Saturday, October 12, 2013

4 Reasons Why Captain Phillips Is One of the Year’s Best Thrillers…

... and one reason why it’s leftist propaganda.

Posted By John Boot On October 11, 2013 @ 9:00 am In Current Release Reviews,Movies | 23 Comments

With the true-life maritime thriller Captain Phillips Tom Hanks has his best movie since Catch Me If You Can 11 years ago. Here are the reasons it works so well — and the reason its leftist politics cause it to fall into a trap while reaching for social significance.

1. Paul Greengrass.

The director of the second and third Bourne movies and United 93 is perhaps the reigning master of tense, absorbing, completely credible you-are-there cinema.

Captain Phillips is very much in that vein of breathless suspense. Vermonter Captain Richard Phillips was piloting the Merchant Marine vessel the Maersk Alabama off the Gulf of Aden when Somali pirates using simple skiffs were lurking in the waters looking for a lone ship they could pick off and hold for millions in ransom. Phillips himself endured a five-day ordeal, harrowingly depicted with Greengrass’s trademark quasi-documentary style.

2. The level of detail.

As usual, Greengrass makes his situations vivid and believable by slathering on the details.
In this film, you’ll only be a few minutes in when you realize what a fascinating, massive and complex operation is the international shipping system that probably brought you everything from your socks to your bananas. And yet it only takes about a dozen men to run a gigantic ship full of hundreds of tons of cargo. Greengrass takes us inside the technology on the bridge as Phillips notices the approaching boats on radar but can do little on his unarmed ship except bluff (he sends a message that causes one group of attackers to turn back) and turn on the fire hoses that are positioned around the ship with intent to swamp the skiffs.

3. The fierceness of the pirates.

As he did in United 93, in which many participants in the 9/11 drama played themselves, Greengrass makes the most of non-professional actors.

This time he uses Somalis such as a Minneapolis immigrant named Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, the leader of the pirate gang. Abdi’s wedge-shaped face and hollow, desperate eyes are mesmerizing. These men are small and slight but you can feel the willingness to do anything as they launch their boats with grim determination, bent on making a fortune with nothing but a few assault rifles and a ladder with a grappling hook to throw over the side of the Alabama.

What they lack, though, despite their able seamanship, is much knowledge of the prey they’re attacking: As Captain Phillips presciently tells his crew, “Remember, you know this ship and they don’t.” That asymmetry of information turns out to be critical.

 4. The resourcefulness of the main character.

You may think you know the basics of the story of Richard Phillips’ ordeal in April of 2009, which involved an expert military response by the Navy SEALS, but unless you read his memoir A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea you probably will be amazed by the various twists Phillips came up with to mislead and confuse the pirates and stay alive. Phillips comes across as almost a saint in the movie, though — he seems genuinely to care about helping one of the pirates with his injured foot — so it’s a relief to hear the real Phillips say, in interviews, that “it never entered my mind” to empathize with his captors.
“There was no Stockholm Syndrome,” he told the Associated Press.

That’s why it’s so puzzling (and unfortunate) that Greengrass marred his film with a superfluous scene of left-wing, anti-Western, anti-capitalist talking points…

1. When Phillips tries to suss out the motives behind the pirate attack, his captors tell him that it’s people like Phillips who forced them into armed robbery and extortion on the high seas.

One pirate explains that big commercial fishing operations have drained the seas near Somalia of all the fish, which frames the story as a kind of watery Occupy Wall Street. Should we be rooting for the pirates then? No. As Phillips explains, the ship is carrying, in addition to its commercial cargo, tons of aid for Africa.

The movie is just about perfect without this bit of Third World grandstanding, which appears to have been thrown in so that Captain Phillips can be positioned as not just a rousing yarn but as an Oscar-bait story of globalization’s unintended victims.

Thanks, but we’ll just go ahead and subscribe to The Nation if we want to be told how the international trade that has done so much to lift up the world’s standard of living in the last 50 years is somehow a bad thing.

Article printed from PJ Lifestyle:
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Park Service Paramilitaries

The government has King John’s idea of public lands. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Dream Baby Dream (2013)

Film Review: 'Enough Said'

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

‘Enough Said’ Stars James Gandolfini

September 17, 2013
NYT Critics' Pick

“I’m tired of being funny,” says Eva, the Los Angeles massage therapist whose midlife travails are the subject of “Enough Said,” a small miracle of a movie written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It is possible to sympathize with Eva and also to marvel at her curious sense of timing. Happily — or at least not miserably — divorced, with nice friends and a gratifyingly nondysfunctional teenage daughter, Eva, played by the reliably hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus, uses her sense of humor as a social tool and an emotional defense. She’s a good sport, a designated joker, which is fine except that it means that she never has to be taken seriously, even by herself.
But as she rolls over in the bed she has just shared, for the first time, with Albert (James Gandolfini) — also the divorced parent of a girl soon to leave for college — Eva senses another possibility. This guy, whom she met at a party and recently started dating, might actually get her, not just her jokes. He agreeably and gallantly says that he’s also tired of being funny. “But you’re not funny,” she says as they snuggle against each other, laughing at her own quick wit and also paying him a sincere, if somewhat backhanded, compliment.
Now is the time to state that “Enough Said” is very funny indeed. Line for line, scene for scene, it is one of the best-written American film comedies in recent memory and an implicit rebuke to the raunchy, sloppy spectacles of immaturity that have dominated the genre in recent years.
This is not to say that Ms. Holofcener, an acute observer of the manners and morals of the self-satisfied metropolitan middle class, West Coast division, is decorous or genteel. She is, rather, almost ruthless in her attention to the petty vanities and hypocrisies of her characters, and the ways their relatively privileged circumstances lead them to weave webs of guilt, complacency and stifled aggression.
And yet it is also clear that Ms. Holofcener likes them, even — or especially — when they are ridiculous, myopic or mean. This has been apparent in all of her features so far, from “Walking and Talking” (1996) through “Lovely and Amazing” (2002), “Friends With Money” (2006) and “Please Give” (2010). Their only real flaw is scarcity. Ideally, Ms. Holofcener would be able to work at a Woody Allen pace, issuing annual bulletins from the lives of people who, after 15 or 20 minutes, already seem like your friends.
In other words, they are exasperating and difficult as well as lovable. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus was memorably described (in her “Seinfeld” persona) as a pretty woman with “a face like a frying pan.” That face has matured into a remarkably expressive instrument. Eva is like no other movie character I have ever seen, and uncannily like a lot of real women I know. Motherhood on the big screen is typically viewed with pity, sentimentality or resentment, and romantic love tends to be treated in a similarly reductive manner, as an impossible dream or a state of earthly bliss. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus and Ms. Holofcener know better, and they approach Eva’s emotional adventures, as mother, lover and friend, as a series of practical and ethical challenges.
Her relationships with Albert and with her daughter, Ellen (the wonderfully sensitive Tracey Fairaway), are each complicated by a third person, whose presence at first seems benign or irrelevant. Eva’s closeness to Ellen’s needy best friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), provokes some jealousy as Ellen prepares to leave home. Meanwhile, she has acquired a new client and friend: Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet with exquisite taste and an aura of high bohemian glamour who happens to be Albert’s former wife.
The real genius of “Enough Said” is that it takes this entirely plausible anecdotal circumstance and unlocks both its farcical potential and its latent profundity. What happens when the things that you once found charming start driving you crazy? Many love stories address that question, but Ms. Holofcener tilts it a few degrees. Does it matter that the things about Albert that Eva finds charming drive Marianne crazy? Should it?
These turn out to be not so trivial questions, amusing as it is to watch Eva struggle to figure out what to do with the Too Much Information that Marianne has been unwittingly feeding her. To Eva, Albert is a sweet, sexy, affable slob, but his ex remembers him as a bore and a loser, clumsy in bed and incapable of taking care of himself. Partly because she is dazzled by the friendship of someone who writes incomprehensible verse, serves exotic iced tea and hangs out with Joni Mitchell, Eva absorbs Marianne’s perspective and tries, with obnoxious good intentions, to correct Albert’s faults.
The inevitability and the danger of such reform efforts are among the motifs of “Enough Said.” Eva’s married friends, Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone), exist in a state of easy, affectionate tolerance that is often hard to distinguish from seething contempt. Eva and her ex-husband (Toby Huss) get along as well as they do because they have given up on each other. Albert and Eva’s romance feels exciting and perilous because there is something at stake.
This movie will make you laugh and leave you in tears. Some of the pathos is the accidental byproduct of seeing Mr. Gandolfini, so playful and alive, in one of his final major movie roles and feeling once again the loss of his remarkable gift. There is also the pang of the empty nest, that mixture of grief and pride that is the special anguish of modern parents.
But there is also something deeper. The ache that “Enough Said” leaves behind comes from the blunt force of truth. The final scenes have such impact because Ms. Holofcener has struck a buried nerve, uncovered a zone of anxiety, fear and hope that has rarely been explored with such empathy or precision. Eva, like many of us, lives in a world where the rules and roles are puzzling — where parental authority is negotiable, marriage vows are revocable and social boundaries are never clearly marked.
Even so, the primal values of right and wrong — the requirements of compassion, honesty and honorable action — still apply. It is easy to make mistakes and hard to correct them, easy to be funny and hard to be good.
“Enough Said” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Adult language and behavior.
Enough Said
Opens on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles.
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; director of photography, Xavier Grobet; edited by Robert Frazen; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production design by Keith Cunningham; costumes by Leah Katznelson; produced by Anthony Bregman and Stefanie Azpiazu; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

America, Your Vacation Wonderland!

By Mark Steyn
October 9, 2013 9:30 AM

On his radio show yesterday, our pal Michael Graham spoke to one of the tourists held under house arrest (or hotel arrest) by the National Park Service geyser stasi at Yellowstone Park. Here’s part of the interview:
There was a large group of Asians there. Not many spoke English . . . They said, ‘Are we under arrest?’ I mean, they were fearful. I mean, it looked like we were inside a prison. There were two large guards doing a walk up and down in front of the doors, so people felt like they were in prison. And the Australians said that would never happen in their country. Never never never.
Oh, get over yourself. Consider yourself lucky Obama didn’t just drone your tour bus.

These Australians, Europeans, and Asians paid huge amounts of money to fly thousands of miles to see America’s natural wonders. What do you think they’ll be telling their friends back home about “the land of the free”?

Make sure you listen to the entire audio. The choicest detail is when the lady explains that, during the hours they were stuck in the hotel and prevented by armed guards from walking next door to see Old Faithful, every hour-and-a-half throughout the day, just before the geyser was due to blow, your supposedly “closed” government dispatched a fleet of NPS SUVs to ring the site just in case any of those Japanese or Canadian tourists had managed to break out and was minded to take a non-commissar-approved look at it.

Oh, and stay tuned to the end when she recounts how the Park Service, on the two-and-a-half hour bus journey out of the park to Checkpoint Charlie at the Yellowstone Wall, forbade the seniors from using any of the bathroom facilities en route. If you did that to foreigners you’d captured on the battlefield, it would be in breach of the Geneva Conventions. But, if you seize them in an American park, you can do what you want.

David French is right. This is bigger than the boring process stuff — will Boehner get a deal? (yawn) – that so obsesses the cable yakfests. This pseudo-”shutdown” is about the convergence of the party and the state. For the moment, it’s mostly petty despotism. But despotism rarely stays petty for long.

I’ll be speaking on this and other stuff at that bastion of liberty, the Ashbrook Center in Ohio, tomorrow evening. (Details here.) If you’re in the neighborhood, we promise to give you the full National Park Service experience by locking you in the theatre overnight and closing all the toilets.

Today's Tune: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - King's Highway


By Ann Coulter
October 9, 2013

Political Cartoons by Glenn Foden

In the current fight over the government shutdown, Republicans are simply representing the views of the American people.

Americans didn't ask for Obamacare, they don't want it, but now their insurance premiums are going through the roof, their doctors aren't accepting it, and their employers are moving them into part-time work -- or firing them -- to avoid the law's mandates.

Contrary to Obama's promises, it turns out: You can't keep your doctor, you can't keep your insurance -- you can't even keep your job. In other words, it's a typical government program, but this one wrecks your health care.

Also, the president did raise taxes on the middle class in defiance of his well-worn campaign promise not to. Indeed, Obamacare is the largest tax hike in U.S. history.

Among the other changes effected by this law are:

-- Obamacare will allow insurers to charge 50 percent higher premiums for smokers, but prohibits insurers from increasing premiums for those with HIV/AIDS.

-- Nationally, Obamacare will increase men's individual insurance premiums by an average of 99 percent and women's by 62 percent. In North Carolina, for example, individual insurance premiums will triple for women and quadruple for men.

-- Health plans valued at $27,500 or more for a family of four will be taxed at a rate of 40 percent.

-- No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare.

-- A 62-year-old man earning $46,000 a year is entitled to a $7,836 government tax credit to buy health insurance. But if he earns an extra $22 in income, he loses the entire $7,836 credit. He will have more take-home pay by earning $46,000 than if he earns $55,000. (If he's lucky, he already works for one of the companies forced by Obamacare to reduce employees' hours!)

-- Merely to be eligible for millions of dollars in grants from the federal government under Obamacare, education and training programs are required to meet racial, ethnic, gender, linguistic and sexual orientation quotas. That's going to make health care MUCH better!

-- Obamacare is turning America into a part-time nation. According to a recent report by economist John Lott, 97 percent of all jobs added to the economy so far this year have been part-time jobs. Ninety-seven percent!

-- Obamacare is such a disaster that the people who wrote it refuse to live under it themselves. That's right, Congress won a waiver from Obamacare.

Responding to the people's will, House Republicans first voted to fund all of government -- except Obamacare. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it.

Then the Republicans voted to fully fund the government, but merely delay the implementation of Obamacare for one year. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it.

Finally, the Republicans voted to fully fund the government, but added a requirement that everyone live under Obamacare. No more special waivers for Congress and their staff, and no waivers for big business without the same waivers for individuals.

Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it. So as you can see, Republicans are the big holdup here.

A longtime Democratic operative, Karen Finney, explained the Democrats' intransigence on MSNBC to a delighted Joan Walsh (aka the most easily fooled person on TV) by comparing House Republicans to a teenager trying to borrow his mother's car. "No, I'm not negotiating!" Mother says. "It's MY CAR!"

This wasn't a stupid slip of the tongue that other Democrats quickly rejected. Finney had used the exact same metaphor to a panel of highly agreeable MSNBC guests the day before. (MSNBC books no other kind of guest.)

The left thinks the government is their car and the people's representatives are obstreperous teenagers trying to borrow the government. Which belongs to Democrats.

That's not how the Constitution views the House of Representatives. To the contrary, the House is considered most reflective of the people's will because its members are elected every two years.

As a matter of fact, the Republicans who mistakenly assume they have something to do with running the government represent most of the people who pay taxes to run it. So it's more like a teenager who is making the car payments, maintaining the car insurance and taking responsibility for registering the car being told: "It's not your car."

But the Democrats refuse to even negotiate. It's their government -- and if you Republicans think you're going out dressed like that, you've got another thing coming! Needless to say, they absolutely will not consider the Republicans' demand that Democrats merely live under Obamacare themselves.

Instead, Democrats say "the Koch brothers" are behind the effort to defund Obamacare.

They say Republicans are trying to "burn the whole house down" (Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz); "have lost their minds" (Sen. Harry Reid); are trying to negotiate "with a bomb strapped to their chest" (senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer); are "legislative arsonists" (Rep. Nancy Pelosi); and are engaging in "blatant extortion" (White House press secretary Jay Carney).

The MSNBC crowd calls Republicans "arsonists" every 15 minutes. They ought to check with fellow MSNBC host Al Sharpton. He knows his arsonists! In 1995, Sharpton whipped up a mob outside the Jewish-owned Freddy's Fashion Mart with an anti-Semitic speech. Sometime later, a member of the mob torched the store, killing seven Hispanic employees.

Every single Democrat in the country uses the exact same talking point: We "refuse to negotiate with a gun being held to our head."

Which means the Democrats will not negotiate at all -- not now, not ever. House Republicans have already passed three-dozen bills defunding, or otherwise modifying, Obamacare. Senate Democrats and liberal commentators had a good laugh at Republicans for passing them.

Now they're paying attention!

If you are in the minority of Americans not already unalterably opposed to Obamacare, keep in mind that the only reason the government is shut down right now is that Democrats refuse to fund the government if they are required to live under Obamacare.

That's how good it is!


Let's Get Cynical

    Why should we trust the government--especially now?

October 9, 2013
"An old friend who has been active in politics for more than 30 years tells me he's giving up," claims Robert Reich in a Puffington Host post: " 'I can't stomach what's going on in Washington anymore,' he says. 'The hell with all of them. I have better things to do with my life.' "
Associated Press
Robert Reich, his megaphone and his disgusted friend.
Reich is a proven fabulist, so one has to assume any story he tells is a tall tale. But we're interested in the supposed moral of the parable of Reich's Disgusted Imaginary Friend: "My friend is falling exactly into the trap that the extreme right wants all of us to fall into--such disgust and cynicism that we all give up on politics." The "Tea Bag Republicans," as the homophobic Reich calls them, "want to sow even greater cynicism about the capacity of government to do much of anything."
In reality, nobody is more disgusted or cynical about government than Tea Party activists themselves--and they have much to be cynical about. The Washington Examiner reports that "has finally received its tax-exempt status after a three-year delay" caused by the repurposing of the Internal Revenue Service into a political operation aimed at suppressing opposition to Barack Obama's re-election campaign:
"After four years battling Lois Lerner's shock troops, we are relieved that the IRS has relented and finally recognized our right to operate as a non-profit," said Todd Cefaratti, founder of "First they tried to ignore us. Then they tried to discredit us. And then they tried to deny our legal rights. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end to a sad chapter in our government's targeting of its own citizens," he added.
Cefaratti seems to be following the advice Reich gives his fictitious friend at the end of his piece: "If you believe the fix is in and the game is rigged . . . do something about it. Rather than give up, get more involved. Become more active. Make a ruckus." Of course it is too late to put Obama to an honest electoral test, but one must always look forward.
Cynicism is often, as we've noted, a product of disappointed idealism--of naiveté being crushed by reality. If Obama's supporters have been turning cynical, it is because the falseness of his promises is finally becoming undeniable. Take ObamaCare. He promised to accomplish the impossible: to guarantee health care to everyone, offering both higher quality and lower cost than under the (admittedly far from optimal) status quo ante.
The San Jose Mercury News reports on the reality:
Cindy Vinson and Tom Waschura are big believers in the Affordable Care Act. They vote independent and are proud to say they helped elect and re-elect President Barack Obama.
Yet, like many other Bay Area residents who pay for their own medical insurance, they were floored last week when they opened their bills: Their policies were being replaced with pricier plans that conform to all the requirements of the new health care law.
Vinson, of San Jose, will pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy, while Waschura, of Portola Valley, will cough up almost $10,000 more for insurance for his family of four. . . .
"I was laughing at Boehner--until the mail came today," Waschura said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, who is leading the Republican charge to defund Obamacare.
"I really don't like the Republican tactics, but at least now I can understand why they are so pissed about this. When you take $10,000 out of my family's pocket each year, that's otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not be going into our local economy." . . .
"Of course, I want people to have health care," Vinson said. "I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally."
Reich acknowledges that ObamaCare "is hardly perfect," but he insists "the president cannot re-negotiate the Affordable Care Act" because that would mean giving in to the Republicans: "If you give in to bullies, their bullying only escalates." America is stuck with this monstrous law because the alternative would be too costly to Obama's pride. Disgust and cynicism seem an entirely appropriate reaction.
Best of The Web Today columnist James Taranto says it’s healthy to question big government. Photos: Getty Images
Then we have the government shutdown, which the Obama administration has been working to make as painful as possible. has a list of "7 Things the Government Shut Down That Saved Practically Nothing," including websites (whose content not only isn't being updated but has been taken off-line altogether); public parks (such as the normally unattended World War II memorial, which has been fenced off and patrolled by rangers to keep citizens away); and even privately run parks that happen to be situated on public land.
Obama explained his shutdown tactics at a White House press conferenceyesterday:
Q: Mr. President, while you're waiting for the shutdown to end, why is it that you can't go along with any of the bills the House is passing funding the FDA and FEMA, where you were yesterday, and veterans benefits and Head Start? You've got to be tempted to sign those bills and get funding to those programs that you support.
Obama: Of course I'm tempted, because you'd like to think that you could solve at least some of the problem if you couldn't solve all of it.
But here's the problem. What you've seen are bills that come up where wherever Republicans are feeling political pressure, they put a bill forward. And if there's no political heat, if there's no television story on it, then nothing happens. And if we do some sort of shotgun approach like that, then you'll have some programs that are highly visible get funded and reopened, like national monuments, but things that don't get a lot of attention, like those SBA loans, not being funded.
By the president's own admission, it's all about jockeying for political advantage. Arguably it's working: The Associated Press reports its new poll suggests the Republicans are "taking the biggest hit in public opinion from the shutdown": "Overall, 62 percent mainly blamed Republicans for the shutdown. About half said Obama or the Democrats in Congress bear much responsibility." Congress's approval rating is at a laughable 5%, though Obama's is 37%, almost as bad by presidential standards.
But again, cynicism and disgust seem entirely appropriate responses. Ronald Reagan was the last president who had a basic skepticism of Big Government, but Barack Obama may end up having done more than any of his predecessors to promote that feeling among the public.

When liberals became scolds

By George WillPublished: October 9, 2013

Johnson sworn in after JFK assassination: In 1963, Johnson was unexpectedly thrust into the role of president when JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. (Photo Credit: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library)
“Ex-Marine Asks Soviet Citizenship”
— Washington Post headline,
Nov. 1, 1959
(concerning Lee Harvey Oswald)
“He didn’t even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It’s — it had to be some silly little Communist.”
She thought it robbed his death of any meaning. But a meaning would be quickly manufactured to serve a new politics. First, however, an inconvenient fact — Oswald — had to be expunged from the story. So, just 24 months after the assassination, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Kennedys’ kept historian, published a thousand-page history of the thousand-day presidency withoutmentioning the assassin.
The transformation of a murder by a marginal man into a killing by a sick culture began instantly — before Kennedy was buried. The afternoon of the assassination,Chief Justice Earl Warren ascribed Kennedy’s “martyrdom” to “the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.” The next day,James Reston, the New York Times luminary, wrote in a front-page story that Kennedy was a victim of a “streak of violence in the American character,” noting especially “the violence of the extremists on the right.”
Never mind that adjacent to Reston’s article was a Times report on Oswald’s Communist convictions and associations. A Soviet spokesman, too, assigned “moral responsibility” for Kennedy’s death to “Barry Goldwater and other extremists on the right.
Three days after the assassination, a Times editorial, “Spiral of Hate,” identified Kennedy’s killer as a “spirit”: The Times deplored “the shame all America must bear for the spirit of madness and hate that struck down” Kennedy. The editorialists were, presumably, immune to this spirit. The new liberalism-as-paternalism would be about correcting other people’s defects.
Hitherto a doctrine of American celebration and optimism, liberalism would now become a scowling indictment: Kennedy was killed by America’s social climate, whose sickness required “punitive liberalism.” That phrase is from James Piereson of the Manhattan Institute, whose 2007 book “Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism” is a profound meditation on the reverberations of the rifle shots in Dealey Plaza.
The bullets of Nov. 22, 1963, altered the nation’s trajectory less by killing a president than by giving birth to a destructive narrative about America. Fittingly, the narrative was most injurious to the narrators. Their recasting of the tragedy in order to validate their curdled conception of the nation marked a ruinous turn for liberalism, beginning its decline from political dominance.
Punitive liberalism preached the necessity of national repentance for a history of crimes and misdeeds that had produced a present so poisonous that it murdered a president. To be a liberal would mean being a scold. Liberalism would become the doctrine of grievance groups owed redress for cumulative inherited injuries inflicted by the nation’s tawdry history, toxic present and ominous future.
Kennedy’s posthumous reputation — Americans often place him, absurdly, atop the presidential rankings — reflects regrets about might-have-beens. To reread Robert Frost’s banal poem written for Kennedy’s inauguration (“A golden age of poetry and power of which this noonday’s the beginning hour”) is to wince at its clunky attempt to conjure an Augustan age from the melding of politics and celebrity that the Kennedys used to pioneer the presidency-as-entertainment.
Under Kennedy, liberalism began to become more stylistic than programmatic. After him — especially after his successor, Lyndon Johnson, a child of the New Deal, drove to enactment the Civil Rights Act Medicare and Medicaid — liberalism became less concerned with material well-being than with lifestyle and cultural issues such as feminism, abortion and sexual freedom.
The bullets fired on Nov. 22, 1963, could shatter the social consensus that characterized the 1950s only because powerful new forces of an adversarial culture were about to erupt through society’s crust. Foremost among these forces was the college-bound population bulge — baby boomers with their sense of entitlement and moral superiority, vanities encouraged by an intelligentsia bored by peace and prosperity and hungry for heroic politics.
Liberalism’s disarray during the late 1960s, combined with Americans’ recoil from liberal hectoring, catalyzed the revival of conservatism in the 1970s. As Piereson writes, the retreat of liberalism from a doctrine of American affirmation left a void that would be filled by Ronald Reagan 17 years after the assassination.
The moral of liberalism’s explanation of Kennedy’s murder is that there is a human instinct to reject the fact that large events can have small, squalid causes; there is an intellectual itch to discern large hidden meanings in events. And political opportunism is perennial.
Read more from George F. Will’s archive or follow him on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

C.S. Lewis's Joy in Marriage

What I think Alister McGrath got wrong about Lewis's wife, Joy Davidman.

By Gina Dalfonzo
October 8, 2013

"H. was a splendid thing; a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword," C. S. Lewis wrote of his wife, Joy, in his powerful little book A Grief Observed.
Throughout this memoir of a short but intensely happy marriage, he recalls Joy—referred to as "H."—as a woman whose strength, faith, honesty, humor, and loyalty made her the best of companions, and brought out the best in him.
That's why I found Alister McGrath's new biography of C. S. Lewisrather jarring. For anyone familiar with Lewis's loving portrait of her—or the other portraits we have from her friends, her son, and her biographers—the Joy Davidman Lewis of McGrath's book is virtually unrecognizable.
McGrath objects to what he sees as our culture's "romanticised reading" of Lewis's marriage, spurred by the 1993 movieShadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. McGrath seems intent on debunking that image—even though, according to those who knew them closely, the marriage was romantic before Hollywood ever got hold of it. McGrath finds the circumstances of Lewis's marriage not quite to his taste, but it's not Lewis himself that he blames for them.
McGrath is not the first to feel this way. As Don W. King, in the introduction to Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman, puts it: "For some time now I have been surprised at the negative attitude otherwise compassionate Lewis devotees adopt with regard to Joy; perhaps they are suspicious of her Communist background, embarrassed by her New York brashness, or upset by her winning Lewis's heart."
Whatever the reason, McGrath's attitude toward her is very negative indeed. He admits that she brought Lewis great happiness, but anyone who had known nothing of her before reading his portrayal would have trouble understanding why. McGrath paints her as an unlikable, determined seducer and money-grubber.
To provide some background: Joy Davidman Gresham was a former atheist who converted to Christianity in the 1940s. She and her first husband, Bill, became deeply interested in Lewis's writings. But the marriage was unraveling, as Bill Gresham was abusive, an alcoholic, and a serial adulterer. A direct woman with a strong personality, Joy began writing to Lewis for counsel, and they became friends.
Joy eventually visited England to meet Lewis in person. While she was there, Bill wrote to her that he had fallen in love with her cousin Renée, and wanted a divorce. With Lewis offering to help her financially—something he did for many of his friends and acquaintances—Joy decided to move to England permanently and raise her sons there. Lewis eventually married her in a civil ceremony to allow her to stay in the country, and then, when he grew to love her, they held a religious marriage ceremony as well.
In his biography, after writing about Joy's conversion to Christianity and her discovery of Lewis's writings, McGrath tells us: "In a series of newspaper reports in 1998, marking the centenary of Lewis's birth, Davidman's younger son, Douglas Gresham, declared that his mother had gone to England with one specific intention: 'to seduce C. S. Lewis.'"
But that is not what Gresham said. If we look at the newspaper reports that McGrath cites, we find this quote from him: "She was not above telling nosy friends that she was going to England to seduce C. S. Lewis." The tone of the remark, as others have pointed out, rather suggests a joke—just the kind of joke that the blunt Davidman was fond of making. But in any case, Gresham did not directly state that this is what his mother went to do. (Davidman herself, in a letter to her friend Chad Walsh, explained her intentions as follows: "I had hoped that my vacation in England would soothe my shattered nerves and give me strength to go on [with the marriage to Bill].")
McGrath acknowledges that he never contacted Gresham to ask him to clarify or expand on his words. Indeed, he avoided talking to anyone who knew Lewis, in the interest of trying to achieve "critical distance" from his subject. But according to Gresham himself, all McGrath managed to achieve in this case was inaccuracy.
McGrath also claims, "Davidman's intention to seduce Lewis is confirmed by…forty-five sonnets, written by Davidman for Lewis over the period 1951-1954…. These sonnets deal with Davidman's intentions of returning to England after her initial meeting with Lewis and forging a closer relationship with him."
It's hard to believe that a scholar of McGrath's caliber would take poetry as confirmation of anyone's intentions about anything. Creative writing is for expressing feeling, not hatching a battle plan. One might just as well say that Lewis's Narnia books confirmed his intention to go hunting through his wardrobe for an alternate universe.
But even supposing that we could take Joy's poems as the confirmation McGrath says they are, "forging a closer relationship" is not the same thing as seducing. In fact, McGrath's frequent use of that word is disturbing. It's true that he didn't originate it, but picked it up from the Observerarticle. But he repeats it to the point where one begins to wonder exactly what his intentions are.
The echo of a troubling stereotype sounds throughout these passages: the well-intentioned but naïve man pounced on by the predatory woman. McGrath goes so far as to say, "In reality, Lewis had become—to put it bluntly, yet accurately—'an American divorcée's sugar daddy.'" The original quote is from Alan Jacobs of Baylor University.
To reduce Lewis and Joy's mature and complex relationship to this is to treat them both, especially Joy, with deep unfairness. For one thing, the word seduce bears the connotation of sexual sin, and there is absolutely no evidence that these two committed Christians engaged in such a sin. (Previous Lewis biographer A. N. Wilson claimed that Douglas Gresham had said they did, but his claim was debunked.)
Also, as McGrath admits, Joy was an intellectual giant in her own right—she had written novels and theological works as well as award-winning poetry—and a great help with Lewis's own writing. Theirs was a relationship of equals. And many readers have observed that their marriage brought him a greater understanding of and sensitivity to women, noticeable in such books as The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces. Could the hardened gold-digger that McGrath portrays really have had such an effect on this wise and devout Christian man?
Finally, though Joy did accept financial support from Lewis before their marriage, her own letters show that she did it only because Bill Gresham was perpetually behind on child support, and she and the children were nearly destitute. Her letters also mention that she earned money as a typesetter while in England, despite McGrath's contention that as a resident alien, she was not allowed to earn anything.
There is no doubt that Joy Davidman was a forthright, direct woman—even a brash one—and that she was very interested in C. S. Lewis, first intellectually and later romantically. Her personality put off several of Lewis's friends, who would not have been accustomed to such un-British behavior, especially from a lady. But the takeaway should be, I think, that Lewis saw past what some found unappealing, and recognized her "splendid" soul—that because she pursued him, they found great happiness together. Like he did, we should praise God for people like Joy Davidman Lewis.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog and a regular writer for Christianity Today'sHer.meneutics. Her work has appeared in Guideposts, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Christianity Today, Books & Culture, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, and newspapers around the country.