Saturday, July 13, 2013

Today's Tune: Roxy Music - More Than This

Good Night, Sweet Soprano

July 12, 2013
The sudden death at 51 of James Gandolfini is intolerable.
When he died, it never occurred to me not to go to his funeral. Until my wife pointed it out afterward, it also never occurred to me that I had “crashed” it. Standing in the sunshine in a long line in front of St. John the Divine with “ordinary people” I was spotted and we were ushered down front among family and colleagues.
My first mourner encounter was with the great Dominic Chianese, (Uncle Junior). We embraced. The procedure, repeated over and over, while the church filled, was to come face-to-recognized-face with one “Sopranos” cast member after another, wet with tears, speaking not at all or with great difficulty.
And there they all were. I had, over the years, met most of them — Michael Imperioli, Steve Schirripa, Tony Sirico, Vince Curatola, Steve Buscemi, Vincent Pastore et al, and we exchanged hugs and kisses on the cheek.
(The unruly mind being what it is, the thought occurred to me that I hadn’t been embraced and kissed by so many males since congratulating, backstage, the talented cast of a New Orleans drag show.)
So much crying. A grown man, weeping, is a tough thing to see.
There was a kind of through-the-looking-glass feeling standing there in a small group of Big Pussy, Paulie Walnuts and Johnny Sack, plus, for seasoning, a noticeably reduced Gov. Christie. “Do you know all the Sopranos?” I asked him. “Most of them,” he said. “And arrested some of them,” the greatly gifted Curatola added, for a needed laugh. (It’s no secret that the phrase “done a little time” applies to a cast member or two.)

The splendid Aida Turturro (Janice, Tony’s sister) sensitively observed that what made it all so unbearable was that “Jimmy was just beginning to enjoy his life.” He had turned down a movie this summer to finally spend some much craved time in his vacation home on the water with his family.
As seemingly hundreds of people still poured into the church, I went over to where Edie Falco and Turturro were sitting together, both dabbing tears. We spoke a little about how there’s always something too anemic about the phrases people use in talking of mortality. Like the threadbare euphemism “passed away.” Preferable to dying, apparently, we sarcastically agreed.
Frighteningly, history will record that E. Falco almost didn’t get tobe Carmella Soprano. She tells of how one more tiring audition seemed just too much that day and, besides, the show sounded, from the title, like some odd sort of musical production. But, lucky us, she did go, “and got the part of a lifetime.”
What a wife she was to Tony and what richly complex characters they both were. And how miraculous that Nurse Jackie bears no more resemblance to Carmella Soprano than I do.
And I owe Edie an apology. Chatting, I misattributed to Hemingway a line from the great war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s most famous and most widely reprinted column, on the death of Captain Waskow.
The dead officer was deeply loved by his men. All tears and grief, each one came up and stood by his corpse, laid out on the ground in the moonlight. One looked down and said, simply, “God damn it to hell, anyway.” Pyle writes, “Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said: ‘I sure am sorry, sir.’”
(That kills me.)
It’s strange, isn’t it, how, in the presence of a dead person lying in the street, or one in a coffin at a funeral, you can feel for a moment not so much lucky as a little bit ashamed of being alive.
My last significant meeting with James — I’ll get to the first in a moment — was in his dressing room on Broadway. My wife and I saw him in “God of Carnage.” Our front-row seats were so close to the stage you could lay your hand on it, and the light spill from the stage lighted me. Later in the dressing room, he said, “I kept seeing you. I almost said hello.”
Then he described an attack of terrible anxiety that overtook him as beginning work on the play approached, with deep fears over — of all things — ability to learn and retain his lines. He said he’d actually entered a hospital for a few days of anxiety treatment. (Shades of Tony in Dr. Melfi’s office.)
Meeting him, by the way, was initially a slight disappointment. Because he wasn’t Tony. He didn’t talk like Tony at all. He himself was no more Tony Soprano than Jackie Gleason was Ralph Kramden, or Jean Stapleton Edith Bunker.
He was an actor.
The subtlety, the darting bits of humor, the variety of facial and body movements and gestures, and especially the number of what you might call emotional and intellectual octaves available to this so richly gifted actor — too many wonders to gather and appreciate in a single viewing.
(David Chase, incidentally, probably owes the world the secret of how to produce episodes and, in fact, season after season of, to me, TV’s best series. Whole seasons without a single — and I dare you to find one – dull moment. And cast to perfection. Not a clunker in that vast and varied troupe of splendid players. Chase might also reveal how you can mix humor and killing so expertly that the question has even been raised, was “The Sopranos” a comedy?)
Gandolfini’s great feature was his eyes. For a man of unremarkable physique and features, the eyes were pure magic. They were soft, twinkly, cuddlesome and loving. At other times, frozen, menacing, cruel and murderous, shifting suddenly from one expression to another with startling impact. Those eyes were the outstanding, endlessly versatile feature of this gifted actor’s arsenal of talent. He never made a false move.

Now: how I first met James. Years ago, in the midst of the series, a new friend, Michael Imperioli, Tony’s problem nephew in the show, one day asked if I’d like to visit the set. It was among life’s easiest decisions.
While standing on the sidewalk outside the studio in Queens, here Gandolfini suddenly came, strolling on break with Steven Van Zandt.
Not expecting to meet him so suddenly, I’d prepared no conversational gambit, coming up feebly with nothing more substantial than, “Mr. Gandolfini, where I come from in Nebraska, your last name would be pronounced ‘Gandol-FINNY.’”
He either politely showed, or skillfully feigned, interest in this pallid subject.
“The way my fellow Nebraskan, Johnny Carson, always said ‘Hou-DINNY’ for ‘Houdini,’” I added.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that,” he said, being a nice man.
Shooting resumed, he went away. And I felt the need to make a stronger impression on this hero of mine.
Inside, during a break, I’d been talking to a man in a martial arts T-shirt about the wonders of aikido and how I’d learned the “stunt” from a sensei in Tokyo of — by an almost mystical technique — making yourself unliftable. By anyone on earth. And how I had befuddled the giant footballer Mark Gastineau with it on TV.
I hadn’t noticed Gandolfini passing by. “Did I hear you say you can’t be lifted if you don’t want to be?” he asked, politely, but brimming with skepticism. I admitted as much.
With about 20 cast and crew members watching, he, facing me, gripped me under the armpits and put me up in the air as if I were a bed pillow.
I invited him to now duplicate the feat. He resumed the grip, and with a mighty effort, grunting and groaning and with some perspiration, emitted a strained “Aarrgh!” and a guttural, “No way!” My feet never left the ground. There was good-natured jeering from the onlookers.
Afterward, some kind soul sent me a snapshot of the failed lifting moment. A puzzling picture of a large, tall man, oddly gripping a much smaller man’s underarm areas for no apparent reason. (The large man is not as large as he later became.)
We did have one other, brief meeting, by pure chance. It was in the locker room at Wollman skating rink in Central Park. I’d gone there with a friend and he asked if I knew his friend Gandolfini. James, preparing to skate, greeted me warmly and said, “Thanks to you, all the guys on the set call me ‘faggy’ now because I couldn’t lift Dick Cavett.”
“Mr. Gandolfini, I almost never think of you as ‘faggy,’” I offered.
“Thanks, Dick, I really needed that,” he grinned. And, to the delight of the onlookers, rewarded me with a great big kiss.
John Donne reminds us that “any man’s death diminishes me.” James Gandolfini’s sure did. He had so very much more to give us.
So long, James.
And God damn it to hell, anyway.

NY Jets Player Speaks at Extreme Anti-Israel Conference

Posted By Joe Kaufman On July 9, 2013 @ 12:48 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 196 Comments

Oday Aboushi has been touted as being the first Palestinian-American player in the National Football League (NFL), but his radical behavior since being drafted by the New York Jets less than three months ago could get him sent home early. His latest infraction was made as he gave a speech at a radical Muslim conference sponsored by a group denying Israel’s right to exist and associated with blatantly anti-Semitic and terrorist propaganda.

When the New York Jets chose Offensive Lineman Oday Aboushi in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, they did so because of Aboushi’s athletic skills. It seems, though, that his personal life was not a consideration, at least not enough to stop the team from picking him. Problems in the NFL usually revolve around drugs or alcohol abuse or players being bad influences in the locker rooms. Aboushi’s problem is an unusual one for pro sports. He’s a Muslim extremist.

In January, Aboushi posted a photo to his personal Twitter page depicting an old woman looking down while three clearly Orthodox Jews converse with one another in the background. The photo, which is attributed to the anti-Israel publication Middle East Monitor (MEM), was part of a large-scale smear campaign against the Jewish state. The caption over Aboushi’s tweet reads, “88 year-old Palestinian evicted from home in Jerusalem by Israel authorities to make room 4 Orthodox Jews.”

Aboushi might have gotten the idea to post the propaganda from his relative, Fatina Abuzahrieh, who also grew up in and resides in New York City. In November of last year, Abuzahrieh posted on her Facebook page a shockingly anti-Semitic cartoon portraying an evil looking Orthodox Jew with a huge smile on his face, wearing an Israeli flag across his chest, and an old Palestinian woman looking down, crying, claiming to be “thrown out” of her “own home.”

From there, Aboushi’s conduct has continued to get more extreme.

On April 19th, just one week prior to the draft, Aboushi praised a conference sponsored by Islamic Relief (IR), a charity that the Israeli government has labeled a front for Hamas and that has been cited for both receiving and giving huge sums of money to al-Qaeda related groups.

Only weeks after the draft, Aboushi tweeted the following: “65th anniversary of the Nakba and palestinians all across the world are still thriving.” For persons unaware of the term “Nakba,” the statement might seem innocuous, but for those who care about Israel, the term is a very dangerous and provocative one. The Nakba or Catastrophe is a derogatory reference to Israel’s May 1948 founding as an independent Jewish state. It is used to spread enmity against Israel and to fuel terrorist attacks from groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

Lest anyone believe this was an honest misunderstanding on Aboushi’s part, Aboushi solidified his extreme anti-Israelism late last month when he was a featured speaker at a conference run by an organization which denies Israel’s existence and associates with those involved in violence against her citizens.

According to the group sponsoring the event, “El-Bireh Palestine Society was founded to perpetuate the strong ties among its members and to link their communities around the world together and with their ancestral roots in El-Bireh, Palestine.” One of the ways the group accomplishes this is by holding annual conferences.

Speaking at the Society’s August 1986 Fifth National Convention held in Dearborn, Michigan was Fouad Rafeedie. Two years later, the INS charged Rafeedie with being a high-ranking member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist group. The PFLP is currently named as such on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Also speaking was Osama Siblani, the publisher of Arab American News (Sada al-Watan) and a public supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas.

The three-day El-Bireh Convention 2013 (“Connect 2013″) began this past June 28thin Arlington, Virginia. Featured as a speaker at the event was Oday Aboushi. Also participating in the conference was Nitham Hasan, the President of the Islamic Center of South Florida (ICOSF). ICOSF’s mosque property is owned by the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), a group named by the U.S. Justice Department as being a party to the financing of millions of dollars to Hamas.

El-Bireh Palestine Society’s logo, found atop the organization’s website, contains a graphic of the entire nation of Israel covered in a Palestinian flag – a patent denial of Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist. Like Aboushi’s Nakba, images such as this fuel terrorism and hate abroad and potentially here at home as well. Worse still, the Facebook page for the conference – which is administered by the same individual who created the Society’s website, Ashraf Abed – is accompanied by horrifically anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and terrorist propaganda.

On the same El-Bireh Facebook site as the conference, there are contained different images of Hitler and rabid anti-Christian cleric Ahmed Deedat, who authored the infamous work CRUCIFIXION OR CRUCI-FICTION? There are terrorist memorials for Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin and Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash. About Arafat and Yassin, the site states in Arabic, “The martyr leader Yasser Arafat with the Mujahid Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. G-d have mercy on them.”

As well, there are a number of pictures of the imprisoned head of the PFLP, Ahmad Saadat, and a photo glorifying members of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the process of launching rockets into Israel. There is also a photo of Oday Aboushi’s friend, Linda Sarsour, the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY), and a picture of four individuals stomping on an American flag, which they pulled down from atop a sign.
Following the conference, Aboushi tweeted, “Al bireh convention was a pleasure. Proud Palestinians is always a good sight.”

It is okay to be proud of one’s heritage. Few, if any, would disagree. But what is not okay is when the heritage that you are praising instills hatred and violence in its followers and threatens and brings terror to the lives of others. It is apparent that that is exactly what the organization Oday Aboushi spoke in front of believes.

What will the Jets do?

In a previous article, this author detailed the extremist ties and behavior of football player Oday Aboushi, which resulted in Aboushi removing material from his Facebook site. Yet, to this day, the New York Jets have ignored the actions of their Islamist draft pick, only to see his behavior get worse. So far, the team has appeared to put Aboushi’s athletic ability over his ties to Muslim fanaticism. This author, however, believes that the Jets have much more to worry about than whether or not Aboushi can create holes in the opposing team’s defense or if he can provide protection for the quarterback.

Given the actions he continues to engage in and the dangerous persons and groups he chooses to surround himself with, the Jets must change the game plan they originally had when they took Oday Aboushi in the 2013 NFL Draft and release this player. In the end, those individuals Aboushi truly wishes to protect may very well be the ones we have to worry about the most.

Click here to contact the NY Jets to tell the team your thoughts on this matter. Please be respectful in your comments.

Beila Rabinowitz, director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.

Article printed from FrontPage Magazine:

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Yanks have old Jeter, not Jeter of old

In summoning their captain too hastily, Bombers forgot Derek is 39 now -- not 29

By Ian O'Connor |

July 13, 2013

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter as the DH in the Bronx rather than as the DH in Moosic, Pa., made all the sense in the world to Jeter, to Brian Cashman, to Joe Girardi. Why have the captain of the New York Yankees play one side of the ball for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders when he could do the same for the big boys?

Especially when the big boys are a half-dozen games behind the Red Sox.
They all got carried away, the captain, the manager and the executive. They forgot that Jeter is 39 years old, that 39-year-old ballplayers aren't supposed to play seven innings of a Triple-A game, field unexpected news at 11:30 p.m., travel 125 miles in the dead of night and rise at 6:30 a.m. after a couple of hours of fitful sleep to play a big league game for the first time in nine months.
They all wanted and needed Derek Jeter to be Derek Jeter again, the Yankee whose pain threshold and ability to answer the bell reminded Gene Monahan, a team trainer for nearly half a century, of Thurman Munson's.
[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER/USA TODAY SportsDerek Jeter was rushed back to the Bronx -- which ended up costing the Yankees.
So that's why Jeter was promoted a day and change ahead of schedule. That's why he never played a full nine innings with the RailRiders before showing up in the Bronx for the first time since he fractured his ankle last fall, this after the Yanks had planned for Jeter to go nine in back-to-back Triple-A games.
That's why Jeter's comeback was declared one-and-done Friday, suspended on account of a Grade 1 strain of the shortstop's quad. That's why Jeter is more likely than not to end up back on the disabled list before he ends up back on the field.
Cashman and Girardi summoned a 29-year-old Jeter from the minors and got the 39-year-old version instead.
They didn't want to admit that this was about age and that an athletic, middle-of-his-prime Jeter wouldn't have pulled up lame against Kansas City after gunning it down the line for a couple of slow infield rollers.
Cashman and Girardi know how sensitive Jeter is about everything, never mind his advanced ballplayer age.
So this is what Girardi said when asked whether he's concerned that a physically vulnerable Jeter is the one he'll have to manage for as long as the captain plays:
"I hadn't thought about that. I figured he'd come back and, yeah, I'd have to spell him here and there like I did last year, and have to be smart about it. But I didn't expect this to happen. ... I think this will heal fine and he will be fine, but I don't think it's a guy that you can run out there 40, 50 days in a row like you used to."
So this is what Cashman said when asked whether Jeter's latest injury was a simple case of an athlete losing the inevitable lost-cause battle to gravity and time:
"I don't want to say 39 [years old] as much as he's coming off a broken foot, a twice-broken foot, so stuff can happen. ... I don't want to say it's Father Time knocking on his door and reminding him as much as listen, he really is coming back from something pretty significant, and the kinetic chain can tell you if everything's not in line, it makes you more susceptible, especially when you ask for that extra from your tank. And when he asked for that extra there, if he's not 100 percent in line for a period of time, then something's going to give."
Cashman and Girardi want to blame the fractured ankle and want to embrace the notion that athletes of all ages could suffer a setback or two when returning from an injury so severe. Jeter wants to embrace the notion that his ankle snapped in the 12th inning of Game 1 of the Detroit sweep not because he was 38, but because he kept playing through a bone bruise.
Only there's no separating the player's injury from the player's birth certificate. Jeter surely had a bum ankle in the first place because his body could no longer manage the wear and tear of an endless season like it could in the past. The missed target date of an Opening Day return, and the second fracture discovered in April, and the quad strain suffered on the same day Eduardo Nunez, a 26-year-old shortstop recently activated from the DL, legged out his own infield hit without incident, all speak to a future first-ballot Hall of Famer compromised by age.
It happens to the best of 'em in the Bronx, from Joe D. to the Mick to the shortstop who will finish his career with 1,000-plus hits more than both.
"It's frustrating," Jeter said in his Friday statement. "I don't know what else you want me to say. I worked hard to get to the point of rejoining the team yesterday. It's not how you draw it up, but hopefully I'll be back out there soon and help this team win some games."
The other day, I wrote that with a severely diminished Alex Rodriguez facing suspension, and that with Mark Teixeira out for the season and Curtis Granderson out for who knows how long, the Yankees needed Jeter like never before. I wrote that their nearly unwatchable offense needed 75 percent of the 2012 Jeter, the guy who led the American League in hits with 216.
Now the Yanks again must get by with zero percent of that guy. Cashman conceded that a return trip to the DL is just as likely as a return trip to Fenway Park next weekend, after the All-Star break, and his manager called the Jeter-to-the-DL scenario "possible."
You don't need to be an every-day observer of Girardi to understand why this qualified as the day's most revealing comment. The manager almost never notarizes negative hypotheticals by calling them "possible."
If Jeter were 26, like Nunez, he'd stand a far better chance of staying on the field. "It becomes difficult," Girardi, the old catcher, said of ballplayers growing old. He recounted his own back issues that forced him out of the game.
"It's difficult because your mind tells you that you can still do it every day," the manager said. "That's the hard part of dealing with it."
Now Girardi has to deal with it from the employer side, same as Cashman. The GM thought Thursday's DH-only role would be a "safe harbor" after Jeter told him, "I'm ready, I'm ready," in their late-night phone call and after Yankees evaluators in the stands reported the captain looked good on the run.
But the Yankees paid a price for shortcutting their original plan, and Cashman did the right thing in taking the hit for it, calling the fallout "my responsibility" and reminding himself in a room full of reporters that "you go through the process for a reason."
Now there's a new process to respect, as Friday's turn of events made it official: The Yankees are now dealing with the old Jeter, not the Jeter of old. This isn't the shortstop who had a bad year and a half in 2010 and 2011 while the pressures of an expiring contract and an approaching 3,000-hit milestone wore him down.
This is the shortstop who has entered the final stage of his career, the stage defined by what will be his greatest every-day challenge: staying healthy.
That doesn't mean Jeter can't lead a late-summer drive to his 17th playoff appearance in 18 seasons or that retirement should be seriously considered four months after he blows out the 40 candles on his cake next June.
It means he needs more rest, more protection, more days at DH. It means no rushing him back to Fenway if a total reboot and, say, an Aug. 1 comeback and a two-month regular season make more sense.
More than anything, it means the Yankees have to be smarter with Derek Jeter than they were this week.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Dagger at the Heart of Justice

The Zimmerman case has achieved its sublime reductio ad absurdum. 

Political Cartoons by Nate Beeler

Just when I thought the George Zimmerman “trial” couldn’t sink any lower, the prosecutorial limbo dancers of the State of Florida magnificently lowered their own bar in the final moments of their cable-news celebrity. In real justice systems, the state decides what crime has been committed and charges somebody with it. In the Zimmerman trial, the state’s “theory of the case” is that it has no theory of the case: might be murder, might be manslaughter, might be aggravated assault, might be a zillion other things, but it’s something. If you’re a juror, feel free to convict George Zimmerman of whatever floats your boat.

Nailing a guy on something, anything, is a time-honored American tradition: If you can’t get Al Capone on the Valentine’s Day massacre, get him on his taxes. Americans seem to have a sneaky admiration for this sort of thing, notwithstanding that, as we now know, the government is happy to get lots of other people on their taxes, too. Ever since the president of the United States (a man so cautious and deferential to legal niceties that he can’t tell you whether the Egyptian army removing the elected head of state counts as a military coup until his advisers have finished looking into the matter) breezily declared that if he had a son he’d look like Trayvon, ever since the U.S. Department of so-called Justice dispatched something called its “Community Relations Services” to Florida to help organize anti-Zimmerman rallies at taxpayer expense, ever since the politically savvy governor appointed a “special prosecutor” and the deplorably unsavvy Sanford Police Chief was eased out, the full panoply of state power has been deployed to nail Zimmerman on anything.

How difficult can that be in a country in which an Hispanic Obama voter can be instantly transformed into the poster boy for white racism? Who ya gonna believe — Al Sharpton or your lying eyes? As closing arguments began on Thursday, the prosecutors asked the judge to drop the aggravated-assault charge and instruct the jury on felony murder committed in the course of child abuse. Felony murder is a murder that occurs during a felony, and, according to the prosecution’s theory du jour, the felony George Zimmerman was engaged in that night was “child abuse,” on the grounds that Trayvon Martin, when he began beating up Zimmerman, was 17 years old. This will come as news to most casual observers of the case, who’ve only seen young Trayvon in that beatific photo of him as a twelve-year-old.

In that one pitiful closing moment, the case achieved its sublime reductio ad absurdum: After a year’s labors, after spending a million bucks, after calling a legion of risible witnesses, even after the lead prosecutor dragged in a department-store mannequin and personally straddled it on the floor of the court, the state is back to where it all began — the ancient snapshot of a smiling middle-schooler that so beguiled American news editors, Trayvon Martin apparently being the only teenager in America to have gone entirely unphotographed in the second decade of the 21st century. And, if Trayvon is a child, his malefactor is by logical extension a child abuser. 

Needless to say, even in a nutso jurisdiction like Florida, the crime of “child abuse” was never intended to cover a wizened old granny kicking the ankle of the punk who’s mugging her a week before his 18th birthday. But, if Aggravated Pedophilia is what it takes to fry that puffy white cracker’s butt, so be it. If, for the purposes of American show trials, an Hispanic who voted for a black president can be instantly transformed into a white racist, there’s no reason why he can’t be a child abuser, too. The defense was notified of this novel development, on which the prosecution (judging by the volume of precedents assembled) had been working for weeks or more likely months, at 7:30 that morning. If you know your Magna Carta, you’ll be aware that “no official shall place a man on trial . . . without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.” But the rights enjoyed by free men in the England of King John in 1215 are harder to come by in the State of Florida eight centuries later. So the prosecutors decided, the day before the case went to the jury, that Zimmerman was engaged in an act of child abuse that had somehow got a bit out of hand: No “credible witnesses” to this charge had been presented in the preceding weeks, but hey, what the hell? Opposing counsel taking the reasonable position that they’d shown up to defend Mr. Zimmerman of murder and had had no idea until that morning that he was also on trial for child abuse, check bouncing, jaywalking, an expired fishing license, or whatever other accusation took the fancy of the State of Florida, asked for time to research the relevant case law. Judge Debra Nelson gave them until 1 p.m. At that point, it was 10:30 a.m. By the time the genius jurist had returned to the bench, she had reconsidered, and decided that “child abuse” would be a reach too far, even for her disgraceful court.

The defining characteristic of English law is its distribution of power between prosecutor, judge, and jury. This delicate balance has been utterly corrupted in the United States to the point where today at the federal level there is a conviction rate of over 90 percent — which would impress Mubarak and the House of Saud, if not quite, yet, Kim Jong Un. American prosecutors have an unhealthy and disreputable addiction to what I called, at the conclusion of the trial of my old boss Conrad Black six years ago, “countless counts.” In Conrad’s case, he was charged originally with 17 crimes, three of which were dropped by the opening of the trial and another halfway through, leaving 13 for the jury, nine of which they found the defendant not guilty of, bringing it down to four, one of which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional and the remaining three of which they vacated, only to have two of them reinstated by the lower appeals court. In other words, the prosecution lost 88 percent of the case, but the 12 percent they won was enough to destroy Conrad Black’s life.

Multiple charges tend, through sheer weight of numbers, to favor a result in which the jury convict on some and acquit on others and then tell themselves that they’ve reached a “moderate” “compromise” as befits the reasonable persons they assuredly are. It is, of course, not reasonable. Indeed, the notion of a “compromise” between conviction and acquittal is a dagger at the heart of justice. It’s the repugnant “plea bargain” in reverse, but this time to bargain with the jury: Okay, we threw the book at him and it went nowhere, so why don’t we all agree to settle? In Sanford, the state’s second closing “argument” to the strange, shrunken semi-jury of strikingly unrepresentative peers — facts, shmacts, who really knows? vote with your hearts — brilliantly dispenses with the need for a “case” at all. 

We have been warned that in the event of an acquittal there could be riots. My own feeling is that the Allegedly Reverend Al Sharpton, now somewhat emaciated and underbouffed from his Tawana Brawley heyday, is not the Tahrir Square–scale race-baiting huckster he once was. But if Floridians are of a mind to let off a little steam, they might usefully burn down the Sanford courthouse and salt the earth. The justice system revealed by this squalid trial is worth rioting over.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn

Today's Tune: Lone Justice - Shelter (Live)

Faith Lights Life

The New Atheists don’t know what they’re missing. 

By happy coincidence, Pope Francis’s first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), appeared at the same time as the July issue of the monthly prayer book Magnificat, which offers as a meditation this bracing interview with the inimitable Walker Percy, the Pelican State’s analogue to G. K. Chesterton:
Q. What kind of Catholic are you — a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?
A. I don’t know what that means. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?
Q. Yes.
A. Yes.
Q. How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
A. What else is there?
Q. What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
A. That’s what I mean. . . .
Q. I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?
A. Yes.
Q. Why?
A. It’s not good enough.
Q. Why not?
A. This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Q. Grabbed aholt?
A. A Louisiana expression. . . .
 Neither Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who signed and issued Lumen Fidei, nor Joseph Ratzinger, whom Bergoglio credits with writing most of it before his papal abdication, speaks of God “grabbing aholt” of us; bayou-Sprache would be slightly jarring in a papal encyclical. Still, Lumen Fidei is an extended meditation on the truth that Walker Percy articulated decades ago: that life lived within the ambit of faith in the God of the Bible — the God of Israel and the God of the Church — is far richer, far more intriguing, and much more authentically human than any of the agnostic, atheistic, pantheistic, or solipsistic alternatives available in the early 21st century.

Faith, the encyclical teaches, is a divine gift; it is not something we achieve by our own efforts. Yet unlike the siren songs of the imperial autonomous Self, which lure us into the sandbox of self-absorption where the horizon of our apprehension rarely extends beyond the navel, the grateful reception of this supernatural virtue sets everything alight: “Those who believe, see,” Francis writes; “they see with a light that illumines their entire journey . . .”


This light, Bergoglio and Ratzinger note, has grown dimmer in our time. Post-modern humanity has convinced itself that faith is “incompatible with seeking,” with courage in the face of uncertainty — thus the profoundly influential Nietzschean critique of Christianity as “diminishing the full meaning of human existence and stripping life of novelty and adventure.” Determined to assert autonomy and what was understood to be maturity, Nietzschean humanity tried various antidotes to what were imagined to be the crippling effects of faith in the God of the Bible. The most common was the effort to separate faith from reason: Athens trying to make sense of life without the aid of Jerusalem. But that eventually came a cropper, the encyclical suggests:
Slowly but surely . . . it [became] evident that the light of autonomous reason is not enough to illumine the future; ultimately the future remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown. As a result, humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way. Yet in the absence of light, everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.
Thus when faith dies — when the light of faith flickers — “all other lights begin to dim.” Autonomous reason turns out to be self-cannibalizing. Athens without Jerusalem decays into Berkeley (or, if you like, the New York Times editorial board); reason, no longer confident of its capacity to grasp and discern truths in reality, loses its tether to Things As They Are. The best reason can do is to affirm “your truth” and “my truth”; but that doesn’t work for very long, because “my truth” is, sooner or later, deplored as irrational and hurtful bigotry by the Supreme Court of the United States, or at least by the dicta of Mr. Justice Kennedy.

In a remarkably gentle way that stands in sharp contrast to the bullying bluster of Richard Dawkins & Co., Lumen Fidei suggests that the world is suffering from a false story, and that the story is false because it is too narrow, too constrained, too self-centered, and, ultimately, too dark:
The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love. . . . Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens before us. . . . We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. Dante . . . describes that light as a “spark, which then becomes a burning flame and like a heavenly star within me glimmers.”
Radical skepticism honed by an ironic sense of life constricts the horizon of human vision and aspiration. We can see only so far through lenses ground by cynicism; and if we view our life through them, our line of sight is sooner or later bent back toward the autonomous Self, in what becomes a wilderness of mirrors. Biblical faith, by contrast, opens up “vast horizons” that suggest a superabundance of life and meaning. Biblical faith satisfies the yearning that led the ancient world to worship Sol Invictus, the sun god; but the sun’s light, however bright, “cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to the light.” And thus the early Christian apologist St. Justin Martyr could remind Trypho that “no one has ever been ready to die for his faith in the sun.” For centuries, however, men and women have been willing to stake their lives on the light of faith, bearing “public witness to the end” — which is to say, becoming martyrs. And that itself is a testimony to the truth of the light of faith in the God of the Bible.


Lumen Fidei’s review of the story of biblical faith is replete with creative readings of Scripture. Abraham’s faith in the one true God leads him, and the people who are formed from him, to a conviction that is absolutely foundational to the civilization of the West, namely, that life is journey and pilgrimage, not just one damn thing after another: “The word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise . . . a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus which points him toward an unforeseen future. . . . [Thus] faith ‘sees’ to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word.” That journey is always threatened by idolatry, which Martin Buber, adopting a definition proposed by the rabbi of Kock, described as a situation “when a face addresses a face which is not a face.” Idols, as the story of the golden calf in Exodus reminds us, are gods we can control because we fashion them in our own image and likeness; those idols, as Psalm 115 teaches, “have mouths, but they cannot speak.” And in the West of a.d. 2013, it seems difficult to deny (although many are in denial) where all this leads:
Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.
For Christians, of course, the fullness of biblical faith, and the fullness of the revelation of the light and truth that radiate into the cosmos and into history from the God of Israel, are found in Jesus, the Son of God come into the world “as the complete manifestation of God’s reliability.” Christian faith does not so much look at Jesus as it looks with him and through him: It “sees things as Jesus himself sees them,” for it is a “participation in his way of seeing.” And this is not, Lumen Fidei insists, a participation that in any way diminishes human maturity or human freedom rightly understood: “In many areas of our lives we trust others who know more than we do. We trust the architect who builds our house, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who makes God known to us. . . .”

And in doing so, Jesus draws us beyond our myopia and cures our astigmatism: “Christ’s life, his way of knowing the Father and living in complete and constant relationship with him, opens up new and inviting vistas for human experience.” Moreover, this new capacity to see draws us into the community of the Church, for “faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion. . . . Faith . . . enables us to become part of the Church’s great pilgrimage through history until the end of the world.”

Biblical faith, then, is a remedy for “the massive amnesia of our contemporary world.” For, as Lumen Fidei insists, “the question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.”

That truth, however, is not truth-on-ice. “Without love,” Lumen Fidei teaches, “truth becomes cold, impersonal, and oppressive for people’s everyday lives.” Thus “love and truth are inseparable . . . [for] the truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love.” Love itself is a “source of knowledge,” a way of seeing the human condition against a more ample horizon, for “one who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved.” Truth and love meet in the person of Christ, who declares himself the way, the truth, and the life; who witnesses to the truth of that claim by laying down his life for his brethren; and who is then vindicated in that salvific act of love by the Resurrection.

And against the indictment that convictions about possessing the truth inevitably lead to arrogance and intransigence, Lumen Fidei reminds both believers and unbelievers that “truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.”


As for what all of this has to do with the grave public issues of the moment, Lumen Fidei has a simple answer: Just about everything.

Modernity, the encyclical teaches, “sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure.” That realization took some time, and some hard experience, as early political modernity tried to force fraternité and égalité into history. The hard experience in question involved experiments with various forms of totalitarianism, from the French prototype rolled out in 1789, through the mid-20th-century models that brought the world Auschwitz, the Gulag, the Great Leap Forward, and the Holodomor in Ukraine, and on to the gentler, but no less democratically destructive, “dictatorship of relativism” (in Ratzinger’s signature phrase) that besets the West today. Ultramundane man, it seems, is terminally lethal man. Or, as Henri de Lubac pointed out in the mid-1940s, “atheistic humanism” proved that, while men could indeed organize the world without God, they could only organize it against one another.    
Biblical faith is also essential for underwriting modernity’s commitment to the unique and inviolable (or, as the Founders preferred, “unalienable”) dignity of every individual human being, regardless of race, sex, or condition of life — the moral claim that is at the basis of the modern political architecture of human rights. Classical antiquity did not see this clearly; the dignity of every human person is a truth that Jerusalem taught Athens. Thus it is precisely in those venues where Athens has broken its tether to Jerusalem, such that a cold rationality of utility is the dominant social norm, that the dignity of the person is gravely at risk throughout the western world.

And there is still more, at the intersection of faith, truth, and public life:
Faith . . . .by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which . . . consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good. Faith likewise affords the possibility of forgiveness . . . [which] is possible once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil, and that the word with which God affirms our life is deeper than our every denial. . . . Faith illumines life and society. If it possesses a creative light for each new moment in history, it is because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things in the Father.

Before and after its publication, it was said (even by Vatican officials) that Lumen Fidei would not be a “programmatic” first encyclical, in the sense that it would not lay out an agenda for Pope Francis’s pontificate. Yet that seems not quite right.

By focusing sharply on the question of a humanism adequate to the challenges of the late 20th century, John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, announced the evangelical program that he would unfold over the next quarter-century, bending the course of history in unexpected directions: the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life. By underscoring at the very beginning of Lumen Fidei that his reflections on faith, drawn largely from the draft left him by Benedict XVI, were “in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue,” Pope Francis has quietly but unmistakably announced that, modest alterations in the “accidents” of papal clothing and residence notwithstanding, the “substance” of the Petrine Office in the Church remains unchanged. For, as he writes, “the Successor of Peter, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of the faith which God has given us as a light for humanity’s path.” That strengthening comes for a constant proclamation of the truth of Christian faith, which is a constant invitation to friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ and incorporation, through that friendship, into his Church — a communion of disciples in mission.

A pontificate of evangelical reform is underway. Its path will be illuminated, not by Catholic Lite, but by the full symphony of truth that the light of faith reveals.

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His most recent book is Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church (Basic Books).