reached at or 954-356-4832.

Bruce Springsteen takes the stage at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise on Friday night.

Springsteen proves to purists why he's still The Boss

Miami Herald
Posted on Sat, May. 03, 2008

Two weeks after postponing his concert because of the death of keyboardist Danny Federici, Bruce Springsteen proved why he's still The Boss Friday night at the sold-out BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.

After a late start (traffic was problematic and security extra tight after the bomb scare that delayed last week's Bon Jovi's concert), Springsteen and his E Street Band fulfilled a purist's dream by focusing on old-school favorites and the best tracks from his Grammy-winning new album Magic.

The nine-piece band -- featuring guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, who played mob boss Silvio on The Sopranos, and drummer Max Weinberg from Late Night With Conan O'Brien -- started off in classy fashion with a video tribute to Federici showing clips of him from the '70s through today.

Fittingly, Springsteen then launched into "The Promised Land" from his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town in Federici's memory, his frenetic, downward fist-pumping guitar-playing seemingly possessing extra emotion. Back-and-forth solos on sax and harmonica between Clarence Clemons and The Boss, plus Springsteen high-fiving people in the front row while he was singing, added to the familial, house-party feel of the evening. He even pulled off a 10-foot knee slide, which is ridiculous for a man kissing 60.

(Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin / May 2, 2008)

Springsteen is famous for giving fans their money's worth in concert, often stretching them out beyond three hours. His late start prevented him from reaching that plateau, but Springsteen's pleasantly surprising song selection trumped his notorious longevity and stamina on this night. Of course, he played plenty from his Grammy-winning album Magic, including "Radio Nowhere", "Gypsy Biker", "Living In the Future", "Girls In Their Summer Clothes", "Last to Die" and "Long Walk Home".

But it was Springsteen's classic hits, some rarely performed live, that made this night truly special. "Out In the Street", "Growing Up", "Candy's Room", "Prove it All Night" and "She's the One" would have provided a "Wow" ending to the night, but he was far from done.

The cathartic "Badlands" led into "Thunder Road", during which Springsteen let the enthusiastic crowd sing the lines, "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night/You ain't a beauty, but hey you're all right." On "Born to Run", Springsteen kneeled before the crowd and let them strum his guitar before its defining moment: "1, 2, 3, 4 -- The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive."

Another old rarity, the singalong "Rosalita", led into "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", during which Springsteen defied his age once again by straddling the mike stand with his knees while leaning back flat on the stage. The chorus from the night's encore, a combination of the bluesy "Kitty's Back" from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle and "Lonesome Day" from The Rising, sums up Springsteen's show better than any critic could hope to: "It's all right."

(Sun-Sentinel/Michael Laughlin / May 2, 2008)

1. The Promised Land
2. I Wanna Be With You (tour premiere)
3. Radio Nowhere
4. Out In The Street
5. This Hard Land
6. Gypsy Biker
7. Growin' Up ~ For Danny
8. Candy's Room
9. Prove It All Night
10. She's The One
11. Livin' In The Future
12. Mary's Place
13. Girl's In Their Summer Clothes
14. Devil's Arcade
15. The Rising
16. Last To Die
17. Long Walk Home
18. Badlands

19. Thnder Road
20. Born To Run
21. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
22. Tenth Ave Freeze-Out
23. American Land

24. Kitty's Back.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Today's Tune: Roseanne & Johnny Cash - September When it Comes

(Click on title to play video)

Jonah Goldberg: Tall Tales About Tuskegee
May 2, 2008 12:00 AM

Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. gives the keynote address at the 2008 NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit, Michigan April 27, 2008.

Black left-wing paranoia.

‘Based on this Tuskegee experiment ... I believe our government is capable of doing anything.” So said the Rev. Jeremiah Wright when asked if he stood by his claim that “the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”

The infamous Tuskegee experiment is the Medusa’s head of black left-wing paranoia. Whenever someone laments the fact that anywhere from 10 percent to 33 percent of African Americans believe the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill blacks, someone will say, “That’s not so crazy when you consider what happened at Tuskegee.”

But it is crazy. And it’s dishonest.

Wright says the U.S. government “purposely infected African-American men with syphilis.” This is a lie, and no knowledgeable historian says otherwise. And yet, this untruth pops up routinely. In March, CNN commentator Roland Martin defended Wright, saying, “That actually did, indeed, happen.” On Fox News, the allegation has gone unchallenged on Hannity & Colmes and The O’Reilly Factor. Obery Hendricks, a prominent author and visiting scholar at Princeton University, told O’Reilly “I do know that the government injected syphilis into black men at the Tuskegee Institute. Now we know that the government is capable of doing those things.”

Obery Hendricks

To which O’Reilly responded: “All right. All governments have done bad things in every country.”

True enough. And what the U.S. did at Tuskegee was indeed bad, very bad. But it didn’t do what these people say it did.

So what did happen? In 1932, public health researchers set out to study syphilis, particularly among African Americans, who had higher infection rates than whites. They recruited 399 black men who already had syphilis. The doctors infected no one. In fact, the patients were selected in the first place because they were tertiary-stage syphilitics who were no longer contagious.

The researchers studied the progress of the disease, without treating it, for 40 years.

Prior to the availability of penicillin in the 1940s and 1950s, the researchers couldn’t have treated the men even if they wanted to. Even after standardized penicillin treatments were available, it wasn’t clear that the patients could have been helped. Some of the doctors believed that treating the decades-long infections would kill the men.

Among scholars who’ve studied Tuskegee, there’s a lot of debate about how much — if any — racism was involved in the experiment. But no one disputes that Tuskegee had nothing whatsoever to do with genocide or even a desire to spread the disease among the black population.

What was bad about the Tuskegee experiment was a callous disregard for the humanity and integrity of the patients. They were told they were getting “treatments” when they were merely being studied. They were lied to, treated as objects rather than citizens. This is even more offensive today, now that we have modern legal and ethical rules about informed consent — rules that did not exist when the study was launched. But it was still wrong.

But the idea that the Tuskegee experiment somehow validates the deranged, paranoid view that the U.S. government created AIDS to murder African Americans — in one of the most hideously painful, drawn-out and expensive manners imaginable — is a riot of ridiculousness and a maelstrom of mendacity. And yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard guilt-ridden white liberals say exactly that. “Considering what we did at Tuskegee,” they opine, “who can blame them for being distrustful of government?”

Well, as a conservative, I have no problem with distrusting government, nor can I fault the descendants of slaves or the victims of Jim Crow for distrusting government more than most.

But why blacks remain the most reliable voters for the party of ever-expanding government power is something of a mystery. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the Tuskegee study, launched during the pre-dawn of the New Deal-era, was symptomatic of arrogant liberal government. The study “emerged out of a liberal progressive public health movement concerned about the health and well-being of the African-American population,” writes University of Chicago professor Richard Schweder. He adds: “The study was done with the full knowledge, endorsement and participation of African-American medical professionals, hospitals and research institutes.”

Liberals like to invoke Tuskegee as if it’s solely an indictment of what other people did, proof that we need more progressive government. But Tuskegee was in fact the poisoned fruit of progressive government.

A sick irony is that Jeremiah Wright’s lies, and liberal apologies for them, make it more difficult for government to do the job these people want it to do, starting with helping people with AIDS. But that’s only one of many reasons they should be ashamed.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

(C) 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Charles Krauthammer: The 'Race' Speech Revisited

Washington Post
May 02, 2008

The University of North Carolina's Jack Wooten, right, pressures Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., during a basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, April 29, 2008.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

"I can no more disown him [Jeremiah Wright] than I can disown my white grandmother."

-- Barack Obama, Philadelphia, March 18

Guess it's time to disown Granny, if Obama's famous Philadelphia "race" speech is to be believed. Of course, the speech was not just believed. It was hailed, celebrated, canonized as the greatest pronouncement on race in America since Lincoln at Cooper Union. A New York Times columnist said it "should be required reading in classrooms across the country." College seniors and first-graders, suggested the excitable Chris Matthews.

Apparently there's been a curriculum change. On Tuesday, the good senator begged to extend and revise his previous remarks on race. Moral equivalence between Grandma and Wright is now, as the Nixon administration used to say, inoperative. Poor Geraldine Ferraro, thrice lashed by Obama in Philadelphia as the white equivalent of Wright's raving racism, is off the hook.

These equivalences having been revealed as the cheap rhetorical tricks they always were, Obama has now decided that the man he simply could not banish because he had become part of Obama himself is, mirabile dictu, surgically excised.

At a news conference in North Carolina, Obama explained why he finally decided to do the deed. Apparently, Wright's latest comments -- Obama cited three in particular -- were so shockingly "divisive and destructive" that he had to renounce the man, not just the words.

What were Obama's three citations? Wright's claim that AIDS was invented by the U.S. government to commit genocide. His praise of Louis Farrakhan as a great man. And his blaming Sept. 11 on American "terrorism."

But these comments are not new. These were precisely the outrages that prompted the initial furor when the Wright tapes emerged seven weeks ago. Obama decided to cut off Wright not because Wright's words or character or views had suddenly changed. The only thing that changed was the venue in which Wright chose to display them -- live on national TV at the National Press Club. That unfortunate choice destroyed Obama's Philadelphia pretense that this "endless loop" of sermon excerpts being shown on "television sets and YouTube" had been taken out of context.

Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and former pastor of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., addresses a breakfast gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, April 28, 2008.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Obama's Philadelphia oration was an exercise in contextualization. In one particularly egregious play on white guilt, Obama had the audacity to suggest that whites should be ashamed that they were ever surprised by Wright's remarks: "The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning."

That was then. On Tuesday, Obama declared that he himself was surprised at Wright's outrages. But hadn't Obama told us that surprise about Wright is a result of white ignorance of black churches brought on by America's history of segregated services? How then to explain Obama's own presumed ignorance? Surely he too was not sitting in those segregated white churches on those fateful Sundays when he conveniently missed all of Wright's racist rants.

Obama's turning surprise about Wright into something to be counted against whites-- one of the more clever devices in that shameful, brilliantly executed, 5,000-word intellectual fraud in Philadelphia -- now stands discredited by Obama's own admission of surprise. But Obama's liberal acolytes are not daunted. They were taken in by the first great statement on race: the Annunciation, the Chosen One comes to heal us in Philly. They now are taken in by the second: the Renunciation.

Obama's newest attempt to save himself after Wright's latest poisonous performance is now declared the new final word on the subject. Therefore, any future ads linking Obama and Wright are preemptively declared out of bounds, illegitimate, indeed "race-baiting" (a New York Times editorial, April 30).

On what grounds? This 20-year association with Wright calls into question everything about Obama: his truthfulness in his serially adjusted stories of what he knew and when he knew it; his judgment in choosing as his mentor, pastor and great friend a man he just now realizes is a purveyor of racial hatred; and the central premise of his campaign, that he is the bringer of a "new politics," rising above the old Washington ways of expediency. It's hard to think of an act more blatantly expedient than renouncing Wright when his show, once done from the press club instead of the pulpit, could no longer be "contextualized" as something whites could not understand and only Obama could explain in all its complexity.

Turns out the Wright show was not that complex after all. Everyone understands it now. Even Obama.

Best Live Band: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

From Rolling Stone's Best of Rock 2008

Posted May 01, 2008 10:00 AM

We're very on it right now," Bruce Springsteen crowed to Rolling Stone last fall about the music he was making with his E Street Band — and that was just in rehearsal. By the time he and his New Jersey troupers — saxophonist Clarence Clemons, pianist Roy Bittan, organist Danny Federici, guitarists Nils Lofgren and Steven Van Zandt, drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent, singer-violinist Soozie Tyrell and Springsteen's wife, singer Patti Scialfa — formally opened their 2007-08 tour in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 2nd, Springsteen, 58, was at a new peak in his performing life, combining the politically charged fury of his new album, Magic, with the joy of early-Seventies bar-wars songs like "For You" and "Thundercrack." He started almost every 2007 concert with the rock & roll preacher cry in Magic's "Radio Nowhere" — "Is there anybody alive out there?" — then stayed in resurrection gear all night, singing with deep authority and punctuating his vocals with barbed-wire Telecaster licks against the soul-train locomotion of his band.

Springsteen has been opening recent U.S. shows with vintage optimism and highway thrills: "Out in the Street," "Spirit in the Night" and "Thunder Road." But he is also telling poignant stories on this tour about the state of our faith in this nation, bundling new songs about America under siege ("Livin' in the Future," "Long Walk Home") with enduring tales of great escape ("The Promised Land," "Badlands") in inspirational segues that recall the narrative arcs of Springsteen's epic Eighties shows.

There was a jarring note in November when Federici left the tour (he is being treated for melanoma). But he returned for a night in March, joining the E Street Band in Indianapolis, underscoring the ties that bind this extraordinary group, now in its fourth decade. "For a lot of our fans," Springsteen said last year, "part of the thing is when the world's falling apart, we're not. That's why people come to us" — and why they will never stop.

The Time 100: Bruce Springsteen

The TIME 100
Artists & Entertainers
63 of 100

Todd Heisler / The New York Times

Bruce Springsteen

By Sean Penn

In the chain of our responses to the most influential art, or artists, of our day, there is a link for most of us, an image. One could describe it as a honey-drip, slow-motion picture. We see one hand passing a baton into another, the influences of the influential. And in that rite of passage, Bruce Springsteen is no exception. But perhaps more than any other living artist, his personal work and the personality of his singular voice conjure the smaller hand of his own youngest days. The hand of a young man whose shoe soles walked the sands and streets of the Jersey Shore, humming, dreaming, hiding. The shy thoughts, and the bold heart thumping ever harder, his hand drawn to enter into our picture to pass that baton to the guy we call the Boss.

Sense of self, and the way one shares it, is perhaps the most valuable and poetic gift in the arsenal of one's life and craft. In contemporary American music, Springsteen, 58, is its most enduring and robust giver. Whether in a song or an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show, you always get a sense of personal truth, humility and passion. A sense of humor, a sense of rock 'n' roll and a raconteurism once solely the domain of tribal chiefs. But chief comes from chieftain. And that's just not an American word. Boss? Now that comes from boss man, and if this guy ain't the, nobody is.

Penn is an actor and director. His most recent project was Into the Wild

Film Review: Iron Man

Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures
Iron Man, based on the Marvel comic and with Robert Downey Jr. as the title character, opens on Friday nationwide. Jon Favreau directed.

Heavy Suit, Light Touches

The New York Times
Published: May 2, 2008

The world at the moment does not suffer from a shortage of superheroes. And yet in some ways the glut of anti-evil crusaders with cool costumes and troubled souls takes the pressure off of “Iron Man,” which clanks into theaters today ahead of Hellboy, Batman and the Incredible Hulk. This summer those guys are all in sequels or redos, so Iron Man (a Marvel property not to be confused with the Man of Steel, who belongs to DC and who’s taking a break this year) has the advantage of novelty in addition to a seasonal head start.

And “Iron Man,” directed by Jon Favreau (“Elf,” “Zathura”), has the advantage of being an unusually good superhero picture. Or at least — since it certainly has its problems — a superhero movie that’s good in unusual ways. The film benefits from a script (credited to Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) that generally chooses clever dialogue over manufactured catchphrases and lumbering exposition, and also from a crackerjack cast that accepts the filmmakers’ invitation to do some real acting rather than just flex and glower and shriek for a paycheck.

There’s some of that too, of course. The hero must flex and furrow his brow; the bad guy must glower and scheme; the girl must shriek and fret. There should also be a skeptical but supportive friend. Those are the rules of the genre, as unbreakable as the pseudoscientific principles that explain everything (An arc reactor! Of course!) and the Law of the Bald Villain. In “Iron Man” it all plays out more or less as expected, from the trial-and-error building of the costume to the climactic showdown, with lots of flying, chasing and noisemaking in between. (I note that there is one sharp, subversive surprise right at the very end.)

What is less expected is that Mr. Favreau, somewhat in the manner of those sly studio-era craftsmen who kept their artistry close to the vest so the bosses wouldn’t confiscate it, wears the genre paradigm as a light cloak rather than a suit of iron. Instead of the tedious, moralizing, pop-Freudian origin story we often get in the first installments of comic-book-franchise movies — childhood trauma; identity crisis; longing for justice versus thirst for revenge; wake me up when the explosions start — “Iron Man” plunges us immediately into a world that crackles with character and incident.

It is not quite the real world, but it’s a bit closer than Gotham or Metropolis. We catch up with Tony Stark in dusty Afghanistan, where he is enjoying a Scotch on the rocks in the back of an armored American military vehicle. Tony is a media celebrity, a former M.I.T. whiz kid and the scion of a family whose company makes and sells high-tech weaponry. He’s also a bon vivant and an incorrigible playboy. On paper the character is completely preposterous, but since Tony is played by Robert Downey Jr., he’s almost immediately as authentic and familiar — as much fun, as much trouble — as your ex-boyfriend or your old college roommate. Yeah, that guy.

Tony’s skeptical friend (see above) is Rhodey, an Air Force officer played with good-humored sidekick weariness by Terrence Howard. The girl is one Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, also in evident good humor), Tony’s smitten, ultracompetent assistant. His partner and sort-of mentor in Stark Enterprises is Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges with wit and exuberance and — spoiler alert! — a shaved head.

These are all first-rate actors, and Mr. Downey’s antic energy and emotional unpredictability bring out their agility and resourcefulness. Within the big, crowded movements of this pop symphony is a series of brilliant duets that sometimes seem to have the swing and spontaneity of jazz improvisation: Mr. Downey and Ms. Paltrow on the dance floor; Mr. Downey and Mr. Howard drinking sake on an airplane; Mr. Downey and Shaun Toub working on blueprints in a cave; Mr. Downey and Mr. Bridges sparring over a box of pizza.

Those moments are what you are likely to remember. The plot is serviceable, which is to say that it’s placed at the service of the actors (and the special-effects artists), who deftly toss it around and sometimes forget it’s there. One important twist seems glaringly arbitrary and unmotivated, but this lapse may represent an act of carefree sabotage rather than carelessness. You know this ostensibly shocking revelation is coming, and the writers know you know it’s coming, so why worry too much about whether it makes sense? Similarly, the patina of geopolitical relevance is worn thin and eventually discarded, and Tony’s crisis of conscience when he discovers what his weapons are being used for is more of a narrative convenience than a real moral theme.

All of which is to say that “Iron Man,” in spite of the heavy encumbrances Tony must wear when he turns into the title character, is distinguished by light touches and grace notes. The hardware is impressive, don’t get me wrong, but at these prices it had better be. If you’re throwing around a hundred million dollars and you have Batman and the Hulk on your tail, you had better be sure that the arc reactors are in good working order and that the gold-titanium alloy suit gleams like new and flies like a bird.

And everything works pretty well. But even dazzling, computer-aided visual effects, these days, are not so special. And who doesn’t have superpowers? Actually, Iron Man doesn’t; his heroism is all handicraft, elbow grease and applied intelligence. Those things account for the best parts of “Iron Man” as well.

“Iron Man” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has a lot of action violence, none of it especially graphic or gruesome. Also, Iron Man has sex, and not with the suit on. But not completely naked either.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway based on the character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, J. Michael Riva; visual effects by John Nelson; produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes.

WITH: Robert Downey Jr., (Tony Stark), Terrence Howard (Rhodey), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Shaun Toub (Yinsen) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts).

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Today's Tune: Elvis Presley - Blue Moon

Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley and Bill Black - The Blue Moon Boys

(Click on title to play video)

Springsteen electrifies JPJ audience

By Melissa Ruggieri
The Charlottesville Daily Progress
Published: May 1, 2008

Drummer Max Weinberg looks on as Bruce Springsteen and guitarist Steve Van Zandt share the microphone during a performance at the John Paul Jones Arena.

The reliability of a Bruce Springsteen show is a comforting thing.
There are no off nights with the E Street Band. And now, coming off the death of band member Danny Federici a couple of weeks ago, the band sounds as if it has a new purpose – to memorialize its friend and channel its grief through its music.

Last night’s John Paul Jones Arena stop began with a hushed vibe as Springsteen and the E Streeters filed on stage in the dark, turned their backs to the crowd and watched a video of Federici, set to the recorded version of “Blood Brothers.”
With that, Springsteen faced the audience, barked out a “1, 2, 3” and slammed into “Loose Ends.”

It was quickly apparent as the band segued into an aggressive “Radio Nowhere” that the playing was an emotional release. Spit flew from Springsteen’s mouth, sweat already dripped down his forearms – on only the second song – and even the unflappable Max Weinberg drew thunder from his tom-toms with unusual insistence.
For more than two hours, Springsteen and the crew tore through a meaty catalog – most of it directed at hardcore followers.

“Promised Land” featured a ring of white lights that flared whenever Springsteen raised his arms overhead in preacher mode, while “No Surrender,” called as an audible, inspired a humorous moment when the band couldn’t figure out what song it was supposed to be playing (“Hang on, we’re getting there!” Springsteen shouted with a grin).

So yes, despite the undercurrent of loss, there were plenty of those spirited, magical moments that only Springsteen can provide – and with the rocker in his 58th year, best to enjoy them while you can.

Even with his slight gimp, Springsteen, looking taut and muscled in his usual uniform of jeans, black T-shirt and work boots, exhausted himself by constantly pacing the stage, trading some fierce guitar licks with Steve Van Zandt on “Gypsy Biker” and, after splashing his legs with bottled water, sliding the length of the stage during “Mary’s Place.”

His anthems of loyalty and friendship, blue-collar daydreams and everlasting love never seem to wither and still resonate through the generations.

There were several of them present last night in the sold-out crowd of more than 14,000, which also included celebs Howie Long, his newly NFL-drafted son, Chris, singer Mary Chapin Carpenter and Pat Riley, the Miami Heat head coach who quit his post earlier this week.

But no matter age or level of celebrity, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the fervor of Springsteen staples.

“Prove it All Night” featured a Nils Lofgren solo so intense, the little guy almost knocked himself off his feet while playing, while “Jungleland” and the ultimate live concert moment, “Born to Run,” were as chill-inducing as ever, Springsteen’s raspy voice still hitting every note.

On the latter, performed in the traditional Springsteen manner – houselights up, everybody “Whoa-oh-ah-oh!”-ing – Clarence “Big Man’ Clemons, who was oddly stiff and sedate most of the show, churned out a blazing sax solo that put to ease any concerns about his wellbeing.

Springsteen’s vigor refused to wane during an encore of the brisk “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” which began with the man demonstrating his flexibility with an impressive backbend on the stage floor.

But really, would you expect anything less from the master?

Loose Ends
Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
The Promised Land
Gypsy Biker
For You
Adam Raised a Cain
Prove It All Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
Mary's Place
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Meeting Across the River
Born to Run
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
American Land

Robert Spencer: Myrick's Counterjihad Plan

Robert Spencer

Thursday, May 01, 2008

In mid-April Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC) unveiled a ten-point plan for fighting against jihadist activity in the United States. One would think that Muslims who profess to oppose today’s global jihad would welcome such an initiative, but one Muslim leader from Myrick’s district, Jibril Hough of the Islamic Center of Charlotte, is not happy. On Monday he charged that “Myrick's latest attempt at fighting terrorism is nothing more than a fear campaign. It is nothing more than a new McCarthyism, or Myrickism. As Muslims, we have become expendable as politicians like Myrick seek political gain.”

Myrick responded by inviting the Islamic Center of Charlotte to offer a point-by-point rebuttal to her proposals. And indeed, some specifics would be welcome. What could Jibril Hough really say in opposition to the particulars of Myrick’s plan? It’s worth going through her proposals to see what he could possibly find objectionable.

First, Myrick proposes to “investigate all military chaplains endorsed by Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was imprisoned for funding a terrorist organization.” And her second proposal is to “investigate all prison chaplains endorsed by Alamoudi.”

Alamoudi is doing 23 years in prison for funding jihad terrorism. Is it possible that some of the military and prison chaplains he endorsed shared his jihadist views? Can Jibril Hough explain why not?

Myrick then calls for investigation of “the selection process of Arabic translators working for the Pentagon and the FBI.”

An FBI whistleblower has reported that Arabic translators there cheered the 9/11 attacks. Can Jibril Hough explain why this should not be a cause for concern?

Myrick Plan Point 4: “Examine the non-profit status of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has had several of its officials convicted on jihad terror-related charges, and was named an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas funding case. Can Jibril Hough explain why its tax-exempt status should not at least be examined?

Myrick Plan Point 5: “Make it an act of sedition or solicitation of treason to preach or publish materials that call for the deaths of Americans.”

Objections, Mr. Hough?

Myrick Plan Point 6: “Audit sovereign wealth funds in the United States.”

If these funds may be used to conduct warfare against the U.S., what exactly is Mr. Hough’s objection?

Myrick Plan Point 7: “Cancel scholarship student visa program with Saudi Arabia until they reform their text books, which she claims preach hatred and violence against non-Muslims.”

It is demonstrably true that they do. Does Mr. Hough endorse this hatred and violence, or does he for some reason not want non-Muslims to know what Saudis are being taught?

Myrick Plan Point 8: “Restrict religious visas for imams who come from countries that don’t allow reciprocal visits by non-Muslim clergy.”

This is simply in the interests of mutual tolerance and understanding, is it not, Mr. Hough?

Myrick Plan Point 9: “Cancel contracts to train Saudi police and security in U.S. counterterrorism tactics. And finally, Myrick proposes to “block the sale of sensitive military munitions to Saudi Arabia.”

Given ongoing Saudi financing of the global jihad, what exactly is Mr. Hough’s objection to these proposals?

“I’d be glad to have a dialogue with them,” Myrick has said of the Islamic Center of Charlotte. “The whole point is that we’re trying to get people to work together.” However, it is extremely unlikely that Hough will oblige Myrick and actually provide a point-by-point refutation. After all, what can he say? Objecting to any of her points specifically would raise uncomfortable questions about his own loyalties and principles. The best he can hope for is that the mainstream media will take up and spread his “McCarthyism” smear until the politically correct are too cowed to look into Myrick’s proposals at all, but will simply dismiss them as “bigotry.”

It is a tested and proven strategy, one that has worked again and again. But it is one that Americans who are aware of the jihad threat cannot afford to allow to rule the day. Myrick’s plan should be being discussed on every major news feature show on television, on talk radio, and in the newspapers. That it is not, and that outrageous charges like Hough’s are repeated uncritically in the mainstream media, are two more indications of how far the public debate is today from anything resembling an informed discussion on jihad terrorism. And that, of course, puts us all at risk.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Religion of Peace?.

Ann Coulter: Obama Campaign Gives Up On Finding 'Mr. Wright'
Thursday, May 01, 2008

Whew! I'm certainly glad to hear the "snippets" from Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons "in context."

In the famous B. Hussein Obama speech that sent a tingle down Chris Matthews' leg, Obama dismissed the clips of Rev. Wright being played on TV as mere "snippets." He claimed the media were highlighting Wright's "most offensive words," complaining that they had been played endlessly, as if repetition were the problem with the statement: "GOD DAMN AMERICA!"

It's absolutely unheard of to repeat passages from famous speeches. In fact, I have a dream that we will not do that. Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask that the media stop replaying "snippets." All we have to fear is repetition itself, because we are the people we've been waiting for to tear down that wall of endless repetition.

So, like I said: Whew. At last Rev. Wright's "snippets" have been put in a healing context. In two speeches and one uxorious interview with PBS' Bill Moyers over the past few days, Rev. Wright had plenty of time to lay out the lush analytical context of his remarks.

In his speech to the National Press Club on Monday, for example, Wright described America as a country of "segregation, Jim Crow, lynching and the separate-but-equal fantasy." Then he ran outside to feed more quarters into the meter where his time machine was parked.

Wright described this as a country that supported the "racist regime of South Africa" and "the Contras, who were killing the peasants and the Miskito Indians in those two countries" -- as opposed to the Sandinistas, who were equal-opportunity murderers with a more diverse group of victims.

He said this is a country that "cuts food stamps and spends billions fighting in an unjust war in Iraq," neglecting to add that before you can cut the food stamp program, you must have a country that has a food stamp program.

He said we are a country that sent "over 4,000 American boys and girls of every race to die over a lie." And Wright said it is a country "where I can worship God on Sunday morning wearing a black clergy robe and kill others on Sunday evening wearing a white Klan robe." (Unless, like me, you do all your Klan-related murdering on "casual Fridays.")

And, to listen to Wright, those were the "U.S. of KKK A.'s" good points! (Is it just me, or does Rev. Wright sound kind of bitter these days? I sure hope he doesn't have a gun.)

He clarified his Sept. 16, 2001, sermon, in which he said that on 9/11 "America's chickens are coming home to roost" by saying: "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you." I'm glad to get the full context on that because I had thought he was talking about chicken farming.

Actually, that's pretty much the way I took it even when presented as a "snippet."

Rev. Wright also put into context his church giving an award to fellow Obama supporter Louis Farrakhan by saying: "He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That's what I think about him. ... I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan."

Why did Rev. Wright's supporters think it would be helpful to hear longer versions of the "snippets"?

Curiously, Rev. Wright complained that "everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago" -- especially those damn East Coast, money-grubbing Jews, he carelessly added. This from a man whose entire oeuvre is based on reveling in what happened in this country 250 years ago.

Rev. Wright clarified his statement, "GOD DAMN AMERICA!" by explaining: "God doesn't bless everything. God condemns something -- and d-e-m-n, 'demn,' is where we get the word 'damn.' God damns some practices."

Well, that changes the meaning entirely.

One begins to suspect that the Clintons, flush with those megamillions they got from selling their previous tenancy at the White House, have put the reverend on staff. I believe this used to be called "walking around money."

Obama said the Rev. Wright he heard defending himself on Monday was not the Rev. Wright he met 20 years ago. This is the political equivalent of the "It's not you, it's me" speech. He might just as well have said, "I love Rev. Wright. I'm just not in love with him anymore. Hey, can I have my CDs back?"

If it takes Obama 20 years to notice that his pastor is a traitorous, racist nut-job, it will probably take him his full term of office to realize that the U.S. has been invaded and subdued by al-Qaida. Let's just hope President Obama pays closer attention during national security briefings than he did during 20 years of the Rev. Wright's church services.

The only good news for the Obama campaign this week is that Obama admitted that his relationship with Rev. Wright is "a legitimate political issue," which at least makes him smarter than John McCain, who just last week denounced the North Carolina Republicans for an ad mentioning Obama's raving lunatic pastor.

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Today's Tune: Elvis Presley - Mystery Train

(Click on title to play video)

Roger Clemens is acting like everyone else is lying

By Mike Lupica
New York Daily News
Wednesday, April 30th 2008, 2:20 AM

Roger Clemens' entire case seems to hinge on his contention that everyone - everyone - but him is a liar: including Mindy McCready (below).

The latest one to lie about Roger Clemens, at least according to Roger Clemens, is a Nashville singer named Mindy McCready. Brian McNamee lied about Clemens and so did Andy Pettitte, even if Clemens didn't come right out and say that about Pettitte, he said his former teammate "misremembered" and "misheard" Clemens talking about using baseball drugs.

Now Clemens says that Mindy McCready is doing the same thing. And you are supposed to believe that revealing a long-term affair with the married Clemens is some sort of canny career move on McCready's part, something that is going to send her right to the top of the country-and-Western charts. As if it is every young woman's dream to be the next Monica Lewinsky.

If you do believe Clemens, more difficult now than it used to be catching up with his fastball, he never had an affair with McCready, he was just engaged in what we now find out was his secret passion:

A mentoring program he started up in karaoke bars for promising teenage singers.

Here is what McCready, who actually is about as happy to be in this story as Barack Obama is with that peacock the Rev. Wright, said to the Daily News after the original story about her appeared in Monday's paper:

"It doesn't make me look good to perjure myself, because I can't afford to be put in this position with my son [Zander]. That's why it angers me very much. I think it is selfish of Roger to put me under scrutiny. I could lose my son. He doesn't have to worry about losing his kids."


But Clemens will now try to do with McCready what he did with McNamee, which means go through her like an armored truck. As he does, you are supposed to believe that the whole story was some kind of leaked setup, when in fact four reporters from this newspaper have been working on the McCready story for four months.

You are supposed to believe that either Mindy McCready went looking for all this or that Brian McNamee's lawyers did, as if McNamee's lawyers needed help in making Clemens' defamation suit against McNamee into more of a joke than it already is.

You are supposed to believe Clemens and his lawyer Rusty Hardin - sort of the Isiah Thomas of lawyers - when they tell you that Clemens' relationship with Mindy McCready has nothing to do with that lawsuit, when it has plenty to do with it.

"Why is it [the relationship between Clemens and McCready] relevant?" Richard Emery, one of Brian McNamee's lawyers, said last night. "Because everything in a defamation suit is investigated and tried at the same time. One of the main issues are the damages claimed by the plaintiff, Clemens. His claim for damages is based on his assertion that McNamee ruined his reputation.

Robert Samuelson: Start Drilling

April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON -- What to do about oil? First it went from $60 to $80 a barrel, then from $80 to $100 and now to $120. Perhaps we can persuade OPEC to raise production, as some senators suggest; but this seems unlikely. The truth is that we're almost powerless to influence today's prices. We are because we didn't take sensible actions 10 or 20 years ago. If we persist, we will be even worse off in a decade or two. The first thing to do: Start drilling.

It may surprise Americans to discover that the United States is the third-largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. We could be producing more, but Congress has put large areas of potential supply off-limits. These include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and parts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. By government estimates, these areas may contain 25-30 billion barrels of oil (against about 30 billion of proven U.S. reserves today) and 80 trillion cubic feet or more of natural gas (compared with about 200 tcf of proven reserves).

What keeps these areas closed are exaggerated environmental fears, strong prejudice against oil companies and sheer stupidity. Americans favor both "energy independence" and cheap fuel. They deplore imports -- who wants to pay foreigners? -- but oppose more production in the United States. Got it? The result is a "no-pain energy agenda that sounds appealing but has no basis in reality," writes Robert Bryce in "Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence.'"

Unsurprisingly, all three major presidential candidates tout "energy independence." This reflects either ignorance (unlikely) or pandering (probable). The United States now imports about 60 percent of its oil, up from 42 percent in 1990. We'll import lots more for the foreseeable future. The world uses 86 million barrels of oil a day, up from 67 mbd in 1990. The basic cause of exploding prices is that advancing demand has virtually exhausted the world's surplus production capacity, says analyst Douglas MacIntyre of the Energy Information Administration. The result: Any unexpected rise in demand or threat to supply triggers higher prices.

The best we can do is to try to influence the global balance of supply and demand. Increase our supply. Restrain our demand. With luck, this might widen the worldwide surplus of production capacity. Producers would have less power to exact ever-higher prices, because there would be more competition among them to sell. OPEC loses some leverage; its members cheat. Congress took a small step last year by increasing fuel economy standards for new cars and light trucks from 25 to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. (And yes, we need a gradually rising fuel tax to create a strong market for more-efficient vehicles.)

Increasing production also is important. Output from older fields, including Alaska's North Slope, is declining. Although production from restricted areas won't make the U.S. self-sufficient, it might stabilize output or even reduce imports. No one knows exactly what's in these areas, because the exploratory work is old. Estimates indicate that production from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might equal almost 5 percent of present U.S. oil use.

Members of Congress complain loudly about high oil profits ($40.6 billion for ExxonMobil last year) but frustrate those companies from using those profits to explore and produce in the United States. Getting access to oil elsewhere is increasingly difficult. Governments own three-quarters or more of proven reserves. Higher prices perversely discourage other countries from approving new projects. Flush with oil revenues, countries have less need to expand production. Undersupply and high prices then feed on each other.

But it's hard for the United States to complain that other countries limit access to their reserves when we're doing the same. If higher U.S. production reduced world prices, other countries might expand production. What they couldn't get from prices they'd try to get from greater sales.

On environmental grounds, the alternatives to more drilling are usually worse. Subsidies to ethanol made from corn have increased food prices and used scarce water, with few benefits. If oil is imported, it's vulnerable to tanker spills. By contrast, local production is probably safer. There were 4,000 platforms operating in the Gulf of Mexico when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit. Despite extensive damage, there were no major spills, says Robbie Diamond of Securing America's Future Energy, an advocacy group.

Perhaps oil prices will drop when some long-delayed projects begin production or if demand slackens. But the basic problem will remain. Though dependent on foreign oil, we might conceivably curb the power of foreign producers. But this is not a task of a month or a year. It is a task of decades; new production projects take that long. If we don't start now, our future dependence and its dangers will grow. Count on it.

Copyright 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Today's Tune: Nils Lofgren - Across the Tracks (Live)

(Click on title to play video)

Religious Warriors: Reinterpreting the Crusades

Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith,
The Economist,
December 23, 1995

Gustav Dore - Priests Exhorting the Crusaders

"Nine hundred years after the first of them was proclaimed, the crusades still resonate - and not just in the Middle East. Jonathan Riley-Smith, professor of ecclesiastical history at Cambridge University and the author of several books on the crusades," reflects on their changing interpretation.


Nine hundred years after the first of them was proclaimed, the crusades still resonate - and nor just in the Middle East. Jonathan Riley-Smith, professor of ecclesiastical history at Cambridge University and the author of several books on the crusades, reflects on their changing interpretation.

That the crusades continue to fasinate is obvious from the vast number of books, television programmes and films pouring forth around the world. Nor is the fascination merely historical. The crusades helped shape many notions still current in today's world, ranging from concepts of religious violence, through anti-Semitism, to ethnic cleansing. Interpretation of the crusades has also changed to reflect the mood of the times. Once considered as religiously motivated, the crusades later metamorphosed into an early manifestation of European imperialism; they then became a monstrous enterprise, motivated by greed. Now the pendulum has swung back again to favour a religious interpretation.

That was certainly how the First Crusade was presented by Pope Urban II, who proclaimed it on November 27th 1095, in a field outside the French town of Clermont. The event was stage-managed. The pope had wanted nobles to come from across Western Europe to hear his sermon, and the crowd reacted with obviously rehearsed acclamations. Few nobles turned up, and the theatre must have been risky: it was the onset of winter, and the pope was an old man on an arduous preaching tour. Even so, his appeal for knights to liberate Jerusalem struck a chord in western society. Between 1096 and 1101 a succession of armies, their numbers swelled by non-combatant pilgrims, swept into Asia Minor.

The most significant force, comprising perhaps 60,000 people, of whom about 6,000 were knights, came together in June 1097. Two years later some 15,000, of whom 1,500 were knights, took Jerusalem. They had undergone (and inflicted) the most appalling sufferings. They had struck out on their own, with no system of provisioning; during the eight-month siege of Antioch, a region roughly 50 miles around was stripped bare by foraging parties. Within a year of leaving Europe most of the crusaders' horses were dead; more seriously, their pack animals died as well, forcing them to carry their armour in sacks.

Not surprisingly, the crusaders' march was punctuated by moments of blind panic. There was a continuous trickle of deserters. But there was also a growing sense of wonder at their achievement. From the moment they entered Syria, visions in the heavens multiplied. One victory was attributed to an army of angels, saints and the crusaders' dead, which came galloping up on the left flank - significantly, it was horsed - and routed the Muslims. To contemporaries the success of the First Crusade could be explained only by divine intervention.

Urban II could have had no idea that he was starting a movement that would endure for hundreds of years, involve huge numbers of people from all classes and manifest itself in so many different theatres of war - the Spanish Armada of 1588 was an unsuccessful crusade. It is not surprising that events that impinged so directly on history should attract the interest of a broad public. More to the point, their effects still influence relations between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Gustav Dore - The Battle of Antioch

Several centuries of crusading

Many Muslims, for instance, still reckon that the crusades initiated centuries of European aggression and exploitation. Some Catholics want the pope to apologise to the world for them. Liberals of all stripes see the crusades as examples of bigotry and fanaticism. Almost all these opinions are, however, based on fallacies. The denigrators of the crusades stress their brutality and savagery, which cannot be denied; but they offer no explanation other than the stupidity, barbarism and intolerance of the crusaders, on whom it has become conventional to lay most blame. Yet the original justification for crusading was Muslim aggression; and in terms of atrocities, the two sides' scores were about even.

The anti-crusaders draw on, and distort, the views of historians from the late 19th century on, who offered mainly materialistic reasons for the crusades. These historians saw them as early examples of the expansion of Europe, with recruitment for them a response to economic, not religious, impulses. In an imperialist age, the crusades seemed to be forerunners. The conquests in the east were, in a phrase much loved by French historians, 'the first French empire'. This was picked up by the British at the time of Allenby's victories over the Turks and his entry into Jerusalem in 1917-18; it was then passed on to early Arab nationalists, who turned it on its head.

The First Crusade certainly began the process of European conquest and settlement in the eastern Mediterranean; but this was not planned from the start. The Christian knights assumed they would be joining a larger force that would drive back Muslim Turks who had recently invaded Asia Minor, and restore Jerusalem, lost for 350 years, to the Byzantine empire. It was only a year into the campaign when, finding little support from the Byzantine Greeks, they struck out on their own.

The subsequent decision to settle the Levant comprehensively seems to have been taken not from a desire for land or profit, but to defend the holy places that the crusade had won, and to maintain a Christian presence in the Holy Land. If the kingdom of Jerusalem established by the crusades was a colony, it was in a special category of such enterprises, grounded more on ideology than economics. Another example is modern Israel.

More recently those still looking for an economic explanation of the crusades have argued that rising populations forced European families to take measures to prevent the break-up of their estates, either through primogeniture or through the practice of allowing only one male of each generation to marry. These measures, it was said, produced a surplus of young men with no prospects, who were naturally attracted by the hope of adventure, spoils and land overseas. Yet there is no evidence to support the argument - nor, even, that younger sons tended to crusade rather than older ones. And it can be shown from documents that foremost in the minds of most nobles and knights was not any prospect of material gain but anxiety about the costs.

Warfare is always an expensive business; and this was war of a type never experienced before. The crusaders were volunteers, at least theoretically. Those not ensconced in the household of a great crusading noble had to finance themselves. Meeting the bills often meant raising cash on property or rights. It was to alleviate this burden that European kings, shortly followed by the church, instituted systems of taxation (including the first regular income taxes) to provide subsidies. The argument that the crusades were a response to economic conditions at home turns out to be grounded on dubious assumptions.

Why did these interpretations hold for so long? Charters recording the pledging and selling of property and rights by crusaders have, after all, been in print for at least 100 years. The reason that so many historians overlooked them may have been that they were blinded by an abhorrence of religious and ideological violence, and by their inability to comprehend that it could have had any appeal. They forgot how intellectually respectable the Christian theory of holy war once was. It was easier to believe that the crusaders were too simple-minded to understand what they were doing; or to argue that they had been motivated, whatever they said, by a desire for material gain.

Since 1945 new questions have been asked. Combat psychiatry made great strides during the second world war; it became harder to categorise behaviour in war in the old clear-cut terms of heroism or brutality. There was also a natural revival of interest in the theoretical underpinning of a 'just war'. The Nuremberg trials, and their assumption that crimes could be committed against humanity, gave new life to the concept of natural law. Similarly, the debate over whether obedience to orders was justified raised questions about the legitimate authority of the state in war. Later on, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, and a concern with proportionality, brought another just-war criterion, right intention, into the foreground. The 1960s revival of Christian theories of positive force in South American liberation movements also contributed to the debate.

Crusade historians, in short, suddenly discovered that there were sincere and devout contemporaries of theirs holding ideological positions quite like those of the medieval writers they were studying. And, with their eyes opened, the fundamental weakness of arguments for a materialist motivation, and the paucity of the evidence on which they rested, became clearer.

Gustav Dore - Richard and Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf

Holy war

The theoreticians at the time of the crusades drew on the work of theologians such as St Augustine of Hippo, the greatest and most influential proponent of Christian violence. For them, violence, when employed as a means of opposing 'injuries' and thus achieving justice, could accord with divine providence. All rulers, even pagans, were divine ministers who could proclaim just wars; but God could also personally order violence. Violence specifically commanded by him was not to be distinguished from other just violence, except that it was 'without doubt just'. The concept of a political Christ, which was to return in the 1960s, passed so out of fashion after the late 18th century that in the 1930s one theologian, Jacques Maritain, wrote of sacred violence being an impossibility, because no modern state could be associated with Christ's wishes for mankind.

It is no coincidence that in the decades leading up to the proclamation of the First Crusade a group of brilliant intellectuals were anthologising and reviving St Augustine's ideas. Crusade propagandists took trouble to conform their arguments to the criteria for Christian violence he had laid down, including the need for a just cause and a right intention on the part of the fighters; and they drew on the idea of a war at Christ's command mediated by the pope as his agent on earth.

Yet in one respect crusading was unlike nearly every other manifestation of Christian holy war. The cross was enjoined on men (and women) not as a service, but as a penance. The association of war with penance, in which the assumption was made that combat was so severe and unpleasant an experience for the penitent fighter that it constituted an act of self-punishment, had first been made a decade before the preaching of the First Crusade. It was unprecedented in Christian thought, as conservative opponents pointed out at the time. It was startling because it put fighting on the same meritorious plane as prayer, works of mercy, and fasting. The penitential element was reinforced by associating the First Crusade with pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the most sacred goal of all, and a place where devout Christians went to die.

Although over the centuries the penitential element was to some extent diluted by the notion of chivalric service, it remained at the heart of the crusading ethos. Preparations for crusades were always surrounded by an atmosphere of penitence. From the Fourth Lateran Council in the early 13th century to the Council of Trent in the middle of the 16th, every general council of the Catholic church was summoned on the ground that no crusade could be successful without a reform of the church. Crusaders knew that they were embarking on a campaign in which their obligations constituted an act of condign self-punishment.

In some cases, indeed, men considering entry into monasteries changed their minds on hearing about the First Crusade and joined up instead; they saw in crusading some equivalence to monasticism. Running through many of the documents issued by departing crusaders is a pessimistic piety, expressed in a horror of sin and a fear of its consequences. The crusaders craved forgiveness. They joined up, as one put it, 'in order to obtain the pardon that God can give me for my crimes'; or, wrote another, 'so that he might gain Christ'.

In most expressions of holy war God is at the centre of things; in crusading the crusader was. For him the crusade was only secondarily about service in arms to God or the benefiting of the church; it was primarily about benefiting himself. That was why a Dominican preacher in the later 13th century commented of the crusading dead that, 'by this kind of death, people make their way to heaven who perhaps would never reach it by another road.' Hard as it is to understand, Christian culture had produced an ideology in which fighting was an act of self-sanctification.

Gustav Dore - The Battle of Lepanto

But the side-effects

It is necessary not to lose sight of the rest of the picture. Ventures of this sort easily attract psychopaths, and no method was devised whereby the crusades could screen recruits for suitability. Indeed, it could not have been, because crusades were technically pilgrimages that had to be open to all. In any case successive popes were sometimes only too pleased to get any response at all to their appeals.

Because the successful launching of a crusade depended on arms-bearers volunteering to take part, churchmen went to great lengths to address them in a language easy to understand. In doing so, they ran the danger of arousing forces which they could not control. For example, to call on men in an age of extended families and endemic blood-feuds to go to the assistance of their 'father' Christ, who had lost his patrimony, or of their 'brothers and sisters', who groaned under a Muslim yoke, risked the swift degeneration of any crusade into a vendetta. The passions unleashed, when combined with the stresses of crusading, led to acts of unspeakable horror.

There was even, sometimes, a savage beauty about active service. Think of Richard the Lionheart battling against Saladin; of the glittering coats of arms carved and painted on the walls of fortresses on the shores of the Aegean and the Baltic; of a fleet leaving Venice in the autumn of 1202 with trumpets and horns calling and braying to each other from ship to ship across the water; or, most romantic of all, of the colourful bravado of the Teutonic knights in 14th-century Prussia, who attracted recruits from all over Europe for campaigns against Lithuania that involved long rides through a wilderness of forest, undergrowth and bog, before a ravaging cavalcade in pagan territory, and finally a feast at Marienburg where a Table of Honour was laid for the most prestigious knights, and badges were presented to the most meritorious by the grand master.

This chivalric theatre masked, however, many awful atrocities: ferocious pogroms against Jews that were features of the preliminaries of many crusades, gross examples of ethnic cleansing in which non-Christians were driven from towns of religious or strategic significance by deliberate campaigns of terror, and collapses in military discipline that led to appalling consequences for any wretches unlucky enough to be found in the crusaders' path.

No one could possibly condone a movement that, through its cocktail of idealism, indiscipline, alienation and stress, managed to give birth to such grotesque manifestations of inhumanity. Yet one should not criticise crusaders for being what they were not. They were not imperialists or colonialists. They were not simply after land or booty. And they were not too stupid to know what they were doing. Their scale of values was different from today's. They were pursuing an ideal that, however alien it seemed to later generations of historians, was enthusiastically supported at the time by such heavyweights as St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Thomas Aquinas.

Blindness to reality can be dangerous. Only ten generations have passed since Christian armies, operating within a clear tradition and inspired by a coherent ideology, were winning a land war against the Turks in the Balkans. Modern Christian sacred violence has largely been confined to churches in poor countries. Although the Lebanese Maronites, whose church submitted to Rome in 1180, have always had a folk memory of a golden age under crusader rule, and the Croats - and, from a different perspective, the Orthodox Serbs - have romanticised the disasters and triumphs of the Balkan wars against the Turks, in almost all Christian tribalism in recent years there has been no specific ideology of holy war. The roots of ethnic violence have, in every case, lain rather in nationalism.

Things may be different in Islam, although nationalism obviously plays a large part there as well. Some Muslims now maintain that the jihad should be interpreted merely as a battle against evil. But in its traditional form, it was a war for the extension of Islamic territory. Some Muslims still seem to envisage the use of force, not only to counter perceived threats to their way of life, but to bring about world reformation on their own terms.

Indeed, it is conceivable that a situation could arise not unlike that in the 50 years or so before the proclamation of the First Crusade. After a period of quiescence, fanatical Muslims, Turkish religious warriors in Asia Minor and Berber zealots in Spain were destabilising the frontiers between the religions. The development of crusading was in part a response to a huge loss of Christian territory in the east.

History never repeats itself. But if renewed aggressiveness among Muslims were to meet a revival of Christian theories of positive force, the outcome could be nasty. One way to avoid it is to study and interpret the crusades - and the conditions that allowed them to flourish. Understanding should help to bring enlightenment.

Gustav Dore - The Crusaders' War Machinery


First- (1095-1102) Asia Minor, Palestine

Second- (1147-49) Syria, Palestine

Third- (1189-92) Cyprus, Palestine

Livonian- (1193-1230 et seq) Prussia, Lithuania

Fourth- (1202-04) Greece, Constantinople

Albigensian- (1209-29) France (v heretics)

Fifth- (1217-29) Egypt, Palestine

Spanish- (1229-53, 1482-92) Spain, North Africa

St Louis- (1248-54, 1269-72) Palestine, Egypt

Nicopolis- (1396) Balkans

Hussite- (1420-31) Bohemia (v heretics)

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