Saturday, July 19, 2008

Barack and Michelle - The Untouchables

By Patrick J. Buchanan
July 17, 2008

To watch the contortions over that New Yorker cover cartoon of the Obamas is to understand whom it is impermissible to offend in the America of 2008.

The cartoon is a caricature of Michelle as an urban terrorist in an Angela Davis afro with an AK-47 slung over her back and a bandoleer of ammo in the Oval Office doing a fist-bump with a Barack decked out in turban and Muslim garb. On the wall hangs a portrait of Osama bin Laden. Blazing away in the fireplace is the American flag.

"President Obama and First Lady—as Seen From the Right-Wing Point of View" might have been the caption. Phil Klein of American Spectator nailed it: "This cartoon is intended to make fun of conservatives as ignorant racists and essentially marginalize any criticism of Obama as moronic."
Unfortunately for the New Yorker, the cartoon misfired. Blow-ups are likely to be as pandemic in right-wing dorms this fall as were posters of "Che" Guevara in left-wing dorms in the 1970s.

Indeed, to a goodly slice of the media, this cartoon is no joking matter. Michelle and Barack had been dissed!

For 48 hours, editors Rick Hertzberg and David Remnick fended off attacks, assuring media interrogators the cartoon's purpose was not to satirize the Obamas but to satirize the caricature of Michelle and Barack in the mind of the paranoid right. Remnick insisted to The Huffington Post, "It's not a satire about Obama—it's a satire about the distortions and misconceptions and prejudices about Obama."

Why did progressives recoil? Because the more savvy among them sense that, like much humor, this cartoon was an exaggeration that contained no small kernel of recognizable truth.

After all, Barack did dump the flag pin. Michelle did say she had never been proud of her country before now. Barack did don that Ali Baba outfit in Somalia. His father and stepfather were Muslims. He does have a benefactor, Bill Ayers, who said after 9-11 he regrets not planting more bombs in the 1960s. He did have a pastor who lionizes Black Muslim Minister Louis Farrahkhan. Put glasses on him, and Barack could play Malcolm X in the movies.

And assume the point of the cartoon had been to satirize the Obamas. Why would that have been so outrageous?

Journalists, after all, still celebrate Herblock, the cartoonist who portrayed Richard Nixon with the body of a rat climbing out of a sewer.

Bill Clinton is still denounced as a racist for saying Barack's claim to have been consistent on Iraq was a "fairy tale" and for comparing his South Carolina primary victory to Jesse Jackson's.

Hillary Clinton has been compared to the sex-starved Glenn Close character in "Fatal Attraction." George Bush's verbal gaffes are endlessly panned by late-night comics and Comedy Central. But Barack gets the special-ed treatment. Our first affirmative action candidate.

The New Yorker made a "damn-fool decision," said George Lockwood, a lecturer on journalistic ethics.

David West of Brookings wailed to USA Today of the cartoon: "It's the mass media at its worst. It perpetuates false information, and it's highly inflammatory. ... It gives credibility to what's been circulating for months, and that's what makes it dangerous." [Mag satire panned; depicts Obamas as Muslim, terrorist, By Jill Lawrence, July 14, 2008 ]

But dangerous to whom? Again, it is only a cartoon.

Barack called the cartoon "an insult against Muslim Americans." His campaign called it "tasteless and offensive." That they are miffed is understandable. After all, 12 percent of Americans think Barack took his oath on the Koran, 26 percent think he was raised a Muslim, and 39 percent think he went to a madrassa.

Yet, the reaction of our cultural elites is the more interesting and instructive.

For it suggests that Obama is an untouchable to be protected. As an African-American, he is not to be treated the same as other politicians. Remnick and Hertzberg obviously felt intense moral pressure to remove any suspicion that they had satirized the Obamas. No problem, however, if they were mocking the American right.

Bottom line: If you wish to stay in the good graces of the cultural elite, don't mess with Michelle and Barack.

On display here is not only the sensitivity of the Obama folks to portrayals of him as a radical, but the sensitivity—the naked fear—of an elite magazine that it might be perceived as lending aid and comfort to any who would dare question the nobility and patriotic ardor of the Obamas.

If conservatives allow such a media to determine the weapons they may use and to limit the terrain upon which they are to be permitted to fight, they will lose this election. They have to peel the bark off Barack.
As for the New Yorker, it emerges from the episode as not just unheroic, but just another magazine desperate not to offend its readership or the people whose approbation it seeks as the measure of its moral worth.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Email Humor: “Letter from Ireland”

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Ireland, 2008 Election, Humor
July 18, 2008

Email election humor:

We in Ireland, we can’t figure out why people are even bothering to hold an election in the United States.

On one side, you have a pants wearing lawyer, married to a lawyer who can’t keep his pants on, who just lost a long and heated primary against a lawyer who goes to the wrong church who is married to yet another lawyer who doesn’t even like the country her husband wants to run.

Now… On the other side, you have a nice old war hero whose name starts with the appropriate Mc terminology, married to a good looking younger woman who owns a beer distributorship.

What in Lord’s name are ye lads thinking over there in the colonies??

- Received from Scott Drum & numerous other sources.

Film Reviews: The Dark Knight

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

Showdown in Gotham Town

The New York Times
Published: July 18, 2008

Dark as night and nearly as long, Christopher Nolan’s new Batman movie feels like a beginning and something of an end. Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind — including “Batman Begins,” Mr. Nolan’s 2005 pleasurably moody resurrection of the series — largely by embracing an ambivalence that at first glance might be mistaken for pessimism. But no work filled with such thrilling moments of pure cinema can be rightly branded pessimistic, even a postheroic superhero movie like “The Dark Knight.”

Apparently, truth, justice and the American way don’t cut it anymore. That may not fully explain why the last Superman took a nose dive (“Superman Returns,” if not for long), but I think it helps get at why, like other recent ambiguous American heroes, both supermen and super-spies, the new Batman soared. Talent played a considerable part in Mr. Nolan’s Bat restoration, naturally, as did his seriousness of purpose. He brought a gravitas to the superhero that wiped away the camp and kitsch that had shrouded Batman in cobwebs. It helped that Christian Bale, a reluctant smiler whose sharply planed face looks as if it had been carved with a chisel, slid into Bruce Wayne’s insouciance as easily as he did Batman’s suit.

The new Batman movie isn’t a radical overhaul like its predecessor, which is to be expected of a film with a large price tag (well north of $100 million) and major studio expectations (worldwide domination or bust). Instead, like other filmmakers who’ve successfully reworked genre staples, Mr. Nolan has found a way to make Batman relevant to his time — meaning, to ours — investing him with shadows that remind you of the character’s troubled beginning but without lingering mustiness. That’s nothing new, but what is surprising, actually startling, is that in “The Dark Knight,” which picks up the story after the first film ends, Mr. Nolan has turned Batman (again played by the sturdy, stoic Mr. Bale) into a villain’s sidekick.

That would be the Joker, of course, a demonic creation and three-ring circus of one wholly inhabited by Heath Ledger. Mr. Ledger died in January at age 28 from an accidental overdose, after principal photography ended, and his death might have cast a paralyzing pall over the film if the performance were not so alive. But his Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once. When the Joker enters one fray with a murderous flourish and that sawed-off smile, his morbid grin a mirror of the Black Dahlia’s ear-to-ear grimace, your nervous laughter will die in your throat.

A self-described agent of chaos, the Joker arrives in Gotham abruptly, as if he’d been hiding up someone’s sleeve. He quickly seizes control of the city’s crime syndicate and Batman’s attention with no rhyme and less reason. Mr. Ledger, his body tightly wound but limbs jangling, all but disappears under the character’s white mask and red leer. Licking and chewing his sloppy, smeared lips, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth like a jittery animal, he turns the Joker into a tease who taunts criminals (Eric Roberts’s bad guy, among them) and the police (Gary Oldman’s good cop), giggling while he-he-he (ha-ha-ha) tries to burn the world down. He isn’t fighting for anything or anyone. He isn’t a terrorist, just terrifying.

Mr. Nolan is playing with fire here, but partly because he’s a showman. Even before the Joker goes wild, the director lets loose with some comic horror that owes something to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” something to Cirque de Soleil, and quickly sets a tense, coiled mood that he sustains for two fast-moving hours of freakish mischief, vigilante justice, philosophical asides and the usual trinkets and toys, before a final half-hour pileup of gunfire and explosions. This big-bang finish — which includes a topsy-turvy image that poignantly suggests the world has been turned on its axis for good — is sloppy, at times visually incoherent, yet touching. Mr. Nolan, you learn, likes to linger in the dark, but he doesn’t want to live there.

Though entranced by the Joker, Mr. Nolan, working from a script he wrote with his brother Jonathan Nolan, does make room for romance and tears and even an occasional (nonlethal) joke. There are several new characters, notably Harvey Dent (a charismatic Aaron Eckhart), a crusading district attorney and Bruce Wayne’s rival for the affection of his longtime friend, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, a happy improvement over Katie Holmes). Like almost every other character in the film, Batman and Bruce included, Harvey and Rachel live and work in (literal) glass houses. The Gotham they inhabit is shinier and brighter than the antiqued dystopia of “Batman Begins”: theirs is the emblematic modern megalopolis (in truth, a cleverly disguised Chicago), soulless, anonymous, a city of distorting and shattering mirrors.

From certain angles, the city the Joker threatens looks like New York, but it would be reductive to read the film too directly through the prism of 9/11 and its aftermath. You may flash on that day when a building collapses here in a cloud of dust, or when firemen douse some flames, but those resemblances belong more rightly to our memories than to what we see unfolding on screen. Like any number of small- and big-screen thrillers, the film’s engagement with 9/11 is diffuse, more a matter of inference and ideas (chaos, fear, death) than of direct assertion. Still, that a spectacle like this even glances in that direction confirms that American movies have entered a new era of ambivalence when it comes to their heroes — or maybe just superness.

In and out of his black carapace and on the restless move, Batman remains, perhaps not surprisingly then, a recessive, almost elusive figure. Part of this has to do with the costume, which has created complications for every actor who wears it. With his eyes dimmed and voice technologically obscured, Mr. Bale, who’s suited up from the start, doesn’t have access to an actor’s most expressive tools. (There are only so many ways to eyeball an enemy.) Mr. Nolan, having already told Batman’s origin story in the first film, initially doesn’t appear motivated to advance the character. Yet by giving him rivals in love and war, he has also shifted Batman’s demons from inside his head to the outside world.

That change in emphasis leaches the melodrama from Mr. Nolan’s original conception, but it gives the story tension and interest beyond one man’s personal struggle. This is a darker Batman, less obviously human, more strangely other. When he perches over Gotham on the edge of a skyscraper roof, he looks more like a gargoyle than a savior. There’s a touch of demon in his stealthy menace. During a crucial scene, one of the film’s saner characters asserts that this isn’t a time for heroes, the implication being that the moment belongs to villains and madmen. Which is why, when Batman takes flight in this film, his wings stretching across the sky like webbed hands, it’s as if he were trying to possess the world as much as save it.

In its grim intensity, “The Dark Knight” can feel closer to David Fincher’s “Zodiac” than Tim Burton’s playfully gothic “Batman,” which means it’s also closer to Bob Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s 1986 reinterpretation. That makes it heavy, at times almost pop-Wagnerian, but Mr. Ledger’s performance and the film’s visual beauty are transporting. (In Imax, it’s even more operatic.) No matter how cynical you feel about Hollywood, it is hard not to fall for a film that makes room for a shot of the Joker leaning out the window of a stolen police car and laughing into the wind, the city’s colored lights gleaming behind him like jewels. He’s just a clown painted on black velvet, but he’s also some kind of masterpiece.

“The Dark Knight” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Consistently violent but not bloody.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; Batman character created by Bob Kane; Batman and other characters from the DC comic books; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 32 minutes.

WITH: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Heath Ledger (the Joker), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).

Film: Batman’s Burden: A Director Confronts Darkness and Death (March 9, 2008)

Batman Is Back — TIME Reviews The Dark Knight

By Richard Corliss
Wednesday, July 09, 2008

There's a beautiful high-angle shot, early in The Dark Knight, that looks down on Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in full Batman regalia as he perches atop a Gotham skyscraper, surveying the city he lives to protect, then leaping off and spreading his majestic bat wings to swoop down into the night. Bruce's trajectory is also the film's. It traces a descent into moral anarchy, and each of its major characters will hit bottom. Some will never recover, broken by the touch of evil or by finding it, like a fatal infection, in themselves.

The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's second chapter in his revival of the DC Comics franchise, will hit theaters with all the hoopla and fanboy avidity of the summer season's earlier movies based on comic books. It's the fifth, and three of the first four (Iron Man, Wanted and Hellboy II) have been terrific or just short of it. (The Incredible Hulk: not so hot.) It's been one of the best summers in memory for flat-out blockbuster entertainment, and in the wow category, the Nolan film doesn't disappoint. True to format, it has a crusading hero, a sneering villain in Heath Ledger's Joker, spectacular chases — including one with Batman on a stripped-down Batmobile that becomes a motorcycle with monster-truck wheels — and lots of stuff blowing up. Even the tie-in action figures with Reese's Pieces suggest this is a fast-food movie.

But Nolan has a more subversive agenda. He wants viewers to stick their hands down the rat hole of evil and see if they get bitten. With little humor to break the tension, The Dark Knight is beyond dark. It's as black — and teeming and toxic — as the mind of the Joker. Batman Begins, the 2005 film that launched Nolan's series, was a mere five-finger exercise. This is the full symphony.

A Better Class of Criminal

Gotham has a new white knight: a fearless district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who's determined to nab malefactors through the law with the same gusto that Batman, the dark knight, applies using his gadgets and charisma. The Mob (led by Eric Roberts) they can handle, with the help of stalwart police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman). But the Joker — this guy is nuts. He does deals with the Mob, then crosses them up. He makes a point with his pencil by ramming it into a gangster's head. "This town," he says, "deserves a better class of criminals." So do action movies, and here he is, vowing to bring down Batman and Dent, just for the mad fun of it.

In its rethinking and transcending of a schlock source, The Dark Knight is up there with David Cronenberg's 1986 version of The Fly. It turns pulp into dark poetry. Just as that movie found metaphors of cancer, AIDS and death in the story of a man devolving into an insect, so this one plumbs the nature of identity. Who are we? Has Bruce lost himself in the myth of the hero? Is his Batman persona a mission or an affliction? Can crusading Dent live down the nickname (Two-Face) some rancorous cops have pinned on him? Only the Joker seems unconflicted. He knows what he is: an "agent of chaos." Your worst nightmare.

No, really. This villain, as conceived by Nolan and his scriptwriter brother Jonathan and incarnated with chilling authority by Ledger, is not the elegant sadist of so many action films, nor the strutting showman played by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. He isn't a father figure or a macho man. And though he invents several stories about how he got his (facial and psychic) scars, he's not presented as the sum of injustices done to him. This Joker is simply one of the most twisted and mesmerizing creeps in movie history.

And the actor, who died in January at 28 of an accidental prescription-drug overdose, is magnificent. Echoing the sly psychopathy and scary singsong voice of Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Ledger!), Ledger carries in him the deranged threat of a punk star like Sid Vicious, whom he supposedly took as one of the models for his character. The Joker observes no rules, pursues no grand scheme; he's the terrorist as improv artist. Evil is his tenor sax, Armageddon his melody. Why, he might blow up a hospital or turn ordinary people into mass murderers to save their own lives.

The Joker may be insane, but he's a shrewd judge of character. He knows that Batman has two vulnerable spots: his girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, assuming the role Katie Holmes had in the first film) and his hidden identity. So the Joker starts preying on Rachel, and he says he'll stop terrorizing Gotham if Batman will come out from under the mask. A modest request from the bin Laden of movie villains, yet Bruce is reluctant. Or rather, the film is, since the informing principle of any franchise is perpetuation of the series. No secret, no Batman — just a moneybags with a Messiah complex.

The other would-be hero on a downward spiral is the district attorney. He's brave and ballsy enough to fight the Mob and the Joker, but when a tragedy makes his guilt roil, Dent gets bent. Old Two-Face has a mission of his own, and like the Joker, he can be a one-man plague — but with some of the poignance of classic tragedy.

Free Fall to Destiny

The mayhem and torture wreaked here, by saint or scum, are so vivid and persistent that it's a wonder, and a puzzle, why The Dark Knight snagged a PG-13 rating. (Don't take your 9-year-old son unless you think he'd enjoy seeing a kid just like him tremble in fear while a gun is held to his head by a previously sympathetic character.) But kids would have trouble following the movie, let alone understanding it. For teens and adults, it's a strap-yourselves-in trip, handsome and assured as only a big-budget picture can be. (Part of it was shot in the IMAX process, which lends the action scenes a startling clarity and depth.) And for reassurance, Nolan brings back old friends from Batman Begins: Michael Caine as Bruce's butler Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Fox, who takes care of Bruce's toys.

Actually, they're just diversions from the epochal face-off of Bruce and the Joker. For a good part of the film, when the two embrace in a free fall of souls — one doomed, the other imperiled — you may think you're in the grip of a mordant masterpiece. That feeling will pass, as the film spends too many of its final moments setting up the series' third installment. The chill will linger, though. The Dark Knight is bound to haunt you long after you've told yourself, Aah, it's only a comic-book movie.

Find this article at:,8599,1821365,00.html

Heath Ledger Peers Into The Abyss in The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan's Batman returns, delivers the kick-ass goods

By Scott Foundas
The Village Voice
Wednesday, July 16th 2008

What a brooding pleasure it is to return to Christopher Nolan's Gotham City—if "pleasure" is the right word for a movie that gazes so deeply and sometimes despairingly into the souls of restless men. In The Dark Knight, the continuation of Nolan's superb 2005 reboot of the Batman franchise, Batman Begins, fair Gotham is a modestly cleaner, better-lit place than it was when last we saw it, if still a far stretch from the shining city on a hill its winged protector believes it can be.

A superhero movie of unusual psychological complexity, Batman Begins was, in the tradition of all such origin stories, about a heretofore-ordinary man coming into a heightened sense of his super-ego. But Nolan, who has one of the great procedural minds among contemporary filmmakers, was hardly content to offer up the death of a young boy's parents as a tidy Freudian backstory for what turns a Bruce Wayne into a Batman. Instead, Nolan's Batman (played with iron-jawed intensity by Christian Bale) was the product of many wayward years in the wilderness followed by still more years of rigorous training at the hands of a Svengali-like master, Ra's Al Ghul. Only then, quite late in the day (and the running time), was young Wayne ready to become Batman. At which point, in a twist that now seems perhaps a touch too Shakespearean (by way of George Lucas), the pupil found himself forced to use the master's teachings against the master himself.

In The Dark Knight, nothing is nearly so cut-and-dried. Whereas the radicalized Ra's, with his arsenal of dirty bombs and his urge to eradicate Western "decadence," was a supervillain of the sort that anyone who reads the papers has been conditioned to expect, the Joker of The Dark Knight is all the more terrifying for not having a plan or an identifiable motive. A committed anarchist in a dusting of floury foundation, a smear of crimson lipstick, and pools of Louise Brooks eye shadow, this Joker isn't the ebullient prankster of Batman movies (and TV shows) past, but rather a freakishly disturbing embodiment of those destructive human impulses that can't so easily be explained away. His only rule is to show others the folly of rules, the absurdity of striving to impose order upon chaos. "Some men just want to watch the world burn," observes the ever-wise butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Except that this Joker doesn't merely want to watch; he wants to strike the match.

By now, of course, you know that the Joker is played by Heath Ledger in the last role he completed before his death, this past January, at the age of 28. And it is perhaps the best compliment one can pay to this gifted young actor to say that his performance here would have cemented his legend even if he'd lived to see the film's release. The Joker enters into The Dark Knight gradually, at first a tangential figure in a not particularly interesting Mafia money-laundering subplot. But even then, Ledger seems to make the film grow larger whenever he's onscreen (no matter if you happen to already be watching it in the giant-screen IMAX format). Having shown a penchant for the chameleonic as the sensitive, soft- spoken cowpoke of Brokeback Mountain and the terminally good-vibrating surf-shop owner of Lords of Dogtown, Ledger here again invests in a character from the inside-out, lending the Joker's every physical tick and vocal inflection a signature flair.

No wonder Ledger was reportedly exhausted after finishing work on the film; watching him, you can see how demanding he was on himself, how much he refused to play any predictable beats, whether the Joker is casually advising a room of armed thugs to not "blow things out of proportion" while outfitted in the latest in suicide-bomber haute couture, or slicking his hair back with his hands and sashaying across the dance floor to greet the comely assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, less milquetoast than Katie Holmes). But the genius of the performance is how fully Ledger convinces us that the Joker is capable of doing anything at any moment—even, if the occasion calls for it, to stop being the Joker.

In making the transition from low-budget independent films to studio tentpole projects, Nolan (who co- authored The Dark Knight with his brother, Jonathan), has sacrificed none of his abiding obsessions. Like the amnesiac amateur detective who occupied the central role in Nolan's Möbius-strip sophomore feature, Memento, the Bruce Wayne of Dark Knight is increasingly gripped by an existential crisis, wondering whether he is the hero or the villain of his own story. And like the rival illusionists of Nolan's 2006 film The Prestige, the longer Batman and the Joker engage in their battle of wills—the one confident in the inherent goodness of mankind, the other equally certain that man is but a savage beast—the more the distance collapses between them. Triangulating their position is D.A. Harvey Dent (played with gleaming, Kennedy-esque righteousness by Aaron Eckhart).

That makes The Dark Knight sound like heavy stuff—and it is. But I should add that Nolan also delivers the kick-ass goods, from an opening bank heist à la Michael Mann to a climactic episode of vehicular mayhem à la William Friedkin. So The Dark Knight will give your adrenal glands their desired workout, but it will occupy your mind, too, and even lead it down some dim alleyways where most Hollywood movies fear to tread. By the end of this second installment in that rare franchise one hopes won't end anytime soon, Batman seems to have less in common with his superhero brethren than with those old frontiersmen of movies past. Like The Searchers' Ethan Edwards and High Noon's Will Kane, he's left to ride off into the darkness, pondering the uncertain destiny of principled men in an unprincipled world—as are we.

This Joker Holds All the Cards

Heath Ledger's Clown Gives 'The Dark Knight' Its Power

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008; C01

Handsome is as handsome doesn't in "The Dark Knight." Of the three male lookers who dominate it, who would have guessed that the one with his face hidden behind twisted clown makeup, whose perfect features and fair brow are not glimpsed even once, would prove the most memorable?

This is not because Heath Ledger died in January, though that event does perhaps add some otherwise unearned melancholy to the film. It's because Ledger's performance is so intense and so lasting; it's because despite the insane mask, it's a subtle, nuanced piece of acting so powerful it banishes all memories of the handsome Aussie behind it. The makeup seems to have liberated him: He's supple of body, expressive with only his eyes, and his voice has undulations of irony and mockery and psychopathology to it. He's an essay -- in a way he's never before been, playing straight-faced characters -- in pure charisma.

The performance is also the most interesting thing in the film, and when the Joker is absent, "The Dark Knight" loses most of its energy and dynamism and becomes nothing but a pretty-boy face-off between Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart.

It's too bad, because the movie begins and plays for a long time with a great deal of intensity, particularly as it pits the bat guy against the smiler. It begins with bangs, lots of them. A bank job, very violent (you think you're in a remake of "Heat") transpires, in which a squad of clown-masked pros takes down what is quickly revealed to be a Mafia operation, overloaded with unreported cash.

But even as the bank robbers are bringing off their meticulous plans, they are being hunted: That's because one of them, under his clown mask, is wearing clown makeup. The Joker is not merely robbing the bank but shedding excess colleagues, all while keeping up a kinky patter that becomes his signature. It's kind of a Molly Bloom soliloquy from a demented jester in a sort of self-consciously ironic mode. He seems aware that his spoken narration is itself a higher kind of performance art, even if it's for an audience of one, himself.

And where is Batman while all of this mayhem is being committed? Off somewhere brooding, because nobody broods better than Christian Bale. As Batman, Bale's not bad. He's got the dreary role of being the unmovable baseline against which all others contrast themselves, a hopeless situation. By doing next to nothing, he does a lot.

He's surprisingly passive in the early going, though what's really going on is that Christopher Nolan, the director, franchise-holder (he did "Batman Begins") and writer (along with brother Jonathan Nolan), is giving the Joker plenty of time to establish his bona fides. It's worth the ticket price to watch the Joker explain to the mob bosses that he's the new big guy in town, even while he's giving them a brief autobiography to explain his particular brand of psychopathic malfeasance. He makes a pencil disappear in a most unusual manner, and then explains to them all why his dad once said to him, "Son, why so serious?," thus setting him off on a lifetime of smiles.

Again, it can't be said too often that even against such a charisma blaster as Eric Roberts (as crime lord Sal Maroni), Ledger rules. He's mesmerizing, yet a little sad, for Ledger has the skill to show us the monster and at the same time the terrified child who grew to be a monster because he had no choice.

I was pretty much just settling in at this point to watching Bale's morose elegance go charisma-to-charisma against Ledger's loony radiance. What fun. But the Nolan brothers McComplicate things up all Mcfusingly when they introduce the third element.

This is the Nordic-looking Eckhart, who's not only new D.A. Harvey Dent and a super-villain in the making, but also the beau of Batman's chum and lost heart, Rachel Dawes, who was played in "Batman Begins" by Katie Holmes and here by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal is perhaps too ironic for the Batman world. With those perpetually knowing eyes, she doesn't really fit. She has too many dimensions, is too real-worldy -- her Rachel Dawes seems like the kind of girl who got straight A's but also had the lead in the musical, went to Radcliffe and ended up in New York, doing something "interesting." Holmes, much more limited and perhaps a bit more beautiful, was better cast.

In any event, what follows is a series of triangular competitions: There's the one between friendly rivals Batman and Dent for the heart of Dawes; meanwhile the Joker is playing the crime lords against the police. In a deeper sense, the real three-way is between the law, the criminals and the anarchy that the Joker represents -- that is, the general destruction of the artificial edifice known as civilization, leaving man to his most savage impulses.

You keep waiting for the movie to clarify, to settle down to its archetypal purity: icon of psychotic evil against icon of neurotic good. Music by Wagner in his "Götterdämmerung" mood, screenplay by Nietzsche, with additional lines by Babaloo Mandel. Oh, what a great big movie wallow, what a transformational blast of cine-pleasure.

It never quite arrives. Toward the end, the Dent subplot takes over, primarily as a vehicle to show off some incredible makeup on Harv and explain who he'll be in further installments, whether Eckhart plays him or not (Tommy Lee Jones played him in an earlier Batman sequence).

Yes, Batty and Laugher do go at it, against a situation engineered by the Joker: two ferries, one full of criminals, the other of normal citizens, are rigged to explode, each with a detonator to light off the other -- the question being, who among us, the worst or the best, will commit multiple murder in order to survive? But the big fight is not nearly as mythic as it should have been, giving the movie an ending that felt more anti- than climactic.

The film's mistake is Eckhart as Dent. This is a role that calls for more gift than Eckhart, in other circumstances an honest journeyman, possesses. He's got to show a love and an idealism so stout they can stand against the vilest villainy yet so fragile they can shatter into evil at a single catastrophic loss. It's not in him to show a range of contradictions like this, and the character -- as written by the Nolans -- is beyond demonstrating as much, either. So the whole subplot about Dent is mostly just fury and sound, signifying nothing except someone's idea that a summer blockbuster has to be 2 1/2 hours long and therefore must be chock-full of not very compelling subplots to swell it up to epic length if not quality.

The effects and stunts are first-rate, though for big bangs, the opening bank robbery was probably the most powerfully done. Batman's ability to ride the thermal columns between Gotham shafts downward to safety is very cool. So is the magical way the Batcar becomes a motorcycle with the purring of some electric gizmos, and a lot of the time this Batman seems more like Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" than anyone named Keaton, Kilmer or Clooney who came before.

The Dark Knight (152 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for mayhem, menace and intense sequences of violence.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama's Greatest Admirer

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, July 18, 2008; A17

Barack Obama wants to speak at the Brandenburg Gate. He figures it would be a nice backdrop. The supporting cast -- a cheering audience and a few fainting frauleins -- would be a picturesque way to bolster his foreign policy credentials.
What Obama does not seem to understand is that the Brandenburg Gate is something you earn. President Ronald Reagan earned the right to speak there because his relentless pressure had brought the Soviet empire to its knees and he was demanding its final "tear down this wall" liquidation. When President John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate on the day of his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, he was representing a country that was prepared to go to the brink of nuclear war to defend West Berlin.

Who is Obama representing? And what exactly has he done in his lifetime to merit appropriating the Brandenburg Gate as a campaign prop? What was his role in the fight against communism, the liberation of Eastern Europe, the creation of what George Bush the elder -- who presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall but modestly declined to go there for a victory lap -- called "a Europe whole and free"?

Does Obama not see the incongruity? It's as if a German pol took a campaign trip to America and demanded the Statue of Liberty as a venue for a campaign speech. (The Germans have now gently nudged Obama into looking at other venues.)

Americans are beginning to notice Obama's elevated opinion of himself. There's nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?

Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted "present" nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.

It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly. In his victory speech upon winning the nomination, Obama declared it a great turning point in history -- "generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment" -- when, among other wonders, "the rise of the oceans began to slow." As Hudson Institute economist Irwin Stelzer noted in his London Daily Telegraph column, "Moses made the waters recede, but he had help." Obama apparently works alone.

Obama may think he's King Canute, but the good king ordered the tides to halt precisely to refute sycophantic aides who suggested that he had such power. Obama has no such modesty.

After all, in the words of his own slogan, "we are the ones we've been waiting for," which, translating the royal "we," means: " I am the one we've been waiting for." Amazingly, he had a quasi-presidential seal with its own Latin inscription affixed to his lectern, until general ridicule -- it was pointed out that he was not yet president -- induced him to take it down.

He lectures us that instead of worrying about immigrants learning English, "you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish" -- a language Obama does not speak. He further admonishes us on how "embarrassing" it is that Europeans are multilingual but "we go over to Europe, and all we can say is 'merci beaucoup.' " Obama speaks no French.

His fluent English does, however, feature many such admonitions, instructions and improvements. His wife assures us that President Obama will be a stern taskmaster: "Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism . . . that you come out of your isolation. . . . Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed."

For the first few months of the campaign, the question about Obama was: Who is he? The question now is: Who does he think he is?

We are getting to know. Redeemer of our uninvolved, uninformed lives. Lord of the seas. And more. As he said on victory night, his rise marks the moment when "our planet began to heal." As I recall -- I'm no expert on this -- Jesus practiced his healing just on the sick. Obama operates on a larger canvas.


Today's Tune: Gladiator Soundtrack - Now We Are Free

(Click on title to play video)

Never forget

By Lee Edwards
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe, five nations remain "captive" to communism -- China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos.

Amid all the hoopla about the Beijing Olympics and the "ohs" and "ahs" over the dozens of skyscrapers soaring above the Chinese capital, we must keep in mind that China is also a land of forced labor camps. These camps constitute a Chinese Gulag -- the laogai -- filled with an estimated 4 million to 6 million prisoners, including tens of thousands whose only crime was to criticize publicly the communist regime.

These are inconvenient facts for those who want to do business with Communist China, but the truth about communism must be told.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters understand what is at stake. They understand that history must not be forgotten lest it be repeated. They keep reminding the world of the Holocaust, crying, "Never again." So too must we remember the crimes and the victims of communism.

The failure to separate fact from fiction, and myth from reality, when it comes to communism explains, in part, why it persists in Cuba, where the regime silences any opposition; in North Korea, where the people endure a totalitarian nightmare; in Laos and Vietnam, where the most elementary human rights are denied; and in China, whose leaders still pretend pro-democracy students weren't massacred in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

What is the truth about communism? That it failed to deliver on every one of its promises from the beginning.

It promised bread but produced chronic food shortages and rationing.

It pledged peace but sacrificed young men in wars in far-off lands.

It guaranteed the peasants land but delivered them into collectives.

Wherever they came to power, communists killed -- in the "killing fields" of Cambodia, where one out of the every six civilians perished; in the "re-education" camps" of Vietnam, filled with as many as 1 million people out of a population of 20 million; with the tragic famines that have decimated the population of North Korea for half a century.

It is the mission of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, of which I am honored to be chairman, to educate this generation and future generations about the history, philosophy and legacy of communism.

Our first step was to build and dedicate in June 2007 the world's first memorial to all the victims of communism, more than 100 million of them. It is located in Washington, just four blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

Our second step is to build the Global Museum on Communism, the first museum on the Internet that will tell the complete story of communism from Karl Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" to current events in communist countries such as China and Cuba. The virtual museum will be launched in early 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet empire.

Our third step will be the construction of a bricks-and-mortar museum -- the United States Museum and Library on Communism -- in the Washington area.

Granted, it's an ambitious program, but the times call for boldness and commitment. Communism is not dead but alive and all too well in the captive nations of China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos.

Those who use communism to maintain their power would like us to forget the crimes and victims of communism, past and present. This we will not do, especially as we celebrate the 50th observance of National Captive Nations Week, a time to pledge anew that never again will nations and peoples permit so evil a tyranny to terrorize the world.

Lee Edwards is a fellow in conservative thought at The Heritage Foundation and chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Packer, A Pro in the College Game

By Michael Wilbon
The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 15, 2008; Page E01

Billy Packer has never been beloved the way John Madden is. Packer's never been as smooth as Doug Collins or Joe Morgan. Packer is the polar opposite of college basketball's other iconic analyst, Dick Vitale. There were times earlier in his career when Packer was criticized for being racially insensitive. As recently as 2000 he made a crude and arrogant remark to a couple of Duke co-eds who were simply doing their jobs. As recently as March Packer took his usual position, lobbying for the interests of college basketball's Goliaths at the expense of the game's Davids. And his opinions on most issues relating to professional basketball were, at best, unenlightened.

In this March 12, 2006, file photo, CBS announcers Billy Packer, left, and Jim Nantz laugh during a break in the action in the championship basketball game in the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis. Packer is out after 27 years as the lead college basketball analyst for CBS, making way for Clark Kellogg. Kellogg has done game and studio analysis for CBS for 16 years. He will partner with Nantz on his first Final Four in April. Packer did 34 consecutive Final Fours.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Yet nobody has been as good at explaining and analyzing a college basketball game, which is why CBS parting company with Packer yesterday after 27 years is such a stunner. He'd worked every Final Four broadcast since 1975. His very presence at a game lifted its importance and made it a bigger event than if someone else was calling it. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino nailed it when he said, "I think Billy has given the most professional accounting of [college] basketball in the history of our game as a commentator."

Between the sidelines, Packer has been the most complete critic of all, a very tough but ultimately fair grader. You knew he loved college basketball but he didn't come to the microphone with pom-poms. When it came to X's and O's, timeouts, strategies, philosophies, what coaches should do next, Packer was a bit Hubie Brown, an insider who simplified every situation for the viewer with authority.

When it was time to weigh in with a tough opinion that might offend someone's sensibilities, Packer was a bit Howard Cosell, bold and unconcerned with any possible consequences. Packer certainly hasn't been great fun on the air, like Bill Raftery. And when it comes to social issues he's usually awkward, probably because what he cares about above everything else is the game. That's why Pitino's characterization of Packer giving a "professional accounting" is perfect.

I'd gladly put up with all of Packer's agendas and his affiliations because when he sat to call a game he threw himself into it and made the experience better for anybody who cared about the game, if less so the three-ring circus that has come to surround college basketball.

That he wasn't a warm and fuzzy creature probably shouldn't count against Packer ultimately, though there have been times when Packer created his own messes that became national controversies and turned a lot of consumers of college basketball against him. I was pointedly critical of Packer in the early 1990s when like a great many white sportscasters, usually calling college football and basketball games, he resorted to the laziest analysis possible, depicting black players as physically superior and white players as intellectually superior. The implication, of course, was that all black players were physically gifted yet intellectually challenged.

This discussion heated to the boiling point in the late 1980s as on-air language was first examined closely and Packer was at the center of the examination. But if the best thing that can result from criticism is change, the dialogue was worth it. As annoyed with Packer as I was initially, I came to admire him for changing not just his language, but his thought. It was a dramatic change, too. Some broadcasters, fearing for their jobs, simply settled for more politically correct language. Packer went much further.

Several times when groups including black coaches and black journalists put together panels to talk about stereotyping in the media, Packer showed up and took a grilling. I remember one afternoon/evening in Chicago--if memory serves me it was at Jesse Jackson's PUSH headquarters in Hyde Park, when Packer sat with a few black sportswriters and Jackson, and we went at it. We'd ask Packer if he understood that not all black players were great athletes and not all white players were brilliant and I wasn't sure he got it, that he understood why these depictions were offensive, not to mention inaccurate.

Packer, no matter how confrontational the setting was, never left one of those sessions early. He'd stay and engage, sometimes deep into the night. I didn't know until many years later that Packer, as a young man, publicly and privately railed against segregated basketball games in the South and as a teenager went to see and/or play against the top black high school and college players in the mid-Atlantic despite the fact that white kids were sternly warned not to do so.

I remember Packer taking notes at one of those sessions, walking out late one night and saying essentially, "I'm not going to be guilty of this anymore." And very quickly the language that so offended many of us was eliminated from his analysis. Not reduced, not lessened . . . gone. More than 12 years ago in this space I marveled that Packer had called Syracuse's Lawrence Moten (who is black) "one of the most sophisticated players in recent years in college basketball." I about died. Fairness became the rule with Packer when it came to race, not the exception. It's why John Thompson, among others, defended Packer's new record when he called Georgetown's Allen Iverson "a tough monkey" during a broadcast.

Personally, I'd grown much more annoyed with Packer's recent crusades against mid-major college basketball teams, particularly in light of George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006, and his refusal to note the incredible advantage in resources enjoyed by the big-time basketball powers. But I'm certainly not ready to agree with the critic, Dan Shanoff, who wrote that Packer "wasn't just a curmudgeon; he was joyless, which made listening to him excruciating. His ouster is a great day for college hoops fans."

I like listening to Packer, even with his warts, and I cannot believe one of the other networks won't snatch him up, if Packer still wants to do games. There's plenty of room for Vitale and the people who love his style, for Raftery, for Len Elmore, Jay Bilas and for Clark Kellogg, who will leave the CBS studio to work with Jim Nantz. Kellogg, a friend, seems particularly ready to expand game analysis, if he wants, to include a broader social and professional hoops perspective that Packer doesn't have. (That Kellogg won't be nearly as biased toward the ACC -- Packer played at Wake Forest -- will be welcomed, too.)

Still, it's difficult, maybe even impossible, to believe that we've heard the last of or from a man who has made such an impactful noise for one-third of a century.

This is not a Drill

By Ann Coulter
July 16, 2008

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, or as she is called on the Big Dogs blog, "the worst speaker in the history of Congress," explained the cause of high oil prices back in 2006: "We have two oilmen in the White House. The logical follow-up from that is $3-a-gallon gasoline. It is no accident. It is a cause and effect. A cause and effect."

Yes, that would explain why the price of oral sex, cigars and Hustler magazine skyrocketed during the Clinton years. Also, I note that Speaker Pelosi is a hotelier ... and the price of a hotel room in New York is $1,000 a night! I think she might be onto something.

Is that why a barrel of oil costs mere pennies in all those other countries in the world that are not run by "oilmen"? Wait -- it doesn't cost pennies to them? That's weird.

In response to the 2003 blackout throughout the Northeast U.S. and parts of Canada, Pelosi blamed: "President Bush and Rep. Tom DeLay's oil-company interests." The blackout was a failure of humans operating electric power; it had nothing to do with oil. And I'm not even "an oilman."

But yes -- good point: What a disaster having people in government who haven't spent their entire lives in politics! That explains everything. A government official with relevant experience or knowledge about an issue is obviously a crisis of gargantuan proportions.

This must be why the Democrats are nominating B. Hussein Obama, who finished middle school three days ago and has less experience than a person one might choose at random from the audience of "American Idol."

Announcing the Democrats' bold new "plan" on energy last week, Pelosi said breaking into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "is one alternative." That's not an energy plan. It's using what we already have -- much like "conservation," which is also part of the Democrats' plan.

Conservation, efficiency and using oil we hold in reserve for emergencies does not get us more energy. It's as if we were running out of food and the Democrats were telling us: "Just eat a little less every day." Great! We'll die a little more slowly. That's not what we call a "plan." We need more energy, not a plan for a slower death.

But there's more! Pelosi announced that the Democrats also plan to push for "an historic investment in biofuels, efficiency, conservation and the rest." The "rest" is apparently what she called our "important and essential" investment in alternative energy.

That certainly would be historic: We would make history by throwing our money away on unproven energy boondoggles that have eaten up untold billions since the 1960s without producing a single net kilowatt of power while we all starve to death.

The proposal to use energy sources that don't yet produce any energy is like the old New Yorker cartoon with Obama in Muslim garb -- no wait, that was a different cartoon. The cartoon is: A scientist has written out his extremely complicated theory on a blackboard and is showing it to another scientist. The theory consists of numbers and characters and takes up the entire blackboard. About two-thirds of the way across, reading left to right, appear the words, "then a miracle happens," followed by more numbers and characters.

That's the Democrats' plan to run cars on biofuels, solar and wind power: Then a miracle happens. The current Democratic mantra on energy is: "We can't drill our way out of this problem." Apparently their plan is to talk our way out of this problem.

Democrats are also alleging that the oil companies are sitting on millions of acres of oil but are refusing to drill -- presumably because oil company executives hate the American people and perversely don't want to make money. Manifestly, those acres are being explored for oil or have already come up dry.

If the Democrats really wanted oil companies to find more oil, they'd allow oil companies to drill offshore and to drill in ANWR, which we happen to know is bursting with oil.

But they don't. They don't want drilling. They don't want more oil. They want humans to ride bicycles and then to die. We deserve it: We were mean to the polar bears.

It's good to know that in the middle of a crisis, the Democrats are still liars. As long as we're fantasizing about "alternative" energy sources, what we really need is a car that runs on Democrats' lies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Today's Tune: Chubby Checker - Let's Twist Again

(Click on title to play video)

Higher Folly

Diplomas won’t make jihadis go away.

By Michelle Malkin
National Review Online
July 16, 2008, 0:00 a.m.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, right, is thought of as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man

In all the brouhaha over the New Yorker’s satirical cover cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama, a truly “tasteless and offensive” passage in the magazine’s feature article got lost. The magazine piece quotes Obama’s recommendations for how to stop jihad, which he had previously published in a local Chicago newspaper eight days after 9/11. It’s a self-parody of blind, deaf, and dumb Kumbaya liberalism:

We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.

Is this man for real? Osama bin Laden’s murderous legions are plenty able to “imagine” the “suffering of others.” Go watch an al-Qaeda beheading snuff video. Just Google it or surf YouTube. Imagining the suffering of infidels is covered amply in basic Jihadi Training 101.

You’ll note, too, that Obama’s fresh instinct in the week after the 9/11 attack was to diagnose it as a “tragedy” stemming from lack of “empathy” and “understanding” — instead of as the deliberate, carefully planned evil act of the long-waged Islamic war on the West that it was.

As for Obama’s continued delusion about the “climate of poverty and ignorance” that supposedly breeds Muslim terrorists, can American politicians ever rid themselves of this unreality-based trope? This belief is part and parcel of the same idiocy that led the State Department to embrace “spa days” for Muslims to “build bridges” with the Arab world and President Bush to open up our aviation schools to more Saudi students to “improve understanding.”

John McCain also alluded to education-as-cure for Islamic terrorism at the L.A. World Affairs Council in March, when he declared, “In this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs.” Just what we need: more student visas for the jihadi-infested nation that sent us the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers.

Author and National Review Online blogger Mark Steyn’s sharp rejoinder to McCain then applies to Obama now: “There’s plenty of evidence out there that the most extreme ‘extremists’ are those who’ve been most exposed to the west — and western education: from Osama bin Laden (summer school at Oxford, punting on the Thames) and Mohammed Atta (Hamburg University urban planning student) to the London School of Economics graduate responsible for the beheading of Daniel Pearl. The idea that handing out college scholarships to young Saudi males and getting them hooked on Starbucks and car-chase movies will make this stuff go away is ridiculous — and unworthy of a serious presidential candidate.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri didn’t need more education or wealth to steer him away from Islamic imperialism and working toward a worldwide caliphate. He has a medical degree. So does former Hamas biggie Abdel al-Rantissi. Seven upper-middle-class jihadi doctors were implicated in the 2007 London/Glasgow bombings. Suspected al-Qaeda scientist Aafia Siddiqui, still wanted by the FBI for questioning, is a Pakistani who studied microbiology at MIT and did graduate work in neurology at Brandeis.

And as I’ve reported before and must reiterate for the hard of hearing in Washington, lowering academic standards at American colleges helped al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed further the jihadi cause. In the early 1980s, he enrolled at tiny Chowan College in Murfreesboro, N.C., which had dropped its English requirements to attract — ahem — wealthy Middle Easterners.

At Chowan, Mohammed bonded with other Arab Muslim foreign students known as the “Mullahs” for their religious zeal. Mohammed then transferred to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he earned his degree in mechanical engineering along with 30 other Muslims.

Mohammed applied his Western learning to oversee the 1993 World Trade Center bombing plot (six Americans dead), the U.S.S. Cole attack (17 American soldiers dead) and the 9/11 attacks (3,000 dead). He has also been linked to the 1998 African-embassy bombings (212 dead, including 12 Americans), the plot to kill the pope, the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and the Bali nightclub blast that killed nearly 200 tourists, including two more Americans.

Perhaps bleeding-heart Obama thinks a master’s degree in social work would have convinced poverty-stricken, helpless, ignorant, despairing Mohammed to change his mind?

May We Mock, Barack?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
Published: July 16, 2008

WASHINGTON: When I interviewed Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for Rolling Stone a couple years ago, I wondered what Barack Obama would mean for them.

“It seems like a President Obama would be harder to make fun of than these guys,” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” Stewart scoffed.

Then he and Colbert both said at the same time: “His dad was a goat-herder!”

When I noted that Obama, in his memoir, had revealed that he had done some pot, booze and “maybe a little blow,” the two comedians began riffing about the dapper senator’s familiarity with drug slang.

Colbert: Wow, that’s a very street way of putting it. ‘A little blow.’

Stewart: A little bit of the white rabbit.

Colbert: ‘Yeah, I packed a cocktail straw of cocaine and had a prostitute blow it in my ear, but that is all I did. High-fivin.’ ’

Flash forward to the kerfuffle — and Obama’s icy reaction — over this week’s New Yorker cover parodying fears about the Obamas.

“We’ve already scratched thrift, candor and brevity off the list of virtues in this presidential cycle, so why not eliminate humor, too?” wrote James Rainey in The Los Angeles Times, suggesting “an irony deficiency” in Obama and his fans.

Many of the late-night comics and their writers — nearly all white — now admit to The New York Times’s Bill Carter that because of race and because there is nothing “buffoonish” about Obama — and because many in their audiences are intoxicated by him and resistant to seeing him skewered — he has not been flayed by the sort of ridicule that diminished Dukakis, Gore and Kerry.

“There’s a weird reverse racism going on,” Jimmy Kimmel said.

Carter also observed that there’s no easy comedic “take” on Obama, “like allegations of Bill Clinton’s womanizing, or President Bush’s goofy bumbling or Al Gore’s robotic personality.”

At first blush, it would seem to be a positive for Obama that he is hard to mock. But on second thought, is it another sign that he’s trying so hard to be perfect that it’s stultifying? Or that eight years of W. and Cheney have robbed Democratic voters of their sense of humor?

Certainly, as the potential first black president, and as a contender with tender experience, Obama must feel under strain to be serious.

But he does not want the “take” on him to become that he’s so tightly wrapped, overcalculated and circumspect that he can’t even allow anyone to make jokes about him, and that his supporters are so evangelical and eager for a champion to rescue America that their response to any razzing is a sanctimonious: Don’t mess with our messiah!

If Obama keeps being stingy with his quips and smiles, and if the dominant perception of him is that you can’t make jokes about him, it might infect his campaign with an airless quality. His humorlessness could spark humor.

On Tuesday, Andy Borowitz satirized on that subject. He said that Obama, sympathetic to comics’ attempts to find jokes to make about him, had put out a list of official ones, including this:

“A traveling salesman knocks on the door of a farmhouse, and much to his surprise, Barack Obama answers the door. The salesman says, ‘I was expecting the farmer’s daughter.’ Barack Obama replies, ‘She’s not here. The farm was foreclosed on because of subprime loans that are making a mockery of the American dream.’ ”

John McCain’s Don Rickles routines — “Thanks for the question, you little jerk” — can fall flat. But he seems like a guy who can be teased harmlessly. If Obama offers only eat-your-arugula chiding and chilly earnestness, he becomes an otherworldly type, not the regular guy he needs to be.

He’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food — a perception heightened when The Wall Street Journal reported that the planners for Obama’s convention have hired the first-ever Director of Greening, the environmental activist Andrea Robinson. She in turn hired an Official Carbon Adviser to “measure the greenhouse-gas emissions of every placard, every plane trip, every appetizer prepared and every coffee cup tossed.”

The “lean ‘n’ green” catering guidelines, The Journal said, bar fried food and instruct that, “on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include ‘at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.’ (Garnishes don’t count.) At least 70% of the ingredients should be organic or grown locally, to minimize emissions from fuel during transportation.”

Bring it on, Ozone Democrats! Because if Obama gets elected and there is nothing funny about him, it won’t be the economy that’s depressed. It will be the rest of us.

Images: 2008 All-Star Game

Yankee Stadium says goodbye with long night -- and morning

Chicago Sun-Times Columnist
July 16, 2008

NEW YORK - JULY 15: American League All-Star Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees and Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks look on prior to the 79th MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

NEW YORK -- The Chicago way, of course, would be to mock the closing of Yankee Stadium, ridicule New Yorkers as insufferable louts and write that I prefer Joe Crede over drama queen Alex Rodriguez. Sorry, I must rise above those petty whims. If you care about sports, a slice of your soul dies when a baseball cathedral shuts down, even when it's located on 161st Street in the town Chicagoans are instructed to loathe out of the womb.

The wreckingball killed old Comiskey Park. It eventually will claim at least the grandstand of Wrigley Field, though anyone who touches the aestethic miracle that is the outfield panorama should be put away for life. And now, after 85 years as an American museum, the House That Ruth Built will make way for a $1.3-billion colossus that will attempt to re-create the traditional aura with, ahem, a Hard Rock Cafe, a martini lounge, $2,500 prime seats and nightly trysts between Madonna and A-Rod.

I'm making up that last part. I think.

On this historic night -- and morning -- the National Leaguers were losers again, stretching their winless streak to 12 and costing the Cubs any hope of home-field advantage in a World Series we probably shouldn't be talking about. In the longest All-Star Game ever, four hours and 50 minutes worth of good pitching and close plays at the plate, the American League continued its dominance with a 4-3 win in 15 innings.=2 0The AL won when Michael Young lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, where Corey Hart's throw to Brian McCann was too late to nail Justin Morneau. The NL succumbed amid a dreadful series of mishaps by second baseman Dan Uggla, who grounded into a double play in the 10th, then made three errors. Uggla, indeed.

Twenty-three pitchers were used. Sixty-three players were used in total. Four hundred and thirty-four pitches were thrown. If things had gone any longer, we may have had another embarrassing tie. AL manager Terry Francona, a good man, had no interest in risking damage to his last available pitcher, Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir. He was prepared to stop using Kazmir, who pitched an inning afrer starting Sunday for the Rays. "You wait your whole life to do something like this, but the last two hours wasn't a whole lot of fun," Francona said. "Panic started to set in."

NEW YORK - JULY 15: American League All-Star Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees pitches during the 79th MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Same went for NL manager Clint Hurdle. "I kept seeing that Ricky Riccardo saying, `Lucy, you got some explaining to do,' " Hurdle said. "We were told the game would find a way to finish itself." Another befuddled Bud Selig sighting was avoided.

Just past 1 a.m. in the Bronx, there was a vintage Chicago matchup of dueling Carloses, Quentin vs. Marmol, which would have been the perfect conclusion in this rare, ridiculous season when the Cubs and White Sox both harbor Series hopes. But Marmol, who has struggled mightily of late, struck out Quentin20to end the 13th-inning AL uprising.

"Bull!" Quentin shouted angrily after swinging and missing.

From where I sit in right field on a breezy summer evening, a replica of the famed scalloped frieze already is visible atop the new Stadium, which rises among cranes only a few hundred feet away. For the architecturally uniitiated, the frieze is the distinctive white facade that has served as the regal trademark of this ballpark, the Yankee mystique and sports theater for nearly a century. Down on the field, as flashbulbs pop like twinkling stars, 49 of the 63 living Hall of Famers -- Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Luis Aparicio among them -- greet the American and National League All-Stars at their respective positions. The celebration jogs tears from my ducts, heavy with the reality dose that life is moving on. My mind flashes back to nights spent covering games here, including the 2001 World Series only days after 9/11 shook New York and this country to its terrorized core.

No, this wasn't a time to be cynical. This was an evening to appreciate what sport means to us and what these massive monuments have come to symbolize. Your father took you to a ballgame. Now, you take your son or daughter to a ballgame. In time, they will do the same. Baseball has ripped out our hearts with cheating scandals and labor strife, but more often than not, it has been a compelling passion. Yankee Stadium is where every lad in the land aspired to play, even if he didn't like the Yankees or cantankerous owner George Steinbrenner, who openly wept when he was introduced and transported onto the field in a cart. If you listened closely Tuesday night, you could hear Lou Gehrig calling himself "the luckiest man on the face of this earth" and see Nelson Mandela and various Popes delivering speeches. Ali and Louis fought here. Bono and Billy Joel serenaded here. Most of all, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter played here.

Boston Red Sox's Manny Ramirez, of the American League team, ducks a pitch from Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano (38), of the National League team, during the fifth inning in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in New York on Tuesday, July 15, 2008.
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

This was a night for Cubs fans and White Sox fans to enjoy stars from their first-place teams on Broadway. The best show, naturally, came courtesy of Carlos Zambrano, who pitched two scoreless innings with his usual theatrics. He opened the fourth by striking out the white-shoed A-Rod, then had some fun with Manny Ramirez. With Carlos being Carlos, he playfully threw a pitch over Ramirez's head, which drew laughter in the NL dugout from his Cubs teammate, Aramis Ramirez, and a smile from Manny. Later, when another Ramirez, shortstop Hanley, made a throwing error to prolong the fourth, Zambrano kicked some dirt on the mound, then proceeded to pick off the dozing Milton Bradley at first base. Big Z jumped over the foul line, gave a fist pump and pointed to the sky. Shockingly, he did not ask manager Clint Hurdle if he could stay in the game.

"When I was coming in from the bullpen, I was a little bit shaking," Zambrano said. "But after a pitch or two, I was OK. I wasn't really nervous, just feeling the situation."

The Z Show came after Cubs legend Ernie Banks delivered a pre-game pep talk to the NL All-Stars, whose last victory was in 1996. You don't think Banks understood the importance of the Cubs, armed with the league's best record, potentially gaining home-field advantage in the World Series with an All-Star Game win? "It's fun to win. It's time for us to do that," Banks told them. "It's an important game, and everyone is watching you -- the National League is watching you, a lot of Hall of Fame people are watching you."

In the ninth, Ryan Dempster protected a 3-3 tie by striking out the side. Other Cubs weren't as successful. Geovany Soto went 0 for 2 and allowed two stolen bases, with his too-loose catcher's mask continuing to flop around on throws. Kosuke Fukudome's slump also was noticeable on an 0-for-2 night. But the All-Stars, for once, were mere props. The Stadium was the star.

"When kids are in the backyard playing pretend games of baseball against their pretend buddies, it’s 3-2, two outs, bases loaded and they ain’t in Ted Turner Field. They're at Yankee Stadium," Atlanta star Chipper Jones said.

NEW YORK - JULY 15: American League and National League All-Stars on the field at the start of the 79th MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

"It’s the greatest venue in the world," said Rodriguez, who claims to still enjoy the big stage despite intense coverage of his divorce proceedings and off-field meanderings.

A-Rod has become the lightning rod for why some players might rather wrestle with snakes than play in New York. To his credit, he sat for nearly an hour and answered questions about his personal life, including a Madonna reference. "Everybody has distractions," he said. "Mine are just on the front page of the papers. And I'm fine with that. You look at it as a gift and a curse. There's so much good that comes with playing here. You have to be able to take the good with the bad and not take yourself too seriously."

A possible new issue: Did he leave the ballpark after he was removed in the fifth for Crede, as reported by ESPN Radio?

No matter what happened or what was said, I just kept looking around, hour after hour. Another ballpark was dying. Had to pay my respects.