Saturday, November 20, 2010

Obama’s Power-Mad Cell-Phone Czar

He wants to require devices that disable phones in cars.

By Michelle Malkin
November 19, 2010 12:00 A.M.

America is in debt past its eyeballs. Unemployment remains stuck near double digits. Small and large businesses, unions and insurers are all clamoring for Obamacare waivers in droves. Jihadists are making a mockery of homeland security. And border chaos reigns. So what’s one of the Obama administration’s top domestic-policy agenda items this month? Combating distracted drivers.

What? You missed the Million Anti-Distracted Drivers Protest March on Washington and the Great Grassroots Groundswell for federal intervention on our highways and byways? Don’t worry. You weren’t the only one.

Making the cable-TV rounds to unveil a public-service announcement campaign against “epidemic” cell-phone use and texting on the road, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood revealed bizarre and alarming plans on Wednesday to install devices in cars that would block a driver’s ability to communicate.

“There’s a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones, and we’re looking at that,” he threatened. LaHood — a liberal Republican and pork-addicted Chicago crony who embodies Obama’s “bipartisanship” — envisions centralized government mechanisms to shut off commuters’ BlackBerries and iPhones.

And that’s just the start. “We need to do a lot more if we’re going to save lives,” LaHood vowed, while paying obligatory lip service to encouraging “personal responsibility.” Will the cell-phone banners soon ban radios, GPS devices, makeup, and fast food in cars? All are also listed as causes of distracted-driver-induced accidents.

Any death due to such reckless behavior is tragic. But by “saving lives,” what cell-phone czar LaHood really means is “controlling lives.” There are already 30 states with laws in place regulating drivers’ cell-phone and/or texting habits. The District of Columbia and Guam have also passed bans. The safety benefits of such laws are in dispute.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examined insurance claims and driving habits in Louisiana, Washington, Minnesota, and California, all of which passed texting bans two years ago. Its study found that, when compared with neighboring states that had not yet banned texting while driving (Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi), no-texting states actually reported higher accident rates among young drivers after the bans were passed — while the states with no bans maintained constant accident rates. Safety officials theorized that drivers in no-texting states may have adjusted their habits to hide their cell-phone use from visual detection by police — incentivizing even riskier behavior.

LaHood and his fellow social meddlers have lashed out at the study and any other evidence that state enforcement of these bans is futile. But there’s a long history of government safety regulations backfiring on central planners. Back in the 1970s, the federal drive to require child-safety caps on aspirin bottles resulted in no reduction in child poisoning deaths. In fact, renowned risk analyst Kip Viscusi at Harvard Law School found that the regulations induced many parents to leave the caps off altogether because they were inconvenient and difficult to remove.

Moreover, the push for federal policing of our driving habits comes just as the federal government itself reports that the rate of teenage-related car accidents has fallen. Despite increased cell-phone use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that when the years 2004 through 2008 were compared, there was a 38 percent reduction in the number of car accidents involving 16- and 17-year-olds.

So what’s really driving LaHood? He’s pursued an anti-car agenda with ideological zeal from Day One — from entertaining proposals to impose mileage taxes on drivers and track their routes, to redistributing tax dollars to pie-in-the-sky high-speed-rail projects that no private business will touch, to peddling a “livability initiative” that would discourage suburban growth and corral residents in high-density areas dependent on public transportation.

Like the rest of Obama’s radicals, the Transportation Department’s self-appointed cell-phone czar is a power-hungry busybody hiding behind children to expand government’s reach. If only federal agencies came equipped with anti-big-government ignition breathalyzer locks.

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deeper Magic, Deeper Meanings in Harry Potter

An Interview with Greg Garrett

By Evan Weppler
November 01, 2010

Across the 4,100 pages of the Harry Potter saga, Rowling writes of magic and mystery and adventure, but throughout the story, there are even more magical themes at work. In his new book, One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter, Greg Garrett explores the “Deeper Magic” of J.K. Rowling’s writings. The importance of community, the handling of power, the need for redemption -- all of these are powerful forces in Rowling’s work -- and Garrett looks at them one by one, holding them up to the light of culture, literature, and faith. Garrett is a Professor of English at Baylor University, has written more than a dozen books on faith and culture, and is an active blogger at, a columnist at Patheos, and has many other print and web publications. He writes with a perspective of hope, leading the reader through Harry Potter’s world and helping them to see the deeper meanings in Rowling’s words.

What does One Fine Potion offer that is different from other books on the topics of Harry Potter and faith? Why were you compelled to write this book?

I guess the glib answer would be that what’s different is that no other book about Harry Potter was written by me, although that’s hardly sufficient. Still, I think, as a novelist and theologian both, I am both a strong reader and critic, and a person who can outline the theological messages the Potter narrative carries with some skill and beauty. The approach I took in reading Potter -- a four-fold medieval reading -- is, I think, unique, and offers powerful perspectives into the Harry Potter story. But ultimately, I wanted to spend the last few years thinking about and writing this book because I felt that Rowling’s 4100-page epic was the best and most powerful contemporary retelling of the gospel narrative I’d encountered. I learned powerful things about my own faith from reading Harry Potter, and that’s coming from someone who thinks, speaks, and writes about faith all the time.

In One Fine Potion, you write at length about the handling of power and about not using it to the disadvantage of others. As an educator, what would you say about the handling of knowledge as power and the correct way of using knowledge in the relation to others?

Good question, Evan -- thank you. I think my approach would have to be the same as my comments in the book: knowledge in Harry Potter’s world is about learning enough to shape the world as one wants. That’s a good definition of power, the ability to shape the world around you. But we all have a responsibility to be aware that what we want may not be what is best -- in fact, it may not be good for anyone but ourselves. We all have a responsibility to shape the world with compassion even for those with whom we might disagree. Knowledge should be a force for good.

What simple message would you give to those you mention in your book who believe that J.K. Rowling is a “Satanist” and is trying to promote witchcraft to younger audiences?

It’s tempting, of course, first to simply argue that this is ridiculous. The Harry Potter novels are fantasy, after all, and magic is a core component of fantasy. Or one might be moved to argue facts -- that J. K. Rowling has spoken about her Christian faith since the release of the first novel, that she has denied that she is a witch, that she has denied any belief in magic, that after the final novel was released, she gave interviews in which she said her faith had shaped the entire narrative and that the two Bible verses in the final book are the thematic core of the series. But people who believe J.K. Rowling is a witch and that the books promote witchcraft are arguing from an appeal to a couple of Old Testament Bible verses which I guess we could say are their thematic core.

So I think the way I’d want to address them would have to be biblical. Jesus says in Matthew 7 and Luke 6 that we judge a tree by its fruits: no bad tree can give good fruits, and vice versa. I can tell you that in four years of talking about the Potter novels, I’ve never once seen a credible account of someone led to practicing witchcraft by reading the Potter books or seeing the Potter films. But I have seen many people -- children and adults alike -- who have learned the value of compassion, the importance of faithful community, and the necessity of living out self-sacrificing love through their encounters with these stories. The fruit of J.K. Rowling’s stories and her own claiming of Christianity have the potential to shape millions of lives in faithful love and service. That looks like good fruits for me.

You mention that Rowling was afraid that if she allowed the public to know of her faith, they could guess how the story would end. Do you believe that this is a problem for authors of faith? How does your faith influence your writing? Do you empathize with Rowling’s concerns?

Big questions, and they come to the heart of faithful art. Rowling’s concern, simply, was that those who knew she was a Christian would be able to discern whether or not Harry Potter would live, die, or do both. This awareness of resurrection faith is probably more important to Rowling’s particular narrative than to most narratives by Christian authors, but it’s probably there, since what we ultimately believe in, as J.R.R. Tolkien and contemporary theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and John Polkinghorne point out, is happy endings.

As a writer, you want people to believe that disaster and sorrow are possible outcomes of your story; I think if you write well, even as a person of faith, readers will have the shock of surprise when they reach a happy ending. And, if you are a person faithful both to God and to observation, it’s possible that you’ll write something that doesn’t end happily in the moment, because sometimes people die, sometimes hearts break, sometimes the Holocaust happens. So your novel or story can end unhappily, even as we believe and hope for something different.

At the end of Deathly Hallows, Harry offers Voldemort a chance to repent. In today’s world, filled with real-life terrorists, world leaders, and power mongers, is this an option? You write of the importance of compassion and redemption -- but are these possibilities in the higher spheres of power, in government and the justice system?

As a person of faith, yes, I believe there is always the possibility of repentance and redemption, although Rowling’s story points out how difficult it may be. Voldemort is set in his ways -- calcified, petrified -- and the possibility that he will allow his heart and mind to change is slight. But I do and must believe in the possibility that God’s love moving in the world can still move mountains and change minds. How we play this out in institutions is probably different from how we believe as individuals. As Reinhold Niebuhr argued, “Christian realism” insists we recognize that, for example, all our prayers for Hitler to change may not stop him from attacking Poland or killing Jews. Perhaps justice demands we take up arms to oppose great evil; I myself am unsure. I want to be a Christian pacifist and place my complete faith in the God of Abraham -- what Reinhold Niebuhr’s brother Richard called “Radical Monotheism” -- but honestly, most days I’m too weak to do that. I could never do what Harry ultimately does in Rowling’s epic -- go to his death without taking up arms, trusting that there is a greater plan, a deeper magic.

In One Fine Potion, you mention J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of the eucatastrophe, the story that offers the audacious ending of hope amidst disaster. For many people today, a story that ends with “all was well” seems contrived and, well, cheesy. Why is this? Why does the good ending feel so artificial sometimes? And why is the Harry Potter saga an exception?

We have been conditioned by bad Hollywood films that did not earn their happy endings to think of them as somehow unrealistic. I know as a novelist that we have to earn our endings, and they have to have been prepared for. A good writer does the groundwork for possibility, and plants hope. Theologically speaking, though, the eucatastrophe is at the heart of our faith: no matter how bad things look, we believe the God is working to redeem the cosmos, and eventually that plan is going to show its face. In Harry Potter, what makes Rowling’s accomplishment so brilliant is that she has planted so many little seeds of hope, has done her work so well, that we are willing to believe -- and rooting for light to somehow overcome darkness. In the book, I think I managed to talk rationally about the beauty of her ending, but I find now, thinking about it, all I can do is gush. What an accomplishment, both in literary and theological terms!

How does reading fantasy -- works by Rowling, Lewis, or Tolkien -- inform and influence our thinking, our living, and our beliefs?

C. S. Lewis said that in literature that seems to be separate from our own experience -- I’d include fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other otherworldly genres here -- we find it easier to absorb moral lessons. He used the analogy of stealing past sleeping dragons! Since it doesn’t look like our world and our experience, our guards are down, and we are more willing to mark, learn, and digest what the stories have to teach us. That’s why the Narnia books, the Lord of the Rings epic, Madeleine L'Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, and the Harry Potter books -- all of which, incidentally, are written by confessional Christians -- have the power to shape our thinking and encourage our faith. They present lessons that reinforce our faith and because we think we are reading about other worlds, we aren’t saying -- “Wait! This is about me!”

You have written a number of nonfiction and fiction books. What are the differences in the writing process? Do you have a preference for either?

I’m a novelist at heart, because, to paraphrase Orson Welles, storytelling is the biggest and best play-set there is. But it’s arduous and often time-consuming work, and I can’t write a novel every year or even every other year. So in the in-between times, I love looking at narrative from my standpoint as teacher, cultural critic, and theologian, which is what I do in many of the nonfiction books. Fiction is more about gathering, shaping, and discovering; nonfiction, for me, is more about paying attention. If I have two years to read or watch carefully, I can write a nonfiction book, and I’ve discovered that if I choose a topic that has meaning for me and I explore it faithfully, it tends to have meaning for many others as well.

You have written many books about different cultural elements -- from the Matrix to U2 to comic books and graphic novels to Harry Potter. What leads you to write about these various topics? How do you go about researching and developing your thoughts?

I’m drawn to stories, films, and music that teach us how to live, and since so much of my spiritual journey has been mediated by stories and experiences outside the Church, I pay close attention to the possibility that something sacred might be happening in the movies, music, and fiction to which I’m drawn. When I write, I’m doing a faithful reading of a text or texts, but I’m also trying to place it in the midst of a centuries-long exchange, what Stanley Hauerwas has called the ongoing conversation about God we have from generation to generation in the Church. So with each book, I read primary texts and I read theology, ethics, and other cognate fields, and I try not to get lazy, relying on old conclusions and sources. That way I can learn and grow with each book, as well as give something fresh to my readers. And because I get bored easily, I find myself moving in new directions all the time. My next few books include a work on 21st-century Christianity (The Other Jesus, out in February), and my books in progress are a cultural and theological history of the war on terror, and a book on a Christian political ethic, in time for the 2012 election. I’m reading up a storm for them.

You are the Writer in Residence at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest. What does that role entail? How does being a part of both that community and your community at Baylor University affect your writing?

My relationship with the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, is a way for me to serve the Church that rescued me and redirected my life, and the seminary that trained me as a theologian. Like anyone who wants to be responsive to the ways God has moved in her or his life, I look for opportunities to give back, and my work with faculty and students there -- as well as my ongoing writing and research carried out from my office at the seminary -- has been a blessing to me and, I hope, to others. I also serve St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin as a licensed lay preacher -- that community too has been formative for me.

My twenty-plus year relationship with Baylor has been a search to find myself and the best way to serve others. That call to vocation is something Baylor takes very seriously and has encouraged in me and in many others. I love teaching and do it well, I think, and Baylor is the place where I’ve been offered the encouragement to teach, to write and speak, and to be a public intellectual and theologian as well as a novelist. Not many employers would have given me permission to be a fulltime student knowing I might never return, but my seminary education made me a better Baylor professor, and has launched my writing in new directions toward theology, ethics, politics, and culture. I can’t say often enough how grateful I am to Baylor and to the administrators who have supported and do support the work I do. I couldn’t write and tour and speak without that support.

Community is one of the lessons that Harry Potter has reinforced for me. Although our culture often celebrates so-called “self-made” men, it’s not enough to be individually brilliant. Voldemort is one of the greatest wizards in history, and he’s a disaster for himself and everyone who comes into contact with him. We need to be shaped and loved by community in order to turn into the people God has called us to be. And that’s what I think these communities have done for me -- they’ve given me the chance to become the person I think I’m supposed to be, or at least to take some giant steps in that direction.

Evan Weppler is a senior at Baylor University, studying Religion and Communications, with plans of going on to seminary and into church ministry. He is from Cypress, Texas, and is deeply interested in the "Deeper Magic" of life and the interplay of faith, art, and culture..

Film Reviews: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

By Roger Moore
The Orlando Sentinel
November, 16 2010 10:50 AM

There are no eye-rolling pauses to stare at this new magical prop or that extra-special special effect. No time for time-killing Quidditch matches.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a brisk, bracing film of actors in close-up. The lead players have grown into the roles and of the Who’s Who of British character actors in supporting parts shine like never before, placed, as they are, in both real-world London and a selection of desolate landscapes that match the gloom of this apocalyptic tale.

Alternately funny and touching, it’s the best film in the series, an “Empire Strikes Back” for these wizards and their wizarding world. And those effects? They’re so special you don’t notice them. The digital elves are the most lifelike the movies have ever seen.

In a hellfire and brimstone opening, the head of the Ministry of Magic (Bill Nighy) roars that “our world has faced no greater threat.” The forces of” You Know Who” have seized this and infiltrated that. The Hogwarts trio have gone into hiding, protecting their families as best they can. When Hermione (Emma Watson) movingly whispers “obliviate” and removes any memory of her from her family, her image fading from photographs as she sadly covers her tracks, we realize the stakes. And when we see Voldemort’s brain trust meet and torture a random Hogwarts teacher, the blood tells us this will be the darkest and most violent Potter film yet.

Spirited chases with Death Eaters and “snatchers,” cut like a real action film, break up Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley’s (Rupert Grint) search for “Horcruxes,” the evil talismans they must destroy on “The Chosen One’s” way to his date with destiny — aka battle with You Know Who.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Watson, seeing the finish line of this movie marathon, fully invest in the characters again. And supporting players such as David Thewlis ( Remus Lupin) Rhys Ifans (as Luna’s dad, Xenophilius Lovegood) and Helena Bonham- Carter — more devilish than ever as Belatrix Lestrange — stand out.

And when the characters, as they sometimes do, disguise themselves in the bodies of others to sneak into The Ministry, David O’Hara gives a deliriously spot-on physical imitation of Radcliffe, mocking his slant-shouldered shuffling walk to a T.

Director David Yates, overwhelmed by “Half-Blood Prince after a career doing smart mini-series for British TV (“State of Play”), finds firmer footing here. The script (by Steven Kloves) is peppered with trivia — little bits of the history we’ve seen in the six preceding films. Even taking a few moments to tell us (with stark, stylized animation) what the Deathly Hallows are, doesn’t interrupt the pace he’s set.

The first third is brisk and witty, the middle third gloomy and the finale of “Part 1″ not so much a cliffhanger as a grim, inspiring tease, a masterly build-up to put “I can’t wait for part 2” on every Muggles’ lips.

See for yourself

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Grint, Rhys Ifans, Brendan Gleeson

Director: David Yates

Running time: 2 hours,19 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality.

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1' — 3 stars

By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie critic
November 16, 2010

We have reached the semi-finals. Staffed with half the best character actors in Great Britain, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" brings the seventh J.K. Rowling tale to market, reminding both fervent Hogwarts maniacs and the Potter-ambivalent of this series' priorities, its increasingly somber tone, as well as its dedication to one of the rarest of all franchise qualities: actual quality.

At this point in Harry's anguished saga, the saga doesn't care much about the needs of the newcomer. Director David Yates's film, his third in the string of Potter adventures, will not be for everyone. It takes its time. It has a heavy heart, and a sluggish middle passage. By conventional "wow" standards it offers the least magic and conventional energy of the films so far. Much of screenwriter Steve Kloves' adaptation covers the lengthy road trip in search of the Horcruxes, with Death Eaters eternally threatening and the skies eternally portending eternal doom. Halving the series' final chapter, Kloves probably couldn't avoid fashioning a script that comes with the faint sound of a drumroll, setting up the finale. (The last film arrives in July 2011.)

Still: We've come this far. It's been most gratifying to watch Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up in their parts, and to watch the aptness of the initial casting pay off.

What works especially well this time? The little things. Alexandre Desplat's musical score is the best of the series so far, never going for bombast when an undercurrent of emotion or menace or comfort will do instead. The first time you hear the sickening, sliding underscoring accompanying Snape's arrival at Voldemort's bi-monthly meeting, or whatever it is, you know you're in excellent compositional hands. And if you think a film's music is a minor consideration, your ears have been lying to you. The story-within-the-story regarding the deathly hallows is visualized by way of shadow-puppet style animation, and the effect is quite beautiful.

Yates is best in the smaller scenes, less distinctive with the action set pieces. The Death Eaters' opening attack on Harry and colleagues, each disguised as Harry to throw the villains off the scent, does the job, though impersonally. I liked the grace notes, though, such as the way Dumbledore's last will and testament floats in mid-air and unfolds, carefully, so that Bill Nighy (as the Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour) can deliver a wee bit of plot. I appreciate the way Yates and company refuse to wallop this material with effects bombast, at least every second, as if trying to attack the audience with a Whomping Willow.

I'd be wary of taking kids under 9 or 10, unless they're really, really into Harry Potter, and have read the book in question. Then again: The success of Rowling's novels and of their film adaptations has proven that kids can grapple with darkness as well as light, and should. Kids, like adults, respond to this universe, even as the storm clouds gather in ever-grimmer patterns, because the relationships between Harry, Hermione and Ron are built on a foundation of love and respect, yet come with all the usual torments of adolescence. With or without the Dark Forces.

Yes, it may be taking Voldemort ( Ralph Fiennes, he of the exquisite final consonants) forever and a day to square off against his bespectacled adversary. But the six previous Potter films grossed $5.4 billion worldwide. With that kind of financial imperative it's something of a miracle the Potter films have been, on the whole, good. One or two, very good. One or two (the first two), less good. This one's good.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality)

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter); Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley); Emma Watson (Hermione Granger); Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort); Toby Jones (Dobby); Bill Nighy (Scrimgeour); Rhys Ifans (Lovegood); Alan Rickman (Snape); Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix); Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid)

Credits: Directed by David Yates; written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling; produced by David Heyman, David Barron and Rowling. A Warner Bros. Pictures release. Running time: 2:26. Opens midnight Thursday.

Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune

National Security: It's Time To Hulk Out

by John Hayward

Last Christmas, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate his explosive-laced underwear on a passenger flight bound for Detroit. He walked past the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency to take his seat, and only the heroic last-minute actions of the other passengers on Northwest Flight 253 dragged him out of it. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano declared “the system worked,” and proceeded to approve intrusive body-scanning and pat-down measures that have driven airline passengers into a state of near-revolt, but which would not have done anything to stop Abdulmutallab.

Yesterday Ahmed Gailani – an al-Qaeda terrorist who murdered 224 people, including a dozen Americans, in Tanzania and Kenya - skipped out of a New York courtroom with nothing but property-damage charges sticking to him. He faces a minimum sentence of 20 years, which does not mean he will be in prison until 2030. The Obama Department of Justice is “pleased” with this outcome.

Drug-fueled violence on the Mexican border is spilling over into the United States. Captain Stacy Holland of the Texas Department of Public Safety told Fox News “it’s war on the border.” Illegal aliens bring everything from violent crime to deadly traffic accidents into the country. Half of them pass through Arizona, which got tired of watching the federal government refuse to enforce its immigration laws. When the state government stepped in to provide that enforcement, they were mercilessly attacked by the same people in D.C. who had previously ignored them.

The President recently deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to assist with border security, but that’s only 20% of the force President Bush dispatched in 2006, and all they can do is play hide-and-seek with cartels and human-smuggling coyotes. Legendary Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is putting together a volunteer posse, which gained star power with the involvement of duly deputized action star Steven Seagal, and “Incredible Hulk” actor Lou Ferrigno.

Together, these and other incidents paint a picture of a national-security crisis. Our new Congressional representatives should do what they can to address it swiftly, before anyone else gets killed.

These lapses in national security policy stand in sharp contrast to the casual way certain draconian programs are dropped on us. The aforementioned airline security measures have turned passenger checkpoints into Cinemax late-night programming, and we all get to be Shannon Tweed.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood thought nothing of airing his bright idea to install cell phone jammers in passenger automobiles on MSNBC. This is a “safety” strategy that would turn us all into desperate tribal shamans, climbing skyscrapers to escape the jamming signals from hundreds of cars and get a signal from the cell phone gods. LaHood’s people raced to assure the media their boss was just spitballing, and they’re actually looking at lots of different technologies to control our driving experience – perhaps a nice insurance discount for people who “voluntarily” install cell jammers or filters in their cars, which is properly viewed as a punitive surtax on those who don’t.

We live beneath a government that demands control over hundreds of aspects of our lives, but seems at pains to avoid inconveniencing terrorists. It doesn’t make much sense… until you consider the ideology and motivations of those involved. They don’t view national defense as a solemn duty they are compelled to fulfill. They see their jobs as vehicles for larger personal and ideological ambitions.

Every security measure the government can impose comes with a certain cost in political capital. The people affected by the measure are sure to become annoyed with those who impose it. Forcing heavy-handed measures upon the entire domestic population carries a relatively low, dispersed political cost – far less than the focused rage of specific groups, with powerful lobbying organizations, which would strenuously object to targeted security programs. This cost yields plentiful rewards to the statist, including personal power, and an enhanced ability to impose their ideology.

In other words, pushing the American people around is easy, because all they do is complain a bit, then learn to live with the situation. The increased political power gained by the statist is well worth a few harsh letters to the editors of the New York Times. On the other hand, enforcing meaningful border and airline security produces howls of outrage from special-interest groups who know how to draw political blood. Efficiently prosecuting the War on Terror earns the disdain of the “international community” and makes multicultural liberals go bananas. The Obama-style statist sees little reward in return for provoking the ire of these groups.

A massive terror attack would change these cost/benefit calculations. So will intensive oversight from the incoming Republicans in Congress, because the results are likely to make the American people more than just a little grumpy. The Republicans must be careful not to turn the entire 112th Congress into a series of investigations, lest they be dismissed as a pack of partisan inquisitors. Let them choose their targets carefully, issue subpoenas, and get to work.

The rest of us can only hold things together with posses on the southern border, and the business-class cabins of airliners, for so long.

- John Hayward is a staff writer for HUMAN EVENTS, and author of the recently published Doctor Zero: Year One. Follow him on Twitter: Doc_0. Contact him by email at

A Compromise Verdict, and No Winners

The Ghailani verdict was irrational, but no more so than the decision to try him as a civilian in the first place.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
November 18, 2010 12:00 P.M.

A federal jury in Manhattan has returned what is transparently a compromise verdict in the terrorism trial of Ahmed Ghailani.

The case centered on al-Qaeda’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. There were 285 counts, including separate murder charges for each of the 224 people killed. Ghailani was acquitted on 284 of them and convicted on a single charge of conspiracy to destroy government buildings.

That sounds like a great victory for Ghailani, but it is nothing of the kind. On the one count of conviction, Ghailani faces a sentence of up to life imprisonment, and there is a mandatory minimum term of 20 years in jail. In that sense, it is a victory for the government: The object of a terrorism trial is to neutralize the terrorist, and one count will do the trick.

But beyond that, the Justice Department walks away from the case as a big loser. That’s because the Obama administration made this much more than a terrorism trial. It cherry-picked the case to be a demonstration that the civilian criminal-justice system is up to the task of trying terrorists. This was to be the “turn the clock back” moment — specifically, back to the Clinton years, when Eric Holder was deputy attorney general and when prosecution in civilian courts was the U.S. government’s principal response to the jihadist onslaught that began with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

In this June 9, 2009 file courtroom sketch, Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (l.) listens as his civilian lawyer Scott Fenstermaker (r.) speaks at his arraignment. (Elizabeth Williams/AP/File)

This was the model that Barack Obama campaigned on and that the anti-anti-terrorist Left takes as an article of faith. No more Bush-era counterterrorism: no enemy combatants, no military commissions, no indefinite detention, and certainly no aggressive interrogation. The president and his attorney general are adamant that “the rule of law” must be restored.

Never mind that the laws of war — which support all the Bush-administration measures — are the rule of law during wartime. Never mind that at no point in our history have the nation’s wartime enemies been given access to the civilian justice system and endowed with all the protections and presumptions that American citizens receive. To the Obama Left, the law-enforcement approach is effective national security, a way to win the hearts and minds of Muslims and consequently make ourselves safer. It makes no difference that the country was demonstrably unsafe — and repeatedly attacked — during the Clinton years. Nor does it matter that people in Islamic countries have no idea of the legal differences between American civilian and military proceedings — they care only that we are imprisoning Muslims, not about the abstruse details of our basis for doing so.

The Obama Justice Department saw the Ghailani case as the perfect opportunity for the civilian system to prove itself. After all, the case had already been tried successfully: In 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, four terrorists were convicted and sentenced to life terms. Moreover, while critics of the law-enforcement counterterrorism model emphasize that civilian due process requires the government to hand over too much sensitive intelligence, thereby educating the enemy while we are trying to defeat the enemy, that argument was significantly diminished in Ghailani’s case. Because the case had already been tried in the civilian system, most of the relevant intelligence had already been disclosed. You could contend that this was not a good thing, but for better or worse it had already been done.

But instead of a shining moment for proponents of civilian prosecution, the Ghailani case is a body blow.

Even before the trial began, the trial judge ruled that prosecutors could not call a key witness, the man who had personally sold explosives to the defendant. The court reasoned that the government had learned of the witness during the CIA’s coercive interrogation of Ghailani, so permitting the testimony would have violated what the judge found (and the government did not dispute) were the alien terrorist’s Fifth Amendment rights. Similarly, the jury was not allowed to learn that Ghailani had confessed, and that after the bombing he had become a celebrity in al-Qaeda circles.

That is, swaddled in the protections of civilian due process, Ghailani was allowed to pose before the jury as a victim of circumstances who had no idea that the terror network was preparing simultaneous massacres at American embassies.

It seems to have worked, at least with one juror, who reportedly held out for a complete acquittal for several days. But even without the key witness and the post-bombing evidence, the circumstantial case against Ghailani seemed strong — strong enough to convince most of the jurors.

The verdict is obviously a compromise: In exchange for the holdout’s agreement to convict on one important charge, the other jurors apparently agreed to acquit on all the rest. And like most compromise verdicts, it is irrational. As a matter of law, a member of a conspiracy is responsible for all the foreseeable criminal acts of his co-conspirators. If the jury found that Ghailani was a member of the al-Qaeda conspiracy to bomb government buildings, it made no sense to acquit him of the other charges, particularly the murders of the people killed when the buildings were bombed. That is, a rational jury either convicts him of everything or acquits him of everything.

This irrationality should not be a problem for the Justice Department on appeal. Compromise verdicts are a seedy but well-recognized feature of the criminal-justice system. Trials are extraordinarily expensive and burdensome, and we want them to have finality — that’s why judges push juries hard not to hang. But sometimes, when jurors are at an impasse, the only way they can reach a resolution is by compromising on the charges. It’s not logical, but it’s a decision, and an appellate court won’t look behind it.

But that is the only good news for the Obama administration. It put all its “rule of law” chips on Ghailani and came away with 284 acquittals. Americans will naturally ask: If the civilian justice system couldn’t get this case right, how can we responsibly trust it to handle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 plotters, a more difficult case that would require massive disclosure of sensitive intelligence under civilian due-process standards?

Though an opponent of civilian prosecutions for enemy combatants — precisely because I’ve seen their wages up close — I am inclined to cut the DOJ some slack on this result. Ghailani has been convicted and will never be able to kill Americans again. Moreover, what appears to have gone wrong here is the selection of a terrible juror. If there hadn’t been one, if there had been twelve rational people, there would have been 285 convictions and no acquittals. I’ve had nutty jurors before. It happens, and it can happen to any prosecutor.

But it’s far less apt to happen in a military commission, where the jurors are military officers. And that’s the important takeaway here: The Ghailani civilian prosecution was a mistake long before the verdict was returned, not because of the verdict that was returned. This civilian prosecution was a misadventure because politics was permitted to trump justice and, predictably, justice was not done.

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

Don't touch my junk

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, November 19, 2010

Ah, the airport, where modern folk heroes are made. The airport, where that inspired flight attendant did what everyone who's ever been in the spam-in-a-can crush of a flying aluminum tube - where we collectively pretend that a clutch of peanuts is a meal and a seat cushion is a "flotation device" - has always dreamed of doing: pull the lever, blow the door, explode the chute, grab a beer, slide to the tarmac and walk through the gates to the sanity that lies beyond. Not since Rick and Louis disappeared into the Casablanca fog headed for the Free French garrison in Brazzaville has a stroll on the tarmac thrilled so many.

Who cares that the crazed steward got arrested, pleaded guilty to sundry charges, and probably was a rude, unpleasant SOB to begin with? Bonnie and Clyde were psychopaths, yet what child of the '60s did not fall in love with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty?

And now three months later, the newest airport hero arrives. His genius was not innovation in getting out, but deconstructing the entire process of getting in. John Tyner, cleverly armed with an iPhone to give YouTube immortality to the encounter, took exception to the TSA guard about to give him the benefit of Homeland Security's newest brainstorm - the upgraded, full-palm, up the groin, all-body pat-down. In a stroke, the young man ascended to myth, or at least the next edition of Bartlett's, warning the agent not to "touch my junk."

Not quite the 18th-century elegance of "Don't Tread on Me," but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket. What the modern battle cry lacks in archaic charm, it makes up for in full-body syllabic punch.

Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare - get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don't touch my junk, Google - Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don't touch my junk, you airport security goon - my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I'm a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?

In "Up in the Air," that ironic take on the cramped freneticism of airport life, George Clooney explains why he always follows Asians in the security line:

"They pack light, travel efficiently, and they got a thing for slip-on shoes, God love 'em."

"That's racist!"

"I'm like my mother. I stereotype. It's faster."

That riff is a crowd-pleaser because everyone knows that the entire apparatus of the security line is a national homage to political correctness. Nowhere do more people meekly acquiesce to more useless inconvenience and needless indignity for less purpose. Wizened seniors strain to untie their shoes; beltless salesmen struggle comically to hold up their pants; 3-year-olds scream while being searched insanely for explosives - when everyone, everyone, knows that none of these people is a threat to anyone.

The ultimate idiocy is the full-body screening of the pilot. The pilot doesn't need a bomb or box cutter to bring down a plane. All he has to do is drive it into the water, like the EgyptAir pilot who crashed his plane off Nantucket while intoning "I rely on God," killing all on board.

But we must not bring that up. We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

The junk man's revolt marks the point at which a docile public declares that it will tolerate only so much idiocy. Metal detector? Back-of-the-hand pat? Okay. We will swallow hard and pretend airline attackers are randomly distributed in the population.

But now you insist on a full-body scan, a fairly accurate representation of my naked image to be viewed by a total stranger? Or alternatively, the full-body pat-down, which, as the junk man correctly noted, would be sexual assault if performed by anyone else?

This time you have gone too far, Big Bro'. The sleeping giant awakes. Take my shoes, remove my belt, waste my time and try my patience. But don't touch my junk.

Holder's fiasco

New York Post
November 19, 2010

The Obama administration wants us to believe that one out of 285 ain't bad.

A jury in New York acquitted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on 284 out of 285 charges for his part in the murder of 224 people in the US Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Attorney General Eric Holder thought the trial would be a glorious showcase for the civilian court system. We'd stun the terrorists with our courtroom procedure, win over the world with our mincing legalisms, and salve our consciences after the horrors of the Bush years.

This was Holder's war on terror. He's losing it in a rout. The attorney general's obsession with bringing terrorists captured overseas to the US for trial in the civilian courts looks more willful and untenable by the day, as the edifice of his legal strategy collapses in a pathetic heap. It's not inconceivable that, should he win a second term, President Barack Obama will hand over an operational Guantanamo Bay prison facility to his successor in January 2017.

Ghailani offered a brazen defense at his trial. It was all an innocent misunderstanding when he helped buy the refrigeration truck and the oxygen and flammable acetylene tanks used to make the bomb in Tanzania, when he stored electric detonators in his house, and when the suicide bomber used his cell phone in the attack. These are the things liable to befall any young man on the streets of Dar es Salaam.

Apparently, at least one juror bought some version of this contemptible fabrication and dragged the jury into a senseless verdict. It found Ghailani guilty in a conspiracy to destroy government buildings, but acquitted him of everything else, including 224 counts of murder. Does anyone believe that a truck bomb meant to destroy a US embassy wasn't also intended to kill and maim everyone in the vicinity?

Ghailani's lawyer praised the verdict as "a reaffirmation that this nation's judicial system is the greatest ever devised." Or, in other words, "Thanks for everything, suckers."

Ghailani will get 20 years to life, and that's something. But this is no one's idea of a showcase outcome. The trial went astray in the mismatch between Ghailani's status as an enemy combatant and the protections rightly afforded civilians in our justice system.

When Ghailani was caught in Pakistan in 2004, he was that most priceless commodity -- an al Qaeda operative with real-time information about the terror network. The Bush administration interrogated him harshly with an eye to extracting that information quickly rather than honoring the niceties that obtain in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Court Building in lower Manhattan.

The judge proceeded to bar a witness whom the government had learned about through Ghailani's CIA interrogation. This "giant witness for the government," in the words of the prosecutors, sold Ghailani TNT. Even if the judge's ruling was too stringent, the tension between being captured and held in Ghailani's circumstances and tried like a civilian is inescapable.

If we're serious about protecting ourselves, we're never going to give all terrorists the Miranda warnings and immediate legal defense that our civilian justice system demands. That's why the Bush administration fell back on military commissions and Gitmo. Our civilian system is meant to protect Americans from the awesome power of the state, and all its protections shouldn't be afforded to enemy combatants waging war against us.

Even Eric Holder implicitly acknowledges the distinction. He resists even contemplating the possibility that terrorists brought here -- and supposedly presumed innocent -- will be acquitted. Even if a terrorist is found not guilty, the administration asserts the right to detain him after acquittal. Such a power would be an un-American outrage if it were applied to anyone except an enemy combatant.

In the literal sense, the Ghailani trial was a charade. We pretended to give him an ordinary trial, with the enormous escape hatch of keeping him locked up no matter what. The charade ended in travesty, a fitting conclusion to Eric Holder's misbegotten war.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


By Ann Coulter
November 17, 2010

Photo: Kim Kardashian at LAX

After the 9/11 attacks, when 19 Muslim terrorists -- 15 from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates and one each from Egypt and Lebanon, 14 with "al" in their names -- took over commercial aircraft with box-cutters, the government banned sharp objects from planes.

Airport security began confiscating little old ladies' knitting needles and breaking the mouse-sized nail files off of passengers' nail clippers. Surprisingly, no decrease in the number of hijacking attempts by little old ladies and manicurists was noted.

After another Muslim terrorist, Richard Reid, AKA Tariq Raja, AKA Abdel Rahim, AKA Abdul Raheem, AKA Abu Ibrahim, AKA Sammy Cohen (which was only his eHarmony alias), tried to blow up a commercial aircraft with explosive-laden sneakers, the government prohibited more than 3 ounces of liquid from being carried on airplanes.

All passengers were required to take off their shoes for special security screening, which did not thwart a single terrorist attack, but made airport security checkpoints a lot smellier.

After Muslim terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria tried to detonate explosive material in his underwear over Detroit last Christmas, the government began requiring nude body scans at airports.

The machines, which cannot detect chemicals or plastic, would not have caught the diaper bomber. So, again, no hijackers were stopped, but being able to see passengers in the nude boosted the morale of airport security personnel by 22 percent.

After explosives were inserted in two ink cartridges and placed on a plane headed to the United States from the Muslim nation of Yemen, the government banned printer cartridges from all domestic flights, resulting in no improvement in airport security, while requiring ink cartridges who traveled to take Amtrak.

So when the next Muslim terrorist, probably named Abdul Ahmed al Shehri, places explosives in his anal cavity, what is the government going to require then? (If you're looking for a good investment opportunity, might I suggest rubber gloves?)

Last year, a Muslim attempting to murder Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia blew himself up with a bomb stuck up his anus. Fortunately, this didn't happen near an airport, or Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would now be requiring full body cavity searches to fly.

You can't stop a terrorist attack by searching for the explosives any more than you can stop crime by taking away everyone's guns.

In the 1970s, liberal ideas on crime swept the country. Gun owners were treated like criminals while actual criminals were coddled and released. If only we treated criminals with dignity and respect and showed them the system was fair, liberals told us, criminals would reward us with good behavior.

As is now well known, crime exploded in the '70s. It took decades of conservative law-and-order policies to get crime back to near-1950s levels.

It's similarly pointless to treat all Americans as if they're potential terrorists while trying to find and confiscate anything that could be used as a weapon. We can't search all passengers for explosives because Muslims stick explosives up their anuses. (Talk about jobs Americans just won't do.)

You have to search for the terrorists.

Fortunately, that's the one advantage we have in this war. In a lucky stroke, all the terrorists are swarthy, foreign-born, Muslim males. (Think: "Guys Madonna would date.")

This would give us a major leg up -- if only the country weren't insane.

Is there any question that we'd be looking for Swedes if the 9/11 terrorists, the shoe bomber, the diaper bomber and the printer cartridge bomber had all been Swedish? If the Irish Republican Army were bombing our planes, wouldn't we be looking for people with Irish surnames and an Irish appearance?

Only because the terrorists are Muslims do we pretend not to notice who keeps trying to blow up our planes.

It would be harder to find Swedes or Irish boarding commercial airliners in the U.S. than Muslims. Swarthy foreigners stand out like a sore thumb in an airport. The American domestic flying population is remarkably homogenous. An airport is not a Sears department store.

Only about a third of all Americans flew even once in the last year, and only 7 percent took more than four round trips. The majority of airline passengers are middle-aged, middle-class, white businessmen with about a million frequent flier miles. I'd wager that more than 90 percent of domestic air travelers were born in the U.S.

If the government did nothing more than have a five-minute conversation with the one passenger per flight born outside the U.S., you'd need 90 percent fewer Transportation Security Administration agents and airlines would be far safer than they are now.

Instead, Napolitano just keeps ordering more invasive searches of all passengers, without exception -- except members of Congress and government officials, who get VIP treatment, so they never know what she's doing to the rest of us.

Two weeks ago, Napolitano ordered TSA agents to start groping women's breasts and all passengers' genitalia -- children, nuns and rape victims, everyone except government officials and members of Congress. (Which is weird because Dennis Kucinich would like it.)

"Please have your genitalia out and ready to be fondled when you approach the security checkpoint."

This is the punishment for refusing the nude body scan for passengers who don't want to appear nude on live video or are worried about the skin cancer risk of the machines -- risks acknowledged by the very Johns Hopkins study touted by the government.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that we need to keep the government as far away from airport security as possible, and not only because Janet Napolitano did her graduate work in North Korea.


EDITORIAL: Terrorists hiding in hijabs

Muslims seek special treatment to elude TSA groping

By The Washington Times
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Note to terrorists: Next time, wear a hijab. The Department of Homeland Security reportedly is giving special exemptions to their "enhanced pat-down" policy to Muslim women wearing the hijab or other form-concealing garments.

Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a "travel advisory" noting that women who are patted down "should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down." It's unclear why CAIR believes TSA frisking must be Shariah-compliant. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano refused to deny that such exemptions existed when CNS News asked her about them on Monday, saying instead that "adjustments will be made where they need to be made" and that "there will be more to come" on this issue.

A fatwa issued in February by Islamic scholars at the Fiqh Council of North America forbad observant Muslims from going through full-body scanners. The council stated, "It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women. Islam highly emphasizes modesty and considers it part of faith. The Quran has commanded the believers, both men and women, to cover their private parts." The alternative to the highly revealing and intrusive body scanners is the similarly invasive pat-down, which is objectionable to everyone regardless of religion. Reports of TSA officers placing their hands inside peoples' pants and conducting full skin-to-skin frisks have only heightened the general sense of disgust at this unprecedented government intrusion.

Exemptions for Muslim women wearing traditional garb may be the brainchild of Mohamed Elibiary, who recently was made a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Mr. Elibiary is president and chief executive officer of the Texas-based Freedom and Justice Foundation and a self-styled "de-radicalization expert" whose star has risen during the Obama presidency. He previously was appointed to Homeland Security's Countering Violent Extremism Working Group and has testified before Congress as an expert on Muslim radicalism - a topic he seems to know well.

In December 2004, Mr. Elibiary spoke at a conference honoring the life and works of the "great Islamic visionary," Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In 2008, Mr. Elibiary denounced the conviction of Hamas-connected members of the Holy Land Foundation for material support of terrorism. Most alarmingly, Mr. Elibiary is an admirer of the work of Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual and spiritual godfather of modern jihadism. Mr. Elibiary argues that Qutb is greatly misunderstood. "Many Westerners who've read Qutb's and many others' work," Mr. Elibiary wrote, "see the potential for a strong spiritual rebirth that's truly ecumenical allowing all faiths practiced in America to enrich us and motivate us to serve God better by serving our fellow man more."

No one who has read Qutb's work can mistake it for anything but an all-out assault on the American way of life and a call for a global Islamic takeover. The 9/11 Commission noted Qutb's role as an inspiration to al Qaeda and concluded that, "No middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God and Satan. All Muslims - as he defined them - therefore must take up arms in this fight. Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever worthy of destruction." Qutb - who lived in the United States as a student in the late 1940s - developed a comprehensive anti-American ideology that's widely cited as the basis for the contemporary violent Islamic extremism with which America is at war.

Qutb promoted violent, predatory Islamic internationalism with a clear voice. If Mr. Elibiary is one of his disciples, he has no business being anywhere in government, let alone as an adviser at the uppermost reaches of an agency that purports to protect the homeland.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soul Provider

Books in Review

By Robert R. Reilly from the November 2010 issue of The American Spectator

The Essential Belloc: A Prophet for Our Times
Edited by Scott Bloch, Rev. C. John McCloskey, and Brian Robertson
(Saint Benedict Press, 270 Pages, $17.95)

As its title suggests, The Essential Belloc: A Prophet for Our Times is a 270-page chrestomathy of Hilaire Belloc's writings. It is edited by three worthies: Scott Bloch, Rev. C. John McCloskey, and Brian Robertson, and published by the Saint Benedict Press. It pulls from more than threescore works by Belloc and covers almost every subject imaginable with an extraordinary jeu d'esprit, to say nothing of the joie de vivre which underlies it all.

What can one say of a book that advises "Never warm Red wine"? One simply embraces it. One takes it as an authority. One brings it to restaurants to show to misguided sommeliers who serve room-temperature cabernet or zinfandel that curdles in the glass at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Belloc (1870-1953) was a prophet for our time because he must have sensed this abuse of the grape as a growing threat within the very heart of Western civilization. As a well-balanced man, he also cautioned against over-chilling white wine, as it kills the taste. However, lovers of Champagne will be discomfited by his warning, "Never to drink what has been made and sold since the Reformation." At least this would get rid of rum colas and other soft-drink pollutions.

There are other gustatory admonitions that deserve consideration: "if you use processed salt you do so at your peril." Also, do not complain about hard Parmesan "rancid in bottles." "You think it is hard from birth? You are mistaken. It is the world that hardens the Parmesan." Or this very human touch: "Be content to remember that those who can make omelettes properly can do nothing else."

But I am cheating here, succumbing to the temptation to keep quoting from the book because what Belloc says is so delicious. One wants to share it, which is why we should be so grateful to these editors for doing just that. In the preface, Fr. James Schall states that we are ineluctably charmed by Belloc, whom he calls the greatest essayist in the English language, because he delights in existence itself. That includes everything. And it is why everything for him is an adventure-wine, food, people, history, places, travel, God, and, generally, how the world works.

Few have written with such sweep and passion about the thrill of Christian orthodoxy, because it is orthodoxy, Belloc says, that sees things as they are, accepts them for what is. As he wrote, "The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality." What's more, he states that "To-day, in the twentieth century, Catholics are the only organized body consistently appealing to the reason..." Belloc was the poet of reason in Christendom. His orthodoxy sings. In these pages, there is much praise of Christendom, and he energetically defends its defense, including the Crusades.

How ought one to read this book? That depends. I thought I would simply dip into it for occasional refreshment, a bon mot or two, an aperçu here and there, but found myself devouring whole sections at a sitting. This was especially so with the chapter of selections on Islam. In it, Belloc earns the subtitle's description of him as prophetic. Read: "there are signs enough in the political heavens today of what we may have to expect from the revolt of Islam at some future date perhaps not far distant."

No one was as prescient in this matter as was Belloc, who also correctly diagnosed the West's main vulnerability: "Those who direct us and from whom the tone of our policy is taken have no major spiritual interest.… Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline… and [in this] lies our peril." I could not think of a better description of the Obama administration than this, though I admit failure in this regard is bipartisan. It is, unfortunately, as Belloc feared, a sign of our declining civilization. Islam has preserved its soul. We have not preserved ours.

As a champion of Christendom, Belloc is also wonderfully politically incorrect. Consider his treatment of this touchy topic: "In what measure Islam affected our science and our philosophy is open to debate. Its effect has been, of course, heavily exaggerated, because to exaggerate it was a form of attack upon Catholicism." Exactly.

Belloc also fights for the faith. One can only lament at the impoverished discourse today between our nouveau atheists and their opponents. Both sides could be vastly improved by Belloc's rhetoric. Consider what he accomplishes in these few sentences: "For if God is not, then all falsehoods, though each prove the rest false, are each true, and every evil is its own good, and there is confusion everywhere. But if God is, then the world can stand." How is that for a two-sentence lesson in apologetics?

IN THIS BROAD collection, there is something to delight or irritate just about everyone. I for one would like to send every libertarian I know Belloc's remark that "A conversion to the Catholic culture is necessary to the restoration of economic freedom because economic freedom was the fruit of that culture in the past." Are you with me, Ron Paul?

Of course, Belloc was not perfect. He said some kind things about Jean-Jacques Rousseau (though they are not included in this volume) and the French Revolution. Across from my house, the county park is deliberately kept in a state of disrepair, infested with poison ivy and decaying trees, as a tribute to Rousseau's advancement of the "state of nature" as superior to man's molestation of it (meaning forestry). Good for organic matter and bugs; bad for man (and my children).

But this is carping in comparison to the genius set forth in this invaluable volume. In closing, I return to the subject of adult beverages and succumb once again to quoting Belloc, who undertook to advise an alcoholic that he should drink only wine and mead. As a consequence, "all went well. He become a merry companion, and began to write odes. His prose clarified and set, that had before been very mixed and cloudy. He slept well; he comprehended divine things." Alas, this man drank again of post-Reformation spirits, which he had forsworn, and had, as a consequence, to give up all drink. He "became a spectacle and a judgment, whereas if he had kept his exact word he might by this time have been a happy man." And so will be you if you buy and abide by this book. 

- Robert R. Reilly is the author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind (ISI books).

Obama Can’t Play Center

Clinton’s map won’t get Obama where he needs to go.

By Jonah Goldberg
November 17, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Should Obama pull a Clinton? This has been a burning question inside the Beltway ever since the polls showed the Great Shellacking bearing down on the White House.

As most know by now, pulling a Clinton isn’t anything kinky; it simply means moving to the center, or “triangulating” between the unpopular Left and the unpopular Right. That’s what President Clinton did after the Democrats’ historic drubbing at the polls in 1994, and it’s what a lot of would-be sages argue President Obama must do now after the rout of 2010.

But the argument is deeply flawed for a few simple reasons: 2011 will be very different from 1995; the Republicans and the Democrats are different from how they were then; and Obama is very, very different from Clinton.

Other than that, the analogy is perfect.

Even outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi concedes the political importance of the economy. In 1995, the economy was poised to take off like a rocket. Today, no one thinks the economy is about to perform in a way that would provide a glide path to reelection for Obama. If at the end of Obama’s first term, near–10 percent unemployment is the “new normal,” as Obama fretted recently on 60 Minutes, then his chances for reelection are bleak — so long as the GOP doesn’t throw him a lifeline, the way it did Clinton in 1995–96.

And the GOP is not only determined not to repeat those mistakes, it is well positioned to avoid them. With Democrats controlling the Senate, it will be much harder for Obama to run against a do-nothing Congress.

As even Newt Gingrich has conceded, he made a lot of mistakes back then, chief among them acting as if the Republican Congress ran the country. No such cockiness has been on display from the GOP since Election Day. “This election wasn’t about us” is a mantra repeated by every member of the leadership.

Moreover, the composition of Congress is very different today. As Ramesh Ponnuru notes in the current issue of National Review, in 1995 the GOP House majority was so narrow that Gingrich had a devil of a time balancing moderates and conservatives. “(John) Boehner’s task will be easier,” Ponnuru writes. “Republicans have the largest majority they have had since the 1940s. For the first time in the modern history of conservatism, the House has an outright conservative majority.” Boehner has the wiggle room to let some Republicans off the hook for tough votes while still having enough left over to win passage.

Speaking of wiggle room, Clinton had the luxury of failure in 1995; Obama has the albatross of success. Because Hillarycare died without even a vote in Congress, Clinton had no major reform to defend. Obamacare is the law. The president cannot tack to the center and defend his signature accomplishment at the same time. Or, to be more precise, the GOP won’t let him.

Even if the GOP were inclined to give Obama breathing room, the Left isn’t. It’s much stronger today than it was in 1995, and the activist core of today’s Democratic party sees itself as an antibody response to Clintonian triangulation. Pulling a Clinton would be seen as flat-out betrayal by Obama’s biggest fans — and by an unapologetic Pelosi, who has decided to shrug off the election results as someone else’s problem.

And even if the Left were to give Obama room to maneuver, there’s little reason to believe Obama could sell a change of heart. Clinton was a creature of Arkansas, and Ozark politics are just a tad more conservative than Hyde Park politics. Clinton is not only endowed with a preternatural gift for faking sincerity, he also had deep experience working across the aisle. Obama’s smooth path to the presidency offered far fewer opportunities for political introspection and the flexibility that comes with it.

Whatever the motivation, Obama’s response to his predicament has been more Pelosian than Clintonian. There’s been less apologizing and more faculty-lounge theorizing about voters too scared to know what’s good for them. That doesn’t suggest he’s ready to reinvent himself.

By no means does this suggest that Obama has no path to reelection. But Clinton’s map won’t get him where he needs to go.

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

Image: AP

EDITORIAL: Obama's hand in your crotch

White House denial of Islamic threat to blame for TSA groping

7:17 p.m., Monday, November 15, 2010

The Transportation Security Administration's demeaning new "enhanced pat-down" procedures are a direct result of the Obama administration's willful blindness to the threat from Islamic radicals. While better tools are available to keep air travelers safe, they would involve recognizing the threat for what it is, which is something the White House will never do.

El Al, Israel's national airline, employs a smarter approach. Any airline representing the state of Israel is a natural - some might say preeminent - target for terrorist attacks. Yet El Al has one of the best security records in the world and doesn't resort to wide-scale use of methods that would under other circumstances constitute sexual assault. The Israelis have achieved this track record of safety by employing sophisticated intelligence analysis which allows them to predict which travelers constitute a possible threat and which do not. Resources are then focused on the more probable threats with minimal intrusion on those who are likely not to be terrorists.

Here in the United States, these sophisticated techniques have roundly been denounced as discriminatory "profiling." Allegedly postracial America has been unable to come to grips with the difference between immoral and illegal racial discrimination and the prudent use of the types of techniques that police on the beat use every day, which is similar to practices the customs service applies to assessing which packages being sent into the country are licit and which were sent by smugglers. TSA believes an 80-year-old grandmother deserves the same level of scrutiny at an airport terminal checkpoint as a 19-year-old male exchange student from Yemen. This policy not only is a waste of time and resources, it denies reality.

The new crotch-inspection policy is a direct result of al Qaeda underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed attempt to take down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 last Christmas. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, in masterful doublespeak, "Once the incident occurred, the system worked." However, the incident itself was a symptom of systemic failure. Abdulmutallab's name was on various watch lists. He had traveled to Yemen to network with al Qaeda. Warnings concerning him had been received from Yemen and Britain. His father had even attempted to notify the United States about the coming attack. None of this made an impression.

Despite all the government bureaucracy and TSA's intrusive inspection practices, Abdulmutallab's attack was only foiled because of a faulty bomb and the actions of alert passengers. Now all passengers have to pay the price by having their privacy (and their privates) invaded, which is the Obama administration's alternative to instituting a policy that will target the source of the problem. Indeed, they refuse to admit that a Muslim problem exists.

The Obama administration prides itself on seeking purportedly "intelligent" solutions to complex problems, but it has no such answer to air safety. Its policy for protecting American travelers is to simply and superficially check everyone, and tell those who have concerns about their personal privacy to take it or leave it. So when a TSA worker asks to examine your private parts, don't blame the terrorists, blame an administration that refuses to admit that America is at war with Islamic radicalism.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Meola and Springsteen: A desert storm and 'The Promise'

By Sean Kirst
The Syracuse Post-Standard
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eric Meola once asked Bruce Springsteen about the creative order of songwriting: Is it the music or the words that come first? Springsteen laughed and replied, “Sometimes it’s the one, and sometimes it’s the other.”

Amid a desert storm, Meola got a chance to see for himself.

Raised in the Eastwood neighborhood of Syracuse, Meola is an internationally renowned photographer. Yet in weeks such as this — when his photos are a marketing centerpiece for a new Springsteen package called The Promise - Meola responds with good humor to a deluge of calls about his long-time connection to the rock legend and his E Street Band.

It was Meola who captured an iconic image of Springsteen and his bandmate, Clarence Clemons, for the cover of Born to Run, released in 1975, just before Springsteen became entangled in a maddening lawsuit that stalled his efforts to record again. In 1977, finally liberated to put together the album that became Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen joined Meola on a road trip through the West, behind the vague idea of finding a cover image for that record.

“With Born to Run I nailed it, and now that you nailed it, you don’t want to fall down on the next one,” said Meola, who works from Long Island.

They got a cover photo, all right, although its release would be delayed until this year. For the 1978 cover of Darkness, Springsteen went with an intimate portrait by photographer Frank Stefanko, shot amid the yellowed wallpaper of an old New Jersey home. Once Meola heard the factory theme of that album, he understood the choice. He was also told that record company officials worried about using a road scene for the cover of Darkness, fearing it would be too similar to Jackson Browne’s cover for Running on Empty, an album released a year earlier.

Meola’s photos from the road trip through the West were packed away, until now. One of the most dramatic shots becomes cover art for The Promise — a collection of 22 newly released songs that Springsteen set aside for many years, just as Meola did with the photos.

The image portrays a young Springsteen in the Nevada desert, leaning against a rented Ford Galaxie convertible, as a storm boils out of the mountains behind him. At the time, Meola was intrigued by the work of Robert Frank, a photographer who offered black and white portraits of the American experience. Meola and Springsteen went in search of their own vision. They flew to Salt Lake City and then made the long drive to Reno, seeking photographic lightning in the desert.

They found it, literally.

Springsteen, who had spent most of his young life without much cash, paid the way. He was carrying a credit card for the first time in his life, Meola said. Their journey began just a few days after Elvis Presley died, an event that forged a somber backdrop for the trip. Springsteen, who revered Elvis, would sometimes turn onto dirt roads and head toward nowhere, until Meola would gently urge him to turn around.

In Nevada, a mind-bending encounter with nature provided Meola with an answer to how Springsteen writes his songs. They drove into the teeth of “this incredible, biblical storm in the desert,” Meola said. He hurried to snap a few photos, before the two men traveled up a hillside to watch as the sky turned black. A few huge raindrops turned into a torrent. Lightning flashed at countless points toward the horizon.

Meola and Springsteen, looking down on it, were stunned into silence.

From Reno, they returned to New York, and to their work. A few weeks later, Meola paid a visit to Springsteen, who was busy with the E Street Band in the studio. As the photographer walked in, he heard his old friend singing lyrics that will always give Meola the chills:

There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground ...

It was the climactic verse of “The Promised Land,” in which Springsteen both confronts despair and rebels against it.

Thirty-two years later, as Darkness is re-released, Meola thinks back to his own question about the way a song is born. Out of lightning strikes and a ceiling of black clouds, Springsteen conjured words that still can blow away the dreams that break your heart.

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - The Promise (Live 1977)

(Click on title to play video)

Bruce Springsteen's The Promise: the greatest album never released?

By Neil McCormick
15 November 2010

What an utterly extraordinary thing Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise is. Out today, it comprises 21 recordings of unreleased songs and radically different versions from his prolific 1977-78 sessions that ultimately led to the creation of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Just think about that: a treasure trove of new material from one of the all time great artists right bang in his moment, in the glory of his youth, creative juices at full flow. How unlikely? It would be comparable to discovering The Beatles had recorded and abandoned an entire double album of material between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

In fact, despite their fascinating three volume double album Anthology set, there was nothing really new and unheard from the Fab Four, certainly nothing of the standard of their official releases. And that is the way box sets of out-takes usually are. Because, for the most part, artists put out their best work at the time, and the stuff that is endlessly trawled from the vaults is really only of historical interest to the obsessive collector. Dylan’s very good Bootleg series occasionally turns up a real gem ("Series of Dreams" and "Blind Willie McTell" for example), because he has a curious inability to separate his own wheat from his chaff, but no one will ever persuade me that the demo versions of songs from Blood On The Tracks (as much as I love to hear them) are the equal to the classic album.

Springsteen’s recording in ‘77 and ‘78 was different, however, because he was consciously trying to move from one artistic point to another, writing and rewriting and recording and discarding, so that a different sort of album emerges from the cast offs, with more of the upbeat swagger of the earlier Born To Run, and rich in the musical references of 50s and 60s rock and roll that he was exploring. It is not a better record than Darkness, but it is a different one. Springsteen was working towards the goal of creating a long playing album which would form his great (indeed his only) statement for that period, so he was essentially forced to boil down a huge amount of work to his most essential songs. The title track, "The Promise", is a song that was supplanted by his masterpiece "Racing In The Streets" (also included here in an extraordinary epic rock version), but "The Promise" stands up in its own right as a song about dreaming and escape with driving as a metaphor, referring back to his earlier classic "Thunder Road" and forward to the darker, more downbeat perspective of Darkness.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town has always been my favourite Springsteen CD. It hit me at the right moment, with the right hard edge. Its sensibility (as Springsteen acknowledges in his liner notes) was grittier than his more aspirational early recordings, connecting to the harder economic mood and music of the time, culling his work to something both richer and tougher, “songs that still form the philosophical core of what we do today,” as he writes. As a young 17-year-old punk it opened up streams of American music that I was in danger of setting myself against.

"Candy’s Room" was amongst my favourite tracks, a dark tale of a young man’s love for a prostitute, driven by a racing hi-hat that contrasted with the low, almost spoken vocal, until it explodes into full E Street Band roar as Springsteen declares “what she wants is me.” On The Promise, Candy reappears in an earlier version, "Candy’s Boy", a country lament for the same prostitute. It’s not a better song, but it’s beautiful, fascinating, and I feel like I am meeting an old love again, in new circumstances.

Box sets of out-takes may be on the increase, but The Promise is a real rarity. As recording technology has got so much cheaper and more portable, musicians constantly record every new idea and cast off song, with the result that the wealth of out-takes available for future release is ever growing. When someone dies (as we are about to find out with Michael Jackson) there is frequently enough material leftover to sustain new releases for a decade. But (and it’s a big but) with albums in decline as a commercial proposition, everything is about the individual track, released through a whole range of outlets (from CD extras to iTunes exclusives) so there is no pressing reason for someone to go through the kind of private artistic journey Springsteen underwent on the way to Darkness. If it’s worth hearing, you’ll probably hear it at the time. Besides, how many artists are working at such a high level that their leftovers are a match for their official releases? The Promise is an exceedingly rare opportunity to hear new work from an all time great in his prime. I wonder if we will ever hear its like again?

Images: Lynn Goldsmith

Bruce Springsteen: The Promise (Columbia)

Lost songs from the Darkness At The Edge Of Town sessions are E Street Band classics.

By Alan Morrison
The Herald
15 Nov 2010

To begin with, don’t think that this latest release from Bruce Springsteen is anything like the usual “expanded”, “deluxe” or “special” editions that increasingly see any old album repackaged for the nostalgia market with an extra CD of demos, live bootlegs, early studio takes and rejected songs that wouldn’t even grace a B-side.

Yes, The Promise is a collection of 21 songs recorded around the same time as Darkness On The Edge Of Town in 1977 and 1978 (22 if you include hidden track "The Way"). And yes, the three-CD, three-DVD box set comes with a digitally remastered version of that previously released album, plus a 90-minute ‘Making of’ documentary that was good enough to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and two discs of live footage (one featuring the album in running order, recorded in New Jersey’s Asbury Park last year; the other a “bootleg house cut” of tracks from all four of Springsteen’s first four albums, shot in 1978 in Houston). All that’s missing from the package is a sheet of wrapping paper and a “Merry Christmas, Dad” card.

Concentrate instead on what The Promise (released separately too) is in its own right: a double album of songs from the “lost sessions” of Springsteen’s career wasteland, when he was trapped in a legal dispute with his former manager, unable to follow up Born To Run because of a court ban that stopped him entering a recording studio. Some songs from this era have already slipped out on the Tracks compilation or into live sets over the years or as hits for other artists (notably "Because The Night", co-written with Patti Smith but reclaimed here in studio form by The Boss and his E Street Band). But never before have we so clearly witnessed the transition that took Springsteen from music fan-boy to singer-songwriter of global importance.

More than two-thirds of the songs on The Promise have their roots in the past. Some wear their influences on their sleeves – Roy Orbison on "Breakaway"; Buddy Holly on "Outside Looking In"; Elvis Presley on "Fire"; 1960s soul here, there and everywhere. It’s as if Springsteen, at 27 years of age, was sifting through all the rock’n’roll, Stax and Motown soul, country ballad and Spector pop LPs of his youth, tossing them around in his head and seeing what emerged in the studio.

There are, of course, a handful of tracks that better reflect the Springsteen we’ve come to know – the man who can take a neighbourhood narrative and embue it with epic, universal significance, who can take a tune and render it in a musical landscape as wide as the American plains. Those songs are here, particularly in the string arrangements and "Thunder Road" references of the title track, and in a bigger band (with prominent harmonica and fiddle) version of "Racing In The Street".

But placed side by side with Darkness On The Edge Of Town, they’re conspicuous by their absence. Obviously there was a conscious decision that, three years after the global smash of Born To Run, the Bruce Springsteen the world would hear next was a more serious fellow. Darkness is a tougher album, with a sombre world view, concerned with rising unemployment and the hardship of blue-collar daily life. Its songs are shaved of the escapism that powers the words and music of Born To Run. Springsteen in this period became his own man, his Jiminy Cricket social conscience kicked in and, for a time at least, he pushed that mythic America to the side and put the party on hold.

What The Promise reveals, however, is that the party never really went away stopped. These 22 songs are the rays of sunshine breaking out from Darkness’s clouds. Springsteen the commercial pop writer has rarely been better than on "Rendezvous", "The Little Things (My Baby Does)" and "Wrong Side Of The Street", with its brilliantly unexpected chord changes. He’s a walking encyclopedia of the American music that came before him, and The Promise is a great American album in that context.

Some might argue that, had it been released just ahead of Darkness, it would have been the weak link in that stellar chain from Born To Run through to The River and Nebraska. I’d argue that it would probably have sold better than Darkness On The Edge Of Town. But that’s irrelevant: it’s out now, with Jimmy Iovine’s original engineering polished up by Bob Clearmountain’s present-day mixes. It’s not just of historical interest, a glimpse of a major artist at a creative peak: it’s a near-classic in the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band repertoire and, if not one of the top albums of 1978, one of the very best of 2010.

Images: Lynn Goldsmith