Saturday, October 02, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell dies at 69; TV writer, producer

The man who helped create more than 40 shows, including 'The Rockford Files,' 'The A-Team' and 'Baretta' had a golden touch, though he struggled early in life with dyslexia.

By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
October 2, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell, the prolific television writer and producer who co-created "The Rockford Files" and "The A-Team" and later became a bestselling novelist, has died. He was 69.

Cannell died Thursday evening of complications associated with melanoma at his home in Pasadena, his family said.

In a career that began in the late 1960s when he sold his first TV script and took off as he soon became the hottest young writer on the Universal lot, Cannell created or co-created more than 40 TV shows, including "Baa Baa Black Sheep," "Baretta," "The Greatest American Hero" and "21 Jump Street."

Cannell, who formed his own independent production company in 1979, wrote more than 450 TV episodes and produced or executive-produced more than 1,500 episodes.

"He was one of the masters of good, old-fashioned generic television," said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University and author of the 1990 book "Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen J. Cannell."

"He did detective shows, he did adventure- dramas, he did fantasies," Thompson said. "He wasn't one of these guys who did, like, 'The Sopranos.' He was a meat-and-potatoes producer, writer and creator of television shows. And he did meat and potatoes really, really well."

"'The Rockford Files," the 1974-80 detective series co-created by Roy Huggins and starring James Garner, "was kind of a standard, formulaic detective genre show, but it was brilliantly executed. And Cannell could write state-of-the-art dialogue like few others of his time," Thompson said.

In 1978, he shared an Emmy Award for outstanding drama series for "The Rockford Files."

From writing "this really great dialogue" on "The Rockford Files," Thompson said, "he'd go on to form his company and do a show like 'The A Team,' this kind of goofy, fantasy Lone Ranger-like program. But once again, in Cannell's hands, it became a huge hit. It was delightfully funny to watch."

David Chase, who wrote and produced for "The Rockford Files" and later created "The Sopranos," recalled Friday that Cannell's characters displayed "weaknesses — they were fallible human beings. That was the beginning of viewers seeing a TV protagonist as someone like themselves."

Early on, Cannell developed a reputation for being extraordinarily prolific.

Indeed, in the spring of 1986, he had six hourlong shows on in primetime: "The A-Team," "Hunter," "Stingray," "Riptide," "The Last Precinct" on NBC and "Hardcastle & McCormick" on ABC.

Former NBC executive Warren Littlefield said the Cannell touch gave NBC a huge boost in the '80s.

"He understood what I'd call the vitamins and minerals of what the audience needed," Littlefield told The Times on Friday. "The daily grind of life can be so difficult for lots of people, and his shows would let you forget all that for an hour and just enjoy the thrill of the adventure."

Veteran producer Steven Bochco, who had been friends and colleagues with Cannell since the early '70s, recalled that every young writer on the Universal lot would stop by Cannell's office to read scripts from "The Rockford Files."

"They were so smart and so funny, and he was just knocking them out one after the other," Bochco told The Times on Friday. "He was not a cookie-cutter writer — he was completely original."

Saying Cannell had "boundless imagination" and was a master craftsman "who always did his homework," Bochco added: "As gifted and talented as he was, we all loved him because he was just one of the dearest people alive."

Since his first novel, "The Plan," was published in 1995, Cannell wrote 15 other novels, including the Shane Scully crime series.

Cannell's prolific output as a writer came despite having dyslexia, a reading disorder that caused him to flunk three grades before he finished high school.

He told the Birmingham News in 2004 that he didn't know he had dyslexia until he was in his mid-30s when he took one of his daughters to have her tested for dyslexia.

"For me, it was, 'OK, now I get it, now I understand,'" he said. "But I think it's been helpful to my whole writing process.

"It has absolutely freed me up from that curse of trying to be brilliant because it's really deepened my psyche. I don't take myself very seriously because of my early learning problems."

Cannell, who was born Feb. 5, 1941, in Los Angeles, always loved writing and dreamed of becoming a novelist as a teenager — even when he was flunking English in high school.

A turning point came for him in the early '60s when his creative writing teacher at the University of Oregon took him aside.

"He said, 'Look, it doesn't matter at all to me whether you can spell or not. As long as I can read it, that's all I require," Cannell recalled in a 1999 interview with the Dayton Daily News. "The feedback I got was so encouraging.

"After I left college — I did graduate despite my problems — he said, 'You should never quit this,' and I took him at his word."

While driving a truck for his father's successful home-decorating business, Cannell began writing TV scripts at night and on the weekends.

A script he sold for "Adam-12" led to a job as story editor on the series. After "Adam-12," he continued working on numerous series at Universal.

"I went through this period where I was the new genius," Cannell recalled in a 1997 interview with The Times. "I mean people were carrying me around the lot on a litter. I actually heard the words 'Stephen Cannell' and 'brilliant' used in the same sentence.

"When you've been the stupidest kid in class, that's a pretty appealing thing to hear."

He is survived by Marcia, his wife of 46 years; his children, Tawnia McKiernan, Chelsea and Cody; a sister, Lyn Neel; and three grandchildren.

Correspondent T. L. Stanley contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Deal Near for ‘Hobbit’ Films in 3-D

The New York Times
Published: October 1, 2010

LOS ANGELES — “The Hobbit” is almost out of movie jail.

Peter Jackson will direct the two-film “Hobbit” series if production begins soon.
After months of negotiation and delay, Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are on the verge of an agreement that would allow the director Peter Jackson to begin shooting a two-part version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Hobbit” early next year.

Barring further hitches — and there have been many, as the studios wrestled with their dual ownership of the project over the last year — a financial deal should be in place over the next few days, according to several people who have been involved in the bargaining. They spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing company policies, confidentiality requirements and the delicate nature of the dealings.

The long-anticipated “Hobbit” films amount to an extension of the hugely lucrative “Lord of the Rings” franchise, which generated about $3 billion in revenue at the worldwide box office and enormous home video revenue for New Line Cinema, now a Warner unit. The films are to be made in 3-D. That is a shift from when the project was conceived. In the dimly remembered recesses of, oh, 2009, people involved with the two-movie version of the Tolkien book, then to be directed by Guillermo del Toro, insisted that 2-D screen technology was just right for a pair of movies that were viewed as being a little more intimate than their sweeping “Lord of the Rings” precursors. Then came “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland” and even the much-maligned “Clash of the Titans”— one film after another proving that viewers would pay a premium for 3-D.

For MGM, a deal that finally lets the “Hobbit” films proceed would lock in badly needed revenue as the company proceeds with a restructuring that is still far from resolved. For Warner, it means new tent-pole fantasy films just as the company is winding down its long-running “Harry Potter” series. And executives at both companies would be relieved of the building anxiety over delays that had threatened to kill the films, at least for the foreseeable future, if they could not be started by early next year.

Mr. Jackson, who is a producer and writer of the two “Hobbit” films, agreed also to become their director after Mr. del Toro left the project earlier this year, citing the delays. Mr. Jackson’s agreement to direct the movies has been in place but hasn’t formally closed because it depends on the studios’ willingness to begin production soon, according to people briefed on his status.

The first “Hobbit” film is expected to be released in mid-December 2012, the second a year later. Mr. Jackson has said he can direct the films only if those release dates can be met.

It remained unclear how Warner and MGM planned to apportion the financing of the project. They have owned it in a 50-50 arrangement, but by longstanding agreement, New Line has been in charge of production decisions, subject to some approvals by MGM.

Under several possible financing options that were considered, Warner was expected to put up all or most of the cash — Mr. Jackson has vaguely pegged the investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars in a public statement — either by lending money to MGM or buying out its interest, perhaps leaving it with a royalty or other payments. MGM’s rights have included foreign distribution of the film, and as recently as this week questions remained about how that would ultimately be handled.

Press officials for MGM, Warner, New Line and Mr. Jackson all declined to comment.

As Warner and MGM tried for months to reach terms, they were stalled by Warner’s fear of shouldering disproportionate risk while giving Warner’s partner too large a stake in possible success, and by the difficulty of persuading MGM’s myriad creditors to sign off on a deal even as they were trying to find a buyer or otherwise retool the studio. With more than $4 billion in debt, MGM has virtually ceased operating, and it faces the possibility of a bankruptcy proceeding as part of a reorganization that some of its stakeholders are now predicting may come by January.

Over the last week, Mr. Jackson and his fellow producers issued a casting call for undersize performers to play roles as hobbits in New Zealand, even as a union dispute threatened to derail the production before it had a green light.

A New Zealand union backed by Australia’s Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has sought to represent actors on the “Hobbit” films, and a coalition of international unions, including the Screen Actors Guild, advised members not to work on the movies because of the dispute. But New Zealand officials this week advised the producers that they could not legally bargain with its actors collectively under the country’s law, which restricts such dealings with independent contractors.

Warner, New Line and MGM said publicly that they would consider moving the films to another location, perhaps in Eastern Europe, if the dispute was not resolved. People involved with the films said Friday that they expected a resolution to the union dispute imminently.

Officials for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists declined to comment, and a spokesman for the Australian alliance did not respond to an e-mail query.

Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber, partners in Spyglass Entertainment, who have already agreed in principal to manage MGM if its restructuring can be completed, were instrumental in getting the “Hobbit” deal on track.

Within Warner, a long-awaited deal to begin the “Hobbit” films would be a coup for Kevin Tsujihara, the home video president who has been negotiating for MGM, and for Toby Emmerich, the New Line president who oversaw reorganization of his studio after it was absorbed into Warner Brothers.

Mr. Tsujihara has been deeply involved in MGM’s financial drama, as the Warner executive who organized a $1.5 billion bid to acquire MGM. He was recently named to the studio’s newly created office of the president, along with Jeff Robinov, the movie group chief, and Bruce Rosenblum, the president of the television group.

It has been nearly seven years since the release of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which was the last of three films in the “Rings” cycle. Mr. Jackson directed the movie, which took in about $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office and swept a clutch of Oscars, including one for best picture, in 2004.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 2, 2010, on page B1 of the New York edition.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Why Is He Sending Them?

President Obama lacks the will to fight in Afghanistan

By Charles Krauthammer
October 1, 2010

From the beginning, the call to arms was highly uncertain. On Dec. 1, 2009, commander-in-chief Barack Obama orders 30,000 more Americans into battle in Afghanistan. But in the very next sentence, he announces that an American withdrawal will begin after 18 months.

Astonishing. A surge of troops — overall, Obama has tripled our Afghan force — with a declaration not of war, but of ambivalence. Nine months later, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway admitted that this decision was “probably giving our enemy sustenance.” This wasn’t conjecture, he insisted, but the stuff of intercepted Taliban communications testifying to their relief that they simply had to wait out the Americans.

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war while announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president’s public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes. Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, drawing on classified memos and interviews with scores of national-security officials, has Obama telling his advisers: “I want an exit strategy.” He tells the country publicly that Afghanistan is a “vital national interest,” but he tells his generals that he will not do the kind of patient institution-building that is the very essence of the counterinsurgency strategy that Generals McChrystal and Petraeus crafted and that he himself adopted.

Moreover, he must find an exit because “I can’t lose the whole Democratic party.” This admission is the most crushing of all.

First, isn’t this the party that in two consecutive presidential campaigns — John Kerry’s and then Obama’s — argued vociferously that Afghanistan was the good war, the right war, the war of necessity, the central front in the War on Terror? Now, after acceding to power and being given charge of that very war, Obama confides that he must retreat lest that very same party abandon him. What happened in the interim? Did it suddenly develop a faint heart? Or was the party disingenuous about the Afghan war all along, using it as a convenient club with which to attack George W. Bush over Iraq, while protecting Democrats from the charge of being reflexively antiwar?

Whatever the reason, is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon, and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health-care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration, and encouragement. This has been true from Lincoln through FDR through Bush. Since announcing his Afghan surge, Obama’s only major speech that featured Afghanistan was an Oval Office address about America’s leaving Iraq — the Afghan part being sandwiched between that and a long-winded plea for his economic policies.

“He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out,” writes Woodward. One can only conclude that Obama now thinks Afghanistan is a mistake. Maybe he thought so from the very beginning. More charitably and more likely, he is simply a foreign-policy novice who didn’t understand what this war was about until being given the authority and duty to conduct it — and then decided it was all a mistake.

Fair enough. But in that case, what is he doing escalating it?

Senator Kerry, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked many years ago: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Perhaps Kerry should ask that of Obama.

“He is out of Afghanistan psychologically,” says Woodward of Obama. Well, he may be out, but the soldiers he ordered to Afghanistan are in.

Some will not come home.

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

The Shoes Liberal Celebrities Won’t Wear

Will Colbert crack jokes about victims of illegal-alien violence?

By Michelle Malkin
October 1, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Primetime liberal comedians have it made. All they need to do is spend a few hours with a politically correct minority and — voilà! — they’re transformed into instant congressional experts. Democrats invited Stephen Colbert to drape himself in the more-compassionate-than-thou mantle last week on behalf of illegal-alien migrant workers. But not all “people of color” are equal.

Minority Americans who have suffered the bloody consequences of open borders are out of luck. No Hollywood celeb wants to walk in their shoes.

After picking veggies for a day at an upstate New York farm, Colbert descended on Washington to lament the suffering of illegal agricultural workers. While “in character” as a conservative talk-show host, he backhandedly mocked those who oppose a blanket AgJobs amnesty program by sneering, “U.S.A. Number One!” Many law-abiding citizens took offense — and not just those who fit the entertainment world’s stereotype of white, right-wing tea partiers.

Althea Rae Shaw of Los Angeles wrote an outraged open letter to Colbert after last week’s Capitol Hill circus. She is the aunt of 17-year-old Jamiel Andre Shaw II, a young black high-school student who was gunned down by an illegal-alien gang member in 2008 amid brown-on-black violence in southern California. The Shaw family has spearheaded efforts to repeal dangerous sanctuary policies in Los Angeles that protect criminal illegal aliens and handcuff local law enforcement. “It truly breaks my heart that so many people in positions of power and authority continue to make light of illegal immigration,” Shaw wrote to Colbert.

“Are you aware of, and/or concerned with, the fact that American citizens and legal immigrants are murdered every day by illegal aliens? Have you ever spent one second thinking about that?” the grieving aunt asked the smirky comic. “What if your mother was shot in the head by an illegal alien? Do you think you could make that funny? What about your children? Would it be comical if your daughter or your son or your niece or nephew was lying in the street dead, shot in the head by someone living in this country illegally?”

In her letter, Shaw recounted the horrific case of Cheryl Green for Colbert. She was a 14-year-old Los Angeles girl murdered by illegal-alien gang members in 2006, along with another young resident who had witnessed the gang’s violence. Cheryl’s crime? Being black. Her killers were Latino gangbangers Jonathan Fajardo and Daniel Aguilar. Last month they were convicted of first-degree murder in a hate-crime trial where one of the Hispanic gang members testified bluntly: “Basically, we’re against all black people.”

No, not all illegal aliens are murderers. But neither are all illegal-alien migrants harmless workers. And as too many families who will never get Colbert’s attention or sympathy have come to understand, lax immigration enforcement might mean cheaper arugula in Manhattan — but it also can cost untold lives across the heartland.

In Houston, Texas, 14-year-old Shatavia Anderson was gunned down last month by a twice-deported illegal alien from El Salvador who simply waltzed back into the country. Shatavia’s grieving uncle, Joe Lambert, lambasted open-borders policies that send a signal that illegal aliens “can do whatever they want. What you’re doing is giving them a green light telling them, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want.’” Lambert is lobbying for tougher immigration enforcement. “I would like to see what they’re doing in Arizona done here.”

I’d like to see the likes of Stephen Colbert (or the Obama administration) suggest that Lambert is an ignorant racist.

Putting American sovereignty and security first may invite scorn from elite character actors and their snickering Democratic enablers. But outside D.C.’s Open Borders Theater, there are no laugh tracks, just tears. Shaw issued Colbert a challenge: “Why not invite about 40 families who lost loved ones due to illegal immigration to come to your studio? Then you can tell us all about your experience working on this farm. You can even tell us how bad your back was hurting when you were working with illegal aliens. I wonder how many families would laugh and think that’s funny.”

The Colbert Congress served one useful purpose: It showed America that Tinseltown’s heart bleeds only out of its left chambers

— 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 the case vs. UNC matters

By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
Sep 30, 1:34 pm EDT

When it comes to agents recruiting college players, the stereotype says they employ a “runner” to get close to the kid. That runner is generally considered to be some shadowy figure hanging out in parking lots and behind campus trees ready to dole out hundred-dollar handshakes. They’re the predators that suck innocent kids in. Or, in the parlance of Alabama coach Nick Saban, they’re “pimps.”

Such people still exist, of course, but the player procurement game for agents entered an era of high-tech sophistication long ago.

More From Dan WetzelHarbaugh makes Stanford tough to beat Sep 29, 2010 Boise State's Petersen tunes out the noise Sep 27, 2010 It’s why NFL agent Gary Wichard and former North Carolina assistant coach John Blake are dealing with questions about financial transactions, wired money and phone calls between the two, as the North Carolina Secretary of State, the NCAA and the NFL Players Association all look into Wichard’s recruitment of Tar Heel star defensive tackle Marvin Austin.

The NCAA isn't the only governing body looking into whether Marvin Austin was improperly recruited by agent Gary Wichard.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

What should come out of it is the realization that the way the public thinks this game is played is actually a quaint relic of the past.

Today the top picks in the NFL draft are either the highest or one of the highest-paid players in the league, at least until the next year when the new draft class emerges.

For an agent, a $78 million player contract (like the one given to 2010 top pick Sam Bradford) is worth, at the industry standard three percent, $2.34 million. And that’s before getting into more lucrative marketing and advertising deals (where agent fees can top 10 percent).

With that kind of money on the line, agents have found better routes to players than the so-called “street agent.” And players have mostly wised up and realized some guy doling out cash probably isn’t going to offer the best advice on agents. They may take the money, but inevitably sign elsewhere.

As such, anyone who has access to, and the trust of, a top prospect can now be recruited to become what amounts to a “runner.” Players are most likely to listen to a figure they’ve known and respected. They naively assume there’s no agenda.

So anyone can be enlisted: friends, parents, girlfriends, teachers, ministers, teammates and teammate’s parents. Different agents may be working different people who surround the same prospect. It’s a free-for-all.

It can even be opposing players. It’s the same way a college coach uses a charismatic star high school recruit to draw in other high school prospects. If an agent gets an early commitment from a potential first rounder, he can have him make calls and connections with other players from teams across the country. The first player may get a cut of everyone else’s contract, unbeknownst to the other players, of course.

“What they try to do is get their claws into someone of influence, create a relationship with that person, whether financial or being around all the time, to the point where that person begins to rely on the agent and they feel obligated to help the agent sign the player,” Jeff Wechsler, president of 24/7 Sports Management, where he represents mainly NBA players, said in general about the way the business works. It’s not appreciably different in the NBA than the NFL.

“It doesn’t matter who the person is, it just matters whether the player will listen to them,” Wechsler said.

The people with perhaps the most access and trust during a player’s final college season are his coaches, especially his position coach. For years certain agents have had close relationships – and won many clients from – certain college coaches. Many times the coach, who can serve as a player’s father figure, is offering innocent and honest advice.

Other times it goes beyond that.

While few get into college coaching to steer players to agents, there is so much easy money available, and for the most part all of the agents are reputable and capable (it’s not like you’re giving bad advice), the temptation is overwhelming. If you’re a position coach at a big-time school, you churn out first rounders on a near annual basis. For an agent, that’s an ideal runner – someone with recurring influence over star players, not a one-and-done deal.

So it’s neither rare nor a secret that college coaches work as runners.

“We’re concerned about agreements under the table between agents and even our college coaches,” Rachel Newman Baker, the NCAA’s director of agent, gambling and amateurism activity told Yahoo! Sports last year.

What’s rare is that one would actually get caught.

The NCAA investigation is high-stakes stuff for Butch Davis and his UNC program.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Time and a slew of different investigative bodies will determine the extent of Blake and Wichard’s relationship and whether it involved the recruitment of Tar Heel players. Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday the existence of at least six wire transfers from Wichard’s private bank to Blake, a credit card from Wichard’s Pro Tect Management in Blake’s name and a personal loan given to the long-time college coach. Blake previously worked for Wichard.

Wichard denied any impropriety between the two. Blake’s attorney denied Blake ever steered players to Pro Tect.

For North Carolina football, this is now high-stakes stuff. More than a dozen players have already been suspended this year due to an NCAA investigation into agent activity and academic concerns. Blake resigned earlier this season. Head coach Butch Davis remains, for now.

If Wichard and Blake had an improper arrangement then the case becomes one of the most significant in recent NCAA history.

The NCAA has long held dirty agents in contempt and worked to eradicate them. It’s been a mostly fruitless effort because star players are walking lottery tickets ready to be cashed. No NCAA rule will ever stop the wheels of capitalism. The case can put the NCAA’s entire idea of “amateurism” on trial, which may be a welcome byproduct of an otherwise unseemly event.

For the NCAA, it’s far less embarrassing if the runner is that stereotypical shadowy figure. Coaches and athletic department officials can feign knowledge, even if the facts say otherwise. College sports can blame outsiders for ruining their game. People such as Saban – who had a player caught in the periphery of this case – can grandstand and call them pimps.

If the runner is working 80-hour weeks in the football or basketball office, there’s no one to blame. That’s the potential groundbreaking nature of this case – a widespread practice potentially finally coming to light. Blake isn’t some fringe character. He’s the former head coach of the University of Oklahoma and has been an assistant at five different programs dating back to the late 1980s.

The North Carolina investigation isn’t even close to being completed, let alone ruled on, so predicting an outcome should come with an innocent-until-proven-guilty caveat. That said, this isn’t a typical NCAA case since the government is involved and it can compel people in the case to speak (a power the NCAA lacks). Blake’s attorney said he is cooperating fully. The truth is likely to come out here.

If UNC is guilty, the NCAA should be highly motivated to make an example of the Tar Heels’ program. It hits too close to home for anything but a significant response. The NCAA simply can’t tolerate coaches as runners. They need to use this case to at least attempt to scare people straight.

Does that mean the so-called “Death Penalty?” No. Only one program, SMU football, has ever received that penalty. While its technically always on the table for the NCAA infractions committee, UNC is not a repeat offender, is said to be cooperating fully and may be able to place all blame on a single coach.

Significant sanctions, likely even harsher than applied to Southern California this year (30 lost scholarships, two-year bowl ban), would be called for though. UNC lacks the tradition and recruiting base of USC, which makes recovering from penalties difficult. So this could feel like a death penalty for the Tar Heels.

There just aren’t many reasonable defenses a school can make if the runner turns out to be on the university payroll, working out of the university offices, hand in hand with all the other coaches and athletic personnel.

That’s what makes the North Carolina case such a big deal. It has the chance to blow the lid off how agents recruit these budding millionaires and show that college sports isn’t as corrupt the public thinks it is.

It’s worse.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the new book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis, Hollywood Icon, Dies at 85

The New York Times
September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis, a classically handsome movie star who earned an Oscar nomination as an escaped convict in Stanley Kramer’s 1958 movie “The Defiant Ones,” but whose public preferred him in comic roles in films like “Some Like It Hot” (1959) and “The Great Race” (1965), died Wednesday of a cardiac arrest in his Las Vegas area home. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by the Clark County coroner, The Associated Press reported.

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Tony Curtis with his wife Janet Leigh in 1961.

As a performer, Mr. Curtis drew first and foremost on his startlingly good looks. With his dark, curly hair, worn in a sculptural style later imitated by Elvis Presley, and plucked eyebrows framing pale blue eyes and wide, full lips, Mr. Curtis embodied a new kind of feminized male beauty that came into vogue in the early 1950s. A vigorous heterosexual in his widely publicized (not least by himself) private life, he was often cast in roles that drew on a perceived ambiguity: his full-drag impersonation of a female jazz musician in “Some Like It Hot,” a slave who attracts the interest of a Roman senator (Laurence Olivier) in Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” (1960), a man attracted to a mysterious blond (Debbie Reynolds) who turns out to be the reincarnation of his male best friend in Vincente Minnelli’s “Goodbye Charlie” (1964).

But behind the pretty-boy looks could be found a dramatically potent combination of naked ambition and deep vulnerability, both likely products of his Dickensian childhood in the Bronx. Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, to Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Emanuel operated a tailor shop in a poor neighborhood, and the family occupied cramped quarters behind the store, the parents in one room and little Bernard sharing another with his two brothers, Julius and Robert. Helen Schwartz suffered from schizophrenia and frequently beat the three boys. (Robert was later found to have the same disease.)

In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his parents found they could not properly provide for their children, and Bernard and Julius were placed in a state institution. Returning to his old neighborhood, Bernard frequently found himself caught up in gang warfare and the target of anti-Semitic hostility; as he recalled in many interviews, he learned to dodge the stones and fists to protect his face, which he realized even then would be his ticket to greater things. In 1938, Julius Schwartz was hit by a truck and killed.

In search of stability, Bernard made his way to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During World War II he served in the Navy aboard the submarine tender U.S.S. Proteus. His ship was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, which Signalman Schwartz watched through a pair of binoculars. “That was one of the great moments in my life,” he later wrote.

Back in New York, he enrolled in acting classes in the workshop headed by Erwin Piscator at the New School for Social Research, where one of his colleagues was another Seward alumnus, Walter Matthau. He began getting work with theater companies in the Catskills and caught the eye of the New York casting agent Joyce Selznick, who helped him win a contract with Universal Pictures in 1948. After experimenting with James Curtis, he settled on Anthony Curtis as his stage name and began turning up in bit parts in films like Robert Siodmak’s “Criss Cross” (1949), Arthur Lubin’s “Francis” (1950) and Anthony Mann’s “Winchester ’73,” alongside another Universal bit player, Rock Hudson.

At first, Mr. Curtis’s career advanced more rapidly than Hudson’s. He was promoted to supporting player, billed as Tony Curtis for the first time, in the 1950 western “Kansas Raiders” — and became, he recalled, first prize in a Universal promotional contest, “Win a Weekend With Tony Curtis.” With his next film, the Technicolor Arabian Nights adventure “The Prince Who Was a Thief” (1951), he received top billing. His co-star was Piper Laurie, another offspring of Jewish immigrants (born Rosetta Jacobs), with whom he was paired in three subsequent films at Universal, including Douglas Sirk’s “No Room for the Groom,” a 1952 comedy that allowed Mr. Curtis to explore his comic gifts for the first time.

In 1951 Mr. Curtis married the ravishing MGM contract player Janet Leigh, whose beauty rivaled his own. The highly photogenic couple soon became a favorite of the fan magazines, and their first movie together, George Marshall’s “Houdini” (1953), was also Mr. Curtis’s first substantial hit. Perhaps the character of Houdini — like Mr. Curtis, a handsome young man of Hungarian Jewish ancestry who reinvented himself through show business — touched something in Mr. Curtis; in any case, it was in that film that his most consistent screen personality, the eager young outsider who draws on his charm and wiles to achieve success in the American mainstream, was born.

Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot" (AP)

Mr. Curtis endured several more Universal costume pictures, including the infamous 1954 film “The Black Shield of Falworth,” in which he co-starred with Ms. Leigh but did not utter the line, “Yondah lies da castle of my foddah,” that legend has attributed to him. His career seemed stalled until Burt Lancaster, another actor who survived a difficult childhood in New York City, took him under his wing.

Lancaster cast Mr. Curtis as his protégé, a circus performer who becomes his romantic rival, in his company’s 1956 production “Trapeze.” But it was Mr. Curtis’s next co-starring appearance with Lancaster — as the hustling Broadway press agent Sidney Falco, desperately eager to ingratiate himself with Lancaster’s sadistic Broadway columnist J. J. Hunsecker in “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957) — that proved Mr. Curtis could be an actor of genuine power and subtlety.

The late ’50s and early ’60s proved to be Mr. Curtis’s heyday. Taking his career into his own hands, he formed a production company, Curtleigh Productions, and in partnership with Kirk Douglas assembled the 1958 independent feature “The Vikings” — a rousing adventure film, directed by Richard Fleischer, that has become an enduring favorite. Later in 1958, the producer-director Stanley Kramer cast Mr. Curtis in “The Defiant Ones,” as a prisoner who escapes from a Southern chain gang while chained to a fellow convict, who happens to be black (Sidney Poitier). The film may seem schematic and simplistic today, but at the time of its release it spoke with hope to a nation in the violent first stages of the civil rights movement and was rewarded with nine Oscar nominations, including one for Mr. Curtis as best actor. It was the only acknowledgment he received from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his career.

Mr. Curtis began a creatively rewarding relationship with the director Blake Edwards with a semi-autobiographical role as a young hustler working a Wisconsin resort in “Mister Cory” (1957), which was followed by two hugely successful 1959 military comedies, both co-starring Ms. Leigh: “The Perfect Furlough” and “Operation Petticoat,” in which he played a submarine officer serving under a captain played by Cary Grant. Under Billy Wilder’s direction in “Some Like It Hot,” another 1959 release, Mr. Curtis employed a spot-on imitation of Grant’s mid-Atlantic accent when his character, posing as an oil heir, attempts to seduce a voluptuous singer (Marilyn Monroe). His role in that film — as a Chicago musician who, with his best friend (Jack Lemmon), witnesses the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and flees to Florida in women’s clothing as a member of an all-girl dance band — remains Mr. Curtis’s best-known performance.

Success in comedy kindled Mr. Curtis’s ambitions as a dramatic actor. He appeared in Mr. Douglas’s epic production of “Spartacus,” directed by Stanley Kubrick, and reached unsuccessfully for another Oscar nomination in “The Outsider” (1961), directed by Delbert Mann, as Ira Hayes, a Native American who helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima. In “The Great Impostor,” directed by Robert Mulligan, he played a role closer to his established screen personality: an ambitious young man from the wrong side of the tracks who fakes his way through a series of professions, including a monk, a prison warden and a surgeon.

Mr. Curtis’s popularity was damaged by his divorce from Ms. Leigh in 1962, following an affair with the 17-year-old German actress Christine Kaufmann, who was his co-star in the costume epic “Taras Bulba.” He retreated into comedies, playing out his long association with Universal in a series of undistinguished efforts including “40 Pounds of Trouble” (1962), “Captain Newman M.D.” (1963) and the disastrous “Wild and Wonderful” (1964), in which he co-starred with Ms. Kaufmann, whom he married in 1963. In “The Great Race,” Blake Edwards’s 1965 celebration of slapstick comedy, Mr. Curtis parodied himself as an impossibly handsome daredevil named the Great Leslie, and in 1967 he reunited with Alexander Mackendrick, the director of “Sweet Smell of Success,” for an enjoyable satire on California mores, “Don’t Make Waves.”

Mr. Curtis made one final, ambitious attempt to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor with “The Boston Strangler” in 1968, putting on weight to play the suspected serial killer Albert DeSalvo. Again under Richard Fleischer’s direction, he turned in an effective, rigorously deglamorized performance, but the film was dismissed as exploitative in many quarters (“An incredible collapse of taste, judgment, decency, prose, insight, journalism and movie technique,” Renata Adler wrote in The New York Times), and failed to reignite Mr. Curtis’s fading career. He divorced Ms. Kaufmann and married a 23-year-old model, Leslie Allen, that same year.

Jean Simmons, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in "Spartacus".

After two unsuccessful efforts to establish himself in series television, “The Persuaders” (1971-72) and “McCoy” (1975-76), Mr. Curtis found himself in a seemingly endless series of guest appearances on television (he had a recurring role on “Vegas” from 1978 to 1981) and supporting performances in ever more unfortunate movies, including Mae West’s excruciating 1978 comeback attempt, “Sextette.” A stay at the Betty Ford Center followed his 1982 divorce from Ms. Allen, but Mr. Curtis never lost his work ethic. He continued to appear regularly in low-budget movies (he played a movie mogul in the spoof “Lobster Man From Mars,” 1989) and occasionally in independent films of quality (Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 “Insignificance,” opposite Theresa Russell as a Monroe-like actress). He took up painting, selling his boldly signed Matisse-influenced canvases through galleries and department stores.

After divorcing Ms. Allen, Mr. Curtis was married to the actress Andrea Savio (1984-92) and, briefly, to the lawyer Lisa Deutsch (1993-94). He married his sixth wife, the horse trainer Jill VandenBerg, in 1998, and with her operated Shiloh Horse Rescue, a nonprofit refuge for abused and neglected horses, in Sandy Valley, Nev.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Curtis is survived by Kelly Lee Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis, his two daughters with Janet Leigh; Alexandra Curtis and Allegra Curtis, his two daughters with Christine Kaufmann; and a son, Benjamin Curtis, with Leslie Allen. A second son with Ms. Allen, Nicholas Curtis, died in 1994 of a drug overdose.

He published “Tony Curtis: The Autobiography,” written with Barry Paris, in 1994 and a second autobiography, “American Prince: A Memoir,” written with Peter Golenbock, in 2008. In 2002 he toured in a musical adaptation of “Some Like It Hot,” in which he played the role of the love-addled millionaire originated by Joe E. Brown in the film. This time, the curtain line was his: “Nobody’s perfect.” His final screen appearance was in 2008, when he played a small role in “David & Fatima,” an independent budget film about a romance between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim. His character’s name was Mr. Schwartz.

Without a defendable record, Democrats try pounding the table

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Thursday, September 30, 2010; A27

It is a lawyers' adage: If you have the law on your side, argue the law; if you have the facts, argue the facts; if you have neither, pound the table. Forgive the Democrats for their current table-pounding.

They cannot run on their record, which has two pillars. One is the stimulus that did not stimulate as they said it would (or else unemployment would not be above 8 percent). The report that the recession ended in June 2009 means the feeble recovery began before stimulus spending really started.

The second pillar is the health-care legislation. This may not be (as suggested by Michael Barone, author of the Almanac of American Politics) the most unpopular major legislation since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. But it remains as unpopular as it was when the administration told Americans to pipe down and eat their broccoli.

Unable to campaign retrospectively, Democrats also cannot campaign prospectively -- "Elect us and get more broccoli!" Hence the table-pounding: The Tea Party is a death panel for America's happiness.

As the year began, we were warned that Tea Partyers would not play nicely with others -- would not abide by the mores and outcomes of the two-party competition. It is, however, some anti-Tea Party "moderates" who exemplify repulsive politics this year.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wanted the Republican Senate nomination. So did Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite. When Rubio went from 30 points behind Crist to 30 points ahead, Crist discovered that he is not a Republican. Promptly reversing his beliefs on various policy questions, he embarked on a run as an independent.

It is unfairly said that Crist's versatility of conviction proves that he has no convictions. He has one. It is that he should be a senator. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is similarly a conviction politician.

She became a senator by nepotism (her father appointed her to his Senate seat when he resigned to become Alaska's governor). Since losing her renomination bid -- defeated by Tea Party-backed Joe Miller -- she has behaved as though voters have violated her property right to her seat. She is running a write-in campaign. (To hear an amusing radio ad against this, visit

When Mike Lee, supported by Tea Party types, defeated Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett's bid to be renominated for a fourth term, Bennett contemplated a write-in campaign. In Delaware, where Christine O'Donnell defeated Rep. Mike Castle for the Republican Senate nomination, Castle entertained but then ruled out a write-in candidacy Wednesday evening.

Democrats, unable to run on their policies, will try to demonize the opponents with Tea Party support as unstable extremists with personality disorders. They have ridden this hobby horse before.

In 1964, the slogan of the Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, was "A choice, not an echo." Forty-six years on, the Tea Party is a loud echo of his attempt to reconnect American politics with the tradition of limited government.

In response to a questionnaire from a magazine, 1,189 psychiatrists, none of whom had ever met Goldwater, declared him unfit for office -- "emotionally unstable," "immature," "cowardly," "grossly psychotic," "paranoid," "chronic schizophrenic" and "dangerous lunatic" were some judgments from the psychiatrists who believed that extremism in pursuit of Goldwater was no vice. Shortly before the election, Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter published in Harper's an essay (later expanded into a book with the same title), "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," that encouraged the idea that Goldwater's kind of conservatism was a mental disorder.

On the eve of the convention that nominated Goldwater, Daniel Schorr of CBS, "reporting" from Germany, said: "It looks as though Sen. Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany's right wing" and "Hitler's one-time stomping ground."

Goldwater, said Schorr, would be vacationing near Hitler's villa at Berchtesgaden. Schorr further noted that Goldwater had given an interview to Der Spiegel "appealing to right-wing elements in Germany" and had agreed to speak to a gathering of "right-wing Germans." So, "there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up."

But as Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard has reported, although Goldwater had spoken vaguely about a European vacation (he did not take one), he had not mentioned Germany, and there were no plans to address any German group. Der Spiegel had reprinted an interview that had appeared elsewhere.

The relevance of this for 2010? There is precedent for the mainstream media being megaphones for Democratic-manufactured hysteria.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Springsteen steps out of the Darkness

The Irish Times
Saturday, September 25, 2010

In Toronto for the premiere of a documentary about the career-defining album that could so easily have been his last, a youthful 61-year-old Bruce Springsteen talks about retracing his steps to a creative fork in the road

AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT on a calm street in downtown Toronto. Bruce Springsteen sits on the inside of a long table, his back to the wall, the focus of such attention from the group lunching with him, who are leaning in towards him, that it would be understandable if the singer asked everyone to just back off a bit. He doesn’t. He talks on, answers every question and indulges those trying to hog the encounter, while making sure to address those at its edges. The cluster of record executives and journalists are all male, except for a Japanese woman whose colleagues manoeuvre her so that she’s directly to Springsteen’s right. Thereafter she sports the stunned grin of the starstruck.

It’s a popular look among those around the table. A waiter stops mid-service to earwig and is still there 15 minutes later. Already, Springsteen’s wife and E Street Band member, Patti Scialfa, has volunteered to be squeezed from the table: “I’m going to move out to let you guys get closer to him.” She does it with the generosity of someone who knows that some of us are in the thick of fulfilling a lifetime ambition. I won’t pretend I’m not among them.

That Springsteen has joined us is something of a surprise. He is in town because of Toronto International Film Festival and the premiere of a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which itself comes in advance of The Promise , a box set comprising an album of other songs recorded for that session, plus new and old live footage and the documentary. That year-long Darkness session, 32 years ago, off the back of a legal battle with his first manager, spawned dozens of songs. Some were half-finished, others dropped just as they were done, so that what Springsteen calls the “10 toughest songs” remained – including the title track, "Badlands" , "The Promised Land", "Racing in the Street", "Factory", "Streets of Fire" – hewn from a session that drove the E Street Band “a good deal insane”.

Springsteen spent weeks alone just trying to get “the drums to sound like drums”, as the documentary explains. While sonically sparse compared with the previous Born to Run , Darkness on the Edge of Town is an epic of American landscape, dispossession and resilience born out of a “huge amount of ego, ambition and hunger”. He wanted to write something truly great. It wasn’t greeted too keenly by much of the press. It didn’t sell too much at first either. Then he toured it. “When they saw it live, then they got it,” he says. Today it is a classic.

When he was recording it he was doing so with the intensity of a musician who didn’t know if he’d get another chance to make an album once this one came out. At a time when a three-year gap between albums was career suicide he read “where are they now?” pieces about himself.

“We were dead,” he says, with a certain relish. “They just wanted to know if it was real or if it had been a construction.” So he focused on writing “the most important album we could, the biggest thing ever”. When Darkness was released Dave Marsh, in Rolling Stone , declared it an album that would change the way people listened to rock. In The Irish Times , Joe Breen said it confirmed him as “the most important songwriter in rock” – but not all reviews were so positive. “It wasn’t Born to Run 2, so they didn’t get it,” says Springsteen. Then he took it on the road. “In one town,” he says, “this kid comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, Bruce, my friends say it’s not as good as Born to Run , but I think it’s okay.’ ”

Earlier in the day about 40 of us gathered in an old cinema where some of the “lost” tracks and concert footage were introduced by his manager, Jon Landau, whose 1974 quote “I saw rock’n’roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen” we are at this point obliged to reference. Verses appeared on the large screen in time with the songs. The first track was not one that had been lost as such but a version of "Racing in the Street" that was so lush it was like hearing it for the first time. When it faded out someone behind me gasped quietly. They’re record executives, of course. They’re paid to gasp. But, hell, through surround sound, with Panavision lyrics, in the soft hush of the cinema, it was goosebump stuff.

Seven more tracks were played, revealing a range of songs, with a more pronounced interest in love and relationships than present on the original album. There are some live clips from the DVD element of the box set, including a live recording of Darkness , in correct order, during which Springsteen is in full flight, neck straining, teeth gritted, making no concession to the fact that it is being recorded in an empty theatre.

After this Landau returns to his mic in the corner of the room. A spotlight struggles to keep up with him. He thanks a few of the people involved. Then he thanks Springsteen. He is sitting at the back of the theatre. The man behind me gasps again.

Springsteen gives a modest wave. He gets a standing ovation.

Twenty minutes later Springsteen and the cloud of people that gathers around him have been ushered from the venue for a restaurant next door. Small groups are brought to his table intermittently. Our turn comes, and we move up, glasses of wine where autograph books might be. It is just after the starters, and we spend the rest of the meal with him. For the journalists in the group it is a strange set-up: not an interview but not off the record. Throwing a Dictaphone on the table would change the dynamic.

He talks about survival, success, his memories of whichever country someone wants him to talk about. He talks about the way modern culture expects you to be ubiquitous. “They think I’m a recluse, that I never do any interviews,” he says. “I do interviews all the time. I think I’m pretty accessible. But if you’re not always out there, they think you’re Garbo.”

His presence in Toronto has been the focus of media coverage during the week. At a festival that cultivates queues regardless, the one for a Q&A with the actor Ed Norton began the night before. At that event, his voice a low rumble to Norton’s halting helium, he had talked mostly about Darkness on the Edge of Town , his “angry” record, informed primarily by his wish to write about his parents’ generation and their struggle to match the promise of the US with its reality – “honouring my parents and their history and the people I knew: these things weren’t being written about” – and to reflect the post-Vietnam era and his country’s loss of innocence.

Artistically, it was influenced by the attitude of the punk movement, by movies such as Mean Streets and by Springsteen’s travels across the US, which took him out of New Jersey for the first time and sent him into an epic landscape that can be heard on the album. But most of all it was about reclaiming something of himself, post-fame. “I had my first taste of success, and I think you realise it’s possible for your identity to get co-opted,” he says. “When you have some success you have a variety of choices. I looked at some of the maps the people before me had drawn. ‘Here there be dragons!’ And the world was flat to them, and they fell off the edge. And that was something I’d rather not do. And part of that was keeping a sense of myself.”

He became “a mutant in your neighbourhood”. “I decided that the key to that was maintaining a sense of myself, understanding that a part of myself had been mutated . . . There was a thrust of self-preservation more than anything else.”

In the restaurant it is palpable how much he has built an inner circle, and fortified it over decades: Landau and co-manager Barbara Carr; the same record company; the core of The E Street Band has remained largely unchanged since the early days. He talks about this unit, how the film-maker Thom Zimny has become part of a crew that “go beyond committed” and a band who have to stay so in order to fulfil the stated mission.

In a politically polarised US he is now as big – probably bigger – outside his home country. Even among the committed, the reaction in the US doesn’t quite match that he receives in Scandinavia, Italy, Spain and Ireland. Landau had said it earlier, Scialfa backs it up over lunch, and Springsteen adds to it. “They just bring such a passion with them, and you feed off that,” he says, but without the emptiness that usually comes from praising one or other country’s audience.

Seven years ago he played a single show at the RDS. Over 2008 and 2009 he played five. I wonder if there was a cementing of that relationship during the Seeger Sessions tour in 2006, when the folk-heavy music was appreciated here on a level not matched elsewhere. “No,” he says, “it was on Devils Dust . I came and played the Point, and I thought I’d love to just do 10 of these shows. There was an intensity about that show that was powerful.” There was indeed, aided by the fact that it was raining so hard that the drumming on the roof offered an atmospheric duet during what was a solo performance.

The audience intensity is, though, a response to his own commitment on stage. He has toured relentlessly in recent years – 11 shows in Ireland alone since 2005 – and last time around he was playing almost three hours of bone-shaking brilliance without even the pretence of walking off for an encore. “You have to want to do it,” he says. “Also, you have to show, not tell. That’s why they call it show business. It’s not the ‘tell business’, it’s ‘show’ business’ ”

He talks about Sting once telling him, “You work too hard”, then later adding: “Oh, I get it, this is the only way you know how to do it.”

Springsteen’s drive has to be matched by the band’s, and he will not allow it to flag. “I would put any of our shows now alongside anything we did 30 years ago,” he says. “I want it to be that if your brother comes to see this, he won’t have seen us play better. If your father comes, he won’t have seen us play better. If you’re grandfather comes, he won’t have seen us play better.”

Since the turn of the decade he has become fascinated by his own past and is keen to catalogue it. “I’ve become interested in the history of the band, in putting it together,” he says. “For a long time I was u ncomfortable about filming, but about 10 years ago we decided to film everything. And this is about putting things together for all of those who are new to us, who have come to our shows and started listening to us but who weren’t even born when Darkness first came out.”

Two years ago Born to Run received the box-set treatment, but what makes Springsteen so vital is that he has not turned to the past in the need to remind the world of his relevance. In his producer Brendan O’Brien he has found a steady hand on recent albums, but the core has been Springsteen’s creative purple patch.

His most recent album, last year’s Working on a Dream , was in some ways a sigh of contentment after previous albums that were politically charged ( Magic, The Seeger Sessions ), intimate ( Devils Dust ) or spanning both personal and public grief and resilience ( The Rising ). Although even Working on a Dream was an exhalation of relief, following Barack Obama’s election.

His music, he says, has always been a search for what he calls the “essential”, that element that gets to the core of everyone’s experience, “that essential thing that matters to me, that matters to him, that matters to you”. He has stuck with Martin Scorsese’s line about getting an audience “to care about your obsessions”.

Darkness was the beginning of what he calls the “long narrative” of his songwriting, a story he began to tell with it and which he has committed himself to carrying through everything since.

The night before, he had told Ed Norton that he always understood this necessity. “I said there’s other guys who play guitar well, there’s other guys who front really well, there’s other rocking bands out there. But the writing and the imagining of a world, that’s a particular thing, you know. That’s a single fingerprint. All the film-makers we love, all the writers we love, all the songwriters we love, they put their fingerprint on your imagination, in your heart. And on your soul. That was something that I felt touched by, and I thought, well, I wanted to do that.”

It has meant that his themes have been not just political or societal but very personal. He writes, after all, about ageing in a way that few other artists are brave enough to do. There has to be a commitment to that, he says. He must be unflinching, must not shy away from saying that people change and age, and that you have to deal with it. “Write about it,” he says. “Don’t be scared of it.”

When recording the Darkness live set he demanded that the decades be on stark display. He found a way in an unlikely source. “I saw this Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. I don’t know if you’ve seen it: it’s called JCVD , and he plays himself in it and gets caught up in a bank robbery. But it’s filmed in this washed-out way, very grey, and it really shows his age. And I said to Thom, that’s what I want for this recording.”

Springsteen turned 61 on Thursday. He is tanned, fresh; even the crow’s feet are taut. His hair is dark enough that you wonder if it might be dyed, but grey splashes about his ears. He has an enthusiasm that seems to bubble through from his 27-year-old self, a wick of youthfulness that burns through.

It becomes clear that, over the course of a couple of days, Springsteen has returned more than once to the notion of survival, of Darkness being recorded with an intensity born of an understanding that this could have been the last album he recorded. Stunted by the legal wrangle with his manager, Springsteen had to survive on live shows and the reputation of Born to Run . That album had made him a global star and was the thing that put him on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week in 1975. In a sense, it had the power to kill him too.

From this perspective Darkness is integral to the flow of his career, but from his own viewpoint at the time it could have been the end. He expresses deep pride at the result, how it sounded then, how it sounds now. But it is also becomes clear that his open excitement is from a keen appreciation that he is not just revisiting an album, a session, some old video footage, that this is not merely a holiday with nostalgia, but that he is revisiting a fork in the road with the satisfaction of knowing that his younger self chose the right path.

The lunch ends. Springsteen’s meal has been half-eaten, accompanied by a largely untouched glass of orange juice. He has to be encouraged to leave for his flight.

Ten minutes later a photograph is posted on Twitter by someone who lives by the restaurant. It is of Springsteen, in check shirt, jeans and sunglasses, with a huge grin, sitting on a motorbike on the street, posing with a fan. It is making someone’s day. You’d be hard pressed to tell whose.

- The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story , a 3CD/3DVD box set, and The Promise double CD are both released on November 12th

Knight Errant With a Clipboard

Books in Review

By John R. Coyne, Jr. from the September 2010 issue of The American Spectator

Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus
Edited by Linda Bridges and Roger Kimball
(Encounter Books, 550 pages, $29.95)

AT NATIONAL REVIEW'S 25TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY, one month after Ronald Reagan was elected president, George Will said: "Before there was Ronald Reagan there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 has become a conflagration."

Five years later, at the 30th anniversary party, Ronald Reagan himself put it this way: "You and I remember a time of the forest primeval, a time when nightmare and danger reigned and only the knights of darkness prevailed; when conservatives seemed without a champion. And then, suddenly riding up through the lists, came our clipboard-bearing Galahad: ready to take on any challengers in the critical battle of point and counterpoint. And, with grace and humor and passion, to raise a standard to which patriots and lovers of freedom could repair."

That's the Bill Buckley to whom we rallied when the liberal left dominated the national political and intellectual debate and set its terms, the Bill Buckley who threw down the gauntlet that was to change the direction of American social and political history. The challenge was issued in 1955, coming in the form of a statement of purpose for the newly launched National Review, announcing that the magazine "stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."

The statement, which was to become a conservative manifesto and a founding document of the American conservative movement, laid down the lines of battle.

National Review is out of place, in the sense that the United Nations and the League of Women Voters and the New York Times and Henry Steele Commager are in place. It is out of place because, in its maturity, literate America rejected conservatism in favor of radical social experimentation....One must recently have lived on or close to a college campus to have a vivid intimation of what has happened. It is there that we see how a number of energetic social innovators, plugging their grand designs, succeeded over the years in capturing the liberal intellectual imagination. And since ideas rule the world, the ideologues, having won over the intellectual class, simply walked in and took over.

It would be the mission of his new magazine, Buckley wrote, to take it back: We offer "a position that has not grown old under the weight of a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of PhDs in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town."

As Daniel Oliver recently observed in TAS, "We need to reread, perhaps fortnightly, National Review's opening call, and marvel at its clarity and courage."

The reaction among the liberal mandarins -- and in those days the liberal/left journals of opinion they controlled exercised an outsized influence -- was, by any standard, disproportionate. Four years earlier, in 1951, with the publication of God and Man at Yale (Gamay, as its publisher Henry Regnery named it), Buckley had already caused a panic attack among the guardians of liberal intellectual hegemony. In his excellent introduction to Athwart History, Roger Kimball describes that reaction: "Bill's opening credo that 'the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world' was simply not to be borne. His codicil -- 'I further believe that the struggle between individualism [i.e., conservatism] and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level' -- elevated disbelief into rage."

Kimball continues: "The nerve that Bill struck with God and Man at Yale is still smarting; indeed, it is still throbbing uncontrollably [as witness] the discrepancy between proclamations of ‘diversity' on campuses and the practice there of enforcing a politically correct orthodoxy...there is plenty of room for 'diversity,' so long as you embrace the liberal-left dogma. Diverge from that dogma and you will find that the rhetoric of diversity has been replaced by talk of 'prejudice,' 'hate speech,' and the entire lexicon of liberal denunciation."

True enough. But in a career spanning the second half of what may have been history's most eventful century, Bill Buckley helped ensure, at first almost singlehandedly, that opposing voices were heard above the collectivist cacophony. And when he finally relinquished command of his magazine and his numerous enterprises, conservatism, if not triumphant, had been reestablished as a reborn and vital political and philosophical alternative to the once-dominant liberal ideology.

In the end, writes George Will in his preface to this volume, Bill Buckley was "a history-making figure" who "asserted, and then proved, that a few determined men and women, equipped with sound ideas, could put paid to all ideas of determinism. They could command history to halt, step back, and turn right.

"It did. It had no choice."

IN THIS VOLUME, the story of that historic turnabout and the consequent conservative ascendancy is chronicled through pieces culled, as the editors tell us, from millions of published words, spanning nearly six decades, with commentaries on subjects as diverse as Edward Kennedy and Robert Bork, George Bush and Barack Obama, Kremlinology and Communist China, the New York Times and Cuba, rock music and peanut butter, and the debt of gratitude we owe to Dr. George Washington Carver. The last anthology Buckley himself assembled, Miles Gone By (2004), was intended to serve as his "literary autobiography" -- in Kimball's words, "a cheerful book, a convivial book" intended to "reflect the depth and variousness of its author's pleasures."

In Athwart History, the editors set out "to reintroduce the public to the serious, sinewy, occasionally pugnacious side of Bill Buckley" and, by providing a companion volume to Miles Gone By, to show us Buckley whole. Kimball credits this approach to Charles Kesler, editor of the Claremont Review, who had observed that much of Bill's "more trenchant work" was out of print. "What was needed, he said, was a collection that represented the intellectual Bill Buckley, Buckley the polemicist, controversialist, and thinker."

Half the pieces in this collection, writes Kimball, appear between hard covers for the first time; many others are from books now out of print. "A large portion of the pieces deal with matters of urgent public concern. Not a few tackle basic questions of political philosophy." Given the mid-Victorian volume of Buckley's output, and the great variety of subjects, Athwart History is a book of some bulk -- although, Kimball assures us, considerably trimmed down from the first working draft, which competed "in girth with the Calcutta phone book."

Bulky, but attractively produced and well structured. There are 178 pieces by Bill (the reviewer, being somewhat compulsive, counted them twice), arranged under 13 headings such as "Politics in Principle," "Politics in Practice," "The Raging Sixties." Each of the 178 pieces is titled, and each has its own brief descriptive annotation: "Liberal Presumption -- On the notion that a ‘central intelligence' in Washington, D.C., can dispose of American citizens' money far better than they can"; "Black Thought, Black Talk -- On Senator Edward Kennedy's description, ‘withered in distortion and malice,' of Robert Bork's America"; "Duty, Honor, Country -- Looking at Iraq 2007 through the lens of Vietnam 1973, with a reflection on the people we abandoned back then"; "A Special Odium -- On the extraordinary ferocity displayed by critics of Bush, and its possible effects on the democratic culture"; "Inside Obama -- On the candidate's soaring rhetoric-but underlying dishonesty-about what the government can do for America's children." By themselves, these annotations are well worth reading.

IN ALL, the selections and the finished product are a tribute to the editors, both of whom were close friends and colleagues of Buckley. Roger Kimball, co-editor and publisher of the New Criterion, is author of several books, among them Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education. Bridges, who like this reviewer was hired personally by Bill Buckley, came straight from the University of Southern California to National Review, where she has worked since, including 10 years as managing editor, a job for which she was trained by Priscilla Buckley.

In 2003 she moved to Bill Buckley's personal staff as his literary assistant, a position she held through the last years of his life -- one of those strong, trusted, highly intelligent women such as Frances Bronson and Dorothy McCartney who helped keep his life organized and his prose clean and flowing. In 2007, with this reviewer, she co-authored Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement, a book that Bill's sister Priscilla pronounced "the best thing ever written about Bill." Bill Rusher agreed, as did Bill Buckley himself.

The next full biography of Bill, we're told, will be by Sam Tanenhaus, the liberal editor of the New York Times Book Review. The deadline has been extraordinarily elastic, and some believe the elastic may have snapped, as it did with Edmund Morris's incoherent biography of Ronald Reagan. Last year, Tanenhaus, whose biography of Whittaker Chambers had given him standing with conservatives, published a mini-book -- a padded-out version of an earlier New Republic article -- entitled The Death of Conservatism, yet another premature obituary for what Bob Tyrrell, in After the Hangover, called "America's longest dying political movement."

Hardly the logical candidate to write Bill Buckley's life. But if and when he does, and, as seems likely, his book bombs, let's hope the pieces are quickly picked up and reassembled by Linda Bridges, who in the end is the writer best equipped to write the full and definitive biography of Bill Buckley. There's no doubt he'd approve.

But whatever the final disposition of that assignment, the editors have done a splendid job with this volume. In all, Athwart History admirably achieves its purpose, allowing us, to borrow a phrase from Mona Charen, to "rediscover whence conservatism got its élan -- and its spine."

Thanks to Roger Kimball and Linda Bridges, in these pages Bill Buckley rides up through the lists again, Ronald Reagan's clipboard-bearing knight errant, shaming the pedants and pretenders, unhorsing the collectivists and statists, and smiting the ungodly. 

- John R. Coyne, Jr. a former White House speech-writer, is co-author with Linda Bridges of Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement (Wiley).

Book Review: 'Washington - A Life'

Dusting Off an Elusive President’s Dull Image

The New York Times
September 27, 2010

By Ron Chernow
Illustrated. 904 pages. The Penguin Press. $40.

When George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States, he had only one original tooth left. It was “a lonely lower left bicuspid,” according to Ron Chernow’s vast and tenaciously researched new biography. But Mr. Chernow was not content merely to write about the tooth and its larger implications, which range from questions about Washington’s apparent reticence in later life (did his dental troubles keep him from speaking?) to his harshly pragmatic attitude toward slavery (he purchased slaves’ teeth, perhaps for use in dentures). Mr. Chernow also paid a personal visit to the tooth at the medical library where it is stored.

His thoroughness in “Washington: A Life” is prompted by the Papers of George Washington, a research project that has been under way at the University of Virginia since 1968, has passed the 60-volume mark and is nowhere near complete. Mr. Chernow argues that this project has unearthed enough new material to warrant “a large-scale, one-volume, cradle-to-grave narrative” about Washington, despite the excellent work of biographers including Joseph J. Ellis and James T. Flexner and the reading public’s impression that the story of Washington’s life is already well known.

The sheer volume of new research easily validates Mr. Chernow’s effort. But “Washington” also has a simpler raison d’être. It means to dust off Washington’s image, penetrate the opacity that can most generously be called “sphinxlike” and replace readers’ “frosty respect” for Washington with “visceral appreciation.” In other words, Mr. Chernow, who made a similar effort to inject excitement into the Alexander Hamilton story, has taken on an even greater challenge this time.

“Something essential about Washington has been lost to posterity, making him seem a worthy but plodding man who somehow stumbled into greatness,” Mr. Chernow writes at the start. And Washington truly “ranks as the most famously elusive figure in American history, a remote, enigmatic personage more revered than truly loved.”

But it soon becomes clear in “Washington” that there are legitimate reasons for why Washington’s popularity (at least among biography readers) has been eclipsed by showy and protean figures like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Those founding fathers liked to make their ideas and opinions widely known; Washington once claimed indignantly that his face never betrayed his feelings.

Washington seldom had simple reasons for taking action, and whatever his motives, he rarely liked to tip his hand. He was not well educated. He was not a philosopher. And “in a century of sterling wits, George Washington never stood out for his humor,” Mr. Chernow writes, “but he had a bawdy streak and relished hearty, masculine jokes.”

He was also known as a harsh taskmaster, a regalia-loving clotheshorse, a fanatic for fastidious details (he chose the living creatures that surrounded him, whether soldiers or white horses, by exact physical specifications), a literal slave driver and a chilly commander. Mr. Chernow tells the possibly apocryphal story of how Hamilton conned his fellow founding father Gouverneur Morris into glad-handing Washington with “a friendly slap on the shoulder” and lived to regret it. Washington famously did not like to be touched.

But that was the old Washington. The new one that emerges from Mr. Chernow’s account is more human and accessible. And although “Washington” never takes an overly psychoanalytical tack, it does find one big reason for its subject’s lifelong aloofness and hauteur: his mother, Mary Ball Washington.

“With more to brag about than any other mother in American history, she took no evident pride in her son’s accomplishments,” Mr. Chernow writes. “His Excellency! What nonsense!” she once exclaimed about her famous son.

“Washington” has an enormous span, even if some of its content is familiar from other overlapping biographies. (Mr. Chernow often falls back on his earlier insights into the Hamilton-Jefferson infighting that colored Washington’s presidency.) But it captures the ambitious, proud and sharp-elbowed prodigy that Washington was in his early 20s, when his renown during the French and Indian War catapulted him into military leadership.

And in a book that pays meticulous attention to the decisions made by Washington during wartime, with a step-by-step march through the eight years of Revolutionary War battles, Mr. Chernow arrives at a carefully considered assessment of his subject’s capabilities. He sees the successes and failures of Washington’s military decisions. But he places much higher value on the great man’s political instincts and shows how they rarely failed him. And he argues that Washington’s ability to hold his soldiers together and set a proud, stoical example mattered more than any individual battle could.

At 900-odd densely packed pages, “Washington” can be arid at times. But it’s also deeply rewarding as a whole, and it does genuinely amplify and recast our perceptions of Washington’s importance. When his presidency begins, “Washington” becomes a mini-“Team of Rivals,” complete with stellar cast and monumentally important issues to be faced. This new portrait offers a fresh sense of what a groundbreaking role Washington played, not only in physically embodying his new nation’s leadership but also in interpreting how its newly articulated constitutional principles would be applied. A more ostentatiously regal leader could never have accomplished as much as this seemingly reluctant hero achieved.

“Washington” also devotes great attention to the harsh criticism that Washington faced as soon as the luster faded and the governing began. As president, missing his beloved Mount Vernon and incurring great financial losses to serve as head of state, he was carped about so relentlessly that even his way of tapping a fork at the dinner table could become fodder for malicious gossip.

Mr. Chernow describes both the pettiness of these complaints and the gravity of other, more important ones, most crucially Washington’s behavior as a slave owner. The book doggedly follows the changeable, inconsistent, sometimes flagrantly dishonest Washington through a morass of contradictory gestures, and Mr. Chernow works hard to parse this material with a judicious eye.

The best he can do, and the best Washington allows, is this revealing passage: “With a politician’s instinct, Washington spoke to different people in different voices. When addressing other Virginia planters, he spoke in the cold, hard voice of practicality, whereas when dealing with Revolutionary comrades, he blossomed into an altruist.”

How fully can these contradictions be fathomed? The father of our country remains a moving target for historians, no matter how many of his letters and papers come to light.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Barney's new excuse

New York Post
September 28, 2010

Rep. Barney Frank & Co. are getting set for yet another hearing this week on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage lenders. Once again, they're not after the truth -- they're looking to conceal it.

The House Financial Services Committee chairman and his brethren on the left want you to believe they're making a good-faith effort to figure out what went wrong with Fannie and Freddie -- what mistakes led to their failure and takeover by the government during the 2008 financial collapse, and how to fix both institutions for the future.

In fact, what they'll deliver is more hot air from so-called "housing advocates" obscuring just how much Fannie and Freddie contributed to the housing bubble, the 2008 financial collapse and the Great Recession.

It's all meant to give lawmakers an excuse not to do what's necessary and prudent -- namely, kill Fannie and Freddie before they come back to do it all again.

The notion of "housing" as a God-given right had been promoted by people like Barney Frank for nearly two decades. Their vehicles to expand homeownership for all were "government-sponsored enterprises" Fannie and Freddie -- which, starting in the mid 90s, began buying up and placing guarantees on mortgages taken out by people with lower incomes and lousy credit histories.

Giving low-income people access to the housing market sounds nice enough -- but the reality was far different. Housing prices were bid up to levels that made repaying mortgages nearly impossible. When the bubble burst, the government "sponsored" agencies were in hock for billions -- and so was their "sponsor," the US taxpayer.

And once Fannie and Freddie stopped making loans to anyone with a hearbeat (and many people without jobs), housing prices began to deflate, taking the banking system and the rest of the economy with it.

Now it looks like Fannie and Freddie are back to their old tricks -- with the evident support of both Barney Frank and President Obama.

Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on Frank's Financial Services Committee, tells me that both agencies have started new programs that once again make loans and guarantees to "subprime" borrowers, or people with the lowest credit ratings -- the same sort of lending practices that contributed to their collapse back in 2008.

He demanded an explanation from Edward DeMarco -- who, as acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is supposed to be overseeing Fannie and Freddie. Bachus reports that DeMarco told him, "He was unaware these programs were started."

Bachus is in line to run the committee if the Republicans win control of the House in November. In a recent Fox Business Network interview, he told me that, as chairman, he'd put two issues at the top of the agenda:

* Ending "too big to fail" -- notion that banks like Citigroup must be bailed out by the American taxpayer when they lose money.

* Shutting down, once and for all, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Much as he wants to put Fannie and Freddie out of their misery immediately, Bachus says the agencies current role in the mortgage market makes that impossible. Even in government "conservatorship," the two remain major players in helping banks in the mortgage market. "We're addicted to cheap government money and taxpayer supported, guaranteed money," Bachus said.

"And for the addiction process to end you're going to have to have a weaning process. . . We plan to finish the job in two years with a new president."

Let's hope two years goes quickly.

Charles Gasparino is a Fox Business Network senior corre spondent; his latest book is "Bought and Paid For."

Innocence Abroad: The Tea Party's Search for Foreign Policy

By P. J. O’Rourke
September/October 2010

What is the Tea Party’s foreign policy? It’s a difficult question on two counts. There is no Tea Party foreign policy as far as I can tell, and, on inspection, there is no Tea Party. There are, of course, any number of Tea Party Coalition groups across the country. But these mix and mingle, cooperate, compete, debate, merge, and overlap with countless other groups grouped together as the “Tea Party movement” in the public mind (or the public commentator mind).

Some of these organizations have staffs and salaries and offices, and some—according to the time left over for blogging after job and children—have memberships numbering between one and none. Various domestic policy foundations such as FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Independence Institute have had their influence, as have associations of people with a frame of mind about policy that’s more antinomian, such as FedUpUSA. Then there is the 9/12 Project, promoted by Glenn Beck, which seeks a return to the best of what Americans thought and felt after 9/11 and which is more concerned with values than policy per se. A variety of social conservatives with similar concerns about values—if diverse ideas of what those values are—also have been lumped with the Tea Party movement. Sometimes they’ve lumped themselves.

Disaggregation and multifariousness make it hard to take any policy measure of the Tea Party. But the tougher problem is definitional. “Movement” implies a destination. When you move you’re headed somewhere. Political movements have a place they want government to go. The Tea Party movement has a place it wants government to go—and rot. That’s different. The Tea Party has a political attitude rather than a political ideology.

Nonetheless, every political concept has foreign policy implications. George Washington warned against foreign entanglements. But the friends, enemies, and neighbors of that new concept, the United States, soon found themselves entangled in American foreign policy, even before America knew it had one.

Specific, concrete political policy goals were disavowed by almost all of the people I talked to in the Tea Party movement (I use the term in the overly broad public commentator way). Instead, what I heard were arguments against the kind of centralized government power that concocts political policy goals—arguments of the Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman kind, that individuals are the best judges of how to employ their individual energies and resources. Whatever else the Tea Party movement believes, it espouses (and evidences) a firm belief in the self-organizing capacities of free individuals.

Unfortunately, we individuals are rarely free in the face of foreign policy. Foreign policy is highly centralized. And the political power that centralizes foreign policy is—when wielded by foreigners—outside the realm of our political influence no matter how popular the Tea Party becomes.

Nor is the past record of decentralization in foreign policy reassuring. It went well when the Soviet Union lost control of Eastern Europe’s foreign policy. It did not go so well when the European colonial powers lost control of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. And total decentralization of foreign policy meant a nightmare in the former Yugoslavia.

I take the Tea Party point that, politically speaking, control is scary. Out-of-control is also scary. And what’s most scary about foreign policy is how often it’s simply beyond our control.

I talked to a Tea Party supporter with strong libertarian inclinations. “I’m for staying out of other people’s business,” she said, and told me she was surprised by Barack Obama’s continuation of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. I’ll bet Barack Obama was surprised too.

I met the libertarian—a young mother who homeschools her three kids—at the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers (CNHT) annual picnic on July 10 in Hillsborough.

CNHT is a twelve-year-old umbrella operation, friendly to Tea Party movement notions. The chairman, Ed Naile, made the crowd laugh by showing off a certificate that the Heritage Foundation had awarded to the New Hampshire Tea Party. Because the Heritage Foundation couldn’t figure out who ran the New Hampshire Tea Party, the award had to be sent to the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers.

About five hundred people were at the picnic. Thirty interest groups, political organizations, and state and federal candidates had booths, tables, or, at the least, literature to hand out. That was 16½ people per cause. Assuming that many of the picnickers were picnicking in an unaffiliated way, some CNHT self-organizers were self-organizing at the most basic level of just the self.

The New Hampshire Liberty Alliance was there and the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire, Granite State Taxpayers, the New Hampshire House Republican Alliance, and New Hampshire Families for Education. A pro-life group and a pro-gun group were present but so was the New England Organ Bank, promoting organ donations. (And maybe the last two should get together—there’s a bumper sticker in there somewhere.)

I did not see any sidearms being worn or anyone acting more oddly than we residents of New Hampshire usually do. The crowd looked randomly New Hampshire–like, minus perhaps the sandal-and-candle types (although several mandala tattoos were visible).

The political candidates who spoke at the picnic had a hard time making themselves heard over the voice of the people—which, from a Tea Party point of view, is as it should be. A thousand hamburgers and hot dogs were being eaten by cheerful, chatty folks vigorously agreeing with each other that the government has gotten out from under us.

“We’re a very broad-based association, like a big family,” said one of the picnic’s organizers. “Of course,” she added, “we have our family spats.”

None were apparent. Ed Naile introduced the speakers, saying, “We want small, effective government with low taxes and free enterprise. It’s simple.”

The politicians were given polite, if not attentive, receptions. One grizzled veteran of the fight against taxes in the New Hampshire legislature went on at length about the dictionary definition of socialism. Some shushing was heard in deference to his political battle scars. A fellow running for I’m-not-sure-what worried that the gold standard wasn’t standard anymore. Even a member of the political “establishment” was treated with courtesy. Charlie Bass (who happens to be my friend and neighbor) was the longtime Republican congressman from New Hampshire’s 2nd District. He’s hoping to be elected again. Bass, although a fiscal conservative, gets Tea Party grief for the amount of money that the Republicans managed to spend while in control of Congress. He told the crowd that right down the road there was an old stone bridge to nowhere over nothing being restored with our stimulus funds and was applauded.

But no one had much to say about foreign policy. Bob Giuda, also running for the Republican nomination in the 2nd District, did mention the cost of the war on terrorism. Considering that the TSA line at O’Hare cost me two hours of my life last week, I’m sure Giuda has a point. But he didn’t elaborate. Another candidate, whose name I didn’t catch, said we should remember the POWs and MIAs. That’s true. But memory isn’t a sure guide to foreign policy. The people who started World War II must have remembered what happened in World War I.

I gathered campaign literature from the candidates who thought a CNHT presence was worth their while—twelve of them (none Democrats). Seven made no reference to foreign policy in their handouts. This was understandable with the two gubernatorial hopefuls. (New Hampshire is not a state that aspires to its own foreign policy—except to deport citizens of Massachusetts who run their boats too fast on Lake Winnipesaukee.)

I suppose some of the campaign material contains implied messages about foreign policy. Jim Bender, vying for the Republican Senate nomination, describes himself as “a turnaround specialist with a proven track record of creating jobs and fixing complex broken organizations.” Creating jobs in foreign policy sounds as uninviting as war or the Peace Corps. But fixing complex broken organizations is more like it, starting with the United Nations.

Frank Guinta, running for Congress in the Republican 1st District primary, wants to “open up and develop existing American energy resources . . . on our soil and off our shores.” This could have foreign policy effects, though I gather from the last phrase that his brochure went to press before BP went to hell. Guinta also wants to “apply a constitutionality test to each and every bill brought before Congress.” One can imagine some ugly arguments about international trade agreements and the interstate commerce clause—with labor unions on the wrong side of the fight.

Peter Bearse, another Republican running in the 1st District, was handing out business cards. He is an economist. And, after all, Adam Smith was right about British foreign policy during the Revolutionary War.

And Karen Testerman, who wants the Republican nomination for governor, is married to a retired Air Force pilot and has had three children in the military, although whether this inclines or disinclines her to interventionalism she doesn’t say.

Perhaps it’s contrary to the Tea Party spirit that I’m reporting first on the views of political candidates rather than on the views of their grassroots auditors. But the purpose of the Tea Party movement, as I understand it, is to change the nature of the people elected to political office and to make that change at a local level. These are the people running for political office, and some of them, frankly, are so local that they may never be heard from again outside their own backyards.

Among the candidates who do address foreign policy, Bill Binnie—like Jim Bender, seeking the Republican Senate nomination—says, “We need to stand up to countries like India and China that punish American business and industry with unfair trading practices and shut off aid to foreign countries that pay lip service to being America’s friends.” Adam Smith wouldn’t think much of the first proposal, but there’s no denying the visceral appeal of the second.

Binnie supports defense spending: “Government can protect our way of life through a strong military.” The same is true of Richard Ashooh, in the 1st District Republican race, who promises to “ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to defend our nation.” And Sean Mahoney—Ashooh’s, Guinta’s, and Bearse’s competitor in the 1st District—supports “our service men and women around the world” and is “dedicated to winning the war on terror.” Indeed, Mahoney goes on to say that he “supports the president’s decision to commit additional troops to the war in Afghanistan.”

Ashooh and Mahoney also vow to work for better veterans’ benefits. The military veteran being, alas, what remains after the dust of foreign policy settles.

Ovide Lamontagne, running against Binnie and Bender in the Republican Senate primary, promises better treatment for veterans too, and he takes an even more aggressive international stance than Mahoney. Lamontagne says he will “continue support for our operations against terrorists abroad” and “stand firm against allowing a nuclear Iran to emerge, while supporting our proven allies throughout the world, including our staunch friend Israel.”

In the CNHT picnic’s straw poll, Lamontagne won with one hundred and nine votes, almost half the votes cast. (In case anyone thinks Tea Party movement members are knee-jerk isolationists.)

Chris Booth was also on the straw poll Senate ballot, as an Independent. His brochure emphasizes his Quaker faith: “Quakers are best known for their beliefs in equality and pacifism.” He got two votes.

I interviewed some New Hampshire Tea Party supporters. (Again, I use the term too broadly.) They were as perplexed as I am about the relationship between an efficiently minimal government and a foreign policy of maximum effectiveness.

“We’re working from the bottom up,” said one of the state’s popular pro–small government bloggers. “Foreign policy comes from the top down.” He said I’d asked a good question about Tea Party foreign policy “because foreign policy has to do with the president. The Tea Party doesn’t influence foreign policy, we influence the people who represent us.” One of whom, he seemed to feel, was not the president.

A Web site designer who volunteers with the CNHT and other organizations pointed out that, in the matter of foreign policy being top-down, even the president isn’t at the top. “The president isn’t the sole person who runs foreign policy,” she said. She mentioned the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, but she didn’t make them out to be part of some dark conspiracy. She was giving them as examples of the fact that there is such a thing as a foreign policy establishment. The State Department is the example I’d use. The blogger cited the mainstream media and George Soros.

One of the founders of the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition has two sons on active duty in the military. When asked about foreign policy, he said there’s “no easy way to answer.” He said he “didn’t want to use the word ‘rational.’” He realized that foreign policy has to deal with irrational people and things. “It really will depend on elections,” he said. “If the country swings to a constitutional/libertarian government there’ll be a move toward congressional control of foreign policy.” He wondered if we wouldn’t be better off to “let the people decide, instead of the experts.” But he didn’t venture a guess as to what decision the people would make.

Foreign policy opinions in the Tea Party are “wide, wide-ranging,” said the Web designer, “everything from ‘nuke Iran’ to the Ron Paul people who want to pull everyone out of everywhere to Rand Paul who’s more in the middle ground and wants an active foreign policy but says it’s a question of money.”

What it doesn’t appear to be is a question of America’s founding principles. No one told me that current American foreign policy violates the Constitution. And I was talking to people who are keenly alert to violations of the Constitution.

A supporter of the 9/12 Project said, “To me ‘small government’ means the federal government shrinking to the size necessary to execute only the enumerated, authorized powers. . . . Included in these enumerated powers is the authority to raise an army, conduct foreign diplomacy, and to establish treaties.” He went on to say, “I often wonder what our economic condition would be if we focused more on securing our borders and less on expensive foreign engagements.” But he added, “I don’t believe we should be isolationist. Protection of America would still involve some foreign military presence, which is authorized by the Constitution. If we completely retract our military from the world stage, and only focus on our borders . . . we may see a reprise of the pre–World War Two growth of fascism.”

President Obama, as the man in charge of U.S. foreign policy, seems to be regarded as not so much wrong, exactly, as feeble and silly. The blogger said, “Obama is a joke with foreigners. Obviously he doesn’t have the

The Tea Party founder decried Obama’s “slamming of America” and called the president’s foreign policy “determined weakness.” He didn’t care for Obama’s international equilateralism. “If America’s not going to be the economic engine of the world, then who will be?” And he asked, “Why not us as the number one superpower?”

The blogger said almost exactly the same: “Obama is suggesting that America step back from being number one. Well, who will be number one?”

A weak America is a bad idea. And there’s one other area of general Tea Party agreement on foreign policy, albeit a very domestic part of foreign policy—illegal immigration. After I’d had a long phone conversation with the blogger, mostly about philosophy of government, he called back to say that opposition to illegal immigration was the one Tea Party foreign policy position that he could definitely specify. “Get the border sealed,” he said. “No amnesty for illegals. Make sure the criminals are sent back and stay there.”

The 9/12er noted that the Constitution “includes the power to protect our borders from invasion” and “illegal immigration is an invasion, in my opinion.”

No one used any words of prejudice, however, or hurtful, insensitive language. When your preferred senatorial candidate is named Ovide Lamontagne, there’s not much room for xenophobia.

Lamontagne himself condemns illegal emigration. His brochure says, “I pledge that I will work tirelessly to end illegal immigration.” Fellow Senate candidate Bill Binnie promises to “secure our border—that’s just common sense. No driver’s licenses for illegals. No granting of amnesty.” Then his flyer goes on to announce that Binnie is “the proud son of immigrants.”

Congressional candidate Sean Mahoney claims he “will fight to ensure the federal government funds and finishes the fence along the border to keep illegal aliens out.” But Mahoney prefaces this by saying that he “is a strong supporter of legal immigration and views a legal, orderly immigration system as essential to the growth and development of our nation’s economy.”

Slightly angry about immigration, slightly conflicted about immigration—this sounds more like America in general than the Tea Party specifically. The governor of Arizona is not a member.

Foreign policy is full of conundrums. In particular there is a conundrum in finding solutions to foreign policy problems when it’s not clear what the problems are. About this Tea Party supporters show a clarity of thought separate from a lack of consensus.

The blogger held out hope that the Tea Party is going global. He and the Tea Party founder both noted the irony, at the G-20 summit, of the president of free-market America telling European socialists to spend more while the European socialists were telling America to cut its deficit.

“We have a long way to go,” said the blogger. “Until we can fix the problems in our own backyard we can’t fix things over the pond. How can we have a foreign policy when we don’t have a policy that works for ourselves? It’s not going to happen in one election. It’s not going to happen in two elections. We’re looking at a hundred-year project. It’s going to take fifty years to get back to Reagan.”

“What we’re losing,” said the Tea Party founder, “is the idea that our rights come from God. If we went back to that our foreign policy would be different—because of our duty for stewardship of those rights.” His hope is that there will be a “group of people coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan that knows—knows what the military can do and can’t do.” One of his sons had been in Afghanistan. When the son came home and saw the Tea Party protests he said, “Here we are fighting a huge central government. And what are we trying to impose on Afghanistan?”

In our foreign policy, “balance needs to be achieved,” said the 9/12er. And he didn’t mean “balance of power” in the Nixon/Kissinger/Carter sense.

The Web designer said, “If we cannot win—get out. If we can win—do it.”

“When it’s necessary, do it right,” said the Tea Party founder. “We may argue or bicker among ourselves. But if we’re attacked, watch out.”

Simplistic, by the standards of the State Department (or the Trilateral Commission), but there are simple aspects to the biggest complexities. If the Tea Party movement, so-called, achieves “small, effective government with low taxes and free enterprise,” America will be a much richer nation. A much richer nation will have a much more powerful foreign policy, whether it means to or wants to or not.

- P. J. O’Rourke is a political satirist, author, and correspondent for The Weekly Standard.