Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Rangers’ Clean and Sober Batting Champion

The New York Times
October 29, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — If anybody is equipped to lead a team back from a two-games-to-none deficit in the World Series, it is Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who has climbed out of a deeper and darker abyss.

Five Octobers ago, Hamilton was out of baseball and on his grandmother’s doorstep, strung out and gaunt. No player has bared more on baseball’s biggest stage than Hamilton, who speaks openly about an addiction to alcohol and drugs that cost him nearly four years of his baseball career and almost destroyed his life.

That type of public exposure Hamilton handles with aplomb. He was much less comfortable the other day when he emerged from his postgame shower at AT&T Park with a butter-colored bath towel wrapped around his midsection and spotted several reporters ringing his locker.

There’s nothing like having to dress in front of cameramen and assorted other strangers, including a few women, to make a guy self-conscious.

“It’s kind of a weird deal, man,” Hamilton said, his clear blue eyes scanning the two dozen faces staring at him.

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 27: Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers grounds out in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants in Game One of the 2010 MLB World Series at AT&T Park on October 27, 2010 in San Francisco, California.(Getty Images)

The spotlight’s glare can be blinding to someone on the path to a clean and sober life, but Hamilton, who led the American League this year with a .359 batting average, is determined not to stumble. He has his Bible verses to calm him, one of his favorites being a passage from the Book of James: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

Hamilton’s teammates have done their part, dousing him with ginger ale instead of alcohol during their postseason celebrations. He also leans heavily on his support group, which includes his wife, Katie, and his adviser and confidant, Johnny Narron, a Rangers coach who watched from the periphery as Hamilton conducted his postgame World Series press conferences, then walked out with him to the team bus at the end of each night.

Another mentor is Dwight Gooden, the former Mets pitcher who has waged a public battle with drug addiction. Gooden, a Tampa, Fla., resident, followed Hamilton’s career after he was drafted by the Rays and reached out to him when he heard he was struggling with sobriety.

“I could relate,” Gooden, 45, said by telephone. “When you’re a high draft pick, so much is put on you and the expectations are so high, when you have a downfall, you’re crushed more than anybody. A lot of times you’ll isolate yourself, and when you do that you’re setting yourself up for failure. I didn’t want to see him do that.”

Gooden and Hamilton talk every couple of weeks, sometimes more, Gooden said.

Hamilton said, “I think it’s a good thing to talk to people who know what the temptations are like and the pressures are like to be a pro athlete.”

The Rangers, who are appearing in the first World Series in the franchise’s 50-year history, have not looked like the team that eliminated the Yankees.

“I think maybe we’re saying we’re having fun,” Hamilton said, “but we’re not having fun. We’re tightening up.”

Hamilton, 29, a leading candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player award, has produced one hit in eight World Series at-bats. His timing has been slightly off, but his sense of the absurd is as sharp as ever.

After going 0 for 4 with a walk in the first game, Hamilton laughed about being assaulted in center field by the pungent aroma of marijuana wafting down from the stands.

“It was crazy,” he said.

Asked whether the smell triggered any yearnings or flashbacks, Hamilton said it did not. “That wasn’t my drug of choice,” he said.

From a dependency on cocaine and Crown Royal to the high of being on baseball’s biggest stage, Hamilton’s journey since 2005 has been both remarkable and surreal.

Nolan Ryan, the Rangers president, said: “I don’t think that I can truly appreciate what he’s overcome and the way he’s handled it. To me, it’s a phenomenal story.”

Hamilton, drafted first over all by Tampa Bay in 1999, was well on his way to the majors in 2001 when he was in a car accident during the first month of spring training. He injured his back and was unable to play.

Without the game to anchor his days, Hamilton was adrift. He started abusing drugs and alcohol, and a habit that he said was born of boredom quickly became a compulsion. Eight trips to rehab followed, but Hamilton said he did not begin to turn his life around until he became a devout Christian.

He returned to baseball in 2006, made the Cincinnati Reds’ opening day roster in 2007, moved to Texas via trade for the 2008 season and has been named to the American League All-Star team the past three years. He submits to drug tests three times a week, and except for one drunken episode in Phoenix before spring training in 2009, he appears to have maintained his sobriety.

“I feel very blessed,” Hamilton said. “A lot of people don’t get second chances with drugs and alcohol.”

Anthony Hargrove, a defensive tackle for the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, is another athlete who got a second chance. Hargrove, who was suspended for the 2008 N.F.L. season after failing multiple drug tests, described Hamilton as “a light for those in the dark.”

In an e-mail, Hargrove wrote: “He was my motivation when I was coming back. I had an article of him his first season back and for me he was the person I felt close with even though we didn’t know each other.”

Hamilton keeps his story in play so he can reach as many people as possible. During batting practice before the two games in San Francisco, he signed autographs for people, some of whom shared their tales of addiction and recovery and thanked him for going public with his.

“I talked to a couple of fans who were clean and sober for 14 months,” Hamilton said. “Hats off to them.”

Early in his recovery, Hamilton couldn’t handle the testimonials of others. “I’d hear stories that would trigger things that I didn’t want to be thinking about,” he said. “I’d go sit in the meeting and hear about someone using and I’d leave and want to go use. Once I got that thought in my head, I was obsessed with it until I’d use.”

Now, when his mind gets stuck on a thought, Hamilton recites a passage from Scripture, often provided by Narron. Hamilton’s coping strategies were tested this summer when he sat out most of September with two broken ribs that continue to bother him.

Hamilton said that when he was sidelined with the back injury, “alcohol and drugs were the closest thing I could find to getting that feeling when I was playing the game.”

“That was one reason it was so tough to kick the habit,” he said.

He said it was not difficult for him to stay away from drugs and alcohol this time. When asked why, he pointed at Narron and said: “He’s been a great accountability partner on the road. He’s been a blessing for me.”

Narron, who grew close to Hamilton when they both worked for the Reds, is paid by the Rangers and listed as a special assignment coach. On road trips, he eats most meals with Hamilton and holds on to his cash and major league per diem money. Hamilton never carries more than $40 in his pocket.

Asked about Narron’s salary, Ryan said, “Basically, we look at it as an insurance policy.”

The giant fishbowl that is the World Series would seem to be a huge stressor for a recovering addict, but Hamilton sees it differently. “Being around the game, it’s something that occupies your time,” he said. “It’s good for my recovery.”

Fatal Consequences

“The Red Riding Trilogy.”

by David Denby
The New Yorker
February 15, 2010

“This is the North—we do what we want.” These defiantly jocular words are spoken by a policeman as he throws a young reporter out the back of a van. The scene takes place in “Red Riding: 1974,” the first in a series of films, “The Red Riding Trilogy,” made last year for British television’s Channel 4, and now released in theatres as a mammoth, sensationally violent and beautiful five-hour movie. (The trilogy is also available on cable, as a video on demand under the rubric “IFC in Theaters.”) The North in the policeman’s boast is West Yorkshire—the city of Leeds, mostly, but also featureless pale-green moors and, among them, small, rubbly towns with dead-looking brown houses. “The Red Riding Trilogy” is based on a quartet of books (one was dropped for the TV adaptation) written by the British noir specialist David Peace, who, starting in 1999, fictionalized some of England’s most notorious recent crimes. Elements of the following find their way into the movie: the “Moors murders,” of five children, between July, 1963, and October, 1965; the murder of thirteen women by Peter William Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, between 1975 and 1980; and a miscarriage of justice that saw Stefan Kiszko, a twenty-six-year-old tax clerk from Rochdale, serve sixteen years for a 1975 murder that he did not commit. Believe it or not, the series is an entertainment.

Most of the trilogy is about the wavering attempts to get at the truth of botched police investigations—ineptitudes that the novels and the movie turn into an interlocking system of corruption. You don’t see any of the murders, but there are shadows of death everywhere: pale corpses, brutality and cynicism, and hints of perversion and obsession—a sense of violation fouling the terrain. One writer, Tony Grisoni, did the adaptation, but each film has a different director and a different look. A few scenes in each episode—the repeated use of swans’ wings as a portent, some fancy camerawork—border on the pretentious, but the dark power and the flowing organization of the material pull you into the narrative, which moves forward and backward in a single skein of visionary filmmaking. Forgoing digital effects, or any presence of the supernatural, “The Red Riding Trilogy” nevertheless achieves a terrific sense of the uncanny, an atmosphere so spooked and suggestive that it becomes oddly attractive, like an enchanted forest in a children’s story. Flowers of evil are growing in the stony Yorkshire soil.

Grisoni retained Peace’s noir fatalism, his colloquial, bitter pungency—the gibes and roughhousing of male camaraderie and rivalry—and he filled out the social background. Pummelled by the repeated crimes, the population seems as cursed as the landscape, which has been stripped of its famous beauty. Many of the women are frightened or grieving, many of the men vaguely or openly guilty, even those who haven’t done anything, whose only crime is being fallible or knowing things that trouble them. As in any mystery, we’re eager for the truth, and “Red Riding” finally delivers: inexplicable acts and cryptic conversations, baffling at first, are recapitulated, interpreted, and resolved; characters who hover meekly in the background of the first film grow in importance later in the series, sometimes by means of flashback or moments from the past opened up and made clear. For Peace and Grisoni, the primal sin, which sets in motion the years of nasty behavior, is greed. In the first film, the fictional top inspectors of the West Yorkshire police have been bought by a powerful real-estate developer, John Dawson (Sean Bean), who is himself criminal in his appetites. As the series goes on, the police commit crimes to cover their relationship with Dawson, and then more crimes to cover the earlier ones. The series suggests that, when the Ripper was still at large, the police imitated his gruesome method of killing so that their acts would be taken as his. In other words, the serial crimes of the insane create a kind of protective shell for the rational crimes of the merely greedy, a deeply unsettling idea.

A few hard-pressed idealists try to clear out the spreading rot. In the first film, the cocky reporter Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a tall, good-looking young man with sideburns and warm brown eyes, takes on this dirty world. Little girls are being murdered, and, as far as Dunford can see, the police are too compromised to catch anyone. He braves the rancid atmosphere around police headquarters and also at his newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, whose editor colludes with Dawson. Careless and randy, Dunford has an affair with Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall), who has lost her young daughter to the killer. But Garland has also been bought off by Dawson (she’s his mistress), and the wonderful Hall makes her soulfully masochistic—an intelligent but lost woman trapped in a life gone wrong. Garland wants to be saved, but Dunford, a likably ambitious and libidinous descendant of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, is too reckless to be effective. He gets laid a lot, but also beaten up a lot; he lacks the instincts of a survivor. The director, Julian Jarrold (“Becoming Jane”), tells the story entirely from Dunford’s point of view; we’re close to his pleasures and risks, which is both satisfying and unnerving. And Jarrold, I would guess, has taken a good look at David Lynch’s work. He has a taste for lowering gray skies and dark roads barely penetrated by sparse headlights. His hero falls into trances, as if the truth could be found in his unconscious.

Andrew Garfield and Rebecca Hall as a reporter and the mother of a missing child.

In the second film, “Red Riding: 1980,” the Ripper is rampaging all over Leeds, and the Home Office sends an inspector from Manchester to find the killer and clean up the mess in the police department. Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is a more experienced and disciplined figure than Eddie Dunford, and the director of this episode, James Marsh (“Man on Wire”), in keeping with Hunter’s cool, has a more settled and purposefully matter-of-fact style. We’re more firmly anchored in reality this time: the episode begins with documentary footage from the Ripper years. Caught at last, the Ripper, played with bizarre calm by Joseph Mawle, describes one of his killings to the assembled West Yorkshire police. Everyone listens with a kind of horrified awe; the police may be stunned, in part, because they can no longer hide their own crimes behind the Ripper’s. Still, even with the Ripper out of commission, the curse on the North isn’t lifted. Hunter has already been stymied in his attempt to wipe out corruption. Again and again, he runs into the obscurantist rancor of a crooked officer named Bob Craven, played by the eerily intense Sean Harris, who literally goes nose to nose with Paddy Considine’s Hunter, pushing him back physically with his face. Frozen out, discredited, and dealing with problems of his own, Hunter begins to fall apart. The light for a number of scenes is an eerie white, as if we had entered a twilight zone where certainty fails.

In the final episode, “Red Riding: 1983,” directed by Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie”), the random forces of goodness at last assemble their feeble powers. Another girl disappears, and the crime, which has obvious similarities to the disappearances and the deaths of a decade earlier, sickens one of the police higher-ups, a solemnly imposing man, Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who has been in on the fix all along. Jobson, mumbling and tentative, undergoes a gradual awakening, the first sign of police effectiveness. He is joined in the fight for clarity by a shabby lawyer, John Piggott (Mark Addy), a stout and morose failure who is stricken by his own family connection to the Yorkshire violence. The two men have another partner whom neither is aware of. Years earlier, there was a secondary sin: a young boy was turned into a prostitute by a local man whom we see throughout the series. The hustler, B.J. (Robert Sheehan), who witnessed some of the crimes, also floats in and out of all three episodes, a softly lyrical insinuation, too scared to tell more than a little of what he knows. It is B.J., professionally a criminal but morally an innocent, who narrates the surprise conclusion in which, after much misery, a seeming resurrection takes place. The stray bits of white light seen in parts two and three are gathered into a powerful shaft, and the cycle of murder and corruption is brought to a close.

David Peace has written that “crime is brutal, harrowing and devastating for everyone involved,” and this certainly comes through in the adaptation. But a high degree of art and show-business savvy has been applied to the unspeakable. The expressiveness of even the minor actors, for instance, warms the bleak atmosphere. “The Red Riding Trilogy” is an exhausting, morbidly fascinating, and finally thrilling experience. The hardiest viewers may want to brave the five-hour marathon in the theatres, but most people, I believe, would be happier seeing it one episode at a time, savoring its complex turns, its perversities and occasional beauties, over a number of sweetly troubled days. ♦

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: 'Red Riding' trilogy

To view this gritty, gripping series is to enter a devil's bargain: Watch and you'll never forget.

By KENNETH TURAN, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
February 12, 2010

The powerfully disturbing "Red Riding" trilogy will haunt you waking and sleeping, night and day. If you survive the watching of it, that is, which is no easy thing.

It's not the five-hours-plus length of this trio of devastatingly bleak modern British noir films that's daunting. Far from it. Strongly made by three different directors with three different crews but using scripts from the same writer and the same cast for its recurring characters, these films are put together with so much ability and skill that the time simply melts away.

Rather, the hard paradox of this project is that what makes these merciless films at times almost unbearable to watch also makes them frankly impossible to get out of your mind. Not only do they create a gritty, compelling world thick with the fetid air of venality, corruption and desperation, but they also periodically traffic in ghastly and horrific torture, sometimes shown, sometimes merely described, but always circling back to a series of sadistic, soul-destroying murders of women and little girls.

All this and more comes from a quartet of intense, chaotic novels by David Peace ("fictions torn from facts that illuminate the truth," he says) that in turn were inspired by events surrounding northern England's real-life Yorkshire Ripper murders.

While each book was initially supposed to get its own film, budget cuts at British TV giant Channel 4 meant that only three could be made. Each novel is named after a year, but when the film title comes up on-screen, the phrase "In the Year of Our Lord" is added, as if to ironically remind us that we are entering a world where godly behavior is going to be difficult to find.

Though the search for murderers is the engine of Tony Grisoni's driving scripts, that's not what the "Red Riding" films are about. With the meaning or even exactly what's happening in specific moments often intentionally unclear, these are unsettling, multi-layered investigations of character and society, described by the screenwriter as akin to "Dickens on bad acid." In this thoroughly corrupt society, no one is pure enough to cast the first stone, but the drive to end unspeakable evil is still a powerful one, even if it runs through fatally compromised individuals.

These intensely atmospheric pieces are set in Leeds and embedded root and branch in what the films present as the brutal culture of the North of England, where accents are hard to decipher, where the cold -- spiritual as well as physical -- gets in your bones and where the motto of the police is "This is the North, where we do what we want." The "Red Riding" title comes from the Ridings, a trio of administrative areas in Yorkshire, with the addition of red likely calling attention to the violence of the murders and the allusion to the fairy tale, reminding us that young girls were involved.

The first part, "1974," directed by Julian Jarrold, follows cocky and ambitious young Yorkshire Post crime reporter Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) as he starts to suspect that the torture deaths of little girls over several years could be linked. His investigations lead him to surly chief detective Billy "The Badger" Molloy (Warren Clarke), powerful developer John Dawson ( Sean Bean), local vicar Martin Laws (Peter Mullan), mysterious rent boy BJ (Robert Sheehan) and the beautiful, haunted young widow Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall). But no good will come of it, no good at all.

Directed by James Marsh, the second part, "1980," involves a second series of murders, the ghastly Ripper attacks on women. The Home Office, worried about the pace of the Yorkshire Police investigation, sends in a key operative from Manchester, Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), to try to figure out what's going on. He comes up against a resentful, resistant police culture, typified by the sadistic detective Bob Craven ( Sean Harris). "How deep does the rot go?" Hunter wonders. "Who stops it?"

Attempting to answer that question, the third part, Anand Tucker's "1983," follows two characters, solicitor John Piggott (Mark Addy) and top cop Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), as they both are compelled against their better judgment and even their self-interest to staunch the flood of corruption, to attempt to get to the source of evil that always seems just out of reach.

Though there are differences in visual and directorial style in the three parts, on a first viewing at least they seem all of a piece, more united by themes, scripts and actors than divided by individual flourishes. The acting is exceptionally convincing and adds an air of verisimilitude. It's remarkable to find out that Hall, almost unrecognizable as a North Country Marilyn Monroe type, came directly from Woody Allen's fluffy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" to this, which must have been the most mind-bending of transitions.

Though the sadism and torture laced throughout the "Red Riding" trilogy is only fitfully present, when it does arrive it is graphic and upsetting enough to make watching this exceptionally well-made series very much a devil's bargain. You take the risk and hope the price you pay is worth it. Which, given the agonizing subject matter, is perhaps just as it should be.


Red Riding Trilogy

March 10, 2010

"Red Riding Trilogy" is an immersive experience like "The Best of Youth," "Brideshead Revisited" or "Nicholas Nickleby." Over the course of 302 minutes, we sink into a virtual world: the corrupt police and establishment figures of West Yorkshire in England, at the time of the real-life "Yorkshire Ripper." Peter Sutcliffe, the Ripper, was convicted of killing 13 women, and may have killed more. The fictional Ripper here enjoys the same inexplicable immunity to police investigation.

This is the sort of undertaking the UK's Channel 4 excels at, and is approached in the United States only by ambitious cable TV series. The experience could give you the impression that the three parts were filmed at separate times. The visual style proceeds from 16mm to 35mm to high-def video, different actors play some of the characters at different times, and there are three directors, each with a distinctive style. But that was all part of Channel 4's plan, and the completed trilogy aired in March 2009.

A large cast of characters is involved in a complex series of events. Few viewers could be blamed for failing a test on what happens, and who (in addition to the Ripper) is guilty. Strict continuity is sidestepped to such a degree that some characters do not quite seem to remain dead. This is a way to reflect the shifting nature of reality in which there are many concealed motives, and the police version of events is fabricated entirely for their own convenience.

The police have their reasons, chillingly dramatized in a scene where conspirators drink a toast to "the North!" Yorkshire is in northern England, traditionally hostile to the South (London), but what does that have to do with a license for corruption? The toast is an example of the human willingness to excuse behavior by evoking meaningless abstractions (The South! The Young! Partytime! Der Fuehrer!) Where they are is irrelevant to what they do.

They are in a society that seems, to our North American eyes, clearly distinct from other parts of Britain. In some segments, the Yorkshire accents are so pronounced that Channel 4 wisely adds subtitles. We are inhabiting a subculture. In the early scenes, our attention is focused on an investigative reporter, new in town, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), who looks deeper into the murders, but is unlucky enough to get personally involved with a woman linked to a separate series of crimes. Their intimate scenes together are the closest the trilogy will come to human kindness.

Dunford is an unalloyed hero. Much of the rest of the story involves conspirators who plot among and against themselves. Any sense of objective morality is lacking. We get the sense that no one rises high in the police without knowing the rules and playing by them. They arrange for their own immunity.

There is a public outcry as the Ripper continues to kill and evade capture. It was the same in real life. Scotland Yard was brought in, represented indirectly here by a veteran cop named Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine). He makes little progress, largely because the officers he's working with have guilt to conceal and much to cover up.

Without revealing anything crucial, the reality is that the Ripper murders are invisibly connected to a police cover-up of a deadly real estate conspiracy, and if you pull a string from the Ripper, the whole ball of yarn of the larger conspiracy may unravel. A central figure becomes a vile chief of police, played by David Morrissey, who is so alarming that one searches the Web to discover he looks like a nice enough man in real life. The casting here and throughout is essential to the trilogy's effect.

All this time a mentally challenged suspect has been held as the alleged Ripper. He has even confessed, which after police interrogation in Yorkshire is a foregone conclusion. His guilt is convincingly challenged, which leads to a reopening of the case, as well it might, because the murders didn't stop with his imprisonment.

One wants to believe no police department in North America has even been as corrupt as this one from Yorkshire. That may not be true, but the chances of a television trilogy about it are slim. "Red Riding Trilogy" hammers at the dark souls of its villains until they crack open, and it is a fascinating sight. We're in so deep by the final third that there can hardly be a character whose hidden evil comes as a surprise: Can innocence exist in this environment?

The directors, who worked on their segments more or less simultaneously, have impressive credits that do not, however, suggest the different feels they bring to their segments. "Red Riding: 1974" is by Julian Jarrold, whose "Brideshead Revisited," "Becoming Jane" and "Kinky Boots" are all some distance from the immediacy of his 16mm film.

"Red Riding: 1980" is by James Marsh, whose documentaries "Man on Wire" and "Wisconsin Death Trip" don't suggest the 35mm feature feel of his segment. Anand Tucker ("Shopgirl," "Hilary and Jackie"), who directed "Red Riding 1983," is a specialist in clearly delineated ambiguity, at odds with the moral anarchy of his segment. I gather they were not hired to reproduce their strengths, but to find the right approach for this material.

I have given only the sketchiest of plot outlines here. The trilogy isn't so much about what happens objectively (which can sometimes be hard to determine), but about the world in which it takes place, a miasma of greed and evil. I have no idea whether the real Yorkshire police were led by monsters such as these. Someone must have thought so. Channel 4 aired these segments as they stand.

Men and Terror Run Wild

The New York Times
February 5, 2010
Andrew Garfield in "1974"

The blood that runs through the “Red Riding” trilogy — three movies based on four crime books by the British author David Peace — begins as a river that races and then rages until it floods this dank, dark, pitiless world in misery. By the time the third movie finishes, some half dozen young girls will have been murdered, along with more than a dozen women. Men will have died as well, tormented by other men wearing smiles and sneers, and wielding fists, drills, lighted cigarettes, the usual guns and even a rat that ends splattered against a wall.

That rat is a reminder that the first book in Mr. Peace’s “Red Riding” quartet, titled “Nineteen Seventy-Four,” is an explicit nod to George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and its infamous rodent of terror. The title of Mr. Peace’s book and the quartet as a whole — the other titles are “Nineteen Seventy-Seven,” “Nineteen Eighty” and “Nineteen Eighty-Three” — work as an obvious point of connection with that Orwell masterpiece, though there are more similarities, notably an enveloping sense of dread and a criminal gang that maintains its grip on the population through sadistic violence, all faithfully reproduced in the movies. Throw Irish hunger strikers and Thatcherism into the mix and set the whole thing in Yorkshire, the northern county birthplace of certain puddings and terriers and apparently endless horror. Stir.

The trilogy was adapted by Tony Grisoni, who has contributed to a few films by Terry Gilliam, including “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and so has an acquaintance with excess. And the three movies, each directed by a different filmmaker for a combined 305 minutes, are nothing if not extreme: along with all the female corpses and the dead and wounded men, there are off-screen miscarriages, multiple instances of child abuse, intimations of incest, a firebombed house and several cremations, all shot from inside the chamber, no less, as if the camera were perched in the pyre. Shortly after the first film opens, the main character attends a wake. The second movie ends in a cemetery. There’s a wedding, but it looks like a downer.

Made for British television, the “Red Riding” trilogy is the latest in an estimable line of crime entertainments from across the pond, like the “Prime Suspect” cycle, with Helen Mirren as a supremely human detective, and the more recent mini-series “Five Days,” about a missing mother. The trilogy’s pulp-literary pedigree, one further buffed by several high-profile festival showings — last October it played in the New York Film Festival, where it was presented rather hopefully as “one of this year’s great cinematic events” — partly explains why it is being released in theaters in America. Starting on Friday, the movies will play back to back, with intermissions, for a week at the IFC Center in New York. Thereafter, they will be shown separately and also open elsewhere. (They’re already available on video on demand in some areas.)

Despite this unusual sendoff, the trilogy affords a fairly familiar immersion in contemporary British cinematic miserablism, where men and terror run wild, and beauty exists only in the cinematography and some of the performances. All else is horror. Certainly that’s true in the trilogy, which, starting with “Red Riding: 1974,” leaps into the void when a young Yorkshire journalist, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield, not up to the leading-man task), realizes that the murder of a girl might be connected to a few earlier deaths, an insight that finds him first chasing after clues and then being chased in turn. The director Julian Jarrold shot the film in Super 16 millimeter, which gives the images atmospheric grit and swirling grain that, with the almost comically ubiquitous cigarette smoke, nicely thickens the air.

The second movie, “Red Riding: 1980,” glossed up with 35-millimeter film and directed by James Marsh with an elegant, self-conscious visual style at odds with the grunge milieu and desperate crimes — dead bodies are as attractively framed as some clouds reflected in a window — pivots on Peter Hunter (a solid Paddy Considine). An outsider brought into Yorkshire to conduct an internal review of the police investigation of the so-called (true life) Yorkshire Ripper murders, Hunter soon enough becomes the hunted. At the same time, a local detective, Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who appears in the background of the first movie, steps closer to the center, while a clergyman, Martin Laws (Peter Mullan), edges further into view. Both men become focal points in the final movie.

As the trilogy unwinds, the violence keeps the action hopping and you occasionally gagging, either in revulsion at its severity or at the tender, loving care with which it has been art directed. Meanwhile, some of the actors, notably Mark Addy, who plays a lawyer unkindly named Piggott in the third movie, and Rebecca Hall, who plays a grieving mother in the first, firmly hold your attention, which is striking, given that the story’s totalizing worldview doesn’t allow for much variation in human behavior. In a universe populated by victims and victimizers, there is screaming and shouting, but no joy, little laughter, barely any pleasure: when Piggott tells a joke, it proves more of a jolt than any death because it’s comparatively rare.

If the characters are generally deprived of life’s small and large pleasures, there is some enjoyment for the viewer, who can admire how different characters melt in and out of the trilogy, gaining and fading in importance, as supporting players in one movie become the star attractions in the next, and vice versa. A relatively minor player in the first film, for instance, a male hustler, B J (Robert Sheehan), steps forward in the second chapter only to jump into the spotlight in the third, becoming a force of change, an intermittent narrator and (weak) voice of conscience. Several members of the police force remain constants, including two professional sociopaths, Bob (an excellent, terrifying Sean Harris) and Tommy (Tony Mooney).

If you stick through to the end of the trilogy, you will be treated to further brutal displays, now in digital, as Anand Tucker, the director of the third movie, “Red Riding: 1983,” attempts to tie up the ragged ends through the combined efforts of B J, Maurice and Piggott, who each hurtle down to their own private hells via flurries of flashbacks. Although Mr. Tucker brings welcome warmth and unexpected humor to the series (thanks mainly to Mr. Addy), he stumbles badly when, after a teasing buildup, he reveals the marble-white body of a murdered girl who, while grossly disfigured, also looks as beautiful as a carved Della Robbia angel. The murderer has turned her ravaged body into an aesthetic exhibit, an assault Mr. Tucker mimics.

The “Red Riding” trilogy looks fine blown up on the big screen, though it’s easier to watch at home, where the remote offers fast relief from a grim fiction that, with its murky palette and unyielding cruelty, serves up a nihilistic vision that is unyielding, hermetic, unpersuasive and finally self-indulgent. What matters most in the books is Mr. Peace’s scatting prose and imaginative hijacking of real tragedies for his Grand Guignol fantasies, which brings to mind James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”), but danker and without the obvious glee that Mr. Ellroy takes in his own work. What matters in the movies are some of the performances and the slickly packaged sadism. Nothing else on screen is at stake, certainly not life or hope.

In 1940, a year after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Orwell wrote that ours was a “shrinking world” in which, the “ ‘democratic vistas’ have ended in barbed wire.” In the “Red Riding” movies that world has shrunk to the size of a pebble: it’s hard, unblemished by variation and very, very small. And the democratic vistas aren’t behind barbed wire: they’re nonexistent, which makes for entertaining nightmares but not dreams.

“There is less feeling of creation and growth,” Orwell continued, “less and less emphasis on the cradle, endlessly rocking, more and more emphasis on the teapot, endlessly stewing. To accept civilization as it is practically means accepting decay. It has ceased to be a strenuous attitude and become a passive attitude — even ‘decadent,’ if that word means anything.”

"Red Riding" is a trilogy of films commissioned by Channel 4, based on the novels by David Peace. Each film is directed by a different directors, (l to r) Julian Jarrold, Anand Tucker and James Marsh, photographed at the Covent Garden Hotel, London Photograph: Karen Robinson


Red Riding: 1974

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Julian Jarrold; written by Tony Grisoni, adapted from the novels by David Peace; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by Adrian Johnston; production designer, Cristina Casali; produced by Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland and Wendy Brazington; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Sean Bean (John Dawson), Warren Clarke (Bill Molloy), Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Robert Sheehan (B J), Sean Harris (Bob Craven), Tony Mooney (Tommy Douglas) and Rebecca Hall (Paula Garland).

Red Riding: 1980

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by James Marsh; written by Tony Grisoni, adapted from the novels by David Peace; director of photography, Igor Martinovic; edited by Jinx Godfrey; music by Dickon Hinchliffe; production designer, Tomas Burton; produced by Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland and Wendy Brazington; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Paddy Considine (Peter Hunter), Maxine Peake (Helen Marshall), Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Tony Pitts (John Nolan), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Robert Sheehan (B J), Sean Harris (Bob Craven) and Tony Mooney (Tommy Douglas).

Red Riding: 1983

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Anand Tucker; written by Tony Grisoni, adapted from the novels by David Peace; director of photography, David Higgs; edited by Trevor Waite; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, Alison Dominitz; produced by Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland and Wendy Brazington; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Mark Addy (John Piggott), Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Robert Sheehan (B J), Sean Harris (Bob Craven), and Tony Mooney (Tommy Douglas).


Giving Serial Killings Serial Treatment

The New York Times
January 31, 2010

Sean Bean in "1974"

“IT’S getting dead murky, isn’t it?” says a detective in the “Red Riding” crime trilogy, a voyage into the decaying heart of Northern England in the 1970s and ’80s. This adaptation of three novels of the four-book series by the Yorkshire-born writer David Peace is an ambitious endeavor: it is shot by three directors, shares characters (though the protagonists shift) and mingles invention and fact. Like David Fincher’s 2007 serial-killer drama “Zodiac,” the “Red Riding” films are more about capturing an era than solving a mystery.

“Certain crimes allow you to examine a particular time and place,” Mr. Peace said when reached by telephone in West Yorkshire. He was speaking of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, in which a man named Peter Sutcliffe was jailed in 1981 for the deaths of 13 women over five years in Yorkshire and neighboring counties and whose crimes inspire the atmosphere and the events in Mr. Peace’s books and their three-part adaptation.

“What I was trying to figure out,” Mr. Peace continued, “was why did this happen here, and was there something in the way we behaved that made us somehow culpable? Or were we very unfortunate, that here was this evil man?”

The “Red Riding” trilogy, which opens Friday at the IFC Center but had its premiere last March on British television, conjures life in a benighted world of corrupt police and missing children, of weird secrets and guilt-ridden romance.

Eddie Dunford, the brash, callow reporter played by Andrew Garfield in the first of the three films, “Red Riding: 1974,” is only the first to question the established disorder. In the second, “Red Riding: 1980,” a detective (Paddy Considine) from Manchester is assigned to review the Ripper investigation, while “1983” tracks a feckless lawyer (Mark Addy) and a wavering cop (David Morrissey) in the aftermath.

The hellish experiences of these four characters are rendered through an unusual experiment in comparative style: each picture had its own director. Julian Jarrold, who shot “1974” on Super 16, creates a twisted noir and fuguelike atmosphere to depict Dunford’s investigation and doomed romance with a victim’s mother (Rebecca Hall).

On the telephone from London Mr. Jarrold, who also adapted “Brideshead Revisited” and “Crime and Punishment,” said that for one shot he told his director of photography “to come back with a ‘Lost Highway’ shot,” referring to David Lynch’s twisted and textured 1997 film.

Shot in Leeds, “1974” and its follow-ups delve into the notoriety of “the North” against a backdrop of block houses, humble sitting rooms, nuclear power plants, offices and pubs. The Northern creed and manner — tough and often humorously blunt — are epitomized in the films by the police and their allies. (According to the films’ screenwriter, Tony Grisoni, it’s all analogous to “what Jacobean English dramatists thought of Sicily.”)

The casts’ British stalwarts include Warren Clarke (once a droog in “A Clockwork Orange”) as a stonewalling police chief, Sean Bean as a cocksure developer, and Mr. Morrissey (who played Gordon Brown in “The Deal”).

“In Northern England it was quite grim, quite hard,” said Mr. Morrissey, who grew up in Liverpool in the ’70s. “There was a very white, working-class male world, which was very insular, and it was a very violent place.”

Mr. Morrissey, who stars in “1983” but appears in all three films, recalled the specter that seemed to hang over those years: “There was a sense that one world was closing and the other one was not ready to open.”

Because of budgetary restraints (all three films were done for a lean $9 million), the book that deals most directly with the Ripper, “Nineteen Seventy-Seven” was not filmed. But the haunting presence of the crimes feeds into the dread of “Red Riding: 1980,” which focuses on Peter Hunter (Mr. Considine), a Manchester detective who is investigating the local handling of the case. A creeping paranoia becomes the film’s dominant mood as Hunter’s inquiry is thwarted through misdirection and violence; meager solace comes from a wistful affair with a colleague.

Seeking to offset the nebulous threats working against the protagonist, the director, James Marsh, chose a clean, wide-screen look for this involuted middle story, shooting on 35 millimeter.

“I felt that Peter’s character was a very straight arrow, and I wanted the film to be really clear,” Mr. Marsh said in an interview in Manhattan.

Mr. Marsh is best known for the Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire,” but he also made “Wisconsin Death Trip,” which examined a Midwest town struck by myriad tragedies at the end of the 19th century. His “Red Riding” opens with an audiovisual overture of actual and fabricated radio and television reports of the crimes combined with recreated photos of victims.

(Mr. Peace, 43, who came of age at the height of the investigation into the Yorkshire murders, recalls the efforts to solicit the help of ordinary citizens: “They set up temporary sheds in every bus station where you could go in and listen to tape recordings of what they thought was the Ripper’s voice.”)

The unsolved killings in “Red Riding” and the portrait of Northern masculinity, brutality and corruption suggest a terrible sins-of-the-father burden borne by a beleaguered society. The full scope of the institutional rot always seems just out of reach, as if — in Mr. Grisoni words — “you’re seeing a tiny fraction, in the same way a child would.”

For the conclusion of the grim saga, “1983,” its director, Anand Tucker, used a Red One digital camera and introduces golden sunshine and a lighter touch. But horrific secrets still emerge in this story about a struggling lawyer (Mr. Addy) and a police officer (Mr. Morrissey), who grows shocked by the unsavory sides of his colleague’s extracurricular endeavors.

“I wanted an anti-noir, a light noir,” said Mr. Tucker, who made the homicide-free “Shopgirl” and “Leap Year.” “It’s two characters struggling to find the light, to find some hope or redemption.”

Taken together these varied visual formats and the ambitious historical canvas lend a cinematic scope that belies the trilogy’s original broadcast in three installments on Channel 4 in Britain. Andrew Eaton, its producer for Revolution Films, confirmed in an interview that theatrical distribution was always their ambition. For the American release IFC Films plans, at least initially, to release all 305 minutes of the films as “Red Riding: Special Roadshow Edition” with two intermissions, though they will also be available individually through video-on-demand.

The trilogy has already found interest from the director Ridley Scott for an American remake, which sounds like an unusual bit of cultural transposition until you learn that Mr. Peace himself wrote the source novels while abroad. From 1994 until recently he lived in Japan and taught English while writing.

Some inspiration for his “Red Riding” quartet came from the case of child killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who was sentenced in 1997 and later executed for a series of grotesque murders, and Mr. Peace also recalls going to “Se7en” and “Zodiac” during his stay. It was also in Japan that he wrote other North-set novels, including “The Damned United” (which was adapted for film last fall) and “GB84” (awaiting production).

“I wrote six books, all about West Yorkshire,” Mr. Peace said, who has since returned to his storied hometown to be close to family. “It must have been a kind of homesickness. Although the West Yorkshire tourist board are not as proud of the Red Riding books.”

Best-Selling Author Vince Flynn: Hollywood Needs to Stop Making America the Bad Guy

by Dan Gagliasso
October 27, 2010

Last week after a packed book signing and lecture at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, best-selling political thriller author Vince Flynn (American Assassin, Pursuit of Honor) generously took a few minutes to fill me in on his thoughts about dealing with Hollywood and what looks like his finally soon to go into production first film project.

“Most of Hollywood thinks it has a ‘moral’ mandate to defend the leftist status quo.” Flynn (pictured at left) tells me with conviction. “Their leftist bias won’t allow them to do anything other then make crappy anti-American war movies where America is the bad guy.” Movies nobody goes to see. I get the strong impression that what he’d really like to say is, “When are these snobby elitists going to get their heads out of their asses.”

Flynn published his first book Term Limits fifteen years ago, and it was a runaway hit. So why hasn’t even one of his twelve hugely popular novels made it the screen? He remembers with not a little irony, “After Memorial Day was published (dealing with a possible nuclear attack by terrorists on American soil) Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount called me and said, ‘I read your book and I hated it. It’s more Bush then Bush.’ My response was ‘Can we at least get on the same page that terrorists blowing up Washington D.C. or New York City would really be a bad thing?’” Lansing meekly agreed.

The first thing that crosses my mind upon meeting the New York Times best-selling writer is that he just might be the real life inspiration for his fictional CIA black ops specialist Mitch Rapp. He’s tall, rugged-looking and likes to shoot – evidently pretty well. If it wasn’t for his friendly and down to earth demeanor you get the idea he could be pretty damn intimidating, too. He would probably make a really great Agency black ops type, except for the fact that such types need to be under the radar and Flynn’s commanding bearing would attract attention in any crowd. Unlike more passive writers Flynn can also raconteur up some really great anecdotes. If Flynn were an actor any studio exec worth his six-figure plus salary would be a fool not to cast him as the provocative and appealing character he has created.

Flynn’s books are so popular they have sold over 12.5 million copies worldwide. “I was one of the writers at a recent gathering of Barnes and Noble’s top ten selling authors. My sales are always up, each book sells better then the last one and except for one new writer I was the only one there who hasn’t had a movie made from one of their books.”

CBS Films and producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura are on the verge of changing that Hollywood slight. Flynn’s Consent to Kill, dealing with a high-end duo of freelance assassins hired by a revenge-seeking Saudi prince, who attempt to eliminate Mitch Rapp has been adapted by screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin and is about to swing into high gear. “Les Moonves at CBS purchased the feature film rights to the Mitch Rapp franchise. It’s taken five years but this is a good group of people, they get it.” Says Flynn with appreciation. Antoine Fuqua of Training Day fame will direct with Gerard Butler and Eric Bana amongst others being considered as Rapp. Though he has no problem with either actor his personal choice would be Bruce Willis, “He’s a little old for the part, but he’s my favorite actor and he could make it work.”

Flynn has had to deal with a lot of foolish film industry types who used to come up with crazy ideas for casting the Mitch Rapp character with some left wing loon like Sean Penn. He shakes his head and gives a sardonic grin, “Like I’m going to let that happen.” Hollywood types should think more then twice before ever trying to cross this writer and his millions of dedicated fans.

From the political backgrounds to CIA field operations, every one of his books is so well researched and excitingly written that his fans include former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as a huge number of intelligence, law enforcement and special operations types. His encyclopedic knowledge of the underbelly of international affairs even landed him a gig consulting on a season of conservative producer Joel Surnow’s hit Fox television series “24” several years ago.

When American lives are at stake, Flynn’s Mitch Rapp has no compunction about doing whatever it takes, and I do mean whatever it takes to stop a terrorist or get him to talk. Duplicitous political types, foolish Justice Department investigations and idiotic laws be damned. Yet Flynn’s books are not quickly churned out jingoistic pulp fantasies. Real issues involving everything from interrogation techniques, loyal U.S. Muslims and radical Mosques on American soil, assassination and justified retribution against a fanatical enemy along with their enablers are given complex moral depth and consideration that you don’t find in other War on Terror-themed novels. The deadly solutions Flynn’s characters subscribe to would seem horrifying to naïve, hand-wringing left wingers, but bringing final justice to those who visit terror on innocents and civilians, often Muslim victims in fact, is the author’s brand of common sense national self-preservation.

Flynn came to his fictionalizing of the war on terror in such knowledgeable and realistic terms through common sense and passionate curiosity. “Remember back in the eighties when that one guy on the news held up an AK-47 and hollered ‘Death to America!’ I took him at his word, it wasn’t real hard.”

This was in the aftermath of the Marine Corps barracks bombing in Beirut that cost almost 300 American and French lives preceded by the Lockerbie Pan Am attack and others similar deadly terrorist incidents, many of which have worked into the back story of Flynn’s characters. His incredible knowledge of true-to-life espionage and the war on terror has made him a reluctant, but thoughtful prognosticator of terrorist events. His Extreme Measures dealing with Al Qaeda suicide attacks in Washington D.C. was published literally only a month before the similar and deadly Mumbai, India attacks in November of 2008. Transfer of Power published in 1999 dealt with a similar attack on the White House.

His sober prediction for the future, “Unfortunately, I believe we are probably only a year or a year-and-a-half away from a Mumbai-style attack on American soil. Mumbai and other attacks, those were just test runs, things could really get ugly.”

A Crossroads Election

By Thomas Sowell
October 29, 2010

Most elections are about particular policies, particular scandals or particular personalities. But these issues don't mean as much this year-- not because they are not important, but because this election is a crossroads election, one that can decide what path this country will take for many years to come.

Runaway "stimulus" spending, high unemployment and ObamaCare are all legitimate and important issues. It is just that freedom and survival are more important.

For all its sweeping and scary provisions, ObamaCare is not nearly as important as the way it was passed. If legislation can become laws passed without either the public or the Congress knowing what is in those laws, then the fundamental principle of a free, self-governing people is completely undermined.

Some members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare, and who are now telling us that they realize this legislation has flaws which they intend to correct, are missing the point.

The very reason for holding hearings on pending legislation, listening to witnesses on all sides of the issue, and having Congressional debates that will be reported and commented on in the media, is so that problems can be explored and alternatives considered before the legislation is voted into law.

Rushing ObamaCare into law too fast for anyone to have read it served no other purpose than to prevent this very process from taking place. The rush to pass this law that would not take effect until after the next two elections simply cut the voters out of the loop-- and that is painfully close to ruling by decree.

Other actions and proposals by this administration likewise represent moves in the direction of arbitrary rule, worthy of a banana republic, with only a mocking facade of freedom.

These include threats against people who simply choose to express opinions counter to administration policy, such as a warning to an insurance company that there would be "zero tolerance" for "misinformation" when the insurance company said that ObamaCare would create costs that force up premiums.

Zero tolerance for the right of free speech guaranteed by the Constitution?

This warning comes from an administration with arbitrary powers that can impose ruinous costs on a given business.

Those who are constantly telling us that our economic problems are caused by not enough "regulation" never distinguish between regulation which simply enforces known rules, as contrasted with regulation that gives arbitrary powers to the government to force others to knuckle under to demands that have nothing to do with the ostensible purposes of the regulation.

As more businesses reveal that they are considering no longer buying health insurance for their employees, as a result of higher costs resulting from ObamaCare legislation, the administration has announced that it can grant waivers that reduce these costs.

But the power to grant waivers is the power to withhold waivers-- an arbitrary power that can impose millions of dollars in costs on businesses that the administration doesn't like.

Recent proposals from the Obama administration to force disclosure of the names of people who sponsor election ads would likewise open all who disagree with Obama to retaliation by the government itself, as well as by community activists and others.

History tells us where giving government one arbitrary power after another leads. It is like going into a Venus fly-trap, which is easy to enter and nearly impossible to get out of.

The headstrong, know-it-all willfulness of this administration, which threatens our freedom at home, also threatens our survival in the international jungle, because Obama seems determined to do nothing that will stop Iran from going nuclear.

The Obama administration goes through all sorts of charades at the U.N. and signs international agreements on sanctions that have been watered down to the point where they are not about to bring Iran's nuclear weapons program to a halt. The purpose is not to stop Iran but to stop the American people from realizing what Obama is doing or not doing.

We have a strange man in the White House. This election is a crossroads, because either his power will be curbed by depriving him of his huge Congressional majorities or he will continue on a road that jeopardizes both our freedom and our survival.

All Quiet on the Black-Ops Front

Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?

By Jonah Goldberg
October 29, 2010 12:00 A.M.

I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?

In case you didn’t know, Assange is the Australian computer programmer behind WikiLeaks, a massive — and massively successful — effort to disclose secret or classified information. In a series of recent dumps, he unveiled thousands upon thousands of classified documents from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military and other government officials insist that WikiLeaks is doing serious damage to American national security and is going to get people killed, including brave Iraqis and Afghans who’ve risked their lives and the lives of their families to help us.

Even Assange agrees. He told the New Yorker earlier this year that he fully understands innocent people might die as a result of the “collateral damage” of his work and that WikiLeaks may have “blood on our hands.” WikiLeaks is easily among the most significant and well-publicized breaches of American national security since the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb.

So again, I ask: Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?

It’s a serious question.

Julian Assange of the WikiLeaks website holds up a copy of The Guardian newspaper as he speaks to reporters in front of a Don McCullin Vietnam war photograph at The Front Line Club on July 26, 2010 in London, England. The WikiLeaks website has published 90,000 secret US Military records. (Getty Images)

In almost every corner of the popular culture, there are people who assume incredible competence on the part of our intelligence agencies. We take it as a given that spooks can, in the immortal words of Elvis, take care of business in a flash. In the Jason Bourne movies, say the wrong word into your cell phone, and assassins will find you at the train station in minutes. In AMC’s Rubicon, if you pay too close attention to crossword puzzles, your train will be “accidentally” derailed. In Three Days of the Condor, if you ask your bosses the wrong question, a postman with an ice-bullet-shooting machine gun will pay you a visit.

Of course, that’s just Hollywood. But if you read left-wing accounts of the intelligence community, two versions dominate. The CIA and similar outfits are either evil and incompetent, or evil and super-competent. Sometimes the folks at The Nation will mock the CIA for trying to blow up Castro with an exploding cigar. Other times some Oliver Stone type will insist that the military, or the CIA, or the NSA, or rogue elements from those quarters, managed to assassinate JFK and pin it on a Marxist dupe named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Under either scenario, you’d think Assange, super-whistle-blower of the international Left, would be a greasy stain on the autobahn already.

Meanwhile, conservatives have something like a mirror-image view of the black-ops crowd. We tend to think they’re either well-intentioned bunglers or noble ninjas in London fog trench coats. Again, either way, Assange’s shrimp-on-the-barbie should have had Strontium-90 in it years before anyone heard his name.

Oh, and it’s not just nation-states that are threatened by WikiLeaks. These guys spend much of their time going after big corporations that, we’re often told — at least by Hollywood and the people who e-mail me in ALL CAPS — routinely rub out gadflies and whistle-blowers who try to let the world know the electric car was perfected in 1920, or that milk companies are making millions by poisoning their customers (that was the actual plot of I Love Trouble, by the way).

Now, I know there are many solid answers to my question. For starters, the world isn’t nearly so dramatic as novelists, bloggers, self-important journalists, and nostalgic former spies often claim it is. The main evidence that the U.S. government didn’t bring down the World Trade Center on 9/11 is that no one has the ability to pull off a conspiracy like that. And the people who come closest — i.e., those very same spies — are too decent and patriotic even to imagine trying.

Indeed, most of the documents from WikiLeaks debunk the vast majority of conspiracy theories that fueled so much idiocy on the left for the last decade. No sinister plots involving Halliburton or Israel have been exposed — because they only existed in the fevered fantasies of some coffee-shop dissidents.

Second, Assange is essentially hiding behind his celebrity and the fact that it wouldn’t do any good to kill him, given the nature of the Web. Even if the CIA wanted to take him out, they couldn’t without massive controversy.

That’s because assassinating a hipster Australian Web guru as opposed to a Muslim terrorist is the kind of controversy no official dares invite.

That’s fine. And it’s the law. Ultimately, I don’t expect the U.S. government to kill Assange, but I do expect them to try to stop him. Alas, as of now, the plan seems to be to do nothing at all.

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

The great campaign of 2010

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 9:45 PM

In a radio interview that aired Monday on Univision, President Obama chided Latinos who "sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.' " Quite a uniter, urging Hispanics to go to the polls to exact political revenge on their enemies - presumably, for example, the near-60 percent of Americans who support the new Arizona immigration law.

This from a president who won't even use "enemies" to describe an Iranian regime that is helping kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. This from a man who rose to prominence thunderously declaring that we were not blue states or red states, not black America or white America or Latino America - but the United States of America.

This is how the great post-partisan, post-racial, New Politics presidency ends - not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a desperate election-eve plea for ethnic retribution.

Yet press secretary Robert Gibbs's dismay is reserved for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and the "disappointing" negativity of his admission that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

McConnell, you see, is supposed to say that he will try very hard to work with the president after the election. But it is blindingly clear that nothing of significance will be enacted. Over the next two years, Republicans will not be able to pass anything of importance to them - such as repealing Obamacare - because of the presidential veto. And the Democrats will be too politically weakened to advance, let alone complete, Obama's broad transformational agenda.

That would have to await victory in 2012. Every president gets two bites at the apple: the first 18 months when he is riding the good-will honeymoon, and a second shot in the first 18 months of a second term before lame-duckness sets in.

Over the next two years, the real action will be not in Congress but in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy. Democrats will advance their agenda on Obamacare, financial reform and energy by means of administrative regulation, such as carbon-emission limits imposed unilaterally by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But major congressional legislation to complete Obama's social-democratic agenda? Not a chance. That's why McConnell has it right. The direction of the country will be determined in November 2012 when either Obama gets a mandate to finish building his "New Foundation" or the Republicans elect one of their own to repeal it, or what (by then) remains repealable.

Gibbs's disapproving reaction to this obvious political truth is in keeping with the convention that all things partisan or ideological are to be frowned upon as "divisive." This is pious nonsense. What is the point of a two-party democracy if not to present clear, alternative views of the role of government and, more fundamentally, the balance between liberty and equality - the central issue for any democracy?

The beauty of this year's campaign, and the coming one in 2012, is that they actually have a point. Despite the noise, the nonsense, the distractions, the amusements - who will not miss New York's seven-person gubernatorial circus act? - this is a deeply serious campaign about a profoundly serious political question.

Obama, to his credit, did not get elected to do midnight basketball or school uniforms. No Bill Clinton he. Obama thinks large. He wants to be a consequential president on the order of Ronald Reagan. His forthright attempt to undo the Reagan revolution with a burst of expansive liberal governance is the theme animating this entire election.

Democratic apologists would prefer to pretend otherwise - that it's all about the economy and the electorate's anger over its parlous condition. Nice try. The most recent CBS/New York Times poll shows that only one in 12 Americans blames the economy on Obama, and seven in 10 think the downturn is temporary. And yet, the Democratic Party is falling apart. Democrats are four points behind among women, a constituency Democrats had owned for decades; a staggering 20 points behind among independents (a 28-point swing since 2008); and 20 points behind among college graduates, giving lie to the ubiquitous liberal conceit that the Republican surge is the revenge of lumpen know-nothings.

On Nov. 2, a punishing there will surely be. But not quite the kind Obama is encouraging.

My prediction: The Dems lose 60 House seats, eight in the Senate. Rangers in seven.

Television Review: 'The Walking Dead'

The Undead Are Undaunted and Unruly

The New York Times
October 28, 2010

The one good thing about the walking dead is that they don’t drive.

All it really takes to outrun a zombie is a car. Also, a bullet to the head will stop one cold. And that may explain why so many men prefer zombies to vampires: zombie stories pivot on men’s two favorite things: fast cars and guns. Better yet, zombies almost never talk. Vampires, especially of late, are mostly a female obsession. Works like “Twilight” and “True Blood” suggest that the best way to defeat a vampire is to make him fall so in love that he resists the urge to bite. And that’s a powerful, if naïve, female fantasy: a mate so besotted he gives up his most primal cravings for the woman he loves.

Vampires are imbued with romance. Zombies are not. (Zombies are from Mars, vampires are from Venus.)

Zombie movies didn’t die off, but they were overshadowed by vampire mania that has dominated popular culture in a nonstop streak from Anne Rice’s book “Interview With the Vampire” to “The Vampire Diaries” on CW. Finally, perhaps as a backlash against all the girlish, gothic swooning over “Twilight,” zombies are making a comeback.

A new series that begins on AMC on Sunday is one of the most vivid examples of the revival. “The Walking Dead” is based on Robert Kirkman’s popular graphic novels. And the television adaptation is surprisingly scary and remarkably good, a show that visually echoes the stylized comic-book aesthetic of the original and combines elegant suspense with gratifyingly crude and gruesome slasher-film gore.

The zombies in “The Walking Dead” are true to the genre, and so is its hero, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a Southern sheriff’s deputy and a man of few words and many firearms. Yet amid all the carnage and oozing close-ups of cannibalism, “The Walking Dead” does make room for several complicated relationships and at least one love triangle.

Romance is not forbidden in zombie circles of course. Long before the fad of Jane Austen mash-ups like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” the 1943 classic “I Walked With a Zombie” drew its story line from Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.”

But vampire stories mostly focus on the relationship between the undead and the living, usually with lots of overwrought dialogue, erotic subtext and decadently lush scenery. Zombies don’t as a rule socialize with their prey. It’s the group dynamic among survivors that provides the drama. Conflicts matter more than courtship, and the characters spend most of their time barricaded behind bolted doors and boarded windows. There is little occasion for conversation, let alone changing into evening attire.

“The Walking Dead” follows in the tradition of the 1968 cult film by George A. Romero, “Night of the Living Dead,” which is to say that “The Walking Dead” is a straight tale of horror, not a tongue-in-cheek takeoff like the 2009 movie “Zombieland” or “Dead Set,” a British series that began on IFC this week, about contestants on a “Big Brother”-like show who are the last to learn that zombies are destroying the world.

One oddity of the genre, and perhaps its appeal, is how orthodox it is. For all the many sequels, remakes and parodies, zombies stick pretty closely to the original flesh-eating model: They don’t have personalities, they lurch, and they are always hungry for human flesh. Sometimes the predators are from outer space, but more commonly zombies are spawned by a man-made armageddon. (Variations are usually minor, as with the light-sensitive zombies in the Will Smith movie “I Am Legend.”)

The exact cause of this zombie apocalypse is left unclear. While on duty one day Rick is shot and winds up in the hospital. Like the hero of the 2002 movie “28 Days Later,” Rick wakes up from a coma to find the hospital deserted and zombies scavenging across his empty and denuded town. The sheriff’s station is abandoned, and he can’t find his partner, Shane (Jon Bernthal). Rick staggers home to discover that his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), have vanished. Rick sets out for Atlanta, hoping his family is waiting for him there.

He eventually joins forces with a group of survivors trapped in an abandoned city overrun by zombies; aerial shots pull back high above the streets to reveal what looks like swarming armies of cockroaches. And he quickly learns that while the undead are a formidable — and disgusting — external threat, he also has enemies among the living.

“The Walking Dead” is not for everyone, obviously, but it is well made: a hard-core zombie story that even vampire lovers can watch.

The Walking Dead

AMC, Sunday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Centralt ime.Pilot written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman; Mr. Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd, Mr. Kirkman, David Alpertand Charles Eglee, executive producers;Jack LoGiudice, co-executive producer;Denise Huth, producer. Produced by AMC Studios. WITH: Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes),Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffrey DeMunn(Dale), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Emma Bell(Amy) and Chandler Riggs (CarlGrimes).

The Zombie Attack as Stress Test

The New York Times
October 22, 2010

Scott Garfield/TWD productions
A zombie outbreak on “The Walking Dead,” a new series on AMC.

THERE is a certain comforting familiarity to how a zombie-invasion movie is supposed to unfold. Civilization revels in unsuspectingly tenuous tranquillity; a virus or alien pathogen is unleashed; the dead rise from their graves; two hours of vivid acts of cannibalism and exposed human innards ensue.

But what happens next? For some fans of the genre, not enough.

“The ending of every zombie movie is usually: Hey, we ran out of time, let’s end this now,” said Robert Kirkman, the writer and a creator of the comic-book series “The Walking Dead. “Most of the characters die, or all of the characters die, or the characters that live ride off into the sunset. It always occurred to me that there was a lot more story to tell.”

Since 2003 Mr. Kirkman, a 31-year-old resident of Lexington, Ky., has been adding chapters to his illustrated tale about a group of human survivors in an American South ravaged by flesh-eating undead hordes. A modern-day entry in a field that has shuffled forward at a slow but relentless pace since the 1968 release of George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,”“The Walking Dead” will soon have its 78th issue released by Image Comics.

But the truest test of whether a wide audience shares Mr. Kirkman’s appetite for ghoul-evading, blood-spattering terror will come, appropriately enough, on Halloween, when “The Walking Dead” makes its debut as an original series on AMC.

As you would expect from AMC, the cable-television home of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Rubicon,” “The Walking Dead” comes with a pedigree: its producers include Gale Anne Hurd, whose films include the “Terminator” movies and “Aliens,” and Frank Darabont, the director and screenwriter of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.”

Mr. Darabont, who is also a writer on “The Walking Dead” and directed its pilot episode, has not lost touch with his formative days writing the screenplays for horror films like “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” and “The Fly II.” He discovered Mr. Kirkman’s material about five years ago on a routine visit to a Burbank, Calif., comic-book shop.

Mr. Darabont said that the comics presented a ready-made narrative about people trying to survive extreme situations in which zombies were a facet but not the focus.

“It really is the human story that’s being told,” Mr. Darabont said. “I always say that’s the meal. What are the great stories you can tell about these people? The zombies are really the context to tell that story. They’re the frosting on the cake.”

At that time Mr. Darabont was signed to an overall deal at NBC. And while he realized a show populated with decomposing antagonists might not be the easiest fit for prime-time television, he took inspiration from other network series whose fantastic premises were simply a jumping-off point for character-driven drama.

“I’m not trying to borrow anybody else’s glory or mojo,” Mr. Darabont said. “But fundamentally what’s really interesting about a bunch of people trapped on a weird island? It’s not so much the weird island, is it? It’s that you get to really care about these people, and you go on their journey with them.”

But a “Walking Dead” pilot script did not get far at NBC. “On the face of it they got excited,” Mr. Darabont said. “‘Oh my God, a zombie show!’ Then I wrote the script and handed it to them. And they said, ‘Oh my God, this is a zombie show.’ ”

The project didn’t stay buried for good, however. Ms. Hurd joined “The Walking Dead” as a producer, and the series was pitched last fall to AMC, which committed to shooting six episodes last summer.

In some ways the television version of “The Walking Dead” hews closely to the story established in the comic books. Its central character is Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), a Kentucky police officer who is hospitalized in a coma after being wounded in the line of duty. He revives weeks later to a world that has been devastated by zombies, leaving him to seek out whether his family — and humanity — has survived.

The series also finds ways to weave in subplots that were not in Mr. Kirkman’s original tales, expanding on the back stories of supporting characters, lingering on scenes that in the comics are told in just a few panels.

But perhaps the most surprising twist to “The Walking Dead” is that it is being shown on AMC, a channel whose brand of original series is associated with prestige, critical approval and Emmy Awards — qualities not typically associated with zombie-theme programming.

Charlie Collier, the president and general manager of the network, said that it had a long history of using its library of genre movies to help spin off original programming: a month of western movies preceded the debut of the network’s 2006 original movie “Broken Trail,” and a lineup of antihero films like “Goodfellas” helped buttress the earliest episodes of “Mad Men.” Similarly, AMC’s annual horror-movie marathon, “Fearfest,” will lead into the premiere of “The Walking Dead.”

Joel Stillerman, the senior vice president for original programming at AMC, said that an end-of-the-world scenario and a high level of quality were not mutually exclusive, comparing “The Walking Dead” to films like “The Road,” which was adapted from the grim Cormac McCarthy novel.

In these narratives, Mr. Stillerman said, viewers are responding to how characters deal with their conditions, while what led to these conditions “almost doesn’t matter on some level.”

“In this case,” he added, “it happens to be the zombie apocalypse.”

AMC may yet have to do some convincing to win over viewers who are not dedicated horror-movie fans. Mr. Lincoln, a British actor who is best known in the United States for the romantic comedy “Love, Actually,” said he was surprised when he learned of the subject matter.

“I went, ‘Zombie?’ ” Mr. Lincoln said. “My eyebrow raised. But my agent said: ‘No, no, no. Listen. Trust me.’ ”

Once he started reading deeper into the scripts, Mr. Lincoln said, the material defied his expectations.

“The sides that I read, they had no mention of zombies,” he said, adding, “I certainly didn’t think that it would be as funny or as moving, particularly.”

Committing to the series led to a shoot during an exceptionally hot and humid summer in Atlanta (or “Satan’s Jacuzzi,” as Mr. Darabont described it). Though Mr. Lincoln did not have to don layers of zombie makeup (designed for the series by the special effects artist Gregory Nicotero), he suffered for his art. He lost 12 pounds to play his resuscitated character, then found he couldn’t regain the weight in the blistering heat.

“Everyone started looking at me and going, ‘Eat, Andy,’ ” Mr. Lincoln recalled. “If it was Method acting. It wasn’t out of choice. It was 100 degrees every day.”

The end result is a series that aspires to convey the same level of human desperation as AMC’s other signature shows, but with more decaying flesh, exploding body parts and devoured horses.

Ratings, of course, will determine whether AMC will give “The Walking Dead” a long future. But there is already sense between Mr. Darabont and Mr. Kirkman that they have developed a shorthand to guide them through future episodes.

Mr. Darabont said he takes his lead from Mr. Kirkman and his comics. “I’m like the dog going on the walk,” he said. “I’ll be getting distracted and going off into the bushes here and there, and hunting out a few squirrels.”

And Mr. Kirkman, who has already mapped out 150 issues of what he hopes will be a 300-issue “Walking Dead” series, said he trusts Mr. Darabont to be faithful to the spirit of that narrative.

“If I had been on the phone with him, and Frank had said something along the lines of, ‘I feel like it’s just missing one thing, and that one thing is dinosaurs,’ I would have known to run for the hills,” Mr. Kirkman said. “Thankfully, Frank didn’t say that.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Timothy McVeigh Was Not a “Christian Terrorist”

By Jeremy Lott
October 27, 2010

If you want to invite the near universal opprobrium of journalists everywhere in the English-speaking world, just suggest that Barack Obama is, was, or could be considered a Muslim. When the reverend Franklin Graham said on CNN that Obama “was born a Muslim” but had long ago “renounced the prophet Mohammad” and “accepted Jesus Christ,” ink turned to tar and feathers flew.

Boston University professor Stephen Prothero's response was on the polite end of the spectrum. On CNN’s Belief Blog, Prothero accused Graham of waging a “disinformation campaign against both the president of the United States and the religion of Islam” and of violating the ninth commandment by “bear[ing] false witness.” Prothero also compared Graham unfavorably with his famous revivalist father, saying that Franklin was “increasingly sounding like a garden variety political hack, carrying the holy water for the most unholy elements in American society.”

Timothy McVeigh - File Photo April 21, 1995

But if it's considered beyond the pale and a smear to both Islam and Obama to call him a Muslim, then why is it acceptable to insist that one of the great monsters of recent American history was a Christian when that is far from clear? I speak, of course, of Timothy McVeigh, the now-executed terrorist who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. The blast killed 168 people, including 19 children, so you might think that commentators would be somewhat circumspect in linking the Oklahoma City Bomber to people who are not generally inclined to blow things up.

You would be wrong about that. McVeigh has become part of the PC balancing act that analysts are expected to perform every time they are confronted with evidence of Islamist terrorism. Witness the flap over National Public Radio analyst Juan Williams' recent firing because of impolitic remarks he had made about Muslims on FOX News. In his defense, Williams actually cited his casual smearing of Christians as evidence that he was not a bigot.

In an op-ed published in the Daily Caller, Williams explained that he had pointed out to Fox host Bill O'Reilly that we should rein in our feelings and be careful about holding the violent actions of individuals against their respective religions. To illustrate this, Williams had used a shoe's-on-the-other-foot example. Take the Atlanta Olympic bomber “as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals.” These people, said Williams “are Christians” yet “we journalists” do not typically “identify them by their religion.”

Williams' statement was wrong on several levels. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church -- those ubiquitous, hateful protesters of military funerals -- are irritants, not terrorists. They are few, annoying, and denounced by the vast majority of practicing Christians in the United States. But at least they belong to an actual church and offer its teachings as the reason for their protests. This was not true of McVeigh.

McVeigh was born Catholic but drifted away from the faith. He told Time magazine in 1996 that he believed in a deity but had “lost touch with the religion” of his birth.[1] He did “maintain core beliefs,” but declined in the interview to spell those beliefs out.

He became a little bit more specific before his execution in 2001. We might call him spiritual but not religious. He claimed to be agnostic but not an atheist.[2] McVeigh believed in “science” and not “religion,” he said. (In fact, he said his religion was science.) His murky metaphysical notions included some sort of Deistic creator who set things in motion, not the personal God of Christianity.

The Oklahoma City Bomber didn’t believe in an afterlife and he certainly didn’t believe in hell. When asked what he would do if it turned out he was wrong about that, McVeigh fell back on a martial solution. He told the authors of American Terrorist that he would “improvise, adapt, and overcome,” per his U.S. Army training.

True, McVeigh shocked most observers by receiving last rites from a priest before his execution. What could it hurt, he must have figured. Also true, his final statement was an act of defiance and an anti-confession. He chose the poem “Invictus,” by William Earnest Henley.

The poem includes a nod to “whatever gods may be” for granting the hero “my unconquerable soul.” McVeigh as poetic hero suffers the “bludgeonings of chance” but his head is “bloody, but unbowed” in prayer or supplication. He looks on the “Horror of the shade” and is “unafraid” because however “charged punishments the scroll” may be, there is a higher power: himself. In the end, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

These are “sentiments that to a Christian are at least vaguely blasphemous,” wrote columnist Maggie Gallagher, in an earlier attempt to kill the Tim-McVeigh-as-Christian Terrorist meme.[3] But it seems that no amount of evidence will finish it off. The Google autofill function suggested “tim mcveigh christian” as the top choice after I had filled just the first two words. Yet the truth is out there, too. Journalists would be wise to seek it out rather than doing something they find so objectionable when the shoe is on President Obama’s foot.

- Jeremy Lott is editor of and author of William F. Buckley (Thomas Nelson, 2010).




NRO Interview: Stanley Kurtz

Radical in the White House

Stanley Kurtz didn’t have to go to Kenya to figure out who Barack Obama really is.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez
October 28, 2010 4:00 A.M.

Stanley Kurtz hit an Organizing for America nerve during Barack Obama’s campaign for president. Stanley, a Harvard-educated social anthropologist, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has written for National Review and National Review Online for over a decade. When he started not only asking questions but digging into Barack Obama’s academic and activist past, the campaign tried to shut him down — literally, organizing a phone slamdown on Chicago radio.

Well, this still is America. And so Stanley has done what he is trained to do — research and present evidence to present a complete picture, in this case of the man who is currently president of the United States. The fruit of that project is a gripping, meticulous new book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, which he discusses with me here.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is so bad about being a Radical-in-Chief?

STANLEY KURTZ: There are two key problems. First, Obama’s slow-motion socialism undercuts liberty and prosperity on behalf of a highly questionable view of fairness. Second, and at least as disturbing, Obama’s practice of disguising his ideological views is bad for democracy, which depends upon informed public choice.

LOPEZ: “Community organizing is a largely socialist profession.” How does one back that up? A lot of faith-based types could be described as community organizers, couldn’t they? And they’re not necessarily socialists. They certainly needn’t be.

KURTZ: If you define community organizing very broadly, you could include even conservative groups under its banner. From some perspectives, the Tea Party is a form of community organizing. But the community organizing I discuss in the book is a self-consciously radical tradition that flows from the early achievements of Saul Alinsky, along with the work of Students for a Democratic Society and the National Welfare Rights Organization in the early-to-mid 1960s. The leadership of these groups was largely socialist, and remained so as they moved into community organizing in the 1970s and beyond. More to the point, the community organizers who trained and worked with Obama were largely socialist, although they made a point of not advertising that fact. Even the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a faith-based group that has done much to support community organizing (including Obama’s own early work), is an effectively socialist group, although it doesn’t say so directly. My book carefully unpacks a great deal of archival evidence to substantiate these claims.

LOPEZ: You wrote, “When I began my post-campaign research for this book, my inclination was to downplay or dismiss evidence of explicit socialism in Obama’s background. I thought the socialism issue was an unprovable and unnecessary distraction from the broader question of Obama’s ultra-liberal inclinations. I was wrong. Evidence that suggests Obama is a socialist, I am now convinced, is real, important, and profoundly relevant to the present.” Explain.

KURTZ: It takes a whole book to explicate that statement. But to be brief, when I first found programs from the Socialist Scholars Conferences Obama attended in New York in the 1980s, I saw a number of people who were later part of his political circle. I was particularly struck by the name James Cone, who was Jeremiah Wright’s theological mentor and the founder of black liberation theology. There were other talks on black liberation theology at those conferences as well. That meant Obama would very likely have known about Wright’s theology even before he met Wright, and would have recognized its socialist content. Following this trail, I discovered that many of Obama’s organizing mentors and colleagues in Chicago were prominent socialists, with ties to the group that had sponsored those early socialist conferences. The policy preferences, tactics, and strategies of these socialist organizers are recognizable in the administration’s conduct today. In fact, the Obama administration continues to coordinate its grassroots support through many of the same socialist organizers he worked with in previous years.

LOPEZ: Why was the 1983 Socialist Scholars Conference “so formative an influence on Obama’s political career”?

KURTZ: I argue that it was Obama’s attendance at that first Socialist Scholars Conference in 1983 that made him decide to become a community organizer. At that point, I maintain, Obama was already a socialist. But that 1983 conference exposed him for the first time to the socialist world’s newfound emphasis on community organizing as part of a long-term political strategy to realign the parties along class lines. The goal was to inch the country toward socialism through multicultural “rainbow” coalitions led by minority politicians on the model of Chicago’s Harold Washington, who became Obama’s political idol. This gave Obama a solution to his identity crisis and drove him off the path to a career in international relations, which is where he’d been up till then. My argument for all this unfolds a bit like a detective story in the second chapter of the book.

LOPEZ: What actual evidence do you have that Obama attended the annual Socialist Scholars Conferences in New York between 1983 and 1985?

KURTZ: Obama tells us himself in Dreams from My Father that he attended socialist conferences at the Cooper Union. Detailed evidence from socialist archives shows that there was only one socialist conference at the Cooper Union, and that was the Socialist Scholars Conference of 1983. Obama’s name also appears on a list of pre-registrants for the 1984 Socialist Scholars Conference. There is less evidence that he attended the Socialist Scholars Conference of 1985, although I think it’s likely that he did. Not only did Obama attend the previous two conferences, evidence indicates that in 1985 he was studying the writings of Harry Boyte, an important theorist of community organizing who spoke at the 1985 conference. Boyte, by the way, advised Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. I carefully dissect the evidence for Obama’s conference attendance in the book.

LOPEZ: What is socialism? What is socialism to Barack Obama? How has that changed since 1983? How has it stayed the same?

KURTZ: These are the big questions. In the 1980s, the failure of Sixties and Seventies radicalism and the ascent of Ronald Reagan forced America’s socialists to take another tack. They de-emphasized strategies of nationalization and focused instead on local organizing as the way to move the country toward socialism. Now, instead of nationalizing a company, the idea was to get community organizers onto boards of directors, or to force banks to run loans through groups like ACORN. This was socialism “from below,” and it is the strategy that captivated Obama.

Obama’s socialist community-organizing colleagues followed French Marxist theorist André Gorz. Gorz advocated a strategy he called “non-reformist reforms,” proposing a series of seemingly minor tweaks to the system that were in fact designed to undermine capitalism and usher in socialism over time. This led Obama’s socialist mentors to devise an early version of the “public option,” although at the time they applied the idea to the energy sector, not health care. The socialism of Obama’s mentors was incremental and intentionally disguised. In the book, I argue that Obama follows many of his socialist mentors’ ideas to this day.

LOPEZ: How important is black liberation theology to understanding Barack Obama? And where does Jeremiah Wright fit in here?

KURTZ: The important thing about black liberation theology for Obama at the beginning was that its practitioners had just struck up an alliance with the Democratic Socialists of America. That gave Obama a way of bringing together his leftist political inclinations with his quest for an African-American identity. Obama surely disagreed with Reverend Wright’s crazier ideas, like the absurd notion that the AIDS virus is the product of a racist plot against blacks. Obama put up with Wright’s extremism because they shared a socialist outlook. Obama very much hoped to use radical preachers like Wright to help build a leftist political movement. In the book, I present a great deal of new evidence on Obama’s relationship with Wright, and on Wright’s own fascinating political history.

LOPEZ: Was Bill Ayers his mentor or not?

KURTZ: Ayers certainly gave Obama a leg up when he helped elevate Obama to the head of a foundation Ayers created, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. But I’d prefer to call the relationship an extended political partnership. In the book, I show that Obama eventually returned the favor and brought Ayers onto the board of the Woods Fund, which no one has pointed out until now. Obama also helped fund the work of Ayers’s wife, former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn. I’ve discovered that Obama even had longstanding ties to Bill’s brother, John Ayers. But the big picture is that Ayers and Dohrn were just a part of Chicago’s larger socialist world. Obama was also deeply immersed in that world, and it just so happens that, in 2008, the infamy of Ayers and Dohrn gave us a tiny peek into Obama’s larger radical political environment.

LOPEZ: How important is ACORN to understanding Barack Obama and the Democratic party today? Is ACORN still a factor?

KURTZ: I present a great deal of new documentary evidence detailing Obama’s longstanding relationship with ACORN. When you compare all this new material with Obama’s statements in 2008, it’s obvious that he lied about his relationship with ACORN. That’s important because it calls into question Obama’s credibility on the matter of his radical beliefs and associations. To this day, Obama and the Democrats blame the financial crisis exclusively on deregulation. The contribution of ACORN and the Democrats to the origins of the subprime-lending crisis is not as widely known as it should be. The book uncovers archival documents that allow us to recover ACORN’s extensive role in the origins of the financial crisis. Fascinating documents with ACORN’s inside account of its meetings with President Clinton and his officials tell us everything about the financial crisis that Obama and the Democrats don’t want us to hear. The mentality that got us into the crisis is still at play, with both Obama and the Democrats. That is the big lesson. But ACORN itself hasn’t disappeared. ACORN is a kind of giant organizational shell game, and the recent change of name is just another move in that game.

LOPEZ: Barack Obama wrote in Dreams from My Father: “Political discussions, the kind that at Occidental had once seemed so intense and purposeful, came to take on the flavor of the socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union or the African cultural fairs that took place in Harlem and Brooklyn during the summers — a few of the many diversions New York had to offer, like going to a foreign film or ice-skating at Rockefeller Center.” You read a lot into “diversions.” How? Why? Is he really that smart?

KURTZ: If all we had was Dreams from My Father, we couldn’t make much of those conferences. But after a painstaking reconstruction of what actually happened at those socialist conferences, the outlines of Obama’s entire political career emerge. It’s amazing how careful organizers are about both disguising and, on rare occasions, revealing their socialism. This goes back to Alinsky, but in the book I show socialists explaining to other socialists that the group Obama worked with, the Midwest Academy, was quietly socialist. Midwest Academy organizers made a practice of thinking through every little signal they gave about their socialist views with enormous care. Obama learned his craft from them.

LOPEZ: If Obama is so smart, why are the Democrats going to lose big on Tuesday?

KURTZ: Most people don’t realize that community organizers fail a lot more often than they succeed. That’s not because they’re dumb, but because, fundamentally, they are trying to manipulate people into following the organizer’s own political path. It isn’t easy to get people to travel down a political path that is not truly their own, but that is what community organizers try to do. Smarts alone can only get you so far along that road. Having said that, I argue in the book that Obama isn’t in quite as hopeless a position as he may seem to be right now. Obama has adopted a high-risk strategy. His long-term goal is to polarize the parties along class lines, thereby driving the country substantially to the left. He’s taking big chances to get there, but there is a plausible long-term scenario for success. I go into this in some detail in the final chapter.

LOPEZ: So is Saul Alinsky really, truly important to understanding our president?

KURTZ: He is, but in the book I focus on Alinsky’s method as adapted and transformed by an extraordinary community-organizer-training institute called the Midwest Academy. Barack and Michelle Obama both had close ties to the Academy, and it is the Midwest Academy’s version of organizing — and of socialism — that deeply stamped Obama, I believe. I would call Obama, a “Midwest Academy socialist,” and one way to read the book is as a long explanation of exactly what Midwest Academy socialism is.

LOPEZ: What does the Midwest Academy have to do with the milestone health-care legislation the president signed this March?

KURTZ: The Midwest Academy virtually invented the “public option” idea, although in those days they wanted a public energy corporation to “compete” with private oil and gas companies (in the unspoken hope of driving them out of business). I believe that Obama’s support for a public option and his willingness to trade it away were both based on the Midwest Academy’s strategies of gradualism and “non-reformist reforms.” Even without the public option, the health-care bill as written is designed to drive the system toward single-payer over time. The president’s way of selling health-care reform, chiefly as a pragmatic fix rather than a matter of principle, also goes back to Alinskyite techniques as filtered through the Midwest Academy.

LOPEZ: You write about a “strategic patience” in Barack Obama’s socialism. He doesn’t sound patient, though. He sounds shrill and out of patience, especially with his condescending, dismissive Slurpee lines.

KURTZ: I agree that the president is losing a bit of his cool under pressure. More broadly, I think Obama was ready to move more incrementally before the financial crisis gave him a large Democratic majority in Congress. At that point, Obama decided to take advantage of what seemed at the time like a unique opportunity to grasp for a great deal of “change” at once. Even so, from the perspective of many on the left, Obama has gone slowly, say, by giving up the public option. I also think Obama is ready for slow trench warfare with a Republican Congress. To prepare for that, he first needed to get in place programs the Republicans would try to repeal. Out of that polarizing battle, Obama hopes to jump-start a movement of have-nots angry about efforts to peel back their new entitlements. He may fail, but that is his long-term play. And it follows a well-worn community-organizing model, as I show in the book.

LOPEZ: Do you have insights into what exactly Barack Obama makes of the abortion debate and where that fits into a full picture of him? Despite a radicalism there, he’s been stealth about it, somewhat consistently, in his national career.

KURTZ: Midwest Academy founder Heather Booth began as a socialist feminist with an intense interest in abortion. Yet she ultimately downplayed that issue in an effort to assemble a populist anti-business coalition that united culturally conservative blue-collar workers with the descendants of the Sixties left. Midwest Academy strategy is to downplay cultural issues and foreign policy in order to avoid dividing a broad-based, economically focused, populist coalition of the Left. I think Obama follows this program. He’s a leftist on cultural issues, but he doesn’t want to emphasize it any more than he absolutely has to, because that will split his coalition on economic issues, which is what he really cares about.

LOPEZ: Do you think there is anything to the Dinesh D’Souza thesis about Obama?

KURTZ: I’ve read his Forbes article, not the book, so my reaction has to be provisional. I think D’Souza takes kernels of truth and overloads them with significance. Was Obama attracted to postcolonial theory? Yes, he tells us so himself. Were Obama’s socialist inclinations inspired, in part, by his father’s socialism? They very likely were. But none of that substitutes for a careful attempt to reconstruct Obama’s adult political career. That is what I have tried to do. D’Souza is squeezing all the controversy he can out of the public record. But the heretofore hidden history I recover is ultimately more interesting and important.

LOPEZ: Why is this important now? I know many of the policies are harmful to the country, and I want to see his party’s power depleted come January and someone else in the White House after the next presidential election. Why should I care what he wrote in Dreams from My Father and what conferences he attended in the Eighties?

KURTZ: The final chapter of the book shows how deeply Obama’s past still influences his present. More broadly, electing and reelecting a president is, in substantial measure, a matter of trust. Obama has misrepresented who he was and is, both during the 2008 election and since. In that sense, he has broken trust with the public. Only if the American people know the truth about their president’s political beliefs can they make an informed decision about his reelection. That is how democracy works. The mind of the president means a great deal. The health-care and financial-reform bills are largely unfinished projects. What they will become depends on how the massive regulatory apparatus of each is shaped by the administration. A number of Obama’s supporters still believe his claims of post-partisan pragmatism. Showing that this is not the true picture could have a very significant effect on whether the country decides to throw in its lot with Obama or his Republican opponent two years from now.

LOPEZ: Beyond this Tuesday, how can those who want to defeat Obama and his agenda make use of your book?

KURTZ: I do think the book makes Obama’s strategic moves more understandable, and therefore easier to counter. But simply exposing the president’s lack of frankness about his political past and present could do more than anything to deplete his public appeal. Setting the socialism question aside for a moment, just knowing that Obama’s colleagues and mentors made a regular practice of disguising their real political views is going to disturb a lot of voters.

LOPEZ: Why do you think your argument is compelling? Why would you urge those who don’t already think Obama is radical to read your book?

KURTZ: The whole socialism argument kicked off by Obama’s candidacy and presidency has been off-base. It is grounded in ignorance of what modern American socialism really is. Agree or disagree with my argument about Obama, my book shows what much of contemporary socialism has become. It proves that stealth socialism is a real phenomenon, whether you think Obama embraces that view or not. It gives readers access to an important but almost totally unknown political world. It is a world Obama lived in for years. All that may not resolve our arguments about the president’s political views, but it puts the debate itself on an entirely new footing.

LOPEZ: What did you learn that most surprised you during the course of your research?

KURTZ: During campaign 2008, I debated a prominent community organizer and Obama advisor named Harry Boyte. He presented himself during that debate as a slightly left-leaning cousin of communitarian conservatives. When I learned that he was a prominent and powerful socialist, I was shocked. When I discovered that he had been the leader of a socialist faction that believed in using the word “communitarian” to disguise its socialist convictions, I was amazed. When I realized that Boyte had been the leading thinker of the faction of socialist organizers who trained Obama, I was stunned.

LOPEZ: Have you been surprised about various reactions to your book?

KURTZ: People are sometimes taken aback (in a good way) when they interview me and realize that I have a whole new approach to the socialism argument. A number of people who are just now moving through the book are writing to tell me it’s gripping in the way a murder mystery is. The book is scholarly, but the process of peeling back Obama’s self-presentation and unearthing the hidden story beneath it is exciting.

LOPEZ: If there’s one thing you could drive home to Americans about the president, what would it be?

KURTZ: He hasn’t been telling us the truth about his political convictions.

LOPEZ: What does it mean for American history that we have a socialist as president right now?

KURTZ: The liberalizing changes of the Sixties have borne fruit in a new generation, yet they have been incomplete. The Democrats have moved left, but resistance to those changes has driven Republicans to the right. The government sector is so large now that the fundamental character of the American system is at stake. We will either move incrementally over the line toward European-style socialism, or pull substantially back. The battle will be fought out over the next two years, with the coming presidential election determining the winner. A Republican victory next week does not decide the question. It only sets up the larger battle Obama has been planning all along. We don’t yet know who will win.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.