Friday, January 12, 2018


A jolt of truth from Robert Spencer.
January 12, 2018
[To order Robert Spencer's "Confessions of an Islamophobe,CLICK HERE.]
If it weren't for the inherent triumphalist violence of Islam, Robert Spencer would probably never have been born. His maternal grandparents were Greek Christians from what is now Turkey, forced into exile by the Muslim rulers of the Ottoman Empire, one of whom declared in 1916 that “we must finish off the Greeks as we did with the Armenians.” If you've ever read Paul's epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, or Colossians, you know that there have been Christians in that part of the world – Asia Minor, Anatolia – since the very beginning of Christianity; yet because of the Koranic directives to crush, conquer, and control, Spencer's grandparents ended up in America, where, in a touch of grand- historical irony, the little Greek Orthodox church in which his mother was baptized ended up being destroyed in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11. 
There are, then, as Spencer writes in his new book, Confessions of an Islamophobe, “very good reasons to be an Islamophobe, that is, to be concerned about Islam for the devastation that it brings to the lives of human beings both Muslim and non-Muslim.” Spencer has, of course, been called an Islamophobe ever since he began writing about Islam; leading figures on both the left and right have accused him of harboring a personal animus against Muslims. This is a charge he fiercely denies, and no honest, sane, and intelligent reader of his more than dozen books would ever believe him to be capable of such bigotry. But he's now decided that he might as well embrace the label of “Islamophobe,” given that he, as much as anyone on the planet, knows just how much the Islamic ideology and its most determined adherents deserve to be feared.
“By charging 'Islamophobia' whenever anyone dares notes any connection between Islam and terrorism,” Spencer points out, “the American Left and establishment conservatives are shouting down, and shutting down, a legitimate argument, and indeed, an argument that we must have sooner or later if we are going to survive as a free society.” Perhaps, he suggests, accepting the label “Islamophobe” –  and redefining it to refer not to “vigilante attacks or harassment of innocent Muslims” but to signify “sober and realistic appraisal of the nature of Islam and the ways in which it endangers free societies and free people” – can help rob the term of its power and thus make it more possible for that argument to take place.
That point having been made, Spencer proceeds to substantiate, chapter by chapter, the threat that Islam represents to women, gays, Jews, Christians, secular Christians, and secular Muslims. In each chapter, he explains the specific kind of harm that Islam, when practiced in an orthodox fashion, can do to members of the group in question; he cites the scriptural warrant therefor; he provides examples, mostly recent, of this harm in practice; and he quotes from fools and knaves, Muslim and not, on both the left and the right, who, in the name of social harmony and religious tolerance, have flat-out denied the grim reality that Spencer has so fairly and meticulously spelled out. 
It's this last category that makes for the most vexatious reading. However familiar one may be with the iniquitous directives set forth in the Koran, and however accustomed one may have become to the monstrous acts committed in its name, one never gets entirely used to the audacity with which true believers seek to whitewash the faith, or, for that matter, to the alacrity with which naive, stupid, cowardly, and/or self-deluding infidels in the media, academy, government, police, military, church, and other institutions echo their brazen lies.
For example, after the Orlando Pulse massacre, Loretta Lynch's Justice Department tried to get away with omitting Islamic references when releasing transcripts of perpetrator Omar Mateen's 911 calls. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sought to pass this diabolical act of jihad off as a “right-wing plot.” A year after the massacre, gay activist Scott Simpson described the atrocity and its aftermath as having, in Spencer's words, “brought Muslims and gays together, united as victims against the forces of hatred and bigotry that Donald Trump represented.”
The bizarre conceit that Muslims and gays are allies in oppression, all evidence to the contrary, is a commonplace among self-appointed gay leaders. When the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization with which Spencer is associated, sought to snap San Francisco gays out of this absurd delusion by publicizing anti-gay pronouncements by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and other Muslim heavyweights on the sides of Bay Area buses, Spencer was accused of trying to “split gays and Muslims.” Even supposedly serious students of world affairs – people who recognize that ardent Muslims aren't exactly fans of homosexuality – are somehow capable of magical thinking on this front: Spencer quotes a writer for Foreign Policy, no less, who actually suggested in a 2015 article that if ISIS warriors were shown enough pictures of happy same-sex couples, they'd abjure violence against gays.
How can individuals in positions of responsibility be so deeply in denial about the fundamentals of Islam? In his last chapter, “Modern Man versus Reality,” Spencer explores the fact that when it comes to the likes of Lynch or Simpson or the SPLC, we're often dealing with people who are so habituated to civilized norms that they're incapable of processing the notion that other people – neighbors, co-workers – live by a belief system that, when lived out with full devotion, is nothing less than barbaric. Others of these reality-denying “modern” folk, meanwhile, aren't civilized at all but are, in fact, totalitarian ideologues, enemies of freedom who admire Islamic tyranny just as others, two or three or four generations ago, despite being fortunate enough to live in free and prosperous societies, gazed with fatuous admiration upon Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Maoist China.
All of Robert Spencer's books have been valuable in their different ways, illuminating such specific topics as the Koran, Muhammed, ISIS, sharia, and jihad. But in Confessions of an Islamophobe he's given us a work that is at once a work of testimony more personal than any he's written before, a useful account of some of the more disturbing Islam-related events of the last two or three years, and a first-rate general introduction to the ways in which Islam's most ardent adherents and apologists imperil liberty. If you haven't read Spencer yet, this is a splendid place to start; if you've read all his books but have people in your life who need to be snapped out of complacency about Islam – and don't all of us have people like that in our lives? Isn't that the whole problem? – a few gift shipments may be in order. Every time another person in the West wakes up to the truth about the Religion of Peace, the chances increase – if only by a tiny amount – that light may ultimately overcome darkness.
Bruce Bawer is the author of “While Europe Slept,” “Surrender,” and "The Victims' Revolution." His novel "The Alhambra" has just been published.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Donald Trump—the Grownup in the Room on Immigration

January 9, 2018

trump daca meeting
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Washington. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Donald Trump gets called crazy a lot. Or infantile. Or senile. More than a bit of projection may be operative in these allegations, however. Watching Tuesday's televised discussion of immigration (video here) with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, which the president opened to the media, it was hard not to come to an opposite conclusion.
Donald Trump was the real grownup in the room.

Yes, he made occasional jokes, but that's what grownups do to relax tense situations. To get politicians from both sides of the aisle talking to each other cordially in the current hyper-partisan atmosphere is no easy feat.  But Trump did that.  He showed himself to be what many of us have thought him to be from the outset, whatever the attendant melodrama -- a pragmatic businessman with moderately conservative views, even, dare I say it, sometimes weirdly wise. Above all, he is a man who likes to make progress, who wants to move things forward to a better day while recognizing that there is no perfect. How adult is that.

And, yes, it's possible this event was arranged to counteract the bad publicity from Michael Wolff's bilious, factually challenged book, but so what?  Basically, Trump (with the help of the cameras) shamed his fellow and gal politicians into civility and evidently cajoled them into at least a partial solution,  later, in closed session, to that most intractable of problems - immigration.  If Trump were anything like his detractors say he is, he couldn't have done either.  He even urged them on to a more global solution on immigration, reminding the politicians at the table they were closer to that goal than they realized. If that's crazy, maybe we need more of it.

But what of this partial solution?  By its very nature, ideologues of the left and right will not be satisfied. (Are they ever?)  Lefties want to solve DACA first and then, once the "Dreamers" have their "pathway to citizenship," the left promises to deal with border security and such things as chain migration and the trendily named Diversity Visa Lottery later.  Of course, that's nonsense. They have no intention of doing anything to mitigate the latter two and to the former they will only pay lip service.

Every politician in the room knew that and so, of course, did Trump.  He made sure it didn't happen.

On the right, Anne Coulter and others of her ilk will doubtless be disappointed, to put it mildly, that an impregnable border wall will not immediately be erected across the entire Southern border and all eleven million illegal aliens summarily ejected from our country. They will claim Trump promised this during the campaign, and he did at moments, but if you were listening carefully, you knew where he was ultimately going -- he hinted at it and more many times -- compromise.

And why not? Short of revolution, that's the only way in the end to get what you want.  Trump's a negotiator and we're all lucky for it.  As of now it looks as if chain migration and the lottery are dead and gone.  Good thing too, because they were both conduits for lethal terrorism, as we have seen, potential murder weapons. As for the wall, that awful word compromise will apply again. Some of it will be built. The question is -- will it be enough? Probably not.  Second question is -- will border security be better than it is now?  Probably yes.

Call me a wuss, but in the real world, I'll take "probably yes" any time.  And also, while I'm being a slavish Trump admirer, which undoubtedly I am (I admit it), I will remind all of the conclusion of Monday night's fantastic football game.  As fans will recall, seconds after things looked disastrous for Alabama, its young quarterback sacked for a 25-yard loss or whatever, putting the game seemingly out of reach, the Tide's same prodigious 18-year old freshman threw a forty-some yard pass for a touchdown and victory.  He did this by "looking off" his opponents, making them think he was throwing in another direction.

That's what Trump does.  He looks us off a lot. Everyone, especially the press, goes running off in another direction.  Then, when we're not paying attention or when we think all is lost and calamity is upon us,  something good happens -- tax reform passes, the American embassy is moved to Jerusalem, etc.  For a crazy, eleven-year old idiot, this guy seems to know what he's doing. For now, he's the best quarterback we've got.

One more thing, as they say at Apple. Some are feigning outrage that Trump, at the same meeting, proposed something as retrograde as a return to the dreaded earmarks (unrelated pet projects added to bills to get them passed). Mon Dieu! Trump's advocating corruption.  Well, not exactly. He's a realist who realizes that there was something good in earmarks -- Democrats and Republicans actually talked with each other and worked together -- mixed in with the bad.  Whether a return to earmarks would be a solution to this or whether, as he indicated might be true, there is a way to reform earmarks to make them work is not clear.  But Trump made his point.  Our politicians should learn to cooperate for the good of the people the way they used to -- or we like to think that they used to. Whichever is the case, again, his point is made.

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media.  His latest book is I Know Best:  How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If  It Hasn't Already.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong

By David Bentley Hart
January 8, 2018
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St. Paul the Apostle by Claude Vignon
This past year, I burdened the English-speaking world with my very own translation of the New Testament – a project that I undertook at the behest of my editor at Yale University Press, but that I agreed to almost in the instant that it was proposed. I had long contemplated attempting a ‘subversively literal’ rendering of the text. Over the years, I had become disenchanted with almost all the standard translations available, and especially with modern versions produced by large committees of scholars, many of whom (it seems to me) have been predisposed by inherited theological habits to see things in the text that are not really there, and to fail to notice other things that most definitely are. Committees are bland affairs, and tend to reinforce our expectations; but the world of late antiquity is so remote from our own that it is almost never what we expect. 
Ask, for instance, the average American Christian – say, some genial Presbyterian who attends church regularly and owns a New International Version of the Bible – what gospel the Apostle Paul preached. The reply will fall along predictable lines: human beings, bearing the guilt of original sin and destined for eternal hell, cannot save themselves through good deeds, or make themselves acceptable to God; yet God, in his mercy, sent the eternal Son to offer himself up for our sins, and the righteousness of Christ has been graciously imputed or imparted to all who have faith.
Some details might vary, but not the basic story. And, admittedly, much of the tale’s language is reminiscent of terms used by Paul, at least as filtered through certain conventional translations; but it is a fantasy. It presumes elements of later Christian belief absent from Paul’s own writings. Some of these (like the idea that humans are born damnably guilty in God’s eyes, or that good deeds are not required for salvation) arise from a history of misleading translations. Others (like the concept of an eternal hell of conscious torment) are entirely imagined, attributed to Paul on the basis of some mistaken picture of what the New Testament as a whole teaches.
Paul’s actual teachings, however, as taken directly from the Greek of his letters, emphasise neither original guilt nor imputed righteousness (he believed in neither), but rather the overthrow of bad angels. A certain long history of misreadings – especially of the Letter to the Romans – has created an impression of Paul’s theological concerns so entirely alien to his conceptual world that the real Paul occupies scarcely any place at all in Christian memory. It is true that he addresses issues of ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’, and asserts that this is available to us only through the virtue of pistis – ‘faith’ or ‘trust’ or even ‘fidelity’. But for Paul, pistis largely consists in works of obedience to God and love of others. The onlyerga, ‘works’, which he is anxious to claim make no contribution to personal sanctity, are certain ‘ritual observances’ of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision or kosher dietary laws. This, though, means that the separation between Jews and gentiles has been annulled in Christ, opening salvation to all peoples; it does not mean (as Paul fears some might imagine) that God has abandoned his covenant with Israel.
Questions of law and righteousness, however, are secondary concerns. The essence of Paul’s theology is something far stranger, and unfolds on a far vaster scale. For Paul, the present world-age is rapidly passing, while another world-age differing from the former in every dimension – heavenly or terrestrial, spiritual or physical – is already dawning. The story of salvation concerns the entire cosmos; and it is a story of invasion, conquest, spoliation and triumph. For Paul, the cosmos has been enslaved to death, both by our sin and by the malign governance of those ‘angelic’ or ‘daemonian’ agencies who reign over the earth from the heavens, and who hold spirits in thrall below the earth. These angelic beings, these Archons, whom Paul calls Thrones and Powers and Dominations and Spiritual Forces of Evil in the High Places, are the gods of the nations. In the Letter to the Galatians, he even hints that the angel of the Lord who rules over Israel might be one of their number. Whether fallen, or mutinous, or merely incompetent, these beings stand intractably between us and God. But Christ has conquered them all.
In descending to Hades and ascending again through the heavens, Christ has vanquished all the Powers below and above that separate us from the love of God, taking them captive in a kind of triumphal procession. All that now remains is the final consummation of the present age, when Christ will appear in his full glory as cosmic conqueror, having ‘subordinated’ (hypetaxen) all the cosmic powers to himself – literally, having properly ‘ordered’ them ‘under’ himself – and will then return this whole reclaimed empire to his Father. God himself, rather than wicked or inept spiritual intermediaries, will rule the cosmos directly. Sometimes, Paul speaks as if some human beings will perish along with the present age, and sometimes as if all human beings will finally be saved. He never speaks of some hell for the torment of unregenerate souls.
The new age, moreover – when creation will be glorified and transformed into God’s kingdom – will be an age of ‘spirit’ rather than ‘flesh’. For Paul, these are two antithetical principles of creaturely existence, though most translations misrepresent the antithesis as a mere contrast between God’s ‘spirit’ and human perversity. But Paul is quite explicit: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom.’ Neither can psychē, ‘soul’, the life-principle or anima that gives life to perishable flesh. In the age to come, the ‘psychical body’, the ‘ensouled’ or ‘animal’ way of life, will be replaced by a ‘spiritual body’, beyond the reach of death – though, again, conventional translations usually obscure this by speaking of the former, vaguely, as a ‘natural body’.
Paul’s voice, I hasten to add, is hardly an eccentric one. John’s Gospel too, for instance, tells of the divine saviour who comes ‘from above’, descending from God’s realm into this cosmos, overthrowing its reigning Archon, bringing God’s light into the darkness of our captivity, and ‘dragging’ everyone to himself. And, in varying registers, so do most of the texts of the New Testament. As I say, it is a conceptual world very remote from our own.
And yet it would be foolish to try to judge the gospel’s spiritual claims by how plausible we find the cosmology that accompanies them. For one thing, the ancient picture of reality might be in many significant respects more accurate than ours. And it would surely be a category error to assume that the story of Christ’s overthrow of death and sin cannot express a truth that transcends the historical and cultural conditions in which it was first told. But, before we decide anything at all about that story, we must first recover it from the very different stories that we so frequently tell in its place.

David Bentley Hart
is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion, and a philosopher, writer and cultural commentator. He is an associate at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, and his latest book is The New Testament: A Translation (2017). He lives in South Bend, Indiana.
This Idea was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust to Aeon. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton Religion Trust.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

KILLING EUROPE Producer Michael Hansen Talks About The Fall Of The Western World

Sorry, SEC, Nick Saban is still the king -- and he's not going anywhere

By Ryan McGee
January 9, 2018
Image result for saban smart january 8 2018
Alabama head coach Nick Saban holds up the championship trophy after overtime of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Georgia, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta. Alabama won 26-23. (David J. Phillip/AP)
ATLANTA -- The 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship had been over for nearly an hour and a half. The circular video board that hangs from the roof of $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium read "Alabama Crimson Tide National Champions." Staring down from the 340-foot perch above the playing field in ultra-high definition was the trademark glare of head coach Nick Saban. On a three-story-tall video tower in one corner of the stadium there it was again. In the portrait he had his headset on, giving planet Earth a side-eye, pointed directly at the scoreboard display of "Alabama 26, Georgia 23 OT."
An overserved fan dressed in Bama gear and sitting alone in Section 135, the one beneath the towering image, stood, turned to face the giant face and began a bowing motion.
"All hail our crimson god!"
Meanwhile, in the tunnels beneath and behind that place of worship, the deity himself was on the move. He'd already addressed his team, leaving them sweaty and shouting so that he could make his mandatory meeting with the national media. When he left that stage he passed behind a black curtain into a secret pathway that led toward a series of ESPN cameras. The path between was covered with verbal palm fronds, congratulations from people begging for some perspective on the history they'd just witnessed from the coach who'd written it.
Coach, is this the best of your six national titles? "Oh, I don't know. I do know I've never been happier after a game."
Coach, where do you think this ranks you in coaching history? Was this a legacy-defining game? "That's not up for me to decide. My job is to win the next game on the schedule. We did that tonight."
Coach, did it feel extra special to beat Kirby Smart?
He paused. He winked. Then he disappeared around the corner, bound for the next stop.
You see, this was supposed to be the night when Saban finally suffered defeat at the hands of the very monster he hath created, the assembly line of coaches who learned at his right hand, departing one after the other for head-coaching jobs. They have been hired away by rival schools, so downright desperate to finally defeat Alabama they went with "can't beat 'em, join 'em" and attempted to replicate the success on his watch by bringing in someone who helped him construct the tower.
In the days leading up to Monday night's all-SEC title bout, even the most casual of college football fans likely became exhausted with hearing the following statistic: Nick Saban was 11-0 when facing teams coached by his former assistants. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State is 0-2. Derek Dooley, formerly of Tennessee, was 0-3, as was Jim McElwain, formerly of Colorado State and Florida. This very season started with a defeat of Florida State and former LSU lieutenant Jimbo Fisher.
Not only had they not beaten them, they hadn't come close. The thinnest margin being McElwain's Gators in the 2015 SEC championship, when Florida lost to Alabama by two touchdowns.
But Kirby Smart had been Saban's most loyal apprentice. While the others bolted for bigger paychecks, he'd chosen to stay and work alongside Saban for more than a decade in all, from LSU to the Miami Dolphins to Alabama. When Smart was hired by Georgia, his alma mater, two years ago, he didn't do what the others had, trying to modify Saban's sacred "Process" with his own additions. He cloned it all, all the way down to his scowl in halftime interviews. And why not? Heck, all four of Saban's national titles in Tuscaloosa had come with Smart's assistance.
But now Saban has a fifth (and six overall), and it did not come with Smart's help. It came at his expense. Smart easily came the closest to snapping the elder's winning streak. But he didn't. So, now that teacher/student, master/apprentice, Palpatine/Vader stat has been adjusted to 12-0.
"They said we weren't supposed to be here! Now look at us!" Running back Damien Harris shouted it over and over again as the team dashed and hugged and cried on the field moments after the overtime victory. He continued the barking in the locker room later. Alabama, the only non-conference champion to make the playoff field, had been the target of some criticism. "They said that Coach Saban, he was out of moves, didn't they? Well, it doesn't look like he was, does it? Am I right, Tua?!"
Tua Tagovailoa was not the starting quarterback in the 2018 national title game. That honor went to Jalen Hurts, who had started every game in 2017 and all but one in 2016, coming within seconds of leading Bama to a championship one year ago. But Saban, sensing a chance that Georgia might be on the cusp of putting the game away, yanked his leader of two seasons midgame. He inserted Tagovailoa, a true freshman from Hawaii.
That's not the move of a coach who, at 66, is done taking risks. It was simply one of the gutsiest coaching moves ever pulled on college football's biggest stage. Even as the Alabama sideline appeared to be losing control. The third quarter ended with a personal foul, a sideline fight when the player who committed that foul went after a coach, all while another teammate was being carted off on a stretcher after fainting.
Bama trailed the game 13-0 at the half. The Tide never led in regulation. They ended that regulation with perhaps the most god-awfully shanked would-be game-winning field goal attempt ever witnessed. They started their OT drive, down by a field goal, with an equally god-awful sack and loss of 16 yards all the back to the 41-yard line.
But they won. Again. Thanks to a shockingly gorgeous rope pass from true freshman Tagovailoa to another true freshman, DeVonta Smith.
Now Saban owns six rings. Only one other active coach, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, owns more than one and he has only half as many as Saban. His fifth title in nine seasons is the most successful stretch by any coach in college football's poll era. That reaches back to 1936, which means it covers all the legends who only need be identified by one name. The guys already enshrined in a building just a few blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the College Football Hall of Fame.
Bo, Woody, Joe, Bowden, Osborne, even Bear. They are not at the head of the line. Nick is.
"He's the best for a reason," Smart said Monday night. "I will always be indebted to what he taught me. Always. But dangit, man. That just makes me want to beat him so bad."
Smart will likely have other chances. Georgia, like Bama, is built for the long haul. His fellow former Saban understudies also will have their shots, and soon. Next season Saban is guaranteed to face off against at least two of his former employees. Jeremy Pruitt, the same defensive coordinator who figured out how to slow down Georgia in the second half, is the new head coach at Tennessee, one of the Tide's most loathed rivals.
Meanwhile, Fisher has left Florida State to lead another annual Alabama opponent, Texas A&M. On Monday night he was in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, taking part in ESPN's Megacast coverage of the game. While the celebration was erupting on the field in the distance, Fisher was bolting for the door and heading to his new home of College Station.
"Good for Nick," Fisher begrudgingly praised. "I really thought Kirby had him. One of us will finally get him one of these days. One of these days."


Turning to libertarians for wisdom on immigration control is like asking Christian Scientists for advice about the best hospitals.

January 8, 2018

Ilhan Omar, candidate for State Representative for District 60B in Minnesota, with her husband Ahmed Hirisi, arrives for her victort party on election night, November 8, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (AFP Photo)

Ilhan Omar, candidate for State Representative for District 60B in Minnesota, with her husband Ahmed Hirisi, arrives for her victort party on election night, November 8, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (AFP Photo)

Not all that many years ago, the worst things you could say about Minneapolis were that it was very cold in the winter and, for an American city of its size, it was somewhat dull. On the plus side, this traditionally Scandinavian-American burg was a model of safety and cleanliness.
Well, that's ancient history. Minneapolis is now the world's #2 capital of Somali Muslims. (#1 is Mogadishu.) In the Somali community, unemployment and welfare dependency rates are high. The city is a major recruiting center for ISIS. At least a couple of ISIS recruits have used taxpayer-funded student loans to fly to the Middle East to become jihadists; many other local Somalis are suspected of wiring welfare cash to terrorist groups. Violent crime is epidemic: as recently as December 13, a Somali Muslim immigrant stabbed a Minneapolis woman no fewer than fourteen times on her way home from work.
None of this has kept government officials and news media from boasting of the success of Somali integration. Last February, CNN ran a collection of photographs designed to show just how delightful a contribution Somalis have made to Minnesota. In August, Ibrahim Hirsi of the Minnesota Post lauded the “Somali community's success” in the state. Hirsi's article began by summarizing the “classic American success story” of one Abdirahman Kahin, who emigrated to the U.S. two decades ago and, after founding a restaurant called Afro Deli in 2010, built it up into “one of the most successful immigrant-owned businesses in the state.”
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune routinely waxes effusive over all the cultural enrichment: last March, in a glowing portrait of life in the city's Muslim enclave, “Little Mogadishu,” reporter Allie Shah applauded the fact that the neighborhood, cut off from the rest of the city “by the Mississippi River and two freeways,” functions “like a self-sustaining village” and has thus been able to “retain its character.” Ah, the joy of euphemism! 
One recent occasion for celebration was the election, in 2016, of the first Somali American to the Minnesota legislature. As it turned out, the legislator in question, Ilham Omar, had married her own brother in 2009, apparently to enable him to enter the U.S. – and if that weren't enough of a transgression, Omar was already married at the time to one Ahmed Hirsi, the father of her three children. When blogger Scott Johnson, who uncovered these irregularities, asked Omar's campaign for a comment, he heard back from a lawyer who basically accused him of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia: “There are people who do not want an East African, Muslim woman elected to office and who will follow Donald Trump’s playbook to prevent it. Ilhan Omar’s campaign sees your superfluous contentions as one more in a series of attempts to discredit her candidacy.” On the contrary, some Minnesotans were apparently so eager to see an East African, Muslim woman elected to office that they gladly overlooked Omar's criminal offenses. Omar remains in the legislature, while her shady past has been neatly whitewashed on her Wikipedia page.
One of the latest, longest (4000 words!), and most effusive tributes to Minneapolis's Somali Muslims appeared on January 3 at the website of Reason, the libertarian monthly. Under the title “The War on Terror Is a War on Minnesota's Peaceful, Entrepreneurial Somali Immigrants,” Eric Boehm went all warm and fuzzy over the supposed triumphs of Minnesota's supposedly peaceful, law-abiding, America-loving Somali Muslims. The only dark cloud in this bright picture, Boehm charged, was the “[f]ederal law enforcement agencies” that “have singled out Somali Muslims in the Twin Cities for a special surveillance program intended to curb terrorism.”
To show just how unnecessary this program is, Boehm recounted the “classic immigrant success story” of one presumably typical Somali-American entrepreneur. Guess who? Yep, Abdirahman Kahin, the same guy who'd been profiled a few months earlier in the Minnesota Post. Boehm hailed Kahin's “big smiles and delicious food,” but noted with concern that Kahin “now worries that America” – with its pesky preoccupation with terrorism – “is now making it harder than ever for others to follow in his footsteps.” As further proof that the government's anti-terrorism activity is unnecessary, Boehm cited the recent election of Minnesota's “first Somali-American state legislator – Ilham Omar, of course. Needless to say, Boehm omitted to mention Omar's blatant marriage and immigration fraud.
For those who fret that too many Somalis have flooded into Minnesota over the last generation or so, Boehm cited the wave of German and Scandinavian immigrants who moved to the state a century and more ago – a comparison that's easy to make when you shut your eyes to such niggling details as crime, terrorism, and welfare dependency. Boehm applauded – while avoiding the phrase “sharia-compliant” – the introduction in Minnesota of “alternative banking solutions” that enable “devout Muslims” to get businesses off the ground without having to borrow money at interest. And he demonized Donald Trump, who, when he spoke at Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport shortly before the 2016 presidential election, had the audacity to focus not on “the hard-working immigrants who have boosted the state's economy” but on “the threat of Somali terrorism.”
How dare he! For Boehm, the main point about the federal government's effort to gather information about potential terrorist acts is that it's “put strain on people and businesses and decreased the level of trust.” Muslims worry that their “imams, elders, and community organizations are secretly informing” on them. (Informing on them about what? Boehm didn't seem to be particularly troubled by this question.) Boehm saluted ongoing efforts by – who else? – Ilham Omar to rein in police and cripple anti-terror programs. And he ended his piece where he'd begun – with Kahin and his restaurant deli, where you can chow down on tasty “sambusas, a sort of Somali pierogi,” and hear “the sweet sound of sizzling meat as a line cook grills up some Somali steak sandwiches.”
You'd think that by 2018 we'd have moved past the inane pre-9/11 cliché of reducing immigration from Muslim countries to preposterous blather about the exciting tastes and smells of exotic foods. Alas, apparently not. There are a lot of admirable things about libertarianism, but its see-no-evil approach to Islamic immigration is not one of them.
Bruce Bawer is the author of “While Europe Slept,” “Surrender,” and "The Victims' Revolution." His novel "The Alhambra" has just been published.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Today's Tune: Bob Dylan - Here's That Rainy Day

Today's Tune: Frank Sinatra - I'm a Fool to Want You [1957]

Here’s That Rainy Day

When Bob Dylan sang Frank Sinatra
January 5, 2018
Image result for frank sinatra bob dylan
Until he started recording standards from the Great American Songbook in 2015, Bob Dylan wasn’t usually brought up in conversations involving Frank Sinatra, the suave crooner known as “The Voice.” After all, Dylan’s own singing voice was once compared with the sound a cow makes when its leg is caught in a fence. Dylan and Sinatra’s music seemed worlds apart. Sinatra’s sound was clean, scored by the best orchestral arrangers; Dylan’s was dirty, with rough guitar playing, piercing harmonica, and a willingness to let mistakes go unchanged. Sinatra’s enormous recorded canon drew heavily on the Great American Songbook, which he helped formalize; the lodestar of our popular music, it defined public taste before being overthrown by rock and pop. Dylan, the rock era’s champion songwriter, mostly sang his own compositions, with words that broke from George Gershwin, Cole Porter, or anybody else who’d ever written American songs.
Their sensibilities didn’t align, either. They represented different things: style, swagger, vulnerability, on the one hand; prophecy, autonomy, mystery, on the other. One connected first with an audience of Greatest Generation teenagers and young adults, a cohort that came home after winning the war—the ones that lived—with lost innocence, and found that its generational singer could change with them, carrying them along out of that first, easy blush of youth and into the world of adult loves and losses. The other connected first with the folkies of the early Baby Boom, earnest college kids and peaceniks blazing the path of what would become the sixties. For them, he was visionary and incorruptible; they would learn painfully as the years passed that his incorruptibility consisted in his unswerving fidelity to music, not politics.
All these years later, Dylan is still at it, but now he is singing songs from an older time—the very songs, with those corny words, that his music had been designed to destroy, as one critic wrote. And at just the moment that he had become immersed in the music of his parents—the father that wanted him to work in the hardware store and the mother who wanted him to go to college—he had won the Nobel Prize in literature, a category-smashing event that sparked lots of commentary, pro and con, and, in typical Dylan fashion, probably had the award-givers regretting the whole damn thing by the time it was over. The Nobel brouhaha obscured a little-appreciated truth: Dylan’s prize-winning words mean the most when he sings them. (“Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan,” as the saying goes.) His songs have been recorded by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of artists, but few artists possess his gift for bringing words to life, insinuating meaning not through shouting or grunting—the rock singer’s crutch that Dylan walks without—but through a mastery of inflection. “He conveys so much, and I’m not sure how,” one non-Dylan fan, a singer herself, once told me.
As it happens, the 52 standards that Dylan has now recorded—on Shadows in the Night (2015) and Fallen Angels (2016), followed by the three-disc Triplicate in 2017—demonstrate some of the “how.” Dylan’s voice is in better form than has been heard in years, and the recordings are clearly not nostalgic tributes but vibrant reworkings of songs from a bygone age.
In his day, Sinatra was lauded for the care and attention he brought to the lyrics of songs. He would read aloud the words before recording, not commencing until he was satisfied that he had found a way in. We can hear that attentiveness on “I’m a Fool to Want You,” widely interpreted as a lament for Ava Gardner, Sinatra’s second wife, whom he divorced. On the 1957 recording, Sinatra sounds tormented, especially on his second time through the bridge that begins “Time and time again/I said I’d leave you,” in which he draws out the word “said,” emphasizing his powerlessness to make good on his vow. Nelson Riddle’s orchestral arrangement gives the song a cinematic feel. It is a powerhouse Sinatra performance.
In his rendition, Dylan practically growls the song’s opening line, and it seems that any comparison will be a rout. Yet he goes on to show the traits that make him a fascinating singer. Like Sinatra, Dylan puts everything into the song’s memorable bridge but steers his inflective powers more broadly, italicizing certain words for effect, as when he sings, “Then would come a . . . time when I would need you,” a phrase that he sings differently each time.
Matched up with Sinatra vocally, Dylan is the proverbial Volkswagen in the Indy 500, but he brings certain advantages. Sinatra’s recordings of these songs span a quarter-century, from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s, with different orchestras and arrangements and different voices, whereas Dylan recorded them all over a few years’ time, with many of the same musicians and the same basic voice. His approach is thus more consistent, and often more effective when compared with some of the earliest Sinatra recordings, where the young singer is still finding his footing. And Dylan’s lived-in voice sounds ravaged by time and loss in ways that Sinatra’s more polished instrument cannot.
On other songs, Dylan is just more engaged. Sinatra doesn’t seem deeply committed to “Why Try to Change Me Now,” but Dylan gives the song a personal stamp, no doubt taking puckish delight in its title, and in lyrics like “I’ve got some habits even I can’t explain” and in the song’s signature line, which asks, “Why can’t I be more conventional?” Sinatra practically speaks the line, giving it no special emphasis. Dylan doesn’t overplay it, adding only a slight pause before the key word, but we get the winking self-reference to a half-century of spurning habit and expectation.
Sinatra’s technical purity can seem dated in places. On “What’ll I Do,” he is exquisite, bringing his self-described “18-karat manic-depressive” consciousness and “overacute capacity for sadness as well as elation” to a song anticipating lost love. But he also enunciates the syllables like a diction coach, especially on the word “photograph,” which rings oddly in the contemporary ear and distances us from the singer. Dylan’s less formal delivery brings us closer. His voice on “What’ll I Do” has never sounded so tender, and his tenderness somehow expands the song; the way Dylan sings it, one can imagine a broader canvas of losses.
He wouldn’t be Dylan without some paradoxes. Repeated listenings to his evocative “The Night We Called It a Day” cannot reveal why he would invert the referents in the song’s bridge, which Sinatra and others sing as: “Soft through the dark/The hoot of an owl in the sky/Sad though his song/No bluer was he than I.” Dylan sings instead, “Sad though his song/No bluer than he was I,” erasing the lines’ dramatic contrast—the word “though” makes no sense in this formulation—and downplaying the narrator’s suffering. Confusion, or Dylanish subterfuge?
On Triplicate, Dylan’s performances of some signature Sinatra classics—“The September of My Years,” “Stormy Weather,” “I Could Have Told You,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Here’s That Rainy Day”—are particularly rewarding when played back-to-back with the master’s own. “Once Upon a Time,” a gem salvaged from a middling 1962 Broadway show called All American, is a standout of Sinatra’s 1965 September of My Years album. Sinatra’s voice is at its richest and most expressive, and the arrangements, heavy on strings, fit the elegiac quality of the song: “Once upon a time/the world was sweeter than we knew/Everything was ours/How happy we were then.” One imagines what must have flashed across the minds of a generation of listeners in 1965 when Sinatra, who turned 50 that year, sang those words—their youths in the prewar years, the grind and loss and sorrow of the war, the technicolor optimism of the 1950s, all of it now “falling indelibly into the past,” in Don DeLillo’s phrase. (Fifty was old in 1965.) And then to hear Dylan, half a century later, in his mid-seventies, sing the melancholy payoff: “Once upon a time never comes again,” his ragged voice straining for gentleness—the sound of that effort, perhaps, a key to the effect he creates.
Dylan has become a living repository of American folk, blues, and country music, preferring what he, by his own admission, considers archaic forms—but in his recordings of the Sinatra standards, he is not a revivalist but a modernizer. The instrument of Sinatra’s era was the horn; of Dylan’s, the guitar. Dylan’s arrangements avoid orchestral trappings in favor of a small-group combo, with some embellishments here and there—a few horns, a viola, a cello—but mostly he sticks with acoustic guitar, bass, and drums (usually brushes). The Dylan band sounds country on some numbers, jazzy on others. The playing achieves an extraordinary intimacy that the Sinatra string arrangements, at least to my ear, don’t always manage—helped in part by how close-miked Dylan’s vocals are (you can hear him breathe). Sinatra’s accompaniment is the best of its kind—whether it’s Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins or Harry James or Tommy Dorsey—but it can be intrusive, cuing emotions before the singer has earned such responses.
In the difference between Sinatra’s arrangements and Dylan’s one can trace a cultural history of the last half-century or so, in sound, and it is Dylan’s sound, for better and worse, that has won out: roughness over purity, vernacular over formality, suggestive and cryptic over direct and earnest. On Fallen Angels, Dylan records several songs from quite early in Sinatra’s career, several of which had opened with instrumental preludes that take their time before yielding to the singer—“Melancholy Mood,” for one, as well as “On a Little Street in Singapore.” Dylan’s band recreates these intros faithfully, but the different instrumentation is striking. “Singapore,” a slight but alluring romantic song that conjures the exotic, got the big-band treatment when Sinatra recorded it with Harry James in 1939; the horns dominate, and they’re fabulous, but the young Sinatra’s vocal seems almost an afterthought, a reminder of an era when singers were not the stars. Dylan’s band gets inside the song’s distinctive melody, using the rhythm section to powerful effect, and every vocal line is savored. Similarly, “Melancholy Mood,” another Sinatra/James recording, is defined by knockout horns. Dylan’s version begins quietly, with a bluesy intro, led by guitar, that doesn’t give over to the vocal until what seems like the last possible moment. When Dylan does come in, he has much to say—“Melancholy mood, forever haunts me/Steals upon me in the night/Forever taunts me/Oh what a lonely fool am I/Stranded high and dry/with a melancholy mood”—and he delivers it within about a minute’s time. It’s an effective bit of narrative compression, the instrumentation doing a good bit of the work.
Dylan’s band deserves much credit for making this ambitious project seem so plausible, and it serves him well when he squares up against the swinging Sinatra—a taller order than taking him on in the ballads, which make up the vast majority of the 52 songs. On Triplicate, though, Dylan branches out, ready to evoke the toe-tapping Sinatra holding a cigarette in one hand and a Scotch in the other. But “The Best Is Yet to Come” will probably convince few non-Dylanites. His gravelly tones don’t seem to fit here: it’s as if a rooster got loose in the ballroom. “You came along and everything started to hum,” he sings, and everything is humming—the band, certainly, but not the vocalist, who is too rough for this party. On the other hand, hearing Dylan do “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans” and “Braggin’” (not recorded by Sinatra) can only be described as guilty pleasures. Who thought they would ever hear Dylan sing: “Why did I buy those blue pajamas/Before the big affair began?/My boiling point is much to low/For me to try to be a fly lothario,” or “Braggin’ ‘bout your fishin’/’Bout your horseshoe pitchin’/Bet you always keep the score/Talkin’ ’bout your meddle/That’s the kind they peddle/Down at the five and ten cent store”? Dylan’s cragginess wears well with these more lighthearted songs, even adding to the effect, and he lets his band strut.
For many, Dylan’s singing will always be alien and nonnegotiable; no amount of “character” or nuance can redeem that voice, the great interloper of our popular music. By these conventional measures, it’s hard to say that Dylan’s performances “beat” any of Sinatra’s, but Dylan’s compelling vocalizing breathes new life into these often-gloomy standards, and his arrangements render them in a more contemporary sound, bringing them all back home from the black-tie dinner and the Broadway show—not “covering” the songs but “uncovering them,” as he put it, “lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” Whether this is a good or a bad thing probably depends on whether you prefer Dylan or Sinatra—that is, if you feel the need to choose between them. Dylan was never one of those people. It’s “all music, no more, no less,” he once said. He really meant it, and you can hear it.
Paul Beston is managing editor of City Journal and author of The Boxing Kings.