Thursday, March 19, 2009

Score One For The Pope

Klavan On The Culture

By Andrew Klavan
March 18th, 2009 7:53 pm

I’m not a Catholic—and I’m pretty sure I’ll never become one—but I’ve read a fair amount of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI and it’s pretty clear the man is a theological genius. It’s amazing to me that the Vatican could have followed a genuine hero like John Paul II with a mighty mind like Benedict’s. He is the Last European, the last man to truly understand the ideas that formed the foundation of Europe’s greatness. When he leaves, they may have to turn off the lights of the continent.

Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with a girl after she offered him flowers upon his arrival at Younde airport on March 17, 2009, on the first day of a six-day visit in Africa. Pope Benedict XVI brought the "Christian message of hope" to Africa as he arrived in Cameroon today at the start of his first visit to the world's poorest continent as pontiff. (Getty Images)

Now, as Pope, Benedict is not just a thinker but a world leader and a legitimate target of punditry. I had no problem when commentators took swipes at him for lifting the ex-communication of the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. As near as I can tell, the Vatican didn’t do their homework on that one. Williamson, judging by an interview I watched, is a Jew-hating psychopath and the church could have toddled along quite happily without him.

But this latest flap about Benedict’s remarks on condoms and AIDS—this is absurd. As the Pope arrived for his first visit to the AIDS-wracked continent of Africa, he made the following remarks in answer to a reporter’s question:
“If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. [or possibly, we make the problem worse.] The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness - even through personal sacrifice - to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.”

Oh, what a howl of outrage was there! “The Pope deserves no credence,” said the editors of the New York Times. “Impeach the Pope,” wrote College Professor Robert S. McElvaine in the Washington Post. The Pope is “horrifically ignorant,” said feminist journalist Bonnie Erbe. And from one end of the liberal news world to another “experts” were cited—though rarely named—who said the Pope was wrong.

Is he?

First of all, the Pope is a religious leader not a doctor. His job is to give spiritual not medical advice and I don’t think any “expert” anywhere can deny that “a new way of behaving towards one another,” sexually would improve people’s lives and perhaps ultimately put an end to AIDS altogether.

But more than that, it really does seem that moral approaches to AIDS prevention work better than merely physical ones—that is to say, that condoms cannot do the job, “if the soul is lacking.”

For instance, between 1991 and 2004—according to Edward C. Green writing in the Weekly Standard—Uganda reduced its HIV infection rate from 15 percent to 4 percent by means of a public information campaign called ABC. The A was for Abstinence, the B for Be Faithful and the C for condoms, only as a last resort. Green’s article goes on—shockingly—to report that international AIDS organizations actually attempted to undermine this successful program because it went against the liberal orthodoxy that condoms and testing were the best defense. To liberals, it seems that even AIDS is better than the scourge of morality.

In fact, if you carefully read the New York Times editorial attacking the Pope’s statement, you’ll find out that the Pope pretty much got it right. After first touting reports from the CDC and the Cochrane Collaboration on the effectiveness of condoms for individuals who use them “consistently and correctly,” the editors go on to confess that both groups acknowledge, “The best way to avoid transmission of the virus is to abstain from sexual intercourse or have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected person.”

“Condom promotion has been effective in slowing epidemics in several countries among high-risk groups, such as sex workers and their customers,” says the Times. “But less effective in slowing epidemics that have spread into the general population, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa.”
In other words, a moral approach to sex works and condoms without morality simply don’t. Or in still other words, “If the soul is lacking… the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms.”

I guess this is why the Pope gets to wear the big hat.

Cap-and-Trade Socialism

The Current Crisis

By R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. on 3.19.09 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator

WASHINGTON -- Thank God winter is almost over. It has been another cold one. I hope Al Gore wore his hat and brought along his galoshes whenever he made an appearance against Global Warming. Better yet, I hope he scheduled his jeremiads in warmer climes, say Miami Beach or Antigua. As I reported a while back, scientists have not been able to measure any increase in global warming since the end of 1998. That, despite their lunkheaded computers forecasting the opposite. Over the past two years temperatures have actually dropped by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius. Button up!

I mention all this because 1) it is always amusing to kid Mr. Gore and 2) the price tag for Prophet Obama's climate plan has just jumped to $2 trillion. That is three times the White House's initial estimate for its Cap-and-Trade monstrosity. It is also a huge tax on corporations and consumers at a time when both are in recession. Only government thrives. Given the fact that it is increasingly unclear that there is such a thing as Global Warming and the fact that Cap-and-Trade is an expensive and dubious remedy for it might not the Prophet Obama hold back. He has plenty else to do.

Cap-and-Trade has been tried in Europe by the signers of the Kyoto Protocol and according to the Heritage Foundation's Ben Lieberman, "Nearly every European country participating has higher emissions today than when the treaty was first signed in 1997….emissions in many of these nations are actually rising faster than in the United States." Yet perhaps the Obama Administration has its eye on something other than limiting emissions. Possibly it sees Cap-and-Trade as a great way to gain control of still more of the private sector.

As mentioned above, the huge amount of money mulcted from the private sector and handed over to the public sector has got to please every collectivist in the White House. Moreover there is the huge bureaucracy that will have to be set up to oversee Cap-and-Trade. Those of us who have followed the economic crisis and the Ponzi schemes of Bernard Madoff are familiar with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). If the Administration's climate legislation is passed, we shall have the Cap and Trade Commission (CAP). It will be vast.

To begin with, CAP's agents will have to go to every factory and office building and presumably even public buildings and decide their allowable amount of emissions. That is to say, their cap. Next the agency will auction off and oversee the sale of the documents that certify emissions allowances . Call them coupons. Then the agency will have to monitor the exchange of these allowances and the ownership. Finally the agency will have to monitor compliance and presumably punish those who fail to comply.

In this setup there will be countless opportunities for corruption as polluters try to bribe CAP's agents, or the agents try to elicit bribes. As with the SEC, there will be incompetence and lax enforcement. Finally, there will be senators and members of Congress making special pleadings for corporations in their regions, labor unions, special pleaders of all sorts.

Finally, there is the economics of the legislation. It will take $2 trillion from the private sector and dump it into the public sector. That is to say, a large tax on the private sector will transfer money to the public sector. So how is the private sector to grow itself out of this recession? The Administration's answer is that the government will return the money to worthy endeavors, healthcare, green technology -- again still more opportunities for corruption and for special favors to pleading solons and numas on Capitol Hill.

The Prophet Obama was very disturbed recently when asked if he was a socialist. Socialism is government control of the means of producing and distributing goods and services. What I have just described is a powerful instrumentality toward socialism. Along with Cap-and-Trade, the Obama Administration is calling for a sufficient number of these instrumentalities to socialism that by the next election the United States will be very close to being a socialist state. There is no point in Obama arguing against that observation. He ought simply to come out and say it. He is for socialism. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Bob Tyrrell is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. His books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; and The Clinton Crack-Up.

He makes frequent appearance on national television and is a nationally syndicated columnist, whose articles have appeard in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, National Review, Harper's, Commentary, The (London) Spectator, Le Figaro (Paris), and elsewhere.

Bob is also an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute and was until its demise a contributing editor to the New York Sun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Today's Tune: Patti Smith - Smells Like Teen Spirit

(Click on title to play video)


By Ann Coulter
March 18, 2009

I wish I could ask Ron Silver what he thinks of the AIG bonuses. He'd have some original take -- maybe propose re-opening the bonuses paid to Franklin Raines and Jamie Gorelick for their yeoman's work running Fannie Mae into the ground and then collecting bonuses of $90 million and $24.7 million, respectively. Or maybe he'd just make a joke.

But I can't ask him anymore because Ron died of a rare esophageal cancer last Sunday.

So now there is one less person in the world who never chooses his positions to feed a pompous ego or to stroke his self-image as a thinking person. There was no point to posturing for Ron: His social standing in Hollywood was revoked the moment he supported Bush and the Iraq War.

Perhaps Ron always spoke his mind, but I didn't know him when he was "brave"; I only knew Ron when he was actually brave.

I've noticed that words like "brave" and "courageous" are mostly used nowadays to mean "left-wing.." We're constantly asked to admire the monumental courage of Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Janeane Garofalo and the Dixie Chicks -- sometimes even by other people.

But for my younger readers, what courage traditionally meant was risking the disapprobation of people you know. It was about losing friends, losing work and losing status where you live -- not alienating people you will never meet. Insulting people in Kansas when you live in Los Angeles is not speaking truth to power; it's speaking anything to serve power.

One thing you cannot say about Ron's magnificent speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention is that he did it to go with the flow in Hollywood, to take the path of least resistance, to win easy applause. Ron did lose work, lose friends and lose his entire social apparatus.

Ron didn't say what he said to get any kind of reaction, but because he believed it. He was an intellectual trapped in an actor's body.

Amid the antiques at his beautifully appointed Park Avenue pre-war, there were piles and piles of magazines and newspaper articles on topics ranging from Sunni Muslims to Darwinism. Nearly every room was lined with books, most of them dog-eared.

When I needed to stay with Ron for a few weeks once, he'd get up hours before I did, read all the major newspapers and leave the interesting articles circled at the foot of my bed.

This might be the nicest thing a man could ever do for me. Hey, skip the bagel and fresh coffee -- bring me that op-ed page and a pair of scissors! It was like a fabulous Park Avenue hotel with a clipping service.

During his long-shot chemo treatments at "the spa," as he called Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Ron turned his chemo rooms into Command Central. Most people doze off during chemo; Ron would be sitting upright, watching the news, checking his laptop and making cell phone calls, seemingly oblivious to the poison being injected into his arm.

He'd often come to church with me on Sundays -- while insisting he favored the "Original Testament," as if the New Testament were an act of judicial activism. He just liked to hear an intellectual lecture on the Bible -- and always perked up when the minister began discussing the "Original Testament."

On Sundays when we had communion, Ron would pop the host in his mouth as soon as the tray passed him, approvingly observing that matzo was served at church.

No ideas frightened him, which is part of the reason why we were always laughing, even when we were arguing.

Ron sometimes told me of the cruelty directed at him by his former friends, but never with bitterness or for publication -- although I'm tempted to get it off my chest even if he didn't want to get it off his chest. You know who you are.

As with his impending death, Ron mostly joked about his banishment from the plutocracy. When I off-handedly mentioned in December 2004 that I had to get a Christmas tree, he told me he'd like to help, but having recently spoken at the Republican National Convention, the last thing he needed was to be seen walking through the streets of New York carrying a Christmas tree.

After an aborted operation on his cancer in July 2007, as soon as I saw Ron in his hospital bed, I told him I had Christians across the country praying for him. He said, "That's good, because the Jews are praying for me to die."

Here he was joking only hours after being told his cancer was inoperable and he had mere months to live. Nearly two years later, he was gone. Luckily for him, he now faces a Maker who rewards bravery, but despises "bravery."

Don Imus jokes about his stage 2 prostate cancer on WABC radio show

By David Hinckley
Tuesday, March 17th 2009, 10:13 AM

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Twenty-four hours after he told his radio audience he has Stage 2 prostate cancer, WABC morning host Don Imus Tuesday had already incorporated the disease into the running shtick of his daily show.

He further distinguished his show from Oprah Winfrey's by never coming close to the phrase "teachable moment" - even though, through no specific design of Imus', it probably is.

His own approach ran more toward joking that he won't sign off on any treatment until he gets a "wiener warranty" for his sex life.

He also slipped in a number of passing references, like joking that he can now play "the cancer card" in convincing the Blind Boys of Alabama to record a song for his next Imus Ranch record.

Since cancer is cancer, some of the humor had a dark edge. Tuesday's show was his annual live St. Patrick's Day bash in Boston, and he ended it by telling the sellout crowd at the Wilbur Theater, "We'll see you next year ... if I'm still alive."

But the 68-year-old Imus emphasized several times he's fully expecting that will be the case. He noted his rocky medical history, including a train crash, a collapsed lung, a serious fall from a horse and substance abuse, and said, "Every time I've felt I would get through it - and that's how I feel about this."

His frequent guest Mike Barnicle said this case proves that "it pays to bea hypochondriac" - which Imus is - because that led to the critical early diagnosis.

The longest serious cancer discussion Tuesday was with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), an old friend who was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 and had his own prostate removed.

Kerry talked about his experience and the encouraging prospects with early diagnosis. He also talked about other things he had found helpful along the way, including green tea.

Imus told Kerry he is drinking green tea himself now and jokingly mused on how well vodka would work.

"It's a great green tea chaser," replied Kerry.

Joking tone or not, Tom Taylor of the trade sheet said that having someone with Imus' profile talk about prostate cancer and the value of early diagnosis can't help but increase awareness.

Imus made it clear, though, that he plans no cancer tour. He said Diane Sawyer of ABC News had already asked for an interview and he had no inclination to do it.

For her trouble, though, she did get a free assessment. "She's a good-looking woman for her age," Imus said."She's had more lifts than Mount Snow."

Imus flies to New Mexico this weekend to greet the year's first crew of campers at his ranch for children with cancer and other diseases.

The Kabuki Theater of AIG Outrage

By Michelle Malkin
March 17, 2009

All the world's a stage, wrote Shakespeare, and in the world of Washington, the curtains have opened on the most elaborate farce of the year. Welcome, taxpayers, to the Kabuki Theater of AIG Outrage—where D.C.'s histrionic enablers of taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts compete for Best Performance of Hypocritical Indignation.

Over the weekend, cloaked in their finest populist costumes, the Beltway's hair-sprayed and powdered politicians and White House aides took to the airwaves to inveigh against $165 million in employee retention payments made by the government-backed insurance giant. Those bennies were reportedly part of a larger $450 million round of bonuses. After subpoenaing AIG, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo informed Congress that 73 employees in the very division responsible for the financial meltdown received bonuses of $1 million or more—11 of whom left the company after getting the cash to retain them.

The checks were mailed Friday, but the March 15 bonus deadline had been on the Capitol Hill radar screen since December—when Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings released a letter to AIG CEO Edward Liddy that noted: "Without taxpayer intervention, AIG would have ceased to exist and, to be blunt, all of its employees would have lost their jobs. Against this background—and given the massive layoffs occurring at other major financial entities, such as Citibank—the American taxpayers have a right to know why senior executives at AIG, who are frankly lucky to still have jobs, need to receive additional bonus payments of any kind to retain them at AIG."

But it wasn't until last week that the hapless court jester of the Obama administration, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, scrambled to rein in the payments. Liddy basically told him to buzz off. Geithner, the primary architect of the original $85 billion AIG bailout last fall, "reluctantly" approved the bonuses anyway. And now his outraged boss has ordered him to scour every legal nook and cranny possible to get the money back.

Spare me President Obama's finger wag. He's "outraged"? Meh. Two weeks ago, Team Obama forked over another $30 billion for the basket-case company after it reported $61.7 billion in fourth-quarter losses. That's on top of the first $85 billion round and the second $38 billion round under Bush—both of which Obama supported. (Obama, by the way, collected more than $101,000 in AIG campaign contributions.) Don't talk to me about how the Obama administration opposes rewarding failure.

And don't talk to me about all the politicians stampeding to tax AIG's bonuses. Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, the corporate crony who is the largest recipient of AIG donations, is now leading the charge to tax the retention payments in order to recoup the $450 million the company is paying to employees in its financial products unit.

But Dodd, it turns out, was for protecting AIG's bonuses before he was against them.

Fox Business reporter Rich Edson pointed out that during the Senate porkulus negotiations last month, Dodd successfully inserted a teeny-tiny amendment that provided for an "'exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009,' which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are seeking to tax." Pay no attention to what his left hand was doing. Dodd's right fist is pounding mightily, mightily for the sake of the taxpayers.

The hypocritical indignation on the Hill is bipartisan. On his Twitter page last night, GOP Sen. John McCain huffed: "If we hadn't bailed out AIG = no bonuses for greedy execs." Well, if the GOP presidential candidate had held fast to his opposition to such doomed corporate bailouts in the first place, maybe bailout-palooza wouldn't have spiraled into the gazillion-dollar mess it inevitably became. McCain asserted in a Twitter interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos Tuesday morning that he "would have never bailed out AIG."

But on Sept. 18, 2008, McCain performed a 24-hour flip-flop and abandoned his principled opposition to the $85 billion AIG bailout, lamenting that the "government was forced" to do it. Soon after, McCain joined Obama in supporting the $25 billion auto bailout, the first $350 billion banking bailout (TARP I) and his own massive $300 billion mortgage bailout.

If Washington's newfound opponents of rewarding failure want to do taxpayers a favor, how about giving back their automatic pay raises? How about returning all their AIG donations? How about taking back all the bailout money to all the failed enterprises, from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to AIG, the automakers and the big banks? Barry? Harry? Nancy? John? Chris? Bueller? Bueller?

Exit stage left. The curtain falls.


- Michelle Malkin [email her] is author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin's latest book is Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

Bailouts and Bonuses

Mixing politics and business management doesn’t pay.

By Jonah Goldberg
March 18, 2009

Hats off to Larry Summers. The president’s chief economic adviser told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that there’s nothing to be done about the fact that American International Group is contractually obliged to pay millions of dollars in bonuses to thousands of employees, some of whom helped ruin their company — and, to some extent, the national economy. “We are a country of law; there are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts.”

From what I can tell, the bonuses do stink — although some are as small as $1,000 and presumably go to people who had no significant part in the credit-default-swap-derivative mania of recent years. But let’s assume that they’re all gratuitous. Summers was still right.

When the federal government, on behalf of taxpayers, opted to essentially nationalize AIG — we now own 80 percent of the company — we made a choice to keep it alive. If the firm had gone out of business through bankruptcy — what the gods wanted in the first place — there would be no bonuses. But we chose not to do that. Which means those bonuses are just one more toxic debt for which we are on the hook. For good or ill, we chose to defy the natural order. And now we own this monstrous white elephant.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: When you buy an elephant, you can’t refuse to buy the manure that comes with it. You can try, but, soon enough, you’ll be knee-deep in problems anyway. And they’ll continue to pile up no matter how loudly you complain, “This isn’t what I paid for.”

Unfortunately, it looks like Summers is fighting a losing battle.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is getting set to churn out subpoenas to investigate the bonuses. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) demanded that AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy, who came aboard after these contracts were signed and the company imploded, resign. Somehow I doubt that would make hiring a new caretaker any easier.

Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) wants to fire anyone who takes the bonuses. “These people may have a right to their bonuses. They don’t have a right to their jobs forever,” Frank said on NBC’s Today show Monday. “Forget about the legal matter here for a second. These bonuses are going to people who screwed this thing up enormously, who made terrible decisions.”

One wonders, given that logic, why Frank is accepting a congressional pay raise considering his role in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle.

Later on Monday, President Obama caved to the populist chorus. He said he asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who also helped oversee the mess we’re in, to “pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.” Obama said all Americans ask “is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules. That is an ethic that we have to demand.”

Again, an interesting standard given how many tax cheats Obama has invited into his administration, starting with our supposedly indispensable Treasury secretary.

Still, hypocrisy aside, Obama is right that everyone should play by the same rules, and that’s called the rule of law, as Summers suggested.

We should have learned from the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac what dangers lie ahead: The rule of law and political manipulation of the economy don’t mix well (Indeed, AIG’s toxic loans were made with considerable regulatory and political oversight). Liddy — the front-line sweeper behind the AIG elephant — has already warned the administration that letting politics dictate salaries and bonuses will make it difficult for the firm to retain talented staff.

But the unintended consequences surely won’t end there. What signal does it send when the president and Congress make it clear that they will revisit legal contracts that run afoul of populist outrage? Already, many banks that have received bailout money are returning it — or trying to — because the political strings attached hinder them against competitors. Worse, the highly politicized climate requires financial firms to become dependent on the whims of Washington, which can’t help thaw out frozen credit markets, particularly when Geithner has yet to explain what his actual policy will be.

Wells Fargo Chairman Richard Kovacevich, who was forced against his better judgment to take TARP funds, is livid with the Treasury secretary. “Is this America,” he asks, “when you do what your government asks you to do and then retroactively you also have additional conditions?”

The New York Times reports that the administration is worried about a coming “populist backlash.” It is right to be worried. But further blurring the lines between politics and the market isn’t the answer. That’s how we got in this mess in the first place.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Outrider of the Enlightenment

A look at the legacy of Conor Cruise O’Brien.

By Joseph Morrison Skelly
March 17, 2009, 4:00 a.m.

‘I feel myself to be a child of the Enlightenment,” wrote Conor Cruise O’Brien in 1994, “but a somewhat chastened and battered one. Partly this is a mechanical result of having lived a long time. It is what Edmund Burke called the ‘the late ripe fruit of mere experience.’ Specifically, this is a result of having lived through most of the twentieth century, from its second decade to its last.”

O’Brien also lived through the better part of the 21st century’s first decade; he passed away this past December at his home in Dublin at the age of 91. Saint Patrick’s Day is an appropriate time to reflect upon his illustrious career as an Irish intellectual, international statesman, author of more than 20 books, and friend of National Review. This is especially true in the wake of the recent murders of two British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland by Irish republican terrorists, which recall the dark days of the Troubles. For O’Brien was a son of the Enlightenment who fought relentlessly to defend its inheritance — inalienable natural rights, the rule of law, ordered liberty — and its most important political manifestation — liberal democracy — in our time.

In his writings O’Brien was always careful to distinguish which Enlightenment he was protecting, namely the moderate Anglo-Scottish-American Enlightenment of John Locke, David Hume, Edmund Burke, John Adams, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton; not the radical French version spearheaded by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom Burke called “the great professor and founder of the philosophy of vanity,” and about whom O’Brien asserted, in a letter to Sir Isaiah Berlin, “I find that if a person is pro-Rousseau I class that person as basically an enemy, however agreeable they may appear in other respects.” (Berlin escaped this classification.) This intellectual lineage means that O’Brien, in political terms, was more a classical liberal than the enfant terrible of the Left or the heavy-handed authoritarian of the Right his critics invariably painted him as over the years.

Through his voluminous writings O’Brien welcomed the chance to enliven debate or to enrage his adversaries. He recalled with some satisfaction that his famous essay critical of the latent fascist tendencies in William Butler Yeats, “Passion and Cunning,” made “the print swim” before the eyes of the poet’s devotees, so infuriated were they by his iconoclasm. The Irish-American author Darcy O’Brien once acknowledged, “I did learn from him that controversy is an essential ingredient of most writing worth reading; that if you don’t make a good number of people angry by what you write, you are almost certainly wasting their time — and yours.”

At his core, though, Conor Cruise O’Brien was an outrider of the Enlightenment. He extended its reach where possible, guarded it when necessary, and advocated on its behalf everywhere. He was that figure out in the distance, alert to both external threats and internal temptations. “The Enlightenment we need,” he said, “is one that is aware of the dark, especially the dark in ourselves. An Enlightenment that is on guard against hubris. An Enlightenment that is aware that there is far more evidence extant in favor of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin than of Rousseau’s doctrine of Original Virtue. An Enlightenment that respects the religious imagination, but not the claim of some religions to know what God wants from us and to have the duty to enforce that knowledge.”


Africa was always at the center of O’Brien’s consciousness. He burst onto the international scene in 1961; he had played a contentious role in leading the U.N. operation to prevent the secession of Katanga from the Congo. In response to O’Brien’s work for this cause, Harold Macmillan, the prime minister of Great Britain, asked, “Who is Conor O’Brien?” He and many others found out the next year, when O’Brien published To Katanga and Back, an African-Irish chronicle in some ways comparable in tone to The Year of Living Dangerously, Peter Weir’s film about the attempted coup in Indonesia in 1965.

O’Brien’s opposition to the designs of the great powers in the heart of Africa earned him the enmity of many in the West. People with long memories often declared, “Conor Cruise O’Brien, why he was a Communist!” — an accusation that always amused him. But his anti-colonialism attracted the attention of Kwame Nkrumah, who appointed him vice chancellor of the University of Ghana in 1962. Nkrumah soon found out that O’Brien was no fellow traveler, for he resisted the African leader’s encroachments on academic freedom and left the country in 1965.

O’Brien defended academic freedom on the continent again when he traveled to South Africa in 1986, violating the academic boycott imposed by the international community. He supported economic sanctions against the regime, but argued that the impact of the academic boycott “would be nil, [while] the inroads it was making on academic freedom and freedom of expression were very serious indeed.”

With politically incorrect statements like this he infuriated the liberal intelligentsia, and he angered them further that year with the publication of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism, a robust defense of the state of Israel, a vibrant outpost of the Enlightenment in the Middle East. To his close readers, this volume came as no surprise: He had always been a relentless opponent of anti-Semitism in Europe. His book is of a piece with his classic essay from 1970, “The Gentle Nietzscheans,” which dissected the propensity of scholars to promote a benign interpretation of the German philosopher. “When Nietzsche praises, as he often does, war and cruelty, we are told we must understand him as calling for spiritual struggle and a stern mastery over the self,” O’Brien sardonically observed about Nietzsche’s apologists in academia, whose intellectual acolytes today make the same erroneous claims about jihad.


O’Brien’s relationship with the United States in many ways traced the arc of his career. When he departed from Ghana in 1965 to take up the Albert Schweitzer chair in the humanities at New York University, he rowed in with the New York intellectuals as a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War. He was often a thorn in the side of the American Right, but he was never formulaic in the classroom: As he recalls in The Suspecting Glance, instead of telling his NYU students “about Marcuse or even Shelley, I went on endlessly telling them about Edmund Burke, a thinker to whom no spontaneous inclination of their own would ever have drawn them.”

Following stints in the 1970s and ’80s as a member of the Irish parliament, a cabinet minister, and a newspaper columnist, he spent more time in the United States as a visiting professor and as a fellow at the National Center for the Humanities, where he composed his critical study of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with the French Revolution, The Long Affair (a relevant Rick Brookhiser anecdote, well worth a read, is here). In 1990, he wrote an illuminating essay on Edmund Burke for National Review. Two years later, he published his magnum opus on Burke, The Great Melody, his finest vindication of the Anglo-American Enlightenment tradition.

Over the years he had come to see the U.S. in a new light. As he observed in 1994, “The American Constitution is the greatest institutional repository and transmitter of Enlightenment values, not merely in America, but in the Western world.” Before dying he completed a draft of a study of George Washington’s presidential administrations, First in Peace, which will be published posthumously. Perhaps in Washington he had found an American Burke.


Throughout his lifetime, O’Brien concentrated on his homeland. Both critic and country sustained bruises — the Irish do relish a brawl at times — but O’Brien emerged as a true patriot and one of the greatest Irishmen of his generation.

O’Brien is often described as a critic of Irish nationalism, but this requires some clarification. There are two nationalist traditions to speak of in Ireland: constitutional nationalism and physical-force republicanism. The first is a component of North Atlantic liberal democracy, tracing its roots from the moderate Enlightenment of the late 18th century, through Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell in the 19th, to the Irish Parliamentary party in the early 20th. It has been a positive force for the country, comparable to American patriotism.

Militant Irish republicanism, on the other hand, is the enemy of Irish liberal democracy. It arose from the importation of French Jacobinism into Ireland by Theobald Wolfe Tone in the 1790s and later fused with ethno-religious extremism. It sowed mayhem and destruction from the time of the Rising of 1798 to the Easter Rising of 1916 to the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s. Its most extreme adherents sympathized with the Germans in World War I, the Nazis in World War II and, since the 1970s, with Libya, Cuba, the PLO, ETA in Spain, and FARC in Colombia. In its undiluted form today, Irish republicanism is fascist, neo-volkisch, and violent.

O’Brien was a product and supporter of the former tradition and a fierce foe of the latter. True, he was often critical of constitutional nationalism, especially when it settled for a reductionist view of Irish history or danced too close to Irish extremists, but “the Cruiser,” as he was affectionately known at home, trained his main guns on physical-force republicanism, especially after the Provisional IRA launched its terror campaign in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. He was the first public figure of note in the South to stand up to the IRA, at considerable risk to his own life. In this country he took on Irish American supporters of the IRA and prominent Irish-American politicians who were insufficiently critical of Irish terrorism, including Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, and Hugh Carey.

On December 22, O’Brien was laid to rest by his family and friends in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Throughout the last three decades of the 20th century Ireland had been free, but not at peace.

In Conor Cruise O’Brien’s life there is a lesson for his country, which also applies to other nations: Ireland enlightened will be at peace with itself — and with its neighbors.

— Joseph Morrison Skelly is co-editor of Ideas Matter: Essays in Honor of Conor Cruise O’Brien and a college professor in New York City.

Geert Wilders and Totalitarian Islam

By Andrew G. Bostom
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

During a thoughtful, revealing interview with the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby (published March 8, 2009), Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders clearly unnerved the mainstream conservative journalist with this frank characterization of Islam:

I have nothing against the people. I don't hate Muslims. But Islam is a totalitarian ideology. It rules every aspect of life - economics, family law, whatever. It has religious symbols, it has a God, it has a book - but it's not a religion. It can be compared with totalitarian ideologies like Communism or fascism. There is no country where Islam is dominant where you have a real democracy, a real separation between church and state. Islam is totally contrary to our values.

Wilders remained steadfast, dismissing Jacoby’s invocation of the hollow, if oft repeated trope “radical Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution.” This tired mantra—reiterated constantly for the past decade without a scintilla of supportive evidence—is defied by hard polling data from 2006/2007, and their most recent follow-up reported February 25, 2009.
Overwhelming Muslim majorities i.e., better than two-thirds (see the weighted average calculated here) of a well-conducted survey of the world’s most significant, and populous Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries, want these hideous, immoderate outcomes: “strict application” of Shari’a, Islamic Law, and a global Caliphate.

Specifically, the World Public University of Maryland poll (released February 25, 2009) indicated the following about our erstwhile Muslim ally nations of Egypt and Pakistan: 81% of the Muslims of “moderate” Egypt, the largest Arab Muslim nation, desire a “strict” application of Shari’a, Islamic Law; 76% of the Pakistan’s Muslims—one of the most important, and sizable non-Arab Muslim populations—want this outcome. Furthermore, 70% of Egyptian Muslims and 69% of Pakistani Muslims desire the re-creation of a “…single Islamic state or Caliphate.” Earlier, I detailed the totalitarian impact of these fulfilled Islamic desires —based upon their doctrinal and historical application, across space and time.

The tenaciously held pieties of Mr. Jacoby and his ilk notwithstanding, Wilders’ keen, if blunt conceptions articulate contemporary realities irrefragably, while re-stating seminal insights on Islam observed by great scholars whose works antedate the present day morbid affliction of cultural relativism.

Jacob Burckhardt (d. 1897), an iconic figure in the annals of Western historiography, believed it was the solemn duty of Western civilization’s heirs to study and acknowledge their own unique cultural inheritance—starting with the culture and heritage of classical Athens. Burckhardt emphasized how the Western conception of freedom was engendered in Athens, where its flowering was accompanied by the production of some of history’s most sublime literary and artistic works. Moreover, while Burckhardt affirmed the irreducible nature of freedom, and upheld equality before the law, he decried the notion—a pervasive, rigidly enforced dogma at present—that all ways of life, opinions, and beliefs were of equal value. Burckhardt argued that this conceptual reductio ad absurdum would destroy Western culture, heralding a return to barbarism. And contra the Western legacy of Athens—epitomized by freedom—Burckhardt referred to Islam as a despotic, or in 20th century parlance, totalitarian ideology.

All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law. Its statutes embrace all areas of life...and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!) This is the power of Islam in itself. At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest, do not brook any other form.

The strongest proof of real, extremely despotic power in Islam is the fact that it has been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it. It accomplished this only by instilling into them a new religious arrogance which was stronger than everything and induced them to be ashamed of their past

G.H. Bousquet (d. 1978), one of the foremost 20th century scholars of Islamic Law, explained how Islam’s unique institution of jihad war, and its eternal quest to impose the Shari’a on all of humanity, represented the quintessence of Islamic totalitarianism. Writing in 1950, Bousquet further warned that these ancient Muslim doctrines remained alive, and relevant to the modern era.

Islam first came before the world as a doubly totalitarian system. It claimed to impose itself on the whole world and it claimed also, by the divinely appointed Muhammadan law, by the principles of fiqh, to regulate down to the smallest details the whole life of the Islamic community and of every individual believer...Viewed from this angle, the study of Muhammadan Law (dry and forbidding though it may appear to be to those who confine themselves to the indispensable study of the fiqh), is of great importance to the world of today.

Robert Conquest, in the Preface to the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Great Terror, his seminal indictment of Soviet Communist state tyranny under Stalin, observed:

One of the strangest notions put forward about Stalinism [substitute Islamic Jihadism] is that, in the interests of “objectivity” we must be—wait for it—“non-judgmental.” But to ignore, or downplay, the realities of Soviet [substitute Islamic] history is itself a judgment, and a very misleading one. Let me conclude with Patrick Henry saying in 1775, “I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.” The corollary is that misreading of the past incapacitates us as regards our understanding of the future—and of the present too.

I have indicated above, in brackets, where one could readily substitute Jihadism for Stalinism, and Islamic for Soviet.

This past August (2008), in commemoration of Solzhenitsyn’s passing, Roger Kimball described the following anecdote related by Kingsley Amis, about the reception of Professor Conquest’s landmark study, which “for many years,” was “ignored where possible or dismissed as propaganda.” As Amis notes,

Then, in 1988, favorable references to it began to appear in the Soviet media. . . . [A]n American publisher suggested a new edition of the book. “What about a new title Bob? We won’t pretend it’s a new book, but a new title would be good. . . .Bob answered in terms that get a lot of his character into small compass. “Well, perhaps, I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. How’s that?”

Geert Wilders, alone among contemporary political leaders, stands on the shoulders of intellectually honest Western scholars such as Burckhardt, Bousquet, and Conquest, unabashedly addressing contemporary Islam, and the scourge of resurgent jihadism its mainstream religio-political leadership actively promotes. Wilders pellucid, uncompromised views on the threat of totalitarian Islam might be expressed in this formulation,

Islam is the problem; radical reform is the solution.

Let us hope Wilders moral clarity and wisdom counteracts what Robert Conquest described as “…the credulity of supposed intellectual elites,” who misunderstood and misrepresented Soviet totalitarianism, making, “…the pursuit of rational foreign policy difficult.” As Conquest underscored, aptly,

It hardly needs saying that we must do our best to avoid, or prevent, anything resembling a repetition—in fact that the lesson should be learned.

Andrew G. Bostom is a frequent contributor to Frontpage, and the author of The Legacy of Jihad, and the forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.

Heads Roll in Havana

By Humberto Fontova
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Timing is everything politics, as the Obama administration recently learned to its considerable embarrassment. On the very week that the administration proposed easing some economic and travel sanctions on Cuba, part of a newfound outreach to the communist country, the biggest political shake-up in twenty years rattled Cuba's regime.

Last week, Raul Castro purged almost twenty regime officials. The most prominent among the purged were the youngest and most reform-minded – at least as these things are measured within a Stalinist regime. All have now been replaced by diehard communists with military and secret-police backgrounds.

Cuba's President Raul Castro (C), Cuba's former Vice President Carlos Lage (R), and Cuba's former Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque (L), attend a meeting in Cienfuegos, Cuba in thisDecember 21, 2007 file photo. Perez Roque and Lage had been Cuba's top young leaders until President Raul Castro cast them out of jobs in a government reshuffle earlier this week. Both have now resigned from their other jobs in the Cuban government and the ruling Communist Party and admitted in letters published on March 5, 2009 in the state-run press that they had committed errors. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files (CUBA)

The provisions of Obama's “olive branch” to Castro are rooted largely in recommendations found in a February 23 “Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations,” titled "Changing Cuba Policy -- In the United States National Interest” and heartily endorsed by the ranking Republican on that Committee, Senator Richard Lugar.

“Positive developments are occurring in Cuba,” says the Lugar report, composed after some in his staff visited with Cuban officials last month. “It is clear that the recent (Cuban) leadership changes have created an opportunity for the United States to reevaluate a complex relationship marked by misunderstanding, suspicion, and open hostility," further states the Committee report Senator Lugar released on Feb 24th. As showcased by last week's purge, however, Senator Lugar has it exactly backwards.

In keeping with the repressive nature of the Cuban regime, and especially in keeping with Raul Castro's rule (Raul worked with a KGB handler as early as 1953), the more prominent among the purged (Carlos Lage, 56, VP of the Council of State, Felipe Roque, 45, Foreign Minister) have signed confessions seemingly lifted from the very template used by Zinoviev, Kanev and Bukharin in 1936.

Trotsky's murderer, Ramon Mercader, by the way, served as Cuba's “inspector of prisons” in the 1960's, was the favorite companion of both Raul Castro and Che Guevara, and was buried with honors in a Havana cemetery in 1978. This grave, however, doesn't seem to feature among the more popular sites for the 2.4 million Canadian and European tourists who visit Cuba annually and whose estimated $2.5 billion in expenditures annually for the past 15 years provide the very lifeblood of the Castro regime.

Raul and his Cuban military cronies own most of Cuba's tourist industry. Obama's bill will allow American tourists to participate in Raul's racket and further enrich his regime coffers, while his police bludgeon and bayonet any “unauthorized” Cuban who ventures too near the sparkling tourist facilities. Obama's reasoning seems to go like this: rewarding and enriching the KGB-trained and heavily armed guardians of Cuba's status-quo will magically convert them into instant opponents of that status quo.

This line of reasoning invariably fails to convince those with first-hand experience under Cuba's regime. And never mind the evidence. As mentioned, for almost each of the past 14 years almost 10 times as many tourists have visited Cuba as visited in any year during the 1950's, when Cuba was labeled a "tourist playground." Yet Cuba is as essentially Stalinist today as in 1965. Whatever trickle of foreign currency reaches the regime's subjects (primarily from prostitution) is offset a thousand-fold by the millions that enters the regime's coffers. Not that all of it stays there. According to prominent military defectors, much of it quickly winds up in Spain and Switzerland.

Politically, meanwhile, little changes in Cuba, as last week’s events demonstrate. The same apparatchiks who had worked up Cuban regime ranks were all purged and replaced essentially by apparatchiks who also held office in 1965. Similar purges have occurred in Cuban regime at least once a decade since 1959 -- and they will continue as long as Fidel or Raul remain alive.
But you’re unlikely to hear this reported in the media. Instead, you will hear about the young reformers who are allegedly ready to lead the country in a new direction. In particular, since Fidel Castro's “retirement” in July 2006, the name of the recently purged Carlos Lage had become a veritable mantra in the mainstream media. He's a young technocrat (not a military man) and an economic “reformer,” we are assured. Raul Castro had tapped him as his point man for reforming the Cuban economy along more free-market lines.

On January 18, 2008, American Public Radio's Marketplace aired this celebratory report: "In March, (2008) Cuba's National Assembly will name Cuba's president and Cuba experts uniformly predict that for the first time in 50 years, Cuba's president won't be a Castro. So who will he be? It's Carlos Lage...This is a time when Cuba's leadership moves toward generational change.” The following month, the BBC announced that “Carlos Lage is already a kind of de facto Prime Minister.. the new Cuban brand will be pragmatic and flexible.” Nearly identical reports appeared in the Miami Herald, the New York Times, CNN, all assuring that Carlos Lage had the ear of the regime and would soon have enough power to institute economic reforms. The new generation of Cuban leadership was here, and its name was Carlos Lage.

Where is Lage today? A recent samizdat from Cuba reports that after his recent sacking, Carlos Lage remains under a form of house arrest in Havana. Here's part of his “confession,” published in Cuba on March 3rd and addressed to “Compañero Raúl”: "I recognize and assume all responsibility for my errors. My ousting has been very just. Be assured that I will always serve the revolution and will always remain faithful to the Communist party, to Fidel and to you.” It is signed, “Fraternally, Carlos Lage Davila.” As always in communist Cuba, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Humberto Fontova is the author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Visit

Monday, March 16, 2009

Calling the Baby Ugly

Arne Duncan, the new secretary of education, says that under No Child Left Behind 'we have been lying to students and their parents.'

George F. Will
From the magazine issue dated Mar 23, 2009

Sonorous Washington talk about education in grades K through 12 is usually solemnity without seriousness—the issuance of imperious commands to an unimpressed future. In 1994, Goals 2000 anticipated a high-school-graduation rate of "at least" 90 percent (it is 75) and American students being "first in the world in mathematics and science" in six years. In 2002, No Child Left Behind decreed 100 percent math and reading proficiency by 2014. That will not happen.

Now comes Arne Duncan, 44, the new secretary of education, fresh from seven years leading Chicago's public schools. There he showed a flair for innovation, which he acquired at his mother's knee. Now 74, she was, her son says, "the crazy white lady" who in 1961 opened, in the "absolute chaos" of a rough neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, an after-school tutoring program for young African-Americans, for whom she still toils, 48 years later.

Her son is impressively impatient with what George W. Bush called "the soft bigotry of low expectations." But under Bush's NCLB, Duncan says, "we have been lying to children and their parents because states have dumbed down their standards" of proficiency. "Sometimes," he says, "you have to call the baby ugly."

For decades, state legislatures, encouraged by teachers' unions, have embraced the theory that schools' cognitive outputs were a function of financial inputs. The theory was: As with soybeans, so with education—if you want more, increase subsidies.

But in 1966, the Coleman Report concluded: "Schools are remarkably similar in the effect they have on the achievement of their pupils when the socioeconomic background of the students is taken into account." That was a delicate way of not quite saying that the quality of schools usually reflects the quality of the families from which the students come. One scholar estimated that about 90 percent of the differences among schools in average proficiency can be explained by five factors—number of days absent from school, amount of television watched in the home, number of pages read for homework, quantity and quality of reading matter in the home and, much the most important, the presence of two parents in the home. Government cannot do much to make those variables vary, but Duncan correctly thinks that we actually know how to make schools effective anyway. The keys are time and talent.

America's 180-day school year, which is up to 60 days shorter than in many advanced nations, is a legacy of the 19th century, when children were needed on farms for spring planting and fall harvesting. Today, many middle-class children read and travel during a three-month summer break; disadvantaged children regress, so a portion of the precious 180 days must be devoted to remediation.

In Chicago, Duncan had many schools open 10 to 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for voluntary activities, including instruction. There were waiting lists for placements. Until recently, almost all students attended the nearest school. Now, under a policy whereby money follows the students, 59 percent of high-school students are attending schools they choose away from their neighborhoods. By closing failing schools and opening replacements, Chicago is ensuring that the portfolio of schools is churned and improved.

Half of Chicago's 30,000 entering freshmen attend a monthlong program where they are enticed and warned—enticed by college visits, and warned that certain data are clear: With every F a freshman gets, the chance of graduating declines 20 percent; of freshmen who miss eight days of school in a semester, fewer than half will graduate.

Asked by an impertinent interviewer if education schools are a net subtraction from the quality of teachers, Duncan answers obliquely, which is a good sign: He says only that by the end of his Chicago tenure 20 percent of the new teachers being hired had "alternative certification"—credentials other than those provided by ed schools. Such people had "hitherto been locked out." Asked which he would choose, hiring 100,000 new teachers or firing 100,000 bad teachers, there is a long pause—another good sign—before he says he would take the new teachers because most of the worst teachers are older and are retiring.

He thinks finding talented teachers is more important than reducing pupil-teacher ratios—a third good sign—and he sees a silver lining on today's dark economic clouds: Bright young people who might have gone into investment banking can be lured into teaching by better pay and forgiveness of student loans. By making teaching more fun, his Chicago innovations helped increase the number of applicants from two for each teaching position to 10. And 43 percent of recent hires had master's degrees. Five years of such replacements can, he says, shape public education for 30 years.

From his office at the foot of Capitol Hill, Duncan hopes to use federal money as a lever to move local school systems toward creative improvisations. But in Chicago he had a hammer—the support of His Honor, Mayor Richard Daley. Duncan may be about to receive an education in the difficulty of defeating local inertia from afar.


In Memoriam - Ron Silver

By Roger L. Simon
March 15th, 2009 6:05 pm

Some people have more courage than others.

And still other people have dead on guts that make the rest of us seem like terrified guppies in a sea of cowards.

That was Ron Silver.

Ron had been fighting terminal stomach cancer for well over two years now as if it were some minor skirmish interrupting his otherwise important dedication to the future of this country. And what a dedication that was – twenty-four hours of every day, when they didn’t drag him into Sloan Kettering for treatment… the place Ron would call to his friends with characteristic gallows humor – Sloan Spa.

We all knew Ron had cancer and most of us, I suspect, had some idea how bad it was. The summer before last (I think it was then) I remember him telling me about his recent operation. He was out for about six hours, he told me, and when he woke up he looked at the doctor and asked her how it went. She told him she couldn’t take out the cancer. It had metastasized. The six hours were for nothing. She had to sew him back up. They gave him about three to four months to live at that point.

My heart went into my toes, but Ron told me that matter-of-factly and then he went on to apologize for not writing some article or other for Pajamas Media and then asked me how I was doing. That was Ron.

We had a close relationship that came from a strange confluence of events. Perhaps the best movie that either of us worked on was the same one. – Enemies, A Love Story. But that wasn’t the real reason – it was politics. We had stayed friends after Enemies, as movie folks sometimes do when they have worked on something together that was successful, critically or commercially. We discussed other projects, but our relationship was fairly superficial then and gradually we drifted apart during the nineties.

Then 9/11 came and Ron and I were thrown together once again. We were 9/11 Democrats. We talked on the phone about our journey and the alienation we were feeling from some our friends, but we didn’t come face-to-face until the Republican Convention of 2004. I was a blogger there and feeling rather weird – an old leftie gone right – but there was Ron, far more out than I was, speaking to the entire convention. And he was brilliant. The man could speak in public as well as almost any politician and he had more intellectual background than almost all of them too. He swept the convention audience off their feet.

Ron and I renewed our friendship in the corridors of Madison Square Garden that year and that friendship became faster than it ever was. I think I knew better than most what he was going through in the political sphere, had some sense of his feelings when confronting his peers in the entertainment industry. He gave me tremendous strength. I hope I give him back even a hundredth of what he gave me.

I am writing this in a hurry because of the recent announcement of his death at the age of 62 – and I will undoubtedly write more about Ron – but I would like to share one other moment in recent years.Somewhere around a year ago we were having breakfast in New York. He wasn’t looking good, hair thin from chemo, sallow complexion, etc. His energy, however, as always, was spectacularly high and he was filled with plans for his new Sirius radio show. But something was wrong. It wasn’t just the cancer, but it was related to the cancer. Ron was, above all things, an actor, a fantastic actor. And the cancer made him unable to do that work. He told me he had just been offered the lead in Coriolanus at the Long Wharf, but didn’t think he could do it. He would be too tired with his illness to play a Shakespeare lead. His artistic work was all over for him. It was the one time in all the recent years I saw him on the edge of tears.

I’m starting to cry myself as I type this, so I’m going to shut up. What a great man.

The Protocols of the Drinkers of Coffee

By Melanie Phillips
March 15, 2009

From Egypt, further evidence that the Islamist hatred of the Jews is not caused by Israel’s behaviour or even its existence. It’s caused by... hatred of the Jews. Here, Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hussein Ya’qoub raves:

If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. We will never love them. Absolutely not. The Jews are infidels – not because I say so, and not because they are killing Muslims, but because Allah said: 'The Jews say that Uzair is the son of Allah, and the Christians say that Christ is the son of Allah. These are the words from their mouths. They imitate the sayings of the disbelievers before. May Allah fight them. How deluded they are.’ It is Allah who said that they are infidels.

Your belief regarding the Jews should be, first, that they are infidels, and second, that they are enemies. They are enemies not because they occupied Palestine. They would have been enemies even if they did not occupy a thing. Allah said: 'You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the disbelievers [sic] to be the Jews and the polytheists.' Third, you must believe that the Jews will never stop fighting and killing us. They [fight] not for the sake of land and security, as they claim, but for the sake of their religion: 'And they will not cease fighting you until they turn you back you’re your religion, if they can.'

This is it. We must believe that our fighting with the Jews is eternal, and it will not end until the final battle – and this is the fourth point. You must believe that we will fight, defeat, and annihilate them, until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth.

Egypt, let us not forget, is a ‘moderate’ Arab state that has a peace agreement with Israel. It is nevertheless a major source of barking-mad Jewish demonisation in the Arab world. Here is Egyptian Cleric Salama Abd Al-Qawi warning Muslims against the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the notorious Czarist forged claim that the Jews covertly rule the world -- and many US companies :

They [the Jews]began conspiring to annihilate the Islamic and Arab nation, to plunder its resources, and to destroy its youth. Regretfully, the plots they hatched are being implemented today in detail. One of their conspiracies, which stemmed from their black hatred, was to gain control over the entire global economy, bringing the world under their thumb. So they founded huge companies, which, like spiders, send their webs all over the world. The main goal of these companies was to erase Islamic identity.

... Many basic products, which may be found in many Muslim households, like the Ariel, Tide, and Persil laundry detergents, are made by Zionist companies. The Coca Cola and Pepsi companies and all their products – Seven Up, Miranda, Fania, and all these products, all the carbonated beverages, with very few exceptions that don't bear mention... Almost all the carbonated beverages are Zionist-American products.

[...] Some restaurants, I'm sad to say, are teeming with Muslim youth, and their safes are full of the money of Muslims... McDonalds is Jewish-Zionist, Kentucky Fried Chicken is Jewish-Zionist, Little Caesar, Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza, Burger King... By the way, all these products, which I have mentioned... In addition, there is a new type of coffee these days... All these are pure Zionist products, especially what is known as Starbucks, the well-known coffee. It is Zionist.

Ah yes, Starbucks: home of the Zionist genocidal apartheid bean. In January, Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi brought viewers of al Nas TV urgent news about the Starbucks logo:

Has any of you ever wondered who this woman with a crown on her head is? Why do we boycott Starbucks? ... The girl on the Starbucks logo is Queen Esther. Do you know who Queen Esther was and what the crown on her head means? This is the crown of the Persian Kingdom. This queen is the queen of the Jews. She is mentioned in the Torah, in the Book of Esther. The girl you see is Esther, the queen of the Jews in Persia...

Can you believe that in Mecca, Al-Madina, Cairo, Damascus, Kuwait, and all over the Islamic world, hangs the picture of beautiful Queen Esther, with a crown on her head, and we buy her products.[...]We want Starbucks to be shut down throughout the Arab and Islamic world. We want it to be shut down in Mecca and in Al-Madina. I implore King Abdallah bin Abd Al-‘Aziz, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques: It is inconceivable that in Mecca and Al-Madina, there will be a picture of Queen Esther, the queen of the Jews.

As anyone can see, however, the female figure in the Starbucks logo (pictured above) has two fish tails. This is a clue that she is not Esther, queen of the Jews in Persia. She is instead a twin-tailed siren of Greek mythology. This is because the company is apparently named in part after Starbuck, Captain Ahab’s first mate in the book Moby Dick.

What we are up against within the Islamic world is quite simply a wholesale negation of reason; nothing less.

Stem Cell Sham

The president as sophist.

by P.J. O'Rourke
The Weekly Standard
03/23/2009, Volume 014, Issue 26

When a Democratic president goes from being wrong to being damn wrong is always an interesting moment: Bay of Pigs, Great Society, Jimmy Carter waking up on the morning after his inauguration, HillaryCare. Barack Obama condemned himself (and a number of human embryos to be determined at a later date) on March 9 when he signed an executive order reversing the Bush administration's restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research.

President Obama went to hell not with the stroke of a pen, but with the cluck of a tongue. His executive order was an error. His statement at the executive order signing ceremony was a mortal error: "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values."

A false choice is no choice at all--Tweedledee/Tweedledum, Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL, Joe Biden/Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Is there really no difference "between sound science and moral values"? Webster's Third New International Dictionary states that science is, definition one, "possession of knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding."

Let's look at the various things science has "known" in the past 3,000 years:

Lightning is the sneeze of Thor.

The periodic table consists of Earth, Wind, and Fire and a recording of "Got To Get You into My Life."

The world is flat with signs saying "Here Be Democrats" near the edges.

You can turn lead into gold without first selling your Citibank stock at a huge loss.

We're the center of the universe and the Sun revolves around us (and shines out of Uranus, Mr. President, if I may be allowed a moment of utter sophomoricism).

But, lest anyone think I'm not serious, let me quote with serious revulsion the following passages from the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)--that great compendium of all the knowledge science possessed, carefully distinguished from ignorance and misunderstanding, as of a hundred years ago:

[T]he negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man, and to be more closely related to the highest anthropoids.

Mentally the negro is inferior to the white.

[A]fter puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thought.

The above are quoted--not out of context--from the article titled "Negro" written by Dr. Walter Francis Willcox, chief statistician of the U.S. Census Bureau and professor of social science and statistics at Cornell. I trust I've made my point.

Now let's look at the things morality has known. The Ten Commandments are holding up pretty well. I suppose the "graven image" bit could be considered culturally insensitive. But the moralists got nine out of ten--a lot better than the scientists are doing. (And, to digress, the Obama administration should take an extra look at the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," before going into nonkosher pork production with redistributive tax and spend policies.)

A false choice means there's no choosing. The president of the United States tells us that sound science and moral values are united, in bed together. As many a coed has been assured, "Let's just get naked under the covers, we don't have to make love." Or, as the president puts it, "Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose this research. And I understand their concerns, and I believe that we must respect their point of view."

Mr. President, sir, if this is your respect, I'd rather have your contempt or your waistline or something other than what you're giving me here. The more so because in the next sentence you say,

But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans--from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs--have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research.

Mr. President, you're lying. There is no consensus. And you are not only wrong about the relationship between facts and morals, you are wrong about the facts of democracy. In America we have a process called voting--I seem to remember you were once very interested in it. We the citizens determine whether and how to spend the proceeds of taxation, which we alone are empowered to impose upon ourselves through our elected representatives in Congress, not the White House. If you want to kill little, bitty babies, get Congress to pass a law to kill little, bitty babies, if you can. I'm not going to bother arguing with you about whether it's wrong. Surely you too gazed at the sonogram screen and saw a thumb-sized daughter tumbling in the womb, having the time of her life. And a short life it will be, in a Petri dish. But we've already established that you don't know wrong from right.

The question is not about federal funding for stem cell research, the question is are you a knave or a fool? I'm inclined to take the more charitable view. For one thing you have a foolish notion that science does not progress without the assistance of government.

Philosophy was once considered science. After Alexander the Great had accepted the surrender of Athens, he found Diogenes the Cynic living in a barrel.

"What can I do for you?" Alexander asked.

"Get out of my light," Diogenes said.

On the other hand, you, Mr. President, said that scientific progress "result from painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit, and from a government willing to support that work."

Thus it was that without King George's courtiers winding kite string for Ben Franklin and splitting firewood and flipping eye charts to advance his painstaking and costly research into electricity, stoves, and bifocals, Ben's years of lonely trial and error never would have borne fruit. To this day we would think the bright flash in a stormy summer sky is God having an allergy attack. We would heat our homes by burning piles of pithy sayings from Poor Richard's Almanac in the middle of the floor. And we would stare at our knitting through the bottoms of old Coke bottles.

We'd probably have telephones and light bulbs if President Rutherford B. Hayes (a Republican) had been willing to support the work of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. As you say, Mr. President, "When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed." (Although the light bulbs would now have to be replaced by flickering, squiggly fluorescent devices anyway, to reverse global warming.)

Also, Mr. President, you make a piss poor argument in favor of embarking on what you yourself admit is an uncertain course of action. You say, "At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated." And you find it necessary to say, "I can also promise you that we will never undertake this research lightly."

As your reasons for this research--which we are to perform with heavy hearts--you name a few misty hopes: "to regenerate a severed spinal cord," "lift someone from a wheelchair," "spare a child from a lifetime of needles." Then you undercut yourself by introducing a whole new fear. "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society." Because cloning cells to make a human life is so much worse than cloning cells from a human life that's already been destroyed. Why, it's as dangerous, as profoundly wrong, and has as little place in our society as being pro-life.

Mr. President, any high school debate team could do better. Even debate teams from those terrible inner-city public high schools that your ideology demands that you champion no matter how little knowledge they provide. And I particularly enjoyed the part of your speech where you said that "we make decisions based on facts, not ideology."

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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Today's Tune: Julie and Buddy Miller - Broken Things (Live)

(Click on title to play video)

Music Review: "Written in Chalk" by Buddy & Julie Miller

by Peter Blackstock
March 11, 2009

[Editor's note: The following review appears in No Depression #77, the second in a series of "bookazines" edited by Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock and published by University of Texas Press. The bookazine can be ordered here.]

When news began trickling out that the next Buddy Miller album — the first since 2004's widely acclaimed Universal United House Of Prayer — would in fact be a Buddy & Julie Miller album, it came as somewhat of a suprise, in a positive way. The married couple had not made a record bearing both their names since 2001's self-titled disc, and in recent years Julie has significantly retreated from the spotlight, rarely if ever appearing onstage.

What's perhaps most striking, then, about Written In Chalk is that Buddy relies almost exclusively on Julie for the album's material. She's credited as the sole songwriter on eight of the disc's twelve cuts; one is a Buddy/Julie co-write, with the other three being covers of songs from several decades past.

In a way, this makes perfect sense: Despite not having issued a record of his own in nearly five years, he's been extraordinarily busy as a guitarist and producer. He finally took a break from Emmylou Harris' band to tour with Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, though he's also still doing occasional collaborative acoustic dates with Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin (under the billing "Three Girls And Their Buddy"). In the studio, he's produced records for the likes of Solomon Burke and Allison Moorer, as well as contributing guitar and/or vocals to records by everyone from P.F. Sloan to Miranda Lambert to Rodney Crowell to Frank Black.

Comparatively, Julie has had a little more time for songwriting during that stretch.

At least one song here dates back to 2003, as it addresses the passing of June Carter Cash, who died in May of that year. Others were apparently written, or at least completed, much more recently, given the remarks Buddy made to ND co-editor Grant Alden about the album in the cover story of our final bimonthly issue in the spring of 2008: “She’s been writing a ton of great songs, at least starting them and getting them halfway done...but she’s finishing some of them.”

In that interview, Buddy also alluded to the difficulties that led to Julie's retreat from performing, setbacks both physical (she suffers from fibromyalgia) and emotional (the death of her brother from a bolt of lightning). "I think out of this whole tough three or four years she’s been able to put down some things," Buddy said. "And not all heavy stuff."

That last observation is essential to getting the full picture of this record. Despite the hard times that may have motivated Julie's writing, Written In Chalk isn't merely a litany of lament. Nowhere is that clearer than on the first track, "Ellis County", which may well be the best song Julie has ever written. At the very least, it's the most immediately appealing; by the second time you play it, you feel like you've known it all your life. The first verse begins with Buddy's voice singing her words of longing for a simpler time:

Take me back
When times were hard but we didn't know it
If we ate it, we had to grow it
Take me back
When all we could afford was laughter
And two mules instead of a tractor
Take me back again.

Julie joins in on the next verse, and the band (Larry Campbell on fiddle, Brady Blade on drums, Chris Donohue on bass, John Deaderick on keyboards) gradually builds up the song's upbeat country-folk-rock structure, using those traditional American sounds to celebrate the beauty of traditional American values. At a time when the future is collapsing under its own weight, there is warmth and wisdom Julie's wishful wants and words: "Take me back."

A hint of her personal tragedy lurks within one line, as Julie pines for the days when "I had all my sisters and brothers." She digs deeper into that darkness on a trio of ballads where saying farewell, or trying to, is a recurring theme. On "Don't Say Goodbye", Patty Griffin sympathizes in harmony as she sings, "Take the stars down that I wished on/Take my tears so I don't cry." More elusive is "Everytime We Say Goodbye", which is bathed in sonic layers of guitar and keyboards.

The hardest hitter is "Chalk", an exquisite and dramatic number which features Griffin again, this time accompanying Buddy's lead vocal. "All I did was help you tell a lie/You never even knew it when I said goodbye," they sing, their voices wrung with desperation. And, vividly, in the lyric which gives the album its title: "All our words are written down in chalk/Out in the rain on the sidewalk." The way forward, finally, as has long been the case in Julie's music, and life, is through her faith:

We don't know all the trouble we're in
We don't know how to get home again
Jesus come and save us from our sin

The counterbalance comes on "Memphis Jane", a six-minute, down-and-dirty bluesy rocker about picking up a hitchhiker who has no particular place to go. Further diversity comes from the covers: "What You Gonna Do Leroy", a Mell Tillis tune covered by both Lefty Frizzell and Burl Ives, receives a cool, understated reading, as Buddy trades verses with Robert Plant. Things get turned up a few notches on the pop-soul nugget "One Part, Two Part" (written by Dee Ervin and recorded in the '60s by Clydie King), featuring a fiery vocal contribution from longtime Miller associate Regina McCrary. The album closes with Buddy and Emmylou Harris duetting on Leon Payne's "The Selfishness In Man", memorably recorded by George Jones but coming across here as something Emmylou might have sung with Gram Parsons back in their brief heyday.

Preceding that track is the aforementioned song about the passing of June Carter Cash, titled simply "June". It's the album's sparest and ultimately most moving moment, Julie's sweet whisper hanging just above Buddy's gently picked acoustic guitar strings and a faint touch of piano keys as she makes the bold move of stepping into Johnny Cash's shoes to empathize with his loss: "I know someday I'll sing with you again, but the love that you gave me will last until then." And there's the remembrance of how "the moon's face was hiding" on the ides of May in 2003, when "an eclipse of the moon said that you were gone."

The world misses June & Johnny to this day. But we've still got Julie & Buddy.