Saturday, October 23, 2010

Choosing Bearhugs Over Big Hits

The New York Times
October 23, 2010

The Chiefs' Willie Lanier, center, in a game against Minnesota in 1970. He changed his style of play after sustaining a concussion. (AP)

On Sunday, more eyes than usual will be on the N.F.L. as the league begins to strictly enforce safety initiatives that limit hits to the head, players’ launching themselves into opponents, and gratuitous hits against defenseless players.

Under the threat of stiffer penalties like suspensions, players will be scrutinized. They are being instructed to take new angles and concentrate their force on a new strike zone, which is essentially anywhere below the head.

This is a difficult transition, especially for defensive players brought up in an era when mind-numbing, bone-jarring hits are candidates to make “SportsCenter.”

In some ways, N.F.L. players are being made scapegoats in response to a news media outcry over the legalized mayhem known as professional football.

While hockey players regularly drop their gloves and pummel one another — some even take on fans — N.F.L. players are being told, midstream, to curb instincts that have been cultivated since the sixth grade.

On the other hand, the N.F.L.’s knee-jerk reaction to the relative carnage of last Sunday could be beneficial if it encourages players to act less like blood-lusting gladiators and more like well-compensated professionals who play a uniquely violent game.

What may come out of this, oddly enough, is greater compassion among players, a recognition that they are all in this together, that they need one another. If the players don’t know this now, they will in about five months when their owners lock them out.

Willie Lanier (pictured at left), regarded as one of the greatest middle linebackers in N.F.L. history, had that epiphany 43 years ago during his first season with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Lanier, who starred at Morgan State, was known as Contact in his rookie season because of his bruising headfirst hitting style.

In the fifth game of his career, Lanier hit his head against the knee of a San Diego Chargers running back. “I recognized that it was a concussion,” he said. “I didn’t say anything about it at the time. I didn’t fall to the ground, and I didn’t have any pain.”

A week later in a home game against Houston, Lanier collapsed while calling defensive signals. “I was out for two hours,” he said. Lanier would not find out until the end of his career that his pulse was lost three times on the way to the hospital.

By the end of his rookie season, Lanier had changed, going from Contact to Honey Bear.

Lanier, like everyone else in his generation, had been trained to put the crown of his helmet between a ball carrier’s numbers and hit, lift and drive. In the Honey Bear approach, he utilized his chest, shoulders and arms to wrap up, or bearhug, a ball carrier when bringing him down.

The change was not ordered by the Kansas City coaching, training or medical staffs. The league did not order it; indeed, the league did not know.

Lanier said that he was not reacting to a rules change, but to a reality that he had to change for his own sake. Lanier took ownership of his body, his health.

The current generation of active players need to do the same.

“There is no way that I could have survived if I had not changed my style of play,” Lanier said. He played 10 more seasons. He did not miss a game. He did not sustain any more concussions, and his tackling efficiency improved.

More significantly, Lanier said his mentality changed from one bent on destroying the opposition to one that ultimately looked out for his opponent.

For the sake of the game, they needed one another. They needed the great players on the field.

“My reality was that if there was a defenseless player, if that person didn’t touch the ball, I would not hit them,” he said. “I was not going to strike you if you didn’t have an opportunity to get the ball.”

The former N.F.L. running back Calvin Hill (pictured at right) was one of the first beneficiaries of Lanier’s enlightened attitude. Hill, who played for Dallas and Washington, and in the World Football League, recalled an exhibition game against the Chiefs when he hurtled over Lanier at the goal line to score.

“As we were going through the tunnel for halftime, Lanier said, ‘Hey, man, I could have lit you up,’ ” Hill said, “and he told me why he didn’t.”

Lanier recalled the conversation. He said he told Hill the only reason he didn’t hit him was that it was a preseason game. Lanier also told Hill that whenever he left his feet, he made himself vulnerable to harder hits and puts himself at risk of serious injury.

Lanier’s talk about compassion is not just an old-school lament. Decades later, a number of contemporary players are beginning to make the same point. The Giants’ Justin Tuck made it last season. “Guys have to change their mentality,” he said. “We’ve got to really start taking care of each other. There’s got to be something in your mind that says, ‘I shouldn’t be hitting this guy in his head and leading with my head.’ ”

Athletes are told from childhood: don’t think, react. Now the N.F.L. is telling players to think first. At a number of levels, that is advice they should heed.


NPR: A Test Case for Republicans

If they cannot defund NPR, you can bet they will not reverse Obamacare.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 23, 2010 4:00 A.M.

The least significant aspect of NPR’s canning of Juan Williams is . . . Juan Williams. The important thing is what the world should start looking like after November 2.

Let’s say you were a million dollars in debt and you didn’t have a clue, much less a plan, about how you were going to pay. But you saw this really nice chandelier and decided it would be just perfect in your dining room. If you pulled out the Mastercard and charged up a few grand for this ornate luxury, we would not call that fine living. We would call it grossly irresponsible, especially if it means you can’t pay the mortgage or the kids’ tuition once the binge ends and the piper demands his due.

So here is the question: Why does a country that is trillions in debt, and in which people have unlimited options for obtaining information, need NPR? More to the point, why do we need to fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which keeps NPR afloat?

Juan Williams said things anyone with an ounce of common sense knows to be true: “When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

So do I. So do most of us. This is not mindless, noxious prejudice. There is a context: Muslim terrorists used airliners to attack us. And as Williams pointed out, the terrorist convicted of trying to massacre New Yorkers by bombing Times Square just reaffirmed the oft-repeated jihadist promise that there is much blood left to be spilt.

But wait a second, the PC police tut-tut, Williams didn’t just indict terrorists; he smeared everyone who merely dresses like a Muslim. Yeah, right: Save that for the CAIR sensitivity-training class, just down the hall from the FBI’s next Citizens Academy — you’ll be sure to get an A+. To the rest of us benighted slugs, it seems fairly obvious that most Muslims in the West do not appear “in Muslim garb.” To the extent they concern themselves with scripture at all in this area, most American Muslims construe sharia simply to call for sartorial modesty — be dignified, but neither flashy nor slovenly.

For Islamists, on the other hand, clothing oneself is not about achieving modesty but announcing oneself, first and foremost, as a Muslim. To be sure, some such Muslims are just being pious, not exhibitionistic. Still, it is simply a fact that many men who don robes and skull-caps, and many women who shroud themselves in the niqab, abaya, or burqa, are making a very conscious statement that they reject the West. Though living in it, they have no intention of assimilating into it.

There is nothing illegal about holding such views, but they happen to be held in common with Muslim terrorists. The latter are known to act on those views in horrifying ways. Since Muslims garbed this way don’t come with signs telling us which are which, they give us valid reason to be worried and nervous, as Williams acknowledged being. But Williams didn’t say the law should back up his anxiety by denying Muslims the right to fly or to dress as they choose. To the contrary, he insisted that, while fear is rational, it is not a rationale for violating anyone’s basic rights. For this forthright balancing of fear and sensitivity, NPR has terminated his contract.

Williams’s firing is plainly unjust. But it is not without poetic justice. Mr. Williams, whom I don’t know, has always struck me as a decent, honest guy, and a passionate progressive. But that insoluble combination makes him a bundle of contradictions: a commentator who calls it like he sees it . . . except to the extent his doctrinaire leftism won’t allow him to connect the dots, in which case he calls it like he’d like to see it — whether or not that’s how it is. Consequently, I’m having trouble working up much sympathy for him. When he is not decrying the political correctness that suffocates our discourse, he works to exacerbate it.

Have a look, for example, at this ode to affirmative action he wrote last year for the Washington Post, a newspaper that is a sort of Juan Williams writ large. He buys into all the disparate-impact voodoo that says you’re demonstrating racism — even if you haven’t got a racist bone in your body — if you in good faith design a test that is race-neutral through and through but yields results that diverge along racial lines. That is, Williams would deny a job to someone who has earned it, and who has not said or done anything that could be construed as racist, in order to “remedy” past discrimination — even if the beneficiary of this remedy has not himself been a victim of racial discrimination.

That is a shameful system: winners and losers picked strictly according to ruling-class biases. Yet, having enthusiastically endorsed that system, Williams demands immunity from ruling-class biases for himself whenever he, in his infinite wisdom, reckons the situation calls for blunt honesty. No one should be punished for truthfully voicing the fears of Islamic radicalism that most Americans share. But as Williams must know, the bien-pensant pieties he champions are the very muzzles that coerce Americans into silence.

Williams miscalculated. He figured that because he is a long-standing member of the NPR-certified Society of the Slavishly Right-Thinking, he could safely stroll a few steps off the reservation. Too bad he was wrong, but at least he got the chance to miscalculate. On the political right, we get no chance. In the NPR world Williams helped foster, we’re already condemned. It wouldn’t even occur to us to ask for the can’t-we-talk-about-this-face-to-face meeting that NPR denied to a stunned Williams despite his years of faithful service. Like the NPR news chief told him, there’s nothing we can say that will change their minds.

Juan Williams is getting the attention, but he’s just a sideshow. The real scam is NPR. It is no longer known as “National Public Radio.” On marketing’s scale of toxicity, “Public” comes in about where “Fried” did for Colonel Sanders. So NPR, like KFC, became a set of initials that formally stand for nothing yet bear a nostalgic ring, signaling to loyal patrons that NPR still traffics in the same old lefty gospel. NPR’s viewpoint is public only in the sense of who is picking up the tab, not whose perspective is being represented. Trouble is that when consigned to the market’s not so tender mercies, that gospel crashes and burns, à la Air America. Hence NPR strategically dropped “public,” intuiting that most of the real public might be inclined to shut off the spigot if it were constantly reminded that it is paying for this bunk. Better to let sleeping rubes lie.

So the former National Public Radio is now at pains to assure the pub — er, you know — that less than 2 percent of NPR’s support comes from federal sources (i.e., taxpayers). Instead, “the greatest portion of our funding comes from our stations.” Those, of course, would be public television stations, which, NPR’s fine-print concedes, get a lot of their “support” from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

You’ll need CPR when you read up on the CPB’s budget. Like the Bush prescription-drug program that greased the skids for Obamacare, the CPB started in a Republican administration: President Nixon out to prove he could do the Great Society, too — smaller but just as enlightened and compassionate. As night follows day, CPB’s first year (1969) appropriation of $5 million mushroomed to well over 30 times that amount ($172 million) by the time the Carter administration was through.

For all the tough Reagan-era talk about slashing Leviathan, the CPB, like the Department of Education, became a monument to the GOP’s seduction by Washington, Inc. Far from being repealed (or replaced!), the CPB was maintained at roughly Carter-level appropriations — at least for a time. But it inexorably crashed the $200 million barrier by the end of the Reagan years and, in short order, the $300 million barrier under Bush the Elder. That is, Republican administrations flaunted their self-flattering commitment to “public” programming while NPR and the other CPB stations functioned as one long taxpayer-funded ad for liberal Democrats (along with whatever was necessary to keep Bill Moyers employed). The rest is history. The tab for this year will be a staggering $420 million, and President Obama’s requests in the out years (through 2013) reach $460 million.

NPR flacks quip that their enterprise should really be called National Private Radio. That’s because of the purported pittance of its budget that it says comes from taxpayers — the aforementioned 2 percent. When you hear that nonsense, bear in mind that NPR’s lifeline — taxpayer underwriting of the CPB — has actually metastasized into about 9,000 percent of its original size. That pile of CPB dough, once channeled back to NPR through its “member stations,” is laundered of its “public” character because CPB masquerades (courtesy of federal law) as a private company. Indeed, it says it is a private non-profit company because the annual hundreds of millions it rakes in from you do not come directly from you; they flow through Uncle Sam. In Washington finance, this hocus-pocus makes you a “non-profit.” A profit, by contrast, is the grimy stuff Fox News earns by producing programs people actually want to watch.

I’d feel worse for Juan Williams if he hadn’t so contentedly exploited this arrangement. The real victim here is the public. And the real test is what Republicans do about that if the Tea Party tide sweeps them back into power. The CPB is a chandelier: a grossly irresponsible expenditure for a government that is flat broke. But it’s not even a rounding error compared to Obamacare. If they can’t bring themselves to repeal the Corporation for Public Broadcasting . . .

Tea Party to the Rescue

How the GOP was saved from Bush and the establishment.

The Wall Street Journal
October 22, 2010

Two central facts give shape to the historic 2010 election. The first is not understood by Republicans, and the second not admitted by Democrats.

The first: the tea party is not a "threat" to the Republican Party, the tea party saved the Republican Party. In a broad sense, the tea party rescued it from being the fat, unhappy, querulous creature it had become, a party that didn't remember anymore why it existed, or what its historical purpose was. The tea party, with its energy and earnestness, restored the GOP to itself.

In a practical sense, the tea party saved the Republican Party in this cycle by not going third-party. It could have. The broadly based, locally autonomous movement seems to have made a rolling decision, group by group, to take part in Republican primaries and back Republican hopefuls. (According to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, four million more Republicans voted in primaries this year than Democrats, the GOP's highest such turnout since 1970. I wonder who those people were?)

Because of this, because they did not go third-party, Nov. 2 is not going to be a disaster for the Republicans, but a triumph.

The tea party did something the Republican establishment was incapable of doing: It got the party out from under George W. Bush. The tea party rejected his administration's spending, overreach and immigration proposals, among other items, and has become only too willing to say so. In doing this, the tea party allowed the Republican establishment itself to get out from under Mr. Bush: "We had to, boss, it was a political necessity!" They released the GOP establishment from its shame cringe.

And they not only freed the Washington establishment, they woke it up. That establishment, composed largely of 50- to 75-year-olds who came to Washington during the Reagan era in a great rush of idealism, in many cases stayed on, as they say, not to do good but to do well. They populated a conservative infrastructure that barely existed when Reagan was coming up: the think tanks and PR groups, the media outlets and governmental organizations. They did not do what conservatives are supposed to do, which is finish their patriotic work and go home, taking the knowledge and sophistication derived from Washington and applying it to local problems. (This accounts in part for the esteem in which former Bush budget chief and current Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is held. He went home.)

The GOP establishment stayed, and one way or another lived off government, breathed in its ways and came to know—learned all too well!—the limits of what is possible and passable. Part of the social and cultural reality behind the tea party-GOP establishment split has been the sheer fact that tea partiers live in non-D.C. America. The establishment came from America, but hasn't lived there in a long time.

I know and respect some of the establishmentarians, but after dinner, on the third glass of wine, when they get misty-eyed about Reagan and the old days, they are not, I think, weeping for him and what he did but for themselves and who they were. Back when they were new and believed in something.

Finally, the tea party stiffened the GOP's spine by forcing it to recognize what it had not actually noticed, that we are a nation in crisis. The tea party famously has no party chiefs and no conventions but it does have a theme—stop the spending, stop the sloth, incompetence and unneeded regulation—and has lent it to the GOP.

Actually, Maureen "Moe" Tucker, former drummer of the Velvet Underground, has done the best job ever of explaining where the tea party stands and why it stands there. She also suggests the breadth and variety of the movement. In an interview this week in St. Louis's Riverfront Times, Ms. Tucker said she'd never been particularly political but grew alarmed by the direction the country was taking. In the summer of 2009, she went to a tea-party rally in southern Georgia. A chance man-on-the-street interview became a YouTube sensation. No one on the left could believe this intelligent rally-goer was the former drummer of the 1960s breakthrough band; no one on the left understood that an artist could be a tea partier. Because that's so not cool, and the Velvet Underground was cool.

Ms. Tucker, in the interview, ran through the misconceptions people have about tea partiers: "that they're all racists, they're all religious nuts, they're all uninformed, they're all stupid, they want no taxes at all and no regulations whatsoever." These stereotypes, she observed, are encouraged by Democrats to keep their base "on their side." But she is not a stereotype: "Anyone who thinks I'm crazy about Sarah Palin, Bush, etc., has made quite the presumption. I have voted Democrat all my life, until I started listening to what Obama was promising and started wondering how the hell will this utopian dream be paid for?"

There is also this week a striking essay by Fareed Zakaria, no tea partier he, in Time magazine. He unknowingly touched on part of the reason for the tea party. Mr. Zakaria, born and raised in India, got his first sense of America's vitality, outsized ways, glamour and crazy high-spiritedness as a young boy in the late 1970s watching bootlegged videotapes of "Dallas." What a country! His own land, in comparison, seemed sleepy, hidebound. Now when he travels to India, "it's as if the world has been turned upside down. Indians are brimming with hope and faith in the future. After centuries of stagnation, their economy is on the move, fueling animal spirits and ambition. The whole country feels as if it has been unlocked." Meanwhile the mood in the U.S. seems glum, dispirited. "The middle class, in particular, feels under assault." Sixty-three percent of Americans say they do not think they will be able to maintain their current standard of living. "The can-do country is convinced that it can't."

All true. And yet. We may be witnessing a new political dynamism. The tea party's rise reflects anything but fatalism, and maybe even a new high-spiritedness. After all, they're only two years old and they just saved a political party and woke up an elephant.

The second fact of 2010 is understood by Republicans but not admitted by Democrats. It is that this is a fully nationalized election, and at its center it is about one thing: Barack Obama.

It is not, broadly, about the strengths or weaknesses of various local candidates, about constituent services or seniority, although these elements will be at play in some outcomes, Barney Frank's race likely being one. But it is significant that this year Mr. Frank is in the race of his life, and this week on TV he did not portray the finger-drumming smugness and impatience with your foolishness he usually displays on talk shows. He looked pale and mildly concussed, like someone who just found out that liberals die, too.

This election is about one man, Barack Obama, who fairly or not represents the following: the status quo, Washington, leftism, Nancy Pelosi, Fannie and Freddie, and deficits in trillions, not billions.

Everyone who votes is going to be pretty much voting yay or nay on all of that. And nothing can change that story line now.

Image credit: Chad Crowe

Yanks Losing Pennant Feels Like Six-Game Sweep

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Saturday, October 23rd 2010, 4:00 AM

ARLINGTON - The end of it for the Yankees, the end of a four-game sweep that just happened to take six games, was the bat on Alex Rodriguez's shoulder against a kid closer named Neftali Feliz. It was 6-1 for the Rangers in Game 6 by then. The Yankees hadn't just been beaten. They had been bounced around most of the last week, Arlington to the Bronx and back, and finally been embarrassed. So there really was no need for A-Rod to take the bat off his shoulder. The Yankees had stopped playing an hour ago.

The Rangers didn't need to throw Cliff Lee at the Yankees in Game 7. There wasn't going to be a Game 7. The Rangers didn't need Josh Hamilton, whom Joe Girardi intentionally walked three times. Six-game sweep. This wasn't as bad an AL pennant defense as we got from the Yankees in 2004, when the Red Sox came back from 0-3 down. It was bad enough.

"They hit better, they pitched better, they played better," Derek Jeter said at a corner locker, his chair backed up against a wall. "What else can you say?"

You can say one more thing, on top of how the Yankees got outhit and outpitched and outplayed. They got out-managed Friday night, too. Big time. Joe Girardi got away with walking Hamilton in front of Vlad Guerrero once, in the third inning. Girardi did not get away with it in the bottom of the fifth, when the Yankee season really ended, after which they really did look as if they had quit on the game and the season and the defense of their title. All that money spent. One title in 10 years.

In the quiet, the next-season quiet of the Yankee clubhouse, I asked Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, that Reggie Jackson, if anybody had ever intentionally walked him three times in an October baseball game.

"Never," he said.

But Girardi did it again with Hamilton in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game with his team playing for its season. Did it with Mitch Moreland on third. Put Hamilton on first again. Here came Guerrero, a proud, great, veteran player, one of the great run-producers of his time in baseball. Hamilton was having a wonderful series. The Yankees never gave him a chance to chase a pitch and get himself out.

"Vlad hadn't done anything," Jorge Posada said in defense of the decision.

Sure he had. The other day Guerrero had four hits against the Yankees. And you know what? He had done plenty for a long time. You poke the bear often enough, the bear eats you. Guerrero hit a rocket up the gap in left-center that was a double as soon as Curtis Granderson started chasing.

Now it was 3-1, Rangers. The night had changed, forever. Girardi came and got Phil Hughes. Then Girardi made his second mistake on a night when he couldn't afford any. He called for David Robertson.

"All hands on deck," Girardi had said.

Fair enough. Elimination game. Somehow trying to get to the Cliff Lee game. But if it was an all-hands-on-deck game, one of those hands could not belong to Robertson in Arlington. The Rangers had already shot him out of a cannon in the ninth inning of Game 3. If you are trying to control damage here, you go right to Kerry Wood and figure it out from there. Girardi went to Robertson. And paid for that decision with his season.

Robertson did get the count to 1-2. Nelson Cruz hit a shot that was gone when it came off his bat, hit one as hard over the left-center field wall as he had hit one off Sergio Mitre in the ninth inning of Game 4. Now it was 5-1 Rangers. Colby Lewis, who was treated like some kind of speed bump back in New York, as if Hughes had the huge edge in this game, was pitching the game of his life. The defending champs were being carried out of the season now.

In the corner of the visiting clubhouse opposite from Jeter, another proud old Yankee, Posada, said this in a voice you could have scraped off the carpet in front of his chair:

"The pitch to Cruz ... it got a lot of the plate ... too much of the plate." He paused, took a deep breath, almost as if he could see the ball going over the wall again.

"He didn't miss it," Posada said.

It was 5-1 in Game 6 the way it was 5-1 for Texas in Game 1 before the Rangers blew that one, before they came right back to make it 5-1 early in Game 2. A four-game sweep masquerading as a six-game series against the big, bad, defending champion, $200 million New York Yankees. The combined score in the four Texas victories? How about 31-6?

You want to know how bad it was? Here is how bad it was: Feliz, the kid closer, never had to earn a save in this series. Not one. Maybe the Yanks can buy him in a few years to succeed Mo Rivera the way they want to buy Lee when the season is over.

By the time the kid came in to get the last three outs for the Rangers on the night when they won the pennant, the home crowd had been standing for an hour, since the Rangers had made it 5-1 and the Yankees had given up. Robinson Cano grounded to first, Feliz covering. One out away. A-Rod. Of course. Of course it had to be him. Took a called third strike. They paid him $252 million once to put the Rangers in the World Series. Now he had.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Bob Dylan Sounded Before He Was a Star

By Colin Fleming
Oct 19 2010, 8:00 AM ET

Enigmatic artists spawn their fair share of gossipy anecdotes, which is probably one reason why pop culture critics are so drawn to them. Bob Dylan is about as enigmatic—and chameleonic—as modern artists get, so I've had occasions of my own to chuckle over a few Dylan stories from time to time. My current favorite dovetails with the release this week of The Bootleg Series Volume 9—The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964. It's an unlikely scene: a very young Dylan sits in a Madison Avenue office room in 1962, cutting demos in the hopes that assorted folk-niks will be enticed to record his music, earning him royalty revenue in the off-chance that the whole performing career thing didn't work out. And why was that a concern? Dylan haters will love one possible answer: because of his voice. The story goes that the music arrangers in the surrounding offices had to ask that Mr. Dylan's door be pressed firmly shut, lest his braying vocals disrupt their work.

I find this absurd, and I don't doubt that you might as well, after you listen to these demonstration discs.

We're met head-on by his voice in these demos. It's rugged, brittle, and churlish on "Masters Of War" and "The Death of Emmett Till." But that wispy, smoky voice of the seer—the one who will find a home on a future classic like Blonde On Blonde—wafts through the plangent, coarse soundscapes of "Mama, You've Been On My Mind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." The latter out-emotes the official studio version, and still retains the dignity of solid demo singing, creating the effect of a performer doing his damnedest to hold himself together, before excusing himself to go off and fall apart in private.

There are also plenty of jokey asides, with Dylan commenting on his own wry songs, or the occasional production gaffe. But for every instance when Dylan cracks himself up with a lyric, there's a cut like "Girl From The North Country," delivered with the kind of epic solemnity prized by the great Delta bluesmen, but with a levity-inducing, spry sense of rhythm. The Dylan that inhabits these demos has a knack for sounding not of his time, or any time, really. You start to wonder just where the hell this man in a Madison Avenue office was coming from.

The hardcore Dylan brigade has had most of these recordings for a long time, thanks to the bountiful Dylan bootleg business. Understandably, the overall demo concept is a bit at odds with our iPod age, so it may take listeners some time to grow into a release like this new two-disc set. Demos aren't intended, at any point, as a finished, releasable work. They're not alternate takes—that is, an attempt to get a part of a song or a complete song right. They're guides, a performance as instructional manual. There are some scattered Beatles examples, and a host of Pete Townshend Who demos, with Townshend playing all the instruments so his bandmates could later come along and learn their parts. And there are some Sex Pistols' demos with the lovely handle Spunk, which has an unfinished ring to me, like only one party got what they were looking for. Lively demos all the same. And that's notable, as demos are often more wooden than their official-version counterparts, with exaggerated enunciation and a prevailing formality that tends to be in contrast to their often lo-fi recording circumstances.

I've often wondered what Dylan's fellow folkies would've thought when they heard some samples of his wares. Everything here was cut before Dylan turned 24. The man was positively armed with songs, and he was primed to use them. Dylan, as anyone who has seen Don't Look Back will attest, had no issues of conscience when it came to intimidating other artists. If you're ever feeling low because you've been shown up by someone, watch what happens to Donovan in that film when he's granted his request to play a song for Dylan, only to have Dylan reciprocate with one of his own.

Some might see the Witmark demos as an admission that, maybe, a long-term performing career wasn't a certainty in Dylan's mind. Pop singers—remember, this is the era before rock and roll became rock, and got, like, out there, man—were expected to hew to traditional pop singer lines. Even folkie pop singers. If you couldn't, you wouldn't be unwise to have a back-up plan. Personally, I don't hear anything vaguely resembling a back-up plan here. I hear a guy with a different kind of talent finding another way to flaunt it. The music biz outsider, with the crazy voice, was, lo and behold, a music biz insider as well, the guy who delivered the publishing goods. And then, of course, there's the allure of someone having a hit record with one of your compositions, just so you can cut a version that surpasses it. Not that it ever came to that—but Dylan must have been grateful for the motivation in those shakier, pre-superstar times.

Related Links:

Greenwich Village Revisited


A New Set of Bob Dylan Demos Shows a Songwriter in Bloom.

The Wall Street Journal
October 21, 2010

In early 1961, 19-year-old Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village to succeed as a folk singer. But, as he put it in his wonderfully whimsical autobiography, "Chronicles: Volume One," "Nothing would have convinced me that I was actually a songwriter."

Getty Images

Bob Dylan in February 1963, prior to the release of his second album, 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.'
.Yet as demonstrated by the newly released "The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The Bootleg Series Volume 9)," Mr. Dylan took quickly to songwriting, his skills blossoming with almost incomprehensible speed. The two-CD set contains 47 demos recorded during a two-year period beginning in January 1962 for the music publishers Leeds Music and M. Witmark & Sons. Though his earliest songs are derivative, within a span of 24 months Mr. Dylan grew to write "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and several other songs that would become American classics. Peter, Paul & Mary scored a national hit with "Blowin' in the Wind," a song Mr. Dylan wrote before his 21st birthday.

All the songs on "The Witmark Demos" were recorded, and many were written, in New York City—"The city that would come to shape my destiny," Mr. Dylan wrote in "Chronicles." Early on, it gave him a theme. In the song "Hard Times in New York Town," he wrote: "There's a-mighty many people all millin' all around / They'll kick you when you're up and knock you when you're down."

But if New York proved a challenge, it also provided stimulus. Mr. Dylan was already a prodigious and discerning reader, an avid consumer of pop culture, and he had a democratic approach to good songwriting. In the Village he rubbed shoulders with smart people who were full of ambition and ambitious people who didn't know they weren't smart. "Everybody seemed like somebody and nobody at the same time," he wrote in "Chronicles." He consorted with anyone who had a feel for his destiny. He took it all in, decided what was valuable, and let it all flow into his compositions.

In short time, Mr. Dylan no longer needed to co-opt anyone's compositional style or point of view. He created a new template for contemporary pop composers, combining roiling rhythms, rooted in the rock 'n' roll of his youth, with his distinct style of lyrics—not merely rhymes, but words or phrases no other songwriter would think of using.

The new set contains 15 compositions Mr. Dylan never officially released. Perhaps because they're unfamiliar to us, these songs give a keen glimpse of the songwriter as he's developing, while reminding us of the foundation of his later work. "Ballad for a Friend" and "Standing on the Highway" are the kind of traditional folk-blues that form the spine of Mr. Dylan's best recent compositions. "Long Ago, Far Away" is a rousing precursor to the protest song "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," released in 1965. "The Death of Emmitt Till" foreshadows the extraordinary "Blind Willie McTell," a song Mr. Dylan recorded in 1983.

Given that the versions on "The Witmark Demos" were cut for his song publishers and weren't intended for public consumption, Mr. Dylan performs with surprising fire. "Hero Blues" and "Paths of Victory" sound like they were recorded in concert; so does his reading of "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," a song he didn't write. To lay out the chords to show the songs' adaptability, Mr. Dylan performs "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" on piano rather than guitar.

Along with "The Witmark Demos," Columbia has just released remastered mono versions of Mr. Dylan's first eight studio albums, revealing another sign of the songwriter's growth: Of those released in demo version, nine songs appeared on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" (1963) and four on "The Times They Are A-Changin" (1964). In each case, Mr. Dylan refined his craft as a performer, delivering his songs with intimacy and intensity, dazzling us with wordplay without overwhelming us or pushing us away.

By 1964, Mr. Dylan had moved beyond New York City; a wanderlust that defines him to this day was already in play. Yet it was there in Greenwich Village that he became Bob Dylan, songwriter.

"As for me," he wrote in "Chronicles," "what I did to break away was to take simple folk changes and put new imagery and attitude to them, use catchphrases and metaphor combined with a new set of ordinances that evolved into something different. I knew what I was doing, though, and wasn't going to take a step back or retreat for anybody."

—Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic. Email him at or follow him on Twitter: @wsjrock.

Learning to listen again

Reflections on ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 9 - The Witmark Demos 1962-1964’ and ‘The Original Mono Recordings’

Posted by doug heselgrave on October 18, 2010 at 11:00am

Thank God for the wind and rain and stormy weather. Sometime around the middle of last week, summer came to a hard and fast end in Vancouver, and we west coasters were finally driven indoors. And, while I still look ruefully out the window and see the deck I didn’t finish fixing and the trees I never got around to pruning, the change in weather has given me the perfect opportunity to turn inwards and indoors with both the pounding rain and the newly released ‘Bootleg Series Volume 9 : The Witmark Demos’ as constant companions.

Spending time with these songs has been a wonderful way of rediscovering music that I had long ago taken for granted. I have listened to Bob Dylan’s music for nearly forty years, but I’ve never been one of those completists who searches out every known version of a song, so for me experiencing these rough and ready demo versions of early Bob Dylan standards has primarily been about my own personal enjoyment of songs I had all but forgotten. Those looking for a musicological or historical dissection of where these versions fit into Dylan’s overall oeuvre should search for another article written by a more scholarly writer than I am. What’s surprised me as I’ve played the ‘Witmark Demos’ over and over is that even the songs like ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and ‘Masters of War’ that I’ve heard more times than I can remember have been wonderful to experience in the unvarnished form that they’re offered here. Originally recorded between 1962 - 1964 in the office of M. Witmark and Sons, a New York based music publisher these performances were never meant for the general public’s ears. Perhaps because of this, these flawed renditions – full of coughs, false starts and flubbed chords – are vital, revealing and essential for those trying to understand Dylan’s enduring appeal and significance.

The problem of course with writing about Bob Dylan in 2010 is that there’s little left to express about his music that hasn’t been said better by others over the years. One often gets the sense that anything written about these songs does little more than thicken the brush and brambles that obfuscate and separate the listener from the music itself. Almost everything one reads about Dylan’s early work is marred by the legendary framework writers have felt compelled to weave around it with the reverence one would expect to accompany the discovery of a new Dead Sea Scroll. Even though nearly fifty years have passed since these songs were recorded, it seems as if it’s still very difficult to separate them from the myths that have grown around them so that they can be heard in a fresh way, unclouded by prejudice and preconception.

To compound and confound this problem, a box set of Mr. Dylan’s first eight studio albums restored to their original mono mixes arrived along with ‘The Witmark Demos’ in the mail. These records – many of which I hadn’t really given a good listen to in years – glared at me from the corner of my desk with an ominous kind of insistence. I wished there was an easy way to encompass or dismiss them in a few well chosen words. But, that would kind of feel like delivering a thirty second eulogy at a good friend’s funeral. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since I first heard these records so many years ago, and going through them again, I’ve been surprised by how many memories, heartbreaks and experiences they’ve brought back while playing in the background.

As I obsessed over finding a perspective from which to write about this music, I kept thinking about an experience I had when I was teaching in India more than twenty years ago. While I was living there, I met a young American woman who was doing research into how people who had been blind but recently restored to sight perceived colour. She gave art supplies to her subjects and asked each of them to go home and paint what they saw in front of them. Some of them were so overwhelmed that they wished they were blind again. The visual world was simply too intense. Almost without exception, those who attempted to record what they saw asked for more colours because – from their perspectives - the palettes they were given were too limited. My friend was confused at first. She asked them what was wrong with the paints she had provided. She was told things such as, ‘I’m trying to paint that house over there. I see five colours of red in the clay and there’s only one red here on my paint set to work with.’ My friend – like anyone who is accustomed to the visual world and long ago learned to filter out much of the perceptual information our senses pick up – was flabbergasted because when she looked at the house, she could only see one shade of red.

I’ve been thinking of this experiment for years, and what I’ve taken away from it is that the clarity of our perception diminishes quickly with exposure. In the same way that when you first walk in a house where something’s cooking and it smells delicious, but ten minutes later you don’t notice the aromas that first drew you in, you can never go back and recapture something in the same way you first experienced it. I remember an old interview with Jerry Garcia in which he described how during his first gig with the Grateful Dead after returning back from a diabetic coma he heard the band clearly for the first time in years. That was the experience I was hoping to have with these old Bob Dylan records. But, like a spouse or friend you started taking for granted years ago, it didn’t seem possible. While teaching Tibetan refugees in India, I thought I’d teach my students to sing ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ in music class, but with few exceptions they already knew the songs. Writing about this music was clearly going to be a task of monumental proportions.

Or not.

I stopped thinking about how to hear these songs anew after waking up one morning and thinking that I could simply dig a hole in the back yard and drop the albums into a time capsule that I’d instruct my grandchildren to open after I was dead. Then writing about them would be someone else’s problem. Or, I could simply play the records and listen to them and trust that the person hearing them now might enjoy them just as much or more than the younger version of myself who first bought the records did.

So, it’s a week later and I’ve listened to the ‘Witmark Demos’ and all eight albums more times than I can say, and after some uncomfortable adjustments, I’ve learned to turn the volume of background chatter in my head off and just take it all in. It’s been damned hard as each of these records is so close, so tied to many of our personal and cultural histories. So, how do you write about that? How do you walk the line where you just write about the songs when they’re so bloody good that they exist in our lives as more than songs? Every culture has its griots, its balladeers and oral historians. And, whether Mr. Dylan likes it or not, he hit the nail right smack on the head so many times when writing about the world we experienced as we came of age, that it’s often easier to hold onto them as our own experiences rather than conjure words of our own.

As I remarked at the outset, many of these songs are nearly 50 years old, but in terms of what the world has passed through in that time, maybe some of the hyperbole that’s washed over this work has been correct. In the years since a very young Bob Dylan passed through the door of M. Witmark and Sons to record tentative demos, our ideas of what a record is and what constitutes a song have changed so much that his lyrics may as well have been penned on papyrus reed and sang by the banks of that Jordanian River.

Maybe it’s the clear, strong and direct sound of the mono which engenders these feelings. I’ve always been a sound junkie and there’s nothing I love better than the timbre of an old analogue record blasting through a good stereo system, but playing these single channel tracks on a dilapidated ghetto blaster or a flip top record player (depending whether you’re using vinyl or CDs on this outing) is a surprising powerful experience. There’s nothing coming between the listener and the songs, and one finally realizes that this is how these records were conceived and meant to be heard.

Is there any point in all of this to mention the music itself? It’s an overwhelming body of work and it’s hard to know where to start. During this frantic period, Dylan had so many ideas tumbling out of him that it’s as if the Muse had nothing else to do but sit on Dylan’s lap and whisper in his ear between 1962 and 1968.

If you’re considering taking or retaking this journey, I envy your travels through the Woody Guthrie influenced first album, the still breathtaking ‘Freewheelin’ ( it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that ‘Blowin’, ‘Masters of War’, ‘Girl from the North country, and ‘Don’t think twice’ are all on one album) and all that comes after that. Of all of these records, as brilliant as they are, some of the recordings from Dylan’s psychedelic period don’t resonate with me like they used to. I appreciate the artistic explosion of language, sound and form that they represent, but like the best of Dylan’s work since then, I’ve looked for truth beyond surrealism and was happy to reach less slippery ground with the Biblical poetics of ‘John Wesley Harding’.

In the end, I’m no closer to expressing the effect and experience of this music than I was at the beginning of this piece. So ubiquitous as to be invisible, this music dances around me without landing. Perhaps my first impulse to bury the records in the back yard for future generations to figure out wasn’t such a bad idea. Because, really, how can one rate music like this? It’s like grading the sunrise.

This article also appears at

Free the Taxpayers: Defund State-Sponsored Media

Citizens should not be forced to fund NPR’s progressive propaganda.

By Michelle Malkin
October 22, 2010 12:00 A.M.

In the wake of commentator Juan Williams’s feckless firing by National Public Radio, supporters on the Internet sounded a cheeky rallying cry: “Free Juan!” But Williams has now been liberated from the government-funded media’s politically correct shackles. It’s taxpayers who need to be untethered from NPR and other state-sponsored public broadcasting.

Public radio and public television are funded with your money to the tune of some $400 million in direct federal handouts and tax deductions for contributions made by individual viewers, not to mention untold state grants and subsidies. Supporters argue that this amounts to a tiny portion of state-sponsored media’s overall budget, and an even tinier portion of the overall federal budget.

If it’s so negligible, why do NPR’s government-subsidized “journalists” cling so bitterly to the subsidies? Leverage. The government imprimatur gives NPR and PBS a competitive edge, favoritism with lawmakers and the phony appearance of being above the fray.

The Williams debacle gives definitive lie to the dulcet-toned façade. Without cause or notice, NPR announced Williams’s termination on Twitter (the social-networking service). Williams, who is a Fox News contributor, had committed the deadly sin of expressing public concern about traveling with “people who are in Muslim garb . . . identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims.” Confessed Williams on The O’Reilly Factor Tuesday night: “I get worried. I get nervous.”

Williams compounded the sin of post-9/11 candor by accurately quoting the jihadist threat of convicted would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad: “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drops of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.” Indeed not.

Williams later emphasized in the segment that a distinction needed to be made between “moderate” and “extremist” Muslims. But left-wing bloggers, the P.C. police and Fox-hating organizations weren’t listening. Think Progress, the same outfit that is waging war against the GOP-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce, decried Williams’s remarks. The liberal Huffington Post piled on. Former conservative writer turned liberal scold Andrew Sullivan bestowed his “Malkin Award” (yes, named after yours truly) on Williams and condemned him for supposedly bigoted rhetoric beyond the pale. The granddaddy of all grievance-mongers, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, pressured NPR to “address” Williams’s feelings. CAIR, of course, is notorious for “addressing” its talk-radio and TV critics — from the late Paul Harvey to Dr. Laura to scholar Daniel Pipes — by launching relentless witch hunts to kick dissenters off the air.

Upon summarily firing Williams for violating the public radio station’s “editorial standards,” NPR CEO Vivian Schiller appeased the leftist mob by shamelessly attacking Williams’s mental health. At an Atlanta Press Club event, the former CNN and New York Times executive said Williams “should have kept his feeling about Muslims between himself and ‘his psychiatrist or his publicist.’”

Perhaps after consulting with state-sponsored lawyers, Schiller reconsidered her smear. The NPR website released a hasty statement after her public trashing of Williams was reported: “I spoke hastily and I apologize to Juan and others for my thoughtless remark.”

NPR accused Williams of undermining its credibility. But vindictive Vivian Schiller and her colleagues have undermined state-sponsored radio’s credibility for years with impunity — from NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg publicly wishing for the late GOP senator Jesse Helms to die a painful AIDS-induced death to NPR-affiliate employee Sarah Spitz pining for radio giant Rush Limbaugh’s death on a journalists’ e-mail list.

Thomas Jefferson famously opined: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” NPR and PBS have no problem raising money from corporations and left-wing philanthropists, including billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Institute just gave $1.8 million to pay for at least 100 journalists at NPR-member radio stations in all 50 states over the next three years.

Not one more red cent of public money should go to NPR, PBS, and CPB. Let the speech-squelching progressives and jihadi-whitewashing apologists pay for their own propaganda. Free the taxpayers!

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

I Was Fired for Telling the Truth

By Juan Williams
Published October 21, 2010

Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.

This is not a bigoted statement. It is a statement of my feelings, my fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Muslims. In a debate with Bill O’Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber -- as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals -- are Christians but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.

And I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without the fear of having your throat slashed. Bill and I argued after I said he has to take care in the way he talks about the 9/11 attacks so as not to provoke bigotry.

This was an honest, sensitive debate hosted by O’Reilly. At the start of the debate Bill invited me, challenged me to tell him where he was wrong for stating the fact that “Muslims killed us there,” in the 9/11 attacks. He made that initial statement on the ABC program, "The View," which caused some of the co-hosts to walk off the set. They did not return until O’Reilly apologized for not being clear that he did not mean the country was attacked by all Muslims but by extremist radical Muslims.

I took Bill’s challenge and began by saying that political correctness can cause people to become so paralyzed that they don’t deal with reality. And the fact is that it was a group of Muslims who attacked the U.S. I added that radicalism has continued to pose a threat to the United States and much of the world. That threat was expressed in court last week by the unsuccessful Times Square bomber who bragged that he was just one of the first engaged in a “Muslim War” against the United States. -- There is no doubt that there's a real war and people are trying to kill us.

Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative writer, joined the debate to say that it is important to make the distinction between moderate and extreme Islam for conservatives who support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the premise that the U.S. can build up moderate elements in those countries and push out the extremists. I later added that we don’t want anyone attacked on American streets because “they heard rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy.” Bill agreed and said the man who slashed the cabby was a “nut” and so was the Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Koran.

My point in recounting this debate is to show this was in the best American tradition of a fair, full-throated and honest discourse about the issues of the day. -- There was no bigotry, no crude provocation, no support for anti-Muslim sentiments of any kind.

Two days later, Ellen Weiss, my boss at NPR called to say I had crossed the line, essentially accusing me of bigotry. She took the admission of my visceral fear of people dressed in Muslim garb at the airport as evidence that I am a bigot. She said there are people who wear Muslim garb to work at NPR and they are offended by my comments. She never suggested that I had discriminated against anyone. Instead she continued to ask me what did I mean and I told her I said what I meant. Then she said she did not sense remorse from me. I said I made an honest statement. She informed me that I had violated NPR’s values for editorial commentary and she was terminating my contract as a news analyst.

I pointed out that I had not made my comments on NPR. She asked if I would have said the same thing on NPR. I said yes, because in keeping with my values I will tell people the truth about feelings and opinions.

I asked why she would fire me without speaking to me face to face and she said there was nothing I could say to change her mind, the decision had been confirmed above her, and there was no point to meeting in person. To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy.

I say an ideological battle because my comments on "The O’Reilly Factor" are being distorted by the self-righteous ideological, left-wing leadership at NPR. They are taking bits and pieces of what I said to go after me for daring to have a conversation with leading conservative thinkers. They loathe the fact that I appear on Fox News. They don’t notice that I am challenging Bill O’Reilly and trading ideas with Sean Hannity. In their hubris they think by talking with O’Reilly or Hannity I am lending them legitimacy. Believe me, Bill O’Reilly (and Sean, too) is a major force in American culture and politics whether or not I appear on his show.

Years ago NPR tried to stop me from going on "The Factor." When I refused they insisted that I not identify myself as an NPR journalist. I asked them if they thought people did not know where I appeared on the air as a daily talk show host, national correspondent and news analyst. They refused to budge.

This self-reverential attitude was on display several years ago when NPR asked me to help them get an interview with President George W. Bush. I have longstanding relationships with some of the key players in his White House due to my years as a political writer at The Washington Post. When I got the interview some in management expressed anger that in the course of the interview I said to the president that Americans pray for him but don’t understand some of his actions. They said it was wrong to say Americans pray for him.

Later on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock crisis President Bush offered to do an NPR interview with me about race relations in America. NPR management refused to take the interview on the grounds that the White House offered it to me and not their other correspondents and hosts. One NPR executive implied I was in the administration’s pocket, which is a joke, and there was no other reason to offer me the interview. Gee, I guess NPR news executives never read my bestselling history of the civil rights movement “Eyes on the Prize – America’s Civil Rights Years,” or my highly acclaimed biography “Thurgood Marshall –American Revolutionary.” I guess they never noticed that "ENOUGH," my last book on the state of black leadership in America, found a place on the New York Times bestseller list.

This all led to NPR demanding that I either agree to let them control my appearances on Fox News and my writings or sign a new contract that removed me from their staff but allowed me to continue working as a news analyst with an office at NPR. The idea was that they would be insulated against anything I said or wrote outside of NPR because they could say that I was not a staff member. What happened is that they immediately began to cut my salary and diminish my on-air role. This week when I pointed out that they had forced me to sign a contract that gave them distance from my commentary outside of NPR I was cut off, ignored and fired.

And now they have used an honest statement of feeling as the basis for a charge of bigotry to create a basis for firing me. Well, now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.

Daniel Schorr, my fellow NPR commentator who died earlier this year, used to talk about the initial shock of finding himself on President Nixon’s enemies list. I can only imagine Dan’s revulsion to realize that today NPR treats a journalist who has worked for them for ten years with less regard, less respect for the value of independence of thought and embrace of real debate across political lines, than Nixon ever displayed.

Juan Williams is now a full-time Fox News contributor.

Click on link below to see video of Juan Williams responding to his firing from NPR:

Frankly Ruthless

Rep. Barney Frank has abused his regulatory power for years.

By Thomas Sowell
October 22, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Among long-time politicians who are being seriously challenged for the first time this election year, Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts best epitomizes the cynical ruthlessness that hides behind their lofty rhetoric.

Having been a key figure in promoting the risky mortgage-lending practices imposed by the federal government on lenders — and in encouraging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these risky mortgages from the lenders — Barney Frank blamed the resulting collapse of financial markets and the economy on everybody except Barney Frank.

In February 2009, as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Frank summoned before the committee the heads of some of the biggest banks in the country before his committee. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, these bankers “endured hours of hectoring” by “indignant lawmakers” on that committee.

These bankers were in no position to talk back to members of this committee, much less point out how committee members — including Chairman Barney Frank — had themselves promoted laws and policies responsible for the current economic disaster.

This is a committee with the power to promote legislation detrimental to this heavily regulated industry. That in turn gives the committee the power to force others to sit there and take it, when they are demonized on nationwide TV.

Congressman Barney Frank has never hesitated to use his power ruthlessly. On one occasion, he threatened bankers with summoning them before his committee and forcing them to reveal their home addresses — which would of course put their spouses and children at the mercy of any kooks that might come along.

Meanwhile, Congressman Frank could piously invoke “social justice” in defense of similarly ruthless community activist groups like ACORN or National People’s Action, which had in fact besieged the homes not only of bankers but also of public officials who had dared to oppose their agendas. In Barney Frank’s words, these groups were simply people who “cared about equity” and who were just “trying very hard to preserve some equity and some social justice.”

But the harassment and shakedown activities of such groups were perhaps best captured by the words of a leader of one of these groups, who addressed her followers by saying: “We want it. They’ve got it. Let’s go get it.”

These were not just idle words. The dirty little secret that few in the media seem to want to discuss is that community activists, including Jesse Jackson, have over the years extracted literally billions of dollars from financial institutions, as the price of peace and of not challenging these institutions in hearings before federal regulators, as these groups are empowered to do under the Community Reinvestment Act.

Much of this money has been extracted in the form of risky mortgage loans of the sort that have been at the center of the housing boom and bust, and its repercussions in financial markets and in the economy as a whole.

Among others who have been at the heart of the risky lending behind the financial meltdown are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whom Congressman Barney Frank has also championed and protected. When federal regulators uncovered irregularities in Fannie Mae’s accounting, and in 2004 issued what Barron’s magazine called “a blistering 211-page report,” Barney Frank lashed out — not at Fannie Mae, but at the regulators who uncovered Fannie Mae’s misdeeds. He said “a leadership change” in the regulatory agency was “overdue.”

Politicians who say we need more regulation almost never mean regulation in the sense of impartially enforcing explicit rules, such as the accounting rules that Fannie Mae was violating to cover up its own risks. They mean regulation with arbitrary powers, such as those under the Community Reinvestment Act, which enable regulators to carry out the agendas that politicians give them.

When Congressman Jim Leach tried to get stronger regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 1992, and when President George W. Bush did so in 2004, Barney Frank opposed them.

A reining in of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be a reining in of Barney Frank’s power. But he can’t stop the voters from reining in his power, unless he can once more get by this election year with pious rhetoric to conceal his cynical actions.

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Top 25 Greatest Halloween Films: #12 – ‘The Night Stalker’ (1972)

by John Nolte
October 20, 2010

Don’t look now, baby, but Kolchak’s coming back in style.

38 years ago, on the evening of January 11th, 1972, wearing his signature porkpie hat and seersucker suit, an immortal (and bow-legged) television character strode onto the ABC network and captured more viewers than any television movie had up to that date. A sequel would quickly follow along with a short-lived series. But thanks to a beautifully crafted script by sci-fi legend Richard Matheson and The Mighty Darren McGavin’s incredible characterization, the immortal Carl Kolchak — newspaper man/monster hunter — had arrived in all his bull-headed, tenacious, intuitive and somewhat arrogant glory.

You see, Carl Kolchak used to be somebody. Once upon a time he soared with the eagles high above most every big city in America soaked in the ink-stained eminence of his beloved profession. Unfortunately, because Carl Kolchak is usually always all about Carl Kolchak, he was also fired from each and every one of those jobs (ten and counting) and today finds himself biding his time for the break that will take him back to the top at a small-time Las Vegas newspaper.

Called back only a couple days into his first vacation in years, Kolchak’s assigned to what looks like the nothing murder of a young woman. The only thing out of the ordinary is that she’s been drained of blood and the only difficulty Kolchak faces in reporting a fairly rote story comes in dealing with all the public officials he’s managed to antagonize over the years — people who would like to see the abrasive reporter run out of town, including the Sheriff (Claude Akins), the District Attorney, and at times, even his own editor, the forever put upon and short-fused Anthony Vincenzo (a perfectly cast Simon Oakland).

Soon, however, the nothing story turns into something that could be Kolchak’s ticket back to New York. More dead girls point to a dangerous serial killer, but the coroner (Larry Linville) upsets everyone’s narrative when he reports that not only were all the victims completely drained of blood but each was found with a human bite mark on their neck. This news, combined with witnessing the killer throw a dozen policemen around like rag dolls and keep going after being hit with a hail of gunfire, convinces Kolchak that what they’re dealing with is a real-life vampire. Slowly the evidence and incidents pile up to a point where even Kolchak’s adversaries have to admit he’s correct. But will they keep their promise and let him print the story?

Though it clocks in at a lean 74 minutes, Matheson’s crazily efficient script (based on a then-unpublished novel by Jeff Rice) short-shrifts nothing in the way of character development, humor, action, the elements that make for a compelling mystery, and of course horror. The climax that finds Kolchak — driven more by blind journalistic ambition than bravery — unwisely entering the vampire’s house is a splendidly creepy piece of suspense that closes on a perfect beat allowing for the film’s overall theme regarding the difficult question of public safety versus their right to know to play out.

Best of all, these questions aren’t answered for us. On one side you have cowardly public officials protecting the status quo and on the other a crusading reporter whose ethics never go any further than his byline. This is an intelligently crafted dynamic that not only reflects the times but respects the audience enough to allow them to make up their own minds.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Robert Cobert’s excellent and instantly recognizable score (that would remain and work as the foundation throughout Kolchak’s run) and the pure pleasure that always comes from watching the likes of Elisha Cook Jr., Ralph Meeker, and those already named, work their magic. But there will never be another Darren McGavin, a legendary ham who delivered the goods like few others. As ABC’s failed attempt to revive the series in 2005 proved, McGavin simply is Carl Kolchak and you can no more replace him anymore than you could Fred Sanford, Al Bundy, Jim Rockford or Ralph Kramden.

The following year would find Kolchak driving City of Seattle public officials crazy in the worthy (and imaginative) sequel, "The Night Strangler", based on an original story and screenplay by Matheson. Finally in 1974, Kolchak and Vincenzo would settle in Chicago to play out their love/hate relationship and battle the monster of the week for a single 20 episode season. Because this was a difficult concept to sustain, both the audience and McGavin eventually got bored but unlike most single season programs, the series lives on in perpetual cable syndication, and for good reason. Though uneven at times, there are a number of individual episodes that arguably rank as standalone classics, my personal favorite being “Horror in the Heights.” The series also contains a sequel (with some startling images) to the movie that started it all.

Overall, the series is very entertaining and at times genuinely scary. If it’s famous for anything, though, it’s for a quirkily smart sense of humor that Bob Gale (“Back to the Future” and a BH contributor) is widely credited for in his role as story editor and writer. The legendary David Chase (“Rockford Files,” “The Sopranos”) would also cut his teeth in the noble cause of extending Kolchak’s television lifespan, which in many ways extended well into the 1990s. Chris Carter credits “The Night Stalker” as having a major influence on his creation of the long-running “X-Files,” and he even cast McGavin in an influential guest-starring role as a former F.B.I agent.

So as Kolchak himself might close with: “And there you have it. A world in which the only thing standing between you, your loved ones and the creatures of the night is a flawed reporter running around in a bad suit and white tennis shoes, carrying nothing more than a cheap flash camera and a cassette recorder. And so tonight as you finish your supper and lock your doors and tuck your precious children safely in their little beds, if you hear a bump in the dark remember to close your eyes and tell yourself it’s only a dream – and hope that you’re right. Because Carl Kolchak lives on only in reruns and will never be replaced.”

Click on link below to see John Nolte's complete list of 'Top 25 Greatest Halloween Films':

Democrats Are The French Party

Europeans are struggling to reverse their leftward lurch; Democrats are accelerating ours.

By Mona Charen
October 21, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Only in France could a labor action sound like a tasty appetizer. They call it “escargot,” but they’re not referring to snails in a buttery garlic sauce. No, this escargot refers to the practice of truckers who work in teams to snarl traffic by driving at a snail’s pace. Infuriated drivers cannot get around them.

Those were among the milder tactics on display in France during the past week as more than a million Frenchmen (according to Interior Ministry estimates) engaged in strikes, demonstrations, and protests that often turned violent. The streets have been thronged with the apparently always-summonable union workers and students. Fuel depots have been blockaded, leaving a third of the nation’s gas stations empty. Motorcycles and cars have been torched, bus shelters smashed, and stores looted around the country (protesters presumably don’t want to let a crisis go to waste). More than 1,400 arrests have been made over the past week, and 62 police have been injured. Trucks have blocked tunnels, and 69 ships sit at anchor in Marseilles harbor unable to dock due to the strike at oil terminals. Those on board a ship may be better off though, because the sanitation workers’ strike has caused stinking piles of trash to push skyward on Marseilles’s streets.

This spectacle of French petulance is in response to the government’s proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Life expectancy in France is 81 years. But that modest proposal (too modest, actually, as it will buy France only eight years before the pension system again plunges into insolvency) is enough to spark millions of cries de coeur. Work an extra two years? C’est insupportable! (Across the channel, the British are imposing deep benefit cuts without, so far, eliciting tantrums.)

Democrats in the United States must be wishing that their French brothers would pipe down, at least until after November 2, because American voters may notice that everything the Democrats want for America is what France already has.

Years of socialist legislation have shackled France’s economy and depressed growth. Between 1980 and 2000, only Greece and Germany grew more slowly (in Germany’s case, reunification took its toll). French law mandates a “livable” minimum wage, with the result that jobs are comfortable for those who have them but often unobtainable for those who don’t. Because the French also make it extremely difficult to fire people, employers are reluctant to hire. The unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent. But for the young, the rate is closer to 25 percent. And for African and Arab immigrants, 50 percent is the norm.

The French government has an active “industrial policy,” guiding “investment” in favored companies and industries. Employment is highly regulated. Until 2008, the government required that workers be asked to toil no more than 35 hours per week and guaranteed a month of paid vacation each year. The health-care delivery system is public. And taxes are high — a marginal rate of 50 percent — among the highest in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But France is deeply in debt and faces an aging population. In order to maintain its AAA bond rating, the French government is frantic to find economies. Thirty-five years of uninterrupted deficits have driven France’s gross debt to 1.4 trillion euros, equivalent to about 86 percent of GDP, according to Bloomberg news. (We are not far behind, with debt equivalent to 67 percent of GDP.)

But all of those goodies distributed by the state — all those free lunches — have significantly corrupted France’s civic culture to the point where any cut in benefits, even a trifling change in the retirement age, is violently resisted. One protester, Reuters reports, carried a sign reading “To hell with the national debt! We’ll give them nothing and we don’t give a damn about their AAA.” These are socialism’s spoiled brats.

What Democrats have most to fear is that American voters will perceive that, indignant denials notwithstanding, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Patty Murray, Joe Sestak, Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown, and the Democratic party in general, are indistinguishable from the socialist parties of Europe — with this difference: Where the Europeans are struggling to reverse their leftward lurch, the Democrats are accelerating ours.

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

Is Barney Frank?

By Thomas Sowell
October 21, 2010

You would be hard pressed to find a politician who is less frank than Congressman Barney Frank. Even in an occupation where truth and candor are often lacking, Congressman Frank is in a class by himself when it comes to rewriting history in creative ways. Moreover, he has a lot of history to rewrite in his re-election campaign this year.

No one contributed more to the policies behind the housing boom and bust, which led to the economic disaster we are now in, than Congressman Barney Frank.

His powerful position on the House of Representatives' Committee on Financial Services gave him leverage to force through legislation and policies which pressured banks and other lenders to grant mortgage loans to people who would not qualify under the standards which had long prevailed, and had long made mortgage loans among the safest investments around.

All this was done in the name of promoting more home-ownership among people who had neither the income nor the credit history that would meet traditional mortgage lending standards.

To those who warned of the risks in the new policies, Congressman Frank replied in 2003 that critics "exaggerate a threat of safety" and "conjure up the possibility of serious financial losses to the Treasury, which I do not see." Far from being reluctant to promote risky practices, Barney Frank said, "I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation."

With the federal regulators leaning on banks to make more loans to people who did not meet traditional qualifications -- the "underserved population" in political Newspeak -- and quotas being given to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy more of these riskier mortgages from the original lenders, critics pointed out the dangers in these pressures to meet arbitrary home ownership goals. But Barney Frank counter-attacked against these critics.

In 2004 he said: "I believe that we, as the Federal Government, have probably done too little rather than too much to push them to meet the goals of affordable housing." He went further: "I would like to get Fannie and Freddie more deeply into helping low-income housing."

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were crucial to these schemes to force lenders to lend to those whom politicians wanted them to lend to, rather than to those who were most likely to pay them back. So it is no surprise that Barney Frank was very protective towards these two government-sponsored enterprises that were buying up mortgages that banks were willing to make under political pressure, but were often unwilling to keep.

The risks which banks were passing on to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were ultimately risks to the taxpayers. Although there was no formal guarantee to these enterprises, everybody knew that the federal government would always bail them out, if necessary, to keep them from failing. Everybody except Barney Frank.

"There is no guarantee," according Congressman Frank in 2003, "there is no explicit guarantee, there is no implicit guarantee, there is no wink-and-nod guarantee." Barney Frank is a master of rhetoric, who does not let the facts cramp his style.

Fast forward now to 2008, after the risky mortgages had led to huge numbers of defaults, dragging down Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the financial markets in general -- and with them the whole economy.

Barney Frank was all over the media, pointing the finger of blame at everybody else. When financial analyst Maria Bartiromo asked Congressman Frank who was responsible for the financial crisis, he said, "right-wing Republicans." It so happens that conservatives were the loudest critics who had warned for years against the policies that Barney Frank pushed, but why let facts get in the way?

Ms. Bartiromo did not just accept whatever Barney Frank said. She said: "With all due respect, congressman, I saw videotapes of you saying in the past: 'Oh, let's open up the lending. The housing market is fine.'" His reply? "No, you didn't see any such tapes."

"I did. I saw them on TV," she said. But Barney Frank did not budge. He understood that a good offense is the best defense. He also understands that rewriting history this election year is his best bet for keeping his long political career alive.

- Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

It Is Over

The Current Crisis

By R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. on 10.21.10 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator

WASHINGTON -- The Democrats are about to be beaten by something that they do not in their heart of hearts think exists, a huge national majority. At this late hour, with the storm clouds gathering and the livestock getting restless, they see only sunshine. Yes, there is "foreign money" out there. Yes, the media has bungled broadcasting the purity of the Democratic message. And naturally angry voices can be heard. Yet surely there is no majority gathering to unseat the party of decency and good deeds. Well, there is, and it is nothing like the Democrats describe it.

That majority is amiable, sensible, and believes in limited government. It is convinced that we face a catastrophic budget crisis, and that measures must be taken against the spending and on behalf of growth. Furthermore, many of these friendly Americans would be delighted to give our President a ride home if they found him on a street corner, though they would be a lot happier if he did not live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They doubt he would ask them in for a drink. After all, to him they do not exist.

Many of these people are Tea Partiers. Now they certainly do exist. Yet they are nothing like the Democrats believe them to be. They are not angry and warlike. They are concerned about what the Democrats have done these past months, but they will retire them the old fashioned way, through the ballot box.

Our President has a difficult time conceiving of this growing majority who oppose him. Apparently in May, President Obama asked a group of presidential historians over to the White House to discuss history and to inform him of any historic movements comparable to the Tea Party Movement in all of American history. The historians told him what he wanted to hear. As Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times Magazine, the President wanted to know whether there were "precedents for this sort of backlash against the establishment? What sparked them and how did they shape American politics." Reportedly the historians spoke of the "Know-Nothings" of the 1850s, the Populists of the 1890s, and the Coughlinites of the 1930s. Thus our President was reassured. They were racists and fruitcakes. He heard nothing to challenge his smug sense of history.

Yet, once again he was misinformed by his experts. Michael Barone speaks more accurately of the historic precursors to the Tea Party Movement. He says voters concerned about limited government and federal spending were forming a prodigious movement toward the end of the 1930s. The movement in his mind might have successfully challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt by 1940, but the rising threat of Nazism intervened. Doubtless there have been other precursors to the Tea Party Movement, for instance the original Tea Partiers back in colonial Boston. The truth is there has been a tug between big centralized government and local government since the founding of the Republic.

Reading the piece by Baker was an odd experience. It was talking about a president who in less than two years has lost the trust of the American people, especially Independents. It quoted soaring rhetoric from Obama in June of 2008 when he said, "we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet [the whole planet!] began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth." After that there will be nothing to do, so we can all play golf or read a good book.

There was also this: "Obama's team takes pride that he has fulfilled three of the five major promises he laid out as pillars of his 'new foundation'... -- health care, education reform, and financial reregulation." So what? Education reform is a nullity. Ten years from now, test scores will still be in the drink. As for the other monstrosities, they are a large part of the Obama disaster. The growing majority that is about to retire Obama's Democratic majority in the House and possibly in the Senate knows this. The Ruling Class, including Baker, seems to be oblivious of it, but the rest of the nation knows it.

Socialism is another of the gods that have failed. If you balk at my use of the word socialism, how about if I say Liberalism is another of the gods that have failed? What is astonishing is precisely how extreme the Liberalism practiced by Obama and the Democrats has been. Well, it has failed. The Liberals show no hint that they realize this, but the American majority does. Now that majority has to deal with the mess we are in. As for the Liberals, they have to explain why they are summarily leaving office.

- R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. His new book, After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery, was published on April 20 by Thomas Nelson. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; and The Clinton Crack-Up.

Sabathia Keeps Yanks Alive

Yankees, ace CC Sabathia rise as true champions to defend pride, Stadium against Rangers

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Thursday, October 21st 2010, 4:00 AM

They got up again for CC Sabathia with two on and two out in the top of the sixth, got up on what could yet be the last night of baseball at the Stadium this season, got up big and loud and told Sabathia to get them one more out against the Rangers.

After all the pitches Sabathia had thrown, they wanted him to throw the one that would get him out of the sixth with his 6-2 lead, win the fight he was having with Mitch Moreland, hand Game 5 to Kerry Wood, who would then hand it to Mo Rivera. On the night when the Yankees got back up against the Rangers the way champions are supposed to get up in moments like this, the Stadium didn't ask Sabathia to win the series here, or even the game. Just make them believe the Yankees were going to win the night.

Really the cheer said this:

Not here.

Sabathia hadn't shown you the best he had in Game 5. Just all he had. He had given the Rangers 11 hits, thrown 111 pitches already. There had been at least one baserunner in every inning, sometimes more than that. But in all the big moments of Game 5, the one the Yankees had to win to keep playing, Sabathia had found the pitch he needed.

"One thing about CC," Joe Girardi would say. "He's good at limiting damage."

Now he needed to do it again. He had gotten Josh Hamilton to end the Rangers' fifth by hitting into a double play. Get Moreland now. One run in, Ian Kinsler on third, Jeff Francoeur on second, Wood warmed up. Get Moreland, get to the dugout with the lead. The count was 2-2. Moreland had fouled off good pitches, hard stuff and breaking balls.

"Couldn't put him away," Sabathia said.

Moreland already had one hit in the game. If he got another, it was 6-4 and here came the Rangers again, maybe all the way back to win the pennant.

After all of the quiet moments of the past two nights, two endings when the Stadium looked as if there had been some kind of emergency evacuation by the ninth inning, this was the place rising up again to beg for the season to at least not end here. Maybe in Arlington Friday night, or on Saturday night against Cliff Lee if the Yankees could find a way to make the Rangers go the distance after being up three games to one.

Just not tonight and not here.

Somehow Moreland working the at-bat through seven pitches already just made them louder at the Stadium. Then Sabathia dropped a cutter on the inside corner and Moreland took it the way you take a good left hook. Inning over. Sabathia was done. So were the Rangers on this night. Sometimes you know.

"Threw him a cutter that ended up backing up enough that he didn't swing at it," CC Sabathia said.

"We had Sabathia bended," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "He didn't break."

So the Yankees do not lose the last four games of the American League Championship Series. So the Yankees finally played the game with a big lead and Sabathia showed he knows how to pitch with that kind of lead. They all go to Arlington and try to find a way to come all the way back from 3-1 down the way only one Yankee team ever had, the '58 Yankees in the World Series against the Braves. And the Braves didn't beat up the '58 Yankees the way the Rangers beat them up over the first four games of this series.

"They're the champs," Washington said in the interview room. "We didn't expect them to lay down."

If they somehow get out of this, if they push it to Game 7 and then find a way to get a game off Lee the way he is pitching, has pitched in the playoffs, it will be the greatest comeback in the history of the Yankees, even if they did have to beat Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette in the last two games in '58.

This time the Yankees made their big hits pay off. This time Sabathia got Hamilton before he got the Yankees. The Yankees got three in the second and two in the third and it was the first time since the eighth inning of Game 1 that they got more than one run in an inning off the Rangers.

The season may not make it back to the Stadium for the World Series, may not make it past Lee if the Yankees make it that far. The Yankees still got up Wednesday. One knee. But they got up. They didn't let the Rangers win the pennant at the Stadium.

They are not in the clear, not by a long shot, still trying to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves over the first four games of the series. But the Yankees showed up after being outscored 25-5 in the last three games, after losing 8-0 to Lee, after watching the Rangers score the last eight runs of Game 4.

"We had not played particularly well in this series to say the least," Joe Girardi said.

They need two more games. One more to get to Lee. But Robinson Cano hit another one in Game 5, Jorge Posada showed why you never sit him down at this time of year, Nick Swisher finally made a swing. Four home runs for Cano in this series, four for Hamilton. It's like watching Kobe play LeBron.

The Yankees saved their season Wednesday. They try to save it again Friday night. CC Sabathia stood up Wednesday the way an ace is supposed to. The Yankees got up. Champs don't lay down. The Rangers may still win the pennant. Not here.