Saturday, June 19, 2010

Can Obama plug leak in his support?

The Orange County Register
2010-06-18 09:59:34

I believe it was Jean Giraudoux who first said, "Only the mediocre are always at their best."

Barack Obama was supposed to be the best, the very best, and yet he is always, reliably, consistently mediocre. His speech on oil was no better or worse than his speech on race. Yet the Obammyboppers who once squealed with delight are weary of last year's boy band. At the end of the big Oval Office address, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and the rest of the MSNBC gang jeered the president. For a bewildered Obama, it must have felt like his Ceausescu balcony moment. Had they caught up with him in the White House parking lot, they'd have put him up against the wall and clubbed him to a pulp with Matthews' no-longer-tingling leg.

For the first time I felt a wee bit sorry for the poor fellow. What had he done to so enrage his full supporting chorus? In The Washington Post, the reaction of longtime Obammysoxer Eugene Robinson was headlined "Obama Disappoints From The Beginning Of His Speech."

So what? He always "disappoints." What would have been startling would have been if he hadn't "disappointed." His eve-of-election rally for Martha Coakley "disappointed" the Massachusetts electorate so much they gave Ted Kennedy's seat to a Republican. His speech for Chicago's Olympic bid "disappointed" the Oslo committee so much they gave the games to Pyongyang, or Ouagadougou, or any city offering to build a stadium with electrical outlets incompatible with Obama's prompter. Be honest, guys, his inaugural address "disappointed," too, didn't it? Oh, in those days you still did your best to make the case for it. "He carries us from meditative bead to meditative bead, and invites us to contemplate," wrote Stanley Fish in The New York Times. "There is a technical term for this kind of writing – parataxis, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'the placing of propositions or clauses one after the other without indicating ... the relation of co-ordination or subordination between them.'"

Gotcha. To a fool, His Majesty's new clothes appear absolutely invisible. But, to a wise man, the placing of buttons and pockets without indicating the relation of co-ordination is a fascinating exercise in parataxical couture.

And so Obama bounded out to knock 'em dead with another chorus of "I'll be down to get you in a parataxis, honey," only to find himself pelted with dead fish rather than Stanley Fish. The Times' Maureen Dowd deplored his "bloodless quality" and "emotional detachment." This is the same Maureen Dowd who in 2009 hailed the new presidency with a column titled "Spock At The Bridge" – and she meant it as a compliment. Back then, this administration was supposed to be the new technocracy – cool, calm and credentialed chaps who would sit down, use their mighty intellects to provide a rigorous, post-partisan, forensic analysis of the problem, and then break for their Vanity Fair photo shoot.

What was it all the smart set said about Bush? Lazy and uncurious? Had Obama or his speechwriters chanced upon last week's fishwrap, they might have noticed that I described the president as "the very model of a modern major generalist," and they might have considered whether it might not be time to try something new. For example, he could have demonstrated, as he and his Energy Secretary (whoops, Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary) have so signally failed to do, an understanding of what is actually happening 5,000 feet underwater and why it's hard to stop. Instead, lazy and uncurious, this is what the Technocratic Mastermind offered: "Just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge – a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation's Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

"As a result of these efforts, we've directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology."

Excellent. The president directed his Nobel Prize-winning Head of Meetings to assemble a meeting to tackle the challenge of mobilizing the assembling of the tackling of the challenge mobilization, at the end of which they directed BP to order up some new tackle and connect it to the thingummy next to the whachamacallit. Thank you, Mr. President. That and $4.95 will get you a venti oleaginato at Starbucks.

The boring technocrat stuff out of the way, he then did his usual shtick. In the race speech, invited to address specific points about his pastor's two-decade pattern of ugly anti-American rhetoric and his opportunist peddling of paranoid conspiracies to his gullible congregants about AIDS being invented by the U.S. government to wipe them out, Obama preferred to talk about race in general – you know, blacks, whites, that sort of thing; lot of it about. The media loved it. This time round, invited to address specific points about an unstoppable spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama retreated to more generalities – the environment, land, air, that sort of thing; lot of it about. "President Obama said he is going to use the Gulf disaster to push a new energy bill through Congress," observed Jay Leno. "How about using the Gulf disaster to fix the Gulf disaster?"

When he did get specific, he sounded faintly surreal. "As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows..." Energy-efficient windows? That's a great line – if Obama's auditioning to play himself on "Saturday Night Live" parodies.

And hang on, isn't this the same guy who was promising to start "kicking ass" just a few days ago? You may find yourself recalling the moment in the film "In And Out" when Kevin Kline is trying to master the "How To Be Manly" audiotape and accidentally says "What an interesting window treatment."

But, as Rahm Emmanuel shrewdly noted, never let a crisis go to waste, not when you can get a new window treatment out of it.

My colleague Rich Lowry suggested the other day that most people not on the Gulf coast aren't really that bothered about the spill, and that Obama has allowed himself to be blown off course entirely unnecessarily. There may be some truth to this: For most of America, this is a Potemkin crisis. But what better kind to trip up a Potemkin leader? So the president has now declared war on the great BP spill – Gulf War 3! – and in this epic conflict the Speechgiver-in-Chief will surely be his own unmanned drone:

"I fired off a speech

But the British kept a-spillin'

Twice as many barrels as there was a month ago

I fired off a speech

But the British kept a-spillin'

Up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico..."

Chris Matthews and the other leg-tinglers invented an Obama that doesn't exist. Unfortunately, they're stuck with the one that does, and it will be interesting to see whether he's capable of plugging the leak in his own support. If not, who knows what the tide might wash up?

Memo to Secretary Rodham Clinton: Do you find yourself of a quiet evening with a strange craving for chicken dinners and county fairs in Iowa and New Hampshire, maybe next summer? Need one of those relaunch books to explain why you're getting back in the game in your country's hour of need?

"It Takes A Spillage."


Friday, June 18, 2010

A Mind-Changing Page

By Thomas Sowell
June 18, 2010

Sometimes you can read a book that will change your mind on some fundamental issue. Rarely, however, is there just one page that can undermine or destroy a widely-held belief. But there is such a page-- page 77 of the book "Out of Work" by Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway.

The widespread belief is that government intervention is the key to getting the country out of a serious economic downturn. The example often cited is President Franklin D. Roosevelt's intervention, after the stock market crash of 1929 was followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, with its massive and long-lasting unemployment.

Sculpture of the bread line at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington.

This is more than just a question about history. Right here and right now there is a widespread belief that the unregulated market is what got us into our present economic predicament, and that the government must "do something" to get the economy moving again. FDR's intervention in the 1930s has often been cited by those who think this way.

What is on that one page in "Out of Work" that could change people's minds? Just a simple table, giving unemployment rates for every month during the entire decade of the 1930s.

Those who think that the stock market crash in October 1929 is what caused the huge unemployment rates of the 1930s will have a hard time reconciling that belief with the data in that table.

Although the big stock market crash occurred in October 1929, unemployment never reached double digits in any of the next 12 months after that crash. Unemployment peaked at 9 percent, two months after the stock market crashed-- and then began drifting generally downward over the next six months, falling to 6.3 percent by June 1930.

This was what happened in the market, before the federal government decided to "do something."

What the government decided to do in June 1930-- against the advice of literally a thousand economists, who took out newspaper ads warning against it-- was impose higher tariffs, in order to save American jobs by reducing imported goods.

This was the first massive federal intervention to rescue the economy, under President Herbert Hoover, who took pride in being the first President of the United States to intervene to try to get the economy out of an economic downturn.

Within six months after this government intervention, unemployment shot up into double digits-- and stayed in double digits in every month throughout the entire remainder of the decade of the 1930s, as the Roosevelt administration expanded federal intervention far beyond what Hoover had started.

If more government regulation of business is the magic answer that so many seem to think it is, the whole history of the 1930s would have been different. An economic study in 2004 concluded that New Deal policies prolonged the Great Depression. But the same story can be found on one page in "Out of Work."

While the market produced a peak unemployment rate of 9 percent-- briefly-- after the stock market crash of 1929, unemployment shot up after massive federal interventions in the economy. It rose above 20 percent in 1932 and stayed above 20 percent for 23 consecutive months, beginning in the Hoover administration and continuing during the Roosevelt administration.

As Casey Stengel used to say, "You could look it up." It is all there on that one page.

Those who are convinced that the government has to "do something" when the economy has a problem almost never bother to find out what actually happens when the government intervenes.

The very fact that we still remember the stock market crash of 1929 is remarkable, since there was a similar stock market crash in 1987 that most people have long since forgotten.

What was the difference between these two stock market crashes? The 1929 stock market crash was followed by the most catastrophic depression in American history, with as many as one-fourth of all American workers being unemployed. The 1987 stock market crash was followed by two decades of economic growth with low unemployment.

But that was only one difference. The other big difference was that the Reagan administration did not intervene in the economy after the 1987 stock market crash-- despite many outcries in the media that the government should "do something."

Copyright 2010, Creators Syndicate Inc.

Barack Obama, Dreamer in Chief

Vision is Obama’s thing. It sure beats cleaning up beaches.

By Charles Krauthammer
June 18, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Pres. Barack Obama doesn’t do the mundane. He was sent to us to do larger things. You could see that plainly in his Oval Office address on the Gulf oil spill. He could barely get himself through the pedestrian first half: a bit of BP-bashing, a bit of faux-Clintonian “I feel your pain,” a bit of recovery and economic-mitigation accounting. It wasn’t until the end of the speech — the let-no-crisis-go-to-waste part that tried to leverage the Gulf Coast devastation to advance his cap-and-trade climate-change agenda — that Obama warmed to his task.

Pedestrian is beneath Obama. Mr. Fix-It he is not. He is world-historical, the visionary, come to make the oceans recede and the planet heal.

How? By creating a glorious, new clean-green economy. And how exactly to do that? From Washington, by presidential command, and with tens of billions of dollars thrown around. With the liberal (and professorial) conceit that scientific breakthroughs can be legislated into existence, Obama proposes to give us a new industrial economy.

But is this not what we’ve been trying to do for decades with ethanol — which remains a monumental boondoggle, economically unviable and environmentally damaging to boot — as with yesterday’s panacea, synfuels, into which Jimmy Carter poured billions?

Notice that Obama no longer talks about Spain, which until recently he repeatedly cited for its visionary subsidies of a blossoming new clean-energy industry. That’s because Spain, now on the verge of bankruptcy, is pledged to reverse its disastrously bloated public spending, including radical cuts in subsidies to its uneconomical photovoltaic industry.

There’s a reason petroleum is such a durable fuel. It’s not, as Obama fatuously suggested, because of oil-company lobbying, but because it is very portable, energy-dense, and easy to use.

But this doesn’t stop Obama from thinking that he can mandate a superior substitute into being. His argument: Well, if we can put a man on the moon, why not this?

Aside from the irony that this most tiresome of clichés comes from a president who is canceling our program to return to the moon, it is utterly meaningless. The wars on cancer and on poverty have been similarly sold. They remain unwon. Why? Because we knew how to land on the moon. We had the physics to do it. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are far more complex than the Newtonian equations that govern a moon landing. Equally daunting are the laws of social interaction — even assuming there are any — that sustain a culture of poverty.

Similarly, we don’t know how to make renewables that match the efficiency of fossil fuels. In the interim, it is Obama and his Democratic allies who, as they dream of such scientific leaps, are unwilling to use existing technologies to reduce our dependence on foreign (i.e., imported) and risky (i.e., deepwater) sources of oil — twin dependencies that Obama decried in Tuesday’s speech.

“Part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean,” said Obama, is “because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.”

Running out of places on land? What about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the less-known National Petroleum Reserve — 23 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope, near the existing pipeline and designated nearly a century ago for petroleum development — that have been shut down by the federal government?

Running out of shallow-water sources? How about the Pacific Ocean, a not-inconsiderable body of water, and its vast U.S. coastline? That’s been off-limits to new drilling for three decades.

We haven’t run out of safer and more easily accessible sources of oil. We’ve been run off them by environmentalists. They prefer to dream green instead.

Obama is dreamer in chief: He wants to take us to this green future “even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet precisely know how we’re going to get there.” Here’s the offer: Tax carbon, spend trillions, and put government in control of the energy economy — and he will take you he knows not where, by way of a road he knows not which.

That’s why Tuesday’s speech was received with such consternation. It was so untethered from reality. The Gulf is gushing, and the president is talking mystery roads to unknown destinations. That passes for vision, and vision is Obama’s thing. It sure beats cleaning up beaches.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010, The Washington Post Writers Group.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The left’s strange hostility to Hirsi Ali

Nicholas Kristof is just the latest great thinker to talk himself into a rosy view of Islam

by Mark Steyn on Thursday, June 10, 2010 8:00am -

Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

Despite being a bit of an old showbiz queen, I’m not much for the huggy-kissy photo wall of me sharing a joke with various luvvies. I make an exception on the bureau behind my desk for a shot of yours truly and a beautiful woman, Somali by birth, Dutch by citizenship, at a beachfront bar in Malibu at sunset. I like the picture because, while I look rather bleary with a few too many chins, my companion is bright-eyed with a huge smile on her face and having a grand old time—grand, that is, because of its very normality: a crappy bar, drinks with cocktail umbrellas, a roomful of blithely ignorant California hedonists who’ll all be going back home at the end of the evening to Dancing With the Stars or Conan O’Brien or some other amusement.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali can’t lead that life. She lives under armed guard and was forced to abandon the Netherlands because quite a lot of people want to kill her. And not in the desultory behead-the-enemies-of-Islam you-will-die-infidel pro forma death-threats-R-us way that many of us have perforce gotten used to in recent years: her great friend and professional collaborator was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a man who shot him eight times, attempted to decapitate him, and then drove into his chest two knives, pinning to what was left of him a five-page note pledging to do the same to her.

What would you do in those circumstances? Ayaan and I had repaired to that third-rate bar after a day-long conference on Islam, jihad, free speech and whatnot. That’s usually where I run into her, whether in Malibu or at the Carlton Club in London or at a less illustrious venue. Would you be doing that with a price on your head? Or would you duck out of sight, lie low, change your name, move to New Zealand, and hope one day to get your life back? After the threats against the Comedy Central show South Park the other week, Ms. Hirsi Ali turned up on CNN to say that the best defence against Islamic intimidation is for us all to stand together and thereby “share the risk.” But, around the world, every single translator of her books has insisted on total anonymity. When push comes to shove, very few are willing to share the risk. The British historian Andrew Roberts calls her “the bravest woman I know.” I would say she is not only the bravest but also, given her circumstances, the most optimistic. I have an unbounded admiration for her personally, but a not insignificant difference philosophically, of which more momentarily.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s great cause is women’s liberation. Unfortunately for her, the women she wants to liberate are Muslim, so she gets minimal support and indeed a ton of hostility from Western feminists who have reconciled themselves, consciously or otherwise, to the two-tier sisterhood: when it comes to clitoridectomies, forced marriages, honour killings, etc., multiculturalism trumps feminism. Liberal men are, if anything, even more opposed. She long ago got used to the hectoring TV interviewer, from Avi Lewis on the CBC a while back to Tavis Smiley on PBS just the other day, insisting that say what you like about Islam but everyone knows that Christians are just as backward and violent, if not more so. The media left spends endless hours and most of its interminable awards ceremonies congratulating itself on its courage, on “speaking truth to power,” the bravery of dissent and all the rest, but faced with a pro-gay secular black feminist who actually lives it they frost up in nothing flat.

The latest is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Reviewing Ayaan’s new book Nomad, he begins:

“She has managed to outrage more people—in some cases to the point that they want to assassinate her—in more languages in more countries on more continents than almost any writer in the world today. Now Hirsi Ali is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir.”

That’s his opening pitch: if there are those who wish to kill her, it’s her fault because she’s a provocateuse who’s found a lucrative shtick in “working on antagonizing” people. The Times headlines Kristof’s review “The Gadfly,” as if she’s a less raddled and corpulent Gore Vidal. In fact, she wrote a screenplay for a film; Muslim belligerents threatened to kill her and her director; they made good on one half of that threat. This isn’t shtick.

But Kristof decides to up the condescension. Of the author’s estrangement from her Somali relatives, he writes: “I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Hirsi Ali’s family is dysfunctional simply because its members never learned to bite their tongues and just say to one another: ‘I love you.’ ”

Awwwww. Group hug! Works every time.

But maybe not so much in Somalia. This isn’t a family where they bite their tongues but where they puncture their clitorises. At the age of five, Ayaan was forced to undergo “FGM” (female genital mutilation), or, in the new non-judgmental PC euphemism, “cutting.” When she had her first period, her mother beat her. When she was 22, her father arranged for her to marry a cousin in Canada. While in Germany awaiting the visa for her wedded bliss in Her Majesty’s multicultural utopia, she decided to skip out, and fled to the Netherlands.

All she wanted was a chance to do what Nicholas Kristof takes for granted—to live her own life. What difference would saying “I love you” in a Lifestyle Channel soft-focus blur accompanied by saccharine strings make? As they see it, the perpetrators of “honour killings” love their daughters: that’s why they kill ’em. Would Kristof wish to swap his options for the set menu served up to Muslim women? How would he like it if, just as he was getting ready to head to Oxford on his Rhodes Scholarship, his dad had announced that he’d arranged for him to marry a cousin? Oh, and in Canada.

Which brings me to my big philosophical difference with Ms. Hirsi Ali: in 2006, she was one of a dozen intellectuals to publish a manifesto against radical Islam and in defence of “secular values for all.” Often in her speeches, she’ll do a heartwarming pitch to all of us—“black, white, gay, straight”—to stand firm for secular humanism. My problem with this is that, in Europe and elsewhere, liberal secularism is not the solution to the problem but the vacuum in which a resurgent globalized Islam has incubated. The post-Christian, post-modern multicultural society is too vapid to have any purchase on large numbers of the citizenry. So they look elsewhere. The Times of London recently interviewed a few of Britain’s many female converts to Islam, such as Catherine Huntley, 21, of Bournemouth (“I’ve always been quite a spiritual person”) and Sukina Douglas, 28, of London (“Islam didn’t oppress women; people did”).

In a way, the Western left’s hostility to Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes my point for me. In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman wrote that suicide bombings “produced a philosophical crisis, among everyone around the world who wanted to believe that a rational logic governs the world.” In other words, it has to be about “poverty” or “social justice” because the alternative—that they want to kill us merely because we are the other—undermines the hyper-rationalist’s entire world view. Thus, every pro-gay, pro-feminist, pro-black Western liberal’s determination to blame Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the fact that a large number of benighted thuggish halfwits want to kill her. Deploring what he regards as her simplistic view of Islam, Nicholas Kristof rhapsodizes about its many fine qualities—“There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews.”

Oh, for crying out loud. In the Muslim world, Christians and Jews have been on the receiving end of a remorseless ethno-religious cleansing for decades. Christian churches get burned, along with their congregations, from Nigeria to Pakistan. Egypt is considering stripping men who marry Jewesses of their citizenship. Saudi Arabia won’t let ’em in the country. In the 1920s, Baghdad was 40 per cent Jewish. Gee, I wonder where they all went. Maybe that non-stop “warm hospitality” wears you down after a while . . .

As Paul Mirengoff of the Power Line blog observes, traditionally when useful idiots shill for illiberal ideologies it requires at least “the illusion of progressivism” to bring them on board. Islam can’t provide that, but that’s no obstacle to getting the bien pensants to sign up. As much as anyone, secular leftists want meaning in their lives. But Communism went belly up; the postwar welfare state is bankrupt; environmentalism has taken a hit in recent months; and Christianity gives them the vapours. Nicholas Kristof will not be the first great thinker to talk himself into a view of Islam as this season’s version of Richard Gere Buddhism.

At a superficial level, the Islamo-leftist alliance makes no sense: gay feminist secular hedonists making common cause with homophobic misogynist proscriptive theocrats. From Islam’s point of view, it’s an alliance of convenience. But I would bet that more than a few lefties will wind up embracing Islam to one degree or another before we’re done.

Related Link- Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali:


Mark Steyn on the World
Tuesday, 15 June 2010

from the June 7, 2010 issue of National Review

It was one of those stories people followed at airports and railway stations — not exactly 9/11 or the death of the Princess of Wales, but not a routine story of faraway disaster, either. Small knots stood around looking up at the screens and shaking their heads as new facts — actually, make that new “facts” — emerged. “Massacre in the Med” screamed the headline on London’s Daily Mirror, as if Mossad hit men had stormed a topless beach at St. Tropez. Only two weeks ago, I wrote about the near-total delegitimization of Israel in Europe. And, even as National Review hit the stands, along comes a Turkish “humanitarian” “aid” flotilla to make the point for me. I was in Britain, France, and Italy as the story developed, and it was fascinating just to study the vocal tone of the news anchors — the inflections of both outrage and contempt: You won’t believe what those Jews have done now! The rage was as “disproportionate” as Israel’s actions are always said to be: Nobody gives a hoot what North Korea does to South Korean ships. Muslim gunmen open fire on two mosques in Lahore after Friday prayers, killing 93, and it barely makes the papers.

There are no good options for Israel. These days, Europeans pay even less lip service to the “two-state solution” than Hamas does. The default position is that the creation of the Zionist Entity was an error and an historical injustice, and thus it has to be corrected one way or the other. If — when — the mullahs drop the big one on Tel Aviv, the BBC wallahs will momentarily drop the sneers for a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger shtick about how, tragic as it is, it brings to a close an unfortunate chapter in Middle Eastern history.

Once upon a time, Israel had allies. But Turkey, formerly its best friend in the Muslim world, now pledges to send the next “aid” convoy under naval escort. Is post-Kemalist Ankara’s antipathy to the Jewish state merely a reflection of demographic re-Islamization? Or is it a canny bid to shore up its application for European Union membership? No matter. I get a lot of mail these days arguing that Europeans are finally waking up to the dangers posed by their ever-more-assertive Muslim populations. Yet, whatever their differences on, say, alcohol consumption, gay rights, or female circumcision, ethnic Europeans and their Muslim immigrants are in more or less total harmony when it comes to the iniquity of the Zionist Entity. A famous poll a few years back found that 59 percent of Europeans regard Israel as the greatest threat to world peace — in Germany, it was 65 percent; Austria, 69 percent; the Netherlands, 74 percent. A similar poll reported that in Egypt and Saudi Arabia it was 79 percent. It would be interesting to re-test the question in the light of the “massacre in the Med” and see whether Israel now scores as a greater threat in Belgium than in Yemen.

There is a kind of logic about this. As paradoxical as it sounds, Muslims have been far greater beneficiaries of Holocaust guilt than the Jews. In a nutshell, the Holocaust enabled the Islamization of Europe. Without post-war guilt, and the revulsion against nationalism, and the embrace of multiculturalism and mass immigration, the Continent would never have entertained for a moment the construction of mosques from Dublin to Dusseldorf and the accommodation of Muslim sensitivities on everything from British nursing uniforms to Brussels police doughnut consumption during Ramadan. Holocaust guilt is a cornerstone of the Muslim Europe arising before our eyes. The only minority that can’t leverage the Shoah these days is the actual target. It is disheartening to see Elie Wiesel, in Toronto the other day, calling for Holocaust denial to be made a crime throughout the world (as it already is in many European countries). He so doesn’t get it. The greater risk to Jews is not that the world will “forget” the murder of 6 million people but that it has appropriated the crime for its own purposes. In Europe, the ever more extravagant Holocaust Memorial Day observances have taken on the character of America’s gay-pride parades with their endlessly proliferating subcategories of celebrants. As Anthony Lipmann, the son of an Auschwitz survivor, wrote in The Spectator five years ago: “When on 27 January I take my mother’s arm — tattoo number A-25466 — I will think not just of the crematoria and the cattle trucks but of Darfur, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Jenin, Fallujah.”

Jenin? Ah, well, that was the “massacre” before the “massacre in the Med.” According to the official Israeli figures, the death toll of Palestinians at Jenin in 2002 was 52. According to the official Palestinian figures, the death toll was 56. According to the British newspaper The Independent, it was “as many as 500” slaughtered in Israeli “atrocities” throughout the “killing fields” of Jenin. According to The Guardian, the mass murder was “every bit as repellent” as 9/11. According to The Evening Standard, it was “genocide.”

Eight years later, when the flotilla hit the fan, a couple of readers wrote to me to ask why the British and European media were always so eager to be led up the garden path. Because, when it comes to Israeli “atrocities,” they want to believe. Because, even in an age of sentimental one-worldism, the Jews remain “the other.” If old-school Euro-Judenhass derived from racism and nationalism, the new Judenhass has advanced under the cover of anti-racism and multiculturalism. The oldest hatred didn’t get that way without an ability to adapt.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Review: 'The Passage' by Justin Cronin

The PEN/Hemingway prize-winning author veers into sci-fi territory with an apocalyptic vampire saga as stirring as it is ambitious.

By Ed Park, Special to the Los Angeles Times
June 15, 2010

Author Justin Cronin. (Caleb Jones / Associated Press)

Chosen for both the Pulitzer Prize and coverage on "Oprah," Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel "The Road" regularly appears in debates over genre carpetbagging. Should die-hard fans of a genre (in this case science fiction) be honored or annoyed when an interloper wanders onto their creative territory? The title of McCarthy's book indicates the path its father-and-son protagonists follow, but it might also symbolize the author's journey from revered offshoot of the Melville-Hemingway-Faulkner axis to de facto practitioner of end-of-the-world lit. Justin Cronin's ample vampire-virus saga "The Passage" also presents a vivid eschatology, while its title indicates an even more profound transformation of one sort of literary sensibility into another. Whether the transformation takes is one of the tantalizing aspects of "The Passage."

Cronin's pre-"Passage" career isn't as well-known as McCarthy's pre-"Road" oeuvre was, though his debut, "Mary and O'Neil," won the 2002 PEN/Hemingway Prize. That ingeniously elliptical novel-in-stories is the epitome of the quiet literary work, populated with well-meaning characters whose lives hinge on grief and love. The book leapfrogs through time, each narrative at once discrete and integral to the larger picture. The cumulative effect, on the final page, is an overwhelming surge of emotion.

"The Passage" also has a memorable ending (more on that later), but otherwise would seem to share little with "Mary and O'Neil," which could fit inside its pages several times over. Lethal bats attack, crossbows get unloaded, rogue operatives blow up small-town civilians and death-row inmates are recruited as guinea pigs for a top-secret medical experiment. The vampires (called, variously, virals, jumps, smokes and dracs) that eventually run rampant are not the suave stuff of Bram Stoker but brutal, hideously efficient killing machines. Desire, not to mention irony, has been removed from the monster's equation. This is the straight stuff, for better or worse.

Most audaciously, Cronin allows a century to pass invisibly between the action of the opening third of the book and the start of the remainder: America has been decimated by dracs, and Cronin conjures up a new one out of its ashes — a "colony" of human survivors in California, circa 92 AV (After Virus), that relies on huge lights to fend off the photophobic creatures.

As committed as Cronin is to this brave new world of mortal combat and stunted technology, he's even more concerned with making his characters recognizably human. The first 250 pages are nearly flawless. Set slightly in the future, it weaves an intricate but always compelling story centering on a girl named Amy, whose hard-luck mother abandons her to an African-born nun named Lacey; and Wolgast, the FBI agent assigned to retrieve her for Project NOAH, a mysterious, military-bankrolled experiment in longevity that will soon run amok. Wolgast finds in Amy the daughter he lost. Here Cronin also gives us deep-background miniatures of minor characters, and though the prose is occasionally overwrought, it's never boring.

Honing in on vampires' traditional immortality, "The Passage" initially has the lineaments of a morality tale. The middle third begins with a dizzying series of enticing documents, found material that lends a human touch to the far-future setting. But soon enough, "The Passage" slips into a less-exacting version of the voice used earlier, and the narration often feels portentous and slack. And, although the effect of omnipresent fear can be enhanced by keeping the Other as a murky object of anxiety, it can also defang the creature in question. I could have used less claustrophobia and more reminders like this:

"Peter had gotten used to the virals' appearance but still found it unnerving to see one close up. The way the facial features seemed to have been buffed away, smoothed into an almost infantile blandness; the curling expansion of the hands and feet, with their grasping digits and razor-sharp claws; the dense muscularity of the limbs and torso and the long, gimballed neck; the slivered teeth crowding the mouth like spikes of steel."

Things pick up, largely due to some show-stopping action sequences. Amy comes to the California outpost — nine decades older, yet frozen as a preteen — and the last third takes the form of a quest, as a band of colonists sets out to solve the mystery of the girl's origins. One major drawback, strangely, is Amy herself. Nearly mute and observed almost entirely from the outside at this point, she comes off at best as a sort of heroic enigma. The reader roots for her, certainly, and grasps why the colonists are so curious about her strange abilities. But if Cronin has made us privy to so many other points of view, why can't we experience hers?

Some readers will feel compelled to follow the story — there are plotlines to burn — through the next two volumes of Cronin's trilogy. Others, like myself, will be content with "The Passage" alone, letting Amy and the colonists come to rest in this book's uneasy limbo.

Park is the author of "Personal Days: a Novel" and writes the Astral Weeks column, which appears at

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Justin Cronin's vampire saga, 'The Passage,' reviewed by Ron Charles

By Ron Charles
The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; C04


By Justin Cronin

Ballantine. 766 pp. $27

Sorry, Bella. No sparkly underwear models flex their way through Justin Cronin's massive new vampire thriller. But just about everything else has been sucked into the great maw of "The Passage," this summer's most wildly hyped novel.

Cronin is the latest indication that no one, not even an English professor at Rice University who's written a couple of small literary novels, is safe from the count's bloody fangs. You'd think Cronin's degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop would repel vampires like a garlic necklace, but who can resist Dracula's mesmeric gaze, not to mention that $3.75 million advance? (Rumors of Marilynne Robinson's upcoming werewolf novel could not be confirmed at press time.)

Of course, you're skeptical. So was I. But by the third chapter, trash was piling up in our house because I was too scared to take out the garbage at night. It's a macabre pleasure to see what a really talented novelist can do with these old Transylvanian tropes. In the same way that "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" gave us a mature alternative to "Harry Potter," "The Passage" is for adults who've been bitten but can't swallow the teenybopper misogyny of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series.

As a writer, though, Cronin is more Dr. Frankenstein than Dr. Van Helsing. "The Passage," the first volume of a planned trilogy, doesn't have any interest in pursuing ol' Count Dracula; it's all about stitching together the still-beating scraps of classic horror and science fiction, techno thrillers and apocalyptic terror. Although a clairvoyant nun plays a crucial role, Cronin has stripped away the lurid religious trappings of the vampire myth and gone with a contemporary biomedical framework. Imagine Michael Crichton crossbreeding Stephen King's "The Stand" and "Salem's Lot" in that lab at Jurassic Park, with rich infusions of Robert McCammon's "Swan Song," "Battlestar Galactica" and even Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."

A pastiche? Please -- Cronin is trading derivatives so fast and furious he should be regulated by the SEC. But who cares? It's alive!

The story opens a few years in the future, when the war on terror has come home with frequent attacks on American shopping malls and subway stations. A secret government project wants to create a new breed of soldiers by reengineering a virus found in some nasty Bolivian bats. The last 12 test subjects are death row inmates -- murderers and rapists -- just the kind of people you'd want to endow with lightning speed, impenetrable exoskeletons and a rapacious thirst for human blood.

But relax, what could possibly go wrong? These are government experts. They've got, like, double locks on the cages and everything. (I walk home a little faster now past the NIH biohazard lab in Bethesda.) As you might expect, "mistakes were made." Soon the entire country is overrun by indestructible, blood-sucking fiends -- like a presidential campaign that never ends.

The second part of the book picks up about 90 years later with an abrupt jump in locale and tone. From here on out, we follow the fate of a small community of descendants hanging on in a walled compound powered by antique technology. It's an engrossing if vampiric version of Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us": Nuclear plants melt down and explode, vegetation retakes the cities, and the Gulf of Mexico fills with oil from untended wells (like that could ever happen).

Cronin proves himself just as skillful with the dystopic future as he is with the techno-thriller that opens "The Passage." This second section sinks deep into the exotic customs of these beleaguered survivors. We meet a vibrant cast of citizen warriors, who have to ask themselves each day if it's worth fighting against the dying of the light. (If those wind-powered bulbs go out, the "virals" will swoop in.)

Their best fighter is a stoic bombshell named Alicia, who was raised by an old soldier to kill -- and could teach Lara Croft a few things about being hot and deadly. I was initially less impressed with Peter, the earnest young man who gradually becomes the center of this epic. He's about as sexy as a Sears shirt model, but there's something endearing about his modesty and determination, and eventually I saw the wisdom of placing this good-hearted everyman at the center of all these bizarre crises.

Fortunately, Cronin has a wry sense of humor that runs from macabre to silly. A passing reference to Jenna Bush as governor of Texas may be the scariest thing in these pages. Soldiers watching an old reel of Béla Lugosi's "Dracula" in a post-apocalyptic vampire wasteland is a particularly nice touch. And in the final pages of the novel, one of my favorite characters "lapsed into a kind of twilight," but not Stephenie Meyer's kind.

Yes, once in a while, Cronin can't resist sucking on a few supple cliches. A traumatized survivor obviously heading toward something terrible says, "I wonder if we are heading toward something terrible." There's a prostitute with a heart of gold, a little child holds the key to humanity's salvation, and some exhilarating chapters have needless cliffhangers grafted on to the last line, e.g., "Something was about to happen." Duh.

But once vampires start leaping from the treetops, you're not going to notice those little flaws. You'll be running too fast. Part of what makes these light-sensitive monsters so terrifying is that Cronin never lets us see them much or for long. For hundreds of pages, we remain like the harried survivors of this ravaged nation, peering into the darkness for those telltale orange eyes, the last thing we'll see before we experience the new sensation of being ripped from crotch to neck. It'll be interesting to see if Ridley Scott, having reportedly paid $1.75 million for the movie rights, can exercise such restraint. But even if he can't, late in the novel there's a climactic gladiator scene with Wild West overtones that will blow the top of your head off.

About halfway through the chewy center of "The Passage," I was whining that Cronin should have cut out a few hundred pages, but by the end, the only thing I wanted was to get my sweaty hands on the next two volumes. Till then, I'll be keeping the lights on.

Charles is The Washington Post's fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter at

The President's Oil Reserves Lie

By Chad Stafko
June 16, 2010

Tuesday night, following a tour of the Gulf Coast area, the President of the United States addressed the nation regarding the state of the BP oil spill. In his speech from the Oval Office, President Obama spoke regarding our nation's dependence upon oil and how we need to break that dependence.

During his speech, the President made a statement that was blatantly false. The President noted, "We consume more than 20% of the world's oil, but have less than 2% of the world's oil reserve. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water."

We are not running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water. In fact, it is due to the President's party of extreme environmentalists that BP had to drill some 40 miles from the coastline in deep waters to extract oil. Imagine if this oil leak had happened in the shallow waters off of the East Coast or even, dare we say it, in the pristine ANWR region. How much easier it would have been to cap the leak and clean up the oil.

Consider our nation's vast oil reserve resources that are currently unavailable for use due to government ownership of the land or outright bans on drilling in certain areas.

According to a June 2008 article in Kiplinger Magazine, the United States has enough oil reserves to power the nation for upwards of three centuries. That's three-hundred years, Mr. President. We are not running out of oil reserves, it's just that those oil reserves have been declared off limits due to decades of environmental lobbying of our politicians, especially those on the Left. This lobbying has driven the likes of BP and others out deep into the Gulf of Mexico to extract the nation's needed oil.

Note the following statement from the article:

"...untapped reserves are estimated at about 2.3 trillion barrels, nearly three times more than the reserves held by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC) and sufficient to meet 300 years of demand-at today's levels-for auto, aircraft, heating and industrial fuel, without importing a single barrel of oil."

Think about that. The nations that currently hold us hostage by their massive oil production actually have far less reserves than our own nation. Put another way, some of the very nations in which we are dependent upon oil are also the same nations that help to sponsor worldwide terrorism. Were we to extract our own oil, it would make our nation and the world a safer place. But, isn't a spotted owl more important than the safety of the world?

Among the areas the article mentions are the oil shale located underneath land in Colorado, Wyoming, and in Utah. These lands are federally protected, but they alone could provide about 200 years worth of oil for the nation. Others mentioned include oil reserves located under Montana and some reserves located on protected lands in Texas, California, Utah, and Kentucky.

In fact, our own government has acknowledged the vast oil resources available to us. In an April 2008 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey, the group began its press release with the following, "North Dakota and Montana have an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in an area known as the Bakken Formation."

The report acknowledges that the available oil reserves could be much larger, but the 3.0 to 4.3 billion figure represents oil recoverable right now with today's technology. In fact, there may more than 100 billion barrels eventually recoverable with continued developments in the technology necessary to extract the oil.

Then there is the most famous government-blocked area of oil reserves, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuges (ANWR). With 10 billion barrels available, ANWR is the most accessible of the major untapped oil reserve locations in the United States and claims are that this oil could be extracted in a way that would have minimal negative environmental impact.

Yet, with all of these resources, here we sit, importing oil at a feverish pace and a significant portion of it from our enemies and those who support terrorist organizations around the world. And, here we sit watching oil float towards our shores through unnecessary deep-water drilling when we could be drilling on dry land.

Yes, the President is correct when he calls for the need to use more alternative energy sources. Some of these may, in the long-term, actually be more efficient than the use of oil and be more readily accessible. However, until then we would be wise to tap our God-given resources in the safest of areas first before we go drilling more than a mile beneath the ocean for the same fuel that is available on dry land.

Therefore, if we're tossing all the blame towards BP for this catastrophic oil spill then we're ignoring other perpetrators. The reason BP and other oil companies are drilling 40+ miles off the shoreline and more than a mile deep is because of the stranglehold that environmentalists have held on politicians and their resulting energy policies for decades.

Let's use some common sense. Drill first on land, then in water. It's really not that difficult.

Chad Stafko is a writer and political consultant living in the Midwest. He can be reached at

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homeless and hurting, author credits late Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas as voice of reason

By Stan Hochman
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News Sports Columnist
June 15, 2010

IF YOU HONK the horn in a battered Volvo hidden in a thicket of weeds behind a Nashville church and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

Craig Daliessio hoped not.

"I broke the cardinal rule of homelessness," Daliessio said. "Never give away a good hiding place."

That was the night Harry Kalas saved his life. Oct. 29, 2008. Daliessio was homeless, jobless, living in that battered Volvo hidden in that thicket of weeds behind that church in Nashville, wary of cops and robbers and whatever else lurks in the night, sleep deprived, groggy from the beating life was handing him.

"And then, on Fox Radio," Daliessio said, "the announcer, maybe it was Joe Buck, said, 'We're going to play you the local feed courtesy of 1210-AM in Philadelphia and the great Harry Kalas as he calls the final out for his beloved Philadelphia Phillies.' "

And there was Harry, in that joyous growl, that blend of pride and passion and too many cigarettes and too many gin-and-tonics, declaring the Philadelphia Phillies the 2008 "worrrrrld champions of baseballllll."

"I pounded on the dashboard," Daliessio recalled. "I beeped the horn. I didn't care who heard it. And then, the tears came.

"It was my hometown team and even though I wasn't home, that was Harry Kalas, my announcer. That was my team. The year before they were the butt end of jokes, 10,000 losses for the franchise. And now, world champions. There was hope. Life could change!"

Daliessio has written a terrific book called "Harry Kalas Saved My Life." WIP's Angelo Cataldi wrote the foreword. It's a book for true fans, for caring players, for the downtrodden, for the luckless, for scorned underdogs, for everyone who liked "Rocky," "Rudy," "Miracle on Ice," "Invincible," the movies Daliessio memorized when he was up to his neck in the quicksand of self-loathing.

"I didn't want to look at myself in a mirror," he said. "I didn't want to walk down the street and see my reflection in a store window."

He's a Philly guy, a big guy, maybe 6-4 and 265. That Volvo has 205,562 miles on the odometer. Halfway to the moon, he says. Used to be emerald green. Color of algae now. Pond scum. The shredded driver's seat looks like it lost a fight with a tiger cub.

Daliessio slept in the passenger seat. "It tilts back," he explained. "It's like a hospital bed. Couldn't turn on my side. Eased the car in, inch at a time, into those weeds, out near Highway 65. Wake up at 2, again at 3. Had the phone alarm set for 5, so I could drive outta there while it was still dark.

"Ate once a day. Never on the weekends. I wouldn't eat the jail food."

Jail food? There'd been a bitter divorce (are there any other kind?), and when he lost his job with the mortgage company, and they foreclosed on his house and they repossessed his car, his ex-wife had him slapped in jail on weekends when he couldn't make child-support payments.

"I'd turn myself in at 6 on Fridays and get out at 11:59 on Sundays," he said bitterly. "That added up to 54 hours, but I only got credit for 48. They warned me not to complain or this judge would stiffen the sentence. She handled 90 percent of the divorce cases in that county and she was working on her fifth husband.

"I was seeing stars, I'd been punched on the chin."

It's an axiom in boxing. The punches that hurt the most are the ones you don't see coming. "I was not some Wall Street guy bundling worthless mortgages," he said. "I was a glorified loan officer. Hated every minute of it. I didn't see it [the bleak recession] coming.

"And then it was all gone. Had to give away the pets, a cat and two springer spaniels. Had to give up the vegetable garden I'd planted with my daughter.

"I was not going to abandon my daughter. I was not going to fill the tank and head back to Philly and take that job with Uncle Franny in Crum Lynne. I was a good dad, and that gave me hope."

So he stayed put in Nashville. Lived in that battered Volvo for 5 months. Stopped asking for shelter from friends. "The first thing they want to know was how long I'd be sleeping on their couch," he sighed. "Charity was not open-ended."

He'd done a mortgage for a woman he calls Mary. No fee. Her sister gave him the Volvo. A friend wired $150 and he headed for the pawn shop with his daughter, Morgan, to retrieve his Takamine guitar.

A destitute couple with a young son followed them into the hock shop. They pawned her engagement ring for $15. Daliessio wondered gas, milk, bread, baby food? He approached the couple and gave them $20, told them they were not alone, drove off.

"There is always someone else worse off than you," Daliessio said. "I couldn't always give someone money, but I could drive a homeless guy across town where a friend had a place for him to live. And sometimes, it's just a hand on someone else's shoulder, telling them you've been there, too."

Doing random acts of kindness, that's one of Daliessio's keys to scuffling off life's canvas. Cherishing true friends. Having faith, that's another. Tug McGraw, and his you-gotta-believe mantra, one of his heroes.

Got a job 2 weeks after that epiphany, hearing Harry describe the final out. Has an improved visitation arrangement with his daughter, who is 12 now. Has a blog, Sometimesdaddiescry, that has become a lifeline for divorced dads.

Coaches youth hockey. Has gone back to college. Will soon have a degree. Plans to teach and continue writing. It is an inspirational story and it will make a poignant movie, despite Daliessio's doubts.

"Who plays me," he asks wryly. "Shrek?"

Maybe Kevin Costner. Anyway, the background music is set. Guy with a raspy baritone belting out, "High hopes, high apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes." You know the guy. Saved Craig Daliessio's life.

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Don’t Fail the Whales, Mr. President

Activists, including actor Pierce Brosnan, plead with Obama to save the whales from the hunt.

June 14, 2010- by Julia Szabo

When the social networking phenomenon known as Twitter goes “over capacity,” microbloggers trying to access the site are met with the image of a smiling whale floating above the waves, caught in a net held aloft by a flock of Tweeting birds. This is known as a “fail whale.” Twitter’s smart creators do nothing by accident; they doubtless selected that delightful image because the world’s largest mammal has impressively high ratings with political animals of all walks. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) [1]:

From the shores of Cape Cod to the California coast and across the political spectrum, Americans love whales. Five national surveys commissioned by [IFAW] over the past decade show overwhelming majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents want these intelligent, gentle creatures protected for future generations. Voters of all subgroups — from rural, conservative GOP members to urban, liberal Democrats — want our government to [protect] whales.

But given the environmental horrors developing daily via news reports on the marine devastation that continues unabated in the Gulf of Mexico, the “fail whale” has taken on tragic, symbolic significance. And now, the Gulf’s suffering birds, fish, and other marine wildlife are not alone: the world’s largest mammals may soon have no protection either. At the International Whaling Commission’s 62nd annual meeting, taking place this week (June 15-18) in Morocco, the IWC’s 88 member nations will vote on a controversial proposal that would effectively allow commercial whaling for the first time in 25 years.

The hauntingly beautiful, sophisticated song of the humpback whale, discovered by biologist Roger Payne in 1967 and recorded in 1970, galvanized the worldwide “Save the Whales” movement. It’s some of the most beautiful music ever made; Payne described the whales’ sonic arrangements, memorably, as “exuberant, uninterrupted rivers of sound.” But nature’s master musicians are only now beginning to recover from more than two hundred years of commercial whaling, which destroyed 95 percent of historic populations. Whales face the very real threat of extinction thanks to marine pollution, destruction of critical habitats, entanglements in fishing gear, and collisions with high-speed ships.

High-profile environmental activists are calling on President Obama to protect the world’s largest mammals from decimation. What does the actor formerly known as James Bond have in common with the philanthropist famous for offering a $25 million prize to the first entity to provide a safe, effective, and practical non-surgical sterilant for use in cats and dogs? Compassion for whales. Pierce Brosnan and Dr. Gary Michelson are partnering with the National Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society of the United States, and the IFAW to urge President Obama to extend protection to whales. Brosnan, who also appears in a compelling PSA urging Americans to sign an online petition, has co-authored an open letter to President Obama. It begins:

Dear Mr. President,

Is it possible that the Obama Administration will capitulate to a proposed plan that permits Japan, Norway, and Iceland to resume commercial whaling? As unlikely as it sounds, the answer is yes. The Obama Administration has indeed supported, behind closed doors, a dangerous new proposal to overturn the global whaling ban.

Although Brosnan’s Twitter account reveals that he follows only one person — Al Gore — this open letter he co-wrote on the whales’ behalf gives credit where it’s due: to a Republican. To wit:

Since President Ronald Reagan first helped usher in the international ban on commercial whaling, every American President has reasserted our nation’s strong leadership in the fight to save the whales. … All the more stunning then, to learn that U.S. government bureaucrats, together with fisheries representatives from a dozen other countries, have emerged from three years of closed-door meetings with a proposal to lift the ban on whaling. The proposal not only rewards Japan, Iceland, and Norway for flouting international law, but also gives these three nations “a license to kill” whales commercially. The group’s final proposal, which was released on April 22nd (Earth Day!), and which will be voted on this June, is as unwise as it is out of the American mainstream.

Despite the moratorium, Japan, Norway, and Iceland harpoon around 2,000 whales annually, arguing — with the support of almost half the IWC’s 88 member nations — that many species are “abundant enough” to justify continuing the hunt. Environmentalists fear, rightly, that the new proposal spells disaster for whales; in 007 terminology, it’s a “license to kill.” The letter continues:

In 1986, after whale populations were plundered to near extinction, the IWC declared a ban on commercial whaling. It remains one of the 20th century’s most iconic conservation victories. However, since the ban was enacted, more than 30,000 whales have been killed — most in international whale sanctuary around Antarctica. Why? The Government of Japan claims it kills whales exclusively for research purposes. It’s an outrageous assertion rejected by the scientific community and undermined by the fact that Japan hunts whales on factory ships and sells whale meat commercially. Japan is now rumored to be seeking a new, state-of-the-art $100 million whaling vessel.

Iceland and Norway, emboldened by ongoing negotiations to undo the whaling ban, have recently ramped up their illegal whaling efforts to lock in higher quotas that will be made possible under this new agreement.

Like the situation in the water for whales, the situation inside the IWC is precarious. Conservation-minded countries now find themselves consistently outmanned by Norway, Iceland, and a fifty-person strong Japanese delegation flanked by a steady stream of small island states and landlocked developing countries recruited by the foreign aid to vote lockstep with Japan.

That last point was driven home by the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove [2], which revealed how Japan allegedly “buys” votes in the IWC, recruiting other nations (Cambodia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Laos, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands) to its commercial whaling agenda. The consequence is devastation for whales, as Brosnan’s letter describes:

As a result, United States influence inside the IWC has waned. The Government of Japan has remained engaged and aggressive, inside and outside the IWC, in pursuit of its declared objective to hunt more whales.

Faced with this challenge, the Obama administration has apparently decided to sound retreat. Five of the last six meetings to hammer out the final “lift-the-ban” proposal have been held on U.S. soil.

Instead of endorsing this sellout of the world’s whales, the American government must work to end the savagery of commercial whaling forever.

Brosnan doesn’t hesitate to remind the president that he risks breaking a major campaign promise in letting down whales and their supporters. In April of 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama promised, “As president, I will ensure the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international ban on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” But the proposed deal on the IWC table this week guarantees whaling for the next ten years.

The letter concludes with this impassioned plea:

For more than a decade Japan, Iceland, and Norway have worked harder to keep killing whales than our government has worked to protect them. However, it is not too late the turn the tide. The Obama administration must send a clear signal that it intends to end commercial whaling forever. “Change we can believe in” can then extend beyond our shores to benefit our planet’s great whales. Mr. President, please stay in the fight! Stop the sellout, and save the whales!

It’s a call to action every right-thinking American can get behind. Please sign the petition [3]. Let’s not fail the whales.

Julia Szabo produced and wrote the Pets column for the Sunday New York Post for 11 years. Follow her on Twitter @PetReporter1.





Death to the Vuvuzela!

Will no one rid us of these meddlesome horns that are ruining the World Cup?

By Rick Moran
June 14, 2010

They are called “vuvuzelas” and they are virtually destroying any enjoyment of the World Cup for me. While the play on the field has, at times, been sublime, the constant cacophony of these horns being blown by thousands upon thousands of fans in the stands is starting to sound like fingernails scrooshing their way across a blackboard.

The cringe-inducing noise has been so bad there has been talk of banning the instruments of torture altogether [1]:

Forget the USA-England rivalry; the real fight brewing at the World Cup is not over soccer, but the vuvuzela, the plastic horn that when blown correctly makes a very loud and drawn out sound.

Supporters say it’s an inspiring cacophony, but critics say it sounds like a swarm of bees, drowning out fans, commentators, national anthems and generally ruining the World Cup experience for everyone.

FIFA , the soccer-governing body in charge of the World Cup, is under pressure to ban the noise-maker. It said in a statement that for now it will only outlaw vuvuzelas if they become a physical hazard, such as if fans throw the horns on the field, but that it “continues to evaluate the use of vuvuzelas on an on-going basis.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter further clarified the body’s position with a Twitter post saying, “To answer all your messages re the Vuvuzelas. I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. … I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?”

Blatter is a maroon. There is nothing remotely close to a “musical tradition” in the blowing of these horns from hell. For that to occur, music, it would be assumed, would have to emanate from some kind of musical instrument. There is no difference between a vuvuzela and a New Year’s Eve party horn. And unless you are very, very drunk, no one will ever mistake the soused blasting of a noisemaker with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

The vuvuzela is not a musical instrument — unless you want to change the definition to include the rack, the iron maiden, and Chinese water torture as the equivalent of a Stradivarius or a Steinway.

John Leicester, international sports columnist for the Associated Press, speaks for most soccer fans outside of Africa (and a few countries in South America where they use a variant of the vuvuzela called a corneta):

The constant drone of cheap and tuneless plastic horns is killing the atmosphere at the World Cup.

Where are the loud choruses of “Oooohhsss” from enthralled crowds when a shot scorches just wide of the goalpost? And the sharp communal intake of breath, the shrill “Aaahhhhss,” when a goalkeeper makes an acrobatic, match-winning save? Or the humorous/moving/offensive football chants and songs?

Mostly, they’re being drowned out by the unrelenting water-torture beehive hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm of South African vuvuzela trumpets. Damn them. They are stripping World Cup 2010 of football’s aural artistry.

Vuvuzela apologists — a few more weeks of this brainless white noise will perhaps change, or melt, their minds — defend the din as simply part of the South African experience. Each country to its own, they say. When in Rome, blah, blah, blah.

Which would be fine if this was purely a South African competition. Fans could then legitimately hoot away to their hearts’ content while annoying no one other than their immediate neighbors.

But this is the World Cup, a celebration of the 32 nations that qualified and of all the others that did not but which still play and love the game. Hosting planet football brings responsibilities. At the very least, South Africa should ensure that the hundreds of millions of visitors who come in goodwill to its door, both in person and via the magic of television, do not go home with a migraine. How many TV viewers who long for a more nuanced soundtrack to go with the show have already concluded that the only way to enjoy this World Cup is by pressing mute on their remote?

In most European venues (and some American soccer stadiums) the tradition is far more palatable to the senses: lusty singing by lusty men. In the English Premier League, the well-lubricated fans start singing an hour or more before the match and continue after the final whistle. The songs sound familiar — sometimes using pop tunes or even religious hymns — but the words are tailored to the specific club, or specific action on the field. Germany, Italy, Spain, France — most European sides have their own fan clubs with their own chants and songs.

What makes the vuvuzelas so incredibly annoying is the monotone note that is a constant from the time the TV coverage of a match begins to the last second of the live feed from the stadium. It is unvarying in pitch and decibel level — about the same as standing a few feet from a jet plane taking off or an amplifier for a rock concert. At 127 decibels, the vuvuzela is louder than a jackhammer, a chain saw, a pneumatic drill, and a subway.

FIFA’s Sepp Blatter might find the dulcet tones made by a jackhammer the symphonic equivalent of a Mozart concerto, but the rest of us have a slightly different notion of what constitutes music.

The excuse being given by FIFA and their apologists is that the vuvuzela is simply “local color” and adds a distinctly “African” flavor to the games. Really? Local color might more accurately be described as the marvelous, multi-hued flowing robes worn by the South Africans as well as representatives from the five other African nations who are participating in the 32 team tournament. And as far as the vuvuzela being distinctly “African,” that’s a bunch of hooey. I can distinctly remember these plastic horns being in widespread use at high school football games back in the 1970s. Not quite as ubiquitous back then, they nevertheless were part of the background noise at many games I attended as a kid.

Unfortunately, it appears that FIFA has bowed to political correctness and cultural relativism, and will not ban the noisemaker [2]:

World Cup organisers Monday ruled out a ban on the vuvuzela horns that have been driving some players and broadcasters mad, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter defending the instrument on Twitter.

After the chairman of the tournament’s South African organizing committee had said he would consider a ban on the monotone trumpets, Blatter axed the idea of a ban in comments posted to the short-form web site.

“I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?” Blatter wrote.

I would love to see a ban on a fan tradition in the United States if, by doing so, it ensured the comfort of those watching the games in person or on TV. In this respect, it would seem to me that the South Africans are not being very good hosts, given that there have been so many complaints about the noisemaker. And if FIFA is supporting this affront to aural comfort, it can only be because banning the vuvuzela would bring criticism from the usual multicultural, politically correct suspects.

Avoiding the appearance of “cultural imperialism” — no matter if it would be simple, common sense to remove an irritant that is causing mass discomfort in most places outside of Africa — is FIFA’s goal. It’s why the games were awarded to South Africa in the first place (and why they will be in Brazil in 2014). The winning bid had little to do with South Africa being able to put on the best tournament. It had everything to do with giving the games to a third-world, African country whether they were capable of pulling it off or not. This is evidenced by the fact that FIFA would only allow members of the African confederation to bid on the games (a policy that rotated the venue among the various soccer confederations, since abandoned). Almost before the ink was dry on stories about the 2006 Cup victory by Italy, concerns were raised [3] about the ability of South Africa to put on the games.

So despite most of the rest of the world not being enamored of this cacophonous tool of the devil, it appears that if you are one of the few Americas who will be watching some of the matches during the World Cup, you would appear to have two choices: hire a guy with a jackhammer to tear up your driveway while watching the games or simply grin and bear it.

Rick Moran is PJM Chicago editor; his own blog is Right Wing Nut House.





Monday, June 14, 2010

Charles, Prince of Piffle

Fighting Words

A very silly man gives a very sinister speech.

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, June 14, 2010, at 10:56 AM ET

This is what you get when you found a political system on the family values of Henry VIII. At a point in the not-too-remote future, the stout heart of Queen Elizabeth II will cease to beat. At that precise moment, her firstborn son will become head of state, head of the armed forces, and head of the Church of England. In strict constitutional terms, this ought not to matter much. The English monarchy, as has been said, reigns but does not rule. From the aesthetic point of view it will matter a bit, because the prospect of a morose bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, and with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts, is a distinctly lowering one. And a king does have the ability to alter the atmosphere and to affect the ways in which important matters are discussed. (The queen herself proved that in subtle ways, by letting it be known that there were aspects of Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy that she did not view with unmixed delight.)

Britain's Prince Charles and Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki Al Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud arrive for the Royal Premiere of the film 'Arabia' in London May 24, 2010.

So the speech made by Prince Charles at Oxford last week might bear a little scrutiny. Discussing one of his favorite topics, the "environment," he announced that the main problem arose from a "deep, inner crisis of the soul" and that the "de-souling" of humanity probably went back as far as Galileo. In his view, materialism and consumerism represented an imbalance, "where mechanistic thinking is so predominant," and which "goes back at least to Galileo's assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion." He described the scientific worldview as an affront to all the world's "sacred traditions." Then for the climax:

As a result, Nature has been completely objectified—She has become an it—and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo's scheme.

We have known for a long time that Prince Charles' empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant. He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way. But this latest departure promotes him from an advocate of harmless nonsense to positively sinister nonsense.

We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centered or man-centered (let alone God-centered) system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge. None of these liberating undertakings have required any sort of assumption about a soul. That belief is at best optional. (Incidentally, nature is no more or less "objectified" whether we give it a gender name or a neuter one. Merely calling it Mummy will not, alas, alter this salient fact.)

In the controversy that followed the prince's remarks, his most staunch defender was professor John Taylor, a scholar whose work I had last noticed when he gave good reviews to the psychokinetic (or whatever) capacities of the Israeli conjuror and fraud Uri Geller. The heir to the throne seems to possess the ability to surround himself—perhaps by some mysterious ultramagnetic force?—with every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner within range.

None of this might matter very much, until you notice the venue at which Charles delivered his farrago of nonsense. It was unleashed upon an audience at the Center for Islamic Studies at Oxford University, an institution of which he is the patron. Nor is this his only foray into Islamophilia. Together with the Saudi royal family, he supported the mosque in North London that acted as host and incubator to Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid, the hook-handed Abu Hamza al-Masri, and several other unsavory customers. The prince's official job description as king will be "defender of the faith," which currently means the state-financed absurdity of the Anglican Church, but he has more than once said publicly that he wants to be anointed as defender of all faiths—another indication of the amazing conceit he has developed in six decades of performing the only job allowed him by the hereditary principle: that of waiting for his mother to expire.

A hereditary head of state, as Thomas Paine so crisply phrased it, is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary physician or a hereditary astronomer. To this innate absurdity, Prince Charles manages to bring fatuities that are entirely his own. And, as he paged his way through his dreary wad of babble, there must have been some wolfish smiles among his Muslim audience. I quote from a recent document published by the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group dedicated to the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate and the imposition of sharia, which has been very active in London mosques and in the infiltration of local political parties. "The primary work" in the establishment of a future Muslim empire, it announces, "is in Europe, because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum."

So this is where all the vapid talk about the "soul" of the universe is actually headed. Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The "vacuum" will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now. One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover. An awful embarrassment awaits the British if they do not declare for a republic based on verifiable laws and principles, both political and scientific.

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

Article URL:

Meet Sam Gilbert, Again

Wooden's Century

by John Gasaway
June 8, 2010

The involvement of booster Sam Gilbert with the UCLA basketball program in the 1960s and ‘70s is well known. But how much of an impact did he really have on the Bruins’ success on the court? Not nearly as much as you may have heard.

Sam Gilbert’s interaction with the UCLA program decades ago frankly fascinates me, though not necessarily because of the interaction itself. After all, the general flavor of Gilbert’s role is both fairly well documented and, if unusual in its scope and especially duration, hardly unique to just one campus in just one era.

UCLA booster, Sam Gilbert
Photo: Reed Saxon (AP)

No, what I find incredible is that in college basketball circles the very name “Sam Gilbert” can still function as something of a insider’s trump card, a knowing reference to be deployed with an arched eyebrow. How this can still be the case I can’t say. In fact it’s mystifying. Gilbert’s dealings with the Bruins drew notice almost immediately, and the comments have now continued for over 40 years. Gilbert may constitute the most frequently outed piece of inside information in the history of sports.

According to former UCLA players and coaches, between 1967 and the late 1970s the millionaire contractor took care of the Bruins in more ways than one, bestowing upon selected stars such NCAA no-no’s as clothes, airline tickets, and stereos, as well as paying said stars scalper-level dollars for their season tickets. Yet as late as 2006 Adrian Wojnarowski could still remark, “It just is never talked about--out in the open anyway.” Actually by the time Wojnarowski wrote those words Gilbert had already been talked about out in the open for decades, most notably in at least two books, as well as in Time magazine, the LA Times, and the New York Times, among other places. It’s not that Gilbert isn’t talked about, it’s that the talk never stuck, or at least it didn’t until the past few years. The story of Gilbert’s role at UCLA is colorful enough, but the history of “Ever heard of Sam Gilbert?” as a mocking question directed at John Wooden’s admirers is no less interesting.

More than three decades after Wooden retired and more than two decades after Gilbert passed away, the prevailing “insider” assumption has long been that the booster’s largesse played a large part in UCLA’s phenomenal success. Former Texas coach Abe Lemons once quipped, “I guess if you have a Pyramid of Success--and Sam Gilbert--you can always be a winner,” a bon mot later repackaged by Jerry Tarkanian, who famously termed Gilbert the most important building block in Wooden’s pyramid.

Certainly Gilbert’s “help” shredded the amateur status of, by my count, seven national championship teams. What’s much less clear, however, is whether those seven teams truly needed that help in order to score more points than their opponents. We know that the first three national championship teams in Westwood, who won their titles before “Papa Sam” came into view, had required no such assistance. The insiders are right when they say Wooden’s tenure at UCLA is often viewed in simplistic terms. But, in an ironic if not terribly surprising twist, a like degree of simplicity has characterized the insiders’ own conception of Gilbert’s influence.

The bombshell-as-hardy-perennial

The first references to Sam Gilbert appeared in print while John Wooden was still at UCLA. In 1969 Gilbert assisted Lew Alcindor in negotiating his first contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. Gilbert variously characterized his compensation for this service as either having been one dollar or as having been rendered in exchange for an autographed picture of Alcindor, who in 1971 changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Perhaps the only thing odder than this tale is that it appears to have been true. Gilbert was operating at the last historical moment when contractors in Encino were indeed wealthier than even the wealthiest NBA players. “He needed us financially like the moon needed rocks,” Abdul-Jabbar would later say. Gilbert’s net worth was estimated at $25 million. As for UCLA's dominant big man, feel free to harken back to the relevant Dr. Evil clip: Alcindor signed with Milwaukee for $1.4 million over five years, a figure that was unprecedented at the time and indeed was likely inflated by a furious NBA-ABA bidding war for the biggest college star since Oscar Robertson.

UCLA’s most devoted and visible fan reveled in the company of the nation’s most famous college basketball players--so long as that company was doting and unquestioning. Gilbert went on to negotiate professional contracts, gratis, for a veritable who’s-who of the UCLA golden age, including Lucius Allen, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, Steve Patterson, and Henry Bibby.

Then in 1973 Dwight Chapin and Jeff Prugh of the LA Times published The Wizard of Westwood: Coach John Wooden and His UCLA Bruins. Wooden detested the “Wizard” nickname, but the book itself was a handy and informative sum-up of the coach’s UCLA years, one that plainly admired its subject. At the same time Chapin and Prugh certainly weren’t too obsequious or awestruck to bring up the subject of a certain prominent booster:

Gilbert is light years apart from Wooden in personality--a tough-talking man whose vocabulary includes four-letter words beyond just “UCLA,” who inhales the world of high finance and “big dollars,” and who can be unabashedly frank in his attacks on society, higher education, and the United States government and its war policies with regard to Vietnam….

For those reasons, he has struck responsive chords with many Bruin players--almost to the extent that when players speak out against society and authority, as with Alcindor, [Bill] Walton, and [Bill] Seibert, people often question whether those are really UCLA basketball players--or Sam Gilbert--talking.

Thus, given their contrasts in lifestyle and ideology, Gilbert and Wooden seemingly wage a cold war. They merely coexist amid the UCLA kaleidoscope of winning streaks and NCAA titles and dreams of six-figure contracts.

In other words Gilbert--the voluble and demonstrative son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants--had sprezzatura and Wooden--the taciturn and reserved son of Indiana Protestant farmers--didn’t. Indeed Gilbert appears to have been a true original, a construction magnate and athletic department booster who was also, of all things, a flaming liberal. Chapin and Prugh relate that when the U.S. invaded Cambodia in early 1970, Gilbert was incensed that the LA Times ran merely a one-paragraph blurb on the UCLA basketball team’s protest telegram to President Nixon.

When Chapin and Prugh asked Wooden for his thoughts on Gilbert, they got this somewhat cryptic quote out of the coach (ellipsis in original):

I personally hardly know Sam Gilbert…I think he’s a person who’s trying to be helpful in every way that he can. I sometimes feel that in his interest to be helpful it’s in direct contrast with what I would like to have him to do be helpful. I think he means very well and, for the most part, he has attached himself to the minority-race players. I really don’t want to get involved in saying much about that, to be honest with you.

The groundwork done by Chapin and Prugh was enough to land Gilbert a mention in Time in February 1974, but it wasn’t until three years after Wooden’s retirement in 1975 that the name “Sam Gilbert” truly received enough play to guarantee it would never fade away entirely where UCLA was concerned.

"Don’t ---- with me!”

In 1978 former UCLA great Bill Walton was the subject of a book by Jack Scott entitled Bill Walton: On the Road with the Portland Trailblazers. Scott was ideally situated to publish this kind of narrative: He and his wife lived with Walton. In the book Scott quoted Walton as saying:

"I hate to say anything that may hurt UCLA, but I can’t be quiet when I see what the NCAA is doing to Jerry Tarkanian only because he has a reputation for giving a second chance to many black athletes other coaches have branded as troublemakers. The NCAA is working night and day trying to get Jerry, but no one from the NCAA ever questioned me during my four years at UCLA!”

Almost 30 years later this quote, minus the references to Tarkanian, would furnish the lede for Dan Wetzel’s re-introduction of Sam Gilbert to a new generation of college basketball fans. But Bill Walton contained more on the subject of Gilbert than just Walton’s quote. It also depicted with manifest relish an encounter between Scott and Gilbert, one where the former comes across as a rather implausible mix of Philip Marlowe, Bob Woodward, and John Feinstein:

Sam immediately bombarded me with a long tirade of threats and curses. “Mr. Scott,” he began. “Don’t ---- with me! Don’t ---- with me! Take my word for it.”

“Let’s skip the bull----, Sam,” I began. “I want to ask you a few questions about the ‘help’ you give to many UCLA athletes.

“I have a copy of a letter before me that was sent to you by a UCLA basketball star after he signed a lucrative pro basketball contract. The letter states the athlete was paying over $4,500 back to you that you had given him while he played basketball for UCLA.”

Threats and curses were now replaced by a subdued, nervous voice. “Are you going to use that letter?” Sam politely asked. “UCLA would have to return four NCAA championships. What I did is a total violation of NCAA rules.”…

“Sam, my concern right now is to make sure that what I do eventually write is the truth. The copy of the letter I had could have been a fake.” I thanked Sam for confirming the authenticity of the letter.

Whether Scott, who passed away in 2000, actually sounded this much like J.J. Gittes in real time remains unknown. But the letter that Scott claimed he had in his possession drew instant attention. “UCLA Finds Itself Accused of Bending Rules,” declared the LA Times on June 28, 1978. Gilbert called Scott’s claims about a letter “a gross falsehood.” In a follow-up two days later the LAT quoted Wooden as saying, “We never wanted anything to do with a player that you had to buy, and we never did….I have a complete clear feeling about that.” Wooden added: “When you’re successful the NCAA likes to investigate you, and they investigated us while I was at UCLA…And I know that Sam was investigated by the NCAA and nothing came of it.”

The last line of the LAT’s blurb that day read:

An NCAA spokesman said Thursday that allegations in Scott’s book have been turned over to its enforcement department for study.

Both the press and the NCAA had been presented with conflicting accounts of UCLA basketball. And while Scott’s letter never did materialize (or at least it hasn’t yet), within a few years both the LA Times and the Committee on Infractions would be siding with much of the rest of the Scott/Walton version of events.

"Thank you for possibly saving my life”

On December 8, 1981, the NCAA announced it was placing UCLA on probation for two years, citing among other infractions Gilbert’s co-signature on a promissory note that allowed a player to buy a car. It was big news, of course, but eight weeks later, on January 31, 1982, the LA Times in effect dropped the proverbial other shoe:

NCAA Missed the Iceberg in Westwood

After the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced last Dec. 8 that UCLA’s basketball team had been placed on two years’ probation, Chancellor Charles E. Young said at a press conference that a joint investigation by the NCAA and the university could not have been “more intensive.”

But interviews with more than 45 people connected with UCLA basketball, many of them former Bruin players and coaches, showed that the nine infractions the NCAA listed were insignificant when compared with many others dating back to the Lew Alcindor-led championship teams of the mid-1960s.

The LAT’s two-part series, written by Mike Littwin and Alan Greenberg, painted a picture of Gilbert wrapping the program in a suffocating embrace. “Some players got money to purchase cars their freshman year,” Littwin and Greenberg reported, “by selling four years’ worth of season tickets through Gilbert for as much as $1,000 a year, according to a former UCLA head coach.” Gilbert was also said to have helped out players with pregnant girlfriends. “According to some [former players], Gilbert arranged and paid for abortions for their girlfriends. Gilbert told the Times in 1978 that he had admitted as much to an NCAA investigator.” (“I’m Sam Gilbert,” he told the LAT in 1978. “I’m not part of that athletic department. I’m not under their rules.”)

Additionally the LAT stated that three former recruits who had all been high school seniors in 1978--Darryl Mitchell, Greg Goorjian, and Michael Johnson, none of whom ended up in Westwood--had told NCAA investigators that they’d been offered cars by Gilbert as inducements to come to UCLA. (Though one of the players qualified this by saying that three other schools made him the same offer.)

A surprising number of former UCLA players offered Littwin and Greenberg on-the-record quotes. For example David Greenwood told the reporters, “Everyone knew what was going on. Nobody was so naïve. It was common knowledge in the whole town. We just felt it wasn’t an isolated incident. It was going on at all the universities.” Marques Johnson added, “At the time you’re going through it…stereos, some got cars…You felt it was a two-way thing. You were getting things for free or at great discounts [ellipses in original].”

But if Gilbert’s involvement with the Bruins was extensive and occasionally a little salacious, it was also, in Littwin and Greenberg’s telling, clearly bounded in both its duration and its character. The initial connection between Gilbert and the program was, incredibly, established through the initiative of the UCLA athletic department itself. After the 1967 season Alcindor was making noises about a possible transfer to Michigan, while Lucius Allen was mulling a transfer to Kansas. Gilbert was called in to talk to the two players, and while Abdul-Jabbar would later state that the contractor’s intercession had no impact on his eventual decision to stay, Allen did credit Gilbert with persuading him to remain in Westwood. Thus the 1967-68 season effectively marked the beginning of Gilbert’s reign of favors.

The other finding reported by Littwin and Greenberg was that Gilbert didn’t concern himself with trying to entice recruits until the brief (1977-79) head coaching tenure of Gary Cunningham. Longtime Gilbert friend Larry Farmer, who served as an assistant under Cunningham and would become the UCLA head coach himself in 1981, said Gilbert probably pitched in with recruiting “because we were struggling so much. They [Gilbert and Cunningham] cared about each other a great deal. They had a warm relationship.” (It’s interesting to note how capaciously “struggling” was defined in post-Wooden Westwood. Cunningham went 50-8, with all eight losses coming by four points or less.)

Indeed the LAT’s series made clear that after Wooden’s retirement in 1975 Gilbert’s involvement was not only more insistent than ever before, it also posed a formidable obstacle for the two head coaches that didn’t have prior relationships with Gilbert: Gene Bartow (1975-77) and Larry Brown (1979-81). In the series a “former head coach,” likely either Bartow or Brown, was quoted as saying of Gilbert’s role, “It was unwhippable by me. It would have been unwhippable by Dean Smith or Bobby Knight….I knew I didn’t have full control. If you’ve got a guy on the side, a guy players can get cash, cars, clothes from, who’s he (the player) going to go to? Who’s he going to listen to?” Years later, not long after Gilbert had died, Brown would say, “I feared this guy would tear down the program if I fought him, so I tried to tolerate him….I was honestly afraid what he would do, and I didn’t want to exclude any booster. But it got very ugly and so uncomfortable….He didn’t want anyone questioning what he did.”

Bartow experienced that same trepidation before Brown did. In a remarkable 1991 letter to the NCAA, the former UCLA head coach thanked the organization for “possibly saving my life.” At the time he wrote the letter, Bartow had just learned that back in 1976 an NCAA staffer had wanted to investigate UCLA but had been overruled. Writing to then-assistant executive director for enforcement David Berst, Bartow said, “I would assume it was you or Walter Byers who did not let the investigator delve into the UCLA program.” He then added, “I believe Sam Gilbert was Mafia-related and was capable of hurting people. I think, had the NCAA come in hard while I was at UCLA, (Gilbert and others associated with the program) would have felt I had reported them, and I would have been in danger. Sam was a most unusual person, and he violated many rules knowingly. Without question, he put out some front-end money (to recruits) in a few cases, and I think that could have been proven.”

Keep Gilbert, I’ll take Alcindor and no three-point line

Today the invocation of Gilbert’s role during the UCLA dynasty comprises a readily accessible badge of gravitas for basketball writers, a handy emblem that shows you weren’t simply gulled by the Wooden mystique. Moreover such invocations usually surface in March and April, timing that harbors within itself a reproach: I know you’re really interested in this March Madness thing, but just keep in mind that even Coach Wooden had a skeleton in his closet. In this respect a March 2003 piece by William C. Rhoden of the New York Times is representative: “What we didn’t know then was that the Wizard of Westwood had a helper. His name was Sam Gilbert.”

The Gilbert era does indeed present a well nigh irresistible tale, one that has the added value of being true. Simply put, the majority of Wooden-era UCLA national championship teams had their amateur status vaporized by Gilbert (and, of course, by the players themselves), and thus the Bruins were ineligible to compete in, much less win, the NCAA tournament. That’s a big story right there, one that needs no further embellishment.

But, alas, there has been embellishment:

Apparently a team capturing ten titles in 12 years, putting together undefeated season after undefeated season, recruiting high school All-Americans from all over the country to sit on the bench, yet never having them transfer or declare hardship wasn’t enough for it to dawn on anyone at the NCAA that, gee, maybe they’re cheating?

There’s a lot that needs help here, even leaving aside the fact that UCLA had already won three national championships in four seasons before Gilbert first met with Alcindor and Allen in 1967. Take for example the reference to Wooden-era UCLA players “never” declaring hardship. Actually the NBA’s hardship rule, which allowed players who’d been out of high school for less than four years to enter the draft if they could prove financial need, only came into being in 1971 after Spencer Haywood had taken the NBA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Thus “declaring hardship” was not an option for players on seven of UCLA’s ten national championship teams.

A larger problem with this paragraph, though, is its unstated assumption that UCLA’s historic success must itself be evidence of an equally historic--and putatively ill-gotten--level of talent. But if the incorrigibly self-interested draft decisions made by NBA franchises are any guide, this assumption is faulty.

Granted, the Bruins were indeed way more talented than any other program at that time.

The wizard of talent

Most NBA first-round picks, 1964-1977

North Carolina 6
Houston 5
Indiana 5
Kansas 4
Louisville 4
Maryland 4
Michigan 4

(I've included two drafts that took place after Wooden's retirement because his last team, in 1975, benefited greatly from the presence of Richard Washington and Marques Johnson, who went on to be first-round picks in 1976 and 1977, respectively.)

So writers are correct when they say that Wooden, who arrived at UCLA in 1948, didn’t start winning national championships until the talent in Westwood improved. But Sam Gilbert had nothing to do with that. The first great and perhaps catalytic coalescence of talent at UCLA--the Walt Hazzard/Gail Goodrich/Keith Erickson teams of the mid-1960s--occurred pre-Gilbert. (Not that the Bruins were necessarily choirboys before Gilbert came along. Veterans of the 1964 national championship team have told of receiving ten bucks per rebound from boosters.)

Wooden’s recruiting haul in his final dozen seasons was majestic, to be sure, but that haul, unlike UCLA’s won-loss record, has at least been approximated in subsequent years by programs like Duke, North Carolina, and, yes, UCLA. (The Bruins’ 2008 team--Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, et al.--was arguably as talented as a significant minority of Wooden’s national championship teams.) If we expand our definition of “NBA first-round pick” to something that will work seamlessly across the decades, something like “one of the first 30 players chosen in a given year,” we find that UCLA put 15 players among the top 30 picks in the 14 drafts spanning 1964 and 1977. That’s an amazing figure, certainly, but one that’s not nearly as drop-dead outlandish as the “Gee, maybe they’re cheating” school would suggest.

Take Duke. Between 1996 and 2009 the Blue Devils landed 13 players among the top 30, a figure that requires two further qualifications. First, that number would of course be 14 had the NBA not experienced a moment of inexplicable league-wide senility in the 2002 draft, when Carlos Boozer fell to the second round. (By the same token North Carolina will have put 13 players among the top 30 picks between 1997 and 2010 when Ed Davis hears his name called next month.) Second, all those Duke prospects had to compete for a finite number of draft slots against a coterie of international players that didn’t even exist as rivals for the Bruins in the drafts of the 1960s and ‘70s.

In short, as amazing as it may sound, it’s possible to recruit about as well as Wooden-era UCLA and not win ten titles in 12 years. Far more extreme than the talent Wooden had at his disposal was the success he achieved with that talent in a sport where championships are awarded to the winner of a single-elimination tournament.

Some have sought to explain that success after-the-fact by saying simply, “Sam Gilbert.” I recommend starting instead with, “Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, and no three-point line.” A quarter-century after the three-point shot’s debut, it’s hard for us to have a proper conception of just how dominant Alcindor, Walton, and their ilk could be in the sport as it was then constituted. But let’s try. The first game ever played in Pauley Pavilion, on November 27, 1965, pitted Alcindor’s freshman team against the varsity, coached by Wooden and ranked number one in the nation in the preseason. The freshmen won 75-60, as Alcindor scored 31 points, pulled down 21 rebounds, and blocked seven shots.

Or take Phil Woolpert. I realize you’ve never heard of him, but as a head coach Woolpert won 60 consecutive games. (Must have cheated, right?) If a coach did that today he’d be hailed as a genius of historic magnitude, his speaking fees would go through the roof, and he’d have a hardback title like Making Success Permanent on Amazon in a heartbeat. But when Woolpert did it at San Francisco in the mid-1950s, people intuited correctly that maybe it had a little something to do with Bill Russell. Pick your big man: Bob Kurland, Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Alcindor, Walton, even Artis Gilmore--they all made the Final Four. Maybe the most impressive aspect of Wooden’s career is not that the coach won ten national championships but that he won half of them without either Alcindor or Walton.

Saying simply that UCLA cheated and leaving it at that requires papering over the difference between the NCAA’s foundational insistence upon amateurism and the foundational assumption of fairness that undergirds any contest, be it professional or amateur. By violating eligibility rules that had long been in place, a generation of Bruin players did cheat, and thus a goodly number of their championships would have been vacated had the NCAA been endowed with both perfect knowledge and the political courage to confront a program led by an esteemed legend like Wooden. At the same time I doubt that non-amateur UCLA truly gained any tangible advantage over their opponents expressly because Sam Gilbert had showered gifts on players who didn’t know who he was until they arrived in Westwood. Gilbert made Wooden’s teams ineligible, not better.

The lone exception may have been the presence of Lucius Allen on the 1967-68 team. In this single instance, by persuading Allen not to transfer, maybe Gilbert really did help Wooden. Yet even here the coda is too often left unstated. In 1968 Allen was arrested for possession of marijuana and as a result he missed the entire 1968-69 season. And without Allen UCLA went 29-1 and won their fifth national title.

I do have to wonder how much help Wooden really needed from Gilbert.

Tunnel visions

Sam Gilbert died on November 21, 1987, and rated a brief notice in the LA Times.

Controversial UCLA Booster Succumbs After Long Illness

…Gilbert owned Sam Gilbert and Associates, a construction company which built more than 500 homes in the West Los Angeles and Laurel Canyon areas, as well as the Trident Building on Olympic Boulevard and the Beverly Hills Center.

Gilbert attended Hollywood High School and UCLA. He served in the OSS in World War II. He was an inventor and he had a brief career as an amateur boxer.

In the days before the Internet, things like obituaries didn’t circulate as quickly as they do now. Four days after his death Gilbert was indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami on charges of money laundering.

Today Gilbert’s widow, Rose, teaches English at Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades, where she was recently named the city’s 2010 Citizen of the Year. She’s 91, and has been on staff at the school since 1961. In the LA Times’ 1982 series, former UCLA All-American David Greenwood said: “She (Rose) virtually taught me how to write so we wouldn’t be put in those remedial writing classes. If that’s a violation, then to hell with the NCAA.”

Maybe the strangest aspect of the entire Gilbert saga is the interminable speculation it’s spawned over whether Wooden “knew.” I confess this speculation baffles me. Of course Wooden knew. He confronted Wicks and Rowe about their clothes as early as 1969. He knew, and he didn’t like it. Wooden tried to do something about it, but he failed. He wasn’t clueless, nor was he disingenuous, but he was, in this instance, ineffective.

His was a shared failure. With the possible exception of Gary Cunningham, every UCLA head coach from the late 1960s to the early 1980s told his players to stay away from Sam Gilbert. The LA Times’ 1982 series noted that on “several occasions the late athletic director, J.D. Morgan, called Gilbert into his office, concerned that Gilbert might have overstepped NCAA boundaries.” Gene Bartow told his players to stay away from Gilbert. Larry Brown tried to keep them away. Finally in August of 1981 Larry Farmer again told the players not to have any contact with Sam Gilbert. By then the NCAA had already notified UCLA that the Bruins and their most notorious fan were under investigation. Anyway Farmer saw that his players had, at last, lost interest in Gilbert. Mark Eaton was reportedly one of the last Bruins to seek out the company of “Papa Sam.”

Granted if you were a rival head coach in the 1960s and ‘70s it would have required the soul of a saint not to have been at least a little irked at the disparity between Wooden’s success and legend on the one hand and the sordid reality of Gilbert on the other. Moreover if you were being investigated by an NCAA that had ignored UCLA, as Jerry Tarkanian was being investigated, you would likely be more than irked. Indeed it’s as if the sub-rosa tinge that still adheres to Gilbert’s name has itself been taken as proof of vast and untold influence held by UCLA’s most famous booster. From there it’s only a short discursive hop to equating Wooden with John Calipari or Pete Carroll.

Gilbert’s involvement with UCLA was thorough enough, goodness knows, and in this instance the booster outlasted the coach. In fact Wooden’s retirement seemed to create a vacuum that Gilbert happily rushed to fill. But it requires a teachably ironic brand of tunnel vision to categorize John Wooden and today’s most-asterisked coaches as one and the same. It’s the NCAA that should see no difference between those two categories, not us. The NCAA’s legitimacy depends upon the consistency with which it dispenses justice, and for better or worse Wooden was the head coach at a program where the players happily flung off their amateur standing.

Then again writers who spend much of their waking hours complaining about the NCAA should of all people appreciate a crucial distinction here. The greatest ratiocinative gift with which we are endowed by our creator is that we’re not the NCAA. Unencumbered by crude instruments like sanctions and postseason bans, we non-NCAA types are free to state the obvious, that Wooden was Wooden and asterisks are asterisks.

When we fault coaches today for looking the other way with regard to their most talented and fully-entourage-equipped recruits, we more specifically allege that those coaches placed personal gain and expedience above principle, that they feigned ignorance of the entourage’s doings in order to get the player. Wooden, by contrast, plainly viewed Gilbert as anything but an expedience and, anyway, Wooden himself had assembled the entourage to which Gilbert attached himself so doggedly. The coach saw the booster correctly as a hindrance and indeed a threat, but at the end of the day Wooden couldn’t keep his players away from the man.

“Maybe I had tunnel vision,” Wooden said of Gilbert in 1982. “I still don’t think he’s had any great impact on the basketball program.” Actually Gilbert had an enormous impact. He robbed Wooden of the full measure of credit due for an extraordinary triumph that would have happened anyway.


John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.