Friday, March 09, 2012

We know where you live

Mossad's execution of the Black September terrorists was a lot more clinical than Steven Spielberg's film, writes Gordon Thomas.

By Gordon Thomas
The Sydney Morning Herald
January 14, 2006

A terrorist from the Palestinian group Black September who participated in the Munich massacre in Munich, West Germany.

AT 4.25AM eight terrorists used a pass key to enter an apartment block where an Israeli athletic team slept. Twenty-five minutes later, two athletes were dead. Eleven more had been captured.

Nine of them would also shortly die.

The atrocity on that warm night of September 5, 1972, shocked the world. In Israel, even before the tears had dried, cold anger turned to a call for vengeance.

It is there that historical truth and what Mossad says is Steven Spielberg's "film fantasy version" of that murderous attack in his film, Munich, diverge. Israel's intelligence service is infuriated with Spielberg's portrayal of its agents who hunted down the Black September terrorists who killed the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The Mossad hit team is portrayed as increasingly filled with doubt about the morality of its mission. Conversely, the terrorists are given a platform to rationalise their actions - much as the apologists for the suicide bombers today defend their atrocities.

It is this, more than the undoubted skills with which Spielberg weaves his story, which guarantees Munich, to be released in Australia on January 26, will continue to receive unprecedented fiery criticism from Mossad.

One area of agreement between the filmmaker and Israel's spymasters is that the Black September terrorists died as violently as the code by which they lived.

The first was shot dead in the lobby of his Rome apartment. There were 11 bullets - one for each Israeli athlete he helped to murder. Another terrorist died when he answered the phone in his Paris apartment. The bomb in the receiver blew off his head.

The next to die was expertly pushed under a London bus during peak hour; in Cyprus, a bomb exploded in a terrorist's bedside lamp.

In all, 18 Black September terrorists would die. Hours before they died, each man's family received flowers and a condolence card bearing the same words: "A reminder we do not forget or forgive." After each death a notice appeared in Arab newspapers across the Middle East.

The flowers, cards and notices had all been sent by LAP, Mossad's department of psychological warfare.

Spielberg portrays the hit team as merely responding to violence with violence. In reality, each execution was carefully planned by Mossad's "kidon" unit, its team of hand-picked, legally operating executioners.

Some of the terrorists died in their beds, others in souks and alleys that had no names. As well as bombs, the kidon delivered vengeance from a silenced handgun, garrotting with a cheese-cutting wire or a knife thrust into a larynx. Sometimes they used nerve agents which smelled of newly mown grass or spring flowers.

It took two years to find and kill all the Black September terrorists involved in the Munich massacre.

The operation became a legend within the global intelligence community. Spy chiefs from the CIA, MI6 and Europe's intelligence agencies sent their senior officers to Tel Aviv to study the debriefing reports of the eight kidon and their 80-strong support team.

I am one of the few outsiders who has seen the reports. They are more compelling than any thriller.

In the film, the Mossad hit team is shown as working on its own, lonely and isolated "for the need to protect the operation". In reality, Mossad insists, each terrorist was tracked down by a large back-up team. The "sayanim" special unit which tracked the Palestine Liberation Organisation - of which the Black September terrorists were a splinter group - was ordered to find the Munich killers. The "yaholomin" technicians, Mossad's vaunted communications unit, set up eavesdropping equipment to monitor each terrorist as he was discovered.

Another unit opened dead letter boxes in a dozen European capitals to receive messages from informers. Safe houses were rented for secret meetings in London, Paris and Madrid.

Vacuamer, the department that produced profiles of each terrorist, worked night and day to provide back-up.

None of this is portrayed in Munich.

Missing, and most important of all, is Israel's well-established justification for hunting and executing terrorists who cannot be brought to trial by the usual means of arrest.

This justification for killing was laid down by Meir Amit, the most innovative and ruthless director-general of Mossad: "There will be no killing of political leaders. There will be no killing of a terrorist's family unless they are also directly implicated in terrorism. Each execution must be properly sanctioned. This will ensure that any execution is therefore not state-sponsored murder, but the ultimate sanction by the state. The executioner is therefore no different from the state-appointed hangman or any other lawfully appointed executioner."

Spielberg or his screenwriter, Tony Kushner, did not have access to the reports. If they had would it have changed their view of the hit team?

Mossad thinks not. It points to the fact the movie is based on a book, Vengeance by George Jonas, that it quickly dismissed as "pure fantasy" when it was published in 1984.

In the book Jonas claims to "explore at first-hand the feelings and revulsion and doubt which gradually come to haunt each member of the Mossad hit team and which in the end inexorably changed their view of the mission and themselves".

He concluded that his story "will inspire and horrify. For its subject is an act of revenge that goes to the very heart of the ancient biblical questions of good and evil, or right and wrong, which ultimately remain the deepest concerns of the Jewish people and which continue to haunt 'Avner' and his comrades on their mission". All this is slavishly echoed in Munich.

Its critics in Mossad have called this a blood libel on the men who never for a moment doubted the righteousness of what they did in the name of Israel.

Those critics point out the very existence of "Avner", the leader of the hit team, is doubtful. Mossad insists it has no record of his existence apart from his depiction in Vengeance.

Ari Ben-Menashe, a one-time adviser on intelligence to the Israeli Government, says: "I never saw any file listing Avner."

David Kimche, former deputy director of Mossad, said: "It is a tragedy that a person of the stature of Steven Spielberg, who has made such fantastic films, should have based his Munich film on a book that is a falsehood."

His stinging criticism came on the heels of a private viewing for senior Mossad personnel of the film in Tel Aviv. In the darkened cinema they sat first in silence and then a steady mounting murmured chorus of "it could never have happened like this" … "this is fantasy" … "this is pure fiction" … "this is history, Hollywood style".

It is these judgements that have placed Munich in the same category for Mossad as blockbuster movies such as Oliver Stone's JFK.

One of those at the private viewing was Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad. He told aides the millions who would see Munich would come away "with a seriously distorted view of the truth".

"Dagan felt Munich is more Indiana Jones than any semblance of reality," says one of his aides. "The hunting down of the Black September killers was a carefully controlled operation that involved a large number of people. The kidon had undergone weeks of studying their targets. Little of this appears in the film."

THE $105 million film begins with the admission that it is "inspired by real events". The opening sequences include news footage of the massacre of the athletes, the helpless Olympic committee, the hapless Munich police and the final shoot-out between the Black September terrorists and untrained German marksmen neither equipped with proper sniper rifles nor telescopic sights. For the next 145 minutes the film focuses on Mossad's hunt for the killers who escaped.

Avi Dichter, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal intelligence service, called the film "a children's adventure story. There is no comparison between what you see in the movie and how it works in reality."

A former Mossad officer, Victor Ostrovsky, said it was "pure fantasy" to have Israel's then prime minister, Golda Meir, personally recruiting the hero Avner to lead the team. "That could never have happened. Yet it is one of the many nonsensical claims made in the movie."

Spielberg shows a hit team isolated in the field for months and includes a forger and bomb-maker so it can operate alone.

"Absolute rubbish" was Dagan's reaction to the film.

Rafi Eitan, the former Mossad operations chief at the time of the Munich massacre, once said it was "standard practice" for female agents to be part of the team. Having a woman on hand often helps to get closer to a target. But there are no women in the movie's hit team.

Michael Bar-Zohar, an Israeli intelligence expert, said Spielberg's film has the team hunting down 11 terrorists. "He's just giving it an overly moral symmetry to match the number of athletes killed at Munich," he says.

But what infuriates Mossad most is the film's presentation of the hit team increasingly questioning the morality of its actions.

"It never happened. It could never happen. The men chosen for the mission were hand-picked for their mental stability. Like all kidon they had undergone intense evaluation by Mossad psychologists before they were sent on the mission," says a serving Mossad officer.

For Mossad the film partly stands or falls on the scene where Golda Meir personally recruits Avner. She is now dead. But there are two men present when the mysterious Avner is persuaded by Meir to lead the team to hunt down the Black September terrorists. One was Zvi Zamir, then the head of Mossad. The other was Ariel Sharon, today the ailing prime minister of Israel. Neither has commented on the film.

Express Syndication/Picture Media

- Gordon Thomas is the author of 53 books including the bestseller Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad.

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Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - You've Got It

Miss Fluke goes to Washington

When even casual sex requires a state welfare program, you're pretty much done for.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
March 9, 2012

I'm writing this from Australia, so, if I'm not quite up to speed on recent events in the United States, bear with me – the telegraph updates are a bit slow here in the bush. As I understand it, Sandra Fluke is a young coed who attends Georgetown Law and recently testified before Congress.

Oh, wait, no. Update: It wasn't a congressional hearing; the Democrats just got it up to look like one, like summer stock, with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid doing the show right here in the barn and providing a cardboard set for the world premiere of "Miss Fluke Goes To Washington," with full supporting cast led by Chuck Schumer strolling in through the French windows in tennis whites and drawling, "Anyone for bull****?"
Oh, and the "young coed" turns out to be 30, which is what less-evolved cultures refer to as early middle age. She's a couple of years younger than Mozart was at the time he croaked but, if the Dems are to be believed, the plucky little Grade 24 schoolgirl has already made an even greater contribution to humanity.

She's had the courage to stand up in public and demand that someone else (and this is where one is obliged to tiptoe cautiously, lest offense is given to gallant defenders of the good name of American maidenhood such as the many prestigious soon-to-be-former sponsors of this column who've booked Bill Maher for their corporate retreat with his amusing "Sarah Palin is a c***" routine ...)

Where was I? Oh, yes. The brave middle-age schoolgirl had the courage to stand up in public and demand that someone else pay for her sex life.

Well, as noted above, she's attending Georgetown, a nominally Catholic seat of learning, so how expensive can that be? Alas, Georgetown is so nominally Catholic that the cost of her sex life runs to three grand – and, according to the star witness, 40 percent of female students "struggle financially" because of the heavy burden of maintaining a respectable level of pre-marital sex at a Jesuit institution.

As I said, I'm on the other side of the planet, so maybe I'm not getting this. But I'd say the core issue here is not religious liberty, which in these godless times the careless swing voter now understands as a code phrase meaning that uptight Republicans who can't get any action want to stop you getting any, too.

Nor is the core issue liberty in its more basic sense – although it would certainly surprise America's founders that their republic of limited government is now the first nation in the developed world to compel private employers to fully fund the sex lives of their employees.

Nor is it even the distinctively American wrinkle the Republic of Paperwork has given to governmentalized health care, under which the "right to privacy" the Supreme Court claimed to have discovered in Griswold vs. Connecticut and Roe vs. Wade will now lead to thousands and thousands of self-insuring employers keeping computer records of the morning-after pills and herpes medication racked up by Miss Jones on reception.

Nor is the issue that America has 30-year-old schoolkids – or even 30-year-old schoolkids who expect someone else to pick up the tab for their extracurricular activities, rather than doing a paper route and a bit of yard work to save up for their first IUD, as we did back in my day. After all, the human right to government-mandated free contraception is as American as apple pie and far healthier for you. In my most recent book, I quote one of Sandra Fluke's fellow geriatrics gamboling in the groves of academe and complaining to the Washington Post about the quality of free condoms therein:

"'If people get what they don't want, they are just going to trash them,' said T Squalls, 30, who attends the University of the District of Columbia. 'So why not spend a few extra dollars and get what people want?'"

All of us are born with the unalienable right to life, liberty and a lifetime supply of premium ribbed silky-smooth, ultrasensitive, spermicidal, lubricant condoms. No taxation without rubberization, as the Minutemen said. The shot heard round the world and all that.

Nor is the core issue that, whatever the merits of government contraception, America is the brokest nation in history – although the Fluke story is a useful reminder that the distinction between fiscal and social conservatism is generally false.

As almost all those fashionable split-the-difference fiscally conservative/socially liberal governors from George Pataki to California's pathetically terminated Terminator eventually discover, their social liberalism comes with a hell of a price tag. Ask the Greeks how easy it is for insolvent nations to wean the populace off unaffordable nanny-state lollipops: When even casual sex requires a state welfare program, you're pretty much done for.

No, the most basic issue here is not religious morality, individual liberty or fiscal responsibility. It's that a society in which middle-age children of privilege testify before the most powerful figures in the land to demand state-enforced funding for their sex lives at a time when their government owes more money than anyone has ever owed in the history of the planet is quite simply nuts.

As stark staring nuts as the court of Ranavalona, the deranged nymphomaniac queen of Madagascar at whose funeral the powder keg literally went up, killing dozens and burning down three royal palaces. Indeed, one is tempted to arrange an introduction between "T Squalls, 30," now 32 going on 33, and Sandra Fluke, 30 going on 31, like a skillfully negotiated betrothal between two royal houses in medieval Europe. The student prince would bring to the marriage his impressive fortune of a decade's worth of Trojan Magnums, while the Princess Leia would have a dowry of index-linked RU 486s settled upon her by HHS the Margravine of Sebelius. They would not be required to produce an heir.

Insane as this scenario is, the Democrat-media complex insists that everyone take it seriously. When it emerged the other day that Amanda Clayton, a 24-year-old Michigan million-dollar lottery winner, still receives $200 of food stamps every month, even the press and the bureaucrats were obliged to acknowledge the ridiculousness. Yet, the same people are determined that Sandra Fluke be treated with respect as a pioneering spokesperson for the rights of the horizontally challenged.

Sorry, I pass.

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom," wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1784. In the absence of religious virtue, sexual virtue and fiscal virtue, one might trust to the people's sense of sheer preposterousness to reject the official narrative of the Fluke charade. Yet even that is not to be permitted.

Full disclosure: I will be guest-hosting for Rush Limbaugh this Monday, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment here on Rush's intervention. But let me say this. Almost every matter of the moment boils down to the same story: the Left's urge to narrow the bounds of public discourse and insist that "conventional wisdom" unknown to the world the day before yesterday is now as unquestionable as the Laws of Physics. Nothing that Rush said is as weird or as degrading as what Sandra Fluke and the Obama administration are demanding. And any freeborn citizen should reserve the right to point that out as loudly and as often as possible.


A Dreamer of Mars: Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter

March 9, 2012

In 1911 Edgar Rice Burroughs, having failed at everything else, decided to write a novel. He was then in his mid-thirties, married with two children, barely supporting his family as the agent for a pencil-sharpener business. In earlier years he'd served in the Seventh Cavalry, worked as a rancher and gold miner, started an advertising agency, sold light bulbs and candy and uplifting books door-to-door, and not really made a go of anything.

For occasional entertainment Burroughs read the early pulp magazines, especially All-Story. Named after the cheap newsprint upon which they were printed, the pulps supplied adventure and romantic fiction to the masses for half a century. By the 1920s and '30s newsstands around the country would display the lurid and spicy covers of Weird Tales, The Shadow, Amazing Stories, True Confessions, Dime Detective, Astounding, and Black Mask. Pulp writers would include such important literary figures as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Robert A. Heinlein, and scores of others.

But in 1911 most of the writers weren't of this caliber, and Burroughs was convinced he could write better adventure stories and maybe even make a living at it.

In fact he rather underestimated himself.

One hundred years ago, in the February 1912 issue of All-Story, there appeared the first installment of Under the Moons of Mars (retitled A Princess of Mars for its 1917 book publication). It starts, as all good adventure stories should, with a strange manuscript, this one a memoir penned by Captain John Carter and bequeathed to his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs. The reader is hooked from the very first sentence: "I am a very old man now; how old I do not know." Over the next several months purchasers of All-Story would learn of the fantastic adventures of this former Confederate soldier. Mysteriously transported to Mars, called Barsoom by its inhabitants, John Carter there battled monstrous beasts and warlike peoples, soon falling in love with the copper-skinned Deja Thoris, Princess of Helium.

The serial, needless to say, was a hit, though no one yet knew that ERB would soon become a phenomenon. His editor at All-Story quickly asked him to write a historical novel, which the obliging author produced in a few weeks, only to have the chivalric romance rejected. Eventually, it would be revised and rejected again. Putting The Outlaw of Torn aside, Burroughs took up his own new idea, its action set largely in Africa (where he had never been). Drawing on the classical legends of the heroic Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a wolf, and adding a touch of Mowgli from Kipling's The Jungle Books, Burroughs created one of the most famous fictional characters of modern times. In the November, 1912 issue of All-Story -- only a few months after the conclusion of John Carter's adventures on Mars -- there appeared, published in its entirety, Tarzan of the Apes.

Readers went crazy.

They wanted more Tarzan, more John Carter, more Edgar Rice Burroughs. In part, this was because both A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes close with dramatic cliff-hangers. At the end of A Princess of Mars John Carter seems to be dead on Earth. Or is he? What of that strange injunction in his will that the massive door of his tomb be "equipped with a single huge gold-plated spring lock which can be opened only from the inside?" At the end of Tarzan, the ape-man learns that he is the true Lord Greystoke, but he keeps the knowledge to himself, even though a word would gain him a title and the woman he loves. When asked how he came to be in the jungle, Tarzan says simply: "I was born there. My mother was an Ape, and of course she couldn't tell me much about it. I never knew who my father was." The end.

People couldn't believe it. The selfless hero didn't get the girl. While there was precedent for such noble sacrifice -- think of The Prisoner of Zenda -- it didn't hurt that it also left open the possibility of a sequel. Readers pleaded for more tales of Tarzan and Barsoom.

And over the next thirty-five years they would get them. In 1913, Burroughs would produce The Return of Tarzan, in which the ape-man explores the lost kingdom of Opar and eventually marries his beloved Jane Porter. In The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, published in 1913 and 1914, John Carter would again face impossible odds to save his alien friends and himself from certain death and to rescue Dejah Thoris from lustful enemies. As if this weren't enough, in 1914 Burroughs would inaugurate a third series with At the Earth's Core, in which David Innes discovers that the center of our planet is hollow -- and inhabited. In Pellucidar, as it is known, Innes will encounter prehistoric beasts, cavemen, and Dian the Beautiful. A few years later, in 1917 and 1918, Burroughs would produce what some critics regard as his best single work, the trilogy about evolution consisting of The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, and Out of Time's Abyss.

Burroughs was clearly on an unbelievable tear, turning out some thirty books in seven years, demanding and receiving top pay rates, and quickly amassing a fortune that would allow him to create a vast estate in what is now Tarzana, California. Soon the ape-man had become a media franchise, with Tarzan movies, toys, and comic strips. In 1923 Burroughs even established his own publishing company, which sold only his books, thus cutting out agents and editors. He died in 1950, aged seventy-four, having written seventy novels.

When I was a boy in the late 1950s, the public library refused to stock books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. They were regarded as vulgar, ill-written potboilers. One could, however, find Tarzan reprints in department stores; I found them and read them all. But somehow I missed the John Carter series entirely. By the time the Mars books were republished in the 1960s, with covers by Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta, my attention had turned to contemporary science fiction, and I had no time for ancient "planetary romance." Thus, while most readers discover A Princess of Mars at the age of ten or twelve, I only first read it -- and its two companion volumes -- this anniversary year. What with the new film, John Carter, about to open, it seemed the right time to fill in this gap in my literary education.

Was I impressed with this Martian trilogy? Was I disappointed? A little of both, but more the former than the latter. Burroughs's plotting is fairly perfunctory, consisting mainly of a series of fights, imprisonments, and escapes, most undergone in the course of various suicidal attempts to save Dejah Thoris from a fate worse than death. In some ways, the three books clearly serve as a travelogue to Barsoom, a world consisting of largely antagonistic civilizations of red, black, white, and yellow men. The blacks, surprisingly enough for the time, are described as the most beautiful and nobly featured of Mars's people; the whites are depicted as cold-hearted, repulsive, and evil. What's more, except for jewelry, weapons, and occasional ceremonial robes, the men and women go about unadorned, essentially naked.

Throughout the novels, the chivalric Virginian leaps impetuously to the defense of underdogs, no matter what their race or how monstrous their appearance. At times Carter seems remarkably naive and almost stupid, as he falls into one trap after another or fails to remember some obvious bit of information that would save a desperate situation. As with James T. Kirk in Star Trek, every beautiful female falls in love with Carter, and most are princesses, too, but he remains unswervingly faithful to the incomparable Dejah Thoris. Above all, though, John Carter lives for his honor as a fighting man. His closest comrades are all superb soldiers and swordsmen, almost but not quite his equal, even if some are fifteen feet tall with green skin, bulbous eyes, six limbs, and curved tusks.

Along with racial tolerance and human nudity, the books take up several other controversial topics. A Princess of Mars includes a fairly overt critique of socialism, i.e., "the horrible community idea." Carter tells one of those green-skinned Tharks, "Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in your owning nothing in common." As a consequence, he adds, the Tharks have become "a strange, cruel, loveless, unhappy people." (But they are indomitable warriors. According to the old saying, "Leave to a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer.") Still, all Burroughs's heroes -- like versions of Huck Finn -- shy away from civilization and its constraints.

The Gods of Mars addresses the ticklish subject of religion and fanatical religious belief, ultimately revealing that the Martian faith is based on a lie. Martians can live up to a thousand years, but at whatever age they feel ready to die they travel by boat up the river Iss, supposedly to a land of peace and plenty ruled over by the Holy Therns. No one ever returns. In fact, the weary pilgrims serve as the food of smugly refined cannibals and their pets, the Plant Men and the White Apes.

While most writers might assume that one false religion is enough, Burroughs figures that two will be even better. So he has the supercilious Therns believe in their own afterlife paradise, which turns out to be even more horrible than the supposedly celestial Valley of Dor. This is typical. Far too often Burroughs works the same situations and themes over and over in his books -- in later novels much to their detriment. Some of his other effects are, similarly, too broad, too obvious: All but the most naive readers will immediately guess the identity of a mysterious, handsome, and particularly fearless young warrior, even though the final revelation is repeatedly deferred and can come as a surprise to no one but John Carter himself.

Nonetheless, Burroughs does possess considerable poetic, virtually cinematic power. He's a master at keeping the action moving along at a lightning pace and expert in describing fight scenes. While his prose is generally only serviceable, he can sometimes impress with old-fashioned eloquence --"the Chamber of Mystery in the Golden Cliffs beneath the gardens of the Holy Therns" -- and he can produce strong paragraphs, as when one of the First Born, as the black Martians call themselves, describes the daily life of their women: "The women do nothing, absolutely nothing. Slaves wash them, slaves dress them, slaves feed them. There are some, even, who have slaves that talk for them, and I saw one who sat during the rites with closed eyes while a slave narrated to her the events that were transpiring within the arena."

Burroughs also possesses a real gift for creating memorable, almost archetypal pictures in our minds. Many readers never forget the image of John Carter standing high on a lonely cliff stretching out his arms toward Mars. On Barsoom itself we encounter a veritable alien menagerie: the tigerish banths, the mastodonian zitidars, the equine thoats, the giant hornet-like siths, the Yeti-like apts. But there are also technologically advanced solar panels, oxygen-producing factories, telepathy, radium rifles, and gigantic airborne battleships. Not least, John Carter -- note those initials -- gradually emerges as the savior of Mars, destroying a false religion and ushering in a new era of harmony and peace. Until, of course, the next volume in the series.

Still, to my mind, Burroughs's greatest stroke of genius, albeit one based on contemporary speculation about Mars, lies in making Barsoom an old planet, a dying world, ravined with dried-up canals and dotted with the crumbling cities of earlier, forgotten cultures. Exploring a deserted building, John Carter and Dejah Thoris discover "real sleeping apartments with ancient beds of highly wrought metal swinging from enormous gold chains depending from the marble ceilings. The decoration of the walls was most elaborate, and, unlike the frescoes in the other buildings I had examined, portrayed many human figures in the compositions. These were of people like myself and of a much lighter color than Dejah Thoris. They were clad in graceful, flowing robes, highly ornamented with metal and jewels, and their luxuriant hair was of a beautiful golden and reddish bronze. The men were beardless and only a few wore arms. The scenes depicted for the most part, a fair-skinned, fair-haired people at play."

One feels like a visitor to the ruins of Pompeii, glimpsing the grandeur that was Rome.

Burroughs is, in short, a master of world building, of imagining colorful dreamlike landscapes, labyrinthine underground cities, armadas of a thousand flying battleships and massed armies of millions. Yet for all this gorgeous panoply, we never quite forget that Barsoom is a world on the wane, once delicate and beautiful and now largely populated by nomadic brutes and given over to constant warfare and the fight for survival.

While A Princess of Mars remains a terrific planetary romance on its own merits, the novel and its sequels also lie behind many later examples of "flashing swords" fantasy and science fiction. Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian owes much to John Carter, while George Lucas's initial Star Wars trilogy can sometimes feel like a set of variations on Barsoomian themes. (But then Leigh Brackett -- one of the series' scriptwriters -- also wrote The Sword of Rhiannon, which transports the reader to an ancient Mars much like that of Burroughs.) Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories, Michael Moorcock's sword-and-sorcery novels, and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun further transform aspects of the Mars books.

Perhaps Burroughs's final triumph lies in leaving us with a sense that his stories are still going on, that his heroes -- whether Tarzan or John Carter or David Innes or Carson Napier or Carthoris -- are fighting other battles even as we ourselves grow old and older. They are thus truly immortal. Burroughs scholar and collector Robert Zeuschner makes this point in an article in Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Second Century, a collection of essays and pastiches ("Biker Babes of Mars") published by the National Capital Area Panthans. A Washington, D.C., chapter of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, the Panthans take their name from Barsoom's samurai-like wandering soldiers of fortune. While neither so famous as the Baker Street Irregulars nor as thick with members as science fiction fandom, the Burroughs Bibliophiles nonetheless meet regularly as part of ECOF, the acronym for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship.

Many authors of "genre" fiction write excellent prose -- Conan Doyle, for instance, or Lord Dunsany or Georgette Heyer -- but Burroughs is hardly on their level as a stylist. Yet despite his stilted or sometimes corny language, he does possess the one gift that really matters for a storyteller: the ability to enchant. One hundred years ago, he emerged, full-blown, as a pulp fictioneer of genius, a mesmerizing chronicler of derring-do and over-the-top comicbook action. Demean not such gifts: They are as rare as the verbal magic of a Nabokov. To this day, Edgar Rice Burroughs remains, as he was during his lifetime, one of the great masters of adventure.

The Racist Ravings of Derrick Bell

By John Perazzo
March 9, 2012

Derrick Bell (Photo: Steve Liss/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

By now, you may already have seen the 1991 video footage of Barack Obama, who was then a 30-year-old student at Harvard Law School, speaking in glowing terms about Harvard professor Derrick Bell, whom Obama described as a man known for “speaking the truth” and for an “excellence of … scholarship” that had not only “opened up new vistas and new horizons,” but had “changed the standards [of what] legal writing is about.” “Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell,” Obama urged the sizable crowd which had gathered to show their support for Professor Bell that day.

Since the release of the video, Obama’s backers have been quick to dismiss it as nothing more than a young scholar’s affectionate tribute to a liberal academic icon who not only made major intellectual contributions to his profession, but who also was a leading champion of racial “diversity” in higher education. For instance, CNN host Soledad O’Brien, when interviewing’s editor-in-chief Joel Pollak yesterday about the significance of the video, described Bell benignly as “the first tenured African American professor of law at Harvard University,” and characterized the gathering merely as “a rally in support of racial equality among the faculty at Harvard Law School.” O’Brien then asked her guest, with apparent bewilderment, “What part of that was the bombshell? Because I missed it. I don’t get it. What was a bombshell?”

In a similar spirit of willful blindness, Media Matters describes Derrick Bell as “a respected academic” and “an influential figure in the Civil Rights movement.” This portrayal is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s pathetic characterization, a few years back, of Bill Ayers as “just a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” But just as the reality of Bill Ayers was far more interesting than Obama indicated at that time, the truth about Derrick Bell is likewise far more compelling than the pablum the left has provided in the wake of this latest video. For you see, by the time Barack Obama was delivering his glowing remarks about Derrick Bell in 1991, the professor had already established—and would continue to cultivate for another two decades—a reputation as someone who thoroughly, resolutely detested the United States and who viewed the nation’s institutions and its people as irremediably racist. In short, until his death last October at the age of 80, Bell was secular academia’s version of Jeremiah Wright—a raging, fulminating racist without the clergyman’s robe. And something about his philosophy resonated strongly with Barack Obama.

Derrick Bell is best known as the founding father of Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline which maintains that society is divided along racial lines into (white) oppressors and (black) victims, similar to the way Marxism frames the oppressor/victim dichotomy along class lines. Critical Race Theory contends that America is permanently racist to its core, and that consequently its legal structures are, by definition, racist and invalid. A logical derivative of this premise, according to Critical Race Theory, is that the members of “oppressed” racial groups are entitled—in fact obligated—to determine for themselves which laws and traditions have merit and are worth observing. Such a perspective’s implications for the ability of civil society to function at all, are nothing short of monumental.

Further, Critical Race Theory holds that because racism is so deeply ingrained in America’s national character, racial preferences (favoring blacks) in employment and higher education are not only permissible but necessary as a means of countering the permanent character flaws of white people who, as Bell put it, seek to “achieve a measure of social stability through their unspoken pact to keep blacks on the bottom.”[1] Asserting that “few whites are ready to actively promote civil rights for blacks,” Bell—right around the time Obama was praising him at the Harvard rally—believed that “racial discrimination in the workplace is as vicious (if less obvious) than it was when employers posted signs ‘no negras need apply.’” Bell complained, in fact, that most white employers were loath to hire African Americans for “any position above the most menial.”[2] Nor did the professor look kindly upon his black colleagues who failed to share his enthusiasm for affirmative action. Indeed, Bell was among the first critics to condemn the June 1991 nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, stating: “To place a person who looks black and who, in conservative terms, thinks white, is an insult.”

Ideological conformity among blacks was of the utmost importance to Bell, since wherever he looked, he saw white racism. Lamenting that “no African Americans are insulated from incidents of racial discrimination,” Bell excoriated “a white society that condemns all blacks to quasi citizenship as surely as it segregated our parents.”[3] Claiming that racism was “an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society,” Bell went so far as to state: “The fact that, as victims, we suffer racism’s harm but, as a people, [we] cannot share the responsibility for that harm, may be the crucial component in a definition of what it is to be black in America.”[4] On the premise that “black people will never gain full equality in this country” due to the unending evils of the white “oppressor class,” Bell advised African Americans to squarely confront “the otherwise deadening reality of our permanent subordinate status.”[5] This gloomy view of black destiny was reflected most vividly in the title of Bell’s 1992 book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism.

By Bell’s reckoning, “the racism that made slavery feasible” was “far from dead.” He added: “Slavery is, as an example of what white America has done, a constant reminder of what white America might do.”[6] Bell also railed against the racism that motivated acts of white-on-black crime, lamenting that “even our lives … are threatened because of our color.”[7] That claim did not square with the fact that more than 90 percent of African American murder victims nationwide are actually killed by fellow blacks, but it made for a nice sound bite. And in fact, Bell did not entirely turn a blind eye to the epidemic of black-on-black crime. That phenomenon, he explained, was itself a reaction to white oppression: “Victimized themselves by an uncaring society, some blacks vent their rage on victims like themselves.”[8] In other words, whenever something bad happens, it is always the fault of whites.

As Bell saw things, white malevolence knew no bounds. In one of his writings, he mused that if scientists were to someday develop a magical pill that could transform any black person who consumed it into a perfectly law-abiding individual, whites would undoubtedly conspire to destroy it so as to prevent such an effect. Why? Because black crime, he explained, benefits many whites such as those who profit from the manufacture of prison uniforms.[9] Wholly disgusted by the white race, Bell predicted that eventually America would witness the rise of charismatic new black leaders who, in the interests of retribution, would “urge that instead of [African Americans] killing each other, they should go out in gangs and kill a whole lot of white people.”[10] Presumably this was some of the lofty “scholarship” that so impressed Barack Obama.

Bell endorsed a journal called Race Traitor, whose stated aim is “to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin.” Moreover, the publication’s guiding principle is: “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” In 1999 Bell signed on to a Race Traitor article that stated: “If the task of the nineteenth century was to overthrow slavery, and the task of the twentieth century was to end legal segregation, the key to solving this country’s problems in the twenty-first century is to abolish the white race as a social category—in other words, eradicate white supremacy entirely.” Among Bell’s fellow signatories were Pete Seeger, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn.

So this was Derrick Bell, the man whom Barack Obama feted on that 1991 day at Harvard, just four years before Obama was to launch his own political career in the home of two America-hating Marxists in Chicago—Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. As Obama lauded Bell, a banner was displayed in the background which read, “Harvard Law School on Strike for Diversity.” To be sure, Bell had already staged numerous sit-ins on behalf of “diversity” during his time at Harvard. Particularly high on his priority list was his wish to pressure the Law School into hiring a black female for a tenured professorship. Even though 45 percent of Harvard Law’s faculty appointments during the preceding decade had gone to minorities and women, none was both black and female—hence Professor Bell’s objection.[11] Bell’s students dutifully echoed the professor’s mantra, bleating that they desperately needed “black women role models” to help them combat “the status quo” that was dominated by “white men.” When Harvard’s dean stated that no attempt to increase “diversity” should override the University’s commitment to academic excellence, the protesters called his position “highly insulting to blacks” and symbolic of “the elitism of Harvard.”[12] It is reasonable to assume that Barack Obama, who helped galvanize campus support for Derrick Bell’s crusade on behalf of black women, more or less shared these views.

At that time, there was one black woman in particular whom Professor Bell wanted Harvard Law to hire—Regina Austin, a fellow adherent of Critical Race Theory who had been serving as a visiting professor at Harvard Law. Though Harvard had a longstanding policy that forbade the hiring of visiting professors during the year of their residence on campus, Bell issued a “non-negotiable demand” that Austin be given a faculty position.[13]

When the Law School refused to make an exception to its policy, Bell took a leave of absence from his teaching post and even staged a hunger strike in protest. Austin, you see, was a kindred spirit to Bell from an ideological perspective. An outspoken advocate of racial separatism and identity politics, she has long held that minority communities are not obliged to accept “traditional values” or “conformity to the law” as defined by the dominant power structure of a racist society.[14] Rather, such communities require an “alternative source of [legal] authority.”

In acknowledgment of the professional sacrifices Professor Bell made on behalf of this same Regina Austin, Barack Obama reverently referred to Bell as “the Rosa Parks of legal education.”

What does Barack Obama’s high regard for Derrick Bell tell us about the President? Certainly the praise he heaped upon Bell in 1991 reveals something profoundly significant about Obama’s mindset at the age of 30. Some, though, would dismiss it as ancient history. Slightly less ancient, however, is the fact that a 33-year-old Obama routinely assigned works authored by Bell—including the latter’s racialist interpretations of seminal civil-rights cases—as required readings in the courses he taught at the University of Chicago Law School in 1994. To be sure, Bell’s work appeared on Obama’s syllabus more frequently than that of any other author—a clear indication of Obama’s high regard for Bell’s scholarship.

Still more recent was Obama’s alliance with William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn—an alliance that shifted into high gear when Obama was 34 and remained in high gear (via his collaboration with Ayers on the radical Chicago Annenberg Challenge) until Obama was at least 38. And of course Obama’s attendance at (and his monetary contributions to) Jeremiah Wright‘s famously racist church from approximately age 27 until he was 47, says something noteworthy about his mindset during those years as well.

Pro-Obama automatons will dismiss these and all other references to Obama’s alliances as nothing more than mean-spirited attempts to smear a great man by way of innuendo and “guilt-by-association.” By contrast, people with a capacity to reason can surely understand that there is something far more profound at play here. In the final analysis, people should be free to throw their support behind a socialist who has spent his entire adult life allying himself with America-hating radicals and Marxists, if that is whom they choose to embrace. But when doing so, it is vital that they at least be cognizant of the fact that they are indeed backing such an individual.


[1] Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well (New York: Basic Books, 1992), p. 152.
[2] Ibid., pp. 5, 15.
[3] Ibid., pp. 3, 10.
[4] Cited in Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism (New York: The Free Press, 1995), p. 17. Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, p. 155.
[5] Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, pp. 12, 113.
[6] Ibid., pp. 3, 4.
[7] Ibid., p. 3.
[8] Ibid., p. 196.
[9] Lino Graglia, “Affirmative Discrimination,” National Review (July 5, 1993), p. 30.
[10] Robert Boynton, “Professor Bell, Sage of Black Rage,” New York Observer (October 10, 1994), p. 1.
[11] Fox Butterfield, “Harvard Law School Torn by Race Issue,” The New York Times (April 26, 1990).
[12] Ibid. Fox Butterfield, “Harvard Law Professor Quits Unitl Black Woman Is Named,” The New York Times (April 24, 1990), p. A1.
[13] David Horowitz, The Professors, p. 58.
[14] Ibid., p. 26. Heather MacDonald, “Law School Humbug,” City Journal (Autumn 1995).

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Obama vs. Israel

The Washington Post
March 9, 2012

It’s Lucy and the football, Iran-style. After ostensibly tough talk about preventing Iran from going nuclear, the Obama administration acquiesced this week to yet another round of talks with the mullahs.

This, 14 months after the last group-of-six negotiations collapsed in Istanbul because of blatant Iranian stalling and unseriousness. Nonetheless, the new negotiations will be both without precondition and preceded by yet more talks to decide such trivialities as venue.

These negotiations don’t just gain time for a nuclear program about whose military intent the International Atomic Energy Agency is issuing alarming warnings. They make it extremely difficult for Israel to do anything about it (while it still can), lest Israel be universally condemned for having aborted a diplomatic solution.

If the administration were serious about achievement rather than appearance, it would have warned that this was the last chance for Iran to come clean and would have demanded a short timeline. After all, President Obama insisted on deadlines for the Iraq withdrawal, the Afghan surge and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Why leave these crucial talks open-ended when the nuclear clock is ticking?

This re-engagement comes immediately after Obama’s campaign-year posturing about Iran’s nukes. Speaking Sunday in front of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), he warned that “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States.” This just two days after he’d said (to the Atlantic) of possible U.S. military action, “I don’t bluff.” Yet on Tuesday he returned to the very engagement policy that he admits had previously failed.

Won’t sanctions make a difference this time, however? Sanctions are indeed hurting Iran economically. But when Obama’s own director of national intelligence was asked by the Senate intelligence committee whether sanctions had any effect on the course of Iran’s nuclear program, the answer was simple: No. None whatsoever.

Obama garnered much AIPAC applause by saying that his is not a containment policy but a prevention policy. But what has he prevented? Keeping a coalition of six together is not prevention. Holding talks is not prevention. Imposing sanctions is not prevention.

Prevention is halting and reversing the program. Yet Iran is tripling its uranium output, moving enrichment facilities deep under a mountain near Qom and impeding IAEA inspections of weaponization facilities.

So what is Obama’s real objective? “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel,” an administration official told The Post in the most revealing White House admission since “leading from behind.”

Revealing and shocking. The world’s greatest exporter of terror (according to the State Department), the systematic killer of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the self-declared enemy that invented “Death to America Day” is approaching nuclear capability — and the focus of U.S. policy is to prevent a democratic ally threatened with annihilation from preempting the threat?

Indeed it is. The new open-ended negotiations with Iran fit well with this strategy of tying Israel down. As does Obama’s “I have Israel’s back” reassurance, designed to persuade Israel and its supporters to pull back and outsource to Obama what for Israel are life-and-death decisions.

Yet 48 hours later, Obama says at a news conference that this phrase is just a historical reference to supporting such allies as Britain and Japan — contradicting the intended impression he’d given AIPAC that he was offering special protection to an ally under threat of physical annihilation.

To AIPAC he declares that “no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction” and affirms “Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions . . . to meet its security needs.”

And then he pursues policies — open-ended negotiations, deceptive promises of tough U.S. backing for Israel, boasts about the efficacy of sanctions, grave warnings about “war talk” — meant, as his own official admitted, to stop Israel from exercising precisely that sovereign right to self-protection.

Yet beyond these obvious contradictions and walk-backs lies a transcendent logic: As with the Keystone pipeline postponement, as with the debt-ceiling extension, as with the Afghan withdrawal schedule, Obama wants to get past Nov. 6 without any untoward action that might threaten his reelection.

For Israel, however, the stakes are somewhat higher: the very existence of a vibrant nation and its 6 million Jews. The asymmetry is stark. A fair-minded observer might judge that Israel’s desire to not go gently into the darkness carries higher moral urgency than the political future of one man, even if he is president of the United States.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Beast)

Reviews: "Wrecking Ball" by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen: The Stations of the Boss

The singer, the sinner's prayer, and my spiritual journey.

By Andy Whitman
March 6, 2012

My Christian conversion roughly coincided with my discovery of Bruce Springsteen. My sinner's prayer ran something along the lines of "If you can do anything with this mess, Lord, go for it." A few days later I found myself in a packed auditorium, dazzled for the first but far from the last time by a rocker who played for three and a half hours without a break, basking in the glory of the songs from Born to Run a few months before the album was released. And I've been along for the ride ever since, a Christian who is convinced that Bruce Springsteen has more to say to me than any other songwriter.
This is curious because, as far as I know, Springsteen does not claim to be a Christian. He grew up in the Catholic Church, left it in his teens, and never looked back. But Springsteen understands mess; the kind of mess that I was in, the relational conundrums that can trace their roots to unresolved dreams, the power of choices that set us off down a path from which it is often difficult to retreat, the gap between the people we would like to be and the people we often are. In spite of this, his songs offer an unbroken testimony to those who face adversity and strive to overcome it. And, increasingly, his work is characterized by a buoyant hope that can only be seen as rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. If you doubt that claim, you need to listen to his latest album Wrecking Ball, an album in which Jesus and his teachings inform virtually every song.
It needs to be reiterated that Springsteen, the multimillionaire rock star, writes character studies, and that the world his characters inhabit is one where the American Dream has been transformed into the American Nightmare. In this vision of the new America, the country is peopled with a few rich bankers and a lot of unemployed or underemployed individuals who struggle merely to survive. It is a world of shuttered factories, of jobs gone forever, and of hometowns turned to ghost towns. Assuming that you are not a multimillionaire rock star, it probably looks something like your world or mine. The conventional wisdom holds that these are songs of the common man, but the conventional wisdom is wrong. These people are anything but common. They have names like Joe and Mary, Miguel and Rosalita, and their stories are as unique and extraordinary as any and every human life.
This is Springsteen's extravagant gift; finding the spark of uniqueness and worth in particular human lives and holding those lives up as a mirror for us to see the reflection of ourselves, of the time and place in which we live. He does it on Wrecking Ball time and time again. He finds the spark in the nameless narrator of "Shackled and Drawn" who longs to feel the sun on his face and the sweat of honest labor on his shirt, but who cannot find work; in the defiant, angry Jersey swamp rat of the title track who is willing to take on the fat cat bankers singly or in bunches; in the desperate handyman of "Jack of All Trades," willing to do anything, even the most menial of tasks, to put food on the table. The handyman holds out for a wistful dream:
The hurricane blows, bring the hard rain
When the blue sky breaks
It feels like the world's gonna change
And we'll start caring for each other
Like Jesus said we might
I'm a Jack of all trades, we'll be all right
The vision finds its fulfillment in "Land of Hope and Dreams," the kind of arena-rattling anthem that Springsteen hasn't written in a while. This is an old song, one that he has been performing for well over a decade in his concerts, but it is fitting that it appears at the end of Wrecking Ball, the eventual victor in the usual Springsteen tug-of-war between despair and transcendent hope.
In Flannery O'Connor's great short story "Revelation," Mrs. Turpin, the self-righteous and judgmental protagonist, sees a vision in which white trash, freaks, lunatics, and "black niggers in white robes" lead the heavenly procession, while the pious churchgoers bring up the rear. Springsteen, in his most blatant gospel song, offers a similar vision of the train of glory, rumbling heavenward to where faith will be rewarded. It is a train that carries "saints and sinners, losers and winners, whores and gamblers, lost souls, fools and kings," and one in which "dreams will not be thwarted" and "faith will be rewarded." It's a glorious song, a perfect encapsulation of the greatness of its songwriter and singer. It's also the gospel; good news—the best news, in fact—for those who are weary and heavy-laden, uncommon men and women sorely in need of grace.


By Ryan Dombal
March 7, 2012

"In America, there's a promise that gets made... called the American Dream, which is just the right to be able to live your life with some decency and dignity. But that dream is only true for a very, very, very few people. It seems if you weren't born in the right place or if you didn't come from the right town, or if you believed in something that was different from the next person, y'know..." With those words, Bruce Springsteen summed up his entire ethos-- searching for the American Dream and coming up short and then searching some more-- during a time of rampant unemployment and disquieting economic inequalities. The year was 1981. Yeah, Bruce has been here before.

Back then, Springsteen expressed his blossoming political awareness as well as the no-way-out stories of his friends back in small-town New Jersey with the stark vignettes of Nebraska. Recorded alone on a four-track, the album hovers like candlelight through a pinhole, its hope-deprived characters somberly trying to reconcile faded dreams with the realities in front of them. The album is an empathetic work with Springsteen's disillusionment coursing through it, offering a personalized stamp on America's Promise, and what happens when that bond becomes weak.

Fast-forward to present day: While the State of the Union may feel familiarly shaky, Bruce Springsteen is attacking his country's hypocrisy, greed, and corruption in an entirely different way on his 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball. The keyword is "attack." Several songs here are polemics from a man who has been betrayed one too many times. "If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight," he threatens on "Jack of All Trades", while nothing less than the sound of shotgun fire is heard at the climax of "Death to My Hometown". Perhaps inspired by the folk songs he covered on 2006's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen fills the first side of Wrecking Ball with his own protest music. Like pretty much everything Bruce does, it's a noble gesture-- biographer Dave Marsh pegged him as "the last of rock's great innocents" in the 1970s, and the title still holds-- but it can also sound misguided.

With Nebraska Springsteen was updating the folk music tradition, whether that was his intention or not. The record was insular and personal, which fit its increasingly splintered times. We Shall Overcome was a communal throwback, but it re-energized its dusty source material with spirited performances and an approachable shagginess that's often eluded Springsteen on record over the past couple of decades. Wrecking Ball guns for such sing-alongs-- its musical roots call back to Civil War snares, gospel howls, and chain-gang stomps-- but it fails to support them with ample life.

Part of this can be chalked up to the album's production, which, like nearly all of Springsteen's post-Tunnel of Love material, continually finds a way to professionalize the singer's blue-blooded rawness. While a few E Streeters make cameos here and there, the bulk of the album was played by Springsteen and new studio partner Ron Aniello, whose previous credits include Bruce's wife Patti Scialfa, along with Candlebox, Guster, and Barenaked Ladies. The production isn't a disaster, but most of the stylistic flourishes can feel gimmicky or, at worst, like dry history lessons; the "Taps"-like horns on "Jack of All Trades" could be announcing the song's own funeral, and a startlingly bland concluding guitar solo by Tom Morello doesn't help matters. There's also the tugging sense that Springsteen and Aniello are trying to cover up some of the album's lackluster songwriting.

Springsteen never fell into punk's nihilism in its heyday, instead opting for fuller and more ambiguous pictures of the problems of the American working class. So it's odd to hear him rail against those up on "Banker's Hill" in the sort of black-and-white terms that continue to plague and cleave his home country. Not to say he has a moral obligation to tell the banker's story-- he doesn't-- but his lashing anger largely gets the better of him (and his writing) on Wrecking Ball's opening half, from the simplistic thieves of "Easy Money" to the overly broad characterization of "Jack of All Trades". For Springsteen, the Promise has always been a complex notion, and there's beauty in the tangles. Nothing is easy, not joy nor vengeance. There are always repercussions, always second and third and fourth thoughts behind any given action. "The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone," he sings on opener "We Take Care of Our Own", and the plea is unfortunately carried through the record's first five songs.

In that light, Wrecking Ball's back half acts as something of a rescue mission, for Springsteen's soul, and for the album itself. The two best songs are here, and not coincidentally they're the oldest tunes of the bunch, ones that were written with the full E Street Band in mind. Both of them-- "Wrecking Ball" and especially "Land of Hope and Dreams"-- also feature the unmistakable sax blares of Clarence Clemons, who passed away last summer. That added emotional weight certainly contributes to these songs' heft, but so does the fact that they fit in with Springsteen's lifelong mission in a way that the rest of the album does not. "Wrecking Ball" was originally written to pay tribute to the Meadowlands' Giants Stadium in 2009, when Springsteen and the E Street Band played the venue's final concerts. And indeed, Springsteen personifies the stadium in the song: "I was raised outta steel here in the swamps of Jersey some misty years ago," he starts. Now, this might seem a little goofy and random. But keep in mind that Giants Stadium was being raised in Springsteen's home state just as his own career was taking off in the 1970s, and that he opened the Meadowlands' Brendan Byrne Arena (now the Izod Center) with six sold-out shows in 1981. These hulks of steel mean a lot to Springsteen-- they're his pulpit. And outlasting one of them is no small feat. Across "Wrecking Ball"'s six minutes, Springsteen is harkening back to his sprawling arrangements of yesteryear, and marking it with a glorious bridge that acknowledges the 62-year-old's mortality while defying it all the same. "Bring on your wrecking ball," he sings, over and over, relishing the joy of this ending.

"Land of Hope and Dreams", written around the time of the E Street reunion tour in 1999, follows suit-- it's sprawling at seven minutes and boasts not one but two prime Clemons solos. (In the Wrecking Ball booklet, Springsteen breaks down the duo's invaluable accomplishment: "Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcend those I'd written in my songs and in my music.") This song is huge, not only in length but scope, and is imbued with an all-encompassing, arena-blowing bigness that Springsteen has shied away from in his new material for years. It rolls along using one of Bruce's favorite metaphors: the train. This is the one Curtis Mayfield was talking about on "People Get Ready" (which is called out here), the one critic Greil Marcus rhapsodized about in his essential tome Mystery Train, the one that welcomes all Americans regardless of class, race, creed. Coming out of Springsteen's mouth-- and Clemons' horn-- it's still a touching ideal, a testament of hope when we need it most. And for going on 40 years now, that's Bruce's job-- to remind us of what brings people together when everything around us seems hellbent on proving the opposite. Too hokey? Probably. But the true power of a song like "Land of Hope and Dreams" lies in its ability to overcome self-consciousness and cynicism, a feat that's tougher to achieve now than ever. Hard times come and go-- why spew anger when exultance is in your grasp?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Birth control agitprop

For Democrats, there's no room for anybody to be personally opposed to paying for someone else's birth control.

By Jonah Goldberg
Los Angeles Times
March 6, 2012

In 1984, Mario Cuomo pioneered the argument that one may be "personally opposed" to abortion while supporting abortion rights.

Ever since, this convenient locution has become a staple for countless Democratic politicians, particularly Roman Catholic ones.

Cuomo's argument was a mess. For instance, in order to buttress his argument he touted the (alleged) refusal of American Catholic bishops to forcefully denounce slavery. The bishops "weren't hypocrites; they were realists," Cuomo explained. They offered a "measured attempt to balance moral truths against political realities."

As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in "The Party of Death": "It is a mark of the strength of contemporary liberalism's commitment to abortion that one of its leading lights should have been willing to support temporizing on slavery in order to defend it."

I bring this up because according to the logic of Democrats these days, Cuomo and politicians who think as he does must want to ban abortion. It doesn't matter that they support abortion rights, in word and deed. They are personally opposed to abortion, usually as a matter of faith, and so they must favor banning it.

That's the upshot of the shockingly dishonest propaganda being peddled by leading Democrats and media outlets about the Republican push to "ban" contraception.

Part of the problem is simply psychological projection. Because many liberals believe there's no valid limiting principle on government's ability to do "good," they assume that conservatives believe there's no valid limiting principle to do "bad."

Rick Santorum, who unproductively helped inject birth control into the GOP primaries, nonetheless explained the flaw in this thinking. "Here's the difference between me and the left, and they don't get this: Just because I'm talking about it doesn't mean I want a government program to fix it. That's what they do. That's not what we do."

But don't tell that to the Democrats who are desperate to accuse the Republicans of Comstockery.

"Let's admit what this debate is really and what Republicans really want to take away from American women. It is contraception," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) outrageously claimed while opposing the Blunt amendment. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the GOP was yearning to return to "the Dark Ages … when women were property that you could easily control, trade even, if you wanted to."

The Obama campaign insists that "if Mitt Romney and a few Republican senators get their way, employers could be making women's healthcare decisions for them" and require that women seek a permission slip to obtain birth control.

It's all so breathtakingly dishonest. Rather than transport us to President Franklin Pierce's America, never mind Charlemagne's Europe, the Blunt amendment would send America hurtling back to January 2012. That's when women were free to buy birth control from their local Ralphs orWal-Mart, and religious employers could opt not to subsidize the purchase. What a terrifying time that must have been for America's women.

To be sure, Republicans invited some of this madness upon themselves. But it was President Obama who started this mess by breaking his vow to religious institutions to allow them to keep the same conscience protections that even Hillary Rodham Clinton's proposed healthcare reforms in 1994 recognized as essential.

The lying demonization of Republicans isn't nearly so offensive, or at least surprising, as the extremist policy assumptions liberals are now using to defend Obama's "accommodation" of religious institutions. They argue, in short, that if employers and the government — i.e. taxpayers — do not provide birth control (and an abortifacient), for "free," then they are banning birth control. Taking them seriously — no easy task — Democrats are saying that there's no legitimate realm outside of government.

In other words, there's no room for anybody to be personally opposed to paying for someone else's birth control. That means the people who want birth control to be a personal matter and no one else's business are demagogically fighting for a policy in which your birth control is in fact everyone's business, starting with the government's.

The Anti-Islamist Muslim Voice

Where are the responsible Muslims? Supporting the NYPD in Manhattan today.

By Phyllis Chesler
March 5, 2012

Mention terrorism and Islam in the same breath and instant accusations of “Islamophobia” and “racism” are sure to follow.

Ever since 9/11, when 19 Arab-Muslims hijacked four airplanes in the name of Islam to murder 3,000 civilians in New York and Washington, D.C., Americans have been told that Muslims are really the victims and that we must consult with Muslim groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to be further enlightened.

As of today, this is no longer true. A new organization of Muslim voices has finally arisen. From now on, the American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC) is the Muslim group with whom government leaders, media, academics, and human rights groups must now consult.

The AILC assembled this bright and chilly morning at 1 Police Plaza in New York City to demonstrate their support for the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and their right to see the films The Third Jihad [2] and Act of Valor, both of which portray real terrorist attacks.

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a former Navy physician and a religious Muslim who founded AILC in 2010, said that his group felt compelled to come here “to support the NYPD, given the relentless and unfair pummeling they have endured by Islamist groups.” He insisted: “We, as Muslims, should be monitoring extremism,” not “grievance mongering.” Dr. Jasser pointed out that “80 percent of terrorist arrests are of Muslims. We are only 1% of the population.” He suggested that “Muslims start taking responsibility instead of charging ‘Islamophobia.’”

He continued, “The more we exaggerate necessary monitoring, the more we will inflame Muslims and Islamists. Where are the responsible Muslims? Here we are.”

The AILC is not an Islamist Muslim voice. It is an anti-Islamist Muslim voice. It is pro-West, pro-human rights, and anti-terrorism. Many of its members express thanks to America for given them refuge from Islamist regimes. Others born here view their native country as a universal beacon for liberty and freedom.

Composed of a diverse group of American and Canadian Muslim leaders, AILC condemns the role that the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami, Wahhabism, and other pro-Shari’a groups have played in North America and Europe.

Canadian Tarek Fatah, a founding member of both the AILC and the Muslim Canadian Congress [3], addressed the media. He said that the NYPD “is one of the major fighters against Muslim terrorists. To CAIR, I say: We are Muslims too. Who gave you the right to speak on our behalf? The Muslim Student Association (MSA) keeps turning out terrorists like Aafia Siddiqui and Anwar al-Awlaki. They should be investigated. The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal is to destroy Western civilization. I say: It ain’t gonna happen.”

Manda Zand Ervin [4], a founding member of both AILC and the Alliance for Iranian Women, said: “I ran away from Islamists. I am grateful to be here. I am disappointed that American feminists and elites have decided to support Islamists and that academia has chosen to stay above the fray. Muslim men in America are demanding shari’a law so that they can subjugate and beat their wives here with impunity.”

Congressman Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security and convener of a series of hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims, congratulated the speakers who had traveled from all over America and Canada to be here today.

Congressman King “charged the media, particularly the New York Times” with having “allowed themselves to be used by terrorists, by CAIR, who are unindicted co-conspirators. The NYPD must be allowed to carry out effective surveillance. They are protecting a city which has been attacked by terrorists twice, once in 1993, again in 2001.” He challenged criticism about mosque surveillance as well.

Amazingly, and for the first time ever, about 25 television cameras and print media reporters were also there. I hope and pray that the media will do right by this group and will understand the importance of their existence.

In a private interview, Zand-Ervin pointed out that: “American Moslems are as diverse as the American Christians. We come from three different continents and 57 different countries. We are of different races of people, different language, cultures and historical backgrounds. We are from many different sects of Islam and a majority of us have fled Islamist dictatorships to come to the American freedom and democracy. No person or organization can ever claim representation of American Muslims. The petro dollar Islamist organizations, CAIR, ISNA, and others who use the uninformed in the mosques represent foreign governments not American Muslims. We are the silent majority who has had enough of misrepresentation by a few opportunists.”

The AILC gives voice to genuinely moderate Muslims or to the “silent majority.” The coalition defines itself as a “diverse group of U.S. and Canadian Muslim leaders who have joined together to defend our nations’ constitutions, uphold religious pluralism, promote international peace and security, and cherish genuine diversity in the practice of our faith of Islam.” They vehemently oppose the creation of an “Islamic” state or “caliphate,” and defend equality before the law, the separation of state and religion, and moderate Islamic scholarship.

The AILC encourages New York’s leaders and citizenry to support NYPD’s counter-terrorism tactics, saying that “our national counterterrorism strategy has yet to prescribe any comprehensive treatment directed at the root cause of Islamic terrorism, the theocratic, statist ideology of political Islam.”

On June 28, 2011, the White House released its National Strategy for Counterterrorism (NSCT.) The AILC commends the document for correctly identifying the root of terrorism as originating in Islamic extremism. However, the AILC is concerned that the NSCT does not outline any “substantive approach to countering extremist ideology and the radicalization of Muslims in the U.S. and abroad … and excludes any strategy for monitoring terrorist activities within America as a result of the left-leaning opinions of the government and media.”

AILC believes that it is “vitally important that law enforcement agencies be allowed to track the activities of Muslim groups and communities, which have been supporting terrorism and Islamist extremism in America for fifty years. Such communities have been carrying out terrorist activities under a guise of moderation. ”

The AILC also decries the “inordinate degree of influence that Islamists have obtained in Western societies.” It vehemently opposes the creation of an “Islamic” state or “caliphate,” and defends “equality before the law, freedom of speech, the separation of state and religion, moderate Islamic scholarship, and true religious toleration.”

The organization also denounces the persecution of Muslim minority sects (Shi’ites, Ismailis, Druze, etc…), apostates, Christians, and Jews. Specifically, it rejects imposing the death sentence on apostates.

Unsurprisingly, apostates supported this rally/press conference. I received messages from Nonie Darwish and Ibn Warraq. Jewish and pro-Israel groups attended and supported the rally as well.
In 2007, I participated in the first Islamic Dissidents conference. Some of the same people who were in St. Petersburg, Florida, are supporting or were physically present at 1 Police Plaza today. I would say that our labor of the last five years might finally bear fruit.

I want the founders of AILC to have the last words. Here they are.

“We acknowledge that extremism is a major problem within the Muslim community, which brings shame and discredit upon all of us, while empowering those who seek to denigrate Islam as a religion of hatred, supremacism and violence. Rather than adopt a ‘victimization’ mentality or be offended by such claims, we view them as a challenge to bring forth a profoundly spiritual, practical and beneficial manifestation of Islamic life and teachings.”

For the record: The AILC consists of nearly 25 groups and individuals who are based in the United States and Canada: Zainab al-Suwaij’s American Islamic Congress, Tarek Fatah’s Muslim Canadian Congress, Manda Zand Ervin’s Alliance for Iranian Women, Samir Abdelkhalek’s Muslim Liberty Project, Jamal Hasan’s Council for Democracy and Tolerance, Golam Akhter ‘s Bangladesh-USA Human Rights Coalition, Sherkoh Abbas’s Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, Bahman Batmanghelidj’s Alliance for Democracy in Iran.
Individual Coalition members include Canadians Farzana Hassan, Raheel Raza, and Arif Humayun and American-based Abdirizak Bihi, Khurshed Chowdhury, Tawfik Hamid, Hasan Mahmud, etc. Ten non-Muslim groups supported the AILC press conference including Debra Burlingame and Tim Sumner’s 9/11 Families, Beth Gilinsky’s National Council on Jewish Affairs., The Middle East Forum’s Legal Project, Jack Coughlin, Officers Association Retired, Fred Grandy, Center for Security Policy.

Updated 3/6/2012:

The media was there in droves: CNN, FOX, the New York Times, ABC [6], AP [7], Newsday, and, of course, PJMedia. They quoted the speeches and interviewed the American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC) speakers. They also interviewed anyone who was standing at 1 Police Plaza. A reporter from The American Thinker [8] even interviewed and photographed me (!) without my knowing it.

Thus, one of the Muslim citizens present, who is not a member of AILC, and who was not speaking for them, was nevertheless photographed and interviewed by some media. ABC News [6] interviewed Queens Imam Qazi Qayyoom. He said that “he believes that the NYPD is keeping his community safe, and if that means some Muslims are monitored, so be it.”

As a private citizen, Qayyoom has the right to hold any view he wishes. According to the Times Ledger of Queens, in 2012, he called for a national holiday [9] to celebrate Muhammad’s birthday. It is his right to do so. But he is certainly not speaking for AILC and anyone who wishes to tarnish their bright and rising reputation by linking them to Qayoom’s view is on foolish, if not dangerous ground.

In addition, the text of the Queens newspaper about Muhammad’s birthday has also been freely copied and also misquoted by those who seek to discredit the strategic importance of Dr. Zuhdi Jasser and the AILC in terms of counter-terrorism.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Sandra Fluke’s choices

Freelance Writer
March 3, 2012

Sandra Fluke has more choices with regard to her sex life and reproduction than any woman in history.

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Fluke, she is the 30-year-old third-year Georgetown University law student and left-wing activist who sat before an unofficial congressional committee on February 16. She testified that women like her need access to birth control, a point that almost no one disputes.

More controversially, however, she argued that Georgetown, a 223-year-old Jesuit institution, should be forced by federal law to pay for her contraception of choice without regard to Georgetown’s religious beliefs — and that somehow Georgetown’s current policy is a medieval infringement on her rights as a human being.

Perhaps it is worth outlining a few of the choices Ms. Fluke already enjoys in America in 2012.
She has an incredible array of birth control devices and techniques to choose from — including birth control pills, patches, caps, rings, shots, diaphragms, implants, spermicides (foam, jelly, cream, film), male condoms, female condoms, morning-after pills, Depo-Provera, IUDs, pulling out, tubal ligation and, yes, abortion. Do they still make chastity belts?

She has the choice to have her boyfriend or husband pay for her preferred method of contraception. This seems like a reasonable accommodation assuming only he, and not all of society, is enjoying the pleasure of her company.

She has the choice to shop around for less expensive birth control. As John McCormack pointed out in The Weekly Standard, generic Ortho Tri-Cyclen costs $9 at the Washington, D.C. Target store, or $297 for the 33 months of law school. This is 90 percent less than the $3,000 three-year cost that Ms. Fluke cited in her testimony.

She has the choice of buying health insurance from somewhere other than Georgetown University. A quick search of options for a single 30-year-old woman in the District of Columbia or northern Virginia reveals dozens of plans that cost around $150 a month. (In almost all cases, though, her co-payment for any kind of birth control would be higher than just buying it directly from Target, giving the lie to the perception that health insurance necessarily makes low-end health care services less expensive for the consumer at the point of purchase.)

She has the choice to economize on her routine expenses and not have cable TV, that evening out with friends or that new pair of shoes — and thereby free up money for contraception. Surely she would not testify that her neighbors should subsidize those things.

She has the choice to not have sex at all, thereby completely eliminating the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. This is crazy talk, of course.

She had the choice of sitting in front of Congress and therefore the American people and talking about her lifestyle. By taking that public course of action, she invited public scrutiny, even if some of it has been harsh and hurtful.

She had the choice of suggesting to Congress that someone else should pay for her lifestyle choice.
Again, few question her freedom to live her life as she sees fit. Asking for federal legislation that would compel people of faith to subsidize her sex life is the issue. Those who pay deserve some say.
As a woman who is obviously bright and accomplished enough to get into Georgetown’s law school, she had the choice of attending virtually all 200 accredited law schools in the United States, most of which are secular. But according to one report, she deliberately selected Georgetown so that she could fight this particular policy.

She had the choice of selecting a law school that costs $23,432.50 per semester in tuition alone. This begs the obvious question: How is $297 in birth control costs over three years overly burdensome in relation to $200,000 in overall law school debt? This is not to mention the fact that a Georgetown JD is a first-class, one-way ticket to the one percent.

And finally, she has the choice to call Rush Limbaugh an asshole or take the high road. To her credit, she has seemingly chosen to stay above petty name-calling, which is the bastion of those lacking coherent, logical arguments.

Sandra, your rights do not extend to anything that someone else has to pay for. The vast majority of us will gladly keep our hands out of your uterus if you keep your hands out of our wallets.

Ekulf Ardnas is the pseudonym of a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C. area.