Saturday, April 23, 2011

Today's Tune: Roy Orbison - Go Go Go (Down the Line)

Road to ruin getting shorter

The Orange County Register
April 22, 2011

Congressman Paul Ryan, one of the least insane men in Washington, has a 10-year plan.

President Barack Obama, one of the most insane spenders in Washington, has a 12-year plan.

After hearing the president's plan, Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. Sovereign debt outlook to "negative." Ah, the fine art of understatement. In 1940, after the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk, presumably they downgraded Britain's outlook to "spot of bother."

At the world's first "Presidential Facebook town hall meeting" on Wednesday, even Obama had a hard time taking his "plan" seriously. Sometimes he referred to it as a 12-year plan, sometimes 10 years, sometimes saving four trillion, sometimes saving two trillion. So will the Obama plan save four trillion over 12 years or two trillion over 10?

For the answer let's go to next week's first Presidential Twitter town hall meeting:

OMG!!! LOL!!!!!!! ROFLMAO!!!!!!!!!

Overly Massive Government!!! Legislating Official Largesse!!!!!!! Requiring Offering Foreign Lenders More American Ownership!!!!!!!!!

The president's plan is to balance the budget by climbing into his Little Orphan Obammie costume and singing: "The sun'll come out tomorrow/Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun." We've already bet our bottom dollar and it's looking like total eclipse. But Obammie figures if we can only bet Daddy Warbucks' bottom dollar the sun will shine. The "rich" don't have enough money to plug the gap: As a general principle, whatever the tax rates, the Treasury can never take in more than about 19 percent of GDP. Since Obama took office, the government's spent on average 24.4 percent of GDP.

That five-point gap cannot be closed, and it's the difference between the possibility of a future and the certainty of utter ruin. Hence, outlook "negative."

By the way, if you were borrowing (as the United States government does) $188 million every hour, would your bank be reassured by a 12-year plan?

That's 2023. Go back 12 years. That's 1999. Which, if any, politicians correctly identified the prevailing conditions in the America of 2011? Most of our problems arise from the blithe assumptions of the political class about the future. European welfare systems assumed a mid-20th century fertility rate to sustain them. They failed to foresee that welfare would become a substitute for family and that Continentals would simply cease breeding. Bismarckian-Rooseveltian pension plans assumed you'd be living off them for the last couple of years of your life. Instead, citizens of developed nations expect to spend the final third of their adult lives enjoying a prolonged taxpayer-funded holiday weekend.

What plans have you made for 2023? The average individual attempts to insure against future uncertainty in a relatively small number of ways: You buy a house because that's the surest way to preserve and increase wealth. "Safe as houses," right? But Fannie/Freddie subprime mumbo-jumbo and other government interventions clobbered the housing market. You get an education because that way you'll always have "something to fall back on." But massive government-encouraged expansion of "college" led Americans to run up a trillion dollars' worth of student debt to acquire ever more devalued ersatz sheepskin in worthless pseudo-disciplines. We're not talking about the wilder shores of the stock market – Internet start-ups, South Sea bubbles and tulip mania – but two of the safest, dullest investments a modestly prudent person might make to protect himself against the vicissitudes of an unknown future. And we profoundly damaged both of them in pursuit of fictions.

I don't claim absolute certainty about what the world will be like in 2023, but I know what our governing class is telling us. At Tufts University, Nancy Pelosi urged her "Republican friends" to "take back your party, so that it doesn't matter so much who wins the election – because we have shared values about the education of our children, the growth of our economy, how we defend our country, our security and civil liberties, how we respect our seniors. Elections shouldn't matter as much as they do."

The last line attracted a bit of attention, but the "shared values" - i.e., the fetid bromides of conventional wisdom – are worth decoding, too: "Education of our children" means more spending on an abusive and wasteful unionized educrat monopoly; "growth of our economy" means more spending on stimulus funding for community-organizer grant applications; "how we defend our country" means more spending on defense welfare for wealthy allies; "our security and civil liberties" means more spending on legions of crack TSA crotch fondlers; "how we respect our seniors" means more spending on entitlements for an ever more dependent citizenry whose sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make any sense.

Nancy Pelosi fleshed out the Obama plan: More spending. More more. Now and forever. That's what S&P understands. The road to hell is paved with stimulus funding.

The world has started to listen to what Obama is telling us. In that respect, let me make a single prediction for 2023 – that by then the dollar will no longer be the global reserve currency. Forty years ago, Treasury Secretary John Connally told Europe that the dollar is "our currency but your problem." The rest of the world is now inverting the proposition: The dollar is our problem but, in the end, it's your currency, not ours. In Beijing, in Delhi, in Riyadh, in Rio, the rest of the planet is moving relentlessly toward a post-dollar regime.

What will America look like without the dollar as global currency? My old boss Conrad Black recently characterized what's happened over the past half-century as a synchronized group devaluation by Western currencies. That's a useful way of looking at it. What obscured it was the dollar's global role. When the dollar's role is ended, the reality of a comatose "superpower" living off a fifth of a billion in borrowed dollars every single hour of the day is harder to obscure.

In the absence of responsible American leadership, the most important decisions about your future will be made by foreigners for whom fatuous jingles about "shared values" have less resonance. If you don't want the certainty of a poorer, more decrepit, more diseased, more violent America, you need to demand your politicians act now – or there won't be a 2023.


Of Gods and Men

Christian-Muslim Love

By John W. Kiser
April 8th, 2011

The recent opening across the United States of the much praised French film “Of Gods and Men” is an important event. As a fraternal love story wrapped in a horror story, it offers much reason for hope, as well as room for despair, depending on the lens of the viewer.

My lens is one of hope, based on six years of research and writing “The Monks of Tibhirine,” the book French director Xavier Beauvois called his “bible” for making his movie about Christian-Muslim friendship. My hope is also based on knowing the back story that goes untold in an otherwise excellent film focusing on the monks’ struggle to be true to their Trappist vows of poverty, charity, and stability when faced with their fear of a brutal death.

Some people today might say that Christian-Muslim love is an oxymoron. Yes, there are Muslims who preach hatred of the Christian West, even though fewer and fewer in the West (outside the US) are practicing or even professing Christians. There are no Muslims I have heard of who preach hatred or even disrespect for Jesus Christ, who is a much revered and sinless prophet in Islam.

There is, however, an active Christian minority that preaches hatred of Islam and regularly insults the Prophet Muhammad. Elements with political agendas on both sides benefit from blackening the other, and the media have been willing accomplices to this downward phobic spiral. “Of Gods and Men” is film that could help right perceptions.

Despite pleas in 1996 from both French and Algerian authorities to leave for a safer place when threatened by Islamic extremists, the monks remained at their remote monastery in Algeria’s Atlas Mountains out of deep sense of commitment to their extended family of villagers who depended on them for moral, medical, and material support. Like their neighbors, the monks trembled with fear at night. They argued among themselves: does the Good Shepherd abandon his flock when the wolves come? Does a mother abandon a sick, infectious child? Does their vow of poverty allow for them to flee to safer ground when their friends cannot?

When seven of the monks were kidnapped, it was not their neighbors who did it. Instead, it was a contract job that employed a group from outside the area to take the monks away from their dangerous situation—to be traded, in effect. But something went wrong along the way. Of one thing I am certain: killing them was not the plan. If that had been the case, they would not have been schlepped around the country for two months nor would negotiations for their release have taken place. Yet for some viewers, I suspect this will be seen as simply another “bad-Muslims-kill–good-Christians” story—exactly what the abbot of the monastery feared when he wrote his last testament, read at the end of the film.

The film works very well dramatically as a struggle between faith and fear. By necessity it leaves out important and broader story components. The tenacious commitment of Abbot Christian de Chergé (played by Lambert Wilson) to serve God in Algeria had been formed in him as a soldier serving in the French army during the Algerian war for independence from 1954 to 1962, when his life was saved by a Muslim friend, an Algerian policeman named Mohammed who faced down local rebels who wanted to shoot Christian one day when they were taking a walk—a time when they would discuss their faith.

That friendship cost the Algerian his life the next day. For Christian, Mohammed’s sacrifice was a gift of love reinforcing his belief that the spirit of Jesus Christ resides in all his children. For the rebels, the friend of my enemy is my enemy.

The film doesn’t have room to tell about the seventy-plus imams who, based on the same logic, were assassinated in the 1990s for denouncing what the terrorists were doing in the name of Islam. The terrorists themselves could show respect for the monks. In a dramatic scene in the film, Saya Attia, head of the terrorist group that intruded upon the monastery on Christmas Eve 1993 with demands for medical help, apologizes to Christian for disturbing their celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Left out are the leader’s final words to Christian when he extends a hand in friendship: “We don’t consider you foreigners…you are religious.”

Nor does the viewer know that the tiny hamlet of Tibhirine was inhabited by families whose homes in the mountains had been bombed by the French during the war for independence. They had fled to the protection of the monastery, a holy place where the Christian “marabouts” (Arabic for religious teachers) sheltered them until they could build their own homes.

I have one regret about the film. It might have ended on a more positive note for Christian-Muslim relations by showing the genuine remorse of much of the Algerian population. Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers received sacks of letters from ordinary Algerians after the monks’ deaths were confirmed. The letters expressed a deep sense of solidarity with the monks as well as a sense of shame that was captured by this one: “No matter what has happened, we truly love you. You are part of us. We have failed in our duty—to protect you, to love you. Forgive us…You must accomplish your divine mission with us. I believe it is God’s plan.”

Universal fraternal love is the essence of Christianity and all true religion. Otherwise, religion degenerates into celestial nationalism. Christian himself frequently said that if religion doesn’t help us to live together, it is worthless.

The idea may seem laughably naïve in a post-9/11 world. Love, however, has nothing to do with sentiment and everything to do with good will, justice, empathy, and respect for others. Like their Savior, the monks’ lives were not taken. They were gifts of love.

John W. Kiser is the author of “The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria” (St. Martins Press, 2002).

A moving story of deep faith and service

BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN - News & Observer Staff Writer
April 22, 2011

You can't hope for a joyful ending when "Of Gods and Men" begins with a quotation from Psalm 82 of the Bible: "You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men and fall like one of the princes."

The French, for whom this movie was first intended, already knew what occurred when terrorists swarmed a Trappist monastery in Algeria in 1996. But director Xavier Beauvois, who wrote the script with producer Etienne Comar, wanted to set the tone from the beginning for the rest of us. His picture is not about its tragic destination, but the compelling journey French monks make en route.

I can't recall the last film that so wholly, honestly and movingly explained what it means to be a Christian: to doubt, to struggle with your conscience, to be afraid of failure and pain but press on, to be disgusted with elements of humanity but forgive its transgressions, to serve God's will as you perceive it while your safety is threatened.

Varied viewpoints

These Christians mean different things to people near them. To Algerian neighbors in their small town, they're a source of free medicine and advice, not to mention homemade jam sold at a local market. To a government official who's supposed to protect them, they're a headache.

To the local army captain, who knows they succor anyone in need, they're an aid to terrorism. And to the fundamentalist jihadists, these monks become many things: a willing or unwilling source of supplies, a mysterious force to be respected, a bargaining tool in times of war.

These jihadists slash the throats of Croatian construction workers for no reason at the start of the story. So when Christian (Lambert Wilson) gathers his brothers in Christ to discuss what to do, they know they're not all likely to survive if they stick around.

At that point, I wondered why they'd even need to discuss whether to stay. Their deaths wouldn't shame the rebels, inspire citizens nearby or change the behavior of people elsewhere on Earth.

Why not go someplace else and keep healing the sick and counseling the troubled? In time, the film provides the answer: God called them to serve here to the ends of their abilities, maybe unto death.

The decision to remain is easy for 80-ish Luc (Michael Lonsdale), whose full life has left him ready to go. ("I'm a free man," he declares.) But younger Christophe (Olivier Rabourdin) doubts the value of this ultimate sacrifice and wrestles aloud with the Lord, like Jesus in Gethsemane.

No sermons

The picture never takes an anti-Islamic turn. Peaceful Muslim villagers love these men and loathe the machine-gun wielding fanatics, though they live in paralyzing fear and dare not risk their families by helping the authorities.

Yet the film never has the slightest whiff of a sermon. It's well-acted and handsome to look at through the lens of cinematographer Caroline Champetier. Beauvois shows us the monks' slow, quiet daily lives without letting the story drag; if most of us could never live in this remote, unchanging place, we see why these men might enjoy it.

They also enjoy secular pleasures: humble food well prepared, or Tchaikovsky's music on a boombox. (It's a snippet from "Swan Lake," another story about transformation into a purer self.)

If the monks are not like us, they are like what we could be if we followed Christ's teachings in a literal way. When a letter by one of them is read near the end in voice-over, it touches however much of the divine spirit is left in any of us.

Of Gods and Men: monastic murder mystery

A haunting film about a group of monks whose faith is tested in the most terrifying way has become a surprise hit in France. Jasper Rees talks to its writer .

By Jasper Rees
The London Telegraph
05 Nov 2010

One of the big hits in French cinemas this autumn has defied all known box-office rules. Of Gods and Men is an all-male film about religion or, more specifically, religions. It’s set in, of all the uncinematic locations, a Cistercian monastery in North Africa, from which it derives its muted aesthetic tone and careful pace. Its ultimate theme is the price of Christian faith. But, before anyone of a secular bent crosses it off their to-see list, please be advised that it is as gripping as it is heart-rending.

Of Gods and Men is based on events that took place in Algeria in the mid-1990s. This was the period in the country’s history when Islamic fundamentalism had started to introduce severe instability. Among their many victims, roving militants were targeting foreign nationals. As a result, a Cistercian abbey, a benign remnant of French colonialism in a village called Tibehirine in the Atlas Mountains about 60 miles from Algiers, came under threat, and for three years the small group of eight monks lived in fear of their lives.

On one level it would be desirable not to reveal their fate. The experience of watching the narrative unfold in ignorance of its haunting denouement adds an extra layer to the film. That privilege was not vouchsafed to French audiences. “In France, they took it as a tragedy because they knew the end,” says Etienne Comar, the film’s co-author and producer. Regrettably, it’s impossible to discuss the reasons for the film’s impact without the following spoiler.

Precisely what happened has never been established. But, in 1996, the heads of seven monks were found not far from Tibehirine. There is still no proof – a French inquiry was inconclusive – but their murderers are presumed to have been Islamic fundamentalists, although the film also alludes to the reality that the monks were also at loggerheads with Algerian security forces.

So the power of Of Gods and Men is located less in an opaque ending than in the intensely moving agonies of doubt endured by the monks as instinctive fear of death tests their faith to the limit. Should they give in to threats and leave? Or should they trust in God to deliver them from evil?

Comar, whose regular job in film is as a producer, began working on the script in 2006 . “I was fascinated by this epic drama they were living out, which was quite universal. It was the Christ Passion but also a story about faith, humanity, politics and religion. It was evident that it could be a very powerful tragedy.”

He worked on it for two years, keeping Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai quietly in the back of his mind, then reworked it with the director Xavier Beauvois, who promptly excised the back stories explaining why some of the men had chosen the monastic life. “It was too psychological,” concedes Comar, “but I was fascinated because they had had incredible lives. Some were students in ’68, others were workers in Marseilles on the docks, one was a mayor in Savoie. Two were in the Algerian war.”

As is revealed in an afterword, two monks managed to escape abduction. (Although the monastery had only eight residents, a visiting brother had arrived a few days before from another abbey in North Africa.) One of them is still alive at 87. Comar visited him in his Moroccan monastery. “He is still traumatised. We didn’t discuss the subject, but it’s absolutely something he can’t forget. After that everybody told him he needed to come back to France, but he wanted to stay in a Muslim country as a continuation of what he had done in Tibehirine.” Not long before production started, they also met the monks’ families.

“We didn’t want to go and see them too early because we didn’t want to mix their point of view into what we were doing, because it’s not a historical piece. Some of them were quite questioning, saying that 14 years is too soon.” But when they saw it, says Comar, they were “relieved”.

A process of fictionalising happens with all films based on real events. In the case of Of God and Men, it mainly meant blurring the identity of the country. The filmmakers’ motives for doing so remain open to interpretation. Could it be taken as a sign of lingering French colonialism that, in dramatising a period of turmoil that claimed 150,000 Algerian lives, the victims in this narrative are all French?

“This is a very problematic question,” says Comar. “I can imagine it can be taken like that, but this is absolutely not the purpose of the film. The monks were not missionaries. It would be very difficult to tell a story about people who tried to convert. It’s more a testimony of the love they had for this country. It’s more a message of peace and friendship and humanity between France and Algeria than a discourse about colonialism.”

Another of the imaginary elements of the film takes place near the end. The cast spent time in an abbey in Savoie to familiarise themselves with monastic life. They also learnt to sing the psalms that play the role of a kind of Greek chorus. Comar invented a scene, designed to illustrate the monks’ spirit of community, in which they would sing Jacques Brel, as the monks did when washing dishes.

“Xavier phoned and said, 'They are tired of singing. This moment will be something more contemplative. They will be listening to something.’ He had the idea of "Swan Lake" but didn’t say anything to the actors, and then the day of shooting he said, 'No, it’s changed and we’re going to put some music on that will make you laugh and cry.’” The resulting scene, symbolically featuring bread and wine, is the moral and emotional heart of a remarkable film.


How Catholic is "Of Gods and Men"? -

Friday, April 22, 2011

Translating the Word

By Roger Scruton from the April 2011 issue of The American Spectator

The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible has received only muted celebrations in the English-speaking world, and no celebrations at all elsewhere. This book, which shaped the syntax, the imagery, and the wisdom of everyday discourse among speakers of English, and which has probably been more frequently quoted than any other source, including the Greek and Hebrew originals, is now receding behind the screen on which our ephemeral messages are scribbled. But the history of the English Bible is of great importance to us today, since it reminds us that our civilization is built upon translations. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Wulfila Bible (the fourth-century translation into the Gothic language), the Wycliffe Bible, and the translations of early reformers -- the Czech Králice Bible, Luther's Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the seminal translation by William Tyndale on which the King James translation is ultimately based -- all these have brought with them profound and far-reaching changes in the social, political, and religious lives of ordinary people in Christian Europe.

Every new translation has offered a promise of power to some and a threat to the power of others. A society governed by a privileged class of priests and clerks, whose authority derives from a text that only they can read, will be suspicious of translations of that text, and inclined to forbid them. Wycliffe survived only because he was protected by the powerful John of Gaunt, and Tyndale was burned at the stake in Bruges. Still, by the time of King James I versions of the Bible in English were available in every church, and it was no longer a threat to any vested interest to authorize a new and complete translation. How lucky we English-speakers were, that this translation should have been made in the wake of the Elizabethan dramatists, at a time when the English language was at its most muscular and taut, when it could be applied to matters both earthly and heavenly and at once give a fully imagined account of them, gripped in what Gerard Manley Hopkins was to call the "native thew and sinew" of the English tongue. All subsequent translations, set beside this version, are on a downhill path toward banality, and by the time of the New English Bible (completed 1970) it is fair to say that the immediacy and urgency of the King James Bible had been more or less dissolved in watery literal-mindedness.

It is not just the literary merits of the King James Bible that recommend it, however. This was the Bible that the Pilgrim Fathers brought with them across the Atlantic, that the Methodist riders took around the farmsteads and cabins of rural America, the Bible that the merchant adventurers carried to India, Australia, and Africa, the Bible that provided the texts of Handel's oratorios and which inspired the hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. It is the Bible that was planted in the depths of the English-speaking soul during the crucial centuries when the sphere of English-speaking freedom was formed. I doubt that you can understand the motives of the early settlers of America without it. It gave them the names of their towns and villages, the names of their children, the maxims of their daily life and the routines and rituals of their sparse forms of enjoyment. They fought and cursed, made love and sermons, in the language of the King James Bible, and everywhere about us we see the difference that this has made. Ask yourself how it came about that a suburb of Washington, D.C. should bear the beautiful Hebrew name of Bethesda and you will unearth a history that is dependent at almost every point on the King James Bible and its immediate sources in Tyndale and Myles Coverdale.

BUT THERE ARE OTHER and equally interesting ideas suggested by the history of biblical translation. When Christendom was first shaping itself from within the Roman Empire it was by means of the Vulgate, St. Jerome's Latin version of the sacred texts. Those early Christians did not doubt that their most authoritative text, the one which contained the most direct messages yet received from God to man, had been translated from other languages, spoken by other people, in whom God had, for reasons of His own, chosen to confide. A kind of openness to the world and to other ways of life was the natural consequence of this. And this openness has characterized the Christian religion ever since.

I may be wrong, but it does seem to me that this marks out an important cultural difference between Christian civilization and Islam. Ever since the 11th-century triumph of the Asharite school of Islam it has been orthodox to believe that the Koran cannot be translated, that the surahs were literally spoken, as we find them, to the Prophet, and that any attempt to represent their meaning in another language would falsify God's word. Versions of the Koran in other languages are therefore routinely described as "interpretations." A devout Muslim may learn to recite the Koran in Arabic without knowing, except in rough outline, what it means. And it is only Arabic speakers, who today form less than 20 percent of Muslims, who know what nonsense it is to say that this text cannot be translated. Of course, something is lost in translation -- in particular the taut, breathless syntax of the original, and the poetic rhythms of the rhyming prose. But then, something is lost in every translation. And as our Bible teaches us, something may also be gained, and the gain may be more than the loss. It is perhaps true of St. John's Gospel that the Greek original is inferior to Tyndale as literature. But the reader of Tyndale will discover exactly what the writer of the Gospel intended to say.

The official non-translatability of the Koran has had important political consequences. The mullahs and ayatollahs have been able to assert a kind of monopoly over the sacred text, to withhold it and themselves from public scrutiny, and thereby to establish theocratic forms of government in which they hold power in God's name. The downgrading of secular authority and secular law, the claim to absolute and incorrigible justification, follow from this as a matter of course. This is what we have seen in Iran and will no doubt see in Egypt should the Muslim Brotherhood finally fulfill its ambition of ruling that country, its Christian minority included, according to the shari'ah.

The translatability of the Bible has had equally far-reaching political consequences. When the nation-states of Europe began to emerge after the Reformation, it was partly because people were beginning to see that law and language are far more reliable criteria of political loyalty than dynasty and religion, since law and language are instruments of peace, whereas dynasties and religions are always at war. The translations of the Bible brought the Christian religion to heel, contained it within the borders of the linguistic community, and overcame the medieval orthodoxy that, in matters of religion, the real authorities were situated elsewhere and outside the kingdom. They helped to domesticate the religious impulse and who can doubt, looking back at the wars of religion, that Europeans needed, at the time, to identify themselves in some other and more peaceful way than the way of faith?

TRANSLATION OPENS THE WAY to a new kind of scholarship. Granted that the texts we hold sacred originated in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Greek, what do we know about the people who first wrote them down, and how can we be sure what they meant by the words they wrote? During the late 18th century this question gave rise to the science of biblical hermeneutics, which led the universities of Europe toward a new kind of skepticism. It became clear that the ancient texts belonged to specific social and political contexts, and that they were not necessarily aimed at the whole of humanity. People began to assign precise dates to them, to draw a map of Jewish history, and to distinguish which parts of the Gospels told the authentic story of Christ's mission, and which were later fabrications.

This scholarship has made it difficult to think of the Bible as God's word -- that is to say, as the word spoken to prophets and others by God. At best the Bible consists of words inspired by God, words which might have been marred and distorted in the process of recording them, and in which the element of inspiration and the element of fabrication might be hard to unravel. (Think of the bloodthirsty book of Joshua, for instance, and the story of Rahab, about whom the best can be said is that she was a whore: did God have a hand in that?) It is impossible that the Bible should now have, for the educated Christian, the kind of authority that the Koran has for the Muslim. The Bible is a text to be discussed and interrogated, whose message does not remain entirely the same from generation to generation, but which responds to the changing circumstances of those who consult it. And one proof of its inspired nature is that it always does respond, that it offers thoughts, arguments, words, and guidance in all the changing scenes of life -- including the changing scenes of our species-life. We can no longer point to the Bible as the final authority in any disputed question. But the Bible is as much a help to us as ever it was to the Pilgrim Fathers. It has persuaded us to take responsibility for our actions, and not to bequeath our problems to humorless old men in beards who pretend that only they know how to read the sacred text.

That makes it the more sad that the King James Bible, which raised us to a higher level of seriousness, should have slipped behind the screen, taking with it so much of the English-speaking soul. 

- Roger Scruton is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book is The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford University Press).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Aurora

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

The Mountain

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Today's Tune: Dire Straits - Romeo and Juliet


By Ann Coulter
April 20, 2011

Among the most preposterous claims being made on MSNBC about the fight over public sector unions in Wisconsin is that Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans are losing "Reagan Democrats" by taking on government employees.

The theory seems to have been concocted by Howard Fineman, editor at The Huffington Post, who said, back in February on Lawrence O'Donnell's "The Last Word," that the "whole idea of a Reagan Democrat" was that union families were voting for Reagan. But today, according to Fineman, they are shifting against Republicans because of Walker's tough line on government unions. "That's got to scare Republican strategists nationally," he said.

Private sector unions are as similar to public sector unions as they are to gay civil unions.

But again on "Hardball," Fineman said that while Ronald Reagan appealed to union members, their "sons and daughters" were "having second thoughts."

This could be true -- but only if the sons and daughters of construction workers and miners, clinging to their guns and religion, grew up to be public school teachers, clinging to Earth Day and Kwanzaa.

About a month later, The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne was pitching the Reagan-Democrats-Come-Home canard as his own fresh insight in his column and on "The Ed Show," where he said that the Obama White House was no longer worried about losing the Midwest because "former Reagan Democrats" are saying, "This is not our politics."

Yes, who can ever forget the way government workers idolized Ronald Reagan?

In his first year in office, Reagan gave striking air traffic controllers 48 hours to return to their jobs or they'd be fired. He hired permanent replacements and left thousands of illegally striking government workers jobless, banned from ever returning to their government jobs -- until President Clinton allowed them to be rehired.

(And they've done a terrific job since then, haven't th– HEY! WAKE UP!)

In Reagan's second year in office, not only he, but his vice president and education secretary all declined invitations to speak at the public school teacher extravaganza, the National Education Association's 120th annual convention.

In his third year in office, The Washington Post reported that "few members of government employee unions plan to vote next year for Ronald Reagan."

As Howard Fineman suggests, Republicans must have been scared of how that might play out in the 1984 election. Still somehow, Reagan managed to win the largest electoral landslide in U.S. history, despite government workers being overwhelmingly, implacably opposed to him.

Indeed, Reagan was such a smash hit with government employees that, during his presidency, the Supreme Court was required to decide whether a government employee could be fired for talking on the job about John Hinckley's assassination attempt against Reagan, saying, "I hope they get him."

Where have you gone, rock-ribbed Republican government employees?

With the nation in the fight of its life against incompetent government bureaucrats who can never be fired and think the world owes them $100,000 a year, free health care, and endless vacation, sick, personal and mental health days -- all granted to them by Democratic politicians to buy their votes -- liberals love to pretend the governor of Wisconsin is at war with West Virginia coal miners.

Again: We're not talking about unions in industries where there is something called "management" on the other side of the bargaining table. We're talking about government jobs used to buy Democratic votes with your hard-earned money.

Until five minutes ago, journalists sneered at the very blue collar workers they are now using as a cat's paw to burnish the image of government workers.

Real union members are people like Todd Palin, who have nonprogressive views on things like gay marriage, abortion, public displays of religion, illegal immigration and the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. Most of them don't even care whether the Screen Actors Guild provides sufficient coverage for Jungian psychotherapy.

The media's true kinship is with functionaries who work for state bureaucracies, not machinists, loggers and coal miners.

But now that journalists need to generate warm feelings toward surly government bureaucrats, they are suddenly portraying the bureaucrats as the salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar types they usually revile.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin perfectly illustrates the mentality of the average liberal. Discussing a proposal to raise the retirement age of Social Security before there's no money left, Durbin said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that for people like him, who work at a desk, it's no big deal. But for "folks involved in physical and manual labor, another year or two becomes problematic."

And what profession did Sen. Durbin choose to illustrate the idea of backbreaking work? A construction worker? A woman working in a chicken processing plant? A commercial fisherman?

No. He cited postal employees. "It's tough," he said, "to say, just stick around and deliver mail for another couple years."

Even in their sleep, liberals must dream about new ways to suck up to public sector employees.


Obama Gives Islamists a Walk

“Bush did it, too” is not an excuse.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
April 20, 2011

When the first line of defense is “Bush did it, too,” you can rest assured that there is no second line of defense. And on allegations that the Justice Department intervened to prevent the indictment of various Islamist figures and organizations, the Obama administration’s response appears to be: Bush did it, too.

According to reporting at Pajamas Media by Patrick Poole, who has tracked the Muslim Brotherhood for years, the DOJ intervention came in connection with the Holy Land Foundation case, in which federal prosecutors in Dallas proved that the Brotherhood bankrolled its Palestinian branch, the terrorist organization Hamas, during the deadly intifada against Israel. The linchpin of the Brotherhood scheme was the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an ostensible Islamic charity through which tens of millions of dollars were funneled to jihadists overseas.

Implicated in this enterprise were various Islamist organizations in the United States that the Brotherhood identified as its partners. Several of these, including CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), were designated by prosecutors as “unindicted coconspirators.” When the organizations predictably protested this description, federal courts rebuffed them, finding that there was ample evidence of their complicity.

The five indicted HLF defendants were convicted in 2008. According to Poole, the U.S. attorney in Dallas hoped to do a second round of prosecutions targeting the unindicted coconspirators. They were thwarted, however, by Obama political appointees at Main Justice. According to an unidentified Justice Department official who is one of Poole’s sources, this decision to quash indictments (including one against a top CAIR official) was made not for lack of evidence but due to political considerations: specifically, to promote “outreach” to Muslims (an Obama-administration priority) and to avoid embarrassing the government — which stood to be vilified if those with whom they had cultivated relationships were shown to have supported terrorists.

The story has begun to attract attention on Capitol Hill. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has already fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding an explanation. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is fighting back. Its tack, however, does not appear to be denial of the allegations (it has, in fact, been stonewalling efforts by Poole and Pajamas to discover the paper trail). Instead, the response is: Bush did it, too.

Sure enough, in Politico on Tuesday, Josh Gerstein reported that in 2004 — on the front end of the HLF case, years before it was tried — the Dallas prosecutors wanted to include CAIR and some of the relevant Islamist organizations and their members in the indictment. Bush Justice Department officials, however, are said by Gerstein’s source (who is unidentified but described as “knowledgeable”) to have put the kibosh on the plan. From this fact, Obama apologists claim that there was precedent to guide Mr. Holder’s minions in declining prosecution six years later, and that criticism of them for having done so is a partisan political attack.

That’s not going to cut it.

To begin with, there is nothing partisan about the claim that the Obama Justice Department made a political decision in declining to prosecute. “Political” in this context simply means that the Justice Department made a decision based on considerations extraneous to the law and facts of the case — such as service to an agenda of cultivating Islamist organizations.

Administrations of both parties, going back to the Clinton era, have been guilty at times of elevating Islamic outreach over prudent national security. Critics of the Obama administration’s practice in this regard were also among the loudest critics of the Bush administration’s outreach efforts. That includes me. Though generally supportive of Bush counterterrorism policies, Gerstein fairly describes my National Review columns and my books (Willful Blindness and The Grand Jihad) as “withering” when it comes to Muslim outreach, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were reaching out.

But partisanship aside, there are several reasons the Obama administration’s solicitude toward Islamists is even more alarming than prior episodes, inexcusable though they were.

1. In his 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama falsely claimed that the ability of Muslims to contribute to charity had been impeded by U.S. legal restrictions. There are no legal impediments to charitable giving that single out Muslims. Instead, there are laws that prohibit material support to terrorism. These laws, which apply to terrorism committed by any group, are applied most often to Muslims — because most anti-American terrorism is carried out by Islamists. And the device most often used to route support to terrorist organizations is the charitable front: outfits such as HLF that are ostensibly charities but actually serve as piggy banks for jihadists.

Consequently, the only way to ease the purported restrictions on Islamic charitable giving, as the president pledged to do in Cairo, is to stop enforcing the material-support laws in cases involving Muslim charities. If that were being done, it would severely compromise national security, as attested by the fact that material-support charges have become a staple of terrorism prosecutions since 9/11. Say what you will about Bush-era Muslim outreach, the Bush Justice Department did authorize the HLF case. The pressing question is whether the Obama administration has put guidelines in place — formally or informally — that prevent cases like HLF from being pursued at all. On that score, not only have the HLF unindicted coconspirators been spared, there has been a noticeable drop-off in enforcement action against Islamic charities overall. Does anyone really think they all stopped supporting Hamas, al-Qaeda, and the rest once Obama was inaugurated?

2. Whatever may have been the state of play in 2004 when the Bush Justice Department reportedly refused to indict CAIR and other coconspirators, a great deal has changed since then. To begin with, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American enterprise — which involved not only the support of Hamas but also a plot to destroy America from within with the assistance of its Islamist partner organizations — is no longer just an allegation. It has been proved in court. Defendants were convicted and given severe sentences, and the Justice Department duly decorated the prosecutors with its highest honors for their valuable contribution to our national security. Thus, common sense says any person or organization provably complicit in the conspiracy — a conspiracy to undermine our national security — warrants prosecution.

Moreover, since 2004, federal courts have ruled that the government had ample basis for describing groups like CAIR, ISNA, and NAIT as unindicted coconspirators. And that conclusion was based just on the evidence presented during the HLF litigation. The world has not stood still since then. The investigation has continued and, as Josh Gerstein notes, a federal grand jury acquired a trove of internal CAIR records in 2009 from David Gaubatz, a former military-intelligence officer who, along with investigative journalist Paul Sperry, wrote Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America, a book about how Gaubatz’s son, Chris, infiltrated CAIR. This may explain why, according to Poole’s source, the Justice Department still has “boxes and boxes of stuff [i.e., evidence] that has never even been translated” and retains “a mountain of evidence against all these groups [i.e., the unindicted coconspirators] that was never used during the Holy Land trial, and it’s damning. We’ve got them on wiretaps.”

If the Bush Justice Department made a bad decision in 2004, that’s no reason to repeat it, especially given that Obama ran as the anti-Bush. But whatever decision the Bush Justice Department may have made seven years ago, it cannot be a precedent for a situation that now involves significantly different facts.

3. Holder has made a great show of championing the effectiveness of the civilian courts as a counterterrorism tool. In reality, as I’ve argued before, he has misrepresented his critics. No serious person has ever suggested that the civilian prosecution of terrorism cases is not vital to our national security. The contention, instead, is that alien enemy combatants should not be given the advantages of civilian due process during wartime. As for all other types of terrorism cases, national-security conservatives and most Americans would like to see more civilian terrorism cases, not fewer.

In particular, we want to see more material-support cases. The material-support statutes enable investigators to disrupt terror cells in their infancy, before their atrocious schemes can gather resources and momentum. They are vital to any counterterrorism strategy that seeks to prevent terrorist attacks from happening — in contrast to the pre-9/11 approach, which supposed it sufficient deterrence to prosecute terrorists after they had struck and people had been killed.

Rather than dithering for two years over whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should get a military commission or civilian trial, wouldn’t it be preferable for the Justice Department to prove the seriousness of the attorney general’s claim that civilian prosecutions improve our security? Holder could do that by redoubling the department’s efforts on the cases everyone (except perhaps President Obama) agrees DOJ should be doing: provable material-support cases against Islamist organizations that have used charitable fronts to underwrite terrorists.

4. Finally: There is willful blindness, and then there is embracing the enemy. It was wrong for the Bush administration, and the Clinton administration before it, to coddle Islamists under the harebrained theory that this outreach somehow improves our security. In fact, the coddling empowers Islamists to infiltrate our agencies, and the prestige it gives organizations such as CAIR and ISNA makes the work of true Muslim moderates all the more difficult. But however wayward those Bush and Clinton policies may have been, Obama’s policies create a greater peril.

Obama-administration officials have airbrushed the Muslim Brotherhood, portraying fundamentalist radicals who seek to vanquish the West as “largely secular” “moderates” with whom our government should be working cooperatively. The president invited the Brotherhood to his Cairo speech, even though it was at the time a banned organization in Egypt — and even though only a few months earlier the HLF trial proved the existence of a Brotherhood plot to sabotage our country while promoting Hamas’s mission to destroy Israel.

That sabotage saliently involved Islamist organizations in the United States, such as ISNA. In 2008, the Justice Department under the Bush administration was portraying ISNA as a coconspirator in a terror-support plot and demonstrating that it had helped set up the HLF. In 2009, the Obama administration was dispatching Valerie Jarrett, one of the president’s closest advisers, to give the keynote address at ISNA’s annual convention.

There’s no “Bush did it, too” defense to that one.

— 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.

Woo-dy, Woo-dy, Woody

Adam Lucas on Woody Durham's retirement.
April 20, 2011

North Carolina radio play-by-play announcer Woody Durham smiles during a news conference at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Durham said the time is right for him to retire after 40 years of calling some of the biggest sports moments in school history. (AP)

The day I turned 16 years old, I was finally free on the open road. Unleashed alone on the streets of Cary, N.C., I rolled out of my driveway with the car windows down and the only soundtrack on the stereo that made sense to me--a cassette tape of Woody Durham's call of the 1982 national championship game.

For this new chapter of my life, I needed something familiar. And there was nothing more familiar than Woody's even tones. I almost had the tape memorized. When James Worthy dunked on Sleepy Floyd, it was "GAS-tonia on GAS-tonia." Sam Perkins was a "soph-o-more." And Michael Jordan's winning shot was, as it has every time it's been replayed over the years, going to come from "out on the left...GOOD!"

This probably seems like ancient history now, but there was a time when every Carolina game wasn't televised. And when I'd go up into our playroom to reenact the games as they were happening--I was a Nerf goal All-America--I had to have Woody on the stereo. Go where you go. Go to war Ms. Agnes. Somebody call the, law, law.

And by around the sixth game of the year, you knew every hometown by heart.

Binghamton, New York: King Rice. Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania: Dante Calabria. Queens, New York: Kenny Smith. Staunton, Virginia: Kevin Madden.

Woody taught me those, and hundreds more. Think of all the unforgettable moments of your life that you've experienced through Woody's eyes. He's described them, sure. That makes him an announcer. What makes him Woody is that he's described them the way you want a Tar Heel to describe them.

"One and one no longer make two," said Mick Mixon, who worked beside Woody for 15 years and now serves as the voice of the Carolina Panthers. "Water no longer freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Woody Durham is no longer the voice of the Tar Heels."

In 1990, my dad and I turned down the sound while watching on TV (the only way to watch a Carolina game) and then danced around the den in jubilation when Woody said, "The game is over!" after Rick Fox and the Tar Heels beat Oklahoma. In 1991, I sat in our family's car in our driveway so I could hear Woody call the final moments of the East Regional win over Temple, the first time in my awareness as a Tar Heel fan that Carolina advanced to the Final Four. On New Year's Eve 1993, in Atlanta at the Marriott Marquis, I was among a throng of Tar Heel fans who welcomed the football Tar Heels back to the hotel after a pulsating win over Mississippi State in the Peach Bowl. We cheered for Bracey Walker, who'd made two terrific defensive plays. We cheered for Natrone Means, who couldn't be tackled. We cheered for Mack Brown, who had turned around Tar Heel football. And then we saw Woody, and there was only one thing to say--the same thing students shouted en masse at home football games:

"Woo-dy! Woo-dy! Woo-dy!"

In tenth grade, my high school English teacher assigned us to write a biographical sketch of someone we admired who had been influential in our lives. I chose Woody. Despite having no idea who I was, he met with me for nearly an hour--and I've now watched him do the same thing every year, for dozens of high schoolers and college students who need "just a few minutes" to help understand how the boy from Albemarle turned into the Voice of the Tar Heels.

"When Woody got the job, my boss at the time was Dick Cashwell, who had been in school with Woody," said athletic director Dick Baddour. "They announced Woody was taking over, and Dick Cashwell said to me, `When Woody Durham came to college, he had a goal. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be the voice of the Tar Heels.' Woody got to realize his dream for 40 years."

It was fitting that Woody spent Tuesday, the night before his official retirement, serving as master of ceremonies for a charity dinner. He's hosted far more of those than anyone knows, and the golf tournament he founded, the Carolina Kids Classic, has raised over $3 million for children across North Carolina. Tonight, he'll head to Raleigh with the Rams Club's Tar Heel Tour. Being Woody Durham meant being on the air 50 or more times a year, talking to us through our radios. But it's also meant getting out into the public and meeting us first-hand, and maybe that's why he's always been more than just a voice to Carolina fans. It's a tribute to his longevity and the changes he's seen that he began the job at a time when the primary method of receiving out-of-town scores was the blackboard outside Jeff's Confectionery on Franklin Street, and left the job with his name trending worldwide on Twitter.

It was hard to know whether Wednesday morning's press conference--so packed with media and athletic department staff that Roy Williams, who'd flown in from Texas, had to perch on the arm of a chair--was happy or sad. Maybe it was a little of both. Either way, it was the end of an era.

There had been some signs it was coming. At the ACC Tournament, where the entire Tar Heel Sports Network crew broadcasts every minute of every game, Woody paused before a quarterfinal game and said, "You know, anyone who didn't get the opportunity to know Coach Guthridge really missed out." It was the kind of reflective comment a man thinking back on his career might make. At dinner with a boisterous group in Newark the night before Carolina played Marquette in the round of 16, Woody said out of the blue, "Dinners like this help make these road trips fun." It was true, but usually went unspoken. This time, he said it.

But even if he was occasionally pondering the end of a storied career, it never showed through on the air.

"Especially when we did games at the Smith Center, I always loved when there was a big play," said Eric Montross, who provides color analysis on the Tar Heel Sports Network. "He throws his arms back with a big, `Whoa!' and goes back on two legs of his chair. I always felt like I might need to grab him to make sure he wasn't falling over. Forty years into a job, you might think the excitement would taper off. But he was still as excited as ever."

At the conclusion of every basketball season, which usually arrives unexpectedly, there's a melancholy last-day-of-school feeling. There are handshakes and the occasional hug. When the Tar Heel Sports Network went off the air after Carolina's loss to Kentucky, I looked for Woody. Even before Jones Angell finished the final sign-off, however, Woody was already gone. He'd already packed his boards into his work bag and was headed for the team bus. He was gone.

His wife of 47 years, Jean Durham, has seen Tallahassee in the fall. She's seen Clemson in the fall. She's seen Chestnut Hill and College Park and Blacksburg in the fall.

"She really wants," Woody said on Wednesday morning, "to see Cape Cod in the fall."

They've earned the opportunity to see it together.

And what about us? For the first time in years, I've got the strong urge to listen to a cassette tape.

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly. He is also the author or co-author of six books on Carolina basketball, including the official chronicle of the first 100 years of Tar Heel hoops, A Century of Excellence, which is available now. Get real-time UNC sports updates from the THM staff on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Always Prepared

Adam Lucas on Woody Durham, a Carolina institution.

By Adam Lucas
April 19, 2011

Phil Ford, Woody Durham and Mick Mixon

By now, most Carolina fans have heard about the legendary preparation Woody Durham put into every game he called in a 40-year career as Voice of the Tar Heels. But you might not know how far that preparation went: Woody Durham carried a Sharpie pen with him to every Carolina game.

A Sharpie is the preferred autograph tool for magazines or glossy photographs. And when Woody--we're all friends here, and I think we all know that we call him "Woody"--goes to a Carolina game, he's going to sign some autographs.

The reception he gets walking through a crowd is remarkable. Everyone wants to shake his hand. Most want to tell him about their favorite call. Some want autographs (don't worry, he's got a Sharpie). Some want a picture. Everybody, it seems, wants something. After all, this is the man who has been in their living room for decades. Now, he's here.

It is not unusual to see him seated on press row before a basketball game--hours before a game, because he's always there more than two hours before tip-off--next to Eric Montross. It's hard to hide seven feet, and Montross is a Carolina legend who has his jersey in the Smith Center rafters. So it's very obvious that one of the men is Carolina royalty, and Montross does get more than his share of autograph requests in that scenario.

But almost always, at some point a fan will approach, ignore Montross, and shout, "Woody!" And Woody will smile and sign. Getting close to the players seems impossible. They're wearing the uniform, something we know we'll never do.

But we could be Woody, couldn't we? He loves the Tar Heels--we love the Tar Heels. He goes where he goes and does what he does--we go where we go and do what we do. He goes to all the games--we want to go to all the games.

Maybe that's why fans seem to identify so closely with him. We know we don't have the height or the athleticism to play for the Tar Heels. But make a different career choice here or there, and we could probably be Woody.

Except, we couldn't. That's what you learn when you watch him up close. On game day, it sounds spontaneous, like you're watching a game in the den with your buddy. But a significant amount of work went into creating that spontaneity. The day after this year's NCAA Tournament field was announced, I was still trying to figure out the Long Island University mascot. Woody already knew their entire roster and was marveling at their free throw attempted statistics.

Most radio play-by-play men know their own team very well. In Chapel Hill--and to a certain extent, the Atlantic Coast Conference--we take for granted that they'll also know the other team. That's less common throughout the country than you might think, but we're accustomed to it because that's how Woody does it. He's done the research and done the interviews to give us some context.

Kendall Marshall isn't just handing out 16 assists and helping the Tar Heels shoot 50 percent against Florida State. He's handing out 16 assists and helping the Tar Heels shoot 56 percent against a Florida State team that hasn't allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent since the 2010 NCAA Tournament. That's context, and that's preparation, and that's how Woody does it.

For four decades, he's been our connection to the Tar Heels. As he was quick to point out, he always sounded better when the Tar Heels won, and much more often than not in his career, Carolina was winning. But did the wins make the man sound good or did the man make the wins sound good?

That we're even asking that question is a tribute to a true Carolina institution. Even in retirement, he's still going to need that Sharpie.

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly. He is also the author or co-author of six books on Carolina basketball, including the official chronicle of the first 100 years of Tar Heel hoops, A Century of Excellence, which is available now. Get real-time UNC sports updates from the THM staff on Twitter.


Behind the Scenes With Woody Durham -

A Carolina Calling -

Today's Tune: Garland Jeffreys - Wild in the Streets

The women of 'Justified'

The male crime drama on FX gives women plenty of opportunities to play the heavy. Margo Martindale's Mags leads the sinister way.

By Lisa Rosen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
April 20, 2011

Timothy Olyphant and Margo Martindale in "Justified"

This season, one of the scariest bad guys on television, is a gal.

"Justified's" Mags Bennett is a moonshine-swilling, pot-growing, Southern mama whose aw-shucks demeanor belies the menace of a rattlesnake. The mother of three sons of varying levels of ineptitude, she brings the hammer down on anyone who crosses her. Literally.

Played by the character actress Margo Martindale, Mags — a role that was originally meant for a man — is but one of many forceful women on the FX show. Based on stories by Elmore Leonard, "Justified" reeks of country machismo. Huffing the testosterone that wafts off U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) could put every meth lab in the eastern Kentucky locale out of business. Raylan's nemesis Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is similarly infused with masculine energy. And like attracts like. Now in its second season — and already picked up for a third — the show averages 2.6 million viewers, nearly two-thirds of whom are male.

But don't let those blazing guns fool you, the show abounds with a bevy of fully realized female characters. Raylan's ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) is one reason he left Kentucky in the first place, and why he couldn't help coming back. Former love interest Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) has a shotgun and knows how to use it, having dispatched her ne'er-do-well husband in the pilot episode. Fellow marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) has a quiet reserve that people take advantage of at their own peril.

Carter breaks down their various survival techniques: "Mags is more a strategic planner, she's always got some scheme going on. Winona has an idea of what she wants, and she's trying to get it. And Ava is just making it up as she goes along."

Adds Linda Gehringer, who plays Raylan's fiercely protective aunt/stepmother Helen, "We don't have little simpy girls on this show."

This season's addition of Mags and her family — more than kin but certainly less than kind — smashes that point home. When a neighbor has a run-in with Mags, he accidentally sets the marshals on her path. For his mistake, Mags feeds the poor man poisoned moonshine, then holds his hand and promises to care for his 14-year-old daughter as he chokes to death in front of her. Soon his daughter, Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), is selling Mags' "herbal relief" to her schoolmates.

Martindale calls the role of Mags "the most satisfying thing I've ever done. It's very therapeutic." Normally recognized for such kindly roles as Camilla in Showtime's "Dexter," her meanest character previously was Hilary Swank's greedy mother in "Million Dollar Baby." Sitting in a hotel suite not far from her Manhattan home, she's at a loss to figure out how she conjured up Mags. Then she remembers that as a child, she used to pretend that she was the head of an orphanage. "I tortured children in my backyard. If they didn't mind me, I'd put them in the dog kennels," she says, laughing heartily.

That may explain her ease in abusing her "Justified" children. Mags' method of parental corporal punishment includes a ball-peen hammer, in the most horrifying limb-crushing scene since "Misery." Afterward, her damaged son hugs her, apologizing and telling her he loves her. She barely notices him. "Finding that cold, detached place, that's really been the key to this character," she says.

But she's warm with Raylan. Their enmity is matched by their cordiality with each other. Martindale credits Olyphant with introducing that friendliness, but he notes that it's a common element of Leonard's work. "Plus you just show up, and what's not to like about Margo Martindale? She's just so fun and charming," Olyphant declares.

Graham Yost, the show's creator, points out that Leonard initially wrote Mags as a man. Yost and his writers changed the criminal patriarch to a matriarch, he says, because "that idea of the mother hen who is also utterly ruthless was very intriguing." Likewise, Rachel had been an unnamed marshal in an earlier Leonard story, but Yost specifically wanted an African American woman in the position.

Says Yost, "Elmore Leonard didn't create Rachel, but he got such a kick out of her in the show that he wanted to write scenes with her" in an upcoming book of stories. "That was a real good vote of confidence in what we're doing."

Though all the characters revolve around Raylan, they also delight in performing with one another. Early in the season, Aunt Helen warned Raylan to stay away from Mags; at the same time the actress was hoping for a juicy scene with Martindale. She got her wish. Once the women met, "We were both going on and on about how fabulous it is to play these characters," Gehringer recalls. "You want to go in the writers room and just kiss every one of them."

Zea was equally excited to get a scene with Carter last season. She's having "the time of my life" working with the show's men, she says, "but you cannot deny that the energy is different when you're working with a woman. I've got such a clear goal: more ladies, more ladies. I think the balance is important."

Olyphant, who's also a producer, agrees. "I'm always willing to prove the theory that if we all do our jobs right, people will wish the whole show were about whoever's on the screen. That's what we have with all these women."

More kickers are coming, with women doing much of the kicking. "I have goose bumps, because Mags gets pretty gully," says Tazel, who then translates the rural term. "It's a little gangsta what she does."

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Television Review: 'The Killing'

A Thinking Woman’s Detective

The New York Times
April 1, 2011

Carole Segal/AMC

Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, center, head a murder investigation in Seattle in "The Killing," AMC’s new series, starting on Sunday.

Sergio Leone gave cinema the spaghetti western, but there isn’t yet an equivalent term for Scandinavian riffs on the classic hard-boiled detective yarn. “The Killing,” a fantastic new AMC adaptation of a popular Danish television series, certainly qualifies as a smorgasbord thriller. It’s unnerving how well the Nordic sensibility fits a genre that for a long time seemed indisputably and inimitably violent and American, particularly given that Sweden, Norway and Denmark have homicide rates that suggest that they have more mystery writers per capita than murders.

There are so many Scandinavian crime solvers besides Henning Mankell’s gloomy detective, Kurt Wallander, or Steig Larsson’s hacker heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Yet even among all those popular imports, “The Killing” stands out — it is as scary and suspenseful, but in a subdued, meditative way that is somehow all the more chilling.

This American version of “Forbrydelsen,” which begins on Sunday, relocates the story to Seattle, a West Coast city that in climate and moodiness comes as close as any to Northern Europe. The first season on AMC is shorter than the original 20-part Danish series, which transfixed viewers in Britain, subtitles and all. But the AMC interpretation is faithful to the three-strand plot, characters and mood of the original, so much so that it almost seems like a perfectly dubbed foreign-language film. The premiere opens with two women running, one a jogger striding purposefully through Arcadian woods at the break of dawn, the other a terrified girl, clothes torn, crashing through trees and bramble in the dark of night, followed by an implacable flashlight. The murder of a high school girl quickly entwines the police, the victim’s family and a prominent local politician.

Mireille Enos plays Sarah Linden, a homicide detective who is supposed to move to California with her fiancé, but catches the case on her last day on the job. Sarah is quiet, even contemplative, an observer who is paired with a brash junior partner, Stephen (Joel Kinnaman), who previously worked narcotics undercover. They track down the victim’s parents, Stan Larsen (Brent Sexton) and his wife, Mitch (Michelle Forbes), and along the way find that their case is complicated by the mayoral campaign of Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), a handsome city council president.

AMC has a good track record of introducing dramas that are not comparable to anything else. “Mad Men” wasn’t a fluke, because “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead” are, in their own ways, equally good. “Rubicon,” a 1970s-style spy thriller, was a disappointment that was quickly canceled, but it was at least a noble attempt to try something new.

In many ways “The Killing” is the opposite of American television’s most popular crime series. Procedurals like “Bones” on Fox or “Criminal Minds” on CBS keep a light touch as they showcase ever more grotesque and disturbing images of violence. A recent episode of “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” featured a serial killer who chopped off his victims’ limbs while they were alive, beheaded them, then stuffed the remains in barrels of cement. Visual horror on these network shows is amplified with music and lurid sound effects, then deflected with calculated flecks of humor; each team has quirky secondary characters whose banter assures viewers that they will not have nightmares once the episode wraps up.

On the new AMC series, horror lies mainly in the consequences of a crime, not its grisly execution, and that can’t be laughed off in time for the commercial break. The camera doesn’t linger long, if at all, on a brutally murdered corpse. It closes in unrelentingly on the grief of parents who refuse even to concede their child could have gone missing, or on the pain of a friend who feels responsible for not doing more to protect the victim.

And while the murder investigation is stark and unrelenting, relationships change, and buried secrets are revealed in ways that are too intriguing to set aside. Recently, the crime series that came closest to “The Killing” was another imported show, “Durham County,” a Canadian thriller that was shown on Ion and that was creepily suspenseful, unrelentingly grim and quite addictive.

There have been plenty of dark, cheerless murder mysteries on television. “The Killing” is as bleak and oppressive as any, but it’s so well told that it’s almost heartening. Murder is tragic, of course, but viewers may find themselves wishing for Seattle to provide many more to keep Detective Sarah Linden at her desk.

The Killing

AMC, Sunday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Produced by Fox Television Studios. Written by Veena Sud; based on the Dan- ish television series “Forbrydelsen”; Ms. Sud and Mikkel Bondesen, executive pro- ducers; Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yor- kin, co-executive producers; Ron French, producer.

WITH: Mireille Enos (Sarah Linden), Billy Campbell (Darren Richmond), Joel Kinnaman (Stephen Holder), Michelle Forbes (Mitch Larsen), Brent Sexton (Stanley Larsen), Kristin Lehman (Gwen Eaton), Eric Ladin (Jamie Dempsey), Brendan Sexton III (Belko Royce) and Jamie Anne Allman (Terry).

Making ‘The Killing,’ AMC’s New Nordic Noir

The New York Times
April 1, 2011, 10:40 am

Carole Segal/AMC

Mireille Enos in “The Killing,” beginning Sunday on AMC.

The next season of “Mad Men” may have been stalled in a contractual netherworld, but AMC has at least one angst-filled new offering to fill the void.

“The Killing,” a somber crime drama based on a popular Danish series of the same title, will makes its debut on Sunday. The title homicide — spoiler alert: things end badly for one of the characters — comes early in the premiere. The rest of the season tracks the ensuing investigation and explores the crime’s effects on the detectives, on the victim’s family and on a politician with an uncertain link to the tragedy.

“It delves very deeply into one murder,” said Veena Sud, who adapted the series for AMC. “We see the price of the loss of a life.”

Like the Danish original, a hit in Britain as well, the series follows a stoic female detective through bleakly picturesque cityscapes. Seattle replaces Copenhagen as the setting but retains the key “sense of foreboding that comes from a creepily beautiful place,” Ms. Sud said.

“It’s Nordic noir,” she said. “It’s the closest American city, viscerally, to Copenhagen.”

Ms. Sud previously worked on the CBS procedural “Cold Case” before signing on to create “The Killing.” As a female show runner – the only one in AMC’s stable – she empathizes with her protagonist’s efforts to thrive in a male-dominated world, she said, and is betting others will share her affinity.

“I certainly crave this, as do many women I know who are doctors, lawyers, housewives,” she said. “We all crave a really strong, good female character.”

Ms. Sud (pictured at right) called from Los Angeles to discuss “The Killing” and the bad case of sweater-lust she, like others, caught from the Danish version of the show.

Q. How close is “The Killing” to the Danish version?

A. We’re attempting to go a hair deeper into the back stories of our characters. The female homicide detective’s back story, which is troubled and dark, starts to emerge over the course of the season. We also spread the net a little wider, so instead of exploring just mom and dad’s grief in dealing with the death of their daughter, we also see how the two young boys are affected. So we took a lot of the bones of the original, which were very strong, and just riffed off of it.

Q. What was the toughest thing about translating this for American television?

A. Our culture is much more violent than Denmark’s — Amber Alerts are kind of the daily norm here in L.A. and a missing teenager in a major American city is almost irrelevant. It definitely wouldn’t make the news. So how do we, with all the victims we see on television, make the audience care about this particular girl?

Q. How do you?

A. Because we allow so much time to be spent with her mother, her father, her aunt and brothers, you get to know these people before tragedy hits. Whereas in other shows the tragedy is at the top and you roll out the family to cry at the morgue and then roll them out again at the funeral, we get to know these people and how much they love each other before we learn of their loss.

Q. How does “The Killing” differ from the dozens of other police procedurals on television?

A. We deeply explore characters at a level that you can’t in a 45-minute procedural. A procedural is more plot-driven than character-driven — because we stretch out the plot over the course of 13 hours, we get to go home with the cops. We spend more time with our characters…. In the pilot you think there are good guys and bad guys, a poor victim and a poor family. But as the story progresses you start to realize everyone has a secret — even the victim has a secret — and no one is innocent. There are no good guys and bad guys.

Q. Is it risky to base an entire season on one crime? Is that enough to sustain 13 episodes?

A. When I watched the original Danish series, I didn’t crave a crime-of-the-day because of the compelling nature of going deeply into the family’s experience, the cop’s experience, the politician trying to keep his campaign above water when this grenade has gone off in the middle of it.

Q. Last year AMC had “Rubicon,” another cerebral suspense drama that followed one major thread, and it was canceled after disappointing ratings. Does that concern you at all?

A. No, it doesn’t. I don’t consider “The Killing” to be cerebral. I consider it to be incredibly compelling storytelling with a deeply emotional tragedy at its heart.

Q. Was the fact that the protagonist of “The Killing” is a female part of the material’s appeal to you?

A. Absolutely. It was inspiring to be able to create a real cop, a real detective who’s got the compulsion, obsession and the drive that the best male cops have had on television, like a Sipowicz [from “NYPD Blue”] or a McNulty [“The Wire”]. Her being a woman is unique but it doesn’t mean that she’s concerned about how she looks, or what she’s wearing. And I think there’s a real hunger for that type of Jane Tennison [“Prime Suspect”] character again.

Q. That said, in the original the main character’s sweater has emerged as a fetish object for fans.

A. That’s so funny. When we watched it when we were developing the project, all of us became obsessed with her sweater. The production company had sweaters made for all of us just so we could have them. I think the love for the sweater is totally symbolic of just loving this woman and this character.

Q. Is there anything in your detective’s wardrobe that might similarly resonate with viewers?

A. Who knows? She has a pretty cool jacket. And great boots. Maybe the boots.

A Series With Little Action and No Sex, but Lots of Fans

The New York Times
March 25, 2011

DRTV/ZDF Enterprises

Sofie Grabol in "The Killing," the Danish crime drama that's become a hit in Britain. AMC will debut an English version on April 3

LONDON — To explain the appeal of “The Killing,” a four-year-old, 20-part, subtitled Danish crime thriller that has become an unexpected hit on British television this winter, it helps to describe not so much what the series has, but what it does not.

It has no wild car chases ending with vehicles spewing smoke and ready to blow. It has no serial murderers and no explosions. Its detectives are not brilliant, semi-autistic types; high-functioning alcoholics; or Bergmanesque depressives haunted by dark personal traumas (although the main investigator is so consumed by the job that she barely ever changes her sweater).

“It’s not action-driven,” said Alexander Coridass, president and chief executive of ZDF Enterprises, a German company that co-produced the series. “It doesn’t have an erotic clamor or a fast pace.”

But, the series’s passionate viewers say, the very things that could be drawbacks — the slowness, the emotional unfolding of the story, the unflashiness of it all — are the things that make it so addictive.

“It’s so much more than a whodunit,” the critic Robin Jarossi wrote on Crime Time Preview, a Web site devoted to British crime shows. “The power of the series is the brilliantly drawn, complex characters, who can make bad choices or lie but never lose our empathy.”

Originally broadcast in Denmark in 2007 under the title “Forbrydelsen,” the series begins with scenes of a girl running for her life through the woods, her panicked breathing forming a grisly soundtrack. This is Nanna Birk Larsen, whose tortured, sexually abused body is subsequently found in the trunk of a car dredged from a canal.

The series goes on to describe, in slow and intimate detail, the effects of Nanna’s murder on her grieving parents, desperate to keep their marriage and lives together; on a politically ambitious city council member who is somehow connected to the case; and on the police investigators, led by the monosyllabic Scandinavian-sweater-wearing Sarah Lund. Theories are entertained and discarded; suspects are detained and released; everyone harbors a secret.

Each of the 20 episodes represents a day in the investigation, a little like “24,” in which each episode covered an hour of a full day.

“That’s the difference between America and Europe — they take 24 hours; we take 20 days,” said Piv Bernth, who produced the series for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

Chris Large/AMC
In the AMC version of “The Killing,” Mireille Enos plays the lead detective, Sarah Linden, and Joel Kinnaman is also on the murder case, in Seattle.

In fact, “The Killing” has been remade for the United States, and that one will have its AMC premiere on April 3. The American version hews very closely to the original, with the same three-strand plot and with characters modeled on the Danish ones, said Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vice president for original programming, production and digital content.

“We tried to embrace a lot of what we thought made it incredible, including the Nordic sensibility, the stoicism of Sarah Lund and the lack of that overtly frenetic behavior that you’re constantly seeing on American crime and police shows,” Mr. Stillerman said. “Instead of having a chase scene with a standard bunch of cop cars with their lights flashing, we have things that you’d be much more likely to see in a horror movie — a scary walk down a dark hallway with the right piece of music.”

The series was a phenomenal hit in Denmark, where the final episode had a roughly 75 percent market share. (There was a second similarly popular season; a third is being discussed.) The distributors have sold it to broadcasters in, among other places, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium — both the French and the Flemish-speaking parts.

In Britain the show has been averaging about 500,000 viewers an episode, a huge number for BBC4, a station with a generally tiny audience, on a Saturday night. (Its ratings are higher than those of the same channel’s showings of “Mad Men.”) The series has made an international star out of Sofie Grabol, one of Denmark’s most celebrated actresses, who plays Sarah Lund. It has been a stretch, Ms. Grabol said.

“I had always played very emotionally expressive women,” she said when interviewed by telephone backstage at Denmark’s national theater, where she was rehearsing “Fanny and Alexander.” But this time, invited by the producers and writer to help conceive the character, she told them that she wanted “someone who was not communicative at all, who was very isolated, but at peace with it.”

And then, she said: “I started thinking, ‘Who do I know who behaves like that?’ And they were all men. I decided to try to imagine I was a man, and that was key. After a week or two, the role opened up for me.”

Sarah Lund’s sweater has also become an unexpected object of fetishistic attention; whole discussion threads on “Killing” fan sites are devoted to it, including tips on where to buy such sweaters and how to care for them.

“The sweater actually allows me to tell a lot of stories about this character,” Ms. Grabol said. “The top layer tells of a woman who is so confident in herself that she doesn’t have to wear a suit to get respect. Nor does she use her sexuality to communicate.”

The last two episodes of “The Killing” are to be broadcast here in Britain on Saturday night, after a shocking development in episode No. 18 last week that changed the course of the investigation.

“This is program-making with no mercy,” wrote a poster named KeturahB on The Guardian’s “Killing” blog. “It’s unbearable to have to wait a week to find out — and then it’s all over. Even worse.”


By Mark Steyn
Tuesday, 19 April 2011

from National Review

Wandering round this great republic predicting the apocalypse, I’m often asked by audience members why it is I’m being quite so overwrought if not an hysterical old queen about the whole business. After all, President Obama’s now-forgotten “Deficit Commission” produced a report melodramatically emblazoned “The Moment of Truth” and proposing such convulsive course corrections as raising the age of Social Security eligibility to 69.

By the year 2075.

With wake-up calls like that, we can all roll over and sleep in for another half century, right?

But some of us have been here before. We know the smell of decay, and we recognize it in America today. Last year, Niall Ferguson, professor at Oxford, at Harvard, and on highbrow telly documentaries, joined Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, and other eminent thinkers at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “Having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it,” he told them. “It’s just not a lot of fun actually, decline.”

Amen, brother. It’s the small things you remember. The public clocks that stop and are never restarted. “Stands the church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?” wrote Rupert Brooke, aching from abroad for an eternal England. If the town-hall clock stopped at ten to three, it stands there still, and the one above the splendid Victorian railway station stands at twelve past four, and the one on the Gothic Revival opera house at 7:23: You are literally in a land that time forgot. Likewise, the escalators. In “developing nations,” they’re a symbol of progress. In decaying nations, they’re an emblem of decline. In pre-Thatcher Britain, the escalators seized up, and stayed unrepaired for months on end. Eventually, someone would start them up again, only for them to break down 48 hours later and be out of service for another 18 months. It was always the up escalators. You were in a country that could only go downhill: All chutes, no ladders.

If you live in certain of our more obviously insolvent states, you may already recognize the phenomenon. A waggish reader wrote to me from the nation’s capital a few weeks ago hailing what he called Union Station’s cutting-edge bidirectional escalator technology. The conventional escalator on the left had been out of order for a month and “requires two full-time maintenance workers to stare at it for hours at a time while discussing football and women.” But during the same period the equally non-moving escalator on the right had been used every rush hour to accommodate thousands of both upward and downward commuters simultaneously. All the advanced technology of a staircase — now in an escalator! The bright new future of mass transit: no-speed escalators to high-speed trains.

Incremental decline is easy to get used to. I’m sure a few of my correspondent’s fellow commuters are equally droll about it and a few more get angry, but untold thousands more just shuffle uncomplainingly up and down, scuffing shoes and bumping backpacks. That’s the trick with decline: persuading people to accept it. The Transportation Security Administration, which in a decade of existence has never caught a single terrorist, has managed to persuade freeborn citizens to accept that minor state bureaucrats have the right to fondle your scrotum without probable cause. The TSA is now unionizing, which means that this hideous embodiment of bureaucratized sclerosis will now have its fingers in your gusset until the end of time.

What was it they used to say? If we give up our freedoms, the terrorists will have won! Whether or not the terrorists have won, the bureaucrats have. And they’re a more profound existential threat to America than the terrorists will ever be. My accountant was trying to explain to me the new 1099 requirements of Obamacare, but who cares? In the Republic of Paperwork, there’ll be a new set of new requirements along any minute. I’m ashamed of myself for even knowing what a 1099 is. But that’s the issue: Once you accept the principle that one citizen cannot contract with another without filing paperwork with the state, imposing ever more onerous conditions is merely a difference of degree.

In such a world it becomes more difficult to innovate, and frankly not a priority. When I deposit a New Zealand check at my bank in Montreal, the funds are available to me within two seconds. The last time I deposited a New Zealand check at my bank in the U.S., they sent it for “collection” (an entirely artificial concept in the computer age) to Australia, and by the time it came back it had expired. They couldn’t understand why I was annoyed — c’mon, man, we were in the ballpark! To resolve the issue, I had to go to the bank president, who, on being informed of my Canadian comparison, said, “Well, you must understand smaller countries by their nature have to get used to dealing with the rest of the world. It’s different for America.”

This might have been reasonable enough in 1950, when America was last man standing on a Western world otherwise reduced to rubble. But it seems an odd attitude for a country whose households are entirely filled by products made elsewhere and whose future is mortgaged to foreigners. And it made me wonder if perhaps Ferguson and I are being insufficiently apocalyptic. A gargantuan bureaucratized parochialism leavened by litigiousness and political correctness is a scale of decline no developed nation has yet attempted.

It doesn’t have to go like that. Abolish the 1099. Get the feds out of your underwear. Restart the escalator. But the clock is running down, fast.