Thursday, March 31, 2011

Of Gods and Men

By Mark Salter
March 30, 2011

"There is a moment in every great story," Flannery O'Connor explained to a friend, "in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment."

The moment is hard to miss in the spellbinding "Of Gods and Men," France's official entry for best foreign language film at the 2011 Oscars. Nevertheless, like O'Connor's undiscerning readers, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to recognize it or were unaffected by it. Despite its many reverent reviews in the U.S. and its box office success in Europe, the Academy ignored the picture entirely; declining to include it even on its preliminary list of nominees.

Based on the true story of French monks at a Trappist monastery in Algeria's Atlas Mountains who were murdered by Islamist insurgents during Algeria's civil war in the 1990s, "Of Gods and Men" offers no political or historical argument. An Algerian government official complains as he urges the monks to return to France that the terror that threatens them is yet another consequence of France's former colonial presence in his country. Not another moment in the movie concerns itself with political disputes. Its subject is piety -- and the love, servility and sacrifice it compels.

The one insurgent who has a featured role is portrayed sympathetically in his interaction with Brother Christian, the monastery's prior. Each man quotes passages from the Koran in an effort to forge a mutual respect that might delay, if not for long, the savage expression of a political antagonism that claims religious authority.

The film plays like a liturgy. The days pass alike. The monks rise before dawn. Tired and silent, they dress in their robes for Mass. They study the testaments. They eat in silence and see to their work dressed as laborers; tending gardens and beehives, caring for villagers in the monastery's modest clinic. They chant their devotions in their affecting, though not otherworldly harmonies.

They are not removed from the world. They are the foundation of the small Muslim community they protect. They are involved in its daily life. They don't proselytize. They serve man's worldly needs. As one villager observes, "We are the birds; you are the branch. If you leave, we will lose our footing."

The moments when grace waits to be accepted or rejected arrive as the brothers struggle toward their decision: whether to flee to safety or stay and face almost certain death. Some are adamant they should stay. Some want to go. Others grope to understand God's purpose for them. All are afraid. None see martyrdom as glory.

The grace of the film is in the honesty and power of its performances, the unromanticized humanity of the characters these gifted actors convey so compellingly. They flash anger. They are confused. They reveal glimpses of cowardice. They give in to despair. They acquiesce modestly to the fate their faith has brought them. Those portrayals, and the tension and austere beauty the director, Xavier Beauvois, infuses in almost every scene, no matter how ritualistic or ordinary the action, make the film utterly enthralling.

No scene in the film is more mesmerizing than one near the end that alludes to the Last Supper; when the monks, having resolved to stay, feel grace descend and fill their hearts. They gather for their evening meal, and Brother Luc, the monastery's physician, played by the extraordinary Michael Lonsdale, opens bottles of wine, and presses play on an old tape recorder that fills the room with Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

Through the experience of worldly pleasures, the monks' expressive faces convey with a dignity that sacrifices none of their humility, a spiritual transformation that is impossible to express in language. Only the visual arts and music can manage it effectively.

No one speaks. The camera pans slowly from face to face. This one exhausted; another ancient; that one careworn; this one pensive; perplexed; afraid. And then, as Tchaikovsky's ballet swells to its climax, contentment, joy, love.

Why aren't movies like this made here? I don't mean that as a typical conservative rant against Hollywood, but as an appeal to action. Perhaps the power brokers in Hollywood believe that for all the advanced alchemy of modern filmmaking, their talents are ill-suited to conveying a transcendent spiritual experience. Maybe the studio's accountants can show that American moviegoers prefer that they treat heroes romantically or cynically, but not as earnest people, struggling unostentatiously with their convictions. As for the snub by the Academy on Oscar night, maybe they were put off by - or didn't comprehend -an overt religious message.

But in the full theater where I watched "Of Gods and Men" on a recent Saturday afternoon, no one left their seat before the credits finished rolling. No one applauded. No one exclaimed their approval or disapproval to another. Everyone left slowly and quietly, looking stunned, as I was, by the power of the magnificent art we had shared.

It's unlikely they were all Catholics or confessors of any faith. Even without faith, the human heart responds to the message that great art can convey: we are saved by love so that we will love, and have the courage for it.

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Senator John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

Time to Unmask Muhammad

Editor’s note: Below is an English translation of an op-ed piece that Geert Wilders published in the Dutch magazine “HP/De Tijd” on March 30, 2011.

By Geert Wilders
March 31, 2011

Portrait of Mohammed from Michel Baudier's Histoire générale de la religion des turcs (Paris, 1625). It was sold at auction by Sotheby's in 2002. The same image was incorporated into the cover of issue #2195 of the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.

To know why Islam is a mortal danger one must not only consider the Koran but also the character of Muhammad, who conceived the Koran and the entirety of Islam.

The Koran is not just a book. Muslims believe that Allah himself wrote it and that it was dictated to Muhammad in the original version, the Umm al-Kitab, which is kept on a table in heaven. Consequently one cannot argue with the contents. Who would dare to disagree with what Allah himself has written? This explains much of Muhammadan behaviour, from the violence of jihad to the hatred and persecution of Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims and apostates. What we in the West regard as abnormal, is perfectly normal for Islam.

A second insuperable problem with Islam is the figure of Muhammad. He is not just anyone. He is al-insan al-kamil, the perfect man. To become a Muslim one must pronounce the Shahada (the Muslim creed). By pronouncing the Shahada one testifies that there is no god that can be worshipped except Allah, and one testifies that Muhammad is his servant and messenger.

The Koran, and hence Allah, lays down that Muhammad’s life must be imitated. The consequences of this are horrendous and can be witnessed on a daily basis.

There has been much analysis of Muhammad’s mental sanity. In spite of all the available research, it is rarely mentioned or debated. It is a taboo to discuss the true nature of the man whom one and a half billion Muslims around the world regard as a holy prophet and example to be followed. That taboo must be breached in the West, and here in the Netherlands.

Ali Sina is an Iranian ex-Muslim who established the organisation for apostates of Islam Faith Freedom International. In his latest book[1] he posits that Muhammad is a narcissist, a pedophile, a mass murderer, a terrorist, a misogynist, a lecher, a cult leader, a madman, a rapist, a torturer, an assassin and a looter. Sina has offered 50,000 dollars for the one who can prove otherwise. Nobody has claimed the reward as yet. And no wonder, as the description is based on the Islamic texts themselves, such as the hadiths, the descriptions of Muhammad’s life from testimonies of contemporaries.

The historical Muhammad was the savage leader of a gang of robbers from Medina. Without scruples they looted, raped and murdered. The sources describe orgies of savagery where hundreds of people’s throats were cut, hands and feet chopped off, eyes cut out, entire tribes massacred. An example is the extinction of the Jewish Kurayza tribe in Medina in 627. One of those who chopped off their heads was Muhammad. The women and children were sold as slaves. Confronted with the lunacy of Islamic terrorists today, it is not hard to find out where the lunacy comes from.

In Vienna the women’s rights activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was recently sentenced to paying a fine for insulting a religion by calling Muhammad a pedophile. However, that is the truth. Numerous hadiths contain testimonies by Muhammad’s favorite wife, the child wife Aisha. Aisha literally says: “The prophet married me when I was six years old, and had intercourse with me when I was nine.”

According to the historian Theophanes (752-817) Muhammad was an epileptic. Epileptic crises are sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, perspiration form the forehead and foaming at the mouth, the very symptoms which Muhammad displayed during his visions.

In his book “The other Muhammad” (1992) the Flemish psychologist Dr. Herman Somers concludes that in his forties the “prophet” began to suffer from acromegaly, a condition caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, a small organ that is situated just below the brain. When the tumor in the pituitary gland causes too much pressure in the brain, people start to see and hear things that are not there. Somers’s psychopathological diagnosis of Muhammad’s condition is: organic hallucinatory affliction with paranoid characteristics.

The German medical historian Armin Geus speaks of a paranoid hallucinatory schizophrenia. A similar analysis can be found in the book “The Medical Case of Muhammad” by the physician Dede Korkut.

In his book “Psychology of Mohammed: Inside the Brain of a Prophet” Dr. Masud Ansari calls Muhammad “the perfect personification of a psychopath in power.” Muhammad had a unhinged paranoid personality with an inferiority complex and megalomaniac tendencies. In his forties he starts having visions that led him to believe he had a cosmic mission, and that there was no stopping him.

The truth is not always pleasant or politically correct. On the basis of the research referred to above it can be argued that the Islamic creed obliges one and a half billion people around the world, including the one million living in the Netherlands, to take Muhammad as their example. There is no turning back once one has become a Muslim. For even though article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to “change his religion or belief,” in Islam there is a death penalty for leaving the faith.

Anyone who voices criticism of Islam and Muhammad is in grave personal danger – as I have experienced. And whoever attempts to escape from the influence of Islam and Muhammad risks death. We cannot continue to accept this state of affairs. A public debate about the true nature and character of Muhammad can provide insight and support to Muslims all over the world who wish to leave Islam.

Apostates are heroes and more than ever they deserve the support of freedom loving people all over the world. Party politics should not be at play in this matter. It is time for us to help these people by exposing Muhammad.

Geert Wilders is an MP in the Netherlands. He is the Chairman of the Party for Freedom (PVV).



URL to article:


By Ann Coulter
March 30, 2011

"Humanitarian" seems to be the Democrats' new word for "absolutely no national interest."

The Democrats were not so interested in a "humanitarian" intervention against a much more brutal dictator in Iraq. But, of course, taking out Saddam Hussein, a state sponsor of terrorism who harbored one of the perpetrators of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, would make Americans safer.

Democrats are furious whenever American boys (girls and gays) are put in harm's way -- unless the troops are on a mission that has nothing whatsoever to do with defending the United States.

Obama ignored the murder, imprisonment and torture of peaceful Iranian protesters demonstrating against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's theft of an election in 2009. But he was hopping mad about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak getting rough with a mob in Tahrir Square with less distinct objectives.

We knew what the Iranian students wanted: a stolen election overturned.

What did the Egyptians want? At the time, liberals angrily cited the high unemployment rate in Egypt as proof that Mubarak was a beast who must step down.

Have they, by any chance, seen the recent employment numbers for the U.S.? The only employment sectors showing any growth are Hollywood sober-living coaches and medical marijuana dispensaries. Are we one jobs report away from liberals rioting in the streets?

As The New York Times recently reported, since Mubarak stepped down, the driving force in the new government is the Muslim Brotherhood. America is worse off because Mubarak stepped down, which was Obama's exact foreign policy objective.

On Monday night, Obama gave a speech intended to explain America's mission and purpose in our new Libyan adventure. He said: "Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different."

He forgot to add: "However, the United States of America will be turning a blind eye to atrocities in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, the Ivory Coast and Bahrain."

One searches in vain for a description of some American interest in supporting the rebels in Libya.

True, Gadhafi was responsible for numerous terrorist acts against Americans in the 1980s, including blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans.

Soon after President Bush's 9/11 speech vowing to go to war not only with terrorists, but those who supported them, Gadhafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid the victims' families $8 million apiece.

After Bush invaded Iraq, Gadhafi suspended Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program, inviting international inspectors to verify that the programs had been halted.

A few years after that, Gadhafi paid millions of dollars to the victims of other Libyan-sponsored terrorist attacks from the '80s. In return, President Bush granted Libya immunity from terror-related lawsuits.

Only Fox News' Bill O'Reilly thinks Obama is intervening in Libya to avenge the Lockerbie bombing.

However far off the mark Gadhafi is from being the Libyan George Washington, he poses no threat to the U.S. -- whereas the rebels we are supporting might.

But Democrats couldn't care less about the interests of their own country. Indeed, if there were the slightest possibility that our intervention in Libya would somehow benefit the United States, they would hysterically oppose it.

When it came to the Iraq War -- which actually served America's security interests -- Democrats demanded proof that Saddam Hussein was 10 minutes away from launching a first strike against the U.S. They denounced the Iraq War nonstop, wailing that Saddam hadn't hit us on 9/11 and that he posed no "imminent threat" to America.

What imminent threat does Libya pose to the U.S.? How will our interests be served by putting the rebels in charge?

Obama didn't even suggest the possibility that our Libyan intervention serves the nation's interest. Last weekend, his defense secretary, Robert Gates, said the uprising in Libya "was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest." So, not a vital interest, but an interest. Like scrapbooking, surfing or Justin Bieber.

When it came to Iraq, liberals proclaimed that invading a country "only" to produce a regime change was unjustifiable, contrary to international law, and a grievous affront to the peace-loving Europeans.

But they like regime change in Egypt, Libya -- and the Balkans. The last military incursion supported by liberals was Clinton's misadventure in the Balkans -- precisely because Slobodan Milosevic posed no conceivable threat to the United States.

Indeed, President Clinton bragged: "This is America at its best. We seek no territorial gain; we seek no political advantage." Democrats see our voluntary military supported by taxpayer dollars as their personal Salvation Army.

Self-interested behavior, such as deploying troops to serve the nation, is considered boorish in Manhattan salons.

The only just wars, liberals believe, are those in which the United States has no stake. Liberals warm to the idea of deploying expensive, taxpayer-funded military machinery and putting American troops in harm's way, but only for military incursions that serve absolutely no American interest.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

‘Ten Commandments’ Review:’ Cecil B. DeMille’s Masterpiece Arrives on Blu-ray Today

By John Nolte
March 29, 2011

If you want to understand why, 55 years on, Cecil B. DeMille’s epic retelling of the story of Moses, from his birth to ascendancy into Heaven, is still as beloved today as it was when released during the first term of the Eisenhower administration, all you need do is watch the director explain the theme of his masterpiece in the short segment that opens the film. It’s an odd moment. After all, how many movies open with the director stepping out from behind a curtain to lay the groundwork for what’s to follow? This unconventional decision more than works, though, as it sets a thoughtful and reverential tone that will carry you through the upcoming 220 minutes.

Mr. DeMille tells us outright…

“The theme of this picture is whether man ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Ramses. Are men property of the State, or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today.”

Yes, today, and not just where “The Ten Commandments” is set — throughout the Middle East in countries such as Egypt — but also here in America as we watch an ever-growing federal government burden us with debt and chip away at our liberties. I’m not comparing Egypt’s current struggle with our own in any way other than how DeMille’s use of this universal theme speaks in some way to everyone and will for as long as there’s a civilization. As his epic unfolds, this is the theme DeMille holds on to, straight through to the story’s final line of dialogue — Moses’ (Charlton Heston) parting words to Joshua (John Derek) before he joins the God who has put him through so much:

“Go. Proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, unto all the inhabitants there of.”

Last week I watched the entire film straight through twice, once on the big-screen at a special event commemorating the film’s Blu-ray release, and again just a few days later on the actual Blu-ray. The finest compliment I can pay one of Hollywood’s all-time great epics is that I could watch it again tonight and enjoy it just as much. DeMille’s world is so vivid, so detailed and all consuming, that after spending nearly four hours visiting, you just want to return to lose yourself into it again and again. The story stays with you for days and you truly do miss spending time with those wonderfully drawn characters.

What’s most remarkable about the new Blu-ray is that it is easily the most beautiful film I’ve ever screened on television. Though the print I saw in the theatre Thursday night was a full, frame by frame restoration and jaw-dropping all on its own, the Blu-ray is, impossibly, even more beautiful. The VistaVision widescreen Technicolor pops right off the screen in ways I didn’t think possible. The richness of the colors, the stability of the blacks, and the details of everything, including fabrics and architecture, pull you deeper and deeper into the world of the film. The work DeMille put into the look of each frame is detailed in a terrific 75-minute “making of” documentary included only with the Blu-ray gift set, and my guess is that even the director himself never saw his work displayed as beautifully as this Blu-ray.

After watching “The Ten Commandments” at home Sunday afternoon, I made the mistake of screening Errol Flynn’s “Robin Hood.” Suddenly, what was once my favorite-looking film on DVD now looks positively wan in comparison. I’m not happy about that at all.

Also included in the pricey but well-worth-it Blu-ray gift set is DeMille’s original 1923 silent version of “The Ten Commandments,” which I’d never seen before and is well worth a look. Only the first hour covers the actual story of Moses and except for the visual splendor of all those magnificent sets and the parting of the Red Sea, it’s the least interesting part of the film. The problem is that it unfolds like a moving pop-up book hitting on the beats of Moses’ journey but without all the palace intrigue, character development and complicated relationships that make the 1956 version so addictive. The remaining 90 minutes, however, are set in 1920s America and tell the compelling story of two brothers who love the same woman. One is good and a believer in God. The other rejects God and is so rigid in his non-belief he destroys himself while in the process of proving life can be good if you dedicate yourself to violating the Commandments.

Not being a silent film fan, I popped in the 1923 version only out of a reviewer’s obligation and even then busied myself with something else while it played in the background. About two hours in, I realized I was missing something special, started the whole picture over again and sat there spellbound until two in the morning. That doesn’t happen very often.

The gift set is gorgeous, a real treasure-trove, and not only includes the “making of” documentary and the 1923 film version (on Blu-ray), but also a wonderful hardcover photo book and a replica of the 1956 souvenir program. There’s also a set of cards with costume sketches of all the main players and some truly fascinating archival reproductions that include a wonderful hand-written letter Charlton Heston sent to “Mr. DeMille,” a man he obviously held an enormous amount of personal affection and respect for. Using footage from 2002, Heston also appears in the “making of” documentary, and again, it’s always “MISTER DeMille.” To command that kind of respect from a man like Charlton Heston is quite the compliment.

I know that there are those who accuse the film of being campy, but I see it more as something that’s larger-than-life. Anne Baxter’s frequent use of “Moses, Moses…” catches most of the flack but let me tell you, when she turns evil in the third act it is very effective. Another performance poked fun at is Edward G. Robinson’s Dathan, but I find him hilarious in the way I think I’m supposed to. He’s so unashamed of being a scumbag that when he’s dancing like a Goldwyn Girl in front of the golden calf, I practically fall out of my chair. I think it’s a marvelous performance by a genius actor who added something no one else could.

At the center of it all, though, stand two giants. If it’s impossible to see anyone but Heston playing Moses (and it is), it is even more impossible to see anyone but Yul Brynner as Ramses II. Not only is he a convincing and formidable antagonist to a man able to summon the very power of God, but DeMille’s direction of this character is absolutely brilliant. Repeatedly, Ramses is slighted by the woman he wants and even his own father, and yet never once does DeMille cut away to a reaction shot of Brynner looking wounded. And yet, thanks to Brynner’s extraordinary screen presence, Ramses is never one-dimensional. But because DeMille never asked us to sympathize with him, when he’s finally beaten, when he finally says, “His God is God,” it is an unforgettable defeat that might prove the power of God even more than the parting of all that water.

Though God is obviously DeMille’s star, Heston is the sun around which everything else revolves. His ability to speak some very difficult lines with complete sincerity is probably the greatest testament to his abilities as an actor. For any actor, that kind of straightforward dialogue, much of it spoken as grand proclamations, is a tightrope without a net. The risk of looking foolish is enormous and yet Heston never comes close. It’s a legendary and iconic performance no amount of words can do justice.

The rest of the cast is just as perfect. Yvonne DeCarlo is simply breathtaking as Moses’ shepherd wife Sephora; Nina Foch is utterly believable as Bithiah, Pharaoh’s sister and Moses’ adopted mother; Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh gives humor and humanity to a real monster; Vincent Price as Baka the builder is deliciously sleazy; and Martha Scott as Moses’ birth mother Yochabel is the perfect contrast to Bithiah. Finally, there’s John Carradine as Moses’ brother Aaron — a presence and voice all his own; John Derek and Debra Paget as star-crossed lovers; and Lisa Mitchell as one of Jethro’s beautifully innocent daughters — a lovely woman I met at the screening who along with Heston’s son Fraser (who plays the Baby Moses), carries the torch of the film’s legacy wherever she goes. Her stories, insight and anecdotes are a real highlight of the “making of” documentary.

And don’t get me started on Elmer Bernstein’s PERFECT score, which has been stuck in my head for nearly a week.

Soon, I’ll watch the film again in order to enjoy the full feature-length commentary by Kathryn Orrison (who I also met at the screening), author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic The Ten Commandments.” Unfortunately, I just didn’t have time for a third screening, but the commentary I did hear during my five favorite scenes/sequences…

1.Moses meets his birth mother for the first time
2.The Burning Bush
3.The final plague/Passover
4.The Exodus from Egypt and parting of the Red Sea
5.The juxtaposition between God’s writing of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai and the G-rated orgy around the golden calf.

…was some of the best I’ve ever heard. She knows everything and obviously has enormous respect for the film and all of those who made it possible.

It was 1980 and I was 14 years-old. On Easter weekend, my brother, who was only a baby at the time, broke his leg in a freak accident and was hospitalized for almost a week. Obviously, we all held vigil around the clock and I’ll never forget sitting in a waiting room all by myself on Easter Sunday as ABC broadcast “The Ten Commandments” in its entirety over five hours. It was such an awful situation for our family and yet here was this deceptively small story playing out against an epic backdrop to keep me company. Fourteen is an impressionable age and how lucky was I to have experienced such a powerful lesson in faith, courage and freedom?

What I’m most grateful for is that repeated viewings never diminish the power of MISTER DeMille’s final film to inspire, entertain, and teach. What I’m not especially happy about, though, is that this Blu-ray transfer is so drop dead gorgeous, that I’m now likely to become dissatisfied with an embarrassingly large DVD collection I’ve spent two decades and a ton of money building.

“The Ten Commandments” Blu-ray was released today. You can choose between the gift set – which I reviewed here, the two-disc special edition Blu-ray, or the two-disc DVD.

Afghanistan: The Futile Conflict

By Tom Bethell from the March 2011 issue of The American Spectator

The war in Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, has proved to be enduring indeed. Now in its 10th year, it could drag on a lot longer. In November's congressional elections it was hardly an issue. But if we are still mired in this futile conflict a year from now, it could become a big headache for President Obama.

He must be kicking himself because if he had pulled out soon after becoming president, claiming that this war was not benefiting the United States, his argument would surely have prevailed (over the furious objections of Max Boot and John Bolton). Obama could reasonably have said that he was elected to end these costly and unwinnable wars. But as early as 2007 he was persuaded that Afghanistan was "the war we need to win." In 2009 he sent in 30,000 additional troops. More recently, he postponed scheduled U.S. troop withdrawals. As Al Regnery wrote here last fall, Afghanistan is now Obama's Achilles' heel.

He has no good choices. If he withdraws, he will be seen as the commander in chief who first aimed for victory then settled for retreat. Withdrawal, said Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph, will be viewed as "the first defeat of the most powerful military alliance in history at the hands of a small band of fanatics armed with little more than rifles and IEDs." More on Moore in a minute.

But if he digs in -- as in fact he has done -- Obama's liberal supporters may turn on him. It is literally a "no win" situation, because military victory in Afghanistan would require an enormous army of occupation and that is not going to happen. Our NATO allies are already heading for the exits.

Why are we there? "We're there because of 9/11," said the late and much admired Richard Holbrooke. "And that's a simple matter of fact." Holbrooke's title was also his mission impossible: special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He died in December of a torn aorta, but it might as well have been called a broken heart. A few months earlier he said that a "pure military victory in Afghanistan is not possible."

Killing more tribesmen will avail us nothing, and may do more harm than good. They become automatic martyrs, and Afghanistan (population approaching 30 million) has lots more tribesmen in reserve. Some no doubt are ready to become "terrorists." An increasing number of Afghans don't know what we are doing there and the same uncertainty could be attributed to more and more Americans.

Initially, we invaded Afghanistan because, in about 1996, al Qaeda set up a mountain encampment there and used it to plan the 9/11 attack. How many Afghan tribesmen ever knew about al Qaeda, or ever heard of Osama bin Laden? As we have been told many times, Afghanistan basically had no government, and it still doesn't.

After 9/11 George Bush said we wanted bin Laden "dead or alive." My guess is that he is dead, but the intelligence agencies may not want to go on the record. War planners, I suspect, would prefer bin Laden alive. If he's dead, we could claim "mission accomplished." Anyway, al Qaeda or what's left of it is said to have decamped to Pakistan, whose government is not really cooperating with us.

The Vietnam comparison still works in Obama's favor. In 1968, about 320 U.S. soldiers were killed there every week. In Afghanistan, in 2010, we suffered about 10 deaths a week. That's a big disparity, and Obama will want it to stay that way. His best option may be to keep U.S. forces in a defensive posture, the (unstated) goal being to minimize casualties. That way the war just might stay out of the headlines long enough for him to be reelected. But if the casualties keep mounting, as they have in the past two years, he could be in trouble.

One almost feels sorry for Obama because his instinct was to extricate the U.S. from these unwinnable wars. It was the one area where he at least wanted to resist the expansion of state power. In other policy areas, as we know, he actively encouraged the natural bureaucratic instinct to expand, resulting in a budget deficit that is approaching $1.5 trillion for the current year.

Since World War II, the most effective pressure in Washington has come from senior officials of government agencies, all pushing to expand their own missions and budgets. The military very much included. Take a look at Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars. He reports in detail Obama's conversations with Vice President Biden (who favors U.S. withdrawal) and with senior military officials in Washington. The Pentagon won almost every one of these "battles" with Obama. A good case can be made, incidentally, that Obama prevailed over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries because he was more committed to pulling the U.S. out of these no-win wars. But he has been unable to do so.

Here's a further comment from Charles Moore, who was once the editor of the (conservative) Daily Telegraph and since then has been writing Margaret Thatcher's biography. He asks if opponents of this war "have any conception of what a defeat would mean for the world order [and for] civil peace in every European city." Don't they see that this fight "will be seen not as a battle for control of some jagged mountains, but between values, and that if our values do not win, they will lose?"

His article ended there, and he didn't say what these values are. But the Afghan values are fairly clear. They want to get foreigners out of their country, even if they (we) are passing money around in an attempt to buy friends. Anyway, it's a good bet that we would feel the same way if strange tribesmen with a lot of hi-tech gadgets landed in the Rockies and tried to control our government.

Afghans also believe in God. I'm not sure that we do anymore.

BUT HERE IS ONE VALUE we are certainly fighting for: women's rights. Mrs. Bush, Mrs. Obama, and Mrs. Clinton have all signed on. Take a look at the Time cover story last August 9, showing a woman with part of her nose cut off. The headline read, "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan." No question mark. The victim's story "raises important questions for those working to establish this young democracy," Laura Bush wrote. "Will Afghanistan embrace and protect the rights of all people?" The New York Times agrees: "The basic civil rights of Afghans -- particularly women and girls -- cannot be up for negotiation."

Actually, they don't really have rights in most of the Muslim world. Theirs is a system based on power and force, and in such a world men indeed can easily dominate women, and do. Maybe instead we should try converting them to Christianity? (Just kidding. Even to suggest such a thing shows how far we have traveled down the road of relativism.)

It's true that America's position in the world has declined, compared to other countries. But the great mistake has been to think that this can be remedied by seeking out countries that can be treated as military targets. Launching armed crusades against selected foreign countries is a military response to a cultural problem.

A lot of people in America would like to see a revival of the West, myself very much included. But that will require a revival of religion. What caused its decline? It is poorly understood, but I believe that rising prosperity brings moral laxity in its wake. That may be the key. American elites, with their persistent negativism about the human race (trees good, people bad), have also played a role in demoralizing the middle class. The rise of Islam over the past generation is mainly a response to the decline of faith-Christianity in particular. Islam is moving into the vacuum, and dropping bombs on them won't do any good. 

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).

Middle East Howlers

If we expect the successors of Mubarak and Qaddafi to be freedom-loving democrats, we will be dangerously disappointed.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
March 30, 2011 4:00 A.M.

A “howler,” the Wall Street Journal called it in an editorial yesterday. That certainly is a fitting description of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest mindboggling foray into Middle East analysis. It makes sense, she maintains, for American armed forces to get “kinetic” in Libya but not in Syria because Moammar Qaddafi is a brutal dictator while brutal dictator Bashar Assad is really a “reformer.” Perhaps she has been watching too much al-Jazeera, this former first lady who was so instrumental in her husband’s airbrushing of the terrorist kleptocrat Yasser Arafat — a peace-seeking statesman . . . at least between intifadas.

Al-Jazeera is the Islamist communications hub. The network’s brightest star, Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood, fresh from his triumphant return to Egypt to dance on the grave of the pro-American Mubarak regime, recently issued a fatwa calling for Qaddafi’s murder. And in the network’s showcase cause, the annihilation of the Zionist entity, Assad and his Hezbollah confederates are just what central casting ordered. Yet, according to Secretary Clinton, al-Jazeera is the place to which people turn for the “real news,” the serious analysis you just can’t get from the talking heads on U.S. television.

Another howler . . . or is it? Fox News, for example, is fast becoming the Arab Spring Channel.

On its weekend talking headliner, Fox News Sunday, anchor Chris Wallace spent several minutes grilling Newt Gingrich on his marital infidelities. “Man to man,” the host hectored, the former House Speaker must have had some glass-house qualms. After all, he was cheating at the very moment when he was leading the charge against Mrs. Clinton’s intern-chasing husband. Gingrich — who is not yet even a declared presidential candidate — is a long shot for a nomination that won’t be decided until over a year from now. Yet Wallace thought it essential, right now, to get to the bottom of indiscretions that are nearly two decades old.

Tough questioning — fair, but tough and unyielding. That is Mr. Wallace’s trademark — or at least it was until Sunday’s program shifted to the breaking news in Libya. Without congressional consultation, much less endorsement, the Obama administration had just dispatched the nation’s armed forces to take sides in a civil war. Problem? Not at all, not for Mr. Wallace’s giddy guests. One after the other, Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Ct.), longtime Islamic-democracy-project enthusiasts, gushed over the “rebels” and the joys of America’s finally being aligned with the “Arab street” (i.e., the people who celebrated the 9/11 attacks and, just this month, the murder of the Fogels, a family of Jewish settlers in the West Bank). Without a hint of challenge from the formerly dogged Wallace, McCain and Lieberman seemed to compete over who could ooze more affinity for the “freedom fighters.”

The pattern continued through the program’s concluding panel of pundits, in which Fox’s Brit Hume, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and Fortune’s Nina Easton glowed over the “rebels” of the “Arab Spring.” But who are the rebels? There was apparently no need to tarry over that seeming irrelevancy. It could only distract from the truly urgent question of whether we are doing quite enough for them — whether President Obama’s Alinskyite play of helping these “freedom fighters” while claiming not to help them will be enough for them to prevail.

Perhaps not, the consensus seemed to be. It will probably take arming them and providing other logistical support. It was left to the house lefty, Juan Williams, of all people, to point out that we really don’t know much about the rebels — except that some of them seem to be anti-American Islamists. Maybe, he suggested, we ought to find out more before we start passing out matériel that could one day be turned against us.

Williams had stumbled, at long last, on the fact so inconvenient that it must not be spoken: The “Arab Spring” is actually the Islamist Spring. Islamists as “freedom fighters”? Now that’s a howler. The very concept of “freedom” in Islam is markedly different from the “freedom” at the root of Western democracy. Islam envisions not individual liberty but its antithesis, perfect submission to Allah’s law — and the Judaeo-Christian notion of equality is nowhere to be found. There is a reason why Islam has no democratic tradition.

The Islamist mission is to impose this law, sharia, a totalitarian code to be enforced by rulers who would be just as authoritarian as the despots they are replacing. There is too much evidence to permit the Arab Spring heralds to refute this proposition head on, so they deflect. They spin Middle East developments as a major defeat for al-Qaeda and its philosophy of extorting change through violence.

This, however, confounds ends and means. Al-Qaeda’s approach — holding that even Muslims should be killed if they won’t hew to the terror network’s construction of Islam — has always been an outlier, attracting only a fringe of Muslims. In contrast, its goal of imposing sharia as the gateway to Islamicized societies is not merely an al-Qaeda goal; it is a majority position in the Muslim Middle East. It is not al-Qaeda that is trying to put Muslim apostates to death in Kabul; it is the U.S.-backed Afghan government. It is not al-Qaeda that is administering “virginity tests” in Cairo; it is the U.S.-built Egyptian military.

The biggest difference between Qaddafi and the coming Islamist despotism is that the latter, faithful to its ideology, promises to be intractably anti-Western and disdainful of non-Muslim religious minorities. Thus Arab Spring enthusiasts tend to develop laryngitis when it comes to the taxonomy of their “rebels.” Nor, other than the mantra that troop surges have succeeded, is there much chatter about the spring that came early for Iraq and Afghanistan — where non-Muslims are persecuted, homosexuals are abused under the guidance of the clerics, Iran’s influence grows, and the “Zionist entity” is dutifully reviled. (Anybody want to bet me on whom the new Iraq will support in kinetic Islam’s next faceoff with Israel?)

Only days before Secretary Clinton’s Assad howler, we had the Arab Spring’s first blooms in Egypt. In a referendum, Egyptians voted by more than 3 to 1 (an overwhelming 77 to 23 percent) to adopt a framework for swift new elections — the opposite of the deliberate transition process that would have given non-Islamist democrats a fighting chance to build effective secular democratic parties and institutions. The plan voters endorsed quite intentionally will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve electoral success in parliament this September. The Brothers will then be poised to rig the presidential election three months later, and to control the drafting of any new Egyptian constitution. We already know that one part of the current constitution will remain sacrosanct: the article establishing Islam as the state religion and sharia as fundamental law.

Arab Spring fans told us the urbane Egyptians were even more determined “freedom” seekers than the tribal Libyan “rebels.” They scoffed at those among us who warned against having too much confidence in the Egyptian military — which has been mentored by American counterparts for the last 30 years — as a hedge against the slide toward Islamism.

In the event, the military — which, like the Brotherhood, mirrors Egyptian society — predictably favored the Brothers. To stoke the illusion of a true democratic uprising, Secretary Clinton sought to meet with the anti-Mubarak vanguard. They rebuffed her. It’s not hard to understand why: She is an American, and they despise Americans; she is tilting at windmills, and they are hardheaded Islamists. Meanwhile, campaigning Muslim clerics and activists publicly framed a “yes” vote as a call for more sharia and a denial to the Coptic Christian minority of an equal role in civic life (for in Islam there is no separating civic life from sharia). The Islamists won going away.

So what we can expect from the “rebels” if they oust Qaddafi? What can we learn from the Egyptian election — coupled, in Iraq and Afghanistan, with rampant anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and abuse of non-Muslims despite years of U.S. democracy-building? You won’t find out from watching the talking heads. They’ve decided not to ask.

— 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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Look Busy for the Boss: Bruce Springsteen Visits ‘Little Steven’s Underground Garage’

March 29, 2011, 2:30 pm

In the nine years that “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” has been on the air, Steven Van Zandt, this E Street Band guitarist and host of that radio program, has been visited by his share of rock ‘n’ roll luminaries, including Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson and Keith Richards. But one particularly impressive — and seemingly obvious — guest has eluded Mr. Van Zandt, until now.

Bruce Springsteen, Mr. Van Zandt’s longtime friend and colleague, will appear on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” in a series of programs that will be broadcast on the weekends of April 1, 8 and 15 to celebrate the show’s ninth anniversary.

The conversations, in which Mr. Springsteen and Mr. Van Zandt talk about their musical influences and whatever else comes to mind, were recorded earlier this month at Mr. Van Zandt’s office studio in Greenwich Village but were in the works for considerably longer than that.

“I’ve been inviting him on since Day 1,” Mr. Van Zandt said in a telephone interview. “At least every anniversary. ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, I gotta do that.’ We just never have quite gotten around to it. He just finally showed up. It wasn’t like he wasn’t invited –- of course he was invited -– but you get busy, you get doing things. And I know how that is.”

Mr. Van Zandt said he tried to do as little preparation for Mr. Springsteen’s appearance as possible. “By the time we have that lengthy conversation about the show, that’s another show,” he said. “Let’s start with absolute, total spontaneity and just talk. We’ll just have a conversation, and then we’ll fill in the music later.” He added: “I knew it would be a good show, just from us talking. Because we’ve never really talked to each other, on record, official. Not only on my station, but anywhere.”

Though the men have known and performed with each other going back to the early 1970s, Mr. Van Zandt said he learned a few things from Mr. Springsteen during their conversation. For one thing, Mr. Van Zandt said, “I don’t think I quite realized how big a fan he was of the Four Seasons.”

Mr. Van Zandt said he was also surprised by a segment in which Mr. Springsteen picked up a guitar and demonstrated how his song “Prove It All Night” was more or less lifted from the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

“It’s going to be cool for people to hear that,” Mr. Van Zandt said. “I think we have a generation right now who thinks music falls off trees. Really, it’s very important that people know a lot of thought, a lot of work goes into this stuff. And maybe a lot of theft goes into stealing riffs, but that doesn’t mean you should steal the music.”

With a tinge of melancholy, Mr. Van Zandt noted that he and Mr. Springsteen were not often able to see each other these days, in part because of the complexity of his own schedule: in addition to hosting “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” Mr. Van Zandt is also a music supervisor and executive producer for a new film by David Chase (his director on “The Sopranos”) about a young rock band in the 1960s.

Additionally, Mr. Van Zandt travels to Norway every other week to film his role in “Lillehammer,” a Norwegian television series on which he plays a former mobster who enters the witness protection program.

“I negotiated the weirdest deal in history by telling them I can’t come for four months straight, but I can come every other week,” Mr. Van Zandt explained. “They said yes.”

Now that he’s gotten Mr. Springsteen through the door of his radio studio, Mr. Van Zandt is hoping the Boss won’t take another nine years to make his return visit.

“I would love it,” Mr. Van Zandt said. “He’s welcome to do it. But coming once every nine years won’t be enough to promote him as a co-host.”


Durbin Hearing to Fuel the Muslim Victimhood Myth

by Robert Spencer

"Our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans," Durbin said.

The FBI reports that anti-Jewish hate crimes are nearly eight times more common than anti-Muslim attacks—yet Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.) announced last week that he was going to hold a Senate hearing not on the resurgence of anti-Semitism, but on “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

For the truth-adverse Left, it was just another day at the office.

Compounding the irony was the fact that as Durbin announced his plans for this orgy of Muslim victimhood posturing, Islamic jihadists set off a bomb at a bus stop in Jerusalem, murdering at least one woman and wounding 30, while other Islamic jihadists opened fire on and killed two Christians who had committed the crime of attending a church in Pakistan. And don’t ask Egyptian Christian Ayman Anwar Mitri what he heard about this: Muslims in Egypt cut off his ear last week for the crime of having an affair with a Muslim woman (which he denies). Islamic law forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and so as his Muslim attackers severed Mitri’s ear, they told him: “We have applied the law of Allah, now come and apply your law.”

No doubt Durbin’s Islamic supremacist puppet masters told him nothing about any of this. They were intent on making sure he retaliated for the hearings recently conducted by Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.), who himself bowed to politically correct pressure and dropped several witnesses that he had originally announced his intention to call, including ex-Muslim human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and terror analyst Walid Phares.

Durbin’s retaliatory hearings were unnecessary in the first place. King, after all, gave a prime platform at his hearings to the weepy Rep. Keith Ellison (D.-Minn.), whose pilgrimage to Mecca was paid for with $13,350 from the Muslim American Society, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief operating arm in the U.S. Ellison used the bully pulpit King gave him to paint a lurid picture of Muslim victimhood, all the while saying nothing (of course) about the sharp increase in jihad terror plots in this country during the last two years.

Durbin can’t top Ellison, no matter which Muslim leader he brings in and coaches on how to shed crocodile tears.

The crocodile tears flow copiously: The Muslim victimhood industry is big business. The Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other Muslims have cornered the market on saline, not hesitating even to fabricate hate crimes, including attacks on mosques. CAIR wants and needs hate crimes against Muslims, because it can use them for political points and as weapons to intimidate people into remaining silent about the jihad threat.

In the same vein, Durbin’s hearings are almost certain to be an orgy of Muslim claims of victimhood and demonization of freedom fighters trying to defend Constitutional freedoms against Islamic supremacism.

If Durbin really wants to know the cause of what “anti-Muslim bigotry” may actually exist, he need look no farther than Khalid Aldawsari, the would-be jihad mass murderer in Lubbock, Tex., Muhammad Hussain, the would-be jihad bomber in Baltimore, Mohamed Mohamud, the would-be jihad bomber in Portland, Ore., Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood jihad mass-murderer, Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square jihad mass-murderer, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, the Arkansas military recruiting station jihad murderer, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas airplane jihad bomber, and so many other jihad murderers and would-be murderers.

If anyone in the United States today is suspicious of Muslims in general, it is because of those jihadis and others like them—and because of Muslim spokesmen such as Keith Ellison and CAIR’s Ibrahim “Honest Ibe” Hooper, who never acknowledge that the Muslim community in the U.S. has any responsibility whatsoever to teach against the jihadist view of Islam that they supposedly reject.

Instead, Ellison, Hooper, and others like them contrive the picture of Muslim victimhood that snares dupes and useful idiots such as Durbin—and in doing so, end up increasing the “anti-Muslim bigotry” they decry. Americans aren’t fools, and they can spot liars and deceivers when they see them. The complete lack of Muslim spokesmen who will acknowledge jihad activity honestly and forthrightly and stand against it in both word and deed has not gone unnoticed. The “anti-Muslim bigotry” industry is generated by Muslims and perpetuated by Muslims. And only Muslims have the power to end that bigotry.

But they can only do that by dropping their manipulative self-pity act and coming clean about jihadist and Islamic supremacist activity in American mosques. Don’t hold your breath.

Mr. Spencer is director of Jihad Watch and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad, Stealth Jihad and The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran (all from Regnery-a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Genius of the Ramones

by Matt Patterson
March 28, 2011

“Music was my salvation really, and always has been.” – Joey Ramone

Years ago, a young woman sat across from me on a near-empty train. She looked like she had been crying. Pulling her sweatshirt sleeves down over her hands, she leaned her head against the window, a distant look on her swollen and scarlet countenance.

I was listening to the Ramones at the time, and took a chance. I moved over to the seat next to her and said hello. She seemed shocked by the abrupt intrusion, but very quickly recovered and managed to make some small talk with me. After a few moments, I offered my headphones:

“You wanna hear something?” I asked.

She took my measure for a long moment before, against what was surely her better judgment, slipping the headphones on. I pressed play and Cretin Hop poured into her head. After a second she put her hands over the phones, drawing the music further in. Beat on the Brat followed; she listened for a minute, then, mirabile dictu, her lips unfolded like tiny wings and a smile took flight on her face.

“I’ve never heard this,” she said, too loud.

“I know,” said I.

“Who is it?”

“The Ramones.”

“What are you, their agent?”

“More like an ambassador,” I smiled. I skipped ahead to the song I really wanted her to hear. “It’s gonna be OK,” Joey Ramone sang to her, “It’s gonna be alright….yeah, yeah, yeah.” I handed her the player, and – here is the amazing part – she turned the volume up. Her eyes closed, her head bobbed almost imperceptibly, a chewed and unpolished fingernail tapped ever-so-lightly the side of her leg.

When the song was over, she took the headphones off and opened her mouth, as though about to ask me a question (Who the hell are you? would have been a good one). I noticed we had arrived at my stop, however, and so scooped up my player, bid her farewell, and skipped off the train just before the doors shut. Apparently it was her stop too, though she must not have noticed ’till it was too late – I turned to see her standing behind the closed doors, bag in hand, laughing, as the train pulled away.

A smile, a laugh. A temporary respite from the pangs of heartbreak. The wonder and beauty and joy of life crammed into two-minute bursts of electricity. This is the genius of the Ramones.


Prior to 1974, few would have seen genius in the future Ramones. In fact, the original lineup included a mental patient (Joey spent time in psychiatric institutions), a right-winger (Johnny), and a dope addict and sometime prostitute (Dee Dee). All were misfits at best, delinquents at worst. And yet…

The Ramones are given a lot of credit (though not enough credit in England) for starting punk. But the band originally had no such revolutionary intent. Indeed, their aim was devolutionary, to return rock and roll to its roots, to strip it of the overindulgent impulses it had acquired by the 1970’s; the endless and tuneless solos, bloated production and ostentatious concerts that characterized so many bands in that era.

The Ramones wanted to make the kind of rock they loved when they were growing up in the late ’50’s and ’60’s – short, melodic tunes, heavy on attitude and harmony, and -most importantly – FUN. The Ramones wanted rock and roll to be fun again.

By all accounts, it was at first hard to know what to make of these strange boys who could barely play their instruments, and who were prone to arguing with each other like ten-year olds on stage. Legendary music journalist Legs McNeil described the Ramones’ first performance in New York City in 1974: “They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song. And they started playing different songs, and it was just this wall of noise… They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.”

Indeed, and that is the irony at the heart of the Ramones – in trying to resurrect something old, they inadvertently created something entirely new. Viva la devolucion!


Johnny Ramone has not been given nearly enough credit for the success of the band. Partly, I suspect, because of minimal contributions as songwriter. And then there is the tricky subject of his politics – a self-professed Republican, Johnny Ramone was a Nixon man in his youth; in retirement, he proclaimed “God bless President Bush” at the band’s induction ceremony to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

That Johnny’s politics were so at odds with those of band-mate Joey (a sucker for left-wing causes his whole life), to say nothing of the industry as a whole, no doubt contributed to Johnny’s strangely maligned reputation in Ramones lore. Yet the truth is – Johnny held that band together, often through sheer force of his will. Everyone involved with the Ramones saw Johnny as field marshal; when Dee Dee was strung out, Joey crippled by OCD, and Marky falling over drunk (all three regular occurrences), it was Johnny who made sure that studio time was booked, tour dates set, personnel hired. “Someone had to make those decisions,” Johnny dryly remarked in retirement.

Joey was caretaker of the band’s image and legacy. He insisted they never stray too far from the simplicity of dress and sound that was the Ramones’ hallmark. When band members quit, or were fired, it was Johnny who insisted they could – must – go on. The Ramones’ mission, Johnny understood, was bigger than any one of them.

And then there is that guitar sound. Johnny single-handedly put paid the notion that expensive equipment or virtuoso talent are necessary to make rock and roll. Passion and will – that’s what Johnny brought, and it was more than enough. Critics scoffed that he only played three chords, maybe only knew three chords. Johnny’s response – what else do you need? He played the hell out of those chords, and did more with them than other bands did with all their jazz scales and sitars combined.


Short and celebratory, Ramones songs don’t waste your time – they come on like the laugh of an old friend, sound somehow both comforting and thrilling. For those unacquainted with our friends, allow me to suggest the following gems as an introduction:

1) Blitzkrieg Bop – The perfect rock song, and therefore the perfect song, this was the opening shot in the punk revolution, the first track from the first album. Nothing was ever the same again. They’re forming in a straight line…

2) Danny Says – One of the great songs about being in a rock band, this track from the Phil Spector-produced “End of the Century” chronicles both the excitement (Joey hears one of his songs on the radio) and boredom (whiling away hours in a hotel room watching TV) of being on the road.

3) The KKK Took My Baby Away – Written by Joey after he had just lost his girlfriend (to Johnny, no less). His loss is our gain – funny, sweet, and sad, rock and roll, punk, and doo-wop all wrapped together, KKK is an eminently hummable slice of pop perfection.

4) It’s Gonna Be Alright – From the underrated “Mondo Bizarro,” this was the band’s response to critics who wondered if the departure of bass player and primary songwriter Dee Dee would be the end of the Ramones. The answer: Not a chance. “Got good feelings, about this year,” Joey sings, sounding better than he had in years. “All is very well, C.J. Is here,” he continues, introducing Dee Dee’s replacement. “It’s gonna be alright, it’s gonna be OK,” he roars in the chorus. The message – every ending is also a beginning. The Ramones live, and so does rock and roll.

5) What’s Your Game – Many people think the best pop music ends up on the radio. Then they hear (if they’re lucky) the Ramones. What’s Your Game, like all exquisitely wrought pop tunes, sounds familiar the first time you hear it. That it was never a Top 40 smash is a crime.

6) I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend – Sweet and simple, Joey wears his heart completely on his sleeve in this lilting paean to first love. Hey little girl, I wanna be your boyfriend…

7) Cretin Hop – Go ahead, try not to dance. I dare you.

8) 53rd & 3rd – The question is not: How could the Ramones write a song about male prostitution and murder? The question is: How could the Ramones write a song about male prostitution and murder that is so damn catchy?


Last year the Ramones belatedly received a Grammy Award for “lifetime achievement.” That the industry chose to honor them only after three of the original four members had passed away surely counts as some sort of sick joke. When alive and in their prime, making some of the best popular music ever conceived, or later when they continued to plow around the world nearly year ‘round, keeping a performance schedule that would have killed bands half their age (the Ramones played an astonishing 2,300 shows in some 20 years), the music industry ignored them. Radio ignored them. Legs McNeil put it best when he asked: “Those songs were classic American pop songs. Why weren’t they played on the radio? Why weren’t they?”

The Ramones themselves wondered the same thing. Joey, for one, never gave up hope that the next record, the next single, the next tour would be the one that broke them into the mainstream. Widespread acceptance was always just around the corner for Joey. Johnny, with a classic conservative pessimism, realized very early that it wasn’t going to happen for them, that the best they could do would be to make a living (hence their brutal tour schedule).

Part of the problem was the band’s own lyrics. Frequent themes of mental illness; Nazi references that disturbed even the band’s most ardent supporters; flavors from ‘50’s horror comics and movies – all were guaranteed to spook Top 40 radio programmers.

But some of it wasn’t their fault at all. Tagged as the godfathers of punk, the Ramones suffered from the nasty reputation of the bands that followed and imitated them. The Sex Pistols spit on their audience, American programmers knew. The Sex Pistols are a punk band. The Ramones are a punk band. Therefore, the Ramones must spit on their audience. Better not book them. That the Ramones never displayed the anger and violence of their British contemporaries, that they were more interested in making party music than revolutionary music, was lost on the mainstream music press. The Ramones created punk, which soon became a cage that stifled them creatively and commercially.


In the last decade, Joey and Johnny were lost to cancer and Dee Dee to drugs. The music, thankfully, cannot be taken from us so easily. Music, Joey, said, was his salvation. He wasn’t the only one. There’s me of course, and somewhere out there there’s a girl who, for a brief long-ago moment, found solace on a train from five strangers…

four of them named Ramone.

Decoding Libya

Sharia can tell us how this story ends.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
March 26, 2011 4:00 A.M.

For nearly 20 years, we’ve willfully blinded ourselves to the Rosetta Stone that decodes our enemy’s war doctrine. But the jihad (or shall we call it “kinetic Islam”?) is catalyzed not by al-Qaeda but by sharia — by Muslim law. So is the “Arab Spring,” now playing in Tripoli (and elsewhere) after rave reviews in Cairo.

I have been opposed to our country’s starting a war against Libya. And starting a war is exactly what we have done, exactly what we would call it if the shoe were on the other foot — the “kinetic” and “limited” obfuscations of intervention proponents notwithstanding. My opposition is fourfold.

First, as a constitutional matter, Congress has neither declared war nor otherwise authorized combat operations. When there has been no attack on the United States, no imminent prospect of attack against us, and no vital American interest implicated, our system obliges the president to have approval from the people’s representatives before entangling the people in a foreign conflict.

Second, and more weighty than the legal prerequisites for war (about which there is considerable dispute), is the prudential policy implicit in this constitutional guidance (about which there should be no dispute). The American people are a free and self-determining body politic. It is we, not the president alone, who should make the most important decision a body politic can make: the decision to go to war.

Yes, the Framers understood the necessity of reposing in one official, the president, the power to unleash all the nation’s strength in the event of a real threat to our country, as quickly and decisively as the circumstances demand. After all, in the late 18th century, it was anything but clear that the United States would survive. That’s a big part of why the Articles of Confederation, with their potentially suicidal security-by-committee approach, had to be supplanted by the Constitution and its powerful commander-in-chief.

Nevertheless, the Framers also grasped the other side of the coin: creating a commander-in-chief made it possible for a single official, just as suicidally, to launch unprovoked wars, inevitably provoking retaliatory strikes against us. They checked this danger by endowing Congress, too, with war powers — with the means to starve executive recklessness of legitimacy and funding.

Bottom line: In a country where the people, not the president, are sovereign, it is foolhardy to go to war without public support. If the people are expected to pay for and die in a military expedition that we initiate against a country that has not threatened us, it is essential to have strong public support. That support is won — or not — by forthrightly seeking congressional authorization. Intervention proponents claim that it is manifestly in our interests to topple Colonel Qaddafi on behalf of the “rebels.” If they are right, it should be easy for the administration to get a legislative green light. President Obama hasn’t tried, despite marathon negotiations with NATO, the U.N. Security Council, and the Arab League. Nor does his rah-rah chorus seem especially anxious that he try. This testifies eloquently to the fact that there is strong public opposition, no matter how artfully polls confirming that opposition are depicted as signs of potential support.

Third, and no doubt at the root of much public opposition, is the fact that we are broke. After a decade’s misadventures in Islamic nation-building, we can safely say that “kinetic military actions” against kinetic Islam are prohibitively expensive. A people whose unborn children and grandchildren will start out life trillions in hock begins to realize that they can’t afford to go to war unless they have to go to war. Moreover, the real war inside our nation right now is against the Left’s unsustainable welfare state. Any more billions we pour into unnecessary wars are billions denied to necessary security spending — such as border security, as NR’s Kevin D. Williamson points out. More to the point, they are also billions the Left will use as a cudgel to beat back vital spending cuts. Can’t you hear it now: “We’re blowing a fortune to wage dubious kinetic military actions in the Middle East, but conservatives claim we don’t have comparative pennies for education, health care, mortgage relief, our bankrupt states, preserving our safety net, NPR, etc., etc.”

Fourth, and perhaps most significant, is the reason why war with Libya is dubious: We understand neither whom we are fighting for nor the consequences of invading a Muslim country. To apprehend these things requires a rudimentary grasp of sharia. You don’t need a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence. As I contend in The Grand Jihad, the basics will more than suffice. The problem is that, since the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993, the government has been telling us that Islam has nothing to do with the jihadist campaign against us, so we have studiously avoided informing ourselves about Islam and its law.

It has come to light in just the last few days that commanders of the “rebels” (you know, those secular freedom fighters who are supposedly better for us than Qaddafi) include one Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi. And, I’ll be darned, it turns out that Hasadi is a jihadist who fought the United States in Afghanistan, and was detained for years until our forces turned him over to Libya. That was during the Bush years, when, through democracy-project alchemy, Qaddafi was transformed into a valuable U.S. ally against terrorism. Our new friend Qaddafi promptly . . . released him in 2008, in a deal designed to appease his Islamist opposition — a common practice in the Middle East, where, because Islam dominates life, even dictators must alternately court and repress jihadists in order to hang on.

Hasadi is worth studying, and not just because he puts the lie to the interventionist fable about the noble rebels, those Benghazi Madisons just waiting to happen. Hasidi belongs to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which is an al-Qaeda ally. He also has many a fawning thing to say about Osama bin Laden. Yet, Hasadi condemned al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. In his mind, strikes against a non-Muslim country were counterproductive, both because they were indiscriminate, and therefore sure to kill some Muslims (as they did), and because they were certain to provoke a vigorous onslaught that would kill even more Muslims.

Interesting thing about that: Hasadi’s take on 9/11 is precisely the same as the Muslim Brotherhood’s. Like Hasadi, high Brotherhood officials are frequently complimentary of bin Laden (especially before Arabic-speaking audiences). And like Hasadi, the Brotherhood is in complete agreement with al-Qaeda on the ultimate goal of forging sharia states and, eventually, a global caliphate. The Brotherhood’s disagreement with bin Laden, like Hasadi’s, is strictly about tactics, especially in the West. In the United States and Europe, the Brothers think the best way to advance the sharia cause is stealth jihad, not violent jihad. They prefer having their sharia soul-mates (e.g., CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America) masquerade as civil-rights activists, the better to exploit Western freedoms and win the sympathies of the media and the academy.

But what about attacking Americans and other Westerners in Islamic countries? Sharia makes that a much different story. Like Hasadi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sharia guide, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi — the world’s most influential Sunni Muslim cleric — condemned the 9/11 attacks. Yet, after the United States responded by invading Islamic countries, he issued a fatwa calling for the killing of American troops and support personnel in Iraq. Why the difference?

That brings us back to Hasadi . . . and sharia. Hasadi was captured by coalition forces on the Afghan-Pakistani border region in 2002. He was there because, like many Libyans, he went to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq, to fight against the invading American-led forces.

“But wait a second,” you say. “If he condemned 9/11, why would he oppose the U.S. response to 9/11?” It’s very simple: He is an Islamist, and he was following the dictates of sharia. When non-Muslim forces invade or occupy Islamic countries, Muslims must fight them as ruthlessly as necessary to drive them out. It does not matter if Muslims realize that the Western forces had a perfectly understandable reason for attacking. Even if they believe a Muslim has acted in a manner harmful to Islamic interests, sharia forbids Muslims to take sides against other Muslims for the benefit of kaffirs (unbelievers). Disputes within the ummah must be settled internally. Indeed, recall that the Taliban refused Bush-administration requests to hand bin Laden over to the United States, but said that if we provided them with our evidence, they would consider putting him on trial themselves.

Obviously, not every Muslim follows sharia’s injunctions, and individual Muslims may even temper adherence to them based on the situation. Recall that there was more violent jihadist opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq (which many Muslims saw as unprovoked) than to our retaliation in Afghanistan. And there is more opposition to our operations in Afghanistan now than there was ten years ago: A decade ago our cause was understandable vengeance, but now it is primarily nation-building, and, under sharia, no infidel project is more condemnable than another civilization’s attempt to sow its institutions and its way of life in Islamic territory. That is why the Afghans fought the Soviets so ferociously.

The main point is this: What I have described here is a mainstream interpretation of sharia, not some purportedly twisted al-Qaeda construction. It is the Islam of hundreds of millions of Muslims. The fact that most of these Muslims disagree with al-Qaeda’s strategy of attacking the West in the West (however much they may applaud it post facto) is beside the point. All of these Muslims believe that non-Muslim forces must be fought aggressively if they occupy Muslim countries, especially if those non-Muslim forces get kinetic inside Muslim countries. It’s a very good reason to have as little as possible to do with Muslim countries.

My opposition to intervention in Libya has been misstated in the last few days. Some commentators claim I’ve said the rebels are really al-Qaeda. That misstates my argument. As I’ve repeatedly said, the rebels are a mixed bag. The strongest faction, particularly in ideological influence, is the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been in Libya for 70 years. There are also militant groups, such as Hasadi’s LIFG, that have ties to al-Qaeda, though they do not necessarily agree with bin Laden’s decision in the 1990s to take the violence global. In addition, there are Islamist organizations (such as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya) that claim to be non-violent and that oppose Qaddafi because they have come to regard him as non-Muslim, an apostate whose eccentric brand of Islam is seen as heterodox, and who persecutes his Muslim people. Moreover, there are undoubtedly al-Qaeda operatives in the mix, because al-Qaeda goes wherever the action is.

To describe these factions is not to discount the existence of some secular opposition to Qaddafi: some leftists who see an opportunity, and even some Western-influenced freedom fighters. Interventionists delude themselves, though, when they portray the latter as predominant, as the face of the rebels. Libya is a tribal Islamic backwater. That is why Qaddafi has always had to couch his despotism in Islamist rhetoric. It is why Libya, more than any other country by percentage of population, supported the insurgency in Iraq. In fact, rebel leader Hasadi claims to have recruited more than two dozen jihadists to that cause.

Qaddafi’s opposition is not driven by al-Qaeda. It is driven by sharia. Various factions want Qaddafi out so that they can install sharia and build a real Islamic state — one that is virulently anti-Israeli, anti-Western, and anti-American, a mirror image of what the Muslim Brotherhood is now poised to sculpt in Egypt. For now, Islamists have encouraged military Western help because they lack the resources needed to oust Qaddafi themselves — just as Bosnian Muslims could not defeat the Serbs, Iraqi Muslims could not defeat Saddam Hussein, and Afghan Muslims could not defeat the Soviet Union without American help. But as we’ve seen time and again, the embrace of American support never translates into an embrace of Americans.

The Muslims of the Middle East will gladly use us, but they will turn on us the second our temporarily useful assistance becomes an intolerable transgression against sharia. That’s why the Islamists of the Arab League were all for a no-fly zone when it was pitched as a mere verbal warning to Qaddafi’s air force, but quickly condemned it when it turned out to require a bombing campaign that was sure to kill some Muslims.

We’ve seen this show before. The rebels are not rebels — they are the Libyan mujahideen. Like the Afghan mujahideen, including those that became al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Libyan mujahideen comprise different groups. What overwhelmingly unites them, besides opposition to Qaddafi, is sharia. The Libyan mujahideen will exploit us but never befriend us. If they succeed, so be it. But we have no vital interest in orchestrating that success, even if it would mean a thug like Qaddafi finally gets his just deserts. If we empower them, we will eventually rue the day.

— 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.

The Art of Inconclusive War

Why is it that the United States no longer wins wars?

By Mark Steyn
March 26, 2011 4:00 A.M.

It is tempting and certainly very easy to point out that Obama’s war (or Obama’s “kinetic military action,” or “time-limited, scope-limited military action,” or whatever the latest ever more preposterous evasion is) is at odds with everything candidate Obama said about U.S. military action before his election. And certainly every attempt the president makes to explain his Libyan adventure is either cringe-makingly stupid (“I’m accustomed to this contradiction of being both a commander-in-chief but also somebody who aspires to peace”) or alarmingly revealing of a very peculiar worldview:

“That’s why building this international coalition has been so important,” he said the other day. “It is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.”

That’s great news. Who doesn’t enjoy volunteering other people? The Arab League, for reasons best known to itself, decided that Colonel Qaddafi had outlived his sell-by date. Granted that the region’s squalid polities haven’t had a decent military commander since King Hussein fired Gen. Sir John Glubb half a century back, how difficult could it be even for Arab armies to knock off a psychotic transvestite guarded by Austin Powers fembots? But no: Instead, the Arab League decided to volunteer the U.S. military.

Likewise, the French and the British. Libya’s special forces are trained by Britain’s SAS. Four years ago, President Sarkozy hosted a state visit for Colonel Qaddafi, his personal security detail of 30 virgins, his favorite camel, and a 400-strong entourage that helped pitch his tent in the heart of Paris. Given that London and Paris have the third – and fourth-biggest military budgets on the planet and that between them they know everything about Qaddafi’s elite troops, sleeping arrangements, guard-babes, and dromedaries, why couldn’t they take him out? But no: They too decided to volunteer the U.S. military.

But, as I said, it’s easy to mock the smartest, most articulate man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Instead, in a non-partisan spirit, let us consider why it is that the United States no longer wins wars. Okay, it doesn’t exactly lose (most of) them, but nor does it have much to show for a now 60-year-old pattern of inconclusive outcomes. American forces have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a decade: Doesn’t that seem like a long time for a non-colonial power to be spending hacking its way through the worthless terrain of a Third World dump? If the object is to kill terrorists, might there not be some slicker way of doing it? And, if the object is something else entirely, mightn’t it be nice to know what it is?

I use the word “non-colonial” intentionally. I am by temperament and upbringing an old-school imperialist: There are arguments to be made for being on the other side of the world for decades on end if you’re claiming it as sovereign territory and rebuilding it in your image, as the British did in India, Belize, Mauritius, the Solomon Islands, you name it. Likewise, there are arguments to be made for saying sorry, we’re a constitutional republic, we don’t do empire. But there’s not a lot to be said for forswearing imperialism and even modest cultural assertiveness, and still spending ten years getting shot up in Afghanistan helping to create, bankroll, and protect a so-called justice system that puts a man on death row for converting to Christianity.

Libya, in that sense, is a classic post-nationalist, post-modern military intervention: As in Kosovo, we’re do-gooders in a land with no good guys. But, unlike Kosovo, not only is there no strategic national interest in what we’re doing, the intended result is likely to be explicitly at odds with U.S. interests. A quarter-century back, Qaddafi was blowing American airliners out of the sky and murdering British policewomen: That was the time to drop a bomb on him. But we didn’t. Everyone from the government of Scotland (releasing the “terminally ill” Lockerbie bomber, now miraculously restored to health) to Mariah Carey and Beyoncé (with their million-dollar-a-gig Qaddafi party nights) did deals with the Colonel.

Now suddenly he’s got to go — in favor of “freedom-loving” “democrats” from Benghazi. That would be in eastern Libya — which, according to West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, has sent per capita the highest number of foreign jihadists to Iraq. Perhaps now that so many Libyan jihadists are in Iraq, the Libyans left in Libya are all Swedes in waiting. But perhaps not. If we lack, as we do in Afghanistan, the cultural confidence to wean those we liberate from their less attractive pathologies, we might at least think twice before actively facilitating them.

Officially, only the French are committed to regime change. So suppose Qaddafi survives. If you were in his shoes, mightn’t you be a little peeved? Enough to pull off a new Lockerbie? A more successful assassination attempt on the Saudi king? A little bit of Euro-bombing?

Alternatively, suppose Qaddafi winds up hanging from a lamppost in his favorite party dress. If you’re a Third World dictator, what lessons would you draw? Qaddafi was the thug who came in from the cold, the one who (in the wake of Saddam’s fall) renounced his nuclear program and was supposedly rehabilitated in the chancelleries of the West. He was “a strong partner in the war on terrorism,” according to U.S. diplomats. And what did Washington do? They overthrew him anyway.

The blood-soaked butcher next door in Sudan is the first head of state to be charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide, but nobody’s planning on toppling him. Iran’s going nuclear with impunity, but Obama sends fraternal greetings to the “Supreme Leader” of the “Islamic Republic.” North Korea is more or less openly trading as the one-stop bargain-basement for all your nuke needs, and we’re standing idly by. But the one cooperative dictator’s getting million-dollar-a-pop cruise missiles lobbed in his tent all night long. If you were the average Third World loon, which role model makes most sense? Colonel Cooperative in Tripoli? Or Ayatollah Death-to-the-Great-Satan in Tehran? America is teaching the lesson that the best way to avoid the attentions of whimsical “liberal interventionists” is to get yourself an easily affordable nuclear program from Pyongyang or anywhere else as soon as possible.

The United States is responsible for 43 percent of the planet’s military spending. So how come it doesn’t feel like that? It’s not merely that “our military is being volunteered by others,” but that Washington has been happy to volunteer it as the de facto expeditionary force for the “international community.” Sometimes U.S. troops sail under U.N. colors, sometimes NATO’s, and now in Libya even the Arab League’s. Either way, it makes little difference: America provides most of the money, men, and materiel. All that changes is the transnational figleaf.

But lost along the way is hard-headed, strategic calculation of the national interest. “They won’t come back till it’s over/Over there!” sang George M. Cohan as the doughboys marched off in 1917. It was all over 20 minutes later and then they came back. Now it’s never over over there — not in Korea, not in Kuwait, not in Kosovo, not in Kandahar. Next stop Kufra? America has swapped The Art of War for the Hotel California: We psychologically check out, but we never leave.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2011 Mark Steyn.