Thursday, February 08, 2018

Lamenting The Loss of the Sacred in Broadchurch

February 5, 2018
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Olivia Coleman and David Tennant in Broadchurch
There is an ancient spiritual discipline that we have lost in the modern church called lament. Lament happens when bad things occur and we choose to sit in our grief and express our sorrow to God. Lament is all over the Bible. Over half of the Psalms have some element of lament. We have a whole book in the Old Testament called Lamentations, and the prophetic books are full of prophets lamenting evil and the inability of God’s people to be faithful to God.
As I watched the final episode of the 3 season BBC show Broadchurch (airing in the US on Netflix), I realized that what I had been watching for 24 episodes was an extended lament on the loss of Christianity and objective morality in England and the West.
The series begins with the death of an 11 year old boy named Danny Latimer. Detectives Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant) investigate the death, which turns out to be murder. Season 2 is the story of the murderer’s trial. Season 3, while including most of the characters from the first two seasons, details a new crime, the rape of Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh).
One of the first impressions of Broadchurch is its geography. We see a seaside town with lush, steep cliffs overlooking a beautiful beach. As with most towns in England, there is an elegant Anglican church with the requisite graveyard where most everyone comes to be baptized, married, and buried. The village pastor, Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill), is a constant presence in the show, and as the series progresses, particularly in season 3, Rev. Paul becomes increasingly frustrated at how people occasionally come to him for advice, but don’t come for worship or discipleship. It’s striking how the show views Rev. Paul as a good man and feels sorry for him more than anything, whereas had this show taken place in the 60’s or 70’s, it’s likely that the pastor would have been one of the bad guys.
The idyllic setting of the show clashes with what’s actually going on in peoples’ lives. We experience much of the action through DS Miller’s eyes, and she especially is shocked to find out the prevalence of pornography and sexual abuse, as well as the fact that seemingly every husband is having an affair. We watch Miller and Hardy become increasingly angry at all the liars, adulterers, and abusers they have to interview. Their outrage reaches a pitch in Season 3 when they’re interviewing a man who has admitted to serial rape and he says, “It’s just sex. They’d all had sex before, why does one more time make a difference?”
The absence of the sacred is also underscored in the Latimer family’s storyline. When Danny dies, Mark (Andrew Buchan) and Beth (Jodie Whittaker) are understandably devastated. However, two years later, they still have only taken minimal steps out of their grief with Mark continually being on the verge of giving up completely. While we certainly don’t expect them to recover from such a tragedy quickly, and indeed their lament is a proper response, it is interesting that there is no real prospect of forgiveness or idea of how God can minister to them. Their default grief is essentially secular despite being members of the local parish- let’s muddle through for the sake of our kids who are still with us.
Regardless of how a real-life couple would handle the death of their child, what is telling for us is how much time is spent on the grief of this couple, even during the season (Season 3) that is not about their son. The show seems to be reminding us that the loss of a Christian sexual ethic and family mooring has consequences far deeper than we want to acknowledge.
A key scene happens in the last episode of the series. Rev. Paul has prepared a last sermon before he leaves town for what he hopes will be a more interested parish (where he can write a sermon for more than “7 people”). But, at this service, everyone comes and they’re all encouraged by the turnout and the chance to worship together, or at least be together. It’s one of only three scenes (along with a confrontation in Season 2 and a rally in support of abuse victims in Season 3) where the community is shown as truly coming together.
It’s as if the writers of the show (whom I know nothing about, so I’m merely extrapolating from what’s on screen) are saying: if only we could come together over this shared faith that we seem to have lost, we’d be a lot better off. When we trade in the sacred traditions of worship, faithfulness, and chastity, we often are not prepared for the kind of grief that will inevitably accompany the tragedies that ensue. Kudos to a group of writers who are willing to acknowledge and lament the situation our modern culture is in.


Feminism, Swedish Style

February 8, 2018

"Sweden has the first feminist government in the world," brags the Swedish government on its official website. Meaning what, exactly?
"This means that gender equality is central to the Government's priorities... a gender equality perspective is brought into policy-making on a broad front... The Government's most important tool for implementing feminist policy is gender mainstreaming, of which gender-responsive budgeting is an important component."
Accompanying this patch of bureaucratic rhetoric is a photograph of Sweden's current government of twelve women and eleven men.

Pictured: Sweden's current, proudly feminist, government cabinet, for whom "gender equality perspective is brought into policy-making on a broad front," and "gender-responsive budgeting is an important component." (Image source: Government of Sweden)

Of course, there are various types of feminism. Sweden's preferred type is not about universal sisterhood and the spreading of sexual equality around the globe. No, it is "intersectional" feminism. What is "intersectional" feminism? It is a species of feminism that, in accordance with the relatively new academic concept of "intersectionality," accepts a hierarchy whereby other "victim groups" -- such as "people of color" and Muslims -- are higher up on the grievance ladder than women, and whereby women who belong to those other groups enjoy an even more exalted status as victims than white female Christians or Jews.

This means that "intersectional" feminists must be culturally sensitive and culturally relative, recognizing and privileging culturally predicated values other than sexual equality. They must be feminists who understand that while no expression of contempt for the purported tyranny of Western males can be too loud, overstated or vulgar, they must, in their encounters with less feminist-minded cultures, temper their devotion to female equality out of respect for those cultures' different priorities. In practice, this compulsion to respect the different priorities of other cultures is most urgent, and the respect itself most cringing when the culture in question is the one in which female inequality is most thoroughly enshrined and enforced.

This brand of feminism, needless to say, is not confined to Sweden. Last year, on the day after Donald Trump's inauguration, it was on full display in the United States at the Women's March, where the new President was universally denounced as a personification of patriarchy, while Linda Sarsour, a woman in hijab and champion of Islamic law (sharia), became an overnight feminist heroine.

What is Sarsour promoting? Under sharia law, a woman is expected to be subservient and obedient. Her testimony in court is worth half that of a man, because she is "deficient in intelligence." A daughter should be given an inheritance only half that of a son. A man is not only permitted -- but encouraged -- to beat his wife if she is insufficiently obedient. A man may take"infidel" wives, but a woman may not wed outside the faith. A man may have up to four wives, but a woman can have only one husband. A man can divorce his wife simply by uttering a few words; a woman, if she wants a divorce, must subject herself to a drawn-out process at the end of which a group of men will rule on the matter. A man is entitled to have sex with his wife against her wishes and, under certain circumstances, other women as well. And that is just the beginning.

Sometimes, when one points out these rules, people will respond: "Well, the Bible says such-and-such." The point is not that these things are written in Islamic scripture, but that people still live by them. Moreover, at the Women's March last year, Sarsour, a woman who champions these profoundly inequitable, profoundly anti-feminist codes of conduct, was applauded. That is "intersectional" feminism raised to the point of self-destruction.

Still, in no country have the precepts of "intersectional" feminism been more unequivocally endorsed by the political and cultural establishment, and more eagerly internalized by the citizenry, than in Sweden. Case in point: one of the consequences of "intersectional" feminism is a severe reluctance to punish Muslim men for acting in accordance with the moral dictates of their own culture; and it is precisely because of this reluctance that Sweden, with its "feminist government," has, according to some observers, become the "rape capital of the West." Moreover, it was "intersectionality" that, last year, led every female member of a Swedish government delegation to Iran to wear head coverings and to behave like the humblest harem on the planet. "With this gesture of subjugation," observed one Swiss news website, "they have not only made a joke of any concept of 'feminism' but have also stabbed their Iranian sisters in the back."

Yet another example of "intersectional" feminism is the 45-year-old Swedish woman who worked in a group-home for "unaccompanied refugee children." In November 2016, presumably out of the goodness of her heart, she took into her home Abdul Dostmohammadi, an Afghan former resident of the group-home, after he turned 18 and could no longer live there. Within a month they were lovers; some months later, as recently reported, Dostmohammadi sexually molested her 12-year-old daughter. When the girl told her mother, her mother did nothing, explaining later to authorities that she had feared Dostmohammadi would be deported.

When the girl told her father, who lives elsewhere, he informed the police. The mother need not have worried about deportation: Dostmohammadi was given a three-month suspended sentence, charged a small fine, and ordered to perform community service. Such is the power of "intersectional" feminism in Sweden's system: it enables a Swedish mother -- and a Swedish court -- to accord lower priority to the welfare of her sexually-molested child than to the welfare of the Muslim man who assaulted her.

I will close with another example of institutionalized "intersectional" feminism in action: Alicia's Iraqi parents took her to Sweden when she was four. When she was 13, they took her back to their homeland to marry her 23-year-old cousin. Returning alone to Sweden, Alicia, a Swedish citizen, gave birth to twin boys, who at birth automatically became Swedish citizens. After she cared for them for a period of time, her children were taken away, against her will, to be raised in Iraq by her husband. Last year, he petitioned the Stockholm municipal court for sole custody. On January 9, 2018, the Stockholm Municipal Court ruled in his favor, on the grounds that the twins had lived longer with him than with Alicia, who is now 24.

A Swedish court ruled against the parental rights of a female Swedish citizen and handed over her children, also Swedish citizens, to a foreigner who is known to have raped their mother, in the context of a sharia "marriage," when she herself was a child. Juno Blom, an expert in "honor-related" violence, is one Swedish woman who apparently did not get the memo about "intersectional" feminism. Calling the court's ruling a "disgrace," Blom charged that Sweden has failed Alicia throughout her life:
"A little girl was taken out of Sweden, married off, raped, and deprived of her children without action by the authorities. And now they have put the last nail her coffin by denying her custody. I have probably never seen a case in which so many mistakes have been committed."
Blom does not seem to understand. Swedish officials have not made any "mistakes" in Alicia's case. Every single action on their part has been rooted in a philosophy that they thoroughly understand and in which they deeply believe. They are, as they love to proclaim, proud feminists through and through. It just so happens that, in deference to the edicts of "intersectionality," their ardent belief in sisterhood ends where brutal Islamic patriarchy, systematic gender oppression, and primitive "honor culture" begin. That is feminism, Swedish style.
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Jane Harper follows The Dry with sequel, Force of Nature

September 16, 2017
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First-time success: Jane Harper's The Dry has exceeded all expectations.  Photo: Pat Scala
When Jane Harper decided to become a novelist, she recognised there was a hitch in the plan. Quite a big one. "I wasn't sure how to write a novel," she says, as afternoon light streams into her bayside Melbourne apartment. "I didn't know how you started it, or how you pulled all the pieces together to get to the end."
Harper is a practical person. If her ambition had been to tile her bathroom floor, she would have enrolled in a floor-tiling course. As it was, she signed up for a novel-writing course, which sure enough, gave her the guidance she needed. Gradually she got the hang of turning out chapters and in 12 weeks she produced a 40,000-word draft of a murder-mystery set in a drought-stricken Victorian town. "I didn't have any real expectation that this book would be published," she says. "I thought, 'I'm just going to try to finish it and I'm going to learn what I can from it. And then maybe I can write a better book next time'."
Harper, who is 37, with pale skin and auburn curls, permits herself a smile. Her murder-mystery did make it into print. The Dry is something of a publishing phenomenon — a bestseller that has won rave reviews and a swag of prizes in this country, including being named book of the year at the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards. Now it's climbing the international charts. In The New York Times, the respected critic Janet Maslin called it "a breathless page-turner" and expressed amazement that it was the work of a novice. In the UK, the major book retailer Waterstones took the unusual step of selecting it as thriller of the month for both June and July. British GQ magazine has tipped it to be "the biggest crime release of 2017". At last count, it has been translated into 24 languages, most recently Macedonian. A movie deal has been signed.
For Harper, whose second book is due out late this month, all this is a little overwhelming. At the time I visit her, she is just back from speaking at crime-writing festivals in England and Sweden, and is preparing to head to the US for an author's tour. Who knew being a novelist involved so much travel? "My whole life has changed beyond recognition," she says as we drink tea in her living room.
She is chuffed, obviously, but determined to keep a level head. As she sees it, her success is proof that there is nothing magical about creating compelling fiction: all you really need do is make the effort to pick up the tricks of the trade, then roll up your sleeves and get on with the job. "Writing is a skill that can be taught and learnt," she says. "I think it's like any skill, really — like dancing or painting or swimming or anything like that. Some people are naturally good at things but most people can benefit from professional instruction."
In the publishing world, where it's taken for granted that authors have oversized egos and seething neuroses, Harper is regarded as a delightful oddity. Amiable. Matter of fact. Low maintenance. "She's a no-fuss personality," says Cate Paterson, publishing director at Pan Macmillan Australia and editor of The Dry. "Jane is just so fresh. So natural. Dare I say, normal, in a good way."
Paterson pauses, possibly thinking about The Dry's shocking opening scene. "Which is not to say she breezes over the darkness in life."
When I read the book last year, I presumed that Harper herself must be an escapee from some dusty corner of the hinterland, so vividly does she conjure up the shimmering heat, the peeling paint, the crackle of dry eucalyptus leaves, the isolation. In fact she was born on the other side of the world, in the well-watered English city of Manchester. At the age of eight, she migrated with her family to Melbourne, but six years later they returned to Britain. Her parents eventually settled in north Yorkshire, where her mother taught English to Gurkhas based at a nearby military barracks, and her father, who had spent most of his career in the computer industry, opened a guitar shop.
Harper trained as a journalist and by 28 was ensconced at the Hull Daily Mail in east Yorkshire, enjoying the work but ready for a change of scenery. "I think I always expected I would come back at some stage," she says of her decision to move on her own to Australia. "I sent off my CV to a whole lot of newspapers and got offered a job on the Geelong Advertiser." She arrived in the Victorian port city in 2008, at the tail-end of one of south-eastern Australia's worst droughts on record. People talked about its terrible impact but for Harper the message didn't really hit home until she took a picnic to a spot in the bush that her family had often visited during her childhood. Here, fire had followed drought. "The trees looked quite dead and the creek was gone," she says. "I remember being so shocked. It had gone from being this green, lush place to what looked like a barren wasteland."
She moved to Melbourne in 2011, after landing a job as a finance writer on the Herald Sun. Three years later, when she was 34, she decided it was time to realise a long-held aspiration. "I'd always had this underlying feeling that I would love to write a book," she says. So she applied to join an online novel-writing course offered by an offshoot of the London branch of literary agency Curtis Brown. "You had to send off a synopsis of a book you wanted to work on, and a 3000-word opening. I sat down and thought, 'What would I like to write about?'"
As the course progressed, the 15 participants submitted pieces of their work for appraisal by their fellow students. "All that group discussion I found quite useful," says Harper, who at first adopted a more flowery prose style than she used as a journalist. "I thought, 'It's fiction. I must put in all these adjectives'. But people said, 'There's a lot of unnecessary description here'. And as soon as they said that – "You don't need it' – I was like, 'Oh great! I can cut it out then.' Because I didn't really enjoy writing it."
The course ran for the last three months of 2014, and Harper set herself the target of completing her first draft by the end of the year. Right on schedule, on December 31, she composed the last sentence, which gave her a quiet sense of achievement even if she had a hunch that her work had only just begun. "It was quite bare," she says of the story. "The plot was essentially there but not much else. The characters were probably pretty two-dimensional. I basically went straight back to the beginning and started rewriting it."
Since Harper was a full-time finance journalist, spending her days covering the ins and outs of the retail industry, she worked on the novel in the evenings and at weekends. Her instinct was to play down the project. Apart from her partner, journalist Peter Strachan, the only people who knew about it were her parents and two siblings. The family joke was that the manuscript's working title was My Stupid Book. "I obviously didn't write that at the top of the page or anything," Harper says. "It was more like, 'I'm going to do a couple of hours on my stupid book'."
With each successive draft, she gave the characters more depth and strengthened the plot, adding twists and turns, inserting red herrings here and there. There was nothing tortured about the process. Writing requires concentration, of course, but for Harper it is no more angst-ridden than, say, laying tiles. "I don't agonise," she says. "I approach it logically and just take it step by step."
It wasn't as if she was trying to write the great Australian novel: her goal was merely to come up with an example of the kind of fast-paced, well-constructed mystery story that she enjoyed reading herself. Entering the unpublished-manuscript category of the 2015 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards was a way of extending the learning exercise. "I'll send off the best version I have and maybe get some more feedback," she remembers thinking.
When Harper won the $15,000 prize, Victoria MacDonald realised with a start what her friend had been doing with her spare time since she stopped sewing classes. "We were all fairly gobsmacked, everyone who knew her," says MacDonald. But no one was more incredulous than Harper herself. "Of all the things that have happened, that was possibly my favourite moment," she says. "It was the moment when I thought, 'There is actually a possibility that this book will get published.' Suddenly I had emails pinging every 20 minutes. Agents and publishers saying, 'Can we read it?' Which is your dream scenario, really."
Image result for jane harper force of nature
She signed with agent Clare Forster, of Curtis Brown Australia, who combed through the manuscript, making notes and offering suggestions. "Jane went away and came back with the most dazzling rewrite," says Forster, who was struck by the acuity of Harper's vision of her adopted homeland. "She has such a distinctive and powerful grasp of the Australian landscape and psyche."
Harper has picked up the lingo, too. Her own accent is English, but on paper she perfectly captures Australian patterns of speech – a knack she attributes at least partly to the fact that newspaper reporting involves so much interviewing. "You're constantly listening to what people say, transcribing it verbatim and then turning it back into legible copy. I think that really helped get my ear in."
Strachan and Harper married in August 2015, on the same day Pan Macmillan won the auction of her Australian publishing rights. "It was the happiest day of my life," says Harper, who had probably known Strachan was the man for her from the moment he agreed to accompany her to Latin dancing classes.
The couple started with the salsa, she tells me, then moved on to the rhumba, the cha-cha, the pasodoble and the jive. "It went from a really casual thing to actually taking private lessons and then taking exams." Harper laughs. "Suddenly you've got special shoes and everything." Neither she nor Strachan was born to set the dance-floor alight, she says. But with much the same sense of resolve she brought to learning novel-writing, "we turned up to classes every week and we listened to what our teacher said and tried to take that on board. You keep on doing that and gradually you do improve, don't you?"
A few weeks after the wedding and the Australian auction, US and UK publishers paid six-figure sums for the right to publish Harper's first three books in those markets. She was just getting over that excitement when she got the news that the movie rights to The Dry had been optioned. "The line was really bad," remembers Harper, who had to ask Forster to tell her again who had bought them. "She said, 'Reese Witherspoon, the actress'. I said, 'Yeah, I know who Reese Witherspoon is.' That was unbelievable. Completely out of the blue."
By the time the book was released in Australia in June last year, a lot of people had a stake in its success. For Harper, promoting The Dry had become an almost a full-time job in itself, and she had decided with some trepidation to resign from the newspaper. "Quitting the day job is quite a big step," she points out. "Plus I really loved the people I was working with." But she knew she soon would have had to take extended leave anyway – she was pregnant with her daughter, Charlotte, now almost a year old. Also, she was itching to get stuck into her second novel.
Force of Nature is a sequel to The Dry in as much that the investigator is again laconic Aaron Falk, an officer in the Australian Federal Police financial intelligence unit. As in the first book, the setting is everything, but this time the action takes place in the fictional Giralang Ranges, a rugged, heavily forested region east of Melbourne. Five women, reluctant participants in a corporate team-building exercise, pick up their backpacks and walk into the bush. A few days later, only four of them come out.
In this story, there is a dash of Lord of the Flies – "group dynamics under pressure", as Harper puts it – as well as an echo of Agatha Christie's country-house murder-mysteries. "It's quite good, plot-wise, to have an isolated setting, in the sense of keeping the cast of characters fairly contained," Harper says. Just as Christie's readers knew when the house-guests gathered in the drawing room for the denouement that one of them must have bumped off the Colonel, we have little doubt that one of the four survivors of the Giralang trek is responsible for the death of the fifth woman.
They say the second book is always the hardest. But it seems to Cate Paterson that the challenge for Harper must have been particularly daunting because of the runaway success of her first. Like a person who wins the jackpot the first time she puts a coin in a poker machine, she could easily have been left with the slightly guilty feeling that she should have served a longer apprenticeship. While Harper juggled the demands of her newfound literary celebrity with the even more urgent demands of a new baby, she had to try to write a novel that measured up to The Dry. "I thought, 'How is she going to have the concentration?'" says Paterson.
There were some stressful moments, Harper admits. Becoming a mother was "such a huge upheaval really, emotionally and practically and time-wise". Strachan cared for Charlotte a lot – at least when he wasn't at the office – but to people who ask how she got Force of Nature written, Harper says she honestly doesn't know. "When I look back, it is a bit of a blur."
According to Bruna Papandrea, the Australian producer with whom Reese Witherspoon bought the film rights to The Dry, the script of the movie is close to completion and shooting is expected to begin next year. Papandrea has a sure touch: her production credits with Witherspoon include the Oscar-nominated films Gone Girl and Wild, and the recent hit series Big Little Lies, based on the novel by best-selling Australian author Liane Moriarty. She says she found Harper's book unputdownable: "I read it overnight, as I do when I love something."
An Australian, Robert Connolly, has been engaged to direct the movie, which Papandrea plans to make in Victoria. But she sees this as a story with universal appeal. "My idea is to make it a phenomenal international thriller," she says.
Meanwhile, the book has been short-listed for the coveted Gold Dagger, awarded by the Crime Writers' Association of the UK to the best crime novel of the year. "Wow, Jane, go!" says Harper's course tutor, Lisa O'Donnell, who dismisses her portrayal of herself as the literary equivalent of a paint-by-numbers artist. "I can always tell a good writer," O'Donnell says. "They're full of empathy and they're full of generosity. And Jane is just one of those people. You can feel when someone has it, and Jane was definitely one of those students."
Nonetheless, O'Donnell wouldn't necessarily have picked Harper as the member of the tutor group who would find fame and fortune. "I thought her book was exceptional," O'Donnell says. "But there were other books, one in particular, that I felt the same way about. And nothing happened with that book. The truth is, this business is so very arbitrary. The stars were aligned for Jane."
Michael Harper, two years Jane's junior, is inclined to agree with his sister's self-assessment. "It sounds almost cruel but I wouldn't say she was naturally gifted," says Michael, an international tax consultant, who moved to Australia soon after Harper. He argues that what she has by the bucketload is application. Whether writing a novel, playing the violin or doing the rhumba, she acquits herself well because "she's conscientious, she's hard-working, she pays attention to the fundamentals".
Michael is particularly pleased that Harper's willingness to have a go has brought her financial rewards. "She's taken a chance and it's paid off," he says. "It's wonderful. I did her tax returns for her when she was a journalist and I remember thinking it wasn't a huge wage by any standards. I think she would feel ten times as secure as she was."
Harper assures me she managed perfectly well in the past, partly because she has always been sensible with money. It was because she was tired of paying someone to take up her jeans that she started sewing classes, for instance. Still, she knows what her brother means. "It's been an incredible couple of years," she says. "I've been really lucky."

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Is the War on Drugs Rock’s Next Torchbearer?

From the August 21, 2017 Issue

When rock and roll emerged from Mississippi or Georgia or Tennessee or Illinois sometime in the early nineteen-fifties, it was a lawless mishmash of musical institutions, some ancient, some new. Its unruly roots—the incongruous coupling of the sacred and the profane—came to determine much of the genre’s mythos. By the sixties, its edicts, as set out by early practitioners like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, were decreed in full: rock and roll should be scrappy and instinctive, a wild and unstable expression that appears free of mediation or meddling, even (especially) when it’s not. Thus its most iconic poses: Pete Townshend clobbering the stage with an electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix humping his amplifiers, Janis Joplin, onstage at Woodstock, shaking from heroin and whiskey.

The War on Drugs, a Philadelphia-born outfit fronted by the thirty-eight-year-old guitarist and vocalist Adam Granduciel, does not subscribe to this ethos. Instead, it makes the old clichés seem tired. The band’s songs are performed and recorded in such a way that it’s impossible not to be cognizant of their polish—of labor invested. Though other contemporary bands have made ambitious and exacting music, few are quite so painstaking. Yet the War on Drugs is, to my ears, the best American “rock” band of this decade; it is certainly the one that makes the genre feel most alive.

The group’s fourth album, “A Deeper Understanding,” which comes out on August 25th, is a big and purposeful record that shares some genetic material with late-career releases by Rod Stewart, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, and Don Henley—the songwriting lacks the wholeness and negligence of youth, but hasn’t yet been softened by the capitulations of adulthood. Spiritually, Granduciel is still looking; nothing is secured or presumed.

Philadelphia in the mid-aughts was a very good place and time to be a guitar player. The War on Drugs began, in 2005, as a collaboration between Granduciel and Kurt Vile; later, as the leader of the Violators, Vile perfected a guitar style and tone that married the disaffection of Sonic Youth with the stoned, flickering warmth of the Grateful Dead. Another Philadelphia native (and former Violator), the guitarist Steve Gunn, relocated to Brooklyn and made several albums of warm but terrifically complex music. The War on Drugs made its début with “Wagonwheel Blues,” in 2008, and, following Vile’s departure and several more lineup changes, released its second record, “Slave Ambient,” in 2011. Both were favorably received, but it took “Lost in the Dream,” from 2014, to realistically suggest Granduciel as rock’s next torchbearer. He even looked the part: long and wavy brown hair, Wayfarers, a seemingly infinite collection of vintage denim jackets.

“Lost in the Dream” was conceived mostly at Granduciel’s three-story row house in Philadelphia’s South Kensington neighborhood. He has since recounted the way panic attacks and bouts of listlessness led him to a near-obsessive immersion in his work. Compulsive tinkering in the studio has sunk lesser writers; too much fussing can make a record claustrophobic and overwrought. Somehow, for Granduciel, sealing himself inside allowed for an opening. Music became a viable proxy for actual living—a scout dispatched over the hillside, a manner of exploring the world without directly engaging it. Despite the intensity behind the album’s production, there are plenty of joyful moments—like “Red Eyes,” a song so plainly exultant that, even after a hundred listens, its chorus still feels like cresting a mountain.

Granduciel relocated to Los Angeles after the release of “Lost in the Dream” (he is in a relationship with the actress Krysten Ritter, who stars in the Marvel television series “Jessica Jones”), and his new songs are indebted, in ways both subtle and overt, to his present landscape. It’s hard to say precisely what would comprise a Los Angeles canon—I imagine Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night,” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction,” though others might choose N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton,” Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” or Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.” It is even more difficult to specify how the city impresses itself on the records made there. I tend to think of L.A.’s influence not so much as a relentless sunniness but as a wide-eyed searching of the horizon. Granduciel has always written dynamic, propulsive melodies that beg for long stretches of good road. But “A Deeper Understanding” has more scope than anything he has done before. When each constituent bit locks into place, the massive scale and deep texture of the work is thrilling. It contains all the expansiveness of the West, and some of its optimism, too.

Lyrically, “A Deeper Understanding” is a record about self-interrogation. Most of Granduciel’s earlier songs address a near-constant process of revision and reinvention. Here, though, Granduciel is more assured than ever. One of the new album’s best tracks, “Holding On,” acts as a spiritual continuation of “An Ocean Between the Waves,” another cut from “Lost in the Dream,” and though the new song never quite resolves the older song’s visceral fears (“Can I be more than just a fool?” Granduciel worried), it does render them smaller. Granduciel seems more cognizant of what’s at stake (“Once I was alive and I could feel, I was holding on to you,” he sings), yet he approaches heartache with ambivalence, a cool acceptance of life’s unpredictable flow. “I keep moving on the path, holding on to mine.” He sounds nearly serene—or at least like someone who has recently seen an ocean.

Throughout “A Deeper Understanding,” Granduciel’s vocals are soft, steady, and almost without origin. Though he occasionally moves into a more discordant, nasally voice—borrowing, for a moment, the sourness of Bob Dylan—it’s often hard to distinguish his singing from any number of gauzy, fading synthesizers. The War on Drugs remains chiefly a guitar band—this is especially true when it performs live—but there are an awful lot of keyboards on the new record, including Wurlitzer, Mellotron, Hammond organ, and several vintage analog synthesizers (or reissues of vintage analog synthesizers), like the Arp Odyssey and the Oberheim Xpander. The synthesizers, especially, give “A Deeper Understanding” a dreamy, almost illusory quality.

That sensibility is augmented by the running length of most of the album’s songs—six or seven minutes (“Thinking of a Place,” which was released as a twelve-inch single for Record Store Day, clocks in at more than eleven minutes)—and how they snake to curious places. Halfway through “Up All Night,” a song about managing the nocturnal willies, the melody—a gentle electric-piano riff that recalls Bruce Hornsby—is displaced by Granduciel’s crackling guitar. The shift should be disorienting, but because of the song’s dream logic it takes a moment to realize you’ve been jolted awake.

“A Deeper Understanding” is the band’s first album for a major label; it left the Indiana-based indie Secretly Canadian and signed a two-record deal with Atlantic Records shortly after “Lost in the Dream” was released. “They should be gigantic,” Jimmy Iovine, a co-founder of Interscope Records who has produced albums by Bruce Springsteen, U2, and Meat Loaf, told Billboard in a 2015 interview. So far, however, the War on Drugs is not making any concessions to the mainstream market, where shorter, sparser songs now dominate.

Perhaps no concessions are necessary. The intricacy of Granduciel’s songwriting and production—the way his urgent, interior searching yields strange tapestries—isn’t immediate in the way, say, a punk-rock song can be. Rather than knock you over, it slowly fills a room, and lingers. Yet his work seems to communicate something vital about the internalization of modern life, the ways in which we now manage, negotiate, and curate expression before uploading it to one platform or another. That these machinations are laid plain—that this music does not aspire to spontaneity—makes it feel more true. 

Today's Tune: The War On Drugs - Full Concert - Live in Amsterdam - Nov 2 2017

Nunes Duels the Deep State

By Pat Buchanan
February 6, 2018

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House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes briefs reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

That memo worked up in the Intel Committee of Chairman Devin Nunes may not have sunk the Mueller investigation, but from the sound of the secondary explosions, this torpedo was no dud.

The critical charge:

To persuade a FISA court to issue a warrant to spy on Trump aide Carter Page, the FBI relied on a dossier produced by a Trump-hating British spy, who was using old Kremlin contacts, while being paid to dig up dirt on Donald Trump by Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Not only were the Clinton campaign and DNC paying the spy, Christopher Steele, for his dirt-diving, the FBI put Steele on its own payroll, until they caught him lying about leaking to the media.

In their requests for search warrants, the FBI never told the FISA court judge their primary source was a 35-page dossier delivered by Steele that their own Director James Comey described as "salacious and unverified."

From the Nunes memo, there was, at the highest level of the FBI, a cabal determined to derail Trump and elect Clinton. Heading the cabal was Comey, who made the call to exonerate Hillary of criminal charges for imperiling national security secrets, even before his own FBI investigation was concluded.

Assisting Comey was Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose wife, running for a Virginia state senate seat, received a windfall of $467,000 in contributions from Clinton bundler Terry McAuliffe.

Last week, McCabe was discharged from the FBI. Seems that in late September 2016, he learned from his New York field office that it was sitting on a trove of emails between Anthony Weiner and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin, which potentially contained security secrets.

Not until late October did Comey inform Congress of what deputy McCabe had known a month earlier.

Other FBI plotters were Peter Strzok, chief investigator in both the Clinton email server scandal and Russiagate, and his FBI girlfriend, Lisa Page. Both were ousted from the Mueller investigation when their anti-Trump bias and behavior were exposed last summer.

Filling out the starting five was Bruce Ohr, associate deputy attorney general under Loretta Lynch. In 2016, Ohr's wife was working for Fusion GPS, the oppo research arm of the Clinton campaign, and Bruce was in direct contact with Steele.

Now virtually all of this went down before Robert Mueller was named special counsel. But the poisoned roots of the Russiagate investigation and the bristling hostility of the investigators to Trump must cast a cloud of suspicion over whatever charges Mueller will bring.

Now another head may be about to fall, that of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

If Mueller has given up trying to prove Trump collusion with the Kremlin and moved on to obstruction of justice charges, Rosenstein moves into the crosshairs.

For the heart of any obstruction scenario is Trump's firing of James Comey and his boasting about why he did it.

But not only did Rosenstein discuss with Trump the firing of Comey, he went back to Justice to produce the document to justify what the president had decided to do.

How can Rosenstein oversee Mueller's investigation into the firing of James Comey when he was a witness to and a participant in the firing of James Comey?

The Roman poet Juvenal's question comes to mind. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchmen?

Consider where we are. Mueller is investigating alleged Trump collusion with Russia, and the White House is all lawyered up.

The House intel committee is investigating Clinton-FBI collusion to defeat Trump and break his presidency. FBI Inspector General Michael Horowitz is looking into whether the fix was in to give Hillary a pass in the probe of her email server.

Comey has been fired, his deputy McCabe removed, his chief investigator Strzok ousted by Mueller for bigoted anti-Trump behavior, alongside his FBI paramour, Page. Bruce Ohr has been demoted for colluding with Steele, who was caught lying to the FBI and fired, and for his wife's role in Fusion GPS, which was being paid to dig up dirt on Trump for Clinton's campaign.

If Americans are losing confidence in the FBI, whose fault is that? Is there not evidence that a hubristic cadre at the apex of the FBI -- Comey, McCabe, Strzok foremost among them -- decided the Republic must be saved from Trump and, should Hillary fail, they would step in and move to abort the Trump presidency at birth?

To the deep state, the higher interests of the American people almost always coincide with their own.

The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon

February 5, 2018

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When we had lunch together one afternoon a few months back, Canadian psychologist and university professor Jordan Peterson, who has risen to meteoric prominence for his courageous stand against political correctness and legally compelled speech, looked distressingly frail and was on a restricted diet prescribed by his physician. The ordeal the press and the University of Toronto’s administration, which had threatened to discipline him for his refusal to accede to legislation forcing the use of invented pronouns, had obviously taken its toll. (Note: Peterson was willing to address individuals by their chosen pronouns, but was not willing to be forced to do so by law.)

Our conversation ranged over the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, C.G. Jung and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Peterson’s chief secular resources, as well as the Book of Genesis, the Prophetic literature and the Gospel of John, Peterson’s biblical lynchpins. His meditations on these texts have obviously struck a chord with his audience. From Nietzsche’s complex web of ideas, he focuses on the notion of critical strength to combat cultural weakness and the primacy of the individual over the group. From Jung comes the theory of the hero archetype, the feral “shadow” component of the psyche which must be both acknowledged and mastered, and the “animus dominated” feminist on a quest for societal control. He elaborates on the political wisdom of Dostoevsky’s novels The Devils and The Brothers Karamazov, and expands on a favorite quote from Notes from Underground, “You can say anything about world history. … Except one thing. … It cannot be said that world history is reasonable.”

From the biblical wellspring he develops the idea of creative vitality transforming darkness into light, reflects on the Prophetic summons to integrity, righteousness and the Kingdom of God  — for Peterson the ground of the higher good and the divinity of the soul — and stresses the concept of the Logos, the principle that imposes order on chaos and seeks to make the unreasonable rational, which he identifies with the spirit of masculinity.

Peterson is clearly filling a gaping spiritual vacuum experienced by a vast community, primarily young men, who have been deprived of agency, self-confidence and life-meaning. And he is doing so by representing the insights of his sources to readers and viewers unfamiliar with these magisterial texts and cultural giants — a privation owing in large measure to poor upbringing and an anorexic education. Pajama Boys living in their parents’ basement drinking hot chocolate rather than the Castalian water of knowledge, and men young and old who have been infected and oppressed by the feminist preaching of toxic masculinity, are in desperate need of moral revitalization and intellectual supervision.

The Peterson phenomenon, then, testifies to the deep sense of spiritual emptiness in our culture. Confronting the abyss, he argues that nobility is possible despite the recognition that life inescapably involves suffering, evil and death, and contends that male vigor, fortitude and resilience are essential to cultural survival. In a culture obsessed with group rights, Peterson points out that absent its necessary counterpart, individual responsibility, social collapse is inevitable.

Peterson’s message is not new to anyone who has read and pondered his sources; yet it is new in the sense that he has performed an act of synthesis for a largely illiterate, politically indoctrinated and under-educated generation. As John Dale Dunn writes in American Thinker, Peterson’s “great accomplishment is teaching, counseling, and coaching people to urge them to live the good life, the virtuous life. … The only way he might be ambushed is [by being targeted] by the destroyers of the left with their name calling and politics of personal destruction,” deploying tactics straight out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

And indeed, the leftist/feminist vendetta is following the script. The now famous interview between Peterson and the BBC 4’s Cathy Newman, a feminist attack dog, was indeed fascinating, a true gentleman and reflective thinker on one side, on the other a vehement harridan and raving ideologue. Indeed, it was not so much an interview as a planned assault, which did not go as intended. Newman came off as a hectoring bully who insisted on re-interpreting each of Peterson’s answers in order to place him in a bad light. She quite literally did not know what she was talking about, was no match for Peterson’s wit, intelligence and erudition, and could scarcely follow the intricacies of his reasoning. The attack failed miserably. The BBC then played the victim card, placing Newman under protection against bruited threats to her safety in order to portray Peterson as the leader of a dangerous right-wing cult threatening the civil order. One can plainly see how the media hegemon operates, by applying Alinsky’s Rule 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” and then feigning injury if the strategy fails.

The campaign against Peterson’s presence and his message is now in full swing in his own country. Canada’s main public affairs magazine Maclean’s has featured an article (Nov. 17, 2017) titled “Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?” — shades of Hillary’s deplorables — written by a certain Tabatha Southey. It is a sophomoric rant dripping with smug disingenuousness and fey pro-Marxist rhetoric, accusing Peterson of monetizing his unease and of being a belle of the alt-right. She refers to Peterson as, variously, Jordan Pea-Headerson, Jordan Eggman, Dr. Pettyson, J-man and J. Pete the Beet, of whom “most of what he says is, after fifteen seconds’ consideration, completely inane.”

But Southey declines to demonstrate that she has given any of his statements even fifteen seconds’ consideration. Considering pontifical vulgarities to constitute an argument, “What he’s telling you,” she proclaims derisively, “is that certain people — most of them women and minorities — are trying to destroy not only our freedom to spite nonbinary university students for kicks, but all of Western civilization and the idea of objective truth itself.” But in what sense is gender fluidity an “objective truth”? Moreover, the fact is that influential postmodern leaders such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty and Jean Baudrillard are on record denying that objective or universal truth exists: rather, all is interpretation or a function of communal agreement. Peterson is bang-on.

The problem with Southey is by no means unique. It is shared by Peterson detractors in general and even by the editorial board of what presumes to be a serious magazine, namely: an utter lack of taste, the inability to discriminate between superficial one-upmanship and scrupulous analysis, and intellectual vacuousness of the first magnitude.

Similarly, Canada’s boutique left-wing journal The Walrus ran a defamatory article by University of Toronto professor Ira Wells, under the title “The Professor of Piffle” (Nov. 27, 2017). The article is a veritable trove of gross incivilities, lies, misrepresentations, slanders, and contradictions, coated in a thick mantle of sanctimoniousness — the hallmark of the neo-Marxist brand of intellectual misbehavior.

We are informed that Peterson — here we go again — is “the intellectual guru of the alt-right” who libels postmodern thinkers for money, as if Mr. Wells wrote his piece libelling Peterson for free. (The Walrus pays between $1500-$2000 for longer reviews.) We are given, inter alia, some problematic statements about the nature of IQ, postmodern philosophers, artistic values, etc.

As usual, calumnies are offered in place of counter-argument. Referring to Peterson’s online conversation with Camille Paglia, Wells writes that “he lamented that men can’t exert control over ‘crazy women’ by physically beating them.” Anyone who has watched the interview will see that Wells has twisted Peterson’s words, slandering him with an outright decontextualization and intentional misinterpretation. Peterson was making a perfectly legitimate observation that there is a culturally sanctioned inequality between men and women favoring the latter. A woman may strike a man with impunity but a man must not strike a woman if he wishes to avoid social censure and punitive legal action. Peterson is not “lamenting” anything. He is merely stating the plain truth that “men can’t control ‘crazy women,’” and Paglia, herself a leftwing sympathizer and longtime feminist, chuckled and nodded in evident agreement. Wells then goes on to bash Peterson for “echo[ing] Donald Trump on fake news,” unaware that he himself has just faked the news. Most of these anti-Peterson types are patently guilty of precisely the misdemeanors they accuse Peterson of.

Wells mops up the remnants of his carnage by falsifying the position of Lindsay Shepherd, the Wilfrid Laurier University TA who was interrogated by her superiors for bringing to class a five minute clip of Peterson on TV-Ontario’s The Point. Wells claims she “suggested we challenge [Peterson’s] assumptions, correct his willful misinterpretation of the humanities, and reveal the pseudo-scientific basis of his attitudes.” Not so. Shepherd says that she believes in open dialogue across the political spectrum and condemns the “authoritarian leftists [who] are social justice warriors.” Her discussion with Peterson on Louder with Crowder, in which the two were fundamentally on the same page, leaves no doubt that Wells has played fast and loose with the truth. The practice is truly appalling. Obviously, Wells is the piffler, not Peterson.

Southey and Wells are exemplary types, paid dissemblers representing the two poles of Peterson haters, the literary urchin who thinks she is funny and the Herr Professor who thinks he is clever. Whereas Southey is flippant and embarrassingly puerile, Wells appears on stage wearing onkos and cothurnus, a postmodern highbrow who strives to tower over Peterson and the rest of us poor prols like a tragic actor on the classical Greek stage. Southey and Wells regard themselves as above reproach but in my estimation they are beneath contempt, like the leftist commentariat in general that oscillates between feeble attempts at satire and portentous efforts at scholarship, always in the service of a lie.

More recently (Jan. 31, 2018), The Globe and Mail, Canada’s so-called “national newspaper,” sullied any vestige of impartiality and honor by publishing its own hatchet job, in which reviewer John Semley describes Peterson as an “absurd figure,” the possessor of a “faintly flickering intellect,” a creature of the alt-right (again!), and a “shameless huckster.” Such misrepresentations and put-downs proliferate throughout this dismal text. For example, we are told, once again, that Peterson “bemoans the social taboo against being physically violent with ‘crazy women’ ” when, as we’ve remarked, he does no such thing. The tenor of such reviews makes it obvious that the reviewers are not being honest but are pursuing a specific agenda, which is nothing other than character assassination. Neo-Marxist vigilantes attacking a modern hero, they are, in effect, literary hit men.

Nobody is claiming that Peterson is without flaws and blemishes. After all, as Hamlet wisely opines, “use every man after his own deserts and who should ‘scape whipping?” At times Peterson can seem histrionic, at times he is prone to bursts of emotionalism. His writing style is occasionally more pedestrian than elegant, and his narratives occasionally carry a flavor of the bizarre (see pages 290-294 of his book). Nonetheless, I believe we have to accept that Peterson is an engaging speaker and a genuine thinker, understands biological science, enjoys a profound grasp of the philosophical and theological literature, and has a crucially important message to convey. We should also note, with regard to those who impugn his scientific credibility, that Peterson’s “h-index,” or citation count in peer-reviewed articles and papers, is through the roof, some 8000 to date. This metric, which measures both quality and ubiquity, establishes Peterson as a leader in his field.

Peterson concludes his book by wishing his readers “all the best” and hopes “that you can wish the best for others.” We wholeheartedly wish the best for Jordan Peterson. As we say in the holy tongue: refuah sheleimah. May he prosper and be in good health.