Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Problem of Honor Killings

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
September 18, 2010

A recent report by Robert Fisk in the Independent on the subject of honor killings throughout the world should highlight the need to address the prevalence of this barbaric custom.[1]

Fisk notes that many women's rights groups suspect that the number of victims of honor killings may be four times higher than the UN's "latest world figure of around 5000 deaths a year." Meanwhile, "Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for "dishonouring" their families is increasing by the year." Moreover, whilst the practice is known to occur amongst Hindus and Sikhs in South Asia and the West, as well as amongst Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, it is still largely confined to Muslim communities in countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey. However, the custom may be equally widespread in Egypt and the Gulf states, where media freedom on the issue is much more restricted.

Of course, the concept of honor killings predates most religions and ultimately has cultural and tribal roots. For example, ancient Assyrian law allowed a father to punish his daughter, if she had been raped, in any manner he wanted. Nevertheless, the question arises of why honor killings are today more prevalent in the Muslim world and amongst Muslim communities in the West. From Muslim advocacy groups and spokespersons, one has the impression that they have nothing to do with Islam. For instance, after the murder of Canadian teenager Aqsa Parvez by her father and brother for refusing to wear the hijab, Sheila Musaji wrote in the American Muslim that "although this certainly is a case of domestic violence ... 'honor' killings are not only a Muslim problem, and there is no 'honor' involved." Similarly, Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress declared: "I don't want the public to think that this is an Islamic issue or an immigrant issue. It is a teenager issue."

Contrary to such denialism, though, the evidence illustrates that Islamic orthodoxy generally condones the practice, whilst not explicitly recommending it per se. The most egregious case in point is the Umdat Al-Salik ("Reliance of the Sojourner" in Arabic), a manual on Shari'a (Islamic law) certified by Al-Azhar University, the most prominent and authoritative institute of Islamic jurisprudence in the world, as a reliable guide to orthodox Sunni Islam.

The manual states (01.1-2) that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right," except when "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers)" kills his or her "offspring, or offspring's offspring." Hence, according to this view a parent, who murders his or her son/daughter for the sake of "honor," whether owing to issues of chastity, apostasy and the like, incurs no penalty under Shari'a. This ruling is derived from a hadith (Sahih Muslim, Book 19, Number 4457) where it is affirmed that one should not kill a child unless one could know "what Khadir had known about the child he killed." Khadir is a figure featured in the Qur'an who accompanies Moses on a journey and kills a son of believing parents for fear that he would rebel against the will of God (18:74 and 18:80-81).

It is for these reasons that Islamic religious authorities have often been reluctant at best to condemn the custom of honor killings. In fact, in 2003 the Jordanian Parliament voted against a bill to introduce harsher legal penalties for honor killings on the grounds that it would violate "religious traditions." Likewise, with regards to the killing of Rand Abdel-Qader, a 17 year-old Iraqi who allegedly loved a British soldier stationed in Basra, by her father, an Iraqi sergeant pointed out that "not much can be done when we have an 'honor killing' case. You are in a Muslim society and women should live under religious laws."[2]

An appropriate but not exact analogy is the problem of female circumcision in Egypt, which dates back to Pharaonic times. Though banned in 1997 by the Supreme Constitutional Court, a 2005 study found that 95% of Egyptian women had been subjected to some form of female circumcision, for the Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence, dominant in Egypt, rules that trimming the clitoral hood is mandatory, and accordingly the ritual is still condoned and recommended by many Muslim clerics.

Therefore, it is incumbent on human rights organizations working in the Muslim world to put pressure on Islamic religious authorities to denounce unequivocally the practice of honor killings, discuss openly and honestly the religious basis that condones the custom, and work to formulate a reformed interpretation of core Islamic texts that teaches why honor killings are wrong from a religious viewpoint, all of which will end impediments to introducing stricter legal punishments for honor killings in Muslim countries. Similarly, women's rights groups based in the West should encourage Muslim advocacy groups and religious leaders who serve Muslim communities in the West to do the same. Furthermore, as Phyllis Chesler points out, in the U.S. "a regular shelter for battered women does not specialize in honor killings, nor are there any provisions for foster families-Muslim or otherwise-who can protect girls targeted for murder by their biological families." [3] These are gaps that must be filled.

By adopting such measures, it does not follow that honor killings will vanish overnight, but at least the number of cases will be reduced substantially.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is an intern at the Middle East Forum.





There Oughtn’t Be a Law

The burqa ban won’t save France, and preemptive capitulation won’t save us.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
September 18, 2010 4:00 A.M.

République française has banned the burqa. Along with the face-covering veil (the niqab), the burqa is the garment with which Muslim women conceal their bodies from head to toe. More accurately, it is the instrument by which their bodies are concealed. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the burqa is not worn by a woman’s free choice. It is imposed, a product of cultural submission that reflects the subordinate status — in a real sense, the chattel status — to which women are consigned in Islamist ideology.

The new French burqa law was announced this week. Not a social debate: a law. Western societies are running out of gas for the same reason Western economies are sputtering: They are over-lawyered and, hence, hyper-regulated. We’re incapable of comprehending public controversy through anything but the most legalistic prism, particularly when individual liberty is implicated.

Thus we have the tyranny of the lowest common denominator. The tune is called by that rarest of creatures: the woman living in the West who wears the burqa because she wants to wear the burqa. Of course there are such women. Some are merely eccentric, but most burqa volunteers are affirming a civilizational chasm. In Islam, the concept of “freedom” is nearly the opposite of what the non-Muslim West takes it to mean; it is perfect submission to Allah. That is the only life choice the voluntarily shrouded woman makes, and the burqa is emblematic of all the doctrinal subjugation that necessarily follows.

Bully for her. But what about the other women who don the burqa? What about the women who are extorted into cloaking themselves under pressure from a culture characterized by arranged marriages and honor killings? These women are pressured to submit because others have submitted. They are “captive women behind bars,” as French president Nicolas Sarkozy describes them, making a metaphor of the grilled visor the burqa places across women’s eyes. These women and girls are in France, but they are not free. They are “shut out from social life and robbed of any identity,” as Sarkozy puts it, and the burqa is their moving prison, enveloping every step. It extends the republic’s 750 zones urbaines sensibles, “sensitive urban areas” — Islamic enclaves over which the French state has effectively ceded sovereignty to sharia authorities.

This is a social problem, not a legal one. Law is the steel by which a body politic reinforces its vibrant, pre-existing mores. It is not a device for creating mores or for bringing to heel those who are at war with the body politic. Indeed, for Islamists seeking to destroy the West, the law is a weapon in their arsenal — the device by which they hamstring a self-consciously law-worshipping society. For a dying society, though, a law, like the burqa law, is about as useful as a band-aid.

Islamist ideologues are ascendant because they are moving what they are proud to call their “civilizational jihad” against the West from the battlefield, where they know they cannot win, to our institutions, where the scales tip in the Islamists’ favor. They are culturally confident. We, on the other hand, are ambivalent about whether our culture deserves to survive. No law can solve that problem.

France is trying its burqa ban nonetheless. The United States, by contrast, seeks to impose social cohesion by capitulating to sharia at the expense of the First Amendment. That is the latest twist in the brouhaha over the Ground Zero mosque.

Last weekend, at the crater formerly known as the World Trade Center, protester Derek Fenton was photographed burning pages from a Koran, following through on an obscure Florida pastor’s threat to torch Islam’s holy book. Fenton, it turned out, was an 11-year employee of the New Jersey Transit Authority, which promptly fired him when the photos went public.

But hold on a moment: Fenton, who was charged with no crime, was engaged in constitutionally protected expression. It is irrelevant that his conduct may be judged foolish or offensive. It makes no difference that there were less provocative ways to make the same point. Or does it?

The incident occurred in his off-hours and was unrelated to his job. Should it matter that riotous Muslims might seek their vengeance against his state employer, thus endangering train passengers? Not according to the Supreme Court. The American flag and all it symbolizes cannot be shielded from desecration, we are told, because free speech is the defining value of a free society. We don’t give a veto to those it offends, for its very purpose, often its most salutary purpose, is to offend. The justices reaffirmed the principle in Texas v. Johnson (1989): Free expression “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

Did the Court mean any people, or just non-Muslims? Is the principle really as transcendent as it sounds, or is it just high-minded rhetoric? Is it just the way our dissipated rulers couch the lesson that, when it comes to attacks on Western values, we must accept them because we probably deserve them?

All the recent talk of Koran burning spurred Justice Stephen Breyer to suggest that free expression may need an Islam exemption. That prompted justifiable outrage, but it should have surprised no one. The Obama administration has already joined the Organization of the Islamic Conference in a UN resolution designed to make blasphemy against Islam illegal. And the president’s latest appointee, Justice Elena Kagan, is a sharia enthusiast who argues that government may curb free expression whenever it decides the “value” of speech is outweighed by other “societal costs” — which is to say, when doing so elevates progressive pieties.

This is of a piece with other recent episodes of what Roger Kimball calls “preemptive capitulation.” We also learned this week that Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who proposed “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” has changed her name and gone into hiding. Couldn’t the FBI have protected her from Islamist rage? Evidently not: It was the Feebs who advised her to go dark.

The ethos of preemptive capitulation is all around us. It ran through last year’s refusal by Yale University Press to publish Jytte Klausen’s book on Muslim rioting over cartoon depictions of Mohammed until the book was purged of the cartoons. Even such classical representations of the prophet as Gustave Doré’s illustration of Dante’s Inferno, which portrays Mohammed as a “sower of religious discord,” had to be censored out of fear that the religion of peace would go medieval. The ethos informed a New Jersey judge who refused a protective order to a woman being serially raped by a Muslim man she was trying to divorce — after all, the jurist reasoned, the man was simply following his religious principles, under which his wife was no more than a vessel, bereft of any right to say no. The ethos led uniformed police to arrest Christian evangelists for handing out copies of St. John’s gospel on a public street in heavily Muslim Dearborn, Mich. Camouflaged as a crackdown on “disturbing the peace,” it was transparently the enforcement of sharia’s prohibition against preaching religions other than Islam. And the ethos is exploited by Imam Feisal Rauf, who now concedes the Ground Zero mosque was a bad idea but insists we must accept it lest “the radicals” explode in murderous rage.

It is the ethos of self-loathing. That is our burqa: our feebleness, our lack of cultural confidence. To shed it, we will have to rediscover why the principles it cloaks are superior and worth fighting for. If we don’t, the law won’t save us any more than it will save France.

— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

Photo: (Claude Paris/Associated Press)

It's the Spending, Stupid


A chronic voter 'concern' has now exploded into a broad public movement.

The Wall Street Journal
SEPTEMBER 16, 2010.

At a backyard town-hall meeting in Fairfax, Va., Monday, President Obama explained why Christine O'Donnell was going to beat Mike Castle in the GOP's Delaware Senate primary:

"They saw the Recovery Act," he said. "They saw TARP. They saw the auto bailout. And they look at these and think, 'God, all these huge numbers adding up.' So they're right to be concerned about that."

Of course Mr. Obama was speaking generally about the public mood. Let's call it his "generic" explanation for the current voter impulse to wipe out GOP incumbents now and Democrats in November.

Martin Kozlowski

Here's your bumper sticker for the 2010 elections: It's the Spending, Stupid.

And the president didn't mention the two $3 trillion-plus budgets passed on his watch or the trillion-dollar health-care entitlement. They, the voters, are not "concerned" about Uncle Sam's spending floating toward the moon. They are enraged, furious, crazed and desperate.

Pennsylvania's shrewd Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, scripting the new conventional wisdom, says the tea party movement supporting Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska proves the GOP is in the grip of crazies. With luck, none of his audience will wake up from this delusion before November.

Back in April, the New York Times/CBS did a poll of tea party supporters. When asked, "What should be the goal of the Tea Party movement," 45% said, "Reduce federal government." That is, cut spending. Everything else was in single digits.

I'm convinced that beneath all the economic turbulence in the land is anxiety that's been building for years as public spending has continued to grow. What was a chronic "concern" has exploded this year into a broad public movement—in Washington, California, New York, New Jersey and indeed across Europe. This isn't "concern," Mr. President. It's a crisis.

Look at the astonishing numbers in the Rasmussen poll released last week. Nearly seven in 10 respondents (68%) want a smaller government, lower taxes and fewer services. The party breakdown: GOP, 88%; Democrats, 44%; and Other, 74%. In short, the independent voters who decide national elections have moved into the anti-spending column. I don't think they'll leave any time soon.

In a note on last week's poll, Rasmussen points out that the only time it recorded a higher shrink-the-government number, at 70%, was in August 2006. That was just ahead of the famous off-year election in which Republican voters withheld support for their party's free-spending members in Congress.

The Obama White House holds that the spending concerns Mr. Obama cited Monday—the stimulus, TARP, the auto bailout—were necessary. Whatever any individual merit in this stuff, it hit most voters at a moment when nearly any big government outlays were going to be written off as "more spending." When Mr. Obama said the health bill was "paid for," naturally polls showed that no one believed him. Why should they?

This loss of faith predates the Obama presidency.

I called Scott Rasmussen this week to discuss the roots of the anti-spending mood, and he suggested that the American electorate's desire for pushback against the growth in federal spending dates at least to 1992 and Ross Perot's third-party presidential bid, which drew 18.9% of the popular vote. Indeed, Mr. Rasmussen argues, you can find evidence of the turn in Jimmy Carter's "efficiency in government" efforts.

Until Barack Obama, the only Democrats who had a chance of winning the presidency were Southern governors with a reputation for fiscal moderation. But after Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, he immediately tried to pass the mammoth health-care entitlement known as HillaryCare. After 17 acrimonious months, it died in August 1994. That November, voters gave control of the House to the GOP for the first time in 40 years. It was about more than Newt Gingrich's charm.

So this year the Democrats, who control Congress because of voter disgust with the Republicans in 2006, passed a health-care entitlement. And this year voters will transfer power back to the Republicans.

The most important and startling number in American politics today is Congress's approval rating: 23%. This is a no-confidence vote. The second branch of government is losing the country. Surely it's about the spending. What else? That Congress hasn't spent enough?

If voters give control of the House to the GOP, the party desperately needs to establish credibility on spending. Absent that, little else is possible. Independent voters now know that the national Democratic Party, hopelessly joined to the public-sector unions, will never stabilize public outlays.

In a sense, the GOP's impending victory is meaningless, a win by default. If the Republican rookies entering Congress next year don't do something identifiably real to stop the federal-spending balloon, voters two years from now will start throwing the GOP under the bus. Absent action, the political rage and cynicism on offer in 2012 could make this year's tea parties look like, well, a tea party.

Write to

Friday, September 17, 2010

Harry Reid’s Illegal-Alien Student Bailout

A law that supposedly benefits students really benefits Democrats.

By Michelle Malkin
September 17, 2010 12:00 A.M.

The so-called DREAM Act would create an official path to Democratic voter registration for an estimated two million college-age illegal aliens. Look past the public-relations-savvy stories of “undocumented” valedictorians left out in the cold. This is not about protecting “children.” It’s about preserving electoral power through cap-and-gown amnesty.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (pictured at right) announced this week that he’s attaching the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill. With ethnic activists breathing down his neck and President Obama pushing to fulfill his campaign promise to Hispanics, Reid wants his queasy colleagues to vote on the legislation next week.

Open-borders lawmakers have tried and failed to pass the DREAM Act through regular channels for the past decade. That’s because informed voters know giving green cards to illegal-alien students undermines the rule of law, creates more illegal-immigration incentives, and grants preferential treatment to illegal-alien students over law-abiding native and naturalized American students struggling to get an education in tough economic times. This bad idea is compounded by a companion proposal to recruit more illegal aliens into the military with the lure of citizenship (a fraud-ridden and reckless practice countenanced under the Bush administration).

DREAM Act lobbyists are spotlighting heart-wrenching stories of high-achieving teens brought to this country when they were toddlers. But instead of arguing for case-by-case dispensations, the protesters want blanket pardons. The broadly drafted Senate bill would confer benefits on applicants up to age 35, and the House bill contains no age ceiling at all. The academic-achievement requirements are minimal. Moreover, illegal aliens who didn’t arrive in the country until they turned 15 — after they had laid down significant roots in their home country — would be eligible for DREAM Act benefits and eventual U.S. citizenship. And, like past amnesty packages, the Democratic plan is devoid of any concrete eligibility and enforcement mechanisms to deter already rampant immigration-benefit fraud.

The DREAM Act’s sponsors have long fought to sabotage a clearly worded provision in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) that states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”

Ten states defied that federal law and offered DREAM Act–style tuition preference to illegal aliens: California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington. The last time DREAM Act champions tried to tack their scheme onto a larger immigration proposal, they snuck in language that would absolve those ten states of their law-breaking by repealing the 1996 law retroactively — and also offering a special path to green cards and citizenship for illegal-alien students.

Despite the obvious electoral advantage this plan would give Democrats, more than a few Republicans who favor illegal-alien amnesty crossed the aisle to support the DREAM Act, including double-talking senators John McCain, Richard Lugar, Bob Bennett, Sam Brownback, Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, Larry Craig, Chuck Hagel, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mel Martinez, and Olympia Snowe, as did presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (who champions even greater illegal-alien student benefits than those proposed by Democrats). After paying lip service to securing the borders, McCain promised DREAM Act demonstrators this week that he supports the bill and will work to “resolve their issues.”

Out-of-touch pols might want to pay attention to the world outside their bubble. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows that Americans across the political spectrum favor tougher enforcement of existing immigration laws over rolling out the amnesty welcome wagon. When asked, “Do you think immigration reform should primarily move in the direction of integrating illegal immigrants into American society or in the direction of stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration?” solid majorities of registered Republicans, Democrats, and independents chose stricter enforcement over greater integration of the illegal-alien population.

Democrats outside the Beltway have grown increasingly averse to signing on to illegal-alien incentives — especially as the Obama jobs death toll mounts and economic confidence plummets. Here in Colorado, a handful of Democrats joined Republican lawyers to kill a state-level DREAM Act amid massive higher-education budget cuts and a bipartisan voter backlash.

Asked why she opposed the illegal-alien student bailout, one Democratic lawmaker said quite simply: “I listened to my constituents.” An alien concept in Washington, to be sure.

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies (Regnery, 2010). © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Why It's Time for the Tea Party

The populist movement is more a critique of the GOP than a wing of it.

The Wall Street Journal
SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

This fact marks our political age: The pendulum is swinging faster and in shorter arcs than it ever has in our lifetimes. Few foresaw the earthquake of 2008 in 2006. No board-certified political professional predicted, on Election Day 2008, what happened in 2009-10 (New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts) and has been happening, and will happen, since then. It all moves so quickly now, it all turns on a dime.

But at this moment we are witnessing a shift that will likely have some enduring political impact. Another way of saying that: The past few years, a lot of people in politics have wondered about the possibility of a third party. Would it be possible to organize one? While they were wondering, a virtual third party was being born. And nobody organized it.

Here is Jonathan Rauch in National Journal on the Tea Party's innovative, broad-based network: "In the expansive dominion of the Tea Party Patriots, which extends to thousands of local groups and literally countless activists," there is no chain of command, no hierarchy. Individuals "move the movement." Popular issues gain traction and are emphasized, unpopular ones die. "In American politics, radical decentralization has never been tried on such a large scale." Here are pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen in the Washington Examiner: "The Tea Party has become one of the most powerful and extraordinary movements in American political history." "It is as popular as both the Democratic and Republican parties." "Over half of the electorate now say they favor the Tea Party movement, around 35 percent say they support the movement, 20 to 25 percent self-identify as members of the movement."

So far, the Tea Party is not a wing of the GOP but a critique of it. This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion when GOP operatives dismissed Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. The Republican establishment is "the reason we even have the Tea Party movement," shot back columnist and Tea Party enthusiast Andrea Tantaros in the New York Daily News. It was the Bush administration that "ran up deficits" and gave us "open borders" and "Medicare Part D and busted budgets."

Everyone has an explanation for the Tea Party that is actually not an explanation but a description. They're "angry." They're "antiestablishment," "populist," "anti-elite." All to varying degrees true. But as a network television executive said this week, "They should be fed up. Our institutions have failed."

Barbara Kelley

I see two central reasons for the Tea Party's rise. The first is the yardstick, and the second is the clock. First, the yardstick. Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking—more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking—a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It's always grown! It's as if something inexorable in our political reality—with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academy—has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.

Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like 8. Instead it's 28.

For conservatives on the ground, it has often felt as if Democrats (and moderate Republicans) were always saying, "We should spend a trillion dollars," and the Republican Party would respond, "No, too costly. How about $700 billion?" Conservatives on the ground are thinking, "How about nothing? How about we don't spend more money but finally start cutting."

What they want is representatives who'll begin the negotiations at 18 inches and tug the final bill toward 5 inches. And they believe Tea Party candidates will do that.

The second thing is the clock. Here is a great virtue of the Tea Party: They know what time it is. It's getting late. If we don't get the size and cost of government in line now, we won't be able to. We're teetering on the brink of some vast, dark new world—states and cities on the brink of bankruptcy, the federal government too. The issue isn't "big spending" anymore. It's ruinous spending that they fear will end America as we know it, as they promised it to their children.

So there's a sense that dramatic action is needed, and a sense of profound urgency. Add drama to urgency and you get the victory of a Tea Party-backed candidate.

That is the context. Local Tea Parties seem—so far—not to be falling in love with the particular talents or background of their candidates. It's more detached than that. They don't say their candidates will be reflective, skilled in negotiations, a great senator, a Paul Douglas or Pat Moynihan or a sturdy Scoop Jackson. These qualities are not what they think are urgently needed. What they want is someone who will walk in, put her foot on the conservative end of the yardstick, and make everything slip down in that direction.

Nobody knows how all this will play out, but we are seeing something big—something homegrown, broad-based and independent. In part it is a rising up of those who truly believe America is imperiled and truly mean to save her. The dangers, both present and potential, are obvious. A movement like this can help a nation by acting as a corrective, or it can descend into a corrosive populism that celebrates unknowingness as authenticity, that confuses showiness with seriousness and vulgarity with true conviction. Parts could become swept by a desire just to tear down, to destroy. But establishments exist for a reason. It is true that the party establishment is compromised, and by many things, but one of them is experience. They've lived through a lot, seen a lot, know the national terrain. They know how things work. They know the history. I wonder if Tea Party members know how fragile are the institutions that help keep the country together.

One difference so far between the Tea Party and the great wave of conservatives that elected Ronald Reagan in 1980 is that latter was a true coalition—not only North and South, East and West but right-wingers, intellectuals who were former leftists, and former Democrats. When they won presidential landslides in 1980, '84 and '88, they brought the center with them. That in the end is how you win. Will the center join arms and work with the Tea Party? That's a great question of 2012.

Television Review: Boardwalk Empire

Jersey Shore, The Early Years

The New York Times
Published: September 16, 2010

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

A scene from “Boardwalk Empire” set on the recreated Atlantic City Boardwalk. The series begins on Sunday on HBO.

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day 1920 the city treasurer in Atlantic City is busy finessing Prohibition, but his brother, the sheriff, is focused on delivering a speech to the Ancient Order of the Celts. He brandishes a pamphlet he picked up in a course at the Y.M.C.A.: “Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business” by Dale Carnagey.

Long before he wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie published advice under his real name, Carnagey. That kind of historical fastidiousness runs throughout “Boardwalk Empire,” a new series beginning Sunday on HBO about bootleggers at the dawn of the Jazz Age. It’s a period drama with an irresistible pedigree: Terence Winter, a lead writer of “The Sopranos,” created it, and Martin Scorsese, one of its executive producers, directed the first episode.

As is Mr. Scorsese’s wont, the attention to detail, like the cinematography, is lavish, exquisite and unswerving. It is also a little constricting. In the first few episodes, characters adhere so carefully to type they trip into caricature. Accuracy isn’t always the same as plausibility; imagined history can sometimes be more persuasive than fact.

“Boardwalk Empire” is a well conceived, beautifully made series that has every reason to be great. Who doesn’t want to watch rum runners and gangsters on HBO? Yet, surprisingly, given the extraordinary talent and money behind it, “Boardwalk Empire” falls short. The series gets better and more engrossing with time, but it takes more than a few episodes for it to clear its throat, establish its bona fides and fall into storytelling stride. One possible reason is that the star, Steve Buscemi, is hard to accept in the lead role of Enoch Thompson, known as Nucky, Atlantic City’s dashingly corrupt treasurer. Nucky, half political boss, half gangster, is a dandified fixer who can charm suffragettes and terrify bootleggers and ward heelers.

Mr. Buscemi, who played Tony Soprano’s cousin in “The Sopranos,” is a distinguished character actor and certainly a distinctive one: bug-eyed and cadaverous, he speaks in a tinny voice that sounds like a 33 1/3 r.p.m. record played at 45. Mr. Buscemi manages to tamp down the comedy of his mien, but it takes a lot of squinting to see him as a powerbroker straddling two worlds.

Nucky is supposed to be a persuasive liar who can preach teetotalism to the Women’s Temperance League with a straight face. Mr. Buscemi, however, looks shifty and disingenuous — that is only supposed to be apparent after Nucky leaves the stage and reaches for his flask.

Nucky is based on a real-life Atlantic City political boss, Nucky Johnson, but the fictional version inevitably evokes Tony Soprano. Like that other New Jersey mobster, Nucky is the sum of many contradictions. He is an extrovert with an inner life, an egotist with wry self-awareness, a vicious killer and bully with a soft spot for smart women and newborns, a snob with no bias against blacks, Jews or Germans. Nucky is a bad man surrounded by people who are even worse, and he is the viewer’s pivot in all the upheaval, excitement and lawlessness that was the age of Prohibition.

Mr. Winter is aware of the pitfalls of the role. “If we wanted the real Nucky, we would have cast Jimmy Gandolfini,” Mr. Winter recently told The New York Times. “But by Episode 12 you’re going to think nobody else could have done it but Steve.” Twelve episodes is quite a long time, and it isn’t until the fifth episode that it seems like Mr. Buscemi (pictured at right) will pull it off at all.

There is plenty to watch along the way. “Boardwalk Empire” is a “Ragtime” of an adventure story that mixes fictional characters with real ones, though the historical ones are mostly gangsters: Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Big Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and, in one of the best performances of all, Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

Nucky has a protégé, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), who left Princeton to fight in World War I and returns changed by combat and in a rush to make up for lost time.

Living like a pasha in the Ritz-Carlton, Nucky has an entourage that includes a proper German valet and a highly improper mistress (Paz de la Huerta), a former showgirl who swears like a sailor but talks in a gooey baby voice. Nucky, who winces at uncouth behavior, also befriends an attractive, intelligent and pregnant Irish immigrant, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald). Margaret has two small children and an abusive louse of a husband who gives her black eyes but can’t destroy her love of reading; Henry James and George Sand are among her favorites.

Nucky has business dealings with mobsters in Chicago and New York, as well as with elected officials in Washington and Trenton, but he also has a few enemies, including most ominously an Internal Revenue agent, Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), an Eliot Ness-like zealot and strict Roman Catholic who suspects that Nucky is a kingpin of the illegal alcohol trade. As with many other characters, Nelson’s costumes, posture and enunciation are period perfect, but he is so tightly bound into the archetype of the 1920s federal agent that he seems one-dimensional.

Characters intersect and, with time, divert from type, but they don’t interact with the same layered intensity that drove “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” At heart “Boardwalk Empire” is a cops and robbers tale and its thrills rest on the skill of the filmmaking.

Mr. Scorsese’s cinematic style in the first episode is as distinctive and effective as it was in “Goodfellas” or “The Departed”: long tracking shots and slow, exalted pans from ceiling to floor. The violence is shockingly brutal and, of course, lyrical; in one scene, a man lies dead in a pool of blood as a Caruso record plays on a blood-splattered gramophone.

The sets and period clothes are richly and ingeniously recreated, down to the litter on the boardwalk and the wisps of silk and velvet chiffon on a rack in a lingerie store. Sometimes exactitude verges on pedanticism. When Margaret, worried about pregnancy, reads a Margaret Sanger pamphlet on family planning, the camera lingers on the title, “Family Limitations.” It’s a level of precision that signals insecurity. The series is based on a history book, Nelson Johnson’s “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.” Perhaps because the people who adapted the book didn’t live in those times or grow up around people who did, they lack the confidence to improvise.

Its not absolutely necessary for a show’s creators to have a personal connection to their work. David Milch didn’t grow up in a Gold Rush town, but “Deadwood” brilliantly alchemized fact into fiction. More often, though, they do: Matt Weiner siphoned childhood memories for “Mad Men,” David Chase drew on his Italian-American heritage in “The Sopranos,” and David Simon used his reporting experience in Baltimore for “The Wire.” Mr. Simon’s new HBO series, “Treme,” isn’t nearly as extraordinary, and that could be because he and his colleagues are respectful fans of New Orleans, not natives with a license to riff.

“Boardwalk Empire” is an artful reworking of the gangster myth, but it isn’t a great work of art. After telling the Women’s Temperance League a poignant hard-luck tale, Nucky turns to Jimmy and says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” “Boardwalk Empire” doesn’t always follow this advice.

Boardwalk Empire

HBO, Sunday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Created by Terence Winter; pilot directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Mr. Winter; Mr. Winter, Mr. Scorsese, Tim Van Patten, Stephen Levinson and Mark Wahlberg, executive producers; Gene Kelly and Lawrence Konner, co-executive producers; Rudd Simmons and Rick Yorn, producers (series); David Coats- worth, producer (pilot); Howard Korder and Margaret Nagle, supervising pro- ducers.

WITH: Steve Buscemi (Nucky Thomp- son), Michael Pitt (Jimmy Darmody), Kelly Macdonald (Margaret Schroeder), Michael Shannon (Agent Nelson Van Al- den), Dabney Coleman (Commodore Louis Kaestner), Shea Whigham (Sheriff Elias Thompson), Anthony Laciura (Ed- die Kessler), Stephen Graham (Al Ca- pone), Aleksa Palladino (Angela Darmo- dy), Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Roth- stein), Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano), Paz de la Huerta (Lucy Danziger), Paul Sparks (Mickey Doyle), Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky White), Gretchen Mol (Gillian), Greg Antonacci (Johnny Tor- rio) and Frank Crudele (Big Jim Colosi- mo).

A version of this review appeared in print on September 17, 2010, on page C1 of the New York edition.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trifle with the government? Just ask Jacob Maged

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Thursday, September 16, 2010; A25

JERSEY CITY - The crime scene at 138 Griffith St. has changed in 76 years. Today it is a barber shop. In 1934, it was a tailoring and cleaning establishment owned and run by Jacob Maged, 49.

With his responsibilities as a father of four, Maged should have shunned a life of crime. Instead, he advertised his criminal activity with a placard in his shop window, promising to press men's suits for 35 cents. This he did, even though President Franklin Roosevelt's New Dealers, who knew an amazing number of things -- his economic aides were not called a "Brains Trust" for nothing -- knew that the proper price for pressing a man's suit was 40 cents.

The National Recovery Administration was an administrative mechanism for the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which envisioned regulating the economy back to health by using, among other things, codes of fair competition. The theory was that by promoting the cartelization of labor by encouraging unions, and the cartelization of industries by codes that would inhibit competition, prices would be propped up and prosperity would return.

The NRA is O.K. with Jacob Maged, tailor, now. He's pictured putting up the Blue Eagle after Judge Robert V. Kinkead of Jersey City, N.J., remitted the balance of his thirty-day sentence for code chiseling. (Image: Bettmann/CORBIS, April 23, 1934)

Soon there were more than 500 NRA codes covering the manufacture of products from lightning rods to dog leashes to women's corsets. Amity Shlaes, in "The Forgotten Man," her history of the New Deal, reports that the NRA "generated more paper than the entire legislative output of the federal government since 1789." Businesses were asked to display the Blue Eagle, an emblem signifying participation in the NRA. Gen. Hugh "Iron Pants" Johnson, an admirer of Mussolini who headed the NRA, declared, "May God have mercy on the man or group of men who attempt to trifle with this bird."

Maged trifled by his 5-cent violation of New Jersey's "tailors' code," written in conjunction with the NRA. On April 20, 1934, he was fined $100 -- serious money when the average family income was about $1,500 -- and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The New York Times reported that Maged "was only vaguely aware of the existence of a code." Not that such ignorance was forgivable. It is every citizen's duty to stay up late at night, if necessary, reading the fine print about the government's multiplying mandates.

"In court yesterday," the Times reported, "he stood as if in a trance when sentence was pronounced. He hoped that it was a joke." Maged was an immigrant from Poland, which in the Cold War would become familiar with the concept of "economic crimes" and the use of criminal law for the "re-education" of deviationists.

Actually, his sentence was a judicial jest. After Maged spent three days in jail, the judge canceled the rest of his sentence, remitted the fine and, according to the Times, "gave him a little lecture on the importance of cooperation as opposed to individualism." The judge emphasized that people "should uphold the president . . . and General Johnson" in their struggle against -- among other miscreants -- "price cutters." Then, like a feudal lord granting a dispensation to a serf, the judge promised to have Maged "measure me for a new suit."

Maged, suitably broken to the saddle of government, removed from his shop window the placard advertising 35-cent pressings and replaced it with a Blue Eagle. "Maged," reported the Times, "if not quite so ruggedly individualistic as formerly, was a free man once more." So that is freedom -- embracing, under coercion, a government propaganda symbol.

Today, as 76 years ago, economic recovery is much on the mind of the government, which is busy as a beaver -- sending another $26 billion to public employees, proposing an additional $50 billion for "infrastructure" -- as it orchestrates Recovery Summer to an appropriate climax. But at least today's government is agnostic about the proper price for cleaning a suit.

In 1937, FDR asked in his second inaugural address for "unimagined power" to enforce "proper subordination" of private interests to public authority. The biggest industrial collapse in American history occurred eight years after the stock market crash of 1929, and nearly five years into the New Deal, in . . . 1937.

Maged died here of cancer on March 31, 1939. He was 54. He remains a cautionary example of the wages of sin, understood by the progressives of his day as insubordination toward government that knows everything. The NRA lives on, sort of, in this Milton Friedman observation: Pick at random any three letters from the alphabet, put them in any order, and you will have an acronym designating a federal agency we can do without.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Springsteen talks Dylan, darkness and the “survivor guilt” of fame

“The artists we love, they put their fingerprint on your imagination, and on your heart and your soul”

by Brian D. Johnson on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:57am

A few minutes before Bruce Springsteen stepped onstage in the 550-seat flagship cinema of the new TIFF Bell Lightbox, a stage hand removed the guitar stand. Which seemed to confirm it wasn’t going to be that kind of show. It was, however, the hottest ticket at the festival: a chance to spend an hour or so in a relatively intimate theatre listening to actor Edward Norton interview the Boss about music, cinema, celebrity and politics. And it seemed as strange for them as it was for us. Springsteen is perfectly at home singing for 20,000 people, and Norton (Primal Fear) can comfortably shape-shift into a psychopath in front of a movie camera. But they were both novices at performing in an onstage interview, which had a certain homespun charm.

As part of TIFF’s Mavericks program, Springsteen’s dialogue with Norton was presented in advance of the world premiere of Thom Zimny’s documentary Promise: The Making of Darkness the Edge of Town. There was a palpable excitement in the air. As TIFF programmer Thom Powers nervously confessed, “I will be able to breathe for the first time in six weeks.” When the Boss hit the stage, there was the expected standing ovation and chants of “Bruuuuuuuce.” But the audience quickly settled down and sat in rapt attention without a single fan outburst. Obeying strict orders, there was no texting, tweeting or cellphone photography. I’ve been driven crazy all week by flickering Blackberries among industry types in screenings. But this was the best-behaved crowd I’d encountered since this film festival began—ironic considering they’d come to see a rock star.

Springsteen and Norton came out dressed almost identically in black shirts, black boots and jeans. They both seemed a bit awkward at first, joking about their wardrobe. Norton, who explained he and the Boss have been friends for 11 years, went out of his way to act casual. It’s always interesting to see a star play the role of interviewer. I’ve conducted an interview or two in my time, off and on stage, and though it’s not high art, it is an acquired skill, like acting or playing guitar. Norton’s questions were long, rambling and tangential; he tended to answer them by the time he got to the question mark. But at least they were intelligent, and informed by his friendship with Springsteen. He also covered the vital issues: the creative process, the balance between intuition and craft, the influences, the ambition, the politics—and that pesky vision thing. Springsteen even got to talking about his children. When Norton suggested that every generation thinks its going to be the first generation of cool parents, Springsteen laughed. “That doesn’t work,” he said. “Why would my kids want to come out and see thousands of people cheer their parents?”

The one thing they didn’t dwell on was the music, which gets plenty of attention in the documentary. Instead, Bruce ruminated on its thematic course, something he struggled with in the insanely laborious recording of Darkness on the Edge of Town, the 1978 album that followed the monstrous success of Born to Run.

“I was afraid of losing myself,” said Springsteen, explaining that one minute he and the the E-Street band were “a provincial group of guys with no money ” who had never been on an airplane and thought New York was “million miles away.” Then he was a superstar who was, nonetheless, broke, in a legal battle with his manager, and worried about being “gobbled up” by fame. “It’s easy for you to be co-opted,” he said. “The irony of any kind of success is the conversation you’ve struck up is also the one that makes you a bit of a mutant—a mutant in your own neighbourhood. And it leaves you with a good deal of survivor guilt. Nobody knows anybody who has any money—except you.”

Springsteen talked about Darkness on the Edge of Town as his pivotal album, where he set the direction that would set his career. In the early years, “we were all creatures of the radio,” he said, stressing that “records” were his prime influence. But the Boss has a more than passing affinity with film. The sense of landscape in his songs is archly cinematic, and as he explained, heavily influenced by American film noir. Early in the interview, he referenced Bob Dylan and David Lynch into the same line as he recalled listening getting “the first true picture of my country” when he heard Dylan’s Highway 61 as a teenager—”1960s small-town America was very Lynchian,” he said. “Everything was rumbling. Dylan took all the dark stuff that was rumbling underneath and brought it too the surface.

As Norton noted, Springsteen referenced movies from his first album, with lines like “I could walk like Brando into the sun.” But with success, he was flung into an epic landscape, with the Vietnam war still fresh and American cinema erupting around him: “Popular pictures were dark, bloody pictures that dealt with the flipside of the American Dream.” During the Born To Run tour, he recalled, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro treated him to a private screening of Taxi Driver. Then he added, as if it had just occured to him, that Jon Landau—the producer taking over his career at the time, was a film critic.

Things got interesting when Norton started asking about wild impulse versus painstaking craft. Springsteen talked about the virtue of craft. “Dylan,” he said, “was very, very conscious; he just wouldn’t talk about it. . . The construction of image, there’s no getting around it. That doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic. Writing and imagining a world, that’s a particular thing. The artists we love, they put their fingerprint on your imagination, and on your heart and your soul. . . I wanted to bring in the full landscape of the country.

Springsteen talked about the massive ambition he had in the 70s. “There was something in the hardness of it, that young naked desire. We wanted people to hear our voices and we set our sights very big. I wanted the pink Cadillac and I wanted the girls, but above all I wanted a purposeful work life.” Darkness on the Edge of Town, he said, was his attempt to find that. In marathon studio sessions—documented by intimate black-and-white footage in the documentary—he recorded some 70 songs. Slashing all the feel-good numbers, he reduced the album to “the 10 toughest songs I had.” They were “carved meticulously, consciously out of a huge hunk of stone, with a lot of ego and ambition. That, he said, “was the beginning of a long conversation I had with my fans.”

Norton asked if he ever worried about being overtaken by the next generation of rockers. “If you’re good,” said Springsteen, “you’re always looking over your shoulder. It’s the life, the gun-slinging life.”

So yes, I took notes as I sat in the 5th row, close enough to feel a connection, marvelling at how odd it was to quietly watch the Boss perform musicology on his own career—Uncle Bruce easing into his role as the elder. It was by turns fascinating, inspiring and slightly sad, all this rumination about the meaning of those glory days. Then suddenly it was over. The rock star and the movie star slipped off stage to a few polite shrieks of protest. Later outside the theatre, as I chatted with Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, we noticed a stagehand carrying away an unplayed acoustic guitar.

Papers of Bible Scholar Donated

The Raleigh News & Observer
September 15, 2010


Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, holds a Schaeffer book he has studied.

WAKE FOREST -- Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has landed the collected papers of one of the most important evangelicals of the 20th century, a man credited with giving intellectual heft to the Christian right - Francis Schaeffer.

At a ceremony during Tuesday morning's chapel service, Schaeffer's daughter, Deborah Middelmann, handed seminary professor Bruce Little a black, leather-bound copy of her father's copiously noted King James Version of the Bible.

"Evangelicalism would not have had the cultural influence it has today were it not for Francis Schaeffer," said Little, tearing up as he held Schaeffer's Bible.

With that handoff, the Baptist seminary became the custodian of 85 boxes of Schaeffer's unpublished papers, notes, letters and tape-recorded discussions, most of which were shipped from Switzerland, where Schaeffer and his family lived for many years. Schaeffer, who died in 1984, is second only to Billy Graham among influential American evangelicals of the last half of the 20th century.

Schaeffer is credited with influencing a generation of evangelicals who were transfixed by his message of engaging popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Though he lived most of his adult life abroad, he spoke frequently at Christian colleges and seminaries - often dressed in Alpine mountain climbing gear. He wore his hair long and sported a goatee.

During the final years of his life, Schaeffer became the godfather of the Christian right. He began using the term "secular humanism," to describe contemporary culture, and helped push evangelicals to oppose abortion.

"There was something about him," said Barry Hankins, a professor of history at Baylor University who studies Schaeffer. "He touched a nerve that others couldn't touch at that time."

Two films made by Schaeffer's son, Frank, made him even more popular. "How Shall We Then Live?" and "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" shaped an argument for battling liberal theology in the Christian church and liberal values in society at large.

The seminary plans to restore and transcribe much of Schaeffer's material in digital form. The collection will also serve as a resource for students and scholars.

Southeastern President Daniel Akin said he was "blown away" by the offer, from the Francis Schaeffer Foundation to Little. Although no funds have been set aside to house and restore the material, Akin said he told Little, "We'll do whatever it takes to make it happen."

Middelmann acknowledged it may be surprising or upsetting that her father's collection was given to a Baptist seminary, since Schaeffer was a Presbyterian. An institute dedicated to his work already exists at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, a school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America.

As important, Middelmann said, she found a "kindred spirit" in Little, whom she met a few years ago when he hosted a conference at Southeastern on her father's work.

"My father was a very odd man," said Middelmann. "Had it been given to a more logical place it would have been very inappropriate."

The collection is not a bequest. The Francis Schaeffer Foundation still owns the material, but it is expected to remain permanently at Southeastern.

"We're hoping to revive interest in Francis Schaeffer," said Little. "We want to give new understanding to his life and ministry.", 919-829-4891

Who was Francis A. Schaeffer?

To a generation of evangelicals who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Francis Schaeffer was a popular Christian intellectual who defended faith in an age of growing secularism.

Schaeffer was born in 1912 in Germantown, Pa. He became a Christian at age 17, and after seminary served churches - two in Pennsylvania and one in St. Louis.

He and his wife, Edith, moved to Switzerland in 1948 and established the L'Abri community, French for "the shelter." Each Saturday, he would hold discussions about Christianity that drew wider and wider audiences to his chalet. Though not a scholar, he engaged with contemporary culture, especially avant garde music, Italian cinema and French existentialist writers. He became popular in American Christian colleges, traveling frequently to lecture.

Later in his life, he became sharply critical of what he called the "secular humanist" worldview. His book," A Christian Manifesto," influenced leaders in the Christian right such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He is credited with making opposition to abortion, once mainly a Roman Catholic issue, one of the planks of the Protestant evangelical movement.

He died of lymphoma in 1984.

Springsteen Talks 'Darkness' With Festival Doc

Published: September 14, 2010

TORONTO (AP) -- Bruce Springsteen says he and the E Street Band were on a mission when they made his ''Darkness on the Edge of Town'' album 32 years ago.

Springsteen opens up about the career-altering album in the documentary ''The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town,'' which premieres Tuesday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film, which played Monday for press, features contemporary interviews with Springsteen and his band along with rehearsal and studio footage as they made the 1978 record, which he calls a ''reckoning with the adult world'' after the phenomenal success of his ''Born to Run'' album three years earlier.

Before the premiere, Springsteen will discuss his music in a public chat with actor Edward Norton, who became friends with the rocker after they met at a concert about 10 years ago.

''That record, there's no way to overstate how much that record was a part of my life,'' Norton said in an interview. ''I've seen the film, and it's amazing to see him at that age going through the creative process on it. Any artist, I think, will appreciate the chance to see someone who is as great as he is at that age struggling and struggling and struggling to get things to where he hears them in his head.''

After its Toronto premiere, ''The Promise'' will air Oct. 7 on HBO, then will be included in a CD and DVD boxed set release of ''Darkness on the Edge of Town'' due in stores Nov. 16.

Directed by Thom Zimny, who made a similar making-of documentary about ''Born to Run,'' ''The Promise'' captures Springsteen in a burst of creativity after a three-year studio lapse, when he was unable to record amid a court fight with his former manager.

Springsteen says he wanted the album to reflect the ''deep despair and resilience'' he saw among the small towns where he grew up.

''One of the things that's amazing to me is he's considered this quintessential American working-class artist, yet so much of his work has challenged the idea that America lives up to its ideals in some ways,'' Norton said. ''He shows people and artists that you can live in a culture and place and love it and still question it, still challenge it.''

Unlike ''Born to Run'' -- for which Springsteen wrote nine songs, eight of them appearing on the album -- ''Darkness on the Edge of Town'' was honed into a 10-song cycle from about 70 tunes he wrote, according to his band mates. The songs included such castoffs as ''Because the Night'' and ''Fire,'' which became hits for Patti Smith and the Pointer Sisters.

Springsteen jokes that if a song did not work, he would pull out the fragments he liked and try them elsewhere, like taking car parts from one vehicle and sticking them into another to make it run. He shares failed lyrics for the album's opening anthem, ''Badlands,'' and describes a version of the slow, meditative tale ''Racing in the Streets'' in which the narrator's melancholy girl, who ''cries herself to sleep at night,'' was not even in the song.

Sound mixer Chuck Plotkin describes Springsteen's poetic instructions for how the dissonant assault of ''Adam Raised a Cain'' should sound next to the album's more melodic tunes. Springsteen told Plotkin to think of a movie showing two lovers having a picnic, when the scene abruptly cuts to a dead body. This song, Springsteen said, is that body.

The ''Darkness'' songs were leaner and angrier than those on ''Born to Run,'' advancing from the earlier album's sense of youthful anarchy and escape to growing resignation to a ''life of limitations and compromises,'' Springsteen says.

''`Born to Run' and `Darkness,' they're the beginning of the story,'' Springsteen says. ''I'm beginning to tell the story that I tell for most of the rest of my working life.''



Toronto International Film Festival:

Queen of the Castle

A Further Perspective

By Jay D. Homnick on 9.15.10 @ 6:05AM
The American Spectator

In the biggest electoral surprise of Tuesday night, conservative activist Christine O'Donnell defeated longtime GOP Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware's Republican Senate primary.

Well, well, well, if tea is not your cup of tea, perhaps we can scrounge up a few crumpets for you on Election Day. This November, we have a wide variety of teas from such exotic locales as Alaska, Nevada, Delaware and even New Hampshire. (There is even a rumor that Herb London and Al Regnery will partner up to market something called Herbal Tea.) Any movement whose influence is being felt in all of the aforementioned states is not about to be blown away by the sneers and sniggers the Democrats have been firing in opposition.

More importantly, the Tea Party candidates have jolted the Republican establishment to the core. They even managed to do that in Delaware: a consummation devoutly to be wished, as Joe Biden wrote back in his Globe Theatre days. Here the Poobahs, the nabobs, the satraps, the moguls and the Kahunas all agreed that Christine O'Donnell was the bugaboo. Well, boo-hoo about your boo-boo, fellas. It could not have happened to nicer guys.

Okay, let me get a grip on myself and come down from cheerleader mode to apply for readmission in the precincts of dispassion. In the last few days leading up to the Delaware Republican Senatorial Primary, your old-guard Republican insider types put on a full-court press in support of Mike Castle. Mike has been a Representative from Delaware for many years and polls indicated that if he won the primary he would win the general election handily. He is a classic RINO, whose horn is considered an aphrodisiac by Northern tribes. His opponent, Christine O'Donnell was getting the usual treatment from the usual suspects: "too dumb, too nutty, too slutty, too green, too yellow, too blue, too gray." The polls have been less kind to her than to Castle.

But the voters spake, and the pillars did shake. The voters smote, and the Castle lost his moat. Mike Castle will not be your Castle.

Which brings us to the fierce debate which raged between Charles Krauthammer and Rush Limbaugh prior to the primary vote. Both of these gentlemen have waived their protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and advance their arguments with vigor. Krauthammer slammed Palin and DeMint for backing O’Donnell: they were being "irresponsible and capricious." He cited a maxim propounded by the late William F. Buckley Jr. to the effect that one ought to back in primaries the most conservative among the electable.

Limbaugh responded that such considerations are suspended in time of emergency, when the country is traveling full-speed in a hand-basket down the road paved with good intentions.

I concurred with Limbaugh yesterday and with the citizens of Delaware today. It is not enough now to elect candidates who lean rightward of Obama. We need people who understand that trillion-dollar deficits and socialized medicine are not inconveniences. They are not annoyances. They are not setbacks. They are not unpleasantnesses. They are not regrettable episodes. They are not divergent views, odd turns, eccentricities. They are not even outrages and atrocities. THEY ARE IMPOSSIBILITIES.

Only candidates who understand that the only answer to "yes, we can" is "no, we cannot" are worth fielding. That is the whole point of sideswiping the political process with a third-party non-party wrecking crew who hold their teacups with monkey wrenches. The Republican establishment is asea and a movement is afoot. This is all coming to a head in November, when we will see who is really ahead and, derivatively, what lies ahead. (Plenty of lies ahead in the campaign, that’s for sure.)

The biggest winner of all is Sarah Palin, who has been tarred by our feathered friends as the ultimate in unelectable. Well, she let down her hair and said goodbye to the Castle. Everything is different now. She is through the looking-glass, and so the last word must go to the White Queen:

"That's the effect of living backwards," the Queen said kindly: "it always makes one a little giddy at first --"

"Living backwards!" Alice repeated in great astonishment. "I never heard of such a thing!"

" -- but there's one great advantage in it, that one's memory works both ways."

"I'm sure MINE only works one way." Alice remarked. "I can't remember things before they happen."

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," the Queen remarked.

- Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator. He also writes for Human Events.

A Saintly Conscience

High Spirits

By Jonathan Aitken from the September 2010 issue of The American Spectator

Cardinal John Henry Newman(1801-1890) was at the center of many controversies and calumnies during his life. He is back in the headlines again, 120 years after his death, because his beatification -- as the focal point of Benedict XVI's papal visit to Britain that begins today -- is resurrecting the Newman tradition of attracting trouble.

Among the hares that the soon-to-be Blessed Cardinal has started running are a row about his sexuality; an argument about whether he was a dissident rebel against papal infallibility; and a surge of ill feeling over the soaring costs of the beatification ceremony. These stories have been filling a surprising quantity of column inches and chat show minutes. Are they just storms in an ancient ecclesiastical teacup? Or does Newman and his beatification have some real spiritual relevance for the modern world, particularly for the aggressively secular and increasingly Muslim-influenced British public?

Newman's most enduring footprints on the sands of time and theology were made by his talents as a writer. His autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua; his best poems such as The Dream of Gerontius or "The Pillar of Cloud" (later turned into the hymn "Lead Kindly Light"); and his famous treatise on academic freedom, The Idea of a University, are all classics in their different genres. But in his Victorian age it was Newman's spiritual journey from early skepticism to evangelical Protestantism, High Church Anglicanism, and eventually Roman Catholicism that unleashed the strongest passions among his divided contemporaries.

The divisiveness continues but on different grounds. Was Newman homosexual? This is an issue of great excitement to campaigners of the gay lobby. They cite their hero's close relationship with Ambrose St. John, a lifelong friend who shared a house and eventually a grave with Newman. They also make much of the Cardinal's mannerisms and appearance, which would surely justify the modern term "camp." His latest biographer John Cornwell (Newman's Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint, 2010) sums up his subject's demeanor as a cross between "an eternal monastic novice" and "a high bred lady." But such combinations were part of the zeitgeist of England's academic and ecclesiastical elites in the 19th century, as were their intense but platonic friendships. Since there is no evidence to suggest that Newman deviated from his self-proclaimed life of celibacy, further speculation on his sexuality is pointless. Moreover, it detracts from Newman's true importance and relevance to the 21st century, namely his pioneering role as a voice of religious conscience.

Newman's conscience did not give him a quiet life. Throughout his career he was troubled by stress-related illnesses; high profile controversies; dismissals; upheavals; resignations; polemical spats with leaders of church and state; a prosecution for criminal libel; and dramatic changes of spiritual direction. In his youth he was extreme in his hostility to Rome, denouncing the pope as "Antichrist" and Catholicism as a "polytheistic, degrading and idolatrous" religion. But after he'd moved to the position of a high church theologian, his sermons and tracts made him an immensely influential figure, particularly as one of the founders of the Oxford Movement which launched the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England.

After his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, Newman was vilified as a hate figure by some hysterical Protestants who feared that large swathes of church-going England would soon be taking the Pope's shilling. But Newman remained his own man. He accepted Catholic doctrine but with liberal qualifications. He was ambivalent about the newly formulated dogma in 1870 of papal infallibility, famously remarking: "I shall drink-to the Pope, if you please -- still to Conscience first and to the Pope afterwards."

Intriguingly, it would appear that the Cardinal's dissident thoughts on conscience may be one of the drivers of his imminent beatification by the pope, who has long been fascinated by Newman. When Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, led a seminar on conscience at a synod of bishops in 1981, he singled out Newman for praise. In Newman's writings, said Ratzinger, conscience "received an attention it had not received in Catholic theology since St. Augustine." He went on to say that both Newman and Augustine had recognized the priority of a profound level of conscience, which should be preeminent in moral judgements "because we could never judge that one thing is better than another if a basic understanding of the good had not already been instilled in us."

The current media noise about Newman's beatification is loudest about the money being spent on the papal visit. This is linked to other outbursts of Benedict-bashing which suggest that he is coming to Britain "to sanitize Newman" and to suppress all sorts of other uncomfortable truths about matters such as gays in the priesthood and child sex abuse scandals. This is about as illogical and inaccurate as the vilification that Newman had to endure in the 1840s.

There is little doubt that both the finances and the administration of the papal visit have so far been badly handled. The Vatican is said to be furious with the English hierarchy over its poor administration of the logistical arrangements. The costs are soaring and the planning is in disarray. The pope's beatification mass for Newman was scheduled to be held at Coventry Airport, with an expected attendance of more than 200,000. At the eleventh hour it has been switched to a park in Birmingham, which can only accommodate 80,000 worshippers. Even after this downsizing there is much grumbling in the pews as the Catholic faithful are being asked to fork over $7 million to fund what many see as an expensive extravaganza.

David Cameron's new coalition government has also become worried about the troubles besetting the first state visit it is to host. So it has underwritten a larger share of the costs and appointed a logistical supremo. He is Lord Patten, a leading liberal Catholic who has done the state some service as a former governor of Hong Kong, cabinet minister, and chancellor of Oxford University.

Although Pope Benedict is not noted for his theological liberalism, he may surprise his wider British audience by continuing his earlier championing of Newman's view of conscience. For this is a theme that speaks across the secular, spiritual, and agnostic divides in a multi-faith society. The central message of Newman's life is that nobody should accept in docile fashion what they are taught by their parents, their school, their church, their mosque, or by any self-proclaimed source of authority. Instead they should travel on their own journey, searching for truth by the light of their conscience.

If the combined forces of Cardinal Newman's memory and Pope Benedict's preaching can encourage people in Britain to search their consciences and find the great truths proclaimed by Jesus Christ, then contrary to current expectations this will be a papal visit and a beatification ceremony well blessed by success. 

- Jonathan Aitken, The American Spectator's "High Spirits" columnist, is most recently author of John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway Books). His biographies include Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (Doubleday) and Nixon: A Life, now available in a new paperback edition (Regnery).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


By Cynthia Grenier
The Washington Times
12:41 p.m., Friday, September 10, 2010

By John Vaillant
Knopf, $26.95 329 pages

''The Tiger" is a tale of the Wild East with all the power, energy and terror that once animated our own Wild West. The action takes place in Russia's southeastern province of Primorye by the East Sea/Japan Sea, not far from the Chinese border. People in the thickly forested, mountainous and sparsely populated region exist by logging, mining, fishing and hunting. They have to contend with pitiful wages, corrupt officialdom, thriving black markets and, most threatening of all, some of the world's largest cats - Amur tigers.

The Amur tiger is a rare and precious commodity and as dangerous to the people who are there trying to protect it as those who would profit from it. People in Russia and China will pay thousands of dollars for a tiger's skin. Tigers in that part of the world are like drugs, sold by the gram and by the kilo, and their value increases according to the refinement of product and seller. An important difference: Tigers can weigh up to 600 pounds. They've been hunting large prey, including mankind, for 2 million years and are endowed with an especially dangerous prodigious memory.

John Vaillant has compiled an extraordinary book, bringing vividly to life this rare and terrifying creature and the men who are setting their lives at stake every day in a barely civilized part of the world. This is a real-life adventure story that is rarely encountered: How many times do you read an on-the-scene account of a man having been eaten alive by a tiger?

Primorye, once considered part of Outer Manchuria, is home to 4 million people. Its capital, Vladivostok is a two-day journey to Beijing. Moscow, on the other hand, is a week-long, 5,800-mile haul on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Inspection Tiger, the organization with the mission of protecting the tiger - and people from the tiger - is in Vladivostok, whose bays stay frozen until April even though it lies farther south than the French Riviera. During hard winters, tigers prowl the outskirts of the city to hunt for dogs. In 1997, one tiger had to be shot after repeatedly charging cars by the airport.

Primorye is also the virtual meeting place of four distinct bioregions: plants and animals from the Siberian taiga, the steppes of Mongolia, the subtropics of the Koreas and Manchuria, and the boreal forests of the far north. One attempt by botanists to identify this region resulted in the likes of: Transbaikalian Province of the Circumboreal Region. The Amur that gives its name to the tigers that roam this region is the third longest river in Asia, and the longest undammed river in the world.

The area abounds in unclassifiable species, such as a bizarre tropical canid called a dhole that hunts humans and tigers as well as more conventional prey. This boreal jungle is unique, and the Amur tiger reigns supreme.

The Amur tiger is the only one of the six surviving subspecies habituated to Arctic conditions. In addition to having a larger skull than other subspecies, it carries more fat and a heavier coat, giving it a rugged, primitive burliness that is missing from its sleeker tropical cousins. Mr. Vaillant describes the beast this way:

"This is what you get when you pair the agility and appetites of a cat with the mass of an industrial refrigerator." Its fangs are the length of a man's finger; claws "a hybrid of a meat hook and a stiletto," fitted to a frame 9 feet or more from nose to tail, and 3 1/2 feet high at the shoulder. Its head can be as broad as a man's chest and shoulders, its paws comparable to pot lids. The cat is strong enough to drag a 1,000-pound carcass through the forest for up to 100 yards before devouring it.

Amur tigers eat everything from salmon and ducks to adult brown bears. Few wolves roam this region, largely because tigers eat them as well.

Mr. Vaillant has structured his book in roughly three parts mirroring the fates of three men who run afoul of the tiger. The first is Markov, a poacher who made the mistake of stealing boar meat killed by a tiger and who in turn is hunted down and eaten alive by the tiger.

Then there is Andrei Pochepnya, a quiet young man and friend of Markov, who went off into the taiga days after Markov's funeral. After a few days, when his family had had no word of him, a small search party set forth. They found a heap of blood-soaked clothing in a circle of exposed earth. Nothing lay there but shredded cloth and a pair of empty boots, nearby a watch and a crucifix. The remains, as one of the search party observed, were so small and few they could have fit into a shirt pocket.

The third and final part of Vaillant's book is devoted to Yuri Trush, who headed the team that hunted down and slew the man-eating tiger in an amazing encounter of man and beast. As Mr. Vaillant puts it, "It is still not clear whether it was a symptom of shock or an example of extraordinary sangfroid, but Trush's first impulse after standing and taking an inventory of himself was to get it on film."

Trush said, "I got my video camera and filmed where the tiger was. I filmed it all." Brad Pitt has bought the movie rights to "The Tiger," but with all due respect to Mr. Pitt, there's no way the movie will match Mr. Vaillant's book.

Cynthia Grenier is a Washington writer and critic.

Book review- 'The Tiger': John Vaillant's mesmerizing tale of a man-eating tiger, vengeance and survival

By by Steve Weinberg
Special to The Seattle Times
August 28, 2010

In the middle of a brutal Siberian winter 13 years ago, a rare breed of tiger killed two men, in attacks about a week apart, near a remote Russian village not far from the Chinese border.

Normally, such an occurrence would attract little attention in the English-speaking Western world. But the deaths received attention because of multiple factors: First, tigers seldom kill humans. Second, the specific breed of tiger involved is so rare it is a protected species, because its extinction is a real worry. Third, the men deputized to stop the carnage experienced something so rare as to defy belief.

If ever the maxim "truth is stranger than fiction" applies, it applies to the saga told in "The Tiger" by Canadian author John Vaillant, author of 2005's "The Golden Spruce."

Not so incidentally, if ever a nonfiction author has used the techniques of fiction any better to recount a real-life narrative, it is difficult to imagine who that author would be. For readers who enjoy literary nonfiction, think of Vaillant as a younger version of John McPhee, but on steroids.

The reporting is awesomely detailed, as in McPhee's narratives for The New Yorker magazine and in his books. The phrasing is precise, much like McPhee's. McPhee's writing, however, does not call attention to itself, at least not attention in the sense of flamboyant. Vaillant's writing is flamboyant, but almost never in a show-offy kind of way. The word "lyrical" comes close.

Vaillant builds the story around five characters, three of them human, one of them an animal and one the vast natural world: Markov, the first villager killed by the tiger; Pochepaya, the second villager killed by the tiger; Trush, whose job entails protecting the endangered tiger species from poachers while simultaneously capturing the rare renegade tiger; the tiger itself, a predator perhaps at least 9 feet long and weighing at least 500 pounds; plus the region of the Russian Far East known as Primorye, about the size of Washington state.

Throughout the narrative, Vaillant explores the central question of why the tiger attacked Markov. Vaillant comes dangerously close to anthropomorphizing the tiger, as he marshals evidence that the tiger was seeking revenge. Revenge for what? Markov, a talented hunter-gatherer practicing subsistence living, might have stolen meat from one of the tiger's animal kills.

Before Markov died, mauled by the tiger, he shot a rifle round that wounded the magnificent animal. Because of the wound, the tiger could no longer kill other animals with efficiency, so focused instead on a second vulnerable human — Pochepaya by name, who unwisely left the village on what he intended as a day trip, leaving despite warnings that a human-eating tiger might be lurking.

Trush is the most fully developed character, almost certainly because he is still alive. Vaillant, after all, could not interview Markov and Pochepaya. A mix of a conservationist with a badge and an apprehender of felonious poachers, Trush is a man's man with a thoughtful streak. He comes across as a hero of sorts, heightened by the details of what occurs when Trush himself is attacked by the tiger being tracked.

The balance of nature is at stake, a precarious balance perhaps more vital than a human life or a tiger's life.

In the Epilogue, as Vaillant wrestles with what his narrative means, he mentions that humans "have found themselves in charge of the tiger's fate. This is not a burden anyone consciously chose, but it is ours nonetheless. It is an extraordinary power for one species to wield over another, and it represents a test of sorts. The results will be in shortly."

Steve Weinberg is the author of eight nonfiction books.

Copyright © 2010 The Seattle Times Company


Author appearance
John Vaillant

The author of "The Tiger" will discuss his book at these area locations: at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600 or Vaillant will also read at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333 or

The True Story Of A Man-Eating Tiger's 'Vengeance'
September 14, 2010

In the late 20th century, the Amur tiger was nearly hunted to the brink of extinction -- at one point, there were just 30 animals left in the wild. Above, an Amur tiger sits in the snow at a wildlife rehabilitation center.

John Vaillant's The Tiger is part natural history, part Russian history and part thriller; it tells a gripping and gory story of what it's like to stalk — and be stalked by — the largest species of cat still walking the Earth.

The most bio-diverse region in all of Russia lies on a chunk of land sandwiched between China and the Pacific Ocean. There, in Russia's Far East, subarctic animals — such as caribou and wolves — mingle with tigers and other species of the subtropics. It was very nearly a perfect habitat for the tigers — until humans showed up.

The tigers that populate this region are commonly referred to as Siberian tigers, but they are more accurately known as the Amur tiger. "Imagine a creature that has the agility and appetite of the cat and the mass of an industrial refrigerator," Vaillant tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "The Amur tiger can weigh over 500 pounds and can be more than 10 feet long nose to tail."

These majestic tigers can jump as far as 25 feet — vertically, they can jump over a basketball hoop. Vaillant cites a famous tiger biologist who, when asked how high a tiger can jump, responded: "As high as it needs to."

At the center of the story is Vladimir Markov, a poacher who met a grisly end in the winter of 1997 after he shot and wounded a tiger, and then stole part of the tiger's kill.

The injured tiger hunted Markov down in a way that appears to be chillingly premeditated. The tiger staked out Markov's cabin, systematically destroyed anything that had Markov's scent on it, and then waited by the front door for Markov to come home.

"This wasn't an impulsive response," Vaillant says. "The tiger was able to hold this idea over a period of time." The animal waited for 12 to 48 hours before attacking.

When Markov finally appeared, the tiger killed him, dragged him into the bush and ate him. "The eating may have been secondary," Vaillant explains. "I think he killed him because he had a bone to pick."

The other central character in The Tiger is Yuri Trush, the head of the local squad of an anti-poaching unit known as Inspection Tiger, an organization created by the Russian government to combat the black-market trafficking of tigers and tiger parts.

Trush was "a guy well-suited to work in tiger country," Vaillant says. Physically imposing and a skilled fighter, Trush was a larger-than-life figure, and a "real warrior."

For most of his time with Inspection Tiger, Trush's job involved setting up sting operations and catching poachers. But Markov's death — which is followed later by the death of a second man — meant that Trush ended up having to hunt the same animal he had worked to protect.

Trush needed to anticipate what the tiger's next move would be, and then get there before the tiger did, Vaillant explains. "Trush was charged not just with protecting tigers, but now with saving human lives."

Vaillant's retelling is a life-and-death, moment-by-moment chase — and at times, it can be hard to remember whether you're rooting for the tiger or the humans.

"The tiger is just trying to be a tiger," Vaillant says.

"What's so fascinating to me about that region is that there are human beings and tigers hunting for the same prey in the same territory — and they don't have conflicts." But if you make the mistake of attacking a tiger, you will regret it, he says.

Markov certainly learned that the hard way. Vaillant says the tiger's response was "logical" and "understandable," but in the case of the revenge it exacted on Markov, it was anything but typical. In writing the book, Vaillant interviewed people of all ages from families who had lived in the Russian Far East for generations.

"In living memory, there was no record of an incident like this, of a tiger hunting a human being," he says. "This was a highly unusual circumstance, completely driven by human behavior. If the tiger hadn't been shot, there would be no story."

Related- Listen to an interview with John Vaillant:

NATURE- 'The Tiger,' by John Vaillant

By John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle Book Editor
August 29, 2010

Should you wish to set off on an expedition to view the Siberian tiger, you might first study its physical attributes.

"Picture the grotesquely muscled head of a pit bull," writes John Vaillant, "and then imagine how it might look if the pit bull weighed a quarter of a ton. Add to this fangs the length of a finger backed up by rows of slicing teeth capable of cutting through the heaviest bone. Consider then the claws: a hybrid of meat hook and stiletto that can attain four inches along the outer curve, a length comparable to the talons on a velociraptor. Now, imagine the vehicle for all of this: nine feet or more from nose to tail, and three and a half feet high at the shoulder. ... Able to swim for miles and kill an animal many times its size, the tiger also possesses the brute strength to drag an awkward, thousand-pound carcass through the forest for fifty or a hundred yards before consuming it."

Still want to go on that expedition?

Wise choice. Probably best not to travel all the way to the Russian Far East to take in this splendid creature. But by all means read Vaillant's magnificent book about the animal: "The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival" offers readers a shiver-inducing portrait of a predator that has been revered - and feared - like no other animal.

Yes, readers learn a lot of fascinating details about the beautiful and ferocious Panthera tigris in "The Tiger." (For example: It is, as Vaillant writes, "literally tattooed: If you were to shave one bald, its stripes would still be visible, integral to its skin.") But the book is more a profound examination of the myriad factors that threaten the animal's continued existence in the wild. And it's a largely sympathetic portrayal of impoverished people who have turned to poaching, out of desperation, to get by in a forbidding land that has suffered at the hands of Perestroika (also known as "Katastroika"), which, as Vaillant writes, "opened the door to a run on Russia's natural resources."

"The Tiger" revisits events that took place in 1997 in Primorye, a remote territory roughly the size of Washington state that, in Vaillant's words, "combines the backwoods claustrophobia of Appalachia with the frontier roughness of the Yukon." (Its capital, Vladivostok, is closer to Australia than Moscow.)

Primorye also has one of the most unusual ecosystems on Earth: "winter can bring blizzards and paralyzing cold, and summer will retaliate with typhoons and monsoon rains. ... Here, timber wolves and reindeer share terrain with spoonbills and poisonous snakes, and twenty-five-pound Eurasian vultures will compete for carrion with saber-beaked jungle crows."

It's in this not-so-inviting region that a Siberian tiger (more formally known as the Amur tiger) goes on a rampage, killing men in what appear to be premeditated attacks. Tigers, of course, have killed countless humans throughout history, but, as Vaillant shows, they will more or less leave people alone if they themselves are left alone.

The tiger at the heart of Vaillant's book tracked his victims "with a kind of calculated audacity" and waited for them before striking. One man isn't just dispatched; Vaillant writes, in an image that is hard to shake, that his remains "were so small and so few they could have fit in a shirt pocket." This prompts one of the author's many insightful and eloquent asides: "[I]f the body journeys through the viscera of an animal - if its substance and essence become that animal - what happens to the soul?"

The reaction from the man investigating the case, by contrast, displays a Russian appreciation for understatement and black humor: "The tiger undressed him quite well."

That line is from Yuri Trush, who is more or less the hero of "The Tiger." He's a likable tough guy with heart, a former weightlifting champion who heads the regional unit of Inspection Tiger, which goes after poachers. "In many ways," writes Vaillant, "Inspection Tiger's mandate resembles that of detectives on a narcotics detail, and so does the risk: the money is big, and the players are often desperate and dangerous individuals. Tigers are similar to drugs in that they are sold by the gram and the kilo, and their value increases according to the refinement of both product and seller."

Trush protects tigers, but, in the end, he must, in an unfortunate irony, hunt down the animal that has killed men. The final pages of Vaillant's book are suspenseful, but also deeply sad. The tiger has clearly lashed out in anger against humans - humans who are encroaching on its land and shooting at it - and one can't help but feel that its fate symbolizes the fate of its breed (to say nothing of that of other endangered animals). The tiger's numbers are dwindling (fewer than 400 may live in the Russian Far East), and its land is being stripped away.

"If the tiger is permitted to go extinct in the wild," writes Vaillant, "it would be the largest carnivore to do so since the American lion (Panthera leo atrox) died out at the end of the Pleistocene, approximately ten thousand years ago."

What becomes of the tiger, as Vaillant concludes, rests entirely in our hands. But will we do the right thing?

E-mail John McMurtrie at; go to San Francisco Chronicle 2010

The Exchange: John Vaillant on the Siberian Tiger

Posted by Ian Crouch
The New Yorker
September 3, 2010

The Amur, or Siberian, tiger is a startling creature. Not just in terms of its remarkable size, strength, and speed, but perhaps especially because of the seeming incongruity of where it lives: in the cold, unforgiving hinterlands of northern Asia, far from the grasslands or swamps favored by its cousins to the south. The idea of a blaze of orange coming at you across a white expanse of snow is almost too otherworldly and terrifying to imagine.

In “The Tiger,” out last week from Knopf, John Vaillant confronts us with that very scenario, revisiting a deadly, mysterious tiger attack in 1997 that shocked the residents of Primorye Territory, in Russia’s Far East. The book is at once a riveting adventure story and a wider study about how lax regulations, crippling economic hardship, and greed that crosses borders have led to a situation wherein tigers and humans pose a greater risk to one another than ever before.

This week, I exchanged e-mails with Vaillant about his new book.

The Amur tiger sounds like such an incredible animal. What surprised and fascinated you most about it as a subject?

Besides its size and beauty, I was most struck by this tiger’s stoic durability. That an animal we so strongly associate with the jungle, heat, and lounging around could thrive in an environment as cold and hostile as the Russian Far East impressed me—moved me, really. The tiger I came to know in the book was able not only to function, but to adapt and refine its methods, alone, in minus-forty temperatures with serious wounds. This animal possessed an almost supernatural determination to live that changed the way I look at the life force.

How did you create such a compelling narrative from a story wherein several of the key players—the dead hunter Markov, the tiger—are shadowy, absent figures, their fate often unknown?

I used the same methods I used to write my first book, “The Golden Spruce” (which first appeared as an article in The New Yorker), in which the two principal characters were also absent or dead. Virtually everyone leaves a trail behind them in the form of tracks, objects, relationships, official documents, and the memories of others. These bits and pieces are preserved in their environment, though they may be scattered across it like shards. The writer’s job is to find them, sort them, and assemble them in such a way that offers the reader a coherent collage of that character. In the case of “The Tiger,” my job was made easier because the inspectors who investigated the attacks described in the book treated the evidence forensically, almost as one would a murder. As a result, I had video footage, photos, maps, and interview transcripts that fortified my own research.

You write a lot about man’s place in the hunter/prey dynamic. In the modern, developed world, what have we forgotten about this longstanding connection?

What we’ve forgotten is the notion of enlightened coexistence. Prior to the advent of agriculture and the settlement that goes with it, humans—of necessity—maintained a much more considered, and considerate, attitude toward animals and their environment. For many human inhabitants of Russia’s Bikin River Valley, the tiger is still seen as a fellow hunter—a colleague of sorts—whom one may encounter at any time, and whom one must respect accordingly. Prior to the attacks described in this book, which were incited by the poacher, Vladimir Markov, man-eating was virtually unknown in the Bikin valley, a large area with a vigorous tiger population. I met hunters there who know the tigers in their area by their faces, who are familiar with their age, gender, and disposition—just as we are familiar with neighborhood dogs. In most cases, these tigers are seen as more of a nuisance than a mortal threat.

Nowadays, nature is a place most of us visit, suppress, exploit, or avoid, rather than inhabit. This illusion of controlled remove encourages a lethal disconnect—to the point that it takes a major hurricane, oil spill, or tiger attack to remind us that we are actually connected, that everything is “personal.”

You balance the need for conservation and protection of the tiger with the natural fear and distrust that the human population has about these creatures. Is it likely that people can be made to see the tiger as something to be respected, or even to be grateful about?

It is absolutely within the realm of possibility, in part because there is an established precedent: among the native population of Primorye, tiger attacks—recalled, recorded, or mythic—are exceptionally rare, despite the fact that these peoples have always shared space and game with tigers. The reasons for this lack of incident are caution and common sense on the part of humans, and the fact that tigers are taught by their mothers to pursue four-legged prey, not people. If the ecosystem is intact, and understood by its inhabitants, the possibility of conflict is dramatically reduced.

The chief causes of the current breakdown in this historical détente are:

•The radical depletion of the prey base due to poaching, which leads to increased competition for game.

•The loss of habitat due to logging, which leads to more chance encounters between poachers and tigers.

•And—above all—the commodification of tigers for the illegal-wildlife trade, which leads to extinction.

Is there hope looking forward for groups like Inspection Tiger, the task force charged with protecting tigers from illegal hunting? And what conclusions have you drawn about the future that the tigers face in eastern Russia, and across Asia more generally?

I could not have written “The Tiger” if there was no hope. The Russians have already saved the Amur tiger from extinction, not once but twice: first in the nineteen-forties, when they became the first country in the world to declare the tiger a protected species, and again in the nineteen-nineties, when poaching surged dramatically and Inspection Tiger was created to combat it. These inspection teams, whose courage and determination are detailed in the book, are a powerful deterrent to poachers and traffickers. While funding cuts and political instability have weakened this agency in recent years, other groups and agencies, with the help of foreign funding, have stepped in to fill the gap.

Tiger conservation is a complex issue exacerbated by poverty, corruption, deeply held cultural beliefs, and political instability. Today, the world’s wild tiger population is roughly three thousand animals—a shadow of its former self. More than ten per cent of these survivors live in Russia. Now, in this “Year of the Tiger,” the top priority is law and order in the forest and along porous international borders. Russia’s previous successes protecting tigers in the Far East are proof that this can be achieved again, in Russia and elsewhere.

If you’re interested in learning more about groups dedicated to protecting tigers, Vaillant shared the names of these three organizations: Wildlife Alliance, 21st Century Tiger, and Panthera.

And for more about the disappearance of tigers in Asia, read Caroline Alexander’s “Tigerland,” from the April 21, 2008, issue of the magazine.