Friday, October 07, 2011

Foot off the gas

The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon picks over his new horrible crowes project with Chris Wasser

By Chris Wasser
Saturday September 10 2011

I'm not good at much," says Brian Fallon. He, the flat-cap wearing ringleader of New Jersey rock band The Gaslight Anthem. Which doesn't make much sense given the 31-year-old's enormous, Springsteen-approved talent. "Yeah, well . . ." he shrugs.

Jeez man -- learn to take a compliment.

"I don't think it's something that I can really take too much credit for," he replies. "Like, if you're born being able to do something, you can't really take any credit for that. You didn't do anything."

Woah . . . that's deep. A bit like Fallon's shiny new project, -- a two-man guitar band called The Horrible Crowes.
It's "the darker side of soul music", says Fallon of their debut album, Elsie. Truth be told, it sounds more like The Gaslight Anthem with their feet on the brakes -- and without the punk. Which is a good thing as Fallon and long-time friend and collaborator Ian Perkins deliver an intriguing collection of sweeping rock numbers with splashes of folk, country, and even jazz.

But it is just over a year since The Gaslight Anthem followed their hugely successful 2008 album The '59 Sound with their third album, American Slang. Somebody likes to keep busy.

"Well, I get these ideas that I have to kind of get out," he says. "Rather than sit around on the road, I write songs."


As Fallon explains, the other half of The Horrible Crowes is a member of The Gaslight Anthem's crew. They just didn't realise how good a musician Perkins was.
"We discovered he was a really good guitar player and it was like, 'why aren't you in a band?'" he laughs.

"He and I are really close friends and, one day, we were sharing records and I said 'hey man, let's write some songs'."

So, Brian and Ian put away their PJ Harvey and Tom Waits records and decided to give it a shot.

"It's something that I was always into," he offers. "When I was a kid I would always listen to weird records, like Afghan Whigs records. And none of my friends were into that. They were like 'we're into punk rock and that's for girls because it's got slow songs on it'. And I like that stuff!"

The songs are very personal, he insists. But who's Elsie?

"That's just a name that we decided on. I mean, that's not anybody in particular. It kind of seemed like a real classy . . ." Brian pauses for a second, "Elsie sounds like a woman that wouldn't do the things to you that has been done in the songs."
Gotcha. And the name The Horrible Crowes you got from a poem, right?
"Yeah, it was a Scottish poem called The Twa Corbies," he explains. "It's about these two crows deciding what to do with a dead knight -- what parts of them they're gonna eat. It's horrible. I mean, it's more than that . . . you'd have to read it. But it's pretty insightful."

I'm sure it is. And I'm sure the guys in The Gaslight Anthem weren't worried at all when their lead singer told them he was going it alone for a while.

"At first, it was like, 50/50," he nods. "Some of the guys were like, 'that's cool, go ahead -- do it'. And then some of the guys were a little bit like 'what are you doing? Why are you doing something else?' And then I think once they heard it, they realised 'oh, okay --I see why you're not bringing that here because it doesn't make sense'."
Brian doesn't see The Horrible Crowes as a side project. Instead, it's as if he has joined another band. Come September, he'll have another group of musicians to contend with when he joins US musician Chuck Ragan's Revival Tour -- an "acoustic collaborative event" featuring a handful of American punk artists reinterpreting each other's songs.

Meanwhile, The Gaslight Anthem will begin work on a new record later this year. Must be a good position to be in, I say -- selling records, touring the world, making famous friends (Springsteen joined Fallon and the gang at Glastonbury in 2009), and yet, at the end of the day, you can still walk down the street unrecognised.

"I think that that's the goal," says Brian, "to be able to live off the music but to not really have the celebrity thing. Hopefully it stays that way," he smiles. "But I'm not gonna complain if one day I'm Bono . . ."
Elsie is out now. Brian Fallon appears live as part of The Revival Tour at the Academy, Thursday, September 29

Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon Looks Inward With The Horrible Crowes

by RJ Cubarrubia, N.Y.
September 13, 2011

"I needed to write these songs so that I could carry on as a person on my own and function," explains Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon of his new project, the Horrible Crowes. "With 'Elsie' [the Horrible Crowes' debut album], we wanted to find out what else is there -- what else are we capable of."

More intimate and haunting than his previous work, Fallon's collaboration with friend and Gaslight Anthem guitar tech Ian Perkins sounds confident in its vulnerability. While the Gaslight Anthem sticks mainly to the classic guitar-bass-drums formula to create loud, soulful American rock laced with punk and hardcore energy, "Elsie," released Sept. 6, finds Fallon and Perkins exploring more diverse sonic arrangements and new songwriting forms. "The Gaslight Anthem is very streamlined," Fallon admits. "We don't usually use organs and strings and things like that. We wanted to separate what we were doing [in Gaslight Anthem] to something new and something that we could experiment with."

Perkins and Fallon aren't shy about their sweeping musical influences and aren't afraid to admit their more hardcore punk roots presented a challenge with the Horrible Crowes. "I never got a chance to do Tom Waits or PJ Harvey kind of stuff in the Gaslight Anthem," Fallon explains, also citing The Afghan Whigs' album "Black Love" and Elvis Costello's 1977 single "Watching The Detectives" as major inspirations. "That takes a certain amount of finesse that maybe a rock band doesn't have, so we had to learn all that finesse [for the Horrible Crowes], which was difficult."

However, both readily admit a lack of pressure in recording the album. "People didn't know who we were and they didn't know what we sound like, so there were no expectations," Fallon says, with Perkins in agreement: "It was just something else to do as opposed to we have to do this."

Known for his referential, folktale storytelling on early Gaslight Anthem records, Fallon has instead looked inward, personally, on "Elsie." "The record is about three relationships that I had -- one when I was 18, one when I was 19 or 20, and my current one now," Fallon says. "[They] ended up causing me a lot of grief and a lot of sorrow from the process of living through [them] but it felt like big rock songs weren't the right way to do it. I think that this record taught me how to write more personally and not necessarily use stories. It was just me trying to work out my own stuff from my head."

The result is a gripping 12-song album with massive cinematic highs ("Crush," "Behold the Hurricane") and sparse, lonely lows ("Blood Loss," "I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together") that express the complexities of personal relationships with chilling sincerity.

For Perkins, playing music with his close friend has been an unexpected experience. The Gaslight Anthem guitar tech developed a special understanding with Fallon, eventually joining the group as a touring member supporting last year's "American Slang." The earnest friendship led to musical collaboration during down time on tour, leading to the Crowes' formation.

"I'm a lucky boy, that's what I think," Perkins confesses. Although Fallon is quick to remind him that this is equally their project, Perkins remains understated. "I'm helping him out doing his thing, and I'm just focused on doing that. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do [this], especially a record that I would listen to [myself]."
Making their live debut on Thursday night (Sept. 8) at Bowery Ballroom, Fallon and Perkins -- accompanied by a bassist, keyboardist and drummer -- played a powerful and passionate set to a soldout crowd. Fallon thanked girls who had broken his heart, the new boyfriends they had, and the mothers who raised these "horrible women" for inspiring his music. The band played "Elsie" straight-through with a couple surprises, turning Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" into a touching rock anthem and for the encore, tearing though a riveting performance of INXS' classic 1988 ballad "Never Tear Us Apart."

Fallon isn't done with the Horrible Crowes; he and Perkins have plans to record more material in the future under the moniker and have their sights set on experimenting with some electronic drums. "I like those beats that Gorillaz use but imagine more classically-oriented songs with beats under them, like Moby's 'Natural Blues,'" Fallon says.

As for the Gaslight Anthem, Fallon confirmed that they're currently recording new material. "We're making demos and our goal is 25 of them, and we've got 10. The songs that are fast, they're a lot faster. It's definitely pretty personal and pretty aggressive right now. I'm really happy with it so far."


By Ann Coulter
October 5, 2011

I am not the first to note the vast differences between the Wall Street protesters and the tea partiers. To name three: The tea partiers have jobs, showers and a point.

No one knows what the Wall Street protesters want -- as is typical of mobs. They say they want Obama re-elected, but claim to hate "Wall Street." You know, the same Wall Street that gave its largest campaign donation in history to Obama, who, in turn, bailed out the banks and made Goldman Sachs the fourth branch of government.

This would be like opposing fattening, processed foods, but cheering Michael Moore -- which the protesters also did this week.

But to me, the most striking difference between the tea partiers and the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd -- besides the smell of patchouli -- is how liberal protesters must claim their every gathering is historic and heroic.

They chant: "The world is watching!" "This is how democracy looks!" "We are the ones we've been waiting for!"

At the risk of acknowledging that I am, in fact, "watching," this is most definitely not how democracy looks.

Sally Kohn, a self-identified "community organizer," praised the Wall Street loiterers on CNN's website, comparing the protest to the Boston Tea Party, which she claimed, "helped spark the American Revolution," adding, "and yes, that protest ultimately turned very violent."

First of all, the Boston Tea Party was nothing like tattooed, body–pierced, sunken-chested 19-year-olds getting in fights with the police for fun. Paul Revere's nighttime raid was intended exclusively to protest a new British tea tax. (The Wall Street protesters would be more likely to fight for a new tax than against one.)

Revere made sure to replace a broken lock on one of the ships and severely punished a participant who stole some of the tea for his private use. Samuel Adams defended the raid by saying that all other methods of recourse -- say, voting -- were unavailable.

Our revolution -- the only revolution that led to greater freedom since at least 1688 -- was not the act of a mob.

As specific and limited as it was, however, even the Boston Tea Party was too mob-like to spark anything other than retaliatory British measures. Indeed, it set back the cause of American independence by dispiriting both American and British supporters, such as Edmund Burke.

George Washington disapproved of the destruction of the tea. Benjamin Franklin demanded that the India Tea Co. be reimbursed for it. Considered an embarrassment by many of our founding fathers, the Boston Tea Party was not celebrated for another 50 years.

It would be three long years after the Boston Tea Party when our founding fathers engaged in their truly revolutionary act: The signing of the Declaration of Independence.

In that document, our Christian forebears set forth in blindingly clear terms their complaints with British rule, their earlier attempts at resolution, and an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world for independence from the crown.

The rebel armies defending that declaration were not a disorganized mob, chanting slogans for the press and defacing public property.

Even the Minutemen, whose first scuffle with the British began the war, were a real army with ranks, subordination, coordination, drills and supplies. There is not a single mention in the historical record of Minutemen playing hacky-sack, burning candles assembled in "peace and love," or sitting in drum circles.

A British lieutenant-general who fought the Minutemen observed, "Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself very much mistaken."

By contrast, the directionless losers protesting "Wall Street" -- Obama's largest donor group -- pose for the cameras while uttering random liberal cliches lacking any reason or coherence.

But since everything liberals do must be heroic, the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd insists on comparing themselves to this nation's heroes.

One told Fox News' Bill Schulz: "I was born to be here, right now, the founding fathers have been passing down the torch to this generation to make our country great again."

The Canadian environmental group behind Occupy Wall Street, Adbusters, has compared the Wall Street "revolutionaries" to America's founding fathers. (Incidentally, those who opposed the American Revolution fled after the war to ... Canada.)

The -- again -- Canadians exulted, "You sense they're drafting a new Declaration of Independence."

I suppose you only "sense" it because they're doing nothing of the sort. They say they want Mao as the president -- as one told Schulz -- and the abolition of "capitalism."

The modern tea partiers never went around narcissistically comparing themselves to Gen. George Washington. And yet they are the ones who have engaged in the kind of political activity Washington fought for.

The Tea Party name is meant in fun, inspired by an amusing rant from CNBC's Rick Santelli in February 2009, when he called for another Tea Party in response to Obama's plan to bail-out irresponsible mortgagers.

The tea partiers didn't arrogantly claim to be drafting a new Declaration of Independence. They're perfectly happy with the original.

Tea partiers didn't block traffic, sleep on sidewalks, wear ski masks, fight with the police or urinate in public. They read the Constitution, made serious policy arguments, and petitioned the government against Obama's unconstitutional big government policies, especially the stimulus bill and Obamacare.

Then they picked up their own trash and quietly went home. Apparently, a lot of them had to be at work in the morning.

In the two years following the movement's inception, the Tea Party played a major role in turning Teddy Kennedy's seat over to a Republican, making the sainted Chris Christie governor of New Jersey, and winning a gargantuan, historic Republican landslide in the 2010 elections. They are probably going to succeed in throwing out a president in next year's election.

That's what democracy looks like.


Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’

By , Published: October 5
The Washington Post

Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and former Obama administration regulator (for consumer protection), is modern liberalism incarnate. As she seeks the Senate seat Democrats held for 57 years before 2010, when Republican Scott Brown impertinently won it, she clarifies the liberal project and the stakes of contemporary politics.

The project is to dilute the concept of individualism, thereby refuting respect for the individual’s zone of sovereignty. The regulatory state, liberalism’s instrument, constantly tries to contract that zone — for the individual’s own good, it says. Warren says:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds.

In “The Affluent Society” (1958), modern liberalism’s symptomatic text, Galbraith, a Harvard economist, baldly asserted that corporations’ marketing powers — basically, advertising — are so potent they can manufacture demands for whatever goods and services they want to supply. Corporations can nullify consumer sovereignty and vitiate the law of supply and demand. Galbraith asserted this while Ford’s marketers were failing to create a demand for Edsels.

Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Job's Creation

BOSTON -- The Apple Store on Boylston Street was decorated with flowers, like a funeral home after the death of a family member. The man who died, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was probably not related to anyone in the store. But his technological innovations had touched, and measurably improved, each of their lives.

They knew it, too. Some customers paused outside to share tributes to Jobs with local camera crews for the nightly news. Yet many, perhaps most, of them will vote for a Senate candidate who appears to believe Jobs' accomplishments were indistinguishable from that of his lowest-level employee and impossible without the goodness of government.

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own," said Elizabeth Warren, now a Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts. "Nobody." In some sense, that's true. We are not all atomistic individuals who live in a society-free vacuum. Steve Jobs surely traveled on government roads, was protected by police officers and firefighters, and had Apple employees who were educated in public schools.

Some variation of all those things can be said of almost anyone in this nation of 300 million people. How many people can we credit with the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the first personal computer? That number is a lot closer to one.

Warren isn't alone in suggesting that wealth creation is really nothing special. Senate Democrats have proposed a 5 percent surcharge on millionaires and billionaires, who they insist are not paying their fair share. The Occupy Wall Street protests vilify profit-making.

Jobs was a college dropout who started what would eventually become Apple in his parents' garage, at age 21, with the help of his childhood friend Steve Wozniack. He was a multimillionaire at 25, on the cover of Time magazine at 26, and was seen by some as a failure at 30, purged from the company he had helped found.

That didn't stop him. Jobs founded NeXT Computers and bought what became Pixar Animation Studios. In 1996, Apple brought him back by buying NeXT. In 1997, Jobs became CEO. Along the way, he upended the recorded music industry. He revolutionized the cell phone. He transformed the personal computer. And he brought back a company that had been on its knees.

Steve Jobs wasn't a perfect man. He did not always own up to the daughter he fathered out of wedlock. Fortune reported that he claimed in court documents that he was infertile. The mother reportedly had to collect welfare to support the child. Apple was criticized for a lack of corporate philanthropy.

How many millions of people had their lives improved by Apple products? How many were gainfully employed by the company? How many found it easier to work in their jobs in other fields, feeding their families, buying decent housing, and accessing health care, because of Apple products? Without Jobs and many of his nearly 340 patented inventions, we would all be poorer.

Best of all, none of it counted one bit on Jobs' good intentions. Apple's "profiteering" proved compatible with many of its products becoming cheaper , more accessible, and more widely distributed than ever before.

Maybe Jobs would have done all of this with 90 percent marginal tax rates, a Buffett rule, a same-regulation marriage between the Dodd-Frank law and Sarbanes-Oxley, even a U.S. membership in the European Union. His public speeches suggest he was committed to his career, committed to excellence, as if it was the love of his life.

It is hard to doubt that there will be others who would add to the sum total of human happiness and improve the lives of their fellow man who will be deterred by high barriers to entry or a lesser return on the fruits of their labor. It is hard to take seriously those who roll their eyes at the very thought that the wealthy can create jobs or produce benefits for people who make less money than they do, as they publish their soak-the-rich tweets from their iPhones.

Not every rich person is a Steve Jobs. There is a lot more to life than money. And yes, we derive value from the social context in which we live. But individual achievements can also yield collective benefits. Benefits that sometimes far exceed the work of any politician.

"You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea -- God bless, keep a big hunk of it," Elizabeth Warren continued. "But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along." Steve Jobs gave at the office, Ms. Warren, leaving more for the next kid who comes along than many who claim to act in the public interest.

How Steve Jobs Changed The World

Apple's former CEO made the products he himself wanted.

The Wall Street Journal
August 26, 2011

If you want to know the secret of Steve Jobs, recall his advice to inventor Dean Kamen upon seeing the original version of the Segway scooter: "I think it sucks," he said. "Its shape is not innovative, it's not elegant, it doesn't feel anthropomorphic . . . There are design firms out there that could come up with things we've never thought of, things that would make you s*** in your pants."

At the end of the day, hardware is just a bunch of cold transistors and software code is just a bunch of bits to control them. But clever code can change the world and make us productive in ways we never imagined. Yet even that's not enough. As Hewlett-Packard and Nokia painfully know, everyone eventually has access to the same transistors, the same memory and displays and processors. All you can hope for is maybe a 12-18 month lead. Steve Jobs's magic was to marry clever code with a fanatical devotion to aesthetics, rare in the tech world. It worked, in spades. Now we pay huge premiums for Apple products made up of commonly available components.

That's right, we shell out $600 for $200 worth of sand. And here's the neat parlor trick. We actually feel good about it! In techland, there's no rest for the weary, better processors and storage and networks are daily creations. Mr. Jobs looked over the horizon and figured out not only what's next, but how to shape it into devices that all at once stirred a cognitive soup of psychology, behavior science, philosophy and for many, a spiritual awakening—an iPhone as a cortexial extension of ourselves. Weird, but true.

How did he pull this off? By figuring out what he wanted and controlling the whole process until he got it. Very few buttons, like Mr. Jobs's clothing. But more importantly, don't just touch your computer, feel it. Let the graphics and icons simplify life's complexities. Let your fingers flow over the glass instead of peck at it. Speak to it. Use your body and motion to sway your computer until it moves you. Until you are one. OK, I got a little carried away, but admit it, it's hard to unplug.

But of course, Mr. Jobs isn't selling just fashion. He's selling form and function, a platform for us to conduct our business and personal lives on, removing an expensive layer of magazine designers (Mac), disk jockeys (iPod), secretaries and postal workers (iPhone) and cable guys (iPad). Mr. Jobs and his legion of 50,000 coders and designers became the most valuable company in the world.

And his control drove Apple's business model. No screws to open up his devices. Those (patent protected) high margins from aesthetics allow Apple to break a lot of rules. Both the personal-computer industry and the Internet evolved as horizontal industries, layers of companies, each with a sliver of expertise (operating systems, processors, computers), that upended slow moving and formerly ridiculously profitable giants IBM and AT&T. Steve Jobs went horizontal just owning the online delivery layer to transform the music industry. He's trying to do it again to book publishing and TVs and games, and movies.

About my only criticism of Steve Jobs is that Apple itself is quite vertical. You want to run an app on his iPhone, you play by his rules and pay him 30% of the action. And then there's those Apple stores, with their goofy T-shirt clad "geniuses," each resonating a Jobsian smugness. But darn it, they do know what they are doing and always end up helping. Also, by being tightly controlled and vertical, Apple has solved a major problem in the computer industry: customer support. Another brilliant move. So far, being vertical has been a virtue. Mr. Jobs leaves Apple hugely profitable and shareholders thrilled.

Is Steve Jobs irreplaceable? No. Apple fans will eventually move on to something else. It would have happened if he stayed. Twenty-somethings come along and invent entire new platforms like Facebook that change the world in different ways, learning the lessons from Steve Jobs and adding their own twists. The world catches up.

Aesthetics only gets you so far. At some point, maybe even the vertical control structure starts to unwind. It always does, as high margins are a super-conducting magnet for well-funded competition. Heck, Google just shelled out $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility to go a little vertical themselves to compete.

New Apple CEO Tim Cook has his work cut out continuing the Jobs legacy, refreshing Apple products at the same torrid pace, creating new category-creating devices, fighting off copycats, and keeping the stock price going up while at the same time figuring out which parts of the Jobs model to dismantle. Meanwhile, we all are a little better off because of Steve Jobs. I hope he applies his energy to other world- (and pants-) changing things.

Mr. Kessler, a former hedge-fund manager, is the author most recently of "Eat People" (Portfolio, 2011).

The Amazing Steve Jobs Story

He ranks in the industrial pantheon along with Edison and Ford.

The Wall Street Journal

This story was originally published on August 26, 2011.

People will be trying to isolate and bottle the "leadership secrets of Steve Jobs" till the end of business time. But of course it's impossible.

His story isn't just the story of a person, but the combination of time, place and person, spawning a career in industrial design of awesome proportions. Mr. Jobs founded two pivotal companies in American history. Both happened to be named Apple. One was the Apple of the Macintosh, the other was the Apple of the iPhone.

From the beginning, he saw the human possibility in the extraordinarily complex hardware and software engineering of digital devices. The Macintosh should work in a way that's intuitive, that doesn't require an owner's manual. And today you only need to survey the blogosphere or friends with toddlers to hear stories of 3-year-olds picking up an iPad and quickly sussing out what it's for.

Then there's the business story. The first Apple had become, in the minds of the people running it and its investors, a computer company—one riven over whether to follow Bill Gates's advice and license the Macintosh operating system and make a living raking in fees from clone makers.

That's the Apple that spit Mr. Jobs out. The second Apple—the Apple of the iPod, iPhone and iPad—was the noncomputer company that Mr. Jobs perhaps instinctively intended all along. A decade after his return, he made it official and changed the name from Apple Computer to Apple. His purpose wasn't to fill a niche in an industrial landscape, but to realize the full potential of the medium to which Apple had committed itself.

But let's also acknowledge that coupled with vision and the pursuit of excellence was hard-headed business strategizing. The triumph of iTunes, the App Store and the incipient Apple Cloud ushered in the era at Apple of network-esque complexity as well as the possibility of network-esque revenues. It made Mr. Jobs, despite himself, an empire builder. Success brought rivals like Google and Amazon. There came the need to anticipate moves and countermoves, the need to play defense. This was an unsung part of the Jobs C.V. in later years. And almost tactless to mention is the garish side effect: the rise of Apple to exceed Microsoft and on some days Exxon Mobil, as the world's most valuable company.

Now this was an almost inexplicable business success, a miraculous reversal of fortune of the sort that inspires banner headlines and hyperventilating on cable TV when it happens on the ball field. It was an astonishing achievement, emblematic of a man meeting his moment completely, when few men get a chance to meet their moments even partially.

Mr. Jobs's negotiation of personal relationships has been, by reputation, fraught and idiosyncratic. But whose isn't? And whatever his interpersonal challenges, a different kind of warmth is also apparent. An image that will become part of the Jobs lore, inevitably, is his extraordinary determination to cling to life, at least partly for the benefit of the company he created and the customers he accrued. His unpathetic willingness to show his withered self in order to introduce to the world the latest wonders of Apple product development was painful and glorious to watch.

What comes to mind now is a forgotten PBS show in the 1980s that tried to explain what was then known as the "quality revolution" in business. Interviewed was some wise old MIT professor who said, if memory serves, "Quality is love." Mr. Jobs's determination to make superb products was, one likes to think, an expression of love for the world, life and possibility.

"I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it," he said in his announcement this week, perhaps his one concession to ordinary sentimentality, for it seems impossible that Apple, or any company, could anticipate another run like Apple's in the 10 years since the iPod's introduction.

Indeed, it seems unlikely that even Mr. Jobs, had he remained healthy and in charge, wouldn't eventually have met a technological wave or strategic development that he couldn't understand quickly enough and react to. Possibly it's already here: Television in the age of the digital cloud, a puzzle now taxing many of Silicon Valley's most creative minds.

And that would have been fine, preferable to the medical torture and premature professional swansong that have been his lot. The legend did not need this almost sacrificial ending to secure for him a place in the industrial pantheon with Edison, Ford and (though it might cause him to curl his lip slightly) Gates.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Holder’s Dubious History

The AG’s Fast & Furious amnesia is reminiscent of his Marc Rich amnesia.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 5, 2011

House Republicans are now calling for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself in congressional testimony about the scandalous Fast & Furious program. Specifically, the attorney general claimed on May 3 that he had only “over the last few weeks” heard about the reckless gun-walking program his Justice Department was running with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) — a program in which guns were steered to violent Mexican gangs with predictably lethal results, including the murder of a Border Patrol agent. Contrary to Holder’s testimony, it is now being reported that he had actually been receiving briefings on the program since early summer 2010.

I’m shocked, shocked to hear it.

In truth, I’d be very surprised if it turned out that Mr. Holder was as much in the dark as he claims. Fast & Furious was a very strange and controversial program, and there was plenty of Justice Department participation in it: ATF is a Justice Department agency; the investigation was being conducted jointly with a U.S. attorney’s office (i.e., a DOJ district office); the investigation featured eavesdropping applications, which have to go through the Justice Department; and White House officials were apparently being briefed about the program. It would be odd indeed if the AG were out of the loop. To be clear, though, I have no idea who knew what, and when. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.

For the moment, my point is simply this: No one ought to be surprised by what is happening. Readers may recall my vigorous contentions that Mr. Holder’s history should disqualify him from serving as attorney general (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here). President Obama should not have nominated him, and I urged that the Senate not confirm him. Beltway Republicans, however, rallied to Holder’s defense, and Senate Republicans dutifully joined their Democratic counterparts in overwhelmingly approving his appointment.

One of the many arguments I made was based on Holder’s record of providing misleading congressional testimony.

When he served as Clinton-administration deputy attorney general, Holder engineered the scandalous Marc Rich pardon by creating a rogue procedure that allowed the fugitive fraudster and his attorneys to appeal directly to President Clinton rather than go through DOJ’s regular pardon process. The regular process would have required input from the U.S. attorney’s office handling Rich’s case — the Southern District of New York, where I worked for many years (including when the pardon was granted). That input would have doomed the pardon by making Clinton undeniably aware of the nature and dimension of Rich’s criminal conduct.

By keeping the prosecutors who knew about Rich’s case out of the process, Holder ensured that Clinton was one-sidedly exposed to the Rich camp’s version of events. This greatly benefited Rich’s legal team, which was led by former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn, a close confidant of Vice President Al Gore. When he was helping Rich in 1999 and 2000, Holder was hoping to be made attorney general in what Democrats were confident would be a Gore administration.

I don’t want to rehash all the unsavory details; I just want to focus on the following: When Clinton’s pardon of Rich blew up, Congress held hearings. Despite the fact that he had interceded on Rich’s (and Quinn’s) behalf even before the pardon shenanigans, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001, under oath, that “Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” in 1999, when Quinn first beseeched Holder to help Quinn try to convince SDNY prosecutors to drop the charges. Holder elaborated that he had “gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case” when, in the ensuing months, he helped push for the pardon. He claimed that he had been too busy to inform himself about the case of the criminal for whom he was lobbying — a man who had been on the FBI’s top-ten list of wanted fugitives.

Based largely on Holder’s rambling and often incredible testimony, which stressed his purported ignorance of Rich’s background, a House investigation concluded that the “sum total” of Holder’s “knowledge about Rich came from a page of talking points provided to him by Jack Quinn in 2000.” The House Government Operations Committee concluded that Holder’s behavior in the Rich affair had been “unconscionable,” but it took no further action.

Eight years later, when President Obama nominated him to be attorney general, Holder clung to his protestations of ignorance. At the nomination hearing, Arlen Specter, then the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointedly asked, “Were you aware of the kind of record this man [Rich] had?”

Here’s Holder’s response:

No I was not. And that was one of the mistakes that I made. I did not really acquaint myself with his record. I knew that the matter involved — it was a tax-fraud case; it was a substantial tax-fraud case. I knew that he was a fugitive. I did not know a lot of the underlying facts that you have described.

In written follow-up questions, Specter pressed again: “Did you receive information about the facts of the Rich case from anyone other than Mr. Rich’s attorney, Jack Quinn?”

Holder tersely responded, “No.”

Yet, as I pointed out in the days before Holder’s confirmation, none of this appears to have been true. It is a virtual certainty that Holder knew quite a bit about Rich, years before he was approached to assist the Rich pardon effort.

Before becoming deputy attorney general, Holder was the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1995 — years before Holder got his talking points from Quinn — Holder’s office filed a civil suit against a Swiss trading company called Clarendon, Ltd. Why? Because, in obtaining $45 million in government contracts, Clarendon had concealed its intimate relationship with the dastardly, notorious federal fugitive . . . Marc Rich.

It turned out that Holder’s office had been conducting an investigation into Rich and his business interests for tax evasion and other suspicious activity. Not surprisingly, then, the civil complaint U.S. attorney Holder filed against Clarendon exuded familiarity with Rich. Indeed, the premise of the complaint was that Rich’s sordid history of fraud and his status as a fugitive from justice rendered him ineligible for government contracts. Therefore, the suit alleged, Clarendon was liable for hiding the fact that Rich controlled the company.

The complaint screams out knowledge of Rich’s corporate holdings and his tortuous efforts to obscure his connection to the company. Holder’s office also recounted that Rich had blatantly obstructed justice in a grand-jury investigation. One of his companies ended up paying $21 million in contempt fines, the complaint reported. And although a number of Rich companies ended up pleading guilty to various charges, Holder’s office took pains to point out that their “plea agreement did not resolve any of the personal charges pertaining to Rich” and his accomplice, Pincus Green. Those charges, the complaint asserted, “remained outstanding.”

And the matter doesn’t stop at the complaint. Holder’s office held extensive negotiations with Clarendon and, as it happens, Clarendon’s principal. Astoundingly, Holder’s office not only had discussions with company attorneys but actually accepted an affidavit from Rich — then one of the country’s most infamous fugitives — in the course of settling the case.

Ultimately, U.S Attorney Holder agreed to dismiss the case in exchange for a payment to the government of $1.2 million. Naturally, though, it was not enough just to reach a settlement. Justice Department officials like to trumpet the conclusion of their high-profile cases as successes, and D.C.’s United States attorney was no exception. On April 13, 1995, the Wall Street Journal reported Holder’s public announcement of the settlement and of the fact that his office was ending its probe of the Rich conglomerate.

To summarize, at the pardon hearings in 2001, Eric Holder testified before Congress that he had barely known who Marc Rich was when he went to bat for Rich in 1999 and 2000. At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Holder repeated this testimony that errors in judgment had stemmed from his failure to acquaint himself with Rich’s sordid record. In point of fact, however, Holder had actually overseen an investigation of Rich and his companies years earlier, precisely premised on the fact that a Rich company had hidden its connection to the fugitive and his extensive record of fraud and obstruction. Holder had even publicly announced a lucrative settlement.

Sound familiar?

None of this is new news. While the Senate was considering Holder’s nomination, I laid the facts out in an NRO column on January 21, 2009. Four days later, I reported that Holder had again claimed ignorance about Rich in his written answers to follow-up questions. I pleaded that he be further pressed on the matter — not only by Republicans but by Democrats who, during the tenure of Bush AG Alberto Gonzales, had been strident in emphasizing the obligation of attorneys general to provide Congress with truthful, accurate testimony.

Alas, Senate Republicans were apparently mollified by private assurances Holder reportedly made to them to the effect that, if he were confirmed, the Justice Department would not seek to prosecute officials involved in the Bush-era enhanced-interrogation program. (I’m constrained to observe that, in the event, Holder reopened investigations against CIA officers involved in the program and continued professional-responsibility probes of Bush DOJ officials who had provided opinions about the program’s legal validity.) Cowed by the prospect of opposing confirmation of the nation’s first African-American attorney general — as if there were anything wrong with rejecting a nominee of any heritage who had a record as checkered as Holder’s — the senators decided Holder’s troubling testimony was not worth pursuing. He was confirmed 75 to 21, with substantial GOP support.

You reap what you sow.

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.

Photo: Getty Images


By Mark Steyn
From the October 3, issue of National Review

First flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903

At the start of the summer, I attended a graduation ceremony in Vermont, for which a bigshot speaker had been flown up from New York. "Your world is changing so fast!" he told them, as is traditional on these occasions.

I couldn't see it myself. For one thing, no matter how fast our world changes, college education seems to get slower and slower, judging from the remarkably aged appearance of many of these Green Mountain "youth." But in a broader sense, precisely what is changing so fast? Their first car is no different from my first car. Which was no different from my grandfather's first car. To be sure, they've dispensed with the hand crank and rumble seat and installed a GPS and iPod dock, but essentially it runs on the same technology as a century back. Which are the faster-moving times? The age that invents the internal-combustion engine? Or the age that plugs a Justin Bieber download into it?

I make a similar argument in my new book, and I find it's the part that most annoys those folks otherwise supportive of my thesis. After all, they point out from various corners of the planet, without the Internet they'd never have heard of me. Fair enough — if your measure of societal progress is more efficient means of Steyn distribution. But I can't help feeling there ought to be more to it than that.

Imagine that Vermont class a century ago, the summer of 1911. The Model T had just gone into production a couple of years earlier, the age of manned flight had gotten off the ground. And they had their version of Justin Bieber downloads, too: Do you know Lady Gaga's smash hit "Telephone"? It was the latest thing for ten minutes a year or so back. But they had telephone songs at the turn of the 20th century, too! "Hello, Ma Baby!" "Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven." They had lots of songs about other exciting new inventions, too: There were telegraph numbers ("There's a Wireless Station Down in My Heart"), automobile numbers ("Come Away with Me, Lucille, in My Merry Oldsmobile"), aeroplane numbers ("Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine"). There were so many inventions for singers to sing about, they had no time left to sing about the novelties of their own industry, in which the wax cylinder was about to be superseded by the 78-rpm phonograph record. In the years that that Vermont Class of 1911 had been in college, the Nickelodeon had led to a boom in what we would soon call motion pictures. And yet, what with all the other things going on — with electrification and the internal-combustion engine enabling man to conquer both night and distance, time and space, and other footling stuff — these exciting showbiz novelties were generally regarded as peripheral to progress. Instead of the be-all and end-all of it. In the second decade of the 21st century, technological innovation means we're thrilled if Apple invents a device for downloading Katy Perry that's an eighth of an inch slimmer than the previous model. So today, instead of songs for the age of invention, we have inventions for an age of songs.

Most of what we mean by progress in our "fast moving" world falls into a kind of James Bond gizmo category. Things that half a century back were issued to 007 by Q at the start of his mission are now available for $19.95 at Wal-Mart: A device no bigger than a cigarette lighter enables you to take top-secret photographs and then communicate directly with HQ as you're escaping through the air duct. Alas, most of us aren't secret agents, rappelling into the top-security Soviet facility and then skiing off the cliff and hoping the Union Jack parachute opens before the pursuing Russkies' machine-gun ski poles gun you down. It would be exciting to see Anthony Weiner doing that. But instead he uses his super-secret spy camera to photograph his private parts and Tweet them to coeds.

Great! What else can it do? We were told the toppling of Mubarak in Egypt was the "Facebook Revolution." It sounds so cool when you put it like that! But the old pharaoh's gone, and his generals are in charge, as they have been to one degree or another since 1952, and the only difference is that this time round they've reached a modus vivendi with the Muslim Brotherhood on various issues from storming the Zionist embassy to female genital mutilation. A new Facebook on old-school clitoridectomy: That's cutting edge, for sure.

In my book, I take an H. G. Wells time traveler, propel him forward from his home in 1890 to 1950, and then again from 1950 to our time. He would conclude, fairly rapidly, that the first half of the 20th century was the "fast moving" bit. Air travel went from Wilbur and Orville to biplanes to flying boats to transatlantic jetliners in its first 50 years, and then for the next 50 it just sat there, like a commuter twin-prop parked off Gate 27B at LaGuardia waiting for the gate agent to turn up. Yet that graduation ceremony in Vermont caused me to wonder if we're not stuck in mid-century in a more profound sense: We have the attitudes not of the young capitalist who builds the assembly line for the mass-production automobile but of the elderly titan half a century later preoccupied with his memorial foundation to "effect social change worldwide." Indeed, in its attitude to both foreign policy and domestic priorities, America operates less like a nation-state prosecuting its interests and more like one of those non-profit foundations funding various unwatchable offerings on PBS. A great nation can coast for a while on the accumulated inheritance of a glorious past. But, as the Wright brothers could have explained, gliding doesn't really meet the definition of "fast moving."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Emails show top Justice Department officials knew of ATF gun program

Memos from 2010 show some in senior positions were aware of tactics used in a surveillance operation in which firearms were allowed into Mexico in a failed effort to catch drug cartel leaders.

By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
The Los Angeles Times
October 3, 2011, 9:32 p.m.

Reporting from Washington— Senior Justice Department officials were aware that ATF agents allowed firearms to be "walked" into Mexico, according to a series of emails last year in which they discussed two undercover operations on the Southwest border, including the failed Fast and Furious program.

In the emails that the department turned over to congressional investigators, Justice Department officials last October discussed both the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking surveillance operation in Phoenix and a separate investigation from 2006 and 2007 called Operation Wide Receiver. In Wide Receiver, which took place in Tucson, firearms also were acquired by illegal straw purchasers and lost in Mexico, the emails say.

The term "gun walking" is central to the failure of Fast and Furious. Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives purposely allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arrest them. But they lost track of more than 2,000 weapons, and the Mexican government says some of them have turned up at about 170 crime scenes there. Two were recovered at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent's slaying in Arizona in December.

Justice Department officials have said repeatedly that they knew nothing of Fast and Furious tactics until ATF whistle-blowers went public this year with allegations that guns were being illegally purchased with the ATF's knowledge.

Justice Department officials, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigations into Fast and Furious, said that although senior department officials knew that guns were "walked" in the Wide Receiver investigation, they were unaware that ATF agents were using similar tactics in Fast and Furious.

Jason Weinstein, deputy attorney general in the criminal division, brought up both cases in an October 2010 email, apparently concerned that they were going to overlap.

"Do you think we should try to have Lanny participate in press when Fast and Furious and [the] Tucson case are unsealed?" he asked about his boss, Lanny A. Breuer, head of the criminal division. "It's a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but it is a significant set of prosecutions."

James Trusty, acting chief of the department's organized crime and gang section, responded, "I think so but the timing is tricky too."

He said the Tucson case would be ready for indictments before Fast and Furious, and that "it's not clear how much we're involved in the main F and F case."

Either way, he added that "it's not going to be any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX, so I'm not sure how much grief we get for 'guns walking.' It may be more like, 'Finally they're going after people who sent guns down there' "

Investigators working for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, view the emails as strong evidence that Justice Department officials knew about "gun walking" tactics in Fast and Furious.

Fast and Furious ran from fall 2009 to January, culminating in charges against 20 people — none of them cartel leaders. It was unclear whether any indictments were issued in the Wide Receiver operation.

July 2010 memos, part of weekly reports, discussed an illegal straw purchaser in Fast and Furious who bought 1,500 weapons "that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels."

October and November memos said that "Phoenix-based 'Operation Fast and Furious' is ready for takedown" — several months before the investigation was officially closed.

Copies of all of the memos were heavily redacted.

Justice Department officials said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. routinely received reports about myriad ongoing investigations around the country, and that the reports did not disclose that ATF agents were purposely "walking" the weapons. They said Issa received a similar Fast and Furious update last year.

But congressional investigators said the memos suggested Holder had hedged what he knew.

According to the emails, Holder was told generally about Fast and Furious in the memos in July, October and November 2010, well before he told congressional committees he had first learned of the program.

On March 10, Holder testified before a Senate subcommittee that he had just learned about the Fast and Furious gun-walking allegations and had asked for the inspector general's investigation. "We cannot have a situation where guns are allowed to walk," he said.

On May 3, he was asked by Issa when he first learned about Fast and Furious. "I'm not sure of the exact date," Holder testified. "But I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."

Justice Department officials said Holder was referring to the date when he first learned about the operational details of Fast and Furious, not the program itself.

Today's Tune: Warren Zevon - Jeannie Needs a Shooter (Live)

Monday, October 03, 2011

Erdoğan and the Long Shadow of Lepanto

By James G. Wiles
October 2, 2011

The Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese (1571)

Sign of the times: on September 27, according to the McClatchey newspapers, Turkey took delivery of a spanking new warship, the TCG Heybeliada. The 300-foot corvette is the first in modern times built in Turkey's own shipyards. A sister ship is reportedly undergoing sea trials.

In an unusual move, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan attended the ceremony and delivered the principal address. Even more unusual (although, unfortunately, it's becoming typical of the direction of Turkish foreign policy in the Age of Obama) was what the newly reelected PM said.

Erdoğan began by pointing out that the ceremony was taking place on the 473rd anniversary of the Battle of Preveza in northwestern Greece. There, in 1538, an Ottoman naval fleet defeated a Christian alliance put together by Pope Paul III. After routing the Holy League, the Turkish admiral, the fabulous Hayreddin Barbarossa ("Redbeard") went on to besiege the Venetian stronghold of Corfu and to raid the Spanish-held Calabrian coast of Italy.

How very odd.

Hayreddin was the Sultan's greatest admiral. His tomb, a public park, a statue (complete with a fine patriotic poem), and a major boulevard are all major destinations in modern Istanbul. The mausoleum stands next to the Turkish Naval Museum. Traditionally, Turkish warships salute Hayreddin's tomb with a cannon shot when embarking from the former Sublime Porte.

Said the Turkish Prime Minister: "I recommend the international community take the necessary lessons from the Preveza victory. Turkey's national interests in the seas reach from its surrounding waters to the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean." Turkish President Abdullah GUl then underlined Prime Minister Erdoğan's message.

Notice, please, that Turkey's newly announced zone of national interest runs right past Israel. That's no coincidence. It was only this month when Prime Minister Erdoğan blasted Israel for defending its use of naval force to maintain a blockade of the Gaza Strip against the so-called peace flotilla last year. Erdoğan sent the Israeli ambassador to Turkey home and also tore up several military cooperation agreements between the two nations.

Erdoğan also threatened that the Turkish navy -- Turkey's a NATO member, be it noted -- might escort any second Gaza peace flotilla to Gaza. That and the PM's remarks this week are only part of a larger Turkish drive to establish a sphere of influence -- both political and military -- across the Near and Middle East. Turkey is also presently locked in confrontation with both Greece and Israel over oil drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Once again, we see the return of history.

The Greeks and the Turks. The Turks, remembering the Ottoman past. The Kurds (Saladin's people). The Jews. The Arabs. Not least, the Iranians, heirs to the Persians. Earlier this year, Iran sent its own warships through the Suez Canal and into the Eastern Med (specifically, to Syria). If President Obama's and the Democrats' planned scale-back of the U.S. military comes to fruition, we can expect more of this.

Meanwhile, the underreported pushing and shoving among the navies and air forces of China, the United States, Vietnam and the ASEAN nations in, under, and above the South China Sea continue apace. As in the Eastern Med, the issues are access to oil, domination of the potential battle space, and economic choke-points: the Straits of Malacca and the Suez Canal.

By the way, what are Turkey's national interests in the Indian Ocean? Just asking.

For now, however, how very odd of Prime Minister Erdoğan to make his bellicose allusion to history on the very eve of the Christian naval victory over the greatest Ottoman fleet ever assembled. One must ask: who briefed the PM? Doesn't he know about the Battle of Lepanto?

There, off the southwestern coast of Greece, on October 7, 1571, another Christian fleet, also assembled by a pope and commanded by Spain, decisively defeated an Ottoman fleet bent on invading the Western Med. It was intended to be a first step towards the Muslim conquest of Western Europe. Eastern Europe had already been taken. Lepanto was the first attempt at a Muslim drive into Western Europe since Martel defeated the Arab army at the Battle of Tours on October 10, 732.

It would not be the last.

Pope Pius V, as G.K. Chesterton tells in his poem, Lepanto, was no pacifist. The first pope to wear white (he was a Dominican monk; Pius V is the reason popes since then have worn white) called for "swords around the Cross" -- and got them. A new Holy League formed.

Sultan Selim had told his men that if they cleared the Med of Christian warships, he would personally lead the Ottoman army to Rome. St. Peter's, filled with the Renaissance art and architecture of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bramante, would become a mosque. Its church bells -- as had been done in 997 by the Muslim armies of the Caliph's commander, Almansur, with the bells of Spain's Santiago de Compostela above the tomb of St. James -- would be upended and filled with oil, to burn in honor of Allah.

The issue was judged so important that Protestant fighters came from Lutheran Germany and Elizabethan England to join under the pope's banner.

Catholics of the time attributed what happened at Lepanto to the intervention of the Virgin Mary. It is said that, at a certain moment, the direction of the wind changed. The result is captured in numerous paintings, including by Tintoretto, Veronese, and Vicintino in Venice and Titian in Madrid, among others.

Instead of a victory, the cream of the Ottoman fleet was destroyed (80 ships sunk and 130 captured, including the Sultana, the Ottoman flagship -- grappled and carried by storm by the Christian flagship) and 30,000 of the Sultan's men were killed, wounded, or captured by the Holy League. Some 12,000 Christian galley slaves were freed.

Because the pope had ordered that the Rosary be said continuously until the result of the Ottoman invasion was known, October is today the Month of the Rosary, with October 7 celebrated on the Catholic liturgical calendar as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Originally, it was the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, as numerous churches and works of art commemorate across Europe.

The Sultan's banner, by the way, once hung in the Vatican. It's since been, er, lost. The banner was made of green silk and supposedly bore the name of the Prophet some 28,000 times, in gold thread. The Battle of Lepanto is also the reason that "Our Lady, Help of Christians" is one of the Virgin Mother's titles, so ordered by the Holy Father.

Why is this relevant? The 1500s were not, to put it mildly, a politically correct time. Why bring up all this unpleasant history now -- in the 21st century?

Well, we didn't. The Turkish prime minister just did. What in the world was he thinking?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Criminal Genius of Caravaggio

The New York Times
Published: September 30, 2011

A Life Sacred and Profane
By Andrew Graham-Dixon
Illustrated. 514 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $39.95.

In one of the last pictures he ever painted, a grim and startling “Resurrection” altarpiece, Caravaggio showed a scrawny, bedraggled Jesus Christ slipping out of the tomb and making off alone by night, “like a criminal escaping from his guards,” in the words of an 18th-century Frenchman. Shock was the conventional response to this painting (eventually destroyed by earthquake, along with the church where it hung). The artist himself was on the run at the time, wanted for murder and so jittery that he slept in his clothes with a dagger always at hand. “Whatever he set out to paint,” Andrew Graham-Dixon writes in his gripping biography, “he always ended up painting himself.”

Just over a decade earlier Caravaggio had painted Medusa, the Gorgon with snakes for hair who turned all who saw her to stone. He gave her staring eyes and a contorted mouth, apparently painted from his own reflection in a circular mirror. A sackful of water snakes from the Tiber modeled for the glistening, coiled and writhing plaits of her hair. It is an electrifying image of the artist in the concentrated act of catching and freezing a moment in time: “The painter takes on her role and in doing so claims for himself her dark powers of enchantment. . . . Her magic is his magic, a petrifying art.”

This reckless mix of myth with unadulterated realism stunned and appalled Caravaggio’s contemporaries. Caught at the turn of the 17th century between an increasingly degenerate Mannerism and the sumptuosity of nascent Baroque, he was a practicing modernist more than 300 years ahead of his time. Under constant attack in his day, disparaged, downgraded and all but forgotten after his death, his work had to wait until the second half of the last century to come into its own.

Caravaggio’s prime subject was the squalor, violence and energy of Roman street life. The biblical scenes he painted for wealthy churchmen were peopled by prostitutes, pimps, criminals, beggars, office workers, soldiers and ordinary laborers in drab, ragged clothes with dirty bare feet and grimy fingernails. His commissions all too often courted rejection when the priests who took delivery recognized a local prostitute in the refined and delicate features of his virginal young saints and Madonnas. The gruesome beheadings, throat-slittings and torture he depicted with such unparalleled immediacy reflect the rough justice to be seen every day in public executions and brawls.

His world was perilous and bloody. Born a week before the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Turkish invaders were driven out of Christendom with fearsome slaughter on both sides, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was just 6 years old when bubonic plague killed virtually every man in his family, including his father. He grew up contentious, aggressive and touchy. As a young man he roamed the streets in search of trouble with a band of “painters and swordsmen who lived by the motto nec spe, nec metu, ‘without hope, without fear,’ ” according to an early biographer, who might have been describing the opportunistic gangs bent on looting and rioting in the capitals of Europe today.

But all his life Caravaggio had friends in high places, starting with the influential Colonna family, which had close links with his mother’s family in Milan. Patrons and protectors responded, sometimes in spite of themselves, to the artist’s phenomenal imagination, the beauty and brilliance of his painting, his raw emotional exposure and the acute sensitivity that went with it.

Next to nothing is known of his private life, although much has been predicated on the early works featuring plump, pretty, provocative boys got up as angels or lutenists, as Bacchus, Cupid or Caravaggio’s favorite saint, John the Baptist. Some very young, all more or less naked, often seated on rumpled beds or draped loosely in bedsheets, they offer fruit, wine, music and all too plainly sex. The luscious baskets of fruit in these pictures are marked by bruises, wormholes and withered dry leaves. There is the same morbid frailty in the parted lips and sad knowing eyes of his epicene children, whose peachy skin and pudgy faces suggest dissolution or, in Graham-Dixon’s phrase, “the hormonal side effects of castration.”

Caravaggio’s only known studio assistant was the 12-year-old Cecco, who probably shared his bed. The same boy can be seen progressing with time on canvas from a seductive, laughing, open-faced child to the somber young David who dangles at arm’s length the dark, battered, bleeding, severed head of Goliath. This grisly head is unmistakably a self-portrait, painted on one of the flights that took Caravaggio — pursued by enemies, tormented by grief and horror — from Rome, where he had been sentenced to death for murder in 1606, to Naples, Malta, Sicily and back to Naples, heading once more for Rome.

“Fear hunted him from place to place,” an early biographer wrote. The majestic, stark and highly charged works of his last years were produced, often in haste, at way stations on these desperate journeys, which ended in 1610 with Caravaggio’s sudden, solitary, almost certainly accidental death at Porto Ercole, just short of Rome. Guilt and pain are compounded in these paintings by compassion, humanity and, in “David With the Head of Goliath,” profound and disturbing self-knowledge.

Several recent and increasingly authoritative accounts of Caravaggio’s life and work have helped precipitate the current revival, including two excellent reconstructions by the novelists Peter Robb and Francine Prose. Given the near-total lack of documentary evidence and the elusive nature of the subject himself, it is hardly surprising that fictional techniques have penetrated in some ways further and more surely than the sterner disciplines of art history. Graham-Dixon, the author of “Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel,” ably combines the two in “Caravaggio.”

He makes the most of Italian criminal records, intensively trawled by contemporary scholars to clear up confusion (especially concerning the final four years), and to provide graphic glimpses of the young Caravaggio squabbling, fighting, trading threats and insults, smashing plates in restaurants and slashing opponents with knife or sword. The only other available source is the art, to which Graham-Dixon brings the kind of imaginative and emotional intelligence that gives life and point to painstaking research.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds,” a last great altarpiece painted in Sicily, looks back to the first Christmas crib, devised by St. Francis; to the popular religious art the painter knew as a child; and to his own and his mother’s sense of abandonment in the plague-ridden 1570s. The painting shows no angels, trumpets, human tributes or celestial light, only, as Graham-Dixon says, a destitute refugee mother who owns nothing but the clothes on her back, clutching her newborn child and staring into a bleak future as she lies exhausted in the dark, propped against a feeding trough on the beaten earth floor of the stable. Three baffled workmen and her elderly husband “look on but cannot touch, like dreams or ghosts. . . . Iconographically, the gnarled and saddened men are Joseph and the shepherds. Emotionally, they are Caravaggio’s father, his uncles, his grandfather — all the men in the family that he might have had, but lost.” This book resees its subject with rare clarity and power as a painter for the 21st century.

Hilary Spurling’s most recent book, “Pearl Buck in China: Journey to ‘The Good Earth,’ ” won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography this year. She is writing a life of Anthony Powell.

Caravaggio: Rogue, Murderer, Brilliant Painter

And a versatile pain in the ass

By James Camp
The New York Observer
August 24, 2011

Michelangelo da Caravaggio was not, technically, a Renaissance man—that era was over by the time he was born, in 1571—but he was, by all accounts, a versatile pain in the ass. The painter was a punk. He bragged. He went for broke. He beat people up, and people beat him up. To the same acute degree that he lacked a neighborly disposition, Caravaggio also lacked a fine business sense, a noble decency, a funnybone, and an inclination to pick up the tab. He welshed on everyone. When his Roman landlady seized his effects for nonpayment of rent, in 1605, “the said Michelangelo came and threw so many stones at the shutters of my windows that he broke them all down one side,” as she claimed in court. But he was too precious for his patrons to part with; the said Michelangelo was rescued from his snafu. Such snafus seem to have been the status quo. We do not know exactly how Caravaggio died; we do know that “fucked-over cuckold” was an epithet he used “fairly frequently.”

Because he was a genius, Caravaggio kept catching breaks. Because he could not truckle, he kept screwing them up. The inability to tone it down was not a pose; the artist lacked an off switch. In the winter of 1605, Caravaggio was engaged to produce an altarpiece for Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the Park Avenue of painterly real estate. It was the loftiest commission he had ever received. The result, The Madonna of the Serpent, was exquisite. It was also a nonstarter. “He had stressed [the Madonna’s] tenderness,” writes Andrew Graham-Dixon in Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, “leaning down over the child with gentle solicitude, but in the process he had revealed quite a lot of her cleavage.” The commissioners balked. The zaftig Virgin would not cut it. Caravaggio was turned away, his Madonna spurned.

In retrospect, the most surprising thing about the episode is that anyone was surprised. All the artist had done was live up to the reputation that got him the gig. Caravaggio is the father of Tenebrism, a method of painting that combines photorealistic granularity with Gothic dinginess. “He composed by staging scenes, or fragments of scenes, that he knitted together, collage-like, on his canvas, using shadow to mask the joints,” writes Mr. Graham Dixon. The technique behind it is known as chiaroscuro. Its effect on painting was comparable to that of grunge on music, or Hemingway on prose—at once a roughing-up and a paring-down, enacted in the name of cutting out the crap. It was a reaction to the conceits of an earlier age.

The Renaissance had been a time of aesthetic idealism; it erected a cult to ideal images. An ugly subject (a rape, a murder, a martyrdom) was merely a more complex opportunity for beauty. Human bodies, especially, had to look good. They had to be tuned, proportioned, poised. Caravaggio’s innovation was to revert to what he saw right in front of him. Michelangelo Buanarotti had mined Attic Greece for his models; Michelangelo da Caravaggio discovered his muse somewhere between the barroom and the back alley. “To animate the old stories of Christianity, to make them seem as though taking place in the present day, he had developed his own unique method,” Mr. Graham-Dixon writes, “he would systematically restage the sacred dramas, using real, flesh-and-blood people, and paint the results.” He painted whores, crones, wayfarers, the proles and perps of contemporary Rome. He adapted the Good Book to the idiom of the guttersnipe.

It was an exacting aesthetic. It left out landscape, sunlight, heavenly choirs, healthy cuticles. It put in grime; Caravaggio is the great painter of toejam. “Caravaggio was also becoming famous as the great painter of feet.” The result altered the DNA of Biblical imagery. Gone was the grandeur of a Raphael, the pure blues and unblemished pastures: “There is very little landscape in Caravaggio, very little feel of the open air.” In its place, stooped figures grappled in the gloom. Many of Caravaggio’s women have more in common with mollusks than they do with Botticelli’s maidens.

“In life as in art he hid what he wanted to hide in the shadows,” Mr. Graham-Dixon notes. The fragmentary paper trail of Caravaggio’s life oddly simulates the aesthetic that made it famous. The rap sheet shadows the oeuvre; the rumors inflect the facts. And indeed, a Dutch contemporary “described [Caravaggio] as a piece of living chiaroscuro.” The test for biographers of Caravaggio has therefore been to mimic the artist’s signature move—to make the murk eloquent. It requires style as well as research. Mr. Graham-Dixon pulls it off.

Michelangelo da Caravaggio grew up in Lombardy, splitting time between Milan and the exurb of his surname. He was lowborn, provincial, unlikely. Although previous biographers have made much of Caravaggio’s apprenticeship to Simone Peterzano, a mediocre local artist, Mr. Graham-Dixon argues, persuasively, that it meant little. “There was no reason to believe he was anything but an unruly teenager.” Caravaggio left Lombardy in his early 20s. He had the touchiness of the upstart; the orneriness of the autodidact. He may, according to some accounts, already have committed a murder. His destination was Rome.

The city flowed with testosterone. “Rome was not just an overwhelmingly male city; it was a city full of young and unattached men competing desperately with one another for favours.” There were 10,000 artists in a population of 100,000. The odds were bad, and they were compounded by Caravaggio’s temperament. But Caravaggio made it anyway, ascending from the streets into the retinue of an enlightened churchman, Cardinal Guidobaldo Del Monte. (The Cardinal looked “a little bit like a chess piece come to life,” as Mr. Graham-Dixon wonderfully describes him.) Under his aegis, Caravaggio grew famous. The fame had a tinge of infamy.

“There is no sign that success mellowed him,” Mr. Graham Dixon observes. Caravaggio’s rise augured his fall. His paintings were tense with violence. “The picture’s subject is a yearning for death so strong that it resembles sexual desire,” as the author writes of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Everywhere he went, Caravaggio wore a sword. He slurred rivals and irked the law. He brawled over women, artichokes, art criticism. Such was his entwinement with prostitutes that Mr. Graham-Dixon concludes, convincingly, that he was a pimp. A feud with a competitor reached the boiling point, and Caravaggio killed him in a tennis court. A bando capitale was imposed: “This meant that anyone in the papal stats had the right to kill him with impunity,” He skipped town, never to return.

From there he went to Naples—and then onto the isle of Malta, where he labored to become a knight, a rank that would annul the bando capitale. It took a year. A month after knighthood was granted to him, Caravaggio was stripped of it for assaulting a peer. Before Caravaggio died, in 1610, awaiting a pardon on the outskirts of Rome, that same peer would hunt him down and slash his face—“perhaps partially blind[ing]” him. His comeuppance had caught up with him. Caravaggio’s art did not recover.

Mr. Graham Dixon is an able tracker of his elusive subject. He tells a good story; he updates the factual record; he upends old hypotheses, and proposes others. Caravaggio was bisexual. He committed homicide in a duel, not a spontaneous ruckus. He painted his David in Rome. Where Mr. Graham-Dixon excels, however, is in the indication of irony. Caravaggio was a populist, yet his audience, while he lived, was elite; his paintings were too candid about the lives of the masses for mass consumption. Status obsessed the man, but scum mesmerized his art. The pious Catholic killer pimp “opened a Pandora’s Box of vulgarity.” Mr. Graham-Dixon is paraphrasing the observation of an enemy of Caravaggio’s here, but there may be something to it. The biographer gives Martin Scorsese, an avowed Caravaggiste, the last word in his book. Still, Caravaggio’s true cinematic heir may lie elsewhere. Blood and guts, rags and gloom, the literal-minded depiction of illiteracy—this sounds like a movie by Mel Gibson.

Machine Gun Preacher

By Doug Giles
October 2, 2011

Finally … a major motion picture with a solid Christian premise that’s not repellently corny and doesn’t star Christendom’s ubiquitous default leading man, Kirk Cameron (who sports the acting range of a Red Ryder BB gun).

Machine Gun Preacher tells the story of biker bad boy Sam Childers (played by 300’s Gerard Butler) who collides with Christ via the influence and prayers of his wife, Lynn (portrayed by Mission: Impossible III’s Michelle Monaghan). Upon conversion, Sam morphs into a crusading missionary who rescues kidnapped kids from a Sudanese warlord by the means of prayer, hard work and an AK-47.

As a Christian, I must confess that I’ve become a wee bit leery of Christian-themed movies for two reasons:
  1. If Hollywood has anything to do with it, the flick will usually depict Christians as buckle-shoed killjoys with three teeth who forbid dancing, have an IQ of 50, and secretly hump altar boys.
  2. Typically when Christians pony up to produce a movie it’s way underfunded and sports a cast of D-grade actors who stumble through predictable lines that drip with Precious Moments goo. It’s either that or some god-awful end of the world waste of celluloid that appeals only to atheists’ sense of humor or to the niche market Rapture crowd. Yep, generally speaking, when it comes to producing movies, like soup in a bad restaurant, the church’s mind is better left unstirred.

Machine Gun Preacher, however, avoids both Hollywood’s acrimonious assaults and the church’s Lysol-disinfected depictions of a gritty faith in a crappy world.

The R-rated film opens with a fusillade of sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, violence and more F-bombs dropped than Chris Rock could spew if he were to accidently smack his crotch with a sledgehammer. I’m kidding … there are not that many F-bombs in the film—but they are there, my beloved, so you have now been officially warned.

For me the crassness of MGP is both refreshing and necessary. It is refreshing in the sense that its depiction of a lost dude’s lostness is kept base and not gussied up for the sensibilities of the saints. The film makes zero attempts at keeping the religious comfy so that they won’t pop a blood vein in their easily offended foreheads. Delicious.

Secondly, the rawness is essential, at least to me, as a backdrop to spotlight the radical love and transforming power that faith in Christ delivers to Sam and why he’s passionate about following God in an extremely sacrificial way. I believe the maxim is, “Those who’re forgiven much, love much.”

Another hurdle those in the holy huddle are going to have problems getting their PC-addled backsides over will be Sam’s use of a machine gun to kill the Sudanese freaks who are kidnapping kids from the district in which he labors.

To some Christians this poses a conundrum for proper Christian conduct in complex situations. The debates this movie is going to spawn among the brethren will be delectable. However, for me and the parents of the kids who had been kidnapped, raped, beaten and/or forced to kill at the kidnappers’ behest, Sam’s use of lethal force is not problematic but rather commonsensical: The wage of sin is death, and Sam’s there to inflict it if someone messes with his kids. Indeed, in Sam’s situation he asks not the question, “What would Jesus do?” but rather, “Whom would Jesus whip?” Good for him. Next.

Aside from Sam’s tale, powerfully depicted by Gerard Butler, we have his wife Lynn’s life showcased in a potent way as well. Lynn, a former stripper who came to faith before Childers and prayed Sam to his senses, loved him when most women would have divorced him or berated him into compliance. She supports him during the insane startup of his work in the Sudan and rebukes him when he wants to quit after the rebels blow his orphanage to smithereens. Cowabunga, baby. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Good luck trying to find a girl like Lynn, boys.

In my obnoxiously humble opinion, this non-preachy film is a game changer that breaks from the predictable puerile depictions of Christians trying to follow God in a jacked-up world and instead highlights the up and down reality of a bad guy, rescued by a good God, who out of love for God and man wants to save innocent children in a vicious part of the planet. And it does so without pulling punches in regard to language, lifestyle, or the means necessary to rescue the kids (nor does it attempt to downplay Childers’ brutal internal struggles in accomplishing this beautiful work).

Bottom line: This controversial movie kicks butt (literally) and is well worth the ten bucks for the ticket price.

For information and locations where you can see Machine Gun Preacher check out

'Machine Gun Preacher' Sam Childers larger than film

Tough-guy child crusader Childers puts director Marc Forster, star Gerard Butler and screenwriter Jason Keller to the test, both on-screen and off.

September 18, 2011
By Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times

Gerard Butler (center) portrays Sam Childers (right) in the new Marc Forster film,… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Reporting from Toronto — — A few years ago, director Marc Forster went to visit Sam Childers at his home in rural Central City, Pa., eager to learn about how a drug dealer became a preacher and then director of an orphanage in Africa. As a get-to-know-you activity, Childers took the Swiss filmmaker (who has a penchant for purple sneakers and pink-striped socks) into his backyard to shoot guns.

When screenwriter Jason Keller first met the outsized Childers, who has fought alongside the Sudan People's Liberation Army, Childers challenged his credentials so strongly the scribe rose from the table in a huff. Just as he was about to stalk off, Childers grabbed his arm and said: "I was just testing you.... Sit down. Let's keep talking," Keller recalls.

And when Gerard Butler made the pilgrimage to Central City, he sat down and Childers handed him a firearm. Childers neglected to tell the Scottish actor it was loaded until Butler started playing with it.

"Sam loves to test people. To challenge them and say, 'OK, what have you got?'" says Butler. "So handing me a loaded gun, to you and me, that might seem like a very dangerous and insane thing to do. To him, it's like making a cup of tea."

Forster, Keller and Butler passed the tests, and the result is the new film based on Childers' most unconventional life, "Machine Gun Preacher."

Childers' story is nothing if not cinematic. Act 1: He spends his youth running drugs, riding Harleys, packing heat and doing time. Act 2: In his 30s, he suddenly finds God, builds his own church and starts preaching himself. Act 3: On a mission trip to southern Sudan, he sees a child's body torn apart by a land mine. The searing experience inspires him to build an orphanage there — and to take up arms himself against the Lord's Resistance Army, a Uganda-based militia group notorious for mutilating, killing and conscripting children into its cult-like ranks.

The prime challenge of the film, a flawed hero's tale, is to capture Childers' duality — is he a man of God, a vigilante or both? — while straddling the line between real emotion and schmaltz. It's a tough balance to strike, especially considering how the subject matter makes grown men cry when they get to talking about it.

The movie, which opens in theaters Friday and stars Butler as Childers, premiered Sept. 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. Childers was on hand to promote the film, decked out in full Harley-Davidson gear, from his brown sleeveless shirt to his black steel-toed boots.

He looked more out of place on the red carpet than you could imagine him feeling when he was first dropped onto the African plains and encountered the LRA, whose leader, Joseph Kony, has claimed he wants to install a Christian government in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments.

With a toothpick constantly wedged in his teeth and a Machine Gun Preacher tattoo filling up his right bicep, the 49-year-old Childers oozes hardened masculinity. But when he begins speaking about the children victimized by the LRA, all the tough-guy pretense falls away and his soulful brown eyes well up with tears.

"A lot of people don't think I've done right," Childers says, acknowledging his many critics, who fault him for using violence, period — even against people as reviled as LRA leaders (who have been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity).

"But you haven't seen the 3-year-olds that were raped, you haven't seen a young girl with her bottom hanging to the ground, you haven't seen the child with the lips cut off, noses or ears," he says. "Just for one moment imagine if [that child] was yours and I could go stop it."

"Machine Gun Preacher" became a passion project for its writer, director and lead actor. Butler, best known as the star of "300," agreed to work for one-thirtieth of what he typically earns. Keller paid for his own research trips to Africa. Forster, director of "Finding Neverland" and "Quantum of Solace," made do with a $30-million budget, not a lot for a film shot on two continents over 51 days.

The intensity of the story gradually broke down Butler as he immersed himself in Childers' world. According to Forster, the 41-year-old actor carried a photo album around with him on the set in South Africa, constantly referencing pictures of children horribly disfigured by the LRA fighters who have been raiding and pillaging villages in the dead of night for more than two decades.

"By the end of the movie I wasn't in a good space," says Butler, getting misty-eyed.

The end credits of "Machine Gun Preacher" include clips of Childers defending his unconventional methods. "We wanted to bring this story back to 'reality' and illustrate that what everybody just witnessed actually lives and breathes," screenwriter Keller says.

The film itself hews closely to Childers' reality, though timelines are compressed and some characters were merged for the sake of storytelling. Childers says more than 70% of the film is true — especially its depiction of his younger years, when drugs and violence were the central aspects of his life.

"I cry every time I watch it, especially the first part when I was not a good person," says Childers. "There are things in that movie that I tried to block out — I started doing drugs when I was 11. I was a heroin addict. I sold drugs to my high school teachers — and now it's out there. None of that was fabricated."

As for the film's action sequences set in Sudan, which depict him fighting alongside militiamen battling the LRA, Childers says they were "amped up." Keller agrees, even as he defends the scenes. (Southern Sudan voted for independence from northern Sudan in a referendum earlier this year, but the conflict involving the LRA continues in the region.)

"Sam didn't dispute it. He understood what we were doing," Keller says. "The truth is that the guy absolutely has been in firefights with the LRA. He's had numerous attempts on his life including a sniper that almost shot him about a mile outside the gates of his orphanage.

"I interviewed numerous SPLA soldiers when I was over there, and many children who had seen war. All of them told me stories of battle far more intense and horrific than what we depicted in the movie," he adds. "So from my perspective, the 'action' accurately shows the brutality and violence that has plagued Sudan for 20-plus years."

In any case, whether "Machine Gun Preacher" hews to a documentary-like standard is beside the point for both Childers and the filmmakers, because they want it to be more than a just a movie. They hope "Machine Gun Preacher" sparks audiences to take an interest in a conflict long ignored by Westerners.

"It doesn't really matter if people like or dislike the movie; they will be aware of the situation," Forster says. "For me this movie is about a man who had no means but took the power in his own hands to change people. He's not Gandhi. But whether you agree with it or not, he still put his life on the line to save kids. That alone for me was worth telling the story."