Saturday, March 03, 2012

Winner Take All

A look at the UNC-Duke regular season title game history.

By Adam Lucas
March 2, 2012

Carolina and Duke will stage a winner-take-all battle for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Overall, it will be the seventh such game in the history of the series, and the third in the last five years. ACC programs not named Carolina or Duke have played zero winner-take-all regular season showdowns.

A quick look at the previous six games:

1958: #6 Duke 59, #9 Carolina 46 (Durham): The two teams engaged in a brief scuffle during the game, and when the Blue Devils clinched the victory, Duke students stormed the court and cut down the nets--a tactic Tar Heel coach Frank McGuire had himself used to tweak NC State coach Everett Case earlier in his career. McGuire responded to the scene by keeping his players on the bench and waiting for a police escort to escort his team to the locker room. That move was not appreciated in Durham and led to a war of words in the newspapers over the following weeks.

1967: #4 Carolina 92, UR Duke 79 (Chapel Hill): Coming off a disappointing 70-57 loss at South Carolina, the Tar Heels rebounded to play a solid second half against Duke and claim the league championship. Larry Miller scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half to propel Carolina to Dean Smith's first league regular season title.

1978: #8 Carolina 87, #13 Duke 83 (Chapel Hill): In one of the greatest senior days in Carolina basketball history, Phil Ford scored 34 points while playing all 40 minutes in front of an adoring Carmichael Auditorium crowd. Every bit of Ford's spectacular performance was needed, as the Blue Devils--a team that would advance to the national championship game--shot 57 percent from the field.

1991: #8 Duke 83, #4 Carolina 77 (Chapel Hill): On the way to Mike Krzyzewski's first national title, Duke blew out to a 67-48 second-half lead and held on down the stretch to clinch the regular season championship. Carolina eventually closed the deficit to 80-78 with 1:08 remaining, but Greg Koubek and Thomas Hill combined to hit key free throws in the final 60 seconds, and Carolina missed a series of three-pointers in the final minute.

2008: #1 Carolina 76, #6 Duke 68 (Durham): After Carolina sprinted to a 43-31 halftime lead behind 14 first-half points from Danny Green--including the now-legendary dunk over Greg Paulus--Duke led 68-66 with 5:30 remaining. But Tyler Hansbrough's lay-up gave the Tar Heels a late lead, and Ty Lawson nailed a pair of free throws and then made a key steal that led to a Green tip-in. Duke did not score over the final 5:41.

2011: #13 Carolina 81, #4 Duke 67 (Chapel Hill): In a game played exactly 364 days ago, the Tar Heels received an early boost from a senior day starting five of Kendall Marshall, Justin Knox, D.J. Johnston, Daniel Bolick and Van Hatchell. The group left the game holding a 3-0 advantage and sparked the Smith Center crowd with several hustle plays. From there, Carolina zipped to a 51-39 halftime lead, and Duke never got closer than five points in the second half. The 14-2 ACC finish capped a Tar Heel comeback from a 5-11 record the previous season and completed an undefeated home season.

Quick Facts

•Of the six season-ending meetings, three have been reprised in the following week's ACC Tournament championship games.

•Of the six previous years when Carolina and Duke met in a winner-take-all regular season finale, the victor has claimed the ACC Tournament title just twice (1967 and 2008).

•The team that has won the winner-take-all regular season finale has advanced to the Final Four three times; the loser has advanced to the Final Four twice.

•The team with the halftime lead has won five of the previous six winner-take-all matchups (the exception was 1978).

•Saturday will mark the sixth straight regular season finale in which at least one of Carolina or Duke is playing for a share of the ACC regular season title.

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 and Facebook.

Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

By , Medical Correspondent
The Telegraph
29 February 2012

A group of ethicists has argued that killing young babies is no different from abortion (Photo: Alamy)

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article's authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.
The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.
They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”
Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

The authors therefore concluded that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”.

They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that “only the 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing.

Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.
“To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.

They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.

Both Minerva and Giubilini know Prof Savulescu through Oxford. Minerva was a research associate at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics until last June, when she moved to the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Melbourne University.

Giubilini, a former visiting student at Cambridge University, gave a talk in January at the Oxford Martin School – where Prof Savulescu is also a director – titled 'What is the problem with euthanasia?'
He too has gone on to Melbourne, although to the city’s Monash University. Prof Savulescu worked at both univerisities before moving to Oxford in 2002.

Defending the decision to publish in a British Medical Journal blog, Prof Savulescu, said that arguments in favour of killing newborns were “largely not new”.

What Minerva and Giubilini did was apply these arguments “in consideration of maternal and family interests”.

While accepting that many people would disagree with their arguments, he wrote: “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he added: “This “debate” has been an example of “witch ethics” - a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”

He said the journal would consider publishing an article positing that, if there was no moral difference between abortion and killing newborns, then abortion too should be illegal.

Dr Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St Mary's University College, said: "If a mother does smother her child with a blanket, we say 'it's doesn't matter, she can get another one,' is that what we want to happen?

"What these young colleagues are spelling out is what we would be the inevitable end point of a road that ethical philosophers in the States and Australia have all been treading for a long time and there is certainly nothing new."

Referring to the term "after-birth abortion", Dr Stammers added: "This is just verbal manipulation that is not philosophy. I might refer to abortion henceforth as antenatal infanticide."

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Springsteen: More Fanfares for Those Common Men

The New York Times’s pop critics Jon Pareles and Jon Caramanica discuss Bruce Springsteen’s album “Wrecking Ball,” to be released Tuesday by Columbia.

The New York Times
March 2, 2012

JON PARELES Jon, if good intentions were all that mattered, Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” would be a shoo-in for album of the year — which is, not coincidentally, an election year. “Wrecking Ball” is Springsteen’s latest manifesto in support of the workingman, and his direct blast at fat cats and banksters who derailed the economy. It’s sincere, ambitious and angry, which can lead to mixed outcomes. It also — which may be a surprise on an album billed as a broadside — holds some of Springsteen’s most elaborate studio concoctions since “Born to Run.”

The album has been growing on me with each play; it starts out heavy-handed, but by the end it moves from duty to pleasure. Springsteen definitely picked the right title song. “Wrecking Ball,” written from the first-person point of view of the old Giants Stadium, turns a conceit into a homily into a hoot. But he was less strategic making “We Take Care of Our Own” the first single. In my imagination he was watching that Republican debate when someone in the audience cheered the idea of letting the uninsured die, and his sense of duty kicked in; he thought he should write a song that insists compassion is patriotic. It’s a trademark E Street Band sound, from the chord changes to the glockenspiel to the backup vocals, and it feels awkward and hectoring. I don’t think, as you wrote after the Grammys, that it’s “jingoistic,” only that it tries to associate flag-waving nationalism with shared responsibility. But there’s much better stuff on the album.

JON CARAMANICA But, Jon, I too was born in the U.S.A., a country with a Constitution that guarantees the freedom of interpretation! We can talk about the intention of the author all day long — and certainly Bruce’s boomer army will do just that — but the text is far more ambiguous, and in plenty of places on this album, just outright flat.

I agree, it’s energizing to hear the type of ambitious arrangements that he’d largely abandoned when he retreated into rural bard mode. And the chill of hearing the booming sax solo on “Land of Hope and Dreams” drove me to the liner notes to confirm that, yes, it was Clarence Clemons. And “We Take Care of Our Own,” my lyrical bĂȘte noire, has the hardest-working music on the album.

But that energy is in service of deeply nebulous ideas. Even if I accept that Bruce is moving in the Pete Seeger tradition, there’s no ambiguity in Seeger’s vision, political or aesthetic. Bruce keeps it loose, though. Strip out the couple of post-Katrina references in that song, and what’s left is a tirade about locating American identity outside of government authority, a nationalism that supersedes even something petty like democracy.

It reminded me of Nashville ideologues like Trace Adkins and the slightly slipperier Toby Keith. Maybe Bruce can write some material for their new albums.

But no, fans will say: He takes on the big-money guys all over this album (though not the ones that financed and built Giants Stadium), but those lyrics feel more crudely drawn than 1970s Saturday morning cartoon villains. More showing, less telling.

PARELES What do you want from him, a tax plan? That points to the problem that only Springsteen has (give or take Neil Young). He’s the superstar who is supposed to be impeccably pure of heart and commerce, absolutely serious in his roles as the tribune of the working man and the voice of the (crumbling) American dream but still a full-tilt rock ’n’ roll entertainer.

So he’s in trouble if he gets too serious, in trouble if he leaves a loophole in a lyric, in trouble if he’s too bleak or didactic, in trouble if all he wants to do is think about girls in their summer clothes (though he’s actually thinking about mortality and loneliness).

Yet Springsteen has willingly and self-consciously shouldered that role, and has done it far differently from Pete Seeger, the folkie who proudly distrusts commercial pop. Springsteen is doing it as someone who wants to make fully produced recordings and get them heard on the radio, who sells out arenas and is not just populist but still genuinely popular. Face it — Lady Gaga doesn’t want to be Pete Seeger.

On “Wrecking Ball” he’s trying to stake out a God-and-country liberalism, a gospel of hard, sweaty work and earned income, while venting direct fury at vulture capitalists. He also comes out pro-immigrant, openly romantic (Kenny Chesney could have a hit with “You’ve Got It”) and reverent to the point of direct Bible allusions.

Where agitprop folkies would be doing this rhetorical heavy lifting over a righteously austere acoustic guitar, Springsteen only starts there. The music lifts this album out of its hard-times gloom, and charges off all over the place: roots Americana, electric guitars, synthesizers, orchestra. He’s barking “Death to My Hometown” flanked by Celtic pennywhistle over sampled Sacred Harp gospel singers (via Alan Lomax). When he sings about visiting a graveyard and remembering the dead in “We Are Alive,” what bubbles up but the country-mariachi bounce of “Ring of Fire”? It’s not all sodden earnestness.

CARAMANICA I would like the title of the next Springsteen album to be his effective tax rate. And some liner notes about the Buffett Rule, maybe.

But when he does get specific on this album, it’s disorienting. If you believe “We Are Alive,” then striking 1877 Maryland railroad workers rest alongside Birmingham civil rights agitators and also next to Mexican border crossers. One cause at a time, please. And when Springsteen intones, “I’ll mow your lawn, clean the leaves out your drain” in “Jack of All Trades,” the sodden workingman empathy literally made me nauseous.

You say that Springsteen gets in trouble if all he thinks about are those evanescent summer girls, and maybe that’s true, but one of the high points on this album for me is “You’ve Got It.” It’s Bruce at his prime sexiness, that heavy-breathing oratory of his aimed away from the laborers and the overlords and squarely at a tender young thing. “You’ve got it in your bones and blood/You’re real as real ever was,” he says, the hot air leaving a damp coat of lust on his target’s ear. He sounds predatory, lecherous, spent. It’s bracing.

That’s the Springsteen I find most provocative, the one who balances sensuality with dogma, who understands the body as a locus of pleasure, not just labor. When the music is joyous on this album, it does what his words and voice often cannot: generates goodwill. Let’s not talk about that Sam Cooke nod at the top of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” though.

PARELES You’ve definitely zeroed in on some of the weak spots. Yes, “Jack of All Trades” verges on self-parody. And the geographical and political spread in “We Are Alive” is startling — though with Calvary Hill in sight, I don’t think that’s supposed to be some particular graveyard in Jersey, and by the time the banjo comes plinking in, I don’t really care.

One odd thing Springsteen does on this album is to all but set aside one of his major skills: storytelling through a single character or two. Giants Stadium and the guy in “You’ve Got It” end up being the album’s most three-dimensional characters.

It’s as if Springsteen assigned himself to merge Woody Guthrie and gospel, all archetypes and declarations. Which means the lyric booklet isn’t the place to start. If you read “Shackled and Drawn” or “Rocky Ground,” you think they’re going to be a chore. But “Shackled and Drawn” genuinely shakes its fist and howls, while “Rocky Ground” — even with an unnecessary rap shoehorned in — ends up redemptive.

There’s been a lot of triumphal, fanfaring rock and hip-hop around. Just for a change it’s encouraging to hear a big sound that’s linked not to individual aggrandizement or indulgence, but to something more unselfish.

CARAMANICA And yet this possibly unselfish or maybe even generous album, and artist, inspires so much self-righteousness. I’d say take me back to “Nebraska,” but I fear the only thing worse than late-Bruce boosterism is early-Bruce nostalgia.

You’re totally right about the lack of characters here. He’s losing definition in his voice, but in ways that are less interesting than Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Tom Waits. He’s picking obvious targets, painting them with wide brushes, then taking cannon shots that can’t miss.

But here’s the thing: The idea that there’s only one sort of Bruce listener is outmoded, a vestige of leftist ideological privilege. My feeling is that since “The Rising,” his skepticism and grand-scale empathy have ceded some space to make room for hubris, smugness and chest thumping, and that’s made room for all sorts of readings, all types of embraces.

I agree with you about “Shackled and Drawn.” It feels like a genuine modern-day blues. But that line near the end gets me: “It’s still fat and easy up on Banker’s Hill/Up on Banker’s Hill, the party’s going strong.” I bet they’re listening to Bruce.

PARELES In the end I don’t think we’re all that far apart on this album. Though I like it better than “Magic” or “Working on a Dream,” I’m not touting it up there alongside his first seven albums — seven albums! — or “The Rising.” We’ve picked at its flaws and missteps; it’s got plenty of ups and downs.

But smugness? Hubris? I don’t hear that. It’s not as if Springsteen has been some pampered, out-of-touch rock star who was totaling up his sponsorship deals when he noticed Occupy Wall Street on his giant flat-screen TV last year. This has been his main mission at least since “Born to Run”: Think about America, especially its embattled working class, and sympathize, analyze, console, commemorate, compress, speak up, give everyone a rousing chorus.

Springsteen has been listening to arenas singing along for three decades. It’s an act of will for him to still search for musical and verbal nuance while staying terse, to not be condescending or demagogic, to say what he considers important, knowing how loud it’s going to be. Sure, he’s firing a cannon this time. At least he’s firing it in the right direction.

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Review: "Wrecking Ball" by Bruce Springsteen

The Working Man's Voice

The Wall Street Journal
February 28, 2012

On his new album, "Wrecking Ball" (Columbia), out next week, Bruce Springsteen serves up the familiar with renewed vigor and vitality. The muscled-up music bridges Mr. Springsteen past and present with a jarring, authoritative blast under and around his voice. While the early industry buzz has homed in on his lyrics, Mr. Springsteen's rage and tempered optimism are expressed at least as well by the sound and arrangements he has whipped up with producer Ron Aniello.

Mr. Springsteen says the E Street Band, which has supported him since 1972, will form the core group backing him on his world tour beginning March 18 in Atlanta. "Wrecking Ball," however, doesn't feature the E Street Band, which suffered the deaths of original members Clarence Clemons last year and Danny Federici in 2008. Singer-guitarist Patti Scialfa and drummer Max Weinberg are the only surviving E Street Band members on this disc; Mr. Weinberg appears on two cuts, including the title track, which the E Street Band performed with Mr. Springsteen beginning in 2008. Clemons's most notable contribution is a characteristically brawny solo on "Land of Hope and Dreams."

But this isn't the first time Mr. Springsteen has worked with a different cast. Here Messrs. Springsteen and Aniello play most of the guitars and other stringed instruments, keyboards and percussion. Their roaring guitar chords, dense synth lines and acoustic and electronic percussion give the music an appealing thickness. A loose-limbed horn section adds to the clamor on five tracks; soaring gospel voices and chanting singers join in, and the New York Chamber Consort's strings add a feathery touch. Violinist Soozie Tyrell, a key Springsteen contributor for more than a decade, enriches several country- and gospel-flavored cuts. Instrumental solo duties are turned over to guitarists Tom Morello and Marc Muller, whose pedal-steel work on the folk blues "You've Got It" lifts the track. Mr. Aniello, mixer Bob Clearmountain and various engineers help make sense of the music, surrendering none of the clarity heard on Mr. Springsteen's recent recordings while calling to mind his rock albums with the E Street Band and linking them to his long-standing passion for an Americana mix of folk, country and gospel.

As a lyricist, Mr. Springsteen has long embraced a populist view, and on "Wrecking Ball" the financial community is the enemy elite. "The banker man grows fat / Working man grows thin / It's all happened before and it'll happen again," he sings in the piano ballad "Jack of All Trades" after Curt Ramm's boozy, baleful trumpet solo. "Gambling man rolls the dice / Working man pays the bill / It's still fat and easy up on banker's hill" is a verse in "Shackled and Drawn." Though the pounding title song is told from the point of view of New Jersey's Giants Stadium as it was about to be torn down, it can be taken as metaphor for something perfectly functional that's cast aside when the work is done.

In the opening track, "We Take Care of Our Own," Mr. Springsteen declares that Americans have been failed by their institutions, but the song isn't an antigovernment screed. Rather, it is apathy that he opposes. "I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone," he sings, then asks, "Where're the hearts that run over with mercy?" But Mr. Springsteen believes in his countrymen: "Wherever this flag's flown / We take care of our own."

It's a theme that reverberates throughout the album. For all his despair at the state of the world, Mr. Springsteen doesn't lose faith. In the gospel rock tune "Rocky Ground," which features processed percussion, a church organ and a rap interlude, he sings, "Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand / Find your flock, get them to higher ground." The album concludes with a rousing "We Are Alive" in which he declares: "Our souls and spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart."

Throughout the album, Mr. Springsteen is in a feisty mood. Anger and hope reside side by side in his words and voice, and his energy is a palpable presence. Occasionally, his criticisms aimed at institutional foes tread into well-worn territory and cliché. But for its urgency, the breadth of the music performed admirably by the ad-hoc group of musicians, and how Mr. Springsteen is determined to inspire brotherhood with what he perceives as traditional American and Christian ideals, "Wrecking Ball" is a triumph.

Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic. Email him at or follow him on Twitter: @wsjrock.

Interview: Bruce Springsteen

'There is a patriotism underneath all my music, but it's very critical, questioning, often angry.'

By Sean Sennett
Brisbane Times
March 3, 2012

If you're in the business of writing great rock songs, it doesn't hurt to be ''pissed off about something''. That's according to Bruce Springsteen, whose latest album, Wrecking Ball, illustrates the point. Taking its name from the few tonnes of mongrel metal that brought down New Jersey's Giants Stadium, Wrecking Ball ruminates on much that has gone sour with the American and, more broadly, Western dream.

What stoked the fire in Springsteen's belly was the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, in particular the effect it had on individuals, the loss of jobs and dignity, the failure of the system to take responsibility for the collapse, and the formation of the Occupy movement.

''You tend to do your best work when there's something you can really push against,'' Springsteen says. ''People lost their homes and nobody went to jail. There was really no accountability for years.

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''A basic theft had occurred that struck at what the American idea was about.''

In Wrecking Ball, Springsteen articulates social and economic concerns through a series of well-written vignettes but the sonic backdrop is one Springsteen fans haven't heard before.

With new producer Ron Aniello at the helm, Springsteen uses a melting pot of styles that frame his distinct voice amid everything from drum loops and gospel to female rap. He even dipped into the Alan Lomax folk archives in search of sounds that would invoke previous depressions. ''I've used voices from history and from other sides of the grave I use folk music, Civil War music, gospel music and even '30s horns on a song called Jack of All Trades,'' he says. ''The idea was that the music was going to contextualise historically that this has happened before in the 1930s, the 1800s … It's happened over and over and over again.''

The first single from the album, We Take Care of Our Own, with its clear nod to the New Orleans poor who were left stranded during and after hurricane Katrina, meditates on failed governance. It does, however, have faith in the power of the people.

Like his anthem Born in the U.S.A., the political Right has already misinterpreted it.

''The song asks the question that the rest of the record tries to answer, which is, 'Do we take care of our own?' - and we often don't,'' the singer says. ''I write carefully and precisely and, I believe, clearly. If you're missing it, you're not quite thinking hard enough. There is a patriotism underneath all my music, but it's a very critical, questioning, often angry patriotism.''

Springsteen believes his work has ''always been about judging the distance between [America's] reality and the American dream''. Before the potshots are fired, he admits he lives in a big house. But his working-class roots are beyond question and he's a man known to lend a hand. His view of what the US needs is shaped by his own early home life. In the past, his relationship with his father informed much of his work, as it does now.

''I think politics come out of psychology. Psychology comes out of your formative years … From when I was born to 18, I was in a house where my mother was the primary breadwinner and worked very hard at it. My father struggled to find work. I saw that was deeply painful and created a crisis of masculinity that was unrepairable at the end of the day.''

Similar conditions exist in the US today, where a service economy is overtaking the traditional manufacturing economy.

''In families where men don't have the skills to continue being the primary breadwinner in the new employment landscape, the loss of work can create a loss of self.

''Work creates an enormous sense of self and I saw that in my mother. She was an enormous, towering figure to me in the best possible way. I picked up a lot of things from her in the way that I work … I also picked up a lot of the failings of when your father doesn't have those things and that results in a house that turns into a minefield.

''It's abusive in different ways. There's emotional turmoil.''

Springsteen says much of the anger in his music comes from that time. As he has aged, he has looked not just at the psychological forces in his family but the social forces that made home life difficult.

''That led me into a lot of the writing I've done,'' he says. ''I'm motivated circumstantially by the events of the day: 'That's unfair, that's theft, that's against what we believe in, that's not what America stands for.' The reasons to ask those questions come out of the house I grew up in. The country should strive for full employment; it brings a sense of … self-esteem and belonging.''

Chatting with Springsteen backstage at the Theatre Marigny in Paris, the singer explains that opening Wrecking Ball with We Take Care of Our Own was crucial to his dialogue with his fans.

Previous albums have followed a similar format. The River, for example, starts with The Ties that Bind. The rest of the record deals with the ideas of commitments to home and marriage raised in that song.

''If you listen to Darkness on the Edge of Town, the album starts with Badlands and the rest of the record deals with philosophical questions that come up in Badlands. Born to Run starts with Thunder Road, which is two people on a journey of some sort and the rest of the record tries to figure out where they're going.

''So I set the record up with a big song that holds the record within it. Then I start to piece [it together].''

Getting it right, however, wasn't easy. Springsteen called time on almost two now-unreleased solo albums before striking a chord with Aniello, who had been working with Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa. Also back on the production team is manager Jon Landau, whose re´sume´ includes Springsteen's seminal '70s and '80s output, back to the MC5 and Jackson Browne.

''It's not hard if it's not right,'' he says of the work that was jettisoned after Wrecking Ball.

''If it's right, you don't have to say it. But if you play it and you think, 'If I put it out, it's going to confuse the conversation I'm having with my fans,' then I don't put it out.

''I don't mind if it's good and fully realised and it's slightly confusing - that's all right. But if it's not fully realised and confusing, it's simply not done. And if it's not done, you don't wanna put it out.''

Unlike days gone by, Springsteen likes to work at a clip and his best new work carries a sense of something that feels direct and immediate. He says he has become less obsessive over the years.

''You wanna get the music down. I want to get the essence of what I do and let it roll. The record has to build and expand emotionally and people still have to have a good time listening to it.''

A highlight on the album is Land of Hope and Dreams, which features the last saxophone solo from Springsteen's faithful friend and on-stage foil, the late Clarence Clemons. Springsteen met Clemons when he was ''a kid of 22''.

''When he comes up on Land of Hope and Dreams, it's a lovely moment for me. My relationship with him fired my imagination and my own dreams. It made me want to write for those sax sounds.

''Losing him is like losing rain or air - it's elemental. When we go on tour we'll [be] taking a horn section that includes Jake [Clemons, Clarence's nephew]. It'll take a village of men to replace the Big Man.''

Springsteen has a soft spot for Australia, too. He loves the feel of the countryside and the people. He still scratches his head that a cricket match can last five days - ''That's a wild one, man.'' But, with long legs already planned for the E Street Band's tour of Britain, Europe and the US, he has no immediate plans to come here.

''It's such a damn long way away. We do get down there from time to time. I hope to get down there again. The last time all the power went out,'' he says, referring to power failures in Sydney. ''I hope there are generators down there [next time]. I hope the electricity is right,'' he says, laughing. ''I'd love to come back.''

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Land of Hope and Dreams

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Rocky Ground

Review: "Wrecking Ball" by Bruce Springsteen

By Tris McCall/The Star-Ledger
February 23, 2012

All those listening to Bruce Springsteen’s new album "Wrecking Ball" piecemeal, via leaks and previews, should do yourselves a favor: Stop and wait for the full release on March 6.

I know you can’t help it. But this well-written, well-sequenced and frequently moving album is best experienced in a single sitting — from its initial cry for reconciliation to its final, graphic description of the resurrection of the saints.

Springsteen has always drawn heavily from the lessons of his Catholic upbringing, and that has never been more apparent than it is on the 11-track "Wrecking Ball." He’s as angry as advertised about the state of the nation, and his downtrodden narrators have hard words — and even a few bullets — for those they deem responsible for the destruction of the American Dream and the sense of community and purpose that goes along with it.

But the Boss is nowhere near as distraught as he was on "Devils and Dust," as frustrated as he was on "Magic" or as ungrounded as he sometimes seemed on "Working on a Dream." Instead, he sings often (and frequently in Biblical language) of perseverance through tough times, a new world breaking through the old, and salvation for those who keep faith and compassion alive. The album is firmly on message throughout: In this presidential election year, Springsteen is making sure that no well-meaning aspirant to political office misinterprets his lyrics. If that robs his writing of some of its mystery, he’s made up for it in confrontational muscle and compassion for his characters. Think of "Wrecking Ball" as "The Rising" with the financial crisis in the place of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, and you won’t be far off.

You’ll hear plenty of echoes of "The Seeger Sessions," too, and not just in the set’s populist politics.

"Wrecking Ball" is not an E Street Band album. Max Weinberg only appears on two songs: The title track, which uses the destruction of Giants Stadium as a metaphor for resilience, and "We Are Alive," which aligns Jesus with slain union workers and those who died fighting for civil rights. The late Clarence Clemons’ final spotlight moment comes on the epic "Land of Hope and Dreams," the "Wrecking Ball" song most reminiscent of ’70s and ’80s E Street recordings. (Clemons plays on the title cut, too, but his solo is more subdued.) E Streeters Garry Tallent, Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren and Steven Van Zandt are nowhere to be found. Instead, Springsteen and producer/bassist Ron Aniello — who seems to get the Boss better than his last producer, Brendan O’Brien, ever did –— lean hard on Seeger Sessions Band alumni. Accordionist Charlie Giordano, violinist Soozie Tyrell, banjoist Greg Leisz and horn players Ed Manion, Art Baron, Clark Gayton and Curt Ramm are all over this set, and their presence allows Springsteen to reach back to the joyous, ramshackle folk-rock of the "Seeger" project — the last time the Boss sounded truly energized on record.

"Death to My Hometown" is a highly enjoyable exercise in Flogging Molly-style Celtic punk (the Boss even puts on a not-too-shabby Irish accent). The swaggering "You’ve Got It" bursts midway into a brass-spiked roadhouse celebration. "Shackled and Drawn," a piece of protest folk narrated by an exploited working man, concludes in church with a call to spiritual arms. The gospel influence on "Wrecking Ball" doesn’t run terribly deep, but helps position Springsteen as a street sermonizer offering comfort, guidance and some carefully weighed fighting words.

And preach he does. In case the listener somehow misses the moral dimensions of opening track "We Take Care of Our Own," Springsteen reminds us later, in the downcast "Jack of All Trades," that caring for each other was Jesus’ injunction to humanity. Saints and sinners ride the train to salvation together on "Hope and Dreams" and the Calvary cross casts its long shadow over "We Are Alive." "Rocky Ground," which revisits the sound of "Streets of Philadelphia" and contains a brief rap by gospel singer Michelle Moore, fits Noah’s flood and the Gospel story of Jesus and the money changers into the same stanza. (On the back half of the album, murderous rage at bankers and robber barons fades into testaments of faith and mercy.)

Even those who can’t stand the moralizing Springsteen will find much to delight in here: the Boss’ pained, evocative vocal delivery on "This Depression," the boxing-movie soundtrack strings on "We Take Care of Our Own," the piano chords ringing like a church bell on "Shackled and Drawn," the crowd-pleasing references to the football Giants and Meadowlands mosquitoes on the title track.

"Wrecking Ball" is a genuine grower: It is likely to reveal new dimensions as we live with it, as many other Springsteen sets have. It lacks the theological depth of "Devils and Dust" or the celebratory feel of the Seeger project, and there’s no song here as irresistible as "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" from "Magic." But in a moment of intense economic and spiritual confusion, the most direct album Springsteen has ever cut may be exactly what we need.

America's longest war will leave no trace

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
March 2, 2012

Supporters of Majlis-e-Ulema Pakistan, a religious group burn the U.S flag during an anti-American rally in Lahore February 27, 2012. Multiple U.S. soldiers have been killed as protests continue in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the desecration of Korans by NATO troops last week. (Reuters/Mohsin Raza)

Say what you like about Afghans, but they're admirably straightforward. The mobs outside the bases enflamed over the latest Western affront to their exquisitely refined cultural sensitivities couldn't put it any plainer:

"Die, die, foreigners!"

And foreigners do die. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Loftis, 44, and Army Maj. Robert Marchanti II, 48, lost their lives not on some mission out on the far horizon in wild tribal lands in the dead of night but in the offices of the Afghan Interior Ministry. In a "secure room" that required a numerical code to access. Gunned down by an Afghan "intelligence officer." Who then departed the scene of the crime unimpeded by any of his colleagues.

Some news outlets reported the event as a "security breach." But what exactly was breached? The murderer was by all accounts an employee of the Afghan government, with legitimate rights of access to the building and its secure room, and "liaising" with his U.S. advisers and "mentors" was part of the job. In Afghanistan, foreigners are dying at the hands of the locals who know them best. The Afghans trained by Westerners, paid by Westerners and befriended by Westerners are the ones who have the easiest opportunity to kill them. It is sufficiently non-unusual that the Pentagon, as is the wont with bureaucracies, already has a term for it: "green-on-blue incidents," in which a uniformed Afghan turns his gun on his Western "allies."

So we have a convenient label for what's happening; what we don't have is a strategy to stop it – other than more money, more "hearts and minds" for people who seem notably lacking in both, and more bulk orders of the bestselling book "Three Cups Of Tea," an Oprahfied heap of drivel extensively exposed as an utter fraud but which a delusional Washington insists on sticking in the kit bag of its Afghan-bound officer class.

Don't fancy the tea? A U.S. base in southern Afghanistan was recently stricken by food poisoning due to mysteriously high amounts of chlorine in the coffee. As Navy Capt. John Kirby explained, "We don't know if it was deliberate or something in the cleaning process."

Oh, dear. You could chisel that on the tombstones of any number of expeditionary forces over the centuries: "Afghanistan. It's something in the cleaning process."

In the past couple of months, two prominent politicians of different nations visiting their troops on the ground have used the same image to me for Western military bases: crusader forts. Behind the fortifications, a mini-West has been built in a cheerless land: There are Coke machines and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Safely back within the gates, a man can climb out of the full RoboCop and stop pretending he enjoys three cups of tea with the duplicitous warlords, drug barons and pederasts who pass for Afghanistan's ruling class. The visiting Western dignitary is cautiously shuttled through outer and inner perimeters, and reminded that, even here, there are areas he would be ill-advised to venture unaccompanied, and tries to banish memories of his first tour all those years ago when aides still twittered optimistically about the possibility of a photo-op at a girls' schoolroom in Jalalabad or an Internet start-up in Kabul.

The last crusader fort I visited was Kerak Castle in Jordan a few years ago. It was built in the 1140s, and still impresses today. I doubt there will be any remains of our latter-day fortresses a millennium hence. Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there. Before the election in 2010, the New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on Sept. 10, 2001. We came, we saw, we left no trace. America's longest war will leave nothing behind.

They can breach our security, but we cannot breach theirs – the vast impregnable psychological fortress in which what passes for the Pushtun mind resides. Someone accidentally burned a Quran your pals had already defaced with covert messages? Die, die, foreigners! The president of the United States issues a groveling and characteristically clueless apology for it? Die, die, foreigners! The American friend who has trained you and hired you and paid you has arrived for a meeting? Die, die, foreigners! And those are the Afghans who know us best. To the upcountry village headmen, the fellows descending from the skies in full body armor are as alien as were the space invaders to Americans in the film "Independence Day."

The Rumsfeld strategy that toppled the Taliban over a decade ago was brilliant and innovative: special forces on horseback using GPS to call in unmanned drones. They will analyze it in staff colleges around the world for decades. But what we ought to be analyzing instead is the sad, aimless, bloated, arthritic, transnationalized folly of what followed. The United States is an historical anomaly: the nonimperial superpower. Colonialism is not in its DNA, and in some ways that speaks well for it, and in other ways, in a hostile and fast-changing world of predators and opportunists, it does not. But even nations of an unimperialist bent have roused themselves to great transformative "cleaning processes" within living memory: The Ottawa Citizen's David Warren wrote this week that he had "conferred the benefit of the doubt" on "the grand bureaucratic project of 'nation building'... predicated on post-War successes in Germany and Japan."

It wasn't that long ago, was it? Except that, as Warren says, the times are "so utterly changed." It seems certain that, waging World War II today, the RAF would not carpet-bomb Dresden, and the U.S. would not nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And, lacking the will to inflict massive, total defeat, would we also lack the will to inflict that top-to-toe "cleaning process"?

Ah, well. Kabul is not Berlin or Tokyo. As long as wily mischief-makers are not using it as a base for global mayhem, who cares? To modify Bismarck, the Hindu Kush is not worth the bones of a single Pennsylvanian grenadier, or "training officer." Afghanistan is about Afghanistan – if you're Afghan or Pakistani. But, if you're Russian or Chinese or Iranian or European, Afghanistan is about America. And too much about the Afghan campaign is too emblematic. As much as any bailed-out corporation, the U.S. is "too big to fail": In Afghanistan as in the stimulus, it was money no object. The combined Western military/aid presence accounts for 98 percent of that benighted land's GDP. We carpet-bomb with dollar bills; we have the most advanced technology known to man; we have everything except strategic purpose.

That "crusader fort" image has a broader symbolism. The post-American world is arising before our eyes. According to the IMF, China will become the dominant economic power by 2016. Putin is on course to return to the Kremlin corner office. In Tehran, the mullahs nuclearize with impunity. New spheres of influence are being established in North Africa, in Central Europe, in the once-reliably "American lake" of the Pacific. Can America itself be a crusader fort? A fortress secure behind the interminable checkpoints of Code Orange TSA bureaucratic torpor while beyond the moat the mob jeers "Die, die, foreigners"? Or, in the end, will it prove as effortlessly penetrable as the "secure room" of the Afghan Interior Ministry?


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Releasing the Blind Sheikh?

It is too early to tell, but not too early to be very worried.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
March 1, 2012


Supporters of Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman demonstrate to call for his release in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo on April 21, 2011

The Arabic-language newspaper al-Arabiya reported on Tuesday that the Obama administration has offered to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman to Egypt. Abdel Rahman is the infamous “Blind Sheikh” who was convicted in 1995 for masterminding a terrorist war against the United States that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to bomb New York City landmarks. According to the late Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s founder, Abdel Rahman is also responsible for the fatwa — the necessary Islamic edict — that green-lighted the 9/11 attacks.

The alleged offer to release Abdel Rahman is said to be an effort to end the impasse over 16 American “civil-society activists” (including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood) being detained by Egypt’s interim government. The Blind Sheikh, the report says, would be part of a prisoner exchange: 50 Egyptians swapped for the Americans whose organizations are said to have received foreign funding in violation of Egyptian law. (See my post from last week on efforts by senior Republican senators to secure the Americans’ release.) Speculation that a quid pro quo may be in place has intensified because, in recent days, Egyptian authorities suddenly adjourned the trial of the Americans and lifted the travel ban against seven of them, including Sam LaHood — freeing them to return to the U.S.

The al-Arabiya report is available only in Arabic so far, not on the newspaper’s English-language website. It was brought to the attention of the English-speaking blogosphere late Tuesday night by the indispensable Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch (see here). Through the intercession of Andrew Bostom, the website “Translating Jihad” has now published an English translation of the full story.

Blind since the age of four, the 73-year-old Abdel Rahman has been renowned in global Islamist circles as “the Emir of Jihad” since the 1970s. He is an al-Azhar University–educated sharia jurist and the leader of an Egyptian terrorist organization, Gama’at al-Islamiya (“the Islamic Group”). Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Gama’at purports to have renounced violence. Although he was acquitted by an Egyptian court for complicity in the 1981 slaying of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Abdel Rahman has bragged about issuing the fatwa that approved the killing. His fatwas calling on Muslims to murder Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, are numerous and notorious.

American immigration authorities permitted Abdel Rahman to settle in the United States in 1990, eventually giving him permanent residence status as a “religious worker,” even though his long history of inciting terror and his virulent anti-Americanism were well known — and even though his name appeared on U.S. terrorist watch lists.

I was the lead prosecutor at Abdel Rahman’s lengthy 1995 trial. A jury convicted him of conspiring to wage a war of urban terrorism against the United States, and of bombing conspiracy, solicitation of attacks on American military installations, and conspiring to murder — as well as soliciting the murder of — Mubarak. In January 1996, then–district judge (and later U.S. attorney general) Michael Mukasey sentenced Abdel Rahman to life imprisonment. The sheikh’s convictions and sentence were unanimously upheld on appeal. My book Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad details Abdel Rahman’s history and the investigation of the jihadist organization he built in the United States.

Egyptian Islamists have been agitating for Abdel Rahman’s release since we arrested him in New York City in July 1993. Some of this agitation has predictably crossed into barbarism. In 1997, Gama’at threatened to “target . . . all of those Americans who participated in subjecting [Abdel Rahman’s] life to danger” — “every American official, starting with the American president [down] to the despicable jailer.” The organization promised to do “everything in its power” to obtain his release. Six months later, Gama’at jihadists set upon 58 foreign tourists and several police officers at an archeological site in Luxor, Egypt, brutally shooting and slicing them to death. The terrorists left behind leaflets — including in the mutilated torso of one victim — demanding that the Blind Sheikh be freed.

Gama’at subsequently issued a statement warning that its forcible struggle against the Egyptian regime would proceed unless Mubarak met its three demands: the implementation of sharia, the cessation of diplomatic relations with Israel, and “the return of our Sheikh and emir to his land.” In March 2000, terrorists associated with the Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped a number of tourists in the Philippines and threatened to behead them if Abdel Rahman and two other convicted terrorists were not freed. Authorities later recovered two decapitated bodies (four other hostages were never accounted for).

On September 21, 2000, only three weeks before al-Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, al-Jazeera televised a “Convention to Support the Honorable Omar Abdel Rahman.” Front and center were Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (then bin Laden’s deputy, now his successor as emir of al-Qaeda). They warned that unless Sheikh Abdel Rahman was freed, jihadist attacks against the United States would be stepped up. At the same event, Mohammed Abdel Rahman, an al-Qaeda operative who is one of the sheikh’s sons, exhorted the crowd to “avenge your Sheikh” and “go to the spilling of blood.”

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the New York Post reported bin Laden’s proclamation that his war on America had been justified by a fatwa promulgated by Abdel Rahman from prison. Abdel Rahman had indeed issued a decree casting the fight for his release as an Islamic duty. Regarding Americans, the Blind Sheikh exhorted “Muslims everywhere to dismember their nation, tear them apart, ruin their economy, provoke their corporations, destroy their embassies, attack their interests, sink their ships, . . . shoot down their planes, [and] kill them on land, at sea, and in the air. Kill them wherever you find them.”

The Mubarak regime, of course, fell last year, after Obama — following some temporizing — called for the Egyptian president to step down. Egypt is currently run by a military council, although it is transitioning to an overtly Islamist government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists won about 80 percent of the parliamentary seats in just-completed national elections — an outcome the Obama administration has said it welcomes.

Tuesday’s al-Arabiya story portrays the Blind Sheikh’s potential release and repatriation as an offer by the Obama administration, not a demand by Egypt’s interim government. But there have been many such demands from Egyptian sources. They have increased in number since last year’s revolt, and have featured protests outside the American embassy in Cairo. Helping spearhead the effort has been Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the extremely influential Muslim Brotherhood jurist. Like the Blind Sheikh, the 85-year-old Qaradawi is an Egyptian alumnus of al-Azhar who fled the secular regime and is regarded by Muslim supremacists as a hero. The Egyptian press reports that, ever since the Americans were detained in December, Abdel Rahman’s family and supporters have aggressively pushed the government to barter them for the sheikh’s release.

According to the al-Arabiya report, which is entitled “Umar Abd-al-Rahman at Forefront of Egyptian-American Prisoner Exchange Deal,” Egypt’s interim rulers perceive the United States to be in a “weak position” because the 16 American prisoners were caught violating Egypt’s laws and sovereignty. Thus, according to Major General Muhammad Hani Zahir, who is described as an “expert” on terrorism matters, Egypt is in a position to “exploit” the situation and demand weighty concessions.
Zahir claims that the American activists provoked some of the violence in the Egyptian uprising, and that this offense is akin to terrorism support — a charge that can result in severe sentences in Egypt, just as it does in many American terrorism cases. Zahir thus speculates that the prospect of convictions on such extreme charges puts enormous pressure on Obama. Consequently, Zahir says, the Egyptian government is pulling together a list of all Egyptian nationals currently in American custody — intimating that the government’s demands could far outstrip the 50 prisoners the newspaper claims the U.S. has offered. It is worth noting that, besides Abdel Rahman, other convicted Egyptian terrorists serving life sentences in the U.S. include Mahmud Abouhalima, one of the 1993 WTC bombers.

It is important to stress that, while it appears the Americans are being freed, all we have at the moment to suggest an unsavory deal has been cut is a report in the Arabic press. Al-Arabiya is no fly-by-night operation, but neither is it immune to the Arab media’s penchant for sensationalism and conspiracy theories. The Obama administration has not publicly indicated any intention to resort to a prisoner swap to resolve the ongoing crisis over Egypt’s detention of Americans — let alone signaled that it would be open to releasing the Blind Sheikh in such a swap. The United States provides Egypt with billions in aid and obviously has many negotiating cards to play. There should be no need to entertain requests that convicted terrorists be released.

On the other hand, there are patent grounds for concern. While President Obama has at times been admirably aggressive in taking the fight to jihadists overseas, he has at other times lapsed into appeasement — and is especially cavalier when it comes to captured terrorists. His administration is currently trying to broker a peace deal with the Taliban and is reportedly contemplating the release of terrorists held at Gitmo in order to make it happen. The administration was pressured into releasing Binyam Mohammed, an al-Qaeda operative accused of plotting with convicted terrorist Jose Padilla to carry out a second round of post-9/11 attacks against American cities. It has participated in prisoner swaps that resulted in the release of terrorists complicit in the killing of U.S. soldiers — deals that violated longstanding American policy against negotiating with terrorists. And it has gone to great lengths to propitiate the Islamists who will soon be running Egypt — branding them as “largely secular” moderates, indicating a willingness to work with them, and remaining mum as their ascendancy has led to a campaign of violence against religious minorities.

For quite some time now, I’ve been concerned that President Obama might cave in to Egyptian pressure for Sheikh Abdel Rahman’s release. I’ve assumed, however, that the president’s political instincts rendered such a move inconceivable before the November election. In the interim, I’ve hoped that an engaged Republican opponent might highlight the matter, turning it into a campaign issue, pressing Obama for a public commitment that Abdel Rahman will not be released, period. To be sure, that would be an unenforceable promise, but one Obama could not break without severe political consequences.

Has the crisis involving Americans detained in Egypt changed those calculations? It is too early to tell, but not too early to be very worried.

— 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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Former Megachurch Pastor Reflects on Battle With Lou Gehrig's Disease

By Eryn Sun , Christian Post Reporter
February 28, 2012

When Ed Dobson was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, he thought his life was over.

Given only two to five more years to live, the former megachurch pastor, who fully understood the disease's degenerative symptoms, began to slowly give up on his life, which was once busy and populated, opting instead to isolate himself in bed. That is, until one day God spoke to him in a high pitched New York accent.

More specifically, God used his friend Billy, the actual one with the accent, to speak to him and wake him up from his depression.

"[Billy] said, 'Ay, you need to be a Yogi Berra Christian,'" Dobson recalled in the first of his seven-part film series produced by Flannel, the makers of Francis Chan's BASIC videos and Rob Bell's NOOMA series.

"I have no clue what he's talking about ... so I ask him what does that mean? And he says, 'It ain't over till it's over.'"

Finding profound truth in the simple statement made by his friend, who experienced the "worst of the worst" and yet still remained hopeful each day, the Michigan preacher finally began living again in spite of the disease.

"I had considered my life as over," Dobson stated. "But it wasn't. The doctors gave me two to five years. That was over 10 years ago. If I'd given up and laid down to die, I would have missed walking my daughter down the aisle, I would have missed the birth of all five grandchildren. I would say Billy's phone call was God speaking to me with a New York accent."

As a sufferer of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of Motor Neuron Disease that is characterized by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy, inability to control all voluntary movement, and eventual death, the former executive of the Moral Majority had difficulty performing basic functions like brushing his teeth, putting on his clothes and eating.

"When I would be thinking about the future, about my kids, my grandkids, my wife, my job, all of which would be taken away, I would sink in the darkness," he revealed in his second short film "Consider the Birds."

"When I can't button my shirt or even do up the Velcro, it's a reminder that I'm on the downward spiral ... I'm afraid of tomorrow."

But reflecting on God's words in the Bible, particularly the verses found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13, the Northern Ireland native stopped worrying about tomorrow and found comfort and peace.

"God has said 'Never will I leave you never will I forsake you so we say with confidence the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid."

Those verses, which he wrote on a blue index card early on during his journey with ALS, were a reminder not only for him but also for his son Daniel, who previously served in Iraq, that God was with them.

"Giving Daniel to God and giving my disease to God is something I had to do every day and many times a day," Dobson noted. "It's not something you do and get on with your life. I was reminded of Jesus' teaching who says don't worry about tomorrow and he says look at the birds of the air, they don't sow or reap or store barns yet your father takes care of them."

The former pastor of Calvary Church, where he served for 18 years before his disease forced him to an early retirement, believes that when people are worried about the future, like he was, it is hard to find God.

But when Christians begin to live in the moment, they find that God is "right there" with them.

Though his journey with ALS has been long and filled with suffering, there have been many blessings that Dobson has discovered along the way, like newfound friendships with fellow victims of ALS.

During his last few days at Calvary, an emotional and incredibly difficult time for Dobson, he met and befriended J.J., a man who approached him at church telling him he too was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

"J.J. and I had not met until that Sunday at Calvary and within a week, because we were pilgrims on the same journey, he became one of my best friends," Dobson revealed.

J.J. had difficulty speaking and swallowing due to his "bulbar onset" ALS, which made his speech slurred and nasal in character. Eventually, he lost all ability to speak.

Shortly after J.J. was diagnosed with the disease, he bought a Corvette and decided to drive route 66 to California with 13 of his friends. He also asked Dobson to come along with him and they took an unforgettable journey across the states.

The pastor commended J.J. for facing death with "courage, dignity and grace," something he hoped to mirror and pass along to others in similar circumstances as well.

When J.J. passed away, he left the Corvette to Dobson in his will.

"I would have gladly given the Corvette back to have J.J. still here," he said in his short film. "If J.J. were here, he would say I encouraged him a whole lot more than he encouraged me but the truth is I found great courage in knowing J.J. and yes, I feel an obligation to pass that on to as many people as possible."

"Everyone I meet is on a pilgrimage or a journey and in the providence of God, our paths crossed and I think they crossed so we can mutually encourage each other. In retrospect, the random meeting of J.J. was a reminder that God was with me even on the worst of days."

Not only has Dobson forged new relationships with his ALS "pilgrims," but he has also learned to be an encouragement to everyone he meets, investing in one-on-one relationships as opposed to his former days mentoring thousands behind his pulpit on Sundays.

"When I was at Calvary, I preached to thousands of people every week," Dobson stated. "Today, it's one-on-one primarily and my struggle is you would think that influencing thousands is more important than influencing one. But I'm gradually learning that influencing one-on-one is way more important."

Like Adam and Eve were told to take care of their own garden, Dobson finds that he too must tend to his own appointed "garden" as well by meeting with individual people and helping them on their journey.

He has restored many broken relationships with those whom he wronged or those who wronged him in the past, and is able to now see the value in relationships and the futility of pride.

"I think forgiveness is a great idea until you have someone to forgive," he admitted. "And then it's very difficult. You have to humble yourself, you have to admit you were wrong, you have to look at the person in the eyeballs and all of that is intimidating."

Despite the initial reservations, however, once he began to forgive and be forgiven, he saw that he was now much slower to judge and quicker to listen.

His unexpected disease gave him wisdom, perspective, and also reminded him of what was important in life.

"I think humans have the capacity to think they'll live forever," Dobson commented. "You ain't living forever."

Once people begin to realize that their lives are coming to an end, they begin to realize how fragile life is and prioritize their day-to-day activities.

"One day it will be over but it's not about how long I have left, it's about how I spend the time I do have."

Dobson now continues to invest in new and old relationships, and encourages everyone he meets with his story, which has been told through his books like When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness and The Year of Living Like Jesus, as well as through his ongoing short film series.

Five of seven short films have been produced so far, with the last two films about thanksgiving and healing to be released soon.

"Ed's story is ... real," Steve Carr, executive director of Flannel, told The Christian Post. "A real individual dealing with real issues."

Unscripted and put together as a response to real questions, Flannel's film series about hope featuring Dobson is a beautiful reflection of his reaction to everyday life and death issues.

The idea for the series began several years ago after Dobson had written his book about his journey with ALS. When he sent a copy to his son Daniel who was serving in the military in Iraq, he told his father he should share his stories on film as well.

Dobson and his son eventually approached Flannel to ask them if they would be interested in turning his story into a film.

"I was amazed with and personally inspired by Ed's ability not only to deal with the circumstances, but to inspire others," Carr said. He too, knew what it felt like to face mortality, having been diagnosed with Leukemia.

"To show others the hope that only can come from Jesus is inspiring, to show them while you are facing a disease such as ALS is beyond inspiring," he added. "I am humbled and honored that we are able to help Ed share his message of hope."

His organization's goal for "Ed's Story" is simple: to share hope with a world that is desperately searching for some.

"At Flannel, we serve as a catalyst for creative communicators who share in our desire to tell the way of Jesus to the world. Ed used to do that from the pulpit, now he simply demonstrates every day. The hope he has is contagious!"

To learn more about the Dobson's series or any of the other shorts produced by Flannel, click here.

The first five films of "Ed's Story" can be downloaded or purchased on DVD.

Dobson currently lives in Grand Rapids with his wife Lorna and children. He serves as a consulting editor for Leadership magazine.


Sex trafficking trial unusual in scope

As many as 23 will face jury simultaneously

By Brandon Gee
The Tennessean
February 28, 2012

John Morton, right, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks at a press conference on Monday, Nov. 8, 2010, in Nashville, Tenn., concerning arrests in Tennessee and Minnesota on charges that include sex trafficking. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in a sex trafficking ring in which Somali gangs in Minneapolis allegedly forced girls under age 14 into prostitution in at least three states, according to an indictment unsealed Monday. With Mr. Morton are Assistant U. S. Attorney Van Vincent, left, and U. S. Attorney Jerry Martin, center. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Nearly two dozen defendants accused of participating in an interstate sex trafficking ring are scheduled to go before a federal jury next month in what is shaping up to be one of the biggest — and most unusual — trials in Middle Tennessee history.

In an era when limited resources and risk aversion have resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of cases that end in plea agreements rather than jury trials, not even one of the 30 defendants in the case has agreed to plead guilty, setting the stage for a massive trial in downtown Nashville that is raising a variety of issues both legal and logistical.

Twenty-nine people, mostly Somalis from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, were charged in November 2010 with running a prostitution ring that sold Somali girls as young as 12 years of age in cities including Nashville. A 30th defendant was indicted in May 2011. In addition to sex trafficking and conspiracy, the defendants also are accused of alleged crimes such as credit card fraud and burglary.

Seven defendants — including two who have not yet been apprehended — have been severed from the trial scheduled to begin March 20 and will be tried later. Even so, longtime prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee said it is shaping up to be the largest number of defendants to go to trial at once in federal court in Nashville, if not U.S., history.

“I’ve been here in this office for 21 years now, and there’s never been that number of defendants go to trial simultaneously,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent, the lead prosecutor on the case.

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman with the Department of Justice in Washington, said she could not confirm or deny the claim because it “would require canvassing all 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and asking them for knowledge of every case ever prosecuted in their office.”

Observers are chalking up the lack of plea agreements in the case to a number of factors.

Why no plea deals?

“The Somalis have a cultural thing about testifying against each other,” said former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Ed Yarbrough, who agreed that the trial is on course to be the largest, in terms of the number of defendants, in Nashville history. “I think it’s cultural. That’s what I’ve been told.”

For a comparison to a more typical scenario, one can look at the case of 32 defendants charged with racketeering, murder and other crimes in connection with an alleged plot by the Bloods gang to take over the local drug trade. Federal prosecutors say the gang used Galaxy Star, an anti-gang nonprofit in East Nashville, as a meeting spot. The nonprofit has since closed.

The case will go to trial, for just two of the defendants, beginning today. Twenty-nine other defendants already have pleaded guilty. The final remains at large.

Speaking in general from his experience with federal prosecutions, Murfreesboro attorney Jerry Gonzalez said that, in conspiracy cases like this one, the government tries to indict enough people in hopes that “the lower rung will flip on the higher rung.”

“It is very unusual,” said Gonzalez, who represents Dahir Nor Abraham in the case. “I think it would be safe to say that the prosecution is disappointed no one has flipped yet.”

While the lack of plea agreements is surprising to some, Minneapolis Police Department Officer Jeanine Brudenell said it’s not unusual when dealing with Somali defendants. The Twin Cities are home to the largest Somali population in North America, and Brudenell is her department’s designated “East African community engagement officer.”

“There is a slim possibility that some people would take plea agreements, but it wouldn’t be until last minute,” Brudenell said. “Most of the time, they will probably go through the trial process.”

Having immigrated from a country with no functional government, many Somalis are accustomed to resolving problems within small communities, Brudenell said, and that mindset colors the way they approach the American justice system.

“Our system of government is very slow; they want a quicker process,” Brudenell said. “They certainly don’t have control of (the legal process), and it’s outside their system.

“They truly think they can come to the resolution they’re looking for through negotiations outside of the system. I think in the past, but not necessarily in federal prosecutions, there has been success with witness tampering. But law enforcement and the courts are much more aware of the potential for it now.”

Tampering alleged

There has been at least one alleged incident of witness tampering in the case proceeding toward trial in Nashville. Three Twin Cities women — Hawo Osman Ahmed, Ifrah Abdi Yassin and Hamdi Ahmed Mohamud — were charged in June in a five-count indictment that includes charges of “conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, victim or informant.”

The three women threatened a witness identified only by the initials “MA” and then attacked her in her Minnesota apartment building elevator, according to the charges.

Cultural reasons aside, Franklin attorney John Cauley also noted that many of the defendants are facing a minimum 15-year prison sentence if convicted, which reduces the incentive to negotiate with prosecutors. Cauley represents Abdifitah Jama Adan in the case.

Finally, noting their defendants’ presumed innocence before trial, many of the defense attorneys said there may be a far simpler reason none of the defendants reached plea agreements: They didn’t do it.

“They maintain their innocence,” said Nashville lawyer Patrick Frogge, who represents Haji Osman Salad in the case. “I think a lot of the defendants are looking forward to their day in court.”

That day is going to come a lot faster for the defendants in this case than it has in other local federal prosecutions featuring multiple defendants and complex conspiracy. The lack of plea negotiations is contributing to the fast pace of the case. So has U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr.’s steadfastness in rejecting any requests to continue the trial due to the difficulty of shuffling dozens of attorneys’ schedules. And at a recent hearing, all defendants in attendance said they would oppose any continuance.

“Several individuals are probably not guilty,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re sitting in jail on pretrial detention, you can’t go to trial fast enough. They want to go to trial.”

The trial, expected to last months, will require modifications of Haynes’ courtroom to ensure there is enough space for the defendants and attorneys. The judge also has granted the defendants’ request to take breaks consistent with Muslim prayer times.

Contact Brandon Gee at 615-726-5982 or Follow him on Twitter at @bsgee.

Obama’s Infanticide Votes

Newt wasn’t 100 percent right — but he was about 95 percent right.

By Patrick Brennan
February 29, 2012

In last Wednesday’s debate, when the Republican candidates were asked about their positions on birth control, Newt Gingrich parried with one of his usual tactics, a fusillade against the mainstream media. He told CNN’s John King, “You did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. If we’re going to have a debate about who is the extremist on these issues, it is President Obama, who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion.”

Two points of Gingrich’s barrage warrant assessment. First, did Barack Obama, as a state senator, vote “in favor of legalizing infanticide,” by voting “to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion”? And second, has no one in the elite media ever discussed his record on the issue? Yes; and no, but essentially yes.

Gingrich’s assertion rests on then–State Senator Obama’s opposition, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, to successive versions of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, an Illinois bill that was meant to provide protection for babies born alive after attempted abortions. The bill gave them protection as legal persons and required physicians to provide them with care, rather than allowing doctors to deal with them as they would, literally, with medical waste. In 2008, Obama’s campaign repeatedly claimed that he opposed the bill because it was unnecessary, since Illinois law already provided protection for infants born alive. However, as Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out on NRO at the time, this extended only to babies whom physicians deemed to have “sustainable survivability.” Thus infants who were not expected to survive could be killed or left unattended to die. Obama, Ponnuru wrote, “did not want the gap filled.” (The National Right to Life Committee has a report on Obama, Illinois’s legal loophole, and its horrific consequences here.)

Obama maintained at the time, with support from Planned Parenthood of Illinois, that the bill wasn’t really about protecting infants’ lives or mitigating their suffering, but was in fact a backdoor attempt to restrict abortion. The argument (which is constitutionally dubious, anyway) goes that, by providing legal protection and “recognition as a human person” for a pre-viable infant, the law could be used to threaten Roe v. Wade. Thus, at the time of Obama’s votes, and then during the course of the 2008 campaign, Obama claimed that he would have supported a law like the 2002 federal born-alive statute, which stated explicitly that it could not be used to dispute the legal status of fetuses prior to their birth.
In committee in 2003, however, Obama voted against a version of the Illinois bill that contained the same protection included in the federal bill (which passed 98–0 in the U.S. Senate). Thus, Obama’s tenuous constitutional argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

One other excuse for Obama’s opposition to the Illinois bill has been proffered: that the final version of the bill was coupled with another piece of legislation that imposed criminal or civil consequences for doctors who did not properly treat infants who were covered by the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. Obama and others deemed this second bill unacceptable. However, this doesn’t begin to defend Obama’s vote on the first bill.

As Ponnuru pointed out back in 2008, and PolitiFact admitted the above facts as such, but have disputed whether they constitute “legalizing infanticide”; FactCheck argued that that question remains a value judgment. Since the Illinois bill would have provided legal protection for born-alive infants who had not been protected before, by opposing it, Obama voted to continue to make it legal to kill them. Thus, the only question remaining in order to determine whether it was “infanticide” is: Were the subjects of the bill fetuses or were they infants? In order for them not to be considered infants, one would have to contend that an unviable prematurely born baby is not an infant — a claim few would be willing to make. And yet, Obama’s votes, three times over the course of three years, indicate that he believes that fetuses who have been born alive, but have not yet reached the age of viability, are not human persons worthy of protection by our laws. Such a position on abortion is, to say the least, extreme, and deserves attention.

Which leads to the second question Gingrich raised: Have the media questioned Obama’s position on the Illinois infanticide bill? Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple has turned up a few media references to President Obama’s extreme abortion stances from the 2008 campaign: two CNN segments discussing his record, including the Illinois legislation specifically; one instance in a debate, where John McCain raised the question of Obama’s record, and he defended his position on the Illinois bill; and one interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, in which Obama was queried on partial-birth abortion, though not the Illinois legislation specifically.

The attention was most intense in August of 2008, after the NRLC managed to generate national debate about Obama’s position on the Illinois bill. Obama was asked about it during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he offered a thoroughly deceptive response to the question, saying, “Here’s a situation where folks are lying” about his position. However, Obama was the one lying: He told the interviewer, David Brody, that he opposed the bill because of its threat to Roe v. Wade, and that existing Illinois law already protected infants who were born alive. As we have seen, the first assertion is implausible; the second is just plain false.

This seems to be the one instance in which a journalist asked candidate Obama directly about his support for the bill, and he was unfortunately let off, even by a conservative reporter, with his mendacious explanation.

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported on the controversy, noting the points the NRLC had raised about Obama’s inconsistent and extreme positions. The Times, citing sources on both sides, explored Obama’s claim that he opposed the final Illinois bill because of its unacceptable companion bill. However, Obama’s claim has no solid legal basis: Two different bills are two different bills.

Thus, while one cannot say, as Gingrich did, that the media have literally never questioned Obama’s extreme record on abortion, we can certainly say that there has not been a sufficiently revealing discussion of his views. An honest appraisal would depict him as having voted repeatedly to keep a form of infanticide illegal. Instead, the media have willingly accepted explanations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

And they deserve scrutiny, for two reasons. First, as explained above, Obama has offered deceptive explanations of his own pro-abortion legislative work, while simultaneously accusing his pro-life opponents of being dishonest. More important, Obama’s record as a state senator was not merely pro-choice, but radically pro-abortion. His voting record indicates that he does not believe infants deserve protection even once they have emerged from the womb if they are deemed to be below the age of viability, and he did in fact, three times, vote to keep a form of infanticide legal.

— Patrick Brennan is the 2011 William F. Buckley Fellow at National Review.