Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why Muslim Charities Fund the Jihad

The answer is clear, though Obama's commitment to helping Muslims overcome U.S. rules governing charity is not.

by Raymond Ibrahim
August 15, 2009

From what American schoolchildren are being taught by their teachers to what Americans are being told by their presidents, concepts unique to Islam are nowadays almost always “Westernized.” Whether the product of naivety, arrogance, or downright disingenuousness, this phenomenon has resulted in epistemic (and thus endemic) failures, crippling Americans from objectively understanding some of Islam’s more troublesome doctrines.

A typical seventh-grade textbook, for instance, teaches that “jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that are pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to be better people, reform society, or correct injustice.”

Strictly speaking, this is by and large true. However, by not explaining what it means to be “better people, reform society, or correct injustice” — from a distinctly Islamic, as opposed to Western, perspective — the textbook abandons students to fall back on their own (misleading) interpretations.

Yet the facts remain: In Islam, killing certain “evil-doers,” such as apostates or homosexuals, is a way of “correcting injustice”; overthrowing manmade constitutional orders (such as the United States) and replacing them with Sharia mandates, and subjugating women and non-Muslims, are ways of “reforming society.” Those enforcing all this are, in fact, “better people” — indeed, according to the Koran (3:110), they are “the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong,” that is, ruling according to Sharia law.

So it is with the Muslim concept of zakat, a word often rendered into English as “charity.” But is that all zakat is — mere Muslim benevolence by way of feeding and clothing the destitute of the world, as the word “charity” all too often connotes?

U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama seems to think so — or, given his background, is at least banking that others do — based on his recent proclamation to the Muslim world that “in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”

Thus does Obama conflate a decidedly Islamic concept, zakat, with the generic notion of charity. Is this justified? As with all things Islamic, one must first examine the legal aspects of zakat to truly appreciate its purport. Etymologically related to the notion of “purity,” zakat — paying a portion of one’s wealth to specifically designated recipients — is a way of purifying oneself, on par with prayers (see Koran 9:103).

The problem, however, has to do with who is eligible for this mandatory “charity.” Most schools of Muslim jurisprudence are agreed to eight possible categories of recipients — one of these being those fighting “in the path of Allah,” that is, jihadis, also known as “terrorists.”

In fact, financially supporting jihadis is a recognized form of jihad — jihad al-mal; even the vast majority of militant verses in the Koran (e.g., 9:20, 9:41, 49:15, 61:10-11) prioritize the need to fund the jihad over merely fighting in it, as fighting with one’s wealth often precedes fighting with one’s self. Well-known Islamists — from international jihadi Osama bin Laden to authoritative cleric Sheikh Qaradawi — are well aware of this and regularly exhort Muslims to fund the jihad via zakat.

More revealing of the peculiarly Islamic nature of zakat is the fact that Muslims are actually forbidden from bestowing this “charity” onto non-Muslims (e.g., the vast majority of American infidels). “Charitable” Muslim organizations operating on American soil are therefore no mere equivalents to, say, the Salvation Army, a Christian charity organization whose “ministry extends to all, regardless of ages, sex, color, or creed.” In Islam, creed is a major criterion for receiving “charity” — not to mention for receiving social equality.

From here, one can better understand Obama’s lament that “in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation” — a statement that unwittingly implies that American zakat has, in fact, been used to fund the jihad. After all, these irksome “rules” to which Obama alludes appear to be a reference to the presumably “excessive” scrutiny American Muslim “charities” are subject to by law enforcement. Yet this scrutiny is itself a direct byproduct of the fact that American Muslim “charities” have indeed been funding the jihad, both at home and abroad.

In light of all this, what truly remains to be seen is how, precisely, Obama plans on “working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”

- Raymond Ibrahim is the author of The Al Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.

Unplugging Grandma isn't the problem

Obamacare means treatment rationing, so getting Grandma plugged in in the first place is the greater peril.

Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, August 14, 2009

Some years ago, when I was a slip of a lad, I found myself commiserating with a distinguished American songwriter about the death of one of his colleagues. My 23-year old girlfriend found all the condolence talk a bit of a bummer and was anxious to cut to the chase and get outta there. "Well," she said breezily. "He had a good innings. He was 85."

"That's easy for you to say," he said. "I'm 84."

That's where Obamacare leads: You're 84, and it's easy for him to say. Easy for him to say what you need – or don't need. Relax, he assured an audience of puffball-lobbing plants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire… By the way, when I mock "puffball-lobbing plants," obviously all such events are stage-managed, but the trick is to make it not quite so obvious. When Nixon was campaigning in '68, Roger Ailes used to let a couple of dirty no-good long-haired peaceniks into the room so his candidate could swat 'em down: It ginned up the crowd, made for better TV, and got the candidate pumped. "Thought it went well tonight," he'd say. "Really socked it to those hippies." In essence, Ailes stage-managed it to look un-stage-managed. If those who oppose Obamacare are merely a bunch of "un-American" "evil-mongers" (according to, respectively, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid), the cause would benefit from allowing the president to really sock it to a couple of them once in a while. To retreat behind a wall of overly drooling sycophants does not help Obama at this stage in the game.

Anyway, there he was, reassuring the crowd that the provision for mandatory "end-of-life counseling" has "gotten spun into this idea of 'death panels.' I am not in favor of that." Well, that's good to know. So good that a grateful audience applauded the president's pledge not to kill them. He has no plans, as he put it, to "pull the plug on Grandma."

The problem with government health systems is not that they pull the plug on Grandma. It's that Grandma has a hell of a time getting plugged in in the first place. The only way to "control costs" is to restrict access to treatment, and the easiest people to deny treatment to are the oldsters. Don't worry, it's all very scientific. In Britain, they use a "Quality-Adjusted Life Year" formula to decide that you don't really need that new knee because you're gonna die in a year or two, maybe a decade-and-a-half tops. So it's in the national interest for you to go around hobbling in pain rather than divert "finite resources" away from productive members of society to a useless old geezer like you. And you'd be surprised how quickly geezerdom kicks in: A couple of years back, some Quebec facilities were attributing death from hospital-contracted infection of anyone over 55 to "old age." Well, he had a good innings. He was 57.

This ought to be of particular concern to Americans. As is often pointed out, U.S. life expectancy (78.06 years) lags behind other developed nations with government health care (United Kingdom 78.7, Germany 78.95, Sweden 80.63). So proponents of Obamacare are all but offering an extra "full year" of Euro-Canadian geriatric leisure as a signing bonus.

"Life expectancy" is a very crude indicator. Afghanistan has a life expectancy of 43. Does this mean the geriatric wards of Kandahar are full of Pushtun Jennifer Lopezes and Julia Robertses? No. What it means is that, if you manage to survive the country's appalling infant-mortality rates, you have a sporting chance of eking out your three-score-and-ten. To say that people in Afghanistan can expect to live till 43 is a bit like saying the couple at No. 6 Elm Street are straight, and the couple at No. 8 are gay so the entire street is bisexual.

Which brings us to the United States and its allegedly worst health system in the developed world. Here's the reality: The longer you live in America, the longer you live. If you're one of those impressionable "Meet The Press" viewers who heard New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg bemoaning U.S. life expectancy, and you're thinking, "Hey, I'm 77. Just about at the end, America-wise. Maybe it's time to move up north or over to Europe, and get a couple of bonus years," don't do it! If you're old enough to be a "Meet The Press" viewer, your life expectancy is already way up there.

America is the Afghanistan of the Western world: That's to say, it has a slightly higher infant-mortality rate than other developed nations (there are reasons for that which I'll discuss in an upcoming column). That figure depresses our overall "life expectancy at birth." But, if you can make it out of diapers, you'll live longer than you would pretty much anywhere else. By age 40, Americans' life expectancy has caught up with Britons'. By 60, it equals Germany's. At the age of 80, Americans have greater life expectancy than Swedes.

How can this be? Well, amazingly, millions of freeborn citizens exercising their own judgment as to which of the latest drugs, tests and procedures suits their own best interests has given Americans a longer, better, more fulfilling old age to the point where there are entire states designed to cater to it. (There is no Belgian or Scottish Florida.) I had an elderly British visitor this month who's had a recurring problem with her left hand. At one point it swelled up alarmingly, and so we took her to Emergency. They did a CT scan, X-rays, blood samples, the works. In two hours at a small, rural, undistinguished, no-frills hospital in northern New Hampshire, this lady got more tests than she's had in the past decade in Britain – even though she goes to see her doctor once a month. He listens sympathetically, tells her old age often involves adjusting to the loss of mobility, and then advises her to take the British version of Tylenol and rest up. Anything else would use up those valuable "resources." So, in two hours in New Hampshire, she got tested and diagnosed (with gout) and prescribed something to deal with it. It's the difference between health "care" (i.e., going to the doctor's every month to no purpose) and health treatment – and on the latter America is the best in the world.

President Barack Obama has wondered whether this is a "sustainable model." But, from your point of view, what counts is not whether the model's sustainable but whether you are. I am certainly in favor of reform. I would support a Singapore-style system of personal health accounts – and Singapore, for Mayor Bloomberg's benefit, has the third-highest life expectancy in the world. But, under any government system that interjects a bureaucracy between you and your health, the elderly and not so elderly get denied treatment. And there's nothing you can do about it because, ultimately, government health represents the nationalization of your body. You're 84, 72, 63, 58, you've had a good innings. It's easy for him to say. And even easier for his army of bureaucrats.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Can Topps Save Baseball Cards?

Major League Baseball just signed an exclusive deal with the legendary card maker. Bad idea.

By Dave Jamieson
Updated Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, at 4:33 PM ET

Last week, Major League Baseball announced that it had struck a deal to make Topps the game's exclusive trading-card maker. This news was probably greeted with horror in Carlsbad, Calif., the home of Upper Deck.
Topps' younger rival will maintain its licensing arrangement with the baseball players' union, meaning it will be free to print cards of Mark Buehrle wearing his deer-hunter's camouflage but not his White Sox uniform. For Upper Deck, the deal looks a lot like a death sentence, at least for its baseball division. But what does this new arrangement augur for MLB and Topps—will handing the entire field over to a single manufacturer turn around the ailing baseball card industry?

1952 Topps

I wouldn't bet my mint condition Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card on it. The card business has been in a steep decline ever since the 1994 baseball strike. As children fled the hobby for Pokémon and video games, card makers have increasingly relied on adult collectors willing to shell out big bucks for flashy, premium cardboard. Baseball's solution to deal with this bloat has been to scale back on the number of producers. In 2005, MLB ended its arrangement with Donruss. (That same year, Philadelphia-based Fleer went under on its own.) The move to drop Upper Deck is just the league's latest attempt to make store shelves less cluttered and more inviting to kids.

But the problem with the business isn't that there have been too many card producers. It's that there have been too many sets—and too many high-priced ones at that. The card makers, Topps included, have not acted judiciously with their production rights. In the long run, I fear that giving Topps a monopoly on baseball cards might hurt the hobby more than it helps.

I've spent much of the last two years writing a book about the history of baseball cards, and I now know more about the history of baseball-card monopolies than I'd like to admit. Topps has been here before. In the early 1950s, the scrappy Brooklyn firm waged a fierce battle with Bowman Gum for the hearts and minds of grade-schoolers. Über-nerds like me refer to this as the Card Wars era. Topps proved to be a wily and relentless competitor, going so far as to develop its own scouting system so that it could sign rising stars to exclusive deals. Jim Bouton, the former Yankees hurler and Ball Four author, told me that he and all his minor-league teammates had Topps contracts put under their noses as soon as they showed up to spring training. The players, Bouton said, "lined up like they were getting their flu shots." They all signed away their rights for the token $5, known then as "steak money."

1968 Topps

Topps bowled over Bowman, buying out its opponent in 1956 for a relative pittance. The company racked up so many exclusive player contracts that other gum makers couldn't get into this newly lucrative business. Fleer was in a position similar to Upper Deck's unenviable one today—it had to work around Topps' airtight contracts, leading to some comically bad card sets. In 1959, the only player Fleer managed to sign was Ted Williams. The company rolled out an 80-card issue featuring nothing but Teddy Ballgame—"probably 79 more cards of Ted Williams than anyone wanted that year," as a former Fleer executive told me. (The dreary card titles included "Williams Slowed by Injury," "Ted Decides Retirement Is 'No Go,' " and "Ted Relaxes.") Fleer didn't fare much better with the baseball cards they packaged with low-sugar cookies to circumvent Topps' exclusive right to stuff packs with gum or candy. One Topps salesman gleefully joked that the cookies tasted like dog biscuits.

The idea of a baseball-card monopoly may sound ridiculous, but it was no laughing matter to the federal government. In the early 1960s, the Federal Trade Commission carried out a long and costly investigation to determine whether Topps was violating antitrust laws. Lawyers for Topps and the government argued over the "bubbleability" of gum and the "flippability" of cards, among other issues. Ultimately, Topps was cleared of wrongdoing, and the company dominated the field until a less-favorable court ruling in 1980 finally opened the door for Fleer, Donruss, and eventually Upper Deck.

The long Topps monopoly was no boon to children. It was always during the competitive years that baseball cards thrived. In the golden age of the 1880s, aggressive tobacco companies put out so many high-quality sets that kids begged strangers on the street for the cards from their cigarette packs. During the Great Depression, children parted with their pennies only because the various gum sets were so colorful and attractive. The Topps-Bowman war produced the most recognizable card of the post-war era, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. Those cutthroat years also led to innovations such as the regular inclusion of player statistics, which had been hard to find until then.

Once Topps had the field all to itself in the '60s and '70s, the company's designs seemed to lose their pop. Some sets looked downright sloppy, like the one from 1969, when Topps dealt with player trades by airbrushing logos and shooting some players without their hats on. There was just one set of cards each year. If the company served up a turd of a set, kids were stuck with it.

1972 Topps

Fortunately for collectors, Topps can't afford to be complacent these days. What was a $1 billion industry in the early 1990s has shrunk to about a fifth of that size. Topps' helmsman, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner—whose investment firm bought the company in 2007 for $385 million—seems admirably committed to luring children back to cards. The league apparently believes Eisner has a better shot at accomplishing that goal if his company stands alone.

While I have a hard time believing Topps' latest card monopoly will be a blessing for baseball or the card business, it's hard to feel bad for Upper Deck. Its ingenious co-founder, Paul Sumner, launched the company in the late 1980s with honorable intentions—to prevent the counterfeiting of cards and to cut out shady dealers. But it wasn't long before Upper Deck employees were referring to their pricey cards as "cardboard gold." The company played a large role in making the hobby more expensive. It also popularized the disagreeable ritual of seeding packs with insert or "chase" cards, valuable prizes inserted among the commons. Children bought these pricey packs as if they were playing the lottery; some parents of budding card fiends even filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming the practice was turning little Johnny into a grizzled gambler.

In spite of the hobby's troubles, Upper Deck has enjoyed some tidy profits over the years. Given the surprisingly long history of litigation surrounding baseball card production, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Upper Deck take its fight to court. Predictably, MLB's Topps-only policy has already raised some antitrust questions.

When I was a kid, there was no clear line between baseball and baseball cards. The two industries were always cross-promotional. MLB could do worse than turning over the card business to a company as iconic as Topps. But history shows that the great eras of baseball cards—the 1880s, the 1930s, the 1950s, even the 1980s—all benefited from a small pool of rival card makers forced to compete with one another to put out the best product. The only people who ever loved the idea of a Topps monopoly were the folks at Topps. Now, if the hobby continues to sputter, Eisner and Co. will have no one to blame but themselves.Dave Jamieson is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. His first book, Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, will be published in spring 2010.

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Related in Slate

Back in 2006, Dave Jamieson investigated how baseball cards lost their luster. David Roth spilled the secrets of his tenure writing baseball card backs for Topps. Darren Rovell told the tale of the most widely held baseball card of all-time, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card. Bryan Curtis got an autographed card from Don Carman a mere 15 years after he sent the former Phillies pitcher a fan letter.

Topps Gets Exclusive Deal With Baseball, Landing a Blow to Upper Deck

The New York Times
August 6, 2009

The Topps Company will become the exclusive trading card maker of Major League Baseball next year in a multiyear deal that appears to seriously hurt Upper Deck, its primary competitor in the once-vibrant business.

Topps, and not its competitor Upper Deck, will become baseball’s exclusive trading card maker. (AP)

By dropping Upper Deck, M.L.B. hopes that Topps, under Michael D. Eisner, the former chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, can invigorate card collecting, especially with young fans. The league also believes that one cardmaker can end the confusion of competitors selling multiple card series in hobby shops and big-box stores.

“This is redirecting the entire category toward kids,” said Eisner, who acquired the company in 2007. “Topps has been making cards for 60 years, the last 30 in a nonexclusive world that has caused confusion to the kid who walks into a Wal-Mart or a hobby store. It’s also been difficult to promote cards as unique and original.”

Upper Deck refused to address the Topps deal, which is to be announced Thursday. A spokesman for Upper Deck, based in Carlsbad, Calif., said only that it renewed its trading card license with the Major League Baseball Players Association last month and would keep producing cards. While the union license gives Upper Deck the right to use player likenesses, it will no longer have the rights to team logos and trademarks.

The union did not respond to requests for comment.

The old-line Topps, with roots in Brooklyn and its headquarters in downtown Manhattan, is associated with the stiff stick of chewing gum that once appeared in each pack. It is historically linked to children trading and flipping cards, and to the clatter created by inserting the little pieces of cardboard in the spokes of bicycle wheels.

In the 1980s, as collecting cards for fun turned into the more adult pursuit of investing in cards for profit, Topps faced a corps of rivals like Fleer, Donruss, Leaf, Score and, most significantly, the innovative Upper Deck.
Now, baseball has decided it needs only Topps.

“There is a greater chance of organizing the marketplace with a singular partner,” said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business at Major League Baseball. “It’s a business that’s critically important to our mission, to make players icons to kids.”

The business has shrunk drastically since the mid-1990s. T. S. O’Connell, the editor of Sports Collectors Digest, estimated that it was one-fifth the size it was before the 1994-95 players strike.

“As draconian as it sounds,” to give Topps the exclusive license, O’Connell said, “there could be pluses to it. I’m not wishing Upper Deck out of the picture, but it’s difficult for the market to support the significant number of cards that are produced every year. You could see some stability coming out of this.”

Since Eisner’s privately held Tornante Company and Madison Dearborn, a private equity company, acquired Topps, it has introduced 3-D cards, the ToppsTown trading and collecting Web site, and the Topps Attax game to appeal to young card enthusiasts and to develop new ones.

“We’re going to be very aggressive in letting retailers, kids and hobbyists know that we are the card that represents it all,” Eisner said.

Making Topps the official trading card of baseball follows M.L.B.’s business model. It has, for example, an official car (Chevrolet), credit card (MasterCard), soft drink (Pepsi) and cap (New Era). For that reason, Brosnan said, baseball does not believe there are antitrust implications in entering a similar deal with Topps.

Typically, an exclusive license is more expensive to the company than a nonexclusive arrangement.

Brosnan said that a recent federal court decision that backed the N.F.L.’s right to make Reebok its exclusive headwear sponsor affirmed baseball’s policy.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the case from American Needle Inc.

Eisner said that Topps’s successful deals as the exclusive soccer cardmaker of the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga had proved that cards could appeal to fans 8 to 13 years old.

“They’re buying them, trading them, the way I did when I was a kid,” said Eisner, a New York Giants baseball fan, who says that, like many men of his generation (he is 67), his mother threw out his collection.

Dennis Gordon, who owns the Baseball Shop in Orleans, Mass., said he was confident that Eisner could alter what he called the “stale” market with the exclusive Topps deal.

“Michael Eisner alone might make it more interesting for kids,” he said. “If he and his people can come up with a new-wave idea, go for it.”

Testing Obamacare’s Meddle

To cut costs, government must meddle not just with how we live, but how we die.

By Jonah Goldberg
August 14, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

If I went to a Democratic town hall, I’d probably boo, too. Hence, according to various Democrats and supporters of Obamacare, I’m paranoid and just a bit unpatriotic.

Well, let me dilate on my paranoid treachery for a moment.

Under the plan discussed at President Obama’s infomercial-esqe town halls, America would cut costs and expand coverage while avoiding rationing. Apparently, it’s paranoid to think that’s too good to be true.

Imagine you’re in charge of bringing pie to a company picnic. You’re planning to provide dessert for 100 people. Then, your boss says you need to hand out pie to 150. Fine, you say, I’ll make more pies. But — oh no! — you can’t, because you’ve also been told costs must go down. Okay, then you can cut slices of the existing pies smaller so everyone can have a piece. Wait! You can’t do that either, because you’re not allowed to ration (i.e., give less to more).

According to Obama, the health-care pie will be sliced into more pieces, of equal or greater size than available now, for less money — all because government is so much better than the private sector at managing large projects.

Such contradictions run through the talking points for Obamacare. Consider life expectancy. In his big speech before the American Medical Association in June, Obama insisted that “the quality of our care is often lower, and we aren’t any healthier. In fact, citizens in some countries that spend substantially less than we do are actually living longer than we do.”

It’s true, a few countries beat us in terms of life expectancy. But life expectancy is only partly about health care. Other factors matter. Swaziland’s life expectancy is 31.88 years. That doesn’t mean the average Swazi dies just a couple of weeks before his 32nd birthday. It means lots of people die young and a few people die old and the average comes out to around 32.

According to the CIA World Factbook’s 2009 estimate, American life expectancy is 78.11 years. In the U.K. — with its nationalized system — it’s a whopping 79.01. Taiwan’s is 77.96 and so is Albania’s. Do we really think the best explanation for all this is how they pay for medical care? Or perhaps things like diet and culture are more important? Is Japan’s health-care system what explains Japanese longevity, or is it that fish and seaweed are staples of the Japanese diet?

Even greater disparities exist within America. Asian-American women, according to a 2006 study by Harvard’s School of Public Health, have a life expectancy of 87 years, while for African-American men it’s 69. The healthiest white people in America are the low-income folks of the Northern Plains states. Again, is our health-care system the biggest factor?

But here’s the kicker: The more life expectancy improves, the more we will spend on health care. Despite his professed outrage over charges of “death panels” and whatnot, Obama admits this. In an interview with the New York Times last spring, he acknowledged that oldsters are a “huge driver of cost.” The “chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health-care bill out here,” Obama explained. Which is why he advocated an advisory panel of experts to offer “guidance” on end-of-life care and costs. But don’t you dare call it a “death panel.”

Now, I don’t think Soylent Green-style solutions are coming down the pike. (Government cheese is people!) But every nationalized health-care system to one degree or another rations care based on the quality of life and number of “life years” a procedure will yield. That’s perfectly reasonable. If you put me in charge of everyone’s health care, I would do that, too. That’s a really good argument for not giving me — or anyone else — that power.

When it comes to civil liberties, liberals are often distrustful of government power. But, for reasons that baffle me, they are quite comfortable with Uncle Sam getting into the business of deciding, or providing “guidance” on, which lives are more valuable than others. A government charged with extending life expectancy must meddle not just with our health care, but with what we eat, how we drive, how we live. A government determined to cut costs must meddle not just with how we live, but how we die.

That sounds scary and un-American to me. And if that makes me paranoid and unpatriotic, then I am what I am.

— 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.

Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94

The New York Times
August 14, 2009

Les Paul, the virtuoso guitarist and inventor whose solid-body electric guitar and recording studio innovations changed the course of 20th-century popular music, died Thursday in White Plains, N.Y. . He was 94.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, the Gibson Guitar Corporation and his family announced. .

With Paul McCartney in 1988. (AP)

Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar alongside leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.

Mr. Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy.

Mr. Paul, whose original name was Lester William Polsfuss, was born on June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wis. His childhood piano teacher wrote to his mother, “Your boy, Lester, will never learn music.” But he picked up harmonica, guitar and banjo by the time he was a teenager and started playing with country bands in the Midwest. In Chicago he performed for radio broadcasts on WLS and led the house band at WJJD; he billed himself as the Wizard of Waukesha, Hot Rod Red and Rhubarb Red.

His interest in gadgets came early. At the age of 10 he devised a harmonica holder from a coat hanger. Soon afterward he made his first amplified guitar by opening the back of a Sears acoustic model and inserting, behind the strings, the pickup from a dismantled Victrola. With the record player on, the acoustic guitar became an electric one. Later, he built his own pickup from ham radio earphone parts and assembled a recording machine using a Cadillac flywheel and the belt from a dentist’s drill.

From country music Mr. Paul moved into jazz, influenced by players like Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang, who were using amplified hollow-body guitars to play hornlike single-note solo lines. He formed the Les Paul Trio in 1936 and moved to New York, where he was heard regularly on Fred Waring’s radio show from 1938 to 1941.

In 1940 or 1941 — the exact date is unknown — , Mr. Paul made his guitar breakthrough. Seeking to create electronically sustained notes on the guitar, he attached strings and two pickups to a wooden board with a guitar neck. “The log,” as he called it, if not the first solid-body electric guitar, became the most influential one.

“You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding,” Mr. Paul once said.

The odd-looking instrument drew derision when he first played it in public, so he hid the works inside a conventional-looking guitar. But the log was a conceptual turning point. With no acoustic resonance of its own, it was designed to generate an electronic signal that could be amplified and processed — the beginning of a sonic transformation of the world’s music.

Mr. Paul was drafted in 1942 and worked in California for the Armed Forces Radio Service, accompanying Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith and others. When he was discharged in 1943, he was hired as a staff musician for NBC radio in Los Angeles. His trio toured with the Andrews Sisters and backed Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, with whom he recorded the hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” in 1945. Crosby encouraged Mr. Paul to build his own recording studio, and so he did, in his garage in Los Angeles.

Les Paul in his studio in Mahwah, N.J., in 1996, holding the first electric guitar that he built, named "The Log." The guitar's left side was removed to show the original workings.
Photo: Julio A. Ibarra

There he experimented with recording techniques, using them to create not realistic replicas of a performance but electronically enhanced fabrications. Toying with his mother’s old Victrola had shown him that changing the speed of a recording could alter both pitch and timbre. He could record at half-speed and replay the results at normal speed, creating the illusion of superhuman agility. He altered instrumental textures through microphone positioning and reverberation. Technology and studio effects, he realized, were instruments themselves.

He also noticed that by playing along with previous recordings, he could become a one-man ensemble. As early as his 1948 hit “Lover,” he made elaborate, multilayered recordings, using two acetate disc machines, which demanded that each layer of music be captured in a single take. From discs he moved to magnetic tape, and in the late 1950s he built the first eight-track multitrack recorder. Each track could be recorded and altered separately, without affecting the others. The machine ushered in the modern recording era.

In 1947 Mr. Paul teamed up with Colleen Summers, who had been singing with Gene Autry’s band. He changed her name to Mary Ford, a name found in a telephone book.

They were touring in 1948 when Mr. Paul’s car skidded off an icy bridge. Among his many injuries, his right elbow was shattered; once set, it would be immovable for life. Mr. Paul had it set at an angle, slightly less than 90 degrees, so that he could continue to play guitar.

Mr. Paul, whose first marriage, to Virginia, had ended in divorce, married Ms. Ford in 1949. They had a television show, “Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home,” which was broadcast from their living room until 1958. They began recording together, mixing multiple layers of Ms. Ford’s vocals with Mr. Paul’s guitars and effects, and the dizzying results became hits in the early 1950s. Among their more than three dozen hits, “Mockingbird Hill,” “How High the Moon” and “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” in 1951 and “Vaya Con Dios” in 1953 were million-sellers.

Some of their music was recorded with microphones hanging in various rooms of the house, including one over the kitchen sink, so that Ms. Ford could record vocals while washing dishes. Mr. Paul also recorded instrumentals on his own, including the hits “Whispering,” “Tiger Rag” and “Meet Mister Callaghan” in 1951 and 1952.

The Gibson company hired Mr. Paul to design a Les Paul model guitar in the early 1950s, and variations of the first 1952 model have sold steadily ever since, accounting at one point for half of the privately held company’s total sales. Built with Mr. Paul’s patented pickups, his design is prized for its clarity and sustained tone. It has been used by musicians like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Slash of Guns N’ Roses. The Les Paul Standard version is unchanged since 1958, the company says. In the mid-1950s, Mr. Paul and Ms. Ford moved to a house in Mahwah, N.J., where Mr. Paul eventually installed both film and recording studios and amassed a collection of hundreds of guitars.

The couple’s string of hits ended in 1961, and they were divorced in 1964. Ms. Ford died in 1977. Mr. Paul is survived by three sons, Lester (Rus) G. Paul, Gene W. Paul and Robert (Bobby) R. Paul; a daughter, Colleen Wess; his companion, Arlene Palmer; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.In 1964, Mr. Paul underwent surgery for a broken eardrum, and he began suffering from arthritis in 1965. Through the 1960s he concentrated on designing guitars for Gibson. He invented and patented various pickups and transducers, as well as devices like the Les Paulverizer, an echo-repeat device, which he introduced in 1974. In the late 1970s he made two albums with the dean of country guitarists, Chet Atkins.

In 1981 Mr. Paul underwent a quintuple-bypass heart operation. After recuperating, he returned to performing, though the progress of his arthritis forced him to relearn the guitar. In 1983 he started to play weekly performances at Fat Tuesday’s, an intimate Manhattan jazz club. “I was always happiest playing in a club,” he said in a 1987 interview. “So I decided to find a nice little club in New York that I would be happy to play in.”

Mr. Paul at Carnegie Hall during his 90th birthday salute in 2005. He performed every Monday night, accompanied by a backup band, at the Iridium jazz club in New York until just before his death.
Photo: Jennifer Taylor for The New York Times

After Fat Tuesday’s closed in 1995, he moved his Monday-night residency to Iridium. He performed there until early June; guest stars have been appearing with his trio since then and will continue to do so indefinitely, a spokesman for the club said.

At his shows he used one of his own customized guitars, which included a microphone on a gooseneck pointing toward his mouth so that he could talk through the guitar. In his sets he would mix reminiscences, wisecracks and comments with versions of jazz standards. Guests — famous and unknown — showed up to pay homage or test themselves against him. Despite paralysis in some fingers on both hands, he retained some of his remarkable speed and fluency. Mr. Paul also performed regularly at jazz festivals through the 1980s.

He recorded a final album, “American Made, World Played” (Capitol), to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2005. It featured guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Sting, Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. The album brought him two Grammy Awards: for best pop instrumental performance and best rock instrumental performance. He had already won recognition from the Grammy trustees for technical achievements and another performance Grammy in 1976, for the album “Chester and Lester,” made with Chet Atkins.

In recent years, he said he was working on another major invention but would not reveal what it was.

“Honestly, I never strove to be an Edison,” he said in a 1991 interview in The New York Times. “The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.”

Television Review: 'Mad Men'

‘Mad Men’ Strains to Stay as Button-Down as Ever

The New York Times
August 14, 2009

Retrospective winks at past ignorance are what makes “Mad Men” so funny and, at times, so chilling.

“Mad Men” mocks and celebrates forbidden vices, the drinking, smoking and promiscuity that in the advertising business of the 1960s flowed heedlessly, without health warnings or the sour taint of political incorrectness. From the start, the show has mined hindsight for wicked humor: a child playing dangerously with a dry-cleaning bag is chided only for messing up the clothes inside; a pastoral family picnic ends with the mom tossing the entire basket of trash onto lush, pristine park grounds; the presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon is marketed as a young, handsome Navy hero.

Even more than in the first two years, this new season, which begins on Sunday on AMC, stresses the less amusing side of that innocence, leading viewers to look back, aghast at, and enthralled by, a world so familiar and so primitive. Characters on “Mad Men” struggle in shame and secrecy with the very things that today are openly, incessantly boasted and blogged about: humble roots, broken homes, homosexuality, unwed motherhood, caring for senile parents.

In the early ’60s space was for conquest; the social order was overripe for exploration. And in this age before chat rooms, support groups, confessional talk shows, self-help books and 24-hour hot lines became commonplace, each crisis, from the Cuban missile to the midlife, seems encountered as if for the first time, uncharted and befogged by bewilderment and fear.

It’s not just that everyone has a secret; each character feels so alone in guarding it.

The first episode begins with the show’s star ad man, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), at a stove, heating milk, wrapped in a plaid bathrobe and haunting memories he tried to smother long ago. Staring into the darkness, Don conjures scenes of the sordid, poverty-stricken way he came into the world, images accompanied by faint, sad strains of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Those first fugues into Don’s hidden past are not the most inviting way into a new season, however. “Mad Men” is essentially one long flashback, an artfully imagined historic re-enactment of an era when America was a soaring superpower feeling its first shivers of mortality.

In contrast, Don’s daydreams about his deprived childhood seem incongruous and hokey — less a look into his psyche than a re-creation of a comedy skit from vintage programs like “The Garry Moore Show.” Only when the camera returns to the offices of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency are things right — and deliciously wrong — in this mad world.

A British company bought the agency at the end of Season 2, and now Don and his colleagues are supervised by Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), a supercilious financial officer from the London headquarters, and his insufferably pompous male secretary, John Hooker (Ryan Cartwright), nicknamed “Moneypenny” by his American co-workers.

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has risen to copywriter but still can’t command the respect of her own secretary, who ignores her boss and instead moons over John’s clipped British accent. “I could listen to him read the phone book,” she says dreamily to Peggy.

“Well,” Peggy snaps. “When he gets to S, I need Howard Sullivan at Lever Brothers.”

The show’s period clothes, cocktails and allusions to Hitchcock, Bob Dylan and Frank O’Hara are no longer new. Neither are the narrative feints that spike suspense by deflecting it — though the trick continues to work. There are still mysteries to even the most closely examined lead characters.

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Christina Hendricks in "Mad Men" on AMC, which returns for its third season on Sunday.

Peggy; Joan (Christina Hendricks), the office manager; and even Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), the weaselly account executive, are so familiar, yet they remain enigmatic — protected by a thin, exotic veil of weirdness.

And, most of all, so does Don’s beautiful wife, Betty (January Jones), who is in the last stages of pregnancy with their third child and worried about her increasingly senile father, Gene (Ryan Cutrona). Betty is even more concerned that her brother and his wife have designs on their father’s property.

Don, an incorrigibly unfaithful husband but a loyal spouse, decides that the old man can live with them. Gene repays the hospitality by instructing his granddaughter to read aloud to him from Gibbon’s history of the fall of the Roman Empire. When Don comes home, Gene asks acidly, “How’s Babylon?”

Gene’s generation, forged by the Depression and Prohibition, finds an unlikely ally in youth, the would-be beatniks who despise their parents’ conformity and decadent consumerism and yearn for change. At Sterling Cooper change comes slowly and ambivalently; some ad men smoke marijuana and quote T. S. Eliot while fretting about nuclear war; others drink and dance the jitterbug at a Derby party at a segregated country club. Don Draper smoothly works in both worlds and belongs to neither.

At this moment in 1963, John F. Kennedy is still president; the most imminent threat of mutually assured destruction has ebbed; and Don is still restless, knowing and unknowable.

Over dinner, an eager stewardess chirps to Don about her travels. His reply is typically inscrutable. “I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been,” he says.

It’s the third season, and we still want to go with him.


AMC, Sunday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Created and written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Phil Abraham; Mr. Weiner and Scott Hornbacher, executive producers; Lisa Albert, supervising producer; Dahvi Waller, co-producer; Dwayne Shattuck and Blake McCormick, producers. Produced by Lionsgate.

WITH: Jon Hamm (Donald Draper), January Jones (Betty Draper), Vincent Kartheiser (Peter Campbell), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson), Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway), John Slattery (Roger Sterling), Jared Harris (Lane Pryce), Ryan Cartwright (John Hooker), Bryan Batt (Salvatore Romano), Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey), Ryan Cutrona (Gene Driscoll), Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove), Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) and Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper).


Drama Confronts a Dramatic Decade (August 9, 2009)

The Emmys Clothes Make the Show: Katherine Jane Bryant: ‘Mad Men’ (June 7, 2009)

Video: 'Mad Men'

Today's Tune: Noisettes - Never Forget You

(Click on title to play video)

Watcha drinkin'?
Rum or whiskey?
Now won'tcha have a
Double with me?

I'm sorry I'm a little late
I got your message by the way
I'm calling in sick today
So let's go out for old time's sake

I'll never forget you
They said we'd never make it
My sweet joy
Always remember me

We were mysterious
And you were always wearing black
I was so serious
You know my boyfriend's mother nearly had a heart attack

I'm sorry I'm a little late
You know the stripes on a tiger are hard to change
I know this
World feels like an empty stage
I wouldn't change a thing
So glad you're back again

I'll never forget you
They said we'd never make it
My sweet joy
Always remember me

I'll never forget you
At times we couldn't shake it
You're my joy
Always remember me

We just got swallowed up
You know I didn't forget you
We just got swallowed up
We just got swallowed up
And you love that I didn't forget you
We just got swallowed up
By the whole damn world

Watcha thinkin'?
Did you miss me?
I borrowed your silver boots
Now if you'd just let me give them back to you,

I'll never forget you
They said we'd never make it
My sweet joy
Always remember me

I'll never forget you
Although at times we couldn't shake it
You're my joy
Always remember me
Don't you know that you're my joy?
Always remember me
Don't you know that you're my joy?
Always remember me

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Snakes on a plane

By Debra J. Saunders
San Fransisco Chronicle
Thursday, August 13, 2009

First, a confession: I've never flown on a private jet. I've never flown on a Gulfstream. Never flown on a private 737 "office in the sky."

So it could be that I am missing the good reasons why the House padded the $636 billion defense budget by adding two additional C-37 Gulfstreams and two additional C-40s (the military version of a Boeing 737) - even though the Department of Defense never requested the planes.

The good news: This week Defense Appropriations Subcommittee boss Jack Murtha, D-Pa., announced that the $330 million for the four planes would be pulled from the bill if the Pentagon still didn't want them.

Credit the Wall Street Journal for reporting earlier that senators and House members tried to hog the Air Force's cushier fleet - usually used by White House and Pentagon officials - during congressional recesses. Congressional international travel expenses have increased tenfold since 1995 - to more than $12.5 million last year. According to a document obtained by the right-leaning watchdog organization Judicial Watch, overseas travel days for House members rose from 550 in 1995 to about 3,000 last year.

I should note: The administration and the military are responsible for 85 percent of the fleet's use. Congress books about 15 percent of the planes' use - so maybe taxpayers should think of Congress' international travel not as a perk, but a tip.

Last year, senators were grilling Detroit CEOs for arriving in Washington in separate private jets to beg for a federal bailout. In a reversal of fortune, D.C. politicians found themselves squirming in the same better-than-first-class leather hot seats.

It's not all glamour on Air Taxpayer. Some members of Congress and their staff are fact-finding in war zones at great personal risk. One congressional aide told me that when he flew to the Middle East on a C-37, he had to hold his luggage on his lap.

And yes, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, flies home on a military plane. She should. After 9/11, President Bush determined that the speaker - then Republican Dennis Hastert - was vulnerable and should fly in a military plane for security.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill noted the value of members seeing "on-the-ground the facts of war, famine, disease" abroad. And added: "The speaker has always encouraged members to ensure that foreign travel undertaken with government funds is done so with the highest ethical standards and in the most cost-effective manner possible."

The rub: After Kuwait, Germany, Austria and France were the top recipients of Capitol Hill travel dollars in 2008. This month, 11 congressional delegations will visit Germany.

To avoid incoming criticism, members often fly in group formation - with members of the other party. Say the words "Paris Air Show," and partisan rancor melts. This year, Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., went with four senators. In 2007, then-Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, led an entourage that ran up a $121,000 tab on the ground.

Democrats have led both houses since January 2007. Is Congress more ethical? Is Washington spending tax dollars more carefully? Are global warming's true believers curbing their own emissions?

Sure - when they get caught.

To comment, e-mail Debra J. Saunders at

This article appeared on page A - 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Our Road to Oceania

Orwell was on to something.

By Victor Davis Hanson
August 13, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

In George Orwell’s allegorical novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the picture of “Big Brother” appears constantly in the adoring media.

Perceived enemies are everywhere — supposedly plotting to undo the benevolent egalitarianism of Big Brother. Citizens assemble each morning to scream hatred for two minutes at pictures of the supposed public traitor Emmanuel Goldstein. The “Ministry of Truth” swears that the former official Goldstein is responsible for everything that goes wrong in Oceania.

In Orwell’s Oceania, there is a compliant media that offers “Newspeak” — recycled government bulletins from the Ministry of Truth. “Doublethink” means you can believe at the same time in two opposite beliefs.

America is not Oceania, but some of this is beginning to sound a little too familiar.

We see Barack Obama’s smile broadcast 24/7, in a fashion we have not seen previously in earlier presidents. A Newsweek editor referred to Obama as a “god.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews claimed physical ecstasy when Obama speaks. A Washington Post reporter swooned over Obama’s “chiseled pectorals.”

Former president George W. Bush — our new Emmanuel Goldstein — remains a daily target of criticism. Diplomats continue to discuss the need to hit a “reset” button that will erase the past. Last week, the president said those in the past administration caused our present problems — and so should keep quiet and get out of his way.

Bush is somehow culpable for the newly projected $2 trillion annual deficits. Bush caused the new unemployment levels to soar to nearly 10 percent. Bush’s war on terrorism failed. Bush is responsible for the most recent trouble abroad with Iran, the Middle East, North Korea, and Russia.

There are similar Big Brother attacks on recent critics of the Obama administration’s health-care initiatives. Once-praised dissent has become subversive. Protesters are a mob to be ridiculed by the government as mere health-insurance puppets. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), is suspicious of the nice clothes the protesters wear. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), used a few isolated incidents to claim that the health-care dissidents are “carrying swastikas and symbols like that” to compare Obama and Democrats to the Nazis.

At a meeting with Democratic senators, Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, urged them to “punch back twice as hard” against these critics, according to two people who were in the room. An official presidential website now asks informants, in Big Brother style, to send in e-mails and Internet addresses that seem “fishy” in questioning the White House health-care plans.

Doublethink is common. Presidential sermons on fiscal responsibility tip us off that deficits will soar. Borrowing an additional trillion dollars to manage health care is sold as a cost-saving measure. Racial transcendence translates into more racial-identity politics, reflected both in rhetoric and in presidential appointments.

The government wants to determine how some executives should be paid. The administration assures millions of citizens it will now intrude into everything from buying homes and cars to how they go to the doctor.

If some Americans chose to purchase a roomy gas-guzzler rather than an uncomfortable but more efficient compact car, a kindly Big Brother will now “correct” that bad decision and buy the “clunker” back. If we bought a house for too much money, the government will assure us it was not our fault and redo the mortgage. If our doctor wants to conduct a procedure, a government health board will first determine whether it is cost-effective and in the collective interest.

Despite the absence of another 9/11-like attack, we are still told by the new terrorism czar, John Brennan, that the old war was largely a Bush failure. Administration officials keep inventing euphemisms. Some have dubbed the war on terror “an overseas contingency operation.”

We were once told that military tribunals, renditions, the Patriot Act, and Predator drone attacks in Pakistan were George Bush’s assault on the Constitution rather than necessary tools to fight radical Islamic terrorists.

Not now. These policies are no longer criticized — even though they still operate more or less as they did under Bush. Guantanamo is still open, but no longer considered a gulag. The once-terrible war in Iraq disappeared off the front pages around late January of this year.

George Orwell, a man of the Left, warned us that freedom and truth are not endangered only by easily identifiable goose-stepping goons in jackboots. More often he felt that state collectivism would come from an all-powerful government — run by a charismatic egalitarian, promising to protect us from selfish, greedy reactionaries.

Orwell was on to something.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


By Ann Coulter
August 12, 2009

Just as the left pioneered "AstroTurf" protesters -- homeless people lured to demonstrations with the offer of a free T-shirt and a box lunch -- liberals have also specialized in producing fake "insiders" denouncing their alleged group.

There were the "winter soldiers" -- fake Vietnam veterans claiming to have personally disemboweled babies in Vietnam. It took 30 years and the publication of the book "Stolen Valor" to establish that the bulk of them were utter frauds who had never seen combat -- some had never seen Vietnam. (Shockingly, to this day, the Wikipedia entry on the winter soldiers treats their phony war records as legitimate.)

Then there's Barry Lynn, alleged "Christian minister," whose stock in trade is to denounce any mention of religion anyplace, anytime. Look, I'm a Christian minister, but even I have to admit that the sight of a kindergartner praying is terrifying to most folks. (The first person to post Barry Lynn's bar mitzvah photos or birth announcement (mazel tov!) wins a free copy of my latest book, "Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America.")

Kathleen Parker

The latest fake insider/whistleblower is Kathleen Parker, the Barry Lynn of the South. Fresh off her mainstream media tour as a Sarah Palin-hating "conservative," Parker is now a self-proclaimed Southerner blaming opposition to Obama's policies on the region's reputed racism.

Uncannily, this claim struck a chord with Northern liberals!

Throughout the presidential campaign last year, liberals were champing at the bit to accuse Americans of racism for not supporting Barack Obama. That was a tough argument on account of the obvious facts that: (1) for every vote he lost because he's black, Obama picked up another 20 votes for being black; (2) Obama won the election in (3) a country that's 87 percent non-black.

So the accusations of racism had to be put on hold until ... the first note of dissent from his agenda was sounded.

Inasmuch as Obama was just elected and his policies have turned out to be the most left-wing the country has ever seen, it wasn't going to be easy to claim the electorate suddenly decided they didn't like the mammoth spending bills or socialist health care bills because they just noticed Obama is black.

But Kathleen Parker has leapt into the fray to explain that the opposition to Obama's agenda is pure Southern racism. And she's from the South, so it must be true!

As she put it on Chris Matthews' "Hardball": "One word, Chris -- one word. 'Confederacy.' I mean, you know, the South is very -- I live there, OK? I want to make that clear, too, because I'm not bashing Southerners."

No, she was certainly not bashing Southerners. This she made clear in her Washington Post column calling for the Republican Party to "drive a stake through the heart of old Dixie."

How one gets from "we don't want socialized medicine" to "we hate black people" was a tough equation. As my algebra teacher used to say: "Please show your work."

Parker's explanation: "Sarah Palin may not have realized what she was doing, but Southerners weaned on Harper Lee heard the dog whistle." And on "Hardball," she said: "You don't position a white woman and a black male and pretend like there's nothing happening there. There's a deep history. That's why I mentioned Harper Lee in there."

So as I understand it, by nominating a black man for president, the Democrats had checkmated Republicans, who should have done the decent thing by not nominating a white woman for vice president, which would be seen as a deliberate ploy to lure gallant Klansmen into defending the white woman's honor by voting against Obama!

Called upon to draw a straight line between Sarah Palin and racism, I guess this is as good a try as any.

Any crackpot can put forward lunatic theories. What gives Parker's slanderous claim punch is her repeated assertion that she's a Southerner, so she's giving us the inside dope. To make sure no one misses the point, Parker issues repeated professions -- "that's what we do in the South," "I am down there," and "I live there, OK?"

Despite the implication that this Daughter of the Confederacy was virtually homecoming queen at Ole Miss, Parker was born and raised in . . . Winter Haven, Fla. She married a South Carolinian and now splits her time between South Carolina and Washington, D.C.

I'm no Civil War buff, but I'm fairly certain there were no brave Confederate stands at Winter Haven against a superior Northern force -- unless those Northern forces were successful dentists from Larchmont. I would lay money that there aren't a lot of antebellum mansions on magnolia-lined boulevards dotted with statutes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Winter Haven, Fla.

Except for the coasts, Florida never had much of a culture below the northern tier on account of the fact that the area beneath the panhandle consisted primarily of malarial swamps. Northerners got that deep into Florida at the turn of the last century -- i.e., about same time as northern Floridians did.

If Parker is a Southerner because she grew up in Winter Haven, then I should be the next spokesman for Gorton's of Gloucester because I grew up in Fairfield County, Conn. I'll pose in rain gear at the wheel of my ship, dispensing flinty, down-home Yankee wisdom -- "Ya cand get theh from heah" -- just like most natives of New Canaan, Conn.

Oh, and one more thing. I was once employed by MSNBC. Speaking as an MSNBC insider, I regret to inform you: We MSNBC-ers hate the military, loathe cops, despise the South and absolutely detest Christians. No really, take it from me -- I'm an old MSNBC hand.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


HAPPY WARRIOR from National Review (8/10/09 issue)

By Mark Steyn
Tuesday, 11 August 2009

What’s the end-game here? I suppose it’s conceivable that there are a few remaining suckers out there who still believe Barack Obama is the great post-partisan, fiscally responsible, pragmatic centrist he played so beguilingly just a year ago. The New York Times’ David Brooks stuck it out longer than most: Only a few backs, he was giddy with excitement over the President’s “education” “reforms” (whatever they were). But now he says we’re in “the early stages of the liberal suicide march”. For a famously moderate moderate, Mr Brooks seems to have gone from irrational optimism over the Democrats’ victory to irrational optimism over the Democrats’ impending downfall without the intervening stage of rational pessimism.

The end-game is very obvious. If you expand the bureaucratic class and you expand the dependent class, you can put together a permanent electoral majority. By “dependent”, I don’t mean merely welfare, although that’s a good illustration of the general principle. In political terms, a welfare check is a twofer: you’re assuring the votes both of the welfare recipient and of the vast bureaucracy required to process his welfare. But extend that principle further, to the point where government intrudes into everything: a vast population is receiving more from government (in the form of health care or education subventions) than it thinks it contributes, while another vast population is managing the ever expanding regulatory regime (a federal energy-efficiency code, a government health bureaucracy) and another vast population remains, nominally, in the private sector but, de facto, dependent on government patronage of one form or another – say, the privately owned franchisee of a government automobile company, or the designated “community assistance” organization for helping poor families understand what programs they’re eligible for. Either way, what you get from government – whether in the form of a government paycheck, a government benefit or a government contract – is a central fact of your life.

A lot of the developed world has already gone quite a long way down this road. If you want to know what Obama’s pledge to “save or create” four million jobs would look like if the stimulus weren’t a total bust, consider what “good news” means in an Obama-sized state: A couple of years back, I happened to catch an intriguing headline up north. “The Canadian economy is picking up steam,” reported the CBC. Statistics Canada had just announced that “the economy added 56,100 new jobs, two-thirds of them full time.” That’s great news, isn’t it? Why, the old economy’s going gangbusters, stand well back.

But I was interested to know just what sectors these jobs had been created in. And, upon investigation, it emerged that, of those 56,100 new jobs, 4,200 were self-employed, 8,900 were in private businesses, and the remaining 43,000 were on the public payroll. “The economy” hadn’t added those jobs; the government had: that's why they call it “creating” jobs. Seventy-seven per cent of the new jobs were government jobs, or “jobs”, paid for by the poor schlubs working away in the remaining 23 per cent. So the “good news” was just more bad news, just a further transfer from the vital dynamic sector to the state.

In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, government spending accounts for between 72 and 78 per cent of the economy, and, as I wrote here earlier this year, that’s “about the best a ‘free’ society can hope to attain this side of complete Sovietization.” But, if you’re not on welfare, working in the welfare office or working for a “green solutions” company that’s landed the government contract for printing the recycled envelopes in which the welfare checks are mailed out, it’s not an attractive society to be in. It’s not a place to run a small business – a feed store or a plumbing company or anything innovative, all of which will be taxed and regulated into supporting that seventysomething per cent. After all, what does it matter if your business goes under? Either you’ll join the government workforce, or you’ll go on the dole. So you too will become part of the dependent class, or the class that’s dependent upon the dependent class. Either way, Big Government wins (as we already see in California).

In the normal course of events, the process takes a while. But Obama believes in “the fierce urgency of now”, and fierce it is. That’s where all the poor befuddled sober centrists who can’t understand why the Democrats keep passing incoherent 1,200-page bills every week are missing the point. If “health care” were about health care, the devil would be in the details. But it’s not about health or costs or coverage; it’s about getting over the river and burning the bridge. It doesn’t matter what form of governmentalized health care gets passed as long as it passes. Once it’s in place, it will be “reformed”, endlessly, but it will never be undone. Same with a lot of the other stuff: Keep throwing the spaghetti at the wall. The Republicans may pick off the odd strand but, if you keep it coming fast enough, by the end of Obama’s first year the wall will be a great writhing mass of pasta entwined like copulating anacondas in some jungle simulacrum of Hef’s grotto. And that’s a good image of how government will slither into every corner of your life: You can try and pull one of those spaghetti strings out but it’ll be all tied up with a hundred others and you’ll never untangle them.

Between The Covers with John J. Miller

(Click on title to play audio)

Robert Ferrigno discusses his new book Heart of the Assassin

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Celebrating Hate in the Name of Multiculturalism

A vicious Saudi cleric is welcomed with open arms in London.

by Michael Weiss
August 11, 2009

There is no question that Great Britain has been struggling with an internal Islamist problem for quite some time.

The former imam of London’s Finsbury Park Mosque was the one-eyed, hook-handed Abu Hamza al-Masri, by turns a host to figures as friendly to civilization as Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber,” and Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” on 9/11. London’s own grim day of domestic terrorism, July 7, 2005, was orchestrated by the sons of Asian immigrants — one of whom, it was later disclosed, was under the messianic spell of Hamza.

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and beheading in Karachi was plotted by a graduate of the London School of Economics.
Most visibly, the Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi — who has called Jews “treacherous aggressors,” cheered suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq, and endorsed the corporal punishment of homosexuals — was twice invited as an honored guest to London under the aegis of that great city’s unfortunate last mayor, Ken Livingstone.

For his embrace of violent fanaticism, Qaradawi was banned from visiting the UK in 2008, but that has not stopped men of his ilk from visiting since.

Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Sudais

Just last Tuesday, Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Sudais paid call on the East London Mosque for the second time in his tenure as the head cleric of Saudi Arabia’s Golden Mosque. The first was in 2004, when he led a prayer for “interfaith peace” that was attended by Jonathan Sacks, the grand rabbi of Great Britain; Fiona Mactaggart, the racial equality minister; and — in a prerecorded message of well-wishing — Prince Charles. “The history of Islam,” Sudais said on that metaphysically variegated occasion, “is the best testament to how different communities can live together in peace and harmony. Muslims must exemplify the true image of Islam in their interaction with other communities.” A very comforting notion, to be sure. But these vestments, worn for western audiences, disguised Sudais’ uglier wardrobe for when his audience is exclusively Muslim.

On April 19, 2002, Sudais gave a sermon in Mecca entitled “Al Aqsa Is Crying Out for Help” that was broadcast on Saudi Arabia’s TV1 station and reprinted, in English translation, on a Saudi website that catalogs Islamic sermons delivered in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina:

Read the history to know that yesterday’s Jews are evil predecessors and today’s Jews are worse successors. They an ingrate people, they altered God’s words, worshipped calf, killed Messengers and denied their Messages. They are exiled people and the worst of mankind. Allaah cursed them and cast His wrath upon them. He turned some of them to monkeys and pigs and worshippers of creatures. They are worst in position and are astray from the right path.

History of Jews is full of deception, trickery, rebellion, oppression, evil and corruption. They always seek to cause mischief on the earth and Allaah loves not the mischief-makers. They even insulted Allaah. The Quraan says: The Jews say: “Allaah’s Hand is tied up (i.e., He does not give and spend of His Bounty). Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for what they uttered.” (Al-Maaidah 5:64)

Nor is that all. At reported in the Daily Telegraph, in 2003 Sudais referred to Jews “scum of the earth,” “rats of the world” (with whom there should “be no peace”), and “monkeys and pigs who should be annihilated.” Christians are, in Sudais’ comparative theological lexicon, “cross worshippers,” and Hindus “idol worshippers,” though he did not deign to use such language at his interfaith confab. He has also called for God to “terminate” the Jews, a request that led to his having a series of lectures canceled in the United States and a travel ban placed on him by Canada.

This leads to the obvious question: why hasn’t the British home secretary, who saw fit to squash the vacation plans of the Dutch parliamentarian and anti-Islam provocateur Geert Wilders, seen fit to scuttle the sojourns of such a hateful cleric who commands the attention of millions of parishioners in a Wahhabist dictatorship?

This surely has something to do with Sudais’ influential patron in London, Mohammed Abdul Bari, the director of the East London Mosque and the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a registered charity founded in 1997 that serves as a national umbrella organization for 400 Muslim “affiliate” groups. Bari has reduced Sudais’ rhetoric to “some of the old reports by Islamophobes” and defended him as “very popular. He’s not just coming to our mosque, he is also visiting major mosques around the country.”

Bari’s East London Mosque received one million dollars from the Saudi government for its new Islamic center, which opened in 2004, and his Muslim Council prefers to parry or rationalize when confronted by the nastiness of those religious “leaders” it welcomes to Albion.

BBC reporter John Ware interviewed Bari, as well as his predecessor in the secretary generalship of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, in 2005. When it came to the subject of the Islamist root of the MCB’s affiliate organizations, Sacranie had this to say:

Ware: I’m quoting from Alhe Hadith. As I say, it’s quite an important affiliate of yours and just to give you one example from their website, they say of Jews and Christians: “Their ways are based on sick or deviant views” and that “imitating the Kuffaar leads to a permanent abode in hellfire.” … Do you subscribe to that view?

Sacranie: I don’t subscribe to that. I’m not a member of Alhe Hadith but it’s a membership that we have, it’s diversity that exists in the community, having different views on life.

Ware: Isn’t it a form of diversity you should disown?

Sacranie: Well, we must accept the reality on the ground that the diversity that we have with the Muslim Community in the UK and as long as they subscribe to our constitution, which is very clear, which is on the website and it’s totally transparent in terms of its activities of a work which is through the teachings of the Quran and upholding the principles of Islam; then what they do outside the Council, there is no control that we have on them.

“Diversity” and “community” have become catchwords to those who stand for their semantic opposites. Among the other affiliates of the MCB, for instance, is the Islamic Foundation, established in 1974 by the head figures from the Jamma’at Islami party of Pakistan, which hopes to see the country governed by Sharia law. Jamma’at Islami is guided by the messianic writings of Abul Ala Maududi, the Pakistani equivalent of Said Qutb, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and well known since 9/11 as the emeritus theorist of the Bin Ladenist school of jihadism.

The Islamic Foundation sells and translates Maududi’s works to British Muslims.

Sacranie could not well argue that the MCB has “no control” over the Islamic Foundation because the Islamic Foundation was instrumental in the founding of the MCB. And Professor Kurshid Ahmad, the Islamic Foundation’s chairman and rector, also vice president of Jamma’at Islami, calls it a “blessing” that Islam is a “revolutionary ideology.” You won’t find that on the MCB website, however.

It hardly helps, then, that Prince Charles has described the “prime focus” of the Islamic Foundation to be “the promotion of first-rate scholarship and learning,” of which the crown prince has evidently done little perusing. Indeed, cynical Islamists masquerading as spokesmen for all Muslims are only aided in their efforts by gullible or timid Westerners for whom a terrible day is being called insufficiently “multicultural.”

This is how anti-Semitic goons like Sheikh Subais get their passports stamped at Heathrow.

Michael Weiss is a senior editor of Tablet Magazine and a culture blogger for The New Criterion. He also writes occasionally for Slate, The Weekly Standard, City Journal, The New York Daily News and Standpoint.

A Lousy Day's Work

fighting words

Was Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea worth the time, energy, and prestige? No way.

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Aug. 10, 2009, at 11:39 AM ET

I call your attention to a small detail about Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two American journalists who were wrongfully arrested, illegally detained, and then capriciously released by the crime family that controls the northern section of the Korean peninsula and treats all its inhabitants as slave-prisoners and all the neighbors within its missile range as hostages.

The two young women were picked up in March and released in August. That means they spent almost half a year in the North Korean prison system. Yet to judge by the photographs of them arriving back on U.S. soil, they were in approximately the same physical condition as they had been when they were first unlawfully apprehended.

Now, I spent less time than that as an honored guest in North Korea and still managed to lose weight during my stay. The shattering statistic that everybody now knows about North Korea is that its citizens are on average 5 to 6 inches shorter than South Koreans. And by that I mean to say "on average"—it seems to be true even of North Korean soldiers. The stunting and shortening of the children of the last famine generation may be still more heartbreaking when we come to measure it. And the fate of those who are in the North Korean gulag can, by this measure, only be imagined. There is a starvation regime within the wider nightmare of the slave system. Yet Ling and Lee had obviously not been maltreated or emaciated in the usual way that even a North Korean civilian, let alone a North Korean prisoner, could expect to be.

The logical corollary of this is obvious. The Kim Jong-il gang was always planning to release them. They were arrested in order to be let go and were maintained in releasable shape until the deal could be done.

Does this not—or should this not—slightly qualify and dilute our joy in seeing them come home? Does the Dear Leader not say to himself, That was easy? Are the North Korean people not being assured, through their megaphone media, that the sun shines so consistently out of the rear end of their celestial boss that even powerful U.S. statesmen will appear at the airport to bring apologies, pay tribute, and receive custody of uninvited guests in the workers' paradise?

Whatever the Pyongyang press has said, it is unlikely to exceed in its flattery the encomium already offered by Lanny Davis, a former consigliere to both Clintons. I strongly urge you to read his entire boot-lick essay here, but I offer you this for flavor:

The release of the two journalists by the North Koreans … was the result of a tour-de-force, trifecta combination of the three most talented and truly great political leaders of our times—Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; her husband, former President Bill Clinton; and President Barack Obama. Without the special talents and the synergistic magic of the three of them working together …

Hold it right there. As I say, take a look at the whole piece and roll it round your tongue for as long as you can bear it.

Davis is a known fawner on the Clintons, but Henry Kissinger, writing in Sunday's Washington Post, was hardly better. Like the inexpert bore that he so often is, our former secretary of state loosed a positive barrage of rhetorical questions without troubling to answer any of them:

It is inherent in hostage situations that potentially heatbreaking human conditions are used to overwhelm policy judgments. Therein lies the bargaining strength of the hostage-taker. On the other hand, at any given moment, several million Americans reside or travel abroad. How are they best protected? Is the lesson of this episode that any ruthless group or government can demand a symbolic meeting with a senior American by seizing hostages or threatening inhuman treatment for prisoners in their hand? If it should be said that North Korea is a special case because of its nuclear capability, does that create new incentives for proliferation?

The remainder of his article is the sheerest waffle, probably because he and Kim Jong-il share some of the same friends and patrons and business partners in Beijing (this is also why he skates so rapidly over the human rights dimension of the crisis), but at least the questions he declines to answer were worth asking and the provisional answer to the last two of them would appear to be "yes." Since Bill Clinton began the "engagement" with North Korea more than a decade ago, nothing done by its regime has been thought of as punishable. Even since the resumption of the so-called "six-power" agreement in Beijing in February 2007, North Korea has violated it in the nonminor form of nuclear testing and the production of weapons-grade plutonium and has simply ignored all the relevant U.N. resolutions. These aggressive and arrogant policies have been advanced at exactly no cost. And meanwhile, the civilian population of North Korea is kept at the slavery and starvation level, with emergency food aid from overseas exacted by blackmail to make us complicit in the sickening business, while the civilian population of South Korea is threatened with obliteration in the most bloodthirsty terms if any resistance is offered to the nuclear blackmail that keeps the whole horror going in the first place.

As of last week, and as the result of a huge investment of time and energy and prestige and forced politeness, we can now claim to have reduced the North Korean prison population by exactly two, and they were going to be released anyway. In return, we have immensely gratified and flattered the man who kidnapped them and who makes a daily mockery of international law. There was even "remorse" expressed. But guess by whom? Not by the slave master who makes his territory impossible to enter and impossible to leave. A lousy day's work.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif.

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