Saturday, February 27, 2010

A man of rare courage

By Melanie Phillips
Thursday, 25th February 2010

I have been following for some time the remarkable journey of Mosab Hassan Yousef, about whom I wrote here last year. Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader, renounced not just terrorist violence but his family and his faith to become a Christian and move to California. Since apostasy from Islam carries a death penalty, this in itself was an act of extreme courage. The Telegraph ran an interview with him which set out starkly the extreme risk he was running, along with the principled reasons for his actions:

Mosab Hassan Yousef, 30, said that his decision to abandon his Muslim faith and denounce his father's organisation had exposed his family to persecution in his home town of Ramallah and endangered his own life.

... ‘I’m not afraid of them, especially as I know that I'm doing the right thing, and I don't see them as my enemies,’ he said. ‘I do think about this a lot. But what are they going to do? Are they going to kill me? If they want to kill me, let them do it. I'm not going to stop anyone. It's going to be my freedom.’

... Mr Yousef said that his doubts about Islam and Hamas crystallised when he realised not all Hamas leaders were like his father, a moderate who he describes as ‘open-minded, very humble and honest’. Mr Yousef said that he was appalled by the brutality of the movement, including the suicide bombers seeking glory through jihad. ‘Hamas, they are using civilians' lives, they are using children, they are using the suffering of people every day to achieve their goals. And this is what I hate,’ he said.

Mosab Hassan Yousef

But now we learn that his courage and his principles extended far further than this. As Ha’aretz reports, for ten years Yousef worked for the Israeli security service Shin Bet for whom the intelligence he provided saved countless lives from human bomb attacks:

During the second intifada, intelligence Yousef supplied led to the arrests of a number of high-ranking Palestinian figures responsible for planning deadly suicide bombings... Loai [Yousef’s Shin Bet handler] makes no secret of his admiration for his former source. ‘The amazing thing is that none of his actions were done for money,’ he says. ‘He did things he believed in. He wanted to save lives. His grasp of intelligence matters was just as good as ours - the ideas, the insights. One insight of his was worth 1,000 hours of thought by top experts.

Loai recalled one time when the Shin Bet received information that a suicide bomber was going to be picked up at Manara Square in Ramallah and be given an explosives belt. ‘We didn't know his name or what he looked like - only that he was in his 20s and would be wearing a red shirt,’ he said. ‘We sent the Green Prince to the square and with his acute sense, he located the target within minutes. He saw who picked him up, followed the car and made it possible for us to arrest the suicide bomber and the man who was supposed to give him the belt. So another attack was thwarted, though no one knows about it. No one opens Champagne bottles or bursts into song and dance. This was an almost daily thing for the Prince. He displayed courage, had sharp antennae and an ability to cope with danger. We knew he was one of those who in any situation - rain, snow, summer - give their all.'

Even more amazingly:

Yousef was also responsible for thwarting Israel’s plan to assassinate his father.

Not surprisingly, Yousef has trenchant views about Israel releasing the very terrorists he helped put in jail, indeed, in this he shows rather more backbone than many Israelis:

‘I wish I were in Gaza now,’ Yousef said by phone from California, ‘I would put on an army uniform and join Israel's special forces in order to liberate Gilad Shalit. If I were there, I could help. We wasted so many years with investigations and arrests to capture the very terrorists that they now want to release in return for Shalit. That must not be done.’

And on Hamas, Yousef says this:

‘Hamas cannot make peace with the Israelis. That is against what their God tells them. It is impossible to make peace with infidels, only a cease-fire, and no one knows that better than I. The Hamas leadership is responsible for the killing of Palestinians, not Israelis,’ he said. ‘Palestinians! They do not hesitate to massacre people in a mosque or to throw people from the 15th or 17th floor of a building, as they did during the coup in Gaza. The Israelis would never do such things. I tell you with certainty that the Israelis care about the Palestinians far more than the Hamas or Fatah leadership does.’

All those foolish Brits and others who want Hamas brought in from the diplomatic cold, take note.

Israel should surely make this man a roving ambassador, to fight for the truth and justice in the Middle East to which he has so remarkably dedicated – and for which he has endangered -- his life.

Toyota and the price of modernity

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, February 26, 2010; A25

Amazingly, the congressional hearings on Toyota were relatively civilized. Apart from some inevitable theatrical hectoring, the questioning was generally respectful, the emotions controlled. This was all the more remarkable given the drama of some of the testimony, such as that offered by a tearful Rhonda Smith, who recounted how, in her runaway Lexus, she had called her husband because "I wanted to hear his voice one more time."

Such wrenching and compelling stories might impel you to want to string up the first Toyota executive you find. But the issue here is larger and highly complex.

Industrial society produces an astonishing array of mass-produced products -- cars, drugs, medical devices -- that are at once wondrous and potentially lethal.

The wondrousness sometimes eludes us. Even the lowliest wage earner has an automobile that conveys him with more luxury, more freedom, more comfort than any traveling king ever experienced in all the centuries before the 20th. And modern medicines -- why, vaccines alone -- have prevented more suffering, more debility and more death than anything ever conceived by man.

But these wonders can be lethal. And sorting out the endless complaints about these products is maddeningly difficult -- though sort you must, otherwise every complaint would require shutting down the factories, and we'd have no industrial society at all.

The question is: How do you distinguish the idiosyncratic failure from the systemic -- for example, the single lemon that came off the auto assembly line vs. an intrinsic problem inherent in that model's engineering? How do you separate one patient's physiology producing a drug side effect vs. an intrinsic problem with a drug that makes it unacceptably dangerous?

Consider the oddity of those drug commercials on television. Fifteen seconds of the purported therapeutic effort, followed by about 45 seconds of a rapidly muttered list of horrific possible side effects. When the ad is over, I can't remember a thing about what the pill is supposed to do, except perhaps cause nausea, liver damage, projectile vomiting, a nasty rash, a four-hour erection and sudden death. Sudden death is my favorite because there is something comical about its being a side effect. What exactly is the main effect in that case? Relief from abdominal bloating?

And how many sudden deaths does it take until we say: "Enough," and pull the drug off the market?

It's not an easy calculation. Six years ago, Vioxx, a powerful anti-inflammatory, was withdrawn by the manufacturer because it was found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke from 0.75 percent per year to 1.5 percent. The company was pilloried for not having owned up to this earlier, but some rheumatologists were furious that the drug was forced off the market at all. They had patients with crippling arthritis who had achieved a functioning life with Vioxx, for which they were quite willing to risk a long-shot cardiac complication. The public furor denied them the choice.

And don't imagine that we do not coldly calculate the price of a human life. In 1974, the speed limit was lowered to 55 mph to conserve oil. That also led to a dramatic drop in traffic fatalities -- approximately 3,000 lives every year. This didn't stop us, after the oil crisis, from raising the speed limit back to 65 and beyond -- knowing that thousands of Americans would die as a result.

The calculation was never explicit but it was nevertheless real. We were quite prepared to trade away a finite number of human lives for speed, and for the efficiency and convenience that come with it.

This is not to let Toyota off the hook simply because all products carry risk. Toyota executives have already admitted that they had underplayed the reports of sticking accelerators. They seem finally to have made a very serious, almost frantic, effort to correct what can be corrected -- the floor-mat and sticky-accelerator problems -- while continuing to investigate the more elusive possibility (never proved, perhaps never provable) of some additional electronic glitch.

But it is no disrespect to the memory of those killed, and the sorrow of those left behind, to simply admit that even the highest technology produced by the world's finest companies can be fallible and fatal, and that the intelligent response is not rage and retribution but sober remediation and recognition of the very high price we pay -- willingly pay -- for modernity with all its wondrous, dangerous bounty.

America's future could be all Greek to us

Syndicated columnist
The Orange County Register
February 26, 2010

While Barack Obama was making his latest pitch for a brand new, even more unsustainable entitlement at the health care "summit," thousands of Greeks took to the streets to riot. An enterprising cable network might have shown the two scenes on a continuous split-screen - because they're part of the same story. It's just that Greece is a little further along in the plot: They're at the point where the canoe is about to plunge over the falls. America is further upstream and can still pull for shore, but has decided, instead, that what it needs to do is catch up with the Greek canoe. Chapter One (the introduction of unsustainable entitlements) leads eventually to Chapter 20 (total societal collapse): The Greeks are at Chapter 17 or 18.

What's happening in the developed world today isn't so very hard to understand: The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to. In America, the feckless insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, they've reached the next stage in social democratic evolution: There are no kids or grandkids to screw over. The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1 – or just over two kids per couple. Greece has a fertility rate of about 1.3: 10 grandparents have six kids have four grandkids – i.e., the family tree is upside down.
Demographers call 1.3 "lowest-low" fertility – the point from which no society has ever recovered. And, compared with Spain and Italy, Greece has the least-worst fertility rate in Mediterranean Europe.

Police clashes with protesters in Athens on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2010. Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in central Athens on Wednesday as violence broke out after a large protest march against government austerity measures intended to fix the country's debt crisis.

Associated Press photo

So you can't borrow against the future because, in the most basic sense, you don't have one. Greeks in the public sector retire at 58, which sounds great. But, when 10 grandparents have four grandchildren, who pays for you to spend the last third of your adult life loafing around?

By the way, you don't have to go to Greece to experience Greek-style retirement: The Athenian "public service" of California has been metaphorically face down in the ouzo for a generation. Still, America as a whole is not yet Greece. A couple of years ago, when I wrote my book "America Alone," I put the Social Security debate at that time in a bit of perspective: On 2005 figures, projected public pensions liabilities were expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of GDP. In Greece, the figure was 25 percent: in other words, head for the hills, Armageddon outta here, The End. Since then, the situation has worsened in both countries. And, really, the comparison is academic: Whereas America still has a choice, Greece isn't going to have a 2040 – not without a massive shot of Reality Juice.

Is that likely to happen? At such moments, I like to modify Gerald Ford. When seeking to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, President Ford liked to say: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." Which is true enough. But there's an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn't big enough to get you to give any of it back. That's the point Greece is at. Its socialist government has been forced into supporting a package of austerity measures. The Greek people's response is: Nuts to that. Public sector workers have succeeded in redefining time itself: Every year, they receive 14 monthly payments. You do the math. And for about seven months' work: for many of them the work day ends at 2:30 p.m. And, when they retire, they get 14 monthly pension payments. In other words: Economic reality is not my problem. I want my benefits. And, if it bankrupts the entire state a generation from now, who cares as long as they keep the checks coming until I croak?

We hard-hearted small-government guys are often damned as selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as the Greek protests make plain, nothing makes an individual more selfish than the socially equitable communitarianism of big government: Once a chap's enjoying the fruits of government health care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early retirement, and all the rest, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest; he's got his, and to hell with everyone else. People's sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make sense.

The perfect spokesman for the entitlement mentality is the Deputy Prime Minister of Greece. The European Union has concluded that the Greek government's austerity measures are insufficient and, as a condition of bailout, has demanded something more robust. Greece is no longer a sovereign state: It's General Motors, and the EU is Washington, and the Greek electorate is happy to play the part of the UAW – everything's on the table except anything that would actually make a difference. In practice, because Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are also on the brink of the abyss, a "European" bailout will be paid for by Germany. So the aforementioned Greek Deputy Prime Minister, Theodoros Pangalos, has denounced the conditions of the EU deal on the grounds that the Germans stole all the bullion from the Bank of Greece during the Second World War. Welfare always breeds contempt, in nations as much as inner-city housing projects: How dare you tell us how to live! Just give us your money and push off.

Unfortunately, Germany is no longer an economic powerhouse. As Angela Merkel pointed out a year ago, for Germany an Obama-sized stimulus was out of the question simply because its foreign creditors know there are not enough young Germans around ever to repay it. Over 30 percent of German women are childless; among German university graduates, it's over 40 percent. And for the ever-dwindling band of young Germans who make it out of the maternity ward there's precious little reason to stick around. Why be the last handsome blond lederhosen-clad Aryan lad working the late shift at the beer garden in order to prop up singlehandedly entire retirement homes? And that's before the EU decides to add the Greeks to your burdens. Germans, who retire at 67, are now expected to sustain the unsustainable 14 monthly payments per year of Greeks who retire at 58.

Think of Greece as California: Every year an irresponsible and corrupt bureaucracy awards itself higher pay and better benefits paid for by an ever-shrinking wealth-generating class. And think of Germany as one of the less-profligate, still-just-about-functioning corners of America such as my own state of New Hampshire: Responsibility doesn't pay. You'll wind up bailing out, anyway. The problem is there are never enough of "the rich" to fund the entitlement state, because in the end it disincentivizes everything from wealth creation to self-reliance to the basic survival instinct, as represented by the fertility rate. In Greece, they've run out Greeks, so they'll stick it to the Germans, like French farmers do. In Germany, the Germans have only been able to afford to subsidize French farming because they stick Americans with their defense tab. And, in America, Obama, Pelosi and Reid are saying we need to paddle faster to catch up with the Greeks and Germans. What could go wrong?


A cynic's view of HGH issue

By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, February 25, 2010

That grinding sound you're hearing in the far political distance is the sound of two unions digging in their heels against the next wave of drug testing, triggered this week by the news that a British rugby player tested positive for Human Growth Hormone, something previously thought to be merely impossible.

Among the many dubious benefits of HGH, the one that baseball players such as Andy Pettitte and Jason Grimsley and doubtless some football players seemed to like best was that it was undetectable. Olympic athletes have been screened for HGH for most of this century without anyone coming up positive, and since the plausibility that no Olympic athletes -- none -- in all that time were using HGH is so implausible as to be laughable, the assumption was that the tests simply didn't work.

Enter Terry Newton.

In November, Newton provided a blood sample that this week got him banned from English rugby for two years by the United Kingdom Anti-Doping Agency, thus violating one of the sport's cardinal rules -- illegal substances should be restricted to the hooligans.

"It doesn't wash," Chuck Yesalis said on the phone from State College Wednesday. "I mean I'm skeptical. They've said in public for at least six years, if not 10, that they have this test, and this is all they've got? One person? A rugby player? That's not like catching some big fish. I want to see it challenged in court. I want people to talk about it.

"I'm an epidemiologist, not a biochemist, but this is not a black or white thing. It's like the testosterone ratio thing -- what's normal, what's not normal. It's not a big line in the sand."

Yesalis, professor emeritus of exercise and sport science and one of the world's leading anti-doping experts, remains reliably if amiably cantankerous not only on where the lines are drawn, but on the interminable doping question of who's fooling whom.

Still, if there is no line in the sand, there will be a thick line not easily crossed in the offices of the Major League Players Association and the National Football League Players Association, especially after management spokespersons leaped into the media pool at the first mention of Newton's positive test.

Someone in Bud Selig's office immediately told the New York Times that baseball would test its minor leaguers for HGH as soon as this summer, with an eye toward implementing testing on the major league level in the next round of collective bargaining. The union said it would consult its experts on the matter, and you have to wonder if these will be the same experts who advised players to resist urine testing for steroids until the game's very integrity was in the urinal.

The NFL, where it's obvious no one is using HGH because offensive linemen average only 315 pounds, greeted the positive HGH test with equal enthusiasm, but its union kicked back pretty hard.

"There is no reason to forcefully implement any blood testing at this time," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told the Washington Post. "There is no reason to believe a blood test for NFL players will or should be implemented."

That's a matter for collective bargaining as well, and likely to complicate an already dismal labor forecast beyond 2010.

Neither union, obviously, has learned a thing from baseball's experience. Obviously, privacy issues have to be weighed heavily when it comes to testing, but, in the current climate, where suspensions for steroids and HGH are an annual occurrence and suspicion is a malignant constant, the prudent public posture isn't, "Oh no you don't!"

That said, Newton's test probably clears up little.

"All of us who have helped develop the test wouldn't put it in place if it wasn't forensically sound and reliable," the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's Travis Tygart contended in news accounts Tuesday. "Particularly in Newton's case; it's proof positive the test works."

I'd love to believe that, just as I'd love to believe that baseballers and footballers would, as a sincere gesture to the fans who make their opulent lifestyles possible, embrace any testing that makes the games 100 percent believable again.

Yet I defer to Yesalis, who until he retired a few years ago, taught a generation of students and reminded a good portion of the nation's sports media that skepticism never atrophies. From Yesalis we all learned that the cheaters are constantly accelerating the game faster than the testers.

"I see no reason whatsoever to change my mind on it," he said Wednesday. "Collectively, there's way more money involved to help circumvent the tests than the amount of money available to catch the cheaters. Look at all these multi-gazillion-dollar athletes and these sports federations, all with a strong, vested interest in being bigger, faster, stronger, and compare it to the paltry couple of million to develop new tests.

"Does this [Newton positive] really change things? If I had to bet my house, all I could do is use the past to predict the future. I have heard for 30 years stuff like, 'We had a problem with drugs in this sport, but now it's solved.' Thirty years. If it's a roulette wheel and you're asking me to put my bet on the drug cheaters or the drug testers, I know what to do."

Gene Collier: More articles by this author

Gene Collier's "Two-Minute Warning" videos are featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

First published on February 25, 2010 at 12:00 am

Friday, February 26, 2010

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash- Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash’s final chapter is the most compelling

By James Reed, Boston Globe Staff
February 21, 2010

Johnny Cash started out as country music's brash outlaw (left) while his final years making "American Recordings" with Rick Rubin saw him become a lion in winter facing down mortality with the same determined spirit. (Thurston Moore Collection (Left); Martyn Atkins / File 2002)

“Delia’s Gone’’ was the opening salvo on “American Recordings,’’ Johnny Cash’s landmark 1994 album recorded with Rick Rubin, and it was very much in synch with Cash’s dark-hearted mythology: an old murder ballad about a man unrepentant for killing his lover.

Except the song wasn’t shrouded in the signature sounds we associated with Cash. Gone were Luther Perkins’s boom-chicka-boom guitar melodies and the winking hell-raising apparent in Cash’s performances at Folsom and San Quentin prisons. You could tell it was Johnny Cash singing, but his voice - once so virile you’d expect to hear it taming a wild bear on a mountaintop - was now grizzled, more expressive than imposing.

The album featured Cash with just an acoustic guitar, yet no one could have predicted the profound impact it would have on his legacy, not even the men who made it.

On Tuesday, the final installment in the “American Recordings’’ series will be released, leaving in its path six studio albums and a box set that enshrined Cash in the last stretch to the finish line. “American VI,’’ which arrives more than six years after Cash’s death at 71, carries the gravitas of a swan song, too, starting with its subtitle: “Ain’t No Grave.’’

Sixteen years since the series’ inaugural album, this is how an entire generation of music fans know him. They remember Cash not as a brash outlaw who once bragged about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die, but rather as a lion in winter staring down his mortality with a spirit as determined as his body was broken.

“Johnny had been discarded by his former record company at that point and probably felt he had nothing to lose,’’ Rubin writes in an e-mail to the Globe, explaining why Cash agreed to record that first album with him. “Also, we hit it off fairly quickly, and he seemed excited that someone cared.’’

Their rapport was apparent from the beginning. Rubin’s touch was often so light, it’s easy to underestimate the paramount role his austere production played. By allowing Cash to interpret the songs simply and directly, he separated him from the Man in Black iconography so entrenched in his persona.

His collaboration with Cash, in fact, became a blueprint for how younger musicians and producers could extract the essence of legends long past their prime, thereby reinventing them for the blogosphere. Rubin gave Neil Diamond a similarly stripped-down treatment, starting with 2005’s “12 Songs,’’ and when Jack White produced Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose’’ in 2004, the antecedent was obvious.

“American Recordings’’ was exactly what Cash, who deftly manipulated the machinery to redefine himself like few other veteran musicians could, needed to resurrect his critical and commercial clout. We suddenly remembered that Johnny Cash wasn’t just that guy who sang “Ring of Fire’’ over a blast of mariachi horns or got us to laugh about a poor boy named Sue. “I Walk the Line’’ might have made Cash an icon, but his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt’’ made him human. That’s the greatest legacy of “American Recordings,’’ that it revealed Cash was a mere mortal whose music confronted his triumphs and demons.

Cash could have coasted for his last two decades and he still would have died a towering figure in American music, beloved by everyone from Bob Dylan to Bono. Instead, Cash decided to push himself in his final decade and produce the most haunting music of his career. Listen to his stately rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,’’ his voice miked so intimately it sounds like he’s sitting next to you, and it’s hard to recall how Roberta Flack’s version goes. Other times his voice was so weak that the heartache was tangible, nearly unbearable. We’re not accustomed to our idols letting us get so close to them.

With “Unchained,’’ the second installment, the series got more ambitious. Rubin brought in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, goading Cash into rowdy country-rock territory, and that album sent a pointed message to the country music establishment, which had written off Cash to make way for rising pop-oriented musicians.

“When you have a record like ‘Unchained’ and it wins the Grammy for best country record, it says something about the way the rest of the world relates to country music,’’ John Carter Cash, Johnny and June’s only child together, says from his home in Tennessee.

The series hit its pop-culture zenith with 2002’s “American IV: The Man Comes Around,’’ featuring that celebrated Nine Inch Nails cover and a poignant video that became a hit on MTV. But as the “American’’ series progressed, something unseemly started to take shape. The song selections unintentionally played out like an obituary: “Meet Me in Heaven,’’ “I’m Leavin’ Now,’’ “I’m Free From the Chain Gang Now.’’ It smacked of cultural necrophilia, a morbid preoccupation with Cash’s failing health. He often recorded just days after being released from the hospital, and you could hear the struggle and strain in his performances.

“ ‘Hurt’ is an example of a song that was accused of that, but it was written by someone in his early 20s as a purely autobiographical song,’’ Rubin writes. “People can read what they want into these songs. When Johnny sings, it rings with truth regardless of who wrote the words.’’

Carter Cash, who was involved with editing the “American’’ series, agrees with that defense but also understands the criticism of releasing his father’s music well after his death. “I think some people may question whether this is the right thing to do - some people may even say, ‘Is this exploitive?’ - but it’s not, because it’s exactly what he intended,’’ he says.

Smokey Hormel, the esteemed guitarist who played on three of the “American Recordings’’ albums, remembers the symbiotic nature of the relationship between Cash and Rubin.

“That first record was so great that [Rubin] just left it alone, as Johnny solo, because it really gave Cash all the room he needed to show what he could do. No one had really given Cash that chance before,’’ Hormel says. “On Mr. Cash’s part, he was really looking for a chance to tell the stories that were in these songs without all the added stuff.’’

Hormel also dismisses the notion that Cash didn’t always comprehend the contemporary pop and rock songs Rubin suggested he cover, from U2’s “One’’ to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.’’

“I was blown away when I heard his vocal performance on ‘Hurt,’ ’’ he says. “Before we recorded it, I remember Rick put on the Nine Inch Nails’s live version of it, which ends with this crazy wall of sound. We were all sitting around feeling a little nervous about how Cash was going to react. The song ended, and there’s this silence. And then he looks up and says, ‘Well, that sounds like me about 20 years ago.’ And you knew that something clicked for him. He totally got it.’’

Cash sounds especially engaged on “American VI,’’ but sometimes it’s almost too chilling to hear a man who’s on his deathbed sing songs such as “Ain’t No Grave’’ (“There ain’t no grave/ Can hold my body down’’) or “For the Good Times’’ (“Don’t look so sad/ I know it’s over’’). Rubin’s production, though, is simply elegiac, couching Cash’s voice in pastoral arrangements that imply the artist is at peace, finally.

“I truly believe that this record - which was mostly recorded after my mother died - was his greatest life’s work,’’ Carter Cash says. “I think you get a good insight into his determination. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the frailty, the weakness. You get a final snapshot of who my dad was.’’

Now that it has come to an end, Carter Cash says he sees the “American Recordings’’ series more as a reflection of his father’s lifelong mission statement.

“He would not quit or give up,’’ he says. “Even though he was heartbroken and he was sad, it was his body that gave up, not his heart.’’

James Reed can be reached at

Johnny Cash's 'Ain't No Grave': The right epitaph to a singular career?"

By Randy Lewis
Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
February 18, 2010

Veteran music journalist Chet Flippo, now the editorial director for the Country Music Television cable channel and its website,, raises an intriguing question about the final entry in the series of “American” albums performed by Johnny Cash and produced by Rick Rubin.

I spoke to Rubin recently about “American VI: Ain’t No Grave,” which comes out Feb. 26, on what would have been Cash's 78th birthday, for a piece coming in Sunday’s Arts & Books section. Rubin discusses his great affection for the Man in Black and his feelings of gratitude at both the music they created together and for the larger gift of his friendship with one of the giants of 20th century music. I also interviewed a couple of other key participants in the project: Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, and guitarist Mike Campbell, who with keyboardist Benmont Tench, a fellow member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, played on most of the sessions for the six albums recorded from 1993 until shortly before Cash’s death on Sept. 12, 2003.

All spoke about how moving it was to witness Cash, in the final months of his life, struggling with failing health, devastated by the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, in May 2003, yet still mustering the will to make more music with what time remained.

Flippo asks whether his memory will be well served by the recordings he made under such circumstances. “Not every home recording by every aging artist needs to be released," Flippo writes in his latest Nashville Skyline column. “To be sure, it was Cash’s decision to spend his final days recording, rather than waiting for death to come and claim him. But. The question lingers: Should these recordings -- recorded by a man who was racing against time -- represent his last recorded work ever?”

As a music critic who saw Cash in concert many times over the last 35 years, both at full strength and toward the end of his touring days when health issues had started chipping away at that force of nature power, I find “Ain’t No Grave” tremendously moving. There are songs where his voice is remarkably potent, especially given how evident advancing age was in much of the 2006 predecessor, “American V: A Hundred Highways.”

Rubin noted that Cash had good and bad days while they were working on the recordings, and that the goal was always to get the best vocal performance Cash could give.

“In a lot of ways, making it was the same as the other albums,” said Mike Campbell. “The difference was Johnny wasn’t here, and that was sad. But we could feel his presence, so it was beautiful too. I felt very honored to be included. I really loved the man, and he was always very kind to me, so I was honored to be there and help in any way I could.

“He wasn’t in the best of health, but we didn’t expect him to go that soon,” Campbell recalled. “We know he missed June a lot. At same time, he really wanted to record, and that’s what kept him going. We just hoped it would have kept him going longer. I have a hunch he wanted to get as much on tape as he could before he left, but I really can’t speak to that.”

John Carter Cash saw things from a slightly different perspective, which he spoke about with discernible emotion in his voice.

“I have a distinct separation between Johnny Cash the performer and entertainer, and Johnny Cash, my father and the man,” Cash, 39, said. “Doing things like this interview and seeing him on television, I still see the entertainer and performer every day. But I miss the man very much.”

As for “Ain’t No Grave,” which he helped shepherd through to completion, “It’s painful to listen to sometimes. In listening to it, you hear the weakness, and the frailty. But the thing I hear first and foremost is the strength.

“That’s what bears upon my spirit, hearing that strength, and that’s what I walk away with, the lesson to be learned from that beauty of character, the unstoppable human spirit. I truly believe his body gave up, but his spirit did not.”

Not so much contradicting Rubin, but elaborating on his comment about the musician's physical ups and downs, Cash said, “My father in the last couple of years really didn’t have a good day physically. What you hear in those recordings where his voice sounds so strong is the pure strength of his spirit.”

Flippo’s argument comes from an honorable place: that it’s better to remember our most vital musicians at their artistic peak -- in Cash’s case, in those magnificent sides he cut for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in the 1950s, or the towering albums he made for Columbia in the 1960s and '70s.
But with Johnny Cash, a man of deeply abiding religious faith, one who believed with everything in him in the transformative power of that faith over the limitations of life on earth, the waning days of life are every bit as worthy of attention as the glory days.

“I’m grateful this record is coming out -- he would have had it that way,” John Carter Cash said. “He wanted this record to be released. He was always willing to show his weakness and his frailties. I think it’s one way people related to him: He’s not saying he’s perfect, but just look at him, listen to that voice, look at that determination. He was right.”

Photo: Johnny Cash in August 1970. Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS

The last chapter in Johnny Cash's 'American' series
ANN POWERS: Johnny Cash: The Hospice Sessions

The last chapter in Johnny Cash's 'American' series

Despite the title -- 'Ain't No Grave' -- it wasn't meant to be Cash's swan song, producer Rick Rubin says.

By Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times
February 21, 2010

LOOKING BACK: Cash "was looking forward to getting started on Volumes 7 and 8," Rubin says. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Producer Rick Rubin took up a seat on a sofa on the patio of his expansive Malibu home overlooking the Pacific, emanating both gravity and joy while discussing his extraordinary decade-long relationship with Johnny Cash.

It was the first full day of sun after yet another round of thunderstorms had pounded the Southland, a fitting parting of the clouds on the day Rubin spoke about one of the titans of 20th century music in the final years of his life.

The final entry in their series of studio albums arrives Tuesday, "American VI: Ain't No Grave," yet despite the nod to mortality in the title, an acknowledgment of the closeness of death that runs through most of the album's 10 songs, Rubin insists that it wasn't created as Cash's swan song.

"He had made plans to come to Los Angeles to start recording," said the 46-year-old producer of Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty. "It was the first trip he had planned in a long time . . . He had been on the upswing physically, and was looking forward to getting started on Volumes 7 and 8. That's what made it such a shock when I got the call that he had passed."

It's also one reason it's taken so long for Rubin to put the finishing touches on what he and Cash had been working on nearly seven years ago. "I wasn't in any hurry to let this go," he said with a little chuckle.

In the months leading up to his death on Sept. 12, 2003, Cash, Rubin and John Carter Cash -- Johnny and June Carter's son -- had mapped out both the fifth and sixth volumes of the "American" albums they'd started with 1994's "American Recordings." That one earned Cash a Grammy for best contemporary folk album; he collected another Grammy for its 1996 successor, "Unchained," which was named best country album.

While working on "American V" and "VI," which were recorded essentially simultaneously over several months at the end of 2002 and in 2003 near Cash's home in Hendersonville, Tenn., each man came armed with lists of potential songs, lists they continuously updated and expanded.

"American V: A Hundred Highways," which surfaced in 2006, is the album Rubin considers to be Cash's statement about death -- raising the question, what's left for an encore?

"I feel like this is him talking about what's next," Rubin said. "There's a very otherworldly quality to it. And that's nothing we could have planned . . . . While we were finishing it, once we heard his voice again, we really felt a presence in the studio, and it helped with making a lot of the decisions.

"Even a song as familiar and frequently recorded as Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" takes on a different weight knowing the man who sang it is now gone: "Don't look so sad / I know it's over / But life goes on / And this old world will keep on turning / Let's just be glad we had some time to spend together . . ."

"John's version . . . is so beautiful and sad that it's hard for me to listen to," Kristofferson said after hearing his longtime friend's track for the first time recently.

Rubin also finds considerable beauty, and sadness, in "Ain't No Grave," along with the realization that maybe even more than Cash's death, the completion and release of "American VI" closes a door between them. "I hadn't thought of it in that way, but I guess so," Rubin said, pausing. "I guess so."

"I loved him so much," Rubin said, then quickly shifted to another verb tense -- "I love him so much," as if he'd just been silently reminded of the possibility of transformation that Cash bequeathed to him.

Undead and American: Cash Is Back


by David Kamp
February 23, 2010, 10:00 AM

Photo by Kevin Estrada.

In 2004, not quite a year after the death of Johnny Cash, I found myself spending many hours at the Hollywood Hills house that the producer Rick Rubin was then using as a studio, rehearsal space, crash pad, and nerve center for his various operations. The rooms were cluttered with Buddha statues, reclaimed church friezes, and other religious artifacts. The bookshelves were lined with theological tracts and New Age manuals. The floors were covered with CDs and dog hair. The speakers were playing Cash’s final recordings.

These were committed to tape in the raw, fraught days of Cash’s end times: the four months in 2003 between the passing of his beloved wife, June, and his own death. Some of the songs made for devastating listening, Cash’s voice quavering with frailty and grief. Others were actually pretty funny: a defiant summoning of the same nerve and vim that impelled Cash, a long time ago, to preside merrily over electrifying prison concerts at Folsom and San Quentin. Rubin listened to the music with his eyes closed, his legs crossed, and his torso rocking, as if in a yogic trance—but still, I noticed him tearing up at the sad parts and chuckling at the funny parts.

Rubin was the man responsible for reviving Cash’s artistic fortunes in his last decade, and I was fascinated by the very fact of their collaboration, especially given the former’s Def Jam and hard-rock pedigrees. So I asked Rubin if we could discuss, in depth, his relationship with the Man in Black. He agreed and was generous with his time and recollections. And as it turned out, there was a lot more to their relationship than the transactional business of making records. The resulting article, “American Communion,” appeared in the October 2004 issue of V.F. If it’s not too gauche to say so, it’s my personal favorite of the articles I’ve written.

At the time we met, Rubin was pretty sure that the LP he was putting together would be the concluding volume of Cash’s American series (so named because the albums all appeared on Rubin’s American Recordings label). When I asked if he planned to release posthumous albums in perpetuity, as the estate of Tupac Shakur has proven adept at doing, Rubin said no, “because there’s something that doesn’t feel good about the Tupac-ing.”

But when American V: A Hundred Highways finally emerged in 2006, it didn’t have all the songs on it that I’d heard in that strange Hollywood Hills house. Now, blessedly, comes the last last album, American VI: Ain’t No Grave. Worry not about the specter of ’Pac-sploitation: this is an essential addition to the Cash catalogue, and a welcome opportunity to hear that voice—part God, part hoodlum—once more.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Indicting the Anointed

Review by David Forsmark
25 February 2010

Intellectuals and Society
By Thomas Sowell
Basic Books, $29.95,

George Orwell famously said some things are so foolish that only an intellectual could believe them, for no ordinary man could be such a fool.

Thomas Sowell has made a career out of debunking those very things—most famously elite assumptions about racism and economics in classic books like Ethnic America, Race and Culture, Knowledge and Decisions, and The Vision of the Annointed.

I’ve often defined a postmodern intellectual as someone who is trained to be sure he knows better. Thomas Sowell, however, is a true intellectual in the best sense. His mind is not only open to the fact that he might not know better, his superb new book explains why it is impossible for one dictator or a small group of elites to know better than the great unwashed how to run their lives.

A constant theme of Sowell’s work is that elites regularly—and with disastrous effect—substitute their assumptions for the actual on the ground knowledge of the masses of people. In Intellectuals and Society, he singles out so-called “intellectuals,” those whose profession is trafficking in ideas, and the echo chamber they tend to inhabit.

He charges that such people may be “intellects,” but that doesn’t mean they are very smart.

“The capacity to grasp and manipulate complex ideas is enough to define intellect but not enough to encompass intelligence, which involves combining intellect with judgment and care in selecting relevant explanatory factors and in establishing empirical tests of any theory that emerges. Intelligence minus judgment equals intellect. Wisdom is the rarest quality of all — the ability to combine intellect, knowledge, experience, and judgment in a way to produce a coherent understanding.”

Of course, once you have spent a lifetime debunking things that are accepted as Gospel by the “intellectual class,” and prove Orwell’s thesis on a daily basis, the term “pseudo- intellectual” starts to lose its meaning:

The term “pseudo- intellectual” has sometimes been applied to less intelligent or less knowledgeable members of this profession. But just as a bad cop is still a cop — no matter how much we may regret it — so a shallow, confused, or dishonest intellectual is just as much a member of that occupation as is a paragon of the profession.

Recently, Boston College’s Alan Wolfe, a prime example of the above definition– wrote an intellectually dishonest pseudo-review of Intellectuals and Society for the usually rigorous New Republicwhich David Horowitz dispatched quite nicely.

Wolfe’s review might as well have been titled, “I Represent That Remark.” (I have done a couple of radio interviews with Wolfe, and found him to be less than impressive.) While Horowitz doubted that Wolfe, who protested the lack of musicians and novelists in Sowells’ discussion, had read the parameters of the discussion on page 2, I think it’s more likely Wolfe made it to the page 4 definition of pseudo-intellectuals, felt the pang of self-recognition, and then went on his very personal rant against Sowell.

Wolfe, ironically supplies the perfect example of how intellectuals who share the currently anointed vision of the world make what Sowell calls “Arguments without Arguments:”

Although many intellectuals are especially well-equipped by talent and training to engage in logically structured arguments using empirical evidence to analyze contending ideas, many of their political or ideological views are promoted by verbal virtuosity and evading structured arguments and empirical evidence. Among the many arguments without arguments are claims that opposing views are “simplistic” and opposing individuals unworthy, as well as assertion of “rights” and attributing to adversaries a belief and panaceas or golden ages.

…Before an explanation can be too simple, it must first be wrong. But often the fact that some explanation seems to simple becomes a substitute for showing that it is wrong.

Usually, economists who discuss Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” do so in the context of business and the economy. In Intellectuals and Society, Sowell not only gives the best explanation of why the invisible hand of self-interest works better than a central plan, he then applies it to subjects as far afield from economics as war and police shootings.

Sowell argues that the intelligentsia devalue “mundane knowledge” in favor of special knowledge. However, mundane knowledge is what it takes to actually get anything done.

Someone who is considered to be a ‘knowledgeable’ person usually has a special kind of knowledge — perhaps academic or other kinds of knowledge not widely found in the population at large. Someone who has even more knowledge of more mudane things — plumbing, carpentry, or baseball, for example — is less likely to be called “knowledgeable” by those intellectuals, for what they don’t know isn’t knowledge.. .. It is by no means certain that the kind of knowledge mastered by intellectuals is necessarily more consequential in its effect in the real world.

For instance, it may be impressive that a physicist understands Bernoulli’s principles of aerodynamic lift, but you wouldn’t want him in the cockpit second guessing your pilot. Sowell argues that the smartest man cannot know even 1% of what would be required to run the lives of the people in a community, but that is what experts, politicians and intellectuals attempt in their hubris.

Despite the often expressed dichotomy between chaos and planning, what is called “planning” is the forcible suppression of millions of people’s plans by government imposed plan.

….what is called “social” planning are in fact government orders over writing the plans and mutual accommodations of millions of other people.

That is why free markets, judicial restraint, and reliance on decisions and traditions growing out of the experiences of the many — rather than the presumptions of elite few — are so important to those who do not share the social vision prevalent among intellectual elites.

The intellectuals’ exultation of “reason” often comes at the expense of experience, allowing them to have sweeping confidence about things in which they have little or no knowledge or experience.

Intellectuals and Society is one of those books you want to read with a red pencil, to highlight nuggets like those above for later use.

While intellectuals’ visions cause social and economic disruption in many areas, none are so immediately deadly as their approach to war and foreign relations. Sowell indicts the anointed for ignoring all empirical evidence and experience to the contrary, and insisting that the next dictator—from Hitler to Ahmadinejad—is the one who can be dealt with diplomatically.

Sowell concludes with a list of the anointed intelligentsia’s assumptions which have turned the world upside down, of which, he says, a complete refutation would fill volumes. “More important,” he says ruefully, “It fills our schools and colleges.”

The intelligentsia have treated the conclusions of their vision as axioms to be followed, rather than hypotheses to be tested.

Some among the intelligentsia have treated reality itself as objective or illusory, thereby putting current intellectual fashions and fads on the same plane as verified knowledge and the cultural wisdom distilled from generations of experience…

They have filtered information in the media, in the schools, and in academia, who to leave out things that threaten their vision of the world.

Above all, they exalt themselves by denigrating the society in which they live and turning its members against each other.

Of course, as he points out early in the book, an intellectual is someone who can lecture a police department on how many shots are sufficient to bring down an armed suspect under stressful conditions—when he himself has never even fired a pistol on a range.

Long before the Freakonomics phenomenon, Thomas Sowell was making this kind of real life critique from an economist’s point of view.
Intellectuals and Society is accessible, witty, practical, brilliantly argued, and essential reading. It’s sure to infuriate self-important elites.

In other words, it’s a typical Thomas Sowell book.

Exclusive: Thomas Sowell dissects intellectuals

The Orange County Register
2009-12-11 14:48:23

"George Orwell said that some ideas are so foolish that only an intellectual could believe them, for no ordinary man could be such a fool." – Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell, certainly no fool but clearly an intellectual, has written a book on the subject, titled "Intellectuals and Society." His bottom line: intellectuals, unlike normal people, are unaccountable for what they do, and as a result are unconstrained when it comes to foolishness.

Therefore, he concludes, immeasurable damage is done by intellectuals who pontificate, but avoid the consequences of the tripe they pass off as wisdom from on high.

Sowell narrowly defines an "intellectual" as someone whose "work begins and ends with ideas," such as folks like himself, holding forth from ivory towers, and folks like yours truly, sounding off from the cozy confines of newspaper editorial offices.

He is a great intellect, an uncompromisingly courageous defender of truth and correct on all other points of which I'm aware. But I flinch at his definition. It's a wide net to include thinkers like himself and hacks like this writer. Our intellectual capacities are vastly dissimilar.

Nevertheless, in assessing the similar roles of academic intellectuals and news-hound know-it-alls, he's right on point. Academicians, the opinion-spewing media and other self-professed great thinkers are alike in that they produce ideas, rather than create products or services.

Sowell doesn't include among his definition of "intellectuals" people who, if measured by sheer brainpower would seem to qualify for the designation, such as doctors whose intellectual contribution is delivered in the operating room, engineers whose work product is bridges or researchers who develop vaccines. These intellectual types contribute more than ideas.
They produce real things for which they can be held accountable if the patient dies, the bridge collapses or the vaccine kills rather than immunizes.

But intellectuals, in Sowell's sense of the word, are rarely if ever held accountable for the fruits of their labor, no matter how rotten. Forty years ago, environmentalist Paul Ehrlich infamously predicted worldwide food shortages and mass starvation. Instead, as Sowell noted, obesity is epidemic and there are "unsalable agricultural surpluses," yet Ehrlich continued to receive popular acclaim, honors and grants from prestigious academic institutions.

Public policies predicated on such baseless predictions have dire results for society, including misuse of scarce resources, wasteful spending and the dangers of ignoring real threats when we are diverted by phony threats. The faux threat of global warming comes to mind.

On this score, the media, like our counterparts in academia, bear great responsibility. In his new book and in an interview with the Register Editorial Board, Sowell discussed the media's "filtering out of facts, the redefinition of words and, for some intellectuals, challenging the very idea of truth itself."

His book recounts preconceived agendas advanced by an elitist media, who like academicians, regard themselves as an anointed class, capable of prescribing solutions for areas of life in which they have no first-hand experience. Not only is this function performed by opinion writers who distort reality, but also by self-proclaimed impartial reporters who filter, slant and misrepresent.

In 1983 when unemployment was improving in 45 states, Sowell recalls, ABC News "chose to feature a report on one of the five states where that was not so, or as they put it, 'where unemployment is most severe.'"

His book also recalls the sanitizing of the homeless during the 1980s by quoting Bernard Goldberg from his days at CBS News when the reporter "started noticing that the homeless people we show on the news didn't look very much like the homeless people I was tripping over on the sidewalk. The ones on the sidewalk, by and large, were winos or drug addicts or schizophrenics. ... But the ones we liked to show on television were different. They looked as if they came from your neighborhood and mine. They looked like us."

"The media," Sowell told us, "is moderated somewhat" today in advancing its generally uniform leftist worldview by talk radio, the Fox News channel and best-selling conservative authors because publishers like to make money, and their books are hugely popular. Then there's the Internet.
"The big thing about the Internet is that it makes it impossible to filter as completely as otherwise," Sowell told us.

"Just imagine if we'd had the three major broadcast networks only, no cable, no Fox News, no Internet. We probably would not have heard about the climate thing in East Anglia ... like it never happened," he said, alluding to the leak of thousands of secret documents from an English research facility published on the Internet that suggests data may have been manipulated to advance the theory of global warming.

"Like the famine in Russia in the '30s," Sowell said, "It never happened as far as the New York Times is concerned." During the 1930s, New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer Prize after reporting: "There is no famine or actual starvation, nor is there likely to be."

But a Soviet state-imposed starvation was killing millions. Indeed, at the time Duranty was telling others privately that he believed it "quite possible that as many as 10 million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food," Sowell wrote.

The vision of the self-anointed left-leaning media, however, preferred to portray the Soviet Union as the world's foremost model of progressive policies. When British writer Malcolm Muggeridge reported accurately on the Russian starvation, he was "vilified and unable to get work as a writer."

Critics may point out that Dr. Sowell benefits from the same unaccountability with its potential for lack of constraints as do those he disparages. In light of this, how should an outsider weigh the conflicting visions?

"Just read what they say and read what I say," he told us. "And then go get some facts and compare."

Still, Sowell anticipates mainstream media's predetermined response.

"The usual reaction to most of my writing is that they just simply ignore it. And they proceed as if I've never said anything," he told us. "I've now shown you the world is round, and if they want to say it's flat, they'll just go on saying it's flat and say, 'Thomas who?'"

Corruptocrat Eric Holder’s National Security Cover-Up

By Michelle Malkin
25 February 2010

The White House wants to play Transparency Olympics with the Tea Party movement. President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin dared Tea Party activists and conservatives last week to “push the administration to make its policies more open” and make it a “political competition … to see who can be more radical in their openness,” The Hill reported. So, let’s start by knocking down Attorney General Eric Holder’s national security stonewall at the Department of Justice, shall we? Let the sun shine in.

Attorney General Eric Holder

For more than a year, I’ve been writing about the looming national security and conflict-of-interest problems posed by Holder’s status as a former partner at the prestigious law firm Covington and Burling. The company currently represents or has provided pro bono representation and sob-story media-relations campaigns in the past to more than a dozen Gitmo detainees from Yemen who are seeking civilian trials on American soil.

The firm wasn’t just a bit player. It led the charge, contributing more than 3,000 hours to Gitmo litigation in 2007, according to The American Lawyer. At least one known Covington big shot and fellow former Clintonite, Lanny Breuer, now works for Holder as head of the DOJ’s criminal division. Though he himself did not participate in the detainee cases, Holder’s celebrity undoubtedly boosted company-wide prestige.

How many of Holder’s former colleagues and associates are now on the DOJ payroll? How many like them, who worked at other law firms or for left-wing lobbying groups, now inhabit DOJ offices? How many of them have been allowed to work on government terrorism cases related to their past crusades for al-Qaida-tied clients? How many have had to recuse themselves — and have those recusals been full and forthcoming? How can the public judge whether these lawyers are representing America’s best interests — or those of the jihadis?

GOP Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has been trying to get answers. DOJ information suppressors have snubbed him repeatedly. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York reported on Friday, Holder has now acknowledged that “at least” nine Obama appointees in the Justice Department “have represented or advocated for terrorist detainees before joining the Justice Department.” But the tight-lipped, taxpayer-funded litigators at the agency won’t name names or cough up any relevant details.

Grassley asked for “the names of political appointees in the Department who represented detainees (or) worked for organizations advocating on behalf of detainees … the cases or projects that these appointees worked on with respect to detainees prior to joining the Justice Department … and the cases or projects relating to detainees that they have worked on since joining the Justice Department.

…” Beyond two DOJ appointees whose work for jihadi defendants had already been made public, Holder gave up nothing. Zip. Zilch.

It’s not even clear that the Gitmo Nine are the end of the line. The list is not a comprehensive tally of DOJ appointees, Holder told Grassley and other GOP senators who pressed for public disclosure. Why not? What are they trying to hide? Who are they trying to spare?

Americans have a right to know whether they are subsidizing jihadi sympathizers, and whether their Justice Department is now a sanctuary for human rights transnationalists and little terrorists’ helpers in the mold of Lynne Stewart, who was convicted of abetting Muslim terrorist mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and spreading messages inciting violence on his behalf while representing him.

Americans have a right to know whether Holder — who put political interests ahead of security interests at the Clinton Justice Department in both the Marc Rich pardon scandal and the Puerto Rican FALN terrorist debacle — has made hiring decisions that provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.

Tellingly, Holder has treated the GOP’s national security concerns dismissively. He’s hoping his nonresponsive blow-off of Grassley’s request will die on the vine. And just as he used his past lapses in judgment during the Clinton era to argue that they made him more qualified for the job he holds now, Holder argues that the phantom jihadi lawyers on the DOJ payroll are a good thing for the country, so we should just shut up:

“A prosecutor of white-collar fraud cases may have previously represented defendants in such cases. This familiarity with and experience in the relevant area of law redounds to the government’s benefit.”

As usual, Holder puts ordinary civilian crimes on the same footing as terrorism plots and acts of war against our country. But why not let the people decide for themselves whether his staff decisions redound to their benefit? “The American people have the right to information about their government’s activities,” Holder himself said in a press release trumpeting new freedom of information rules last year. Put up or shut up, Mr. Attorney General.


By Ann Coulter
February 24, 2010

Inasmuch as Obamacare has a snowball's chance in hell of passing (but did you see how much snow they got in hell last week?), everyone is wondering what President Obama is up to by calling Republicans to a televised Reykjavik summit this week to discuss socializing health care.

At least they served beer at the last White House summit this stupid and pointless.

If the president is serious about passing nationalized health care, he ought to be meeting with the Democrats, not the Republicans.

Republicans can't stop the Democrats from socializing health care: They are a tiny minority party in both the House and the Senate. (Note to America: You might want to keep this in mind next time you go to the polls.)

As the Democratic base has been hysterically pointing out, both the House and the Senate have already passed national health care bills. Either body could vote for the other's bill, and -- presto! -- Obama would have a national health care bill, replete with death panels, abortion coverage and lots and lots of new government commissions!

Sadly, as the president's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has noted, the Democratic base is "@#$%^ retarded."

The reason massive Democratic majorities in Congress aren't enough to pass socialist health care is AMERICANS DON'T WANT SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!

In fact, you might say that the nation is in a boiling cauldron of rage against it. Consequently, a lot of Democrats are suddenly having second thoughts about vast new government commissions regulating every aspect of Americans' medical care.

Obama isn't stupid -- he's not seriously trying to get a health care bill passed. The whole purpose of this public "summit" with the minority party is to muddy up the Republicans before the November elections. You know, the elections Democrats are going to lose because of this whole health care thing.

Right now, Americans are hopping mad, swinging a stick and hoping to hit anyone who so much as thinks about nationalizing health care.

If they could, Americans would cut the power to the Capitol, throw everyone out and try to deport them. (Whereas I say: Anyone in Washington, D.C., who can produce an original copy of a valid U.S. birth certificate should be allowed to stay.)

But the Democrats think it's a good strategy to call the Republicans "The Party of No." When it comes to Obamacare, Americans don't want a party of "No," they want a party of "Hell, No!" or, as Rahm Emanuel might say, "*&^%$#@ No!"

It's as if the patient has a minor fever and the Democrats (as doctor in this example) want to cut off his arms and legs. The Republicans want to give the patient two aspirin. "Compromise" means the Republicans agree to amputate only one arm and one leg.

Complaining that Republicans are "obstructionists" is not a damaging charge when most Americans are dying to obstruct the Democrats with a 2-by-4. While you're at it, Democrats, why not call the GOP the "Party of Brave Patriots"?

So Obama's sole objective at the "summit" is to hoodwink Republicans into agreeing with some of his wildly unpopular ideas on national TV. If this were a reality show on NBC, it would be called, "Dateline: To Catch a R.I.N.O."

This shouldn't be hard, inasmuch as he will be talking to elected Republicans. About a third of them were enthusiastically engaging in "bipartisanship" on Obamacare last year -- Chuck Grassley, you know who you are! (That's better than Lindsey Graham, who still wants to compromise.)

And then the American people spoke up.

In town halls and tea parties across the nation, Obama lost the argument with Americans. So now he wants a debating partner who will be less challenging: elected Republicans.

If Republicans were smart, they'd shock the world by sending in one of their most appealing members of Congress, who can speak clearly on health care -- Sen. Jon Kyl, Rep. Steve King or Rep. Ron Paul.

Actually, if the Republicans were really smart, they'd send in 14-year-old Jonathan Krohn, who understands the free market better than most people in Washington. Of course, so does my houseplant.

There are other important points Republicans cannot raise often enough -- such as putting scuzzy medical malpractice lawyers like John Edwards out of business. OK, that wasn't fair: Even trial lawyers are almost never as scuzzy as John Edwards. We want to put them all out of business.

But there's really only one idea the Republicans must cling to -- like they're clinging to their guns and religion! -- in order to resist agreeing to something moronic and losing their advantage as Americans' only allies in Washington.

Please, Republicans, remember the free market -- the same free market that gave us cheap cell phones, computers, flat-screen TVs, and stylish, affordable eyeglasses in about an hour.

Congress needs to outlaw state and federal mandates on insurance companies and allow interstate competition in health insurance.

The end.

Love, the American People.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Ave atque vale

By Mark Steyn
Tuesday, 23 February 2010

from the February 22, 2010 issue of National Review

I’m not sure I’m the go-to guy for a disquisition on Catcher In The Rye, but I confess I was always intrigued by the J D Salinger lifestyle, at least since I moved to New Hampshire. He was a ways down the Connecticut River from me, but in this neck of the woods it’s a small world. I was once on a BBC current-affairs show and the sneering host produced a Solzhenitsyn quote designed to demonstrate that my view of American pre-eminence was all hooey, and rounded it out with a snide “I take it you’ve heard of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “We have the same piano tuner.” Which, at that point, we did.


I never had the same piano tuner as J D Salinger. But he was a useful point of reference. A few years ago, the British novelist Sebastian Faulks came to stay with me. Sebastian leads a glittering life in literary London: You may recall him quaffing champagne with Salman Rushdie and Renee Zellweger in a party scene from the film of Bridget Jones’ Diary. So staying with me in the North Country was a bit like detox. “No, no,” I explained. “You’ve got it all wrong. It just looks like the place is a dump, and that I lead an extremely dull life. In fact I’m a recluse. You know, like J D Salinger.”

As all the world seemed to know, Salinger lived in Cornish, NH. Exit 8 off I-91, follow the signs to the theme park (“Recluseland 6 miles”), you can’t miss it. The only fellow I know down there is a chap called N Scott Stevens, who was head of the White Mountain Militia back when Dan Rather used to go on about “the shadowy right-wing militia movement” all the time. Still, how shadowy could it be? I went into the general store and said, “I’m trying to find Scott Stevens”, and after a pregnant silence one of the guys said, “Scott’s not the kind of guy who likes to be found.”

They were more inventive with Salinger fans, sending inquisitive tourists on wild goose chases deep into the hinterland. Peter Burling, a neighbor of his and the then state senator, made a toy bus stop for his kid and stuck it down at the bottom of their hill, and it got about that this little shelter marked the turn to Salinger’s pad. Mr Burling sold the bus stop to another neighbor, Clark Rockefeller, who took it down the road and stapled it on the side of his house. So Mr Rockefeller started getting the literary groupies. And “Clark” had even less desire to be found than N Scott Stevens. He was not, as he claimed to be, a minor Rockefeller, but a psychotic German called Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter subsequently arrested for the kidnapping of his daughter in Boston and also wanted in connection with the disappearance of a California couple.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that this is a statistically representative sample of a small New Hampshire town – one elected official, one militia member, one psycho on the lam, one reclusive novelist – but it comes close. The Granite State is a great place to come to be left alone. Salinger was never that “reclusive”: He participated at Town Meeting and was a regular at church suppers, and in return his neighbors clammed up when out-of-towners showed up asking questions. Of course, not everyone wants to be left alone and, if unlike Salinger and Scott Stevens and “Clark Rockefeller” you’d actually like to be found by somebody – anybody – you’re pretty much in the wrong state. In the small towns of Coos County, just below the Quebec border, there is an excellent publication on sale in most general stores, in which lonely loggers and the like advertise for women to get them through the long winter. I place my ad every November and, although results are mixed, I can safely say that in a million years you could never attract a more disastrous respondent than J D Salinger’s most famous admirer. One day in 1972 he saw an emaciated pixie staring out at him from the cover of The New York Times Magazine. She was a precocious writer called Joyce Maynard. He read the accompanying piece, and invited her to Cornish.

She was 18, he was 35 years older, but they had a lot in common: He was a writer. So was she. He liked “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. So did she. Which was just as well, as the conversation rarely reached the literary heights Miss Maynard had been hoping for. When their affair ended, she became the antithesis of Salinger, one of those writers for whom all life is copy. Ergo, if you’re in her life, you’ll wind up in her writing – as her children, her ex-husband, her friends and her breast implants all subsequently discovered. And so, in the fullness of time, did J D Salinger. In its careless betrayals, her memoir is a fascinating portrait of an icon after hours. Occasionally, the great man even stops talking about TV long enough to give his teenage protégé his unique perspective on the writer’s struggle:

“Every damned time we sit down to work, it’s that same blank page again,” he says. “A person could have a better time at a Doug McClure retrospective.”

For younger readers, Doug McClure played Trampas in The Virginian on NBC from 1962 to 1971.

As the years go by, it’s become my favorite Salinger line, far better than anything in Catcher In The Rye. And it is, in its way, a profound insight. Someone should mount a Doug McClure retrospective, just to see how many reclusive novelists show up.

Better Here than There

The Left tends to get schoolgirl crushes on foreign regimes; alas, they usually end in heartbreak.

By Jonah Goldberg
February 24, 2010 12:00 A.M.

‘I have been over into the future, and it works.”

Lincoln Steffens, the muckraking journalist, offered that review of the Soviet Union on his return from a fact-finding mission there. For decades, conservatives invoked that line as proof that a generation of progressives were Soviet fellow-travelers. Conservatives were far from entirely wrong, but the focus on Communism obscured a more enduring dynamic: The Left loves to press its nose against the window on the world and talk about how things are better “over there.”

Indeed, a year earlier, Steffens went to fascist Italy and came back praising Il Duce’s miraculous accomplishments. Before that, the cream of America’s intellectuals were obsessed with emulating the “top-down socialism” of Bismarck’s Prussia. Later, the New Deal was understood as part of the “Europeanization of America,” in historian William Leuchtenburg’s phrase. Liberal economist Stuart Chase, who coined the term “the New Deal,” remarked: “Why should the Russians have all the fun remaking the world?”

In the 1980s, some economists, such as Lester Thurow, and non-economists, such as Robert Reich, Chalmers Johnson, and James Fallows, argued that we needed to emulate Germany or, even better, Japan. “The Cold War is over,” proclaimed Johnson. “Japan won.” American liberalism’s infatuation with Japan’s industrial policy — “Japan Inc.” — should be remembered as one of the great embarrassments of recent intellectual history.

But no, like butterflies always looking for a prettier flower, these intellectuals keep flitting to the next “proof” of America’s shortcomings. For some, such as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, the prettiest flower out there right now is China. For others, it’s France or Canada. For the truly demented, it’s Cuba.

The problem with all such efforts is that they look abroad solely for what they wish to see at home. For instance, in an effort to push its green agenda, the Obama administration likes to tout the farsighted vision of Spain, which has invested heavily in windmills and other renewable technology. Never mind that today, Spain’s economic crisis is just slightly less dire than Greece’s and politicized bets on green technology contributed to its problems.

Meanwhile, France’s generous health-care system is widely hailed as so much more enlightened than America’s. What Francophiles usually leave out is the fact that France’s per capita income is 30 percent lower than America’s. Such a disparity, according to Nobel Prize–winning economist Ed Prescott, is the difference between economic prosperity and economic depression, and it’s explained by France’s much higher taxes.

Tom Friedman has gone so far as to wish America could be “China for a day” and to suggest that its “enlightened” regime is preferable to our own. It’s not that Friedman wants to abolish democracy, jail dissidents, or force abortions. He’s more like a drunk looking for his car keys where the light is good. He sees a nation doing things he thinks America should be doing, but doesn’t look for what he doesn’t want to see: the pollution, the cruelty, the lies and basic evil that are just as central to China’s methods as its “enlightened” investments in this or that.

What unites all of these people is a form of power worship. These foreign governments and their experts have control over citizens and economies — sometimes through democratic consent, sometimes not — that the state doesn’t have in America. Thus proving American backwardness.

Perhaps we’re not backward at all. Maybe America simply values economic freedom over economic security more than most countries do.

Regardless, the track record of such control, over the long haul, is abysmal, particularly in comparison with America’s more unplanned approach (indeed, the world’s planned economies often feed off American innovation to survive). The Soviets are in the dustbin of history; Japan Inc. is in its second “lost decade”; Europe is in an economic crisis; China’s problems are hard to see because Beijing likes it that way. We have our own problems, but history shows that the solution to them is not to be found in more centralized planning.

Politicians and planners have a tendency to stay locked into their idea of what works long after it doesn’t work anymore. If our government had China-like power in the 1970s, we would have banned natural gas. If it had such powers in the 1830s, we would have stuck with canals long after railroads became viable.

The future can’t be found on a junket, and it never works until you get there.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Nats' Rodriguez terms Strasburg 'amazing'

By Thomas Boswell
The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; D01

VIERA, FLA. Before his bullpen session here on Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg glanced to see who'd be his catcher of the day. In his first work of spring training Sunday, it was minor leaguer Derek Norris. This time he saw Iván Rodríguez, 14 All-Star games, 13 Gold Gloves.

"The first couple of pitches, I lost focus when I saw [whom] it was," said Strasburg, who hit Pudge in the toe with his first pitch. "It was unreal, throwing to a [future] Hall of Famer."

Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during spring training baseball practice, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010, in Viera, Fla. (AP)

For 10 minutes, the 21-year-old who has been called -- maybe prematurely but not necessarily incorrectly -- the best pitching prospect ever, pounded Pudge's mitt with four different pitches.

By the end, it was Pudge who thought the day had been unreal. "Amazing," he said to me later. Then clammed up.

No one understands the quality of a pitcher's stuff as well as a great veteran catcher. He feels it in his hand. His reflexes inform him; if he can barely catch the ball at times, how can others hit it?

So, everybody here in the Nats spring training camp has waited for Pudge to catch Jesus. Yes, that's Strasburg's nickname now, courtesy of Nyjer Morgan who said, "That's what everybody says the first time they see Strasburg throw -- Jeeee-sus."

Scouts matter. Radar guns and videotape are nice. But Pudge is an opinion with a difference. After 10 minutes with Strasburg, I-Rod said only three words. Over his shoulder, he barked to General Manager Mike Rizzo, "Good job, Mike." A line of Nats front office brass let out a group chuckle.

Rodríguez wouldn't gush about the rookie to reporters. Don't jinx him, like Sparky Anderson calling Kirk Gibson "the next Mickey Mantle." But he spilled the beans in private to Nats brass.

"I can't repeat most of what Pudge said. It would put too much pressure on the general manager," said Rizzo, the general manager.

However, pitching coach Steve McCatty did the dishing.

"Is his stuff like [Justin] Verlander?' " asked McCatty, knowing Rodríguez caught the A.L. strikeout leader in Detroit.

"No," said Rodríguez. "It's like Nolan."

So, there you have it. That would be Nolan Ryan of the 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters. Pudge caught him for three years in Texas and handled him in camp the last year he fanned 300 men.

Strasburg may become great. Or like other phenoms, he may get hurt. But, let the record show, the first time he saw him, I-Rod, maybe the best defensive catcher ever, linked his stuff with Ryan.

"He threw real good the other day," said Manager Jim Riggleman. "Today, he was off-the-chart good."

Are the Nats, so bad the last two years, prone to day dreaming? Special assistant Davey Johnson has unusual perspective. He managed Strasburg in the '08 Olympics as well as Dwight Gooden in his supernova rookie season at age 19 in '84. The back field scene -- Strasburg throwing to Rodríguez with ol' sassy Davey watching -- was a spring training moment to savor.

After about 20 Strasburg pitches, Johnson couldn't keep it in anymore. In his Texas twang he snorted, "That [stuff] might be able to win in Double A." Insert your expletive of choice.

That stuff will win anywhere. But it will almost certainly have to win in the minors until about June. Strasburg may start in A ball [Potomac] where the weather is less cold, then move to Class AA where the fast-track talent lurks. But, like Mark Prior, a No. 2 overall pick of comparable size, stuff and baseball maturity, Strasburg may not need more than 10 starts to be ready for D.C.

The comparisons of Strasburg to Gooden strike Johnson as appropriate and unavoidable. "Stephen's delivery is much faster to the plate from the stretch than Doc -- 1.0 to 1.6 seconds. You could run on Gooden," said Johnson. "But Doc turned his shoulder more and hid the ball from the batter better. Gooden could always read the hitters. Strasburg's going to work with veteran catchers. He'll learn to read 'em, too."

Rodríguez and the Nats are impressed by Strasburg's fastball, clocked at over 100 mph in college, and a slider, which is so sharp that -- standing 15 feet away (behind a fence) -- I thought it had hit a bird in flight. But the Nats knew he had those pitches at San Diego State. What stuns them is his command of a 93 mph sinker and an 88 mph change-up that breaks down like a splitter.

Catcher Jamie Burke, next to I-Rod, asked after one pitch, "Split?" Rodríguez just shook his head, "No."

" 'Splitter' is what everybody says when they see it," said Rizzo, who'd never let a kid throw such an arm-eating pitch. "It's just a circle change-up." One that drops almost a foot, like a screwball.

Rodríguez's first info for Rizzo was that Strasburg "hit the glove with every two-seam fastball -- on both sides of the plate."

That pitch will get you to the majors fast. It gets you quick ground outs. "In college, I only pitched once a week and you go mostly one-two punch -- fastball and slider," said Strasburg. "With metal bats, you can only throw a change-up to a left-handed batter. You can't jam a right-handed hitter. . . . But in pro ball, you can use the sinker and change-up more and lower your pitch count."

The Nats try to be skeptical so they won't sound nuts. "In the end, the hitters will tell you about him," said McCatty. "But I have no doubt what's going to happen. As far as his raw stuff, it's all true. I've never seen anything like it. He's as billed. Maybe more."

Nothing in baseball is new. The Orioles had a No. 1-overall draft pick in camp 20 years ago. Ben McDonald, 6-foot-7, threw 32 strikes in 35 pitches in his first game and a shutout in his first big league start. Before injuries and lost confidence, before the league figured out that he only had two pitches -- a precise fastball that touched 97 and a huge overhand curveball -- he looked super. As a rookie in '90, he was 8-5 with a 2.43 ERA in 118 innings.

That spring, we all watched McDonald almost at arm's length, just like Strasburg now. It's not close. Strasburg looks better. He's faster, has more quality pitches, is quicker to the plate and, since he was never a star until his second year in college, Strasburg never developed an entitled attitude.

Now come the questions that can only be answered by time. Is Strasburg durable? No one knows how pitching every fifth day, for months, will impact any 21-year-old's arm. How will he react to failures, since he'll have them? Do 30,000 people focus him or distract him? Is there any negative X factor -- like a temper that flashed a bit in college -- that's not known?

Now, he looks so good that everybody is trying to claim him. Exec Bob Boone now says, "Yeah, I was beating the bushes and I saw him throwing rocks at birds."

And hitting them with all five pitches?

Patience, patience.

"It's all about the innings now. Only way to learn," said Johnson. "The main outcome is not today. You don't win the world in one day."

But, sometimes, on a bad team that desperately wants to be better, you can stop the world, if only for 10 minutes, and give a glimpse of the future. Or so it seems.