Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Wilders West

Once a place of free inquiry, Europe is slowly stifling itself.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 16, 2010 4:00 A.M.

Geert Wilders (R) stands in court on October 4, 2010 next to his lawyer Bram Moszkovicz (L) before the start of his trial on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims (Getty Images)

For a prosecutor, it was a simple matter of cause and effect. First, I showed that the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, called for acts of violence: He admonished Muslims that Allah commanded them to slay non-believers and precisely quoted Islamic scriptures to back up that admonition. Then I showed that Muslim terrorists responded to these scripturally based exhortations by plotting and carrying out terrorist acts.

For this, the Clinton administration presented me the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award, the Justice Department’s highest honor. For doing exactly the same thing, the justice department of the Netherlands presented Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders with an indictment.

I got the pretty glass eagle for the mantelpiece, and the Blind Sheikh got sent to prison. Wilders, by contrast, got to stand in the dock while the global Islamist movement got to savor the possibility of something far more valuable than a trophy: a white flag draped over the shriveling remains of free speech. Wilders has been acquitted, but his trial was nonetheless damaging to what remains of the Western tradition of free discourse and inquiry.

For demonstrating cause and effect, for graphically displaying — most notoriously in his short film, Fitna — that Islamic scriptures beget jihadist atrocities, Wilders was put on trial in the Netherlands. In this Kafkaesque situation, as Diana West reports, it would have been hard to conjure words more frightening than the ones that tripped off the Dutch prosecutor’s lips: “It is irrelevant whether Wilders’ witnesses might prove Wilders’ observations to be correct. What’s relevant is that his observations are illegal.”

And so they might easily have proved to be, in much of Europe.

Wilders was charged with speaking words and producing images that were discriminatory toward Muslims, and that insult and incite hatred against Muslims. Such speech is criminal in the Netherlands, as it is throughout Europe, which teems with defiantly non-assimilating Muslims and which has responded to the resulting cultural confrontation with the societal surrender known as political correctness. That the things Wilders has said may be true made no difference in the case. It is immaterial whether the bracing opinions he has expressed are grounded in fact, or that the success of a free society hinges on its being an informed society. Wilders, says the prosecution, was guilty simply for saying these things. In the new West, we are unconcerned with the pathologies that besiege us. But those who call our attention to the pathologies — who dare to puncture our “religion of peace” fantasy — must be quelled. After all, they may get Muslims upset, and you know what happens when Muslims get upset.

Here in America, I can still write the last part of that last sentence — for now. But maybe not for long, if President Obama has anything to say about it. Last spring, the administration joined with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to propose a United Nations resolution that condemns “negative stereotyping of religions.” The resolution exhorts all nations to take “effective measures” to “address and combat” incidents involving “any advocacy of#…#religious hatred” that could be construed as an “incitement” not just to “violence” but to any form of “discrimination,” or even to mere “hostility.”

We needn’t worry about that here, you tell yourself. We’ve got the First Amendment. Don’t be so sure. The anti-hostility resolution states that the “effective measures” it urges are compelled by each nation’s “obligations under international human-rights law.” When we look at one source of such law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (foolishly ratified by the first President Bush, after U.S. Senate consent, in 1992), we find — nearly verbatim in Article 20 — the same speech-suffocating standard proposed by Obama and the OIC: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

Even before Elena Kagan made it to the Supreme Court, there existed a five-justice majority (including Anthony Kennedy) for the proposition that international and foreign law should be weighed in interpreting American constitutional guarantees. Justice Kagan keeps that bloc intact, sliding comfortably into the shoes of her predecessor, Justice John Paul Stevens. She is also known to harbor hostility toward free speech: As an academic she belittled its value, and as solicitor general she argued that “categories of speech” may be suppressed if the government, in its wisdom, decides the “societal costs” of permitting them are too high.

When it comes to Islam as a category of speech, there is no doubt that our current government reflects the transnational progressive consensus: that the Western tradition of critical examination must give way to the Muslim tradition of submission. This is why when jihadists attack, the self-loathing elite’s response is to wonder what we did to offend them. It is also why when Muslims rioted over harmless cartoon depictions of their warrior-prophet as a warrior-prophet, the State Department’s harshest condemnation was reserved not for the marauders but for the offending newspaper. It is why Yale University Press would only publish a book about the cartoon controversy after the author agreed to purge from its pages the cartoons themselves. It is why the Washington Post just spiked a “Where’s Mohammed?” spoof in which the prophet nowhere appeared — and, by this craven act, validated cartoonist Wiley Miller’s point about Western timidity.

At least Mr. Miller is around to tell the tale. Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris had to go underground for merely suggesting an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” — as Mark Steyn observes, even being a good lefty who never followed through and tried to disavow the whole business didn’t help her. The threat whose name must not be spoken was too much. On the FBI’s advice, she disappeared without a trace, much to the relief of her former employer, the Seattle Weekly.

The Blind Sheikh has more maladies than I’ve got space to describe them. He can’t build a bomb, hijack a plane, or carry out an assassination. His one and only capacity to cause mayhem is his renowned mastery of Islamic doctrine. We know little about Islam. By comparison, the Blind Sheikh is a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence, graduated from storied al-Azhar University and steeped in that ancient institution’s literalist, militant construction of Muslim theology. We are instructed by our betters to view Islam as a religion of peace — indeed, as one of our best assets in the fight against terrorism. To the contrary, the Blind Sheikh instructed the faithful that Islamic scriptural commands — Allah’s personal commands — to violence and intolerance mean exactly what they say.

Because of his exalted clerical status — that is, owing to his authority in Islam and nothing else — the Blind Sheikh was able to spur Muslims to terror. Upon demonstrating this fact, I was given an award, while he was locked in a prison cell.

Fifteen years later, for making a similar demonstration, Geert Wilders risked being the one locked in a prison cell. Fifteen years later, when Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali Sistani says Islam requires the killing of homosexuals, it is considered preaching; when Geert Wilders says it, it is a hate crime.

I don’t know if the Netherlands gives its prosecutors baubles for proving this sort of thing. Wilders’ prosecutors seem unlikely to be lauded: They have now tried to dismiss the charges against him for a second time, the first (in 2008) having been rejected by Dutch jurists who seem hell-bent on nailing Wilders and whose approval is needed before the case can be dropped. I do know the Islamists at the OIC have already been handsomely rewarded by this travesty. Their campaign to impose sharia proscriptions against speech unfavorable to Islam — against telling uncomfortable truths about Koranic injunctions and the terrible consequences that flow from them — is steadily vanquishing the West’s commitment to discourse and reason.

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

Why Texas has the jobs

New York Post
October 16, 2010

More than half of the net new jobs in the United States during the past 12 months were created in the Lone Star State.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 214,000 net new jobs were created in the US from August 2009 to August 2010. Texas created 119,000 jobs during the same period. If every state in the country performed as well, we'd have created about 1.5 million jobs nationally during the past year, and maybe "stimulus" wouldn't be such a dirty word.

What does Austin know that Washington doesn't? At its simplest: Don't overtax and -spend, keep regulations to a minimum, avoid letting unions and trial lawyers run riot -- and display an enormous neon sign saying, "Open for Business."

At bottom, the struggle between national Republicans and Democrats is over whether the country will adopt a version of the Texas model, or of the Michigan, New York or California model. Will government allow the private sector to thrive, or stifle growth with its hyperactivity and favoritism for anti-business interests?

If migration were a referendum, the Texas model would be winning in a rout -- more than 1,300 people a day moved there between 2007 and 2008, according to IRS data.

It's not as though Texas has been exempt from the Great Recession. Its unemployment rate is 8.3 percent -- high, if beneath the national rate of 9.6. It faces a recession-driven shortfall of roughly $15 billion for its next two-year budget, a significant challenge to its low-tax ways. But it has weathered the storm better than the nation and its mammoth competitor to the West.

A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment, while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent. During the past 12 months, California nearly canceled out Texas' job creation all by itself, losing 112,000 net jobs. Its unemployment rate is above 12 percent.

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the US, and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places.

The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. "Because of this policy decision," the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, "Texas' 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels -- a major accomplishment."

Less spending means fewer taxes. Texas doesn't have an income tax -- in contrast to California's highly progressive one -- and it is among the 10 lowest-tax states in the country. Its regulatory burden is low across the board, and it's a right-to-work state that enacted significant tort reform in the middle of the last decade.

Yes, Texas enjoys bountiful oil and natural gas reserves, but its attitude toward those resources is what's most important -- "if you got 'em, use 'em." If only the Obama administration's Department of the Interior agreed. The state long ago defied the stereotype of an economy entirely dependent on bumptious oilmen. In Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, it has four diverse, thriving metro areas featuring robust high-tech and manufacturing sectors.

In Texas in recent decades, the watch-words have been prudence and stability in the course of nurturing a pro-business environment, while California has undergone a self-immolation that President Obama wants to replay nationally. Joel Kotkin writes of California in City Journal, "During the second half of the 20th century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city -- as something to be sacked and plundered."

With predictable results. For policymakers wanting to restart the American jobs machine, forget the Alamo. Keep in mind the Texas model.


Television Review: 'Luther'

The Killer Is Hot, The Hero Hotheaded

The New York Times
Published: October 15, 2010

At first perusal, a drama about a tormented-but-brilliant cop whose ethics code doesn’t require cleaning up as much as fumigation would seem like an old, familiar destination. You have made the journey here before, particularly if you got on board “The Shield” for its seven seasons. And yet, when the cop is played by Idris Elba (Stringer Bell of “The Wire”) and his mind-meld is happening with a murderer who looks like a gangster’s moll, quotes Bertrand Russell and sounds like Judi Dench, the stamp on your passport starts to look decidedly novel.

“Luther”: Idris Elba, center, is a tormented but brilliant detective in this new series on Sundays on BBC America.

The angst and psychological machinations arrive in the form of “Luther,” a six-part series beginning on BBC America on Sunday. The Luther of the title is John Luther, a London detective who lets a maniac fall to his near death in the show’s tense opening moments. The perpetrator in question obliterates children. We meet him hanging from a high beam, getting no assist from a cop who instead recounts the names of the young victims, thus setting the tone for a series grippingly compelled by the most gothic threats to domestic tranquillity.

The London of Luther’s purview is a city in which the number of deranged evildoers per capita would seem to outrank the number of wool sports coats in Oxford and Cambridge. There are rapists who menace young mothers in their living rooms, sons who kill for their fathers’ approval, daughters who gun down their parents and stage the crimes as home invasion. The series provides one of the most chilling television images in a long time as the camera closes in on a baby peacefully playing on a Gymini while his mother unwittingly opens the front door to a psychopath.

The portrait here is of a world where families are under siege, both at the hand of their own internal furies and the rage of predators. It is meant to exploit our deepest phobias of the most catastrophic kinds of personal intrusion, fears that often lie dormant until the news delivers something as horrific as the Petit family killings, which occurred in the otherwise serene corners of Connecticut three years ago.

Only the Miami given to us by “Dexter” provides such an active roster of blood-hungry lunatics. Here, though, the killers might actually come with an Oxbridge pedigree, a fact that doesn’t reflexively displease Luther. Some of us reserve our eye rolling for long lines at the grocery checkout; Luther looks peeved when he realizes that the ones he is hunting haven’t figured out that he has set them up.

“Luther” is the creation of Neil Cross, a suspense novelist, Man Booker prize nominee and a writer on “MI-5.” He has cited both Sherlock Holmes and Columbo as sources of inspiration for Luther. But clearly Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter books figure among his influences as well. The series borrows a certain view of the relationship between unlikely partners on opposite sides of a gaping moral divide. Luther is both repelled by, and sexually drawn to, a beautiful young killer, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), whose braininess extends to an expertise in physics and an acute ability to help Luther unravel the most advanced criminal minds.

The two circle each other dangerously, their chemistry both bizarre and addicting. Portrayed with a freakish sensuality by Ms. Wilson, Alice guides Luther to the right moves on his chess board and offers a lurid and insistent form of marriage counseling; Luther wants the wife from whom he is estranged, a human-rights lawyer, back in his bed.

Alice appears to want to facilitate the reconnection. She has the ferocity to gun down a house pet, but she believes that love is the brutal heart’s only means of salvation. She argues well enough almost to make her case.


BBC America, Sunday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

Created and written by Neil Cross; directed by Sam Miller, Brian Kirk and Stefan Schwartz; Phillippa Giles, executive producer; Katie Swinden, producer; Idris Elba, associate producer. Produced by the BBC and BBC America.

WITH: Idris Elba (John Luther), Ruth Wilson (Alice Morgan), Steven Mackintosh (Ian Reed), Indira Varma (Zoe Luther), Paul McGann (Mark North), Saskia Reeves (Rose Teller) and Warren Brown (Justin Ripley).

A version of this review appeared in print on October 16, 2010, on page C1 of the New York edition.

Despite CC, Yanks Shift Series

Yankees offense makes stunning comeback over Rangers, but CC Sabathia is cause for concern

By John Harper
The Daily News
Saturday, October 16th 2010, 4:00 AM

ARLINGTON - This is what separates the Yankees from almost everybody else. They own the late innings, when it counts most, because they get into a bullpen like that of the Rangers and impose their will on nervous relievers who mostly don't have a prayer against the best lineup in baseball.

Not only did they lead the majors with 48 comeback victories this season, but remarkably they have now rallied in 10 of their 15 postseason victories these last two seasons.

But even with all that, this was about as extraordinary as it gets.

In a matter of seven consecutive at-bats in the eighth inning, the Yankees turned a sure loss into a 6-5 victory - simply one of the great comebacks of even their storied postseason history.

Furthermore, this was a rally for the ages that might have just turned the entire series around, even if it was only Game 1. After all, the Yankees were dangerously close to the nightmare scenario of needing to win Saturday just to avoid being down 0-2 with Cliff Lee waiting for them on the mound back in New York for Game 3.

Instead the Rangers have to be devastated now, losing a game they were sure was theirs with six outs to go. This is a franchise that still hasn't won a home playoff game - ever - and this group has to be wondering if maybe they don't have the postseason experience to beat a team like the Yankees.

Mostly they have to be wondering what they will do to put a victory away in any game that Lee doesn't win by going the distance. The one bright spot for Texas, and lone question for the Yankees, was CC Sabathia's four-inning effort.

Rangers manager Ron Washington used four relievers in that decisive eighth inning, mixing and matching in part because Darren Oliver walked the only two batters he faced, in part because closer Neftali Feliz is the only reliever who is more than a situational type.

Still, none of that takes away from the grit the Yankees showed in getting off the deck in a game that felt as if it was over the way C.J. Wilson was pitching.

As such this was a night when you could feel the exhilaration in the Yankee clubhouse afterward, as players and coaches bounded around, trying to find the right words to match what they were feeling.

"There's just so much excitement," said Brett Gardner, who started the big rally with an infield single. "In the dugout there was a lot of screaming and yelling. We've worked hard all year to come back in games, but we knew this one was huge. Just huge."

It was also typical of this Yankee lineup, which can beat teams in so many ways from top to bottom. Indeed, it was Gardner's speed, not the more celebrated Yankee power, that started everything, as he beat Wilson to the bag with a headfirst slide on a ground ball to Jorge Cantu at first base.

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 15: Brett Gardner slides into first safely ahead of the tag of pitcher C.J. Wilson in the eighth inning of Game One of the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Eventually Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Marcus Thames all delivered clutch hits to cap off the run of seven straight hitters reaching base without an out, and a Rangers ballpark that had been so full of noise went completely silent.

As a result, 1-0 in this series suddenly feels bigger than that.

Of course, it's possible that could still change in a hurry. The Rangers know they only need a split of these first two games to give themselves a real chance, with Lee pitching Game 3 and the Yankees having to rely on A.J. Burnett in Game 4.

But it's hard to see Colby Lewis shutting down the Yankees the way Wilson did Friday night, particularly after their late-inning lightning knocked off whatever rust a five-day layoff had caused offensively.

Not that the Yankees come out of this completely worry-free. They have to be wondering what is going on with Sabathia. He was knocked around and only his run-saving and inning-ending tag on Nelson Cruz was encouraging.

He was so dazzling on the big stage a year ago, not only delivering as the high-priced ace but making a lie of the notion he couldn't handle postseason pressure, that you just sort of assumed Sabathia would take care of business this October as well.

Instead, after being knocked out early trailing 5-0, he stood at his locker, talking about how the eight days between starts had affected his mechanics, and how awful he felt about letting the team down. Finally he sighed heavily and said, "The guys really bailed me out tonight. That was huge for us."

They may not even know just how huge. You have to think they will, however, and probably sooner than later.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Never Grow Old

The New York Times
October 15, 2010

Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood

By Jane Leavy
Illustrated. 456 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $27.99

An attempt to publish the inventory of Mickey Mantle iconography began in February 2009 and will continue well into next year. From Mickey Mantle vanity license plates to Mickey Mantle postcards to Mickey Mantle bobblehead dolls to Mickey Mantle postcards depicting him holding Mickey Mantle bobblehead dolls, the cataloged, photographed and priced relics will ultimately exceed 2,000, and will have filled 200 ­pages in the memorabilia industry’s weekly Sports Collectors Digest. Included in the reckoning are at least 30 full-scale Mickey Mantle biographies, half a dozen of which carry the Mantle imprimatur as author, co-­author or frontman.

Thus, to wade now into the river of nostalgia, collection and recollection that is Mickey Charles Mantle, 42 years since his last major league at-bat, and 15 years since his death at 63, is like crowding into the last row of the Yankee Stadium bleachers at the start of a World Series game and expecting to get a TV close-up.

Yet as she did in her innovative biography “Sandy Koufax,” Jane Leavy has found a different path through the throng. For her portrait of Koufax, she alternated an inning-by-inning account of that great pitcher’s perfect game in 1965 with deeply researched and fluidly written examinations of the rest of his life and import. “The Last Boy,” a nonlinear biography, takes the form of 20 days in Mantle’s life (something of a conceit; some of the “days” are stretched to cover nearly a season, or an entire childhood).

The approach refreshes and underscores the facts and patterns of a life, and enables Leavy to connect the dots in new and disturbing ways. The Mantle who emerges is perhaps more whole than ever previously captured. His was an almost Dickensian childhood spent atop a veritable toxic waste dump in Commerce, Okla., with piles of lead and zinc mining debris called “chat.” The detritus was dangerous: Leavy offers evidence that it might have induced dyslexia in Mantle, and one of Mantle’s sons suggests it might have contributed more damage in his father’s fatal liver cancer than did 40 years of ­alcoholism.

Death is, in fact, the unexpected theme of this biography, and it emerges in the most unexpected places. Leavy’s most salient observation is of the day in June 1969 when the Yankees retired Mantle’s uniform number in front of 60,096 fans:

“He had watched Gary Cooper deliver Lou Gehrig’s farewell address in ‘The Pride of the Yankees.’ Now he was standing in the same spot, invoking Gehrig’s parting words: ‘I always wondered how a man who knew he was going to die could stand here and say he was the luckiest man in the world. Now I think I know how Lou Gehrig felt.’

“What was lost in all the huzzahs attendant to the occasion — the last lap around the stadium in a bullpen cart with hand-painted pinstripes — was that he cast himself as a dying man. In fact, he was already planning his funeral.”

Almost anyone who knows about Mantle knows that the frequently admitted presumption of early death is part of his legend. While Leavy disproves his depiction of a family in which all the men died by 40, she also convincingly identifies this specific fear as the likely outcome of Mantle’s having been repeatedly sexually abused as a child by a half sister and neighborhood boys, and produces heartbreaking on-the-record evidence to support this painful conclusion.

This is not, however, a dark book, no matter how dark parts of the life it portrays surely were. The hero worship of the fans, and the women who constituted a kind of endless batting practice in Mantle’s life, are presented thoroughly and fairly. There are revelations of hidden charity and great empathy, of a hero’s genuine inability to understand what others saw in him, and deeply endearing self-deprecating humor, even when a drunken Mantle is literally in the gutter. Almost everyone in sports over 40 has a “When I met Mickey” story, and Leavy weaves her own through five vignettes interspersed with the main chapters. Hers is too sweetly, horribly, blissfully, embarrassingly Mantlean to give away here.

Most important, the affection with which Mantle’s teammates always embraced him is chronicled abundantly, and stands in stark contrast to his wife and children’s struggles to do the same despite the emotional roadblocks that were seemingly all Mantle was capable of offering them. And as Leavy honors their Sisyphean efforts, she does the same for Mantle’s own attempts to overcome an equally impossible obstacle. Reinforcing the historical record with scientific reinterpretation, she posits that when Mantle injured his right knee swerving out of Joe DiMaggio’s way in the fifth inning of the second game of the 1951 World Series, he in fact tore his meniscus and the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Insufficient treatment of the “unhappy triad” would downgrade him from the prospect of being the game’s greatest performer to playing nearly all of his remaining 17 years on one knee. Still, he won three M.V.P. awards and, in 1956, the triple crown.

Leavy has also given us old-fashioned, nonanalytical gumshoe research, enough — and good enough — to make the crowds of amateur baseball sleuths or the pros at the Hall of Fame weep. Mantle’s 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington in April 1953 was not merely one of the longest ever hit, nor was it just Mantle’s true self-introduction on the baseball stage. It also sealed the sport’s obsession with the “tape-measure homer,” largely through the artifice of the anecdotal report by the Yankees’ public relations director, Red Patterson, that he found the boy who had come upon the Mantle baseball where it finally stopped, in somebody’s backyard. More than half a century later, Leavy tracked down the man, by then 69 years old, and managed to get just enough detail from him to produce a true picture of the transformational blast.

His was one of 563 interviews Leavy conducted, ranging from the executive responsible for the creation — and scarcity — of Mantle’s landmark 1952 Topps baseball card, to Eric Kandel, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Kandel is asked to try to explain both Mantle’s explosive swing, which made the bat seem of double width, and his inability to explain to others how he did it. (Kandel rightly answers, “I think your question is not dramatically different than asking, ‘What makes Mozart Mozart?’ ”)

But Leavy comes as close as perhaps anyone ever has to answering “What makes Mantle Mantle?” She transcends the familiarity of the subject, cuts through both the hero worship and the backlash of pedestal-wrecking in the late 20th century, treats evenly his belated sobriety and the controversial liver transplant (doomed mid-surgery by an oncologist’s discovery that the cancer had spread), and handles his infidelity with dispassion. Sophocles could have easily worked with a story like Mantle’s — the prominent figure, gifted and beloved, through his own flaws wasteful, given clarity too late to avoid his fate. Leavy spares us the classical tragedy even as she avoids the morality play. “The Last Boy” is something new in the history of the histories of the Mick. It is hard fact, reported by someone greatly skilled at that craft, assembled into an atypical biography by someone equally skilled at doing that, and presented so that the reader and not the author draws nearly all the ­conclusions.

Keith Olbermann is an anchor on MSNBC. His new book, “Pitchforks and Torches,” will be published later this month.

Related Link:

Will Islam Conquer the Netherlands?

By Diana West
October 15, 2010

Geert Wilders (R), set to become a shadow partner in the next Dutch government, and his lawyer Bram Moszkovicz (L) attend on October 6, 2010 the third day of his trial in Amsterdam. Wilders faces five charges for comments made in Dutch newspapers and on internet forums between October 2006 and March 2008. He risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for statements calling Islam 'fascist' and likening the Koran to Hitler's 'Mein Kampf'. (Getty Images)

All eyes are on the war on free speech, the one that Dutch powers-that-be are waging inside an Amsterdam courtroom. That's where Geert Wilders is standing trial for his increasingly popular political platform, based on his analysis of the anti-Western laws and principles of Islam, that rejects the Islamization of the Netherlands.

But don't stop there. There's much more to see in the trial of Wilders, whose Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) is the silent partner in the Netherlands' brand new center-right coalition government. That camel in the courtroom is the tip off.

You haven't noticed it? I've been watching it since last year, when sometime after Dutch prosecutors announced in January 2009 that Wilders would go to trial for "insulting" Muslims and "inciting" hatred against them, Stephen Coughlin, famous in national security circles in Washington for his airtight and exhaustive briefs on jihad, clued me in to his analysis of the Wilders trial to date.

What we know now we knew then: that this trial presented a watershed moment. Wilders, leader of a growing democratic movement to save his Western nation from Islamization, risks one year in prison for speaking out about the facts and consequences of Islamization. Such speech is prohibited not by the Western tradition of free speech Wilders upholds, but rather by the Islamic laws against free speech that he rejects. Wilders' plight demonstrates the extent to which the West has already been Islamized.

"It is irrelevant whether Wilder's witnesses might prove Wilders' observations to be correct," the public prosecutor stated back at the beginning. "What's relevant is that his observations are illegal." Since when are observations "illegal"? Under communist dictatorships is one answer. Under Sharia is another.

Writing in Wilders' defense in the Wall Street Journal, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, herself a former Dutch parliamentarian, reported that Dutch multiculturalist parliamentarians, "spooked" by Wilders rising political star, modified the Dutch penal code in the fall of 2009 to fit Wilders' alleged crimes. They crafted what Hirsi Ali went on to call "the national version of what OIC diplomats peddle at the U.N. and E.U." when trying to criminalize defamation (criticism) of religion (Islam).

This is a crucial point to understand, and one that takes me back to what Stephen Coughlin posited last year. Everywhere the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) goes, it peddles Islamic law. In effect, then, to build on Hirsi Ali's point, the Dutch modified their laws to conform with Islam's. This gibes precisely with how Coughlin saw the trial from the start: as an attempt to apply Islamic law, as advanced by the OIC, in the Netherlands.

The OIC is an international body guided by policy set by the kings and heads of state of 57 Islamic countries in accordance with Islamic law. Such law permeates OIC activities, which are shaped by the Sharia-based Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. The OIC relies on the Cairo Declaration as its "frame of reference and the basis ... regarding issues related to human rights." (These include free speech rights as restricted by Sharia.) The organization's 57 foreign ministers meet annually, as the OIC's website explains, to "consider the means for the implementation" of OIC policy. As Coughlin puts it, these are "real state actors using real state power to further real state objectives." Sharia objectives.

Topping the OIC wish list is its effort to criminalize criticism of Islam in the non-Muslim world. And this is what makes the Wilders case is so significant. It's one thing if Islamic street thugs mount assassination attempts in Western nations against violators of Islamic law (i.e., elderly Danish cartoonists), or Muslim ambassadors to Western nations lobby them to punish such violations (the free press), or OIC representatives introduce similar Sharia resolutions at the United Nations. It would be something else again if a Western government were itself to convict a democratically elected leader for violating the Sharia ban on criticizing Islam. That's not war anymore; that's conquest.

In this context, Wilders' trial was never a straight judicial process; it was a political battle from the start, a proving ground for Sharia in the West, dovetailing with the OIC's "10 year Plan," which includes a global campaign against so-called Islamophobia. It remains a test of the tolerance of Dutch elites -- tolerance for the truth -- and their openness to the intolerance of Sharia.

- Diana West is a contributing columnist for and author of the new book, The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization.

Tax, Spend, and Shovel

Surely there are less expensive ways to learn that “shovel-ready projects” are a myth.

By Jonah Goldberg
October 15, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Back in early 2009, President-elect Barack Obama was asked on Meet the Press how quickly he could create jobs. Oh, very fast, he said. He’d already consulted with a gaggle of governors, and “all of them have projects that are shovel-ready.” When Obama revealed the members of his energy team, he explained that they were part of his effort to get started on “shovel-ready projects all across the country.” When he unveiled his education secretary, he assured everyone that he was going to get started “helping states and local governments with shovel-ready projects.”

In interviews, job summits, and press conferences, it was shovel-ready this, shovel-ready that. Search the White House website for the term “shovel-ready” and you’ll drown in press releases about all the shovels ready to shove shovel-ready projects into the 21st century, where no shovel is left behind.

Only now it turns out that the president was shoveling something all right when he was talking about shovel-ready jobs — a whole pile of steaming something.

In the current issue of The New York Times Magazine, Obama admits that there’s “no such thing as shovel-ready” when it comes to public works.[1]

It’s not that Obama was lying when he said all that stuff. It’s just that he didn’t know what he was talking about. All it took was nearly a trillion dollars in stimulus money and 20-plus months of on-the-job training for him to discover that he was talking nonsense.

It seems to me that, if I were president, and I not only staked vast swaths of my credibility but gambled the prosperity of the country generally on this concept of “shovel-ready jobs,” I might be a bit miffed with the staffers who swore that shovel-ready jobs were, like, you know, a real thing.

And yet, if you read Peter Baker’s Obama profile, it’s clear that Obama isn’t mad about that. In fact, he still thinks he got all the policies right. Baker writes that Obama is “supremely sure that he is right,” it’s just that the president feels he didn’t market himself well.

“Given how much stuff was coming at us,” Obama explains, “we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and PR and public opinion.”

This is an old progressive lament: Our product is perfect, we just didn’t sell it convincingly to the rubes.

But wait a second. If they spent “much more time trying to get the policy right,” how come nobody said, “Uh, Mr. President, these ‘shovel-ready jobs’ you keep talking about? They’re sort of like good flan — they don’t exist.”

Let’s not dwell on such things. Besides, Obama has already said that his problems come from “neglecting marketing and PR and public opinion.” Indeed, that, and only that, explains why people think he looks like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.”

The only problem with that: facts. Obama’s health-care plan raises taxes on Americans (though Obama says this is not so, they’re merely mandatory fees and premiums) and will cost trillions. He wants to raise taxes on “the rich” — defined so that a cop married to a nurse might well count as rich — and on small businesses.

Meanwhile, Washington is now spending 23 percent more than it did two years ago. As the Washington Post recently editorialized, Congress’s “emergency” bailout to avoid “a teachers crisis” was a fraud to simply transfer billions to the teachers’ unions in advance of the midterms.

And then, of course, there’s the stimulus that paid for all of those “shovel-ready jobs” that Obama now admits never existed. Los Angeles County deployed $111 million in stimulus money to “save” 55 jobs at the cost of $2 million apiece. The White House has spent $192 million on road signs that brag about how the construction delays ahead were paid for by the stimulus. Meanwhile, unemployment is a full three percentage points higher during Obama’s “recovery” than it was during the “worst recession since the Great Depression.”

Maybe it’s unfair for people to think Obama is just another tax-and-spend Democrat. After all, some tax-and-spend Democrats are actually competent at it.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Related Link:


Eastwood Breaks Another Mold

The New York Times
October 13, 2010

ALMOST every fall lately, it seems, Clint Eastwood drops a little surprise on the moviegoing public: an unheralded, modestly budgeted film about a subject that hardly seems to fit the Eastwood mold. In 2004 there was “Million Dollar Baby,” about a female boxer; in 2008 there was “Gran Torino,” about a bigoted Korean War vet, played by Mr. Eastwood himself, who forms an unlikely, heartwarming friendship with a young Hmong boy. His latest film, “Hereafter,” which opened Friday in New York and will be released nationwide a week later, ventures into supernatural territory, which is about the last place you’d expect to find Mr. Eastwood. “Hereafter” concerns itself with just what the title suggests: what we can look forward to after we die.

Clint Eastwood, left, with Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay for their new film, “Hereafter.” (Mark Veltman for The New York Times)

Mr. Eastwood is 80 now, and his film immortality, as both an actor and a director, is assured. He has never seemed remotely spiritual. His trademark characters — Dirty Harry and the Man with No Name, and even Walt Kowalksi, the “Gran Torino” vet — all face death squarely and unflinchingly, without a lot of hand wringing about what happens on the other side. “Hereafter,” though, weaves together the stories of three people who have death on their minds pretty much all the time: a French journalist (Cécile de France) who has a near-death experience during the 2004 tsunami; a reluctant psychic (Matt Damon) who has visions of the afterlife; and a London schoolboy (Frankie McLaren) who is desperate to get in touch with his dead twin brother. They all meet, and their stories connect, at the London Book Fair, of all places. No one gets shot, no blows are exchanged.

Has Mr. Eastwood, famously flinty and cold-eyed, at long last gone squishy? On the phone recently he sounded mellow but not mushy.

“Everyone has had these thoughts pass across his mind once in a while,” he said. “Is there an afterlife? What’s it like? All the great religions have tried to deal with these questions.” He added that what he liked about the script is that “it has a spiritual feeling without any particular religious touch.”

But mostly what appealed to him about “Hereafter” was the storytelling. “I liked the way the script took contemporary events like the tsunami and the London terrorist bombings and used them in a story that tapped into a general curiosity about the hereafter and whether it exists,” he said. “I liked the way the three tales all converged. That’s something I had never tried before. And the reticent hero is always interesting, the hero who doesn’t appreciate the gift he has.”

“Hereafter” was written by Peter Morgan, better known for his films about British royalty — “The Queen,” “The Other Boleyn Girl” — and for his play “Frost/Nixon,” which he later turned into a movie as well. His involvement in a project about the afterlife is in many ways even more remarkable than Mr. Eastwood’s, and his script, as it happens, underwent a near-death experience and then a resurrection.

“How did this come about? I have no idea, really,” Mr. Morgan said from his car while stuck in traffic in Vienna, where he lives part of the year and does almost all of his writing. “I am a person of the Enlightenment, as it were.”

What prompted “Hereafter,” he went on to say, was the book “If the Spirit Moves You: Life and Love After Death,” by Justine Picardie, a British journalist devastated by the premature death of her sister, Ruth. At once hopeful and skeptical, she visited spiritualists, mediums and people who claimed to be able to record the voices of the dead and examined her own experience of bereavement. “I was just gripped by it,” Mr. Morgan said of the book. “It made me realize that we know so much of life before birth, and so little about life after death.”

Normally an obsessive outliner and reviser, he began writing a screenplay without any clear idea of where it was going. “So much of what I usually do offers solution or explanations, but this time I wanted to write something open ended,” he said. “I didn’t want answers. I wanted to ask questions.”

The first character he imagined was Marcus, the twin who lost his brother, and then the two others, the journalist and the psychic, quickly suggested themselves. “I was writing instinctively, almost in sketch mode,” he said. “It was all so spare and skeletal that the pages were very white.”

He put the script away for a while, but after a close friend died unexpectedly, he picked it up again. “That really startled me,” he said of his friend’s death. “In the church I kept thinking: ‘Now what? Where? What’s happened?’ ”

Hoping just for a reaction, he passed the script to his agent, who instead sent it off to the producer Kathleen Kennedy (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Jurassic Park”). Seeing a resemblance to “The Sixth Sense,” she in turn showed it to the director of that film, M. Night Shyamalan. Later she happened to be on the soundstage of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” while talking to Mr. Shyamalan on the phone, and she was overheard by Steven Spielberg, who according to Mr. Morgan said, “I like the sound of that.” He liked the sound of it so much that he read the screenplay and made extensive notes, which Mr. Morgan immediately addressed in a revision.

But Mr. Spielberg thought the revision was not as “humble” or “pure” as the original, Mr. Morgan said. “He told me, ‘I think I’ve ruined your screenplay.’ Then he said, ‘Can I show it to my friend Clint?’ ”

“So now we’re really in the realm of the absurd,” Mr. Morgan said. A couple of months later he was further bewildered when he learned that Mr. Eastwood, who had purchased the rights to “Hereafter,” was already filming off the original script. Though known for writing on spec and resisting the traditional development process, Mr. Morgan had been looking forward to working with Mr. Eastwood.

“I imagined we’d have all sorts of conversations about the characters, about the plot,” he said. “But we never did. What you see on the screen is this thing I wrote very sketchily in the mountains of Austria.”

Mr. Eastwood said he typically works this way. “I believe very strongly in first impressions,” he explained. “When something hits you and excites your interest, there’s really no reason to kill it with improvements.” He even resisted the idea of having Penélope Cruz play the female lead, because it meant changing the character from a French journalist to a Spanish one.

“Clint is incredibly instinctive,” Mr. Morgan said, “and he’s anti-neurosis. It’s like antimatter. He’s totally without neurosis. The set of ‘Hereafter’ was one of happiest places I’ve ever been. It comes from trusting yourself and eliminating fear.”

Referring to Ron Howard, who directed the film version of “Frost/Nixon,” he continued: “Ron is the same way. He’s completely at home on a movie set, and I think it comes from practically growing up there. He and Clint are rather like sailors from a bygone century. They come into port every now and then, but really they live on the ship. They’re seafarers.”

Related Link:

On ‘Mad Men’ the Thrills Are All in the Office

The New York Times
October 14, 2010

Risky behavior is the organizing principle of “Mad Men,” an immorality play built around those bad habits of the 1960s that we now try to abjure: drinking, smoking, promiscuity, and racial and sexual prejudice.

And the fourth season, which comes to a close on Sunday on AMC, wallowed in the ugly consequences. Don Draper (Jon Hamm), no longer so suave, drank and smoked until he got sick, staggering around his office with vomit stains on his shirt. An office manager’s night of adulterous passion put her in an abortionist’s office. A bohemian artist who enjoyed free love with Don in Season 1 was ready to sell herself to him in Season 4 to support her heroin addiction. The button-down executive who dared to flaunt his love for a black cocktail waitress was beaten by his own father.

All these downers couldn’t be helped, really. When a seductively dark show gets into a fourth season, there is no place to go but down and darker still.

Yet a livelier drumbeat lightened all that bleak melodrama about a blighted era tumbling out of control. And that was, of all things, office work: the chances that Don and his colleagues at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce took to succeed in the cutthroat and volatile world of advertising.

And even more than the mid-60s allure — Eero Saarinen chairs, Beatlemania, hair-sprayed flips — it’s the water-cooler brinkmanship that makes “Mad Men” so unusual and so engrossing.

Particularly now, in this recessionary era of telecommuting, work-life balance and freelance assignments, corporate ambition and company loyalty are a faded memory, if not a joke. “Mad Men” channels an earlier ethos when the rat race still felt like an open competition. This season, even more than last, the show became a workplace drama in which promotions, pink slips and client meetings were packed with emotion and suspense.

Most serious shows feel the need to raise the stakes of employment to matters of life and death. It’s why “House” is set in a hospital, not a dentist’s office; “The Good Wife” celebrates criminal defense lawyers, not accountants; and “The West Wing” showcased the White House, not a California congressional district.

Workplace comedies, on the other hand, are a pillar of television. Sitcoms like “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Cheers” and “The Office” mine the humor of staff meetings and annual retreats precisely because they are so amusingly unimportant. Even cable dramas that defy network rules cling to extreme scenarios. “Dexter,” after all, is about a serial killer, and the protagonists on “The Big C” and “Breaking Bad” have terminal cancer.

Little that happens in Don’s office in the Time & Life Building is a matter of life and death, not even the demise of his secretary, Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller), who collapsed face first on her desk. “She died like she lived,” Roger Sterling (John Slattery) muttered. “Surrounded by the people she answered phones for.”

That death was put in not for poignancy but as a fillip of comic relief in an episode fraught with tension over the Fillmore Auto Parts account and a leftist writer who rattles Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) with a denunciation of the advertising business entitled “Nuremberg on Madison Avenue.”

“Mad Men” finds all kinds of drama in a gray flannel ecosphere.

The most shocking moment so far, perhaps more shattering even than the assassination of President Kennedy last season, pivoted on the defection of the firm’s main client, Lucky Strike.

It was so momentous a loss that Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) left the maternity ward while his wife was in labor to deal with the calamity. The partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce summoned the entire staff for an announcement as somber as a declaration of war. Don was asked to add a reassuring word to the troops.

“We’re going to push ourselves shoulder to shoulder,” he said grimly. “And it will be exhilarating.”

And actually, it was. The more interesting developments this season didn’t happen in the bar or the bedroom, but in the conference room and at the drafting table. Roger Sterling’s insouciance slipped for once. He fought the firm’s efforts to woo Honda out of loyalty to his comrades who died in the Pacific during World War II. Don came up with a Potemkin television commercial that tricked a rival firm into spending vital resources. And the high point may well be his shoot-the-moon strategy to finesse the Lucky Strike blow.

And the best relationships in that contentious and unforgiving world were forged in office crises. Pete, who began the series as a Sammy Glick opportunist, manned up this season and took the blame for losing a defense industries account to protect Don’s secret past.

Even Don’s big romance this season was a work thing: he got involved with Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), a smoothly competent market research consultant. Her allure is two-fold — she’s a smart, beautiful blonde and can throw accounts his way.

Don’s real best friend is an employee, Peggy, a former secretary whom he didn’t sleep with but did promote to copywriter. They quarrel about ad copy but share a deep bond forged in protecting each other’s secrets. And they both live for their work. Even though she is still fighting through a thick wall of office sexism, Peggy’s love of the business keeps trumping her efforts to find true love.

“I know what I’m supposed to want,” Peggy told Don after her boyfriend dumped her for choosing to spend her birthday working on the Samsonite account. “But it just never feels right or as important as anything in that office.”

And this season, she was right.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wilders’ Trial: Win One, Lose One

Posted by Robert Spencer on Oct 14th, 2010

On Tuesday, as his trial resumed in Amsterdam on various charges of offending Muslims, Dutch freedom fighter Geert Wilders (pictured at right)won one victory and suffered one defeat. This is welcome news for Wilders personally, since any acquittal moves him closer to the end of these nightmarish proceedings; however, the ominous implications of his trial in general for the freedom of speech were reinforced on the same day, and those implications could have deleterious effects far beyond the Wilders trial itself.

First, the good news: public prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman noted that the statements for which he is on trial referred to Islam and the Qur’an, not to Muslims as people – although they did add in the politically correct observation that Wilders’ statements might nevertheless hurt Muslims’ feelings. Despite that assertion, in a burst of logical thinking unusual in these proceedings, they recommended that since Wilders was speaking about Islamic texts and teachings and not Muslim people, the charge against him of group defamation should be dropped.

That was good as far as it went, although Wilders still faces charges of incitement that are as dangerous as they are vague. The danger of such charges was thrown into vivid relief Tuesday by a chilling statement that the prosecutors made: that Wilders will not be allowed to defend himself from charges of inciting hatred by arguing that what he said was true. Said van Roessel: “You can expect a politician to be aware of the impact of his words and in any case, the legal limit may not be crossed, no matter how important it may be to address supposed problems and to contribute to matters of general interest.”

So if the truth is not deemed to “address supposed problems and contribute to matters of general interest,” then it may not be spoken. The truth is now inadmissible in Dutch courtrooms – a chilling reality with likely reverberations far beyond the trial of Wilders himself.

By declaring the truth inadmissible in court, the prosecutors have stepped over the boundary of the rule of law into an arrogance of power that historically has led to authoritarianism and totalitarianism, powered by and only capable of being stopped by brute force. For van Roessel did not say, and indeed could not say, who would be given the right or authority to determine whether or a particular truth addressed supposed problems and contributed to matters of general interest, and could thus lawfully be encunciated. If the truth is no longer the criterion of judgment in Dutch courts, then the only thing that can fill the vacuum it will leave is the raw will to power. Judges no longer have to sift evidence and come to a conclusion based thereon; they only need to make sure they are satisfying those with the most money or the biggest guns.

In today’s Europe, Islamic supremacists will be only too happy to fill this vacuum, and certainly no difficulty coming up with whatever is required in terms of money and ordnance to bring their will to power to fruition. Authoritarian states abound in the Islamic world, and a rootless and aimless Europe, having utterly severed its own cultural moorings, will be fertile soil before too long to plant new ones.

Dutch authorities have opened the door to the extinguishing not only of the freedom of speech, but of all the other freedoms, arising from the nature and dignity of the human person, that are the hard-won legacy of Western Judeo-Christian civilization. Equality of rights of all people before the law? Citizens of the new Europe will indeed be equal with one another, but only in the sense that all will be equal in having no rights before the almighty state, which alone defines what is acceptable to be thought and said and what isn’t.

Europe faces this multifarious hell whether or not Wilders is acquitted of the remaining charges against him: a crucial Rubicon has already been crossed with the trial itself, and if the prosecutors’ statement that the truth is no defense is not countermanded and rebuked forthwith by the highest possible relevant authorities, then the darkness will descend upon Europe even more quickly than it did during the halcyon days of the Third Reich.

Even with his partial acquittal Tuesday, Wilders’ nightmare – and Europe’s – could be just beginning.

Click on link below to view Geert Wilders' film Fitna:

Film Reviews: 'Let Me In'

Lonely Boy Finds Friend in Blood-Craving Pixie

The New York Times
September 30, 2010

Chloë Grace Moretz in “Let Me In.” (Overture Films)

The title of “Let Me In” might be understood as a plea to the audience. Even if you think you’ve had enough of the vampirization of popular culture — “Twilight,” “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and so on — find room in your heart for this one. And though it teases out the usual horror movie sensations of dread and anxiety and eyes-averted disgust, this movie also makes a direct and disarming play for affection, eliciting in viewers something akin to the awkward, resilient tenderness that is its subject.

Vampire romanticism is nothing new, of course. Millions of us, not just teenage girls, have followed the courtship of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen through every deep breath and smoldering glance. But the love story in “Let Me In,” between two 12-year-olds, one of them a blood-craving undead pixie named Abby, is both more intense and more innocent.

The subtext of the relationship is not sexuality, as it is in “Twilight” or “True Blood,” but rather the loneliness of children and their often unrecognized reservoirs of rage. Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her pal, a trembling, big-eyed boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are fragile and quiet but also capable of horrifying violence.

“Let Me In,” Matt Reeves’s worthy and honorable remake of “Let the Right One In,” Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish adaptation of the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is disturbing because it takes you inside the minds of its young main characters, Owen in particular. Ignored and harangued at home by his mother — his parents are in the midst of a divorce — Owen is easy bait for bullies at school. He compensates for his powerlessness by bingeing on candy and shutting himself in his room, where he spies on the neighbors with a telescope and acts out sadistic serial-killer fantasies in front of the mirror.

“Are you scared, little girl?” he whispers, brandishing a kitchen knife and calling his imaginary victim exactly what his locker room tormentors call him.

The little girl who does arrive in Owen’s life — moving into the next apartment in his shabby little complex with a shambling, put-upon adult guardian (Richard Jenkins) — becomes the boy’s ally in a pact of mutual protection. “We can’t be friends,” she tells him when they first meet in the courtyard where he likes to sit alone at night, eating Now-and-Laters.

But of course they do, even as their moments of easy companionship are punctuated by a series of gruesome crimes, committed by the man Owen assumes is Abby’s father in order to feed her appetite for human blood. When the poor man messes up these hunting missions, as he often does, Abby must gather her own prey, which gives her (and Mr. Reeves) a chance to show off some creepy computer-aided monster skills.

The story holds a few surprises, but what makes “Let Me In” so eerily fascinating is the mood it creates. It is at once artful and unpretentious, more interested in intimacy and implication than in easy scares or slick effects. Mr. Reeves also made “Cloverfield,” a movie whose genuine formal cleverness was overshadowed by an annoying pseudo-documentary gimmick — recalling “The Blair Witch Project” and anticipating “Paranormal Activity” — as well as by some very annoying characters.

With “Let Me In” the director demonstrates, in addition to impressive horror movie chops, a delicate sensitivity and a low-key visual wit. Much of the action takes place in semi-darkness (the sunlight-allergic Abby’s preferred ambience), and Mr. Reeves and his cinematographer, Greig Fraser, warp and blur the images, using shallow focus to convey the isolation and disorientation of the vulnerable children. Michael Giacchino’s score glides effortlessly from jarring sonic freakouts to lush swells of melodramatic orchestration.

All of it — and the quite haunting performances of Ms. Moretz and Mr. Smit-McPhee — allows you to see how Abby and Owen construct their own world in the face of various threats and misunderstandings.

There is, in addition to the bullies and the parents, a dogged cop played by Elias Koteas, who thinks some kind of Satanic cult must be responsible for the bloodletting. There is not, refreshingly enough, a lot of pseudoscholarly demonological lore. No Volturi or rival werewolf clans; no excursions into the sociology or mythology of the undead; no Internet searches turning up images of medieval woodcuts and esoteric Latin text.

No Internet at all, for that matter, since “Let Me In,” following the lead of the original, takes place in 1983. David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is on the radio, along with Culture Club, and Ronald Reagan is on television, lecturing the nation about good and evil. The period evoked seems to be a sad, anxious time. The setting — Los Alamos, N.M., perhaps for reasons having more to do with local tax incentives than with anything else — is drab and wintry, like the Sweden of Mr. Alfredson’s original, though the emotional tone is more American emo than Nordic melancholy.

The early-’80s cultural touchstone that “Let Me In” brought to my mind — indirectly and perhaps perversely — was Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” Mr. Smit-McPhee looks a bit like Henry Thomas, and both play boys from broken families living in the Southwest whose lives are changed by the intervention of a supernatural (and potentially immortal) friend. That one is a warm science-fiction fable and the other a dark horror film makes the similarity more striking, since both movies begin with, and build their fantasies against, the terror and fury of childhood.

“Let Me In” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has swearing and gore.


Written and directed by Matt Reeves; based on the novel “Lat den Ratte Komma In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist; director of photography, Greig Fraser; music by Michael Giacchino; production design by Ford Wheeler; costumes by Melissa Bruning; produced by Simon Oakes, Alex Brunner, Guy East, Tobin Armbrust and Donna Gigliotti; released by Overture Films. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes.

WITH: Chloë Grace Moretz (Abby), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen), Richard Jenkins (the Father) and Elias Koteas (the Policeman).

Related Link (Review of 'Let The Right One In'):

Let Me In

BY ROGER EBERT / September 29, 2010

"Let Me In," like the Swedish film that inspired it, deals brutally with the tragic life of the vampire. It's not all fun, games and Team Edward. No lifestyle depending on fresh human blood can be anything but desperate. A vampire, like a drug addict, is driven by need. After a certain point, all else is irrelevant, and the focus is on the craving.

The film is remarkably similar in tone and approach to "Let the Right One In," and it is clear that the American writer-director, Matt Reeves, has admiration for the Swedish writer-director, John Ajvide Lindqvist, who made the original. Reeves understands what made the first film so eerie and effective, and here the same things work again. Most U.S. audiences will be experiencing the story for the first time. Those who know the 2008 version will notice some differences, but may appreciate them.

The core story remains similar. Owen, a boy on the brink of adolescence, lives a lonely life in a snowbound apartment complex with an alcoholic mother, hardly seen. He is bullied at school by a sadistic boy, much larger. A girl named Abby and her father move into the next apartment. She announces "I can never be your friend," but some latent kindness causes her to feel protective toward the lonely and abused child. Abby is a vampire, but vampires have their reality forced upon them, and having lived for a long time, may have seen much to make them pity the living.

The story focuses tightly on Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz, of "Kick Ass"). Two other adults are of consequence: Her "father" (Richard Jenkins), who can hardly be her father and was probably, long ago, in Owen's shoes. In vampire lore, he is her Familiar. The other adult is a local policeman, played by Elias Koteas as a saturnine and solemn man. He's investigating a serial killer in the region. Where there are vampires, there must always be serial killers.

The night and the cold are also characters. The film is shot in chill tones of blue and gray, Owen and Abby have uncanny pale skin, there is frost on his breath, but not on hers. She doesn't feel the cold, we gather. Or the warmth. Many of the events are the same in both films, although the U.S. version adds one surprise that comes at a useful time to introduce frightening possibilities: This is not a safe world, and bad things can happen.

Both films end with scenes set in a swimming pool at night. The windows, high up under the ceiling to admit sunlight, are dark and cold. We can imagine the clammy tiles, the chill in the locker-room where Owen is so often picked on. The bullies call him a "girl" and seem obsessed with seeing his genitals — homophobic cruelty that casts a sad light on the first film's revelation about Abby's body. Both these characters feel sexually threatened or inadequate. It may only be me, but as I recall indoor swimming pools at night in winter (at high school, or the YMCA), they always had a whiff of mournful dread.

In the "Twilight" films, sexuality is treated as a tease. The handsome Edward is cast as a sexy but dangerous threat, who manfully holds back from sex with Bella Swan. She's tempted, but the films are cautionary fables about the danger of teenage sex. In "Let Me In," sex is seen more as a troubling encroachment on privacy. Owen and Abby for their own reasons quail from intimacy and contact, and their only sensuous moments involve the comfort of close, tender hugs.

Where this will lead is easy to guess. Owen will move into Abby's life as her next Familiar. She will protect him. Among the things she will save him from is the necessity of growing up and functioning as a normal male. She will control everything. Thus Bela's sweet masochism will become Owen's hunger to give over control. To be a servant is the price for not being a victim. Those hoping to see a "vampire movie" will be surprised by a good film.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Between The Covers: Vince Flynn on 'American Assassin'

(Click on title to play audio)

Government Greed

Politicians are more rapacious than CEOs.

By Thomas Sowell
October 13, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Those who are always accusing people in the private sector of “greed” almost never level that charge against the government, no matter what it does. Indeed, the question of whether the government is greedy almost never comes up, so most of us probably never think about it.

The first time I was forced to think about it was some years ago, when a bank notified me that the government was about to seize a bank account of mine unless I took action. Since I didn’t owe the government any money, and was not accused of any crime, I was baffled.

What had happened was that I had received a private grant to help finance international travel in connection with my research into racial and cultural issues in countries around the world. Since the money was not for my personal use, I opened a separate bank account to hold that money until I was ready to go overseas.

Such a trip would obviously take a lot of time, so I had to get my other work and commitments cleared up before I could take off for a few months. That was easier said than done, so the bank account with the travel money just sat there, with nothing being added to it or taken from it.

There are escheat laws, under which the government can seize the assets of someone who has died and whose heirs have not claimed those assets after some period of time. The theory is that there is no reason why banks should get that money. On the other hand, there is no reason why politicians should get it either, but the politicians write the laws.

Like other laws, escheat laws have some plausible rationale. And, like other laws, what is actually done can end up going far beyond those rationales. The period during which a bank account can be dormant before the government moves in has been shortened to a very few years.

Those few years had elapsed before I had an opportunity to take an extended trip overseas, so the government would have seized the money — and my personal papers in a safety deposit box — if the bank had not warned me and I had not gotten there first.

The government doesn’t have to prove that you are dead. The fact that your bank account had nothing added to it or taken from it for a few years is enough. Apparently politicians cannot imagine how someone would have money and not spend it, unless they were dead.

Escheat laws are just one of the ways governments seize money. Income-tax rates have been as high as 90 percent in the top brackets. Even after you have paid the taxes on your income and saved or invested part of what is left, the government comes back to take more of that same money, after you die, with estate taxes.

Perhaps one of the most unconscionable acts of greed by government is confiscating people’s homes, in order to turn this property over to other people, who are expected to build things that will pay more taxes.

The Constitution allows the government to take private property for its own use, provided “just compensation” is paid. That way the government can build reservoirs, bridges, or highways, for example, even if that requires displacing some people. But judges over the years have expanded this power to include taking private property just to turn it over to some other private individual or business.

There are various ways in which the money actually paid to homeowners can be less than the market value of their homes. Moreover, since these homeowners had not chosen to sell their homes in the market, the value that they put on their homes obviously exceeded the market value.

Destroying a neighborhood is more than destroying the physical structures there. Valuable personal, professional, and business relationships, built up over a period of years, are also destroyed when the people are scattered to the winds.

The biggest beneficiaries are the politicians who get a larger amount of tax money to spend in ways that will increase their prospects of getting re-elected. Seldom, if ever, are the people whose homes are destroyed, and whose lives are disrupted, among the affluent or rich. Urban renewal may go through the South Bronx, but not through Beverly Hills.

And no one calls it greed.

– Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc

Mantle Biography Delves Into Traumas and Myths

The New York Times
October 12, 2010

Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium in 1961, before ailments had begun to erode his remarkable production. He retired at 37. (AP)

Jane Leavy, Mickey Mantle’s new biographer, admits her bias: she loved him as she grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., on Long Island, and always took his side when she debated her father over who was better: Mantle or Willie Mays. “Facts, statistics, nothing mattered,” she said. “Mickey was my guy.”

Her grandmother lived two blocks from Yankee Stadium and near the Concourse Plaza Hotel, where Mantle and his wife, Merlyn, lived early in their marriage.

Although her grandmother never set foot in the stadium, “in my memory she loomed large in it,” Leavy said. For her, the stadium and her grandmother’s Apartment 2A at 751 Walton Avenue were personal Edens.

“My intense love for Mickey,” she said, “was suffused with my intense love for my grandmother.”

But something else bound her to Mantle: her premature birth and Mantle’s injuries.

“I felt that he carried a sense that he was damaged and so did I,” she said.

Her new book, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” (Harper), is an episodic tour of Mantle’s athletic achievements and his physical and emotional traumas. Harper is publishing the book with a large first printing of 200,000 copies.

In her investigation of Mantle’s titanic home run out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, in 1953, she located the elderly man who, as a youngster, found the ball after rushing from his bleacher seat; at the same time, she debunks the myth that the home run traveled 565 feet.

Her research into Mantle’s injury history rejects his claim that his right knee was operated on after he fell over a drain cover at Yankee Stadium while stopping to let Joe DiMaggio catch a fly ball in the 1951 World Series. When Mantle had surgery two years later, there was no established procedure to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which she believes Mantle played on for the rest of his career.

The orthopedic surgeon who analyzed the case history that Leavy compiled said it was likely that Mantle compensated for the torn A.C.L. with what the orthopedist called “neuromuscular genius.”

And through more than 500 interviews over five years, she delves further than other biographers have into Mantle’s alcoholism; the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the sexual relationship with a teacher when he was a teenager; his philandering; the extent of his osteomyelitis; and the history of cancer in his family. She also explores his sense that he would not live a full life, which she traces partly to his growing up in Oklahoma’s lead-and-zinc-mining country, where hard-rock miners like his father, Mutt, died of cancer or perished in cave-ins and explosions.

“It was a metastatic landscape,” she said, one that is now a federal Superfund cleanup site. “You know the word ‘undermine’? It means they’ve taken all the stuff out from the crust of the earth and there’s nothing there anymore. Mickey’s hometown is undermined.”

Unlike Leavy’s previous biographical subject, Sandy Koufax, Mantle has been the subject of numerous books, several that he collaborated on, and one searing memoir by his wife and sons.

Koufax was also devoid of the demons, regrets and unfulfilled promise that characterized Mantle. And while Koufax’s career ended at age 30 because of arthritis in his arm, he finished with a 27-victory season and a 1.73 earned run average.

Mantle retired at 37, years after his productivity had peaked.

Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Jane Leavy, now a Mantle biographer, grew up with an “intense love for Mickey.”

“I knew from the get-go that I wasn’t going to discover that he’d really been born in Alaska and raised a Mormon,” she said. “I knew there wasn’t an uncharted narrative arc where I’d say, ‘Oh my God, he’s really Lebanese!’ ” She created a structure of 20 chapters — turning points in his life and baseball career — that let her focus on critical days while fleshing out the details of his life.

She wanted to understand why men in their 50s and beyond still revere Mantle, but she did not want to recount every home run or every significant game. A few years into the project, she said, “I had a ta-da moment: Mickey is the ultimate boomer entitlement.”

As in her Koufax book, which alternates between biographical chapters and an inning-by-inning account of his perfect game in 1965, Leavy uses a device to help tell Mantle’s story. She detours from the narrative several times to recount her 1983 encounter with Mantle at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City (where her parents had honeymooned in 1941) when she was a reporter for The Washington Post.

Mantle was in a part-time job at the hotel-casino as its director of sports promotions; it helped pay for his son Billy’s cancer treatments, but the gambling connection got him exiled from baseball. The work required him to be nice, sign autographs and play golf with high-rollers.

But the easy access to liquor was no favor to an alcoholic.

Mantle greeted Leavy almost immediately with a crude anatomical reference (“That was the end of the world as I knew it,” she said), and at 2 the next morning in the casino bar, his hand moved up her knee. Although she later learned that he acted provocatively and spoke vulgarly to keep people off balance, it was a rude introduction to the player she once adored.

“I’m going, ‘Oh my God,’ ” she said. “He’d had one too many, but I was saved by whatever he was drinking; he started to say something and over he went into my lap.” He had passed out, she said. “I’m trapped beneath 200 pounds of American idol when American idol meant something else.”

She added: “Many illusions were shattered, but he forced me to grow up. That’s not so bad. I was 32.”

The 2,700-word article she filed did not — and could not — fully reflect her time with Mantle and only hinted at his excesses and his melancholy. But as she retrieved her old notes, she recalled being stunned at seeing that he told her that he had cirrhosis but had continued to drink.

“I asked Merlyn if it was true and she said, ‘Yes,’ ” Leavy said, referring to an interview with Mantle’s widow, who has since died. “I questioned what I did,” she said. “Should I have found a way to write it even if he told it to me off the record? Should I have called his wife?”

She added, “I felt a certain sense of guilt that I’d let him down.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Liu Si, Obama No

Liu Xiaobo's Peace Prize reminds us that China needs confronting.

By Mona Charen
October 12, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Ten months ago, when Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” the world response was muted. There were condemnations of this unashamed assault on free expression and individual freedom, but they were mild and oddly off-key.

The European Union, for example, issued a statement expressing its “deep concern” at the “disproportionate sentence” — as if the problem were the length of the prison term rather than the fact of criminally sentencing a human-rights advocate at all for the “crime” of advocating pluralistic government and individual freedom.

The U.S. Department of State described the sentence as “uncharacteristic of a great country” — an odd choice of words. The State Department spokesman may have been suggesting that this is not the way “great countries” behave; in which case, note the obsequious effort to praise China. Or worse, it may have been a partial excuse for the Chinese bully boys, implying that this prison sentence was “uncharacteristic” of China.

But of course, the sentence was utterly characteristic of Communist China, as were the Orwellian condemnations of Liu by the People’s Daily, which “reported” that Liu was “spreading rumors and defaming . . . the government . . . aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialist system in recent years.”

And so, when the Nobel Committee awarded Liu the Peace Prize this week, it was as if a jolt of caffeine had been administered to the lazy conscience of the world. President Obama, last year’s spectacularly unworthy recipient of the prize, was roused from his self-admiration long enough to call upon China to release the “eloquent and courageous” Mr. Liu. Obama praised China’s “dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.” But, he added, “this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman, and child must be respected.”

“U.S. officials,” the AP explained, “try to strike a balance with China, pressing it on economic and human rights issues, while trying to win crucial Chinese support on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear standoffs, climate change and other difficult issues.” Such is the administration spin in any case. In fact, while this administration has studiously avoided telling the truth about China’s human-rights record, China has been uncooperative on all of the issues listed, while at the same time manipulating its currency to the detriment of the U.S. economy.

It’s not clear that the Obama administration has its head screwed on straight when it comes to human-rights questions. Remember that the State Department, in its report to the United Nations on the U.S. human-rights record, cited the Arizona immigration law as an example of our failure to set a good example for the world.

Yes, China has made great strides in economic development (entirely by permitting free markets to function, President Obama might have added), but the Nobel Peace Prize reminds us that the way a nation treats its own citizens is usually a good predictor of the way it will behave internationally. The Obama administration’s soft approach has done nothing to diminish China’s crucial support for the most dangerous and unstable regimes in the world.

Chinese assistance against North Korea and Iran has proved illusory. Besides, the pathetic reality is that the Obama administration has no plans to be tough with Iran or North Korea, so Chinese cooperation is largely irrelevant. But in any case, the larger goal of U.S. foreign policy should always be to support and extend freedom. It is obviously in the interests of 1.3 billion Chinese that Liu Xiaobo and his Charter 08 organization succeed. (It is modeled on the Czech Charter 77 that successfully undermined the Communist government there.) When Liu was informed of the prize, he said “This is for the lost souls of June 4th” referring to the hundreds mowed down by the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

But it is ultimately in the interests of the United States that Liu succeed as well. If China were to throw off its oppressive regime, Chinese support for the criminal regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang, along with other crimes around the world, would almost certainly come to an end. The Nobel Committee has just sped up that most desirable day.

As for last year’s Nobel laureate, he is busy protecting us from the state of Arizona.

– Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 Creators Syndicate.

Film Reviews: 'Secretariat'

BY ROGER EBERT / October 6, 2010

When Secretariat died at 19, my friend Bill Nack told me the autopsy revealed that the animal's heart was 2 and a half times the size of an average horse's. Bill had followed the horse for its entire life and wrote the book Secretariat, which inspired this film.

Bill and I became good friends at the University of Illinois in 1962. I remember him telling me in the 1970s about a racehorse he admired with great passion. I thought it was curious that Nack, who could recite long passages from Fitzgerald and Eliot by heart, had been lured away from literature by a racehorse. Now I understand. He found literature in a racehorse.

Bill has been the close friend of a lifetime. I would call that not a conflict of interest in writing this review, but more of a declaration. I have no fear in suggesting that his 20 years as Secretariat's biographer and his daily presence on the set contributed materially to this film. "Secretariat" just knows all sorts of things, and many of them I knew from Bill telling me over the years. They also grow from his love of horses, which began when he was a stable boy.

Let me tell you a story. When Bill was a reporter at Newsday, he climbed on a desk at an office party and recited the names of every Derby winner, correctly, in order. When he climbed down, the editor quietly called him aside and said, "How do you know that?" Then he made Bill the paper's turf writer, in some way setting this movie in motion.

You don't need me to tell you Secretariat was the crowning glory of the Sport of Kings. In 1973, he became the first Triple Crown champion in 25 years. Though more than 37 years have passed since he set records in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, those records stand today.

It was said by some he was better over shorter distances, and that at the Belmont, he would fade against his great rival Sham, who would show more endurance. Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths. I knew that. Everybody knows that. Bill has shown me video of that race, with the astonishing gap between Secretariat and the rest of the field. So why, when I saw the race in the film, did I have tears in my eyes?

It was because "Secretariat" is a movie that allows us to understand what it really meant. This isn't some cornball formula film. It doesn't have a contrived romance. It's certainly not about an underdog: At the Belmont, Secretariat only paid $2.20 on a $2 bet, and 5,617 holders of winning tickets held onto them as souvenirs (a wise investment; those tickets go on eBay for as much as $1,000). "Secretariat" takes none of those mundane paths. It is a great film about greatness, the story of the horse and the no less brave woman who had faith in him.

Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) was the daughter of a Virginia horse farm owner. Her father (Scott Glenn) was ill, and his family thought they should sell the farm. But she could read lineages. She flipped a coin with a millionaire and "lost" but won the mare she wanted — and she was there in the stable when the mare gave birth. The groom said he'd never before seen a horse stand up on its legs that soon after birth.

There was something about Secretariat. Bill, who was a regular visitor at Meadow Farm in Virginia throughout the horse's life, tried to get me to understand: The people around the horse felt it was blessed. Penny Chenery refused to sell the farm, turned down an offer of $7 million for the still-untested horse, and left her husband and family behind in Colorado to commute to Virginia. She had faith. So did he groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), who was with Secretariat more than any other human being during the horse's life. And so did Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), the trainer who had been trying to retire when Penny hauled him away from his golf clubs.

Diane Lane, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and John Malkovich
© Walt Disney Pictures

The movie focuses closely on the owner, the trainer and the groom. It has no time for foolishness. When the time for the coin flip comes with millionaire Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell), we understand why Mrs. Chenery wants the mare she does, and director Randall Wallace underlines that with admirable economy, using a closeup of Malkovich studying a breeding chart that works better than five minutes of dialogue.

Gene Siskel used to say his favorite movies were about what people actually do all day. That's what "Secretariat" is. It pays us the compliment of really caring about thoroughbred racing. In a low-key way, it conveys an enormous amount of information. And it creates characters who, because of spot-on casting, are vivid, human and complex. Consider how it deals with the relationship between Penny and her husband, Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh). They became estranged because of her decisions, Nack says, but the movie only implies that rather than getting mired in a soap opera.

As a woman, Penny is closed out of racing's all-boy club. If a man neglected his family for a race horse, that might be common. But a woman is committing some sin against nature. And when she refused to sell, her whole family — husband, brother, everyone — put enormous pressure on her. They were sure her decision was taking money out of their pockets. How she raises money to keep the farm is ingenious lateral thinking, and best of all, it's accurate.

This whole movie feels authentic. Diane Lane, who is so good in so many kinds of roles, makes Penny a smart woman with great faith in her own judgment and the courage to bet the farm on it. Every hair in place, always smartly turned out, she labors in the trenches with Lucien and Eddie, negotiates unflinchingly with the Old Boys, eats the stomach-churning meals at the diners where the track crowd hangs out. She looked at the greatest racehorse in the world and knew she was right, when all about her were losing their heads and blaming it on her.

Of the actors, I especially enjoyed John Malkovich. He has a way of conveying his reasoning by shorthand and implication. He creates a portrait of horse trainer who's slow to tip his hand, which is correct. No role in Mike Rich's screenplay is overwritten, or tries to explain too much. Like "The Social Network," another contender for year-end awards, it has supreme confidence in its story and faith that we will find it fascinating. This is one of the year's best films.

To my shame, I used to kid Bill that he wrote stuff like, "Big Red knew it was an important day," as if he could read Secretariat's mind. He wrote nothing of the sort. We would speculate about what a horse does know. W.G. Sebald once wrote, "Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension." Yes, I think so. But between Secretariat and his human family something was comprehended. There's a scene here when Penny Chenery and her horse look each other in the eye for a long time on an important morning. You can't tell me they weren't both thinking the same thing.

Here’s One for the Winner’s Circle: Secretariat Is Fun, Heartwarming and a Joy to Watch

By Rex Reed
The New York Observer
October 5, 2010 8:57 p.m

With so much junk crowding movie marquees these days, it's a joyous feeling to see a warm, wonderful, skillfully made picture with nothing on its mind but pure pleasure for all ages. Secretariat fills the bill nicely. If you're a horse-movie junkie like me, if you loved National Velvet, My Friend Flicka, Smoky, The Black Stallion and both movies about Seabiscuit (to name only a few four-legged box office bonanzas), you will love this one. I mean, it's got one of the most spectacular horses of all time. And it's got Diane Lane. What's not to love?

Secretariat, directed with style and elegance by Randall Wallace, is, of course, the awesome chronicle of one of the greatest American thoroughbred racehorses in history, who, in 1973, became the first U.S. Triple Crown champion in 25 years, winning the Kentucky Derby in less than two minutes, the Preakness in a last-minute dash by only two lengths and the Belmont Stakes in 2 minutes, 24 seconds. The Derby and Belmont records have never been beaten or even duplicated to this day. And no proud owner ever toiled so bravely and vigorously to save her beloved horse, farm or family than the financially beleaguered Penny Chenery Tweety, a Denver housewife who sacrificed a lot, hocked her life and compromised her marriage and family life to follow her dream to racing history. Played with honesty and naturalism by the beautiful, heartfelt and deeply committed Diane Lane, Mrs. Tweety comes alive as much as Secretariat does. You will end up loving them both unconditionally.

No need to go into Secretariat's breeding history or vital statistics, but you get all the facts, meticulously condensed without cost to the overall entertainment value. The story begins in 1969, when Mrs. Tweety flies to her childhood home in Virginia for the funeral of her mother, the brains and conscience behind the family's failing horse-breeding farm. Everyone, including her husband (Dylan Walsh, from TV's Nip/Tuck), expects Penny to sell what remains, but after rummaging through the books and discovering the farm has been mismanaged by a crooked trainer, she fires him and hires a flashy, eccentric replacement named Lucien Lauren, who is crazier than anything with four legs (John Malkovich, chewing the scenery with over-the-top temper tantrums, in purple hats, cherry-red shirts, fuchsia ties and a Truman Capote lisp). You get a lot of facts about sires, brood mares, foals, tax issues and dishonesty in the ranks, but the genealogy is tangential to the real story of how Penny ignores everyone's sound business advice and raises and nurtures a new chestnut colt called Big Red, whose moniker is rejected by the Jockey Club 10 times before her family's loyal secretary, Elizabeth Ham (played with solidity and gusto by Margo Martindale), submits the new name, Secretariat. In July 1972, the stallion wins his first race under his new name in Saratoga, saddled with a controversial new jockey named Ronnie Turcotte (Otto Thurworth), who is so aggressive he is known to drive his horses until their hearts explode. But Ronnie falls for Secretariat the same way Penny did, and from there, it is silver trophies all the way. Seven wins in four months, named Horse of the Year at age 3, Secretariat cannot be slowed. Financial ruin follows when the $6 million inheritance tax on the farm can only be paid by selling her prize horse. To her family's horror, she refuses, insisting her father's legacy is not about money, but "the will to win." More setbacks in 1973, when America's favorite magazine-cover horse arrives at the Kentucky Derby with abscessed gums, but Penny's critics, who resent a woman's triumph in a man's sport, are flummoxed again. Most horses are built for either speed or distance. Secretariat could do both. And in June 1973, this great horse made his bid for immortality and won the Triple Crown.

There's not much suspense. I mean, it's not that we don't know how it all turns out. But director Wallace still manages to milk every event of maximum excitement. The movie is about the mutual adoration between owner and horse, her unwavering faith even when the chips were down, the special relationship that developed between them and about the people who believed in them both and the ones who didn't. In the 37 years since his retirement at age 3, no horse has ever duplicated his success. Before his death, in 1989, he sired 600 foals, many of them prizewinners on their own, and he remains one of the very few horses to this day who was buried whole instead of cremated. I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff, and there is plenty of it in Secretariat. This is one terrific movie about one terrific horse. It enthralls on so many levels—emotional, cinematic, historic—that I am willing to bet you'll go away sated with satisfaction from paddock to finish line.

Get a great story and run with it

By Ann Hornaday
The Washington Post
Friday, October 8, 2010

It's tough to guess who will enjoy "Secretariat" more -- filmgoers who remember the extraordinary events of 1973, when the chestnut 3-year-old won the first Triple Crown in 25 years, or those for whom the story is brand-new. With this stirring, thoroughly entertaining movie, director Randall Wallace (who wrote "Braveheart") has achieved the next to impossible, injecting genuine tension and suspense into a narrative we all know the ending to.

Wallace's secret is that he makes "Secretariat" about characters, not races, and he has found irresistible protagonists in both his equine and human subjects. Coming from behind with a heart as big as a house is Secretariat, known to his owners and intimates as Big Red, who at first is so slow "he couldn't beat a fat man encased in cement being dragged backwards by a freight train," according to his trainer (played with quirky, crusty gusto by John Malkovich). But his owner believes in him: Penny Chenery Tweedy, a Denver homemaker who inherits her father's Virginia horse farm and battles the sexist forces of her own family and the horse racing establishment to champion Big Red and change the face of the sport forever.

One of the best things "Secretariat" has going for it is that Tweedy is played by Diane Lane, who brings her signature, ineffable blend of radiance, toughness and demure reserve to a woman who knows how to wear just the bright brooch when upending the patriarchy. It's a testament to Big Red's mythical force that he's portrayed by five horses in the movie of his life -- including one charismatic steed that, like Secretariat himself, plays to the camera so cannily you could almost swear he winks.

Juxtaposing Tweedy's you-must-pay-the-rent travails and her conservative husband's complaints with Big Red's journey to becoming a superstar, Wallace turns "Secretariat" into a parable of faith and quiet, assured feminism. If some of the back-home scenes are awkwardly staged (especially Tweedy's teenage daughter who rebels against her parents' politics in a parody of liberal agitprop) and the plot contoured for Hollywood efficiency, the story itself is too infectious to resist.

Filmed with breathtaking immediacy, the racing sequences are utterly heart-stopping, with each hoofbeat and clod of dirt seeming to leap off the screen, especially during Secretariat's astonishing run in the Belmont Stakes. (Fans will appreciate Wallace's decision to show much of the Preakness on a television monitor, reproducing how most of us remember the event.)

But at its core, "Secretariat" is the story of a girl and her horse, that mystical bond between human and animal that, by quoting the Book of Job to open and close the movie, Wallace suggests is almost spiritual. When Big Red snorts as Tweedy approaches his stall, it's a moment of transcendent recognition. And in its own way it's more thrilling that those legendary runs themselves.