Saturday, July 21, 2012

Daniel Silva’s Crystal Ball

The novelist’s work regularly foreshadows actual events. In his latest book, the action finally shifts to Israel.

By Michael M. Rosen
July 19, 2012

Trouble seems to follow novelist Daniel Silva like a chase car, hot on the trail of his favorite protagonist, the globe-trotting Mossad agent and ace art restorer Gabriel Allon. In The Fallen Angel—Silva’s latest thriller, released this week (HarperCollins)—trouble follows Allon home to Israel itself.

In addition to being fun, Silva’s novels have the virtue of being prescient: Several key developments in the realms of diplomacy and espionage have been presaged, if not outright predicted, in Silva’s work—a trend the author obliquely attributes to his “good contacts” inside various intelligence agencies. Take, for instance, the moment in Portrait of a Spy—written in 2011, during the throes of the Arab Spring—when Gabriel falls into the hands of arch-terrorist Rashid al-Husseini. “The Arab world is changing,” Gabriel defiantly declares. “Your time has passed.” Rashid, smirking, lays down the gauntlet. “Surely, Allon, a man such as yourself is not so naive as to think this great Arab Awakening is going to produce Western-style democracy in the Middle East,” he retorts. “The revolt might have started with the students and the secularists, but the Brothers will have the last word.” Sure enough, with last month’s election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi as Egypt’s next president, the Brothers have indeed prevailed.

In hindsight, Rashid’s (and Silva’s) prediction may seem obvious. But a year ago, earnest and optimistic foreign-policy elites here and abroad had convinced themselves, like Gabriel, that the Islamists’ time had passed.

Similarly, the previous summer, just weeks after Silva released The Rembrandt Affair, which depicts a complex international scheme to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, the first leaks began to emerge about the Stuxnet virus, which at least temporarily crippled the mullahs’ push for a bomb.

So, when Silva—himself a convert to Judaism—writes a novel about unrest in the Holy Land, as he has done in The Fallen Angel, it is worth taking note. “In the near future,” the author told me during an interview last week, “the Arab world will be more populist and more Islamist at the same time. Eventually, I can’t imagine that the focus of this enormous energy that’s sweeping the region is not going to find itself in Israel.” In particular, Silva observed, “as the entire region becomes more Islamic, it’s only natural that the conflict is going to become more overtly religious than it already is. If that is the case, then Jerusalem, this symbol of the navel of the world, this place that all the three Abrahamic faiths hold sacred, is going to be a flashpoint for the future.”


Jerusalem is an unusual setting for both Silva and his fictional alter ego. Yanked out of the Holy City’s Bezalel Arts Academy and tasked with eliminating the Palestinians who oversaw the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, Gabriel Allon traversed Europe for several years locating and executing the murderers. After the operation ended, the character winds up living on and off in Europe, pursuing his cover-vocation as an art restorer. “Gabriel started his career as a European operative, and it’s where he’s most comfortable, and where I’m most comfortable,” Silva told me. “The hallmark of the Allon series is that they’re bifurcated, they deal with art and intrigue in almost every book.”

Gabriel is scarred and flawed, but not brittle—and never broken. “I was determined to turn Gabriel Allon and those around him into serious characters,” Silva said, “not the Hollywood version of this guilt-ridden Israeli who carries this heavy conscience around about what he’s doing for his country, and is always conflicted over the morality of his conduct, whether the Jewish state should continue to exist, etc. I was not going to do that because that’s not who these people are.”

Instead, Gabriel and his colleagues believe they’ve been entrusted with a sacred mission, and while they bicker among themselves and espouse a range of opinions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, they never waver in their commitment. “They see it as their personal responsibility that there never ever be another Holocaust,” Silva noted. “I know American Jews don’t like to think about this, but [Allon and company] see themselves as guardians of Jews worldwide, including in America.”

And yet, the vast majority of the work these operatives perform takes place in Europe, often to the great chagrin of Swiss, Austrian, Italian, and other authorities under whose noses Gabriel saves the world. “The settings are chosen very carefully to serve as a backdrop for the kinds of stories that I want to tell and to make the Allon series work for a broader audience other than just people who want to read about the Middle East and Israel,” Silva told me. In addition to enhancing the books’ commercial appeal, the European milieu enables Silva to broaden the conversation to include hunting for hidden Holocaust butchers, punishing malevolent Swiss bankers, and unraveling Vatican intrigue.

But for the first time in the 12-book series, in The Fallen Angel the action shifts significantly to the Jewish state itself. His latest offering, Silva explained, is “set along the Jerusalem-to-Rome historical axis, and it actually moves backward. Gabriel goes from the Sistine Chapel, built to the scale of Solomon’s Temple, and he moves backward through time.” Unforeseen events lead Gabriel and his team back to Jerusalem, where archaeology, politics, religion, and espionage intersect.

“There’s a theme that runs through the book about antiquities and truth being lost to looters,” Silva said. In Rome, Gabriel tracks a mobbed-up antiquities ring at the request of high-level friends in the Vatican, and in Israel, the spy squarely confronts the disturbing new trend of what he labels “Temple Denial.” As his senior colleague Eli Lavon—part-time archaeologist, full-time counter-surveillance specialist—intones to Gabriel from his dig near the Western Wall:
“It’s a first cousin to Holocaust Denial, and it’s now just as widespread in the Arab and Islamic world. The calculus is quite simple: No Holocaust, no Temple …”
“No Jews in Palestine.”
“Precisely. But it’s not just talk. Using the religious authority of the Waqf, the Palestinians are systematically trying to erase any evidence that there was ever an actual temple on the Temple Mount. We’re fighting an archaeological war here in Jerusalem every day.”
Lavon’s fictional plaints closely align with those of his inventor. “There’s an international campaign under way to delegitimize the state of Israel,” Silva told me. “Part of that campaign is an effort by Palestinians—and I feel comfortable saying it as a blanket term because it’s accepted by the entire leadership of the Palestinian authority—that there was never any Jewish Temple of Jerusalem.” The implications of this campaign are quite significant, Silva believes. “Absurd as that sounds,” he argued, “it has a reason, a political purpose. If you say there was not a Holocaust, which is now sort of accepted widely, unfortunately, throughout much of the Islamic world, and then you say there was never a Jewish Kingdom or temple in Israel, then why is the state here now?”
When I asked Silva whether Israelis and Palestinians could conceivably balance the need to respect the Islamic holy places with responsibly excavating artifacts so critical to Jewish history and culture, he replied that “what could be a realistic solution would be to do it jointly, as I wrote in the afterword [to The Fallen Angel]. But that’s simply not going to happen. In the old days, you used to go to the Temple Mount and the Haram and Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock all the time. Forget it now. If you even get too close to the gates, Palestinian street toughs will get in your face and tell you ‘Move away, mosque is closed, Muslims only.’ ”

The problem also persists on a larger scale. “One of the things I wanted to talk about in this [latest] book,” Silva told me, “is to look at the arc of history in that part of the Mediterranean, and all the great powers that have come through that patch of land, and how tenuous their grip has always been, how tenuous the Jewish home is in the land of Israel. When I was in Israel last summer working on the book, I encountered this animation ‘Maps of War,’ about all the great powers who’ve ruled the Eastern Med, starting with the ancient Egyptians, and it’s a reminder that history does not come to an end.”

Both Gabriel, the character, and Silva, the author, are somewhat cryptic about their views on the peace process. “Regarding Gabriel,” Silva said, “I’ve never sat and pinned him down. But I don’t think there’s a lot of daylight between us. I think if Gabriel were put under oath, he’d say he’s a two-stater. He would willingly give away virtually all of the West Bank to a reasonable Palestinian government that had forsworn violence and given up the dream of driving the Jews into the sea. But he’s not at all confident that there is this possibility for peace.”

And if life imitates art, the very end of The Fallen Angel suggests some ill omens for the region. In particular, there’s an apocalyptic Iranian regime dedicated to making the Temple Mount squabble look like a trifle. And while Silva said he was gratified that Stuxnet and related attacks have “worked, to some extent,” there’s a long way to go before Israel and the world are safe.

As for where future books in the series will take Silva and Gabriel, the author’s keeping mum: “I learned long ago never to comment about books that haven’t yet been written.” But he does note the increasing difficulty—for him, and for his protagonist—of operating elsewhere in the Middle East.
“It’s not so easy for Gabriel Allon to work in the Arab world,” Silva said. “He has gone to Cairo [in Prince of Fire] and Dubai in Portrait of a Spy. It’s not so easy for me to go to the Arab world anymore.”


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Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in San Diego.

Dallas-bound espionage thriller author Daniel Silva’s evil muse? Reality

The Dallas Morning News
July 17, 2012

No need for Daniel Silva to invent eccentric James Bond-style supervillains in his best-selling espionage thrillers. Not with what seems to be an endless supply of real-life bad guys out there for him to write about.

Last year, in Portrait of a Spy, Silva — a former journalist and CNN producer who has written a string of best-sellers since 1997’s The Unlikely Spy — addressed the changing nature of al-Qaeda in a post-bin Laden world.

His latest, The Fallen Angel (Harper, $27.99), pits Israeli art restorer and master spy Gabriel Allon against Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that Silva describes as “the A-team of terrorists.”

“We would be wise to remember that, before al-Qaeda, there was Hezbollah,” says Silva, whose book tour brings him to Dallas on Saturday. “Its list of successful terrorist attacks is long and deadly. And it is far more capable now than al-Qaeda ever was.”

The Fallen Angel opens with Allon conducting an under-the-radar murder investigation at the Vatican. That puts him on the trail of a black-market antiquities ring, a Hezbollah plot to bomb a historic synagogue in Vienna and an even bigger plot to destroy one of religion’s holiest sites.

Silva talked by phone from his home in Washington, D.C.

In the book, Gabriel discovers that Hezbollah is financing worldwide terrorist activities by dealing in the lucrative stolen antiquities market. Is that really happening?

I cannot say for certain whether terror groups are involved in that trade, but I would be surprised if they weren’t. What I do know is that Hezbollah is heavily involved in global crime of all kinds: drugs, pirated DVDs, black-market cigarettes, the illicit diamond trade, you name it. They need a lot of money to carry out their operations in Lebanon and elsewhere, and they are earning a great deal of that money by a global crime spree.

Do real-world events often affect your books as you’re writing them?

It certainly did in Portrait of a Spy. Bin Laden was killed after I finished writing the book. And there were daily developments with the Arab Spring. I quickly rewrote all the relevant passages. It was a big challenge, but it made that book so timely.

Your characters travel the globe in your books. How in-depth is your research? Do you visit every historic building, stand in front of every famous painting, explore every cave?

I know that all you have to do is push a few buttons on your computer, type a word into a Google box, and you can do a lot of your research without leaving home. But I still prefer to do it the old-fashioned way. If I’m going to set a scene in caves and tunnels under the old city of Jerusalem, I go there and I see what it’s like down there. I think readers can tell the difference.

President Bill Clinton is quoted inside the book jacket as saying, “Gabriel Allon is my favorite fictional character.” How did you feel when he made that declaration?

Very proud and humbled. Here’s a guy who spent much of the final months of his presidency trying to bring peace to the Middle East. He is a serious student of the Middle East. He knows more about this topic than any other political leader in the world. If there’s a real-life Gabriel Allon, I’m certain that Clinton knows him. So the fact that he likes my work, that it rings true to him, that he recognizes the people and that it keeps him engaged as a reader, that’s just an enormous compliment.

David Martindale is an Arlington freelance writer.

Plan your life

Silva will appear as part of Arts & Letters Live at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (7/19) at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St. Tickets $25; discounts for seniors and students. or 214-922-1818. He will sign The Fallen Angel at 2 p.m. Saturday (7/19) at Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Highway, Dallas.

Here Come the Closet Black Conservatives

By Pat Austin
July 21, 2012

Rev. C.L. Bryant is making waves with his new documentary, Runaway Slave. I had the opportunity to preview the film in Bossier City, Louisiana, and I found the documentary thoroughly compelling.
Runaway Slave was conceived by Rev. Bryant and supported by private donations and FreedomWorks. It has been well-received in private screenings so far, often receiving standing ovations, and is poised to open in select theaters across the country next week. While at Regal Cinema 9 in Bossier City, it was the highest grossing film there.

Herman Cain caught a great deal of flak for his comment on the campaign trail that he "had left the Democratic plantation," but he's not the only one saying it. Indeed, C.L. Bryant has now joined the ranks of a number of black closet conservatives who are speaking out against big government, which is what they perceive to be the new plantation. And the list of black conservatives finding the courage to speak out is growing.

Joining Bryant in this documentary are famous faces like Herman Cain, Allen West, Thomas Sowell, AlfonZo Rachel, and Alveda King. Sirius radio host David Webb speaks out, and we meet a host of other black conservatives who share their stories such as Mason Weaver, Marvin D. Rogers, and K. Carl Smith, who is the founder of Frederick Douglass Republicans and subscribes to the "four life-affirming values of Douglass: respect for life, respect for the Constitution, belief in limited government and individual responsibility."

The film itself has a gritty, urban, edgy feel to it, at times contrasted with scenes of rolling hills and pastoral images of a beautiful America. The scene at the Jefferson Memorial will certainly bring a tear of pride to your eye.

Bryant travels across America, marching with the NAACP, asking questions, and stands thoughtfully at Tea Party rallies. He takes it all in and asks, "Why?" Why are we so racially divided when we all want the same thing? Bryant asks black Americans, "What are you being prevented from doing because of your skin color?"

The documentary also tells C.L.'s personal story. He grew up in Grand Cane and is a licensed and ordained minister. He lost his church when he began to speak at local Tea Party rallies and about his conservatism. Bryant was also NAACP chapter president in Garland, TX, a position he lost when he declined to speak at a pro-choice rally. Staunchly pro-life, Bryant has twice sacrificed his position to his values.

The main theme of the documentary is not new: the enslavement of black society by big government. People like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are described in interviews as "race-hustlers" or "poverty pimps" because while they claim to represent the best interests of black America, they are profiting from the continued degraded status of blacks.

Technically, the film is a masterpiece in editing and symbolism. The theme of the underground railroad is ever-prevalent, and at one point, AlfonZo Rachel even says, "We've got a new underground railroad 2.0; we're kind of like the Harriet Tubmans of our day!" We often see Bryant walking down railroad tracks, standing in thought, or running down the tracks. He picks up a rusty railroad spike which, at the end, he throws forcefully off a railroad trestle into the river: freedom!

On his journey across America, one of the people Bryant talks to is author and pundit Star Parker. Parker is the author of Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It. She shares her compelling personal story from welfare to entrepreneurship in her book. In the documentary, she explains that "what broke down in black America is just a picture of what's breaking down in the rest of society. ... Not only has big government enslaved America's poor, but now we're looking at the extension of government into all communities."

In Uncle Sam's Plantation, Parker wrote, "A burgeoning lower class of people dependent on the government will likely continue voting for the party that keeps the handouts coming[.]" Thus, we have the stunning statistic that 95% of black Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Statistically, black Americans have strongly voted for the Democratic party since 1936. That year, black voters came out 71% for FDR. Republicans have not been able to garner over 20% of the black vote since Nixon in 1960.

In one segment community leader Marvin D. Rogers gives Bryant a history lesson in which Rogers points out that Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington were all Republicans. Republicans were in control of both houses of Congress when the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were passed, which granted freedom, citizenship, voting rights, and due process to blacks. Rogers also explains that President Eisenhower, a Republican, signed into law the 1957 civil rights act, which set in motion the civil rights commission and created the civil rights division of the Justice Department. It was a Republican senator, Everett Dirksen who blocked a Democratic filibuster against the 1964 civil rights legislation. Dirksen said, "The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."

Given all this, why such a monolithic turnout from the black community for the Democratic Party? This is one of the questions Runaway Slave attempts to answer. How has black America been improved by all these handouts? Part of the problem seems to be the controlled decimation of the black family perpetuated by the requirement that to receive that entitlement check, there must not be a father in the home. You get married, you lose your welfare check.

Planned Parenthood and the high rate of abortions in the black community are also cited. Most Planned Parenthood centers are in black communities; in New York in 2008, for example, more African-Americans had abortions than gave birth.

In her new book, Blacklash, Deneen Borelli asks, "Why aren't black kids improving and growing at the same rate as their peers? My opinion: It's all in the message from the career black politicians who promote big government solutions that result in stagnation and government dependence." The better way, Borelli suggests, is to quit blaming everyone else and take responsibility for your life. The Constitution does not guarantee you success, but it does guarantee you the opportunity for success.

Black conservatives are accustomed to the standard name-calling ("Sellout!" "Uncle Tom!"), and the personalities featured in this film simply brush it off. AlfonZo Rachel says, "I must be on the right track!" as he notes that Uncle Tom actually stood up to his master in the famous novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe and refused to whip another slave.

There will be many who won't have the courage to see this film, which opens in select theaters July 27. There will be many who scoff at C.L. Bryant and accuse him of being a sellout to the white man. But if we are ever to have a true discussion of race in this country, this documentary might be the place to start.

Obama builds roadblocks, not roads

Instead of roads and bridges, Obama-sized government funds stasis and sclerosis: The Hoover Dam of regulatory obstruction, the Golden Gateway to dependency.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
July 20, 2012

On the evidence of last week's Republican campaign events, President Obama's instant classic – "You didn't build that" – is to Mitt Romney what that radioactive arachnid is to Spider-Man: It got under his skin, and, in an instant, the geeky stiff was transformed into a muscular Captain Capitalism swinging through the streets and deftly squirting his webbing all over Community-Organizerman. Rattled by the reborn Romney, the Obama campaign launched an attack on Romney's attack on Obama's attack on American business. First they showed Romney quoting Obama: "He said, 'If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.'" And then the Obama team moved in for the kill: "The only problem? That's not what he said."
Indeed. What Obama actually said was:

"If you've got a business, you, you didn't build that. [Interjection by fawning supporters: "Yeeaaaaah!"] "Somebody else made that happen."

Since the president is widely agreed to be "the smartest guy ever to become president" (Michael Beschloss, presidential historian), the problem can't be "what he said" but that you dummies aren't smart enough to get the point he was trying to make. According to Slate's David Weigel, the "you didn't build that" bit referred back to something he'd said earlier in the speech – "somebody invested in roads and bridges." You didn't build those, did you? Or maybe he was referring back to "this unbelievable American system we have that allowed you to thrive." You didn't build the system, did you? Or maybe he was referring to the teleprompter. You didn't build that, did you? Well, unless you're Rajiv or Suresh from the teleprompter factory in Bangalore, you didn't. Maybe he was referring back to something he said in a totally different speech – the Berlin Wall one, perhaps. You didn't build that, did you? Who are we to say which of these highly nuanced interpretations of the presidential text is correct?

If this is the best all the King's horses and all the King's men can do to put Humpty Dumpty's silver-tongued oratory together again, they might as well cut to the chase and argue that accurately quoting President Obama is racist. The obvious interpretation sticks because it fits with the reality of the last three-and-a-half years – that America's chief executive is a man entirely ignorant of business who presides over an administration profoundly hostile to it.

But, just for the record, I did "invest in roads and bridges," and so did you. In fact, every dime in those roads and bridges comes from taxpayers, because government doesn't have any money except for what it takes from the citizenry. And the more successful you are, the more you pay for those roads and bridges.

So here's a breaking-news alert for President Nuance: We small-government guys are in favor of roads. Hard as it may be to credit, roads predated Big Government. Which came first, the chicken crossing the road or the Egg Regulatory Agency? That's an easy one: Halfway through the first millennium B.C., the nomadic Yuezhi of Central Asia had well-traveled trading routes for getting nephrite jade from the Tarim Basin to their customers at the Chinese court, more than 2,500 miles away. On the other hand, the Yuezhi did not have a federal contraceptive mandate or a Bloombergian enforcement regime for carbonated beverages at concession stands at the rest area two days out of Khotan, so that probably explains why they're not in the G7 today.

In Obama's world, businessmen build nothing, whereas government are the hardest hard-hats on the planet. So, in his "You didn't build that" speech, he invoked, yet again, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. "When we invested in the Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Internet, sending a man to the moon – all those things benefited everybody. And so that's the vision that I want to carry forward."

He certainly carries it forward from one dam speech to another. He was doing his Hoover Dam shtick only last month, and I pointed out that there seemed to be a certain inconsistency between his enthusiasm for federal dam-building and the definitive administration pronouncement on the subject, by Deanna Archuleta, his Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, in a speech to Democratic environmentalists in Nevada:

"You will never see another federal dam."

Ever. So the president can carry forward his "vision," but it apparently has no more real-world application than the visions he enjoyed as a member of his high school "choom gang" back in Hawaii. Incidentally, I was interested to learn from David Maraniss' enlightening new biography that, during car-chooming sessions, young Barry insisted all the windows be rolled up so that no marijuana smoke would escape. If you can seriously envision President Obama opening a 21st century Hoover Dam, you need to lower the windows on your Chevy Volt.

The Golden Gate Bridge? As Reason's Matt Welch pointed out, the Golden Gate cost at the time $35 million – or about $530 million today. So, for the cost of Obama's 2009 stimulus bill alone, we could have had 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges. Where are they? Where are, say, the first dozen? If you laid 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges end to end, you'd have enough for one Golden Choom Bridge stretching from Obama's Punahou High School in Honolulu over the Pacific all the way to his Occidental College in Los Angeles, so that his car-chooming chums can commute from one to the other without having to worry about TSA patdowns.

A stimulus bill equivalent to 1,567 Golden Gate bridges. A 2011 federal budget equivalent to 6,788 Golden Gate bridges. And yet we don't have a single one.

Because that's not what Big Government does: Money-no-object government spends more and more money for less and less objects. For all the American economy has to show for it, President Bob the Builder took just shy of a trillion dollars in stimulus, stuck it in his wheelbarrow, pushed it halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge, and tossed it into the Pacific.

Instead of roads and bridges, Obama-sized government funds stasis and sclerosis: The Hoover Dam of regulatory obstruction, the Golden Gateway to dependency. Last month, 80,000 Americans signed on to new jobs, but 85,000 Americans signed on for Social Security disability checks. Most of these people are not "disabled" as that term is generally understood. Rather, it's the U.S. economy that's disabled, and thus Obama incentivizes dependency. What Big Government is doing to those 85,000 "disabled" is profoundly wicked. Let me quote a guy called Mark Steyn, from his last book:

"The evil of such a system is not the waste of money but the waste of people. Tony Blair's ministry discovered it was politically helpful to reclassify a chunk of the unemployed as 'disabled.' A fit, able-bodied 40-year-old who has been on disability allowance for a decade understands somewhere at the back of his mind that he is living a lie, and that not just the government but his family and his friends are colluding in that lie."

Millions of Americans have looked at the road ahead, and figured it goes nowhere. Best to pull off into the Social Security parking lot. Don't worry, it's not your fault. As the president would say, you didn't build the express check-in to the Disability Office. Government built it, and, because they built it, you came. In Obama's "visions," he builds roads and bridges. In reality, the President of Dependistan has put nothing but roadblocks in the path to opportunity and growth.
That he can build. That's all he can build.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Border Patrol’s New “Run-and-Hide” Strategy

By Frank Crimi
July 20, 2012

Janet Napolitano, Head of the Department of Homeland Security

When a band of knights encounter a murderous rabbit in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, their immediate response is to hurriedly flee the carnage, screaming in unison, “Run away! Run away!”

Now in a case of life imitating comedic art, the Obama administration is instructing Border Patrol agents to “run away and hide” when confronted by an “active shooter,” an armed individual opening fire in public places.

The new “run-and-hide” directive for agents in US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the form of a mandatory computer training course on the proper protocol to be used when confronted by active shooters.

That appropriate conduct, outlined in an hour-long video entitled “IS-907- Active Shooter: What You Can Do,” consists of three specific options available to Border Patrol agents: Evacuate, Hide Out, and, if that fails, Take Action.

Unfortunately, the DHS definition of “taking action,” according to Border Patrol union officials, is to “act aggressively and throw things at the shooter,” a plan that could prove unworkable given that the DHS did not specify what thrown objects would prove adequate in stopping a hail of gunfire.
Nevertheless, if the gunman is not subdued by an avalanche of tossed shoes, belts, or badges, the DHS then advise the Border Patrol agents to “call law enforcement and wait for their arrival,” a somewhat puzzling directive given those Border Patrol agents are under the impression they themselves are armed law enforcement professionals.

After all, these Border Patrol agents spend 12 weeks training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in New Mexico, where they are instructed in such things as criminal law, immigration law, arrest techniques, self defense, and firearms.

Yet, despite being assigned upon graduation from FLETC a semi-automatic pistol, a fully automatic assault rifle or a shotgun to carry out their duties, the Obama administration apparently believes them insufficiently prepared to utilize those weapons and that training in taking down a crazed gunman firing on innocent civilians.

That downgraded assessment of their abilities comes despite Border Patrol agents — in addition to tracking groups of illegal aliens coming into the United States — being responsible for apprehending heavily armed Mexican drug cartel members operating along the US-Mexico border.

Not surprisingly, then, the DHS “run away” policy is not sitting well within the rank and file of the Border Patrol, including the country’s largest Border Patrol union with 3,300 members, Local 2544 in Tucson, Arizona.

In statements posted on their union website, union leaders have characterized the DHS guidelines as “downright insulting,” adding, “It’s nice to know if we should encounter such a situation, stop a shooter and save countless lives, we can look forward to being disciplined or fired by the Border Patrol because we should have run away to hide.”

As one former law enforcement investigator and current security consultant wondered, perhaps rhetorically, “Are the lunatics now running the asylum?”

Of course, the Obama administration’s diminished view of the role played by Border Patrol agents neatly dovetails with its overall disinterest in promoting the US Customs and Border Protection agency’s role in securing the nation’s borders.

That disinterest was most recently on display with the Obama administration’s announcement that it is moving to close nine Border Patrol stations across four states.

While the CBP has maintained closing the stations is being done in order to reassign agents to higher priority areas closer to the border, critics warn the closures will undermine efforts to intercept drug and human traffickers in well-traveled corridors north of the US-Mexico border.

As Bob Dane, communications director with the Federation for American Immigration Reform has said, the Border Patrol station closings are just “part of the systematic dismantling of both border and interior enforcement. It complements the non-enforcement policy of (the Obama) administration.”

The non-enforcement immigration policy of the Obama administration was witnessed most recently by President Obama’s executive order to stop the deportation of over 800,000 young illegal aliens; and his directive to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “selectively enforce” the parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law, SB 1070, that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

Yet, as fully committed as the Obama administration is to not enforcing the country’s immigration laws, it is equally committed to making life a more pleasurable experience for those who find themselves in the country illegally.

To that end, in this year alone, the Department of Homeland Security announced the appointment of the nation’s first “public advocate” for Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and its revised standards for treating illegal aliens housed in the country’s detention facilities, changes which included providing taxpayer-funded access to “hormone therapy” for transgendered detainees.

So, given the Obama administration’s desperate desire to run away from America’s illegal immigration problem, it makes sense that it would now instruct America’s Border Patrol agents to run away from their professional responsibilities of protecting public safety.

Yet, while the DHS “flee to safety” policy may provoke a mixture of derision and amusement, it should be noted that a variation of this policy has already been in effect, one that resulted in the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, the centerpiece of the Fast and Furious operation.

Specifically, the Justice Department recently revealed that Terry and a contingent of federal agents initially fired bean bags — not bullets — at a group of heavily armed drug cartel members south of Tucson, Arizona, in December 2011, an exchange in which Terry was shot and killed.

That information, which came in a statement issued by Attorney General Eric Holder, also read, “Agent Terry served his country honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect it from harm.”

Unfortunately, Terry’s heroic effort to protect his country was delivered in the form of a bean bag, a “weapon” that the Department of Homeland Security would undoubtedly find a suitable standard issue for all Border Patrol agents.

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Co-sponsoring Your Success

Obama seeks to restore the assumptions and priorities of the Progressive Era.

By Jonah Goldberg
July 20, 2012 

“If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. . . . If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

— Barack Obama, Roanoke, Va., July 13

The president’s defenders have claimed he either misspoke last week at a Roanoke, Va., campaign event or that what he said is true. Both defenses have merit. Obama surely didn’t mean to say something that politically idiotic so plainly. And it’s true that no man’s accomplishments are entirely his own. We’re all indebted to others, and we all rely on government to provide some basic things. Only the straw-men conservatives of Obama’s imagination yearn for an America with no roads and bridges.

At best, Obama’s “gaffe” is a banal truism, and if the president’s praetorians want to defend him on grounds of platitudinous banality, fine. But even they have to know in their hearts that this is a pathetic maneuver, given that the reason they’re rushing to defend Obama in the first place is his commitment to the very philosophy they deny he’s espousing.

This is the great irony of Obama and his defenders. He is a progressive ideologue and a passionate believer in “social justice,” and that’s a large reason why his fans love him so. But if you ever say that he is what he is — if you take his words seriously — they ridicule you for believing he’s anything other than a pragmatist and a moderate.

Meanwhile, what many conservatives don’t appreciate is that Obama is not some otherworldly radical, importing foreign ideas, but that he in fact fits within an old American intellectual tradition. Indeed, you might even call him a reactionary progressive; he seeks to restore the assumptions and priorities of the Progressive Era.

Herbert Croly, the godfather of American progressivism, spoke for a generation of progressive intellectuals when he wrote that the “individual has no meaning apart from the society in which his individuality has been formed.” For the progressives, society and government were almost interchangeable terms. John Dewey, the seminal progressive philosopher, believed that “organized social control” via a “socialized economy” was the only means to create “free” individuals. For the progressives, freedom wasn’t the absence of government coercion, it was a pile of gifts from the state.

Progressives invented the idea of the “moral equivalent of war” as a means of inciting citizens to drop their personal priorities and rally around the state for a government-defined “cause larger than themselves.” Obama came into office under the motto “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” and has been looking for “Sputnik moments” ever since in a search for a way to rationalize his agenda.
To the extent Obama ever speaks the language of religion, it is to justify, even sanctify, the works of government. He often invokes the Hallmark-ized biblical teaching that “I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper” as a means to rationalize not personal action but government action. (Obama’s own half-siblings have received little attention from their very wealthy and famous relative.)

Progressive minister Walter Rauschenbusch famously declared that only the “God that answereth by low food prices” should be God. You might say that under the Obamacare vision, only the God that answereth with free birth control should be God.

In the slideshow “The Life of Julia,” the Obama campaign celebrates a progressive vision of citizenship where all of a hypothetical young woman’s accomplishments are co-produced by the state: “Under President Obama, Julia decides to have a child.”

It’s all of a piece with Obama’s conviction that “a problem facing any American is a problem facing all Americans.”

The problem facing Obama is that there’s a reason the American people never fully embraced the progressive vision. The idea driving America is the individual pursuit of happiness. Just because the word “individual” appears in there doesn’t make it a selfish ideal; it means it’s a vision of liberty. We each find our happiness where we seek it. For some that’s in business, for others the arts, or religion or family or a mix of them all. And very often our happiness depends upon the satisfaction we feel at having conquered problems on our own.

Under President Obama, that sense of happiness is a mirage, because everything is a co-production of the state.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online , a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Did the state make you great?

The Washington Post
July 20, 2012

“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

— Barack Obama,

Roanoke, Va., July 13

And who might that somebody else be? Government, says Obama. It built the roads you drive on. It provided the teacher who inspired you. It “created the Internet.” It represents the embodiment of “we’re in this together” social solidarity that, in Obama’s view, is the essential origin of individual and national achievement.

To say that all individuals are embedded in and the product of society is banal. Obama rises above banality by means of fallacy: equating society with government, the collectivity with the state. Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.

Moreover, the greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.

Obama compounds the fallacy by declaring the state to be the font of entrepreneurial success. How so? It created the infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, Internet — off which we all thrive.

Absurd. We don’t credit the Swiss postal service with the Special Theory of Relativity because it transmitted Einstein’s manuscript to the Annalen der Physik. Everyone drives the roads, goes to school, uses the mails. So did Steve Jobs. Yet only he created the Mac and the iPad.

Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.

The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.

More nonsense. Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new. The Via Appia was built 2,300 years ago. The Romans built aqueducts, too. And sewers. Since forever, infrastructure has been consensually understood to be a core function of government.

The argument between left and right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation, about geometrically expanding entitlements, about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners. It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.

What divides liberals and conservatives is not roads and bridges but Julia’s world, an Obama campaign creation that may be the most self-revealing parody of liberalism ever conceived. It’s a series of cartoon illustrations in which a fictional Julia is swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all- giving government of bottomless pockets and “Queen for a Day” magnanimity. At every stage, the state is there to provide — preschool classes and cut-rate college loans, birth control and maternity care, business loans and retirement. The only time she’s on her own is at her grave site.

Julia’s world is totally atomized. It contains no friends, no community and, of course, no spouse. Who needs one? She’s married to the provider state.

Or to put it slightly differently, the “Life of Julia” represents the paradigmatic Obama political philosophy: citizen as orphan child. For the conservative, providing for every need is the duty that government owes to actual orphan children. Not to supposedly autonomous adults.

Beyond infrastructure, the conservative sees the proper role of government as providing not European-style universal entitlements but a firm safety net, meaning Julia-like treatment for those who really cannot make it on their own — those too young or too old, too mentally or physically impaired, to provide for themselves.

Limited government so conceived has two indispensable advantages. It avoids inexorable European-style national insolvency. And it avoids breeding debilitating individual dependency. It encourages and celebrates character, independence, energy, hard work as the foundations of a free society and a thriving economy — precisely the virtues Obama discounts and devalues in his accounting of the wealth of nations.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Resisting Barbarians

We can’t do it with appeasement, accommodation, and sophistry.

By Clifford D. May
July 19, 2012

Protesters outside the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab last week in Denver. (Kelsey Whipple)

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, I expected there would soon be consensus across ideological, national, and other lines that terrorism is wrong — that no political goal or grievance justifies intentionally murdering innocent men, women, and children. I was wrong.

Last week, Pew released the results of a poll that found that Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is viewed favorably by 76 percent of the population of Pakistan, ostensibly one of America’s closest allies among nations self-identifying as Islamic. Iran also is viewed favorably by 39 percent of Tunisians, generally regarded as among the most moderate of Arabs. In Egypt, 19 percent — a not insignificant minority — have a favorable view of al-Qaeda.

In America and Europe, fewer people smile on terrorists but many are determinedly nonjudgmental. Recall Reuters’ global head of news, Stephen Jukes, just after 9/11, saying that in the view of his news organization, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Canadian author George Jonas, with his customary verbal precision, called that “an adolescent sophistry.”

Now consider the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), created under the leadership of the Obama administration to “provide a unique platform for senior counterterrorism policymakers and experts from around the world to work together to identify urgent needs, devise solutions and mobilize resources for addressing key counterterrorism challenges.” Twenty-nine countries have been admitted, but Israel, arguably targeted by more terrorists than any other nation, has been excluded. In remarks to a meeting of the GCTF in Madrid last week, Under Secretary of State Maria Otero failed even to include Israel in a list of victims of terrorism. Asked about this conspicuous omission, a State Department spokesman replied: “I don’t have the details of the undersecretary’s speech.” Your tax dollars at work.

Also in recent days: A resolution introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on July 27, to observe a moment of silence in honor of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago in Munich received unanimous Senate support. But the members of the IOC adamantly refuse. Is that because they are not sure whether those who slaughtered the Olympians were terrorists? Or is it because they think it prudent not to offend any terrorists who may be summering in London? Could the fact that the victims were Israelis — or Jews — play a role?

If so, they would be expressing the prejudice most acceptable among certain fashionable elites. For example, Alice Walker has refused to permit a new translation of her novel, The Color Purple, into Hebrew. As Israeli author Daniel Gordis has pointed out, Hebrew “is the only language into which Walker has refused to permit translation.” She has no trouble with translations into Farsi, Dari, Pashto, or Arabic.

In Denver last week, there was the grand reopening of the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, a unique museum intended to help teach the public about terrorism of all kinds (not just the Islamic variety), why it’s a threat to all civilizations (not just the West), and how it can be defeated (determination and vigilance will be key). Before an audience of nearly a thousand, Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton moderated a discussion between former secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff and me. Among the issues with which we attempted to grapple: The destructive potential of cyber-terrorism; the possibility that terrorists will use germs and viruses as weapons; the role of failed states and what it will mean if the rulers of Iran, who have been killing Americans for decades and threatening Israelis with genocide, are not prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Planted throughout the audience were protesters from an organization that calls itself “We Are Change.” Every so often, a member would stand up and begin shouting. One yelled “Terrorism is not real!” Another proclaimed that “bees kill more people than terrorists!” Another angrily insisted that the FBI has no proof that Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 — to which Chertoff replied that not only can we be certain that the al-Qaeda leader was behind the attacks, but also that there has been “a landing on the moon.” The protesters were escorted outside, where they joined demonstrators holding a banner that read, “9/11 was an inside job.”

There were not many of these demonstrators, and they do not represent most people in Denver, America, or the West. But, as noted above, anti-anti-terrorists are hardly a rare species. And aren’t the members of the IOC and GCTF closer in outlook to them than to people like Chertoff and me — people who believe that terrorists, their funders, and their supporters must be confronted and crushed, not appeased and accommodated?

A generation before the attacks of 9/11, in 1980, in a book titled The Recovery of Freedom, the great historian Paul Johnson lamented that we have “almost forgotten how to arm ourselves against barbarism. We can, in fact, do it in only one way: by stating that terrorism is always and in every circumstance wrong . . . that it must be resisted by every means at our disposal; and that those who practice it must not only be punished but repudiated by those who share their political aims.” I’ve always found that logic compelling. I would have thought that by now most people — certainly those in the U.S. State Department, and those dedicated to the Olympic ideal, and American novelists concerned with bigotry — would have grasped it. I was wrong.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Film Reviews: 'The Dark Knight Rises'

TIME's Review of The Dark Knight Rises: To the Depths, to the Heights

Make way, puny Avengers, for the grand tale of a superhero in emotional crisis, as Gotham City faces economic collapse and a reign of terror. Can Batman even come to his own rescue?

By Richard Corliss
July 16, 2012

(Warning: mild spoilers throughout — though the film has enough big surprises that you need not worry.)

A gang of thugs has just looted the Gotham City Stock Exchange and crashed out on motorcycles, hostages in tow. The police are helpless as they pursue the miscreants into a tunnel. Suddenly, the tunnel goes dark. A familiar vehicle with monster-truck wheels, driven by a man in black cape and cowl, has joined the chase. Batman is back. An older cop observes the action, smiles and says to a rookie, “Boy, you’re in for a show tonight, son.”

The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), Christopher Nolan’s mesmerizing climax to his trilogy reboot of the DC Comics character, is a show, all right. But not in the way of the standard summer action fantasy. Although his movie contains elaborate fights, stunts, chases and war toys, and though the director dresses half his characters in outfits suitable for a Comic-Con revel, Nolan is a dead-serious artist with a worldview many shades darker than the knight of the title. The Avengers is kid stuff compared with this meditation on mortal loss and heroic frailty. For once a melodrama with pulp origins convinces viewers that it can be the modern equivalent to Greek myths or a Jonathan Swift satire. TDKR is that big, that bitter — a film of grand ambitions and epic achievement. The most eagerly anticipated movie of summer 2012 was worth waiting for.

Reuniting the core crew from his 2005 Batman Begins and the 2008 The Dark Knight — Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as his butler Alfred, Gary Oldman as police commissioner Jim Gordon and Morgan Freeman as the entrepreneur Lucius Fox — Nolan has created new roles for four of the actors from his 2010 hit Inception. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the resourceful cop John Blake; Tom Hardy is Bane, the monster who would bring Gotham to its knees; Marion Cotillard is the philanthropist Miranda Tate; Cillian Murphy, who also played the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, returns as a hanging judge as the city explodes in chaos. And Anne Hathaway creeps in and out as Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman.

Eight years after he dispatched the Joker (Heath Ledger) and took the rap for killing Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the idealistic district attorney who had become the villainous Two-Face, Bruce lives morose and secluded in Wayne Manor, seen only by Alfred. Gotham appears at peace, with no organized crime surfacing. By there’s at least one gifted solo artist. Selina, in maid’s garb, manages to pick Bruce’s private safe, making off with his fingerprints and a necklace she has the gall and style to wear. The theft stirs Bruce out of his torpor, and he shows up at a charity ball hosted by Miranda. Selina, momentarily Bruce’s dance partner, tells him, “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, cause when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

The form of the storm is a creature called Bane, an immense hulk with an air of courtly menace and, to reduce his pain, a tubular mask that looks like a small creature from the original Alien permanently leeched onto his face. Long ago, Bane escaped from a deep Asian pit where tough men were left to wither and die. Now he is the muscle, and possibly the brains, of the League of Shadows from Batman Begins. And he has a master plan to free — read: enslave — Bruce’s city, employing the ability to cloud men’s minds by lightly touching their heads and, even more effective, a four-megaton nuclear device. “I’m Gotham’s reckoning,” Bane proclaims. “I’m the borrowed time you’ve all been living on.” And to ensure that the debilitated Batman won’t get in the way, he leaves Bruce in the hellhole Bane grew up in.

To clarify some of the plot elements in TDKR, take a refresher glance at Batman Begins. That first movie begins with the young Bruce, in his garden with his lifelong love Rachel Dawes, falling down a deep well into a pit that, for a child, was as terrifying as the pit Bane consigns him to. Worse, because out of the darkness fly a flock of bats. (Hence Bruce’s fear; hence his creation of the Batman doppelgänger to conquer that fear.) As a young man he is drafted by the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) into training for the League of Shadows, an elite cadre of militant do-gooders — anyway, doers — whose Shadow in Chief is Ra’s al Ghul. The first of many father figures for Bruce, Ducard appears again in TDKR. So do other plot strands: an ice pond that must be crossed, the sealing off of Gotham’s bridges, the jacket of Bruce’s dead father that Jim Gordon drapes on the shoulders of a poor little rich boy.

As a boy in Batman Begins, he saw his parents murdered by a street thief; those deaths triggered his vigilante vengeance. As a man in The Dark Knight, he lost Rachel in an explosion; that death sent him into his eight-year seclusion, devotedly tended by his servant and surrogate parent, Alfred. But Bruce is not the only TDKR character in a prolonged state of bereavement. John Blake’s father, also a policeman, was killed the night Harvey Dent died. Another character, the offspring of one of Batman’s earlier nemeses, tells him, “I could not forgive my father until you murdered him.” All these grownup children are members of the Dead Parents Society; all are emotional orphans.

Crippled by personal tragedy, then forged into something more durable and dangerous, Bruce, John and the rest express or repress their true nature by playing roles, donning masks. “No one cared who I was,” Bane says through his respirator, “until I put on the mask.” John, who feels a filial kinship to Batman, recalls his days in an orphanage: “You get to learn to hide the anger, practice smiling in a mirror. It’s like wearing a mask.” Selina hides in plain sight, wearing her Catwoman frock at a society ball. When Bruce says, “That’s a brazen costume for a cat burglar,” she asks, “Yeah? Who are you pretending to be?” He replies, “Bruce Wayne, eccentric billionaire.” When does the pretense become the persona, and the persona the person?

Nolan’s mask is his guise as a director of comic-book entertainments, when he’s really out to excoriate American greed and laziness and its citizens’ susceptibility to a demagogue’s threats and promises. Bane — who could be Osama bin Laden with Darth Vader’s voice in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s body — convinces or cows virtually the whole city with his harangues. (He’s a very verbose dictator.) In TDRK, the mayor is smug, the deputy police commissioner is weak, the government eager to lock up suspects without trials, the Gotham rabble eager to loot the penthouses of the wealthy when Bane declares the city liberated. “This was someone’s home,” says Selena, briefly stricken by conscience as the mob trashes a Fifth Avenue mansion. Replies Selina’s giddy sidekick Holly (Juno Temple): “Now it’s everyone’s home!”

The film’s allusions to the Patriot Act and the decadelong incarceration of terror suspects in Guantánamo are obvious; and this time the connection of Gotham City to New York City is scarily explicit — at least to people who live or work in Manhattan — with scenes shot at the New York Stock Exchange and the specter of terrorism brought to the city’s streets not by airplanes but by in-person anarchy. The Occupy Wall Street connection is probably pure chance, since Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote the script (from a story by the director and David S. Goyer) long before last September’s start of demonstrations in Zuccotti Park.

But the Occupy Gotham coincidence fits Nolan’s nearly Olympian misanthropy, his disgust with the corruptibility of both class and mass and his suspicion that the only salvation is in a nearly invincible hero — a rich man with the strength and altruism to save desperate America from itself. (Is Bruce Wayne Mitt Romney? Is Batman a Mormon?) Beneath that comic-book dream of the infallible fixer is an implicit warning that, in the real America, a superhero will never fly out of our dreams and into the night sky.

Occasionally the movie’s pulp and fantasy origins expose themselves. The opening set piece, in which Bane and his cohorts are rescued from captivity in a CIA plane by hitching a ride on a larger jet flying above it, is the kind that was more suavely imagined in several James Bond films decades ago. (Bane, through his apparatus, often sounds like a 007 villain; you wait for him to say, “No, Mr. Wayne, I expect you to die.”) You may also wonder why Bruce took ages to learn, even from Alfred, that his business empire is near depletion; why no Gothamite, police or civilian, thinks to shoot Bane in the leg or apply a kung fu kick to his respirator; why, in a street fight between Batman and Bane, none of the thousands of allies or adversaries joins in to take one or both of the men down; and why the thin frozen ice, on which condemned men in wintry Gotham are meant to fall through, miraculously refreezes for the next group of victims. (There’s another implausibility at the end, involving a plane and a nuclear bomb, that we won’t parse here. We’ll just say: if you live across the river from Gotham City, move.)

More often, though, the movie’s emotional gravity gives special heft to venerable Batman tropes. When, after all these years, the Bat-Signal illuminates the sky (Bruce has draped an unconscious villain on a searchlight to form the famous silhouette), it’s seriously thrilling, because so much more is at stake here. Batman Begins showed Bruce’s hellish preparation for his defense of Gotham, and The Dark Knight illuminated a skirmish with one charismatic Joker; those movies sounded the alarm for the all-out war movie that is TDKR.

Composer Hans Zimmer’s percussive score underlines the dovetailed themes of battle and death. The first sounds in the film are a heartbeat’s thump-thump-thump that grow ever fainter; and Zimmer proceeds with sounds mimicking gunfire and ticking machinery. The movie’s pace, both solemn and brisk, is a miracle of conveying reams of narrative — a hallmark of the old Hollywood masters, whose storytelling was typically more synoptic and coherent than that of today’s directors. TDKR is old-fashioned in two other ways: it renounces both the 3-D standard for big action pictures (though 72 minutes of the 160-minute movies can be seen in the IMAX format) and the tendency to make every movie digitally. A proud end credit reads: “This motion picture was shot and finished on film.”

This motion picture also boasts performances whose range and depth match the material. Among the series’ new recruits, Hardy eventually reveals Bane as a creature who inflicts no more pain than he has experienced; Cotillard makes Miranda a seductive plutocrat generous enough to fund a bold new society; Gordon-Levitt is so appealing as a straight shooter, a kind of junior-grade Bruce Wayne, that he could spin off a superhero series of his own. Only Hathaway doesn’t perform as if she’s wearing weight-of-the-world epaulets; Michelle Pfeiffer’s frosty-furious Selina, in Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, was closer in tone to TDKR. But Hathaway, for all her ripe smiles, also allows for the ambiguities that transform a poor kid into a Catwoman. And she, like Bale, looks great in black.

Caine’s Alfred, frequently on the verge of tears as he talks tough Cockney love to Bruce, imparts a depth of poignancy nearly shocking to viewers; they forget they’re in an action picture and recalibrate their sensibilities to accommodate Caine’s rich, naked portrayal. Bale, a boyish 30 when he first slipped into the cape and cowl back in 2004, has matured impressively in the role. For the first half of TDKR he is a gaunt, haunted wraith, so weary of life that he might have joined his beloved Rachel in the grave. Then he has to throw off what Miranda describes as his “practiced apathy” and transform Bruce, through the most arduous regimen, from a weak sister whom Bane can easily humiliate in a fight to the new, improved Batman facing his and Gotham’s direst challenge. When Catwoman warns the Crusader to forget about the city’s rabble because he’s “given them everything,” the whispered reply is, “Not everything. Not yet.” By the end, the actor has given everything, left every nuance and agony on the table for his big finish. So has his director.

Nolan has said he was inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; he borrowed the novel’s setting in a time of revolution, its use of a storm motif and its proliferation of characters who are the doubles or mirror images of each other. (Bane, who literally went to the same school as Bruce, might be Batman’s evil twin.) At the end, Alfred reads the last lines from A Tale of Two Cities: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better place that I go to than I have ever known.”

That could be a summing up of Nolan’s Bruce/Batman, and of The Dark Knight Rises. The movie may not top The Avengers at the worldwide box office, but it is a far, far better thing — maybe the best, most troubling, assured and enthralling of all the superhero movies.

MORE: Is Hollywood Going to Kill Batman Next Week?

Ground Zero for the Caped Crusader

The New York Times
July 18, 2012

NYT Critics' Pick

After seven years and two films that have pushed Batman ever deeper into the dark, the director Christopher Nolan has completed his postmodern, post-Sept. 11 epic of ambivalent good versus multidimensional evil with a burst of light. As the title promises, day breaks in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the grave and satisfying finish to Mr. Nolan’s operatic bat-trilogy. His timing couldn’t be better. As the country enters its latest electoral brawl off screen, Batman (Christian Bale) hurtles into a parallel battle that booms with puppet-master anarchy, anti-government rhetoric and soundtrack drums of doom, entering the fray as another lone avenger and emerging as a defender of, well, what?
 Truth, justice and the American way? No — and not only because that doctrine belongs to Superman, who was bequeathed that weighty motto on the radio in August 1942, eight months after the United States entered World War II and three years after Batman, Bob Kane’s comic creation, hit. Times change; superheroes and villains too. The enemy is now elusive and the home front as divided as the face of Harvey Dent, a vanquished Batman foe. The politics of partisanship rule and grass-roots movements have sprung up on the right and the left to occupy streets and legislative seats. It can look ugly, but as they like to say — and Dent says in “The Dark Knight,” the second part of the trilogy — the night is darkest before the dawn. 
The legacy of Dent, an activist district attorney turned murderous lunatic, looms over this one, the literal and metaphysical personification of good intentions gone disastrously wrong. (He looms even more in Imax, which is the way to see the film.) Eight years later in story time, Batman, having taken the fall for Dent’s death, and mourning the woman both men loved, has retreated into the shadows. Dent has been enshrined as a martyr, held up as an immaculate defender of law-and-order absolutism. Gotham City is quiet and so too is life at Wayne Manor, where its master hobbles about with a cane while a prowler makes off with family jewels (the intensely serious Mr. Nolan isn’t wholly humorless) and Gotham sneers about the playboy who’s mutated into a Howard Hughes recluse.
Batman has always been a head case, of course: the billionaire orphan, a k a Bruce Wayne, who for assorted reasons — like witnessing the murder of his parents when he was a child — fights crime disguised as a big bat. Bruce’s initial metamorphosis, in “Batman Begins,” exacts a high price: by the end of the second film, along with losing the girl and being branded a vigilante, Bruce-Batman rides virtually alone, save for Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the Wayne family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), a fussy uncle with a remarkable skill set. It’s central to where Mr. Nolan wants to take “The Dark Knight Rises” that Batman will be picking up new acquaintances, including a beat cop, John Blake (a charming Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and a philanthropist, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).
Mr. Nolan again sets his machine purring with two set pieces that initiate one of the story’s many dualities, in this case between large spectacle and humanizing intimacies: one, an outlandishly choreographed blowout that introduces a heavy, Bane (Tom Hardy); the other, a quieter cat-and-bat duet between Bruce and a burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). After checking in with his personal armorer, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce-Batman swoops into an intrigue that circles back to the first film and brings the series to a politically resonant conclusion that fans and op-ed bloviators will argue over long after this one leaves theaters. Once again, like his two-faced opponents and the country he’s come to represent, Batman begins, feared as a vigilante, revered as a hero.
Informed by Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s resuscitation of the character in the 1980s, Mr. Nolan’s Bruce-Batman has oscillated between seemingly opposite poles, even as he’s always come out a superhero. He is savior and destroyer, human and beast, the ultimate radical individualist and people’s protector. Yet as the series evolved, this binary opposition — echoed by Dent’s rived face — has grown progressively messier, less discrete. Much of the complexity has been directly written into the franchise’s overarching, seemingly blunt story of good versus evil. It’s an old, familiar tale that Mr. Nolan, in between juggling the cool bat toys, demure kisses, hard punches and loud bangs, has layered with open and barely veiled references to terrorism, the surveillance state and vengeance as a moral imperative.
In “The Dark Knight Rises” Mr. Nolan, working from a script he wrote with his brother Jonathan, further muddies the good-and-evil divide with Bane. A swaggering, overmuscled brute with a scar running down his back like a zipper and headgear that obscures his face and turns his cultivated voice into a strangulated wheeze, Bane comes at Batman and Gotham hard. Fortified by armed true believers, Bane first beats Batman in a punishingly visceral, intimate fist-to-foot fight and then commandeers the city with a massive assault that leaves it crippled and — because of the explosions, the dust, the panic and the sweeping aerial shots of a very real-looking New York City — invokes the Sept 11 attacks. It’s unsettling enough that some may find it tough going.
Watching a city collapse should be difficult, maybe especially in a comic-book movie. The specter of Sept. 11 and its aftermath haunt American movies often through their absence though also in action films, which adopt torture as an ineluctable necessity. Mr. Nolan, for his part, has been engaging Sept. 11 in his blockbuster behemoths, specifically in a vision of Batman who stands between right and wrong, principles and their perversions, because he himself incarnates both extremes.
Mr. Nolan has also taken the duality that made the first film into an existential drama and expanded that concept to encompass questions about power, the state and whether change is best effected from inside the system or outside it. Gordon believes in its structures; Bane wants to burn it all down. And Batman? Well, he needs to work it out.
So will viewers, explicitly given the grim, unsettling vision of a lawless city in which the structures of civil society have fallen, structures that Batman has fought outside of. In a formally bravura, disturbingly visceral sequence that clarifies the stakes, Bane stands before a prison and, in a film with several references to the brutal excesses of the French Revolution — including the suitably titled “A Tale of Two Cities” — delivers an apocalyptic speech worthy of Robespierre. Invoking myths of opportunism, Bane promises the Gotham citizenry that courts will be convened, spoils enjoyed. “Do as you please,” he says, as Mr. Nolan cuts to a well-heeled city stretch where women in furs and men in silk robes are attacked in what looks like a paroxysm of revolutionary bloodlust.
If this image of violent revolt resonates strongly, it’s due to Mr. Nolan’s kinetic filmmaking in a scene that pulses with realism and to the primal fear that the people could at any moment, as in the French Revolution, become the mob that drags the rest of us into chaos. Yet little is what it first seems in “The Dark Knight Rises,” whether masked men or raging rhetoric. Mr. Nolan isn’t overtly siding with or taking aim at any group (the wily Bane only talks a good people’s revolution), but as he has done before, he is suggesting a third way. Like Steven Soderbergh in “Contagion,” a science-fiction freak-out in which the heroes are government workers, Mr. Nolan doesn’t advocate burning down the world, but fixing it.
He also, it may be a relief to know, wants to entertain you. He does, for the most part effortlessly, in a Dark Knight saga that is at once lighter and darker than its antecedents. It’s also believable and preposterous, effective as a closing chapter and somewhat of a letdown if only because Mr. Nolan, who continues to refine his cinematic technique, hasn’t surmounted “The Dark Knight” or coaxed forth another performance as mesmerizingly vital as Heath Ledger’s Joker in that film. The ferocious, perversely uglified Mr. Hardy, unencumbered by Bane’s facial appliance, might have been able to dominate this one the way Mr. Ledger did the last, but that sort of monstrous, bigger-than-life turn would have been antithetical to this movie’s gestalt. The accomplished Mr. Bale continues to keep Batman at a remove with a tight performance that jibes with Mr. Nolan’s head-over-heart filmmaking.
After repeatedly sending Batman down Gotham’s mean streets, Mr. Nolan ends by taking him somewhere new. That’s precisely the point of a late sequence in which he shifts between a multitude of characters and as many locations without losing you, his narrative thread or momentum. His playfulness with the scenes-within-scenes in his last movie, “Inception,” has paid off here. The action interludes are more visually coherent than in his previous Batman films and, as in “Inception,” the controlled fragmentation works on a pleasurable, purely cinematic level. But it also serves Mr. Nolan’s larger meaning in “The Dark Knight Rises” and becomes his final say on superheroes and their uses because, as Gotham rages and all seems lost, the action shifts from a lone figure to a group, and hope springs not from one but many.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Violence.

The Dark Knight Rises
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer; production design by Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh; costumes by Lindy Hemming; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Rove; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes.
WITH: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).