Saturday, May 02, 2009

Today's Tune: The Raveonettes - You Want the Candy

(Click on title to play video)

The Price of a Porcine Panic

By Michael Fumento
May 1, 2009

There's absolute panic over an outbreak of swine flu. "Projections are that this virus will kill 1 million Americans," the nation's top health official has warned.
But the date is 1976. And the projection proves off by 999,999 deaths. However, a hastily-developed vaccine went on to kill or crippled hundreds. Sadly, the current hysteria outbreak threatens devastation on a worldwide scale.

A calm perspective of the current outbreak of the virus now known as influenza A (H1N1) would compare it to seasonal flu. According to the CDC, the seasonal flu infects between 15 to 60 million Americans each year (5% to 20%), hospitalizes about 200,000 and kills about 36,000. That comes out to over 800 hospitalizations and over 250 deaths each day during flu season.

Worldwide deaths are 250,000 to 500,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), or about 700 to 1,400 per day spread out over the year.

No matter that few bothered to make this comparison during the 2003 SARS hysteria, which caused only 8,096 cases and 774 deaths worldwide with no U.S. deaths.

There's no hint that influenza A (H1N1) is either easier to transmit than seasonal flu or more lethal. The symptoms are the same, and swine flu cases so far have generally been quite mild.

As of this writing 13 countries have officially reported 365 cases of influenza A(H1N1), yet the only deaths have been Mexican. It’s not a “puzzle” as to why. All infectious diseases strike much harder in underdeveloped countries, partly because of poorer health care but primarily because the people are less healthy to begin with. Only 322 of those 8,096 SARS cases were in developed nations.

The moniker "swine flu" clearly spooks many. But pigs, with the help of birds, routinely transmit seasonal flu to humans. "Swine flu" simply means it contains some pig flu genetic material. If this eccentricity made it that inherently more dangerous than a pure human flu, the 1976 strain wouldn't have caused merely 500 infections with a 0.02% death rate.

No, influenza A (H1N1) won’t become "another Spanish Flu of 1918-19," as pig flu panic purveyors claim. Nothing will. It’s been 90 years. Back then we were hobbled by a world war, general health in developed nations was much poorer than in Mexico today, and we’ve since developed things called "antibiotics" – as well as antivirals, pneumonia vaccines and other medical tools. In all flu outbreaks, including the Spanish one, the vast majority of deaths come from secondary bacterial infections.

Not coincidentally, one of the "worrisome" similarities between Spanish flu and swine flu is that both strains are of the H1N1 subtype. But--ahem!--So is one of the major subtypes of the latest seasonal flu.

Another panic prompter is that so far influenza A (H1N1) appears to disproportionately affect younger people. Assuming this holds up, one explanation would be that older persons have received some immunity from previous exposure to a similar strain. Alarming? In any case, the stronger immune systems of younger people could explain the apparent mildness of symptoms outside of Mexico.

It's true we have no vaccine for this flu. But two years ago, the seasonal flu shot proved ineffective against the primary strain and one of the two secondary strains. There was no appreciable increase in cases or deaths. That said, it would make sense to include swine flu as one of the three strains in this fall's seasonal flu vaccine.

It's also truly reassuring to see self-important health officials grasping for straws to make the outbreak appear more serious. Keiji Fukuda, a top WHO official, invoked the dreaded "M" word (mutation). "It's quite possible for this virus to evolve," he said, whereupon it "can become more dangerous to people." Actually, evolution favors mutations that make a virus less harmful; better to adapt to a host than to kill it.

The last time a flu mutation perceptibly increased the U.S. death rate was the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 (34,000 in a smaller population) and before that the Asian flu 1957-58 (70,000). They were bad, but hardly apocalyptic. For neither were antivirals or pneumonia vaccines available.

But influenza A (H1N1) hysteria is even now delivering a gut punch to a global economy, posing a serious risk of a recession within the recession.
It was SARS hysteria, and not the relatively tiny number of cases, that cost the economies of East and Southeast Asia 0.6 percentage points of 2003 GDP, according to the Asian Development Bank. And a World Bank report last year estimated that just the costs of avoiding infection during a flu pandemic--not the illness itself--would shave off 1.9% off world GDP. Some poorer parts of the world--including that containing Mexico--would lose 2.9% of GDP.

Ironically, because as we've seen in Mexico, wealth translates into health, poorer nations could lose far more lives to the hysteria than to the virus. Such are the wages of our swine flu fright fest.

- Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .

Obama looks moderate, acts radical

By Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, May 1, 2009

We're still in the first hundred days of the joyous observances of Barack Obama's first hundred days, and many weeks of celebration lie ahead, so here are my thoughts:

President Obama's strongest talent is not his speechifying, which is frankly a bit of a snoozeroo. In Europe, he left 'em wanting less pretty much every time (headline from Britain's Daily Telegraph: "Barack Obama Really Does Go On A Bit"). That uptilted chin combined with the left-right teleprompter neck swivel you can set your watch by makes him look like an emaciated Mussolini umpiring an endless rally of high lobs on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Each to his own, but I don't think those who routinely hail him as the greatest orator since Socrates actually sit through many of his speeches.

On the other hand, if you just caught a couple of minutes of last Wednesday's press conference, you'd be impressed. When that groupie from The New York Times asked the president about what, during his first hundred days, "had surprised you the most … enchanted you the most … humbled you the most and troubled you the most", Obama made a point of getting out his pen, writing it down and repeating back the multiple categories: "Enchanted," he said. "Nice." Indeed. Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, but then he scribbles down your multipart question to be sure he gets it right, and he looks so thoughtful, and suddenly he's not a stranger anymore, and the sound of his laughter will ring in your dreams.

The theater of thoughtfulness is critical to the president's success. He has the knack of appearing moderate while acting radical, which is a lethal skill. The thoughtful look suckered many of my more impressionable conservative comrades last fall, when David Brooks and Christopher Buckley were cranking out gushing paeans to Obama's "first-class temperament" – temperament being to the Obamacons what Nick Jonas' hair is to a Tiger Beat reporter. But the drab reality is that the man they hail – Brooks & Buckley, I mean; not the Tiger Beat crowd – is a fantasy projection. There is no Obama The Sober Centrist, although it might make a good holiday song:

"Obama The Sober Centrist

Had a very thoughtful mien

And if you ever saw it

You would say it's peachy keen …"

And it is. But underneath the thoughtful look is a transformative domestic agenda that represents a huge annexation of American life by an ever more intrusive federal government. One cannot but admire the singleminded ruthlessness with which Obama is getting on with it, even as he hones his contemplative unhurried moderate routine on prime time news conferences. On foreign affairs, the shtick is less effective, but mainly because he's not so engaged by the issues: He's got big plans for health care, and federalized education, and an eco-friendly government-run automobile industry – and Iran's nuclear program just gets in the way. He'd rather not think about it, and his multicontinental apology tours are his way of kicking the can down the road until that blessed day when America is just another sclerotic Euro-style social democracy, and even your more excitable jihadi won't be able to jump up and down chanting "Death to the Great Satan!" with a straight face.

It would seem to me that reality is more likely to intrude on the Obama project from overseas than domestically. But if he's lucky it won't intrude at all, not until it's too late. Thirty years ago this month, a grocer's daughter from the English Midlands became Britain's female prime minister – not because the electorate was interested in making (Obama-style) history, but just because nothing worked any more. The post-1945 socialist settlement – government health care, government automobile industry, government everything – had broken down: Inflation over 25 percent, marginal taxes rates over 90 percent, mass unemployment, permanent strikes. The country's union leaders were household names, mainly because they were responsible for everything your household lacked. Even moving around was hard: The nationalized rail network was invariably on strike, and you had to put your name on a waiting list months in advance for one of the "new" car models. The evening news was an endless parade of big beefy burly blokes picketing some plant for the right to continue enjoying the soft pampering workweek of the more effete Ottoman sultans.

Margaret Thatcher was a great leader, who reversed her country's decline – to the point where, two decades later, the electorate felt it was safe to vote the Labour Party back into office. And yet, in the greater scheme of things, the Thatcher interlude seems just that: a temporary respite from a remorseless descent into the abyss. In its boundless ambition, the Left understands that the character of a people can be transformed: British, Canadian and European elections are now about which party can deliver "better services," as if the nation is a hotel, and the government could use some spritelier bellhops. Socialized health care in particular changes the nature of the relationship between citizen and state into something closer to junkie and pusher. On one of the many Obama Web sites the national impresario feels the need to maintain – "Foundation for Change" – the president is certainly laying the foundation for something. Among the many subjects expressing their gratitude to Good King Barack the Hopeychanger is "Phil from Cathedral City, Ca.":

"I was laid off in mid-January from a job I had for 12 years. It's really getting hard to make ends meet, but this month I got some great news. This week I received in the mail official notification that my COBRA monthly payments for medical, dental and vision insurance will decrease from $468 to only $163, all due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is a $305 in savings a month!

"I can't tell you how much of a weight off my shoulders this is. I am living proof of how the president's bold initiatives are beginning to work!"

But just exactly how do these "bold initiatives" work? Well, hey, simple folk like you and I and Phil from Cathedral City don't need to worry about the details. Once these "bold initiatives" really hit their stride maybe the cost of everything over four hundred bucks can be brought down to $163. Wouldn't that be great?

The problem in the Western world is that governments are spending money faster than their citizenry or economies can generate it. As Gerald Ford liked to say, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." And that's true. But there's an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give Phil from Cathedral City everything he wants isn't big enough to get Phil to give any of it back. That's the stage the Europeans are at: Their electorates are hooked on unsustainable levels of "services," but no longer can conceive of life without them.

Margaret Thatcher has a terrific line: "The facts of life are conservative." Just so. Alas, while the facts are conservative, everything else – the culture, the media, the institutions in which we educate our children, the language of public discourse, the societal air we breathe – is profoundly liberal. Phil is "living proof" of something, but it's not good news for conservatives.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Torture? No. Except . . .

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, May 1, 2009

Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. An innocent's life is at stake. The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. He refuses to divulge. In such a case, the choice is easy. Even John McCain, the most admirable and estimable torture opponent, says openly that in such circumstances, "You do what you have to do." And then take the responsibility.

Some people, however, believe you never torture. Ever. They are akin to conscientious objectors who will never fight in any war under any circumstances, and for whom we correctly show respect by exempting them from war duty. But we would never make one of them Centcom commander. Private principles are fine, but you don't entrust such a person with the military decisions upon which hinges the safety of the nation. It is similarly imprudent to have a person who would abjure torture in all circumstances making national security decisions upon which depends the protection of 300 million countrymen.

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the "torture memos" noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist "chatter" had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how -- and we can't know that until we have information.

Under those circumstances, you do what you have to do. And that includes waterboarding. (To call some of the other "enhanced interrogation" techniques -- face slap, sleep interruption, a caterpillar in a small space -- torture is to empty the word of any meaning.)

Did it work? The current evidence is fairly compelling. George Tenet said that the "enhanced interrogation" program alone yielded more information than everything gotten from "the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together."

Michael Hayden, CIA director after waterboarding had been discontinued, writes (with former attorney general Michael Mukasey) that "as late as 2006 . . . fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from those interrogations." Even Dennis Blair, Obama's director of national intelligence, concurs that these interrogations yielded "high value information." So much for the lazy, mindless assertion that torture never works.

Could we not, as the president repeatedly asserted in his Wednesday news conference, have obtained the information by less morally poisonous means? Perhaps if we'd spoken softly and sincerely to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, we could equally have obtained "high-value information."

There are two problems with the "good cop" technique. KSM, the mastermind of 9/11 who knew more about more plots than anyone else, did not seem very inclined to respond to polite inquiries about future plans. The man who boasted of personally beheading Daniel Pearl with a butcher knife answered questions about plots with "soon you will know" -- meaning, when you count the bodies in the morgue and find horribly disfigured burn victims in hospitals, you will know then what we are planning now.

The other problem is one of timing. The good cop routine can take weeks or months or years. We didn't have that luxury in the aftermath of 9/11 when waterboarding, for example, was in use. We'd been caught totally blind. We knew there were more plots out there, and we knew almost nothing about them. We needed to find out fast. We found out a lot.

"We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened," asserts Blair's predecessor, Mike McConnell. Of course, the morality of torture hinges on whether at the time the information was important enough, the danger great enough and our blindness about the enemy's plans severe enough to justify an exception to the moral injunction against torture.

Judging by Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress who were informed at the time, the answer seems to be yes. In December 2007, after a report in The Post that she had knowledge of these procedures and did not object, she admitted that she'd been "briefed on interrogation techniques the administration was considering using in the future."

Today Pelosi protests "we were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any other of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used." She imagines that this distinction between past and present, Clintonian in its parsing, is exonerating.

On the contrary. It is self-indicting. If you are told about torture that has already occurred, you might justify silence on the grounds that what's done is done and you are simply being used in a post-facto exercise to cover the CIA's rear end. The time to protest torture, if you really are as outraged as you now pretend to be, is when the CIA tells you what it is planning to do "in the future."

But Pelosi did nothing. No protest. No move to cut off funding. No letter to the president or the CIA chief or anyone else saying "Don't do it."

On the contrary, notes Porter Goss, then chairman of the House intelligence committee: The members briefed on these techniques did not just refrain from objecting, "on a bipartisan basis, we asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission against al-Qaeda."

More support, mind you. Which makes the current spectacle of self-righteous condemnation not just cowardly but hollow. It is one thing to have disagreed at the time and said so. It is utterly contemptible, however, to have been silent then and to rise now "on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009" (the words are Blair's) to excoriate those who kept us safe these harrowing last eight years.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The "Blessing" of Abortion

By Marvin Olasky
April 30, 2009

"Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done."

The Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale at St. David Episcopal Church in Pepperell, MA. (Jon Chase for the Boston Globe)

That was the Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale in 2007, repetitiously inciting her disciples to be not just pro-choice but fanatically pro-abortion. This is significant because, according to standard journalistic stylebooks, Ragsdale does not exist. We're told that pro-choice folks don't like abortion; they're just trying to help a woman facing tragedy.

Ragsdale, though, says abortion is a "blessing," and not only in harsh situations but good ones: "When a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion—there is not a tragedy in sight—only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing."

Ragsdale is in the news because of a plum appointment: On July 1 she is scheduled to become president of Episcopal Divinity School, a major seminary near Harvard that was founded in 1974 when two venerable divinity schools (founded in 1858 and 1867) merged.

Hear some more of Ragsdale's statement to her troops: "I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing—who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes—in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You're engaged in holy work."

Ragsdale is a member of the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America and for eight years chaired the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights. Nevertheless, calling abortion "holy work" seemed so over-the-top that WORLD called Ragsdale to ask whether a fanatic had taken her name in a variant of identity theft. Ragsdale acknowledged that the words were hers and that she still identified abortion with "blessing." She said, though, that she had pulled that speech off her website because it was "creating an occasion for sin" as readers posted critical comments. She also said she's "really busy and can't keep up with the comments coming in."

How has Ragsdale developed her position? I looked on her website at sermons that remain. In 2005 she asked rhetorically why pro-lifers did not look at pro-aborts "with tolerance and respect." She then said, "The answer to that question is that in this arena it is women who must make the final decision and that you do not respect the moral agency (or full personhood) of women simply because we are women." Convenient: It's not about life; it's about sexism.

But go back further, to an Easter sermon in 2003 when she said that the Resurrection may never have happened. (Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile . . . we are of all people most to be pitied.") And go back further to Easter 2002: "The suffering and death of Jesus, according to the theory of the Atonement, pays for our sins and buys our salvation. It's an interesting theory, but not one that I find compelling."

Some denominations have cracked open on issues of homosexual ordination, but the fissure began long before, when clerics put God on trial and chose which doctrines they found compelling. In 2003, proclaiming her lesbianism, Ragsdale took aim at those who say that "we can't help being gay—the old take pity, have mercy, argument. You know, the one that concludes with a plaintive—who would choose this? Let me answer that with three words: Me! Me! Me!"

The tragedy of abortion is bad enough, but the origin of the tragedy, and so many others of our time, emerges from worship not of Christ but of "me, me, me." Katherine Ragsdale may show this tendency in a heightened form, but all of us display it to some degree. May God have mercy on her, on her students, and on all of us.

The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism

Tea parties, 'ethical populism,' and the moral case against redistribution.

The Wall Street Journal
April 30, 2009

There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it's not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise -- the principle at the core of American culture.

Despite President Barack Obama's early personal popularity, we can see the beginnings of this schism in the "tea parties" that have sprung up around the country. In these grass-roots protests, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans have joined together to make public their opposition to government deficits, unaccountable bureaucratic power, and a sense that the government is too willing to prop up those who engaged in corporate malfeasance and mortgage fraud.

The data support the protesters' concerns. In a publication with the ironic title, "A New Era of Responsibility," the president's budget office reveals average deficits of 4.7% in the five years after this recession is over. The Congressional Budget Office predicts $9.3 trillion in new debt over the coming decade.

And what investments justify our leaving this gargantuan bill for our children and grandchildren to pay? Absurdities, in the view of many -- from bailing out General Motors and the United Auto Workers to building an environmentally friendly Frisbee golf course in Austin, Texas. On behalf of corporate welfare, political largess and powerful special interests, government spending will grow continuously in the coming years as a percentage of the economy -- as will tax collections.

Still, the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an "ethical populism." The protesters are homeowners who didn't walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don't want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don't need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right -- and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement -- maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off "in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time." Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

Free enterprise is culturally mainstream, for the moment. Asked in a Rasmussen poll conducted this month to choose the better system between capitalism and socialism, 13% of respondents over 40 chose socialism. For those under 30, this percentage rose to 33%. (Republicans were 11 times more likely to prefer capitalism than socialism; Democrats were almost evenly split between the two systems.)

The government has been abetting this trend for years by exempting an increasing number of Americans from federal taxation. My colleague Adam Lerrick showed in these pages last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49% from 40% under Mr. Obama's tax plan. Another 11% will pay less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.

To put a modern twist on the old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 either has no head, or pays no taxes. Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the "sharing economy." They are fighting a culture war of attrition with economic tools. Defenders of capitalism risk getting caught flat-footed with increasingly antiquated arguments that free enterprise is a Main Street pocketbook issue. Progressives are working relentlessly to see that it is not.

Advocates of free enterprise must learn from the growing grass-roots protests, and make the moral case for freedom and entrepreneurship. They have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can. It's also a moral issue to lower the rewards for entrepreneurial success, and to spend what we don't have without regard for our children's future.

Enterprise defenders also have to define "fairness" as protecting merit and freedom. This is more intuitively appealing to Americans than anything involving forced redistribution. Take public attitudes toward the estate tax, which only a few (who leave estates in the millions of dollars) will ever pay, but which two-thirds of Americans believe is "not fair at all," according to a 2009 Harris poll. Millions of ordinary citizens believe it is unfair for the government to be predatory -- even if the prey are wealthy.

Political strategy aside, intellectual organizations like my own have a constructive role in the coming cultural conflict. As policymakers offer a redistributionist future to a fearful nation and a new culture war simmers, we must respond with tangible, enterprise-oriented policy alternatives. For example, it is not enough to point out that nationalized health care will make going to the doctor about as much fun as a trip to the department of motor vehicles. We need to offer specific, market-based reform solutions.

This is an exhilarating time for proponents of freedom and individual opportunity. The last several years have brought malaise, in which the "conservative" politicians in power paid little more than lip service to free enterprise. Today, as in the late 1970s, we have an administration, Congress and media-academic complex openly working to change American culture in ways that most mainstream Americans will not like. Like the Carter era, this adversity offers the first opportunity in years for true cultural renewal.

Mr. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Today's Tune: Carlene Carter - Every Little Thing

(Click on title to play video)


By Ann Coulter
April 29, 2009

Without any pretense of an argument, which liberals are neurologically incapable of, the mainstream media are now asserting that our wussy interrogation techniques at Guantanamo constituted "torture" and have irreparably harmed America's image abroad.

Only the second of those alleged facts is true: The president's release of the Department of Justice interrogation memos undoubtedly hurt America's image abroad, as we are snickered at in capitals around the world, where they know what real torture is. The Arabs surely view these memos as a pack of lies. What about the pills Americans have to turn us gay?

The techniques used against the most stalwart al-Qaida members, such as Abu Zubaydah, included one terrifying procedure referred to as "the attention grasp." As described in horrifying detail in the Justice Department memo, the "attention grasp" consisted of:

"(G)rasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn toward the interrogator."

The end.

There are rumors that Dick "Darth Vader" Cheney wanted to take away the interrogators' Altoids before they administered "the grasp," but Department of Justice lawyers deemed this too cruel.

And that's not all! As the torments were gradually increased, next up the interrogation ladder came "walling." This involves pushing the terrorist against a flexible wall, during which his "head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a C-collar effect to prevent whiplash."

People pay to have a lot rougher stuff done to them at Six Flags Great Adventure. Indeed, with plastic walls and soft neck collars, "walling" may be the world's first method of "torture" in which all the implements were made by Fisher-Price.

As the memo darkly notes, walling doesn't cause any pain, but is supposed to induce terror by making a "loud noise": "(T)he false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock and surprise." (!!!)

If you need a few minutes to compose yourself after being subjected to that horror, feel free to take a break from reading now. Sometimes a cold compress on the forehead is helpful, but don't let it drip or you might end up waterboarding yourself.

The CIA's interrogation techniques couldn't be more ridiculous if they were out of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch:

Cardinal! Poke her with the soft cushions! ...
Hmm! She is made of harder stuff! Cardinal Fang! Fetch ... THE COMFY CHAIR!

So you think you are strong because you can survive the soft cushions. Well, we shall see. Biggles! Put her in the Comfy Chair! ...

Now -- you will stay in the Comfy Chair until lunchtime, with only a cup of coffee at 11.

Further up the torture ladder -- from Guantanamo, not Monty Python -- comes the "insult slap," which is designed to be virtually painless, but involves the interrogator invading "the individual's personal space."

If that doesn't work, the interrogator shows up the next day wearing the same outfit as the terrorist. (Awkward.)

I will spare you the gruesome details of the CIA's other comical interrogation techniques and leap directly to the penultimate "torture" in their arsenal: the caterpillar.

In this unspeakable brutality, a harmless caterpillar is placed in the terrorist's cell. Justice Department lawyers expressly denied the interrogators' request to trick the terrorist into believing the caterpillar was a "stinging insect."

Human rights groups have variously described being trapped in a cell with a live caterpillar as "brutal," "soul-wrenching" and, of course, "adorable."

If the terrorist manages to survive the non-stinging caterpillar maneuver -- the most fiendish method of torture ever devised by the human mind that didn't involve being forced to watch "The View" -- CIA interrogators had another sadistic trick up their sleeves.

I am not at liberty to divulge the details, except to mention the procedure's terror-inducing name: "the ladybug."

Finally, the most savage interrogation technique at Guantanamo was "waterboarding," which is only slightly rougher than the Comfy Chair.

Thousands of our troops are waterboarded every year as part of their training, but not until it was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- mastermind of the 9/11 attack on America -- were liberal consciences shocked.

I think they were mostly shocked because they couldn't figure out how Joey Buttafuoco ended up in Guantanamo.

As non-uniformed combatants, all of the detainees at Guantanamo could have been summarily shot on the battlefield under the Laws of War.

Instead, we gave them comfy chairs, free lawyers, better food than is served in Afghani caves, prayer rugs, recreational activities and top-flight medical care -- including one terrorist who was released, whereupon he rejoined the jihad against America, after being fitted for an expensive artificial leg at Guantanamo, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Only three terrorists -- who could have been shot -- were waterboarded. This is not nearly as bad as "snowboarding," which is known to cause massive buttocks pain and results in approximately 10 deaths per year.

Normal human beings -- especially those who grew up with my older brother, Jimmy -- can't read the interrogation memos without laughing.

At Al-Jazeera, they don't believe these interrogation memos are for real. Muslims look at them and say: THIS IS ALL THEY'RE DOING? We do that for practice. We do that to our friends.

But The New York Times is populated with people who can't believe they live in a country where people would put a caterpillar in a terrorist's cell.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Under Buckley's Giant Shadow

By Mona Charon
April 28, 2009

Fourteen months ago Bill Buckley collapsed and died at his desk in Stamford, Conn. The ground has still not finished shaking. How could it? Two sons -- one biological and one professional -- have now written memoirs of their lives with Bill. Both make for absorbing reading.

Chris Buckley was the only child of Bill and Patricia Taylor Buckley -- two outsized personalities. "(W)hen the universe hands you material like this," Buckley explains of his decision pen the memoir, "not writing about it seems either a waste or a conscious act of evasion." Bill was of course world famous -- the founding father of modern conservatism, an American icon. Pat, too, was formidable -- tall, fashionable, witty, and sometimes outrageous. No, I mean really outrageous.

Chris relates an example: His 19-year-old daughter brought her best friend, Kate Kennedy, to dinner with Bill and Pat. Pat rounded on the poor girl and "informed her that she (Mum) had been an alternate juror in the murder trial of Kate's father's first cousin Michael Skakel." Skakel had been tried and convicted for the murder of a 15-year-old. "Having presented this astonishing (and utterly untrue) credential, Mum then proceeded to launch into a protracted lecture on the villainy of Kate's near relative." Your mother may not have committed sins like that. She may have done better or worse. But all mothers have done something that requires forgiveness by their children, just as the children will themselves need to ask forgiveness for their own transgressions. As she lay comatose and dying, Chris relates, he stroked her hair and "said, the words surprising me, coming out of nowhere, 'I forgive you.'" The tales of Pat's misbehavior are florid and accordingly more memorable than the accounts of her virtues. And yet, the deep and true grief borne by her son is eloquent evidence that this proud and domineering woman also loved tenderly.

As for his diamond-bright father, again deep love shines through in a dozen affectionate, sometimes even awed anecdotes. Chris Buckley -- I am not breaking news here -- can really write. But there are other stories, too. Bill was hardly the ideal father. "When I was 11, I spent three weeks in the hospital without a visit from him." WFB could be astonishingly selfish, as when, bored at Chris's college graduation ceremony, he gathered up friends and family and decamped to a restaurant for lunch, "leaving me to spend my graduation day wandering the campus in search of my family."

"Losing Mum and Pup" is the story of three personalities so large that one family could not hold them without shuddering and shaking. Chris describes some of his conflicts with his father as "locking theological antlers." Still, the center held.

Richard Brookhiser, in "Right Time, Right Place" tells an equally gripping tale of being handpicked as WFB's successor -- only to be later dumped. Rick was 14 when he wrote his first cover story for National Review and his precocity clearly reminded WFB of himself. The story of how their relationship unfolded over time is told, as in Chris Buckley's memoir, straightforwardly and honestly. It was easier to be WFB's protege than his son -- but there were also similarities. Brookhiser relates that Bill's style was to deliver bad news, such as the decision that Rick would not after all be the next editor of National Review, by mail when Bill was safely out of town.

But that painful episode is a small part of a fascinating look back (how does he remember so many details?) at a 30-year friendship and collaboration (a part of which I witnessed firsthand). Rick's personal history with WFB parallels the rise of the conservative movement. And it will not surprise fans of Brookhiser's biographies that this memoir is also a brilliant and beautifully written history of the past several decades. Here, for example, is the way Brookhiser describes the Republican Party circa 1984:

"The Republicans were superficially calmer. ... But because ambition and disagreement never rest, there was a subterranean struggle, as among creatures in the leaf litter on the forest floor, to define what Reaganism meant ..." And here is a biting description of George W. Bush: "(He) spoke badly out of confidence and indifference, believing that whatever he said was said well enough ... He was shorter than his father; when he passed through the crowd shaking hands he moved like a lightweight heading up to the ring for an easy bout, perhaps because it was fixed."

William F. Buckley Jr. was a key figure in American history. His gravitational pull was such that, even now, we cannot get enough of stories about him. Some of the tales in these memoirs are less than hagiographic. It reminds me of the story about Winston Churchill. After repeated episodes of bad behavior on the prime minister's part, his valet got up the courage to tell him off. When Churchill protested that the valet had been rude, he responded, "But you were rude, too." "Yes," Churchill reportedly replied, "but I am a great man."

- Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .

Speaking Truth to Power

The Nation's Pulse

By Lisa Fabrizio on 4.29.09 @ 6:06AM
The American Spectator

Some years ago, a priest friend of mine suggested that the legalization of same-sex marriage might be even more morally harmful to our nation than the scourge of abortion. How, I wondered at the time, could anything be more harmful than taking the lives of our innocent children. And then I realized that most people are not in favor of abortion but, as Rush Limbaugh often points out, they pity those around them who might be in need of that awful procedure. But the advent of the push for homosexual marriage goes much deeper; it represents a war on truth.

As we all know, liberals are crafty in their deceit; even tampering with the English language to further their aims. If they find that their ideas are not sitting well with average Americans, they simply change the labels. Think that abortion sounds too harsh? Let's call it a women's reproductive health issue. Have real scientists proved that the Earth is cooling and not warming? Let's then use the term climate change to terrify the populace. Does the word homosexual imply too much of its true meaning? Demonize those that use it by calling them homophobes.

These and other tactics of the left point toward this inescapable conclusion: it is not equality, or human rights or any other pleasant-sounding euphemisms that are behind much of their agenda. It is a deliberate attack on truth. It is their intention to strip the notion of objective truth from our national ethos. And when there is thought to be no real and permanent truth, when everyone has their own truths which are based on prevailing cultural norms or whims, who then will wield the power to make and enforce our laws? You guessed it.

But how to go about it? Where does the objective truth -- which for thousands of years has condemned homosexual behavior and infanticide as harmful to society -- still reside? It is in the shrinking abode of religion, as practiced around the world by people of faith. This then is the principal goal of the left; to separate the people from God by declaring that religion must be cordoned off from public life, that its tenets have no place in politics or anywhere else outside the church door.

Yes, it is God himself who is in the crosshairs of liberals around the world and it's not difficult to see why. If even the teachings of Natural Law can be made to seem obsolete, then the world will be wide open to any group with the power and machinery to make their truth law. That is why all modern totalitarian governments have made religion -- "the opiate of the people" -- their first target. And this plan is well underway in the United States.

As if we needed further proof, along comes the New York Times with a piece entitled, "More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops," by religion writer, Laurie Goodstein. It is mostly a touch-feely account of what wonderful folks atheists are, how they organize picnics and volunteer at soup kitchens while positing that their cause is somehow noble, "like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy."

Yes, they're just a harmless bunch of Americans who are troubled by their belief that they are viewed as "social pariahs." But the money line hits you like a slap in the face: "They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.…The most important thing is coming out of the closet."

The piece goes on to point out that these atheists are -- surprise, surprise -- "fed by outrage over the Bush administration's embrace of the religious right," and that they are "pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state." And so it would seem that they, like their homosexual brethren, are not merely content to shed their pariahdom, but to change the very fabric of our moral underpinning and rule of law.

We're often told that it is improper and even unfair for the majority of Americans to impose their views on others in the form of law, as if that's not how the supreme law of our land was written. Those who love the Constitution realize that while it protects the rights of minorities, religious and otherwise, the very nature of the processes to amend it not only infer, but mandate majority rule.

Make no mistake about it; our nation is in deep trouble if we continue to allow tiny minorities to dictate our way of life. Atheism, abortion, and homosexuality are all negatives, they have no affirmation of life in them. Which is to say that they lack the animating power of God, a power that has blessed this country for over two hundred years.

Lisa Fabrizio is a columnist who hails from Connecticut (

Obama’s Liberal Arrogance Will Be His Undoing

American politics didn’t come to an end with Obama’s election.

By Jonah Goldberg
April 29, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

The most remarkable, or certainly the least remarked on, aspect of Barack Obama’s first 100 days has been the infectious arrogance of his presidency.

There’s no denying that this is liberalism’s greatest opportunity for wish fulfillment since at least 1964. But to listen to Democrats, the only check on their ambition is the limit of their imaginations.

“The world has changed,” Sen. Charles Schumer of New York proclaimed on MSNBC. “The old Reagan philosophy that served them well politically from 1980 to about 2004 and 2006 is over. But the hard right, which still believes . . . [in] traditional-values kind of arguments and strong foreign policy, all that is over.”

Right. “Family values” and “strong foreign policy” belong next to the “free silver” movement in the lexicon of dead political causes.

No doubt Schumer was employing the kind of simplified shorthand one uses when everyone in the room already agrees with you. He can be forgiven for mistaking an MSNBC studio for such a milieu, but it seemed not to dawn on him that anybody watching might see it differently.

When George W. Bush was in office, we heard constantly about the poisonous nature of American polarization. For example, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg came out with a book arguing that “our nation’s political landscape is now divided more deeply and more evenly than perhaps ever before.” One can charitably say this was abject nonsense. Evenly divided? Maybe. But more deeply? Feh.

During the Civil War, the political landscape was so deeply divided that 600,000 Americans died. During the 1930s, labor strife and revolutionary ardor threatened the stability of the republic. In the 1960s, political assassinations, riots, and bombings punctuated our political discourse.

It says something about the relationship of liberals to political power that they can overlook domestic dissent when they’re at the wheel. When the GOP is in office, America is seen as hopelessly divided because dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When Democrats are in charge, the Frank Riches suddenly declare the culture war over and dismiss dissent as the scary work of the sort of cranks Obama’s Department of Homeland Security needs to monitor.

If liberals thought so fondly of social peace and consensus, they would look more favorably on the 1920s and 1950s. Instead, their political idylls are the tumultuous ’30s and ’60s, when liberalism, if not necessarily liberals, rode high in the saddle.

Sure, America was divided under Bush. And it’s still divided under Obama (just look at the recent Minnesota Senate race and the New York congressional special election). According to the polls, America is a bit less divided under Obama than it was at the end of Bush’s first 100 days. But not as much less as you would expect, given Obama’s victory margin and the rally-around-the-president effect of the financial crisis (not to mention the disarray of the GOP).

Meanwhile, circulation for the conservative National Review (where I work) is soaring. More people watch Fox News (where I am a contributor) in primetime than watch CNN and MSNBC combined. The “tea parties” may not have been as big as your typical union-organized “spontaneous” demonstration, but they were far more significant than any protests this early in Bush’s tenure.

And yet, according to Democrats and liberal pundits, America is enjoying unprecedented unity, and conservatives are going the way of the dodo.

Obama has surely helped set the tone for the unfolding riot of liberal hubris. In his effort to reprise the sort of expansion of liberal power we saw in the ’30s and ’60s, Obama has — without a whiff of self-doubt — committed America to $6.5 trillion in extra debt, $65 billion for each of his first 100 days, and that’s based on an impossibly rosy forecast of the economy. No wonder congressional Democrats clamor to take over corporations, tax the air we breathe, and set wages for everybody.

On social issues such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, Obama has proved to be, if anything, more of a left-wing culture warrior than Bush was a right-wing one. All the while, Obama transmogrifies his principled opponents into straw-man ideologues while preening about his own humble pragmatism. For him, bipartisanship is defined as shutting up and getting in line.

I’m not arguing that conservatives are poised to make some miraculous comeback. They’re not. But American politics didn’t come to an end with Obama’s election, and nothing in politics breeds corrective antibodies more quickly than overreaching arrogance. And by that measure, Obama’s first 100 days have been a huge down payment on the inevitable correction to come.

— 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.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Between the Covers with John J. Miller

Andrew Klavan on The Last Thing I Remember

April 28, 2009

(Click on title to play interview)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Truth Delusion of Richard Dawkins

By Melanie Phillips
April 28, 2009

The most famous atheist in the world, biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, poses as the arch-apostle of reason, a scientist who stands for empirical truth in opposition to obscurantism and lies. What follows suggests that in fact he is sloppy and cavalier with both facts and reasoning to a disturbing degree.

I previously wrote about the remarkable debate (which can be seen at this website) between Dawkins and John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics and Fellow in the Philosophy of Science at Oxford. Lennox is the author of God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? which demolishes Dawkins by showing not only that there is no inherent conflict between science and faith but that the argument for faith is now being bolstered enormously by the remarkable developments in science. Dawkins was on the back foot because Lennox was attacking him from his own platform of science. He was on safer ground only when, in a further debate between the two at Oxford’s Natural History Museum last October, he attacked Lennox for his Christian faith which he could more easily ridicule. But to Lennox’s core arguments, he seemed to me to have no convincing response.

In a lecture earlier this month to the American Atheists’ Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, Dawkins chose to attack Lennox (about 15 minutes into this video) from the safety of an unchallenged speaking spot in front of a sycophantic audience – but in a manner which inadvertently revealed rather more about himself than he bargained for. Describing Lennox belittlingly as a ‘Christian apologist’ and an ‘Irish mathematician’, he took a comment Lennox had made at a meeting two days after the Oxford debate and tried to debunk it by claiming that Lennox had misrepresented him.

Lennox had observed that, in the Oxford debate, Dawkins appeared to have made a stunning admission by saying that ‘a good case could be made for a deistic god’(a generalised kind of deity as opposed to the personalised God of the Bible). Lennox observed that acknowledgement of a deistic god was the position arrived at recently by the celebrated former atheist philosopher Anthony Flew; and that saying a good case could be made for such a god ‘knocked the heart out’ of Dawkins’s core contention that complex life forms had derived from simple ones.

In response, Dawkins tried to maintain that Lennox had grossly misrepresented him. Pointing out that he had gone on to say that he didn’t accept the deistic argument – which indeed he had said – he claimed that Lennox had selectively quoted him to give an entirely false impression. To make his point, he drew an analogy with the conceit, once employed by a particular astronomer, of ironically disdaining authoritative sources purely as a rhetorical device to underscore the truth of an argument. Just as it would be dishonest to treat such ironic disdain as if it was seriously meant, he said, so by analogy Lennox was being dishonest by treating Dawkins’s remark about deism as if it was seriously meant when in fact he had merely been

making the concession about deism to show up the fatuousness of his [Lennox’s] belief.

But it was Dawkins’ argument which was surely disingenuous. For he had said without any hint of irony, nor with any indication that this was not sincerely meant, that can make a respectable case for deism – not a case that I would accept but I think it is a serious discussion that you could have.

It was certainly true that he used this ‘respectable case for deism’ to draw a sharp comparison with belief in Jesus, upon which he duly poured scorn. But to say as he did that he was only

making the concession about deism to show up the fatuousness of his belief

was very sharp verbal practice indeed. There was no suggestion at all that he did not mean what he said -- that a respectable scientific case could be made for deism. And so Lennox was entirely justified in expressing astonishment. For even though Dawkins went on to say he did not agree with this case, given his previous absolutism in stating that anything unsupported by evidence is superstitious mumbo-jumbo and that anyone who believes that matter must have had an original creator is a cretin, it should therefore follow that no respectable case could possibly be made for deism.

The fact that he said he thought it could was surely a startling development. And it was very interesting that he should feel so defensive about having said it that this was the one aspect of Lennox’s comprehensive attack on him that he singled out for refutation; and that he tried to do so moreover through disreputable means, by imputing dishonesty to Lennox when it was Dawkins who was employing dubious debating tactics.

Wait – worse was to come.

Dawkins had made much of the fact that Lennox didn’t acknowledge Dawkins’s disagreement with the argument for deism. Dawkins then went on to claim that Lennox – who had not made anything of this whole deism issue during the Oxford debate itself – had been subsequently put up to raising it by me. Yup, your humble blogger.

This was because I had attended that debate – and afterwards had written here of my amazement at hearing Dawkins say a case could be made for deism. This is what I actually wrote about the deism point:

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said: ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic God’. This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could. Anthony Flew, the celebrated philosopher and former high priest of atheism, spectacularly changed his mind and concluded -- as set out in his book There Is A God -- that life had indeed been created by a governing and purposeful intelligence, a change of mind that occurred because he followed where the scientific evidence led him. The conversion of Flew, whose book contains a cutting critique of Dawkins’s thinking, has been dismissed with unbridled scorn by Dawkins – who now says there is a serious case for the position that Flew now adopts! ...Afterwards, I asked Dawkins whether he had indeed changed his position and become more open to ideas which lay outside the scientific paradigm. He vehemently denied this and expressed horror that he might have given this impression.

You will see from this that I acknowledged loud and clear that Dawkins had said he did not agree with the case for deism – the very thing Dawkins was accusing Lennox, and therefore by extension myself, of not doing.

But now look at the text that Dawkins proceeded to put up on the screen (about 25 minutes in), saying that this was what I had written in the Spectator and in which I had grossly misrepresented what he had said:

Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist. But many are now asking whether the dyed-in-the-wool critic of religion may be, well, evolving in his views about God. You see, in a recent debate with theist and Christian John Lennox, he let slip what many would regard as a major blooper: he actually admitted that there might be a case for theism of sorts. This was a worldview change of seismic proportions. It was a most remarkable turnaround. For someone who had spent over five decades championing the atheist cause to all of a sudden renounce it was an incredible achievement.

I read this with astonishment. For these were not my words at all. I had not written them in the Spectator or anywhere else.

They were written in fact by a blogger called Bill Muehlenberg at his Culture Watch site. Muehlenberg, who had read what I had written about the Oxford debate, was himself passing comment upon it. Those were the words Dawkins falsely ascribed to me, reading them out to smirks and guffaws at my expense – and accusing me thereby of distorting what he had said! He thus held me up to ridicule and accused me of lying -- at a public meeting recorded on video which, as you can see, incited hateful comments on the thread below it – on the basis of someone else’s words altogether.

Dawkins then went on to quote some of what I had actually written in my own blog entry, as follows:

Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?

This passage had been quoted on the Muehlenberg blog – suggesting that what Dawkins had done was carelessly to run together Muehlenberg’s remarks with my own quoted comments. What remarkable sloppiness. And what arrogance. Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL, the former Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, whose website advertises ‘clear thinking’ and who poses as the indefatiguable champion of intellectual integrity, can’t even be bothered to check that he is actually quoting the person he thinks he is quoting -- even while attacking her for dishonesty.

Wait – there was worse still. For the next slide he put up, immediately after -- this time -- correctly quoting my words, read:

Lying for Jesus.

Lying for Jesus! Oh dear oh dear. Not only did Dawkins falsely accuse me of distorting his position, but he accused me of doing so because he assumed I was a Christian. Five minutes’ research maximum would have told him that I am a Jew. Either he thought that all the stuff written on Culture Watch by Bill Muehlenberg, who appears to be a devout Christian, was written by me; or he assumed that, since John Lennox is a Christian, anyone who supports John Lennox must also be a Christian. Either way, the man who has made a global reputation out of scorning anyone who makes an assumption not grounded in empirical evidence has assumed to be true something that can easily be ascertained to be totally false – thus suggesting that the mind that is so addled by prejudice it cannot deal with demonstrable reality is none other than his own.

Finally, he rounded off this jeering display of intellectual sloppiness, error, ignorance and prejudice with a piece of spite. Telling his American audience that they wouldn’t have heard of Melanie Phillips, he informed them that she was

infamous as one of the most bigoted and unpleasant journalists in the whole of Britain.

When someone resorts to such gratuitous insults you know they know they have lost the argument. Indeed, Dawkins’s whole presentation in Atlanta surely betrayed unconsciously a note of desperation. For the effort he expended on attempting to rubbish both the deism point and my mockery of him for appearing to believe that ‘little green men’ were a more plausible explanation for the origin of matter than God suggested that this had really got under his skin.

The way he chose to defend himself, through insults and sneers which tried to cover his tracks as he attempted to retreat from what he had said, furthermore merely emphasised his notable reluctance to address the many arguments of substance against his pseudo-scientific attack on religion which were made by John Lennox on the grounds of scientific reason and accuracy – arguments which Dawkins most tellingly chose to ignore altogether. Instead, he went for what he thought were the soft targets -- a credulous Irish Christian and a ‘dreadful woman’ journalist – and substituted smears and jeers for proper debate.

Unfortunately, he fell flat on his face. From this attempt to tarnish his opponents with the charge of dishonesty, we learn instead that for Richard Dawkins truth is a delusion. Who other than the similarly deluded can ever take him seriously again?

Specter's Blame Game

[David Freddoso]
The Corner
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The departure of Arlen Specter looks very bad for the GOP. You never want to lose anyone. But could Senate Republicans have stopped it? No, not once it became clear that he was going to be trounced in his primary. Specter's problem is not the party in the sense of its leadership or direction, but rather with the Republican voters in Pennsylvania.

Arlen Specter switched from Democrat to Republican in 1965 so that he could win an election. He is now doing the reverse for precisely the same reason.

If we take Arlen Specter's word for why he is leaving, we have to accept the idea that the stimulus vote represented some kind of huge turning point for him. In fact, Specter's apostasy on that vote was less remarkable than several others — for example, his vote on the Employee Free Choice Act, or his courageous refusal to vote either "yes" or "no" on Bill Clinton's impeachment. The reason the stimulus vote matters is that it matters to voters and has become an issue in the primary — which again, is the only reason Specter is leaving the Republican Party.

If we take Specter's word, then the GOP has become intolerant of moderate politicians like himself. On this score, Specter appears to have a severe case of amnesia. Exactly five years ago, the national Republican Party swooped into Pennsylvania and saved him from certain defeat at the hands of Rep. Pat Toomey (R). Valuable presidential time was sacrificed on his behalf. Also sacrificed for Arlen Specter was the reputation of his conservative colleague, Rick Santorum (R), who never recovered. From that moment forward, he lost his core constituency, and was easily defeated two years later by a pro-life Democrat.

Without essential help from the party that is so intolerant of people like him, Arlen Specter would already be a former senator today. It is not the party but the voters in Pennsylvania who have stopped tolerating Specter.

If we take Specter's word, then conservatives act in bad faith when they become involved in the political process and try to elect the candidates of their choice. Conservatives should disengage from the political process and stop challenging people like Arlen Specter. They should not organize — whether through groups like the Club for Growth or otherwise — nor should they participate in the political process, nor donate to nor vote for candidates they prefer.

Specter noted this afternoon that the Club worked against several moderates, including Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R, R.I.), who won his primary but lost his general election in 2006. Chafee did not even vote for President Bush in 2004, but like Specter he received a great deal of money and help from the Republican Party in his primary.

Reps. Joe Schwarz (R, Mich.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R, Md.) are two moderate victims of the Club for Growth whom Specter mentioned today. They were not being sore losers, but rather acted in good faith when they lost their respective primaries to conservatives and then turned around and endorsed the Democratic nominee in the general election. (Note that when he lost to Specter in 2004, Pat Toomey endorsed him immediately.) Conservatives must be team players in the GOP, but if moderates behave differently, we blame the conservatives who challenge them for subsequent disunity and defeat.

What is funny is that without any action so far by the Club for Growth, social conservatives, or anyone else, Republican voters in Pennsylvania have been lining up to end Specter's career, as the polls demonstrate. That is why Specter does not want to be judged by them. It is the only reason he has left the party.

04/28 05:02 PM

Music Review: Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

(Posted: Apr 13, 2009)

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

RS: 4 of 5 Stars

Bob Dylan has sung in many voices on his records: the nasal-braying alarm of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"; the acidic dismissal in "Like a Rolling Stone"; the country hermit on The Basement Tapes; the grizzly wisecracking drifter on 2001's Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times. But Dylan, who turns 68 in May, has never sounded as ravaged, pissed off and lusty, all at once, as he does on Together Through Life. It is a murky-sounding, often perplexing record. The lyrics seem dashed off in spots, like first drafts, while the performances — by Dylan's current touring band — feel like head arrangements caught on the run between Never Ending Tour dates. But there is a grim magnetism coursing through these 10 new songs — and most of it is in Dylan's vividly battered singing.

The shock of his voice comes right away. Dylan starts the record as if he's at a loss for words. "I love you, pretty baby/You're the only love I've ever known/Just as long as you stay with me/The whole world is my throne," he sings in the muddy samba "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'." It is a plain, unpromising opening, except for the delivery: a deep, exhausted rasp that sounds like the singer has been beaten to a pulp, then left for dead at the side of the road. When Dylan gets to the title punch line in each verse, he grumbles it with an audible sneer. As far as he can tell, there isn't much world left to sit on.

Dylan's throat has never been anyone's idea of clear and soaring. But as a young folk singer, he strained to sound older and more sorely tested than he was, as if he had known Charley Patton, A.P. Carter and the Great Depression firsthand. He's finally there, with an authentically pitted instrument ideally suited to the devastated settings of these songs and the rusted desert-shed production (by Dylan under his usual pseudonym, Jack Frost): brushed-snare strolls and bar-band shuffles; bag-of-snakes guitars, with frequent stinging fills by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; the rippled sigh and mocking laugh of an accordion icing most songs, played by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Compared to the Western-swing-like buoyance of Love and Theft and the Fifties-Chess-session air of Modern Times, this record sounds like it was cut in the dead-end Mexican border town in Orson Welles' 1958 film noir, Touch of Evil, especially when Dylan gets to lines like the closing few in "Forgetful Heart," a musky blend of banjo, dirty guitar and utter emotional defeat: "All night long/I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain/The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door."

That hardened, bleating voice is also perfect for these times: A nation drunk on hope less than six months ago now drowns in red ink and pink slips. "Some people they tell me/I got the blood of the land in my voice," Dylan cracks in the Nashville Skyline-style sway of "I Feel a Change Comin' On." But the country in these songs is running on fumes, into brick walls. "State gone broke/The county's dry/Don't be looking at me with that evil eye," Dylan snaps in the Chicago-blues lark "My Wife's Home Town," spitting the lines like a CNN news ticker. (The name of that town, according to Dylan: Hell.) "Shake Shake Mama," a string of comic come-ons with a Louisiana juke-dance gait, ends not with scoring but dire warning: "If you're goin' on home, better go the shortest way."

There is another line worth noting in "I Feel a Change Comin' On" — "You are as whorish as ever" — and Dylan growls it like a compliment. Together Through Life is, in a surprisingly direct way, about the only thing you can count on when you're surrounded by clowns, thieves and government (sometimes all the same thing) and what happens when you lose — or throw away — your good thing. In the slow hurt of "Life Is Hard," Dylan bites down gently on each syllable, over soft-shoe drums and weeping pedal steel ("My dreams are locked and barred/Ad-mit-ting life is hard/With-out you near me"). And regret doesn't get much better than his strict instructions in the final verse of "If You Ever Go to Houston," a Doug Sahm-like shot of norteño R&B: "Find the barrooms I got lost in/And send my memories home/Put my tears in a bottle/Screw the top on tight."

Ultimately, Together Through Life is a mixed bag of this decade's Dylan — impulsive, caustic, sentimental, long done with the contrived details of contemporary record-making. The album may lack the instant-classic aura of Love and Theft or Modern Times, but it is rich in striking moments, set in a willful rawness, and comes with a wicked finish. "It's All Good" is a bayou-John Lee Hooker boogie that opens with bad shit ("Big politician telling lies/Restaurant kitchen, all full of flies/Don't make a bit of difference") and just gets worse ("Brick by brick, they tear you down/A teacup of water is enough to drown"). It's a portrait of an ugly America, devolving into bare-knuckle Darwinism — survival of the coldest and cruelest — and Dylan rubs your face in it. "It's all good," he sings repeatedly with a cruel shrug in that voice, knowing damn well it's not. But Dylan is just as sure, in nearly every other song here, that there is strength in numbers — and that number is two.

It's All Good on Bob Dylan's 'Together Through Life'

By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
April 28, 2009

Even this late, one month shy of his 68th birthday, another side of Bob Dylan reveals itself.

After securing iconic status in the '60s, the most revered songwriter of the modern age has spent decades subverting his image, confounding expectations and redefining himself.

He does all three to delightful effect on Together Through Life (* * * * out of four), a raffish riff on romance. Dylan's 33rd solo album, out Tuesday, lives up to the artistic standards established by a trilogy of career-recharging gems that started with 1997's Time Out of Mind. But he deviates from their apocalyptic burdens to spin yarns, wry and real, of ordinary folks in the grip of lust, longing and heartache.

The album sprang from a single jazz-tinged ballad, Life Is Hard, composed for French director Olivier Dahan, who made the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose and asked Dylan to contribute material for the upcoming My Own Love Song.

Inspired, Dylan lingered in the studio with his band and accordion player David Hidalgo of Los Lobos to follow his impetuous muse.

Producing himself under the usual pseudonym Jack Frost, Dylan has captured the vibrant, visceral, ramshackle sound of music made on the fly. The raw emotions and ragged spontaneity of Together, which is rooted in traditions that Dylan cherishes yet keenly surveys a contemporary landscape, set this work apart from 2001's Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times.

While Together is anchored in Chess-era blues, with Dylan freely channeling Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush, it's not monochromatic. Echoes of a Tex-Mex roadhouse, a Louisiana bayou and a Parisian cafe creep into the mix.

Of course, nothing separates Dylan from the pack like his craggy vocals and literate lyrics. Long ago celebrated for his surreal winding narratives, he now deals in straight talk, his searing irony and sly humor delivered with greater economy. "Shake Shake Mama" and "It's All Good" crackle with twisted humor. He still has the power to spook ("The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door").

And some couplets are simply Dylanesque: "I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver and I'm reading James Joyce/Some people they tell me I got the blood of the land in my voice."

He's got grit, for sure. His gloriously wicked, wheezy croon suits these biting, sentimental tales of love in hard times. Dylan may be tangled up in blues, but when he punctuates "My Wife's Home Town" with a mischievous chuckle, it's clear he has never felt so unfettered.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pancake Red Stone

Media Matters

By Daniel J. Flynn on 4.24.09 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator

"Izzy taught a great many of us about the importance of independence, the critical ingredient of a good journalist," journalist Robert Kaiser, who later became managing editor of the Washington Post, said of I.F. Stone upon his death in 1989. "Izzy was totally independent from the politicians and officials he wrote about." The Times of London titled its obit: "I.F. Stone: Spirit of America's Independent Journalism." Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), more recently called Stone "an American patriot" whose "journalistic hallmark was independence."

But the man behind I.F. Stone's Weekly was neither patriot nor independent. He was an agent for the Soviet Union.

"Charges about Stone's connections with the KGB have been swirling about for more than a decade, prompting cries of outrage among his passionate followers," write John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev in an excerpt of their new book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, posted at Commentary magazine's website and linked by the Drudge Report. "Until now, the evidence was equivocal and subject to different interpretations. No longer."

Long before the trio of Cold War scholars came along with the latest evidence, the case against Stone showing him as a compromised rather than an independent voice was considerable.

The WWII-era Venona intercepts of Soviet spy cables document repeated attempts by Soviet intelligence to contact Stone. "PANCAKE to give us information," one such cable triumphantly reported. Stone, the Soviet spymaster noted, avoided the earlier entreaties because he did not want to attract the attention of the FBI or damage his career. That said, he reported that Stone "would not be averse to having a supplementary income."

Atop the Venona intercepts, numerous mid-century FBI informants, including the former managing editor of the Daily Worker, reported Stone as a onetime Communist Party member. KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who plied his trade as a press liaison at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., conceded in the early 1990s that Stone had been his agent. "We had an agent -- a well known American journalist -- with a good reputation who severed his ties with us in 1956," he declared. "I myself convinced him to resume them. But after 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia… he said he would never again take any money from us." Kalugin subsequently identified the unnamed agent as Izzy Stone. After an uproar by Stone's admirers in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, Kalugin vacillated as to how formal the arrangement with Stone actually was.

And now, Vassiliev, a KGB-agent-turned-historian, has recovered more than 1,100 pages of notes from research inside Soviet intelligence archives. Included among them are details of Stone's work as a Soviet agent in the 1930s. "Relations with Pancake [Stone's codename] have entered the channel of normal operational work," a document from 1936 reports. The intelligence files outline Stone's role in recruiting other agents for the KGB and passing along information to his handlers. "To put it plainly," Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev write, "from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy."

Even without the declassified FBI memos, decrypted Venona cables, and the material from Soviet-era archives, Stone's peculiar prose was enough to raise suspicions.

During the Great Depression, Stone judged a "Soviet America" as "the one way out that could make a real difference to the working classes." When Sidney Hook, John Dewey, Norman Thomas, and other leftist intellectuals issued a proclamation condemning the Left's double standard on totalitarianism in Germany versus totalitarianism in Russia, Stone was a signatory of the response that held it "a fantastic falsehood that the U.S.S.R. and totalitarian states are basically alike." In the waning days of World War II, long before the left expressed outrage over Robert Novak's "outing" of CIA officer Valerie Plame, Stone exposed four American intelligence officers, including future CIA director Allen Dulles, working undercover in neutral Switzerland. Stone even advanced the idea, rejected just about everywhere save for one prison state in East Asia, that the South Koreans started the Korean War.

Alexander Vassiliev's find documenting the espionage work of Izzy Stone adds further confirmation of the journalistic icon as a compromised puppet manipulated by Moscow ventriloquists. More significantly, it exposes the gullibility, and utter incuriosity, of journalists when the subject deserving investigation is one of their own—both professionally and politically. It is a mark of dishonor for journalism that journalists would honor someone so dishonorable to their profession. But honor him they do.

Harvard University's Nieman Foundation for Journalism awards an "I.F Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence." Ithaca College hosts an "Izzy Awards" for "independent media." The University of California-Berkeley's graduate school of journalism offers "I.F. Stone Fellowships." In 1999, New York University's journalism department, and a panel of prestigious scribes that included Jeff Greenfield, Mary McGrory, and Morley Safer, named I.F. Stone's Weekly as number 16 on its list of the 100 best works of U.S. journalism in the 20th century.

Don't expect the academic honors, or the media hosannas, to evaporate anytime soon. Stone took money from the KGB and not the CIA, after all. Izzy Stone was wrong about nearly everything he wrote about during the Cold War. It is only fitting that his admirers got him so wrong too.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Growing Up Buckley

April 26, 2009

Lady Bracknell: Are your parents living?

Jack: I have lost both my parents.

Lady Bracknell: To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a
misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.


To the extent that this story has a dimension beyond the purely personal, I suppose it’s an account of becoming an orphan. My mother and father died within 11 months of each other in 2007 and 2008. I do realize that “orphan” sounds like an overdramatic term for becoming parentless at age 55, but I was struck by the number of times the word occurred in the 800 or more condolence letters I received after my father died. I hadn’t, until about the seventh or eighth reference, thought of myself as an “orphan.” Now you’re an orphan. . . . I know the pain myself of being an orphan. . . . You must feel so lonely, being an orphan. . . . When I became an orphan it felt like the earth dropping out from under me. . . . A certain chill began to encroach, until I was jolted out of my thousand-yard stare by an e-mail message from my old pal Leon Wieseltier, to whom I’d written that I was headed off to Arizona for some R and R: “May your orphanhood be tanned.”

One realization does dawn upon the death of the second parent, namely that you’ve now moved into the green room to the River Styx. You’re next. Another thing about parental mortality: No matter how much you’ve prepared for the moment, when it comes, it comes at you hot, hard and unrehearsed.


The nurse buzzed me into the Critical Care Unit. The chic and stunning Mrs. William F. Buckley — the society columnists used to call her that — lay on her bed, shrunken, open-eyed, unseeing, a thick plastic respirator tube protruding from her mouth, making a loud, rhythmic bellows noise as it pumped and withdrew air from her lungs. I’d driven eight hours through a storm to get here and knew pretty much what to expect, but I lost it and began to sob. The nurse kindly left.

I drew up a chair and held what I could of her hand, which was cold and bony and edematous with fluid. The nurse returned shortly and said that Dr. D’Amico was on the phone. Joe D’Amico was her orthopedist, a kindly, attentive and warm man. The week before, he amputated three dry-gangrenous, mummified toes on her left foot. She stubbed them the previous November and, having fallen and broken so many bones in her body over the years, she, in the fashion of Victorian ladies, took to her bed to die. Sixty-five years of smoking cigarettes, with attendant problems of circulation, had taken their toll. A few days before, an operation to install a stent — to forestall additional amputations — went wrong, and a mortal infection set in.

Joe came on the line. He said how sorry he was, that she was a wonderful lady. He said: “What you’re seeing there isn’t her. She’s already in heaven.”

Joe and I had never discussed religion. I doubt, for that matter, that he and she had ever discussed it. I don’t think I ever once heard Mum utter a religious or spiritual sentiment, a considerable feat considering that she was married for 57 years to one of the most prominent Catholics in the country. But she rigorously observed the proprieties. When Pup taped an episode of “Firing Line” in the Sistine Chapel with Princess Grace, Malcolm Muggeridge, Charlton Heston and David Niven, Mum was included in the post-taping audience with Pope John Paul II. There’s a photo of the occasion: she has on more black lace than a Goya duchess. The total effect is that of Mary Magdalene dressed by Bill Blass.

I stammered out my thanks to Joe for everything he’d done for her. He asked, “Do you want to leave the respirator in or let nature take its course?” I said, “Let’s remove the respirator.”

I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in “Moby-Dick” lodged in my mind long ago: “The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.” I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great” at deathbeds of loved ones.

Soon after, a doctor came in to remove the respirator. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, just pings and blips from the monitor. I stroked her hair and said, the words coming out of nowhere, surprising me, “I forgive you.”

It sounded, even at the time, like a terribly presumptuous statement. But it needed to be said. She would never have asked for forgiveness herself, even in extremis. She was far too proud. Only once or twice, when she had been truly awful, did she apologize. Generally, she was defiant — almost magnificently so — when her demons slipped their leash. My wise wife, Lucy, has a rule: don’t go to bed angry. Now, watching Mum go to bed for the last time, I didn’t want any anger left between us, so out came the unrehearsed words.

After removing the tube, the doctor said, “It usually goes quickly.” I sat beside her, watching the monitor, with its numbers and colored lines and chirps that tracked her breathing and heartbeat and other diminishing vital signs. Her heart rate slowed, then quickened, then slowed. After a time, I realized that I had become fixated on the monitor. I could hear her saying to me, a half-century earlier, “Are you just going to sit there and watch television all day?” It would be some spectacularly sunny Saturday morning, and I’d be glued to the telly (her word for it), watching Johnny Weissmuller nod as the remarkably intelligible chimp Tamba explained to him that the missionaries were being held hostage 3.4 miles north-northwest of the abandoned mine by evil Belgian ivory hunters. Some months later, I read that monitor-fixation is routine at deathbeds. Even at the end, we have become compulsive TV watchers.

Just before 2 o’clock in the morning, April 15, 2007, the respiratory line indicated that her breathing had stopped. Still her heart continued to beat, according to the faint but distinct blips. I rushed to find the nurse. “It’s normal,” she said. “It takes a little while.” She examined the monitor, held Mum’s wrist and nodded. It was over.

The Collection of Christopher Buckley

Christopher, age 4, and his parents, Pat and William F. Buckley, Stamford, Conn., 1956.


That night I wrote up an obituary about Mum and sent it out. Then I drove home to Stamford, Conn., where Pup was sound asleep, and went to bed in the room I grew up in. Pup woke me at about 8:30, calling from his garage study. I had e-mailed him the obituary before going to sleep. He said how glad he was to have it. He had always been encouraging and complimentary about my writing, and just as often critical. Pup was generous but a tough grader. In recent years, he had found it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to compliment something I had written unless it was about him. (I say this with amusement now, but at the time it wasn’t really all that amusing.) Of my last book, a novel published two weeks before Mum died and which reviewers were (for the most part) describing as my best to date, he had confined his comments in an e-mail P.S.: “This one didn’t work for me. Sorry.”

I went to his study. Pup was red-eyed, puffy-faced, out of breath, in rough shape. He was gradually suffocating from emphysema and had just lost his wife of more than five decades. We embraced.

That afternoon, Pup was going to Mass. I said I’d come. Normally, I didn’t. Normally, when in Connecticut on a Sunday, I would discreetly make myself scarce around this time, when he would gather up the Hispanic staff and drive to St. Mary’s Church, where a complaisant priest would say a private Latin Mass for him. Today, however, I reckoned, was not a day to skip church, so I went with them. Pup wept throughout the Mass. Afterward he told a friend who was there that he was “so pleased” that I had attended.

Pup and I had engaged in our own Hundred Years’ War over the matter of faith. Our Sturmiest und Drangiest times were over religion. Pup had the most delicious, reliable, wicked, vibrant sense of humor of anyone I knew, yet his inner Savonarola was released at the merest hint of (to use his term) impiety. Finally exhausted, I adopted — whether hypocritically or cowardly or wisely — a Potemkin stance of being back in the fold. My agnosticism, once defiant, had gone underground. I no longer had the desire to nail my theses to his church door. By now I knew we didn’t have much time left, and I didn’t want to spend it locking theological horns, making him heartsick with my intransigence.

A few days later, after Mum’s private funeral Mass, Pup and I busied ourselves one afternoon by going through her papers. She lost all interest in deskwork during the six or seven months of her invalidity. We found unpaid grocery bills, credit-card bills, undistributed cash for staff Christmas tips; uncashed checks; unopened letters, including, I saw to my disconcertment, a number from me. This was neither carelessness nor any failure of affection on her part, but rather fear, and realizing it made me wince in self-rebuke.

Mum’s serial misbehavior over the years had driven me, despairing, to write her scolding — occasionally scalding — letters. Now I saw that she had simply stopped opening all letters from me, against the possibility that they might contain another excoriation. I opened one of them and read:

Dear Mum, That really was an appalling scene at dinner last night. . . .

I wished that I could take back that letter, even though every word of it had been carefully weighed and justified. On reflection, it wasn’t fair of me. I’m a professional writer; she was not. It wasn’t a level playing field, however outrageous the provocations that had driven me, hot-faced, flushing and furious, to the keyboard. And they never — ever — did one bit of good, these pastoral letters of mine. Why, I wondered now, had I never accepted the futility of hurling myself against Fortress Mum?

My only consolation now was that I had finally stopped lobbing feckless, well-worded catapult-balls over Mum’s parapets. I didn’t even say anything to her about the Incident of July 2006. On that occasion, my daughter, Caitlin, Mum’s only granddaughter, went out to Stamford from New York for the night, taking with her her best friend, Kate Kennedy. I know, I know — but there is simply no way to tell this story without using real names.

Cat and Kate look like Irish twins. They have been soul mates since kindergarten. Kate is beautiful, vivacious, bright, witty and very naughty — a Kennedy through and through, nicknamed Kick after her great-aunt. The friendship between these two colleens is perhaps unusual given that their paternal grandfathers, Robert F. Kennedy and William F. Buckley Jr., were on opposite sides of the old political spectrum.

At any rate, here were two enchanting young ladies at a grandparental country manse on a summer night. An occasion for joy, affection, de­lighted conversation. You might . . . sigh . . . suppose. I was not — praise the gods — in attendance, inasmuch as Mum and I were not speaking at the time, owing to a previous disgrace of hers, a real beaut even by her standards. The general mood at the dinner table that night was not leavened by the continued — indeed, persistent — presence of a British aristocrat lady friend of Mum’s, who arrived for a visit 10 days before. Now, nearly a fortnight into her encampment, she showed no signs of leaving. Pup’s graciousness as a host was legendary, but it had limits. The poor man was reduced to japery. So, your ladyship, you must be getting jolly homesick for Merry Olde England by now, eh? Ho, ho, ho. . . . But her ladyship showed no sign of homesickness for Old Blighty. Indeed, she had fastened onto our house with the tenacity of a monomaniacal abalone.

Now, on Day 10 of Pup Held Hostage, his mood had congealed from sullenness to smoldering resentment. Meanwhile, Mum’s protracted, vinous afternoons of gin rummy with her ladyship had her by dinnertime in what might be called the spring-loaded position. In such moods, Mum was capable of wheeling on, say, Neil Armstrong to inform him that he knew nothing — nothing what-so-ever — about astrophysics or lunar landing. No hostess in history has ever set a better dinner table than my mother, but on such evenings, I would rather have supped with al Qaeda in a guano-strewn cave.

At some point, Mum turned to — on might be the more exact preposition — Kate, informing her that she (Mum) had been an alternate juror in the murder trial of Kate’s father’s first cousin Michael Skakel. Skakel, nephew of Ethel Kennedy, Kate’s grandmother, was (as you might be aware) the defendant in a sensational murder trial in Stamford several years before, for the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley. Having presented this astonishing and perfectly untrue credential, Mum then proceeded to launch into a protracted lecture on the villainy of Kate’s relative.

Leave aside the issue of Skakel’s culpability, for which he is, at any rate, currently serving a 20-years-to-life sentence. Over the years, I heard Mum utter whoppers that would make Pinocchio look button-nosed, but this one really took the prize, in several categories, the first being Manners. Why on earth would you inflict a jeremiad on an innocent 18-year-old girl, your own granddaughter’s best friend? The mind — as Mum herself used to put it — boggles.

This supper-table donnybrook I learned about over the phone, from breathless, reeling Cat and Kate once they reached the sanctuary of the pool after dinner, along with a much-needed bottle of wine. All I could say to poor Kate was a WASP variation on oy vey. By the time I put down the phone, my blood reached Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which it starts spurting out your ears.

I breathed into a paper bag for a few days and then called Pup. “Well,” I said, “that sounded like a fun dinner. Sorry to miss it.” He feigned ignorance of the Skakel episode; perhaps he had excused himself early and gone upstairs to short-sheet her ladyship’s bed. He was, anyway, past caring at this, my 500th howl about Mum’s behavior. He tried to wave it away with a spuriously subjunctive, “But why would she say something like that if she weren’t a juror at the trial?” (Pup would have made a superb defense attorney) and changed the subject back to what kind of explosives work best for dislodging aristocratic British houseguests.

I remember the time I first caught Mum in some preposterous untruth, as she called it. It, too, featured British aristos. She grew up a debutante in a grand house in Vancouver, British Columbia, the kind of house that even has a name: Shannon. Grand, but Vancouver-grand, which is to say, provincial.

So one night, when I was 6 or so, sitting with the grown-ups at the dinner table, I heard Mum announce that “the king and queen always stayed with us when they were in Vancouver.” By “king and queen” she meant the parents of the current queen of England. My little antennae went twing? I’d never heard my grandparents refer to a royal visit, which is a pretty big deal. I looked at Mum and realized — twang! — that she was telling an untruth. A big untruth. And I remember thinking in that instant how thrilling and grown-up it must be to say something so completely untrue — as opposed to the little amateur fibs I was already practiced at, horrid little apprentice sinner that I was, like the ones about how you’d already said your prayers or washed under the fingernails. Yes, I was impressed. This was my introduction to a lifetime of mendacity. I, too, must learn to say these gorgeous untruths. Imaginary kings and queens will be my houseguests when I am older!

When Mum was in full prevarication, Pup would assume an expression somewhere between a Jack Benny stare and the stoic grimace of a 13th-century saint being burned at the stake. He knew very well that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth did not routinely decamp at Shannon. The funny thing was that he rarely challenged her when she was in the midst of one of her glorious confections. For that matter, no one did. They wouldn’t have dared. Mum had a regal way about her that did not brook contradiction. The only time she ever threatened to spank me was when I told her, in front of others, following one of her more absurd claims, “Oh, come off it!” Her fluent mendacity, combined with adamantine confidence, made her really indomitable. As awful as it often was, thinking back on it now, I’m filled with a sort of perverse pride in her. She was really, really good at it. She would have made a fantastic spy. Really, she would have made a fantastic anything. She was beautiful, theatrical, bright as a diamond, the wittiest woman I have ever known. (Whatever talent I possess as a “humorist” — dreadful word — I owe to her.) She could have done anything; instead, she devoted herself, heart, soul and body, to being Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. (A full-time job.)

At any rate, I hadn’t written to rebuke her over the Cat and Kate dinner, so that was one letter from me Mum never had to not open. What, really, would have been the point of writing?

I forgive you. I was glad to have the chance to say that to her at the hospital, holding her hand, tears streaming down my face. I can hear her saying, Are you quite finished, or shall I fetch my Stradivarius?

The Collection of Christopher Buckley

Roman Holiday: Pat and Christopher at the Colosseum, about 1962.


Pup’s decline was swift. In June, two months after Mum died, I was back at Stamford Hospital, where he was in and out of delirium, on the cusp of kidney failure. Weakened by his emphysema and other problems, he had taken ill and become dangerously dehydrated, taxing his kidneys. I finally got him back home, and we settled into a routine of sorts, which somewhat depended on how many sleeping pills Pup had self-administered during the night.

I did not, as a young bacchant in the ’60s and ’70s, absent myself from the garden of herbal and pharmacological delights — far from it — so I found myself in an odd position, that is, lecturing a parent about drugs. The child-parent relationship inevitably reverses, but to this degree I had not anticipated.

“Pup,” I would say, eyeing the half-empty blister pack of Stilnox, a sleeping pill, by his bedside. “How many Stilnoxes did we take last night?”

“I don’t know. One and a half? Two?”

“Two?” (Examing the pack, which looked as if it had been half-eaten by wolverines in the night.) “Two. O.K.”

“I may have taken another.”

“Another. So — three, say?”

(Becoming annoyed.) “There might have been one more.”

I looked at the blister pack of Ritalin, which Pup took for low blood pressure and energy. “How many Rits did we take yesterday?”

(Fully annoyed.) “What does Rit have to do with not sleeping?”

I still can’t say whether this stunner was denial or a “Firing Line”-quality countermove. I had made the (pretty obvious) point to Pup — 50 times over recent years? — that Ritalin, which acted on him as a stimulant, was no means to a good night’s sleep, especially if you took your final one of the day at dinnertime and washed it down with coffee.

Pup’s self-medicating was, I’d venture, a chemical extension of the control he asserted over every other aspect of his life. The term “control freak” is pejorative. Put it this way: Few great men — and I use the term precisely, for Pup was a great man — do not assert total control over their domains. I doubt Winston Churchill ever said, “Whatever.”

Some years ago, I came across a Thomas Carlyle quote that could serve as the solipsist’s definitive credo: “Let me have my own way in exactly everything and a sunnier and pleasanter creature does not exist.” Pup never plunged into a bad mood or became grouchy if things didn’t go his way, perhaps for the reason that they always went his way. He was invariably the sunniest and most pleasant creature in the room. The moods of those in attendance upon him — Mum’s, mainly — did not always match his.

A TV remote control in the hands of an autocrat of the entertainment room becomes a “Star Trek” phaser set on stun. He and Mum might be watching “Murder on the Orient Express” with a half-dozen guests when, just as a key plot point was being introduced, suddenly the screen would fill with a documentary on Che Guevara or the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara.

During those long months after Mum died, things were no different on that score. Evenings, if Pup was up to it, I and my longtime friend Danny, who was like a surrogate son to Pup,would bring him down on the electric rail-chair. Leaning on my shoulders, he would slowly make his way to the music room, stopping to gasp for air every three feet. There, the three of us would eat one of Julian the cook’s delicious meals on trays and watch a movie. I say “a movie,” but “movies” would be more accurate, since several minutes in, without bothering to say, “Let’s watch something else,” he’d simply change the channel. One day, when I was out of town and called to check in, Danny reported, with a somewhat-strained chuckle, “We watched parts of five movies last night.”

All this seems quite trivial now, but at the time, Pup’s death grip on the remote took on a sort of proxy significance, symbolic of the control he exerted over the solar system around him. Once or twice during the convalescence, I became so splutteringly frustrated after the fourth or fifth channel change that I silently stormed out of the room. He’s sick, I would tell myself, fuming off to my room. But halfway up the stairs, my inner noodge would whisper, Well, yeah, but it’s not quite that simple, is it?

For their 40th wedding anniversary, in 1990, I put together a mock episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes.” I taped interviews with 30 or so of their friends; I even persuaded a sporting Mike Wallace to play along with an ambush interview of himself in which he flees the interviewer (me), protesting, “I find these kinds of interviews distasteful!”

One interview was of Pup’s great friend, the journalist Dick Clurman, and his wife, Shirley. Dick and Shirley had accompanied my parents on a dozen Christmas cruises in the Caribbean aboard chartered sailboats. In the interview, Dick, standing in his Manhattan apartment dressed in yellow foul-weather gear, describes how it was one Christmas Eve on one cruise.

Everything was perfect. Mum had brought and wrapped presents for everyone, arranging them around a Christmas tree she had contrived. (She was brilliant at Christmases, Mum.) She brought and strung up little twinkling lights. Drinks were served. “Silent Night” was playing on the CD player. The boat was anchored in the most charming, lovely, beautiful, protected cove in the entire Caribbean. You see where this is going. Everything was perfect.

At which point Pup suddenly decided that it would be even more perfect if they up-anchored and moved across the way to a different cove. Looking back, I now understand that his greatness was of a piece with the way he conducted himself at sea. Great men always have too much canvas up. Great men take great risks. It’s the timorous souls — souls like myself — who err on the side of caution; who, when they see a storm approaching, take in sail and look for snug harbor. Not my old man. On that Christmas Eve, Mum said, “Bill, just leave it.” But leaving it was not Bill’s way. No, no. Ho, ho, ho.

Dick’s recitation of what followed is quite hilarious, but I’d guess it was far from hilarious at the time.

Pup ordered the anchor up, and as they proceeded across the bay, a sudden squall hit, drenching everything, washing presents overboard, shorting out the Christmas lights, knocking over the tree; whereupon, in the dark and confusion, the yacht went aground. So instead of spending a lovely, calm Christmas Eve in the protected cove listening to Bing Crosby singing amid the twinkling lights, they spent it in the dark, at a 45-degree angle atop a sandbar, in a rainstorm. All because Pup had insisted that it would be “so much nicer over on the other side.” Great men are not content to leave well enough alone.


It was mid-July now, three months after Mum’s death. One day a few weeks after I got him back from the hospital, still ailing badly but bored witless by inertia, Pup announced that he was going to go to his garage study to recommence work on his Goldwater memoir. This was valiant. Here he could barely breathe, barely stand, barely speak. Into the bargain, it was blowing a summer gale. We were both drenched to the underwear by the time I got him situated in the cockpit of his study. I approached him with the nose oxygen tube. He made a face. We had had a hundred discussions about this.

“Let’s put in your oxygen tube, O.K.?”

“What good would that do?”

“Well, Pup, it’s oxygen, you know, and since you’re having a hard time breathing — ”

“I don’t see what good it does.”

Ignoring him and looping the tubes around his ears and inserting the end into his nostrils: “Well, can’t be doing any harm, shouldn’t think.”

He fired up his computers. He hunched unsteadily over his keyboard. I hovered behind, ready to catch him if he pitched forward.

“I’m going to have to dictate to you,” he said.

“I’m a little rusty at WordStar,” I said. “It’s been a quarter-century or so.”

Pup still used the word-processing system he first learned in the early 1980s. Generations of his computer gurus had had to install this antiquated system in his increasingly sophisticated computers, which were like F-22 fighter jets with the controls of a Sopwith Camel.

Pup stood, holding onto the edge of his desk for support, and began to dictate the last chapter of his memoirs about Barry Goldwater.

“The years ahead were, by the standards of Barry Goldwater, unhurried. . . .”

What amazed me, and still does now, was how fluent it was. Rereading the final chapter in the recently published book, it’s remarkable how little changed it is from what issued from Pup’s oxygen-deprived blue lips that rainy morning in his study. His mind was a still brightly burning fire deep within the wreckage of his body. He made hardly any self-corrections as he spoke. The words came out punctuated and paragraphed. And fast. My fingers scuttled across the keyboard like crabs. In less than 10 minutes, we were on the last paragraph of the last book he would complete.

“And that was that. No one else comes to mind who sustained for so long a comparable reputation for candor and courage. Over the years, if active in the political community, one comes across rejected aspirants for the presidency. But even in that rare company Goldwater, whether initiating a call from the South Pole to my wife or puddle-jumping the Grand Canyon for his friends, was unique, and will forever remain so.”

My eyes misted up as I typed. I said, “It’s beautiful, Pup.” I was, for the 1,000th time in my life, in awe of him.

I remember, as a child, watching him in the backseat of his limo, with his portable blue Olivetti Lettera 32 propped on his knees, pounding out a deadline column. Between 1962 and 2008, he wrote some 5,600 of these. Assembled into book form, they would fill 45 volumes; add that to his more than 50 published books. This is, I reflect as the author of only 14 books, a humbling tally.

Most authors are happy — thrilled, even, to the point of doing cartwheels — on finishing a book. But not Pup, not this time, for it left him, literally, without a reason to go on living. His already-low spirits deepened into depression. I began to field alarmed phone calls and e-mail messages from his friends.

He summoned me one afternoon to his bed and said to me, a look of near-despair on his face, “Oh, Christo, I feel so bloody awful.”

“I know you do, Pup,” I said. “I know you do. I’m so sorry. I wish. . . .”

“If it weren’t for the religious aspect,” he said, “I’d take a pill.”

The religious aspect. Here we were venturing out onto thin ice. This was not the moment to break what remained of his heart by telling him that although I greatly admired the teachings of Jesus, I had long ago stopped believing that he had risen from the dead. At the same time, I was desperate to help put him out of his misery, if that was what he wanted. Misery it was. He missed Mum desperately.

This was a mystery to me. There had been so many rocky times. And yet I understood. He depended on her for so long. Even when Mum wasn’t speaking to him — which was about a third of the time — she looked after him: packing his bags, making sure he had everything he needed. “I’m just an Arab wife,” she was known to say. “When Bill says, ‘Strike the tent,’ I do.” She had been brought up by a mother who inculcated in her daughters that their primary role in life was to take care of their men. Mum did that. She saw to every detail.

Even when Pup was despairing of her behavior — as he did only occasionally — and sought refuge on the lecture circuit or wherever, he would call her every night, trying reconciliation with, “Hi, Duck.” “Duck” was the formal, vous version of “Ducky,” their term of affection for each other. If a transcript existed of their 57-year-long marriage and you did a computer quick-find search of “Ducky,” you’d find 1,794,326 matches.


I had planned to leave mid-July on a trip to the West Coast. One night as we watched the first of three — or was it four? — movies, he said apprehensively, “When are you leaving for California?”

“I’m not, Pup. I’m going to stay here with you.”

He began to cry. I went over and patted him on the back. He recovered his composure and said, somewhat matter-of-factly, “Well, I’d do the same for you.”

I smiled and thought, Oh, no, you wouldn’t. A year or two earlier, I might have said it out loud, initiating one of our antler-clashes. But watching him suffer had made my lingering resentments seem trivial and beside the point.

I wondered, while keeping this vigil with him, whether to bring up certain things and talk them out so that, when the end came, nothing would be left unsaid between us. But each time I hovered on the brink, I found myself shrugging and saying, Let it go. Perhaps it was another way of saying “I forgive you” — as I had to Mum that night in the hospital — on the installment plan. I felt no need for what is called, in other contexts, the “exit interview.” I was able to love him now all the more, and actually laugh (inwardly, anyway) at that “I’d do the same for you.” Oh, yeah? Ho, ho, ho.

When I was 11, I spent three weeks in a hospital without a visit from him. True, he was on a trip to South Africa at the time, and in 1962, South Africa was a long way off. Still, when finally the doctors told Mum that I might not make it, she flashed word to him: come home, and that he did, briskly, catching the next flight and changing planes — as he related proudly — in Nairobi, Cairo, Athens, Rome, Paris, London and . . . Reykjavik! His absence from my sickbed was not any failure of love. It was, perhaps, just how it was in those days: the mothers took care of the children. By the time he arrived back, I was out of danger, and he brought with him spectacular presents: a leopard-skin rug, which he christened “King Kaiser” and whose head would serve as a gnaw-bone to generations of Cavalier King Charles puppies; also a splendid ceremonial Wilkinson sword of the type, he said, carried by the guards at Buckingham Palace.

In addition to his unwillingness to alter his plan, his impatience was the stuff of legend — another common trait among the Great that could sometimes be, well, maddening. Ten minutes into my college graduation ceremony, he got bored and rounded up the family and friends in attendance and whisked them off to lunch at what we now call an “undisclosed location,” leaving me to spend my graduation day wandering the campus in search of my family. I ended up having my graduation lunch alone, at the Yankee Doodle diner. When I confronted him back home, grinding my back molars, he merely said airily, “I just assumed you had other plans.” Pup — on my graduation day?

By the beginning of August, I had convalesced him — if the verb can be used transitively — back to some semblance of health. I’d been with him night and day since mid-June. Lucy reported that my 15-year-old son, Conor, had been reduced to looking me up on YouTube. I ached to be with him, yet I feared leaving Pup, sensing that every time I left might be the last I saw him. But I had to get away and comforted myself knowing he’d be well looked after by the devoted Danny and household staff.

I woke early, bursting to go. Pup was still asleep, amid a heap of crushed reading matter and the chugging oxygen machine. I kissed him and tiptoed out and made it to our summer rental cabin in Blue Hill, Me., in less than eight hours, where Conor and the faithful hound Jake were waiting for me in the little studio house by the water. It felt like heaven. That night, to the smell of pinewoods and the cry of loons, I e-mailed him.

Dear Pup, I don’t know when you’ll get this but I just wanted to say how much being with you these past weeks, despite the circumstances, has meant to me. I love you very much. Your devoted Christo

He replied the next day:

O Christo, that note on TOP of everything you have done for me! XXXXp


Between August and February, Pup’s deterioration continued apace, though he managed to get started on yet another book, a memoir of his friendship with Ronald Reagan. During those months, I spent as much time with him as I could. I had planned to come up to Stamford from Washington the following day when my phone rang at 9:30 the morning of Feb. 27, Conor’s 16th birthday. It was Julian, Pup’s cook.

“Hello, Christopher. I’m sorry to disturb you, but there’s been an emergency.”

He’d found Pup on the floor of his garage study. The ambulance had been called. It wasn’t clear if he was still alive.

I don’t know the technical definition of shock, but after hanging up with Julian, I found myself wandering around the house aimlessly thinking that I should go on with what I had been doing when he called, namely my income taxes. Maybe if I do that, I thought, then this won’t have happened.

My thinking was as incoherent as the verb tenses in that last sentence. I waited five minutes and called the house. Julia, the maid, answered. She was sobbing, a wailing sound. “Oh, Christobal, Christobal. Venga. Venga.” (Come. Come.) So I knew: Pup was gone.

I walked about the house, conducting a kind of conversation with myself. O.K., so that’s that. Now what? Do the taxes? No, we’re not going to do the taxes now. Jesus. Get a grip. O.K., so what do we do, then? I leaned my forehead against a wall and took some deep breaths.

The next morning I drove from Washington to my parents’ home in Stamford. There’s something to be said for a long, solitary drive — it concentrates the mind. Death presents you with a to-do list, and at the top of the list was the most urgent detail, namely the disposal of the last remains.

Some years before, Pup commissioned a large bronze crucifix from the Connecticut sculptor Jimmy Knowles. It’s a beautiful piece of modern art. He placed it in the middle of the lawn in Stamford, to a distinct grumbling by Mum, who viewed her garden as off-limits to my father’s artistic (and in this case overtly religious) intrusions. Mum’s ashes were now inside the cross, in a heavy brass canister that looked as if it had been designed as a container for enriched plutonium. Pup’s instructions were that he, too, should be cremated and join her in the cross. The idea of Mum, who wasn’t very religious, encased for all eternity inside Pup’s crucifix had afforded her and me a few grim giggles over the years.

“Just sprinkle me in the garden or send me out with the trash,” she told me. “I most certainly do not wish to be inside that object.” But Mum died first, so that was that.

Pup expected me to keep the Stamford house, but beautiful as it was and fond though (most of) my memories were of it, it’s expensive, and after paying all the death taxes, I doubted I’d be able to maintain it. But not wanting to hurt his feelings, I went along with the fiction that I would keep it. This, however, left me with a conundrum: what to do with the cross. One evening during his convalescence I tiptoed into this minefield over our martinis.

“Say, Pup, I know you want your ashes in the cross. . . .”

“I absolutely want them in the cross,” he said, in a pre-emptive, “Firing Line” tone of voice.

“Right. Right. I was only thinking, what if, you know, the house, if I, well, you never know . . . if I ever had to sell it. . . .”

“Your point being?”

“Well, I mean, a new owner . . . surely . . . might, uh. . . .”

“Why wouldn’t a new owner want the cross?”

“Well,” I said, taking a deep swig of my frosty see-through, “they might be, I don’t know, Jewish, or whatever. They might not want an enormous crucifix in their garden.”

“Why not?”

I stared.

“It’s a work of art,” he said.

“It is. It is absolutely that. (Clearing of throat.) Still. . . .”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” How well I knew this formulation. “I wouldn’t worry about it” was W.F.B.-speak for “The conversation is over.”

Thus I was left with the impression I had committed lèse-majesté by suggesting that a future owner — Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Amish, Zoroastrian — might be anything less than honored to have William F. Buckley Jr.’s last remains in his garden, encased in an enormous bronze symbol of the crucified Christ. Certainly it would present the real estate broker with an interesting covenant clause. Now, um, Mr. and Mrs. Birnbaum, you do understand that Mr. and Mrs. Buckley’s ashes are to remain in the crucifix, in the garden, in, um, perpetuity?

Christopher Little

Shipmates Christopher Buckley and his father, William F. Buckley, aboard the elder Buckley’s boat in 1986.


One day, as I sat in Pup’s study planning the memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the phone rang. A gentle, sandpapery voice came on the line.

“I’m looking for Christopher Buckley.”

“Yes, this is he.”

“Oh, Chris, it’s George McGovern calling.”

Pup and George McGovern were political opposites, but they became fast friends a decade earlier after engaging in a series of public debates. I remembered Pup grinning one day over lunch, announcing: “Say, have I told you about my new best friend? George McGovern! He turns out to be the single nicest human being I’ve ever met.”

I recall my jaw dropping. When McGovern ran for president in 1972, Pup had written and spoken some pretty tough things about him (though never ad hominem). As I winched my lower mandible back into place, I reflected that this relationship wasn’t at all improbable. Some of Pup’s great friendships were with card-carrying members of the vast left-wing conspiracy: John Kenneth Galbraith, Murray Kempton, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the A.C.L.U. head Ira Glasser and Allard K. Lowenstein, among many others. But there were piquant twists to the friendship with McGovern.

Pup’s boss at the C.I.A. in Mexico in 1951 was E. Howard Hunt. Howard was — you may have heard something about this — indicted in 1972 after locks were jimmied open at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, in an effort, among other things, to sabotage George McGovern’s presidential campaign. Pup left the C.I.A.’s employ in 1952, but he remained friends with Hunt and was godfather to — and, indeed, trustee for — the Hunts’ children.

As Watergate unfolded, I found myself home from college some weekends, in the basement sauna with Pup after dinner, listening to him as he confided his latest hush-hush phone call from Howard. It was dramatic, even spooky, stuff. The calls would come at pre­arranged times, from phone booths. One night, Pup looked truly world-weary. Howard’s wife, Dorothy, had just been killed in a commercial-airline crash while on a mission for him, reportedly delivering hush money to Watergate operatives.

“It turns out that there’s a safety-deposit box.”

I was 21, an aspiring staff reporter on The Yale Daily News. Watergate was a very big story. No: the biggest story since the Fall of Rome. Oh, how my little mouth salivated. Not that I could repeat a single word of any of this.

“A safety-deposit box?”

“There’s a Mr. X, apparently. The way it works is this: I don’t know his identity, but he knows mine. Howard has given him instructions: if he’s killed — ”

“Killed? Jesus.”

“ — if something happens. . . . In that event, Mr. X will contact me. He has the key to the safety-deposit box. He and I are to open it together.”


Pup looked at me heavily. “Decide what to do with the contents.”

“Jesus, Pup.”

“Don’t swear, Big Shot.”

“What sort of contents are we talking about?”

This next moment, I remember vividly. Pup was staring at the floor of the sauna, hunched over. His shoulders sagged. He let out a sigh.

“I don’t know, exactly, but it could theoretically involve information that could lead to the impeachment of the president of the United States.”

This conversation took place in December 1972. In the post-Clinton era, the word “impeachment” has lost much of its shock value, but back then, before the revelation of the Oval Office tapes, or the revelations of the White House counsel John Dean, the phrase “impeachment of the president of the United States” packed a very big wallop. I was speechless. Pup was, to be sure, a journalist, but he took no pleasure in possessing this odious stick of dynamite. His countenance was pure Gethsemane: Let this cup pass from me. He would later publicly recuse himself, in the pages of his own magazine, from comment on Watergate, pleading conflict of interest based on his status as trustee for the Hunt children.

And now George McGovern, whose campaign was the target of Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy and the other “plumbers,” was on the phone from South Dakota, to condole someone he had never met and to say that he was planning to come to the memorial service, adding with what sounded like a grin, “if I can make my way through this 15-foot-high snowdrift outside my house.” I put down the phone and wept.


I think about them every day. Orphanhood proceeds, tanned — as Leon Wieseltier hoped — and otherwise. It comes in waves. One moment you’re doing fine, living your life, even perhaps feeling some sort of primal sense of liberation — I can stay out as late as I want, and I don’t have to make my bed! Then in the next instant, boom, there it is. It has various ways of presenting, as doctors say of disease.

Sometimes it comes in the form of a black hole inside you, sucking the rest of you into it; at other times it is a sense of disconnection, as if you had been holding your mother’s hand in a crowd and suddenly she let go.

The summer after Pup died, I got a midnight call with the news that my friend Rust Hills, the editor and writer, had died. Rust was a great admirer of Montaigne. I thumbed through my copy of the “Essays” and found this: “The ceaseless labor of your life is to build the house of death.” It’s probably too downbeat a sentiment by American smiley-face standards to make it onto a refrigerator magnet, but . . . pas mal. You want to be able, when the end comes, to look the Reaper right in the eye and say, “Oh, puh-leeze.” I’m sure that’s how Mum did it. She’d have added, “And what, pray, is that preposterous costume supposed to indicate?”

“Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death,”Hazlitt wrote, “is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not: this gives us no concern — why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be?”

Any English major can quote a good game. Ask me how I feel when my doctor says with a frown, “I’d like to do one more P.S.A. test.”

Recently, I was driving behind a belchy city bus and suddenly found myself thinking, not for the first time, about whether Pup is in heaven. He spent so much of his life on his knees in church, so much of his life doing the right thing by so many people, a thousand acts of generosity. I hesitate to put it this way, but I’m dying of curiosity: how did it turn out, Pup? Were you right, after all? Is there a heaven? Is Mum there with you? Grumbling, almost certainly, about the “inedible food,” and saying, “Bill, you’ve got to speak to that absurd St. Peter creature about getting Christopher in — I mean, it’s all too ridiculous for words.”

Christopher Buckley is the author of 14 books. “Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir,” from which this article is adapted, will be published next month.