Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Law Lords make Britain unsafe yet again

By Melanie Phillips
Thursday, 11th June 2009

The English judiciary has now pretty well completed its attempt to destroy altogether Britain’s ability to defend itself against terrorism.

First, it used ‘human rights’ law to prevent Britain from deporting foreign terrorist suspects on the grounds that just about everywhere on the planet would treat them badly.

To protect the public while such suspects were in legal limbo, the government tried to lock them up. The courts then ruled that this went against their human rights too, since it treated foreign suspects differently from British ones and was therefore ‘discriminatory’. The fact that of course British suspects wouldn’t be treated like this because British suspects would not potentially be deported, and that it could hardly be discriminatory to say that British citizens had different rights in Britain from foreign nationals, was deemed to be irrelevant. Universal human rights were universal and to hell with the meaning of citizenship. I extrapolate, but you get the drift.

To protect Britain from such suspects who could neither be thrown out of the country nor locked up, the government in desperation then invented ‘control orders’ under which suspects would remain in their own homes under conditions of varying (and arguably inadequate) degrees of restriction. Yesterday the inevitable happened and the Law Lords ruled unanimously that control orders were a breach of the suspects’ right to know the crime of which they were charged, a fact concealed from them in such cases on the grounds that they might be able to work out from such information the identity of the informants who had led the police and security service to them and thus compromise intelligence operations. The control order system is thus potentially destroyed.

One of the Law Lords, Lord Hope, said that although the first duty of the government was to ‘protect and safeguard the lives of its citizens’ and the court had a duty to ‘do all that it can to respect and uphold that principle’, the court also had a duty to ‘protect and safeguard the rights of the individual’. By their ruling, the Law Lords made it clear that the rights of the individual thus trumped the rights of citizens to be protected from terrorism.

Tellingly, though, although the decision of this panel was unanimous one of their number, Lord Hoffman, made it clear that he was agreeing only reluctantly. On the guts of the issue, he was very clear: although in general suspects should know the charges against them, this could not be allowed to jeopardise national security. A previous ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which had gone against this principle was wrong. But he found to his dismay that that ruling now bound the English courts:

I think that the decision of the ECtHR was wrong and that it may well destroy the system of control orders which is a significant part of this country’s defences against terrorism. Nevertheless, I think that your Lordships have no choice but to submit...

...The particular procedures which have to be followed to make a hearing fair cannot in my opinion be stated in rigid rules. Ordinarily it is true that fairness requires that an accused person should be informed of all the allegations against him and the material tendered to the tribunal in support. The purpose of the rule is not merely to improve the chances of the tribunal reaching the right decision (by giving the accused an opportunity to explain or contradict any such allegations or material) but to avoid the subjective sense of injustice which an accused may feel if he knows that the tribunal relied upon material of which he was not told....
But when disclosure is contrary to the public interest, it is necessary to think more carefully and ask whether in all the circumstances it would really be unfair not to tell the applicant or accused.

... There are practical limits to the extent to which one can devise a procedure which carries no risk of a wrong decision. It is sometimes said that it is better for ten guilty men to be acquitted than for one innocent man to be convicted. Sometimes it is a hundred guilty men. The figures matter. A system of justice which allowed a thousand guilty men to go free for fear of convicting one innocent man might notadequately protect the public. Likewise, the fact in theory there is always some chance that the applicant might have been able to contradict closed evidence is not in my opinion a sufficient reason for saying, in effect, that control orders can never be made against dangerous people if the case against them is based ‘to a decisive degree’ upon material which cannot in the public interest be disclosed. This, however, is what we are now obliged to declare to be the law.

And so, thanks to ‘human rights’ law, Britain today is even less safe from terrorism than it was.

Retreat into Apathy

A society of children cannot survive.

By Mark Steyn
June 11, 2009

Willie Whitelaw, a genial old buffer who served as Margaret Thatcher’s deputy for many years, once accused the Labour party of going around Britain stirring up apathy. Viscount Whitelaw’s apparent paradox is, in fact, a shrewd political insight, and all the sharper for being accidental. Big government depends, in large part, on going around the country stirring up apathy — creating the sense that problems are so big, so complex, so intractable that even attempting to think about them for yourself gives you such a splitting headache it’s easier to shrug and accept as given the proposition that only government can deal with them.

Take health care. Have you read any of these health-care plans? Of course not. They’re huge and turgid and unreadable. Unless you’re a health-care lobbyist, a health-care think-tanker, a health-care correspondent, or some other fellow who’s paid directly or indirectly to plough through this stuff, why bother? None of the senators whose names are on the bills have read ’em; why should you?

And you can understand why they drag on a bit. If you attempt to devise a health-care “plan” for 300 million people, it’s bound to get a bit complicated. But a health-care plan for you, Joe Schmoe of 27 Elm Street, didn’t used to be that complicated, did it? Let’s say you carelessly drop Ted Kennedy’s health-care plan on your foot and it breaks your toe. In the old days, you’d go to your doctor (or, indeed, believe it or not, have him come to you), he’d patch you up, and you’d write him a check. That’s the way it was in most of the developed world within living memory. Now, under the guise of “insurance,” various third parties intercede between the doctor and your checkbook, and to this the government proposes adding a massive federal bureaucracy, in the interests of “controlling costs.” The British National Health Service is the biggest employer not just in the United Kingdom, but in the whole of Europe. Care to estimate the size and budget of a U.S. health bureaucracy?

According to the U.N. figures, life expectancy in the United States is 78 years; in the United Kingdom, it’s 79 — yay, go socialized health care! On the other hand, in Albania, where the entire population chain-smokes and the health-care system involves swimming to Italy, life expectancy is still 71 years — or about where America was a generation or so back. Once you get childhood mortality under control, and observe basic hygiene and lifestyle precautions, the health “system” is relatively marginal. One notes that, even in Somalia, which still has high childhood mortality, not to mention a state of permanent civil war, functioning government has entirely collapsed and yet life expectancy has increased from 49 to 55. Maybe if government were to collapse entirely in Washington, our life expectancy would show equally remarkable gains. Just thinking outside the box here.

When President Obama tells you he’s “reforming” health care to “control costs,” the point to remember is that the only way to “control costs” in health care is to have less of it. In a government system, the doctor, the nurse, the janitor, and the Assistant Deputy Associate Director of Cost-Control System Management all have to be paid every Friday, so the sole means of “controlling costs” is to restrict the patient’s access to treatment. In the Province of Quebec, patients with severe incontinence — i.e., they’re in the bathroom twelve times a night — wait three years for a simple 30-minute procedure. True, Quebeckers have a year or two on Americans in the life-expectancy hit parade, but, if you’re making twelve trips a night to the john 365 times a year for three years, in terms of life-spent-outside-the-bathroom expectancy, an uninsured Vermonter may actually come out ahead.

As Louis XV is said to have predicted, “Après moi, le deluge” — which seems as incisive an observation as any on a world in which freeborn citizens of the wealthiest societies in human history are content to rise from their beds every half-hour every night and traipse to the toilet for yet another flush simply because a government bureaucracy orders them to do so. “Health” is potentially a big-ticket item, but so’s a house and a car, and most folks manage to handle those without a Government Accommodation Plan or a Government Motor Vehicles System — or, at any rate, they did in pre-bailout America.

More important, there is a cost to governmentalizing every responsibility of adulthood — and it is, in Lord Whitelaw’s phrase, the stirring up of apathy. If you wander round Liverpool or Antwerp, Hamburg or Lyons, the fatalism is palpable. In Britain, once the crucible of freedom, civic life is all but dead: In Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, some three-quarters of the economy is government spending; a malign alliance between state bureaucrats and state dependents has corroded democracy, perhaps irreparably. In England, the ground ceded to the worst sociopathic pathologies advances every day — and the latest report on “the seven evils” afflicting an ever more unlovely land blames “poverty” and “individualism,” failing to understand that if you remove the burdens of individual responsibility while loosening all restraint on individual hedonism the vaporization of the public space is all but inevitable. In Ontario, Christine Elliott, a candidate for the leadership of the so-called Conservative party, is praised by the media for offering a more emollient conservatism predicated on “the need to take care of vulnerable people.”

Look, by historical standards, we’re loaded: We have TVs and iPods and machines to wash our clothes and our dishes. We’re the first society in which a symptom of poverty is obesity: Every man his own William Howard Taft. Of course we’re “vulnerable”: By definition, we always are. But to demand a government organized on the principle of preemptively “taking care” of potential “vulnerabilities” is to make all of us, in the long run, far more vulnerable. A society of children cannot survive, no matter how all-embracing the government nanny.

I get a lot of mail each week arguing that, when folks see the price tag attached to Obama’s plans, they’ll get angry. Maybe. But, if Europe’s a guide, at least as many people will retreat into apathy. Once big government’s in place, it’s very hard to go back.

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone.
© 2009 Mark Steyn

Friday, June 12, 2009


Five Years Ago

By Mark Steyn
Sunday, 07 June 2009

Ronald Reagan died five years ago - June 5th 2004. This appreciation is from Mark Steyn's Passing Parade:

All weekend long, across the networks, media grandees who’d voted for Carter and Mondale, just like all their friends did, tried to explain the appeal of Ronald Reagan. He was “the Great Communicator”, he had a wonderful sense of humour, he had a charming smile… self-deprecating… the tilt of his head…

All true, but not what matters. Even politics attracts its share of optimistic, likeable men, and most of them leave no trace – like Britain’s “Sunny Jim” Callaghan, a perfect example of the defeatism of western leadership in the 1970s. It was the era of “détente”, a word barely remembered now, which is just as well, as it reflects poorly on us: the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the free world had decided that the unfree world was not a prison ruled by a murderous ideology that had to be defeated but merely an alternative lifestyle that had to be accommodated. Under cover of “détente”, the Soviets gobbled up more and more real estate across the planet, from Ethiopia to Grenada. Nonetheless, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who subscribed to this feeble evasion – Helmut Schmidt, Pierre Trudeau, François Mitterand – but most of the so-called “conservatives”, too – Ted Heath, Giscard d’Estaing, Gerald Ford.

Unlike these men, unlike most other senior Republicans, Ronald Reagan saw Soviet Communism for what it was: a great evil. Millions of Europeans across half a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia live in freedom today because he acknowledged that simple truth when the rest of the political class was tying itself in knots trying to pretend otherwise. That’s what counts. He brought down the “evil empire”, and all the rest is details.

At the time, the charm and the smile got less credit from the intelligentsia, confirming their belief that he was a dunce who’d plunge us into Armageddon. Everything you need to know about the establishment’s view of Ronald Reagan can be found on page 624 of Dutch, Edmund Morris’ weird post-modern biography. The place is Berlin, the time June 12th 1987:

‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ declaims Dutch, trying hard to look infuriated, but succeeding only in an expression of mild petulance ... One braces for a flash of prompt lights to either side of him: APPLAUSE.
What a rhetorical opportunity missed. He could have read Robert Frost’s poem on the subject, ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,’ to simple and shattering effect. Or even Edna St. Vincent Millay’s lines, which he surely holds in memory…

‘Only now for the first time I see
This wall is actually a wall, a thing
Come up between us, shutting me away
From you ... I do not know you any more.’

Poor old Morris, the plodding, conventional, scholarly writer driven mad by 14 years spent trying to get a grip on Ronald Reagan. Most world leaders would have taken his advice: you’re at the Berlin Wall, so you have to say something about it, something profound but oblique, maybe there’s a poem on the subject ... Who cares if Frost’s is over-quoted, and a tad hard to follow for a crowd of foreigners? Who cares that it is, to the casual (never mind English-as-a-second-language) hearer, largely pro-wall, save for a few tentative questions toward the end?

Edmund Morris has described his subject as an “airhead” and concluded that it’s “like dropping a pebble in a well and hearing no splash.” Morris may not have heard the splash, but he’s still all wet: the elites were stupid about Reagan in a way that only clever people can be. Take that cheap crack: if you drop a pebble in a well and you don’t hear a splash, it may be because the well is dry but it’s just as likely it’s because the well is of surprising depth. I went out to my own well and dropped a pebble: I heard no splash, yet the well supplies exquisite translucent water to my home.
But then I suspect it’s a long while since Morris dropped an actual pebble in an actual well: As with walls, his taste runs instinctively to the metaphorical. Reagan looked at the Berlin Wall and saw not a poem-quoting opportunity but prison bars.

I once discussed Irving Berlin, composer of “God Bless America”, with his friend and fellow songwriter Jule Styne, and Jule put it best: “It’s easy to be clever. But the really clever thing is to be simple.” At the Berlin Wall that day, it would have been easy to be clever, as all those Seventies détente sophisticates would have been. And who would have remembered a word they said? Like Irving Berlin with “God Bless America”, only Reagan could have stood there and declared without embarrassment:

Tear down this wall!

- and two years later the wall was, indeed, torn down. Ronald Reagan was straightforward and true and said it for everybody - which is why his “rhetorical opportunity missed” is remembered by millions of grateful Eastern Europeans. The really clever thing is to have the confidence to say it in four monosyllables.

Ronald Reagan was an American archetype, and just the bare bones of his curriculum vitae capture the possibilities of his country: in the Twenties, a lifeguard at a local swimming hole who saved over 70 lives; in the Thirties, a radio sports announcer; in the Forties, a Warner Brothers leading man ...and finally one of the two most significant presidents of the American century. Unusually for the commander in chief, Reagan’s was a full, varied American life, of which the presidency was the mere culmination.

“The Great Communicator” was effective because what he was communicating was self-evident to all but our decayed elites: “We are a nation that has a government - not the other way around,” he said in his inaugural address. And at the end of a grim, grey decade - Vietnam, Watergate, energy crises, Iranian hostages – Americans decided they wanted a President who looked like the nation, not like its failed government. Thanks to his clarity, around the world governments that had nations have been replaced by nations that have governments. Most of the Warsaw Pact countries are now members of Nato, with free markets and freely elected parliaments.

One man who understood was Yakob Ravin, a Ukrainian émigré who in the summer of 1997 happened to be strolling with his grandson in Armand Hammer Park near Reagan’s California home. They chanced to see the former President, out taking a walk. Mr Ravin went over and asked if he could take a picture of the boy and the President. When they got back home to Ohio, it appeared in the local newspaper, The Toledo Blade.

Ronald Reagan was three years into the decade-long twilight of his illness, and unable to recognize most of his colleagues from the Washington days. But Mr Ravin wanted to express his appreciation. “Mr President,” he said, “thank you for everything you did for the Jewish people, for Soviet people, to destroy the Communist empire.”

And somewhere deep within there was a flicker of recognition. “Yes,” said the old man, “that is my job.”

Yes, that was his job.

Iran's Choice: Ballots, Nukes & Nuts

By Ralph Peters
New York Post
June 12, 2009

The outcome of today's presidential election in Iran may decide whether there'll be a military confrontation with Tehran.

Iran's businessmen, students and urban women want change. Their candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, once a radical, now holds hands with his wife on campaign posters. In Iran's public space, that's edging toward soft-core porn.

Prime minister during the Iran-Iraq War, Mousavi is viewed as economically sound in a land tormented by inflation and joblessness. By Iranian standards, he's a moderate. And he's stressed the damage done to Iran by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denials.

But hard-line clerics, the Revolutionary Guard thugocracy and Shia fundamentalists want more of Ahmadinejad (who's replaced the pistachio as Iran's most famous nut). While the country has grown poorer as a whole, Revolutionary Guard leaders and other insiders have enriched themselves extravagantly.

(The participation of the two other serious candidates is probably a wash: Mahdi Karroubi, a former parliamentarian, will pull votes from Mousavi, while Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei will eat into Ahmadinejad's support.)

Meanwhile, a stunning burst of take-to-the-streets support for Mousavi has alarmed the regime. Referring to the green tokens worn by Mousavi fans, the Revolutionary Guard issued a warning: No "color revolution" will be permitted in Iran.

There are plentiful grounds for worry about unrest leading to violence -- especially if the election results are seen as fixed. Popular demonstrations could meet a brutal response: One lesson the mullahs drew from the shah's fall is that the security forces can't go soft in the clinch.

As for Ahmadinejad, he can't be counted out until the results are announced. He could win either of two ways -- through election-rigging, or by a legitimate ballot victory delivered by his traditional base, the poor and uneducated.

With annual inflation "down" to about 24 percent, at least a fifth of the work-force unemployed and millions more underemployed, Ahmadinejad is counting on loyalty from the "great unwashed" disdained by Iran's educated classes (the Mousavi backers).

The election's key question is: Are the poor still with him? We don't know, because the Iranians don't know.

Ahmadinejad's strategy is similar to that of our own Democratic Party: He drained Iran's entrepreneurial class and lavished oil revenues on vote-buying subsidies for the least productive members of society.

If the party machine herds the Lumpenproletariat to the polls, we may see more of "Ain't-no-gays-in-Tehran" Ahmadinejad. We also may see war, launched either by Israel for self-preservation, or -- despite our reluctance -- by us.

Mousavi, the sort-of-centrist, wouldn't move to dismantle Iran's nuclear program, either -- it's a source of pride to Iranians in general. And elections notwithstanding, the final say in all matters lies with Iran's unelected "Supreme Leader," the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a hard-liner's hard-liner.

Constitutionally, Khamenei can fire the president on a whim. So Mousavi, too, would have to toe certain lines. But at least he's not an apocalyptic nutcase.

At a minimum, Mousavi would make a more practical negotiating partner: He'd rationally calculate costs and advantages. He wouldn't sell the farm, but he isn't anxious to irradiate the chickens.

Anyway, the nuclear issue may be our top priority, but it's way down the list of concerns for Iranian voters. Mousavi's supporters expect him to reinvigorate the economy, and urban women hope to gain (or regain) public rights. The candidate's own wife, Zahra Rahnavard, has an academic background and a taste for color. A Mousavi win wouldn't mean bikinis for everybody, but Iran's women just want relief from the misogynist morals police.

An unchallenged Mousavi victory could also open the diplomatic door on non-nuke issues (if Khamenei permits). Sophisticated Iranians remain drawn to American culture (a long hangover from the 1970s), and they're weary of their isolation. The hour's come for a little common sense.

And common sense for an objective Iranian strategist would say that, despite the ugly interlude in our relations, the United States is Iran's natural strategic ally. A renewed relationship remains a distant hope, but stranger things have happened -- who, in 1945, imagined us allied with Germany and Japan?

Personally, I hope to visit Shiraz, Isfahan and Qom one day. Iran's core Persian population is heir to an impressive, authentic civilization (unlike the neighbors).

But if Iranians make the wrong choice -- or if their legitimate choice is denied them -- Tehran may see bombs before it sees new waves of tourists.

This is the most important election anywhere this year. Let's hope that Iranians choose the future, not more of their self-destructive past. Should the majority vote for Mousavi, let's hope the choice is respected.

This isn't just about votes. It's about lives.

Ralph Peters is Fox News' strategic analyst.

1984 in 2009

By David Pryce-Jones
Friday, June 12, 2009

Sixty years ago, George Orwell published 1984, and I can think of no work of fiction in the past century with a comparable influence right across the world. Plenty of writers had already warned about the twin horrors of Nazism and Communism, and many of them had first-hand experience of these totalitarianisms. Orwell was telling a story about what it would be like to live in such a nightmare society. From the novel's opening sentence in which the clocks are striking thirteen, the reader finds himself in the grip of an imagination so true and so detailed that it has far more power than any political tract could have.

At that time editor of the Times Literary Supplement, my father had received a proof copy of the book. I remember the well-known critic Raymond Mortimer coming to the house to say how important this book was and to ask how the TLS was going to review it. Overhearing the excitement, I managed to get my hands on this proof but could read only a little before I had to return to school. When I then asked for 1984 in the school library, the librarian, a desiccated figure by the name of Mr. Cattley, said it was “filth,” and reported me. My 12-year-old self was scared, but “You must forgive Mr. Cattley,” said the master in charge, “he is a very simple soul.” (Incidentally, Orwell had been a scholar at the school and another of the masters had been his contemporary. This man was bald, with a strange blotch or even growth on his scalp, rumoured to have been caused by Orwell pouring chemicals on him in the laboratory. We used to pester him, “Please sir, tell us what Orwell was like, was he good at science?”)

The love-making of Julia and Winston, it is true, stands out as pure escapism from everything around, so appealing (and thus upsetting to poor Mr. Cattley) because it is the one remaining individual experience. Privacy allows them to be happy and free at least temporarily from state control — which is why it cannot be tolerated and the supervising tele-screens and the Junior Spies are ubiquitous. Winston is always searching for other things that might free him, for instance, nursery songs or well-made artifacts from the past. The really frightening element in 1984 is the manipulation of the past, the whole social record, even language itself, so that truth and reality become irrecoverable and Big Brother can make of them what he likes. A Western historian at a conference, so the story goes, once said that the future is unpredictable, to which a Soviet historian replied that for him the past was unpredictable.

The Left has tried, and still does spasmodically, to pretend that the novel is not really anti-Soviet. But 1984's Big Brother is undoubtedly Stalin, and the figure of Goldstein is Trotsky. Orwell had lived through such murderous events as the Communists turning on the Trotskyists and anarchists in the Spanish civil war, and the Hitler-Stalin pact. It is particularly penetrating to have invented the phrase of the Two Minute Hate to describe the totalitarian mechanism for falsifying public opinion to suit the ends of power. Two Minute Hates occur all the time. Just look at the way the Left switched from supporting Israel to lambasting it, or how the Shah's pro-American Iran converted overnight into Khomeini's anti-American Iran.

To travel in old days in Soviet Russia and the Soviet bloc was to find oneself deep in 1984. The hopelessness of daily life was exactly as Orwell had captured it. How sinister it was too, how thoroughly Orwellian. Everyone was against everyone else; under the all-encompassing propaganda about progressiveness there was no communal or social spirit, only the Party. One of the compulsory Intourist or KGB guides once told me proudly that she had renounced her mother for failing to be a Communist. “Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me.” Orwell's imagination had been exactly right.

Orwell agonized over the writing of the book, and he was anyhow stricken with the tuberculosis that killed him six months after publication. Drugs to cure the disease had just become available in the United States, and had Orwell been a different character he might have procured them but seems instead to have thought this would be exercizing privilege. At that time, France and Italy appeared likely to go Communist, and in both countries extremists in the Party were ready for a coup. The Soviets occupied East Germany, were isolating West Germany, provoking the Berlin airlift, and opening the whole German future to doubt. The fact that the worst did not happen does not detract from Orwell's vision. 1984, it seems to me, had the effect of saving the English-speaking intelligentsia from the Communist snares and delusions rampant on the continent of Europe, and any future totalitarian society will be obliged to ban it just as the Soviet Union did. That’s an immortal achievement.

06/12 12:00 PM

A Silly Game of Connect-the-Dots

Painting the Right as an undifferentiated blob of evil.

By Jonah Goldberg
June 12, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

When an abortion provider in Wichita, Kans., was murdered, the predictable chorus pointed fingers at Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly. After all, O’Reilly had said that George Tiller was a “baby killer” and had railed against the doctor’s late-term abortion practice for years. He must be to blame! No one bothered to ask whether Tiller’s accused murderer had ever watched O’Reilly, or to ponder whether a militant pro-life extremist really needed a talk-show host to tell him anything he didn’t already know about one of the less than a dozen doctors in the country who still performed third-trimester abortions.

But never mind. Such details don’t matter when you’re trying to delegitimize people.

Now we have James von Brunn. He is an 88-year-old loon, considered a dangerous nut even within the dangerous-nut community. He took his gun and shot up the Holocaust Museum and murdered a guard. Reporting suggests that von Brunn wanted to fulfill his revenge fantasies against the Jewish-neocon globalist cabal, which apparently outsources much of its work to the Bush family. A 9/11 truther, convinced that the bagel-snarfing, string-pulling Jooooooooooozzz are behind everything, von Brunn is the kind of fanatic the zombies who talk to themselves at the bus station would give a wide berth.

But, of course, we have Sarah Palin to thank for von Brunn. So says some genius at the Daily Kos. A competing braniac at the Huffington Post says, “Thank you very much Karl Rove and your minions.” Pretty much the entire media establishment is comfortable labeling von Brunn as a member of the “far right.” Putting aside other objections to that nomenclature, if von Brunn is a member of the far right, then it would be helpful and journalistically responsible if the press would start calling Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, et al., moderates and centrists.

That won’t happen, because the whole point of these exercises is to paint the Right as an undifferentiated blob of evil.

Never mind that von Brunn isn’t a member of the far right. Nor is he a member of the far left, as some on the right are claiming. He’s not a member of anything other than the crazy caucus. Von Brunn’s True North is conspiratorial anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He’s not a member of the Christian Right. In fact, he denounces Christianity — just as Hitler did — as a Jewish plot against paganism and Western vigor. Nor is he a capitalist. Again, just as Hitler did, he hails socialism as the solution to the West’s problems.

Still, if we are going to play this game where we take the words of politicians and pundits, compare them to the words of murderers and psychopaths, and then assign blame accordingly, then let’s blame the New York Times, Chris Matthews, left-wing blogs everywhere, and the academics who penned The Israel Lobby (which blames a fifth column of Israel loyalists for our troubles).

After all, for years, mainstream liberalism and other outposts of paranoid Bush hatred have portrayed neoconservatives — usually code for conservative Jews and other supporters of Israel — as an alien, pernicious cabal. “They have penetrated the culture at nearly every level from the halls of academia to the halls of the Pentagon,” observed the New York Times. “They’ve accumulated the wherewithal financially [and] professionally to broadcast what they think over the airwaves to the masses or over cocktails to those at the highest levels of government.”

NBC’s Chris Matthews routinely used the word “neocon” as if it was code for “traitor.” He asked one guest whether White House neocons are “loyal to the Kristol neoconservative movement, or to the president.” Von Brunn may have wondered the same thing, which is why he reportedly had the offices of Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard on his hit list.

Unhinged Bush-hater Andrew Sullivan insists that “The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right.” Leading liberal intellectual Michael Lind warned about the alarming fact that “the foreign policy of the world’s only global power is being made by a small clique” of neoconservative plotters.

Even with Bush out of the picture, some see the problem emerging again. Just this week, Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime mentor and pastor, whined that “Them Jews aren’t going to let him talk to me.”

Maniacs like von Brunn connect dots that aren’t there because that’s what paranoid anti-Semites do. What’s the Left’s excuse?

— 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.

Obama Hovers From on High

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, June 12, 2009

"And the Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters"

-- Genesis 1:2

When President Obama returned from his first European trip, I observed that while over there he had been "acting the philosopher-king who hovers above the fray mediating" between America and the world. Now that Obama has returned from his "Muslim world" pilgrimage, even the left agrees. "Obama's standing above the country, above -- above the world. He's sort of God," Newsweek's Evan Thomas said to a concurring Chris Matthews, reflecting on Obama's lofty perception of himself as the great transcender.

Not that Obama considers himself divine. (He sees himself as merely messianic, or, at worst, apostolic.) But he does position himself as hovering above mere mortals, mere country, to gaze benignly upon the darkling plain beneath him where ignorant armies clash by night, blind to the common humanity that only he can see. Traveling the world, he brings the gospel of understanding and godly forbearance. We have all sinned against each other. We must now look beyond that and walk together to the sunny uplands of comity and understanding. He shall guide you. Thus:

(A) He told Iran that, on the one hand, America once helped overthrow an Iranian government, while on the other hand "Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians." (Played a role?!) We have both sinned; let us bury the past and begin anew.

(B) On religious tolerance, he gently referenced the Christians of Lebanon and Egypt, then lamented that the "divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence" (note the use of the passive voice). He then criticized (in the active voice) Western religious intolerance for regulating the wearing of the hijab -- after citing America for making it difficult for Muslims to give to charity.

(C) Obama offered Muslims a careful admonition about women's rights, noting how denying women education impoverishes a country -- balanced, of course, with this: "Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam." Example? "The struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life."

Well, yes. On the one hand, there certainly is some American university where the women's softball team has received insufficient Title IX funds -- while, on the other hand, Saudi women showing ankle are beaten in the street, Afghan school girls have acid thrown in their faces, and Iranian women are publicly stoned to death for adultery. (Gays, as well -- but then again we have Prop 8.) We all have our shortcomings, our national foibles.
Who's to judge?

That's the problem with Obama's transcultural evenhandedness. It gives the veneer of professorial sophistication to the most simple-minded observation: Of course there are rights and wrongs in all human affairs. Our species is a fallen one. But that doesn't mean that these rights and wrongs are of equal weight.

A CIA rent-a-mob in a coup 56 years ago does not balance the hostage-takings, throat-slittings, terror bombings and wanton slaughters perpetrated for 30 years by a thug regime in Tehran (and its surrogates) that our own State Department calls the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism."

True, France prohibits the wearing of the hijab in certain public places, in part to allow the force of law to protect Muslim women who might be coerced into wearing it by neighborhood fundamentalist gangs. But it borders on the obscene to compare this mild preference for secularization (seen in Muslim Turkey as well) to the violence that has been visited upon Copts, Maronites, Bahais, Druze and other minorities in Muslim lands, and to the unspeakable cruelties perpetrated by Shiites and Sunnis upon each other.

Even on freedom of religion, Obama could not resist the compulsion to find fault with his own country: "For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation" -- disgracefully giving the impression to a foreign audience not versed in our laws that there is active discrimination against Muslims, when the only restriction, applied to all donors regardless of religion, is on funding charities that serve as fronts for terror.

For all of his philosophy, the philosopher-king protests too much. Obama undoubtedly thinks he is demonstrating historical magnanimity with all these moral equivalencies and self-flagellating apologetics. On the contrary. He's showing cheap condescension, an unseemly hunger for applause and a willingness to distort history for political effect.

Distorting history is not truth-telling but the telling of soft lies. Creating false equivalencies is not moral leadership but moral abdication. And hovering above it all, above country and history, is a sign not of transcendence but of a disturbing ambivalence toward one's own country.


Today's Tune: The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues

(Click on title to play video)

I wish I was a fisherman
tumblin' on the seas
Far away from dry land
and its bitter memories

Casting out my sweet line
with abandonment and love
No ceiling bearin' down on me
Save the starry sky above

With light in my head
you in my arms

I wish I was the brakeman
on a hurtlin' fevered train
Crashing a-headlong into the heartland
like a cannon in the rain

With the beating of the sleepers
and the burnin' of the coal
Counting the towns flashing by
in a night that's full of soul

With light in my head
you in my arms

Tomorrow I will be loosened
from bonds that hold me fast
That the chains all hung around me
will fall away at last

And on that fine and fateful day
I will take thee in my hands
I will ride on the train
I will be the fisherman

With light in my head
you in my arms

Light in my head
You in my arms (repeat)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Long Live the Duke

John Wayne: Gone for 30 years, and still with us.

An NRO Symposium
June 11, 2009, 4:00 a.m.

Thirty years ago today, John Wayne died. Yet Americans continue to identify him as one of their favorite actors. To commemorate his life, we’ve asked a panel to discuss the man, his movies, and his legacies.

William Holden, John Ford & John Wayne on the set of THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959)


Any movie with John Wayne in it is better than every movie without John Wayne in it. That’s a cinematic law. I mean, if I had to decide whether to jump into the ocean to save the last copy of Brannigan or The Godfather / Gone With The Wind gift set, I would probably have a scotch in my stateroom and think about it a good long time.

I guess my favorite is Stagecoach. No, Fort Apache. No, The Quiet Man. Or maybe the part of The Searchers that doesn’t have all that misbegotten domestic comedy in it. I love the ginormous fistfight at the end of The Spoilers. I love the fact that he chased Commie spies for the House Un-American Activities Committee as Big Jim McLain. I believe the scene in Red River where he says “I’m not gonna hitcha,” and then punches out Montgomery Clift may be the high point not only of cinema history but of human evolution.

But I guess there is a special place in my heart for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, because it explains everything a boy needs to know about life in only two hours. That cuts Hamlet’s record in half.

— Andrew Klavan’s new thriller for young adults is The Last Thing I Remember.


John Wayne was larger than life, an unapologetic patriot, and an outstanding actor who left behind a timeless film legacy. The Alamo, which he directed, is not a great film, but a good one — and it remains an insightful look into the gentle, gracious soul of its creator, a man who recognized the dignity of everyone: a blind woman who refuses special consideration, a slave whose first decision as a free man is to stand and die for liberty, and, most unexpected, Santa Anna’s soldiers. (“Speaks well for men that so many aren’t afraid to die, because they think right’s on their side. Speaks well of them.”)

Many things define John Wayne: how he moved and spoke, his artistry, his politics, and his Americanism. But the Duke’s permanent hold on our hearts comes from something within him, something unseen — the depth of his humanity.

— John Nolte is the editor of Big Hollywood.


Duke Wayne suffered through a hard-bitten childhood, three failed marriages, and having his fortune frittered away by incompetents. For decades he was shamed by the steadfast refusal of Republic Pictures to let him enlist during WWII. As an old man he was plagued by depressions, a missing lung, a hated toupee, and a burgeoning waistline. His death from cancer was sheer agony.

Yet, throughout, he remained kind, generous, and humble. A well-read student of history and politics, he preferred chess and sailing to riding horses, and with singular genius used the 20th century’s greatest art form, in his words, to mythologize rustic America’s “intimate flashes of greatness, of nobility, of humor, of fineness of the inner soul.” At the peak of his powers, achingly empathic performances in films like Sands of Iwo Jima left battle-scarred postwar audiences weeping openly in their seats. The resulting bond between sincere actor and grateful country has proven unbreakable.

Wayne once said, “Westerns are folklore, just the same as The Iliad is. . . . It takes good men to make good westerns.” The towering screen legend was, in real life, just a man. But he was a good man, and that’s what made him a great American.

— Leo Grin writes on all things cinematic at Big Hollywood.


“I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.” That was how John Wayne greeted the election of John F. Kennedy. This is exactly what made him a patriot.

Wayne was, and is, derided by many of the professional deriders the Left seems to breed (on a derision farm in Northern California, I believe). Yet at the same time, he was respected, and even liked, by people like Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda, and Joan Baez. This wasn’t because he compromised his principles; he didn’t. It was because of his style, for lack of a better word.

Sadly, the preferred style these days is to belittle those with whom you disagree, rather than simply saying, as Wayne did of Fonda, “I think she’s a little mixed up in her thinking.” (Fonda’s reaction, according to film critic and professor Emanuel Levy: “I don’t know the man, but I think he’s got guts.”)

In the political landscape of today, party all too often takes precedence over country, and partisanship trumps patriotism. Wayne knew better. Too bad he’s not still around.

— Andy Levy is a writer and commentator for Fox News Channel’s Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld.


When I was nine I stayed up to watch Flying Tigers on the late show. To me John Wayne was a cowboy star (his previous films were westerns and sports movies) so I didn’t expect much. I also knew that films about World War II made during the war were inaccurate and often cheesy. While Flying Tigers was riddled with inaccuracies, it was anything but cheesy.

Despite being a patriotic actioner churned out by Republic Pictures, Tigers was surprisingly unflinching in its portrayal of air combat. Pilots were shot while dangling from parachutes. As bullets shattered cockpit windshields, bloody hands clutched mangled faces. In a world before Full Metal Jacket and Saving Private Ryan, the violence in Flying Tigers was a shocking revelation.

More of a revelation was Wayne’s performance as Jim Gordon. Sure, Wayne battled enemy fighters. But it was in honing an egotistical bunch of mercenary pilots into an effective squadron that he showed his real power. On his way to becoming one of our greatest American actors, Wayne would return to “mentoring” roles — in Sands of Iwo Jima, The Cowboys, and The Shootist — but in my childhood memories Flying Tigers will always be where the Duke first took command.

— Marc Cerasini is the author of military nonfiction and thrillers, including four novels in the 24: Declassified series. He also writes, with his wife, mysteries under pen names.


John Wayne made entertaining movies. That was the point of his career, the key to his success, and the main reason he is remembered. That he was conservative and a man of character is incidental; a few people go to see a movie for the star or the subject matter, but the mass audiences that create a hit come for the story. John Wayne made sure his movies told interesting stories. Thus the way in for those who believe conservatives are forever shut out of Hollywood: Tell good stories. Make movies people want to see. Inform your work with your conservatism (or whatever is in your personality, because that is what will make your movie unique), but create true entertainment. Preachy pictures generally fail: Witness the dozens of recent anti-war movies with a box-office take less than Michael Moore’s annual budget for exercise clothes. John Wayne was not a conservative entertainer; he was an entertainer who happened to be conservative. Being that is how our side will finally gain traction in Hollywood.

— Michael Long is a director of the White House Writers Group.


I grew up wearing cowboy boots and watching John Wayne movies (even John Wayne commercials, which he did for Great Western Savings). In those days, local television channels filled their late-night hours with old movies, providing a better cinematic education than anything cable has to offer. I knew all the John Wayne classics — like Stagecoach, The Quiet Man, and Rio Bravo — but we also had “John Wayne Theater,” popularly known as “The Worst of John Wayne,” which featured his low-budget quickies from the 1930s. What shone out from Wayne — and what seems singularly lacking in film stars today — was decency, integrity, and character. I remember when Wayne died. The local news ended with a tribute to the Duke. It was the scene from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon where Wayne, as Capt. Nathan Brittles, retires from the cavalry. His troopers present him with a pocket watch. He puts on his grandpa spectacles to read the “sentiment” inscribed on the back: “Lest we forget.” Then the troopers ride out, giving their captain a final salute. Of all Wayne’s movies, it is John Ford’s cavalry series I like best, and of that trilogy, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon stands apart.

— H. W. Crocker III is the author most recently of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.


Years ago on television, I saw Rep. Pat Schroeder — pretty much an archetypal liberal — recalling how appalled she was when The Duke had tried to give her a cigarette lighter with the words “F—k Communism” engraved on it. Apparently, this was a gift he regularly bestowed, patterned after an engraved lighter he was given bearing the same terse, yet highly agreeable, slogan while visiting some Green Berets in Indochina.

And that’s why we love John Wayne. Both in his work as an actor and in his life generally, he seemed to possess a great deal of moral clarity where others lacked the will to do what was right or sort good from evil. This is ultimately why he proved so charismatic — and threatening to liberals. Years ago, when Robert Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court, some nosy reporter went to Bork’s local video store and rather scurrilously obtained his video-rental records. I’m convinced this was the undoing of Bork’s nomination. It turns out that the judge had rented Stagecoach twice. Bork’s opposition must have known that any man who likes John Wayne that much might have a worldview similar to The Duke’s and use his position on the Supreme Court to determine right from wrong. This was a concept obviously anathema to Democrats who, like Pat Schroeder, still had trouble acknowledging obvious truths such as the fact that Communism was evil.

— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

John Ford Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne on the set of


Here are two brilliant John Wayne films directed by the great Howard Hawks, with whom Wayne worked regularly.

Hawks designed his 1959 film Rio Bravo as an answer to Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, which Hawks saw as both cynical and unrealistic. In Zinnemann’s film, the townspeople refuse to help the lawman, played by Gary Cooper, defend himself and the town against a gang of ruthless marauders. In Hawks’s film, Wayne plays a sheriff likewise threatened by an outlaw gang, but the townspeople all want to help, and he prefers to go it alone. Somewhat reluctantly, he puts together a small, amusingly motley team and uses strategy and common sense to defeat the miscreants without endangering the lives of the innocent, while using tough love to rehabilitate his alcoholic deputy, played by Dean Martin. This is one of the greatest westerns of all time, and it features a truly subtle and evocative performance by the Duke, especially in his romance scenes with Angie Dickinson.

Hatari!, released in 1962, is another great Duke film directed by Hawks. Wayne leads a team of hunters in Africa who catch wild animals for zoos. The film is great fun, features impressive action scenes, and is thought-provoking and sensible in observing the various characters’ relationships and personal problems. It’s a pity they don’t make them this way today. Hatari! is a must-see — actually, a must-own.

— S. T. Karnick is editor of The American Culture.


His favorite actress, Maureen O’Hara, said as he lay dying, “John Wayne is not just an actor and a very fine actor. John Wayne is the United States of America.” Wrong. John Wayne was California: always moving, never stopping, drunk on booze and possibilities, a chickenhawk though a boon companion, unfaithful to his wives, and neglectful of his children but sincerely regretting it — yet at the same time Wayne created and inhabited the single most enduring and resonant screen presence in the history of American film. I love The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Shootist, but my favorite is True Grit, perhaps because of its source: the great novel of the same title by Charles Portis of Arkansas, one of America’s most underrated writers.

— Bill Kauffman’s most recent books are Ain’t My America and Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin.


Like many American males of a certain generation, whenever my father needs to unwind, he kicks back in his easy chair and flips channels until he alights on a John Wayne movie. At any given time, it seems like there’s a John Wayne movie on somewhere. And growing up, I spent many pleasant hours sprawled on the couch near my dad, watching the Duke.

Rather than highlight the usual suspects, I went with a lesser-heralded film, made in 1972 in the twilight of Wayne’s career. In The Cowboys, Wayne plays surrogate father to a group of boys herding cattle across the West. It’s one of the last great western epics, with classic Duke themes of self-reliance, tough love, and honor.

Near the end of the movie, Bruce Dern shoots the star in the back. Before they filmed the scene, Wayne growled to Dern, a liberal, “America is gonna hate you for this.“ Dern replied, “Maybe, but in Berkeley they’ll think I’m a hero.“

Wayne had the last laugh, however. The Cowboys, like every other movie he made, continues to enthrall audiences today, transmitting his values to new generations — as from father to son.

— Andrew Leigh is a screenwriter based in Santa Monica, Calif.


John Wayne may have given his best performance in The Searchers, but he gave his most lovable performance in True Grit, playing the gruff, flask-swilling, over-the-hill U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn, hired by an equally gruff 14-year-old, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), to track down the murderer of her rancher father in 1880. Wayne was in his early sixties when he created the role of the paunchy, eyepatch-wearing Rooster, whom he turned into an iconic summation of all the tough-loner western roles that had made him famous. Bolstered by crisp, sardonic dialogue co-written by Charles Portis, author of the best-selling 1968 novel on which the film was based, Wayne hammed up Rooster so cheerfully that critics have pooh-poohed the Oscar he won for his performance, claiming that it was actually a lifetime-achievement award.

They’re wrong. Wayne simply filled the screen with his star presence, and luckily, the script and story gave him a leading lady who took no guff from his character. It’s still a delight to watch the sparring pair, one ostensibly too old for the job and the other too young, grudgingly grow in mutual respect and affection. If True Grit were made today (and the Coen brothers are rumored to have a remake in the works) it would probably be embarrassingly sentimental and irritatingly point-scoring in feminist ideology, overblowing Mattie’s role. Wayne and his writers and director didn’t let that happen. In the end he rides away (or, rather, jumps a fence), no hugs, calling back at Mattie, “Come and see a fat old man sometime.” But that was 1969, not now.

— Charlotte Allen is author of The Human Christ.


The fact that the words “John Wayne” are a slur of the Left, even today, is proof enough that he was a great American. Squinting across the plain, The Duke would surely drawl that a man’s character is defined as much by who chooses to be his enemy as by who chooses to be his friend.

How it must burn the Left that the indelible Wayne persona — it is impossible to separate the on-screen Wayne from the man himself — remains a touchstone of the American culture in spite of their mockery, or maybe because of it. “Wayne lacks nuance,” they cry (falsely). But he possesses hard-earned wisdom. “Wayne is not cultured,” they titter. But he’s taken better measure of how the world works. “Wayne is a mindless brute,” they sniff. But he’s handy to have around when danger’s afoot.

Of course, the Left’s laments about John Wayne are not really about him. They are about America itself — especially the patriotic rubes who, like Wayne, judge their country not by its imperfections, but by its enduring virtues.

The Left has tried to finish off John Wayne for decades. As one of his most enduring characters, Ethan Edwards, would reply: “That’ll be the day.”

— James G. Lakely blogs at The American Culture and Infinite Monkeys.


Okay, I’ll go ahead and admit it. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I have never "gotten" John Wayne (I’m talking about the movies here; the politics are fine, if only, sometimes, as fun-filled provocation). And, no, I don’t think being brought up in England is to blame: There are plenty of other male icons from mid-20th-century Hollywood — from Gable to Cooper to Bogie to Stewart to Grant to the underrated Holden — who remain endlessly compelling, but when the Duke plods onto TCM, I just switch channels. There are exceptions, of course: Red River and (inevitably) The Searchers, and the guilty treat that is Howard Hughes’s star-crossed and berserk The Conqueror (middle-aged Wayne as a young Genghis Khan). For the most part, however, I just don’t think that the man could act that well. His best films were those in which the directors played off, and around, that irascible immutability or, in later years, just filmed him as a monument, Mount Rushmore on celluloid: not great art exactly, but spectacle — at least for some.

I’d rather stick with Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates, transformed by the time he had spent working with Sergio Leone from cowboy into a character strange and dangerous enough to fill the West of dreams and myth that will endure long after the memory of John Wayne’s last brawl. Time to watch High Plains Drifter (yet) again.

— Andrew Stuttaford is a contributing editor of NRO.


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a story about the death of the American West. John Wayne does more than simply play the title character; he also serves as a clear symbol of the American spirit, and his heroic sacrifice in this film is John Ford’s meditation on the paradox of American individualism.

Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, the only man tough enough to stand up to Liberty Valance, the local thug. It is the arrival of Ransom Stoddard, an idealistic lawyer, that forces Tom to shoot Liberty, and in the process he sacrifices his own happiness, his own way of life, and the woman he loves.

The core of Wayne’s appeal is not his swagger or his charm, but his willingness to act and accept the consequences, even when it means the end of his own way of life. Although we see his character dead, largely forgotten, it is Stoddard’s wife who puts the cactus blossoms on his coffin, an unspoken confession of her own love for him. She speaks for us all. We may be married to the security and safety of Stoddard’s government, but John Ford reminds us that it is the cactus roses of Tom Doniphon that grow in the heart of every American.

— Nicholas Tucker is a San Francisco–based filmmaker. His latest project is Do As I Say, based on Peter Schweizer’s bestselling book.


I am an avid John Wayne fan, I grew up with him, and I love so many of his movies: the Ford cavalry trilogy, The Green Berets, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, The Quiet Man. But if an alien came to me and asked who John Wayne was, and asked for one movie to help him understand the John Wayne phenomenon, I would recommend Chisum. He plays a self-made man, possessing a quiet strength and a strong sense of justice and a live-and-let-live philosophy, until injustice occurs and the law can’t or won’t deal with it. Then he steps in and rights the situation, with no real concern about the cost involved or the need for violence. Justice is the end and he achieves it. In other words, he is an American. He played this role in most of his movies and defined it so well that the two, John Wayne and American, became synonymous.

— Kirby Wilbur is a longtime conservative activist and talk-show host in the Seattle area.


By Ann Coulter
June 10, 2009

Well, I'm glad that's over! Now that our silver-tongued president has gone to Cairo to soothe Muslims' hurt feelings, they love us again! Muslims in Pakistan expressed their appreciation for President Barack Obama's speech by bombing a fancy hotel in Peshawar this week.

Operating on the liberal premise that what Arabs really respect is weakness, Obama listed, incorrectly, Muslims' historical contributions to mankind, such as algebra (actually that was the ancient Babylonians), the compass (that was the Chinese), pens (the Chinese again) and medical discoveries (huh?).

But why be picky? All these inventions came in mighty handy on Sept. 11, 2001! Thanks, Muslims!!

Obama bravely told the Cairo audience that 9/11 was a very nasty thing for Muslims to do to us, but on the other hand, they are victims of colonization.

Except we didn't colonize them. The French and the British did. So why are Arabs flying planes into our buildings and not the Arc de Triomphe? (And gosh, haven't the Arabs done a lot with the Middle East since the French and the British left!)

In another sharks-to-kittens comparison, Obama said, "Now let me be clear, issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam." No, he said, "the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life."

So on one hand, 12-year-old girls are stoned to death for the crime of being raped in Muslim countries. But on the other hand, we still don't have enough female firefighters here in America.

Delusionally, Obama bragged about his multiculti worldview, saying, "I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal." In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, women "choose" to cover their heads on pain of losing them.

Obama rolled out the crucial liberal talking point against America's invasion of Iraq, saying Iraq was a "war of convenience," while Afghanistan was a "war of necessity." Liberals cling to this nonsense doggerel as a shield against their hypocrisy on Iraq. Either both wars were wars of necessity or both wars were wars of choice.

Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan -- nor any country -- attacked us on 9/11. Both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many other Muslim countries, were sheltering those associated with the terrorists who did attack us on 9/11 -- and who hoped to attack us again.

The truth is, all wars are wars of choice, including the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. OK, maybe the war on teen obesity is a war of convenience, but that's the only one I can think of.

The modern Democrat Party chooses -- really chooses, not like Saudi women "choosing" to wear hijabs -- to fight no wars. But the Democrats couldn't say that immediately after 9/11, so they pretended to support the war in Afghanistan and then had to spend the next 7 1/2 years trying to come up with a distinction between Afghanistan and Iraq.

Maybe next they can tell us why fighting Hitler -- who never invaded the U.S. and had no plans to do so -- was a "necessity" in a way that fighting Saddam wasn't. (Obama on Hitler: "Nazi ideology sought to subjugate, humiliate and exterminate. It perpetrated murder on a massive scale." Whereas Saddam Hussein was just messing with the Kuwaitis, Kurds and Shiites.)

Meanwhile, Muslims throughout the Middle East are yearning for their own Saddam Husseins to be taken out by U.S. invaders so they can be liberated, too. (Then we'll see how many women -- outside of an American college campus -- "choose" to wear hijabs.) The war-of-choice/war-of-necessity point must be as mystifying to a Muslim audience as a discussion of gay marriage.

Arabs aren't afraid of us; they're afraid of Iran. But our aspiring Jimmy Carter had no tough words for Iran. To the contrary, in Cairo, Obama endorsed Iran's quest for nuclear "power," while attacking -- brace yourself -- America for helping remove Iranian loon Mohammad Mossadegh.

The CIA's taking out Mossadegh was probably the greatest thing that agency ever did. This was back in 1953, before it became a collection of lawyers and paper-pushers.

Mossadegh was as crazy as a March hare (which is really saying something when your competition is Moammar Gadhafi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein). He gave interviews lying in bed in pink pajamas. He wept, he fainted, and he set his nation on a path of permanent impoverishment by "nationalizing" the oil wells, where they sat idle after the British companies that knew how to operate them pulled out.

But he was earthy and hated the British, so left-wing academics adored Mossadegh. The New York Times compared him to Thomas Jefferson.

True, Mossadegh had been "elected" by the Iranian parliament -- but only in the chaos following the assassination of the sitting prime minister.

In short order, the shah dismissed this clown, but Mossadegh refused to step down, so the CIA forcibly removed him and allowed the shah's choice to assume the office. This "coup," as liberal academics term it, was approved by liberals' favorite Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, and supported by such ponderous liberal blowhards as John Foster Dulles.

For Obama to be apologizing for one of the CIA's greatest accomplishments isn't just crazy, it's Ramsey Clark crazy.

Obama also said that it was unfair that "some countries have weapons that others do not" and proclaimed that "any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

Wait -- how about us? If a fanatical holocaust denier with messianic delusions can have nuclear power, can't the U.S. at least build one nuclear power plant every 30 years?

I'm sure Iran's compliance will be policed as well as North Korea's was. Clinton struck a much-heralded "peace deal" with North Korea in 1994, giving them $4 billion to construct nuclear facilities and 500,000 tons of fuel oil in return for a promise that they wouldn't build nuclear weapons. The ink wasn't dry before the North Koreans began feverishly building nukes.

But back to Iran, what precisely do Iranians need nuclear power for, again? They're not exactly a manufacturing powerhouse. Iran is a primitive nation in the middle of a desert that happens to sit on top of a large percentage of the world's oil and gas reserves. That's not enough oil and gas to run household fans?

Obama's "I'm OK, You're OK" speech would be hilarious, if it weren't so terrifying.

Epic Chesterton

Another Perspective

By Hal G.P. Colebatch on 6.11.09 @ 6:05AM
The American Spectator

While some scholars have begun meeting at Oxford to discuss the cause of his eventual sainthood, G. K. Chesterton is remembered largely today by the reading public as the creator of the Father Brown detective stories, in which a humble Catholic priest solves crimes largely because his experiences in the confessional makes him exceptionally informed about the real nature of good and evil.

But beyond Father Brown, Chesterton was an enormously versatile writer of poetry, history, novels, biographies and devotional works as well as literally countless articles (they have never been definitively collected). What is perhaps his greatest imaginative book, The Ballad of the White Horse, is available from Ignatius Press in San Francisco.

In its style, though not in its ultimate concerns, The Ballad of the White Horse is a rather different work from the adventures of Father Brown. It is not perfect as poetry but it is one of those works -- there are not very many -- that can actually change the reader's life and is a perennial source of inspiration and hope.

Some say Chesterton wrote it in inspired haste over a few days, though the introduction to the present edition says it took ten years. It was published in 1911, and is a vast (173-page), sweeping, heroic account in ballad form of King Alfred the Great's hopeless war, crushing defeat and final "eucastrophic" victory over the Great Army of the marauding Danes in "the Thornland of Ethandune" about a thousand years ago, a victory which saved English-speaking civilization from being murdered in its cradle, and saved us, as Chesterton put it earlier, "from being savages forever." A book-length poem is not the most likely of publishing propositions, but for those in the know about it, The Ballad of the White Horse has enjoyed sales for nearly a hundred years. The present edition is embellished with wood-cut illustrations and notes, though the latter seem hardly necessary: the poem speaks for itself.

It is a poem that can be read by anyone in need of inspiration and encouragement in dark times. It begins with the king, defeated and hiding in the marshes of Athelney. The Christianized kingdom of Wessex (whose symbol was a golden dragon) has been shattered by Viking attacks, both open invasion and the treacherous betrayal of Chippenham:

There was not English armour left
Nor any English thing
When Alfred came to Athelney
To be an English king …

And the God of the Golden Dragon
Was dumb upon his throne,
And the lord of the golden Dragon
Ran in the woods alone …

Slowly the king, at first wandering alone, recruits a guerrilla army. The first leader he approaches, Eldred, an old battle-scarred Saxon Lord, tells Alfred over his drink they have lost too often and resistance is hopeless:

Come not to me, King Alfred,
Save always for the ale;
Why should me harmless hinds be slain,
Because the chiefs cry once again
As in all fights, that we shall gain,
And in all fights we fail?

Your skalds still thunder and prophesy
That crown that never comes;
Friend, I shall watch the certain things,
Swine, and slow moons like silver rings,
And the ripening of the plums."

Alfred replies that this time he offers no hope or promise of success. However, there is no alternative but to fight. Otherwise nothing will survive:

"I bring you naught for your comfort,
Naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet,
And the sea rises higher."

Then silence sank. And slowly
Arose the sea-land lord.
Like some vast beast for mystery,
He filled the room and porch and sky,
And from a cobwebbed nail on high
Unhooked his heavy sword.

With the same council he gathers a Christianized Roman magnate, Mark, and a Celtic chief, Colan -- as in so many epics, up to The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, the forces called to resist evil are an ill-assorted lot.

As well as being a military-political story the ballad evokes, as only poetry can, what seems like the authentically strange, haunted atmosphere of that time when, beset by deadly attacks on every side, a new civilization had slowly and partly arisen from the shadow the Dark Ages and the cataclysmic fall of Rome:

And the man was come like a shadow
From the shadow of Druid trees
Where Usk with might murmurings,
Past Caerleon of the fallen kings
Goes out to ghostly seas.

Last of a race in ruins
He spoke the speech of the Gaels;
His kin were in Holy Ireland,
Or up in the crags of Wales …

His harp was carved and cunning
As the Celtic craftsman makes,
Graven all over with twisting shapes,
Like many headless snakes …

Statue of Alfred the Great at Wantage

Having arranged for the chiefs to meet him as soon as they can gather their forces, Alfred wanders on alone in thought over the "shrill sea-downs", through the ruined landscape towards the meeting-place, playing his harp in the dusk ("The rook croaked homeward heavily, the West was clear and wan …"). He is captured by a party of relatively good-humored, drunken Danes, who, admiring his harp-playing, bring him before their chief, Guthrum of the Northern Sea, the Emperor of the Great Army, and three of his principal Earls. Each, after listening to Alfred's playing, takes the harp and makes a song on it, and Alfred learns that despite their power and terror they are actually despairing and terrified of death.

The young Earl Harald consoles himself with the excitement of battle and plunder. He tells Alfred:

"Doubtless your sires were sword-swingers,
When they waded fresh from foam,
Before they were turned to women
By the God of the nails from Rome;

"But since you bent to the shaven men,
Who neither lust nor smite,
Thunder of Thor! We hunt you,
A hare on the mountain height!"

Elf, the Viking minstrel, consoles himself with music and artistic tragedy:

As he sang of Balder beautiful,
Whom the heavens could not save,
Till the world was like a sea of tears
And every soul a wave …

The dreadful Earl Ogier's consolation in the face of death is destruction ("The barest branch is beautiful, one moment, as it breaks"), but beyond them is Guthrum, who has passed even through that and is staring into a universe of despair too absolute even for Nihilism:

"When a man shall read what is written
So plain in clouds and clods;
When he shall hunger without hope
Even for evil gods …"

The nameless, shabby "rhymester without a home" who is Alfred replies to this Pagan hopelessness:

"Our God hath blessed creation,
Calling it good. I know
The spirit with which you blindly band
Hath blessed destruction with his hand;
Yet by God's death the stars still stand
And the small apples grow …"

Next day the armies meet. Alfred's makeshift Army, having had their courage raised in the night by Alfred's inspired speech, despair at the sight of the overwhelming forces against them, and see the "high folly" of what they are attempting. The Vikings march out in savage magnificence:

The Earls of the Great Army
Lay in a long half-moon,
Ten poles before their palisades,
With wide-winged helms and runic blades,
Red giants of the age of raids,
In the thornland of Ethandune.

Still Alfred's forces attack. Harald, Eldred, Elf, and Mark are all slain, and the Danes, inspired by Ogier, come charging on:

"Down from the dome of the world we come,
Rivers on rivers down!
Under us swirl the sects and hoardes,
And the high dooms we drown …

"It is not Alfred's dwarfish sword
Nor Egbert's pigmy crown,
Shall stay us now that descend in thunder
Rending the realms and the realms thereunder,
Down through the world and down!"

Alfred's forces fight desperately but are swept away:

Vainly the sword of Colan,
And the axe of Alfred plied --
The Danes poured in like a brainless plague,
And knew not when they died.

Prince Colan slew a score of them,
And was stricken to his knee;
King Alfred slew a score and seven,
And was borne back on a tree …

Hopelessly beaten, Alfred points out to the fleeing remnant of his army that all the future has for them is slavery and starvation. It is better to die fighting on the right side. They launch a last hopeless counter-attack and sweep everything before them. Ogier dies under Alfred's axe, the great Viking banner of the Raven of Odin falls, "And the eyes of Guthrum altered, for the first time since dawn."

In the final part, describing the years of peace that follow, the king warns the fight will go on: barbarians will come in the future armed not only with warships and burning torches but also with books, with "the sign of the dying fire," and: "By this sign shall you know them: that they ruin and make dark."

The White Horse of Uffington

C. S. Lewis has said that The Ballad of the White Horse is "permanent and dateless…does not the central theme of the ballad…embody the feeling, and the only possible feeling, with which in any age almost defeated men take up such arms as are left them and win?"

It is good to read The Ballad of the White Horse, and also to reflect that it is basically true. There really was a climatic battle at Ethandune (possibly modern Edington, where a white horse is carved on the chalk hillside, possibly originally in memory of the battle), and where, against all odds, the nascent Anglic civilization and its noble and undaunted king, after years of defeats and betrayals, really won the day, and where the barbarians really were not only defeated but Christianized: Guthrum, with Alfred as his Godfather, took the Baptismal name Athelstan and kept the peace for the rest of his life. In England learning, culture, and civilization were revived under Alfred's rule, and we really were saved from being savages forever. Thank you, G. K. Chesterton.

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Film Review: "Saving Private Ryan"

Steyn on Stage and Screen

By Mark Steyn
Wednesday, 10 June 2009

After watching the boomer heads of government mark the D-Day anniversary, and listening to the now familiar self-regarding autobiographical flourishes in President Obama's speech (his grandmother working in the factory - as if even the Second World War can only be legitimated as part of the backstory of the great unending Obama biopic), I found myself musing on the most famous boomer take on D-Day - Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie of a decade back. Here's what I had to say in the Speccie in 1998:

When Saving Private Ryan was released in America, I made a mild observation to the effect that its premise was a lot of hooey, and received in response several indignant letters pointing out that it was 'based on a true story', that of the Sullivan brothers. Er, not quite. The Sullivans' story is stirringly told in The Fighting Sullivans (1942, directed by 42nd Street's Lloyd Bacon): after Pearl Harbor, all five brothers enlist - and all five die aboard the battleship Juneau at Guadalcanal. As a result, to avoid the recurrence of such a freakish tragedy, the United States changed its policy on family members serving together. Steven Spielberg's film is not 'based' on the Sullivans, except insofar as General George C. Marshall, the US Army's chief of staff, mentions their fate to explain his decision.

Rather, the film is a kind of extension of the thinking behind the policy change: when three out of four Ryan brothers are killed in action, General Marshall orders a rescue mission to retrieve the sole surviving sibling, whose general whereabouts are somewhere behind enemy lines in Normandy - and all this a couple of days after D-Day. No such incident took place: no Allied commander would have thought it worth the risk in lives to assuage one distraught mother's potential further bereavement.

Spielberg's mistake is that, as one of the last remaining hardcore Clinton groupies, he's thinking in Clintonian terms - about publicity, image, spin: the death of another Ryan brother would not 'look good'. When Spielberg has General Marshall read out a letter from Lincoln to a mother whose sons all died in the Civil War, we're certainly meant to find his consoling words - that they gave their lives in a great and noble cause - inadequate. It's a measure of the gulf between 1944 and 1998 that The Fighting Sullivans was released during the war because it was thought the supreme sacrifice of one family would be inspiring. Alas, not to baby boomers.

So much has been written about the unprecedented 'realism' of this film's war scenes that the equally unprecedented unrealism of its thinking has passed virtually unnoticed. You've probably seen a zillion articles about the film's prologue - a recreation of D-Day which lasts almost as long and doubtless cost a lot more - so I'll say only this: yes, it's impressive; yes, every shot of blood and tissue and body parts is underlined by adroit effects; yes, every moment is a testament to Spielberg's command of cinematic technique; but that's the problem - you react to it as technique, as showmanship. There's one perfect shot after another: the silence underwater, with its dangerous illusion of respite; the pitterpatter of rain on leaves gradually blurring into rifle fire. The whole thing is oddly pointless: you're not engaged by the predicament of the troops because you're so busy admiring the great film-maker behind them. A film cannot really be 'authentic' if all you notice is the authenticity.

Purporting to be a recreation of the US landings on Omaha Beach, Private Ryan is actually an elite commando raid by Hollywood and the Hamptons to seize the past. After the spectacular D-Day prologue, the film settles down, Tom Hanks and his men are dispatched to rescue Matt Damon (the elusive Private Ryan) and Spielberg finds himself in need of the odd line of dialogue. Endeavouring to justify their mission to his unit, Hanks's sergeant muses that, in years to come when they look back on the war, they'll figure that 'maybe saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we managed to pull out of this whole godawful mess'. Once upon a time, defeating Hitler and his Axis hordes bent on world domination would have been considered 'one decent thing'. Even soppy liberals figured that keeping a few million more Jews from going to the gas chambers was 'one decent thing'. When fashions in victim groups changed, ending the Nazi persecution of pink-triangled gays was still 'one decent thing'. But, for Spielberg, the one decent thing is getting one GI joe back to his picturesque farmhouse in Iowa.

Saving Private Ryan isn't an anti-war film in the sense that, say, principled pictures like All Quiet on the Western Front are. Instead, as usual with Spielberg, it's his take on his own childhood: it's an anti-war-film film. As far as the real war's concerned, it seems to be too much for him to comprehend. In a few coherent interviews, he's suggested that the war was worth fighting because it produced the baby boomers. But it's flattering him to pretend he has any view on the war one way or another: with his customary lack of imagination, he simply cannot conceive of a world where men are prepared, quietly and without fanfare, to die for their country. Perhaps he has a point: in a narcissistic Clinto-Spielbergian culture, it's hard to see what would now drive the general populace to risk their lives.

In that sense, Saving Private Ryan is the antithesis of Casablanca: the problems of one human being are what count; it's all those vast impersonal war aims that don't amount to a hill of beans. You'd have more confidence in this general proposition if Spielberg weren't so wretchedly inadequate at conjuring vivid human beings: Hanks's unit is a perfunctory round-up of single-trait types - one Jew, one coward, all very unmemorable. The nearest to a real human being in the film is General Marshall, not just because he's played by the sturdy Harve Presnell but because Marshall is an actual real human being and thus the director has something to latch on to. Otherwise, Spielberg's approach to making drama is as impersonal as Ike moving pins around the map in the operations room.

from The Spectator, September 12th 1998