Saturday, December 12, 2015

Today's Tune: Frank Sinatra - I Get A Kick Out Of You

Frank Sinatra: A Hundred Years On, the Voice Resonates Still

December 11, 2015

Capitol Photo Archives: Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra gave pop music a beating heart.

Before Michael Jackson, before Bob Dylan, before Elvis Presley, there was Sinatra, the first modern pop superstar. In the floodtide of centennial tributes (he was born on Dec. 12, 1915), we celebrate the cool, ring-a-ding-ding Sinatra, a man with the world on a string — but his most far-reaching accomplishment was infusing popular song with intimate personal emotion.

His union of the singer and the song was fortified by his protohipster image: a film-noir loner in a fedora with a cigarette and a drink; the flip side was the swinger bedding countless beautiful women and partying with his pals till dawn. To borrow a title from Tom Wolfe, he was “a man in full.” In Sinatra’s intensely emotional interpretations, popular standards took on a new life by becoming quasiautobiographical confessions. The lyrics mattered as never before, foreshadowing the singer-songwriters of the next generation. Men didn’t simply admire him; they wanted to be him, partly because he revised the definition of masculinity. He made self-pity a virtue.

Beginning with his somber 1955 album of torch songs, “In the Wee Small Hours,” which some believe to be the greatest pop album ever made, Sinatra gave men license to cry without shame. Sanctioned by a tough guy who consorted with mobsters, behavior once synonymous with cowardice and weakness became noble suffering.

Before 1955, most popular music was dismissed as kitsch by the reigning culturati, and distinctions between “high” and popular art were rigidly demarcated. By treating popular standards as secular art songs dressed up in elegant semiclassical and pop-jazz trappings by his most brilliant arranger, Nelson Riddle, Sinatra began blurring the distinctions.

Almost single-handedly, he canonized the American songbook, a body of work created mostly for Broadway and the movies that looms much larger than it might have had he not given it his passionate, sustained attention. It became a platform for philosophical ruminations on the meaning of it all.

Ella Fitzgerald also contributed to that preservation with her monumental “songbook” albums, but with a couple of exceptions, they pale beside the power and authority of Sinatra’s best work. Fitzgerald, with her phenomenal gifts, was not emotionally invested in song lyrics. Everything Sinatra recorded he made sound intensely, sometimes agonizingly, personal. Songs like “Night and Day,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “One for My Baby” and “Laura” became his and no one else’s. He recorded these and others more than once over a period of years. When you think of them, it is likely Sinatra’s voice you hear in your head.

No matter what he’s singing, you listen to the words and how he phrases them and often have the sense that they’re coming spontaneously out of his mind and not from the pen of the song’s lyricist, although in his concerts he was scrupulous to give writing and arranging credits.

With each re-recording they expressed Sinatra’s changing point of view over time and became the story of his life. Other singers followed his lead, and the interpretation of popular songs took on an entirely new significance.

Evolving technology conveniently and happily coincided with his ascendancy. Until the invention of the microphone, the pop crooner adopting a relaxed conversational tone couldn’t have existed. The sound of Bing Crosby, Sinatra’s most influential forerunner and role model, evoked congeniality, nostalgia and the comforts of hearth and home — but not the joys and pains of love.

Sinatra used the microphone to convey an astounding intimacy, infused with a tender eroticism that turned increasingly bitter as the years went by. Crosby was your likable, easygoing next-door neighbor; Sinatra was your personal confidant, or in the case of women who adored him, a surrogate lover.

The best of his ’40s recordings, made mostly with the arranger Axel Stordahl, are delicate musical valentines gently murmured by an ardent young suitor to his dream girl. The tinkly hearts-and-flowers arrangements for a chamber orchestra conjure an innocent paradise of lingering kisses and endearments shared by sweethearts floating in a rapturous shared fantasy. Listen to his Columbia recordings of “My Melancholy Baby,” “Dream,” “I Don’t Know Why,” “Oh! What It Seemed to Be,” “Laura,” “The Things We Did Last Summer,” “You’re My Girl” and “If I Forget You” and be transported. These performances have the devotional fervency of whispered prayers.

In the early ’50s, the skinny, blue-eyed boy from Hoboken re-invented himself as a cosmopolitan performer with a purpose: to enshrine the songs of Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Arlen and others once and for all.

At a time when novelties dominated mainstream pop, the rise of the long-playing record enabled Sinatra to create the first “concept” albums years before the term was coined around the time of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The output of Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and others is synonymous with what many believe to be the golden age of the LP. On their albums, romantic love — the subject of a majority of popular standards — was explored from an adult perspective.

In the ’50s, his once celestial baritone acquired a slightly rougher grain, and he became the voice of experience. The bobby-soxers’ idol had evolved into a sexually sophisticated swinger. His increasingly emphatic, upbeat syncopation spurred a full-scale swing revival — newly focused on the singer instead of a bandleader — and heralded an age of individual self-expression that has only expanded and continued into the hip-hop era.

“Come Fly With Me,” the title song from his 1958 album, was an invitation to pleasure delivered in a rough, joyful voice that promised good times ahead if you followed Sinatra, now the ultimate American playboy. In the ’40s, he had played the role of an imaginary boyfriend to women on the home front while their husbands were fighting overseas. The swinging Sinatra announced himself in 1953 with a joyful, confident “I’ve Got the World on a String.” At his peak in the next decade, the world revolving around Sinatra was a hedonistic playground, with the singer the master of revels.

But it was a bipolar world that had a shadow side: The pied piper of good times endured bouts of melancholia that defined his increasingly tragic vision of life. “In the Wee Small Hours,” “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely” and “Where Are You?” with their quasi-Wagnerian orchestrations were eloquent, even desperate cries in the night.

At the same time, Sinatra’s uptempo albums vented a swaggering aggression that signaled the furies unleashed by the rock and hip-hop revolutions of the future. After the high point of “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” that aggression became steadily coarser, harder and more pugnacious. It’s a sad reflection on contemporary tastes that the rude, swaggering entertainer of the Las Vegas “rat pack” is considered quintessential Sinatra by younger generations unacquainted with the voice of the ’40s crooner.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, his singing had become so crude that some rock critics even adopted Sinatra as an avatar of punk. But that wishful comparison makes only partial sense. Sinatra never wavered in his undying loyalty to the pre-rock American songbook, and most of his attempts to sing contemporary songs on his 1980 album, “Trilogy: Past Present Future,” sounded na├»ve.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, his career was the story of an established monarch reviewing his accomplishments while consciously engaged in a losing battle with time. In his last great album, “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim,” in 1967, he sang Brazilian bossa nova ballads in the soft, weary voice of aging Lothario yearning for his lost youth. After the grand formal statement of “September of My Years,” his turning-50 album, the slow fade of his career accelerated.

His last attempt at a major statement was his 1981 studio album, “She Shot Me Down.” This groan of exhaustion included a funereal version of the Cher hit, “Bang Bang,” and a gloomy new reverie, “A Long Night,” by Alec Wilder and Loonis McGlohon, that looked back in defeat. You feel his despair:

I’ve seen what the street corners
Do to things like love and dreams
Seen what the bottle can do to a man
With his hopes and his schemes
In the end, noir always wins.

C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent

A recent discovery unveils an unknown chapter in the life the famous Oxford Don.

As I browsed eBay not long ago, I came across a 78 rpm recording of a lecture by C. S. Lewis. I assumed that it was a mistake or that the seller was trying to defraud an unwitting public. I knew Lewis well enough to know that he had never made a 78 rpm recording for general distribution, much less one produced by something called the Joint Broadcasting Committee. I also knew that Lewis never delivered a lecture on the subject “The Norse Spirit in English Literature.” At least, I knew we had no evidence of such a lecture. Fortunately, curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the record from the dealer in Iceland.
Over the years, I have assembled a significant collection of items related to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their literary friends. I regularly mount exhibitions for universities and major municipal libraries to spur interest in the Inklings, especially when the secular market is all abuzz when a new Lewis or Tolkien movie is released. At one time, collecting letters, manuscripts, first editions, and other artifacts and ephemera was a slow process that depended upon visiting faraway places with strange sounding names. But all of that changed with e-commerce, which led to this unusual recording being in my possession.
And what an unusual find it turned out to be. I discovered some things about a secret episode in Lewis’s life that few, if any, people knew about.

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

How Lewis came to be recruited and by whom remains a secret. The records of the Secret Intelligence Service, known popularly as MI6, remain closed. Perhaps one of his former pupils at Oxford recommended him for his mission. It was an unusual mission for which few people were suited. J. R. R. Tolkien had the knowledge base for the job, even beyond that of Lewis, but Tolkien lacked other skills that Lewis possessed. Perhaps someone had heard Lewis lecture on his favorite subject in one of the two great lecture halls in the Examination Schools building of Oxford University. At a time when Oxford fellows were notorious for the poor quality of their public lectures, Lewis packed the hall with an audience of students who were not required to attend lectures. In the 1930s, Lewis was the best show in town. Somehow Lewis had developed the skill to speak to an audience and hold them in rapt attention, in spite of his academic training rather than because of it.

The first thing I discovered was that the Joint Broadcasting Committee was an arm of British secret intelligence that served a propaganda purpose by broadcasting to people in occupied enemy territory during World War II. Until now, the general public and the world of scholarship had no idea that C. S. Lewis began his wartime service by undertaking a mission for MI6. Long before James Bond, Lewis rendered service to this clandestine branch of British Intelligence, which was so secret for so long that few people knew of its existence, and few of those knew its actual name. Alternatively known as Military Intelligence, the Secret Service, and MI6, its actual name may be the Secret Intelligence Service. Ian Fleming gave the head of this spy network the code name of M, but in real life he is simply known as the Chief. When Lewis came on board at the beginning of World War II, it was still a fledgling group of amateurs desperately working to save their island home from disaster.
Read the rest of the article by clicking on the link below:
Hal Poe is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Tennessee. He is the author of a number of books, including The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends (Zondervan).

Our Immigration Laws Should Screen Out Radical Islamists, Not All Muslims

By Andrew C. McCarthy — December 12, 2015

Condemned: Donald Trump has said that the United States should close its borders to all Muslims and now says areas of London are so radical police are scared to go there
On Monday, the Donald Trump campaign sent out a statement saying the United States should close its borders to all Muslims 

I appreciate being held in “(otherwise) . . . considerable esteem” by Charles Krauthammer. Not only is the feeling mutual; from my end, I would even omit the “otherwise.” That said, I am dismayed by his specious response to my legal analysis of Donald Trump’s proposed moratorium on Muslim immigration to the United States. I am personally disappointed that Charles has distorted my position, portraying me as a Trump apologist. But that is almost beside the point. His rebuke is counterproductive to the defense of our national security — about which Krauthammer and I both care deeply — because it makes solving a vexing problem that much more difficult.

Dr. Krauthammer fails to address the substantive legal points I made. Instead, I get the back of his hand for explaining that I focused mainly on the “final form” of Trump’s moratorium proposal — the retreat to a temporary ban on foreign Muslims, after Trump initially suggested such a ban on all Muslims. Charles finds this “hilarious” because, he concludes, I am taking Trump’s policymaking process seriously – “as if Trump’s barstool eruptions are painstakingly vetted, and as if anything Trump says about anything is ever final.”


As Dr. K must know (since it is quite apparent from the post he attacks), I am not a Trump supporter, much less a Trump apologist. I confess to not being Trump-obsessed: I just don’t think he is going to be the nominee and life is too short to get that whipped up about him. As I’ve pointed out, I don’t believe even the Republicans are daft enough to nominate a man who has donated more money to Hillary Clinton and the racketeering enterprise also known the Clinton Foundation than most Democrats have combined.

I have, however, noted the candidate’s erratic nature on a few occasions. And in the very post that Krauthammer pretends to address, I intimated doubt that Trump knows much about either immigration law or Islam. But to sum up, I don’t care, even a little bit, about Donald Trump. If it’s possible, I care even less about his policymaking process.

I do, however, care very much about our immigration policy. I want it to enable us, within the bounds of the law, to exclude sharia-supremacist Muslims while admitting pro-Western Muslims who revere our constitutional culture of liberty. The former are the breeding pool for jihadism; the latter have been valuable in disrupting jihadist cells and could, if empowered, be valuable in marginalizing treacherous Islamist outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Charles accuses me of “tarting up” Trump’s proposed “ban” (again, it’s actually a moratorium) in “constitutional and statutory livery.” Inexplicably, he fails to tell readers that I prefaced this “tarting” by stating, “I am against a categorical ban on Muslim immigration[.]” The point of my post was not to defend Trump’s proposal but to justify my own proposal, which is plainly stated in the first lines of my post: Reject a categorical ban but mandate that “Muslim immigrants should be examined about Islamicsupremacism and . . . adherents to that counter-constitutional ideology should be denied admission.”

This can be done legally, but it requires a grasp of the pertinent principles. Charles may be right that developing a taxonomy of Trumpian policy refinements would be a hilarious waste of time. But I have no interest in that. I am trying to persuade Americans about what we should do, which obliges me to outline what the law allows us to do.

I differentiated the “final form” of Trump’s proposal (which addresses aliens outside the United States) from the original (which addressed all Muslims, including American citizens and lawful permanent residents) because it is a salient constitutional distinction. The distinction hearkens back to the shameful aspect of FDR’s Japanese internment during World War II: the failure to distinguish Americans of Japanese descent, whose detention was unconstitutional and a blight on our history, fromJapanese aliens, whose detention was lawful (we can debate whether it was unwise). That is why I wrote that Trump’s original proposal “would be lawless, and recklessly so.”

In crafting a sound policy, we have to respect the rights of American Muslims. That means we must not use the imperative of formulating sensible immigration protocols as a pretext to address a different challenge: Islamic-supremacist activism by American Muslims. This is a significant problem and it is exacerbated by the influx of Islamists from abroad. But it is not, strictly speaking, an immigration problem.

Since Dr. K has seen fit to play amateur lawyer, let me reciprocate by playing amateur shrink. I suspect that his loathing of Trump’s bull-in-a-China-shop approach to politics is undermining his usually unparalleled discernment of the glass that actually does need breaking.

In New Jersey a few years back, a Muslim immigrant was serially raping his Muslim immigrant wife, who was in the process of divorcing him. When the wife sought a protective order in court, the husband countered that, under Islamic law, there is no such thing as marital rape — the wife was required to submit sexually on demand. Reprehensibly, the state judge accepted this explanation and refused to grant the protective order. Thankfully, he was reversed on appeal.
Under sharia, the rapist’s argument was valid. As the Islamic-law manual Reliance of the Traveller explains (in section m5, “Conjugal Rights”): “It is obligatory for a woman to let her husband have sex with her immediately when (a) he asks her (b) [they are] at home, and (c) she can physically endure it.”

The judge’s ruling in favor of the rapist was despicable because the laws of the United States and of New Jersey would not abide so sordid a principle. In our society, it is our laws that govern.
It must be acknowledged, though, that when it comes to sharia principles that are anathema to our law, the licensing of marital rape is hardly singular. That practice stems from the sharia concept that women are chattel — a lower caste than Muslim men with starkly inferior legal rights. Sharia also systematically discriminates against non-Muslims, Muslim apostates, and homosexuals. It rejects free speech, economic liberty, privacy, and due process. It denies people the right to govern themselves as they see fit. It promotes jihad — holy war — to establish, protect, and expand sharia-governed territory.

There is no point in elaborating further on these counter-constitutional principles. I’ve done that several times, and it cannot be credibly disputed that classical sharia holds these tenets. Nor can it be credibly disputed that millions of Islamist Muslims adhere to them — just as millions of non-Islamist Muslims do not.

There are two points, though, that cry out to be made.

First, there has to be a way of separating Islamists from non-Islamists and barring the former from our country. The Constitution, as Justice Robert Jackson sagely observed, is not a suicide pact.

Second, whatever one might think of Islam, the sharia principles mentioned above — involving matters of sexual battery, law, finance, combat, and politics — are not religious tenets. They are principles of a totalitarian political ideology. Despite their Islamic veneer, these principles cannot be analyzed as if they were just religious. If Karl Marx had written that Allah told him the workers must control the means of production, that would not have converted Communism into a sacrosanct corpus of religious belief.

Aliens have no right to immigrate to the United States, and the Constitution empowers our government to exclude classes of aliens. There is no constitutional impediment to banning Islamists — i.e., sharia supremacists, proponents of an anti-Constitutional governing framework — from entering, let alone settling in, our country.

Although the Constitution would not prohibit a religious test, what I am proposing homes in on political ideology, not religion. The authentically spiritual aspects of Islam deserve the safeguards our system affords to religious belief and practice. No sensible person wants to exclude Muslims over these aspects of their faith. To the contrary, I am talking about adherents of a hostile political ideology that nurtures violent jihadism, our most immediate national-security threat.

Our immigration law has always required aliens to provide assurances of fidelity to our constitutional principles. And in the past we have barred the admission of political ideologues hostile to our Constitution. It is obviously possible for our government to do this again — this time, to vet aliens for adherence to Islamic supremacism.

For such an immigration policy to work, however, it is essential to reaffirm the legal principle that I am advocating and that Charles is pooh-poohing: Namely, that the burden of proof is on the alien to demonstrate that he is fit to enter our society, and not on the government to show that the alien is unfit or lying about his fitness.

Charles Krauthammer’s brilliance justifies the great influence he has on policymakers and the public debate. I concede that when he rejects an idea out of hand, that typically has a powerful impact on my own thinking. Thus, I am not in a very good position to complain about the certainty that thoughtful people will dismiss my argument simply because Charles has dismissed it.

Still, I respectfully submit that he is wrong.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Clinton's most brazen lie yet.

December 11, 2015

There is little doubt this presidential campaign season is unique, at least in one respect: for the first time in a long time, the despicable nature of the mainstream media's double-standard is as much in focus as the candidates themselves. And perhaps nothing screams double-standard more than the calculated lack of attention on Hillary Clinton’s latest assertion that she never told the families grieving over the loss of their loved ones in Benghazi that an anti-Muslim video was to blame for the attacks.
We begin with where that assertion was made. Clinton floated this latest insult to those families and the American public within the friendly confines of ABC News’ This Week, hosted by pseudo-journalist and former Clinton toady George Stephanopoulos. The would be the same George Stephanopoulos that still passes muster in the corporate suites at ABC, despite having made three separate donations of $25,000 apiece to the Clinton Foundation in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. Those donations remained under the radar, even when Stephanopoulos engaged in a contentious interview with “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer, during which he rose to the Clinton’s defense. After being outed, Stephanopoulos apologized for the oversight, insisting he thought his contributions were "a matter of public record.” “However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on air during the recent news stories about the Foundation,” Stephanopoulos confessed.
ABC couldn’t have cared less. "As George has said, he made charitable donations to the Foundation to support a cause he cares about deeply and believed his contributions were a matter of public record," the network's statement read. "He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the Foundation. He’s admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission. We stand behind him."
To his credit, Stephanopoulos did ask Clinton if she told the families the attack was about the video. She said no, just before “clarifying” what really happened. "You know, look I understand the continuing grief at the loss that parents experienced with the loss of these four brave Americans,” she said. "And I did testify, as you know, for 11 hours. And I answered all of these questions. Now, I can’t — I can’t help it the people think there has to be something else there. I said very clearly there had been a terrorist group, uh, that had taken responsibility on Facebook, um, between the time that, uh, I – you know, when I talked to my daughter, that was the latest information; we were, uh, giving it credibility. And then we learned the next day it wasn’t true. In fact, they retracted it. This was a fast-moving series of events in the fog of war and I think most Americans understand that.”
The implications here are astounding. Clinton expects the American public to believe that several family members of the victims all “misremembered” what Clinton said in virtually the same way. People like Navy SEAL Glen Doherty’s sister Kate Quigly. “She knows that she knew what happened that day and she wasn’t truthful,” Quigly said said on Boston Herald Radio’s Morning Meeting. “This is a woman that will do and say anything to get what she wants. I have very little respect for her. I know what she said to me and she can say all day long that she didn’t say it. That’s her cross to bear.”
Quigly’s assertion was corroborated by Tyrone Woods’ father Charles Woods. "I gave Hillary a hug and shook her hand. And she said we are going to have the film maker arrested who was responsible for the death of my son...'She said -- the filmmaker who was responsible for the death of your son'…" Sean Smith's mother, Patricia Smith, agreed. "She's absolutely lying. She told me something entirely different at the casket ceremony. She said it was because of the video.” Sean Smith's uncle Michael Ingmire, who had previously slammed Hillary as "a serial liar,” following her Benghazi testimony, remained resolute following her latest effort. "Mrs. Clinton really has a problem embracing the truth.”

So are all of them lying? Stephanopoulos never bother to follow up. Yet if they are, how does Clinton explain the State Department release made on the night of the attack, following a phone call Clinton made to President Obama? One the White House initially denied took place before the truth came out? After that call this is what was released. “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.” 
That assertion was hardly an anomaly. During a Sept 12, 2012 State Department briefing, Clinton also blamed the attack on an “inflammatory video,” and did it again on Sept 13, during a meeting with Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani. She and Obama also spent $70,000 on a public service video broadcast in Pakistan, condemning the “anti-Islam” film that precipitated the attack. On Sept. 14 Clinton appeared at Joint Base Andrews during the ceremonial return of Smith, Doherty, Woods and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. She spoke with Charles Woods privately before asserting the following for public consumption: “We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with,” she declared. 
Couple these assertions with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s equally odious TV tour aimed at keeping this despicable disinformation campaign in high gear, and the notion that the victims’ families got Clinton’s message wrong is an insult to any sentient American. Or, as the New York Post so aptly put it, Clinton’s efforts to promote this lie and comfort the grieving families with it "has to count as her lowest-down, dirtiest lie of all.”
Maybe, maybe not. As we also learned this week, assets that could have been sent to Benghazi were available while the attack was ongoing. An email sent by Jeremy Bash, the former Pentagon chief of staff, to Clinton’s then-deputy chief of staff Jacob Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides stated the following: 
"State colleagues: I just tried you on the phone but you were all in with S [apparent reference to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton]. After consulting with General Dempsey, General Ham and the Joint Staff, we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak. They include a [REDACTED]. Assuming Principals agree to deploy these elements, we will ask State to procure the approval from host nation. Please advise how you wish to convey that approval to us [REDACTED]. Jeremy.”
Can we believe Clinton was unaware of this email, one sent to four of her staffers during the attack? Doesn’t it behoove the same media that have plumbed the depths of every GOP presidential candidate, to be equally curious about a potential game-changing revelation, one that implies leaving Americans in harm’s way was a political calculation, not a military choice? If Clinton was in the loop, doesn’t the assertion, “what difference at this point does it make" she made at the 2013 Benghazi hearing assume truly monstrous proportions? And isn’t it about time Americans asked themselves how a woman who could run a personal contest for "lowest-down, dirtiest lie of all” remains a viable Democratic candidate for president of there United States?

Luther's explosive return: behind the scenes of series four

As Idris Elba brings his much-loved, damaged detective back to our living rooms, Sheryl Garratt meets him and witnesses an action-packed day on set

4 December 2015
It is 8am on a cold day at the end of March, and I’m in a quiet side street near the Barbican in London, waiting for an explosion. It’s a controlled blast set up for the new season of the BBC’s much-loved crime series Luther, starring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a policeman with a damaging gift for getting into the minds of serial killers.
A fire engine is parked ready for the shots of the bomb’s aftermath, uniformed fireman actors clustered around it. Real police are keeping the road blocked off, and actor police are grabbing breakfast from the catering van; a crowd has gathered on the walkways of the housing estate opposite.
Dermot Crowley, who plays Luther’s irascible boss Martin Schenk, will be getting out of his car when the action happens. One of the crew walks over to tell him what to expect, but Crowley stops him, saying he’d prefer to react in the moment. I go over to producer Marcus Wilson, worried that I’ll somehow miss the big bang. ‘You’ll know it’s close when they set fire to that,’ he says, pointing to a domestic item I’m not going to name here, because it will spoil the surprise. ‘We’re going to drop it on to the street, as if it was pushed out by the explosion.’
Eventually the item is lit and hoisted, there’s a spectacular flash and bang from the penthouse above us, and debris rains down – realistic-looking sugar glass and rubble made of balsa wood. But the item is still hanging over this scene of devastation, and burning so fiercely that it has melted the crane’s hydraulics. I only start to realise how serious this is when the fireman extras step back, to be replaced by the real crew, who put the blaze out with well-practised efficiency.
Luther’s genial director, Sam Miller, has meanwhile already checked with the special effects team that this key moment can be remedied later with computer imagery, and calmly moves on to the next scene. The street-sweepers are booked for 1pm, he explains, so they have to push on. Made on a BBC budget that is tiny compared to even a small Hollywood film or US TV series, Luther makes a virtue of this. From the beginning, they’ve been free to shoot in the way that felt right in the moment, Miller says, filming quickly and using hand-held cameras for a sense of immediacy: you’re in the room with the characters and seeing what they see.
‘When you’ve got a fantastic actor like Idris, you want to be with him the whole time,’ says Miller. ‘You can be much more ambitious, and more extreme because the audience trusts him, so they will come with you.’ Gritty and fast-paced and set in a London we can all recognise, Luther’s world is populated with warped serial killers, bent police officers and memorable characters such as Alice (played by Ruth Wilson), a murderer with a brilliant mind, who becomes a friend to Luther. To heighten the tension, ever since its debut in 2010, the show has never been afraid to kill off key characters.
‘No one is safe,’ Marcus Wilson says ominously. ‘Not even John Luther. And when the end does come for him, it will most probably be a grisly one.’ But there are also always consequences from this carnage, and the new season opens with John Luther on extended leave, depressed after the murder of his partner, Justin Ripley. This wasn’t a great stretch to act, Elba, 43, will later tell me, as his father died in 2013, just before the release of his game-changing biopicMandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
‘It was therapeutic, actually,’ he says of shooting scenes of Luther without his signature Paul Smith tweed coat, alone on the cliff at Beachy Head. ‘It was difficult after my old man passed, that really knocked me for six. John is in a bad place and uses his work to get out of it, and I was sort of similar. So I embraced it.’
Losing characters means that there is room for new ones, and Rose Leslie – best known as the magnificent Ygritte in Game of Thrones – joins this season as ambitious DS Emma Lane. A fan of the series since it first aired, Leslie jumped at the chance to work alongside Elba. ‘He’s so magnetic to watch, that you can’t help but be pulled into the show,’ she says.
Her character, she explains, is in awe of Luther, and aware of his reputation. ‘The legend of the man is so heightened in Emma’s mind that when she meets him, she greets a depressed, downtrodden soul, and that surprises her. But he takes her under his wing.’
Unusually, the day I’m on set, Luther himself appears only briefly: Elba simply walks down the street some time after the explosion, and delivers one short line, greeting Schenk. A familiar battered Volvo pulls up and Luther gets out, ducks under the police tape and strides down the street – ‘a big man with a big walk’ as creator of the show Neil Cross likes to describe him. (Elba will later tell me that Luther’s signature loping stride was not deliberate, but the combined result of his bowed legs, a long-standing Achilles tendon injury, and the wrong shoes.)
Still, Elba’s presence seems to act like a magnet. Suddenly, the walkways of the estate are crowded again, and the office on the other side is crammed with eager faces. The walk takes all of 10 seconds, but when it’s done they all burst into spontaneous applause, and Elba turns towards the estate and gives a gracious, smiling bow. As he goes back to do a second take, an older lady with a pit bull is straining to get by. One of the crew asks her if she minds waiting until the take is over. ‘No, no!’ she says anxiously, ‘I don’t want to get by – I just want to see him!’
Sam Miller laughs, and says it’s been like this every time they’ve filmed outside from the second series onwards, especially in east London, where Elba grew up. ‘He’s like the champion of Hackney,’ he says. ‘People greet him with real affection.
And Idris isn’t bothered by it when he’s working – he likes people.’ There have only been three seasons of Luther since the show made its debut, only 14 hours of TV altogether. This new one – returning two-and-a-half years after season three – won’t add to that total greatly, being just two taut, hour-long episodes. Nonetheless, DCI John Luther has become an icon: the show is hugely popular, shown in 180 territories across the globe.
Elba, who also has an associate producer credit on Luther, says it was audience loyalty that made the team come back to it. ‘[We] felt that we couldn’t just leave the show where it was. We had to give the audience more, and I love Neil’s writing and his mind.
There’s lots of stories left to tell.’ Elba, Cross and Miller talk so warmly of each other that it’s easy to feel a gooseberry in their bromance. Indeed, part of the drama’s appeal is that it showcases an actor, writer and director at the top of their respective games.
Cross has an uncanny knack of taking fears and amplifying them, and this new series ramps up the tension, exploiting popular concerns about the internet and privacy, and twisting them into a compellingly grisly new adversary for Luther. ‘I would love to say that I’m an assiduous researcher,’ says Cross, ‘but the sad truth is, I just spend most of my time being scared. I’m a neurotic and fearful person. It doesn’t matter where I am, a fairly large chunk of my consciousness is given over to imagining what’s the worst thing that could happen.’
A novelist who moved into scriptwriting via the BBC spy drama Spooks, Cross now lives in New Zealand. ‘After I left Spooks, the BBC offered me the chance to discuss ideas I might have for a new show,’ he tells me on the phone. ‘I didn’t so much pitch Luther as babble about a number of barely connected ideas. The BBC asked me to send in a proposal, from which they commissioned a script.
‘Crime stories often fall into one of two broad genres,’ he continues. ‘The classic mystery tradition of Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, wherein ingenious but emotionally disengaged eccentrics treat the solution to murder as an intellectual puzzle. And there’s the psychological thriller, where plot takes second place to the crooked timber of human psychology – the world of Hitchcock or Highsmith. Luther started as an attempt to connect these traditions. He has some of that Sherlock Holmes about him, some of that detached, analytical genius. But he’s also got the kind of emotional and moral ambiguity more commonly found in the psychological thriller.’
The shape of the show was informed by Cross’s love of the classic detective series Columbo, with its inverted structure where viewers knew who the killer was from the start, and the pleasure came from seeing how the detective would catch them. ‘We knew Columbo always got his killer.
What we didn’t know, and what we had to work out, was how he was going to do it,’ says Cross. ‘That’s what made the show so incomparably satisfying. That format hadn’t really been revisited since Columbo, so I thought it might be exciting to portray it as a kind of psychological duel between this driven, half-mad copper and the depraved criminals he hunts.’
And so Luther was conceived, but not really born until Elba took the role. He had moved to the US and risen to fame as Stringer Bell, The Wire’s Baltimore drug lieutenant with aspirations to a bigger, more legitimate empire. Afterwards, Elba says, the roles he was offered were generally more of the same: gangsters and drug lords. Luther stood out because it was beautifully written, his character was a policeman, and he understood what it meant to take a lead in a flagship BBC drama.
Most of all, it was a chance to return to the UK, and work in his native east London. ‘It was tough because, compared to America, it was uncomfortable. Suddenly I’m in a tiny caravan in Whitechapel freezing my bollocks off at six in the morning. But it was also great to be back.’
Elba’s parents came to London from Sierra Leone in the 1970s, and Idrissa – their only child, who shortened his name to Idris at school – was raised in Canning Town. He was always a performer, working as a DJ alongside his uncle from the age of 14, excelling at drama at school and afterwards touring in a National Youth Music Theatre production of Guys and Dolls. Small roles in a string of British TV shows followed, but towards the end of the ’90s he moved to New York, feeling there were more opportunities for black actors there. But success was a long time coming.
He worked as a doorman and a DJ to make ends meet, and the stress eventually ended his marriage. Elba had been sleeping on friends’ sofas and in his van when he landed the pilot for The Wire in 2001. London plays a key role in Luther (filming is constantly interrupted by sirens, helicopters, shouts, music and the noise of a big city). Sam Miller – who has directed 10 of the 16 episodes ­– says it’s a very specific view of the capital, and of east London particularly: gritty, grimy and tobacco-stained.
‘It’s about the way that places like Bethnal Green and Whitechapel butt up against the City, and the contrast between those in-some-parts scuzzy places, and these glittering towers of money. Melancholy is a really hard thing to get hold of, but when you get it, it’s disconcerting, it gets under your skin, especially when it’s mixed with horror and suspense.’
For Elba, it was a familiar landscape. Last season, he says, they filmed a scene in a tower block overlooking the Olympic site. ‘I’d ridden my bike around it a million times as a kid, probably been to a house party in it a couple of times, and there I was shooting Luther in it.
'That was a really good feeling.’ For well over a decade now, he’s lived a nomadic life. His ex-wife and daughter still live in the US, and he’s been based wherever he happens to be working. ‘I’m coming to the end of that journey,’ he says. ‘I’m going to set some roots.’
He now has a production company with an office in London, which gives him his base. They have some TV shows in development, and he’s hoping to direct his first film next year. His record label – 7wallace, named after the house he rented when he made the first series of Luther – is also based in the capital, and in December he’ll release an album based on his character in Luther, called Murder Loves John. On it, he collaborates with artists such as Tom Meighan from Kasabian alongside newcomers, including a busker he heard performing in Soho.
He has also just launched a clothing range in partnership with Superdry, and is continuing to work as a DJ. Two nights before we met to talk in London this November, he had opened for Madonna’s live show in Berlin, playing a DJ set to a crowd of 17,000. ‘Getting them going, that’s like energy, energy, energy,’ he enthuses.
‘It’s great! I love acting, but my face is going to fall off one day, so I’d like to have other things. It’s easier for men, as you get older, but the truth is I can’t act for ever.’ There will, eventually, be a US version of Luther, with Cross writing and Elba co-producing. It’s been delayed due to problems in casting: Elba’s boots are hard ones to fill, and both he and Cross have argued that it’s not something that should even be attempted.
‘My philosophy is let’s not fill boots,’ says Elba firmly. ‘The writing’s still good and this is the brawny, big guy Luther. Show me something else, perhaps.’ As for the British version, they would like to eventually make a Luther film; all of the key players are keen for it to continue in some form.
‘I can’t say now that we definitely will because so much of it depends, not on Idris’s willingness, because he loves the show, but on his availability,’ says Cross. ‘But if we can put the band back together again, I would do it without a nanosecond’s hesitation.’
Luther is on BBC One at 9pm on December 15 and 22 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

John Kerry should recognize Christian genocide

By Kirsten Powers
December 7, 2015
Syrian refugees pray in Beirut in February 2015 (Photo: Anwar Amro, AFP/Getty Images)

In October, Islamic State militants in Syria demanded that two Christian women and six men convert to Islam. When they refused, the women were publicly raped and then beheaded along with the men. On the same day, militants cut off the fingertips of a 12-year-old boy in an attempt to force his Christian father to convert. When his father refused, they were brutalized and then crucified.
This has become the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS. Beheadings, crucifixions andenslavement are visited on those who won't renounce their religious beliefs. The lucky ones are murdered in more mundane ways or driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
This year, we’ve seen a Newsweek cover exclaiming, “The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in the Middle East,” and a New York Times piece asking, “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” The progressive Center for American Progress noted in a March report, “Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are disappearing in the very lands where their faith was born and first took root.”
One of the authors of that report, Brian Katulis, has joined forces with a diverse group of Christian leaders to urge the State Department to recognize what everyone else seems to see: There is an ongoing genocide against Middle Eastern Christians at the hands of radical jihadists.
In a letter sent to the State Department on Friday, a wide range of leaders — including the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — requested a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry to make this case. (They've received no response.) The matter is urgent as the State Department is reportedly poised to designate ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidi people of Iraq as a genocide.
There is no question that the Yazidis — who practice an ancient religion that includeselements of Islam and Christianity — deserve the designation. But so do Christians, along with other minority religious groups in the Middle East. A 2014 United Nations resolution noted that while many members of religious and ethnic minorities are suffering at the hands of ISIL, Christians and Yazidis deserved special mention.
Indeed, ISIL warned Christians in a video, “You will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.” Its militants or their affiliates have murdered or claimed credit for killing Christians in SyriaNigeriaIraq and Libya.
Invoking the “g word” to recognize this fact is not just a matter of semantics. “Groups that have been designated as genocide victims are much more likely to receive military protection, including arming and training their militias for self-defense, which is always the best defense against genocide,” Gregory Stanton, the former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, told me. “Members of such groups are also much more likely to receive preferential treatment as bona fide refugees under the U.N. convention and protocols on the status of refugees.”
The State Department’s disinterest in including Christians in its potential genocide designation appears to rely on a recent Holocaust Memorial Museum report asserting that, unlike Yazidis, Christians are not suffering from genocidal attacks because ISIL gives them the “option of paying the jizya (tax) to avoid conversion or death” because they, like Jews, are “people of the book.”
Unfortunately, this does not reflect reality. The Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea — a renowned religious persecution expert — explained to me: “In most examples, there is no jizya option (for Christians) and, when there is, the ISIL tax is so ruinous that eventually a family’s property and even children are taken and all are forced to convert to Islam or killed.”
ISIL doesn’t want to co-exist with Middle Eastern Christians. It wants to eliminate them. Let’s stop pretending otherwise and call this what it is: a genocide.
Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA TODAY and is author of The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.
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