Thursday, June 05, 2008

Film Review: True Grit

[Aside from the some of the usual left-wing silliness that so often creeps into movie reviews, this is a nice piece on one of my favorite movies of all time. I still have of fond memories of watching it at a drive-in theater when I was a mere lad. - jtf]

RvB's After Images: True Grit (1969)
Posted Jun 3rd 2008 6:02AM by Richard von Busack

Filed under: Classics, After Image, Western

Before it opened, there was much public mulling over whether Harrison Ford had the stamina at age 65 to play Indiana Jones one more time. Apparently the box office grosses answered that question. It was an irrelevant question, anyway. In those Indiana Jones movies, the machinery is what mattered. Ford was there for the ride, just like the audience. I think what was missing in ...Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the elegiac qualities of a late period performance ... for example, the aging heroism in John Wayne's last great movie.

True Grit isn't just the sword outwearing the sheath, and the soul outwearing the breast, as Byron put it. It's also about remaining power in an old carcass. Wayne's rallying of that power in the film's memorable duel: blinking his one good eye at the shock of being called a fat old man, he takes his horse's reins in his teeth and rides down four gunmen. The film is often a comedy, with lines worthy of Mark Twain in it; so much so that the emotional content blindsides you. Every film class in the world quite justly talks about the end of The Searchers, John Ford's image of Wayne framed by a doorway, never at home or really at ease. True Grit has a scene to equal it: a gentle if tersely written scene at a snow-covered grave yard in the high country, with approximately the emotional fire power of the finale of James Joyce's The Dead.

Tom Wolfe claimed that Charles Portis, his colleague at the New York Herald Tribune, was the only journalist he'd ever heard of who had done what journalists always claim they'll do someday. Apparently Portis really did take three weeks off, went to a cabin, and wrote the novel that got him straight out of the newspaper business. Portis' book True Grit was reputedly written with Wayne in mind, but the part of deputy Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn is as juicy a role as Long John Silver. Mitchum or Lancaster could have done it proud; Tommy Lee Jones or Nick Nolte would carry it out now. The movie is very much Wayne's world, though, bringing out the peculiarly musical qualities of his voice, and his gift for understatement and low comedy. Director Henry Hathaway and photographer Lucien Ballard's cameras went to just about the noblest quadrant of the country to film it, Mammoth Lakes in California and Montrose Country, Colorado in the west side of the Continental Divide: high country, lit by the golden shimmer of aspen leaves.

The book is more down and dirty, specific to the river towns, and set in the foothills of the Ozarks and the Ouichita mountains in southeastern Oklahoma. I hate remakes in principal, but there's an anti-western that could be made out of this fine book someday, and it would look a little something like The Assassination of Jesse James...; certainly Rooster's uneasy past as one of Quantrill's men demonstrates that Rooster was a graduate of the same riding academy as Jesse. The Arkansas federal marshal, profane, old, fat and given to whiskey either out of the jug or the bottle, is recruited by one Mattie Ross (Kim Darby). The farm girl's father was killed by a career criminal who was taking some time off, posing as a hired hand. Cogburn is reluctant to go across the border from Ft. Smith, Arkansas into the Indian Nation (later Oklahoma).

Mattie motivates the old man with a $50 reward to bring the villain back alive. While mulling over the offer, Cogburn meets up with a cocksure Texas ranger called LaBoeuf (the musician Glen Campbell), who has the same quarry as Mattie. LaBouef has too much gun, too much spurs and too much self confidence. Mattie insists on accompanying the lawmen into the Territory, despite every discouragement they can muster. The trio braces some squealers (one is Dennis Hopper) by smoking them out of their cabin. Now they're certain that the fugitive is one of the new henchmen of a robber called Lucky Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), who has previously had his face rearranged by one of Rooster Cogburn's bullets. The ambushers are ambushed themselves, and it takes a gunfight and an ordeal in a skeleton-lined pit of rattlesnakes to set things right.

The terrific script by Marguerite Roberts gave Wayne what he called his favorite scene ever, when Rooster tells about his own drifting life running a restaurant up in Cairo, Illinois, in those days before the roughneck in him drove away his wife and his son. In the telling, there's sarcastic humor...and humor will never be respected as much as drama...presumably that's why this moment of Wayne at his finest isn't referred to in film lore, as often as similar moments in The Searchers. The scathing interplay between Rooster and LaBoeuf is true wit, too. It includes my all time favorite cinema warning against Texan self-esteem. After LaBoeuf tells of how real Texas Ranger sometimes have to drink water out of a muddy hoof-print, and be glad to have it, too, Rooster grunts "If ever I meet one of you Texas waddies that didn't drink out of a hoofprint, I'll shake his hand, or buy him a Dan'l Webster cigar." Against Wayne's aura of heroism is always a W. C. Fields like lightness that keeps this stirring film well as autumnal.

Considering the complexity of the emotions Wayne brings up, It's no surprise that his centenary last year went relatively unremarked. (A fine summing up of the actor is Garry Wills' loving yet unsparing biography.) This was true even in the American west, one place where they still revere Wayne with no mixed feelings. But there, the actor's image is often an icon of reactionaries. Images of Wayne's face, the face that in countless movies welcomed strangers to the west, is sometimes used to ward off outsiders. Wayne's legend isn't happily remembered by Native Americans, who quite rightly remember the way Indians were treated in his films. In the 1950s, Wayne fell in with a very bad crowd of politicians and commentators, the kind of spoilsmen and bullies who he once upon a time used to punch out in his movies.

The films Wayne made in the 1960s and 1970s were often dreadful, wearing down his audience. Wayne made True Grit in 1969, but he also made The Undefeated (recently released as part of a box set with the startlingly advanced 1930 Raoul Walsh western The Big Trail). The Undefeated is typical Wayne in decline, lummoxy work that grinds the political axes of its day; watching it in the midst of Vietnam War, it was pretty easy to decode a bit about a Civil War draft dodger getting busted in the mouth for not getting out on there on the firing line. Speaking of Vietnam, Wayne also spent his capital as an actor in The Green Berets: propaganda, and bad propaganda at that (here's New York Times critic Renata Adler hitting the film about as hard as it deserved). Considering Wayne's most careless public pronouncements, I'm not sorry that I enjoyed the Pogues anthem of disappointment "The Body of an American" ("Fare thee well, John Wayne, there's nothing left to say"), or the even far more furious MDC punk-rock tune "John Wayne Was a Nazi".

Because of that fury, I'll explain: What people cherished in Wayne is evident in the last moments of True Grit, where Rooster Cogburn is offered a space in Mattie's family graveyard. And the hero explains to Mattie gently that when she grows up, she'll want her husband and family buried next to her. In fact, both of them are a pair of outcasts about to separate for good. The novel was written from the point of view of an independent old single woman. This seems to have been part of the movie, because it seems unlikely, in this summing up, that Mattie will never met a man who could tolerate her own grit, except for one old rogue back in the 1880s.

I was watching this final scene at home with my wife, and we both became quite helpless with tears as Wayne rode away. We would both like to be simple, in the good sense of the word, and good in the simple sense of the word. We'd like to be open, direct and fearless people, but that's not going to happen. We're city dwellers, dealing on a daily basis with more snakes than you'd find in an Oklahoma cave. Straight shooting can't kill what we're up against. Rather, each new day requires more triangulation, and ever more elaborate trick shots. And Wayne's peculiar beauty and common sense appears to be gone forever, too, and we wept for that loss as well.

Today's Tune: Wilson Pickett - In the Midnight Hour

(Click title to play video)

Mark Steyn: The Last Laugh

Steyn on People
Tuesday, 03 June 2008
from National Review

Of late I’ve been having some sport with a fellow called Oscar van den Boogaard. He’s a novelist over in Europe, and, while I’m not the most assiduous reader of Continental fiction, my eye was caught by an interview he gave to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard. Reflecting on Europe’s accelerating Islamification, he concluded that the jig was up for the Eutopia he loved, but what could he do? “I am not a warrior, but who is?” he shrugged. “I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it.”

This seemed such a poignant epitaph for the Continent that I started quoting it hither and yon. And one thing led to another and I started explaining that Mr van den Boogaard is a Dutch gay humanist, which is, as I like to say, pretty much the trifecta of Eurocool. A cheap joke, but it got a laugh. And before you know it Mr van den Boogaard was playing the same function in my act that Elizabeth Taylor does in Joan Rivers’. (I haven’t seen Miss Rivers since, oh, 1973, so this may have changed.)

Anyway, what with this Internet thingy that the young people are crazy about, it was inevitable that at some point the Dutch novelist wallah would be Googling himself and discover he was now a household name in Cedar Rapids, or wherever I’d last used him as the butt of my Eurowimp mockery. And so it came to pass. The other day in the newspaper De Morgen, Mr van den Boogaard noted that he had recently attracted the attention of “de Canadese oerconservatieve commentator Mark Steyn” who had derided him as “een Nederlandse homoseksuele humanist”, which is “de heilige drievuldigheid van Eurocool”. And he attempted to put my soundbite in context. It was a sentimental, writerly and contrived meditation on his dad’s lifelong service to the Dutch Army, but it ended with what he regarded as the best hope of saving his beloved Netherlands: “De islam moet eindelijk om zichzelf leren te lichen.”

“Islam must learn to laugh at itself.” Good luck betting the future on that. As the Ayatollah Khomeini lui-meme put it: “There are no jokes in Islam.” And, in the event that there are, it’s best to make sure the laugh’s not on you. As it happens, the British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal is about to begin hearing a case brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress into my “flagrant Islamophobia”. Among the evidence cited is my review of a Canadian sitcom, “Little Mosque On The Prairie”, which I failed to find sufficiently funny, and as a result am now being prosecuted for. Appearing at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last year, I was asked a question about the new sitcom and replied, with the careless insouciance of one who’s unaware he’s being YouTubed around the planet, “Muslim is the new gay.” Alas, this line also appears in the Canadian Islamic Congress’ indictment of me. I tried to explain that I meant it as a compliment, but that only appears to have made things worse.

My point was that back in the Nineties Hollywood movies and sitcoms began introducing gay characters who were the most likeable and got all the best lines, and that Muslims were likely to be the lucky beneficiaries of a similar dispensation. In both cases, the intent is the same - to make Islam, like homosexuality, something only uptight squares are un-hep to. But it seems to have gone down about as well as the University of Amsterdam study into the recent increase in gay bashing by Dutch Muslims, which concluded that “the attackers may be struggling with their own sexual identity”. Amazingly enough, suggesting that these Muslim chappies are most likely a bit light on their loafers doesn’t seem to have done anything to ease inter-communal relations in Europe’s “most tolerant city”.

Which is by way of saying that, if Mr van den Boogaard is banking on the old Islamic funny bone to preserve his Eutopia, it’s a bit of a long shot. More to the point, he’s looking at the problem the wrong way round. It’s not about “them”, it’s about him – or, if you prefer, us: much of the western world has a big hole where its sense of identity ought to be. As Ruth Gledhill, the Religious Correspondent of The Times of London, put it: “It feels as if the soul of Britain is dying.” She was discussing a new report projecting that by 2050 Christian churchgoers in the United Kingdom will be outnumbered three to one by Muslims. But the hole-in-the-soul line applies just as well to another new report, on the “evolution” of the European family: The marriage rate fell by 24 per cent between 1980 and 2006. One in five pregnancies ends in abortion. One million fewer babies were born in the EU last year than in 1980. Europe has six million more over-65s than under-14s. Two out of three households have no children…

The first comment on the Times story was from “Mark”, who wrote: “I may be mistaken, but I believe that Muslims tend to have larger families. If that is the case, wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage/accept more Muslim immigrants?”

Why, yes, it would – if you don’t mind ending your days in a Muslim society.

You can’t beat something with nothing – which in the end is what those grim Euro-statistics represent. Islam reckons it’s one almighty something, and that’s all it has to be up against contemporary Eutopians. Islam doesn’t need to laugh at itself because it’s too busy laughing at them.

Ann Coulter: Obama Was Selected, Not Elected
June 4, 2008

Words mean nothing to liberals. They say whatever will help advance their cause at the moment, switch talking points in a heartbeat, and then act indignant if anyone uses the exact same argument they were using five minutes ago.

When Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 election by half a percentage point, but lost the Electoral College -- or, for short, "the constitutionally prescribed method for choosing presidents" -- anyone who denied the sacred importance of the popular vote was either an idiot or a dangerous partisan.

But now Hillary has won the popular vote in a Democratic primary, while Obambi has won under the rules. In a spectacular turnabout, media commentators are heaping sarcasm on our plucky Hillary for imagining the "popular vote" has any relevance whatsoever.

It's the exact same situation as in 2000, with Hillary in the position of Gore and Obama in the position of Bush. The only difference is: Hillary has a much stronger argument than Gore ever did (and Hillary's more of a man than Gore ever was).

Unbeknownst to liberals, who seem to imagine the Constitution is a treatise on gay marriage, our Constitution sets forth rules for the election of a president. Under the Constitution that has led to the greatest individual liberty, prosperity and security ever known to mankind, Americans have no constitutional right to vote for president, at all. (Don't fret Democrats: According to five liberals on the Supreme Court, you do have a right to sodomy and abortion!)

Americans certainly have no right to demand that their vote prevail over the electors' vote.

The Constitution states that electors from each state are to choose the president, and it is up to state legislatures to determine how those electors are selected. It is only by happenstance that most states use a popular vote to choose their electors.

When you vote for president this fall, you will not be voting for Barack Obama or John McCain; you will be voting for an elector who pledges to cast his vote for Obama or McCain. (For those new Obama voters who may be reading, it's like voting for Paula, Randy or Simon to represent you, instead of texting your vote directly.)

Any state could abolish general elections for president tomorrow and have the legislature pick the electors. States could also abolish their winner-take-all method of choosing presidential electors -- as Nebraska and Maine have already done, allowing their electors to be allocated in proportion to the popular vote. And of course there's always the option of voting electors off the island one by one.

If presidential elections were popular vote contests, Bush might have spent more than five minutes campaigning in big liberal states like California and New York. But under a winner-take-all regime, close doesn't count. If a Republican doesn't have a chance to actually win a state, he may as well lose in a landslide. Using the same logic, Gore didn't spend a lot of time campaigning in Texas (and Walter Mondale campaigned exclusively in Minnesota).

Consequently, under both the law and common sense, the famed "popular vote" is utterly irrelevant to presidential elections. It would be like the winner of "Miss Congeniality" claiming that title also made her "Miss America." Obviously, Bush might well have won the popular vote, but he would have used a completely different campaign strategy.

By contrast, there are no constitutional rules to follow with party primaries. Primaries are specifically designed by the parties to choose their strongest candidate for the general election.

Hillary's argument that she won the popular vote is manifestly relevant to that determination. Our brave Hillary has every right to take her delegates to the Democratic National Convention and put her case to a vote. She is much closer to B. Hussein Obama than the sainted Teddy Kennedy was to Carter in 1980 when Teddy staged an obviously hopeless rules challenge at the convention. (I mean rules about choosing the candidate, not rules about crushed ice at after-parties.)

And yet every time Hillary breathes a word about her victory in the popular vote, TV hosts respond with sneering contempt at her gaucherie for even mentioning it. (Of course, if popularity mattered, networks like MSNBC wouldn't exist. That's a station that depends entirely on "superviewers.")

After nearly eight years of having to listen to liberals crow that Bush was "selected, not elected," this is a shocking about-face. Apparently unaware of the new party line that the popular vote amounts to nothing more than warm spit, just last week HBO ran its movie "Recount," about the 2000 Florida election, the premise of which is that sneaky Republicans stole the presidency from popular vote champion Al Gore. (Despite massive publicity, the movie bombed, with only about 1 million viewers, so now HBO is demanding a "recount.")

So where is Kevin Spacey from HBO's "Recount," to defend Hillary, shouting: "WHO WON THIS PRIMARY?"

In the Democrats' "1984" world, the popular vote is an unconcept, doubleplusungood verging crimethink. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

George F. Will: The Gas Prices We Deserve

The Washington Post
Thursday, June 5, 2008; Page A19

Rising in the Senate on May 13, Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, explained: "I rise to discuss rising energy prices." The president was heading to Saudi Arabia to seek an increase in its oil production, and Schumer's gorge was rising.

Saudi Arabia, he said, "holds the key to reducing gasoline prices at home in the short term." Therefore arms sales to that kingdom should be blocked unless it "increases its oil production by one million barrels per day," which would cause the price of gasoline to fall "50 cents a gallon almost immediately."

Can a senator, with so many things on his mind, know so precisely how the price of gasoline would respond to that increase in the oil supply? Schumer does know that if you increase the supply of something, the price of it probably will fall. That is why he and 96 other senators recently voted to increase the supply of oil on the market by stopping the flow of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which protects against major physical interruptions. Seventy-one of the 97 senators who voted to stop filling the reserve also oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One million barrels is what might today be flowing from ANWR if in 1995 President Bill Clinton had not vetoed legislation to permit drilling there. One million barrels produce 27 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel. Seventy-two of today's senators -- including Schumer, of course, and 38 other Democrats, including Barack Obama, and 33 Republicans, including John McCain -- have voted to keep ANWR's estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil off the market.

So Schumer, according to Schumer, is complicit in taking $10 away from every American who buys 20 gallons of gasoline. "Democracy," said H.L. Mencken, "is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." The common people of New York want Schumer to be their senator, so they should pipe down about gasoline prices, which are a predictable consequence of their political choice.

Also disqualified from complaining are all voters who sent to Washington senators and representatives who have voted to keep ANWR's oil in the ground and who voted to put 85 percent of America's offshore territory off-limits to drilling. The U.S. Minerals Management Service says that restricted area contains perhaps 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- 10 times as much oil and 20 times as much natural gas as Americans use in a year.

Drilling is underway 60 miles off Florida. The drilling is being done by China, in cooperation with Cuba, which is drilling closer to South Florida than U.S. companies are.

ANWR is larger than the combined areas of five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware), and drilling along its coastal plain would be confined to a space one-sixth the size of Washington's Dulles airport. Offshore? Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed or damaged hundreds of drilling rigs without causing a large spill. There has not been a significant spill from an offshore U.S. well since 1969. Of the more than 7 billion barrels of oil pumped offshore in the past 25 years, 0.001 percent -- that is one-thousandth of 1 percent -- has been spilled. Louisiana has more than 3,200 rigs offshore -- and a thriving commercial fishing industry.

In his book "Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence,' " Robert Bryce says Brazil's energy success has little to do with its much-discussed ethanol production and much to do with its increased oil production, the vast majority of which comes from off Brazil's shore. Investor's Business Daily reports that Brazil, "which recently made a major oil discovery almost in sight of Rio's beaches," has leased most of the world's deep-sea drilling rigs.

In September 2006, two U.S. companies announced that their Jack No. 2 well, in the Gulf 270 miles southwest of New Orleans, had tapped a field with perhaps 15 billion barrels of oil, which would increase America's proven reserves by 50 percent. Just probing four miles below the Gulf's floor costs $100 million. Congress's response to such expenditures is to propose increasing the oil companies' tax burdens.

America says to foreign producers: We prefer not to pump our oil, so please pump more of yours, thereby lowering its value, for our benefit. Let it not be said that America has no energy policy.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Today's Tune: Dave Alvin - Every Night About This Time

(Click on title to play video)

The night Bo Diddley banned the Beat


How do you play with a legend without doing it the legendary way? By learning his lesson of keeping himself new.

By Dave Alvin, Special to The Los Angeles Times
June 4, 2008

Bo Diddley performs at the "La Bamba" premiere party at the Palace in Hollywood in 1987. Alongside Chuck Berry, Diddley is recognized as rock’s most influential guitarist.

"Whatever you do, do not play 'the Beat!' "

That was the first thing Bo Diddley said to us before we walked onto the stage of the Music Machine club in West L.A. for two sets in 1983. We were a mix of members of the Blasters and X who had agreed, with great enthusiasm, to back up one of our greatest heroes for free at a benefit show for the Southern California Blues Society.

To say that we were upset by his announcement/warning would be an understatement. How could you play Bo Diddley songs and not play the powerful, infectious and sensual Bo Diddley Beat?

Since Bo's first records for the Chess label back in the mid-'50s, his "Beat" (a primal and relentless mix of the old shave-and-a-haircut riff, Chicago blues grooves and Latin rhythms) had been borrowed, stolen or adapted by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Rolling Stones to David Bowie for their own hit records.

Now, even though Bo had used various permutations of the Beat over the course of his long career, he was asking us to abandon it entirely in favor of . . . what? It's sort of like asking an actor to do "Hamlet" but don't use any of Shakespeare's words.

Diddley performs at a blues festival at Doheny State Beach in 1999. His swaggering stage presence influenced artists including James Brown, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix.

Blasters drummer Bill Bateman and X drummer DJ Bonebreak, sharing the drum and percussion duties for the night, asked Bo to clarify what beat they should play. He tapped out some rhythm that stressed a different accent, but, to be honest, I couldn't tell what the difference was. Fortunately, Bill and DJ picked up on his instructions, and by the end of the first song Bo seemed pretty happy.

It was a very good band, with Bill and DJ teaming for the essential duties on drums, timbales and maracas, X's John Doe and Blasters bassist John Bazz sharing the bass position, while my brother Phil, who also played some harmonica, and I followed Bo as best we could on guitars.

Most of the songs in the first set were new songs that Bo had recently recorded but none of us had ever heard, let alone studied. We (and just about every other musician in the modern age) had been dissecting all of his old records for years with the passion of theology students poring over the Dead Sea Scrolls or physicists debating string theory. A couple of the songs in the set were straight blues that easily fell into a comfortable pocket, but the rest were extended one-chord, semi-funk jams that wound up sounding as much like "Bitches Brew"-era Miles Davis as they did classic Bo Diddley.

As the set progressed and I began to get comfortable with Bo's new beats, I started thinking that it was close-minded of me to expect him to play the old songs the same old way. Wasn't Bo Diddley as much of a musical revolutionary as Bob Dylan? Weren't his original recordings of "Mona" or "Who Do You Love?" as musically unique, pivotal and influential in their day as Dylan's?

Maybe Bo wasn't the genius lyricist that Dylan is, but in rock 'n' roll (or blues and folk), lyrics aren't everything. If Dylan could change the melodies, grooves and even lyrics to his songs to keep exploring the possibilities of his art, why couldn't Bo Diddley?

Diddley is flanked by Chuck Berry, left, and Little Richard at the 2002 BMI Pop Awards in Beverly Hills. The men received the inaugural BMI Icon Award.

Some people would argue that Bo was one of the architects of funk and, if that's the case, why shouldn't he be allowed to follow his own rhythmic path to wherever it might lead him? Why should Bo Diddley have to be stuck in the past just because that's where a part of his audience (and perhaps his backing bands) wanted him to remain?

I remember smiling on stage like a goofball as I realized all of this and came to the conclusion that if you really dig Bo Diddley, then let Bo Diddley be Bo Diddley! I was a young guy at the time who was trying his best to replicate old music -- and that's the best way to learn, believe me -- but that night Bo taught me a lesson about growing and surviving as a musician/artist: Stay true to yourself.

After the first set I approached Bo backstage and told him what I had been thinking while I played with him. "That's right," he said, laughing. "I already made all them old records years ago. Now I'm keeping myself new."

But as we walked back onstage for the second set, Bo turned to us, smiled and said, "You know, you boys are pretty good, so I'll tell what: The first song is gonna be 'Mona' and you can play with the Bo Diddley Beat." And we did.

Thank you, Bo, for all your incredible music over the years and, especially, the wise life lesson you taught me.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Alvin has been a member of the Blasters X and the Knitters and leads his own roots-rock group, the Guilty Men.

Michelle Malkin: Obscene Profits

June 4, 2008 12:00 AM

Spare a little outrage for Planned Parenthood.

GOP presidential candidate John McCain sounded more like a Democratic presidential candidate (a recurring trend) when he joined the Left’s oil-industry bashers a few weeks ago. Asked by a North Carolina voter whether he supported a Jimmy Carter–era windfall profits tax, McCain responded: “Um, I don’t like obscene profits being made anywhere — and I’d be glad to look not just at the windfall profits tax — that’s not what bothers me — but we should look at any incentives that we are giving to people or industries or corporations that are distorting the market.”

Here’s an idea for all the hand-wringing GOP strategists in Washington wondering what it will take to win back disgusted economic and social conservatives: How about a Republican presidential candidate who will talk about the tax-subsidized abortion industry the way McCain talks about the oil industry?

In April, the annual report for Planned Parenthood Federation of America revealed that the abortion giant had a total income of $1.02 billion — with reported profits of nearly $115 million. Taxpayers kick in more than $336 million worth of government grants and contracts at both the state and federal levels. That’s a third of Planned Parenthood’s budget.

And what market-distorting results do we get for those government incentives? In 2006 alone: 289,750 abortions.

Oil execs, tobacco execs, banking execs, pharmaceutical-company execs, and baseball players have all been hauled up before Congress for highly publicized whippings by crusading lawmakers. But the executives of Planned Parenthood have escaped government scrutiny and public accountability for their predatory behavior, dangerous medical practices, deception, and deadly windfall.

In Washington, D.C., the family of 13-year-old Shantese Butler filed a $50 million suit against Planned Parenthood after a botched abortion left the girl permanently injured and infertile. Students for Life of America reports that Shantese was left with “severe abdominal bleeding, severe vaginal injury, severe injury to the cervix, significant uterine perforation and a small bowel tear.” In addition, parts of the unborn child were found inside Shantese’s abdomen.

In Nebraska, Planned Parenthood refused to disclose the terms of a settlement with another victim whose botched abortion resulted in a perforated uterus, massive blood loss, an emergency hysterectomy, permanent infertility, seizures, and lifelong pain and suffering. According to the suit obtained by Life News, the woman instructed the abortionist and his assistants to stop, but was told: “We can’t stop.” The Planned Parenthood employees held her down to complete the procedure.

Where’s the subpoena-wielding Henry Waxman? Can Orrin Hatch spare a moment from investigating the New England Patriots to probe Planned Parenthood’s efforts to advise underage teens on how to circumvent parental notification laws to secretly obtain RU-486, the abortion drug cocktail? Where is the concern for the women and children who were mistreated by Planned Parenthood clinics in Kansas, where Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline has filed a 107-count criminal complaint against the abortion racket, with charges ranging from falsifying documents to performing illegal late-term abortions?

And where are Nancy Pelosi and the For the Children brigade to investigate the shocking evidence of Planned Parenthood’s nefariousness exposed by undercover student journalist Lila Rose?

Last year, Rose caught a Planned Parenthood official encouraging a female minor to evade statutory-rape laws in order to obtain an abortion in California. In February, Rose released undercover tapes of her discussion with an Idaho Planned Parenthood official eager to accept money from a racist donor who wanted his funds earmarked for aborting black babies. In April, she released video of clinic officials in New Mexico and Oklahoma willing to take money from a blatantly racist donor. One Planned Parenthood staffer admits that “for whatever reason, we’ll accept the money.”

For whatever reason, Washington has turned a blind bipartisan eye to this bloody, government-funded business — and pro-life, limited-government conservatives in the Beltway have gone along with subsidizing it. “Obscene profits,” indeed.

— Michelle Malkin is author of Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

James Carroll Takes Up a Sword Against the Church

June 3, 2008
James Carroll Takes Up a Sword Against the Church
By William Doino Jr.

Among the destructive myths of modernity is the idea that Christianity caused the Holocaust. Though refuted many times, it continues to circulate. Among its chief recent proponents is James Carroll, whose 2001 book, Constantine’s Sword, was a mammoth effort to breathe new life into the old claim. Now Carroll, with filmmaker Oren Jacoby, has decided to expand his book into a documentary—and the result is ninety-five minutes of unrestrained propaganda.

When the documentary premiered last year, it was praised by some critics—unfortunately, mostly the ones who had little knowledge about the subject, a pattern that has been repeated since the film’s national release. A puff piece in the Los Angeles Times referred to Carroll as a “devout Catholic”—a curious designation given Carroll’s own well-documented rebellion against the Church.

The documentary wastes no time getting to its bottom line: Christianity is violent by nature and poses a threat to non-Christians, especially Jews. Focusing on anti-Semitism as Christianity’s original sin, Carroll speaks about his own upbringing—lamenting the anti-Jewish stereotypes he was fed—and accuses the Catholic liturgy of fostering anti-Semitism. The genesis of it all, we are told, is the New Testament, presented in the movie version of Constantine’s Sword as a poisonous document and a warrant for genocide.

Brought on to support Carroll’s apprehensions is Elaine Pagels, a highly controversial academic with no patience for orthodoxy. The camera shows her calling the Passion narrative “an extraordinary twist” on what actually happened, concluding: “It looks completely at odds with what we know about history.”

Along the way, Carroll conveniently skips over the persecutions of the early Christians; their sufferings do not interest him. What grips his imagination is the story of Constantine’s conversion, which he sees as catastrophic for the history of the Church. According to Carroll, Constantine took the image of the cross and elevated it to a place never previously held in Christianity; worse, the emperor used it as an instrument of war, turning a religion of peace into a religion of violence.

Of course, this requires Carroll to contradict himself—remember, he just finished claiming that hatred began with the New Testament. But even on its own terms, the historical claim is wrong. Surviving Christian art and symbols from A.D. 230—well before Constantine—reveal that the cross is a prominent symbol in the catacombs. The early Christians often made the sign of the cross just to sabotage pagan ceremonies; and in doing so they were following the teaching of St. Paul, who said, “We preach Christ crucified.”

On his march through history, Carroll adopts the persona of Voltaire when evaluating the Christian Middle Ages. He depicts the Crusades as wholly unprovoked, overlooking the Islamic aggression that preceded them. Criticism of Jihadism is dismissed with a throwaway line: “Islam is accused of violence, as if Christianity is innocent.” Though Christians are held to the highest standards, militant followers of Muhammad are given a free pass.

Carroll’s views on Christian history are relentlessly negative. One would never know, watching this film, of Christianity’s elevation of women, its care for the poor, challenge to slavery, advances in science and medicine, educational system, wondrous art, extraordinary religious orders. All one gets in the film are one-sided stories of horror and lament, intended to induce a feeling of revulsion in the viewer.

Carroll’s hostility is very much on display in the film’s treatment of the religious right. To caricature evangelicals, it highlights the rise and fall of Ted Haggard, who was forced to resign as pastor of New Life Church in Colorado after he confessed to a sex scandal. The most absurd and unfair generalizations are made about evangelicals: George Bush’s born-again Christianity is blamed for his military decisions; and in a special “Director’s Statement,” supplied to reviewers, Jacoby actually asks, “Is there something in the DNA of Christianity—the majority religion in our country—that demonizes the other and is inclined toward violence?”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force Academy is denounced for allegedly turning its campus into a hotbed of Christian evangelization, with pressure placed on non-Christians to convert. Of course, after such allegations surfaced in 2004, the Pentagon launched an investigation and found that the incidents were largely exaggerated. A federal judge subsequently agreed, throwing out a related lawsuit.

Carroll’s treatment of the fascist-Nazi period is similarly skewed. He highlights Italy’s anti-Semitic decrees under Mussolini, without describing how the Church combated them: denouncing racialism, taking in Jews expelled from their jobs, and providing shelter. Commenting on the Vatican’s concordat with Germany, he asserts: “The Vatican became the first foreign power to enter into a bilateral treaty with Hitler.” This is devious. By using the word bilateral—i.e., between two entities—Carroll is able to avoid mentioning that the first international treaty with Hitler’s government was not the concordat, signed on July 20, 1933, but the Four-Power Pact (involving Germany, France, England, and Italy), which preceded it by a full month (June 7). Even before that, in May the Soviets and the British accepted friendship and trade agreements with Germany; Germany was recognized by the League of Nations; and in August 1933, one month before the concordat was ratified, Palestinian Jews signed the Haavara emigration agreement with Germany. Moreover, Hitler himself later railed against the concordat (Table Talk, July 4, 1942), realizing it had become a means of anti-Nazi subversion.

Carroll’s treatment of Pius XII is particularly atrocious: Every discredited allegation against the pope—from his alleged silence to his supposed failure to intervene against the Nazi roundup of Rome’s Jews—is repeated without qualification. Carroll and Jacoby seem unaware of the scholarship that has demolished these charges, proving that Pius rescued many Jews. At this late date, when many serious scholars have spoken out in favor of Pius XII, and when his cause is steadily advancing in Rome, Carroll’s views on Pius are not only outdated but reactionary.

Similarly, Carroll turns his sights on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—Edith Stein, the Jewish-born convert who became a nun and perished at Auschwitz in 1942. Carroll attacks her elevation, viewing it as a convenient way for the Church to salve its conscience and “Christianize the Holocaust.” The “real story,” Carroll assures us, has never been told.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

And what, exactly, is that? In 1933, shortly after entering the Carmelite order, Stein wrote a letter to Pius XI, imploring him to take a stand against Nazi anti-Semitism. But Carroll claims nothing was done, citing an entry in Stein’s diary, from 1938, suggesting the saint never received a reply. Obtaining a copy of the 1933 letter from an elderly German nun, who knew Stein, Carroll asserts he is “the first person to ask to see it.” In a haunting voiceover, the actress Natasha Richardson reads the letter—but only a portion of it, conveniently omitting the part that speaks about Nazi persecution of Catholics. The film presents the letter as a dramatic revelation. The film’s director, Oren Jacoby, even told the Jewish Journal: “I got goosebumps when the nun shared the letter with us. It’s thrilling when you discover that the story you thought was there actually does exist.”

The letter is real, but the discovery is a hoax. Five years ago, I obtained a copy of Stein’s 1933 letter myself, shortly after the archives from Pius XI’s pontificate were released. Those archives revealed that Stein’s plea was answered—in a sympathetic reply by none other than Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII), then Pius XI’s secretary of state. Pacelli’s letter was sent to Stein’s abbot, Raphael Walzer of the Beuron Abbey, because it was he who had mailed Stein’s letter to the Vatican. The reply correspondence may have been blocked by Nazi surveillance (hence, the likely explanation for her diary entry wondering about the Vatican’s reaction).

Those archives also revealed that action was taken by the Holy See on behalf of Germany’s Jews, even before Stein sent her letter. My dossier explaining all these facts was published in 2003, in Inside the Vatican magazine, and has been available online for some time. Couldn’t Carroll and Jacoby have spent five minutes on Google finding this information out? That the documentary also fails to reveal the crucial reason Stein was sent to Auschwitz—because the Dutch bishops, citing papal teaching, publicly condemned the deportations, triggering the Nazis to round up Catholics of Jewish descent—only adds to the deception.

But the film stoops to its lowest level by ending with a disingenuous attack on Benedict XVI: “Months after associating Islam with ‘things only evil and inhuman,’ Benedict XVI reversed reforms of Vatican II to authorize a Good Friday Mass that includes a previous disavowed prayer—for the conversion of Jews.” What Benedict actually did, at his now famous Regensburg address, was quote (not endorse) a fourteenth-century emperor in order to highlight the relation between faith and reason. Moreover, there is no such thing as a “Good Friday Mass.” On Good Friday, the day Christ died, Catholics have a service, but they do not celebrate Mass—something everyone trained as a priest should know. The old rite’s Good Friday liturgy does indeed carry a prayer for Jews, but its language has been revised by Benedict precisely to avoid unnecessary offense; and were the Church to formally disavow evangelization, it would betray its very mission. As recently demonstrated by his visit to an America synagogue, Pope Benedict’s outreach to Jews is a central feature of his pontificate. He has written extensively on the subject and once published an essay, “The Heritage of Abraham,” that is among the most beautiful Catholic tributes ever penned to Judaism.

By producing this egregious film, Carroll and Jacoby missed a real opportunity to appreciate the events taking place in Catholic-Jewish relations today. Among them was Benedict’s visit to a Cologne synagogue shortly after he became pope. Carroll mentions the visit but severely distorts the moving speech Benedict delivered and fails to mention Jewish reaction. Paul Spiegel, the leader of Germany’s Jews, was so overwhelmed by the pope’s presence that he told reporters: “If someone told me 45 years ago, ‘You are going to be in Cologne, and the pope will visit you in a synagogue,’ I wouldn’t have believed it. We have come a long way in mutual support and understanding and, as the pope said, in mutual love.”

- William Doino Jr. writes for Inside the Vatican. This essay has been adapted from a more exhaustive and carefully referenced analysis of Constantine’s Sword, which can be accessed by clicking here.

Editorial: Did Christianity Cause the Holocaust?Christianity Today

Milton Himmelfarb” by Joseph Bottum,; see also Himmelfarb’s essay, “No Hitler, No Holocaust,Commentary magazine (subscription required)

L.A. Film Festival Features a History of Hate,Jewish Journal; “Devout Catholic Answers a Call to Challenge Church” by Gina Piccalo, the Los Angeles Times (article is no longer available on the L.A. Times‘ website but can still be found in the Google-search cache); “The Pope, the Jews and Repentance” by Andrew O’Hehir,

The Death of Jesus and Anti-Semitism: Seeking Interfaith Understanding” by Raymond E. Brown,

Christianity Case Against Air Force Dismissed” by Bill Vogrin, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

Edith Stein’s Letter” by William Doino, Inside the Vatican

Catholics Have a Right to Pray for Us” by Jacob Neusner, The Forward

The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, L’Osservatore Romano

Pope’s Address in Synagogue of Cologne,” Zenit News Agency; “Pope Visits German Synagogue and Warns of Growing Anti-Semitism” by Ian Fisher, the New York Times

Monday, June 02, 2008

Today's Tune: Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley (Live)

(Click on title to play video)

Today's Tune: Bo Diddley - Hey Mona (Live)

(Click on title to play video)

Bo Diddley, a Rock 'n Roll Pioneer, Dies at 79

Jeff Christensen/Associated Press
Bo Diddley at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York in 2006.
More Photos >

The New York Times
Published: June 3, 2008
Bo Diddley, a singer and guitarist who invented his own name, his own guitars, his own beat and, with a handful of other musical pioneers, rock ’n’ roll itself, died Monday at his home in Archer, Fla. He was 79.

Audio & Photos
The Music They Made: Bo Diddley
Slide Show
Remembering Bo Diddley
Diddley’s Beat Will Go On (June 3, 2008)
Pioneer of a Beat Is Still Riffing for His Due (February 16, 2003)
Times Topics: Bo Diddley

The cause was heart failure, a spokeswoman, Susan Clary, said. Mr. Diddley had a heart attack last August, only months after suffering a stroke while touring in Iowa.

In the 1950s, as a founder of rock ’n’ roll, Mr. Diddley — along with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and a few others — helped to reshape the sound of popular music worldwide, building on the templates of blues, Southern gospel, R&B and postwar black American vernacular culture.
His original style of rhythm and blues influenced generations of musicians. And his Bo Diddley syncopated beat — three strokes/rest/two strokes — became a stock rhythm of rock ’n’ roll.

It can be found in Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” Johnny Otis’s “Willie and the Hand Jive,” the Who’s “Magic Bus,” Bruce Springsteen’s “She’s the One” and U2’s “Desire,” among hundreds of other songs.

Yet the rhythm was only one element of his best records. In songs like “Bo Diddley,” “Who Do You Love,” “Mona,” “Crackin’ Up,” “Say, Man,” “Ride On Josephine” and “Road Runner,” his booming voice was loaded up with echo and his guitar work came with distortion and a novel bubbling tremolo. The songs were knowing, wisecracking and full of slang, mother wit and sexual cockiness. They were both playful and radical.

So were his live performances: trancelike ruckuses instigated by a large man with a strange-looking guitar. It was square and he designed it himself, long before custom guitar shapes became commonplace in rock.
Mr. Diddley was a wild performer: jumping, lurching, balancing on his toes and shaking his knees as he wrestled with his instrument, sometimes playing it above his head. Elvis Presley, it has long been supposed, borrowed from Mr. Diddley’s stage moves; Jimi Hendrix, too.

Still, for all his fame, Mr. Diddley felt that his standing as a father of rock ’n’ roll was never properly acknowledged. It frustrated him that he could never earn royalties from the songs of others who had borrowed his beat.
“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob,” he told The New York Times in 2003.

He was a hero to those who had learned from him, including the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. A generation later, he became a model of originality to punk or post-punk bands like the Clash and the Fall.

In 1979 Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of the Clash asked that Mr. Diddley open for them on the band’s first American tour. “I can’t look at him without my mouth falling open,” Mr. Strummer, star-struck, said during the tour.

For his part Mr. Diddley had no misgivings about facing a skeptical audience. “You cannot say what people are gonna like or not gonna like,” he explained later to the biographer George R. White. “You have to stick it out there and find out! If they taste it, and they like the way it tastes, you can bet they’ll eat some of it!”

Mr. Diddley, far left, and Chuck Berry perform at Madison Square Garden in the concert movie "Let the Good Times Roll" on May 6, 1972 in New York City.

Mr. Diddley was born Otha Ellas Bates in McComb, Miss., a small city about 15 miles from the Louisiana border. He was reared primarily by Gussie McDaniel, the first cousin of his mother, Esther Wilson. After the death of her husband, Ms. McDaniel, who had three children of her own, took the family to Chicago, where young Otha’s name was changed to Ellas B. McDaniel. Gussie McDaniel became his legal guardian and sent him to school.

He was 6 when the family resettled on Chicago’s South Side. He described his youth as one of school, church, trouble with street toughs and playing the violin for both band and orchestra, under the tutelage of O. W. Frederick, a prominent music teacher at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Gussie McDaniel taught Sunday school. Ellas studied classical violin from 7 to 15 and started on guitar at 12, when a family member gave him an acoustic model.

He then enrolled at Foster Vocational School, where he built a guitar as well as a violin and an upright bass. But he dropped out before graduating. Instead, with guitar in hand, he began performing in a duo with his friend Roosevelt Jackson, who played the washtub bass. The group became a trio when they added another guitarist, Jody Williams, then a quartet when they added a harmonica player, Billy Boy Arnold.

The band, first called the Hipsters and then the Langley Avenue Jive Cats, started playing at the Maxwell Street open-air market. They were sometimes joined by another friend, Samuel Daniel, known as Sandman because of the shuffling rhythms he made with his feet on a wooden board sprinkled with sand.

Mr. Diddley could not make a living playing with the Jive Cats in the early days, so he found jobs where he could: at a grocery store, a picture-frame factory, a blacktop company. He worked as an elevator operator and a meat packer. He also started boxing, hoping to turn professional.

In 1954 Mr. Diddley made a demonstration recording with his band, which now included Jerome Green on maracas. Phil and Leonard Chess of Chess Records liked the demo, especially Mr. Diddley’s tremolo on the guitar, a sound that seemed to slosh around like water. They saw it as a promising novelty and encouraged the group to return.

By Billy Boy Arnold’s account, the next day, as the band and the men who were soon to be their producers were setting up for a rehearsal, they were idly casting about for a stage name for Ellas McDaniel when Mr. Arnold thought of Bo Diddley. The name described a “bow-legged guy, a comical-looking guy,” Mr. Arnold said, as quoted by Mr. White in his 1995 biography, “Bo Diddley: Living Legend.”

That may be all there is to tell about the name, except for the fact that a certain one-string guitar — native to the Mississippi Delta, often homemade, in which a length of wire is stretched between two nails in a board — is called a diddley bow. By his account, however, Mr. Diddley had never played one.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2005.
Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

In any case, Otha Ellas McDaniel had a new name and the title of a new song, whose lyrics began, “Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring.” “Bo Diddley” became the A side of his first single, in 1955, on the Checker label, a subsidiary of Chess. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart.

Mr. Diddley said he had first heard the “Bo Diddley beat” — three-stroke/rest/two-stroke, or bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp — in a church in Chicago. But variations of it were in the air. The children’s game hambone used a similar rhythm, and so did the ditty that goes “shave and a haircut, two bits.”

The beat is also related to the Afro-Cuban clave, which had been popularized at the time by the New Orleans mambo carnival song “Jock-A-Mo,” recorded by Sugar Boy Crawford in 1953.

Whatever the source, Mr. Diddley felt the beat’s power. In early songs like “Bo Diddley” and “Pretty Thing,” he arranged the rhythm for tom-toms, guitar, maracas and voice, with no cymbals and no bass. (Also arranged in his signature rhythm was the eerie “Mona,” a song of praise he wrote for a 45-year-old exotic dancer who worked at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit; this song became the template for Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”)

Appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1955, Mr. Diddley was asked to play Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Without telling Mr. Sullivan, he played “Bo Diddley” instead. Afterward, in an off-camera confrontation, Mr. Sullivan told him that he would never work in television again. Mr. Diddley did not play again on a network show for 10 years.

For decades Mr. Diddley was bitter about his relationship with the Chess family, whom he accused of withholding money owed to him. In her book “Spinning Blues Into Gold,” Nadine Cohodas quoted Marshall Chess, Leonard’s son, as saying, “What’s missing from Bo’s version of events is all the gimmes.” Mr. Diddley would borrow so heavily against projected royalties, Mr. Chess said, that not much was left over in the final accounting.

Mr. Diddley’s watery tremolo effect, from 1955 onward, came from one of the first effects boxes to be manufactured for guitars: the DeArmond Model 60 Tremolo Control. But Mr. Diddley contended that he had already built something similar himself, with automobile parts and an alarm-clock spring.

Mr. Diddley and his band performing in 1964 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

His first trademark guitar was also handmade: he took the neck and the circuitry off a Gretsch guitar and connected it to a square body he had built. In 1958 he asked Gretsch to make him a better one to the same specifications. Gretsch made it as a limited-edition guitar called “Big B.”
On songs like “Who Do You Love,” his guitar style — bright chicken-scratch rhythm patterns on a few strings at a time — was an extension of his early violin playing, he said.

“My technique comes from bowing the violin, that fast wrist action,” he told Mr. White, explaining that his fingers were too big to move around easily. Rather than fingering the fretboard, Mr. Diddley said, he tuned the guitar to an open E and moved a single finger up and down to create chords.

As his fame rose, his personal life grew complicated. His first marriage, at 18, to Louise Woolingham, lasted less than a year. His second marriage, in 1949, to Ethel Smith, unraveled in the late 1950s. He then moved from Chicago to Washington, settling in the Mount Pleasant district, where he built a studio in his home.

Separated from his wife, he was performing in Birmingham, Ala., when, backstage, he met a young door-to-door magazine saleswoman named Kay Reynolds, a fan, who was 15 and white. They moved in together in short order and were soon married, in spite of Southern taboos against intermarriage.

During the late 1950s Mr. Diddley’s band featured a female guitarist, Peggy Jones (stage-named Lady Bo), at a time when there were scarcely any women in rock. She was replaced by Norma-Jean Wofford, whom Mr. Diddley called the Duchess. He pretended she was his sister, he said, to be in a better position to protect her on the road.

The early 1960s were low times. Chess, searching for a hit, had Mr. Diddley make albums to capitalize on the twist dance craze, as Chubby Checker had done, and on the surf music of the Beach Boys. But soon a foreign market for his earlier music began to grow, thanks in large part to the Rolling Stones, a newly popular band that was regularly playing several of his songs in its concerts. It paved the way for Mr. Diddley’s successful tour of Britain in the fall of 1963, performing with the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and the Rolling Stones, the opening act.

But Mr. Diddley was not willing to move to Europe, and in America the picture worsened: the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan and the Byrds quickly made him sound quaint. When work all but dried up, Mr. Diddley moved to New Mexico in the early 1970s and became a deputy sheriff in the town of Los Lunas. With his sound updated to resemble hard rock and soul, he continued to make albums for Chess until his contract expired in 1974.

His recording career never picked up after that, despite flirtations with synthesizers, religious rock and hip-hop. But he continued apace as a performer and public figure, popping up in places both obvious, like rock ’n’ roll nostalgia revues, and not so obvious: a Nike advertisement, the film “Trading Places” with Eddie Murphy, the 1979 tour with the Clash, and inaugural balls for two presidents, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
His last recording was the 1996 album “A Man Amongst Men” (Code Blue/Atlantic), which was nominated for a Grammy. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and in 1998 was inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame as a musician of lasting historical importance.

Since the early 1980s Mr. Diddley had lived in Archer, Fla., near Gainesville, where he owned 76 acres and a recording studio. His passions were fishing and old cars, including a 1969 purple Cadillac hearse.

The last of Mr. Diddley’s marriages was to Sylvia Paiz, in 1992; his spokeswoman, Ms. Clary, said they were no longer married. His survivors include his children, Evelyn Kelly, Ellas A. McDaniel, Tammi D. McDaniel and Terri Lynn McDaniel; a brother, the Rev. Kenneth Haynes; and 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
Mr. Diddley attributed his longevity to abstinence from drugs and drinking, but in recent years he had suffered from diabetes. After a concert in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on May 13, 2007, he had a stroke and was taken to Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha. On Aug. 28 he suffered a heart attack in Gainesville and was hospitalized.

Mr. Diddley always believed that he and Chuck Berry had started rock ’n’ roll, and the fact that he couldn’t financially reap all that he had sowed made him a deeply suspicious man.

“I tell musicians, ‘Don’t trust nobody but your mama,’ ” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2005. “And even then, look at her real good.”

P.J. O'Rourke: When Worlds Collide

The American past meets modern museum doctrine.

The Weekly Standard
06/09/2008, Volume 013, Issue 37

The Ancient Americas
The Field Museum
Permanent Exhibit

The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago has a new permanent exhibit of savagery and barbarism, "The Ancient Americas." The ancient Americans themselves are not portrayed as savage or barbarous. (How surprising. Knock me over with a feather.) The savages and barbarians are the museum's curators. They plunder history, ravage archaeology, do violence to intelligence, and lay waste to wisdom, faith, and common sense.

At the Field Museum, the bygone aboriginal inhabitants of our hemisphere are shown to be regular folks, the same as you and me, although usually more naked and always more noble. Ancient Americans have attained the honored, illustrious status of chumps and fall guys. Never mind that they were here for 12,000 or 13,000 years before the rest of us showed up with our pistols and pox, so most of their getting shafted was, perforce, a do-it-yourself thing.

And also never mind that "The Ancient Americas" exhibit tells you nothing that a fourth grader doesn't know. I am the parent of a fourth grader. I live in a house cluttered with twig and Play-Doh models of hogans, longhouses, and wickiups, hung with ill-made "dream-catchers" and strewn with poorly glued miniature birch bark canoes shedding birch bark on the rugs. My daughter's bedroom is heaped with the apparel, equipage, and chattel of Kaya, the Native American Girl doll. The fourth grade classroom's bookshelves overflow with culturally sensitive and ecologically aware retellings of Potawatomi, Paiute, and Kickapoo legends, colorfully illustrated by women who use birds or mammals for their last names.

When I was in the fourth grade, some 50 years ago, my grandmother would take me to the Field Museum. It was a solemn, quiet, awe-engendering place. All of creation's wonders were on display in orderly ranks. Dim corridors were lined with dioramas featuring important animals, shot, stuffed, and carefully labeled. Further corridors held wonders of a sterner kind: Sinister masks from Africa, demon deities of the heathen Raj, alarming Sung Dynasty figurines depicting the exquisite tortures of Chinese hell. Whatever steadiness of nerve I now possess I owe to steeling myself to walk past the display case containing an unwrapped Egyptian mummy.

The Field Museum was interesting even in its least interesting parts. The section devoted to Useful Varieties of Wood fascinated me in the exactitude of its tediousness. The world was full of things and--if I could summon the patience and concentration--those things could be organized, understood, and made to serve a purpose.

The museum fueled every worthy ambition. The mineralogical collection made me decide to become a man of learning and means sufficient to lead an expedition to find an immense amethyst geode, which I would present to Jennifer Riley, she of the auburn hair in my fourth grade class, one row over and two desks up. And the large, gloomy hall devoted to life in the Arctic was a religious inspiration. I looked at the full-scale cutaway of winter quarters in MacKenzie Bay, where you lived in an underground room the size of a Buick, wore itchy seal skins, ate raw whale and breathed the smoke of a Caribou chip fire.

I would bow my head and intone, "Praise God for not making me an Eskimo."

Then Grandmother and I would go to lunch in the museum's cafeteria, an austere room that served school food of the better kind--much as the White House Mess does to this day. Over this comforting fare I would quiz my own family's ancient American.

"Grandma, what's the difference between Democrats and Republicans?"

"Democrats rent."

"Grandma, what's wrong with the people in the bad neighborhoods that we saw from the 'El'?"

"No one is ever so poor that he can't pick up his yard."

"Grandma, which Roosevelt was worse, Teddy or Franklin?"

"Theodore. He had no business meddling in things the way he did after your great-grandfather's friend Mr. McKinley died, and he divided the Republican party, allowing that scallywag Woodrow Wilson to become the president."

One of the best pleasures of my childhood was to walk hand-in-hand with my grandmother up the broad flights of marble steps to the towering bronze doors of the Field Museum. The doors are closed now. The main entrance to the museum is no longer used. These days that neoclassical portico with its view of Loop, lakefront, and Grant Park grandeur probably makes people feel small. The back door has more room for tour buses and handicapped ramps. Grandeur is out of style anyway. The Field Museum was built for Chicago's Columbian Exposition, celebrating (if you can imagine celebrating such a thing) Columbus's "discovery" of America. It wasn't the happiest 400th anniversary for ancient Americans.

The museum is full of noisy children and their caregivers, blended families, and whatever else we're calling kith and kin these days. A long, mouse-maze, airport security-style line must be endured to get tickets. The sculpture of a Masai spearman facing off against a crouching lioness has been shunted to a lonely corner, lest someone somehow take offense. Nowadays offense is taken--snatched and grabbed--as if offense were something valuable to own. And given our umbrage-filled presidential campaign, maybe it is. The brontosaurus has been pushed to the back (that is to say the front) of the main hall and isn't called a brontosaurus anymore. (Doubtless offense was taken by Chicago's Bronto-American community.) Nor is the skeleton of this vast vegan any longer engaged in post-mortem mortal combat with the bones of a tyrannosaurus rex. Modern kids are too loving and caring about dinosaurs to be exposed to such scenes of domestic violence.

Most of the minerals and all of the useful woods have been replaced by a gift shop the size of Macy's (appropriately enough, since Macy's is now the name on Marshall Field's, the department store whose founder was the Field Museum's patron). The cafeteria is gone; a McDonald's has been installed. At least people are still dressed the way I was a half-century ago: In jeans or shorts, T-shirts, and gym shoes. Except these are people of 40 or 50. Indeed, some are as old as my grandmother was when she, in hat and gloves, escorted me. And Grandma had visited the Field Museum during the Columbian Exposition.

I couldn't see what the children are wearing; they are misbehaving blurs to my bifocaled eyes. None seems afraid to walk past the mummy case. I didn't have the heart. Unwrapped as he is, the mummy fits in too well, sartorially, with a 21st-century crowd. At the portal of the "Ancient Americas" exhibit is the first of many, many wall inscriptions telling you what you should be thinking, if you happen to do any of that.

The Ancient Americas is a story of diversity and change--not progress.

Were this a criticism of pre-Columbian societies, you'd be in for an interesting experience. It isn't. You aren't.

Besides the wall inscriptions the exhibit is cluttered with innumerable video screens displaying people yakking in native languages described as nearly extinct. What information is conveyed thereby, and to whom, is an open question. An extensive collection of Inca clay faces appears opposite the "not progress" message. The Inca seem to have been skilled cartoonists in the Wallace and Gromit manner. However, claymation lacks something when it isn't animated. But that's not-progress for you.

"Gallery guides available in Spanish only," reads another wall inscription. This is either overdoing it with the multiculturalism or an implied insult to the effect that Hispanics are too stupid to find their way through an exhibit arranged like a drunkard's version of the museum's ticket line.

A very wordy inscription details the theories of when and how humans arrived in the New World. Translated from the academese: "We dunno." An encomium to the Ice Age hunter-gatherers follows. "People like us," it concludes, "prospered in ancient times." We did indeed--if your idea of prosperity is fastening a "Clovis people" spearpoint to a stick and stabbing long-horned bison, giant grand sloths, wooly mammoths, mastodons, and New World horses until they were all extinct. The economic boom didn't extend to casual wear and sports clothes. Ice Age or no, everyone in the talentlessly painted murals is naked. Nipples seem to have been vague and smudgy in ancient times, and a mastodon or giant ground sloth was always getting in between mural viewers and your genitals.

Under one such painting the inscription reads:

"Look at that mammoth," your aunt cries out as you hike downhill towards a vast plain. The men [sic!] did well .  .  . " Your family and other group members pause to give thanks and honor the mammoth whose life was taken .  .  .

The Americas were peopled, presciently, by future Californians.

"After the Ice Age," reads another wall, "human creativity made the Americas more culturally diverse." Barack Obama was elected, I guess. Nearby is a large mural titled "Eastern Woodlands 2500 B.C.-500 B.C." I'm a resident of the Eastern Woodlands and, except for fewer naked people, they haven't changed much. Perhaps the title should be amended to "Eastern Woodlands 2500 B.C.-500 B.C. and 1969 A.D. when Janis Joplin and Santana Were Performing at Woodstock."

The naked people in the Eastern Woodlands "faced growing population and environmental stresses. This led to periods of conflict with their neighbors."

Fortunately, Chief Obama was willing, without diplomatic preconditions, to meet and negotiate with any ancient American leader. Therefore, the "periods of conflict" didn't result in anything like, oh, members of the Iroquois Confederation capturing, torturing, enslaving, and occasionally eating everyone they could get their hands on.

An office cubicle's space is allotted to the Moundbuilders. Who were they? Why did they build the mounds? How did they do it? Was there free parking? Translating, again, from the Academese: "Got me, pal."

Then comes a prolix wall headed "Powerful Leaders."

Why did people give up power to make some of their own decisions? Central decision-makers were often more effective than groups at organizing large amounts of labor, managing resources, and directing wars.

So maybe it was Hillary, not Obama, who got elected.

This brings us to the Maya and their abominable customs, nicely glossed.

.  .  . sacrifice has played a role in the religious beliefs of many people throughout history and in all parts of the world. .  .  . Even today almost all world religions include sacrifice of some kind in their spiritual practices.

Now wait a damn minute, you infidel apes of social science. Shut your brie holes and listen up. God, the God, the God who didn't make me an Eskimo, does not require human sacrifice, he suffers it: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

That is the difference--perhaps the only difference--between civilization and savagery. And it's not just us Christians who say so. From the time of Abraham no monotheist has practiced human sacrifice; no Buddhist ever has, and no Hindu since the days of suttee and the Thugs. No Taoist, no Confucian, no Zoroastrian, Baha'ist, or Sikh includes murder in his "spiritual practices."

The text on the Maya continues:

Some societies in the ancient Americas, like the Maya, practiced bloodletting or human sacrifice as part of their ceremonies or spiritual beliefs. Why? Anthropologists don't fully know.

Let's finish that sentence. "Anthropologists don't fully know the difference between right and wrong."

In a nook around the corner from Mayan Spirituality a computer-animated movie runs on a continuous loop. "Living in a State Society" offers a different definition of civilization. State Societies are, it seems, all societies in which sticks and grass aren't the principal constituents of housing, wardrobe, and diet. The movie explains that, in a State Society, the "Ruling Classes" are supported by the "State Power Triad" consisting of the Economy, the Military, and Religion. "For the first time," the narration drones, "the ruling class had a different standard of living than others. Why would people want to give up their freedom? For most there was no choice."

The message of the movie is, I think, to build a wigwam, wear a hula skirt, and boil some sticks for dinner. Or maybe the message is to pack the car and move to North Korea. Or, possibly, the message is to get over it, accept Big Chief Hillary, and learn to love her tax hikes, Iraq retreat, and pseudo-Methodist spiritual beliefs (including health care bloodletting) because "there was no choice."

After a twist and a turn in the exhibit's vagrant route you are among the Aztec and Inca. The loathsome Aztec devoted most of their energy to human sacrifices, horrifying in extent and gruesome in technique. The Ancient Americas treats this in a moving-right-along manner.

From mild bloodletting to violent death, sacrifice offered thanks to the gods while maintaining the natural order of the world.

The original New World Order, as it were. Inscriptions also give a nod to media hype.

The Spanish often emphasized accounts of bloodthirsty sacrifice to justify conquering the Aztec people.

You're hustled past the Inca's no doubt better-justified conquerings. You enter a hushed and funereal room with tombstone lettering on black walls.


In 1492, the first European explorers arrived in the Americas, triggering a devastating loss of life almost inconceivable to us today.

Mao Zedong, please go to the white courtesy phone.

The wall inscription proceeds:

Here, we reflect on the magnitude of loss inflicted on America's Indigenous peoples by European invasion.

The European inflictions are grimly illustrated. The first one upon which we are expected to reflect is the only decent thing (not counting the wheel, iron, cigarette papers, etc.) that Europeans brought to America's Indigenous peoples, "Religious Conversion." Second is "Disease," which should stir our sympathy but hardly our guilt. The exhibit points out that disease was the chief cause of suffering after European contact. Therefore, the horrors that beset The Ancient Americas following 1492 would have happened if the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María had been manned by Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, and Bono.

You escape the pity parlor of When Worlds Collide and traverse a space of video screen talking heads and interactive displays with all their buttons being pounded by toddlers. This is "Living Descendants." The ancient Americans' modern relations are regular folks, as well as their ancestors were, and with clothes on, too, the same as you and me. Of course, if they're the same as you and me, why do they need a room in a museum any more than we do? Well, "despite centuries of injustice and oppression, today's "Indigenous peoples strive to sustain their cultural traditions."

You could say the same of the Irish. Being one, I looked for the exit to go find a drink. I wandered into a solemn, quiet, awe‑engendering place. Looking around the large, gloomy hall I saw the full-scale cutaway of winter quarters in MacKenzie Bay. Its labels are curled and yellowing but unchanged: respectful, factual, precise.

The ancient Americans weren't regular folks. They lived strange, spectacular lives on strange, spectacular continents untrod by man and more remote for them than Mars--or the world of museum curation--is for us. The ancient Americans were tough as hell. They did their share of nasty stuff. But even the Aztec don't deserve to be patronized, demeaned, and insulted by what is--or is supposed to be, or once was--one of the white man's great institutions of learning.

Give the "Ancient Americas" exhibit back to the ancient Americans, and the Field Museum along with it. If any of the heirs and assigns of the Aztec, Inca, or Maya feel inclined to practice a little human sacrifice on anthropologists, sociologists, moral relativists, neo-Marxists, and other conquistadors of modern academia, call it "maintaining the natural order of the world."

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Get Me From the Church on Time

June 1, 2008

Barack Obama gave his "More Perfect Union" speech in Philadelphia on March 18 to tamp down the furor caused by the release of video excerpts of his pastor's sermons. Obama himself had proclaimed the importance of his pastor to his life over the past twenty years in books and interviews. Both circumstantial and direct evidence demonstrated Obama's knowledge of Reverend Wright's sick and indefensible views.

Rather than forthrightly condemn them in his Philadelphia speech, Obama chose to give the appearance of transcending them. Obama reviewed American history going back to the founding, provided autobiographical reflections, and presented himself as the man come to redeem racial relations in the United States. Obama denied familiarity with the statements whose revelation gave rise to his speech and suggested that they unfairly represented the man. Obama's speech provided the larger context for understanding Wright. Here is the key passage:

Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother...

Obama's speech was hailed as a master stroke by members of the mainstream media and other left-wing partisans. Here, for example, is the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan:

This was a testing; and he did not merely pass it by uttering safe bromides. He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man's faults and pain as well as his promise. This is what my faith is about. It is what the Gospels are about. This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian.

Here, for another example, is Time's Joe Klein:

The rhetorical magic of the speech—what made it extraordinary—was that it was, at once, both unequivocal and healing. There were no weasel words, no Bushian platitudes or Clintonian verb-parsing. Obama was unequivocal in his candor about black anger and white resentment—sentiments that few mainstream politicians acknowledge (although demagogues of both races have consistently exploited them). And he was unequivocal in his refusal to disown Wright. Cynics and political opponents quickly noted that Obama used a forest of verbiage to camouflage a correction—the fact that he was aware of Wright's views, that he had heard such sermons from the pulpit, after first denying that he had. And that may have been politics as usual. But the speech wasn't.

It was a grand demonstration of the largely unfulfilled promise of Obama's candidacy: the possibility that, given his eloquence and intelligence, he will be able to create a new sense of national unity—not by smoothing over problems but by confronting them candidly and with civility.

Yet this and its like elsewhere in the mainstream media were not enough for Garry Wills (and the New York Review of Books). For Wills, Obama's speech stood with Abraham Lincoln's 1860 Cooper Union Speech. Lincoln's speech was a remarkable work of original scholarship reconstructing the views of the founding fathers on slavery. Obama's speech was a Clintonian triangulation seeking to negotiate his way through an inconvenient personal controversy, and not very honestly at that. Wills presented himself as the voice of moderation in the media hosannas over Obama's Philadelphia speech:

Obama's speech has been widely praised—compared with JFK's speech to Protestant ministers, or FDR's First Inaugural, even to the Gettysburg Address. Those are exaggerations. But the comparison with the Cooper Union address is both more realistic and more enlightening.

Lincoln's Cooper Union speech is still looking good 150 years later. Obama's Philadelphia speech didn't last 150 days. It failed upon the reeentry of Wright to reiterate the views that had prompted Obama to give the Philadelphia speech in the first place. Thus Obama's press conference on April 29.

At his press conference repudiating Wright, Obama ignored Wright's racist speech to the NAACP in Detroit. Rather, he framed his remarks as a response to Wright's appearance at the National Press Club the following day. In this appearance Wright reiterated what Obama had previously dismissed as "snippets of those sermons" on 9/11 as America's just deserts, AIDS as a product of the United States government, and Louis Farrakhan as a great man. The Wright on display at the National Press Club, however, was a person unrecognizable to Obama. Indeed, he was a person who could be disowned. Moving on from Clintonian triangulation in his Philadelphia speech, Obama had become Nixonian at his press conference. In the immortal formulation of Ron Ziegler, Obama's March 18 Philadelphia speech had by April 29 been rendered "inoperative."

This past Sunday Father Michael Pfleger engaged in merciless racial mockery of Sen. Clinton from the pulpit of Obama's church in Chicago. Although Obama has known Pfleger for some 20 years and Pfleger has been involved in Obama's campaign, Obama professed himself "deeply disapointed" in Pfleger's tirade. Obama conveyed the impression that that he was surprised by the remarks and that they were somehow out of character for Pfleger.

Pfleger's appearance at Trinity United Church was introduced on the pulpit by Pastor Otis Moss. Moss praised Pfleger effusively before his remarks. After Pfleger's remarks, Moss pronounced himself satisfied. Speaking from the pulpit, he said: "We thank God for the message, and we thank God for the messenger." He added: "We thank God for Father Michael Pfleger, we thank God for Father Mike." In his April 29 press conference on Jeremiah Wright, to explain his continuing allegiance to the church, Obama described Moss as TUC's "wonderful young pastor."

Yesterday Obama announced his withdrawal from Trinity United Church. He rendered both his testimony praising Moss and his inalterable allegiance to Trinity United Church "inoperative." Obama portrayed his resignation from the church both as an act taken to shield himself from having church-related remarks imputed to him, and to shield the church from the scrutiny it had been under. The tenor of his remarks suggest that both he and his church have been the victims of a frenzy.

Obama also vaguely referred to “a cultural and a stylistic gap” as a source of the problem. Perhaps the entire saga is little more than a tribute to the incomprehension of unsophisticated outsiders. Such outsiders lack the tools necessary to understand the reflections of Reverend Wright and his ilk in churches espousing black liberation theology. As in "Cool Hand Luke," according to Obama, what we have here is failure to communicate. Unfortunately, not a single member of the press sought further elaboration from Obama on that point.

Every installment of this saga reveals Obama to be a deeply opportunistic politician, ready to beat a hasty retreat from yesterday's statement of cherished principle in order to fight another day. Each installment of the saga also reveals the organs of the mainstream media to be Obama's handmaidens. From March 18 forward they have cheered on Obama's every step, even when Obama's succeeding steps proved them fools.

In the aftermath of this saga, it should begin to dawn on attentive observers that Barack Obama represents a type that flourishes on many college campuses. The technical term that applies to Obama is b.s. artist. Obama is an overaged example of the phenomenon, but his skills in the art have brought him great success and he's not giving it up now. (This post draws on my own "Wright's wrong" and "Does Barack Obama know his friends?")

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Posted by Scott Johnson at 6:06 AM