Friday, April 19, 2013

The Language of Terror

By , Published: April 18

The Washington Post

Terrorism is speech — speech that gathers its audience by killing innocents as theatrically as possible. The 19th-century anarchist Paul Brousse called it “propaganda by deed.” Accordingly, theBoston Marathon attack, the first successful terror bombing in the United States since 9/11, was designed for maximum effect. At the finish line there would be not only news cameras but also hundreds of personal videos to amplify the message.
But what message? There was no claim of responsibility, no explanatory propaganda. Indeed, was it terrorism at all?
There was much ado about President Obama’s nonuse of the word “terrorism” in his first statement to the nation after the bombing. Indeed, the very next morning, he took to the White House briefing room for no other reason than to pronounce the event an “act of terrorism.”
He justified the update as a response to “what we now know.” But there had been no new information overnight. Nothing changed, except a certain trepidation about the original omission.
There was no need to be so sensitive, however. The president said that terrorism is any bombing aimed at civilians. Not quite. Terrorism is any attack on civilians for a political purpose. Until you know the purpose, you can’t know if it is terrorism.
Sometimes an attack can have no purpose. The Tucson shooter who nearly killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was simply deranged, a certified paranoid schizophrenic. Or there might be some personal vendetta — a purpose, but not political. In the Boston case, conceivably a grudge against the marathon, its organizers or something associated with the race.
That, of course, is extremely improbable. (Schizophrenics are too disorganized to set off simultaneous bombs, for example.) It’s overwhelmingly likely that the Boston attack was political, and therefore terrorism.
Nonetheless, the president’s nonuse of the word was no big deal. Why then was he so sensitive that he came out the next morning to correct the omission?
Answer: Benghazi, in which the administration had been roundly and correctly criticized for refusing to call it terrorism for so long.
Benghazi, however, was totally different. There, the word mattered very much. There were two possible explanations for the killing of the four Americans: a preplanned attack (terrorism), or a spontaneous demonstration gone wild.
The administration tried to peddle the spontaneous-demonstration story in order to place the blame on a mob incited by a nutty Coptic American who had made an offensive video. This would have spared the administration any culpability.
To use the word terrorism, meaning deliberate attack, would have undermined the blame-shifting and raised exactly the questions — about warnings ignored, inadequate security, absence of contingency plans — that have dogged the administration for months.
In Boston, in contrast, there is no question about deliberateness. Nor is anyone blaming the administration for inadequate warning or protection.
Here, the linguistic challenge for the president is quite different. What if this turns out to be the work of Islamists? The history of domestic attacks since 9/11 would suggest the odds are about 50-50, although the crude technique and the unclaimed responsibility would suggest a somewhat lower probability.
But if it is nevertheless found to be Islamist, will Obama use the word? His administration obsessively adopts language that extirpates any possible connection between Islam and terrorism. It insists on calling jihadists “violent extremists” without ever telling us what they’re extreme about. It even classified the Fort Hood shooting, in which the killer screamed “Allahu Akbar” as he murdered 13 people, as “workplace violence.
In a speech just last month in Jerusalem, the president referred to the rising tide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists as the rise of “non-secular parties.”
Non-secular? Isn’t that a euphemism for “religious,” i.e., Islamist?
Yet Obama couldn’t say the word. This is no linguistic triviality. He wouldn’t be tripping over himself to avoid any reference to Islam if it was insignificant.
Obama has performed admirably during the Boston crisis, speaking both reassuringly and with determination. But he continues to be linguistically uneasy. His wavering over the word terrorism is telling, though in this case unimportant. The real test will come when we learn the motive for the attack.
As of this writing, we don’t know. It could be Islamist, white supremacist, anarchist, anything. What words will Obama use? It is a measure of the emptiness of Obama’s preferred description — “violent extremists” — that, even as we know nothing, it can already be applied to the Boston bomber(s). Which means, the designation is meaningless.

Read more from Charles Krauthammer’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.
Read more about this issue: David Ignatius: The limits of intelligence collection Jonas Kieffer: The Boston Marathon: A monument to perseverance E.J. Dionne Jr.: To Boston, with love

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Getting it right in '42'


Getting it right in '42'

The Jackie Robinson film was a nonstop two-year project for Brian Helgeland

Originally Published: April 12, 2013
By Jerry Crasnick |
Some writers prefer a mountain retreat or an ocean view with a majestic sunset when they're searching for inspiration. Brian Helgeland, the director, screenwriter and creative force behind the Jackie Robinson biopic "42," found his artistic vision on a bus ride from Massachusetts to New York in the spring of 2011.
[+] EnlargeBrian Helgeland
AP Photo/Invision/Todd WilliamsonBrian Helgeland, here at Tuesday's L.A. premiere, invested the past two years of his life in "42."
As Helgeland tells it, his octogenarian father called one day out of the blue because he wanted to take a nostalgic trip to his boyhood home in Brooklyn, N.Y. Thomas Helgeland is a bit old-fashioned when it comes to travel, so father and son hopped a bus rather than take a plane.
Six hours into the trip, Brian Helgeland received a phone call from Thomas Tull, a producer with whom he had partnered in the past. Tull was trying to buy the rights to Robinson's life story from Jackie's widow, Rachel, and he wanted to know if Helgeland had any interest in the project.
Cue the epiphany: The bus was navigating Manhattan traffic, and Helgeland was in midconversation with Tull when he gazed out the window and saw a billboard with Jackie Robinson's likeness and the message, "Character: Pass it On."
"It was a strange piece of serendipity," Helgeland said. "It came a little bit like a lightning bolt."
Three days later, after reading a healthy chunk of Robinson's autobiography, Helgeland was sitting in a New York office explaining his creative vision to Rachel. Thus began a project that would consume his every waking hour for the next two years.
Movie watchers across America will have an opportunity to decide if Helgeland got it right when "42" makes its national premiere in theaters on Friday. "42" is a sports movie, of course, but inevitably so much more, about a historic struggle that changed society and still resonates 66 years later.
Helgeland, 52, had an impressive list of film credits before tackling Robinson's story. He wrote the screenplay for Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River," won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for "L.A. Confidential," and established his credentials as an ego-free good sport by appearing in person to collect a Razzie Award for worst screenplay of the year for the Kevin Costner movie "The Postman" in 1997.
Helgeland also has an appreciation for America's pastime. Growing up in the Massachusetts fishing port of New Bedford, he received his indoctrination to fandom via the Boston Red Sox of Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith and his all-time favorite player, George "Boomer" Scott. He has been to Fenway Park only once, but that's because his dad thought it impractical to drive 55 miles to Boston when all the games were aired on television.
One of Helgeland's main hurdles in resurrecting the Robinson story was gaining the trust of Rachel, who was understandably protective of her husband's legacy and wanted to make certain he would be portrayed with the requisite sensitivity and care. Rachel initially envisioned a cradle-to-grave portrayal that began with Jackie's boyhood in California and ended with his death in 1972. But Helgeland thought it would be easier to maximize dramatic tension with a smaller focus, so the movie begins with Robinson's tenure as a Kansas City Monarch in the Negro Leagues in 1945 and runs through his rookie year with the Dodgers in '47.
Rachel embraced that approach, to Helgeland's relief, and provided some helpful technical advice along the way. During one scene early in the film, Jackie dances off third base in a spring exhibition game with enough zeal to coax a balk out of a harried Dodgers pitcher. The script originally called for Rachel to ask sportswriter Wendell Smith what had just transpired. But when the real Rachel read the passage, it didn't ring true.
[+] Enlarge
Courtesy of Warner Bros. PicturesChadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson in "42."
"She came in with the script, and I was nervous," Helgeland recalled. "She said, 'In what world do you think the wife of Jackie Robinson wouldn't know what a balk is?'" Helgeland agreed with Rachel's observation, so he tweaked the scene and had a young fan in the stands explain to his mother that Jackie had just "discombobulated" the pitcher with his derring-do on the bases.
Helgeland was particularly concerned with making the on-field action authentic, so he watched several baseball movies and tried to avoid what he calls the "clumsy" action sequences so prevalent in the genre. His favorite baseball film of all: "The Bad News Bears."
"There's a joy to that movie and an innocence," Helgeland said. "It gets to the heart of baseball despite all its oddball characters. Baseball brings everyone together no matter where they're from or how different they are, and there's a redemptive quality in the Walter Matthau character."
Helgeland did the bulk of the filming for "42" at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., and Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn., two old minor league parks, and used computers to simulate shots of Ebbets Field, Crosley Field and other venues from the '40s. For the sake of precision, he even tracked down the old stadium blueprints to make sure every nook and cranny was accurate.
Helgeland also used tender loving care with the human interest details. Brooklyn manager Burt Shotton did indeed wear street clothes beneath his Dodgers cap and jacket. Kirby Higbe, one of the main anti-Robinson agitators in Brooklyn, was traded to Pittsburgh for Al Gionfriddo in May of 1947 because of his resistance to playing on the same team as a black man. And Pee Wee Reese's brotherly embrace of Robinson in Cincinnati was a necessary inclusion in the film, even though author Jonathan Eig calls many of the details of that famed encounter into question in his book "Opening Day."
[+] EnlargeHarrison Ford
D. StevensThe relationship between Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) and Robinson is at the core of the movie.
"Brian seemed very sincere and cautious of making sure that this movie was done right," former big league pitcher C.J. Nitkowski, who appears in the movie as Phillies pitcher Dutch Leonard and is an ESPN Insider contributor, said in an email. "He seemed very sensitive to how important it was to tell the story in an accurate way."
Oddly enough, Nitkowski throws from the left side, while the real Dutch Leonard was right-handed. But far more often than not, the filmmakers were faithful to reality. From super-scout Clyde Sukeforth's Maine accent, to the press box banter, to Branch Rickey's stale cigars, Helgeland sweated the details. He even made sure that Robinson's home runs and stolen bases were taken directly from actual box scores.
Ultimately, the relationship between the Robinson character, played by Chadwick Boseman, and Harrison Ford's Branch Rickey forms the backbone to the film. Baseball connoisseurs might quibble with an emotional exchange between the two in a dugout runway in Philadelphia because general managers rarely amble down behind the dugout, but it's a cathartic and poignant scene that frames Robinson's anguish like no other moment in the movie.
Alan Tudyk, the actor who plays Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman, has publicly shared his discomfort over the vile, racially charged language his character uses in the movie. It was a deft balancing act conveying the gritty side of Robinson's struggle while maintaining a PG-13 rating, but Helgeland's script pulls it off because of some excellent performances and just the right mix of humor.
[+] Enlarge
D. StevensNicole Beharie plays Rachel Robinson, who was instrumental in getting the film made.
Helgeland has already received a strong endorsement from the wife of America's moviegoer-in-chief. During a private screening at the White House recently, first lady Michelle Obama gave "42" a glowing review. "It was better than a Roger Ebert thumbs-up," Helgeland said.
The national release of "42" coincides with an initiative by commissioner Bud Selig to study the declining participation of blacks in baseball. If aspiring African-American ballplayers take the lessons of the film to heart in the same way that future big leaguer Ed Charles was affected watching Jackie Robinson in spring training in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the movie, Helgeland will have achieved his goal.
"I think the movie does a neat trick," Helgeland said. "Whether you're white, black or Hispanic, you follow Jackie Robinson and you root for him. I tried to do it in a way where you experience what he experienced as a human being. When he's being harangued by the Philly manager, I think the audience will feel for him and feel with him because they're traveling the movie with him.
"If anything, you want to feel the humanity of it. Here's a guy who, under difficult circumstances, did everything in his power to do the right thing. Branch Rickey can't be the guy on the field suffering the abuse, but he's also trying to do the right thing. It doesn't have to be some monumental moment. The story just reminds everyone that there's a right way to go through life. Hopefully, it will inspire everyone on a day-to-day basis."

Jerry Crasnick | email MLB Sr. Writer

Jackie Robinson Again

By Roger Angell
The New Yorker
April 12, 2013

I’ll catch the new Jackie Robinson movie, “42,” over the weekend—it’s great, friends say—but I need no sports-clip reminders or careful re-creations to bring his front-footed swing or his shouldering, headlong style on the base paths clearly back into view. I will keep some of his games forever—in particular, that final meeting with the Phillies, in 1951, to force a playoff for the pennant, which he saved with an astounding dive and stop behind second base in the twelfth, and won with a home run in the fourteenth. But that was just baseball; my first thought about him to this day was never a play or a famous hit but an idle, almost inexplicable midsummer, mid-game moment at the Polo Grounds in June or July of 1948.
I was sitting in a grandstand seat behind the third-base-side lower boxes, pretty close to the field, there as a Giants fan of long standing but not as yet a baseball writer. Never mind the score or the pitchers; this was a trifling midseason meeting—if any Giants-Dodgers game could be called trifling—with stretches of empty seats in the oblong upper reaches of the stands. Robinson, a Dodger base runner, had reached third and was standing on the bag, not far from me, when he suddenly came apart. I don’t know what happened, what brought it on, but it must have been something ugly and far too familiar to him, another racial taunt—I didn’t hear it—that reached him from the stands and this time struck home.
I didn’t quite hear Jackie, either, but his head was down and a stream of sound and profanity poured out of him. His head was down and his shoulders were barely holding in something more. The game stopped. The Dodgers’ third-base coach came over, and then the Giants’ third baseman—it must have been Sid Gordon—who talked to him quietly and consolingly. The third-base umpire walked in at last to join them, and put one hand on Robinson’s arm. The stands fell silent—what’s going on?—but the moment passed too quickly to require any kind of an explanation. The men parted, and Jackie took his lead off third while the Giants pitcher looked in for his sign. The game went on.
I have no memory of who won, but that infinitesimal mid-inning tableau stayed with me, quickly resurfacing whenever I saw Jackie play again, in person or on TV, over the next eight seasons and then again on the day he died, in 1972. He was fifty-three years old but already white-haired and frail. We all knew his story by heart, of course, and took a great American pride in him, the very first black player in the majors: a carefully selected twenty-eight-year-old college graduate and Army veteran primed and prepped in 1947 by Dodger President Branch Rickey, who exacted a promise from him that he would never respond, never complain, never talk back, no matter what taunts or trash came at him from enemy players out of the stands.
He did us proud, but at a cost beyond the paying.
Portrait, of Jackie Robinson: Hulton Archive/Getty.

From Boston to Haymarket to Bill Ayers


From Boston to Haymarket to Bill Ayers

The left always finds its political openings.
WASHINGTON — When asked on left-leaning MSNBC why President Barack Obama refrained from describing the Boston bombings as a “terrorist attack” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime political adviser, readily saw a political opportunity. The blood had not yet been washed away from the streets. We had yet to count up the casualties. Yet Axelrod saw a political opening, an opportunity to advance one or another of his pet political issues. So he said, “I’m sure what was going though the president’s mind is — we really don’t know who did this — it was tax day.” Yes, tax day!
This is not the response of a normal mind. A normal mind would not, given the promiscuity of public bombings in the Middle East and now another bombing here in America, think it was provoked by “tax day.” Conceivably the bombs in Boston were the work of small-government libertarians or of Tea Partiers. They could even be the work of vegetarians, but that was not the question. Axelrod was asked why the President was not describing the bombings as a terrorist attack. It certainly looked more like the work of terrorists — either left-wing lunatics or right-wing lunatics — than tax protesters.
The politicking continued. On CNN Barney Frank, the former Massachusetts congressman, when asked about the bombing, averred: “I never was as a member of Congress one of the cheerleaders for less government, lower taxes. No tax cut would have helped us deal with this or will help us recover.” So Barney’s response to the bombs in Boston is to favor a tax increase, and while he is at it why not throw in gay marriage?
We have a word for the kind of mind that keeps advancing pet political goals even when tragedy is in the air. It is “fanatic.” Truth be known, an awful lot of politicians on the left are fanatics. Sure we have fanatics on the right, but they are usually widely recognized. The fanatics on the left are more numerous and are frequently palmed off as presidential advisers, viz. Axelrod, or elder statesmen, viz. Frank.
Whoever committed the cowardly and despicable carnage in Boston was in fact a terrorist. The bombing itself was an act of terror. In its very savagery — apparently designed to amputate limbs as well as to kill — it causes me to pause in my opposition to capital punishment. Caught in the horror of the moment, Americans perhaps despair that such acts have hit a new low. Yet I am afraid this is not the case. What happened in Boston Monday has been going on for years, actually for centuries.
There was terrible violence in the draft riots of the Civil War. There was more at the end of the 19th century with the labor unrest of the Wobblies and other radical union organizers. The Pullman strike comes to mind and the Haymarket Riot in Chicago. I happen to have a connection to the Haymarket Riot, my great grandfather Frank Tyrrell being for many years the sole survivor of the Chicago police force that opposed the labor radicals when some fiend set off a bomb in the crowd. As a small boy I was photographed by one of the Chicago newspapers putting a wreath on the police memorial. The Haymarket memorial was itself bombed twice during a more recent outburst of bombing violence, that being by the student radicals of the SDS at large in the 1960s and 1970s. They were enraptured by some nebulous vision of Utopia and resorted to bombs, killings, all manner of criminality, and, yes, gun violence to further their cause. By the way, who was prominent among the SDS bombers of the Haymarket memorial? Why, Bill Ayers the president’s Chicago friend, and it is widely rumored the ghostwriter of his best-selling autobiography.
Bill, of course, went on to have a distinguished career as a professor of education in some of the most forward-looking projects in our nation and became a respected public figure in Chicago, though he did in 1973 dedicate a book to — among others — Sirhan B. Sirhan, the 1968 assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. Some have called it America’s first terrorist act. Now we have another.
Doubtless Bill today favors gun control, and all manner of reform on Our President’s agenda. Making sense out of modern America is at times a real challenge, especially when we are dealing with the left. At least we have already prohibited the private sale of explosives for personal protection and sport. Though I will bet you Bill Ayers could tell you how to lay hands on some.

About the Author

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn’t Work: Social Democracy’s Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery.

The Party of Surrender

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