Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: The Protest Singer

Red Warbler

Marching in step with a song and a smile.

by P.J. O'Rourke
The Weekly Standard
10/12/2009, Volume 015, Issue 04

The Protest Singer
An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger
by Alec Wilkinson
Knopf, 152 pp., $22.95

We are the folk song army,
Every one of us cares.
We all hate poverty, war, and injustice,
Unlike the rest of you squares.

So join in the folk song army,
Guitars are the weapons we bring
To the fight against poverty, war, and injustice,
Ready, aim, sing!

--Tom Lehrer

This is an important book. As with any book about which this needs to be said, what's meant is that it isn't important at all. It's a hagiography of Pete Seeger--and not even a proper, thorough one with sheet music, lyrics, and recording history. But there are important aspects to the book, none of them intentional.

Pete Seeger is a modest, unassuming, cheerful, and kind-natured man. He's a good folk singer, if you can stand folk singing. And he's such an excellent banjo player that you almost don't wish you had a pair of wire cutters. His abilities as a composer range from the fairly sublime ("Turn, Turn, Turn") to the fairly awful ("If I Had a Hammer") by way of the fairly ridiculous ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?").

He built his own house--rather badly, as far as I can tell. And he lives in it--rather well, with a loving wife and frequent visits from doting friends and relatives. He's spent his life being in favor of the right things, such as decent wages, racial equality, peace, and a clean Hudson River, and being opposed to the wrong things such as hunger, bigotry, violence, and a dirty Hudson River. He was also a member of the Communist party long past that organization's youthful-idealism sell-by date. Seeger is candid on the subject, his initial adverb notwithstanding:

Innocently I became a member of the Communist Party, and when they said fight for peace, I did, and when they said fight Hitler, I did. I got out in '49, though. .  .  . I should have left much earlier. It was stupid of me not to. My father had got out in '38, when he read the testimony of the trials in Moscow, and he could tell they were forced confessions. We never talked about it, though, and I didn't examine closely enough what was going on. .  .  . I thought Stalin was the brave secretary Stalin, and had no idea how cruel a leader he was.

Thus is raised a momentous question, maybe the most momentous question of the modern era: How is it that legions of modest, unassuming, cheerful, and kind-natured people pledge their troth to political systems that burn continents and bury innocents by the hundred million?

No doubt the companionship of Pete Seeger is to be preferred to the company of country club Republicans like myself--proud, grasping, crabby, and with hearts as hard as three-wood clubheads. But at least our idea of world domination is to conquer the dogleg on the seventh hole (from the ladies' tee, if no one is looking). Yet when it comes to hagiographies we have to hire some out-of-work English Ph.D. to ghost-write our own: How I Made a Fortune in Downloadable Estate Planning Software--My Triumph of the Will.

Anyway, nice, sweet, and well-meaning busybodies have been wreaking havoc with the globe since at least the days of Rousseau. The Protest Singer offers a pretty good explanation of how the hopeful and the helpful manage to wander into a position of support for a Committee of Public Safety, a Nazi party, a Soviet Union, a Sarajevo, an al Qaeda, and a typical American university education. You don't even have to read the book to gain this understanding; simply scan page three and the dust jacket. The secret of the too-good's complicity in the too-bad seems to lie in a certain feckless disassociation from the real world. This is Alec Wilkinson's sketch of Pete Seeger's early history:

He went to Harvard, joined the tenor banjo society, and studied sociology in the hope of becoming a journalist, but at the end of his second year he left before taking his exams and rode a bicycle west, across New York State.

And this is the publisher's thumbnail biography of Alec Wilkinson:

Alec Wilkinson began writing for The New Yorker in 1980. Before that, he was a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and before that a rock-and-roll musician. .  .  . His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

Wellfleet, by the way, is a resort town on Cape Cod where the principal crime problems are nude sunbathing and dune buggies crushing plover nests.

Fold two portions of scrambled egghead personal journey into one quote from Seeger's journal.

I seem to stagger about this agonized world as a clown, dressed in happiness, hoping to reach the hearts and minds of the young.

Mix vigorously with a statement by Wilkinson.

.  .  . all human beings are created equal and have equal rights. In the early and middle parts of the twentieth century, such a conviction made a person not a patriot, but a socialist.

And you get a taste of the sharing, caring, lame-o lefty mind omelet that spreads mood-poisoning to the masses.

The other momentous question of the modern era is what to do about it. The Protest Singer tells us what not to do. The slim volume is padded with a 28-page transcript of Seeger's August 18, 1955, testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (This committee is sorely in need of reconstitution, considering how many new activities have emerged that are un-American. The other day I saw a fellow turn off his BlackBerry before sitting down to a restaurant meal--and I had no one to report him to.)

Seeger was questioned by HUAC's chairman, Democratic congressman Francis E. Walter of Pennsylvania, a New Deal hack and coauthor of the McCarran-Walter "Yellow Peril" Act that tried to limit non-European immigration. Assisting the inquiry was the committee counsel, Frank S. Tavenner Jr., who seems to have been an idiot. The result of Seeger's being grilled was a sort of reverse waterboarding that, had it gone on much longer, would have had committee members and staff confessing to attempted suicide attacks on Joseph McCarthy.

Here are a few tidbits.

MR. TAVENNER: What is your profession or occupation?

MR. SEEGER: Well, I have worked at many things .  .  . and I make my living as a banjo picker--sort of damning, in some people's opinion. .  .  . It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school--

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?

MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn't my profession. .  .  .

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you practice your profession?

MR. SEEGER: I sang for people, yes .  .  . and I expect I always will.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker [containing] this advertisement: "Tonight--Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party? .  .  .

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs .  .  . or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked. .  .  .

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of .  .  . the June 1, 1949, issue of the Daily Worker [containing] this statement: The first performance of a new song, "If I Had a Hammer," .  .  . will be given at a testimonial dinner .  .  . at St. Nicholas Arena. .  .  . MR.

SEEGER: I shall be glad to answer about the song, sir, and I am not interested in carrying on the line of questioning about where I have sung any songs. .  .  .

CHAIRMAN WALTER: .  .  . I direct you to answer .  .  .

MR. SEEGER: I am sorry you are not interested in the song. .  .  . I am saying that my answer is the same as before. I have told you that I sang for everybody.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Wait a minute. You sang for everybody. Then are we to believe, or to take it, that you sang at the places Mr. Tavenner mentioned? .  .  .

MR. SEEGER: .  .  . I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.

We all know the types who listen to Pete Seeger songs; even Pete admits they aren't interesting. Nonetheless, Seeger has labored long and hard among these featherheads. As Wilkinson says, "He hoped that by making people feel themselves to be elements of a collective identity, he could intensify their experience--enlarge and encourage them and help hold oblivion at arm's length."

Oblivion being what Robespierre, Mao, Pol Pot, et al. pressed to their bosoms. Pete Seeger fans do, indeed, keep such gruesome results of their ideological turpitude at arm's length, as Pete himself did. And we sensible conservatives should be thankful to Seeger for all he's done to help make himself and the rest of these nitwits less effective at generating oblivion.

It's hard to build a gulag when you're busy organizing a hootenanny.

- P.J. O'Rourke, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author, most recently, of Driving Like Crazy.

Music Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

For Springsteen and Giants Stadium, a Last Dance

The New York Times
October 11, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD — Giants Stadium heard its last sha-la-las — at least, the amplified kind with tens of thousands of voices singing along — on Friday night, when Bruce Springsteen played the final concert before the stadium is demolished. During the three-hour set, sha-la-las filled this year’s “Working on a Dream,” the 1984 song “Darlington County” and Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl,” the finale that Mr. Springsteen called the stadium’s “last dance.” It was Mr. Springsteen’s 24th performance, dating back to 1985, at Giants Stadium, where the audiences are his most fervent fans: fellow New Jerseyans.

So in a way, Mr. Springsteen could identify with the place, and he did — at least half-seriously — in “Wrecking Ball,” a robust, guitar-strumming song he wrote to start off each of his five final concerts at the stadium. (A video performance is at

It may be the only song ever to make Giants Stadium itself the narrator, “raised out of steel in the swamps of Jersey.” It remembers games played and blood spilled, and envisions the stadium’s fate, when “all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust/and all our youth and beauty’s been given to the dust.” Typically, Mr. Springsteen was thinking about work, mortality, and a sense of place, on his way to a chorus where everyone could join in.

He wasn’t overly sentimental. Later, he pointedly called Giants Stadium “the last bastion of affordable sports seating.”

At each of the Giants Stadium concerts, Mr. Springsteen played one of his albums all the way through, and the one he chose for Friday was his 1984 blockbuster, “Born in the U.S.A.” Before he started the title track, he said it was “the song we started out with the first time we entered this arena.”

The album inaugurated Mr. Springsteen’s stadium era, when he strove to draw mass audiences, though still on his own terms. “Born in the U.S.A.” is an album of big riffs and broad strokes. It was also an album about home: a country (the U.S.A.), a hometown (“My Hometown”), and houses holding personal memories. And it was a paradox.

The lyrics, by and large, are about hard times and irreparable losses. Mr. Springsteen had hits with “Born in the U.S.A.,” about a neglected Vietnam veteran, and “Dancing in the Dark,” about depression with the barest glimmer of hope. Yet most of the music is celebratory, brazening through setbacks with rock and roll: theRolling Stones twang of “Darlington County,” the merry carousel-organ chords of “Glory Days,” or the rockabilly boogie of “Working on the Highway,” which ends with its narrator in prison.

The musicians who made “Born in the U.S.A.” are all still in Mr. Springsteen’s E Street Band except for the keyboardist Danny Federici, who died last year. The concert had no celebrity guest performers; this was the home team.

Performing the album 25 years later, Mr. Springsteen sang with deeper nuance; he was more desperate in “Born in the U.S.A.,” angrier in “I’m Goin’ Down.” And the band has slightly bulked up the music without cluttering it. There was a seismic drum interlude by Max Weinberg in “Born in the U.S.A.,” and Nils Lofgren played frantic, searing guitar solos in “Cover Me.” The songs have not faded.

The rest of the concert spanned Mr. Springsteen’s major-label career, reaching back to “Spirit in the Night” from his 1973 debut album. It reaffirmed the band’s camaraderie; Mr. Springsteen kissed both Patti Scialfa, his wife and E Street backup singer, and Clarence Clemons, the band’s saxophonist. The set riffled through styles, from the swinging “Kitty’s Back” (with Roy Bittan splashing jazzy piano chords and Mr. Springsteen playing barbed, bluesy lead guitar), to
the Irish jig of “American Land,” to chiming anthems like “Badlands.”

There was a glimpse of politics, in “Last To Die,” and a rush of redemption in “The Rising” and “Born To Run” (which had Jay Weinberg, Max’s son and occasional E Street Band replacement, on drums.) And there was the constantly renewed bond between Mr. Springsteen and his audience. He strolled walkways where fans grabbed his legs, he picked up signs with requests — choosing “the perfect request for this evening,” the Rolling Stones song “The Last Time” — and he crowd-surfed in “Hungry Heart.” The video screens kept intercutting Mr. Springsteen and the musicians with fans singing, verses and choruses, as if to say the songs were theirs now, too.

They were songs full of hardworking people, and Mr. Springsteen’s last goodbye to his home stadium was to them: he dedicated “Jersey Girl” to “all the crew and staff that’s worked all these years at Giants Stadium.” Some had probably been singing “sha-la-la” too.


Wrecking Ball
Spirit in the Night
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Born in the U.S.A.
Cover Me
Darlington County
Working on the Highway
Downbound Train
I’m On Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
I’m Goin’ Down
Glory Days
Dancing in the Dark
My Hometown
Tougher Than the Rest
The Promised Land
Last To Die
Long Walk Home
The Rising
Born To Run
You Sexy Thing/Raise Your Hand
The Last Time
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Seven Nights To Rock
Kitty’s Back
American Land
Jersey Girl

Alex Rodriguez's game-tying home run is a blast from Yankee Stadium's past

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Saturday, October 10th 2009, 4:00 AM

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09: Alex Rodriguez(notes) #13 of the New York Yankees hits a two run home run in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Now and only now it is like old times at the new place, because of a Game 2 against the Twins that will be remembered, because this game and this night was the way it used to be across the street when getting the last three outs against the Yankees seemed like the hardest baseball job in this world. This is the way it used to be when somebody, Derek Jeter or Paul O'Neill or Brosius or Tino, would make a swing or give the old Stadium another late-game moment and later they would talk about feeling the ground shake. Now this Yankee team does that at the new Stadium. A-Rod and Mark Teixeira went deep and made the ground shake.

It finally ended, one more comeback and one more walk-off night, this one in the playoffs, this one when they could have made real trouble for themselves against the Twins, when Teixeira hit a 3-iron that hit the top of the left-field wall just inside the foul pole and skipped over and made it 4-3 for the Yankees on a roller-coaster baseball night, made it 2-0 for them in this division series, made sure that they did not go back to the Metrodome even with the Twins.

"Thought I hit a double, because of the topspin," Teixeira would say. "Then the crowd started going nuts."

"You don't have to score runs early to win the game," Teixeira would say.

This is the kind of 1-2 stick the Yankees wanted, paid big for, expected from him and from A-Rod. They got all they wanted and all they needed Friday night. But Teixeira's shot isn't the one they will remember from this night. They just won't remember the bottom of the 11th at the Stadium the way they will remember the bottom of the ninth, the way they will remember the biggest swing Alex Rodriguez has ever made for the Yankees, his two-run shot off Twins closer Joe Nathan that took a 3-1 victory for the Minnesota Twins, series about to be even, and evened Game 2.

When it was over Friday night they asked him how much pressure he had taken off himself by getting a couple of RBI in Game 1.

"It made me feel as if I had checked in," he said Friday night, "started contributing."

Then he was asked about the stakes Friday night, the stage.

"It felt really good, because we needed it," he said. "But we've been playing like this all year."

"Since Opening Day there's been magic," he said.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09: Mark Teixeira(notes) #25 of the New York Yankees hits a walk off home run in the eleventh inning against the Minnesota Twins in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Not like Friday night. Teixeira had singled off Nathan to start the bottom of the ninth, a hard single to right. Here came A-Rod. The other night he had ended his epic streak of leaving postseason runners on base, one that stretched all the way back to the Red Sox series in 2004. Forty runners on base, forty runners left on base. Then he knocked in those two the other night and knocked in the first Yankee run Friday night. And it was all just preamble to A-Rod against Nathan, the second fastball he saw from him.

He got the count to 3-1 and then he hit this shot to right-center, and you knew it was gone the way he did and the way the place did. It was one of those. Carlos Gomez, the Twins center fielder, chased it all the way to the "NYY Steak" sign in front of the Yankees bullpen. After that the only guy who was going to catch it was the guy who did: Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey. Right in front of the big "Toyota" sign behind the bullpen. Because A-Rod tried to hit the ball over that.

The Twins would load the bases with nobody out in the top of the 11th before the kid, David Robertson, got out of it. Teixeira's home run was the walk-off shot. But it was the shot from A-Rod that did it Friday night, like the punch that set up everything that would happen later, from a kid relief pitcher and the home run from Teixeira. A-Rod's shot will be remembered best, until the next one.

"It's a pretty unbelievable feeling for a manager when he gets to put those two guys in the lineup," Joe Girardi said. "They have been huge for us all year."

Alex Rodriguez had started to look like the easiest out in the world in October. Now, suddenly, he isn't. He comes up down two runs Friday night and shows everybody that he is a lot more than just Mr.October7th because of a couple of RBI in Game1.

This is the way it was supposed to be when the Yankees took on all that money when they traded for him. He would make swings like this and the Yankees would win big games and finally win it all. Then he couldn't hit in the postseason after breaking in with a big first-round series against the Twins in '04 and then came that remarkable streak of failures in the clutch. So really, this is where he came in, five years later, making swings like this in October for the Yankees against the Twins.

Never a swing like this. Never a moment like this as a Yankee, a night like this. He never made the ground shake, either side of 161st, until now.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Michael Jackson - The Way You Make Me Feel

(Click on title to play video)

Young Hamlet's Agony

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, October 9, 2009

The genius of democracy is the rotation of power, which forces the opposition to be serious -- particularly about things like war, about which until Jan. 20 of this year Democrats were decidedly unserious.

When the Iraq war (which a majority of Senate Democrats voted for) ran into trouble and casualties began to mount, Democrats followed the shifting winds of public opinion and turned decidedly antiwar. But needing political cover because of their post-Vietnam reputation for weakness on national defense, they adopted Afghanistan as their pet war.

"I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as 'the right war' to conventional Democratic wisdom," wrote Democratic consultant Bob Shrum shortly after President Obama was elected. "This was accurate as criticism of the Bush administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy."

Which is a clever way to say that championing victory in Afghanistan was a contrived and disingenuous policy in which Democrats never seriously believed, a convenient two-by-four with which to bash George Bush over Iraq -- while still appearing warlike enough to fend off the soft-on-defense stereotype.

Brilliantly crafted and perfectly cynical, the "Iraq war bad, Afghan war good" posture worked. Democrats first won Congress, then the White House. But now, unfortunately, they must govern. No more games. No more pretense.

So what does their commander in chief do now with the war he once declared had to be won but had been almost criminally under-resourced by Bush?

Perhaps provide the resources to win it?

You would think so. And that's exactly what Obama's handpicked commander requested on Aug. 30 -- a surge of 30,000 to 40,000 troops to stabilize a downward spiral and save Afghanistan the way a similar surge saved Iraq.

That was more than five weeks ago. Still no response. Obama agonizes publicly as the world watches. Why? Because, explains national security adviser James Jones, you don't commit troops before you decide on a strategy.

No strategy? On March 27, flanked by his secretaries of defense and state, the president said this: "Today I'm announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." He then outlined a civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And to emphasize his seriousness, the president made clear that he had not arrived casually at this decision. The new strategy, he declared, "marks the conclusion of a careful policy review."

Conclusion, mind you. Not the beginning. Not a process. The conclusion of an extensive review, the president assured the nation, that included consultation with military commanders and diplomats, with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with our NATO allies and members of Congress.

The general in charge was then relieved and replaced with Obama's own choice, Stanley McChrystal. And it's McChrystal who submitted the request for the 40,000 troops, a request upon which the commander in chief promptly gagged.

The White House began leaking an alternate strategy, apparently proposed (invented?) by Vice President Biden, for achieving immaculate victory with arm's-length use of cruise missiles, Predator drones and special ops.

The irony is that no one knows more about this kind of warfare than Gen. McChrystal. He was in charge of exactly this kind of "counterterrorism" in Iraq for nearly five years, killing thousands of bad guys in hugely successful under-the-radar operations.

When the world's expert on this type of counterterrorism warfare recommends precisely the opposite strategy -- "counterinsurgency," meaning a heavy-footprint, population-protecting troop surge -- you have the most convincing of cases against counterterrorism by the man who most knows its potential and its limits. And McChrystal was emphatic in his recommendation: To go any other way than counterinsurgency would lose the war.

Yet his commander in chief, young Hamlet, frets, demurs, agonizes. His domestic advisers, led by Rahm Emanuel, tell him if he goes for victory, he'll become LBJ, the domestic visionary destroyed by a foreign war. His vice president holds out the chimera of painless counterterrorism success.

Against Emanuel and Biden stand Gen. David Petraeus, the world's foremost expert on counterinsurgency (he saved Iraq with it), and Stanley McChrystal, the world's foremost expert on counterterrorism. Whose recommendation on how to fight would you rely on?

Less than two months ago -- Aug. 17 in front of an audience of veterans -- the president declared Afghanistan to be "a war of necessity." Does anything he says remain operative beyond the fading of the audience applause?

Nobel tops 'SNL' for Obama joke

Gosh, it's been so long ago ... what "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy" did Obama make in the first 12 days?

By Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, October 9, 2009

The most popular headline at the Real Clear Politics Web site the other day was: "Is Obama Becoming A Joke?" With brilliant comedic timing, the very next morning the Norwegians gave him the Nobel Peace Prize. Up next: His stunning victory in this year's Miss World contest. Dec. 12, Johannesburg. You read it here first.

For what, exactly, did he win the Nobel? As the president himself put it:

"When you look at my record, it's very clear what I have done so far. And that is nothing. Almost one year and nothing to show for it. You don't believe me? You think I'm making it up? Take a look at this checklist."

And up popped his record of accomplishment, reassuringly blank.

Oh, no, wait. That wasn't the real President Barack Obama. That was a comedian playing President Obama on "Saturday Night Live." And, for impressionable types who find it hard to tell the difference, CNN – in a broadcast first that should surely have its own category at the Emmys – performed an in-depth "reality check" of the SNL sketch. That's right: They fact-checked the jokes. Seriously. "How much truth is behind all the laughs? Stand by for our reality check," promised Wolf Blitzer, introducing his in-depth report with all the plonking earnestness so cherished by those hapless Americans stuck at Gate 73 for four hours with nothing to watch but the CNN airport channel. Given the network's ever more exhaustive absence of viewers among the non-flight-delayed demographic, perhaps Wolf could make it a regular series:

Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

That was no lady, that was my wife.

"In fact, our sources confirm, his wife is, biologically speaking, a lady. Joining us now is our Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, we all like a joke, but how much truth is behind the laughs?"

Fortunately, the Nobel Committee understands that President Obama's accomplishments are no laughing matter. So they gave him the Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." I assumed this was a reference to his rip-roaring success in winning the Olympic Games for Rio, but as it turns out the deadline for Nobel nominations was way back on Feb. 1.

Obama took office on Jan. 20. Gosh, it's so long ago now. What "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy" did he make in those first 12 days? Bowing to the Saudi king? Giving the British prime minister the Walmart discount box of "Twenty Classic Movies You've Seen A Thousand Times"? "Er, Barack, I've already seen these." "That's OK. They won't work in your DVD player anyway."

For these and other "extraordinary efforts" in "cooperation between peoples", President Obama is now the fastest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in history. Alas, the extraordinary efforts of those first 12 days are already ancient history. Reflecting the new harmony of U.S.-world relations since the administration hit the "reset" button, The Times of London declared the award "preposterous," and Svenska Freds (the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society) called it "shameful." There's something almost quaintly vieux chapeau about the Nobel decision, as if the hopeychangey bumper stickers were shipped surface mail to Oslo and only arrived last week. Everywhere else, they're peeling off: The venerable lefties at Britain's New Statesman currently have a cover story on "Barack W. Bush".

Happily, there are still a few Americans willing to stand by Mister Saturday Night. "I am shocked at the mean-spirited comments," wrote Judi Romaine to The Times in protest at all the naysaying. "I'm afraid I've registered into a very conversative [sic], fear-based world here but I'd like to suggest the incredible notion we all create our worlds in our conversations. What are you building by maligning rather than creating discourses for workability? Bravo to Obama and others working for people, however it appears to cynics."

If that's the language you have to speak when you're "working for people," I'd rather work for a cranky mongoose. Yet to persons who can use phrases like "creating discourses for workability" with a straight face, Obama remains an heroic figure. Like Judi Romaine, he works hard to "create our worlds in our conversations." Why, only the other day, very conversationally, the administration floated the trial balloon that it could live with the Taliban returning to government in Afghanistan. A lot of Afghans won't be living with it, but that's their lookout.

This is – how to put this delicately? – something of a recalibration of Obama's previous position. From about a year after the fall of Baghdad, Democrats adopted the line that Bush's war in Iraq was an unnecessary distraction from the real war, the good war, the one in Afghanistan that everyone – Dems, Europeans, all the nice people – were right behind, 100 percent. No one butched up for the Khyber Pass more enthusiastically than Barack Obama: "As President, I will make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority." (July 15, 2008)

But that was then, and this is now. As the historian Robert Dallek told Obama recently, "War kills off great reform movements." As the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne reminded the president, his supporters voted for him not to win a war but to win a victory on health care and other domestic issues. Obama's priorities lie not in the Hindu Kush but in America: Why squander your presidency on trying to turn an economically moribund feudal backwater into a functioning nation state when you can turn a functioning nation state into an economically moribund feudal backwater?

Gosh, given their many assertions that Afghanistan is "a war we have to win" (Obama to the VFW, August 2008), you might almost think, pace Judi Romaine, that it's the president and water-bearers like Gunga Dionne who are the "cynics." In a recent speech to the Manhattan Institute, Charles Krauthammer pointed out that, in diminishing American power abroad to advance statism at home, Obama and the American people will be choosing decline. There are legitimate questions about our war aims in Afghanistan, and about the strategy necessary to achieve them. But, eight years after being toppled, the Taliban will see their return to power as a great victory over the Great Satan, and so will the angry young men from Toronto to Yorkshire to Chechnya to Indonesia who graduated from Afghanistan's Camp Jihad during the 1990s. And so will the rest of the world: They will understand that the modern era's ordnungsmacht (the "order maker") has chosen decline.

Barack Obama will have history's most crowded trophy room, but his presidency is shaping up as a tragedy – for America and the world.


Obama's real Afghanistan options

New York Post
October 9, 2009

PRESIDENT Obama faces three options in Afghanistan. Hints from the White House suggest that he's going to choose the worst: a non-decision decision.

Leaving Afghanistan entirely is not one of the options. We need boots on the ground. Even Obama understands that.

The question is: How many boots? Here are the three broad choices on the table:

The McChrsytal Plan: Surge 40,000 more US troops from a weary Army to renew the failing effort to apply our counter-productive counterinsurgency theory -- which attempts to cure cancer with herbal tea.

The Biden Strategy: Focus ruthlessly on the destruction of al Qaeda and its auxiliaries across the border in Pakistan or wherever they may appear in Afghanistan. This is the counter-terror practice that's worked for 3,000 years.

The "Vote Present" Strategy: Send a token increase of 10,000 or so troops, make cosmetic changes to the mission, try to please everyone partially -- and kick the can down the road.

The evidence on the ground, the lessons of history, and our real security needs strongly favor the Biden approach, but giving Gen. Stan McChrystal the full surge he wants would be far better than "more of the same, with new slogans."

This president has to make a decision. A real decision. But it looks like he's going to wiggle, squirm and dodge, then go in front of the teleprompter to vote "present" again.

Worsening the muddle, the troop-level debate is being disgracefully politicized on all sides.

Obama's seeking the least politically damaging choice, rather than the most effective military approach. He's less concerned with winning than with avoiding blame.

Shameful, shameful, shameful.

Meanwhile, too many conservatives are doing to Obama what they rightly decried when the left did it to Bush: Dems used Iraq as a club to beat Bush; now Republicans want to wield Afghanistan against Obama. Hey, this is about our national security and the lives of those in uniform -- not scoring cheap political points.

Shameful, shameful, shameful.

Of course, there are also genuine disagreements. One spat that goes largely ignored is within the military.

Pundits assume that those in uniform automatically support Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops. It ain't so, folks. Of the numerous uniformed contacts who've reached out to me -- soldiers and Marines of all ranks -- only two backed the McChrsytal plan. One of those was a close subordinate of the general's, calling from Kabul.

There's a deeper, long-term problem hidden here. Our military nurtures brilliant tacticians and operators, but no longer produces strategists. It hasn't given us a serious global thinker in 50 years. We're great at solving battlefield problems, but poor at grasping the greater context of war.

McChrystal's a mighty tactician and a fierce operator. But, elevated to strategic command, he couldn't think beyond the Army's minimum-violence/maximum-aid counterinsurgency doctrine -- which just doesn't work. His solution to failure? Try harder. Send more troops. He's a hero out of his depth.

McChrystal is performing superbly in the lethal counter-terror mission at the heart of the "AfPak" crisis (the term "AfPak" acknowledges the relative non-existence of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan). He's terrorizing al Qaeda in Pakistan's wild northwest.

But he's floundering in Afghanistan itself, where he's trapped himself in other men's bad ideas. We promoted a superb field officer above his competence level when we tried to turn this warrior into a strategist.

On the plus side, both the administration and Congress seem to have figured out two key things at last. First, Pakistan's the big game. Second, aid can't continue to come as blank checks. If the Paks want the bucks and the bullets, they have to perform.

The Pakistanis are balking at our conditions. (Hey, it's our money, dudes.) They liked the old slush-fund approach. But it's time that Islamabad -- which still supports its own favored terrorists -- faces up to the fact that, while Islamist extremism is a bitter annoyance to us, it's a mortal danger to Pakistan.

The Pakistanis seemed to get it earlier this year, when a Taliban franchise appeared within commuting distance of the capital. They're finally fighting. Because it's their fight.

But they still won't go after "their" Taliban or the terrorists who target India. Our relationship's an affair of convenience, and we'd better not mistake it for a marriage.

For our part, we've shattered al Qaeda and have a chance to destroy it. But we need to recall the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place -- to slay our enemies. That's the only thing that works, and the only thing that matters.

If Obama tries to split the difference in Afghanistan, he'll have made the worst possible choice. And he won't be able to blame Bush anymore.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ave atque vale

By Mark Steyn
Wednesday, 07 October 2009
from the October 5th issue of National Review

I was overseas when Senator Edward Kennedy died, and a European reporter asked me what my “most vivid memory” of the great man was. I didn’t like to say, because it didn’t seem quite the appropriate occasion. But my only close encounter with the Lion of the Senate was many years ago at Logan Airport late one night. A handful of us, tired and bedraggled, were standing on the water shuttle waiting to be ferried across the harbor to downtown Boston. A sixth gentleman hopped aboard, wearing the dark-suited garb of the advance man, and had a word in a crew-member’s ear, and so we waited, and waited, in the chilly Atlantic air, wondering which eminence was the cause of our delay. And suddenly there he was on the quay, looming out of the fog. He stepped aboard. The small launch lurched and rocked, waves splashed the deck, luggage danced in the air, and the five of us all grabbed for whatever rail was to hand as the realization dawned that we’d been signed up for a watery excursion with Senator Kennedy.

This was Ted at his most ravaged, big and bloated, before his new wife (also in attendance) had had a chance to get his excesses under control. One of the recurring refrains of the weeks of eulogies was his apparently amazing affinity for “ordinary people”, as if this is now some kind of personal achievement for a United States senator, who after all can’t be expected to have the same careless ease with the common run of humanity as, say, one of the more inbred late Ottoman sultans. But Ted, we were assured, was great with “ordinary people”. Not that night, he wasn’t. He stood in the center and glanced at us, awkwardly, in the way of celebrities who find themselves outside their comfort zone, and aren’t sure the “ordinary people” know quite what the rules are. I assumed he’d offer a casual, “Hey, sorry for keeping you waiting”, and then the roar of the motor would have prevented further conversation. But he said nothing, which, given that the other passengers were his constituents, struck me as a little odd.

Years later, I saw him again, in action at the Senate. Well, not in “action”. It was the impeachment trial of President Clinton, and for some reason the emirs of Incumbistan had been prevailed upon to come in on a Saturday for the proceedings. Under the convoluted trial procedures, members of the Senate had to submit questions to their respective party leaders, who then passed them to the Chief Justice, who then read them out. So the pages were run off their feet ferrying lethal interjections from lead Democrat saboteurs Tom Harkin and Patrick Leahy up to the Minority Leader Tom Daschle. The page had barely dropped off Senator Harkin's question when the wheezing, heaving senator from Massachusetts called him over. From up in the gallery, I thought, “Ah-ha!” I was there to cover the trial for various British and Commonwealth newspapers, and, as Ted Kennedy’s the only senator any foreigners have heard of, his contribution to date had been disappointing: He had spluttered to life in the preceding weeks only to cough Mount St Helens-scale eruptions across the chamber. He declined to cover his coughs. Indeed, he gave the vague sense of assuming that’s what the rest of the Democrat caucus was there for. I remember Blanche Lincoln shooting him a disapproving look after one Niagara of saliva came her way.

So, on this Saturday afternoon, his unexpected contribution to the trial would clearly be a major part of my coverage. What devastating interjection, I wondered, would he be springing on the prosecutors? The page padded silently over to the senator’s seat in the back. Ted whispered to him, and the page made his way to the end of the row, then worked his way along the row in front, squeezing past senators until he was directly facing Ted’s desk. He then dropped to his knees - which, as it turned out, was the nearest the Clinton trial would ever get to a re-staging of the acts at issue. But instead he leaned under the desk and adjusted Ted’s footrest by an inch and a half. The senior senator from Massachusetts seemed satisfied, and the page was squeezing his way back past the other senators when Ted motioned him to return. Ignoring a frantic Pat Leahy waving some critical note for Tom Daschle, the page reversed course, squeezed past Senator Graham of Florida yet again and dropped to his knees to move Ted’s footrest another smidgeonette. He then rushed off to pick up Senator Leahy’s note. Senator Kennedy didn’t thank him.

I have been received at Buckingham Palace, and over the years I’ve also met the Queen of Spain, the Queen of the Netherlands and various other Royal personages. And I can’t imagine any of them demanding of their footmen what Ted Kennedy did. But then they’re only Euro royalty, not Massachusetts royalty. “At the end of the day,” said Evan Bayh of his colleague, “he cared most about the things that matter to ordinary people.” This was, observed many a eulogist, his penance for Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopechne – or, as the Aussie Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair put it, “She died so that the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act might live.” This, of course, is the classic trade-off of monarchical societies throughout the ages: The sovereign’s industrial-scale exercise of his droit de seigneur with whatever comely serving wench crosses his path is mitigated by his paternalistic compassion toward the humblest of his subjects.

Strange how the monarchical urge persists even in a republic two-and-a-third centuries old.

Time to mothball the Camelot footstools? I hope so.

Abandoning the Most Vulnerable

Britain moves closer to legalizing assisted suicide.

by Wesley J. Smith
The Weekly Standard
10/12/2009, Volume 015, Issue 04

On July 4, 1995, Myrna Lebov, age 52, committed suicide in her Manhattan apartment. The case generated national headlines when her husband, George Delury, announced that he had assisted Lebov's suicide at her request because she was suffering the debilitations of progressive multiple sclerosis.

Delury became an instant celebrity. He was acclaimed as a dedicated husband willing to risk jail to help his beloved wife achieve her desired end. The assisted-suicide movement set up a defense fund and renewed calls for legalization. Delury made numerous television appearances and was invited to speak to a convention of the American Psychiatric Association. He signed a deal for a book, later published under the title But What If She Wants to Die? Delury soon copped a plea to attempted manslaughter and served a few months in jail.

Had Delury acted in England or Wales today--rather than in New York in 1995--he almost surely would not have been prosecuted. Even though assisted suicide remains a crime in the U.K., newly published British guidelines have effectively decriminalized some categories of assisted suicide by instructing local prosecutors when bringing charges in such deaths is to be deemed "not in the public interest."

The guidelines were developed in response to a ruling by the U.K.'s highest court. A woman named Debbie Purdy--who like Lebov has progressive multiple sclerosis--plans to kill herself in one of Switzerland's suicide clinics if her suffering becomes too much to bear. Wanting to be accompanied by her husband, but fearful he could be prosecuted, she sued, demanding to be told by law enforcement ahead of time whether he would face charges.

Purdy won the day. Noting that other recent cases of "suicide tourism" (as such trips taken to Switzerland to die are called) had not been prosecuted, Britain's Law Lords ordered the head prosecutor to define the facts and circumstances under which the law would--and would not--be enforced.

The resulting guidelines declared that assisted suicides of people with a "terminal illness," a "severe and incurable disability," or "a severe degenerative physical condition"--whether occurring overseas or at home--should not be prosecuted if the assister was a close friend or relative of the deceased, was motivated by compassion, and the victim "had a clear, settled, and informed wish to commit suicide," among other criteria--exactly the circumstances Delury said motivated him to facilitate Lebov's death.

What do these guidelines teach us about assisted suicide? First, "death with dignity" is not just about terminal illness: It is about fear of disability and debilitation. A husband assisting the suicide of his wife, who wanted to die because their son became a quadriplegic, would be prosecuted under the guidelines, but he wouldn't face charges for assisting the suicide of the son.

Second, the guidelines prove that assisted suicide is not a medical act. Nothing in them requires a physician's review or participation.

Third, the court ruling and guidelines illustrate how the rule of law is crumbling. What matters most today is not principle, but emotion-driven personal narrative.

Perhaps most alarmingly, decriminalizing assisted suicide in these cases sends the insidious societal message that the lives of the dying and disabled are not as worthy of protecting as those of others. In this sense, the guidelines are an abandonment of society's most vulnerable citizens, exposing at least some to the acute danger of being coerced into death by relatives or friends.

For proof, we need only turn again to George Delury. Here, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.

Delury made a crucial mistake that changed his favorable public perception. Perhaps because he was planning to write a book, he kept a computer diary of the events leading up to -Lebov's death--and its content shattered any pretense that he was motivated by love or compassion. To the contrary, George Delury put Myrna Lebov out of his misery.

The diary showed that Lebov did not have an unwavering and long-stated desire to die, as Delury had claimed. Rather, as often happens with people struggling with debilitating illnesses, her mood waxed and waned. One day she would be suicidal--but the next day she was engaged in life. Delury, moreover, encouraged his wife to kill herself, or as he put it, "to decide to quit." He researched her antidepressant medication to see if it could kill her, and when she took less than the prescribed amount, which in itself could cause depression, he stashed the surplus until he had enough for a poisonous brew.

That wasn't all. He worked assiduously at destroying Lebov's will to live by making her feel worthless and a burden. On March 28, 1995, Delury wrote in his diary that he planned to tell his wife:

I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out of my [sic] like a vampire and nobody cares. In fact, it would appear that I am about to be cast in the role of villain because I no longer believe in you.

Delury later admitted on the NBC program Dateline that he had shown his wife that very passage.

That Delury wanted Lebov to kill herself is beyond dispute. On May 1 he wrote:

Sheer hell. Myrna is more or less euphoric. She spoke of writing a book today. [Lebov was a published author, having written Not Just a Secretary in 1984.] She's interested in everything, wants everything explained, and believes that every bit of bad news has some way out. .  .  . It's all too much.

On June 10, Delury's diary described an argument with Lebov that started when she left a message to her niece that "things are looking splendid":

I blew up! Shouting into the phone that everything was just the same, it was simply Myrna feeling different. I told Myrna that she had hurt me very badly, not my feelings, but physically and emotionally. "Now what will Beverly [Lebov's sister] think? That I'm lying about how tough things are here." I put it to Myrna bluntly--"If you won't take care of me, I won't take care of you."

On July 3, 1995, the day before Myrna's death, Delury wrote:

Myrna is now questioning the efficacy of solution, a sure sign that she will not take [the overdose] tonight and doesn't want to. So, confusion and hesitation strike again. If she changes her mind tonight and does decide to go ahead, I will be surprised.

Finally, on July 4, Delury got what he wanted: Lebov swallowed the overdose of antidepressant medicine that her husband prepared for her and died.

Once the contents of his diary were publicly revealed, though, Delury's defense of "compassion" became inoperative, which is why he accepted the plea bargain.

That still wasn't the end of the story. In But What If She Wants to Die?--published after double jeopardy prevented another prosecution--Delury wrote that he hadn't just mixed -Lebov's drugs, but also smothered her with a plastic bag because he was worried that the amount she ingested might not be sufficient to kill her. Thus, Myrna Lebov didn't really die by suicide: She was killed by her husband. (Delury died by his own hand in 2007, at the age of 74.)

Thanks to the assisted suicide guidelines, potential Myrna -Lebovs in Britain are now at the mercy of future George Delurys. And those Delurys know full well that, so long as they don't keep inculpating diaries, they will have little trouble convincing prosecutors that their motive was compassion, a claim readily believed in a society so fearful and disdainful of disability. Such are the consequences of the state prosecutor's decision that protecting the dying and infirm from assisted suicide is no longer in the public interest.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and consults for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide and the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


By Ann Coulter
October 7, 2009

(18) America's lower life expectancy compared to countries with socialist health care proves that their medical systems are superior.

President Obama has too much intellectual pride to make such a specious argument, so instead we have to keep hearing it from his half-wit supporters.

These Democrats are all over the map on where precisely Americans place in the life-expectancy rankings. We're 24th, according to Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Barbara Boxer; 42nd, according to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; 35th, according to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; and 47th, according to Rep. Dennis Kucinich. So the U.S. may have less of a "life expectancy" problem than a "Democratic math competency" problem.

But also, as described in last week's column, the citizenry's health is not the same thing as the citizenry's health care system.

Besides America's high rate of infant mortality -- based on biology and lifestyle choices, not medical care -- Americans are also more likely to overeat or smoke than people in other developed nations. And the two biggest killers in the Western world are obesity and smoking.

Liberals shouldn't have to be reminded how fat Americans are, inasmuch as they are always chortling about it. A 2004 New York Times article leeringly quoted a foreign doctor, saying: "We Europeans, whenever we came to America, we always noticed the enormous number of obese people on the streets." I note that these are the same people who openly worship Michael Moore.

Somewhat surprisingly to those of us who have long admired France for its humanitarian smoking laws, until the mid-1980s, Americans had had the highest rate of smoking in the developed world. This makes patriotic Americans like me wonder if there's a way to get Michael Moore to start smoking. (You know, just to keep his weight down or whatever.)

To be fair, the French are still being exposed to large amounts of smoke due to all the cars being set on fire by Muslims.

In 2003, America led the world in smoking-related deaths among women -- followed by Hungary. Simply excluding all smoking-related deaths from the World Health Organization's comparison of life expectancies at age 50 in 20 developed nations would raise U.S. women's life expectancy from 17th to 7th place and lift American men from 14th to 9th place.

Americans are also more likely to die in military combat than the whimpering, pant-wetting cowards our military has spent the past 70 years defending -- I mean, than "our loyal European allies." This is a health risk Europeans have managed to protect themselves against by living in a world that contains the United States military.

These are risk factors that have nothing to do with the health care system. To evaluate the quality of our health care, you have to compare apples to apples by looking at outcomes for specific medical conditions.

Although the United States has a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes compared to Europe -- because of lifestyle choices and genetics -- it also has better survival rates across the board for all these medical problems.

The most revealing international comparisons look at cancer survival rates, because of the universally extensive record-keeping for this disease.

A European study found that, compared to 18 European countries, the U.S. had strikingly higher five-year survival rates in all 12 cancers studied, except for one: stomach cancer. Even there, the survival rates were close -- and the difference was attributed to the location of the cancer in the stomach.

For all types of cancers, European men have only a 47.3 percent five-year survival rate, compared to 66.3 percent survival rate for American men. The greatest disparity was in prostate cancer, which American men are 28 percent more likely to survive than European men.

European women are only 55.8 percent likely to live five years after contracting any kind of cancer, compared to 62.9 percent for American women.

In five cancers -- breast, prostate, thyroid, testicular and skin melanoma -- American survival rates are higher than 90 percent. Europeans hit a 90 percent survival rate for only one of those -- testicular cancer.

Most disturbingly, many cancers in Europe are discovered only upon the victim's death -- twice as many as in the U.S. Consequently, the European study simply excluded cancers that were first noted on the death certificate, so as not to give the U.S. too great an advantage.

There are no national registries for heart disease, as there are for cancer, making survival-rate comparisons more difficult. But treatments can be measured and, again, Americans are far more likely to be on medication for heart disease and high cholesterol -- medications that extend the lives of millions, developed by those evil, profit-grubbing American drug companies.

To get to the comparison they like (America is not as good as Sweden!), liberals have to slip in the orange of "life expectancy," and hope no one will mention monster truck races, Krispy Kremes and Virginia Slims. As the old saying goes: Life doesn't last longer in socialist countries; it just feels like it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Film Review- Capitalism: A Love Story

Movie Takes
Capitalism: A Love Story
By on 10.6.09 @ 6:02AM
The American Spectator

There is one scene in Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story where its writer, director, hero and sole credited actor is examining the copy of the Constitution that is on display in the National Archives. He asks a guard -- this is the kind of thing Mr. Moore routinely does for effect, pretending he doesn't know that the guards are not constitutional experts -- where in the document before him there is any mention of free markets, free enterprise or capitalism. He can't seem to find those words. Could it be that they're not there? And, if they're not, does that mean that they're not constitutionally protected? Not, of course, that one could imagine its mattering to him if they were. But without a specific mention, presumably, we must suppose that these "evil" things -- he has the testimony of two lefty priests and a bishop to that effect -- must have been snuck into America's constitutional arrangements at a later date by, well, capitalists -- or other, equally unscrupulous sorts.

In fact, he makes an interesting point, if he but knew it. For the reason "capitalism" is not in the U.S. Constitution is that no one at the time of the American founding had ever heard of any such thing. Private property, of course, they knew about, and there is quite a lot about that in the Constitution -- especially about protecting it from government predation. But capitalism? No, sorry. Doesn't ring any bells. How could it? The term was a later invention of socialists like Mr. Moore, themselves a new thing beneath the heavens, seeking to ideologize the world as they found it. The point was to represent reality itself as nothing but a less attractive rival to a suppositious unreality that they called socialism. If once people accepted that this nasty sounding "capitalism," carrying with it all the sorrows and disappointments of real life, were on all fours with the much nicer-sounding "socialism," its historical charge sheet at that point quite blank, they might begin to get the idea that this illusory mental construct was an intellectually legitimate alternative reality.

It's not. If we've learned anything from a century in which the record of economic failure of governments calling themselves "socialist" is exceeded only by the hundred million-odd souls numbered in their necrology we've learned that much. "Capitalism" is just the socialist word for life -- life in its natural state, life untrammeled by regulations imposed by bureaucratic rent-seekers, life that, even under socialism, goes on in the form of more or less tolerated black markets. Yet, amazingly, we remain still so oblivious to this act of lefty legerdemain that conservatives continue to invite Mr. Moore to pin on them all the sufferings of the economically deprived or imprudent by proudly calling themselves "capitalists." Don't we know that capitalists are the people who cozen people out of their homes by making loans to them that they can't afford to repay? This is just one of the many sins that Mr. Moore attributes to these mythical monsters, the diabolically clever exponents of a "system" designed to make a few people rich and the mass of people poor. For him, "capitalism" is an evil force with supernatural powers, and the pantomime theomachy between this "capitalism" and Mooreism, which is fitfully and inconsistently identified with "socialism," here finds a new lease of life.

Or at least it seeks one. Whether or not any significant number of people are going to take Mr. Moore's movie as anything but the joke he, in effect, admits it is remains to be seen. For it seems to me that even the most convinced socialists will be hard put to it to find any coherence in this random selection of crooked or rapacious business practices, first person accounts of the sufferings of those who have borrowed imprudently and had to pay the price, moralizing about labor markets that pay what he regards as too little to some and too much to others and sneering about the politicians whose 2008 bailout of the financial markets he calls "a financial coup d'├ętat."
It's clear enough what Michael Moore is against, which is poverty and suffering and shady dealing. It's also pretty clear that he thinks those who don't agree with him about what to do about these things actually like them and want there to be more of them. Not so clear is the chain of reasoning by which he arrives at such an extraordinary conclusion, and not clear at all is how, in practice, the non-capitalist alternative he proposes (he is oddly shy about using the word "socialist") would work.

Argument, in other words, is not Mr. Moore's strong suit, as those who have sat through his previous films -- Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko and so forth -- may be aware. Like those pictures, Capitalism: A Love Story is a melodrama, and like all good melodramas it has not only an impossibly wicked villain but an impossibly good hero. And if the villain is the spectral capitalist, the hero has an embodied existence in the shape of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, we are told, had planned to pass into law a "Second Bill of Rights" which would by legislative fiat have made everyone healthy, wealthy and educated, if he had but lived long enough to do it. Alas, he died only just over a year after announcing this revolutionary idea and presumably had other things to do during that year. In Mr. Moore's words, "none of this came to pass. Instead, we became this" -- and so we cut from the old newsreel of FDR to color news footage of the Katrina disaster. It's that darned capitalism again!

Wherever you find human misery, there it will be, apparently. Capitalism makes the winds to blow and the waters to rise, and only an act of government can stop it! "We all deserve FDR's dream, and it's a crime that we don't have it," says Mr. Moore's peroration. Does anybody really believe anything so preposterous? You wouldn't think so, but our political debate is now so debased that lots of people apparently do. At least a lot of the people who go to movies. A bunch of them applauded at the end on the night I saw it. They presumably believed him when he said that "Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it." Well, if people are suckers enough to believe that all the world's problems are caused by a few "evil" capitalists, then they will also be sucker enough to believe that the problems can be put to rights by passing laws against capitalism. The question is, does Michael Moore believe it, or is he just playing with us?

I wonder if he knows himself.

Consider, his sub-title: "A Love Story." In a way it is, too. Mr. Moore suffuses stories from his own childhood in Flint, Michigan, with a nostalgic glow. His father had a good job in a General Motors spark plug factory, made a good living and raised an apparently happy family. Dad had four weeks' summer vacation every year and a new car every three years. Little Michael even treasures fond memories of the nuns at his parochial school. Those were the good old days, and if the motor industry, along with Flint, has fallen on hard times, it has to be somebody's fault.
That's what capitalism was invented for. F. A. Hayek thought that socialism was a species of nostalgia for an imagined past, and this movie seems to bear him out. Its best moment comes during one of Mr. Moore's stunts where he's asking random people on Wall Street if they can explain credit default swaps to him. "Can you give me any advice?" he cries.

One of the passers by says to him, "Yeah. Don't make any more movies."

All credit to him for leaving that in the final cut. Now he should take the advice.

- James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, media essayist for the New Criterion, and The American Spectator's movie and culture critic. His new book, Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, was recently published by Encounter Books.

Monday, October 05, 2009

She Could Have Died, Roman

by Judith Reisman

I’ve written often about pedophile Polanski, but since he was arrested in Zurich as a fugitive fleeing the U.S. for child rape, here’s a quick review.

In 1977, filmmaker Roman Polanski tricked, stripped, drugged, raped and brutally sodomized a 13-year old, 7th grade girl. Convicted of these atrocities, he fled the U.S. to work and play in freer, gayer France. He escaped because once the judge got some additional facts, his plea bargain (to save the child additional media attack) was deemed invalid.

His biographer, Thomas Kiernan reports Polanski’s crimes in The Roman Polanski Story. Roman “broke open a bottle of champagne … The youngster hesitated, telling him that the last time she had drunk champagne it had made her violently ill. She was asthmatic, she said that the bubbly had brought on an asthma attack."

Polanski tells her French champagne "could never hurt you." She drinks a glass to placate him. Soon "she felt her lungs beginning to constrict." Polanski says "jump in hot tub … It make you feel better."

"I really don't feel good," she says, "[S]houldn't've had champagne… She complained again about her dizziness and shortness of breath … He gave her a tablet and told her to take it, assuring her that it would counter the effects of the champagne."

The police report continues. “[D]utifully, the girl swallowed the tablet.” He didn’t “tell her that the tablet was not an antiasthma pill …but a high-potency [illegal] Quaalude from his own pocket … The girl was in a deep champagne-Quaalude daze … slipping into unconsciousness."

"She was shivering and ashen and weeping … I'm sick," she mumbled drunkenly. I want to go home…my father…gasping for breath in shrill, raspy heaves. Mucus spilled from her nostrils."

She lost bladder control and is feverish. Polanski worries that he might be stuck with a “naked American teenager …in the throes of a potentially fatal seizure." He "wondered whether he should call an ambulance or the police. He decided to wait.”

Why no ambulance!! In a film, should she die, his Hollywood friends might help dump the body.

Still, not to waste a rape opportunity, Polanski painfully sodomized and raped the half unconscious child. "With her breathing still impaired by the effects of the Quaalude and champagne, she immediately gagged and retched. She tried to scream but couldn't produce a sound."

Eventually, she revived. He drove the child home, leaving her at the front door.

Now those who have followed Roman know he regularly rapes, well, sodomizes, children. Kiernan reported that "Roman just couldn't understand why screwing a kid should be of concern to anyone. He's screwed plenty of girls younger than this one, he said, and nobody gave a damn."

Roman was a victim of our "excessively prudish petite bourgeoisie."

I remember a French photo story of Roman with pubescent girls he seduced and dumped. Kiernan quotes Roman shouting, "I love young girls … very young girls."

To offset people’s general revulsion, Polanski has a pubic relations campaign that constantly plays on his tragic WWII childhood. He was born Jewish. He lived during the Holocaust. (In my view, he filmed The Pianist to exploit the Holocaust as a self promoting ‘pity Polanski’ PR ad.) In fact, Roman went to make a film in Israel, but the Israeli government wouldn’t let him set foot on Israeli soil.

Elsewhere I’ve written of Polanski’s response to the murder of his young wife, Sharon Tate, by Charles Manson’s satanic cult. In brief.

Since Roman used girls in their marriage bed, the spousal relationship was, well, tense. Roman sold pictures of his naked wife to Playboy to tantalize millions of lusting men (was Manson one of the millions?). When she was pregnant, Polanski humiliated Tate in public, calling her “a dumb hag” and similar endearments.

Polanski partied in London, often with his Arab sheiks. He planned to remain until the baby was born. "Then maybe I could go back and find Sharon the way she used to be."

His biographer says he was "sipping champagne, passing a marijuana cigarette around when he heard his wife and baby were stabbed to death in a satanic ritual” by the Manson cult. Poor Polanski flew back to "pose at the entrance of the death house for Life magazine a week after the slaughter. He charged Life $5,000 for this picture."


Recapping. In 1977, filmmaker Roman Polanski, an infamous Hollywood pedophile, got caught. He'd done nothing more than drug, rape, sodomize and almost kill a 7th-grade child. Based on his sadistic sexual history, there was nothing new in that, so he was outraged by his arrest.

Convicted of his ruthless near sadosexual murder, the mean judge told Polanski he could get 50 years -- but he’d be paroled certainly.

Thus did Roman flee to France to continue being a lionized pedophile filmmaker.

The Swiss arrested him recently as a fugitive from the U.S. If he is returned to California and sent to the clink -- with all those big, mean guys for his remaining years -- well, that actually starts to sound like justice.

- Dr. Reisman is a former principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Justice, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Her last book was Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences—The Red Queen and the Grand Scheme. She runs

Daddy Sang Bass

Questions for Rosanne Cash

The New York Times
October 4, 2009

Photo: Christian Oth for The New York Times

On Tuesday, you’re releasing your 14th album, “The List,” a stirring leap into the past whose title refers to an actual list of 100 mostly country songs compiled by your father, Johnny Cash, in 1973 in an effort to expand your teenage taste in music beyond the Beatles. He realized that I lacked something essential about my own musical genealogy, and he made this list for me. He said, “This is a template for excellence.” He would play the songs for me on his guitar, and I sought out the records in the years afterward.

Did you have a good relationship with him? It’s hard to be close to a drug addict when they’re active. He was erratic and withdrawn. But when I was 17, he said, Come with me, and I left the day after I graduated high school, went on the road with him. It was wonderful. He was clean and sober by that time. That’s when he wrote the list for me, on the bus.

As an acclaimed songwriter who is just releasing your first album composed entirely of other peoples’ songs, do you think “The List” will bring new life to old classics and raise the country-music consciousness of a generation of kids? Not just young people. I have a 50-year-old, culturally astute girlfriend who heard a recording of “Sea of Heartbreak” and said, Did you write that? I said, Hardly. Not even close. The definitive version was recorded by Don Gibson in 1961.

My favorite song on the album is “Heartaches by the Number,” which you perform with Elvis Costello. You also sing duets with Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright. Don’t you know any female performers? I did ask Neko Case, and she sang with me on a song that’s just on iTunes. We have “Satisfied Mind.”

You were born in Memphis but grew up in California. People have this impression that I grew up on a hay bale in the South. But I was steeped in Southern California pop and rock. I was president of my Beatles fan club when I was 11 and living in Ventura.
What led you to settle in Manhattan? You know that saying “We always thought she was kind of weird, but it turns out she’s just a New Yorker.”

Your husband, the composer John Leventhal, produced your new album and accompanies you on guitar and keyboards. He also wrote the arrangements, which is very old school; a lot of times in modern recordings people just bash things out. John is the opposite of me, solid and practical, a good Jewish husband. He helped me become more earthbound. I was always dreamy, thinking about art and not knowing where to buy stamps. I have a terror of running out of stamps.

You don’t need to worry about stamps anymore in the age of e-mail. I send letters. I always write a letter if somebody dies, if somebody loses somebody.

That’s admirable. One of my great regrets is that I haven’t written more sympathy letters. I have regrets. I don’t understand people who say they don’t have any regrets. I regret not asking my dad what the songs of the list would be from 1973 to 2003. I regret not asking him to expand the list.

Two years ago, you underwent brain surgery, for a structural abnormality. Brain surgery is not for sissies, in case you were wondering. I had 19 staples up the back of my head. My morbid sense of humor really got me through it. I went to the hospital singing, “If I only had a brain.”

We should mention you’re the mother of five children, the youngest of whom is 10. I could just eat him for breakfast. He’s so great. I can’t tell you how many Lego embedded in my feet with this child. I’m walking through the living room with Lego everywhere.

You’re pretty cheerful for someone whose new album takes us into “this sea of tears, sea of heartbreak.” Cheerfulness is a choice, and I realized at some point that I didn’t want to become a bitter old woman.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Obama's Looking Glass

When Believing Is Not Enough

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Last Thursday, the president's "engagement" with Iran began. This Wednesday, the U.S. war in Afghanistan will enter its ninth year. And U.S. foreign policy is entering a White Queen phase.

In "Through the Looking Glass," Alice says that she is unable to believe the White Queen's claim to be 101 years old. The Queen responds, "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes." Alice: "There's no use trying, one can't believe impossible things." Queen: "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Regarding Afghanistan, President Obama might believe he can effect a Houdini-like escape, uninjured, from the box his words have built. Regarding Iran, he seems to believe that its leaders can be talked or coerced (by economic sanctions) out of their long, costly pursuit of nuclear weapons by convincing them that such weapons do not serve Iran's "security."

On March 27, the president announced "a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." He said that his "clear and focused goal" was to prevent the Taliban from toppling Afghanistan's government and to prevent al-Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan or Pakistan. U.S. forces "will take the fight to the Taliban" in Afghanistan's "south" and "east," but "at the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces."

On Aug. 17, the president reiterated his belief that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is "not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." This was two months after he replaced the U.S. commander there with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, directing him to assess the resources required for the strategy. The general has done that. But the president does not yet want to discuss troop numbers. Why not?

The president's national security adviser, Jim Jones, a former four-star Marine general, told The Post that before deciding on troop levels, the focus must be on strategy: "The bumper sticker here is 'Strategy Before Resources.' " So, is the president reassessing his March 27 strategy? If so, why?

Perhaps because fraud devalued Afghanistan's election. But it was not a sunburst of new information that President Hamid Karzai is corrupt. Or did Obama believe, as only the White Queen could, that Karzai had reformed?

Granted, counterinsurgency -- especially when it includes the nation- building implicit in McChrystal's assessment -- requires a reliable partner. But, again, Karzai was a known commodity on March 27. Besides, a presidential strategy is half-baked if its author decides it is dubious after its first collision with difficulty.

Regarding Iran, what did we learn when we learned about the secret nuclear facility in the tunnel? That Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons? We knew that. That Iran lies? We knew that, too. We did, however, learn something when the president, at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh, went public with his knowledge of the facility.

On one side of him stood France's president. On the other side stood Britain's prime minister, who said that Iran's behavior would "shock and anger the whole international community." Not quite. The leaders of Russia and China were not standing with them.

China has contracted to provide Iran with gasoline, a commodity that could be central to what Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls "severe" sanctions that he thinks might cause Iran to change course. Russia's real leader, Vladimir Putin, was not even in Pittsburgh. Russia's Potemkin president, Dmitry Medvedev, did say something that only the White Queen could believe means that Russia will participate in serious pressure on Iran: Sanctions are not "the best means of obtaining results" but "if all possibilities" are exhausted, "we could consider international sanctions." Over to you, Queen.

Gates says "the only way" to prevent a nuclear-capable Iran "is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons, as opposed to strengthened." But to accept that formulation requires accepting two propositions that would tax the White Queen's powers of belief.

One is that possession of nuclear weapons would make Iran less secure. Question: If Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons in March 2003, would the United States have invaded Iraq? Iran's leaders probably think that they know the answer.

The other proposition is that Iran's regime seeks nuclear weapons merely to enhance the nation's security and not also for regional hegemony or the enjoyment of the enlarged status that comes from being a nuclear power. To believe that, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.

The long-awaited U2 concert: Bigger than big

U2 played its first-ever Raleigh show Saturday night, and it was a pretty spectacular affair. Here's the review; and be sure to check out this excellent photo gallery, shot by ace N&O photographer Travis Long.

By David Menconi
News & Observer Staff writer
Submitted by dmenconi on 10/04/2009 - 00:30

RALEIGH -- A few songs into U2's Saturday night show at Carter-Finley Stadium, Bono paused to survey his domain. And he addressed the packed house with the egomaniacal charm we've all come to know and love.

"We've got old songs, we've got new songs, we've got songs we can barely play," he cracked. "And we've got a spaceship!"

Yes, it was hard not to notice that. At a time when pretty much everything seems to be in contraction mode, U2 has rolled the dice with what has to be the most elaborately ginormous stage setup in rock history -- a huge claw-shaped beast that looked like a vertigo-inducing theme-park ride.

It seemed impossible that any band, even one as outsized as U2, wouldn't get swallowed up by such surroundings. But somehow, they pulled it off through sheer force of will. This business of being the biggest band on earth clearly matters a great deal to U2, and they've put this gargantuan spectacle on the road to achieve "intimacy on a grand scale." There's just no one better at enormity than U2.

After a solid 40-minute opening set by Muse, the headline portion of the evening opened with David Bowie's "Space Oddity" as prelude music, smoke machines at full belch. Larry Mullen Jr. entered first, sitting down at his drums to start bashing. Guitarist Dave "The Edge" Evans was next, with bassist Adam Clayton right behind. And Bono was last out, of course.

Bono wasted no time hitting the heroic poses on the opener "Breathe," a track from the current album "No Line on the Horizon." While "No Line" is only so-so, its songs came across much better live -- even "Get On Your Boots," the actively annoying first single. Other recent-vintage songs to hit the mark included "Vertigo," "Magnificent" and "City of Blinding Lights."

As always, Edge provided letter-perfect guitar accompaniment. If Bono is U2's preacher man, Edge is the one who built the sonic pulpit from which he holds forth.

Hammy theatrics that somehow work are a U2 specialty, such as the way Bono worked snippets of rock-era classics into U2 songs. A bit of "Amazing Grace" turned up during the encore version of "One." And during "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Bono pointed at the moon and sang the opening of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" ("When the night has come/And the land is Dark/And the moon is the only light we will see...").

Sometimes, however, Bono should just leave well enough alone. Tossing his microphone to a guy in the crowd to let him sing a verse of "People Get Ready" might have seemed like a good idea; but it was an off-key disaster.

Still, that was one of the show's miscues. For all the band's pretensions, U2 is ultimately just so likable that it's almost impossible not to be won over. When they went roaring into the encore version of "Where the Streets Have No Name," that majestic guitar riff pealing like a church bell, it was a perfect moment of blissful big-rock grandeur that you just don't see much of anymore.

We shall not see U2's like again, I don't believe. or or 919-829-4759

Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day
No Line On The Horizon
In A Little While
New Year's Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Stand By Me (snippet)
Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
The Unforgettable Fire
Mofo (snippet) / City Of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight / Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again) (snippet)
Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet) / People Get Ready (snippet)
Walk On / You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet)

One / Amazing Grace (snippet)
Where The Streets Have No Name
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender