Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: In ‘Blade Runner 2049,’ Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness

By A.O. Scott
October 2, 2017

Image result for blade runner 2049 wallpaper

A lot of the movies released in the late 1970s and early ’80s have spawned franchises, merchandising empires and what we are now invited to call “cinematic universes.” “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s initially underrated1982 adaptation of a novel by Philip K. Dick, accomplished something more unusual. It sent tendrils of influence — pictorial, conceptual and spiritual — into every corner of the culture and inspired a mystery cult.

Like other sacred texts, the film invites doctrinal arguments and esoteric inquiries. One of my fondest memories as a father and a film critic is of an impromptu post-screening seminar with two 11-year-olds about occult meanings and hidden clues in the director’s cut. How do we know (if indeed we do know) that Harrison Ford is a replicant? What is the significance of the origami horse? Are Sean Young’s shoulder pads for real?

Alongside these basic interpretive questions, an academic subfield has blossomed, isolating “Blade Runner” as one of the original symptoms ofpostmodernism, a terminal and interminable disease of the mind. The film’s blend of curatorial nostalgia and dystopian prophecy captured a mood of self-conscious melancholy in its moment and set a tone of melancholy self-consciousness that has endured ever since. Maybe the real world never quite achieved the smoky neon-noir glow of Mr. Scott’s Los Angeles, but the map of our collective dream world was permanently redrawn.

The precise future “Blade Runner” projected is now less than two years away, and the next chapter, once something to be dreaded, seems, if anything, overdue. “Blade Runner 2049,” directed by Denis Villeneuve from a script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, tries both to honor the original and to slip free of its considerable shadow. That’s no easy feat, and it’s worth noting right away that, in narrow movie terms, Mr. Villeneuve, who also directed “Arrival,” mostly succeeds. From the opening aerial shots of a thoroughly denatured agricultural landscape and the lethal confrontation that follows, we know we are in the presence of a masterly visual tactician and a shrewd storyteller.

We are also in territory that is both familiar and disorienting. A brief note explains what has and hasn’t changed in the 30 years since the events in the first “Blade Runner.” Three-wheeled spinners still zoom through the California skies, and the building-size video advertisements have evolved into seductive, R-rated holograms. The titular profession — hunting down and “retiring” renegade members of the almost-human, genetically engineered android species known as replicants — is practiced with the same brutal doggedness as in the old days.

A new, more obedient type of replicant has been developed by a corporation led by a tech visionary played by Jared Leto. (His lieutenant Luv is played by Sylvia Hoeks, a far more vivid and persuasively terrifying presence than the mannered Mr. Leto.) One of these models is our hero, an L.A.P.D. employee known as K. (It’s an abbreviation of his serial number and also, maybe, an allusion to Franz Kafka’s avatar of modern alienation. That poor fellow’s full name was Josef K; when this K acquires a human pseudonym, it’s Joe.)

Speaking of avatars of alienation, K moves through his days with the unhurried shuffle and downcast baby blues of Ryan Gosling. This is impeccable casting. Mr. Gosling’s ability to elicit sympathy while seeming too distracted to want it — his knack for making boredom look like passion and vice versa — makes him a perfect warm-blooded robot for our time. He is also, in 2017, something close to what Harrison Ford was 35 years ago: the contemporary embodiment of Hollywood’s venerable ideal of masculine cool, a guy whose toughness will turn out to be the protective shell encasing a tender soul.

At first, of course, we must take that sensitivity on faith. K does his grim job thoroughly and without complaint, showing the weary, cynical patience of an old-time shamus. His commander (Robin Wright) is a human who believes that everything depends on policing the border between her kind and K’s. The whole point of “Blade Runner,” though, is that such boundaries are always blurred and porous. K comes home each night from work to the company of Joi (Ana de Armas), his devoted girlfriend, who happens to be a commercially produced artificial intelligence application.

We are prepared to acknowledge the pathos and the paradox of her condition, which is a version of K’s own. The idea that synthetic humans harbor feelings, desires and dreams — that they are mirrors of us, that we are replicas of them — has long been a staple of speculative cinema. “Blade Runner 2049” does not wander as deep into this ontological thicket as, say, Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” or Spike Jonze’s “Her,” but like those movies it uses the conceit of the suffering cyborg as ethical and emotional ballast, a spur to the audience’s curiosity as well as our compassion. A political theme also asserts itself: These replicants are an enslaved labor force; their exploitation is the fuel on which this civilization runs.

There is a something to think about here, a fair amount to feel and even more to see. Mr. Villeneuve has conspired with the cinematographer, Roger A. Deakins; the production designer, Dennis Gassner; and the special effects team to create zones of strangeness that occasionally rise to the level of sublimity. The movies Mr. Villeneuve has directed — his recent English-language features include “Sicario,” “Prisoners” and “Arrival” — are full of violence and psychological intensity, but what distinguishes them from other high-end genre spectacles is an unnerving calm, as if he were exploring and trying to synthesize the human and mechanical sides of his own sensibility.

Movies are by their nature hybrids of technology and sentiment, machines for the delivery of human emotion. The first “Blade Runner” approached this as a philosophical problem and an artistic challenge. Mr. Scott used imagery borrowed from old Hollywood, German Expressionism and the nascent art of music video to create a dazzlingly artificial environment where authenticity was out of the question. Except, of course, that it wasthe question: How do we know what is real, ourselves included?

“I know what’s real,” says the hero of that movie when — at long last! — he shows up in this one. K finds Deckard, the original Blade Runner (Mr. Ford, as if I needed to tell you), in an abandoned Las Vegas casino, surrounded by shimmering bottles of whiskey and primitive 3-D projections of Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Mr. Gosling, suddenly overmatched in the masculine cool department, acquits himself well enough, and Mr. Ford does exactly what you expect him to do.

Which is not something I’m going to explain, at least as far as it relates to the story. The studio has been unusually insistent in its pleas to critics not to reveal plot points. That’s fair enough, but it’s also evidence of how imaginatively impoverished big-budget movies have become. Like any great movie, Mr. Scott’s “Blade Runner” cannot be spoiled. It repays repeated viewing because its mysteries are too deep to be solved and don’t depend on the sequence of events. Mr. Villeneuve’s film, by contrast, is a carefully engineered narrative puzzle, and its power dissipates as the pieces snap into place. As sumptuous and surprising as it is from one scene to the next, it lacks the creative excess, the intriguing opacity and the haunting residue of its predecessor.

As such, “Blade Runner 2049” stands in relation to “Blade Runner” almost exactly as K stands in relation to Deckard before the two meet: as a more docile, less rebellious “improvement,” tweaked and retrofitted to meet consumer demand. And the customers are likely to be satisfied. But now and then — when K and Deckard are knocking around the old gambling palace; when K visits an enigmatic mind-technician played by Carla Juri — you get an inkling that something else might have been possible. Something freer, more romantic, more heroic, less determined by the corporate program.

Then again: Who knows at this point if that sense of loss, of lost possibility, is even real? It might be nothing more than an artificially implanted memory.

[Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling Discuss “Blade Runner 2049”]

[The “Blade Runner 2049” Look]

“Blade Runner 2049”: The Mysteries Deepen

By Anthony Lane
October 16th Issue

Image result for blade runner 2049

The good news about life on Earth, thirty-two years from now, is that people still listen to Frank Sinatra. In “Blade Runner 2049,” the land is the color of a corpse, and the skies are no better. The only tree is sapless and dead, and the only farmer is harvesting weevils for protein. The Voice, however, is unimpaired. True, Sinatra is no more than a hologram, crooning to a couple of folks in the shell of a Las Vegas hot spot, and yet, when he sings the words “Set ’em up, Joe,” you soften and melt as if it were 1954 and he were singing them to Doris Day, hushing a crowded room, in “Young at Heart.”

By a nice twist, there is a Joe around. He’s with the L.A.P.D., and he’s officially called KD6.3-7 (Ryan Gosling), or K, for short, but somebody suggests Joe, and it lends him a little flavor. He needs a real name, not least because it makes him sound like a real person—shades of Pinocchio, who longed to be a real boy. In fact, K is a Blade Runner: a synthetic human known as a replicant, physically redoubtable and emotionally dry, whose job is to find and to “retire” (a ghoulish euphemism) any early-model replicants who are still out there. They have “open-ended lifespans,” and immortality, as ever, is not to be trusted. Such is the premise of Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which came out in 1982 and was set, with startling powers of premonition, in 2019. It starred Harrison Ford as Deckard, a cop who hunted down rogue replicants across Los Angeles—a joyless Babel, blitzed by neon glare and lashed by the whip of dirty rain. That was the future back then. How’s it looking now?

Well, the rain hasn’t stopped. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink; most of it is contaminated, and when K takes a shower it’s over in a two-second blast. The director of photography, Roger Deakins, delights in drowning our senses: enemies clash by night in a frothing torrent, at the foot of a dam, and, in one telling image, K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), is barely visible through a window, such is the deluge streaming across the panes. “It is my job to keep order,” she says, and that order is coming adrift. K has been sent out of town to confront a hulking replicant named Sapper Morton. (He is played by Dave Bautista, who gets better and more solid, if that is possible, with every film.) What K discovers, buried on Morton’s property, is a box of bones, and what the bones reveal is unthinkable: a secret that could undermine the near-fascistic system, upheld by Joshi, whereby replicants do the bidding of humanity. If replicants were to rise up or—perish the thought—to reproduce, there might be no way to contain them.

Not that the film is a hymn to revolution. It runs for nearly three hours, and it looms as large as an epic, with a score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, that feels at times like an onslaught of monumental thuds. Yet the bastions of power—the corporate ziggurats of L.A., cliff-high and elephant gray, which viewers of the first film will recall with awe—remain in place, unbreached, and the hordes at ground level seethe not with a lust for liberation but with a busy trade in high-tech assistance and lowly sexual favors. Moreover, the plot is a small and coiled affair, involving a missing child, and the mood is as inward as anything in the annals of Philip Marlowe, with a dose of Marlowe’s glum self-bullying, as K investigates not only historical crimes but his own potential presence in the labyrinth of the past. The movie doesn’t seem slow, but its clues are minuscule—a single piano key depressed beside its neighbors, a serial number visible only under a microscope—and the action sequences flare up against a backdrop of inaction and an existential dread of getting stuck. The result is at once consuming and confounding, a private puzzle cached inside a blockbuster.

One coup, for Villeneuve, is the return of Harrison Ford, as Deckard. The surprise was sprung in a trailer, months ago, raising expectations that the new movie might clear up the conundrum that has plagued the brains of “Blade Runner” fans since 1982: Is Deckard himself a replicant? I am pleased to report that I still can’t decide. Undying he may or may not be, but he is certainly aging, with a halting gait and a bottle of Johnnie Walker close at hand. He lives alone with—guess what—a shaggy dog, pouring whiskey onto the floor for the mutt to lap at. Ford is splendidly grizzled and gruff, giving the film a necessary rasp, and he even shakes up Ryan Gosling. I happen to like Gosling in hangdog mode, when he yields to the pressure of sentiment, as in “Blue Valentine” (2010), but many of his worshippers prefer the cool constraint that he showed in “Drive” (2011), and that is mostly what we get here. K is an android, after all, who can walk away from a bloody fight without a squeak of complaint, and one purpose of the film is to probe that calm façade. Hence the two scenes in which, after a mission, he is interrogated not by a superior but by a computer that stares at him, with an unblinking lens, and performs a “Post-Trauma Baseline Test.” K must respond to certain words and phrases: “Cells,” “Interlinked,” “A Tall White Fountain Played.” The first time he takes the test, he passes. Later in the film, he fails.

What the hell is going on here, and what does it tell us about the relation of “Blade Runner 2049” to the original? Decode the test, and you realize that the computer is quoting verse:
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.
The lines come from Nabokov’s “Pale Fire,” a novel that wraps a poem inside a commentary. The mixture is rich in murder and madness, and you can go crazy, too, piecing together the components of the book; what matters is that each gorges on the other, and so it is with the two parts of “Blade Runner.” The second film doesn’t explicate the first so much as compound its mystery, and, in some respects, I envy those who don’t have to wrestle with the comparison. Younger viewers who’ve never seen Scott’s movie will be granted a delicious jolt as the fully formed dystopia rises out of nowhere to greet their virginal gaze. They can relish the spectacle of K’s police car in flight, while we veterans get a kick out of the newfangled drone that detaches from its roof and, at K’s casual command, goes sniffing around like a gundog. And, if the newbies thrill to Sylvia Hoeks as a Terminator-style replicant, assigned to track the hero in his quest, try not to ruin their fun by mentioning Rutger Hauer, who, shouldering a similar role in 1982, brought us the poetry of implacability. The new film’s idea of an arch-villain is Jared Leto, who has milky orbs for eyes, and who gives the impression, as in last year’s “Suicide Squad,” of an actor straining a little too hard, with dialogue to match: “You do not know what pain is. You will learn.”

Despite all the overlaps, this is not a simulacrum of a Ridley Scott film. It is unmistakably a Denis Villeneuve film, inviting us to tumble, tense with anticipation, into his doomy clutches. “Prisoners” (2013) was as welcoming as a dungeon, and, in “Blade Runner 2049,” the light is no longer, as Nabokov had it, “dreadfully distinct / Against the dark,” for the darkness has overcome it. San Diego is a waste dump, and Las Vegas lurks in a tangerine dream of radioactive smog. And yet, within the gloom, what miracles unfold. Brace yourself for the delivery of a new replicant, not born as a baby but slithering out from a plastic sheath as an instant adult, slimy with fabricated vernix and quaking at the shock of being alive. Suddenly, the lofty questions that swarm around artificial intelligence—Could the feelings familiar to mankind abound within the man-made? Could an operating system grow a soul?—reach a breathtaking consummation, and become flesh.

More wondrous still is Ana de Armas, who plays Joi, a digital program that in turn plays K’s live-in girlfriend. It is no coincidence that Villeneuve’s best films, “Sicario” (2015) and “Arrival” (2016), feature a woman at their center, and, whenever Joi appears, the movie’s imaginative heart begins to race. Upon request, she manifests herself in K’s apartment, switching outfits in a shimmer—a vision that smacks of servility, except that it’s he who seems beholden to her. Gosling looks happiest in these scenes, perhaps because happiness, albeit of the simulated sort, hovers within K’s grasp. And what a simulation: at one point, Joi uses an Emanator, which allows her to escape her virtual self and to experience mortal sensations—the prick of rain on her skin, naturally, and a tangible embrace. Has science fiction, you want to ask, ever conjured a moment quite as romantic as this? And how can it possibly last? It can’t; K gets a voice mail that overrides Joi and freezes her, inches short of a kiss. Love is deleted, and the Blade Runner gets back to work. The future, unlike Heaven, can’t wait. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the October 16, 2017, issue, with the headline “Replicant Redux.”Anthony Lane has been a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993. Before coming to the magazine, he worked at the Independent, in London, where he was appointed deputy literary editor in 1989 and, a year later, a film critic for the Independent on Sunday. In 2001, his reviews received the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. His writings for The New Yorker are collected in the book “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

No Documents in Obama Library? No Mystery There.

By Jack Cashill
October 13, 2017

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A rendering of the Obama Presidential Center.
Courtesy of the Obama Foundation

The Fox News headline sums up the issue at hand: "No Obama documents in Obama library? Historians puzzled by Chicago center plans." 

The article continues, "The Obama Foundation is taking an unconventional approach to the presidential center and library being planned in Chicago. It's opting to host a digital archive of President Barack Obama's records, but not keep his hard-copy manuscripts and letters and other documents onsite." 

The Chicago Tribune broke the story that, to this point, has attracted no major media attention.  Its headline raises much the same question Fox News did: "Without archives on site, how will Obama Center benefit area students, scholars?"

The Tribune tries to answer that question but succeeds only in pacifying Obama fanboys.  There is no good answer, but there is an answer, and it is this: Obama is not a literary genius.  In fact, Obama is not a particularly good writer.  His reputation would wither if researchers were allowed access to original documents.

To this day, Obama supporters in the media refuse to accept what is obvious to anyone who has looked carefully at his literary track record.  (Sorry, but I have vowed never to use the word "oeuvre" except as a punch line).

Earlier in 2017, when the question of Obama's gazillion-dollar presidential memoirs first surfaced, the publishing community showed just how much its studied ignorance affected its judgment.

"Mr. Obama's writing ability could make his memoir not only profitable in its first years but perhaps for decades to come," Gardiner Harris observed matter-of-factly in a September 2016 piece in the New York Times.  Harris speculated, in fact, that Obama's newest effort would be a book for the ages, not unlike the memoir of Ulysses S. Grant, which continues to sell.

The most vulnerable documents in the Obama treasure chest are the early drafts of his 1995 autobiography, Dreams from My Father, a book that Joe Klein, then with Timedeemed "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."

On the strength of Dreams, British author Jonathan Raban designated Obama "the best writer to occupy the White House since Lincoln." 

This is all nonsense.  As I first documented at length in the American Thinker, Obama had massive help with Dreams, a book he publicly claimed to have written by his lonesome.  The evidence overwhelmingly points to Bill Ayers as the neighborhood muse.

I could write a book about this.  Come to think of it, I did.  It's called Deconstructing Obama, published by Simon & Schuster, the company that terminated Obama's first contract on the book that would become Dreams.

In his massive recent biography about Obama's pre-presidential years, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow chose to cut this literary baby in half.

Yes, Obama had help with his 1995 masterpiece, Dreams from My Father, a lot of help, but it did not come from Ayers.  The help, Garrow argues unconvincingly, came from a law school buddy and economist named Rob Fisher.

Oddly, although denying Ayers's involvement in the book, Garrow reveals just how strong was the relationship between Ayers and Obama and how deep was the lie that protected it.

Dreams, of course, is just one reason the original documents cannot be shared.  Obama did not write his book Audacity of Hope in any meaningful sense of the word, either.  Ayers, in fact, dismissed Audacity as a "political hack book," and he was right.  The book seems to have been written by committee.

Then there are the speeches.  Raban was admittedly "disconcerted" to learn that Obama worked with twenty-something speechwriter Jon Favreau on his 2009 inaugural address.  The Obama of Raban's imagination did not need speechwriters, but, in fact, Obama had been relying on Favreau since the convention of 2004.

Obama has been relying on others all of his life.  To protect the lie that has sustained his literary reputation, he is willing to subvert the very function of a presidential library.

Indeed, the gleaming white Obama Presidential Center promises to be a $500-million shrine to the ethereal emptiness of the Obama experience.  It is a fitting tribute.

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What Happens in Vegas Doesn't Stay in Reno

By Mark Steyn
October 12, 2017

Image result for stephen paddock
Stephen Paddock

As readers know, I have a low regard for conspiracy theories, mainly because the reasons the world is going to hell are pretty much staring us in the face. But I can't honestly blame anyone following the Las Vegas massacre story from taking refuge in any conspiracy theory, no matter how wild and zany. Almost a fortnight from the moment when 58 people were gunned down at a country-music festival, officialdom has so bungled the case that almost every single one of the most basic facts about the act are up for grabs.

As I had cause to remark over a week ago, I dislike the contamination of police press conferences by various politicians and bureaucrats all indulging in an orgy of mutual self-congratulation. But, in this case, the self-congratulation is entirely unwarranted. From the beginning this seemed an unusual crime that didn't seem to line up with any other mass shooting by a nutter who flips. It has only gotten weirder in the days since.

Earlier this week whichever branch of the Keystone Kops is running this show (apparently the Feds) completely reversed their timeline of the case. Previously we were told that Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos had gone up to the 32nd floor to investigate an "open-door" alert and was a hero because his intervention had distracted the perp from killing even more people - and fortunately, even as Mr Campos was taking a bullet in his leg, the cops were already pounding up the stairs.

We're now told that that timeline was, in fact, back to front. Instead, Jesus Campos was investigating the door alert before the massacre even began. At 9.59pm, Paddock responded to Mr Campos' arrival by emptying 200 rounds into the 32nd floor corridor. Which seems a tad excessive. Paddock then apparently took a leisurely six-minute break before going over to the window and beginning his massacre. Which seems a tad excessively relaxed. What was he doing? Having a nice cup of tea? Calling down to room service? Your guess is as good as the coppers'.

But, at any rate, it seems someone else was on the scene - maintenance man Stephen Schuck, who was also forced to take cover from those 200 rounds:

As Mr Schuck says above, when the shooting began, he used his radio to call in what was happening - including the precise location of the room from which the shots were coming. That was six minutes before Paddock began firing on the crowd. So in theory the police could have gotten there in time to prevent, if not all, then many or most of the deaths at the concert.

But they didn't. Instead, Paddock fired on the crowd for ten minutes and then, despite having apparently prepared for a siege, decided to call a halt and shoot himself.
The Mandalay Bay resort is now disputing the police's revised timeline. They say that officers were already in the building when Campos radioed in that he was shot and, within 40 seconds, both police and hotel security were on the 32nd floor.
So that's three timelines. We're now told:
Police say the current timeline will be revised again by Friday.
I'll bet. While we're waiting, I'll confess that I dislike the current preferred jargonizing whereby the Sheriff announces that they're "working" various crime scenes. I don't know quite what's involved in "working" a crime scene but one would assume it includes at minimum securing the crime scene. Yet apparently not. Last weekend, Paddock's home in Reno was burgled. Just consider that for a moment: On Sunday night someone pulls off the worst single-shooter massacre in American history - and yet it's insufficient of a priority to the multiple federal, state and local agencies investigating it to prevent the supposed perpetrator's property being broken into under their noses.

That seems odd, don't you think? Sometimes, in unusual cases, sleepy small-town two-man police departments find themselves a wee bit overwhelmed, and sloppy things happen. But how can it happen with these resources in the most prominent investigation in the country?

It is unclear to the Keystone Kops what was taken from the Reno home. Of course. Since Day One, this entire case has been about what's missing, and what's missing seems to be getting larger. There appear to be four photographs of Stephen Paddock - three from many years ago, and a fourth that shows him with closed eyes. That's quite unusual in the age of Facebook and selfies. But it seems even more absurd for a guy who spent much of his time in a town where humanity is under closer scrutiny than almost anywhere on the planet. Long before computers and the Internet, Vegas casinos had cameras everywhere filming their patrons for the benefit of unseen eyes in the back office concerned to know what their customers are up to at every moment and from every angle. Yet there's only one solitary image that approximates to how Stephen Paddock looked on the night of October 1st?

Where's the footage of him bringing those bags into the hotel? When, come to that, did he check in to the Mandalay Bay? By now, this ever shifting, reversible "timeline" should at least have a verifiable starting date, shouldn't it? As "empty" as Paddock was a week and a half ago, he's getting emptier, and blanker: We're asked to believe that he made "millions" playing video poker - which is as likely, as Ann Coulter put it in an excellent column, as making millions by smoking crack. If, in the all but statistically impossible event he did manage to relieve the casinos' machines of millions of dollars, he would certainly not be additionally enriched by free hotel suites and complimentary $500-a-glass vintage port, as his brother claims. On the other hand, Steve Wynn, whose hotels Paddock stayed in over many years, says that the only unusual thing about the guy and his "girlfriend" was that neither was ever seen to take a drink.

Sheriff Lombardo referred last Wednesday to what he called cryptically Paddock's "secret life". But Las Vegas has a "secret life", too. The new Disneyfied "family-friendly" Vegas is a veneer, underneath which prostitution, money laundering, organized crime, etc, chug along much as before. Paddock supposedly availed himself of prostitutes; did he also use Vegas for laundering cash? That's a better reason for the time he spent there than that he was "winning" millions at video poker.

But it doesn't get us any closer to what happened on Sunday October 1st. I said over a week ago that Paddock seemed more like a professional assassin than the usual mass-murdering nutjob. On the other hand, a think-tanker in London wrote to me to argue that the sheer superfluousness of all that firepower suggested that the weaponry itself was the message. As one of the officers said a few days ago, the hotel room "looked like almost a gun store".
Maybe it was - and maybe something went wrong on a deal. And maybe this and maybe that. And maybe it will all become clear at tomorrow's revised timeline. Offered the now wearily familiar line that the police remain completely baffled as to motive, Tucker Carlson responded: forget motive; right now he'd settle for the basic facts. What are the odds we'll get them at the Friday presser? Better than video poker?

~Tomorrow, Friday, Mark will be launching a brand new nightly audio adventure for Mark Steyn Club members in Tales for Our Time. We hope you'll tune in! If you're not a member of the Steyn Club, you can sign up for a full year, or, lest you suspect a dubious scam by a fly-by-night Canuck scamster, merely a quarter. Aside from our monthly radio serials, we have a quarterly newsletter, The Clubbable Steyn; some rip-roaring video poetry; and our Clubland Q&As. Among the other benefits of membership are our Comment Club privileges, so if you have any theories on what these competing timelines mean do please log-in and let us know.

For more on The Mark Steyn Club, please see here - and don't forget our new gift membership for a friend or loved one.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


By Ann Coulter
October 11, 2017

Image result for stephen paddock

Now the media are just taunting us with their tall tales about Stephen Paddock, the alleged Las Vegas shooter. Reputedly serious news organizations are claiming that he made a living playing video poker. That's like claiming someone made a living smoking crack. 

The media are either doing PR for the gambling industry or they don't want anyone considering the possibility that Paddock was using gambling to launder money. 

NBC News reports, with a straight face: "Las Vegas gunman earned millions as a gambler." A Los Angeles Times article is headlined, "In the solitary world of video poker, Stephen Paddock knew how to win." The story says that Paddock's gambling "was at least a steady income over a period of years." 

I don't know all the ins and outs of Paddock's life, but that's a lie. 

How do reporters imagine casino owners make a living? Any ideas on how all those glorious lobbies, lights, pools and fountains are paid for? How do they think Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn became billionaires if gambling is a winning proposition for people like Paddock -- and therefore, by definition, a losing proposition for the casinos? 

The media think about money the way Democrats do. They have absolutely no conception of where it originates. Those casino owners sure are generous! reporters think to themselves. Economist Thomas Sowell is always ridiculing journalists for not understanding basic economics. It turns out, they don't understand the spreadsheet of a lemonade stand. 

The New York Times explained that the "top" video poker machines pay out 99.17 percent. That's great that Paddock was only losing cents on the dollar (if true), but it's still losing. The Times quickly explained that he could have more than made up his losses with all the "comps" -- the free rooms, meals and "50-year-old port that costs $500 a glass," as his brother Eric said.

Gamblers who are beating the house are not given $500 glasses of port. Refer to the profit/loss spreadsheet. And yet, according to his brother, Paddock was treated like royalty by the casinos. Which means he was losing. 

Apart from outright theft, the only way to have an advantage over the casino is by card-counting. That's not cheating and it doesn't guarantee a win. It merely allows the gambler to make a more educated guess as each card is played, thereby tilting the odds ever so slightly in his favor. Still, if the casinos suspect a customer is counting cards, he will be promptly escorted off the premises. 

And counting cards only helps with blackjack. Paddock's game of choice was VIDEO POKER. That's a computer! It's programmed to ensure the house wins. Not all the time, but at least often enough to make casino owners multibillionaires. Anyone who plays video poker over an extended period of time will absolutely, 100 percent, by basic logic, end up a net loser. 

So why are the media insistent that Paddock was getting rich by playing video poker? 

I don't know what happened -- and, apparently, neither do the cops -- but it's kind of odd that we keep being told things that aren't true about the Las Vegas massacre, from the basic timeline to this weird insistence that Paddock made a good living at gambling. 

The most likely explanation is that the reporters and investigators are incompetent nitwits. But the changing facts from law enforcement and preposterous lies from the press aren't doing a lot to tamp down alternative theories of the crime. 

Among the questions not being asked by our wildly incurious media: 

Why would Paddock unload 200 rounds into the hallway at a security guard who was checking on someone else's room before beginning his massacre? 

How can it possibly take eight days to figure out when the alleged shooter checked into the hotel? 

Why was Paddock wearing gloves if he was about to commit suicide? 

Have any other solitary mass shooters ever had girlfriends? 

If Paddock wasn't making money on video poker -- and he wasn't -- why would he be cycling millions of dollars through a casino, turning every dollar into, at best, 99 cents? 

Maybe Paddock enjoyed video poker. But if the allegedly serious media are going to keep telling us he was making a living doing it, they're just begging us to say that losing a percent or two on millions of dollars doesn't make sense as an investment strategy, but it does make sense as a money laundering operation. 

And the probable illicit business requiring money to be laundered that leaps out at us in Paddock's case is illegal gun sales. If true, it would not only explain the arsenal in his hotel room, but also raises the possibility of either an accomplice or different perpetrator altogether. 

If this were a movie script, a terrorist would go to Paddock's room on the pretense of buying guns, kill Paddock, commit the massacre, put his gunshot residue-covered gloves on Paddock's dead hands and slip out of the room when the coast was clear. 

According to the all-new timeline given by the Las Vegas police -- pending a third revision -- this is at least possible. The hallway was empty, except for a bleeding security guard down by the elevators, for at least two minutes after the shooting stopped. The stairwell was clear for more than half an hour. It also explains the gloves. 

There's no evidence for any of this, but on the other hand, there's no evidence for the version the media are giving us. At least the movie script version doesn't require us to pretend that Paddock was making "millions" from video poker. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Terrorist Bill Ayres Eulogizes Terrorist Che Guevara on the 50th Anniversary of Che’s Death

Humberto Fontova
October 11, 2017

Image result for che guevara grave
Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum

"To us, Che was a symbol of boldness, intelligence, internationalism, self-sacrifice, solidarity and, as he said, “at the risk of appearing ridiculous,” love. Che rejected personal gain and privilege for the leaders in a struggle for a fair and just society; he lived as he asked others to live.”(Former Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayres, writing in The Nation. Oct 8th.)

In fact, “Che Guevara’s house was among the most luxurious in Cuba,”wrote Cuban journalist Antonio Llano Montes about the mansion Che Guevara “nationalized” (stole at Soviet gunpoint from rightful owner and moved into) in January 1959.

After a hard day at the office signing firing-squad warrants and blasting teenagers’ skulls apart with the coup-de-grace from his .45, Che Guevara retired to his new domicile just outside Havana on the pristine beachfront. Until a few weeks prior, it had belonged to Cuba’s most successful building contractor. Today, the area is reserved exclusively for tourists and Communist party members. Here’s the rest of the description of Che’s Havana mansion: 

''The mansion had a boat dock, a huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon and several television sets. One TV had been specially designed in the U.S. and had a screen ten feet wide and was operated by remote control (remember, this was 1959.) This was thought to be the only TV of its kind in Latin America. The mansion's garden had a veritable jungle of imported plants, a pool with waterfall, ponds filled with exotic tropical fish and several bird houses filled with parrots and other exotic birds. The habitation was something out of A Thousand and One Nights."

It was in this mansion early in 1959 that Soviet GRU agent Angel Ciutat tutored his eager pupil Che on the finer points of Stalinizing Cuba. Among the many excellent reasons for the reluctance of Castroites to loosen (even slightly) their Stalinist grip on power lies El Compromiso Sangriento. (The Blood Covenant.)

You see, amigos: most who have climbed to positions of authority in Castro's regime did so as accomplices in mass-murder. In brief, all Castroite military and police officer candidates took their places as firing squad murderers, as explained by Soviet GRU officer Ciutat to the (probably) panting, salivating Che.

A brief aside: historically and almost universally, some members of a firing squad shot blanks, to assuage their conscience. But such assuaging would contradict the Castroite firing squads' most vital purpose.

The point of the Blood Covenant was to bond the murderers, especially those in line for future regime leadership, with the murderous regime. The more shooters the more murderers. The more murderers thus manufactured the more people highly-motivated to resist any overthrow (or even modification) of their system. Karma, as they say--especially in the form Nuremberg justice-- can be a real b*tch. Castroites wanted no part of it.

And after 16,000 firing-squad murders (according to the Black Book of Communism, not exactly a Cuban-exile tabloid) Cuba's officer corps was plenty "bonded" to the regime.

Think about that for a second: a murderous policy handed down by a Soviet butcher and eagerly implemented by an Argentine psychopath of murdering Cuban patriots, instantly became government policy in newly "nationalist" Cuba. Got it?

Supporters visit the statue of Ernesto Che Guevara in La Higuera where he was executed, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, October 8, 2017.
Supporters visit the statue of Ernesto Che Guevara in La Higuera where he was executed, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, October 8, 2017. (Reuters)

From his prison-cell window, a former Cuban freedom-fighter and political prisoner named Tito Rodriguez-Oltmans, watched this blood covenant in action. "Every evening the military cadets and regime officials would be bused in and armed with Belgian .308 caliber FALs as they lined up for the firing squad," recalls Mr. Oltmans, a prisoner in La Cabana prison in the early 1960s. “As darkness fell the condemned patriot -- shirtless and gagged -- would be dragged to the execution wall and bound. The cadets and officials would line up only four meters in front of the patriot and all had loaded weapons." ...FUEGO!

Mr Rodriguez Oltmans somehow avoided death by a Castroite firing-squad but witnessed, at extremely close quarters, such a murder of one of his cellmates, a legless 21 year old boy named Tony Chao. A few months earlier Tony had been shot several times in the legs during a firefight with Castro’s Soviet-led troops. Only his injuries allowed the Castroites to capture Tony alive, only to amputate his shattered legs before murdering him.

Shortly before his murder Tony received a letter from his mother. “My dear son,” she counseled, as recalled by Mr Oltmans, “how often I’d warned you not to get involved in these things. But I knew my pleas were vain. You always demanded your freedom, Tony, even as a little boy. So I knew you’d never stand for communism. Well, Castro and Che finally caught you. Son, I love you with all my heart. My life is now shattered and will never be the same, but the only thing left now, Tony . . . is to die like a man.”

“FUEGO!” Mr Rodriguez-Oltmans then watched from his cell window as Che Guevara’s lackey yelled the command and the firing squad’s bullets shattered Tony’s crippled body, just as he’d reached the stake on crutches , lifted himself and stared resolutely at his murderers. But Che’s firing squads usually murdered a hero who was standing. The legless Tony presented an awkward target. So some of the volley went wild and missed the youngster. Time for the coup de grâce.

Normally it’s one .45 slug that shatters the skull. Mr Rodriguez-Oltmans recalled that Tony required . . . POW!-POW! . . . POW! — three. Seems the executioner’s hands were shaking pretty badly. But they finally managed. Castro and Che Guevara had another notch in their guns. Another enemy dispatched — bound and gagged as usual.

Compare Tony’s death to the arch-swine, arch-weasel and arch-coward Che Guevara’s capture. “Don’t shoot!” whimpered the arch-murderer to his Bolivian captors. “I’m Che! I’m worth more to you alive than dead!”

Then ask yourselves: whose face belongs on T-shirts worn by youth who fancy themselves, rebellious, freedom-loving and brave?

The Vietnam War Documentary: How Burns and Novick Fail to Portray Ho Chi Minh Accurately

October 10, 2017

Image result for the vietnam war ken burns

The Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary on Vietnam, which covers 18 hours of air time, has received major media attention and generally high praise. In scores of interviews before its premiere on PBS last week, Burns predicted that both anti-Vietnam war and pro-Vietnam war sides would be surprised, and that both would find things to like and dislike about the episodes.

From his own standpoint, Burns said he and Novick wanted to try to bring the country together and end our old divisions over Vietnam, and to give everyone new angles to consider which both sides ignored at the time. In a piece in The Atlantic, Burns and Novick end with this:
The war may have robbed America of its innocence, but it also reminded us that the duty of citizens in a democracy is to be skeptical -- not to worship our leaders … but to question their decisions, challenge their policies, and hold them accountable for their failures.
The film has been hailed by the mainstream media. Time, for example, gave it a rave review in which Karl Vick writes the following:
To its immense credit,  The Vietnam War occupies itself entirely with striving to capture what happened in Vietnam. The principals, including diplomats, spies, prisoners of war, draftees and Viet Cong, speak with often aching candor, since for many the definition of patriotism shifted from supporting the government to challenging it. No single view dominates, but a kind of consensus appears to take shape, formed out of shared experience and mutual respect.
So far, the only critical review I have seen in a major publication is from revisionist historian of the war Mark Moyer. He writes in The Wall Street Journal that rather than making a film that would be definitive and bring the country together, Burns and Novick “chose instead to make it another partisan harangue that is certain to keep Americans divided.” In a forthcoming issue of The Weekly Standard, Stephen Morris, a historian of Vietnam, will publish a substantial review that will offer an in-depth critique of the series.

Burns and Novick’s claim that no single view dominates their series has not won it plaudits from most left-wing commentators. They largely argue that the film projects an American innocence, and portrays those who fought as idealists who tried to serve their country, while neglecting to show “American imperialism” as the war’s cause -- and failing to conclude that those who opposed the war had the correct arguments at the time.

However, there is something in the documentary the Left does like: its depiction of Ho Chi Minh, the Stalinist leader of North Vietnam who presided over the country during the war, as almost a saint.

Even Moyer writes, incorrectly:
[The documentary] corrects a few of the mistakes that have been common to popular accounts, for instance acknowledging that Ho Chi Minh was a full-blooded communist, who pulled the strings of the ostensibly independent Viet Cong.
In an interview conducted by leftist historian Jon Wiener with Todd Gitlin, a leading SDS activist in the '60s and now a radical professor at Columbia University, Gitlin gives Wiener the following description of Ho that he got from the film:

If there’s a hero in the early history they present, it’s Ho Chi Minh -- who, however flawed, is depicted as resolute, honorable, and devoted to his people and their independence.
Indeed. Gitlin might have added that if there is a villain, it was the first leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. Contrary to their picture of Ho, Diem is painted as corrupt, faithful only to his family and cronies, and not a real nationalist who wanted an independent but non-Communist Vietnam.

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Ho Chi Minh

Viewers get the impression that while Ho was indeed a communist and a nationalist, he was also a Jeffersonian and so might not have been all that bad. The truth, of course, is that Ho Chi Minh was no Washington or Jefferson. He was a committed Marxist-Leninist trained to be a Soviet agent in the 1920s at Moscow’s Lenin School.

During WWII, Vietnam -- a French colony -- was taken over by Japan. Towards the end of the war, with Japan in retreat, a power vacuum developed. Ho Chi Minh, leading his Communist guerrilla force, worked to seize power before the French could regain their former control and restore colonial rule.

Ho needed allies, and understood that FDR was both anti-French and anti-colonial. Ho’s aim -- according to one of his biographers, William Duiker -- was to “induce the United States to support the legitimacy of his government, rather than a return of the French.” On Sept. 21, 1945, Ho won his war, and proclaimed Vietnamese independence. Speaking to the crowds at a major square, Ho “began by quoting the words of Thomas Jefferson, ‘All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

Ho believed that he had to have a “tactical, flexible attitude towards the national bourgeoisie,” whose help he needed to build a communist Vietnam. But this did not extend to his internal rivals like the Trotskyists, with whom he wrote that “there can be no compromise, no concession.”

To consolidate the Communist party’s power, Ho instructed his top aide General Giap, as narrator Peter Coyote tells us, to conduct a:
... ruthless purge of rival nationalist parties ... people he called reactionary saboteurs, landlords and money-lenders, Trotskyites and Catholics, men and women accused of collaborating with the French. Hundreds were shot, drowned, buried alive.
They also show us one South Vietnamese nationalist saying the Viet Minh weren’t fighting for Vietnam, but were fighting for “international Communism.”

However, this comes as a throwaway one-time comment, quickly forgotten as the documentary continues to portray the communist troops as the only true nationalists. Nor does the film explain the killing of the 50,000 members of the then-powerful Trotskyist Communist party in Vietnam, which revealed that even on the revolutionary political Left, Ho showed he was beholden to Stalin.

The truth is that Ho was “a disciplined Communist” who had “proved time and time again his profound loyalty to Communism.” These words were written by ex-Communist German revolutionary Ruth Fischer, who defected to America and became an anti-Communist activist and a member of a U.S. intelligence agency “the Pond,” which existed between 1942 and 1955. Writing in 1954 in Foreign Affairs, Fischer revealed that she knew Ho Chi Minh when they were both in Moscow in the 1920s. Summing up Ho’s role, Fischer wrote:
Ho is of course a veteran Communist; he will of course head a party state striving for the maximum industrialization and finally for collectivization of agriculture. One can even describe Ho as the model of the disciplined Communist; he has proved time and again his profound loyalty to Communism. However, his subordination to Moscow's authority stemmed as much from a sober evaluation of his political alternatives.
Despite this, the myth that Ho was the George Washington of Vietnam and a Jeffersonian persists.

Seven years ago, Barack Obama had a meeting in the White House with Vietnam’s president Truong Tan Sang. With the war long in the past, his goal was to continue to help reconcile the U.S. and Vietnam and to cooperate on trade, disaster relief, and other matters.  After the meeting, the White House news release quoted Obama as saying:
[W]e discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.
So what will viewers take away from the documentary’s depiction of Ho? Let us turn to the words of PBS anchor Judy Woodruff on News Hour, as she speaks with Ken Burns:
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ho Chi Minh, did you come away from this experience understanding better who he was and what he represented? 
I mean, it’s striking. He was, what, quoting Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson, at one point. 
KEN BURNS: During his declaration of Vietnamese independence  
JUDY WOODRUFF: Independence. 
KEN BURNS: … quoting Thomas Jefferson. And there’s an OSS officer standing next to them. 
So, you begin to say, as Lynn is talking about, if you understand the overlay of the Cold War and how we’re going to not have World War III … so what we’re going to do is, we’re going to pick our little battles, and fight it through places like South Vietnam/North Vietnam struggle, that you can misread what a local leader is all about.
But we do know what Ho Chi Minh was all about. He postured as a Jefferson-inspired lover of independence, simply following America’s model of revolution. It was a charade that some Americans, including more than a few OSS officers stationed in Vietnam, fell for.

Despite their claims, some of which you will hear in the documentary, Ho Chi Minh had not the slightest interest in the Declaration of Independence. His only concern was to use it as a tool to help neutralize the United States and to keep them out of his way in attaining his goal of a unified Communist nation.